Mar 12, 2018

Trailer and Poster for Final Season of FX's THE AMERICANS

FX has released a trailer for the sixth and final season of The Americans, which premieres on March 28th at 10pm EST. They've also released a typically stunning poster promoting the season. This series about Russian KGB spies living undercover as "illegals" in 1980s America started strong and went from strength to strength. In a word, it's been utterly fantastic throughout its run. Although a period drama set during the waning days of the Cold War, it's also become surprisingly more topical in recent years. The original plan was to see Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) through the fall of the Berlin wall. Unless the final season spans multiple years, I don't see how they'll get to that point in history, but there are plenty of other burning questions to keep us on the edges of our seats until the finale. When I interviewed producer Graham Yost on the eve of The Americans' debut back in 2013, he concluded the session by quoting the FX Networks President. "John Landgraf said something that I thought perfectly sums it up: 'We know who won the Cold War. We don't know if Phillip and Elizabeth will survive. And that's the story. Will the marriage survive? Will the children survive?'" Five years later, we're on the verge of those answers. I can't wait to find out! Get a taste from the trailer below:

Read my 2013 review of The Americans pilot episode here.
Read my 2013 interview with executive producer Graham Yost here.

Mar 9, 2018

Tradecraft: THE IRREGULARS TV Series Explores Wartime Espionage Exploits of Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl

Buried in an exciting Deadline article about Paramount's latest attempt to reboot the venerable Matt Helm spy franchise was another item of note to spy fans. The writer who will be tackling the Donald Hamilton spy series, Tom Shepherd, has already adapted another great spy tome—this one non-fiction. Giving background on Shepherd, the trade mentioned that along with an upcoming Dr. Dolittle movie with Robert Downey Jr. and a period action-adventure spec script teaming up a young Agatha Christie with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to solve a baffling mystery, Shepherd has already written an adaptation of Jennet Conant's terrific Roald Dahl biography The Irregulars for Anonymous Content and Paramount TV. No further information is provided, but I would assume the format would be a limited series. (Or miniseries, as we used to call them.) The Irregulars focuses on Dahl's period as a British spy operating in Washington D.C. during WWII. The future Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author and You Only Live Twice screenwriter worked for Sir William Stephenson's BSC (British Security Coordination) after he was shot down early in the war and unable to continue as an aviator due to his injuries. In Washington, he was basically a gigolo for England ("the things I do for England," as 007 would quip in You Only Live Twice), seducing society wives with the goal of getting them to convince their powerful husbands that America should join the war and come to the aid of Great Britain. Ian Fleming and his friend Ivar Bryce also figure prominently in the narrative, Fleming having worked for British Naval Intelligence at the time and Bryce, eventually, for the American OSS. There's an amusing account of Dahl and Fleming competing for the affections of the same woman, and the revelation that Fleming gave Dahl the idea for one of his more famous short stories that would later be adapted into an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The Irregulars is essential reading for anyone interested in Dahl, Fleming, James Bond, or wartime espionage (and a great companion piece to William Stevenson's famous Stephenson biography A Man Called Intrepid, or William Boyd's fabulous BSC novel Restless), and should make for great viewing as well. I'll definitely have my eyes open for more information on this project.

Tradecraft: Matt Helm Movie Reactivated

Paramount has been trying to make a new Matt Helm movie for nearly a decade, ever since the studio came away with the rights to the character in their split from DreamWorks in 2008. Prior to that, DreamWorks had been attempting a screen revival of Helm closer to Donald Hamilton's gritty novels than the spoofy Dean Martin movies ostensibly based on them in the Sixties. At various times director Robert Luketic, star Josh Duhamel, and writers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas had been attached. But Paramount started fresh. In 2009, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Alias, Mission: Impossible III), riding high on the success of the Star Trek reboot they'd co-scripted, came aboard to produce the Helm film, with veteran screenwriter Paul Attanasio (The Sum of All Fears, The Good German) scripting. Orci and Kurtzman told me at the time that their goal was a tone somewhere between the Hamilton novels and the Dino movies, but leaning toward the former—serious, but also fun. A few months later came the big bombshell, when Variety reported that Steven Spielberg (Munich) was circling the project to direct. Spielberg had long harbored a desire to make a popcorn spy flick. (Having approached the Bond producers in the late Seventies and been crushingly denied the opportunity to direct 007, he jumped at the opportunity to helm a project his pal George Lucas had dreamed up that he claimed was "better than Bond"—a little movie called Raiders of the Lost Ark.) Sadly, by that August, his brief flirtation with directing Matt Helm was over. A few months later, Seabiscuit director Gary Ross (fresh off of scripting another big project that never came to be, the fourth Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire Spider-man movie) was considered the front runner to direct Matt Helm, and for the first time Bradley Cooper (Alias) was mooted as the film's likely star. The script of note was still Attanasio's. But despite an apparently unanimous appreciation for that script, the movie, of course, never came to be. And the project seemed to go dormant.

Until today.

Today, Deadline reports that Paramount is once again attempting to revive the franchise, this time with Tom Shepherd penning a new script. Shepherd is the writer of the forthcoming The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the beloved Victorian vet of children's book fame, as well as an action-adventure spec script teaming a young Agatha Christie with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to solve a baffling mystery, and a script about the real-life wartime espionage adventures of Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming. While the writer may be new, a lot of familiar faces are still attached in behind-the-scenes capacities. Bradley Cooper remains attached to star as Helm, and Kurtzman and Orci (though no longer business partners) remain attached as executive producers, now joined by Grant Heslov and George Clooney (who was, at one point, himself rumored for the lead role). Additionally, the trade tantalizingly (if nebulously) reports that, "Steven Spielberg is involved in some capacity."

I've long since learned not to hold my breath on a new Matt Helm movie, but I'm still happy every time I read about movement on the project. Hamilton's 27 novels, beginning with 1960's Death of a Citizen, are largely secret cornerstones of the spy genre, and they deserve wider exposure and a faithful screen treatment. I admit that I'm a fan (to an extent, at least) of the quartet of Sixties Dean Martin pictures, but they're so far removed from Hamilton's wonderful books that they might as well bear no relation. I've often said that only one of them, Murderers' Row (co-starring Ann-Margaret and Karl Malden) even really qualifies as a movie. The others are bizarre assemblages of Sixties genre tropes like motorcycle chases, copious cocktail consumption, gratuitous zoom-ins on bikini-clad bottoms, and even, in the case of the first film, The Silencers, Martin singing. Plots are secondary at best, and non-existent at worst, and production values are generally low. Hamilton's novels, on the other hand, are terrific gritty, cynical, and brutal espionage stories on par with Ian Fleming and deserving of much wider recognition. It's possible that they've never gotten the credit they deserve outside of cult circles because they were published as paperback originals (excepting the 11th novel, The Menacers, which was the only one published in hardcover... but only in England), but that shouldn't be taken as a value judgment. They're fantastic, and like the spy fiction equivalent of the music of The Velvet Underground, hugely influential on the genre from Tom Clancy to 24 to Taken. Every spy fan should read them, and hopefully if a movie more faithful to the books ever gets made, the books themselves will become as widely known as they deserve to be.

