May 31, 2011

Tradecraft: Morena Baccarin Heads For Homeland

Deadline reports that Morena Baccarin (Firefly, V) has joined the cast of Showtime's Homeland, the new spy series from 24 producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa.  The Serenity actress will play Jessica Brody, the "strong, smart wife" of rescued POW Marine Sergeant Scott Brody (Damian Lewis). Driven CIA agent Carrie Anderson (Claire Danes) believes that Brody has been turned during his time in captivity, and now represents a Manchurian Candidate-like threat to homeland security.  Baccarin replaces Laura Fraser, who played that part in the pilot.  Many people (myself included) fully expected Joss Whedon to cast his Firefly star as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill in his movie of Marvel's superhero squad The Avengers (no relation to the TV show), but instead he opted for How I Met Your Mother's Cobie Smulders.  Now Baccarin ends up in a spy project anyway—even if she's not playing an agent.

Watch the exciting teaser for Homeland, which debuts this fall, here.
Upcoming Los Angeles Spy Screenings
Including George Lazenby in Person!

Father's Day Weekend is a James Bond weekend in Los Angeles! The American Cinematheque will screen four Bond films between its two theaters. On Friday, June 17, they'll show On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever (didn't they just show that one?) at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Best of all, 007 himself George Lazenby will appear in person for a Q&A between the films moderated by Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia author Steven Jay Rubin! If you didn't catch Laz in person at the Aero last year, make every effort to do so this time! As totally candid as only an Australian can be, he was a wildly entertaining (and thoroughly uncensored) storyteller. The Q&A alone should make the night worthwhile, but on top of that you've also got the opportunity to see the best James Bond movie ever in one of the best theaters in the country. (The Egyptian is tied for me, personally, with the Music Box in Chicago. But of course there are plenty I've never been to.) Tickets are supposedly available through Fandango here, but I'm never able to make that work for Cinematheque screenings. It will probably say that they aren't available for that showtime, but as far as I know these shows are not yet sold out. So your best bet, if you live in the area, is swinging by the box office sometime to pick up your tickets in advance.

On Father's Day itself, Sunday, June 19, you can catch the first two Bond films back-to-back at the Aero in Santa Monica. Dr. No starts at 7:30 followed by From Russia With Love. Once again, tickets are supposedly available through Fandango, but once again it's unlikely to work. Hit up the theater box office sometime before the show date.

All of these showings are listed as being 35mm presentations, which, to me, is a great thing. Last time the Egyptian showed Bonds, a bunch of them were DCPs.  They were absolutely stunning digital prints, I'll admit, but personally, I'll take a scratchy film print over pristine digital any day.  That's just the feel I want if I'm seeing a movie in a theater.  That said, hopefully these prints won't be scratchy!  My favorite viewing experience ever of OHMSS was a dye-transfer Technicolor print they showed at the Egyptian some years ago. I've seen nice prints on the big screen since then, but never another as good as that. I always hope that's the one they'll get...
The Spy Star of the Summer: Finn McMissile

Michael Caine may have starred in more spy movies than just about anyone over the years. His latest spy role is his biggest in decades—and one with a bit of a twist.  As previously discussed, in Pixar's Cars 2, he plays a spy car.  The conceit of Cars and its sequel is that anthropomorphic cars are the characters. I still haven't seen the original, but I don't believe there are people in this world.  So when thinking of possible new characters for a sequel that might sell lots and lots of toys, the notion of spy cars must have been an obvious one! Caine plays Finn McMissile of British Intelligence. Though the design probably owes as much to Sixties BMWs as the Aston Martin DB5, James Bond's famous car is clearly the inspiration for the character.  As seen in the second trailer, Finn has lots of tricks up his sleeve—everything you'd expect of a good gadget car. (Plus, his Beemer-like grill makes a great mustache!) Obviously, those gadgets feature prominently in the new Cars toy line. Disney has made a mint in merchandising off of the Cars brand, and the cynic in me suspects that the whole reason for a sequel was to sell more toys. But really, what better reason than to sell spy car toys? I would have absolutely loved this movie if it had come out during my childhood—and the toys.

I'm guessing that, like me, just about everyone reading this blog grew up with one version or another of the Corgi James Bond Aston Martin. (My own model from the late 80s or early 90s was probably the most boring; it wasn't gold like the original and it didn't have the tire slashers like the slightly later version or the newest one, and the Bond figure and the guy who got ejected were both just hunks of brown plastic, not painted... but I absolutely loved it nonetheless! Still do, in fact.) Since the current Bond movies aren't really targeted at kids and the Aston Martin in the last one didn't feature any gadgets, it's only right that Disney provide this generation with a cool spy gadget car toy. But they're not offering just one. Instead, there are many, many iterations of mini Finn McMissiles to be had, in different scales and with different functions. The Secret Spy Attack Finn McMissile is a very traditional spy gadget car, sort of like the AC Gilbert Goldfinger Aston, but with a big plus: not only do missile launchers pop out when you push the buttons, but it talks in Michael Caine's voice!



This one is crazy. They call it the Zero Gravity Finn McMissile, and it's a remote control car that drives not only on the floor... but on the walls! That's just what every parent ever has wished for, right? A remote control car that their kids can drive on the walls. And it seems to make a horrible noise, too... even better for aggravating mom! You've gotta check it out:



Then there are some smaller ones, like the "Submariner" version (clearly influenced by another Corgi classic, the Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me) and the "Lights and Sound" version, which is pretty self-explanatory. I just love that spy cars will be the must-have toy again, right up through Christmas! But maybe coolest of all is this life-size remote control version. No, that one's not for sale, unfortunately. But it's doing a promotional tour of the country, so it's possible you might be able to see it in person. (Though you might feel kind of weird about that if you don't have kids.) Check out the pictures on the Disney fansite Stitch Kingdom. Looking at ones like this one, from the rear, you get a much better sense of the design than you do from the trailers. I love how they just added fins to a very recognizable DB5 back end, right down to the Bond-inspired license plate!

