It’s the ’60s vs the ’90s this week in the new release battle. Guy Ritchie brings his vision of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to the big screen. Going up against it is the story of the beginning of the N.W.A.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
What a year for the spy genre. We started off with the Roger Moore/Bond flavored Kingsman: The Secret Service. It was a strange and madcap experience that reminded us of the fun days before The Bourne Facsimile and Broody Bond. Then Melissa McCarthy injected some physical comedy into the genre with Spy. And just a few weeks ago, Tom Cruise reminded us why the Mission Impossible series is so thrilling. Those films are all hard acts to follow, especially if you’ve seen the trailers for The Man from UNCLE, which seems laden with strange comedic timing and smarminess.
As the movie begins, The U.S. and Russia are locked in the middle of the Cold War. Cary Grant-esque Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and intense Russian Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) seem to get in each other’s way. They are bitter rivals, until they are not allowed to be. Russia and the U.S. temporarily unite the two agents to use German Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) as bait to find her father, who is building nuclear weapons for a mysterious organization.
Everything in this movie oozes a cool ’60s vibe. The soundtrack is very prevalent using both surf-rock Italian songs and chill jazz to maintain the cinematic environment. The old-school locales of Italy combined with the ’60s Warhol fashion keep you invested in the artsy quality that surely took some effort.
The most notable archetype is Cavill’s Napoleon Solo character. He plays him as unapologetically American. The accent would easily fit into a 1930s serial with every word pronounced with an added layer of smug on top. His character is exactly what you should expect from the movie. It knows it’s cool, but you can’t hate it because it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
After the failure of last year’s Lone Ranger, it seems that Armie Hammer may be on the upswing. Illya is the emotional core of the movie. He plays it serious, but he clearly isn’t able to be as emotionally withdrawn as Solo is.
Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) is great. Her character progresses from being someone that seems like a passenger at first to a woman who can balance the egos of these two men. It doesn’t take long before you realize that she’d be better off under her own protection than these two impulsive men.
The Man from UNCLE never tries to be over the top. Nor does it take the serious route. It balances on the line between. In (now) one of the best scenes of the year, Solo escapes a boat chase and passively watches as others risk life and limb. Conveniently, he finds the fixins for a picnic and helps himself. It allows the viewer to poke fun at big spy stunts that don’t matter much if you’re not personally in the middle of the action.
If The Man from UNCLE were directed by anyone else, it would surely be a mess. Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes) injects clever quick cuts and camera perspective that reminds me of the good old days of Ritchie.
Overall, Ritchie has made a movie that flows well and should be fun on repeat viewings. I’d recommend seeing this in the theater. B
Straight Outta Compton
As a short disclaimer, I should mention that I was never all that familiar with N.W.A. growing up on the mean streets of Davis County Utah. In fact, the first I heard of Eazy E was while watching the random music channel, The Box. I didn’t have cable, so I relied on The Box for much of my ’90s music knowledge. I remember watching the video for Bone Thugs n Harmony song, “Crossroads.” In that video they bid farewell to E. My first memory of Dr. Dre was the Mad Max inspired California Love (part 2) video. Meanwhile, the first time I saw Ice Cube was in the movie Friday.
The wealth of my ’90s rap knowledge consists of Puff Daddy, Mace and the watered down, over-sampled R&B that followed.
Even with that random introduction to these rap gods, I’ve always been fascinated with the decade crossover of the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Straight Outta Compton introduces us to Ice Cube, Dr Dre and Eazy E (and the other two guys) right before they founded their supergroup. Eazy E (Jason Mitchell) is an actual drug runner that has certified cred on the dangerous streets of Compton. Dre (Corey Hawkins) is a music enthusiast who works a night job DJ’ing at a shoddy dance club. Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) spends his time writing lyrics, in his school notebook, to songs that may never actually go anywhere.
Seeing plenty of injustice, they decide to start a reality rap movement that tells the harsh story of black youth in America. As their statuses rise, they hire Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) as their manager and take the nation by storm.
Watching the rags-to-riches progression of these guys is a lot of fun to watch. It’s almost more fun to watch than these actors appear to be having. There never seems to be any actual amazement from the characters with their newfound wealth. They basically grimace and mad-dog the entire movie, still trying to maintain their hard-life presence.
I was surprised by how much this movie actually covered. It spans from 1986 to 1995. It tells the story of their problems with the FBI and law enforcement, the break up, Suge Knight and even introduces Snoop Dogg and 2Pac.
I almost wish director F. Gary Gray dialed the story back a bit. The movie is 2 hours 22 minutes and it feels it. It feels that he was forced to include every aspect of the rap scene without the need of editing. This movie will be a hit and he could’ve easily saved much of the final third for a sequel that delves into the East Coast vs West Coast feud.
Beyond that, I had a great time watching the drama unfold. While not a fan of the music originally, I couldn’t help but get into the performances throughout. Most often, in biopics, music is used to give the movie a boost when the pacing drags. Thankfully, the acting, dialogue and story of Compton is compelling enough that the music is an added bonus.
Straight Outta Compton is extremely well done. It could be cut by a good 20 minutes, but it doesn’t take away from the overall quality. Fans of the group will eat this up. Even if you’re not as familiar with the music, it’s a interesting to watch guys go from the ghetto to superstardom and still try to stay true to their roots. B