Tuesday 29 September 2015

2015 - The Year of Thespianage No.3 - The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

This year's other reboot of a TV spy show from the '60s is Guy Ritchie's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. By 1965, Bondmania had secured its place in Pop Culture, thanks to the phenomenal success of Goldfinger in 1964 and the even bigger box-office hit Thunderball the following year, and we began to see a slew of espionage films and tv shows. Some of them were serious and solemn, like the bleak adaptation of John Le Carre's novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and Len Deighton's The Ipcress File, starring Michael Caine. 

However, most of this new wave of spy thrillers were more frivolous and tongue-in-cheek. There was the brief series of Matt Helm films starring Dean Martin, much to the horror of fans of Donald Hamilton's series of books which were written in a more serious vein. Gotta read a few one day. The Matt Helm movies played up on Martin's perpetually tipsy playboy image and were a far cry from the character of the books. 
The other notable Bond parodies were the two Derek Flint films (Our Man Flint-1966, and In Like Flint-1967) which presented us with a virtual super-spy who spoke 45 languages, was proficient in numerous martial arts, and would 'sleep' by lying across two chairs and then taking a poison pill which would stop his heart. Next morning, his wristwatch would swivel out a tiny T-shaped mechanism which would massage the pulse on his wrist (he wears his watch on the inside of his wrist) and bring him back to life. These Flint films were clearly an attempt to out-do Bond, but they presented us with a character who was just too preposterous, despite the fact that he was played by James Coburn.

Television was quick to get on board the spy wagon. There was the Robert Culp/Bill Cosby series I Spy, as well as a childhood favourite of mine, Get Smart. Although, these two shows were fairly light-hearted, especially the adventures of the bumbling CONTROL agent Maxwell Smart. 
Aiming for something a little more Bond-like, aside from the series Mission:Impossible, there was also another spy show airing at the time that dealt with two operatives from rival agencies who teamed up to work for an agency called U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement). Admittedly, I haven't seen many episodes of the original series. I think it used to screen in the afternoons in the 1970s at 3:00pm. I can recall getting home from school and catching the last ten or fifteen minutes of a few. 

Anyway, I went along to see this new film version, not really knowing what to expect. I wasn't sure if they were aiming for something like a Bond film or whether it was going to be like an Austin Powers movie. Thankfully, it was nothing like an Austin Powers movie. 
It's been over a month since I saw this film and much has been going on in my life since. I'm sure the details will be sketchy here. Also, I would need a second and/or third viewing to really make up my mind. However, I did like this film. 
Set in 1963, it concerns an American CIA agent named Napoleon Solo who helps a scientist's daughter escape from East Berlin. A Russian KGB agent named Illya Kuryakin is unsuccessful in stopping Solo from completing this mission. Solo is briefed by his superiors about the scientist, who has been kidnapped and is being forced to work on a nuclear device for a wealthy shipping magnate. Solo is then informed that he will be working in a CIA/KGB joint operation with Kuryakin. 
So, the first half of this film sees these two butting heads with each other in a beautifully rendered world of 1960s jetsetting, Italian pop songs, sharp suits and (now) classic cars. 

I loved the overall mood of this film and Director Ritchie has always been adept at making films about the relationship between men, whether it's an ensemble piece like Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000) and RocknRolla (2008), or something like the two Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey jr. and Jude Law. In U.N.C.L.E., he gives his two leads enough scenes where they can spar against each other. Henry Cavill is great as Napoleon Solo. I had read another review...

...where it was stated that Cavill's performance contained echoes of Robert Vaughn's original performance from the tv series and full credit to Cavill for adding this little touch to his take on the character. 
Armie Hammer does great as Soviet agent Kuryakin, even though he does a standard Russian 'eggsent'. Hammer plays the part with a straight-faced determination, creating a character who shows little emotion, but manages to convey feelings from time to time when his veneer shows a few cracks. 

