Tag Archives: Will Smith

Spies In Disguise

I don’t know if you heard, but Special Agent Lance Sterling (Will Smith) is a lone wolf. He doesn’t work in teams, the world’s greatest spy kicks butt solo. He’s a little peeved when he’s in the middle of a 70 on 1 situation and what he thinks is a grenade turns out to be a glitter bomb. It works but he’s cranky about it, and he wants Walter (Tom Holland), the young tech officer involved, fired.

But Lance has some bigger problems: internal affairs accuses him of stealing the very weapon he was in charge of recovering. He knows he’s innocent, but he’ll need to disappear to prove it, and there’s only one person who can help him: Walter. If it’s at all awkward to ask the guy you just had fired for a favour, Lance doesn’t show it. He’s an incredibly cool customer. But Walter, an inventor since childhood, has all kinds of next generation concealment tech at hand. The very future of espionage! Unfortunately, Lance’s arrogance gets him in trouble once again when he accidentally chugs a potion that will turn him into a pigeon. Technically speaking it gets the job done – he’s not invisible but he’s definitely unrecognizable. If you thought dashing hero and geeky sidekick were an odd couple, try nerd and pigeon on for size.

Spies In Disguise is an easily digestible, fast-paced children’s movie with limited appeal for adults. These spies take on villains just like James Bond but unlike 007, they’ll do it without violence; Walter’s gadgets and indeed his personal credo are more about helping people than hurting them.

The film is propped up by an impressive voice cast, including Reba McIntire, Rashida Jones, Karen Gillan, and Ben Mendelsohn. But the major lifting is done by Tom Holland – affable, eager, guileless Tom Holland, who also voices a major character in Disney-Pixar’s Onward, both roles handily done in the gung-ho American accent he’s perfected playing Spidey, much of his fan base perhaps shocked to learn he’s actually English. At any rate, he is indeed the stand-out actor in Spies in Disguise and his character is the real hero, showing the veterans in his field that there IS a better way, which is a welcome message for young audiences.

Gemini Man

This is what we call a “Sean movie” at our house – motorcycles, explosions, heck – Will Smith. It is not a Jay movie but I go along because 1) I believe there are gems in every genre and 2) it’s okay to occasionally do things for your loved one instead of yourself. But now matter how “compromising” and “open-minded” my mood, this should by all rights be a Sean review. But here’s a dirty little secret, and let’s just keep this between you and me: remember the Toronto International Film Festival that ended 5 weeks ago? Well, I’ve written all 43 of my reviews, was finished a couple of weeks ago actually, and Sean’s still working on 2 out of 4 of his. That’s right. That’s the imbalance around here, and I’m calling you out, Sean. Get it together!

Anyway, Gemini Man. Will Smith is Henry Bogan, a top-secret super-sniper with more than 70 impressive kills, helping his government to rid the world of bad guys. But those kills are catching up with him and he’s feeling mentally ready to retire. The official IMDB description calls him an “over the hill hitman” but both Smith and his character are a mere 51 years of age, and far fitter than I am though I am two decades sprier. He’s not so much past his prime as simply too mature and experienced to take this shit lightly anymore. Anyway, no matter what he’s decided, the government isn’t about to just cut him loose. He knows too much, so to them, retirement = death. The only problem is: who on earth is fit to kill the world’s best killer?

It turns out they’ll have to use the product of a highly classified lab run by Clay Verris (Clive Owen). Verris is Henry Bogan’s former Navy Seals commander, and apparently quite an admirer. He’s been using Bogan’s DNA to make a more perfect clone, and now there’s a 23 year old version of Will Smith walking around and he’s not half as tired or dispirited as his original. He’s totally going to murder Henry Bogan right in the face.

Several times during this movie I looked over at Sean with my eyebrow cocked wildly. Sean knows this look and he knows what it means. He knows I’m holding him responsible for every single weird thing this movie does. It’s his fault. He knows and I know it and it’s gonna be a very blame-y car ride home. But to my dismay, before I could even take that first big lungful of air to start in on my diatribe, Sean spikes it with “Well that was bad.”

