The Man from U.N.C.L.E.


Neither Cavill nor Hammer want their hair getting mussed.

Neither Cavill nor Hammer want their hair getting mussed.

(2015) Spy Action (Warner Brothers) Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Luca Calvani, Sylvester Groth, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris, Christian Berkel, Misha Kuznetsov, Guy Williams, Marianna Di Martino, David Beckham, Julian Michael Deuster, Peter Stark, Pablo Scola, Andrea Cagliesi, Peter Stark, Simona Caparrini, Joanna Metrass. Directed by Guy Ritchie

The 60s were an interesting era. While most people associate the last half of the decade of the era with the counterculture, evolution of rock and roll, protests and rioting, the first part of the era was something completely different. It was a time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the New York’s World Fair, of great stress and great optimism. It’s a time when the Beatles and Burt Bachrach co-existed on the charts, and style still held more than a trace of elegance and grace. It was the golden age of spies, with James Bond, Modesty Blaise and Matt Helm all fighting the menace of Evil Empires and Megalomaniacs bent on world domination – or destruction. It was the age of U.N.C.L.E.

Napoleon Solo (Cavill) is a former war profiteer caught and sentenced to prison. However, the C.I.A., recognizing that his skills are superior, intervenes, allowing the sentence to be commuted – so long as he works it off for the Agency. Solo has become one of the most respected and successful spies in the business. Ilya Kuryakin (Hammer) is a KGB agent with incredible athleticism, brute strength and a temper more explosive than Vesuvius.

They butt heads when Solo tries to smuggle a pretty East German auto mechanic named Gaby (Vikander) out of East Berlin and Kuryakin is  told in no uncertain terms to stop them and he turns out to be pretty much a one-man wrecking crew, but nonetheless Solo gets the girl out of the Soviet zone.

As it turns out, her Uncle Rudi (Groth) works for Vinciguerra (which means “Win the War” in Italian), a sketchy Italian multinational corporation that may have her father, a nuclear physicist who may have discovered a means of making nuclear bombs portable. For a third party to have such destructive power at their fingertips is intolerable both for the Americans and the Russians so they decide to send their best men into the fray and get the technology for their own countries.

They will first have to get past Victoria Vinciguerra (Debicki), the twisted de facto head of the company and her vicious brother Alexander (Calvani), more thugs than you can shake a stick at and their own mutual suspicion. The game of spying has become even more complicated and confusing than ever.

Like the Mission: Impossible series, this is based on a hit TV show from the 60s but unlike the former film franchise, the filmmakers have elected to keep the film in the same general time period as the TV show which to my mind is a brilliant idea. The era is perfect for the story; they just don’t do urbane the way they used to, and Napoleon Solo is nothing if not urbane.

I like the casting in the leads but oddly enough, I’d have liked the casting better if Cavill and Hammer had switched roles. Cavill, I think, has a darker side to him than Hammer does and Hammer, who grew up not unfamiliar with the country club lifestyle, would have made an extremely convincing Solo. But then again, Hammer is a big fellow and that might not have jibed well with the Saville Row ladies man that was the American spy. Then again, David McCallum was a much less physical specimen than Hammer and still made an extremely effective Kuryakin in the TV series.

Ritchie, having done Sherlock Holmes and its sequel, has created a new niche for himself after escaping the old one. He is able to re-create the early 60s – 50 years gone now – by making the setting timeless places, mostly in the Old World. He uses vintage clothing as well as recreations to clothe his actors, although his screenwriters don’t quite have the idioms down – phrases like “skill set” and “price point” are phrases from this decade and not that one, and one would have wished the writing had been a little more careful in that regard. Comes from having young whippersnappers doing the writing (actually co-writers Lionel Wigram and Ritchie are two and eight years younger than I, so shows you what I know).

Vikander has become a hot property and this movie isn’t going to do anything to cool her down. These are the types of roles perfectly suited to growing a career; even though the movie is coming out in August, it’s still a major studio release and thus she’s going to get plenty of attention. The movie is pretty lightweight, true and so is the part although it is the most complex role in the movie but this isn’t meant to be John Le Carre; it’s light and frothy and Vikander wisely plays it that way.

And that’s really the draw for this movie; yeah, it doesn’t really add anything to the genre and yeah, it’s a pretty overcrowded field this year with James Bond waiting in the wings still, but that’s all good. When I was a kid, I used to watch the reruns of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and eagerly read the paperback novelizations of the show. Hey, my parents loved it so who am I to disagree with an endorsement like that? In any case, this is a throwback to an earlier time well-executed in every way. Think of it as a cold Pepsi on a hot August day; perfectly refreshing and very welcome.

