Apr 30, 2008

Random Intelligence Dispatches For May 1, 2008

Mission Bloody Mary Soundtrack Coming Out!

GDM Records have announced a CD release of the soundtrack to the Ken Clark 077 Eurospy film Mission Bloody Mary. Angelo F. Lavagnino composed the score, and the ubiquitous Ennio Morricone provided the main theme. It looks like you can order it directly from GDM. The movie itself is available on DVD in an impressive wide-screen transfer from Dorado Films.

Thanks to Johann on the Eurospy Forum for noticing this!

Nick Fury In Iron Man After All

Dark Horizons says that Sam Jackson's perpetually is-it-or-isn't-it Nick Fury cameo is in Iron Man after all--just make sure you stay till the end of the credits! It had been reported as having been excised because the entire credits weren't included in prints screened for critics. Iron Man opens tonight in most cities.
Tradecraft For April 30, 2008

Martin Campbell Keeps Busy

Whew! The spy news is coming so fast and furious these days it's hard to keep up with it! Goldeneye and Casino Royale director Martin Campbell himself is generating a lot of it, with two new spy film announcements in the trades in as many days.

Edge of Darkness

First, Variety reports that Campbell will remake his own 1985 cult British miniseries Edge of Darkness with Mel Gibson stepping into the role that Bob Peck created over two decades ago. I haven't seen Edge of Darkness since I was a teenager, but it left quite a lasting impression. As I recall, it's fantastic television, hinged on some arresting performances by Peck, Joanne Whalley (pre -Kilmer) and Joe Don Baker, playing his first CIA agent for Campbell. (His Darius Jedburgh is equal parts Texan charm and sinister creepiness.)

The original story (written by Troy Kennedy Martin, writer of The Italian Job and Reilly, Ace of Spies, which Campbell also co-directed) followed a dedicated cop (and former intelligence officer) as he investigates the murder of his environmental activist daughter. The investigation uncovers layer upon layer of nuclear conspiracy involving the CIA, MI5, the Thatcher government and big business. As he peels away these layers, though, he exposes himself to great danger--both physical and mental. Is his daughter's ghost really helping him? Or is he going mad? Dark Horizons notes that the series' original ending was truly surreal, with Peck's character turning into a tree! Don't worry; I haven't spoiled anything; it doesn't end like that... but it's not exactly a feel-good ending either. One wonders how Hollywood will alter that. With Campbell once again at the helm, and Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monahan (Body of Lies) handling the script, it should be in good hands. But Gibson will certainly have his work cut out for him living up to Bob Peck's towering performance.

Just writing about this makes me want to see the original miniseries again. Hopefully the impending movie version will spur a Region 1 DVD release!

Campbell, Surnow and Cruise Join Forces

Hot on the heels of that news comes the news in today's Variety that Campbell will also direct a "contemporary spy thriller" written by 24 scribes Joel Surnow and Michael Loceff for Tom Cruise's United Artists. "This is an original concept that both UA and I feel will have an impact creatively and commercially," Surnow tells the trade. The plot is being kept under tight wraps, and there's no word yet on whether or not Cruise is eying the project as a star vehicle for himself. If he were, that would be a pretty cool spy dream team, though, combining talents associated with James Bond, Jack Bauer and Ethan Hunt! According to Variety, "UA ... has made it a priority to find a commercially viable franchise for Cruise, though the studio wouldn't confirm whether the Surnow/Campbell project was specifically designed for the Mission: Impossible star.

Champions Movie Still in the Works

The same Variety article also contains a small update on the bigscreen version of cult UK TV show The Champions: "The new project gives UA two plum commercial projects, the other being The Champions, an adaptation of the '60s British TV adventure series that had Guillermo del Toro attached. The helmer will likely have to be replaced, after committing to four years in New Zealand making two films based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. UA parent MGM shares The Hobbit with New Line Cinema and Warner Bros."

Wow! I never thought I'd hear anyone refer to The Champions, a cool but very obscure (in the U.S., anyway) ITC spy/superhero hybrid that lasted just one season as a "plum commercial project!" But it's great to know that UA sees it that way, and plans to proceed with the project even without Del Toro. I was wondering what was going to happen to The Champions when he committed to The Hobbit. Guess it might still happen! Something to look forward to. I hope they manage to find a director at least half as cool as Del Toro to ensure a quality adaptation.
Jack Bauer Heads To Africa After All

Aintitcool points the way to an AP story that spills the beans on this fall's 24 TV movie, set to bridge the extra-long gap (thanks to the writers' strike) between seasons 6 and 7 of the hit Fox show. The article reveals that this fall's two-hour movie will find Jack Bauer in Africa. Avid CTU surveillance experts will recall that the initial plan last summer for Season 7 was to begin it in Africa. Fox got cold feet due to cost (and supposedly the scripts weren't ready) and the whole idea was scrapped. The writers allegedly started from scratch and came up with a plotline that would shoot at least partially in Washington, D.C., thankfully moving Jack out of his all-too-familiar L.A. environs. Some episodes were shot, but thanks to Kiefer's drunk driving charges and subsequent jail time, and the WGA's work stoppage, the production team didn't get very far. Next we heard, 24 wasn't returning until January 2009, series mastermind Joel Surnow was leaving the show, and everything seemed up in the air. Would they even use what they'd shot of Season 7, or scrap it for a new take entirely?

Well, now it seems like they're not only going to be able to use what they shot, but also to incorporate the abandoned Africa storyline! Fox recently announced a fall TV movie to satisfy a Bauer-hungry public (and to remind fickle viewers the show still existed!), and now we know they'll use that as an African prologue to the regular, Washington-set season. Executive Producer Manny Coto explains that the prequel film will "lead directly into the events of Season Seven. [Jack's] a soul in turmoil and has been moving from place to place trying to find somewhere he can be at peace," Coto tells the AP. He goes on to reveal some delicious Season 7 spoilers that I won't reprint here, including the tantalizing return of a favorite character believed to be dead. (And the return he talks about actually sounds intriguing, not stupid.)

