Gemini Man

GEMINI MAN is your traditional “the greatest assassin anybody ever saw decides to retire and then god damn it I thought they loved me but they’re sending a guy to kill me what the fuck” type scenario. The gimmick is that the guy they send after him is a younger version of himself created through the miracle of cloning. He figures this out a good third or more into the movie, but we know from frame one because of the studio’s decision to advertise the film.

Will Smith (“Nightmare On My Street”) plays both extreme retiree Henry Brogan and the facial expressions of the very advanced digital animation character playing his clone. Junior, as he’s called, gets dispatched after Henry’s Old Buddy From the Marines Jack (Douglas Hodge, THE DESCENT PART 2) and Russian operative Yuri (Ilia Volok, AIR FORCE ONE) tell him that that last guy they had him kill, the terrorist, was actually an innocent scientist being eliminated as part of a cover-up. When Henry hears this information he looks up to the clouds just as the lite on a satellite blinks, but it’s only to tell us someone heard this. He doesn’t seem to figure it out himself.

He does catch on that the new manager at the docks where he keeps his boat is really a D.I.A. agent sent to keep tabs on him. He asks Dani (Mary Elizabeth Lucy McClane Winstead, BOBBY) on a date, maybe just to get her to admit she’s spying on him and convince her he’s not a threat. But when some dudes try to kill both of them they end up on the run together. They head to Colombia to meet up with his Old Agency Friend turned small plane pilot Baron (Benedict Wong, LARGO WINCH).

At this point I should mention this is an Ang Lee joint. He shoots some good, clear action scenes including a motorcycle chase and some fighting. There’s a little bit of super-speed parkour and some fights with alot of spinning that remind you he’s the guy who did CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON, but they seem to be digital characters, so it looks more like the vampire ninjas in BLADE II. I would’ve preferred something more like the former, but the latter is better than you get in many mainstream action movies.

(Fight choreographer/fight coordinator: Jeremy Marinas, CLOSE RANGE, xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE.)

One of Lee’s strengths is that he’s great at that stuff but more invested in the emotions. There are signs of that here as Junior confronts his adoptive father/murder-trainer Clay Varris (Clive Owen, KILLER ELITE), who never got around to that special father-son “you’re a clone” talk. And Junior gets angry-weepy when Henry thwarts his attack and tries to convince him to switch sides. This would actually be a good time to use the ol’ “We’re not so different, me and you” line.

The script by Darren Lemke (SHREK FOREVER AFTER, GOOSEBUMPS, SHAZAM!) was originally sold in 1997. I guess somebody saw FACE/OFF. In the intervening decades it was rewritten by Billy Ray (COLOR OF NIGHT), Andrew Niccol (THE TRUMAN SHOW), David Benioff (25TH HOUR), Brian Helgeland (PAYBACK), Jonathan Hensleigh (DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE) and Stephen J. Rivele & Christopher Wilkinson (BIRTH OF THE DRAGON). Benioff, Ray and Lemke received credit. It has some semi-fun spy movie stuff in it – I like Henry’s Sherlock Holmes style deduction show-offery and his use of the abbreviation “AMF” (for “adios, motherfucker”). But it’s weirdly small for a hugely expensive movie. They seem convinced that (SPOILER, ARGUABLY) having a mysterious faceless super parkour dude take off his helmet to reveal he’s (gasp, choke, spit-take, faint) a third Will Smith is going to be surprising to someone, somewhere, and that there’s no need to go any further than that. I guess if they went for the obvious finale with a huge battle of Big Willies it would just be a more advanced THE ONE, but what they do instead is not a convincing argument for not going there.

Most disappointing coming from Lee, the technology is the only thing that seems distinct about the movie. Minus the expensive FX it’s easy to picture as a decent but generic DTV thriller or smaller January release. It would star a guy from a TV show I don’t watch, with Pierce Brosnan in Owen’s role.

Tony Scott was the original director attached back in the ‘90s. I guess he did ENEMY OF THE STATE instead. Pretty much every major action star, actor, or person who happened to walk by Hollywood was at one point cast in the lead roles. This includes Bruce, Sly, Arnold, Stath, Keanu, Denzel, Mel Gibson and Nic Cage. Plus Clint, De Niro, Pacino, Michael Douglas, Tommy Lee Jones, Sean Connery. Oh, and Matt and Ben and Brad. And Gerard Butler. And Nick Nolte! And Chris O’Donnell. And Jon Voight? And obviously Tom Cruise. I imagine they went to him again every time someone dropped out.

It is kind of a cool gimmick that Smith is able to play himself at Fresh Prince age, even having a fade, and I like that the opening credits are cartoony graffiti on an all white set and DJ Jazzy Jeff and Ready Rock C play scientists in one scene. Okay, I made up most of that. They don’t take full advantage of his history.

Apparently Lee said that the movie would only work with Smith or Cruise, but I’m convinced there were several better options. My top choice isn’t even on the list of actors previously attached: Jean-Claude Van Damme. Obviously all twin movies should be JCVD movies.

