Nov 20, 2014

Tradecraft: Purvis and Wade Adapt Deighton for BBC

Variety reports that James Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Skyfall, Casino Royale, The World Is Not Enough) have signed on to write a 5-episode miniseries for BBC One based on Ipcress File author Len Deighton's novel SS-GB. As much as I love Deighton, I have to confess I've never read that one because his alternate history novels never interested me as much as his Cold War spy thrillers. So I'll rely on the trade's plot summary. "It is set in an imaginary Britain controlled by the Nazis, if Germany had occupied the country. It centers on a police detective caught between the Nazis and the British resistance." But the alternate history setting doesn't mean that it's not a spy story! Speaking to The Guardian, Purvis and Wade called SS-GB "a brilliant tale of espionage that dares to think the unthinkable." I'll certainly have to read the book before this miniseries airs in 2015! I can't help but be a tad disappointed that this isn't news on the new television adaptation of Deighton's masterful Bernard Samson cycle that was first reported on last year, but on which there have been no updates ever since, but I guess I should just be glad that any Deighton is coming to television. And this sounds like fertile ground for a series, for sure! Besides their contributions to the last five Bond movies, Purvis and Wade's other genre credits include Johhny English and The Italian Job remake (on which they ended up uncredited).

Nov 19, 2014

Double O Section Classic: Encore Review: Espionage Agent (1939)

In the days leading up to WWII, Joel McCrea made near back-to-back spy films with polar opposite political agendas. Alfred Hitchcock’s genre-defining action masterpiece Foreign Correspondent warned of the chaos brewing in Europe and made the clear case that it would be impossible for America and Americans to avoid being caught up in it, so the U.S. should make a stand soon and come to the aid of its overseas allies. (As a Brit working in Hollywood, Hitchcock himself had an obvious patriotic agenda.) Prior to that role, however, McCrea played an American diplomat in Espionage Agent, a movie that dared to vilify Hitler’s Germany at a time when studios preferred to play it safe with international politics, yet at the same time advocated America’s neutrality. "If America, lacking the protective laws it needs, is drawn into another war," one mouthpiece character declares, "it will be because of those human ostriches who keep their heads buried in the sand." While advocating isolationism, the movie recognizes its drawbacks. "Isolation is a political policy, and not a brick wall around the nation," comments another character. "And fancy pants guys [meaning spies] walk right through political policies."

Espionage Agent blames nefarious foreign spies and saboteurs for warmongering in America, ignoring all the other factors that led to U.S. involvement in the Second World War, but at the same time makes the sound case that the United States badly needs a counterintelligence agency of its own to root out those spies. That, the film’s creators naively believe, will be the end of it. As long as U.S. authorities can round up all the foreign agents operating within the country, America need have no more involvement with the war in Europe. So while it’s heart may have been in the right place, the movie’s politics have dated badly. But how does Espionage Agent fare as pure entertainment? Sadly not so well. Director Lloyd Bacon and the four credited writers had not yet cracked the genre the way Hitchcock had.

At a time when Hollywood films weren’t supposed to stir up trouble by specifically identifying the foreign powers behind the spies and saboteurs creeping all over movie screens, Espionage Agent boldly opens with headlines about German agents operating subversively on U.S. soil and Congress’s need to take action. They get away with this by hiding behind a title card that identifies these events as occurring in 1915, but the implication is clear that they’re happening again. Once we flash forward to the contemporary setting of 1939, there’s no more specific mention of Germany, though all the foreign agents speak with German accents and have names like Muller and come from a country that borders Switzerland with soldiers whose uniforms closely resemble those of the SS.

McCrea plays Barry Corvall, a U.S. diplomat in Algiers. He helps a throng of American travelers escape the revolution-rocked nation, including the beautiful Brenda Ballard (played by the equally beautiful Brenda Marshall). When he sees Brenda, it’s love at first sight. Unfortunately, we’ve just seen her agreeing out of desperation to spy for the loathsome Herr Muller (Martin Kosleck) if only he’ll furnish her with an American passport so she can get home. Barry books Brenda passage on the same steamship he’s taking back to the States, and woos her throughout the voyage. Not wanting to drag him into her own unfortunate predicament, Brenda adamantly refuses his advances.

Back in America, Barry and his friend Lowell enroll in some sort of advanced diplomat school, and learn more about the dangers of foreign spies. This section plays out like the Top Gun of the diplomatic corps; it’s clearly designed to attract eager recruits for foreign service. Barry eventually completes his higher learning and gets posted to Paris. And he finally convinces Brenda to marry him. Of course, that’s when the snake Muller emerges from the shadows, reminding her of her debt of service to his organization. Here, the movie does something surprising. It doesn’t milk the drama of a wife coerced into spying on her husband. Instead, Brenda comes clean with Barry and tells him everything. He, in turn, reveals all this to his bosses in the State Department.

I don’t know if their response accurately belies the astonishing ignorance of the pre-war U.S. intelligence community, or merely the astonishing ignorance of Hollywood’s screenwriters at telling good spy stories. Either way, instead of using this newfound asset as a double agent to pass misinformation along to the Germans, the honchos at the State Department call Muller into their office and tell him exactly what they know, blowing their chances at running any sort of counterspy operation. Muller smiles and says it’s all true, but what can they do about it? He’s a foreign citizen, so under the current U.S. law they have no choice but to let him go. Way to go, State Department; way to accomplish nothing. Yes, that’s the movie’s point, but it makes for frustrating plot development.

So halfway through the movie, we’re robbed (twice) of what could have been the compelling espionage drama promised in the film’s title. Luckily, Corvall feels just as cheated as the audience, and vows to single-handedly bust up this spy ring. Of course Brenda won’t let him go it alone, so he reluctantly accepts her help. As a private citizen, he’ll fashion himself and Brenda into a two-person CIA. And so they head off together to take on all the espionage agents in Europe, trying to gather evidence of infiltration that will force Congress to act... somehow. This private mission leads to the good stuff we expect from Thirties spy movies, like secret codes, foreign embassies, listening to conversations through windows and–of course–crossing borders on trains. But still, Barry and Brenda are dogged by America’s general lack of preparedness to function as a superpower. When Barry tries to bluff that American agents are watching all the train stations, the head German (oops, I mean head "foreign") agent snidely gloats, "Ve know America has no counter-espionage service."

Things still manage to get exciting in a kind of third-rate way, and then wrap up very suddenly against the same conditions that end Foreign Correspondent, with the world on the verge of war. It’s not giving away too much about a movie of this era to say that Barry does something worthy of praise, but sadly America is in no position to offer it. "You helped forge the weapon the service so badly needed," says his former State Department superior. "And yet the service can’t show its gratitude for it." The age-old secret agent’s dilemma: there’s no public reward for secret service. Of course, the movie itself has managed to make its very public case for an American counterintelligence agency, so it’s undeniably successful to some degree, and of considerable interest to students of spy history. Yet its creators remain blissfully hopeful that such an organization will enable the country to maintain its isolationist outlook, and steer clear of the troubles in Europe.

