Nov 30, 2010

New Spy DVDs Out This Week

After a bit of a drought, there are finally some big spy releases again this week. 

First and foremost, on the big-budget studio front, there's Knight and Day, available as a single-disc DVD, a 3-Disc DVD/Blu-ray Combo Pack with Digital Copy, and a "limited time Holiday Gift Set," which seems to be the same as the Combo Pack, but without the stupid digital copy. (That one also works out to be the cheapest.) Special features on all three versions include the featurettes "Wilder Knights and Crazier Days," "Boston Days and Spanish Nights," "Story," "Scope" and "Knight and 'Someday': Featuring the Black Eyed Peas and Tom Cruise" (which may actually be the worst special feature ever on a DVD!), the viral videos "Soccer" and "Kick" and the theatrical trailer.  The Blu-ray configurations will include all that plus the BD-Live Extras "What’s New, "Live LookUp," "Exclusive: Not Your Regular Spy" and "Highlight: Excerpt from Wilder Knights and Crazier Days." (No, I'm not quite sure what the advantage is of having an excerpt from a featurette also included in its entirety, but there you have it.)  SRP is $39.99 for the 3-disc Combo Pack (though it's half that right now on Amazon), $34.98 for the limited Holiday Gift Set (also cheaper, of course) and $29.98 for the DVD (ditto). I wish they'd had the courage to stick with the film's really cool theatrical poster design for the cover, but given its poor box office reception it was probably a good idea to switch to a more traditional show-the-stars'-faces look. And as far as star face DVD covers go, this one's actually not bad. This movie got a bad rap because the press wanted Tom Cruise to fail, but I found it to be a lot of fun.  (Read my review here.)

On the other side of the pond, Network has a couple of Region 2 releases that will be of interest to spy fans. It's not "Wet Job," but Whodunnit? is a Callan reunion of sorts. Whodunnit? is a unique panel gameshow from the Seventies hosted by Callan himself, Edward Woodward, on which Russell Hunter (Lonely on Callan) is one of the guests.  The show challenged celebrity contestants to solve a fictional murder mystery.  I'm not familiar with it myself, but it sounds kind of awesome!  According to Network's description, Whodunnit? "presented short dramas laden with clues to be pieced together by the panellists, who would then question the characters involved and finally point the finger at the most likely suspect; lively repartee was the order of the day." Other guests appearing on the first season (which is what you get, along with the pilot, on this 2-disc set) include James Bond author Kingsley Amis and real-life private eye Anne Summer.  The PAL Region 2 DVD retails for £19.99, but can be ordered from Network's website for just £11.99.

Also new from Network is Scorpion Tales, an anthology series of six one-hour plays "each linked by the scorpion-like twist in its denouement," according to Network's publicity.  Of most interest to spy fans will be the Prisoner-like sixth episode, "Truth or Consequence" by Brian Phelan, which follows a jet pilot who sets out for a training course at a remote secret service base. En route, he finds his car has been sabotaged, and on arriving, he is subjected to physical and mental abuse and accused of passing on intelligence documents. Terrifyingly, both his wife and father seem to be in collusion with the military authorities. He doesn't know what to believe, or to whom can he turn for help. Scorpion Tales, a 2-disc PAL Region 2 release, retails for £19.99. It can currently be ordered from Network's website, though, for just £14.99. (And there's a sale going on on web exclusives that makes it even cheaper still: £10.49!)

I mentioned there'd been a bit of a drought lately, but I've also overlooked some important releases in the last few weeks.  Last week saw the release of Who? from Scorpion Releasing (speaking of scorpions), and BBC released Sherlock the week before.  As previously reported, Who? is a 1974 Cold War spy-fi movie starring Elliott Gould and Trevor Howard, based on the novel by Algis Budrys (thanks, Tex). The plot mixes espionage and robots–but in a very gritty, serious, Seventies way, not a Sixties Casino Royale/Some Girls Do Way. Scorpion's DVD will contain a plethora of bonus features, including separate audio commentaries with director Jack Gold and star Elliott Gould, an interview with co-star Edward Grover and a brand new 16x9 (1.78:1) widescreen transfer. Retail is $19.95, but of course it's cheaper on Amazon.

Sherlock is the fresh, contemporary take on Sherlock Holmes devised by Lucifer Box creator Mark Gatiss and current Doctor Who (speaking of Who?) producer Steven Moffat.  Benedict Cumberbatch (the upcoming Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) and The Office's Martin Freeman (soon to be Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit) star as Holmes and Watson, respectively.  (Sorry; "Sherlock" and "John" as they're now referred to.)  As with many of the best Holmes adaptations, it uses the character of Sherlock's brother Mycroft Holmes to inject a healthy dose of espionage into the proceedings.  Mycroft (played by an actor who should probably be recognizable to fans of the material covered on this blog) pops up in two of the three feature-length episodes, and the final one, "The Great Game," is partially an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's very best spy tale, "The Bruce Partington Plans."  Beyond the spy angle, though, this is hands-down the best adaptation of Sherlock Holmes in years, and just so much fun.  Bond composer David Arnold provides the soundtrack.  Sherlock: Season One is available on DVD (SRP $29.99, but obviously available cheaper if you look in the right places) and Blu-ray ($39.99, but currently discounted enough on Amazon that it's actually cheaper than the DVD).  To make up for the fact that the "season" contains only three episodes (only in England!), there are lots of bonus features, including commentaries by Gatiss, Moffat and others, a making-of featurette and--best of all--the unaired, original, hour-long version of the pilot, which was totally reshot.
Upcoming Spy DVDs: Interpol Calling