From what I’ve heard from the Big Willie Weekend Warriors interested in box office numbers this is a big flop. I wonder if a Van Damme version really would’ve lost more money, considering they’d have paid him way less? Either way we’d get an amazing fight between goofy boyish  KICKBOXER era Van Damme and craggy character actor KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE era Van Damme. Also, I know Lee is Taiwanese/American, but I think it would be okay to add “worked with director of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON” to Van Damme’s Hong Kong action resume next to Corey Yuen, John Woo, Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam.

On a meta-level, any of the ‘80s and ‘90s action stars would’ve added more meaning. Arnold and Sly are constantly at war with our memories of when their youthful bodies were central to their fame. They have a different appeal now that their age is showing, but are often made fun of as “geriatric” by an ageist society that sees action heroes as disposable. Or what about Clint, who is iconic both at Dirty Harry age and as a grandpa? Or what if it was somber, tired post-SIXTH SENSE Bruce Willis confronted by a 30 year old wiseacre Bruce?

Smith could maybe do a version of that – his movies (including this one) don’t do as well as they used to, and Junior could represent the arrogant BAD BOYS/INDEPENDENCE DAY smartass coming after the Smith who’s interested in sadder and riskier roles. But they don’t do that – Junior is dour and humorless. If you’re not gonna take advantage of the meta side of this premise, why not save a hundred million or so and just use a young actor wearing old age makeup?

The premise has other symbolic applications. Even us non movie stars worry about not being as good as we once were, or about being replaced by younger counterparts, or would like to tell our younger selves (or the next generation) how to avoid our mistakes. All of these ideas are present in the movie simply by being a natural extension of the concept. But I don’t think it would be accurate to say that the movie spends time exploring any of them.

So the only thing that’s really special about the movie is that Weta pushes the FX beyond anything we’ve seen before. To me the Junior character was almost always convincing, with the exception of an epilogue where he looks straight up POLAR EXPRESS. (I’m assuming that was a reshoot they had to rush the FX on – kinda funny if this has been in the works for 22 years and they still didn’t have time to finish.) Smith seems to have had fun playing Henry with a stand-in and then switching to a scuba suit and playing Junior. Also he gets to have a major cheat: according to IMDb, the Junior stunt double is KILTRO / MIRAGEMAN / MANDRILL / CHINANGO / UNDISPUTED 3 / REDEEMER / SAVAGE DOG star Marko Fucking Zaror. Smith is such a big movie star he gets to put his face on a legit action star. Not fair.

Unfortunately there’s another technological aspect that straight up ruined the movie for me. I knew it was shot in 3D, and I still love a good 3D movie, so I wanted to be sure to see it that way. Then I realized that you could only see it in 3D if you submitted to seeing it in high frame rate (HFR). If you don’t know what that is, it’s the rarely used technology that runs more than the traditional 24 frames per second for a smoother, cleaner look. Lee designed GEMINI MAN for 4k 120 fps, a format only available in a couple of theaters. That are in China. Here there were some places that had 2k 120 fps, but I saw it at 60 frames.

I saw the first HOBBIT in whatever form of this they had then, and I still can’t figure out what in shit’s name Peter Jackson could have possibly been thinking. It made everything look like absolute shit – the sets, the makeup, the lighting. Like somebody shot it in their backyard with a video camera. If you’ve seen motion smoothing before, that’s a simulation of this look. But some people think it works well in GEMINI MAN, and I decided to listen to them. I don’t blame them – I’m a grown man, and can make my own decisions. But I better not fall for this shit again.

I have always praised Lee for pushing forward so unpredictably. I once said that he could make anything work, including RACCOON HAMLET. And now he has set his sights on making high frame rate work. From what I have read, it sounds like he’s not delusional enough to believe that it looks good. But he thinks it’s his duty to future generations of filmmakers to experiment with it, take the bullets, make the mistakes. Mistakes such as: shooting a feature film in high frame rate. Projecting a feature film in high frame rate. etc.

I noticed two advantages. The main one is that pans looks smoother. Digital projection has always had a problem that when the camera moves sideways it flickers the way film projection did only when the shutter was misaligned. This can be especially annoying in 3D. On a technical level, the 3D of GEMINI MAN looks very good. And I have no doubt that Lee put thought into those compositions. However, there are maybe two shots where he tries to do a cool 3D thing. And you cannot tell me that making a movie look like this is a worthy sacrifice for smooth 3D if you’re then gonna try to make the 3D subtle. With this look you damn well better having two or three Will Smiths jumping in and out of the screen every 30 seconds. It better be COMIN’ AT YA!: FULL THROTTLE.

And also there are some scenes in the dark, like at night or in shadowy catacombs, that I think managed to be visible and dark (and 3D!) at the same time. Not necessarily in a way that looks like real life, but in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen in, you know, real movies. So that was a rare moment where I guess I could understand a cinematographer thinking there might be potential here.

