Sep 30, 2015

SPECTRE Soundtrack Features Instrumental Version of Writing's On the Wall

For decades the theme song was the centerpiece of a new James Bond soundtrack album. Then when Daniel Craig took over the role, that tradition ended. Chris Cornell's powerful theme song "You Know My Name" (still the best of the Craig era) was not included on the Casino Royale soundtrack album despite its melody forming the backbone of David Arnold's score. (The Sony Classical soundtrack album even bore the warning, "This album does not contain a Chris Cornell recording.") Jack White and Alicia Keys' "Another Way to Die" did appear on the Quantum of Solace album, but at the end instead of the beginning. (Although that melody, which Arnold had nothing to do with, didn't recur throughout his score.) The album was released on Keys' label, the Sony-owned J Records. And then Adele's superb, Oscar-winning "Skyfall" theme was left off of Thomas Newman's score album for that film. (Again on Sony Classical, and again with a dire warning about the lack of a recording "by the artist Adele.") With the SPECTRE soundtrack, we'll get something altogether different. The album, on the Decca label, will include Sam Smith's main theme "Writing's On the Wall..." but in an instrumental version. Decca is a subsidiary of Universal Music Group, as is Smith's label, Capitol. Instrumental versions of both "Skyfall" and "Another Way to Die" were released, but as B-sides on the singles, not on the score albums. It will be interesting to see if the inclusion of the instrumental on the Newman album is an indication that Newman will work it into his score. At any rate, a lot of Bond fans will probably find the omission of the vocals makes for a more satisfying listening experience, as the primary complaint about the song has been with Smith's falsetto-heavy vocals and not the rather traditional Bondian orchestration. SPECTRE: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Thomas Newman, including the instrumental of Sam Smith's "Writing's On the Wall," is due out physically on November 13, a week after the film's U.S. release. A digital release, still unannounced, is expected a week or two earlier. The CD can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

Sep 29, 2015

Teaser: The Prisoner Audio Drama from Big Finish

Big Finish have released a teaser for their first set of original audio dramas based on The Prisoner. But in the tradition of the classic Sixties TV show, it's rather enigmatic. Per their own Facebook page: "Today, we’re being as cryptic as the original series. We’re not announcing the casting, but we’re giving you the opportunity to hear some of them and to see them in this great bit of artwork by Tom Webster. We're re-imagining the original 1967 TV series. It isn't a continuation. We've ‘recreated’ it from the very beginning (and, hopefully, one day, until the end). It’s different, but it’s very much in the spirit of the original. So, it’s something old and something new. Our aim is to make you fall in love with this tremendous series all over again." Hm. Well, I love the artwork... though I can't identify the actor filling Patrick McGoohan's shoes as Number 6. Can you? If so, please comment! (And please explain why he isn't wearing a turtleneck!) I have to be honest: I'm a little disappointed he's not doing more of a Patrick McGoohan impression in the audio. Of course I want him to add his own spin, but I would have at least liked McGoohan's unique cadence in his delivery. But I'm sure I'll quickly get used to the new Number 6 in the course of the audio dramas. Pre-order the first set from Big Finish today.

Sep 28, 2015

Steranko Returns to Spies With TNT's New Series Agent X

© Jim Steranko
Legendary artist Jim Steranko, who innovated comic book storytelling in the 1960s with his iconic run on Marvel's entry in that decade's superspy sweepstakes, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., is once again contributing his talent to spy pop culture. On Sunday night the artist Tweeted a series of design drawings he made for TNT's upcoming spy series Agent X, starring Jeff Hephner and Sharon Stone. It's unclear if this sequence is intended for the show's main titles or for promotional spots, but it sure is cool! 

© Jim Steranko
© Jim Steranko
According to Steranko, he "developed about 20 sequences for possible promo use," so this batch is just a teaser. TNT's creative director had noticed his influence on a number of recent film title sequences and asked if he had "the time and inclination" to contribute to Agent X. Steranko said he read the show bible and liked what he saw—which certainly bodes well for the series! (Steranko provided spot-on critiques of each episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. during the show's problematic first season, proving he's still got his finger on the pulse when it comes to determining what makes good spy entertainment.) 

© Jim Steranko
These are just a few extracts from the lengthy storyboard sequence he Tweeted (and sadly excerpting them takes a bit away from the full concept), so be sure to check out his Twitter feed and see the whole thing, along with his stage directions. On top of henchmen who could be right out of one of his Nick Fury comics, Steranko's sequence also offers nods to Saul Bass, Maurice Binder, and the terrific animated main titles from the Sixties TV classic The Wild Wild West. I really hope they use this on the show!

© Jim Steranko

As previously reported, Agent X debuts on TNT on Sunday, November 8 at 9/8c. Steranko is currently busy at work on the follow-up to IDW's spectacular Artist's Edition of his classic Nick Fury comics from Strange Tales. The first oversize hardcover volume, which reprints the artist's original, uncolored drawings at full size, meticulously reproduced from the original artwork itself, just earned Steranko a Harvey Award for his design work on it. In last night's barrage of Tweets (an unmissable weekly event), he revealed that the eagerly anticipated Volume 2 (collecting his art from the Nick Fury monthly as well as his brief but spectacular run on Captain America from the same era) would be 265 pages, with "extras in full color." I'm afraid there's still no word on a release date.

