Jun 30, 2009

From Paris With Love Trailer

Hm, apparently this has been available on the web since last December, but I'd somehow missed it. Slashfilm has a leaked version of a short promotional trailer for EuropaCorp's next neo-Eurospy film, From Paris With Love. (The one with that awesome teaser poster debuted last week.) Be warned of two things: one, this isn't high picture quality, and it's not even a real trailer, and two, it will probably make you less excited for the film rather than more. It did me, anyway. John Travolta, sporting another absolutely ridiculous hair (none at all) and facial hair (biker-style Van Dyke) arrangement, predictably chews up scenery with vigor as he is wont to do these days. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers also sports an odd piece of facial hair, but at least looks more restrained in his less flashy role. So it's probably best to focus on the poster instead, and on the fact that this is director Pierre Morell's highly-anticipated follow-up to the runaway hit Taken. From Paris With Love doesn't open in the United States until early 2010.
First Glimpses Of The New Jerry Cotton Movie

The man in the red Jaguar is back! So blare the teaser posters for the 2010 version of Jerry Cotton, Germany's most famous Eurospy reinvented for the age of... the reinvented OSS 117. Yes, it's another Sixties Eurospy hero reimagined in a new comedic take... and I, for one, can't wait! Now we get our first glimpses of the new film. See Christian Tramitz in action as Jerry Cotton! See Jerry undercover, in disguise! See Jerry's red Jaguar in action! There's all this and more in three behind-the-scenes videos posted on the film's official German website (and also on YouTube). That's the catch, of course; it's all in German, but you really don't need to understand the language to get a taste of the movie. In addition to all that stuff I just hyped, you'll also see some of the sets (including FBI headquarters) and a quick shot of the new "Cotton Girl," Monica Cruz, performing a very sexy nightclub act. (Which is totally in keeping with the established series.) The second video is the most English-friendly, as it's mostly behind-the-scenes shots edited together like a trailer to Peter Thomas's original Sixties Jerry Cotton Theme. Unlike the recent OSS 117 revival movies, the new Jerry Cotton appears to be contemporized rather than stuck in the past. His Jag, however, remains the vintage model.

Jun 28, 2009

Alfred Hitchcock On MacGuffins

Sometimes it’s good to define certain things that come up again and again in spy movies–and in reviews here. I sometimes take certain terms for granted, but I think we can all used the occasional refresher. A 1972 Dick Cavett interview with Alfred Hitchcock that aired on TCM yesterday provided just such an opportunity when the two men discussed one of the most crucial ingredients of any spy movie. On the show, Cavett asked Hitchcock to define "MacGuffin." Hitch replied succinctly, "A MacGuffin you see in most films about spies. It is a thing that the spies are after. In the days of Rudyard Kipling, it would be the plans of a fort on the Khyber Pass. It could be the plans of an airplane engine. And the plans of an atom bomb. Anything you like. It’s always called ‘the thing that the characters on the screen worry about but the audience don’t care.’"

Then the master gets a bit more oblique. "Someone asked, what is a MacGuffin? And there’s a, it’s described in a scene in an English train, going to Scotland. And one man says to the other opposite him, he says, ‘What’s that package above your head there?’ And the other man says, ‘oh, that? That’s a MacGuffin.’ And the other man says, ‘Well, what is a MacGuffin?’ He says, ‘Well, it’s an apparatus for tracking lions in the Scottish Highlands.’ The man says, ‘but there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands.’ He said, ‘then that’s no MacGuffin.’"

Even Dick Cavett is confounded by that elaboration. "Thank you for clearing that up for us," he says sarcastically.

Hitch twinkles, "Oh yes."

Cavett does his best to clarify, "And you adopted that word as the thing, the letters, the plans–"

But Hitch cuts him off, getting quickly back to the basics: "It’s the thing that the spies are always after."

Presumably the story about the men on the train is meant to illustrate that it just doesn’t matter what a MacGuffin is. Fans of the director have probably heard that story before as it pops up again and again on various DVD features and commentaries, and I think it was also recounted in Francois Truffaut’s epic, book-length interview with Hitchcock. Unfortunately, rather than trying to draw out new stories, Cavett basically tries to get Hitchcock to recount things he already said to Truffaut. But it’s always amusing to watch the man speak.

Hitchcock aroused the suspicions of the government for using plutonium in Notorious in 1944, when atom bombs were still top secret. Of course that particular MacGuffin would be used (quite effectively) again and again over the years, right up through today. I can’t even recall the MacGuffin in North By Northwest, which would probably please Hitchcock as ultimately the MacGuffin itself doesn’t matter, just what the characters would do to get their hands on it. Two of the most famous MacGuffins come from Humphrey Bogart movies that aren’t spy films: the letters of transit in Casablanca and, of course, "the great whatzit," the titular black bird of The Maltese Falcon. The glowing briefcases in Kiss Me Deadly and Pulp Fiction also come to mind, as does the NOC list in the first Mission: Impossible film and, of course, the objects of Indiana Jones’s various quests, like the Ark of the Covenant, the Sankara Stones and the Holy Grail.

Eurospy MacGuffins tend to be rays of some sort (usually of the deadly variety) or that old chestnut, microfilm. James Bond has encountered innumerable MacGuffins throughout the years. Some of the standouts include the Lektor decoder device, the ATAC device ("SQUAWK! ATAC to St. Cyril’s. SQUAWK!"), the missing Vulcan with its nuclear payload, the submarine tracking thingie in The Spy Who Loved Me and the GoldenEye satellite controller. Outside of hardcore Bond fans, who remembers what an ATAC does? (Even in the movie it’s pretty ambiguous.) It doesn’t matter to us. Just to the characters on screen. As Hitch says, it’s the thing that they’re all after–and the very engine that drives the story.

Jun 27, 2009

Upcoming Spy DVDs

Boy, there's a lot of good stuff coming our way in the next few months. And I'm behind on covering it, so I better catch up now!

DVD Active reports that Universal will release Duplicity on DVD and Blu-Ray on August 25. Unfortunately, the only extra seems to be a commentary with writer/director Tony Gilroy and editor/co-producer John Gilroy. I never got around to reviewing Duplicity when it was in the theaters, but I really enjoyed it and look forward to the DVD release. For one thing, it's pretty much the only big, mainstream studio spy movie for 2009! I know that's hard to believe because there's so much in the pipeline for 2010 and beyond, but I think that's the case. For another, it was a very well-executed spy caper. It was also one of the best counter-intelligence procedurals I've seen, with excellent examples of tradecraft. I also liked the milieu of big business as a backdrop for espionage. Corporate espionage is huge, but rarely the subject of films and TV shows. If you missed this in the theater, definitely plan on giving it a go on DVD.

