Jan 30, 2008

Movie Review: Sean Connery In Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959)

I just saw Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959) for the first time last weekend. Beyond being "the Sean Connery Tarzan" (he’s a bad guy, not Tarzan!), it’s widely regarded to be the very best Tarzan movie. I don’t know if I’d go quite that far (I have a soft spot for some of the Weissmullers), but it is certainly among the best. Gordon Scott makes an excellent Tarzan, and has a lot to work with thanks to a very good script that adheres more closely to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ literary version of the character. This is an articulate Tarzan, not a grunter.

Scott is supported by one of the best casts ever to appear in a Tarzan movie, including Anthony Quayle as the villain, Slade, Connery as his drunk, psychotic henchman, O’Bannion, and Nial McGinnis and Al Mulock rounding out the gang. Actresses Sara Shane and Scilla Gabel are both as good as they are beautiful, which isn’t always a given in this type of jungle adventure. Shane is especially fetching as the daredevil aviatrix/adventuress forced to tag along with Tarzan on his jungle quest for revenge. I’m stumped as to why she didn’t have more of a career after this, other than a few American TV credits. She would have made a wonderful Eurospy starlet! Slade’s girl Toni (Gabel) did go on to do a few spy movies (including Modesty Blaise), as did Scott himself who capped his career with Segretissimo (1968).

Producer Sy Weintraub must have asked himself, "What’s the only thing that could make Treasure of the Sierra Madre better?" and come up with "Tarzan!" In theory I’d say he was right in this hypothetical conclusion (it could be argued that there are few things Tarzan wouldn’t improve), but in practice even the Lord of the Jungle can’t make up for the loss of Bogie and Huston. Still, that formula leaves a surprisingly adult drama to unfold against the jungle backdrop, into which Tarzan fits well. When the gang, led by Slade, kills some of Tarzan’s friends in a raid on a town, Tarzan vows revenge and tracks them into the jungle. He and Slade have a history together, which makes Slade antsy (to the bemusement of his gang). All the while, there is tension among the gang over the diamonds they’re out to collect, and their own greed and in-fighting spell their doom. Ultimately the jungle does them in; Tarzan (as its human spirit) only helps.

Connery, who was paid $5,600 for his efforts, is surprisingly good as the wicked O’Bannion, which turns out to be a much more sizeable role than I’d ever imagined. He was evidently impressive enough that Weintraub asked him back to play a different role in the next Tarzan movie (not the role of Tarzan, as some sources have erroneously reported over the years). According to Gabe Essoe’s definitive look at the Ape Man, Tarzan of the Movies, "Sean Connery was apologetic. ‘Two fellows took an option on me for some spy picture, and are exercising it. But I’ll be in your next,’ he promised, having no idea what would happen with James Bond." The rest, of course, is history.

Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure is a great Tarzan movie and a great Connery movie, well worth seeking out for fans of the actor. It definitely deserves to be on DVD, and it’s a shame Paramount hasn’t seen fit to release it. Perhaps they can use the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as an excuse to dig into their archives for other jungle adventures, and release this and its sequel, Tarzan the Magnificent...

Jan 28, 2008

Brosnan? Check. Tux? Check. Espionage? Check.

TVShowsOnDVD reports that Pierce Brosnan's consolation prize for missing out on The Living Daylights, the epic miniseries Noble House, will be released on DVD by Lionsgate on March 25. And they sure know how to capitalize on their star! In addition to emulating Fox's tuxedo-heavy approach with Remington Steele, the copy plays up the series' espionage angle: Brosnan plays Ian Dunross, Tai-Pan of a powerful trading company, who is "suddenly plunged into a criminal underworld of international espionage, deception and financial crises." As antagonist Quillan Gornt, John Rhys-Davies (The Living Daylights) heads up a cast of spy all-stars including Burt Kwouk (Goldfinger), Gordon Jackson (The Ipcress File), Nancy Kwan (Wonder Women), Khigh Dhiegh (Hawaii Five-O), Denholm Elliott (A Murder of Quality) and True Lies' Tia Carrere as "Venus Poon," a name that could easily have come right out of an Austin Powers movie. Based on the bestseller by James Clavell, Noble House is a favorite among Brosnan fans that I've long wanted to see even without realizing all the espionage angles! Now I'm really looking forward to this release.

Jan 25, 2008

Random Intelligence Dispatches For January 25

Smart New Trailer

The new Get Smart trailer is now online here. I've gotta say, I think it looks really good. I know there's been some negative buzz about the movie, but I like Carrell, I like the rest of the cast, and I like everything I've seen from it so far. Here's hoping the final product is good!

From Le Carré To Clancy?

AICN ran a rumor that originated on Moviehole that Paramount is seeking Fernando Meirelles to direct that new Jack Ryan movie, By Any Means Necessary. Meirelles will be familiar to spy fans for his superb Le Carré adaptation The Constant Gardner, but even that wasn't as impressive as the movie that put him in the international spotlight, the Brazilian gangster epic City of God. He's an excellent director. I'd love to see him direct a real spy movie. (The Constant Gardner was more of a diplomatic story.) However, he and supposed star Ryan Gosling seem an odd match for a Jack Ryan movie. It sounds like Paramount is eager to give the Ryan franchise a Casino Royale-like reboot, shape it more in the Bourne mold. But Jack Ryan isn't really that rich a character, honestly. He doesn't have the dark soul to explore that Craig uncovered in Bond, or the haunted past that drives Damon's Bourne. He's always played second fiddle to the technology, both in Tom Clancy's books and in the previous movies. That's the rap that Bond always gets, but it was never really the case in Fleming. It is the case in Clancy. It's not a bad thing; some of the Jack Ryan books are very enjoyable. But not really because of a compelling lead character. The whole idea strikes me as weird, but if Fernando Meirelles directs a spy movie, I will undoubtedly be there to watch it.

