Jun 12, 2019


eOne Entertainment has released a trailer for the long-in-the-works movie about Katherine Gun, the GCHQ whilstleblower who exposed the faulty intelligence used to justify the second Iraq war. Official Secrets is based on the 2008 book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell. The title pretty much says it all, but Gun leaked an email to The Observer exposing an illegal U.S./UK intelligence operation designed to influence U.N. approval of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Matt Smith (Doctor Who), Matthew Goode (Kingsman: The Great Game), Rhys Ifans (Berlin Station), and Ralph Fiennes (Skyfall) star, with Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) directing. Official Secrets was first announced back in 2016, at which time Justin Chadwick (Spooks) was set to direct Natalie Dormer in the lead role, with a cast including Harrison Ford, Anthony Hopkins, and Martin Freeman. Clearly things changed, but the resulting movie still looks intriguing!

Jun 5, 2019

Trailer for STARZ Series THE ROOK

STARZ has released a trailer for their upcoming supernatural spy series The Rook. Surprisingly, it doesn't look as supernatural as I was expecting, but does pack in plenty of spyish paranoia and betrayal. It looks like The Bourne Identity meets the X-Men. Based on the series of books by Daniel O'Malley, The Rook premieres June 30 on STARZ.

Jun 4, 2019

Lots of Big Screen Spy Movies at L.A.'s New Beverly This Month

The June line-up at Quentin Tarantino's L.A. revival theater The New Beverly Cinema has lots to offer for spy fans! Foremost among them, in terms of big screen rarity, is a Sixties Irving Allen spy double bill of the fourth and final Matt Helm movie, 1969's The Wrecking Crew (advertised as being a gorgeous new 35mm print!) and the highly entertaining 1968 Eurospy movie Hammerhead. (Read my review here.) Like all of the Dean Martin Helm movies, the former (also starring Sharon Tate, Nancy Kwan, Tina Louise, and the villainous Deadlier Than the Male duo of Elke Sommer and Nigel Green) has relatively little to do with the gritty Donald Hamilton novel whose title it bears, but the latter is a pretty faithful adaptation of James Mayo's debut Charles Hood novel, despite changing hero Hood from a Brit to an American (Vince Edwards). This swinging double feature plays two nights--Wednesday, June 12, and Thursday, June 13. The first feature starts at 7:30, and the second at 9:45.

They'll also be showing Alfred Hitchcock's two late Sixties spy movies on consecutive Wednesday afternoons as part of their "Afternoon Classics" matinee series. Since these aren't among Hitch's most famous titles, they're also relative rarities on the big screen. I wish they weren't only playing during the day when I'll be at work! But should you be lucky enough to have Wednesdays off, be sure to check out "vibrant" IB Technicolor prints of Torn Curtain (1966), starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, on Wednesday, June 19, at 2pm, and Topaz (1969), based on the Leon Uris novel and featuring a Eurospy all-star cast of Frederick Stafford (OSS 117: Terror in Tokyo), Michel Piccoli (Danger: Diabolik), and Karin Dor (You Only Live Twice), on Wednesday, June 26, at 2pm.

There's also a slew of spy-adjacent Sixties movies on the docket, including Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman's other giant Ian Fleming adaptation, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, playing as a 2pm matinee on Saturday, June 22, and Sunday, June 23, Sean Connery in another Wednesday matinee of Hitchcock's Marnie (1964) on June 12, Eurospy goddess Elke Sommer in the heist picture They Came to Rob Las Vegas (paired with another Gary Lockwood vehicle, Jacques Demy's mesmerizing love letter to Sixties L.A., Model Shop) on June 18 (one night only), and on June 19 and 20 a double feature of Frank Sinatra's second Tony Rome movie (essentially an attempt to reinvent the hard-boiled P.I. genre for the Swinging Sixties Bond-Age), Lady in Cement (co-starring Fathom's Raquel Welch) and the faux spy thriller Pretty Poison, wherein mental patient Anthony Perkins convinces Tuesday Weld he's a secret agent. That's quite a month!

It should be noted that both The Wrecking Crew and They Came to Rob Las Vegas both feature in the latest trailer for Tarantino's upcoming 1969-set Once Upon A Time... in Hollywood (the former in a clip and poster, the latter flashing by in a billboard adorning the Chinese Theater).

Tickets for all shows are available through Brown Paper Tickets.

Apr 30, 2019

Tradecraft: KOLYMSKY HEIGHTS Miniseries in the Works

Interior artwork from the U.S. paperback
Deadline reports that the BBC Studios-backed production company Moonage Pictures has optioned Lionel Davidson's legendary final novel, Kolymsky Heights (1994) to adapt as a miniseries. As the trade puts it, the novel "tells the story of an Oxford Professor, who receives an envelope containing nothing but two cigarette papers, which begins a chain of events that will change the course of history. Set just after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the story follows Johnny Porter’s attempt to infiltrate the most secret research facility in Russia – a laboratory buried deep underground, a place nobody has ever left alive. Porter’s quest takes him over the Arctic Ocean and into deepest Siberia – constantly switching identities as he goes."

Davidson rose to prominence as a writer of spy thrillers in the 1960s, debuting with The Night of Wenceslas, which was adapted as the immensely entertaining 1964 movie Hot Enough For June (aka Agent 8 3/4) starring Dirk Bogarde, Sylva Koscina, and Leo McKern. He wrote spy novels for adults and, under the pseudonym David Line, for children fairly consistently throughout the Sixties and Seventies before going dormant in the early Eighties. He then re-emerged in the Nineties to great acclaim with Kolymsky Heights, and then never published another novel, dying in 2009. The book had gone out of print and Davidson had faded into relative obscurity until bestselling The Golden Compass author Philip Pullman talked it up, calling it "the best thriller I've ever read." The subsequent demand prompted Faber & Faber to issue a new edition in 2015.

