Jun 30, 2011

Gary Oldman On Becoming Smiley

While we're on the subject of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy today (thanks to the awesome teaser trailer that just debuted), Gary Oldman recently shared some insights with The Daily Mail's Baz Bamigboye about his upcoming performance as George Smiley in Tomas Alfredson's eagerly anticipated John Le Carré adaptation. "I’ve played so many of these big extrovert characters," he told the columnist, admitting it was the prospect of doing "something that is so still, so quiet" that attracted him to the part of the quiet, pudgy, physically unremarkable yet brilliant, and, occasionally, ruthless spymaster.

According to Bamigboye, "Oldman added Alfredson was very quiet with the camera, taking an almost voyeuristic approach by shooting with long lenses. ‘It was as if he was eavesdropping, like a peeping Tom, which is what you sort of want for a spy film.'" I like the sound of that! And you can kind of get a sense of that approach from the trailer.

Like Alec Guinness, who played the role before him in a terrific BBC miniseries adaptation in 1979, Oldman had lunch with Le Carré himself (whose real name is David Cornwell) and borrowed a few of his mannerisms. (If audiences pick up on these mannerisms, they may attribute them to Guinness rather than Cornwell.) He also "put on a bit of a tummy" to properly portray Smiley, a man who can out-think top-level Soviet strategists and bring down traitors in the government, but can't keep his diet or his wife. "I wanted to be suitably middle-aged, so I ate a lot of treacle sponge and custard on the set and built up a little bit of a middle-aged paunch. I called it eating for George."
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier... Trailer!

This is the big one, 007! This is what we've been waiting for! (And yes, thank you, I'm fully aware of the irony of making a James Bond reference in a Le Carré story.) The Guardian has posted the first teaser trailer for Tomas Alfredson's upcoming spy movie Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, starring Gary Oldman and based on the seminal John Le Carré book which, for my money, is a very strong contender for the best spy novel ever written. The fact that we're seeing this trailer the same week as our first glimpse at the Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol trailer not only delivers spy fans an abundance of riches; it also highlights the wide spectrum of story that all fit within the overall spy genre. M:I-GP is pure action stuffed to the brim with stunts, whereas TTSS is all intrigue and atmosphere (though they do manage to stick in a shot from just about every scene involving a gun, which is appropriate for a teaser!).

As expected (but it still comes as a relief), I love this trailer.  I love the tone, I love the music, I love the hints we get of the performances, I love the cinematography, I love the art direction, I love the Seventies fashions and hairstyles; I love pretty much everything about it.  This is exactly what a spy movie of this sort should look like! I can't wait. Please note, the release date listed at the end is the UK release date. As previously reported, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy will be released in America by Focus Features on November 18.

Jun 28, 2011

Official Mission: Impossible Trailer

We had the low-quality version of the Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol trailer in French this weekend, but now there's no reason to watch that anymore. (Well, unless you're French, I guess, but I'm betting there's a higher quality version of the French trailer out now too!) Paramount has released a high-def official version of the trailer in English. It will be attached to Transformers 3 this week, but if giant robots aren't your thing (and they aren't mine), then here it is. Have at it!

Paul Dark's Bright Future

Author Jeremy Duns had a big update on his blog last week about what the future holds for his Paul Dark spy series, including a title change in Britain, a US publication date (at long last!) for the second book and a BBC adaptation. If you're not familiar with this series and you're reading this blog, well, you really should be! Duns is a true scholar of spy fiction and a true fan as well, and his passion for the genre comes through in spades in his well-written, Sixties-set novels. The first book, Free Agent, is definitely one of my favorite new spy novels of the past few years, and the sequel, Free Country, is a terrific follow-up. One of the things that makes these books so much fun is that Duns has managed the neat trick of bridging both sides of the spy genre: the "desk spy" and the "field spy" in a unique way. While Greg Rucka very successfully follows The Honourable Schoolboy model, simultaneously tracking the connected storylines of the planner at the desk and the agent in the field, Duns opts to go the Smiley's People route, in which the desk man becomes a field man. But while Le Carré's novel puts his quintessential desk man George Smiley back in the field after far too many years as a sort of fish out of water, Duns' hero, Paul Dark, is a man of action closer to James Bond than Smiley who feels more out of his element in the corridors of Whitehall than running through the streets of Rome. Yet Duns himself seems at home writing about either side of the spy world, and contrives a far-fetched yet serviceable scenario to get his high-level intelligence official into car chases and foot chases.

The second book, Free Country, however, is undergoing a title change for its UK paperback edition, due out in August. It will now be known as Song of Treason. Duns reports that the change came about because his publisher "felt there was a danger that Free Country might not signal to those who hadn’t read the first book in the series, Free Agent, that it was a spy thriller." Hm. Personally, I certainly prefer the original title (and like the idea of all three novels in the trilogy beginning with "Free"), but what do I know about publishing? I hope the new title signals its genre well and that the book attracts all the readers is deserves.

As nearly a year has gone by since the book's initial UK hardcover publication, I was starting to despair for the prospects of a US edition of Free Country, but happily Duns reports that it will be out in America, from Penguin, sometime next year, and, unlike the British paperback, it will retain its original title! The third book in the trilogy will also retain its long-time working title of Free World whenever it's finally published in the US, but in Britain and Canada, where it will be out in February 2010, it will (somewhat confusingly) be known by the Ludlumesque moniker of The Moscow Option. It can currently be pre-ordered from Amazon.co.uk for half price, but be warned if you haven't yet read the second book that the synopsis for the third contains spoilers.

But that's not all the Paul Dark news there is! Here's the real cause for celebration, per the author: "Although the trilogy ends there [with Free World/The Moscow Option], Paul Dark does not, as I’ve just signed a new contract with Simon & Schuster and am hard at work on a fourth Dark novel, set in 1971. This continues his story from the first three books, I hope in an unexpected and exciting way." I'm already excited by this unexpected revelation!

