The Man From U.N.C.L.E. vs The Men From N.W.A.
I saw two movies again over the past week, and didn’t have much time to write reviews for both of them, so I’m going to put them both into one handy FAQ review to help you decide what to potentially pay to see. Those two movies are Straight Outta Compton, which chronicles the rise of a hardcore rap group in the 80s and 90s, and then The Man From U.N.C.L.E, which might be the whitest movie I’ve seen this year.
First of all, what’s with all these acronyms?!?! They’re driving me N.U.T.S.!
For the life of me, I have no idea what the U.N.C.L.E. stands for. I get the uncle reference from the movie, because there was a literal uncle in it (like, a dad’s brother), but I never heard the explanation as to what the abbreviation stood for at the end. Especially considering that they are declared U.N.C.L.E as literally the last line of the entire movie. Fine, I’ll look it up. It’s “United Network Command for Law and Enforcement”. I’m pretty sure I never heard those words uttered in the actual movie.
N.W.A., of course, stands for Nice Wholesome Artists.
Can you describe the plots of these movies with a series of buzz words for me? All these years of internet overuse have caused my attention span to be whittled down to a nub.
The Man from UNCLE (I’m not writing those periods anymore): SPIES. GUNS. SUPERMAN. ARMIE HAMMER. RUSSIA. SUNGLASSES. GUNS. SPEED. BOATS. EXPLOSION. DOUBLECROSS. SPIES. UNCLE.
Straight Outta Compton: DRUGS. COPS. DJS. RAP. LADY BUTTS. ICE CUBE. RECORD DEALS. GUNS. DOGS. LOUD MUSIC. BOOBIES. TUPAC. DISRESPECTING AUTHORITY. JERRY. GUNS. MORE LADY BUTTS. HIV.
So in UNCLE, they got a British guy to play the American, and American guy to play the Russian, and a Swedish girl to play a German?
Yeah, but they all commit to the accents really well. I’d probably let Henry Cavill read me furniture assembly instructions in that accent.
Does Straight Outta Compton have dumb accents?
No, not really. The dumbest thing they did was cast a guy who doesn’t really look or talk at all like Snoop Dogg. Oh wait, I remember now that I laughed pretty much any time the N.W.A. guys talked to their manager Jerry (Paul Giamatti), because they would *always* say his first name when talking to him, and *always* emphasize his name in the sentences. “You tell me, JERRY.” “What would you do about it, JERRY?” “Where’s my contract, JERRY?”. There was one scene towards the end, when I got really aware of the whole “JERRY” thing, and Eazy-E had about six lines in the scene, and he said JERRY’s name in four of them. I didn’t mind, because it was kinda funny. JERRY.
How weird is it seeing Ice Cube’s son playing Ice Cube?
It’s definitely weird. It’s like I was looking at Cube, but it… wasn’t him? Same eyes, mouth, and mannerisms, but it just wasn’t quite him. It was like looking at Joseph Gordon Levitt playing Bruce Willis in Looper.
What happened to Alicia Vikander’s body? I thought she was a robot?
No, that was just a character she was playing in Ex Machina. It was fiction.
Which movie has a scarier villain, the fictional spy movie with over-the-top action and stereotypical over-characterizations, or the true story about a music group?
While the Man From UNCLE’s lady villain was reasonably intimidating, nothing even comes close to comparing how scary Suge Knight is. Good lord, that guy knows how to intimidate. He’s scarier than most literary villains.
Were either of these movies boring?
Man From UNCLE got a little boring in the middle. Probably towards the end of the second act, when it was like 15 minutes of exposition before the big finale, I maaaaayyyyyyy have fallen asleep a little bit. But only for a few seconds at a time, I don’t think I missed an entire scene or anything. But still. The plot of the movie was slightly too complicated for its own good, but the action kept me very entertained.
Straight Outta Compton on the other hand was like two and a half hours long, and I don’t think I got bored at any point.
So, you’d probably cut out about 15 minutes of talking from UNCLE, would you cut anything out of Straight Outta Compton?
