“RED 2” (2013) Review

41

“RED 2” (2013) Review

The 2010 adaptation of Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner’s comic book series proved to be very popular at the box office. Yet, I was surprised that it took another three years for the sequel, “RED 2” to be released in the movie theaters. Unless the movie in question is part of the STAR WARS franchise, it usually takes two years or less for a sequel to appear on the scene.

“RED 2” picks up a few years after “RED”, which finds ex-C.I.A. agent Frank Moses trying to lead a normal life with his girlfriend, Sarah Ross. The effort seems to be a strain for both, although Frank seems to be more successful in accepting a “normal life”. Frank’s former colleague Marvin Bogge interrupts this “idyllic life” by warning Frank that people might be following them. Frank dismisses Marvin’s fears before the latter drives off before his car is blown up. After Frank and Sarah attend Marvin’s funeral, the former is captured by government agents to a Yankee White Facility, where he is interrogated by a C.I.A. operative named Jack Horton. Frank manages to escape the facility with the help of a resurrected Marvin. And the latter reveals that he and Frank were being hunted for being part of a secret operation called Nightshade, which smuggled a nuclear weapon created by one Dr. Edward Bailey, piece by piece into Russia back in the late 1970s or early 80s. Horton is ordered to label Frank, Marvin and Sarah terrorists to other countries. Former MI-6 assassin, Victoria Winslow informs her friends that she has been recruited by her former agency to kill them. She also informs them that former South Korean agent-turned-top contract killer Han Cho-Bai has been hired by the C.I.A. to kill Frank and Marvin. With so many after them; Frank, Marvin and Sarah are forced to learn the truth about Nightshade in order to clear themselves of the terrorist charge.

I had enjoyed “RED” when the movie first came out, three years ago. But if I must be honest, I did not love it. My opinion of it grew over the years. But after seeing “RED 2”, I realize that my views of it will never be as high as “RED 2”. The summer of 2013 seemed to be plagued by box office flops and from what I have seen of the box office take for “RED 2” after it had been in the theaters for three weeks, it is clear that it is a flop. Once again, I am faced with a movie that I seemed to like a lot more than the majority of moviegoers and critics. If I had been younger, I would have taken the public’s rejection of the film personally. But when I think of the number of failed movies that I have enjoyed over the years, I have come to the conclusion that I no longer cared whether the rest of the public share my feelings for a particular movie. As far as I am concerned, I enjoyed “RED 2” very much and look forward to its DVD release.

As in the 2010 movie, “RED 2” featured a past operation that has come back to haunt two of its main heroes – Frank Moses and Marvin Bogges. But in “RED 2”, the circumstances and plot surrounding the Nightshade Operation struck me as more plausible and better written that the covert operation featured in “RED”. Even the villains’ objectives struck me as a lot more plausible. Realizing this has made me wonder why my opinion of “RED” has increased in the past three years. “RED 2” also delved more into Frank’s relationship with his Kansas City-born paramour, Sarah Ross. I found it rather amusing that the ever paranoid Marvin seemed to understand Sarah’s need for action a lot better than Frank, who seemed determined to treat her as a china doll. But as Marvin pointed out – Frank is blinded by his fear of losing Sarah. Their relationship is also tested by Frank’s reunion with a former paramour – a KGB colonel named Katya, and Sarah’s talent for using her feminine wiles to deal with terrorists such as “The Frog” and a Russian Army officer at the Kremlin. Best of all, “RED 2” featured some top-notch villains – including the proficiently murderous C.I.A. agent Jack Horton and one Han Cho-Bai, viewed as the best contract killer in the world. “RED 2” also possess one of the best plot twists I have seen in some time. It certainly proved to be better than any of the plot twists featured in the 2010 movie. Jon and Erich Hoeber did a great job with a complex script.

Did I have any problems with “RED 2”? I had a little problem with Marvin’s ability to fake death. Considering that he was presumably killed due to a car bomb, I was surprised that no one found the idea of a pristine body inside the coffin rather questionable . . . especially Sarah Ross. And who really had been responsible for Operation Nightshade? The C.I.A. or MI-6? Or was it a joint effort? The Hoebers’ script never really made the matter clear.