How dare you, sir! That movie gave you everything you could want in an explosions, motorcycle, and Will Smith movie: explosions, motorcycles, and multiple Will Smiths! Is there no appeasing this man? And if he didn’t like it, who the heck did? Not the critics, that’s for sure: it’s got a measly 26% on rotten tomatoes (just for comparison, Wild Wild West has 17%).

It seems that director Ang Lee is more concerned with making high-tech movies as complicatedly as possible and isn’t so concerned with making interesting or watchable ones. Will Smith is fine, though I’m not really convinced by the de-aging software, especially since we’re pinning him to age 23, which is when he’s at the height of his Fresh Prince fame. He wasn’t just a younger version of his currently buff self. He was skinny and gawky and hadn’t quite come into his own. Will Smith at 51 is much better looking; the gray at his temples suits him, as does bigger suit size. But no matter how fresh he is, he can’t make a convoluted script work, and I had trouble remembering I wasn’t watching Mission Impossible II – not a great sign for a movie as technologically advanced as Gemini Man to be mistaken for a movie nearly 20 years its senior. There were good parts too – the catacombs looked especially cool, and Lee’s got some interesting angles in his pocket. But mostly it just felt a bit derivative and kind of a bore, even if it is 2 Will Smiths for the price of 1.

I, Robot

Detective Spooner (Will Smith) hates technology generally and robots specifically. In 2035, he immerses himself in vintage clothes, “antique” furnishings, and “oldies” music (most of which is from the 80s). When a brilliant robotics scientist (James Cromwell) is killed, and a robot is the apparent suspect, Spooner is either the worst man for the job, or the best.

Sonny (Alan Tudyk) is the homicidal robot in question, and this murder investigation is immediately making waves. Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood) is particularly motivated to cover up the crime. Robots are subject to 3 ironclad laws that should make harming a human impossible. Robertson’s company is about to inundate the market with robots for personal use. If the public gets whiff of this, it would destroy their appetite for keeping robots in their homes (understandably). So Robertson’s trying to put a lid on this thing, Spooner’s trying to blow the lid off it, and the hordes of robots are starting to feel more and more sinister.

I, Robot is inspired by the work of Isaac Asimov, a sci-fi writer with a curious and probing mind. He teases out the possibilities and then follows them to their logical, if uncomfortable conclusion. The movie is full of flashy embellishments that of course already look dated. 2004’s vision of 2035 already looks pretty shitty to us folk in 2019. Its original script (then called Hardwired) was a lot more Asimov, but once Will Smith came on board, it was quickly converted into yet another summer blockbuster in which Smith saves the world – with jokes inserted that even Will Smith found dubious. Anyway, it’s been robbed of the subversive Asimov element and turned into 96% action and 4% sci-fi, which, for the record, is officially the saddest ratio in the world. It’s like director Alex Proyas shoved in so many self-driving cars and futuristic guns that the brain just fell out. No room at the inn for critical thought or Important Questions or lingering doubt. Just expensive destruction and robots with unnerving eyes.

It’s not just the role Will Smith was born to play, it’s the role Will Smith has already played literally half a dozen times. He’s quite good at it – the chip on the shoulder, the slow-motion last minute saves. It’s rote, but it has a nice gloss on it. Nobody’s bothering to dig underneath the surface in this film, but it’s decent entertainment if you’re just looking for an excuse to shovel popcorn into face.

Fun Facts

The motorcycle that Smith rides in the movie is a 2004 MV Agusta F4-SPR, one of only 300 produced worldwide, capable of reaching in excess of 175 mph. He wrecked it during filming.

Will Wheaton and Emilion Estevez both tried out to play Sonny (the robot).

The most expensive CGI shot in the whole movie is when they digitally removed Will Smith’s penis from the shower scenes when producers suddenly got cold feet.

