GUEST REVIEW: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

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

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

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

I never fully watched The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I wasn’t born when it was released and no DVDs (and few TV telecasts) where released in my country, at least in my teens.

As a Bond fan, of course, I enjoyed many rip-offs, from the funny ones like Get Smart, Johnny English and Kingsman: The Secret Service to the more realistic ones like Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible saga, the Harry Palmer films and a few modern-espionage films like The International.

Still, I barely knew about Napoleon Solo and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. except for the fact it was one of the many ingredients of the ‘60s spy phenomenon and the Ian Fleming connection with the character of Napoleon Solo. I was kind of interested, but I never ended up closely following the episodes as I did with Zorro, Batman, The Saint or other cult TV series.

So, what follows “review” of someone in the mid-20s who hasn’t properly watched the original TV series produced by Norman Felton but has an idea on it.

I had a free afternoon so I booked the tickets on a close theatre in my hometown in Buenos Aires. The screening was around 6:30 p.m. As I entered the theatre, all the seats were empty! I wondered if some of the negative reviews had such an impact on people that left Napoleon Solo a bit… “solo” (if you speak Spanish, you’ll get the word game).

A few minutes later, people appeared — not many, five or seven more, making around ten people if you count me. On a side note, I catched the SPECTRE teaser trailer before the film. I’ve always been unlucky in finding a Bond trailer on a screening, something that only happened before in 2002 when the Die Another Day trailer popped up before My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the movie my grandmother took me to watch.

And then, Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. filled the screen.

Overall, the film is enjoyable… enough to relax after a tough day at work, at least. It looks indeed as a movie set in the 1960s: a masterful work of the cinematographer, the costume designer, and Daniel Pemberton in the music department.

There’s a lot of humor like the one you’ll find in Kingsman: The Secret Service, but a lot less exaggerated, and more in the vein of the 1972 TV series The Persuaders. The Henry Cavill-Armie Hammer relationship onscreen is in a way very similar to the Roger Moore-Tony Curtis one.

A scene of Napoleon Solo (Cavill) comfortably drinking wine and having sandwiches while sitting in a truck as Russian agent Ilya Kuryakin (Hammer) gun fighting his enemies on a boat is particularly effective and funny for the inclusion of “Che Vuole Questa Musica Stasera” (sung by Peppino Gagliardi) as both events are taking place. This rivalry that slowly turns into friendship is akin to The Persuader’s pilot “Interlude.”

Other of the film’s pros is the backdrop created for the protagonists: Solo being an art thief working for the CIA on probation and Kuryakin having with anger management problems. The girls, Gaby (Alicia Vikander) and Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki), are in a way the stereotypical “good girls” and “bad girls” you’ll find in any retro spy series. They are not complex characters, but they fit very well into the film.

More into the 60s influence, the scene where Solo is tortured seems to have a small nod to the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale, where Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) provides a “mind torture” to Peter Sellers’ Evelyn Tremble, aka James Bond 007, when uncle Rudi shows a video of the Nazi “achievements” as the hero is tied to an electric chair.

A special mention is deserved by Hugh Grant as Waverly, whose presence itself is more than welcome and adds a special touch to the film with his comic quips.

There is, however, a big negative point in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: the editing. It tried to be artistic and it perhaps succeeded in the desired effect, but the fast camera shots, the flashbacks and the split-screen shots are very distracting. It happens, even in a more confusing way, the same that in the shakey cam shots of Quantum of Solace.

The film’s ending offers a nice cliffhanger, maybe predictable, but very similar to the current “reboot” movies where we see the inception of what has been established before. There is a word association to the last line said by Waverly to the relationship a character had with other, something that would probably get lost in translation for many non-English speaking countries.

Verdict: Love the ‘60s spy movies with lots of humor? Watch it!

REVIEW: Guy Ritchie adds an edge to U.N.C.L.E.

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

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

Director Guy Ritchie, after stripping out some familiar memes from his version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., adds in some edge that often wasn’t present in the 1964-68 television series.

It mostly works, although things don’t really kick in until the film’s second half. The first half is a little flat.

The proceedings get reinvigorated when Henry Cavill’s Napoleon Solo finds himself in peril starting at the midway point of the movie. From that point on, both Cavill and Armie Hammer’s version of Illya Kuryakin get more traction. Make no mistake. The movie remains light and breezy, but there’s a feeling of increased stakes.

The second half also is when Hugh Grant’s Waverly, a cagey British spymaster, starts to have a slightly bigger role. Grant, who turned 53 when U.N.C.L.E. was in production, is decades younger than Leo G. Carroll was when he played Waverly in the series. But Grant’s version is just as manipulative, if not more so, than the original.