The bulk of the AP article, however, concerns the 24 webisode series, The Rookie. I knew that the first two Rookie cycles were being included on the upcoming 24 Season 1 Special Edition, but I wasn't really sure what they were. This article makes The Rookie sound pretty cool, though, like a legit 24 spinoff--only chalk full of advertising incorporated into the storyline, apparently! I'll have to check these out.

Apr 29, 2008

New Bond Books Out This Week

As we head into the actual month of the Ian Fleming Centenary, some important new James Bond books are popping up in stores and mailboxes. And what's the first thing I always do when I get a new Bond book? The very last thing one's supposed to do: I judge it by its cover. Can't help it! It's the collector in me.

Ben Macintyre's For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond is a beautifully put together volume. It's essentially a catalog of the Centenary exhibit of the same name currently on display at the Imperial War Museum in London, accompanied by essays by Macintyre. With a book of this nature, its design counts for a lot, and this one's very well designed. (Much better than the somewhat similar James Bond: The Man and His World.) For starters, the dust jacket evokes the author's previous espionage book, Agent Zigzag, in both color scheme and its use of matte and gloss. They look good together, and Agent Zigzag was a hit, so this makes sense. Take that dust jacket off, and enjoy the striking, effective artwork on the book's boards, which nicely literalizes the subtitle: "Ian Fleming and James Bond."

It looks great, and the book is sturdy and sewn. The design inside is just as good: profusely illustrated and well laid out with simple, eye-catching graphics illustrating each chapter break. Designwise inside and out, this is one of the best looking books on Bond in a long while. I can't wait to find out if the text itself lives up to the design!

The newly published British edition of Final Fling, Samantha Weinberg's resonant final volume in her Moneypenny Diaries trilogy (writing again as Kate Westbrook) is also graphically stunning. After two extremely lackluster jacket designs for the first two hardcovers (more likely to put off potential male readers than attract the female ones they're clearly intended to captivate), publisher John Murray has come through with a real winner thanks to the team behind the lovely paperback release of Volume 2, designer Madeline Meckliffe and illustrator Stina Persson. In my opinion, the pair have created the best cover for a Bond novel since the British edition of Raymond Benson's Doubleshot in 2000! I only hope that they design a new cover for the first volume, Secret Servant, so that we eventually have a uniform trilogy in paperback.

The somewhat flimsy construction of the book itself is not as impressive as that of For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond. Like its predecessors in the Moneypenny series, and like most novels printed in the UK today, it's glued instead of sewn, and printed on lightweight paper that feels cheap. All that's okay by me, though, when it's wrapped up in such a spectacular jacket. And even an obsessive collector can admit that it's what's inside that really matters, and I can't wait to plunge into Weinberg's novel and see if the words live up to her last, masterful Bond novel!

Read an interview with Moneypenny cover artist Stina Persson here.
Read my review of The Moneypenny Diaries: Secret Servant here.