The cinematography by John Mathieson is sleek, creating a heightened world full of colour, light and shadow. 
One thing I did notice was the lack of any huge action set-pieces. Whereas the recent Tom Cruise   Mission:Impossible installment contained some big action scenes, this film opts for smaller scenes containing some tense moments, and it is in some ways more about the relationship between these two operatives.
The film had a purported production budget of 75 million and, to date, it has grossed only 100 million in world-wide box-office earnings. Sadly, this would mean that a sequel is unlikely, which is a shame since I think this film deserved a wider audience and it would be interesting to see where the characters would go in a follow-up film. 
Overall, I liked this film. It isn't a Bond movie, it isn't a Mission:Impossible, but it does show that there is room for something slightly different in a modern spy movie. Lord knows, I'd rather see another U.N.C.L.E. movie rather than a fourth Taken. 
At any rate, who knows? Maybe Guy Ritchie will have enough clout to get a sequel in the works. Although, I think he'll be working on the next Sherlock Holmes film before he does anything else. 
If you missed The Man From U.N.C.L.E at the cinemas, then try to catch it on DVD (do people still rent DVDs?) or whatever format is current for watching films. 
It is definitely a sharp film in many ways. 

Thanks for reading!

And thanks once again to wikipedia for helping me fill in the blanks regarding story elements, production dates, etc.

Friday 25 September 2015

Friday 25/9/2015 - This House Is a Mess, The Cat's Going Screwy & This Week's Wristwatch.

- Friday 7:49pm AEST - 

Boxes as far as the eye can see. Every room has them. I forget what's even in half of them. Meanwhile, I don't know where half of my clothing is. Probably still packed away in some garment bag. 
I plan to make some bookshelves. Custom built to my own specifications to accommodate as many books as possible and go as high as I can make them without them toppling down. I'll have to bolt them into the wall to prevent that happening. The real learning curve for me will be using a router to cut dado grooves into the shelves in an effort to make them stronger than just using screws. I'm hoping to make the shelves as narrow as I can so that they don't bite into the room too much. I'll be using dressed pine that's 184mm wide, 19mm thick and 2400mm long. These shelves will be about seven feet tall, which is why they'll have to be bolted to the wall. 
And the best part? I've never used a router in my life. The carpenter's dictum; "Measure twice, cut once", will become a mantra for me. 

               I put on the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean because I hadn't worn it in quite a while and also, I somehow lost track of the days last week. Last Thursday I couldn't, for the life of me, remember what had happened the day before.That has never happened to me before. So, for starters, I thought I'd wear a watch that had a date on it. Here it is with one of my old 1980s printings of a Robert Ludlum thriller. This may have been the first of his books that I ever read. I like Ludlum's books, but man, he loved using italics on almost every page!

               The plumber arrived at around 7:30am. These guys don't mess around. We had the shower-head replaced because we didn't like the 'fairy sprinkle' that the original shower head emitted. Later, I started putting the DVDs out onto their shelves. I think I'm going to need more shelves. Although, I do intend to sift through the collection and weed out some movies that are either obscure enough not to be missed and/or watched ever again (Drillbit Taylor) or too damn average to bother watching to begin with (one of those Ashley Judd 'woman-in-jepoardy' movies that she seemed to churn out in abundance back in the '90s). I was still wearing the Planet Ocean.

          One last trip out to the old house to clear out any remaining items of ours. The garage still had tools and other sundry items that we had to take. I hired a small van for the heavy stuff. As it turned out, I will have to go back one more time to give the lawns one final mow.
Meanwhile, our cat has been cooped up indoors since the fifteenth and it's beginning to get on her tail. When relocating a cat, you're meant to keep them indoors for at least two weeks. That's gonna drive us all crazy! Ah well, I suppose Wednesday will get here when it gets here. Then we can let her out and she can roam around. 

Anyway, I'm absolutely beat. I had a can of Red Bull this afternoon (second one I've ever had in my life) and I don't think it kicked in. Probably better that way. Still had the Planet Ocean on my wrist.