Aladdin (2019)

Maybe it’s just time we admit that no remake, perhaps especially a live-action remake, will live up to the extremely high bar set by the animated films of our youth. Not only were these movies straight out of Disney’s renaissance, they are coated in the glittery gold of nostalgia, elevated by the place they had in our lives at the time, rendered flawless and important in our cherished memories. It’s an impossible standard, is what I’m saying. That said, Aladdin is probably among the better ones.

As you know, Aladdin isn’t really about Aladdin. Oh sure, it’s ostensibly about a boy wooing and trying to be worthy of a princess. And about a greedy man who’ll stop at nothing to gain power. But really it’s about a genie trapped in a lamp, longing to be free. Robin Williams 110% stole the first movie. His ad-libbed sessions in the recording studio had Disney re-writing the script to accommodate all of his beautiful material. These were agl0580.pcomp_publicity.v02.1039_grd004.000000.0immense blue shoes to fill, so in a way, I admire the impulse to steer the ship in a different direction, as Will Smith IS a different direction – though not as different as I’d imagined. He makes the character his own, for better or worse, but the fact that this film is such a close remake means inevitably you’ll be comparing movies and this one will be coming up short. It can’t quite recapture the magic, especially when we know every word and anticipate every action. And Will Smith’s Genie is a dull cousin of Williams’. This is not entirely Smith’s fault – who among us could compete with the limitless freedom of a cartoon? Animated Genie is just that – animated. At all freaking times. Will Smith can’t even touch the manic energy of the original, and frankly, his songs leave a little to be desired. I’d heard that his remake of Friend Like Me would be largely hip-hop inspired, but I heard wrong. But it may have been the wiser choice; if you’re going to fail by comparison, then do something to distinguish yourself. The 2019 version is fairly faithful to the original – it has all the basics but none of the colour.

Well, I don’t meant that literally. In fact, that’s one of the things I liked best about the movie: the absolute riot of colour. Jewel tones abound! The colours of spice fill up the screen, sometimes metaphorically but sometimes quite literally. Jasmine’s costumes are the stuff little girls’ dreams are made of. In animation, it’s too expensive to have different outfits for characters, so they mostly wear just on the one thing, a cartoon uniform if you will. And Jasmine’s is no joke. But in the live-action remake, costumers have given themselves permission to create a wardrobe befitting a princess. It’s a feast for the eyes.

I mentioned before that the 2019 film is fairly faithful to the original and that’s true – but there are a few exceptions, and I’m glad that Jasmine is one of them. In the 1992 feature, Jasmine is a passive character. Yes, she’s 15, but she’s very much a damsel in distress. That’s not quite the character the writers meant to portray, but several scenes in which she was to exercise her voice were cut because they were simply too expensive to animate. That decision saved production budget but cost Jasmine something in character. In 2019, she’s a fuller version of herself. Of course, that’s partially because you’ll find her singing a song you don’t recognize (called Speechless – it’s Disney’s bid at an Oscar this year, as only original, written-for-this-movie songs qualify).

Speaking of which: Jasmine and Aladdin. I hereby give you permission to get your Aladdin thirst on. I mean, maybe you’ve always had a certain lustful feeling toward the MV5BZTc3NTA1YmEtZTkyNy00ZDMyLWJkMmItODFkYjU0MTc2N2I0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDQxNjcxNQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1233,1000_AL_street rat with the not little nipple-less bod. Now he’s played by the very attractive Mena Massoud, who conveys all of his boyishness and charm. Jasmine, meanwhile, is portrayed by  the lovely Naomi Scott. Since cartoon Jasmine is 80% doe eyes, you might think she’d be difficult to replace. In fact, Scott is everything you could ever want in a Jasmine, now with 50% more agency. And unlike Will Smith’s renditions, everything Scott and Massoud sing sounds like the soundtrack of your childhood. You’ll find it difficult not to sing along. Why resist, really? Someone has to be the crazy lady in each and every movie theatre, and it may as well be you.

