The Man From Uncle – The Review

It seems Hollywood is running out of bankable franchises. Which is one of the reasons classic 1960s TV series The Man From Uncle has finally been given a multi million dollar reboot courtesy of Guy Ritchie.
Ritchie is a smart cookie, and he knows the action thriller saga has been done to death over the years, so his approach to the genre is giving audiences style over substance.

British thesp Henry Cavill makes a good fist of playing American hero Napoleon Solo, while American Armie Hammer is spot on as his Russian nemesis/ally Ilya Kuryakin. 

Set in the early 1960s, like the TV series, we are treated to vistas of computer generated scenery, some of which are believable and some look like a glorified cut scene from a video game.

It’s not a bad film not by any means. If it resembles anything, it’s X-Men First Class, a tongue in cheek take on the James Bond saga from an era when Sean Connery was helping to create a template that several generations of filmmakers would copy. 

  
The opening titles feel like Ritchie has taken a leaf out of Steven Soderbergh’s Oceans book, all snappy graphics and cool soundtrack (by Daniel Pemberton).

Sadly, it was not as engaging as Richie’s Sherlock Holmes movies from a few years ago, though he resorted to similar story telling methods. 

He loves giving us one version of events, and then filling in the blanks with clever flashbacks. At times it was a little annoying, like a sub-standard version of Sherlock the TV series.

Elizabeth Debicki as Victoria Vinciguerra and Alicia Vikander as Gabriella “Gaby” Teller added glamour, malevolence and fun, Debicki especially chewing every scene she graced. 

Hugh Grant was also spot on as British protagonist Waverley, his delivery in the third act helping the maddening split screen excesses and erratic chase scenes. 

In short, it was like leafing through a 1960s Vogue or *GQ for two hours with characters as indifferent as catwalk models. Fun, but a bit too cool for school. 

*Yes, I know GQ wasn’t around in the early 60s.

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An exclusive interview with Tony Curran – Part Two

How do you feel about the violence in Awaiting?
“There was a show recently which I saw called Happy Valley on BBC; Sarah Lancashire, and there’s some really violent moments in it towards women, and some newspapers were saying: ‘Oh it’s terrible the violence on television towards women, and rightly so the writer (Sally Wainwright), said: ‘But this is real. This happens. There is violence against women, and we’re not showing it in a gratuitous way, but we’re showing it in a way that happens and why shouldn’t you document that?’
  
Tony Curran, right, East Yorkshire, Summer 2014

Why shouldn’t that be part of drama, because it happens in real life?

“There’s a character in that that I read an article about; it was about a young guy who played a psycho, and I’ve read a lot about people who are somewhat deranged, disturbed, and a lot of the psychotic behaviour comes from their past and how they’ve been abused in many ways.
  
Peter Woodward and Tony Curran in Awaiting 

“Someone once said to me about Shylock: ‘Victim or victimiser?’ and I think Morris is a bit of both as well. I think he was a victim first. He’s been created by the way people treated him. You don’t want to meet Morris really. You don’t want to get picked up by him in your van. Probably wouldn’t be a very fun trip.”

Excalibur : The Re-view

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John Boorman has long been one of Britain’s most daring film makers. However, for all his high points, such as Point Blank and Hope and Glory, it’s often the films that didn’t quite hit the mark that are more interesting.
Many might refer to Zardoz, his bizarre fantasy adventure with Sean Connery in a nappy, but Excalibur, his blood soaked take on the King Arthur legend is perhaps more intriguing.

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Released in 1981, it features Nigel Terry as Arthur. In the first act he’s an over excited youth, but during the course of the film he has to reach a ripe old age before the bloody finale.
Aside from looking ravishing, the movie is like a Who’s Who of rising stars, such as Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson and Ciaran Hines.
It also features an over the top performance from Patrick Stewart, a few years before he became a household name on Star Trek The Next Generation.
As a stage thespian used to playing to the back of the theatre, he over acts a treat while trying to pull the eponymous sword from the stone.