The performances in “RED 2” were marvelous. Beginning with the three leads – Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Mary-Louise Parker – and down to Titus Welliver, who more or less gave a cameo appearance; the movie rocked with some first-rate acting. For the second time, Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker created comic and romantic screen chemistry as the love-struck Frank Moses and Sarah Ross. Thanks to the actors’ comedic skills, both did a great job in conveying the pair’s relationship struggles of her boredom of being an “ordinary” couple and his penchant for being over protective. Once again, John Malkovich was marvelous as the deliciously paranoid Marvin Bogges, who in this film, also displays a talent for romantic counseling. Helen Mirren not only gave a deliciously witty performance as British assassin Victoria Winslow, she also proved that to be a bad-ass action star in some of the scenes in the movie’s second half. When I had learned that Lee Byung-hun from the “G.I. JOE” had been cast in the film, I assumed his character would be a great deal like the one he had portrayed in the Hasbro film franchise. I proved to be right . . . superficially. Thankfully, the actor’s portrayal of the assassin Han proved to be a great deal more emotional and rather funny, despite being deadly.

The movie also featured an excellent performance from Neal McDonough as the very dangerous and rather cold-blooded C.I.A. agent, Jack Horton. His character’s takedown of the agents at the Yankee White Facility struck me as somewhat creepy. Brian Cox reprised his role as Russian intelligence official, Ivan Simanov. He was funnier than ever – especially in one scene in which he was lovingly admiring Victoria’s form as she rescued Frank, Sarah and Marvin from a Russian firing squad. Catherine Zeta-Jones gave a sly and sexy performance as Frank’s former paramour, Russian agent Katya. David Thewlis made a brief appearance as a techno-terrorist named “The Frog”. Not only did the actor did a great job during a chase scene in Paris, he was absolutely hilarious in a scene in which “The Frog” finally surrendered to Sarah’s wooing during an interrogation. The one performance that really impressed me came from Anthony Hopkins, who portrayed the scientist who first created Nightshade, Dr. Edward Bailey. Hopkins’ performance struck me as strange . . . and I am being complimentary. The actor was superb in projecting Bailey’s eccentricity, which developed after years of being stuck in an assylum by MI-6 for nearly three decades. And it was quite a thrill to see him in his only scene with Brian Cox . . . especially since both actors had portrayed Hannibal Lector with great acclaim.

Box office flop or not, I cannot deny that I enjoyed “RED 2” very much. Not only did it struck me as better than the original 2010 movie, but also proved to be one of my favorite movies for the summer of 2013. And I have director Dean Parisot, a great script written by Jon and Erich Hoeber, and a fabulous cast led by Bruce Willis to thank.

“X-MEN” Movies Ranking

franchise

Below is my ranking of the movies I have seen from the “X-MEN” film franchise.  Warning: many may not agree with it:

“X-MEN” MOVIES RANKING

x2 - x-men 2

1. “X2: X-Men United” (2003) – Bryan Singer directed this film about Army colonel William Stryker’s plans to use Professor Charles Xavier to destroy the world’s mutant population once and for all. As you can see, this is my favorite in the franchise.

x-men-first-class

3. “X-Men: First-Class” (2011) – Matthew Vaughn directed this tale set in 1962 about the first meeting between Charles Xavier “Professor X” and Erik Lensherr “Magneto”, their creation of the X-Men and their efforts to prevent mutant villain Sebastian Shaw from using the Cuban Missile Crisis to acquire world domination. Despite the questionable costumes and a few plot holes, this was a big favorite of mine.

x-men 3 the last stand

3. “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006) – Brett Ratner directed this tale about the X-Men overcoming tragedy to deal with the resurrected and more powerful Jean Grey and Magneto’s continuing war on non-mutant humans. Many fans hated this film. I enjoyed it, although I found the pacing a bit too rushed. Enough said.

x-men-origins-wolverine-team

4. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009) – Gavin Hood directed this movie about the origins of James Howlett aka the Wolverine and his relationship with his murderous half-brother Victor Creed aka Sabertooth and his first class with William Stryker in the 1970s. Another movie hated by the fans. And again, I enjoyed it, although I consider it lesser than the 2006 movie.

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past

5. “X-Men: Days of Future Days” (2014) – Directed by Bryan Singer, this movie is a time-travel adventure for Wolverine, who must convince a younger Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr to prevent Mystique from murdering a anti-mutant scientist, whose work will prove deadly for mutants within a half century. Great premise, but shaky execution. Too many plot holes, but still enjoyable.

the wolverine

6. “The Wolverine” (2013) – James Mangold directed this atmospheric tale about Wolverine, still grieving over a recent tragedy, traveling to Japan to meet the Wolverine heading to Japan for a reunion with a soldier named Ichirō Yashida whose life he saved during the Nagasaki bombing at the end of World War II. He ends up defending Yashida’s granddaughter from the Yakuza and her avaricious father. Great Japanese atmosphere and interesting beginning, but it nearly fell to pieces in the last half hour.

x-men

7. “X-Men” (2000) – Bryan Singer directed this first movie in the franchise about Wolverine and a young Marie aka “Rogue”’s introduction to the X-Men and their efforts to defeat Magneto’s plans to transform the entire population into mutants against their will. Enjoyable, but it felt like a B-movie trying to disguise itself as an A-lister. Also, too many plot holes.

c9396318451fbef4ee2c168810c5f4fa

8. “Deadpool” (2016) – Ryan Reynolds starred in this reboot of the Deadpool character about the comic book hero’s origins and his hunt for the man who gave him an accelerated healing factor, but also a scarred physical appearance. Despite the sharp humor and fourth wall cinematic device, the narrative struck me as sloppily written and mediocre.