Espionage Agent is a curious time capsule from that moment when Hollywood was first dabbling with the notion of a secret agent hero. Spies were still shadowy villains, aiming to do America harm, but what about a counterintelligence officer, protecting the country from such threats? Barry Corvall is still a private citizen, and a cinematic James Bond is still two decades away. Despite a few anomalies during WWII, the heroic counter agent wouldn’t emerge until the Cold War, but Espionage Agent is notable as an early experiment in that direction. It’s also worth seeing for solid performances from Joel McCrea and the truly stunning Brenda Marshall, whose career was sadly never as big as it should have been. But it’s far from top-shelf spy entertainment. For that, seek out McCrea’s next spy movie, Foreign Correspondent.

Rare U.N.C.L.E. and Vaughn Screenings in Los Angeles

Los Angeles spy fans can look forward to seeing some exciting, rarely screened Sixties spy movies on the big screen this weekend! Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Theater will show a double feature of two Man From U.N.C.L.E. moviesThe Spy With My Face and One Spy Too Many, on Friday, November 21 and Saturday, November 22. The first film starts at 7:30, the second plays at 9:25. On Saturday there will also be a matinee program beginning at 3:15. Best of all, both films will be shown in 35mm IB Technicolor prints! The prints come from Tarantino's personal collection, and I doubt either one has played in L.A. since the Sixties.

The Spy With My Face (1965) is the feature version of the Season 1 episode "The Double Affair" padded out with newly shot material that eventually ended up (used differently) in other episodes. Eurospy vixen Senta Berger (The Quiller Memorandum, Our Man in Marrakesh, Peau d'espion) brings the va-va-va-voom. One Spy Too Many (1966) is the re-edited feature version of the 2-part Season 2 opener "The Alexander the Greater Affair," co-starring Rip Torn, Dorothy Provine (Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die) and Yvonne Craig (In Like Flint). Like The Spy With My Face, One Spy Too Many features some footage not seen on TV, mostly involving Craig. It also excises the worst subplot from the TV episodes, featuring Alexander's parents.

Perhaps even more exciting than the U.N.C.L.E. movies is another Robert Vaughn spy flick of that era (also an IB Technicolor 35mm print!), The Venetian Affair (1967), which plays on Sunday, November 23 and Monday, November 24 at 7:30pm. (There's also a Sunday matinee at 3:15.) Why is that more exciting? Well, if you read this blog regularly, then you'll probably know why I think so. Because it co-stars my favorite Eurospy babe of all, Elke Sommer (Deadlier Than the Male, The Prize)! And Luciana Paluzzi (Thunderball, OSS 117: Murder For Sale) and Boris Karloff (Black Sabbath) don't hurt either. It would have been great if that had been paired with the David McCallum vehicle Sol Madrid to continue the U.N.C.L.E. theme, but I guess Tarantino doesn't have that one in his collection. There is a Sixties spy show connection though, as it's paired with Hickey and Boggs (1972), the private eye movie that reunited the I Spy duo of Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. I guess the timing on that one isn't ideal (especially the promise of a "special bonus after [the] feature"), but it's still a good movie worth watching. Speaking of bonuses, the New Bev always plays a selection of themed trailers from Tarantino's collection accompanying the feautres, so these shows probably promise loads of cool Sixties spy trailers. All in all, it's an excellent weekend ahead for spy fans! Personally, I plan on hitting both screenings.

As always at The New Bev, the cost of one $8 ticket covers both features. Tickets are available for pre-order from Brown Paper Tickets, or at the door the night of the show.

Nov 18, 2014

Tradecraft: Brad Anderson to Direct Bourne-esque Shadow Run

Deadline reports that Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian) has signed on to direct a "Bourne-esque" spy thriller called Shadow Run for Sony. (If you haven't caught on in years of reading this blog, every spy thriller is described as "Bourne-esque" at this stage. It's how they get sold. I wasn't alive or reading trades back in the Sixties, but I imagine back then they were all called "Bond-esque.") The studio snapped up Joe Gazzam's spec script back in February for Neil Moritz to produce. According to The Hollywood Reporter, "the action is put in motion when a viral attack puts lives in danger, forcing a CIA agent to enact a secret prisoner exchange of Russia’s most notorious spy for the American scientist who can create a cure. It has been described by one source as 'Safe House on a plane.'" I didn't care for Safe House, but I do like planes... so I'll give it the benefit of the doubt! (Plus, of course, I would never judge a movie by a studio source's pithy log line for the script.)

Nov 17, 2014

Tradecraft: New Mata Hari Miniseries in the Works with International Cast

French actress Vahina Giocante (Secret défense) will follow in the footsteps of Greta Garbo, Jeanne Moreau and Sylvia Kristel when she takes on the role of one of the most famous (if not particularly successful) spies of all time in a  new Russian-made miniseries Mata Hari. And The Hollywood Reporter reports that she'll be backed up by an impressive international cast including John Malkovich (RED), Rutger Hauer (The Osterman Weekend), Christopher Lambert (Fortress), Fedor Bondarchuk (The Spy), Kseniya Rappoport (The Double Hour) and, according to an IMDb listing, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's Svetlana Khodchenkova (who also memorably embodied Steranko's Madame Hydra in The Wolverine). American director Dennis Berry (The Saint: The Blue Dulac, Counterstrike) will helm the 12-part series, which is set to air on Russian state network First Channel and Ukraine's Inter in 2015. According to the trade, unsurprisingly, "an English-language version for the international market will also be shot, with Lisbon's well-preserved 19th- and 20th-century architecture providing locations along with St. Petersburg." With well-known names like Malkovich and Hauer in the cast, I would think this project will find the American distribution it's seeking. And if it does, I'll be sure to tune in!

State of Affairs Premieres Tonight on NBC

The next new spy series of the season, State of Affairs, kicks off tonight on NBC at 10/9c. Katherine Heigl (Killers) stars as Charlie Tucker, the CIA officer responsible for briefing the President on the intelligence issues of the day. Alfre Woodard plays the President in question. So far, that sounds like a good premise for a spy show to me, since we've never seen one focused on that particular level of the Agency, and even those exploring the intersection between espionage and politics are fairly rare. (And when they do come, it tends to be with spy storylines on political shows, like Scandal, rather than vice versa.) But that's not the end of NBC's premise. These two powerful women have something else in common besides a healthy interest in secret intelligence. Heigl's character was once engaged to the President's son, who was killed in a terrorist attack. And now both women want revenge. That's where things start to sound a bit dicey for me. Obviously you need a personal angle to hook viewers, but this particular one threatens to steer the show away from its potential as an intelligent desk spy saga into the realm of Alias and 24. Not that there's anything wrong with Alias and 24 (I loved both those shows), but they're shows that we've seen before. (To put it another way, it sounds like Covert Affairs if it had launched immediately with Season 4, rather than started out with the fresher, earlier seasons, which dealt more with CIA office politics than larger-than-life threats.) I'm crossing my fingers that State of Affairs proves to be something new instead. To help draw your own conclusions, here's a trailer:

Nov 12, 2014

Tradecraft: Bond Starts Shooting in December

Variety reports that production will officially begin on the still untitled Bond 24 on December 6. About time! My internal biological Bond clock is still somehow set to an era I was for the most part too young to every really know (except for a three film run during the Brosnan era) when Bond movies materialized every two years like clockwork. So last week as we hit the two year mark from Skyfall's release, I really started getting pangs badly. It's too bad we've got to wait three years for Sam Mendes' follow-up to that blockbuster (Bond 24 is slated to open in the U.K. on Oct. 23, 2015, and in the U.S. Nov. 6, 2015), but at least it won't be four again like that excruciating period between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall! A firm shooting date always makes me feel more at ease. Despite daily rumors in the tabloid press, no casting announcements have yet been made about villains or Bond Girls in Bond 24. (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol's Lea Seydoux is widely touted for a role.) But the returning MI6 support staff is known. In addition to Daniel Craig (obviously!) returning as Agent 007, Ralph Fiennes will be back as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Rory Kinnear as Bill Tanner and Ben Whishaw as Q.

