Mar 29, 2019

Trailer: PENNYWORTH, a 1960s Spy Show Starring... Batman's Butler?

It seems the only way to get period spy shows now is when they're spun off from superhero franchises. Remember that 1960s-set, Avengers-like Hellfire Club we almost got, that was to be spun off from X-Men: First Class? (It would have focused on the White Queen, an X-Men character inspired by Emma Peel's guise in the classic Avengers episode "A Touch of Brimstone.") And we did, of course, get two superb seasons of Marvel's Agent Carter set in the late 1940s and spun off from Captain America: The First Avenger. There were even (really!), at one point, plans at Sony to make a Spider-man spinoff about Peter Parker's Aunt May... as a secret agent in the Sixties! That didn't happen, but this is almost as rich.

Last summer, as Deadline, reported, EPIX ordered the latest of these efforts, a 1960s spy show... about Batman's butler, Alfred Pennyworth. And today, we got the first trailer for Pennyworth, from Gotham alums Bruno Heller (Rome) and Danny Cannon (Nikita). While the famous butler may have been originally created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger, it's unlikely that they ever imagined Alfred (originally depicted as plump and comical) as a former secret agent. Yet that aspect has entered into DC Comics lore in recent decades, and been notably explored in stories like Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, and All-Star Batman: The First Ally by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque. This side of Alfred was first explored in detail on television in the 2013 animated series Beware the Batman, which featured a Jason Statham-ish take on Alfred. But I suspect the main inspiration for Heller was probably seeing Michael Caine as Alfred in Christopher Nolan's Batman movies and flashing back to the young Caine as Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File and Billion Dollar Brain. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine Palmer as an antecedent of Caine's Alfred, and indeed Pennyworth looks to take inspiration from the likes of Ipcress. (Hopefully it will also feature a John Barry-ish sound, as director Cannon has experience with that, having commissioned David Arnold's very Bondian Bjork song "Play Dead" for his breakout 1993 movie, The Young Americans.)

In the 10-episode drama series, Alfred Pennyworth (The Imitation Game's Jack Bannon), described by Deadline as "a former British SAS soldier in his 20s," forms a private security company "and goes to work with young billionaire Thomas Wayne (Fleabag's Ben Aldridge), who’s not yet Bruce’s father, in 1960s London." The end result appears, from this brief teaser, to somewhat resemble BBC's sadly short-lived period spy drama The Game. I'm excited for any Sixties spy drama, and if lashing their idea to a superhero franchise is the only way creators can get that kind of programming made, that's fine with me. I'm on board! Pennyworth premieres this summer on EPIX. Check it out:

Feb 15, 2019

Tradecraft: BOND 25 Moves from Valentine's Day to Easter Weekend 2020

Deadline reports that the next Daniel Craig James Bond movie has switched release dates again... but unlike the last date change, from November 2019 to February 2020, this one isn't because of production delays. That move came because original director Danny Boyle left the project and the script (or treatment, depending on how far they had gotten) he had developed with John Hodge was jettisoned in favor of (or possibly incorporated into; the details are still unclear) a previously existing story idea by regular Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade as Cary Joji Fukanaga (Maniac, True Detective) came on board to helm.

This time, the shift comes as part of a release date shuffle at Universal, who will distribute Bond 25 internationally in conjunction with MGM, who will release domestically through their joint venture with Annapurna, now happily branded as United Artists (per Variety)... bringing Bond back home, as it were. (The first 19 James Bond films were released through United Artists, but that logo hasn't been seen at the head of a 007 movie since 1999's The World Is Not Enough.) Universal moved the 9th Fast and Furious movie away from its traditional April berth into the Memorial Day frame. According to the trade, this was done because Easter Weekend, when it had initially been slated, is crammed full in China, where that blockbuster franchise does a large percentage of its business. With April 8 now free, it made sense for the studios involved to move Bond 25 into that plum Easter Weekend slot, when there are currently no other major movies scheduled to open.

Four of the last five Fast & Furious movies have opened in April (basically ever since the franchise reinvented itself as an international caper series), turning that month into the unofficial start of the summer tent pole movie season that used to begin Memorial Day weekend, and thus paving the way for 007. Bond movies have traditionally opened around Christmas time ever since GoldenEye in 1995, following the box office failure of Licence to Kill in the crowded summer marketplace of 1989, which included stiff competition from Batman, Lethal Weapon 2, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It will be interesting to see if the April date for Bond 25 signals anther long-term paradigm shift for the series, or ultimately proves an anomaly like the June-released Fast & Furious 6 in 2013. To be honest, I was kind of looking forward to a Valentine's Day Bond movie, but April makes sense for the series. And by returning to the summer box office the franchise once dominated as well as the UA logo on the head, it makes Bond 25 even more of a homecoming.