Man, I'm tired. Anyway, thanks for reading and have a good weekend!

Friday 18 September 2015

Friday 18/9/15 - This Week's Been a Blur, But I Think I Wore Wristwatches.

I'm going to be brief here because I'm super-tired and whatever energy I have left needs to be used for my daughter's birthday. She's thirteen today! One phase of her life ends and another begins.

Last weekend, Monday to Thursday
                                                          Why am I so tired? We moved house earlier this week. My God, I don't know how people do this on a semi-regular basis. I've read of couples who move houses every five years or so. What a chore! There's stuff everywhere. Books are still in boxes and this place has no bookshelves. Our own shelves are quite wide and frankly, I'm sick of them. So my next plan will involve some timber (dressed pine), a router and my jigsaw. I'm gonna make me some bookshelves.

Now that we've moved in, we've noticed that the plumbing will require some attention here and there. Same goes for the electricity or rather, the power points. This place will need a few more of them. And then there's the phone and internet dilemma! But I'll say more about all that in my next post when I'm more alert.
Anyway, I wore the Sinn 103 St Sa chronograph for most of the week. Here's a lousy photo;

             Switched to the Rolex Submariner 5513 briefly (old photo);


Later in the day, I put on the circa 1962 Omega Seamaster Automatic. And a shirt that I haven't worn since 2005. Or was it 2006?;

We went out to a pizza place to celebrate our girl's birthday. She was wearing her 32mm vintage Seiko hand-wound, on a blue and red NATO strap;

She's been drawing these designs on the back of her hand in recent weeks. Must be a teen thing. Better not be a lead-up to tattoos.

Anyway, it's now 9:46pm and I'm feeling sleepy. We'll be going to the old house on Sunday to clean it to within an inch of its life. 
Meanwhile, I'm keeping a close eye on the third most important lady in my life. She's been a little scatty since we moved in on Tuesday. I've read that I should keep her indoors for at least two weeks. She's gonna drive us all nuts! But, as long as she's calm...

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend, all.

Thursday 10 September 2015

Friday 11/9/2015 - The Bondwagon Starts Rolling, Between Two Houses & This Week's Wristwatches.

- Friday, 3:33pm AEST -

Everywhere I look, there is stuff all over the place. We have three more days left at this address before the removal van arrives, hopefully with two guys ready to do some heavy lifting, to move us to our new address. The internet/phone guy is booked to arrive on the same day to hook up comms. Next week will be busy indeed. 

              Could not log on to the internet.  A quick call to the phone company (via my mobile) and I was informed that our phone and internet had been disconnected due to the appointment next week to have phone and 'net connected at our new address. I reminded them that we are still living at our old address until next week. They apologised and got our internet back up and running pretty quickly. The landline would take another 24 hours to reconnect. 

I was still wearing the Omega Seamaster 300 from the weekend.

As I mentioned last week, our new modem hook-up will require us to leave it switched on 24/7 in order to keep the landline switched on. This friggin' Digital Age, man! Keeping us ever-more reliant on all this wireless crap. Yes, I know. Here I am, reaching out to people around the world via the web through my little ol' blog that, back in the old days of actual publishing, wouldn't stand a chance of being produced or read outside of my own home. I get it. I really do. I just don't like being forced to adapt to all of this new tech. Also, as I said last week, I'm not crazy about RF frequencies filtering throughout the house all the time. And now, I'm also beginning to wonder if any of my old rotary dial telephones will work on this exchange. There's a question for the technician when he arrives. 

                   I started thinking about this house that we've lived in for the last fifteen years. I remember what the real estate agent said to us after we bought the place; "When you have kids, they'll be able to play in the park right across the road here. This fence will come down, the tip (junk-yard) will be moved much further along, and you'll have access to the park with its lake and marshlands."

