Dec 25, 2014

Movie Review: The Interview (2014)

Ever since the Thunderball references in a deleted scene from Pineapple Express, I’ve wanted to see Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg take on a spy parody. They do just that in The Interview (co-directing from a script they co-wrote with Dan Sterling), but take a typically non-traditional approach. Rather than using James Bond as their leaping-off point like so many spy parodies, their touchstone would appear to be The Chairman, the 1969 movie that found Gregory Peck’s scientist interviewing and possibly (inadvertently) assassinating a then sitting political leader, China’s Chairman Mao. The premise to The Interview is very similar. James Franco plays an Andy Cohen-like fluff talkshow host, Dave Skylark, who lands the interview opportunity of a lifetime when it turns out North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is a fan of his, and willing to grant him his first worldwide sit-down interview. But as Skylark and his producer Aaron Rapaport prepare for this opportunity of a lifetime, they’re approached by the CIA and asked to assassinate Kim while they’re at it. Whether or not this controversial plotline is in good taste or is even responsible filmmaking is certainly a valid debate, but not one I’ll engage in here. Instead I’ll be reviewing it as a spy movie.

Skylark may be seen as a softball interviewer, but as the film opens he manages to draw a pretty amazing revelation out of Eminem (in a truly hilarious cameo), and coaxes Rob Lowe to make a surprising on-air admission. Be that as it may, Kim and his propaganda team see Skylark as a good candidate to stick to their script of pre-approved questions celebrating the glory of North Korea and invite him to the presidential palace with unprecedented access. The CIA comes calling in the appealing form of Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), who counts on using Skylark in much the same way as Kim. While it seems rather unlikely that the CIA would ever invite a muckraking journalist of all people to help it contravene Executive Order 12333 and assassinate a foreign leader, Agent Lacey certainly has Dave’s number. Aaron realizes what’s happening and pulls Dave aside, telling him, “They’re honeypotting us!”

“What?” asks Dave.

“It’s an attractive spy woman who lures men into doing shit they’re not supposed to do!” Aaron explains, not only providing malapropismic exposition on honey traps, but also setting up one of the movie’s running gags. (Every character seems to be either “honeypotting” or “honeydicking” someone, to use the movie’s amusing, gender-dependent vocabulary. Whether this terminology ends up entering the actual spy lexicon like le Carre’s remains to be seen.) Dave insists that such an insinuation is sexist (because “women are smart now”), a sentiment Agent Lacey herself later echoes, but Aaron enumerates how the sexy agent is playing to Dave’s known predilections: big boobs, bangs and glasses.

“Fake glasses?” asks an incredulous Dave, to which Aaron sarcastically deadpans, “How could the CIA come up with such a thing?” in the first of several clever riffs on spy gadgetry.

The plan calls for Dave to wear a Ricin poison patch on his palm, dosing the Supreme Leader with a twelve hour delay when he shakes his hand.  Along with some conveniently multi-functional wrist watches, the Agency provides the duo with some specially designed luggage in which to smuggle this tiny weapon. But Dave deems their choice of bag far too unfashionable, and makes his own arrangements setting off a series of blunders. After losing the first patch, Lacey’s team races to send their poorly-chosen assassins another one via drone. This leads to one of the movie’s funniest sequences, involving a drone, a tiger, covert communications, night vision imagery, and (this being Rogan and Goldberg) Aaron’s anus.

Besides the initially ludicrous premise, Rogan and Goldberg make the wise choice to keep The Interview’s spyjinks fairly low-key and plausible—but still all too easy to screw up in the hands of two idiots. We’ve seen idiots fumble with over-the-top Bondian stuff plenty of times before, so it’s refreshing to see them fumble something so credible. As in all of this duo’s movies, there is a somewhat half-baked“bromance” at the film’s center (and there are also a lot of funny Lord of the Rings references), but it was this fresh approach to spoofing spy tropes that I found funniest. Less funny was the violence. I’m in no way squeamish about violence in movies, but I do find graphic violence (even of the over-the-top, comedic variety) out of place in a spy comedy, and like Pineapple Express and This Is the End (only moreso), The Interview becomes very, very violent. There is an unnecessary level of gore that I found off-putting as the film careens towards its jaw-dropping and (until it ended up splashed all over the news, anyway) unpredictable denouement. But even at this point, the violence is still laced with plenty of humor—both scatological and satirical. American foreign policy takes a well-aimed jab when one character asks, “How many times can the U.S. make the same mistake?” and Dave replies emphatically and patriotically, “As many times as it takes!”

The Interview also scores well in its production design. Production Designer Jon Billington (World War Z) creates a truly imposing and thoroughly Communist edifice in Kim’s luxury bunker compound. There are lots and lots of greys in this North Korea, and all feels very real, even if these locations also boast a decidedly Ken Adam spin.

I enjoyed the first half of The Interview, but the violent excesses of the third act ultimately left a bad taste in my mouth. Spy fans who come across it on TV in the future should certainly watch at least the first half, and will be rewarded with an interesting take on the spy parody subgenre and quite a few genuine laughs. But anyone expecting more from this movie thanks to its dramatic will it or won't it be released? controversy will probably find themselves let down, and wishing that if this sort of brouhaha had to be stirred up, it had been over a better film. Because ultimately, The Interview is a wildly uneven movie, and at best a mixed bag.

Dec 24, 2014

Tradecraft: Gary Oldman Joins Kevin Costner Spy Movie

They played similar spymasters, one British, one American, in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Now Gary Oldman and Kevin Costner will star in a spy movie together, according to The Hollywood Reporter. When Millennium Films first acquired the script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg (The Rock) last year, Deadline described it as "an action movie about the right man in the wrong body. In a last-ditch effort to stop a diabolical plot, a dead CIA operative’s memories, secrets and skills are implanted into an unpredictable and dangerous prison inmate in hopes that he will complete the operative’s mission." Because, of course, a dangerous prison inmate is exactly who you'd transfer those memories into, not, say, a CIA volunteer who has had the same spy training himself. Oldman will play the director of the CIA. Ariel Vromen (The Iceman) directs. The cast also includes Ryan Reynolds (Safe House), Tommy Lee Jones (Yuri Nosenko, KGB), Gal Gadot (Fast Five) and Alice Eve (Men in Black 3). Criminal is produced by Millennium and will be released by Summit in August 2015.

Tradecraft: Malkovich, Douglas, Bloom and Collette Join Noomi Rapace in Michael Apted's Unlocked

We first heard about the Noomi Rapace spy thriller Unlocked last April, when Mikael Håfström (Escape Plan) was attached to direct. Since then, Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough, Enigma) has replaced him, and several more actors have been cast, according to Deadline. John Malkovich (RED) and Toni Collette (Hostages) will co-star, along with Michael Douglas (Haywire) and Orlando Bloom (Black Hawk Down) in what the trade describes as a female-driven, "Bourne-esque" thriller. (Of course, as we know, every spy movie nowadays is described as "Bourne-esque.") According to the trade, Rapace (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) plays "a CIA interrogator who unwittingly gives info to terrorists and must race against the clock to stop their biological warfare attach on London." Lorenzo Di Bonaventura (RED, Salt, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) produces, from a Black List script by Peter O'Brien (Halo: Reach). I'm a big fan of Rapace, and I can't wait to see her topline her own action spy thriller. This could be good!