Network will unearth another early spy(ish) gem from the ITC vaults next month, the complete 1959-60 series Interpol Calling.  I see Interpol shows like this and The Man From Interpol (and I think there were others, too) as the not-so-missing link between the detective shows popular in the Fifties and the spy shows that dominated in the Sixties.  A jetsetting detective, who, in this case, covers ground from London to Paris to Mexico to Sweden to the Himelayas to Swiss ski resorts, is basically a spy in all but the particulars of the cases he handles.  And at the height of the Cold War, it was inevitable that even those sometimes veer into the realm of international intrigue. Spy plots on Interpol Calling ranged from dead NATO couriers found in sleeping compartments on the Orient Express to South American coups d'etat to political assassination to the usual (for that era) escaped Nazi war criminal plotlines. But for me, the jetsetting is one of the most important aspects of a spy show, and Interpol Calling had that in spades–in the stages-and-stock-footage ITC manner, anyway. Network describes the series thusly:

World crime is his target. Intelligence and style are his most deadly weapons. When Interpol’s Inspector Paul Duval is on the case, international criminals are on the run. Tracking his targets from searing sand dunes near the equator to icy peaks at the ends of the earth, the unstoppable investigator risks his life daily in a global race against time. He has the persistence of Columbo and the style of Holmes – and not even the most elusive fugitive can hide when he is on the hunt. Hungarian-born Charles Korvin stars as the intrepid Paul Duval, while Edwin Richfield is fellow Interpol investigator Mornay in this classic ITC series.
All the usual ITC suspects show up as guest stars, indluding Donald Pleasence, Walter Gotell, Cec Linder, Douglas Wilmer, Hazel Court, Alfred Burke, Barbara Shelley and the ubiquitous Walter Gotell, among many others.

This release contains all 39 half-hour, black-and-white episodes, which originally aired in 1959 and 1960. Special features include Network's usual "extensive image galleries" and PDF material, the latter of which can sometimes prove much more interesting than it sounds. 

Interpol Calling: The Complete Series will retail for £49.99 but will be available to pre-order for £10 less from Network's website beginning tomorrow (December 1).  It starts shipping the following week (December 8).
Archer Returns January 27

We knew that the best new spy show of 2011, FX's highly irreverent and highly stylized animated spoof Archer, would come back in January.  Now, thanks to Deadline, we know exactly when.  Season 2 of Archer will kick off on Thursday, January 27, at 10PM.  I've seen the second season premiere, and I think it might be the series' best episode to date.  It's also a great jumping-on point for new viewers (not that you couldn't really begin with any episode), so if you missed out on the first season (and aren't too easily offended), be sure to tune in!  Of course, by the end of January no one should have missed out on Season 1, since Archer: Season 1 comes out on DVD on December 28.  Sterling Archer is a superspy and a jerk, as smarmy as any Eurospy hero.  Some of the publicity material put it best: "Think James Bond without any of the good qualities."  It's a hilarious send-up, and the Cold War-era design aesthetic is sumptuous to behold.

Nov 28, 2010

Another Cool Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol Location Revealed
Filming Wraps In Dubai After Shoot At Indoor Desert Ski Resort

In a special issue last week about filming in the Middle East (print edition only, I think), it was mentioned that besides the much-publicized stunt atop the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, the Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (or M:I-4 to those who don't speak Ludlumese) team was also shooting at a massive indoor ski slope in the desert pleasure dome of Dubai.  There were no details or pictures, but the tidbit was intriguing enough for me to research the location a bit further.  And it sounds like an amazing setting for a spy movie!  (Dozens of Eurospy directors are turning in their graves right now regretting that this place didn't exist in the Sixties.) Ski Dubai is more than an oasis; it's eternal winter right in the middle of perpetual summer.  According to its official website, "Ski Dubai is the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East and offers an amazing snow setting to enjoy skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing or just playing in the snow. The construction covers an amazing 22,500 square meters covered with real snow all year round."  There are chairlifts and everything.  I love the decadance! 

The trade doesn't mention whether it was Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Josh Holloway or any of the movie's many other stars who filmed at this snowy location.  Renner recently confirmed the rampant speculation that he was being groomed to take over the franchise from Tom Cruise to the MTV Movies Blog (via The Hollywood Reporter). "It's a franchise to potentially take over," the actor told MTV. "I can't predict the future and what they want, but that's certainly the idea." He was quick to give due credit to Cruise, adding that he remains the guiding hand behind the film franchise. "It's Tom's baby. He's the engine behind the thing. What happens after that, we'll see."

Rounding out this Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol news roundup, today's LA Times reports that filming wrapped in Dubai earlier this week, so whatever was going on at that awesome indoor ski slope is all done now. The fourth film in the series based on the classic TV show opens December 16, 2011, taking advantage of the delay of the next James Bond movie by honing in on the season 007 has traditionally staked out for the last fifteen years.

Nov 27, 2010

Rachel Weisz, Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon Join David Hare Spy Movie

Possibly irked at being left out of the new film remake of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (which seems to star all of their peers), Bill Nighy and Michael Gambon have decided to make a high-brow spy movie of their own.  The Daily Mail's Baz Bamigboye reports that acclaimed playwright David Hare ("The Hours") has decided to try his hand at penning a spy movie.  And he's recruited first-rate actors to star in it.  Besides the great Nighy and Gambon (who once auditioned for the role of James Bond back in the Seventies), Oscar nominees (and former co-stars in John Le Carré's The Constant Gardener) Rachel Weisz and Ralf Fiennes will star in Hare's Page 8, which the writer will also direct.  According to the tabloid, "Bill Nighy will play an MI5 ­operative who believes [Weisz's] character could represent a threat to him. Michael Gambon will play the director general of the Security Service. Judy Davis, the celebrated ­Australian actress who rarely works outside her homeland, will also be in the film in an as yet unspecified role."  What's not totally clear from the article is whether this will be a theatrical film or one made for UK television.  BBC Films is producing (along with NBC Universal and Harry Potter mogul David Heyman), but BBC Films doesn't always mean TV; they've had plenty of theatrical releases.  I get the impression this is one of those. There's no question that the fantastic cast is film-caliber!