TV Shows On DVD has also had lots of reports of interest lately! According to the site, the original BBC miniseries Edge of Darkness will finally see US DVD release on November 3 on BBC Video–and with copious extras! All six episodes feature music-only tracks, showcasing the score by Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton. There's a documentary (originally made for the 2003 Region 2 DVD release) revealing "The Secrets of Edge of Darkness" including new (then, anyway) cast and crew interviews as well as several vintage interviews. Those include the late Bob Peck's appearance on UK chat show Breakfast Time. Rounding out the special features are reviews of the original broadcast and excerpts from various awards shows at which Edge of Darkness cleaned up.

TV Shows On DVD have also got the artwork and details for another forthcoming British import, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, coming domestically this September from Acorn. (As originally revealed here last fall.) In addition to all thirteen episodes of the first series (spread across four discs), we'll also get profiles of some of the detectives featured. Guest stars on this 1971 anthology series include past and future Holmeses John Neville and Robert Stephens as well as You Only Live Twice's Donald Pleasence, The Sandbaggers' Ray Lonnen and a very young Jeremy Irons making his screen debut.

Finally, TV Shows On DVD reveals that Paramount will release Leverage: The First Season on July 14. And it's a feature-laden release! All thirteen episodes include audio commentary and deleted scenes, for starters. There are also a number of featurettes on the making of the series, the fights, the stunts, the cameras, etc, as well as some short comedic features. Leverage, airing on TNT, may be an obvious attempt to copy USA's superior Burn Notice, but it's still loads of fun in its own right. Basically, it's a modern-day take on Mission: Impossible in the same way that Burn Notice ups the old Saint formula. Timothy Hutton leads a team of various experts in different fields (hacking, fighting, burgling, acting, etc.) to commit elaborate cons against myriad bad guys week after week, just like Peter Graves did all those years ago. It's actually much closer to the M:I formula than the Tom Cruise movies that officially continue the brand!

Jun 26, 2009

DVD Review: The Killer Likes Candy (1968)

Code Red (I think it’s Code Red, at least; they’re logo is on the box, although the Media Blasters one comes up when you put in the disc) recently began issuing three-film DVD box sets of obscure movies under their Rare Flix banner. These sets retail at Best Buy and other stores for around $15.00, making them great bargains. And using this model, the company has managed to sneak out a couple of Eurospy titles, including a fantastic widescreen transfer of Lightning Bolt (in Volume 4) and a slightly-less-fantastic-but-equally-welcomed fullscreen version of The Killer Likes Candy in the second volume.

The Killer Likes Candy is somewhat of an odd bird in the Eurospy genre, but it’s still not to be missed. Two-time OSS 117 star Kerwin Matthews essays the part of CIA agent Mark Stone, for some reason christened with the nickname "Angel Face." (Fortunately, no one really calls him that after the first reel.) When we meet Stone, he’s posing as a fashion photographer, which affords the film an opportunity for some truly gratuitous groovy shots of bikini babes posing around a fountain as Stone directs them by throwing his arms up in the air in his best imitation of David Hemmings. These shots lead us to believe we’re in for the typical Eurospy parade of pulchritude, but other than one glaring example later on, the film is largely devoid of this and other cliches of the genre. There’s no globetrotting (although local Roman scenery is used to excellent effect), there are no gadgets, no kidnapped professors, no stolen microfilm, no boss’s offices with curtains for walls... none of that. But there is a comic relief Itialian sidekick, Costa (played by Venantino Venantini of The Beast In Space), who lightens things up considerably.



Stone’s mission is simple: he must protect the visiting king of oil-rich Kafiristan for the duration of his stay in Rome, because the king will grant the United States vital oil concessions. That simple task is made considerably more difficult, however, because there is a top assassin out to ensure that the king doesn't survive his trip! The ruthless killer (Bruno Cremer) does indeed like candy (and Stone even says as much*), but he doesn’t eat that much of it throughout the movie. Not as much as I was expecting, anyway, from that title. He’s not very hygienic about his candy consumption, either. Right off the bat he pets some filthy pigeons on the streets of Rome (why would anyone do that to begin with?) then–without washing his hands–shoves some sticky candy into his mouth with those very same hands. Eww!

Based on the review in The Eurospy Guide, I was expecting The Killer Likes Candy to be a rather solemn affair. But it’s not. Despite the lack of regular Eurospy accoutrements, it’s actually a lot of fun. There are some great chases, and even some good comic relief moments. The best chase occurs on foot amidst some ancient, giant statues on the outskirts of Rome. (The Orsini Garden.) While Rome has been filmed again and again in Eurospy movies, this is a location I’d definitely never seen before, and it’s a cool one! The giant, lichen-covered statues look right out of Middle-earth. Stone and his pursuers leap off of them, scamper up them, hide behind them, and shoot them–all things I’m relatively sure that tourists are no longer allowed to do! It’s a great setting for an exciting shootout.

Matthews makes a good hero, more business-oriented–and likable–than most Eurospy leading men. He doesn’t waste time needlessly ogling ladies, he doesn’t spout cheesy pickup lines, and he doesn’t treat anyone in a particularly awful manner. He does find time for a roll in the hay (or rather, on the beach), but it’s with a woman who can better be described as a genuine "love interest" than most Eurospy window dressing babes.

Luckily, all of the loathsome Eurospy traits are still to be found in the film; they’ve just been ascribed to the sidekick instead. In that one other moment of utterly gratuitous pulchritude, Stone and Costa open a forbidden door in the king’s hotel suite to discover his harem, all lounging around and dancing in various states of exotic undress. The Killer Likes Candy may not be chockablock full of beautiful girls, but I do like that it puts pretty much all the ones it does have in one place, and that you can just open up a door and find a room full of buxom beauties writhing about! Evidently Costa likes that too, and despite stern warnings not to he just has to take a picture! Costa takes any chance he can to chat up a beautiful nurse or masseuse, and when he can’t seal the deal, he works off his urges by exercising. This results in a few too many shots of a sweaty Venantini in his boxers, but overall it was a brilliant idea to make the sidekick the horndog jerk instead of the hero. Such traits–especially to such extremes–are funny, and it’s better to be laughing at the guy you’re supposed to be laughing at instead of the one you’re supposed to think is suave and cool!

Other cool fights include one in a meatpacking plant and one where Stone is trapped in a warehouse, surrounded by bad guys (led by Gordon Mitchell from Fenomenal), and escapes by releasing a pile of barrels at them and rolling away in one of the barrels as they search behind the others! The final chase and shootout occur in some creepy, skeleton-filled catacombs underneath a church that lead out into a quarry, which a good place for a finale. There's also a sort of cable car running over the quarry, upgrading it to an excellent place for a finale! (Yes, there's a fight atop the cable car.) Along the way there’s a very tense moment with the king on an operating table, at death’s door. The effective scene generates true suspense over the fate of the king, the identity of a traitor and a crucial decision by one of the characters. All in all, there are a lot of good scenes in The Killer Likes Candy. Those, combined with great scenery, nice cars, a cool score by Gianni Marchetti with bits of male vocals going "bum bum bum" and even a snippet of the Bond Theme (subtly re-orchestrated at a slower tempo, on strings), and a really odd Fidel Castro cameo (for the sake of a joke) make it an easy recommendation for fans of the genre, even if it does eschew some of the regular Eurospy motifs.

