Apr 29, 2013

New RED 2 Trailer

This has Helen Mirren shooting two guns out of a fishtailing Lotus Exige. Love. Love!

Apr 25, 2013

Tradecraft: U.N.C.L.E. Tom Finds His Illya

It looks like the Tom Cruise version of Warner Bros.' troubled, long-gestating Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film is indeed moving forward. And the studio may have found the Illya Kuryakin to Cruise's Napoleon Solo, according to Deadline. The trade blog reports that The Social Network and Lone Ranger star Armie Hammer "is set" to play the Russian secret agent originated on the classic Sixties TV show by David McCallum. The age difference between Cruise, 50, and Hammer, 27, is interesting. While McCallum was brought onto the show as a young heartthrob with teen appeal, he was only a year younger than Robert Vaughn, who played Solo. Presumably the new dynamic will be more of a mentor/student relationship rather than equal partners. Sherlock Holmes helmer Guy Ritchie is attached to direct. I'm still curious to know if Ritchie's version is set in the 1960s, which was Steven Soderbergh's plan for the franchise when he was set to launch it. Personally, I hope so! (At the very least, that will help differentiate U.N.C.L.E. from Cruise's other spy franchise based on a Sixties series, the contemporary Mission: Impossible.)

Trailer for the New Le Carre Book

John le Carré himself stars in the official trailer for his new book, A Delicate Truth. I can't wait to read this novel! It's out today in Britain, and hits American shelves on May 7.

Apr 17, 2013

Shadow Dancer Trailer

Here's the trailer for Shadow Dancer, the 1990s-set Clive Owen spy drama we first heard about two years ago from Man on Wire director James Marsh. Owen plays an MI5 operative who coerces a single mther (WE's Andrea Riseborough) into spying on the IRA... which means spying on the members of her own family. Gillian Anderson plays Owen's manipulative, duplicitous boss. (At least those are the adjectives I infer from the trailer.) Shadow Dancer, which came out in Britain last year, opens Stateside on May 31.

Bernard Samson Returns to Television!

Well, here's the story to beat as the best spy news of the year! The Deighton Dossier reports that Len Deighton's greatest character (yes, even greater than the unnamed hero of The Ipcress File and its sequels) is returning to television... for an 18-episode maxi-series courtesy of Slumdog Millionaire writer Simon Beaufoy! The Hollywood Reporter reports that Clerkenwell Films, the production company behind Misfits, is developing an 18-episode maxi-series based on Deighton's classic Cold War series featuring Bernard and Fiona Samson. The 10-volume series encompasses three separate trilogies (Berlin Game, Mexico Set, and London MatchSpy Hook, Spy Line and Spy Sinker; Faith, Hope, and Charity) and a standalone prequel, Winter, which comes between the first two trilogies. These books, which brilliantly bridge the desk and field sides of the genre, are among my favorite spy novels ever. One day I shall get around to examining them in detail on this site, but suffice it to say that they are absolutely essential reading for any and all fans of espionage fiction or students of the Cold War. Again and again I see The Ipcress File listed as Deighton's best book (and there's no denying that it's a great read and made a wonderful movie), but to me the Samson cycle is the author's unequaled masterwork, and I cannot wait to see it adapted in its entirety. (The first three novels were filmed as Game Set Match for ITV in 1988, starring Ian Holm as Bernard, a series Deighton was reportedly unhappy with.) Oscar-winning screenwriter Beaufoy encapsulates everything that's wonderful about these novels very succinctly in the press release:
Deighton's masterful series of novels draws the hidden political map of the late twentieth century. It is all here: murders, honey-traps and spy swaps, the double-dealing and manoeuvring of nations jousting for position at the height of the Cold War, with Bernard Samson, the Bond with brains, giving it an almost Chandleresque sense of cool. The novels have at their heart a love story of Shakespearian proportions, taking in passion, betrayal, loyalty and the lengths we will go for the love of country and the love of one another.
Deighton himself is fully behind the new adaptation. A few years ago, Quentin Tarantino expressed an interest in filming the first three novels, but the author has always held out for an offer from a film company who wanted to adapt the entire series. Now that's come. My only regret is that it's just 18 episodes. Assuming these are hour-long episodes, and assuming Winter isn't part of the deal, that only allows two hours per book. The 1988 series was able to devote four to each of the first three volumes. But I trust Beaufoy to figure that out! And who knows? If the series is a success, perhaps we'll see Winter become a miniseries in its own right down the road. With a story spanning five tumultuous decades, it certainly could.

This is now officially the spy project I am most excited about on the foreseeable horizon. I hope it comes to fruition!