Dec 23, 2014

Tradecraft: Henry Cavill Keeps Spying After U.N.C.L.E.

When he's not Superman, he's a spy. It looks like Henry Cavill plans to keep right on spying after playing Napoleon Solo in the upcoming Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature. Through his production shingle, Promethean, the actor has optioned a series of action-oriented espionage novels by Duncan Falconer. According to Deadline, "John Stratton is an operative of the SBS [Special Boat Service, the Naval equivalent of the more famous SAS] who works with the Intelligence Detachment in Northern Ireland." The movie, envisioned as the first in a franchise, is simply titled Stratton, but according to Falconer (via is based on his novel The Hostage. The plot of the novel involves the IRA, a mole in MI5, a captured U.S. Navy SEAL and a deadly terror plot against London. For the movie version, according to the author, the antagonists have been changed to Islamic fundamentalists and Paris to Rome. Surprisingly, that means Cavill will limit his spying to the same locations he covered as Napoleon Solo. According to the trade, Stratton will shoot in Southern Italy, Rome and London, all locales seen in Warner's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Shooting is scheduled to begin in the spring.

Dec 22, 2014

First Image From Warner's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Movie

We saw a small, blurry version of this still last fall, but now Warner Bros. (via Dark Horizons) has released a great big, high-res version of the first official photo from their forthcoming feature version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Stars Henry Cavill (who plays Napoleon Solo), Armie Hammer (as Illya Kuryakin) and Alicia Vikander are pictured in a lush Roman setting showing off the movie's Sixties fashions. (I love that director Guy Ritchie chose to retain the TV series' Cold War setting!) The Man From U.N.C.L.E. opens in August.

Sutherland on 24's Future

24 star Kiefer Sutherland talked to The Telegraph (via Dark Horizons) about the future of his iconic character Jack Bauer. And, to hear Sutherland tell it, that future doesn't look too bright. Then again, he's got a history of being a bit of a downer on the subject. When the cancelled show returned to Fox as a summer "event series," 24: Live Another Day, there were rumors that it could live on as a series of miniseries. (And it worked way better as 12 episodes, in my opinion, so I hope it does.) Or even that the long-gestating 24 movie, which had gone through a series of fits and starts since the end of the eighth season, was still in the cards. Sutherland seems to shoot down those ideas, telling The Telegraph, "Me, I don't see going back to it. We had set out to do 12 episodes [of Live Another Day] to end the show and deal with some of the past history of the show. It was also an irresistible opportunity to go shoot in England. So for all of those reasons it made sense to do that last season." But even the actor himself realizes that when it comes to reprising iconic spy roles, it's best to listen to Micheline Connery and never say never, admitting, "I think I said the same thing at the end of Season 8. So I would hate to be held to that." Hopefully he can be convinced to return again, either for another limited series or a movie. Jack Bauer is such a great character that it makes a lot of sense to revisit the format every couple of years during the summer. Plus, fan-favorite supporting character Tony Alemeida (Carlos Bernard) was frustratingly absent from Live Another Day, but made a surprise appearance in a DVD and Blu-ray bonus feature that seemed to portend his return should the series come back in any form, and many fans would love to see that happen. So let's hope Sutherland changes his mind....

Dec 18, 2014

Tradecraft: Fox Films Littell's Defection

Deadline reports that screenwriter Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down) has sold a spec script called Defection, based on a Robert Littell spy novel, to Fox. The trade doesn't happen to mention which Littell novel in their story, but Coming Soon has reached the very reasonable conclusion that it's the author's first spy novel, The Defection of A. J. Lewinter. But that Cold War tale has been updated for our times. The script made the prestigious Black List, which offers a plot summary: "After the Edward Snowden affair, an intelligence contractor defects to North Korea, taking a mysterious bag with him, and the CIA hires an expert trained during the Cold War to help with the case." (Let's see if it's still North Korea by the time the film gets made since studios seem to be scared of them right now.) Last month, The Tracking Board reported that Brad Pitt was attached to star in and produce Defection. I'm not sure if he's still in the picture, or if that deal fell through and the Fox one supersedes Pitt's involvement.

Dec 11, 2014

Trailer: The Gunman

Sean Penn (Fair Game) throws his hat quite aggressively into the "over-the-hill-actor-reinvents-himself-as-an-action-hero" sweepstakes in the trailer for the latest neo-Eurospy movie from Taken director Pierre Morel, The Gunman. And the results look pretty stunning to me! Almost as stunning as the heavy-hitting cast, which also includes Javier Bardem (Skyfall), Idris Elba (Luther), Ray Winstone (Edge of Darkness) and Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall). Morel (who also directed From Paris With Love) is a master of this genre, and I cannot wait to see this movie! It seems like we've been hearing about it forever, but I guess it's really only been about two yearsThe Gunman (based on the Jean-Patrick Manchette novel Prone Gunman) hits theaters in March.

Dec 9, 2014

Tradecraft: Showtime Buys Corporate Espionage Comedy From Marc Webb

Deadline reports that Showtime has bought a half-hour corporate espionage comedy pilot from Amazing Spider-man and (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb and writer David J. Rosen (I Just Want My Pants Back). Titled Professionals, the trade reports that the potential series "centers on two partially-broken mid-level employees who become ensnared in a dangerous game of corporate espionage." The cable network has ordered three scripts, designed to serve as the first three episodes should it go to series, but will still go through a pilot phase before making a final decision on the project.

Dec 4, 2014

Tradecraft: TNT Renews Legends

Well, here's some good TV news to offset Monday's disappointing announcement about the cancellation of Matador. Deadline reports that TNT has picked up Homeland and 24 producer Howard Gordon's latest spy drama Legends for a 10-episode second-season. Based on the Robert Littell novel, Legends stars Sean Bean (GoldenEye) as FBI Special Agent Martin Odum, a deep cover operative who has lived so many legends he can no longer be sure of his own identity. The first season ended with a paradigm-shifting cliffhanger involving MI6, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, an assassination and of course a vast conspiracy, so fans will be relieved to learn of the pickup. I was seriously fearful it wouldn't happen when TNT cancelled Dallas a few months ago, and Sean Bean committed to another TV show. (UK period drama The Frankenstein Chronicles is also a short season show, so the industrious actor can do both.) So this is most welcome news! The first season started off a bit rough, but quickly evolved into the terrific sort of spy TV we expect from Gordon. According to the trade, "there could be some supporting cast changes going into Season 2." That's not surprising considering how radically the events of the first season finale shook up the show's infrastructure.

James Bond Will Return in... SPECTRE!!!

EON Productions, MGM and Sony announced this morning that the next James Bond movie, once again starring Daniel Craig as Agent 007, will be called SPECTRE! Obviously that title holds enormous ramifications for the film's plot and the series. Thanks mainly to legal issues, now resolved, the eponymous villainous organization hasn't officially been heard from since Diamonds Are Forever back in 1971.