Five Favorite Episodes of “AGENT CARTER” Season Two (2016)

30bfm00

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from ABC’s “AGENT CARTER”. Created by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the series stars Hayley Atwell as Agent Margaret “Peggy” Carter:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “AGENT CARTER” SEASON TWO (2016)

1 - 2.02 A View in the Dark

1. (2.02) “A View in the Dark” – SSR Agent Peggy Carter’s investigation into the death of an Isodyne Energy employee in Los Angeles ends up with huge ramifications; when the wife of Isodyne’s owner, Hollywood actress Whitney Frost and another employee from the company, Dr. Jason Wilkes (who has volunteered to help Peggy), are exposed to the Zero Matter from the company’s particle accelerator.

2 - 2.07 Monsters

2. (2.07) “Monsters” – While Peggy plans a rescue mission for former Leviathan agent Dottie Underwood, who had been captured in the previous episode, Whitney Frost covers up her murder of husband Calvin Chadwick and some members of the Council of Nine, a secret organization of U.S. industrialists. Whitney tortures Dottie into revealing why Peggy is interested in the Zero Matter and sets a trap that involves Jason Wilkes, along with Edwin and Anna Jarvis.

3 - 2.05 The Atomic Job

3. (2.05) “The Atomic Job” – Peggy and her colleagues must find a way to prevent Whitney Frost and Calvin Chadwick from stealing and using an atomic blast to test the Zero Matter.

4 - 2.03 Better Angels

4. (2.03) “Better Angels” – Whitney Frost convinces hubby Calvin Chadwick to frame Jason Wilkes as a Communist spy, while Peggy’s investigation of Isodyne and the Zero Matter puts her in conflict with SSR Director Jack Thompson and War Department official Vernon Masters, who is also a member of the Council of Nine.

5 - 2.06 Life of the Party

5. (2.06) “Life of the Party” – When Peggy realizes she cannot save Jason Wilkes on her own, she turns to former adversary Dottie Underwood for help, while Whitney Frost makes a move to control the deadly Zero Matter.

“BRIDGE OF SPIES” (2015) Review

“BRIDGE OF SPIES” (2015) Review

Several years ago, I read an article in which Steven Spielberg had expressed a desire to direct a James Bond movie. It has been over a decade since the director had made this comment. And as far as I know, he has only directed two movies that had anything to do with spies – the 2005 movie “MUNICH”, which co-starred the current Bond actor, and his latest film, “BRIDGE OF SPIES”.

Like “MUNICH”, “BRIDGE OF SPIES” is a spy tale with a strong historical background. Based upon Giles Whittell’s 2010 book,“Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War”, the movie centered around the 1960 U-2 Incident and the efforts of attorneyJames B. Donovan to negotiate the exchange of U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers for the captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel – whom Donovan had unsuccessfully defended from charges of espionage against the United States. Although Whittell’s book focused upon a larger cast of characters involved in the U-2 incident and the famous spy exchange, the screenwriters – Matt Charman, along with Joel and Ethan Coen – and Spielberg tightened their focus upon Donovan’s role in the incident.

It occurred to me that in the past fifteen years, I can only think of five Steven Spielberg-directed movies that I have truly liked. Five out of eleven movies. Hmmmm . . . I do not know if that is good or bad. Fortunately, one of those movies that I managed to embrace was this latest effort, “BRIDGE OF SPIES”. I enjoyed it very much. I would not rank it at the same level as “MUNICH” or“LINCOLN”. But I thought it was a pretty solid movie for a director of Spielberg’s caliber. The latter and the movie’s screenwriters made the intelligent choice to focus on one particular person involved in the entire incident – James B. Donovan. If they had attempted to cover every aspect of Whittell’s book, Spielberg would have been forced to release this production as a television miniseries.

Yet, “BRIDGE OF SPIES” still managed to cover a great deal of the events surrounding the shooting of Powers’ U-2 spy plane and the exchange that followed. This is due to the screenwriters’ decision to start the movie with the arrest of Rudolf Abel in 1957. More importantly, the narrative went into details over the arrest, the U.S. decision to put Abel on trial, their choice of Donovan as his attorney and the trial itself. In fact, the movie covered all of this before Powers was even shot down over the Soviet Union. The screenwriters and Spielberg also went out of their way to cover the circumstances of the arrest and incarceration of American graduate student Frederic Pryor, who was vising his East Berlin girlfriend, when he was arrested. And that is because the writers had the good sense to realize – like Whittell before them – that the incidents surrounding the arrests of both Abel and Pryor were just as important as Powers being shot down by the Soviets.