By the way, while the series is probably best read in order, if you're looking to try just one Matt Helm book for a taste, I heartily recommend the sixth one, The Ambushers. Packed with sexy Soviet agents and nefarious neo-Nazis and rifles and missiles and even sword fights, it's quintessential spy fiction. And, if you're listening, Tom Shepherd... it would make a hell of a movie! Especially done as a period piece.

Mar 6, 2018

Tradecraft: Fox Banks on EPOCH INDEX

According to Deadline, Fox has emerged the victor in a competitive situation for the rights to the Christian Cantrell novella "Epoch Index." The 36-page novella was self-published in 2010, and the film rights have just sold for six figures. In "Epoch Index," the trade reports, "a CIA analyst is tasked with tracking down a flashy assassin whose targets are seemingly random. Connected only by a series of numbered tags left on each victim, Quinn Mitchell comes to a mind-boggling discovery: the targets are being sent to the assassin from the future – by her." Brad Peyton (San Andreas, Cats & Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) will direct from a script by Justin Rhodes (the upcoming Fantastic Voyage remake), and War for the Planet of the Apes helmer Matt Reeves will produce.

Feb 20, 2018

Tradecraft: Danny Boyle in Contention to Direct Bond 25

Variety reports that Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) is now high on MGM's wish list for directing the next James Bond movie. Boyle, known for his fast-moving, visually stunning films, is no stranger to James Bond. He's actually already directed Daniel Craig as the character in an appearance with the Queen in the opening ceremony to the 2012 London Olympic Games. (I had so hoped the segment would be included on the Skyfall Blu-ray, but alas, it wasn't. This essential part of any complete James Bond film collection is, however, available on the UK BBC DVD London 2012 Olympic Games, but not the American equivalent.) Additionally, the movie that shot Boyle to international fame, Trainspotting (1996) featured characters who loved to talk about James Bond, especially their Edinburgh hometown hero Sean Connery. Much of the Bond discussion came from the character Sick Boy, who was played by Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary), the grandson of original M actor Bernard Lee. The bestselling Trainspotting soundtrack even featured a song by Blur frontman Damon Albarn, "Closet Romantic," whose lyrics consisted solely of Albarn reciting the titles of Sean Connery James Bond movies. So Boyle has quite an arms' length history with Agent 007. He's also been rumored as up for the plum Bond directing gig several times in the past.

According to the trade, "Boyle has keen interest in the project and has always wanted to direct a Bond film. He is currently developing a project for Working Title, but with no cast currently attached, there is always the possibility of pushing that movie back to direct the 25th installment in the series." No formal offer has yet been made, however, and 71 and White Boy Rick director Yann Demange (said to be a favorite of producer Barbara Broccoli) is still in the running as well. Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Blade Runner 2049) previously turned down the Bond 25 assignment in favor of his Dune passion project, and both Skyfall and SPECTRE director Sam Mendes and tabloid favorite Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) have ruled themselves out from helming Daniel Craig's final Bond outing.

As previously reported, the still untitled Bond 25 is set to open November 8, 2019. No distribution partner has yet been named after Sony's co-production deal expired following SPECTRE, but MGM recently struck a wide-ranging distribution deal with Annapurna which could ultimately include Bond 25, but doesn't as of yet.

Feb 14, 2018

Tradecraft: Keira Knightley and Matt Smith Team for Katharine Gun Movie

Two years ago we heard about Official Secrets, a fact-based spy movie with an incredible cast about GCHQ whistle blower Katherine Gun. The all-star cast was to include Harrison Ford, Anthony Hopkins, Paul Bettany, and Martin Freeman, behind Game of Thrones' Natalie Dormer in the lead role. But as exciting as that cast sounded, nothing ever came of the movie. Now it's back on track, but reconfigured with a different cast. The Hollywood Reporter reports that Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game) and Matt Smith (Doctor Who) will now star in the revamped version of Official Secrets. Justin Chadwick (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Spooks) was originally set to direct, but now Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) will serve in that capacity.

Official Secrets is still 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 (who more closely resembles Dormer than Knightley) 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.

The film, financed by eOne (who will also distribute in certain territories), is set to start shooting next month.

Feb 11, 2018

Tradecraft: BETHLEHEM Director to Adapt Mossad Tale THE ENGLISH TEACHER

Yuval Adler's Bethlehem (2013) is the best spy movie of the last decade that no one has seen. It's truly a must-watch for any fans of gritty, le Carré-esque espionage yarns with only shades of grey and no easy answers. (It also made my list of the 10 Best Spy Movies of the last 10 years.) Which is why it's great news that Adler will be returning to the genre with an adaptation of former Israeli intelligence officer Yiftach Reicher Atir's bestselling novel The English Teacher! Only it won't be called that. According to Deadline, Adler's film version will be called The Operative (admittedly more generic), and star Eric Bana (Hanna, Munich) and Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds). Though it's been in my stack for a while, I still haven't read The English Teacher. (This news will probably inspire me to move it up a few notches!) But here's the publisher's description:
After attending her father’s funeral, former Mossad agent Rachel Goldschmitt empties her bank account and disappears. But when she makes a cryptic phone call to her former handler, Ehud, the Mossad sends him to track her down. Finding no leads, he must retrace her career as a spy to figure out why she abandoned Mossad before she can do any damage to Israel. But he soon discovers that after living under cover for so long, an agent’s assumed identity and her real one can blur, catching loyalty, love, and truth between them. In the midst of a high-risk, high-stakes investigation, Ehud begins to question whether he ever knew his agent at all.