The Rare Flix DVD offers a particularly horrendous pan-and-scan job, full of sudden, jerky, aggressively noticeable pans. One assumes, though, that this panning and scanning was done long ago for a TV broadcast and not for the DVD, so one can hardly fault the company who do fans a real service by making this title available in any form. Besides the annoying pan-and-scan, though, it’s a decent enough transfer for a budget release. The other two titles that come in Rare Flix Vol. 2, Run Like Hell and Molly and the Ghost (both of a far more recent vintage) are unlikely to be of any interest at all to Eurospy fans. But that’s the beauty of the Rare Flix model. By bundling three disparate titles together, the company can afford to release a lot of obscure movies that probably wouldn’t merit any release on their own and even get them onto Best Buy shelves! By keeping the price point under $20, the set remains a bargain to fans of any film in there. Spy fans can get The Killer Likes Candy and rabid Robert Z'Dar fans can get Run Like Hell, and all anyone pays is the price of a single movie, but you get two more in the bargain. Everybody wins. Code Red (or Media Blasters) should be commended for this line, and I hope it does really well and they’re able to continue including other Eurospy titles in future packs.

*I note this because I like it when awkward titles are shoehorned into spy movies. I call such lines "Walkens," after Christopher Walken’s memorable recitation of one of the most gratuitous awkward title insertions in spy movie history, when Grace Jones says to his character, Max Zorin, "Wow! What a view!" and he looks out of his blimp and replies "To a kill!" Stone’s line, "our killer likes candy," is far less conspicuous, but it’s still fun because of how ridiculous the title is to begin with!

Jun 25, 2009

TV Review: The Philanthropist Is No Saint

I applaud NBC's attempt at an action-adventure series shot in actual locations around the world. It's not done often these days. Alias, for example, was famous for its "Burbank as Barcelona" globetrotting, similar to the establishing shot/Elstree backlot tricks of the original Saint. But I'll always have a soft spot for shows like I Spy, The Persuaders and Return of the Saint that actually go on location. The Philanthropist shoots on location. The pilot episode takes place in Nigeria. But locations alone, unfortunately, do not a great show make.

The pilot episode of The Philanthropist is hampered by an extremely cumbersome framing device through which the audience is hammered mass quantities of exposition. Billionaire Teddy Rist shares his story so far with an attractive bartender he's trying to pick up, and throws money at her to hear the rest of his story. The audience receives no money, but has to endure it as well. The narration is kind of painful, and the character arc a bit forced. Honestly, I prefer the characters of the Sixties ITC adventure series who didn't really need arcs. They just were. There's Simon Templar and he helps people. A mysterious past on the other side of the law is constantly alluded to, but never spelled out. It works wonderfully. The Philanthropist spells everything out laboriously and the result is, well, laborious. Furthermore, the flashback structure robs the action scenes of any weight. We see Teddy shot at while riding a motorcycle through the jungle, but we already know he gets out of it. There are no stakes. All of the action sequences play out that way.

Producer Tom Fontana has claimed that this idea arose independently of the Saint project he was also developing with star James Purefoy, but that just seems impossible to believe. There's too much in common between The Philanthropist and The Saint, right down to the narration, which recalls Roger Moore's direct addresses to the audience in his Saint series. (Those addresses were always briefer, though, and better for it.) At one point, Rist goes out onto the balcony of a glamorous hotel overlooking an exotic city and another character says, "So you're the famous Teddy Rist?" Purefoy gives him a sideways glance that certainly ought to have a halo over it and acknowledges him. It's the classic Saint introduction, and it caused me one of many pangs for what might have been.

The Philanthropist looks from its pilot to be essentially a sappy version of a Saint-like show. It's bogged down in its own hamfisted attempts to manipulate the audience and call attention to causes and issues. It desperately wants to be Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, but would have been much better off settling for being, well... The Saint. Audiences don't always need to have their heartstrings pulled to enjoy a good hourlong adventure series shot in exotic locations.

The Philanthropist is certainly not The Saint. It's just a constant reminder of what might have been.
Deep Deep Down Guitar Tabs

Armstrong over at Mister 8 has gone back to posting guitar tablature for spy themes, and this week's choice is "Deep Deep Down," Ennio Morricone's unforgettable theme from Danger: Diabolik. Musically inclined spy fans should definitely check it out! I'd say "Deep Deep Down" is a great song to know how to play in a pinch. As proof, Armstrong includes video of a band called Kriminal Hammond Inferno covering the song. It's a really cool performance, but (surprisingly for a group comprised of masked musicians dressed up like various Italian costumed adventurers!) a bit restrained in comparison to the lavish, wild-eyed cover by Faith No More's Mike Patton (with a full orchestra!) that Tim Lucas linked to a few months ago from Video WatchBlog. Armstrong also links to a lengthy and fascinating post on Diabolik and its music over at Stephen Bissette's blog. Bissette includes in his post the notes he made for his appearance in the documentary about the film on Paramount's Diabolik DVD.

Read my full review of Danger: Diabolik, one of my favorite spy movies ever, here.

Jun 24, 2009

Reminder: The Philanthropist Debuts Tonight On NBC

The Philanthropist, NBC's series that's not The Saint, airs its series premiere tonight at 10/9C. So what, you ask. There are a lot of shows that aren't The Saint! That's true, there are. All of them, in fact, except for three (or maybe four if you count the Andrew Clarke pilot). But The Philanthropist especially isn't The Saint... because it almost was. And it nearly is. Confusing? Read this post to learn how a proposed new series of The Saint produced by Homicide's Tom Fontana (along with original TV Saint Roger Moore and his son Geoffrey) and starring Rome's James Purefoy (an excellent choice!) as Simon Templar morphed into The Philanthropist, a less interesting sounding show with a very similar premise. It's a pretty fascinating, if frustrating, tale.

The Variety review calls Purefoy "perfectly cast as wealthy mogul Teddy Rist -- who decides to trot the globe, helping the needy and bedding women -- Purefoy lends breezy charm to this dramatic co-venture." Sounds pretty Saint-like, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the TV spots haven't really looked like it. In fact, I think all of the promos for the show have looked pretty disappointing, to say the least. But The Hollywood Reporter gave it a good review, and Variety is positive, too. Both trades praise Purefoy in particular. The Variety review contains some particularly frustrating wording: "What makes the show tolerable -- as opposed to simply manipulative and preachy -- is that the protagonist doesn't become a saint all at once." Sigh. If only he did become a Saint! Purefoy certainly looks the part in that NBC publicity photo, doesn't he? Just imagine a halo over his head. Ah, what might have been... Sigh.