First Look at Dynamite's James Bond #2, Featuring an Aston Martin

The latest issue of Diamond Previews (the print version only, unfortunately) offers comic book readers a first glimpse at the second issue of Dynamite Entertainment's James Bond 007, including four variant covers. According to the solicitation copy, "James Bond is in Berlin, alone, unarmed and with no idea of the forces ranged in secret against him. If he can make it to the Embassy, he might survive for a few hours more. But he’s getting into that car with that woman, which means he has only minutes to live…"

Is "that car" an Aston Martin? Cover A, by Dom Reardon (high-res version courtesy of Bleeding Cool), certainly shows one. This is a little surprising because all the publicity surrounding this comic book, by writer Warren Ellis (RED, Global Frequency) and artist Jason Masters, plays up how it's based on the literary James Bond of the Ian Fleming novels, and not the movie Bond. Yet Fleming's Bond only ever drove an Aston Martin once, in Goldfinger. It's clearly a modern model depicted on the cover, similar to the DBS V12 Daniel Craig drove in Quantum of Solace. While a Bentley might have been a more expected choice of vehicle for the Bond of the books, there is certainly precedent for 007 to drive an Aston Martin in comics. In the never completed 1993 Dark Horse Bond comic "A Silent Armageddon" by Simon Jowett and John Burns, 007 drove a dark green V8 Vantage similar to the one Timothy Dalton drove in The Living Daylights. (I sure would like to see Dynamite print the supposedly finished but never published final two issues of that series!) Of course the car in the description is not Bond's car anyway, but one driven by a mysterious woman—presumably the Selina Kyle-looking Bond girl making her public debut on these covers. So perhaps she drives an Aston as a cute nod to the films. Or perhaps the car on the cover isn't even featured inside the comic, and is just the artist's touch! We'll find out December 2 when part 2 of Ellis's inaugural storyline "VARGR" hits shelves.

Sep 26, 2015

Tradecraft: Adam Pally & Paul Lieberstein Sell Spy Sitcom to Fox

Weirdly, I always wanted to see Toby, the H.R. rep from The Office (the American version, that is) in a spy situation. And now, according to Deadline, that might happen... though they're no indication yet that Paul Lieberstein (who played Toby as well as serving as a writer and producer on the series) would be involved in front of the camera as well as behind. But he and Adam Pally (The Mindy Project) have sold a spy comedy pitch to Fox. Lieberstein will co-write the script with actor/comedian Jon Gabrus (Comedy Bang Bang), and the latter might also star. According to the trade, "Details about the plot are scarce, but the show is described as a comedic take on the spy genre." So that's all we've got to work with for now. As many spy series as there are on television right now, what we're missing is a live action spy comedy. So let's hope this one goes to series!

Posters for New Seasons of ABC's Marvel Spy Shows

ABC and Marvel have released posters for both of their spy series. Entertainment Weekly debuted the poster for Season 2 of Agent Carter, the spectacular early Cold War period spy series starring Hayley Atwell (The Prisoner remake) and set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, due to return this winter. This poster will be given out at the Marvel booth at the upcoming New York Comic Con in October. There's also a new poster for the upcoming third season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which premieres this Tuesday, September 29, at 9/8c. Season 2 marked a distinct improvement over Season 1, but I have to admit I'm apprehensive over the direction it appears to be going, with more and more focus on the least interesting character, Skye, and her people, the Inhumans... a focus which threatens to take the show in a decidedly more superhero direction at the expense of the spying. But maybe it will all work out. We shall see!

Sep 25, 2015

Another SPECTRE TV Spot

Another new SPECTRE TV spot was released yesterday. Check it out:

The SPECTRE Title Song by Sam Smith is Here! Listen Now!

Today Sam Smith released "The Writing's On the Wall," his theme song for the latest James Bond movie, SPECTRE. Hm. It will take me a few more listens to form a real opinion. But on first listen, it doesn't strike me as a disaster, like Madonna's "Die Another Day," nor brilliant, like Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name" from Casino Royale. It certainly sounds Bondian, and that's a good thing anyway. It's lush and epic, which is nice, but still feels like it's lacking something. I'm not really familiar with Smith as an artist, but I'm not crazy about his aggressive falsetto. Then again, I wasn't crazy about Adele's "Skyfall" the first time I heard it, and I came to love that song. So we'll have to see. (Danny Kleinman's visuals can do wonders for a Bond song, too.) Anyway, have a listen! It should be available for purchase digitally later today, and the CD single is available for pre-order on Amazon, but not due out for another month. The SPECTRE soundtrack, featuring Thomas Newman's second Bond score, is also available for pre-order, and due out November 13, a whole week after the film hits cinemas.

