Movie reviews: The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Trainwreck, Mistress America

Opening in Berlin in 1963, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (12A) pits CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) against the KGB’s Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) as Solo exfiltrates Gaby (Alicia Vikander) from East to West Berlin. 

Soon, however, the pair are ordered to team up and travel to Rome to infiltrate a criminal organisation, led by the wealthy Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki), which is stealing atomic bomb secrets with the intention of passing them on to ex-Nazis. 

Guy Ritchie directs and co-writes this adaptation of the cult 1960s TV show, which ran for over 100 episodes, so it’s no great surprise to learn the plot is flamboyantly ludicrous; what makes it work is everything else about it is flamboyantly ludicrous too. 

The day-glo colours and razor-sharp style, the easy-going swing of its pacing, are the mythologized 1960s taken to the nth degree, while Cavill and Hammer’s enjoyable portrayal of Cold War warriors are as much Johnny English as they are James Bond. 

While the pairing may lack the iconic quality of the original duo played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, their buddy-buddy bromance does have a strong chemistry, Cavill’s urbane, cynical mercenary humorously contrasted with the teeth-clenched intensity of Hammer as the Russian spy struggles to mask his ideological fervour in the Rome of la dolce vita (Vikander and Debicki are initially little more than clothes-horses, but both gradually grow into scene-stealing roles). 

With a narrative spine of impressively executed action sequences The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a hugely enjoyable blend of homage and pastiche.

Comedian Amy Schumer writes her own ticket for Trainwreck (16s), the latest comi-dramedy from Judd Apatow. 

Magazine journalist Amy (Schumer) learned early in life that monogamy is a bad idea – courtesy of a very funny opening sequence where her dad, Gordon (Colin Quinn), paints a horrific picture of a young girl only allowed to play with one doll for her entire childhood – and now spends her 30-something years boozing heavily, sleeping around and self-destructively cheating on her boyfriend, Steven (John Cena). 

Assigned to write a story on sports injuries, Amy meets Dr Aaron Conner (Bill Hader), and finds herself attracted to a man who is her diametric opposite. 

The basic storyline isn’t new by any means, but Schumer gives it real zest in her portrayal of Amy, who opens the movie as a female equivalent of the kind of boorish, testosterone-fuelled men who tend to populate the supporting roles Apatow’s movies, tossing out one-line zingers and pushing the boundaries of good taste every time she opens her mouth.

It’s a testament to Amy Schumer’s acting (and her script) the story evolves into an affecting and poignant account of a woman’s fractious relationship with her father.

Bill Hader’s superbly underplayed performance, which functions as the steady heart of the story, makes her metamorphosis all the more credible.

Toss in some bizarre but inspired casting choices – professional wrestler John Cena, Tilda Swinton as Amy’s sociopathic editor, and basketball superstar LeBron James in a hilarious turn playing himself – and Trainwreck is Judd Apatow’s best movie since – well, ever.

College freshman and aspiring author Tracy (Lola Kirke) is finding life lonely in New York as Mistress America (15A) opens, but everything changes once she gets in touch with her step-sister-to-be Brooke (Greta Gerwig). 

Inspired by Brooke’s manic social swirl and her ambition to open a restaurant, Tracy dives headlong into Brooke’s world, only to discover, when she writes a short story inspired by Brooke, honesty is rarely the best policy.

Written by Greta Gerwig and directed by Noah Baumbach, Mistress America opens brightly with Kirke and Gerwig in fine form as they navigate the treacherous early stages of friendship. 

The shallowness of Brooke’s world soon begins to grate, however, as she reels off one non-sequitur after another, the story proceeding courtesy of quirky plot-twists that are rarely believable or interesting. 

The voice-over narration, which recounts Tracy’s story about the fictionalised Brooke, provides a framework in which the characters’ personal and professional failures are highlighted for the purpose of irony, but despite everyone’s excruciating self-awareness of their cinematic potential, they all seem utterly oblivious as to how pointless their actions are. 

There’s much to like about Mistress America: Kirke is terrific as the single grounded character as the story sprints off into the realms of unfocused farce, while Gerwig, playing a self-confessed ‘borderline hysteric’, electrifies the screen.


Lifestyle

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