According to the trade, series regulars Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, and Naomie Harris are all set to return as M, Q, and Moneypenny, respectively, along with Lea Seydoux reprising her SPECTRE role as Madeiline Swann, and thus becoming the first recurring Bond Girl (in the same role, anyway) since Eunice Gayson's Sylvia Trench in Dr. No and From Russia With Love (1962 and '63, respectively). My fingers are firmly crossed that Rory Kinnear will also return as Bill Tanner, and just isn't a big enough name to warrant mention in the trades at this point.

And speaking of Fast & Furious movies (which obviously owe a huge debt to the Bond series), prior to that ninth one in 2020 we will see their all-spy spinoff movie, Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw, which opens this summer starring Jason Statham, The Rock, and frequent source of 007 rumors Idris Elba. The first trailer was recently released.

Feb 12, 2019

Rebecca Ferguson Accepts Another MISSION

We learned last month that director Christopher McQuarrie and star Tom Cruise were both on board for two more Mission: Impossible movies, shooting back-to-back for release in 2021 and 2022.  While the regular team is expected back, there had been no confirmations so far. Rebecca Ferguson, who joined the franchise as the enigmatic agent Ilsa Faust in McQuarrie's first movie, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation in 2015, has now become the first team member to confirm she'll return. According to Metro (via Dark Horizons), Ferguson was asked while a guest on UK chat show Lorraine (where she was promoting her incredibly entertaining new kids' movie, The Kid Who Would Be King) if we would be seeing her in the next Mission: Impossible movie, and she affirmed, "You will." Hopefully we get similar confirmations soon from Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, recent standout addition Vanessa Kirby, and maybe even Jeremy Renner, who sat out the last one. Variety recently reported that the seventh film will open on July 23, 2021, and the eighth on August 5, 2022. It's not a surprise that Paramount are eager to get more films out quickly, as last year's Mission: Impossible - Fallout (review here) proved the series' highest earner to date, raking in $790 million worldwide, and star Cruise, famous for doing his own stunts, will be 60 by the time the eighth movie premieres. Presumably the next two movies will also introduce a new generation of IMF agents including someone capable of carrying the crazy stunt torch when Cruise feels ready to pass it. It would be nice to see his Ethan Hunt character age gracefully into more of a mission planner role, like television's Jim Phelps, while someone else equally insane takes on the precipitous dangling.

Feb 7, 2019

Upcoming Spy DVDs: Mill Creek Collects Sony's COLD WAR THRILLERS Plus Red Scare Shorts

In April, Mill Creek will release a Cold War Thrillers 6 Film Collection bringing together six spy titles previously released as MOD discs through the (apparently defunct) Sony Screen Classics By Request line. It's a pretty good batch of movies, a chance to get titles previously available only on DVD-R on proper DVDs (three movies to a disc, though), and a bargain to boot, since the MOD versions coast around $20 apiece. For just $14.98 (on Amazon), you can get Otley (1968, Tom Courtenay), Hammerhead (1968, review here), The Executioner (1970, George Peppard, Joan Collins), A Dandy in Aspic (1968, Laurence Harvey, Tom Courtenay), Man on a String (1960, Ernest Borgnine), and the first-rate John le Carré adaptation The Deadly Affair (1966, review here). That's quite a Eurospy bundle! (Plus the one Hollywood title, Man on a String, a fact-based Cold War drama with Borgnine and future OSS 117 Kerwin Mathews.) The package would be worth it for Otley (one of my very favorite spy movies) and Hammerhead alone, if you didn't already have them... and might be worth considering for the shelf space savings even if you've got all six. A Dandy in Aspic had previously been included in the 2017 Mill Creek collection Soviet Spies 4-Film Collection, with artwork cashing in on The Americans.

Then again, connoisseurs might want to hold off, as UK company Indicator has been releasing lavish, all-region Blu-ray special editions of some of these titles. So far they've put out Otley and The Deadly Affair, with A Dandy in Aspic due next month. It's possible their agreement with Sony might include the other titles... though probably not too likely. (I sure would love to see Hammerhead in high-def though!)