Finally, Duns touches on last year's news that the series had been optioned for television by the  BBC. Apparently, development continues apace, with Timothy Prager penning the adaptation. Prager's previous spy experience includes the 1990s TV series The Ambassador (which focused in part on the MI6 operative assigned to Britain's embassy in Ireland) and the 2003 Michael Caine/Michael Keaton thriller Quicksand.

In addition to his novels, Duns' blog, The Debrief, is essential reading for spy fans.

Jun 27, 2011

Paul Haggis to Pen Gabriel Allon Spy Movie?

Way back in 2007 we heard that Universal had acquired Daniel Silva's series of spy novels about former Mossad agent (and Munich avenger) Gabriel Allon and tapped Pierre Morel, then known only for directing District B13 and shooting the first two Transporter movies, to helm. Obviously Morel went on to make a spy name for himself with Taken and From Paris With Love, but his take on Allon seems to have fallen apart. Then in April of this year Deadline reported new movement on the property at Universal, with former NBC topper Jeff Zucker on board to produce. Now The LA Times' 24 Frames blog (via MI6) reports that two-time James Bond screenwriter Paul Haggis (Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) is in talks to write the first movie in the potential franchise, probably drawing from Silva's first Allon book, The Kill Artist. According to the newspaper's Steven Zeitchik, "it's possible Haggis would also direct it, but one of the sources said that the project is in early development and that any decision on a director would be much further off." As a director, Haggis is best known for the Oscar-winning Crash. Silva's most recent Allon book is The Rembrandt Affair; another, Portrait of a Spy, is due next month. (The titles reflect Allon's cover as an art restorer.) It's possible that Haggis will draw from multiple books in crafting the inaugural Allon film.

Jun 26, 2011

Mission: Impossible Trailer Leaked

The trailer for Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (aka Mission: Impossible 4) will debut later this week on prints of Transformers 3. No doubt it will also be officially posted on the web even sooner - maybe even tonight or tomorrow - in a pristine high-def English language version. But if you're anything like me and you absolutely can't wait for that to happen, then head on over right away (before it gets removed) to the French language WhiteBlog (via AICN) and check out a low quality, cammed version of the French trailer for "Mission: Impossibel: Protocole Fantôme." Tom Cruise and Tom Wilkinson (I don't think I even realized he was in it) and Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg and that cool BMW hybrid are all dubbed in French, so unless you speak the language, you won't know what's going on, but the good news is... it does look cool! Like all the movies in the series (as opposed to the TV show that spawned them), the emphasis is definitely on action over intrigue, but it looks like Brad Bird has captured the same spy atmosphere that Brian DePalma tapped into in the first film. There's some wretched music, but overall it looks very good. I can't wait to see the official English language version, which you can bet I'll post here as soon as it goes up.
Catch the Hawk!
Upcoming Spy Screenings: Hudson Hawk in Los Angeles

I saw Bruce Willis's notorious bomb Hudson Hawk in the theater on opening night when I was in middle school. I liked it. I liked it then, and I still like it now, but given its reputation, I certainly never thought I'd ever see it in a theater again. But it turns out I can, and so can anyone else in the LA area on Thursday, July 14, when it will play at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica. At a 20th Anniversary screening, no less! (I can't believe it's been twenty years... but I guess it does seem a long time ago that I remember my friend Jim eloquently explaining the movie to our French teacher the following Monday with a summary so succinct they should use it in the TV guide: "It's the guy from Die Hard, but he's going bald.") Director Michael Lehman and writer Daniel Waters will be on hand for a discussion following the screening. Sadly, there's no mention of Willis in attendance, who co-concocted the story about a cat burglar caught between the mob and the CIA as he goes after incredible inventions of Leonardo DaVinci in a comically unhinged tale of espionage and alchemy. Derek Flint himself, the great James Coburn, out-grins and out-swaggers even Willis as the Panama hat-wearing leader of a team of CIA agents code-named after candy bars. There's even a very direct Flint reference more than half a decade before Austin Powers. Really, what's not to love?  Showtime is 7:30, and tickets are available through Fandango or at the theater box office. As usual with American Cinematheque events, I recommend the box office, because I can never make Fandango work for their movies; it's always saying shows are sold out when they're not.

Jun 25, 2011

Canadian Spy Sitcom InSecurity Renewed For Season 2

TV-eh reports (via The Medium is Not Enough) that the Canadian spy sitcom we heard about earlier this year, InSecurity, has been picked up by CBC for a second season—despite some pretty negative reviews.  Production begins next month for a fall airing.  According to the press release, "In Season 2 of InSecurity, NISA agent Alex Cranston and her team of spies juggle dates, terrorists, parents and security threats. It’s tough being a spy when your worst enemy is yourself. Season 2 hits that funny, messy and unpredictable intersection between the spy world and everyday life."  In the meantime, the first season will be repeated this summer.  There's been no DVD announcement yet, which is too bad, because despite the negative buzz I want to be able to give this series a try!
New Eurospy Poster Book

Remember that awesome exhibition of Eurospy posters in Hatfield, England last year? (It also happened again last month in London, an event I was sadly remiss in reporting on. I hope some London readers were able to make it anyway.) Well, if you weren't local, and like me you longed to attend but couldn't, now you're in luck: you can now peruse the entire collection in your own home! The exhibition catalog from the Kiss Kiss Kill Kill event is now available to order directly from the Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Archive. According to the site (which is quite excellent, by the way, and definitely bears a visit if you still haven't checked it out), "the book is a large format A4 all colour art book on 100g paper stock with over 100 stunning newly restored posters. All artwork from the exhibition is featured as well as an introductory essay by the curator Richard Rhys Davies." Richard runs the website as well as the collection itself, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the world with a broader knowledge of Cold War-era European spy movies. I have no doubt that his essay, however brief it might be, will be every bit as worthwhile as the beautiful art itself.