I mean, there were some things that seemed a *little* too unnecessary. Like the scene where Dr Dre meets his future wife. And then the other random scene with his wife. I assume if you have Dr Dre producing his own movie, he better include the scene where he meets his wife or he’ll probably end up in the dog house; even if that aspect of his life really didn’t factor into any other aspect of the plot of this movie in any way.
It was at least neat how both movies were aware of what they wanted to accomplish, right?
Yeah, UNCLE pretty much knew what kind of spy movie it wanted to be; sort of a fun alternative to a normally gloomy Bond genre (though, Kingsman did it better). And Straight Outta Compton was a pleasingly entertaining biopic movie, which actually had the power of *three* biopics! But if you want a funny meta moment in Compton, it doesn’t get much better than when Ice Cube’s son (playing his dad) is writing the screenplay for Friday, saying “This is really funny”, in a scene in a biopic movie directed by F. Gary Gray… who also directed Friday. Lots of (well deserved) back patting going on right there.
Which lavish party would you rather attend, UNCLE’s Italian race car soiree, or Eazy-E’s Wet and Wild pool party?
Even if the Italian party wasn’t run by a sociopathic supervillian, how can you not choose Eazy-E’s pool party? I mean, as an added bonus, Paul Giamatti is floating around in a windbreaker! Not 100% sure which party you’re more likely to get shot during, though. I kid, I kid.
Which song would you say you’ve listened to more, Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day”, or Eazy-E’s “Sippin’ on a 40”?
Hmmm, that’s a tough call. I think since “Sippin’ on a 40” was a common staple of my collegiate life, I’m going to go with that one. #mickeys
Alright, let’s wrap this up, people have Buzzfeed articles to read, what are your scores?
Man From UNCLE is probably the low end of a 7 out of 10, and Straight Outta Compton is a solid 8.5 outta 10.
Going to see U.N.C.L.E. Monday, so avoiding spoilers until then. I will say, Armie's doing a VERY good Robert Vaughn voice impression in the promos.
As a kid, I grew up on the TV show and still remember without googling what T.H.R.U.S.H stands for. At age seven I looked and dressed very much like (and wore my hair like) a young Ilia Kuryakin, and had the special U.N.C.L.E. toy gun and briefcase, etc.
(I also had a batarang, because well... batarangs are cool. And a Monster Magnet)
Folks may not know it but the network/production company hired Ian Fleming himself to design the characters, settings, plot ideas, etc. and this may be one of the reasons the TV show worked so well. That, plus it had a sense of humor and the gimmick that, any week, some normal, average American Citizen could be caught up in the intrigue of an "affair", and have to play along/work with these guys to stop the villains.
[Mark Suszko] " it had a sense of humor "
That's one reason I like the tone that the movie appears to take. The show was self-deprecating, and lived comfortably within its own ridiculousness. It didn't go as far as Adam West's Batman, certainly not Get Smart...but this is a delicate mix, and much easier to fail at than not.
I look at Tim Burton's Batman as almost the right mix, but it ultimately served Tim Burton than Batman or the audience. Still, better than the movies Wild Wild West as a complete disaster with I Spy not far behind it.
I found SoC to be distressing. I loves me some hip-hop, and own quite a bit of it. One of my favorite things about my birthday is that I share it with Chuck D. (The same year, no less.) Public Enemy is a real touchstone for me...but a lot of what he was talking about was directly in opposition to NWA.
Especially with Ice Cube and Dr. Dre having somewhat more mainstream solo careers -- although mostly only to the extent that the mainstream came to THEM -- it was easy for me to set aside the almost incomprehensible scale of their sexism and homophobia. The number of times and the ferocity with which they talk about raping their male foes and beating their women into sexual submission is perhaps without parallel in musical history. Seeing the recording of "No Vaseline" is a reminder of Ice Cube's force -- but also the force with which he threatened the rape of his imaginary male foes.
("No Vaseline" referring to the method by which he'll be raping his male antagonist.)
