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Movie Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is now a Guy Ritchie film adaptation of the cult TV series of the same name, which ran from 1964 to 1968. Ian Fleming contributed to the show's concept by suggesting a TV-friendly version of James Bond, which became Napoleon Solo. While Solo was intended to be the main focus, Illya Kuryakin's unexpected popularity led him to become a co-star. This pairing is resurrected by Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer for the 2015 movie, in which they're recruited to thwart a nuclear weapon plot.

Cavill's take on Solo is schmarmy. Instead of simply being charming and sophisticated with a weakness for beautiful women, essentially a Bond Lite, he's got a Mad Men affectation, aiming for Jon Hamm complexity and parachuting into John Stamos country. While consistent and easy-on-the-eye, it's yet another robotic performance, lacking genuine charm, weight and warmth.

He stars opposite Armie Hammer, playing a character intended to be his antithesis. While Hammer was a double-vision presence in The Social Network, he's also poised similarly to Cavill - blessed with film star looks but still in search of a signature performance to anchor his career. Unfortunately, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. will not be that role, as Hammer also doesn't seem fully geared toward action or comedy.

That's the problem with Guy Ritchie's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. While it looks stylish, sophisticated and sexy... it lacks substance and is too cold-blooded to appease fans of the original series or lure new recruits. As spy-fi, it never really gives you the wink to say this is an action, comedy or both. While it aspires to a Mr. & Mrs. Smith tone with Alicia Vikander chiming in from time-to-time, we never feel in on the joke and the action is lethargic to non-existent.

The Man from UNCLE

"Upon my word... your taste is extraordinary."

Everything about The Man from U.N.C.L.E. feels decidedly vanilla. The only inspired bit of casting comes in the form of Hugh Grant, who's undersold, and while everyone looks like movie stars... we're constantly waiting for someone with real film star quality to show up. The generic nuclear warheads and a makeshift United Nations type secret service story is uninspired and while they hint at a buddy movie, the competitive chemistry doesn't generate the spark this movie so desperately needed.

Guy Ritchie thought he could pull a Tarantino, harnessing spaghetti Western influences and trying to revive two stars whose careers have failed to launch, at least in terms of critical acclaim. While it's a valiant effort, it recalls Michael Mann's take on Miami Vice, where even the noblest intentions weren't enough to give the film real substance and clout. The end result is that they lean heavily on style and production values to distract us from a thin story, flat characters and numb performances.

If you focus on the film's superficial qualities and don't scratch below the surface, you'll survive. You'll know when you should laugh, you'll know when you should be exhilarated and your eyes will be constantly engaged. There may not be an honest moment in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but avoid scratching the surface and things will go just swimmingly.

The bottom line: Pretty

3 Casino-themed Film Characters that You’re Unlikely to Forget in a Hurry

Gambling films first hit our screens when Western films featured them so heavily. However, it wasn't until Steve McQueen starred in the iconic Cincinnati Kid back in 1965 that they really make a mark on the film industry. From then on, Hollywood produced a steady stream of films showcasing the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas casinos.

The more mainstream, big budget films brought us the likes of James Bond, the English secret agent who often threw down huge wagers against his villainous counterparts. There was also the suave Danny Ocean in the Ocean’s trilogy played by George Clooney. But who are 3 of the most memorable characters that appeared in some of the lower budget films over the years? Read on to find out…

1. Lester “Worm” Murphy (Ed Norton, Rounders)

Rounders has turned into somewhat of a cult classic over the years. The film starring Matt Damon, John Malkovich and Famke Janssen also featured the enigmatic Ed Norton as Worm. For the most part, Worm was the unreliable gambling addict who had just been released from prison. The story sees Worm drag his friend Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) back into the underworld of poker, run by the notorious KGB.

Norton's flair for playing the unpredictable has got him to where he is today, and, as Worm, he's at his very best. Worm is the friend that you want to help but you know you really shouldn't. And Mike certainly finds out the hard way in Rounders.

2. Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg, The Gambler)

It could be argued that Wahlberg didn’t get the credit he deserved for playing the hapless, Jim Bennett in The Gambler. It was a chance for Wahlberg to showcase his versatility as an actor that we seldom see. With this role he plays a failing English professor who is relying on his wealthy mother to get him out of trouble after lending countless amounts of money from loan sharks due to his insatiable lust for high stakes gambling.

If you haven’t seen the movie, ignore some of the harsh reviews – it's worth a watch for Wahlberg’s performance alone.

3. Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci, Casino)

Okay, so we cheated a little bit including a character from Casino, but how could you construct a list and leave out Nicky Santoro played by the untouchable-at-the-time, Joe Pesci. The beauty of this was Santoro's psychotic nature – his inability to control his feelings when anyone disrespected him even in the slightest. It will forever go down as Pesci's most memorable performance and for that reason alone; he couldn’t be missed off this list.

With films now more accessible than ever, many are looking to watch their favorite genres via new streaming platforms such as Netflix, where shows can be ported straight to iPads and iPhones or even the latest Androids. The accessibility is boundless now, and popular films are being showcased in the strangest of ways. Cosplayers actively dress up as various DC and Marvel characters, while films like Jurassic Park and Terminator are celebrated through Slots on Spin Genie and other virtual casino portals, and frankly the list goes on when it comes to commemorating the art of film-making

The film industry has never been stronger, and its commercial reach has never been so vast. You've read our list above, so make sure you jog your memory by reliving the wonders of Worm, Nicky Santoro and Jim Bennett onscreen when you next get some free time.

Talking Movies with Spling - That Sugar Film, The Rewrite and A Little Chaos

Spling reviews That Sugar Film, The Rewrite and A Little Chaos as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

Movie Review: Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four was a film with serious potential featuring: Chronicle's exciting director, Josh Trank, accomplished screenwriters including X-Men's Simon Kinsberg and an up-and-coming cast with Whiplash's Miles Teller, Fruitvale Station's Michael B. Jordan, it-girl Kate Mara, Toby "Koba" Kebbell and even that kid from Billy Elliot. When stars collide... it's either a magical union or a black hole.

Fantastic Four doesn't live up to its name. In fact, it doesn't even live up to the serviceable 2005 original in which Chris Evans set fire to his superhero career as Johnny Storm, Ioan Gruffudd got closer to people putting a how-do-you-say-it name to a face, Jessica Alba played global peek-a-boo and Michael Chiklis got even chunkier.

Josh Trank committed "Twittercide" when he tweeted that his version didn't get the green light before its opening weekend. While we can certainly sympathise with the behind-the-scenes creative differences and film studio politics, the end result is a promising yet dull affair that gets progressively worse as the green screen "magic" becomes more and more obvious and lethargic.

Fantastic Four starts with a very science-fiction heavy agenda, moving an origins story from science fair to science lair in its own time as another dimension is discovered and affects our scientist explorers in different ways.

Fantastic Four Movie Review

"No literally... I, rock."

Initially, we latch onto the characters, whose Smallville style interpersonal relationships help move the story along as we discover them and how they interlock personally and professionally. There's space for chemistry and Fantastic Four seems intent on driving the film with characters instead of special effects... to a point.

While there are light-hearted moments, the atmosphere is depressing as though Fantastic Four's dog died. The actors have a knack for comedy, but instead of fun there's a sense of impending doom, which is ironic, when Victor von Doom can't even take the credit. The story ramps up like Chronicle did as the characters discover the catalyst that unites and separates them, but ultimately it's a failure to launch.

The camaraderie isn't there and by the time they start acting like a team, you're at odds with the characters and don't really care what happens. The special effects are okay for a TV series and it's like Josh Trank was given a similar budget to Chronicle as things degenerate. Without much opposition, it's a matter of going through the motions and by the time Dr. Doom arrives for a glorified cameo... we're already sifting through the wreckage for survivors.

Fantastic Four could have and should have been so much more. It's a pity that film politics ruined what could have been, and a tragedy that they weren't able to reinvigorate a misfire superhero franchise. It's an unnecessary revamp that will remain a guilty curiosity for sci-fi geeks but mostly a disappointment for everyone else.

The bottom line: Misfire

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