Jul 31, 2016

First Trailer for Olen Steinhauer's Berlin Station

Richard Armitage (Strike Back, MI-5) returns to spying in the upcoming EPIX series Berlin Station, but this time he's not working for MI5 or Section 20, but for the CIA. Berlin Station was created by acclaimed spy novelist Olen Steinhauer, whose trilogy of Milo Weaver novels (starting with The Tourist) are pretty much the benchmark for modern espionage fiction. Steinhauer outlined for Deadline at the TCA Conference this week what sets Berlin Station apart from "lone wolf" spy series like Homeland, 24, or Bond movies. “A crucial difference,” the author pointed out, “is that in Homeland, you’re following Carrie. She is the focus. It is her drive that gets things done.” In the real world, however, he claims that's “not how intelligence works. Intelligence is networking. Intelligence is multiple people working together.  [Berlin Station] was always suppose to show ... normal people with an abnormal job. They have to work together. There are no superheroes. Intelligence is an ensemble.” That mantra is apparent from the trailer above (which is really more of a clip), in which Armitage's character, a case officer newly assigned to the titular posting, meets his new colleagues. The contemporary spy drama from Paramount TV debuts on EPIX on October 16.

Jul 23, 2016

Tradecraft: FX Renews Archer for Three More Seasons; Details on Season 8

FX are committed to their spies. After handing out a two season renewal to The Americans last month (which will be the series' final two), the cable network then ordered three additional seasons of its still-fantastic animated spy spoof Archer. According to The Hollywood Reporter, FX has renewed Archer for seasons 8, 9 and 10, which will keep it on the air through at least 2019. The next three seasons, however, will be shorter than previous ones at just eight episodes apiece. After a 10-episode first season, fans grew accustomed to 13 episodes of Archer a year. Season 7, which just ended, was back down to 10.


Those who have watched all of Season 7 are probably wondering where the show will go next year. Season 5 was a slight detour from the show's overall spy premise, finding the gang dabbling in the drug trade in Archer Vice. Then Season 6 was back to spying, and then Season 7 was another detour, relocating to Los Angeles and fashioning itself after 1980s P.I. shows. Will Season 8 be back to spying again, establishing an every other formula? Apparently not. At Comic-Con yesterday, reports IndieWire, the producers revealed their plans for next season. Those wondering what would become of the show when its titular character ended up apparently shot dead need only (as is, gloriously, often the case with Archer) looked to Magnum PI for a clue. When it looked like Magnum was dead at the end of what was supposed to be the show's final season, it turned out when CBS gave it a surprising renewal that he was actually just in a coma. So is Sterling Archer, apparently, and like Magnum he's solving a murder in his coma. Also like Magnum (in a different episode), he's fantasizing about himself and the rest of the cast in slightly different roles in a 1920s Dashiell Hammett milieu. (Simon and Simon also did an episode along these lines.) You can read details about what new roles each of the regular character will inhabit in what's being called Archer: Dreamland at IndieWire.

Jul 20, 2016

Tradecraft: Smiley Returns to the Small Screen in New The Spy Who Came in from the Cold Miniseries

In an introduction to a paperback edition of The Looking Glass War, John le Carré joked that what the public wanted from him at the time he wrote that book was "Alec Leamas Rides Again." Unlikely as that prospect seemed, it looks like Leamas, the titular Spy Who Came in from the Cold, will indeed ride again! This is certainly exciting news. The success of The Night Manager miniseries (or "limited series," to use the preferred term du jour) in both Britain and America guaranteed we'd be seeing more le Carré adaptations on the small screen, but I honestly didn't expect a new version of what's probably his most famous novel (and one of the best spy novels of all time). Yet that is in the works! Deadline reports that Paramount TV and The Ink Factory (the production shingle run by le Carré's sons with a mandate to develop film and television projects based on his works) are developing the property as a limited series with Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) writing. Le Carré will serve as executive producer, as he did on The Night Manager. No network is involved at this stage, though one has to imagine that both of Night Manager's partners, the BBC (in Britain) and AMC (in the United States), will bid hard for a follow-up of this magnitude.

Though it was his third novel (and also third featuring George Smiley), it was The Spy Who Came in from the Cold that put le Carré on the map. Upon its publication in 1963, the book garnered excellent reviews and became a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic. Martin Ritt made an excellent film of it in 1965 starring Richard Burton and Claire Bloom and co-written by Goldfinger scribe Paul Dehn. But as good as that film is, I don't see it as the last word on the story. In fact, I've long harbored dreams of a Spy Who Came in from the Cold remake. Making it in a new format (as a miniseries) will afford Beaufoy the opportunity to make different choices from Ritt and Dehn, and to flesh out certain aspects of le Carré's novel that got short shrift in the film, just as the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy feature proved a fresh take on that material from the famous BBC miniseries that came before.

