Jan 31, 2011

R.I.P. John Barry

There are certain obituaries that I've dreaded having to write ever since starting this blog, and making the decision to pay tribute to fallen heroes of screen spydom.  This is one of them.  Five time Academy Award-winning composer John Barry, the man who almost single-handedly defined the sound of the whole genre this blog is devoted to, has died of a heart attack at the age of 77, reports Reuters.  Current James Bond composer and Barry acolyte David Arnold revealed the sad news in a somber post on his Twitter feed this morning. He later told BBC Radio, "I think James Bond would have been far less cool without John Barry holding his hand," and he's absolutely right.

Although he didn't begin scoring the Bond films until the second one, From Russia With Love, Barry was certainly involved with Dr. No, adding so much to Monty Norman's James Bond Theme in his arrangement that it's been suggested he deserved a writing credit.* But even if you put the famous theme aside, it's Barry who shaped the soundscape associated with 007, and with the spy genre at large.  His role in creating the screen version of James Bond simply cannot be overstated.  I'd rate John Barry an equal collaborator with Terrence Young, Cubby Broccoli, Harry Saltzman, Ken Adam and Sean Connery in defining 007 for cinema audiences. For me, the music in those Sixties Bond films played as large a role in making me a life-long fan as the cars, the gadgets and the girls.  Apologies and credit where it's due to Miles Davis, but Barry's music was the Sound of Cool. 

It's impossible for me to even imagine 007's greatest cinematic moments without John Barry's distinctive score music accompanying them. The ski chase in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (featuring my favorite Barry Bond theme) comes instantly to mind, but the same can be said of the climactic underwater battle in Thunderball, Goldfinger's dawn raid on Fort Knox, SPECTRE's capsule-swallowing spaceship and Moonraker's thrilling river chase (a terrific setpiece too often overlooked because it comes in a less than terrific movie), not to mention countless iconic Maurice Binder title sequences unspooling to Barry's many equally iconic theme songs. Simply put, the Bond of the movies would be nothing without his soundtrack.

The other day, BBC America was playing Thunderball and I'd hit upon it while channel surfing, which of course meant I stayed on it, despite having the film in commercial-free versions on Blu-ray and who knows how many different DVD releases in my apartment. That's just the way it is. If you're reading this blog, then you know! Anyway, I was in the kitchen, making dinner, and couldn't see the screen. But I could hear the music, and I knew exactly what was happening in that big underwater battle. I smiled to myself as the movie played out in my mind, conjured by nothing more than John Barry's thrilling, distinctive chords.  Even if that music had never been attached to any film print, it would have told a story as exciting as anything that ever sprang from the mind of Ian Fleming. Barry's music works beautifully in the movie, in conjunction with Young's direction and Ted Moore's cinematography and John Stears' amazing visual effects, but it also works just as brilliantly on its own. To me, that is the mark of a master film composer. (Indeed, one of my favorite Barry records is a non-film album, The Beyondness of Things,** which tells a million stories all its own.)

John Barry's spy career, of course, went well beyond Bond--and his career at large went well beyond spies. As I recently noted while discussing John Powell's music for Fair Game, Barry defined the sound of spying at both ends of the spectrum in the Sixties: the action and adventure of 007, and the moody, introspective jazz of The IPCRESS File, "the thinking man's Goldfinger." Harry Palmer's theme, "A Man Alone," screams SPY just as loudly as the blaring trumpets of "Goldfinger," but in such a different way. As Barry explored new territory within the Bond series (such as perfecting lounge-core in Diamonds Are Forever or introducing electronica into spy music in The Living Daylights a full decade before it became de rigeur), he continued pushing the envelope of the more serious side of the genre in scores like The Quiller Memorandum or one of his final film scores, Enigma. These scores were as identifiably individual from each other as "007" is from "The Persuaders!" (another favorite Barry spy theme of mine; oh how I love it!), but they're all very clearly spy.  Honestly, I can't think of another composer who so single-handedly shaped an entire genre.  (Sure, John Williams re-wrote the book on adventure in the late Seventies, but he was building on a rich musical history that John Barry didn't have to rely on in the espionage genre. Sixties spy movies were an entirely different breed from those that had come before them, and so was their music.) 

And of course Barry's career wasn't limited to spy themes.  I honestly can't decide what I'll put on for my drive in to work tomorrow morning to commemorate the great man's passing.  It could just as easily be "John Dunbar's Theme" from Dances With Wolves or the sweeping love theme from Out of Africa or the discordantly contemplative jazz of Richard Lester's Swinging London romp The Knack and How to Get It. Or even Starcrash, which I just rewatched last weekend. I've had Barry's theme stuck in my head ever since, a theme so majestic that it elevates every campy, low-budget special effect  in the movie to the level the director clearly saw in his own head.  John Barry dabbled in every genre there is, and in doing so created at least a few masterpieces in every one of those genres.  He was a titan, as attested to by his five Oscars.

