August 28, 2015
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki
Genre: Action Adventure/Comedy
Dwight's Rating: 3.5 Stars
It's always the ones you never expect!
We often have such high hopes for so many summer films, only to leave the theater disappointed or underwhelmed after watching the inevitable train-wreck.
Especially as we get into the end of August, the real turkeys begin to take flight, so to speak. And this period -- through to the start of fall, near the end of September -- is noted for being a repository for films just slightly better than the nonsense that populates theaters in January and February.
So, not overly enthralled at any of the new releases last week, I reluctantly decided to take a look at a release from a couple of weeks ago, desperately hoping that what I had heard would be true, and that it would indeed be possible for there to be something worth seeing, even at the end of the cinematic summer.
Based on commercials and previews, I was certain "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." would be complete bust. This, especially as I was familiar with the name, aware that this would be based on the now 50-year old TV show of the same name that ran for four season, first airing on NBC beginning in 1964.
At that time, the world -- especially the film and television universe -- was obsessed with the Cold War, spies and similar themes.
In fact, television's "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." would have been among the pioneers in this genre, debuting a full two years before "Mission: Impossible" began its long seven season run on CBS, and just two years after the first of the 007 movies. James Bond author Ian Fleming apparently even initially contributed to the concept of the TV show. It was a moderate television ratings success. But a good portion of today's movie going audience is not familiar with it. So would it succeed in today's world? Is it even relevant?
Well, certain trends are afoot. U.S.-Russian relations aren't exactly at their best at the moment; they're probably worse now than at any point since the end of the Cold War. Also, the number of news stories involving spies of any nationality appears to be on the increase. And, of course, like never before, there is an ever-growing threat of rogue nations or terrorist groups getting their hands on nuclear weapons and blowing everything and everyone up. Clearly, somebody believes the audience's appetite has been whet.
Guy Ritchie might be that somebody. The former Mr. Madonna is the director, and he's the screenwriter as well (along with Lionel Wigram). The movie is essentially a film version of the TV show, not straying far from the show's basic concept, and with the same characters. As such, the action takes place during the time the series would have been on the air -- at the height of the Cold War.
A mysterious criminal organization plans to use nuclear weapons and technology to bring the world's biggest superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, to the brink of nuclear war. As a result, bitter enemies, CIA Agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are forced to put their hostilities aside and work together to prevent a global catastrophe.
Ritchie is known for his avant-garde directing style, as showcased in such work as the Robert Downey Jr. "Sherlock Homes" franchise. And here he has crafted a shockingly stylish and fun flick.
The first big surprise is just how funny it is. "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." is listed as an "action, adventure, comedy", even though there were few hints that it would even have a sense of humor based on those previews. But it truly is quite an amusing experience.
Then, there's the sheer beauty of it all. What a complete visual feast! Set largely in some stunning locations across Europe, it's replete with breathtaking cinematography, gorgeously detailed shot composition and bold directorial choices. This is all teamed with extremely fast-paced editing, particularly during the many thrilling action sequences. Certain scenes call to mind the stylish charms of "The Grand Budapest Hotel". The overall result is something undeniably playful and adventurous, frenetic and energetic -- complete smile-inducing fun!
One could have a blast just watching it on mute!
But you wouldn't want to do that at all, as there are also a myriad of audio pleasures. The music score works brilliantly with the action, especially a recurring gag involving Hammer's character.
Other treats include amazing attention to detail, from the period automobiles to especially the period wardrobe and accessories. It feels so very authentically 1960s.
About the only flaw would be the major actors' accents for their characters. Hammer may be built like a Soviet tank, but his accent as a Soviet spy is laughable. Cavill sounds exactly like almost all British actors do when they are playing Americans (which he's actually doing) -- that odd, overly American-sounding (but not Southern) accent that even U.S. news anchors have abandoned. And Alicia Vikander is Swedish playing a German; various different accents come and go from the beginning to the end of her performance. But it's all forgivable and never distracting.
With their fantastic work, the actors more than make up for any voice coach deficiencies. The film is overflowing with their chemistry. Cavill and Hammer go nearly the entire movie with a spy vs. spy demonstration of one-upmanship, constantly bickering. The sexual tension between Hammer and Vikander is thick and very sexy. Cavill's playful flirtations with the impossibly beautiful Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki as the ultimate ice-queen villainess are captivating. The playful banter is exhilarating.
It's quite amazing how "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." is able to so many things so right. There's a deft blend of so many genres that don't always gel well. It's funny without being completely goofy or slapstick. And it's still an effective spy action adventure, with actual edge of your seat moments, and surprising dramatic turns.
Clearly, this is what the "Mission: Impossible" franchise is aspiring to be, as I recently remarked how that series has finally found its funny bone -- though "M:I" could never be as stylish as this "U.N.C.L.E.". James Bond movies, while not quite this humorous, used to be this sophisticated -- before they became total Rambo-like kill-em ups!
Sadly, but not surprisingly, after only two weeks, "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." ended its run in local theaters this week. It is probably better than every movie playing here at this moment (though "Straight Outta Compton" is quite enjoyable).
If you do get a chance to see it by some other means, don't judge it by its box office performance, or by that name (which is explained in the final few seconds of the film), or by the fact that it's based of a TV show from half a century ago. Just allow yourself to be delightfully treated to the biggest surprise of the summer.
o Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of "Morning Blend" on Guardian Radio. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.
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August 14, 2015
Fantastic Four (Rated B)
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell
Genre: Action Adventure
Dwight's Rating: 2 stars
Fantastic Four, you say? Well, perhaps Fantastic Three-Fourths!