Supposedly Geoffrey Moore is still developing a new version of The Saint of some sort. It's just too bad it won't have Purefoy. (Presumably.) I can't think of anyone better! Meanwhile, Fontana claims that NBC wanted The Philanthropist to have a more James Bond or Iron Man vibe, and he resisted that. That seems a shame to me. It looks like a series that should have a James Bond/Iron Man vibe! So will it be a rewarding throwback to the single star, single word title ITC adventure series of the Sixties, like The Baron and, of course, The Saint? Or will it be a sappy, manipulative "adult drama?" We'll get the answer tonight!

For more information on The Philanthropist, check out NBC's offical site.
From Paris With Love Poster Revealed

Wow! Now that's a spy poster! Lionsgate has provided the teaser poster art for the next neo-Eurospy movie from Luc Besson's EuropaCorp, makers of Taken, Hitman and the Transporter movies. Like the Eurospy movies of old, From Paris With Love doesn't try to disguise itself as something else; rather it blatantly wears what it is on its sleeve: a James Bond rip-off, and damn proud of it! It's evocative title is similar to all the Goldfinger-sounding Eurospy titles (or parts of titles) of the Sixties, like Goldsnake and Goldginger and Goldman, etc. And that artwork is truly amazing: a simple image that conveys perfectly what the film is with a clear mixture of action and location, two crucial elements of any Eurospy movie. I love it! EuropaCorp COO Pierre-Ange Le Pogam seems to get that, too. In the movie's press release, he says, “From Paris With Love achieves the holy trinity of the action genre: great stars, terrific action and amazing locations.” I'm glad that the company is clued into the importance of locations. I sometimes feel like the Bond producers have forgotten that, and the modern films aren't quite as travelogue-y as they should be. I have to disagree with Le Pogam about the stars, though. I'm very curious to see Rhys-Meyers, who did a great job in M:I-III, in a big spy role. But I just can't get too excited about Travolta these days. You just know he'll overplay everything, and go way too over the top with a superspy character. Hopefully not enough so to detract from the movie though. I'm really, really looking forward to this one–especially after that poster! (Click it to expand it to a huge, hi-res version.)

From Paris With Love is directed by Taken's Pierre Morel and written by Besson and Adi Hasak. According to the press release, the plot finds a low-ranking intelligence operative (Rhys Meyers) working attached to the U.S. Embassy in Paris in way over his head when he partners with "a wisecracking, fast-shooting, high-ranking U.S. agent" (Travolta) who’s been sent to Paris to stop a terrorist attack.

In other neo-Eurospy news, IESB reports today that writer Kyle Ward has been hired to pen a sequel to Hitman.
ITC Series Man Of The World Coming To DVD

Network is at it again. The company has announced the rarely-seen and highly sought after 1962 series Man of the World for release on Region 2 DVD this July in the UK. Man of the World stars Peter Gunn himself, Craig Stevens, as a hotshot photojournalist named Michael Strait whose assignments take him to exotic locales all over the world. Like other ITC adventure shows of the era like The Saint and The Baron, the photojournalist job is really just an excuse to get an "ordinary guy" into exotic places and into trouble. (Hey, it's more plausible than an antiques dealer getting involved in international intrigue, isn't it?) Also like those programs, that trouble often takes the form of espionage, and Strait gets caught up in various spy situations, all in the name of photojournalism. One of those spyish episodes, "The Sentimental Agent" even led to its own spinoff series of the same name. The spinoff series afforded Diana Rigg her first spy TV role and her first time speaking lines written by Brian Clemens. That episode, "A Very Desirable Plot," also guest-starred Burt Kwouk (a semi-regular on the series) and Donald Sutherland. I hope that Network's release of Man of the World might be an indication that the company will eventually get to The Sentimental Agent as well! Clemens also contributed scripts to Man of the World, along with other writers familiar to spy fans, like Tudor Gates and Michael Pertwee. This Network release also includes a rare, never broadcast color version of the pilot, "Masquerade in Spain." The episode was actually shot in 35mm on location in Spain, and not on an Elstree backlot!

Another recently announced Network title is only tangentially spy-related, but will certainly be of interest to John Barry fans: the company will put out The Cool Mikado on DVD in July as well. This Michael Winner film updated the Gilbert & Sullivan opera to the Swinging Sixties, and Barry adapted the music accordingly. Much of the music is performed by The John Barry Seven as well.

Jun 23, 2009

New Spy DVDs Out This Week

The only new DVD this week that I'm aware of that's even remotely spy is MGM's The Pink Panther 2. The movie really wasn't terrible, but then again it doesn't do much to justify its existence either. If you ever have the urge to watch a Pink Panther movie without Peter Sellers, though, you could honestly do worse than Steve Martin's second go-round. Then again, how often are you in the mood for Sellers-less Panther? Fox and MGM certainly don't do anything to sweeten the deal extras-wise. The only movie-related feature on the Blu-Ray or the two-disc DVD is a trailer. The second disc of the DVD is taken up with old Pink Panther cartoons. It's true that you can't go wrong with those, but most Panther fans will already have them on one of the many collections that's been released in the past. If you're curious, the movie's definitely worth a rent–and even offers some big laughs for juvenile minds like my own. But it's probably not worth buying unless you're a hardcore Panther completist or Martin fan. If for some reason you've never seen any Pink Panther movie before, forget Martin altogether and go rent–or better still, buy–one of the Sellers classics like The Pink Panther, A Shot In the Dark (with the lucious Elke Sommer!) or Return of the Pink Panther!

Read my full movie review here.

Jun 22, 2009

Spies At DVDTrash

Be sure to check out this week's roundtable over at DVDTrash. The topic is one clearly dear to my heart: "Outside of 007, what is your favourite Spy/Eurospy movie? If you have more than one then give us a top 3!" You can read my own response (in which I manage to squeeze in at least five titles despite the limitations) and those of many other esteemed movie bloggers at DVDTrash. It makes for interesting reading. Furthermore, my own answer (parts of which at least will be somewhat predictable to regular readers) gives some hints as to future entries in my ongoing series here about My Favorite Spy Movies! I could never really narrow my own favorite spy movies down to a list of only three, so those posts provide me with a broader outlet for sharing.

While you're visiting DVDTrash, you might also find it educational to read Nick's post about Agent 69, star of a series of Seventies Danish spy porn comedies! This Agent 69 is not a spy whose adventures I was familiar with, although some of them are, apparently, available on DVD, and DVDTrash offers a very intriguing review. Cult movie fans will no doubt be elated and horrified in equal measure to know that two of the films co-star The Sinful Dwarf himself, Torbin Bille, as some sort of karate expert!
Tradecraft: EuropaCorp Expands Transporter, Taken Franchises

Variety reports that Luc Besson's "French Hollywood" EuropaCorp (which recently announced plans to build a mega-studio outside Paris) will expand two of its popular neo-Eurospy franchises. The company has "initiated development" on Taken 2 after the Liam Neeson film grossed $145 million at the American box office, becoming the surprise sleeper hit of the winter. The company is also venturing into television. "EuropaCorp's TV production plans center on making series spin-offs from its hit movies, such as its Transporter franchise," according to the trade. Variety notes that (prior to EuropaCorp) this model yielded the successful USA TV series La Femme Nikita, based on Besson's seminal 1990 spy film of the same name. I love the Transporter films and thoroughly enjoyed Taken (and as I've often said here I'm thrilled that EuropaCorp is single-handedly keeping the Eurospy genre alive in the 21st century!), so I'm excited on both of these fronts. However, I hope that the move to develop a Transporter TV series isn't an indication that the film series is defunct. Jason Statham is integral to the success of those movies, and he will be tough to replace on the small screen. As cool as a series could be, I would hate to think that it meant we'd never get to see Statham transport anything else!

