Dec 14, 2016

Meet the New Bryan Mills in TAKEN TV Trailer

NBC has provided us with our first glimpse at the new, younger Bryan Mills in the forthcoming Taken TV show. The series, which EuropaCorp's Luc Besson has been developing since 2010, will serve as a prequel to the popular neo-Eurospy movies starring Liam Neeson, with Clive Standen (Vikings) stepping into Neeson's very particular skill set. Homeland's Alexander Cary serves as showrunner, and Jennifer Beals co-stars. Taken: The Series premieres on February 27.

Dec 9, 2016

Tradecraft: Strike Back Strikes Back... Again

Strike Back is coming back. Again. The series began as a relatively serious and fairly grounded tense espionage drama with doses of spectacular action on the UK's Sky One. That version starred Richard Armitage and Andrew Lincoln. Then Sky got American cable network Cinemax to partner for a second series, but Armitage had moved onto those Hobbit movies and Lincoln was fleeing The Walking Dead, so they cast new stars Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton under the auspices of a new American showrunner, Frank Spotnitz (Hunted, Transporter: The Series). The series became all spectacular action (and sex) at the expense of its realism and some of its intelligence, but remained quite fun. A direct continuation of the original British series (they brought back Armitage's character just long enough to annoyingly kill him off), that version proved very popular and lasted four seasons, ending last year. Winchester and Stapleton have since moved onto other shows.

Now, Deadline reports that a new version of the show, again, a direct continuation, but with different stars, has been greenlit by Cinemax and Sky. The idea behind the latest incarnation comes from its original UK executive producer Andy Harries, and will shift the format from its most recent buddy formula (after beginning as a series about a lone field agent) to a team format, along the lines of the recent Fast and Furious and Mission: Impossible movies. Jack Lothian, a British writer on the Cinemax series, is writing the pilot. In the new Strike Back, according to the trade, the secretive Section 20 "is restored in order to track down a notorious terrorist following a brutal prison break. Tasked with covert military intelligence and high-risk operations, the resurrected unit embarks on a lethal manhunt that will uncover a vast web of interconnected criminal activity. As the team journeys across the Middle East and Europe, they uncover a deadly conspiracy which threatens to overwhelm them all and change the face of modern warfare forever." The plots will reflect the current state of terrorism in the age of ISIL.

Nov 26, 2016

Cover Art for Big Finish's Steed & Mrs. Peel Comic Strip Collection

Ever since Big Finish first announced they'd be adapting the Sixties Avengers comics that ran in UK comics magazine Diana (no relation to Rigg), I've been looking forward to their promised trade paperback collection of those gorgeous original comics even more than the adaptations themselves. But it's been a long wait. On the Big Finish website, the collection is still available for pre-order and touted as "out in November..." yet there's very little of November left! (Volume 2 of the Steed and Emma audio dramas also has yet to materialize.) But it is coming. There are now pre-order listings on Amazon and Amazon UK as well, which both state a December 31, 2016 release date. Comixology has a digital version solicited for February 2017. But this snappy cover art would seem to indicate that the book is finally on its way to being a reality, whenever it actually materializes. The rather simplistic stories, intended for children and running just a scant six pages each (originally delivered in two-page installments), aren't very memorable, but Emilio Frejo's artwork is truly stunning, and I can't wait to have an archival collection of it for my bookshelf!

In addition to the 1966-67 comics themselves (listed under the titles Big Finish used for their audio versions), the 96-page trade paperback includes an introduction by Big Finish's David Richardson, interviews with actors Julian Wadham and Olivia Poulet (who voice Steed and Emma, respectively, in the audio adaptations), and an article entitled "From Strip to Script" by Kenny Smith, editor of Big Finish's magazine Vortex.

Read my reviews of two of these Diana comics ("Return to Castle De'ath" and "The Miser," as they're now known—though you won't find any reference to the fantastic Season 4 episode "Castle De'ath" in the strip itself; that connection was a stroke of genius on Big Finish's part for their expanded audio version) on the superb website The Avengers Illustrated.

Nov 25, 2016

Australia Tries for an Archer of Their Own

Dark Horizons reports that Netflix will distribute the new Aussie cartoon Pacific Heat internationally starting in December. While the animation isn't nearly as good, this series is clearly going for an Archer vibe. Maybe it will be worth a look? Check out the trailer and judge for yourself:

Tradecraft: Accident Man Goes from Comic to Movie

Huh! This is a bit of news I never expected to report. But, according to Deadline, the early Nineties indie comic Accident Man is being made into a movie! That’s about as culty as it gets. I was a fan of the comic in its final incarnation, at Dark Horse (attracted by those awesome Howard Chaykin covers), and even I had forgotten about it entirely until reading this. So kudos to someone’s agent! The comic, by Pat Mills and Tony Skinner, originated in the UK monthly Toxic! where it ran three storylines before that aforementioned 3-issue miniseries ended up at Dark Horse. Titan ended up collecting the entire saga in a very handsome hardcover. It was about an assassin who, like The Mechanic, specializes in making deaths look like accidents. Like all of Mills’ work, however, it was satirical, absurd, and quite funny. And despite the fact that the hero is an assassin and not a spy, it seriously traded (especially in that later incarnation) on James Bond imagery (as you can tell by the Chaykin cover pictured) and tropes. The initial Deadline story specifically reported on the casting of Twilight’s Ashley Greene in the female lead, but a quick check of IMDb revealed Scott Adkins (The Bourne Ultimatum, Criminal) listed as playing suave killer Mike Fallon. A few days later, in a separate story, the trade confirmed Adkins as the star, along with Ray Stevenson (The Transporter Refuelled), David Paymer (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), Amy Johnston (Option Zero), Ray Park (Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever) and Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite). Here’s how Deadline describes the film:
Said to have a Deadpool-esque tone, the story centers on the life of Mike Fallon, a high-class hitman, known for making assassinations look like unfortunate accidents. Fallon’s cavalier attitude changes the day his ex-girlfriend, Beth is murdered. He teams up with Beth’s new girlfriend Charlie (Greene) on a murderous rampage to find out who killed her.
 So "Deadpool" was the magic word used to sell this project, and not the one we usually read about here, "Bourne." Stuntman Jesse Johnson directs from a script by Stu Small,

Nov 20, 2016

New xXx Trailer Showcases Extreme Women

The latest trailer for the latest entry in a franchise that started out as a Vin Diesel vehicle highlights two of the many people who aren't Vin Diesel in Paramount's xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Ruby Rose, 30, and Nina Dobrev, 27, take center stage from 49-year-old Diesel in this spot clearly aimed at millennials rather than the Mountain Dew-guzzling Gen Y audience of the original xXx, reinforcing that this is a team movie like the recent hit Fast & Furious flicks (or Paramount's own recent Mission: Impossible movies), and not a solo star vehicle like The Last Witch Hunter. Works for me. As much as I disliked the first two entries, I can't help getting a little excited about this one....

Nov 11, 2016

R.I.P. Robert Vaughn

We have lost another pillar of Sixties spydom. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. himself, Robert Vaughn, has passed away at 83.