There's also a YouTube video here of the life-size touring cars, including Finn.

May 30, 2011

Smiley Re-Jacketed

Smiley Re-Jacketed

In George Smiley's first appearance in Call For the Dead, John le Carré described his most famous creation in a rather unflattering manner: "Short, fat, and of a quiet disposition, he appeared to spend a lot of money on really bad clothes, which hung about his squat frame like skin on a shrunken toad."  Yet now, thanks to artist Matt Taylor, Smiley is undergoing an uncharacteristically stylish upgrade.  In a move that surprised the book industry, le Carré defected from long-term publisher Hodder and Soughton to Penguin in 2009. Part of the new publisher's appeal to the author was said to be the chance to occupy the same roster as his literary idols, Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad, both of whose catalogs are very handsomely maintained by Penguin. Ironically, another spy author whose company the move puts him in is Ian Fleming. "I dislike Bond. I'm not sure that Bond is a spy. I think that it's a great mistake if one's talking about espionage literature to include Bond in this category at all," le Carré told an interviewer in 1966... though he later conceded that his reactive statement may have been a tad harsh. Penguin have been the stewards of Fleming's Bond books for the last decade now, and expertly shepherded them through a succession of classy reissues on both sides of the pond. No matter how le Carré feels about Fleming, one can't help speculate that 007's treatment in the hands of Penguin may also have played a part in his decision to make the publisher his new home.

Now, in anticipation of the new film version of le Carré's seminal work, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (see today's earlier post), Penguin have unveiled a series of Smiley reissues just as striking as their Bond covers. On June 7 they'll release the first two books in the "Karla Trilogy" (Tinker, Tailor, which earns a "Soon to be a major motion picture" banner, and The Honourable Schoolboy) with colorful new covers by Taylor, who also provided artwork for the recent paperback edition of le Carré's latest novel, Our Kind of Traitor. The third volume, Smiley's People, follows on June 28. After that, the reissues continue with non-Smiley works The Little Drummer Girl (the same day as Smiley's People), A Perfect Spy and The Naive and Sentimental Lover (both in late July).

These three novels are not the only ones featuring George Smiley, but they are the best and the most substantial—and they form the core not only of le Carré's body of work, but of the Espionage Canon as a whole. This trilogy is absolutely essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest in the spy genre. (I'm praying that the new Tinker, Tailor movie will prove successful enough to merit film versions of all three novels; I'd love to see The Honourable Schoolboy filmed!) All three books will also be issued as eBooks the same day. Unfortunately, there's no way of telling from Penguin's website if the author's introductions from the Scribner editions (penned in the 1990s) will be included in the new reissues. I suppose it's possible that those might belong to the old publisher like special features on a Criterion DVD that fail to appear on a subsequent studio version. I do hope they're included, because I've found all of them to be insightful supplements to the novels. For constant coverage on all things Smiley, I recommend the relatively new website SmileyWatch (linked on the right of this blog), who first reported on Tinker, Tailor's new cover back in April.
New Images Revealed From Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Remake

The Playlist points the way to the Danish website Movie Pilot, which debuts three new images from Tomas Alfredson's upcoming big screen adaptation of the best spy novel ever, John Le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Among them is our first look at recent Oscar-winner Colin Firth as the quintessential MI6 operative Bill Haydon, and he looks suitably dapper. There's also our first official look at Tom Hardy as scalp hunter Ricky Tarr (following the unofficial set pictures from last winter) and a new photo of Gary Oldman as spymaster George Smiley. Additionally, the film's official Facebook page has gone live, giving us an expanded look at that first official image of Oldman that we first glimpsed last fall.  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was previously filmed (quite masterfully) as a BBC miniseries starring the incomparable Alec Guinness.  Penguin is reissuing the novel (along with the other two books comprising the so-called "Karla Trilogy") this June with a striking new cover just in time for the film, which is set to kick off the Venice Film Festival before a UK bow in September and an Oscar-timed American release later in the fall. I'm looking forward to a lot of movies coming out later this year (including Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Johnny English Reborn and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), but this one is far and away the one I'm most excited about!


Secret Service Academy

No, Mahoney and the gang aren't moving up in the world. Rather, Deadline reports that Universal is developing a fact-based movie about the U.S. Secret Service's recruiting and training program. According to the trade blog, "the studio has optioned a [fascinating 2009] cover story in the Washington Post Magazine by Laura Blumenfeld, and set Greg Poirier to write the script.... Blumenfeld went through the training program to write her article and it included shooting weapons, hand-to-hand combat, psychological and other training methods." So, sort of like The Recruit, but with the Secret Service instead of the CIA? And hopefully better? While Poirier's produced credits like The Spy Next Door and National Treasure: Book of Secrets might not inspire much confidence in this project, he also created ABC's upcoming fall spy series Missing, and that pilot was an excellent read. Based on that alone, I'd be excited for his next script even if the premise didn't sound this interesting. Deadline goes on to reveal that "the Secret Service differs from most law-enforcement branches in that applicants don't need a law enforcement background to apply [lending] an everyman aspect to a film that will follow a group of aspirants who go through the training program to become agents."

