Gemini Man (12A)
Verdict: Where there’s a Will – or two
Verdict: Snow greatshakes
As a premise for a thriller, cloning is nothing new. Gregory Peck was at it more than 40 years ago in The Boys From Brazil.
But biotechnology has moved on a bit since then. Indeed, Dolly the Sheep gets a namecheck in Gemini Man, which surely is a first: placid ewes from Midlothian, even the only world-famous one, don’t normally pop up in any form in Will Smith movies.
In many other ways, there is nothing remarkable about this film. Relentlessly throbbing music and unyieldingly silly dialogue, in the service of a far-fetched plot, make it, in most respects, a standard Hollywood thriller.
When a man says to a woman, ‘It’s not gun time, it’s coffee time,’ you might have to think back to old Maxwell House commercials for a cheesier line.
Gemini Man revolves around the idea that the world’s greatest hitman, Henry Brogan (Will Smith), has been cloned. When his paymasters in a shady U.S. government agency called Gemini decide to have him popped, the assassin tasked with the job is his own younger self
But let me give credit where it is due. Gemini Man revolves around the idea that the world’s greatest hitman, Henry Brogan, has been cloned. When his paymasters in a shady U.S. government agency called Gemini decide to have him popped, the assassin tasked with the job is his own younger self.
Without recent advances in cinematic technology, such a story would be nigh-on impossible to pull off. As it is, director Ang Lee is able to use a perfect digital recreation of the young Will Smith, and some of the old Brogan v, young Brogan scenes are duly impressive. There are cracking fight and chase sequences, too.
A little less advisedly, Lee also designed this film to be shown in 3D high-frame format.
Most films are projected at 24 frames per second; Gemini Man comes at us at 120 frames per second, delivering pin-sharp, ‘hyper-real’ images.
Which means that if only Smith weren’t 25ft high, you could quite easily believe that he was hurtling out of the screen and up the aisle of your local multiplex, as if hell-bent for the gents, or possibly the pick ’n’ mix stand.
Most films are projected at 24 frames per second; Gemini Man comes at us at 120 frames per second, delivering pin-sharp, ‘hyper-real’ images
Now, I wouldn’t want to sound like one of those reactionaries who thought the talkies would never catch on, but 3D isn’t my favourite way to see a movie, especially not in harness with a high-frame rate. Too much visual realism, paradoxically, can get in the way of a film’s credibility.
Lee attempted the same thing with his last picture, Billy Lynn’s Long Half-time Walk (2016), which was received with indifference at best. So hats off to him, in a way, for trying again.
And, of course, he’s a very accomplished director (Sense And Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain, Life Of Pi), to whom we should always pay attention. Even so, I hope it’s not the future.
BUT AFTER all that, what of the actual story? It starts with Brogan executing one of those hits that only exist in the movies, judging to perfection a high-calibre rifle shot from a distant hilltop through the window of a speeding train.
The train happens to be zooming at more than 150mph through the Belgian countryside. That’s why it’s such a tricky manoeuvre. If it were the East Coast Mainline just outside Peterborough, obviously he’d have time to jog gently down from his hilltop, clamber on board, find his victim and administer some slow poison.
Anyway, let’s just say that through no fault of his, the fellow in his crosshairs is not as deserving of a bullet as Brogan thinks he is, which is how our muscular hero comes to realise that his time as the world’s greatest hitman, with 72 clean kills to his name, is probably up.
And that doesn’t mean a stress- free retirement catching fish; it means sleeping with them. In short, Brogan knows too much.
But there’s only one man resourceful enough to terminate Brogan, and that’s Brogan, the junior version.
He has been raised, to carry out just such a job, by the sinister boss of Gemini, played by Clive Owen. Oddly enough, Owen played precisely the same type of character in his last film, The Informer. If it were easier to get my head round, I’d say he, too, had been cloned.
The week’s other major release is Abominable, with an all-important capital A. There are abominable things about this DreamWorks animation, however, not least that phenomenon known as ‘cultural appropriation’
By now, according to the time-honoured action-movie formula that we all know so well, Brogan has enlisted the help of an attractive protegee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), with whom there appears to be a sexual frisson; and a fiercely loyal, slightly dishevelled, faintly comical colleague from his time in special forces (Benedict Wong), with whom there’s no sexual frisson, just the eternal bond that comes from being holed up together, years before, in ‘a bunker in Mogadishu’.
The same formula also dictates that the action flits around the planet, so for the flimsiest of reasons (probably known only to the locations manager, but perhaps also to writers Darren Lemke, Billy Ray and David Benioff) we are whisked from the marshes of Georgia in the American South to the rooftops of Cartagena in Colombia to the catacombs of Budapest in Hungary.
In other words, Gemini Man is a corny, predictable thriller like any other, except insofar as it is a corny, predictable thriller like no other.
The week’s other major release is Abominable, with an all-important capital A.
There are abominable things about this DreamWorks animation, however, not least that phenomenon known as ‘cultural appropriation’.
On the whole, I’m pretty relaxed about U.S. animators turning the whole world into an annexe of California, but it’s notably crass in this film set largely in Shanghai to have characters who have clearly been drawn to look Chinese, but not ‘too’ Chinese.
They are led by Yi, a teenage girl who befriends a young yeti that has escaped from captivity and, with two friends, sets out to repatriate him in the Himalayas.
Can they elude a villainous English tycoon (voiced by Eddie Izzard), who wants their furry friend, whom they have named Everest, for his collection?
