U.N.C.L.E. movie, we hardly knew ye

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

This month marks the year anniversary of the release of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie.

For a film that seemed to disappear from theaters almost without a trace, it occasionally showed up on lists of underrated movies.

Also, we heard anecdotes from people who convinced friends to see it in the theater (while they could). These friends, the way these anecdotes were told, would then say they were surprised (pleasantly) by the movie.

Still, numbers are hard things. The 2015 Guy Ritchie-directed movie had a global box office of only $109.8 million, and only $45.4 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to Box Office Mojo.

To put that in perspective, this year’s remake of Ghostbusters, had worldwide box office as of Aug. 3 of $161.3 million, with $109.6 million coming from the U.S. and Canada. And it’s not even seen as a hit.

Last year, was, as this blog called it, “The Year of the Spy.” U.N.C.L.E., which last saw a new production with a TV movie in 1983, was the runt of that litter. About the only place the movie was a hit was Russia, presumably thanks to the presence of Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer).

Still, numbers aren’t everything. The U.N.C.L.E. movie was not a James Bond wannabe. Instead, it tried to be its own thing.

Some fans of the original 1964-68 series felt the movie tried too much to be its own thing, with no cameos by original stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, and the original Jerry Goldsmith theme barely being present.

Yet, it seems unlikely cameos or a longer version of the theme would have substantially boosted the box office. Some times, a movie simply fails to find an audience.

The movie’s biggest change was an edgier version of Illya Kuryakin. The film’s Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) was similar to that of the series, albeit with changes to the character’s back story, primarily a history of being a thief blackmailed into working for the CIA.

For the Spy Commander, this month is one of nostalgia for the movie. For a brief time, there was a new version of U.N.C.L.E. Even with debates among first-generation fans, at least there was *something new* to discuss after decades.

By contrast, 2016 has a new Bourne movie — and one not so much different than most Bourne films — and not much else. U.N.C.L.E. and “The Year of The Spy” isn’t happening again soon.

 

Gene Colan: The Bourne Precursor

Gene Colan self portrait, circa 1970

Gene Colan self portrait, circa 1970

The big movie this weekend is Jason Bourne. Like previous entries in the film series, it features a “shaky cam” technique intended to make the audience feel as if it’s in the middle of the action.

However, some of that concept was pioneered by the work of comic book artist Gene Colan (1926-2011).

Colan worked for both Marvel and DC, including a six-year run (1966-1973) on Daredevil as well as brief runs on the title later in the 1970s as well as the 1990s.

In a documentary for the home video release of the 2003 Daredevil movie, Colan described his approach to the many action scenes he drew.

“If there was a fight scene, I would try to do it in such a way to confuse the reader,” Colan said. “Because in real life, very often you don’t see the details. You’d just see action.”

Colan said you would see “arms and legs and people sailing over tables. But you don’t see the details. And very often it’s done in a dark room where you can see even less. But it’s exciting. It’s more dramatic that way…I wanted the story to be mystifying and sinister.”

As a result, Colan-illustrated stories emphasize movement in their action sequences. Colan drawings simulate the blur of a punch or a kick or other mayhem.

With 2008’s Quantum of Solace, Eon Productions embraced the approach of the Bourne film series. Eon hired Dan Bradley as Quantum’s second unit director, where he’d be in charge of the movie’s action scenes. Bradley was a Bourne film veteran.

Here’s how Bradley described his approach, according to a 2008 post on the Commander Bond website:

“One of the things I really believe is that we shouldn’t try and make everything feel perfectly staged. I’m always saying to my crew, I want to feel like we were lucky to catch a glimpse of some crazy piece of action. I don’t want it to feel like a movie, where everything is perfectly presented to the audience.”

Of course, comics and film are different. Colan drew mostly 20-page stories where action scenes took up only part of the story. Jason Bourne employs “shaky cam” for much of its running time, even when actions scenes aren’t occurring.

Still, the notion of disorienting the audience remains a strong one, given the box office reception, so far, for Jason Bourne. It’s just worth remembering others, including Gene Colan, took a similar path before.

Colan, of course, drew more than just Daredevil. CLICK HERE and HERE and HERE to see his take on Dr. Strange, the mystic character created by Steve Ditko. The good doctor will be the subject of a Marvel Studios movie in November.

Jason Bourne shakes off critics on its opening weekend

Jason Bourne poster

Jason Bourne poster

UPDATE (July 31) — Jason Bourne is now projected for an opening weekend of $60 million in the U.S. and Canada, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER said.

