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Tag Archive: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.


Review by C.J. Bunce

After the 2019 Academy Awards recognized genre films Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and gave top awards to Green Book and Roma, ABC aired the pilot for a new series.  Whiskey Cavalier begins with a solid pilot episode, and you can find it in its weekly timeslot beginning Wednesday evening on ABC.  It borrows from two familiar sources for network TV: the spy genre, like Mission: Impossible, iSpy, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Avengers, and Chuck, and the “will they or won’t they” investigation shows like Moonlighting, The X-Files, Bones, Castle, and Private Eyes.  Whiskey Cavalier–the military/NATO spy call sign for FBI agent Will Chase (yes, that’s his name), stars Scott Foley opposite CIA Agent Francesca “Frankie” Trowbridge, played by Lauren Cohan.  It’s more action and fun than drama–a good thing that works for this offbeat new series.

The first episode finds Agent Chase as a sad sack agent, recently dumped by his French girlfriend, crying as he listens to songs from his break-up mix tape, assembled from recommendations from other FBI agents.  Those familiar with Michael Dorman’s lead character in Amazon Studio’s series Patriot will see much in common between the leads.  Chase doesn’t have his heart in his job until he’s in action, and then he becomes full-on Jack Ryan (actor Scott Foley has a vibe crossing Jack Ryan series star John Krasinski and White Collar co-star Tim DeKay, and the pilot includes a humorous reference to his Chris Evans’ Captain America appearance).

As Chase tries to intercept an alleged hacker/thief/traitor, CIA Agent Trowbridge steps in, and that’s when the chemistry begins.  You can almost hear the 1970s movie trailer voice-over: “What can happen when we combine this sensitive FBI agent and this tough-as-nails CIA spy?  Can they work together to save the world without killing each other?”  And yet, the pilot was edited into a fast-paced drama, not at all bogged down in origin story, and it supplies a supporting cast of characters that seem to gel from the start, played by Ana Ortiz, Vir Das, and Tyler James Williams.  In brief, it’s fun and it works.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to the 2014 spy movie Kingsman: The Secret Service, is coming to the theaters in a few weeks.  If you didn’t see the original, it was probably because of its rather uninspired title.  But don’t wait any longer.  Kingsman: The Secret Service is a blast.  And it’s streaming right now.  Kingsman: The Secret Service stars Colin Firth as a secret agent in a new brand of 007 series, as he attempts to recruit the next member of the Kingsman organization, the son of a former agent, played by Taron Egerton.  It’s stylish.  It’s wall-to-wall action.  It’s part dark comedy.  And its over-the-top violence is operatic and epic.  The last time we had this much fun was watching Roddy Piper and Keith David in They Live.

For those hoping Firth would ever be tapped as Bond, this is every bit that, only Firth’s master spy has moves like no Bond ever had.  One scene provides so much hand-to-hand combat you’d think you were watching Kill Bill, and the Quentin Tarentino influence doesn’t stop there.  You’d almost think the retired director was the ghost director behind the mayhem in the film’s climactic battle.  It’s just as well, as actual director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Kick-Ass 2, X-Men: First Class, Layer Cake) proves again he knows the action genre.

Every great British spy story needs a Bond girl, and Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle is up there with the best.  Her missing lower legs (no, we never learn why) were replaced with steel blades, blades that can kill–and very much do.  Think of Bond girls played by Famke Janssen and Grace Jones, and Boutella fits right in.  Every bit the combat equal to Firth and Egerton’s spies, Gazelle is practically a character missing from Tarentino’s Kill Bill movies. Continue reading

magnificent-seven-banner-2016

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s almost more useful to critique the critics than the new movie The Magnificent Seven, released in theaters this weekend.  You’ll find the whole lot so predictable.  The Magnificent Seven is a reboot or a remake (call it what you want) and so the best that critics are willing to do is provide the phoned-in, knee-jerk dismissal of it being something less than the original and therefore not worth the time it takes them to write a thoughtful review.  Or they will compare it to the best Westerns of all time, and tell you why it falls short.  The better reviews will point out that it’s a remake of the 1960 classic Western starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen.  The smarter ones will remind you that even that version was based on the original Japanese version, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.  Paycheck earned.  Existence justified.  But that’s all too easy.

Yes, the original 1960 John Sturges version is both a great Western and quite fun (it’s on my top ten list).  The darker original Japanese film is more dramatic, brilliant in its simplicity, and not so much a rousing popcorn movie.  Is the 2016 remake among the best Westerns of all time?  Maybe not.  But is it a good Western?  Absolutely.  Do we always want to see the best picture nominee when we go to the theater?  I don’t.  I want to have fun.  And The Magnificent Seven is a blast.  In fact, critics are looking at it wrong.  It’s actually the year’s best superhero movie.

