Posts Tagged ‘Will Smith’

Avoiding Mirrors

Gemini Man

Director: Ang Lee

Cast: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong, Linda Emond, Douglas Hodge

Film Rating: 6 out of 10

Two time Oscar winner for Best Director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi) approaches the action genre with less than satisfactory results in Gemini Man much like the 2003 flop that was his interpretation of Hulk before Marvel Studios got properly straightened out by Disney.

Will Smith (Bad Boys, Aladdin, Concussion) plays an over the hill assassin Henry Brogan for a shady government department based in Virginia headed by Clay Verris played without compassion by Oscar nominee Clive Owen (Closer) who is wasted as the villain in this rather bizarre CIA revenge story that sees Brogan being cloned without his knowledge so that a 25 year old version of him called Junior comes after him in some exotic locations including Cartagena in Colombia and Budapest in Hungary.

Narrative gaps abound in a poorly written script with a contrived storyline which appears to get more irritating as the film progresses with zero onscreen chemistry between Will Smith and the female lead Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Kill The Messenger) who plays intelligence operative Danny Zakarweski who gets planted by the covert agency to run surveillance on Brogan while he is fishing off the coast of Georgia, USA.

What follows is a classic tale of a cat chasing its own tail as Brogan soon discovers that the man trying to kill him is himself, hence the title Gemini Man. This is a paint by numbers thriller whose storyline is less solid, while the visual effects are about the only redeeming feature of this below average action film.

Considering Ang Lee’s impressive body of work including Sense and Sensibility; Lust, Caution; Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Gemini Man falls flat as an action film although there are some fantastic visual sequences which make up for the completely dubious premise of this film’s faulty storyline. Such a pity to see great talent as Will Smith and Clive Owen wasted in a poorly scripted film directed by a more than accomplished film director.

Unfortunately, Gemini Man gets a film rating of 6 out 10 and judging by the fact that Alibaba Pictures financed this film, this was a grudge project for Ang Lee to appease the studios which are churning out content with Chinese capital investment.

If audiences like flawed action films with dubious plots, then Gemini Man is for them. 

Courting Princess Jasmine

Aladdin

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Billy Magnussen

Director Guy Ritchie is known for making distinctly quirky British films like Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, so it’s surprising to find that Disney has hired the renegade director to be at the helm of a light and fluffy live action version of Aladdin which is at once glossy and glamorous.

Fortunately, Aladdin is saved by a superb performance by the titular star of the film, Egyptian born actor Mena Massoud who grew up in Canada and nails the role. Massoud’s chemistry especially opposite Hollywood superstar Will Smith (Bad Boys, Wild Wild West) as the Genie is brilliant and although his singing is not as satisfying as his female star Naomi Scott who plays the beautiful Princess Jasmine.

Audiences should not compare this live action version of Aladdin to the 1992 animated film which featured an unforgettable performance by the late comic actor Robin Williams as the Genie. This is a 21st century version of Aladdin and Disney casts the film very cleverly to remake this classic tale.

The evil Jafar played by Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari seeks to oust the street wise thief Aladdin in a bid to steal the magic lamp and court the gorgeous Princess Jasmine wonderfully played by Naomi Scott who is locked up in her palace unable to see the kingdom in which she will one day inherit.

Her protective father, the Sultan played by Navid Negahban (American Assassin, American Sniper) refuses to let his daughter venture out into the city streets so Princess Jasmine is forced to conceal her identity where she first meets Aladdin a street urchin who steals her gold bracelet although he blames it on Abu his faithful monkey.

Channeling his Fresh Prince of Bel Air days, Will Smith does an adequate job as the Genie and Mena Massoud holds his own as Aladdin and many of the well-recognized songs from Aladdin including You Need a Friend like Me will be sure to please younger audiences.

Director Guy Ritchie abandons his usual stylistic flourishes and makes a paint by numbers version of Aladdin in keeping with the Disney tradition which at times is vibrant and exhilarating with flamboyant costumes although he does veer straight into Bollywood territory.

Aladdin is certainly very entertaining, although I did find the middle of the film lacking in a cohesive structure and at times the pacing of the film is off, but director Guy Ritchie delivers a family friendly Disney musical which is rare as it’s not normally where his cinematic talents lie.

Aladdin gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is not brilliant but very entertaining and will certainly appeal to a much younger audience judging by the average age in a Saturday matinee.

