Jun 30, 2008

Tradecraft: Prisoner Remake Cast Confirmed

The Hollywood Reporter confirms the Prisoner casting rumors that popped up online earlier this month in a story about a new remake of the Robbie Coltrane series Cracker. The print version of the story only mentions Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen in passing, and I thought they might just be repeating the rumors, but the updated online version clarifies:
The Prisoner -- a six-hour mini, which AMC is co-producing with ITV Prods. and Granada International -- is slated to premiere in 2009.

Caviezel will play the title role of Number Six, a part originally made famous by the project's creator Patrick McGoohan. Two-time Oscar nominee Ian McKellen will co-star as Number Two.

Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen bring an incredible level of talent to the project, and we're honored they are taking on these important roles, said Charlie Collier, AMC's general manager and executive vice president.
So is there really just one Number 2? All this story does is confirm McKellen's casting; it doesn't preclude further announcements. Hopefully we'll be hearing about other high-profile Number 2's in the near future. (Psst! Get Christopher Lee!) I assume McGoohan wouldn't do it, unfortunately. Speaking of him, I'm still not convinced Caviezel has the necessary gravitas to fill his shoes, but here's hoping!

Once again, this is the Prisoner TV remake, which is altogether different from the planned Christopher Nolan film remake.
Bond Is Back!

The trailer's up for Quantum of Solace, and it looks utterly fantastic! It should be attached theatrically to Hancock this week.

Jun 29, 2008

New Nick Fury Series In The Works?

I normally avoid the big company-wide comic crossover events like the plague, but I guess I should pick up the current Secret Invasion. Apparently Nick Fury, who's been in hiding for a couple of years in the mainstream Marvel Universe (whilst Iron Man leads S.H.I.E.L.D.), has made a big return in its pages, popping up in the final panel of Issue 3 with a giant gun and leading a brand new team. Today, Newsarama reports on a Marvel panel from Wizard World Chicago in which Secret Invasion writer Brian Michael Bendis spilled the beans on some upcoming Marvel projects. One that was revealed was a series called Secret Warriors, debuting in January and coming out of the pages of Secret Invasion. It will focus on that team Fury has put together (which originated in the pages of Bendis's Mighty Avengers--no relation to the real Avengers, Steed and Mrs. Peel!), and presumably (going by the awesome Lenil Francis Yu image accompanying the story) Nick himself. That's cool. It's high time for Nick Fury to make a full return to the regular Marvel Universe! (His other self has been quite active in the Ultimate one.)

Jun 27, 2008

Quantum Of Awesomeness

CommanderBond.Net has a ten second trailer for the trailer of Quantum of Solace, courtesy of Brit TV show The Big Breakfast... and it looks incredible! I've watched this ten seconds many, many times since last night, and I love it. I know, I know, we can't really tell much from ten seconds of fast cuts, but I like what I see! Especially that shot of the Aston. The trailer goes online June 30, then debuts theatrically with Hancock the following weekend.
Tradecraft: My Spy

The Hollywood Reporter reports that CBS Films has acquired a spec script by Jeremy Slater called My Spy. "The plot centers on a teenage boy who falls for an attractive girl only to later learn that the girl is actually a spy." According to the article, "those familiar with the script" compare it to the upcoming (and fantastic) Seth Rogan action-comedy Pineapple Express, but for younger audiences. Pineapple Express achieves a deft and fairly unique blend of comedy and serious, violent action, so I'm intrigued about that comparison. Lorenzo di Bonaventura will produce. I would provide a link if I could find one on The Hollywood Reporter's truly awful new website, but it's impossible to navigate so I'm not going to bother wallowing through it.

Jun 26, 2008

Tradecraft: Brosnan For Prime Minister

Variety reports that Pierce Brosnan will star in a political thriller for Roman Polanski called The Ghost, based on a book by Robert Harris. (Another Bond starred in another Harris adaptation before.) Nicholas Cage and Tilda Swinton also star. Says the trade, "Cage will play a ghostwriter hired abruptly to finish the memoirs of an ex-British prime minister after the first scribe turned up dead. The ghostwriter's research leads him to uncover skeletons in the pol's closet that put the writer's life in danger. Swinton will play the wife of the former prime minister (Brosnan). Her marriage is crumbling, and she falls for the writer." Sounds good. I can definitely see Brosnan as a politician!

Jun 24, 2008

Movie Review: George Lazenby In Never Too Young To Die (1986)

Movie Review: George Lazenby In Never Too Young To Die (1986)
Well, okay: that’s a bit of a misleading headline. Lazenby’s credit is actually "special guest star," and it’s his character’s death that sets the main story into motion. It would have been nice if ol' George had gotten a bit more screentime, but he certainly makes the most of what he does, proving he can chew scenery with the best of ‘em. Or at least with Kiss’s Gene Simmons, who may not be the best of ‘em, but definitely knows a thing or two about chewing scenery! Perhaps I should backtrack.

Never Too Young to Die was apparently intended to be the start of a huge new spy franchise starring twenty-three-year-old John Stamos as teen agent Lance Stargrove, America’s answer to James Bond. Appropriately, a former Bond (albeit the most affordable former Bond) was cast as his superspy father, Drew Stargrove, loudly signaling the movie’s intent. At the movie’s opening, star gymnast Lance is lamenting the fact that his aloof father never makes it to any of his college’s parental events. Little does he know, however, that Drew is trying his best to make it to his latest gymnastics event, but he’s a little tied up.

Unbeknownst to Lance, Drew is a top secret agent, currently on assignment in some decidedly un-glamorous sewers. He’s betrayed by one of his team, and takes a bullet in the leg, but still manages to take out the turncoat and continue on his mission. It’s an ambush, though, and Drew Stargrove finds himself taking on armies of Uzi-toting punks with nothing but an automatic and a handy bulletproof umbrella. After killing scores of his enemies, he’s finally captured and interrogated by his archenemy, a flamboyant hermaphrodite rock star named Velvet Von Ragnar (Simmons). Ragnar is looking for a computer disk Drew managed to steal, a disk somehow capable of rendering all of Los Angeles’ drinking water radioactive. (Remember, back in 80s Hollywood, there was no limit to the myriad capabilities of floppy disks!) With the aid of another gadget, Drew escapes once more, never revealing the disk’s location. He is, however, further injured in the escape, and when Ragnar corners him in a sewer, his luck has finally run out.

