Sep 3, 2020

NEW JAMES BOND TRAILER: Second Publicity Campaign Ramps Up for NO TIME TO DIE

This week MGM has ramped up the campaign for Daniel Craig's long awaited and highly anticipated fifth James Bond movie, No Time To Die. And as fans are painfully aware, this is actually the film's second campaign. No Time To Die had a whole advertising campaign back at the beginning of this year leading up to a hoped for April release, including many posters and even the much publicized, chart-topping release of the movie's excellent theme song by Billie Eilish. But, as we all know, the global pandemic came along and the April release was scrapped. Since then the film has been set for a November release, though even that has been uncertain given the unpredictable nature of the novel coronavirus. Now it certainly looks like EON, MGM, and distributors United Artists and Universal are doubling down on that November release! The date is proudly proclaimed across this brand new poster (frankly a little uninspired compared to the less typical previous campaign's 1-sheet) and in the brand new second trailer. And it's quite a trailer! As far as I can recall, this marks the first time a Craig Bond movie has had this kind of text tagline: The mission that changes everything begins! 


Jul 8, 2020

Tradecraft: Damian Lewis and Dominic West to Star in A SPY AMONG FRIENDS Miniseries

It's a real spies' reunion for the miniseries version of Ben MacIntyre's superb non-fiction book A Spy Among Friends! Nearly everyone involved has some serious spy experience on their resume--and many of them have worked together before. It's no wonder the book has attracted such an array of veteran talent; for my money it's a strong contender of the best spy biography ever. MacIntyre uses the close friendship between the notorious double agent Kim Philby and loyal MI6 officer Nicholas Elliott to frame the story of the notorious Cambridge spy ring that shook the foundations of British Intelligence--and the Cold War at large. 

According to Deadline, Damian Lewis (Our Kind of Traitor) will reunite with his Homeland producer Alexander Cary (the Taken TV show) to star as Elliott. Dominic West (The Hour, Johnny English Reborn) will play Philby, who has been portrayed in the past by Toby Stephens, Tom Hollander, Anthony Bate, and Billy Cruddup. Both Lewis and West were readers in the series of celebrity-read James Bond audiobooks.

Cary will write the six-episode miniseries, and Nick Murphy, who directed the recent dark BBC/FX version of A Christmas Carol, will direct. Both will produce, as will Lewis, whose production shingle Rookery was also behind the recent docu-series Spy Wars, which the actor hosted. The series will be a co-production of Sony and ITV Studios for Spectrum Originals and UK streamer BritBox. It's tentatively scheduled to air in fall of 2021, but of course like all things now that's dependent on the novel Coronavirus. Lewis has an obligation to finish his commitment to his Showtime series Billions first once production resumes.

MacIntyre's book has already been adapted as a two-part 2014 BBC documentary, Kim Philby: His Most Intimate Betrayal, which was presented by MacIntyre and starred David Oakes (You) as Philby and William Beck (Casualty) as Elliott in re-enactments. Previously, Lionsgate had optioned the TV rights to the book back in 2014 with writer Bill Broyles (Under Cover, Entrapment) attached, but nothing ever came of that.

Apr 14, 2020

Tradecraft: U.S. Remake of French Series THE BUREAU in the Works

Deadline reports that an English language version of the international hit French spy series The Bureau (Le Bureau des Légendes) is in the works. Per the trade, Paris-based Federation Entertainment, the production company behind the series, "said that negations are underway for remakes of The Bureau in both the U.S. and South Korea." The original French version airs in America on cable network Sundance, and has found great success in markets all over the world. It stars Mathieu Kassovitz (Haywire, Munich), and Bond villain Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace) came aboard in the fourth season.

Apr 6, 2020

Remembering Honor Blackman

The spy genre has lost a Great today. The Guardian reports that Honor Blackman has passed away at the age of 94, "of natural causes unrelated to coronavirus." It's crushing to lose two of the key Bond Girls in a matter of months, Blackman's death coming on the heels of Thunderball's Claudine Auger in December. And while she will probably be best remembered for her definitive portrayal of Pussy Galore opposite Sean Connery in Goldfinger, Blackman's mark on the spy genre is far greater. For me, she'll first and foremost always be Cathy Gale, John Steed's first regular female partner on the UK TV classic The Avengers.

Cathy Gale was ultimately overshadowed by Steed's more famous subsequent partner, Emma Peel (played to perfection by another future Bond Girl, Diana Rigg), but Gale's and Blackman's place in television history cannot be overstated. Cathy Gale was television's original badass, leather-clad female spy, paving the way not only for Mrs. Peel, but for Honey West (producer Aaron Spelling was inspired to create the show by Avengers episodes he saw in England, and reportedly first offered the role to Blackman, who turned it down), The Bionic Woman, Alias's Sydney Bristow, and every other leading lady of espionage to throw an attacker over her shoulder, as well as non-spy heroines like Xena and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Quite simply, there had never been an action-oriented female protagonist on television before Honor Blackman's groundbreaking performance. She changed the game. In part, this was due to Blackman inheriting scripts that had been originally written for another male partner for Steed (following his first season foil, Ian Hendry's Dr. David Keel), which were hastily rewritten for her, but kept the character involved in the action in a way women hadn't been previously on TV. But in a larger part, it was due to Blackman's undeniable and very physical presence: she played Cathy as a woman definitely not to be trifled with! And she learned judo for the role, impressively dispatching stuntmen twice her size on a regular basis on episodes that were at the time taped live. Her obvious talent even led to the publication of a book, Honor Blackman's Book of Self-Defense.