This being a spy blog, however, I have to come back to that genre that Barry affected more than any other.  He really did create the sound of spy music.  In fact, I can't think of any other single person who made quite so large a mark across the entire genre.  Sure, Ian Fleming and John Le Carre both defined their respective niches, and their influence is undeniable.  But they never ventured out of their clearly marked corners of the genre.  Barry, on the other hand, straddled the entire genre.  Without John Barry, the spy genre as we know it would not exist.  I'm incredibly saddened by his death, and by the fact that I can no longer hold out that hope I always clung to that the great man would one day return for one last Bond score.  (I love David Arnold's work, but I'd bet anything he, too, secretly pined for one last Barry score!)  But while that will never happen, never has a legacy been more assured.  Barry, in fact, enjoyed the rare opportunity to witness his legacy in his own lifetime.  When someone wanted a quick musical shorthand for "spy," they always went for Barry-esque horns.  Whether it was spoofs, like the Austin Powers movies, or loving homages, like Michael Giacchino's fantastically Barryesque Incredibles score, or even mainstream pop music (I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the entire late Nineties musical genre known as trip-hop was inspired by Barry!), Barry's influence was in plain sight.  And it always will be, for as long as the genre lives on.

Rest in peace, John Barry. All spy fans and all music fans owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude.

*I think it's clear listening to earlier pieces by both composers that the theme as we know it is the result of a perfect collaboration, even if the two didn't work together directly and the authorship has been the source of debate too bitter to go into in a memorial post.

**Yes, I'm aware much of this music began its life as a rejected score, but it took on a whole new life of its own as a standalone work.
Tradecraft: Producers Offer Major Bond 23 Role to Javier Bardem

Deadline reports that Oscar-winner Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men) has been offered a part in the next James Bond movie. There are no details on the part, but the logical assumption would be that it's the villain.  And that, frankly, would be awesome.  Bardem would not only make a wonderful Bond villain, but a worthy antagonist for Daniel Craig in terms of both screen presence and physical stature.  I think Mathieu Amalric is a fantastic actor, but the finale of Quantum of Solace, in which he is supposed to make a credible opponant for Craig beggars belief. Since the producers have seemed intent for the last few decades on having Bond villains be physical matches for 007, Bardem makes a much better choice than the convincingly creepy but undeniably slight Amalric. 

The trade blog also indulges in some industry gossip, revealing that MGM's new custodians, Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum, are milking the Bond license for all it's worth, trying to entice potential  distributors (remember, Bond 23 is still seeking a distribution partner) to put up cash for multiple MGM projects if they want any part of 007. Apparently some studio honchos are getting fed up with those tactics, but I have no doubt that a deal will be reached soon.

Jan 28, 2011

BBC America Website Offers Bond Trivia, Games and More 

BBC America is just wrapping up a month-long James Bond marathon called "007 '11," and to promote it they set up a dedicated mini-site devoted to 007. It's actually a pretty good site! It's got some fun, silly stuff like a "What's my Bond name?" quiz and some surprisingly challenging trivia. You can play separate trivia challenges for the first four Connery movies, and while I was fully expecting to breeze through them, I must sheepishly admit that I got some wrong.  There are some tougher questions than I was expecting from this sort of thing!  Give it a try.  I might be too late to promote the marathon (although if you're reading this site I suspect you already own all these movies anyway), but I imagine the site won't go anywhere. BBC America shows Bond movies all the time.
Thanks to Josh for calling my attention to this!

Jan 27, 2011

Tradecraft: ABC Greenlights Female Take On Taken

Deadline reports that ABC has picked up a summer drama series about a badass former CIA agent who jets off to Europe to seek their missing teenage offspring.  Lest you think that sounds like the plot of Taken, this is a badass female former CIA agent who goes off to Italy (not France) after her lost teenage son (not daughter)... and the son isn't taken; he's Missing. And that's the title. (Though it's also been known throughout its development as Safe and Hall of Mirrors.) This is the series from The Gates producers Gina Matthews and Grant Scharbo that we first heard about last October when it was described as "Taken meets The Bourne Identity."  Here's the official logline as things stand now, as per the trade blog: "[Missing] centers on a worried mom who, after her son disappears in Italy while overseas for a summer internship, takes it upon herself to travel to Europe and track him down. It soon becomes clear that this isn’t any ordinary woman, but a former CIA agent who will stop at nothing to bring her son home alive." So will she vow to tear down the Leaning Tower of Pisa if she has to? That seems like it would be easier than tearing down the Eiffel Tower. Maybe the Coliseum?

Of course, as much as I might joke, I'll be thrilled to tune in this summer to a weekly female version of Taken! Emmy-winning Dexter director Steve Shill is attached to direct multiple epidodes, including the pilot.
Archer Returns Tonight!

My favorite new spy show of last year returns for a second season on FX tonight, January 27 at 10PM. I saw the season premiere when it screened at Comic-Con last summer, and it was great.  In fact, it might be the best episode yet, and it was an ideal jumping-on point if you've never seen any of Season 1.  (Not that the half-hour animated comedy is really serial or anything.)  My favorite part of Archer is its awesome visual style, which draws from the best design elements of the James Bond series throughout the years.  As with last season, there's some very cool (and very Bondian) promotional artwork associated with the new one, though I can't find a high-res version of the whole poster, just details from it.  (You can, however, download a very large version from the official Archer website, a PDF big enough to print out and make your own wall poster!) Please bear in mind, though, if you're tuning in expecting a reverent spy parody, that Archer is in no way reverent and that (as I've said many times) the humor goes well beyond sending up the spy genre and is very, very crude.  Personally, I love it, but it's admittedly not for all tastes. The DVD of Season One is out now, and you can also catch up by watching entire episodes online on FX's website.
Dench Returns as M

The whole web is alight with news originating at MI6.co.uk that Dame Judi Dench has confirmed that she will return as M in Bond 23.  She revealed the news at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards. Nothing is a given in this movie after such a long delay, but now speculation about the 76-year-old actress being replaced as the head of MI6 can end for the time being. 
Hanna Poster

Dark Horizons has revealed the visually striking poster for Joe Wright's upcoming teen assassin spy movie, Hanna, starring Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Olivia Williams, Tom Hollander and Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery.  Hanna opens this April in the United States. Watch the exciting Bourne-meets-Nikita (meets Modesty Blaise) trailer here.