Lance (who has of course been sent the disk, although the movie actually doesn’t make that very clear), does some more moping at the funeral, and catches sight of the beautiful mystery woman Danja Deering, played by Prince protégé and proto-Halle Berry Vanity. He learns that he’s inherited a farm, so he goes and checks out his dad’s secret retreat, where, naturally, he runs into Danja again. They’re attacked by a pair of giant punks (evidently looking for the disk), and in the course of the attack Vanity’s shirt is torn exposing her bra. This becomes a pattern throughout the movie, giving her the opportunity to fire many different weapons in many different bras.

I need to take a moment here to discuss the specific brand of "punk" present in Never Too Young to Die. These are the unique Mad Max variety of punks who populated the landscape of 80s Hollywood, riding around in dune buggies covered with skulls and on motorcycles with horse heads. They sported mohawks, leather straps, safety pins and other traditional punk accouterments, but also fur loincloths and battleaxes, giving them the overall appearance of post-apocalyptic Conan the Barbarian rejects. These punks can be found in all sorts of movies of the era, from Cobra to Police Academy, but fortunately never actually existed outside of movies. They’re an oddity of 80s cinema, I suspect playing on the fears of a population at large who didn’t understand the real punk movement, but also capitalizing on Los Angeles’ ready supply of real punks, an excellent source of scary-looking extras.

The two punks in question are of the dune buggy-driving variety, and soon enough Stamos and Vanity manage to scare them off. Lance later follows Danja to a club in the heart of Punkland, where the punks ride their horse-headed motorcycles through the bar and act scary. Performing is the club’s owner, Ragnar, in a Cher outfit that will leave an unfortunately indelible impression on your brain. Pretending to be an autograph-seeking fan, Lance meets Ragnar and tries out the chewing gum bug that his gadget-loving Asian roommate, Cliff (Peter Kwong), has made him.

There’s a car chase where more punks swing flimsy axes at Lance as he rides his motorcycle, and Danja drives her Corvette under a tractor trailer, presaging the famous Fast and the Furious stunt. More action happens (which always reduces Vanity to her bra), Simmons dons a ridiculous disguise, and eventually Stamos and Vanity take a break to engage in the most absurdly protracted love scene of the decade. It involves two apples, a bottle of Perrier, a tiny bikini, hundreds of fast cuts and eventual nudity, all MTV-cut to a gloriously dated make-out song. Eventually, it ends, and the pair are once more captured by Ragnar. This sets up the big punks vs. military finale, which culminates with Stamos and Simmons going mano-a-hermaphrodite atop the Hoover Dam for the briefcase computer Robert Englund has rigged to make the deadly disk poison Los Angeles. In one of the film’s most disturbing images, Ragnar exposes his "breasts" at a crucial moment, with a nice tip of the hat to Z-Man from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

The ending firmly sets up the notion of a sequel, or better still a franchise, but for better or for worse, that never came to be. Perhaps it was because Stamos was cast the following year on Full House, or perhaps it was because Never Too Young to Die didn't make the hoped-for splash at the box office. Whatever the case, it was an early blueprint for later teen spy attempts like If Looks Could Kill (which follows a very similar plot with The Who's Roger Daltry in Lazenby's stead as the doomed British agent), The Double O Kid, Agent Cody Banks or Operation: Stormbreaker. Where Never Too Young to Die differs from those movies, however, is in its R rating, which is strange. Who was the intended audience for a movie with taglines like "At the age of 18, he became the Double O Kid," but enough violence, swearing and nudity to earn it an R? While the deaths are mostly bloodless, young Lance guns down quite a few punks by the movie's conclusion. Today's teen spies avoid such killing. Of course, the Eighties were a different time.

Never Too Young to Die is very much a product of that decade. In fact, most of the enjoyment watching it today comes from that, the way the Modesty Blaise movie benefits from its outrageous mod Sixties stylings. (Although the Sixties remain an infinitely more visually interesting decade to me!) As a movie, Never Too Young to Die is pretty awful, but then it doesn't aspire to brilliance. Its playful tone, in fact, makes it more fun to watch than some of its more serious contemporaries, like Cobra. The tone it's going for is more Remo Williams than Cobra. And the Bond it aspires to is A View To A Kill, not Goldfinger. So if a blend of Cobra, Remo Williams and A View To A Kill appeals to you at all, then Never Too Young to Die is worth tracking down. And if you ever get that rare opportunity to see it in a crowded theater like I did this past weekend, that's definitely not an experience to be missed!

Finally, I have to mention its soundtrack. Never Too Young to Die contains two amazing Eighties anthems, the opening "Stargrove Theme" and the closing title song. I don't know the performer was on either of them, but both fit the movie perfectly.
More Alex Rider Graphic Novels On The Way

Antony Johnston, the writer of the Alex Rider graphic novel adaptations Stormbreaker and Point Blanc, has contacted me to say there are more Rider comics in the future. This is great news, as there isn't yet another title listed on Amazon. But Johnston has finished adapting Anthony Horowitz's third novel in the series, Skeleton Key, and expects to start work on the fourth, Eagle Strike, "sometime this year." Presumably Skeleton Key will be out around Christmas, following the pattern of the first two graphic novels.

Johnston also wanted to correct my earlier story and assure readers that despite the incorrect image on Amazon.co.uk, his adaptation of Point Blanc did indeed retain the pun of the original British title in the U.K., and was only changed to "Point Blank" in the United States, reflecting that change in the original novel.

As long as the graphic novels continue to sell (and apparently they're selling very well), Johnston is confident that the series will continue. Hopefully that means we'll get all of Horowitz's Rider books in comics form eventually! I'd love to see those supplemented by some original Alex Rider comic stories (ideally written by Johnston or Horowitz), but Johnston says there are currently no plans for anything like that.

Jun 23, 2008

More Missions This Fall

TVShowsOnDVD reports that CBS/Paramount will release Mission: Impossible - The Fifth TV Season on October 7. They've even got the cover art. (I can't decide if the lovely purple sheen trumps Peter Graves' odd-looking helmet hair or not.) Season 5 introduced Lesley Ann Warren as Dana (the show's first female regular since Barbara Bain left after the third season) and a young, mustacheless Sam Elliot as Dr. Doug Robert (or was it Lang?). Doug was intended as a replacement for Peter Lupus's strongman Willie Armitage, and the two characters alternated episodes in an attempt to phase Lupus out. The fans, however, wouldn't have it, and flooded CBS with letters demanding the full-time return of Willie. A reluctant Lupus, understandably peeved, acquiesced, and Willie was back the following year with nary a sign of Doug. Peter Graves, Greg Morris and Leonard Nimoy (in his final season) all return from the previous year.

Season 5, which ran from 1970-71, is the last season to retain the series' original overseas espionage focus, with nearly half the episodes already turning toward the American "Syndicate" who would prove the IMF's enemy for its final years. So, needless to say, it's an essential purchase for spy fans!

