Mar 31, 2008

Contest Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered the Left On Mission contest. This one had the most entries yet for a Double O Section contest, and I enjoyed learning readers' literary tastes. Thanks also for all the nice comments about the blog. Unfortunately, there can be only two randomly-chosen winners, and they are...

Paul Bishop, of California (the very first person to enter, oddly enough), and Christopher Mills of Maine

Both cited Donald Hamilton (a very popular choice) as their favorite spy writer, and Paul also listed Anthony Horowitz as his favorite current author.

Unsurprisingly, Ian Fleming was the runaway favorite spy writer among contest entrants. Hamilton (author of the Matt Helm books) made a strong showing for second place, with Greg Rucka and Len Deighton also getting a lot of votes. There was quite a diverse group overall, with other favorites running the gamut from Adam Hall to Robert Ludlum to Alan Furst. The biggest surprise, for me, though, was that not a single reader picked John Le Carré! Odd.

Thanks again to everyone else who entered. You'll all have another chance to win something soon; I've got a few more contests coming up in the near future! In the meantime, I do highly recommend seeking out Left On Mission in your local bookstore (or on Amazon); it's a great read. I'll have more coverage of that coming up soon as well.
Preview Of April's Hemispheres Magazine James Bond Content

The new issue of United Airlines' in-flight magazine, Hemispheres, with the Bond content I mentioned last week, hits seat pockets (and the web) tomorrow. Here's an advance look at what readers can expect, courtesy of the editor.

The complete Bond content in the issue is as follows:

1. The John Cork feature (6 pages)
2. The Connery Interview (3 pages)
3. A Bond-themed crossword puzzle (1 page)
4. A gear/tech page of some real-life products that are “practically Bond” (an aquatic auto, a camcorder pen, etc.)
5. A listing and photo on the event calendar of the Fleming exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in London

I've seen the magazine, and I have to say, it's surprisingly impressive! 007 permeates the issue, as evidenced in the table of contents where a little red "007" logo denotes all the stories with relevance to the theme. Cork's handsomely-illustrated feature is of the same high quality we get from his books on the subject, but the real highlight is definitely the Connery interview (by the evidently knowledgeable Matt Hurwitz), which focuses almost exclusively on Bond. Connery shares his candid thoughts on Daniel Craig and Casino Royale, both of which he's very enthusiastic about. He does offer one interesting and valid criticism of Royale, though:

"I did have one reservation," the star reveals. "They sort of diluted the Bond musical theme, which you hear only at the very end. When I heard it, I thought, 'Oh, that's what I've been missing.' That theme gives the audience a direct connection to Bond--it's an instant recognition." I'm sure John Barry (and Monty Norman) would be happy to hear how highly Connery regards the importance of music in Bond films! He shares a lot more similar insights, and even distills his secret of playing Bond! (That bit might be familiar to avid fans, but it definitely makes a nice conclusion to a very good interview.)

Stay tuned for a chance later this week to win copies of the magazine here on the Double O Section!
Lucifer Box Will Return In Black Butterfly

Amazon now has a listing for the next novel in Mark Gatiss' fantastic Lucifer Box series... and it's not called Clawhammer, as previously rumored. The new title (following The Vesuvius Club and Devil In Amber) is Black Butterfly, and Amazon lists a release date of November 3, 2008. Interestingly, that's the same date listed at Usually there is a delay between the British and American publications of the Box books, so the American Amazon listing may be in error. (But maybe not!) The UK listing also provides a handy plot description:
With the young Queen Elizabeth newly established on her throne, Lucifer Box Esq is now by Appointment to Her Majesty. But the secretive Royal Academy seems a very different place and, approaching retirement, Box decides to investigate one last case...A series of bizarre accidents has claimed the lives of some of the world's most important people. Lucifer Box discovers that they were all members of the mysterious Widows' Circle, headed by the delectable Melissa Ffawthawe. He soon finds himself in the Transylvanian forests on the trail of boy assassin Kingdom Come and his deadly masters in the Anarcho-Criminal Retinue of Nihilists, Incendiarists and Murderers - A.C.R.O.N.I.M! What is the mysterious Black Butterfly? Who is Gottfried Clawhammer? Why is the world's biggest scout jamboree taking place on a fortified island in the Caribbean? All will be revealed as Lucifer Box takes his artistic licence to kill into the sleek, bleak era of the Cold War...
This is all in keeping what what Gatiss had previously said about the series. After debuting his dashing young hero in a Conan Doyle-inspired Edwardian adventure, he next dropped in on Box in the throes of middle-age, caught up in a 1930s caper channeling John Buchan and Dennis Wheatley. His plan, he revealed in interviews around the publication of The Vesuvius Club, was to follow that up with an Ian Flemingish yarn set in the early days of the Cold War, and it sounds like that's exactly what he's done. Gatiss himself gives some more details in an interview with The Guardian last year (when the working title of the third book was still Clawhammer):
For Clawhammer, he plans to immerse himself in early Ian Fleming - and more. 'I think it would be fun to move it into that Sovietish world of spies. I love all that, all those Le Carre and Fifties and Sixties films. The Harry Palmer films, they're great, even though they were meant to be the antidote to Bond. I love the sort of wet-newspaper, going-down-the-shops kind of feel to it. And although obviously you don't want to lose the fun, I think it would be quite nice to have an Edwardian in the Fifties, in Austerity Britain.'
That final comment clearly recalls Adam Adamant Lives! a bit, which transplants an Edwardian adventurer into the next decade, the Swinging Sixties. Gatiss is a rabid Adamant fan, as attested to by his appearances all over the special features for the excellent DVD of the series. Having thoroughly enjoyed Gatiss' first two Lucifer Box novels (especially Devil In Amber!), I can't wait to see what he's cooked up for this one, which evidently parodies/homages literary sources even dearer to my heart than those previously done!

Mar 30, 2008

Last Day To Enter To Win Left On Mission!

Sorry; the contest has ended. Winners are listed here. More contests coming soon!