May 26, 2011

Covert Affairs Season 2 Campaign Ramps Up

I was very pleasantly surprised to spot the first bus stop poster I'd seen for the second season of USA's Covert Affairs while driving home the other day.  In addition to the posters, Deadline reports that USA is making a big push in movie theaters, running this spot for Covert Affairs and White Collar before big summer movies like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and X-Men: First Class.  I know, I know; where's the news in that?  I see ads for USA shows before the trailers every time I go to an AMC theater.  Well, though the article is vague, I think the implication is that this will actually run with the movie trailers, and not with the pre-trailer advertisements.  The spot, unfortunately, doesn't reveal any new footage from Season 2.  But it does serve as a good introduction to the series for viewers who have never seen this smart, compelling CIA dramady starring Piper Perabo.  Covert Affairs returns on Tuesday, June 7.

Read my review of Covert Affairs' Season 1 pilot here.

May 25, 2011

Book Review: The Last Run: A Queen and Country Novel by Greg Rucka

With his third novel in a franchise that also comprises an ongoing series of comic books and several mini-series (all conveniently collected into four omnibus-sized volumes), Greg Rucka happily maintains the high standards that Queen and Country fans have become accustomed to and then some. I would have been happy just to have these characters back after too long an absence from both bookstores and comic book stores, and might have settled for something less—but fortunately I didn’t have to. The Last Run is a fantastic spy novel, and probably the second-best in the saga so far, closely following A Gentleman’s Game. (And the second book, Private Wars, was no slouch either.) A familiarity with the previous novels or comics is not necessary to enjoy this book, as Rucka concisely reintroduces all of the major characters quite effectively—which is handy even for a longtime fan, since it’s been so long since we’ve enjoyed the company of Tara Chace, Paul Crocker and the rest of Rucka’s SIS crew. (However, if you have read the rest of the series, you’ll be rewarded with some rich payoffs to character arcs and political machinations that have been percolating for its duration.)

Tara Chace is Minder One, the head of the SIS’s Special Section. (Rucka’s minders are roughly the equivalent of Le Carré’s scalp hunters, Fleming’s Double O’s or—most directly—The Sandbaggers’ sandbaggers.) But her operational shelf life is fast nearing expiration. Aging roughly in real time since the beginning of the series, she’s been at it for over a decade, which is far longer than most agents are kept in the field in Rucka’s world. (And very probably in real life, I’d imagine.) Furthermore, she’s a mother now, and she doesn’t like leaving her daughter Tamsin for long periods of time—with no certainty of ever returning. Particularly poignantly, she’s forced to leave Tamsin in the arms of a babysitter while the child has the flu and is running a high fever as Tara embarks on her final mission. And it’s never in any doubt that this is, indeed, her final mission—one way or another. That doesn’t give anything away; Rucka makes that clear from the earliest chapters if not the title itself. Tara Chace submits her resignation to Paul Crocker, the Director of Operations (D-Ops), but considerately agrees to stay on until a suitable replacement can be found. She soon comes to regret that consideration, however, when the head of the service, C, insists (at the unappreciated behest of the CIA) that Minder One take on a potentially suicidal mission into Iran that seems suspiciously like a trap.

In all of his novels, Rucka divides his chapters between Tara’s point of view, Crocker’s, that of a supposed ally and that of a supposed enemy. (Forgive my vagueness, but to reveal who is actually what in books like these would be, in the words of The Prisoner’s Number 2, telling. Perhaps the characters are exactly as they appear, and perhaps they are not. Readers of Rucka’s past Q&C novels know it can go either way.) In The Last Run, the new characters are SIS’s newly-posted Tehran Station Number Two, Caleb Lewis, and Youness Shirazi, the head of Iran’s secret police, VEVAK, who spends much of the story pursuing our heroine. In every Rucka novel I begin by sighing when I come to a chapter focusing on one of these non-regulars and thumb ahead to see how many pages I’ll have to go until I get back to my favorite characters, and then very quickly I come to welcome the new characters just as much. In the comics, Rucka is limited by the space constrictions of the medium and can’t afford to spend so much time developing his antagonists. Those stories work wonderfully sticking to the POVs of Tara and Crocker, but the addition of other points of view differentiate the novels enough to make them a unique reading experience in the series—and to justify using two different mediums to tell his stories.

The too-good-to-be-true bait that Crocker reluctantly sends Tara after is a high-level would-be defector: no less a personage than the nephew of the Ayatollah himself. The Iran setting provides not only a backdrop torn directly from the headlines (as they say), but also the best opportunity to tell a Cold War-style spy story in the vein of Smiley and Samson in a modern context. In his (quite brilliant) short story “Section 7 (a) (Operational),” Lee Child pokes fun at the ubiquity of Iran-related plots in contemporary spy novels. But in The Last Run, Greg Rucka ably demonstrates all the advantages of setting a spy story in that country. It’s the closest scenario in today’s world to the European chessboard Len Deighton and John Le Carré once moved their pieces around. When the mission predictably goes to hell, Tara finds herself alone in a hostile country being pursued by VEVAK, the military and the regular police. Yet it’s a country she was able to travel freely into under non-diplomatic cover—and even blend in. How many other countries in the news today could a blond, female, Western spy believably do that in? Rucka handily puts a contemporary spin on all of my favorite Cold War tropes: the ambiguity of a defector (is he for real or not?), the embassy as refuge, imperiled networks and dead drops, the agent on her own behind enemy lines, the run for the border and ingenious crossings thereof. The Last Run has all that in spades.

As usual, poor Tara is put through the ringer. More than ever before, though, there is absolutely no certainty that she will come through it all. We know from the start that it’s her last run, but that can mean several things… and Rucka has shown time and again that he’s not above killing off main characters in this series. Meanwhile, as usual, Paul Crocker has his own battles to fight at home, and his navigation of the Whitehall bureaucracy is often as perilous in its own way as Tara’s flight from authorities in an unfriendly land. Paul Crocker is Rucka’s greatest creation, and I could easily read a whole novel (or comic) just about him… but it’s probably more fun to jump between the field and the office, as we do in Queen and Country.