While no one would deny that it was the partnership of Napoleon Solo (Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) that made the show special, Man From U.N.C.L.E. fans tend to be divided on their favorite agent. I've always been a Solo man. Initially conceived by Ian Fleming, Solo was intended to be a TV version of James Bond. That's easy enough on paper, but as we've seen in countless Eurospy movies (as well as various TV attempts at the formula), in practice, it's easier said than done. Really only a handful of actors successfully managed to imbue their superspy characters with the suave charm that defined Sean Connery's 007: James Coburn... Richard Johnson... and, of course, Robert Vaughn. While producers Sam Rolfe and Norman Felton undoubtedly contributed to Solo's character, it was really Vaughn who made him so likable. Let's face it: the spy genre is full of suave charmers. Ultimately, it comes down to the actors to make that charm real. And Robert Vaughn had charm in spades! In short, he was cool. Thinking of this coolness, what leaps immediately to my mind is not one of his many genuinely clever witticisms. It's a line that would be cringe-worthy on the tongue of... really, just about anyone! In the U.N.C.L.E. movie To Trap a Spy, the beautiful Lucianna Paluzzi (Thunderball) seductively asks Napoleon, "What would you like me to change into?" To which the debonair secret agent replies, "Anything... but a boy." (Surely part of the success of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. among children was that it sometimes served up the very same scenarios and lines that they came up with while playing James Bond with their spy toys and costumes!) You simply had to be cool to deliver a line as corny that... and even make it sound sophisticated. Iconic as the character became, audiences didn't tune into The Man From U.N.C.L.E. for Napoleon Solo. They tuned in for Robert Vaughn.

While The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is Vaughn's towering legacy, it wasn't his only brush with espionage. His half-hour Gerry Anderson-created ITC series The Protectors (1972-1974) also carries my high recommendation for spy fans. At the time, Lew Grade was importing a lot of American stars from the previous decade to headline his trademark adventure shows, and Vaughn acquits himself far more admirably in this context than some of his colleagues! (Cough, Gene Barry, cough.) While the character remains a bit of a cypher owing to the half-hour runtime, his jetsetting detective Harry Rule embodies all of that Vaughn charm and coolness that gave life to Napoleon Solo. And I suspect that Vaughn is probably the only actor to fight fully kitted-out scuba divers on dry land (or deck) in two separate series! (The Protectors actually takes the prize in that category, because the fight involves swordplay.) In my book, that's an honor worth noting. Vaughn also orbited the spy world in the shows Washington: Behind Closed Doors (giving an Emmy-winning performance as the Bob Haldeman character opposite former Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Stefanie Powers in a miniseries based on John Erlichman's roman a clef about Watergate) and The A-Team.

On the big screen, his best spy role came in the 1966 Helen MacInnes adaptation The Venetian Affair opposite Elke Sommer. Though its evocative title (which actually came from the novel, despite sounding like an U.N.C.L.E. episode name) and lurid marketing ("Enjoy the Fine Arts of Venice... Murder! Spies! Women!") clearly aimed to capitalize on Vaughn's television success, the film is actually far more serious and downbeat than the fanciful Man From U.N.C.L.E. Like its atmospheric, harpsichord-heavy Lalo Schifrin score, it has far more in common with The Ipcress File and The Quiller Memorandum. Vaughn's most famous film roles came outside the genre in movies like The Magnificent Seven, Bullitt, The Mind of Mr. Soames, The Towering Inferno, Battle Beyond the Stars (in an homage to his Magnificent Seven roots) and Superman III, but he continued to make spy movies of varying quality throughout his career, including Brass Target (with Patrick McGoohan), Cuba Crossing, Hour of the Assassin, Skeleton Coast, and, of course, the 1983 telefilm The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. 

Off screen, Vaughn was known for his liberal politics. A lifelong Democrat, he continued his education after wrapping The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Hollywood blacklist. A former Army drill instructor himself, he was active in the antiwar movement, campaigning for Eugene McCarthy and memorably locking horns (and more than holding his own) with conservative talk show host (and spy author) William F. Buckley, Jr. (Their articulate debate on Buckley's Firing Line is well worth watching, epitomizing the late Sixties political schism in America.) 

In the late period of his career, Vaughn riffed on his U.N.C.L.E. persona in a fun, nostalgia-driven guest appearance on Diagnosis Murder before creating one more indelible role on the highly entertaining U.K. con artist series Hustle. As Albert Stroller, he still conveyed all the charm and charisma that made Napoleon Solo a household name four decades earlier.

Robert Vaughn was a class act and an icon of the spy genre. To say he will be missed is a gross understatement. We have lost one of the titans of popular culture espionage.

Nov 10, 2016

VARGR Contest Winner

It was great yesterday to have not one, but two new James Bond comics out from Dynamite (Warren Ellis's "EIDOLON" and Andy Diggle's "Hammerhead"). The hardest part was deciding which one to read first, but they both turned out to be totally satisfying! Yesterday also concluded the first Double O Section 10th Anniversary Contest, which means that one lucky reader won a copy of the beautiful hardcover edition of Ellis's first 007 story arc for Dynamite, "VARGR." And that winner is...

Andrew A., of Boulder, CO. Congratulations, Andrew!

Thank you to everyone who entered. Stay tuned for another cool Bond contest coming up in a few days. And for those who didn't win this one, James Bond 007: VARGR is available from Amazon and I highly recommend it!

Read my review of James Bond 007: VARGR #1 here.
Read my interview with writer Warren Ellis here.

Nov 7, 2016

Double O Section 10th Anniversary: Top 7 Spy Scores of the Past Decade

The score is an integral element of any movie, but for me even moreso in a good spy movie. As a genre, spy movies have a more distinctive sound than just about any other popular genre—yet there are endless variations on what we think of as that "spy sound," as evidenced by this fairly eclectic list of....

My Favorite Spy Scores 2006-2016

1. Daniel Pemberton: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Urged by director Guy Ritchie to avoid the brassy, bombastic spy tropes of James Bond music for his 1960s-set film version (review here) of the classic TV show, Daniel Pemberton drew instead from slightly more obscure corners of Sixties spy music and ended up creating the most enjoyable soundtrack of the decade. He comes out of the gate offering not horns, but bongos and flutes, setting the precedent for an eclectic score that evokes more than anything the somewhat obscure Eurospy scores of the decade (and their close cousins, Spaghetti Westerns) by the likes of Ennio Morricone and Piero Umiliani. His inspired use of a cimbalom also recalls not only Morricone’s Arabesque, but some of John Barry’s great non-007 spy music, like The Ipcress File and The Persuaders!, as well as Edwin Astley’s harpsichord-heavy ITC music. What it doesn’t especially recall is Jerry Goldsmith’s original U.N.C.L.E. music, and his theme from the show is basically absent. Would I have liked to have heard a new version of that theme in the movie? Sure, of course I would have. But I find it impossible to complain when what we’ve got is the most creative spy score of modern times! Pemberton’s music is the perfect accompaniment to Ritchie’s movie, which is a finely-crafted love letter to the same sorts of Sixties cinema from which the composer draws.
2. David Arnold: Casino Royale (2006)

David Arnold had done wonderful things with The James Bond Theme in his Pierce Brosnan-era Bond scores, but by deciding to withhold that famous theme (other than a few well-deployed bars) until the end of Casino Royale (review here), he demonstrated exactly how capable a composer he is for this franchise. The recurring "You Know My Name" melody throughout not only recalls the way John Barry used to incorporate the theme song into each score, but also serves as a fine theme for the character on its own. This is a Bond score that doesn't need the Bond theme, and that's a very impressive feat! In fact, I'm a little bit disappointed that "You Know My Name" didn't become a secondary recurring theme for Craig's Bond the way "007" was in the Barry days. Casino Royale is a spectacular Bond score, and would also be a spectacular score and theme establishing an entirely new character or franchise.

