(SPOILER ALERT for the next paragraph, regarding the above subject.)
Thursday, January 7, 2021
(SPOILER ALERT for the next paragraph, regarding the above subject.)
Saturday, September 26, 2020
CGI has come a long way since the usage of it in movies became more mainstream. We're to the point now where we can use CGI to de-age actors or even create a human model from mostly scratch. Let's not forget, there was a time when if they wanted to do a scene with a younger (or older) version of a character, they either had to use elaborate makeup or a wig, or hire another actor altogether even. Now? Just slap some CGI on it. Gemini Man is what happens when you base the entire concept of your film around this technological achievement.
The idea for this actually existed as early as the late 90's, but at the time the technology didn't exist for what they wanted to do. So it stayed in development hell for 20 years, until doing something like de-aging was not only possible, but relatively more commonplace (at least among big-budget movies, anyway).
Here, Will Smith plays an aging assassin (Henry Brogan) who's decided it's time to retire. His retirement is unfortunately short-lived when he ends up being targeted by another assassin. The problem? It's himself... literally. Or rather, a younger version of him. And that's where the "basing your plot on a technological achievement" comes into play, as Will Smith has to fight a de-aged version of himself... on the same screen.
Now, what they're trying to do here is certainly impressive--and it mostly works. The younger Will Smith (known as "Junior") looks quite good, for the most part--and the fact that they were able to put both the real and the younger versions on the screen at the same time is pretty astounding. It is worth noting that the CGI for Junior does become a bit more obvious during a couple of outside daytime scenes, but when there's less reliance on lighting, they pull it off very well. And Will Smith does do a good job of playing both versions of himself.
Where the problems start with this movie is the script. Apparently, despite the fact that they had 20 years to make this thing, they didn't do much re-working of the dialogue, which is borderline goofy at times and definitely clashes with the tone. The other problem here at times is the pacing--it takes a surprising amount of time to get from Henry retiring to his doppelganger showing up. There's also a bit of a lull at times going from their first confrontation to their next one.
While the plot itself is fine, it's also rather predictable. Interestingly enough, the trailers for this revealed quite a bit--though they didn't really need to, seeing as a good amount of viewers would be able to figure out the "twists" anyway. Regardless, there's also a couple things here and there regarding how Junior got to where he is now that don't make a lot of sense.
But besides the Young Will Smith CGI, there's also some good action to be found here--such as a motorcycle chase that ends with one of the bikes being used as a projectile (it has to be seen to be believed), as well as a fistfight between the two Smiths. The final act is fairly entertaining as well.
The movie ultimately is far from bad--what they manage to do here with the power of CGI is a little too impressive to altogether dismiss, and the film itself is generally entertaining. The issue is that the film trips itself up a bit along the way at times, and besides the motorcycle trick, doesn't really do enough to stand out from the action-film crowd besides the visual effects. For something that took so long to make *only* because they were waiting for the technology to catch up, it's rather crazy that they didn't take the time to better iron out other certain facets of this. But it's still worth a watch anyway--for the CGI achievements, if nothing else, but it's hardly a dud otherwise either.
Wednesday, September 9, 2020
It's been a while since we got a normal showing from Christopher Nolan. His last flick in 2017 was Dunkirk, a nonfiction war movie--which, while it was definitely a good movie, did lack the usual Nolan flairs like mind-screwing and plot twists, due to it being nonfiction. So the last "Nolan-esque" film we got was Interstellar, way back in 2014. All things considered (and Dunkirk aside), it feels like Nolan has been trying to test his audience's limits to see how much mind-screwing they can take before they finally decide he's gone too far. And his newest offering, Tenet, is probably the closest he's gotten so far.
Tenet is marketed as a spy movie, although I wouldn't put it with the likes of James Bond or most other actual spy stuff. Regardless, this is mixed with time travel--or rather, time *inversion.* Here, our protagonist (whose name is literally never given) is recruited by a mysterious shadow agency trying to prevent an armageddon plot--which would be induced by way of screwing with the time stream too much, and which an insane Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh) is at the forefront of.
The result is another ambitious Nolan movie which has more bumps to the finish line than you'd expect from a Nolan movie--but the finish line is indeed a satisfying one. While the plot and setting can be difficult to follow (more on that later), if you're able to keep up and be patient, you are rewarded as the film goes on--and we do get some pretty good twists in the final minutes.