Jun 21, 2009

Movie Review: The Cape Town Affair (1967)

There’s really not much to recommend about The Cape Town Affair. Not much at all. Pretty much the only thing it has going for it are the colorful shots of Cape Town in 1967, and director Robert Webb doesn’t even take full advantage of his exotic location. (And I use the term "colorful" somewhat ironically because there is barely a black person to be seen in any of the bustling streets of Apartheid South Africa.) The film is a needless remake of Samuel Fuller’s 1953 film noir classic Pickup on South Street. The action is shifted to Cape Town in the late Sixties, but the barely-updated script still feels like a Red-baiting Fifties film noir with lines like, "Don’t you want to help us fight Communists?" and ludicrous slang like "donkey" (top cop) and "picks" (pickpockets). I don’t know if the jargon is true to the Cape Town underworld of that era, or merely leftovers from Fifties America, but it doesn’t work here.

James Brolin plays what I suppose is meant to be the "hero," a pickpocket named Skip who gets caught up in espionage when he steals a wallet that turns out to contain microfilm from a secretary named Candy, played by Jacqueline Bisset. While Brolin looks slick, his character actually manages the unlikely feat of being a bigger jerk than any of his Eurospy ilk! Yes, he’s even a bigger, sleazier, more loathsome asshole than Joe Walker in the Kommissar X films! Skip’s specialty is slapping women around, which makes him a good match for Candy because her specialty is getting slapped. Really, the most action you get in this movie is extended scenes of women (usually Bisset) getting slapped by men. There’s so much slapping, in fact, that it would be comical if it weren’t so sickening. Candy manages to get slapped around by both the hero, Skip, and the villain, Joe. Joe is her boss, and she thinks that he’s a regular businessman, never suspecting that he’s really a Communist spy. After Skip makes off with the microfilm from her handbag, Joe tasks her with tracking him down and getting it back. All of the men in her life are callous jerks.

The police are also looking for Skip because the South African security services were keeping Candy under surveillance and saw Skip make off with her bag... but didn’t stop him, for some reason. Both they and she manage to track down Sam, a woman who specializes in fingering pickpockets for the police. (There was a nifty slang term for that, too, but I forget what it was.) Sam is played by top-billed Claire Trevor as a boozy Shelly Winters wannabe, which is too bad because Winters at her booziest owed a lot to Trevor, who played that part to perfection in earlier, better films like Key Largo! In The Cape Town Affair, however, Trevor is painfully over-the-top and hard to take, which is regrettable because there’s so much of her.

With Sam’s help, Candy manages to track down Skip and waits for him at his waterfront shack. He comes in and promptly punches her in the jaw, knocking her out cold. Because that’s the kind of guy he is. He then rifles through her purse again, steals her money, and wakes her up by pouring beer on her face. Again, because that’s the kind of guy he is. Real charmer.

Candy then goes back to Joe empty-handed and complains that Skip hurt her jaw, but Joe tells her she needs to go back to Skip and get that microfilm. He implies that she should be prepared to sleep with him if necessary to retrieve the film. She’s rightfully offended and reiterates that he hurt her... until Joe offers her a lot of money and asks if she "understands" that. And she does. So she still goes back to seduce Skip, despite all the smacks! So much for her morals.

Of course, Candy has now fallen for Skip. Why? Because of his charm? Because he’s nice? No! He’s given her no reason to; he’s treated her horribly, but obviously that’s what she looks for in a man. Even after she reveals her feelings for him, he continues to slap her a lot and insult her. His first reaction to anything she says is to slap her silly, even when she’s crying. And he never slaps her just once, either, but again and again and again. The intent seems truly evil. You'll cheer for her when she finally conks him on the head with a glass bottle, even though at that point she’s preventing him from doing what needs to be done.

Sam overacts some more and delivers some terrible, wannabe film noir dialogue like, "When I came in here tonight you saw an old clock winding down." It might have worked well a decade earlier in black and white, but the dialogue–and her histrionics–seem outdated and out of place in a Sixties spy movie. While Sam’s overacting, Candy’s getting slapped again, of course, this time by Joe who goes even more overboard than Skip does. He chases her around a room slapping and wrestling her for about five minutes before finally shooting her for good measure. With the only remotely likable character hospitalized, the men duke it out in a fistfight and foot chase in which the primary obstacles are some carelessly placed chairs. At least Skip works things so that his pickpocketing skills come into play in the end... sort of.

I’m really not ruining anything for you to say that things work out for our ostensible heroes, and Skip and Candy end up together. If she still likes him, I guess she deserves that fate. He kindly repays her affections by lifting a bill from her purse to pay for the big romantic date they’re on! Oh, Skip! It’s a fitting conclusion to the film and presumably a harbinger of the way they’re relationship will continue after the credits role. (I see a lot of slapping in her future.)

Despite some nice location photography and an appealing, jazzy score, The Cape Town Affair is a thoroughly unpleasant affair, and I don’t recommend it. This is a film that truly would have benefited from receiving the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment! It's not even worth the $6.99 (and under) pricetag of the bargain basement DVD.

Jun 19, 2009












DVD Review: Attack of the Robots (aka Cartes Sur Table) (1966)

Yes, Man vs. Machines, the "week-long" COBRAS event that all the other COBRAS actually managed to wrap up in a week, is still trickling on into Week 3 here at the Double O Section. That's the way things work around here. Attack of the Robots was my first foray into the world of Eddie Constantine, one of the most prolific–and unlikely–stars of the Eurospy canon.* And I’d say it was a great introduction! I hope all of his movies are as much fun as this one.

Constantine’s is a tough persona to describe. Just looking at stills of him, it’s impossible to accept that this man was a major, major star of French cinema in the Fifties and Sixties. Tim Lucas (editor of the much lamented–but maybe back? sort of?–Video WatchBlog) once described Constantine’s complexion as “vaguely reptilian.” That’s apt, but it may not even go quite far enough. Constantine looks like a full-fledged resident of Toad Hall! But a physical description alone fails to capture the persona. Fortunately for the actor, he shares not only Mr. Toad’s visage, but also his boisterous personality. What he lacks in looks and "serious" acting chops he makes up for in sheer enthusiasm–and an infectious grin. In nowhere but France, the country that made a sex symbol out of Serge Gainsbourg, could Constantine (already in his late forties by the time of the Eurospy boom) have become a matinee idol. But he did, and that status was cemented by no less a personage than that darling of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard, when the director cast him (in his most famous recurring role of boozy G-man Lemmy Caution) as the lead in Alphaville. (David Foster reviewed Alphaville on Permission To Kill at the very beginning of the Man vs. Machine COBRAS event.)