The same day, April 16, Mill Creek will also put out a collection of Cold War propaganda films (plus a documentary), Minutes to Midnight - The Cold War Chronicles. The single disc will include the hour-long documentary Cold War Remembered, plus the government propaganda shorts A Day Called X (1957, 27 minutes, narrated by Glenn Ford), Duck and Cover (1951, 9 minutes), The Challenge of Ideas (1961, 30 minutes, narrated by John Wayne, Edward R. Murrow, and Lowell Thomas), Atomic Alert (1954, 11 Minutes), Red Chinese Battle Plan (1964, 25 minutes), Target: You! (1953, 9 minutes), Warning Red (1956, 13 minutes), Our Cities Must Fight (1951, 9 minutes), Bombproof (1956, 14 minutes), About Fallout (1963, 24 minutes), Town of the Times (1963, 25 minutes), Let's Face It (1954, 13 minutes), What You Should Know About Biological Warfare (1952, 15 minutes), You Can Beat the A-Bomb (1950, 19 minutes), The House in the Middle (1954, 12 Minutes). Sadly it leaves out my personal favorite Red Scare film, What is Communism? with Jack Webb, but those ones all sound pretty terrifying nonetheless. Especially You Can Beat the A-Bomb.

Feb 3, 2019

Want a Very Expensive Max Zorin Action Figure?

It's art! Bootleg toy artist Sucklord is offering an unofficial Max Zorin action figure for $175. It's part of a line of Christopher Walken character figures. If you buy it, I don't think you're supposed to open it up and play with it.

Trailer for FAST & FURIOUS Spy Spinoff HOBBS & SHAW

Universal released the first trailer the other day for the Fast & Furious franchise spinoff Hobbs & Shaw, starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. The Fast & Furious is an odd franchise, because it started out as a mid-budget street racing/crime series, then morphed into a mega-budget international heist series with a serious espionage bent and car stunts to rival Bond and Mission: Impossible. It's also one of the few series I can think of that got significantly better along the way. For me, the fifth film, Fast Five, was a real turning point, when Justin Lin, who had already directed two previous entries, really perfected what would become the series' formula. It was also the movie that introduced Dwayne Johnson's character, a tough-as-nails DSS agent named Luke Hobbs who was on the trail of Dominic Toretto's (Vin Diesel's) gang in Brazil. That was also when, after several less successful attempts, The Rock truly became an action star. His palpable charisma made Hobbs an instant fan-favorite character, and he was brought back in the next entry, Fast & Furious 6, which also introduced (in a post-credits coda) Jason Statham (Transporter 3) as former MI6 agent gone rogue Deckard Shaw. Shaw returned as the main antagonist in Furious 7, before reluctantly joining forces with the good guys (including Hobbs) in The Fate of the Furious. In Furious 7, the series had already shifted its focus to international espionage, courtesy of Kurt Russell's Nick Fury-ish spymaster Mr. Nobody. With Dom working with the bad guys for much of Fate, Hobbs and Shaw had a chance to shine on the good guy team, emerging as the series' clear new stars. So it only made sense to give them a spinoff! With Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, we could see a new spy franchise grow out of what started as a street racing series.

It's high time Transporter star Jason Statham got a big budget action series, and pairing him with The Rock should double the thrills. Atomic Blonde director David Leitch takes the helm, and he's brought on able spy support in the form of Idris Elba (he of perpetual tabloid rumors about James Bond, not to mention the solid neo-Eurospy flick The Take) as the villain (clad in a very Steranko bodysuit) and Mission: Impossible - Fallout standout Vanessa Kirby as an MI6 agent on the run. Eddie Marsan (Atomic Blonde) and Eiza González (Baby Driver, Alita: Battle Angel) round out the impressive cast. The action looks, as expected from that team, hyper-kinetic, Johnson and Statham's chemistry looks good, the cars look cool, and it generally looks like we might have a new action-heavy spy franchise to rival 007 and Mission: Impossible on our hands!

Jan 15, 2019

Spider-Man Turns SPYder-Man in New Trailer Featuring Nick Fury

Sony has released the first trailer for their latest Spider-Man movie, the second one set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a direct sequel to 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming. Thanks to the agreement between Sony and Disney-owned Marvel Studios that also allows Spider-man to appear in Disney's Avengers films, the Sony-released, Marvel-produced Spider-man movies can use other characters from the MCU. Spider-Man: Far From Home (opening this summer) takes full advantage of this scenario by finally bringing erstwhile S.H.I.E.L.D. ramrod Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) into poor Peter Parker's life. In fact, it looks like the pitch for this movie might have been something along the lines of, "let's do If Looks Could Kill with Spider-Man." Which, as an unapologetic fan of the 1991 Richard Grieco  teen spy movie, fills me with delight... even if I still have trouble believing Marvel went for it!