Feb 9, 2018

Next James Bond Continuation Novel Announced: FOREVER AND A DAY

Yesterday, Ian Fleming Publications announced the title of the next official James Bond continuation novel--the second by Foyle's War and Alex Rider creator Anthony Horowitz. Out in May in the UK, but not until fall in the U.S., the new novel will be called Forever and a Day. If that title sounds somewhat familiar (or at least evocative), it's because last year saw the release of a quasi-James Bond novel by Hard Case Crime (not affiliated with IFP) called Forever and a Death. Forever and a Death was the late crime novelist Donald E. Westlake's novelization of his own rejected script for the Pierce Brosnan 007 movie that ultimately became Tomorrow Never Dies (and was novelized under that title by Raymond Benson, then the reigning Bond continuation author). While it was based on the plot that Westlake concocted for the film, James Bond himself was, obviously, not a character in the resulting novel. Nor is there a direct and obvious Bond analogue with only the name changed. There are instead a number of heroes working independently to stop the villain's plot, none of them secret agents. But here's the rub: Forever and a Death was simply a better Bond title than Forever and a Day, with that classic, darkly comic, ironic Ian Fleming twist on a familiar phrase along the lines of Live and Let Die or You Only Live Twice. (John Cox at The Book Bond has pointed out that Diamonds Are Forever was simply an unaltered phrase, too, but I would argue that the irony comes specifically in the pairing of that title with that story... and indeed perhaps that will be the case with this Horowitz novel as well.) It's kind of a shame that a Bond novel should be out-Bonded by a quasi-Bond novel before it even existed. All that said, though, were it not for the existence of Forever and a Death, Forever and a Day would be a pretty great title--far better than Horowitz's first Bond title, Trigger Mortis, or indeed any of his Alex Rider titles. And of course it's really the story inside that matters, not the title. After all, Devil May Care was a great Bond title, but proved a lousy Bond novel. And Trigger Mortis sounded more like an Alex Rider title, but turned out to be one of the very best Bond continuation novels. I have faith that Horowitz can do it again!

As far as that plot goes, here is the information on the new book provided by Ian Fleming Publications:
Anthony Horowitz’s second James Bond novel using original material by  Ian Fleming will be published on Thursday 31 May 2018, it is announced today. Forever and a Day is a prequel to Casino Royale, Fleming’s first 007 novel, and will explore the origins of the world’s most famous secret agent.

‘M laid down his pipe and stared at it tetchily. “We have no choice. We’re just going to bring forward this other chap you’ve been preparing. But you didn’t tell me his name.” 

“It’s Bond, sir,” the Chief of Staff replied. 

“James Bond.”’ 

The sea keeps its secrets. But not this time. 

One body. Three bullets. 007 floats in the waters of Marseille, killed by an unknown hand. 

It’s time for a new agent to step up. Time for a new weapon in the war against organised crime. 

It’s time for James Bond to earn his licence to kill. 

This is the story of the birth of a legend, in the brutal underworld of the French Riviera.
That time period is interesting, as no 007 continuation novels to date have taken place immediately prior to the events of Casino Royale. (Though Charlie Higson's and Steve Cole's Young Bond novels obviously take place a good deal prior to that book, when James Bond is just a schoolboy.) It's also been announced that an upcoming Dynamite comic book (also officially licensed by IFP) will focus on Bond's war years, so slowly but surely all of his life prior and up to becoming a Double O agent is being revealed.

Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz will be published May 31, 2018 in the UK by Jonathan Cape, the original publisher of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and now an imprint of Vintage Publishing. It's available for pre-order from There's no word yet on who the U.S. publisher will be come Fall, but Trigger Mortis was published here by Harper Collins, as was Horowitz's most recent novel, his clever twist on Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries Magpie Murders (whose U.S. publication was also substantially delayed from its UK debut), so I'd say they seem like a good bet.

Feb 7, 2018

Tradecraft: Teen Spy Kim Possible Makes a Live Action Comeback

Well, here's some unexpected and very cool spy news! According to Deadline, teenage superspy Kim Possible is poised to make a comeback after an 11-year absence. (And a decade after an unsuccessful campaign for a fifth TV season.) But not quite as you might expect, should you be familiar with the hilarious, whipsmart cartoon spy parody Kim Possible that aired on the Disney Channel from 2002-2007. The new Kim Possible will be a live-action movie. The trade reports that series creators Mark McCorkle and Robert Schooley have penned the script along with Josh Cagan (The DUFF). Adam B. Stein and Zach Lipovsky (Mech X4) will direct. Casting is currently underway. Unfortunately, the new Kim Possible won't be a theatrical feature, but a Disney Channel Original Movie.

In the original series, Kim was an ordinary teenage girl dealing with ordinary teenage problems like crushes, dating, acne, social hierarchy, cheerleading, and homework... along with less average ones like supervillains, monkeys, ninjas, and monkey ninjas. Because in addition to being a regular full-time high school student, she was also a freelance superspy and crime fighter. (Her genes were in her favor, being the daughter of a rocket scientist and a brain surgeon.) With her best friend and sidekick, the clumsy but utterly loyal Ron Stoppable, his pet naked mole rat Rufus, and 10-year old Q-type gadget genius Wade, she took on the likes of the nefarious Dr. Drakken and his henchwoman Shego, Lord Monkey Fist, Señor Senior, Sr. and Señor Senior, Jr--not to mention her cheerleading rival, Mean Girl Bonnie Rockwaller. Part Buffy the Vampire Slayer and part James Bond, the series never condescended to its young audience and featured razor-sharp scripts sure to entertain any adult spy fan with humorous send-ups of 007, Mission: Impossible, S.H.I.E.L.D., Alias, and countless more spy standards. It was also quite impressive visually, with sets galore inspired by Ken Adam.

I'm a bit dubious about the live-action angle, and particularly worried about how Rufus, the naked mole rat, will be handled. (An anthropomorphized CG critter could ruin a live-action version.) I wish we were getting an animated feature or a rebooted cartoon series, but I'm excited to see Kim Possible returning in any form! The original remains one of my favorite spy shows of this century.

Feb 4, 2018


As promised, Paramount released the full trailer for Mission: Impossible - Fallout today, the sixth film in the series starring Tom Cruise. A cut-down version of it also aired during the Super Bowl. Rather unsurprisingly after two truly stellar franchise entries, it looks pretty awesome. I'm not sure it's possible to top the airplane stunt in the last movie, but this helicopter stuff looks pretty cool. I am a bit worried that this entry will be even more Cruise-centric after Rogue Nation and especially Ghost Protocol had made such great strides toward the team dynamic of the TV show, but with such a solid (and large) supporting cast including returnees Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, and Michelle Monaghan, and newcomers Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby, and Henry Cavill, perhaps that won't be the case.