Director Guy Ritchie brings an energy to the film that’s quite unexpected. I mean, he’s made a career putting hustlers on the big screen, and who is Aladdin if not that? And those were Sean’s favourite scenes: Aladdin deftly avoiding arrest in the streets of Agrabah, streets he knows well, like the back of his hand. He  navigates those in the slight elevation above reality – quick, slick, agile. My favourite scenes, however, were the colourful spectacles I didn’t know Ritchie was capable of. Will Smith’s Genie introduces Prince Ali to Agrabah with fanfare that’s nothing short of visually stunning. It’s choreographed to within an inch of its life, with a rainbow of costumes and a riot of feathers and dancing girls and exotic animals.

Aladdin is a lot of fun if you let it be. It is not the Aladdin of your childhood, but there’s enough room for both of them. Now go be the crazy lady in your local cinema.

 

Bright

What’s worse than being flat, derivative and uninspired? Being all those things, showing a tiny bit of promise in spite of them, and then throwing the interesting parts away in search of a flashy climax and tidy resolution. That’s Bright.

The concept is sound – what if there were Elves and Orcs and magic in our world? It’s not a new idea and that’s fine. The hodgepodge of fantasy elements forming the basis of this world are standard fare as webright_unit_06597_r_wide-67b1f15cb792c81ccc1359a7e8a2e6c0bce7b718-s900-c85ll, straight out of Tolkien or World of Warcraft. Orcs are brutes with sharp teeth, Elves are beautiful and rich, magic wands are super powerful but not everyone can use them. The script, complete with minority and 1% allegories, practically writes itself.

The problem is, it feels like no extra effort was put in to creating Bright. Like, at all.  Like, I’m pretty sure Will Smith was quoting himself from Men in Black every time he let a sarcastic quip fly. Not incidentally, well over 90% of his lines in Bright are sarcastic quips. Either stop phoning it in or stop being in movies, please.

Joel Edgerton doesn’t phone it in like Smith but he is totally unrecognizable and totally wasted here as the sensitive Orc sidekick. He had no chance of saving this mess. Full disclosure: this is a recurring exchange between Jay and me:

Jay: We should go see [small indie movie]. Joel Edgerton is in it.

Me: Who’s Joel Edgerton again?

Jay: The guy from [slightly older small indie movie that we saw a few months prior].

Me: That was Joel Edgerton?

Jay: We literally just had this conversation when you made me watch the Star Wars prequels.

Me: JOEL EDGERTON IS IN STAR WARS?

Jay: I hate you.

It happened again in Bright only I swear, this time it was not my fault. It was David Ayer’s, and Bright is proof that we should have cut Ayer off long before Suicide Squad. Thanks for writing Training Day, really, but that goodwill was used up long ago.  A glimmer of promise and then an avalanche of mediocrity and disappointment – just like Bright.

Contract Negotiations

The rich and famous are rich and famous for a reason – their unreasonable demands. Turns out actors are not immune. The following are actual clauses found in movie contracts.

Samuel L. Jackson has it in his contract that he gets a break during filming to play golf twice a week. Priorities!

The late Garry Marshall was so close to Hector Elizondo that he put a clause in his contracts stipulating that the actor was guaranteed a role in all Marshall films. Elizondo never knew about the clause but obviously benefitted, appearing in all of Marshall’s films, up until the director’s death last year.

Steve McQueen had a crazy grudge against Paul Newman. When the two starred in The poster_0Towering Inferno in 1974, McQueen demanded that he not only have top billing, but also the exact same pay as Newman—and the EXACT SAME number of lines, which seems like a pretty shitty way to write a script. The two fought it out about the top billing and eventually producers settled on a compromise for the poster: McQueen’s name is first, but Newman’s name, while second, is slightly higher up. Also the picture of McQueen is on the left, but Newman’s picture is again slightly higher up. This coined the term ‘diagonal billing’ because you know movie stars have egos and this shit definitely has come up again.

While working on (the now defunct) Eloise in Paris in 2010, Uma Thurman insisted on receiving heavy discounts if she decided to buy any clothes and\or wigs used during the shoot. Also, “no other cast member [may] receive more favorable dressing rooms.”

