Tag Archives: Movies

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

OK this post is outside of my normal blog cycle but I just have to toss up a quick review of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. No worries, no spoilers here, just appetizers!

In a word G.R.E.A.T. Go see it in a theatre where every great movie should be seen.

It was a stylish, seriously tongue-in-cheek load of fun. I did see the recent Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and yes I did love it too. Thought the script was brilliant – the best of the Mission Impossible series in fact. But Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a brilliant piece of writing as well. Plus it also offers fresh, brilliant acting, film-making, costumes, music, and set designs. It’s just fresh and brilliant in so many ways.

themanfromuncleBut perhaps the most brilliant is how well it honors the original show. As most of you probably know, the movie is based on the famous TV show from the 60’s. I remember it fondly as do most guys my age along with other shows of the time like The Avengers, Star Trek, Johnny Quest, and The Wild Wild West. But for those of us with fond memories of these shows, nothing causes a greater feeling of excitement and dread than a remake. We cannot help but form a crushing fear that yet another of our cherished memories will be blasphemed and desecrated like the horrendus Will Smith version of the Wild Wild West television series.

But not so with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. It’s a perfect prequel to the television series. It tells the hitherto unrevealed backstory of the relationship between Napoleon and Illya that has already been cemented by the time the TV series starts off. Henry Cavill captures the distinctively polished secret agent Napoleon Solo to a tee; the mannerisms, the voice, and even the hint of detached humor that touches everything he does. Robert Vaughn would be proud. Armie Hammer is great as Illya also. The filmmaker has spiced him up with a bit of a troubled past, but it was necessary, not inexplicably gratuitous, and works perfectly. Even Hugh Grant is impeccably consistent with a younger Alexander Waverly.

As a fan of the TV show, I couldn’t be happier. My wife Beth did not grow up on the series and she loved it too. It has huge apparent cross-appeal for both men and women. I can’t imagine a better kickoff to a new franchise. Guy Ritchie proves he knows how to inherit a legacy. In the Sherlock Holmes series, he used a “show the audience what Sherlock is planning” technique very effectively. In UNCLE, he employs a similar “show the audience what just happened” sequence with equal effectiveness.

However, I did check Rotten Tomatoes just now and saw it didn’t get great reviews. The fan rating was higher than the critics ratings and that rings true because the normally sedate audience at our local theatre in Manhattan laughed and cheered throughout. Even after the credits finished rolling several groups of people remained just sitting around talking about how wonderful it was. I’ve seldom seen that happen, ever.

If this does not become a franchise I’ll be sadly disappointed. Do I expect it to compete with James Bond? To quote Goldfinger, “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”

Clobberin’ the Critics

FantasticFourThe Fantastic Four reboot premiered in movie theatres last weekend. Despite, or because of, the fact that I’m a huge superhero fan, I was really apprehensive about the release. The previews looked stiff, the casting looked highly questionable, it was yet another stupid origin story to “reboot” a franchise, and it was a completely “made up” origin story to boot. No one I knew was excited about it in the least. Even the director came out ahead of the release apologizing and making excuses for it. Without exception reviewers ripped it to shreds with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a disastrous 9% rating (one review).

So of course I went to see it.

This wasn’t unusual of me since I’ll see any superhero movie. And since I usually disagree with professional reviewers anyway, their unabashed bashing was a reverse-psychology encouragement for me. Moreover, I’d seen and greatly enjoyed the previous two Fantastic Four movies despite the fact that I’ve never met anyone gracious enough to utter even the most insincerely polite comment about those.

And – hey Mikey – I liked it! Although I seem to be the only person in the world who thinks so, I thought this reboot was worthy. It certainly didn’t fulfill all my preconceived ideas or hopes, but it wasn’t my tale to tell. How can I expect to enjoy any story-telling if I insist upon inserting all my own expectations? How can I ever be surprised and amazed if all filmmakers ever give me is exactly what I imagine in my limited imagination?

Which brings up a much broader observation… people are WAY too hard to please. It’s not even just that they’re hard to please; it’s that while they imagine that they want to enjoy things, they are really incapable of it. In short, often the problem is not the movie, it is us.

Maybe you just cannot appreciate the film.
I used to live in London and as a lonely bachelor I went to see movies frequently. I was continually amazed how all the Brits would go to see American comedies and chortle begrudgingly at all the most unfunny moments while sitting stone-faced though all the intended jokes. Then they would walk out of every film commenting on how unfunny it was. It’s not really that those films were not funny; they were just not funny to Brits. Similarly if you hate action films and go see one anyway, don’t complain that there were too many fist-fights and not enough kissing.

Maybe you have gotten too old and jaded.
When The Phantom Menace came out, all my coworkers complained vigorously and incessantly about how much Jar Jar Binks had ruined the movie for them. I found Jar Jar to be quite cute and funny, but most everyone universally hated him. I contend that Jar Jar was essentially exactly the same as the Ewoks those same people loved in their youth. It wasn’t the movies that changed, it was them. They have become incapable of enjoying movies through the same fresh and uncritical lens they used to, and they are continually disappointed that moviemakers don’t make any films that touch them like they used to.