Bamigboye reveals some other intriguing details about Hare.  Apparently, the playwright (who previously penned the early Eighties Judi Dench spy film Saigon: Year of the Cat) is a spy fan, and wrote Page 8 basically because he saw a gap in bigscreen espionage entertainment and wanted to enhance his his own "pleasurable cinema-going." (He must have written it last year when there was a noticeable dearth of such movies in the theaters, as there've been a load of them this year.  But you can never have too many!)  Specifically, Hare misses James Bond (and who doesn't?), but it sounds like his own movie will, unsurprisingly, occupy more Le Carré territory.  And it just so happens that Hare and Le Carré are neighbors!  According to Bamigboye, "Hare revealed that Le Carré offered to read the Page 8 script, telling Hare: ‘I promise to be withering.’ Hare added: ‘That put me in my place. I wouldn’t dare give the screenplay to Le Carré. I’d be absolutely terrified to show him what I’ve come up with.’" Well, I, for one, am very curious to see what he's come up with!
Spy Bargains Continue Throughout The Weekend

Many Black Friday deals on spy DVDs continue today and in some cases through tomorrow or Cyber Monday.  I can't possibly keep track of them all, but I'll point out a few good bargains I've noticed.  If you don't have all the seasons of Burn Notice yet (and, frankly, you should!), then it's worth a trip to Target.  They're offering all of them (seasons 1-3) for $9.99 apiece! That price is also available online, though the latest season is sold out at the moment. Amazon's got the same $9.99 deal on Season 1 (review here), but 2 and 3 aren't discounted any more than usual.  Amazon also has the same deals on neo-Eurospy movies as Best Buy: you can find Taken (review here) for $7.99 on Blu-ray and $5.00 on DVD, From Paris With Love for $9.99 on Blu-ray and $5.99 on DVD and The Transporter, Transporter 2 and Transporter 3 (review here) Blu-rays for $9.99 apiece.  Killers is also just $9.99 on Blu-ray and $5.99 on DVD; Jackie Chan's The Spy Next Door is $9.99 for a Blu-ray/DVD combo.  Finally, perennial Black Friday bargain favorite The Prisoner will be an Amazon Gold Box deal at 4:30 Pacific this afternoon.  I don't know what the price will be or whether it will be for the DVD or the special feature-laden Blu-ray set, but if you or a spy fan on your Christmas list don't yet own The Prisoner in any of its past home video incarnations, I'm sure it will be worth looking into!

If you stumble across any other great deals on spy DVDs that are still active, please feel free to share them in a comment below.

Nov 23, 2010

Lots Of Spy DVD Deals This Week

Deep Discount's annual winter sale has begun.  It's 25% off (just enter the coupon code "25MORE" at checkout), but as with the last couple of sales, it's not quite as good as it was in the old days, because the sale doesn't apply to every item in stock and the seller has raised their prices on a lot of items in advance of the sale.  Still, prices do end up being at least a little bit cheaper, and there are some great deals if you look around.  What I'm most excited about is that the sale includes the recently released Columbia Classics DVDs on demand, and makes them just $14.74 each.  The first wave of Columbia DVD-R's included such spy titles as Otley (a true classic that everyone needs in their collection!), DuffyThe Executioner and Man on a String. The 25% off Winter Sale runs through December 10. 

Of course there are lots of amazing Black Friday deals going on this weekend, too, at brick and mortar stores.  Best Buy is selling a lot of recent neo-Eurospy movies at cut-rate prices.  From Thursday to Saturday, both Taken (review here) and From Paris With Love will be on sale for just $9.99 on Blu-ray and just $5.99 on DVD.  There are a lot of Lionsgate titles on sale, which makes me realize how many spy movies the studio put out this year (without a hit among them, sadly): besides From Paris With Love, Killers and The Spy Next Door are also part of the sale. 

Nov 22, 2010

Movie Review: Fair Game (2010)

Movie Review: Fair Game (2010)

It’s interesting that both Bourne directors decided to make movies about the search for Iraqi WMD that was going on at about the time that the first Bourne movie hit theaters–and that both, though featuring very different approaches to the subject matter–turned out to be excellent spy movies. Whereas Paul Greengrass’s Green Zone (reviewed here) focused on thrilling, Bourne-like action, Doug Liman delivers an equally thrilling entry in the more realistic, serious side of the spy genre sometimes referred to as the “Desk Spy” sub-genre. (In this case, that moniker is a bit of a misnomer, though, as the protagonist does indeed go into the field. But the film’s most exciting moments are those in Langley conference rooms.) And refreshingly, in stark contrast to the Bourne series, neither of these films vilify the CIA!