Jan 26, 2011

PBS Documentary Explores I Spy, Mission: Impossible

Next week a PBS documentary series called Pioneers of Television will focus on "Crime Dramas..." and evidently, they consider spy shows crime dramas.  (That's too bad; they could have easily devoted an entire episode to Sixties spy series and expanded the focus to cover The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West and others.  Oh well.)  According to the show's website, I Spy and Mission: Impossible will be among the series covered in "Crime Dramas," as well as legitimate crime dramas MannixDragnet and Police Woman.  The official airdate for this episode is Tuesday, February 1 at 8/7c, but since local PBS schedules fluctuate, it's probably best to check your local listings
Tradecraft: Stephen Gaghan to Direct Dead Spy Running?

We heard way back in 2008 that McG had signed on to produce and direct a then still unpublished spy novel, Dead Spy Running by Jon Stock, for Warner Bros.  In early 2009, Syriana writer/director Stephen Gaghan came aboard to pen the script.  The book itself saw publication in the UK later that year and finally came out in America last year, but for the longest time there was no word of movement on the film.  Now, apparently McG is no longer planning to direct, but just produce.  Deadline reports that Gaghan is still working on the script, and considering directing the movie himself after he helms a TV pilot for NBC. We've seen that he can handle serious spy material in Syriana; I'm curious to see his take on a more action-oriented spy story like this one.

Jan 25, 2011

New Spy DVDs Out This Week

Wow, there is a deluge of new spy titles available this week!  An embarrassment of riches sure to make spy fans poor... but satisfied.  And a lot of it is really essential stuff, too.

MI-5: Volume 8
It feels like it's been forever since we had the last volume of MI-5 (known as Spooks in its native Britain), but I guess it's really only been a year. It always seems so long between these releases, but the next volume always arrives just in time to quench my thirst for this compelling, addictive and consistently solid UK spy series.  (We actually won't have to wait so long for Volume 9, however; BBC has already announced that they'll release it this summer putting America somewhat more on track with the UK release schedule.) MI-5: Volume 8 sees the usual threats to British security and (I hear) the usual high fatality rate amongst the regulars. But it also sees the rare return of someone who left the show: Ruth Evershed. The 3-disc set is happily somewhat cheaper than previous volumes, with an SRP of $39.98, though it can currently be found on Amazon for just $27.99.

Man in a Suitcase: Set 1
Man, any single one of these titles would make this a good week for spy releases! Acorn treats American spy fans to this ITC classic for the first time. The titular Man in a Suitcase, McGill (Richard Bradford) is a spy disavowed by American Intelligence after being set up, forced to take jobs as a freelancer operating out of London. (When you're burned, you're burned!) Man in a Suitcase has a reputation as being darker and grittier than other popular ITC series like The Saint and Danger Man, and it is... but it's still not as dark and certainly not as bleak as something like Callan. In fact, it strikes a happy medium likely to appeal in equal measure to fans of Callan and The Saint. Acorn's Set 1 (in a very attractive four-disc flipper case) contains the show's first fifteen episodes, amounting to half of its entire first season. It doesn't include any of the extras found on the Region 4 or Region 2 releases, but it does look amazing–better than I've ever seen it look before. The weird thing is the order that the episodes are presented in. I guess it must be the original broadcast order, though it's not production order. The upshot is that the first episode produced, "Man From the Dead," which serves wonderfully as a pilot and sets up the show's premise, doesn't come until Disc 2. Acorn's set instead begins with "Brainwash," which is certainly a flashier episode less bogged down by exposition, but not really a great one to start with. I'd recommend watching "Man From the Dead" first. Also among the fifteen episodes in this set are "Variation on a Million Bucks, Part 1" and "Variation on a Million Bucks, Part 2," notable because they were edited together into the feature film To Chase a Million for theatrical release in Europe, making this the first official Region 1 release of that Eurospy movie, albeit in two parts. Retail is $59.99, but Amazon's got it for $44.99.

Wish Me Luck: Series 2
Acorn alone is spoiling spy fans today. In addition to Man in a Suitcase, the company also releases Wish Me Luck: Series 2. While Series 1 of this fact-based, wartime espionage drama about the women who worked for Britain's Special Operations Executive and parachuted into occupied France to risk their lives for their country had seen a Region 1 release prior to Acorn's reissue, Series 2 has never before been available on DVD in the U.S. Spy favorite Julian Glover co-stars with Kate Buffery, Lynn Farleigh, Jane Snowden and Jane Asher. Retail is $39.99, but it's currently ten bucks cheaper on Amazon.

