REVIEW: Brad Bird pleas for optimism in Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland's poster

Tomorrowland’s poster

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001, dark has been fashionable at the movie box office. Climate change, wars and other calamities since then have reinforced that.

With Tomorrowland, director Brad Bird pleas for optimism. His second live-action film is a Valentine’s to dreamers in the form of a science fiction/fantasy story.

Bird’s 130-minute movie, which he co-wrote with Damon Lindelof, isn’t a Pollyanna endeavor. It more than acknowledges the challenges facing the world. Still, it has a simple message: We can’t just give up.

Tomorrowland is a place created by dreamers including Tesla, Verne and Eiffel (with Edison taking credit). In the course of the film, we meet former boy inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney), a disillusioned former dreamer, and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a young woman who still is one.

At the start of the movie, Walker is trying to describe events while the more optimistic Casey keeps interrupting his narrative. Bird & Co. doesn’t tip his hand. It takes a while for the story to unfold and the audience needs to pay attention.

Eventually, a confused Casey finds her way to Tomorrowland. Along the way, she encounters friendly robot Athena (Raffey Cassidy) and a number of hostile ones. She’s led to Walker who, we learn, found Tomorrowland at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York but who later was exiled.

Early in the proceedings, we see a display with a countdown. As things stand, something bad is going to happen, but it takes some time to find out what. Walker and Casey, fighting off hostile robots, manage to get to Tomorrowland.

This is a story that couldn’t be told — at least in live-action form — without computer effects. Late in the middle portion of Tomorrowland, things threaten to get away from Bird — similar to how Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar movie got away from him. However, the director pulls things together in the film’s final act.

When all is said and done, the director delivers an emotional and human ending. Here, GCI is a tool. An elaborate tool, to be sure, but one that serves the purpose of the story and not an end to itself.

Summer films are supposed to be “popcorn movies,” and that applies to Tomorrowland. Yet its strong final act provides an additional dimension. Having a human story and computer effects aren’t mutally exclusive. GRADE: A, mostly because of the powerful final act.

UPDATE (May 24): Tomorrowland, while No. 1 at the U.S. box office this weekend, delivered less-than-expected ticket sales. This NEW YORK TIMES STORY has an interesting passage: “While moviegoers have shown a taste for post-apocalyptic movies in recent years, Mr. Bird wanted to offer a more optimistic portrait of the future. But there is a reason studios continue to churn out dystopian fare: People seem to like it.”

Sony watch: Company rejects shareholder’s demand

sonylogo

UPDATE (Aug. 6): Third Point’s Daniel Loeb in an interview with Variety said his relations with Sony are just fine:

In an exclusive interview, Loeb, whose Third Point owns an estimated 7% of Sony, struck a much more conciliatory tone toward the Japanese electronics giant than he’s demonstrated in recent weeks. He praised Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai’s letter to him, calling it “thoughtfully written and detailed in its discussion of profitability and transparency. There was a lot there for shareholders to hang their hats on.”

In response, Nikki Finkke, the editor-in-chief of the Deadline entertainment Web site, wasn’t buying it IN A COMMENTARY. Here’s a partial quote:

So now Third Point hedge fund CEO Daniel Loeb claims today he’s backing off Sony. But only after the putz created chaos and confusion inside a stable and successful studio…Now Loeb will simply retreat to his $45 million penthouse at 15 Central Park West and dream home in East Hampton and not give Hollywood another thought until the next time he feels the urge to kvetch.

ORIGINAL POST (Aug. 5): Sony Corp.’s board rejected a proposal from a major shareholder to sell a piece of its entertainment business, which includes Sony Pictures, the studio that has released the last three James Bond movies.

Sony issued A STATEMENT that reads in part:

Sony Corporation today sent a letter to Third Point LLC following a unanimous vote of Sony’s Board of Directors. The letter outlines that the Board and management team strongly believe that continuing to own 100% of the Company’s entertainment businesses is fundamental to Sony’s success, and that a rights or public offering is not consistent with the Company’s strategy for achieving sustained growth in profitability and shareholder value.

Third Point, led by investor Daniel Loeb, wanted Sony to sell a piece of the entertainment business in an initial public offering. Third Point recently criticized management of the entertainment business for a couple of box-office duds. One prominent Hollywood actor-producer-director, George Clooney, spoke up in Sony’s defense in AN INTERVIEW WITH THE DEADLINE ENTERTAINMENT NEWS WEB SITE.

For now, there’s no real effect on the Bond movies. Sony is slated to release its fourth 007 movie, the untitled Bond 24, in the fall of 2015. Third Point and Loeb presumably will remain a source of tension the management of Sony Pictures. The studio’s big properties in the coming years are Bond 24 and three scheduled Spider-Man movies in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

Skyfall, last year’s Bond movie, sold about $1.1 billion in tickets worldwide. The New York Times reported in May that Skyfall didn’t generate that much profit for the company because Sony was third in line for the proceeds behind Eon Productions/Danjaq and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

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.

The reverse Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse

Channing Tatum: one-time Solo contender, now hot Hollywood property

Channing Tatum: one-time Solo contender, now hot Hollywood property

We’ve posted before about how there’s a CURSE that seems to prevent new versions of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. from becoming reality. But there also seems to be a reverse curse — actors who get mentioned as leads in a new U.N.C.L.E. but don’t end up in the roles do really, really well.

All of this is undoubtedly coincidence but consider:

George Clooney: The actor was director Steven Soderbergh’s first choice to play Napoleon Solo for an aborted U.N.C.L.E. project. The two had worked together multiple times but Clooney took his name out of the running, in part because he wasn’t up to the physical demands of the role. He ends up picking up an Oscar as one of the producers of Argo after that 2012 film received the Best Picture Academy Award.

