Dec 31, 2008
Dec 30, 2008
Jean Dujardin returns as the titular French agent, OSS 117, and Michel Hazanavicius is back in the director's chair. Louise Monot (who turns 27 today) is the new "OSS Girl." The title is OSS 117: Rio Ne Repond Plus (roughly "OSS 117: Rio Doesn't Answer" or "Rio No Longer Answers," a fantastic Eurospy title that also conjures the opening moments of Dr. No!). And this time, it's set in the Sixties! (The first film took place in the late Fifties.) 1967, to be exact. As the tagline says, the world has changed... but not OSS 117! Browse through stills from the forthcoming film (in the section "OSS 117 Vous Ecrit de Rio") and you'll get a taste of what we can expect: Dujardin stakes his staid chauvinism up against a liberated, Swinging Sixties chick, Dujardin looks perplexed and out of his element amongst hippies, and Dujardin gives Daniel Craig a run for his money in the swim trunks sweepstakes... in Christmas-colored briefs! The stills alone convey loving homages not only to the original (serious) OSS 117 films, but also (obviously) the James Bond films of the era, The Avengers and The Pink Panther. The Rio location is an ideal Eurospy travel destination, recalling classics of the genre like Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die, Dick Smart 2.007 and That Man From Rio. You can even watch the trailer! (In the "Videos" section, naturally.) It's in French, I'm afraid, but it's easy to get the gist of what's happening... and it looks really good.
OSS 117: Rio ne repond plus hits French cinemas April 15. Unsurprisingly, there's no word yet on release dates in other countries. (Consider that it took the first film two years to hit American screens.) Rest assured, though, that I'll keep you updated as any such news becomes available. This is now my most anticipated film of the coming year, hands down.
Dec 29, 2008
Dec 21, 2008
And speaking of Christmas shopping, while I was out doing mine today I stumbled upon an exciting new title that I must have missed when it debuted amongst the Bond-propelled spy glut at the beginning of November: The Persuaders!: 3 Film Collection. This set (which somehow slipped out from LionsGate) collects all three Persuaders! theatrical releases from the early Seventies: Mission: Monte Carlo, Sporting Chance and The London Conspiracy. Bear in mind that each of these so-called "films" is actually two episodes of the TV series edited together for the European theatrical market. Still, this disc will be of extreme interest to American Persuaders! fans because the theatrical versions have never been released in the United States on DVD before. (I believe some of them were included with various foreign DVD sets of the series.) They're notable for featuring different title sequences, though I don't know if there's any actual new footage in the films. (I doubt it.) It's also a good, cheap way for new viewers to sample this incredible Roger Moore/Tony Curtis series (really, one of my favorites ever) without shelling out for the entire sets. Beware, though, because some Amazon user reviews report defective discs. Hopefully this problem has been resolved by now. I think the cover is kind of cool, even though it's a blatant Photoshop creation featuring a cool-looking car that's not even appropriate to the Persuaders! era... but I still can't help wish they'd used some of the incredible poster art that was created for these films! I've spent a long time accumulating them from every country of release, and they're stunning images. Oh well.
Dec 19, 2008
Championing Tom Cruise
Well, I suppose it was bound to happen. Since Guillermo Del Toro's bigscreen remake of the Sixties ITC cult classic The Champions is set up at Tom Cruise's studio, United Artists, it was probably only a matter of time before the star attached himself to the project. And that's probably a good thing, as it will give the project a much better chance of actually getting made. And Cruise does look a little bit like Stuart Damon, if you squint... (Though Damon's Adventurer co-star Gene Barry would probably point out that Damon is a good deal taller than Cruise!) But I'm not sure he's right for the part. And he's already got his own spy franchise! But I'm willing to give the star the benefit of the doubt, and I'd rather see a Tom Cruise Champions than no Champions at all. The other big news in Variety's story is that Cruise's go-to writer, Valkyrie scribe Christopher McQuarrie is doing a rewrite on Del Toro's script. Here's what the trade says:
The same article reports that McQuarrie is also polishing up the other spy movie Cruise is currently eyeing to potentially star in, The Tourist:
McQuarrie also is writing and producing with Guillermo del Toro the previously announced United Artists project The Champions, penning the script with an eye toward hammering it into a Cruise vehicle. The British TV series transfer concerns a team of government agents rescued from a plane crash in the Himalayas by an advanced civilization and given superhuman abilities.
