Jumanji: The Next Level

Fans of the Jumanji franchise will not be disappointed with this latest gathering of reluctant heroes within the now infamous action/fantasy survival game. We can consider this a sequel to 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which rebooted the 1995 origin story starring the late Robin Williams. Since then, the board game that trapped Alan Parrish in a terrifying jungle world for decades is now a broken down Atari-like vintage gaming console and cartridge that beckons players with a seducing jungle beat and pulsing electronic glow. Touching the device is all that’s required to physically transport players into the world of Jumanji as avatars of their choosing. Or, in the case of Jumanji: The Next Level, this happens without even choosing their character, swept atom by atom into the sinister collection of circuit boards and wires. As one character says upon beginning the transformation, “I hate this part!”
As a result of the game’s semi-awareness, we have a few new cast members for this outing. All of the previous teens and alter egos are here, along with Danny Devito, Danny Glover and Awkwafina. Devito and Glover are Eddie and Milo respectively, two former restaurant owners, partners who need to work through issues of aging and abandonment. Eddie is Spencer’s grandfather, recovering from hip surgery and sharing a room with his grandson, home on Christmas break from NYU. Spencer has returned to his anxiety-ridden, asthma inhaler dependent, unconfident former self, longing for the thrill and self-assuredness that he experienced as Dr. Smoulder Bravestone in the previous film. Eddie’s advice? “Go out there and get it. It’s all downhill from here. This is the best it gets. Getting old sucks.” Inspired, Spencer goes into the basement and enters the game, but emerges as Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina) instead of Bravestone. His friends come to the rescue, and that’s where the game makes a few of its own moves.
If this is confusing, it gets worse. The only consistent transformation is the avatar Ruby Roundhouse, played again by Karen Gillan. Many of the same body-swapping comedic elements get laughs once more, but Jack Black was funnier when channeling a pretty cheerleader in Jumanji 2. Anyone who winds up in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s body spends time touching and admiring his heavily muscled physique, and the gag still works. And although Johnson struggles with DeVito’s gruff, New York persona, it isn’t that much of a distraction. Kevin Hart is extremely funny no matter who he becomes, and there’s a ton of action to keep the audience from thinking about anything for long.
The film regains its previous footing when the characters discover a glowing green pool that allows arbitrary body-swapping within the game. This re-establishes prior roles for a couple of characters just as two more previous players enter the game, one as a horse.
What? Just see the movie. It will make more sense.
There’s a nice cameo appearance by an actor from the original film that brings the story full circle. Producer Dwayne Johnson promised this Easter egg while the film was in production. It also sets up Jumanji 4, despite general agreement by the teens that they’re “never going in there again!” With that, drums begin beating, a herd of ostriches stampedes through town and we capture the feel of the original movie once more.
Like the Jumanji game, box office receipts have a pulsing drumbeat of their own. This franchise is a huge moneymaker. There’s little doubt that there will be a fourth and perhaps fifth film before the concept grows tired. But sometimes when things get older, as Danny DeVito comes to realize by the end of the film, “It’s a gift.”
What’s next? Jumanji: AI?
Jumanji: The Next Level (2019) runs 2 hours 3 minutes and is rated PG-13.
Should I see this movie? 

Frozen II

It has been six years since the Hans Christian Andersen tale, The Snow Queen, was released as Frozen, the highest grossing animated film of all time. The subsequent merchandising juggernaut made a sequel pretty much inevitable. Frozen II will undoubtedly do very well, drawing on fans of the first film during a choice Christmas release. But perhaps Disney animators could have better spent their time working on something new.
This latest entry into the Disney library simply tries too hard to be wonderful. Where the original film was, well, original, this is a rehash with a convoluted script, unnecessary characters and songs that just can’t compete with the award winner belted out by Elsa (Idina Menzel) several years ago.
We have come to expect visually stunning 3D animation from Disney. But the giant blue eyes and tiny turned up noses of the Arendelle-dwelling royal sisters, voiced once again by Kristin Bell and Idina Menzel (Anna and Elsa respectively) seem plastic and two dimensional on this outing. And several scenes appear to tap into Fantasia for color and kaleidoscopic inspiration. In other words, gratuitous bursts of colors, sparkling palettes, textures and patterns.
And then there’s the deliberately adorable fire salamander named Bruni. This creation was probably in production as a plush toy before the ink dried on the storyboards. The character adds nothing to the story and actually makes the film longer than it needs to be. Frozen II is one minute longer than Frozen. They could have shortened the sequel considerably without impacting the somewhat pointless story.
Another creature that was undoubtedly fun for the animators was the Earth Giant. These living rock beasts recall the efforts of much earlier animators to bring to life L. Frank Baum’s Nome King using Claymation in Disney’s 1985 Return to Oz. Large, lumbering and relentlessly frightening, these creatures become integral to the plot once it is revealed that a dam constructed by Anna and Elsa’s grandfather was a trick played on the neighboring nature-loving Northuldra tribe. This is the truth that Elsa has sought, responding to a siren-like melodious call only she can hear. It leads her into the enchanted forest described in a bedtime story told by her late father.
Olaf the snowman, cute and sparingly comedic in the first film is given a large part in Frozen II. This is sure to sell more Olaf plush toys for years to come. If you think you can’t get enough of Olaf, see this film and you’ll agree that you can.
I would have to re-watch Frozen to determine if it contained nearly as many songs as version II. It’s hard to tell which song is expected to be the big hit, but none of them stand up to Let it Go from the original. Kristoff’s turn at the mic is over-produced, with a chorus of harmonizing reindeer backing him up.
The elements water, earth, fire and air are spectacularly illustrated throughout the film. And of course, ice and snow are abundant and constantly being tossed about by Elsa. Not to be accused of creating an entirely white cast of animated characters, Lieutenant Mattias is voiced by Sterling K. Brown, and the Northuldra people are vaguely indigenous.
Kids anxious to see Frozen II will want to see this in the theater. Otherwise, I see no need to rush out. This may quickly become bait to draw new subscribers to the Disney Plus streaming service.
Frozen II (2019) runs 1 hour, 43 minutes and is rated PG.
Should I see this movie? 