Ritchie, who co-wrote the script with Lionel Wigram, essentially tore down the original show. No secret headquarters, no vast worldwide organization. Even if a sequel is made, it’s doubtful any of that would make a comeback in a Guy Ritchie U.N.C.L.E. universe.

Instead, the writers emphasize the basic characters — Solo, Kuryakin and Waverly. Even here, there are notable differences from the show. Solo’s still a womanizer who likes the finer things in life, but has a back story of being an art thief. Kuryakin is given a back story even more at odds with the show (which had very little background for the character).

Ritchie also emphasizes the Cold War setting in a way the original didn’t. It’s the initial layer of edge added by the director. The story begins in East Berlin as Solo, here a CIA agent, is assigned to “extract” Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), a mechanic whose estranged father is a missing nuclear scientist.

That’s the beginning of a long sequence where Solo and Gaby are pursued by the seemingly indestructible Kuryakin, here a KGB operative. Things move quickly and it holds the viewer’s interest.

By comparison, the rest of the first half, while not bogging down, doesn’t move as quickly. We get the set up.

A mysterious organization is close to building an atomic bomb. The U.S. and Soviet Union decide they have to work together. Solo and Kuryakin size each other up (an excuse to add more of the back story the screenwriters have devised). Gaby is to be part of the mission because she has an uncle who works for the company run by evil mastermind Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki).

Besides all that exposition, Ritchie is setting things up for the second half, but not in a straight forward way.

The director pays lip service to U.N.C.L.E.’s idea of having an “innocent” be part of the plot. Instead, it’s sleight of hand, introducing a complication that — stop me if you’ve heard this before — adds edge to the film.

Despite all the alterations in their backgrounds, Cavill and Hammer do provide recognizable versions of Solo and Kuryakin. Each one ups the other equally. Each saves the other’s life. They eventually do operate as a a team.

Once Solo gets captured — and is being tortured by a former Nazi who’s pretty adept at it — the preliminaries are over and film gets down to business. Cavill is suitably suave and the British actor is convincing enough as an American who thinks his way out of trouble as much as he fights.

Hammer’s Kuryakin, or rather “Edgier Illya,” is falling for Gaby and Hammer does fine taking advantage of those scenes. “Edgier Illya” has more than a few psychological problems, and Hammer gets to play with that also.

For those who’ve never seen the original series, there really isn’t a need to catch up before seeing the film. For fans of the show, the ones who accept the film as an alternative reality will like it just fine.

One of the highlights of the movie is Daniel Pemberton’s score. It’s more Lalo Schifrin than John Barry, but that fits with Ritchie’s alternate universe U.N.C.L.E.

Some notes, mostly for fans of the show. Norman Felton (1913-2012), the executive producer of the series, is credited as an “executive consultant.” Sam Rolfe (1924-1993), who developed the series and was its first-season producer, receives no credit. Meanwhile, the 1965 Hugo Montenegro arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme is heard for *maybe* five seconds when Solo is checking radio stations while in a truck.

Also, for James Bond fans, a character gets to share the name of a minor villain in Thunderball, although here it’s spelled Count Lippi.

Finally, the end titles show dossiers of the principal characters. It’s an effect similar to, but more subtle than, the little scenes that occur in the end titles of Marvel Studios movies. Fans of the show will likely want to review them to see even more differences, particularly with Waverly’s.

For the Spy Commander, the movie was a tossup in the first half, but the second charged things up. GRADE: B-Plus.

How the U.N.C.L.E. movie changes character backgrounds

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

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

A little more than a week before its debut, the official website of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie provides a few details about the new backgrounds of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

SOLO’S BACKGROUND now is this:

This top American CIA Special Agent honed his unique skill set dealing stolen art and antiquities on the black market after WWII. It took four nations to catch the super-suave Solo. But instead of serving time, he’s now servicing the CIA.

KURYAKIN’S BACKGROUND now is this:

A dedicated Russian KGB agent, he was the youngest to join its Special Forces and among its best in three years. Despite his heightened abilities and single-minded focus, this generally stoic operative has a volatile side.

There’s also THIS BIO for Gaby Teller, the “innocent” of the film:

Daughter of a vanished German rocket scientist, this whip-smart East Berlin auto mechanic becomes part of the KGB and CIA’s joint efforts to prevent world catastrophe, as their key to infiltrating the international criminal organization holding her father and stopping their plans to proliferate nuclear weapons.