Maybe you’re just a douche.
Too many people need to prove how smart and insightful they are by dissing everything. You know the type. They just can’t wait to impress their date or kids even as the credits are still rolling with their scathing critique. And if the movie is superb, they feel especially compelled to show that they are even more discriminating. “It completely ruined the whole movie for me that Gandalf’s staff had runes clearly etched in Valinor rather than ancient Moriquendi.” Really? How sad for you…

Now let’s be clear. I’m not suggesting that you should indiscriminately like everything and indeed some movies are deserving of unreserved ridicule. Battlefield Earth and Dune come to mind. But Fantastic Four has a lot to like. More often than not, your disappointments in life may say more about you than the movies or whatever other activity is disappointing you at the moment. If you don’t get something many others do, if you think nothing is as good as it used to be, or if you feel compelled to critique everything to prove your good taste, then it may just be you that is the only disappointing commonality in those equations.

I for one, am really, really happy that my standards are incredibly low. I can go see the Fantastic Four and enjoy myself while you lose out. How much better is that than setting seldom achieved standards and being disappointed in most everything life has to offer? And when it comes to people I associate with, I much prefer those rare individuals who can truly enjoy most everything, who can appreciate the filmmakers vision, rather than seek out the flaws and buzz-kill every bit of enjoyment for everyone.

  • There are few boring situations, just mostly boring people.
  • Interesting people can get interested in pretty much anything.
  • Positive people find the positive in most everything.

Superheroes on Screen

Superheroes have transitioned from the pages of comics to the screen with varying degrees of success. Heroes from the DC universe have long been animated extremely well. The bar was set almost insurmountably high back in the 1940’s with the peerless Superman cartoon shorts by Max Fleischer. Television shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League (Unlimited) established an extremely high level of excellence that was carried into many well-crafted animated movies like Justice League: The New Frontier and Wonder Woman.

In live action, however, DC heroes have tended to disappoint or even embarrass. Although there are still folk who look fondly upon the old Batman and Superman movie franchises, that fondness is mostly just nostalgia. More recently, even Amy Adams could not breathe any life into Man of Steel and it fell upon stoic and dull Russell Crowe to offer something resembling an engaging performance. And do you even remember there was a movie called Superman Returns? I personally didn’t think Green Lantern deserved such hate, but hardly anyone agrees with me so I cannot claim it as an exception to this dismal track record. The current Arrow series is a tedious soap opera. Perhaps the best live action DC series was Smallville and that was mostly about Clark Kent.

Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is widely acknowledged as a masterpiece, but even there I have real problems with how Batman was portrayed. Only in a few scenes does he appear as the frighteningly agile creature of the night that most fans expect. Rather he is generally depicted as a stiff, plodding, lumbering version of Iron Man (except considerably less able to avoid a slowly telegraphed punch).

There is shining beacon of hope however. The recent Flash television series is an excitingly refreshing work of love that pays due homage to the very respectable 1980’s series and to the essential nature of the character. It’s absolutely great and I only hope the upcoming Supergirl series will be half as endearing and faithful to its heroine.

We could go on and on about DC, but now let us turn to the Marvel universe. They are the mirror image of DC with fantastic live action and underwhelming animated efforts. With the exception of X-Men: The Animated Series which was pretty decent, their animated series and movies have been poorly animated junk food. However their live action movies, and yes I’m even including the Fantastic Four series which I alone seem to have loved, are generally well – fantastic.

True, Marvel admittedly has produced a few flicks we’d like to conveniently forget – I’m looking at you Daredevil, Elektra, and Hulk – but the truly great Marvel live action movies are too numerous to name, right up to Guardians of the Galaxy (which could have easily been quite ridiculous), Iron Man, Thor, Cap, and Avengers.

Last but definitely not least, the new Daredevil series on Netflix deserves very special recognition. This show is the best thing I’ve seen in …, well the best thing I’ve seen period. It literally draws you into the sweltering, seedy urban jungle of Hell’s Kitchen and makes you believe a blind man can be an actual superhero. The supporting performances are compelling, particularly by Deborah Ann Woll and Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin. And the brutal, exhausting, cringe-inducing fighting sequences are affectionately choreographed by brilliant students of the art.

I urge you to check out this link that analyzes one particularly memorable but representative fight scene from Daredevil. This single shot in Daredevil is the best fight scene in years (view here).

DaredevilDespite a sporadic history in both comic universes, I look forward to a lot more great Marvel movies and I remain hopeful that DC will eventually find their mojo. On television, DC’s Flash and Marvel’s Daredevil encourage me that the superhero genre will thrive in episodic live action by offering complex story lines that movies cannot match in richly crafted settings that exquisitely complement the tone and style of each uniquely individual hero, heroine, or team.