Dec 17, 2015

Tradecraft: TNT Cancels its Spy Shows Legends and Agent X

In one fell swoop, TNT has disavowed all of its spy shows. After previously cancelling Transporter: The Series, the cable network today (per Deadline) also axed its fun freshman series Agent X, and sophomore Legends. In both cases, this is really too bad. Agent X, starring Sharon Stone and Jeff Hephner, was lots of fun and delivered weekly escapist action in the Alias-vein. Legends, from Homeland and 24 executive producer Howard Gordon, started strong last season but had become absolutely brilliant in its second year after a thorough re-tooling. The Sean Bean spy series based on Robert Littell's novel had become an excellent and worthy companion for Homeland. I will miss this one greatly, and dearly hope that Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime scoops it up for a third season. This series has already shown an amazing ability to survive, surfacing on TNT a year after being passed on by NBC, so anything seems possible....

Dec 15, 2015

UPDATED: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation Hits Blu-ray... in Annoying Multiple Versions

The fantastic Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation hits Blu-ray today... but it's hardly a clear-cut purchase. Confusingly and infuriatingly, Paramount has given it their Star Trek treatment and released several different versions as exclusives for several different retailers. As usual when the studio pulls this reprehensible crap (Paramount isn't the only offender, but they are by far the worst), they provide no convenient guide that I am aware of as to the differences between the various retailer exclusives or even how many there are. (The official website lists several versions, but provides no useful details as to content.) I'm aware of three, but if you know of others, please share in the comments.

First, there's the regular Blu-ray/DVD combo available from Amazon and other retailers with that cool cover collage. (I like that this art depicts the whole team and echoes the TV season DVD covers... though the artwork might have been even cooler had Paramount gone with the rejected painted version.) This version includes an audio commentary with star Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie, 45 minutes of bonus features ("Lighting the Fuse," "Cruise Control," "Heroes…," "Cruising Altitude," "Mission: Immersible," "Sand Theft Auto," and "The Missions Continue"), and a digital copy. There is also a standalone DVD (which is absolutely bare-bones, with no extras whatsoever) and, for just twice as much as the Rogue Nation Blu-ray on its own, a 5-disc set including all the films in the series to date. (Handy if you're looking to upgrade previous entries from DVD to high-def.) I'm assuming that this set includes the same version, with the same extras, as the Blu-ray/DVD combo. UPDATE: It does. All of the discs contain the same extras as their individual releases.

On top of that, Target has an exclusive 3-disc set of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation on its own. This includes a Blu-ray, a DVD, a digital copy, and an exclusive bonus disc with "over 50 minutes of exclusive [that word again!] footage as Tom Cruise and Writer/Director Christopher McQuarrie reveal how they conceived, created and filmed the impossible stunts of Rogue Nation, including the mind-blowing airplane and underwater sequences." On top of featurettes on the stunts, it also includes featurettes on Lalo Schifrin's famous theme and composer Joe Kraemer's approach to it, on editing the spectacular opera setpiece, and on the opera itself. The exclusive featurettes are "...And Rogues" (a companion piece to "Heroes..."), "Top Crews," "Travel Agents," Opera-tion Turnadot," "Practically Impossible," "Stunts," "Variations on a Theme," and "Cut!"  I cannot yet confirm if it includes all the bonus material that's on the regular edition or not. If Paramount follow their own precedent set by Star Trek Into Darkness, then it's entirely possible that this set might be missing the commentary or some other feature found on the regular version. I will update this post as soon as I have an answer. UPDATE: I can confirm that the Target version does indeed include all of the bonus material from the standard edition, making this, in my view, the one to get. Enticingly, this Target version comes in "exclusive packaging [including a] custom book with 48 pages of production images, storyboards, and set photos taking you inside the creation of breath-taking stunts." The cover image is different, sporting the advance poster image of Cruise clinging to the side of the airplane, the film's signature stunt. (Personally I prefer the regular cover because it highlights the team aspect of the latest films in the series, harkening back to the TV show I love, rather than showcasing Cruise on his own.)

Finally, Best Buy is offering their own exclusive packaging in a Steelbook case showcasing another of the film's exciting stunt sequences, the motorcycle chase. (And, again, only Cruise.) Their website gives no indication of which extras are included (again, I will update this article when I know), but does assure us that the Steelbook contains the Blu-ray, the DVD and the digital copy. UPDATE: The Best Buy Steelbook includes all the features on the standard Blu-ray release (but not the extra ones found on the Target version). Many people like collecting Steelbook packaging, and I admit, they are nice, but I think the book with production art holds more appeal for me personally. I just wish either exclusive version came with the regular cover artwork.

Best Buy is also offering their own exclusive version of the 5-film set, with much cooler packaging, also in the Steelbook vein.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to pick the version that's right for you. Or you could try to send Paramount a message that consumers are fed up with this sort of horseshit by not buying any editions... but then, of course, you'd be missing out on owning one of the most entertaining spy movies in years. (Plus, I abstained from buying Into Darkness in outrage, and obviously the studio didn't get the message when tallying up their books and finding they were roughly $17.99 short of their expected sales goals...) But I certainly wanted to post a Buyer Beware alert before you go out and get the wrong version, and end up disappointed.

Dec 11, 2015

New Trailer: The Brothers Grimsby

Following on our initial glimpse in a red band trailer in October, Sony has now released a new all audiences trailer and a poster for The Brothers Grimsby (or is it just Grimsby? It appears to be one domestically and another internationally), the Sacha Baron Cohen/Mark Strong spy comedy we first heard about way back in 2012, when it was set up at Paramount. Spy veteran Mark Strong (Kingsman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) plays a British superspy saddled on his latest adventure with his idiot soccer hooligan brother, played by Cohen (Borat). Louis Leterrier, whose Transporter 2 remains one of the very best neo-Eurospy movies to date, directs, so hopefully we can expect some good action along with the comedy. The film was originally set to come out this past summer, but ultimately relocated from the crowded 2015 spy marketplace to a February 2016 berth. I have a feeling this could be the spy comedy hit of next year that Spy was this year.