It was only the degree of sanitizing their history in this movie that forced into my memory how many MORE women Dre beat up than the movie portrays, how much MORE violent Suge Knight was -- and most of Suge was nonsense. Beating the women who loved him, beating a parking lot attendant, beating a doorman at a nightclub (who knocked him unconscious), killing a guy with a car, etc. He's not a gangster. He's a sociopathic idiot. B
ut still nothing compared to the the havoc that NWA threatened in a fantasized, hyperbolized, adrenalized manner.
What I found most distressing in the retelling is the extent to which it perpetuates the myth that NWA were purveyors of social truth, reflecting the hard reality of life in Compton. False. They were self-mythologizers of their own brutality.
Yeah, they sampled exactly the most compelling beats from George Clinton, and Ice Cube was almost supernaturally charismatic, but so uneasy in the shadow of the arguably more compelling Easy E's shadow that Easy became one of the people that Cube threatened to rape with a broomstick at exactly the time that white police had killed a black victim this way in New York -- at best ironic in light of F*** the Police, but actually an explicit identification with the violently homophobic and frankly racist murder-by-rape that he ostensibly decried.
Among the reasons he declared war on the police was of course, a simple acknowledgement of the extent to which police had in fact declared on his community...but also because he "wonders aloud" if they're "f*gs." Wow, imagine that. Another round of homophobia justifying a murder fantasy.
(Yet another contrast with Public Enemy. The name PE is a recognition of the fact that the white power structure had declared war on black men, demonstrably true in Giuliani's New York, and the war now extended to black women and children.
Whereas the name NWA was a more general "attitude" that extended out toward everyone in their path. They weren't just accepting the call to war from the police, but were also declaring a war of beating, rape, and murder on both women and men for no other reason than giving THEM attitude. That was NOT social reality as experienced in Compton, but it was in NWA.
Returning to Chuck D., his call was to "Fight The Power," which NWA never quite sorted out.)
This was certainly not what I'd hoped to feel afterward, but like I said, it was distressing. Some of this is certainly a reflection of my east coast roots, and my greater identification with Public Enemy than, really, any other major hip-hop artist.
But wow, I'm sorry I saw this, and I'm sorry that anyone ever found their work acceptable as even a fringe phenomenon, much less as "hits" -- a word almost nauseating in its appropriateness for the fantasized AND actual rape and beating of the women in their lives, and the fantasy of raping and killing of so many of the men.
I hate that this makes me sound like every other white critic of hip-hop, and I can't argue that away. It's not any defense to say that, interestingly enough, though, I find myself wanting to calm down and settle my stomach with a little Public Enemy. It's true, but it's also self-aggrandizing.
I still love hip-hop, but I found myself unable to appreciate anything in this apart from some sampled beats, the charisma of some of the original vocal performances abstracted from the actual words, and the acting of O'Shea Jackson, Jr, who I hope finds better things to work on.
A little Fight the Power for ya:
And hey, a little Man from UNCLE:
Okay, among the things I hate about my last post:
1) In turning up my nose at the "whitewashing" (sorry) of Dr. Dre's story, I brushed over his ear for talent. Snoop Dogg was an inspired find (although still steeped in a lot of gangster self-mythology), but his stepbrother Warren G was self-deprecating ("I wish I was a little bit taller") and a terrific storyteller, and his colleague Nate Dogg had one of the great voices at the R&B end of hip-hop. There's another handful of finds Dre made, but overall, he really could pick 'em.
2) I didn't mean to be dismissive of sampling. At its best, it's high art, approaching magic.
Ironically, one of his strongest samples was one of his simplest. He used the hook from the 1971 Joe Cocker classic "Woman to Woman" (one of the few tracks Joe wrote himself), and looped it under one of the pinnacles of nineties pop, "California Love."
Also an insane video. I've linked to the long version before, but here's the "short" one, just over 5 minutes, built around visuals from set of Mad Max III, abandoned for 10 years by then. Call it POST-post-apocalypse, starring Tupac Shakur....who served several prison terms for sexual abuse.
Amazing video though.