Apr 28, 2008

New Spy DVDs Out Today

New Spy DVDs Out Today Alright, after a number of slow weeks on the spy front, today the flood-gates are opened! Prepare to lighten your wallets, spy fans. Young Indiana Jones First up, we've got the final volume of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones Vol. 3: The Years of Change. There are only two more "movies" (amounting to four original episodes) chronicling Young Indy's spy career in this set, but the rest is well worthwhile anyway, especially for Indy fans. "Tales of Innocence" combines the original "Northern Italy 1918" episode (in which Indy contends with ambulance driver Ernest Hemingway for the love of an Italian beauty while running a mission behind enemy lines that requires him to disguise himself with an eyepatch) with a never-aired, never-before-seen adventure in which French Intelligence sends Indy undercover in the Foreign Legion to root out a traitor supplying North African insurgents with the latest French weaponry. While the first half of the story is fairly light on spying, the latter half is definitely espionage-heavy. "Masks of Evil" (which was previously available on VHS) puts together one of the best and most poignant of Indy's espionage escapades, the heavily Ashenden-inspired "Istanbul 1918" with his never-aired first ever run-in with the supernatural, "Transylvania 1918." The former finds Indy undercover in the heart of the enemy Ottoman Empire, unable to reveal his true identity to the woman he loves. MI-5's Peter Firth guest stars. The latter sees Indy assigned to investigate troop disappearances in the Carpathians and coming face to face with Dracula (Jurassic Park's Bob Peck in Nosferatu mode), hellbent on creating a vampire army of his own. As with the other volumes in this series, the copious documentaries included on each disc are all incredibly impressive, and I went straight to the one on Dracula. You won't actually learn as much about the historical personage as I expected, but it does trace the Count's popularity in popular culture from Stoker's book, through Lugosi and Lee, right up to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Interesting. I certainly didn't expect to see Buffy and Spike in a Young Indy documentary!
Indy's spy career ends with the conclusion of WWI, but his adventuring career begins in earnest with "Treasure of the Peacock's Eye." "Winds of Change" combines the original "Paris 1919" episode (about the peace conference that followed the First World War) with a new, never-before-seen (except for bits that were cannibalized to frame the original USA broadcast of "Travels With Father") homecoming story in which Indy is reunited with his estranged father (Lloyd Owen, doing an impressive Sean Connery) for the first time since running away from home to join the Mexican Revolution. "The Scandal of 1920" is a joyous Broadway farce, and "Hollywood Follies" follows Indy's brief career in pictures. The real treat of this set, though, is the DVD debut of "Mystery of the Blues." This episode (originally aired on ABC as a two-hour "movie event") features a wrap-around story with Harrison Ford as a bearded, 51-year-old Indiana Jones narrating the main event, which finds Indy learning jazz from Sidney Bechet (Casino Royale's Jeffrey Wright) and eventual "We Have All the Time in the World" crooner Louis Armstrong while investigating Al Capone with a young Elliott Ness. But it's Ford's bit that's a cause for celebration for Indy completists: finally, on the eve of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, we have Indy's first 1950s adventure (complete with John Williams' theme and a car chase through a snowstorm) on DVD! Like the first two volumes, The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Vol. 3: The Years of Change is essential viewing not only for spy fans and Indy fans, but fans of good television in general.
I Spy You can actually pick up all three seasons of I Spy for less than the cost a single volume of Young Indy, thanks to Image's new priced-to-sell remastered discs. (At Best Buy they're just $12.99 apiece.) Image's initial collections of I Spy (three boxes of episodes in a random order) were the first TV-on-DVD releases to take advantage of the then brand new slimline DVD cases; the new season sets are even more compact... but now behind the times in terms of DVD packaging technology. They're in five-disc flippers as thick as an old double, even though Paramount now manages to pack such flippers into cases the width of a single DVD! (These things are important to people whose shelves are long out of room for discs.) Enough about the packaging! What's the show about!? Well, Robert Culp poses as a playboy tennis pro, and Bill Cosby as his trainer. Of course, they're both, in fact, spies. I Spy is a Sixties spy show in a more serious, Mission: Impossible vein than The Avengers or later seasons of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Its primary advantage over all those shows, though, is that I Spy was actually shot on location around the world instead of on the same Hollywood backlots that constantly (and unconvincingly) doubled for other countries on the other programs. For this alone, it's arresting viewing, but Culp and Cosby also have great chemistry together, and a parade of talented guest stars (including Jason King himself, Peter Wyngarde) keep things interesting. The Robert Culp audio commentaries and occasional isolated music tracks are retained from the original releases, and the picture and sound have supposedly been remastered. Intelligence
Today you can also pick up Acorn Media's release the first season of Intelligence, a drama about Canadian spies, of all things (and that's a President's Analyst reference, my Canuck friends, not a knock on Canada!). The first season is 14 episodes and stars former Max Headroom and former Sherlock Holmes actor Matt Frewer. I don't know anything about his series or about the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), so my interest is definitely piqued. The Golden Compass Finally, we also have Daniel Craig's big budget fantasy extravaganza The Golden Compass in stores today. The whole affair felt kind of flat to me, but Craig was good and the Oscar-winning art direction by Dennis Gassner was outstanding. I mention this because Gassner is also art director on Craig's next movie, something called Quantum of Solace. Note that Best Buy offers an exclusive version in their stores with over forty minutes of bonus footage. Since so much of Craig's Lord Asriel was cut from the finished film (including the whole end of the book), it's possible that this will be included on the Best Buy disc. [UPDATE: Never mind. The Best Buy disc comes with forty minutes of behind-the-scenes bonus footage, not deleted scenes.] These exclusives tend to go quickly, though, so if you want one, you better pick it up today rather than on Ebay for $50 down the road!
Tradecraft: Playing Catch-Up

Sidney Bristow, Producer

Alias star Jennifer Garner has started her own production company with partner Juliana Janes and signed a first look deal with Warner Bros., according to Variety. "To start with, we'll develop material as potential starring vehicles for me," Garner said. "I'd have to be pretty passionate about something to commit to the project if I wasn't intending to be in it." Accordingly, the actress's Vandalia Films' initial slate is pretty heavy on romantic comedies, but does boast one title of interest to spy fans: an adaptation of Queen & Country vets Anthony Johnston (also responsible for the Alex Rider comics) and Mike Hawthorne's graphic novel Three Days In Europe. While the genre is more caper than spy, it's a great comic, and the comedic romantic adventure is also good middle ground for Garner somewhere between Alias and 13 Going On 30. Hugh Jackman is set to be her co-star.
(Via Michael May's Adventureblog)

(Film) Executive Actions

Film exec Charles Segars has taken action by acquiring Gary Grossman's trilogy of novels about DIA (and later Secret Service) agent Scott Roarke. "The books in the deal include Executive Actions, Executive Treason and an upcoming third novel in the series," reports Variety. The Manchurian-esque first novel follows Roarke's attempts to thwart a long-term sleeper agent eying the Presidency of the United States.

DreamWorks Eyes Real-Life Spy Thriller

The newly redesigned Hollywood Reporter reveals that DreamWorks is in negotiations to acquire a new CIA thriller from World Trade Center screenwriter Andrea Berloff. In keeping with its cloak-and-dagger themes, little is known about the project except that it's "based on the true story of two spies in the upper levels of the intelligence agency."

Acker's a Doll Now

Aintitcool reports that Angel co-star Amy Acker has joined the cast of Joss Whedon's upcoming Fox secret agent show, Dollhouse. Acker is no stranger to spy TV, her villainous Kelly Peyton was one of the highlights of Alias' final season. Dollhouse stars Eliza Dushku as a secret agent whose mind is wiped clean after each mission in order to create a whole new identity. Dushku, however, starts slowly gaining consciousness of her world and her confusing place in it.

More Austin Powers Rumors

Aintitcool also ran a story recently citing a Boston.com article as saying that a fourth Austin Powers movie was closer than thought to being a reality. According to the report, the script is finished and a leading lady has even already been cast: supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Previous rumors had hinted at a scenario focusing on Dr. Evil and his band of baddies rather than Austin. Even though the original was fairly brilliant, after two mediocre sequels I can't really get too excited over the prospect of more Mike Meyers spy shenanigans. The one upside, however, is that a new Powers title is sure to get studios sifting though their back catalogs for legit groovy Sixties spy movies to put on DVD around the time of its release, and that's really worth it right there! It was Goldmember, after all, that originally coaxed the Flint movies out of Fox, along with Fathom and Modesty Blaise...

