Apr 25, 2014

Tradecraft: Mark Strong Spies WIth Sacha Baron Cohen (UPDATED)

For a change, frequent villain Mark Strong (Body of Lies, Zero Dark Thirty) will be playing a good guy spy in Transporter 2 director Louis Leterrier's spy comedy Grimsby... though probably an annoyed good guy. Deadline reports that Strong has been cast as Baron Cohen's brother. Strong is a superspy, and Baron Cohen (Borat) is his idiotic football hooligan sibling. The odd couple pair are forced to go on the run together, and comedy ensues. Though he usually plays baddies, I actually much prefer Strong when he plays good guys (or sort of good guys), like in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He was also very good sending up his villainous image in a recent Jaguar commercial, so I look forward to seeing him in a comedy! Grimsby is scheduled to open in the U.S. on July 31, 2015.

UPDATE: In a separate story, Deadline adds that Annabelle Wallis, who played Ian Fleming's ill-fated WWII girlfriend Muriel Wright in the BBC miniseries Fleming, will co-star. Wallis' other spy credits include Strike Back, Pan-Am, Body of Lies and X-Men: First Class.

Apr 22, 2014

Trailer: Pierce Brosnan in The Love Punch

Pierce Brosnan in a wetsuit? Leading a team in scaling a cliff? (Still in that wetsuit, no less!) In a car chase through an exotic European capital? And a Pink Panther reference to boot? I'm so in! Here's the trailer for Brosnan's latest, The Love Punch, starring the former 007 and the always fantastic Emma Thompson as a divorced couple who reunite to pull off a jewel heist when their retirement savings are stolen. The Love Punch opens in the United States on May 23. We'll next see the busy Brosnan a few months later, returning to all-out spy action in November Man (with Olga Kurylenko), on August 27. After that he's got two more high-profile spy roles already in the can; we're still awaiting release dates for Survivor (with Milla Jovovich) and The Coup (with Owen Wilson).

Apr 18, 2014

Equalizer Teaser Poster Unveiled

Yahoo! has unveiled the teaser poster for the feature film version of the 80s TV series The Equalizer. After being in development for years and years and going through multiple star attachments, the movie opens in September. Denzel Washington stars as McCall, the former secret agent who atones for past sins by using his spy skills to help those with the odds against them. (I wish the poster said, "Odds against you? Need help? Call the Equalizer." But this is actually a pretty cool image.) As reported last week, the second season the TV show will finally materialize on Region 1 DVD the month before in conjunction with the movie.

Apr 17, 2014

Tradecraft: State of Affairs Elects Alfre Woodard President

NBC's Katherine Heigl CIA series State of Affairs has cast its U.S. President: Alfre Woodard. Deadline reports that Woodard (My Own Worst Enemy) will play the Commander in Chief that Heigl's CIA attaché briefs daily on world crises. Additionally, the trade blog also reports that Leslie Odom, Jr. (Person of Interest) will play Mitchell Manning, the President's Chief of Staff. Joe Carnahan (The A-Team) directs the pilot. Last year he directed the pilot for The Blacklist, and that not only got picked up to series, but went on to become one of the biggest hits of the season. Will he do it again?

Apr 16, 2014

Tradecraft: Spy Comedy American Ultra Assembles Eclectic Cast

This one sounds very intriguing to me. Deadline reports that Lionsgate has lined up Jesse Eisenberg (Now You See Me, The Social Network), Kristen Stewart (Jumper, Twilight), Walton Goggins (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy), Bill Pullman (Torchwood, The Equalizer), Topher Grace (The Double), Sharon Stone (Agent X), John Leguizamo (Executive Decision) and Tony Hale (Chuck, Veep) for an action-comedy called American Ultra. According to the trade, Eisenberg plays "a stoner slacker whose secret past as a highly-trained sleeper agent upturns his small-town life with girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) as he’s thrust into a covert government operation." A stoner spy comedy? I like it! That's something a bit different. Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) is directing, from a script by Max Landis (Chronicle). Filming kicked off this week.