And there’s THIS BIO of the villain of the piece:

A lethal combo of brains, beauty and calculated ambition, Victoria rose from humble beginnings to marry the playboy heir to the Vinciguerra Shipping Company. While her husband is out playing tycoon and making the racing circuit, she’s running his Rome-based empire. A nasty piece of business all around.

Finally, here’s the DESCRIPTION OF THE NEW WAVERLY:

Debonair and unassuming at first glance, Waverly ultimately reveals himself as a significant power broker in the spy business with more than a few things to teach Solo and Kuryakin.

Of those descriptions, the one for Waverly may be the least changed from the original 1964-68 series, despite the fact the part is played by Hugh Grant (who turned 53 during filming of the movie) while the original was played by Leo G. Carroll, who was in his 70s during the series.

Impressions from an extended U.N.C.L.E. movie preview

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

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

By Kevin Bertrand Collette, Guest Writer

Ok , so you did not want to dance …
Would you want to wrestle , then ?

(Gaby Teller/ Alicia Vikander)

Ok, I’ll be the first to admit it, I’m not really a fan of Guy Ritchie’s movies.

And although I attended the Strasbourg French shooting of Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows, it was more out of curiosity than anything else.

I was therefore a bit anxious about the result of his adaptation of the Cult TV series of the Sixties (based on various ideas by Ian Fleming himself), The Man From U.N.C.L.E .

Warner France organised at its Neuilly headquarters this Wednesday a Show Case of the new movie, consisting of 40 minutes of extracts of the upcoming movie, completed by a wonderful exhibition of storyboards, costumes drawings and various pre- production sketches.

So open channel D!

And stop reading right there if you do not want to learn some massive spoilers at every turn of my little compte-rendu …

First extract takes place in KGB headquarters in Moscow, where some top ranking officer lectures Illya Kuryakin about Napoleon Solo.

We then learn practically everything that is to know about the CIA man,an ex art dealer (a talent he acquired during World War II when stealing stuff back from the Nazis for the allied forces) .

Solo’s natural talents for smooth undercover action is rapidly noted, he is hired by the Agency and quickly became one of their top operator. All this is explained to Kuryakin – a massive silent giant who has just be chosen to team up with the American to dismantle a new terrorist organization .

Second extract is a (much) longer version of the East Berlin car chase, where Solo and his lovely protégée try to lose Kuryakin through the cobbed streets of Berlin. But nothing seems to stop the Russian (not even concrete walls. I surprise myself thinking there of Richard Kiel’s Jaws character … ).

After a lengthy chase ( without the ‘ cheek-to-cheek car waltz appearing in the trailer, btw), abandoning their car which tires have been shot at by the persistent Soviet agent , the duo enter a building situated just in front of the infamous Berlin wall .

Solo pulls up a gadget ( à la Goldeneye grappling hook belt) and with the help of a fellow agent parked just on the other side of said Wall, the two Westerners escape the fury of the Russian in the nick of time …

Third extract takes place in a U.S. novelty shop where Solo, Kuryakin and the girl choose various Haute Couture dresses for their lady companion. The plan is to infiltrate in Rome the evil organization with Kuryakin and madame posing as a couple of Russian architects, while Solo will tail them . It’s an amusing sequence where Illya is horrified by the decadent tastes of Western women, while Solo keeps on mocking him for his peasant tastes.

Fourth extract takes place in a Rome Hotel bedroom, where Madame is getting bored while Illya quietly tries to play chess. The nerves of the Russian slightly began to crack when she turns up the volume of the Radio and starts to dance.

Fifth extract sees Illya and Madame strolling by the Colisée and being then abruptly mugged by a couple of local thieves. Since Kuryakin’s specific instructions are him to pass for a gentle spirit (understand : a coward) , he has to refrain himself not to knock out both thugs with just one hand! A rather funny sequence indeed, with Solo finally commenting, “Not sure you were made for that part.”

Sixth and final extract took place in an unidentified harbor – where Solo and Kuryakin manage to escape the commando after them.

While Solo slips very early in the water (without Kuryakin realizing that) and then comfortably settles down in a truck parked nearby to observe the nautical chase going on, his partner’s speedboat is finally gunned down .

Solo immediately enters in action full throttle and throws his truck right into the Villain’s boat!

He then manages to save Illya (who was slowly drowning) and bring him back to terra ferma .

Screening concluded with a much longer version of the trailer (with a line of hugh Grant I instantly memorized, “You are from now on a very special agent , Mr Solo.”)

So, what to think of it, in the end ?