MGM brass has long felt that the project was UA's strongest chance for a big-ticket franchise vehicle that could star UA co-owner Cruise.
The Cruise-McQuarrie collaboration with the most urgency is Spyglass espionage drama The Tourist. McQuarrie is rewriting for Cruise to star with Charlize Theron in the Bharat Nalluri-directed remake of the 2005 French thriller "Anthony Zimmer." Julian Fellowes originally scripted the redo.Cruise just can't stop spying! (Not that I blame him.)
Jack Ryan Version 4.0
Meanwhile, Paramount is at it again with their unceasing attempts to revitalize their long-dormant spy franchise based on Tom Clancy's CIA analyst character, Jack Ryan. Most recently Sam Raimi was tipped to shepherd the newest incarnation of Ryan (played in the past by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck), and before him Fernando Meirelles. Everyone from Ford to Ryan Gosling has been rumored to star. Now The Hollywood Reporter reports that the studio has hired The Wings of the Dove and Four Feathers screenwriter Hossein Amini to tackle a new Jack Ryan movie. After so many false starts at reviving this franchise, forgive me if I remain skeptical until this sucker actually starts rolling! While producer Mace Neufeld remains involved, there's no word yet on a director, but Raimi is definitely out of the picture because "his packed schedule made his involvement unworkable."
Dec 18, 2008
Rewatching the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading on DVD, I think I enjoyed it even more than I did when I saw it in the theater and reviewed the film this past fall. Like many of the Coens’ comedies, it’s one of those movies that gets better with repeated viewings. Little throwaway phrases suddenly become hilarious because of their absurdity, or because of their delivery. The brothers wrote these parts specifically for the actors who play them, and that collaboration clearly shows. Often times, their lines are ones that would be hilarious only in those specific hands. For example, a cocktail party conversation about goat cheese and acid reflux has could be very boring... but in the hands of John Malkovich and George Clooney, it becomes absolutely hilarious, purely thanks to their specific line deliveries. They’re not delivering jokes; they’re just having an average, boring cocktail party conversation. But the combination of the Coens’ dialogue and those particular actors’ deliveries somehow form the perfect comedic nexus. Every performance is perfectly nuanced, and every character ideally conceived.
Cosutme designer Mary Zophres has some interesting comments as well, many pertaining to that knucklehead. "How do you make Brad Pitt look like a dork?" she asks, highlighting one of the main challenges of her job. And for people who believe that costume designers don’t have much to do on modern-day pictures, she also provides some pointed insight on the importance of her craft, tracing the arc of Malkovich’s character via his clothes. "It’s the complete demise of a character through his wardrobe," she says, referring to his journey from prim and proper three-piece suits with bowties when he works at the CIA to drunkenly, angrily storming around in his bathrobe and underwear by the end of the movie. "He just lets himself go."
It’s not just the clothes, of course, that make the man in a Coen Brothers movie; the hair always plays a key role as well. "We frequently give actors haircuts that they have to somehow disguise during their off-camera moments for the duration of the show," Joel proudly reveals, referring to Pitt’s hideous frosted pompadour. Finally, Frances McDormand answers the question that everybody wonders about seeing this movie: what did she think when her husband, Joel Coen, first showed her the script and she saw that the part he’d written for her begins: "Close up on a woman’s ass. Bare. White. Middle-aged." You’ll have to check out the feature for that reaction, though...
Malkovich disagrees slightly, explaining that "the character I play is not a spy; he’s an analyst. So I wouldn’t really say it’s a spy movie. It’s just more about the real world colliding with some tiny part of that world." The collision, of course, is where the real humor comes from. (Well, that and Pitt’s wonderfully exaggerated idiocy!) And that’s what the Coen Brothers thrive on. It’s great to have an intelligent spy comedy from these filmmakers, and even better that it turned out to be so good. I’d rank Burn After Reading among the brothers’ top three films... and among my own favorites of 2008.