Okay, it’s true. I’m brainwashed by over a hundred years of cinema to believe that movies need to look the way they always have. 24 frames was arbitrary, a construct. Theoretically over time we could train our brains to not want the beauty of film grain and motion blur and texture in our movies. Instead of reminding us of soap operas, live broadcasts and behind the scenes featurettes, this look could be what we consider cinematic, and future generations could scoff at the ugly garbage that to us is “the entire history of cinema.” A fine, fine goal for Jackson and Lee, I guess. Also, I hope they switch it to round screens. There’s no reason why movies have to be dumb rectangles.

Maybe we’d get used to it. Or maybe it ain’t broke and this ain’t fixing it. For now it puts a magnifying glass on the artifice. It makes almost every aspect of filmmaking seem phony. The acting seems less convincing, the stunts seem like stunts, the sound effects and especially the music don’t connect. Every time the score flared up it seemed like somebody playing a boombox over real life to try to make it exciting. They put millions and millions of dollars into making Junior seem real and at the same time they broke the illusion of every basic aspect of cinematic storytelling. What the fuck.

This could be great for a 3D nature or concert documentary. Or a JACKASS movie. But seeing the regular trailer again post-movie I knew that was how I should’ve seen it.

I’m sure Ang Lee will keep doing this, as is his right as a citizen of the world. Hopefully he’ll get comfortable enough with it that when I watch them in normal, good-looking movie format they seem like good ol’ Ang Lee movies.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 13th, 2019 at 11:41 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

58 Responses to “Gemini Man”

  1. Rewatched HULK over the weekend and remember nerds complaining about how Ang Lee FORCES his things onto the material and I cannot think that is less true. What I love most about Lee is his refusal to repeat himself and work in different genres. Despite what a nerd who would never in a million years watch a movie not based on a comic book thinks, I find he approaches every genre on its own terms and just goes about making his own version of that. Here, he makes a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced big spectacle movie for the masses. And it’s just as silly and ridiculous as any of his regular guys would make it BUT it never feels like Lee is just picking up a paycheck and sleepwalking through it. He feels every bit as committed to bringing this cornball story to life as he did RIDE WITH THE DEVIL and ICE STORM. Yeah, I guess its a shame that he is one of the greatest living directors and he’s ‘wasting his time’ with such a movie, but that just makes me respect him more. Obnoxious comic relief who surely no one could have thought was funny? Lee is game and that character is still there.

    Mostly though, the action is clear and crisp and I was entertained. If this movie came out two decades ago or even one I think my fellow actions fans would be more keen on it.

    As for the HFR. I was fortunate (?) enough to see it in the full 120fps and I thought the long takes and especially the slow-motion was cool and kinda justified it. So I didn’t mind it but definitely sure I do not want every movie made this way. My nephew, who also liked the movie and is of the vidya game age and is, in theory, the target for this new form, thought it looked awful and never wants to see another movie this way ever again.

  2. I guess that Lee and a couple people whose reports I read said that 120 fps does something weird to your brain making you think you’re actually seeing locations, people, etc and not a filmed version of them.

    I know one person reported that he had this really odd feeling that Mary Elizabeth Winstead was in the room with him even though he knew it wasn’t true.

    Shit like that interests me. So I’m a little bummed it was yanked from theaters before I got a chance to see for myself.

  3. I saw this in the HFR 60 3D showing, and it totally felt like I was watching my dad’s tv with the motion smoothing on. But I contend that the bike chase was pretty damn great in the format.

    Otherwise I was genuinely surprised there wasn’t a TNT bug in the corner, because it felt like exactly the kind of movie that airs on a lazy Saturday afternoon between Bournes. It definitely had an old school early-aughts Paramount pseudo-techno chase thriller vibe to it.

    Still, didn’t hate it. And that young Will Smith guy is going places!

  4. jojo, yeah, I still have to get my own HFR experience, but I always expected it to look like you would watch a stageplay by giants. Anybody saw BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK in HFR? The super bowl scenes must have looked awesome!

  5. I don’t know, I liked it a lot and liked seeing a 3D movie that was bright and easy to see and the locations looked cool. Sorry I helped put it over the top for you to see it. Loved reading your thoughts though because you’re the best.

  6. Hard disagree about the high framerate, and this is coming from someone who despises motion smoothing. I walked in prepared to hate it, walked out thinking this was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen.

    Gunfights that feel like you’re watching actual combat taking place in front of you. The fight scenes felt like watching a real UFC fight, messy and dangerous. The car explosion legit made me jump out of my seat. Boring scenes of exposition I would totally ignore because I’d be watching some birds flapping around in the deep background.

    It’s definitely borderline a different medium, but it really made me want to see more action movies attempted in this format, with this kind of deliberate framing/cutting. I finally got what Ang Lee has been on about in terms of this being a new frontier he wants to push into. I think it can only work in 3D though, because to keep the image naturalistic, they’re forced to basically eliminate all contrast in the lighting. Perhaps that’s more trouble than it’s worth, but its still a shame that it bombed.

    Probably the most visceral experience I’ve had at the movies this year.

  7. When I first heard about this it was Harrison ford. Back in the ‘90s was the idea to use footage from his old movies? That might’ve been cool.

    CJ your assessment of HFR is accurate.