Joining Craig will be returning cast members Ralph Fiennes as M, Ben Whishaw as Q, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, and Rory Kinnear as Bill Tanner. This time around they'll be joined by Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), Monica Belucci (Agents secrets) as Lucia Sciarra, David Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) as the unfortunately named henchman Mr. Hinx, Léa Seydoux (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) as Madeleine Swann, and Andrew Scott (Sherlock) as Denbigh, who director Sam Mendes described as "a new addition to the Whitehall family." The producers remained enigmatically cagey about exactly what the rest of those roles entail, and Waltz's character name, perhaps tellingly, was not revealed. The stunning Belucci was first rumored as a Bond Girl way back in 1997 for Tomorrow Never Dies, when Pierce Brosnan strongly advocated her for the role of Paris Carver.

Perhaps more anticipated than any human actor in the film, the new Bond car was also revealed. And it's nearly as stunning as Belucci. It's the all-new Aston Martin DB10, which Mendes claimed the Bond team had designed together with the car company.

As previously reported, Skyfall's Mendes will once again direct, this time joined behind the camera by editor Lee Smith (X-Men: First Class, Inception) and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, HER, Interstellar) stepping in for Roger Deakins. Van Hoytema previously indicated that while Deakins shot Skyfall on digital, he will shoot on film. Thomas Newman will return to score once again, as will production designer Dennis Gassner, 2nd unit director Alexander Witt, special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, visual effects supervisor Steve Begg, costume designer Jany Temime (no word yet about Tom Ford, but I would assume he'll be providing Craig's suits again) and stunt coordinator Gary Powell. The twenty-fourth official James Bond movie begins its seven month shoot on Monday, and opens worldwide on November 6, 2015. (It was previously slated to open in the UK two weeks prior.) Less than a year to wait! You can see more pictures from the event at and watch the video of the press conference below:

Dec 3, 2014

Watch the Official Bond 24 Title and Cast Announcements Early Tomorrow Morning

While rumors about the likes of Kristoff Waltz, Monica Belucci, Dave Bautista, Léa Seydoux and Andrew Scott (as well as Fiat 500s) have been swirling, EON, MGM and Sony will officially announce the cast of Bond 24 along with the film's title early tomorrow morning or late tonight, depending on where you live. The press conference will be live streamed at 11am Thursday, GMT, which works out to 6am for Americans on the East Coast and 3am for West Coasters like myself. Will the title be one of the remaining unused Fleming titles, like Risico or The Property of a Lady? Will the rumors be confirmed? Debunked? Are there any surprises left? Watch here when the moment comes!

The Condor Flies Again

Thirty-seven years after he last wrote about the character, James Grady is revisiting his most famous creation. Ronald Malcolm, hero of the classic 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor and its 1978 sequel, Shadow of the Condor, will return next year in the provocatively titled Last Days of the Condor. According to the publisher's copy, "Last Days of the Condor is the bullet-paced, ticking clock saga of America on the edge of our most startling spy world revolution since 9/11. Set in the savage streets and Kafkaesque corridors of Washington, DC, shot through with sex and suspense, with secret agent tradecraft and full-speed action, with hunters and the hunted, Last Days of the Condor is a breakneck saga of America’s secrets." Grady previously explored the post-9/11 intelligence world with the Condor concept in an odd "reimagining" of his classic novel, a short story entitled "" That tale was about a new, young Condor; this one is about the original Condor in his old age. The Kirkus Review provides a few more details about the plot of the new novel:
All these years after achieving notoriety as a CIA whistle-blower, the silver-haired Condor lives on the edge of reality. Put on meds for every conceivable kind of post-traumatic disorder following a heart attack, he's visited by ghosts and gets "lost in time." When a distrusting federal agent assigned to monitor his recovery is found brutally murdered in Condor's apartment, [Condor] is the prime suspect.
That kind of makes it sound like more of a sequel to the movie version, 3 Days of the Condor, than the book. In the movie, the hero (rechristened Joe Turner and played by Robert Redford) ultimately blows the whistle on the CIA, an iconic finale both in keeping with its own post-Watergate, post-Pentagon Papers, post-Church Committee times (in which the country was deeply distrustful of the government and its intelligence agencies) and uncommonly prescient regarding our own (countless contemporary spy movies including Green Zone and Safe House have copied that ending, and supporters of Edward Snowden constantly compare him to Condor). In the book, there is no whistle blowing. Perhaps Kirkus Review is referring to something that happens in Shadow of the Condor, I suppose; I haven't read that one. But one could hardly blame Grady for incorporating the mythology of the film into his literary Condor world. While the book is inarguably one of the cornerstones of the modern espionage genre, there is little doubt that today more people are familiar with the story through the Sydney Pollack-directed movie. As a fan of both versions, I just hope he goes to the trouble of reconciling the two. According to Grady's publicists, the forthcoming sequel has already been optioned for a film itself, by MGM. (It would be quite cool if Redford could be lured into reprising his famous role.)

Last Days of the Condor hits shelves on February 17, 2015, published by Forge, and is available for pre-order on Amazon now.

Dec 2, 2014

Tom Cruise Performs More Crazy Stunts in Mission: Impossible 5

In each Mission: Impossible movie, Tom Cruise seems to like to top whatever crazy stunt he performed in the one before it. Dangling from the side of the world's tallest building, Dubai's Burj Khalifa, in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol seemed pretty hard to top—terrestrially, anyway. Obviously once you've scaled the tallest building, if you still want to go up, you've got to dangle from an airplane. Or at least cling to one. And that's exactly what Cruise did last month while filming in the UK. ABC News reports (with pictures and video) that the 52-year-old actor had himself strapped to the side of an Airbus A4005 and clung to fuselage of the massive transport plane as it took off and reached an altitude of 5000 feet (putting him almost twice as high off the ground as he was in Dubai) at a speed of 340mph. So, yeah, maybe that tops running down the Burj Khalifa. And earlier today, according to the London Evening Standard, he filmed a chase scene in London's Piccadilly Circus shoving his way through real crowds. Okay, so that one's not quite as death-defying, but it does sound pretty harrowing if you happened to be stuck in traffic in the area. As previously reported, Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) is directing, and Cruise is joined by returning team members Jeremy Renner (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Bourne Legacy), Simon Pegg (Mission: Impossible III and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) and (per Dark Horizons) Ving Rhames (veteran of all the Mission: Impossible films to date), along with newcomers to the series Rebecca Ferguson (The White Queen) and Alec Baldwin (The Hunt For Red October). Mission: Impossible 5 opens Christmas Day next year.

Additionally, The Mail Online posted this amateur video of the stunt in progress. (McQuarrie, obviously, will make it look considerably more exciting, no doubt with the aid of Lalo Schifrin's famous theme music!)

Dec 1, 2014

Tradecraft: Matador Cancelled

This is very disappointing news! After initially announcing that it was already renewed for a second season before the first one even started airing, El Rey Network have changed their minds and cancelled their entertaining spy series Matador. Deadline reports that the series, billed as a "Latino James Bond" (but really more of a Latino Alias) did fairly well in America, but failed to find international buyers. That's really too bad, because Matador was a lot of fun. It was an entertaining, action-oriented, somewhat fantastical throwback spy series. And it came from a roster of heavy hitters, including Alias producers Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who recycled some of their Alias mythology by mixing spies with mystical artifacts) and El Rey founder Robert Rodriguez. The news of its cancellation comes on top of the sad news of the premature death of one of its stars, Elizabeth Pena. I will miss Matador.