Dec 17, 2008
Some people might call such a list a "last minute holiday shopping guide" or something, but if you’re like me, then last minute isn’t until the stores close on Christmas Eve! Personally, I’m planning to get an early start on my Christmas shopping this weekend... So for those in the same boat who have spy fans on your list, here’s a roundup of the many things available this holiday season for espionage enthusiasts...
Several snazzy complete series box sets have been released just in time for the holidays. At the top of my own list is HBO Home Video’s Get Smart - The Complete Series. True, it’s been available for a few years now–but only as an online exclusive from TimeLife, which may have made it a tad prohibitive as a gift in Christmas Past. This year, it’s available for the first time from retailers and etailers at deeply discounted prices. The twenty-five disc set includes not only every season of the classic Sixties spy comedy starring Don Adams, but also loads of bonus material like interviews, commentaries, documentaries, commercials featuring cast members and even pertinent excerpts from awards shows.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. - The Complete Series is another, equally feature-laden former TimeLife exclusive that recently got retail release–and the price drops that go with that. This is a truly fabulous collection of all four seasons of action-packed spy adventure, from the gritty, black and white premiere season to through the technicolor high camp of Season 3 to the somewhat more grounded swan song. The only reason this one isn't at the top of my personal wish list is because I already got it for Christmas last year; I couldn't possibly wait for America's answer to James Bond to end its window of exclusivity! Speaking of Bond, the extensive documentaries cover Ian Fleming's involvement in the conception of the series, including the entirety of his original memo to ABC.
Paramount has collected all four previously available seasons of the classic spy western starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin as The Wild Wild West - The Complete Series. Sweetening the deal, they’ve also included the two Wild Wild West TV reunion movies (from 1979 and 1980) on a bonus disc available exclusively in this set. The packaging’s kind of weird on the inside (collecting all the discs in their own little cardboard file folders in some flimsy cardboard "saddlebags"), but the attractive box would wrap up nicely and makes for some satisfying opening come Christmas morning.
A&E has created an interesting box set this holiday season that makes the perfect sampler for spy fans into British adventure series with their Spy Collection. This set features the first sets (of two each) of The Protectors, starring Robert Vaughn, and The Persuaders!, starring Roger Moore and Tony Curtis along with half of The Champions (the cult show about secret agents with superpowers that’s currently being remade for the big screen with a script by Guillermo Del Toro)–which is all that A&E has released of that show to date, unfortunately. In addition to all that, you also get a taste of the ultimate cult spy series, The Prisoner with the first two discs of the renowned Patrick McGoohan vehicle (amounting to three episodes). If the spy fan in your life doesn’t have The Persuaders! yet, then this set is worth its price for that alone–and everything else makes it a great bargain! The whole bundle is much cheaper than what the individual volumes of these series originally retailed for. It's currently available exclusively from A&E's store, but hits Amazon in February.
If you’re looking to spend a little bit less (and who isn’t this Christmas?), there are plenty of individual TV seasons available as well. Paramount’s Mission: Impossible: The 5th TV Season presents a top-notch collection of episodes, every bit equal to the earlier seasons. This one gets a bad rap, but that’s unfair. It’s classic spy TV, and an essential stocking stuffer for every spy fan. Previous seasons (including this year’s Mission Impossible: The 4th TV Season) are also available individually, as well as in bundles from Amazon. Spy seasons worth getting from earlier in the year include the first season of Get Smart on its own (and sans extras), all three seasons of I Spy (starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby) at ridiculously low prices, the sole season of Honey West (America’s delectable answer to The Avengers in the shapely form of Anne Francis), and the Canadian spy drama Intelligence.
Intelligence would make an especially nice gift for the die-hard spy fanatic who has all that other stuff, because this series probably slipped under the radar of even those die-hard fans. Playing like a cross between MI-5 and The Sopranos, Intelligence follows agents of Canada’s domestic service (and the criminals they’re spying on) as they attempt to form the nation’s first foreign spy agency. It’s compelling television, and I certainly hope further seasons are forthcoming in 2009.
