May 31, 2008

More On The New Saint

David Foster wrote to point out an excellent story I had missed over at Cinema Retro about the new Saint TV series, starring the perfectly-cast James Purefoy as the latest incarnation of the irrepressible Simon Templar. Of all the new series in development or pilot stage, this is the one I'm most excited about. Yes, even more than Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. I love many previous versions of The Saint (especially Roger Moore's and Ian Ogilvy's turns), and I want this new one to be good. I also want it to erase the bad memories of the Val Kilmer movie. Will it? Here's what Cinema Retro has to say:

Simon Templar is part of a secret organization known as 'Knights of the Templar'. He's responsible for enforcing the group's code of ethics against the criminal underground of the world. Those familiar with 'Knights' know Simon Templar by one name: The Saint. His current assignment has him in Montenegro, rescuing captive children from being sold on the black market. When the operation is finished, Templar discovers that one of the children is missing.

Frankly, I'm not into the whole Knights of the Templar business. But I do recognize that the TV landscape has changed drastically since the Sixties, and viewers are likely to be less accepting of a gentleman adventurer who just happens into damsels in distress week after week. It makes sense to give him a background that offers "assignments." What I don't understand is why the producers couldn't just go with Leslie Charteris' original background for Templar. Make him the "modern day Robin Hood of crime" he was often referred to as, a reformed thief who now targets only those he deems deserving? That aspect had to be somewhat softened in Roger Moore's day, but surely it would be fine in today's permissive television environment?

Beyond that questionable premise, however, things sound pretty good. The synopsis offered for the Barry Levinson-directed pilot could easily be an episode of either the Moore or Ogilvy series, and I couldn't really hope for more than that. A lot will depend on Purefoy, and based on what I've seen of his previous work, I believe he has the charm and humor necessary to win audiences over as the new Saint. Head on over to Cinema Retro or to the official site of Leslie Charteris to read more, and to see a piece of promotional artwork for the new series.

Tricia Helfer Gets A Burn Notice

The newest issue of Entertainment Weekly reports that Battlestar Galactica's blond Cylon beauty Tricia Helfer will join the cast of Burn Notice when the series returns this summer. According to series creator Matt Nix, Helfer will play a "mysterious" spy named Carla, "the public face of the folks that burned Michael." Therefore, we can expect some tension out of her relationship with series star Jeffrey Donovan. "It's a fun tension," says Nix. "He has to play nice, but not too nice." No doubt this relationship will generate some tension of a different sort between Helfer and hero Michael Westin's fiercely jealous on-again/off-again girlfriend, Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar)...

The magazine also reveals that the show's plus-sized second season of sixteen episodes will be split into two parts. Nine new episodes will air on USA this summer, starting July 10 (just around the corner!), with seven more bringing up the rear "early next year." Check out the "Summer TV Preview" issue of Entertainment Weekly for more Burn Notice goodness, including choice quotes from Nix like, "I was a Magnum, P.I. fan when I was a kid, and [Burn Notice] became an update of a kind of show that isn't really on TV anymore. It feels new, but it owes something to things that I love." And a picture of Bruce Campbell eating pickles.

May 30, 2008

Covers Revealed For Bond Actor Memoirs



Amazon.co.uk has posted the cover artwork for upcoming books by Sir Sean Connery and Sir Roger Moore. Connery's Being a Scot comes out in England August 21; Moore's autobiography My Word Is My Bond hits shelves in the U.K. October 2 and the U.S. a month later.
(First spotted by CBN.)

May 29, 2008

Steranko On Nick Fury's Helicarrier

In a new interview at Comic Book Resources, comics legend Jim Steranko discusses one of Nick Fury's most out-there accessories: the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. It's a good question, and Steranko makes a great point about a potentially cool vehicle which half the time ends up looking downright silly:
CBR: You've done lots of work for film -- Bram Stoker's Dracula, that Indiana Jones guy. Is designing for comics different than designing for film?

Steranko: Good question. It certainly can be. For example, in comics an object only has to look good from the angle in which the artist chooses to show it in a specific panel. That view could be the coolest and most compelling imaginable but, from other viewpoints; it could be unwieldy, awkward, or silly. A perfect example is the heli-carrier which Jack Kirby created for the S.H.I.E.L.D. series. It looked incredible in a 3/4 low-angle shot in which it appeared in the first story, but like a floating bathtub in all others. On the other hand, almost anything designed for film, such as costumes and props, must function or look good from every angle.
That's certainly something that some unlucky art director will have to wrestle with if Marvel ever gets around to making that oft-mooted Nick Fury movie!

Moneypenny Photos

My interview with Moneypenny Diaries author Samantha Weinberg is now updated with photos of the author on location, doing research in Moscow for Volume 2. Be sure to scroll on down again, even if you already read the interview.

May 28, 2008

Centenary Exclusive:

Interview With Money-penny Diaries Author Samantha Weinberg

Today is the Centenary of Ian Fleming's birth, and his heirs have (rightly) turned that into a celebration. Everyone's talking about Sebastian Faulks' new James Bond novel, Devil May Care, commissioned specially for the event, which hits stores today. It's erroneously been described as the first new Bond novel since Raymond Benson's The Man With the Red Tattoo in 2001, but most Double O Section readers probably know that isn't the case. Ian Fleming Publications have put out two excellent series of Bond novels over the past several years, Charlie Higson's wildly successful Young Bond adventures, and Samantha Weinberg's trilogy of Moneypenny Diaries. While the third volume, Final Fling, was recently published in Britain, the first one (here simply titled The Moneypenny Diaries) is finally hitting U.S. shelves, and I thought I'd shine the Centenary spotlight on that today here at the Double O Section.

Weinberg, writing under the pseudonym of Kate Westbrook (Moneypenny's supposed niece and editor of her diaries) took a concept that many fans (myself included) found dubious, and skillfully spun it into some of the very best James Bond continuation novels to date. It's a radically new approach to a Bond novel, the most different tack taken since Ian Fleming himself deviated from his own formula to have Bond Girl Vivien Michelle narrate The Spy Who Loved Me in the first person. It was her own story, and 007 only came into it in the last third. The Moneypenny Diaries comes from a similar angle, but with a far more interesting protagonist in M's famous secretary, Miss Moneypenny.

While Miss Moneypenny only appeared briefly in each of Fleming's novels, she certainly left an impression. Any woman able to get the last word in on Bond like she does in this passage from Thunderball is bound to do so! Here, 007 has just emerged from M's office, confounded by orders to clean the toxins out of his body at a health clinic:

Miss Moneypenny gave a secret smile. 'You know he thinks the world of you - or perhaps you don't. Anyway, as soon as he saw your Medical he told me to book you in.' Miss Moneypenny screwed up her nose. 'But, James, do you really drink and smoke as much as that? It can't be good for you, you know.' She looked up at him with motherly eyes.