Nov 30, 2014

BBC Plots New Version of Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent

The Guardian reports that the BBC will air a new 3-part adaptation of Joseph Conrad's 1907 novel The Secret Agent in 2015. Playwright Tony Marchant (The Whistleblowers, The Mark of Cain) is behind the new miniseries. Conrad's tale of a spy posing as a Soho shopkeeper ordered by his Russian handler to set off a bomb in order to provoke the British government into cracking down on anarchism is particularly relevant today. It's been adapted several times before, as a 1996 feature with Bob Hoskins, Christian Bale and Robin Williams, a 1992 miniseries with Peter Capaldi and David Suchet, a 1967 telefilm with Nigel Green, and of course Alfred Hitchcock's 1936 Sabotage (he'd already used Secret Agent as the title of his Ashenden adaptation) with Oskar Homolka, but not in the post-9/11 era when the turn-of-the-century tale of terrorism takes on new contemporary resonance. This commission comes in the same slate as the Len Deighton adaptation SSGB. No casting, airdate or U.S. broadcast partner have yet been announced.

Nov 27, 2014

New Agent Carter Promo

Celebrate Thanksgiving with a new promo for ABC's upcoming period spy drama Agent Carter...

Nov 20, 2014

Tradecraft: Purvis and Wade Adapt Deighton for BBC

Variety reports that James Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Skyfall, Casino Royale, The World Is Not Enough) have signed on to write a 5-episode miniseries for BBC One based on Ipcress File author Len Deighton's novel SS-GB. As much as I love Deighton, I have to confess I've never read that one because his alternate history novels never interested me as much as his Cold War spy thrillers. So I'll rely on the trade's plot summary. "It is set in an imaginary Britain controlled by the Nazis, if Germany had occupied the country. It centers on a police detective caught between the Nazis and the British resistance." But the alternate history setting doesn't mean that it's not a spy story! Speaking to The Guardian, Purvis and Wade called SS-GB "a brilliant tale of espionage that dares to think the unthinkable." I'll certainly have to read the book before this miniseries airs in 2015! I can't help but be a tad disappointed that this isn't news on the new television adaptation of Deighton's masterful Bernard Samson cycle that was first reported on last year, but on which there have been no updates ever since, but I guess I should just be glad that any Deighton is coming to television. And this sounds like fertile ground for a series, for sure! Besides their contributions to the last five Bond movies, Purvis and Wade's other genre credits include Johhny English and The Italian Job remake (on which they ended up uncredited).

Nov 19, 2014

Double O Section Classic: Encore Review: Espionage Agent (1939)

In the days leading up to WWII, Joel McCrea made near back-to-back spy films with polar opposite political agendas. Alfred Hitchcock’s genre-defining action masterpiece Foreign Correspondent warned of the chaos brewing in Europe and made the clear case that it would be impossible for America and Americans to avoid being caught up in it, so the U.S. should make a stand soon and come to the aid of its overseas allies. (As a Brit working in Hollywood, Hitchcock himself had an obvious patriotic agenda.) Prior to that role, however, McCrea played an American diplomat in Espionage Agent, a movie that dared to vilify Hitler’s Germany at a time when studios preferred to play it safe with international politics, yet at the same time advocated America’s neutrality. "If America, lacking the protective laws it needs, is drawn into another war," one mouthpiece character declares, "it will be because of those human ostriches who keep their heads buried in the sand." While advocating isolationism, the movie recognizes its drawbacks. "Isolation is a political policy, and not a brick wall around the nation," comments another character. "And fancy pants guys [meaning spies] walk right through political policies."

Espionage Agent blames nefarious foreign spies and saboteurs for warmongering in America, ignoring all the other factors that led to U.S. involvement in the Second World War, but at the same time makes the sound case that the United States badly needs a counterintelligence agency of its own to root out those spies. That, the film’s creators naively believe, will be the end of it. As long as U.S. authorities can round up all the foreign agents operating within the country, America need have no more involvement with the war in Europe. So while it’s heart may have been in the right place, the movie’s politics have dated badly. But how does Espionage Agent fare as pure entertainment? Sadly not so well. Director Lloyd Bacon and the four credited writers had not yet cracked the genre the way Hitchcock had.

At a time when Hollywood films weren’t supposed to stir up trouble by specifically identifying the foreign powers behind the spies and saboteurs creeping all over movie screens, Espionage Agent boldly opens with headlines about German agents operating subversively on U.S. soil and Congress’s need to take action. They get away with this by hiding behind a title card that identifies these events as occurring in 1915, but the implication is clear that they’re happening again. Once we flash forward to the contemporary setting of 1939, there’s no more specific mention of Germany, though all the foreign agents speak with German accents and have names like Muller and come from a country that borders Switzerland with soldiers whose uniforms closely resemble those of the SS.

McCrea plays Barry Corvall, a U.S. diplomat in Algiers. He helps a throng of American travelers escape the revolution-rocked nation, including the beautiful Brenda Ballard (played by the equally beautiful Brenda Marshall). When he sees Brenda, it’s love at first sight. Unfortunately, we’ve just seen her agreeing out of desperation to spy for the loathsome Herr Muller (Martin Kosleck) if only he’ll furnish her with an American passport so she can get home. Barry books Brenda passage on the same steamship he’s taking back to the States, and woos her throughout the voyage. Not wanting to drag him into her own unfortunate predicament, Brenda adamantly refuses his advances.

Back in America, Barry and his friend Lowell enroll in some sort of advanced diplomat school, and learn more about the dangers of foreign spies. This section plays out like the Top Gun of the diplomatic corps; it’s clearly designed to attract eager recruits for foreign service. Barry eventually completes his higher learning and gets posted to Paris. And he finally convinces Brenda to marry him. Of course, that’s when the snake Muller emerges from the shadows, reminding her of her debt of service to his organization. Here, the movie does something surprising. It doesn’t milk the drama of a wife coerced into spying on her husband. Instead, Brenda comes clean with Barry and tells him everything. He, in turn, reveals all this to his bosses in the State Department.

I don’t know if their response accurately belies the astonishing ignorance of the pre-war U.S. intelligence community, or merely the astonishing ignorance of Hollywood’s screenwriters at telling good spy stories. Either way, instead of using this newfound asset as a double agent to pass misinformation along to the Germans, the honchos at the State Department call Muller into their office and tell him exactly what they know, blowing their chances at running any sort of counterspy operation. Muller smiles and says it’s all true, but what can they do about it? He’s a foreign citizen, so under the current U.S. law they have no choice but to let him go. Way to go, State Department; way to accomplish nothing. Yes, that’s the movie’s point, but it makes for frustrating plot development.

So halfway through the movie, we’re robbed (twice) of what could have been the compelling espionage drama promised in the film’s title. Luckily, Corvall feels just as cheated as the audience, and vows to single-handedly bust up this spy ring. Of course Brenda won’t let him go it alone, so he reluctantly accepts her help. As a private citizen, he’ll fashion himself and Brenda into a two-person CIA. And so they head off together to take on all the espionage agents in Europe, trying to gather evidence of infiltration that will force Congress to act... somehow. This private mission leads to the good stuff we expect from Thirties spy movies, like secret codes, foreign embassies, listening to conversations through windows and–of course–crossing borders on trains. But still, Barry and Brenda are dogged by America’s general lack of preparedness to function as a superpower. When Barry tries to bluff that American agents are watching all the train stations, the head German (oops, I mean head "foreign") agent snidely gloats, "Ve know America has no counter-espionage service."