ORIGINAL POST (July 30): Jason Bourne’s amnesia is extending to critical reviews as the year’s major spy movie appears on its way to being the No. 1 movie this weekend in the U.S. and Canada.

The movie, which reunited star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, is on a pace to generate more than $60 million in ticket sales in the region on its opening weekend, according to the Deadline: Hollywood entertainment news website. The film’s global opening weekend may exceed $100 million, Deadline reported.

That was despite a “fresh” rating of only 57 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes website. Early in the week, the movie’s score was 68 percent. But more negative reviews came out as the week progressed, dragging down the film’s score ahead of its debut.

It appears that won’t matter, at least as far as box office is concerned. Jason Bourne was forecast to open at $60 million in the U.S. and Canada while studio Universal was being more conservative at $40 million-plus, according to a July 26 story at TheWrap entertainment news website.

SPECTRE, the most recent 007 film, had a U.S.-Canada opening weekend of $70.4 million in November 2015. The biggest Bond opening was 2012’s Skyfall at $88.4 million.

Jason Bourne was the fourth movie in the series starring Damon and the third helmed by Greengrass. Both have criticized 007 films, which rankles some Bond film fans. Jason Bourne was the first Bourne entry since 2007 for both Damon and Greengrass. The Bourne Legacy, released in 2012, featured Jeremy Renner as another agent.

The gritty style of the Bourne films — including more intense and violent action scenes — had an impact in the 2000s on the 007 series made by Eon Productions.

Bourne was a factor in recasting the Bond role with Daniel Craig, The New York Times reported in 2005. And 2008’s Quantum of Solace employed Dan Bradley as second unit director. Bradley had worked on the Bourne films in the same capacity.

 

Jack Davis, extraordinary artist, dies at 91

Jack Davis promotional art for Get Smart

Jack Davis promotional art for Get Smart

Jack Davis, a talented artist known for his work on Mad magazine and various commercial artwork, died Wednesday at the age of 91, the University of Georgia said in an announcement.

The university released the news because Davis, a Georgia native, often did caricatures of the school’s bulldog mascot.

Besides Mad, Davis frequently got work commercial art jobs promoting movies and television shows. Perhaps his most famous was the movie poster for 1963’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, with caricatures of Spencer Tracy and the film’s mammoth cast.  Davis then parodied his own work for the cover of It’s a World, World, World, World Mad, a paperback collection of Mad reprinted features.

With the popularity of spy shows in the 1960s, Davis did illustrations promoting The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart and I Spy. The artist also illustrated an U.N.C.L.E. lunchbox.

Davis also drew an intricate illustration promoting NBC’s 1965-66 television lineup. To appreciate it better, click on the image below.

Jack Davis' epic illustration promoting NBC's 1965-66 television lineup

Jack Davis’ epic illustration promoting NBC’s 1965-66 television lineup

 

 

U.N.C.L.E. now on Heroes & Icons channel

Heroes & Icons logo

Heroes & Icons logo

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is now being shown by the Heroes & Icons channel in the overnight hours.

The 1964-68 spy adventure is being televised at 4 a.m. New York time weeknights and 3 a.m. Sundays, according to the channel’s website. H&I currently is television episodes from the first season.

H&I is similiar to MeTV. Both televise programs from the 1950s to the 1980s. H&I tends to show more one-hour programs while MeTV shows more situation comedies.

U.N.C.L.E. still is on MeTV, but only on the weekend overnight schedule. MeTV began showing U.N.C.L.E. in the fall of 2014 as part of a block of programming it called “The Spies who Love ME.” MeTV ended that block of shows in August 2015.

Jason Bourne gets a mix of raves and pans from critics

Jason Bourne poster

Jason Bourne poster

Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne is back after nine years and he’s getting mixed marks — more positive than negative — from critics.

This year’s major spy movie currently has a 68 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes, or more than two raves for every pan.

Put another way, it’s comparable to 2015’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (67 percent) and SPECTRE (65 percent), the most recent 007 film.

What follows is a non-spoiler sampling of reviews that have come in so far.