Richard Jewell

On July 27, 1996 a pipe bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta during the Summer Olympics. News coverage was heavy, immediate and contributed to the false accusation of Richard Jewell, a security guard who worked at the venue. This story became a regular feature on the evening news, ramping up as the FBI and the news media fed the American public a false narrative in a rush to judgment declaring Jewell guilty without evidence and before being charged. In that respect, we all participated in this gripping true story.
Clint Eastwood, age 89, brings us his most recent directorial effort since 2018’s 15:17 to ParisRichard Jewell is a true story that should have been told much sooner. Eastwood has directed several other films in which people are falsely accused by the media and/or authority figures (Mystic River, Sully). Mr. Jewell died in 2007 at age 44, having been quietly exonerated following the confession of the actual bomber. I don’t remember that news story, do you?
As the film opened in theaters this month, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution threatened to sue over the depiction of the newspaper’s handling of the story, along with the portrayal of reporter Kathy Scruggs (deceased 2001) trading sex for a scoop. Jewell sued the newspaper for defamation after he was cleared of the crime but the case was thrown out. In an ironic twist, the newspaper is now defending its own reputation. They should know better. Meanwhile, nothing sells tickets like a good controversy.
Scruggs is played by Olivia Wilde as an aggressive, brash newsroom sleuth who seems to need help with her writing from a fellow reporter: “You know, that wordy thing you do.” She goes head to head with Jewell’s lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), whose personal history with Jewell leads him to believe in his innocence.
But Jewell himself, wonderfully played by Paul Walter Hauser, creates numerous cringe-worthy moments, talking too much, forgetting key pieces of information and relating so heavily to law enforcement as an overzealous wannabe, trying to “help” them do their job – to his own detriment. His good old boy southern persona, along with his obesity and kindness to a fault all work to undermine his defense. At some point he comes off as just plain stupid.
A turning point occurs in a heated exchange when Bryant challenges Jewell’s failure to get mad. Jewell finally angrily admits to understanding that he is now, and has long been, the brunt of bullying and jokes. The pressure of the hounding media and the railroading FBI scrutiny tears at his otherwise unshakeable optimism and reduces his mother (Kathy Bates) to tears. John Hamm as steely FBI agent Tom Shaw employs trickery on the gullible Jewell at every turn, being more concerned with “solving” the crime than capturing the actual perpetrator.
Among the list of Producers for Richard Jewell we find Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. DiCaprio considered a role in the film as a southern lawyer, but stayed on as a producer instead. Hill was originally intended to play the title role. He also stayed on as a producer. The film is better cast as a result of both choices.
New and original footage are intermingled throughout the film, some scenes of which were filmed at the actual location. News footage, Olympic highlights and re-enacted action on the ground all contribute to the film’s intensity and believability. In fact, an actual Katie Couric interview with the real Jewell is shown without attempting to mask or cut away from the actor.
This is a quick two-hour movie. The ending falls somewhat flat. There is no big reveal, redemption or comeuppance. And perhaps that reflects the media’s loss of interest as the story became less sensational. But that becomes something of a lesson for us as viewers and consumers of media.

Richard Jewell (2019) runs 2 hours, 9 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie? 

Knives Out

“I suspect…foul play!”
And with that declaration, the death of Harlan Thrombey, family patriarch and uber-famous mystery writer, becomes a mystery unto itself.
Perhaps the best selling author of all time, outsold only by The Bible and Shakespeare might have uttered this line, launching the circuitous murder investigation in Knives Out. Of course, that author would be Agatha Christie, who brought us the sleuthing adventures of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. 
And in a tip of the hat to whodunit murder mysteries, we briefly see Angela Lansbury onscreen in an episode of the highly successful Murder She Wrote, being watched in the home of the least likely suspect in the Harlan Thrombey murder case. Or is she? The personal nurse to the wealthy 85-year old mystery writer is young Marta Cabrera, from Brazil. Or is it Ecuador? Or is it Uruguay? Or is it Paraguay? Family members have no idea, but they embarrassingly call upon her as exhibit A in their heated discussion of the American immigration controversy. This scene is a transparently modern inter-family squabble like those that may erupt around dinner tables this holiday season.
Cabrera, played by Ana de Armas, is a deer-in-the-headlights unwitting participant in a living game of Clue taking place in the Thrombey family mansion on their Massachusetts estate. Cabrera is also something of a human lie detector, being afflicted with a “regurgitory response to the telling of untruths.” Yes, she reliably vomits when she lies, and this trait plays heavily into investigative queries by both investigators and savvy family members.
Inspector Benoit Blanc, played by Daniel Craig, methodically susses out the truth with his powers of deductive logic and disarming southern drawl. Equal parts of Poriot and Columbo, his accent sets him apart from the rest of the characters and allows for the delivery of lines that pierce through a room full of chatter with a razor sharp intellect dripping in sugary syrup. It’s fun to see Craig in anything but his steely James Bond persona. Here he seems a bit more human and is clearly having more fun.
The cast of characters includes the legendary Christopher Plummer as the family patriarch along with scream-queen icon Jamie Lee Curtis as his eldest child Linda. Her husband, Richard is played by Don Johnson, who has either had a ton of work done or has aged nicely. Toni Colette, Michael Shannon and a handful of other children, grandchildren and spouses round out the dysfunctional family. Captain America’s Chris Evans plays black sheep grandson Ransom Drysdale, whose declared altruism seems out of character for his otherwise cynical and self-serving nature. What is he up to? It seems everyone has motive, circumstantial evidence abounds, and by the end of the movie you’ll have difficulty determining whom you like least. But “Greatnana” (K Callan) holds a special, silent place in the family drama. She’s Harlan’s ancient mother, so old “we don’t even know” her age. You just know she’ll eventually have something to say.
The trailer for Knives Out offers plenty to gain our interest, but does little to give away anything but the most basic plot elements. You will not know, going into this film, what’s coming out the other side. As Inpector Blanc says, “This is not a donut, but a donut hole, and within that hole is another hole that circles a point that outlines another donut, within a hole…” He never completes the confusing metaphor, but it serves to reflect the complexity of the overlapping and interwoven plots. A lurking wagon wheel sculpture of sinister cutlery features prominently throughout the inquisition, and holds a key secret of its own. It will eventually step out front and center.
Director Rian Johnson’s use of 35mm film lends a richness and warmth to scenes that are mostly filmed inside a trophy-laden Victorian house complete with a “trick door” that masks a useful window. His use of handwritten notes and characters on the run has become his standard. He directed Looper, several Breaking Bad episodes and was tapped for a Star Wars trilogy. His writing for this script was heavily influenced by the Agatha Christie murder mysteries.
You’ll find yourself guessing at clues, trying to figure out who was responsible for the “donut hole within the inner donut” and will eventually get some things right and others wrong, much like Blanc’s own journey within the film.
This is a film that must be seen before someone tells you “that one thing” that ruins the inevitable surprises, twists and turns. It is a fun and stimulating entry into the Christmas rush of releases, possibly better suited for Halloween.

