Mar 19, 2018

Ridley Scott to Direct QUEEN & COUNTRY?

Every couple of years we Queen & Country fans get another little nugget that maybe Greg Rucka is planning another comics series, or maybe something's happening with the forever stuck in development movie. Last week was time for the latest movie rumors. The Wrap reports that powerhouse director Ridley Scott (Body of Lies, Adam Adamant Lives!) is in talks to direct it for Fox. The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed the story.

For those who don't know, Queen & Country is a multi-media spy series by Greg Rucka, spanning a comic book series (handily collected now in four omnibus editions) and three novels. It's heavily inspired by the incredible Seventies TV series The Sandbaggers, but also distinctive in its own right with a cast of terrific, believable, flawed characters. Foremost among them are SIS field agent Tara Chace and her boss, spymaster Paul Crocker, representing, respectively, the field and desk sides of the story. As with The Sandbaggers, Crocker's bureaucratic and political entanglements back at HQ are equally compelling (if not more so) to Tara's life-and-death struggles in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, and other international hotspots. Queen & Country was one of the main inspirations for me in starting this blog, and the subject of my fourth ever post on the blog's first day of existence nearly twelve years ago, in which I called the series "the best current, ongoing spy saga in any medium." Sadly it hasn't been current for years (the last novel was published in 2011, and only a few more comic issues trickled out after that), but it remains one of the genre's all-time high water marks. And I would love to see Tara and her cohorts on the screen. Yet we've heard enough sporadic updates on that adaptation before over the years that I can't help remain skeptical until the cameras actually start to roll--or at least until the studio sets a start date.

Originally, Leverage creator John Rogers penned the script, and at one point Nicole Kidman was attached to star. Later, Ryan Condal (creator of the TV series Colony) came on board to write a draft. In 2013, Ellen Page was attached to star, hot off of Inception and Juno. A few years ago, Seth Meyers (a vocal fan of Queen & Country, who has also discussed the comic with fellow enthusiast Rachel Maddow when she was a guest) asked her if she was still attached and she said yes, but apparently that's now changed. In 2014 commercial director Craig Viveiros came aboard, but now The Wrap reports that "neither [Page nor Viveiros] is still connected to the project." According to their story, Scott, fresh off of All the Money in the World (a gritty 1970s period piece in which Mark Wahlberg plays a former CIA officer), is in talks to direct and produce. It's unclear from the story who the writer of note is at the moment, but their description makes it seem like his version would be based on Rucka's first Queen & Country novel, A Gentleman's Game. Previous drafts appeared to be based on the first two arcs of the comic book (again, just based on capsule descriptions in trades).

I really hope this comes to pass! Scott has the clout to finally get this movie made (though he is fickle and has abandoned other spy projects in the past, like a feature version of The Prisoner), and to attract a big star to play the plum role of Tara. In a 2007 post I chose my own fantasy cast and picked Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting, Boardwalk Empire) as my ideal Tara, but she probably doesn't have the star wattage to get the film greenlit, and Scott may wish to cast younger. I think either Emily Blunt (Charlie Wilson's War) or Saorise Ronan (Hanna, Lady Bird) would be great choices. I still see Hugh Laurie (The Night Manager) as the only possible Crocker!

Read my review of the third Queen & Country novel, The Last Run, here.
Order Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition - Volume 1 here.
Order Queen & Country: A Gentleman's Game here.