No casting has been announced, and it is probably a long way off at this stage. But I would guess that, like The Night Manager, this title will attract high caliber stars. Personally, my dream cast for a Spy Who Came in from the Cold remake has long been Daniel Craig as Leamas (I think he'd be perfect!) and Keira Knightly as Liz (who can now use her actual name; in the film it was changed to Nan because of Burton's famous wife named Liz). Craig, however, is committed to another TV series, and sadly unlikely to be available. Even more important, though, are the supporting roles. I really, really hope that The Ink Factory's producers Stephen Cornwell and Simon Cornwell will manage to lure their Tinker Tailor actors back in the roles of Smiley and, more crucially, Control. While it seems somewhat unlikely that Gary Oldman would want to reprise his film role on television for what basically amounts to a cameo, I have trouble picturing anyone other than John Hurt in the role of Control. He was utterly fantastic in Tinker Tailor. (Spy would be a prequel to that story, which was adapted from a later book.) And Hurt certainly does television.

The only thing I'm slightly disappointed about regarding this news is the fact that they're not doing Call for the Dead first. Though Call for the Dead (which was filmed in the Sixties as The Deadly Affair, also adapted by Dehn) features Smiley front and center and Spy does not, Spy is very much a sequel to Call. I wonder if Beaufoy will be able to incorporate certain aspects of that novel into his adaptation? Depending on how many episodes the miniseries turns out to be, that could be a very interesting approach.

What this news means for the Ink Factory's previously announced follow-up to The Night Manager, a 3-part adaptation of le Carre's 2003 novel Absolute Friends, remains to be seen. Hopefully that is still on track as well. (It may even materialize before The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.)

Read my book review of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold here.
Read my overview "George Smiley: An Introduction" here.

Trailer: xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

This trailer is hilarious. It audaciously dares to proclaim that "the world has changed" (recalling the Dunston Checks In trailer more than the GoldenEye trailer of that same year, which itself claimed "It's a new world...") and "the war we're fighting today needs a different kind of soldier." And then it gives us very much the same kind of soldier we saw in 2002's xXx--extreme athlete cum superspy Xander Cage (Vin Diesel). I mean, that's such a 2002 concept, right? I suppose the world of espionage cinema has in fact changed since 2002--quite substantially. But you wouldn't know it from this trailer!

2002 was a watershed year for the spy movie. It was the year of the last Pierce Brosnan James Bond movie, Die Another Day. And the year of the first Jason Bourne movie, The Bourne Identity. One was clearly a dinosaur, the last hurrah of the 90s spy movie. And the other was the quintessential post-9/11 paranoid action thriller that ushered in a whole new style of screen spying. And despite its corny attempts to differentiate itself from James Bond (a Bond surrogate found himself in over his head in the opening scene, wearing a tuxedo to a club full of grungy, tattooed Millennials), xXx was very much a remnant of that same Paleozoic era as Die Another Day. Since then, subsequent Bourne films and the reinvented 007 of Daniel Craig completely shook up the genre in the very way the original xXx so transparently, desperately wanted to. But this trailer for the latest xXx movie willfully ignores all that, willing audiences instead to accept that it's still 2002. (The only indication that this Xander Cage movie takes place in contemporary, post-Daniel Craig times is a shot of Vin Diesel coming out of the water in the same pose as Craig did in Casino Royale.) And you know? You've kind of got to respect it for that. Part of me does, indeed, yearn for a return to those 90s dinosaur spy movies. (Note to studios: dinosaur spy movie! Make it happen.)

"We need people with the skills and the attitude to take on threats we don't even know exist," says Samuel L. Jackson's NSA honcho Augustus Gibbons in this trailer, echoing exactly what he said in the first two movies. Threats like extreme athletes bent on world domination. Threats requiring a grown man in diaper-white Capri pants to skateboard, and, we're told (though I remain dubious based on the evidence provided) "look dope doing it." Basically, the sort of threats you saw in Mountain Dew commercials aired during the X Games circa '02.

But ludicrous as it all is, I can't help get kind of excited about it... precisely for that ludicrousness. As I did for the previous two xXx movies--and ended up disappointed both times. But maybe, just maybe, the same magic that transformed Diesel's Fast & Furious movies into great entertainment will rub off on his other franchise. Maybe. Because, come on! Skiing through the jungle is actually a pretty damn cool basis for a setpiece! And it's been nearly three decades since we've seen a cool ski sequence in a real Bond film.