Tanner In Quantum

Finally, in a bit of casting it doesn't seem appropriate to ignore on this blog, CommanderBond.Net reports that Rory Kinnear, son of the great British character actor Roy Kinnear, will portray Bill Tanner in Quantum of Solace. Tanner is, of course, M's Chief of Staff and (in the books) Bond's best friend in the Service. He's been portrayed blandly by Michael Goodliffe in The Man With the Golden Gun, entirely inappropriately by an exasperated James Villiers in For Your Eyes Only, and rather perfectly by Michael Kitchen in two Pierce Brosnan movies. Based on the BBC report that CBN cites as its source, it sounds as if Tanner may have been reimagined as more of a Personal Assistant to M than a Chief of Staff. In Casino Royale, Tobias Menzies did a great job as a character named Villiers (perhaps in tribute to FYEO's Tanner), who was a sort of combination of Tanner and Moneypenny. He's not returning in QOS, so Kinnear's Tanner is probably filling a similar role. I liked the way M's support staff were developed in the Brosnan movies, but I don't like the idea of giving M random PAs! That position is Miss Moneypenny's! I really don't understand the producers' reluctance to bring her back. According to MI6.co.uk, Michael G. Wilson said at yesterday's press conference that in order for Moneypenny and Q to have appeared in the new film, moments would have to be carved out for them which would not have felt "organic." I don't know about Q, but to me, if there's a role for M's Personal Assistant, then that is quite organically Moneypenny! I don't understand the reluctance to reintroduce her.
Movie Review: The Deadly Affair (1966)

Sidney Lumet's The Deadly Affair is based on the John Le Carré novel Call For the Dead. I’ve never read that one, so I can’t comment on how successful it is as an adaptation, but as a spy movie, it’s a pretty darn good one well deserving of rediscovery. Because Paramount owned the rights to the name "George Smiley" for their film of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (in which Smiley plays a relatively small part), Columbia had to change the name of the protagonist to Charles Dobbs. That’s too bad, because James Mason gives a really great interpretation of Smiley in Dobbs!

The movie begins with Smiley–er, Dobbs, interviewing a senior civil servant named Samuel Fennen in the park. An anonymous letter came in revealing Fennen’s involvement in communist circles back in his prewar college days and questioning his present-day loyalty, so as a formality the Security Services are obliged to check him out. Dobbs suggested the park instead of his office to spare the man any undue embarrassment. Indeed, Fennen seems very pragmatic about his idealistic college days (everyone wants a cause at that age, he argues, and for those who hated fascism, it was communism), and appears to be a loyal British subject. Smiley/Dobbs gives him his stamp of approval and routes it to his boss.

That night he’s awakened at an ungodly hour with a phone call: Fennen has killed himself. Going out, he passes his unfaithful, nymphomaniac wife (Harriet Andersson) coming in, and they have an argument they’ve clearly had a hundred times before. Mason excels as the conflicted cuckold; he clearly loves his wife very much and wants to forgive her condition, but the jealousy is tearing him up inside. Pushed near breaking point in his personal life, he dives whole-heartedly into his professional life, determined to solve the mystery of Fennen’s death. If he was really loyal, why would he kill himself?

Dobbs interviews Fennen’s wife, Elsa (Simone Signoret), a concentration camp survivor who chastises him for playing games with people’s lives. She sees no importance in her husband’s loyalty or lack thereof, only that Dobbs and the Security Services are responsible for his death.

Amidst the usual interagency animosity, Dobbs teams up with Inspector Mendel, a narcoleptic, semi-retired policeman played masterfully by the incomparable spy stalwart Harry Andrews. Andrews was in almost every British spy movie in the Sixties, and he’s always a joy to watch. This may be his best role. Spurred on by a wake-up call ordered by the dead man the night before (why would a suicide bother to arrange a wake-up call?), Dobbs and Mendel engage in a thorough, exciting investigation in the course of which they cross paths with Roy Kinnear as a greedy, polygamist informant, a hulking Nordic brute named Blondie who wants Dobbs dead, and Dobbs’ own boss, who (in the grand tradition of such bosses) wants him off the case.

While there are infrequent bursts of violence, Le Carré relishes instead the inherent drama and humor of bureaucracy, and the mechanics of a thorough investigation. Though his stories are set in the murky world of international espionage, Le Carré is a mystery writer at heart, and he’s constructed a good one here. Screenwriter Paul Dehn (who also co-wrote Goldfinger and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold in the two consecutive years preceding this movie, and went on to such varied fare as Murder On the Orient Express and Beneath the Planet of the Apes) does a good job with the difficult task of making Le Carré’s complex mystery and bureaucracy cinematic. While hardly action-packed, The Deadly Affair is never dull.

There are actually two mysteries unfolding: whether the traitor was actually Fennen or his wife (and who wrote the letter condemning Fennen to begin with), and the identity of their contact. The latter is rather obvious, but the former keeps the audience guessing right up to the final revelation. At the same time (and as much as he’d rather lose himself in his work–or drink–and forget it), Dobbs’ personal life remains hell, and his investigative talents come to hurt him in that arena when he can’t help but deduce that his wife’s latest lover is one of his oldest friends, an agent he ran during the war (Maximillian Schell). Mason does a really great job as a man grasping desperately at a professional conundrum in order to ignore a personal one–only to discover it’s impossible.

The Deadly Affair is a highly enjoyable spy film, and as gripping a Le Carré adaptation as I’ve seen. James Mason makes a great Smiley (I know, I know), a task I’d thought near impossible thanks to Alec Guinness’s later, definitive portrayal of the character in two British miniseries. He’s even believable when provoked to uncharacteristic violence at the finale. If ever faced with the opportunity to see this rare gem, spy fans should definitely not pass it up.

Jan 24, 2008

Quantum of Solace

What's In A Title?

As CommanderBond.Net scooped last night (thanks to a vigilant forum member) and EON confirmed at a press conference this morning, the movie formerly known as Bond 22 now has a title: Quantum of Solace. Of all the unused Fleming titles remaining, I can't help but think they picked his second least filmic (second to "007 In New York").

I will say, for the record, that I think Risico is the best unused title. Michael G. Wilson has said that he doesn't like it because it's not a real word. (It's Fleming's version of how an Italian smuggler pronounces the English word "risk.") But since when has being a real word been a prerequisite for being a Bond title? Name the villain "Risico!" (Better name than Dominic Greene...) Name the Macguffin the "Risico Device!" Or use the old chestnut "Operation: Risico." You've got creative writers. I'm sure they could think of something... Oh well. Maybe next time.

For now, we're stuck with Quantum of Solace. Just try belting it out, Chris Cornell-style: "I got a QUANTUM of SOLACE... and, baby, you've put it at zero!" It doesn't work so well, but... OK, I admit it! I was doing exactly that in the shower this morning. Despite the iffiness of the title, it's cool that the producers are showing their commitment to the Bond Reboot commenced in Casino Royale by sticking to Fleming titles. Maybe I can get behind Quantum of Solace yet...