Mar 12, 2018

Trailer and Poster for Final Season of FX's THE AMERICANS

FX has released a trailer for the sixth and final season of The Americans, which premieres on March 28th at 10pm EST. They've also released a typically stunning poster promoting the season. This series about Russian KGB spies living undercover as "illegals" in 1980s America started strong and went from strength to strength. In a word, it's been utterly fantastic throughout its run. Although a period drama set during the waning days of the Cold War, it's also become surprisingly more topical in recent years. The original plan was to see Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) through the fall of the Berlin wall. Unless the final season spans multiple years, I don't see how they'll get to that point in history, but there are plenty of other burning questions to keep us on the edges of our seats until the finale. When I interviewed producer Graham Yost on the eve of The Americans' debut back in 2013, he concluded the session by quoting the FX Networks President. "John Landgraf said something that I thought perfectly sums it up: 'We know who won the Cold War. We don't know if Phillip and Elizabeth will survive. And that's the story. Will the marriage survive? Will the children survive?'" Five years later, we're on the verge of those answers. I can't wait to find out! Get a taste from the trailer below:

Read my 2013 review of The Americans pilot episode here.
Read my 2013 interview with executive producer Graham Yost here.

Mar 9, 2018

Tradecraft: THE IRREGULARS TV Series Explores Wartime Espionage Exploits of Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl

Buried in an exciting Deadline article about Paramount's latest attempt to reboot the venerable Matt Helm spy franchise was another item of note to spy fans. The writer who will be tackling the Donald Hamilton spy series, Tom Shepherd, has already adapted another great spy tome—this one non-fiction. Giving background on Shepherd, the trade mentioned that along with an upcoming Dr. Dolittle movie with Robert Downey Jr. and a period action-adventure spec script teaming up a young Agatha Christie with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to solve a baffling mystery, Shepherd has already written an adaptation of Jennet Conant's terrific Roald Dahl biography The Irregulars for Anonymous Content and Paramount TV. No further information is provided, but I would assume the format would be a limited series. (Or miniseries, as we used to call them.) The Irregulars focuses on Dahl's period as a British spy operating in Washington D.C. during WWII. The future Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author and You Only Live Twice screenwriter worked for Sir William Stephenson's BSC (British Security Coordination) after he was shot down early in the war and unable to continue as an aviator due to his injuries. In Washington, he was basically a gigolo for England ("the things I do for England," as 007 would quip in You Only Live Twice), seducing society wives with the goal of getting them to convince their powerful husbands that America should join the war and come to the aid of Great Britain. Ian Fleming and his friend Ivar Bryce also figure prominently in the narrative, Fleming having worked for British Naval Intelligence at the time and Bryce, eventually, for the American OSS. There's an amusing account of Dahl and Fleming competing for the affections of the same woman, and the revelation that Fleming gave Dahl the idea for one of his more famous short stories that would later be adapted into an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The Irregulars is essential reading for anyone interested in Dahl, Fleming, James Bond, or wartime espionage (and a great companion piece to William Stevenson's famous Stephenson biography A Man Called Intrepid, or William Boyd's fabulous BSC novel Restless), and should make for great viewing as well. I'll definitely have my eyes open for more information on this project.

Tradecraft: Matt Helm Movie Reactivated

Paramount has been trying to make a new Matt Helm movie for nearly a decade, ever since the studio came away with the rights to the character in their split from DreamWorks in 2008. Prior to that, DreamWorks had been attempting a screen revival of Helm closer to Donald Hamilton's gritty novels than the spoofy Dean Martin movies ostensibly based on them in the Sixties. At various times director Robert Luketic, star Josh Duhamel, and writers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas had been attached. But Paramount started fresh. In 2009, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Alias, Mission: Impossible III), riding high on the success of the Star Trek reboot they'd co-scripted, came aboard to produce the Helm film, with veteran screenwriter Paul Attanasio (The Sum of All Fears, The Good German) scripting. Orci and Kurtzman told me at the time that their goal was a tone somewhere between the Hamilton novels and the Dino movies, but leaning toward the former—serious, but also fun. A few months later came the big bombshell, when Variety reported that Steven Spielberg (Munich) was circling the project to direct. Spielberg had long harbored a desire to make a popcorn spy flick. (Having approached the Bond producers in the late Seventies and been crushingly denied the opportunity to direct 007, he jumped at the opportunity to helm a project his pal George Lucas had dreamed up that he claimed was "better than Bond"—a little movie called Raiders of the Lost Ark.) Sadly, by that August, his brief flirtation with directing Matt Helm was over. A few months later, Seabiscuit director Gary Ross (fresh off of scripting another big project that never came to be, the fourth Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire Spider-man movie) was considered the front runner to direct Matt Helm, and for the first time Bradley Cooper (Alias) was mooted as the film's likely star. The script of note was still Attanasio's. But despite an apparently unanimous appreciation for that script, the movie, of course, never came to be. And the project seemed to go dormant.