Attack of the Robots, made the following year, is about as far from Alphaville as one can get, although I would argue that its director, Jess Franco (that notorious and prolific auteur of Euro-schlock), and Godard are unlikely kindred spirits. Godard recycled pulpy American B-movie motifs to make high art out of low, producing pulp movies for the arthouses, while Franco (on his better days) produced art films for the grindhouses.** Both embraced low budget filmmaking and stretched the boundaries of the medium as far as they would go, albeit in different ways. Attack of the Robots is not one of Franco’s artier efforts, though it is not one of his more appalling ones, either. His direction is reliably solid if workmanlike, and lacks most of the regular touches which endear and annoy in equal measures, particularly his fondness for quick zooms. But just when you’re starting to wonder if it really is a Franco movie, along comes a striptease sequence in a nightclub (and then another) and you’re fully reassured. Furthermore, while the zooms may be (mercifully?) absent, the interesting, expressionistic angles that characterized his early Dr. Orloff horror movies do make occasional appearances. The playfulness that characterizes his most enjoyable work is also present, and it meshes nicely with Constantine's own unsuppressable joie de vivre.

Attack of the Robots is in black and white, which is too bad. Some critics praise the black and white, arguing that it–and Franco’s direction–creates a real film noir atmosphere. The problem with that is that despite Constantine’s fedora, this isn’t film noir. It’s Eurospy through and through–and Eurospy should ideally be in color. Weirdly, it’s rumored that the movie was actually shot in color, and then released (at least in America) in black and white for some reason! If that’s true, I very much hope that the color print surfaces one day. Even without the color, though, all of the other Eurospy elements are present: the plot, the locations, the girls, the bad guys (and their weird science) and the typical Eurospy hero.

We open with the assassination of an ambassador at a swank party in Buenos Aires. Then we see a cardinal killed at an airport in Amsterdam. Then an Interpol agent exclaims that there’s a troubling similarity between the assassination of the cardinal in Amsterdam and the ambassador in Buenos Aires! Evidently, Interpol can’t even keep track of who’s killed where. Anyway, both figures–as well as dozens more–were killed by assassins in glasses who behaved extremely oddly. The one in Amsterdam is actually captured and examined. He’s got an odd hue to him. On screen it looks like greasepaint, but we’re told that he has the look of a "mulatto." Then he gets killed trying to escape, and the greasepaint goes away. Ahem, that is to say, his skin tone turns white. That’s weird! What the Interpol autopsy apparently fails to reveal (but we know from the title) is that this man is actually a robot. (Duh! Everybody knows robots wear glasses and have greasepaint skin!) Someone has been kidnapping people with Type O blood all around the world and somehow turning them into robots.

Whether or not these robots are actual machines is debatable. They behave more like zombies, but the robofication process, when we finally see it, seems to involve being sealed in a giant plastic pouch and then blasted with lots of electricity, so perhaps there is some sort of mechanization involved. It’s unclear. But what is clear to Interpol that people with Type O blood are disappearing willy nilly, so they search through their files to find an agent with that blood type to send out as a decoy. But he can’t know he’s being set up as bait; the agent needs to be given a dummy mission. It doesn’t take much searching to turn up Al Peterson (as he’s identified on the English language version, anyway), played by Constantine.

“Where is he?” asks one eager spymaster, practically salivating at the prospect of sending an agent with Type O blood into the field as bait.

“Oh, that’s very easy,” answers his colleague. “He’s somewhere on this planet with a gorgeous blonde and a bottle of Scotch.”

You would think so, wouldn’t you? You would think so for just about any Eurospy hero, and apparently you would think so for Lemmy Caution. But as it turns out, he’s wrong! Al is actually somewhere in the Far East with a brunette... and a Coke! Gambling. Apparently he’s given up drinking. Which is why it’s especially surprising when, as he leaves the casino, a statue starts talking to him! It turns out the (female) statue is a trap, and soon she conks him on the head and he's kidnapped by Chinese agents. The chief agent, Li Wi, demands to know some personal information about Eddie: what’s his weight and his height and his blood type? How old is he?

“Just last August I was 40,” quips Eddie with a grin. “And a few years.”

The Chinese want Eddie to work for them as a double agent. But he doesn’t like the fact that they ruined his “favorite tuxedo,” so he says nothing doing, beats them up and escapes. In the course of his escape, he has to jump over a pit with something growling inside. We never get to see what it was, but a growl can make an otherwise innocuous hole in the floor so much more exciting! It turns out he was being held on a boat (a boat with a tiger pit?), so he has to plunge in the ocean and when he finally gets back to his hotel in a sopping wet tux, the concierge asks if he had an accident. “No, this is the new style.”

Soon Eddie’s back at Interpol HQ where his own bosses also inquire about his weight and his height and his blood type. When Eddie gives the same quip about his age, that’s when he really started to endear himself to me. This guy might not be as young as Tony Kendall or as ripped as Brad Harris, but unlike them, he’s pretty likable!

The "Q scene" reaches new heights in audacity and new lows in budget. Every object used is just a regular object, not modified in anyway. We’re just told that it does something neat. “These gloves!” exclaims the pseudo-Q, putting them on. “They’ve got miniature batteries. When you wriggle your fingers–tick, tick, tick–as I’m doing, the batteries charge. The currents are sufficiently strong to kill twenty adults–or thirty children.” You’ve got to love a Q Branch that takes into account the fact that their agents might one day find themselves up against thirty children! “A ballpoint pen that’s really a flute,” he proceeds. What? “You’ve just got to blow into it here; the soundwaves break a glass vial that’s hidden in it, releasing a gas.” He holds the pen up to his lips and blows. The soundtrack obligingly provides some flute music, and voila! Instant gadget! The Eurospy imitators embraced the jokiness of the Q scenes long before the Roger Moore Bond films did, and this is one of the funniest. I haven’t laughed so hard watching a Eurospy movie since the pervvy version of Q in Fury In Marrakesh!

Here, Franco & co. decide to go right ahead and call out the gag. “How many James Bond films did you see lately?” asks the bemused Constantine.

“More than you think,” comes the reply.

The cover he’s assigned conveniently includes being a gambler and a womanizer. “Well, I’ll remember that,” says Eddie. Proving his point, he wolf-whistles at the girl who’s his only lead in order to make contact. She likes it. Despite his face, Eddie has a way with the ladies. (He’s even got them threatening to break down his door!) He’s always chatting one up, whether it’s a random window-dressing girl, the mysterious Cynthia (Sophie Hardy) or the villainous Lady Cecilia Addington-Something (Françoise Brion), who feels Eddie’s arm muscles and coos, “A real man’s such a rare thing.” (Granted, she spends a lot of time around robots, so that’s probably true.) When Lady Cecilia tries to seduce Eddie, he gets worried about making out in front of all those robots. “You don’t have to worry, you know,” she assures him. “Robots are devoid of sentiment.” So Lady Cecilia’s got an army of willing robotic slaves going for her, but Cynthia has an act at a local nightclub, so Eddie’s got good options, ladywise, either way. The nightclub routine affords Franco an excuse for the aforementioned stripteases, as well as a chance to cameo as the pianist in a band providing unusual classical accompaniment for these routines.