According to Deadline, Moonage Pictures was "set up by a handful of Peaky Blinders execs," including "veteran Tiger Aspect exec Will Gould, former BBC Drama Commissioner Matthew Read and Tiger Drama’s Frith Tiplady." They've produced the Sean Bean action drama Curfew for Sky One, and are currently in production on the new sci-fi show Intergalactic. Read has a real passion for this project, telling the trade, "Lionel Davidson’s sensational novel has been at the top of my wish-list to adapt for a very long time. It has all the flair of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, combined with the awe of The Revenant, and in Johnny Porter it has that same elemental will to survive at its core. It’s a breath-taking adventure, and it demands the time and the ambition that only long form TV today can offer."

This will not be the first miniseries based on Davidson's work. His Cold War children's adventure Run For Your Life formed the basis for the beloved 1974 ITV miniseries Soldier and Me (available on Region 2 DVD from Network in the UK), and his 1978 novel The Chelsea Murders was adapted on Thames Television's Armchair Thriller series in 1981 (also available from Network, as, for that matter, is Hot Enough for June).

Dynamite's LIVE AND LET DIE Graphic Novel Due This Fall

While the publisher hasn't officially announced it yet, there is now an Amazon listing for Dynamite's second Ian Fleming graphic novel adaptation, Live and Let Die. According to the listing it's due out September 24, but that's probably best taken with a grain of salt considering their Casino Royale adaptation was delayed multiple times. While Denis Calero handled art chores on that book, Kewber Baal takes over for the second title. Baal is an old hand in the Dynamite stable, having contributed to volumes of their ongoing Army of Darkness, KISS, Jennifer Blood, and Green Hornet comics, among others. Van Jensen again pens the adaptation. The very cool cover art (which may not be final) nods to the famous poster for the Roger Moore movie, while remaining true to the content of the novel. It's unclear whether it's by Fay Dalton, who created the cover for Casino Royale along with the art for those beautiful Folio Society Fleming editions. It's not in quite the same style we're used to from her, but it is gorgeous! The 168-page hardcover will retail for $24.99 and can be pre-ordered now. Here's Dynamite's description:
In this second adaptation of the Fleming novels, Bond is sent to New York City to investigate "Mr. Big", an agent of SMERSH and a criminal voodoo leader. With no time for superstition―and with the help of his colleague in the CIA, Felix Leiter, Bond tracks "Mr. Big" through the jazz joints of Harlem, to the everglades and on to the Caribbean, knowing that this criminal heavy hitter is a real threat. No-one, not even the mysterious Solitaire, can be sure how their battle of wills is going to end… 
Thanks to Jack for the heads-up!

Apr 25, 2019

Full Cast Revealed for BOND 25 at Goldeneye Press Conference

At a non-traditional press conference today in Jamaica, appropriately held at the resort that used to be Ian Fleming's house, Goldeneye, James Bond producers revealed details about the next 007 movie--the twenty-fifth official entry in the 57-year-old series. One detail they did not provide was a title. This same situation occurred on Daniel Craig's second Bond film; no title was revealed at the commencement of filming press conference for the movie that ultimately became Quantum of Solace.

Goldeneye resort
What was revealed was the cast, confirming some long running rumors and offering some pleasant surprises. Foremost among those pleasant surprises was the news that, after more than a decade, Jeffrey Wright will reprise his Felix Leiter role! The beloved series character was last seen in 2008's Quantum of Solace. With a third turn as 007's CIA friend, Wright will surpass David Hedison, becoming the actor to play the role the most times. And should this untitled film prove to indeed be Craig's swan song as Bond, as he has said, then it will also make him the only Bond actor to date to have one consistent Felix throughout his entire run in the role. History in the making, folks!

Other new male faces include Billy Magnussen (a comedic standout in Game Night who previously worked with Bond 25 director Cary Fukanaga in Maniac), rumored to be playing another CIA agent, Rami Malek (Best Actor Oscar winner for last year's Bohemian Rhapsody), seemingly confirming that he'll be an antagonist by saying, via video, that he'll "be making sure Mr. Bond does not have an easy ride of it," Dali Benssalah (A Faithful Man), and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's Toby Esterhase, David Dencik. The stunning Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049), who previously worked with Craig in Rian Johnson's upcoming whodunnit Knives Out, and Captain Marvel scene stealer Lashana Lynch (who is of Jamaican descent) join the hallowed ranks of Bond Girls.

Ana de Armas
As previously reported, for the first time since Eunice Gayson's Sylvia Trench in From Russia With Love, there will also be a returning Bond Girl this time out. (There have, of course, been other returning actresses, but in different roles.) Lea Seydoux will reprise her SPECTRE role of Madeleine Swann, last seen driving happily off into the sunset with Craig's James Bond. Other returning cast members include Bond's entire MI6 support staff: Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Rory Kinnear as Bill Tanner (also setting a new series record, surpassing Michael Kitchen's two turns in the role during the Pierce Brosnan era), and Ben Whishaw as Q.

Lea Seydoux
Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson also confirmed some heavily rumored contributors to the screenplay for Bond 25. Series mainstays Neil Purvis and Robert Wade will be joined by Scott Z Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum) and, in especially exciting news Killing Eve creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge (rumored to have been brought on a Craig's suggestion to inject more humor). Killing Eve is a terrific spy series with a very unique creative voice, and should she end up with a screen credit (something ultimately determined by the Writers Guild), Waller-Bridge will be the first woman to receive one since Joanna Harwood on the first two movies with Sean Connery! As previously announced, American director Cary Joji Fukunaga (who helmed the entire riveting first season of True Detective) directs, having come aboard after Danny Boyle famously left the production. Though not mentioned at today's Jamaica presser, cinematographer Linus Sandgren (La La Land, First Man) was previously confirmed to shoot the movie. As far as I know no composer has yet been announced. Personally, I'm crossing my fingers hard for a David Arnold return to mark Craig's final outing.

