Steve Clark-hall

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The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Review

Good

Adopting a deliciously groovy vibe, Guy Ritchie turns the iconic 1960s TV spy series into a flashy action-comedy. There's absolutely nothing to this frothy romp, but it's packed with hilarious characters and lively action scenes that continually surprise the audience with inventive twists on the genre. And it just might turn the suave, fast-talking Henry Cavill and the brooding, engaging Armie Hammer into A-list stars in the process.

It opens in 1963 East Berlin, where ex-con CIA operative Napoleon Solo (Cavill) is trying to help sexy mechanic Gaby (Alicia Vikander) escape to the West, chased by his nemesis, KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Hammer). Gaby's father is a nuclear scientist on the verge of selling his secrets to a rogue Italian billionaire couple (Elizabeth Debicki and Luca Calvani) so, even though the Cold War is raging, the CIA and KGB decide to cooperate on the mission. This means that rivals Solo and Illya must work together as they travel to Rome with Gaby, making contact with British agent Waverly (Hugh Grant) and Gaby's creepy uncle (Sylvester Goth). And of course, there are unexpected wrinkles along the way.

As always, Ritchie cleverly subverts each set-piece, letting chase scenes unfold in carefully staged but enjoyably inventive ways, often putting the real action in the background while the characters act as if they're above all this nastiness. As popcorn entertainment, this is first-rate, with a cast that's more than up to the challenge. Cavill is particularly smooth, a Bond-style spy who seems unable to resist seducing every pretty woman he meets. Hammer's role is pricklier, since Illya never quite relaxes, although his petulance makes him just as likeable. Their interplay is snappy and often very funny but, unlike Ritchie's similarly toned Sherlock Holmes movies, this strains to avoid being a bromance. Solo and Illya continue to spy on each other right to the end, maintaining their Cold War distance even as they team up to save the world.

Continue reading: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Review

The Winter Guest Review


Weak
Extremely chatty, Alan Rickman's directorial debut is long in the tooth and short in everything else. While the photography of a remote Scottish fishing village is to die for, the lack of anything happening in the plot (involving eight natives from kids to the elderly and their various relationships) -- or even much music -- is a real letdown. Most notably disappointing is a shorn Emma Thompson, who spends the first third of the movie in the bathroom. Bo-ring!

Separate Lies Review


OK
A film that would be perfectly at home on the BBC or PBS, Julian Fellowes' Separate Lies is a solid if somewhat stolid tale of romance, betrayal, and deception that's something akin to Gosford Park (which Fellowes' scripted) by way of In the Bedroom. Adapted from Nigel Balchin's novel A Way Through the Wood, Fellowes' directorial debut is much like its upper-crust married protagonists James (Tom Wilkinson) and Anne Manning (Emily Watson) in that its competent and classy exterior masks a messy, banal interior as it charts the couple's slow disintegration. With made-for-TV blandness, the film chronicles adultery, murder, and deceit involving callous young stallion William Bule (Rupert Everett) and the Mannings' loyal maid Maggie (Linda Bassett). That isn't to say that this well-acted, tasteful film is a waste; rather, it's simply a somewhat stuffy British production whose boilerplate melodrama leaves little room for a revelatory examination of selfishness, sneakiness, self-preservation, and sacrifice.

James and Anne's wealth affords them life's finest luxury accoutrements (residences in both London and the country, fancy cars, servants), but restlessness simmers underneath this apparently cheery, perfect veneer, with Anne soon catapulting their domestic bliss into chaos when she begins a torrid affair with William. When a mysterious Range Rover runs down Maggie's husband, Anne and William come under suspicion for the murder from both the police and James, the latter of whom endeavors to protect his wife (and, equally as important, his own reputation as a big-time barrister) by helping to cover up her possible role in the crime. Fellowes wastes little time on mystery, however, as his prime preoccupation is the method by which relationships crumble due to tragedies both big (the hit-and-run death) and, just as vitally, small (James and Anne's lack of warmth, inability to communicate, and joint desire to sweep unhappiness under the Persian rug lest it disrupt their comfortable existence). And with Anne unwilling to cast aside her youngish paramour to return to her husband, the film quickly becomes a case study in people's inability to fully suppress their most urgent desires and discontent.

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Love and Death on Long Island Review


Excellent
Blink and you missed this little gem, the story of an aging, British Luddite writer named De'Ath (as in the title of the film, John Hurt) who goes to America to seek his newfound muse -- a B-movie actor named Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley) who stars in films like Hotpants College II. Bizarre and touching, funny and poignant, this is one horribly titled film that really ought to be seen.

Hurt, as usual, pulls out all the stops on his vaguely pathetic, vaguely lovable role -- a stuffy gent who becomes inexplicably obsessed. The beginning of the film traces De'Ath's introduction into modern life, necessities generated so he can expose himself to Ronnie's work via VHS. He freeze-frames a locker room scene, listens intently for cheeseball lines like, "You're nothing but a skid mark on the underpants of life!" Finally he opts to move to Long Island in the hopes of encountering Ronnie face to face (along the way he rather humorously learns the difficulties of trying to get around suburban America by foot).

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Edward II Review


Excellent
British director Derek Jarman raged against the dying of the light. In the years just before before he died of AIDS in 1994 at the age of 52, he did some of his most inventive and daring work. None of his final movies is more fascinating than Edward II, his adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's 16th-century play about the royal intrigue surrounding one of England's legendarily bad monarchs.

Jarman keeps the language but takes the story out of its 14th-century timeframe, fills it with anachronisms, presents it with minimal sets against a black background, and turns it into a furious rant against the homophobia of the Thatcher-era England of the '80s and early '90s. Though Marlowe wrote a gay subtext into his play, Jarman moves it up front: Edward is gay, he gives too much power to his gay lover, and they both have to be destroyed before things get out of hand.

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