3. Michael Giacchino: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

Michael Giacchino really upped his game in his second Mission: Impossible score. He made ample use of the Lalo Schifrin themes fans want to hear  (“Mission: Impossible Theme” and “The Plot”), but also created a lot of riveting original music that felt like a logical expansion of those themes rather than something so contemporary it felt at odds with the classic material. Best of all were the localized variations on the main theme. I absolutely love the track, “Mood India,” a terrific piece of local flavor music that slowly morphs into a Bollywood take on the famous theme. Likewise, the Middle Eastern-flavored “A Man, A Plan, A Code, Dubai” subtly incorporates Schifrin material into the sort of epic local flavor music that characterized the best Bond scores of the Sixties and Seventies. And he even gives us a take on “The Plot” with a Russian chorus that sounds out of The Hunt For Red October for the Kremlin sequence!

4. Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson: Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

For Kingsman (review here), Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson went the opposite route from Daniel Pemberton on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. While he sought to intentionally avoid brassy Bondian bombast, they revel in it. While distinctly contemporary, this is an unrepentant pastiche of classic Bond scores, and quite a successful one at that. (If only the movie had been as good!) The epic sound does a lot to make the film’s budget-conscious setpieces feel bigger than they are, and tries its best to make digital mattes like the Kingsman underground hangar feel as spectacular as we wish they looked. The album is a great listen outside of the film itself that simply screams, “spy!”

5. Herbert Gronemeyer: A Most Wanted Man (2014)

Herbert Gronemeyer’s very contemporary score for this taut John le Carré thriller is another one that manages to say “spy” without the traditional musical vocabulary of the genre. It does so through its wonderfully downbeat tone (utterly appropriate for the le Carré material), which always makes me feel like it’s raining when I hear it out of the context of the movie, and with its impeccable sense of place. The score not only convey’s “Hamburg” very effectively; it specifically conveys the Muslim community within Hamburg when called upon to do so. Some of the more ambient tracks, like “Text from Jamal,” are downright Eno-esque. Gronemeyer's score is completely modern, but it's the perfect 21st century compliment to Sol Kaplan's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold soundtrack.

6. Ludovic Bource: OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies (2006)

While I was initially disappointed (as with The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) that this comedic Eurospy revival (review here) didn't make use of Michael Magne's infectious original OSS 117 theme, my disappointment was quickly mitigated by what an awesome job Ludovic Bource did capturing the spirit of the era in which the film is set. His score perfectly matches the mise-en-scene, special effects, fight choreography and all the other behind-the-scenes elements that meticulously recreate early 1960s filmmaking. The movie is a comedy, but the score plays things completely straight, as scores must in a successful parody. (Spy, Johnny English and Austin Powers all also delivered straight, good faith spy scores.) Even the scene in which star Jean Dujardin ends up flinging chickens at an opponent is scored earnestly—or at least in the manner of the era. With its hip, lounge-y vibe (my favorite cue is the ultra-chill "Froggy Afternoon"), North African local flavor and occasional legit action number, Bource most directly evokes Henry Mancini's Sixties Pink Panther music. It accompanies the film perfectly, and makes for a great listen on its own.

7. John Powell: Fair Game (2010)/Green Zone (2010)

Reflecting my own tastes, the majority of my choices on this list are deliberate throwbacks. But this pair of 2010 scores by Bourne composer John Powell ring with a thoroughly contemporary spy sound. Powell is the first composer to completely redefine what audiences think of as “spy music” since John Barry defined the sound to begin with in the Sixties. Both composers worked within a wide spectrum of sub-genres, from outlandish fantasy (You Only Live Twice in Barry’s case; Knight and Day for Powell) to grounded, serious action (From Russia With Love; the Bourne films) to gritty drama full of bureaucratic hurdles (The Ipcress File; Fair Game), applying their signature motifs across the board. While many great composers have worked in the spy genre over the last several decades (and some have experimented with totally different sorts of scores), no one has so exhaustively overhauled the sound of spy movies as Powell. Barry’s jazz-infused style remained the expected and accepted soundtrack of the genre up until the 2000s (when it may have been partially done in by George S. Clinton’s spot-on pastiche in the Austin Powers movies). Now it’s propulsive percussion–which offers somewhat less room for variation, but perfectly compliments the high-energy spy movies being made today–and Powell brings that in spades to Fair Game (review here) and Green Zone (review here), signaling “spy” to the audience as loudly as Barry-like trumpet flourishes did in the past.

VARGR contest code word: AMBER

Nov 6, 2016

Tradecraft: Abbie Cornish is Jack Ryan's Latest Wife

Deadline reports that Australian actress Abbie Cornish (Bright Star) will be the fifth actress (counting a non-speaking walk-on by Gates McFadden in The Hunt for Red October) to play Jack Ryan's wife, Cathy Ryan. Although at this stage in their relationship, she will still be Cathy Muller—as she was in The Sum of All Fears (as played by Bridget Moynahan) and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Keira Knightley), a reminder of how many times this series has been rebooted. (The trade actually spells her name "Mueller." I'm not sure if this is a typo or a departure.) While in the Tom Clancy books Ryan's wife was a surgeon, according to the trade she will be slightly reimagined in the new Amazon TV series Jack Ryan as "a doctor specializing in infectious diseases." The article goes on to describe the character as "intelligent, competitive, a rising star in the medical world and Jack’s love interest." To date, Cathy Ryan was probably most memorably played by Anne Archer in the two Harrison Ford Ryan movies in the Nineties.

As previously reported, the 10-episode straight-to-series Amazon drama stars John Krasinski as the titular hero. It hails from the Lost duo of co-showrunner Carlton Cuse (The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.) and writer (and, like Ryan, former Marine) Graham Roland. Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, Skydance Media and Paramount TV co-produce. The first season will be an original storyline about Ryan's early days at CIA, though from the trade's description it sounds as if it will incorporate elements of Clancy's Patriot Games: "Jack Ryan is a reinvention with a modern sensibility of the famed and lauded Tom Clancy hero. It centers on Jack Ryan (Krasinski), an up-and-coming CIA analyst thrust into a dangerous field assignment for the first time. The series follows Ryan as he uncovers a pattern in terrorist communication that launches him into the center of a dangerous gambit with a new breed of terrorism that threatens destruction on a global scale." Will his report on this pattern in terrorist communication be entitled "Agents and Agency?" That would be a nice Easter Egg for Clacy fans.

Nov 4, 2016

New xXx Trailer and Posters

Here's the second trailer for xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, which opens in January. I'll let Vin summarize the revival of 2002's 2002-iest spy franchise: "The good... the extreme... and the completely insane! Now that's a team I can work with!" Because those are the qualities the NSA looks for! (Do you think xXx will still work for the NSA? 2002 was the year Hollywood conspired to make audiences believe that secret agency employed shitkickers like Vin Diesel, Halle Berry and Michael Madsen, but will anyone believe that in today's post-Snowden world where most people now actually know what the NSA is and expect its employees to be a little more pasty-faced and slightly less X Games-y?)