  8. I agree with everything you said about HFR, especially the part about making it even more obvious that we’re watching a film. There’s a disconnect between the hyperrealism of the picture (that gives the impression that you’re standing/sitting right next to Will Smith), and the rest (the editing, the soundtrack, the acting etc.) that makes its artificialness even more obvious for me. Also, my eyes had trouble with the pans, even in quieter scenes (f.e. in that fancy hotel they’re staying). So, no, I’ll never watch HFR again.

    That said, I think I liked the movie itself a little better than you did. It’s nothing special, but good, solid SF-action-fare.

  9. parapa – Do you know if yours was 60 or 120? Does it really make that big of a difference? It’s weird that some people are saying it makes everything more real when I had the extreme opposite experience.

  10. The difference between the Hobbit and Billy Lynn significant. Gemini was closer to Billy Lynn so it it was as bad as the Hobbit to you I’d suspect it makes a difference.

    The concept may be inherently flawed as cornholio points out. They’re trying to get closer to reality in a format that is not supposed to be reality. As gimmicks go it can look good though.

  11. @Franchise Fred: Exactly. Then again, as Vern pointed out, that might just be a problem for our generation (if HFR should really ever become the standard). Also, I can imagine that this format would be awesome for documentaries.

  12. Mine was 2k 120 fps for what it’s worth, didn’t get a chance to see it in 60 fps for comparison, so I suppose there could be a difference there. Could also just be a person by person thing of whether it works or not. You could definitely still feel how bleeding edge it is though, as I was noticing what worked and didn’t on almost a scene by scene basis. So like 80% of it felt great, but then like in Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s brief fight scene, you could absolutely tell that it was choreographed and they were holding back on the hits. And all the aerial establishing shots didn’t seem to work for me at all in this format. But then anything with water was amazing and felt like being in an aquarium. ::shrug::

  13. Fred- interesting about Harrison Ford. He seems like a strange choice for this story given that he didn’t have any major roles until he was already in his 30s, but maybe it would have been cool to see THE F.B.I. bit-player Ford vs. grizzled THE FUGITIVE Ford.

  14. Random note: Thankfully nobody would ever hire me to do a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake, but I thought it would be a cool idea to film either the nightmares in HFR, while everything else looks normal. (Or vice versa, with the real world in HFR and the dreams looking like a movie)

  15. Correction: my nephew and I saw it in 2K 120fps not 4K. But who knows how important those extra 2 Ks were…

  16. I enjoyed this, but I saw it in what I assume was standard frame rate 2d and had very low expectations. I thought the action was great and the plot was good enough to carry me through.

    I assumed when I heard this was conceived in the 90s the plan then would have been to (gasp!) have another actor play the younger version, but I guess not. It seems de-ageing is here to stay though; Scorcesse’s approval says that to me

  17. I dunno why people give me shit for calling Mark Whalberg Marky Mark but riffing on Will Smith for his Fresh Prince / Big Willie days is all right. Will Smith takes some chances occasionally however misguided at times, while Whalberg wallows in horrible Transformers movies and blue collar hero one step above direct to video bullshit, and is the highest paid actor nowadays. I liked him in I LOVE HUCKABEES and he was suitably grumpy in THE DEPARTED but other than that, he sucks. Fuck Marky Mark.

    I think the first thing I saw Smith in post-TV days was SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION which was some weird as shit Mr Ripley thing, but he made a pretty big impression and you can’t say it was a safe choice by any means. After that there is ALI, CONCUSSION, I AM LEGEND, and maybe some others where he tried to actually act, but mostly it has been mostly unimpressive formulaic Hollywood crap, often ruined by his own involvement (AFTER EARTH…). More than any other star of the last 20 years I think Smith has been a victim of his success. Nobody will remember him as a good actor decades from now.

  18. The difference, I think, is that calling Will Smith “Fresh Prince” isn’t an insult. Will was never a great MC (I generally describe his style as “Muppet-like”) but DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were legit hip-hop pioneers and his sitcom was a touchstone for a couple of generations of kids. Will is not ashamed of his past as the Fresh Prince and he has no reason to be. Marky Mark, on the other hand, was and is a joke, a one-hit wonder who was better known even at the height of his fame for looking good in his underwear than for anything musical, and Wahlberg knows it. When people reference the Fresh Prince, they’re doing it out of love, but referencing Marky Mark can only ever be an insult.

    Also, Smith seems like he’s about a hundred times cooler and more down to earth than Wahlberg, a self-serious douchebro of the highest order (though occasionally an entertaining one) so of course Smith is going to take the Fresh Prince jokes in stride while Wahlberg just gets pissy about it, which just makes people want to call him Marky Mark even more. I say keep doing it.

  19. I literally cannot conceive of the person who is such a big Mark-Wahlberg-the-actor fan that they would object to referring to him as Marky Mark.

    Also, not that it’s exactly relevant, but as a potentially interesting bit of trivia, SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION was actually based on a true story.

  20. “I literally cannot conceive of the person who is such a big Mark-Wahlberg-the-actor fan that they would object to referring to him as Marky Mark.”

