Apr 30, 2007

Blogiversary

Today the Double O Section is six months old!

As evidenced by all the news items and reviews so far, it’s been a good six months for spies in film and fiction. In the past half-year we’ve seen a new James Bond movie come out in theaters and (after setting all sorts of box office records) on DVD. We’ve seen a new wave of classic Bond DVDs, and–possibly riding on their coattails–a whole slew of other spy DVDs, including a few long overdue TV shows and some obscure Eurospy treasures I never expected to see the light of day. In that same short time span we’ve also, amazingly, seen the release (in England, anyway) of two new James Bond novels, both quite excellent. With two oddball series whose initial announcements set a lot of fans groaning, Ian Fleming Publications has actually managed to bring 007's literary adventures to new highs going into 2008's centenary of Fleming’s birth, for which several exciting new books are planned.

Even without a Bond movie to anchor them, the six months ahead are also looking pretty good for spying with Jason Bourne storming theaters once more and some of the theatrical spy movies of the past six months heading to DVD, along with more classics from the vault, starting with tomorrow’s U.S. release of Jason King. I look forward to continuing this blog for a long time to come.

To celebrate the six month milestone, I’ve added tags to all the old posts to make the archive more easily searchable. And, more excitingly, I’m also going to run the Double O Section’s first contest! The prizes will be two of the best spy DVD releases of the past six months, Dark Sky’s Assassination In Rome/Espionage In Tangiers double feature and CBS/Paramount’s The Wild Wild West Season Two. Watch for details on how to win in the next few days...

Apr 26, 2007

Greg Rucka On The Future Of Queen & Country

Greg Rucka recently did a great interview for the Word Balloons comics podcast and discussed, among many other topics, the future of his sublime but frustratingly-MIA-of-late spy series Queen & Country. And it's mostly bad news, I'm afraid.

On the plus side, he says the final issue of the current arc of the comic series, "Operation: Red Panda," should be out "hopefully in next three months or so" (Publisher Oni's website says June 15... so, fingers crossed!) On the minus, he goes on to reveal that "we're probably going to put the book on hiatus between Volume 1 and Volume 2 for I would think no less than 18 months, possibly in the neighborhood of three years." So there you have it, Queen & Country fans. Prepare to wait three years before the next comic book storyline! (Hopefully there will at least be another novel in the meantime... more on that later.)

Of course, Q&C fans are used to waiting (it's been nearly six months since the last issue of "Red Panda"!), so maybe the hiatus won't be much different from the ongoing series in the last few years. The word "hiatus" just sounds so final that it makes me cringe. Rucka is apologetic ("I am not proud of [the delay]. And I think that if there's fans out there who are pissed off, I can't blame them, because it's not a fair way to treat the audience.... I've made them wait a really long time."), but he does offer some good excuses. Part of the reason for the delay is that Nicola Scott, the artist attached to the beginning of Vol. 2, is currently occupied on DC's Birds of Prey.

Another reason is intrinsic in the story he’s telling. Since the missions in Q&C are tied into real world events, he’s not free to just jump ahead several years at will—and that’s exactly what he’d like to do. At the moment heroine Tara Chace’s daughter, Tamsin, is still a baby, which Rucka feels makes her more of a prop than a character. He feels that waiting a few years will give Tamsin a chance to grow into a more interesting age.

In the meantime, we can expect a new ongoing comic book from Rucka and Oni to be announced at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con (“a different genre, but related”) and another Queen & Country novel… eventually. Rucka says he’s not ready to write that one yet because it requires a lot of research… and travel. That means it won’t be his next book, but it will probably still happen before we see more issues of the comic. Rucka doesn’t address the Tara Chace: Declassified mini-series that was announced a few years ago but never materialized.

He does talk at length about writing the Q&C novels and how that’s different from writing the comic, and about the TV series that inspired the whole series, The Sandbaggers. Make sure you tune into the podcast to hear his thoughts on that, along with his own intriguing theory about the mysterious disappearance of the show’s creator, Ian Mackintosh. You can also hear him talk candidly about all his other comics projects, including DC spy series CheckMate, and lots more.

Listen here to hear the rest!

Apr 25, 2007



Rhinemann Exchange DVD Cover

TVShowsOnDVD has posted the cover art for Universal's upcoming DVD of Robert Ludlum's The Rhinemann Exchange, the '70s mini-series I reported on the other day. I like it! The disc can now be pre-ordered at Amazon for $13.99.
Review: Hawaii Five-0: Cocoon

I certainly don’t think of Hawaii Five-0 as a spy show, so I was surprised to discover that the 1968 pilot movie which spawned the series owes much more to the Sixties spy genre than the age-old cop formula.* I guess it should seem natural. CBS had, after all, a location far more exotic than the average police drama (most of which were set in Los Angeles) and a star best known for playing 007's American counterpart, Felix Leiter, in the debut James Bond movie. (It really is a shame the producers opted not to bring Jack Lord back for Goldfinger... He was a much better Felix than Cec Linder!) So why not tell a spy story?

Cocoon follows the exploits of Steve McGarrett (Lord), the maverick leader of Hawaii’s elite State Police unit, Five-0. Although his team is mostly in place (the glaring exception being James MacArthur as Danno), this TV movie rests squarely on the shoulders of Lord. Luckily, he’s a natural leading man, fully capable of carrying such a movie–or series. If by-the-book Joe Friday was still the model policeman on TV at the time, then McGarret seems to owe more to James Bond, Harry Palmer and the other, more loose cannon, lone wolf spy heroes of the era. The first bad guy we see him encounter, he shoots dead rather than arresting, and he refuses to allow himself to be outranked by the American Intelligence station chief (a still-dark-haired Leslie Nielsen).

McGarrett encounters the spooks in the course of his investigation into the murder of his friend, who was also a spy. He discovers connections between his friend’s death and the deaths of several other American agents, incurring Nielsen’s turf war warnings to back off. But, apparently, McGarrett never backs off. ("He only takes orders from the Governor and God... and occasionally even they have trouble!") He is in fact so impressive in his tenacity that the head of Intelligence himself flies to Hawaii and recruits the state police officer to take on the most dangerous mission he has. (So much for credibility.) And so off McGarrett goes, deep undercover to flush out the nefarious Wo Fat, a Bond baddie-type Red Chinese agent.