Prior to playing Cathy Gale, Blackman was known for glamour more than ass-kicking. But she'd already racked up a pretty impressive roster of spy roles. Foremost among them was a regular role on the 1959-60 ITC wheel show The 4 Just Men (review here), in which she played Nicole, secretary to Paris-based Just Man Tim Collier (Dan Dailey). That was a series very much of its time in all respects, so Nicole was no Cathy Gale, but Blackman nonetheless imbued her with the quick wit and spark that would later define her more famous character alongside her martial arts skills. She also made pre-Avengers appearances on other ITC series like The Saint, Danger Man,  and The Invisible Man, as well as U.K. spy and detective series like Top Secret (sadly lost), Ghost Squad, and The Vise, while also turning up in spy movies like Conspirator (with Elizabeth Taylor), Diplomatic Passport, and the original 1953 TV movie version of Little Red Monkey (penned by wartime BSC spy Eric Maschwitz and adapted two years later into a feature film version). Other notable film roles during this period include Jason and the Argonauts (1963), the Eric Ambler-penned Titanic drama A Night to Remember (1958), the Dirk Bogarde suspense drama So Long at the Fair (1950), and the Hammer noir The Glass Tomb (1955). Following the international success of Goldfinger, Blackman surprisingly didn't make many more spy appearances. The notable exceptions were the superior 1968 Goeffrey Jenkins adaptation A Twist of Sand (a movie in dire need of a Blu-ray or at least DVD release!), opposite Deadlier Than the Male's Richard Johnson, and a 1983 TV adaptation of Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence mystery The Secret Adversary. In the late Nineties, Mike Meyers dreamed of getting Blackman and Connery to play Austin Powers' parents, but that didn't happen and Michael Caine ended up playing his dad. While not playing spies, though, Blackman continued to have a robust post-Bond career, including a re-teaming with Connery in the 1968 Western Shalako, a pair of 1970s cult horror movies, Fright ('71), and Hammer's final genre flick of that incarnation, To the Devil a Daughter ('76), opposite Christopher Lee, and, more recently, a very memorable comedic turn in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001). She also continued to make her mark in television, too, with recurring or starring roles on Doctor Who, The Upper Hand, and Coronation Street, and guest appearances in ColumboDr. Terrible's House of Horrible, Midsomer Murders, and New Tricks.

Her early fame from The Avengers brought her an unlikely career milestone in 1990 when an infectious novelty single she had recorded with Patrick Macnee in the early Sixties, "Kinky Boots," became a dubious Top 10 radio hit at Christmastime. Some have described it as "embarrassing," but as far as I'm concerned both of those stars had enough infectious charisma to pull it off even if they're not really singers! (I'm also partial to the B-side, "Let's Keep It Friendly," about the characters' platonic relationship on the show.)

Blackman has also had a successful theater career, including productions of "The Sound of Music," "My Fair Lady" and "Cabaret," and a couple of touring one-woman shows. It was one of these performances that brought her into my out-of-the-way neck of the woods when I was in high school in the mid-Nineties. I took in the show, which was amazing, and then managed to meet her backstage. Blackman was the first Bond celebrity I'd ever met, and she did not let me down. She seemed genuinely happy to meet with fans, and gladly signed a Goldfinger trading card for this starstruck teen while regaling me with stories from her days on The Avengers. She even weighed in with a decidedly non-PC answer on a debate I'd been having at the time with a friend about whether Bond and Pussy's roll in the hay was truly consensual. "Darling," she told me, eyes sparkling, "it was Sean Connery. Any woman would have wanted it!"

That sparkle remained ever-present as she remained a public figured right up to the end, always reliable for some media appearances whenever a new Bond movie came out. She never turned her back on the franchise, or publicly showed any resentment for the "Bond Girl" label that followed her throughout her career. She also continued to be a cheerleader for The Avengers, despite having left the series just before its transition to film and color... and the American broadcast that cemented its global fame.

In Blackman's final episode of The Avengers (after her Goldfinger casting was already public news), Steed bade farewell to Cathy Gale with a typical request of a favor, beginning, "And as you're going to be out there anyway, pussyfooting along those sun-soaked shores..."

"You thought I might do a little investigating," she finishes, knowing him all too well. She demurs, asserting her well-earned right to a vacation. "You see I'm not going to be pussy-footing along those sun-soaked shores," she corrects her partner, "I'm going to be lying on them." Pussyfooting or lounging, Honor Blackman has certainly earned her trip to those sun-soaked shores. While more terrestrially, the modern spy genre forever owes her an enormous debt. Blackman was a true trailblazer, who transformed the role of women in the spy genre from femme fatales who relied exclusively on their sexuality to equal participants in the action, undaunted by superior force and unmatched in combat skills.

Feb 13, 2020

There's a New James Bond Song! Listen to Billie Eilish's "No Time to Die"



Wow! We're so close to the release of a new Bond movie now that a new James Bond theme song has been released into the world! Listen for yourself to Billie Eilsish's title track to the twenty-fifth EON 007 movie, No Time to Die. Eilish recently won all the Grammies, pretty much, and performed at the Oscars. It seems pre-ordained that this track will shoot to the top of the charts. Eilish reportedly wrote the song with her brother, Finneas. Hans Zimmer composed the film's score.

Dec 6, 2019

SOME GIRLS DO (1969) Comes to Blu-Ray!

Eurospy fans, your collective prayers have been answered! The Sixties Bond knockoff (a term I use with great affection) title I've heard most often requested is finally coming to Blu-ray! In the UK, anyway. So American Eurospy aficionados who don't yet have all-region Blu-ray players (and you really ought to), add them to your Christmas lists! On February 17, 2020, Network will release the Bondified Jet Age Bulldog Drummond movie Some Girls Do (lesser sequel to the greatest Eurospy movie of all, Deadlier Than the Male) in Region B high-def. On the same date the title will also make its standalone DVD debut (Region 2). Both releases are quite notable, because they mark the first time ever that this title has been available in its native 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio. It was previously available only on a Region 2 double feature DVD from Network paired with Deadlier Than the Male (which the company has offered on its own on Blu-ray for some time now). While that title came in widescreen, the Some Girls Do on offer was a panned and scanned 4x3 version--and transferred from a rather iffy source. Hopefully (and presumably, given the new aspect ratio), Network have uncovered a better source print for the new 1080p HD transfer. So even if you don't have an all-region Blu-ray player, but do have an all-region DVD player, you'll still have a way to finally see this movie the way it was meant to be seen!

Some Girls Do (1969) stars Richard Johnson (Deadlier Than the Male, Danger Route), Daliah Lavi (Casino Royale, The High Commissioner), Beba Loncar (Fuller Report, Lucky the Inscrutable), James Villiers (For Your Eyes Only, Otley), and the great Robert Morley (Hot Enough For JuneTopkapi) in a scene-stealing role as cooking teacher "Miss Mary." Here's Network's description of the movie:
Richard Johnson returns as Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond in this action-packed take on the exploits of H.C. McNeile's famous fictional hero - this time with an added dose of late '60s whimsy when Drummond comes up against a gang of armed, gorgeous fembots! Some Girls Do is presented here as a new High Definition transfer from original film elements in its original aspect ratio.
Drummond is hot on the trail of his nemesis, the devious Carl Petersen, who is hell-bent on sabotaging the new British fighter airplane. Peterson must be stopped - whatever the cost - but this time he's protected by a bodyguard of murderous female androids!
Special features are limited to the theatrical trailer and an "extensive image gallery," but just having this title in its proper aspect ratio is reason enough to buy the disc! And to have that great, great poster art on the cover! (My own Some Girls Do UK quad with that key art hangs in a place of pride in my apartment protected by UV-coated museum glass.)

