Damian Magee

Damian Magee is a West Australian writer and reviewer and a member of the Sherlock Holmes Society. He’s a life long fan of crime, sci-fi, anime, literature, history, biography, TV & films who has been writing reviews, non-fiction, & presenting seminars on these genres for the past 30 years. 

man-from-uncleThe Man from U.N.C.L.E.  is another movie adaptation of a famous television series from the Sixties.  I’m old enough to remember watching this series when it was first screened in Australia (1966-1969) on our black & white Pye TV set in the lounge room.  I was a huge fan of the series and collected all the TV Annuals, comics, books and toys.  I have the “UNCLE” model car in my collection now.

Like many fans I was worried when Hollywood announced a big screen version of “UNCLE”.  Will the writers capture the tone? Will the casting work? Will the production accurately reflect the show and the settings?  Modern remakes such as “Maverick “, “Get Smart” and “Starsky & Hutch” were spot on, but others, such as “Wild Wild West” and “The Avengers” (John Steed & Mrs Emma Peel),  were just awful.

The U.N.C.L.E. movie has had a few stops and starts.  I first heard about a production in 1998 that was stopped by the copyright holder when he discovered the director was only using the name, and writing something completely different.  Since then, several directors have been attached to the project, such as Steven Soderbergh, and actors like George Clooney, Tom Cruise, and others.  Warner Bros finally engaged Guy Ritchie who reinvented Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law to huge acclaim.

So has Guy Ritchie made a successful adaptation on U.N.C.L.E.? The answer is definitively, yes!  The movie has the heart and soul of the TV series.  It is set in the right time period (early 1960s), the music is wonderful, the sets and cars are correct to the period, and the clothes are just gorgeous. Apparently a lot of authentic vintage clothing was used.

The movie has Napoleon Solo, (Henry Cavill), and Illya Kuryakin, (Armie Hammer), meeting for the first time.  Napoleon is with the CIA and Illya the KGB, but both agencies “co-operate” to find a missing German Atomic scientist, and the bomb he is arming, by using his daughter, Gaby Teller, (Alicia Vikander) to help them.

Napoleon & illya start on opposite sides and only grudgingly work together while continuing to try and outdo each other.  The action starts in East Germany, moves to West Germany and on to Italy.  A mysterious organization is threatening the world.  The only clues are in Italy with a shipping company run by Alexander Vincinguerra, (Luca Calvani), and his wife Victoria, (Elizabeth Debicki). Solo is undercover as an antiquities dealer, Kuryakin as a Russian architect with Teller as his fiancée. They try to get close to her uncle who works for Vincinguerra.  Both Solo and Kuryakin encounter Alexander Waverly (Hugh Grant) of MI6 who reveals more of the assignment.

Cavill and Hammer work really well as a team; the chemistry in their journey from enemies to grudging allies and possible friends crackles off the screen.  Cavill oozes charm as Solo, just as Robert Vaughn did. His character has a different history to the TV show, but it works very well for the plot of the movie.  Hammer’s Kuryakin is just a cool as David McCallum, but ‘larger than life’ and with childhood memories from Soviet Russia that can trigger violent episodes.

Alicia Vikander is convincing and dynamic as Gaby (and gets to showcase some of the best clothes in the movie). We first meet her in East Berlin where she works as a mechanic.  She then drives the car that she and Solo use to escape from East Berlin.  The driving in the movie matches the brilliance of the original “Italian Job”.  Elizabeth Debicki’s sinister Victoria Vincinguerra is as charming as a deadly Redback Spider as she monitors movements of the agents and leads them into a trap (Elizabeth is an Aussie actor).

With the opening scene set in East Berlin, I felt I was watching a film based on the early works of John Le Carre: the dark and sinister spy world. CIA versus KGB with MI6 somewhere in the background, and everyone playing for keeps.  The composer Daniel Pemberto does an excellent job on the original score, using lots of brass and flutes to sound authentically sixties.  Songs and music from the 1960s were also used for excellent effect, from the brilliant Nina Simone’s version of “Taking Care of Business”, Roberta Flack’s “Compared to What”, “Bunter Drachen” by Suzanne Doucet, “Il Mio Regno” by Luigi Tenco and themes from two Spaghetti Westerns: “Few Dollars More” and “A Man, a Horse, and a Gun.”

“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is an action packed fun film: a film that takes you back to the glamour and style of the 1960s, the Cold War, the Jet Set, fashion centred Europe & the grim spectre of the Atom bomb, through the music, clothes, and production style.  I, for one, will be adding the music soundtrack and the blu-ray to my collection. (Additional note: the soundtrack has not been released in Australia according to JB HiFi, so will have to source that overseas).