Roger Moore asked for and received “unlimited” Montecristo cigars on his James Bond films – I mean, what better way to get into character?

Will Ferrell, who takes pride in being an ass, demanded the following:

1 Electric three-wheel mobility scooter
1 headset microphone (Janet Jackson style)
1 flight of stairs on wheels
1 fake tree on wheels
1 rainbow (can be painted on canvas) on wheels
Guinness beer
Smart Water or Fiji Water
Coke, Diet Coke, 7Up
Raw roasted almonds
Protein bars: Peanut butter chocolate Zone Bars, Peanut Butter Power Bars

Just the necessities, obviously!

Will Smith had a two-and-a-half million dollar trailer built for himself. His contract makes sure the trailer has a spot on every movie set. It sits on 22 wheels, has 14 televisions, and $30,000 worth of leather upholstery. It has a full kitchen with over $$100,000 worth of granite countertops. It has sliding doors like the Star Trek Enterprise, which lead to a wardrobe room. It has pistons that allow it to transform to have a second story, which houses a screening room for watching dailies. There’s a shower in a $25,000 bathroom that has a magic glass door, which can go between opaque and transparent with the push of a button. Sean and I saw this monstrosity on the streets of Manhattan while he was filming MIB3, and you bet the locals were complaining about its size and its generally fucking up traffic, and blocking out sunlight in the surrounding apartments.  Charming?

Lindsey Lohan, known for being oh-so modest, demanded a private jet with a hairstylist, a makeup artist, and a manicurist onboard. She also insisted on a 1-year Russian visa, a Ritz-Carlton penthouse suite, and a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, and that was just to appear on a talk show. I think she may be overestimated her cachet.

While filming Gravity in Surrey, George Clooney insisted on a custom-made beach hut complete with hot tub, private landscaped garden, and basketball court built next to his trailer. He let production pick up the £100,000 tab while making $20M for the movie. Life is fair!

Tom Cruise’s “thing” is as weird as he is: thongs. He’s got thongs written into every contract – up to 50 of them per movie since he only wears them once. He feels they’re imperative for shooting action scenes, keeping him loose and unrestricted. I have a feeling that my underwear is not what’s holding me back. I also doubt the thongs are helping him out all that much, but it’s a nice justification for your fetish, isn’t it?

But just to leave you with something positive, not all contract riders are inspired by selfish greed. Robin Williams always wrote in his contract that on every film he made, production had to hire a certain number of homeless people and put them to work. Remember that next time you watch one of his old gems.

Independence Day: Resurgence

Will Smith was right to avoid this one.  Honestly, he must be embarrassed for his likeness to have made a brief appearance in this debacle.  Jeff Goldblum should feel even worse for having taken the money to appear in this thing.  Independence Day: Resurgence is every bit as terrible as you’ve heard.  Now that it’s on Netflix, I felt I had to check it out to be sure.  I am writing this solely to ensure you don’t make the same mistake.

Independence Day: Resurgid4ence starts out terribly and does not improve one bit.  If anything it gets dumber as it goes, by taking us to a moonbase, then having an alien ship that measures 3,000 miles across sneak past all Earth’s defences, and then creating a totally unnecessary back story for the aliens involving a different alien/robot/spaceship.  Well, totally unnecessary except that it conveniently sets up a sequel!  Do me a favour and stay off Kickstarter if you think a third Independence Day sounds like a good idea.

It’s just a mess.  Like peeing your pants, which two of our heroes admit to doing after one of several mediocre action scenes.  Billy Madison made peeing your pants cool, but Liam Hemsworth and Travis Tope prove here they cannot pull off the same thing.  Not that I could pull it off either but at least I know enough not to try.  Despite what my love of comic book movies may suggest, I’m not six years old.

If you are still on fence about this movie then I’ve failed, and in that case I have to wonder whether you were worth saving anyway.   Independence Day: Resurgence gets a score of 3 soiled undies out of ten.