Jun 20, 2008

Tradecraft: The Family Bond

Variety reports that Universal has picked up a spec script by Jeff Lowell (writer of John Tucker Must Die) called The Family Bond for Marc Platt and the ubiquitous Miles Millar and Alfred Gough to produce. "Action comedy's described as a relationship story between a spy and his daughter," is all the trade says about the script. Its rival, The Hollywood Reporter, has a slightly more detailed logline, though: "The story centers on a girl who goes on an adventure to rescue her mother with the father she never knew she had, a Bond-like spy." Neither paper gives any indication of the script's tone. Is this a parody? Or a straightforward action comedy? Is it a family film? How old is the daughter? I guess we're all on a need-to-know basis for now...

Jun 19, 2008

Movie Review: You Don’t Mess With the Zohan

This will be a short review because You Don’t Mess With the Zohan barely even merits coverage on a spy blog. In fact, it’s a little questionable whether it’s even a spy movie at all. Despite being initially pitched as a comedy about a top Mossad agent who fakes his death to become a New York City hairdresser (a premise reiterated by co-writer Judd Apatow as recently as a week before its opening), I noticed nary a mention of the Mossad. Zohan seems to be more of a counter-terrorist soldier, but he still fits the general indestructibility of a Bondian super-spy, and does get to do a little undercover work. The opening chase in Israel, in which Adam Sandler’s surprisingly buff Zohan takes on John Turturro’s surprisingly amiable Palestinian terrorist the Phantom, generates some good, over-the-top sight gags as it parodies similar chases in Bourne and Bond movies. The sequence quickly establishes the very, very silly tone that will carry the entire film.

Once Sandler’s character reaches New York, there’s little mention of his former spy life for the entire middle of the movie, although he occasionally relies on his matchless fighting skills to take on the likes of obnoxious drivers or neighborhood ruffians. Mainly, though, the focus of the second act is on his hairdressing career (based exclusively on 1980s Paul Mitchell styles) and his gigolo career, wherein he has sex with a succession of old ladies. Indeed, both of Sandler’s usual fetishes, grannies and enormous penises, are driven into the ground without ever becoming remotely funny or even really being made into jokes. They’re just there, each in high quantities and often together.

The third act sees the Phantom coming to New York for a rematch with Zohan, whose identity has been exposed. Instead of bringing together the first two acts cohesively, though, it ends up going a completely different direction (as the two of them team up to fight an evil real estate mogul played by a wrestling announcer) so that all three acts feel completely disparate. Act 3 concerns itself with solving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict once and for all, and showing both sides that the real enemy is hillbillies. I think. There is no reprisal of the opening spy spoofery.

Basically, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan is an Adam Sandler movie, which is a genre unto itself comprising all of the actor’s self-produced, post Happy Gilmore/Billy Madison career. And, like most Sandler movies, it does have its funny moments amidst the flat old lady gags. If you like that stuff, you’ll like this. If not, stay away... and feel no need to see it as a spy movie!

For a harsher, but valid, viewpoint, check out this blog.

Jun 18, 2008

Book Review: Devil May Care By Sebastian Faulks

My primary misgiving going into Sebastian Faulks’s much-hyped Centenary James Bond novel Devil May Care was the whole "writing as Ian Fleming" thing touted on the front cover. Pastiche is tricky ground to navigate, and sure enough, Faulks’s attempts to emulate Ian Fleming’s style fall vastly short. But I don’t want to read copycat prose anyway, so I was glad when I realized that Faulks’s prose had a style of its own, and wasn’t just bad imitation Fleming as I’d feared. Ultimately, the major problems with the Cold War-set Devil May Care don’t lie with the author’s successes and failures at mimicking Ian Fleming. They lie in a far more unexpected place for a novelist of Faulks’s reputation: in his basic storytelling.

James Bond is never proactive in this novel. M doesn’t give him much of a chance, saddling him with his vaguest assignment ever: basically, he says, "we know this guy Julius Gorner is bad. Find out what makes him tick." That doesn’t sound much like a mission for a 00 agent to me. Nevertheless, that is what Bond is given to work with. Moreover, this simple "find out what makes him tick" assignment is inexplicably treated by M and by others with the very highest importance. Later we learn that Washington even thinks it might be "the big one." What, ticking?

To the end of finding out what makes Dr. Julius Gorner tick (why another Dr. Julius, by the way? Hasn’t Bond already fought enough of those?), 007 sets off for Paris, where he’s confronted by a beautiful woman, Scarlett Papava, in his hotel room. Handily, she tells him where to find Gorner, and Bond is off to the tennis club for the traditional sports or gaming showdown with his nemesis. This tradition, of course, goes back to Fleming, who managed to write about cards with the same excitement with which he wrote gunfights.

After reading Casino Royale, I felt like I could play Baccarat. It’s a good thing there wasn’t a casino nearby (well, not one with Baccarat, anyway), because I’m sure that I would have been soundly disproved, but I definitely felt that way. At his best, Fleming teaches the reader the game he’s describing. By doing so, he manages to make a game of Bridge thrilling in Moonraker, even to a reader like myself who’d never played Bridge in his life.

In Devil May Care, Faulks doesn’t teach the reader the rules or scoring of tennis (perhaps because he feels most people know it), but he does write the scene in such a way that it isn’t necessary. I was never lost during the tennis match (unlike in the golf game in Fleming’s Goldfinger, an occasion in which he failed to suitably educate the reader), but I also didn’t finish it feeling like I could score a real game of tennis, either. That’s alright though. By this point, I wasn’t expecting things to be the same as Fleming did them, and the exciting tennis match is probably the high point of Faulks’s novel. It’s a good confrontation. Except...

Once again, Bond is as passive as one can be whilst engaged in such an intense physical competition. Like most villains, Gorner is cheating him. When Hugo Drax or Goldfinger tried doing that, 007 smartly found them out and beat them at their own game. In Devil May Care, Bond remains utterly oblivious to the fairly obvious deception. Suddenly, his luck changes, like that of the clueless Mr. Du Pont, Goldfinger’s favorite rube. Scarlet has played the Bond role, catching onto Gorner’s cheating and putting an end to it unbeknownst to Bond. Bond wins the match on skill, never realizing why he had such a rough time of it at first.