The fence is still there. The tip has pretty much been shut down and the land where it stood has been laid with grass. Yes, it's all very green and rural-looking, but the fence is still up and there's no hint of a park, lake or marshland to be seen. Granted, we have gone to the original park that was meant to extend virtually to our front door. It's a ten minute walk from our house. However, the real estate guy's prediction hasn't come true yet. It might for the next owners of this house. Might. 
Still, I will miss the view, but I won't miss the dirt track out the front, or the hoons who insist on recreating scenes from The Fast And The Furious by tearing down this dirt road and slamming on the brakes at the corner while I stand on the front porch as a thick curtain of dust heads towards me. I won't miss the pot-holes on this dirt road that we need to drive on every day, thinking that the street is in a warzone that has been shelled, and I won't miss the young punks who aimlessly walk by, smoking cheap cigarettes and carrying a 2 litre bottle of Coca-Cola as they head down towards the bush track nearby on their way to get drunk (it can't just be Coke in that bottle) or smoke dope. They'll probably get their driver's licences in the next year or two, to become the next generation of reckless jerks on the dirt track out front. 

Nope, we've well and truly done our time here. We need a change of scenery, despite how nice it can look on a sunny day here. 

I will, however, miss the venetian blinds. They've been good for my photography over the years. Yes, I suppose I could install some at the new house, but that kind of expense is not a priority. Not the end of the world. I can take a sheet of cardboard and cut some long, deep slits in it and position it out-of-frame to mimic the effect of venetian blinds. That might work. I guess I'll find out soon enough.

Later in the day, I thought I'd give the dive watch a break, so out came the 36mm Omega Seamaster AquaTerra. 

               A Bond fan I met on the internet sent me a Kindle e-Book copy of the new Bond novel Trigger Mortis, by Anthony Horowitz. I have a signed hardback edition on the way from a bookseller in London, but I don't think it will arrive until mid-October, so I'm thrilled to have a digital copy to begin reading in the meantime. 
I'm only about a dozen pages in, so I won't say much more about it. I recall writing positively about the last OO7 adventure, Solo, by William Boyd, and I can remember feeling very let down by the time I got to the end of that book. It didn't capture the essence or feel of a Bond story. Let's face it, it would be nigh impossible to replicate Ian Fleming. Not because his plotting was brilliant, but because he wrote in a different time and with a different mind-set. A writer has to walk a very fine line in order to stick to Bond conventions without falling into pastiche.
So, I'll wait until I've finished the book and let it settle before I make any comment on it. Still, with Anthony Horowitz at the helm, I'd like to think that OO7 is in good hands this time around. 
Of course, in the lead-up to the release of SPECTRE, we got a few more poster artworks this week as the Bondwagon rolls on;


           It was time to hit the gym. I haven't been for over two months. I grabbed the Everlast workout gloves (might as well look the part) and the circa 1993 modified Seiko 7002. Got to the gym, did a light, half-hour workout on the machines, and then got out of there. Once home, I mixed up some Sustagen in a glass of milk, got a handful of almonds and a tub of yellow-box honey yoghurt and had a second breakfast. 

And then, because I haven't worn a vintage piece in so long, I fished out the circa 1969 Omega Seamaster Chronometer;

Gee, my skin looks dry! I'd better moisturise. I'll leave you with one more poster for the new Bond flick, this one I think is of Bond in disguise during the Day of The Dead Festival in Mexico;

Thanks for reading, have a great weekend!

Thursday 3 September 2015

Friday 4/9/2015 - New Carpet, New SPECTRE Poster & This Week's Wristwatch.

Last weekend saw me put the mesh bracelet onto the WatchCo Omega Seamaster 300. It makes for a pretty comfortable fit (old photo);

This week has been a bit of a blur as we transition out of our old house and into the new one. Lots to be done. It should take us a few weeks.

                     The carpet guy didn't finish laying the carpet before the light faded yesterday, so he'd be coming back today. I would meet him at the house. Since I didn't know how long he'd take, I decided to travel light. I figured I might get some of this blog post written while he worked. So this is what I brought with me;

I needn't have bothered. The carpet guy was  done in about 20 minutes.