Apr 24, 2008

Deborah Lipp Reviews The Bond Code

Deborah Lipp is a good writer. That's what makes her Ultimate James Bond Fan Book stand out from the glut of similar product on the market. And that's what makes her blog fun to read. But today's post, a review of a recent, self-published book about supposed occult elements in Ian Fleming's Bond novels, is particularly interesting because she is so uniquely suited to write such a review (apparently moreso than the author is to write such a book!). Lipp has expertise (and blogs) in both those fields: Bond and the occult. So it's fascinating to see her pick apart all the inaccuracies and false connections in Philip Gardiner's The Bond Code. I suspect reading this review is more informative (and entertaining) than reading the book itself would be. By the way, don't skip to the conclusion, as Lipp modestly suggests; the meat of the article is in the middle!

Apr 23, 2008

OSS 117 Goes Wider Theatrically!

More good news on OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies: not only is it getting US distribution next month, but it's a wider release than I first reported, in a number of cities throughout the country! Here is the current roll-out, courtesy of Music Box Films. Look for a city near you. It's honestly worth a few hours' drive to support this kind of release in America.

Read more about OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies on the official website.

May 9
Landmark Sunshine (NY)
Landmark NuArt (LA)
Landmark Lumiere (San Francisco)
Landmark Shattuck (Berkeley)
Landmark Varsity (Seattle)
Rafael Film Center (San Rafael)
Regency South Coast Village (Santa Ana/Costa Mesa)

May 16
Landmark Kendall (Boston)
Landmark Ken Cinemas (San Diego)
Laemmle Playhouse 7 (Pasadena)
Cinema 21 (Portland)

May 23
Landmark Uptown (Mineapolis)
Landmark E Street (Washington DC)

May 30
Landmark Century Centre (Chicago)
Landmark Ritz (Philapelphia)

Note that dates are not 100% confirmed, so be sure to check your local listings before making one of those two hour drives!
Diamonds Aren’t Forever: George Lazenby’s Forgotten James Bond Performance

Although he only played James Bond once officially in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, George Lazenby didn’t shy away from cashing in on the image–and even reprising the role in an unofficial capacity–later in his career. Probably most famously, he turned up driving an Aston Martin DB5 as "JB" in The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1983). Less well known is his guest spot on the Eighties revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, credited as "James ..."

In 1988, Lazenby appeared on an episode of the USA anthology series entitled "Diamonds Aren’t Forever." We hear some off-screen voices describing him as a superspy over stock footage of an airplane, and then we see Lazenby lowered into the frame in a parachute harness in front of a rural bed and breakfast. (Yes, it’s an odd setting for an ostensible Bond pastiche!) I should note that he’s not supposed to be being lowered; he’s supposed to actually be parachuting in. The program revels in its low production values, but that really doesn’t excuse them. After landing, Lazenby trades in on mixed Bond iconography, shedding the Union Jack chute to reveal an immaculate white dinner jacket. All the while, a terribly cheesy Bondian theme tune blares, culminating in the chorus, "My guy’s a spy!"

Once George has checked into the B&B, he takes a backseat for a while to the cast of eccentric screwballs sharing the lodging. In a nod to the director whose name the series posthumously exploits, they’re all stock Hitchcock types, played for laughs: taxidermists, psychos, frigid psychoanalysts. Things play out a bit like the opening moments of The Lady Vanishes, but the comedy fails once you realize that this is it; no one’s getting on any train; we’re stuck in this hotel with these oh-so Eighties, sub-par day players. Luckily, we know the whole affair lasts only half an hour, minus commercials, so the prospect of more Lazenby keeps us watching.

George, it should be said, rises above his surroundings. He has fun with the role and embraces the production’s overall silliness. And why shouldn’t he? The entire episode is, after all, crafted around his presence. He introduces himself by saying, "My name is–" only to be drowned out by a loud crash, "James– " more noises. This becomes a running gag. In his hotel room, Lazenby receives a videotaped briefing addressed to "Mr. James [static]." His mission (which apparently he chooses to accept) is to retrieve some sort of Macguffin before a Soviet spy (posing as one of the other guests) can get his or her hands on it. Simple enough.

Lazenby clearly enjoys instructing the barman not to stir his martini, and has fun with the script’s playful, intentionally bad double entendres. When another character asks if he’s a bird lover, he replies, "Well, in a manner of speaking." Yes, it’s a groaner, but I’ll be damned if ol’ George doesn’t pull it off! He always did have what it took to deliver Bondian banter, and age has only improved him. Too bad this is the only sort of thing he got to show for it in the Eighties.

When the hotel proprietor is done away with (guests argue over whether the proper term for the murder weapon is "sickle" or "scythe"), James ... assembles all the guests in the lobby for interrogation, but has to confess that "drawing room sleuthing is really not my forte. I’m much better at big action-type situations." He goes on to insist, "We all have our specialties. I swear that if any one of you were chasing me in a rocket sled, you’d be minced tarts."

The woefully cheap-looking Alfred Hitchcock Presents (not to be confused with the wonderful black and white series whose title it borrows) certainly doesn’t have the budget for rocket sleds (whatever those are), but it does manage to offer up its own version of an "action-type situation." Several thugs (for some reason) attack Lazenby, and he defends himself with chairs and fists. Something that’s supposed to sound like the Bond theme kicks in on the soundtrack, but it much more closely resembles Bill Conti’s disco score to For Your Eyes Only. Lazenby satisfies fan curiosity (and perhaps his own) by offering his interpretations of some classic 007 one-liners, explaining that one impaled foe "got the point," and dryly intoning, "Shocking!" after electrocuting another with a bulbless lamp, ala The Spy Who Loved Me. (The lamp, I mean, obviously, not the line!)

