I had three new movies this past weekend. And well, I guess they can’t all be good every week. In this case though, I just wish I would have enjoyed one of them. Sadly, no such luck this time around.
This week we’ve got an animated reimagining of America’s kookiest family, a comedy featuring a foul-mouthed phone, and the latest movie from critically acclaimed filmmaker Ang Lee.
Let’s get to the reviews.
First up is “The Addams Family.”
Members of the mysterious and spooky Addams family, Gomez (Oscar Isaac), Morticia (Charlize Theron), Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard), Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz), Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll), Lurch (Conrad Vernon) and Thing, are readily preparing for a visit from their even creepier relatives.
But trouble soon arises when shady TV personality Margaux Needler (Allison Janney) realizes that the Addams’ eerie hilltop mansion is standing in the way of her dream to sell all the houses in the neighborhood.
“The Addams Family” is one of those properties that I don’t have any nostalgia for.
Sure, I knew they were a thing. I watched too much TV Land growing up to not at least be casually aware of the classic 60s TV show’s existence, and of course its incredibly catchy finger snapping theme song.
I never actually saw any episodes though.
Mostly because I was incredibly easy to frighten as a boy. Even something as tame as Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” was enough to scare me. So obviously anything with monsters or a creepy Victorian aesthetic was definitely out.
These days I might be a bit less of a chicken, but I still never felt obligated to consume any “The Addams Family” related material. That is of course until this past weekend when I saw this movie.
And I gotta say, based on this film alone, I don’t see myself becoming a big fan of the Addams’ anytime soon.
Everything about this movie is completely forgettable.
The story is about as generic and overused as animated narratives come. In fact, it’s basically the same plot as STX’s recent flop “UglyDolls,” just with slightly less singing.
You’ve got your group of outcasts, isolated from the outside world, who suddenly run across a society obsessed with conformity. Of course the conformists attempt to change our wacky, yet lovable, main characters, but in the end they all discover that their differences are what make them special.
It’s a fine message to be sure. One I wholeheartedly support. But it’s not such a grand idea that it needs to be the plot of every single kids movie.
The animation here is just as generic, with the character designs ranging from uninspired and cheap looking to downright horrifying.
Now you might think ‘horrifying’ doesn’t sound like the worst thing an “The Addams Family” movie could be described as, but sadly it isn’t the look of Addams’ that ended up making my skin crawl.
It’s the ‘normal’ people that look horrific here. Every single one of them had giant bug eyes with tiny pupils and squished faces.
The children looked especially ghastly. Heaven forbid any of them look towards the screen. The cold inhuman gaze of any teenager in this film is enough to make even the most seasoned scary movie fan curl back in horror.
I would have loved it if this film had its own distinct look. There’s so much potential for creativity in the style of an Addams Family movie, but instead it seems they just went for the low-cost, uninspired look.
As for the humor, well I hope you like puns because the writers of this movie sure did.
Beyond the simple word play and dated pop culture references, most of the jokes revolve around the Addams’ saying or doing the opposite thing you’d normally expect.
Things like enjoying gloomy weather, reveling in extreme pain, or blowing dust around their house instead of cleaning it up.
There’s very little cleverness with most of these gags, though I do have to admit I did enjoy Wednesday doing her best Dr. Frankenstein impersonation in the middle of a junior high.
Overall, I wouldn’t say I hated this movie, but to me it just feels like a cheap cash grab profiting on a well known property.
It’s completely forgettable, but ultimately harmless. If you’re just looking for a nostalgic kick and something to snap your fingers to, you’ll probably like it okay. You can definitely do far better when it comes to kids movies though.
“The Addams Family” is rated PG.
Next up is “Jexi.”
This film follows Phil (Adam DeVine), a man with a major dependency issue. He’s completely addicted to his cellphone. He has no friends and his love life is nonexistent.
Forced to upgrade to a new phone, Phil soon learns that the latest model comes with Jexi (Rose Byrne) an artificial intelligence similar to Siri. With its help, Phil begins to get a real life. But as he becomes less dependent on the phone, Jexi starts to morph into a tech nightmare that’s determined to keep Phil all to itself.
