Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Secret Agents & Spies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Participate yourself by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling us about them.

This week's theme for Thursday Movie Picks correlates to the weekend's big release, the new James Bond film SPECTRE. Can I let you in on a secret? Up until Skyfall, I had never seen a Bond film. Not a single one. I'm not really sure why. I've just never been able to muster up the excitement for them.

But anyway, that's not really the point. The point is, there's much more to Secret Agents and Spies on film than Bond and his dirty martinis. Here are three of my favorites.

North By Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959) Probably the most exciting film Hitchcock ever directed, in which Cary Grant is mistaken for a Mr. George Kaplan, a spy who, as it turns out, doesn't exist. Which is especially unfortunate for Cary after he's photographed taking a knife out of a U.N. diplomat's back. Someone else put it there, but try telling that to the police, especially when the secret government agency who created the persona of Kaplan won't get involved at the risk of exposing their real double agent, played by the gorgeous Eva Marie Saint. With James Mason as the big baddie and Martin Landau as his underling.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (Jay Roach, 1997) Hands down the best thing Mike Myers has ever done, Austin Powers is a dead-on hilarious parody of the 60s and spy films. But you don't have to be particularly well-versed in spy films to enjoy it. It's pure silliness, but it's absolutely INSPIRED silliness. The jokes fly fast and furious from the lips of the inimitable cast (Elizabeth Hurley, Robert Wagner, and Mindy Sterling have never been better, to say nothing of Myers in his dual role as the titular spy and his arch-nemesis Dr. Evil), and the double entendres are the best I've seen in probably any movie ever. The later sequels, The Spy Who Shagged Me and Goldmember, are basically bald rewrites of this one, but why mess with perfection?

Mission: Impossible (Brian De Palma, 1996) One of the rare franchises that has kept up a pretty much even level of quality across each film, the Tom Cruise series is one of the best in film history. This is the one that started it all, and god DAMN is it fun. When Ethan Hunt's entire Impossible Missions Force (IMF) team gets killed, the agency assumes he's the mole they've been trying to find for a while. Except he's innocent, so he has to go rogue in order to prove his innocence. Cruise's "I do my own stunts" go-for-broke star power has never been put to better use than with this character, so it's no surprise that he keeps coming back to it. And given the great directors and scriptwriters that keep coming to the series, it's clear that someone behind the scenes knows what they're doing (for what it's worth, my pick for the best of the series is the fourth, Ghost Protocol). De Palma's original lays all the groundwork with flawless sequence after flawless sequence and a roller coaster pace that only lets up in just the right amounts to relieve the (at times considerable) tension.

BONUS PICK
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Guy Ritchie, 2014) It's a pity so many people dismissed this film this summer, because it was really a blast. The cool retro vibe extended from the perfect costumes and hairdos of its (unbelievably good-looking) stars to Ritchie's filmmaking, which has never been slicker or sleeker. It's ultimately a lark, but it's a great looking one, and lots of fun. Plus, between Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, and Elizabeth Debicki, there really is something here for everyone.

16 comments:

  1. Nice picks! I never got into the Mission Impossible movies myself, but I like the other two!

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    1. Really? Why? Is it because of Tom Cruise?

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  2. Great picks. I love the entire Austin Powers franchise and North by Northwest. Not such a fan of the M:I series, but I do love Ghost Protocol. Haven't seen the latest one of those or The Man from UNCLE yet.

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    1. Both Man From UNCLE and Rogue Nation were good. the M:I film is a better film, but I probably had more fun with UNCLE.

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  3. Yes!! I am so glad to see someone else pick Austin Powers. I love those movies so much :)
    - Allie

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    1. All three of the Austin Powers movies are so freakin' funny. Even when they're stupid and bad they're funny.

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  4. LOVE North by Northwest! Without question peerless Hitchcock especially with that amazing cast, I have a special fondness for Jessie Royce Landis's work as Cary's mother.

    The whole movie is so clever. I enjoyed Austin Powers the first time I watched but found it was a one time thing, when I looked at it again knowing what was coming it didn't work nearly as well for me.

    I'm not an enormous fan of what they did to Mission Impossible. I loved the original series which relied on smarts as much as action, the films I've seen are just one set piece after another and I can only take so much of Cruise. I did love Vanessa Redgrave's performance in this one though.

    I was likewise disappointed in the tepid response to Man from U.N.C.L.E. Aside from the absolute knockout look of the film it was a highly entertaining. One of the things I liked about it the most was that the characters got roughed up when they fought their way out of things not like in most films of the genre where the hero goes through ridiculous situations and emerges unscathed.