Eventually a villain is revealed, and gets as far as, "Goodbye, Mr. James–" before being shot by the requisite big-haired hottie, who turns out to be Lazenby’s ally and lover. Another baddie pops up at the last second, but our hero turns and fires at him, like Daniel Craig at the beginning of Casino Royale, as a gunbarrel-like target sight swallows him up. On that iconic image, credits role and we get a longer reprisal of that "My Guy’s A Spy" song.

The "Diamonds Aren’t Forever" episode of USA’s revived Alfred Hitchcock Presents is a nice curiosity for Lazenby fans like myself, but hardly essential. You’re better off using your resources to track down one of his hard-to-find Seventies action films, like Stoner. I don’t know if the updated Alfred Hitchcock Presents (which utilized colorized versions of Hitch’s famous introductions from the original series) was any good when it first began, but by this point it’s mainly tired gags and embarrassing production values. Despite all that, though, I must admit that there’s a certain undeniable thrill for anyone who loves On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in seeing George Lazenby reprise his most famous role, no matter what the circumstances!

Apr 22, 2008

New Spy DVDs Out Today

After a few quiet weeks on the spy DVD front, things start heating up again this week. Today, Mike Nichols' 80s CIA dramady Charlie Wilson's War (full review here) hits shelves from Universal, featuring a Making-Of documentary and a featurette called "Who Is Charlie Wilson" which promises "a profile of the real Charlie Wilson" with interviews with Charlie Wilson, Tom Hanks, Aaron Sorkin and others. Retail is $29.98. Then in the coming weeks, spy fans can look forward to the I Spy reissues and Mission: Impossible Season 4 among other things!
Long Lost, Unused Never Say Never Again Theme Song

Tim Lucas at Video WatchBlog has unearthed a long-lost theme song composed for Never Say Never Again, but ultimately discarded in favor of the Lani Hall/Michel Legrand song we all know and... know. The unused song was composed by Stephen Forsyth and Jim Ryan and performed by Phyllis Hyman. I can't say I'm as enthusiastic about the composition as Tim is, but it's certainly a fascinating discovery. I always love hearing Bond songs that might have been, whether it's the rejected "You Only Live Twice" on The Best of James Bond 30th Anniversary CD (the first CD I ever owned) or Pulp's stab at "Tomorrow Never Dies."

Head on over to Video WatchBlog to hear Hyman's version of "Never Say Never Again."

Apr 21, 2008

Kim Possible On iTunes

While there's still no news of the DVD season box sets I so crave, alert reader Daniel Hurlston has brought it to my attention that almost all the episodes are now available for download on iTunes, at least. Seasons 3 and 4 are available in their entirety and all of Season 2 is up there except for "The Golden Years" and "Queen Bebe;" Season 1 for some reason omits the episodes "Crush," "Coach Possible," "King Pain vs. Cleopatra," "Kimitation Nation" and "Ron the Man." Oddly, only the final part of the three episode "movie" A Sitch in Time is available. Weird. Season 2's "Blush" is a personal favorite I recommend for those unfamiliar with the adventures of the teenage superspy.
Spies For Sale

Deepdiscount.com is running a pretty good sale on select A&E titles that includes some pretty amazing discounts on some great spy titles. Get Danger Man: The Complete First Season (that's just the half-hour episodes, mind you; not the megaset (reviewed here) with those and the hour-long ones) for $32.48 instead of $99.95, get Danger Mouse: The Complete Series (reviewed here) for $29.23 (down from $89.95), The Protectors: The Complete Season 1 for $25.98 instead of $79.95, or pick up various Avengers sets for just $6.48 apiece.

Apr 20, 2008

Ultimate Nick Fury Action Figure On The Way

For those who prefer their Nick Fury looking like Samuel L. Jackson, Hasbro has an action figure of the Ultimate Universe version of the character coming this August as part of a Marvel Legends 2-Pack along with WWII Captain America. Sadly (and completely irregardless of which Fury I prefer), the figure itself looks nowhere near as good as the awesome Classic Nick Fury Marvel Legends figure ToyBiz put out several years ago. I'd chalk that up to the line changing companies; none of the Hasbro figures have been up to the standards set by ToyBiz. The new Hasbro figure doesn't even seem to properly capture the Jackson likeness from the comics--though I suppose that could be due to licensing issues with the actor!

In related Nick Fury news, the latest rumors seem to indicate that Jackson's cameo as the one-eyed superspy has been cut out of the final theatrical print of this summer's Iron Man blockbuster.

Apr 19, 2008

Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories US Cover Art

My wish has come true! Amazon has posted retro-styled Richie Fahey cover art for the forthcoming American edition of Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories! And it's a beautiful addition to the rest of the current Penguin paperback line. I think it's a really good idea having a Fleming book on the shelf with a title to match the upcoming movie.

Apr 16, 2008

OSS 117 Comes To America At Last!

I had long since given up any hope of the comic French Eurospy revival OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies ever playing on American screens, thinking I would gladly settle for a legit US DVD release. Now--surprisingly!--thanks to Music Box Films, the 1950s set retro spy flick will indeed open theatrically in the States next month, on its way to a DVD release in the fall! Michel Hazanavicius' clever, loving parody opens May 9 in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles (at the Nuart Theatre). There's even a pretty fabulous American website set up, complete with trailer, stills, games and a brief history of Jean Bruce's literary creation, OSS 117!