It’s really impossible to talk about this movie without at least mentioning a film by Spike Jonze from a few years ago, simply titled “Her.”
A movie about a man, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who grows increasingly dependent on a virtual assistant named Samantha, eventually leading to him falling in love with the artificial intelligence.
It’s a beautiful film. One that I couldn’t recommend enough if you’ve never seen it.
“Jexi” is essentially an 84 minute “Saturday Night Live” comedy sketch based on “Her.” And not a particularly good one I might add.
Much like Joaquin Phoenix’s character in “Her,” Phil in this film is a closed off person with an abysmal social life. But instead of receiving a new friendly, relaxed assistant like Samantha, Phil gets Jexi, a foul mouthed AI that constantly mocks him every chance it gets.
I’ll admit, there is some charm to hearing a Siri like voice cuss up a storm and belittle its user. Heck, if the whole thing was just a five minute skit I probably would have enjoyed it just fine.
But this is a full length feature film. Despite what the creators of this movie might think, hearing the same gag over and over again does get a little old after awhile.
And sadly, that’s about all this movie has to offer. All the jokes are Phil asking Jexi to do something for him, followed by Jexi doing whatever she can to make Phil’s life as miserable as possible.
Sure, there’s also a generic romance thrown in. Plus a half baked message about how people should use their phones less, a message that clearly fell on deaf ears in my theater considering the person sitting next to me was looking at their device nonstop. That’s about it though.
The jokes that don’t revolve around Jexi making fun of Phil universally fell flat.
I hate to say it, but Michael Peña, who plays Phil’s boss in the movie, continues to disappoint in every role that isn’t in a Marvel movie. He’s just awkward and unfunny here.
There’s a bit early on with Wanda Sykes as a phone sales person, where she compares Phil’s need for the latest cell phone to drug addiction. A skit that could have been funny if Phil was replacing a perfectly good device and not a phone smashed beyond recognition. In the context of the movie it just made no sense.
Even for a dumb raunchy comedy, there isn’t much of substance here.
I suppose if all you’re wanting is to watch a cell phone relentlessly mock a guy for 84 minutes straight, you might get something out of this film. Even I have to admit, a few of the scenes are chuckle worthy.
Overall though, there just isn’t enough laughs to make this clunky film worthwhile.
“Jexi” is rated R.
Last this week is “Gemini Man.”
Henry Brogan (Will Smith), an elite 51-year-old assassin, is ready to call it quits after completing his 72nd job.
But his plans get turned upside down when he becomes the target of a mysterious operative who can seemingly predict his every move. To his horror, Brogan soon learns that the man who’s trying to kill him is a younger, faster, cloned version of himself.
Oh Ang Lee. Where did it all go wrong?
How did you go from directing “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Life of Pi,” and “Brokeback Mountain,” to movies like “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” and “Gemini Man?” Two films featuring narratives so forgettable, I don’t even think they’re worth commenting on.
It seems instead of storytelling, Ang Lee has decided to focus solely on the technology used to tell those stories.
In this case that tech revolves around creating a young body double for Will Smith and shooting the entire film at a high frame rate.
For those who don’t know, the vast majority of movies for the past century or so have been filmed at 24 FPS or frames per second.
Why is that the standard? Well mostly because film was expensive back in the day, and it wasn’t economical to show movies at a higher frame rate.
Nowadays, with digital technologies, we have no such limitations. In fact, in gaming 60 FPS has been the standard for decades, and these days most gamers are shooting for even higher frame rates.
Plus many sporting events can be seen in higher frame rates and 60 FPS video on YouTube is all but commonplace.
So why is it that feature films continue to be shot and shown at such a comparatively slow frame rate?
Well it’s not exactly a concrete answer, but it’s because 24 FPS just looks cinematic to us now. It’s what we expect, and when we see movies at higher frame rates, it just feels off.
One reason is that television has never had such a frame rate limitation. Those of us in the U.S.A. have been watching TV shows at approximately 30 FPS since its inception.
So when many people, myself included, see a movie playing at a higher frame rate, their brain may automatically associate the film with the often cheaper look of television.
There’s also the fact that higher frame rates are generally associated with realism. Things like sporting events, the local news, or even behind the scenes footage for movies are almost always shown at higher frame rates.