With the game over, it’s time for the plot to advance, so M cables Bond and tells him to go to Tehran. Why couldn’t Bond find some sort of clue that put him on that trail? If only he did something proactive, I would feel more like I was reading a James Bond book. But instead the winds of convenience blow him there. In Tehran, once again a beautiful woman shows up and points him in the right direction, giving him the address of a warehouse to check out. Once again, Bond does nothing to earn this information, but merely goes where he’s directed. There, he’s captured by the bad guys, and transported to his next necessary destination by them, never in control of the situation, never making his own choices.

Faulks does provide some good Flemingesque travelogue bits about 1960s Tehran, and I appreciated that. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really integrate the travelogue with the plot the way Fleming always managed to, and it becomes quickly evident that he’s merely alternating action with travelogue, rather than combining the two.

I suppose I’m going to venture slightly into spoiler territory here, but honestly you can’t really spoil this stuff. What happens next is what always happens next in Bond films, only not executed as well. After a more intriguing red herring plot to destroy Britain slowly by flooding it with cheap heroin and poisoning its youth, Gorner declares that he doesn’t really have the patience to see that one through, so he’s just going to go with that old standby of Bond movie villains (note that we’re more in film territory than book territory at this point) and launch two nukes at Russia in an attempt to provoke war between the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. One of those bombs is on a hijacked airliner, along with 007. The other is on an astonishing piece of hardware called an Ekranoplan, a huge, Soviet-built, jetliner-like hovercraft that skims the cushion of air between the surface of the water and the underside of the wing at speeds of up to 250 mph.

The Ekranoplan is a great vehicle for a Bond story, a fantastic futuristic relic of a jet age past. Faulks was right on the money including it... but he doesn’t figure out how to use it! After a lot of build-up, the Ekranoplan ultimately amounts to nothing at all, and here’s the real shame: 007 never even sets foot on it! James Bond on this vehicle should have been a setpiece so good it writes itself, but instead Bond’s stuck on a regular old airplane for a recreation of The Living Daylights’ finale while a trio of RAF bombers impersonally deal with the Ekranoplan.

The main plot more or less resolves itself (with little thanks to James Bond) with some forty pages left to go in the book. Bond and Scarlett (whose secrets the reader will see coming a mile away) are stranded in the Soviet Union, with a very long drive ahead of them. But this is Her Majesty’s top secret agent in the heart of enemy territory; surely there must be some excitement ahead, right? Like the nail-biting suspense of Moneypenny’s visit to Moscow in Samantha Weinberg’s Secret Servant? Well, no. Basically, there’s just that long drive (briefly interrupted by a rote encounter with a henchman), followed by an unnecessary coda in Paris.

It appears that Faulks saw his task akin to Michael France’s in scripting Goldeneye: create a "best of" James Bond story to reintroduce 007 to the public after a six year absence (now as the hero of his own adult novel; then as cinematic icon). France and his co-writers succeeded in that task in 1995. We may have seen the setpieces before, but they fit together well, and Bond was still proactive. In Faulks’ attempted reintroduction of the character, we get plenty of references to Fleming’s stories (and, in a nice surprise, one to Charlie Higson’s Young Bond) and plenty of repeated "classic" moments, situations and even characters, but they all come off as mere shades of the vibrant originals. Bond is again put through an obstacle course like Dr. No’s, only so much less so. (Nary a squid in sight.) Bond escapes his cell only to be recaptured and have guards stationed inside it, ala the film of Goldfinger. Even the book’s best new character is simply a Persian version of the memorable Fleming creation Darko Kerim Bey from From Russia With Love, obviously doomed to Darko’s fate in whatever way Faulks can shoehorn that in, even if it doesn’t arise organically from the story he’s telling.

Another favorite Fleming character, Felix Leiter, gets to return in his own skin, but ultimately pointlessly. The reason readers love to see Felix pop up in Fleming’s novels is because he serves as a wonderful foil to Bond; they work well together and usually engage in some very entertaining banter. But Faulks’s Felix never even crosses paths with Bond! Likewise, his most successful take on a Fleming character, Rene Mathis of the Deuxieme Bureau, only gets a single scene to interact with 007.

In another misguided nod, Faulks seems to have based his structure largely on Goldfinger, which is an odd choice because Goldfinger is structurally one of Fleming’s weakest novels, thanks to its over-reliance on luck and coincidence and its hero’s lengthy incapacitation. As in Goldfinger, James Bond is captured by the villain at the midpoint, and as in Goldfinger the villain inexplicably keeps him alive... so Bond can work for him. (Is the henchman market really so bad that villains are frequently forced to employ their most dangerous enemies?) In Goldfinger, at least 007 manages to ingeniously convey a message to the CIA detailing his captor’s dastardly plan. In Devil May Care, he doesn’t even manage to convey the intelligence he’s gathered! Instead, the CIA just happen to hear about it on the intelligence grapevine.

That happens constantly–and infuriatingly–in Faulks’s novel. Again and again, heroes and villains alike obtain crucial information "off-screen," so to speak, with a throwaway explanation along the lines of, "this is intelligence. There are always leaks and moles." Thus is Bond denied not only his usual heroics (he has nothing whatsoever to do with the thwarting of the more exciting nuke on the Ekranoplan), but also his basic vocational function, intelligence gathering.

Faulks later completes his utter castration of the character by also depriving him of his more famous function, his license to kill the primary villain! (I won’t say how it happens, but the task is taken out of his hands, and not in an exciting, bathing-beauty-with-a-speargun, Thunderball sort of way, but one much less satisfying.) This impotence is unfortunately not limited to the realm of the metaphorical, either. Bond is also repeatedly denied sex throughout the book, whether because he (shockingly) turns it down, or because he’s interrupted, as happens in one of the novel’s best scenes, a love scene incongruously lifted directly from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Whether on the battlefield or in the bedroom, by the end of the book, Bond has been through a lot, but actually accomplished almost nothing.

Is this supposed to be a commentary on Britain's modern place in global politics? I hope not, because a James Bond continuation novel isn't the place for such grandstanding. But if it's not, then it's simply bad storytelling, which I certainly wouldn't expect of so esteemed a writer as Sebastian Faulks.

Were it a commentary, though, it wouldn’t be the only one. Wherever possible, Faulks applies contemporary analogies to the Cold War setting. Bond finds himself (and, by extension, Great Britain) threatened by a crass American CIA agent who says Washington feels Britain isn’t doing its part in the "War On Communism," since it hasn’t committed troops to Vietnam. Using that turn of phrase (which I don’t think I’ve heard before) and the topical Iranian setting, Faulks heavy-handedly evokes the obvious present-day applications. Unfortunately, in doing so, he fails to use his actual time period to any effect! I loved the way Samantha Weinberg worked historical events like the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kim Philby’s defection into her Bond novels; Faulks does nothing of the sort (other than an out-of-place reference to The Rolling Stones' Redlands drug bust). I suspect that this is because even "a literary novelist of Faulks’s calibre" (as Ben Macintyre gushes on the British jacket) has the same ambitions as lesser mortals: to see his work on film. Knowing that it would have to be updated were his book to be picked up by EON, Faulks has made that an easy task by forsaking the most interesting aspect of this whole experiment, crafting a vaguely timeless story instead of utilizing a fascinating historical time period. All this while overlooking the film Bond’s need to occasionally take action!