Bond controlled himself. He summoned a desperate effort at nonchalance, at the throw-away phrase, 'It's just that I'd rather die of drink than of thirst. As for the cigarettes, it's really only that I don't know what to do with my hands.' He heard the stale, hangover words fall like clinker in a dead grate. Cut out the schmalz! What you need is a double brandy and soda.

Miss Moneyepenny's warm lips pursed into a disapproving line. 'About the hands - that's not what I've heard.'

'Now don't you start on me, Penny.' Bond walked angrily towards the door. He turned round. 'Any more ticking-off from you and when I get out of this place I'll give you such a spanking you'll have to do your typing off a block of Dunlopillo.'

Miss Moneypenny smiled sweetly at him. 'I don't think you'll be able to do much spanking after living on nuts and lemon juice for two weeks, James.'

Yes, Moneypenny made quite an impression standing up to the irrepressible 007 in her few paragraphs. Lois Maxwell solidified that impression in the films, making the role her own and playing up the flirtatious interplay between Moneypenny and Bond into a staple of the film series. (So much so that it was sorely missed from the otherwise excellent Casino Royale.)

Now Samantha Weinberg has gone a step further, developing the fan-favorite supporting player into a leading lady--and giving her a first name in the process. Weinberg calls her Moneypenny Jane, and Jane Moneypenny makes a very engaging protagonist and narrator. This new take offers a new point of view on Bond's world, and the opportunity to eavesdrop on life in the Office while 007 is away on assignment. All of Fleming's support staff get larger roles in Weinberg's SIS: Moneypenny, M, Chief of Staff Bill Tanner, the disagreeable Captain Troop, and even the steady parade of attractive secretaries to the Double O Section.

The point of view isn't the only new angle in The Moneypenny Diaries, however. Like Higson's novels, Weinberg's are period pieces, restoring 007 to the Cold War, Jet Age era that spawned him. This gives the author a freedom Fleming never had, as he was writing contemporary stories. She can integrate historical events into Bond's world. The first novel deals with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and 007's surprising role in it--as well as Moneypenny's. The second concerns notorious MI6 defector Kim Philby. And amidst these actual events, Weinberg weaves ongoing plot threads throughout the three novels like Moneypenny's quest for answers about her father's disappearance during WWII and, later, her attempts to identify a mole in the upper echelons of MI6.

Samantha Weinberg was kind enough to discuss some of these innovations, and more, with the Double O Section.

00: You've frequently credited your literary agent with the germ of the idea for The Moneypenny Diaries, but how much of it did he come up with, and how much did you create in your initial outline?

SW: We were discussing Bond in general when Gillon said, casually, 'What do you think about a Moneypenny biography?' My first reaction was: 'brilliant', and a second later, 'what about Moneypenny diaries?' It was that instinctive. From that point onwards, he left all the plot development to me, though I spoke to him several times during the process.

00: Who decided to integrate actual historical events into the books? And when did the ideas for the series' overarching plot lines (like Jane's father's disappearance and the mole in MI6) emerge?

SW: I wrote a brief outline - which included the concept of setting the diaries in real historical events - he read it, and then took it to the Fleming estate. When they expressed enthusiasm, I wrote a more detailed outline, which we then submitted to several publishers. By that point, the three main story lines for Volume 1 were established: the Cuban Missile Crisis, Jane's search for her father, and Bond/Office life in general. The first book followed the outline closely.

00: Did you plot out the overall story arc for the whole trilogy at that time, or did the plots for books 2 and 3 fall into place only after you'd already written the first one?

SW: I had some vague ideas. I always planned that Kate Westbrook would have an increasing role, and story arc of her own, as the series progressed. And that the second book would have something to do with the Cambridge spies. But none of the details; I literally (ha ha) left myself hanging at the end of book one with some loose ends that I didn’t have a clue how to resolve. (Particularly one relating to Colditz, which I only managed to navigate with the help of Henry Chancellor [author of James Bond: The Man and His World]).

It would have made my job a lot easier if I’d planned the entire trilogy at the beginning – and, with hindsight, I half wish I had – but it was also fun to try to wriggle my way out of some tight – albeit fictional – spots.

00: One of my favorite aspects of these books is the integration of actual historical events. Fleming didn't really have that opportunity (and sometimes when he tried it, the results were enjoyably embarrassing, such as Bond declaring in "Quantum of Solace" that his own loyalties lay with Castro's rebels, prior to the revelation that Castro was Communist!), and most of the continuation novels were also contemporary, so you're really the first author who's ever had the chance to incorporate Bond and Moneypenny into actual history. Did that daunt you at all?

SW: Quite the reverse. As a journalist/non-fiction writer, I feel much more comfortable with fact. So, having the history to hang the story off was a great comfort as well as a help. I enjoyed the research process enormously: digging through the archives, reading books about the period, talking to people and then, of course, hot-footing it off to Cuba to see the missile sites for myself.

00: Did you already have a great knowledge of the Cuban Missile Crisis, or the Philby affair, prior to writing the books, or did it mostly entail new research?

SW: I knew very little - so it was a lot of research. I have piles of books in my office. But it was fascinating and now I know a little more. [Editor's Note: Part of that research involved visiting Philby's fourth wife, Rufina, in Moscow - pictured below.]

00: In the second book, you portray Kim Philby as a complex, three-dimensional and even sympathetic character. What biographies did you rely on most, and to what extent did you extrapolate?

SW: Four main ones: Philby: KGB Masterspy by Phillip Knightley, Philby: The Long Road to Moscow by Patrick Seale and Maureen McConville, My Silent War by Philby himself, and, perhaps most importantly, Kim Philby: The Spy I Loved by Eleanor Philby. I also gleaned bits and pieces from Miranda Carter's biography of Blunt. I think/hope I painted a fairly true portrait of Philby, though it's probably on the sympathetic side; I tend to look for the emotion in people and probably rather under-emphasised the effects of what he'd done.

00: Very interesting! I didn't know about the Eleanor Philby book. I'll have to track that one down. Do you have any problems with corralling actual historical personalities to fit your fiction, or is it easier to write about people who already have well-documented stories?

SW: I love writing about real characters and trying to flesh out their life from what's been written about them.

00: You mentioned travelling to Cuba. Did you travel to every location you write about in The Moneypenny Diaries?

SW: Pretty much, and I'm feeling rather guilty about it now. I probably spewed out a small country's carbon allowance on the excuse of following Miss Moneypenny around the world! I went to Cuba, Miami, Washington, Switzerland (where I stayed with Peter Smithers, just as
Kate did in Guardian Angel [as the first book is known in Britain]), Berlin, Moscow, and from there by train to St. Petersburg, Jamaica, North Uist [Scotland]. I never went to Skye though!

00: Well, I'm sorry for the carbon-induced guilt! If it's any consolation, the research paid off. You painted very vivid depictions of each of those places--especially Moscow in Volume 2. Which of those thrilling cities did you like best?

