Friday Roundup: Man From U.N.C.L.E., Heather Stewart, Morrissey’s novel, and Sparks
Fall is here!
York is still on the warm side, but the weather seems
to be leaning strongly in a general downward direction, and that’s surely a good
thing. I’m hiding out in Queens today to avoid
Pope-related crowds and confusion, I’m heading upstate tomorrow for a
last-minute micro-short vacation, and all is more or less well.
This is the best worst thing ever. I ordered a couple of Man From U.N.C.L.E. paperback novels from an eBay vendor, and he threw in an amazing bonus: a 250-page fully-illustrated hardcover children’s book: “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Calcutta Affair” by George S. Elrick. The illustrator is uncredited, which is a crying shame; there’s a full-color illustration on every page (so, roughly 125 illustrations), and they’re marvelous. The plot, which follows Napoleon and Illya as they battle the evil forces of T.H.R.U.S.H. in
strangely brutal for a kid’s book; Napoleon and Illya, so glib and mild-natured
on the show, come across as, oh, a wee bit psychotic.
For instance, here’s Napoleon shooting a poor mouse in his hotel room:
Here’s Illya torturing a T.H.R.U.S.H. agent:
The hell, guys? Really, all the drawings are hilarious and awesome. I’d proudly wear a t-shirt emblazoned with any of these (and, indeed, would promptly start up a Café Press shop featuring shirts with these designs, were it not for the issue of grievous copyright infringement):
Speaking of U.N.C.L.E…. I finally saw Guy Ritchie’s big-screen Man From U.N.C.L.E. film last weekend. I knew going in that I’d have to be very, very careful about managing my expectations: I have a knee-jerk tendency to view reboots and remakes with deep suspicion (my skin gets hot and prickly at any mention of the oft-proposed live-action American remake of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, aka The Most Awesome Movie Ever Made, which is something that just fills my soul with weary dread), and, in the case of U.N.C.L.E., I feel protective of the (wonderful) source material. So at the start of the movie, my strategy was to view it as a completely separate entity from the TV show and regard it entirely on its own merits.
I abandoned this strategy about ten minutes in, when it became apparent that, instead of trying to create a completely separate entity from the TV show, Guy Ritchie was flat-out hardcore trolling fans of the TV show. Oh, man. Wow. Can we talk about Illya? Quirky, strange, cool Illya Kuryakin, as played by David McCallum. Iconic and beloved Illya, who drove teen viewers mad with lust in the sixties. Illya, possessor of the following core character traits:
a) He’s always cool and composed, bordering on icy cold.
b) He’s physically small, with a petite build (his enemies call him “scrawny”).
c) He’s mysterious—apart from knowing he’s a Soviet national with degrees from
and the Sorbonne, we’re given no specific details about his past.
So for the movie, Ritchie gave us a version of Illya with these core traits:
a) He’s brooding and angry, prone to bursts of uncontrolled psychotic rage.
b) He’s a behemoth, capable of feats of amazing physical strength—for instance, he can yank the whole back bumper off of a moving car.
c) He’s got a tragic backstory, which is explained in detail to the audience in the first act of the film.
Wait, what? That’s… that’s the diametric opposite of Illya. This is keenly, diabolically designed to get under the skins of fans of the original series. This is world-class trolling, Ritchie. World-class. I reluctantly doff my hat to you.
I like Armie Hammer. He’s a good actor, and he gets big points for being the only cast member who admits to having watched episodes of the series for research. I can only assume, though, that he watched episodes and compared them to the film script while blinking rapidly in confusion, because series-Illya and movie-Illya are two very, very disparate creatures, and never the twain shall meet. I’m going to point you again to Sarah Kurchak’s insightful AV Club piece on this very topic. From Kurchak’s essay:
“The script, written by Ritchie and Lionel Wigram, strips Kuryakin of almost everything that made him so appealing originally. His fondness for strong-willed women remains, but the mystery is replaced with too much backstory and his brains are replaced with superhuman brawn. He’s no longer an alternative to Solo; he’s Napoleon with a Russian accent and blond (and far too stylized) hair, 2015’s answer to everything that left the character’s original fans uninspired and unsatisfied.”
(Couldn’t they at least get the hair right? I thought to myself sadly in the movie theater. Just give him bangs. That’s all I’m asking for.)
Anyway. For the record, I liked Hugh Grant’s take on Mr. Waverly quite a bit; it was a fresh and very different interpretation of the character (for starters, Leo G. Carroll was a septuagenarian when he first played Waverly, whereas Grant is a well-preserved and strangely boyish fifty-five), but it made sense. I don’t have much of an opinion on Henry Cavill’s Napoleon, much as I don’t have much of an opinion on Cavill’s Superman, other than to think both roles could’ve benefitted from the lighter and more charismatic touch of Cavill’s near-doppelganger Matt Bomer instead.
My friend Heather Stewart—actor, singer, songwriter, producer, amazing human—will have her original song “If I Can’t Take You With Me” featured on NCIS (hey, speaking of David McCallum…) on Tuesday, September 29th. 8:00 PM, CBS. I’ve known Heather since our days together working in the salt mines of E!’s Talk Soup in the late 1990s (actually, that was a very cool, laid-back workplace, and hardly ever analogous to a salt mine at all); smart, kind and funny, she’s a sheer delight to know.
Morrissey wrote a novel, and holy hell, it sounds awful. This Slate article analyzes a single (terrible) sentence in the book; I’d reprint the sentence here, because it is joyously, breathtakingly bad, but Slate’s Jessica Winter deserves the clicks for her coverage of this.
Morrissey makes me think of
Sparks, the brilliant duo behind such tunes
as “Lighten Up Morrissey”, so I’m
going to leave you with their 1974 single “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both
Enjoy the fall. See you next week.