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Having not seen it in about 20 years, I was fascinated to get a fresh take on this cult classic.
It was a bold move to have Nicol Williamson chewing the scenery as an eccentric Merlin, his comical voice in danger of destroying any credibility in the storyline, while Helen Mirren was on top form as the evil Morgana.
And who could forget that classical score, especially the iconic Carmina Burana?
Made in an era before computer-generated imagery, it’s refreshing to see how well many of the visuals stand up. Yes, it’s not a perfect film by any means, but the Irish landscapes are a feast for the eyes, and the staging of the battle scenes are impressive.

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Given the fact that Neil Jordan cut his teeth on the movie before going on to make epics of his own, such as Interview with the Vampire, this is a well worth a revisit.
And in light of us losing so many of the leading players, including Nigel Terry, Nicol Williamson and Nicholas Clay (Lancelot), it has an extra degree of poignancy.

Awaiting – An Exclusive Interview with Rupert Hill – Part One

Rupert Hill has a scar on his forehead so realistic it demands closer inspection.
“I am doing about two hours in prosthetics every day with the different injuries I sustained during the shoot,” he explains. “There is one on my leg as well where I get caught in a bear trap. The effects are amazing.”

’The shoot’ being director Mark Murphy’s new movie Awaiting. We’re sat in the green room at Green Screen Productions in East Yorkshire; Rupert’s enjoying a well earned rest after acting his socks off with former X Factor runner up Diana Vickers on the pending psychological thriller. It could thrust both actors into the movie mainstream.

Of course millions will know Rupert from his days as Jamie Baldwin in Coronation Street, the long suffering son of Danny (Bradley Walsh).
Jamie had a fling with his screen step mum, Debra Stephenson, then ran off with perky barmaid Violet (Jenny Platt) after she had a child with gay best friend Sean (Antony Cotton).

Yes, even by Corrie standards the storyline was pretty full on. While some thesps can retain a characters’ integrity on the cobbles for decades, others, perhaps wisely, decide to quit while they’re ahead for fear of typecasting.

Hill fell into the latter camp, honing his skills on The Bill (where we first had a chat a few years ago), and on stage in assorted projects.
I asked Rupert to sum up the bare bones of Awaiting.

“I suppose it’s a psychological thriller with horror elements,” he explains. “At the same time it’s also sort of a very gritty drama, so the scenes are very high octane and there’s lots of very intense stuff, so it’s quite exhausting.”

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The Man With Lee Child in His Eyes – Exclusive Interview by Roger Crow (Part Two)

What is it about Harrogate that is so appealing for a crime writers’ festival?

“Well, you know it is a festival that is organised in a particular way. I don’t know whether they did it by accident or by design, but it’s a very relaxing festival.
“I’ve been to most of the festivals in the world and typically what you have there is multiple ‘tracks going on at any one time. Which means there can be four or five or even six attractions in any hour, which really causes anxiety frankly in the attendees, because typically a person will have always two, maybe three things that they want to see, and I have to choose, which is a stressful thing. So here there’s only one thing happening at a time and there’s a little break before the next thing, and so there is no stress, no anxiety. I think therefore the attendees have a fun weekend.”

I’ve heard rumours of another Jack Reacher film?

“Yeah, that’s supposed to be happening this autumn. That’s supposed to be shooting in New Orleans in the middle of October, so we’ll see. I haven’t really heard anything in the last week or two, but we’ll see whether that goes on or not.”

I was quite impressed with your acting skills, handing over the baton to Tom.
“Yeah, where was the Oscar nomination?”

Indeed, I thought you were robbed to be honest

“Yeah, I’m gonna do another one I think. To keep it fun for me I’m gonna do one of those cameos in every movie like Alfred Hitchcock did just for the fun of it. The skill in that is picking the right scene because… typically what happens is they do that just to be nice to the book author, and then they cut the scene, so you end up on the cutting room floor and not be in the movie, so you gotta pick a scene that they can’t cut. So I will have to look at the script and pick my moment.”

Ben Elton had some good advice when he was working on Kenneth Branagh’s film version of Much Ado About Nothing. “Always stick close to the leading man”.

“Exactly. And make sure that the leading man has some crucial dialogue at that moment, so that the movie wouldn’t make much sense without him.”

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Awaiting – An Exclusive Chat With Tony Curran – Part One

It’s the summer of 2014, and Tony Curran – star of hit sci-fi saga Defiance and veteran of Hollywood epic Gladiator – is in a picturesque Yorkshire marketplace.
He’s filming the first scenes of Awaiting, a psychological thriller which could give Seven a run for its money.

