Spy entertainment to watch in 2014

It’s only a few days before the near year. So it’s not too early to think about spy-related entertainment coming up in 2014.

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall


Bond 24 begins filming: The 24th 007 film produced by Eon Productions probably will go into production toward the end of the year to meet is October (U.K.)/November (U.S.) 2015 release date.

There’s not much hard information, other than Daniel Craig is back as Bond, Sam Mendes is again directing and John Logan is writing the script.

Ralph Fiennes, whose Mallory became the new M at the end of 2012′s Skyfall, TOLD REUTERS IN A DEC. 24 STORY that, “I know nothing, I’ve not been told anything, I have no information, no dates, no sense of the journey of my character at all! I don’t!”

If Bond 24 follows the same path as Skyfall, casting details will dribble out, though not be confirmed initially. With Skyfall, the casting of Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Javier Bardem were all reported long before the movie started principal photography in November 2011.

U.N.C.L.E. movie (probably) arrives in theaters: Director Guy Ritchie’s movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. wrapped production the first week of December. Warner Bros. hasn’t publicly announced a release date but there’s certainly enough post-production time for a fall 2014 release.

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer (Art by Paul Baack)

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer
(Art by Paul Baack)


The movie, starring Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin, will be the first U.N.C.L.E. production since the 1983 television movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which reunited Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, the stars of the original 1964-68 television series.

The film will also be a test whether there’s a mass audience in the 21st century for U.N.C.L.E., a “utopian” spy concept in which agents from opposing sides in the Cold War could unite against common menaces. The movie will be set in the 1960s, the same as the original show.

Mission: Impossible 5 starts production: Tom Cruise is back for a fifth time as the star of a Mission: Impossible film, which will be released at Christmas 2015. Cruise had been slated to star in the U.N.C.L.E. movie as Solo but dropped out as M:I 5 (which his production company produces) developed. That move gave the opening for Cavill’s casting in the U.N.C.L.E. movie.

Cruise’s most recent M:I film, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, was a hit while while paying homages to the original 1966-73 television series, while the original 1996 movie turned Jim Phelps into a villain. Since then, Cruise has had his ups and downs. So he could use another financially successful M:I movie.

Golfinger’s 50th anniversary: 1964′s Goldfinger turned Bond into a worldwide phenomenon. Dr. No’s 50th anniversary got a lot of attention, in part because Skyfall was coming out. It’ll be interesting to see if Goldfinger’s golden anniversary draws attention.

Some fan complaints about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Some U.N.C.L.E. fans react to what they've seen about the new movie.

Some U.N.C.L.E. fans react to news about the new movie.

Everybody’s a critic, the saying goes. So it is with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie a month after it began filming.

The Internet in its myriad forms, including Facebook, Twitter, listservs message boards and blogs like this one, has the potential to give every fan a voice. And many take advantage of the opportunity.

While it’s hard to say how representative they are, here’s a sampling of some fan complaints about the movie that stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer in the roles originated by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. A lot of this is subjective and if you’re an U.N.C.L.E. fan you may agree or disagree.

1. The lead actors are too tall: Norman Felton, executive producer of the original 1964-68 series, was on record as not wanting “big, ballsy men” as his leads, which is one reason why Vaughn and McCallum, each below 6-feet tall, got the roles. Some fans refer to Kuryakin/McCallum as LBG, or “little blonde guy.”

Cavill is 6-goot-1 while Hammer is 6-foot-5. That is admittedly a big change and some fans don’t like it. Cavill was a last-minute casting change for 5-foot-7 Tom Cruise, who opted out of the project.

2. Henry Cavill is too muscular: Cavill, 30, is the latest screen Superman (in 2013′s Man of Steel) and will reprise the role in 2014 for a Superman-Batman movie that will be released in the summer of 2015. That’s different that Felton’s “everyman” vision.