Reminder: Today is the last day to enter the Double O Section's contest to win copies of the fantastic spy graphic novel Left On Mission signed by author Chip Mosher! Two lucky winners will receive the new softcover book collection all five issues of last year's breakout comic book. Fans of Bourne, Burn Notice and Casino Royale should definitely enter, or pick up the book today at your local bookstore. Get those entries in by midnight tonight!

Click here for more on Left On Mission, and details on how to enter.

Mar 27, 2008

Shirley Bassey's "You Only Live Twice" Recording Released In America

Single On The Way?

I missed this, but last week Dame Shirley Bassey's latest album, Get the Party Started, was finally released in the United States on Decca--nearly a year after its initial UK release. As I mentioned then, the album is most notable to Bond fans for containing Dame Shirley's first officially released stab at the best female vocal Bond theme she didn't record to begin with, "You Only Live Twice." The album (and the song) has been available to American fans on iTunes for quite a while, but now they can buy the physical CD. It's certainly worth getting--but not really for the reason I initially assumed.

The album, a collection of new recordings and remixes of old favorites, isn't thoroughly satisfying overall as Bassey's Remix Album, but it does make a good listen! She and her producers manage to make nearly all the songs sound like Bond songs... except for "You Only Live Twice!" Mark De Clive Lowe's remix slows the song down and gives it a boring adult-contemporary feel with a rather annoying jazz flute sound. While Bassey's own signature vocal is as captivating as ever, I must confess to being disappointed by the overall track. I'd love to hear someone else's remix, or the Dame's original, un-tampered-with vocal, because "light jazz flute" and "Bond song" just don't go together. On the plus side, as I just mentioned, nearly every other song does boast that brassy Bassey sound we expect from her best Bond themes, including the very Bondian single "The Living Tree" and the titular Pink cover "Get the Party Started." I had misgivings about the latter track when I first saw the tracklist for this album a year ago, but Dame Shirley blew me away with her take. She really made the song her own, as if it were written for her. Every Bond fan should have this and "The Living Tree" (which could easily have been a Bond theme itself) on their iPod, and the album contains some other gems as well.

While both the songs I mentioned have been popular singles in Britain (and the Pink cover is currently burning up American dance charts), the American disc interestingly sports a sticker promoting "You Only Live Twice." This is interesting, because those stickers usually point out the singles. Does this mean that YOLT is going to be released as a single here in the US? Let's hope. If so, I may yet get that new remix or original version I was longing for as a B-side!
James Bond: The History Of The Illustrated 007 Now Available To Pre-Order

Author Alan J. Porter has updated his blog today with the official solicitation copy and front cover design for his upcoming book on 007 in comics, James Bond: The History of the Illustrated 007. According to the publisher's blurb, "for the first time, the complete history of the illustrated James Bond is chronicled," from comic strips to comic books, the whole world over. The blurb even states that, "The cover of the book presents a never-before-seen painting by noted artist Bob Peak who made a significant contribution to the Bond canon's movie poster art," seemingly confirming CBN's story earlier this week touting this concept art as a possible cover design for the book. As I said before, due to its unique and fascinating content, this is easily my most anticipated reference work on Bond in a year jam-packed with them!

Porter's 240-page book is already listed for pre-order on Amazon, with a retail price of $29.99 and a release date of September 25, via Hermes Press.
James Bond In Hemispheres Magazine

If you're flying United anytime soon, you're in luck: the next issue of their in-flight magazine, Hemispheres, will feature lots of James Bond content--including a brand new, exclusive interview with the notoriously recalcitrant Sir Sean Connery talking about his most famous role! The issue, timed to celebrate Ian Fleming's Centenary, will also feature a story on 007's enduring popularity by noted Bondologist John Cork, co-author of most of the officially-sanctioned books on the Bond films (including last fall's The James Bond Encyclopedia), producer on most of the special edition DVDs in the series (as well as those excellent Charlie Chan sets Fox has been putting out!) and ersatz publisher of his own magazine, the fondly-remembered Goldeneye. And on top of all that, Hemispheres' managing editor Spencer Carney promises "a lot more" Bond content to boot, but it's unclear whether or not Bond's on the cover. The issue will be available on all United flights (complimentary to fliers) starting April 1; the stories (plus added content) will also be online on their website that day. Bond fans who aren't lucky enough to be flying United next month can obtain a copy of the print magazine for $7.50 by calling 877-569-4946. (With any luck, I'll also have a few to give away here on the Double O Section!)

Oddly enough, I was just flying United yesterday. Guess I was a week too early; it would have been a nice surprise to find that Bond issue in the seatback pocket in front of me!

Mar 25, 2008

CONTEST: Win Left On Mission!

Left On Mission, the excellent spy comic book series by Chip Mosher and Francesco Francavilla that made my Top Seven of '07 list, hits bookstores today as a handsome trade paperback collection. Mosher's story, which combines a Le Carré-ish meditation on the human toll of espionage with the action of Ludlum and the thrilling locations of Fleming, and Francavilla's truly beautiful artwork (which brings those locations to life, thanks also to the extraordinary work of colorist Martin Thomas) add up to the best espionage comic since Greg Rucka's Queen & Country. Issue #1 took me by surprise, and kept me eagerly coming back for more. Subsequent issues didn't let me down, building to a stunning finale. Fans of the authors I just mentioned should definitely pick up this collection--or win a signed copy of it here on the Double O Section!

I have two signed copies to give away. Simply send an email with the subject heading "LEFT ON MISSION CONTEST" including your name, mailing address and favorite spy author to the Double O Section by midnight, Pacific Time on Sunday, March 30, 2008. (The favorite writer has no bearing on results; I’m just curious!) Winners will be announced next Monday. Good luck!

One entry per person, please. Double entries will be disqualified. One winner will be drawn at random and announced in on Monday, March 31, 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, in any country. Unfortunately, the Double O Section cannot assume responsibility for items lost or damaged in transit.