    Oh, I can. I think there’s a lot of self-serious douchebros for whom Wahlberg is the one superstar who seems to represent their demographic. This is a class of wannabe alpha male for whom violent but hollow gesticulations against perceived disrespect is the glue that keeps their fragile male egos from shattering, so referencing their hero’s frivolous and decidedly not-manly Tiger Beat days is tantamount to insulting their mothers.

    Also: Boston.

  21. Jesus, I forgot about Boston.

  22. We all did, Kurgan. We all did.

  23. Shit, I live in Boston now. Maybe that’s the problem.

  24. Forgot to mention that I was surprised they actually said motherfucker in this, as I thought that wasn’t allowed in PG-13s, and I guessed that might be one of those international cut things not in the US version, but it sounds like it was?

  25. Sorry for being one of those guys who hyped this up for you Vern. I probably should have also mentioned I was high as fuck while watching it and that might have had something to do with the HFR not bothering me after the first 5 minutes. I still say the best way to sum up this movie (and the accompanying divisive reactions) is that shot in the trailer/commercials of the motorcycle wheel skidding under Will Smith as he does a push up/burpee thing to jump over it. Seen on youtube or on TV, it looks dumb and you’re kinda wondering “wait is that really the money shot of this trailer?” Seen in context of the movie in 3D HFR, it’s like the coolest shit I’ve ever seen. And I can’t explain why, like I don’t actually THINK it looked clearer or parts of the screen were sticking out for me. It certainly wasn’t as immersive an experience like Avatar. The filmmaking basically somehow made well-worn action images I’ve seen before a million times look fresh and exciting, which is kind of all I need in an age where I feel burnt out and feel like I’ve seen everything before.

    Btw, I still think that action finale in what seems to be the rinkydink town at the end of Thor was the shit. Like, it makes no sense that a rookie agent like Mary Elizabeth Winstead is inexplicably walking down the middle of the street with Will Smith mowing down heavily armored Super Soliders, but I was in PG-13 action movie heaven for those few minutes (even though it totally should have been an unbroken take). Speaking of what should have been – anyone else disappointed there was no love story? Like, I don’t know if it was an age thing or a race thing, but I thought Smith and Winstead had great chemistry and I’m kinda tired of every four quadrant studio blockbuster being inoffensively chaste these days (like seriously, is a kiss too much to ask for these days??)

  26. “anyone else disappointed there was no love story?”

    As a huge fan of ELEMENTARY, aka the one show on TV with heterosexual male and female protagonists who stay platonic friends all through its 7 year run without ever even hinting at more than a deep, respectul, asexual friendship, I approve of a movie not having a couple for a change.

  27. Damn, great review, Vern. They should have had you make this fucking thing.

  28. I think we should respect whatever way a director wants to film his movie and we should do our best to see it the way it was intended. You don’t have to like it but don’t tell them what they should or shouldn’t do.

  29. Nobody told Lee what to do. They saw his movie the way he made it and decided whether or not it worked for them. That’s literally the only way criticism has ever functioned. Every artist has the right to make their art however they want, and every set of eyeballs has the right to decide if it looks like shit or not, and then to decide if they ever want to look at another piece of art done in the same style. Lee can make all the high frame rate monstrosities he wants, but nobody is under any obligation to enjoy them. You’re basically arguing against having opinions.

  30. I clearly said you don’t have to like it. I was just saying if the director makes a film a certain way we should try to see it that way. It’s like saying a person should watch a film letterboxed to see the movie as it was intended. But I still stand behind the idea that we shouldn’t dictate what am artist does. Don’t go see their movies if you don’t like it.

  31. So you’re saying see it in the high frame rate that Lee intended or don’t see it at all. Considering that was apparently only an option in a few theaters in China, you seem to be advocating that the movie go unseen in 99.9% of the world.

    Which is fine with me, since I never wanted to see it in the first place. I hate the HFR/motion smoothing/Mexican soap opera look with a fiery passion. Apparently, most viewers felt the same, since the movie flopped hard and only a small percentage of those who did see it enjoyed it. Nobody, to my knowledge, has advocated going back in time and forcing Lee at gunpoint to reshoot it, so I have no idea what you’re complaining about. Lee made his movie his way and now he has to live with the consequences of his choices, the least of which is that people have their own opinions about his decisions. The system seems to be working just fine to me.

  32. I’m just advocating for if you are going to see a movie, we should try to see it the way the filmmaker intended.

  33. Lee is on the short list of directors who have earned the right to whatever they fuck they want, and I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, because they absolutely have proved they know what the fuck they are doing.

    Shit, his ‘failure’ of Hulk contains several images that are burned into my brain, while I can’t remember a thing about the ‘successful’ Marvel-produced movies I’ve seen.

    So he can film a movie on dogshit, and I’m at least going to meet him halfway.

  34. Sternshein: It just seems like a weird film to take such a hardline stance on, considering it is PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE for almost 100% of theatre-goers to see it the way it was intended. It might as well be that Wu Tang album Martin Shkreli bought. I’m all for seeing a film the way its makers intended, but not if I have to charter a flight to China to do it.

