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‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ Review — I Spy a Franchise

man from uncle review

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was directed by Guy Ritchie and stars Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, and Hugh Grant. It’s an adaptation of the TV series of the same name, and like the show, it’s a spy thriller set in the 1960s.

The movie is about two special agents, an American and a Russian played by Cavill and Hammer, who have to team up on a mission to stop a criminal organization from starting a nuclear arms race (the plot is only slightly less generic than I’m making it sound). They seek help from the daughter of someone within this criminal organization, who is played by Vikander.

Warner Brothers has been wanting to make this movie for over a decade now, but it’s somehow coming out during what I like to call “Spy Summer.” We’ve gotten a lot of pretty decent spy movies over the last few months, so how does this one stack up?

Well, one of the first things you’ll notice in U.N.C.L.E. is that the stunts are pretty well done. Cavill and Hammer did a lot of their own stunts, especially Hammer. At one point, his stunt double said in an interview that he hardly had to do anything (look out, Tom Cruise).

man from uncle review

In fact, Tom Cruise was one of the lead actors first snagged for the role of Napoleon Solo, the American agent. Henry Cavill (who initially sought the role of Hammer’s character) eventually got the part, so I think a lot of people must be wondering how the “man of steel” fares in this.

Fortunately, I can say that both Cavill and Hammer have great performances in this movie. Their characters are well written, their banter has that signature Guy Ritchie style to it, and you can more or less believe that they exist in the 60s. My only complaint is that physically, they don’t seem to match up since Hammer is meant to be a brute, while Cavill is more of the sleuth. But when you look at them side by side…well, it’s just a nitpick.

Speaking of nitpicks, I didn’t find as many as I normally do in spy movies like this, and that’s a testament to the fast pace and good writing, even if there are a few too many cliches in the overall story. I can’t say I was very invested in what was going on in this movie, and at times I felt a little lost. The movie is shot with a lot of shaky cam during its action sequences, and the script kept reusing an Ocean’s 11 plot device that felt useless by the third and fourth time.

man from uncle review

That said, the movie had a lot of memorable moments, rivaling Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (the other spy movie that came out this month). A drunken Alicia Vikander tackling Armie Hammer’s daunting character out of nowhere was great to watch, and a certain scene involving a sandwich was the film’s best moment.

Overall, U.N.C.L.E. is an entertaining B movie with some neat surprises and good performances, though a little bogged down by a generic plot. What truly saves it from getting into mediocre territory is the soundtrack, which is currently my fourth favorite of the year (behind Mad Max: Fury RoadInside Out, and Paddington).

Grade:  B- 

If you like spy movies, throwbacks to good spy movies, the 1960s, and Guy Ritchie, then this is a must-watch.

Extra Credits: 

  • Again, I’ve never seen the original TV series, so I’m curious to know how U.N.C.L.E. stacks up. Let me know in the comments if you’ve seen both and can share your thoughts.
  • No after credits stinger, but it’s definitely setting up for a sequel (assuming it makes enough money).
  • Elizabeth Debicki is my next pick for playing Audrey Hepburn in any kind of biopic.
  • So Superman, the Lone Ranger, and an Artificial Intelligence try to stop a nuclear war…

man from uncle review

If you want to hear more thoughts on this movie before checking it out, listen to our upcoming podcast episode of Now Conspiring, where we’ll do a roundtable review with multiple critics. The episode will be ready for download this Sunday at 9:00 am (Pacific).

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

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Big Hero 6 Review, Star Wars 7 & Interstellar (Podcast)

This week on Worth Watching, we have two guests joining the show: Sara Peery and Jordan Smith! We talk about Big Hero 6, the latest plot rumors around Star Wars Episode VII, and finally figure out why Maria hates Marvel movies. Enjoy!

big hero 6 worth watching

 Click here to download the episode

Review: ‘Interstellar’

interstellar worth watching

Is Interstellar worth watching?

Yes, but manage your expectations.

I watched the film in its best format — 70mm IMAX on one of the biggest screens in the country. I couldn’t have been any closer to the content.

It’s a spectacle of a movie. It uses a lot of flair and constrained visual effects to justify its ridiculously long runtime. And it’s best feature is the emotional story that evolves between Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his daughter Murphy (played by Jessica Chastain as an adult).

But the fantastic performances and literally epic world-building is undercut by the science of it all. The ultimate story. It doesn’t wrap up as nicely as it ought to, as the final act tries to be a deserved payoff, but for me it felt confusing and underwhelming.

But it’s still a blast of a movie, and among Nolan’s most ambitious. It’s just not his best.