 

Alayna Cole

Alayna Cole is an MCA (Creative Writing) candidate who loves to write stories when she’s not studying.

far-from-the-madding-crowd-film-2015-habitually-chic-001I was recently presented with the opportunity to watch a preview of Far from the Madding Crowd (Australia is slow, I’m sorry) and, when promised a period piece with feminist themes, I couldn’t refuse. I must preface this review by saying that it’s uncommon for me to watch a movie based on a book without first reading that book, but I am yet to read this famous Tom Hardy novel—I blame good intentions and a lack of time.

Time is my primary issue with Far from the Madding Crowd; the movie simply doesn’t use it well or, perhaps, doesn’t use enough. The entire film feels like an abridged version of a longer, more intricate story, jumping between key and well-known plot points without giving enough attention to character development. As such, the audience is unable to form a bond with Bathsheba Everdene and her three suitors—Gabriel Oak the shepherd, William Boldwood the mature bachelor, and Frank Troy the sergeant—or become invested in the relationships that form between them. There are several moments in the movie where I knew a period of time had elapsed between scenes, but it was difficult to determine whether it had been days, or weeks, or even months. This stripped away the significance of each event and caused the story to lack suspense.

The rushed narrative wasn’t the only part of this movie that fell short for me. Early reviews suggested Far from the Madding Crowd was a feminist flick about an empowered female protagonist, but I was disappointed. The opening voiceover by Bathsheba—played by Carey Mulligan—and her refusal to ride side-saddle were a promising start, highlighting her wildness and independence in a time where women were expected to be subservient; however, when she turned down the first of several proposals by suggesting that, if she were to marry, it would be to someone who could tame her, I was bothered.

far from the maddingThis is the part of my review that will paint me as a raging feminist, but let me be clear: I’m not against romantic movies where a woman’s sole intent is to marry a man, particularly when those movies are set in a time when that was the societal norm. My disappointment doesn’t stem from Bathsheba’s apparently constant thoughts about men and marriage—contributed to by the movie condensing the events of the source material so that she doesn’t have time to think about other topics—but the fact that Bathsheba denies her interest in such things, claiming independence and female empowerment while failing to enact it.

On the surface, Bathsheba suggests that she could never belong in a world where women are deemed inferior to or different from men, but her actions conflict with this belief. Throughout the film she constantly requires reassurance and opinions from the predominantly male array of characters, particularly Gabriel. She frequently tells him that she needs him, not only for his farming expertise, but also for his ‘objective’ views about her personal decisions.

The scene where Gabriel leaves the Everdene Farm at Bathsheba’s insistence, only to find that she needs him to return to save their flock, has been altered for the movie in a way that further strips Bathsheba of the independence and empowerment she is supposed to exude. When Bathsheba sends another worker to ask for Gabriel to return, he insists that she ask herself; in the movie Bathsheba rides to see him and essentially begs for him to come back to the farm, while my research shows that in the book she simply writes him a letter. This change makes Bathsheba seem more desperate and less distant, sacrificing the character’s independence for the sake of the scene’s visual appeal.

Visuals are the one thing Far from the Madding Crowd does exceedingly well; it is a beautiful film. In the opening scene, the way shadow and light are used to frame Bathsheba is phenomenal. The costume choices carefully tread the line between period and modern, placing the story in a space connected to the source material while still relatable for a contemporary audience. Shots of picturesque landscapes are reminiscent of travel brochures, while images of manor interiors look as though they are taken directly from home décor magazines.

But, while Far from the Madding Crowd makes me want to pack my bags for England, sadly the scenery is not enough for me to forgive the movie’s shortcomings. The film felt rushed and, as a result, failed to construct complex characters or meaningful relationships. I look forward to reading the novel, as I’m certain its epic length will allow for the narrative depth and pacing that this film failed to achieve.

Alayna Cole

Alayna Cole is an MCA (Creative Writing) candidate who loves to write stories when she’s not studying.

Mad Max 2It’s hard to believe a movie that is essentially a two hour car chase could be so complex, but Mad Max: Fury Road is riddled with interesting storytelling choices that will change the way I view action movies from this point onwards.

For anybody who spends as much time online as I do, it was impossible to avoid seeing the controversy surrounding the release of Fury Road. One article described the movie as ‘Trojan horse feminism’, hiding messages empowering women behind cars, guns, and explosions to sneak them into cinemas. But I don’t think George Miller and the stellar cast of Fury Road are trying to be secretive at all.

Now might be a good time to remind the internet about the definition of feminism: the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of equality. Fury Road isn’t trying to kick men out of action movies, but rather to show that women are just as capable of surviving the apocalypse, car chases, gun fights, dust storms, hand-to-hand combat, and mortal wounds as men are. A woman can be more than the ‘prize’ waiting for the action hero at the end of the movie; a woman can be the action hero.

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Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

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