Not a Joke: Sony Planning Spider-man Spin-off About Aunt May as a Spy?

When I read the Latino Review headline about Sony, in obvious desperation, planning a Spider-man spin-off movie about Aunt May, I actually laughed out loud. (And wondered for a second if it was April 1.) Then when I read the actual article and saw that they wanted to make a Sixties-set spy movie with a female lead, I stopped laughing. I was torn. I love Sixties spy movies, especially with female leads. And both Sixties-set spy movies and spy movies with female leads are hard to come by these days, and hard to get made. So if somehow shoehorning one into the Spider-man universe is the only way to do it, then maybe I'm not so opposed as I thought I was to giving the Spidey bit player least likely to get her own spin-off an all-new background as a secret agent with no precedent in the Marvel comic books. Maybe.

Why, you might very reasonably ask, are we even talking about the possibility of Aunt May as a spy? Well, it's because Sony has to keep making Spider-man movies (or at least movies tangentially related to Spider-man, I guess) in order to keep the rights to the character from reverting back to Marvel (who would just love to see their flagship character return to the fold, and be able to add him to their ever growing Marvel Cinematic Universe). But unfortunately for Sony, their last Spider-man movie didn't do as well as they'd hoped it would. (Maybe, just maybe, audiences weren't ready to see a character rebooted barely a decade after his screen debut....) So they've started panicking about the future of the franchise. And rather than figuring out how to get their lead character back on track, they're trying to come up with spin-offs featuring every possible Spidey Universe supporting character, hoping against hope to build the same sort of shared universe Marvel enjoys with a bunch of third-tier heroes and villains.

They've long been mooting a Sinister Six movie (who on earth wants to see Spider-man villains teaming up as good guys in a movie without Spider-man?), they keep threatening to put out a Venom movie (yawn... another villain re-positioned as an anti-hero), they've reportedly considered a movie teaming up all the female characters from the Spider-man comics (the likes of Spider-woman, Black Cat and Silver Sable, any one of whom I'd actually like to see on the big screen in the right context, but probably not as a team)... and now they've perhaps sunk to hilarious lows by, if Latino Review is to be believed (and their track record is pretty solid) thinking about an Aunt May movie. (Sally Field played Aunt May in the two most recent movies.) And just like their Sinister Six idea kind of seems like a poor copy of Marvel's success with the superhero jamboree Marvel's The Avengers, this concept also sounds a little like a copy of something Marvel's doing. Marvel, of course, has their own period piece about a female spy on the way, the eagerly anticipated TV miniseries Agent Carter, starring Hayley Atwell.

Now, if I were Sony and I were desperate to both save my Spider-man franchise by giving it a new twist and introduce audiences to characters who could be spun off into their own films and potentially spawn new franchises, I think I would probably turn back to the comics—specifically Marvel Team-Up, which paired Spidey with another Marvel hero month after month. Do that. Make a movie teaming proven box office commodity Spider-man up with the mostly unknown Silver Sable, and then you have the basis to give her her own movie. Next time team him up with Black Cat, and so on. But that's just me. Sony is apparently intent on creating spin-offs from whole cloth based partly on characters that audiences who don't read comics have never even heard of. So of all the bad ideas they're mulling, the Aunt May one actually sounds the least bad to me. According to Latino Review, "the target mood [of the spin-off] is some sort of espionage story in the vein of AMC’s Mad Men." Well, honestly, as regular readers know a sort of espionage story in the vein of Mad Men is what I want most out of life, so I guess I'm all for an Aunt May spin-off. And I never thought I'd hear myself saying that before! Kudos to whatever writer thought of pitching his Sixties female spy movie as an Aunt May movie. Whatever it takes...

UPDATE: Sony has, unsurprisingly, denied any of this.

Tradecraft: Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart Team Up For Spy Comedy

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (Fast Five) has always been careful to balance his serious movies with comedic ones, and now he's doing that with spy movies too. While he's got a serious Robert Ludlum starring role in the pipeline (The Janson Directive), he's also just signed on to star in the New Line buddy comedy Central Intelligence opposite Kevin Hart (Ride Along). Last time we heard about this project (back in January), Ed Helms was attached to star. Obviously that's changed, but he's still attached as a producer. Variety reports that Rawson Marshall Thurber (We're the Millers) will direct and do a rewrite on the script by Ike Barinholtz and Dave Stassen, and Sean Anders and John Morris. Hart will play a former high school sports star who's now an accountant. Johnson will play a former high school wimp who's now a superspy. At a high school reunion, the latter recruits the former to help him foil a plot to sell classified military secrets.

Nov 9, 2014

Worricker: Turks & Caicos Premieres Tonight on PBS

American audiences finally get to see David Hare's long-awaited follow-up to 2011's gripping spy drama Page Eight tonight on PBS's Masterpiece Contemporary. Worricker: Turks & Caicos airs in most regions at 9pm ET, but local PBS stations are always unpredictable, so you'll definitely want to check your local listings to be sure not to miss it. Bill Nighy's veteran MI5 agent Johnny Worricker returns, materializing in the faraway islands of Turks & Caicos after leaving his government position (and London) at the end of Page Eight. But we all know spies never retire. This time, an order from the CIA puts Worricker back to work. Once again, Nighy is backed up by an all-star cast, this time including Christopher Walken (A View to A Kill), Winona Ryder (Star Trek), Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club), Dylan Baker (The Tailor of Panama), Rupert Graves (Sherlock) and, returning from Page Eight, Ralph Fiennes (Skyfall). David Hare (Saigon: Year of the Cat) again writes and directs the 2-hour feature. Next Sunday, PBS airs the conclusion of the Worricker Trilogy, Salting the Battlefield. Both Turks & Caicos and Salting the Battlefield are already available to pre-order on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon as well. They come out next week, on November 18.