What I best liked about “BRIDGE OF SPIES” was its ambiguous portrayal of the nations involved in the entire matter – the United States, the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). No country was spared. Both the United States and the Soviet Union seemed bent upon not only projecting some image of a wounded nation to the world. Both engaged in sham trials for Abel and Powers that left a bad taste in my mouth. And the movie portrayed East Germany as some petulant child pouting over the fact that neither of the other two countries were taking it seriously. Which would account for that country’s vindictive treatment toward Pryor. And neither the U.S. or the Soviets seemed that concerned over Pryor’s fate – especially the U.S. Watching the movie finally made me realize how the Cold War now strikes me as irrelevant and a waste of time.

As much as I enjoyed “BRIDGE OF SPIES”, the movie seemed to lack a sense of urgency that struck me as odd for this kind of movie. And I have to blame Spielberg. His direction seemed a bit . . . well, a bit too relaxed for a topic about the Cold War at its most dangerous. Many might point out that “BRIDGE OF SPIES” is basically a historic drama in which anyone familiar with the U-2 incident would know how it ends. Yet Both “MUNICH” and “LINCOLN”, along with Ron Howard’s “APOLLO 13” and Roger Donaldson’s 2000 film, “THIRTEEN DAYS”, seemed to possess that particular sharp urgency, despite being historic dramas. But for“BRIDGE OF SPIES”, Spielberg’s direction seemed just a tad too relaxed – with the exception of a few scenes. One last problem I had with “BRIDGE OF SPIES” was the ending. Remember . . . this is Steven Spielberg, a director notorious for dumping a surprising layer of saccharine on an otherwise complex tale. This saccharine was on full display in the movie’s finale sequence that featured Donovan’s return to the United States . . . especially the scene in which he is riding an El train to his home in the Bronx and his family’s discovery of his activities in Eastern Europe. It was enough saccharine to make me heave an exasperated sigh.

Speaking of Donovan’s El Train ride back to his neighborhood, there was one aspect of it that I found impressive. I must admit how cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, a longtime collaborator of Spielberg’s since the early 1990s, allowed the camera to slowly sweep over Donovan’s Bronx neighborhood from an elevated position. I found the view rather rich and detailed. In fact, Kamiński provided a similar sweeping bird eye’s view of the Berlin Wall and the two “enclaves” that bordered it. Another aspect of the movie’s production values that impressed me were Adam Stockhausen’s production designs. I thought he did an outstanding job in re-creating both New York City and Berlin of the late 1950s and early 1960s. And his work was ably assisted by Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich’s set decorations; along with the art direction team of Marco Bittner Rosser, Scott Dougan, Kim Jennings and Anja Müller.

The performances featured in “BRIDGE OF SPIES” struck me as pretty solid. I thought Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Jesse Plemmons, Michael Gaston, Will Rogers and Austin Stowell did great work. But for my money, the best performances came from lead Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Dakin Matthews and Sebastian Koch. Dakin Matthews has always been a favorite character actor of mine. I have always found his performances rather colorful. However, I would have to say that his portrayal of Federal Judge Byers, who seemed exasperated by Donovan’s attempt to give Abel a fair trial, struck me as a lot more subtle and effective than many of his past roles. Sebastian Koch gave a very interesting performance as East German attorney Wolfgang Vogel, who seemed intensely determined that his country play a major role in the spy swap and not be cast aside. Superficially, Tom Hanks’ role as James Donovan seemed like the typical “boy scout” role he had especially became known for back in the 1990s. And in some ways, it is. But I really enjoyed how the actor conveyed Donovan’s increasing disbelief over his country’s questionable handling of Abel’s trial and his sense that he is a fish-out-of-water in a divided Berlin. However, I feel that the best performance came from Mark Rylance, who gave a deliciously subtle, yet entertaining portrayal of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. What I liked about Rylance’s performance is that he did not portray Abel as some kind of stock KGB agent, but a subtle and intelligent man, who seemed clearly aware of the more unpleasant side of both American and Soviet justice.

I might as well be frank. I do not think I would ever regard “BRIDGE OF SPIES” as one of Steven Spielberg’s best movies. I thought the movie lacked a sense of urgency and sharpness that nearly robbed the film of any suspension . . . despite it being a historical drama. But, I still believe it was a first-rate film. I also thought that Spielberg and the movie’s screenwriters did a great job in conveying as many details as possible regarding the U-2 incident and what led to it. The movie also featured a first-rate cast led by the always incomparable Tom Hanks. Overall, “BRIDGE OF SPIES” proved that Spielberg has yet to lose his touch.

“THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” (2015) Review

kinopoisk.ru-The-Man-from-UNCLE-2525594.jpg

“THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” (2015) Review

The year 2015 seemed to be a big year for cinematic spies. At least three movies have been released about the world of espionage. And one is scheduled to be released some three months from now. One of the movies that was already released was Guy Ritchie’s big screen adaptation of the NBC 1964-1968 television series called “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.”.

The television series from the 1960s began with its two main characters – Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin – already working for the international intelligence agency called U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement). Ritchie’s film is basically an origin story and tells how Napoleon and Illya first became partners in the espionage business. Set in 1963, “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” begins in East Berlin, where professional thief-turned-C.I.A. Agent Napoleon Solo is tasked with retrieving a young woman named Gaby Teller and escorting her to West Berlin. Gaby is the daughter of an alleged Nazi scientist-turned-U.S. collaborator, who has disappeared a year or two ago from the United States. Tasked with stopping Napoleon from achieving his goal is a highly skilled K.G.B. agent named Illya Kuryakin.

Although Napoleon’s mission is a success, he is ordered by his C.I.A. handler Saunders to work with Illya and Gaby to investigate a shipping company owned by Alexander and Victoria Vinciguerra, a wealthy couple of Nazi sympathizers. Due to the couple’s intent to create their own private nuclear weapon, the C.I.A. and K.G.B. have decided to make this operation a joint effort. Gaby becomes essential to the mission, since her uncle Rudi works for the Vinciguerras.

Mixed reviews greeted “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” when it first hit the theaters. Well, according to Wikipedia, the movie achieved mixed reviews. Judging from box office results, the movie barely made a profit. It seemed a pity that not many moviegoers were willing to take a chance on this film. Then again, I am not that surprised. Warner Brothers Studios barely made any effort to publicize this movie. And this was a mistake in my eyes. Today’s generation of young moviegoers are not familiar with the 1960s television series. In fact, the series had not been seen on the television screen since TNT Channel aired a handful of episodes back in 1996. The studio could have stepped up its game in publicizing the film. They could have also used re-released box sets of the old series at a reasonable price as tie-ins. And some moviegoers old enough to remember Norman Felton’s series, complained that the movie was not an exact replica. I have nothing to say about that. Well, I do. But that will come later.

“THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” is not perfect. Actually, what movie is? And I do have one or two minor complaints and a major one. Okay, minor complaints. I was not that impressed by Daniel Pemberton’s score for the movie’s second half. I found it overbearing to the point that it nearly distracted me from the plot. My second complaint revolved around James Herbert’s editing. Well, I was impressed with his editing in most of the film . . . especially the car chase in East Berlin and the sequence featuring Napoleon and Illya’s break-in of the Vinciguerras’s shipyard. But I was not impressed by Herbert’s editing in the final action sequence featuring Napoleon and Illya’s attempt to rescue Gaby from a fleeing Alexander Vinciguerra. I found it slightly confusing and thought it had too many close ups. In fact, the sequence reminded me – in a negative way – of Paul Greengrass’ direction of the second and third “BOURNE” movies.

However, my main beef with “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” proved to be Joanna Johnston’s costume designs. The movie is supposed to be set in 1963. The costumes DID NOT reflect the fashions of that year. I kid you not. The following image is an example of women’s fashion in 1963:

Look at the images of Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debecki:

I cannot deny that Joanna Johnston’s designs are both original and gorgeous to look at. But . . . they are not a reflection of the movie’s 1963 setting. Judging from Vikander and Debecki’s costumes, I would say that the movie was actually set some time between 1968 and 1970 or 1971. And in the end, the movie’s costumes only reminded me of the costume mistakes featured in the 2011 movie, “X-MEN: FIRST-CLASS”.

I certainly had no problem with the movie’s plot written by Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. I have always wondered how Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin first met and started working for U.N.C.L.E. The television series never revealed this history, considering it began with the pair already working for the agency. And Rictchie and Wigram’s plot more than satisfied my curiosity. They made some changes from the television series. One, Napoleon became a former thief whom the C.I.A. blackmailed into working for them in exchange for avoiding prison. In some ways, this newly imagined Napoleon Solo reminded me of the Alexander Mundy character from the 1968-1970 television series, “IT TAKES A THIEF”. The Illya Kuryakin character underwent a few changes as well. He remained a somewhat stoic and uber professional agent, with a penchant for the occasional sardonic humor. But Ritchie and Wigram gave him a fearsome temper that was usually triggered by anything relating to his father, who had been dishonored by a scandal during World War II.