I'm a little more concerned (probably without cause) about who the handcuffed man in the hospital bed is that Luther (Rhames) restrains Ethan (Cruise) from lunging at. Because it's clearly not any of the people mentioned above, yet it seems to be someone who means a lot to Ethan Hunt. And it looks... sort of... like Jon Voight. We can't see his face clearly and I could be completely wrong here, but if it is, then would mean director Christopher McQuarrie plans to revisit one of the most controversial chapters of the film series' history--and my own least favorite. Many fans of the TV series were appalled and insulted by the twist in the original 1996 movie revealing Voight's Jim Phelps (the character originated on television by the great Peter Graves), Ethan's mentor, to be a traitor. (I don't think it's really possible to spoil a 22-year-old movie. There's a statute of limitations on such things!) It took the film series three chapters to dig its way out of that whole for me. If they are re-treading that particular ground (and the trailer makes it very clear that this mission is all about the ghosts who haunt Hunt, among whom Phelps would likely be foremost), it could go one of two ways. Either it could undo the damage done in Brian DePalma's movie by revealing Voight's Phelps to be a different character from Graves' (the franchise is, after all, famous for its use of doubles and disguises)... or it could double down on it. If the latter, it's likely to be enough to make me hate the film. (Yes, that's a little irrational. I understand. But I love Graves and the show so much that I can't help it, even if I recognize it.) McQuarrie mentioned in a very insightful interview last May that he had re-watched the first Mission movie in preparation for this sixth one, so it's certainly possible that Phelps could have been on his mind when scripting it. Furthermore, producer J.J. Abrams has mooted the possibility of revisiting the Phelps betrayal in the past... though he considered it when Peter Graves was still alive, and had hoped to bring him into the film series. Sadly that opportunity is now past. So despite the apparently definitive death of the Movie Phelps in Mission: Impossible (1996), I do think it's at least a possibility we could see his return. And such a return would likely be enough to set Ethan on the wild course he seems to be taking in Fallout, based on the trailer. (We clearly see scenes of him going up against his own teammates, and even, apparently, teaming up with Syndicate baddie Solomon Lane.)

Yes, I know... this is a lot of speculation from me over a quick image of a man in profile chained to a hospital bed. But these are the things I fixate on.

Feb 1, 2018

Tradecraft: Patrick Hughes to Direct Action-Comedy UNSAFE HOUSE

According to Variety, The Hitman's Bodyguard and Expendables 3 director Patrick Hughes has attached himself to helm the action-comedy Unsafe House for Lionsgate. The trade reports that the script by Adam J. Epstein and Andrew Jacobson "follows three friends who rent a Bahamas beach house over the summer for some R&R, only to come [to] realize that the location is actually [an] MI-6 safe house already occupied by a CIA operative. When the house comes under attack, the three friends must team up with the spy in order to survive the ordeal." I have to say, I like the sound of that! Is it possible that Hughes will reteam with his Hitman's Bodyguard star Ryan Reynolds, and that the star of Safe House (the less said about that 2012 spy movie the better... though I did say a lot more in my review, here) will also star in Unsafe House? The trade does not indicate that, but it's kind of fun to imagine.

First Advance Poster for MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT

Today Paramount released the first advance poster for Christopher McQuarrie's Mission: Impossible - Fallout. I could be wrong, but off the top of my head I think this may be the first time a Mission: Impossible poster has depicted Tom Cruise holding a gun. The trailer is expected to drop this weekend, along with a Super Bowl spot. The sixth entry in the venerable film franchise (and second to be directed by McQuarrie, who also helmed Rogue Nation) opens July 27, 2018.

Jan 30, 2018

Amazon Announces Airdate for JACK RYAN, Releases Super Bowl Spot

Amazon has released the Super Bowl spot for their upcoming TV series Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan a few days early, and with it, finally, an indication when we can expect the show to drop. And, frustratingly, it's not until August. But, on the plus side, the spot looks promising! It's very similar to the trailer we saw a few months ago, but better. John Krasinski stars as Tom Clancy's iconic CIA analyst character who always seems to find himself in over his head for the first time. Like the last two theatrical attempts at re-launching this franchise, the events of the show take place prior to The Hunt for Red October, yet in the present-day. Check it out:

Jan 28, 2018

Indicator Brings OTLEY to Blu-ray in March!

Wow! UK distributor Indicator, who released that terrific Blu-ray special edition of The Deadly Affair last year, have announced a new spy title. And it's one of my favorite spy movies of all time, and one I never expected to see on Blu-ray--Otley (1969)! Adapted by the great Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Never Say Never Again, The Bank Job, Spies of Warsaw) from the novel by Martin Waddell and directed by Clement, Otley plays like a comedic version of the Len Deighton school of spy story. Like The Ipcress File, it owes as much to Raymond Chandler as it does to the spy genre, with a terrifically irreverent and in-over-his-head antihero played to perfection by Tom Courtenay (A Dandy in Aspic). Otley deserves to be mentioned in the company of Billy Liar and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner when it comes to Courtenay's career-defining performances, and it's a shame it's not better known.

Gerald Arthur Otley fancies himself an antiques dealer, but is really more of a small-time thief who sleeps on the couch of whatever friend will put him up (and put up with him) until he wears out his welcome. Then he suddenly finds himself mixed up with all sorts of spies, never certain how he got into this mess or how he can get out of it. The entire cast is a who's who of spy actors (most of them recognizable from memorable guest appearances on The Avengers and The Saint), including Romy Schneider (Triple Cross), James Villiers (For Your Eyes Only), Alan Badel (Arabesque), Leonard Rossiter (Deadlier Than the Male), Geoffrey Bayldon (Casino Royale), Ronald Lacey (Raiders of the Lost Ark), James Cossins (The Man With the Golden Gun), and Edward Hardwicke (The Return of Sherlock Holmes).

Like The Deadly Affair and other Indicator releases, the Otley Blu-ray is a limited edition (limited to 3,000 copies), and loaded with copious special features including:
  • High Definition remaster
  • Original mono audio
  • Audio commentary with director Dick Clement
  • The Guardian Lecture with Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (2008): archival audio recording of an interview conducted by Dick Fiddy at London s National Film Theatre
  • New interview with actor Tom Courtenay (2018)
  • New interview with actor Phyllida Law(2018)
  • New interview with actor Freddie Jones (2018)
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Laura Mayne, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and historic articles on the film
Now I hope that Indicator have their eyes on Clement and La Frenais' previous scripted feature, The Jokers (directed by Michael Winner). That one's not a spy movie, but it's a terrific caper picture every bit as charming and entertaining as Otley, and another wonderful time capsule of London when it swing.

The limited edition Blu-ray of Otley is available for pre-order on for the very reasonable price of just  £14.99.

Jan 25, 2018


A post shared by Tom Cruise (@tomcruise) on
Tom Cruise took to Instagram today to reveal the title of his upcoming sixth Mission: Impossible movie and what he'll be dangling from this time, the latter reveal coming in the form of an exciting first-look image. The title (probably better associated with another Sixties spy series–The Prisoner) is Mission: Impossible: Fallout. And what he's dangling from this time is a helicopter, which might sound like a comedown from the gigantic transport plane in the last movie, but looks pretty cool in this picture! He also unveiled the official synopsis of the Christopher McQuarrie-directed sequel:
The best intentions often come back to haunt you. Mission: Impossible – Fallout finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team (Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames) along with some familiar allies (Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan) in a race against time after a mission gone wrong. Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, and Vanessa Kirby also join the dynamic cast with filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie returning to the helm.
Sean Harris also returns as Syndicate villain Solomon Lane, last seen inside a large box. Mission: Impossible – Fallout opens July 27, 2018.