    I still don’t see how anybody told Lee what to do. It seems like he had total freedom to make this movie however he wanted.

  35. I think maybe what Sternshein is getting at is that Lee has proven himself a genius over many years, whose unpredictable and idiosyncratic choices have delighted me in HULK, CROUCHING TIGER, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and others, and I should be respectful of his big swings even if I think they are huge fucking misses (as many people thought about at least one of those movies I listed). I don’t know if I’ll ever be convinced this technology isn’t sucking away years of his time when he could be making more great movies that are pleasing to the human eye, but I get the point. My visceral hatred of the format made me more dismissive than I usually am of someone following their own muse and using their clout to do weird shit. I gotta respect a guy like that chasing his crazy dreams even when I’m not on board. Kind of like how I haven’t liked the last couple Wachowski movies but I’m glad they got to do whatever the fuck it was they were trying to do with them.

  36. I think Tim Brayton over at Alternate Ending has a pretty good take on what Lee might have been trying for with his eyeball-punishing framerate:

    Gemini Man (2019) - Movie Review

    The script is trivial nonsense, but the action is creative and thrilling, and benefits enormously from Ang Lee's technological experiments. Read the review!

  37. From the review…

    “I was certainly content to join in the condemnation [of the use of 48 FMS in THE HOBBIT]; I am now happy and at least a little bit surprised to find myself singing the praises. My suspicion [about why it works better here] is that Gemini Man isn’t a fantasy movie with wizards and elves and magical swords. It’s a film that wants to feel grounded, wants us to feel the physical weight of Will Smith’s 51-year-old body, and I mean, it does that. That’s what high frame-rate does: it makes 3-D seem smoother and more present, makes the lighting brighter and the image crisper, makes everything feel more unpleasantly, persistently real. For me, that worked here; it worked in every single shot with water and doubly so for the shots under water (in fact, I can tell you the exact moment I became a convert: a shot below the water, looking up at two bodies falling into it, and the slowness of their floating movements and the extreme sense of too much realistic depth gave me an almost delirious awareness of the space). It very emphatically worked in every single action sequence; first-person motorcyle shots, and shots of explosions that feel bizarrely real, and bullets flying out of gatling guns like lasers. It’s not immersive; far from it, it makes it feel sort of obvious that we’re watching stuntmen and special effects. But it also makes the work of those stuntmen and those effects artists feel more dangerous and palpable and visceral than I’d have imagined possible. I got worked up watching the film, not from motion sickness like I expected, but from feeling like this was all too present, too much in my face, and that’s an amazing feeling to get at a movie.”

  38. I think if a movie is good, you should be able to watch it on any kind of screen and enjoy it. If there is technology that enhances it, great, but you shouldn’t HAVE to see a movie a certain way.

    Anyway, I have been looking for some new action flicks to watch but am not interested in this one in the slightest. The trailer looked so terrible. But Film School Rejects just put out a list of the top 50 action movies of the last decade and they put this one at #50 which really surprised me. But they also included a whole bunch of ones that I never even heard of and some of them are on Netflix (REVENGER, JAILBREAK, FURIE) so I know what I’m watching next.

  39. “It’s a film that wants to feel grounded, wants us to feel the physical weight of Will Smith’s 51-year-old body, and I mean, it does that” is a funny line about a movie where 51-year-old Will Smith does a push up and flies five feet in the air (and can take seemingly unlimited physical punishment and be fully recovered the very next day).

    I enjoyed the ludicrousness of the action in Columbia, though. When the movie got there I really perked up. If there were any more sequences that fun, I would have been prepared to call this underrated, but no luck. Like Vern wrote, that sequence aside, this is basically a DTV thriller with a movie star and one inpressive special effect.

  40. I feel watching this film that in all honesty it should have been directed by John Woo, No disrespect to Ang Lee who i adore but the material and the visual vocabulary just belonged to Woo. The sympathetic Hitman, The Duality, The symbolism, Paying for past sins, the numerous gunfights and that scene with the mirror with the younfg and old Will just cried out WOO to me.
    This should have been the film Woo directed after Mission Impossible 2 with either Mel Gibson or Kurt Russell.

  41. Look, some of it is John Woo’s fault, but we, as a socity, turned out back on the man. Like, sorry but no matter how much you like or don’t like Manhunt, that thing deserved to have had a theatrical run and a healthy festival run. We should already have the Killer remake with Lupita. Woo should have made at least one superhero movie by now.

    You’re 100% right hassan.

  42. You are absolutely right, Hassan. I definitely think he would’ve dug into the themes and emotions the way it needs (though I guess I assumed Lee would’ve too).

  43. Such a shame as i think there a number of action films in the 90’s that could have benefitted from Woo’s expert Direction, Gemini Man for one, The Jackal remake that was made with Bruce Willis and Richard Gere, The Corruptor (Chow Yun Fat’s 2nd American film), Assassins with Stallone and Banderas is another that screams out John Woo. So many films that took Woo’s themes and ideas and made them more ‘Americanised’.
    One of my favourite films ever has to be Michael Mann’s HEAT (Mann and Woo are my fav Directors EVER!) This felt so much like Woo, the characters, good v evil, symbolism, but i’m not surprised that both Mann Woo love their ‘brothers in arms’ stories that feature manly men wearing sunglasses and acted all cool as both have cited Jean Pierre Melville as one of their greatest inspirations.