Until today.

Today, Deadline reports that Paramount is once again attempting to revive the franchise, this time with Tom Shepherd penning a new script. Shepherd is the writer of the forthcoming The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the beloved Victorian vet of children's book fame, as well as an action-adventure spec script teaming a young Agatha Christie with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to solve a baffling mystery, and a script about the real-life wartime espionage adventures of Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming. While the writer may be new, a lot of familiar faces are still attached in behind-the-scenes capacities. Bradley Cooper remains attached to star as Helm, and Kurtzman and Orci (though no longer business partners) remain attached as executive producers, now joined by Grant Heslov and George Clooney (who was, at one point, himself rumored for the lead role). Additionally, the trade tantalizingly (if nebulously) reports that, "Steven Spielberg is involved in some capacity."

I've long since learned not to hold my breath on a new Matt Helm movie, but I'm still happy every time I read about movement on the project. Hamilton's 27 novels, beginning with 1960's Death of a Citizen, are largely secret cornerstones of the spy genre, and they deserve wider exposure and a faithful screen treatment. I admit that I'm a fan (to an extent, at least) of the quartet of Sixties Dean Martin pictures, but they're so far removed from Hamilton's wonderful books that they might as well bear no relation. I've often said that only one of them, Murderers' Row (co-starring Ann-Margaret and Karl Malden) even really qualifies as a movie. The others are bizarre assemblages of Sixties genre tropes like motorcycle chases, copious cocktail consumption, gratuitous zoom-ins on bikini-clad bottoms, and even, in the case of the first film, The Silencers, Martin singing. Plots are secondary at best, and non-existent at worst, and production values are generally low. Hamilton's novels, on the other hand, are terrific gritty, cynical, and brutal espionage stories on par with Ian Fleming and deserving of much wider recognition. It's possible that they've never gotten the credit they deserve outside of cult circles because they were published as paperback originals (excepting the 11th novel, The Menacers, which was the only one published in hardcover... but only in England), but that shouldn't be taken as a value judgment. They're fantastic, and like the spy fiction equivalent of the music of The Velvet Underground, hugely influential on the genre from Tom Clancy to 24 to Taken. Every spy fan should read them, and hopefully if a movie more faithful to the books ever gets made, the books themselves will become as widely known as they deserve to be.

By the way, while the series is probably best read in order, if you're looking to try just one Matt Helm book for a taste, I heartily recommend the sixth one, The Ambushers. Packed with sexy Soviet agents and nefarious neo-Nazis and rifles and missiles and even sword fights, it's quintessential spy fiction. And, if you're listening, Tom Shepherd... it would make a hell of a movie! Especially done as a period piece.

Mar 6, 2018

Tradecraft: Fox Banks on EPOCH INDEX

According to Deadline, Fox has emerged the victor in a competitive situation for the rights to the Christian Cantrell novella "Epoch Index." The 36-page novella was self-published in 2010, and the film rights have just sold for six figures. In "Epoch Index," the trade reports, "a CIA analyst is tasked with tracking down a flashy assassin whose targets are seemingly random. Connected only by a series of numbered tags left on each victim, Quinn Mitchell comes to a mind-boggling discovery: the targets are being sent to the assassin from the future – by her." Brad Peyton (San Andreas, Cats & Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) will direct from a script by Justin Rhodes (the upcoming Fantastic Voyage remake), and War for the Planet of the Apes helmer Matt Reeves will produce.