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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Neighbors

 

Neighbors is one of those movies that’s funny, but you wish it were just a little bit funnier. Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are a couple with a baby girl who get new next door neighbors—a college fraternity!

Teddy (Zac Effron) is the leader of Delta Psi and Pete (Dave Franco, younger brother of James) is his best friend and backup. Upon move-in, the chapter meets and promises to do something memorable like previous members have done. (Flashbacks show earlier Delta Psi’s inventing Beer Pong, for instance.)

Mac and Kelly figure they should play nice. They drop over for a visit, offering weed as a good will gesture. They promise to call Teddy instead of the police should things get too loud.

Things get too loud quickly. When Teddy doesn’t answer, a cop (Hannibal Buress) is summoned. A peaceful coexistence between the neighbors proves to be impossible and leads to a climactic party and confrontation.

The fight between Mac and Teddy as the party rages is one of the funniest since Hugh Grant and Colin Firth faced off in Bridget Jones’ Diary. Their final encounter at the end of the movie is also a silly bit of fun.

Neighbors is rated R for raunchy, but it could’ve been worse. There are many small to medium laughs and a handful of big ones. Rogen as Mac is not unlike other Rogen characters you’ve seen. Byrne seems to slip in and out of her native Aussie accent at random.

Lisa Kudrow as the PR-minded college dean is the highlight of the supporting cast. Fans of Workaholics may recognize cast members from that show in a cameo. And the baby Stella (Elise and Zoey Vargas) is one of the cutest infants you’ve seen onscreen since Swee’ Pea in Popeye.

I can relate to Mac and Kelly. I speak as a suburbanite who’s had noisy parties thrown in my neighborhood by high school and college students, when their parents were out of town. But nothing in my world has ever come close to the havoc wrought by Delta Psi in Neighbors.

 

 

Cloud Atlas

“Cloud Atlas” is just a big ol’ mess. Its parts are good, but the whole is bad.

If you believe in reincarnation, you might love “Cloud Atlas.” For the rest of us, it’s a movie with cool things and interesting people to look at, but the assembled product lacks real continuity.

The film attempts to tell six stories: some from the past, some from the future. Actors play different roles at various points on the timeline and the audience is expected to connect the dots. Honestly, it’s not worth it.

Last year, we had the polarizing “The Tree of Life,” a movie with interesting parts and incredible images, but, as a whole, was a real head scratcher. It was loved by some, hated by many (including many theater walk-outs).

In 2012, we have “Cloud Atlas.” You can go online now and see numerous blurbs touting this movie’s greatness. I beg to differ.

The star power here is strong: Tom Hanks, Hallie Berry, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent, among others. It’s slightly interesting to see these folks play multiple roles, although some of the make-up is laughable. (The facial prosthetics used to make Hugh Grant look like a 70-something are embarrassingly ridiculous.)

The film, directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings who brought us the “Matrix” movies, also features Hugo Weaving in multiple roles—none of which are as memorable as his Agent Smith in the “Matrix” trilogy.

“Cloud Atlas” is like a stew containing several of your favorite food items that just don’t work well together in the same pot. It’s big (nearly three hours long), it’s ambitious, but ultimately unsatisfying.