Jan 25, 2011

New Spy DVDs Out This Week

Wow, there is a deluge of new spy titles available this week!  An embarrassment of riches sure to make spy fans poor... but satisfied.  And a lot of it is really essential stuff, too.

MI-5: Volume 8
It feels like it's been forever since we had the last volume of MI-5 (known as Spooks in its native Britain), but I guess it's really only been a year. It always seems so long between these releases, but the next volume always arrives just in time to quench my thirst for this compelling, addictive and consistently solid UK spy series.  (We actually won't have to wait so long for Volume 9, however; BBC has already announced that they'll release it this summer putting America somewhat more on track with the UK release schedule.) MI-5: Volume 8 sees the usual threats to British security and (I hear) the usual high fatality rate amongst the regulars. But it also sees the rare return of someone who left the show: Ruth Evershed. The 3-disc set is happily somewhat cheaper than previous volumes, with an SRP of $39.98, though it can currently be found on Amazon for just $27.99.

Man in a Suitcase: Set 1
Man, any single one of these titles would make this a good week for spy releases! Acorn treats American spy fans to this ITC classic for the first time. The titular Man in a Suitcase, McGill (Richard Bradford) is a spy disavowed by American Intelligence after being set up, forced to take jobs as a freelancer operating out of London. (When you're burned, you're burned!) Man in a Suitcase has a reputation as being darker and grittier than other popular ITC series like The Saint and Danger Man, and it is... but it's still not as dark and certainly not as bleak as something like Callan. In fact, it strikes a happy medium likely to appeal in equal measure to fans of Callan and The Saint. Acorn's Set 1 (in a very attractive four-disc flipper case) contains the show's first fifteen episodes, amounting to half of its entire first season. It doesn't include any of the extras found on the Region 4 or Region 2 releases, but it does look amazing–better than I've ever seen it look before. The weird thing is the order that the episodes are presented in. I guess it must be the original broadcast order, though it's not production order. The upshot is that the first episode produced, "Man From the Dead," which serves wonderfully as a pilot and sets up the show's premise, doesn't come until Disc 2. Acorn's set instead begins with "Brainwash," which is certainly a flashier episode less bogged down by exposition, but not really a great one to start with. I'd recommend watching "Man From the Dead" first. Also among the fifteen episodes in this set are "Variation on a Million Bucks, Part 1" and "Variation on a Million Bucks, Part 2," notable because they were edited together into the feature film To Chase a Million for theatrical release in Europe, making this the first official Region 1 release of that Eurospy movie, albeit in two parts. Retail is $59.99, but Amazon's got it for $44.99.

Wish Me Luck: Series 2
Acorn alone is spoiling spy fans today. In addition to Man in a Suitcase, the company also releases Wish Me Luck: Series 2. While Series 1 of this fact-based, wartime espionage drama about the women who worked for Britain's Special Operations Executive and parachuted into occupied France to risk their lives for their country had seen a Region 1 release prior to Acorn's reissue, Series 2 has never before been available on DVD in the U.S. Spy favorite Julian Glover co-stars with Kate Buffery, Lynn Farleigh, Jane Snowden and Jane Asher. Retail is $39.99, but it's currently ten bucks cheaper on Amazon.

One of last year's most entertaining spy movies, RED, is out today from Summit Entertainment as a Special Edition DVD, a Special Edition Blu-ray and a movie-only Blu-ray. Some of the intriguing extras on the DVD include deleted and extended scenes and an audio commentary with Retired (but presumably not Extremely Dangerous) CIA field officer Robert Baer (the model for George Clooney's character in Syriana, who also recently contributed to a featurette on the From Paris With Love DVD). The Blu-ray contains all that as well as an "Access: RED" feature boasting "a variety of scene-specific features including interviews with cast members, animated documentary shorts on controversial CIA operations, and more." Sounds cool! RED stars Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Karl Urban, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Mary Louise Parker, Richard Dreyfuss and Brian Cox. Read my full review here.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Music Box Films releases the final Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson's international phenomenon The Millennium Trilogy today on both DVD and Blu-ray. (Daniel Craig stars in an American take on the material filming now.) The series started as a very, very dark sort of Agatha Christie-type mystery with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, then ventured into Robert Ludlum territory in its second installment, The Girl Who Played With Fire and finally blossoms into a full-fledged spy thriller in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. I've only seen the first movie so far (which was quite good), but I loved the books and I'm eager to see the others. If you haven't gotten any of them yet, though, and think you'll want them all, you might want to hold off for The Stieg Larsson Trilogy, which will collect all three films, along with an exclusive bonus disc, available on both DVD and Blu-ray next month.