SW: Definitely Moscow. It was exciting, beautiful, dynamic, and very, very cold (we went during a ‘cold snap’ – temperatures fell to –28C). Jamaica was amazing too, staying at [Ian Fleming's house] Goldeneye, hanging out with Chris Blackwell who, of course, knew Fleming well. [Ed: Fleming reportedly had an affair with Island Records founder Chris Blackwell's mother, Blanche.]

00: All we usually get of MI6 headquarters in Fleming's books is a few chapters. Were you influenced at all by other spy novelists who spend more time on this side of the business, such as John Le Carré or Greg Rucka? To me, your books read like bridges between their school of more realistic spy fiction and Fleming's imaginative world, which is a fantastic feat!

SW: Thank you. I'm a big Le Carré fan, and reread most of his books as I was writing Moneypenny. That was pretty depressing, to tell you the truth; I knew I could never hope to come anywhere near his brilliant depiction of SIS. I also spoke to several former spies, who had worked at the Office during the Sixties and who were wonderfully - if cagily - helpful. My aim was to make it a bit more realistic, yet stick as closely as I could to Fleming. So I guess it's a glamourised version of the real thing.

00: Or a realized version of the glamour! Either way, it works wonderfully.

SW: Thanks.

00: When did you first read Ian Fleming? Were you introduced to James Bond through the books or the movies?

SW: I saw my first movie at a friend's 8th birthday party. (I was about 6.) It was From Russia With Love, and I'm not sure I really understood it much, though still found it thrilling. I read my first Fleming book (Moonraker, I think) in my early teens; I found it on my father's bookshelves and loved it. But by the time the Moneypenny idea came up, I'd read only about four or five of the books, but seen most of the films. Now, of course, I've read all of the books about fifteen times!

00: Do you have a favorite?

SW: Probably Casino Royale. I like Bond’s doubts.

00: Had you read other "diary" style novels? If so, which of those influenced you most?

SW: Apart from Bridget Jones and Adrian Mole? I was definitely influenced by William Boyd's Any Human Heart, which is a truly amazing book. I can't think of any other diary type novels off hand, but I dipped into several real diaries - Betjeman, Alan Clark, etc. - particularly for tips as to how to handle the introduction and footnotes, Kate Westbrook stuff. [Ed: The first two volumes contain wonderful footnotes by 'Kate Westbrook,' explaining details from Fleming or historically contextualizing the 'diaries.' They're fun for fans and instructional for neophytes to the world of Bond.]

00: I went in expecting Bridget Jones and was pleasantly surprised to find something different, more along the lines of A.S. Byatt's Possession or Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian (a novel I adore) in the way it combines the present narrative with the past narrative found in the diaries, as well as occasional sub-narratives like 007's reports.

SW: I loved Possession too – and must now track down The Historian.

00: Despite focusing on Moneypenny as the main character, your books are still very much James Bond novels. That makes you both the first woman to ever write a Bond novel (congratulations!), and the first author to write extensively in first person from 007's point of view (in his reports that Moneypenny reprints in her diaries). Was that at all daunting?

SW: Yes. Not at first, as the historical significance of writing the diaries hadn't crossed my mind. But once I discovered the fan sites and appreciated how many people knew - and cared - so much about Fleming's world, I realised I was carrying a heavy responsibility - and that I could have a 00 agent after me if I got anything wrong!

00: Did those forays onto fansites like CommanderBond.net and its forums actually influence you at all in writing the later books?

SW: I only discovered the fan sites after finishing the first book. I tried not to let them influence me, though perhaps they had something to do with dropping the ‘James Bond was not his real name’ line. [Ed: The first volume states in a footnote that Ian Fleming changed the name in order to fictionalize accounts of an actual agent, which makes sense given the conceit of the book that Bond and his world were real. This caused a bit of an uproar in fan communities, however.]

00: Could you see yourself spending more time with Bond, perhaps penning a straightforward, Fleming-style 007 adventure, or is the new, female perspective on him the thing that interests you most?

SW: I think I've finished my Bond adventures, haven't I? I'm not sure I could have done a straight 007 adventure - not without making Bond more sympathetic than he is, which would have been wrong, and a shame.

00: You've really made Moneypenny your own, so much so that it's actually increased my appreciation for her when she turns up in Fleming novels I'm re-reading. I feel that I know so much more about her. Do you still think of her as Fleming's character, or as your own?

SW: A bit of both, if that doesn't sound too arrogant. I'm not sure the Moneypenny in my head and the one that was in his are exactly the same people. Perhaps we can both keep our versions of her? There can never be too many Moneypennies in this world.

00: What was the mandate from Ian Fleming Publications (and what was your personal goal)with regards to a target audience?

SW: They didn't try to direct me in any way, and from my point of view, I just wanted to find the widest audience I could.

00: Were you writing these books for existing Bond fans, who know the Fleming books well, or for newcomers?

SW: Again, both. I think, with hindsight, I had the existing fans a bit too much in my mind while I was writing Guardian Angel. Maybe some of the details would have been lost - and even off-putting - to the Fleming virgin? I don't know. It was an especially difficult line to tread during Final Fling. The denouement/twist was hard to judge.

00: Were you specifically targeting a female readership?

SW: No, though I think my publishers were! I knew most of the Bond fans were men, but perhaps more women would be interested in the Moneypenny viewpoint. To a great extent, I fear that the reason the books haven't taken off in a major way is because they fell between two stools: men thought they might be too girly (an understandable reaction to a cover with a pink bow on it [as the original UK paperback unfortunately featured]), while women worried that they would relate to an extant Fleming world that they felt no part of.

00: That's the real Catch 22 of the whole concept. I hope that both audiences ultimately get past any such misgivings, because I really do think the books play well to each group. I've been doing my best to assure spy fans that they're not chicklit; perhaps there's a comparable blog out there that assures the Bridget Jones crowd you don't really need to know anything about Bond beyond what everyone who's ever seen a movie knows!

SW: And that they can ignore footnotes if they find them too daunting!

00: I think that the Mirror quote that's appeared on the more recent books calling them "Bridget Jones crossed with Spooks, but set in the 60s" really sums it up quite well for browsers. It may be the sort of simplification that authors cringe at, but that seems the best way to sell it. The Spooks [MI-5 in the U.S.] connection crossed my mind as well, with its workplace politics in the Intelligence Community--albeit a different branch. Had you seen that show at all?

SW: Yes, love it.

00: Along the same lines, had you read anything by Stella Rimmington, whose autobiography and novels speak with great authority on the myriad trials facing a woman in the security services, even (in the case of her memoir) in roughly the same era as Moneypenny?

SW: I read the first novel, At Risk, and really enjoyed it. Must track down the others. But I didn’t want to get too confused between MI5 and 6; they are very different organisations, with different cultures.

00: When the first novel was initially published in the UK, it was launched with an intriguing marketing campaign, pretending that the whole thing was "real." How involved were you in creating that conceit, and do you feel that it was ultimately successful?