So what, exactly, is a "quantum of solace?" Let's reflect on this passage from the short story of that name, published in the 1960 collection For Your Eyes Only:

The Governor paused and looked reflectively over at Bond. He said: 'You're not married, but I think it's the same with all relationships between a man and a woman. They can survive anything so long as some kind of basic humanity exists between the two people. When all kindness has gone, when one person obviously and sincerely doesn't care if the other is alive or dead, then it's just no good. That particular insult to the ego - worse, to the instinct of self-preservation - can never be forgiven. I've noticed this in hundreds of marriages. I've seen flagrant infidelities patched up, I've seen crimes and even murder forgiven by the other party, let alone bankruptcy and every other form of social crime. Incurable disease, blindness, disaster - all these can be overcome. But never the death of common humanity in one of the partners. I've thought about this and I've invented a rather high-sounding title for this basic factor in human relations. I have called it the Law of the Quantum of Solace.'

Bond said: 'That's a splendid name for it. It's certainly impressive enough. And of course I see what you mean. I should say you're absolutely right. Quantum of Solace - the amount of comfort. Yes, I suppose you could say that all love and friendship is based in the end on that. Human beings are very insecure. When the other person not only makes you feel insecure but actually seems to want to destroy you, it's obviously the end. Quantum of Solace stands at zero. You've got to get away a to save yourself."

The most promising thing about the use of the title is the tantalizing hope that they might actually use some of the short story itself. It's long been considered unfilmable because all that Bond actually does in it (while on a break from a mission that, embarrassingly, reveals Bond's sympathies for Castro's rebels, then deemed friendly) is go to a stuffy dinner party, have a nightcap, listen to the Governor tell a lengthy anecdote, and walk back to his hotel. Not very exciting stuff. But, the last time I read it (post-Casino Royale), I couldn't help but consider its adaptability. (I also couldn't help but picture Daniel Craig, and I never picture the actors when I read the books. Weird.) What should make it appealing to the filmmakers is that it's a rare story wherein 007 actually undergoes a character change. He learns a lesson. After finding one of his fellow dinner guests a bore, he discovers later that she's actually led quite an interesting life. And he concludes: "I must pay more attention to people. You've taught me a lesson." This seems like a lesson a spy should have learned a long time ago, but let's chalk that up to Bond's chauvinism. He still underestimates women. Thus, that particular lesson would be well-situated immediately following Casino Royale. That change that Bond undergoes, and his subsequent reflection that his own adventures might not be as exciting as the relationships of an ordinary civilian, is what makes Fleming's "Quantum of Solace" a story and not merely a vignette, which it's sometimes been dismissed as. Bond is not just an observer, a listener; he is the character who is changed by the events that transpire in the Governor's story. The change is small, but crucial; it may be the only Bond story whose whole intent is to effect a change in the main character.

So how could "Quantum of Solace" be made into a movie? Well, the Governor's story could be filmed as a period anecdote, omitting Bond altogether. The story on its own is rather reminiscent of Somerset Maugham or Graham Greene. However, that's very unlikely to happen (and certainly not what's happening here!). Alternately, the characters and situations in the anecdote (a promising young diplomat ruined by his insatiable, social-climbing wife) could be integrated into a wider Bond story. It wouldn't be too hard to combine those elements with espionage. And I hope that's what's happening!

However, it seems unlikely. Michael G. Wilson claimed at today's press conference that the title was chosen only a few days ago. "We thought it was an intriguing title and referenced what happened to Bond and what is happening in the film," he said, summing it up as "a degree of comfort." That not only makes it seem unlikely that the movie will involve the characters from the story, but possibly even that it will contain the title itself. While I'm not advocating shoehorning it in (ala "What a view!" ... "To a kill!"), a title so requiring of explanation should probably be explained. And thanks to the writers' strike, the final draft that Paul Haggis turned in last fall is locked in place, and nothing can be added at this point to make use of the title phrase if it wasn't already there. But maybe it was. Maybe Wilson's playing coy. In the words of Don Black (the one man who probably could convincingly work "Quantum of Solace" into a song), we shall see.

Jan 22, 2008

Upcoming Spy DVDs

New Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko In Hitman

Fox has just announced Hitman for release March 11 on DVD and Blu-Ray. Their press release touts its newest, best selling point: "The Stylish, Edgy Action Film Starring Timothy Olyphant And The Newest Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko!" (I'm taking advantage of that fact myself as an opportunity to run this photo...) Hitman will be available in rated and unrated editions (the latter running a minute longer), as single or double discs. Both versions include deleted scenes and an alternate ending; the cumbersomely titled "Hitman Digital Copy Unrated Special Edition" comes with all that plus the featurettes "In the Crosshairs," "Digital Hits," "Settling the Score" and "Instruments of Destruction" (focusing on each of Agent 47's various guns), as well as a gag reel and the titular digital copy. (This one, unlike the ripoff "digital copy" on Live Free or Die Hard, is compatible with iPods.) Oh, and Olga Kurylenko. Both versions come with Olga Kurylenko. Retail for the single disc will be a steep $29.98; the double disc an even steeper $34.98. Read my review of Hitman here.

Mission: Impossible: The Fourth TV Season

TVShowsOnDVD.com reports a May 13 release date for the next season of Mission Impossible. The show underwent a lot of cast changes in Season 4, with Martin Landau and Barbara Bain exiting and Leonard Nimoy joining as Paris (duly reflected on the rather unimaginative box art). There was no immediate permanent replacement for Bain. The 1969-70 season contained twenty-six episodes.

More Inspector Clouseau

No, there are no more Pink Panther movies left to be released on DVD (well, not until Steve Martin takes his second crack at it), but having exhausted all of those (even the Alan Arkin and Roger Moore entries), MGM Home Entertainment will finally (after many delays) release The Pink Panther & Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume Six: The Inspector, collecting classic cartoon shorts featuring the character. Included are such Sixties and Seventies favorites as "The Great DeGaulle Stone Operation," "Napoleon Blown-Aparte" and "Ape Suzette."
New Spy DVDs Out This Week

There are several new spy DVDs out today. From The Weinstein Co. comes The Hunting Party, director Richard Shepherd's follow-up to the brilliant Pierce Brosnan starrer The Matador. Richard Gere, Terence Howard and Jesse Eisenberg play a trio of reporters who spend their "summer vacation" off the books, searching for an elusive Serbian warlord. Adventure, terror and black comedy ensue when they're mistaken for a CIA hit squad. I missed this one in theaters, but I'm eager to check it out on DVD.

Fox/MGM packages three John Frankenheimer spy classics together with an early (non-spy)rarity from the director in The John Frankenheimer Collection. The four-disc set comprises The Manchurian Candidate, The Train, Ronin and The Young Savages.