As for that art, I've often said that Eurospy posters are even better than the movies themselves. The filmmakers may have been bound by tight budgets and sometimes less than stellar performers and effects, but not the poster artists! On paper, every one of these 007 knock-offs is the Bond movie it desperately wants to be! Exciting action, beautiful women, stylish fashions, fast cars, big explosions, phallic weaponry... it's all there in vivid color, equal to any of the masterpieces Robert McGinnis or Frank McCarthy created to advertise James Bond.  Of course, I should note that not all of the movies represented in this book are the Bond knock-off variety that we typically picture when we think "Eurospy."  While many of them do aspire to Bondage, Richard has also tracked down posters for obscure masterpieces in their own right from both sides of the Iron Curtain, and the catalog will no doubt introduce even the most seasoned Eurospy afficionado to titles he or she has never heard of.  Personally, I can't wait to get my hands on a copy!

The Kiss Kiss Kill Kill Exhibition Catalog is available directly from the KKKK website for £24.99 (€29.99 / $39.99) with free postage via Paypal payment. It's also available at www.pinkcatshop.com, where you can pay with your credit card.

Jun 24, 2011

Burn Notice Comes to Comics!

USA Today (via Comic Book Resources) reports that USA has partnered with DC comics to produce a Burn Notice graphic novel.  However, it can't be bought in comic book stores.  (Damn.)  Rather, it's an online, interactive graphic novel.  The 12-chapter serial, "A New Day," can be read on USA's website and Facebook.  According to the paper, "Issues of the graphic novel will include games, ciphers, 'peelaways' revealing steps of the art process, exclusive video and more."  The network views the comic as "a unique extension of the ongoing Burn Notice mythology," and as such the project is being overseen by show creator Matt Nix. According to CBR, series scribe Ryan Johnson and script coordinator Peter Laylaynis penned the comic, which is drawn by Tony Shasteen. I'm not sure if it will be possible depending on the levels of interactivity, but I hope this ends up in a printed format as well one day.  Burn Notice lends itself so well to comics that I'd love to see DC do a full series. 

Season 5 kicked off last night on USA.
Tradecraft: Rob Cohen Spies Again

xXx director Rob Cohen is eyeing another high-octane, extreme sort of spy movie. Deadline reports that he'll follow up his I, Alex Cross reboot with Bullet Run. I couldn't begin to do justice to the high concept premise hatched by writer Andrew Hilton, so I'll defer to the trade blog's capsule summary: "The head of an elite private protection team and his former CIA agent wife infiltrate the closed borders of Iran to abduct a man who killed their daughter. The extraction goes awry and they force to rely on their world-class driving skills and a fleet of high-performance street cars to travel 200 miles through a hail of bullets to keep alive the man they really want dead." I'm not a fan of xXx, but I am a fan of high performance cars traveling 200mph through a hail of bullets in the Iranian desert. Therefore I'll reserve judgement.

Jun 23, 2011

Reminder: Burn Notice Returns Tonight

The new season of Burn Notice kicks off tonight, June 23, at 9:00 on USA. As previously reported, Lauren Stamile joins the cast in the sixth episode as Michael's new CIA contact, Kim Pearce, described as a female Michael Westen.
French Champions Parody Video

The Medium is Not Enough points the way to a pretty hilarious French parody of the classic Sixties ITC spy show The Champions. It doesn't matter if you don't speak French; this short sketch (which does a great job of mimicking the Sixties ITC look) will still resonate with anyone who's familiar with the show. The best gags are visual anyway. I love their send-up of William Gaunt's odd, mouth agape pose in the opening credits, the map in Tremayne's office and the way the trio moves into rooms as a posed unit. It's not all fair to a very entertaining series, but it is pretty hilarious and clearly crafted with love by people who know the show well. (Not sure about the fly-eating bit though; that doesn't work for me.)

Jun 22, 2011

Trailer For Statham's The Killer Elite

All week long new distributor Open Road has been aggressively pushing their debut feature release, The Killer Elite. On Monday, USA Today (via Dark Horizons) published the first photo from the film, which stars Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert DeNiro and is not a remake of the 1975 Sam Peckinpah movie The Killer Elite. The picture in the newspaper reveals DeNiro's bearded look in a scene between him and Statham. The paper also got some good quotes out of Statham.
"This is more rooted in reality [than the Crank or Transporter films], and it's exactly what I've wanted to do for the past 10 years," says the actor, who compares the feel of the film to the Jason Bourne franchise. "This is the kind of movie I would want to see," Statham says.

As for the plot, Statham doesn't want to reveal much: "It involves a Saudi prince whose sons were assassinated in the Oman war and who is looking for revenge." That means he and his team must take down the three killers responsible as well as their protector (Clive Owen) before De Niro can be saved.
While the action in the movie unfolds all over the world (Paris, Wales, London, Dubai, Oman), USA Today also reveals that most of the filming was done in Australia. A day later Coming Soon scored some even cooler exclusive pictures of Statham and DeNiro in action. Check them out here. But best of all, Open Road capped this mini-push by unveiling the trailer. Unsurprisingly given the cast (which also includes Chuck's Yvonne Strahovski), it looks pretty awesome. I was a little taken aback at first by Owen's mustache, but I do love it when Statham flips over him while tied to a chair...

Haywire Gets a (New) Release Date

This is at least the third release date (and second distributor, and second title) that we've seen mooted for Steven Soderbergh's spy thriller Haywire (which was once called Knockout and scheduled for a January 2011 release from Lionsgate)... but the first one backed up with an actual press release, so let's assume it's for real this time. Relativity Media announced last week that it has retained North American rights to theatrically distribute its action thriller Haywire, directed by Soderbergh and starring MMA fighter Gina Carano. The film is now set for a January 20, 2012 wide release, aiming for the some of the same action movie gold that Taken mined in 2009. Neither the change in studios nor the change in dates reflects on the quality of the picture. Lionsgate was a distribution partner before Relativity structured its own distribution arm, which it naturally wanted to flex given the opportunity; Lionsgate’s Mandate International is still handling foreign rights. As for pushing the film back to next year, that gives Soderbergh the opportunity to promote it during his press tour for Contagion, a great big, star-studded virus thriller with Matt Damon made after Haywire, but set for release before it (now), this fall.