Knives Out (2019) runs 2 hours 10 minutes and is rated PG-13.
Should I see this movie? 

Last Christmas

You probably know Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, but her role in Last Christmas is more reminiscent of her character Lou Clark in Me Before You, a sappy but engaging 2016 chick flick that seems custom made for the Hallmark channel.
Here we have Clarke playing Kate, a somewhat self-sabotaging Christmas shop elf who keeps bumping into the mysterious Tom Webster, a strangely genteel suitor played by Henry Golding. We know Golding from Crazy Rich Asians as the puzzlingly English/Malaysian charmer who seems not quite Asian and not really British, but of course he is both. Also from CRA is Michelle Yeoh, Kate’s boss and “other dragon mother” who relishes the chance to play a comedic role instead of her usual hard-as-nails Asian matriarch persona.
A movie with a soundtrack entirely based on the music of George Michael was off-putting (for me). The title song has always annoyed me with its pronunciation of “Gave” the way “Have” is spoken. “Last Christmas, I gaaav you my heart.” When the song became a staple of Christmas channel holiday rotations it guaranteed I’d immediately be fiddling with the controls on my car’s stereo. But the number of covers by current artists speaks to its general popularity as a song, and also as a tribute to the talent and complexity of the late Michael.
But unlike other films that have stories scripted around a set of songs, this one nicely fits Michael’s tunes into the plot. The story is adeptly augmented by the soundtrack, not dominated by it.
And Emilia Clarke, with her highly expressive eyebrows, has managed to do the unthinkable. She has dethroned Zooey Deschanel from her long-held status as most adorable female movie elf, based on positivity, charisma and dominance within the script.
Oscar winning actress Emma Thompson wrote the script for Last Christmas. She plays Kate’s Yugoslavian mother, and saved the best comic line in the film for herself. Yes, this is a comedy, but it is also a Christmas story and a love story, filled with joy and it ultimately serves as a surprisingly powerful tearjerker. The film also exposes the ugliness of anti-immigration bigotry through the eyes of its victims. So, there’s a lot more going on in this seemingly simple film than the trailer might indicate.
The words from the Wham hit, Last Christmas take on special significance along Kate’s journey through diverse and Bohemian sections of London. You will be reminded of these words during several poignant scenes. Personally, I may just keep my hands off of the radio next time the song begins to play.
Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day you gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I'll give it to someone special
Once bitten and twice shy
I keep my distance
But you still catch my eye
Tell me, baby
Do you recognize me?
Well, it's been a year
It doesn't surprise me.
Last Christmas is a great way to kick off your holiday season. Just brace yourself for having that song stuck in your head for a while.
Last Christmas (2019) runs 1 hour 43 minutes and is rated pg-13.
Should I see this movie?  

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I’m going to strongly recommend that you see this surprisingly engaging movie. I’m also going to recommend that you bring some Kleenex.
Is it possible that Fred Rogers has been gone for sixteen years already? And how can his show be a childhood touchstone for so many generations of viewers? Perhaps because the show’s lengthy national run between 1968 and 2001 overlaps so many early learning years among those of us who grew up watching network television. A short gap between 1976 and 1979 was addressed in the film as a period during which Fred, “ran out of things to talk about.” The first “last” show aired on February 20, 1976. On a personal note, this was the day before my mother died, and I never needed Mister Rogers more than I did then.
Fred’s own growing young sons eventually gave him plenty more to talk about, and the show resumed for another long stretch, surpassing Captain Kangaroo as the longest running children’s television program. It took Sesame Street to raise the bar further.
The surprise I mentioned earlier regarding this film was the less-than-strictly-biographical nature of the script. Sure, it was about Fred and his show, but they merely provide a wrapper for the story within, that of the relationship with his true-life friend, journalist Tom Junod. He becomes Lloyd Vogel in the film, interviewing Rogers for a short 1998 Esquire piece that becomes much longer as their friendship deepens. Try as he might, Vogel cannot peel the pretense of Fred from his “character” and is unable to separate the two for the purpose of an expose. Vogel’s wife warns, “Don’t ruin my childhood, Lloyd!” 
Eventually Rogers begins speaking through his puppets, at which point Lloyd somewhat angrily says, “Put the puppets down Fred!” Vogel is played with cynical intensity by Matthew Rhys who is currently filming a made for TV Perry Mason reboot.
Filmed in the original Neighborhood studio, cameras can now sweep through the meticulously rebuilt miniature streets with a clarity and consistency that helps our journey along. A fun use of deliberately clumsy props is employed between scenes, jetting Vogel from Pittsburgh to New York on a little wooden airplane that dangles precariously from a string on take off and landing. Here we enjoy a camera zoom out from Mister Roger’s house in the neighborhood, up and over a hill, panning to a distant shot of pre 911 Manhattan, illuminated at night and dissolving slowly into reality.
I expected a standard biopic of the Fred Rogers story. Tom Hanks was the draw for me. And in the standard opening segment, Fred changing into slippers and a sweater, I half expected a Saturday Night Live sketch to ensue. At first, Hanks seems to be channeling the wisdom of Forrest Gump, but after a while you believe you’re watching the real Mister Rogers, the utterly non-judgmental Presbyterian Minister who just wanted people to feel good about themselves, a man who, “didn’t want to eat anything that had a mother.”
We are treated to behind-the-scenes views of Rogers voicing his simple puppets, approving each take of his beloved show, and riding the subway home, serenaded by a chorus of loving fans singing his theme song. At this point there was a soft sing-along in our theater by viewers caught up in the moment. Like I said, Kleenex.
Director Marielle Heller, uses the same color-rich and up-close style as her 2018 Can You Ever Forgive Me? and delivers the most powerful cinematic minute of the year, literally a silent countdown in real time during an “exercise” that Rogers likes to use. Patrons in the restaurant in the scene, and those in the theater in which we sat, seemingly stopped breathing as Hanks looks directly into the camera. You won’t believe how long a minute can be.
If you’d like to visit the Land of Make Believe one more time, see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. All of your old friends are here: King Friday the thirteenth, Daniel Tiger, Trolley, Mister McFeely and Lady Aberlin. Be warned, there are some mildly adult themes and scenes that might not be appropriate for your own very young children and grandchildren. For the original feel, treat them to some old shows which are certain to be available online.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019 ) runs 1 hour, 48 minutes and is rated PG.
Should I see this movie? 