Things still manage to get exciting in a kind of third-rate way, and then wrap up very suddenly against the same conditions that end Foreign Correspondent, with the world on the verge of war. It’s not giving away too much about a movie of this era to say that Barry does something worthy of praise, but sadly America is in no position to offer it. "You helped forge the weapon the service so badly needed," says his former State Department superior. "And yet the service can’t show its gratitude for it." The age-old secret agent’s dilemma: there’s no public reward for secret service. Of course, the movie itself has managed to make its very public case for an American counterintelligence agency, so it’s undeniably successful to some degree, and of considerable interest to students of spy history. Yet its creators remain blissfully hopeful that such an organization will enable the country to maintain its isolationist outlook, and steer clear of the troubles in Europe.

Espionage Agent is a curious time capsule from that moment when Hollywood was first dabbling with the notion of a secret agent hero. Spies were still shadowy villains, aiming to do America harm, but what about a counterintelligence officer, protecting the country from such threats? Barry Corvall is still a private citizen, and a cinematic James Bond is still two decades away. Despite a few anomalies during WWII, the heroic counter agent wouldn’t emerge until the Cold War, but Espionage Agent is notable as an early experiment in that direction. It’s also worth seeing for solid performances from Joel McCrea and the truly stunning Brenda Marshall, whose career was sadly never as big as it should have been. But it’s far from top-shelf spy entertainment. For that, seek out McCrea’s next spy movie, Foreign Correspondent.

Rare U.N.C.L.E. and Vaughn Screenings in Los Angeles

Los Angeles spy fans can look forward to seeing some exciting, rarely screened Sixties spy movies on the big screen this weekend! Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Theater will show a double feature of two Man From U.N.C.L.E. moviesThe Spy With My Face and One Spy Too Many, on Friday, November 21 and Saturday, November 22. The first film starts at 7:30, the second plays at 9:25. On Saturday there will also be a matinee program beginning at 3:15. Best of all, both films will be shown in 35mm IB Technicolor prints! The prints come from Tarantino's personal collection, and I doubt either one has played in L.A. since the Sixties.

The Spy With My Face (1965) is the feature version of the Season 1 episode "The Double Affair" padded out with newly shot material that eventually ended up (used differently) in other episodes. Eurospy vixen Senta Berger (The Quiller Memorandum, Our Man in Marrakesh, Peau d'espion) brings the va-va-va-voom. One Spy Too Many (1966) is the re-edited feature version of the 2-part Season 2 opener "The Alexander the Greater Affair," co-starring Rip Torn, Dorothy Provine (Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die) and Yvonne Craig (In Like Flint). Like The Spy With My Face, One Spy Too Many features some footage not seen on TV, mostly involving Craig. It also excises the worst subplot from the TV episodes, featuring Alexander's parents.

Perhaps even more exciting than the U.N.C.L.E. movies is another Robert Vaughn spy flick of that era (also an IB Technicolor 35mm print!), The Venetian Affair (1967), which plays on Sunday, November 23 and Monday, November 24 at 7:30pm. (There's also a Sunday matinee at 3:15.) Why is that more exciting? Well, if you read this blog regularly, then you'll probably know why I think so. Because it co-stars my favorite Eurospy babe of all, Elke Sommer (Deadlier Than the Male, The Prize)! And Luciana Paluzzi (Thunderball, OSS 117: Murder For Sale) and Boris Karloff (Black Sabbath) don't hurt either. It would have been great if that had been paired with the David McCallum vehicle Sol Madrid to continue the U.N.C.L.E. theme, but I guess Tarantino doesn't have that one in his collection. There is a Sixties spy show connection though, as it's paired with Hickey and Boggs (1972), the private eye movie that reunited the I Spy duo of Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. I guess the timing on that one isn't ideal (especially the promise of a "special bonus after [the] feature"), but it's still a good movie worth watching. Speaking of bonuses, the New Bev always plays a selection of themed trailers from Tarantino's collection accompanying the feautres, so these shows probably promise loads of cool Sixties spy trailers. All in all, it's an excellent weekend ahead for spy fans! Personally, I plan on hitting both screenings.

As always at The New Bev, the cost of one $8 ticket covers both features. Tickets are available for pre-order from Brown Paper Tickets, or at the door the night of the show.

Nov 18, 2014

Tradecraft: Brad Anderson to Direct Bourne-esque Shadow Run

Deadline reports that Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian) has signed on to direct a "Bourne-esque" spy thriller called Shadow Run for Sony. (If you haven't caught on in years of reading this blog, every spy thriller is described as "Bourne-esque" at this stage. It's how they get sold. I wasn't alive or reading trades back in the Sixties, but I imagine back then they were all called "Bond-esque.") The studio snapped up Joe Gazzam's spec script back in February for Neil Moritz to produce. According to The Hollywood Reporter, "the action is put in motion when a viral attack puts lives in danger, forcing a CIA agent to enact a secret prisoner exchange of Russia’s most notorious spy for the American scientist who can create a cure. It has been described by one source as 'Safe House on a plane.'" I didn't care for Safe House, but I do like planes... so I'll give it the benefit of the doubt! (Plus, of course, I would never judge a movie by a studio source's pithy log line for the script.)

Nov 17, 2014

Tradecraft: New Mata Hari Miniseries in the Works with International Cast

French actress Vahina Giocante (Secret défense) will follow in the footsteps of Greta Garbo, Jeanne Moreau and Sylvia Kristel when she takes on the role of one of the most famous (if not particularly successful) spies of all time in a  new Russian-made miniseries Mata Hari. And The Hollywood Reporter reports that she'll be backed up by an impressive international cast including John Malkovich (RED), Rutger Hauer (The Osterman Weekend), Christopher Lambert (Fortress), Fedor Bondarchuk (The Spy), Kseniya Rappoport (The Double Hour) and, according to an IMDb listing, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's Svetlana Khodchenkova (who also memorably embodied Steranko's Madame Hydra in The Wolverine). American director Dennis Berry (The Saint: The Blue Dulac, Counterstrike) will helm the 12-part series, which is set to air on Russian state network First Channel and Ukraine's Inter in 2015. According to the trade, unsurprisingly, "an English-language version for the international market will also be shot, with Lisbon's well-preserved 19th- and 20th-century architecture providing locations along with St. Petersburg." With well-known names like Malkovich and Hauer in the cast, I would think this project will find the American distribution it's seeking. And if it does, I'll be sure to tune in!