  44. I ended up enjoying this one, but man, I couldn’t help thinking what a waste of effort it all was. First, all the work that went into the high frame rate cinematography was completely gone by the time it got to my TV screen, where it just looked like a regular-ass movie most of the time, except for a few parts where explosions looked fake, foreground elements were weirdly detached from the background, and everything was a little overlit. Second, this is a backhanded compliment, I guess, but the fact that they nailed the CGI to the point where I more or less accepted Junior at face value (oddly, he looked both faker and less like Will Smith from a distance than he did in closeup) meant that I stopped marveling at the technological achievements almost instantly and just watched his scenes like I would any other. I kind of zoned out on the more exposition-y scenes just like I would in a not-that-great DTV movie. Forgetting that Junior is a special effect is definitely the point, but without the “Gee whiz how did they do that?” factor, there’s really not much going on in this story. The film is a victim of its own success. Like, I’m sure that Will-on-Will fight was a fucking bear to create, but removed from the knowledge that what you are seeing is CGI trickery, it’s just not that great a sequence. If you’d told me they did the whole thing with stunt doubles, I’d have believed you. There are some good actions ideas in the bigger set-pieces, as well, but nothing spectacular. The action is captured kind of flatly, possibly an artifact of HFR.

    Mostly, though, I couldn’t help but notice that they don’t dig very deep into the fascinating premise. They developed all this technology in service of just about the most generic story imaginable. Why bother doing all this work if you’re going to do less with it than LOOPER did with some blue contact lenses and a fake nose?

    I mean, I like this kind of movie (a no-stakes action programmer) so I had fun (particularly when Mary Elizabeth Winstead was onscreen) but I’m not sure that this very slight and generic plot was the best format to wring the most out of this fascinating premise and the technological breakthroughs it inspired.

    Also, this clearly should have been a Nic Cage movie. All of my complaints would be gone if Junior had been RAISING ARIZONA Nic (or better yet, VAMPIRE’S KISS Nic) going up against MANDY Nic. Now THAT would have been a worthwhile use of emergent technology.

    I do wish I saw it in the theater, though, just so I could have yelled out “Born and raised!” when L’il Will asked Big Will if he was from Philadelphia.

  45. Just saw this. It wasn’t bad. A little generic, but fun for the most part.

    Wish I saw it in the big screen with the weird frame rate. I saw THE HOBBIT that way, and I didn’t like it there…but some scenes I got why they chose it. The goblin tunnels in that one seemed to come alive in a new way….even though you’d seen that stuff 100s of times before.

    But since this was only out like a week…I missed it. Oh well.

    As a film fan who has a very keen interest in experiementing with new technology….I appreciate the failures as part of the growth. Like how when sound came in, film got a lot more stagnate for a little while to accomidate mic placement and whatever. We are in that growing pain with this stuff I think.

    The best 3D I have ever seen was a Muppets thing at Disney World. The 3D was good throughout that, some sort of advanced system beyond what normal theaters had. Also, occasionally doors would open and animatronic Muppets would pop out. And then, something REALLY went out of the screen…a bug or something….that it seemed to almost hit your nose. The reaction was similar to what I always heard the crowd’s reaction to early 3D was…ducking when the gorilla or the Creature of The Black Lagoon swung out at them.

    I’ll have to look into that, but maybe somebody here knows….was that Muppet thing (not quite a ride…more actually a show) a very early example of this high frame rate stuff?

  46. Oh…I forgot to mention…good for Marko Zaror!!!

    He’s been creeping closer to the mainstream lately!!!

    And that said…a quick look at Ernesto Díaz Espinoza reveals he hasn’t been up to a lot recently. Useually when I check out a DTV action guy after not looking for awhile there’s 3 movies I didn’t realize had come out. hOPE Espinoza gets back to it, he was a really interesting one!!!

  47. Tigger – I think the Muppetvision thing was good old fashioned 35mm. It was groundbreaking in having a computer animated character, but that was the dumbest part of it. I enjoyed it when it was at California Adventure at Disneyland. There was an entire animatronic penguin orchestra, Statler and Waldorf in the balcony, gimmicks to make the sides of the theater look blown up, an actor playing Sweetums, and many other things outside of the 3D movie itself. Great showmanship. And I think it was the last Muppets thing directed by Henson.

  48. Funny thing about the high frame rate is, back in the day when I was making low budget movies, we used video and then HD, but for awhile there was no 24 frames. And all I did was FIGHT that video to not look like a shitty soap opera, so I’m downgrade it to 30 and really add a ton of contrast and anything I could do to make it look more like a movie.

    Now they spend 150 million to make movies that look like garbage I wouldn’t accept when I was making a movie for ten grand.