Apr 15, 2014

GoldenEye Returns to the Big Screen in Los Angeles Next Month

Wow, it's a really good season for Bond on the big screen in Los Angeles right now! Hot on the heels of these two rare Never Say Never Again screenings (and a Goldfinger/Thunderball double bill at the Egyptian earlier this year) comes a chance to see Pierce Brosnan's 1995 Bond debut GoldenEye projected in 35mm at the Arclight in Hollywood. While the classic Connery movies play the revival circuit quite frequently, the other Bond actors get considerably less exposure. Lazenby is getting screened more and more lately (a great thing), and occasionally you'll get a Moore. But unless someone is doing a whole retrospective of multiple Bond movies, Dalton and Brosnan are hard to come by in theatrical showings. Which is why I'm quite pleased that the Arclight will be playing GoldenEye as part of their Arclight Presents series on Tuesday, May 20 at 8:00pm. Tickets are available for pre-order from the theater's website at a cost of $14 for non-members. Wow, it's hard to believe that GoldenEye is almost twenty years old! I still remember the exhilaration of seeing that trailer for the first time in '95. (Before Species... and long before trailers debuted online instead of in theaters.) After six years away from cinemas (unfortunately my formative years as a Bond fan, in middle school and high school), it was so exciting to see Brosnan step out and address the audience. "You were expecting somebody else?"

Thanks to Neil for alerting me to this one!

Another Chance to See Never Say Never Again on the Big Screen in Los Angeles, Paired With The Rock

Well, I suppose Never Say Never Again screenings are like those proverbial city busses. You wait and wait for one to come along, and then there's another one right behind it! Only two months ago I was writing about how rare it was to see the 1983 Rogue Bond picture play at revival houses. In my fourteen years living in Los Angeles, it hadn't played once, whereas in that same time span all of the other Bond movies (including the other rogue one, the '67 Casino Royale) had played at least twice eachand far more often that that in the case of the other Connerys! So for the sake of the film's relative rarity, I encouraged anyone in the area, even those Bond fans who (for some odd reason) dislike the movie, to be sure to see it when it played for three nights at the New Beverly on a double bill with Diamonds Are Forever. And now, just a scant few months after that, it's playing once again on the big screen in L.A., this time at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. (My favorite local theater—and the same one that's showing Prisoner episodes a few days later.) And this time on an even better double bill than before. It's a Sean Connery night with Never Say Never Again (1983) and The Rock (1996). They're running this double feature as part of their "Unofficial Sequels" series, as Connery's character in The Rock is a former British agent and the script makes some sly nods to Bond. You could also call it a Connery/Clement/La Frenais night, since writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Otley, Spies of Warsaw) contributed to both scripts (albeit on both occasions uncredited). Whatever the reason for the pairing, I think it's a great combination! For me, Connery got tougher and tougher as he grew older, and as much as I love him in the Bond role in the Sixties, he's at his peak of asskicking in these two movies. The double feature screens on Friday, April 25 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $11 for non-members, and available for pre-order through Fandango.

As I said the last time I was writing about a local Never Say Never Again screening, personally, I really like the movie a lot. Sure, the plot is a rehash of Thunderball; (but let's face it: that can actually be said of quite a lot of movies over the years!) sure, it may not have the Bond Theme for legal reasons, and sure, there are unfamiliar staff holding down the fort at MI6 (though I get a huge kick out of Edward Fox's quarrelsome M and Alec McCowen's cockney Q), but it does have SEAN CONNERY back in the role he had abandoned twelve years priorand looking fitter and more interested than he did in his last official picture, Diamond Are Forever. And it's got Barbara Carrera as one of the best (and best costumed) Bond villainesses ever (and a virtual prototype for Xenia Onatopp, another contender for that crown), Klaus Maria Brandauer as a superbly unhinged villain, Bernie Casey as a terrific Felix Leiter, a fight with Pat Roach, and stellar cinematography (all the better in glorious 35mm!) by the man who shot Raiders of the Lost Ark, Douglas Slocombe! And it's got the immortal line, "I wouldn't know. I've never lost." Yeah, I really love it.