In a plot reminiscent of The Ipcress File, Wo Fat has perfected a "brain drain" technique to make every American agent he captures talk. Of course, the diabolical mastermind meets his match in McGarrett, who proves strong enough to withstand the elaborate technique that broke even the most hardened secret agents (a technique too convoluted to explain here, but it somehow involves the titular cocoon) and even uncovers a traitor along the way. Wo Fat gets away and lives to antagonize McGarrett for another eleven seasons, but McGarrett gets his fight-to-the-finish with the American turncoat as the heavily armed 5-0 team swarms the ship where he’s being held in a finale reminiscent of Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. Also in 007 style, he ends up romancing the beautiful Nancy Kwan (Wonder Women, The Wrecking Crew).

Unfortunately, a limited TV budget at the time could do little to replicate those blockbusters, and lacking the creativity of the Eurospy brand of Bond-on-a-budget, Cocoon falls a little short of the mark it ambitiously sets for itself. The plot feels bloated at two hours, and there aren’t enough bang-up action scenes to sustain that kind of runtime for this kind of story. Perhaps a spy yarn was the wrong approach to take for the pilot, because Hawaii Five-0 quickly comes into its own when dealing with more conventional police action in an hour-long format, anchored by the ever-charismatic Lord. Seen by itself, Cocoon comes off as a sub-standard spy movie, but that’s an unfair representation of what’s really a very well-done, above average cop show. (Of course, this being a spy blog and not a cop blog, my review will stop with the movie.) The famous music, however, is first rate from the very beginning, and CBS/Paramount does a good job with the DVD transfer.


*Actually, my surprise had somewhat abated by the time I sat down and watched the DVD, as Brian Flagg had already given the heads-up on the Avengers forum.

Apr 24, 2007

What's Going On With Get Smart?

There have been lots of stories swirling around the web in the last few weeks about Get Smart, some good, some decidedly bad. So what's the truth?

First, USA Today ran a story (along with this great picture) about the start of production in which director Peter Segal (50 First Dates) promises that the movie will be "politically satirical." He says it was a challenge to find things to laugh at in the face of global terror. (I guess he doesn't recall that the original series managed to find things to laugh at at a time people were genuinely afraid of nuclear anhililation, just a few years after America and Russia came head-to-head over the Cuban Missile Crisis...) The solution? "We try to show the disconnect between government agencies as we saw right after 9/11 when the CIA and FBI weren't really communicating." Well, that does sound promising, actually.

As far as updating the characters goes, Segal says, "[Agent 99, originally played by Barbara Feldon] is a little more kick-ass and tougher, more emancipated. She's more the female James Bond, teaching [Smart] the ropes." An obvious choice, but hardly very original. Every modern spy comedy does it. Natalie Imbruglia in Johnny English particularly comes to mind.

Aintitcool reported on the story, and added a few comments of their own. Then the entertainment insider blog Hollywood Elsewhere commented on it, revealing themselves to be rather unfairly predisposed against the movie. Later in the day, they followed it up with a link to a negative script review on a Get Smart fansite (which claims that the script is basically an Americanized remake of Johnny English) and input from someone supposedly connected with the movie. He called the script awful, and chillingly said it "makes Steve Martin's Pink Panther look like genius." The source goes on to reveal that Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, creators of the original series, were unhappy with the very idea of remaking Get Smart, but that Brooks likes Steve Carell and offered his input to the producers. Who, the source claims, not only turned him down, but then attempted to screw him out of his deserved royalties.

So, that's bad.

Luckily, a few days later AICN was saying the situation had been resolved, and not only are Mel Brooks and Buck Henry happy with the new financial arrangements; they've officially signed onto the project as "consultants." Apparently that means contributing jokes, and according to Harry Knowles, Carell has already filmed one. Knowles infuriatingly doesn't credit his source for this information, though, so we have no way of knowing how true it is. You'd think there would be an official announcement about such a big development. For now, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope...

As for myself, the cast alone is enough to keep me extremely hopeful about this film. It's a great batch of actors, and everyone seems perfect for their roles. (Which is more than I can say about most 60s spy TV adaptations--Val Kilmer as Simon Templar, anyone?) The fact that the producers and director were smart enough to recruit such a talented cast is encouraging; it shows that they're thinking. Also heartening is Hollywood Elsewhere's buried bit of news that Carell and his Office co-star/writer B.J. Novak have done a pass on the script since the above-linked negative review. And I think the DVD spin-off is a good idea, too.

For now, Get Smart remains near the very top of my must-see movies for 2008.
Hurricane Gold Cover

The title of the next Young Bond novel, Hurricane Gold, was confirmed today with an announcement on the official website, YoungBond.com. (Click on the "news" link.) Accompanying the announcement were a few more plot points, some details about the book's design and a photo of Charlie Higson holding the book. (Young Bond Dossier has a larger version of the picture.) The hardcover will have a shiny, embossed gold cover, gilt-edged pages, and one of those annoyingly tiny dust jackets just big enough for the title. Overall, it looks very attractive.

Apr 23, 2007

Get Smart Gets Sequel Already

Well, kind of. The Hollywood Reporter reports that Warner Bros.’ new direct-to-DVD unit, Warner Premiere, will release a spin-off feature called Get Smarter: Bruce and Lloyd Out of CONTROL on DVD to coincide with the theatrical release of the Steve Carell-starring Get Smart movie. They’re quick to point out that, contrary to my misleading headline, “Smarter is not a sequel but is being positioned as parallel content to the feature film, and will be released domestically 10 days after Smart.” The spin-off (or “parallel content,” or whatever you want to call it) stars Heroes’ Masi Oka and Studio 60’s Nate Torrence as Bruce and Lloyd, the techie/analyst characters they play in the Carell movie. Most interesting, “the story will at times cross over with the feature film and the direct-to-DVD movie might even repurpose scenes from the feature.” Good idea! Shooting will take place this summer as Get Smart wraps, from a script by Smart scribes Tom Astle and Matt Ember.
A Quote Fit For The Cover Of TWINE...

I read Video Watchdog publisher Tim Lucas's excellent blog, VideoWatchBlog, pretty religiously, and was surprised to see James Bond mentioned today, as the focus is usually on cult horror titles. In a lengthy article about upconverting regular DVDs through an HD player (something I confess little understanding of), he unleashes this casual gem, which I think pretty much sums up what I consider to be a fairly mediocre Bond film: "What was I doing watching THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH when I could be watching THE SEXUAL STORY OF O? In English!" Well said, Tim! It amused me so I felt like reprinting it.
James Bond Is Back... In Hurricane Gold!