Dec 6, 2015

Trailer for New Canadian Spy Series The Romeo Section

Chris Haddock, the creator of the 2005-07 Canadian spy drama Intelligence, has a new spy show on the air in Canada. The Romeo Section premiered this fall and airs Wednesdays at 9 on CBC, exploring the world of sparrows, sexpionage and honeytraps. I hope Acorn Entertainment eventually releases this one in the United States (or at least puts it on their streaming platform), as they did with Intelligence. Check out the trailer:

Thanks to Scott for the heads-up!

Dec 5, 2015

Tradecraft: Agent Carter Season Premiere Delayed by Two Weeks

ABC had to revise their winter schedule when it was announced that the 2016 State of the Union address would be delivered a few weeks earlier than usual. President Obama will speak on January 12 instead of the traditional end of the month time. ABC had planned to debut the new season of Marvel's 1940s spy series on January 5 with two back-to-back episodes. Not wanting its flow interrupted so quickly, Deadline reports that the network will now wait until after the State of the Union and air the season premiere on January 19. Unfortunately, that presumably means a few more weeks of back to back episodes, since they have to be done in time for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s return to that timeslot on March 8. The S.H.I.E.L.D. dates are probably not very flexible, since the series usually syncs up with the big Marvel theatrical releases, and Captain America: Civil War opens on May 6. Watch a trailer for the new season here.

Trailer: Eye in the Sky

Check out the intense trailer for Bleecker Street's upcoming drone thriller Eye in the Sky, starring Helen Mirren (RED), Alan Rickman (Smiley's People), Aaron Paul (Mission: Impossible III), Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) and Jeremy Northam (Enigma).

Nov 25, 2015

Tradecraft: WB Tries Again for a Spy Franchise of Their Own with White Knight

Universal has one with Bourne. Paramount has one with Mission: Impossible. As of this year, Fox now potentially has two with Kingsman and Spy. And of course MGM has the biggest one of all with James Bond. For the time being anyway, Sony shares it. (Sony's co-production deal ended with SPECTRE, and MGM and EON will renegotiate that deal or else find a new partner early next year.) Warner Bros. is the only major studio without a lucrative spy franchise. And they want one—badly. Really badly. It's easy to see why. Paramount, Fox and Sony/MGM each made more than half a billion dollars off of their respective spy franchises this year alone. Warner tried hard this year with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (review here). They continued making big, expensive TV ad buys in its second and third week even after Guy Ritchie's film opened below expectations. And it's a real shame their efforts didn't pay off, because The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was an excellent movie, and has all the makings of an excellent franchise. (Personally, I'm still praying it does well enough on home video to warrant a sequel, but that's admittedly a long shot.) But for whatever reasons, they didn't. So Warner Bros. is still searching for a spy franchise. Next year they'll make a big play for Bond, but obviously they can't rely on that, so they're looking other places as well, especially at filmmakers with whom they have good relationships. One such filmmaker is Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace), whose Johnny Depp gangster pic Black Mass was one of the studio's few hits this year.

Deadline reports that Cooper "is making a deal to rewrite and direct White Knight, a film that gives Warner Bros a potential series in the Bourne Identity/James Bond mold." I assume that's Deadline's roundabout way of saying it's a potential spy franchise. According to the trade, "Cooper will rewrite a script by Bill Dubuque (The Judge) that focuses on a disgraced Secret Service agent. When his relationship with his employer sours, the agent takes a job protecting the family of an arms dealer, putting himself at the center of a global CIA manhunt." "White Knight" was of course James Bond's callsign in Tomorrow Never Dies (and the title of a highly memorable piece of music by David Arnold), so perhaps that bodes well for WB. Then again, I doubt anyone involved in this project realizes that! Of course, if Warner Bros. is successful in their bid for Bond, then I expect interest to dwindle rapidly in this project, and probably all hope to fade completely for an U.N.C.L.E. sequel.

Nov 24, 2015

TNT Cancels Transporter: The Series

The Digital Spy reports (via RenewCancel TV) that Transporter: The Series, which aired in America on TNT, will not be returning for a third season, sadly. The series starred Chris Vance in the role originated on the big screen by Jason Statham in a trio of action-packed neo-Eurospy movies produced by Luc Besson. Frank Spotnitz, who served as showrunner on the show's second season and thoroughly revamped it, told the website that he would love to keep working on Transporter, but blamed poor timing for its low ratings. He also revealed that he hadn't yet seen the latest Transporter movie, The Transporter Refueled, saying, "The truth is, to make it into a TV series we had to change a number of things about the central character, because it was sort of his anonymity and his solo nature that drove the movie series. And in the TV series, because people watch TV for characters, we had to create relationships and dimensionalize him in a way that I don't think they did in the movies that I saw, anyway." Refueled does actually attempt to do that as well, by taking a page (let's face it, more than a page!) from the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade playbook and teaming Ed Skrein's younger Frank Martin with his father, played by Ray Stevenson (Rome). Spotnitz is currently producing the Amazon Prime alternate history series The Man in the High Castle.

It's unclear from Spotnitz's comments if he means that TNT is passing on a third season (which would leave the European/Canadian co-production free to seek out another U.S. partner, like the El Rey Network, where it would be a good fit), or if the European production company Atlantique has decided not to proceed... which would pretty much mean the end of the road. And what a long and circuitous road it's been for this show—nearly as twisty as one of the winding Riviera roads showcased on the series. The show was first announced way back in 2009; it was officially greenlit in late 2010, and in early 2011 it was reported that Cinemax would partner with EuropaCorp to air the series in the United States. Later that year Vance (best known to spy fans from an arc on Burn Notice) was tapped to star as Frank Martin, and subsequently joined by Andrea Osvárt as his handler, Carla, a former CIA operative and a character who didn't appear in the theatrical films. That fall, the trouble started, with the original showrunners departing over creative differences. Before the first season's twelve episodes would wrap, their replacement would also ankle, and production would shut down when Vance was sidelined with an injury. The first trailer came out in the summer of 2012, heralding airdates that fall in Europe and elsewhere, but another year went by with still no announcement of a Cinemax premiere. In August of 2013 it was announced that the cable network had backed out, and the show's international producers were seeking a new U.S. partner. Undaunted by all these setbacks, they were still pressing forward with a second season, and had tapped Spotnitz to oversee a retooling after he had shepherded two hit international action co-productions on Cinemax, Hunted and the first American season of Strike Back. Vance's option had expired, but was renegotiated. Production finally began on the second season at the end of February 2014, shooting in Canada, Morocco and the Czech Republic. TNT (where Vance was a familiar face from a recurring role on Rizzoli & Isles) came on board to air both seasons in the U.S., and last fall that finally happened. Season 2 (which was aired back to back with Season 1 here) ended on a cliffhanger, and we've been waiting ever since to hear if there would be a Season 3. Now I guess it looks like there won't be, which is really too bad. Transporter: The Series would have made a great stablemate with TNT's new escapist spy drama, Agent X.