It was also my own frustrating White Whale for a long time in one intangible, experiential aspect of my personal Bond collection: collecting big screen viewings. My first cinematic Bond experience as a kid was Licence to Kill, but over my years living in Los Angeles I managed eventually to rack up all the others in theatrical screenings. (Most far more than once.) But Never Say Never Again eluded me until 2012, when it played in New York while I just happened to be visiting that city. Unfortunately, I took the wrong train, and ended up missing the first half of the film. So when the opportunity came to see it at the New Beverly earlier this year, I went twice in one weekend! And now I guess I'm making up for lost time all these years, because I'm planning to go to this showing as well.

Incidentally, in other Never Say Never Again news (and more helpful news for people who don't happen to live within driving distance of Los Angeles), the Blu-ray, which has been out of print for some time and was commanding prohibitively steep prices last year, has recently come back into stock at Amazon through third part sellers for reasonable prices. I don't know if this actually means that it's back in print (doubtful), or just that someone uncovered some unsold stock. In any case, if you don't already own it on Blu-ray (and it's a shockingly good high-def transfer for a film EON would rather MGM bury somewhere and forget), you might want to grab it now while the grabbing is good, because in a few months the supply might dwindle and it might go back to being a $60 disc.

Empire Offers Details on the Spooks/MI-5 Feature Film

Empire (via Dark Horizons) has the first details on the new big-screen movie version of the long-running UK spy series Spooks (known in the U.S. as MI-5)and this picture of series star Peter Firth (The Hunt for Red October) reprising his role of spymaster Harry Pearce, and newcomer Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones) as MI-5 agent Will Crombie. Director Bharat Nalluri (a veteran of the series) told the magazine that the movie, Spooks: The Greater Good, will have a much larger scope than the TV show. "The canvas is huge on this," he said. "We’re running from Moscow to Berlin to London. It’s a story of the old world and new world.... We’ve got motorbikes, attacks on convoys, huge sniper sequences in the middle of London. It’s set piece after set piece." The movie is designed to be accessible to new viewers who haven't seen the show, so it will largely focus on new characters. Harrington will be joined by fellow newcomers Tuppence Middleton (Cleanskin, The Lady Vanishes), Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty) and Elyes Gabel (Exit Strategy). The only other series veteran officially slated to return is Tim McInnerny as Harry's slippery colleague on the Joint Intelligence Committee, Oliver Mace, though Nalluri also hints that Matthew Macfadyen, who starred on the show's first two seasons and then made a surprise appearance in the series finale, might pop up as Tom Quinn. The movie's plot finds MI-5 mired in scandal after letting a terrorist escape during a routine handover, and Harry's career in shambles. "You could say that Harry is having a Nick Fury moment," says Nalluri, alluding to events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. When Harry disappears amidst his agency's turmoil, it's up to Crombie to get to the bottom of the disappearance and find out what's really going on. The movie is scheduled for release in Britain in 2015; I really hope they get a U.S. distributor as well! The series was pretty excellent, and the prospect of it transitioning to a regular film franchise sounds like a very promising one to me.

Read my review of MI-5: Volume 1
Read my review of MI-5: Volume 2
Read my review of MI-5: Volume 3
Read my review of MI-5: Volume 4
Read my review of MI-5: Volume 5

Apr 13, 2014

Awesome Teaser for 24: Live Another Day as Miniseries Assembles Impressive Cast

Fox has released a really awesome new movie-style trailer for the upcoming 12-episode 24 "event series," Live Another Day, showcasing its new London setting:

Deadline previously reported that Chuck's Yvonne Strahovski will spy again alongside Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer, and in a
separate story that the great Stephen Fry will play the British Prime Minister and Tate Donovan will play the White House Chief of Staff. Deadline later reported that Bond alum Colin Salmon (Tomorrow Never Dies, Die Another Day) had joined the project as an American general.