Cary Joji Fukunaga
Broccoli revealed a tantalizing outline of the new film's plot. As recapped by The Hollywood Reporter, "Bond is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica after leaving active service. But his peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology." Besides a triumphant return to Jamaica, the iconic shooting location of Dr. No and Live and Let Die, filming will take place in Norway (where at least one second unit sequence has already been shot, in order to take advantage of the winter weather) London's Pinewood Studios, and scenic Matera in Italy. The press conference (whose only questions were actually chosen from Twitter rather than journalists) concluded by offering us our first glimpse at one of these locations. Presumably this is Bond's house in Jamaica where he's enjoying the soft life (a plot point perhaps borrowed from John Pearson's experimental 1973 continuation novel James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007, which had the agent retiring to the island).

Apr 20, 2019

Trailer for Luc Besson's LA FEMME NIKITA Remix ANNA

Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment have finally set a release date for Luc Besson's latest neo-Eurospy spectacle, Anna. It will open June 21. And the director's latest take on his oft-trod La Femme Nikita territory looks spectacular! It's got a late Cold War setting, a sexy leading lady, an impressive fight in a restaurant... and apparently Helen Mirren as George Smiley! (Check out those Guinness glasses!) Seriously, this looks utterly awesome. I can't wait!

There's no U.S. or international 1-sheet yet, but here's the French advance poster.

Mar 29, 2019

Trailer: PENNYWORTH, a 1960s Spy Show Starring... Batman's Butler?

It seems the only way to get period spy shows now is when they're spun off from superhero franchises. Remember that 1960s-set, Avengers-like Hellfire Club we almost got, that was to be spun off from X-Men: First Class? (It would have focused on the White Queen, an X-Men character inspired by Emma Peel's guise in the classic Avengers episode "A Touch of Brimstone.") And we did, of course, get two superb seasons of Marvel's Agent Carter set in the late 1940s and spun off from Captain America: The First Avenger. There were even (really!), at one point, plans at Sony to make a Spider-man spinoff about Peter Parker's Aunt May... as a secret agent in the Sixties! That didn't happen, but this is almost as rich.

Last summer, as Deadline, reported, EPIX ordered the latest of these efforts, a 1960s spy show... about Batman's butler, Alfred Pennyworth. And today, we got the first trailer for Pennyworth, from Gotham alums Bruno Heller (Rome) and Danny Cannon (Nikita). While the famous butler may have been originally created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger, it's unlikely that they ever imagined Alfred (originally depicted as plump and comical) as a former secret agent. Yet that aspect has entered into DC Comics lore in recent decades, and been notably explored in stories like Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, and All-Star Batman: The First Ally by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque. This side of Alfred was first explored in detail on television in the 2013 animated series Beware the Batman, which featured a Jason Statham-ish take on Alfred. But I suspect the main inspiration for Heller was probably seeing Michael Caine as Alfred in Christopher Nolan's Batman movies and flashing back to the young Caine as Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File and Billion Dollar Brain. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine Palmer as an antecedent of Caine's Alfred, and indeed Pennyworth looks to take inspiration from the likes of Ipcress. (Hopefully it will also feature a John Barry-ish sound, as director Cannon has experience with that, having commissioned David Arnold's very Bondian Bjork song "Play Dead" for his breakout 1993 movie, The Young Americans.)

In the 10-episode drama series, Alfred Pennyworth (The Imitation Game's Jack Bannon), described by Deadline as "a former British SAS soldier in his 20s," forms a private security company "and goes to work with young billionaire Thomas Wayne (Fleabag's Ben Aldridge), who’s not yet Bruce’s father, in 1960s London." The end result appears, from this brief teaser, to somewhat resemble BBC's sadly short-lived period spy drama The Game. I'm excited for any Sixties spy drama, and if lashing their idea to a superhero franchise is the only way creators can get that kind of programming made, that's fine with me. I'm on board! Pennyworth premieres this summer on EPIX. Check it out:

Feb 15, 2019

Tradecraft: BOND 25 Moves from Valentine's Day to Easter Weekend 2020

Deadline reports that the next Daniel Craig James Bond movie has switched release dates again... but unlike the last date change, from November 2019 to February 2020, this one isn't because of production delays. That move came because original director Danny Boyle left the project and the script (or treatment, depending on how far they had gotten) he had developed with John Hodge was jettisoned in favor of (or possibly incorporated into; the details are still unclear) a previously existing story idea by regular Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade as Cary Joji Fukanaga (Maniac, True Detective) came on board to helm.

This time, the shift comes as part of a release date shuffle at Universal, who will distribute Bond 25 internationally in conjunction with MGM, who will release domestically through their joint venture with Annapurna, now happily branded as United Artists (per Variety)... bringing Bond back home, as it were. (The first 19 James Bond films were released through United Artists, but that logo hasn't been seen at the head of a 007 movie since 1999's The World Is Not Enough.) Universal moved the 9th Fast and Furious movie away from its traditional April berth into the Memorial Day frame. According to the trade, this was done because Easter Weekend, when it had initially been slated, is crammed full in China, where that blockbuster franchise does a large percentage of its business. With April 8 now free, it made sense for the studios involved to move Bond 25 into that plum Easter Weekend slot, when there are currently no other major movies scheduled to open.

Four of the last five Fast & Furious movies have opened in April (basically ever since the franchise reinvented itself as an international caper series), turning that month into the unofficial start of the summer tent pole movie season that used to begin Memorial Day weekend, and thus paving the way for 007. Bond movies have traditionally opened around Christmas time ever since GoldenEye in 1995, following the box office failure of Licence to Kill in the crowded summer marketplace of 1989, which included stiff competition from Batman, Lethal Weapon 2, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It will be interesting to see if the April date for Bond 25 signals anther long-term paradigm shift for the series, or ultimately proves an anomaly like the June-released Fast & Furious 6 in 2013. To be honest, I was kind of looking forward to a Valentine's Day Bond movie, but April makes sense for the series. And by returning to the summer box office the franchise once dominated as well as the UA logo on the head, it makes Bond 25 even more of a homecoming.