Mar 24, 2008

Upcoming Spy DVDs

Get Smart '95

TVShowsOnDVD reported last week that Sony would release Fox's 1995 revival of Get Smart on DVD June 3, just in time to cash in on the bigscreen movie adaptation. Now they have the box art, which sure tries hard to make consumers think this is the classic original series by picturing Don Adams and Barbara Feldon front and center and misleadingly calling their release simply "Get Smart: The Complete Series." The star of this Get Smart is actually Andy Dick (inset), as the Smarts' son Zack. The original series can still only be bought from TimeLife, though their window of exclusivity has ended and HBO Home Video now holds the rights to release it in stores if they ever choose to do that. I haven't seen the '95 take (which only lasted seven episodes, all of which are included in the new set), but since it at least has the original stars, it might be worth checking out. (Possibly moreso than the new film version.) With this release (in addition to TimeLife's real Complete Series and the 1989 reunion movie Get Smart Again) every incarnation of Adams' Maxwell Smart will be available on DVD except for the poorly-regarded 1980 theatrical release The Nude Bomb.

Casino Royale Reloaded... Twice

DVDActive reports that Sony's upcoming three-disc Special Eidtion of Casino Royale (2006) will hit shelves the same day as Fox's Special Edition of the '67 version: June 3, 2008. New bonus features include a crew commentary (presumably including director Martin Campbell, since he's talked about recording an audio track), deleted scenes, behind the scenes featurettes, Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name" Music Video, "Catching a Plane: From Storyboard to Screen" and filmmaker profiles, as well as all the features from the old release. (That's right; no need to hold onto your two-disc copies.) Hopefully this new release will be a proper special edition equal to those of the classic films, setting to right the lacklustre first release disc.

So, between these and that Andy Dick Get Smart set, June 3 will be a big day for spy fans... and their wallets.

Mar 23, 2008

Random Intelligence Dispatches For March 23

I've been travelling for the Easter holiday (including an unplanned, snowbound, thirty-hour stopover in Cleveland, sans computer), and gotten a bit behind on the blog, I'm afraid, so I'll try to do a bit of catching up here...

Honey West DVD Art has the cover art for VCI's Region 1 release of Honey West on DVD. VCI's website offers no release date, extras, or other information so far, but judging from the cover art provided, this will be a substantially thicker package than the Region 2 version. (Not that that necessarily indicates any more actual content, mind you.)

Royale With Cheese

CommanderBond.Net reports (originating from that Sony is planning a three disc special edition of Casino Royale for release in Europe this June. Based on past release patterns, I'd be surprised if we see it stateside before the fall, since they'll probably want to tie it in with the theatrical debut of Quantum of Solace, but the French can reportedly look forward to bonus features (including deleted material) on June 18.

Book On Bond In Comics

CBN also reveals a very exciting new James Bond reference title on the way this fall: James Bond: The History of the Illustrated 007 by Alan J. Porter. Out of all the Bond reference works we can expect this year (and between the Fleming Centenary and the release of QoS, there are quite a lot!), this is the most exciting to me because it explores the sole untapped aspect of 007 stories: the comics. As Porter notes on his blog, even Ian Fleming Publications' own "definitive" history of Bond in print, James Bond: The Man and His World, dismisses this sector of the Bond phenomenon with a single sentence! It's a realm of Bond storytelling that I've always been compelled by, and one very much deserving of its own tome. The only book to really delve into Bond comics at all before is Andy Lane and Paul Simpson's The Bond Files, and that was primarily by way of story descriptions of the newspaper strips. This was a welcome feature at the time of the book's publication, as these stories were still uncollected. Now that Titan has released most of these strips, fans no longer require story synopses, but instead thirst for an in-depth, behind-the-scenes history of everyone's favorite British superspy in the comic medium. That's exactly what Porter promises, covering everything from the newspaper strips to foreign Bond comics and Japanese manga, from DC's Doctor No adaptation to Dark Horse's original Bond series of the 1990s. In the past, magazine articles have been devoted to this subject (including a good story by Porter in a recent issue of Back Issue Magazine), but never a book. So I'm very much looking forward to this one! More info on Porter's blog...

Mar 19, 2008

Chuck Comes To Comics

DC has solicited a six-issue comic book based on the NBC TV series Chuck for June release. It will be written by two of the writers from the show, Peter Johnson and Zev Borow, and drawn by two artists with spy experience of their own, Jeremy Haun and Phil Noto. Haun did a fine job with Oni's spy series The Leading Man, and Noto killed with his fantastic painting on Beautiful Killer years ago. That comic, written by Jimmy Palmiotti, is one fantastic spy story, and would make a great movie. (At one point Jessica Alba was attached, but I imagine that's since fallen through.) Noto captures the Sixties spy flavor note perfectly (every panel could be a paperback cover!), and ever since then, he's been one of my favorite artists. Check out his site. (He'd be a great guy to go to for a future series of Fleming paperbacks, wouldn't he?) One thing's for sure on Chuck: I know he'll draw a great Sarah Walker!!

So what's the story about? Well, according to the copy, "In this globe-trotting, action-packed adventure, Chuck will see many exotic locales, dodge numerous bullets, and be tortured by the world’s greatest...tickler?" Sounds about right!

The solicitation promises a Phil Noto cover, but provides only the photo art seen here. Perhaps that's just a mock-up, or perhaps the comic will be available with multiple covers.

Thanks to reader Jimmy PS Hayes for the alert on this one!

Mar 18, 2008

Tradecraft: Sam Raimi To Direct Jack Ryan?!

Variety reports that Sam Raimi (of the Spider-man and Evil Dead movies) is in talks with Paramount to relaunch their Jack Ryan franchise. Last we heard, Constant Gardener director Fernando Meirelles was attached to this project. Ryan has previously been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck in adaptations of various Tom Clancy novels. As previously rumored, though, the new movie may not derive from any Clancy work. Says the trade:

While Clancy is completing another Ryan novel, the studio hasn't read it and so hasn't decided if it will use the new book or come up with an original story. Paramount controls rights to the Ryan character, and gets first look at the new novel.

The story also reveals:

The intention is to generate several films Raimi would develop and direct, featuring Ryan at a younger, more formative point in his career than previously depicted. One invention the studio is considering is to set the film in the present, with the action triggered by a global threat.