Not because these heroes aren't "fantastic" or because only three out of four of them are special. Rather, it's because something's not quite right about this reboot of "Fantastic Four" -- based on the Marvel Comic superhero team -- lending it the overwhelming sense that this movie is only three-fourths of a whole.
Well, maybe it's more accurate to say two-thirds! And those first two-thirds begin a long, LONG, set-up for what promises to be an exciting showdown. These anticipation-building moments are actually the best part of the production, simultaneously providing an in-depth study of some potentially interesting characters.
We are transported to an alternate universe, as four young outsiders gain superhuman powers as their physical forms are altered in unbelievable ways. Reed Richards (Miles Teller, "Whiplash") becomes Mr. Fantastic, able to stretch and twist his body at will, while best bud Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell, "Billy Elliot" and TV's "Turn: Washington's Spies") gains immense strength as The Thing.
Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan, "Fruitvale Station" and TV's "Friday Night Lights") becomes the Human Torch, able to control and project fire, while his sister Susan (Kate Mara, "Brokeback Mountain") becomes the Invisible Woman. Together, the team must harness their new abilities to prevent the evil Doctor Doom from destroying the earth.
It's at this point -- the third and final act (the third-third) -- when things completely fall off a steep cliff. That long, slow, build up, and that ultimate showdown that we had been so eagerly awaiting is quickly ruined, with an inexplicably lukewarm battle scene that is hurriedly addressed and wrapped up far too neatly and conveniently. It's as if the production crew ran out of studio time, and was told to vacate forthwith.
The film feels half-baked. Yet shockingly, at just over one hour and 40 minutes, may actually be too short! (Egad!). Although, arguably that long initial set-up could have been shortened or rearranged.
Blame the director? Not so fast! Director Josh Trank has publicly been critical of the finished product, claiming he had little or no say in the final cut, and that executives at 20th Century Fox essentially took over. Things have been getting even nastier in the press now, as reports of behind-the-scenes and off-the-set chaos abound. It's clear that something went terribly wrong. And that's most unfortunate.
However, I honestly wonder if "Fantastic Four" should have made it to theaters in the first place. It feels an awful lot like the pilot for a TV show. And it really should have been or still should be considered better suited for television. It could certainly be more promising than Marvel's current TV offering, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
This leads me back to what is now becoming my ongoing rant about superhero comic book movies, and what seems like a bombardment in cinemas of a new superhero franchise or sequel every single month.
A small percentage of these are amazing ("Guardians of The Galaxy"), some of it is promising ("Ant Man"), but a lot of it is complete and utter dreck. Marvel gets most of the blame because it's been leasing out the rights to its comic book characters to many different film studios, and everyone is trying to get a piece of the pie -- hence the sense that there's a ceaseless parade of these flicks every year.
Ironically, Marvel's archrival -- the more judicious and selective DC Comics -- has been gaining some ground with a slightly more conservative approach. DC has been having some better success at television, most recently with the well-regarded "The Flash" and "Gotham". And early reviews for its upcoming "Supergirl" are good, although bizarrely both "Gotham" and "Supergirl" will be pitted against each other on Monday nights this fall.
On the movie side, the most talked about and anticipated superhero comic book feature film in a long time appears to be "Batman v Superman" -- although I have a very bad feeling about that one.
But at what point will all of this be too much? "Fantastic Four" is being called a flop, making only about $25 million ($65 million worldwide) in its opening weekend on its estimated budget of at least $120 million budget. (It opened second to the still-going-strong, and very exciting, "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation".)
"Fantastic Four" could have been the victim of other bad reviews. But I wonder if the issue isn't just simply burnout. Because, regardless of whether it's Marvel or DC or whomever, these are all superhero comic book characters, and there are many similarities. And with all the reboots and sequels and spinoffs and prequels, it feels like we're seeing the same things over and over again!
If only the film studios would recognize that the more they continue to crank these out, the more they will become just like the evil corporations they so often rail against.
And soon almost four-fourths of us will be praying for any superhero -- or even a super villain -- to come and shut the whole thing down!
o Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of " Morning Blend" on Guardian Radio. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email email@example.com and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.
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July 17, 2015
The Gallows (Rated C)
Cast: Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Erin Gifford, Reese Mishler
Genre: Horror/ Thriller
Dwight’s Rating: 1 star
If only the new film “The Gallows” were as exciting, shocking and frightening as the frenzy it created as part of its pre-release promotion.
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July 07, 2015
Bahamian photographer and journalist Eric Rose was a panelist at the recent Beijing International Micro-Film Festival's "Young Directors in Hollywood" training camp program...
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June 25, 2015
Inside Out (Rated A)
Cast: Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black
Genre: Animated Fantasy Comedy-Drama
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'Jurassic World' is a non-stop, fast-paced adventure that is the most exciting edition since the original
June 18, 2015
Jurassic World (Rated B)
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio
Genre: Science Fiction Action Adventure
Dwight's Rating: 3 stars
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June 12, 2015
'Spy' is a delightful blend of comedy and action
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June 12, 2015
Entourage (Rated C) Cast: Adrian Grenier, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Connoly Genre: Comedy Dwight's Rating: 2.5 stars
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May 28, 2015
Cast: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Hugh Laurie
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure/ Mystery
Dwight's rating: 3 stars
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May 22, 2015
HBO announces the exclusive premiere of the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, Thursday, May 28th at 21:00hrs AST*, in the Caribbean. Considered as a “mind-blowing cult movie” by Variety Magazine, the documentary relates the story of the Chilean novelist...
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