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

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann)


Working on the railroad all the live-long day.

Working on the railroad all the live-long day.

(2013) Comedy (Music Box) Robert Gustafsson, Iwar Wiklander, David Wiberg, Mia Skaringer, Jens Hulten, Bianca Cruzeiro, Alan Ford, Sven Lonn, David Shackleton, Georg Nikoloff, Simon Sappenen, Manuel Dubra, Cory Peterson, Kerry Shale, Philip Rosch, Keith Chanter, Patrik Karlson, Johan Rheborg, David Hogberg, Alfred Svensson, Eiffel Mattsson. Directed by Felix Herngren

Florida Film Festival 2015

Our lives have a certain texture and richness that we don’t really detect while we’re living it. Some of us labor in obscurity, affecting only those we’re close to and loved by. Others are destined not necessarily for greatness, but for greater effect.

Alan Karlsson (Gustafsson) is one such man. From the time he was a boy, he loved to blow things up, a gift from his father who was a bit of a revolutionary and died espousing contraceptives as the means to a better society. Alan’s penchant for explosives would eventually get him put into a mental hospital and later in life, into a retirement home.

It is in the latter place that one day – on his 100th birthday as a matter of fact – he just decides to step out of his window and leave. Nobody sees him go, and Alan manages to make it to the bus station and has just enough money on him to purchase a ticket to the middle of nowhere. While he’s waiting for the bus to come, a pushy biker sort (Sappenen) insists that Alan watch his suitcase while he’s in the bathroom. When Alan’s bus arrives, he absent-mindedly takes the suitcase with him. What Alan doesn’t know is that there is 50 million kroner inside the suitcase.

The bus lets him off in a one-horse Swedish town where the train no longer runs. Julius (Wiklander) watches over the train station and graciously takes Alan in for lunch and drinks, the latter of which Alan is more enthusiastic about. Their little party is broken up by the arrival of the pushy biker who wants his suitcase back in the worst way but the two old men manage to subdue him and lock him in a freezer.

Taking to the road, Julius and Alan meet up with Benny (Wiberg), a perpetual college student who has no degree yet despite having taken 920 credits in classes over 18 years but can’t make up his mind what he wants to do with his life, and later on with Gunilla (Skaringer), a lovely young Bohemian who is keeping a purloined elephant in her barn. Chasing them is Gaddan (Hulten), the leader of the biker gang whose pushy member had unwittingly given the suitcase to Alan, and Pim (Ford), the English drug lord whose cash it is.

In the meantime, Alan reminisces about his remarkable life which took him to the Spanish Civil War (where he saved General Francisco Franco’s life), the Manhattan Project (where his suggestion helped J. Robert Oppenheimer solve a critical problem with the atomic bomb and led to him having a tequila drinking session with then-Vice President Harry Truman), the Soviet Union (where he would eventually be imprisoned with Albert Einstein’s slow-witted brother) and the C.I.A. (where he would be a double agent passing useless information between both sides).

In that sense, this is a bit of a Forrest Gump-like film in which Alan drifts through history, and the parallels are a bit striking. While not quite as slow as Gump, Alan is certainly not the brightest bulb in the chandelier and kind of allows life to take him where it will, avoiding disaster often by the slimmest of margins.

This is based on a massively popular novel that is available here in the States. The movie version was a huge hit in Sweden where it recently became the biggest box office success of any Swedish-made movie in history. The distributor is the same group that brought the Millennium trilogy to American shores and is hoping for a similar type of success. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep those unfamiliar with the book guessing as to where the plot is going.

Certainly that sort of success would be merited here. I found it funny in a less over-the-top way than American comedies are these days. Comedies coming from America seem to be hell-bent on pushing the envelope of good taste and excess (which isn’t of itself a bad thing); this is more content to use absurd situations and serendipity to get its humor across. This is definitely more old school and those who prefer the comedies fast-paced and frenetic will likely find this slow and frustrating.

Gustafsson is one of Sweden’s most popular comic actors and we get a good sense why; his comic timing is impeccable and his mannerisms as the 100-year-old Alan are pitch-perfect. He gets able support from Wiberg who plays perhaps the most indecisive man ever, Hulten as the crazed biker and Ford as the apoplectic drug lord (Ford played a similar role in Guy Richie’s Snatch). Throughout Herngren hits the right notes and allows the comedy to happen organically rather than force things.

There are a few quibbles – the narration is a bit intrusive and there are some factual errors (for example, President Roosevelt actually died three months before the Trinity atomic test, not after) but for the most part the movie is pleasant and funny, though not life-changing. It’s the perfect tonic for a bad day and if you need further praise than that, you just must not have many bad days.

REASONS TO GO: Oddball sense of humor. Forrest Gump in Europe. Absurdly funny.
REASONS TO STAY: Narration is a bit intrusive.
FAMILY VALUES: Some crude humor, a little violence and some bad language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gustafsson estimated that if all the time he spent in the make-up chair was tallied, he would have been there three uninterrupted weeks 24/7 in the chair when all was said and done.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/22/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 69% positive reviews. Metacritic: no score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cocoon
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: Danny Collins