Jan 30, 2018

Amazon Announces Airdate for JACK RYAN, Releases Super Bowl Spot

Amazon has released the Super Bowl spot for their upcoming TV series Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan a few days early, and with it, finally, an indication when we can expect the show to drop. And, frustratingly, it's not until August. But, on the plus side, the spot looks promising! It's very similar to the trailer we saw a few months ago, but better. John Krasinski stars as Tom Clancy's iconic CIA analyst character who always seems to find himself in over his head for the first time. Like the last two theatrical attempts at re-launching this franchise, the events of the show take place prior to The Hunt for Red October, yet in the present-day. Check it out:

Jan 28, 2018

Indicator Brings OTLEY to Blu-ray in March!

Wow! UK distributor Indicator, who released that terrific Blu-ray special edition of The Deadly Affair last year, have announced a new spy title. And it's one of my favorite spy movies of all time, and one I never expected to see on Blu-ray--Otley (1969)! Adapted by the great Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Never Say Never Again, The Bank Job, Spies of Warsaw) from the novel by Martin Waddell and directed by Clement, Otley plays like a comedic version of the Len Deighton school of spy story. Like The Ipcress File, it owes as much to Raymond Chandler as it does to the spy genre, with a terrifically irreverent and in-over-his-head antihero played to perfection by Tom Courtenay (A Dandy in Aspic). Otley deserves to be mentioned in the company of Billy Liar and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner when it comes to Courtenay's career-defining performances, and it's a shame it's not better known.

Gerald Arthur Otley fancies himself an antiques dealer, but is really more of a small-time thief who sleeps on the couch of whatever friend will put him up (and put up with him) until he wears out his welcome. Then he suddenly finds himself mixed up with all sorts of spies, never certain how he got into this mess or how he can get out of it. The entire cast is a who's who of spy actors (most of them recognizable from memorable guest appearances on The Avengers and The Saint), including Romy Schneider (Triple Cross), James Villiers (For Your Eyes Only), Alan Badel (Arabesque), Leonard Rossiter (Deadlier Than the Male), Geoffrey Bayldon (Casino Royale), Ronald Lacey (Raiders of the Lost Ark), James Cossins (The Man With the Golden Gun), and Edward Hardwicke (The Return of Sherlock Holmes).

Like The Deadly Affair and other Indicator releases, the Otley Blu-ray is a limited edition (limited to 3,000 copies), and loaded with copious special features including:
  • High Definition remaster
  • Original mono audio
  • Audio commentary with director Dick Clement
  • The Guardian Lecture with Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (2008): archival audio recording of an interview conducted by Dick Fiddy at London s National Film Theatre
  • New interview with actor Tom Courtenay (2018)
  • New interview with actor Phyllida Law(2018)
  • New interview with actor Freddie Jones (2018)
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Laura Mayne, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and historic articles on the film
Now I hope that Indicator have their eyes on Clement and La Frenais' previous scripted feature, The Jokers (directed by Michael Winner). That one's not a spy movie, but it's a terrific caper picture every bit as charming and entertaining as Otley, and another wonderful time capsule of London when it swing.

The limited edition Blu-ray of Otley is available for pre-order on Amazon.co.uk for the very reasonable price of just  £14.99.

Jan 25, 2018


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Tom Cruise took to Instagram today to reveal the title of his upcoming sixth Mission: Impossible movie and what he'll be dangling from this time, the latter reveal coming in the form of an exciting first-look image. The title (probably better associated with another Sixties spy series–The Prisoner) is Mission: Impossible: Fallout. And what he's dangling from this time is a helicopter, which might sound like a comedown from the gigantic transport plane in the last movie, but looks pretty cool in this picture! He also unveiled the official synopsis of the Christopher McQuarrie-directed sequel:
The best intentions often come back to haunt you. Mission: Impossible – Fallout finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team (Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames) along with some familiar allies (Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan) in a race against time after a mission gone wrong. Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, and Vanessa Kirby also join the dynamic cast with filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie returning to the helm.
Sean Harris also returns as Syndicate villain Solomon Lane, last seen inside a large box. Mission: Impossible – Fallout opens July 27, 2018.