State of Affairs Premieres Tonight on NBC

The next new spy series of the season, State of Affairs, kicks off tonight on NBC at 10/9c. Katherine Heigl (Killers) stars as Charlie Tucker, the CIA officer responsible for briefing the President on the intelligence issues of the day. Alfre Woodard plays the President in question. So far, that sounds like a good premise for a spy show to me, since we've never seen one focused on that particular level of the Agency, and even those exploring the intersection between espionage and politics are fairly rare. (And when they do come, it tends to be with spy storylines on political shows, like Scandal, rather than vice versa.) But that's not the end of NBC's premise. These two powerful women have something else in common besides a healthy interest in secret intelligence. Heigl's character was once engaged to the President's son, who was killed in a terrorist attack. And now both women want revenge. That's where things start to sound a bit dicey for me. Obviously you need a personal angle to hook viewers, but this particular one threatens to steer the show away from its potential as an intelligent desk spy saga into the realm of Alias and 24. Not that there's anything wrong with Alias and 24 (I loved both those shows), but they're shows that we've seen before. (To put it another way, it sounds like Covert Affairs if it had launched immediately with Season 4, rather than started out with the fresher, earlier seasons, which dealt more with CIA office politics than larger-than-life threats.) I'm crossing my fingers that State of Affairs proves to be something new instead. To help draw your own conclusions, here's a trailer:

Nov 12, 2014

Tradecraft: Bond Starts Shooting in December

Variety reports that production will officially begin on the still untitled Bond 24 on December 6. About time! My internal biological Bond clock is still somehow set to an era I was for the most part too young to every really know (except for a three film run during the Brosnan era) when Bond movies materialized every two years like clockwork. So last week as we hit the two year mark from Skyfall's release, I really started getting pangs badly. It's too bad we've got to wait three years for Sam Mendes' follow-up to that blockbuster (Bond 24 is slated to open in the U.K. on Oct. 23, 2015, and in the U.S. Nov. 6, 2015), but at least it won't be four again like that excruciating period between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall! A firm shooting date always makes me feel more at ease. Despite daily rumors in the tabloid press, no casting announcements have yet been made about villains or Bond Girls in Bond 24. (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol's Lea Seydoux is widely touted for a role.) But the returning MI6 support staff is known. In addition to Daniel Craig (obviously!) returning as Agent 007, Ralph Fiennes will be back as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Rory Kinnear as Bill Tanner and Ben Whishaw as Q.

Not a Joke: Sony Planning Spider-man Spin-off About Aunt May as a Spy?

When I read the Latino Review headline about Sony, in obvious desperation, planning a Spider-man spin-off movie about Aunt May, I actually laughed out loud. (And wondered for a second if it was April 1.) Then when I read the actual article and saw that they wanted to make a Sixties-set spy movie with a female lead, I stopped laughing. I was torn. I love Sixties spy movies, especially with female leads. And both Sixties-set spy movies and spy movies with female leads are hard to come by these days, and hard to get made. So if somehow shoehorning one into the Spider-man universe is the only way to do it, then maybe I'm not so opposed as I thought I was to giving the Spidey bit player least likely to get her own spin-off an all-new background as a secret agent with no precedent in the Marvel comic books. Maybe.

Why, you might very reasonably ask, are we even talking about the possibility of Aunt May as a spy? Well, it's because Sony has to keep making Spider-man movies (or at least movies tangentially related to Spider-man, I guess) in order to keep the rights to the character from reverting back to Marvel (who would just love to see their flagship character return to the fold, and be able to add him to their ever growing Marvel Cinematic Universe). But unfortunately for Sony, their last Spider-man movie didn't do as well as they'd hoped it would. (Maybe, just maybe, audiences weren't ready to see a character rebooted barely a decade after his screen debut....) So they've started panicking about the future of the franchise. And rather than figuring out how to get their lead character back on track, they're trying to come up with spin-offs featuring every possible Spidey Universe supporting character, hoping against hope to build the same sort of shared universe Marvel enjoys with a bunch of third-tier heroes and villains.

They've long been mooting a Sinister Six movie (who on earth wants to see Spider-man villains teaming up as good guys in a movie without Spider-man?), they keep threatening to put out a Venom movie (yawn... another villain re-positioned as an anti-hero), they've reportedly considered a movie teaming up all the female characters from the Spider-man comics (the likes of Spider-woman, Black Cat and Silver Sable, any one of whom I'd actually like to see on the big screen in the right context, but probably not as a team)... and now they've perhaps sunk to hilarious lows by, if Latino Review is to be believed (and their track record is pretty solid) thinking about an Aunt May movie. (Sally Field played Aunt May in the two most recent movies.) And just like their Sinister Six idea kind of seems like a poor copy of Marvel's success with the superhero jamboree Marvel's The Avengers, this concept also sounds a little like a copy of something Marvel's doing. Marvel, of course, has their own period piece about a female spy on the way, the eagerly anticipated TV miniseries Agent Carter, starring Hayley Atwell.

Now, if I were Sony and I were desperate to both save my Spider-man franchise by giving it a new twist and introduce audiences to characters who could be spun off into their own films and potentially spawn new franchises, I think I would probably turn back to the comics—specifically Marvel Team-Up, which paired Spidey with another Marvel hero month after month. Do that. Make a movie teaming proven box office commodity Spider-man up with the mostly unknown Silver Sable, and then you have the basis to give her her own movie. Next time team him up with Black Cat, and so on. But that's just me. Sony is apparently intent on creating spin-offs from whole cloth based partly on characters that audiences who don't read comics have never even heard of. So of all the bad ideas they're mulling, the Aunt May one actually sounds the least bad to me. According to Latino Review, "the target mood [of the spin-off] is some sort of espionage story in the vein of AMC’s Mad Men." Well, honestly, as regular readers know a sort of espionage story in the vein of Mad Men is what I want most out of life, so I guess I'm all for an Aunt May spin-off. And I never thought I'd hear myself saying that before! Kudos to whatever writer thought of pitching his Sixties female spy movie as an Aunt May movie. Whatever it takes...

UPDATE: Sony has, unsurprisingly, denied any of this.

Tradecraft: Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart Team Up For Spy Comedy

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (Fast Five) has always been careful to balance his serious movies with comedic ones, and now he's doing that with spy movies too. While he's got a serious Robert Ludlum starring role in the pipeline (The Janson Directive), he's also just signed on to star in the New Line buddy comedy Central Intelligence opposite Kevin Hart (Ride Along). Last time we heard about this project (back in January), Ed Helms was attached to star. Obviously that's changed, but he's still attached as a producer. Variety reports that Rawson Marshall Thurber (We're the Millers) will direct and do a rewrite on the script by Ike Barinholtz and Dave Stassen, and Sean Anders and John Morris. Hart will play a former high school sports star who's now an accountant. Johnson will play a former high school wimp who's now a superspy. At a high school reunion, the latter recruits the former to help him foil a plot to sell classified military secrets.

Nov 9, 2014

Worricker: Turks & Caicos Premieres Tonight on PBS

American audiences finally get to see David Hare's long-awaited follow-up to 2011's gripping spy drama Page Eight tonight on PBS's Masterpiece Contemporary. Worricker: Turks & Caicos airs in most regions at 9pm ET, but local PBS stations are always unpredictable, so you'll definitely want to check your local listings to be sure not to miss it. Bill Nighy's veteran MI5 agent Johnny Worricker returns, materializing in the faraway islands of Turks & Caicos after leaving his government position (and London) at the end of Page Eight. But we all know spies never retire. This time, an order from the CIA puts Worricker back to work. Once again, Nighy is backed up by an all-star cast, this time including Christopher Walken (A View to A Kill), Winona Ryder (Star Trek), Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club), Dylan Baker (The Tailor of Panama), Rupert Graves (Sherlock) and, returning from Page Eight, Ralph Fiennes (Skyfall). David Hare (Saigon: Year of the Cat) again writes and directs the 2-hour feature. Next Sunday, PBS airs the conclusion of the Worricker Trilogy, Salting the Battlefield. Both Turks & Caicos and Salting the Battlefield are already available to pre-order on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon as well. They come out next week, on November 18.