24: Redemption, the TV movie based on the hit Fox series not only makes a great stocking stuffer, but also the perfect segue from TV DVDs into movies...
The absolute must-have disc of the holiday season for any spy fanatic is Sony’s luxurious new three-disc Collector’s Edition of Daniel Craig’s James Bond debut, Casino Royale (2006). This is a thoroughly classy production, inside and out. The packaging is downright beautiful, with a satisfying heft to it that will keep Bond aficionados guessing as they shake their presents the night before Christmas. And what we have inside is quite simply the best James Bond DVD ever produced. The first disc boasts not one but two amazing commentary tracks that manage to remain informative and entertaining all the way through while the second ports all of the special features from the original two-disc release of the title. The third, though, is the main course. Here you’ll find a series of amazing, in-depth documentaries on every aspect of production that go off on fascinating tangents covering the entire history of James Bond 007. Producer John Cork boasted that even the most well-versed Bond fans would learn at least one thing they didn’t know from each documentary–and he’s right. There’s a trove of knowledge here that will delight the 007 fanatic in your life. This is the must-have disc of the season. And it's also available on Blu-Ray!
It’s not the only Casino Royale Collector’s Edition, though. MGM has rather confusingly called their newest release of the 1967 spoof version a "Collector’s Edition" as well–but you’re not likely to mix up the two movies. The new MGM disc also comes in a nice package, utilizing the film’s original poster art and including reproductions of the famous door posters on the inside. I’ve always contended that the behind the scenes story of making this movie was far more compelling than the movie itself, and that story is well told in a five part documentary produced by Bond luminary Steven Jay Rubin. Rubin and Cork also provide an informative commentary track.
The seemingly ubiquitous Cork also produced the special features on another one of the season’s classiest releases, MGM’s new Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection. Included are the spy titles Sabotage and Notorious (the latter long out of print as a Criterion Edition) as well as Spellbound, Lifeboat, Rebecca, The Paradine Case, The Lodger (looking better than it ever has before) and the little-seen gem Young and Innocent. Not only is this a wonderful assortment of movies, but the special features are every bit as gripping and educational as we’ve come to expect from Cork’s Cloverland Productions. Best of all, Amazon is offering this set at half price right now!
Another appealing MGM collection out in time for the holidays is The Pink Panther Ultimate Collection, which collects (almost) all the movies (even the one where Roger Moore played Clouseau!) as well as seemingly every Pink Panther and Inspector cartoon ever produced, along with a hardcover book on the series.
If you’re not after box sets, try the individual James Bond Blu-Ray discs (for the most technologically up-to-date spy fans on your list) or a pair of recent theatrical hits out on DVD just in time for Christmas: Traitor and Burn After Reading. Anchor Bay’s Traitor, starring Don Cheadle, is a slight but enjoyable post-Bourne "War On Terror" spy flick that makes excellent use of its globe-hopping exotic locations. The Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading, from Focus Features, is easily one of my favorite movies of the year and another must-have for fans of the genre. The brothers delightfully send up the entire CIA genre in a comedy about intelligence... and lack thereof. The DVD is a little short on features, but the ones included are surprisingly good for their brevity.
There's also a revered cornerstone of the genre that's just been given the Criterion treatment: Martin Ritt's 1965 film of John Le Carré's The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. This amazing disc not only features a stunning new transfer that blows the old Paramount release out of the water, but also some of the best supplemental material you could hope for. The second disc contains a lengthy, brand new interview with Le Carré as well as an insightful hour-long documentary on the man. Between the two of those things, it's the best portrait we've got on film of one of the towering figures of the genre. There are also ample features focusing on the filmmakers.
The book that better be under every Bond fan’s Christmas tree this year is Roger Moore’s new memoir, My Word Is My Bond. The star of The Saint, The Persuaders! and the most James Bond films of anyone is also a great raconteur–as anyone who’s ever heard one of his DVD commentaries already knows. You can open up to any page of this book and find a great behind-the-scenes story that will have you laughing out loud thanks to Moore’s self-deprecating sense of humor. Even if Sir Roger isn’t your favorite 007, his book is sure to entertain.