Jan 14, 2018

Trailer: Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike in BEIRUT

Bleecker Street has released the first trailer for Beirut, a movie set in one of my favorite spy locations that we first heard about in 2015 under the better title of High Wire Act. No matter what they're calling it, this spy movie has a rich pedigree. It's written by Bourne franchise veteran Tony Gilroy, and directed by the always interesting indie auteur Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian). And it stars the very appealing duo of Jon Hamm (Keeping Up With the Joneses) and Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day), along with Shea Whigham (Agent Carter) and Dean Norris (Death Wish). Hamm plays a former American diplomat who fled his old Lebanon stomping ground in 1972 after a tragic incident at his home. A decade later, when he's a washed-up drunk working in the private sector, he is called back to war-torn Beirut by CIA operative Pike to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind.

Beirut opens April 13. Before that, it premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, January 22.


This is cool! UK distributor Network have been releasing a number of classic ITC shows piecemeal on Blu-ray, one volume at a time. They're in the midst of putting out the great Richard Bradford series Man in a Suitcase that way, and they're offering something a little different. The latest volume available for pre-order is actually the feature film version of the two-parter "Variation on a Million Bucks," re-titled To Chase a Million. Like America's Man From U.N.C.L.E. "movies" (or Mission: Impossible vs. the Mob), a number of two-part episodes of ITC series (or very occasionally standalone episodes) were cut together and released continentally as theatrical Eurospy features. While some are readily available and sometimes even included in the DVD or Blu-ray series sets (A&E frustrated some fans by only including the feature cut of one of the two Saint movies, and not its episodic equivalent; all of the Persuaders! feature cuts are included as standard-definition bonus features on Network's Complete Series Blu-ray collection), others of these movies, like To Chase a Million, are quite rare. Since television and film are paced differently, a lot of these feature re-cuts feel a little clunky (lots of padding) and don't make great introductions to the shows. But they're a treat for fans! I always try to seek out the film cuts, and personally I hope that Network makes a regular practice of high-definition standalone releases of these movies. (They should also appeal to Eurospy collectors only looking for rare movies who don't necessarily go in for TV shows.)

I would love to see both Saint movies get their own Blu-ray releases, especially since Network hasn't yet started releasing that series in HD. (There even exists a commentary track for Vendetta for the Saint with Roger Moore, Johnny Goodman, and Robert Baker, recorded for an American MPI DVD release. It would be great if Network could license that for a Blu-ray.) Just seeing those unique opening titles to The Fiction Makers in HD would be reward enough! Even the lackluster Baron movie, The Man in a Looking Glass, would be neat. (That's another series they haven't yet given the Blu treatment.) Best of all, though, would be some of the super-rare ITC movies, like the Sentimental Agent movie Our Man in the Caribbean. I've never been able to track that one down even as a bootleg, but as best I can tell it incorporates the completely unrelated Sentimental Agent episode "A Very Desirable Plot" (guest-starring Diana Rigg) and the Man of the World episode that introduced Carlos Thompson's Sentimental Agent character, "The Sentimental Agent" (guest-starring Shirley Eaton). How they pulled that off I'd really like to see! So fingers crossed that To Chase a Million represents only the beginning of Network's ITC feature film standalone Blu-ray releases....

In To Chase a Million, former American spy McGill (wrongfully kicked out by U.S. Intelligence when he was set up to look like a traitor) if bequeathed the key to a safety deposit box in Lisbon, supposedly containing $1 million stolen by his friend Stein (the always wonderful Anton Rodgers of The Prisoner and Zodiac) from the KGB before his defection. This sets off a chase across Europe as McGill races to get to it from London before the Russians, Americans, or various other intelligence services and freelancers.

Network's To Chase a Million Blu-ray, featuring a brand-new HD remaster from the original 35mm film elements, is (unlike their series volumes) presented in its rarely seen original widescreen theatrical aspect ratio. (The full-screen TV version is also included as a bonus.) According to their website, it is an all-region release, so it will play in regular American Blu-ray players. It's currently available for pre-order from the Network website for £10.00 (including VAT). It will be released on February 19, 2018.

Read my review of Man in a Suitcase - Volume 1 (which includes "Variation on a Million Bucks" parts 1 and 2) here.
Read my review of Man in a Suitcase - Volume 2 here.
Read my review of The Sentimental Agent here.

Jan 13, 2018

Shane Black and Fred Dekker Pen AVENGERS TV Reboot

Well, the big spy news of the day is undoubtedly the potentiality of a Shane Black/Fred Dekker-penned TV reboot of the greatest spy series of all time, The Avengers. Dekker dropped the news in an interview with print magazine The Dark Side, which then hit the Internet courtesy of Screen Rant. There are very few solid details available, but here is what Dekker told the magazine, verbatim:
It’s The Avengers, with John Steed and Emma Peel. We’re setting it in Britain in the 60’s, and our approach is The Ipcress File meets Doctor Who. At this moment, it’s my favorite thing we’re working on.
That's all we know so far from the horse's mouth. (And I have to say... I quite like Dekker's description!) The studio appears to be Warner Bros. Television. We don't know if there's a network involved, but it might be Amazon, for whom Black and Dekker previously penned the Western pilot Edge (which did not go to series), based on the 1970s Men's Adventure paperback series.

While my gut reaction is to instantly decry any attempt at an Avengers revival that doesn't originate in Great Britain, that impulse is checked by the creative talent involved. Shane Black is one of the greatest working screenwriters. He rose to fame on lucrative action spec script sales in the 1980s and '90s, most famously creating the Lethal Weapon franchise. His spy cred includes the 1996 amnesiac assassin thriller Long Kiss Goodnight with Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson. In this century, he's reinvented himself writing and directing smart, funny, pulpy neo-noir fare like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. He's even made a Marvel movie--Iron Man Three.

Early in his career, Black wrote with frequent collaborator Fred Dekker, a partnership that most famously produced The Monster Squad (1987), which Dekker directed. Dekker went on to a less illustrious career than Black, but also earned his bona fides in the spy genre writing the 1991 Richard Greico teen spy comedy If Looks Could Kill and penning a glorious, but un-produced, live-action, 1960s-set Johnny Quest movie. The two partners reunited in recent years to pen the upcoming Predator reboot which Black is directing and the aforementioned Amazon pilot.