Happily, both seasons are at least available (and quite cheaply, on Amazon!) on DVD in their full, uncut European versions. (Which means with lots of nudity. Remember, this show was originally bound for Cinemax!) And I recommend them for fans of the Statham movies, fans of the neo-Eurospy genre at large, or fans of daffy action and crazy car stunts in general.

Order Transporter: The Series - Season 1 here.
Order Transporter: The Series - Season 2 here.

Nov 23, 2015

Another Agent Carter Promo

ABC has released another promo for the new 10-episode season of Marvel's Agent Carter, which premieres Tuesday, January 5, at 9/8c. And, based on these 30 seconds of footage, it looks like it will be every bit as great as the first season!

Trailer: Spy Time

It's a big week for father/son spy duos. Hot on the heels of that Extraction trailer, check out the trailer for Spy Time, the new, big-budget Spanish language neo-Eurospy movie from Film Factory Entertainment. This looks great, so I really hope it gets a U.S. release! Here's the studio's synopsis:
This Christmas is going to become a living hell to Adolfo. Not only does his girlfriend leave him for being a guy with no ambition who works in a security company, but to top it off, he becomes the objective of a series of thugs led by Vázquez, a dangerous criminal who just escaped prison.
What did he do to get into such a mess?
It's then that he discovers taht his father has a double identity. He's not the sausage maker living out in the countryside on his farm that Adolfo always thought he was. He's Anacleto, a secret agent in a slump and the man who locked Vázquez away thirty years ago. Adolfo will have to venture out of his comfort zone and work with his father, the person he gets along with least in the world, in order to survive Vázquez's vengeance and to try to win his girlfriend back, all while making it through shootouts and chases.

Thanks to Bob for the heads up!

Nov 22, 2015

Trailer: Extraction

We first heard about Extraction back in February, and I wondered if it would get a theatrical release. Happily, Deadline reports that it will get at least a limited theatrical release on December 18 from Lionsgate Premiere, though it also premieres On Demand that same day. Bruce Willis is making a bit of a niche for himself now playing CIA agents' dads. He did it in the last (terrible) Die Hard movie, with the charmless Jai Courtney as his agent son. He did it in The Cold Light of Day with Henry Cavill for a son. And now he's doing it again in Extraction, this time with Kellan Lutz (The Expendables 3, The Twilight Saga) as his son. (In the latter two, Dad plays second fiddle to his boys.) Gina Carano (Haywire) co-stars as a CIA agent charged with tracking down Lutz after he goes AWOL to rescue his missing agent father. Check out the trailer:

Nov 20, 2015

Trailer: Central Intelligence

When we first heard about the spy comedy Central Intelligence way back in 2009, Ed Helms was attached to star. Helms is still an executive producer, but at some point the opportunity arose late last year for the film to star the ridiculously appealing comedy duo of Dwayne Johnson (Get Smart) and Kevin Hart (Ride Along), and if you can do that, obviously you're going to! Sure enough, it looks like the stellar casting pays off in this mostly funny trailer, excluding one appallingly misjudged CGI joke at the end that will leave you with an image you can never wash off of your eyeballs. Amy Ryan (Green Zone), Aaron Paul (Mission: Impossible III), and Danielle Nicolet (Key and Peele) co-star; Rawson Marshall Thurber (We're the Millers) directors from a script by Ike Barinholtz & David Stassen (The Mindy Project) and Thurber. Theodore Shapiro, who absolutely killed it with his David Arnold-sounding score for Spy, returns to familiar spy comedy territory. (He's also scoring Zoolander 2.) Central Intelligence opens June 17. Hopefully we'll get to see Johnson tackle a serious spy movie one day, too, if the Ludlum adaptation The Janson Directive ever gets off the ground....

Tradecraft: McQuarrie and Ferguson to Return for Sixth Mission: Impossible?

To date, the Mission: Impossible film series has never had the same director or same leading lady twice. But now, according to Variety, both firsts are far from impossible for the next entry. The trade reports that triumphant Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation director Christopher McQuarrie and that film's stellar leading lady, Rebecca Ferguson (definitely a highlight of the picture!) are both expected to return for the next installment. One thing I've enjoyed about the film series is that, unlike the James Bond films, it's been a director's franchise to date, with clear auteur visions guiding each unique entry. Sure, that's led to clear misses like M:I-ii (John Woo's distinctive style proved a poor match for the material), but it's also led to wonderful discoveries, making the feature and live-action debuts (respectively) of J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird. That said, McQuarrie did an amazing job with Rogue Nation, and (crucially, for this fan) has shown himself to be a fan of the TV series. I think the series is in good hands with him, and I look forward to watching him top himself inthe next installment.

Nov 19, 2015

Tradecraft: Dreamworks Picks Up Pavone's Travelers

Deadline reports that Dreamworks has acquired Chris Pavone's forthcoming spy thriller The Travelers for Andrew Rona (Unknown) and Alex Heineman (The Gunman) to produce. The trade describes the book, due out in March, as "a Hitchcockian thriller with shades of Mr. and Mrs Smith and North by Northwest." From that sentence you'd think they meant Alfred Hitchcock's Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but I assume they actually mean Doug Liman's completely unrelated Jolie/Pitt film. Here's Deadline's plot description:
Will Rhodes is a Gotham-based journalist who unknowingly works for a spy agency posing as a luxury travel magazine called Travelers. After meeting a mysterious and beautiful woman on his latest international assignment, Will finds himself drawn into a tangled web of global intrigue, and it becomes clear that the network of deception ensnaring him is part of an immense and deadly conspiracy —and the people closest to him, including his wife may pose the greatest threat of all.

