Aug 29, 2016

Fathom Comes to Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber

Hot on the heels of their impressive Modesty Blaise Blu-ray, Kino Lorber will be releasing the 1967 Raquel Welch spy caper Fathom in high definition. Fathom ("starring Raquel 39-22-33 Welch," as the trailer voice boldly declares) is one of the more entertaining female-driven spy films of the era. While journeyman TV director Leslie Martinson (Mission: Impossible) doesn't aim as high from an artistic standpoint as Modesty's Joseph Losey did, he concocts a far superior film thanks to a fairly straightforward and, crucially, coherent plot, a charming, indefatigable leading lady, and lots of game supporting turns from the likes of Tom Adams (The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World), Ronald Fraser (Sebastian), Richard Briers, Greta Chi (Coffin from Hong Kong), Anthony Franciosa (Matt Helm) and Blaise's Clive Revill in a stupendous, scene-stealing turn as the villainous Serapkin. That's not to say that Lorenzo Semple, Jr.'s (Never Say Never Again, 3 Days of the Condor) script (which is extremely loosely based on Larry Forrester's considerably grittier novel) doesn't eventually devolve into expositional voiceover over endless shots of a small airplane flying above European scenery, but it's got enough great setpieces to make up for that in spades. Modesty Blaise turned out to boast quite a few extras. Sadly there aren't that many announced for Fathom, but at least it will include a commentary track by film historians David Del Valle and Steve Peros and a trailer gallery (presumably including the one I quoted above). I really hope it also ends up having a gallery of promotional imagery, because Welch's bikini inspired a number for fantastic posters for this film (including the Japanese one they cribbed for this disc cover).

Kino's Fathom Blu-ray hits shelves October 25 with a suggested retail price of $29.95, but you can currently pre-order it on Amazon for just about half of that.

Aug 16, 2016

Tradecraft: Amazon Greenlights Jack Ryan TV Show Starring John Krasinski

After Paramount's last attempt at a film franchise faltered, Tom Clancy's CIA analyst hero Jack Ryan will get a new lease on life in a TV show. Deadline reports that Amazon has given a straight-to-series order for a 10-episode first season of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, starring John Krasinski (13 Hours, The Office) as Ryan. Krasinski follows in the footsteps of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine. Personally, I think he's a great choice! The new take on Clancy's hero comes from writer/producers Carlton Cuse (The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.) and Graham Roland (Lost), Paramount TV, SkyDance Media, and Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes. (Bay also serves as a producer.) Like the most recent film, this take will also be set early in Ryan's career, when he's still a CIA analyst. Here's how the trade describes it: "A reinvention with a modern sensibility, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan follows Ryan (Krasinski), an up-and-coming CIA analyst, 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."

I find this news hugely exciting. Jack Ryan is one of the great heroes of spy fiction, but has been underserved since his heyday in the 1990s. I think television may prove a better format for Clancy's brand of technothriller than feature films. I would love to see this first season lay the groundwork for season-long adaptations of Clancy's dense novels, including many of the subplots and fascinating details that the movies had to leave out. Maybe we could even, finally, get a screen version of The Cardinal of the Kremlin! Cuse, an avowed fan of Clancy's books, and Roland, a former Marine, seem like an ideal team to finally do right by the late author, and Bay seems like such an obvious match for this material that I'm frankly shocked it's taken this long to happen. I really hope he manages to wriggle free of giant robots long enough to direct the pilot, because his fetish for military hardware is a perfect match for Clancy's own.

Aug 15, 2016

Red Sparrow Movie Casts its Nate Nash

Red Sparrow, the debut novel from former CIA officer Jason Matthews, was one of the best spy novels of recent years. Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) has long been attached to play Russian double agent Dominika Egorova in the movie version, but now the other lead is close to being cast. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Joel Edgerton (Zero Dark Thirty) "is in early talks" to play CIA agent Nathaniel Nash. Hm. Edgerton is a talented actor, but in my opinion all wrong for that role. He's 42, which seems too old to be playing a young CIA hotshot on his first tour of duty, and, with 16 years on her, too old to establish a credible chemistry with Lawrence, which will be crucial to the movie's plot. Frances Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) directs.