I wish I could say it was fun finding out.
Sienna’s blue-collar scorcher
American Woman (15)
Verdict: Terrific Miller’s tale
A barnstorming performance by Sienna Miller lifts American Woman, a family drama set in blue-collar Pennsylvania, well above the ordinary.
Miller has excelled more on the silver screen playing Americans (American Sniper, Mississippi Grind, Foxcatcher) than she has English women, and she is utterly convincing here as Debra, a fiery, fun-loving single mother who had a daughter by a feckless boyfriend at 16 and, when history repeats itself, becomes a grandmother by her early 30s.
Then something terrible happens; her 17-year-old daughter Bridget goes missing, presumed abducted and murdered.
Sienna Miller is utterly convincing here as Debra, a fiery, fun-loving single mother who had a daughter by a feckless boyfriend at 16 and, when history repeats itself, becomes a grandmother by her early 30s
For a while it seems as if this will become the film’s focus, as in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). But life moves on, and over the course of the next 11 years, though the trauma is never far from the surface, we see Debra raising her grandson, with the help of her sister (Christina Hendricks) and mother (Amy Madigan), who live across the street.
Unsuitable men come and go in her life (one message of American Woman is that American Man is downright hopeless), until finally she meets a better class of guy (Aaron Paul).
The film, directed by Ridley Scott’s son Jake, meanders at times. But on the whole, it’s a gripping examination of an ordinary family scarred by tragedy — and Miller is wonderful.
A Dickens of a time at the London Film Festival
The London Film Festival (LFF) has been a triumph so far, and is set to end on a high note on Sunday with a screening of Martin Scorsese’s epic Netflix production The Irishman.
But it’s Disney’s story of an Englishman that has most beguiled me at the LFF so far.
Ken Miles was an enigmatic racing driver from Sutton Coldfield, whose genius behind the wheel helped the Ford motor company beat Ferrari at their own game in the mid-Sixties.
Le Mans ’66 (more simplistically titled Ford v Ferrari in the U.S.) tells the tale of how Miles (Christian Bale, nailing a Brummie accent) did it, in cahoots with car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon).
I had high hopes for the festival’s opening film, Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History Of David Copperfield, with Dev Patel in the title role
You don’t have to be a motor-sport nut (I’m not) to be swept along by the high-octane verve and occasional comic flourishes of the story-telling (the screenplay is by British brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth).
There’s a scene in which Shelby persuades the patrician Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to go for a spin that is worth the price of admission alone. (four stars – release date November 15.)
I had high hopes for the festival’s opening film, Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History Of David Copperfield, with Dev Patel in the title role.
They were largely satisfied, and I think the ghost of Charles Dickens would smile down at Iannucci’s use of a multi-ethnic cast, which makes a very Dickensian society of rogues, vagabonds, charmers and ministering angels look pertinently modern. (four stars – January 10.)
The King is another, even less faithful, adaptation of great British literature, in this case William Shakespeare’s Henry plays.
Timothee Chalamet stars as the young Henry V, up to his eyes in palace intrigue on inheriting the throne, and with the wily French to deal with, too.
Perhaps director David Michod intended The King as a Brexit film? Whatever, he and co-writer Joel Edgerton play pretty fast and loose with Shakespeare’s ‘Henriad’, for instance denying us Hal’s great ‘band of brothers’ speech on the eve of Agincourt.
The Aeronauts reunites The Theory Of Everything co-stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in the true-ish story of a record-breaking ascent by balloon in, or rather over, Victorian England
Moreover, Falstaff (played by Edgerton) is not presented in the usual way, as a dissolute old soak, but as a canny military strategist.
Edgerton does a fine job, though I was less convinced by Chalamet, a wonderful actor, but entirely lacking the heft that Laurence Olivier and later Kenneth Branagh brought to the role. Rather weedy and a bit flat-footed, he’s nobody’s idea, except perhaps Michod’s, of a fearsome young warrior. (three stars – limited release today, then on Netflix.)
The Aeronauts reunites The Theory Of Everything co-stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in the true-ish story of a record-breaking ascent by balloon in, or rather over, Victorian England.
Jones plays the flamboyant Amelia Rennes, a kind of Annie Oakley of the skies, with Redmayne as James Glaisher, a scientist who believed that weather patterns could be predicted, and whose flight revealed momentous new information about the atmosphere.
In fact, only Glaisher existed. Rennes is a fictional creation, and has, therefore, nudged out of the basket (as in an old-fashioned balloon debate) fearless real-life aeronaut (and Glaisher’s usual co-pilot) Henry Coxwell.
Still, it’s easy enough to see why the story needed sexing up a bit. It’s nicely done by director Tom Harper, with wonderful cinematography, but somehow feels more suited to a Sunday afternoon in front of the telly than a visit to the flicks. (three stars – November 4.)
I was disappointed by Greed, Michael Winterbottom’s comedy about obscenely rich, morally delinquent retail tycoon Sir Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan)
I was disappointed by Greed, Michael Winterbottom’s comedy about obscenely rich, morally delinquent retail tycoon Sir Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan). Any resemblance to Sir Philip Green, by the way, is entirely deliberate. The film even lifts some of his lines, more or less verbatim, from his appearance in front of a parliamentary select committee.
Greed has some hilarious moments, for sure, and a scene-stealing performance by Shirley Henderson as ‘Greedy’ McCreadie’s Irish mum. But this is satire by blunderbuss rather than rapier.
A subtler film could have been much funnier, and more devastating. (Two stars – November 22.)