Carano (who was also part of the recent version of American Gladiators) makes her feature film debut, starring and performing her own "high-adrenaline stunts." Since Carano's unproven as a movie star, Soderbergh backed her up with an impressive cast including Ewan McGregor (The Ghost Writer), Channing Tatum (GI Joe: Rise of Cobra), Antonio Banderas (Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever), Bill Paxton (True Lies), Michael Douglas (Shining Through) and newly-minted spy superstar Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class).

The press release offers what I think is the first official synopsis of the film, and I was impressed that they managed to squeeze in "espionage," "betrayal," "covert ops," "international operatives," "double-crossed" and "Agency" in one sentence! Now that's a movie made for me! Observe: "In Haywire, an electrifying tale of espionage and betrayal, a female covert ops specialist (Carano), who works in the deadly world of international operatives, strikes back after discovering she’s been double-crossed by someone close to her in the agency. The film is produced by Gregory Jacobs (Ocean’s Trilogy) and written by Lem Dobbs (The Limey)." Furthermore, they manage to use the word "sophistication" in conjunction with an action movie starring an MMA fighter, in a quote from Relativity’s President of Worldwide Production, Tucker Tooley: “We are honored to be working with Steven Soderbergh on this project. This film is full of amazing action sequences, and with a sophistication only Soderbergh can deliver.”

Soderbergh's next spy assignment is supposedly a feature film version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. starring George Clooney, but I'll believe it when I actually see it...
Tradecraft: Brianna Brown Joins Homeland

Another actress has headed for Homeland. The Hollywood Reporter reports that former General Hospital regular Brianna Brown has joined the CIA drama from erstwhile 24 producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa in a potential recurring role. According to the trade, the 31-year-old actress, who has also graced a number of Judd Apatow productions including Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, will play Lynne Reed, a statuesque former Miss Ohio "who spent two years in the harem of Prince Farid Bin Abbud and who now works as his procurer, using her looks and smarts as commerce." Claire Danes stars as a CIA agent who suspects that a recently returned American POW (Damian Lewis) has been turned by Al Qaeda and plans to perpetrate an attack on US soil. Mandy Patankin plays her Agency superior. Homeland airs this fall on Showtime. You can watch a trailer here.

Jun 21, 2011

Tradecraft: Anton Corbijn to Direct Le Carré's A Most Wanted Man

A Hamburg-set Le Carré thriller from the director of The American?  Yes, please!  According to The Hollywood Reporter, Anton Corbijn will helm a film adapted by Andrew Bovell (who penned the 2010 movie version of Edge of Darkness for Martin Campbell) from John Le Carré's 2008 novel A Most Wanted Man. The book follows a Chechen Muslim named Issa who illegally immigrates to Hamburg and may be a terrorist. He's at the center of an elaborate plot involving the intelligence agencies of multiple countries who should be allies but can't play nice together and an everyman banker named Tommy Brue who's caught in the middle. I haven't read that one and I'm usually wary of movies revolving around extraordinary rendition (I know, I know; it's an important issue to discuss, but frankly I tend to find it boring), but if anyone can make that subject compelling it's Le Carré. (This trailer for the book certainly makes it appear so!) But they had me at spies in Hamburg anyway; I don't need to know more.  I really enjoyed Corbijn's meditative assassin movie The American (read my review here), though I'll freely admit that while it was beautiful to behold, it lacked a truly compelling plot.  That's something that Le Carré excells at, so this should be a good match.  A Most Wanted Man will lens this winter, primarily in Hamburg.  If nothing else, The American certainly proved that Corbijn shoots European cities and towns like nobody else!
New Spy DVDs Out This Week: The Unknown Saint of Monte Carlo

I was going to lead this week's new DVD roundup with Warner Bros.' Unknown, but then the studio trumped themselves at the last minute by announcing a new collection of long-awaited Saint movies via The Warner Archive!  The George Sanders Saint Movies Collection includes all five of the RKO Saint films Sanders starred in between 1939 and '41: The Saint Strikes Back, The Saint in London, The Saint's Double Trouble, The Saint Takes Over and The Saint in Palm Springs.  The trouble with collecting Sanders' Saint outings is that it means omitting the four films starring Luis Hayward (my favorite of the RKO Saints) and Hugh Sinclair. And Hayward starred in the first of the Leslie Charteris adaptations, The Saint in New York. But hopefully those films will see release in a future collection. There's plenty of good news here to focus on!  Warner representatives promised way back in 2007 that all of the RKO Saint films would see release in 2008. That didn't happen, and it was about that time that the bottom fell out of the catalog DVD market entirely, so it seemed as if it would never happen.  Then the studio began its Warner Archive MOD program, producing DVD-Rs of classic films on demand, which started a trend and salvaged the catalog business.  It seemed inevitable that the Saint movies would pop up eventually as MODs, but even then the studio dragged its feet.  And now that these five have arrived, it seems like fans are actually better off for the delay. Instead of releasing each title individually for twenty bucks apiece, as they did with the Tarzan series, Warner are bundling five movies together for just $29.95.  That's a much better bargain!  (Very reasonable, actually.) I really hope that we see the remaining Saint titles (including the elusive final film in the RKO cycle, The Saint's Girl Friday, which was co-produced by Britain's Hammer Studios and saw Hayward return to the role he originated more than a decade later) soon in another such collection.  But for now, I'm very content to have these ones at long last!  So far The George Sanders Saint Movies Collection is available only directly through The Warner Archive, but it will assuredly pop up on Amazon and Deep Discount in a couple of months.