Here's a previous trailer:


Trailer: Le Carre's A Most Wanted Man

After two different trailers over the past year that popped up online and were immediately taken down, U.S. distributor Lionsgate finally released an official trailer for Anton Corbijn's John le Carré adaptation A Most Wanted Man. Unsurprisingly, it looks quite good indeed! This trailer doesn't give away as many major plot points as the illicit ones did (I suspect they were created as sizzle reels to attract distributors and not proper trailers), but sadly it also doesn't really show much of Willem Dafoe as Tommy Brue. I still want to know if he's going to play him with a Scottish accent! I suspect that they've made the character German for some reason. Clearly from the trailer, there are things that have been changed from the book. Sadly, A Most Wanted Man will mark one of the final lead performances from the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the actor's untimely death earlier this year is sure to cast a long shadow over the film for audiences. Gunter Bachman is a juicy role, however, and I cannot wait to see how Hoffman plays him. A Most Wanted Man opens in America on July 25.

Filming recently commenced on the next le Carré film adaptation, Our Kind of Traitor.

Apr 12, 2014

Second Season of The Equalizer Finally Coming to DVD! (UPDATED)

As hoped for, apparently the upcoming big screen version of The Equalizer has spurred enough new interest in the original 1985-89 Edward Woodward TV series to at long last yield a DVD release of Season 2! Way back in 2008, Universal released The Equalizer: Season One on DVD. Fans hoped that release would be quickly followed by the other three seasons, but that never happened. All that time the feature version was in development (Russell Crowe was at one time attached when the film was set up at The Weinstein Company; now his American Gangster co-star Denzel Washington is starring for Warner Bros.), and word was Uni was waiting for the film to materialize. Now that's finally happening, but it's not Universal releasing the DVDs. Instead the title has been licensed out to VEI, distributed in the U.S. by Millennium. TV Shows On DVD reports that they've set a street date of August 26 for The Equalizer: Season Two, and an MSRP of just $29.99. (It's currently listed for pre-order on Amazon for a mere $20.99!) Additionally, on June 3 VEI will whet our appetites with a single-disc "Best Of" release. The Equalizer starred Woodward as former spy McCall, atoning for his past sins by helping those who found the odds against them. The extra-textual backstory was that Woodward had of course played a spy himself much earlier in his career in Callan. Guest stars on the show's second season include Kevin Spacey, Steve Buscemi, William H. Macy, John Goodman and Christian Slater. (UPDATED with artwork.)

In other Edward Woodward news, it's just come to my attention that Brian Clemens' 1998 revival of his hit Seventies action spy series, CI5: The New Professionals, starring Woodward as the tough leader of the updated team, was released on DVD in Australia back in 2012. The Region 4 release from the Madman label marks the first time that show has been available on DVD anywhere, so Woodward completists will want to take note.

Prisoner Episodes to Screen in Los Angeles

Los Angeles spy fans will have the rare opportunity to see episodes of The Prisoner on the big screen later this month. On Sunday, April 27, the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood (the best theater in town) will play two episodes of the groundbreaking Patrick McGoohan ITC spy show as part of their Art Directors Guild Film Society Series "Worlds Built to Order." Of all the Prisoner episodes, the one I'd most like to see on the big screen would be the series finale "Fall Out"... but I suppose the programmers have to consider people who have never seen any episodes, and it would be unfair to spoil the show's fantastic conclusion for them. And the episodes they've selected are not bad consolation prizes by any means! They will screen the series premiere, "Arrival," and the classic episode "The Schizoid Man" (an excellent choice for examples of the show's sublime art direction), in which McGoohan's Number 6 confronts his doppelganger, Number 12. But the rare opportunity to see Prisoner episodes on the big screen isn't all that audiences will see that night! There will also be a discussion of Sixties film design (illustrated by movie clips) with an illustrious panel including Nathan Crowley (Designer of the Dark Knight trilogy and the upcoming Interstellar), Alex McDowell (Designer of Man of Steel and Watchmen), and Arnold Schwartzman, O.B.E. (Oscar-winning Director and Graphic Designer, whose spy credits include the current UK Len Deighton paperbacks), and moderated by production designer John Muto (Species, Home Alone).