According to the trade, series regulars Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, and Naomie Harris are all set to return as M, Q, and Moneypenny, respectively, along with Lea Seydoux reprising her SPECTRE role as Madeiline Swann, and thus becoming the first recurring Bond Girl (in the same role, anyway) since Eunice Gayson's Sylvia Trench in Dr. No and From Russia With Love (1962 and '63, respectively). My fingers are firmly crossed that Rory Kinnear will also return as Bill Tanner, and just isn't a big enough name to warrant mention in the trades at this point.

And speaking of Fast & Furious movies (which obviously owe a huge debt to the Bond series), prior to that ninth one in 2020 we will see their all-spy spinoff movie, Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw, which opens this summer starring Jason Statham, The Rock, and frequent source of 007 rumors Idris Elba. The first trailer was recently released.

Feb 12, 2019

Rebecca Ferguson Accepts Another MISSION

We learned last month that director Christopher McQuarrie and star Tom Cruise were both on board for two more Mission: Impossible movies, shooting back-to-back for release in 2021 and 2022.  While the regular team is expected back, there had been no confirmations so far. Rebecca Ferguson, who joined the franchise as the enigmatic agent Ilsa Faust in McQuarrie's first movie, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation in 2015, has now become the first team member to confirm she'll return. According to Metro (via Dark Horizons), Ferguson was asked while a guest on UK chat show Lorraine (where she was promoting her incredibly entertaining new kids' movie, The Kid Who Would Be King) if we would be seeing her in the next Mission: Impossible movie, and she affirmed, "You will." Hopefully we get similar confirmations soon from Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, recent standout addition Vanessa Kirby, and maybe even Jeremy Renner, who sat out the last one. Variety recently reported that the seventh film will open on July 23, 2021, and the eighth on August 5, 2022. It's not a surprise that Paramount are eager to get more films out quickly, as last year's Mission: Impossible - Fallout (review here) proved the series' highest earner to date, raking in $790 million worldwide, and star Cruise, famous for doing his own stunts, will be 60 by the time the eighth movie premieres. Presumably the next two movies will also introduce a new generation of IMF agents including someone capable of carrying the crazy stunt torch when Cruise feels ready to pass it. It would be nice to see his Ethan Hunt character age gracefully into more of a mission planner role, like television's Jim Phelps, while someone else equally insane takes on the precipitous dangling.

Feb 7, 2019

Upcoming Spy DVDs: Mill Creek Collects Sony's COLD WAR THRILLERS Plus Red Scare Shorts

In April, Mill Creek will release a Cold War Thrillers 6 Film Collection bringing together six spy titles previously released as MOD discs through the (apparently defunct) Sony Screen Classics By Request line. It's a pretty good batch of movies, a chance to get titles previously available only on DVD-R on proper DVDs (three movies to a disc, though), and a bargain to boot, since the MOD versions coast around $20 apiece. For just $14.98 (on Amazon), you can get Otley (1968, Tom Courtenay), Hammerhead (1968, review here), The Executioner (1970, George Peppard, Joan Collins), A Dandy in Aspic (1968, Laurence Harvey, Tom Courtenay), Man on a String (1960, Ernest Borgnine), and the first-rate John le Carré adaptation The Deadly Affair (1966, review here). That's quite a Eurospy bundle! (Plus the one Hollywood title, Man on a String, a fact-based Cold War drama with Borgnine and future OSS 117 Kerwin Mathews.) The package would be worth it for Otley (one of my very favorite spy movies) and Hammerhead alone, if you didn't already have them... and might be worth considering for the shelf space savings even if you've got all six. A Dandy in Aspic had previously been included in the 2017 Mill Creek collection Soviet Spies 4-Film Collection, with artwork cashing in on The Americans.

Then again, connoisseurs might want to hold off, as UK company Indicator has been releasing lavish, all-region Blu-ray special editions of some of these titles. So far they've put out Otley and The Deadly Affair, with A Dandy in Aspic due next month. It's possible their agreement with Sony might include the other titles... though probably not too likely. (I sure would love to see Hammerhead in high-def though!)

The same day, April 16, Mill Creek will also put out a collection of Cold War propaganda films (plus a documentary), Minutes to Midnight - The Cold War Chronicles. The single disc will include the hour-long documentary Cold War Remembered, plus the government propaganda shorts A Day Called X (1957, 27 minutes, narrated by Glenn Ford), Duck and Cover (1951, 9 minutes), The Challenge of Ideas (1961, 30 minutes, narrated by John Wayne, Edward R. Murrow, and Lowell Thomas), Atomic Alert (1954, 11 Minutes), Red Chinese Battle Plan (1964, 25 minutes), Target: You! (1953, 9 minutes), Warning Red (1956, 13 minutes), Our Cities Must Fight (1951, 9 minutes), Bombproof (1956, 14 minutes), About Fallout (1963, 24 minutes), Town of the Times (1963, 25 minutes), Let's Face It (1954, 13 minutes), What You Should Know About Biological Warfare (1952, 15 minutes), You Can Beat the A-Bomb (1950, 19 minutes), The House in the Middle (1954, 12 Minutes). Sadly it leaves out my personal favorite Red Scare film, What is Communism? with Jack Webb, but those ones all sound pretty terrifying nonetheless. Especially You Can Beat the A-Bomb.

Feb 3, 2019

Want a Very Expensive Max Zorin Action Figure?

It's art! Bootleg toy artist Sucklord is offering an unofficial Max Zorin action figure for $175. It's part of a line of Christopher Walken character figures. If you buy it, I don't think you're supposed to open it up and play with it.