Some of the action sequences are also top-tier for Nolan; there's the airplane scene that was alluded to in the marketing (which involves zero CGI!), as well as a highway chase that makes great use of the time inversion technique for a thoroughly exciting scene. The fight scenes also benefit from this unique plot device.
Now, as said earlier, this one's a little more bumpy than usual. As said earlier, the plot and setting can be difficult to follow. If you had significant trouble understanding Inception or Interstellar, you're going to have a bad time with Tenet. They don't do quite as good of a job of providing exposition--or they just expect you to sit tight and wait until it's explained later, which can be frustrating in a longer movie like this. And it's just complex concepts that they give us here.
But Nolan challenging our minds isn't out of the ordinary. So that could be potentially overlooked, especially assuming that, like with other movies of his, re-watching it is rewarding. But there are a couple unexpected issues that haven't really cropped up in Nolan movies before.
The tone of this movie, especially in the earlier goings, is surprisingly impersonal at times--and the characterization suffers as a result. Instead of having much of distinct personalities, it often feels like most of the characters are only there to serve a role. Robert Pattinson's character is pretty much just there to create awesome plans and be a partner to the protagonist (which isn't a slight on Pattinson; he does fine with what he's got). Bizarrely enough, the protagonist (John David Washington) seems to be written this way by design; after all, we aren't even given his name. And most of the other characters are just there to be of service to our main characters; their personality traits or *anything* important about them are apparently irrelevant. They're just there.
The only characters that really do stick out here are Kenneth Branagh's antagonist and his character's wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). And it's for that reason as well as both Branagh and Debicki stand out the most in terms of acting, because they've been given the most to work with. The focus here seems to have been more on the idea/concept--and while that aspect does ultimately work, the bizarre lack of personality in the majority of the characters does stick out. And I can't believe I'm saying such things about a Christopher Nolan movie. Michael Caine is in this movie for about exactly two minutes and he's more enjoyable than almost any other character in this.
Side note, but people are not kidding about the sound mixing in this movie. For some reason, some of the noise effects and soundtrack clash badly with the dialogue here, resulting in it being hard to hear what everybody's saying at times. Hopefully that won't be a problem on home video/digital, but prepared to use subtitles if necessary. (Speaking of the soundtrack, Hans Zimmer's absence in a Nolan movie is definitely felt here--Ludwig Goransson really overdoes it on the electronics to the point of insanity.)
Ultimately, Tenet is definitely another thinking man's action film; it's very inventive and cerebral. Nolan continues to deliver in that aspect, as well as giving us entertaining action scenes. Unfortunately, he did sacrifice some personality in the process of this one; and that combined with this movie being a little more difficult to follow may leave some underwhelmed. Still, if you're a fan of what Nolan's done so far or if you're just looking for a more unique/cerebral action movie, you'll absolutely want to check it out, whether that's in theaters or on your home screen later. This may be on the lower tier of Nolan movies, but even a lower-tier Nolan movie is still way above average.
Thursday, September 3, 2020
Bloodshot has the distinction of being the last movie released in theaters before... well... you know what. Released March 13, the day of the emergency declaration, put it in a quite unfortunate spot in terms of making money. Now, as of this writing, the movie theaters are open again (depending on where you live, anyway); but for a while it seemed within the realm of possibility that Bloodshot might be the last movie we saw in an indoor theater for a very long time. And that... would've definitely been a case of going out with something of a whimper rather than a bang.
So what is Bloodshot, exactly? Well, it's a comic-book superhero movie--but it's not based off Marvel *or* DC. It's from another group called Valiant Comics, known for stuff like Bloodshot and the Harbingers. There's a fair chance that if you're not much of a comic reader, you've never heard of any this stuff. But they've made their way to the big screen, so here we are.
Bloodshot (aka Ray Garrison, who is never actually called "Bloodshot" in this movie) is a character who gets killed and then resurrected by a private organization by way of infusing his body with ludicrous levels of nanotechnology, which basically make him nigh indestructible as long as the nanites are active, which quickly heal him. So... sort of like Wolverine, but with nanotechnology instead of a natural healing ability or metal skeleton, and without claws. Ray does have enhanced strength as a result, though. And of course, the shady organization in question has ulterior motives for "bringing him back"... which, it turns out, is more complicated than expected, and nothing is what it seems and stuff.
