Our final Soderbergh U.N.C.L.E. footnote

Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh

We watched the Steven Soderbergh-directed (and photographed and edited under aliases) Side Effects because it was the movie he did after dumping a film version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in late 2011.

Overall, we’d give it a B grade, with maybe an A after a slow first 20-25 minutes. It was one last chance to get an idea of the U.N.C.L.E. that never was. While we had a better time than we expected (after the director’s Contagion in September 2011 and Haywire in January 2012), we still had the feeling that, despite a long drawn-out soap opera, things ended up for the best.

Among the reasons: This was one more chance to view Channing Tatum, one of the actors whose name was floated as a Napoleon Solo for Soderbergh. He’s a hot star now but…no thanks. He even shows up in one scene in a tuxedo (not uncommon for Solo on the 1964-68 television series) but he looks more like now-retired NFL linebacker Ray Lewis than Solo.

Also, Side Effects was written by Scott Z. Burns, who, based on recent comments, we’re not sure really gets what makes U.N.C.L.E. tick. While we don’t expect any future U.N.C.L.E. movie to be a clone of the TV show, it still helps to have an idea of the core ideas. Put another way: The various Marvel Comics movies that have come out since Iron Man in 2008 aren’t clones of the original comics, but they successful take the basics and update them well.

Essentially, Side Effects is like a theatrical movie version of Law & Order, the 1990-2010 television series where many episodes look simple but run into twists. Except that Side Effects includes a Rooney Mara-Catherine Zeta-Jones love scene that you didn’t get on the TV show. Meanwhile, Jude Law is effective as a psychiatrist who becomes a dupe in a murder plot.

Finally, watching Side Effects provides another footnote — to Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond film. The score is by Thomas Newman, who scored an Oscar nomination for his Bond work. Newman’s Side Effects score is much closer to his past work than Skyfall was. Newman’s music for Side Effects contain the Hans Zimmer influence from director Christopher Nolan’s three Batman movies.

UPDATE (Feb. 10): Side Effects finished a distant No. 3 in the U.S.-Canada box office for the Feb. 8-10 weekend with an estimated $10 million in ticket sales, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO. The No. 1 movie was the comedy Identity Thief with an estimated $36.6 million.

Soderbergh confirms U.N.C.L.E. exit concerned budget

Director Steven Soderbergh is making the rounds to publicize his new movie Haywire. In an interview with the Star-Ledger of Newark, he also confirmed he departed a planned movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in a disagreement with Warner Bros. about the project’s budget.

“(W)e were going back and forth and, in the end, I pushed them …and the studio said, ‘Well, if you’re really going to push us to answer now, the answer is no.’”

(snip)
“Frankly, I think there’s a piece of the narrative missing here, on their side, because the difference between their number and my number was not that big.”

No additional details were mentioned. Last year, The Playlist Web site reported that Warner Bros. offered a $60 million budget for the movie, and the director and studio had disagreements over casting.

Haywire, which hit theaters on Jan. 20, has a cast that includes Michael Fassbender, reportedly Soderbergh’s choice for Napoleon Solo after George Clooney turned it down, and Channing Tatum, who had been mentioned as a possible Solo but didn’t really strike us as a great choice.

UPDATE: Haywire finished No. 5 at the U.S. box office this week. CLICK HERE for more details.

Yet another 11 questions about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Once again, in honor of Napoleon Solo’s U.N.C.L.E. badge number 11, here are 11 questions about the newest developments in trying to bring The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to movie screens.

1. Are they really considering Channing Tatum to play Napoleon Solo in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? That’s what the Deadline entertainment new Web site REPORTED ON NOV. 14. Deadline generally has a good track record on scoops, including a few concerning Skyfall, the James Bond movie now in production. Deadline was very careful to say there was “no offer yet.”

2. How *might* he be right for the role? Well he fits the archetype of Solo being dark and according to his IMDB.COM biography, Tatum is 31, the same age Robert Vaughn was when he filmed the U.N.C.L.E. pilot in late 1963.

3. And why might he not be right for the role? Well, if you look at THE PHOTO, the guy looks like a football linebacker, especially with that thick neck.

4. What’s wrong with that? As originally conceived, Solo (and fellow agent Illya Kuryakin) were supposed to be somewhat average in appearance. Norman Felton, executive producer of the original 1964-68 show, said in a 1997 interview (portions of which appear on the DVD set for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series) that most TV series of the era featured “big, ballsy men” and he was looking to do something different. Women fans of the show will tell you there was nothing average about Solo or Kuryakin. But they were both under 6-foot-tall. And neither character remotely looked like a football player.

5. So what does Tatum have going for him? He has already worked twice for director Steven Soderbergh, slated to helm the U.N.C.L.E. movie: in Haywire, Soderbergh’s spy movie about a woman operative who vows revenge when she’s doubled crossed (coming to theaters in January) and in Magic Mike, a drama about male strippers, that’s due out next summer.

6. Why is that important? If Soderbergh likes an actor, he generally likes to work with him or her again. The first actor mentioned for Solo was George Clooney, who worked with Soderbergh several times, including the three “Ocean’s” movies (Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12, etc.). Another actor in the U.N.C.L.E. mix was Michael Fassbender, who’s also in Haywire.

7. So what do you think? Our initial reaction was akin to how Bugs Bunny acts during the 3:00 to 3:08 mark of this cartoon:

8. Seriously? Well, we rarely get the opportunity to include a Bugs Bunny cartoon in a post, so you’ve got to go for it.

9. Oh, come on now. Is is it really that bad? Not necessarily but there’s a lot to think about.

10. Such as? On the one hand, we’re remembering when casting seemed to come out of left field but worked. Michael Keaton in the 1989 Batman movie. Robert Downey Jr. in 2008’s Iron Man. We weren’t familar at all with Tobey Maguire before he played Spider-Man in films that came out in 2002, 2004 and 2007, but thought he was terrific. Still, we also remember the 2002 version of I Spy, which was horrible. Or the 1996 version of Mission: Impossible that turned Jim Phelps into a villain as part of a Tom Cruise ego trip.

11. So what’s the bottom line, Sherlock? You can’t really critique something until there’s actually something to critique. Soderbergh is a good director and he has actually watched a lot of episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. preparing for this movie. Is that enough? That’s a question that can’t be answered yet.

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