One of last year's most entertaining spy movies, RED, is out today from Summit Entertainment as a Special Edition DVD, a Special Edition Blu-ray and a movie-only Blu-ray. Some of the intriguing extras on the DVD include deleted and extended scenes and an audio commentary with Retired (but presumably not Extremely Dangerous) CIA field officer Robert Baer (the model for George Clooney's character in Syriana, who also recently contributed to a featurette on the From Paris With Love DVD). The Blu-ray contains all that as well as an "Access: RED" feature boasting "a variety of scene-specific features including interviews with cast members, animated documentary shorts on controversial CIA operations, and more." Sounds cool! RED stars Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Karl Urban, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Mary Louise Parker, Richard Dreyfuss and Brian Cox. Read my full review here.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Music Box Films releases the final Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson's international phenomenon The Millennium Trilogy today on both DVD and Blu-ray. (Daniel Craig stars in an American take on the material filming now.) The series started as a very, very dark sort of Agatha Christie-type mystery with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, then ventured into Robert Ludlum territory in its second installment, The Girl Who Played With Fire and finally blossoms into a full-fledged spy thriller in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. I've only seen the first movie so far (which was quite good), but I loved the books and I'm eager to see the others. If you haven't gotten any of them yet, though, and think you'll want them all, you might want to hold off for The Stieg Larsson Trilogy, which will collect all three films, along with an exclusive bonus disc, available on both DVD and Blu-ray next month.

Operation C.I.A.
From the Warner Archive comes their first foray in quite a while into Sixties spydom... Operation C.I.A. starring a young, mustacheless Burt Reynolds. Their website promises "An exploding motorbike. Air-conditioning ducts spewing cyanide gas. Terrorists, beautiful women, lethal snakes, butt-kicking action and a young Burt Reynolds: Operation C.I.A. has ’em all!" Well, yes, technically I guess it does. (Though the action really isn't that "butt-kicking.") But you can kind of tell from that copy that they're grasping at straws to make this rather dull 1965 entry in the global spy sweepstakes sparked by the success of 007 sound more interesting than it really is. But maybe Operation C.I.A. (which is kind of a bad name for a clandestine spy operation, if you think about it) is one of those movies that takes on a whole new life when you finally see a high-quality version instead of the shoddy transfer that's been circulating for years. I'm probably going to find out. Because while the copy doesn't sell me on it... I have to admit, that cover art does. That's the kind of poster that will have me shelling out hard-earned cash for a movie I know is a bit of a stinker! As I'm sure everyone knows, Warner Archive titles are made to order, burnt on demand on DVD-Rs.

The Kremlin Letter
John Huston's all-star spy drama The Kremlin Letter, long conspicuously absent on DVD despite frequent airings on the Fox Movie Channel, finally makes it to disc today as the first title in Fox's new limited edition specialty line, Twilight Time. Adapted from the novel by Noel Behn, The Kremlin Letter follows a young Naval Intelligence officer (Patrick O'Neal) recruited by a network of aging spies to retrieve a letter critical to American Intelligence from Moscow. The impressive cast includes Orson Welles, George Sanders, Dean Jagger, Nigel Green, Max von Sydow, Richard Boone, Raf Vallone and Huston himself. Twilight Time is intended as Fox's answer to the MOD programs at Columbia, Warner Bros. and other companies, with one major difference: these are factory-pressed DVDs, not burnt DVD-Rs. In the interest of keeping things classy and giving consumers their money's worth, Fox also plans to include special features on these discs. They're supposed to be available exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment, and The Kremlin Letter is supposed to be available today... but I can't find any sign of it so far. Keep your eyes peeled! In the meantime, read more about Twilight Time and The Kremlin Letter here.

Basil Dearden's London Underground
Finally, The Criterion Collection issues another one of its feature-free but still high-quality Eclipses Series sets, Eclipse Series 25: Basil Dearden's London Underground. There is no spy movie in this collection, but there are a lot of elements that will appeal to spy fans among these Sixties classics. Foremost among them is the Region 1 DVD debut of a rare Patrick McGoohan movie, All Night LongAll Night Long is basically a jazz Othello, casting McGoohan in the Iago role. Real-life jazz legends like Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, and Avengers composer Johnny Dankworth also appear. Besides this McGoohan rarity, spy fans might want to look out for genre stalwart Dirk Bogarde (Modesty Blaise, Hot Enough For June) giving a stellar performance in Victim, and Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes in The League of Gentlemen, the movie that set the template for dozens of heist movies to follow. (And in many ways Mission: Impossible.) Retail for the 4-disc set is $59.95, but after seven other titles, surely you know the drill: cheaper online!

So... enough spy DVDs for you this week? Cripes, that was nearly as much work as the Holiday Shopping Guide! Hopefully we won't all have to wait until next Christmas to get all these titles...
New Spy DVDs Out Last Week: The Piglet Files: The Complete Series 1

There are so many new spy DVDs out this week that it will take me a while to get that post together.  In the meantime, here's last week's belated post.  The only major spy release of last week comes from the other side of the pond, where Network unleashed the early Nineties British spy-com The Piglet Files. In the tradition of Get Smart (but with a distinctly Britcom sensibility), The Piglet Files follows reluctant spy Peter Chapman (Nicholas Lyndhurst), who's sacked from his University teaching post so that he can be pressed into service for MI5... which he quickly discovers is staffed by incompetents and nincompoops. As the only one with any discernible brains to speak of, electronics expert Chapman becomes their de facto Q, supplying the agents with gadgets but often going into the field himself as well. All the while, he must keep his new double life a secret from his wife, Sarah. While it bends frequently to sitcom conventions, The Piglet Files is quite funny. Today it's also an interesting time capsule from that short period after the Cold War thawed when people briefly believed spies were no longer necessary. (That's one of the main humorous conceits of the show: the obsolescence of MI5!) While The Piglet Files has been available on Region 1 DVD before from BFS (it's currently out of print), Network's release of the first season marks its debut in the format in its native Britain. Network's Region 2 PAL DVD includes all seven first season episodes on one disc, with no special features. SRP is £13.27, but the disc can currently ordered from Network's website for just £8.16 and from Amazon.co.uk for just £7.99.
Unknown Poster

Billboards for Liam Neeson's new neo-Eurospy flick Unknown are starting to pop up all over Los Angeles, and I'm getting very excited! But I think it's funny how desperate the marketing team at Warner Bros. seems to be to replicate Taken's business.  Not only does the Unknown poster look an awful lot like this one for Taken; it even conspicuously uses the word "Take" in its tagline! That noted, I think the movie itself looks awesome. (Watch the trailer here.) And (as previously reported), it's co-written by John Le Carré's son, Stephen Cornwell, so it's got that going for it, too...