Besides beautiful women, there’s also plenty of humor to be found in Attack of the Robots. During a scenic car chase, a frustrated Eddie (who likes to whistle while he drives) is forced to pause long enough to let a herd of sheep cross in front of him. Impatient, he leans on the horn. At another point, an innocent looking boy watches Eddie leave his room, then revs up the wheels of his toy car and speaks into it! In another example of this film’s resourcefulness in turning ordinary objects into gadgets with no modifications whatsoever, it’s clear that the car is really a walkie-talkie. “This is X3,” the child reports. “Mission accomplished.” Apparently the Q guy was right to arm Eddie against child antagonists!

The film’s main comedic setpiece is a classic bit of farce wherein a gaggle of bespectacled robots trash Eddie’s room (ie, turn some chairs upside down), then hide when he comes in. (Wasn't there a similar scene of hiding robots in Transformers?) When Eddie goes to the front desk to complain, they quickly rush around cleaning everything up, so he looks like a fool to the hotelier. Eventually, there’s a fight, and the surviving robots scamper off leaving Eddie with a dead one to hide in various places from the amorous Cynthia, who doesn’t mind using a stranger’s shower as long as there are no bodies in it! (“There’s a corpse in the bathtub. He’s keeping me from taking a shower.”)

Back at the robot lair, Lady Cecilia is mad that the robots came back short a man–or a machine. “You’ve made a mess of this!” she chastises them. “But what’s worse, you’ve lost Robot 8! You knew you must never leave a robot behind.” This dialogue is made all the more amusing by the fact that everyone in this film–like Jenabel in The Fantastic Argoman–pronounces robot “RO-butt.” The robot lair itself is rather impressive given the obvious budget constraints. It’s not quite how I pictured a robot lair. There are little cubbies with typewriters for the female robots to do their secretarial duties, and a loudspeaker keeps intoning random numbers throughout every scene set in the lair. It’s here that we finally get to witness the robot-making process as well, in which the unfortunate people with Type O blood appear to be microwaved inside large zip-lock bags. Evidently, this process turns their skin green, coats them in futuristic PVC fetish clothes, and makes them myopic.

Of course the film builds to a climax in the lair, once Eddie has come to the realization that “these robots are out to get me!” The ensuing melee is exciting and suitably surreal as the voice on the loudspeaker keeps intoning random numbers throughout and Eddie proves that you can kill a robot with a speargun. But can Eddie find a way to turn off all the robots? There’s actually a pretty good chance of it, because–unfortunately for them–Lady Cecelia and her mad scientist partner (Fernando Rey) have apparently designed a lair with a big “robots off” button! Of course, even if he manages to overcome the robots, Eddie’s still got the Chinese to worry about... and he’s still got all those nifty gadgets to use! Plus there's the unpleasant matter of being set up as bait by his Interpol bosses to be dealt with.

Attack of the Robots is a great introduction to Eddie Constantine. It’s both lots of fun and genuinely funny of its own accord. How can you possibly dislike a movie where the hero, desperate for forty winks, lies down in his bed only to discover a dead robot lying next to it? That’s the sort of movie that Franco’s Attack of the Robots is. The DVD from Something Weird leaves a whole lot to be desired, but then again this is the sort of movie that falls into the “lucky to have on DVD at all” category, so I’m not complaining. Buyers should be warned that the print is in bad shape (as you can see from the screengrabs) and the picture appears to be cropped not only on the left and right (as most pan-and-scan movies are), but the top and the bottom as well! That probably comes from a sloppy transfer from a 16mm TV print. But they should also know to expect that for the sorts of rarities that Something Weird offers. None of this impedes the enjoyment inherent in this movie. And at just $8.99 on Amazon, this DVD is a bargain even despite its flaws. That said, I would still love to see a gorgeous widescreen transfer of the supposed color print one day. Because Attack of the Robots has that Eurospy feel through and through, color would just seem so much more appropriate. Hopefully one of the companies that specialize in Jess Franco movies will one day get around to such a release. In the meantime, Something Weird’s is a great way to see such an obscure film.

*Well, that’s not quite true. I saw Alphaville in college, but at the time the actor left no impression with me.
**The key phrase here is “on his better days.” Franco was so prolific that he churned out proto-Lynchian masterpieces like Venus In Furs with the same regularity as shoddily-produced, irredeemable trash like Ilsa the Wicked Warden.

Jun 18, 2009

Could Blofeld Come Back?

No, I'm not speaking medically. I don't mean could James Bond's greatest foe come back from being dropped down a smokestack, or smashed into the side of an oil rig in a Bathosub. I don't even mean can the character legally return in EON's James Bond series following the decades-long custody battles with Kevin McClory. I mean would audiences accept Ernst Stavro Blofeld in a modern, Daniel Craig Bond movie? A rumor run by Aintitcool this week had Frost/Nixon co-star Michael Sheen slated to fill the shoes of Donald Pleasence, Telly Savalas, Charles Gray and others. Since that rumor apparently originated in a British tabloid (the first of billions, I'm sure, that we'll see over the next two years pertaining to Bond 23) and since the producers have only just hired writers and no script even exists yet, I put very little stock in it. Casting is still a long, long way off on this movie. I wouldn't even mention such a rumor here if it hadn't gotten me thinking about the possibility of bringing Blofeld into the New World of Daniel Craig's James Bond.

I think it would be a great choice to bring him back… and I'd think it must have occurred to Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson as well. Because The Dark Knight proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that audiences like villains, and they're nostalgic for the classic ones. I'm not saying that Blofeld is on the level of the the Joker in the public psyche, but he certainly is the classic Bond villain, and filmgoers are hungry for that. Of course, the thing that sustains Blofeld most is also the biggest obstacle to overcome in bringing him back:

That's right, Dr. Evil. Sadly, a whole generation now knows that look as Dr. Evil's look, and not Blofeld's. You don't want them laughing at your villain, obviously. But I think the way to overcome the Dr. Evil Factor is to embrace it. Go with the Donald Pleasence look, with the white cat* (you have to!), and make him so bad that you can't even laugh at Austin Powers anymore. Really give him the full Joker treatment. Make him a direct Osama bin Laden analogue. An evil, psychotic terrorist bastard who Bond has to take down. Of course, on top of all that, make him charming, too. He is, after all, a Bond villain. But the Blofeld of Ian Fleming's You Only Live Twice is a downright psychopath, who's whole plot is making people commit suicide because he "collects" death! Not to mention the fact that he dresses up like a samurai! That guy's seriously screwed up. Use it!