Pre-order the Blu-ray from Network here.
Pre-order the DVD from Network here.
Read my review of Deadlier Than the Male here.

Dec 4, 2019

James Bond is Back in the NO TIME TO DIE Trailer!!!

It's here! The trailer we've been waiting so long for! And our first lengthy look Daniel Craig in action as James Bond since SPECTRE in 2015. (I'm a little surprised at how direct a sequel to that movie No Time To Die appears to be.) Check it out:

Dec 3, 2019

NO TIME TO DIE Character Posters

In anticipation of tomorrow's trailer debut, MGM have released six new character posters for No Time To Die. They include Ana de Armas as Paloma (above), her Knives Out costar Daniel Craig as James Bond (sort of channeling GoldenEye Pierce Brosnan in his combat gear), Lashanna Lynch as Nomi, Ben Whishaw returning as Q, SPECTRE's Lea Seydoux returning as Madeleine Swann, and Rami Malek as Safin. No Time To Die, the 25th official James Bond movie (and Craig's fifth) opens in April. The first trailer will debut tomorrow morning on Good Morning America.





First Trailer: Marvel's BLACK WIDOW Movie!

Black Widow will be the first of Marvel's superspies to get her own movie (preceding Shang Chi by a year), and today Marvel released the first trailer. And it looks pretty cool! I'm honestly surprised about how many images come directly from the various Black Widow comics over the years. Clearly, the character's first standalone film will contain some flashbacks to Natasha Romanoff's early days as a child raised to be a KGB assassin in Moscow's infamous Red Room. Scarlett Johansson has played the role in seven Marvel movies (most recently the all-time box office champ Avengers: Endgame), but this will be her first solo feature.


If you want to play catch-up on the comics and see where some of those images in the trailer come from, there are some collections out there that make that possible. (And even more are due next year in the lead up to the movie!) Three beautifully prodcued 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. (They'll also, happily, be collected in a new single volume next year!) 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 of this century. Other recent Widow stories include Black Widow: Deadly Origin, Black Widow and the Marvel Girls, Black Widow: The Name of the Rose and Black Widow: Kiss or Kill. Most of the character's adventures with Daredevil from the 1970s are included in Essential Daredevil: Volume 3. as well as the color Daredevil Epic Collection: A Woman Called Widow.

Trailer for Bravo Reality Competition Show SPY GAMES

EW shared the first teaser today for Bravo's upcoming reality competition series Spy Games. According to EW, the show "features 10 contestants living together in a large house and attempting to gather intel on their fellow players while competing in challenges designed by three former spies, alumni of the CIA, Secret Service, and FBI. Players will be eliminated until one remains to claim a $100,000 prize." Apparently the format is in some ways based on a real-life World War II-era scheme known as Station S, "in which civilians were recruited and relocated to a 'remote estate' to be trained as spies." Spy Games, which is hosted by model and martial artist Mia Kang, premieres on Monday, January 20, 2020, at 10/9c. I tried to embed the video, but Bravo's own awful, awful video platform (which is really quite terrible) automatically plays a Real Housewives promo instead. So check out the trailer here.
Thanks to Jeff for the intel alert!

Dec 1, 2019

NO TIME TO DIE Trailer... Trailer!

The first actual movie footage of the next Daniel Craig James Bond movie, No Time To Die! Not the actual trailer yet (that's due on Wednesday), but the trailer for the trailer! And it looks amazing! Consider my appetite whetted. This premiered during football tonight in the U.S.

Nov 15, 2019

Third Jean Dujardin OSS 117 Spy Comedy Begins Filming!

A whole decade after the release of his second OSS 117 spy spoof, Lost in Rio (review here), Jean Dujardin (who picked up an Oscar for Best Actor in the interim) has at long last stepped back into the role that brought him international fame. Cameras began rolling this week on a third OSS 117 comedy, as announced by director Nicolas Bedos via video of a clapperboard on Instagram. OSS 117: Alerte rouge en Afrique noire (literally translated as OSS 117: Red Alert in Black Africa, which very much has the ring of a Jean Bruce novel title, but the ultimate English title is unlikely to be a direct translation of the French one) is scheduled to film in Paris and Kenya, with Bedos (La belle époque) taking the reins from Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), who helmed the first two. Hazanavicius and Bedos both contributed to the controversial 2012 sex comedy portmanteau The Players, which also starred Dujardin. Jean-François Halin, who co-wrote the first two OSS 117 comedies with Hazanavicius and went on to create the very funny, Sixties-set comedic spy series Au service de la France (known as A Very Secret Service in America, where it streams on Netflix) handles solo scripting duties on this one. Pierre Niney (Yves Saint Laurent), Fatou N'Diaye (Spiral), and Wladimir Yordanoff (currently appearing with Dujardin in An Officer and a Spy) are also among the cast.

Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, code name OSS 117, began life long before Dujardin. The redoubtable secret agent was the brainchild of French author Jean Bruce, and starred in a series of 234 novels (of which only a handful have ever been translated into English) beginning in 1949 (and thus predating Ian Fleming's more famous superspy). The books are serious spy stories, and the character was initially treated seriously on screen, too, beginning in the 1950s, but most famously in a series of five exceptional Eurospy movies directed or produced by André Hunebelle (Fantomas) between 1963 and 1968. (Read my review of my favorite, OSS 117: Terror in Tokyo, which presaged many James Bond moments, here.) Once notoriously hard to track down in English-friendly versions, Kino Lorber has now, happily, released a set of those five films on DVD and Blu-ray. For a more in-depth history of the character and links to my reviews of all the films, see my post OSS 117: An Introduction.

In 2006, Michel Hazanavicius revived the character in the hilarious send-up OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (review here). That first spoof was set in the Fifties and brilliantly parodied the early Bond films (with Dujardin partly channeling young Sean Connery) and Alfred Hitchcock movies... along with the prevalent casual racism and sexism of that era. The 2009 sequel was set in the late Sixties, spoofing the Sixties Bond movies and Eurospy movies.

