The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

 

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is an uneven film with an obvious secondary goal. First agenda item is to sell a few tickets. It will. Second is to establish a franchise that will live on through sequel after sequel. It will not.

The best thing The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has going for it is the finest cool music soundtrack since Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen (from David Holmes). Much of the music (credit to Daniel Pemberton) has a mid-20th-century feel; some of it is used mainly to punctuate the action, a la Tarantino.

The second best thing The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has going for it are the women’s dresses. The colorful costumes on the ladies are gorgeous and the outfits do a nice job of evoking the 60s.

The story, inspired by the TV show that aired from 1964 to 1968, has the two lead characters American Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Russian Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) teaming up to foil the fiendish plot of some folks who have a nuclear warhead. The setting is Cold War era Europe.

Almost every time Cavill speaks in the film, I am reminded of Bill Hader’s SNL impersonation of Dateline’s Keith Morrison. Apparently Cavill was trying to channel the speaking style of the late Robert Vaughn, the original Solo from TV. Hammer is good, but not quite the compelling screen presence needed to keep the dream alive for more U.N.C.L.E. movies.

Gaby (Alicia Vikander) is on the good guys’ side. Her father has been forced to work on the bomb. She and Elizabeth Dibecki (as the villainess Victoria) get to wear the neat throwback threads. Vikander is beautiful and has genuine charm in this role that’s quite different from her breakthrough performance earlier this year in Ex Machina. Also in the film is Hugh Grant as Waverly.

Director Guy Ritchie (who co-wrote the script) maintains a good pace and delivers several memorable shots. Chuckles are spread throughout the film. My favorite silly moment has an unconcerned Solo sitting in a truck cab, enjoying a sandwich and a glass of wine, while Kuryakin is right in front of him in a burning motorboat trying to elude a pursuer.

While The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has the legacy of its TV antecedent to help generate ticket sales, the story is almost boilerplate and the lead actors lack the heft to carry The Man From U.N.C.L.E. onward to franchise glory.

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Trainwreck

Amy Schumer homers in her first major league at-bat. Trainwreck is funny and she is the movie’s title star. Just as importantly, she also gets the lone credit on the “written by” card.

Amy Townsend (Schumer) is not a loser. It’s her love life that’s a trainwreck. She’s a woman who men pursue. But most of her hookups are just one-night stands, a few of which are hilariously depicted in the film.

She’s a writer for a Maxim-like men’s magazine called S’Nuff. Her editor Dianna (Tilda Swinton) assigns her to write a profile of a sports medicine doctor, Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), whose patients include several big name pro jocks. Among them is LeBron James (played by, in a casting coup, LeBron James, who turns out to be an excellent performer).

Following her first visit with Aaron, he takes her to dinner. They spend the night together and begin a normal relationship, which is not Amy’s normal M.O. The inevitable bumps in the road occur leading to a happy resolution and solid laughter along the way. Along with the raunch, there’s some real sweetness.

The cast also includes Brie Larson as Amy’s sister Kim and Mike Birbiglia as Kim’s husband Tom. Colin Quinn is wonderful as Amy and Kim’s cantankerous, ailing father. Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei appear in an art house film that Amy attends with one of her less refined boyfriends (WWE wrestler John Cena). Ezra Miller and SNL vet Vanessa Bayer appear as Amy’s co-workers.

Director Judd Apatow has delivered raunchy romantic comedies with a heart before. He has nurtured talented actor/writers before. (See Seth Rogen.) Apatow’s a pro who knows where the good/bad taste line lies and dances all around both sides of it. Schumer’s script (which he acknowledges he tweaked) has some holes, but is fresh and funny.

Amy Schumer is riding high on a positive wave generated by a successful Comedy Central TV series and tons of good media publicity for Trainwreck. The horrible comments made earlier this year by internet trolls regarding her physical appearance—she’s not the traditionally glamorous babe seen in most rom-coms—have led to backlash in her favor.

Trainwreck would be a respectable effort if it came from a veteran. Coming from a rookie writer/actor, it’s damned impressive.