Nov 7, 2014

Tradecraft: Bridget Regan and Lyndsy Fonseca Join Agent Carter

The cast for ABC's period spy drama Agent Carter is growing. In separate stories, Deadline has reported that Bridget Regan (Legend of the Seeker, John Wick) and Lyndsy Fonseca (Nikita) have joined Hayley Atwell in the Marvel Comics-based show. Though she played a deadly secret agent for four seasons on Nikita, Fonseca apparently won't be spying on Agent Carter. (Or will she?) The trade describes her role as "Angie, an aspiring actress who befriends Peggy Carter." Regan (one of my favorite actresses) won't be playing an obvious agent either. The trade enigmatically explains that "she will play the recurring role of Dottie, a small-town girl from Iowa who’ll have a huge impact on the life of Agent Carter." Dominic Cooper (Fleming), Shea Whigham (American Hustle), Chad Michael Murray (Fruitvale Station) and Enver Gjokaj (Dollhouse) also star. Earlier this week ABC announced that Agent Carter will premiere on January 6.

Nov 6, 2014

Tradecraft: ABC Sets Premiere Date for Agent Carter

ABC's forthcoming period spy drama set in the Marvel Universe, Agent Carter, was commissioned as an 8-episode miniseries designed to bridge the gap between the fall and spring installments of the network's modern-day Marvel spy show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Today, ABC announced when that will happen. Deadline reports that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will air its mid-season finale on December 9, and then, after the holidays, Agent Carter will premiere in its timeslot on January 6, 2015, and air over consecutive weeks. Then Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns on March 3 for an uninterrupted spring run. Agent Carter stars Hayley Atwell (Restless, The Prisoner), reprising her role from Captain America: The First Avenger and (briefly) Captain America: The Winder Soldier as Peggy Carter, agent of S.S.R. (forerunner to S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Marvel Cinematic Universe). On the show, Agent Carter must contend with threats both earthly and otherworldly in the nascent days of the Cold War, as well as the systemic sexism in postwar America. Atwell should be well suited to the role, having previously played a secret agent in 1940s America in the miniseries Restless, based on an excellent spy novel by James Bond continuation author William Boyd (Solo). It was also announced this year that Atwell will cameo as Agent Carter in the 2015 Marvel feature film Ant-Man. That movie's prologue is said to take place in the 1960s and feature S.H.I.E.L.D. agents of that era, so presumably Peggy will be among them.

Nov 5, 2014

Tradecraft: EuropaCorp Prequel The Transporter Legacy Moves to Summer

Deadline reports that we'll have to wait a little bit longer to see the Statham-less prequel The Transporter Legacy. As previously reported, the neo-Eurospy reboot was set to bow in North America on March 6, but EuropaCorp USA has moved it back to June 19. A summer release date generally indicates that the studio has a lot of confidence in the movie, and that's probably more true than ever in the overcrowded marketplace of 2015. Ed Skrein takes over from Jason Statham as professional transporter Frank Martin, and Loan Chabanol is the franchise's latest neo-Eurospy babe. Brick Mansions' Camille Delamarre directs. As far as I know, The Transporter Legacy has no connection to TNT's Transporter TV series, though Delamarre did handle second unit duties on the show.

Reminder: Cold War Spy Series The Game Debuts Tonight on BBC America

BBC America's new Seventies-set Cold War spy show The Game debuts tonight at 10/9c on the cable network. We got our first inkling of The Game in Britain late last year, and found out America would be getting it too in January. Created by Toby Whithouse (Being Human, Doctor Who - for which he penned one of my favorite episodes), the series sounded like a mixture of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Mission: Impossible. The trailer, which hit last month, seems to bear that out. Though maybe "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (both versions, really) meets Spooks (MI-5)" would be more accurate, as it definitely seems to blend modern action sensibilities with a Seventies le Carré vibe. And that, to me, seems like an incredible combination! I will definitely be tuning in to BBC America's Dramaville this evening. Brian Cox (The Bourne Identity, RED) plays the Smiley-esque spymaster "Daddy," and Tom Hughes (Page Eight, The Lady Vanishes) provides the heartthrob appeal as his star agent Joe Lambe. They really seem to be going for the look of the 2011 Tinker Tailor film (with a conference room that could be the same set recycled), and for me that just adds to the appeal! Check out the trailer below, and read more on the BBC America website.

Tradecraft: Two Iran-Contra Scandal Movies in the Works

American Hustle chronicled the AbScam scandal of the early Eighties and ended up with an impressive box office and a slew of Academy Award nominations, so perhaps it was inevitable that the biggest scandal of that decade come next. Now there are at least two Iran-Contra Affair movie in the works just in time for the scandal's 30th anniversary. Deadline reports that Homeland director Michael Cuesta, who just helmed the Jeremy Renner journalistic thriller Kill the Messenger (which itself touches upon the fallout of one specific aspect of that scandal) will direct Code Name Veil for Black Label Media from a  Black List script by Matt Billingsly. The film deals with one of the most famous casualties in the history of the CIA, Beirut station chief William F. Buckley (no relation to the spy author of the same name). According to the trade, Code Name Veil follows a rookie CIA agent investigating the terrorist bombings of the American Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. "When his station chief and mentor is taken hostage, he must resort to desperate measures, unwittingly becoming part of the scandal that would become known as Iran-Contra." This story should make for a fascinating film, and based on his work on Homeland and Kill the Messenger, I'd say Cuesta is the perfect man to tell it.

Meanwhile, another prolific TV director, Mikael Salomon (whose spy credits include helming both The Company and The Agency, which is a kind of neat feat), will tackle the spy scandal from a different perspective in Angel's Paradise. In a separate story, Deadline reports that "the 1980s-set pic tracks the mysterious torture and murder of a wire service reporter during the Salvadoran civil war whose death leads to the uncovering of the Iran-Contra affair." This one is scripted by award-winning journalist and documentarian Paul VanDevelder. Between these two movies, it sounds like audiences should have a pretty good understanding of the events behind the Iran-Contra Affair in a few years.

Oct 31, 2014

Tradecraft: AMC Bags le Carré's Night Manager

Earlier this month we learned that Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston were circling a BBC miniseries adaptation of John le Carré's 1993 novel The Night Manager, and that the production was seeking a U.S. network partner. A bidding war ensued between multiple interested parties, and, according to Variety, AMC has emerged the winner. The trade reports that the cable network is "close to a deal" to come on board as U.S. distributor and production partner with BBC and Ink Factory, the production company behind recent le Carré film successes like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and A Most Wanted Man. Interestingly, Variety says that "the project is eyed as a six-episode mini although AMC’s run could expand to eight episodes with commercial time included." Meaning that The Night Manager could end up six episodes in the UK, and eight in America. Obviously the episodes would be cut completely differently for that to work (though ideally Americans wouldn't miss out on any content this way). This wouldn't be the first time a le  Carré miniseries has had episodes reconfigured for U.S. broadcast. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979) aired as seven episodes in Britain, but was trimmed down to six in America by re-cutting each episode and excising 25 minutes from the miniseries' overall runtime. As previously reported, David Farr (Hanna, Spooks) will pen the adaptation.