‘Tis the season for actor memoirs, apparently, and other secret agent stars with autobiographies out this winter include Robert Vaughn (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Robert Wagner (It Takes A Thief) and Tony Curtis (The Persuaders!). For some reason, all of these books have remarkably similar covers (especially Moore’s and Wagner’s), so you might not want to give too many of them to the same person...
DK released two very nice gift books in conjunction with Daniel Craig’s current theatrical Bond outing: the behind-the-scenes photo book Bond On Set: Filming Quantum of Solace, and the all-ages-oriented James Bond: The Secret World of 007 in a brand new updated edition. The latter would make a great gift for the younger Bond fans in your life; the former is essential supplemental material for fans of Craig’s 007.
Digging back to earlier in the year, Robert Sellers’ The Battle For Bond is the best book about the Bond movies to come along in quite some time. Every year a new movie hits cinemas, there’s a slew of books riding its coattails–and many of them are very good–but rarely do they offer truly new insight for the seasoned Bond fan who’s read them all, including the staples like The James Bond Bedside Companion and The James Bond Legacy. The Battle For Bond is the rare tome that actually offers all sorts of new information, mainly thanks to its steady focus. Sellers’ book tells the whole thorny story of the Thunderball lawsuit. Of course, that case ends up encompassing a good chunk of Bond’s cinematic history, from Fleming’s first attempts to get a movie off the ground with Alfred Hitchcock directing up through Sean Connery’s Bondian comeback, Never Say Never Again. Absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in the Bond films, the entertainment industry or copyright law. And it's now available in a new, more affordable (if slightly censored) version.
There’s new spy fiction out from John Le Carré (A Most Wanted Man), Stella Rimington (Deadline) and Mark Gatiss (Black Butterfly, a hilarious Bond send-up with a dead-on Richard Chopping style dust jacket). There’s also that much ballyhooed Centenary James Bond novel by Sebastian Faulks, but it turned out to be pretty lousy, unfortunately. So instead of saddling the Bond fan in your life with a subpar read, how about stuffing their stocking with a far more interesting, more unique take on Ian Fleming’s world with Samantha Weinberg’s The Moneypenny Diaries? While the whole trilogy is out in England (Final Fling hit paperback this fall), we’re only at Volume 1 here in America–and that’s the perfect place to start. These Bond novels from the point of view of M’s famous secretary really transcend what admittedly sounds like a gimmicky premise, and deliver first rate spy reads. Alternatively, the other series of Bond spinoff novels, Charlie Higson’s Young Bond books, also deliver the goods much better than Mr. Faulks’ pastiche. By Royal Command closed out the initial cycle in style in England this year; America is again behind, with the third volume, Double or Die, still being the most recent.
Finally, for the avid spy reader who’s already burned through every Bond book, ever Ludlum and Le Carré–and everything else in between–get them started on Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country. This series may have eluded even the most voracious spy fiction readers merely because it happens to be primarily comprised of graphic novels. As I’ve said before, Rucka’s tales of SIS operative Tara Chace and her Director of Operations, Paul Crocker, are still the best spy story going in any medium, so they’re sure to please even readers who normally turn up their noses at books with pictures. (They’re also a good way to enlighten such people!) Oni Press have handily collected the entire series into three volumes (with a fourth due in 2009) of Definitive Editions. Each one contains several of the original graphic novels together, making them the ideal way to hook new readers. If you know someone who lives and breathes spy novels but hasn’t yet opened their mind to comics, the Queen & Country Definitive Edition Volume 1 is the ideal stocking stuffer.
There's plenty of new spy music available this holiday season as well. Foremost amongst it has to be Network's fantastic box sets of score music from classic Sixties spy shows. Most recent are two boxes worth of Edwin Astley music from Danger Man (aka Secret Agent) one comprising the soundtracks to the half-hour episodes, the other the hour-long ones. Also available are sets for The Prisoner, Man In a Suitcase and Department S.
If you're just looking for stocking stuffers, try Varese Sarabande's recent single-disc release of Dave Grusin music from The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Or pick up David Arnold's stellar score for Quantum of Solace, one of the movie's most successful elements. If you prefer Jack White's theme song, "Another Way To Die" (performed with Alicia Keys), you can also get that as a single with a cool instrumental-only version as a B-side.