The trick with Nolan is that he’s often misunderstood as more of a thinking filmmaker than he really is. The director excels most at spectacle that is raised by high concepts, so it’s easy to expect a little too much out of his offerings. 2001, this isn’t.

In other words, he’s very serious, but you shouldn’t take him too seriously. Here, he scatters his near-future world with interesting locations, a race against time, and deep familial relationships, but the only matter truly at the center here is the latter. Otherwise, it’s a lot of exposition carried on by mostly relaxed scientists placed in a hopeless situation. Interstellar gets much of this drama right, but it comes sparsely within the meat of the movie’s middle.

By the end, the power and mystery of love get a little too much attention, as the film trades its interesting themes of man versus nature for a strange admission that both are one in the same. For most moviegoers, this message won’t resonate. But perhaps they’ll be too enthralled by the gorgeous vistas and raw human emotions that are also in play.

Interstellar speaks a lot of sacrifice, both unseen and through our main character, Cooper. Strangely, a lot of the sacrifice he undergoes is written out of the story in favor of a convenient resolution. That said, Nolan shouldn’t be faulted for putting so much effort into injecting spirituality into a film void of hardly anything else.

If the tide continues to turn in favor of Christopher Nolan being one of our most overrated filmmakers, then Interstellar will likely be one of the jewels of that argument. Strangely, it’s probably Nolan’s boldest work.

Grade: B-

Review: ‘Nightcrawler’ is Jake Gyllenhaal’s Most Memorable Performance Yet

Nightcrawler, not to be confused with a certain X-Men who is yet to get his own movie (not that he should), is the answer to a question you’ve probably never asked:

What happens when a criminal becomes a journalist?

After all, plenty of people already consider the media to be run by criminals. Nightcrawler expands that concept to believable, and unforgettable lengths.

The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, a driven sociopath who has one basic goal. He wants to make money (illegally if he has to) by doing something he loves. The problem is that when he wants something, he’ll do anything to get it. At his core, he’s ultimately a thief of both possessions and even ideas.

His cold, calculating mind is offset by a nearly convincing extraversion. He smiles as he delivers the lines of dialogue that haunt the audience as his story unfolds. The first act expertly introduces us to Bloom by not just showing that he’s a criminal. He proves to us that he’s a sociopath, for reasons that get into spoiler territory.

Ultimately, his actions lead to business success as a nightcrawler (an offhand term for freelancers who record video from crime scenes late at night). The movie is shot almost entirely from his perspective as we watch him negotiate and force himself into the world of journalism with his suspiciously caught video of violent crimes that cater to a specific audience. You can probably see where this is going, and it doesn’t take much to acknowledge the rampant nods that this is also a satire of modern media.

Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, brother of Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Nightcrawler is an intense, thrilling movie with a dark sense of humor, to the point where you may laugh at just how twisted it frames Bloom up to the “critical moment.”  It warranted more laughs from the audience than some comedies I’ve seen.

I wouldn’t say it’s Gyllenhaal’s best performance ever, but it’s certainly his most memorable in my opinion. Like Matthew McConaughey, he’s had a pretty epic string of great movies these past few years. And Nightcrawler is certainly a highlight.

Definitely worth watching.

Thanks for Reading! You can subscribe to this blog by email via the prompt on the sidebar. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@JonNegroni). I’ll follow you back if you say something witty and awesome.

Is John Wick Worth Watching? (VIDEO REVIEW)

Starring Keanu Reeves (and other cool people), “John Wick” just might be one of the best action films since “Taken.” But not everyone agrees…

Plus, we talk about the Age of Ultron trailer Marvel released this week. Enjoy!

Check out Maria’s full review: http://bit.ly/1zx2lXx

Age of Ultron trailer: http://bit.ly/1oMlVud

Thanks for Reading! You can subscribe to this blog by email via the prompt on the sidebar. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@JonNegroni). I’ll follow you back if you say something witty and awesome.

Review: ‘The Maze Runner’

Once in a while, I force myself to withhold writing a review for a movie. I choose to wait a few days before actually sitting down and unfolding my thoughts for anyone who cares to read them.

In the case of The Maze Runner, we have a film that has proven more polarizing than expecting. That is, more people are walking out of the theater satisfied than I think analysts predicted. I’m one of those people, and I’m more sure of this now even after coming across negative reviews elsewhere.

I’ve never read the trilogy of books that The Maze Runner is based on, which is good news for the majority of people who are reading this. After all, fans of the books have likely already decided whether or not this film is worth watching.

maze runner

So to be clear, I went into The Maze Runner with a blank slate, much like how the film itself begins.