Apr 10, 2013

Java Heat Trailer

According to the title cards in this trailer, Kellan Lutz is "an American agent" teamed with "an Indonesian cop" "in an exotic land" must save "a princess in danger" and "the heat is on." I like it when a trailer actually tells you what you're going to get so concisely! (Well, most of the verbs there are my own inferences, but I feel confident in making them.) I'm not sure why it doesn't bother to announce that Mickey Rourke is "an evil terrorist," but perhaps the trailer cutters felt some things were self-evident. Twilight may be what's behind for Lutz, but both Tarzan and Hercules are in this guy's future, so I'm hoping he delivers the goods as a bona fide action star. We'll get to make our first conclusions when Java Heat opens on May 10. (It will also be on VOD three days later.)

Apr 9, 2013

Movie Review: The Berlin File (2013)

The Berlin File may be confusing, but it’s also quite a good spy film. (The two have never been mutually exclusive, after all.) It’s a South Korean movie, but it’s set—and filmed—in Berlin. The location is more than just title fodder (in Korea the film is simply titled Berlin), too. The iconic city that played host to so many Communist-East-vs.-Capitalist-West spy movies during the Cold War makes an ideal backdrop for today’s most relevant Communist-vs.-Capitalist struggle, that of the two Koreas. Against such historic spy landmarks as the Brandenburg Gate, a North Korean and South Korean agent (and, true to the genre, quite a lot of other parties) hunt each other in a compelling game of cat and mouse as writer/director Ryu Seung-wan drops plenty of allusions to his Cold War-era forebears, from Bond to Bourne to le Carré to Deighton. (The recent Bourne movies are the most obvious inspirations.)

As the film opens, South Korean spooks monitor a meeting taking place in a Berlin hotel between a Russian arms dealer, an Arab terrorist and a North Korean agent so good he’s not in any database (a “ghost,” as they refer to him). Unsurprisingly, that many bad guys in one room is going to attract the attentions of other supposedly friendly governments as well. Although it’s unclear exactly who is who during the chaotic sequence itself, it eventually becomes clear that the CIA and the Mossad are also interested in this conference, as well as the primary South Korean agent’s support team. With that many lit fuses hovering this powder keg, it’s inevitable that things won’t go as planned. Sure enough, the meeting erupts into chaos, and gunfire, foot chases and hand-to-hand combat ensue. As the North Korean agent, Pyo Jong-Seong (Ha Jung-woo) attempts to escape via the hotel roof, he’s intercepted by South Korean agent Jeong Jin-soo (Han Suk-kyu). The two men have enough time to size up one another (the basis of any antagonists-bound-to-work-together framework) before Jin-soo gets the upper hand and makes his getaway.

Jin-soo has a wife at home, Ryeon Jung-hee, who feels neglected. Yet she herself is the pawn of Jin-soo’s boss, the North Korean ambassador. (This “ghost” reports directly to the ambassador.) Her job is to be his translator at a business meeting, but he requires her to go further and seduce a potential German business partner in order to get a market advantage and whatever intel she can pick up. The ambassador’s motives, in turn, are questioned by Pyongyang (or possibly by another faction within the North Korean government), and this casts aspersions on Jung-hee as well. I won’t even go into who’s bugging the meeting and why! It’s all so complicated as to be very hard to follow (even harder via subtitles), and it’s possible that the intricate web doesn’t really make any sense at all, but to me the web itself is more crucial to the success of this sort of spy story than the sense it makes. At any rate, Pyongyang sends a cleaner out to Berlin, Dong Myung-soo (Ryu Seong-beom) (introduced in an exciting fight aboard a train in further accord with genre traditions) to make sense of this situation and eliminate any loose ends. Myung-soo informs Jin-soo that his wife’s loyalty (and, by extension, his own) is in question, forcing him to choose between his wife and his country. Despite being a patriot, Jin-soo finds himself with no choice but to go on the run with Jung-hee, making their escape across Berlin rooftops and amidst much gunfire. If it seems like I’ve given away too much at this point, don’t worry; everything I’ve encapsulated up until now is merely the setup! I recount here it in so much detail because I relished the (possibly unnecessary) complexity.

The purpose of all this setup is to force Jin-soo to go rogue, and eventually team up with his North Korean counterpart, Jong-Seong, forming a classic action movie odd couple. This pairing creates ripples affecting various factions from the South and North alike, along with the Arabs from the beginning and the CIA. The actor playing Jong-Seong’s CIA ally is unfortunately kind of awful. Luckily, his white face is probably enough to make him convincing to Korean audiences for whom his English dialogue is no doubt subtitled anyway, but English speakers are forced to put up with enough bad line readings to wish the filmmakers had bothered to fly in an actual Hollywood character actor for the part. (Surely William Sadler is available for this kind of job?) Spy fans, however, will likely cut him some slack because he uses a le Carré paperback as a way to identify himself to his contacts!