Jan 23, 2011

Tradecraft: Fuqua to Direct Ethan Hawke Spy Pilot

Deadline reports that Fox has put in a pilot order for the previously announced Ethan Hawke Mission: Impossible meets 24 spy series, Exit Strategy, and tapped Antoine Fuqua (Shooter) to direct.  Fuqua directed Hawke to an Oscar nomination in Training DayAs reported last fall, Exit Strategy comes from producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who toil frequently in the espionage genre (Alias, Mission: Impossible III, Jack of All Trades, the new Hawaii Five-O) and writer David Guggenheim (the upcoming Denzel Washington spy thriller Safe House). Like Mission: Impossible (the series), Exit Strategy follows a team of highly-skilled specialists (with Hawke playing the Peter Graves role of team leader) who are sent in when a CIA mission goes bad and agents need extracting.  Like 24, the action unfolds in real time. Unlike 24, each episode unfolds in a single hour in a single far-flung locale, rather than making up a season-long sleepless day in one city. I love Mission: Impossible and I tend to like its imitators, so I'm looking forward to this one.

As far as I know, Fuqua is also still attached to Consent to Kill, a long-in-development feature envisioned as the first in a series based on Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp spy novels.

Jan 22, 2011

Upcoming Spy DVDs: Fair Game (2010)

DVD Active reports that Summit Entertainment will release Bourne Identity director Doug Liman's latest spy movie, Fair Game, on DVD and Blu-ray on March 29. Liman finds the Le Carré-esque spy story at the heart of the infamous Valerie Plame affair, and makes the most of it, bringing the same "in the moment" sort of hand-held, real-time camera work that captured the action in Bourne to the conference rooms of CIA headquarters in Langley–and making intense debates just as exciting as a car chase! (Read my full review here.) The only extra seems to be a commentary with the real Valerie Plame Wilson (played marvelously by Naomi Watts in the film) and Joe Wilson (played by Sean Penn), which is a bit disappointing.  I would have like to hear from Liman. Still, Fair Game is a fantastic spy movie (among my favorites of the year), and well worth checking out at home if you missed its limited theatrical run. Retail is $22.99 for the DVD and $30.49 for the Blu-ray, but both will inevitably be available online and in stores for less than that.
Actress Piper Perabo Injured on USA's Covert Affairs Set

Contact Music reports today that actress Piper Perabo (nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in the freshman USA spy series Covert Affairs) broke her leg during a fight scene on the set of her show.  Even though the story broke today, though, it sounds like it might be old news.  According to Perabo, the injury occurred while shooting the season finale.  Since the show doesn't return until the summer, it seems unlikely that they'd already be shooting next season's finale, so this incident probably happened as they wrapped the last one, and the story probably just broke amidst her Golden Globes publicity.  Perabo hopes the mishap won't mean that she doesn't get to do her own fights during the next season (presumably meaning the second one).  "One of the things I like about the show," she tells the website, "is they really take the action seriously and let me do it. When it happened, one of the first things I said to our line producer was, 'Do not take me out of the action of the show.'" As I recently posted, Covert Affairs (review here) was one of my favorite new spy shows of 2010, and I'm very much looking forward to the next season.

Jan 21, 2011

Final Alex Rider Cover Art Revealed

Here's the second Anthony Horowitz news item of the day. I'm a little behind on this, but the cover artwork for the final Alex Rider novel, Scorpia Rising, popped up last month on the official Alex Rider website and on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.  As usual, the British artwork (left) is better (though I don't think it's final), and the American one (right) is too busy.  Writer Anthony Horowitz swears up and down that Scorpia Rising really is the end of his hugely popular Young Adult teen spy series–and a very definitive end at that.  Spy fans can discover exactly what he means by that this March.  Scorpia Rising comes out in hardcover in the United States from Philomel on March 22, and (surprisingly) a week later in the UK when Walker Books releases the paperback original on March 31. Previously, these books have debuted first in Britain.  It's also curious that this one's back to being a paperback original in the UK, like the early books, since the last one, Crocodile Tears (review here), came out in hardcover.  Here's the intriguing UK description for Scorpia Rising:
This gripping final mission brings together Alex Rider's old enemies to frame the teenage superspy in an unstoppable plot of revenge, from which he can never return. Pursued from Europe to North Africa and Cairo's city of the dead - this is the twistiest and most deadly plot of any Alex Rider mission yet, and will reveal Smithers' ultimate gadget and see the shock death of a major character.
The American description is less revealing:
Scorpia has dogged Alex Rider for most of his life. They killed his parents, they did their best to con Alex into turning traitor, and they just keep coming back with more power. Now the world's most dangerous terrorist organization is playing with fire in the world's most combustible land: the Middle East. No one knows Scorpia like Alex. And no one knows how best to get to Alex like Scorpia. Until now.