No word on whether Chicago-based Music Box Films (named after and associated with my favorite Chicago revival house) plans a wider distribution at any point, but their website does indicate that they will issue the film on DVD in "Fall 2008."

Jean Dujardin (looking suitably Connery-ish thanks in part to Guillaume Schiffman's Sixties-style photography) plays an impossibly self-assured, pompous French secret agent who gives all Westerners a bad name in jet-age Cairo. The company's press material accurately describes the film as "a blithe and witty send-up not only of spy films of that era and the suave secret agent figure but also neo-colonialism, ethnocentrism and the very idea of Western covert action in the Middle East."

That's a pretty good description of this farce, which manages the neat trick of being both smart and slapstick at the same time.

Apr 15, 2008

Double Or Die Now Available In The US

Charlie Higson's third James Bond novel, Double or Die, is now--finally!--available to purchase in the United States. It was published in January of 2007 in the United Kingdom, and succeeded there by a fourth novel, Hurricane Gold, before ever appearing on US shores. To make up for that inexcusable delay, American readers are treated to a much nicer, very atmospheric cover (courtesy of artist Kev Walker) and a hardcover first edition. Like the first two Young Bond volumes, Double or Die debuted in Great Britain as a paperback original--albeit a limited edition one, enclosed in a foil wrapper. There followed another, hardcover, slipcased limited edition in the fall--in signed and rare unsigned variants. The US publication is still the first trade edition offered in hardcover. It is the same size as the two previous American hardcovers, and adheres to the same design scheme as Blood Fever, even though that was published by Miramax/Hyperion and this is published by Hyperion/DBG.

I really hope that American Bond fans are all reading this series. As I've said many times, though the premise of James Bond's adventures as a boy may sound ludicrous at first, Higson is a first-class novelist who has crafted some really great Bond stories. His "James" (as he is called, instead of "Bond") may be a boy, but he is clearly the adolescent version of Ian Fleming's Bond. You can clearly picture this character growing into the man generations of readers know and love, particularly in Double or Die. Charlie Higson optimistically described Double or Die as a rebirth for Young Bond in the States, but I've seen no sign of that so far--no big marketing campaign, no book tour, no big push in bookstores or libraries, no newspaper giveaway of the companion Young Bond Rough Guide to London. Therefore, I feel that I have to do my part and urge whatever readers haven't yet checked out this great series to do so now!

Amazon lists an April 22 release date for Double or Die, but it has turned up in bookstores early, including numerous locations in the Borders chain. Pick one up today!

For in-depth coverage on all things Young Bond, check out the Young Bond Dossier.

Apr 13, 2008

DVD Review: Hitman (2007)

The one scene that more than any other exemplifies all that is (in its way) great and all that is completely ludicrous about Hitman is one in which Timothy Olyphant’s titular hitman, Agent 47, impersonates an arms buyer named Mr. Price and infiltrates the lair of a sleazy Russian arms dealer named Udre (Lost’s Henry Ian Cusick). Everything is absolutely over-the-top. Udre surrounds himself with barely-dressed prostitutes and young men in equally skimpy outfits, including odd bits of metal wherever feasible. (Like weird, quasi-medieval helmet-masks.) Cusick has a ball playing up the character’s sleaze, employing an appropriately hammy Russian accent and licking (yes, licking) lines of coke off the bodies of the prostitutes with great relish. Agent 47 soon crashes his party by sliding a briefcase full of cash–and a bomb–across the table. The bomb explodes, and the cash flies everywhere, fluttering down in slow motion on the ensuing carnage like snowflakes. Why bother to fill the briefcase with cash at all if it’s really a bomb? Purely for that visual. The scene then plays out almost entirely in slowed-down or sped-up motion, with Agent 47 shooting up everyone in the room except for the women. The action isn’t particularly stylish or balletic in the John Woo/Luc Besson way it desperately wants to be, but it’s all so ridiculously over the top that it can’t possibly be taken seriously. The same can be said for the entire movie, and it’s the very trait that makes it enjoyable.

The general ludicrousness of the whole affair is also one of the traits that led me to compare Hitman to Sixties Eurospy movies when it first came out, and I stand by that assessment today. In fact, the producers themselves bear it out in the 24-minute DVD feature "In the Crosshairs: The Making of Hitman," even if they don’t use the term "Eurospy" specifically. "The character of 47 is very much an international character... and many of his adventures take place overseas, particularly in Europe and Eastern Europe," comments an American producer. His European counterpart notes, in appropriately accented English, "Is not specifically a film of professional assassin; is more close to the spy film." They go on to talk about the mostly European crew, and working with such a diverse international cast. The same comments could easily be made about just about any classic Eurospy production. It’s very interesting to see this Sixties production model still in effect today!

Director Xavier Gens (who doesn’t look much like a director, somehow) and actors Timothy Olyphant and Dougray Scott, as well as former Bond baddie Ulrich Thomsen and future Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko, also contribute to the documentary. Regrettably, it’s one of those pieces that mostly consists of everyone saying why everyone else is right for the part, or right for the direction, etc. At times, the participants even sound like they’re still trying to convince themselves that they made the right decision!

Gens helpfully explains the main character’s arc, which is nice because it’s never that clear in the movie. Basically, as he sees it, Olga’s wayward prostitute character helps Agent 47 grow as a character and not just be a cold-blooded killer anymore. Kurylenko adds, "I think he gets touched by, uh, by her, because he sees... a little reflection of himself in her. And that happens when he notices her tattoo. He has a tattoo, too, on the back of his head and she has a tattoo on her cheek. So I guess that’s what makes him feel closer to her. He can identify with her somehow."