Nov 18, 2015

Trailer: Zoolander 2

After 15 years, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are back as world-saving male supermodels Derek Zoolander and Hansel, respectively, and once again they're up to their meticulously manscaped eyebrows in international intrigue. Will Farrell and Christine Taylor also return, and they're joined by newcomers Benedict Cumberbatch (as the new "It" male model, All), Kristen Wiig (as villainess Alexanya Atoz) and Penelope Cruz (as Interpol agent Montana Grosso). The worlds of high fashion and global espionage collide once again in February 2016.

Agent Carter Season 2 Premiere Date Set (UPDATED)

Agent Carter returns Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 9/8c with a 2-hour season premiere, it was announced yesterday. (UPDATE: The premiere has now been pushed back to the 19th because of the State of the Union address.) This is the exciting time of year when ABC's still lackluster contemporary Marvel spy series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (I can't be the only one who thinks getting Inhuman super powers just made Skye more annoying!) yields way to the infinitely better period Marvel spy series Agent Carter, starring the irrepressibly charming Hayley Atwell. This season Peggy Carter relocates to Los Angeles and finds 1949 Tinseltown teeming with noirish plots and conspiracies in the early days of the Cold War. Atwell is joined once again by James D’Arcy as Edwin Jarvis, Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, Bridget Regan as the proto-Black Widow "Dottie," Chad Michael Murray as Agent Jack Thompson and Enver Gjokaj as former agent Daniel Sousa, now serving as chief of S.H.I.E.L.D. precursor SSR. There are also plenty of new cast members this season, including Lotte Verbeek as Ana Jarvis, Ken Marino as mob boss Joseph Manfredi, and Kurtwood Smith as Vernon Masters. Agent Carter will run through March 1, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will return on March 8. Agent Carter: Season 1 is available on Blu-ray and DVD exclusively through Amazon.

Upcoming Spy DVDs: The Transporter Refueled

Luc Besson's neo-Eurospy reboot The Transporter Refueled will hit Blu-ray and DVD on December 8, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has announced. Ed Skrein steps into the shoes of Jason Statham and finds the fit a bit loose, but spy fans shouldn't write off the reboot because of Statham's absence. Director Camille Delamarre is an improvement on Olivier Megaton, and actually serves up the series' best action since Transporter 2, and also bests the Taken sequels. The Blu-ray includes special features on Skrein ("Frank Martin: The Reluctant Hero"), his gorgeous female co-stars ("The Coeur Brise: Les Femmes of Refueled"), and his car ("Rocketing from 0-60"). The Transporter Refueled is the first in a planned trilogy of new Transporter movies.

Nov 15, 2015

Tradecraft: Tom Cruise Wants More Missions Sooner Rather Than Later

In a story about Luna Park, Tom Cruise's next collaboration with Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity), Variety reiterates that the star intends to shoot the next Mission: Impossible movie very soon—as soon as this summer. If that happens, we'll be seeing Ethan Hunt again in a much shorter timespan than the usually substantial gap between any two previous entries in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Before Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation had even come out (let alone become one of the biggest hits of the summer box office) and back when John Stewart was still hosting The Daily Show (seems like a lifetime ago!), Deadline reported that Cruise was already touting a summer 2016 start date for his sixth Mission while on Stewart's show. On top of that, The Hollywood Reporter ran a story last August saying that before Doug Liman's Mena opens in January 2017, "Paramount now wants to shoot Mission: Impossible 6 during summer 2016 for release in 2017, probably in June or July." But if the recent Variety story is to be believed, it sounds like the movie might not shoot quite as soon as planned. According to that trade, "Sources now say if all goes well with [writer Jason] Fuchs’ draft, Paramount and Skydance would try to squeeze in [Luna Park] before the next installment of Mission: Impossible, which is currently being eyed for a summer 2016 shoot. Cruise is currently shooting Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, and he could jump into Luna Park afterward." If that happens, I'd say there's a chance that the next Mission might end up facing some delays, as Cruise, who also produces those movies, generally likes a bit of prep time for whatever latest insane stunt the writers have dreamed up. And speaking of writers, it's interesting that despite all this talk about shooting within a year, none of these stories have mentioned a writer being attached to the project. Or a director, for that matter! Yet presumably someone is writing it, if things are moving as fast as Cruise indicates. Remember, at one point the plan had been to shoot Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation back in 2013 (Cruise even dropped out of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. so he could do that)... and that didn't end up going before cameras for another year. So while I certainly hope we get more Mission: Impossible sooner rather than later (coming off of the series' two best entries to date), I won't hold my breath just yet.

Incidentally, the plot of Luna Park sounds like it could actually be a Mission: Impossible movie... if the Mission series went in a Moonraker direction. According to the Variety story, it revolves around a group of renegades who venture to the moon to steal an energy source. I don't know, from dangling from the ceiling of the CIA to clinging to cliffs to swinging off skyscrapers to clinging to planes, Cruise seems intent on increasing the altitude of his signature stunts from mission to mission. After his external activities midair in Rogue Nation, he just might have to go to the moon next!

Nov 13, 2015

Tradecraft: Richard Armitage Spies Again as Cast Comes Together for Olen Steinhauer's Berlin Station

Richard Armitage has already toplined two spy series, having done a stint on Spooks/MI-5, and starred in the original UK version of Strike Back (review here). And now he's re-enlisted for intelligence duty to star in the EPIX series Berlin Station from spy novelist Olen Steinhauer (announced in May), as The Hollywood Reporter reported earlier this fall. Now, according to Deadline, the full cast has come together for the 10-part contemporary espionage drama. And it's a very good cast! Spy vets Tamlyn Tomita (24, The Agency), Leland Orser (Taken, 24), Richard Dillane (Argo, MI-5), and Bernhard Schütz (A Most Wanted Man) have rounded out a cast that already includes Armitage, Michelle Forbes (24, Global Frequency), Rhys Ifans (Snowden) and, as reported in July, Richard Jenkins (Burn After Reading).