  49. By the way, the line about Lee’s mistakes made me laugh out loud.

  50. Oh one more add…I totally agree with Mr. Majestyk that having a crazed young Cage vs a somber, grounded Cage would be a lot of fun. You’d actually get to see his range in every other scene.

  51. VERN – I was a bit late in seeing MuppetVision…2010 or so. I didn’t know it dated all the way back to the Henson days! It was great though….I went into it as more of a throwaway, “there’s no line for this!”…and turned out to easily be my favorite thing at Disney lol!!!

  52. Muh – I remember that as well! Some indie filmmakers I know were doing really weird tricks in the early Hi-8/S-VHS days. Taping it, playing it back on the TV, and taping THAT gave an intersting, almost filmic effect i know.

    Everyone was trying to make it look more like film. Im not sure if they pulled it off…but they did make it look interesting a lot of times. Exceptions were made if you were “trying to be real” like a fake snuff film or a Blair Witch type “found footage” thing.

    I now have a lot of nostalgia for the mini-DV years. There are a TON of them on Tubi, a few channels on YouTube specializing in them, they pop up on those sell through packs with like 8 b-movies on them a lot….those really raw backyard movies, where the grass is just so green. Something about how after we’ve moved on to higher grade formats….we miss the trash we were trying not to make lol!

    I can’t watch them all the time though. One of those super grade Z movies every couple months is my threshold now. I still watch B-movies with a passion….but the super backyard Cannon XL1/Sony PD150/etc genre are in a league it’s own.

    I am sort of torn with the really big budget high framerate stuff. As a weirdo film dude….I am always very much for experimentation, weather it be technilogical or aesthetic or what have you. I don’t really see that much difference between a Stan Brekhage type experimenting with developing film in new ways, and a James Cameron type experiementing with new ways of motion capture. Total differences in budget, style and intent, yes….but they are both pushing the medium forward to see whats on the other side. And that I appreciate.

    And at least so far, the high frame rate looks like crap. Distractingly so. But as an experimental/b-movie enthusiast I like crap. Hard to judge a brand new type of crap on first sight I guess. I also thing it hasn’t been used with the right material yet. Who knows what or when that’ll be. And part of me thinks it might just not be a format for mass entertainment. More for those science movies that show at planetariums and such, or maybe something along the lines of a third FANTASIA.

  53. Muppetvision was 70mm. Not sure how that bug or whatever it was got a pane or two further out into the audience. It was projected, not a practical puppet coming from the ceiling or something. Oh well….a magician can keep some of his secrets!

    Muppet*vision 3-D (1991) - IMDb

    Muppet*vision 3-D (1991) on IMDb: Movies, TV, Celebs, and more...

  54. Sometimes I wonder what Jim Henson would do these days. People often forget that he was a true pioneer, who loved to push the envelope of technology and even already experimented with CGI in the early 80s. I can’t see him ever abandoning practical effects, but I can also imagine him working with James Cameron on AVATAR or something like that.

  55. Tigger – your post’s mention of a theoretical high frame rate FANTASIA III has posed an interesting question. Have there ever been attempts made at traditionally, hand-drawingly animating in a format above 24fps? I know a lot about cartoons and such, but cannot think of a precedent for that.

    Other types of animation could also be interesting in this format – I’d love to see Gumby in a distractingly high frame rate, or perhaps something CGI that would make no sense in distracting lushness, like the third installment in the Top Cat film series.

    (I guess this Will Smith movie is kind of a cartoon as it is, but you know what I mean.)

  56. Wow, that’s a good idea, ALF. Something not photoreal, yet HFR. That would be interesting to see. Of course Richard Williams died, and he’s the only one who might’ve tried hand drawing it, but maybe traditional animation with computerized in-betweening for some of the frames?

  57. It’d definitely be tough to hand draw animation from 24f to 60f or higher…you’d be tripling the workload. But the idea of computerizing the in-betweens is a good one. If they ever tried something like that I’m sure it would be computer animation, but to be honest we generally know how this stuff ends up looking…just watch animation with smooth motion on. I remember the first time I saw smooth motion it was on one of the Pirates Depp movies an man does it make a nice looking movie into crud.

    BUT I would be interested to see this effect in 3D which I never have. I remember seeing Avatar in 3D which of course was 24f, and sometimes on the movements the judder really hurt the effect a lot. Like, it’s kind of real but the 24f throws it off. I was consulting on some 3D movie and who knows if it will ever get done or what…but what we tried was, shooting in 24f but then for some of the pans, do in higher frame rates to smooth it out. I’ve only seen it 2D so the effect is really jarring. No idea how it would translate to 3D, but we figured can always downmix to 24f to conform everything too, so we just protected ourselves.

  58. I thought of FANTASIA 3 as an example because the first Imax movie I ever saw was FANTASIA 2000. Pretty mindblowing seeing it that huge, especially the whale sequence. IMAX had been around for a bit, but not for normal movies. More those Everst documentaries and such. At least not in my area.

    But thinking of that memory did get me thinking as to what would make this high frame rate stuff interesting. I don’t think we are there yet…but further experiments might yield better results. And sometimes this weird stuff needs to be abandoned and then come back in some other form.

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