Far From Home finds teenage Peter Parker and all his classmates from Homecoming going on a school trip to Europe, where Nick Fury hijacks Peter's European vacation to recruit him as some sort of spy, complete with a fancy new stealth Spider suit. Jackson's Fury is accompanied once again by his regular MCU sidekick, Cobie Smulders' former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill. (Never mind that the last time we saw the two of them, in Avengers: Infinity War, both were disintegrating into dust. Perhaps the events of Avengers: Endgame, which will open between now and Far From Home, will somehow undo that fate, or perhaps Far From Home takes place prior to Infinity War.Jackson will next be seen as a pre-eye patch Fury in the 1990s-set Captain Marvel.) This trailer marks the first time we've ever seen Jackson's Fury wield a gun that resembles the one Jim Steranko drew for him on his seminal 1960s run on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (even if this one's a dart gun). Personally, I'm 100% sold on the spy stuff... but iffy on the giant elemental creatures angle. Check it out for yourselves:

Read my Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. primer here.

Jan 14, 2019

Tradecraft: Cruise, McQuarrie Accept Back-to-Back MISSIONS

For its first fifteen years, the Mission: Impossible movie franchise was remarkable as a directors' franchise, purposely switching up helmers (and styles, characters, and even continuity) to give each installment a unique feel rather than a Bond-like house style. That all changed when Christopher McQuarrie hit a home run with the fifth film in the series, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015), and returned to direct the sixth as well, last year's mega-hit Mission: Impossible - Fallout. Now, it appears that that wasn't an anomaly in the franchise's history, but a whole new direction. Variety reports that McQuarrie has just signed on to write and direct not just one more, but the the next two Mission: Impossible movies, which will film back to back for release in summer 2021 and summer 2022. Tom Cruise confirmed the dates--and presumably his involvement--with a lit fuse tweet this afternoon.

From the perspective of the studio, Paramount, it is not a surprising move. Fallout was both the highest grossing and best reviewed picture in the franchise to date, so locking down McQuarrie makes sense. Once these movies are made, he will have directed a full half of the film series. (For that matter, by that point Cruise will have surpassed Sean Connery's and Roger Moore's tied 7-film record for the most number of times playing a superspy in a major franchise.) For Fallout, as it was the franchise's first film with a returning director, McQuarrie made a point of differentiating it visually and sonicly from his previous entry by working with a different cinematographer and composer. It will be interesting to see if he continues that trend, or settles on a house team. The latter would make sense for the next two, anyway, since the plan is to shoot them back-to-back. This, also, makes sense, as even Tom Cruise can't defy age forever, and will one day have to choose not to accept some death-defying stunt. Back-to-back James Bond movies have been rumored at various times during Daniel Craig's tenure as the secret agent, but always shot down by both producers and the actor, who say that the demands would be impossible. But impossible is, of course, Cruise and McQuarrie's bread and butter! Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Russo Brothers' last two Marvel Avengers movies famously shot back to back, both with extensive reshoots planned into the schedule for the later films. 

Presumably committing to what sounds like full-time Mission: Impossible duties for the foreseeable future will rule out McQuarrie as a writer/director on what Paramount is hoping turns out to be their next big spy franchise, the nascent John Clark series with Michael B. Jordan attached to topline, based on the bestselling Tom Clancy novels. Over the years, McQuarrie had been flirting with helming or directing the first picture in that series, the long-in-the-works Without Remorse. Though it's just possible that he might still be able to squeeze that in before the next Mission, since the studio has already earmarked summer 2020 for another Cruise vehicle, the decades-later sequel Top Gun: Maverick. Hence the 2021 date for Mission: Impossible 7 (whatever it turns out being called). But that scenario is unlikely, as despite the extra time, the trade reports that Paramount hope to start shooting the next Mission movie by the end of this year. (And historically there's good reason to allow lots of time. Fallout had to pause filming for several months while Cruise recovered from an ankle injury sustained performing a rooftop stunt... but still made its original release date.) And, anyway, at last report Sicario 2 director Stefano Sollima was zeroing in on Without Remorse.

Now they just have to lock down the rest of the team! In the last three movies, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, and now Rebecca Ferguson have all become equally essential to these films' success as the star, which is only right, given the original TV series' emphasis on teamwork rather than a lone wolf secret agent. I'd also love to see Vanessa Kirby's White Widow from Fallout come back.

Read my review of Mission: Impossible - Fallout here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible III (2006) here.
Read my review of M:I-2 (2000) here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible (1996) here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Seventh TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Sixth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Fifth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Fourth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Third TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Second TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The First TV Season here.