I think it would be huge. If they bring back a white-cat-stroking villain and make him scary, people will flock to that movie. It will be the biggest Craig movie yet. I can already here the cheers in the theater the first time a trailer ran showing hands stroking a fluffy Persian. True, the Blofeld iconography has been co-opted by popular culture over the years as ludicrous shorthand for villainy. But precisely because it's such an archetype, I think audiences would love to see it in its own context again, treated seriously.

Done right, the Bond producers could even subtly use the Dr. Evil assumptions to really mess with the audience and totally subvert their expectations. Go all out! When I discussed this idea with a friend, he suggested that they could extend the facial scarring. Blofeld could be bald because of horrible burns, further adding to his grudge against the world. I think people would really respond to that.

Furthermore, it would be great to do what Fleming did and plan a filmic Blofeld Trilogy. A recurring villain worked wonderfully in the Sixties, but now things are more serialized and people expect conclusions. So plan from the start an arc that will see Blofeld make trouble for three installments and then come to a definitive end with a really satisfying comeuppance! (Like, maybe, getting dumped down a smokestack after promising Daniel Craig that they could "do a deal" and if Bond put him down, he'd buy him a delicatessen... in stainless steel! Or maybe something different.) In a best-case scenario, they could actually use the darkest elements from Fleming's You Only Live Twice that never made it into the movie of that name in the final film of the trilogy. A mano-a-mano confrontation along those lines between 007 and his arch-nemesis would be truly satisfying.

So who could play this Jokerized Blofeld? It would need to be a stroke of brilliant casting similar to Heath Ledger. I think both Christopher Nolan and the Bond producers are both (clearly) on the right track in plucking their villains from the ranks of well-respected indie film heave-hitters. The tabloids have already trotted out Al Pacino and now Sheen. The latter's more inspired than the former, but I don't think either's right. I'm sure the fanboys would go for Michael Clark Duncan, but he's not right either. Neither is Samuel L. Jackson (definitely not!), although I'm sure he'd feel differently. And, please, keep Nicholas Cage and John Travolta far away! It's easy to think of actors who have no business playing Blofeld. But who could?

Maybe Michael Chiklis? He could be pretty damn imposing on The Sheild. It might work better to have a little more star weight, though–maybe. On the other hand, Ledger wasn't really that big a star before his death. You don't want someone like Pacino or Anthony Hopkins who will overshadow the role with their own personae... I'm sure Jackie Earl Haley could do the part justice, but that's not a very original idea after Watchmen, and he lacks the height and the bulk to make the part physically imposing enough. Gary Oldman could definitely pull it off and make it creepy, but he doesn't feel quite right either. Not outside-the-box enough. Javier Bardem would probably do an excellent job. But he's not my top choice. No, my top choice would be Forrest Whitaker. My girlfriend suggested him, and it was a eureka moment for me. I thought, that's perfect! He can be charming and he can be creepy and he can be scary all at once. Anyone who played Idi Amin can handle Ernst Stavro Blofeld!

So this isn't news. It's not a rumor. (Although I wouldn't be surprised if it became one; I think an opinion expressed on a blog qualifies as a checked fact for some of those tabloids!) It's purely my opinion. It's my nomination. I'm launching that campaign right here, right now: Forrest Whitaker for Blofeld in Bond 23! And I'm salivating at the possibilities. I think it would be amazing.
*The cat, of course, was an invention of the filmmakers (or possibly of Kevin McClory's, depending on whose story you believe), and not mentioned in Fleming's novels.

Jun 17, 2009

Tradecraft: Cruise Control

Variety confirms the story that TV Guide scooped them on last week: Tom Cruise and J.J. Abrams are developing a fourth Mission: Impossible film. Reiterating what we already knew, the trade says, "Tom Cruise and J.J. Abrams have agreed to co-produce the sequel, which is aimed at a 2011 release." Well, maybe the date is new information. But then they concede that it's probably bad intel anyway, as "work on Mission: Impossible IV would inevitably be delayed by the busy schedules of the participants." Variety does go on to provide some useful information about other Cruise spy projects at the story's conclusion, though. First, apparently Wichita, the one he's shooting with Cameron Diaz for director James Mangold, is now officially Untitled. Second, it seems that Cruise is still attached to The Matarese Circle. "Cruise and Denzel Washington are also awaiting a rewrite on the David Cronenberg-directed The Matarese Circle, the MGM thriller based on the Robert Ludlum novel." Forget all the other ones! That's the spy movie I want to see get made, and ASAP!

Jun 16, 2009

OSS 117 Sequel Soundtrack Available As Digital Download On Amazon And iTunes

I've been searching and searching for a soundtrack CD for the comedic French Eurospy revival/James Bond parody OSS 117: Lost In Rio (OSS 117: Rio Ne Répond Plus) ever since the film came out in France in April, but to no avail. Turns out I was looking in the wrong places! Luddite that I am, I was fixated on finding a CD, and Amazon.fr proved a failure on that account. But today I happened to search for "OSS 117" on iTunes, and lo and behold, there it was! (And had been since April, as a matter of fact.) As best I can tell, the soundtrack (or "bande originale" as they say in France) is available as a digital download only, in any country. A little more searching, however, revealed that the American Amazon actually offers the MP3 album for two dollars cheaper than iTunes at $7.99. While I'd love to have a physical CD to place on the shelf next to my CD soundtrack of the first film, OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies, I'll take what I can get! The Sixties-set sequel boasted a terrific score, evocative of both the era and the genre, by Ludovic Bource. There were tracks reminiscent of everything from Matt Helm to Flint to John Barry to George Martin. In short, it's a most worthy addition to any spy fan's iPod.

(And I know, I still owe you guys a review of this film. Thank you for your patience. I'll get it up eventually!)
New Spy DVDs Out This Week

The big new release this week is Burn Notice: Season Two, on DVD and Blu-Ray from Fox. Regular readers will recall that I chose Burn Notice: Season One as the best spy TV DVD of last year, and the show just got even better in its second outing! Extras this time include commentaries, lots of deleted scenes, a featurette on series creator Matt Nix (who I'm eager to learn more about), a gag reel and an Easter Egg called "Boom Notice." (Presumably that's a compilation video of all the show's explosions, which would be in keeping with some of the lesser Season One featurettes.)


Out this week in the UK is Network's new DVD of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes: The Complete First Series. Season One of this excellent show (which boasts impressively high production values) includes the downbeat, unsung Victorian espionage classic "The Dixon Torpedo." This episode stars Ronald Hines as Jonathan Pryde (sort of a proto-Harry Palmer), an "enquiry agent" recruited by the Admiralty and the Home Office to take care of their counter-espionage for them because "gentlemen don't spy on each other!" Pryde is one of many Victorian and Edwardian detectives featured on this anthology series. Each week features a different author's detective, and the stars include Donald Pleasence and John Neville (in two of the best episodes). For fans of Sherlock Holmes, this is a must!