Trailer for FAST & FURIOUS Spy Spinoff HOBBS & SHAW

Universal released the first trailer the other day for the Fast & Furious franchise spinoff Hobbs & Shaw, starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. The Fast & Furious is an odd franchise, because it started out as a mid-budget street racing/crime series, then morphed into a mega-budget international heist series with a serious espionage bent and car stunts to rival Bond and Mission: Impossible. It's also one of the few series I can think of that got significantly better along the way. For me, the fifth film, Fast Five, was a real turning point, when Justin Lin, who had already directed two previous entries, really perfected what would become the series' formula. It was also the movie that introduced Dwayne Johnson's character, a tough-as-nails DSS agent named Luke Hobbs who was on the trail of Dominic Toretto's (Vin Diesel's) gang in Brazil. That was also when, after several less successful attempts, The Rock truly became an action star. His palpable charisma made Hobbs an instant fan-favorite character, and he was brought back in the next entry, Fast & Furious 6, which also introduced (in a post-credits coda) Jason Statham (Transporter 3) as former MI6 agent gone rogue Deckard Shaw. Shaw returned as the main antagonist in Furious 7, before reluctantly joining forces with the good guys (including Hobbs) in The Fate of the Furious. In Furious 7, the series had already shifted its focus to international espionage, courtesy of Kurt Russell's Nick Fury-ish spymaster Mr. Nobody. With Dom working with the bad guys for much of Fate, Hobbs and Shaw had a chance to shine on the good guy team, emerging as the series' clear new stars. So it only made sense to give them a spinoff! With Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, we could see a new spy franchise grow out of what started as a street racing series.

It's high time Transporter star Jason Statham got a big budget action series, and pairing him with The Rock should double the thrills. Atomic Blonde director David Leitch takes the helm, and he's brought on able spy support in the form of Idris Elba (he of perpetual tabloid rumors about James Bond, not to mention the solid neo-Eurospy flick The Take) as the villain (clad in a very Steranko bodysuit) and Mission: Impossible - Fallout standout Vanessa Kirby as an MI6 agent on the run. Eddie Marsan (Atomic Blonde) and Eiza González (Baby Driver, Alita: Battle Angel) round out the impressive cast. The action looks, as expected from that team, hyper-kinetic, Johnson and Statham's chemistry looks good, the cars look cool, and it generally looks like we might have a new action-heavy spy franchise to rival 007 and Mission: Impossible on our hands!

Jan 15, 2019

Spider-Man Turns SPYder-Man in New Trailer Featuring Nick Fury

Sony has released the first trailer for their latest Spider-Man movie, the second one set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a direct sequel to 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming. Thanks to the agreement between Sony and Disney-owned Marvel Studios that also allows Spider-man to appear in Disney's Avengers films, the Sony-released, Marvel-produced Spider-man movies can use other characters from the MCU. Spider-Man: Far From Home (opening this summer) takes full advantage of this scenario by finally bringing erstwhile S.H.I.E.L.D. ramrod Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) into poor Peter Parker's life. In fact, it looks like the pitch for this movie might have been something along the lines of, "let's do If Looks Could Kill with Spider-Man." Which, as an unapologetic fan of the 1991 Richard Grieco  teen spy movie, fills me with delight... even if I still have trouble believing Marvel went for it!

Far From Home finds teenage Peter Parker and all his classmates from Homecoming going on a school trip to Europe, where Nick Fury hijacks Peter's European vacation to recruit him as some sort of spy, complete with a fancy new stealth Spider suit. Jackson's Fury is accompanied once again by his regular MCU sidekick, Cobie Smulders' former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill. (Never mind that the last time we saw the two of them, in Avengers: Infinity War, both were disintegrating into dust. Perhaps the events of Avengers: Endgame, which will open between now and Far From Home, will somehow undo that fate, or perhaps Far From Home takes place prior to Infinity War.Jackson will next be seen as a pre-eye patch Fury in the 1990s-set Captain Marvel.) This trailer marks the first time we've ever seen Jackson's Fury wield a gun that resembles the one Jim Steranko drew for him on his seminal 1960s run on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (even if this one's a dart gun). Personally, I'm 100% sold on the spy stuff... but iffy on the giant elemental creatures angle. Check it out for yourselves:

Read my Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. primer here.

Jan 14, 2019

Tradecraft: Cruise, McQuarrie Accept Back-to-Back MISSIONS

For its first fifteen years, the Mission: Impossible movie franchise was remarkable as a directors' franchise, purposely switching up helmers (and styles, characters, and even continuity) to give each installment a unique feel rather than a Bond-like house style. That all changed when Christopher McQuarrie hit a home run with the fifth film in the series, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015), and returned to direct the sixth as well, last year's mega-hit Mission: Impossible - Fallout. Now, it appears that that wasn't an anomaly in the franchise's history, but a whole new direction. Variety reports that McQuarrie has just signed on to write and direct not just one more, but the the next two Mission: Impossible movies, which will film back to back for release in summer 2021 and summer 2022. Tom Cruise confirmed the dates--and presumably his involvement--with a lit fuse tweet this afternoon.

From the perspective of the studio, Paramount, it is not a surprising move. Fallout was both the highest grossing and best reviewed picture in the franchise to date, so locking down McQuarrie makes sense. Once these movies are made, he will have directed a full half of the film series. (For that matter, by that point Cruise will have surpassed Sean Connery's and Roger Moore's tied 7-film record for the most number of times playing a superspy in a major franchise.) For Fallout, as it was the franchise's first film with a returning director, McQuarrie made a point of differentiating it visually and sonicly from his previous entry by working with a different cinematographer and composer. It will be interesting to see if he continues that trend, or settles on a house team. The latter would make sense for the next two, anyway, since the plan is to shoot them back-to-back. This, also, makes sense, as even Tom Cruise can't defy age forever, and will one day have to choose not to accept some death-defying stunt. Back-to-back James Bond movies have been rumored at various times during Daniel Craig's tenure as the secret agent, but always shot down by both producers and the actor, who say that the demands would be impossible. But impossible is, of course, Cruise and McQuarrie's bread and butter! Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Russo Brothers' last two Marvel Avengers movies famously shot back to back, both with extensive reshoots planned into the schedule for the later films. 