A third film has been mooted ever since, always intended to be set in Africa. At one point it was supposed to be set in the Seventies and parody blaxploitation movies, Jason King, and Jean-Paul Belmondo action flicks, as well as the Roger Moore Bond movies (and fashions) of that period. Now, presumably since so much time has passed, Premiere reports that OSS 117: Alerte roughe en Afrique noire will be set in the 1980s. While I'm sorry we won't see Dujardin sporting Peter Wyngarde-style fashions, the Eighties setting will still provide ample opportunity to spoof the Moore Bond films and Belmondo, whose own African spy epic The Professional was made in 1981.
Thanks to Jack for the red alert on this one!

Oct 14, 2019

USA Shares Amazing TREADSTONE Clip on Eve of Premiere

USA's Bourne spin-off series Treadstone premieres tomorrow night. While I've been surprised by the paucity of advertising in the real world, the network has released many, many clips online over the past month--enough, seemingly, to create a fairly good assembly cut of the pilot episode! But they've saved the best for last. A clip with an extended fight scene and a chase across European rooftops shared today by the International Spy Museum really demonstrates that they appear to have captured the tone and feel of Doug Liman's 2002 movie The Bourne Identity. (The lead actor also seems to have been cast at least partly for bearing a slight resemblance to Matt Damon.) This has me very excited to sample the series tomorrow night! Watch the clip here.

Read my review of the novel that started it all, Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity, here.

Treadstone premieres on Tuesday, October 15, at 10/9c on USA.

Oct 13, 2019

John le Carré Teases New Smiley TV Series, Potentially Starring Jared Harris

In a great profile in Saturday's New York Times promoting his new novel Agent Running in the Field, author John le Carré  reveals that his sons' production company, The Ink Factory, are plotting an epic new TV series about his most famous character, spymaster George Smiley. "According to le Carré," asserts the article's author, Tobias Grey, "The Ink Factory now plans to do new television adaptations of all the novels featuring Cold War spy George Smiley - this time in chronological order. 'That means that if you actually go back to the first big conspiracies in The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, you've got to consider how Smiley ages and how young he was at that time,' le Carré says. That would mean finding an actor who can play younger than the Smiley incarnated by Gary Oldman in the film version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Le Carré says that his sons are interested in casting the British actor Jared Harris, whose performance they all admired in the recent TV mini-series Chernobyl." Harris (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Allied), interestingly, was originally cast in Tomas Alfredson's 2011 le Carré  adaptation Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as Circus (MI6) chief Percy Alleline, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, in which he played Professor Moriarty. Toby Jones took on the Alleline role, and embodied the character perfectly. Besides Oldman, Smiley has been played in the past by Denholm Elliott, James Mason, Rupert Davies, and, most memorably, Alec Guinness in two famous BBC miniseries.

A new miniseries version of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold was first announced back in 2016 as a follow-up to the hugely successful le Carré miniseries The Night Manager. Le Carré worked with the producers and writer to crack their take on the material, and that work led him to write a whole new sequel to the book, A Legacy of Spies, but did not yield a series. Instead, The Little Drummer Girl (2018) proved to be the next le Carré miniseries, but work continued on The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. Now, apparently, that project has grown in scope and morphed into this one. I've long craved a long-form TV series about le Carré's Circus, devoting a season to each book and dropping in the short stories from The Secret Pilgrim at the appropriate historical moments and, most crucially, finally giving us a television version of the (to date unfilmed) middle book in the Karla trilogy, The Honourable Schoolboy. This sounds like it could turn out to be exactly that! (Though hopefully they'll begin at the real beginning with Call For the Dead, and not The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.) It's a most tantalizing prospect!

Read my George Smiley Primer here.

Oct 5, 2019

First Poster for NO TIME TO DIE, Daniel Craig's Last Outing as James Bond

I've never quite understood the concept of "James Bond Day" (or "Global James Bond Day?"). But maybe that's because since I was 11, I don't think there's been any day I haven't thought about James Bond! Maybe there are people out there who need reminding? Anyway, to mark this year's James Bond Day, MGM and EON have released the first poster for Daniel Craig's final outing as Bond, No Time To Die. No Time To Die, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and starring Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ana de Armas, Jeffrey Wright, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Billy Magnussen, David Dencik, and Rory Kinnear, opens in the U.S. on April 8, 2020.

Oct 4, 2019

Tradecraft: Jamie Bell Joins Clancy Adaptation WITHOUT REMORSE

It looks like this time, Paramount's decades-held hopes of making a movie out of Tom Clancy's epic saga Without Remorse are really going to happen! Last month, Variety reported that Jamie Bell will join the previously announced Michael B. Jordan (playing frequent Clancy hero John Clark) in the movie from director Stefano Sollima (helmer of the very Clancy-esque Sicario: Day of the Soldado). Bell will play a familiar character from the Tom Clancy universe, CIA Deputy Director of Operations Robert Ritter. Henry Czerny memorably essayed the role in 1994's Clear and Present Danger, in which Willem Dafoe played Clark.

Today, several more actors joined the cast, making this Without Remorse more and more of a reality! (Forgive my incredulity. It's just hard to believe this movie is finally happening after literally decades of development!) Deadline reports that Luke Mitchell (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Jacob Scipio (Bad Boys For Life), Cam Gigandet (Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden), Jack Kesy (12 Strong), and Todd Lasance (Spartacus) are all signing on as members of Clark's SEAL team. Nearly all of them have played special forces operators before. Additionally, Jodie Turner-Smith (The Last Ship, The Neon Demon) has been cast as a potential love interest for Jordan.

According to the trade, "Without Remorse is the origin story of John Clark, played by Jordan, a Navy SEAL-turned-CIA ops officer, who seeks revenge after his girlfriend is killed by a Baltimore drug lord." That sounds more or less like the novel, so if this capsule summary comes from the studio (and not just a Deadline writer Wikipedia-ing the book), then perhaps we can expect a fairly faithful adaptation. What I'm guessing we won't get is a period piece. I doubt Clark will serve in Vietnam in this version; I suspect they'll make it contemporary. (This was the plan back when Tom Hardy was supposed to play Clark in a series intended to cross over with Chris Pine's intended Jack Ryan franchise.) Paramount are very eager to launch a new film franchise with this movie, already eyeing Clancy's Rainbow Six as a follow-up. Also unclear is whether there will be any crossover with Amazon's Jack Ryan TV series, which hails from the same producers. The Clark character has been kept out of that series so far because of the percolating film franchise, but that doesn't necessarily preclude a cameo from John Krasinski in Without Remorse....

Without Remorse is slated to open September 18, 2020.