According to the trade, Berlin Station follows Daniel Meyer (Armitage), a newly anointed case officer freshly arrived at the CIA's Berlin Station to uncover the source of a leak who has supplied information to a Snowden-like whistleblower. Guided by a jaded veteran case officer, Hector DeJean (Ifans) — a "darkly charming, tenacious agent" who works for Station Chief Steven Frost (Jenkins)" — Meyer "learns to contend with the rough-and-tumble world of the field agent — agent-running, deception, the dangers and moral compromises."

Tomita will play Sandra Abe, "a quiet presence lording over the efficient operation of Berlin Station while having an affair with her boss, Frost." Orser will play Robert Kirsch, "a devoted and successful Deputy Chief who digs intelligence out of the capital through a mix of force, diligence and cleverness." Dillane will play Deputy Liaison Gerald Ellman, "a gentle, reserved man who plans his transfer to Budapest, but finds himself in a position of being collateral damage." Schütz is Hans Richter, "an old-world spy who has risen, against all odds, to the highest ranks of the [German spy agency] BfV." Sounds like an ideal Steinhauer cast of characters!

Steinhauer is one of the best contemporary spy novelists (his "Bureau of Tourism" trilogy is the best spy franchise that Hollywood has so far, inexplicably, left unfilmed, despite multiple flirtations with the project), and this is one of the most exciting spy projects currently in development for me. Amazingly, it's not even the only Berlin-set cable series in the works from a master spy writer! William Boyd (author of the wartime espionage tale Restless and the James Bond continuation novel Solo, as well as my favorite novel of this century, Any Human Heart) is masterminding a Cold War period 10-part series, Spy City, for Gaumont International. I can't wait to see both.

Another Trailer for London Has Fallen

Here's a second trailer for Millennium's sequel London Has Fallen, which finds America's most action-prone President since Harrison Ford (Aaron Eckhart) once again put in harm's way and teamed up with his star Secret Service agent Gerrard Butler. This time they're joined by an MI6 agent (Charlotte Riley) as they attempt to keep the President alive, solve the murder of the British Prime Minister, and prevent a terrorist event of global proportions. It's one of those trailers that ends with Morgan Freeman intoning, "Oh my God," so that gives you a pretty good idea of what you're in for!

Nov 12, 2015

Tradecraft: Morgan Freeman Joins Spy Comedy Cold Warriors

Apparently Morgan Freeman really likes playing retired, over the hill spies. After doing it in RED, he's set to do it again in Cold Warriors for Millennium Entertainment. According to Deadline, Cold Warriors is "Taken meets Get Smart" spy action/comedy about a former CIA agent (Freeman) who pulls his video game programmer stepson out of a gaming conference in Paris to help him finish a Cold War-era mission. Todd Berger ("Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Furious Five") penned the script, and Raja Gosnell (Scooby-Doo) will direct. Freeman will next be seen in another Millennium spy movie, the sequel London Has Fallen.

Nov 11, 2015

Tradecraft: Lionsgate to Release Le Carré Movie Our Kind of Traitor in America

Le Carré fans, rejoice! We finally have some release information about Our Kind of Traitor, the movie adaptation of the author's 2010 novel. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lionsgate has acquired U.S. distribution rights, and plans to release the movie through Roadside Attractions in mid-2016. It's been a long road to the screen for Our Kind of Traitor. The film was first announced back in 2012, at which point Justin Kurzel was set to direct and Ralph Fiennes and Mads Mikkelsen to star. Kurzel instead went on to direct Michael Fassbender in Macbeth and neither Fiennes or Mikkelsen ended up starring. By 2013 Susanna White (Parade's End) was directing, and in 2014 filming finally got underway with Ewan McGregor (Alex Rider: Stormbreaker), Naomie Harris (Skyfall), Stellan Skarsgård (The Hunt for Red October) and Damian Lewis (Homeland) starring. A year passed and no release materialized, but now, at last, we have one to look forward to in 2016!

Nov 10, 2015

Big Finish Finds Their Emma Peel

Ever since Big Finish announced they'd be following their fantastic series of Avengers audio dramas based on the lost first season Steed and Dr. Keel episodes with an Emma Peel series, we've been waiting to hear who would step into Diana Rigg's kinky boots. This weekend the company announced that The Thick of It's Olivia Poulet will play the role opposite Julian Wadham, reprising his role as John Steed from The Lost Episodes. (Thank goodness! Wadham is amazing, striking the perfect balance between homaging the generally inimitable Patrick Macnee, and putting his own spin on the role.) Poulet, whose credits also include Sherlock, In the Loop, and Dead Air, will give voice to Mrs. Peel in eight audio adaptations of the comics that originally ran in the UK children's magazine Diana in 1966 and '67. (Read my reviews of some of those comics here.) The Avengers: Steed and Mrs. Peel - The Comic Strip Adaptations will be released in April 2016, and is available to pre-order now. Judging from the titles alone, Big Finish has already improved on the original comics! And I'm sure they will in many more ways spinning 6-page stories aimed at kids into hour-long audio dramas for adults. (I love that they've tied in the first, Scottish-set story with one of my favorite TV episodes ever, "Castle De'ath.") I can't wait to hear, and to here Ms. Poulet's repartee with Wadham. Here are the descriptions Big Finish provides for the first batch of episodes:

1. Return to Castle De'ath by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

Steed is left hanging, Emma pays the piper

2. The Miser by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

Steed has a nasty scare, Emma has a pressing engagement

3. The Golden Dresses by Paul Magrs

Emma hits the heights of fashion and Steed plumbs the very depths

4. The Norse Code by John Dorney

Steed has the horns of a dilemma, Emma milks her moment

Thanks to David for the heads-up on this news!

Nov 8, 2015

Agent X Premieres Tonight on TNT

TNT's new spy series Agent X premieres tonight at 9/8c. (The 2-hour premiere is then repeated at midnight if you missed that; I know I'm getting this reminder up a bit late.) Jeff Hephner stars as an elite secret agent reporting directly to the Vice President, played by Sharon Stone. The great Gerald McRaney also stars... as the VP's butler! (Er... Chief Steward.) And if those aren't enough names in the cast for you, James Earl Jones guest stars in the premiere! But for many spy fans, the biggest name of all involved with this show isn't an actor. It's comics legend Jim Steranko, of Nick Fury fame, who returned to the spy genre to design some promos for the show. (Read about that and see some of his artwork here.) Sadly his contributions don't appear in the title sequence of the premiere, but they can be seen in ad bumpers. And glimpsed in the promo above. Watch the trailer, or check out a 15-minute clip from the premiere below. Personally, I'm loving the unrepentantly silly, fantastic tone, which is more in the vein of Alias or The Man From U.N.C.L.E. than Homeland or The Sandbaggers, making Agent X a nice alternative to all of today's excellent serious spy shows.