Also out from Warner Home Video today, in much wider release on DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo, is this year's Liam Neeson neo-Eurospy romp, Unknown. I never got around to reviewing Unknown when it was in theaters, but I really enjoyed it.  It's not just Taken in Berlin, as the advertising campaign tried so hard to make us believe.  That shorthand actually did the movie a disservice, because Unknown is a bit more cerebral than Taken.  (A bit!) It's not an out-and-out action movie, so those expecting Neeson to kick as much ass as he did in Taken were in for a bit of a letdown.  It is a pretty cool thriller in its own right, though!  The wintery Berlin locations are shown to maximum advantage, as is Diane Kruger, who ably makes the case that she deserves further consideration as a future Bond Girl.  There are also some cool car chases and crashes. The script, co-written by John Le Carré's son, Stephen Cornwell, plays fair with the audience, and I was surprised by a twist that was actually earned and managed quite well to explain a pretty preposterous set-up in a satisfying manner. (I have no idea how faithful it is to the novel by Didier van Cauwelaert upon which it's based.) Extras, unfortunately, are pretty scarce on both releases. The BD includes the featurettes "Unknown: What is Known?" and "Liam Neeson: Known Action Hero" as well as a digital copy of the film; to the undoubted ire of those without Blu-ray players, the DVD includes only the first featurette.  DVD buyers shouldn't worry, though.  They're really not missing out on anything.  Both EPK featurettes are extremely brief, and despite that brevity still manage to cover some of the same ground. Still, this movie is worthwhile even without good bonus material. If you missed Unknown in theaters, definitely give it a try on disc. I'll be posting a full review shortly. Own it on Blu-ray for $35.99 (or just $22.99 currently from Amazon) or DVD for $28.99 (or just $14.99 from Amazon right now).

Finally, Olive Films, who have licensed a lot of cool catalog titles from Paramount, bring us the 1986 WWII spy miniseries Monte Carlo on DVD today. Based on the novel by Stephen Sheppard, Monte Carlo follows the rich and famous as they mingle with international spies in the glamorous titular city during the months leading up to the second World War. Joan Collins stars as a cabaret singer who moonlights for British Intelligence; Peter Vaughn plays her German rival (rival spy, that is; not rival cabaret performer), Malcolm McDowell is no doubt someone shady, and George Hamilton is the American playboy novelist mixed up in the middle of it all. I have a secret soft spot for Eighties miniseries and an even more secret (and guilty) soft spot for the ageless Joan Collins, so I'm intrigued by this one. Retail for the 2-disc set is $39.99, but of course it can be had for slightly less on Amazon.

In addition to Monte Carlo, Olive has one more Joan Collins miniseries out today that might interest spy fans, though it's not itself a spy story. Sins, based on a Judith Gould novel, is notable here because it co-stars Timothy Dalton (immediately prior to becoming Bond) as Collins' unstable brother who's spent half his life in mental institutions. Lauren Hutton (who's also in Monte Carlo) and Gene Kelly (yes, Gene Kelly) also appear. Sins is also a 2-disc set with the same SRP of $39.99.

Jun 19, 2011

Logos Revealed For Spy Sequels

Early posters were revealed at last week's big Licensing International Expo for two of the biggest spy sequels on the horizon: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (aka Mission: Impossible IV) and The Bourne Legacy, both (oddly enough) starring Jeremy Renner.  The Daily Blam was there and snapped pictures of the posters hanging at the expo promoting both films.  Posters at the Licensing Expo are often slapped together well before the film in question has a real marketing plan, just to give it a presence on the floor, so these should not be taken for the official one-sheets.  When those finally appear, they'll presumably look much cooler.  But these banners do give us our first look at the title treatments the studios are currently using for these movies.  Interestingly, there is no colon, dash, or anything delineating the latest Mission: Impossible picture's awkward subtitle, "Ghost Protocol." It's just there, underneath the usual M:I logo. (On this blog, I will continue using the dash, because another colon would be one colon too many, and following the studio's lead and using nothing doesn't really work if you don't have different font styles on different lines like they do!) There's not much more to the posters than the logos you see here, but you can behold them in all their shabby glory at The Daily Blam. Meanwhile, the same expo also afforded fans a more revealing first look at the suddenly ubiquitous Renner's other big spy franchise movie, The Avengers (based on the Marvel comic, not the awesome TV show). That poster (viewable at AICN) shows his costume, and also gives us another look at Scarlett Johansson's sexy superspy Black Widow, a role she reprises from Iron Man 2.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is set to open on December 16, 2011... though Box Office Mojo has an interesting editorial advocating that the film switch dates to avoid directly competing with the Robert Downey Jr. sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.  It does seem odd that two big action tentpoles after the same audience would go up against each other on the same day like that, and I have to concede that BOM is probably correct in their supposition that the Sherlock Holmes franchise has more momentum at the moment, with the sequel coming just two years after a hit predecessor as opposed to five years after the weakest performer in the Mission: Impossible series (though the best movie to date). Of the dates they propose, personally I'd like to see it move up a week to December 9, because I'm dying to see this film and don't want to see it put off until next year! But the editorial does make a good case for April 2012. Read it and see what you think. Tony Gilroy's spin-off from the popular Matt Damon series, The Bourne Legacy, meanwhile, has been set by Universal for an August 3, 2012 debut, as you can see on the poster at The Daily Blam. As previously reported, the film follows an original story conceived by Gilroy (co-writer of the first three movies), and is not based on a Robert Ludlum novel nor the Eric Van Lustbader continuation novel whose title it shares.
Tradecraft: Noir is Go

Nikita will soon have company in the female assassin sweepstakes on TV. According to Deadline, the cable channel Starz has officially greenlit Noir, the live action remake of an anime amnesiac assassin series that we heard they were developing late last year. Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, the powerhouse producing duo behind such TV hits as Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess and Spartacus: Blood and Sand (also on Starz), as well noble misses in the spy genre like Jack of All Trades (starring a pre-Burn Notice Bruce Campbell) and Spy Game, will mastermind the show along with executive producers Steven Lightfoot (who penned the pilot) and Joshua Donen (who has partnered with Raimi and Tapert on Spartacus and Legend of the Seeker). Robert Ludlum tapped some sort of hidden vein with his 1980 bestseller The Bourne Identity, and ever since assassins and amnesia have been forever linked in the public psyche. The well-regarded anime series focuses on two female assassins suffering from the condition who discover they're mysteriously linked together and team up to battle a powerful secret society.