Trailer: Allied

One of the potentially biggest spy movies of the year has been going largely under the radar until now. That would be Allied, Robert Zemeckis' WWII romantic spy thriller starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. The trailer for the lavish period drama recalls not only (obviously) Casablanca, but also Pitt's previous spy hits Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Inglourious Basterds, as well as Cotillard's stunning performance as a sexy WWI-era assassin in A Very Long Engagement. All this with a script by rumored Bond 25 scribe Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Hummingbird) and a supporting cast including Lizzy Caplan (The Interview), Matthew Goode (Imitation Game) and Jared Harris (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) makes Allied a movie I'm very much looking forward to! Check out the trailer:

Aug 1, 2016

Lots of Los Angeles Sixties Spy Screenings Coming Up in August

There are a lot of very stylish Sixties spies playing on the big screen in Los Angeles this month.

First up, on August 7 and 8 (a Sunday and a Monday), Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema will screen the fourth and final Matt Helm movie, The Wrecking Crew (1968) on a Sharon Tate double fill with Roman Polanski's wonderful Hammer spoof The Fearless Vampire Killers. Besides Tate, The Wrecking Crew stars Dean Martin (The Silencers, Murderers' Row), Nancy Kwan (Wonder Women), Tina Louise (Fanfare for a Death Scene), Nigel Green (The Ipcress File, Deadlier Than the Male) and my own very favorite Sixties Spy Girl, the stunning Elke Sommer (Deadlier Than the Male, The Prize). Sure, the silly, spoofy Helm movies are very poor representations of Donald Hamilton's terrific, hard-hitting, and very serious novels, and sure, they're not very, er, good (in the conventional sense), but they are certainly entertaining! It's rare to see any of them play the revival circuit, and when one does it's usually one of the first two. I don't think I've ever seen The Wrecking Crew playing in a theater during the 16 years I've lived in L.A. The Wrecking Crew will screen in 35mm. Tickets are just $8.00 for both films, available at the box office or online.

Then, on Sunday, August 21, the American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre in Santa Monica will present a double feature of two particularly pop art spy movies, Our Man Flint and Modesty Blaise (both 1966) as part of their series "The Groovy Movies of 1966.") The first of the Derek Flint spy spoofs stars the inimitable James Coburn as the suave, know-it-all superspy, along with Lee J. Cobb, Gila Golan and Charlie Chan regular Benson Fong. But the film belongs, 100%, to Coburn. It simply wouldn't work without him, and because of him it's a must-see.

Joseph Losey's Modesty Blaise has about as much to do with Peter O'Donnell's series of novels and comic strips as the Dino Matt Helm films do with those books... and also like the Helm movies, it can't really be called good. But it's still an eye-popping miasma of glorious Sixties design excess with a wonderfully infectious score by Johnny Dankworth (The Avengers). In fact, it boasts by far the best production design of any of these three films, and would be well worth seeing on the big screen for that reason alone... except that there is another reason. And that reason is Dirk Bogarde (Hot Enough for June) as Gabriel--positively the greatest Sixties spy villain trapped in one of the decade's otherwise weaker mainstream genre entries. Bogarde is an absolute treat in this film. Every line delivery is exquisite, and surely this role ranks among the all-time great camp performances. Terrence Stamp (Chessgame), Harry Andrews (The Deadly Affair, Danger Route), Clive Revill (Fathom) and a hopelessly miscast Monica Vitti in the title role also star. These films will be shown on DCP. Tickets to the double feature (which kicks off at 7:30pm) are $11.00 for the general public and may be purchased online or at the theater box office.

L.A. spy fans, don't miss the rare opportunity to see any of these campy Sixties spy spoofs on the big screen!