Happy shopping–and Happy Holidays as well!
What if Roger Moore had turned down The Saint, but gone on to star in The Baron instead? That's essentially the scenario happening with the might-have-been Saint, James Purefoy. Through no fault of the actor's, that project imploded (although Roger Moore says it's still going ahead in a different incarnation), but now he's starring in what sounds like a Saint imitator instead from one of the producers of his intended Saint series. (The Baron, you'll recall, was a Saint imitator from one of the producers of the Roger Moore series.) The new non-Saint is called The Philanthropist (even a resonant title!) and centers around what The Hollywood Reporter calls "a renegade billionaire (Purefoy) who uses his wealth, connections and power to help people in need." This renegade billionaire travels the globe to do his helping. So... he's basically Simon Templar, but instead of acquiring his wealth by stealing it, he just has it. So a slightly less cool version of The Saint instead of the real thing. (Maybe I'm being too hopeful. I suppose that description could also lend itself to something more akin to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition... but here's hoping not!)
The would-have-been Saint producer in question is Homicide: Life On the Street's Tom Fontana, who initially developed The Philanthropist for NBC with Barry Levinson (who was also involved in The Saint), then left to work on The Saint, and has now come back to The Philanthropist. (Levinson will not return.) Variety enlightens us: "According to reports at the time [he left], Fontana wanted to make a grittier, more authentic show, while NBC execs were looking for more escapism and wish fulfillment." Battlestar Gallictica producer David Eick stepped in to develop NBC's version (which, frankly, sounds like more fun to me), but now he's out with Fontana back in. Only the pilot has been shot so far, and Fontana and his team will rework the rest of the scripts. Meanwhile, the network has reduced their original order from thirteen episodes to eight. Unlike the original Saint, The Philanthropist is actually shooting around the world, in London, South Africa and the Chzech Republic. So, points for that!
Neve Campbell recently joined the cast as the wife of Purefoy's character's friend, who has "strong chemistry" with the titular billionaire as well.
The Hollywood Reporter adds that "during the filming of the pilot, Purefoy pulled a hamstring and is being evaluated by a doctor. His injury could lead to a delay in production."
Dec 12, 2008
Dec 11, 2008
The Baron Comes to America!
I’m so happy that other distributors have finally picked up the slack that A&E left dangling when they stopped distributing Sixties ITC classics in America. Last year we got Jason King from Image, and early next year (March 10, as reported by TVShowsOnDVD) Koch Media will release The Baron: The Complete Series in Region 1. Now if only someone would step up to distribute Man In A Suitcase and Department S (and if A&E would give use the long overdue second volumes of The Champions and Randall & Hopkirk, Deceased), we Americans would have a pretty thorough library of classic ITC adventure series! The Baron stars American Steve Forrest (who would go on to star in S.W.A.T. in the Seventies) as John Creasey’s titular antiques dealer-cum-spy (here reimagined as a cattle baron instead of a member of the peerage to accommodate Forrest’s accent) in this entertaining Saint imitator from one of the producers of the Roger Moore hit. The series was pretty uneven in terms of quality, but the good episodes make it well worth seeing for fans of The Saint. It even spawned a feature film in Europe, made by editing together two of the series' best episodes. The Ipcress File’s Sue Lloyd co-starred in The Baron. There’s no word yet on extras, but I’d expect this to follow the typical American pattern and be bare bones. Network’s UK version and Umbrella’s Australian release both contain the same fantastic assortments of extras usually associated with those companies. TVShowsOnDVD reports that the price is expected to be in the $55-$75 range, but Amazon has the series (rather creatively listed) available to pre-order for just $41.99.
Get Smart Cheap
For spy fans on a budget (or comedy fans who love Don Adams–but only in smallish doses), HBO Home Video continues their release of single seasons of the beloved series that same day, March 10, with Get Smart: The Complete Second Season, reports TVShowsOnDVD. Like their standalone release of the first season, this set will not include the feature-laden bonus disc that come in The Complete Series Gift Set. It should, however, contain the episode introductions from Barbara Feldon, so you do get a lot of value for your dollar at the bargain price of $24.99. (Cheaper, of course, on Amazon.)