The Good Liar

If you’re a fan of either Helen Mirren (age 74) or Ian McKellen (age 80), you’ll enjoy this showcase of their respective talents. I mention their ages since they factor heavily in the plot and inter-character dynamics.
The lies in The Good Liar begin while the opening credits are still rolling. Mirren, who plays Estelle, is in the comfort of her home entering profile information into a (we assume) seniors dating website. McKellen, as Brian, is also typing feverishly, entering all kinds of false information, sipping whiskey and dragging heavily on a cigarette in what appears to be his office or library. Of course his dating persona neither smokes nor drinks. She is looking for companionship and he is interested in romance.
I’ll depart from the rest of the story after their first meeting, where Brian admits that his name is actually Roy, and Estelle similarly confesses to really being Betty. As they drop their guards they quickly form a deep connection and we realize that only now can the really good lying begin. We go along for the ride, wondering about each, trusting neither. And as the film’s end approaches, wipe the slate clean for the big reveal and start all over again. Who ARE these people?
Well, in real life, Mirren is an Oscar winner with a career spanning over fifty years. And McKellen of course, is Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, but much, much more. His career is approaching sixty years, with two Oscar nominations and a reputation as one of the greatest stage and screen actors. Together they are at once adorable and devious, and oh so British.
Bill Condon, who directed Dreamgirls and Chicago is at the helm here. His experience with the difficulty of transitioning in and out of musical numbers may have benefited him as he flipped the script in The Good Liar from one character to the other, and within Roy Courtnay’s dual identity.
I think you’ll be fond of The Good Liar. And you’ll understand that statement when you see the film.
The Good Liar runs 1 hour 49 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie? 

Ford v Ferrari

One of my favorite toys as a kid was an Aurora HO scale slot car racing set. The first car I bought was a light blue Ford GT 40 with black racing stripes. Even knowing that the chassis and motors for all subsequent cars were identical, the little Ford seemed to hug the track better and move faster than the rest of my growing collection.
Years later I bought a full scale used 1969 Shelby GT 350. It was brilliant yellow with black racing stripes, a roll bar and a polished wooden steering wheel. As one police officer once commented, “That thing looks like it’s going fast while it’s standing still.” It had a pleasantly growling engine and enough heart-pounding muscle to plaster you in your seat when accelerating hard from a full stop. It was clear how people got hooked on racing the minute the automobile was invented. They raced horses, didn’t they?
Even given my personal history with the Shelby-era Fords, I was unaware of the true story told in Ford v Ferrari. This is the tale of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, who against all odds and despite interference from the “suits” within the Ford Motor Company hierarchy, convinced Henry Ford II to give them a chance to try to beat Enzo Ferrari’s team at the French Le Mans 24 hour endurance street race in 1966.
Matt Damon plays the legendary racecar designer, and Christian Bale as the first driver ever to win the Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans in one year. Or did he? Therein lies an additional chapter within this exciting racing story.
It should be noted that the theater at Saturday night’s showing of this newly released film was packed with moviegoers. This was a surprise, since we are often literally the only two people in this venue regardless of the time or day of the week. As a result we wound up in the fourth row. It’s been years since I’ve sat that close to the screen. For the same effect, if you have a large wall-mounted flat screen TV, sit on the floor about three feet in front of it, looking upward, and turn the volume to eleven. It was kind of immersive, though something of an actual pain in the neck. But for a car racing movie? We felt as if we were IN the race! I might actually recommend it.
There are a lot of great auto racing films; Grand Prix, Le Mans, Winning, Days of Thunder and the Fast and Furious franchise among them. I think this film will join those ranks. The camera work was stunning, at fender level and moving 200 mph. There are lots of gear shifting, clutch and gas pedal shots, plus a tight interior head shot of Bale as he alternately focuses and makes animated faces at events around him. His exclamations add interesting color commentary to the race in progress. There are several crashes filmed seemingly from the midst of the exploding vehicles.
But as fun as the racing becomes, grueling 24-hour ordeals in the rain and dark at times, this is a human story. Henry Ford II, played by Tracy Letts (The Sinner, Lady Bird) is a pompous tyro seeking only to live up to his grandfather’s reputation, and Godfather-like Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) keeps taking his lunch money. This plays heavily into Carroll Shelby’s ability to manipulate Ford, whom some call “Deuce,” into granting carte blanche oversight of the Ford team’s development of a Le Mans-worthy vehicle. “Go to war!” Ford tells Shelby. Up until this point, team Ferrari has dominated the French race.
One great scene has Shelby taking the rather rotund Ford for a spin in the newly developed GT racer, a nine million dollar vehicle. If watching Ford being wedged into the little car isn’t funny enough, well, go see the movie for the rest of the ride.
Christian Bale gets to speak in his own Welsh accent in this movie. Though it may be a bit exaggerated and adapted to produce British affects, he does nicely as a bad boy with a heart of gold. His relationships with wife Molly (Caitrona Balfe) and son Peter (Noah Jupe from A Quiet Place) are additional highlights of the story.
When I grew up our family had a Pontiac LeMans. It was pronounced with the “s” as a "z." In the film, they go out of their way to employ the French pronunciation for the race: Le Mon. The course used in the depicted race no longer exists, so Production Designer Francois Audouy recreated the entire track in California, along with the finish line bunker, three stories tall, right down to the pits, grandstands, press box and even doorknobs imported from France. This was a big budget old time Hollywood production at a cost of 100 million dollars.
Damon and Bale bring the Shelby/Miles relationship to life at it’s male-bonding best. There’s as much fuel in these two as in the cars they push to their limits. The vehicles take on a life of their own through Miles’ eyes, as creatures that must be treated lovingly and respectfully in the quest for the driver’s “perfect lap.”
You’ll want to leap into your car after you leave the theater (I can’t) and leave the parking lot at 200 miles per hour. (Don’t.) But do rush to see this film up close and on the big screen with a theater crowded with racing fans and lovers of great movies. It’s a great ride.

Ford v Ferrari runs 2 hours 32 minutes and is rated PG-13.
Should I see this movie? 