SW: Sadly, I was involved in it; we all - me, Gillon, IFP - came up with the concept at the very beginning, when we were talking to the different publishers. We all got very carried away with the cloak and dagger aspect: no one at the publishing house apart from my editor knew my real name, and I told none of my friends what I was doing. I even wore a wig and coloured contact lenses to the launch party. But, with hindsight, it was a stupid error and I wish we had just hung them on the back of Bond and let the books talk for themselves.

00: Did you have any input in the covers? Personally, the first two hardcovers left me a little cold, but once Stina Persson became involved, they really took off, and did a much better job of conveying what was inside.

SW: I am shown the covers, but have little else to do with them. Ditto IFP. I didn't mind the first hardback - though now it looks a little dull. I hated the first paperback which, to me, reeked of chicklit and bore no relation to the content of the book. We went with the publisher's view that the second hardback would be more commercial (which it wasn't), but majorly put our feet down - with some vehemence - when they tried to sell us on a ghastly, pencil drawn, chick lit cover for the paperback of Secret Servant [Volume 2]. Fortunately, they took us seriously and that's when they went to Stina Persson. I love her covers, particularly the paperback of Secret Servant (the colours are great). If Final Fling sells well in hardback, [U.K. publisher] John Murray have promised to re-jacket Guardian Angel to coincide with the paperback publication of Final Fling.

00: I sure hope that happens! How do you feel about the American jacket?

SW: I love the US hardback. I think it's eye-catching and reflects the period well. I think it's entirely fitting that you can't see Moneypenny's face.

00: Will St. Martin's publish the entire trilogy in the US?

SW: I hope so, though the deal hasn't been done. It depends on how the first book does. All my digits are crossed...

00: Mine too, then! Do you see yourself writing any further Moneypenny short stories, as you did for a few magazines around the time Casino Royale came out?

SW: I have no plans to do so at present, but maybe later this year?

00: Intriguing. Do you think the ones you did write will ever be collected, perhaps in the paperback edition of Final Fling or in a wider collection of Bond stories by various authors?

SW: That would be lovely.

00: What's next for you? Do you have any other fiction in the future, and will you return to the spy genre?

SW: I've been having a rest. I realised the other day that my children were 1 1/2 and 3 1/2 when I started out on this journey and they've only really known me as Mother Moneypenny! I have a few ideas as to what might be next and no, it probably won't be in the spy genre. But
maybe in the future?

00: Any plans for a U.S. book tour?

SW: I'm probably coming to New York in October on the Queen Mary to give a talk [on the ship] about Moneypenny (with Lucy Fleming and [For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond author] Ben Macintyre - tbc). But, as yet, no plans for a tour. I felt so guilty after all the Moneypenny gadding around, I gave up flying two years ago, so it would be hard to do an extensive tour.

00: Sorry to hear it. Finally, what is your favorite spy novel and spy film?

SW: So difficult. Okay, so not counting Fleming: Our Man in Havana (book) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (film).

00: Both great books and great movies! Thank you very much for your time, and good luck storming America!

The Moneypenny Diaries is available for purchase now in U.S. bookstores and from Amazon.com. The Moneypenny Diaries: Secret Servant and The Moneypenny Diaries: Final Fling are both available for purchase from Amazon.co.uk.

Read my review of The Moneypenny Diaries: Secret Servant here.

Read my review of Samantha Weinberg's Moneypenny short story, "For Your Eyes Only, James" here.

Read my review of Samantha Weinberg's Moneypenny short story, "Moneypenny's First Date With Bond" here.

Read my interview with U.K. Moneypenny Diaries cover artist Stina Persson here.

Read Samantha Weinberg's environmental blog, Green Wife, here.

Cover Art Revealed For Ian Fleming's Secret War By Craig Cabell

May 27, 2008

Random Intelligence Dispatches: More Catching Up

Catch Up With Chuck On DVD

TVShowsOnDVD.com reports that the truncated first season of Chuck will hit DVD on September 16, from Warner Home Video. In addition to the thirteen Season One episodes, extras include deleted (er, declassified) scenes, the featurettes "Chuck On Chuck" (series stars join creators for some point/counterpoint) and "Chuck's World" (character development and original casting sessions), "Chuck vs. the Chuckles" (gag reel) and "Chuck's Online World" (gallery of web-originated mini-featurettes). The site also has the rear cover art. Retail is a little steep for such a short season at $39.99, but of course it can be found for much less.

In other Chuck news, there's now another venue, besides the previously mentioned comic book, to fill the Chuck void in your life over the summer hiatus: NBC has announced Chuck webisodes, set to begin airing in July.

Benson Spies Again

James Bond author Raymond Benson's newest spy novel, based on the videogame Metal Gear Solid, is in stores now! According to the Amazon description, the novel finds the game's hero, Solid Snake, "called out of retirement to do what he does best–neutralize a crisis of epic proportions. A deadly team of renegade FOXHOUND operatives has taken over the nuclear disposal facility on Shadow Moses Island in the icy Aleutians. If their demands aren’t met, a powerful, top-secret weapon will be unleashed upon the world... But nothing is as it seems. Somebody is hiding something. Somebody has a hidden agenda. And somebody wants Snake to learn secrets about his dark past." I'm not familiar with the game, but having enjoyed Benson's Bond novels and his previous stabs at espionage videogame adaptations (Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, written as David Michaels), I'm in! Check it out at Amazon or visit Benson's website for more details.

The Bank Job Coming To DVD

According to DVDActive, Lionsgate will release the excellent period spy/heist/conspiracy thriller The Bank Job on Region 1 DVD on July 15. It will be one of those annoying "Digital Copy" dealies (like Hitman), where the single disc version boasts no features, and if you want them you have to spring for the two-disc version, even though all the features are just crammed onto Disc 1 with the movie, and all that the bonus disc includes is a useless copy of the film for your iPod. (Do people really watch movies this way?) Alright, sorry for the rant there. It was a great movie with a spot-on cast, and I'll be picking up the "Digital Copy Version" regardless, because I hope for some good featurettes on the actual events that inspired the film. (Or what little is known of them.)

Interestingly, Lionsgate has opted not to use the film's wonderfully Sixties theatrical poster artwork, but instead make this movie look like every other Jason Statham DVD...

Devil May Care Limited Editions

In the doldrums because that awesome-looking Bentley-designed limited edition of the new Bond pastiche Devil May Care costs so damn much? Take heart! CBN reports that slightly less expensive limited edition will also be offered, for the slightly less discriminating (or deep-pocked) Bond collector. And this one, signed and numbered (up to 500) with a slipcase and printed boards, sounds pretty cool in its own right.

Felix Leiter Forums

The internet is such a wonderful place that now there is an actual board where fans can go to exclusively discuss Felix Leiter! FelixLeiter.com recently opened up its forums section. Head on over and debate Van Nutter vs. Linder!