All of which is to say that The Avengers are in good hands. American hands, maybe, but hands I'm willing to trust for now. In all likelihood, this will go nowhere. But if it does, I'm willing to take the journey. It can only be an improvement on the 1998 feature film version of the series, which starred Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, and Sean Connery.

Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, of course, starred as agents extraordinary John Steed and Emma Peel in the original TV series. Steed's other partners included Dr. David Keel (Ian Hendry), Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), and Tara King (Linda Thorson). The Avengers torch has been kept burning lately in audio dramas from Big Finish (including excellent recreations of lost first season episodes) and comics from Boom! Studios (including a recent crossover with the 1960s TV incarnation of Batman).

Jan 11, 2018

Trailer: Mark Strong in DEEP STATE

Fox Networks Group has released the first trailer for Deep State, the new action/espionage drama starring frequent spy star Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Kingsman) as a former agent lured back into the game. Shot as a regional scripted commission for Europe and Africa, Deep State currently has no U.S. broadcaster. Hopefully one of the FX cable networks sees it as a good fit and picks it up domestically. It premieres April 5 in Europe.

Trailer: The Looming Tower

Hulu has released the first trailer for The Looming Tower, their upcoming event series about inter-agency friction between the CIA and FBI in the late 1990s that led to the intelligence failure of 9/11.  Based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning book by Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower features Alec Baldwin as CIA Director George Tenet, Jeff Daniels as FBI counter-terrorism expert John O'Neill, Michael Stuhlbarg as counter-terrorism expert Richard Clarke, among a huge ensemble cast.

The Looming Tower premieres February 28 on Hulu.

Jan 10, 2018

Tradecraft: Black Widow to Finally Fly Solo?

Variety reports that Marvel Studios may finally be moving forward with a standalone movie about superspy Natasha Romanoff--the Black Widow. This is something spy fans have wanted to see ever since it was first announced that the character would appear in Iron Man 2, played by Scarlett Johansson. Since then Johansson has reprised the role in five more films (including Marvel's The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Captain America: Civil War), with two more in the can (including The Avengers: Infinity War, due this spring), but never starred in her own solo movie. (This despite Johansson being the only Avengers cast member to gross $450+ million in her own original movie outside that franchise.) It looks like that may finally be rectified.

According to the trade, Marvel President Kevin Feige has tapped screenwriter Jac Schaeffer to pen the script. Despite a track record that can't be argued with, Marvel have been surprisingly slow out the gate to launch a female-driven superhero franchise. They're finally doing that with Captain Marvel (starring Brie Larson and featuring Samuel L. Jackson's return as Nick Fury), due in 2019, but hiring a female writer to crack a Black Widow feature demonstrates a realization of the cultural moment we're in, and, hopefully, a commitment to further female-fronted superheroics. Schaeffer first attracted attention with a comedic spec script about an alien invasion interrupting a baby shower. That script, The Shower, was recognized on the prestigious Black List (favorite scripts of the year as voted on by Hollywood assistants), and now has Anne Hathaway attached to star. Since then Schaeffer has also written Nasty Women for Hathaway, a female-centric remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Bedtime Story.

The trade stresses that, "sources say [the Black Widow movie] is still very early development, as the film has no greenlight, but naming a writer is the closest the studio has come to moving forward on a standalone pic." Marvel hasn't yet announced any titles of their "Phase 4," which will follow the two upcoming Avengers movies, but the earliest we could possibly see a Black Widow would be 2020. I really hope it happens!

Schaeffer certainly won't be lacking for source material. The sexy former Russian spy Natasha Romanoff, aka The Black Widow, is one of Marvel's foremost espionage-oriented characters, second only to Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. She has a rich history in comics dating back to the Sixties. Three beautifully produced Marvel Premiere hardcovers collect this secret agent's most essential adventures in matching volumes. Black Widow: The Sting of the Widow presents the character's first appearance (in a silly costume in an issue of Iron Man) and earliest solo adventures from the early Seventies, after she'd gotten an Emma Peel makeover, ending up in the black catsuit with which she's still most closely associated. These early Black Widow comics will surely be of interest to collectors and hardcore fans, but casual fans looking for a great introduction to the character are better off picking up the second volume in the series, Black Widow: Web of Intrigue first.

Black Widow: Web of Intrigue offers an excellent primer on the character containing some of her classic appearances from the early Eighties, including an excellent comic drawn by my second-favorite spy artist (after Steranko), Paul Gulacy.  (Look for a cameo appearance by Michael Caine!) Black Widow: Web of Intrigue contains this and several other seminal tales of the red-haired Russian superspy. A third volume, Black Widow: The Itsy Bitsy Spider collects a pair of Marvel Knights stories from the late Nineties (including one by Queen & Country scribe Greg Rucka).

My two favorite modern-day Widow storylines have yet to receive the hardcover treatment, sadly, but are available in a pair of out-of-print trade paperbacks. Richard K. Morgan's Black Widow: Homecoming and Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her put the focus on espionage above superheroics and are among the very best Marvel spy stories. I hope they end up in their own Premiere volume one day. More recent Widow stories include Black Widow: Deadly Origin, Black Widow and the Marvel Girls, Black Widow: The Name of the RoseBlack Widow: Kiss or Kill, three volumes of beautiful material by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto (including the one pictured at the top of this story), and two (comprising her most recent series) by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee. Most of the character's  adventures with Daredevil from the 1970s are included in Essential Daredevil: Volume 3. Last year, Black Widow was also the subject of a large-format character retrospective/art book, Marvel's The Black Widow: Creating the Avenging Super-Spy: The Complete Comics History.

Jan 9, 2018

New RED SPARROW Trailer and Poster

20th Century Fox has released a new trailer and a very cool poster for Red Sparrow, the upcoming movie adaptation of Jason Matthews' terrific 2013 spy novel  (which made my list of the best spy novels of the last decade). The trailer makes it clear that certain changes have been made to the material, but of course that's to be expected in any adaptation. The movie is clearly being positioned as a star vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika Egorova, whereas the book is a two-hander focused equally on Russian double agent Dominika and her CIA handler Nate Nash, played on screen by Joel Edgerton. (I'm still not sold on him in that role, but none of the trailers so far have shown enough of him to really go by.) Red Sparrow, directed by Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer, though he previously worked with her on several Hunger Games movies), opens March 2. If you haven't yet read the book, I highly recommend doing so before then! The third and final book in Matthews' Egorova/Nash trilogy, The Kremlin's Candidate (the improbably topical plot of which has apparently undergone some changes since it was first announced), hits stores two weeks earlier, on February 13.

