Monday, March 14, 2016

Forget it, Jake. It's Oceania/Eurasia/Eastasia.

Girl, things are scarier now than ever on this increasingly fragile planet. If you go around and read the news or if you already all read'd up on the world theatre -- and I don't mean the American mainstream media bullshit that is all up on Trump's ballsack, reporting on its hairs' various shades and textures -- then you're probably wondering What The Fuck as well.

Once again you have North Korea and home-chingu Kim Jong-un with his usual Somebody Set Up Us The Bomb threats and rhetoric, and while it's usually lip-flapping, this time it seems like he's stepping it up a notch after some crippling sanctions, and it's a little too much of a coincidence that South Korea and the good ol' US of A (with some help from Australia and New Zealand) have now gotten together for the "largest scale ever" military drills that are a little too close to the Real Thing -- and the DMZ. It's all Seth Rogen's fault, the Bud Light-hawking fuck.

And if it's not one thing it's another; Russia's been stepping up and making moves like Jagger and Kasparov combined because their leader is a dude who misses the 80s almost as much as I miss the 90s -- my man, Mr. Don't Give A Fuck himself, Vladimir Muthafuckin' Putin, baby. Doing his thang in Ukraine, causin' mass hysteria in Syria (although as of typing time he's pulling troops out of there, which of course makes me wonder Where Next?), and as of my writing this, is currently setting up a test launch of sixteen -- sixteen!! -- SLBMs at once from a nuclear submarine for no other reason than to let us in the U.S. know that they (he) can wipe us out almost as fast & easy as I can wipe out a plate of nachos. I can count about 16 different ways that can go wrong and the way he's bending & breaking these rules of world conduct, you'd think this guy was an American!

V.P. reminds me of Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas; he's the kind of guy who cheered for the bad guys in the movies -- specifically in the 80s when those from the Soviet Union were the Top Baddies in Hollywood cinema. I bet he loved seeing Ivan Drago do his thing, and I bet you nowadays when he watches Rocky IV he shuts it off just as Balboa is about to go into his speech about how if I Can Change And You Can Change Everybody Can Change, preferring to end his film as a story about a Russian who gave his all in the name of Communism -- choosing to ignore the part where Drago specifically declared that he's fighting for himself, which is OK because everybody does that with at least one film, the way I chose to ignore Ridley Scott's silly statement about Deckard being a Replicant in Blade Runner.

Putin probably likes the Rambo films because the Evil Red Menace is so fucking scary bad in them, he likes the two sequels in spite of the shorty American and his magical killing powers making things right for Capitalism. You know what? He probably laughed his ass off watching Stallone lose Best Supporting Actor for Creed to Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies -- and how fucking perfect was it that his performance as a dude who once brought the United States and Soviet Union together did not match up to a performance of a dude who spied for the muthafuckin' Russian government! Holy shit, I bet Putin stood his shirtless ass up and gave a hearty clap and laugh throughout Rylance's acceptance speech. Then he used one hand to aim a rifle out the window to shoot a bloodthirsty lion while using the other hand to do dumbbell curls with the heaviest weight possible.

See, honey, Putin wants to bring it back to the good ol' days when Russians were feared and not mocked on found footage fuck-up shows like "Ridiculousness" or "World's Dumbest" or the evening news. He wants to bring it back to when his Red brothers were represented in cinema as big, scary, and missing a sense of humor -- not big burly drinkers with hearts of gold given to stupid macho stunts.

Well in that case, perhaps he'd like to watch the film adaptation of the television series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which is a step forward in bringing back the concept of the scary Russian to cinema but a step back in that it takes place in the 1960s (same time that the series aired), giving the impression that Scary Russians were a long time ago. But hey, at least moves were made. The Russian is Illya Kuryakin played by the Winkle-vii himself, Armie Hammer, and he's really good doing the whole Russian KGB agent deal, a dude who is mostly serious but occasionally will display pride when talking about how the Spanish Steps in Rome were really a creation of a Russian architect, but under all that steely resolve, the dude has some rage issues stemming from his disgraced father spending the rest of his days in a gulag and I think his mother was a whore or at least very friendly. If you catch Illya at the wrong time and you happen to be a piece of furniture, you're screwed.

He does his job for Mother Russia and does it well, and his latest gig involves dealing with Napoleon Solo, played by Henry Cavill (and who is as pitch-perfect in this film as Hammer). In a cool briefing montage, Illya finds out that Solo fought in WWII before working his military career into a hustle in a mostly successful career as a thief. I say "mostly successful" because then he eventually got pinched by the CIA and his life has become theirs to do with as they please, which in this case means doing the CIA agent thing with all the various spy-shenanigans involved.

