Gemini Man

2019 | dir: Ang Lee | 117 m

I got a weird feeling from Gemini Man, and I'm fairly certain it wasn't the high frame rate (HFR) 3D, although you have to take into consideration the way the film was shot when assessing the overall score, I will try to separate them as best I can. There's nothing much to be said for the plot or story of this film: you've seen the trailers so you know the core premise that Will Smith's uber-agent character is cloned and they must face off against one another.  The way they put them together is a bit cliched as you roll your eyes gently (but not too much because you don't want to miss the incredible 3D effects) as the film takes its sweet time getting to where you know it's going. Immediately after coming out of the theatre I found myself picking apart many of the small things in the film which never feels good, but in this case those small things seemed to be related to plot points that the characters kept mentioning in dialogue but seemed superfluous to the story itself. Given the film was shot in 3D, there is very little depth to our characters as good opposes evil and there is little ambiguity to play with; some of the acting came across as tired, as I often wondered if they shot too many takes or not enough for the performers to find their groove.

As middling as the movie was, the HFR and 3D were the primary driving force to seeing this movie on the big screen. It did not disappoint. My only other experience with HFR at the movies was seeing The Hobbit films; I recognized the odd movement and motion (for example, characters appearing to walk quickly) but that melted away after a short adjustment period. Gemini Man did not seem to suffer the same way: while the motion was incredibly smooth and noticeable, I did not find it distracting at all; instead, I was caught up in the wonder of the image quality itself. It certainly helps that Lee shot most of the film in bright daylight in exotic locales, and many of the action scenes were done at night (to presumably cover up the CGI). I'm sure the HFR effect is off-putting to many but I was fully engrossed in it as it presents a clarity that goes unmatched without. Ang Lee plays with the combination of HFR and 3D to interesting effect - like a scene shot with a fish-eye lens as a high speed train rushes past but I can't help but feel that these technical achievements come at the expense of the movie itself. 

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

2003 | dir: Marcus Nispel | 98 m

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (or maybe this is a reboot) feels much more natural than some of the other horror franchises I've gorged myself with in the past year, like Friday the 13th or even A Nightmare on Elm Street, and I have to attribute it to the fairly inconsistent sequels and the years that separated them. Whereas with something like Friday the 13th, they managed to keep some semblance (albeit VERY loose) of continuity in the numerous sequels, Texas Chainsaw didn't adhere to anything as there seemed to be soft reboots/remakes throughout without sticking necessarily to a stringent timeline. This 2003 reboot takes the biggest leap of all the sequels and firmly plants itself as a chainsaw for the modern era. It doesn't transplant our massacre to modern times, instead recreating the timeline in the mid-70s, and upping the terror by splashing ludicrous amounts of gore and making more impactful shocking moments than the original sequels could muster. At first I thought this was a relatively generic slasher film that just so happened to star our beloved Leatherface and his psychotic family, but it's because it stars them (shout out to the late R Lee Ermey) that the film is elevated beyond caricatures of the tropes that the original film pioneered. We're treated to some real visceral, disturbing scenes as we watch Leatherface and the family terrorize our group of travelers and I was engaged the entire runtime. Initially I thought my rating would be higher because of nostalgia as I reminisce about seeing the film with friends in an old-style theatre (that is, one where actual plays and events go on with a stage), but the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that this remake stands above.

 

Rating: 3 / 5

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation

1994 | dir: Kim Henkel | 95 m

 Not only does Renee Zellweger appear in this atrocious entry in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, but Matthew McConaughey appears in full force as well: they very well could be the best thing about this film. McConaughey plays Leatherface's brother Vilmer and does in fact surpass the popular chainsaw wielding villain in terms of scares. Zellweger doesn't have much to do here but play the classic final girl trope as best as anyone and is in fact, the only character in the film that passes as a decent person. The rest of the characters are all awful and the film doesn't skirt around it at all: you find yourself rooting for both good and bad folk to die gruesome deaths, but yet the film doesn't really deliver there either. I read somewhere (and I apologise as I didn't bookmark it) that perhaps the film is a commentary on the franchise itself, if not horror movies in general during this time frame: villains are reduced to a fraction of what they were before (as Leatherface is the weakest part of the killer family here) and the kills fail to deliver just as the industry focuses on bringing these movies to a larger audience through more broad PG-13 ratings and therefoce, excise much of the gore and terror that the originals are known for. If that's the case, then kudos to the director et al who created this chaotic film. Otherwise, I'll judge it as the weakest of the series (so far) but give it credit for a delightful performance in McConaughey and for at least trying something a bit different.

Rating: 1 / 5

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III

1990 | dir: Jeff Burr | 81 m

Number three in the series feels more akin to a reimagining of the original film than a sequel as it follows the basic outline rather than treading new territory like the first sequel did years before. I guess in 1990 the original was sixteen years in the past, which by horror fanchise standards is old enough for a remake. Unfortunately, this feels rather like the other generic films of the decade; wherein with Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 which ventured into a creepy underground domain with our cannibal clan and added a healthy dose of camp, the third one goes straight serious yet can't match the match the shocking horror of the original. Indeed, I don't think anyone is actually killed with a chainsaw in this film; Leatherface is in the title yet does very little in this slog of a thriller. The film spends an inordinate amount of time running around in the dark and focusing on the shenanigans of the killer Sawyer family, which I think takes away some of the fear factor. Aside from young Viggo Mortensen's menacing turn as Tex, this is - by the end - a serviceable, entertainingly short sequel even if it does feel a bit lifeless.