Sep 24, 2019

Trailer for EON's New Spy Movie THE RHYTHM SECTION

On Friday Paramount dropped the trailer for the second most anticipated EON Production of 2020, The Rhythm Section! The Rhythm Section has been delayed several times (first when star Blake Lively suffered an on-set injury), but here's proof that it's finally really coming... and it looks great! While an adaptation of Mark Burnell's 1999 spy novel would be something for spy fans to be seriously excited about anyway, it's even more exciting because it hails from Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson's EON Productions, the producers behind the James Bond movies. While EON has been venturing outside the realm of 007 lately, this marks their first new foray into the genre that defined them—and that they defined, under the auspices of first-generation Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. And it's not only a new EON spy movie; it's potentially the start of a new, female-fronted EON spy series! (Burnell wrote four Stephanie Patrick thrillers.) Will Lively end up being the Sean Connery of a long lasting Stephanie Patrick film series?

The books are quite good, and remind me of a female Callan. Like Callan, Stephanie ends up working as an assassin for a particularly unpleasant boss in an ultra-secret branch of British Intelligence. And like Callan, she doesn't do this work by choice. Instead she's forced into it by that unpleasant boss. But she's also got very personal motivations (motivations he ruthlessly manipulates) for her initial mission: an opportunity to get revenge on the terrorists responsible for the death of her parents and siblings. Burnell's book is very dark and very serious, and judging from this trailer the movie will be true to that tone. In fact, the movie (directed by Reed Morano and scripted by Burnell himself) looks quite faithful to the book overall, though it's obvious that the ending has been changed, which was pretty much a given. (The villains' plot in the '99 book had eerie similarities to 9/11, which simply wouldn't play in today's world.) And it looks great!

The first of two major EON spy movies coming out next year, The Rhythm Section opens on January 31, 2020. It stars Blake Lively (The Age of Adaline), Jude Law (Spy), Raza Jaffrey (Spooks/MI-5), and Sterling K. Brown (Black Panther).

Sep 16, 2019

Movie Review: SAIGON: YEAR OF THE CAT (1983)

UK TV movie Saigon: Year of the Cat might be most notable today for what many of its key personnel went on to do, but it’s worth a watch as a sad historical spy movie, and does a good job conveying a strong sense of its titular time and place on a low budget. Frederick Forrest (The Conversation) plays CIA officer Bob Chesneau, stationed at the U.S. embassy in Saigon during the final weeks before the city fell to the North Vietnamese. Judi Dench (a decade before GoldenEye) plays the English bank employee, Barbara Dean, who falls in love with him at this inopportune time. The versatile Stephen Frears (who has a strange Bond connection, in that he was attached to direct the Die Another Day spinoff movie, Jinx, that ultimately fell apart) directs, from a script by playwright David Hare (who went on to write the excellent Page Eight spy thrillers). Frears frames the film as a star-crossed love story, opening with a retro-style title card and dramatic music that seem intended to evoke Casablanca, but the spy plot is far more interesting.

Chesneau receives intelligence from a good local asset, whose past record is unblemished, that the North will invade the city within three weeks. He tries desperately to convince his boss of the intel’s validity, but the station chief toes the line of official U.S. policy, insisting that an invasion is not imminent and refusing to make obvious evacuation preparations for fear of setting off a panic in the city. When the invasion does, inevitably, come, the evacuation is rushed and haphazard. Chesneau tries desperately to arrange to get all of his assets out of the country, which he had promised in good faith to do. Since the evacuation is a matter of historical record, it doesn’t seem too much of a spoiler to say that that doesn’t happen, and scenes of file cards with agents’ photos on them left in the embassy for North Vietnamese soldiers to discover, or bands of loyal South Vietnamese assets waiting nervously at their pre-appointed rendezvous points for American helicopters that will never come carry a heartbreaking, le Carré-esque sense of doom. 

The love story, of course, is similarly doomed, as Barbara does what she can to get her own local bank employees out before the Communist influx, even attempting to offer up her own spot on a helicopter. While the movie is mainly talky and stagey (not totally surprising, coming from a playwright and made for Thames Television), it becomes surprisingly exciting in its final act. Hundreds of extras swarm the streets as Vietnamese refugees try in vain to gain access to the U.S. embassy, escaping personnel pack themselves onto helicopters, and embassy staff furiously push as many documents as they can into industrial shredders and furnaces. There is nothing groundbreaking in Saigon: Year of the Cat, but it’s still a fairly compelling drama set against a fairly unique historical backdrop. Roger Rees (If Looks Could Kill), Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride), and E.G. Marshall (The Poppy is Also a Flower) round out the impressive cast.

Saigon: Year of the Cat is available on a quality DVD from Network in the UK, and in America, where it seems to be in the public domain, on various budget DVDs and compilations, as well as streaming on Amazon (free for Prime members).

Sep 11, 2019

Expanded Score CD for Danny Elfman's MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996) Out this Week from La-La Land

Years in the making, La-La Land Records finally made the announcement today that Mission: Impossible fans have been craving: an expanded score CD featuring Danny Elfman's amazing music from the first Tom Cruise Mission movie! The 2-disc limited edition soundtrack to the 1996 Brian De Palma film (review here) will contain the original score album assembly, mastered by Patricia Sullivan, on Disc 1, while Disc 2 (per the label) "showcases the remastered film score, expanding the original album release by more than twenty minutes. Produced by Dan Goldwasser and Neil S. Bulk and remastered by Mike Matessino, this powerhouse 2-CD set is limited to 3000 units and features exclusive liner notes by writer Jeff Bond. The sleek art direction is by Dan Goldwasser." It should be noted that, like the original score album, this release will not contain the version of Lalo Schifrin's "Mission: Impossible Theme" by U2's Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, which was originally included on the entirely different album Mission: Impossible - Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture (remember those annoying "From and Inspired by" albums so popular in the late Nineties?), and also issued as a single. Elfman's music, however, frequently incorporates Shifrin's theme, too, as well as his distinctive cue "The Plot" from the Sixties TV show. Missing from the track list for the new release are the three Elfman tracks originally included on that "From and Inspired by" album, but my guess is that that those tracks contain music already inclued in other tracks on the original score album. (Can anyone confirm or refute that?) Last year, Mondo released Elfman's Mission: Impossible score on vinyl, but that release contained no extra music.

Strictly limited to 3000 units, La-La Land's Mission: Impossible - Limited Edition soundtrack retails for $29.98. It's available to order now, and starts shipping later this week on September 13.