Dec 23, 2017

Tradecraft: Lionsgate Dates THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME

Deadline reports that Lionsgate has set an August 3 release date for the Mila Kunis/Kate McKinnon comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me. Late summer has proven a successful slot for R-rated, female-driven comedies like Bad Moms and Girls Trip. (I don't know if The Spy Who Dumped Me will be R-rated.) Directed by Susanna Fogel and written by Fogel and David Iserson (who, in the interest of full disclosure, is a friend of mine--which makes me very excited about this project!), The Spy Who Dumped Me follows a woman (Kunis) whose discovery that her ex is a spy plunges her and her best friend (McKinnon) into an international espionage adventure. Outlander standout Sam Heughan (who played Roger Moore's son in A Princess for Christmas), Charlies Angels: Full Throttle villain Justin Theroux (who cameoed as a very Bondian figure in a certain recent blockbuster) and Gillian Anderson (Johnny English Reborn) also star.

Dec 20, 2017

See DANGER: DIABOLIK on the Big Screen in Los Angeles New Year's Weekend

Los Angelenos have a rare opportunity to see one of the greatest spy movies of the Sixties on the big screen New Year's weekend. (Technically I suppose it's a caper movie, but I've always contended that Sixties spy movies are defined by imagery, sound, and tropes more than plot. And by those terms, this is perhaps the ultimate spy movie!) Mario Bava's 1967 masterpiece Danger: Diabolik will screen in 35mm at Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema as a midnight movie on Saturday, December 30. (That means it actually starts at 11:59pm on Saturday, playing into Sunday morning.) And I'm so jealous of anyone who will be in town! Sadly I will not. But if you'll be in L.A. that weekend, you are in luck. Danger: Diabolik stars John Phillip Law (Barbarella), Marisa Mell (Secret Agent Super Dragon), Adolfo Celi (Thunderball), and Michel Picoli (Topaz). Read why I love it so much in my review, here.

Tickets are $8, and available online from Brown Paper Tickets or at the theater box office.

Dec 19, 2017

First Trailer: SICARIO 2: SOLDADO

Sony has released the first trailer for Sicario 2: Soldado, the sequel to Denis Villeneuve's 2015 thriller Sicario, which emerged as one of the best spy movies in a year packed with spy movies. The follow-up is directed by Stefano Sollima (Gommorah), and once again written by Taylor Sheridan (Wind River). Benecio Del Toro (Licence To Kill), Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War), and Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice) all reprise their roles from the first movie, joined this time by Isabella Moner (Transformers: The Last Knight) and Catherine Keener (Get Out). From this trailer, it looks as if Sollima has done an incredible job maintaining the look and tone of Villeneuve's film while raising the stakes. Owing a clear debt to Clear and Present Danger, Soldado (as it was formerly known) looks more like a Tom Clancy movie than the new Jack Ryan TV series. Unfortunately, we've got to wait until June 29, 2018 to see if the film lives up to this glimpse.

Dec 18, 2017

Upcoming Spy Blu-Rays: Entertaining '80s Obscurities

Two cult Eighties spy flicks never officially available on Region 1 DVD are, in both cases rather surprisingly, making their way to Blu-ray early next year.

1982's The Soldier (tagline: "You don't assign him. You unleash him.") was among the first of the blisteringly gung-ho 1980s Cold War spy movies that made a resurgence with Reagan's presidency after all the paranoid, anti-CIA films of the scandal-ridden Seventies. Ken Wahl (Wiseguy) stars as the titularly code-named CIA super-agent tasked with thwarting KGB-backed terrorists threatening to unleash chaos in the middle-east by detonating a nuclear bomb in a Saudi oil field. The ultra-Eighties action jumps from West Berlin to Washington to Saudi Arabia as The Soldier teams up with the Mossad. The cast also includes Alberta Watson (La Femme Nikita, 24), Joaquim de Almeida (Clear and Present Danger), Jeffrey Jones (The Hunt for Red October), and Klaus Kinski(!) (Our Man in Marrakesh) as a KGB assassin. While it's never had a North American DVD release, Kino Lorber will release a Blu-ray on February 27, 2018, generously including trailers and an audio commentary by film historian Jim Hemphill... along with awesome cover art! Retail is $29.95, but that will likely go down on Amazon nearer the release date.

Maybe it should be classified as a guilty pleasure, but I really enjoy the early Jean-Claude Van Damme flick Black Eagle (1988). Coming on the heels of Bloodsport by only a month, Black Eagle hit theaters just on the cusp of JCVD's stardom. Van Damme (Maximum Risk, Jean-Claude Van Johnson) isn't the hero, but the antagonist, a brutal KGB agent. Japanese martial arts star Sho Kosugi (Ninja Assassin) plays the hero, a CIA agent deployed (against his will) to recover a laser weapon from an F-111 downed in the Mediterranean. Good fights and excellent Maltese scenery (as well as some underwater action) make the movie worth watching. For a movie that's never even had a regular DVD release in North America (that I'm aware of), Black Eagle is surprisingly getting the full 2-disc Special Edition treatment from the MVD Rewind Collection! The Blu-ray/DVD combo will, happily, include both the 93-minute theatrical version and the superior 104-minute uncut, extended version of the film. It also boasts a slew of special features, including deleted scenes, the original theatrical trailer (which was awesome), the featurettes "Sho Kosugi: Martial Arts Legend" (HD, 21:26) (featuring new 2017 interviews with Sho Kosugi and Shane Kosugi and more), "The Making of Black Eagle" (HD, 35:50) (featuring new 2017 interviews with Director/Producer Eric Karson, Screenwriter Michael Gonzalez and stars Sho Kosugi, Doran Clark, Shane Kosugi and Dorota Puzio), "Tales of Jean-Claude Van Damme" (HD, 19:20) (Brand new 2017 interviews with cast and crew tell stories about working with the legendary action star), and "The Script and the Screenwriters (HD, 27:14) (new 2017 interviews featuring Michael Gonzales, Eric Karson and more)... as well as a "collectible poster." Whew!

To recap, someone made a 35-minute documentary about the making of Black Eagle. Did you ever expect to see that? I didn't, but I can't wait to watch it! Retail is a steep $39.95, but hopefully that price will drop on Amazon as we near its February 13 release date.

If you're interested in movies I blog about, please consider ordering or pre-ordering from the Amazon links included in the articles to support the Double O Section. Thank you!

First Trailer for the New, Rebooted STRIKE BACK on Cinemax

Cinemax has released the first full trailer for their upcoming, rebooted new season of Strike Back. This will mark the third distinct iteration of the action series, following the more cerebral, more espionage-oriented UK original (review here) starring Richard Armitage (Berlin Station) and Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead), and the sexier, more action-packed U.S. Cinemax continuation (review here) with Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton. The latest incarnation features a larger, four-person anti-terrorist team comprised of Daniel MacPherson, Roxanne McKee, Warren Brown and Alin Sumarwata, but clearly retains the focus on extreme military action familiar to fans of the previous Cinemax series. The new episodes (which debuted this fall on SkyOne in the UK) premiere Stateside on February 2 at 10pm. Take a look!