Back in 2002, the ridiculousness of the premise annoyed me. Today, I have to admit, I can't help smiling ear to ear at that very ridiculousness, and especially at the sheer earnestness of said ridiculousness! Also at the fact that there is now a movie poster in the world depicting Toni Collette (Muriel's Wedding, Unlocked) as a badass superspy. There are twelve of these character posters in total, most featuring various muscly bearded men in fedoras with names that probably mean something to a generation much cooler (and presumably more extreme) than my own. You can see them all at Imp Awards. Surprisingly there isn't one for Samuel L. Jackson, who played a key role in both of the original xXx movies. It does look from the trailer like he might be moving on to an emeritus role and passing the torch to Collette as the extreme agent's primary handler. Perhaps now that Jackson is the real Nick Fury, he no longer feels compelled to play Fake Nick Furies? Sigh. I miss the days of Fake Nick Furies. Charlton Heston was the best one, of course, but Angelina Jolie actually made a pretty good one in Sky Captain.... Forgive me; I've gotten extremely off topic. Get it?!

Nov 3, 2016

Double O Section 10th Anniversary: Top 10 Spy Novels of the Past Decade

While I haven't seen all the spy movies to be released around the world over the past ten years, I have certainly seen the majority of them. The same can't be said for spy novels. There are simply too many published every year to possibly keep up with all of them. But I do read a whole lot of spy fiction, and try to stay on top of the new stuff. Here are ten of my favorite spy novels published during the past ten years.

My Favorite Spy Novels 2006-2016

1. The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer (2010)

If you haven't read this book, it's a bit unfair of me to list it as the best spy novel of the decade, because it can't really be read as a one-off; it actually requires you to read three books. The good news is... all three are fantastic! The Nearest Exit is the middle novel in Steinhauer's Milo Weaver trilogy, which begins with The Tourist (2009) and ends (for now, anyway) with An American Spy (2012). It's tough to pick a favorite of those (especially between the last two), but when it came out The Nearest Exit blew me away with the best "knot," to use Connie Sachs' term, since Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The characters are compelling; the tradecraft is impressive, and the espionage plot is ingenious. Publishers absolutely love to label any new spy novel with a variation on "le Carré meets Ludlum" (odd as those particular bedfellows are), but Steinhauer really delivers on that, combining exciting action of the latter with the rich characterizations, complex plots and moral uncertainty of the former. It astounds me that these books have not yet been filmed. Perhaps if Steinhauer's new TV show Berlin Station proves successful, that will be remedied.

2. A Most Wanted Man by John le le Carré (2008)

Speaking of le Carré, the all-time master of this genre is still as sharp as ever in his eighties. Not only has he remained prolific (I don't begrudge his contemporary Len Deighton enjoying his retirement, but oh how I wish he were still publishing as well!), but he's remained topical. Le Carré may have written about the Cold War better than just about anyone else, but that period was hardly the limit of his outrage. If anything, he's gotten angrier as he's gotten older. Some of his later books might suffer a bit from getting overly polemical, but A Most Wanted Man is the perfect concoction of literary fury. It's not only the best novel of the "War on Terror," but easily among the best in the author's justly celebrated oeuvre, featuring some of the most memorable characters he ever created. How many authors are still producing some of their best work in their eighth or even ninth decades? Le Carré is a towering talent still at the top of his game. His follow-up novel, Our Kind of Traitor, was also fantastic, as was his memoir this year, The Pigeon Tunnel. I can't wait to see what he does next.

3. Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (2013)

Proving once again that spies and authors draw from similar skill sets, former CIA officer Jason Matthews penned as impressive a debut novel as you're ever likely to read in this compelling tale of the spy games very much still being played between America and Russia. The novel follows Russian SVR agent Dominiki Egorova and up and coming CIA officer Nate Nash first separately, and then as their paths ultimately converge. While most of us will never be able to judge a spy novel for its accuracy, Matthews certainly lends an air of authority in his descriptions of tradecraft and Agency politics that feel incredibly realistic. Red Sparrow was the first in a trilogy, and unfortunately the second novel, Palace of Treason, was a serious letdown, but I'm holding out hope that Matthews will bounce back with his third novel and cement himself a spot among the great spies-turned-writers like le Carré, Greene and Fleming.

4. The Devil in Amber by Mark Gatiss (2006)

Before Mark Gatiss shot to Internet superstardom as co-creator of the BBC's terrific Sherlock, he penned a trilogy of fantastically fun spy/adventure novels featuring the unlikely secret agent "by appointment to His Majesty" Lucifer Box. Box is a sort of debonair, bisexual mash-up of Sherock Holmes, James Bond and Oscar Wilde, and as witty a narrator as you could ask for. In my review here when this second book in the Box trilogy came out, I wrote that it gave me "just about the most pure enjoyment I’ve gotten out of any book in a long time." All these years later, it still stands out for that. Granted, I must admit that that might have something to do with my specific tastes, which seem to be nearly identical to Gattiss's. Into this supernatural John Buchan/Dennis Wheatley pastiche,/parody, he mixes healthy doses of James Bond, Hammer horror, Adam Adamant, Doctor Who and P.G. Wodehouse. For me, that adds up to sheer joy. Anyone who enjoys Gatiss's work on Sherlock and Doctor Who should definitely seek out The Devil in Amber (as well as its precursor, The Vesuvius Club). Read my full review here.

5. The Last Run by Greg Rucka (2011)

For his work on the sublime spy series Queen & Country (comprised of both comics and novels), Greg Rucka made that very first list that started this blog ten years ago, so it's not surprising that he's making this one too. What is a bit surprising (and disappointing), is that he hasn't written more spy novels since then! But the one new Queen & Country novel to come out in the past decade was more than worth the five year wait that led up to it. This is by far my favorite of the subgenre of contemporary espionage that Lee Child memorably and humorously dubbed, "something about Iran." Rucka uses Iran to tell a very contemporary twist on the classic Cold War spy novel. His field heroine, Tara Chace, finds herself on the run deep in enemy territory (quite a Quiller predicament), while his desk hero, Paul Crocker, is faced with that age-old dilemma of trying to figure out whether a potential defector is too good to be true. You don't have to have read any other entries in this superb, Sandbaggers-inspired spy series to enjoy The Last Run, but if you have, it rewards on multiple levels. I really, really hope that Rucka returns to the Queen & Country universe again, be it in a new novel or a new comic series. In fact, that's one of my dearest spy fan-related hopes. Read my full review of The Last Run here.

6. A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming (2012)

Along with Olen Steinhauer, Charles Cumming is probably my favorite contemporary spy writer. He reliably delivers a great read every time, but A Foreign Country, the first of his novels featuring British agent Thomas Kell, is my favorite of his to date. Though the stakes (involving the first female head of MI6) are incredibly high, the story itself is relatively small for contemporary spy ficiton, and I found that appealing. It's also a great example of one of my favorite type of spy plots, the secret war between friendly nations. In this case, that secret war turns deadly. Like Jason Matthews, Cumming is a master at describing tradecraft with a palpable sense of realism, and a lengthy shadowing operation with a very limited surveillance team is the highlight of this novel. This was optioned by Colin Firth's company back in 2013 as a potential starring vehicle for the actor (who I think would be great as Kell). Earlier this year it was reported that the project is still alive, but might take the form of a miniseries rather than a movie. That's something I would love to see!