Motherless Brooklyn

I once had an egg cream in the Empire State Building’s main floor diner. I went to the observation deck, an open-air fright fest that I recall being cold, cloudy and windy. I later looked back over my shoulder from street level at the World Trade Center on a gloomy day and snapped a picture that had no meaning until I rediscovered the image many years later. And that is the extent of my knowledge of New York.
I am also not a fan of jazz or of the noir genre of film popularized after World War II.  And I can’t say that I’m a particular fan of Edward Norton but am becoming increasingly fond of his work. Honestly, when I hear his name I think of Jackie Gleason’s hapless foil on The Honeymooners.
This film was clearly a work of great passion for Norton, as screenwriter, producer, director and leading male actor. A very smart Yale graduate with seemingly boundless famous friends and his own multiple talents, Norton managed in Motherless Brooklyn to create a 1950s period piece so immersive you can almost smell the cigarette smoke in a jazz club, the stench of the streets in the back alleys of Harlem and the odor of corruption that drives the plot of this film.
Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a young assistant to private investigator and mentor Frank Minna, played by Bruce Willis. Lionel, also known as “Freakshow” for his particular blend of Tourette’s syndrom with integrated Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, struggles to keep it together, but leverages during investigative work his savant-like ability to totally recall conversations. His ticks and outbursts are a visible and disruptive part of Lionel’s outward demeanor that require repeated explanation throughout the film. I am not convinced that they are a necessary part of the plot but they add an interesting dimension to his character. But it could be that Norton is seeking an Academy Award nomination (which he might win) the way Sean Penn did for I Am Sam (though he did not). There were times when I felt as if a twitch or shout was inserted as if a timer had demanded the audience be reminded of his disorder. But that is also the building nature of his nervous misfire, pent up as pressure rises and particular situations demand its release. The more he attempts to suppress it, the worse it becomes.
Frank Minna gets caught up in a plot by mobster/committeeman Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin) against a backdrop of scenes reminiscent of Marvel Studio’s portrayal of Hell’s Kitchen. And Baldwin is literally a looming shadowy figure, much like the Wilson Fisk character from the Daredevil series but not as psychopathic. The sets for Motherless Children are seemingly the result of time travel back to the era being portrayed. Not being more familiar with New York handicaps me in fully appreciating the masterful set design details employed at every turn, even down to long streets filled with appropriately classic cars and a believable amount of garbage at the curbs. Of course, you never know what’s been digitally painted into scenes any more.
Minna’s small investigative practice is left to fend for itself following his death early in the film. The goal for Lionel then becomes to solve Frank’s murder, becoming embroiled himself in a dangerous multi-layered mess along the way. The journey spends considerable time in small bars and jazz clubs in the boroughs between several bridges built by Randolph and neighborhoods he is destroying and re-developing without regard for their residents. A subplot involves Randolph’s brilliant engineer brother Paul played by Willem Dafoe with his usual intensity.
One jazz scene is so lovingly filmed, and the audio so enthralling its no wonder the cameras lingered so long on individual musicians. Viewers can almost smell the smoke and taste the whiskey. And behind the scenes, the actual trumpet playing is by jazz great Wynton Marsalis. Singer-songwriter Thom Yorke of Radiohead wrote the song “Daily Battles,” referenced in a line by female lead Laura Rose played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, “We’ve all got our daily battles.” The line is in response to one in a series of apologies by Lionel for his uncontrollable Turrette’s outbursts.
Dialogue is often overplayed in movies like this one. But Norton writes direct, relaxed exchanges instead of exaggerated lingo of the era. He began writing the adaptation of a Jonathan Lethem novel in 2004 and then hit a writer’s block, got involved in other projects but eventually completed the script and began production. The cinematography by Dick Pope, who worked with Norton on The Illusionist (2006), has a similar rich, personal feel, and the sound track is ripped right out of the 50s with lots of rambling piano and tenor sax.
Watch for multiple Oscar nominations for this film despite its occasional cliches and rambling dialogue. Although a bit long, and despite Alec Baldwin’s performance weakening as the film progresses, it is a very different experience when compared with the many other films premiering this holiday season. You might even find yourself craving a shot of whiskey and a cigarette, preferably in a smoky jazz club, by the time it ends.

Motherless Brooklyn (2019) runs 2 hours, 24 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this film? 

Midway

It’s fitting to see a film about a great military event on the eve of Veterans’ Day, and that is no doubt behind the timing of the release date for Midway. I do not want to disrespect the valor and sacrifice behind this actual legendary naval victory. But this is a movie review, and I can’t turn a blind eye to the faults that abound in the movie version.
There are so many fantastic war films, some of them very recent, and also true stories. Saving Private Ryan, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, The Hurt Locker, Hacksaw Ridge. Sadly, it’s a long list, reflecting the human race’s perennial lust for conflict and battles. So, if you’re going to honor a battle that turned the course of a world war, the film should be great as well. I do not include 1968’s heavily politicized The Green Berets in the list of greats. It was a G-rated, star-studded vehicle for John Wayne to sashay through the jungle saying, “Come on, pilgrim, let’s go find Charlie.” (not a real quote)
And that brings up another point. At this racially divisive time in our history do we need to focus on the characteristics of a people we fought almost eighty years ago, re-illustrating them as barbaric in their intensity and regimented allegiance to their Emperor? Fortunately the makers of Midway chose not to portray the Japanese internment camps established between 1942 and 1945.
In this case, my first thought was that the makers of The Love Boat or Fantasy Island were responsible for casting. You know, the Hollywood stars of the moment assembling en masse to provide that much needed box office boost. Perhaps when you don’t have Robert Mitchum, Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda available as they did in 1976’s version of Midway, you resort to Dennis Quaid, Nick Jonas, Woody Harrelson and a bunch of other familiar faces to lead the charge. But seriously, Woody Harrelson as Chester Nimitz? The admiral has an aircraft carrier named after him, and here we have the star of Zombieland and Cheers being all leader-like with a head full of fake gray hair.
And of course, what cast in the year 2019 would be complete without Mandy Moore heading up a crew of officers’ wives with her now patented soulful frown and pouty persistence, generally in a tasteful nightgown? At least they didn’t have her break into song at the Officers’ Club.
The entire first half hour or more of Midway had me wishing for a note pad to capture examples of the cliché, corny and just plain poorly written dialogue. It verged at times on Mystery Science Theater 3000 level, B-movie commentary. Yes, they were trying to capture the bantering machismo of shipboard sailors and pilots from the 1940s, but I find it hard to believe that they constructed sentences this completely and stupidly. And they didn’t even seem to swear. I insist, if red-spotted Japanese Zeroes were strafing my tail over the Pacific I’d be screaming profanity at the top of my lungs.
Enough about Midway’s failings. If you can overlook the clumsy script, what they got right once they got going was a ton of aerial dog-fighting and dive bombing that keeps you on the seat of your pilot’s chair. The attack on Pearl Harbor is heart wrenching when the Arizona is attacked. Unfortunately it is used as the backdrop for a couple of awkward personnel problems in which a senior officer takes an inexperienced sailor under his wing for the first of several similar encounters.
As a history lesson and some exciting war-action footage Midway entertains and saddens, thrills and disappoints. Closing credits offer glimpses into the final days of several key characters.
An interesting segment showing the impromptu footage captured by filmmaker John Ford illustrates the accidental 16mm filming of the actual attack on Midway island used in a later short documentary.
Midway runs 2 hours 18 minutes and is rated PG-13.
Should I see this movie? 