The chases have never been more intense, the fights more treacherous, or the risks so perilous to mankind. And this time, Alex won't get away.
Horowitz himself revealed far more about the book in his interview with NPR last year.  Read all about that here. If you pre-order now, you can save 50% on the British version of Scorpia Rising (making it a dirt-cheap £3.49) and nearly as much on the American one.
The Game's Afoot Again: Alex Rider Writer Lands Sherlock Holmes Gig

Reuters reports that Alex Rider and Foyle's War creator Anthony Horowitz has been tapped by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate to pen a new, officially endorsed Sherlock Holmes continuation novel.  The news story claims that "this is the first time the estate has given official approval for a story since [ACD's] last novel was published in 1915," but that doesn't sound right to me. Surely Adrian Conan Doyle's Exploits of Sherlock Holmes (written with John Dickson Carr) were approved by... him?  I always thought that Caleb Carr one, The Italian Secretary, was official, but I guess not.  Anyway, this new book is, and it will be published by Orion in September. Despite the fact that Horowitz is probably best known as a novelist for his Young Adult series, this is an adult novel and not associated with Andrew Lane's current Young Sherlock Holmes series another officially sanctioned project that seeks to capitalize on the success of Charlie Higson's Young Bond novels.  Recall that on television, Horowitz has displayed extraordinary talent with grown-up detective tales, writing for the terrific Poirot series based on Agatha Christie's famous mysteries and also creating the even more terrific Foyle's War, starring Pierce Brosnan's Bill Tanner, the great Michael Kitchen.  In my opinion, the creator of Chritopher Foyle is more than qualified to chronicle the greatest detective of all time!  "I fell in love with the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was 16 and I've read them many times since," Horowitz told Reuters. "I simply couldn't resist this opportunity to write a brand new adventure for this iconic figure and my aim is to produce a first rate mystery for a modern audience while remaining absolutely true to the spirit of the original." He doesn't reveal any details about the plot, but in his other work Horowitz has again and again displayed his affinity for espionage stories.  (I'd say at least half the Foyle's have some element of intrigue in them, and Alex Rider is obviously inspired by James Bond.)  So I wouldn't be surprised if that turns up in his Holmes novel as well.  Like Mark Gatiss on television's Sherlock, I doubt that Horowitz will be able to resist including Holmes's elder brother with a secretive government job, Mycroft.  And where there's Mycroft (at least in the world of pastiches, and often in Doyle's original stories), there's usually espionage afoot.

Horowitz's final Alex Rider adventure, Scorpia Rising, is due out on March 22, 2011.

Jan 20, 2011

First Look at Benedict Cumberbatch in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Luckily for spy fans, the British paparazzi have been avidly snapping away as film rolls on Tomas Alfredson's new film adaptation of  John Le Carré's classic Cold War spy tale Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  Hot on the heels of those behind-the-scenes pictures revealing Tom Hardy's Seventies look as scalphunter Ricki Tarr, The Daily Mail gives us our first glimpse at Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam, right-hand man to frumpy-but-brilliant spymaster George Smiley (Gary Oldman).  I love it!  With his straightened hair dyed blond (or is it a wig?), he looks very Seventies (given the movie's Cold War period setting) and very much like I picture Guillam.  (Well, except for the puffy outer coat and the banana, but I assume those will disappear when the cameras roll.) The tabloid also provides our first look at Roger Lloyd-Pack as (presumably) Control.  Like Oldman, he looks a lot like his counterpart in the 1979 BBC miniseries

In a possible bit of casting news on this film, the IMDb weirdly lists a Russian, Katrina Vasilieva, as playing the very, very English Anne Smiley, philandering wife of Oldman's protagonist. Hm.
First Look at Rowan Atkinson in Johnny English Sequel

Looks like I missed this one a few weeks ago!  Ace Showbiz has the first picture I've seen from the Rowan Atkinson spy parody sequel Johnny English Reborn.  So... there's snow.  Always a good thing in a spy movie–comedy or otherwise!  Sadly the picture doesn't offer us any glimpses of the impressive duo of previously announced "English Girls" Rosamund Pike and Gillian Anderson.  The website also has a synopsis that sounds official offering some plot details I hadn't read before:
In the years since MI-7's top spy vanished off the grid, he has been honing his unique skills in a remote region of Asia. But when his agency superiors learn of an attempt against the Chinese premier's life, they must hunt down the highly unorthodox agent. Now that the world needs him once again, Johnny English is back in action. With one shot at redemption, he must employ the latest in hi-tech gadgets to unravel a web of conspiracy that runs throughout the KGB, CIA and even MI-7.
Johnny English Reborn opens September 16, 2011 in the UK, which means Brits will have to choose between two very diffent spy movies that weekend! I think that's the same date that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy opens.
U.S. Cover Art For Carte Blanche Unveiled

The Book Bond (always the best place to get the latest news first about anything pertaining to the literary 007) has landed the cover artwork for Simon and Schuster's American edition of Jeffery Deaver's upcoming James Bond continuation novel, Carte Blanche.  It's definitely a striking image that should stand out on shelves... but not really to my taste for Bond covers. I think I prefer the UK one we saw earlier this week, when the title was announced. No matter which dust jacket ends up wrapped around the copy I read first, though, I can't wait for this book! With a bestselling author like Deaver (who I must confess I've never read), Carte Blanche should be the highest profile Bond continuation novel ever. Click here for more information on it.
Tradecraft: New Bond Screenwriter is a Fleming Fan