Fair Game (not to be confused with the 1995 Cindy Crawford vehicle!) tells the story of a woman who, against her wishes, became the most famous American spy of the last decade: Valerie Plame Wilson. The story became a hot-button political issue sparking fierce debate on both sides of the aisles, but at its core it always seemed to me a classic spy yarn that could be torn straight out of Le Carré: a covert operative running dangerous missions in the field is exposed and hung out to dry by her bureaucratic masters for political reasons. That’s a log-line that with little tweaking could easily be applied to at least three Le Carré books (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Looking Glass War and The Honourable Schoolboy) and probably more. It’s the stuff of classic spy stories! And that’s exactly the approach that Liman takes to this material: he tells the spy story. In doing so (as with the best spy fiction), he tells many other stories too, and a film that begins as a flat-out spy movie very naturally morphs into a political thriller and a family drama by its denouement. In a genre landscape rife with popcorn explorations of spy marriages (Undercovers, True Lies and particularly Liman’s own Mr. and Mrs. Smith), it’s very interesting to see a fact-based tale of a marriage rocked by one spouse’s secret life. In Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Liman used conventions of the spy genre to humorously explore relationship issues. In Fair Game, he achieves a blistering combination of spy movie and family drama. The former had a gunfight at the kitchen table; the latter has a disagreement that leads to raised voices in the same setting... and the stakes feel much higher in the latter.

Naomi Watts is excellent as Plame, as is Sean Penn as her former ambassador husband, Joe Wilson. Even before Valerie’s exposure, her career inflicts constant trauma on their marriage. Valerie’s ceaseless business trips to Kuala Lumpur or Amman, Jordan take their toll on her home life. Her young children ask when their mom will be back, and their father can’t give them an answer. Even he doesn’t know where she is or how long she’ll be gone, though he is one of the few people who knows her true profession.

Besides the intense portrait of a possibly decaying marriage, Fair Game shines as a spy thriller. The movie opens with Valerie undercover in Kuala Lumpur. These scenes may be familiar ones, but that familiarity is essential to establishing the genre before shaking up its formula. That genre familiarity is aided immeasurably by an excellent score by John Powell of the percussion-heavy, pounding variety with which he has redefined the sound of the spy movie in the last decade. It occurred to me watching this film that Powell is really the first person to do that since John Barry defined it to begin with in the Sixties. Both composers have worked within a wide spectrum of sub-genres, from outlandish fantasy (You Only Live Twice in Barry’s case; Knight and Day for Powell) to grounded, serious action (From Russia With Love; the Bourne films) to gritty drama full of bureaucratic hurdles (The Ipcress File; Fair Game), applying their signature motifs across the board. While many great composers have worked in the spy genre over the last several decades (and some have experimented with totally different sorts of scores), no one has so exhaustively overhauled the sound of spy movies as Powell. Barry’s jazz-infused style remained the expected and accepted soundtrack of the genre up until the 2000s (when it may have been partially done in by Austin Powers). Now it’s propulsive percussion–which offers somewhat less room for variation, but perfectly compliments the high-energy spy movies being made today–and Powell brings that in spades to Fair Game, signaling spy to the audience as loudly as Barry-like trumpet flourishes did in the past. Granted, the visuals and the settings do that as well, but in the case of real-life subject matter that could have been handled a number of different ways, it’s important to establish the territory as early as possible.

The scenes of Valerie recruiting assets overseas and eventually sending them into harm’s way deliver exactly what fans of the serious spy genre want, but as with many of the best examples of that side of the genre, the scenes back in the office are even more rewarding. Liman operates the camera himself, and brings the same handheld craziness for which the Bourne movies are famous not to running-through-Baghdad action scenes, but to meetings in Langley conference rooms! The constantly shifting, cinema verite-style camera work combined with naturalistic lighting really makes you feel like you’re there–and it’s harrowing! Fans of the Le Carré school of spy novels know how harrowing and suspenseful a good author can make the bureaucratic side of spying, but I’ve never seen the day-to-day business of CIA officers conveyed with such a sense of urgency on film before. You really get the sense that this is important work, and that lives and indeed the very fate of the nation depend on decisions made within these cramped walls. If the Bourne movies (particularly Greengrass’s–for better or for worse) redefined the way that action is portrayed in spy movies, Fair Game redefines the way intrigue is portrayed. If there’s ever a movie version of The Sandbaggers, it should be filmed like this.

Despite accusations from people who probably didn’t see the film, Paul Greengrass’s Green Zone managed to explore the WMD issue without becoming a political film. I can’t say the same for Doug Liman’s Fair Game, although despite the presence of outspoken activist Sean Penn (whose own extra-textual persona unfortunately distracts from what’s really a very wonderful performance during a patriotic speech at the movie’s finale), the director approaches what became a hotly politicized story about as apolitically as could be possible. Liman doesn’t engage in any of the games of speculation so popular among media pundits on both sides about how high up in the administration the decision to expose an undercover CIA operative went. Instead he sticks to the non-controversial official version of the facts, laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of the only person convicted of a crime in the matter, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and self-confessed State Department source Richard Armitage.

Libby is the only key figure in the Administration portrayed with any substantial screen time by an actor. The only time we ever see the President or the Vice President, it’s done using actual TV footage from the time–not cut into the movie directly, but playing on televisions in the scenes. It’s a tricky approach that could have gone wrong, but it works. Having lived through this little bit of history so recently, I also found it neat to see Liman’s interpretation of what went on behind the scenes of those well-known soundbites. He gives the feeling of filling in the blanks, which works well. In a bold move, he solidifies that approach by ending with footage of the real Valerie Plame testifying before Congress instead of Watts. It’s a jarring move, but Liman pulls it off and it serves as a good reminder that this sort of intrigue really happens, and isn't just the realm of Le Carré and his ilk.