If The Last Run has a flaw, it’s that the ending—whatever happens—is all too abrupt. While all the primary plot threads are resolved, I’d like to have known more about how some of them were wrapped up. But thanks to the point of view we see them through, that’s not possible. I closed the book with questions—not the sort that fuel my already eager anticipation for the next book or comic, but the sort that pertain specifically to the one I just finished and are unlikely to be addressed in the future. But that’s a minor complaint. The Last Run is a clearly well-researched and utterly thrilling read sure to satisfy fans of both the Desk and Field sides of the spy genre. I honestly can’t recommend this whole series highly enough.

May 24, 2011

Upcoming Spy DVDs From MGM's Limited Edition Collection
Including Works From Broccoli and Saltzman, Diana Rigg, Edward Woodward, Richard Johnson and More!

The next monthly wave of titles from MGM's MOD program, the Limited Edition Collection, includes some real spy gems!  Most exciting is the spy movie that Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman collaborated on between Dr. No and From Russia With Love: 1963's Call Me Bwana, starring Bob Hope and Anita Ekberg. Long unavailable on home video and never before released in widescreen (though it's run that way on TCM), this title is probably best known to Bond fans for the in-joke in Sean Connery's second 007 outing. Bond's ally Kerim Bey uses 007's Q-issued sniper rifle to shoot the Bulgarian KGB stooge Krilencu as he attempts to escape his safe house through a secret exit in the mouth of Anita Ekberg on a poster for Call Me Bwana painted on the side of his building. (In Ian Fleming's novel, it was Marilyn Monroe.)  But Bwana is notable for more than that; it's a spy movie in its own right.  When an unmanned American space capsule crash-lands in the African veldt, the CIA sends self-professed African expert Bob Hope (The Road to Hong Kong) to retrieve it.  The other side sends beautiful secret agent Anita Ekberg (The Cobra) and scientist Lionel Jeffries (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), and soon all the interested parties find themselves on safari together.  In typical Bob Hope fashion, hilarity ensues.  Much of the Bond team established on Dr. No remains in place here, including editor Peter Hunt, production designer Syd Cain, composer Monty Norman, D.P. Ted Moore, title designer Maurice Binder and scribe Johanna Harwood.

The 1969 Eurospy movie The File of the Golden Goose doesn't quite live up to the promise of its all-star cast (which includes Edward Woodward, Charles Grey, Yul Brynner, Walter Gotell, Ivor Dean, John Barrie and Adrienne Corri), but it's still a welcome release on DVD. American Secret Service agent Brynner is sent to England where he teams up with Scotland Yard detective Woodward to go undercover to bust a brutal counterfeit gang known as the Golden Goose. All the double-crossing expected of the spy genre ensues, but the stodgy movie feels more like a generic Forties or Fifties noir (thanks in part to some unnecessary narration), belying its origins as a remake of 1947's T-Men. Director Sam Wanamaker made a much better Eurospy movie the following year, The Executioner, which has already been issued on MOD from Columbia.

Don Sharp's 1975 political thriller Hennessy is a real surprise! Based on a story conceived by Deadlier Than the Male star Richard Johnson, its contriversial subject matter ensured an extremely limited release in Seventies Britain, and it's never been very widely available since.  Fans have long demanded it on DVD, but probably never thought it would actually happen. Rod Steiger plays Hennessy, a peaceful Irishman driven to extremism after his wife and child are killed during violence in Belfast. As retribution he plots to assassinate the Queen of England by bombing the British Parliament when the Royal Family is in attendance. Johnson plays the Special Branch operative out to stop him, and Eric Porter plays an IRA thug out to stop him as well, out of fear of British reprisals in Ireland for such a horrific act. Trevor Howard, Lee Remick, Patrick Stewart and Queen Elizabeth II herself (via stock footage) co-star.

Diana Rigg fans will be pleased to note that this wave of titles also includes Peter Hall's 1968 version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream starring Rigg (between The Avengers and Bond) as Helena. Judi Dench, decades prior to playing M, also appears, as Titania.  Impossibly young versions of Ian Holm (Game Set Match), Helen Mirren (RED), Michael Jayston (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Barbara Jefford (who lent her voice to Daniella Bianchi's Tatiana Romanova in From Russia With Love) round out the dream cast.

Though there are no pre-order links up yet, all of these titles will be available soon from online outlets like Amazon and Screen Archives Entertainment.

May 23, 2011

Homeland Trailer

Homeland (which has been in development since last fall) may be familiar territory for 24 producer Howard Gordon, but I have to hand it to him: while it does look to share the suspense of 24, it also manages to look like a completely different take on the subject of spies fighting terrorism on US soil.  As previously reported, Claire Danes plays a CIA agent convinced that a newly rescued American POW has been turned, Manchurian Candidate-style, and now poses a threat.  Mandy Patinkin is her Agency mentor.  And it looks good! Homeland debuts on Showtime this fall.  Check out the teaser:

May 21, 2011

What the Future Holds For Chuck (Besides Marriage)

NBC confirmed at their upfront presentation in New York on Monday the good news already reported last week: that Chuck is, indeed, returning.  However, it will be moving to 8PM on Friday nights for a 13-episode final season. (That will put it in direct competition with The CW's recently renewed Nikita... but is that really an issue in this age of DVR and On Demand?) Additionally, according to Deadline, NBC Broadcast Chairman Bob Greenblatt said that the final season of Chuck will "go back to its roots" and "will be closer to was it was in Season 1."  Honestly, I didn't have any problems with what it had become in the past year, but I know a lot of fans did, so presumably they'll welcome that news.  I had a problem when Chuck first became a superspy, and stopped watching for a while, but when I returned this year I was happy to see that the new status quo was working well.  Guess that's all changing again.  (Perhaps that changes in this year's finale, which I have yet to watch. Perhaps Chuck doesn't even get married! You all probably know more than I do about that right now.)  I think it's great that the writers know up front that this will be the final season and how many episodes it will last.  This should enable them to plan a season accordingly and resolve everything at the appropriate time.