Triggered by a global threat, huh? That sure is an original "invention!" No, I'm kidding. I think the strangeness of that part of the report can be chalked up to Variety copy, and not to the studio's actual plan. But it's interesting that Paramount want to rewind the character even further than his Ben Affleck reboot.

I suspect that all this comes from Paramount desperately wanting a spy franchise that can compete with Sony/MGM's Bond and Universal's Bourne. The strategy of doing "Jack Ryan: Year One" certainly seems inspired by Casino Royale, which was itself inspired by the Bourne films, which wouldn't exist if it weren't for 007 in the first place. This whole thing is adding up to a huge spy cycle the likes of which we haven't seen since the Eurospy heyday of the Sixties, and I love it!

But Jack Ryan doesn't really fit in with Bond and Bourne. Clancy's Ryan was a CIA analyst, who did tend to find himself caught up in more action than most analysts ever see, but generally preferred to strategize, and let his dark "other half" Mr. Clark get his hands dirty. Since Ryan wasn't a field agent, each new adventure pushed credulity further until Clancy decided to permanently park him behind a desk--a large oak one emblazoned with the Presidential seal.

The article says that Raimi was attracted to the franchise because "he loves the character," but I would guess it's really because he loves the idea of doing a spy movie. (Who wouldn't?) I'm only speculating on this angle, but if I'm right and Paramount wants a Bond or Bourne of their own, Jack Ryan isn't the right character to turn into that. There are plenty of other great fictional spy heroes who do fit that profile just waiting to be called to cinematic duty, but I guess none have the name recognition of Jack Ryan.

Overall, though, I don't really care if they change Ryan's character. (Though I'm sure Clancy does!) The novels fetishize technology over humanity anyway, and were always more about the hardware than the characters. And the lead actor has been changed so often in the movies that audiences have never really had a chance to form a real bond with any one incarnation of Ryan. So the character is kind of a blank slate, and if Paramount wants to turn him into a more cerebral version of Jason Bourne, that's fine with me. I don't care who the main character is; I just want to see a Sam Raimi spy movie!

Raimi's long been one of my favorite directors, and this prospect thrills me. It's not just a one-off deal, either; according to Variety, "Raimi would develop and direct a [whole] series of films." It's even one of the reasons Paramount chose him. "The studio was attracted by Raimi's skill in navigating a franchise, following a trio of Spider-man blockbusters." I, for one, would welcome a Raimi spy series with open arms!

Raimi previously demonstrated his love for spies by producing the short-lived homage to Sixties spy shows Spy Game for ABC in the late '90s. Variety says that Raimi would have to make his Jack Ryan movie immediately following his current project, Drag Me to Hell (a return to his horror roots) in order to meet the studio's desired 2010 release date, but that the director still hasn't rejected the possibility of doing a fourth Spider-man picture, which could throw a monkey wrench in these plans.
New Spy DVDs Out Today

Today CBS/Paramount releases the fourth and final season of the fantastic spy Western The Wild Wild West. After taking a dip with the (still quite enjoyable) third season, the series finishes with a bang. Season 4 boasts a lot of really great episodes, even if many of them are sadly missing Arte (whose name is consistently misspelled on this season's packaging). Series co-star Ross Martin suffered a serious heart attack necessitating a parade of guest partners for Robert Conrad's secret service agent Jim West. Highlights of Season 4 include the Mission: Impossible-ish opener, "Night of the Big Blackmail," the Jules Verne-inspired tentacled undersea madness of "Night of the Kraken" and Dr. Loveless' last appearance, "The Night of Miguelito's Revenge." Unfortunately not included are the two TV movie reunions, so your Wild Wild West collection still won't be quite complete, but hopefully Paramount will release those on their own down the line. I hope to have my full review posted later today.

Also out today, from Universal, is Bionic Woman - Volume One. This is not the classic Lindsay Wagner sci-fi series, but the first (pre-strike) half of the single season of the all-new, Alias-inspired, Michelle Ryan version. While the show had a great advertising campaign and generated a lot of excitement, I found the pilot severely underwhelming, and didn't end up tuning in again, though I did hear it got better. Whatever the case, it hasn't been renewed for a second season.

Finally, there's one I missed last week because I thought it was coming out this week. Last week
Fox unleashed single and double-disc versions of rated and unrated cuts of last fall's neo-Eurospy, videogame-inspired actioner Hitman. Since its release, the movie has garnered new interest from Bond fans eager to see Quantum of Solace's Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko in action. She doesn't get too much to do in Hitman, but she does look good doing (or not doing) it.

Mar 15, 2008

Movie Review: The Bank Job (2008)

When I first reported on The Bank Job, I didn’t even realize that it was a spy movie. But it is, through and through. Moreso, even, than it is a heist movie, really.

The Bank Job is a conspiracy thriller that follows a number of different plot threads all revolving around the real, unsolved 1970 robbery of a Lloyds Bank on Baker Street. Several days after the robbery, the British government issued a "D Notice" - an official request for a media blackout - and the press ceased all coverage. That much is known, as are several other facts, which we get in text form at the end of the movie. The film itself is writers Dick Clement and Ian Lafrenais’ extrapolation on those facts, supposedly constructed with the aid of a "Deep Throat" type informant who played a part in the government cover-up. It’s impossible for a viewer to guess how much is true, but for spy fans or conspiracy buffs, the events they propose are certainly entertaining.

MI-5 want to put a gangster masquerading as a black activist named Michael X behind bars. Unfortunately, Michael X is in possession of some compromising photographs of Princess Margaret, which the Royal Family can’t afford to get out. MI-5 boss Miles Urquhart (played by Sixties spy veteran Peter Bowles) knows the photos are kept in a safety deposit box at the Baker Street branch of Lloyd’s Bank, but doesn’t have the authority to send an official team in to get it. Tim Everett (Richard Lintern), a sort of sleazy James Bond (prone to hanging around the Players’ Club in evening attire even though changing fashions no longer dictate such formalities), formulates his own plan for getting the photos. He sets up a model he’s sleeping with named Martine Love (Saffron Burrows) on drug charges, so that she’ll have to come to him to get her off. When she does, the deal he offers is that she walks away if she can recruit some of her friends (she grew up with a lot of villains, we’re told) to knock off the bank, and get the photos for him.