Fair Game is an excellent movie that doesn’t dwell on the political debate fueled by the events depicted, but instead delivers an incredibly satisfying spy story and family drama. The lead actors turn in excellent performances that should be recognized come awards season, but ultimately what this movie will be remembered for in the annals of spy film history is the way Doug Liman (aided by John Powell) brazenly redefines the backroom intrigue of the Serious side of the genre. Fair Game is to Serious spy movies what the Bourne films proved to be to Action ones.

Nov 20, 2010

Reminder: Pierce Brosnan In Person Tonight In Santa Monica
Also: Upcoming April Dancer Appearance!

Tonight (Saturday, November 20) is the previously reported screening of The Ghost Writer (review here) and The Matador with Pierce Brosnan in person at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.  The films start at 7:30 and Brosnan speaks between the two movies.  The American Cinematheque, who runs the theater, bills the event as "an in person tribute that includes two of Brosnan's finest performances." This event is positioned to raise Brosnan's profile with Academy voters in hopes of well-deserved Best Supporting Actor consideration for his standout work in The Ghost Writer, but it also provides fans with a great opportunity to see the former James Bond in person. Tickets are sold out through Fandango, but a few were still available at the theater's box office as of yesterday.

The Aero continues its proud tradition of hosting spy stars in person next month when The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. herself, Stefanie Powers, stops by to attend a screening of her Hammer movie Die! Die! My Darling and Blake Edwards' Experiment in Terror on Thursday, December 2.

Nov 19, 2010

Tradecraft: Sam Raimi Remakes Anime Assassins For Starz

Is Nikita not living up to your expectations for a female assassin series?  Or do you love it, and crave more female assassins on TV?  Either way, Sam Raimi's got the thing for you: um, more female assassins. The Hollywood Reporter reports that Starz has picked up a new series from Raimi and his Xena and Hercules co-producer, Robert Tapert, based on the anime series Noir.  According to the trade, "The premium cable network is developing Noir, a live-action U.S. remake of a 2001 show about two female assassins working in a criminal underworld. After discovering they're mysteriously linked, the two and have to work together on missions (under the moniker of 'Noir') until they figure out why and how they are connected -- or until one of them kills the other."  Raimi and Tapert produce the hit series Spartacus: Blood and Sand for the cabler, and have previously dabbled in the espionage milieu with the short-lives series Jack of All Trades (starring the great Bruce Campbell) and Spy Game.

Nov 18, 2010

First Pictures Of Zoe Saldana In Action In New Neo-Eurospy Movie

Latino Review (via /film) has posted the first pictures we've seen of Zoe Saldana in action as sexy assassin Cataleya Restrepo (gotta love that name!) in Luc Besson's latest neo-Eurospy movie, Columbiana.  As previously reported, she will be the first female lead in one of these EuropaCorp-produced budget action thrillers and, continuing the gender reversal, Alias's Michael Vartan will be the Eurospy babeTransporter 3's Olivier Megaton directs from a script by Besson and his Taken collaborator Robert Mark Kamen. That's just one of several intriguing pictures; head over to Latino Review to see the rest.
Thanks to Josh for the tip!
Pixar Does Spy Cars

Hm.  The first Cars was one of the few Pixar movies I never saw.  The trailers and the basic concept just didn't really grab me.  But the trailer for the sequel certainly does, for obvious reasons!  Pixar has decided to introduce spy cars into the mix.  Michael Caine plays Finn McMissile, a superspy car who looks kind of like James Bond's classic Aston Martin DB5.  (None of the cars of Cars seem to actually be based on real makes or models, though.) This could be fun, and will definitely spawn some very cool toys.  (After all, spy cars are the coolest toy cars!) Dark Horizons reports that Jason Isaacs and Emily Mortimer also join in on the fun as spy jet Siddeley and spy-in-training Holley Shiftwell, respectively. The animation definitely (and unsurprisingly) looks better than that in the upcoming Sean Connery CGI movie, which also features an animated spy car.  Pixar regular Randy Newman scored the first Cars, but from the look of this one, I really hope they tap their other go-to guy, Michael Giacchino (The Incredibles, Alias, Mission: Impossible III), to score the sequel!  Spies (and presumably their cars) are certainly in his wheelhouse...

Tradecraft: Molly Parker Meets Jane

Deadline reports that Deadwood's Molly Parker has been cast as the lead in Lifetime's new spy pilot, Meet Jane.  (So much for my campaigning.)  The trade reiterates the log line we've heard before and adds some more info as well: "[Meet Jane] centers on Jane Bilinski (Parker) whose stale life as an unhappily married mother of two daughters in the Washington, DC area is suddenly re-energized and empowered when the FBI enlists her to spy on her husband, a computer technician the government suspects is selling top-secret information to Russia."  Scarecrow and Mrs. King meets Breach? I think this one has potential. The pilot script is by Andi Bushell, and Mark Pedowitz is producing.

Nov 17, 2010

James Bond And Indiana Jones Together Again

The last time Indiana Jones teamed up with James Bond, it was Sean Connery.  Now it's Daniel Craig.  /Film has the first photos from Jon Favreau's upcoming sci-fi extravaganza Cowboys and Aliens, starring Craig and Harrison Ford.  This shot's sure to become iconic no matter how good the movie turns out to be, simply based on these actors' past baggage!  You can watch the teaser trailer for Cowboys and Aliens here.