Jun 17, 2011

REMINDER: Bond Screenings Tonight and Sunday in Los Angeles
George Lazenby in Person!

As reported last month, George Lazenby will be appearing tonight at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood as part of a James Bond Weekend at the American Cinematheque. Four 007 movies all told will screen between the Cinematheque's two theaters. Tonight, Friday, June 17, they'll show On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever at the Egyptian Theatre. Best of all, Mr. Bond himself, George Lazenby, will appear in person for a Q&A between the films moderated by Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia author Steven Jay Rubin! If you didn't catch Laz in person at the Aero last year, make every effort to do so this time! As totally candid as only an Australian can be, he was a wildly entertaining (and thoroughly uncensored) storyteller. The Q&A alone should make the night worthwhile, but on top of that you've also got the opportunity to see the best James Bond movie ever in one of the best theaters in the country. (Plus Diamonds Are Forever. Ahem.) Tickets are supposedly available through Fandango here, but I'm never able to make that work for Cinematheque screenings. It will probably say that they aren't available for that showtime, but as far as I know none of these shows are yet sold out. Be sure to arrive early, though, if you plan to get your tickets at the box office, as I wouldn't be surprised if tonight's show, with Lazenby, does sell out.

On Father's Day, Sunday, June 19, you can catch the first two Bond films back-to-back at the Aero in Santa Monica. Dr. No starts at 7:30 followed by From Russia With Love. Once again, tickets are supposedly available through Fandango, but once again it's unlikely to work. Hit up the theater box office sometime in advance, or arrive early the day of the show.

All of these showings are listed as being 35mm presentations, which I'll take any day over even a pristine digital presentation. If I'm going to a cinema, I want to see film!
The New Transporter Babe: Andrea Osvárt

In Deadline's original story a few weeks ago about Chris Vance being cast as the new Transporter for Cinemax's TV version of the Luc Besson-produced, Jason Statham-starring neo-Eurospy franchise, the trade blog also reported that Andrea Osvárt would be the new Transporter Babe. This seemed to merit its own headline here, since my 2008 post identifying Natalya Rudakova as "the new Transporter Babe" in Transporter 3 remains to this day one of the most popular articles in the history of this blog. (Who would have thought?) Anyway, in the true Eurospy tradition, the women in the Transporter movies were pretty disposable. Like Bond Girls, each one was unique to the film she appeared in, and audiences didn't expect them to come back.  (Rudakova, in fact, was the only one Statham's Frank Martin was even romantically involved with.) Apparently the TV series will be different.  Now Frank has a "handler." (See? I keep telling you transporters are a lot like spies!)

According to Deadline, "The series centers on professional transporter Frank Martin (Vance), a role played in the movies by Jason Statham. Operating in a seedy underworld of dangerous criminals and desperate players, Frank can always be counted on to get the job done -- discreetly. Osvárt, repped by Innovative and Mosaic, will play Frank's handler Carla, an extremely crafty former CIA operative who organizes his missions, acts as his eyes and ears on the outside, and continually stokes the flames of their unrequited attraction." That seems about right for a TV version. TV's Frank (no relation to Dr. Forrester's sidekick, I presume) needs a beautiful sparring partner for unrequited attraction. (See: Burn Notice.) And there's certainly no denying Osvárt's beauty--or her credentials. Like Rudakova and Olga Kurylenko (who also started out as a neo-Eurospy babe before graduating to Bond Girl), the 32-year-old Osvárt hails from Europe. She was born in Hungary where she began a modeling career that took her to Italy and France, and led to acting. She's also got some spy experience, having played small roles in Duplicity and Spy Game. I look forward to seeing what she brings to the latest incarnation of The Transporter.

Speaking of the Transporter himself, perhaps I was a little hard on Chris Vance in my original post about his casting.  EW has an interview with him accompanied by a photograph (or is it Photoshopped?) that looks suitably Transporterish and goes a long way on selling him in the part. Plus, he seems to come off as a nice guy. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and wait to see how his Transporter shapes up.

So we know the male and female leads in the series, but I have yet to see confirmation of its real star: what kind of car will Frank Martin be driving on cable? (In other words, what company will pony up for the potentially lucrative product placement deal?) In the first movie, it was a BMW. In the second two, it was an Audi, which has become more associated with the character. But on television, it could conceivably be something completely different.

Jun 16, 2011

Full Details On Nikita DVDs

We already knew that the first season of The CW's reboot of Nikita (based on Luc Besson's 1990 movie and the subsequent US/Canadian TV series) starring Maggie Q was due on DVD and Blu-ray this summer.  Now, thanks to TV Shows On DVD, we have more details... and final cover art. The two releases of Nikita: The Complete First Season will be out on August 30. The 5-disc DVD set will retail for $59.98 and the 4-disc Blu-ray for $69.97though both are available to pre-order from Amazon for substantial discounts. Warner are being very generous with the bonus material, which sounds quite interesting! On both releases, we'll get the documentaries "Inside Division, Part 1: The New Nikita" - (in which we discover what elements from the previous versions of La Femme Nikita were important to preserve and protect and what twists and changes needed to be made in order to reinvent Nikita for a new generation), "Inside Division, Part 2: Executing an Episode" (which focuses on how the sets, costumes, weapons, lighting, editing and music were all fashioned to reflect the creators' new vision) and "Profiling Nikita, Alex, Percy & Michael" (a look at the characters and the actors who play them). We'll also be treated to commentaries on two episodes, copious deleted scenes and a gag reel. In addition to all that, the Blu-ray will also boast an exclusive feature called "Division Tracker" which enables viewers to "hack into Division and uncover a global tracking device designed to record every major character's move throughout the years." I'm not totally sure what that means, but it could be cool!