Here's the full track listing from the La-La Land website:

DISC 1 ORIGINAL POINT MUSIC SCORE ALBUM
1. Sleeping Beauty(†) 2:33
2. Theme From Mission: Impossible(§) 1:07
    Composed by Lalo Schifrin, arr. Danny Elfman
3. Red Handed(§) 4:23
4. Big Trouble 5:37
5. Love Theme? 2:24
6. Mole Hunt 3:05
7. The Disc(†) 1:58
8. Max Found 1:05
9. Looking for “Job”(†) 4:40
10. Betrayal 2:59
11. The Heist(†) 5:49
12. Uh-Oh! 1:31
13. Biblical Revelation 1:37
14. Phone Home 2:28
15. Train Time(§)(†) 4:15
16. Ménage à Trois 2:57
17. Zoom A 1:54
18. Zoom B(§) 2:58
TOTAL DISC TIME: 53:20

DISC 2 FILM SCORE
1. Sleeping Beauty**(†) (Film Version) 3:03
2. Theme From Mission: Impossible(§) 1:07
    Composed by Lalo Schifrin, arr. Danny Elfman
3. Red Handed** (†/§) (Film Version) 6:21
4. Big Trouble** (Film Version) 7:01
5. Lonely March* 0:54
6. Mole Hunt** (Film Version)/Escape* 3:35
7. Looking For “Job”(†) 4:44
8. Max Returns*/Max At Last* 1:30
9. Max Found 1:05
10. The Disc(†) 1:59
11. Disavowed*/Worse Than You Think** (†) 2:48
12. Langley*(§) 1:01
13. The Heist** (†) (Film Version) 5:05
14. Uh-Oh! 1:31
15. Biblical Revelation 1:36
16. Phone Home 2:28
17. Betrayal** (Film Version) 3:01
18. Love Theme? 2:24
19. Train Time** (Film Version)/Is He?* 5:33
20. Ménage à Trois 2:57
21. Zoom A** (Film Version)/Zoom B**(§) (Film Version) 5:21

ADDITIONAL MUSIC
22. Red Handed**(†) (Alternate Ending) 1:46
23. Disavowed* (Alternate)/Worse Than You Think*(†) (Alternate) 2:59
24. Zoom A** (Alternate)/Zoom B**(§) (Alternate) 5:19
TOTAL DISC TIME: 75:15

TOTAL ALBUM TIME: 128:35

* previously unreleased
** contains previously unreleased material
§ contains “Theme From Mission: Impossible” by Lalo Schifrin
† contains “The Plot” by Lalo Schifrin

Aug 22, 2019

Tradecraft: Netflix Orders Elvis Spy Series

It's always struck me as so weird that Elvis never made a spy movie. I mean, the King of Rock and Roll made movies in just about every other genre, throughout the whole spy craze of the Sixties! And even worked with lots of spy actresses, like Ann-Margaret (Murderers' Row, Viva Las Vegas) Nancy Sinatra (Last of the Secret Agents, Speedway), and Ursula Andress (Dr. No, Fun in Acapulco). But now, according to Deadline, Elvis will finally get to be a spy... sort of. At least an animated version of him will star in a Netflix series, Agent King (no, not Jason, I'm afraid!), which explores the premise what if the actual Elvis Presley were actually a secret agent? According to the trade, in the series, created by Elvis's widow Priscilla Presley and singer/songwriter John Eddie, "Elvis trades in his white jumpsuit for a jet pack when he is covertly inducted into a secret government spy program to help battle the dark forces that threaten the country he loves — all while holding down his day job as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll." Mike Arnold, who knows a thing or two about animated spy series, having written for Archer for six seasons, will be the showrunner.

Trailer: THE REPORT

Amazon Prime debuted the first trailer today for their upcoming film The Report,  Scott Z. Burns' thriller/expose about torture in the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program in the aftermath of 9/11. Burns is no stranger to the subject of spies and spy agencies, with writing credits on The Bourne Ultimatum (review here), The Informant!, and next year's Bond movie No Time to Die. He also penned an unmade version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. when Steven Soderbergh was attached to direct. Soderbergh is a producer on The Report, which stars Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, Maura Tierney, and The Americans' Matthew Rhys. The Report premieres in theaters November 15th, and on Prime Video November 29th.

Aug 20, 2019

At Last, BOND 25 Has a Real Title!


Finally, we can stop referring to the fifth Daniel Craig James Bond movie as "Bond 25!" (The moniker lasted far further into production than usual for the 007 films, which have traditionally been known in pre-production as Bond # ever since the producers ran out of Ian Fleming titles.) Now we can start calling the next movie No Time to Die. It has a similar ring to A Reason to Die (the title that was reportedly rejected on the eve of the Bond 25 press conference due to objections from MGM), but more history for the Bond production team.

No Time to Die is a title previously used (in some territories, including the UK) by original series producer Albert R. Broccoli on one of his pre-Harry Saltzman collaborations with producer Irving Allen, the 1958 WWII drama known in the U.S. as Tank Force. That No Time to Die was directed by Terence Young (who would obviously go on to help shape the Bond franchise, directing three of the first four Sean Connery movies), co-written by Richard Maibaum (who would receive writing credits on a dozen 007 titles), shot by Ted Moore (who would shoot many Bond movies, establishing the series' visual style for decades), and co-starred Luciana Paluzzi (Thunderball) and future "Goldfinger" lyricist Anthony Newley. Additionally, Syd Cain, who would become a fixture in the 007 art departments, had an assistant art director credit. So the title is rich with EON-adjacent history, in a way similar to GoldenEye's and The World Is Not Enough's close associations with Ian Fleming history.

Unfortunately, those rich associations don't stop the title from sounding just a little average, redolent of Brosnan-era word mash-ups like Die Another Day and Tomorrow Never Dies. Personally, I think I preferred A Reason to Die, but we'll see how No Time to Die fits the story. And, of course, how it fits into the lyrics of a hopefully awesome song, which is the true test of Bond movie titles!

I'm surprised the title treatment didn't line up the O's in "No" and "to" to make a "007" (as seen on the Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale posters), but it does use a font that's been seen over the years (in a few variations) on many spy titles in film and print, including several James Bond editions.

Aug 12, 2019

Trailer for USA's Bourne Spin-Off Series, TREADSTONE

USA has released the first trailer for their upcoming Bourne TV spinoff, Treadstone.



Treadstone is the long in the works TV series derived from the Matt Damon Bourne films and based on the secret super assassin program originated in Robert Ludlum's novel The Bourne Identity (review here).

