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Get Smart

Known to generations of TV viewers Get Smart star Don Adams achieved a strange kind of notoriety.  With his 15 minutes of fame endlessly repeated across the decades, he became unfairly typecast despite his renowned comic timing.  Although constricted by his character, he returned in three revivals including its first cinematic outing The Nude Bomb.  Daringly attempting to match his skills this millennial remake tries to widen the original series’ scope.  Laced with a tougher edge, Get Smart almost captures the spirit of the TV show’s madcap spy capers.
Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) is an analyst for spy agency Control.  Desperate to become a top operative like Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson), his pleas are always ignored by his boss The Chief (Alan Arkin).  When evil organisation KAOS, led by Siegfried (Terence Stamp) assassinates most of Control’s agents, Smart finally becomes a fully fledged agent.  Partnered with the resourceful Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), his bumbling attempts at saving the world become even deadlier than anything KAOS can dream up.
TV to movie translations are always fraught with danger.  Whilst trying to add something new to the formula an adaptation has to walk the fine line between respecting long term fans and gaining new ones.  Get Smart generally gets this right with some eye popping set pieces the TV series could never have achieved.  The energetic cast, led the very talented Carell, appear to enjoy the various mayhem including aerial combats and deadly car chases.  The physical antics and snappy dialogue are well delivered although the humour seems to have replaced genuine satire with modern cynicism.  This aspect robs it of any of the stylish 60s idiom that its creator, Mel Brooks, used in his sophisticated words.
Overshadowing is the films adherence to the plot with its strict structure preventing any of the spontaneous free wheeling fun of the TV show.  When copying moments from the series things catch fire, but as soon as it concentrates on its modern trappings it stalls.  Get Smart never seems to come alive with its big set pieces standing out amidst a sea of mediocrity  This is regrettable as there are moments of great comedy within.  Apart from Carell and Hathaway, the rest of the cast don’t get much to do with Stamp totally wasted as the main villain. Things may have perhaps worked better as a period piece as the set up lends itself better to Cold War era shenanigans. 
Although not a laugh riot, Get Smart is passable entertainment. Had the cast and story been allowed to breathe a more enjoyable time may have been had. Thankfully the film doesn’t completely trash the legacy Don Adams left and serves as a reminder of the talent that was lost with his untimely passing.
Rating out of 10:  5

Mongol

The cinematic journey of notorious ruler Genghis Khan has been a long odyssey.  Depicted as either hero or villain in many incarnations, his true character remains as elusive as his shadowy combat skills.  Even screen legend John Wayne appeared as Khan in 1956’s The Conqueror - a typical Hollywood product romanticising his exploits.  While no less admiring Mongol’s gritty realism adds a frisson in its exploration of his early life.
In 1172,  nine year old Temdugin, the future Khan, is asked to choose a bride.  Watched on by his father he picks out Bronte, a girl who captures his attention.  Trouble brews when his father is poisoned by a neighbouring clan with his supposed loyal deputy seizing control of his army.  Imprisoned by the treacherous conspirator, Temdugin determines to grow into a mighty warrior and turn his Mongolian country into a world-wide force.  Developing an emotional and physical suit of armour, his formative years laid the groundwork to his ongoing legend ensuring his enemies came to fear his steely wrath.
Good biographies work in the delivery of their intent.  Eager to lift history’s veil from his tyrannical reputation, Mongol tries to humanise its subject.  Rather than creating fake sympathy for its protagonist, the engrossing screenplay shows a man slowly learning to use his analytical ideas to stealth-like advantage.  Despite very little written early Mongolian history available, the script’s semi-fictionalisation succeeds due to an engaging cast who inject their roles with passion.  Things falter occasionally in its use of fantasy where Khan calls on the gods to help him win.  This element doesn’t quite fit in with a story trying to steep itself in a realistic setting.
Mongol’s main strength is in its breath-taking cinematography.  Shot in the lands Khan ruled the film recalls the best of David Lean - a director who wrung every ounce from his scenery.  The widescreen vistas are amazingly shot with the ferocious battle scenes showing the deadly zeal of Khan’s mindset.  Watching the various clans use honour and fables to live by is interesting, effectively setting up the many friendships and betrayals to come.  Although things look expensive it was made for little money proving a small budget can’t prevent a film from embracing huge expanses.
The first part of a trilogy Mongol serves as an intriguing movie entree.  Well crafted it recalls grand epics of yore with a worthy examination of a multi-faceted strategist who inspired many ambitious rulers to come.
Rating out of 10:  7