The ever-vigilant Young Bond Dossier discovered the title of Charlie Higson's next James Bond novel (Young Bond, that is, if you want to get technical... but these books are real James Bond novels) on various international Amazon sites this morning. By afternoon, the site had confirmation on the title via Penguin/Puffin's official website. So, officially, Double Or Die will be followed by Hurricane Gold! (It sounds cooler if you say it the way they used to print it on the covers of the American editions of John Gardner's Bond novels... Ian Fleming's Master Spy James Bond in Hurricane Gold by Charlie Higson!) The book, arriving nearly four months earlier than expected and in hardcover, a series first for the UK, comes out in September 2007. A separate, limited edition has also been announced. Whether this will be in the same vein as the slipcased limited editions of the first two books available exclusively through the UK chain Waterstones (the third one is due around the same time as Hurricane Gold) is unknown at this time. Either way, collectors can expect a lot of Young Bond this fall!

Apr 21, 2007

British Airways Vs. Bond And Branson

James Bond's favorite airline has turned on him. AP reports that British Airways has cut rival Virgin Atlantic chairman Richard Branson's blink-and-you-miss-it cameo from in-flight screenings of Casino Royale. They also blurred out the Virgin logo on the tail of the airplane in the Miami International Airport scene. A Virgin spokesman claimed the high ground by stating that his company hadn't blurred the British Airways logo from the flight that takes James Bond back to London in Die Another Day.

Apr 20, 2007

Random Intelligence Dispatches For April 20, 2007

A Coen Brothers Spy Movie
Ocean pals George Clooney and Brad Pitt are reuniting for a Coen Brothers spy movie called Burn After Reading. Hollywood Reporter says the plot is veiled in secrecy and states only that "the black comedy, which also stars Frances McDormand, centers on a CIA agent who loses the disc of the book he is writing." Who cares! I don't need to know plot details. Knowing it's Coen Brothers is always enough for me, and knowing it's a spy movie with Clooney and Pitt and McDormand also helps.

New Bourne Trailer
Speaking of Ocean's 11 alums, Universal is making up for lost time in getting the word out about their new Jason Bourne movie opening this summer. Yet another new trailer for The Bourne Ultimatum has gone up on Yahoo, and in high quality to boot. This one offers a few more plot points than the last one, and it looks good! Despite my bitching about how little the movies have in common with the books that share their titles, it actually looks like the third chapter, while bearing no resemblence to Ludlum's Ultimatum, may indeed borrow from the final, New York-set chapters of his Bourne Identity, which went unused in the film.

Stopover Tokyo On DVD
On July 10, Fox Home Entertainment will release the 1957 Robert Wagner/Joan Collins spy thriller Stopover Tokyo on DVD. The only special features announced so far are a theatrical trailer, restoration comparison and still gallery, but I wouldn't be surprised if there turn out to be more, based on previous Fox Cinema Classics releases. Stopover Tokyo is actually based on one of J.P. Marquand's Mr. Moto novels, but features Wagner as an American Intelligence officer instead of the Moto character. The film will be released as part of The Joan Collins: Superstar Collection.

Young Bond Lost In Translation
Finally, CommanderBond.Net has a really interesting story about a particularly glaring translation error in the recently published German edition of Charlie Higson's Double Or Die (titled GoldenBoy over there). Not only will it make a nice point of interest for collectors of international Bond first editions, but the error reveals some of the intricacies of translating that I've never paused to think about before.

Apr 19, 2007

Transporter 3 In 2008

Yes, I know the Transporter isn't really a spy; he's more of a... um... transporter... but these Jason Statham movies are essentially spy movies, and should appeal to the same audience, so I'm going to cover them here. The mostly disposable Transporter was basically the modern-day equivilant of a Eurospy movie, and the far superior Transporter 2 was the closest thing you're likely to see in theaters today to a Roger Moore Bond movie (silly, over-the-top stunts, ridiculous car chases, a gun-crazy, lingerie-wearing femme fatale, goofy humor and lots of fun). So, for those wondering, there's finally news on a third installment. Dark Horizons reports that producer Luc Besson told The Collider that he's aiming to shoot Transporter 3 in March and April of next year. Presumably that means a Fall 2008 release in the U.S., following the pattern of the first two. Having enjoyed the second movie immensely, I, for one, am looking forward to this! Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that director Louis Leterrier will return, since he has moved on to The Incredible Hulk. Perhaps his co-director on the first film (and martial arts choreographer on the second one) Corey Yuen will step in. He did an excellent job directing 2002's Hong Kong actioner So Close...
More Ludlum On DVD

Universal's repackaging of the first two Bourne movies (due July 21) won't be their only DVD release timed to cash in on the theatrical bow of The Bourne Ultimatum. Coming the following week on July 31 (according to The Digital Bits) will be Robert Ludlum's The Rhinemann Exchange. Actually, I had no idea that one had ever been filmed. (That's one of the many great things about Robert Ludlum: not only does he continue to produce an amazing amount of new books long after his death, but long-forgotten movies and mini-series of his older ones keep turning up!) This is a 300-minute mini-series from 1977, which originally aired as part of "NBC's Bestseller." It stars a particularly ecclectic cast including Lauren Hutton, Jose Ferrer, John Huston, Roddy McDowall, Larry Hagman and 7th Heaven star Stephen Collins. (No, I never thought I'd ever have to mention 7th Heaven on this blog either.) I never read The Rhinemann Exchange, but having read plenty of other Ludlums, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect. (Though frankly I always preferred Ludlum's contemporary stories to his WWII ones.) Anyway, Amazon reviewers seem to like it.
Review: The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's deserving Best Foreign Film Oscar-winner,* is as good a movie about spying as you’re ever likely to come across. Note that I called it a movie about spying, and not a movie about spies. There are far fewer movies actually about the voyeuristic act of spying, and not all of those are even about spies, per se, but several of them are quite excellent, like Coppola’s The Conversation or Hitchcock’s Rear Window. The Lives of Others fits easily in that auspicious company. And it actually is about a spy, as well as spying.