Sep 24, 2015

BBC Offers First Glimpse at Le Carré Miniseries The Night Manager

It's not much, but BBC One (via Dark Horizons) offers us our first glimpses of Hugh Laurie (The Gun Seller) as Establishment arms dealer Richard Onslow Roper, Tom Hiddleston (Marvel's The Avengers) as undercover man Jonathan Pine, Elizabeth Debicki (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) as dream girl Jed, and Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) as drug enforcement agent Burr in Susanne Bier's (Love Is All You Need) upcoming John le Carré miniseries The Night Manager. For fans of le Carré's beloved 1993 novel, even a glimpse is hugely gratifying! This six part miniseries is definitely one of my most anticipated spy entertainments of the next year. The few Night Manager clips are interspersed with looks at future installments of Sherlock, Luther, and Doctor Who, among other returning series, along with DickensianAnd Then There Were None and more upcoming BBC projects. While no specific UK airdate has yet been announced, this reel is for shows airing sometime this winter. In the U.S., AMC will broadcast The Night Manager sometime in 2016. And it's not the only le Carré project in the pipeline! We're still waiting on the feature film version of Our Kind of Traitor, which is in the can but has yet to set a release date or American distributor.

Londoners: Watch The Avengers on the Big Screen With Diana Rigg in Person

Lucky Londoners will be able to enjoy the event of a lifetime next month when Dame Diana Rigg herself does an on-stage Q&A following a screening of the classic Avengers episode "The House That Jack Built." It's one of a pair of absolute classic Emma Peel episodes screening on October 25 at BFI Southbank. You'd be hard pressed to come up with a better Emma double feature, in fact, than the monochrome "House That Jack Built" and the color "Return of the Cybernauts," which guest starred the great Peter Cushing. "Cybernauts" will be accompanied by "a compilation of oddities and rarities from the world of Emma Peel and The Avengers." Avengers fans will be aware that Dame Diana rarely speaks about her seminal work on the classic Sixties spy series, and even more rarely participates in any events pertaining to it. So this is a truly unmissable opportunity... and I've never been so jealous of my London friends! Even if you've never seen the show (though I can't imagine why not!), do yourself a favor and get tickets for this event. The greatest female spy star ever live on stage, and a screening of two of the greatest episodes of the greatest spy series of all time? How can you pass it up? Well, unfortunately I'll have to, as I don't have the means to get to London just now. But for those who do, tickets go on sale on October 6 at 11:30am for £16. What better way to celebrate the lives of the two luminaries of that series we've lost this year, Brian Clemens and Patrick Macnee?

Sep 23, 2015

Warren Ellis Gives Good Bond Interviews

Anthony Horowitz is a brilliant writer, but proved himself a less brilliant interviewee a few weeks ago when he put his foot in his mouth promoting his new James Bond novel Trigger Mortis and the Internet didn't like it. He also made some odd statements about how he viewed the character of Bond, but fortunately his novel doesn't bear them out. Warren Ellis, on the other hand, whose new 007 comic book debuts November 4, speaks quite eloquently about Bond in every interview I've read so far. Read this latest, with Bleeding Cool, for example. He even navigates the tricky waters of what Sarah Palin would call "gotcha questions," like "Seen through a contemporary lens, Bond comes across as misogynistic at times; how do you deal with that misogyny in a modern series?" Other Bond writers have stumbled over such questions in the past, but Ellis handles it as well as any I've seen, saying:
A lot of this, of course, is about postwar British mores: many of them were still around when I was growing up in the Seventies. The attitude to people of colour, the notion that lesbians really just needed a good seeing-to to fix them… all depressingly familiar. Contemporising Bond, for me, requires the writer to move that baseline — on a simple level, it was possible for the Bond of Casino Royale to have grown up with those views inculcated into him, because Bond was conceived of as an “ordinary” man, but the Bond of VARGR [the title of Ellis' first story arc] could not have grown up like that.

All that said: yes, I believe there to be a streak of misogyny in Bond, but I think a contemporary reading exposes much (but not all) of that as misanthropy. I suspect Bill Tanner is Bond’s one single friend.
I think that's a very interesting response! Be sure to read the entire interview.

James Bond 007 #1, from Dynamite Entertainment, hits comics shops November 4, days before SPECTRE opens in theaters.