May 20, 2011

Tradecraft: Meet the New Transporter

Deadline reports that Chris Vance, who played the smarmy "psycho" arms dealer Mason Gilroy on Season 3 of Burn Notice, has been tapped to fill Jason Statham's sizable shoes on EuropaCorp's Transporter TV series.  Hm.  I'm not convinced.  Vance didn't really impress me on Burn Notice, and physically he's certainly no Statham... but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.  (At least he's English.)  I think he was also considered for the new Saint telefilm, so presumably he's got reserves of charm that weren't on display in Burn Notice.  As previously reported, the 12-episode, $48 million Transporter TV series (based on the awesome Luc Besson-produced series of neo-Eurospy movies) will air here on Cinemax. It will shoot in Europe.

May 19, 2011

Person of Interest Trailer

CBS has released a short preview (via io9) of their freshly picked up J.J. Abrams/Jonah Nolan show Person of Interest, which stars Michael Emerson (who was so great as Benjamin Linus on Lost) and Jim Caviezel (who was so bland as Six on the disappointing remake of The Prisoner).  Caviezel stars as a presumed-dead CIA agent recruited by a reclusive billionaire (Emerson) to use his spy skills to wage a vigilante war on crime in New York... before it happens. Up until that last Minority Report twist, it basically sounds like The Equalizer (ex-spy uses skills to fight crime in NYC) meets Batman (self-financed billionaire wages war on crime). The Batman connection is no coincidence, either. Person of Interest comes from the team of J.J. Abrams (Alias, Mission: Impossible III, Undercovers) and Jonah Nolan, brother of Christopher and co-writer of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.  The pre-crime aspect seems from the clip to be an expansion of a concept Nolan first explored in The Dark Knight: the use of a network of security cameras to invade citizens' privacy for their protection.  It's a theme also explored on contemporary UK spy series like MI-5 (aka Spooks), as CCTV cameras are a way of life in Britain.  It's hard to get a sense of a show from these partly behind-the-scenes upfront clips, but the premise and the people involed have me intrigued. My primary misgiving, though, is Caviezel.  In The Prisoner, he just proved too dull to be a leading man.  Hopefully he approaches this character differently.  Personally, I would have rather seen Emerson paired again with his Lost co-star Terry O'Quinn as ex-spies in Odd Jobs, but sadly NBC didn't feel the same way; the new regime pulled the plug on that potential Abrams show.

May 18, 2011

New Spy DVDs Out This Week and Last: Elke, Avengers, Bad Hair and Deceptive Bionic Affairs

Wow, this is one of those weeks with just a ton of new spy DVDs! That's why it's taken me an extra day to compile this post. As always, please consider supporting this site by buying these titles from the Amazon links here if they catch your fancy.

Covert Affairs
On a huge day for spy releases, USA's summer hit Covert Affairs (which made my own list of the best new spy TV shows of 2010) is probably the biggest domestic release. Covert Affairs (review here) stars Piper Perabo as freshman CIA officer Annie Walker. While there are a few of the soap opera elements that have haunted the genre since Alias, Covert Affairs is mainly a spy show as workplace dramady. I've always been a fan of the "desk" side of the spy drama, and I think Covert Affairs handles the office politics better than any other US spy series I can think of. (Certainly better than the melodramatic histrionics of CTU!) Of course, this is still a USA show, which means it's got its share of in-the-field excitement as well. It's a solid, fairly believable, character-driven espionage series that should appeal to all fans of the genre. If you missed it on TV, give it a try on DVD. Extras include commentaries on three episodes featuring stars Piper Perabo and Christopher Gorham, executive producers Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) and David Bartis and show creators Matt Corman and Chris Ord, deleted scenes, a gag reel, an exclusive tour of the Covert Affairs set, featurettes ("Welcome to The Farm," "Blind Insight") and a descriptive narration of the visual elements of the series for visually impaired viewers. Covert Affairs: Season One, a 3-disc set, retails for $59.98, but can currently be ordered from Amazon for nearly half that. 

Circles of Deceit
From Acorn comes another obscure British spy series—this one from the Nineties. Circles of Deceit stars ITV mainstay Dennis Waterman (The Sweeny, Minder) and consists of four TV movies made in 1995 and '96: Circle of Deceit, Dark Secret, Kalon and Sleeping Dogs. Waterman plays a former special-forces operative who remains on call for MI5. His assignments find him taking on Irish terrorists, tracking down professional assassins, and pitting his wits against ruthless drug dealers. But, true to the genre, some of his deadliest adversaries are his devious bosses who keep him on a need-to-know basis, forcing him to rely on his instincts and his training in a world of betrayal, danger, and deceit. Guest stars include Derek Jacobi, John Hannah, Peter Vaughan and Leo McKern (The Prisoner). Retail for the 2-disc set is $49.99, but naturally Amazon's got it for substantially less.

