U.N.C.L.E. awakes: The Rip Van Winkle Affair

Bus for participants in U.N.C.L.E. movie press junket in Rome

Bus for participants in U.N.C.L.E. movie press junket in Rome

For one day, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was truly back after a slumber of more than 30 years. Rip Van Winkle only slept for 20 years.

May 9 was a press junket in Rome for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. Images and comments flooded social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

There hasn’t been an official U.N.C.L.E. production since The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television movie aired on CBS in 1983. Principal photography for the Guy Ritchie-directed feature film took place in the late summer and fall of 2013.

There have been milestones since then, including test screenings in 2014 and release of a first trailer in February. Still, the Rome press junket represented the biggest push by Warner Bros. to begin to raise visibility for the film.

Warner Bros. is in an unusual situation for the “summer” movie season (which begins the first weekend of May). It has no “tent pole” movie, so AS NOTED IN THIS VARIETY STORY, it’s releasing more films than other studios for the summer, looking to make up in volume what it lacks in spectacle. Thus, U.N.C.L.E. has become part of the studio’s “flood the zone” strategy.

Anyway, that’s for studio executives. For U.N.C.L.E. fans — at least those who want new U.N.C.L.E. tales — May 9 marked a beginning (or reawakening).

The U.N.C.L.E. movie, by 2015 standards, is modest ($75 million production budget). It’s in the shadow of the James Bond franchise, whose new installment, SPECTRE, has a $300 million budget, making it one of the most expensive movies of all time.

On the very same day Warners had its coming out party, SPECTRE released its latest “clapperboard” shot, one of the ways the 007 franchise uses social media to promote its product. (If you want to see all the SPECTRE clapperboard shots in scene order, CLICK HERE.)

In the end, despite U.N.C.L.E.’s Ian Fleming connection (the 007 author helped name Napoleon Solo), the two are different animals. Bond is the big kid on the block. U.N.C.L.E. is trying to get established again after a long layoff.

The U.N.C.L.E.’s movie’s Napoleon Solo is played by Henry Cavill, passed over for the role of 007 in favor of Daniel Craig in 2005. Both movies filmed in Rome, but SPECTRE spent $60 million there, almost as much as U.N.C.L.E.’s entire budget.

May 9 was a big day for U.N.C.L.E. fans. It remains to be seen whether the U.N.C.L.E. movie so long in development will be worth the wait. For at least one day, many U.N.C.L.E. fans felt a surge of excitement that it might be.

U.N.C.L.E. press event in Rome includes screening

Twitter is providing some details about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. press event in Rome as participants post about what’s doing on.

For example, there was a screening of about 20 minutes of footage from the Guy Ritchie-directed film. Some of the Tweets:

Some of the press materials might become collectibles.

Meanwhile, Jim Chapman also used Instagram to post A SELFIE WITH A DOUBLE DECKER BUS WITH U.N.C.L.E. MOVIE POSTER ART all over it. That and other photos got put out via Twitter as well.

UPDATE (10:14 a.m.): One of the viewers did a Twitter-sized review of the movie footage shown. To view it, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE (11:25 a.m.): The cast, including Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, in Rome.

U.N.C.L.E. movie to be promoted at Rome event, fan site says

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Cast members of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie will be participate in a media event in Rome this weekend, the HENRY CAVILL NEWS WEBSITE said.

Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Elizabeth Debicki will be part of the event, according to the fan website, which writes extensively about Cavill’s various projects.

Cavill and Hammer play Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, the characters portrayed by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in the 1964-68 series. Debicki plays a new character who appears to be a femme fatale in the film that comes out in mid-August.

Here’s one of the items contained in the Henry Cavill News story. Alicia Malone, who is part of a website called Malone’s Movie Minute took to Twitter to tease the event.

Cavill and Hammer appeared at the recent CinemaCon event in Las Vegas, where upcoming movies are promoted to theater owners.

Rome was one of the main locations for the Guy Ritchie-directed U.N.C.L.E. movie, which was filmed in the late summer and fall of 2013. The movie, set in 1963, has an “origin” story, showing how American Solo and Soviet Kuryakin came to work together. It has a different time line than the show, where U.N.C.L.E. had been formed shortly after World War II.