The episodes will be screened from a Blu-ray, but I suspect they'll look just fine. I saw some Avengers episodes projected from DVD at the Egyptian years ago, and even those looked okay.

The screening begins at 5:30pm on Sunday, April 27. Full details on the event can be found on the Egyptian's website, and tickets can be purchased through Fandango for $11.

Apr 11, 2014

Tradecraft: Summit Developing Female Spy Team Movie

According to Deadline, Summit Entertainment has tapped Twilight writer Melissa Rosenberg to "toughen up" an ensemble female spy script they've been developing for a long time. Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian are producing. The project has a complex history. Deadline reports that it began life as a comedy called Blank Slate with a script by The Rock's Douglas S. Cook and David Weisberg. RED writers Erich and John Hoeber next penned a version under the title The Kiss Off. Rosenberg's mandate now is to change directions entirely, re-framing what was originally envisioned as a comedy into a gritty action movie along the lines of Salt. And it's currently untitled. There's no log line provided, only the news that the story focuses on a group of female spies. Late last year we learned that Rosenberg was working on a female-centered spy series for ABC called Clandestine. I'm not sure what's happening with that now; I know it's not in the mix as a fall pilot contender at the network, but since pilot season now basically lasts all year, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's dead. As I said then, while I know there are a lot of spy fans who will roll their eyes at Rosenberg's Twilight work, it bears remembering that her resume is actually a lot more diverse than just that franchise. Her TV credits include the short-lived spy drama The Agency as well as Dexter, The O.C. and one of my favorites, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Plus, there can never be too many female-centered spy movies!

Tradecraft: Pierce Brosnan's November Man Due in Theaters This August!

Here's some very exciting news! The Pierce Brosnan spy thriller November Man, recently acquired for U.S. distribution by Relativity Media, at long last has a release date. According to Variety, it will hit American theaters on August 27. With U.S./Russian tensions ratcheting up lately, it's a timely release for an espionage story involving Russian politics. Brosnan plays Bill Granger's ex-CIA operative Devereaux in an adaptation of Granger's novel There Are No Spies. In the movie, the trade reports, Devereaux is brought out of retirement to track down his former pupil (Luke Bracey) in a complex spy plot involving the Russian president-elect and high-level CIA officers. Former Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko co-stars, and Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, The Bank Job) directs. November Man has taken a very long road to the screen. Brosnan spent years trying to get it off the ground, and it looked finally set to start shooting back in 2012, but didn't end up going before cameras until 2013. Even then fans still wondered when they'd get to see it, since it was produced independently and didn't have a distributor lined up. But last month it got that distributor, and now it has a release date! And come August, we'll be seeing a film with the potential to launch a second Brosnan spy franchise.

Apr 10, 2014

Tradecraft: Noomi Rapace Circles Lead Role in Spy Thriller Unlocked

Deadline reports that the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace, is in talks to star in a spy thriller called Unlocked for her fellow Swede, director Mikael Håfström (Shanghai, Escape Plan). According to the trade, the highly-touted Black List script by Peter O'Brien follows "a female CIA interrogator duped into getting a terrorist to provide key information to the wrong side. It puts her at the center of a plot to launch a biological attack in London." Rapace also has another spy movie in production, Child 44, alongside Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy, based on the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award-winning novel by Tom Rob Smith. Unlocked, an indie production, is being produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Georgina Townsley and Erik Howsam. Personally, I think Rapace is one of the most exciting actresses working, so I'm definitely looking forward to seeing her topline a spy film!