The Prize
Four years ago it was rumored to be part of a Warner Paul Newman Collection on DVD, but that never materialized.  Two years ago, Warner reps said it was still in the works.  But it still didn't appear. Now, The Prize is finally available... but on MOD instead of DVD, from The Warner Archive. It's still fully remastered though. Writer Ernest Lehman shamelessly rips off his own script for North By Northwest in this lightweight Stockholm-set thriller starring Paul Newman, Elke Sommer and Edward G. Robinson. Instead of a biplane, Paul Newman outruns a... truck. (Um, yeah. Not quite as exciting.) Instead of rudely interrupting an auction to evade the baddies by getting himself arrested, he rudely interrupts a nudist meeting for the same reason. It’s not a great movie like Hitchcock's, but it's a damn good imitation and it's seriously entertaining. And, best of all, it’s got Elke... and that’s all that really matters.  A day with another Elke Sommer spy movie on DVD is a good day.

The Bionic Woman: Season Two
Universal follows up last fall's release of Season 1 of the cult classic 70s show with The Bionic Woman: Season 2. Lindsay Wagner stars as Jamie Sommers, bionic agent of the super-secret OSI (Office of Scientific Investigations) who undertakes increasingly dangerous covert missions at the behest of her boss, Oscar Goldman. Unlike the truncated first season, the second season includes a full 24 episodes. Better still, it also includes two crossover episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man so you've got the complete package! Retail is $39.98; Amazon's got it now for $26.99.

The Complete Avengers
Last week saw the UK release of Optimum's The Complete Avengers: 50th Anniversary Edition. This is the big one. This set assembles all five sets (Seasons 2-6 as well as the few surviving first season episodes) of special features-laden, remastered Avengers DVDs that Optimum put out over the past two years. The picture on these discs looks better than you've ever seen it before, but the individual releases were plagued with technical issues. Fortunately, this complete set contains fixed versions of all the discs, minus all the flaws. So if you've been holding out, well, then you're in luck. Buy now. If you've been buying all the individual releases, well, the bad news isn't over yet. You see, the best feature of this massive, 39-disc set is an exclusive bonus DVD containing the Holy Grail(s) of Avengers curiosities (well, my own Holy Grails, at least, ever since I learned of their existence 13 years ago): the 8mm short films Diana Rigg made following her color series, Das Diadem (The Golden Schlusse) and Mini Killers. For reasons known only to her, Rigg agreed to star as a very Emma Peel-like character in these silent fan films made by wealthy German and Spanish amateur auteurs. By all accounts, they're weird and not worth thirteen years of pursuit. But I still need to see them, and they're still wonderful extra bonus features. And they're still available only with this set, along with a featurette on the show's locations, some archival trailers and a few more first season episode reconstructions. And besides that new stuff, of course you also get all the amazing value-added content from the individual releases.  The only thing you don't get is The New Avengers. I'm not sure why Optimum didn't just go all the way and include that too, but it's available on its own (and at quite a bargain price right now on Amazon.co.uk). The Complete Avengers: 50th Anniversary Edition, a must-own spy title if ever there was one, sells for a prohibitive £143.99 on Amazon.co.uk.

The Fortunes and Misfortunes of James Bond and Mrs. Peel
Finally, though it's not a spy series, another new DVD from last week worth noting is the BFS release of The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders starring Doctor Who's Alex Kingston and, more relevantly, co-starring Daniel Craig and Diana Rigg. But the combination of James Bond and Emma Peel together isn't even why I'm mentioning this. I'm mentioning it because of Craig's hair, which definitely counts in the "misfortunes" category of the title.  In fact, all three of those words in that tagline on the cover refer to the hair: "Notorious. Scandalous. Unforgettable!" As a document of the current 007's worst hair ever, this DVD earns a mention here.
First Glimpse of Page 8 in BBC Promo

Amidst clips of the (awesome) new season of Doctor Who, upcoming episodes of Luther and lots of other BBC programs, this BBC Original Drama trailer offers spy fans a tantalizing first glimpse at David Hare's upcoming spy movie Page 8, starring Ralf Fiennes, Bill Nighey, Michael Gambon and Rachel Weisz.  As we first heard late last year, Page 8 follows Nighy as an MI5 ­operative who believes Weisz's character represents a threat to him. Gambon plays the Security Service's Director General. With a cast like that, I'm really looking forward to this.


Colombiana Hits Theaters in August

When the trailer for Colombiana was released earlier this month, the latest neo-Eurospy assassin movie from the creators of Taken raced to the top of my must-see list.  Really, it's a great trailer, and it got a great audience reaction when I saw it in a theater in front of Thor.  For some reason I thought it was coming out either this fall or early next year (both traditional EuropaCorp release dates), but apparently we can look forward to seeing Zoe Saldana in action sooner than that! Deadline reports that Sony Pictures has set an August 26 release date in the United States.  I can't wait!

May 17, 2011

Tradecraft: Nikita Renewed!

Deadline reports that the CW has renewed its freshman series Nikita for another season, ending weeks of breathless speculation. At least the fifth incarnation of Luc Besson's seminal 1990 female assassin movie La Femme Nikita (following an American remake, a Hong Kong remake with a sequel and a long-running US/Canadian TV series), the latest version stars Maggie Q as the titular heroine and Lyndsy Fonseca as her agent inside the sinister, SMERSH-like Division. After an unforgettable advertising campaign last summer and a weak start last fall, this Nikita improved dramatically to become one of the best new spy series of the season. Its ratings, however, remained questionable, so a second season was by no means guaranteed.  But now it's got one, and I look forward to seeing where it goes! According to the trade blog, it will likely migrate from Thursdays to Fridays to be pared with the network's long-running hit Supernatural. Normally a Friday timeslot is the kiss of death, but I'm not sure that's necessarily the case on The CW. Personally, I'm fine with that, because Thursdays are pretty tough on my DVR.
Len Deighton Interview @ The Deighton Dossier

Fello COBRAS blog The Deighton Dossier (the best resource out there for information on Len Deighton's spy novels) has scored a really cool interview with the man himself!  Parts One, Two and Three are all up now at the Dossier, comprising the entire Q&A.  In the first part, the author discusses his writing habits, what he's working on now, and the Harry Palmer movies (including the never-filmed Horse Under Water). Check it out!
Plame's Spy Novel Coming From Penguin in 2012

We heard last year that notoriously outed CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson was working on a spy novel with mystery writer Sarah Lovett.  Today Deadline reveals that the publisher will be new Penguin imprint Blue Rider Press, and that the book will be out in 2012.  Plame previously penned a non-fiction memoir. She was also the subject of a Decemberists song, of Bourne Identity director Doug Liman's excellent 2010 spy movie Fair Game (review here), and served as a techinical advisor on the first season Liman's CIA-set TV series Covert Affairs (review here).  Covert Affairs: Season One is out today on DVD from Universal.