Jan 14, 2018

Trailer: Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike in BEIRUT

Bleecker Street has released the first trailer for Beirut, a movie set in one of my favorite spy locations that we first heard about in 2015 under the better title of High Wire Act. No matter what they're calling it, this spy movie has a rich pedigree. It's written by Bourne franchise veteran Tony Gilroy, and directed by the always interesting indie auteur Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian). And it stars the very appealing duo of Jon Hamm (Keeping Up With the Joneses) and Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day), along with Shea Whigham (Agent Carter) and Dean Norris (Death Wish). Hamm plays a former American diplomat who fled his old Lebanon stomping ground in 1972 after a tragic incident at his home. A decade later, when he's a washed-up drunk working in the private sector, he is called back to war-torn Beirut by CIA operative Pike to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind.

Beirut opens April 13. Before that, it premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, January 22.


This is cool! UK distributor Network have been releasing a number of classic ITC shows piecemeal on Blu-ray, one volume at a time. They're in the midst of putting out the great Richard Bradford series Man in a Suitcase that way, and they're offering something a little different. The latest volume available for pre-order is actually the feature film version of the two-parter "Variation on a Million Bucks," re-titled To Chase a Million. Like America's Man From U.N.C.L.E. "movies" (or Mission: Impossible vs. the Mob), a number of two-part episodes of ITC series (or very occasionally standalone episodes) were cut together and released continentally as theatrical Eurospy features. While some are readily available and sometimes even included in the DVD or Blu-ray series sets (A&E frustrated some fans by only including the feature cut of one of the two Saint movies, and not its episodic equivalent; all of the Persuaders! feature cuts are included as standard-definition bonus features on Network's Complete Series Blu-ray collection), others of these movies, like To Chase a Million, are quite rare. Since television and film are paced differently, a lot of these feature re-cuts feel a little clunky (lots of padding) and don't make great introductions to the shows. But they're a treat for fans! I always try to seek out the film cuts, and personally I hope that Network makes a regular practice of high-definition standalone releases of these movies. (They should also appeal to Eurospy collectors only looking for rare movies who don't necessarily go in for TV shows.)

I would love to see both Saint movies get their own Blu-ray releases, especially since Network hasn't yet started releasing that series in HD. (There even exists a commentary track for Vendetta for the Saint with Roger Moore, Johnny Goodman, and Robert Baker, recorded for an American MPI DVD release. It would be great if Network could license that for a Blu-ray.) Just seeing those unique opening titles to The Fiction Makers in HD would be reward enough! Even the lackluster Baron movie, The Man in a Looking Glass, would be neat. (That's another series they haven't yet given the Blu treatment.) Best of all, though, would be some of the super-rare ITC movies, like the Sentimental Agent movie Our Man in the Caribbean. I've never been able to track that one down even as a bootleg, but as best I can tell it incorporates the completely unrelated Sentimental Agent episode "A Very Desirable Plot" (guest-starring Diana Rigg) and the Man of the World episode that introduced Carlos Thompson's Sentimental Agent character, "The Sentimental Agent" (guest-starring Shirley Eaton). How they pulled that off I'd really like to see! So fingers crossed that To Chase a Million represents only the beginning of Network's ITC feature film standalone Blu-ray releases....

In To Chase a Million, former American spy McGill (wrongfully kicked out by U.S. Intelligence when he was set up to look like a traitor) if bequeathed the key to a safety deposit box in Lisbon, supposedly containing $1 million stolen by his friend Stein (the always wonderful Anton Rodgers of The Prisoner and Zodiac) from the KGB before his defection. This sets off a chase across Europe as McGill races to get to it from London before the Russians, Americans, or various other intelligence services and freelancers.

Network's To Chase a Million Blu-ray, featuring a brand-new HD remaster from the original 35mm film elements, is (unlike their series volumes) presented in its rarely seen original widescreen theatrical aspect ratio. (The full-screen TV version is also included as a bonus.) According to their website, it is an all-region release, so it will play in regular American Blu-ray players. It's currently available for pre-order from the Network website for £10.00 (including VAT). It will be released on February 19, 2018.

Read my review of Man in a Suitcase - Volume 1 (which includes "Variation on a Million Bucks" parts 1 and 2) here.
Read my review of Man in a Suitcase - Volume 2 here.
Read my review of The Sentimental Agent here.