According to The Hollywood Reporter (the print version, anyway; I can't find this story online), newly announced James Bond screenwriter John Logan is a fan of the original 007 novels.  Reporters Borys Kit and Kim Masters reveal how he came to be involved with Bond 23.  "The Los Angeles-based writer bumped into director Sam Mendes, a longtime friend, after a theater show in New York.  When Mendes mentioned that he will direct the next Bond film, Logan revealed he had read every single one of Ian Fleming's 007 novels.  Mendes immediately asked whether he'd be interested in trying his hand at a Bond script, leading to a meeting during the holidays with Bond rights-holders the Broccoli family.  Logan impressed and got the gig, paving the way to be included in the big announcement."  As for how his collaboration with longtime Bond scribes Purvis and Wade will work, the trade reports that the regulars have already written their draft and that Logan is now "taking over for Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who wrote the four previous Bond films and a draft of 23 but will hand the reins to Logan." (Sounds similar to their collaboration with Paul Haggis on the last two movies.) It's easy for Bond fans to scoff at the trade's apparent amazement that someone read every single one of Fleming's novels(!), but we have to assume that the great import attributed to that simple, common and highly enjoyable accomplishment is their own and not Logan's. Despite the laughable wording, I think it's a good thing that this writer is a fan of the novels. And I dare say not every writer to work on a Bond movie over the years has even managed to read all the books.  Didn't Haggis admit as much?  I seem to recall his saying he'd read almost all of them, but that caveat fails to impress die-hard fans who know almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades! (Yes, that's a really obscure Bond reference. I'll send a prize to the first person who can identify it!)

Jan 19, 2011

Tradecraft: Spook Jonathan Kaye Comes to New Hawaii Five-0

Recently, the primary spy antagonist of the original Hawaii Five-0, Steve McGarrett's arch-nemesis Wo Fat, turned up on CBS' new version of the show in the person of Mark Dacascos. Now, Deadline reports that recurring good guy Intelligence man "Jonathan Kaye from Washington" (originally played by Lyle Bettger, Bill Edwards, Joseph Sirlola and others) will soon follow–sort of.  Like Kono (Zulu in the original; Grace Park in the new version), Kaye will undergo a sex change and an appropriate name change as well.  According to the trade blog, former Secret World of Alex Mack star Larisa Oleynik (all grown up now) will be joining the cast of the remake series as Jessica Kaye, a "highly educated ex-CIA analyst who goes to Hawaii to assist Five-0 in the pursuit of Wo Fat."  Since everybody on the new version needs a personal stake in things (the bland new McGarrett lost not one but both of his parents to recurring series villains!), Jessica has a backstory never deemed necessary for her male predecessor. Apparently, "Wo Fat was responsible for the murder of her fiancé, a well respected CIA field agent." It sounds like the new J. Kaye will play a bigger part on the series than her original namesake. Oleynik's role is a recurring one for the rest of this season, but with an option to become a series regular next year.

Read my review of Hawaii Five-O: Season Three here.
Read my mini-review of Hawaii Five-O: Season Two here.
Read my review of Hawaii Five-O: Season One here.
Johnny Cash's "Thunderball" to Get First Official American Release

According to Johnny Cash's official website, the forthcoming Cash archival album From Memphis to Hollywood: Bootleg Vol. 2 (due out February 22 from Sony) will feature the first ever official U.S. release of Cash's attempt at a title song for the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball.  The idea of Johnny Cash singing a Bond theme seemed so appallingly incongruous to me that for years I refused to believe that was what it was actually for. Not listening to the lyrics very closely, I thought it was one of Cash's many train songs with a coincidental title.  Then Armstrong at Mister 8 convinced me otherwise* when he took a look at the song last year, and linked to someone's industrious marriage of Cash's song with Maurice Binder's Thunderball title sequence on YouTube.  Clearly, it never would have worked!  But it is cool that Johnny Cash recorded a prospective Bond theme.  Bond completists can buy the album (and probably the track on its own) next month, but for Cash fans like myself there are plenty of other reasons to buy it besides this throwaway ditty. 

*It's very hard to find any concrete information on the web as to how this recording came to be. Some sites assert that it was commissioned by the film's producers, but that seems unlikely to me. It seems more likely that Cash or his people decided to submit it, unsolicited, in hopes of exposure in a sure-fire, world-wide hit movie, as Alice Cooper, Pulp and others would do in the future. Thanks to John Cork for pointing me toward one of the few Cash biographies to address the song, Stephen Miller's Johnny Cash: The Life of an American Icon. Miller doesn't seem to know how Cash became associated with a Thunderball song, either, but he does confirm that the singer's intention was for this to be the movie's theme.

Jan 18, 2011

Hoebers See RED Again

Collider (via AICN) reports that Summit has hired Erich and Jon Hoeber, who penned last year's fun retired spy comedy RED, to write a sequel script.  The movie was a hit and even earned a Golden Globe nomination (which is honestly kind of weird), so a sequel definitely doesn't seem beyond the realm of possibility.  The ending certainly introduced the prospect before the credits even rolled on the first film.  I really enjoyed RED (review here) and I'd love to see more of those actors accomplishing more Mission: Impossible-style heists and cons.  I certainly hope there's room for Karl Urban to return as well as higher-profile stars Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich.  Collider's story doesn't provide any specifics, but it seems unlikely that the sequel will be based on Cully Hammer's sequel to the comic book he and Warren Ellis originated.  And why should it?  The first film certainly didn't hew very closely to the source material and it turned out just fine. 