    I went with a mix of suspense and goofy humor for the week:

    If Looks Could Kill (1991)-High school senior Michael Corben, then hot young actor Richard Grieco, headed to France with the French club is mistaken for international spy Michael Corbin and finds himself, now outfitted with all sorts of spy paraphernalia, pursued by an evil cartel that is planning to take control of the European money markets. Fun spoof on the spy genre with Roger Rees and especially Linda Hunt chewing the high grade ham and Robin Bartlett hysterical as The French Teacher.

    Three Days of the Condor (1975)-Joe Turner code name Condor (Robert Redford) a CIA reader whose function is to search literature for conspiracy theories works with a small group in a quiet neighborhood in Washington D.C. One day he slips out the back door for lunch and when he returns finds everyone dead. He phones the agency to be brought in but when he arrives at the rendezvous another attempt is made on his life. A hunted man now he must stay one step ahead of the covert agency within the CIA while trying to solve the puzzle of what the murders mean.

    Pick-up on South Street (1953)-Small time hood Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) pickpockets a young woman’s purse on a crowded subway. Unknown to both is that along with the money she was carrying a piece of top secret microfilm planted by her boyfriend, a Communist agent. Under duress the young girl, Candy, contacts Moe Williams (Thelma Ritter) a police informant to discover Skip’s whereabouts and recover the purloined article. She reluctantly attempts to seduce Skip to recover the film but falls for him instead. The agent desperate to get the incriminating item takes extreme measures causing Skip, now determined to stop him, into a confrontation.

    Honorable Mention- Gotcha! (1985)-Jonathan Moore, played by Anthony Edwards when he had a full head of hair, is a puppyish UCLA college student who is also the reigning champ at “Gotcha!”, a paintball game played throughout campus. On vacation in West Germany with his best friend he’s seduced by the mysterious Sasha (Linda Fiorentino) a sexy slightly older woman who turns out to be an international spy. When she suddenly disappears he finds himself pursued by mysterious men who are trying to kill him for reasons unknown. When he returns home to LA he finds a strange canister of film in his backpack and a team of KGB agents in pursuit. All at once Jonathan is in a real life or death game of “Gotcha!”. As serious as it sounds this is played in a lighthearted vein. It’s fluff but good fluff.

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    1. I love Jessie Royce Landis in both this and To Catch a Thief, she was great opposite Grant although it's odd that here she's his mother (despite being around the same age) and in the other she's shamelessly flirting with him.

      It's true that the M:I films increasingly relied on feats of physical derring-do as opposed to smarts... but what stunts! I still laugh at Austin Powers, although some of what teenage me found hilarious I now find a bit stupid. Love that you point out how the leads in UNCLE actually got scraped up from their scrapes; weird how that doesn't happen in most films.

      I've seen none of your picks although both Three Days of the Condor and Pick-up on South Street have been on my list for a while. If Looks Could Kill sounds quite fun (plus Richard Grieco.... YUM), and Gotcha sounds like a must-see, if only for Anthony Edwards's hair lol.

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    2. I think you'll love Pick-up, great story and what a cast! Most critics point to this performance as the one that should have won Thelma her Oscar and while I lean more towards The Mating Season she's brilliant in the film.

      If Looks Could Kill is PREPOSTEROUS but if you roll with it its tons of fun. Linda Hunt is best in show will an absurd accent and a necklace that turns into a whip!! And the film makers find a way to get Grieco into his tighty whities.

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  5. Oh one thing I meant to mention...isn't Cruise's character Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible not Ethan Hawke?

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    1. ....I don't know what you're talking about... it says Ethan Hunt right there....

      lol thank you! I have no idea what was going through my head when I wrote that...

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  6. Love North by Northwest-superb Hitchcock film. Martin Landau was told by Hitchcock to get all his suits at the same tailor that Cary Grant went to. Grant basically had one suit throughout the film but Landau had all these nice suits and it was driving Grant crazy:) I love all the Austin Powers films to be honest. Even if they are one note-I love that one note comical style. MI series is excellent even if far fetched (aren't so many of them). My favourite 2 are the 3rd and 4th one. I think they are hitting their stride in these last 2 . I thought The Man From Uncle did well? See-had no idea but this is one film I do want to see

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    1. LOVE that trivia about Landau's suits! I bet poor little Archie Leach must have been furious!

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  7. A great looking lark indeed. So happy this is on lists! Really hoping that Guy Ritchie gets on it and give us a sequel. More larks please! Great picks too. Glad someone picked North by Northwest, just recently seen it thought it was great.

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    1. I just hope the studio greenlights a sequel... maybe it did well enough overseas?

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  8. I don't think I've ever seen the first MI. The only one saw is Ghost Protocol and it is such a fun action movie. On of these days, I'm going to check out the others.

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