3) Among the great practitioners of sampling: The Beastie Boys, whose Paul's Boutique, which samples over 100 songs. Basically every sound on the record but their voices. A masterpiece of collagery.
Interesting to me that when The Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, their introduction was handled by LL Cool J and Chuck D.
It turns out that the Beasties passed one of LL's tapes to their producer Rick Rubin, who promptly signed him. Public Enemy was featured as the opening act on the Beastie's tour for the hugely popular License to Ill (over 9 million copies to date), even before PE's first album dropped. Both performers thanked the Beasties for giving them the breaks that nobody else did.
And it happens that The Beastie Boys did the other video that I'd put the ring with California Love for best video ever by a Boy Band (hahahaha):
In any case, Dre was a sonic architect whose influence extended far beyond sampling, and was pretty much ethically neutral.
Too little of which was touched on in the movie, alas.
5) All this notwithstanding, I thought that was another fantastic review, and absolutely loved juxtaposing the two boy bands. hahahahaha
Saw Man From UNCLE yesterday: deliciously stylish fun and very Guy Ritchie, almost too much so. Loved the art direction, the music was well-chosen, plot worked well. I understand why he chose the montage of comic book panels to get thru a scene about storming an island fortress in short time. I thought that part was a little overdone and might have been easier solved by doing a straight cut in time past the battle scenes to get to the more important stuff. That's what the TV show might have done.
The plot is set up to become sort of an Origin Story for the formation of UNCLE, and works pretty well in creating unique and reasonable back-stories for Solo and Kuryakin. Hugh Grant looks almost as weather-beaten as the original Waverley from the TV show now.
A solid "B+" from me. Found it more entertaining than Mission Impossible.
[Tim Wilson] "Okay, among the things I hate about my last post:"
I don't think there's anything necessarily *wrong* with what you said in the post before that... It's actually a pretty realistic way to look at the group, that definitely got glazed over and spun in a different direction for their self-produced movie. I guess I don't really have that much to add to that, but I didn't want you to feel bad about saying so. Also, I enjoyed your tangent on sampling!
I always think of Do The Right Thing when I think of Public Enemy.
Turn off that F***in' radio!
[Mark Suszko] "deliciously stylish fun and very Guy Ritchie"
When Guy Ritchie does what he does best, I'm always completely sold. Fun Fact: Snatch was the first movie I purchased on DVD when my family finally got a DVD player. I watched it many times. Double Fun Fact: The 2nd and 3rd DVDs I purchased were The Royal Tenenbaums and that Jack Black movie Orange County. I also watched Tenenbaums many times. Orange County not so much...
[Scott Roberts] "I always think of Do The Right Thing when I think of Public Enemy."
As well you should.
[Scott Roberts] "It's actually a pretty realistic way to look at the group, that definitely got glazed over and spun in a different direction for their self-produced movie."
Yeah, Ice Cube's reply to critics who brought stuff like this up was, "Then make your own NWA movie." He's right of course. And certainly with anything, biopic or otherwise, there's a difference between the perspective of the participant and the viewer, and participants are to be excused for trying to make themselves look better.
Part of what I was getting at is reconciling my feeling that the NWA story DOES deserve the full-scale Hollywood biopic treatment with how I felt about their telling of it. I don't think the movie I hoped for would have needed to tear down their accomplishments, but I also don't think that the the movie we have was especially well-served by soft-pedaling the hard parts of the story.
I'll concede Cube's point. They weren't trying to tell the "whole" story. They were trying to tell THEIR story, and either way, something's gotta get left out.
And the fact is, in the end, honestly, I'm not sure that there's a better version to be told.
[Scott Roberts] "Snatch was the first movie I purchased on DVD when my family finally got a DVD player."
And in my family, we argued over when it was time for us to finally buy a COLOR TV.
Interestingly, we all settled on the "at this point, we might as well stay black and white just to be a**holes about it." Not that my parents would use that word. Not that they'd disagree with the sentiment though. LOL
And so I went off to college, never having had a color TV in the house. Nor, for that matter, more than one TV.
Which is to say, I feel olllllld.