The first 15 minutes are a cool -- I'm probably going to use that word a lot here, "cool" -- chase as Solo tries to get Ex Machina out of East Berlin (those were the days, eh, comrade?) while Illya is like a Russian Terminator in that he just won't stop coming after them, except this plays out far less scarier and far more chill. My favorite moment during this sequence is when Solo has a clear advantage and can just put as many bullets into Illya as he wants but doesn't because "somehow it just doesn't seem like the right thing to do", which makes sense when you realize that Solo is tripping out on this guy as much as we in the audience are tripping out on him. You just don't kill something that interesting!

And that's the attitude Solo has throughout the film after circumstances dictate that he partner up with Illya on a job that involves among other things: nuclear warheads, a computer disk that looks like half a VHS roll inside an old scotch tape dispenser, Italian mugger assholes, a Nazi rocket scientist, an Italian race car-driving asshole, Jared Harris doing a great job playing an English actor trying to play an American CIA dude, Italian assholes hogging up the men's room, and a striking tall blonde contessa (played by Elizabeth Debicki, for whom I shall now keep an eye out). Worst of all, they have to deal with that bitch-ass Joseph Goebbels from Inglourious Basterds opening his mouth to reveal partially chewed caviar and Christ, I wanted to shoot this motherfucker in the face for it.

You know who I don't want to shoot in the face? The lovely Alicia Vikander -- she of the recent Academy Award win -- playing the East German auto mechanic who can fix cars and she can drift them into parking spaces, and that's enough to get me to ignore her ignorance when it comes to risotto & truffles and I bet you she chews with her mouth closed. She's the daughter of the aforementioned Nazi rocket scientist, which is why the CIA breaks her out of the bad side of Deutschland, getting her out of those dirty overalls and into some very cute 60s outfits. Vikander also rocks the hell out of some pajamas and sunglasses, half-drunk and dancing and making me forgive her for stealing Jennifer Jason Leigh's Oscar.

Just so I don't completely come off sexist, our lead dudes are also looking good; Cavill with his American agent chic and Hammer with a more austere kind of chic. They both look smooth as all get-out and do the job of making guys like me want to up my clothes & grooming game. So it's kind of like the James Bond movies in that way, making some want to be like them and others want to be with them. (Yeah, I know that was an Austin Powers line, but you know what I mean.)

Solo is more of the Bond in this duo, pulling such slick moves like having champagne brought to his hotel room and then telling the attractive concierge that it would be a shame to drink it alone HINT HINT. Shit, only in the movies and even then, only in the 60s before these ladies found out that they were actual human beings and that's when all the fun ended for my fellow knuckle-draggers. Can you imagine pulling that shit in real life today?! Ay dios mio, there wouldn't be enough mace in the world for the lady you try to make that move with. She'd have to have two mace canisters taped together jungle-style so that once she's emptied the first one, she could flip over to the fresh one and give you the rest of the goods. And you'd still deserve a swift kick in the balls afterward.

Speaking of James Bond, have you seen Spectre? I have and I didn't like it. One thing I'm noticing with each new Daniel Craig joint is that they seem to get increasingly glum but at the same time it's like the filmmakers noticed this so they really tried with this last one to have some humor. Problem is, the humor really seems out of place, like they had no idea of how to blend it well or have it come out more organically. Instead it feels very thought out in a corporate sort-of-way, like they said "at this point we need to have a laugh, because according to our studies..." It feels as fake as when Christopher Nolan tried to become Mr. Warmth with some of Interstellar, which you know to a stiff-upper-lipped Englishman like Nolan is as alien as a Mexican Martian and there you go, I just reviewed two more movies in this one rambling.

But enough of those, let's talk more about this, this Man from U.N.C.L.E. here. I missed this movie last summer because last summer was the summer of Mad Max: Fury Road, and I kinda regret not catching it back then because it would've made a nice change of pace for a couple hours (in between Fury Road viewings). It's not a great movie but it's such a fun throwback, and the whole thing has a mostly chill and breezy tone throughout. It's kind of weird nowadays to see a big studio film released in summer that's meant to be a summer blockbuster with the hopes of starting a franchise, and it all feels very low-key in comparison to what usually comes out that time of year. It's a throwback in many ways; the retro style goes beyond the excellent costume & production design, and by the way, thank the maker that the filmmakers didn't go with some kitschy mocking OMG this is sooo 60s approach.

It isn't about the era so much as it's *of* the era -- and that includes the way the film was made; Steven Soderbergh was originally attached to this film and a lot of this film kinda has a Soderberghian flavor to it. Most of the movie has the restrained look & pace of a film from the time period in which it takes place -- granted, a film from that time period with a little more cinematic style and kick to it. I mean, yeah it's a Guy Ritchie joint, so that means there is the occasional camera trickery that honestly distracts more than adds to a tale such as this one -- or in the case of the final action sequence, totally detracts from the excitement with split screens galore -- but it's still kinda restrained compared to your usual summer fare nowadays. So even if it doesn't always look retro, it certainly feels retro more often than not.

