Justice League’s motto: Do no harm

Justice League movie logo

No major spoilers but the spoiler adverse should pass this up.

The subtitle of Justice League could be “Do No Harm.” One of the main missions of the film seems to be to repair the damage done to DC Comics characters in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

In that regard, Justice League succeeds.

(OK spoiler sensitive types bail out now.)

The film brings back Superman who had died at the end of Batman v Superman. What’s more, he’s brought back (after an understandable period of adjustment) as being….well, Superman.

With 2013’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, the Man of Steel was full of self doubt, unsteady and, at times, not very Superman-like. In Justice League, Henry Cavill’s Superman costume looks like it has been cleaned. It looked dirty in his previous two appearances.

Even better, Superman embraces being a hero. That’s what Superman does. The movie doesn’t have Clark Kent wink at the audience, the way comic book Clark Kent did decades ago. But it’s a big improvement. And Superman actually isn’t in the movie that much.

Other characters do a lot of the heavy lifting. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman understandably carries a lot of the load. Jason Momoa grabs attention as Aquaman, a character general audiences probably aren’t that familiar with. Ezra Miller brings a neurotic take on the Flash.

Finally, there’s Ben Affleck’s Batman. The actor took much of the brunt of criticism for Batman v Superman, which depicted the character at times as a homicidal maniac. The “do no harm” label applies here as well. Batman is more on an even keel (well, as much as a guy who dresses up in a Bat costume can). The new-look Affleck/Batman even shows some compassion at times.

The production of this film has been a bit of a soap opera. Extensive rewrites and reshoots. A large budget, raising doubts whether this movie will ever earn a dime of profit. And even having Henry Cavill’s mustache (grown for Mission: Impossible 6) digitally erased in the reshoots.

And, of course, there has been plenty of speculation whether Affleck will return as Batman. Intentional or not, a scene in the film evokes this when Affleck’s aging Bruce Wayne acknowledges he can’t keep being Batman much longer.

In the end, the movie makes the viewer forget the soap opera. That may be the biggest compliment one can provide. GRADE: B-Plus.

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Justice League’s soap opera

Justice League movie logo

Justice League, still almost three months from reaching audiences, has generated behind-the-scenes drama the past few months that may be tough for the film itself to match.

Examples:

–Director Zack Snyder took himself off post-production duties because of a family tragedy, the suicide of his 20-year-old daughter in March.

–Even before that, it became known that Warner Bros. brought in Joss Whedon to revise the story. Whedon previously directed the first two Avengers movies for rival Marvel Studios.

–Whedon took over directing of extensive reshoots, estimated by Variety at $25 million, beyond the normal level that occur after principal photography has ended.

–One of the movies stars, Henry Cavill as Superman, can’t shave the mustache he grew for the unfinished Mission: Impossible 6. So his reshoots will involve digitally erasing said mustache. Naturally, this led to people coming out of images of Cavill’s Superman with a mustache.

–In the midst of this, Whedon’s ex-wife, Kai Cole, wrote a guest column for TheWrap on Aug. 20 about the writer-director’s marital infidelities. “I want to let women know that he is not who he pretends to be,” she wrote. While this doesn’t affect the film, it’s not the kind of publicity a studio likes about an expensive project.

The thing is, Warner Bros. and its DC Comics unit are on a roll after Wonder Woman generated both good reviews and a global box office of more than $800 million.

Of course, if the movie is a hit most of this will end up as a footnote. In 1975, for example, everybody forgot production woes and cost overruns of Jaws.

Bruce Geller: M:I’s renaissance man

Bruce Geller “cameo” as an IMF operative not selected for a mission by Briggs (Steven Hill).

A sixth Mission: Impossible film is in production. There’s plenty of publicity concerning star-producer Tom Cruise, actor Henry Cavill (who has joined the cast of this installment) and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie.

What you won’t find much is mention without whom none of it would be impossible, M:I creator Bruce Geller.

Geller died almost four decades ago in a crash of a twin-engine aircraft. It was a sudden end for someone who had brought two popular series to the air (M:I and Mannix) that ran a combined 15 years on CBS. He was a renaissance man capable of writing, producing, directing and song writing.

Geller, according to The New York Times account of his death, graduated from Yale in 1952, majoring in psychology, sociology and economics. His father, Abraham Geller, was a judge. However, Geller didn’t pursue a law career. (He did end up portraying his father in a 1975 TV movie, Fear on Trial.)

Instead, Geller became a writer of various television series, including Westerns such as Have Gun-Will Travel, The Westerner and The Rifleman. Along the way, he also wrote the lyrics and book for some plays.