Finally, CBS/Paramount releases Hawaii Five-O: The Third Season. Sure, it's a cop show, but it's actually got a lot of espionage-tinged episodes, particularly in this superior season. Read more about that below...
Island Intrigue!
DVD Review: Hawaii
Five-O Season 3

Hawaii Five-O not only stars the orig-inal Felix Leiter, Jack Lord, but makes frequent ventures away from the cop show form-ula into episodes of international in-trigue and espion-age. Season 3 contains more such episodes than any yet released on DVD by CBS/Para-mount. McGarrett’s recurring nemesis, Chinese agent Wo Fat (a reliable source of such plots), not only returns in the solid season premiere, "And Time To Die," but also makes an appearance in the two-parter "F.O.B. Honolulu," in which Hawaii becomes a "hotbed" of international agents.

In "And Time To Die," Wo Fat and McGarrett never actually meet. And unlike the Season 2 premiere, "40 Feet High and It Kills," Wo Fat doesn’t even realize he’s been beaten, let alone who’s beaten him. McGarrett knows who he’s dealing with, though, and respects his enemy’s deadly genius enough to tread more softly than usual. When an American agent escapes to Honolulu with a map of Red China’s nuclear missile silos in his head, Wo Fat’s assassins attempt to eliminate him. But the agent survives... barely. He’s taken to a hospital where it’s up to the islands’ best brain surgeon, Dr. Forbes (solid guest star Donald Moffat), to save his life. Wo Fat has a man on the inside, though, so he knows this and kidnaps the doctor’s daughter. If Forbes wants to see her alive again, he tells him, the agent must not survive the operation. It’s a good, dramatic spy plot, and it propels this taut hour of television along quickly.

Once again, McGarrett clashes strongly with the local Intelligence officer, Kavanaugh, who in turn doesn't offer 5-0 an inch of interagency cooperation. (Guess things haven’t changed much since then!) Kavanaugh is a different Intelligence boss than we met in Season 1, but he in turn reports to the unseen Jonathan Kaye in Washington who himself appears later in the season, establishing some sort of recurring spook hierarchy. The episode demonstrates well how the show succeeds at combining spy plots with proto-CSI police procedural. McGarrett uses good old fashioned (and sound) police work to solve the attempted murder of the agent, thus exposing the mole in Kavanaugh’s organization, something Kavanaugh himself didn’t seem to even believe in. Khigh Dhiegh once again imbues Wo Fat with a humanity rarely seen in TV villains of the time, as well as an absolute certainty that what he is doing is right.

The espion-age episodes of Hawaii Five-O tend to play a bit McGarrett-centric at the expense of the sup-porting cast, perhaps because Jack Lord is so obviously cut from the classic spy hero mold. "The Second Shot" is no exception, though it is once more a masterful blend of the police and spy genres, hitting all the marks one expects from either one. It’s a plot that one might just as easily find in a more traditional spy show like Danger Man or The Saint (and indeed very similar to one used decades later in the fourth season of MI-5), but it works just as well in this context. An assassin arrives from Europe posing as a journalist and hoping to interview (read: eliminate) an exiled Greek opposition leader. The audience is privy to his plan from the very beginning, and always remains a step ahead of McGarrett, who seems a bit slow in catching on this time. The assassin hires another assassin to shoot him just above the heart, creating a near-mortal wound convincing enough to earn the unwavering trust of the Greek exile. The procedural elements (which seem to me a bit more realistic than other cop shows of the era, but admittedly I’m not that familiar with the genre) once more lead McGarrett to the truth, but is he too late? In a cool beat more spy than cop, Lord gets to arm himself with a cool-looking sniper pistol (complete with scope) at the end.

Rather than presenting a Big Deal Threat like assassination, "The Guarnerius Caper" demonstrates how an exceedingly run-of-the-mill crime that normally wouldn’t even warrant the attention of the state police could lead to an international incident in the days of the Cold War. The crime is ordinary car theft, yet when McGarrett takes the call and sidekick Danno asks him where they’re going, he intones, "To prevent WWIII."

Why? The stolen car contained the priceless "Guarnerius" violin of a visiting Russian musician, Rostoff. If it’s not returned, it could not only mean the end of the cultural exchange program, but spark a serious international incident. Indeed, Rostoff’s KGB handler immediately starts looking for ways to exploit the theft as such, caring more about making the Americans look bad than recovering the instrument. At the behest of the Russian embassy, the Governor even orders McGarrett and his team not to surveil Rostoff and his handler, even though he knows they’re getting ransom demands. Never one to heed orders too well, McGarrett defies this one, putting his job on the line to follow the handler and catch the kidnappers. "The Guarnerius Caper" is a another good, taut police yarn with serious international stakes.

It’s slightly hampered, unfortunately, by the car thieves: two of the most annoying TV hippies from a whole era of annoying TV hippies! Products of their time (or CBS’ version of it, any-way), these guys go around spouting a constant stream of phrases like "Groovy!" and "Outta sight!" while robbing old ladies of their purses, riding piggy-back and generally causing trouble. Making matters worse, one of them looks like the skeezy, unwashed American version of Jason King, only with no style and a really bad hangover. It’s characters like this that made reruns of Hawaii Five-O seem so dated (moreso than other shows of its era) and unappealing when I was growing up. Happily, there aren’t quite as many of them throughout the series as I thought there were (and it is unfair to judge a show by its era), and they’re really not so irritating as to be a deterrent, but they are a presence, especially in this episode.

"F.O.B. Honolulu" is probably the best of all the espionage-themed episodes in Season 3, and it’s a two-parter. While it seems a bit padded at times (lots of planes landing, and longer briefings than usual or than necessary), it’s got enough action and intrigue to qualify for film release overseas! I don’t know if this practice was still going on with American shows by 1970, but "F.O.B. Honolulu" has all the ingredients of one of the more serious-minded Eurospy capers. We get chases, shootouts, double-crosses, a sexy bikini-clad femme fatale and even an exciting helicopter assault on a mountaintop base, with McGarett and Dano each leaning from choppers armed with machine guns! Plus, we get villainous mastermind Wo Fat once more, again played by Kigh Dheigh with as much rare humanity and compassion as diabolical sadism. (Admittedly an odd dichotomy, but he makes it work well.) We also get to meet the spy boss we’ve heard so much about in previous episodes, Jonathan Kaye from Washington, and a square-jawed hero cut directly from the Euro-spy mold in Jack Lord’s Steve McGarrett.

