2015 should be coined “Year of the Spy” by whoever coins movie years. Mission Impossible 5, Hitman: Agent 47, Bridge of Spies & Man from Uncle, all spy movies but each with a different taste to the palette.
Man from Uncle features Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo, a reluctant CIA agent who made a deal to work for them instead of going to jail and Armie Hammer as Ilya Kuryakin, a KGB agent who is as tough as they get. Solo is tasked with recruiting the gorgeous Gaby (Alicia Vikander), who is the daughter of an ex-US scientist gone rogue. Kuryakin who has a very different modus operandi than Solo is also tasked with the same. What follows is a global sprint to stop a global catastrophe, the kind seen in almost every other spy movie these days. The plot is banal but the execution is really where Guy Ritchie shines.
Ritchie was aiming at that very 60s vibe with all three protagonists dressed dapperly and the typical spy locations: UK & Italy gorgeously placed in the backdrop here. The best part about the action set pieces is the comic interludes with Solo savoring a sandwich while a group on henchmen are chasing Kuryakin instead of defending him, being my favorite. A torture scene which featured the uncle/mad scientist torturing Cavill while showing him a scrapbook of his victim’s pictures was chilling but again was followed by an equally funny sequence. Split screen montages are finally done right with the right amount of tension and energy between the frames. We also have the final “chase the bad guy in a dune-buggy sequence” which reminded me of the early Sean Connery Bond movies.
Overall, what I liked about Man from Uncle is it’s simplicity. Ritchie went with style over substance but that doesn’t degrade the final product in any way. Also worth mentioning is the Hugh Grant special appearance which might have taken the charisma quotient of the movie up 2 more points.
“I’m going to have to science the shit out of this”
– Mark Watney
I have always loved movies where the protagonist is placed in unfathomable conditions and does anything to survive. I also love movies which have an intriguing plot (Duhh!) and I was pleasantly surprised to see the perfect mix in Ridley Scott’s the Martian.
The movie starts with Captain Lewis (Chastain) and her crew Johannsen (Mara), Martinez (Pena), Beck (Stan) & Watney (Damon) on an exploratory mission on Mars. Things go wrong when a sudden change of weather results in a storm on foreign terrain and Watney in a series of unfortunate events gets left behind on Mars. From being impaled by an antenna to a lack of food he goes through an incredible journey to survive.
The Martian is the movie Gravity wanted to be. Alfonso Cuaron is one of the best directors out there but Gravity just lacked on so many levels, the biggest being an interesting enough protagonist. Damon’s Watney is the all american hero in every sense of the way. He realizes the mortal peril he is in but that doesn’t curb is sense of humor. He doesn’t delve into Avengers style humor but still keeps you smiling in what could have been the saddest movie of the year. Ridley Scott proves that he is the king when it comes to realistic sci-fi.
The look of the movie left me dumbfounded. I would believe in a heartbeat that it was actually filmed on Mars if I didn’t know no man has been there. Scott, along with Nolan & Tarantino, is one of those directors who has never been afraid to throw intelligence at the audience and make us feel like intellectuals. After watching Mad Max, which is almost on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to movie making, I was pretty sure no movie was going to top that this year however this movie beats it by a mile.
The Martian paints the picture of a very recent future that is very real. Interstellar is one of my favorite sci-fi epics and the Martian comes really close. Both have Chastain & Damon giving brilliant performances but both are so dissimilar that it does not hit you for even a moment.
In the end, the Martian is about hope and survival and is a must watch.
The Flash has been one of the coolest superheroes out there: the guy cracks jokes, zings around and always saves the day with a one liner that makes you smile. Here, of course I am talking about the Wally West version of the character. That has always been the version I have been exposed to, be it the comic books or the classic Justice League show. On a side note, Michael Rosenbaum, who played the live action Lex Luthor on Smallville voiced the Flash on that show and did an amazing job. Being such a Wally West fan I was pretty skeptical when it was announced that Barry Allen would be the protagonist of the show. I haven’t been much of a Allen fan since my only exposure to him was the classic “Crisis on Infinite Earths“, which you have to check out if you haven’t already and Geoff Johns’s amazing The Flash Rebirth. Johns is one of those guys at DC who they call up whenever they want to revitalize a character and the guy is one of the best comic book writers out there. What made it a must see for me was that he is one of the creators on the show too. Finally comic book writers are getting the credit they deserve thanks to the golden age of cinematic superheroes.
The pilot introduces us to a Barry Allen who is struck by lightening while also giving us relevant flashbacks as how he was traumatized as a kid when his mom was killed in a freak accident and his dad is sent to prison for it. As a result we see a Barry Allen that is very different from the one in the books: the childhood trauma made him very unsure of himself and he is not the self assured hero we’re used to seeing in the books. The CW template of surrounding the protagonist with a mixed supporting cast is aptly applied here by having a crew that is trying to revive Barry from his coma and we’re introduced to everyone’s favorite nerd Cisco, Caitlin & Harrison Wells dubbed as one of the visionaries of the century along with Joe, Barry’s adoptive father and Iris, his sister/crush (creepy, I know). The pilot had a very Smallville’ish feel to it and when I say Smallville I mean the good portions of that show and not the powderpuff girls show which it turned into. In the final moments of the pilot though you get to realize what the show can be capable of.
I was pretty doubtful even after watching the pilot though. CW has a very cruel bait and switch track record which is what kept me hooked but unsatisfied from Smallville. I had a feeling that the discovery of his own powers with a possible glimpse of Reverse Flash would be Season 1 and man was I wrong. If memory serves me right because i just binged the show, even the first four episodes which are primarily CW filler material keep you glued just because of Harrison Wells(Tom Cavanagh). Grant Gustin’s Allen is the moral anchor of the story while Cavanagh’s Wells is the propeller.
In typical CW fashion we’re always introduced to a rogue of the week but here that actually progresses the story pretty darn well. The prison break duo of Wentworth Miller & Dominic Purcell make a comeback playing Captain Cold & Heatwave. They ham it up way too much but that does play to the show’s strengths. Here is a show that shows that comic book pop-culture references when done right and with the right balance even on a network like CW can result in greatness. Cold’s one-liners do make you cringe but when followed by action set-pieces like when the Flash saves an entire train full of people in super speed more than makes up for it. I can definitely do without Heatwave though I think he is in there just for PrisonBreak nostalgia.
As the episodes progress we get to see how deep the rabbit hole actually goes when it comes to Harrison Wells. It’s not long when Barry starts to see through the facade. Harrison Wells as it turns out is the Reverse-Flash or RF, one of Allen’s most formidable villains. The origin of RF is the most intriguing plot point this season and something that might be quite lacking from the next one. Cavanagh brings such a dramatic flair to the character which would be missed guessing from the Finale, but then again this is DC Comics we’re talking about where their are infinite Earths with Infinite crisis. Another landmark for the series is how they handled the budget. They managed to portray Flash, The Reverse Flash & Grodd on a CW TV budget and gave us a show that is clearly the best superhero show on television(Daredevil fans calm your horses)
The Flash is a must see for anyone who is interested in watching a good sci-fi show. I’ll rate it a solid 8/10.