Ultimately, this Centenary novel (which flacks assured us early on had caused a publisher to exclaim that it could have been mistaken for a lost Fleming manuscript) is a big disappointment, which is really too bad. Faulks has said again and again that he wrote the book in Ian Fleming’s six-week schedule, but did he take into account all the rewriting Fleming did after that time was up? It doesn’t seem like it. Devil May Care reads like a first draft. Faulks is a talented prose writer, but his plotting falls infinitely short of previous continuation writers like John Gardner or Raymond Benson, which is a shame. I actually hate not liking a new James Bond novel, but despite a few highlights like the tennis match, the aforementioned love scene, a henchman named Chagrin and a merciful lack of torture (one of Fleming's conventions I've never really much cared for), there was simply too much wrong with Devil May Care for me to feel otherwise.

Luckily, there are other avenues to turn to for quality Bondian fiction these days. In the same month as Devil May Care came out to such fanfare, Charlie Higson’s latest Young Bond opus, Hurricane Gold, was released in paperback, and Samantha Weinberg’s final Moneypenny Diary, Final Fling, debuted in England in hardcover. I never would have predicted it five years ago, but Faulks was actually at a disadvantage compared to those two talented writers. Both Higson and Weinberg got to write Bond novels with unique gimmicks (Bond as a boy) and new points of view (Bond’s world through Moneypenny’s eyes), whereas Faulks was tasked with just writing an ordinary Bond continuation story, as so many writers have done in so many mediums since Fleming’s death. I’m sure that one day a skilled author will pull off even this feat once more (and I look forward to it), but in the meantime, readers seeking intelligent adult fiction about James Bond would be much better off tracking down Weinberg’s Moneypenny Diaries trilogy.

Jun 17, 2008

New Spy DVDs Out This Week

Burn Notice

This week's essential spy purchase is Fox's Burn Notice - Season One. It's great to have a fun, hour-long spy show on TV again, especially one that isn't mired in seasons' and seasons' worth of dense continuity, as Alias became in its final days. Read my whole review of this DVD set below.

The Nude Bomb

Max Smart's first movie--when he was still embodied by Don Adams--hits this week courtesy of Universal. The titular weapon in The Nude Bomb poses a threat to render the entire world naked, a threat only Maxwell Smart can thwart. Sadly, Barbara Feldon is absent, as are all other supporters from the TV series, but Sylvia Kristel is on hand for sex appeal.

Hawaii Five-O: The Fourth Season

And one more from last week.. Hawaii Five-O Season 4 doesn't feature as many espionage episodes as the last season, but the annual Wo Fat appearance makes up for that with a two-parter, "The Ninety Second War." The nefarious Red Chinese agent sets up McGarrett (Dr. No's Jack Lord) to take a fall while he trots out that favorite spy chestnut, the deadly double!

Pick up all of these DVDs for 20% off with the coupon code "SUPERSALE" or any of these other ones at DeepDiscount's semi-annual sale!
DVD Review: Burn Notice - Season One

Burn Notice is a show that grew on me throughout its first season, and continued to grow even more in its absence since that season ended late last summer. Re-watching it on DVD, all the episodes seem even better than the did the first time on USA. It’s got everything you could ask for from an old school, escapist spy hour the likes of which we’ve seldom seen since the Eighties, if not the Sixties: likable characters played by appealing and talented actors, exciting, engaging action scenes, an exotic setting, a compelling mystery and, owing to its Miami location, plenty of scantily-clad background beauties.

The series follows Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan), a spy who suddenly (and at a particularly inopportune moment) finds himself "burned." He’s been let go, cut off from all of his contacts and resources... and he has no idea why. Unable to travel, Michael finds himself trapped in Miami–but it’s far from paradise. In fact, it’s closer to hell for Michael, because it means being stuck with his needy, chain-smoking mother (Sharon Gless), his n’er-do-well brother and an adorably psychotic ex-girlfriend, Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) who happens to be a former IRA terrorist. In order to make a living while he tries to discover who burned him and why, Michael starts putting his spy skills to good use, helping people who are in the kind of trouble that requires cons, guns or mass quantities of kerosene to solve. Aiding him in this line of work are Fiona and his not altogether trustworthy pal, Sam (Bruce Campbell), a washed-up former operative who may spend most of his time boozing, womanizing and wisecracking, but can always come through in a pinch. Throughout the first season, the trio take on every enemy from ruthless drug cartels to rogue agents to a beautiful assassin to a family of bickering Israeli arms dealers, while at the same time avoiding the constant FBI surveillance on Michael.

To couch it in terms of classic spy television, Burn Notice combines the charm, wit and "knight errant" premise of The Saint with the just-plausible and always impressive gimmickry and elaborate scheming of Mission: Impossible in an appealing blend that’s familiar and new at the same time. Every week, Michael takes on a new role as he and his friends mount grandiose cons to right some wrongs, and instructs viewers in the finer points of spycraft through deftly-written voice-over with just the right amount of charming sarcasm. Whether he’s posing as a glamorous playboy arms dealer or a dangerously unhinged street thug, Donovan continues to project an aloof likability that reassures audiences without quite winking at them. The show belongs to him outright, which really speaks to Donovan’s talent, as he’s working with an incredibly talented supporting cast.

You can read my full appraisal of Season One here.

Now, onto the eagerly-awaited DVD set, out today and packed with extras.

First, the bad news, for those looking forward to hours and hours of audio commentaries to listen to thanks to Fox’s claim of "scene-specific audio commentary for each episode featuring show creator Matt Nix and stars Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, Bruce Campbell and Sharon Gless." Apparently in this case, "scene-specific audio commentary" means commentary only on specific scenes! I think I would call that "select scene commentary," but it’s still certainly better than nothing. In fact, it’s arguable that when commentators record less commentary, the nuggets you get are better; no one runs out of steam. Then again, anyone who’s ever heard a Bruce Campbell commentary track before knows well that he would have no problem filling an entire episode on his own, so I have little doubt this whole crew could have pulled it off.