Bradley Cooper Cooper was supposedly offered the role of Napoleon Solo after Clooney’s exit. At the time, he was seen as the star of comedies such as The Hangover that didn’t have a lot of content. Now, he’s viewed as a Serious Actor (R) after getting a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Silver Linings Playbook.

Michael Fassbender: There were multiple stories that Soderbergh suggested Michael Fassbender to play Napoleon Solo after Clooney and Cooper faded from the scene. Supposedly, Warner Bros. vetoed the choice because Fassbender wasn’t considered a star. Now, the German-Irish actor is considered a star.

Channing Tatum: The actor, who resembles a football linebacker, also was mentioned before Soderbergh finally quit his U.N.C.L.E. project. Last year, Paramount abruptly pulled GI Joe: Retaliation from release. The story at the time was the studio needed time to add 3-D effects. But the Deadline: Hollywood Web site reported the real reason was the need to re-shoot scenes so Tatum’s character wouldn’t get killed off because the studio brass had concluded he was now a star. Studios don’t reschedule big, expensive movies lightly. (UPDATE, March 31: If there were reshoots, well, Channing’s character doesn’t exactly come out whole, but he does take up a lot of the early part of the movie. GI Joe 2 also was the top film at the U.S. box office during Easter weekend.)

Joel Kinnaman: this actor was Soderbergh’s choice at one point to play Illya Kuryakin, but got vetoed by Warner Bros. because, you guessed it, he wasn’t considered a star. Subsequently, he was cast in the lead role in an upcoming remake of RoboCop. Apparently, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which also co-owns the 007 franchise, was willing to take a chance where Warner Bros. was not. MGM, though, hedged its bet by including Samuel L. Jackson and Gary Oldman in the cast.

11 questions about a Tom Cruise U.N.C.L.E. movie

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

Warner Bros. is in early talks about Tom Cruise starring in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., according to the Deadline: Hollywood and The Hollywood Reporter Web sites. But there’s been no studio confirmation. That’s understandable if they’re in negotiations.

Still, the development raises a number of questions in our mind. So, in honor of the No. 11 badge Napoleon Solo wore at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, here are 11 of them.

1. Would Cruise play Napoleon Solo? No idea. Neither Deadline nor The Hollywood Reporter provided that information in their stories this week. When Cruise started his Mission: Impossible movies in 1996, he didn’t play a character from the original show. He played a new character, Ethan Hunt. The first movie turned Jim Phelps, the character played by Peter Graves in the original television series, into a villain.

2. He wouldn’t do that again, would he? Who knows? With Mission: Impossible, Cruise also doubled as producer. The current project is being headed up by Guy Ritchie, assigned by Warner Bros. after Steven Soderbergh bowed out of a possible U.N.C.L.E. movie in late 2011. Pulling the same trick twice, might seem tacky. Then again, Cruise might play a new character even if they don’t make Solo a villain.

3. If Cruise does play Solo, who plays Illya Kuryakin? That depends on the answer to question 1. It also depends on how big a role Kuryakin (if the character does appear) has in the movie.

4. How are long-time U.N.C.L.E. fans taking this? From our sampling, not that well, Earlier this week, we checked out the hashtag #manfromuncle on Twitter and the more vocal fans were quite annoyed, with at least one freely using swear words.

5. What are some of the fan complaints? A recurring one is that Cruise, 50, is too old. Robert Vaughn was 30 when he began filming the series pilot and celebrated his 31st birthday while the pilot was in production. Vaughn was 50 when The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. television movie aired in April 1983, which featured an aging Solo who returns to action 15 years after leaving the international intelligence agency.

6. Is that reaction surprising? No. Fans had the same complaint when George Clooney, born a year earlier than Cruise, was first mentioned as Soderbergh’s preferred choice for Solo. Same complaint, different actor.

7. What does this week’s news tell you about this possible movie? It indicates that Warner Bros. believes U.N.C.L.E. won’t work without a big name star. Some properties work with a relative unknown. The 1978 version of Superman was a hit with unknown Christopher Reeve in the title role, though Warners hedged its bet by having Marlon Brando as Jor-El and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. The 2002 Spider-Man movie had Tobey Maguire in the title role. But Superman and Spider-Man have been continuously published for decades and the public is more aware of them than U.N.C.L.E.

8. Let’s say Cruise does play Solo, Solo stays a hero and Cruise does a good job. Would there be any fan issues then? Not initially, but it does raise the question whether you can build a multi-movie franchise with an actor in his 50s — unless, of course, he’s really playing Alexander Waverly, the U.N.C.L.E. chief played by Leo G. Carroll in the original show. But that wouldn’t seem likely.

Robert Vaughn, the original Napoleon Solo

Robert Vaughn, the original Napoleon Solo


9. Is there a bright side to this week’s news? Yes. For a day or so, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a hot topic on the Internet. On Yahoo, it was the number one topic after the two stories hit and other entertainment Web sites weighed in. The show went off the air in January 1968 and there has been no official U.N.C.L.E. production since the 1983 television movie. Suddenly, U.N.C.L.E. was a hot topic again, at least for a bit.

10. What are the odds of this becoming reality? For now, the odds are against it but only because studios release fewer movies than they did even a decade ago. Until filming begins, nothing is certain.

11. What’s your opinion? We’re trying not to think about it until there’s something to think about. There was a LONG SOAP OPERA when Soderbergh’s project was underway and we posted a lot about it. This time out (this post notwithstanding), we’d prefer to hold back until things are more certain.