24 frames per second may just be a subtle reminder to our brain that what we’re watching on screen isn’t real.
Enter filmmakers like Peter Jackson, James Cameron, and Ang Lee, who want to do away with that convention.
Jackson famously filmed the entire “Hobbit” series at double the conventional frame rate, hitting 48 FPS. Later, in 2016, Ang Lee blew right past Jackson, filming “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” at a whopping 120 FPS, with “Gemini Man” also receiving the same treatment.
And set to release starting in 2021, Cameron is planning to release his “Avatar” sequels at a high frame rate of some kind.
Sadly for these directors, few theaters in the country are even capable of showing their films at their intended frame rate.
When each of “The Hobbit” movies released, I only saw them at 24 FPS because the IMAX at the Moore Warren apparently couldn’t handle 48 FPS.
It was the same story when I saw “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” a few years ago. Forget 120 frames per second, they couldn’t even show 60. And the story hasn’t gotten much better since 2016.
The week before the release “Gemini Man” it was reported only 14 theaters in the entire United States would be showing the film at Ang Lee’s intended 120 FPS. And of course none of those locations were in Oklahoma.
Heck, even to watch the movie at 60 FPS, I had to go out of my way to a different theater than I usually do.
But after all these years, I was determined to experience high frame rate cinema firsthand.
So is it really as cheap and off putting as many critics say, or is it more like life and immersive like Ang Lee claims?
Well, I hate to say it, but as much as I appreciate filmmakers like Ang Lee innovating, I really don’t see high frame rates as the future of cinema.
To me, everything in this film ended up feeling similar to watching behind-the-scenes footage for the movie, instead of seeing the actual movie itself. It was especially bad during the action scenes.
It’s an effect that immediately took me out of the film, and completely destroyed any suspension of disbelief I might have otherwise had.
Sure, in some respects the high frame rates looked kind of cool. It was especially novel during the few scenes with slow motion. But to my dumb brain the experience just didn’t feel the same as watching a regular movie.
Maybe in the future, high frame rate films will eventually become the standard, and our children will mock us for being so backward and stubbornly watching movies at a meager 24 FPS.
Heck, maybe by 2021 James Cameron will have figured out the secret to making high frame rates feel cinematic for his numerous “Avatar” sequels.
Until then though, I’ll happily continue to consume low frame rate movies. Because to my eyes, that’s just what looks right for film.
I suppose I should probably at least briefly mention something else about “Gemini Man” beyond how it was filmed.
Well, unfortunately I found the movie itself dull and unengaging.
Will Smith can be an incredibly charismatic actor, and in the past he’s brought a ton of personality to his performances. But the film’s writing never really gave a chance to shine.
Here he’s just generic assassin guy, on the run from the clandestine government agency that used to employ him. Kind of like “The Bourne Identity,” but with less amnesia and more clones.
Though comparing this film to any of the original Bourne trilogy is really doing those movies a disservice, and I say that as someone who isn’t the biggest fan of Jason Bourne in general.
As far as the narrative goes, “Gemini Man” doesn’t even hold a candle to Bourne.
The only thing this movie has going for it, beyond the high FPS if you’re into that, is the technology used to create a younger looking duplicate of Will Smith.
And to the film’s credit, 25-year-old Will Smith looks very convincing here. At least for the most part.
As long as the young buck avoids the harsh light of day he looks perfect, but throw him in a scene during the middle of the afternoon and suddenly he looks as uncanny as a character from “The Polar Express.”
Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but the effect of young Will Smith simply does not hold up in the daytime. Luckily for him though, the majority of his scenes are filmed at night or in otherwise low light environments.
Regardless of the quality of the special effects here though, the visuals alone are far from compelling enough to make this film worth watching.
I think even the most diehard Will Smith fans will end up leaving this movie disappointed. His charms just don’t have the opportunity to peek through here.
I suppose if you’re curious to see if the novelty of high frame rates for yourself, that experience on its own might make this movie worth the watch. Beyond that though, this film is sadly yet another Ang Lee movie best left ignored.
“Gemini Man” is rated PG-13.