Martine goes to her oldest pal (and unrequited love) Terry Leather (Transporter Jason Statham), who’s now married (to MI-5's Keeley Hawes) and trying to make an honest living with a garage. Tempted by a way out of debt to mobsters, he convinces his crew of amateurs to have a go at the bank, which Martine assures him will have its alarms turned off, while failing to fill him in on the photograph or her own little side deal. Tim now has his bank robbery, safely removed from MI-5 by two degrees. What he doesn’t know, though, is that sleazy porn king Lew Vogel (David Suchet), who has ties to Michael X, also stores his blackmail pictures in the bank, which includes a number of government officials in incredibly compromising positions.

All that, mind you, is just the set-up. The heist itself falls about halfway through the film, and then the proverbial shit hits the fan, as the bank job affects the various parties, conspiracies become unraveled, honest and crooked cops complicate things further, and MI-5 loses control of its illegal operation. Unfortunately, this complicated scenario (along with the genre twist from heist flick to conspiracy thriller, and an accompanying darkening in tone) throws off the movie’s pacing and makes it seem a little long in the middle. Luckily, the best is yet to come (especially for spy buffs), and things really pick up in the second half. The planning and the aftermath almost seem like two separate films, but luckily (even though the transition is a little shaky), I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.

I’ve mentioned before how much a movie’s setting can affect my enjoyment of it, and that applies to time as well as place. I love The Bank Job’s Swinging London setting, and the cars, clothes, haircuts and music that go with it. Prolific writers Clement and Lafrenais certainly know that era well, having lived through it (I believe one of them shared a flat with either Michael Caine or Tom Courtenay) and written some of the very best movies that came out of it, particularly in the heist and spy genres. The duo penned two incredibly fun contemporary time capsules of Swinging London, the caper movie The Jokers with Oliver Reed and Michael Crawford, and the spy farce Otley (one of my very favorite spy movies, in fact!) starring Courtenay. History has since provided the writers with a darker glass to view the era through, though, and The Bank Job reflects that. While it shares the anarchic, anti-establishment spirit of Otley and The Jokers, it’s less gleeful and more jaded... and considerably more violent, in a few scenes. Rather than the James Bond-meets-The Italian Job spy/heist hybrid these writers might have given us in the Sixties, what we get instead is more of a George Smiley-meets-The Killing job. And that’s not at all a bad thing!

The Bank Job may not be "fun" in the same lighter-than-air way that The Jokers is, but its labyrinthine web of conspiracies and counter-conspiracies is still fun in the sense that it will entertain the hell out of anyone with a love for twist-filled spy yarns, British gangster films, Royal scandal, real-life mysteries or Swinging London in general. Despite its pacing issues, director Roger Donaldson wraps everything up in an aesthetically-pleasing package, and a cast of recognizable British character actors (including Bond veteran Colin Salmon in addition to all the other aforementioned familiar spy faces) give uniformly solid performances. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ll enjoy this movie.

Mar 14, 2008

Tradecraft: Slater Spies For NBC

According to today's Hollywood Reporter, NBC "is close to handing out a series order" to an espionage series starring Christian Slater. The project "is described as The Bourne Identity meets Jekyll & Hyde and centers on a mild-mannered suburban dad (Slater) who learns that his alter ego is a spy." That sounds like a potentially cool set-up. The untitled show comes from Jason Smilovic, the creative force behind Karen Sisco and Kidnapped, and more recently executive producer of NBC's espionage-tinged revival of The Bionic Woman. Slater, who follows his fellow Young Gun Kiefer Sutherland into the world of network spying, is actually no stranger to that world, having guest-starred on two episodes of Alias.

Mar 13, 2008

Brosnan Rebounds In Married Life

After slumming in the by-the-numbers thriller Shattered, Pierce Brosnan fully redeems himself with a masterful, nuanced performance in Married Life, ably holding his own against spy stalwart Chris Cooper, who’s arguably one of the greatest actors of our time. Patricial Clarkson and Rachel McAdams round out the ensemble cast of this 1949-set domestic drama/thriller, each turning in reliably impressive performances. Brosnan, who also narrates the movie, plays a character whose actions should make him the most unattractive of the quartet, but manages the neat trick of actually making him likable despite that. Such a feat requires a unique blend of acting ability and pure charm, both of which Brosnan possesses in spades. If only his last two Bond movies had afforded him the same opportunities to show off those qualities as his more daring turns in films like this, The Matador and The Tailor of Panama! One review of Married Life refers to Brosnan as "the poor man’s Clooney," but while he might occupy that position in the Hollywood hierarchy, it’s certainly an unfair assessment of his considerable skills. It’s true that Clooney is one of the few actors out there who shares this mixture of charm and talent (a combination that used to amount to something called "star quality"), but as my girlfriend commented as we left the theater, I doubt even he could have pulled off this particular role.

Director Ira Sachs and production designer Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski manage to stretch their presumably small budget enough to create a richly-detailed, convincing period setting, and Michael Dennison’s costumes give James Bond fans the opportunity to see what Brosnan (rarely without his fedora) might have looked like playing that role in the post-war, jet-age milieu of Fleming’s early novels. McAdams, sporting a platinum blond coiffure, also benefits from the style of the period, channeling the most glamorous stars of the forties and fifties and turning in a particularly impressive performance in the process. Forties styles also play a key role in the inventive title sequence, which takes its cue from pulp covers of the era.