RED hits DVD and Blu-ray next week.

Jan 17, 2011

Ian Fleming's Master Spy James Bond 007 in Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver

Jeffery Deaver revealed the title and UK cover art (as well as the car) for his forthcoming James Bond continuation novel today in Dubai and on his website.  At the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, Deaver unveiled this cover and the title Carte Blanche. A corresponding press release doesn't give away many details about the plot (other than that part of the story takes place in the UAE, which we already knew), but it does answer another burning question that's sparked intense debate in the Bond fan community of late: what car will 007 drive in this modern day-set novel? "Carte Blanche also features Fleming's favourite car – a Bentley. Historically, Bond owned three Bentley cars in the course of the fourteen original novels written by Ian Fleming and, bringing the plot completely up to date, Bond drives a Bentley Continental GT in the new book." Sounds good to me! (Though I'm not sure about that bit about Bentley being Fleming's own favorite car.  While it's true that his character favored it, I'm pretty sure Fleming himself drove Thunderbirds and Avantis in the days when he was chronicling Bond's adventures. But that's nitpicking.) I love the looks of the cars Bentley has been making of late (I'd hoped we might see one in Casino Royale, but the Aston Martin DBS was a more than adequate substitute), and the Continental GT is no exception. See for yourself at Bentley's website.

That's not much to go on, but regular readers will know well that I never shy away from flounting the adage and judging books by their covers. So what do I think of the title and cover?  Well, the first thing I thought looking at it was, "Cate Blanchett? What does she have to do with this?"  That was just my first thought looking at those words in that title treatment.  I know, I'm weird.  (And I spent years working on the Lord of the Rings movies where her's was a name that popped up a lot.)  Anyway, as for the title, I like it.  It doesn't have quite the ring of Devil May Care, but it still sounds Bondian and I have every confidence this novel will outshine that disappointment.  One good indicator is the fact that IFP aren't pulling that offensive "writing as Ian Fleming" nonsense that they did with Sebastian Faulkes. The cover image (for the Hodder and Stroughton UK edition) is stark and suitably spyish (shades of Mission: Impossible) and modern looking, all of which are good things.  It's not ideal (I'm not quite sure what it is: is it a fuse or just a plume of smoke?), but it looks good.  I'm surprised they resisted making the curves in the smoke into a woman's body ala the flower on the UK Devil May Care cover or the flames on The World Is Not Enough's teaser poster, but I suppose it looks more contemporary this way. 

A photo accompanying the press release depicts Deaver posing with some mock-ups of the book (at least I assume they're mock-ups!), and honing in on that detail, I like the overall look. Assuming it's about the same size as the classic UK firsts of Fleming and Gardner, the whole design seems very appropriate. Hodder and Stroughton have also set up a mini-site dedicated to the novel, complete with a countdown to its release and a cool little 3D animation of the book itself. Check it out at 007carteblanche.co.uk.

The Hodder and Stroughton edition of Carte Blanche comes out two days in advance of Ian Fleming's birthday on May 26, 2011. The American edition, published by Simon and Schuster, follows a few weeks later on June 14. This book is one of the spy events I'm most looking forward to this year, which is itself the subject of a follow-up post to my Best of 2010 round-up that I've been working on since New Year's Day and hope to have up soon.

Jan 16, 2011

R.I.P. Susannah York

The AP reports that Susannah York, the vivacious British actress who epitomized the Swinging Sixties, has passed away from cancer at 72.  Since spy movies were a fixture of that decade and its Swingingness, it's unsurprising that she starred in quite a few.  My favorite of York's forays into the genre was Kaleidoscope, which also starred Warren Beatty and Clive Revill.  While technically more of a caper movie (the jet-setting, European-set variety that's just one small degree removed from the spy genre anyway), Kaleidoscope actually borrows so much of its plot from Ian Fleming's novel Casino Royale that some Bond fans consider it an unofficial adaptation.  It certainly uses as many elements as any of the three legitimate versions, and adds as many of its own as either of the features as well.  But the best thing it has going for it is that awesome Sixties vibe, embodied as much by York's irrepressible, mini-skirted character as by the costume and set design. That same year, she made a similar (and equally entertaining) Euro-caper, Duffy, opposite James Coburn. York also lent her talents to Sebastian (1968), playing a sassy, sexy codebreaker who wins the heart of boss Dirk Bogarde, and co-starred twice opposite Roger Moore, in Peter Hunt's South African mining adventure Gold (1974) and the international-arms-dealing-romantic-comedy (an odd genre curiously neglected over the years) That Lucky Touch (1975).  I haven't seen the latter, though Moore himself deemed it awful enough to go out of his way making excuses for it in his autobiography. Still, with Moore and York it can't be that bad, can it?  Moore wasn't her only Bondian co-star, either; she acted with Sean Connery in a decidedly non-spy role, a BBC version of "The Crucible."

Despite all these spy roles, York will probably be better remembered for movies like Tom Jones, A Man For All SeasonsThe Killing of Sister George, Superman and an Oscar-nominated turn in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? I'll always think of her, though, as the spirit of the Swinging Sixties–an era trapped in time but possibly better preserved on film than any other, thanks in part to York's performances.