Presumably committing to what sounds like full-time Mission: Impossible duties for the foreseeable future will rule out McQuarrie as a writer/director on what Paramount is hoping turns out to be their next big spy franchise, the nascent John Clark series with Michael B. Jordan attached to topline, based on the bestselling Tom Clancy novels. Over the years, McQuarrie had been flirting with helming or directing the first picture in that series, the long-in-the-works Without Remorse. Though it's just possible that he might still be able to squeeze that in before the next Mission, since the studio has already earmarked summer 2020 for another Cruise vehicle, the decades-later sequel Top Gun: Maverick. Hence the 2021 date for Mission: Impossible 7 (whatever it turns out being called). But that scenario is unlikely, as despite the extra time, the trade reports that Paramount hope to start shooting the next Mission movie by the end of this year. (And historically there's good reason to allow lots of time. Fallout had to pause filming for several months while Cruise recovered from an ankle injury sustained performing a rooftop stunt... but still made its original release date.) And, anyway, at last report Sicario 2 director Stefano Sollima was zeroing in on Without Remorse.

Now they just have to lock down the rest of the team! In the last three movies, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, and now Rebecca Ferguson have all become equally essential to these films' success as the star, which is only right, given the original TV series' emphasis on teamwork rather than a lone wolf secret agent. I'd also love to see Vanessa Kirby's White Widow from Fallout come back.

Read my review of Mission: Impossible - Fallout here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible III (2006) here.
Read my review of M:I-2 (2000) here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible (1996) here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Seventh TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Sixth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Fifth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Fourth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Third TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Second TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The First TV Season here.

Dec 10, 2018

AGENT RUNNING IN THE FIELD: New John le Carré Novel Coming in 2019!

John le Carré announced a new novel today, coming in 2019! He may be in the second half of his Eighties now, but, happily, the undisputed master of the spy genre keeps going strong. While either a personal memoir (2016's The Pigeon Tunnel) or a novel revisiting his most famous character, George Smiley, one last(?) time (2017's A Legacy of Spies) both seemed like they might be fitting moments to retire, le Carré clearly still has more to say. Agent Running in the Field will be released by Penguin/Viking on October 17, 2019 in the UK, and October 22, 2019 in the U.S. UK bookseller Waterstones and Amazon UK already has it available to pre-order. Here's the publisher's blurb on the new thriller:
Set in London in 2018, Agent Running in the Field follows a twenty-six year old solitary figure who, in a desperate attempt to resist the political turbulence swirling around him, makes connections that will take him down a very dangerous path. In his plot and characterisation le Carré is as thrilling as ever and in the way he writes about our times he proves himself, once again, to be the greatest chronicler of our age.
Agent Running in the Field will be the author's 25th novel. His first, Call for the Dead (review here) was published in 1961. Le Carré's work continues to be popular in other mediums as well. There have been recent feature film adaptations of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, A Most Wanted Man, and Our Kind of Traitor, and television miniseries versions of The Night Manager and, most recently, The Little Drummer Girl, based on his 1983 novel. Park Chan-Wook's visually stunning six-part adaptation recently aired on AMC in America and the BBC in Britain.

Dec 8, 2018

Tradecraft: Paramount Picks SICARIO Sequel Director Sollima to Direct Michael B. Jordan in Tom Clancy's WITHOUT REMORSE

Deadline reports that Sicario: Day of the Soldado director Stefano Sollima is in talks to direct Michael B. Jordan in Paramount's next Tom Clancy movie, Without Remorse.

After a couple of underperforming movies, Clancy's famous CIA analyst Jack Ryan has finally found success on TV thanks to Amazon. Now Paramount hopes to build a new feature franchise around Clancy's other main hero, covert warrior John Clark. In September, Deadline reported that the studio has tapped Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther, Fruitvale Station) to star.

Clark, who became known as "Jack Ryan's dark side," was first introduced in Clancy's third Ryan novel, The Cardinal of the Kremlin in 1987, but retconned in Clear and Present Danger (when field man Clark and analyst Ryan finally meet face to face) to have also played an important role in the events of Patriot Games. He went on to take center stage in the Clancy novels Without Remorse (which goes back to Vietnam) and Rainbow Six. Clark is a former Navy Seal and off-books CIA field operator. In the films, he's been played by Willem Dafoe (in Clear and Present Danger opposite Harrison Ford as Ryan) and Liev Schrieber (in The Sum of All Fears opposite Ben Affleck).

Paramount hopes, of course, to launch a franchise. The plan is to start with Without Remorse, then do Rainbow Six. This is the reason that Clark has, sadly, not appeared on Amazon's TV show Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. Because the studio was planning a film, they didn't allow the show's producers to use Clark. That's really too bad, as both characters work better together. In the books, they compliment each other, as Ryan is frequently deskbound, and Clark is always up to his neck in action. There was a plan a few years ago to (re-)introduce Clark and Ryan individually in two feature films, Without Remorse and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, respectively, with This Means War co-stars Tom Hardy and Chris Pine playing Clark and Ryan (again, respectively), then team them up, Marvel-style, in a third film. (At that point Mission: Impossible - Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie was attached to Without Remorse.) Sadly, Shadow Recruit bombed and those plans never came to fruition. (Hardy has also been linked to another Clancy franchise, Splinter Cell.)

Italian director Sollima, who first achieved international acclaim for his mob drama Gomorra, is a good choice to launch a potential Clancy franchise. His Sicario sequel was more than a tad Clancy-esque, playing at first like an unofficial adaptation of Clear and Present Danger before going a different direction in its second half. Sollima did a good job blending compelling characterizations with military hardware fetishism, a crucial skill set for tackling Clancy material. Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) will produce alongside Jordan and screenwriting duo Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec (Alias, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol).

It's unclear whether Sollima's Without Remorse will be a Vietnam-era period piece like the book (which would be fantastic!), or updated to a contemporary setting. Sadly, I suspect the latter. (Though if I were the president of Paramount, I would seriously consider the franchise prospects of a historical setting, which could ultimately follow Clark through three decades of CIA covert actions across multiple films....)

Dec 7, 2018

Eric Van Lustbader Quits as Bourne Continuation Author

Bestselling author Eric Van Lustbader announced today in an exclusive interview with The Real Book Spy that he is stepping down as the official author of the Jason Bourne continuation novels. Lustbader was hired by Robert Ludlum's estate in the early 2000s to continue the adventures of Ludlum's famous amnesiac assassin character following the success of the Matt Damon movies, despite Ludlum's own Bourne trilogy having reached a pretty definitive conclusion. From 2004 to 2016, Lustbader wrote ten Jason Bourne novels, far outpacing the character's creator. Furthermore, the author's previously announced eleventh Bourne novel, The Bourne Nemesis, will likely never see completion.