Hammer says U.N.C.L.E.’s running time under 2 hours

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

Mild spoiler in the seventh paragraph.

Actor Armie Hammer says The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie has a running time under two hours.

Hammer and Henry Cavill TALKED TO COLLIDER.COM at CinemaCon in Las Vegas.

“The movie is basically a two hour, or hour, 45-minute version of the trailer,” Hammer said in response to a question from Collider. The movie’s first trailer debuted in February. “The trailer is simply a representation of the movie.”

Both actors said they had seen the final cut of the movie, which will debut Aug. 14.

A running time of around two hours used to be standard for action films. In recent years, some have gone well past the two-hour mark.

This year, Furious Seven had a running time of 137 minutes while Avengers: Age of Ultron weighs in at 141 minutes. Other movies of note: Skyfall, the most recent James Bond film, had a running time of 143 minutes and 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s final Batman movie, came in at 165 minutes.

On the other hand, the U.N.C.L.E. film didn’t have the shooting schedule or budget of such epics. Its principal photography was completed within three months in the late summer and fall of 2013. In contrast, Cavill spent most of his 2014 (with occasional breaks) filming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which is due out in March 2016.

Also, in the interview, the actors described the filming of an action scene, where Hammer’s Illya Kuryakin had to go to the bottom of a very deep pool while Cavill’s Napoleon Solo had to go after him.

To view the Collider story, which includes a video of the 5:16 interview, CLICK HERE.

WSJ on M:I and U.N.C.L.E.; new Kirby-Steranko story

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Here’s a roundup of some Other Spies developments.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL has a story about making movies based on television series, specifically looking at Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie.

One excerpt:

Why does TV continue to inspire movie dreams?

It is partly because of the extra time and money a feature can offer filmmakers. More fundamentally, even an aged television series can provide brand-name recognition, which acts as a commercial safety net—although an unreliable one.

(snip)
For every successful adaptation, though—from “Star Trek” to “21 Jump Street”—there’s the risk of turning out “The Lone Ranger.” The 2013 film with Johnny Depp as Tonto was rejected by audiences, who were uninterested in the plot, unfamiliar with the 1950s television show and more mystified than intrigued by Mr. Depp wearing a dead-bird headdress. The film led to a nearly $200 million loss for Disney.

The story includes quotes from M:I director Christopher McQuarrie about watching the original Mission: Impossible in returns (“It was sort of iconic to me.”) and U.N.C.L.E. movie co-writer Lionel Wigram, who says Warner Bros. wasn’t “interested in a contemporary story. But we could do a ’60s spy movie that appeals to a modern audience, and is very much the zeitgeist of ‘Mad Men.’”

Nick Fury

Nick Fury

COMIC BOOK RESOURCES reports that Marvel Comics plans to run a previously unpublished Jack Kirby-Jim Steranko art in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. No. 9 coming out in August.

Here’s text from a press release in the Comic Book Resources story:

First, this August, S.H.I.E.L.D. #9 answers a question half a century in the making. A mystery that lies at the heart of the origins of S.H.I.E.L.D. – who is the “Man Called D.E.A.T.H.”?! Written by Mark Waid with art by Lee Ferguson – this special, oversized anniversary issue features a never before published S.H.I.E.L.D. sequence penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Jim Steranko! Plus – Al Ewing brings you a second story featuring the return of Dum Dum Dugan and the birth of the new Howling Commandos! Along with the very first S.H.I.E.L.D. story from 1965 and the original sequence that inspired S.H.I.E.L.D.’s creation – this is not one to miss!

Jack Kirby and Stan Lee both co-created Nick Fury (as the start of a World War II comic book) and S.H.I.E.L.D. (where an older Fury takes command of the agency). Steranko took over S.H.I.E.L.D. in 1966, first as artist and then as writer. Steranko’s early S.H.I.E.L.D. efforts had him doing finished art over breakdowns by Kirby.

Cavill says U.N.C.L.E. movie has a ‘little bit of grit’

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

The Los Angeles Times has a preview of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie in which star Henry Cavill says the film has “a little bit of grit.”