7. The Moneypenny Diaries: Secret Servant by Kate Westbrook (2006)

When The Moneypenny Diaries concept was first announced, it sounded like a terrible idea. It seemed like a blatant attempt by Ian Fleming Publications to capitalize on the then zeitgeisty success of Bridget Jones' Diary... which seemed like an odd zeitgeist to capitalize on for the heirs of Ian Fleming. So who would have predicted such an odd experiment would produce the best James Bond continuation novel of the last decade? Unfortunately, it was so under the radar that hardly anyone outside of hardcore Bond fans ever found out about it. But the second book, in particular, in Samantha Weinberg's really quite brilliant trilogy definitely deserves a larger audience. Weinberg, writing as Kate Westbrook, actually wrote a Bond novel with the potential to appeal to the sorts of spy fans who don't normally give 007 the time of day. She penned a Bond novel, with Miss Moneypenny as the protagonist, set in John le Carré's world—mixed with actual history. In Secret Servant, we see Bond's Service torn apart by a mole and M acting like Control in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Add to that real-life traitor Kim Philby and his wife Eleanor, and you've got the makings of a Bond novel unlike any other and a treat for Bond fans and fans of the "desk" half of the spy genre alike. Read my full review of The Moneypenny Diaries: Secret Servant here, and my interview with Weinberg here.

8. Double or Die by Charlie Higson (2007)

The Moneypenny Diaries wasn't the only seemingly bad idea by Ian Fleming Publications to strike unlikely gold in the past decade. The announcement that they would explore the adventures of James Bond as a boy in a series of Young Adult books seemed like an equally blatant Harry Potter (and Alex Rider)-inspired cash-grab, and initially provoked consternation among many fans. But author Charlie Higson improbably made this unlikely premise work, and ended up penning some of the very best James Bond continuation novels to date, as well as some of the best of the very rich trend of Young Adult literature in the early 2000s. It's a toss-up for me whether Blood Fever (which pre-dated this blog) or Double or Die is my favorite, but there is no question that the latter is a fantastic read. In attempting to decrypt a secret code, James and his Eton friends find themselves on a scavanger hunt across pre-WWII London involving gambling, Soviet spies and a nascent Bletchley Park. It's a great Young Adult adventure that feels authentically Bondian, and a fantastic read. Read my full review of Double or Die here.

9. Restless by William Boyd (2006)

William Boyd eventually became a James Bond continuation novelist himself, and penned a decent 007 entry with Solo. But it wasn't nearly as good as his original spy novel Restless, a literary thriller about a young woman in 1970s Britain searching for the elusive truth about her mother's past as an agent of William Stephenson's British Security Coordination during WWII. The BSC makes a fascinating backdrop for a spy novel, dealing again with that theme of spying between friendly nations. In this case, that spying includes the real-life historical efforts of Stephenson's organization to draw America into the war to aid Britain. But both the 1940s and 1970s storylines are compelling (unlike in the miniseries, which gave short shrift to the Seventies one), and Boyd creates two terrific heroines. It should be noted that there's an excellent audio version read by Bond Girl and Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike. Boyd's masterpiece is Any Human Heart (a novel that features a little bit of spying—and Ian Fleming as a character—but which isn't really a spy novel), but Restless is also well worth reading.

10. Dead Line by Stella Rimington (2008)

Stella Rimington is another former spook turned successful author, and like Jason Matthews, she lends credence to the theory that the two professions rely on some of the same skill sets. Like Matthews, the former Director General of MI5 brings an air of undeniable authenticity to her Liz Carlyle spy novels. Dead Line is among Rimington's best, and expands the tapestry a bit from her previous books. Rather than focusing on Carlyle and her antagonist, she follows many different agents working for different countries and different branches of the British intelligence community this time around. While it isn't immediately clear how all of these storylines are related, the converge in a most satisfying manner, culminating in an assassination attempt at a peace conference in Scotland. Rimington also proved prescient (again, not surprising given her former profession) in predicting the significance of Aleppo in world affairs. Read my full review of Dead Line here.

Those were ten of my favorite spy novels of the past decade, though I could easily make a list of fifty! (Well, maybe not easily. These things take time to write!) What were some of yours? I'd love to get some recommendations for my reading pile.

Addendum: I cannot believe that I forgot to include Jeremy Duns' excellent debut novel, Free Agent! It was easily among my favorites of that period, but for some reason I had thought it came out sooner.

The contest code word is: AMBER.

Nov 2, 2016

New Photos from the Mitch Rapp Movie American Assassin

We got our first look at Dylan O'Brien (The Maze Runner) as Mitch Rapp last month; now CBS Films and Lionsgate have released a bunch of new photos through USA Today (via Dark Horizons) of O'Brian and Michael Keaton in American Assassin. The studio hopes the film will kick off a new spy franchise based on Vince Flynn's Rapp novels. (The series has continued in the hands of other authors since Flynn's death.) Head over to USA Today to see more pictures.

Though it wasn't the first novel in the series, Flynn's American Assassin was a prequel and served as Rapp's origin story, in which the young CIA Black Ops recruit (O'Brian), hungry for revenge after losing his fiance in a terrorist attack, is mentored by Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). Per the studio's synopsis, "The pair are enlisted by CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) to investigate a wave of apparently random attacks on both military and civilian targets. Teaming up with a lethal Turkish agent (Shiva Negar), they must stop a mysterious operative (Taylor Kitsch) intent on starting a World War in the Middle East."

Mitch Rapp has taken a long, winding road to get to the screen, and it's unfortunate that his creator didn't live to see the results. First set up at CBS Films for producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura way back in early 2008, actors like Gerrard Butler, Matthew Fox and Chris Hemsworth all at one time or another flirted with playing Vince Flynn's counterterror hero. Legends' Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Legends of the Fall's Ed Zwick were both linked to direct at one time or another, before the job eventually went to Homeland veteran Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger), working from a script by The Americans' Stephen Schiff. Originally it was CBS Films' plan to adapt Flynn's 2005 novel Consent to Kill first, and at one point Bruce Willis was attached to the Hurly role Keaton eventually filled. Whew!

Double O Section 10th Anniversary Contest: Win Dynamite's JAMES BOND 007: VARGR Hardcover

After two decades' absence from the medium (excepting a one-off Young Bond graphic novel), James Bond made a triumphant return to comic books late last year in the six-issue story "VARGR" (review here) by Warren Ellis and Jason Masters, published by Dynamite Entertainment. Dynamite recently issued a gorgeous hardcover collecting the full storyline along with all the stunning variant covers and some fantastic concept art by Masters. And now you can win a copy, courtesy of Dynamite!

At the end of one or more of my forthcoming anniversary posts this week, I will include a codeword. (Don't worry; it will be very obvious, not hidden or anything.) To enter to win this beautiful book, all you need to do is send me an email with the subject heading "VARGR CONTEST" including your name and mailing address along with the codeword by 11:59 PM, Pacific Time on Wednesday, November 9, 2016.* The winner will be announced next Thursday, November 10.