Tradecraft: Pierce Brosnan Returns To Television

The spy news just keeps flying today! Deadline reports that Pierce Brosnan is plotting a return to television, where he got his start as Remington Steele more nearly three decades ago.  The untitled show, from Sony Pictures Television and JAG and ER writer-producer Jack Orman, has a very ITC ring to it, which I like.  It's about an international private investigator.  Put "international" before "private investigator" and you've almost got "spy!"  The premise, according to the trade blog, "centers on a 'fixer,' [a] private investigator specializing in international crisis intervention who is called in to help solve homicides, abductions, financial schemes and other crimes anywhere in the world."  Sounds a lot like it could be an ITC series out of Sixties Britain, doesn't it?  I love that!  (In fact, it sounds very much like Strange Report with a more global scope.) Deadline goes on to reveal that the series "is largely based on the real-life experiences of international PI Logan Clarke, head of the Los Angeles-based Clarke International Investigations."  Now here's the catch: "Brosnan won't play the lead, but is expected to have a smaller role on the show in the vein of Hugh Jackman's involvement on Viva Laughlin, which also was  produced by Sony TV." D'oh.  That's a bit disappointing, because, seriously, how awesome would Brosnan be as an international troubleshooter?  I don't want to see him as the guy stuck behind a desk who sends a younger hero off on his assignments!  Hopefully his role will be more substantial than that.  Still, the man's got a film career to think about.  (Very possibly fuelled by an Oscar nomination this winter!)  He probably can't commit to star on a TV series.  Instead he's producing, through his Irish DreamTime company, and lending his celebrity in whatever capacity it ends up being to make the series more appealing.  The strategy seems to be working.  Owing to Brosnan's star presence, the trade blog reports that the project is likely to go directly to series, bypassing the usual pilot process.  Sony is currently shopping it to international broadcasters with the goal of landing pre-sales overseas before taking it to U.S. networks.

You know, with Brosnan doing television again (and speaking of shows that are sold to international markets before going to American networks), I can't help but wish he were doing the new Saint series that Roger Moore and Co. are producing.  I know, I know; Brosnan's way too old to be Simon Templar nowadays... but he's just so right for the role, I'd love to see it anyway! 
George Clooney Looking To Be Soderbergh's Man From U.N.C.L.E.?
Film to be set in the Sixties!

The Playlist reports (via AICN) that George Clooney is (unsurprisingly, I guess, given their history of collaboration) circling the Steven Soderbergh-helmed incarnation of Warners' long-in-development Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie that we first heard about yesterday.  And, more excitingly, the website also reports that Soderbergh plans to retain the TV show's 1960s setting!  The Playlist seems like a fairly reliable source when it comes to Soderbergh; they were the ones who first reported that his upcoming spy movie had changed its title from Knockout to Haywire and that it had been delayed until next spring.  The Sixties setting really, really excites me!  I hope this movie is serious(ish) and not a parody, because I would love to see a modern action movie set in that period.  We've already had great parodies in the form of the two recent OSS 117 films, but could Matthew Vaughn's upcoming Sixties-set (and Avengers-inspired) X-Men prequel foretell a new trend of period action movies?  I sure hope so! 

George Clooney's potential attachment excites me less than the time period.  Don't get me wrong; I love Clooney, and I'd love to see him play a superspy.  But he's really too old to be Napoleon Solo.  (He's almost as old as Robert Vaughn was in the reunion movie The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair!)  I'd much rather see Clooney play Matt Helm.  Of course, just because he's planning to star in the movie doesn't necessarily mean that he'll be playing Napoleon Solo.  After all, Tom Cruise starred in Mission: Impossible, but he wasn't Jim Phelps.  I doubt that Clooney is signing up to be Mr. Waverly, but I suppose it's possible that he could be another U.N.C.L.E. agent or, if this movie really is, as The Playlist asserts, taking U.N.C.L.E. back to "its roots," perhaps a mentor to a younger Solo and Kuryakin.  Anything is possible at this point.  What I do like about a potential Clooney/Soderbergh team-up is that it would seem to indicate a tone along the lines of their Ocean's 11 remake, which I think would be pretty appropriate for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  And if Clooney really is playing a fifty-year-old Solo, well, that's not that bad.  There are much worse choices out there!  (And he certainly proved in The American that he's in top physical shape for his age.)

Previous Clooney/Soderbergh spy collaborations include The Good German (which I remember liking quite a lot, but needed to re-read my review to remember anything that actually happened in it!), Syriana and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.  (Soderbergh didn't direct the latter two, but they were produced through his and Clooney's Section 8 Films.)  At one point, they had hoped to team up on a Matt Helm movie more in keeping with the Dean Martin movies than the serious Donald Hamilton novels, and I believe that was also meant to be Sixties-set.  Clooney's most recent spyish movie was The American (review here).  Bear in mind that while a script is being written by Scott Z. Burns based on Soderbergh's take, nothing is yet set in stone about this Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, and plenty of other incarnations over the years have fallen by the wayside.
Tradecraft: Is Claire Danes The Next Jack Bauer?

Who can possibly follow in Kiefer Sutherland's tough-as-nails, torture-happy shoes as America's next top secret agent?  According to Deadline, former 24 showrunner Howard Gordan thinks My So-Called Life waif Claire Danes has got what it takes.  He's picked her to play the lead counter-terrorism agent in his previously announced new Showtime drama pilot, Homeland.  The trade blog reports that Danes is "in talks" to play Carrie Anderson, "a smart, driven and iconoclastic CIA case officer who tracks down threats to homeland security coming from the Middle East."  Just like Jack Bauer!  Homeland is a remake of an Israeli series, Prisoners of War.

Nov 16, 2010

Tradecraft: Steven Soderbergh In Talks To Direct The Man From U.N.C.L.E.!