Sep 22, 2015

Watch Daniel Craig in Roger Moore-Style Action in New Heineken Spot

This is why I love product placement. Or, more specifically, why I love commercial tie-ins with the James Bond movies. It's just another way to get more Bond, and I'm greedy that way. I don't care what products 007 flogs as long as I get more Bond, in increments however small! But this new Heineken commercial transcends the niche of James Bond-branded advertising, and even the more rarefied niche of James Bond-branded advertising starring actual James Bond actors. This, like Daniel Craig's bit in the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremonies, feels like an essential little bit of Craig-era 007. Except, of course, it doesn't feel Craig era. This time Madison Avenue has created a spot that puts Daniel Craig's Bond smack in the middle of a Roger Moore-era Bond chase. The references to past Bonds go well beyond Moore (there's a nod to Oddjob's hat, for instance, and even small homages to Never Say Never Again and Licence To Kill), but the overall vibe and Moonraker setting is pure Moore. And since Craig's Bond has been largely the antithesis of Moore's Bond, I love seeing him in these situations. It's in the same vein as the train-set Heineken spot that aired when Skyfall came out (and now, in retrospect, seems like it may have been a less successful attempt to evoke the Connery era), but much better. For anyone who feels the modern Bond movies are a tad too grim or realistic, bask now in the over-the-top zeal of this SPECTRE-related Heineken commercial starring Daniel Craig as Roger Moore James Bond.

Sep 17, 2015

Tradecraft: NBC Orders Taken TV Series

It was way back in 2010 that Luc Besson's neo-Eurospy factory EuropaCorp first announced that it was working on a TV series based on its 2008 hit movie Taken, at the same time that the Transporter TV show was announced. Five years and two Taken movies later, that series is actually happening, at NBC. Deadline reports that the network has put in a straight-to-series order for a Taken prequel series, focusing on a younger Bryan Mills (the now-former agent played by Liam Neeson in the movies) in his CIA days. There is no showruner on board yet, but Besson, who co-wrote all of the movies, will executive produce the series (a role he didn't take on either Nikita or Transporter: The Series), which will be a joint venture between EuropaCorp and Universal Television. Set before Bryan Mills ever married Lenore (Famke Janssen in the movies) and before the couple had their kidnapping-prone daughter Kim, the series will show us how Mills acquired his famous "very particular set of skills" and became the badass known to moviegoers the world over. You're probably doing the math about now and getting excited, as I did, for a spy series set in the final days of the Cold War, but alas, that's not to be. Instead, the Taken series will function as a sort of reboot, bending time to take place today, kind of like EuropaCorp's recent prequel The Transporter Refueled (which was actually inexplicably set in 2010, which is neither before the Jason Statham movies were made nor, obviously, the present).

So when you take away Liam Neeson and you take away Mills' family members getting kidnapped, what, exactly, are you left with in the Bryan Mills character? Quite a lot, actually. In 2008 (or early 2009, when it opened in the United States after playing in Europe), I think audiences were genuinely surprised by the lengths to which Mills went in tracking down his missing daughter. His brutality, when called for, was shocking. (Read my review of the movie here.) He is of the school of Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm (a character very different from Dean Martin's movie version) and 24's Jack Bauer (who also had a kidnapping-prone daughter named Kim), an uncompromising agent capable of anything when the stakes are high enough. It's true that we've seen a lot of such characters on television since 24, but based on audience's familiarity with and goodwill towards Mills from the Neeson incarnation, I think the right showrunner could do something very special with the part on the small screen—even on network television. Other than the contemporary setting, this could just turn out to be the closest thing to the Matt Helm TV series spy fans have been craving for decades.

Sep 15, 2015

Moneypenny Hawks Smartphones

Every time a new James Bond movie comes out, some people invariably begin complaining about product placement. Not me! I understand that product placement is a crucial part of the financial model that funds big budget movies, and has been for quite some time, and I'm fully cognizant of the fact that it's been an equally big part of the Bond series specifically for so long that it simply feels like part of the formula I love. I can't imagine a Bond film without product placement. Furthermore, I think it's a kind of appropriate extension of Ian Fleming's own penchant for naming brands he liked in his novels. And one more thing. I love seeing James Bond-inspired commercials. (Who can forget John Cleese's classic Schweppes spot from Licence To Kill? Or the time Christina Hendricks was a Bond Girl opposite Pierce Brosnan... in a Visa commercial from Tomorrow Never Dies?) Well, now the commercials tying in to SPECTRE have started airing! This one (via Dark Horizons), featuring Miss Moneypenny (Namoie Harris) shilling for Sony products like digital cameras and smartphones, is particularly notable because it's directed by seven-time 007 title designer Daniel Kleinman. It's also just pretty cool!

And this one, for Belvedere Vodka (via MI6), features SPECTRE Bond Girl Stephanie Sigman. The Rube Goldberg bartending is amusing, but seems more appropriate to a Jean-Pierre Juenet movie than a James Bond film.

Tradecraft: Stone's Snowden Seeks Refuge in 2016

Spy-jammed 2015 has lost one more defector to 2016. Following in the footsteps of Grimsby and London Has Fallen, Oliver Stone's Edward Snowden movie Snowden has been pushed back to next year. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film won't be ready in time for its previously announced Christmas release date. The move, of course, puts the fact-based drama out of awards contention for this year. And if 007 producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson are still intent on producing their own Snowden movie after they finish up with SPECTRE, Stone's move to an unspecified date next year will narrow the gap between the competing pictures. Stone's Snowden stars Joseph Gordon Levitt (Looper), Shailene Woodley (White Bird in a Blizzard), Timothy Olyphant (Hitman), Zachary Quinto (Hitman: Agent 47), Melissa Leo (The Equalizer), Tom Wilkinson (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) and Nicholas Cage (The Rock).