3. Armie Hammer isn’t blonde enough: Hammer had dark hair playing the Lone Ranger in the 2013 Disney movie. He has lightened his hair, but for some fans he’s not blond enough.

Armie Hammer with a David McCallum haircut.

Armie Hammer with a David McCallum haircut.

4. Hammer doesn’t have Illya Kuryakin’s hairstyle: McCallum’s Kuryakin had bangs and his hairstyle got shaggier later in the series. Based on photos taken during filming in Rome SUCH AS THIS ONE, Hammer isn’t attempting the same hairstyle.

5. Why does Hollywood do all these remakes and/or sequels? This is a broader complaint about Hollywood in general. As movie costs have spiraled, studios have gotten conservative and are viewed as less willing to take risks in general.

Occasionally, there are remakes worth doing. Humphrey Bogart wasn’t the first actor to play Sam Spade. My Fair Lady, seen as a screen classic, is essentially a musical remake of Pygmalion. Some argue The Godfather Part II is better than the original. The problem isn’t necessarily remakes per se, but how they’re executed.

6. This is going to be a flop on the scale of 2013′s Lone Ranger movie! Actually, that’s almost impossible. The U.N.C.L.E. movie’s budget is a reported $75 million, while Disney’s Lone Ranger movie had a budget of as much as $240 million.

Meanwhile, as far as U.N.C.L.E. concerned, the past 30 years of fan discussion has centered on either the original show or U.N.C.L.E. projects that didn’t get made. Looking on the bright side, the U.N.C.L.E movie is something new to talk about — whether the movie turns out good or ill — for the first time in a long time. It also may recruit new U.N.C.L.E. fans, starting with fans of the lead actors.

U.N.C.L.E. movie will start filming in September, Variety says

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (Art by Paul Baack)

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer
(Art by Paul Baack)

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie will start filming Sept. 7, Variety said in a feature story in its print edition.

The article, by Jon Burlingame, says the movie “is an origin story that tells of the first pairing of the two spies — one American, one Russian,” a reference to the lead characters, Napeoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. “Unlike the friendly banter of the original series, the pair are initially hostile to each other, said someone familiar with the script.” Director Guy Ritchie declined to be interviewed, according to the story.

Burlingame also reported the reason after Tom Cruise left the project, that Warner Bros. wanted the budget reduced to $75 million. Cruise’s departure opened the door for Henry Cavill to take the Solo role. Armie Hammer had already been cast as Kuryakin. Solo and Kuryakin were played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in the original 1964-68 series.

Variety describes the movie as “a fairly serious action pic.” Recently, Variety had run ANOTHER STORY story saying the movie’s budget had been cut but provided no details.

The new story appeared in Variety’s print edition and doesn’t appear to be online. The quotes provided here are from a photograph of the first page of the story on Burlingame’s Facebook page. Jon Burlingame is an expert in film and television music and produced U.N.C.L.E. soundtracks in the last decade.

UPDATE: Story corrected in third paragraph to say the budget was cut after Cruise left the project.

UPDATE II (6:53 p.m.): Variety now HAS PUT THE STORY ONLINE.

Much of the rest of the story concerns efforts over 35 years for some kind of new version of U.N.C.L.E. One one, the 1983 television movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was made. There is this quote from producer John Davis, who has been involved in efforts to do an U.N.C.L.E. movie since the early ’90s:

“I loved this as a kid,” he says. “It was the coolest show in the world. I had all the guns and the communication devices; I was just a fanatic.”
(snip)
The one constant throughout, Davis says, has been the Cold War setting: “The idea was that the best of all the world’s intelligence services were working to keep the world safe, with the most up-to-date technology that existed.”

UPDATE III (8:42 p.m.), Variety, in A SEPARATE STORY says actress Elizabeth Debicki has been tapped for a role in the film. No further details are mentioned.

Henry Cavill in talks to star in U.N.C.L.E., Variety says

Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill, star of the upcoming Man of Steel film, is in talks to star in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Variety reported.