Apr 9, 2014

Tradecraft: True Detective Producers Developing Benedict Arnold Movie

Just as AMC launches it Revolutionary War spy series TURN (review here), Princess Pictures and Anonymous Content (the latter behind HBO's awesome True Detective) are hatching a plot of their own to bring the most notorious spy story of that era to the big screen. Deadline reports that they've acquired the screen rights to The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki, a bestselling historical novel focusing on Peggy Shippen Arnold, wife of the notorious turncoat Benedict Arnold. (Question for British readers here: In America, we learn in elementary school to loathe Benedict Arnold as a traitor. In the UK is he taught as a hero? He was, after all, the linchpin of a major British spy ring.) Pataki's presents Peggy as the woman behind the turncoat, alleging that the beautiful socialite half her husband's age was herself an agent working for (and formerly romantically involved with) British spy Major John André, and that it was she who first put Arnold in contact with Andre, the man who would become his controller. When Arnold was exposed and defected to the British, fighting for them against the fledgling Americans, his wife followed him. I haven't read the book, but this sounds like a pretty interesting spy story from the dawn of the United States.

Apr 8, 2014

TV Review: TURN (2014)

While there are a lot of spy shows on television right now, and a lot more in development, AMC delivers a different sort of spy drama in TURN. Different because of its unique setting, at least… but also pleasingly familiar in a lot of ways. In the ways that mean the most to aficionados of the genre.

TURN is set in 1776 against the backdrop of the American Revolution. The Continental Congress has declared independence, and an insurgency against the British rulers is raging. In the Long Island town of Setauket, farmer Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) doesn’t want to pick sides. He wants to stay neutral, he wants the war to end, he wants to tend to his crops, and he wants to watch his baby son grow up and not have to fight. But fate has other plans for him. His complicated personal relationships and a rash decision to smuggle his cabbage across the Long Island Sound to Connecticut result in on offer from American patriot Ben Talmadge (Seth Numrich) to spy for General Washington, providing news of troop movements and other vital intelligence from within the British stronghold of New York. It’s the same sort of offer that Harry Palmer’s always grumbling about—the sort Abe can’t really refuse. Abe is given the option of spying for the patriots or jail time for his smuggling activities. But one gets the sense that there’s already a budding insurgent inside Abe’s soul, and it might not have taken blackmail to get him to take up the cause.

While Abe is married to Mary (Meegan Warner), who seems to genuinely care for him, he still carries a torch for his ex-fiance, Anna (Heather Lind)… but she’s now married to tavern owner Selah Strong (Robert Beitzel), a patriot sympathizer to whom Abe owes money. For Anna's sake, Abe finds himself stepping into an altercation with British soldiers in Selah’s bar. The altercation gets Selah sent to jail, but Abe’s father, Richard (Kevin McNally, The Contract), a British loyalist close to garrison commander Major Hewlett (Burn Gorman, Torchwood), manages to get Abe off the hook. Selah makes Abe promise to take care of Anna while he’s in jail, and it’s for her sake that he seems to have some patriot sympathies even before Talmadge presses him into service. The same smuggling that got him into that predicament with the Continental Congress also gets him into trouble with the Redcoats, and once again his father steps in on his behalf. The only way Abe can avoid jail time is by taking a public oath of loyalty to the Crown, which he does… even as he’s secretly embarking on his new career as a spy against the British.

The biggest flaw in the pilot is that it introduces so many characters that they’re a bit hard to keep track of and in some cases difficult at first to tell apart. (And I’ve only mentioned a handful of the many featured players!) But with all these characters, obviously, there’s plenty of human drama to drive the story even without the spy plot. But it’s the spy plot we’re here for, and in that respect TURN doesn’t seem as different as you might think. While the technology has certainly changed over the years, the basics of espionage and treachery have remained the same since the dawn of time, and spy fans will be thrilled to find the makings of a labyrinthine le Carre-style plot of spymasters and agents, assets and couriers, tradecraft and double-crosses, and even rudimentary gadgetry. (The British make use of a cool, if very basic, decoder.)