So be sure to check back all week long, for more lists and articles, contests, and of course to find that codeword!

Read my review of James Bond 007: VARGR #1 here.
Read my interview with writer Warren Ellis here.

*The Fine Print: One entry per person, please. Double entries will be disqualified. One prize-winner will be drawn at random and announced on Wednesday, November 10, 2016. The winner's first name will be posted here and he or she will be notified via email. This contest is open to anyone aged 18 or older, in any country. Unfortunately, the Double O Section cannot assume responsibility for items lost or damaged in transit.

Nov 1, 2016

Double O Section 10th Anniversary: Top 7 Spy Movie Set Pieces of the Last Decade

Spy movies, perhaps more than any other genre, are known for their setpieces. I would say we have Alfred Hitchcock to thank for that mainly, but the Bond movies certainly solidified the expectation of at least one great setpiece in any spy movie. A good setpiece can transcend a bad movie (Moonraker isn't many people's favorite Bond film, but who would dare claim that the midair fight over a parachute isn't spectacular?), or even ruin a good one (I realize I'm in the minority here, but I was more or less on board with Kingsman up until that ugly and misanthropic—but undeniably well-shot—church scene insinuated itself into my mind as the movie's truly indelible legacy). A classic setpiece (even one borrowed from another film) can define not only a movie but a franchise, as happened when Brian De Palma riffed on Topkapi for the famous dangling sequence in the first Mission: Impossible feature. So while some of these setpieces come from spy films I selected as the best of the last decade, I still feel that they deserve a list of their own. So on that note, and continuing the celebration of the Double O Section's ten years on the Internet, here are...

My Favorite Spy Movie Setpieces 2006-2016

1. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation Opera Sequence (2015)

Brian De Palma may have built a career on (quite ably) creating his own distinctly Hitchcockian setpieces, but Christopher McQuarrie did him one better in the fifth Mission: Impossible movie with a sequence in which Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) must prevent an assassination from the wings of a performance of "Turandot" at the Vienna State Opera. Guided by the same gimmick that gave structure to one of Hitch's most memorable setpieces in his second version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, the action builds logically to the piece of music being performed on stage ("Nessun Dorma"), its inevitable violent conclusion punctuated by a circled note in a musician's score. Into this McQuarrie organically weaves good looking actors in tuxedos and gowns, a gun disguised as a bass flute, a fight literally informed by stage business, and even moments of unforced comic relief. It's the most beautifully staged sequence in any spy film during the last decade.

2. Casino Royale Parkour Chase (2006)

There was little typical about Martin Campbell's James Bond reboot Casino Royale, and the signature action sequence that would normally come before the credits instead unfolds just after them, the pre-credits moments having been used, quite effectively, to show the new Bond (Daniel Craig) earning his Double O status. The Madagascar-set foot chase boldly lays out a new direction of the venerable franchise, declaring quite forcefully that 007 can not only compete in an arena becoming crowded by challengers like the kinetic Jason Bourne or the extreme xXx; he can still dominate. It also firmly established what we could expect of Craig. As much as I loved Pierce Brosnan's performance as James Bond, it's impossible to imagine him in his fifties convincingly keeping pace with freerunner Sébastien Foucan, the real-life athlete who plays the bomb maker Bond is chasing. This is a fantastic example of when the Bond producers see something spectacular (like a car executing a barrel roll or a skier parachuting off of a cliff) and make it their own, and demonstrated that Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli could do that just as well as Cubby. Although parkour had been utilized in Luc Besson's niche District B13 French action movies, it was not then as ubiquitous as it has since become thanks to Casino Royale. After Austin Powers and Jason Bourne, 007 was at risk of becoming passe. But when Daniel Craig crashed through a wall to even the distance with his quarry, it became immediately clear that the venerable character wasn't going anywhere.

3. The Bourne Ultimatum Tangier Rooftop Chase (2007)

Paul Greengrass may have established his seemingly chaotically immersive put-the-viewer-in-the-middle-of-the-action style in The Bourne Supremacy, but he finessed it greatly in The Bourne Ultimatum. Nowhere is that better demonstrated than in the film's breathtakingly exciting rooftop chase through Tangier. The North African city, with its romantic blend of African and European architecture, has long been an iconic spy location, and this chase scene achieves the ideal symbiosis between elaborate action and exotic setting. Greengrass and cinematographer Oliver Wood take full advantage of the city's distinctive rooftops, bristling with antennas, as Bourne (Matt Damon) pursues an assassin named (perhaps prophetically) Desh on motorcycle and on foot. It's impressive watching Ludlum's amnesiac agent ride the motorcycle up as well as down the city's narrow staircases, but the really exhilarating moment audiences all remember comes when, in one especially spectacular shot, the hand-held camera leaps after Bourne from one upper storey window into another in the middle of the foot chase! If I had to pinpoint one moment during this decade that spy (and action) filmmaking changed, that would be it. Greengrass took action photography to a new level, and we've seen that move (which featured prominently in the movie's trailers and TV spots) copied again and again ever since, in everything from Quantum of Solace to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Just as the Wachowskis' famous "bullet-time" shot from The Matrix had defined the previous decade of action cinema, this one did the next.

4. SPECTRE Pre-Credits Sequence (2015)

If you ever doubted that competition was good for the marketplace, just witness the sometimes hostile oneupmanship that's gone on between the Bond and Bourne franchises since 2002. Here is another sequence that offers its own variation on Greengrass's iconic window-to-window leap, but raises the stakes. While Greengrass's camera stayed on his hero for that single breathtaking moment, Sam Mendes and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema kept their camera on Daniel Craig's James Bond for a full four minutes, culminating in action sequence much larger in scale than jumping through a window. This is an example of a setpiece that's greater than the movie that contains it. The entire pre-title sequence, from its striking production design to its stunning Mexico City location to that Touch of Evil-style tracking shot, is the most memorable part of SPECTRE. I've watched the opening far more times than I've watched the whole movie since buying the Blu-ray.

5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Guillam's File Theft (2011)

Of course, a great spy movie setpiece doesn't have to involve action. Van Hoytema also shot an equally striking, equally thrilling sequence for Tomas Alfredson's 1970s-set Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Like McQuarrie, Alfredson channels Hitchcock in making a trip to a library as exciting as Tom Cruise dangling from something. It may sound like heresy to some fans, but one scene in which the BBC's Tinker, Tailor miniseries always let me down was in its translation of the most suspenseful scene from John le Carré's novel in which Smiley's right-hand man, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) is tasked with removing a file from the ultra-secure registry of the Circus. Smiley is an outsider, and requires the file for his investigation into which of the cabal currently in charge of British Intelligence is a Soviet mole. Alfredson actually improves upon the sacred text of the miniseries in this sequence. His careful camera movement and deliberate, beautifully composed shots all make visual the paranoia that Guillam is feeling as he betrays his bosses for the greater good. It's another perfect marriage of cinematography, production design, direction and acting, and to me it's the film's iconic scene.