Hauptmann Gerd Weisler (Ulrich Muhe) is a high-ranking officer in the Stasi, East Germany’s dreaded secret police. Unlike some of his comrades and superiors, he appears to actually believe in what he does, and to believe firmly in the Communist Party. And he’s so good at his job that he even teaches classes on interrogation at the Stasi Academy. (The one class we witness, by the way, is fascinating, and revealing with regards to the interrogation techniques the Stasi used, which I can’t imagine are much different from what goes on today at Guantanamo Bay.) Weisler is a model agent, cold, reserved, and most importantly, far removed from his subjects. (He shows no compassion whatsoever for a family man who claims not to know how his neighbor escaped to the West, and doesn’t hesitate to threaten a woman’s daughter’s future if she refuses to cooperate.)

At first we, the film’s audience–and Weisler’s–are kept that same distance from him as a character. We meet from the perspective of his unlucky interrogation subject, setting him up as an antagonist rather than protagonist, starting us off at arm’s length. It’s an uncomfortable way to meet the main character. From the (at first) more relatable position of his boss, Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur, later revealed to be the true antagonist), we’re treated to Weisler’s superior, judgmental stare. Everywhere that Weisler goes, he is an observer, a voyeur. Grubitz takes him to a play, which he watches from a box with opera glasses. We’re treated to a long shot of Weisler looking back at us (and at Grubitz and his superior, the Minister of Culture) through those glasses, still relating to the subjects more than to the voyeur. Then we meet the playwright Georg Dreyman and his lead actress-slash-girlfriend Christa-Maria, soon to be the objects of Weisler’s espionage, and our perspective shifts. We see them first from his perspective, as a voyeur, witnessing a private moment through a half-shut door, from afar.

Shots continue to be framed voyeuristically as we get to know the couple along with Weisler, who bugs their entire apartment and sets up a listening station in the attic above them. The Minister of Culture feels that Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) may not be the model citizen he makes himself out to be, and worries that he’ll soon write something more subversive. It’s Weisler’s job to get proof. But as he spies on this couple, he becomes caught up in their private lives, in their personal struggles as well as political ones. Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck, from The Good Shepherd) is not just an actor on stage, but in real life, putting on a show (along with Georg) for Weisler, even if she doesn’t realize it. But moved by the power of the theater he’s watching, Weisler chooses not to remain a passive observer, but to make the play interactive, literally scripting it himself by the end. The real-life drama Weisler takes in proves to be the purest example of revolutionary theater, moving its audience to the point of action.

When he meets Christa-Maria by chance in a nearby bar, he can’t help but attempt to sway her, to alter her character’s journey. Knowing she’s insecure about her art, and needs support, he offers that as a fan. "I’m your audience," he tells her when she asks who he is. Like any audience watching such powerful theater, he’s moved–and changed–by the experience.

The scenario reminded me of Bertolucci’s The Conformist, in which a facist agent assigned to infiltrate an anti-facist artistic circle finds the artists having a powerful effect on him. But here, the protagonist acts very differently from Bertolucci’s hero, resulting in very different consequences for himself and all involved. This isn’t a story about a nation selling its soul (as that was); this is about a wayward nation’s chance for redemption.

All of the artfulness in The Lives of Others is well-disguised, though, in a slick, fast-moving thriller filled with spying, political intrigue, love triangles, and ever-building suspense. The amazing shot composition and camera movement, the stunning use of color, and the suburb cinematography (courtesy of Hagen Bogdanski) all recall Hitchcock, as the lush, powerful score by Gabriel Yared and Stephane Moucha evokes the best of his frequent collaborator, Bernard Herrmann. All three leads turn in truly outstanding performances, and the whole movie creates a fantastic sense of time and place (to me, anyway, as someone who never lived in East Germany in 1984...). There’s a feeling of everyday dread, conveying well the constant fear that one is always being spied on.

The Lives of Others works on so many levels that it deserves to be seen by all fans of cinema, not just spy fans. It is a Cold War spy thriller, but it’s also so much more that even as an ardent fan of the genre, I tend to forget that. Like Rear Window and like The Conversation, it transcends its genre completely. It’s an involving, first-rate thriller, and a commentary on the power of visual storytelling. It’s one of the best movies of the decade.

*I loved Pan’s Labyrinth, and I think Guillermo del Toro crafted a fantastic, multi-layered, and very adult horror-fantasy. I was excited that Pan received as many accolades as it did, and thrilled that it was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Would we finally see a genius horror director recognized in his own time, when for decades highly-influential pioneers of the genre (like Mario Bava, for example) had tread in relative obscurity? Although I’d wanted to see The Lives of Others prior to the Academy Awards, I didn’t get around to it, and when it beat Pan’s Labyrinth, I wasn’t happy. I was sure that it was another example of the Academy being traditionally conservative, being old, being narrow-minded, and failing to bestow such a well-deserved honor upon a movie that happened to fall into such a wrongfully-derided genre as "horror." Now, having seen The Lives of Others, I’m a little pissed off because I can’t fault the Academy for their choice. There is no way you can say that von Donnersmarck’s movie wasn’t worthy of that recognition. So, while I can strongly suspect that the Academy blacklisted Pan’s Labyrinth for its genre, I still have no proof. Drat! Both movies are superior pieces of filmmaking, and it’s a shame they had to compete against each other.

Apr 18, 2007

U.N.C.L.E. DVD News!

TVShowsOnDVD.com has the update today that spy fans have long been waiting for... According to series star Robert Vaughn, we can expect The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on DVD by the end of 2007! As followers of the show probably know, the first (black & white) season was expected on disc from Anchor Bay last year, but cancelled at the last minute over a rights dispute with Warner Bros. Apparently Warner came out on top, and Vaughn has told the Akron Beacon-Journal that he's recording new commentary tracks for them, after having previously taped some for AB. And this time, he'll also be joined by co-star David McCallum! The question that remains is whether Warner will also be starting with Season 1, as Anchor Bay planned to, or if they'll instead put out the first color season first. It sounds to me from Vaughn's quotes like that might be the case. In any event, you can currently watch the black and white episodes streaming via Warner Bros. on America Online.

Apr 17, 2007

Clive Owen To Spy For Tom Tykwer

Two potentially interesting new spy projects broke in the trades today. The first one, The International, really has me excited.

Variety reports that Tom Tykwer, the always-impressive director of Run Lola Run, Winter Sleepers and last year's Perfume, will direct Clive Owen in an “action-thriller” produced by John Woo. Let me repeat that to let it sink in: Tom Tykwer will direct Clive Owen in an action-thriller produced by John Woo!!!

