Aug 26, 2014

New Spy Novel Out From Permission To Kill's David Foster

This is exciting! David Foster, proprietor of my fellow COBRAS spy blog Permission To Kill, has gone from spy blogger to spy author, and he's just published a new spy novel! The Danakil Deception (published under Foster's cover name of James Hopwood) is available now from Amazon. It's actually Foster's second story about secret agent Jarvis Love; the character first appeared in the novella The Librio Defection. (Foster's other fiction includes the Fight Card novel King of the Outback and the boxing short story "Bushwhacked.") But The Danakil Deception is a full-length novel. Here's the official description:
When archaeologists at the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia – the hottest place on Earth – discover a ruby measuring six feet in diameter, the world's scientific community is thrown into a spin. But it's not only scientists who are interested in the discovery. In the wrong hands, the ruby could be used to power a terrifying weapon – a weapon that could change the fate of the world. Meet Jarvis Love, the young operative assigned to investigate the find. Thrown into a harsh unforgiving environment, Love finds himself battling a neo-Nazi with a diabolical plot to assassinate the top world leaders in one massive attack... ...the clock is ticking, and only Love can stop the madman. Filled with hair-raising action and wild chases, The Danakil Deception is an edge-of-your-seat adventure that harks back to the great spy novels of the sixties, but infused with the high-octane punch of a modern thriller. The HOTTEST place on Earth just got HOTTER!
Sounds awesome! I can't wait to read it.

Rare Connery and Moore Movies Coming to Blu-ray This Fall

Michael Caine isn't the only superspy coming to Blu-ray this fall from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. You'll also be able to trace the gathering age lines on Roger Moore and Sean Connery in high definition in some of their post- (or nearly post-) Bond best non-spy roles. Perhaps most excitingly, the company will release the 1984 Golan Globus action thriller The Naked Face, starring Roger Moore, on both DVD and Blu-ray on October 24. Why is this the most exciting? Because the Chicago-set, Bryan Forbes-directed Sidney Sheldon adaptation (which co-stars Rod Steiger, Elliott Gould, Anne Archer and Art Carney) has never before been available in the United States on DVD! And it's one of Moore's best non-Bond actioners. So Moore fans should definitely check this one out.

On September 16, Kino will release a pair of Seventies Sean Connery movies that have previously been on DVD (though are now out of print and quite pricey), but never before on Blu-ray: Michael Crichton's 1978 Victorian caper The Great Train Robbery (co-starring Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down) and Ronald Neame's 1979 all-star disaster spectacle Meteor (co-starring Natalie Wood, Karl Malden and Martin Landau). The latter may not be considered a Connery Classic, but it is one of my own favorite guilty pleasure movies of that era. Then on December 2, the company will release Connery's own career-favorite performance in Sidney Lumet's The Offence (opposite Trevor Howard). The Offence has previously been available in America only as an MOD title. Finally, spy fans may also be interested to know that Kino will put out Hickey and Boggs on Blu-ray the same day. While not a spy movie, the 1972 private eye tale is notable for reuniting one of the most famous spy duos of the Sixties, I Spy's Bill Cosby and Robert Culp. Whew! It's going to be an expensive fall!

Billion Dollar Brain Coming to Blu-ray!

Harry Palmer is finally coming to Blu-ray in the United States! And somewhat surprisingly, not in The Ipcress File* or Funeral in Berlin, but the much more divisive third film in Harry Saltzman's other spy series, Billion Dollar Brain. (Which, on any given day, could easily be my own personal favorite of the three.) Kino Lorber will release Ken Russell's brilliant and beautiful Len Deighton adaptation Billion Dollar Brain in high definition on October 7. (There will also be a DVD edition, as the old MGM release is long out of print.) If you've never seen this Michael Caine masterpiece, read my review here to understand why this is such great news! And if you have, then why not go ahead and pre-order it now on Amazon? So far the only extra announced is the theatrical trailer, but the real question on spy fans' minds is will this version contain the half minute or so of footage excised from previous DVD editions in all regions? Probably not, since the footage in question contains a clip of the Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night along with its prohibitively expensive music. But perhaps Kino has found a way to clear this music? Even if they haven't, it's still well worth owning Billion Dollar Brain in high definition--especially with such pretty cover art! Spy fans and fans of Sixties capers might be interested to know that the company will also release Topkapi on Blu-ray the same day.