Cavill, 30, was in the running to play James Bond when that film series was rebooted in 2006. He was passed over in favor of Daniel Craig, now 45.

Here’s an excerpt:

With the news coming out that Tom Cruise had fallen off “Man From U.N.C.L.E,” Warner Bros. has acted fast to find his replacement having entered talks with Henry Cavill to star.

He would co-star with Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander with Guy Ritchie helming.

Cavill is about the same age Robert Vaughn was when he was cast as U.N.C.L.E. agent Napoleon Solo in the original 1964-68 series. (Vaughn turned 31 in November 1963 during filming of the pilot episode.)

Cavill is also considerably younger than either Cruise, who turns 51 in July, and George Clooney, now 52, who were under consideration to play Solo over the past two years. Man of Steel, which comes out June 14, is also a Warner Bros. project. If Warner Bros. really thinks U.N.C.L.E. could be a multi-film series, Cavill and Hammer, who turns 27 in August, could star in more than one film.

What’s more, Cavill is 6-foot-1, which would be easier to match up with the 6-foot-5 Hammer.

UPDATE: You can CLICK HERE to read a similar story in The Hollywood Reporter. Also CLICK HERE for a similar story by the Deadline entertainment news Web site. Also, CLICK HERE for a story from The Wrap Web site.

The men who would be Napoleon Solo

"I'm ready for my comeback, Mr. DeMille."

“I’m ready for my comeback, Mr. DeMille.”


In 35 years or so of ATTEMPTED REVIVALS OF THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., one recurring problem has been who to cast as Napoleon Solo, the title character.

Solo was created by Norman Felton and Ian Fleming and developed by Sam Rolfe, who created most everything else about the 1964-68 television series. Obviously, it’s a pivotal role. Here’s a look at a partial list.

The original, Robert Vaughn: Around 1976-77, producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts enlisted Sam Rolfe to write a TV-movie that would bring back U.N.C.L.E. Rolfe’s script, called The Malthusian Affair, had a somewhat older, but still active, Solo and Illya Kuryakin. The plan was to bring back Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, working with some new agents. The project never got further than the script stage.

A few years later, in the early 1980s, Danny Biederman and Robert Short attempted a theatrical movie version. Their plan, also, was to have the original stars. But the producers ultimately couldn’t convince a studio. Vaughn and McCallum did reprise the roles in a 1983 made-for-television movie, The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., that deliberately depicted Solo as retired and straining to regain his old form. Vaughn turned 50 during filming.

George Clooney: In 2010-11, George Clooney appeared to be the choice of director Steven Soderbergh, who said he had committed to a new U.N.C.L.E. movie. It was easy to understand. The pair had worked a number of times together. Eventually, though, Clooney, owing to health issues, took his name out of the running. By this point, Clooney was the same age as Vaughn was in The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Bradley Cooper: The actor, transitioning from movies such as The Hangover to more serious fare such as Silver Linings Playbook, was reported to be the new Solo for a time after Clooney’s departure. Looking back, it’s hard to determine whether this was really happening or an attempt by agents and/or publicists to gain their client attention. Regardless, Cooper was soon out and his career has been on the rise since.

Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender


Michael Fassbender: Soderbergh reportedly proposed Michael Fassbender to Warner Bros. as a Solo contender. Fassbender had shown flashes of a James Bond while playing a young Magneto in a 2011 X-Men movie. Soderbergh had also cast Fassbender in a spy movie called Haywire.

According to various accounts, Warner Bros. didn’t like the choice because of Fassbender’s lack of star power. Almost immediately, Fassbender’s star power began to rise but it was too late.

Channing Tatum: Soderbergh took a look at Channing Tatum, another actor he had worked with (both Haywire and Magic Mike, a film about male strippers). His football player build was considerably different than the 1964-68 original television series. Soderbergh exited the project before anything could happen Solo-wise with Tatum. Tatum, meanwhile, also sees his star power rise. The actor also ended up working with Soderbergh one more time in Side Effects, a 2013 movie.