Sep 14, 2015

Tradecraft: Jennifer Lawrence Circles Red Sparrow

Deadline reports that the biggest female star in the world is kicking the tires of a spy movie. And not just any spy movie! Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class, American Hustle) is reportedly contemplating re-teaming with her Hunger Games: Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence for Fox's long in the works adaptation of Jason Matthews' debut novel Red Sparrow. Red Sparrow was my favorite new spy novel of recent years, and I dearly want to see this movie happen. Several high profile actress/director teams have been attached at one time or another, including Natalie Portman and Darren Aronofsky and Rooney Mara and David Fincher. I can picture both of those actresses in the role of Russian SVR agent Dominika Egorova more than I can Lawrence, but the actress I actually pictured throughout reading both Red Sparrow and its decidedly lesser sequel, Palace of Treason, is Olga Kurylenko. Still, I think Lawrence is a phenomenal talent, and I'm sure she can transform herself into the role. I would love to see this happen!

Sep 12, 2015

Unused Painted Poster For Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

I thought the main 1-sheet poster for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation was quite good. But it turns out it could have been better. It could have been painted! I know, I know, we poster nerds are always complaining that the modern Photoshop montage posters aren't as good as the painted posters of our youth, and always commenting on new photo posters by saying, "I wish it were painted!" But that's usually completely in vain and we know it. (One marketing executive once told me that when a DVD has a painted cover image, all-important WalMart customers think that means the movie is animated, meaning that live action films have to be advertised with photographs.) However, in this one case, it turns out there really was a painted version created by a superstar artist. Steve Chorney, whose iconic movie artwork of the Home Video era included posters for Labyrinth, Coming to America, The Ice Pirates, Lassiter, and Quigley Down Under, painted this spectacular image for the latest entry in the Tom Cruise film series. For whatever reason (see above), the studio rejected it and went with a slick and, admittedly, good looking photo collage. But not as good looking as this! Happily, Chorney's painted version was made available on the Mendola Artists website. If only there were a paper version! I would love to have that hanging on my wall.

© 2015 Mendola Artists Representatives

Sep 11, 2015

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Returns to Comics... and Meets Batman '66!

Newsarama reports that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is returning to comics for the first time since the early 90s! Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin will be teaming up with Batman (specifically Batman '66, which is how DC brands comics based on the Adam West TV incarnation of the character and set in the Sixties) in a 6-issue miniseries by Jeff Parker (The Interman, Agents of A.T.L.A.S.) and David Hahn debuting in December. From the description (and the awesome Mike Allred cover), it sure sounds like this is the classic TV version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.:
Two 1960s television icons cross paths for a groovy, globe-spanning adventure in this one-of-a-kind miniseries. The deadly organization known as T.H.R.U.S.H. has a new twist in their plans for world conquest—they’re recruiting some of Gotham City’s most infamous villains! Agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin bring this information to the one man who knows everything about these new enemies: Batman. Before you can say “Open channel D,” the Dynamic Duo and the Men from U.N.C.L.E. are jetting off to Europe to thwart the schemes of this deadly criminal cartel.
So does this mean that DC (a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Entertainment, who released this summer's excellent Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie) will be producing new Man From U.N.C.L.E. (ahem) solo books as well? I certainly hope so! Any such series would probably depend on sales of this crossover, but personally I'd love to see separate titles set in the film's continuity and that of the show.

It was announced at Comic-Con in July that Batman '66 would also be teaming up with The Avengers' Steed and Mrs. Peel in the near future. We haven't heard any more about that, so presumably the U.N.C.L.E. series will come first. But, man, what a comic book crossover that would be, if The Avengers met The Man From U.N.C.L.E.! I know, I know. I'm fully aware that it's Batman who's selling these books, not my spy heroes. Just indulge me that fantasy for one moment...

Batman '66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E. #1 will be in comics shops on December 23, just in time for Christmas (and my birthday!) and will also be available with a 1 in 25 variant cover (not pictured) by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. So keep your eyes out, collectors!
Thanks to Jon for the tip!

Another New SPECTRE Poster!

Hot on the heels of last week's exciting new SPECTRE poster showcasing Daniel Craig in a white dinner jacket comes another one! This poster and two new banners (below) were unveiled today on The skeleton costume from the Mexico City-set Day of the Dead sequence continues to be a focal point in the campaign, though I find it's somewhat weirdly integrated with the foreground images on the posters. This time, Craig is joined by Léa Seydoux (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol), looking stunning in her silver dress, which is rapidly becoming iconic. Craig wears a suit this time. (He in his white jacket was previously paired with Seydoux on a theatrical standee, bottom) I hope we're building to a final 1-sheet with Craig in his white dinner jacket flanked by Seydoux and Monica Bellucci!