I watch the filming for a few hours (Diana Vickers and Rupert Hill arguing in a living room) before chatting to the cast at GSP film studios.

“It’s been a lot of fun so far. If the film is as good as the poster, we’re onto something,” Tony explains, referring to the art work in the green room.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the characters or plot development, but safe to say that Curran’s character Morris has a few “issues”.

“He lives on a farm, somewhere in Yorkshire,” explains the Scots thespian. “He lives with his daughter. His wife has passed away, and he’s got a breakdown service basically. If anyone gets into trouble, he’ll give them a tow.

“He has a bit of a hermetical existence with his daughter who he teaches, she doesn’t go to school. She’s home taught. They have quite an odd relationship both of them.

“He’s a bit of a disturbed individual you might say”, laughs Tony. “You don’t want to meet Morris really. You don’t want to get picked up by him in his van. It probably wouldn’t be a fun trip.”

He may have worked all over the world, but this is his first time filming in the region.
“I love it. It’s been very nice. It’s nice to be playing a human, because recently I’ve been playing aliens and stuff like that… or as human as Morris can be,” he laughs.

To be continued…

Awaiting premieres at Film 4’s Frightfest on August 31.

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Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation: The Review 

A list blockbusters are essentially operas – larger than life with colourful characters, exotic backdrops and a rhythm to the storytelling that ebbs and flows in all the right places. Perhaps most importantly the third act should reach a crescendo before ebbing into the closing titles. 

And the Viennese opera is the backdrop for one of the best action scenes of the year as IMF agent Ethan Hunt attempts to stop an assassination. 

Yes, it’s MI5, aka Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, the latest chapter in the blockbusting franchise loosely based on Bruce Geller’s 1960s TV show. 

Any fan of the series or film saga will know what they are getting from the out set.

  
Great stunts, exotic locations, Tom Cruise dropping into a perilous situation, that superb Lalo Schifrin title theme, and quite obviously masks.

After the disappointing Ghost Protocol a few years ago, I thought the series had run its course, having got progressively better with each chapter… until part four. 

However, writer and director Christopher McQuarrie, who Cruise had worked with on Jack Reacher, has helped breathe new life into the franchise with one of the best chapters so far.

Following that outstanding pre-credits stunt involving Cruise hanging on the side of a transporter aircraft, we are back in London and Hunt going through the motions of accepting a new mission, should he choose to accept it… only with a twist. 

  
However, when things go pear shaped and Hunt is captured by an anti IMF organisation called the Syndicate, Ethan is assisted by a femme fatale. 

Rebecca Ferguson is outstanding as Ilsa Faust, the strongest female character in the series. Sexy, intelligent and a match for Cruise. The fact she looks like Hunt’s old flame (Michelle Monaghan) is a clever touch, as is the visual rabbit’s foot cue, a throwback to MI3. 

Following that superb opera set piece and the brilliant underwater data card swap, things peak with a chase through Casablanca. 

That third act is more problematic – bags of exposition, generic foot chases and 20 minutes too long. 

It’s not a deal breaker. There’s enough good stuff that came before to make the final half hour bearable, but just a shame the wordy internecine shenanigans didn’t come in the middle and the chase at the end. 

The other key problem is Ving Rhames – wasted as returning IMF agent Luther (essentially Simon Pegg’s Benji has usurped him as the hi-tech aid; his comic timing as valuable as ever, while adding a sense of much needed gravitas). 

Rhames looks redundant with little to do except flick a few buttons, offer some exposition and be the thread that connects the other movies. 

Thankfully Jeremy Renner is terrific in support, as is Alec Baldwin as the obligatory government official. 

Top turns are also offered by Tom Hollander and Simon McBurney. 

However, as much as I was mesmerised by Sean Harris in Harry Brown, here he just looks like a malevolent Sean Lock as the generic villain. 

  
There’s also a lack of other decent female characters – either one sacrificial pawn (as with Bond) or the morally dubious Faust.

Cruise always delivers with movies like this, offering more astounds for your pound, but with a relatively weak opening compared to the other series entries, one wonders if the inevitable MI6 will be the series finale.