Dec 10, 2008
Craig turns in a characteristically outstanding performance in Defiance, and, thanks to Casino Royale, may be the first actor ever to be taken more seriously by critics, be more likely to get an Oscar nomination for a dramatic role like this due to his performance as James Bond. Critics and audiences alike were smitten by his reinterpretation of 007, he doesn’t face the same unfair typecasting prejudices that handicapped his predecessors when it came to Awards season.
Unfortunately, despite stellar performances all around–especially from Craig, former Mr. Clark Liev Schrieber and (perhaps most of all) Jamie Bell as the three fighting Bielski brothers–Defiance is a wildly uneven movie. And that’s disappointing, because the true story it tells is an amazing one that stays with the viewer long after the lights have come up. It contains some of the most powerful scenes put to film this year (actually bringing me to tears–a rarity in itself–twice), but unfortunately they alternate with cringe-inducing scenes riddled with cliché–or lifted wholesale from other movies (Children of Men, The Godfather). There’s nothing wrong with homage (I love Tarantino), but such moments seem inappropriate here, and distract from the story. It happens too often to count, but I remain perpetually amazed at the audacity of filmmakers to intercut weddings with machine gun battles three and a half decades after Coppola did it.
Towards the end of the movie, I let myself relax and just ride with the clichés as I would in a Transporter movie, and I did indeed become more swept up in things. But I don’t expect to view prestige pictures like this–released in the heart of Oscar season–in the same way I view Transporter movies. Similarly, I wouldn’t expect Transporter 3 to move me or raise such thorny moral issues as Defiance does. The movie’s most successful moments question how much inhumane treatment people can take before resorting to inhuman behavior themselves. Early on, Craig’s character murders three men in cold blood in front of their family out of revenge for the atrocities they’ve carried out against his own family and his people. (Between this and Quantum of Solace, Craig must have spent the bulk of 2008 weighing the merits and morality of revenge–the same theme he and Eric Bana wrestled with in Munich.) In another extremely effective moment, the frail Jewish refugees–old and young, male and female–attempt to find collective catharsis by beating to death a terrified, unarmed Nazi they’ve taken prisoner. These scenes are so gut-wrenching that it’s too bad that others simply recycle all the old favorite war movie conventions in shockingly predictable ways.
Ultimately, the good moments are worth seeing the movie for–as is Daniel Craig’s tremendous performance. But too many bad moments prevent the film from being the success the performance deserves. Now I know how teachers and guidance counselors must feel about gifted students who squander their abilities. In some ways, a film that shows such great potential but fails to persevere is more disappointing than an out and out failure.
*Timothy Dalton, on the other hand, could probably play anything, but sadly no one ever gives him the chance. That’s counterintuitive to my argument, however, so I’ll relegate poor Tim to a footnote for the moment.
Dec 9, 2008
Last Day To Win Casino Royale '67
Remember to get your entries in by midnight (Pacific Time) tonight for a chance to win the new MGM Collector's Edition of the 1967 all-star spoof version of Casino Royale on DVD! The contest ends tonight, and the winner will be announced tomorrow. Good luck!
Dec 8, 2008
Dec 5, 2008
More information has become available on several of the exciting upcoming spy DVDs I've reported on recently. TVShowsOnDVD has some preliminary cover artwork (bland and generic--but still pretty cool because of what it is!) for Paramount's Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair. The website reports that the DVD will include a trailer and restored color. And Amazon already has a listing.
Code Red DVD's official blog has some more enticing information on the company's upcoming discs of The Internecine Project and Who?, both due this summer: "Both will be from HiDef masters. We are planning on some extras for these titles as well." Can't wait!
I also have some answers to some questions I raised in my report on Acorn Media's forthcoming Region 1 release of the classic Sixties Edward Woodward series Callan. The plan is to follow A&E's model on The Avengers, and start with the first color season (which was actually the third season of the show, which ran for four). Subsequent releases will depend on sales of that one, but assuming it does well, presumably Acorn will follow it up with Season 4, then release the black and white Season 1 and Season 2, as A&E filled in the blanks by putting out the earlier, black and white Avengers episodes after releasing all of the color Diana Rigg episodes. Still no word on how the pilot, "A Magnum For Schneider," the theatrical film or the TV reunion movie will fit into the release pattern, if at all. Look for Acorn's first Callan set sometime this spring.