The Night Manager is the story of Jonathan Pine (presumably Hiddleston), a former soldier turned hotelier who ends up volunteering to become an undercover agent for a new branch of British Intelligence in an effort to get revenge for the death of a woman he loved in Cairo. Leonard Burr is the dogged intelligence officer with a background in enforcement who masterminds Pine's mission against Peer of the Realm arms dealer Richard Onslow Roper. Roper is the sort of upper-class Englishman completely devoid of morals for whom le Carré has always reserved a particular vitriol, and Hugh Laurie should have a blast playing him. (I'm assuming he'll be the snobbish Roper as opposed to the working class Burr.) It's a deceptively straightforward undercover story for le Carré, but there is still plenty of material for a miniseries. As Pine risks falling under the spell of his charming adversary (and his beautiful mistress), Burr must contend with overwhelming forces in the British and American Intelligence Community who would rather keep Roper in play, not so much for the chicken feed intelligence he sometimes throws their way, but because they're all becoming very rich off of his nefarious deals.

AMC's past forays into the spy genre have included the promising but cancelled-too-soon le Carré-esque series Rubicon, the ill-advised miniseries remake of The Prisoner, and this year's hit Revolutionary War series Turn (already renewed for a second season). Hugh Laurie has dabbled in the genre both on camera (including a memorable guest appearance on MI-5/Spooks as smarmy MI6 maven Jules Siviter) and in print (he authored the surprisingly terrific espionage novel The Gun Seller, which kind of reads like a parody of The Night Manager). Hiddleston has less spy experience, but as the villainous Loki he has taken on the comic book espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. in Marvel's The Avengers.

Oct 29, 2014

Tradecraft: Neo-Eurospy Reboot The Transporter Legacy Coming Next March

The Transporter reboot has a release date. Deadline reports that EuropaCorp USA, the new U.S. distribution arm of Luc Besson's French neo-Eurospy factory EuropaCorp (thanks to a partnership with Relativity), will release The Transporter Legacy on March 6, 2015. As previously reported, Ed Skrein (The Sweeney) steps into the shoes of Jason Statham as professional transporter Frank Martin. Skrein plays Martin at the beginning of his career. The trade provides a brief plot synopsis, revealing that this time out Martin crosses paths with femme fatale Anna (Loan Chabanol, Third Person), who wants him to take down a group of ruthless Russian human traffickers. To ensure his cooperation, Anna kidnaps Frank’s father (Ray Stevenson, Punisher: War Zone). Radivoje Bukvic (Taken) and Anatole Taubman (Quantum of Solace) also star. IGN (via Dark Horizons) premiered the first official photo of Skrein in the role, assuming the traditional Transporter pose in front of a car. The Transporter Legacy is still produced by Besson, but this time around he and series co-creator Robert Mark Kamen are leaving the writing chores to new blood, Bill Collage and Adam Cooper (Exodus: Gods and Kings). Camille Delamarre (Brick Mansions) directs. The big screen Transporter reboot has nothing to do with the television spinoff (which recently debuted to solid numbers on TNT), though Delamarre did cut his teeth directing second unit on the show.

The Transporter Legacy is intended to be the first in a new trilogy of Transporter movies starring Skrein. (And, frankly, its success will depend entirely on his charm. The original Transporter movies worked primarily because Jason Statham had it in spades.) But beyond that trilogy, we're likely to see even more neo-Eurospy movies of this ilk in theaters soon! Deadline reports that EuropaCorp recently secured a new line of credit that will allow them to increase their output from three films per year to eight.

Oct 26, 2014

Tradecraft: Paul Greengrass Ponders Some Serious Tunneling

Paul Greengrass is amassing quite a stack of espionage scripts on his development pile. As previously reported, he's already hard at work on an adaptation of the non-fiction spy memoir Agent Storm, and this summer he made the surprise announcement that he was reconsidering his long-held stance on never returning to the franchise that really put him on the map and would (hopefully) re-team with Matt Damon on a new Bourne movie which he would be writing himself. Yesterday Variety reported that the Bourne Ultimatum and Green Zone director has added a Cold War Berlin story to his growing pile. According to the trade, FilmNation Entertainment has acquired the screen rights to a book proposal (that's right; it's not even a book yet, just a proposal!) by journalist Greg Mitchell called The Tunnels. Mark Gordon (The Matador, The Man Who Wouldn't Die) will produce. The Tunnels is purportedly an "untold" true story of a harrowing escape from East Berlin during the days of the Wall about a group of West Germans funded by American news networks on an expedition to get their loved ones out of the East. (The trade doesn't say so, but I'm guessing the plan involves tunnels.) I hope this one happens. Personally, I love Wall-Crossing stories, and we don't get nearly enough of them nowadays.

Oct 22, 2014

Tradecraft: BBC America Acquires London Spy; Jim Broadbent Joins the Cast

It's not just British spy fans who will get to see Q step into a leading man spy role next year. American spy fans will also be able to watch the new BBC espionage drama London Spy. BBC America has come aboard as a production partner, according to Deadline, and will air the miniseries in the United States. As previously reported, the five-part series, created by Ian Fleming Steel Dagger winner Tom Rob Smith (author of Child 44), stars Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) as Danny, a "hedonistic romantic" drawn into the dangerous world of espionage when his new boyfriend, Alex, suddenly disappears without a trace. The trade also reports that Jim Broadbent (Closed Circuit, Any Human Heart), Charlotte Rampling (The Avengers, Spy Game), and Edward Holcroft (Kingsman: The Secret Service) have joined the cast, the latter (pictured) as Alex. Filming commenced in London last week under the direction of Jakob Verbruggen (The Fall, The Bridge).

Oct 18, 2014

Transporter TV Series Debuts Tonight On TNT

After taking a route as long and circuitous as one of the winding Riviera roads showcased on the series, the Transporter TV show finally debuts tonight on American television. Adapted from the Luc Besson-produced neo-Eurospy movies starring Jason Statham, the TV version stars Chris Vance as professional transporter Frank Martin. As one might expect of a TV show, there’s a bit more structure to his business on the show, allowing more regular characters than in the films. On TV, Frank has a reliable support staff. Transporter: The Series, and international co-production, was originally developed to air on Cinemax in the U.S. But for some reason Cinemax backed out, and the first season ended up airing in Europe, Australia and Canada a couple of years ago. Then TNT came to the rescue, ordering the existing first season and commissioning a second. The second one (now overseen by Strike Back’s Frank Spotnitz) recently began airing overseas, and tonight Americans can finally start watching the first one. But there are bound to be some changes from what Europeans saw. Since it was originally intended for Cinemax, the original version ofTransporter: The Series was full of gratuitous nudity, as suits that brand. The nudity will definitely be gone for TNT, and there may also be some edits for language and violence. While it certainly didn’t generate raves overseas, I found the first season of Transporter: The Series (which I broke down and bought on import DVD when it looked like there would be no American airing) to be pretty enjoyable. It’s  got the same daffy action we’ve come to expect from the movies. Vance is no Statham, sadly, but then who is? He makes an adequate lead, but the real star of the show is the car chase action, which is top notch. It’s the sort of all-action, testosorone-driven fare that fuelled basic cable line-ups in the 90s, but has been missing in recent years. If that’s what you’re looking for, definitely check it out.Transporter: The Series debuts tonight on TNT at 9/8c.