The good news, however, happily outweighs the bad: every moment of commentary included is highly entertaining and informative. We learn things, for instance, like the fact that Jeffrey Donovan trained as a dancer in college, but didn’t want that publicly revealed. We learn that Bruce Campbell would regularly sweat through four or five undershirts while filming scenes in hot, non-air-conditioned cars on the Miami set. (He even uses this nugget as an opportunity to work in an Old Spice plug, the first product placement I’ve ever heard in an audio commentary!) And we actually learn some useful stuff as well.

Donovan shares his acting secrets, such as surprising his co-stars whenever possible and catching them off-guard in order to create more conflict in their on-screen relationships. "That’s why everyone thinks I suck," he concludes, to which Anwar readily concurs. "But it’s all for your Emmy awards," he insists. "Hello!"

Matt Nix discusses his decision to have Michael and Fiona sleep together halfway through the first season, rather than drawing out a "will they or won’t they?" scenario throughout the whole series. He points out that real people in these kinds of non-relationships sleep together all the time, and it never diminishes the sexual tension; in fact, it usually makes things worse, as it does for Michael and Fiona.

These are only a few highlights of some very entertaining commentary, and even if it seems somewhat truncated by focusing on only select scenes, they do at least cover most of the best scenes from each episode. Above all, what we learn from the commentary is how well this creative team works together, how fond they appear to be for each other, and how comfortable they all seem kidding one another.

Also included is some interesting audition footage of Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar. Sometimes in audition footage, even the best actors look awful, but Jeffrey Donovan was so good in the room that he even comes off good on the tape, so you can definitely see why he got the part. You can also see why Gabrielle Anwar got the part: as on the show, she clearly didn’t wear a bra to her audition! Now, granted, she does give a pretty amazing audition as well (especially when she asks, "Shall we shoot them?"), but the bra thing couldn’t hurt, could it?

The gag reel is sure to please Bruce Campbell fans, as it contains plenty of his unused ad-libs.
A trio of montages rounds out the special features, and they’re actually not bad. The "Character Montage" doesn’t even sound worth watching, but it’s actually pretty fun, and well cut. "Girls Gone Burn Notice" is a montage of the show’s beautiful background bikini babes, cut to an annoying rap, but I won’t deny that it’s entertaining! (Hence the screencap.) The "Action Montage" is, well, what you’d expect. They’re all the sort of thing they usually show at wrap parties.

I would have appreciated some meatier making-of type featurettes, but we do get a lot of that from the commentary. (Such as how Miami’s Little Haiti effectively doubled for Nigeria in the show’s pilot.) Overall, the special features are pretty good for a TV show, and they’re just the icing on the cake of an excellent debut season of a really fun show. Burn Notice grows on you throughout the season, and then you’ll want to go back and re-watch the early episodes and love them even more now that you’ve gotten to know the characters. This is the sort of series you’ll end up watching over and over rather than just once, which makes this 4-disc set a must-buy for any spy fan.

Jun 16, 2008

Exclusive: Bond On Blu-Ray In The USA

Are you prepared to scrutinize every wrinkle on Roger Moore's face in A View To A Kill in shocking detail? Or, more tantalizingly, every droplet of water rolling down Ursula Andress' body as she emerges from the sea? Then you're in luck! While this news should come as no surprise, it's sure to bring joy to Bond fans and high-def snobs everywhere: MGM, via Fox Home Entertainment, will release all of the James Bond movies up through Die Another Day on Blu-ray Disc in two collections for Region 1 in time for the holidays (and nicely coinciding with the theatrical release of Quantum of Solace). Casino Royale, already available on Blu-ray from Sony, will not be included. More details will become available shortly.

I guess this means I'll finally have to break down and get myself a Blu-ray player come fall... (It seems like only yesterday the initial wave of Bond Special Editions forced me to first make the DVD plunge!)
Raymond Benson Plans West Coast Appearance

Former James Bond novelist and all-around 007 expert Raymond Benson (whose James Bond Bedside Companion is still the essential work on the subject, even two decades after its last edition) will make a rare West Coast appearance this August. Benson will sign his latest books, the rock'n'roll mystery A Hard Day's Death and the spy video game adaptation Metal Gear Solid (which is getting some nice displays at Borders right now), and present a slideshow lecture entitled "The James Bond Phenomenon" in celebration of Ian Fleming's Centenary. This all goes down at one of my favorite Los Angeles independent bookstores, The Mystery Bookstore on Broxton Avenue in Westwood, at 12:30pm on Saturday, August 9. Angelenos, mark your calenders!

Jun 15, 2008

New Stella Rimington Books

Publishers on both sides of the pond for Dame Stella Rimington have been busy lately. Former MI5 boss Rimington's second Liz Carlyle spy novel, Secret Asset, came out as a trade paperback from Vintage in the States last month with a classy cover that would appropriately fit in well on a shelf of Le Carré novels. This paves the way for the U.S. hardcover debut of her third and most recent Carlyle novel, Illegal Action, on July 1 from Knopf. Illegal Action, more even than her first two novels, seems ripped directly from the latest headlines, to use an apt cliché. Dealing with deadly poisons and a plot to assassinate a Russian expatriate and vocal Putin opponent living in London, the book was especially timely when its U.K. publication last year coincided with deteriorating relations between Russia and Britain following the late 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko.

Even though Americans remain a year behind on her books, Dame Stella hasn't been resting on her laurels. Her fourth Liz Carlyle novel, Dead Line, is due out in the U.K. in October with a cover that would have been more appropriate on an 80s paperback. (And I kind of like it for that reason!) There's no U.S. publication date for that yet, of course, but I do hope that Knopf manages to catch up eventually, since her novels are all so topical!

For those who have yet to discover what an amazing novelist this former spook's turned out to be, I recommend starting her her first book, At Risk.

Jun 13, 2008

Tradecraft For Friday, June 13, 2008

Audiences Soon Seeing Red

Hollywood Reporter reports that Summit Entertainment has scooped up the rights to Warren Ellis' 2003 comic book Red. Red follows a retired CIA killer whose new life is shattered when the Agency sends high-tech assassins to eliminate him. Brothers Erich and Jon Hoeber are penning the adaptation; according to the trade, their take "involves the idea of an older operative set in his ways having to contend with younger and more fit agents as well as modern techniques and technology." The Hoebers also adapted Greg Rucka's amazing comic Whiteout for the bigscreen; that movie comes out this fall. Ellis has written a number of espionage-themed comics, including Reload and Global Frequency.