Once I figured out who was who, I found the pilot of TURN to offer highly compelling character-driven spy drama in a unique and fascinating historical context. Seeds are sewn for an exciting and harrowing story to come, with interesting characters on both sides of the conflict. I will definitely be tuning in again next week.

AMC has also put up a free digital prequel comic that serves as a good aid in figuring out who's who, and how the different characters relate to one another. Read it here.

Cool Poster For Tonight's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Hoping to capitalize on the mega success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (in which the spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. plays a huge role), Marvel has released a very cool poster image for tonight's new episode, "Turn, Turn, Turn," which ties in directly with events in the film. This excellent spy image (almost worthy of a le Carré cover!) was created by artist Mike Del Mundo. Marvel plans to release a new poster for each new episode, according to Bleeding Cool. The limited edition artwork can be purchased from the Marvel Store.

Events of The Winter Soldier should have a fairly huge impact on the future direction of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Hopefully they'll shake it up for the better, since the series has long felt like it was simply treading water waiting for this movie to come out so it could finally get on with its storyline. I guess that's one of the drawbacks of synergy.

I have a spoiler-filled review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (along with speculation about how its events will affect the TV show) coming soon.

In the meantime, if you haven't seen the movie yet, read my spoiler-free review here.

Read my review of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot here.

Read my S.H.I.E.L.D. Primer here.

Tradecraft: Violante Placido Joins Transporter TV Series

Violante Placido, the Italian beauty with an awesome name who stunned spy fans in Anton Corbijn's The American (review here), has joined the cast of the Transporter TV series for its second season. In the series based on the Luc Besson-produced neo Eurospy movies, Simon Vance stars in the role Jason Statham originated on the big screen, professional "transporter" Frank Martin. Deadline reports that Placido "will play Caterina Boldieu, a former French intelligence officer who first met Frank when he rescued her from captivity in North Africa. Two years on, the brilliant strategist has come to work for him." While the first season of Transporter aired in many countries in 2012, it did not air in America after Cinemax backed out as the U.S. broadcast partner. Earlier this year, however, we learned that TNT has picked up the series, and will air both the first season and the currently in-production second season starting this fall. It was previously reported that utility player Frank Spotnitz (whose spy credits include Cinemax's Hunted and Strike Back) had come on board to run the show's second season. Vance's contract had to be renegotiated because it had lapsed during the time it took to get a second season up and running. There's no official word so far on whether any other cast members from Season 1 will return for Season 2, but in my opinion Placido is a wonderful addition! Under Spotnitz's care, the show finally has the potential to live up to the films that spawned it.

Besson is separately developing a new trilogy of theatrical Transporter movies starring Ed Skrein and directed by Camille Delamarre (Brick Mansions), but that appears to be unrelated to the TV show.

Apr 7, 2014

Tradecraft: Jason Statham/Melissa McCarthy Spy Comedy Adds to Cast

Last year we heard about the somewhat unlikely pairing of Jason Statham and Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids director Paul Feig's "realistic spy comedy" Susan Cooper; now The Hollywood Reporter reports that Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows) is in talks to join the fun as well, and that Rose Byrne (X-Men: First Class) has also been cast. Feig has also tapped UK comedian and TV star Miranda Hart (Call the Midwife) for an unspecified role, according to Deadline.

Law can currently be seen in two excellent movies. He plays a supporting role in Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel, and delivers a tour de force lead performance in Richard Shepherd's Dom Hemingway. (Shepherd has a knack for coaxing truly masterful performances out of generally dramatic actors in his dark comedies; he previously did it for Pierce Brosnan in The Matador.) No details are given about Law's role in Susan Cooper, but with McCarthy and Statham as the heroes, it seems plausible that he could be up for a villainous turn. Despite his previous collaborations with McCarthy being broad comedies, Feig insists that Susan Cooper is a "realistic" take on a female James Bond owing more to Casino Royale (the '06 version, I mean) than Johnny English. Can that possibly be true? We'll find out on May 22, 2015.