Nov 7, 2014

Tradecraft: Bridget Regan and Lyndsy Fonseca Join Agent Carter

The cast for ABC's period spy drama Agent Carter is growing. In separate stories, Deadline has reported that Bridget Regan (Legend of the Seeker, John Wick) and Lyndsy Fonseca (Nikita) have joined Hayley Atwell in the Marvel Comics-based show. Though she played a deadly secret agent for four seasons on Nikita, Fonseca apparently won't be spying on Agent Carter. (Or will she?) The trade describes her role as "Angie, an aspiring actress who befriends Peggy Carter." Regan (one of my favorite actresses) won't be playing an obvious agent either. The trade enigmatically explains that "she will play the recurring role of Dottie, a small-town girl from Iowa who’ll have a huge impact on the life of Agent Carter." Dominic Cooper (Fleming), Shea Whigham (American Hustle), Chad Michael Murray (Fruitvale Station) and Enver Gjokaj (Dollhouse) also star. Earlier this week ABC announced that Agent Carter will premiere on January 6.

Nov 6, 2014

Tradecraft: ABC Sets Premiere Date for Agent Carter

ABC's forthcoming period spy drama set in the Marvel Universe, Agent Carter, was commissioned as an 8-episode miniseries designed to bridge the gap between the fall and spring installments of the network's modern-day Marvel spy show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Today, ABC announced when that will happen. Deadline reports that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will air its mid-season finale on December 9, and then, after the holidays, Agent Carter will premiere in its timeslot on January 6, 2015, and air over consecutive weeks. Then Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns on March 3 for an uninterrupted spring run. Agent Carter stars Hayley Atwell (Restless, The Prisoner), reprising her role from Captain America: The First Avenger and (briefly) Captain America: The Winder Soldier as Peggy Carter, agent of S.S.R. (forerunner to S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Marvel Cinematic Universe). On the show, Agent Carter must contend with threats both earthly and otherworldly in the nascent days of the Cold War, as well as the systemic sexism in postwar America. Atwell should be well suited to the role, having previously played a secret agent in 1940s America in the miniseries Restless, based on an excellent spy novel by James Bond continuation author William Boyd (Solo). It was also announced this year that Atwell will cameo as Agent Carter in the 2015 Marvel feature film Ant-Man. That movie's prologue is said to take place in the 1960s and feature S.H.I.E.L.D. agents of that era, so presumably Peggy will be among them.

Nov 5, 2014

Tradecraft: EuropaCorp Prequel The Transporter Legacy Moves to Summer

Deadline reports that we'll have to wait a little bit longer to see the Statham-less prequel The Transporter Legacy. As previously reported, the neo-Eurospy reboot was set to bow in North America on March 6, but EuropaCorp USA has moved it back to June 19. A summer release date generally indicates that the studio has a lot of confidence in the movie, and that's probably more true than ever in the overcrowded marketplace of 2015. Ed Skrein takes over from Jason Statham as professional transporter Frank Martin, and Loan Chabanol is the franchise's latest neo-Eurospy babe. Brick Mansions' Camille Delamarre directs. As far as I know, The Transporter Legacy has no connection to TNT's Transporter TV series, though Delamarre did handle second unit duties on the show.

Reminder: Cold War Spy Series The Game Debuts Tonight on BBC America

BBC America's new Seventies-set Cold War spy show The Game debuts tonight at 10/9c on the cable network. We got our first inkling of The Game in Britain late last year, and found out America would be getting it too in January. Created by Toby Whithouse (Being Human, Doctor Who - for which he penned one of my favorite episodes), the series sounded like a mixture of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Mission: Impossible. The trailer, which hit last month, seems to bear that out. Though maybe "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (both versions, really) meets Spooks (MI-5)" would be more accurate, as it definitely seems to blend modern action sensibilities with a Seventies le Carré vibe. And that, to me, seems like an incredible combination! I will definitely be tuning in to BBC America's Dramaville this evening. Brian Cox (The Bourne Identity, RED) plays the Smiley-esque spymaster "Daddy," and Tom Hughes (Page Eight, The Lady Vanishes) provides the heartthrob appeal as his star agent Joe Lambe. They really seem to be going for the look of the 2011 Tinker Tailor film (with a conference room that could be the same set recycled), and for me that just adds to the appeal! Check out the trailer below, and read more on the BBC America website.

Tradecraft: Two Iran-Contra Scandal Movies in the Works

American Hustle chronicled the AbScam scandal of the early Eighties and ended up with an impressive box office and a slew of Academy Award nominations, so perhaps it was inevitable that the biggest scandal of that decade come next. Now there are at least two Iran-Contra Affair movie in the works just in time for the scandal's 30th anniversary. Deadline reports that Homeland director Michael Cuesta, who just helmed the Jeremy Renner journalistic thriller Kill the Messenger (which itself touches upon the fallout of one specific aspect of that scandal) will direct Code Name Veil for Black Label Media from a  Black List script by Matt Billingsly. The film deals with one of the most famous casualties in the history of the CIA, Beirut station chief William F. Buckley (no relation to the spy author of the same name). According to the trade, Code Name Veil follows a rookie CIA agent investigating the terrorist bombings of the American Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. "When his station chief and mentor is taken hostage, he must resort to desperate measures, unwittingly becoming part of the scandal that would become known as Iran-Contra." This story should make for a fascinating film, and based on his work on Homeland and Kill the Messenger, I'd say Cuesta is the perfect man to tell it.

Meanwhile, another prolific TV director, Mikael Salomon (whose spy credits include helming both The Company and The Agency, which is a kind of neat feat), will tackle the spy scandal from a different perspective in Angel's Paradise. In a separate story, Deadline reports that "the 1980s-set pic tracks the mysterious torture and murder of a wire service reporter during the Salvadoran civil war whose death leads to the uncovering of the Iran-Contra affair." This one is scripted by award-winning journalist and documentarian Paul VanDevelder. Between these two movies, it sounds like audiences should have a pretty good understanding of the events behind the Iran-Contra Affair in a few years.

Oct 31, 2014

Tradecraft: AMC Bags le Carré's Night Manager

Earlier this month we learned that Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston were circling a BBC miniseries adaptation of John le Carré's 1993 novel The Night Manager, and that the production was seeking a U.S. network partner. A bidding war ensued between multiple interested parties, and, according to Variety, AMC has emerged the winner. The trade reports that the cable network is "close to a deal" to come on board as U.S. distributor and production partner with BBC and Ink Factory, the production company behind recent le Carré film successes like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and A Most Wanted Man. Interestingly, Variety says that "the project is eyed as a six-episode mini although AMC’s run could expand to eight episodes with commercial time included." Meaning that The Night Manager could end up six episodes in the UK, and eight in America. Obviously the episodes would be cut completely differently for that to work (though ideally Americans wouldn't miss out on any content this way). This wouldn't be the first time a le  Carré miniseries has had episodes reconfigured for U.S. broadcast. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979) aired as seven episodes in Britain, but was trimmed down to six in America by re-cutting each episode and excising 25 minutes from the miniseries' overall runtime. As previously reported, David Farr (Hanna, Spooks) will pen the adaptation.