Oct 17, 2014

Michelle Yeoh Strikes Back

According to The Hollywood Reporter (via Dark Horizons), Bond Girl Michelle Yeoh (Tomorrow Never Dies) will join the fourth and final season of Cinemax's action-packed espionage drama Strike Back. She'll be joined by fellow Bond alum Will Yun Lee (Die Another Day), along with Adrian Paul (Highlander: The Series), Tim McInnerny (Spooks) and Wolf Kahler (Fleming, The Sandbaggers, Raiders of the Lost Ark). The series has just resumed production after a seven month hiatus following an injury sustained by star Sullivan Stapleton. The final 10-episode season will air in 2015.

Tradecraft: ABC Explores Dark Era of CIA in MKUltra

The Assets may have flopped (unfortunately), but ABC isn't giving up on Cold War CIA miniseries. In fact, they're developing another one from the writer of The Assets, Karen Stillman, based on the Agency's notorious MKUltra program. Deadline reports that the network is developing MKUltra, the story of the CIA's experimental mind control program from the Fifties and Sixties. A precursor of extraordinary rendition and other controversial CIA black ops, MKUltra was one of the infamous "crown jewels" revealed in the Church Committee hearings that shocked the nation in the 1970s. The Agency's Scientific Intelligence Division conducted experiments in human "behavioral engineering" using methods including sensory deprivation, hypnosis, torture and, most famously, drugs. Unwitting American citizens were dosed with LSD as part of these experiments, giving rise to an entire generation's justified paranoia about the CIA - and fueling conspiracy theories for decades to come. LSD and other drugs were also incorporated into the Agency's standard interrogation tactics of the time. This seems like fertile ground for a miniseries. I loved The Assets, and I hope this one gets greenlit.

Oct 15, 2014

Agent Carter Gets Her Own Comic

We know that Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. precursor SSR, is getting her own TV show this winter, spun off from the Marvel One Shot short film Agent Carter. And we got a brief, tantalizing sneak peek when Atwell made a guest appearance on a 1940s-set prologue to the second season premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Now, appropriately, the Captain America supporting character will finally have a Marvel comic of her own to back it up. Newsarama reports that Marvel announced the five-issue miniseries Operation S.I.N., written by Kathryn Immonen and illustrated by Rich Ellis, at this weekend's New York Comic Con. According to editor Jon Moisan, "People can expect a badass Cold War-era spy story featuring Peggy Carter and Howard Stark.... This series is very much a spy story, but done in a way that only Marvel can. And I don’t want to spill too much, but someone definitely fights a bear." Sounds good to me! I'm always down for more Cold War era spy comics. Operation S.I.N. will also somehow tie in to this past summer's big Nick Fury-centric Marvel crossover event Original Sin. The comic debuts in January 2015, timed to coincide with the eight-episode Agent Carter TV show.

Oct 14, 2014

Tradecraft: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck Developing Industrial Espionage Series

Deadline reports that Jason Bourne and Jack Ryan are teaming up for a new futuristic spy series. But Matt Damon (Green Zone, The Informant!) and Ben Affleck (Argo, The Sum of All Fears) are only behind the scenes on this one. The pair are developing "a futuristic espionage thriller" called Incorporated with CBS TV Studios for Syfy. "Set in a world where corporations have seemingly unlimited power, Incorporated will tell the story of one man’s efforts to beat the system." David and Alex Pastor will write the pilot; Ted Humphrey (The Unit) will serve as showrunner and executive produce along with Damon, Affleck and Jennifer Todd.

Tradecraft: Top Showrunners Team Up for CW Spy School Series

As regular readers know, I love the "teen spy" subgenre. And I feel like it's been pretty neglected on television, given its potential. So I'm pretty excited that Deadline is reporting that two very successful showrunners, Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives, Devious Maids) and Neal Baer (Under the Dome, Law and Order: SVU) are teaming up to create a prep school spy drama for the CW. Here's how the trade describes Cheerleader Death Squad: "Described as 'Heathers meets Alias', Cheerleader Death Squad centers on a disgraced CIA agent-turned-teacher at an elite Washington DC prep school. When he realizes that his students have high level access through personal connections, he trains a select few to be his eyes and ears into the world of international espionage and help him earn his way back into the agency." Sounds promising to me! Cherry and Baer will co-write the pilot along with Blue Bloods executive producer Dan Truly. And with that kind of star wattage behind the scenes, I'd say it's got a pretty good shot at going to series at a small network like The CW. Here's hoping!

Oct 13, 2014

Listen to Ian Fleming's Thrilling Cities on BBC Radio Online

BBC Radio 4 have previously adapted four of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels - "Dr. No," "Goldfinger," "From Russia With Love" and "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." Now they've created an audio production of the author's non-fiction travelogue, Thrilling Cities. Culled from a series of columns he wrote for the Sunday Times in 1960 and originally published as a book in 1963, Thrilling Cities was a uniquely Fleming sort of travelogue, which focused not on the usual tourist sights in far-flung travel destinations in Europe, America and the Far East, but on the seedier, seemier side that Fleming found thrilling. It's terrific writing, and provides an excellent account of cities like Tokyo, Hamburg, Chicago and Macau at a very specific time - the dawn of the Jet Age. The radio version is, obviously, abridged. The first of three 15-minute segments aired on Friday, October 10. It's available to stream on BBC's iPlayer for the next four weeks. Subsequent installments will be broadcast over the next two Fridays. Give it a listen!

Via MI6

Oct 11, 2014

Archer Nixes ISIS

This was inevitable. The Daily Beast reports that when cartoon superspy Sterling Archer returns to FX this January, he'll no longer be working for ISIS. On Archer, ISIS stood for International Secret Intelligence Service. It was the private spy agency Archer worked for (run by his mother, Mallory Archer), and for five seasons it was a pretty great name for a TV spy agency. But, of course, real world events have sadly made it far from a perfect name now. Series creator Adam Reed explains, "There were people online saying that we should address it and say, ‘Oh, I can’t believe these guys have co-opted our name.’ That’s the way South Park would do it, coming after them and saying, ‘These assholes stole our name,’ but that’s not the way the Archer universe works, where it’s all our own creations. In our universe, [the terrorist organization ISIS] don’t exist." That makes sense. You don't really need to call out assholes for being assholes; everyone knows that they are. I like Reed's version better, that in their world, that evil simply doesn't exist. For the show, the timing is somewhat unfortunate, but also somewhat convenient. Season 5 was a departure, and the gang spent the year away from ISIS, going rogue and trying their hand (very badly) at being drug dealers. (Just watch the show. It all makes sense then!) But in the end events brought them right back to ISIS, and for fans of the series it was set to be a welcome return to the familiar setting. It's sad that's not to be, but then the events of last season also give Reed and his fellow producers an easy out thanks to the CIA's involvement in the plot. So in the first scene of the sixth season (a different first scene than fans saw at Comic-Con this summer, when ISIS was still intact), we'll see an ISIS sign being wheeled out behind Mallory as she explains to Archer on the phone that they all work for the CIA now. And that's the last we'll ever hear of ISIS. The animators have digitally erased all ISIS signage from the rest of the season, and it won't be mentioned. So Sterling Archer is now officially a CIA agent, and the nod to great, silly acronyms of the past like U.N.C.L.E., CONTROL and S.H.I.E.L.D. is no more. And FX is left with a lot of hats, T-shirts, mugs and other merchandise it can't possibly sell now. Adios, ISIS.