Disney once again delivers a hit musical with diversity, vibrancy and a storyline which will have a broad appeal. Recommended viewing for all those that love exotic musicals with a distinctly Eastern flair.

Lunacy Prevails

Suicide Squad

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Director: David Ayer

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Jared Leto, Cara Delevigne, Common, David Harbour, Scott Eastwood, Ezra Miller

After David Ayer’s impressively realistic war film, Fury, it was announced that he would be directing the highly anticipated and edgy superhero film, Suicide Squad.

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Assembling an international cast would be easy. Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman and Oscar nominee Viola Davis were all on board but the real casting coup was having Oscar winner Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) play the Joker.

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Big crazy shoes to fill for Leto considering Oscar winner Heath Ledger did such a sterling job of playing The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s visually impressive The Dark Knight in 2008. And then there was Oscar winner Jack Nicolson’s wacky portrayal of Gotham’s most deranged villain in Tim Burton’s Batman back in the 1989.

So Suicide Squad is finally released with huge expectations including a brilliant trailer but is this new superhero film that mind-blowing? If viewers watch this film as a precursor for Warner Bros’s DC Comics expanding their cinematic universe following Batman versus Superman and the highly anticipated The Justice League to be released in 2017, then Suicide Squad will satisfy fanboys globally.

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What saves Suicide Squad is Margot Robbie’s exuberant performance as the psychopathic killer Harley Quinn who also happens to be The Joker’s deranged girlfriend.

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Equally good in Suicide Squad is Oscar nominee Viola Davis (The Help, Doubt) who plays a hard-nosed and ruthless head of a covert government organization and the brainchild behind assembling such a crazy bunch of humans and meta-humans to save Midway City, where the only bond tying the psycho killers together are a shared lunacy and the prospect of continued incarceration.

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What works against Suicide Squad is having such a young villain, model turned actress Cara Delevigne as the evil Enchantress whilst Leto’s crazy Joker has diminished screen time, but then again Leto is returning in The Justice League, so we shall see.

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Suicide Squad does lose the plot slightly, but as a superhero film especially with David Ayer at the helm, it could have been far edgier and definitely much sexier. This is where Deadpool got it right. If you are going to subvert the superhero genre do it properly especially with such a deranged cast of characters. The use of continued flashbacks in the narrative also detracts somewhat from the primary storyline.

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Despite the steam punk production design, Suicide Squad is not a brilliant film and certainly does not live up to its hype, but will be savoured by all superhero fanboys and if one views the film as a precursor to great things to come then it is outrageously entertaining. Audiences should definitely stay seated beyond the final credits.

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Unfortunately Will Smith and Joel Kinnaman seem to fumble in the film but that is primarily because they do not have sufficiently grittier and bloodier material to work with, a style which director David Ayer is more accustomed to.

See Fury to appreciate where Ayer’s real talent lies.

Burden of Proof

Concussion

concussion

Director: Peter Landesman

Cast: Will Smith, Albert Brooks, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Morse, Hill Harper, Eddie Marsan, Luke Wilson, Arliss Howard, Stephen Moyer, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Paul Reiser

Oscar Nominee Will Smith (Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness) revives his career with a superb performance as the diligent Nigerian doctor Dr Bennett Omalu in the medical thriller Concussion directed by Kill the Messenger screenwriter Peter Landesman and based upon a GQ article called The Game Brain written by Jeanne Marie Laskas.

Concussion takes place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2002 where Dr Bennett works as a County forensic pathologist under the guidance of his mentor and sponsor Dr Cyril Wecht played by Albert Brooks (Broadcast News, Drive). After a legendary footballer Mike Webster dies suddenly at the age of 50, Dr Bennet discovers a condition known as repetitive head trauma which effects the brain over a long period of repeated trauma, especially common in those playing major league American Football. Webster, briefly played by David Morse first consults the team’s doctor Julian Bales played by Alec Baldwin before committing suicide.

Concussion as a medical thriller really takes off when two other players suddenly die under suspicious circumstances which leads to more questions than reasonable explanations. Soon Dr Bennett and his persistence in establishing the root cause of their deaths, gets the assistance of two other neuro surgeons Dr Steven DeKosky played by Eddie Marsan and Dr Ron Hamilton played by Stephen Moyer to name the symptom as Repetitive Head Trauma. Medically there is a more complicated name.