The project has been percolating in one form or another ever since 2010, when CSI creator Anthony Zuiker attempted a Treadstone show for CBS. But when Tony Gilroy came aboard to direct the theatrical spinoff The Bourne Legacy, he didn't want a competing version of the mythology on TV, and made it a condition of his directing that the nascent show be killed. The new incarnation comes from Heroes creator Tim Kring, who produces along with Captivate Entertainment's Ben Smith. Smith's fellow Keeper of the Ludlum flame at Captivate, Jeffrey Weiner, executive produces (as he does on the Bourne films) along with Ramin Bahrani, among others. Acclaimed Iranian-American helmer Bahrani directs the pilot. Bahrani has directed such indie features as 99 Homes and Chop Shop, the latter of which late film critic Roger Ebert famously anointed the sixth best film of the 2000s. More recently Bahrani directed HBO's Fahrenheit 451, with Michael B. Jordan and Sophie Boutella.

Seasoned spy veteran Michelle Forbes (Berlin Station, 24) leads the cast in what sounds like a role similar to Joan Allen's in the movies as "Ellen Becker, a savvy CIA veteran trying to balance the demands of work and family while investigating a conspiracy with international implications." Patrick Fugit (First Man), Michael Gaston, (Jack Ryan) Shruti Haasan (a Bollywood star), Brian J. Smith (Sense8), Tess Haubrich (Alien: Covenant), Jeremy Irvine, Omar Metwally, Tracy Ifeachor, Hyo Joo Han, Gabrielle Scharnitzky and Emilia Schüle also star.

It's clear that Kring's Treadstone takes some liberties with the versions previously established in both the books and the films, making all of the programs' assets virtual amnesiacs, in that they have been brainwashed not to realize that they are sleeper agents until the moment they are awakened. While this does somewhat undermine Bourne's own special circumstances, it also feels like a clever way to really cash in on the brand and give audiences an experience similar to what they've seen in the movies.

In Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity (review here), Treadstone 71 was the shadowy intelligence group that David Webb worked for (based out of a New York brownstone), with whom he created and assumed his more famous identity as assassin Jason Bourne. Nebulous and illegal though it may have been, in the book Treadstone's motivations were basically heroic. The Treadstone of the movies, which creates super-assassins through brainwashing and later drugs, is a much more sinister organization. It was also, I believe, officially shut down by Brian Cox's character, Abbott, in The Bourne Supremacy, and then reconstituted as Outcome by Ed Norton's character in The Bourne Legacy (review here). It will be interesting to see if the TV series mentions Outcome at all, and how closely it sticks to the mythology established in the movies.

Treadstone is not only keeping alive on the small screen, but also in print. Earlier this year, the Ludlum estate has commissioned author Joshua Hood to pen the first book in a new Treadstone literary series, The Treadstone Resurrection, which will be in stores this fall—I assume about the same time the show premieres on USA.

Jul 28, 2019

Tradecraft: William Boyd's Cold War Berlin-Set SPY CITY Series Gets Revived with Dominic Cooper

Several years ago, around the same time that Olen Steinhauer's Berlin Station was announced, another Berlin-set spy series from another major novelist was also announced: William Boyd's Cold War-set Spy City. But it sadly never came to be at that time. Now, five years later, though, it's finally happening!

Originally set up as a 10-part series at Gaumont, Deadline reports that Boyd's vision will finally come to life as a 6-part series for Miramax and Germany's H&V Entertainment and ZDF. And it will star a face who's become quite familiar to spy fans--Dominic Cooper. Cooper starred as Tony Stark's father, Howard Stark, in Captain America: The First Avenger, and again on the excellent late 1940s-set spy TV series Agent Carter. He also played Ian Fleming in the BBC miniseries Fleming. He'll continue his run of period spy shows in Spy City by playing a British agent dispatched to Berlin in 1961 to root out a traitor in the UK Embassy or among the Allies, shortly before the construction of the Berlin Wall. "The city, declared by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev as 'the most dangerous place on earth,' is teeming with spies and double agents. One wrong move could trigger the looming threat of nuclear war as American, British and French troops in West Berlin remain separated from their Soviet and East German counterparts by nothing more than an imaginary line."

William Boyd is the author of the James Bond continuations novel Solo, as well as the excellent generational spy saga Restless  (which the author adapted into a miniseries with Agent Carter's Hayley Atwell) and what might very well be my favorite novel so far this century, Any Human Heart. That one's not a spy novel, though it does feature some spying, and Ian Fleming as a minor character. It was also turned into a miniseries with Atwell, as well as Spooks' Matthew Macfadyan and Casino Royale's Tobias Menzies as Fleming. There are a lot of odd connections forming here! An intelligence analyst might even discern some sort of pattern. Can an announcement of Ms. Atwell co-starring in Spy City be far off? So far, Johanna Wokalek (The Baader Meinhof Complex) and Leonie Benesch (The Crown, Babylon Berlin) have been announced besides Cooper. Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Alexandre will direct.

When the project was first announced in its original, slightly longer format, Variety reported that Spy City "sheds light on the personal lives of spies and focuses on a group of men and women of different nationalities and backgrounds who are in the 'hornet’s nest' of divided Berlin." The Hollywood Reporter added, "Spy City is set in the hottest period of the cold war, when Berlin was the center of the global chess game between the powers of East and West. The series is billed as an intimate look at the men and women who risked everything to become spies."

In addition to being an internationally acclaimed novelist, Boyd is also a successful screenwriter. He co-wrote Richard Attenborough's Oscar-nominated biopic Chaplin (1992), adapted other people's novels into Mister Johnson (1990, starring Pierce Brosnan) and Sword of Honor (2001, starring Daniel Craig), and adapted his own novels A Good Man in Africa (1994, starring Sean Connery and Diana Rigg) and Stars and Bars (1988, not starring any James Bond, but starring Daniel Day-Lewis, which is also pretty good), among many other credits. He wrote and directed The Trench (1999), which also starred Craig. Besides Solo, his recent novels include the WWI espionage tale Waiting for Sunrise, the pharmaceutical thriller Ordinary Thunderstorms, and the short story "The Vanishing Game." The latter, Boyd's homage to John Buchan's The 39 Steps, is a great read and a great introduction to the author, as it's available for free (thanks to Land Rover) as an e-book from Amazon and as an audiobook download from Audible. It's a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it. Most of all, though, I can't wait for Spy City! I'm glad it's come back to life.
Thanks to Jack for the heads-up on this!