I understand the modern film critic’s dilemma, especially when Hollywood seems to have lost its imagination, churning out remake after remake.  It’s the same old song:  If you were a fan of–or better yet–love the original, you’re more likely than not to brush off the remake altogether, or at least not give it the attention it deserves.  Those who never saw the original or those who can view a remake as its own incarnation–those who can tell themselves their feelings for the remake will not “ruin” their feelings about the original–probably enjoyed the Star Trek reboot from 2009, or Always, or Assault on Precinct 13, or The Flight of the Phoenix, The Fog, The Jackal, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Money Pit, Ocean’s Eleven, RoboCop, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, or Walking Tall.  Each of these, viewed on their own merits is a great film.  They may even be good remakes.  Those who avoid The Magnificent Seven are missing out on a fun outing.  And a good remake.

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Today’s ensemble movie is mostly found in the superhero genre.  Stack up The Magnificent Seven against The Avengers, The Avengers 2, or Captain America: Civil War, or any DC Comics superhero film of the past 20 years, and it leaves them all in its dust in its success in introducing a team, getting them to work together, and MacGyver the situation into some giant climactic battles.  Each of the titular seven stars of the movie have their own extraordinary abilities, they just don’t wear capes.  It’s an ensemble piece.  A superhero team-up.  So why don’t we have a casting Oscar?  The three casting directors knew what they were doing–they created the teams for Suicide Squad, Batman v. Superman, No Country for Old Men, True Grit, Sin City, and Star Wars Episode VIII.

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night court

More than fifty years ago Newton Minow, the first FCC commissioner, called television a vast wasteland.  The prospect of 500 channels available and nothing to watch was forecast back in the 1970s and today it sometimes seems like it’s a truism more often than not.  But if you get tired of new programming–and make no mistake plenty of great television shows are airing this year–a few recently added channels to your local line-up may remind fans of classic TV why they jumped onboard in the first place.

Three channels: MeTV, COZI TV and LAFF, are a destination for those who just want to pop in now and then for a dose of the past.  Even pay channel Starz has begun broadcasting classic television series.  No doubt much of the programming may not hold up to current audiences.  Clothes, hairstyles, and stale, formulaic half-hour and hour plots may not keep your 21st century attention.  Yet many shows seem to hold up quite well.  As time goes on two of my favorites, Simon & Simon and Magnum, P.I., seem to drift farther and farther away, yet the comedy of Night Court and Cybill remains laugh-out-loud funny.

Simon & Simon

Classic TV gold, like The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, may be a bit much in big doses.  Only a diehard fan would stream these beginning to end.  Yet, try popping in once in a while and it’s like visiting an old friend.  M*A*S*H and The A-Team hold up quite well.  In particular, the formula established by The A-Team, no doubt based on decades of series that came before it, can be found continuing on to this day in series like Leverage and Burn Notice.  Even series like Wonder Woman and Charlie’s Angels can be fun, if you don’t take their 1970s approach to TV too seriously.  And you may find yourself engrossed in Quantum Leap all over again.

So what’s playing, where, and when?

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THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s almost a shame this weekend’s big screen release The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a retelling of the 1960s television series.  It’s an adaptation in that it takes the framework of the show—an American and a Russian working together as Cold War era spies—yet director Guy Ritchie makes this work stand completely by itself.  The fact that it’s based on a classic series may turn away viewers who may be tired of other remakes of 1960s shows like Get Smart and The Avengers (both of which were good standalone films).  But that would be a great loss, as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is not only as stylish as advertised in our favorite trailer of the year, it’s a classy and smart story and a superb re-creation of the early 1960s.

It’s no surprise that this film relishes its Bond influences–Henry Cavill’s character Napoleon Solo was created by Ian Fleming, the same Ian Fleming that created Bond.  Yet the movie is fresh and new.  The story and Cavill’s performance evoke Matt Bomer’s role of stylish and cocky ex-art thief-turned government man on TV’s White Collar.  In fact Cavill is a dead ringer for Bomer.  Likely it’s just a coincidence but if you loved White Collar you’ll love this film.  And any doubts you may have as to Cavill’s acting because of the poorly written part he was stuck with in Man of Steel will be wiped away with his confident and suave Solo.  Even better is Armie Hammer’s performance as Illya Kuryakin.  Any doubts you may have as to Hammer’s acting from his lead role in The Lone Ranger will also be wiped away.  Hammer’s performance as a KGB agent in need of some anger management is nuanced and layered.  The idea of putting some Ennio Morricone musical queues behind Hammer and adding a Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry twitch are simply inspired.  This is a great team and a film that sets itself up for an exciting sequel.

Cavill Debicki Man from UNCLE

As commanding a presence as Cavill and Hammer have, they are almost upstaged by the equally important roles played by Alicia Vikander as the German daughter of a rocket scientist and Elizabeth Debicki as the ultimate Bond villain.  The villainy in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is surprisingly as powerful, seething, and fun as any 1960s Bond film.  All of this is a credit to Ritchie’s bankable directorial and writing prowess.  A fan of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Ritchie knows how to get the best out of partnerships here, just as he did with his Sherlock Holmes movie series.

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