Nov 5, 2015

Watch Omega's SPECTRE Commercial

Yet another promotional partner is now giving SPECTRE terrific free advertising with an Omega watch ad that's basically a SPECTRE TV spot with a few beauty shots of the new Omega Seamaster 300 SPECTRE Limited Edition watch thrown in. (And it's a very nice looking watch!)

Nov 4, 2015

Dynamite's James Bond: More Exclusive Variant VARGR Covers Revealed

With Warren Ellis' and Jason Masters' new James Bond comic, "VARGR," in stores today, Dynamite has revealed all of the various retailer exclusive variant covers in the back of the comic—and on their website. Here are some of the most impressive, including this spectacular movie poster-style one by the great Joe Jusko (above), which is exclusive to 1st Print Comics. (There's also a "virgin" version, with no logos or titles.) There's also another one by the incredibly talented Francesco Francavilla (better than his regular incentive cover, in my opinion) exclusive to Fried Pie Comics, a very cool profile picture by Ben Oliver for My Geek Box UK, a moody monochrome image from Sherlock Holmes artist Aaron Campbell for Madness Games, and a cool, colorful cover by Timothy Lim for Heroes and Fantasies. Ian Fleming's James Bond 007 #1, kicking off the "VARGR" story arc, is in stores now. Read my review here.

Comic Book Review: James Bond 007 #1

After an excruciating twenty year absence from the medium of comics, I am absolutely thrilled to report that, thanks to Warren Ellis, Jason Masters and Dynamite, James Bond is back! By which I don’t merely mean that, in a factual sense (as any regular reader of this blog surely already knows), there is a new 007 comic book, but that there’s a new 007 comic book that really delivers 007! Ian Fleming's James Bond 007 #1, which kicks off the 6-part “VARGR” storyline, met and even exceeded my high expectations for the character in this medium. I hope the following issues live up to the exacting standard established here!

Although this Bond is very much the literary Bond of Ian Fleming (and also quite noticeably of Kinglsey Amis, John Gardner and Raymond Benson, in certain respects), licensed by Ian Fleming Publications, “VARGR” does make some concessions to the film version of the character—as any new take on the secret agent really must. Certain things like a Q scene (though this particular one comes directly from Fleming; Major Boothroyd gives Benson’s Walther P99 the same withering treatment he once gave Bond’s old Beretta, saying, “This is a gun for ladies, 007. And not very nice ladies at that.”) or flirting with Moneypenny (is her line here, “I remember when you were charming!” intended as a dig at Daniel Craig?) were never de rigeur in Fleming’s novels, but thanks to the films it’s impossible to imagine a Bond story without these elements. In a presumed nod to Naomie Harris, the current screen Moneypenny, this comic’s Miss Moneypenny is black. In an interesting first, so is the comic’s M, though skin color is just about the only thing different with him. In most respects, Ellis’ M seems very much like Fleming’s irritable yet fatherly Secret Service supervisor. (His office, however, is startlingly bare. I would have liked to have seen a painting of a ship or two on the wall. It’s also odd that his guest chair looks like it came from IKEA, but maybe that’s intentional so that no one he’s interviewing can ever get very comfortable.)

What Ellis gives us is, like other Bond comics before it, a nice blend of the literary and film Bonds, but it also goes beyond that, establishing itself in just one issue as a fairly unique take on 007. While past Bond comics have given us some wonderful variations on the familiar tropes of the character, Ellis manages to deliver quite a few moments of sheer originality. I can’t recall witnessing a job search for a new 00 agent before in any medium (which is not the only element present that brings shades of Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country, the ne plus ultra of spy comics, into Bond’s world), and that subplot begun in this issue looks promising. I also can’t recall Bond ever identifying himself to a doomed enemy in quite such a fashion as he does here. When a scuzzy assassin with a tattoo that may be an homage to Ellis’s Transmetropolitan character Spider Jerusalem finds himself staring up the barrel of James Bond’s gun, he asks, “Who are you?” We might be expecting the familiar response that Mr. White got to that question at the end of Casino Royale, but instead Bond answers, “You killed 008. And I’m 007.” That’s really quite a chilling response! The assassin needn’t know what a Double O prefix means to know he’s in deep trouble when he hears that.

We even get scenes of Bond and Bill Tanner eating in the MI6 canteen. That’s another moment that feels like it could come out of Queen & Country (as is a new Service rule that agents must draw weapons on station rather than travelling armed, much to Bond’s chagrin), but it’s also entirely appropriate to Fleming’s Bond, and serves both to humanize the character and to establish his friendship with Tanner.

Overall I was a fan of Jason Masters’ artwork, though that’s also the main area in which I have a few criticisms. I found some of the action difficult to follow thanks to confusing breakdowns, particularly in the opening action sequence. Moreover, the only thing this comic book incarnation of 007 is really lacking is a visually iconic James Bond. Both Mike Grell and Paul Gulacy delivered pretty iconic versions of the character in their respective 90s comics. Masters’ Bond is certainly not bad in any way (he sort of reminds me of a leaner Henry Cavill), but he isn’t definitive either. And his slouchy body language when in conference with M didn’t ring quite true for me. Fleming’s Bond was always more respectful in the presence of his boss, and while he sometimes verged on insubordination, he was also generally eager to please. Other than those minor gripes, however, the art is top notch. And even if I didn’t find his Bond iconic, Masters excels at conveying the character’s humor through his facial expressions, which is crucial in making Bond likeable.

All things considered, I really couldn’t be more pleased with the debut issue of Dynamite’s James Bond 007 series. The final page leaves us with our first glimpse of the villain and a definite desire to see where the storyline takes us next. I have a really good feeling that it’s going to be a great ride. Yes, Bond is definitely back!