Fans of the original 1964-68 series have, on occasion, expressed concern the movie might be too light, similar to the show’s third season, when the drama-humor mix got out of balance. Both Cavill, who plays Napoleon Solo, and Armie Hammer, who plays Illya Kuryakin, previously have said the movie’s sense of humor was an attraction to them.

In the Times story, Cavill’s full quote was: “There’s a coolness, a humor and a little bit of grit as well.” In 2013, when the movie was being filmed, Entertainment Weekly described a scene where Solo’s Cavill is attacked pretty viciously.

Here’s an excerpt from the Times story, concerning co-screenwriters Lionel Wigram and Guy Ritchie. The latter also directed the movie:

Ritchie and Wigram shared a love of early James Bond films — what Wigram called late Sean Connery/early Roger Moore — and wanted to make a spy film that returned to the glamorous era.

“People have reinvented Bond, but nobody’s gone back to the 1960s,” Wigram said.

To read the entire article, CLICK HERE. The film is scheduled to released in the U.S. on Aug. 14.

The Twilight Zone’s spy story

John Van Dreelan and Martin Landau in The Jeopardy Room

John Van Dreelen and Martin Landau in The Jeopardy Room

The Twilight Zone, more than a half century after it ended its original run on CBS, remains fondly remembered — an example of how television can be imaginative and thought provoking.

It also, in its final season, deviated from its usual fare of science fiction and fantasy to present a spy story.

The Jeopardy Room, which originally aired April 17, 1964, is essentially a two-man play for television.

On the one side, we have Major Ivan Kuchenko (Martin Landau), a Soviet military officer who served 12 years of hard time in Siberia. He wants to defect to the West. Despite his long imprisonment, he still has information that would be of value to the West.

On the other side, there is Commissar Vassiloff (John Van Dreelen). He has tortured Kuchenko in the past. Moreover, Vassiloff fancies himself as the last of the “imaginative” executioners. Vassiloff has been assigned to kill Kuchenko to make sure he doesn’t reach the West. But Vassiloff wants to do it with style.

In Act I, the two opponents meet in a dingy hotel room Kuchenko is renting. Vassiloff gets the better of him, tricking Kuchenko into drinking drugged wine. Vassiloff drinks first but has developed an immunity to the drug through constant use.

In Act II, Kuchenko awakes in the same room. Vassiloff has planted a fatal booby trap in a common object. Kuchenko has three hours to find it. If the would-be defector tries to get away, he’ll be shot by a thug accompanying Vassiloff.

The booby trap is in the room’s telephone. Kuchenko almost bites but figures it out. Eventually, he manages to get out before Vassioff’s thug can kill him. A bit later, Vassiloff and his flunky are in the room. Vassiloff is determined to get Kuchenko in “the next city.” Just then, the phone rings and Vassiloff’s (not too bright) lackey picks up the receiver, setting off an explosion.

At a telephone booth in an airport we see Kuchenko being told by an operator that the call has been disconnected. “That is all right, operator,” he says. “I have reached them.”

While not the best for what the series had to offer, The Jeopardy Room shows that writer-creator Rod Serling still had plenty in the creative tank despite five years of exhaustive television production on The Twilight Zone. The final season of The Twilight Zone consisted of 36 episodes. On broadcast networks today, 22 or 23 episodes is a full season.

Landau is a sympathetic hero. But Serling and director Richard Donner give Van Dreelen a springboard to chew the scenery. We say this admiringly. It’s a great performance by an old pro.

Van Dreelen would be a villain in a number of 1960s television shows. He makes the most of his part here, even smoking a cigarette in a long cigarette holder. Interestingly, Van Dreelen and Donner would be reunited a few months later, working together in two first-season episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Espionage was not The Twilight Zone’s wheel house. You could argue the ending is a little too pat (you’d think Vassiloff would have the flunky disarm the bomb in the telephone before coming in). Still, this episode was a great change of pace for a classic series.

Trivia: If you see this episode in syndication today (like on the evening of April 23 on MeTV), you’ll see a blurred image on the lower left of the end titles. Originally, there was a pack of cigarettes there because of a sponsor during the show’s run in the 1963-64 season.

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