Fleming's Final Film

Charles Helfenstein, erstwhile publisher of the excellent Spies Magazine back in the 90s (when we still had to wait for information to reach our mailboxes rather than just logging onto the whatsitnet), has written an excellent new piece for CommanderBond.Net tracing the history of Ian Fleming's story contributions to the Terrence Young film The Poppy is Also a Flower. I once heard that this film was the inspiration for the British series Traffik, which in turn inspired the bigscreen Steven Soderbergh remake with a C. I'm not sure if there's any truth to that rumor (although the identical central premise of exploring the drug trade from the growers to the users is undeniable), but it's neat to think of Fleming as the originator of the concept!
Tradecraft Roundup

Animated Teen Spies On The Big Screen

...not Kim Possible, though, unfortunately. Instead, the popular animated kids' series Totally Spies will make its theatrical debut next summer, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Says the trade: "Based on the TV series about three teenage girls from Beverly Hills who accidentally become international secret agents, the film will explain what the series has yet to address, namely how the heroines became secret agents to begin with." The article goes on to describe the series as "Clueless meets James Bond" and quotes a production executive as saying, "We didn't want to just make a long episode of the series. Our job is to make a good film for fans and also show parents they won't be bored."

I've only seen a couple of episodes of Totally Spies, and it didn't really capture my interest too much. I don't think there's as much there for adults as Kim Possible offers, but it is very popular among its target demographic. So far the show, produced in France, has spanned five seasons and 130 episodes, plus countless merchandise tie-ins. The Hollywood Reporter says it's one of the five highest rated kids' programs in the world. The movie is budgeted at $12 million and aiming for a Summer 2009 release in France, with the rest of the world presumably to follow.

More On The 24 TV Movie

The Hollywood Reporter reveals that former Bond baddie Robert Carlyle and Chuck's Tony Todd have joined the cast of this fall's 24 TV movie, the "prequel" to next January's long-delayed Season 7. Eric Lively and Gil Bellows will also appear. Predictably, "Bellows, best known for his role on Fox's Ally McBeal, will play a State Department officer ordered to serve Bauer with a subpoena to appear before the Senate." Lively plays the son of the new President (Cherry Jones). Todd will play "cruel African dictator General Juma," a character expected to recur during the regular season.

Leo As Fleming?

As has been widely reported (originating in a Los Angeles Times story), Leonardo DiCaprio has come aboard to produce the Ian Fleming biopic that was first announced way back when Daniel Craig was first announced as the next James Bond. Media speculation has quickly attached the actor to the role himself, but so far he's committed only to produce. Co-producer Andrew Lazar promises, "It's going to be very different from the Bond films." Screenwriter Damian Stevenson appears to immediately contradict him, explaining: "It's the real James Bond. In England, Ian Fleming's exploits are much better well known. Talking to people out here, no one had any idea that M was based on a real person, Miss Moneypenny was based on a real person." So it sounds like the same approach taken by the 90s TV movies Goldeneye (with Fleming doppelganger Charles Dance) and Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming (with Jason Connery), both of which went to great lengths to equate Fleming's actual adventures with those of his famous fictional spy. I'd love to see a big budget version of Fleming's life filmed; I just hope they stick to facts. There's enough fascinating stuff there that you don't need to put him on secret missions he never really participated in, as Spymaker did.

Also, I really, really hope that DiCaprio sticks to producing on this one! He looks nothing like Ian Fleming, and I can't see him pulling off the accent, either. He's a great actor, but his boyish looks don't really lend themselves to playing every historical figure he wants to. They didn't work for Howard Hughes, either.

May 24, 2008

Mission Bloody Mary Soundtrack CD

Film Score Monthly's Screen Archives store now has in stock the new Italian import CD for the Ken Clark Eurospy classic Agente 077 Missione Bloody Mary. The soundtrack boasts a typically infectious main title theme by Ennio Morricone and score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. The CD contains 23 tracks including (unlike the otherwise excellent recent CD for Clark's best Eurospy outing, Special Mission Lady Chaplin) the English language vocal version of the theme song. You can listen to samples on the Screen Archives website. The disc also comes with an eight page color insert booklet. SAE sells it for $24.95. The movie itself can be ordered on DVD from Dorado Films.

May 20, 2008

Bond Meets Drummond

Well, not really. It's not even a spy show. But Deadlier Than the Male's Bulldog Drummond, Richard Johnson, shares the DVD cover of Anglo Saxon Attitudes with the current 007, Daniel Craig. Whether they actually share any screentime or not I don't know; despite his prominent picture placement, Craig's part must be pretty small. The 1992 miniseries from the beginning of his career doesn't even appear in his IMDB credits! Anglo Saxon Attitudes was adapted from a satirical novel by Angus Wilson by master of the adaptation Andrew Davies. According to the box copy, the tale of an aging historian (Johnson) reflecting on his life "skewers British social and academic hypocrisy to the very core." Tara Fitzgerald and Kate Winslet (also an unknown at the time) co-star. According to TVShowsOnDVD, Acorn Media will release Anglo Saxon Attitudes on DVD July 1. Craig and Johnson also appeared together in 2001's dismal Laura Croft: Tomb Raider.
New Spy DVDs Out This Week

Today sees the release of two spy TV series, one contemporary and one classic.

For starters, Fox unleashes a new Special Edition of 24: Season One. Unlike subsequent, extras-laden seasons, the initial release of the first season was a bare-bones affair. The studio remedies that with this Special Edition, whose all new bonus features include a documentary called "The Genesis of 24," five extended episodes (comprising the hours of 7PM to 12AM, or the final five episodes of the season), twenty-five extended or deleted scenes, yet another, never-before-seen alternate ending for the season finale (the alternate ending seen on the original DVD is still there, too), commentaries on the premiere and finale, and two of those "The Rookie" online short films. Whew! I think all that should at least make this encore worthwhile to hardcore fans. The original introduction from Kiefer Sutherland will also be retained from the first release. All that is wrapped up in a cool metal tin package, complete with a ticking digital counter! Finally, the set also includes "special introductory letters from both series co-creators on their inspiration and challenges working on this groundbreaking show."

Meanwhile, from the dawn of television comes Dangerous Assignment: The Complete Series, courtesy of Infinity Entertainment. The five-disc set included all 39 episodes of the 1950s NBC series, which starred Brian Donlevy as American secret agent Steve Mitchell. He pretty much sums up the premise in his opening narration: "Yeah, danger is my assignment. I get sent to a lot of places I can't even pronounce. They all spell the same thing, though: trouble." Hey, I like trouble!

May 19, 2008

Movie Review: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull -- Yes, It's Spy-Related!

I am going to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but the very nature of spoilers is, of course, subjective. I won't reveal any scene specifics or spoil any character relationships, but I will be discussing the movie, which in itself may constitute spoilers to some. Most of what I talk about won't surprise anyone who's seen the trailers.