The plot concerns agents from China, Russia and the US, as well as various independent operators, all after a classical Macguffin (capable of destabilizing the world’s economy) that was smuggled into Honolulu. It’s basically The Maltese Falcon at its heart (a trio of shady characters double- and triple-crossing each other over the great whatzit). In contrast to "The Guarnerius Caper" (but very much in keeping with Seventies Bond movies), McGarrett actually teams up with the Soviet agent, who has an equal interest in the value of currency. They share a hearty, understanding laugh together, of the sort that Harry Palmer shares with Colonel Stok in Billion Dollar Brain, or Bond with Golgol in For Your Eyes Only. (It seems to have been a common means of communication for Cold War spies on opposing sides.)

While there isn’t much room for the rest of the team in these international intrigue-flavored episodes of Five-O, other episodes give some of the co-stars good opportunities to shine, and it’s a solid ensemble. Hawaii Five-O is also a surprisingly adult show, with some real downbeat endings, and some moments of pretty shocking violence. ("The Guarnerius Caper" contains a few examples of this, including a scene of blood oozing from the bullet wound McGarrett gives one of the hippies, which contrasts sharply with the bloodless shootings of slightly earlier shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or even the contemporary Mission: Impossible.) As someone who doesn’t usually watch cop shows, I found myself really enjoying Hawaii Five-O: The Third Season, and got into it much more than either of the previous seasons. I think a lot of other spy fans will, too.

One caveat on this release: like Season 2, it contains the ominous disclaimer, "Some episodes may be edited from their original network versions." Judging purely by running times, though, that doesn’t appear to be the case with the episodes I’ve watched so far...

Jan 21, 2008

Random Intelligence Dispatches For January 21, 2008

Stiller Persuades Clooney and Grant?

This one's ollllllld news, but somehow I missed it last May, so I better play catch-up! Last I heard, Ben Stiller was developing a movie remake of the classic Tony Curtis/Roger Moore television series The Persuaders (my second-favorite British spy series, after The Avengers) to star himself and Steve Coogan as playboy adventurers Danny Wilde and Lord Brett Sinclair. But apparently news emerged from last year's Cannes Film Festival that George Clooney and Hugh Grant are in talks to take over the roles, with Stiller still on board to produce. I still believe that the Stiller/Coogan pairing could have worked (and it would have been cool to see Coogan realize his ongoing Roger Moore fixation by stepping into his shoes), but there was certainly a lot more potential for that version to go horribly awry, too, and turn into Starsky and Hutch 2. To me, Clooney and Grant leave a lot less room for error. (My dream cast for such a remake has always been Grant and Bruce Campbell.) Clooney is actually perfect for Danny Wilde, and an Ocean's 11 tone is just the right thing for The Persuaders, which despite its share of more dramatic episodes, was always first and foremost about fun. It would be great to see this version happen, become a hit, and spawn a whole series of glamorous spy action on the French Riviera! (And I can't wait to see a red Ferrari 599 GTB square off against a gold Aston Martin DBS to a pulsing remix of John Barry's sublime theme music.) Of course, it all really depends on what kind of chemistry Clooney and Grant have together...

More Jack Ryan On The Horizon?

Moviehole runs the rumor today that Paramount is reviving its Jack Ryan spy franchise with Ryan Gosling as the fourth actor to step into the role of Tom Clancy's action-prone CIA analyst(following Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck) . The new movie, they claim, won't be based on a Clancy novel at all, but will be an original Jack Ryan film adventure titled By Any Means Necessary. This is a little bit surprising as, unlike the Bond series (whose producers have-with the obvious exception of Casino Royale-been creating original plotlines since Licence To Kill, having basically exhausted the Ian Fleming source material), there are still unfilmed Jack Ryan novels. Some of those are unsuitable for a younger actor (taking place after Ryan implausibly became President), but Clancy wrote Red Rabbit, about a younger Ryan, specifically with the goal of continuing the Ben Affleck-led series reboot. Oh well. This Gosling rumor comes on the heels of far more tantalizing rumors about either Alec Baldwin or Harrison Ford returning to the role.

Defiance Trailer

The first trailer is out now for Daniel Craig's next star vehicle, the Ed Zwick-directed Defiance. Frankly, I'm underwhelmed. Hopefully it's not too indicative of the actual film...

New Transporter Director

Not quite spy news, but as I've made the case before, essentially so: Dark Horizons reports that a director has been selected to helm the Jason Statham sequel Transporter 3. Olivier Megaton, director of the 2002 Asia Argento thriller The Red Siren will take the reins. I hope he manages to capture the same ideal "Roger Moore Bond movie" feel that Louis Leterrier found for Transporter 2. There aren't enough action movies in that tone these days, and while I wouldn't advocate Bond himself heading back in that direction, I like the idea of someone else doing it. And Statham's perfect for it. I haven't seen The Red Siren (though it sounds pretty cool), but I have seen Hitman, for which Megaton directed second unit. And I wasn't impressed by the second unit stuff. I didn't find any of the action scenes particularly memorable. So I really hope that Transporter [1] co-director Cory Yuen returns to his Transporter 2 position of "action choreographer" to ensure that doesn't happen here! On the plus side, maybe Megaton will bring along Argento to co-star. She'd fit right into the Transporter world!

Shooting on Transporter 3 is expected to begin this summer. If you need a Jason Statham fix in the meantime, be sure to check out the awesome trailer for The Bank Job. Again, not a spy movie (why doesn't he do a straight-out spy movie?), but something that looks like it will appeal to fans of The Italian Job and other great Sixties and Seventies heist flicks!

Jan 17, 2008

TV Review: Mythbusters James Bond Special

Last night’s new episode of the Discovery Channel series Mythbusters was Part 1 of a two-part James Bond special. Mythbusters follows a group of special effects experts who attempt to debunk (or validate) popular urban legends by recreating them (or spectacularly failing to do so). Movies are notorious propagators of such myths, and James Bond movies especially. I’d never seen the show before, but based on this episode it appears to be a very well-made cable reality series.

This episode opened with series regulars dressed in tuxes and gowns and other Bondian attire playing various spy-types in a short, silly skit. This was probably funnier if you were familiar with the hosts, but all of them seem amiable and their own obvious enjoyment of the scenario proved infectious. They chose several Bond "myths" to refute, then broke up into teams to formulate their test strategies. The show revisits each team several times throughout the episode, culminating in a stamp of "Busted" or "Validated." One team headed out into the desert with a load of firearms to try to explode a propane tank with a gunshot as 007 does in Casino Royale; another worked on recreating the boat jump from Live and Let Die to see if such a craft would truly remain seaworthy after jumping over J.W. Pepper’s police car, and tried to deflect a bullet with an electromagnetic watch like the one M gives Bond in that same movie. (As I’m sure you’ll recall, it was M and not Q who doled out the gadgets that one time!)