Ian Fleming's James Bond 007 #1 is available in comic shops everywhere today, with many different variant covers.

Bryan Fuller Wants to Reboot The Avengers on TV with Eddie Izzard as Steed

Bryan Fuller, the visionary showrunner behind Hannibal, Pushing Daisies and Wonderfalls, would like to reboot The Avengers (the real Avengers, not the superhero team) on television. He told TVLine (via Dark Horizons), "I would love to reboot The Avengers with Eddie Izzard as John Steed. That would be wonderful." That's the full extent of his quote, given in a survey that asked successful showrunners what series they'd most like to reboot. So, to be clear, this is Fuller picking a dream job, not a pilot sale or even a pitch. But it's certainly a provocative notion!

The Avengers is my favorite TV show of all time. It has already been rebooted once, in the Seventies, by Brian Clemens as The New Avengers, and turned into a less than satisfying feature film in the late Nineties. I am not a knee-jerk reactionary against remakes and reboots of things that I love. After the failure of the 1998 movie (at least partly due to studio tinkering; I would certainly love to see a director's cut to judge the film properly), the show could definitely use some rehabilitation in the public's eyes. And I would love to see it get enough exposure that it could reclaim its own name, which has been appropriated by Marvel. Of course I would only want to see a reboot in truly capable hands... but Bryan Fuller's might be the perfect hands. He is both a storyteller and a stylist, a crucial combination for The Avengers. And he's got a decidedly offbeat point of view, which also helps. The sort of quirkiness he's demonstrated in cult favorites like Pushing Daisies or his one prior foray into spydom (sort of), the supremely, deliciously weird Amazing Screw-On Head (a bizarre animated steampunk pilot based on Mike Mignola's exquisitely weird comic book of the same name - full review here) makes him a good fit for the material. I also like that he starts in the right place, by choosing a Steed. Many fairweather fans of the show might pick a new Emma Peel first (and such casting, whichever female partner they went with, would of course be crucial), but Fuller seems to recognize that no matter which partner he was paired with, it was always Patrick Macnee as Steed who held the show together. That's the right starting point, and from there you should look for an actress with chemistry with your Steed - in this case Eddie Izzard. Which I think is another excellent choice. Izzard is on record as being a fan of the series, but also may have a black mark against him in many fans' eyes for his participation in the '98 movie, in which he played a (mostly) mute henchman for Sean Connery's diabolical mastermind. But anyone who's ever seen his standup act knows that Izzard oozes charisma (and, of course, he's got style - and a predilection for kinky boots!), and in my opinion he might just be the one man who could revive John Steed on television. Fuller and Izzard have previously worked together on two other reboots, the Munsters-derived Mockingbird Lane, and Hannibal. Yes, after careful consideration, I quite love the idea of a Bryan Fuller/Eddie Izzard Avengers reboot! Come on, Esteemed Representatives of Television, make it happen!

Fuller wasn't the only producer polled to pick The Avengers. Gabrielle Stanton, executive producer on The Flash, showed similar good taste. "I would love to reboot Space: 1999 or The Avengers – not the bad movie version, the really cool TV version. Both those things would be really great science-fiction genre properties to bring back."

Nov 3, 2015

Watch Video of Dame Diana Rigg's BFI Avengers Q&A

As we first heard back in September, the greatest female spy star of all time, Dame Diana Rigg (star of The Avengers and On Her Majesty's Secret Service) did a Q&A following a screening of a classic Avengers episode at the British Film Institute last week. I was so disappointed not to be able to fly to London for that event, but now BFI has been kind enough to put video of that Q&A (moderated by BFI curator Dick Fiddy) up on their website! She is completely open, candidly discussing a number of aspects of The Avengers and her career at large. Wearing a scarf that evokes the door to Emma Peel's flat, Rigg happily discusses a number of topics including her co-star, the late, great Patrick Macnee ("He was a deeply generous, dear, dear man, and I grieve his passing"), her predecessor Honor Blackman ("who's wonderful"), her character Emma Peel ("Dear God, was I lucky to get a chance to play this woman!"), the leather catsuits ("They were deeply uncomfortable, and hot, and sticky"), the cars ("they were very hard to drive!"), her delight at the remastering of the episodes on DVD ("I've been restored!"), the directors ("I was working with these brilliant men, and I didn't know it, and that is a great regret of mine, because I would have paid them homage had I known"), Emma's place in feminism ("I truly do think that she was a very, very potent influence in women claiming their place in the world"), Theater of Blood ("that film was such fun!"), Avengers writers ("Brian Clemens was brilliant"), On Her Majesty's Secret Service ("they had pots of money to spend on the Bond, which we didn't on The Avengers"), and George Lazenby ("George was not bad! He was not. He was just boring off [camera]!"). She also touches on The Sentimental Agent, "The Hothouse" (which she'd never seen), Euripides, Ian Hendry, Guy Hamilton, Vincent Price, Mark Gatiss, Doctor Who, and even Friends. This video is just so must-watch you shouldn't even still be on this page. Go watch it! Now! It's great!

Watched it? Great! Now for more on that auspicious day at BFI, check out a fan's perspective on meeting an icon at Home Arty Home, and then check out a collection of Avengers-inspired pop art that was on display at the event at Art & Hue. Great stuff! (Thanks to Art & Hue for the links.)

Nov 2, 2015

Trailer: Retooled Legends Kicks Off Season 2 Tonight on TNT

The completely retooled second season of Legends, starring Sean Bean, premieres tonight on TNT at 10/9c. And judging by this trailer, it looks even better than the first season, which was a slow build but ultimately paid off handsomely. I hear that the second season is so different that it should be possible to jump on now without having season Season 1. The action in Season 2 shifts from America to Europe, and with the exception of Morris Chestnut returning as a guest star, the supporting cast is almost entirely different. (I will definitely miss Tina Majorino. I hope they find a way to at least bring her back for an episode or two.) A collaboration between two heavy-hitters in the spy genre, Legends is based on the novel by Robert Littell (The Company) and executive produced by Howard Gordon (24, Homeland). Bean (GoldenEye, Patriot Games) stars as Martin Odum, a deep cover agent who's lived so many different legends he can no longer be sure who he actually is. Season 2 finds Odum on the run for an assassination he didn't commit and struggling to put together the pieces and discover his past while pursued by the world's intelligence agencies. Check out the trailer below:

Order Legends: The Complete Season 1 from Amazon

London Spy Trailer

BBC Two has released the first trailer for London Spy, the upcoming 5-part spy drama written by Ian Fleming Steel Dagger winner Tom Rob Smith (Child 44) and starring Ben Whishaw (Skyfall, SPECTRE), Edward Holcroft (Kingsman), Charlotte Rampling (The Avengers) and Jim Broadbent (Any Human Heart). The miniseries will debut in England on November 9 and on BBC America at a still undetermined date.