Sep 10, 2015

Tradecraft: ABC Buys Whistleblower Thriller Canary

I'm not entirely sure from the scant description that Canary is a spy show, but I'm making an educated guess that it is. Deadline reports that ABC has bought Prison Break co-E.P. Zack Estrin's pilot Canary. According to the trade, "Described as 'Homeland meets Erin Brockovich,' Canary follows a woman who risks everything to help a whistleblower come forward with secret information that will impact the lives of millions." What makes me think it will be a spy show? Well, the Homeland name-check, for one, plus the story similarities to Citizenfour director Laura Poitras' relationship with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, plus the general Snowdenmania of our time. (In addition to the Oliver Stone movie Snowden due out at Christmas with Joseph Gordon Levitt in the title role, James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson are developing their own Snowden movie, and Matt Damon cites the whistleblower as his and Paul Greengrass's chief inspiration to revisit Jason Bourne.) Of course, for all we know Estrin's character could be blowing the whistle on Big Pharm or tobacco or the telecomm industry. We'll probably have to wait and see if ABC ends up shooting the pilot, which Estrin will write, before we learn more.


There's a cool new SPECTRE TV spot out today, with quite a bit of new footage and dialogue. Check it out:

First Look at Interior Art for New James Bond Comic Book VARGR

Dynamite Entertainment unleashed its advertising campaign for its upcoming James Bond 007 comic book today. All Dynamite comics out this week include a double page spread in the middle promoting the upcoming 007 series, and it includes our first glimpse of Jason Masters' interior artwork for the Warren Ellis-penned book, stylishly reformatted into the shape of a pistol.

But that was only the tip of the iceberg. On their website, Dynamite has revealed three whole textless pages of sequential interior art in black and white. It's unclear whether these pages will also be in black and white in the comic itself, and whether or not they'll have text. If they are black and white, the technique would recall the opening sequence of Casino Royale (2006), which depicted a similar scene in monochrome. And if they are textless, they would recall the most famous sequence in spy comics, Steranko's three page "silent" opening to Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1. These Bond pages appear to come from what Ellis recently described as the book's "cold open," a duel in a Helsinki building site. Head over to the Dynamite site to see them all. Read more about the first storyline, VARGR, and see the various covers here.

Sep 9, 2015

First Picture of Bourne Back in Action

Bourne series producer Frank Marshall Tweeted the first photo of Matt Damon back in action as Jason Bourne from the set today. Damon, 44, slips back into the role of Robert Ludlum's formerly amnesiac superspy Jason Bourne for the first time since 2007. (Jeremy Renner kept the series warm for him with a disappointing spinoff in 2012.) And, clearly, he's gotten himself super ripped for the occasion. The new, still untitled Damon Bourne movie, re-teaming the star with his Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass, was previously slated for release next July, but Deadline reports that it is now unscheduled. Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel and series veteran Julia Stiles co-star.

Sep 8, 2015

Sam Smith to Perform SPECTRE Theme Song

British singer Sam Smith will perform the theme song for the 24th James Bond movie, SPECTRE, it was announced today on the official 007 website. The news comes on the heels of months' worth of rumors and speculation that Smith would be the one belting out a SPECTRE song come November. Then, in recent months, the tantalizing spectre of Radiohead singing the song somehow worked its way onto the Internet, cruelly taunting us with the prospect of something amazing. But it wasn't to be. Oh well. Sometimes lesser artists end up recording some of the best Bond songs, so there's certainly hope for Smith's theme. While you would think that the word "spectre" would have been fairly easy to build a song around (unlike "Octopussy" or even "Quantum of Solace"), that sadly won't be the case, and for the third time in Daniel Craig's Bond career, the title of the theme song won't be the title of the film. Smith's song, co-written with Grammy-winning lyricist and frequent collaborator Jimmy Napes, will be entitled "Writing's On the Wall," which certainly sounds suitably Bondian. The single will debut on September 25 (though if history is anything to go by it will leak earlier), at which time it will be available to purchase digitally. Unlike any other Craig-era theme, it's possible that "Writing's On the Wall" will actually be included on the movie's soundtrack, as was always the case before for Bond movies. Decca Records will release returning Skyfall composer Thomas Newman's (Skyfall) score, and they are part of Universal Music Group... which is also home to Smith.

SPECTRE opens November 6.

Sep 3, 2015

Tradecraft: Vincent Cassel to Menace Jason Bourne, Plus Details on the Sequel's Story

Variety reports that French star Vincent Cassel (Agents Secrets, Ocean's 12) has signed on to play an assassin on the trail of Matt Damon's Jason Bourne in Paul Greengrass's new, still untitled Bourne sequel. Presumably, this is the same role that Viggo Mortensen was previously rumored for. It sure would be great if he turned out to be a version of the primary antagonist from Robert Ludlum's books, Carlos, but that seems unlikely. The casting (so far uniformly excellent) certainly seems to indicate that everything is falling into the usual, formulaic places for the film series. Cassel will be the latest in a line of tough assassins to go after Bourne, following in the footsteps of Clive Owen, Karl Urban and Edgar Ramirez. The previously announced Tommy Lee Jones, similarly, fits right in with the numerous tough guys emeritus to play bureaucrats from the CIA who have chased Bourne before (including Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, David Straithairn and Joan Allen).