Jack Bauer's Next Nemesis

Also in The Hollywood Reporter, Jon Voight has signed on to play the big baddie in the upcoming seventh season of 24. He'll make his debut in this fall's 24 TV movie, a prequel to the new season. Voight, who most recently appeared in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, hasn't done TV since the Sixties. He follows in rather illustrious footsteps, however, as a 24 villain; fellow movie star Dennis Hopper antagonized Jack Bauer in the show's first season.

The Reporter also reveals a Thanksgiving airdate for that TV movie: November 23, 2008.

Jun 11, 2008

Book Burning

According to an insert in next week's Burn Notice DVD from Fox, the series will follow 24, Alias, and countless other spy series (including classics like The Avengers and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) into the realm of bookstores this summer. The insert describes Tod Goldberg's The Fix as "the first in a new series of Burn Notice mysteries," and publisher Penguin provides a description:

Covert spy Michael Westen has found himself in forced seclusion in Miami—and a little paranoid. Watched by the FBI, cut off from intelligence contacts, and with his assets frozen, Weston is on ice with a warning: stay there or get “disappeared.” Driven to find out who burned him and why, he’s biding his time helping people with nowhere else to turn. People like socialite Cricket O’Connor whose own husband has vanished, along with her fortune...

The paperback is available to pre-order for $6.99 on Amazon, and due out on August 5.
New Comic Book Out Today: Night & Fog #1

Okay, so it's not really a spy comic. But it's a comic I co-wrote (my first), so I'm pretty excited, and I guess I'd be stupid not to use this forum to promote it a little bit! And, of course, I couldn't leave the spying out of it totally, so there is an espionage subplot that crops up in future issues... Mainly, though, it's a horror book. A big, exciting, military vs. monsters in a confined space, got-to-survive-till-dawn kind of thing. While I blog about spies, Hammer movies are another passion of mine, and I got to pay tribute to those with this six-issue series, albeit in a much more contemporary style and context. Basically, we try to put a modern sci-fi spin on a bunch of classic monsters: Dracula, Mr. Hyde, zombies, the Invisible Man. Throughout the series, our creature continually adapts to suit its circumstances, and each iteration owes something to one of those guys. But it all plays out in a sensibility closer to Aliens than The Curse of Frankenstein, if that makes any sense. It's a lot of fun. When I'm not Tanner here or Brisco on various forums, I sometimes go under the alias of Matthew Bradford, and I co-wrote Night & Fog with Alex Leung, while Roberto Castro supplied the awesome art for the first issue.

Published by Studio 407, Night & Fog #1 is available now in comic book stores across the country and at various online outlets as well. You can preview the book (direct link) on the Studio 407 website, or learn more about it in an interview Alex and I did with Fangoria.

Jun 10, 2008

Random Intelligence Dispatches For June 10, 2008

A couple of spyish tidbits from AICN today...

Transporter 3 Teaser

First, they point the way to a great Transporter 3 teaser trailer. In short, it looks awesome!

Prisoner Remake News

Second, they link to a rumor from Six of One claiming that the Prisoner TV remake is back on, due to start filming this August in Namibia and South Africa. They say that Jim Caviezel will play Number 6, and Ian McKellen will play Number 2. I assume that McKellen would be only one of several Number 2s, following the original show's formula, but perhaps not. This is, after all, billed as a "radical reinvention." While McKellen's involvement would definitely be cool, I can't get too excited about the idea of Jim Caviezel stepping into Patrick McGoohan's shoes. And, for now, I'll take the whole story with a big grain of salt, since last I'd heard, the TV remake was called off. None of this has any bearing on the Christopher Nolan bigscreen remake, which is a separate project altogether.

Jun 8, 2008

Devil May Care Hits #8 On NY Times Best Seller List

Say what you will about the book (and believe me, I will--in the next few days), but Ian Fleming Publications did a great job marketing it! The whole Centenary hype worked wonders, and Sebastian Faulks' James Bond pastiche Devil May Care debuted at a tie for Number 8 on the New York Times Best Seller List, a first for 007 since the middle John Gardner era. Meanwhile, it's breaking publishing records on Bond's own "pitiful little island" (to quote Blofeld), where according to The Guardian, it's "Penguin's fastest selling hardback fiction title ever." In other words, Fleming's heirs have successfully restarted the literary Bond franchise in much the same way Eon Productions successfully restarted the film one with Daniel Craig, which is great news! Now they need to make sure they don't let this wave die down, and commission someone else to start work on the next Bond novel right away. (Faulks has made it clear that this assignment was a one-off for him, although the project has certainly upped his name recognition.) My own top choice would be Charlie Higson, who's shown a certain talent for the character in his Young Bond series, or failing him, one of his ilk from British TV, like Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie or Mark Gatiss. Gatiss would knock a Bond book out of the park!

Jun 5, 2008

The Real Get Smart Hits Stores In August

Get Smart: The Complete Collection (we're talking about the real Mel Brooks/Buck Henry Sixties classic here starring Don Adams, not any of the various pretenders) has been available for a year and a half as an exclusive from TimeLife, but the plan all along was that TimeLife's window of exclusivity would last just a year. After that, HBO Home Video would have the right to distribute the classic series in stores. And now, finally, they've decided to exercise that right. According to TVShowsOnDVD, the first season, containing all thirty episodes including the fantastic pilot, "Mr. Big" (the only black and white episode) will hit stores on August 5, 2008. No retail price or list of extras has been released, but TVShowsOnDVD cautions that HBO's press release lists the set as being four discs, whereas TimeLife's Season 1 was five discs, so it looks like the bonus disc (chock-full of extras) will be omitted. For more details on this and other disturbing discrepancies, head on over there. No matter what the release includes, however, it's good news for spy fans who don't have deep pockets that there will be an alternative to TimeLife's expensive set!

Jun 4, 2008

New Spy DVDs Out This Week

Sorry I'm a day late with this one. Tuesday, June 3, was supposed to be a really big (and pricey) day for spy DVD releases, but the previously reported special editions of the '67 and '06 versions of Casino Royale that were set to street this week have both been put off until the fall, as I had predicted would happen. What are we left with? Well, we still get the complete series (all seven episodes!) of Fox's 1995 revival of Get Smart. The box art tries its best to deceive potential buyers into thinking they're getting the original Don Adams series, but beware: despite the DVD cover, Adams and Barbara Feldon are supporting players to star Andy Dick (playing their son) in this version of the show. I haven't seen any episodes, but Get Smart '95 doesn't have a good reputation. Still, it does have Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, so surely that puts it a step ahead of the new theatrical feature? And certainly makes it essential for Smart completists... especially at just $10.99 on Amazon.

