A reboot of a popular 1960s spy comedy-drama TV series is on Blu-ray and DVD this week.
“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” (Warner, 2015, PG-13, featurettes). Adapted from a more sedate 1960s TV series that had a sense of humor about itself, this hyperactive spy thriller, set in the ’60s with gags that are very hit and miss, wants to challenge the James Bond and Mission: Impossible franchises. And it does have its moments, especially with its kinetic shoot-’em-up sequences. But there are also some rather off-putting, wrong-headed choices here.
In the TV series, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin were U.S. and Soviet spies working together for an international counterespionage agency. Here, Solo (Henry Cavill, Superman in “Man of Steel”) and Kuryakin (Armie Hammer, “The Lone Ranger”) are, respectively, CIA and KGB adversaries forced to work together, though neither likes or trusts the other. Both actors are rather charisma-free and do not demonstrate an aptitude for comedy.
Still, the action set pieces are well-staged, along with some cleverly choreographed larcenous moments, and there’s nice support from Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris and Hugh Grant. Too bad there isn’t more of Grant; his way with a quip is sorely missed when he’s off-screen, which is most of the time.
“A Horse Tale” (Lionsgate, 2015, G, episodes of “Miniscule,” trailers). This is a family friendly yarn about a big-city accountant/single father (Patrick Muldoon) who takes his teenage daughter with him for a working vacation at a horse farm in the country. The owner of the farm (Charisma Carpenter) has a chip on her shoulder, but we know she’ll eventually warm up to them. Oh, and it just happens to be Christmastime. It's by the numbers but sweet and warm. The bonus features are four whimsical comic episodes of a French series called “Miniscule,” five-minute shorts with animated insects in live-action settings.
“’Tis the Season for Love” (Cinedigm, 2015, not rated). This Hallmark Channel romantic Christmas yarn offers a variation on “It’s a Wonderful Life” as an aspiring New York actress (Sarah Lancaster) returns to her small hometown where a local Santa gives her a necklace, after which she has dreams that reveal what her life would have been like if she’d never left. But is it too late?
“Ice Sculpture Christmas” (Cinedigm, 2015, not rated). This Hallmark Channel holiday film stars Rachel Boston as a chef with skills but no opportunity to show her stuff. She hopes to gain some attention by entering an ice sculpture contest and pairs up with a wealthy entrepreneur (David Alpay). Romance, of course, is in the frigid air.
“Meru” (Music Box, 2015, R for language, audio commentaries, featurettes). This documentary is about the first climbers to ascend the Shark’s Fin Route on Meru Peak in the Himalayas, after having failed in an attempt several years earlier. Gorgeous cinematography highlights the perilous climb in this real-life adventure.
“Jimmy’s Hall” (Sony Classics, 2015, PG-13, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurette). English filmmaker Ken Loach directed this true story of Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward), a poor Irish farmer who fled to the United States in 1909 and became a U.S. citizen after being persecuted for running a hall for the free exchange of socialist ideas near his hometown. He returned a decade later and reopened the hall, which led to his eventually being deported to America.
“Living in Oblivion” (Shout!, 1995; R for language, nudity, violence). This funny inside-filmmaking comedy stars Steve Buscemi as a frustrated auteur whose low-budget movie is constantly upended by an inept cast and crew that let their neuroses and egos run wild. Co-stars include Catherine Keener, James Le Gros, Dermot Mulroney and Peter Dinklage.
“Trash” (Universal, 2015, R for language and violence, in Portuguese with English subtitles). Three street kids in the slums of Rio de Janeiro find a wallet at the local dump, and it leads to their uncovering corruption that puts their lives in danger. Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara have supporting roles.
“We Are Your Friends” (Warner, 2015; R for language, drugs, sex, nudity; featurette). Zac Efron stars in this musical drama as a struggling electronic-dance-music DJ with dreams of becoming a record producer. But when he’s taken under the wing of a professional (Wes Bentley), he makes the mistake of falling in love with his mentor’s girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski).
“Bad Boys I & II: 20th Anniversary Collection” (Columbia, 1995/2003; R for violence, language, sex, drugs; audio commentary, featurette, music videos, trailers). Will Smith and Martin Lawrence star in these two Miami-based comedy-cop thrillers as partners protecting a witness (Tea Leoni) in the first film and going after a Cuban drug lord in the second. Michael Bay directed both with his signature jittery camera and incessant close-ups.
Chris Hicks is the author of “Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings.” He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.