They were all charming and funny, and clearly enjoyed blowing things up and destroying speedboats. They remained dressed in their Bondian attire until such time as basic safety required a change of clothes. The desert team quickly proved that a 9mm round shot from a Walther P99 like Bond’s couldn’t possibly penetrate your average propane tank, let alone ignite it. But they didn’t stop there. They kept going with more powerful weapons (building up to a mini Gatling gun firing incendiary bullets!) until they got a nice big explosion... which singed the tux of their mannequin Bond! Likewise, it ended up taking way more electromagnets than could possibly fit in a wristwatch to actually alter the course of a bullet. The boat jump wasn’t entirely successful (though no less spectacular in its implementation!), but still managed to earn a stamp of validation. (Which should come as no surprise to Bond fans who know the stunt was done for real... even if it took, as the Mythbusters inform us, seventeen tries to accomplish!)

The producers evidently couldn’t afford the rights to use actual Bond film clips in the show (those can be expensive unless your special is made within the publicity window of the opening of a new movie), but they compensated creatively by animating professional-looking storyboards to recreate (or, in the case of the bullet deflection, create) the applicable moments from the series. Suitably appropriate music (sounding just different enough from the Bond Theme to avoid legal trouble) completed the effect–even if it occasionally ventured too far into surf music territory. The writers worked as many legitimate (and even impressive!) 007 references into the narration as they did cheesy puns ("That myth’s busted in royale style!"), and the narrator delivered them gamely. The Mythbusters James Bond Special proved to be a lot of fun, and one of the more entertaining Bond-related TV specials I’ve seen. It’s well worth tuning into Part 2 for Bond fans, or watching for a rebroadcast of Part 1. (Discovery appears to be airing it a lot this weekend.)
DVD Review: Pierce Brosnan In Shattered

After giving an amazing, career-best performance in Richard Shep-herd’s The Matador and squaring off against Liam Neeson in the interesting and beautiful but little-seen Western Seraphim Falls, Pierce Brosnan’s post-Bond career hit a low-point when his latest star vehicle (which he also produced) bypassed U.S. theaters altogether for an unceremon-ious direct-to-DVD release courtesy of Lionsgate. On top of that, its name was changed from the provocative Butterfly On A Wheel to the generic (but still Stones-related) Shattered (a title used not too long ago for a Bob Hoskins flick) and slapped with some equally generic (and awful) box art. Still, I held out hope that it might be a good movie. Seraphim Falls, after all, played so briefly and in such limited release that it practically went direct to DVD (yet was still good), and even The Matador had terrible cover art when it was first released, designed to make it fit in with the latest Steven Seagal efforts. Sadly, Shattered is no Matador. It might be a low budget indie, but its plot is just as generic as any paint-by-numbers Hollywood thriller–or its own cover art. The performances, though, are all fine, and director Mike Barker does a good job of stretching his budget, so I can’t imagine this is any worse than Bruce Willis’ last "erotic thriller," and that didn’t go directly to DVD!

The plot of Shattered hinges on several twists, and while I won't reveal any of them, and really don't venture far into any spoiler territory, it's impossible to discuss it without revealing some of the plot. So, spoiler-sensitive, beware!

Shattered is basically an Unfaithful-type domestic drama forged onto a Firewall-type family-in-peril thriller. Top-billed Brosnan is introduced in a very cool helicopter shot that swoops in over Chicago, angles down for a direct overhead view of rooftops, finally flying over Brosnan’s Tom Ryan on one of those roofs. Still in one seemingly continuous take, the camera swings around him for a view of Ryan surveying the city through binoculars. The director reveals in his commentary track that it is, in fact, several different shots cut together, but the editing is pretty flawless (I couldn’t detect those cuts) and the overall effect is impressive. After that impressive opening, however, we’re treated to fifteen minutes of setup designed to show what a perfect life married couple Abby and Neil Randall (Maria Bello and one-time "next Bond" favorite Gerard Butler) enjoy. That perfection seems forced from the get-go, though, and these happy domestic scenes make us long for Brosnan to show up and inevitably start disturbing this placid perfection. Right at the fifteen minute mark, he does. (And the camera gets all unnecessarily jumpy to make sure we notice.)

Apparent psycho Tom Ryan pops up in their back seat brandishing a gun, and takes control of the couple’s lives. He hands his cell phone to Abby, letting her know he’s got their daughter (thanks to a babysitter in cahoots). They must do as he says or she’ll be killed. When Neil offers him everything they’ve got, Ryan quotes that exact figure and takes him up on it, forcing both of them to withdraw the money at their nearest bank branch. In a nice surprise, Ryan lights a match to their life savings and throws the burning briefcase out the window into the Chicago River, explaining he’s got "money to burn" and thus making himself more threatening, when the couple realize he isn’t after their cash. What does he want? Ryan puts Neil through the ringer wondering exactly that as he sets him on a series of perilous tasks and a few moments of effective suspense.

In one chillingly erotic scene in which Ryan forces Abby to strip down to her underwear, Brosnan and Bello demonstrate some palpable chemistry, which is rather welcome since she and Butler have none. Of course, there’s a reason for that. As the interloper puts them through this fearsome ordeal, Neil and Abby are forced into some rather obvious moments of self-examination and various stages of response. They fight, they reconcile, they repeat, and it comes as no surprise to an audience who sat through their forced bliss at the beginning that all is not as perfect with this couple as it seems on the surface. More compelling than the marital drama is the mystery of Ryan’s motives and identity, made especially so during one scene in which he and Neil accidentally encounter the kidnapper’s teenage son.

It’s tough to discuss the film’s final act without treading into spoiler territory, but the fact that it has a twist will hardly surprise frequent viewers of this genre. Suffice it to say, the twist is decent (and must have seemed like a good idea on paper), but the filmmakers seem to believe it’s a lot more clever than it really is. By the time the reveal actually happens, most viewers won’t care enough about these characters anyway, and a lot probably will have figured it out already. Then there’s yet another twist on top of the first twist, one that’s more predictable but not as good. The final confrontation between the male leads is also kind of a letdown, especially between two such good actors as Brosnan and Butler. It briefly touches on some homoerotic overtones between the men that might have worked (better than it did in the recent Sleuth remake) had they really gone for it, but they shy away instead.