May 16, 2011

Tradecraft: US Distribution Locked For Jason Statham/Clive Owen Spy Movie Killer Elite

Deadline reports that AMC Theaters' new distribution arm Open Road has acquired the action spy movie Killer Elite for US distribution this fall. In Killer Elite, we'll get to see Jason Statham go up against Clive Owen. As if that weren't already a killer spy cast, the film also stars Robert DeNiro and Chuck's Yvonne Strahovski. Statham will play Danny Bryce, "one of the world's most skilled special ops agents," who's lured out of retirement when his old comrades start being murdered. He assembles what's left of his old team to rescue his mentor (DeNiro), but to do so he'll need to infiltrate a secretive group of ex-SAS operatives led by Clive Owen. According to the press release, "Danny and his team must take down a rogue cell of solider assassins before their actions result in a global political meltdown. [The] whirlwind action crosses the globe from Australia to Paris, Wales, London, Dubai and Oman." Despite the somewhat similar subject matter, this is not a remake of the 1975 Sam Peckinpah movie of the same name starring James Caan and Robert Duval; the Statham Killer Elite is instead based on a "non-fiction novel" called The Feather Men by Ranulph Fiennes.  With that cast, it's just become one of my own most anticipated movies of the fall!

May 15, 2011

Sideshow Announces Nick Fury Figure (UPDATED)

Premium toymaker Sideshow Collectibles has released the first image of a new "comiquette" of Marvel superspy Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.  I'm not quite sure what a "comiquette" is, but I'd imagine it's a grandiose way of saying statuette.  (Sideshow makes a lot of replicas of maquettes from movies, but obviously these comic-based ones are original creations.)  I'm not sure what the scale of this thing is, but I'd imagine it's too big for most spy fans to be able to display.  Still, it's awfully cool, so I wish I had room for it!  This awesome likeness of Fury is clearly based on Jim Steranko's iconic cover to Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #4, also seen as the cover to this collection. Sideshow's Nick Fury comiquette will be fully revealed on their production blog (UPDATE: now live!) on Tuesday, May 17, and be available for preorder through their newsletter on May 19. These editions usually sell out, so if you're interested you may want to consider preordering. That same day, a comiquette of one of Nick Fury's deadliest (and sexiest) enemies, Madame Hydra, will also be available—also based on a classic Steranko design. The Madame Hydra figurine (UPDATE: more pictures here) is particularly notable because, to the best of my knowledge, this release marks the first toy of this character in any scale.  Sadly there was never a Madame Hydra Marvel Legends action figure, and I don't think there's yet been one in the Marvel Universe line.  Retail for both figures is a whopping $279.99.

May 13, 2011

Blogger Issues

Blogger's been having some issues which have resulted in my posts from yesterday disappearing.  However, one that was gone has already reappeared, so I'm hopeful that they all might.  Honestly, I can't even remember what things I posted yesterday (wait... there was one about that USA show, Hard Cover, I think...), but I think there were about three.  If you remember (or even better if you've still got a browser open with them in it by some miraculous chance), please drop me a line or leave a comment.  Thanks!  There may also be some issues with the labels on posts, but hopefully that, too, will be resolved soon.


New Cars 2 Trailer

I still haven't seen Pixar's first Cars movie (even though I vowed to last time I reported on this sequel), but the new one looks pretty darn good.  Judging from this new trailer, it's the classic story of an innocent abroad mistaken for a spy that we've seen in everything from The Man Who Knew Too Much to Gotcha! to If Looks Could Kill... but with cars.  That part still strikes me as kind of odd (they just don't seem to have the relatability of Pixar's toys and monsters and creatures and people), but some of those cars are spy cars loaded with gadgets and, in one case, voiced by Michael Caine!  And that's awesome.  Burn Notice's Bruce Campbell also lends his voice, which is also awesome.  I wish this had come out when I was a kid; I would have gone nuts for it.

May 12, 2011

Tradecraft: Only One Spy Show On USA's New Development Slate

Deadline has a report from USA's upfront presentation in New York last week revealing the cable network's current development slate, and, somewhat surprisingly, only one of the shows on the docket is about spies.  While one out of thirteen ain't bad by normal standards, USA is a network and a brand largely based on the success of spy series, like Burn Notice (which set the template for their current slate of successes), Covert Affairs and (going way back) La Femme Nikita. Here's the official synopsis of the one for spy fans to keep their eyes on—one of several recent shows or pilots that seems to owe a bit to Scarecrow and Mrs. King.
HARD COVER (One hour drama)

The best undercover operative can blend in anywhere and be completely unassuming. Then who better to go on assignment than a middle-aged Mom working with a rogue FBI agent? Writer/Executive Producers are Peter Paige and Brad Bredeweg. Executive Producer is Laurie Zaks (Castle). From Universal Cable Productions.
Upcoming Spy DVDs: More Details On MI-5: Volume 9

Season 10 to be the series' last?