Between The Informant! and the upcoming Haywire (formerly titled Knockout), Steven Soderbergh has gotten quite a taste of directing spy movies.  And, apparently, he likes it! According to The Hollywood Reporter's Heat Vision blog, the Ocean's 11 mastermind is "in early talks to take over directing duties on the long-in-development film The Man From U.N.C.L.E. at Warner Bros."  Soderbergh marks a return to the long history of indy auteurs attaching themselves to this looong-in-development film adaptation of the classic Sixties TV show.  At various times, both Quentin Tarantino and Matthew Vaughn have flirted with the material.  More recently, Wedding Crashers' David Dobkin (who, despite his indy origins, seemed like the odd man out in that line-up) was involved, briefly to direct and then as a producer.  Apparently, he's still attached to produce.  Even when Dobkin was on board to helm, though, we heard the approach was going to be a fairly serious one; however the trade's story today would seem to contradict that, indicating that Dobkin and writer Max Borenstein were expected to deliver an action-comedy take.  Personally, I was not against Dobkin directing, because I really, really enjoyed his action-comedy Shanghai Knights, but his more recent fair like Fred Claus had me a bit concerned.  Steven Soderbergh seems like a much more reliable choice. 

Soderbergh, however, as Heat Vision's Borys Kit points out, doesn't bring with him any one specific signature tone.  He could turn in a light and breezy U.N.C.L.E. movie, along the lines of his Ocean's 11 franchise, or he could give us a gritty, Casino Royale-like take, more akin to Traffic.  There's no way of knowing, but he is, apparently (and despite the studio being pleased with Borenstein's draft), concocting a whole new script with writer Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum), which whom he's recently collaborated on both The Informant! and the upcoming Contagion.  I, for one, would love to see an U.N.C.L.E. movie along the lines of Soderbergh's first Ocean's 11: not out-and-out comedic, but definitely fun.  That would be perfectly in keeping with the show's best season, the second one.  A more serious approach akin to the first wouldn't go amiss, but you definitely don't want to risk veering into slapstick Season 3 territory! 
Upcoming Spy DVDs: Who?

You do! What? Remind me of the babe. What babe?  No!  Sorry; I'm being silly.  Forget all that.  I'm talking about something else altogether.  And not Doctor Who either, just Who?, with a question mark.  (Not to be confused with What?, an alternate title of Mario Bava's The Whip and the Body, or Don't, Edgar Wright's fake trailer in Grindhouse...)  We first heard about a DVD release of Who? from Code Red two years ago, but that never happened.  Now, DVD Drive-In reports that the 1974 Cold War spy-fi movie starring Elliott Gould and Trevor Howard is finally coming to DVD–next week!–from Scorpion Releasing. (Which I believe is in some way affiliated with Code Red.) The plot mixes espionage and robots–but in a very gritty, serious, Seventies way, not a Sixties Casino Royale/Some Girls Do Way, if you can believe it. Scorpion's DVD will contain a plethora of bonus features, including separate audio commentaries with director Jack Gold and star Elliott Gould, an interview with co-star Edward Grover and a brand new 16x9 (1.78:1) widescreen transfer. Retail is $19.95, though it can be pre-ordered for less on Amazon.

Nov 15, 2010

Tradecraft: Aaron Eckhart Signs Up For Spy Movie

Deadline reports Aaron Eckhart his signed on to star as an ex-spook in The Expatriate for Essential Entertainment. According to the trade blog, "Eckhart plays a former CIA agent who hopes to make a fresh start with his estranged 15-year old daughter. He takes a job in Belgium as a security expert for a multinational corporation and arrives one day to find the corporation no longer exists, his coworkers are gone, and his assistant is really a trained operative out to kill him and his daughter. Father and daughter go on the run and must learn to trust each other, something that becomes difficult once she learns the truth about his shadowy past." 
Sounds sort of like a mash-up between Liam Neeson's two neo-Eurospy movies Taken and Uknown (the latter co-written by John Le Carré's son)–but in a good way!  (I don't think there's any other way, really, but I suppose it could be read that way.) The Expatriate will shoot early next year in Belgium and Montreal.  Personally, I like the idea of Eckhart starring in a neo-Eurospy movie, because he's always seemed like a bit of a dead ringer for Roger Browne (right), star of Password: Kill Agent GordonThe Fantastic Argoman and other Eurospy capers!

Nov 12, 2010

OSS 117 Contest Winners

Here are the winners of the OSS 117: Lost in Rio DVD:

Vadym O. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Ryan P. of Austin, TX
David S. of Allentown, PA
Delmo W. of Bronx, NY

Congratulations to all of them!  As for everyone else who entered, you'll still have plenty more chances to win great prizes on the Double O Section this year.  Stay tuned for more contests in the days and weeks ahead, with prizes including James Bond and Mission: Impossible items!

Read my review of the OSS 117: Lost in Rio DVD here.
Read my original film review of OSS 117: Lost in Rio here.
Dalton Spies Again On The Big Screen: First Photos Of T-Dalt In The Tourist

It's a good year for Timothy Dalton.  Following a small screen return to the world of spies on Chuck, the former James Bond actor makes a big screen return to that genre in Florian von Henckel Donnersmarck's The Tourist. (Watch the trailer here.) I've been very excited for this role since it was announced, and now (via Dark Horizons) has our first pictures of Dalton in action (as well as lots of other cool new stills from the film), playing Interpol agent "Jones."  Awesome!  Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, the director of The Lives of Others, and one of the screen's best James Bonds all together.  I can't wait for this movie!  And after a long and twisted production history, it's finally almost here.  The Touist opens December December 11.

Nov 11, 2010

CONTEST REMINDER: Last Chance To Win OSS 117: Lost In Rio On DVD!