Meanwhile, all the seasons of USA's late 90s TV version of La Femme Nikita, which are usually way overpriced in the $90 range, are currently on sale on Amazon for just $15.99 apiece!  It's a great time to pick them up, because in addition to the bargain price, Warner has just reissued the lot in slimmer, sturdier cases.  Check out:

La Femme Nikita: The Complete First Season
La Femme Nikita: The Complete Second Season
La Femme Nikita: The Complete Third Season
La Femme Nikita: The Complete Fourth Season
La Femme Nikita: The Complete Fifth Season (Featuring Edward Woodward!)

Jun 15, 2011

Tradecraft: Jason Statham's Killer Elite Set For September

Deadline reports that first-time distributor Open Road has set a September 23 US release date for the Jason Statham/Clive Owen spy thriller Killer Elite. As we heard last month, Killer Elite is not a remake of the 1975 Sam Peckinpah movie of the same name, but an adaptation of the non-fiction novel The Feather Men, written by Ranulph Fiennes (a cousin of Ralf's). Statham plays a highly-skilled special ops agent sent to infiltrate a secretive group of ex-SAS operatives led by Owen. In a whirlwind adventure that jumps from Australia to Paris to Wales to Dubai, he and his team must take down a rogue cell of solider-assassins before their actions result in a global political meltdown. Robert DeNiro and Chuck's Yvonne Strahovski round out the killer spy cast.
Another Look at the Spies of X-Men: First Class

In my review of the latest X-Men movie, I looked at it (quite naturally) from a spy point of view.  Here's another interesting review that approaches the film from that perspective as well at the blog Overthinking It.  The well-written article by John Perich offers a fascinating argument for Matthew Vaughn's film as an examination of the dichotemy of the Sixties spy hero combining the worlds of Ian Fleming, Len Deighton and John Le Carré. Personally, I think I'd equate Xavier more with Smiley than Harry Palmer, but overall I agree with all of his points!

Jun 14, 2011

New Bond Author Jeffery Deaver On Spy Tradecraft

What better way to celebrate today's release of Jeffery Deaver's new James Bond continuation novel Carte Blanche than heading on over to The Wall Street Journal to read the author's primer on espionage tradecraft, "Lessons Learned From Bond—James Bond?"  It's a really good overview of the basics of spying that shows that Deaver has done his research and clearly enjoyed his foray into the world of secret agents.  Deaver offers tips worthy of Michael Westen (or William Johnson) on what to do if you think you're being tailed, how to forge a signature, and how to choose good dead drops, among other things.
New Spy Novels Out This Week: James Bond and Tom Clancy

This is a huge week in America for high-profile spy novels.  Two of the biggest names in the genre go head-to-head at bookstores today giving spy fans plenty of pages to keep them engrossed on the beach this summer: James Bond and Tom Clancy.  And both of them have help.  Bond is aided by the highest-profile and bestselling author to pen a 007 continuation novel since Kingsley Amis, American thriller writer Jeffery Deaver.  With no offense intended to John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Charlie Higson and Samantha Weinberg (each of whom penned some terrific entries in the series), this is probably the first time since Colonel Sun that a James Bond continuation novel has boasted a "marquee value" author capable of selling a ton of books without the Bond name, and therefore capable of drawing legions of new readers to the brand. Clancy, meanwhile, is aided by co-author Peter Telep, whose previous novels span all genres.  Since returning from his seven-year hiatus following The Teeth of the Tiger, Clancy has opted to work with collaborators.  (Grant Blackwood co-wrote last year's Jack Ryan novel Dead or Alive.)

It was a little over a year ago that we first heard the exciting news that Ian Fleming Publications had tapped Deaver to pen the first contemporary James Bond continuation novel in nearly a decade.  (Higson, Weinberg and Sebastian Faulks had written period pieces set roughly in the timeline of Fleming's original novels; Benson was the last author to tell a Bond story set in the present day.) Then, this book was known only as Project X. In the interim, it's gained a real title, Carte Blanche, and been released in Britain, last month, to very favorable reviews.  The plot finds a Bond firmly rooted in the 21st Century driving a Bentley, traveling to Serbia, Dubai and South Africa, and taking on a villain who built his empire on refuse! I only just received my UK edition (a lousy Second, grumble, grumble) from Amazon, so I'm only about 100 pages in, but I must say, so far I'm loving it.  Interestingly, I picture Daniel Craig when I read Deaver's Bond.  In other books, I've always pictured a literary 007 quite separate from any actor.  I'll post a full review when I finish, but I don't want to rush; I want to savor the new James Bond novel!  Order Carte Blanche from Amazon here.

Deaver's book may well clock in as the longest Bond novel ever at 432 pages (in the US edition), but it's got nothing on Clancy's and Telep's tome, a typical 768-page behemoth!  This one caught me by surprise when we first heard about it a few months ago, because Clancy just had a novel out late last year which isn't even in paperback yet! I haven't yet picked up Against All Enemies, but it's my understanding that this novel does not feature Clancy's perennial hero Jack Ryan.  Instead, it introduces a new hero, CIA agent (and ex-Navy SEAL) Maxwell Moore. Moore's mission takes him from Pakistan to another desert in America's own backyard: Mexico.  According to the book's copy, "Here a drug war rages between the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels. The landscape is strewn with bodies, innocents and drug dealers alike, but is there an even deadlier enemy lurking in background? Into this deadly brew, Moore leads a group of specially selected agents whose daring actions reveal shocking answers and uncover an unholy plan—a strike against the very heart of America."  It sounds like a vintage Clancy plot, and I'm excited by it.  Despite a couple of less than stellar later books, I'm hopeful that this one will represent a return to form for the man who ruled the spy genre in the 1980s. And while the next Jack Ryan movie remains in limbo (as reported recently), now Clancy fans can at least get their fix in print!  Order Against All Enemies from Amazon here.