The film opens with Thomas, a teenage boy who wakes up in an ascending elevator. He’s frantic, and we soon realize why. Thomas has no idea where or even who he is. And he’s greeted by a gathering of fellow teenage boys who share the same affliction.

It’s a great narrative device to give your main character amnesia from the start. It allows the audience to immediately connect with Thomas and learn the rules of the world alongside him. It’s an easy, but effective way to immerse your audience.

maze runner

The story is a fun and thrilling ride, as the “rules” of the world continue to be challenged by newcomer Thomas. The boys live within the “Glade,” a spread out field that lies within the center of a deadly maze that towers over them.

At night, the walls of the maze close. This ritual protects the boys from dangerous creatures that would kill them outright. During the day, the “runners” explore the maze in an attempt to find a way out. But if they don’t make it back before the walls close…well, let’s just say that no one survives a night in the maze.

The boys are sent to this place with amnesia, though they gain their memory within a day or two. They know that someone is doing all of this to them, since a new “Glader” is sent to the maze every month with fresh supplies.

maze runner

The characters Thomas interacts and forms relationships with are unique, rather than placeholders for the most part. You’ll likely find them endearing, especially if you enjoy the “Lost Boys” aesthetic.

Speaking of, I found it particularly refreshing to watch a YA adaptation that is more about adventure and science fiction than a coming-of-age romance story. It probably helps that the main set of characters are boys, and it’s fun to watch a group of hapless teens try to create their own society.

Put simply, this is a story about survival. Not politics. Not forbidden romance. Just getting through the day.

maze runner

As the film progresses, Thomas’s curiosity creates new problems for the residents of the maze.  This culminates when a girl ascends in the elevator soon after Thomas (too soon) with the note that she is the “last one ever.”

This of course leads to all-out chaos that sparks a believable and gripping third act, with an ending that I honestly didn’t see coming.

To be fair, elements of The Maze Runner are quite predictable. And some execution of the ideas presented are more derivative of similar YA fare akin to Hunger Games.

maze runner

But if you stick with these characters until the very end, you may find yourself pumped for Act II, which has unsurprisingly been green lit early by Fox thanks to strong box office numbers.

The Maze Runner is certainly not a runaway hit, though. At least when you compare it to other YA franchises that have been proven moneymakers. It’s collected $81 million worldwide in its first weekend, which isn’t anything to scoff at, especially when you consider it only cost $34 million to make.

So we can expect another one of these movies (The Scorch Trials) in the near future. And judging by the strong performance by Dylan O’Brien (who happens to be one of my favorite actors and can be seen on MTV’s Teen Wolf), a sequel could make Fox’s investment truly pay off.

maze runner

This is no Hunger Games-killer, but it’s certainly a welcome departure from tired outings such as Divergent and The Giver. One of my few complaints is that the film tragically under-utilizes Kaya Scodelario (Effy from Skins), who’s probably wondering why she didn’t join her friends in Game of Thrones.

Her character, Teresa, is more of a plot device than an engaging character, which is a shame since she happens to be one of the only girls in the film. Still, we can hopefully expect more from her character in coming installments.

Is it worth watching?

maze runner

Yes. The Maze Runner is an easy film to sink your teeth into, if you’re willing to sink your teeth into it. The story, lore and characters ultimately work because they are as simple as they elegant. And of course, the special effects are expertly handled to make this world come alive.

The Maze Runner was directed by Wes Ball and is based on the series of books written by James Dashner. It stars Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, and Kaya Scodelario.

Review: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’

As I sat down to write this review, I quickly remembered that I also reviewed the first Amazing Spider-Man on this site two years ago, and it’s fascinating to me how little I had to say about it.

Seriously, I basically came to the conclusion that it’s barely worth watching on the basis that it has some decent effects and a mediocre story that may pay off in the long-run.

amazing spider-man 2 worth watching

Of course, I (along with most of the Spider-Man fandom) was sorely disappointed with several directions Sony took with the origin story, especially when it came to Ben Parker’s death. I understood then and now that this would be underwhelming for moviegoers like me who are still fondly remembering the original Spider-Man in 2002.

Two years and one two-hour movie later, we have The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which is undoubtedly a bigger, better version of the movie that came before it. Everything about this sequel tries incredibly hard to outdo the original, from the acting and character development to the carefully crafted action scenes.

amazing spider-man 2 worth watching

 

Even the soundtrack seems to have more thought put into it this time (with dubstep tracks being carefully placed only in sequences that feature the film’s central villain: Jamie Foxx’s Electro)

In the months leading up to this film’s release, I was obsessed with staying up-to-date with all of the featurettes, promos, interviews and trailers that did their darndest to convince us that they’d fix what went wrong with the original (which still made them plenty of money).