Harriet

It’s hard to separate the incredible story of Harriet Tubman from the quality of the movie Harriet. This biopic of her life is so amazing as to be unbelievable, but as the film winds down, the factoids begin to roll, and there we see the supporting details. Further research supports the screenplay at every turn. The writers adhered scrupulously to Tubman’s biography. She was born Araminta Ross, called Minty until she adopted her mother’s first name and husband’s last name, combining them into Harriet Tubman when asked what she would like to be called as a freed slave. Following a virtually impossible solo escape from Maryland to Pennsylvania, on foot and being pursued by slave owners and bloodhounds, Tubman arrives in Philadelphia a free woman at the end of a one hundred mile trek.
But that’s where the story becomes astonishing. She made thirteen additional trips back to rescue seventy additional slaves and family members and became a prominent “conductor” on the Underground Railroad network of safe houses. She also helped abolitionist John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry and served as a scout and spy for the Union Army during the Civil War.
A head wound received from a slave owner at age thirteen caused her to suffer from “hypersomnia,” a condition similar to narcolepsy that causes a propensity for falling asleep suddenly and for extended periods. It is also credited with the prophetic visions and dreams that she came to attribute to guidance from God.
The film accurately portrays her use of gospel song as code to communicate her presence to those awaiting rescue. I thought this was absurd until I read that it was a real occurrence. The other source of music in the film, the soundtrack, I felt was overworked, with some sequences seeming somewhat awkward due to their intensity or mismatched use alongside the script. It pulled me out of the film in several cases. Likewise, Janelle Monae’s character (Marie Buchanon) seemed a bit too pretty and polished, and her death scene was unrealistically at the beckoning of Director Kasi Lemmons’ queue. Her role as a black business owner in Philadelphia was invented for the movie.
Similarly, the line spoken by an entrepreneurial black “slave catcher” named Walter who is also something of an opportunist, channels Roy Scheider’s Jaws line when he says, “We’re gonna need a bigger cart.” This was only a little humorous and totally out of place in this film. Other personal interludes, decision points at which slaves decided to be saved, couples reunited or goodbye were said seemed a bit too modern or heavily dialogued. These people would simply be freaking out or speechless from angst.
Harriet Tubman is a major character in U.S. history that has certainly been recognized for her achievements through the years, but in a sort of diminished capacity relative to other figures. For example, in 2016 the U.S. Treasury Secretary announced plans to add a portrait of Tubman to the front of the twenty-dollar bill, moving Andrew Jackson to the back. In 2017 the current Secretary, Steven Mnuchin put the plans on indefinite hold because “right now we have a lot of more important issues to focus on.” Here is a fantastically courageous patriot and freedom fighter being relegated to a back burner rather than “offend” the sensibilities of those who favor a man who initiated the “Trail of Tears” as part of our country’s Native American relocation and concurrent genocide.
Cynthia Erivo did a fantastic job portraying Minty/Harriet. Like Tubman, she is only five feet tall. She recently played alongside Viola Davis in 2018’s Widows.
The film Harriet pales by comparison to other movies on this topic like Twelve Years a Slave. Cicely Tyson played Tubman in the 1978 TV series called A Woman Called Moses.
I recommend that everyone who is considering seeing this film first read Uncle Tom’s Cabin for a rich flavor of the brutality that occurred leading up to the Civil War. Lincoln from 2012 would round out the experience.

Harriet runs 2 hours 5 minutes and is rated PG-13.
Should I see this movie?  