I’m glad Olga clears that up, because it isn’t discernible from their typical interactions in the film! At one point, her character tries to seduce 47, climbing on top of him and commenting (quite aptly), "So good with firearms; not so good with ladies and their garments." He tries to squirm out from under her, prompting the warning, "Careful! I’m not wearing any panties." That’s about all he can handle, so he says simply, "This is a very bad idea." And knocks her out.

So it’s lucky that the special features clarify this ambiguous relationship!

Another featurette, the 10-minute "Digital Hits," focuses on the video game. It contains interviews with game developers, as well as plenty of shots of action-packed gameplay. There’s not much of interest to non-gamers, but it does give the unfamiliar the opportunity to see how close the art direction of the film sticks to the designs in the games.

In the 14-minute "Instruments of Destruction," Weapons Coordinator Christophe Maratier takes us through the filmmakers’ choices of hardware for Hitman, and discusses each gun, even going so far as to demonstrate it on a firing range. The featurette actually turns out to be significantly more than just porn for gun-nuts, though; he also talks about safety aspects of handling weapons on set, and he and the crew discuss certain bits (like 47 crossing his arms with a gun in each hand) that make no sense whatsoever from a tactical perspective, but simply look cool on film.

"Settling the Score" is a 5-minute look at composer Geoff Zanelli’s not-particularly-memorable score for the movie. Soundtrack buffs will find no particularly revelatory insights in the interview with Zanelli, but it provides a decent overview of what a composer does for someone who’s never given it any thought before, and there’s some brief B-roll of the orchestra recording.

Rounding out the special features are a particularly weak, Dougray-centric gag reel and five deleted scenes, ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes and mostly dealing with a wisely-excised subplot about an African warlord. They offer a few more bikini babes, a little more blood, a lot more slow motion, and a new assassination in which 47 disguises himself–a technique I gather he employs frequently in the videogames. The best one is an alternate version of the train sequence in which 47 fights and questions one of his former compatriots. The cut version is a pretty good action sequence, and actually better than what was eventually used in the film. There’s also a slightly baffling and much more downbeat alternate ending with more Kurylenko. If the movie itself had had a little more depth, this conclusion might have been more effective, but as things stand it would have proved pretty incongruous at the end of a mindless slice of escapist schlock.

Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with escapist schlock, especially in the Eurospy genre. If your goal is nothing more than a feather-light distraction for an hour and change, Hitman fits the bill–especially on DVD, where expectations are generally lower than in the theater. Olga Kurylenko remains the primary attraction, even if she doesn’t really get much to do. She stood out for me the first time I saw this movie, though, and now that she’s since become a Bond Girl, she does even moreso. I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with a meatier role, assuming that Paul Haggis & Co. have written her one!

Hitman is certainly worth a rental for fans of the Eurospy genre, and the special features on the two-disc edition are probably better than the movie deserves, so that’s a nice bonus. The fact that it even is two discs, though, is a rip-off. All of the features fit on the first disc (but don’t come on the standard, single-disc edition); Disc 2 is reserved exclusively for an idiotic "digital copy" of the film. I can’t imagine that many people really want Hitman on their iPod, but if you want the well-made bonus content, then you need to shell out for the cumbersomely-named "Digital Copy Special Edition" anyway.

Apr 9, 2008

Hemispheres Contest Winners

Sorry again for my delay in posting the winners on this one. Congratulations to the following (00)7 Bond fans, each of whom have the Bond-filled April issue of United Airlines' Hemsipheres Magazine winging its way towards them in the mail right now. And if you didn't win, take heart: you can still get the magazine for $7.50 without flying anywhere; you just have to call 877-569-4946. And you might win the next Double O Section contest! Stay tuned.

John Quiring of AL, USA
Dennis McPeek of OH, USA
Gareth-Michael Skarka of KS, USA
Steve Lefebvre of CA, USA
Kevin J. Morrell of MD, USA
Mark Henderson of TN, USA
Brad Kupiak of Manitoba, Canada

Put your seatbacks in their upright positions and enjoy the read!
New Eurospy DVD On The Way

Johan at the Eurospy Forum noticed a new Eurospy release slated from Wild East on their website: The Cobra (1967). It's part of a Peter Martell double-feature disc along with the Spaghetti Western Ringo the Lone Rider. They promise the theatrical cut in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with English language audio. The Cobra co-stars Dana Andrews and Anita Ekberg.

Late last year, Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright held a film festival of movies he likes in Los Angeles, and played appropriately-themed trailers with them. On his "'80s Action Night," he mistakenly played the trailer for the '67 Cobra instead of the similarly-named '80s Stallone movie. While it was a little disappointing not to see the truly stupefying Stallone trailer (which would have fit in perfectly preceding The Last Boyscout), I was enthralled by the trailer for the Peter Martell film. Truth be told, it looked more detective than spy, but exhibited all the Sixties stylistic hallmarks I look for in a good Eurospy flick. Therefore, I'm really looking forward to seeing this one!

The question is, what ever happened to Wild East's planned release of a Spy Double Feature: Red Dragon and Five Golden Dragons, which was announced late last year, then disappeared from their website entirely?
More Great Quantum of Solace Pictures!

EON is really spoiling us with Quantum of Solace pictures this week. On top of those great ones at USAToday (as well as some in good articles at IGN and Rotten Tomatoes), there's a slew of good high res images (including the ones from those other articles, plus some I haven't seen elsewhere) up at SlashFilm.
(Thanks, Bish!)

Apr 8, 2008

Felix Leiter Blog

Be sure to check out this new blog dedicated to "James Bond's brother from Langley." In the books, Felix Leiter is a great foil for 007, and they share a camaraderie rarely conveyed on screen. My own favorite screen Felix was Jack Lord, although Rick Van Nutter was pretty good too (and closer to Fleming's description of the CIA man), and David Hedison certainly earned his return appearance. My least favorite incarnation was Goldfinger's Cec Linder. I sincerely hope that Jeffrey Wright's Felix will have a chance to develop a strong friendship with Daniel Craig's Bond, although FelixLeiter.com's report on Quantum of Solace indicates probably not, as the character's role has apparently been cut down in the movie.