Rating: 2 / 5

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

1986 | dir: Tobe Hooper | 101 m

While I found it difficult to sit through the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I did end up rating it quite highly. The big takeaway I had was the amount of screaming that dominated the last act of the film, and I found it exhausting to complete. I leveled a similar complaint against The Goonies when I watched it the first time: there just seemed to be sections of loud talking, yelling and general tomfoolery that overloaded my (apparently) old man sensibilities. It pleases me to report then, that the "screaming" of TCM2 was much more bearable. The film though, does not hold the same significance of the original, although I did enjoy watching it quite a bit: the sequel does not seem to take itself seriously, as it has a bit of surrealism that leans into comedy rather than the shock horror of the first. It's a good mix as we're treated to a zany performance by Dennis Hopper (that scene where he's shopping for chainsaws is out of this world) and a solid showing of the cannibalistic family, including Leatherface who shows he may have some more emotions behind that creepy skin mask. I have a feeling this sequel will be the best of the bunch, although I must continue onward through this franchise. This would be a great film to watch with friends: it's lighter, it has great gore effects, and just absurd enough events that everything comes together to make a satisfying film. 

Rating: 3 / 5

Batman: Hush

2019 | dir: Justin Copeland | 82 m

While I read the original comics that this movie is based on, you must know that I am not a reliable source; the memory of those comics are long forgotten and yes, I should have either read them before taking this on or maybe I should read them after and *before* I write this. But I'm not interested in making comparisons: I didn't grow up with Hush like I did some of the other iconics stories, such as Year One or Dark Knight Returns. I have enjoyed - for the most part - the DC animated features: it's always felt to me that they have their act together and are able to make coherent, concise stories that often excel past their live action attempts. It's no different here: we get the luxury of moving beyond the capabilities of live action just adding in so many of Batman's rogue gallery in such a short amount of time; they come and go to server their part in the story perfectly and in true comic book fashion. Hush elevates in its exploration of Bruce/Batman's relationships with his enemies, with a focus on Selena Kyle/Catwoman and mostly, it's rewarding.

What really felt a bit jarring (even that word may be too much) is some events and characters carrying their plot over from other DC films, like Lex Luthor (who is apparently part of the Justice League now). I know enough about the comic book world that I can understand and accept how that happened without an explanation in this feature, but I do feel as though I'm missing out on the bigger picture: DC is creating a universe akin to Marvel's Infinity Saga where all the movies are connected, even loosely, and the characters are carrying forth throughout. I would prefer entirely standalone stories, but can appreciate what they are doing for fans: in the end it's not a big enough negative to take away from the overall film but it is something that made me stop for a moment to text my friend asking for details (he being a more involved fan of these films). In the end I took the cheap way out in rating the film at an acceptable 50% and perhaps repeated viewings will see this number rise. As it stands, it's better than some of the more recent DC animated films and a good way to spend 90 minutes of movie watching time.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

2016 | dir: André Øvredal | 99 m

I don't know if it says more about me or about the horror industry that when I first heard about The Autopsy of Jane Doe, I immediately assumed necrophilia was going to play a large part in the plot. (Am I so out of touch? No, it's the children who are wrong.) I'm not sure why, exactly, but my mind kept trying to connect it with Deadgirl, a movie that involves some teenage boys, a zombie girl, and a whole lot of lube. Although, I'm not sure whether sex with somebody who's only mostly dead counts as necrophilia or it's really more of a grey area, zombiphilia. Either way, the point is The Autopsy of Jane Doe was actually nothing like Deadgirl, and I definitely don't have a fetish for corpses that can legally be proven in a court of law as far as you know. 

Men in Black: International

2019 | dir: F. Gary Gray | 115 m

The original Men in Black was a true highlight of the '90s and a joy that I would revisit often; I remember getting the soundtrack at the time when Danny Elfman could do no wrong. Yes, the movie seemed to mix every element into a perfectly fun adventure film that captured an essence that has yet to be reproduced in the ongoing franchise. Taking such a long hiatus from the third entry, International is met with some trepidation as my cynical self can't help but think that there wasn't more to tell in this universe, but there was more money to be made. And here we are, a new Men in Black film loaded with some exciting talent and all the latest CGI tricks to really make the world of hidden alien policing sing. It falls short, to say the least. It feels like they revisited the core formula of the first film: follow our character through their first adventure while they're led by a veteran in the organization, see some interesting aliens and save the world, but the chemistry between our two leads never materializes and I suspect it's because Hemsworth's Agent H is written as such a cocky jerk. We retread the same material - there's even a quick scene where Tessa Thompson's newbie Agent M sees a list of celebrity aliens. As we follow the same beats as the original, we're world-hopping now instead of driving around New York, and I'm feeling as empty as the CGI renditions on screen while left yearning for the practical effects of yesteryear. Despite all this, the movie is serviceable: it's an entertaining chunk of popcorn flick, but doesn't amount - nor strive - for anything more.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Oblivion

2013 | dir: Joseph Kosinski | 124 m

It was love at first sight with Oblivion all those years ago in the theatre; enough so that I tried to delve headfirst into a proper review but failed spectacularly as I ended up with a shell of a review that failed to really deliver anything meaningful. It was deleted after a few weeks up on my site. Perhaps that review ran a parallel with the actual film: Oblivion is pure style with very little substance. It borrows heavily from other films and even back then I would say it's not necessarily a bad thing to do: the film really does mix together these elements to provide a satisfactory story with some nice sci-fi flourishes and made all the much better by the killer M83 soundtrack. Visiting this film again I was disappointed that I wouldn't give it the five star treatment. It runs a bit long, and truly is shallow: there's no great insight to be gleamed from the narrative, as it provides a window into a bleak future world where humanity is on the brink of destruction and only Cruise's character can save the day. But damn those drones are awesome. It has many of the right elements checked, but just doesn't achieve perfection.

Rating: 4 / 5