The Current War: Director's Cut

My father was an usher at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, titled A Century of Progress. Somehow he managed to collect four unused souvenir tickets to the 1893 Columbian Exposition, also in Chicago. I treasure these along with a small collection of Chicago books and memorabilia. There are numerous buildings in Chicago from that period that are seemingly frozen in time, lovingly preserving the heavy and ornate woodwork and soaring ceilings, staircases and marble lobbies of the late 1800s. A Chicago architectural tour is a must if you are similarly intrigued. Sadly, not much remains of the original fairgrounds, which burned down within six months of the expo’s end. There are only a few remaining structures, most notably The Museum of Science and Industry (recently renamed for a major donor, but forget that!), on the south lakeshore.
So it’s easy to imagine that this movie has been on my must-see list for some time. The Victorian era, including such notables as H.G. Wells, with his time machine, and Jules Verne’s many imaginative literary creations and journeys became the catalyst that inspired the SteamPunk genre’s emergence in the 1970s. As is usually the case, art imitates life, and the late nineteenth century was a time of great wonder, as the post Civil War Industrial Revolution gave rise to exploding populations, the conquest of undiscovered countries and the steam-driven mechanization of just about everything.
Known as “The White City” the Columbian Exposition is something of an American icon, a battleground where architects like Daniel Burnham, a serial killer, and titans of industry, most notably George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, were competing to dominate their fields, their victims and their market share respectively. Edison was a cutthroat, hard working public relations master. He and Tesla were both undoubtedly sociopaths. And lurking in the shadows of the World’s Fair was a full-fledged psychopath named Dr. H. H. Holmes, subject of the book Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Hulu has a film of that book in development, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Holmes. 
The Current War pits Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) against Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) as the titans behind the emergence of electricity’s widespread use. Edison emphatically states to his young secretary Samuel Insull (Tom Holand) that whoever wins this race rules the world, or something to that effect. His many bellicose statements capture the Steve Jobs-like tyrant nature and obsessive zeal that drive his Menlo Park invention gristmill. There are elements of Jeff Bezos in his Amazon-like hard-driving expectations of staff. His casual abuse of Nikola Tesla leads to the eventual victory by Westinghouse in securing the White City contract.
Edison’s dangerously competitive nature eventually leaves him without a contract when the World’s Fair project is decided. Other than the illumination of part of Manhattan, this is the most spectacular use of the new technology as of 1893, and with 30 million visitors from all over the world, the best marketing opportunity for the new electric light. Try to imagine the impact of night turning into day in the midst of a mostly dark, candle and gas illuminated world!
I have a deep interest in that period of our country’s history. Nikola Tesla, long before Elon Musk co-opted his name for an electric vehicle, was an eccentric genius, a mysterious inventor responsible for the alternating current that comes out of your electric sockets today. Had he been more conventional in his methods and a better businessman, there is some evidence that he was mastering the long distance wireless transmission of current, which would change, well, everything. For a long time he was more or less lost to history.
When I first heard that Cumberbatch stars in this film, I assumed he would appear in the role of Tesla. Instead he plays Edison, and Nicholas Hoult plays the Serbian-American genius. Cumberbatch looks much younger than Edison’s actual 46 years of age in 1893.
Oddly, the film premiered at several film festivals in 2017 and was sold to another production company in the midst of the Harvey Weinstein debacle until a re-edit resulted in this Director’s Cut. Does that spell trouble? I guess theatergoers who see this version will never know. But while it was a fascinating recounting of a pivotal period in our history, it lacked the action, suspense and thrills expected of most movies these days. The Current War seems more like a movie that could be shown in high school or college as an educational film than a commercial release. 
It seems as if Tesla could have been the star of the show to bring a bit of electric “Magic” to the story and serve as a bridge between Westinghouse and Edison, since Tesla is the real story here. His eccentricity and genius have been the subject of other films, (The PrestigeTesla and many others) so a novel storyline was pursued for The Current War by following his second, much more understanding employer/partner, Westinghouse. Tesla’s penchant for fully developing inventions in his mind before ever attempting to build them was diametrically opposed to Edison’s slavish trial and error methods. In his famous quote, he claims, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
A minor point of interest: four actors in The Current War have had roles in recent superhero films. Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, Holland as Spiderman, Hoult as Beast in Deadpool 2 and X-Men films and Michael Shannon as Zod in Man of Steel
The film also attempts to debunk the legendary sadistic nature with which Edison has been credited, most often through the now disproven electrocution of Topsy the circus elephant from Coney Island. In fact, the event actually happened, but Edison had nothing to do with it, and it was ten years later than the period depicted here. However, in his efforts to prove that DC current was safer than AC, the “Wizard of Menlo Park” did electrocute numerous animals, mostly dogs in order to find a more humane means of euthanizing animals. In The Current War, the invention of the electric chair and subsequent death of murderer William Kemmler was dramatically carried out with an overly dramatic simultaneous flipping of the switches at the White City opening and the execution in New York. The events were actually separated by three years. Ah, poetic license in filmmaking.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon nicely captured the rich and dark feel of the late nineteenth century in this, his first feature film. But there is no hurry to see this in a theater unless you’re just really excited by the subject.
The Current War: Director’s Cut (2017) runs 1 hour 58 minutes and is rated PG-13.
Should I see this movie?  

Zombieland: Double Tap

It is strongly recommended that you see 2009’s Zombieland prior to seeing this sequel.
Done?
Ok, now on to the fun and games.
Trailers facetiously promote the cast via their respective academy award statuses: Woody Harrelson, nominee (The People vs Larry Flint and The Messenger); Jesse Eisenberg, nominee (The Social Network); Emma Stone, winner (La La Land); and Abigail Breslin, nominee (Little Miss Sunshine.) This film is decidedly not a medium for culturing awards. But as a fun exercise in the genre-bending comedy/horror category, it must have been a fun assignment for all involved.
The four stars of 2009’s Zombieland return here to reprise their roles as Tallahassee, Columbus, Wichita and Little Rock (Harrelson, Eisenberg, Stone and Breslin respectively), on their continuing mission to survive a viral pandemic that reduced the world to a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by hordes of brain-eating living dead. As we have now come to know with the help of TV series like The Walking DeadThe Santa Clarita Diet and many others, the only thing that “kills” a zombie is a grotesque head trauma that destroys their already dead brain. This has been an absolutely boon for video editors and makeup artists in Hollywood. Comically horrific visual and audio special effects abound in these films.
The basic formula established in 2009 has not changed. Wandering apocalypse survivors team up in a quest to find a safe place to call “home” against all odds in a world where there are very few safe places. The White House becomes the setting for some initial survivor hijinks, desecrating objects and settings no longer sacred in the decimated United States.
New friends team up with the gang, but like the red-shirted disposables in Star Trek, are quickly infected and dispatched, usually following a stomach-turning zombie battle. The zombies have been categorized and named since the last film, and Columbus’s obsession with rules leads to some intrusive 3D titles that crumble and fall to the ground after their purpose has been served. A vehicle even crashes into a low-hanging title at one point. A quest for the “kill of the year” honor results in a couple of scenes completely outside of the main story, but are opportunities for additional laughs.
There are references to some events from 2009 that uninformed viewers will find puzzling, but otherwise do not derail the script. This is all about characters bantering in the most unlikely situations, inventing rules for a world where no rules apply. But even in the apocalypse, it pays to “beware of bathrooms” doesn’t it?
Woody Harrelson is at his goofy “Cheers” best here. He has proved his mettle as an actor over the years and is entitled to have some mindless fun, as are we. Ditto for Emma Stone. Directing and writing credits remain intact ten years later, and although not as new, or even as fun and imaginative as the original, fans who have been awaiting a sequel will thoroughly enjoy this 99 minutes of brainless (pun intended) fun. If you’re squeamish, just forget it.
Note: stay past the initial credits. Some of the greatest fun in Zombieland: Double Tap comes in a lengthy revisiting of the 2009 chapter of this once-a-decade franchise.

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) runs 1 hour 39 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?