Dec 15, 2017

Tradecraft: Female Blaxploitation Agents Reactivated on Big and Small Screens

Blaxploitation heroines Cleopatra Jones and Christie Love are both making comebacks... with an espionage twist. Deadline reports that ABC is resurrecting the 1974 TV movie and subsequent series Get Christie Love!, but dropping the exclamation mark and adding spying. Christie Love, as played by Teresa Graves, was a police detective. But in the new version starring Kylie Bunbury (Pitch, Under the Dome), is, according to the trade, "an African American, female CIA agent who leads a highly trained elite ops unit. Beautiful and charismatic, Christie transforms into whoever she needs to be in order to get the job done especially when it’s down to the wire and the stakes are life and death." The new "action-packed, music-driven" hour-long drama hails from Power creator/showrunner Courtney Kemp and producers Vin Diesel, Debra Martin Chase and Shana C. Waterman.

This news comes on the heels of an earlier Deadline story reporting that sexy, karate-chopping government agent Cleopatra Jones (one of Christie Love's inspirations) is also making a comeback--on the big screen. Jones travels the world smashing drug rings under the cover of being an international model with a gloriously flamboyant wardrobe that would make Fatima Blush jealous. According to the trade, "the studio has set Misha Green (Underground, Lovecraft) to write the script and produce a film that will present the heroine very much as the female answer to James Bond." Deadline points out that "those comparisons were made when the original hit film was released, partly because Jones was so adept at martial arts and drove a Corvette Stingray fully equipped with automatic weapons." Tamara Dobson (Amazons) starred in the 1973 original (opposite Never Say Never Again's Bernie Casey) and its less successful 1975 sequel Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold. The Cleopatra Jones movies stood out from many of their grimmer blaxploitation brethren thanks to their sharp comedy. No one has yet been cast to fill Dobson's shoes.

Dec 8, 2017

Quartet Releases Two Expanded Spy Soundtracks: CASINO ROYALE and THE RUSSIA HOUSE

Quartet Records have announced half a quartet (sorry) of newly expanded spy scores. And the two movies are about as far apart as you can get within the same genre: Jerry Goldsmith's somber, intimate, jazz-infused score for the 1990 John le Carré adaptation The Russia House, and Burt Bacharach's infectious, iconic score for the bloated 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royale.

Fred Schepisi’s film of The Russia House starred Sean Connery as one of le Carré’s most memorable characters, Barley Blair, a publisher who becomes unwittingly entangled in East/West spy games and a dangerous romance with Michelle Pfeifer’s Katya. James Fox, Roy Scheider, Michael Kitchen, and Klaus Maria Brandauer co-starred. Besides a romance between two of the screen’s most popular stars, the film was notable for being one of the first Western movies to be shot in Russia, and makes an excellent time capsule of the late Soviet era. Goldsmith’s score was atypical for him in that era (coming right after the more bombastic Total Recall), and remains controversial among fans of the composer and le Carré. The decision to go with a sax-driven, romantic jazz sound reflects Blair’s own musical taste. The original MCA album contained 61 minutes of music, but Quartet have dug up an additional 15 minutes’ worth of previously unreleased material including what they call “some key suspense cues.” According to the label, “the new edition was produced by Mike Matessino, with tracks prepared by Neil S. Bulk (Die Another Day) and mastered by Matessino from the original mixes by Bruce Botnick. The package includes a 16-page full color booklet with [le Carré fan] Dirk Wickenden providing in-depth liner notes and musical analysis of this masterful Goldsmith score.”

As for Casino Royale, you're probably asking, "Hasn't that score already been reissued twice in time this blog's been around?" And you would be right. (Or at least partially right, because you don't seem to be counting the Varese Sarabande reissue which was pretty much identical to the original Varese release, and apparently a subsequent reissue of one of the legitimately expanded versions.) The famous score, long sought after on LP owing to its reputation among audiophiles as the ultimate demonstration record, was first released in an expanded edition by Kritzerland in 2010. The original master tapes were allegedly damaged or destroyed, so they set about repairing the issues caused by that damage. They also attempted to replicate the vaunted sound of the LP by including as a bonus program a direct transfer of the record itself. Then in 2012, Quartet put out a 2-disc release with lavish packaging and a stellar, 60+ page book of liner notes by Gergely Hubai in honor of the film's 45th anniversary. That release was motivated by the discovery of a quarter-inch stereo tape copy of the original album in the vaults of Sony Music Spain, and new access to MGM's DVD elements which permitted a complete film score release (albeit reflecting the sound mixer's dialogue-motivated volume shifts) for the first time. Both of those releases were limited editions, and both sold out. Apparently there was even a second printing of the Quartet one. And now they are releasing a brand new 50th Anniversary edition with completely different audio. Here's the label's reasoning:
This edition is an important landmark for this legendary score, and we can proudly say that it now sounds better than ever. This new edition has been produced, restored and mastered by wizard engineer Chris Malone, rebuilding the score from the ground up. Malone’s work has focused on addressing unintended technical anomalies (such as filling dropouts and covering analogue splices) rather than broadly applying a modern sound palette. He has eschewed dynamic range compression and retained the brilliance of the original recording. Because the LP program derived from the original film recordings (with some edits made for a more pleasure listening), we have included it on our CD and added all the music composed by Bacharach that was not on the LP to make a 77-minute CD. The bonus tracks are in mono (music stems are still the only available source to date), but Chris has worked them in a very different mood from our previous edition, respecting the mono without adding any stereo reverb and carefully restoring each track in a very warm way. We can say the sound is day and night compared with our previous edition. Live and learn.
So they seem to be, sort of, apologizing for their previous version? Understanding its less than ideal sources, I never had any issues with it and appreciated its completeness. Though I still preferred the sound on the Kritzerland version, and it sounds as if Malone may have approached this new one along the same lines they did. The new Quartet release appears to be just one disc as opposed to the 45 Anniversary's double-disc version, and does not include the original booklet. It does, however, boast all-new liner notes (20 pages of them!) by film score expert Jeff Bond. It's kind of strange that this odd-duck step child of the Bond saga as by now proven to be the title most frequently revisited on CD, but they've got me curious. I'll definitely be buying this one, as I have all the others. They always sell out, so my advice is to act quickly if you've missed out on the previous limited editions.

The discs can be ordered now directly from Quartet, or pre-ordered from Screen Archives Entertainment:

Casino Royale
The Russia House

Coming on the heels of La-La Land's recent expanded Die Another Day score, this winter is proving a boom time for collectors of spy soundtracks!