So what's an Indiana Jones review doing on a spy blog? Well, we’ve already seen Indiana Jones as a young man spy for the Belgian and French Intelligence services during WWI. Now, after years of fieldwork as an archaeologist, we see a much older Indy plunged into the Cold War to contend with its most natural villains, the KGB. Also on hand are all the other espionage acronyms associated with that era: FBI, CIA and MI-6. (One character claims at various times in the movie to work for all of those organizations, or combinations thereof. I won’t reveal his or her true allegiances.) Even the OSS gets a name-check, and we learn that Indy went back to his intelligence career with the outbreak of WWII, spying for that American wartime espionage outfit along with his sometime partner George “Mac” McHale (Ray Winstone).

Frankly, though, while the presence of KGB agents in a Connecticut college town spurs the film’s greatest chase sequence, most of the espionage angles in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are pretty half-baked, as is its incessantly over-explained yet never adequately explained titular MacGuffin. But you know what? None of that matters. What matters in an Indiana Jones movie is globetrotting historical adventure, archeology-based action, trap-filled tomb-raiding, and, above all else, likeable, relatable characters grounding all the chaos in some sense of plausibility. Harrison Ford, once more, does exactly that. Indy gets himself into some of the most unbelievable predicaments of his career in this entry, but thanks to Ford’s easy charm in a character that fits him as well as the leather jacket he’s famous for, we’re on board with him all the way.

Age is not a problem for Ford. The audience gets to revisit a character many of us have grown up with, and known all our lives. There’s never any question that Ford is Indiana Jones, and it’s exhilarating to spend time with him again. Furthermore, his closest supporting cast are also a joy to tag along with. Karen Allen brings the same spirited gusto to the role of Marion that she did twenty-seven years ago in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and her banter with Indy maintains the same spark it had back then (thanks in part, apparently, to an uncredited Lawrence Kasdan--according to an interview with screenwriter David Koepp in Creative Screenwriting). Finally, Shia LaBeouf makes an entirely successful addition to the team, imbuing his character, Mutt Williams, with a terrific, Ford-like charm of his own. Honestly, I wasn't sure about this character based on the trailers, but he's actually one of the best parts of the film! Cate Blanchett sinks her teeth into the Russian villainess, KGB agent Irina Spalko. Part Edith Head, part Rosa Klebb, and considerably sexier (and more handy in a fight) than either, she creates a fun foil for Indy, but ultimately not one of the more fleshed-out villains in the series.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull goes out of its way to reward dedicated fans of the franchise, with surprising references to everything from the other films to the Young Indy TV series (which I'm personally thrilled to see officially connected to the movie canon!) to--most surprisingly of all--the 90s paperback novels. I recommend rewatching the original trilogy of films prior to seeing the new one, even if you know them by heart. At the very least, stick Last Crusade in your player. Crystal Skull offers some amazing payoffs to what's come before.

The movie suffers in its third act, largely thanks to an unfortunate overabundance of CGI and an underwhelming MacGuffin. (But does that surprise anyone? We knew when we heard the title that a crystal skull is hardly the Ark of the Covenant!) These shortcomings are more than made up for, however, by a series of showstopping setpieces, terrific character interplay and, above all, Harrison Ford, back to doing what he does best after so many years.

Stay tuned this week for more spy-related Indy coverage, and a chance to win Young Indiana Jones DVDs!

May 16, 2008

R.I.P. John Phillip Law

I was incredibly saddened to read Tim Lucas’s post on Video WatchBlog last night about the premature death of John Phillip Law at age 70. Since then, there have been other obituaries in the mainstream press, but I haven’t seen one yet to mention the film that Law is probably best known for among his followers: Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik. Diabolik may not be a spy movie per se, but as I’ve often argued on this blog, it is in many ways the quintessential Sixties spy movie, showcasing all the elements the genre requires despite focusing on a criminal instead of a secret agent as its hero. In my opinion, Danger: Diabolik is a near-perfect film (and a clear influence on later productions as diverse as Moonraker, V For Vendetta and The Beastie Boys’ "Body Movin’" video), boasting witty writing (thanks to the recently departed Tudor Gates), an infectious score, amazing costumes, luscious photography, lavish settings, spectacular setpieces, stunningly beautiful women, and, at its core, the most dashing, handsome, charismatic hero you could ask for in the person of John Phillip Law. Decked out in a skintight leather suit and form-fitting latex mask, Law dominates the movie as the comic book antihero. The limitations of the mask demand a compelling performance from the actor’s eyes, and Law’s eyes (and eyebrows) deliver in spades. In fact, not even Sean Connery could say anymore with a raised eyebrow than Law could.

Law (along with Tim Lucas) delivers one of the most engaging commentary tracks I’ve ever heard on Paramount’s Diabolik DVD, and his obvious pride and pleasure in his work is truly infectious. This came across in person, too. I was lucky enough to meet Law on several occasions, and to hear him speak after screenings of some of his films, and he was always as affable and charming as you could ask for. On the last occasion on which I met him, at a screening last January of Otto Preminger’s Hurry Sundown (in which he stars alongside Michael Caine, Robert Hooks and Jane Fonda), he didn’t seem well and may have already (according to a follow-up post by Lucas) known that he had limited time left. Realizing this puts the whole evening in a new perspective, but I can’t think of a warmer send-off for such a beloved star. The screening, the Q&A, and his easy, amiable chatting with fans like me afterwards (along with gracious autograph-signing) shed light on one of his most overlooked performances and served as a celebration of his prodigious career in general. I hope it was as rewarding an experience for Law as it was for his public.

I suppose my own first John Phillip Law movie was The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, a childhood favorite. I saw him in other per-formances later (as the Red Baron, as Diabolik, as Sinbad, as Barbarella’s Angel Pygar), but didn’t always recognize him right away. For someone with such good looks and such distinctive eyes, he was a masterful chameleon, losing himself in every role he took. It’s a shame that Law never appeared in his prime as a straightforward secret agent hero, but he did turn up in such spy-tinged productions as Target of an Assassin, The Cassandra Crossing and Roman Coppola’s fantastic homage to Diabolik and Modesty Blaise, CQ.

John Phillip Law may not have been as widely known today as some of his contemporaries, but he was not only a true movie star in the purest sense, but an icon, and a charming, gracious man. In the words of Diabolik’s Inspector Ginko, "I can’t believe he’s really dead." He will be missed.

But, thankfully, thanks to his body of work on DVD, he’ll never be gone. And so, the image I choose to picture right now is the last shot from Danger: Diabolik, of Diabolik encased in his protective suit and covered in molten gold, presumed dead. Through the window of his safety visor, we see those unmistakable eyes, frozen wide open. And then he winks. Diabolik’s not going anywhere, and neither will John Phillip Law as long as people still watch movies.