Judy

If you can imagine seeing a train leave a station with the understanding that it is going to experience an agonizing, slow motion and unavoidable wreck, the movie Judy gives you a gut wrenching, trackside view of such a journey. Along for the ride are various audiences, friends, family, fans and industry parasites that witness the spectacle and ride on the coat tails of Judy Garland’s career, spanning forty-five years, beginning at age two.
Judy Garland became a household name with her performance in the Wizard of Oz in 1939. The film won best song that year, sung by Garland, and was nominated for best picture. But it was a big year for movies. Gone With the Wind took best picture. Both films were directed by Victor Fleming.
This is essentially a one-woman show starring Renee Zellweger. I was unconvinced by previews but must say after seeing the film that I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job of channeling the late Garland. The film recounts Judy’s life at a stage during the winter of 1968 when drugs and alcohol had derailed her career in the United States, causing her to leave her children with ex husband Sid Luft while she attempted to pull herself together in England.
As a biopic of a famous figure, Judy is interesting but not outstanding. It’s Zellweger’s portrayal of the fierce and fragile paradox embodied in the tiny (4’ 11”) legendary performer that kicks this movie up a couple of levels and makes it worth seeing. For those old enough to remember, or current fans with audio collections, the fact that Zellweger sang in the film is courageous. Garland’s vocal range and smooth delivery deteriorated over the years, in part due to her chronic smoking habit. The warbling vibrato she became known for is seen by some as a tactic to reach notes as she aged. But she could still belt out songs and thrill her audiences, fueled by a combination of drugs, alcohol, adrenaline, fame and transcendent willpower. 
I remember Judy Garland from appearances on the Tonight Show, first with Jack Paar and later with Johnny Carson. (Thanks Mom and Dad for letting me stay up late and watch.) She was one of those late night couch dwellers that oozed charisma and was just quirky enough to be really interesting. Zellweger captures Judy’s mannerisms and jerky stage presence but just can’t approach her vocal talent. That should not be taken as criticism. She did an admirable, believable job. That said, she will probably be nominated for an academy award for this role.
Flashbacks to Garland at sixteen help explain the extent to which she spends her life as a victim of abuse at the hands of parents, producers and a string of husbands. She is never taught, or allowed, to make good choices, suffers from insomnia and is fed pills to sustain her through eighteen hour days. This becomes habitual and carries her through her early career. The abused becomes the abuser.
Zellweger is no stranger to controversy. Her rather strangely changed appearance following a lengthy absence from the limelight had the media speculating about all sorts of unidentified conditions. She claims that she just…aged. So be it.
Even in death, Garland could find no initial peace. Her remains were moved from Manhattan to Hollywood and re-interred at the request of her children in 2017. Her death was ruled an accident resulting from accumulated barbiturates, not a suicide. She was only 47 years old.
The film ends with a final song on stage. Yes, that song. You know the one.

Judy (2019) runs 1 hour 58 minutes and is rated PG-13
Should I see this movie?  
  

Gemini Man

When I was in my twenties while on a trip to Jamaica I met an artist who lived in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. He connected me for a couple of summers to a somewhat free flowing party crowd filled with interesting people I never would have met otherwise. Some were artists. One woman claimed to be Louisa May Alcott’s granddaughter. Her last name was Alcott. I asked. She seemed surprised that I knew the name. Or maybe she was just messing with me. But strange things like that happened, and I was never sure whom I could entirely trust.
My friends and I were invited to lots of parties in the area. Other events, well, we just showed up. But we were frequent enough participants to begin recognizing people and to be recognized by others. Tim Kazurinsky, a Chicago comedian from the early days of Saturday Night Live was at one event. That was fun. And then there was the evening when a small crowd of people stood across a backyard patio, looking at me, giggling and pointing. Eventually they sent an ambassador over who began to question me:
            “Oh my God, what are you doing here?”
I was completely taken aback. Stunned silent, actually.
            “No, seriously, who do you know here? Are you following us?”
It wasn’t until I began to protest my innocence that the inquisitor took a shocked step back, said “Oh, that’s weird, you look just like…” and here I can’t even begin to fill in the name. It doesn’t matter. I had a doppelganger. Someone who looked so much like me I could have switched places. Only our voices set us apart.
So, the premise of Gemini Man was strangely relatable for me. Will Smith plays Henry Brogan, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) sniper with seemingly super human abilities when it comes to shooting under impossible conditions. The movie begins with Brogan on his belly awaiting the arrival of a bullet train in a foreign locale. He is on a hill 2 kilometers away and the train is moving at 238 km per hour. His target is sitting in a window seat, and he becomes disillusioned when he misses the shot due to a last minute distraction. He hits the target in the neck instead of the head.
Retirement is Henry’s choice as a result of this disappointing performance, along with the development, as in many older soldiers, of a conscience. Never mind he already has 72 high profile kills to his credit. But you don’t leave DIA unless they want you to, and thus begins a tale of espionage, betrayal and ultimately, Brogan coming face to face with a younger clone of himself, sent to kill him.
The clone, a marvel of computer generated imagery, is Smith at age 25. The older Smith, age 51, is beginning to slow, to succumb to his doubts and fears. “Junior” as the clone is known has been trained since birth as a weapon, with all of the older Smith’s strengths and none of his weaknesses.
As the story develops, we are introduced to Dani, a covert DCI agent assigned to monitor Brogan. Played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, known most recently as Laurel Healy from the TV series Braindead, and Nikki Swango on the 2017 Fargo series, her cover is blown and she becomes a target along with Brogan.
We meet Clay Verris (Clive Owen), head of Gemini Global Defenses, a mercenary company of highly trained special operations soldiers, and Junior’s adopted father. Junior must come to terms with the truth of his identity, any remaining hope of becoming a normal member of society and the need to break away from the madness that has gripped Verris. There are rumors within the agency that there are plans that extend far beyond simple cloning to the creation of an army of soulless super soldiers, devoid of pain and fear.
            “We can spare parents the grief of seeing their child come home in a box,” is Clay’s moral imperative for his utterly immoral God-play.
The University of Illinois’ own Ang Lee (Brokeback MountainLife of Pi) directed Gemini Man. It was shot at the high frame rate of 120 frames per second, which gives it an intensity and hyper reality that compliments the incredible de-ageing of Will Smith. That special effect is rarely disruptive, and then only slightly so. I wondered if I would have questioned the animated appearance of young Smith at all had I not known to watch for it. That computers are clearly at the point at which actors are almost optional brings us closer to the day when talent is merely licensed and voiced-over once sufficient star power has been established. Or will completely artificial personages have stars of their own on the Hollywood walk of fame?
Gemini Man is exciting, as believable as any modern super spy thriller, well scripted, nicely acted (Smith versus Smith side by side had to be a challenge) and filled with numerous switchbacks, chase scenes and exotic locations.

Gemini Man (2019) runs 1 hour 57 minutes and is rated PG-13.
Should I see this movie?  

No Time to Die

We saw the long-awaited James Bond film recently. And not surprisingly, I began this review with the wrong title, not that it matters. The f...