Tom Cruise: At the end of 2011, Warner Bros. assigned U.N.C.L.E. to director Guy Ritchie after Soderbergh’s departure. Cruise’s name didn’t emerge as a potential Solo until early in 2013. Like Clooney, a Cruise Solo would be notably older than the original version of Solo. According to the Deadline entertainment news Web site, Cruise exited U.N.C.L.E. negotiations to concentrate on a fifth Mission: Impossible movie.

It remains to be seen who will show up on this list next.

UPDATE (June 8): It didn’t take long to wait. On May 28, Variety reported that Henry Cavill, star of Man of Steel, was in talks to play Solo. Cavill, while promoting the 2013 Superman movie, said in early June during interviews that he had committed to playing the U.N.C.L.E. ace agent for his next project. Meanwhile, actor Armie Hammer, while promoting Walt Disney Co.’s The Lone Ranger, said on Australian television he’d be working with Cavill on the movie.

Still more unanswered questions about an U.N.C.L.E. movie

"Illya, what was that crack about me getting the short end of it this time?" "I may have been premature, Napoleon."

“What was that about me getting the short end of it this time?”
“I may have been premature, Napoleon.”

Tom Cruise is out (if he ever was actually in) a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. So that means one thing: It’s time to raise some more unanswered questions about the project.

1. Who plays Napoleon Solo now? The DEADLINE ENTERTAINMENT NEWS WEB SITE said Cruise, 50, pulled out to concentrate on a fifth Mission: Impossible movie.

One possibility: Robert Downey Jr., who worked with director Guy Ritchie, slated to direct the U.N.C.L.E. film, on two Sherlock Holmes films. Downey’s Iron Man Three is a big hit. Also, his contract with Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios unit has run out. Depending on what else is on Downey’s plate, he has no present commitments to Marvel.

Downey, though, might not make hard-core U.N.C.L.E. fans happy. Many complained that George Clooney (born 1961) and Cruise were too old when their names emerged as candidates. Downey, 48, isn’t much younger. Robert Vaughn, the original Solo, turned 31 during filming of the pilot episode of the 1964-68 series.

Possibility No. 2 raised by THE SCREENRANT WEB SITE is that Armie Hammer, who turns 37 27 in August, could slide from the Illya Kuryakin part to the Solo role. An excerpt referring to Hammer:

He’ll have to prove he can hold his own next to a scenery-chewing Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger, but judging by the trailers and his impressive turn in The Social Network as the Winklevoss twins, he looks to be ready for leading-man status.

Hammer seems to have a baby face in many of his roles. In the new Lone Ranger movie, he appears to be unshaven for much of the movie, perhaps an attempt to look tougher. At 6-foot-5, he towers over either Vaughn or Cruise. U.N.C.L.E. was a show that never had tall actors in leading roles.

2. Any new details? The Deadline story says that Ritchie wants to start filming this fall. So that would imply that Warner Bros. faces a relatively tight deadline to determine a leading man. It would seem to imply a release (IF the project comes together) sometime in 2014.

3. Is this the same Scott Z. Burns script that Steven Soderbergh wanted to film before dropping out in late 2011? Still unknown. Without knowing that, there’s no way to guess whether this would be a 1960s period piece (like the Soderbergh-Burns project) or set in the modern day.

4. Is this going to get made or not? Given the ROCKY HISTORY of U.N.C.L.E. revivals, I wouldn’t go banco on that.

Tom Cruise exits U.N.C.L.E., Deadline says

Tom Cruise: no Man From U.N.C.LE.

Tom Cruise: no Man From U.N.C.LE.


Tom Cruise won’t star in a Guy Ritchie-directed movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to concentrate his efforts on a fifth Mission: Impossible move, according to THE DEADLINE ENTERTAINMENT NEWS WEB SITE.