Ritchie and Wigram’s script not only utilized a bit of “IT TAKES A THIEF”, but also some characters from the TV version of “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” It seemed obvious to me that the Victoria and Alexander Vinciguerra were based on the Gervaise Ravel and Harold Bufferton characters that were portrayed by Anne Francis and John Van Dreelan in two Season One episodes. And fighting neo-Nazis is a theme that has permeated many spy movies and television shows throughout the years. Especially neo-Nazis with nuclear weapons. In fact, I just saw a Season One episode of the 60s’ series called (1.05) “The Deadly Games Affair” in which a former Nazi who tried to kick start a crazy plot to bring back the former glory of Hitler’s party. For “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.”, I thought Ritchie and Wigram created an interesting twist on theme, by incorporating the Swinging Sixties scene in Europe . . . especially through characters like Victoria Vinciguerra and Gaby’s Uncle Rudi. As for the movie’s dialogue . . . well, I just adored it. I especially adored the interaction between Napoleon and Illya – especially in one scene in which they argued over the right wardrobe for Gaby to wear during their mission.

Speaking of performances, I tried to recall a performance that seemed . . . well, off kilter or just plain bad. Perhaps other critics came across such performances. I did not. Armie Hammer had an interesting task in his portrayal of K.G.B. agent Illya Kuryakin. He had the difficult task of conveying many aspects of Illya’s personality – his no-nonsense attitude, ruthlessness, emotional streak and barely controllable temper. And he did it . . . with great skill. I cannot recall if David McCallum ever had to deal with such an array of personality traits and blend them so seamlessly. Henry Cavill made an extremely charming Napoleon Solo. More importantly, he did an excellent job in conveying the character’s talent for manipulation and judge of character. I realize that his Napoleon Solo seemed more like an adaptation of the Alexander Mundy character. But watching his performance made me realize how much he reminded me of Robert Vaughn’s performance in the NBC series. Alicia Vikander, who portrayed Gaby Teller, proved to be such a surprise for me. One must understand that I have never seen “A ROYAL AFFAIR”. And I honestly do not recall her performance in “THE FIFTH ESTATE”. But I was very impressed by her performance as East German defector Gaby Teller, who turned out to be vital to Napoleon and Illya’s mission. Vikander connected very well with both of her leading men, especially Hammer. And she did a great job in conveying Gaby’s intelligence, toughness and strong will.

Hugh Grant pretty much took me by surprise with his performance as Alexander Waverly, the head of U.N.C.L.E. He was charming and witty, as usual. Of course, as usual. He is Hugh Grant. But he was also effective and projected a strong presence as U.N.C.L.E.’s pragmatic leader, who is ruthless enough to make some tough choices. When I first saw Elizabeth Debicki in “THE GREAT GATSBY”, I was very impressed by her performance. I was even more impressed by her portrayal of the villainous Victoria Vinciguerra. She conveyed a great deal of charm, style and wit in her performance. I also thought Debicki made a scary villain. Hell, she was one of the scariest villains of the Summer 2015 season. I was surprised to see Sylvester Groth, who played Gaby’s Fascist uncle. The last time I saw him, he portrayed Nazi Joseph Goebbels in 2009’s “INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS”. And he was funnier. He was a bit more scary as Gaby’s snobbish, yet sadistic Uncle Rudi. But he was also very funny . . . especially in his last scene in the movie. The movie also featured Jared Harris, whose take on a C.I.A. station chief seemed more like a spoof on American authority figures, along with solid performances from Luca Calvani, Simona Caparrini and Christian Berkel (who also appeared in “INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS”.

“THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” had a few flaws. This is to be expected for just about any movie. And yes, I realize that it is not an exact replica of the NBC 1964-1968 series. Mind you, I could care less, for I believe originality is more important than repetition. And that is what I liked about “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” Director Guy Ritchie and co-writer Lionel Wigram took an old television series and put their own original spin on it. And they were ably supported by a first-rate cast led by Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill.

“BREACH” (2007) Review

“BREACH” (2007) Review

I have noticed over the years that some of the most interesting spy thrillers tend to be based upon historic fact. And many of these fact-based movie usually centered on an individual’s betrayal of his or her country on a massive scale. Movie and television productions such as “5 FINGERS”, “FAMILY OF SPIES” and “CAMBRIDGE SPIES” are good examples. Another is the 2007 political thriller, which told the story of how FBI Special Agent Robert Hanssen ended up being convicted of selling intelligence secrets to the Soviet Union and later, Russia.