We already knew that the next volume of MI-5 DVDs (known as Spooks in the UK) would hit American shelves this July as opposed to next January.  (All the other seasons had been released in January, keeping American audiences over a year behind on the show's storylines.)  Now, thanks to TV Shows On DVD, we have the artwork as well.  And, thanks to the official copy, we also have a strong indication that Season 10 will be the final season.  (If true, I'll be sorry to see it go.  MI-5 has had its ups and downs, but I always look forward to the next season, and overall the show has done a good job handling a constantly changing core cast.)  BBC will release MI-5: Volume 9, a 3-disc set, on July 12.  The SRP is $39.98 (though it can already be preordered for cheaper than that on Amazon).  No extras were announced in the press release, which the editors of TV Shows On DVD take to mean there won't be any.  That would be unfortunate, as the show's early seasons were packed with bonus features, and recent ones had featured at least a few. Here's the BBC description:

The penultimate season of the hugely successful, long-running drama introduces a host of new characters. Relations between the CIA and MI5 reach breaking point over mysterious hackers. And a horrific truth about Lucas' past is uncovered by Harry when they come face to face in a compelling interrogation. Friendships are tested to the limit, Harry and Ruth's bond intensifies and the depth of deceit leads to the ultimate game of cat and mouse.
Read my review of MI-5: Volume 1
Read my review of MI-5: Volume 2
Read my review of MI-5: Volume 3
Read my review of MI-5: Volume 4
Read my review of MI-5: Volume 5
Poster For The Debt

Focus Features has released a new 1-sheet for The Debt, which opens August 19.  I'm really excited for this one.  It's got a great cast in what looks to be a solid, serious, old-school spy movie, from great writers to boot.  And it (partially) takes place in the Sixties! The trailer looked great, and who wouldn't want to see a young version of Helen Mirren take down Casino Royale's Mr. White?  Here's the official synopsis:
The espionage thriller begins in 1997, as shocking news reaches retired Mossad secret agents Rachel (Academy Award winner Helen Mirren, RED) and Stephan (two-time Academy Award nominee Tom Wilkinson) about their former colleague David (Ciarán Hinds, Munich, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). All three have been venerated for decades by their country because of the mission that they undertook back in 1966, when the trio (portrayed, respectively, by Jessica Chastain [The Tree of Life], Marton Csokas [The Bourne Supremacy], and Sam Worthington [the guy who wasn't in The Tourist]) tracked down Nazi war criminal Vogel (Jesper Christensen of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) in East Berlin. At great risk, and at considerable personal cost, the team’s mission was accomplished – or was it? The suspense builds in and across two different time periods, with startling action and surprising revelations.

May 11, 2011

Tradecraft: NBC Renews Chuck; Fox Cancels Human Target, Retools Exit Strategy

With all the major networks' upfront presentations just around the corner, now's when we start to hear about which new pilots have been picked up to series and which current shows have been cancelled.  Fox got the ball rolling yesterday by announcing that Human Target has been cancelled, which is too bad.  It was a fun, light-weight action hour the likes of which you don't see much on TV these days.  It was somewhat surprising that Exit Strategy, a high-profile pilot from hitmakers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (whose spy cred includes Alias, Jack of All Trades, Mission: Impossible III and the current reimagining of Hawaii Five-O) starring Ethan Hawke, was not announced as a pickup... yet.  The Hollywood Reporter reports that that pilot may yet find life at the network after being "retooled." The only problem with that plan, according to the trade, is that pilot director Antoine Fuqua is scheduled to shoot a film this summer. Deadline gets more specific about the retooling, adding that "Fox brass felt the pilot had a lot of action and not too much character in it, so they had been looking to shift the focus on the show." Having loved the Mission: Impossible-like premise but read an early version of the pilot script that I found hugely disappointing, the retooling sounds like a good idea.  (To be fair, I hear that Kurtzman and Orci themselves did a pass on the script subsequent to the draft I read, so that may have addressed some of my issues.)  But I'm not sure if that shift in focus is going in the right direction.  In the initial script, the characterizations were by far the worst part.  Hopefully they're re-building them from the ground up, and not just building up what's already there and already bad.  Guess we'll see.  I'm still curious about this show, and still rooting for it to make it to the air just because I think there's a place for a Mission: Impossible type series on network television.

But the big news (and unexpected) is that, according to a Deadline report, NBC has once again renewed the perennially endangered Chuck! I'm glad to hear it, because I thought Chuck had a great season this year, thanks to a Timothy Dalton injection. Still, it suffered ever declining ratings, so the pick-up comes as a bit of a surprise.  Just like last year, the hour-long spy comedy has been given an initial order of just 13 episodes.  If other shows do poorly (as happened this season), more episodes could be ordered.  Unfortunately, that kind of makes it hard for the writers to plot a full season.  That's why so many of this year's plots (including the Dalton thread) were tied up so neatly in a mid-season episode that seemed like a finale.  Then the poor writers had to struggle to stretch them out further when more episodes were called for.

That just leaves the CW's Nikita as far as on-the-bubble spy series go.  After a less than promising start, it turned out to be one of the best new spy series of the season, so I hope it makes the cut. Pilot-wise, I'm also curious about the J.J. Abrams/Jonah Nolan Equalizer-meets-Matt Huston show Person of Interest (a millionaire sponsors a former spy to help the helpless in New York) on NBC and Meet Jane on Lifetime.  Deadline reported last month that Meet Jane was not picked up by the cable network in this round, but may still have life left in it after a retooling of its own.  I suspect we'll hear very soon about Person of Interest, since NBC has already started announcing pick-ups.  Fortunately, my favorite spy pilot script of the season, Missing, already has a 13-episode order from ABC and is currently shooting in Europe.