PETER DEBRUGE, VARIETY: “Mostly, the project marks a return to what worked about the franchise — namely, Damon — suggesting the relief of watching Sean Connery step back into Bond’s shoes after producers tried to replace him with a suave male model in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Meanwhile, audiences are expected to forget both “The Bourne Legacy,” 2012’s disappointing attempt to carry on the name by casting Jeremy Renner in a superficially similar capacity, and “Green Zone,” the gritty (and virtually unseen) Iraq War thriller in which Damon and Greengrass tried to get serious. Now, the real Bourne has resurfaced, and both director and star are committed to making the most of it.”

SCOTT MENDSELSON, FORBES.COM: “You’ve seen this movie before. You saw it in 2004 when it was calledThe Bourne Supremacy, and you saw it in 2007 when it was called The Bourne Ultimatum. As is now apparently custom for Paul Greengrass-directed Bourne sequels, the filmmaker steals wholesale from his previous movies to the point where it feels not like a formula but a glorified remake.”

KATIE WALSH, TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE: “It’s a breath of fresh air to see Damon back in this role, one that draws on his innate strengths. His All-American star persona allows us to understand that though Bourne is a lone ranger who doesn’t hesitate to use violence, we innately trust his moral compass. That’s because we know Bourne, but also because of the patriotic, good guy qualities that Damon effortlessly expresses.”

BILGE EBIRI, THE VILLAGE VOICE: “A  more appropriate title for Jason Bourne might be Walking: The Motion Picture. …(I)t’s about people walking. Walking down corridors, through hotels, through streets, through backrooms. Always briskly, always with apparent purpose, often with phones or earpieces or tracking devices so they can talk to someone else who is also walking and who is usually telling them where yet another person might be walking. Occasionally they break into a run or get in a car and plow through traffic. But mostly, they just walk. Is the CIA now owned by Fitbit?”

TODD MCCARTHY: THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: “Jason Bourne is an engrossing reimmersion in the violent and mysterious world of Matt Damon’s shadowy secret op. With director Paul Greengrass compulsively cutting the almost incessant action to the absolute bone in his trademark fashion and some solid new characters stirred in, Universal’s franchise refresher should have no problem being re-embraced by longtime series fans.”

Gene L. Coon: More than just Star Trek

Poster for The Killers, a pre-Star Trek credit for Gene L. Coon

Poster for The Killers (1964), a pre-Star Trek credit for Gene L. Coon

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

For the purposes of this post, we’re stretching the definition of “unsung.” Gene L. Coon was a major figure for the original Star Trek series (where he was producer for part of the first and second seasons) and he’s mostly remembered for that.

However, the writer-producer performed work in other genres. That included 1960s spy shows, serving as a producer for some episodes of The Wild Wild West and It Takes a Thief. He also wrote episodes of war dramas and westerns.

Coon also did the script for the 1964 version of The Killers, with a cast headed by Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson and Ronald Reagan. The crew included composer John Williams.

The Killers was intended by Universal to be a made-for-television movie. What producer-director Don Siegel delivered was deemed to be too violent for the small screen. So The Killers got a theatrical release instead.

Coon had a reputation as a hard worker. He had an admirer in director Ralph Senensky. Here’s what Senensky said about Coon in a reply to a post about an episode of The Wild Wild West titled The Night of the Druid’s Blood:

I think Gene Coon is one of the unsung heroes of television. Both on this series and later on STAR TREK his work (and he was a rewriting machine) set a standard that elevated both series to levels that were seldom reached after his departure.

Coon produced only six episodes of The Wild Wild West near the end of that show’s first season (1965-66). The following television season, he joined Star Trek as producer, working under creator-executive producer Gene Roddenberry. Coon’s main task was to secure and produce a steady stream of scripts.

Coon’s major contributions included the Klingons and co-writing Space Seed, the episode that introduced Ricardo Montalban’s Khan character. Khan would be brought back twice (once with Montalban and once with Benedict Cumberbatch) as villains in Star Trek movies.

Put another way, Coon’s contributions had an impact on Trek productions long after he first made them.

The writer-producer continued into Trek’s second season but departed. He ended up at Universal’s television operation. However, he did some moonlighting, writing some Trek scripts under the pen name Lee Cronin.

One of them, Spock’s Brain, in which Spock’s brain is taken from him, still generates groans from Trek fans decades later. Well, everyone has an off day and the writing conditions (doing it on the side while working full-time at Universal) weren’t ideal.

Gene L. Coon died of cancer on July 8, 1973, just 49 years old. His final writing credit was for an episode of The Streets of San Francisco titled Death and the Favored Few. That show aired in March 1974.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 256 other followers