Jan 13, 2018

Shane Black and Fred Dekker Pen AVENGERS TV Reboot

Well, the big spy news of the day is undoubtedly the potentiality of a Shane Black/Fred Dekker-penned TV reboot of the greatest spy series of all time, The Avengers. Dekker dropped the news in an interview with print magazine The Dark Side, which then hit the Internet courtesy of Screen Rant. There are very few solid details available, but here is what Dekker told the magazine, verbatim:
It’s The Avengers, with John Steed and Emma Peel. We’re setting it in Britain in the 60’s, and our approach is The Ipcress File meets Doctor Who. At this moment, it’s my favorite thing we’re working on.
That's all we know so far from the horse's mouth. (And I have to say... I quite like Dekker's description!) The studio appears to be Warner Bros. Television. We don't know if there's a network involved, but it might be Amazon, for whom Black and Dekker previously penned the Western pilot Edge (which did not go to series), based on the 1970s Men's Adventure paperback series.

While my gut reaction is to instantly decry any attempt at an Avengers revival that doesn't originate in Great Britain, that impulse is checked by the creative talent involved. Shane Black is one of the greatest working screenwriters. He rose to fame on lucrative action spec script sales in the 1980s and '90s, most famously creating the Lethal Weapon franchise. His spy cred includes the 1996 amnesiac assassin thriller Long Kiss Goodnight with Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson. In this century, he's reinvented himself writing and directing smart, funny, pulpy neo-noir fare like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. He's even made a Marvel movie--Iron Man Three.

Early in his career, Black wrote with frequent collaborator Fred Dekker, a partnership that most famously produced The Monster Squad (1987), which Dekker directed. Dekker went on to a less illustrious career than Black, but also earned his bona fides in the spy genre writing the 1991 Richard Greico teen spy comedy If Looks Could Kill and penning a glorious, but un-produced, live-action, 1960s-set Johnny Quest movie. The two partners reunited in recent years to pen the upcoming Predator reboot which Black is directing and the aforementioned Amazon pilot.

All of which is to say that The Avengers are in good hands. American hands, maybe, but hands I'm willing to trust for now. In all likelihood, this will go nowhere. But if it does, I'm willing to take the journey. It can only be an improvement on the 1998 feature film version of the series, which starred Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, and Sean Connery.

Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, of course, starred as agents extraordinary John Steed and Emma Peel in the original TV series. Steed's other partners included Dr. David Keel (Ian Hendry), Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), and Tara King (Linda Thorson). The Avengers torch has been kept burning lately in audio dramas from Big Finish (including excellent recreations of lost first season episodes) and comics from Boom! Studios (including a recent crossover with the 1960s TV incarnation of Batman).

Jan 11, 2018

Trailer: Mark Strong in DEEP STATE

Fox Networks Group has released the first trailer for Deep State, the new action/espionage drama starring frequent spy star Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Kingsman) as a former agent lured back into the game. Shot as a regional scripted commission for Europe and Africa, Deep State currently has no U.S. broadcaster. Hopefully one of the FX cable networks sees it as a good fit and picks it up domestically. It premieres April 5 in Europe.

Trailer: The Looming Tower

Hulu has released the first trailer for The Looming Tower, their upcoming event series about inter-agency friction between the CIA and FBI in the late 1990s that led to the intelligence failure of 9/11.  Based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning book by Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower features Alec Baldwin as CIA Director George Tenet, Jeff Daniels as FBI counter-terrorism expert John O'Neill, Michael Stuhlbarg as counter-terrorism expert Richard Clarke, among a huge ensemble cast.

The Looming Tower premieres February 28 on Hulu.

Jan 10, 2018

Tradecraft: Black Widow to Finally Fly Solo?

Variety reports that Marvel Studios may finally be moving forward with a standalone movie about superspy Natasha Romanoff--the Black Widow. This is something spy fans have wanted to see ever since it was first announced that the character would appear in Iron Man 2, played by Scarlett Johansson. Since then Johansson has reprised the role in five more films (including Marvel's The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Captain America: Civil War), with two more in the can (including The Avengers: Infinity War, due this spring), but never starred in her own solo movie. (This despite Johansson being the only Avengers cast member to gross $450+ million in her own original movie outside that franchise.) It looks like that may finally be rectified.

