Short Takes: New Films and Old

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Guy Ritchie)

uncleAn atrocity of one of the great TV shows from the 1960’s. Where to start? Well, the two leads, Henry Clavill and Arnie Hammer, have zero chemistry together as a team. Throughout the movie they just seemed uncomfortable in each other’s presence. Then there is the story which never feels menacing enough, though it involves the threat of a nuclear bomb being stolen. There are some good lines and droll humor here and there, but unfortunately, our two “heroes” cannot deliver the lines with any sense of ironic humor. The film is based on the 1960’s hit TV show, but the resemblance between the show and this film in non-existent. There is no T.H.R.U.S.H., no U.N.C.L.E. organizations and barely any camaraderie between our two spies who seem to hate each other for most of the film. The film is a complete bastardized version of the show. It desperately wants to seem hip and cool, of course it does, it has Guy Ritchie directing, It’s not. It’s just painful. The ending  clearly sets you up for a sequel which I suspect will never be made.

The End of the Tour (James Ponsoldt)

TourSuperbly written film based on David Lipsky’s book. There is really no plot just two men, David Lipsky (Jessie Eisenberg), a writer working for Rolling Stone magazine, following and interviewing David Foster Wallace (Jason Segal), a newly anointed king of the hill author during the final days of his latest book tour. In the course of the film they discuss art, depression, addiction and life in general. The dialogue and the way the two actors interact is what makes it fascinating. They hit all the right notes. Nothing ever feels artificial. I am not familiar with Wallace or his work, but from what I have read Jason Segal nailed his speech pattern perfectly. This is the kind of small film that will not  be conducive to a large audience. It’s basically watching two men talking for the entire length, but oh is it fascinating to watch and listen too.

Ricki and the Flash (Jonathan Demme)

RickkiI had reservations about Meryl Streep portraying a rock and roller. After seeing this film I am still not convinced, but she did convince me that she could handle the songs. The film is an uneven work that strains for a happy ending and gets it at the cost of believability. The wedding sequence just rings out with the sounds of falsehood. What’s best about the film are some of the scenes focusing on the family’s domestic interactions with each other. What make it doubly sad is the film is directed by the usually reliable Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia and Something Wild). On the whole, it’s worth seeing, but Meryl and company won’t be at the Oscars this year except as presenters.

Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

images LiveathnaThough provoking, bleak, hypocritical tale of corruption by a government over the powerless people under their control. Kolya lives with his wife and son in a coastal area of a small Russian town. The Mayor, via the courts, is forcing Kolya to sell his house, auto shop and land and not be paid a fair price. Kolya brings in an old Army friend, now a well-connected lawyer friend from Moscow to help fight the corrupt Mayor. It starts to turn ugly when the lawyer and Kolya’s wife have an affair. But this is only the beginning of Kolya’s spiraling downward decent into hell. Beautifully acted and photographed.

Fading Gigolo (John Tutturro)

turturro-woody_2912205bJohn Turturro attempts a Woody Allen style comedy that even co-stars Woody himself. It’s a good thing because Woody delivers the best lines. The film starts off at a fairly decent pace, but about 50 minutes or so in begins to drag, especially when Woody is not on camera. Overall, the film does not hold together despite Woody and a good cast that includes Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara. One of the more unbelievable twists in the film is that these two beautiful ladies play two women who have to pay for sex. Stone who is in her mid-50’s looks amazing, as does Ms. Vergara.

Parole Girl (Edward F. Cline)

Parole GirlDespite the improbability of some of the situations, this is an enjoyable, if unexceptional, B- programmer that starts out as a revenge tale, but slides into a romance. It moves along at a nice pace for its short 67 minute running time. Mae Clarke and Ralph Bellamy have a nice chemistry together. The best lines though belong to Marie Provost as Clarke’s buddy in the pen. Whenever she is on screen she practically steals the film. Mae Clarke who always seems to be getting physically abused in one way or another, mostly by Cagney in The Public Enemy and again in Lady Killer, is once again roughed up here, slapped in the face by Bellamy.

Throne of Blood (Akira Kurosawa)

ThroneAbsolutely my favorite interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Akira Kurosawa has made an exquisite meditation on the nature of power and the effects of dark secrets, twisting our tragic “hero” into a frightening monster. A masterpiece not to be missed. Kurosawa manages to translate the Bard’s poetic words into visual imagery keeping the dialogue to a minimum. A stunning film that is a must for all.

10 comments on “Short Takes: New Films and Old

  1. Our family liked Man From UNCLE.


    • John Greco says:

      Jenni, I’m getting the impression, from what I have been reading , that folks have strong opinions about this film either liking it or hating it. For me, a lot of wrong decisions were made in the making of this film. I am not a fan of Guy Ritchie’s films. Have yet to see one that I like.


      • That’s fair. It’s the first Guy Ritchie film I’ve seen. I saw the movie with my college daughter and twin high school daughters-they went to see the two leads, and frankly, those two guys are pretty easy on the eyes, for the females at our house! Not the best criteria, in judging a film. I didn’t watch the tv show as I was a baby, toddler, then preschooler when it aired, and it aired past my bedtime, when such shows deemed “adult” were on at a later time slot. I did like the split screens that flashed quickly and the back edits that showed us more info that we weren’t purposely privy to. I did think that the first 1/3 of the movie moved a bit too slowly.


      • John Greco says:

        Well, I can understand your young ladies attraction to the two guys. Back when I was around their age I thought Ann-Margret could not make a bad movie! (lol). Seriously, I have read that folks who did not watch the show or were too young to remember seem to have liked the film better.


  2. Judy says:

    My family enjoyed Man from U.N.C.L.E. too – I don’t really remember the series though, except that my sister and I both loved David McCallum as Ilya.


    • John Greco says:

      Judy, both McCallum and Robert Vaughn were terrific in the TV show and they had a nice chemistry between them… which I did not see with the two actors in the film. But, like I said to Jenni, it seems a lot of folks like the film while other don’t.


  3. The Lady Eve says:

    I’ve been interested in The End of the Tour, so that was the short take here I was most interested in. I’m only familiar with David Foster Wallace by reputation – and the fact that he ended his life young. Both actors are talented, but I’ve become more impressed by Jessie Eisenberg with every film of his I’ve seen. Will catch this one for sure.


  4. Sam Juliano says:

    Great round-up here John! Lucille and my youngest daughter saw RICKKI AND THE FLASH yesterday, but I didn’t come along. They said they did like it. I gave 4/5 to END OF THE TOUR, but haven’t yet seen THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. I consider LEVIATHAN a masterpiece, (my Number 2 film of 2014) and agree with you on FADING GIGOLO, which lags. Terrific capsules!!


    • John Greco says:

      Sam, leviathan will probably make my best list this year in my annual poll. It’s an amazing so I was reall glad to finally catch up with it.


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