"What I found," he told the website,"when I started to go back and work on polishing the draft, was that I just didn’t want to do it. Every time I would sit down to do it, I would start writing something else and that made me realize, finally, that I just didn’t want to do it anymore." He elaborated, "I had pretty much said everything that I wanted to say with Bourne, and . . . I wanted to do something different. Something more."

Lustbader has maintained a grueling schedule over this past decade, most years producing both a Bourne continuation novel and an original novel featuring his own characters. He's not the first continuation author to become fatigued. John Gardner also grew weary balancing a James Bond novel every year during the 1980s and early '90s with his own (considerably lengthier) spy fiction (the excellent Herbie Kruger novels and the Secret Generations epic). Writing schedules like that can't be easy!

This likely isn't the last of Jason Bourne on the printed page. The Ian Fleming estate (operating first as Glidrose Publications, and later Ian Fleming Publications) commissioned Raymond Benson to continue the Bond series, and later settled on a strategy of appointing different authors for different books, with Anthony Horowitz recently becoming the first writer since Benson to pen more than one novel in the main series. The Ludlum Estate has followed a similar strategy with other series created by the late novelist. Numerous writers have tried their hands at Covert-One novels (a series which was handed off to other writers even in Ludlum's lifetime, and indeed created with that strategy in mind), and at least two writers have continued the adventures of Paul Janson, hero of one of Ludlum's final novels, The Janson Directive (review here). I strongly suspect we'll see another new Bourne novel sooner or later with a new name on the cover.

Meanwhile, head over to The Real Book Spy to read the entire, in-depth interview with Lustbader including his future plans.

Trailer: KIM POSSIBLE Live-Action Movie

Today, Disney Channel dropped the slightly underwhelming first full trailer for their upcoming live action Kim Possible movie, and announced a premiere date. It will premiere Friday, Feb. 15 at 8 ET/PT on Disney Channel and DisneyNOW. And, thanks to Deadline, we finally know a little bit more about the plot. This won't be a continuation of the cult animated show, nor will it take place within the series' continuity. Rather, it will be a full reboot, and an origin story for Kim. (It was never explained on the show how she came to be a teenage superspy beyond having inherited good genes from her brain surgeon mom and rocket scientist dad.)

While the series concluded with Kim's high school graduation, the live-action Kim Possible will pick up just as Kim and sidekick Ron Stoppable are first starting Middleton High School, and (in a page out of the Buffy playbook), the ultra-capable young woman finds navigating the classrooms and social hierarchy of high school much more difficult than saving the world. Kim will compete with her rival and frenemy Bonnie Rockwaller not for a spot on the cheerleading squad, as she did on the TV show, but the school's soccer team. And Ron will acquire his pet naked mole rat, Rufus, over the course of the telefilm. The pair will be joined on their mission by a new friend, Athena, who quickly surpasses Kim as the trio, along with gadget maker and tech expert Wade, take on the villainous Dr. Drakken and his henchwoman Shego. (Do you think the hitherto unknown Athena will turn out to be a double agent?)

I really wish this were being done as a big budget, theatrical film. The actors look fine in this trailer, but without the spacious, Ken Adam-inspired sets, and lit like a 90s TV pilot with way too much blue, it just doesn't look like Kim Possible. Here's hoping they prove me wrong! It is, after all, co-written by series creators Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle (along with The Duff's Josh Cagan).

Sadie Stanley stars as Kim Possible; Sean Giambrone (The Goldbergs) plays Ron. Todd Stashwick (12 Monkeys) and Taylor Ortega (Succession) co-star as Dr. Drakken and Shego; Ciara Wilson (OMG!) as newcomer Athena; Alyson Hannigan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Kim’s mom; Issac Ryan Brown (Raven’s Home) as Wade; and Erika Tham (Make It Pop) as Bonnie. Patton Oswalt reprises his voice role from the animated series as villain Professor Dementor, and original Kim Possible voice Christy Carlson Romano has a cameo.

Dec 6, 2018

Tradecraft: NBC's ENEMY WITHIN Explores Interagency Espionage Antics

Interagency espionage rivalries are all the rage on network television these days. We're getting closer to the premiere of Whiskey Cavalier, the show I've been most looking forward to this season, which takes a romantic, comedic look at the relationship between CIA and FBI agents. Hulu (which, I know, isn't network), of course, had The Looming Tower this year (currently racking up awards nominations and mentions on critics' year end lists), a very serious exploration of the disconnect between America's various intelligence agencies leading up to the massive intelligence failure of 9/11. Now NBC is gearing up to use the FBI/CIA rivalry as a backdrop for what Deadline describes as "a fast-paced thriller set in the world of counterintelligence," The Enemy Within.

The Enemy Within boasts an impressive spy pedigree. Covert Affairs creators Matt Corman and Chris Ord produce (along with Gotham's Ken Woodruf), and the cast includes Morris Chestnut (Legends), Kelli Garner (Pan-Am), Raza Jaffrey (Spooks/MI-5), and Coral Peña (24: Legacy), along with Jennifer Carpenter (who apparently voiced Black Widow in some animated Marvel short, so that counts as some spy cred, right?) Here's how NBC describes the series, which is expected to premiere mid-season:
In this fast-paced, spy-hunting thriller, Erica Shepherd (Jennifer Carpenter) is a brilliant former CIA operative now known as the most notorious traitor in American history serving life in a Supermax prison. Against every fiber of his being but with nowhere else to turn, FBI Agent Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut) enlists Shepherd to help track down a fiercely dangerous and elusive criminal she knows all too well. For Keaton, it's not easy to trust the woman who cost him so much. While Shepherd and Keaton have different motivations for bringing the enemy to justice, they both know that to catch a spy... they must think like one.