The plot, in which Cooper’s character plans to kill his wife (Clarkson) because he can’t bear to see her suffer when he tells her he’s leaving her for McAdams, is Hitchcockian (in fact, the book on which it’s based also served as the basis for an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour), and the movie duly reflects that with some evocative mise-en-scene and music, as well as a few blatant references. Certain scenes owe a particular debt to Dial M for Murder and Suspicion, and Cooper has one very tense drive home worthy of the master himself. Other than that, however, the pacing isn’t quite up to Hitch’s standards, and the whole thing plays a bit stagier than any of his movies of that era. The other auteur who comes readily to mind is Woody Allen (in his Match Point mode, not his Casino Royale mode), and staginess has always worked alright for him, so maybe it’s not a bad thing. Neither director is exactly bad company for Ira Sachs to find himself in, and he does so largely thanks to his talented cast, and a particularly versatile ex-James Bond. In fact, I daresay Brosnan may be the most versatile ex-James Bond. He’s certainly on his way, and (Shattered aside) more roles like the ones he’s been choosing should give him the edge.

Mar 11, 2008

American Moneypenny Art

When it rains, it pours! Bond art, in this case. Just a week after we got our first glimpse of the US Devil May Care cover art, and mere days after seeing the new UK Quantum of Solace artwork, CBN has uncovered the American cover for the long overdue (on these shores) first Moneypenny Diaries book on Amazon. (No "Guardian Angel" subtitle to be found, as with the UK hardcover.) The Moneypenny Diaries is a fantastic trilogy of Sixties-set James Bond novels by Samantha Weinberg (writing under the name Kate Westbrook) told from the point of view of M's secretary Miss Moneypenny, here given the Christian name of Jane. The first volume, Guardian Angel (this one) originally came out in 2005 in the UK, followed by the even better second volume, Secret Servant. The last volume, Final Fling, is due out there in May, just as Americans finally get their first taste of Volume 1. As with Devil May Care, America actually gets infinitely superior artwork on the hardcover! Quite a surprise. (It's still nowhere near as good as the excellent retro Stina Persson artwork found on the paperback of Secret Servant and hardcover of Final Fling, though.)

As I've said before, I urge all Bond fans to try this series. It may not sound like a very intriguing premise, but Weinberg has done a terrific job crafting the first ever adult James Bond novels set in the past.

Mar 10, 2008

New Fleming Short Story Collection Coming

CBN has a ton of interesting news today that's worth checking out, but foremost amongst it is the revelation that Penguin will issue a new collection this spring entitled Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories. It's in their Modern Classics line, and in keeping with the rest of the Modern Classics Bond editions, sports an appealing photographic cover. I think this is a good idea. A complete collection of Fleming's 007 short stories is long overdue, and it makes sense to have a book on the shelves for people who are curious about what the hell the title of the new movie means. (If it weren't for the movie title, though, QoS would make no sense whatsoever as the title for such a collection though!) Will there be an American edition down the line? I would assume so, and I hope it comes with some new Richie Fahey artwork to match the rest of the current American editions. I'd like to see another Fahey cover!

On the downside, this publication would seem to dash hopes of a movie novelization of Quantum of Solace this fall. I understand why IFP wouldn't want to flood the market with Bond books in a year when they're trying to make the new one (Devil May Care) something special, but I was still hoping for one. This will be the first time since the producers started filming wholly original stories (with Licence To Kill, nearly two decades ago) that there hasn't been a novelization for one of those original films. (Yes, the title is Fleming's, but according to producers nothing in the film is.) Oh well.
Tradecraft: Re-Enter The Saint

Today's Hollywood Reporter has a lengthy cover story with more details on that new Saint TV series first reported late last year. In addition to confirming that James Purefoy is "in talks to topline as the debonair international thief Simon Templar," and that Jorge Zamacona will produce along with Roger Moore and his son Geoffrey, the new story also reveals some other key roles being cast, as well as some heavyweight behind-the-scenes additions. Most notably, Hollywood A-lister Barry Levinson will also produce (along with his Homicide partner Tom Fontana and Rome producer Bill Macdonald) and direct the two hour pilot! That's pretty impressive. While the presence of the Moores should hopefully guarantee a more faithful take on the character Roger so famously portrayed in the Sixties than the '97 movie with Val Kilmer did, the involvement of Fontana and Macdonald also lends this new Saint the credibility of two critically-acclaimed HBO series: Oz and Rome. (Fontana produced the former, Macdonald the latter, which co-starred Purefoy.)

The two-hour film will serve as a "backdoor pilot," a model the trade says worked recently for an NBC revival of Night Rider. It will be independently produced and then shopped to networks. Financing entity Nehst Studios is putting up the capital, and committed to funding "seasons to come," according to the trade.

The story also reveals that "casting is under way for the other key parts in the pilot: Inspector Claud Eustace Teal, the Interpol agent in charge of tracking Templar; Templar's romantic interest/assistant, Patricial Holm; and his enemy-turned-partner in crime, Baldwin Aleppo." This is particularly interesting as the presence of Holm indicates that the new series may well be more faithful to Leslie Charteris' original novels than any other adaptation to date. Holm was the Saint's regular on-again/off-again girlfriend throughout the first decade's worth of books, but has only ever appeared once on screen in 1943's The Saint Meets the Tiger, adapted from the first book, Meet the Tiger. Inspector Teal, the Saint's most relentless nemesis (and sometime ally), also comes from the novels and was played memorably by Ivor Dean on the Sixties series. I'm not sure about Aleppo. He could well come from the books, too, or might just be an original creation for this pilot.

Unlike the color installments of the Moore series, the new one looks to make use of actual locations around the world rather than relying on backlots. The article says "shooting is expected to begin in April in Budapest, Hungary, New York and Puerto Rico."

Finally, the Reporter's story also reveals some previous attempts at reviving The Saint that I had been unaware of. For those who enjoy such trivia, the trade claims that, "in 2000, UPN teamed with [Thomas Crown Affair] director John McTiernan and ATG, while ABC took a stab at the franchise in 2004 with writer Stephen Nathan and American Idol producer FremantleMedia North America." Unlike those versions, this new one looks very much like it will actually happen, and I, for one, can barely contain my excitement!

Mar 7, 2008

Random Intelligence Dispatches For March 8, 2008

(Young) James Bond Will Return In...