Inside Out

Okay, Pixar is back. They’ve made a great movie again. Inside Out has many things to like and will appeal to audiences of all ages. Unless you are a total curmudgeon, you will be charmed.

The concept, in case you’ve missed the zillion or so TV ads for the film, is a trip inside a young girl’s mind where her various personified emotions face off with one another. It’s a fresh expansion of the old “devil versus angel” bit (fighting for control of a character’s conscience) we saw in numerous mid-20th century cartoons.

Inside the head of young Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) reside Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black). Riley’s preteen life is jarred when her parents (Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane) move from Minnesota to San Francisco.

Riley’s interior world features: a giant control panel where the five emotions interact, a huge repository of memories (each depicted by balls of various colors) and her islands of personality (representing family, hockey, goofball behavior, etc.). It’s a clever depiction of the many facets of thought that rule our brains.

Inside Out is funny early and late with touchy, feely stuff in middle and, naturally, toward the end. The film moves at an acceptable pace, though portions of the film’s middle section (when Joy and Sadness go deep into Riley’s psyche) become a bit tedious.

Among the voice actors, Amy Poehler as Joy is the film’s perfect anchor. Lewis Black as Anger takes full advantage of the many good opportunities to make his presence known. The others handle their roles adequately. Richard Kind gets silly while voicing Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong.

The cynical voices inside my head are urging me not to succumb to the sappy sweetness and manipulative storytelling of Inside Out, designed to diddle with my softer emotional side. But those directives are being drowned out by the upbeat voices that are encouraging me to give in to the gooey, warm, fuzzy feelings Inside Out evokes. This cool head trip requires no drugs to get you high. Welcome back, Pixar!

The To Do List

There has never been a movie with as many totally non-erotic sex scenes as The To Do List. The sex is sometimes quite funny, but it’s doubtful that anyone could be turned on by what happens.

The To Do List reverses the normal pattern of teen sex movies: this time it’s a girl, not a guy, who’s anxious to become sexually active. Writer/director Maggie Carey brings many teen sex comedy staples to The To Do List, but delivers them from a different point of view.

Recent high school grad and virgin Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza from Parks and Recreation) is told by her older sister Amber (Rachel Bilson) that she, Brandy, needs to learn everything about sex before she gets to college.

The To Do List is hardly wholesome, but it’s not sleazy. Brandy’s list of sex acts (some of which end with “job”) is composed not with an attitude of unrestrained lust, but with an almost innocent curiosity. The To Do List is, appropriately, rated R, but there are no bare boobs to be seen here.

Bill Hader of SNL-fame has become, for me, one of those actors whose mere presence onscreen makes me primed for laughter. He plays Willy, the manager of the pool where Brandy works as a lifeguard. Also in a lifeguard perch at the pool is Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), who Brandy has targeted to be her deflowerer.

As with most teen sex comedies, there’s that person who’s always been a friend but has kept unrequited love for the main character hidden. In The To Do List it’s Cameron (Johnny Simmons). He is the beneficiary of a certain sexual favor on the list, the conclusion of which prompts him to shout out to Brandy, “I love you!”

Brandy’s mom and dad also weigh in on their daughters’ sexual exploits. Mom (Connie Britton) is realistic and helpful. Dad (Clark Gregg) is a straight-laced judge who wants to know as little as possible. Also vital to the story are Brandy’s gal pals, Fiona (Alia Shakwat) and Wendy (Sara Steele), who offer feedback, but are impressed by Brandy’s exploits. Donald Glover and Andy Samberg each have minor roles in the film.

The To Do List is set in Boise in 1993. Brandy, Fiona and Wendy are anxious to watch chick flick Beaches together. Email is referred to as “electronic mail.” And Brandy’s first “all the way” time is to the accompaniment of “Dreams” by the Cranberries.

Aubrey Plaza is a funny woman. As anchor of a strong ensemble, her talent and charm shine through. The To Do List should help her move up a notch or two on the comedy casting pecking order.

The To Do List is not for those who are offended by sexual terminology. It’s probably not a good first date film. But it is pretty dang funny!