The Night Manager is the story of Jonathan Pine (presumably Hiddleston), a former soldier turned hotelier who ends up volunteering to become an undercover agent for a new branch of British Intelligence in an effort to get revenge for the death of a woman he loved in Cairo. Leonard Burr is the dogged intelligence officer with a background in enforcement who masterminds Pine's mission against Peer of the Realm arms dealer Richard Onslow Roper. Roper is the sort of upper-class Englishman completely devoid of morals for whom le Carré has always reserved a particular vitriol, and Hugh Laurie should have a blast playing him. (I'm assuming he'll be the snobbish Roper as opposed to the working class Burr.) It's a deceptively straightforward undercover story for le Carré, but there is still plenty of material for a miniseries. As Pine risks falling under the spell of his charming adversary (and his beautiful mistress), Burr must contend with overwhelming forces in the British and American Intelligence Community who would rather keep Roper in play, not so much for the chicken feed intelligence he sometimes throws their way, but because they're all becoming very rich off of his nefarious deals.

AMC's past forays into the spy genre have included the promising but cancelled-too-soon le Carré-esque series Rubicon, the ill-advised miniseries remake of The Prisoner, and this year's hit Revolutionary War series Turn (already renewed for a second season). Hugh Laurie has dabbled in the genre both on camera (including a memorable guest appearance on MI-5/Spooks as smarmy MI6 maven Jules Siviter) and in print (he authored the surprisingly terrific espionage novel The Gun Seller, which kind of reads like a parody of The Night Manager). Hiddleston has less spy experience, but as the villainous Loki he has taken on the comic book espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. in Marvel's The Avengers.

Oct 29, 2014

Tradecraft: Neo-Eurospy Reboot The Transporter Legacy Coming Next March

The Transporter reboot has a release date. Deadline reports that EuropaCorp USA, the new U.S. distribution arm of Luc Besson's French neo-Eurospy factory EuropaCorp (thanks to a partnership with Relativity), will release The Transporter Legacy on March 6, 2015. As previously reported, Ed Skrein (The Sweeney) steps into the shoes of Jason Statham as professional transporter Frank Martin. Skrein plays Martin at the beginning of his career. The trade provides a brief plot synopsis, revealing that this time out Martin crosses paths with femme fatale Anna (Loan Chabanol, Third Person), who wants him to take down a group of ruthless Russian human traffickers. To ensure his cooperation, Anna kidnaps Frank’s father (Ray Stevenson, Punisher: War Zone). Radivoje Bukvic (Taken) and Anatole Taubman (Quantum of Solace) also star. IGN (via Dark Horizons) premiered the first official photo of Skrein in the role, assuming the traditional Transporter pose in front of a car. The Transporter Legacy is still produced by Besson, but this time around he and series co-creator Robert Mark Kamen are leaving the writing chores to new blood, Bill Collage and Adam Cooper (Exodus: Gods and Kings). Camille Delamarre (Brick Mansions) directs. The big screen Transporter reboot has nothing to do with the television spinoff (which recently debuted to solid numbers on TNT), though Delamarre did cut his teeth directing second unit on the show.

The Transporter Legacy is intended to be the first in a new trilogy of Transporter movies starring Skrein. (And, frankly, its success will depend entirely on his charm. The original Transporter movies worked primarily because Jason Statham had it in spades.) But beyond that trilogy, we're likely to see even more neo-Eurospy movies of this ilk in theaters soon! Deadline reports that EuropaCorp recently secured a new line of credit that will allow them to increase their output from three films per year to eight.

Oct 26, 2014

Tradecraft: Paul Greengrass Ponders Some Serious Tunneling

Paul Greengrass is amassing quite a stack of espionage scripts on his development pile. As previously reported, he's already hard at work on an adaptation of the non-fiction spy memoir Agent Storm, and this summer he made the surprise announcement that he was reconsidering his long-held stance on never returning to the franchise that really put him on the map and would (hopefully) re-team with Matt Damon on a new Bourne movie which he would be writing himself. Yesterday Variety reported that the Bourne Ultimatum and Green Zone director has added a Cold War Berlin story to his growing pile. According to the trade, FilmNation Entertainment has acquired the screen rights to a book proposal (that's right; it's not even a book yet, just a proposal!) by journalist Greg Mitchell called The Tunnels. Mark Gordon (The Matador, The Man Who Wouldn't Die) will produce. The Tunnels is purportedly an "untold" true story of a harrowing escape from East Berlin during the days of the Wall about a group of West Germans funded by American news networks on an expedition to get their loved ones out of the East. (The trade doesn't say so, but I'm guessing the plan involves tunnels.) I hope this one happens. Personally, I love Wall-Crossing stories, and we don't get nearly enough of them nowadays.

Oct 22, 2014

Tradecraft: BBC America Acquires London Spy; Jim Broadbent Joins the Cast

It's not just British spy fans who will get to see Q step into a leading man spy role next year. American spy fans will also be able to watch the new BBC espionage drama London Spy. BBC America has come aboard as a production partner, according to Deadline, and will air the miniseries in the United States. As previously reported, the five-part series, created by Ian Fleming Steel Dagger winner Tom Rob Smith (author of Child 44), stars Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) as Danny, a "hedonistic romantic" drawn into the dangerous world of espionage when his new boyfriend, Alex, suddenly disappears without a trace. The trade also reports that Jim Broadbent (Closed Circuit, Any Human Heart), Charlotte Rampling (The Avengers, Spy Game), and Edward Holcroft (Kingsman: The Secret Service) have joined the cast, the latter (pictured) as Alex. Filming commenced in London last week under the direction of Jakob Verbruggen (The Fall, The Bridge).

Oct 18, 2014

Transporter TV Series Debuts Tonight On TNT

After taking a route as long and circuitous as one of the winding Riviera roads showcased on the series, the Transporter TV show finally debuts tonight on American television. Adapted from the Luc Besson-produced neo-Eurospy movies starring Jason Statham, the TV version stars Chris Vance as professional transporter Frank Martin. As one might expect of a TV show, there’s a bit more structure to his business on the show, allowing more regular characters than in the films. On TV, Frank has a reliable support staff. Transporter: The Series, and international co-production, was originally developed to air on Cinemax in the U.S. But for some reason Cinemax backed out, and the first season ended up airing in Europe, Australia and Canada a couple of years ago. Then TNT came to the rescue, ordering the existing first season and commissioning a second. The second one (now overseen by Strike Back’s Frank Spotnitz) recently began airing overseas, and tonight Americans can finally start watching the first one. But there are bound to be some changes from what Europeans saw. Since it was originally intended for Cinemax, the original version ofTransporter: The Series was full of gratuitous nudity, as suits that brand. The nudity will definitely be gone for TNT, and there may also be some edits for language and violence. While it certainly didn’t generate raves overseas, I found the first season of Transporter: The Series (which I broke down and bought on import DVD when it looked like there would be no American airing) to be pretty enjoyable. It’s  got the same daffy action we’ve come to expect from the movies. Vance is no Statham, sadly, but then who is? He makes an adequate lead, but the real star of the show is the car chase action, which is top notch. It’s the sort of all-action, testosorone-driven fare that fuelled basic cable line-ups in the 90s, but has been missing in recent years. If that’s what you’re looking for, definitely check it out.Transporter: The Series debuts tonight on TNT at 9/8c.