Trailer: The Game

We first heard about BBC's new Seventies-set Cold War spy show The Game late last year, and found out America would be getting it too in January. Created by Toby Whithouse (Being Human, Doctor Who - for which he penned one of my favorite episodes), the series sounded like a mixture of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Mission: Impossible. And now we've got a trailer! Which, quite happily, bears out that assessment. Though maybe "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (both versions, really) meets Spooks (MI-5)" would be more accurate, as it definitely seems to blend modern action sensibilities with a Seventies le Carré vibe. And that, to me, seems like an incredible combination! I can't wait to see this show! And the good news is, we won't have to wait long at all! I'm not sure when it debuts in Britain, but in the U.S. it starts airing on BBC America's Dramaville in less than a month, on November 5 at 10pm. Brian Cox (The Bourne Identity, RED) plays the Smiley-esque spymaster "Daddy," and Tom Hughes (Page Eight, The Lady Vanishes) provides the heartthrob appeal as his star agent Joe Lambe. They really seem to be going for the look of the 2011 Tinker Tailor film (with a conference room that could be the same set recycled), and for me that just adds to the appeal! Check out the trailer below, and read more on the BBC America website.

Oct 8, 2014


It's been almost nineteen years since the last time James Bond saw print in a comic book – and even longer since the superspy's last original adventure in that medium. All that is about to change. Today, on the eve of the New York Comic Con, Ian Fleming Publications, Limited and Dynamite Entertainment announced a new partnership to bring 007 back to comics in 2015! According to the press release, "Dynamite has been granted worldwide rights to publish comic books, digital comics and graphic novels starring 007." The deal gives the New Jersey-based publisher the right to produce both "fresh visual adaptations of the classic Bond stories" and "to create a series of brand new adventures" for Fleming's inimitable secret agent. It also grants them the opportunity to publish "original graphic novels and collections." No creators have yet been announced.

Among its first projects, Dynamite plans to explore Bond's early days, pre-Casino Royale. According to the press release, "some other familiar faces from the expansive 007 mythos will also make appearances in this series – criminal masterminds, hired henchmen, glamorous Bond Girls and secret service allies – alongside all-new characters." Nothing else specific was announced about the new James Bond comics, but we can perhaps infer a bit about the publisher's strategy from looking at how they've handled other licensed properties. The origin story is not a surprising move. The publisher has had a lot of success doing "Year One" storylines about heroes like The Shadow, The Green Hornet and Zorro. (Often comics superstar Matt Wagner has been involved in these Year One stories. Could he be boning up on his Fleming?) Given that success, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the series dealing with Bond's early days ends up being called James Bond: Year One. Some of Dynamite's Year One comics have been as long as ten issues.

What might a James Bond: Year One story entail? In citing the year of Casino Royale's publication (1953), the press release (which can be read in its entirety at The Book Bond) seems to hint at a period setting. Fleming himself hinted in his first novel that Bond's career began during WWII. While recovering from his wounds at the hands of Le Chiffre, 007 recounts to his friend Mathis how he earned his Double O prefix. The first man he killed was a Japanese cipher expert working on the 36th floor of the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center in New York. Bond shot him from 300 yards away, in another skyscraper. (This incident was based on Fleming's own wartime experiences breaking into a Japanese cipher expert's offices in that building with his friend, the man called Intrepid, William Stephenson. There was no killing involved.) "The next time in Stockholm wasn't so pretty," Bond tells Mathis. "I had to kill a Norwegian who was doubling against us for the Germans.... For various reasons it had to be an absolutely silent job. I chose the bedroom of his flat and a knife. And, well, he just didn't die very quickly." The year of these killings isn't stated, but if Bond was killing a Japanese cipher expert and an agent who was doubling for the Germans, I think we can easily infer that these exploits took place during WWII. Furthermore, Fleming asserts that those two were Bond's only kills up until that point, which rather inconveniently leaves a gap of at least eight years during which 007 didn't kill anyone, which isn't very conducive to new adventures set in the early days of the Cold War. (I would assume, however, and even hope, that Dynamite will find a way to work around that.) So I don't think it would be unreasonable to assume that Dynamite's origins tale will depict Bond in action during the war, which is something we've never seen before in print or on film. Or in comics. (Well, aside from a brief flashback during William Boyd's 2013 continuation novel Solo, in which the author cast Bond as a member of Fleming's own real-life commando squad 30 Assault Unit.) So that would be exciting!

While this origins story was the only comic book specifically discussed in the press release, does that mean that that's the only James Bond comic we should expect from Dynamite next year? I highly doubt it! Fortunately for Bond fans and comics fans, the publisher has a long track record of being highly prolific with their other licensed properties! At one point this year there were as many as three separate ongoing Shadow series being published at once, maybe four. They previously published three different Green Hornet comics concurrently as well, all set in entirely different timelines no less. (One in the past, one in the present, and one in the future.) That's another thing they've got no trepidation about doing. We've also seen Battlestar Gallactica and Shadow series set in different periods and different timelines being published simultaneously. So just because an origins story might be set in the 1940s doesn't mean that Dynamite won't be publishing contemporary James Bond adventures as well. (This would also be in keeping with IFP's recent policy. They reportedly offer each continuation author the choice of setting his novel during Fleming's timeline or today, which has yielded both results.)

Another thing that Dynamite likes to do is publish spinoff titles. This, too, was hinted at in today's press release, when Dynamite Editor Mike Lake mused, "The Bond villains are some of the most memorable figures in popular culture…where did they come from? And in some cases, where did they go?" Again, I'm speculating, but this tantalizing question would seem to me to indicate that we might see spinoff comics about various Bond villains. And no doubt we'll see certain Bond Girls get their own titles as well. Strong, sexy women are historically Dynamite's favorite fodder for spinoffs. A Dejah Thoris title spun off from Warlord of Mars (based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter books) has, I believe, outlasted the original flagship series. I have little doubt that Dynamite CEO Nick Barucci intends to put a comic called Pussy Galore on store shelves at some point in the near future! But what other characters could be spun off into their own series, miniseries, or one-shots? There's precedent for Moneypenny to take center stage in Samantha Weinberg's excellent trilogy of Moneypenny Diaries novels. Blofeld seems like a natural. But, personally, I'd most like to see a series focusing on Bond's CIA ally, Felix Leiter!