Dec 5, 2018

Mezco Made a Diabolik Action Figure... and You Can Pre-Order it Now!

Toy company Mezco has been displaying a prototype for a Diabolik action figure since at least summer of 2017, and I was beginning to wonder if it would ever actually happen. Then, last week, they did a blog post offering a good precis on the character's history, and also reassurance that Diabolik was still on their mind. And yesterday, the figure became available for pre-order on the Mezco website! (Be warned though... it isn't cheap. You may want to polish off your own suction cup climbers and stake out Mezco's warehouse!)

Shipping in summer 2019, the figure is part of Mezco's high-end One:12 Collective figures. Those figures are known for their realistic clothing and ultra posability. The figure runs about 16cm tall (a little over 6 inches), and features over 30 points of articulation. It comes with two interchangeable heads (one masked, the other not), and eight interchangeable hands to create various poses or grip accessories like throwing knives or loot.

Mezco's Diabolik figure is based on the Italian comic book (fumetti neri) character created by the Giussani sisters, and not specifically on Mario Bava's sublime 1968 film version thereof (one of the all-time classic Eurospy titles), so the maskless likeness sadly doesn't resemble John Phillip Law. But the film costume was so true to the comic (as was its logo) that with the mask on you can easily pretend your figure is Law's Diabolik! And it's a damn cool figure either way. Diabolik may be a master thief and not a spy, but the Jaguar-driving supercriminal embodies so many tropes of the Sixties spy fantasy! (As does the movie.) Let's hope this toy sells well and Mezco follows it up with a matching Eva Kant figure!

Check out the figure in detail and put in a pre-order (requiring a $20 deposit) on Mezco's site.

To get an idea of how the prototype developed over the past fewyears, check out toy news sites like Super Punch or Action Figure Fury, both of whom posted good images from various conventions.

Read my review of Bava's Danger: Diabolik (one of my all-time favorite movies) here.

Dec 4, 2018

Tradecraft: Marvel Plots SHANG-CHI, MASTER OF KUNG FU Movie

Deadline reports that among the next wave of Marvel Cinematic Universe titles to follow in the wake of the fourth Avengers movie will be Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. For spy fans, this is staggering news! The comic book The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu was created in the early Seventies to (obviously) cash in on the kung fu craze of the time. Comics legends Steve Englehart (Batman: Strange Apparitions) and Jim Starlin (Avengers: Infinity War) originated the character, but it was the dynamic writer/artist team of Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy (who would later re-team on one of the best James Bond comics ever, Dark Horse's Serpent's Tooth) who became most associated with Shang-Chi... and who gave the comic a new direction as an espionage series.

Shang-Chi's real world origins at Marvel are a bit complicated, as the publisher had acquired the rights to Sax Rohmer's villainous Fu Manchu character, but Englehart was more interested in the popular TV series of the time, Kung Fu. So he incorporated Rohmer's characters Fu Manchu and his nemesis, British adventurer Sir Denis Nayland-Smith, but invented a new character to star in the series more inspired by Kung Fu... Fu Manchu's hitherto unknown son, Shang-Chi. Though the father had seen to it that the son was trained from birth to be a Master of Kung Fu, when Shang-Chi discovered that the father he believed to be be munificent was actually a diabolical criminal mastermind, he turned on him, and found employment with Nayland-Smith and the British Secret Service. In the hands of Moench and Gulacy, secret agent Shang-Chi encountered all manner of spy hijinks, from moles inside MI6 to supervillains with private islands, gadgets galore, and robotic armies. He also developed a roster of memorable sidekicks, including Nayland-Smith's assistant and bodyguard Black Jack Tarr (drawn by Gulacy to resemble Sean Connery in The Man Who Would Be King), and fellow MI6 agent Clive Reston (drawn by Gulacy at first to resemble Connery in Goldfinger, but later looking more and more like Roger Moore), who is strongly hinted to be the son of James Bond and the grand-nephew of Sherlock Holmes.

While Marvel's most famous spy agency, S.H.I.E.L.D., never showed up in the pages of Master of Kung Fu (though Shang-Chi did eventually team up with Nick Fury and Black Widow in a multi-issue arc of Marvel Team-Up), Gulacy's stunning artwork owed a clear debt to Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. artist Jim Steranko. Like Steranko, Gulacy reveled in quasi-sci-fi technology and weaponry and innovative, experimental page layouts. (One particular standout turned the page into a maze, following Shang-Chi's progress against a variety of opponents as he navigated the labyrinth.) He also brought his own obsessions to the table, like Bond-inspired, movie poster-style splash pages, relentlessly sexy women in proto-Gaultier fashions, and the liberal use of famous actors' likenesses to "cast" the book with everyone from Bruce Lee (upon whom Gulacy's Shang-Chi was clearly based) to Marlon Brando, Christopher Lee (as Fu Manchu, of course), and even Groucho Marx. The result was a truly unique book that far transcended (and consequently outlasted) the kung fu movie trend from which it was born, and drew influence from all sorts of popular culture. I think it may be my very favorite Marvel comic. Long unavailable outside of back issue bins, the entire 125-issue series has at long last been reprinted over the past few years in four massive, hardcover omnibus volumes, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Marvel has also recently begun a line of cheaper paperback "Epic Collections."

As for the movie, it's hard to say how closely it will resemble the comic book. But I certainly hope Chinese-American screenwriter Dave Callaham (Jean-Claude Van Johnson) retains the heightened espionage vibe, and the supporting character of Clive Reston. Marvel is, of course, hoping that a superhero film with an Asian lead and Asian and Asian-American talent behind the camera (they are looking to hire a director of Asian descent) will find similar box office success to their excellent black superhero pic Black Panther and this past summer's megahit and milestone for cinematic representation, Crazy Rich Asians. Not since the kung fu craze of the early Seventies has the moment been so right for a Shang-Chi movie! I can't wait to see who they cast as Shang-Chi, and who gets chosen to direct. This movie has the potential to finally deliver a spy film heightened to futuristic Marvel proportions on a truly epic scale!