Jun 13, 2011

Tradecraft: Cruise Reaches For Reacher

I have to admit, I haven't read any of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels.  My impression is that they're not really spy thrillers, but do tread fairly closely to the genre.  And I know Child considers Ian Fleming, Len Deighton and John Le Carré to be influences on his work.  I've read one spy story that he penned for Otto Penzler's excellent anthology of "international thrillers," Agents of Treachery, and thought it was excellent.  It left me really wishing that Child would pen a straight-up spy novel, but also intrigued to check out his Jack Reacher books.  As I say, I don't know much about Reacher, but one thing I do know is that he's tall--very tall.  Which is why it's a little surprising that Deadline reports that notoriously short spy star Tom Cruise is in final negotiations to play the part!  According to the trade blog, "Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions are negotiating with Tom Cruise to star this fall in One Shot, a thriller based on the Lee Child book series about former military policeman-turned drifter Jack Reacher. Christopher McQuarrie will direct his script." Apparently Child himself is fine with the casting.  (You probably would be too if one of the biggest movie stars in the world wanted to attach himself to your property.  Ian Fleming, no doubt gleeful at the prospect of his famous character being filmed, once wrote that he'd be fine with Jimmy Stewart playing 007 if it meant Alfred Hitchcock would direct!)  "Reacher's size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way," Child reasoned.  Hm.  I can't really comment, but perhaps some avid readers of this series will chime in with their views on this casting.  Have your say below.
More New Spy DVDs Out Last Week
On Sale Today Only!

In addition to the sets that I wrote about on Tuesday, there were some other very exciting new spy releases last week. The Warner Archive splurged on spy titles in a nearly all-spy week, including a couple of great Eurospy titles.  And some of them are on sale through tonight (Monday)!

The Double Man
This cool, dark Eurospy entry finds Yul Brynner playing a double role as a tough, cold-blooded CIA agent and his potential doppelganger.  Future Bond Girl Britt Ekland is also on board, though her loyalties are questionable.  The Cold War intrigue unfolds in one of my favorite spy locations: the Swiss Alps.  It's a bit darker than a lot of Eurospy fare, but still delivers just about everything you could hope for from the genre.  The Double Man is available to pre-order from Amazon, and available now directly through The Warner Archive. (At a substantial discount if you act fast!)

Assignment To Kill
Spies get assigned to kill all the time. After all, they've got licenses for that.  But how often do insurance investigators receive an Assignment To Kill?  Quite often, actually, if you've dabbled a bit in the Eurospy genre!  Longtime readers will be aware that I'm a big fan of this particularly curious sub-genre.  For some reason, insurance investigators were so glamorized in the Sixties that European filmmakers tended to use them as proxy spies.  The best Eurospy movie of all, Deadlier Than the Male (review here), isn't about a spy at all, but an insurance investigator.  Other movies in this mold include Ring Around the World (review here) and 1968's Assignment To Kill, though the latter has been rather elusive until now.  Patrick O'Neal plays ultra-cool insurance investigator Richard Cutter, and a globe-trotting probe into big-time fraud takes him into contact with such spy movie regulars as Herbert Lom, John Gielgud, Peter van Eyck, Eric Portman and Oscar Homolka. The action unfolds against the same great Swiss backdrop as The Double Man.  Assignment To Kill is available now from The Warner Archive, and available to pre-order on Amazon.

Avalanche Express
I've never seen Avalanche Express (1979), but I do love spy movies on trains, so I'm eager to give it a go!  Lee Marvin plays CIA agent Harry Wargrave, whose assignment is to escort a Soviet defector (played by Robert Shaw, a seasoned veteran of train-based espionage!) on Europe’s Milan-to-Rotterdam express, then cross the Atlantic and deliver his charge to Washington. But enemy agents are out to stop him–and won't think twice about causing a devastating avalanche to do so! Other passengers on the train (some of whom are bound to be foreign spies) include such nefarious types as Maximilian Schell, Mike Connors, Horst Buchholz and the ubiquitous Vladek Sheybal. Avalanche Express is available for pre-order from Amazon at $18.99 or available now directly.

24 Hours To Kill
24 Hours To Kill doesn't have former Tarzan and Eurospy dabbler Lex Barker playing an actual spy, but as an international thriller set primarily in that favorite Eurospy location, the "Paris of the Middle East," Beirut, it's essentially part of the genre. The plot concerns smuggling, and the cast includes Mickey Rooney and Walter Slezak. 24 Hours To Kill has been available before on a dubious grey market label, but the Warner Archive edition marks its widescreen debut.  This MOD edition is available to pre-order from Amazon and available now directly.

Two more titles in this wave aren't quite spy titles, but they're Sixties adventures with guns and beautiful women, and that puts them close enough in my book.  Dark of the Sun is a 1968 men-on-a-mission movie in which Rod Taylor (The Liquidator) and Jim Brown lead a group of elite commandos on a perilous train journey across the Congo out to rescue endangered civilians and recover a huge cache of diamonds.  And just look at that cover art!  Kona Coast was an unsold pilot for a Hawaiian action series based on a book by John D. Macdonald. The Kremlin Letter's Richard Boone plays a charter boat captain who turns vigilante to avenge the death of his daughter. Finally, Once Before I Die is a war movie and not a spy movie in any sense, but it does star Bond Girl Ursula Andress...

Whew!  Quite a week!  How on earth are we spy fans to keep up with so many releases at once, you might ask?  Well, fortunately The Warner Archive is having a very nice Father's Day sale lasting through the end of the day today (Monday, June 13), in which all of these titles (and many other action movies) are available at a five dollar discount.  To me, that $5 makes all the difference in the world.  The regular Warner Archive retail price of $19.95 always strikes me as prohibitive for a made-on-demand DVD, but $14.95 sounds entirely reasonable–especially with free shipping on orders of two or more!  That's the way to go if you're buying these today, but if you miss the sale or want to hold off, they're all also available to pre-order on Amazon (where they won't be available until July) for $18.99 apiece.  Other titles in the sale that might interest spy fans include Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (a bona fide Tarzan spy movie - review here), Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (co-starring Sean Connery - review here), Brass Bancroft of the Secret Service, The Sell-Out and many, many more.