Set between December 2000 and February 2001, “BREACH” began with young FBI employee, Eric O’Neill and two co-workers, engaged in the surveillance of a Muslim couple in Washington D.C. Eric is recalled from his post and assigned by Special Agent Kate Burroughs to work undercover as an assistant to Hanssen, who is allegedly suspected of being a sexual deviant. Despite Hanssen’s abrasive personality and rants against the Bureau for its lack of appreciation toward his computer skills, Eric begins to regard him as a friend and mentor. Hanssen and his wife has taken an interest in Eric and his marriage to a German immigrant named Juliana . . . who dislikes them. However, Burroughs eventually tells Eric the truth that Hanssen is suspected of spying for the Soviet Union and later, Russia for years. The Bureau needs hard evidence – from Eric – to put Hanssen away for good.

When I said that “BREACH” was an interesting spy film, I was not kidding. Frankly, I consider it to be one of my favorite in the genre outside the usual “JAMES BOND”, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” or “JASON BOURNE” movie franchises. I have nothing against these franchises. But . . . there are times when I do enjoy watching the occasional spy thriller that does not feature excessive violence, car chases and explosives. And “BREACH” happens to be one of those films. Instead of the occasional action sequences; the movie featured good acting, first-rate suspense and more importantly well-written drama. “BREACH” knocks it out of the ballpark with all three.

There are those who will probably dismiss the suspense aspect of the movie’s plot, considering that audiences know the outcome and Hanssen’s fate. But there is suspense. The story’s mystery centered on how Eric managed to help the F.B.I. find evidence to arrest and convict Hanssen. It also centered on Eric’s struggles to maintain his cover and deal with a perpetually arrogant and paranoid man. But what really made “BREACH” fascinating to me were the emotional consequences that Eric faced, while he played a cat-and-mouse game with Hanssen. The best example of this cat-and-mouse game was featured in a scene in which Eric was forced to delay Hanssen with a trip to a government photo session and obtain data from the latter’s Palm Pilot, while F.B.I. agents searched the latter’s car for evidence and plant listening devices. And even more interesting scene occurred later in the film, in which Hanssen becomes aware of the listening devices in his car and allows his paranoia to confront Eric . . . while wielding a pistol.

I found it even more interesting to watch how the case nearly played havoc with O’Neill’s marriage to Juliana, who became increasingly resentful over the Hanssens’ encroachment upon the younger couple’s marriage. More importantly, she becomes resentful toward the Hanssen’s intrusions into her and Eric’s religious beliefs. This tension is especially played out in a scene involving Robert and Bonnie Hanssen making a surprise visit to the O’Neills’ apartment and Juliana’s discovery of a video tape in Eric’s possession . . . one that features a sexual encounter between the Hanssens that was taped by them. Overall, the drama did an excellent job in conveying the tensions and emotional price that Eric faced, while helping his fellow agents take down Hanssen.

Where there any aspects of “BREACH” I did not like? Well . . . there are two, if I must be honest. One, I did not care for how the screenwriters handled the Rich Garces character, portrayed by Gary Cole. Honestly? It seemed as if the actor’s time was wasted in this film. And for a first-rate actor like Cole, I found that rather sad. One other aspect of “BREACH”that failed to impress me was Tak Fujimoto’s photography. I realize that the cinematographer is highly regarded in the Hollywood community. And I have admired his work in past movies. I did not care for his photography in this movie. I found it a bit too dark and metallic for my taste. Yes, “BREACH” set mainly set during the winter months of December, January and February. But guess what? I have encountered other movies set during the winter. And honestly, I found the photography for those movies a lot more attractive.

My feelings for the performances featured in this film is a completely different matter. Yes, I was a little disappointed that Gary Cole was underused. And the movie featured some solid performances that did not exactly dazzled me. But . . . despite being underused, I must admit that I found Cole rather entertaining as Special Agent Rich Garces, whose amused and laid back attitude toward Hanssen seemed to ruffle the latter’s feathers. Bruce Davison had a nice appearance as Eric’s father who gives the latter some wise advice. Dennis Haysbert’s portrayal of Special Agent Dean Plesac also struck me as pretty solid. But in one particular scene that featured Hanssen’s arrest, I was impressed by how Haysbert expressed his character’s mild disgust and disbelief over the other man’s refusal to face the reality of what was going on. Kathleen Quinlan gave a very interesting performance as Hanssen’s wife, Bonnie. Regardless of whether or not Mrs. Hanssen knew about her husband’s espionage work, I must admit that Quinlan did an exceptional work in conveying a subtle perversity in her character’s personality that I found rather disturbing. It must have been somewhat difficult for Caroline Dhavernas to portray Juliana O’Neill. In the hands of a less skilled or less experienced actress, Juliana could have come off as a shrewish wife who seems incapable of understanding her husband’s profession. But Dhavernas managed to avoid that one-dimensional portrayal and expertly convey how much the Hanssens’ intrusions and Eric’s continuing privacy had put a strain on her psyche.