I’ve always wanted to see what would happen if Tykwer turned his considerable talents toward an action movie. Granted, I’m sure he won’t deliver a straight-forward action movie; it will probably turn out to be much more than that. But to me he’s one of the most interesting directors in the world (who I’d love to see do a Bond, not that that would ever happen), and he’s got a great leading man in Owen. Variety goes on to undercut the excitement of the talent announced by blandly stating that Owen plays “an Interpol agent who investigates corruption at powerful banking institutions.”

Luckily The Hollywood Reporter manages to make the plot sound a lot better: “The story centers on an obsessive Interpol agent (Owen) who spearheads an investigation into one of the world’s most high-profile and powerful banking institutions in a n attempt to expose its role in worldwide arms brokering, corruption and murder. His efforts quickly turn into a deeper obsession when he comes up against more resistance by the law enforcement system he serves.” Count me in!

The International is scheduled to shoot in September in Europe, with a script by Eric Singer.

In other spy news today, Ridley Scott has lined up yet another espionage-related project. Fox 2000 has optioned a new novel by Rob Smith called Child 44 for him to direct. The novel, due in 2008, is set in Stalinist Russia and, according to Variety, “revolves around an officer in the secret police who is framed by a colleague for treason. On the run with his emotionally estranged wife, he stumbles upon a series of child killings and launches his own rogue investigation, even though it means risking his own capture.” Should Scott actually make Child 44, it won’t be until after he finishes Body of Lies, which Variety now claims is still titled Penetration in its movie version.

Apr 14, 2007

RIP Barry Nelson

Barry Nelson, the first actor to play James Bond on screen, has died at 86.* CommanderBond.Net reports that Nelson passed away while traveling in Pennsylvania on April 7, 2007. Nelson starred as an Americanized "Card Sense Jimmy Bond" in a black and white 1954 live TV version of Ian Fleming's first novel, Casino Royale, for CBS' Climax! Mystery Theater, meaning that he preceded Sean Connery by nearly a decade.

In the teleplay, Bond's contact, "Letter" (first name: Clarence) works for British Intelligence instead of the CIA, and Vesper Lynd is replaced by "Valerie Mathis" (Linda Christian), combining the characters of Vesper and the male Rene Mathis into one. Peter Lorre plays Le Chiffre, and at least the gambling part of the plot is about as faithfull to the book as any of the three filmed versions. Nelson's Royale is included in its entirety (well, mostly--they cut off the live blooper where Lorre, supposedly dead, stands up before the camera stops rolling) as a bonus feature on the Region 1 MGM DVD of the 1967 Casino Royale, and is certainly worth seeing once for any Bond fan.

Barry Nelson's later credits include Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (in which his hotel manager gives Jack Nicholson his fateful caretaker job) and a memorable guest spot on Magnum P.I., among other things. His historical contribution to the most successful spy franchise of all time ensures that he will live on for a long time to come.


*The AP story reports the actor's age as 89, but according to the IMDB and other sources, his birthday was April 16, 1920 which would make him just shy of 87.

Apr 13, 2007

Breach On DVD In June

Universal has announced Breach on DVD for June 12. Breach tells the story of the capture of Robert Hanssen (an excellent Chris Cooper), the most damaging turncoat in the FBI's history. According to DVDActive, the disc will feature a commentary with director Billy Ray and former G-man Eric O'Neill, the actual person Ryan Phillipe plays in the movie. That should definitely be interesting! It will also include deleted and alternate scenes with optional commentary, a documentary featurette called "Breaching the Truth," and the original Dateline story about Robert Hanssen, "The Mole." Hanssen will also be examined in the peculiar featurette "Anatomy of a Character Brought to You By Volkswagon." So now DVD features have corporate sponsors? Okay, I guess, if it means we get more bonus content... Actually, this is some surprisingly generous bonus content for a movie that didn't make a big impact at the box office. Sounds like a fairly loaded DVD! Retail is $29.99, but as usual, it will be generally available for much less.

Apr 12, 2007

Spy Music Notes

Special Mission Lady Chaplin Soundtrack Album

Spy Bop Royale, the top agent for intelligence on spy music (and proprietor of an excellent website on the subject which has recently gone MIA), gives a heads-up on the Eurospy Forum that DigitMovies (the company responsible for the recent wave of awesome Mario Bava soundtracks) will issue Bruno Nicolai's fantastic score to Special Mission Lady Chaplin on April 26! (The bad news is that it won't include the wonderfully infectious vocal theme for contractual reasons.) The movie, a true Eurospy gem starring Ken Clark and Bond babe Daniella Bianchi, was recently issued on a very impressive DVD by Dorado Films. You can watch the trailer and the first ten minutes of the film (which includes the song) on their website. And you can order the soundtrack CD at Screen Archives!

New Shirley Bassey Single Rings Familiar (In A Good Way!)

Dame Shirley Bassey (or "DSB" as the hip septagenarian now goes, it seems) has a new single out in Britain called "The Living Tree." You can listen and watch on YouTube. Spy fans may recognize that the theme for a certain secret agent subtly features in the song--a theme which recalls some of Bassey's biggest past successes. The single itself comes out April 23 (with 7 remixes, including a "Shaken and Stirred Remix" and a "Shaken and Stirred Extended Remix"--and a video), and will also be available as a download. The Dame's last big single was "History Repeating" from the Propellerheads' seminal 1997 album Decksanddrumsandrockandroll. It's success inspired a whole remix album of her back catalog, which featured a Propellerheads remix of "Goldfinger" (cool enough to be used in TV spots for The World Is Not Enough and Casino Royale) and an awesome Away Team version of "Where Do I Begin" that actually just made me use the word "awesome" in conjunction with the theme from Love Story! There are rumors of another remix album to follow the new single...

Apr 10, 2007

Review: Wonder Women (1973)

As part of his two-month long Grindhouse Film Festival, Quentin Tarantino screened his personal print of the ultra-rare Wonder Women at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles last Wednesday night on a double-bill with The Female Bunch. Even though there’s decidedly nothing "Euro" about it (Wonder Women was made by Americans in the Philippines!), Wonder Women is essentially a Sixties Eurospy movie transplanted to another continent and anther decade, the 1970s. It has all the usual Sixties Eurospy hallmarks: evil Oriental villain with an island full of beautiful, deadly, scantily-clad babes (why is it always a babe army?), weird science (unusual organ transplants), cool chases in exotic but low-budget locations, an "escape from the island as the base blows up," finale and, most importantly, a supremely obnoxious hero.