By the mid-1960s, Geller was also a producer at Desilu. His brainchild was M:I, whose pilot involved the theft of atomic bombs from a Caribbean dictator unfriendly to the United States.

The pilot was budget at $440,346 with a 13-day shooting schedule, according to Patrick J. White’s The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier. It came in at $575,744, with 19 days of filming. While series episodes would be more modestly budgeted, it was a preview that M:I was not going to be an easy show to make.

CBS picked up M:I for the 1966-67 season. A year later, the network did the same for Mannix, featuring Mike Connors as a private investigator.

Geller didn’t create the character. Richard Levinson and William Link pitched the concept of a rugged, no-nonsense Joe Mannix coping with the corporate culture of investigative company Intertect.

Geller threw out a Levinson-Link story and wrote his own pilot script. Levinson and Link would be credited as creating the series, with Geller getting a “developed by” credit.

Mannix would be the last Desilu series. During its first season. Lucille Ball sold the company and it would become part of Paramount.

Eventually, that meant trouble for Geller. Paramount wanted to control costs and it eventually barred Geller from the studio lot. He’d continue to be credited as executive producer of both M:I and Mannix but without real input.

The producer moved over to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he made a police drama, Bronk, that only lasted one season on CBS (1975-76). Geller also produced and directed a movie with James Coburn about pickpockets, 1973’s Harry In Your Pocket.

Today, Geller is almost a footnote when it comes to the M:I film series, which began in 1996. He does get a credit (“Based on the Television Series Created by Bruce Geller”). But the films are more of a star vehicle for Tom Cruise, including spectacular stunts Cruise does himself.

There’s no way to know what Geller’s reaction would be. And, because he was only 47 when he died, there’s no way to know what Geller may have accomplished had it not been for the 1978 plane crash.

Regardless, Geller crammed a lot of living into his 47 years. At the end of the video below, you can see him collect his Emmy for the Mission: Impossible pilot script.

U.N.C.L.E. sequel being written, /Film says

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer
(Art by Paul Baack)

Armie Hammer is quoted by the /Film website as saying a sequel for the 2015 Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is being written despite the film’s tepid box office.

According to the website, Hammer said he contacted Lionel Wigram, the co-producer and co-scripter of the 2015 movie.

“I was like, ‘Dude, what’s the deal? I get asked about this shit all the time. Can you just write a sequel?’” Hammer is quote as saying.

“He was like, ‘You know what? Yeah, fuck it, I’ll do it. Sure, I’ll write a sequel.’ I was like, ‘If you write one, I’m sure we can get one made,’ so who knows? Today is the first day I’ve actually told anyone that story.”

Two caveats: 1) Studios and production offices are littered with scripts that were never made into films. 2) Wigram, in this telling, doesn’t exactly sound like it’s his top priority.

The U.N.C.L.E. movie’s global box office was less than $110 million. During its opening weekend in the U.S., it came in No. 3, behind Straigh Outta Compton and Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. The latter debuted two weeks earlier than U.N.C.L.E.

Wigram’s collaborator in writing the film was director Guy Ritchie. The duo’s latest project is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which has had three separate release dates but is currently scheduled to come out May 12. That movie also is being scored by Daniel Pemberton, who did the music for the U.N.C.L.E. film.

The 2015 project was an “origin” story and dispensed with familiar U.N.C.L.E. tropes such as a secret headquarters. It had Hammer as Illya Kuryakin and Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo. Cavill currently is working on Mission: Impossible 6.

UPDATE (April 17): The Collider website also chatted with Armie Hammer. That story had slightly different quotes from the actor. “I actually recently talked to Lionel Wigram… and I was like, ‘Dude if you don’t start writing this script I’m gonna show up at your house and cut all of the tires of all of your cars, I swear to God.’”

So, in this telling, Wigram replied (according to Hammer), “You know what? Fuck it. I’m just gonna do it, I’ll probably start writing it.”

Henry Cavill joins M:I 6 cast, Deadline says

Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo

Henry Cavill is joining the cast of Mission: Impossible 6, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

Few details are available. The entertainment news website linked to an Instagram exchange between MI:6 director Christopher McQuarrie and Cavill, which is how the announcement was made.

There’s a certain irony to this. The fifth installment of the Tom Cruise M:I series, 2015’s Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, was a major factor why The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie with Cavill as Napoleon Solo flopped.

M:I Rogue Nation originally was scheduled for Christmas 2015. But Paramount moved it up to late July of that year. U.N.C.L.E. came out two weeks later. But M:I helped suck the oxygen, and interest, for spy entertainment.