Jul 27, 2019

First Teaser Trailer for Amazon's JACK RYAN Season 2

At the TCA today, Amazon Prime unveiled a first glimpse at Season 2 of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, again starring John Krasinski as the titular CIA analyst. The show was renewed for a second season before the first had even debuted, and was successful enough for the streamer that it's already been renewed for a third. Once again, this season is an original story rather than a direct adaptation of a specific novel, but just as the terrorism-themed Season 1 took some cues from Clancy's Patriot Games, it's clear from this teaser that the South America-set second season will, as expected, take similar cues from Clear and Present Danger--both the book and the 1994 movie (which starred Harrison Ford as Ryan). Keeping up with current headlines, the action, however, is centered mainly in and around Venezuela rather than Colombia.

Along with Krasinski, Wendell Pierce and John Hoogenakker return as, respectively, Ryan's mentor James Greer and SAD operative (and quasi-Clark surrogate) Matice. With the new setting, a lot of newcomers also join the cast, including Noomi Rapace (Unlocked, The Girl Who Played With Fire) as German intelligence agent Harriet “Harry” Baumann, Michael Kelly (Fair Game, House of Cards) as CIA field officer Mike November, Tom Wlaschiha (Crossing Lines, Game of Thrones), Jovan Adepo (Overlord), Narcos alums Cristina Umaña and Francisco Denis, and the always excellent Jordi Molla (Knight and Day, Criminal). Amazon hasn't yet set a premiere date for the second season, but the first one did well in August, so I'd hazard we can expect this one soon.

Jul 23, 2019

Tradecraft: Marvel Announces Shang-Chi Casting, Title

As much as I love Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and I love it dearly!) and Black Widow, my favorite Marvel spy comic has to be the original 1970s run of The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu... particularly the issues showcasing the brilliant collaboration of writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy (a team who would go on to produce the best James Bond comic book to date, "Serpent's Tooth"). Last December, it was first reported that a Shang-Chi movie would feature among Marvel Studios' next slate of films. All has been quiet since then... until this past weekend. On a massive panel at Comic-Con Saturday night, Deadline reports, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced the first official details about the studio's upcoming Master of Kung Fu movie, including its title and who will play the titular master, Shang-Chi.

Feige told the assembled hordes of fans in SDCC's Hall H that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will open on February 12, 2021. Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu will play Shang-Chi. Best known for a Canadian sitcom called Kim's Convenience, Liu has earned spy cred with roles on Nikita and the Taken TV show. As studied Marvel fanatics will glean from the title, Iron Man comics villain the Mandarin (basically a Marvel rip-off of Sax Rohmer's 1920s-created "yellow peril" character Fu Manchu) will replace the actual Fu Manchu (a character Marvel licensed in the Seventies, but no longer has the rights to) as Shang-Chi's criminal mastermind father... and the great Tony Leung (Lust, Caution, The Silent War) will play him. Actress and rapper Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean's 8) will also appear in the film, though her role was not announced. I can't really imagine her as Shang-Chi's love interest Leiko Wu, but she might make a good foil as his duplicitous half-sister Fah Lo Suee. (Or she could be playing an original comedic role, of course.) As previously announced, Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) will direct, and Dave Callaham (Jean-Claude Van Johnson) handles scripting duties, making up an all Asian-American creative team driving the picture.

The comic book The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu was created in the early Seventies to (obviously) cash in on the kung fu craze of the time. Comics legends Steve Englehart (Batman: Strange Apparitions) and Jim Starlin (Avengers: Infinity War) originated the character, but it was the dynamic writer/artist team of Moench and Gulacy who became most associated with Shang-Chi... and who gave the comic a new direction as an espionage series.

Shang-Chi's real world origins at Marvel are a bit complicated, as the publisher had acquired the rights to Rohmer's villainous Fu Manchu character (still well-known at the time thanks to a series of Christopher Lee movies in the Sixties), but Englehart was more interested in the popular TV series of the time, Kung Fu. So he incorporated Rohmer's characters Fu Manchu and his nemesis, British adventurer Sir Denis Nayland-Smith, but invented a new character to star in the series more inspired by Kung Fu... Fu Manchu's hitherto unknown son, Shang-Chi. Though the father had seen to it that the son was trained from birth to be a Master of Kung Fu, when Shang-Chi discovered that the father he believed to be munificent was actually a diabolical criminal mastermind, he turned on him, and found employment with Nayland-Smith and the British Secret Service. In the hands of Moench and Gulacy, secret agent Shang-Chi encountered all manner of spy hijinks, from moles inside MI6 to supervillains with private islands, gadgets galore, and robotic armies. He also developed a roster of memorable sidekicks, including Nayland-Smith's assistant and bodyguard Black Jack Tarr (drawn by Gulacy to resemble Sean Connery in The Man Who Would Be King), and fellow MI6 agent Clive Reston (drawn by Gulacy at first to resemble Connery in Goldfinger, but later looking more and more like Roger Moore), who is strongly hinted to be the son of James Bond and the grand-nephew of Sherlock Holmes. Should the character of Black Jack Tarr make the movie roster (and it's hard to imagine Master of Kung Fu without him), I'd love to see Jason Statham brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in that role! Sure, he's too short... but I think he'd nail the attitude--and make a formidable physical foil for Liu.

While Marvel's most famous spy agency, S.H.I.E.L.D., never showed up in the pages of Master of Kung Fu (though Shang-Chi did eventually team up with Nick Fury and Black Widow in a multi-issue arc of Marvel Team-Up), Gulacy's stunning artwork owed a clear debt to Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. artist Jim Steranko. Like Steranko, Gulacy reveled in quasi-sci-fi technology and weaponry and innovative, experimental page layouts. (One particular standout turned the page into a maze, following Shang-Chi's progress against a variety of opponents as he navigated the labyrinth.) He also brought his own obsessions to the table, like Bond-inspired, movie poster-style splash pages, relentlessly sexy women in proto-Gaultier leather fashions, and the liberal use of famous actors' likenesses to "cast" the book with everyone from Bruce Lee (upon whom Gulacy's Shang-Chi was clearly based) to Marlon Brando, Christopher Lee (as Fu Manchu, of course), David Niven, and even Groucho Marx. The result was a truly unique book that far transcended (and consequently outlasted) the kung fu movie trend from which it was born, and drew influence from all sorts of popular culture. I think it may well be my very favorite Marvel comic. Long unavailable outside of back issue bins, the entire 125-issue series has at long last been reprinted over the past few years in four massive, hardcover omnibus volumes, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Marvel has also recently begun a line of cheaper paperback "Epic Collections."