An excerpt:

Warner Bros has a script they like, and a top director who’s expecting to direct U.N.C.L.E. in the fall. The timing proved too difficult and so Cruise stepped out to focus on M:I5.

Warner Bros will now go hard looking for the lead of this movie, which is inspired by the original TV series ran from 1964-68, with Robert Vaughan and David McCallum playing Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, two agents of the United Network Command for Law Enforcement. With gadgets and their wits and charm, they fought the evil forces of Thrush. Hammer, who’ll be seen shortly alongside Johnny Depp in the Gore Verbinski-directed The Lone Ranger, is still firmly in the film.

Actually, the organization was called The United Network Command for Law *and* Enforcement. Deadline put the word “SHOCKER” in its headline, which is a bit misleading because THERE’S A CURSE that has prevented a revival of U.N.C.L.E. from getting off the ground for decades. Meanwhile, this may mean Cruise is in for a late-career boom because of The reverse Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse where actors who reject, or are passed over for, an U.N.C.L.E. movie see their careers soar.

UPDATE: The Screenrant Web site speculates (and it’s only that) that it’s possible ARMIE HAMMER MIGHT GET MOVED TO THE NAPOLEON SOLO ROLE from the Illya Kuryakin part if July’s Lone Ranger movie is a success.

Some unanswered questions about an U.N.C.L.E. movie

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

Talk about a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. isn’t going away. If anything, there are signs this project is, at the very least, inching ahead. So, naturally, there are questions begging to be asked, even if the answers aren’t forthcoming.

Is this thing actually going to happen? One sign the answer is yes was the news that a female lead may be cast. According to THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, an actress has emerged as the female lead. An excerpt:

Rising Swedish actress Alicia Vikander is in negotiations for the female lead opposite Tom Cruise and Armie Hammer in Warner Bros.’ Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie.

(snip)

Vikander will play a British agent who has a thing for cars. The character did not appear in the TV series nor the short-lived spinoff, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., and is a new creation.

Why is that significant? Because during the long soap opera about a possible U.N.C.L.E. movie two years ago, when Steven Soderbergh was hired to direct, there was a lot of trouble casting the leads. For the past couple of months, reports from a variety of outlets have been consistently saying Cruise and Hammer would be the leads. During the Soderbergh project, you never heard about other parts.

Will this project use the Scott Z. Burns script that Soderbergh’s project was based on? Or is it another story entirely? That is one of the biggest of the unanswered questions. Burns’s script was a 1960s period piece that had some common elements to the 1965 007 film Thunderball.

Any red flags? A few. Warner Bros. hasn’t made an official announcement, though often lots of things leak out before a movie is announced. Meanwhile, Cruise is 50 (and turns 51 on July 3) and Vikander is 24 (turning 25 in October). May-December pairings can work. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were a quarter-century apart while Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn were 28 years apart, to cite two examples. But will it work in U.N.C.L.E. or just lead to some sarcastic humor among fans?

A natural speculation among fans is that Cruise’s Napoleon Solo (presuming he does play Solo and not a new character) will intentionally be older than the Solo of the show. Robert Vaughn, the original Solo, turned 31 while filming the U.N.C.L.E. pilot. He was 50, the same age Cruise is now, when he played Solo in the 1983 television movie, The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

If it gets made, when would this movie come out? Cruise seems to have a lot on his plate, including A FIFTH MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE MOVIE. Even a workaholic like Cruise can squeeze so many projects in a year’s time. It would seem to be 2014 at the earliest, perhaps even 2015 or 2016.

EARLIER POST: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: the long and the short and the tall

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: the long and the short and the tall

"Who's going to play me?" "Looks like you're getting the short end of it this time, Napoleon."

“Who’s going to play me?”
“Looks like you’re getting the short end, Napoleon.”

There’s the possibility that 5-foot-7 Tom Cruise may be paired with 6-foot-5 Armie Hammer in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., according to a story this week on the DEADLINE ENTERTAINMENT NEWS WEB SITE.