The DVD actually provides a fairly generous quantity of special features for such a low-profile release. There are two short deleted scenes (one with Brosnan) that are good to see but wouldn’t have added anything to the movie. There are also a few extended scenes, including a good one with Brosnan and an interesting alternate credits sequence, boasting temp chyrons like "Production Company" and "Actor," as well as the film’s original title. There’s a four-minute "Hero To Villain" featurette about Brosnan, which mostly consists of the other actors and production personnel saying nice things about him (or joking, as when Butler reveals, "He’s the devil!"), and generally acting like he’s never played an antagonist before (The Fourth Protocol, anyone?). Brosnan himself chimes in, "You don’t expect me to be playing that kind of character," and that’s probably exactly why he did the picture.

The title of the longer making-of featurette, "Breaking Apart the Wheel," again refers to the film’s original title, making the new one seem like a real afterthought. This documentary contains serious spoilers from the very beginning, so don’t watch it before you see the movie. Everyone’s interviewed: Brosnan, his producing partner Beau St. Clair, Barker, screenwriter William Morrissey, and other members of the cast and crew. They all basically do their best to explain the movie you just watched, as if it were so subtle that it needed explanation. (It’s not.) One interesting thing is that nearly everyone in front of and behind the camera is from the British Isles! Strange that this movie ended up set in America...

The best special feature is a commentary track with Barker and Morrissey. The writer is very pompous and full of himself (in the agreeable sort of way that makes for good audio commentaries) and the director is modest and unassuming. Both are charming, and neither seems fully happy with the film, which is rare on such a track. They share a good mixture of behind-the-scenes gossip (including the fascinating story of how each actor got involved and how the whole project came to be made) and technical information on how certain shots were achieved. Overall (and despite a few quiet patches), the audio commentary is more compelling than the movie itself! These guys are surprisingly candid, happily revealing moments they’re less than thrilled with and reserving some particular negativity for Gerard Butler’s wardrobe.

Lionsgate may have (slightly unfairly, given the star power involved) dumped the movie onto the home video market, but at least they put together a quality DVD under that horrid artwork! Don’t waste your money buying it, but it could be worth a rent for die-hard Brosnan fans as long as they don’t expect another Matador or Tailor of Panama. I am such a die-hard fan, and I wish him all the best in the future. I hope he gets back on track soon with more of those high quality pictures that really showcase his considerable talent. Of all the projects on his plate, I’m most excited for The Topkapi Affair (Thomas Crown II) and Spy Vs. Stu, which sounds like it offers the former 007 with a good chance to send up his past masters. Shattered may have been a slight misstep, but I have no doubt he'll be back on track soon!

Jan 16, 2008

Kim Possible's Latest Fight: For Season Five!

A reader recently alerted me that after successfully lobbying for - and getting - an unheard of (for The Disney Channel, anyway) fourth season of the truly brilliant animated spy spoof Kim Possible, Kim's fans are now rallying once more - for a fifth season. As long as series masterminds Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle were aboard, I would certainly welcome more Kim Possible! I'll reiterate some of the things I've said about this show in the past: Kim Possible is by no means limited to kids. In fact, while they’ll enjoy the adventures and the typical cartoon comedy, a lot of the jokes will go over their heads... Kim Possible is one of the sharpest, smartest James Bond parodies ever. It's especially on the nose with regards to Bond villains, their Ken Adam-like lairs, and their hench-people. Here's hoping further adventures become Possible!

If you want to support the cause, this website outlines everything you can do to let Disney know your feelings. RonStoppable.net seems like a good starting place for exploring the world of Kim, and the Ron Stoppable forums a good place to discuss it. KPFanWorld no only endorses the Fight For Five campaign, but also a campaign to get Kim Possible available in season sets on DVD, a goal I recently made my own #1 "spy wish" for 2008. (According to the aforementioned forums, such a set is already on the way in Germany. I hope America follows soon!)

Congratulations to Steven Wynn of Florida, who will soon be enjoying the further adventures of Old West spies Jim West and Artemus Gordon. He is the winner of The Wild Wild West: The Third Season, in the latest Double O Section contest! Sadly, he won't be seeing any of Phoebe Dorin's alluring Antoinette in Season Three. As Steven knows, Antoinette is the correct answer to the trivia question, "What was the name of Dr. Loveless' lovely female companion in the show's first two seasons?" He will see Dr. Love-less, though, along with a host of other engagingly eccentric cutthroats, and a bevy of beautiful women including Bond Girl Lana Wood!

Jan 15, 2008

Damon, Greengrass Reteam For Another Spy Flick

Following two successful collaborations in the Jason Bourne series, Matt Damon and Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass are making another spy film together. This one's likely to be a bit more serious than their action-packed Bourne movies, though. Green Zone will be set in the eponymous walled city within Baghdad where the U.S. forces make their home. According to Variety, Damon plays an American military officer who teams up with a senior CIA agent (The Matador's Greg Kinnear) to search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction. "Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) will play a New York Times foreign correspondent sent to Iraq to investigate the U.S. government's WMD claims." The trade says the movie is "inspired by Rajiv Chandrasekaran's nonfiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone. Greengrass and [screenwriter] Brian Helgeland turned the premise into a fictional thriller set in the Green Zone."

Jan 12, 2008

Bond Reissue Covers Revealed

CommanderBond.net has broken a huge story this morning for fans of the literary 007! They've uncovered the images of all fourteen covers for the forthcoming UK hardcover "Centenary" editions of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels from the blog of cover artist Michael Gillette. I love his work (which I wasn't previously aware of), and the images are really, really cool. My only gripe is that they seem more film-inspired than novel-inspired (especially Live And Let Die), as the images are so Sixties (seemingly inspired by the poster campaign for the '67 spoof version of Casino Royale, each featuring a beautiful woman tattooed or painted with the title of the book). As the whole point of this line is to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the author of the novels, that seems a little strange, but no matter; Gillette has created some fantastic new Bond imagery sure to separate collectors with their hard-earned cash when the books come out this spring! And he's clearly studied all sorts of previous Bond art, as various movie posters and prior paperback covers can be seen as influences on his work. (I really like how Diamonds Are Forever recalls that great Pan paperback cover.) Visit his blog to peruse all of the illustrations. I think my favorite is Dr. No.