               Called the phone company to organise installation of internet at the new address. That was all straightforward enough until I was informed that the modem at our new address would need to stay switched on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if we wanted our landline to work. I wasn't exactly rapt about that. 
       You see, kids, we don't leave our mobile phones on all day long at my house. I switch mine off at around nine or ten pm each night. Same with the modem. If somebody absolutely, positively has to get in touch with me, then chances are extremely high that I will have given them my landline number, so that they can call me at home. Which is why I'm not thrilled about the idea of leaving the modem switched on all the time. It's the RF issue mainly. I do not care what anybody says. I don't think it can be good for your health (long term) to be exposed to Radio Frequencies all the time.

          Geez, not much happens all week and then everything happens today. They've unveiled the latest poster for SPECTRE;

I suppose I don't mind it, and I'm sure there'll be another poster or two released before this film is out. I just miss the old days of Bond posters. Back in the early 1980s, I used to head over to the theatrical distributor's Head Office in the city to get Bond movie posters. Everything was fine and dandy until, according to the story I heard, a staff member got transferred interstate to the main Head Office and went over to the Dispatch Department to snag some movie posters for himself.  All posters and 35mm prints of films for theatrical distribution were stored in the Dispatch Department. He was told that he couldn't have any posters. He then explained that "we do it all the time in the Melbourne office."
And that, as they say, was the end of that. No more posters to be given out to anybody.
Thanks, jerk!

While I don't mind the photography in modern film posters, I miss the old days when actual artwork was done. My all-time favourite Bond poster is probably the UK quad version of From Russia, With Love;

The last Bond poster to feature drawn artwork was 1987's The Living Daylights;

After that, they switched to photographic art. The teaser poster for Goldeneye (1995) was pretty good. It was a reminder that, whatever action heroes have come along (your Die Hards, Lethal Weapons, and everything done by Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren and Steven Seagal), Bond would always be Bond;

And, in case people still needed their memories jogged;

Regardless of the poster art, I'm hoping that SPECTRE is a great Bond film. It's about eight weeks away from theatrical release here in Australia. Can't wait.

They switched on the electricity at the new house. I just got back from vacuuming the new carpet. My wife has gone to pick the kids up from school and then they're going out to get me a Father's Day gift for this Sunday. This was released three days ago, so it doesn't take a genius to figure out what I'm getting;

I played my first Metal Gear Solid console game on the original Sony Playstation back in 1999. I've played the remaining games leading up to this one in the years since. I've often said that this game series has given me a greater emotional rush than many films that I have seen in the last fifteen years.
Yes, yes, they are just video games, but the detail in the graphics is staggering. The voice acting is top-notch. The music adds to the tension of the game and, after playing as the game's central character, Solid Snake (it's complicated. You play the first two games as him, the third game as his father, and the fourth game as the original character again) for so long, you find yourself caring about what happens to him.
The storylines are extremely dense (i.e.- convoluted) and touch on everything from nuclear arms proliferation, nanomachine technology, gene therapy, The Cold War, child soldiers, and there's even a hint of incest in one of the games.
There's a lot to be done before I actually sit down to have a shot at this game. I'm still playing through some of the missions in Metal Gear Solid- Ground Zeroes, which was a series of five very short games that many experienced players said they felt gipped after they'd finished them. Some gamers said they'd played all five missions within a few hours. It was, however, meant to be a prequel for fans of this series, since The Phantom Pain was delayed so many times in the last two years.
Prequel or not, Ground Zeroes has been great, and if it's a taster of what to expect in The Phantom Pain, I think I'll definitely get my family's money's worth out of it.

Anyway, nothing else to report. Boxes are slowly being packed up for the big move in the next couple of weeks. We'll need to organise two guys and a truck for the heavy stuff. My wife and I don't plan on wrecking our backs.

Another week done. I was still wearing the Omega Seamaster 300;

Thanks for reading, all, and have a great weekend!