6. Jason Bourne Greek Protest Chase (2016)

And here we are once again returning to Paul Greengrass and Jason Bourne. The fourth Bourne movie with Matt Damon is regrettably not nearly as good a film as Ultimatum, but it still boasts an incredible setpiece—easily the best I've seen this year. Once again Bourne is on a motorcycle, this time weaving through increasingly angry crowds of protesters at an anti-austerity rally in Greece. It's the perfect backdrop for a spy chase in our present time, turning the social unrest currently boiling over all around the world into an obstacle and cover for our hero. Furthermore, while his imitators seem to get worse and worse, Greengrass just keeps getting better at doing what he does. As in Green Zone, you feel like you're right in the middle of this dangerous protest as shots ring out making it even more dangerous. This time Bourne is the prey rather than the pursuer, and the sense of danger is palpable. It might not be the best entry in the series, but Jason Bourne is well worth seeing for this incredible sequence alone!

7. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol Burj Khalifa Sequence (2011)

Yes, I keep returning to the same several franchises. But there's a reason that they're the top box office draws in the spy genre, and the reason is their amazing setpieces. Tom Cruise seems driven to top himself in each Mission: Impossible entry by performing a wilder stunt that takes him further off the ground than he was in the previous film. Since dangling was clearly established as his character's thing in the original Mission: Impossible movie, dangling from the world's tallest building was probably too tempting an opportunity to resist. With Tom Cruise there's an extra layer at play in an action setpiece, because we all know that he's pretty much nuts and loves to put himself in physical danger. In Bond movies we generally take it for granted that it's a stuntman performing the more improbable feats, and that's never detracted from them one bit for me. But there's an extra frisson in knowing that you're watching the movie's actual star in peril. The circumstances that demand that Cruises's Ethan Hunt go mountaineering about outside the famed Dubai skyscraper are quite ingeniously concocted, and director Brad Bird achieves spectacle by going the opposite direction as Greengrass. Instead of putting the camera close up, right behind the star's head, he opens it up wide, showing us the entire vista and making the deadly geography immediately clear. And home viewings will never match the added spectacle of seeing this film in an IMAX theater, where the image itself opened up from scope to fill the entire large format screen from top to bottom. The dizzying vista was literally breathtaking.

So what were your favorite setpieces of the last decade? Please feel free to weigh in in the comments below! And check back all week for more lists and some great contests!

Oct 30, 2016

The Double O Section Turns Ten: A Look Back at the Best Spy Movies of the Last Decade

It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this for a decade. There are very few things that I’ve stuck with regularly for that long! But it was ten years ago today that I published my first post on this blog, a list of seven names that were both then relevant to spy entertainment, and also indicative of the sorts of topics I planned to blog about. It’s weird that I can’t even remember now that it was Halloween time when I published my first post. I don’t remember what costume I wore or where I went that year to celebrate, or with who. But I do remember that the first Daniel Craig James Bond movie, Casino Royale, loomed large at the time. It played a huge part in why I decided to start blogging about my love of all things spy. It was the most exciting time to be a Bond fan since that first GoldenEye trailer showed up in theaters a week earlier than expected over a decade prior. And it still is! But this blog hasn't just chronicled the Daniel Craig era of James Bond. It's covered an interesting period in spy entertainment. So I thought I'd celebrate the tenth anniversary with some more lists, like that first post. The obvious list to start with is movies. Usually decade lists are made, well, for a given decade. 2006-2016 is admittedly an odd span to cover with such a list. But it's actually been a pretty remarkable period for our favorite genre, encompassing a lot of great movies all very different from each other.

Before I get to that list, however, I want to thank two people who were instrumental in the inception and longevity of this blog: Nora, who first put the idea in my head of starting a blog, and Josh, who's created a number of terrific graphics for me over the years, including these anniversary banners. Stay tuned for more interesting lists spanning the last ten years over the coming week, as well as news, reviews, and a contest or two!

Click on the titles for links to my full reviews, where applicable.

My Favorite Spy Movies 2006-2016

1. Casino Royale (2006)

That movie we were all looking forward to when I wrote that first post not only revitalized the 007 franchise, but proved to be one of its very best entries of all time. While I hadn't come to that conclusion at the time I posted my initial pre-release thoughts, or even by the time I wrote my full review after seeing it again, over the years it's risen to second place on my own list, following only On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

2. OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies (2007)

Michel Hazanavicius crafted a near-perfect send-up of Sixties spy movies (despite his film actually taking place in the late Fifties) while simultaneously reviving a classic Eurospy character in his two OSS 117 films starring the incomparable Jean Dujardin. He beautifully, lovingly recreated not only the hallmarks and cliches of the genre and the era, but also the filmmaking techniques. I remain ever hopeful he'll still make a third!

3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

John le Carré may be the undisputed master of the spy novel, but in 2011 his name hadn't been seen on screen for a decade. Director Tomas Alfredson kicked off the le Carré screen revival that led to this year's mega-successful miniseries The Night Manager with his stunning, gorgeous adaptation of the greatest spy novel ever written. I still marvel at the brilliance of Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan's remarkable script, a masterclass in adaptation that managed to perfectly preserve the spirit of the lengthy novel by brilliantly changing just about every scene. It's an incredibly economical script demanding the audience's full attention throughout. No bit of exposition is repeated. This is another movie desperately crying out for a sequel; I'm dying to see Alfredson tackle another Smiley novel.

4. The Lives of Others (2006)

Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's masterful Cold War-era, East German-set film ably demonstrates the breadth of the spy genre. It's as far from James Bond as you can get, but a film that actually examines the act of spying itself, and what it can do to its practitioners when they start to identify with the people they're spying on.

5. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

It's hard to believe that Tom Cruise has now been playing Ethan Hunt for longer than any actor ever consecutively played James Bond. But the Mission: Impossible series was not healthy at the time Brad Bird was hired to direct its fourth installment. Cruise had been briefly banished from the Paramount lot, and the studio had even contemplated giving the series to its direct-to-DVD arm. Bird, unproven in live action, shot new life into the series by turning to the TV show for inspiration. In doing so, he not only made the first entry in that series that I unabashedly love, but also made one of my favorite spy movies of the decade. The setpiece in which Cruise dangles from the Burj Khalifa may be the most memorable, but nothing in the film excited this fan of the show as much as the line at the end when the voice of the IMF name-checks "The Syndicate!" Happily, Christopher McQuarrie continued with the tone set by Bird, making the Mission: Impossible series one I now look forward to nearly as much as James Bond.

6. Green Zone (2010)

There's no question that director Paul Greengrass changed action cinema when he imbued The Bourne Supremacy with his signature style of shaky camera movements and fast edits. He spawned a number of imitators, but hardly any of them have been able to successfully recreate his style, and the result has been a number of jolty action sequences so chopped up you can barely tell what's going on. But even Greengrass had not perfected that style with his first spy movie. The Bourne Supremacy was partially successful, but The Bourne Ultimatum was better. Green Zone, however, is the culmination of Greengrass's collaboration with Matt Damon. This movie demonstrates exactly what that style is meant to do: it puts the viewer right in the middle of the action, and it's utterly thrilling.

7. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Modern movie reboots of classic Sixties spy series seldom prove creatively successful. The Avengers, The Wild Wild West, Get Smart, and countless others have come up severely short despite, in some cases, promising creative teams. But Guy Ritchie managed to make a thoroughly entertaining spy movie by valuing the spirit of the series above the letter. Some fans were disappointed that he didn't serve up a beat-for-beat recreation of the show. He did something better. He set the film in its original Cold War period, but with the benefit of hindsight was able to fully explore the dynamic of an American agent and a Soviet agent working together in ways the TV series simply couldn't at the time. And he did it with great style and a spectacular soundtrack. Like the OSS 117 movies, this was a thrilling love letter to Sixties spy movies.

8. Bethlehem (2013)

Here's a movie that deserves a much wider audience. Yuval Adler made one of the best realistic spy movies of the decade in his story of a young intelligence asset torn between his Israeli handlers and his Palestinian brethren. It delves deeply into the true nature of spying and the high cost paid by those caught up in it. This is the second-best le Carré movie of the last ten years, a feat all the more remarkable given that le Carré had nothing to do with it!

9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

If there's one genre that's characterized these last ten years more than any other at the box office, it's superhero movies. Hollywood studios finally discovered the riches to be mined by faithfully adapting classic comic book characters and story arcs instead of dumbing them down or camping them up. Some viewers complain of over-saturation, but if you ask me Marvel Studios has managed to avoid that by setting its films in distinctly different genres. And the second Captain America movie is undeniably a spy movie. It takes its cue from classic paranoid Seventies spy thrillers like 3 Days of the Condor and Marathon Man, and takes much of its storyline from the Iran-Contra-era comic book Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. (Though Fury himself is only a supporting player to Cap, this is very much a S.H.I.E.L.D. movie!) But what makes it a great spy movie isn't what it borrows from the past, but the direction it set for the future. This was the first major Snowden-era spy movie. It spoke to the paranoia Americans were beginning to feel about their espionage apparatus, as the dust settled on the post-9/11 era in which spies were once again portrayed as heroic. Sibling directors Anthony and Joe Russo took advantage of the fact that they were telling a story about a fictional spy agency, rather than MI6 or the CIA, and told a story that really cant' be told with real-life organizations. And their treatment of the evil organization Hydra and its infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. paved the ground for new versions of The Syndicate in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation and SPECTRE in the most recent Bond movie.

10. Skyfall (2012)

Casino Royale was no one-off. Daniel Craig has managed to make two classic Bond films so far during his tenure. Skyfall may divide fans, but director Sam Mendes managed to take 007 to new box office heights by combining the darker character exploration that made Casino Royale great with the fun, more over the top action that characterized the best moments in Roger Moore's tenure. It was great to see Q and Moneypenny return to the series, and to see some humor injected back into Bond while simultaneously delivering a mature story. It's not a perfect film. It's got flaws. But it's still fantastic!

Check back tomorrow and all week for more 10th Anniversary celebrations, including those contests!

Tradecraft: Catherine Keener Joins Sicario Sequel Soldado

Sicario proved to be one of the best spy movies in 2015, a year chock-full of genre entries. Earlier this year it was revealed that that film would spawn not only a sequel, Soldado, but potentially a trilogy or series. Now there's some more casting news on the next film. We already knew that Benecio del Toro's enigmatic assassin and Josh Brolin's unscrupulous CIA agent would be returning (though not Emily Blunt's FBI agent, despite being the main protagonist of the first movie). Now, Deadline reports that Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich) has joined the cast. Keener will play Brolin's CIA boss. The trade also reveals a bit about the plot of Soldado. While the first film dealt with drugs being smuggled into the U.S. through tunnels from Mexico, the second will deal with terrorists infiltrating the country though those same tunnels. Gomorra director Stefano Sollima takes over helming from Denis Villeneuve (who has moved on to the Blade Runner sequel), but Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan returns to pen the sequel.

Tradecraft: CBS Buys Mission: Impossible-like Spy Drama From James Patterson

CBS has bought a spy drama, Stingray (no relation to the Stephen J. Cannell series of the same name), written by David Marshall Grant (Code Black) based on a novella by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski. According to Deadline, "Stingray is described as a fun, adrenaline-fueled drama in the tradition of Mission: Impossible and Ocean’s Eleven. It centers on a group of ex-con artists who work for the FBI, using their amazing transformational skills and elaborate deceptions to take down the most elusive criminals." Hm, okay, maybe it is a little bit like that Cannell drama... though that was a loner who used his amazing transformational skills and elaborate deceptions to take down the most elusive criminals, not a group. No, no, it's not based on that, but it certainly sounds in the tradition of not only Mission: Impossible, but also other shows I've loved like The Saint, Burn Notice, Hustle and Leverage. It's a good formula, and I hope this one works as well as those others.

Oct 29, 2016

Tradecraft: CBS Developing Spy Drama from Scorpion Producers

Deadline reports that CBS has bought Sentinels, as spy drama, from three producers on its hit show Scorpion--supervising producer Rob Pearlstein and executive producers Nick Santora and Nicholas Wootton. According to the trade, Pearlstein's script "shares the sensibility of Scorpion as a light, action procedural. It centers on the world’s worst news team who’s actually a cover for a secret government program that has highly trained spies masquerading as hapless reporters. They use their unfettered access all over the globe to take on harrowing missions and preserve world peace."

Oct 27, 2016

New 24: Legacy Trailer; Carlos Bernard Returns as Tony Almeida

Fox has released a new trailer for the upcoming spinoff/sequel 24: Legacy. I'm kind of surprised how much it looks to be retreading the plot of 24's first season (or was it the second? the one with Dennis Hopper), but it still looks great, and I can't wait! As 24: Live Another Day proved, twelve episodes suits this format so much better than twenty-four. While Jack Bauer won't be around for this installment, Deadline reported earlier this month that another beloved 24 alumnus would be back. Carlos Bernard will reprise his role as former CTU badass and sometime bad guy Tony Almeida. You can be forgiven if you were under the impression that Tony was either bad, dead or in jail, because he's been all of those things at the end of various seasons. But there was a special feature on the DVDs of 24: Live Another Day in which Tony is seen escaping from prison. He's not in this trailer, though, so no doubt his reappearance will come at a surprising moment during the new season.

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Oct 26, 2016

Trailer: Come and Find Me

Rubicon writer Zack Whedon's Come and Find Me, starring Aaron Paul (Eye in the Sky, Central Intelligence) and Fleming standout Annabelle Wallis, looks more noir than spy, but it definitely looks awesome!

Tradecraft: Paramount Plans Alex Hawke Spy Series Based on Ted Bell Books

Deadline reports that Paramount has acquired the rights to Ted Bell's series of novels about MI6 agent Lord Alex Hawke with hopes to launch a new spy franchise. (They already have Mission: Impossible and Jack Ryan, but the latter is moving to television after the last unsuccessful attempt at a theatrical reboot.) The studio has set veteran espionage specialist Kurt Wimmer (Salt, The Recruit) to pen the adaptation, and Lorenzo di Bonaventura (RED, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) will produce. Di Bonaventura has a few other spy movies percolating right now, including Michael Apted's Unlocked and Lionsgate's American Assassin (another potential franchise starter, based on Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp series). The trade doesn't reveal which of Bell's books the first movie will be based on, if any. I have to admit, I haven't read any of Bell's books, but it sounds like I probably should.