May 13, 2008

New Spy DVDs Out This Week

Only one major spy release this week, but it's a big one! Leonard Nimoy takes over for the departed Martin Landau in Mission: Impossible: The Complete Fourth TV Season, out today from CBS/Para-mount Home Video. The 1969-70 season introduces Nimoy as the enigmatic magician-cum-operative Paris, replacing Landau's Rollin Hand as the team's resident master of disguise. Landau's wife at the time, Barbara Bain, also left the series prior to the fourth season, but there was no immediate, permanent replacement for her character, model and perpetual honey-trap Cinnamon Carter. Lee Meriwether filled in most often. The rest of the team (Peter Graves as leader Jim Phelps, Greg Morris as electronics wiz Barney and Peter Lupus as strongman Willie) remains intact. Season 4 includes the fan-favorite episode "Submarine," among others.

Also worth mentioning is that Best Buy has all three sets of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (including the spy-heavy Vol. 2) on sale for just $49.99 this week, in anticipation of the new theatrical Indy movie. That's a pretty good deal on a fantastic series since the sets are usually so prohibitively overpriced!

May 9, 2008

OSS 117 Poster Contest Winners

And the winners of the contest for the American theatrical poster for OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies are...

Yvonne Olsen of Ontario, Canada, who cites the eurospy flick New York Calling Super Dragon as her favorite spy spoof...

Michael Huie of North Carolina, USA, who's already seen OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies, and picked that as his favorite...

Bruce Grossman of Massachusetts, USA, who chose Where the Spies Are with David Niven...

Josh Kushins of California, USA, who picked Top Secret!...

...and Robert Haffner, of Missouri, USA, who selected Our Man Flint...
...which was by far the most popular choice among contest entrants. Other favorites ran the gamut from the first Austin Powers (no one picked either of the lousy sequels) to, ahem, Moonraker. Deadlier Than the Male was mentioned by lots of people as well, but most ultimately decided it wasn't actually a parody. That's a tough call. It's definitely tongue in cheek, but ultimately no moreso than Goldfinger, I'd say. A great movie, though, hands down!

Congratulations to all the winners. Your posters will be mailed out in the next few days. And if you didn't win this time, stay tuned. Another contest is always just around the corner on the Double O Section...
In Theaters This Weekend: OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies

I know I've nearly talked this to death, but it's so cool that the French Eurospy revival OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies is getting released theatrically in America that I want to do my best to spread the word. Bond fans, Eurospy fans and comedy fans all should be sure to check this one out. Thanks to Music Box Films, the 1950s set retro spy flick will open in select cities today, with a wider rollout over the next few weeks, finally making its way to DVD in the fall. Michel Hazanavicius' clever, loving parody debuts today, May 9, in New York, Seattle and several California locations (including the Nuart Theatre in LA). Be sure to check out the nifty official website which features the trailer, stills, games and a brief history of Jean Bruce's literary creation, OSS 117.

Jean Dujardin (looking suitably Connery-ish thanks in part to Guillaume Schiffman's slick Sixties-style photography) plays an impossibly self-assured, pompous French secret agent who gives all Westerners a bad name in jet-age Cairo. The company's press material accurately describes the film as "a blithe and witty send-up not only of spy films of that era and the suave secret agent figure but also neo-colonialism, ethnocentrism and the very idea of Western covert action in the Middle East."

That's a pretty good description of this farce, which manages the neat trick of being both smart and slapstick at the same time.

Read my full review of OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies here.

Here is the full release schedule for the film. Dates are still subject to change, so it's a good idea to check your local listings, as they say, before driving an hour to go see it!

May 9

Landmark Sunshine (NY)
Landmark NuArt (LA)
Landmark Lumiere (San Francisco)
Landmark Shattuck (Berkeley)
Landmark Varsity (Seattle)
Rafael Film Center (San Rafael)
Regency South Coast Village (Santa Ana/Costa Mesa)

May 16

Landmark Kendall (Boston)
Landmark Ken Cinemas (San Diego)
Laemmle Playhouse 7 (Pasadena)
Cinema 21 (Portland)

May 23

Landmark Uptown (Minneapolis)
Landmark E Street (Washington DC)

May 30

Landmark Century Centre (Chicago)
Landmark Ritz (Philadelphia)

May 7, 2008

Devil May Care Excerpts To Appear In Vanity Fair

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating story today (via CommanderBond.Net) about the gamble Penguin (in the UK) and Doubleday (in the US) are taking with Sebastian Faulks' new James Bond continuation novel, Devil May Care. They reveal that first edition print runs are a whopping 100,000 units in England and 250,000 in the US. To put that in perspective, the article reports that the last new straightforward Bond continuation novel (not counting spinoffs Young Bond or The Moneypenny Diaries--which, personally, I would count), Raymond Benson's The Man With the Red Tattoo, sold only 5,000 hardcover copies in Britain and 13,000 in the US. (It should be noted that Benson's books, rather unfairly, received almost no marketing support from the publisher, whereas Devil May Care will enjoy, according to the article, "the largest marketing budget of any Penguin fiction title published in the U.K. this year.")

Most intriguingly for collectors of the literary Bond, however, is the revelation that as part of its massive marketing campaign, Devil May Care will be excerpted in the July issue of Vanity Fair! There is a long tradition of James Bond novels and short stories appearing or being serialized in magazines, so this makes sense. In Fleming's day (as well as Benson's), it was usually Playboy, but I guess Vanity Fair is a better choice in terms of reaching the widest possible audience.

In other Devil May Care news, check out CBN for scintillating details on a limited edition (designed by Bentley, no less) sure to become the most collectible Bond book since the limited version of Fleming's On Her Majesty's Secret Service--but, infuriatingly, prohibitively expensive for most ordinary Bond fans!
More Missions For Cruise?

Looks like Paramount is gearing up for a fourth Mission: Impossible film. And even though M:I:III left the door open for the series to continue without Ethan Hunt, and even though Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone very publicly severed Paramount's relationship with star Tom Cruise (who went on to take over United Artists) in 2006, it looks like Cruise is once more in talks to topline. Last week, Access Hollywood reported that Cruise and Redstone had had dinner together, and that Cruise was in talks to accept a fourth Mission. Yesterday, Variety picked up the story, quoting Redstone as saying, "I consider Tom Cruise a great actor and a good friend. And if Paramount decides to move ahead with him, I will not object." According to the trade, Redstone "added that the decision was 'up to Brad Grey, who runs Paramount.'"

May 6, 2008

New James Bond Comic Book Image!

The stellar Young Bond Dossier has once again scored an exclusive first look at some fantastic new James Bond cover art. This time, it's Kev Walker's stunning cover image for his and Charlie Higson's upcoming graphic novel adaptation of Higson's first Young Bond book, Silverfin. Clocking in at 160 pages, this one will be just a bit longer than the first Alex Rider comic adaptation, Stormbreaker. This oft-delayed project (finally slated for October) is one I've been following closely. I'm a huge fan of James Bond in comics, and I've been very disappointed that the character hasn't appeared in that medium since Topps' unfinished Goldeneye adaptation in '95. Why not? That's a long time! And James Bond just makes sense as a comic book character! So I'm very happy that Silverfin marks his return to that medium, albeit in a slightly younger incarnation. If it's successful, I hope that encourages Ian Fleming Publications to license out the adult version of 007 to some lucky publisher... hopefully Dark Horse, who, in my opinion, did the best job with Her Majesty's top agent in the graphic medium.