REASONS TO GO: Perfectly set in the period. Effervescent.
REASONS TO STAY: A few anachronisms here and there.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of action, some partial nudity and sexually suggestive material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When Solo removes a tablecloth from a table without disturbing the place settings on it, he actually does that trick, being trained by a British variety show performance who specializes in the stunt.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/20/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 66% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Our Man Flint
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: People Places Things

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Role Models


Role Models

Ken Jeong points out that it's good to be the king; Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Paul Rudd are chagrinned to find it's not good to be serfs.

(Universal) Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jane Lynch, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Elizabeth Banks, Ken Jeong. Directed by David Wain

With the popularity of comedies produced/directed/written/overseen/obliquely referred to by Judd Apatow, it is inevitable that there will be copycat comedies trying to milk the same cow. However, as any good comedy writer will tell you, a good comedy isn’t just stringing a whole bunch of jokes together, unless you’re writing Airplane.

Danny Donahue (Rudd) has been in a foul mood for about eight years now. He is stuck in a dead-end job pimping energy drinks to bored high school kids under the guise of an anti-drug crusade; he has drunk enough of these drinks to make his urine change color permanently. His sales partner Wheeler (Scott) dresses like a Minotaur (the mascot of the drink), talks incessantly in motivational poster sound bites, and has a libido the size of Texas and Alaska, combined.

His temperament hasn’t gone unnoticed by Beth (Banks), his girlfriend who he just proposed to. She can’t imagine staying with a downer like Danny for another minute, much less the rest of her life. She dumps him, which does nothing to soften Danny’s mood.

After wrecking the company vehicle (a kind of monster truck with a bull on it) and getting involved with a fracas with the security officers at the school they’re appearing with, the two are arrested and sentenced to 150 hours of community service at a Big Brother-style charity called Sturdy Wings, run in no-nonsense style by ex-coke whore Gayle Sweeny (Lynch) who makes the average drill sergeant look like Stuart Smalley.

The two are given a couple of difficult cases. Danny gets Augie (Mintz-Plasse), a nerdy sort who plays a LARP-style game called LAIRE (LARP, for those not in the know, stands for Live Action Role Playing and consists of people in medieval garb bashing each other with foam swords, maces, hammers and shields in mock battles, which is a very simplified explanation of the game). I suppose to say he plays the game is a lot like saying an alcoholic has a drink now and then; the game is Augie’s life.

For his part, Wheeler gets Ronnie (Thompson), a foul-mouthed anti-social kid whose single mom isn’t sure how to handle her attitude-drenched son. Still, Wheeler and Ronnie find some common ground in their fascination for the female breast. Yeah, I know – ain’t bonding grand?

As the two men learn something from the two boys, their inherent disposition towards messing up catches up with them and they basically have their two charges taken away from them, which will mean jail time for the both of them unless they can think of a way to get back in the good graces of the boys, their parents and Gayle. Who knows, if they can do all that, maybe Danny can win back Beth while he’s at it.

This is one of those scattershot comedies where the filmmakers basically throw everything they can get their hands on at the walls and hope something sticks. Rudd and Scott actually have a pretty decent comic chemistry together and their characters are nicely fleshed out. Rudd gets a great riff in about the difference between large and venti which serves to piss Beth off but the rest of us (those that don’t live and die by Starbucks) will find it dead on while Scott continues the shtick that worked so well for him in Evolution.

Lynch, who since this was made has migrated over to “Glee” where she’s become one of the hottest comic actresses in the business, shows some of that ability, basically owning the screen whenever she’s on. It wouldn’t surprise me to see her headlining a big screen comedy venture in the very near future. Likewise, Jeong who hadn’t hit cult status with The Hangover when he made this, treads very familiar territory very well in his role here as the King.

In fact, that’s one of the things about the movie that holds it back – it really doesn’t do anything new or push the envelope at all. One of the things that made Apatow comedies like Superbad and Knocked Up so good is that they consistently took the comic genre they were working in and turned them on their heads. Role Models essentially takes basic comedy formula and follows it to the letter. That’s not a bad thing if you do it really well – and by that I mean reeeeeeeeeeeally well – but Role Models merely does it adequately. That’s not enough to put my butt in a bandwagon seat, so all I can really say for it is that while it has heart enough to make it worth seeing, it doesn’t have enough soul to make it a priority.

WHY RENT THIS: Scott and Rudd have good comic chemistry and Jane Lynch is a hoot in just about everything she does.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Pretty much a standard Hollywood comedy with no real surprises.

FAMILY VALUES: This is crude enough and sexual enough that I’d probably think twice before letting pre-teens see this; it’s more along the lines of mature teens in my opinion.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The “Paul McCartney” song played over the closing credits is actually McCartney impersonator Joey Curatolo.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While there are plenty of standard features on the DVD edition (including a blooper reel), the Blu-Ray is packed with interesting features, including a design your own LARP logo feature called “Ye Olde Crest Maker,” some in-character interviews, some Sturdy Wings videos (available through the BD Live feature) and Universal’s always-fun U-Control feature.

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

TOMORROW: World’s Greatest Dad