However, Damon recently indicated to Buzzfeed (via Dark Horizons) that it's not just business as usual. His Bourne hasn't been seen since 2007 (Jeremy Renner played a different graduate of the same elite government assassin program in 2012's The Bourne Legacy), and it turns out there's a reason for that, in the actor's mind. "We always looked at those movies as really about the Bush presidency," he said, "and so we kind of had to wait for the world to change. What does the character have to say?" It was Edward Snowden's whistleblowing and the renewed debate about security versus privacy that gave Damon and director Greengrass (no stranger to whistleblowers, having coauthored the notorious MI5 tell-all Spy Catcher with Peter Wright in the Eighties) the answer they were looking for. Buzzfeed points out that it may have actually been Senator John McCain who gave them the notion, when he said in 2013 that Snowden was seen by young Americans as "some sort of Jason Bourne." So... not going back to the books, then?

Damon said, "Without giving too much of it away, it’s Bourne through an austerity-riddled Europe and in a post-Snowden world. It seems like enough has changed, you know? There are all these kinds of arguments about spying and civil liberties and the nature of democracy." The locations also reflect very contemporary issues. The new movie starts off in Greece in the midst of its economic turmoils, and ends in Las Vegas. And, if previous reports are true, along the way Jason Bourne will be visiting the Canary Islands, with five weeks of production scheduled in Tenerife, the largest island. The film commences shooting this month.

Alicia Vikander (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and Julia Stiles (reprising her role from previous Bourne movies) also star. Greengrass, who helmed The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum as well as the underrated Green Zone with Damon, will direct from a script he wrote with Christopher Rouse (who edited Greengrass's two previous Bourne movies) after concocting the story with Damon. Damon and Greengrass are also producing, alongside franchise newcomer Gregory Goodman (X-Men: First Class) and Bourne veterans Frank Marshall and Jeffrey Weiner, of Captivate Entertainment, rights-holders of the Robert Ludlum library. The film is slated to open on July 29, 2016.

Read my review of Paul Greengrass's The Bourne Ultimatum here.
Read my review of Tony Gilroy's The Bourne Legacy here.
Read my review of the 1988 miniseries of The Bourne Identity here.
Read my review of Robert Ludlum's novel The Bourne Identity here.
Read my review of Robert Ludlum's novel The Bourne Supremacy here.
Read my review of Robert Ludlum's novel The Bourne Ultimatum here

New SPECTRE Poster Unveiled

A brand new SPECTRE poster was unveiled today on The site does not indicate that it's a final 1-sheet, so I think we can assume it's another Advance. I'm definitely a fan. As I said when the last trailer was released, I love seeing Daniel Craig in a white dinner jacket, evoking the likes of Goldfinger and Octopussy. Since Craig took over (and as signaled by the Casino Royale 1-sheet featuring the superspy with his tie undone, gun at his side), the marketing of the films has seemed determined to avoid the classic Bondian poses of the past such as Brosnan, Moore and Connery used to strike, with Walther across their chest or held pointing upwards, next to their face. SPECTRE has been toying with classic imagery (the previous teaser poster evoked Moore's Live and Let Die publicity shot, with black turtleneck and brown leather holster), and this is the closest we've gotten yet from a Craig poster. Part of me wishes they'd go all the way, and let him hold his gun pointing up, in the more, ah, virile pose of the past... and ideally flank him with beautiful Bond women. (At least one!) But perhaps that's exactly what they're building towards for the final 1-sheet! It's also interesting to note that this campaign continues to recall Live and Let Die specifically, which Craig and director Sam Mendes have both cited at times as their favorite Bond movie. (I believe Craig has also said it was his first.) The skeleton figure in the background, though donning a Mexican Day of the Dead mask rather than a Caribbean voodoo one, certainly stirs memories of the late, great Geoffrey Holder as iconic henchman Baron Samedi. Will SPECTRE itself have any Live and Let Die connections? The campaign has also so far summoned the spirits of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (with its initial bullet-shattered glass imagery) and, of course, Goldfinger, with this white dinner jacket and red carnation. (It's a big year for Goldfinger and classic Bond homages on posters. Spy also relied on one for a character poster showcasing Melissa McCarthy, while referencing Skyfall and the last SPECTRE advance in others, while American Ultra paid tribute to Octopussy.)

UPDATE: I hadn't even looked at the credits block at first, but Facebook users have pointed out one particularly notable credit: Daniel Craig now has what Sean Connery always wanted and Cubby and Harry refused to give him, a co-producer credit. Also interesting is that unlike the writers who performed polishes on the last couple of movies, Jez Butterworth ends up with a script credit in addition to John Logan and Bond perennials Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Interesting!

SPECTRE opens November 6 in the U.S. Just two more months to go!