Here's the thing about Bloodshot. It's not bad, necessarily. It just doesn't do enough to stand out in a crowded genre. There actually is a surprising twist of sorts regarding the shady organization and what they're doing to Ray, but the result makes the early movie's sequences feel like a waste of time -- even if what follows is a semi-unique plot, at least in the superhero world.
More problematically, there's very thin characterization here and basically zero development. Ray's character development basically begins and ends with Vin Diesel, who often feels about as robotic as the technology coursing through his character's veins. That, and swearing revenge on foes. The evil guy is evil, but we aren't given enough about his motivations. And there's also two forgettable side "antagonists" of sorts, one of whom is mostly just an annoying jerk for no tangible reason.
Actually, that "robotic" word earlier probably sums fairly well how much of this feels. This movie isn't boring, and it's not like the plot in of itself is stupid. But there's just not much heart or soul here. The action scenes happen and some of them are fun, but it's hard to be that invested. The CGI being mostly rather "meh" at best doesn't help either. Lamorne Morris's character at least brings some comic relief to the fold. Guy Pearce and Eiza Gonzalez also at least seem like they're trying.
As previously stated, the movie's not bad. It just feels too hollow and lacks too much heart to really make it be that worthwhile. If you're a mega-fan of the genre and want to see something new, I suppose it's worth a look, although there wasn't much of anything to make me interested in future installments. It's interesting to see a newcomer to the comic-book movie scene, but Valiant will have to do better in the future to stand out.
Saturday, August 8, 2020
Before Illumination and their Despicable Me/Minions series showed up, Blue Sky Studios was pretty much the "other animation studio" not named Disney/Pixar or DreamWorks, responsible for the Ice Age and Rio series. While most of their material has generally been targeted towards a somewhat lower age demographic than the other animation studios, their latest (and maybe last? I have no idea how they're going to co-exist with Disney Animation now that Disney owns them and Fox) movie branches out a little, into a spy adventure comedy.
This one centers around a secret agent named Lance Sterling (Will Smith), who ends up crossing paths with an ambitious late-teens inventor named Walter (Tom Holland), who--unlike the rest of the people at the fictional agency--is more interested in creating less destructive and deadly gadgets to vanquish bad guys. When Sterling is on the run after being framed, he ends up getting accidentally transformed into a pigeon by Walter. Now they have to stop a cybernetic terrorist with... drones? We really like using drone armies in our action/adventure movies now, don't we?
There actually are some interesting concepts in this movie; they do some interesting things with the idea of "secret agent pigeon." And the film's more pacifistic angle is treated mostly well, with both sides of the argument getting a fair day, and it not feeling overly preachy (even though some of Walter's "gadgets" in that pursuit do feel rather silly--like kitty glitter bombs).
I also like how most of the main characters in this movie are animated to be vague-but-somewhat-similar representations of their voice actors--and their most popular types of roles. Will Smith voices a cocky, swaggering agent. Tom Holland voices an awkward genius. Ben Mendelsohn voices a very-not-nice guy.
Where a lot of the problems come in here is in some of the choices at humor. There are some actually funny moments in this movie. But there's also some more juvenile and bizarre moments that are supposed to be funny, as well as some moments that just leave one going "What were they thinking?!" Case in point: when we learn way more about a pigeon's anatomy than necessary. Not to mention a couple cheap shout-outs to not-cool pop culture gimmicks, like Will Smith's character saying "now *that's* hot!" as if we needed a YouTube Rewind reference.
There's a couple of other annoyances along the way--some of Walter's ideas are genuinely clever, but others are a bit over-the-top (as mentioned earlier). There's also an action scene or two that is rather difficult to follow, due to it being hard to tell who's firing what and what rays of something are actually dangerous.
This is not a bad movie by any means, but it does hold itself back a bit much with some of its ill-advised humor and thus wastes some of its more interesting ideas. While Blue Sky's made a couple of hits, they've never been top-tier quality-wise in the animation department, and despite some of its better efforts, this one doesn't really change that status either.