I cannot deny that I found Laura Linney’s portrayal of Kate Burrough, Eric’s F.B.I. handler, very interesting. And very complex. Linney’s Agent Burrough bridled with righteous anger at Hanssen’s betrayal of his country. Yet, she skillfully balanced that anger with a world-weary cynicism toward Eric’s initial naivety that I found fascinating to watch. There are times when I find myself wondering if Ryan Phillippe is underrated as an actor. Personally, I never have. And his performance as Eric O’Neill has only confirmed (at least in my mind) that he is a superb actor. Eric O’Neill might be one of the nicest characters he has ever portrayed. But thanks to Phillippe’s complex and intense performance, the character also proved to be interesting . . . especially in how he dealt with the stress of serving as Hanssen’s aide, while investing the latter; and how that stress put a strain on his marriage. Also, Phillippe is such a strong actor that it is obvious he had no problem whatsoever in keeping up with the more highly regarded Laura Linney and his main co-star, Chris Cooper. Speaking of the latter, I am still disappointed that he was never recognized for his portrayal of Robert Hanssen with a major acting award. He really deserved it. More importantly, I regard Robert Hanssen as one of his best roles. I thought Cooper was outstanding as the paranoid Hanssen, who seemed to be a curious mixture of the dedicated and morally pure Federal agent; and the perverse and paranoid man, whose ego led him to commit a major betrayal against his country. Cooper really knocked it out of the ballpark.

Overall, I would highly recommend “BREACH”. Is it historically accurate? Of course not. I have yet to see a historical drama that was. But “BREACH” is such a fascinating tale, thanks to Billy Ray’s direction; a tight screenplay written by him, Adam Mazer and William Rotko; and superb performances by a cast led by Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe that it was inspired me to visit my local library and read more on Robert Hanssen and what led to his capture.

“AGENT CARTER” Season One (2015) Episodes Ranking

agent-carter-season-1-cast-0001

Below is my ranking of the eight episodes featured in Season One of ABC’s “AGENT CARTER”. Created by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the series stars Hayley Atwell as Agent Margaret “Peggy” Carter:

“AGENT CARTER” SEASON ONE (2015) Episodes Ranking

1 - 1.06 A Sin to Err

1. (1.06) “A Sin to Err” – While Agent Peggy Carter and Howard Stark’s valet Edwin Jarvis investigate a mysterious woman whom Stark may have dated, Chief Roger Dooley and the rest of the Strategic Scientific Reserve (S.S.R.) staff begin to suspect that Peggy might be a traitor in their midst.

2 - 1.05 The Iron Ceiling

2. (1.05) “The Iron Ceiling” – After a message from the Leviathan intelligence agency is decoded; Peggy, Agent Jack Thompson and the Howling Commandos investigate a Soviet military complex to stop a possible sale of Stark’s missing weapons.

3 - 1.08 Valediction

3. (1.08) “Valediction” – In this season finale, Peggy and her fellow S.S.R. agents race to stop a pair of Leviathan agents from kidnapping Stark and dumping lethal gas on the population of New York City.

5 - 1.04 The Blitzkrieg Button

4. (1.04) “Blitzkrieg Button” – Stark briefly returns to New York City in order to instruct Peggy in getting her hands on one of his weapons, now in the hands of the S.S.R. Meanwhile, Chief Dooley travels to Germany to interview a convicted Nazi military criminal about the Battle of Finow, in which most of the Soviet troops were massacred.

4 - 1.01 Now Is Not the End

5. (1.01) “Now Is Not the End” – The series premiere features Peggy, who is still grieving over the “death” of Steve Rogers, arriving at her new assignment with the S.S.R. in 1946 New York City. She is also recruited by Howard Stark, who is suspected of selling his weapons to the Soviets, to find out who had stolen them.

6 - 1.07 Snafu

6. (1.07) “SNAFU” – A suspicious Chief Dooley and the other S.S.R. agents interrogate Peggy about her connection to Stark and Leviathan. Meanwhile, the Leviathan agents get their hands on the lethal gas that had been responsible for the massacre at the Battle of Finow.

7 - 1.03 Time and Tide

7. (1.03) “Time and Tide” – Jarvis is interrogated by Thompson regarding Stark’s whereabouts. Meanwhile, the S.S.R. discover a typewriter used to exchange coded messages by the Leviathan agents.

8 - 1.02 Bridge and Tunnel

8. (1.02) “Bridge and Tunnel” – Peggy and Jarvis set out to find a missing truck filled with nitramene weapons.