Warren Ellis Shares Tantalizing Details About His James Bond Comic Book

New James Bond continuation author Anthony Horowitz's ideas about James Bond's character have been getting a lot of play on the Internet lately for all the wrong reasons, but another new Bond writer has also shared his ideas about who 007 is this week in a couple of interviews. It was announced in July that Warren Ellis would be the first writer on Dynamite's flagship James Bond comic book series, and that was fantastic news. I was hoping (and guessing) the company would spring for a big name on at least the first arc, and Ellis is among the biggest. He's also, happily, a terrific writer, and no stranger to spies having written RED (which formed the basis for the Bruce Willis movies), Reload (with former Bond comic illustrator Paul Gulacy), and his magnum opus Planetary, which featured a Bond/Nick Fury analogue. Speaking with Sarah and Dan's Extra Edition on BBC radio on August 4, Ellis revealed that although his Bond is very much Ian Fleming's literary character, and not the movie Bond, he couldn't resist one homage to the movies - a thrilling, pre-credits sequence-style "cold open." ("It's a duel in a building site outside Helsinki in Finland"). He also gave a description of his first arc, entitled VARGR.

"006 has died," Ellis explained. "And 007 is given his workload to carry on with until 006 can be replaced. And this fine thing going into a situation without the correct preparation. And what he thought was a very simple counterespionage gig involving the drugs trade turns out to be something far, far larger and a direct attack on the British Isles. It's set, as I say, in Finland; it's set in Berlin in the winter, and it's set on a tiny island off the Norwegian coast." He also revealed that the villain of the piece, a Serbian, would be named Slavan Kurjak.

In a more in-depth interview this week with Dynamic Forces, Ellis shared even more. He confirmed that he will be staying with the title for at least one more arc beyond the first six issues, and revealed some of the supporting characters from Fleming's novels who will turn up in VARGR. "You can’t do Bond without M, Moneypenny and Bill Tanner. And Major Boothroyd. I haven’t decided on the second volume yet, but I’d like to work the Felix Leiter of the novels in there." He also explained the somewhat mystifying title (which I had thought was an acronym), saying, "VARGR is an Old Norse word meaning variously wolf, evildoer or destroyer." Proving his cred for writing 007, Ellis shared his own five favorite Fleming novels (all excellent choices, if you ask me!), concluding that "You Only Live Twice is possibly my favorite because it shows Bond at his most lost and broken," which may offer a good indication of the sort of 007 we can expect to see in his comic. Perhaps most interestingly of all, he offers his take on Bond's character, and, proving that there are many valid interpretations of a given text, it's in some ways at odds with Horowitz's analysis. Read the entire interview for all the juicy details and more hints of what we can expect this fall from Ellis and artist Jason Masters.

When it was first announced last year that Dynamite would publish new James Bond comics, it seemed inevitable that we could expect multiple variant covers. (The company loves them.) Now, with the comic due out November 4 (just as SPECTRE hits theaters), we've got our first glimpse of them! Comic Book Resources debuted a handful of variants and retailer incentives that will drive 007 completists crazy tracking them all down this fall, some of which illustrate this story. See the others at CBR. I have to say, I love the title treatment! Maybe not quite as much as I loved Dark Horse's Bond comics title treatment in the 90s, but this one is very contemporary and very striking.

All in all, I can't quite pinpoint whether I'm more excited about Horowitz's 1950s-set novel Trigger Mortis, or Ellis's present-day continuation comic VARGR! It's going to be a great fall for Bond fans.

Besides the contemporary flagship series, Dynamite also plans a period "Year One"-type 007 origin story by a different, yet to be announced writer set in Fleming's original timeline (placing it either in the Forties or Fifties), and a series of graphic novel adaptations of Fleming's novels. Their deal with Ian Fleming Publications lasts ten years, so we can look forward to a lot of Bond comics in the coming decade - hopefully enough to make up for the past two decades in which Agent 007 has been completely absent from comics shelves! (Excepting a one-off graphic novel adaptation of the first Young Bond adventure, Silverfin.)
Thanks to Jack and Maurice!

Sep 1, 2015

TNT Goes Spy in November With Agent X, Legends Premieres

TNT has finally set premiere dates for its fall spy shows. According to Dark Horizons, the Sharon Stone/Jeff Hephner series Agent X (the pilot for which the network ordered way back in January of last year) will premiere on Sunday, November 8. And the eagerly anticipated, retooled second season of the Sean Bean series Legends (formerly a summer show) will premiere the week before, on Monday, November 2. I have a good feeling about Agent X, which centers on an elite secret agent (Hephner) who reports directly to the Vice President (Stone). Maybe the tux in the picture is misleading, but I feel like this could be the sort of small screen James Bond type of spy show that's more or less missing from the otherwise spy-filled television landscape. And I'm certainly looking forward to the return of Legends, the Howard Gordon-produced adaptation of the Robert Littell novel, which concluded its engrossing first season on a game-changing cliffhanger.