I , for one, was instantly immersed into that Cold war drama setting. And I never honestly try to put the faces of Mr. Vaughn nor Mr. McCallum in lieu et place of their modern counterparts, Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

I guess some die hard U.N.C.L.E fans will scream in rage at the new Illya Kuryakin (who is first presented as a bully-type character but then mellows into a nice individual of his own. The Russian accent is much more pronounced than in the TV series of course , but Illya finally appears as a much more interesting character than dapper Napoleon Solo. It reminds me in place of the Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Red Heat police officer: subtle and unstoppable as a T80 soviet Tank, but with a very big heart and sense of friendship.

Alicia Vikander is a great Female element. She frequently conjures images of Audrey Hepburn, and her interaction with both Hammer and Cavill is genuine and quite fun . Miss Vikander is quite a feisty girl indeed.

As for the music, no classic UNCLE theme heard anywhere but a very 1960s type style , à la John Barry.

Can’t wait to see the final version of the movie .

Third U.N.C.L.E. movie trailer goes online

A third trailer for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie went online today at 1 p.m. New York time.

The new trailer appears to be a slightly tweaked version of the trailer that played in some U.S. theaters on May 29-31 with the Warner Bros. movie San Andreas.

The main change is a scene toward the end where Waverly (Hugh Grant) tells Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) that his new code name is “uncle” (or perhaps “U.N.C.L.E.”). In the May 29-31 trailer that scene was present, but there was no dialogue. Also, the scene was played in slow motion in the earlier trailer.

One other notable change: The May 29-31 trailer had a scene where there’s an explosion. Solo is annoyed. “My jacket was in there,” he says calmly. It’s not in the trailer that came out today.

Otherwise, the trailer that’s online includes Solo in peril (he’s in an electric chair) and a demonstration of how Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is a huge, powerful man when he rips off a car’s trunk lid.

Sam Rolfe, developer of the original 1964-68 series and the creator of Kuryakin, envisioned him as large. That all changed when 5-foot-7 David McCallum was cast.

Anyway, you can take a look below. The trailer includes more snippets of the film’s main titles. The movie is scheduled to debut Aug. 14.

UPDATE: Composer Daniel Pemberton, on Twitter, says the new trailer contains some of his score.

Entertainment Tonight looks at U.N.C.L.E. movie

Here’s a low-resolution version (via Henry Cavill Online) of Entertainment Tonight’s June 10 story about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. A few tidbits of note:

–Hugh Grant as Waverly tells Henry Cavill’s Napoleon Solo his new code name is “U.N.C.L.E.” (or just “uncle”).

— A general observation: even though the movie is set in 1963, it appears the film makers used clothing styles from various points of the 1960s.

— There are some scenes that were in the trailer shown in some U.S. theaters during the May 29-31 weekend, in particular Armie Hammer’s Illya Kuryakin ripping off a trunk lid.

— Kuryakin calls Solo “cowboy,” not in a flattering way. Again, something that was in the May 29-31 trailer.

If you haven’t seen it, take a look. The story runs for about two minutes.

Second U.N.C.L.E. movie trailer arrives

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

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

The second trailer for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. arrived in some U.S. theaters this weekend — or at least one in the Detroit area.

The new longer trailer for the Guy Ritchie-directed film contains several scenes that were part of the teaser trailer released on Feb. 11. But there are some additions. Among them:

Kuryakin as large, powerful man: The character of Illya Kuryakin was created by Sam Rolfe, who wrote the pilot for the 1964-68 television series. Rolfe’s original version was a large “slavic” man.

That changed when 5-foot-7 David McCallum was cast in the role. The character was further refined by writer Alan Caillou in a number of first-season stories.

The movie Kuryakin is going back to the Rolfe version, based on the second trailer. We see Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) complaining to his CIA superior (Jared Harris) that a mission in Berlin was supposed to be “a simple extraction” but that the agent ran into something “barely human.”

That was Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) who, we see, managed to rip off the trunk lid of Solo’s car as he was trying to get away.

More sexual innuendo: The new trailer includes some sexual innuendo between Solo and femme fatale Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) as well as Kuryakin and “innocent” Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander). Included: a scene where Our Heroes strap a 1963 version of a track device on Gaby’s thigh.

Different music: The second trailer has different music than the Feb. 11 teaser trailer. There’s no way to tell whether this is from Daniel Pemberton’s score.

Solo in peril: Solo is in an electric chair at one point.

A bit more Waverly: Hugh Grant, the new-look Alexander Waverly, still has only one line (as he did in the teaser trailer) but there’s an additional shot of him in a sequence filmed in Rome.

As of May 31, the official movie website still has THE TEASER TRAILER.