The other thing Dynamite loves to do, historically, with their licensed properties is crossovers. This one I'm not so sure we'll see with Bond. I suspect that IFP will maintain a pretty tight leash on such things, but the possibilities are intriguing. Personally, I have zero interest in seeing 007 relegated to a supporting role in a major mash-up with other characters, which Dynamite is fond of. (Masks unites The Shadow, The Spider, Green Hornet, Miss Fury and even Zorro, among other pulp heroes, into one big jam. Justice Inc. reads like an intriguing pulp-era Justice League, teaming The Shadow with Doc Savage and The Avenger.) But I must admit, certain team-ups with other licensed characters on the Dynamite roster do intrigue me. (It might sound crazy, but I'd love to see Bond team up with Tarzan! I think it could work! And though some time trickery would probably be necessary, I also wouldn't mind seeing 007 thrust into Dynamite's usual team-up - a meeting with Sherlock Holmes! Hey, there's precedent for that one, in the elusive publication "Holmes Meets 007.") And Dynamite doesn't limit their crossovers to their own characters. They're also fond of inter-company crossovers, like Batman '66/Green Hornet, published in conjunction with DC, or Spider-man/Red Sonja, published with Marvel. I can't imagine something like James Bond Meets Batman working (and can't imagine IFP would sign off on it), but imagine a Sixties-set 007/Nick Fury team-up on an over-the-top You Only Live Twice scale? That I can picture... and would love to read! In fact, it just makes sense. And I bet the great Jim Steranko could even be tempted to revisit the character he's most famously associated and provide a cover with the tantalizing addition of James Bond...

Finally, Dynamite also has a history of publishing collected editions of comics about their licensed characters originally put out by other companies. They've released trade paperbacks of some of DC's 1980s Shadow comics (including the unmissable if bizarre then-contemporary story Seven Deadly Finns) and Marvel's original Red Sonja stories, and a hardcover of Marvel Doc Savage tales. So I'm very hopeful that they might reprint some or all of James Bond's past comic adventures. If you stick to the English language material, there's really not that much. Mike Grell's Permission to Die (originally published by Eclipse in the early Nineties) and Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy's Serpent's Tooth are the two best Bond comic stories to date. Both were collected in trade paperbacks in their day, but both are now long out of print and much deserving of new editions. Other Dark Horse Bond comics have never been collected, including the unfinished (but highly promising) A Silent Armageddon. I've heard rumors that the other two issues were actually drawn, even if they weren't published. Wouldn't it be great if Dynamite managed to present that and Topps' GoldenEye (for which pencils were also completed) in their entirety for the first time anywhere? Furthermore, the various movie adaptations over the years have never been collected. There haven't been that many, so it would be easy to include DC's Dr. No, Marvel's For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy, and Eclipse's Licence To Kill (ideally along with the complete GoldenEye) in a single Omnibus volume. And if I want to get really greedy, how great would it be if they eventually published translations of the rare Bond comics from other countries that have never seen print in English? For some reason 007 has enjoyed more success in other countries like Sweden and Argentina and India than in the English speaking world. I'd love to see the Semic or Zigzag titles collected in English for the first time! Or, best of all, the Japanese manga versions of Thunderball and On Her Majesty's Secret Service from the Sixties! But now I must be dreaming... For starters I'd be happy just to see Serpent's Tooth back on shelves.

So the only real, solid news that we have is that James Bond is returning to comics for the first time since Topps' aborted GoldenEye adaptation (which the publisher had promised was not just a film adaptation, but the beginning of a brand new ongoing James Bond series... which never happened) in 1995 (excluding a Young Bond graphic novel adaptation of Silverfin in 2008, which wasn't published in standard comic book format). But, with the possible exception of the crossovers, I suspect that my speculation based on Dynamite's past behavior may prove to be more true than not. But unfortunately we'll have to wait until at least next year to find out!

Read more about Dynamite's James Bond announcement at:
The Book Bond
The Hollywood Reporter
Comic Book Resources

Oct 6, 2014

Tradecraft: Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston to Star in Le Carre Miniseries The Night Manager

This is super exciting news! John le Carré fans have been spoiled lately with some excellent movies based on the inimitable author's books, but in many ways miniseries remain the best possible medium for adapting such intricate, complex stories. (Smiley's People remains the finest le Carré adaptation to date, in my opinion.) And now, according to The Hollywood Reporter, there's a new le Carré miniseries in the offing! (Or "limited series," to use the preferred present-day parlance.) And its cast is shaping up to be top notch. Hugh Laurie (best known for House and Jeeves and Wooster, but no stranger to the world of spies having memorably guest starred on Spooks and penned the terrific espionage novel The Gunseller) and Tom Hiddleston (Marvel's The Avengers, Only Lovers Left Alive) are set to star in The Night Manager.

The last time we heard anything about le Carré's 1993 novel The Night Manager being adapted, it was as a film being produced by Brad Pitt, and that was back in 2009. Apparently things have changed. The trade reports that the book is now being turned into a miniseries from Ink Factory (le Carré's sons' production company, responsible for the excellent recent films of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and A Most Wanted Man as well as the upcoming Our Kind of Traitor) in partnership with the BBC, whose long association with le Carré material includes the aforementioned Smiley's People, with Alec Guinness, and the original Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The producers are currently seeking a U.S. network to partner with them for a straight-to-series pickup, which shouldn't be too difficult with that star power. David Farr (whose spy credits include Hanna and Spooks) is writing. It's unclear how many episodes the miniseries will entail, but in the United States "limited series" have been getting pretty long lately (as many as ten episodes).

The Night Manager is the story of Jonathan Pine (presumably Hiddleston), a former soldier turned hotelier who ends up volunteering to become an undercover agent for a new branch of British Intelligence in an effort to get revenge for the death of a woman he loved in Cairo. Leonard Burr is the dogged intelligence officer with a background in enforcement who masterminds Pine's mission against Peer of the Realm arms dealer Richard Onslow Roper. Roper is the sort of upper-class Englishman completely devoid of morals for whom le Carré has always reserved a particular vitriol, and Hugh Laurie should have a blast playing him. (I'm assuming he'll be the snobbish Roper as opposed to the working class Burr.) It's a deceptively straightforward undercover story for le Carré, but there is still plenty of material for a miniseries. As Pine risks falling under the spell of his charming adversary (and his beautiful mistress), Burr must contend with overwhelming forces in the British and American Intelligence Community who would rather keep Roper in play, not so much for the chicken feed intelligence he sometimes throws their way, but because they're all becoming very rich off of his nefarious deals. The novel functions as somewhat of a companion piece to the author's 1977 Smiley novel The Honourable Schoolboy. During the Cold War, Smiley represented the forces of Pure Intelligence, who wanted to flip a high value asset and get him to work for the British, but he found himself outflanked by the short-sighted forces of Enforcement (in the form of the American DEA) who would prefer to make an arrest or eliminate the target than flip him. In le Carré's first post-Cold War novel, however, the world has changed. Now it's Leonard Burr who has the author's sympathies, as an Enforcement man who wants to punish the wrongdoer with the aid of the DEA when the now sinister forces of Pure Intelligence would prefer to keep him out of jail, no matter how unpleasant his business.

Hugh Laurie and John le Carré are a near perfect match. I can't wait to see this project come together!