*Though it's never been officially released in America, The Ipcress File is available on Blu-ray as a region-free import.

Aug 25, 2014

First Dangling Photos From Mission: Impossible 5; First Official Still From U.N.C.L.E.

It's been a big few days for images from upcoming spy movies based on classic TV shows. Last week we saw some pictures of Tom Cruise familiarizing himself with Mission: Impossible 5's Vienna locations prior to shooting beginning this week, and yesterday various news outlets have provided our first glimpses of Ethan Hunt's latest dangling exploits from that shoot! That's right, the second question everyone always asks when a new Mission: Impossible movie starts shooting (after what hairstyle will Cruise sport) is what will Cruise dangle from? And, thanks to Dark Horizons, we've now got a pretty idea that at least one thing he'll dangle off of this time around is the Vienna State Opera House. (As far as I can tell, these images originated on The Daily Express.) Cruise's partner in dangling here is actress Rebecca Ferguson (Hercules). Presumably the first image is just practice in comfortable clothes, and the gown in the second one is what she'll be wearing in the scene.

But those weren't the only spy images to debut in the last few days. The Comic Book Movie (via HMSS) has a picture from the new issue of Empire billed as the first official still from Guy Ritchie's Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. While unofficial behind-the-scenes shots have been all over the Internet since shooting began, it's cool to finally see an officially approved image of Armie Hammer (as Illya Kuryakin), Alicia Vikander and Henry Cavill (as Napoleon Solo) in the Sixties-set spy movie. And I think it looks great! The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was recently pushed back from January 2015 to August 2015, so we've got a while to wait yet. But the second half of next year will bring us U.N.C.L.E., Mission and Bond all in a period of a few short months!

Aug 22, 2014

Mission: Impossible 5 Sets Cast, Begins Filming in Austria

The cast is coming together for Mission: Impossible 5, and we've got our first notion of what Tom Cruise's hair will look like (always the biggest question as an M:I movie gears up for production) thanks to a photo of the actor scouting locations. Austrian paper The Local (via Dark Horizons) published this picture. They report that the age defying star/producer was up on the roof of Vienna's State Opera House, where he'll be shooting an action scene at night. (Austria is fast becoming the location for spies to attend operas; James Bond also spent a night at the opera in that country in Quantum of Solace's most memorable scene.) Cameras start rolling on Saturday.

In his fifth outing as IMF superspy Ethan Hunt, 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). Deadline reports that Baldwin will play the Director of the CIA. Swedish actress Ferguson is still a relatively fresh face, but I was quite impressed by her in this summer's Hercules and look forward to her spy debut! Her role is as yet unknown.

Mission: Impossible 5 will also shoot in London, where the Houses of Parliament themselves are rumored to be a possible filming location. As previously reported, Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) is directing, and he's got his work cut out for him if he wants his film to live up to the benchmark set by Brad Bird with the fourth film, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (by far the best entry in the film series to date). Personally, I'm hoping McQuarrie continues in the promising direction Bird pointed the franchise, making the films more like the classic television series. While the first three films were largely star vehicles for Cruise, Ghost Protocol truly felt like a team movie, a hallmark of the series. It was also packed with clever references to the show, and even established the TV IMF's longtime nemesis The Syndicate (re-dressed as a terrorist organization instead of the mob) as a potential enemy in the fifth film. I hope that comes to pass! While previous films in the series have gone by the shorthand "M:I-2" or "M:I-iii," this one will have to find a different moniker. (Hopefully it will get its own subtitle like Ghost Protocol.) Not only is MI5 the name of the British internal Security Service, but in America it's also the title of the TV series about that service that was known as Spooks in the UK. And Spooks has its own movie coming out soon, which will also presumably utilize the MI-5 title on this side of the pond. None of that, however, has stopped McQuarrie from hashtagging his Tweets "#MI5Diary."