Operation C.I.A.
From the Warner Archive comes their first foray in quite a while into Sixties spydom... Operation C.I.A. starring a young, mustacheless Burt Reynolds. Their website promises "An exploding motorbike. Air-conditioning ducts spewing cyanide gas. Terrorists, beautiful women, lethal snakes, butt-kicking action and a young Burt Reynolds: Operation C.I.A. has ’em all!" Well, yes, technically I guess it does. (Though the action really isn't that "butt-kicking.") But you can kind of tell from that copy that they're grasping at straws to make this rather dull 1965 entry in the global spy sweepstakes sparked by the success of 007 sound more interesting than it really is. But maybe Operation C.I.A. (which is kind of a bad name for a clandestine spy operation, if you think about it) is one of those movies that takes on a whole new life when you finally see a high-quality version instead of the shoddy transfer that's been circulating for years. I'm probably going to find out. Because while the copy doesn't sell me on it... I have to admit, that cover art does. That's the kind of poster that will have me shelling out hard-earned cash for a movie I know is a bit of a stinker! As I'm sure everyone knows, Warner Archive titles are made to order, burnt on demand on DVD-Rs.

The Kremlin Letter
John Huston's all-star spy drama The Kremlin Letter, long conspicuously absent on DVD despite frequent airings on the Fox Movie Channel, finally makes it to disc today as the first title in Fox's new limited edition specialty line, Twilight Time. Adapted from the novel by Noel Behn, The Kremlin Letter follows a young Naval Intelligence officer (Patrick O'Neal) recruited by a network of aging spies to retrieve a letter critical to American Intelligence from Moscow. The impressive cast includes Orson Welles, George Sanders, Dean Jagger, Nigel Green, Max von Sydow, Richard Boone, Raf Vallone and Huston himself. Twilight Time is intended as Fox's answer to the MOD programs at Columbia, Warner Bros. and other companies, with one major difference: these are factory-pressed DVDs, not burnt DVD-Rs. In the interest of keeping things classy and giving consumers their money's worth, Fox also plans to include special features on these discs. They're supposed to be available exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment, and The Kremlin Letter is supposed to be available today... but I can't find any sign of it so far. Keep your eyes peeled! In the meantime, read more about Twilight Time and The Kremlin Letter here.

Basil Dearden's London Underground
Finally, The Criterion Collection issues another one of its feature-free but still high-quality Eclipses Series sets, Eclipse Series 25: Basil Dearden's London Underground. There is no spy movie in this collection, but there are a lot of elements that will appeal to spy fans among these Sixties classics. Foremost among them is the Region 1 DVD debut of a rare Patrick McGoohan movie, All Night LongAll Night Long is basically a jazz Othello, casting McGoohan in the Iago role. Real-life jazz legends like Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, and Avengers composer Johnny Dankworth also appear. Besides this McGoohan rarity, spy fans might want to look out for genre stalwart Dirk Bogarde (Modesty Blaise, Hot Enough For June) giving a stellar performance in Victim, and Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes in The League of Gentlemen, the movie that set the template for dozens of heist movies to follow. (And in many ways Mission: Impossible.) Retail for the 4-disc set is $59.95, but after seven other titles, surely you know the drill: cheaper online!

So... enough spy DVDs for you this week? Cripes, that was nearly as much work as the Holiday Shopping Guide! Hopefully we won't all have to wait until next Christmas to get all these titles...


Paul Bishop said...

Wow! What a line up. My spy budget is going to bust. I've ordered up Man In A Suitcase -- a have to have -- and I think I'm going to take a shot at All Night Long as who can resist a jazz Othello?

Bob said...

Hopefully "The Kremlin Letter" will be available. Richard Boone gives a great performance in this film.