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Running concurrently to these medical discoveries, is Dr Bennett’s own plans to become a fully-fledged American citizen who dreams of owning his own home with his Kenyan born wife Prema Mutiso played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw last seen in Belle. However, the immigrant couple’s aspirations are cast into jeopardy when Dr Bennett takes on the most powerful and wealthiest sporting body in America: The National Football League who, Dr Wecht dryly refers to, an organization that next to God owns a day of the week.

As a film, Concussion operates on two levels one as a medical thriller taking on an enormously powerful sporting organization (The NFL) and also as a personal drama of two immigrants Dr Bennett and Prema Mutiso whose pursuit of the American dream is thwarted, not only by racial prejudice but also by a medical discovery which could put into question the potential recruitment of young men to play in the NFL and more significantly what the consequences are for retiring Football players whose days of glory are overshadowed by madness and suicidal tendencies when they reach middle age.

Will Smith delivers a superb performance, mastering a Nigerian accent and Albert Brooks, last seen in Drive, is brilliant as his acerbic yet encouraging mentor who urges Bennett to pursue his medical discoveries despite the consequences and the threats from the NFL, especially when the findings are made public, gaining considerable media attention across America.

Former investigative journalist turned director Peter Landesman’s Concussion is an absorbing medical thriller which should gain a wide audience both in the sporting and medical worlds. By no means a masterpiece, Concussion is recommended viewing for those that enjoyed such films as Moneyball, Thank You for Smoking and the excellent film Michael Clayton about exposing corporate greed in America. It’s also reassuring to see Will Smith back on form tackling a more dramatic and nuanced role.

 

From the Big Easy to Buenos Aires

FOCUS

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Directors: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Gerald McRaney, Rodrigo Santoro, Brennan Brown, Adrian Martinez, Dominic Fumusa

The writing and directing team of I Love You Philip Morris, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa recreate a similar glossier con film teaming up Will Smith (Bad Boys) and Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) in Focus.

Con artists, petty thieves, grifters all unite in this amusing if slightly drawn out tale of Nicky who first meets the flirtatious Jess beautifully played by Robbie in a swanky New York Hotel bar. The chemistry between the two onscreen are palpable and soon the action or lack thereof, moves from icy New York to sultry New Orleans during the SuperBowl weekend.

As the crowds flock to the Big Easy to watch the Superbowl or known as the National Finals of the American Football, the con is on as Nicky with a band of thieves and light fingered crew rob the unsuspecting crowds of their watches, jewellery, wallets and even luggage in the infamous French Quarter or one of New Orleans swanky hotels.

As Nicky and Jess procure tickets to the Superbowl finals, his proclivity for gambling becomes evident as he delves into sports betting against a notorious Chinese gambler, Liyuan flamboyantly played by B. D. Wong (The Normal Heart).

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As the stakes get higher Jess soon realizes that the number 55 chosen by the gambler is part of a larger con to extract more cash out of him. After doubling their money in New Orleans, a crime partnership seems imminent put then Nicky does the unexpected U-turn and dumps Jess in the Big Easy much to her horror.

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The action moves forward three years to the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires to the racy and glamourous world of Formula One racing driving where Nicky is employed by a wealthy Argentinian playboy Garriga wonderfully played by Rodrigo Santoro who incidentally also appeared in I Love you Philip Morris to con a rival Australian team out of a special racing gadget. As Nicky told Jess back in New York when the con is on, one needs to always maintain focus.

Things in Buenos Aires get murkier when Jess appears on the scene looking absolutely gorgeous in a red dress at an Argentine nightclub. Margot Robbie who excelled as the wife of Jordan Belfort in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street excels in this role making the screen sizzle with her beauty and naughty naivety. Viewers should also watch out for a great character role of Owens superbly played by Gerald McRaney recently seen in the brilliant Netflix series House of Cards.

Without giving away more of the plot, Focus does actually lose some of its focus especially in some of the scenes between Smith and Robbie, and the narrative does appear disjointed and is nowhere near as compact or sinister as Stephen Frears classic, The Grifters, but then that was on an entirely more sophisticated film. Although Focus by writing and directing team Ficarra and Requa is not the first film of theirs that I have compared to The Grifters, Stephen Frears’s film noir classic, it is certainly the benchmark to set all con films by.

Focus is a fun filled if slightly drawn out con movie, with lots of glamour, a lot less action but nevertheless it’s beautiful to watch, yet the filmmakers fail to draw the audience in too deeply into the characters misfortunes. Recommended for those that enjoyed Now You See Me and I Love You Philip Morris.

 

 

 

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