Biker star Ross Hagen sports a helmet of reddish hair, amber-tinted sunglasses, an egotistical swagger, and pick-up lines like "Baby, you’ve got great legs!" as CIA agent turned insurance investigator Mike Harbor. (Yes, this is another in that curious spy sub-genre about the thrilling, sexy world of international insurance investigation. The category also includes Ring Around the World, Some Girls Do and the granddaddy of them all, Deadlier Than the Male.) Harbor’s chest-hair-exposing, wide-collared shirts and endless assortment of safari suits are even enough to make you long for Joe Walker’s sleazy Sixties wardrobe! Harbor actually might be an even bigger jerk than Walker, accepting his assignment with great reluctance, demanding twice the fee he’s offered and then acting like he’s doing his employer (Lloyds of London, of course) a huge favor just by existing. And he doesn’t think twice about plowing through innocent civilians in a car chase, or punching a woman. (Though, to be fair, these Wonder Women punch back–hard.)

Harbor’s mission is to recover a kidnapped jai-alai star, insured by Lloyds for millions. Most "B" spy movies recycle the same old James Bond plots, but I think Wonder Women actually has the impressive distinction of being the only genre entry about a kidnapped jai-alai star. The athlete has been taken by a band of four beautiful female assassins working for the mysterious Dr. Tzu (top-billed Nancy Kwan, of The Wrecking Crew). Dr. Tzu has invented an "anti-rejection serum" which allows her to transplant any organ successfully. Along with her money man, Gregorious (exploitation legend Sid Haig playing a dandy, if you can believe it, complete with frilly shirt, walking stick and his own funky theme music!), Dr. Tzu has developed a cottage industry transplanting decrepit, wealthy old men’s brains into the bodies of younger, perfect physical specimens. Her Wonder Women obtain these specimens by surrounding athletes, striking intimidating poses to a delicious, ultra-Seventies porno-funk waa-waa score, and attacking with judo, nets and tranquilizer darts.

Harbor gets on Tzu’s trail by meeting a contact at a sporting event (a cock fight, in this case) only to have the contact silently murdered right next to him. (The following year, The Man With the Golden Gun would feature a remarkably similar scene!) When he gets too close, Tzu assigns her top killer, redhead Linda (Maria De Aragon, whose greatest fame would come from a considerably less sexy role–as alien bounty hunter Greedo in Star Wars!) to eliminate Harbor. She seduces him, and after he blows her mind with his amazing sexual prowess (despite being made in the Seventies, Wonder Women doesn’t succumb to the decade’s trend of gratuitous nudity, and remains just as chaste as a Sixties Eurospy movie), tries to kill him in his hotel room. Needless to say, she doesn’t succeed, but not for want of trying.

They throw each other around the room and exchange judicious judo blows before she escapes, still wearing her skimpy night things. Harbor has time to quickly pull on a safari suit and then gives chase. Here, the filmmakers pull out all the stops for a tour-de-force setpiece that brilliantly utilizes all the best scenery Manilla has to offer, from the hotel lobby into the streets. After dashing through the market square, Maria hops into a Jeep taxi, and Harbor follows in his own Jeep taxi. The taxis jump over things, crash through things, hit things (including an unlucky traffic warden, which was real and an accident, according to the stunt coordinator; luckily, the man shook it off) and generally disrupt Manilla commerce. This is a long, really amazing chase sequence. By this point in the movie, you’ll have completely forgotten about the low budget and the sometimes sub-par acting. This gonzo, gleefully destructive chase sequence, which is as much fun to watch as those involved clearly had making it, completely draws you in, and you might as well be watching a full-blown Hollywood spectacle.

Harbor manages to eventually track Linda down, and uses her to infiltrate Dr. Tzu’s island. Of course, if you’ve ever seen any spy movie you know where that’s headed (the aforementioned escaping and exploding), but Wonder Women does throw in the extra exploitation movie bonus of freaks! Dr. Tzu has kept all of her transplant experiments that went awry (including a seven-foot tall basketball player with a lightbulb in his head) in cages, and during the mayhem they escape and wreak havoc. The freaks move like jive zombies; their slow, dance-like gait reminded me of the similar dancing, mutant freaks in an episode of the brilliantly weird Britcom The Mighty Boosh.

Harbor shoots his way through this chaotic climax with a huge, double-barreled firearm that falls somewhere between a pistol and a sawed-off shotgun. He saves the jai-alai player, saves the day, and gets one of the many girls before facing one last, strange surprise. Cue the catchy theme song, "Wonder Women," and the movie’s over, having flown by, rather than dragged by, as some low budget spy movies tend to. Wonder Women is unapologetic, delirious, tongue-in-cheek fun. I hope one of the niche DVD companies like Dark Sky or No Shame sees fit to release it on disc one day. In the meantime, if you ever have an opportunity to catch this one, make sure you don’t pass it up. It’s like an American Kommissar X for the Seventies–but without the boring bits.

Apr 9, 2007

Penetration Becomes Lies, Gains Leo

Leonardo DiCaprio has signed on to Ridley Scott's long-in-the-works spy movie formerly known as Penetration, an adaptation of David Ignatius's just-published novel Body of Lies. Scott acquired the property in galleys nearly a year ago, and now that the novel has been published, it's title has changed for the worse. The movie, too, will now be called Body of Lies. I haven't read the book (which has gotten positive reviews), but I'm told that William (The Departed) Monahan's script is a solid, Tom Clancy-ish spy thriller. Variety describes it as the story of "a CIA agent who's sent to Amman to work with Jordan's intelligence chief to track an Al Qaeda leader rumored to be planning attacks against America."

Apr 8, 2007

Dame Stella's Newest A Paperback Original?

Even though former MI-5 Director General Stella Rimington's second Liz Carlyle novel, Secret Asset, has been out in Great Britain and Canada for nearly a year, the US release date was pushed back several times. Now it's finally due to appear here... in paperback. Sadly it's bypassed the hardcover market altogether for some reason, even though her fantastic debut novel, At Risk, got a hardcover publication from Knopf. Amazon lists the mass market book at $12.16, which seemse awfully high for a paperback, but judging from the dimensions they give it will be one of those tall, skinny paperbacks (somewhere between a mass market and a trade in size) that are basically just a justification for the publisher to charge a little extra. Secret Asset comes out in America on May 29.