According to the trade, Marvel President Kevin Feige has tapped screenwriter Jac Schaeffer to pen the script. Despite a track record that can't be argued with, Marvel have been surprisingly slow out the gate to launch a female-driven superhero franchise. They're finally doing that with Captain Marvel (starring Brie Larson and featuring Samuel L. Jackson's return as Nick Fury), due in 2019, but hiring a female writer to crack a Black Widow feature demonstrates a realization of the cultural moment we're in, and, hopefully, a commitment to further female-fronted superheroics. Schaeffer first attracted attention with a comedic spec script about an alien invasion interrupting a baby shower. That script, The Shower, was recognized on the prestigious Black List (favorite scripts of the year as voted on by Hollywood assistants), and now has Anne Hathaway attached to star. Since then Schaeffer has also written Nasty Women for Hathaway, a female-centric remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Bedtime Story.

The trade stresses that, "sources say [the Black Widow movie] is still very early development, as the film has no greenlight, but naming a writer is the closest the studio has come to moving forward on a standalone pic." Marvel hasn't yet announced any titles of their "Phase 4," which will follow the two upcoming Avengers movies, but the earliest we could possibly see a Black Widow would be 2020. I really hope it happens!

Schaeffer certainly won't be lacking for source material. The sexy former Russian spy Natasha Romanoff, aka The Black Widow, is one of Marvel's foremost espionage-oriented characters, second only to Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. She has a rich history in comics dating back to the Sixties. Three beautifully produced Marvel Premiere hardcovers collect this secret agent's most essential adventures in matching volumes. Black Widow: The Sting of the Widow presents the character's first appearance (in a silly costume in an issue of Iron Man) and earliest solo adventures from the early Seventies, after she'd gotten an Emma Peel makeover, ending up in the black catsuit with which she's still most closely associated. These early Black Widow comics will surely be of interest to collectors and hardcore fans, but casual fans looking for a great introduction to the character are better off picking up the second volume in the series, Black Widow: Web of Intrigue first.

Black Widow: Web of Intrigue offers an excellent primer on the character containing some of her classic appearances from the early Eighties, including an excellent comic drawn by my second-favorite spy artist (after Steranko), Paul Gulacy.  (Look for a cameo appearance by Michael Caine!) Black Widow: Web of Intrigue contains this and several other seminal tales of the red-haired Russian superspy. A third volume, Black Widow: The Itsy Bitsy Spider collects a pair of Marvel Knights stories from the late Nineties (including one by Queen & Country scribe Greg Rucka).

My two favorite modern-day Widow storylines have yet to receive the hardcover treatment, sadly, but are available in a pair of out-of-print trade paperbacks. Richard K. Morgan's Black Widow: Homecoming and Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her put the focus on espionage above superheroics and are among the very best Marvel spy stories. I hope they end up in their own Premiere volume one day. More recent Widow stories include Black Widow: Deadly Origin, Black Widow and the Marvel Girls, Black Widow: The Name of the RoseBlack Widow: Kiss or Kill, three volumes of beautiful material by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto (including the one pictured at the top of this story), and two (comprising her most recent series) by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee. Most of the character's  adventures with Daredevil from the 1970s are included in Essential Daredevil: Volume 3. Last year, Black Widow was also the subject of a large-format character retrospective/art book, Marvel's The Black Widow: Creating the Avenging Super-Spy: The Complete Comics History.

Jan 9, 2018

New RED SPARROW Trailer and Poster

20th Century Fox has released a new trailer and a very cool poster for Red Sparrow, the upcoming movie adaptation of Jason Matthews' terrific 2013 spy novel  (which made my list of the best spy novels of the last decade). The trailer makes it clear that certain changes have been made to the material, but of course that's to be expected in any adaptation. The movie is clearly being positioned as a star vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika Egorova, whereas the book is a two-hander focused equally on Russian double agent Dominika and her CIA handler Nate Nash, played on screen by Joel Edgerton. (I'm still not sold on him in that role, but none of the trailers so far have shown enough of him to really go by.) Red Sparrow, directed by Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer, though he previously worked with her on several Hunger Games movies), opens March 2. If you haven't yet read the book, I highly recommend doing so before then! The third and final book in Matthews' Egorova/Nash trilogy, The Kremlin's Candidate (the improbably topical plot of which has apparently undergone some changes since it was first announced), hits stores two weeks earlier, on February 13.