Rare Sixties Spy Fare On The Big Screen In L.A. TONIGHT

Attention, Los Angeles spy fans! The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood is showing two hard-to-see Sixties spy films tonight, Saturday, January 12, 2008, starting at 7:30. The double feature, part of their "Overlooked and Underrated" festival of movies not available on DVD, is comprised of A Dandy In Aspic (1968) and The Deadly Affair (1966). I haven't seen either of these movies, but have long wanted to. A Dandy In Aspic stars Lawrence Harvey and Tom Courtenay (star of one of my very favorite Sixties spy flicks, Otley). Harvey plays an agent wrongly marked for death by both the British and the Russians, and Peter Cook co-stars. The Deadly Affair is an adaptation of the John Le Carré novel Call For the Dead (no idea why they changed the title) and stars the great James Mason as George Smiley... only he isn't called George Smiley. As Paramount owned the rights to that name Smiley (for The Spy Who Came In From the Cold), the character's name had to be changed to Charles Dobbs for the Columbia movie. Espionage regulars Harry Andrews and Maximilian Schell co-star.

Click here to enter the latest Double O Section contest and win The Wild Wild West on DVD!

Jan 10, 2008

Artwork For New Edition Of Licence To Thrill

Amazon has posted cool new artwork for the forthcoming revised edition of one of my favorite academic books on James Bond, James Chapman's Licence To Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films. Unlike certain other scholars who take on the subject of 007 and tend to be dry, Chapman is very readable and always argues a good case, whether I agree with him or not. He also wrote my very favorite reference work on spy TV, Saints and Avengers: British Adventure Series of the 1960s.

Click here to enter the latest Double O Section contest and win The Wild Wild West on DVD!

Jan 9, 2008

Win The Wild Wild West Season 3!

Win a copy of the the latest DVD season of this classic Sixties spy/western hybrid starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin! I've often called The Wild Wild West the closest show to The Avengers Hollywood ever produced. So if you're a fan of that series' eccentric diabolical masterminds and general quirkiness, here's your chance to sample the quintessential American equivalent. Entering is easy. Simply answer the following trivia question and send an email with the subject heading "WILD WILD WEST" including your name, mailing address and the correct answer to the Double O Section by midnight, Pacific Time on Tuesday, January 15, 2008. Here's the question:

What was the name of Dr. Loveless' lovely female companion in the show's first two seasons? (I'm talking about the character, not the actress, and the answer should be fairly easy to find right here on the Double O Section...)

One entry per person, please. Double entries will be disqualified. One winner with the correct answer will be drawn at random and announced in one week’s time on January 16, 2008. Winners’ names will be posted here and they will be notified via email. All entries will be deleted immediately after the contest’s close, and no personal information will be retained or transmitted to any third parties. The contest is open to anyone, but please be advised that these are Region 1 NTSC DVDs. They should play fine in any North American player, but may require special region-free players in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, the Double O Section cannot assume responsibility for items lost or damaged in transit.

Jan 8, 2008

Movie Review: Charlie Wilson’s War

Charlie Wilson's War is a glossy, entertaining, fun–and ultimately flawed–holiday blockbuster. It's highly enjoyable as it goes along, but leaves a frustrating aftertaste. The Mike Nichols film tells the incredible true story of a congressman (Tom Hanks) of no particular scruples who formed an unlikely alliance with a "right wing nutjob" socialite (Julia Roberts) and a maverick CIA agent (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to wage a covert war on the Russians in Afghanistan during the 1980s. What’s incredible about the story, however, is that it happened, not really how it happened. And that makes for a troublesome screenplay, courtesy of Aaron Sorkin, adapting the non-fiction book by George Crile.

The main problem is that, by adhering to the facts, Charlie doesn’t really have to overcome any obstacles to wage–and win–his war; he just has to follow the right steps. And you see them all in the trailer: Charlie connects with Gust Avrakotos (Hoffman), the one CIA man who cares about Afghanistan. Charlie meets with the President of Pakistan. Charlie arranges a secret arms deal between Pakistan and Israel. And... voila. That last step, in particular, seems like a tough one, but not so in the movie. The Israeli arms dealer hems and haws for a moment, then capitulates in the very same scene and shakes hands with the Pakistani. When Charlie needs the help of other senators, well, that’s not a problem because he conveniently holds the most IOU’s in Washington. Even when Charlie comes under investigation by ambitious prosecutor Rudy Giuliani (and you think he’s going to need Gust’s expertise to get out of it), the problem just suddenly goes away, off-screen and unearned, and Charlie (and the audience) is informed by one of his staff.

Sorkin and Nichols attempt to deal with this lack of obstacles by adopting a light-hearted caper tone for the movie. The actors are game for this, and all fun to watch, and we end up with a lighter-than-air Ocean’s 11 kind of movie about arming the future Taliban. If Nichols and Sorkin could have left it at that, and relied upon the intelligence of their audience to add the irony by pausing after they cheer for the Mujahaddin with the Stinger missile and then say, "Wait a minute! I know what happened after that!" then Charlie Wilson’s War would have been a deft and truly subversive political black comedy, in the vein of Dr. Strangelove. But instead, they assume no intelligence on the part of the audience, and tack on a coda beating the viewer over the head with the message: we won the war but failed the long peace. Or, to quote Charlie directly, "those things happened, and they were glorious, and then we fucked up the end game." (It is a good quote; I can see why they wanted to use it...)

It’s hard to view true history of this nature–with such a direct bearing on today’s geopolitics–as popcorn entertainment. But if you’re willing to do so–and willing to be lectured about doing so at the end–then there’s a lot to like in Charlie Wilson’s War even if it’s not as ambitious as it should have been. In fact, it offers up most of the ingredients readily associated with a good Sixties spy caper: beautiful women (and lots of ‘em, courtesy largely of Charlie's handpicked staff including Alias' Rachel Nichols and a superb Amy Adams, as well as Emily Blunt as a Wilson conquest and the stunning Tracy Phillips as a belly dancer), a suave, chauvinist hero prone to drink, exotic locations, witty one-liners, light-hearted skulduggery, the odd explosion, and even a few gadgets (Gust bugs Charlie’s drink at one point), all elegantly shot with an eye-popping technicolor palette. Even better than that, it offers Hollywood’s biggest stars being charming. If you’re willing to let yourself be charmed for a mercifully fast ninety minutes (such a welcome relief amidst the bloated running times of the usual winter blockbusters and Oscar-contenders!), and open to a rare political thriller more appealing to the eyes than to the brain, then by all means check out Charlie Wilson’s War. If you prefer more challenging political commentary, and more challenges for your hero, I’d almost advise you to look elsewhere... except that then you’d miss out on the most fun screen spy of the year. Yes, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of seen-it-all spook Gust is every bit as
amazing as his mustache and hairdo, and well worth the price of admission on its own, no matter what’s going on around it!

Click here to enter the latest Double O Section contest and win The Wild Wild West on DVD!