Dec 3, 2008
Well, I know I promised this contest two weeks ago, and I'm sorry for the delay, but yesterday's Double O Section milestone seems like a good occasion for running it now anyway! Here's your chance to win the 1967 version of Casino Royale, in a brand new Collector's Edition. This all-star spoof version of Fleming's first novel may be pretty awful, but it's also awfully entertaining. You can tell it was directed by five directors, and some sequences work better than others, but boy does it look great! Lovers of Sixties pop culture (and Sixties women), especially, will find much to admire. But the story behind Charles K. Feldman's three-ring circus of a production has always fascinated me more than the movie itself, and the best part of this Collector's Edition is a new five-part documentary on exactly that, produced by The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia author Steven Jay Rubin. A surprising number of Casino Royale survivors (and that does seem the appropriate term) give interviews, and Rubin and all-around Bond expert John Cork fill in the rest on an informative audio commentary. For a chance to win, simply send an email with the subject heading "CASINO ROYALE" including your name and mailing address to the Double O Section by midnight, Pacific Time on Tuesday, December 9, 2008. Winners will be announced in one week's time, next Wednesday. Good luck!
One entry per person, please. Double entries will be disqualified. One winner will be drawn at random and announced on Wednesday, December 9, 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, although this DVD is NTSC Region 1, so make sure that you have a compatible player. Unfortunately, the Double O Section cannot assume responsibility for items lost or damaged in transit.
Dec 2, 2008
The Man Called Flintstone
A Flintstones movie? What the--? Would you believe, this is actually a pretty crucial release for people interested in Sixties Bond parodies! So pervasive was Bondmania (and spy fever in general) in 1966 that when it came time for Hanna-Barbera to adapt their popular prime-time toon about cavemen into a movie, the obvious choice was to make it a Bond take-off! The title, of course, is a take-off on another popular Bond-inspired spy movie, Our Man Flint. So was the original theatrical poster, which brilliantly mimicked Bob Peak's classic Flint pose. (Warner didn't use it for the DVD cover; click here to see a side-by-side comparison.) The plot finds caveman Fred Flintstone stepping in for his injured doppelganger, a Stone Age James Bond named Rock Slagg. He and his family (and neighbors the Rubbles) then embark on an adventure across, er, "Eurock," pursued at every turn by the incompetent agents of SMIRK. Today's Warner Brothers release marks the first time The Man Called Flintstone has been available on DVD in Region 1.
James Bond Mythbusters
The popular stunt/debunking cable series Mythbusters takes on myths perpetrated by James Bond movies in two episodes presented in Mythbusters: Big Blasts, the latest DVD release from Image--along with eight other episodes. In "The James Bond Special, Part 1," the MythBusters create a watch that can deflect a bullet like Bond's could in Live and Let Die, and attempt to recreate 007's spectacular speedboat jump from that movie as well. Then they find out if it's possible to blow up a propane tank by shooting it with a handgun as Bond did in Casino Royale. "In Part 2," according to Image's copy, "Jamie and Adam pack high explosives into an ordinary ballpoint pen, create a deadly bowler hat to see if it could really slice the head off a statue and build giant steel jaws to see if a metal-mouthed super villain could really chomp through steel cables." I saw Part 1, and it was a lot of fun. Read my review of it here.
Austin Powers Blu-Ray
If you really need Austin Powers in high-def, now you can have him. Today New Line unleashes The Austin Powers Collection: Shadelic Edition Loaded With Extra Mojo on Blu-Ray. I'm not quite sure what that extra Mojo is, but I'd imagine these discs at least contain all the special features of the original DVD releases, including loads of deleted scenes. Hopefully, they also retain that nifty text feature from the original edition of the first (and best) film where Mike Meyers recounts all the various Sixties spy films and series that influenced him.