Jun 3, 2008

Tradecraft For June 3, 2008

More Ludlum Multiplex-Bound

In my opinion, you can never have too many movies based on Robert Ludlum books! For years, fans had to make do with nothing but an occasional TV miniseries, but finally, after the success of the Jason Bourne franchise (which, ironically, eschews most of the books' plots), Hollywood has recognized the potential goldmine in Robert Ludlum's back catalog.

Following hot on the heels of MGM's $3 million acquisition of Ludlum's 1979 thriller The Matarese Circle to star Denzel Washington, Variety reports that Universal has fast-tracked an adaptation of The Sigma Protocol. Both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter describe The Sigma Protocol as the last novel Ludlum penned before his death, but with so many posthumous publications and ghost writers, I don't know how they can really be sure.

The Reporter describes Sigma as centering on "an American economist who becomes the target of professional assassins. When a U.S. intelligence agent investigating his case finds herself discredited, the two end up on the run and uncover a multinational conspiracy manipulating the global economy and world events." After several discarded attempts by other writers, Iron Man co-writers Art Marcum and Matt Holloway have signed on to write the adaptation. They will start from scratch after reportedly pitching a fresh take on the material. Strike Entertainment's Marc Abraham and Eric Newman will produce the film with Paul L. Sandberg. According to Variety, Universal picked up the rights in 2002, prior to The Bourne Identity, and has been working on it ever since.

In other Ludlum news, the trade also asserts that Universal is "laying the groundwork for a fourth 'Bourne' pic, with Paul Greengrass directing and Matt Damon starring."

"The success of the Bourne franchise," they state, "has turned the late author into a revenue machine. Ludlum's The Chancellor Manuscript was sold to Paramount in 2005 for $4 million ... as a star vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio."

Transporter 3 This Thanksgiving

According to Variety, Lionsgate has nabbed the rights to the next installment in the Jason Statham Transporter series. Fox released the first two films. To me, the wildly entertaining Transporter movies (along with lesser fare like Hitman) are the modern day equivalent of the Sixties Eurospy phenomenon, and the third entry sounds like nothing less. Says the trade, "Principal photography in France and Russia wrapped in early May, and the movie is in post-production. Helmed by Olivier Megaton (The Red Siren), pic was scripted by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen." Exotic Euro locations, Euro crew, commanding international star... As long as they've got another sexy babe on board, they'll have hit all the key items on the Eurospy checklist! Lionsgate plans a Thanksgiving release, and I can't wait!

Jun 2, 2008

DVD Review: State of Play

The fact that David Yates’ and Paul Abbot’s 2003 miniseries State of Play is as gripping and fast-paced a thriller as one could hope for will probably come as no surprise whatsoever to British readers, but it will to the majority of Americans. Five years after the fact, after all the major players have gone on to very successful transatlantic careers, and after every writer in Hollywood has taken a crack at the notoriously problematic American movie remake, BBC finally let the series slip out onto Region 1 DVD a few months ago with none of the fanfare it deserves. I hope it does somehow find its way into American DVD players, because this is television at its finest–and I can’t possibly imagine a watered-down, feature-length remake with Ben Affleck and Russell Crowe will do it justice. (Although Kingdom scribe Matthew Michael Carnahan’s original draft created a lot of great buzz in this town.)

State of Play follows a team of London newspaper reporters as their investigation of two seemingly unrelated deaths and a politician’s infidelity lead them to uncover industrial espionage at the highest levels and a vast conspiracy involving government and big business. That’s about all I’d really like to reveal about the plot, because it’s pure joy to watch it unfold, and I wouldn’t dare spoil that. All of the characters are compelling, even those with the smallest parts, and the acting is uniformly superb. Bill Nighy steals the show as the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, and it’s a very difficult show to steal because everyone is excellent. Kelly Macdonald (who really should have gotten an Oscar nomination for her performance in No Country For Old Men) and the now-ubiquitous James McAvoy do great work as reporters following the trail, and John Simm ably carries the weight of the series on his shoulder as their team leader, Cal McCaffrey. David Morissey gives a laudably nuanced performance as the miniseries’ most complex character, politician Stephen Collins. His marital transgressions are revealed early on, but he manages to create a layered and even sympathetic character out of that most loathsome of cliches, the philandering politician. Rome’s Polly Walker is equally excellent as his betrayed, conflicted wife, who develops an overly close relationship with her husband’s friend, reporter McCaffrey. (Who is, of course, on the story, and therefore setting himself up for an extreme conflict of interest!)

State of Play gives a rare insight into the tactics used by members of a dying profession: print journalists. The reporter teams in State of Play actually use some of the same tactics as the spooks on that other gem of current British television, MI-5, following a potential person of interest in teams (leading to some similar setpieces to MI-5), adopting false identities on the fly, and even "turning" policemen, doctors and coroners to act as their sources, just like MI-5's agents. I never connected the similarities between spies and investigative journalists before seeing this show! Most likely, that’s because I’d never seen a movie or miniseries about journalists before that constantly maintains the pace and suspense of a good spy movie. (I suppose All the President’s Men comes close.)

State of Play is a near-perfect blend of intense character drama, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and crackling performances by top-notch actors told at a breathtaking clip. While the espionage may be minimal (although crucial to the plot), there is as much to recommend for spy fans in State of Play as there is in MI-5, or any other top-shelf contemporary spy drama. It’s no wonder that director David Yates and all the primary cast members have gone onto such success; they all earn it in State of Play.

The only extras on BBC’s DVD are commentaries on the first and last episode from Yates, Abbot and producer Hilary Bevan Jones. There are a few good tidbits and a vaguely uncomfortable amount of extras-bashing, but overall the participants come off a little on the self-indulgent side. Like their success, though, the remarkable quality of State of Play has earned them the right to a little self-indulgence!
Get Smart Again

I've seen Get Smart and I know it's bad, but Warners' marketing team have done such a good job with their ad campaign that I can't help get excited for it anyway. The trailers have all been great, and I really like the posters and billboards as well. Maybe I'm reading too much into them, but to me the posters with the four leads crammed together, each somehow obscuring each others' faces, is a clever parody of commonplace modern movie posters, where disembodied heads are haphazardly crammed together in a bad Photoshop montage, and might as well be blocking each other for all the thought that seems to have gone into the placement. If only the movie commented so cleverly on... anything!

Well, perhaps the direct-to-DVD spinoff, arriving at the same time as the feature, will fare better. The trailer's up now for Get Smart's Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control, which follows two CONTROL techies with small roles in the theatrical film in events that transpire simultaneously to Maxwell Smart's adventure. (Unfortunately, based on the DVD's awful cover, they don't seem to have the same graphic design team working on the spinoff!)