Just a quick reminder that, in honor of James Bond's birthday, today is the last day to enter the OSS 117: Lost in Rio DVD contest.  Go here for full details on how, and be sure to get your entries in before midnight tonight.  The winners will be announced tomorrow.  Good luck!
Read my review of the OSS 117: Lost in Rio DVD here.
Read my original film review of OSS 117: Lost in Rio here.
Tradecraft: AMC Cancels Rubicon

Deadline reports that cable network AMC has cancelled the low-key spy drama Rubicon shortly after it wrapped up its first (and now only) season.  That's really too bad, becuase the show, about one of the many private intelligence contractors analyzing data for the CIA and the Pentagon, had just gotten really good in its final episodes.  A new showrunner came aboard early on, but his mark was finally being felt towards the end.  Rubicon drew my interest more as it began dealing more with the day-to-day operations at the company, API, and focused less on the sensational conspiracy that dominated the pilot.  I also appreciated that stuff had finally started happening later in the season!  The early episodes moved at a truly glacial pace and nothing really happened, but I was still compelled to keep watching because of the interesting characters and unique setting.  Sticking with the series proved to pay off.  I was fully on board by the season finale, which was was a good conclusion to the season, but hardly a satisfactory resolution for the whole show.  I was looking forward to another season.  I suppose there's always the chance that another cable network might pick it up, but that sounds unlikely.  It's a shame. 

Nov 10, 2010

Tradecraft: CBS Developing Wild Wild West Remake Series

Wow.  Even in this age of remakes and reboots in which we live, this I did not see coming.  In fact, it's the most out of left field spy remake news since the story broke that Guillermo del Toro was making a Champions movie.  (I suppose that project, which was set up at United Artists, is stuck in the whole MGM quagmire.)  Anyway, Deadline reports that CBS, presumably high on the success of their Hawaii Five-O redo, are resurrecting another Sixties staple: the awesome Spy/Western hybrid The Wild Wild West.  This is just... wow.  I don't know what to say.  I'm not against it, because I love The Wild Wild West (review here) and done right, a new version could be awesome.  But I will remain cautiously optimistic about this endeavor, given that we've already witnessed what can happen when this franchise is done poorly in the excreble 1999 Will Smith movie version.  (Which, in my opinion, managed the momentous feat of being the worst movie based on a Sixties spy show out of a whole heap of strong candidates.)  However, that bad revival attempt actually leaves me rooting for this new one more.  That can't be the final word on James West and Artemus Gordon!  I want something even just a little bit better to erase its wretched memory. 

Guiding this new CBS version, according to the trade blog, are former CSI executive producer/co-showrunner Naren Shankar and Battlestar Galactica developer/executive producer Ron Moore.  I'm not familiar with Shankar's work, but Moore is an interesting choice.  He's already masterminded a very successful TV remake (to my mind the best TV remake we've yet seen), but he did so by dramatically altering the established formula.  Is that what we can expect from his Wild Wild West as well?  The Avengers-y tone of the original, which I adore, is so of-its-time that it would be very tough to nail today.  (I  know first-hand that most development executives today simply don't get that tone.  Whether or not this accurately reflects audience sensibilities, I can't say.)  Furthermore, Battlestar Galactica offered no indication to me that Moore has the comedic sensibility to replicate that tone.  So unless the guy's got a hitherto unrevealed funny bone, it seems it would be reasonable to guess that his version of The Wild Wild West might be as different from the original as his Battlestar Galactica.  And, honestly, a serious dramatic approach to the premise of two Secret Service agents traveling the Old West might be really cool.  (Just as long as we still get some version of Dr. Miguelito Loveless!)  So would a comedic one, though, if these creators can pull that off.  I'm excited.  Shocked, but excited.  Original series star Richard Hatch ended up being a big part of the new Battlestar (despite his initial reaction to it), so is it possible that Robert Conrad, who famously demonstrated his disgust with the movie version of The Wild Wild West by gleefully accepting its Razzies, could be a part of the new Wild Wild West?  I hope so. That would be awesome! 

I'm surprised that we're seeing The Wild Wild West revisited before other spy series that would seem to lend themselves better to today's marketplace, like I Spy or Danger Man or even The Avengers.  (I'd actually totally be on board with a third TV take on The Avengers–especially if Brian Clemens were somehow involved.)  But I think that the Sixties spy show that would by far and away work the best on today's television screens is Mission: Impossible.  And that's another CBS show!  Really, CBS, as long as you're so into remaking past hits, take a serious look at that one.  I'm sure that the movie rights-holders are probably resistant to a move that they might see as dilluting their brand, but I don't see any reason why a TV series and film series couldn't run concurrently.  They could take place in the same world and the movies could continue to focus on big, stunt-heavy adventures, while the TV show (with different leads, of course, but perhaps a few familiar supporting cast members) could explore smaller stories more akin to the original TV version, focusing on heists and cons.  It would be similar to cable hits like Leverage or even Burn Notice, but with cooler theme music!  Finally, the Mission: Impossible concept, always team-based, is not as tied to a star as The Wild Wild West or even Hawaii Five-O.  (That remake would be great if they'd only managed to find a lead with half the charisma of Jack Lord.)  Obviously the great Peter Graves is deservedly most associated with it, but he didn't even come aboard until the second season, and obviously he hasn't been a part of the movies.  (Grumble, grumble.)  Mission: Impossible makes perfect sense to revisit on TV. 

If you've never seen the original Wild Wild West, take some time to get acquainted with it on DVD before this new one happens.  If you like Sixties spies, you'll be well rewarded! 

Read my review of The Wild Wild West - The Second Season