Aug 1, 2014

Tradecraft: Paul Greengrass Returns to Spies for Agent Storm

He may have forsworn any further Bourne movies (causing Matt Damon to do the same, saying he won't return to the role without his director), but Paul Greengrass will still be returning to the spy genre. Deadline reports that Sony has acquired the forthcoming non-fiction book Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA by Morten Storm, Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, for Greengrass to direct and Scott Rudin to produce. (Greengrass and Rudin previously teamed on last year's Best Picture nominee Captain Phillips.) According to the trade, Agent Storm follows follows Storm, a member of a Danish motorcycle gang turned Islamic radical as he becomes a double agent for the CIA and British and Danish intelligence. (Storm penned the memoir blowing his own cover because he felt betrayed by his handlers.)

Tradecraft: Winter Soldier Directors Tackle Greaney's Gray Man

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the best big budget spy movies in years, and its sibling directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, are looking to stay in that genre. Variety reports that the duo are attached to write and direct an adaptation of Mark Greaney's 2009 novel The Gray Man for Sony and producers Joe Roth and Palak Patel. My initial reaction is that they're better than this material. The Gray Man is one of the worst spy novels I've ever read. Then again, it's not the premise that's faulty; it's Greaney's execution. The Russos are just the guys to take the barest shred of that premise (a former CIA operative turned private assassin races across Europe to evade all the world's intelligence services and save the kidnapped family of his handler) and retrofit it into a far better film. It's a little alarming, however, that Joe Russo told the trade, “we found the material to be very compelling and ultra realistic.” Perhaps the series gets better, but one trait not found in the first novel of the four book series is ultra-realism. The book's climax beggars all belief as the hero catches more bullets than Butch and Sundance combined and still proceeds to single-handedly take on an army. That's the sort of thing I hope the Russos end up improving upon.

Roth told Variety, "We think this could be the next Bourne Identity movie series," which, of course, is exactly what he, and readers, and now viewers, are meant to think. The novel is a shameless retread of Robert Ludlum's bestselling tour de force. Hopefully the producers will continue to follow the Bourne movie template, and stray as far from the literary source material as the Matt Damon movies did.

Sony aren't the first studio to see Bourne-like potential in Greaney's series. Way back in 2010, New Regency had the rights and hired Adam Cozad (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) to script. In January 2011 James Gray became attached to direct, and later that year Brad Pitt flirted with starring. That incarnation, evidently, fell apart. Which is too bad, because I really would like to see Brad Pitt topline a potential spy franchise.

It's unclear where The Gray Man will fit into the Russos' schedule, as they're slated to direct Captain America 3, which is set to open on May 5, 2016. Before that, however, their next espionage assignment will be helming the second and third episodes of Marvel's upcoming period spy series Agent Carter on ABC.

Tradecraft: Jeffrey Donovan and Josh Brolin Play Agents in Sicario

Now that his Burn Notice has been rescinded, Jeffrey Donovan is free to spy again unimpeded. But he's switching agencies. Donovan will play "a no-nonsense DEA agent" in Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, according to Deadline, opposite Josh Brolin (No Country For Old MenW.) as a maverick CIA agent. Deadline reports (in a separate story) that Brolin's CIA agent runs a task force out to bring down the kingpin of a powerful drug cartel. He recruits Emily Blunt’s (Charlie Wilson's War) character, a Tuscon SWAT officer, to help him. Benecio Del Toro (Licence To Kill) plays a mysterious character working with them to the same end. The trade reports that Donovan's Steve Forsing becomes involved "in an all-out firefight at the Juarez border while transferring a prisoner." Maximiliano Hernandez (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Americans) and Daniel Kaluuya (Johnny English Reborn) round out the cast.