Meanwhile, according to an Amazon.co.uk listing, the third Liz Carlyle novel, Illegal Action, is due in Britain (in hardcover) on August 2. It concerns the timely topic of post-Cold War Russian espionage in London, and an attempt to silence a vocal Putin critic.
Bond Parody Videos

VH1's new Jack Black-produced sketch comedy show, Acceptable TV, debuted last week with a very funny segment entitled "Homeless James Bond." It's one of the better Bond spoofs I've seen, and naturally it can be viewed on YouTube. I believe it won the audience vote, so it should have returned for the second episode as well, but I missed that one. Maybe it will turn up on YouTube as well. (Speaking of YouTube, 24 fans should be sure to check out the Jack Bauer "Damn it!" reel that's making the rounds--thanks, T-Bone!)

Additionally, one of the recent 30-second bunny re-enactments featured on the Starz website did a pretty impressive take on the entire James Bond cycle, presenting some of the most famous moments done with bunnies. More notable for die-hard Bond fans, though, are the less-famous moments they take on, such as 007 cooking a quiche in A View To A Kill or the final shot of Baron Samedi from Live And Let Die. These bits show that whoever created this short really knew their Bond! (Thanks to Linda for sending me the bunny link.)
Jason King Coming To DVD In USA

The 1971 cult British TV series Jason King is coming to Region 1 DVD courtesy of Image Entertainment on May 1, 2007. The great Peter Wyngarde stars as the titular hero, spun off from the best of ITC's Avengers clones, Department S. Jason King is a big-haired fop who traverses Europe romancing beautiful women and sporting incredibly scary facial hair. He also gets roped into plenty of espionage adventures, though he tries his best to avoid them, preferring to focus on writing his trashy "Mark Caine" thrillers.

James Chapman aptly describes Jason King in his essential Saints & Avengers as "the most parodic of all the British adventure series, surpassing even The Avengers" and correctly calls the title character "the most absurdly camp hero in the history of television detectives." He goes on to observe that "although all popular culture is a product of and for its times, this truism is especially so in the case of Jason King. The excessively dandyish playboy hero belongs to that moment in the early 1970s when the cultural changes of the previous decade had reached their fullest expression, especially in respect of fashion and permissive sexuality." It would be impossible to separate Jason King from that frilly Seventies fashion, and Image is latching onto it, comparing King to Austin Powers in their copy.

I'm really floored by the news that Jason King is coming out in America, not only because it's relatively unknown here, but also because I would have expected its predessor, Department S, first. I can't believe we're getting Jason King before the Brits! Unfortunately, Image's DVD set is unlikely to contain the many extras found on Umbrella's Australian release.

Apr 5, 2007

Next Young Bond Novel Due THIS YEAR!

Another day, another link to The Young Bond Dossier who just keep the exciting scoops coming! Today's thrilling news? According to the official Young Bond website (which I find annoying and impossible to navigate, and will therefore have to take YBD's word for it), Charlie Higson's fourth Young Bond adventure, which wasn't expected until January 2008 in Great Britain, will be coming out months early in September 2007! AND... it will be published in hardcover! This is a first for the UK, where the previous books in the series have all initially appeared as paperback originals (although limited hardcover editions were later printed). So collectors rejoice! It's always preferable to have a nice hardcover first edition rather than a flimsy paperback that you have to preserve in a mylar bag. I'm guessing the paperback will still follow quickly for its January bow as scheduled, though I could be wrong about that. U.S. publication will likely lag by years, as the third book still has yet to be published here.
Theater Review: "The Defenders"

Ostensibly a parody of The Avengers and the many other "-ers" of Sixties spy TV, Brian Frette’s "The Defenders" falls wildly short of the mark. Things started off promising enough, with a decent (if rather uninspired) logo on the program and an impressive, expressionist set. The floor was a black and white chessboard, like in the American Avengers title sequence, and the walls and doors towered above it at crooked angles like something out of a classic, surreal Avengers episode like "The House That Jack Built" or "The Joker."

"Nicely done," I thought. According to the program, the decidedly un-Steedish Steedly hero was named "St. John-Smythe," Again I smiled, recollecting that that was Roger Moore’s alias in A View To A Kill when he was undercover with Patrick Macnee’s Sir Godfrey Tibbett. Clearly, the writer knew his spies. The play opened with a fairly clever montage of imaginative assassinations. So far, so good. Furthermore, the show’s many Asian characters were all played by white actors–a very funny, subtle nod to the dearth of actual Asian actors (Burt Kwouk not withstanding) on Sixties British TV... or so I thought.

As the storyline got underway and the atrocious accents began in earnest, I started to rethink my original suppositions. It seemed more and more like the playwright had seen just a few episodes of The Avengers a while ago, and then mostly ignored them while writing his play. I realized I must have been giving him too much credit for all those little details. Surely they were coincidences! And the white actors? Not a nod, I’m afraid; just a similar lack of access to actual Asians. A gay Steed-alike and an overweight Mrs. Peel-alike were good ideas, but they failed to pay off in jokes or story, and seemed instead designed to give the writer/director/star a chance to prance around in extremely, unnecessarily tight tights and cast his best friend as the leading lady, Russian agent Carrington Lovegrove (Christine Deaver).

Rather than play with Steed’s iconic, bowler-hatted Edwardian English gentleman image, Frette opted for a kabuki and kimono wardrobe for his hero. The kabuki make-up was both poorly conceived and poorly executed, the latter compounding the former. For most of the play St. John-Smythe went around with a vaguely powdery face, and whatever the unclear intention, it only appeared unprofessional and served to distract. The play’s limited wit was more targeted at foibles of modern life, like cell phones going off in theatres, than at the broad, implied target of Sixties cult TV.

Still, a few things did work. Deaver has an excellent voice which was put to good use when Lovegrove went undercover at a nightclub, and the choreography was fairly impressive. In addition to a well-executed tango sequence, all of the fights were staged with a mixture of ballet, modern dance and occasional martial arts moves. Some of the performers were quite adept at this, and pulled off dangerous-looking flips and leaps. These fights were entertaining at first, but soon outstayed their welcome, some lasting for what seemed as long as ten minutes.