SPECTRE Land Rover Commercial

Here's another SPECTRE-inspired promotional partner commercial. Unlike the ones we've already seen for Sony smartphones (featuring Naomie Harris as Moneypenny) and Belvedere Vodka, or the unmissable Heineken spot with Daniel Craig, this Land Rover commercial doesn't feature any new concepts or exclusive footage. It's just shots from the Alpine chase scene in the movie re-cut to put the focus on the Land Rovers. I suppose there may be a few extra shots in this that didn't make the final film, and of course the material is edited differently than in the movie, but more or less this spot is just film clips. It's still cool, though, and still worth posting and watching!

Oct 30, 2015

First Trailer for Grimsby, Now Called The Brothers Grimsby

Sony have released the first red band trailer (which means NSFW) for the Sacha Baron Cohen/Mark Strong spy comedy we first heard about way back in 2012, when it was set up at Paramount. Spy veteran Mark Strong (Kingsman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) plays a British superspy saddled on his latest adventure with his idiot soccer hooligan brother, played by Cohen (Borat). Louis Leterrier, whose Transporter 2 remains one of the very best neo-Eurospy movies to date, directs, so hopefully we can expect some good action along with the comedy. (Though I have to say, I'm not at all impressed with the slightly nauseating first-person shooter-style footage in this trailer. Hopefully there's not too much of that.) Up until now this project has been known as Grimsby, but evidently it's now called The Brothers Grimsby, which is a better title, even if Grimsby is the name of the town the brothers come from rather than their family name. The film was originally set to come out this past summer, but ultimately fled the crowded 2015 spy marketplace for a February 2016 berth. That was probably a smart move as another spy comedy, Spy, ended up as a huge success this summer. Now The Brothers Grimsby is poised to be an early spy highlight next year - one I'm certainly looking forward to!

Spooks/MI-5 Movie Finally Gets a U.S. Release Date, Trailer, Poster

Americans been waiting anxiously for the 2015 movie version of the BBC TV series they know as MI-5 and the rest of the world knows as Spooks. Spooks: The Greater Good opened last May in the UK, but failed to materialize Stateside during the summer. But just as fans were starting to give up hope and think they'd have to import Region 2 DVDs, last month Deadline reported that Saban Entertainment would release the film, under the title MI-5 (no "Greater Good"), in the United States this December! And today we have a trailer and a poster for that release. And it's very different from the UK trailer we saw in March. Check it out below.

Last spring I speculated rather cynically that if I were the U.S. distributor, I would try to get the movie out before Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (the fifth in that series) to capitalize on audience confusion over the title MI-5 (which is of course derived from the name of the British Security Service, and has nothing to do with Mission: Impossible, which it pre-dates by more than five decades). From the poster, which uses imagery, colors and fonts similar to the various Mission: Impossible campaigns, it looks like Saban are doing just that. But coming well after Rogue Nation's hit theatrical run, it seems like they're trying to capitalize on that film's home video release instead. (Rogue Nation hits Blu-ray and DVD on December 15, and MI-5 hits theaters December 4.) I hope that scheme doesn't rub people the wrong way, because MI-5/Spooks was a fantastic TV show and therefore I am certain that the movie will be much, much better than the sorts of similar title cash-ins like Transmorphers released by The Asylum with the specific intention of confusing Grandma during her Christmas shopping.

Peter Firth (The Hunt for Red October) and Lara Pulver (Fleming) return as spymaster Harry Pearce (the only star to remain through all ten seasons of the TV show) and agent Erin Watts (introduced in the final season), respectively, and Tim McInnerny reprises his recurring role as Oliver Mace. The rest of the cast is filled out by newcomers to the franchise, led by Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones). Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty), David Harewood (Homeland), Elyes Gabel (Exit Strategy) and Tuppence Middleton (The Lady Vanishes) round out the ensemble. The strategy of bringing in Harrington as the new star instead of bringing back one of the few survivors of the series (which had a remarkably high mortality rate among its leads!) is clearly designed to make the film accessible to new audiences, while still rewarding seasoned viewers. From this trailer, it really looks like the film manages exactly that! I can't wait for the opportunity to finally see this movie!

MI-5 opens theatrically on December 4, but will be available on DirecTV in an exclusive window beginning a month sooner, on November 5. Watch the trailer below:

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

Oct 29, 2015

Covers for Dynamite's James Bond #3, Plus One More for #1

Midtown Comics has revealed an exclusive Robert Hack cover for Dynamite's James Bond 007 #1 comic book, kicking off the "VARGR" storyline by Warren Ellis and Jason Masters. And, in my opinion, it's the best one yet! Don't be fooled by the throwback look though. That's just this retro cover. Ellis's take on Agent 007 is thoroughly modern, though based on the character as portrayed in Ian Fleming's novels, not the movies. The writer has spoken extensively about what to expect from his run on Bond, which will last at least twelve issues. The Robert Hack cover is available only from Midtown Comics, and can be pre-ordered through their website. James Bond 007 #1 comes out next Wednesday, November 4.

Meanwhile, on Dynamite's own website they've revealed two covers and a story synopsis for issue #3, due out January 6. According to the solicitation, "Bond is on his way to break up a small, agile drug-trafficking operation in Berlin. The truth about what he's walking into is bigger, scarier and much more lethal. Berlin is about to catch fire, and James Bond is trapped inside. Dynamite Entertainment proudly continues the 'VARGR' storyline, the debut chapter of the ongoing James Bond saga as written by industry legend Warren Ellis and illustrated by Jason Masters!" The main cover is by Dom Reardon (below), with a variant (right) by Gabriel Hardman.