The first thing to note, and the film’s biggest improvement, is that Sony at least has a powerful agenda behind this film aside from their obligation to make a Spider-Man movie before their contract to the character’s rights fall back to Marvel (which most of us want to happen, ironically).

The first film felt forced, basically, because we knew Sony was only doing it to hang on to their film rights. But this time around, there’s more to Sony’s madness. Thanks to Marvels grand Avengers experiment, Sony is in the business of franchise-building, and they’re now setting up a richer universe that can branch off into numerous spin-offs, which include a film devoted to both Venom and the Sinister Six.

amazing spider-man 2 worth watching

So that’s one point for the movie so far. There’s something to it this time.

But is the movie any good?

Yes. In fact, I’m going to say it’s great.

I know, I know. The consensus so far among Spider-Man fanatics like myself has been that this sequel is essentially an abomination. Bob Chipman, one of my favorite movie critics, nearly quit reviewing movies out of frustration over this film.

But I politely disagree with Chipman and many other naysayers, and here’s why.

First, they finally got the costume right. I was pretty indifferent to the Sam Raimi costume version, despite its toned down color and melancholic feel. But The Amazing Spider-Man proved that you can definitely mess up his costume, with laughable blinking lights and a look that doesn’t look at all like the Spider-Man we’ve gotten to love over the better half of the last century.

amazing spider-man 2 worth watching

This time around, however, the costume is pretty much perfect, capturing the look of Spider-Man in a way that pays homage to the original without looking dated.

Next, the action scenes and special effects were fantastic, and I applaud Dave Schaub for his hard work and dedication to crafting a movie that lets Spider-Man be the web slinging daredevil he is, stealing every scene he’s in when donning the costume.

(I even wrote a piece on how Schaub and his team set out to nail the physics of web slinging in this awesome interview you can read here.)

Adding to the action was a devotion to revealing what I call little moments throughout the story. Yes, you had big themes and character plots controlling the drive of the story, but that didn’t prevent director Marc Webb from giving Spider-Man some time to just be a hero. For the first time since Spider-Man 2, audiences were allowed to see Spider-Man foil petty crimes in creative ways, without the plot keeping him too busy.

amazing spider-man 2 worth watching

These moments consisted of Spidey’s varied conversations with the citizens he would save, along with entire scenes devoted to heroic crime fighting that didn’t even contribute heavily to the plot. I think that some critics were possibly annoyed at these little moments because they might seem pointless to some, but appreciated the care put into differentiating Spider-Man from his real identity, Peter Parker.

Spider-Man is a superhero who is always cracking jokes and keeping things light because he has a mask on. Peter Parker is less confident and a little more nerdy, and that’s a theme that is far more faithful here to the comics.

And it made the film fun. I found myself laughing out loud during the film many times, and kudos to Garfield for letting himself over-act for this role, because it definitely worked.

amazing spider-man 2 worth watching

There were two main villains in this film: Max Dillon (AKA Electro) and Harry Osborn (AKA Green Goblin). My biggest complaint for this film lies in how they handled these two, both as characters and how they fit into the plot.

To be fair, I liked both of these villains early on, especially Max Dillon’s incredibly awkward transition from bumbling electrician to full-on psychopath. But as the film trudged along, we lost what made Dillon interesting as he became a ruthless villain. In other words, his character arc was a bit clumsy.

Dane DeHaan’s take on Green Goblin committed the same sins, and  I hate how they handled the origin of this villain. I spent the entire film hoping that we’d find out that Harry’s father, Norman Osborn, would end up being the “real” Goblin, using his son as a pawn, but no such twist came to fruition.

amazing spider-man 2 worth watching

The film had a lot of great moments, but it was a bit lopsided, as it would spend huge chunks focusing on one of its many story threads. They handled the progression of Gwen and Peter’s story quite well, at the very least, and I was satisfied with how the film answered the question of what happened to Peter’s parents.

Still, the pacing just felt a bit off and the film could have used some strategic trimming. It was a bit long, but I certainly didn’t look at my watch.

I’d like to talk more on how I felt about the film toward the third act, which was its strongest (at least in regards to the last 15-20 minutes). But I’ll leave you with this:

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is worth watching. It’s a well-made film that presents a decent take on the webhead, unless you’re firmly against Sony’s new version already. My advice is to just go with the flow and let yourself be amazed by the plenty of good things this sequel has to offer.

Thanks for Reading! You can subscribe to this blog by email via the prompt on the sidebar. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@JonNegroni). I’ll follow you back if you say something witty and awesome.

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