By Royal Command. That's the title of Charlie Higson's fifth and (for now, anyway) final "Young Bond" novel, according to the source for news on the series, Young Bond Dossier. The Dossier also confirms that Higson has finished the novel. By Royal Command doesn't conform as neatly to the rigid Bond title formula Ian Fleming Publications have previously adhered to (SilverFin, Blood Fever, Double or Die, Hurricane Gold), but it does evoke what turned out to be one of Fleming's most resonant titles, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. And it seems like an appropriate title for the final novel in the series (aimed at young adult readers, but offering plenty of enjoyment for adult Bond fans), as it seems to foreshadow James' ultimate career path and dedication to Queen and Country. By Royal Command comes out in hardcover in England September 4.

Jack Bauer Will Return In...

...a 24 TV movie this fall, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The movie, like Sci-Fi Channel's Battlestar Gallactica TV movie last year, will bridge the extraordinarily long gap between seasons, serving as a prequel to Season 7, now set for broadcast in January 2009, minus creator/showrunner Joel Surnow. And it should serve to keep Kiefer Sutherland's dour mug in the public conscience, lest Jack Bauer be forgotten. The article says producers are trying to secure the whole cast, but doesn't go into specifics. It's unknown whether the TV movie will follow the show's trademark real time formula, or if it will take advantage in the break from routine to utilise a more traditional narrative structure. That would definitely be cool to see (as the show sometimes becomes a slave to its gimmick), but I was pretty excited for the oft-mooted 24 theatrical movie to be the first instance we see Jack Bauer out of real time. There's also something to be said for a real time mission that takes only 120 minutes to crack rather than a whole day. There could be a lot of urgency in that, and hopefully it would work out better than when Johnny Depp tried it in Nick of Time... Presumably, Fox Home Entertainment will push for a quick sell-through on DVD for the feature, probably in December so as to suitably whet the public's appetite for Season 7.

Michael Caine Returns

... to Sixties heist movies this month! It may not be a new spy film, but fans of the Ipcress File actor will likely be as excited as I am about his return not only to heist flicks, but to one set in the Sixties, recalling his iconic roles in movies like Gambit and The Italian Job (1969)! Caine teams up with star/producer Demi Moore (who also produced the Austin Powers movies, of which Caine was in a particularly awful example) for a diamond heist tale set in what the press materials refer to as "Swinging London," but the trailer tells us is actually 1960, still several years before London started to swing. Still, it's Michael Caine, it's the Sixties and it's a heist. I'm there. And if you don't want to wait until March 28 to trek to the theater, Flawless will premiere earlier as video on demand on HDNet Ultra. In fact, it already has! If you get that service, you can go ahead and check it out now.

Mar 5, 2008

Burn Notice On DVD June 17

After a few weeks of speculation, we now have official confirmation from Fox that Burn Notice: Season One will hit DVD June 17, 2008. According to the press release, the set will feature "all 11 episodes including the two-hour season finale plus bonus features such as cast/crew commentaries, gag reel, audition footage [and] character montages." More on that below. Retail will be, as rumored, $49.99.

Creator Matt Nix's Burn Notice proved to be a breakout hit when it first aired on USA last summer. There hadn't been a "fun" spy show on TV since Alias went off the air, and Burn Notice managed to put a new twist on the genre with its unique "spy procedural" perspective, wryly narrated by appealing series star Jeffrey Donovan.

Best of all, the four disc, full screen DVD set of Season One will include commentary on every episode with Nix and cast members Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, Bruce Campbell and Sharon Gless! Anyone who's ever heard one of the Evil Dead commentaries knows that Bruce Campbell is always a blast on these tracks, and if he can be judged at all by his screen persona, I imagine Donovan will be too. I'm really looking forward to hearing these! On top of that, the fourth disc gives us the aforementioned gag reel, audition footage, and three montages: a "character montage," a "Girls Gone Burn Notice montage," and an "action scenes montage."

This set sounds like more than enough to tide fans over until the eagerly-awaited second season of Burn Notice starts airing on USA late this summer.

Mar 3, 2008

Random Intelligence Dispatches For March 4, 2008

More Devil May Care Cover Art

CBN pointed the way yesterday to Entertainment Weekly, which offers our first glimpse of the cover art for the American edition of Sebastian Faulks' upcoming James Bond pastiche, Devil May Care. As I predicted before, it's different from the British cover art. I knew America wouldn't be able to handle a nipple! (Even on a weird flower faery.) It's still not ideal (I would have preferred a Richard Chopping-style approach for a novel celebrating the centenary of Bond creator Ian Fleming), but it's pretty damn good nonetheless, and a definite improvement over the UK version, which is rare. Historically, England has usually made out with the better Bond covers.

Unfortunately, the US version retains that offensive, disrespectful and completely inexcusable author credit that reduces the great writer who created James Bond to nothing more than a Franklin W. Dixon (or Robert Markham)-esque pseudonym to be passed down from writer to writer. If it's intended as some sort of tribute, it's a woeful misfire. I hate this, and frankly, it's coloring my opinion of the whole book (which I should be looking forward to more than any other this year) quite negatively in advance. Faulks had better have written a damn good book to climb his way out of the hole that the marketers at Ian Fleming Publications have already stuck him in!

Burn Notice DVD Update

TVShowsOnDVD has another, more substantial report on Burn Notice: Season One DVDs today. The site claims that retailers have been informed of a June 3 release date and a retail price of $49.99, but Fox has yet to officially confirm this.

Tradecraft: Coens' Spy Movie To Open Wide

Variety reports that the Coen brothers' upcoming spy movie, Burn After Reading, will have a wide release. Most of their movies open with platform releases, starting out in New York and LA, then gaining word-of-mouth momentum before going wider. "Everyone feels [Burn After Reading] has the capability to play wide at that September [12] playtime," the trade quotes Focus Features head of distribution, Jack Foley, as saying. One presumes the brothers' recent Oscar success can't hurt, either! This year's Best Actress, Tilda Swinton, co-stars with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand. The articles describes the movie's plot as "[revolving] around an ousted CIA official whose memoir inadvertently falls into the hands of two bumbling Washington DC gym employees."