The elaborate spy scenario is, of course, all basically a clotheshorse on which to hang a number of action setpieces, just like in an American movie. When such setpieces take place against a Berlin backdrop, I tend to be satisfied. (It also helps that, with the exception of some dodgy CGI fire, most of them are quite well executed—but that’s almost secondary for me to the locale.) The action is fairly violent, especially in the finale, and there is a particularly brutal torture scene. But even squeamish spy fans will still find plenty to like in The Berlin File. Its themes of divided loyalties and betrayals both personal and professional, along with its gleefully labyrinthine plot, are enough to make you believe it could be a product of the Cold War. And when it comes to spy movies, that’s a very good thing indeed. The Berlin File is a thoroughly entertaining throwback that updates classic themes and a classic setting to suit the very current geopolitical conflicts of today.

Apr 5, 2013

Upcoming Spy DVDs: Burn Notice: Season 6

TVShowsOnDVD reports that Burn Notice: Season Six  will hit DVD on June 11... oddly not quite in time for the Season 7 premiere on June 6. Weird. The website previously reported that bonus content for the sixth season of the hit USA spy show includes deleted scenes, a gag reel, the featurette "Matt Nix Gets Burned" and an audio commentary on the episode "Shock Wave" featuring series creator Nix, director Renny Harlin and stars Jeffrey Donovan and Bruce Campbell. (The Burn Notice commentaries, like any track involving Campbell, are always entertaining.) MSRP for the 4-disc set from Fox is $49.98, but of course it will be available from Amazon for significantly less. The sixth season marked some more major changes to the series' format, and saw some cast departures. (I was personally very sorry to see the departure of Lauren Stamile as Agent Pearce.) I'm particularly excited for this season on DVD, because I was in the midst of a move when it aired and temporarily without cable, so I didn't get to see most of it. I'm looking forward to getting caught up at last!

Apr 1, 2013

007 in Verse: James Bond Returns in New Book... of Poetry

This one kind of slipped under the radar. In February, a new James Bond book was published! And it's the first one to be written in verse. Canadian poet Kimmy Beach has concocted an epic poem about 007 entitled The Last Temptation of Bond, published by the University of Alberta Press. On her blog, Beach calls the project "in part — my take on Nikos Kazantzakis’ 1960 novel, The Last Temptation of Christ." Here's the publisher's full description:
Kimmy Beach’s The Last Temptation of Bond is a frisky and erudite romp into the world of pop culture icon, James Bond. As 007 comes to terms with his own mortality, the women in his life (and there are many), circle in for the kill. For once, they will influence the narrative of his life. Parodies of pop culture have long been Beach’s trademark territory, but what sets The Last Temptation of Bond apart from her previous work is the ease with which she straddles the perceived divide between contemporary pop culture and modernist literature. Raunchy and irreverent, The Last Temptation of Bond will appeal to the rabble and the literary aesthetes.
Beach is apparently a Bond fan. Among the many interesting insights into "her Bond" that Beach provides on her blog is the fact that she had a longstanding Saturday ritual of watching Casino Royale (I'm guessing she means the Craig version) with a steady supply of Vesper martinis and quoting along, sometimes rewriting it as she went! Clearly, she knows how to spend a Saturday afternoon. The Last Temptation of Bond is available on Amazon.

Trailer for the New Saint!

Well, this proves that the new Saint series is one step closer to reality! And that the pilot actually exists. Not that I doubted it, of course, but after so many years of false starts and productions falling apart at the last minute, it's great to see videographic evidence that this one is really in the can. The promotional artwork at the left was created for the MIPTV media market, where the producers will attempt to sell this pilot to networks internationally. Hopefully it sells and we end up with a whole new Saint series!

As previously reported, the pilot was directed by Simon West, and you can get a good taste of the result from the MIPTV trailer below. There's a lot to love! I love that it uses the familiar Saint theme music. I love that they found a believable way to get the Saint into a dinner jacket in this day and age. I love that there's a fight on a funicular! I love the international locations and the high productions values. It looks like a very slick production, for sure. And new Simon Templar Adam Rayner, from what I can tell based on these short clips, looks good in the role! (Needs a shave, though.) Eliza Dushku looks great, too, as the Saint's on-and-off girlfriend from the Leslie Charteris novels, Patricia Holm. I worry, though, about how heavily this trailer leans on cliché. Just about every tried and true trope of genre is touched upon, but maybe that's what you need to sell a TV show. I've read the script for this pilot, and I know that it goes beyond the clichés, and does indeed feel appropriately Saintly. I'd like to see a trailer that focuses more on what sets Simon Templar apart from the pack rather than what makes him part of it, but that might freak out potential buyers. They probably perfer the familiar. Already, though, it feels like this production redeems the character from the Val Kilmer movie. And, of course, as the icing on the cake, we're treated to some dialogue between two venerable Saint stars, Ian Ogilvy and Sir Roger Moore! I really, really hope this pilot gets sold all over the world and goes quickly to series! I desperately want a new Saint on the air.