You’d think it’d be hard to film the pair together. But it’s actually only the latest twist in a spy property that’s had its ups and downs when it came to the subject of height.

It began with executive producer Norman Felton, who began work on U.N.C.L.E. in 1962. The 1950s and the early 1960s were a period when Westerns, with stars such as 6-foot-7 James Arness and 6-foot-6 Clint Walker, dominated U.S. television. Even in other genres, other stars might be tall. Felton himself had cast 6-foot-1 Richard Chamberlain as the title character in the television version of Dr. Kildare.

Felton, in a 1997 interview (portions of which can be seen on U.N.C.L.E. DVD extras), said he wanted a different type of lead character for U.N.C.L.E. and not “big, ballsy men.” He was looking for heroes who were more average looking.

Eventually, the producer cast 5-foot-10 Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo (who had worked on the Felton-produced The Lieutenant) and 5-foot-8 David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin. They were hardly runts, but definitely not built like Arness’s Matt Dillon.

Supposedly, according to dossiers held by the evil Thrush organization (in The Thrush Roulette Affair in the show’s FOURTH SEASON), Solo the character was 6-foot while Kuryakin was 5-foot-10 1/2.

Thrush clearly had some faulty information. In the FIRST SEASON episode The Never-Never Affair, 5-foot-8 1/2 guest star Barbara Feldon wears flat shoes to appear shorter than the leads. Even wearing the flat shoes, there is an Act II scene where her Mandy Stevenson character is clearly taller than McCallum’s Kuryakin.

That doesn’t mean McCallum was insecure was his height. The late writer-actor Stanley Ralph Ross, in a 1997 INTERVIEW with THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. EPISODE GUIDE said McCallum used his height to his advantage in a scene where Ross played a thug.

Question: What was it like for you a pretty tall fellow, working with a somewhat shorter David McCallum?

Ross: David asked me to stand on a box. I am already 6-6 and said that he would look like a midget but he replied the taller I was, the stronger and more macho he would seem for having beaten me up.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. began almost 50 years ago but even in the 21st Century, height or the lack of it can still create a stir. In 2005, Amy Pascal, a Sony Pictures executive, told THE NEW YORK TIMES that the newly cast 007 Daniel Craig “is tall. He’s the same size as Sean Connery.” Craig is 5-foot-10 while Connery is 6-foot-2 and change. Eight years later, the subject doesn’t come up that much, at least with Craig.

In any case, U.N.C.L.E. fans have been buzzing about the possibility about a new movie, and are getting worked up whether Cruise and Hammer have the right look, etc. For now, we’ll bide our time and have a cocktail — maybe a short one — while we wait for things to develop.

Armie Hammer may join U.N.C.L.E. film, Deadline says

Armie Hammer

Armie Hammer

Armie Hammer may join the cast of a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and play Illya Kuryakin, according to A STORY on the Deadline Hollywood Web site.

An excerpt from the story:

EXCLUSIVE: Armie Hammer, who plays the title character opposite Johnny Depp in the Gore Verbinski-directed The Lone Ranger for Disney, is set to star with Tom Cruise in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the remake of the classic TV series that Guy Ritchie will direct for Warner Bros.

(snip)

Hammer would play a version of the role originated by (David) McCallum, an NCIS regular who strangely doesn’t seemed to have aged since the ’60s.

This story raises a few questions. Deadline’s PREVIOUS STORY on the subject said Tom Cruise was in talks but made it sound like nothing had been settled. The new story almost makes it sound like it’s a done deal. Is it? Or are there some more twists in store?

Also, Deadline has never said if Cruise, should he join the project, play Napoleon Solo, the character played by Robert Vaughn in the original television series. The character was co-created by Norman Felton and Ian Fleming with the rest of the series, including the U.N.C.L.E. organization and the Kuryakin character, devised by Sam Rolfe.

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