One way that it's restrained is in the back-and-forth between Cavill and Hammer; there is little-to-no raised voices between them; somewhere along the way in filmmaking-land it must've been decided that the best way for odd couples to communicate was to have them yell at each other all the time. It only works half the time in these movies, and the other half it just feels desperate. It makes me think of other buddy movies of the past 10 or 20 years and I wonder if maybe today's audience didn't know what to make of the understated interplay between the leads in this movie.

So many filmmakers were attached to this at one point or another, so this could've gone so many different audience-pleasing ways. They could've had a Black comic relief character who wouldn't stop yelling and freaking out about everything or God forbid they could've gone with some douchebro type like Jonah Hill farting out one-liners while trying not to die of Fat Fuck Obesity every second of his life, turning everything he's in into some kind of almost-snuff film and maybe that's why he gets roles with quality directors like Scorsese and the Coens -- they want to make an almost-snuff film and become even more legendary for doing so.

Speaking of ways they could've gone with this, I remember way back when From Dusk Till Dawn was about to come out, there was an interview in Details magazine with Quentin Tarantino and Juliette Lewis promoting it. In the interview, Tarantino held court at the Hamburger Hamlet and he mentioned the possibility of making a film version of U.N.C.L.E. starring George Clooney as Solo and himself as Illya Kuryakin. I want you to take a moment to think about that, and whatever you think is whatever you think.

Thankfully we were spared all of that and we got Superman and The Lone Ranger instead. Rather than trying to over-yell each other, our CIA and KGB heroes each have their different approach; Solo is mostly amused/bemused by this hulking Russian, and Illya maintains a professional resolve even though he probably can't stand that this Yankee isn't kissing his superior Russian feet daily. Solo is cool because he wants to be, Illya is cool because he has to be. But make no mistake, they're both deadly when they need to be. They don't fuck around when shit's going down, dig?

It's fun to watch them with their constant dick-measuring in nearly all departments (except the actual measuring of dicks department). Speaking of dicks, Hugh Grant is in this movie, and according to former Daily Show host Jon Stewart, he was the biggest one he interviewed. Anyway, among the many non-penises measured is the various gadgets; I'm a sucker for old-fashioned doohickeys in movies used for spying and bugging and spy-bugging and bug-spying and all that stuff. The movie isn't filled wall-to-wall with them, but every once in a while when one popped up it never failed to make me smile. And if it's not gadgets they're tossing at each other with dismay for their partner's motherland technology, then they're giving each other shit about proper fashion choices -- in one case, one following directly after the other. I couldn't help but laugh. They also do something at the end that made me wistful for a time in my life when I actually thought everything was going to be all right between the world superpowers, it was actually kinda beautiful.

I also couldn't help but laugh at how certain big deal moments are pushed to the background, like when one of our guys takes a break from a chase/shootout by stepping inside an unoccupied truck, raiding the driver's lunch, then enjoying a quick bite with some tunes on the radio while chaos is reigning a short distance ahead of him. There's also a torture sequence that is probably one of the few genuinely intense moments in this film -- I feel that the dark stuff doesn't work as well as the light stuff here -- but let's just say that the way the filmmakers chose to close that chapter left me laughing and applauding -- much like Comrade Putin watching Mark Rylance win at the Oscars, except I kept my shirt on because I learned long ago not to do that to my fellow humans.

As mentioned way earlier, this film is based on a television show from the mid-to-late 60s but I couldn't tell you how this matches or measures up in comparison, because I only watched one episode in the middle of the night on Me-TV and even then I wasn't giving it my full attention. All I remember is that the episode only had Illya in it (played by David McCallum from Dogs or as I prefer to pronounce it, The Doggies) and Napoleon Solo (played by Robert Vaughn) was nowhere to be found. Maybe Vaughn was busy working on a movie or pulling some pay raise bullshit. So I can't tell you how close or far away from the source material this film is, but if I had to guess, based only on that one episode I sorta-watched? I'd say it's not very close to it at all.

Eh, that's Hollywood for you, taking source material and making something else entirely different. But because I don't carry the baggage of the old series and I took this film in as its own thing, I liked it -- it was a cool flick to spend two hours with. The bad guys are real motherfuckers who you want to see get motherfucked, and the good guys are likable and you want to see them motherfuck the motherfuckers, and the ladies are lovely -- but more than capable of their own motherfuckery as well.

This wasn't great shakes at the box office, but it did OK and maybe it'll do well enough on video to warrant a sequel, I mean, they blew money on a Zoolander sequel and the original didn't break the bank during its theatrical release either. If they do make a part two, I'd check it out for sure -- I wouldn't pay top evening prices for my ticket but it's definitely got my matinee money. Anyway, shout-out to a newlywed by the name of Kris Wallace who requested that I check this movie out and ramble about it -- so I have and I just did. Thanks for the rec, Kris, and congratulations!

In conclusion, if Putin is bringing the 80s back then that means the 90s aren't too far behind, and I for one am psyched about it.