Apr 4, 2014

Mini Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Must-See Spy Entertainment

This is a short, spoiler-free review. This weekend I will post a longer review positively dripping with spoilers, because Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a crucial movie to discuss in analyzing shifting trends in spy entertainment. But the aspects that need to be discussed are the very ones which can't be until people have had a chance to see the film. Which, suffice it to say, all spy fans should. Whether or not you're a fan of Marvel movies or superhero movies or even saw the first Captain America film, if you're a fan of spy movies you'll find a lot to enjoy in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And it packs a lot of surprises, so the less you know going in, the more you might enjoy.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo, whose previous experience was limited primarily to television, promised a film inspired by the paranoid spy thrillers of the Seventies. And they definitely deliver on that promise. From the opening moments, which quite specifically pay tribute to Marathon Man, to the presence of Robert Redford, whose appearance in the film as a S.H.I.E.L.D. overseer is far from the movie's only nod to All the President's Men or 3 Days of the Condor (the spy movie Winter Soldier owes the most to), to a Henry Jackman score filled with mournful trumpet fanfares, that Seventies spy influence is everywhere. But so is a Strong Sixties spy vibe. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is as close as we're ever likely to come to seeing those classic Steranko Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. comics faithfully translated to the screen (yes, far moreso than on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show or the Hasselhoff TV movie), and as in those comics, the nods to James Bond and The Avengers (and I'm not talking about the Marvel ones) are copious. In this film, you will see fantastical S.H.I.E.L.D. technology brought vividly to life and incorporated in larger-than-life action sequences. That's something I've wanted to see on screen ever since I first read those Steranko comics, and marveled at the way he heightened the already heightened world of 007 and U.N.C.L.E. as only comic books could. (Or so it seemed then.) But what's more impressive than merely accomplishing that feat is that the Russos manage to do so within the confines of a film that still feels fairly grounded and realistic. (Well, as far as superhero movies go, anyway.)

One of the many great things about how Marvel Studios has handled their cinematic universe is the way that they successfully incorporate totally different genres under the larger superhero umbrella. While these films all occupy one shared world, Thor: The Dark World is very clearly a fantasy film while the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy looks to be a space adventure. And Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a spy movie, through and through. The hero, Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) works for a massive spy agency, S.H.I.E.L.D., and though he dons a costume for his missions, he spends a surprisingly large chunk of the movie without it in order to blend in undercover. Taking its cues primarily from Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting's truly terrific run on the comic book, this is Captain America as a Tom Clancy techno-thriller. Besides Cap himself being an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., there are also spotlight supporting parts for the Marvel Universe's best known spies. Nick Fury, played once again by Samuel L. Jackson, gets his largest role to date in a Marvel movie, and even gets his own car chase. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson reprising her Iron Man 2 and Avengers role) also enjoys a significant amount of screen time. And S.H.I.E.L.D. agents familiar to comic book readers pop up everywhere, including Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp) and Jasper Sitwell (Maximilliano Hernandez). Not all of them are treated with particular fidelity to the comics, but it's still cool to see them on screen.

Despite taking so many cues from spy films of the past, the most remarkable thing about Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that it ultimately proves to be the most contemporary espionage thriller imaginable, a spy film very much of and for our time right now. In this respect it echoes Skyfall to some degree (as well as the Bourne movies), but still maintains its own strong individuality. But that's what I have to discuss later, behind ample spoiler warnings. The purpose of this review is just to get the word out to any spy fans who weren't yet convinced by the non-stop TV spots that Captain America: The Winter Soldier, despite starring a superhero, is very much and unequivocally a spy movie, and one likely to strongly shape the direction the genre takes in the remainder of this decade. So go see it... then we'll talk.

Read my S.H.I.E.L.D. Primer here, an overview of Marvel's spy comics.

Note: Please keep comments on this post spoiler-free as well. Once I post that spoiler-filled follow-up review, that will be the place to discuss spoilers.