Also not to miss on FelixLeiter.com: this delightfully hideous Jack Lord tiki mug! Quite a find!
Contest Results Coming Later...

I apologize for the delay in announcing the winners of the Hemispheres Magazine James Bond contest; personal issues have gotten in the way of blogging the last few days. I'll have the winners posted soon.

Apr 7, 2008

New Titan Cover Art

This may be old news, but I just noticed it. New cover images have appeared on Amazon.co.uk for the next volumes in Titan's James Bond and Modesty Blaise series of comic strip reprints. Yellowstone Booty features artwork in its titular story (plus rare sketches!) by the great John Burns, who only drew a couple of Modesty adventures, but whose spy oeuvre went on to include 007 and, more recently, Marvel's Silver Sable. Unfortunately, all of his spy works have gone unfinished. Dark Horse cancelled the promising James Bond: A Silent Armageddon after only two of its four issues were published (supposedly due to Burns' lateness with the art--though I've heard that at least pencils exist somewhere for the unreleased issues) and Marvel shrunk the Sable & Fortune series from six issues to four (if memory serves), only three of which were completed by Burns. (Again, rumors of tardiness swirled around the project.) His third and final Modesty strip (presumably set for the next volume), "Eve and Adam," was finished by Pat Wright. I don't know if Burns is cursed or if he brings it upon himself, but it's a shame because his work is fantastic. His Bond is one of my favorites, his Felix Leiter is dead-on, and he even draws a mean Aston Martin Vantage.

Another one of my favorite Bond artists, John McClusky, returns to 007 with the stories in The Paradise Plot. True, late era McClusky is quite different from his astonishing Fifties and Sixties work, but isn't that a great cover? It's great to see his Bond front and center on a Titan volume again!

Apr 5, 2008

Tradecraft For April 5, 2008

More Big Screen Ludlum!

According to The Hollywood Reporter, MGM has beaten out Fox, Bourne studio Universal and others in an intense bidding war for Robert Ludlum's 1979 novel The Materese Circle. Variety adds that the studio is rumored to have paid $3 million dollars for the book deal. How does a 1979 book suddenly generate such heat? Simple: when Denzel Washington is attached to star! The project was shopped by ICM as a package with Washington attached to play American secret agent Bradley Scofield (no word yet on who will play his Russian partner, Vasili Taleniekov) and 3:10 to Yuma writers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas attached to pen the script. The Reporter points out that "Matarese could be attractive to studios seeking a new franchise" because "the property is the only other Ludlum invention [besides Bourne] to feature more than one novel; a second book, The Matarese Countdown, was published in 1997." They're not, strictly speaking, correct of course; Ludlum also penned a pair of related comedic novels, The Road to Gandolfo and The Road to Omaha. Still, the Reporter is basically right, as the former was originally published (in 1975) under a pseudonym, and neither is particularly attractive as a modern day film--or typical of the author.

I'm very excited about Robert Ludlum's sudden, posthumous, post-Bourne popularity in Hollywood. Most of his books would make excellent spy movies. I hope this deal creates some traction at Paramount on The Chancellor Manuscript, to which Leonardo DiCaprio is attached to star.

Kill The Messenger

Variety reports that "Universal is developing a feature called Kill the Messenger based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb. The San Jose Mercury News reporter committed suicide after being the target of a smear campaign when he linked the CIA to a scheme to arm Contra rebels in Nicaragua and import cocaine into California." The studio optioned two books: Webb's own Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion and Kill the Messenger: How the CIA's Crack-Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb by Webb's friend/competitor, journalist Nick Schou. Peter Landesmann (Trade) will write the script from both sources, and Scott Stuber will produce. Landesmann describes the project as "the story of a reporter killed for telling the truth," and says "it's poignant and relevant as the CIA and U.S. government continue to make nefarious deals with the devil for what they believe is the greater good."

Barry Eisler's John Rain Comes To The Silver Screen

Also according to Variety, Gary Oldman is in negotiations to join the cast of Rain Fall, a film being adapted from Barry Eisler's bestselling book of the same name. Presumably Oldman would play the rotten CIA Station Chief in Tokyo. The book, set in Japan and featuring a Japanese-American hitman hero, is being adapted by director Max Mannix as a $7 million Japanese movie with roughly 85% Japanese language dialogue, according to the trade. I haven't read any of Eisler's books yet myself, but I've had them recommended by quite a few people now and they sound interesting; I'll have to check one out.

More Spying For Clive Owen

He may not have been Bond, but Clive Owen can't seem to get spying out of his blood. Following his role as an Interpol agent in Tom Tykwer's eagerly-anticipated (by me, anyway!) thriller The International, Owen will portray a corporate spy in Tony Gilroy's industrial espionage film Duplicity. Gilroy, the writer of all three Bourne movies as well as last year's Michael Clayton (which he also directed), spins a tale of what Variety calls "corporate one-upmanship" waged between business titans Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti. Closer co-stars Owen and Julia Roberts "play two spies-turned-corporate operatives who work on opposite sides but are having a clandestine love affair." An intriguing premise, a great cast, a talented writer-director with lots of spy experience under his belt... Sounds like another one to look out for!
"Walther PPK. 7.65mm. Standard Issue... British Secret Service"

USAToday has a great, in-depth story on Quantum of Solace. And some great new pictures, too, including this one, which I love! So is Bond back to using a Walther PPK? Sure looks like it here!
(Thanks, Bish!)