Astrologer To The Spies

Yahoo has a fascinating AP story about newly-declassified MI5 files pertaining to Louis de Wohl, an astrologer hired by British military intelligence during WWII to write horoscopes for Hitler and other Axis and Allied leaders under the guise of a "Psychological Research Bureau." He served as a British agent until he wore out his welcome and MI5 pursued various options to "dispose" of this embarassing "State Seer," as he billed himself, "including interning him in a camp or moving him to a remote corner of the country" as well as "two other options [that] are blanked out."

New Get Smart Trailer, Poster

A new poster (not as good as the first one) and a new trailer have recently hit the web for the upcoming big screen remake of Get Smart starring Steve Carell. I like Carell a lot, and I was really excited about this movie—until I actually saw it, that is.

Belated Happy Birthday To Daniel Craig

The current 007 celebrated his 40th birthday this weekend, while filming the twenty-second James Bond film (and direct sequel to Casino Royale), Quantum of Solace in Panama. Here's wishing him a great year!
The Adventures Of James Bond's Daughter

Most Bond fans are aware of James Bond Jr., 007’s kid-friendly nephew who featured in a 1960s children’s book and an unrelated ‘90s cartoon TV series. And lots are probably aware of the son author Raymond Benson gave Bond in the short story "Blast From the Past." (Sadly, James Suzuki—son of You Only Live Twice's Kissy—didn’t survive the story, thanks to EON Productions owning the rights to any offspring of 007.) But how many know about an obscure 1968 movie that features 007’s daughter, Jill, as its plucky protagonist?

Surprisingly, the film in question, Naked You Die (which sounds like a rejected Fleming title), isn’t a spy movie at all. It’s a giallo, a particular brand of Italian thriller popular in the late Sixties and Seventies. While the term (Italian for “yellow”) refers broadly to pulpy mystery novels, when applied to film it generally refers to a specific horror subgenre in which a killer (often wearing black gloves) methodically eliminates a series of victims as an amateur hero or heroine tries to stay alive and uncover the villain’s identity while the incompetent police bumble their way through an investigation. The genre was effectively invented by director Mario Bava with his wildly entertaining 1963 Hitchcockian thriller The Girl Who Knew Too Much, but in 1970 Dario Argento solidified it with his seminal The Bird With the Crystal Plumage. In the Seventies, the genre became as much associated with gore and sleaze as with auteur style and dazzling camera work. But Naked You Die is a typically glamorous Sixties giallo, full of groovy music, pretty colors, high fashion and lush scenery.

Naked You Die began its life as a Bava project, and the director worked closely with his later Diabolik scribes Tudor Gates and Brian Degas to develop the script, in which a killer prowls a girls’ boarding school on the French Riviera. As the girls become knocked off, one by one, the plucky Jill emerges as the film’s heroine, or, to use Quentin Tarantino’s slasher vernacular, “the final girl.” Her father is described as a businessman who’s always traveling, but he sends her gadgets like walkie-talkies that encourage her natural curiosity and instincts for snooping. British actress Sally Smith (who also appeared in the lost first season Avengers episode "Toy Trap") makes Jill a likable protagonist, in the same vein as Nora, the titular heroine of The Girl Who Knew Too Much. Not until the film’s conclusion do we learn of her illustrious parentage. According to Bava expert Tim Lucas’ synopsis of the Bava/Gates/Degas script in his book, Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, “In a humorous coda scene, [Inspector] Durand stops by Jill’s room to thank her, just as her father arrives at the school to collect her. He drives a distinctive Aston Martin that identifies him as... James Bond!”

Regrettably, Bava had a falling out with the film’s producers and dropped out prior to its production. He was replaced as director by Antonio Margheriti, a prolific horror director who had also had some success in the Eurospy genre, particularly with the fun Bond knock-off Lightning Bolt (1966). The final screenplay was credited to Margheriti (under his pseudonym of Anthony Dawson—no relation to the Dr. No actor!) and Frank Bottar, but as Lucas says in his book, “As the movie unfolds, it becomes obvious that the original Bava/Gages/Degas script was filmed almost 100% faithfully, with only minor adjustments made.”

Lucas reveals, “While the full-length Italian version retained the last-minute cameo by 007, it was not included in English-language export versions–which were trimmed in some territories by as much as 20 minutes.” Fortunately, Dark Sky Films put out a superb, uncut DVD of the long-lost film last year, restored to its full running time (in a stunning widescreen transfer, no less), but in Italian only with English subtitles. However, despite Lucas’ claims, this version changes “007” to “009.” Jill’s father arrives at the film's finale (in a nice car, but sadly not an Aston Martin), scoops up his adoring daughter, and heads inside. We never see his face. Inspector Durand (Michael Rennie) then hears a telephone ringing inside the car, and answers it. A voice asks for 009, and he informs the bemused caller that he’s unavailable, currently on “Mission Jill.” Of course, not speaking Italian, all I have to go by is the disc’s English subtitles. It’s possible that Dark Sky changed the call number, eager not to offend EON’s notoriously excitable army of lawyers. However, even in the spoken dialogue, it sounds more like a nine than a seven.

Like many Italian genre films of that period, the film has gone under many different names in many different versions over the years. It’s possible that there is a version out there (presumably the Italian cut Lucas watched) that retains the “007,” and others that alter it so as to avoid copyright infringement in various territories. [UPDATE: Tim Lucas clarifies in a comment below that the actual "seven" may not have made it beyond the script stage; he was referring to the overall concept being intact. Indeed, the intent remains clear, whether it's a seven or a nine.] After all, it’s not so much of a stretch to believe that Bond fathered a number of illegitimate children over the years! (He’d probably give Mick Jagger a run for his money in that department.) While the film—a very entertaining giallo—may not be as good as it would have been had Bava stayed on board, I’m happy to report that Smith does her father proud, and makes a perfectly believable daughter to James Bond. (She even shares his interest in gadgetry, creating a remarkable device for reading her beloved mystery novels under cover after "lights out" at the school.) There’s not enough spy content to merit a full review here, but I recommend Cinebeats’ Kimberly Lindbergs' write-up at Cinedelica for those interested in learning more about Naked You Die.