There’s another irony. Tom Cruise was approached to play Napoleon Solo in the U.N.C.L.E. movie. But he bowed out, in favor of doing Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. That left the role open for Cavill.

McQuarrie scripted and directed Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

M:I 6 is scheduled to be released in late July 2018.

 

UPDATE: 20 years of the U.N.C.L.E. episode guide

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

Originally posted May 18. Re-posting (with some tweaks and additions) today, Dec. 1, the date of the actual anniversary.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide marks its 20th anniversary today. Naturally, after researching some things, the Spy Commander couldn’t wait to do a post.

The episode guide was one of the first U.N.C.L.E. fan sites. It first went live on Dec. 1, 1996. It wasn’t complete at the time by any means, but there were at least some reviews for each of the four seasons of the show.

The following summer, the Spy Commander did a geeky thing, sending a printout of the website to retired executive producer Norman Felton. After putting it in the mail, I immediately had the equivalent of buyer’s remorse.

Some of the Season Three reviews (when the show often took a campy approach) were pretty rough. What if Felton became offended? I wondered. Yikes.

Not to fear. Felton sent a letter dated June 23, 1997. At the top, there was a cartoon of someone critiquing a frustrated William Shakespeare. “Good, but not immortal.”

The letter read thusly (underlined words are highlighted with asterisks) in part:

Terrific! The pages from the Web page — yes, and there were ‘duds’ along the way — but enough *good enough* for our *fans*, yes?

In a P.S. he said he might send a copy of a screenplay he was about to finish. “*Not* in the vein of U.N.C.L.E. — and certainly *not* immortal. Wow!”

Also included were two strips of film with a Post It Note. “Enclosed bits of film made to checking lighting for the cameraman” during filming of U.N.C.L.E.’s pilot.

The Spy Commander did a second geeky thing. Making yet another printout, I went to a collectible show in suburban Chicago in the late 1990s where Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo, had a table signing autographs.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s a printout of a website.”

No reaction from an actor. I began to try to explain but simply felt embarrassed for bringing the printout. Later, I was told from someone who talked to him extensively he wasn’t on the internet much at the time.

The episode guide also generated a response from writer Stanley Ralph Ross, a frequent writer for the 1966-68 Batman show, who also penned some third-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes. He liked how the episode guide noted how the writer used the same joke in U.N.C.L.E. and Batman.

An e-mail interview ensued. “I have some funny stories about the show, especially when I was in The Pop Art Affair,” he wrote in a June 21, 1999, e-mail. Ross said he did an uncredited rewrite on the episode and got a part in the third-season episode as part of the deal.

“David  asked me to stand on a box,” Ross wrote. “I am already 6:6 and said that he would look like a midget but he replied that the taller I was, the stronger and more macho he would seem for having me beat up.” Ross referred to 5-foot-7 David McCallum, who played U.N.C.L.E. Russian agent Illya Kuryakin.

The U.N.C.L.E. episode guide, meanwhile, has had its share of ups and downs. It originally was hosted by AOL. But in 2008, AOL stopped hosting websites. It moved to the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. But when HMSS went offline in 2014, the episode guide went dark with it — missing the show’s 50th anniversary in September of that year.

But you can’t keep a good U.N.C.L.E. agent down. The episode guide returned on Oct. 18, 2014 on WordPress, part of a family of websites including The Spy Command.

Since then, the site has been improved, including finally finishing reviews for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.  and updating and adding features because of the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

As far as those two geeky incidents? I don’t really have regrets. Felton died in 2012 and Vaughn on Nov. 11 of this year. My interactions with them may have been awkward. But at least I did gain some insight because of them.

In particular, I remember Vaughn talking about the end of the series at one of the collectibles shows. He said he wasn’t crushed about the show being canceled.  “I just went on to the next thing I had to do.”

Hopefully, the episode guide will remain around for a while — good, but not immortal.

A peek behind U.N.C.L.E.’s visual effects

RISE, a visual effects studio, has released a video showing some of its work on 2015’s movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The film opened in 1963 Berlin. RISE’s video shows how that era was recreated for the movie. Stars Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander mix with green screens and models.

In the sequence, CIA agent Napoleon Solo moves to get Gaby, daughter of a nuclear scientist, out of East Berlin, with KGB operative Illya Kuryakin.

The video RISE released shows how even a relatively modest production (U.N.C.L.E.’s production budget was a reported $75 million) utilizes visual effects. In this case, it’s trying to disguise that visual effects are even being used. RISE has also worked on Marvel Studios movies.

The video is embedded below. Thanks to Robert Short of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle page on Facebook for the heads up.

RISE REEL – The Man from U.N.C.L.E. from RISE on Vimeo.