Anyway, Walker (responsible for the cool cover illustrations on the American editions of the last two Young Bond novels) has crafted a striking image to adorn his comic adaptation. I love the Mignola-esque eel behind Bond! Head on over to the Young Bond Dossier and check it out.

May 4, 2008

An Army Of Fury

Looks like there's another Nick Fury action figure coming out in Hasbro's fall line of Marvel Legends two-packs, besides the previously mentioned Ultimate one: a new sculpt of Nick Fury Classic. But that's not all! This new Fury body will be available with various alternate heads to double as random S.H.I.E.L.D. agents! It's a little unclear right now whether the single figure will come with multiple, interchangeable heads, or if each different head will be a whole variant figure, each sold separately. Three different figures with three different heads were displayed at the New York Comic Con, apparently. Sadly the heads themselves don't seem to be based on specific agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. we know from the comics, like Dum Dum Dugan or Jimmy Woo; they're just generic S.H.I.E.L.D. agents for collectors who like to assemble armies. Whichever head (or heads) it has, the Fury/S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent figure will come packed along with a Hand Ninja figure (also good for army building).

Wizard Universe has a great pic of the new Nick here, and Marvelous News has pictures of the other heads.

As with the Ultimate Nick Fury figure (and based solely on pictures), this new Hasbro sculpt doesn't seem to me to live up to the excellent figure Toy Biz put out a few years ago when they had the Marvel Legends line. Still, it's cool that Nick will be back in stores, in both of his current comic incarnations, this fall. The (Classic) Nick Fury/Hand Ninja two-pack is scheduled for October release.

May 3, 2008

Upcoming International Spy DVDs... And CDs

The Saint of the 1980s

On June 30, one of my two favorite foreign DVD companies, Umbrella, will release the elusive Eighties incarnation of The Saint in Australia! The PAL Region 4 three-disc set will include all six two-hour TV movies starring Simon Dutton as Simon Templar. (In a strange coincidence, according to IMDB trivia, Dutton was actually named after Templar!) The titles are: The Brazilian Connection, The Blue Dulac, Fear In Fun Park, The Software Murders, The Big Bang and Wrong Number. Guest stars include John Astin, Richard Roxburgh, Gayle Hunnicutt and Vince Edwards, and at least one episode was actually written by Alex Rider creator Anthony Horowitz! Umbrella has yet to list the release on their official website, but it's already available to order on EZDVD. No extras have yet been announced. My other favorite foreign DVD distributor, Network, was previously rumored to be working on a UK release of this series that would also include the even more obscure 1987 TV movie The Saint in Manhattan, starring mustachioed Magnum-clone Andrew Clarke as a Lamborghini-driving Australian Saint, but such a set has yet to be officially announced.
A big thanks to David Foster for the alert!

Man In A Suitcase Soundtrack

Speaking of Network, they do have a big spy release in the offing... but it's a soundtrack, not a DVD. Following up on their successful Prisoner and Randall & Hopkirk, Deceased CDs, the company will issue the first ever soundtrack for the cult Sixties ITC Richard Bradford spy series Man In A Suitcase! The whopping five disc set will be available to own June 2 and include over 300 pieces of music by Ron Grainer and Albert Elms, as well as (sure to be extensive) liner notes by cult TV sage Andrew Pixley. Retail for this massive set is expectedly high, at £39.99, but it can currently be pre-ordered directly from Network at a considerable discount.

I love that Network is making good on their promise of using rare vault elements to create definitive soundtracks for many of the cult TV series they offer on DVD. Now if only they'd turn their attention to Ken Thorne's amazing, amazing incidental music from The Persuaders, that would be a dream come true for this soundtrack lover...

Dangerous Assignment

Meanwhile, back in the USA, TVShowsOnDVD reports that Infinity Entertainment will release Dangerous Assignment: The Complete Series on May 20. The five-disc set included all 39 episodes of the 1950s NBC series, which starred Brian Donlevy as American secret agent Steve Mitchell. I've never seen this show before, but it sounds pretty cool. The press release offers up this nifty bit of tough guy narration: "Yeah, danger is my assignment. I get sent to a lot of places I can't even pronounce. They all spell the same thing, though: trouble." Retail is $39.98.

May 2, 2008

S.H.I.E.L.D. In Iron Man

The Marvel Universe's mysterious spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. plays a pretty big role in this weekend's big comic book movie, Iron Man (which is pretty great). What that acronym actually stands for, however, has once again been changed. Though actor Clark Gregg, as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson, said it several times, all I was able to retain was that the H now stands for "Homeland." According to Wikipedia, the full name in Iron Man was, "Strategic Homeland Intervention, Espionage Logistics Directorate," only one word off from the current Marvel version, "Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage Logistics Directorate." The E might have actually stood for "Enforcement," though. (That sounds right.) Even in the Marvel Universe, what the acronym actually stands for has been changed. Back in the classic Jim Steranko days of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., it stood for "Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division." That was, of course, Stan Lee's tribute to U.N.C.L.E., and by far the silliest of the many silly word combinations harnessed to S.H.I.E.L.D. over the years. Overall, it's the acronym itself, and not what it stands for, that sounds cool!

The Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. himself even shows up eventually in Iron Man, but only after the end credits have rolled. And, no, I'm not talking about Iron Man, the current Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the comics (of course he's in the movie!); I'm talking about the famous one. Or the Ultimate Universe version of him, anyway. The applause was so loud in the theater where I saw it that I couldn't even hear his big line. I fear that Samuel L. Jackson's celluloid portrayal of Nick Fury will forever erase the classic Steranko version of the character I know and love so much, but at the same time the cameo is undeniably cool, and gave me definite goosebumps!

May 1, 2008

CONTEST: Win OSS 117: Cairo Nest Of Spies Posters!

I have five U.S. one-sheet posters to give away for the upcoming American theatrical release of the excellent French retro Bond spoof OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies! Want one? Simply send an email with the subject heading "OSS 117 CONTEST" including your name, mailing address and favorite spy comedy to the Double O Section by midnight, Pacific Time on Thursday, May 8, 2008. (Favorite spy comedy will not affect the outcome; I'm just curious.) Winners will be announced in one week's time, next Friday... which just happens to be the day the film opens in select cities! A platform roll-out follows throughout May. For a list of cities and dates, click here. Good luck!

Click here for my review of OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies.

Click here to visit the film's official website.

One entry per person, please. Double entries will be disqualified. One winner will be drawn at random and announced in on Tuesday, April 7, 2008. Winners’ names will be posted here and they will be notified via email. All entries will be deleted immediately after the contest’s close, and no personal information will be retained or transmitted to any third parties. The contest is open to anyone, in any country. Unfortunately, the Double O Section cannot assume responsibility for items lost or damaged in transit.