An early scene in which St. John-Smythe and Lovegrove trade rapid verbal barbs while competing in various, increasingly silly games successfully recalled the Steed/Peel banter (at least until Deaver broke a cup–and broke character). The real highlight of the play, though, was actor Joe Seely as Birdie, the crippled aid to a scene-stealing, Mother-like male spy boss named Auntie... who happens to be a puppet, controlled by Seely. Auntie and Birdie were one of the few touches that really did manage to fully capture the unique quirkiness of The Avengers. Seely not only managed the best British accent in the play, but pulled off some impressive bits of physical comedy when his handicapped character gained the shaky ability to walk.

Unfortunately, even this enjoyable performance is not enough to recommend "The Defenders," I’m afraid. If it ever comes to your area (I think it’s due in San Francisco next), you’re better off saving your money and your time. "The Defenders" fails both as a piece of theater and as a spy send-up.

A Zoo District Production, reviewed at "[Inside] the Ford" Theater in Los Angeles on March 23, 2007

Apr 4, 2007

The Ultimate Supremacy

DVDActive reports that Universal will promote the newest Bourne movie, The Bourne Ultimatum, by releasing a new Bourne Identity Collection 3-disc set, comprising both previous movies (Identity and Supremacy) as well as a bonus disc including a documentary called "Who Was Robert Ludlum?" and featurettes on "The Ludlum Supremacy" and "The Ludlum Ultimatum." Perhaps they'll explain why the filmmakers eschewed everything the author actually wrote about his character? Anyway, you get all this for the low price of $22.98. And if the studio's previous predictable double-dips are any indication, I'd expect to see some movie cash in there too good toward tickets for the third film.

In other Bourne news, the trailer for Ultimatum that I mentioned the other day is now available in Quicktime here. It looks much better in higher quality! I'm definitely looking forward to this one...

Apr 2, 2007

Random Intelligence Dispatches For Tuesday, April 3

Spy DVDs Out Today
Universal releases last year's excellent spy opus The Good Shepherd on DVD today. It's not the expanded version writer Eric Roth promised in November, but it does contain a few deleted scenes (sixteen minutes' worth, to be precise). Hopefully we'll see something close to director Robert De Niro's early 4-hour cut on an eventual double-dip.

And from Fox comes the comedic Donald Sutherland/Eliott Gould reteaming, S*P*Y*S (1974). Hint: It's not M*A*S*H. One of the stranger features is an hour-long documentary director Irvin Kershner worked on early in his career, made for the U.S. government, called The Road of a Hundred Days. In the introduction to the film, Kershner recalls being asked to spy for America while in the Middle East filming! He turned the government down.

New Spy DVDs Coming To the UK
Network has announced release dates for a few of their upcoming spy DVDs. Foremost among them is Danger Man: The Complete 50 Minute Series which presents all the hour-long episodes (which aired in America as Secret Agent) on July 23. Producer Ralf Smart's earlier The Invisible Man: The Complete Series, which was sort of a dry run for Danger Man, arrives two months earlier on May 21. Smart's take on The Invisible Man reimagines H.G. Wells' classic anti-hero as a Cold War asset for the British Secret Service. Both series are already available in the US, the former from A&E and the latter from Dark Sky.

ITC's short-lived The Zoo Gang: The Complete Series, recounting the adventures of a group of aging WWII veterens on the beautiful French Riviera, comes out June 18. Finally, the 1977 UK TV movie Philby, Burgess and Maclean, starring Derek Jakobi as Burgess, is due on July 16. Neither of these is available on Region 1 DVD.

RIP Donald Hamilton
Aintitcool reports the sad passing of Donald Hamilton, author of the Matt Helm series of books. The Helm books were gritty, hard-nosed espionage tales, bearing little resemblance to the silly drunken swagger of Dean Martin's film versions. Hamilton straddled the rift between Mickey Spillane and Ian Fleming, and his creation was sort of a hardboiled James Bond. Hamilton died in Sweden at the age of 90. According to the obit, a final Helm adventure currently remains unpublished.

Rumors continue to persist of a new film series, truer to the source material, but any such films have yet to materialize. The last name mentioned for the role was Las Vegas actor Josh Duhamel.

MI5 Replaces Avengers On BBC America
Variety reports that BBC America is radically overhauling it's schedule, and the first order of business is dumping vintage mainstays like The Avengers, The Saint and The Prisoner. The network's new chief, Garth Ancier, said, "We're undergoing a complete transformation. We've taken shows like The Avengers and The Saint off the schedule. We want to present a view of contemporary Britain. It's what the BBC does best. I'd rather have Wire in the Blood than Benny Hill." Part of the new, younger-skewing line-up is the latest season of MI-5, formerly seen (in an incomprehensibly cut-up version) on A&E.

Young Bond Updates
I'm a little late in the game in doing so, but I finally picked up the new American paperback edition of Charlie Higson's second Young Bond novel, Blood Fever. It's available now at bookstores everywhere. I like this edition much better than the British first edition paperback. It's a quality trade printed on good, heavy paper. (The British one had cheap, thin pages.) It's a good size, and will actually sit open on a table top. If you want to preserve the collectibility of your British version, you have to read it very carefully to avoid cracking the fragile spine. No such precautions are required with this version.
In other Young Bond news, be sure to check out The Young Bond Dossier's amazing gallery of cover art for all the various international editions! It's a truly impressive collection.

Stephen Fry To Write Bond?
Young Bond Dossier also has a truly tantalizing rumor today! They report (while professing no certainty whatsoever) that the one and only Stephen Fry might be the next author of adult Bond novel! (A new continuation novel is planned for Ian Fleming's Centenary next year.) Seeing how well Charlie Higson has done with the young version of the character, it might be a wise choice to pick again from the ranks of the British Comedy Elite (who seem to all be adept at spy writing), and Fry is as elite as it gets. Plus, he's a great writer! Although based on his previous spy novel, The Gun Seller, I'd also love to see his old comedy partner Hugh Laurie take a crack at the literary 007... (Not that he has time for writing these days.)

Moneypenny Diaries on Ebay
Finally, for American readers interested in obtaining the first volume of Kate Westbrook's James Bond continuation series I write about so often here, the first volmes of The Moneypenny Diaries is currently up on Ebay for the low price of $3.50. It beats paying for shipping from Amazon.co.uk! For the record, I am not the seller and have no connection with this auction other than a strong desire to see more readers become acquainted with this fantastic series, which still has yet to see publication on these shores.