Feb 23, 2017

The Coldest City Warms Up to Atomic Blonde, and Charlize Keeps Spying

The bad news is that, according to Deadline, Focus Features has changed the title of their Cold War Berlin comic book adaptation The Coldest City to Atomic Blonde. They had one of the coolest spy titles ever, and now they've got a Roller Derby competitor. (Nothing against Derby Dolls; they just aren't the same as spies.) They had a brand, and now they have a handicap. The good news, though, is that the movie looks awesome enough to overcome a title like that! (Perhaps it's just so damn cool that the studio thought it was only fair to handicap it?) Adding ammo to my suspicion of the movie's actual awesomeness and the studio's confidence in their product is the news that they will debut it at the hip South by Southwest film festival four and a half months before its July 28 opening, allowing plenty of time to build positive buzz. (And in another sign of confidence, they had previously moved up that opening from August to July, at the height of summer.)

Atomic Blonde is based on the Oni Press graphic novel The Coldest City, by Antony Johnston (Alex Rider, Queen & Country) and Sam Hart. While the moody, black and white comic (to which Johnston recently published a prequel, The Coldest Winter) played up the chilly, brooding Cold War paranoia of 1989 Berlin, it's clear from the (thankfully very cool) poster that the movie adaptation (penned by Kurt Jonstad and directed by David Leitch, half of the duo behind the ultra-stylish actionfest John Wick and the man tapped to direct Deadpool 2) instead plays up the neon MTV aspects of that decade. So perhaps it will be a little more Deutschland 83 than The Americans as 1980s-set spy entertainment goes. I think it's safe to say that we can expect a bit more action from the film, penned by Kurt Jonstad (Act of Valor), than the comic, which was more concerned with the treacherous internecine bureaucracy of Cold War espionage. Reigning action queen Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) stars as MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, dispatched to Berlin to unmask a mole on the eve of the fall of the Wall. James McAvoy (State of Play), Sofia Boutella (Kingsman), John Goodman (Argo), Til Schweiger (Inglourious Basterds) and Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) round out the impressive cast roster. Trust me, even with that title, this is going to be the coolest spy movie of 2017!

Theron, meanwhile, appears to be addicted to spying. In a separate story, Deadline reports that Universal has optioned Need to Know, a forthcoming spy novel from former CIA analyst Karen Cleveland, for her to star in and produce. (She also produces Atomic Blonde through her Denver & Delilah Films shingle.) According to the trade, the thriller follows "a wife and mother who works as a CIA analyst. One morning while digitally searching files in hopes of unmasking a Russian sleeper cell in the U.S., she makes a shocking discovery that threatens her job, her family and her life." There is no publisher yet set, but the manuscript apparently sparked an intense bidding war. Theron was also previously attached to star in a movie of the Mark Greaney novel The Gray Man, in which the book's generic male super-assassin hero was going to be changed to a woman, but we haven't heard any news on that project since 2015, so I'm not sure if she's still involved or not. The actress will next be seen in The Fate of the Furious, a project that reunites her with her Italian Job director and co-star, F. Gary Gray and Jason Statham. (The trailers make it look like this movie easily tops Die Another Day's car chase on ice.)

Feb 11, 2017

Tradecraft: Has China Saved Xander Cage?

Despite being a more fun film than the previous entries in the series, xXx: Return of Xander Cage underperformed at the domestic box office. Hardly surprising, really, when you consider it's been twelve years since the last franchise entry, and fifteen years since the last one starring Vin Diesel. But All-American Extreme Sports Hero Xander Cage just might live to skate again, thanks to the People's Republic of China. Variety reports that the film is on target to earn more that its cumulative domestic take to date in its opening weekend alone in the Middle Kingdom.

Feb 10, 2017

Trailer for Amazon's New Spy Series Patriot

If I told you there were a new spy series starring both Terry O'Quinn (Lost) and Kurtwood Smith (Agent Carter, CHAOS), you probably wouldn't believe me, right? Or maybe you'd glibly reply, "What, no Gerald McRaney?" Okay, okay. You win. Sadly there is no Gerald McRaney present. But you've already got guaranteed crusty old spymaster overload with those first two! Still don't believe me? Well, lucky for me Amazon has provided a trailer to prove it. Of course, both those guys are supporting players. Michael Dorman (Killer Elite - way down the cast list) is the actual star of the Amazon original series Patriot, created by Steve Conrad (the Secret Life of Walter Mitty remake). Here's the official Amazon logline: "To prevent Iran from going nuclear, intelligence officer John Tavner must forgo all safety nets and assume a perilous 'non-official cover' -- that of a mid-level employee at a Midwestern industrial piping firm." Once again, I'm glad we've got a trailer, because the trailer makes it clear that there's a lot more than that going on here... and what looks like a really interesting tone. Some traces of In Bruges here. Or, to put it another way, it looks kind of like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (specifically the pilot, "The Vulcan Affair") meets Fargo (the series). In fact, this looks spectacular!

The pilot has been available to stream for quite a while. I'm a bad spy fan and I haven't watched it, but evidently enough others did for it to go to series. The series itself premieres in just a few weeks, on February 24 on Amazon Prime.

Feb 6, 2017

Tradecraft: Max Irons is the New Condor in Three Days Remake

Deadline reports that Max Irons (Jeremy's son, soon to be seen in the Julian Fellowes-penned Agatha Christie adaptation Crooked House) will attempt to fill Robert Redford's iconic shoes as CIA analyst Joe Turner in the previously announced MGM-produced miniseries remake of 3 Days of the Condor. The new Condor, as it is called (thus avoiding the 3/6 discrepancy over the number of days Condor spends on the run between the 1975 movie and the James Grady novel upon which it's based, Six Days of the Condor), will take the form of a 10-episode series for AT&T's Audience Network. (Great, another must-see spy show that requires ordering a whole new cable package, like Berlin Station!) Like Redford, Irons will play Joe Turner (not Ronald Malcolm, as he's named in the book), the desk-bound CIA analyst code-named Condor who finds himself on the run and in way over his head. Here's how the trade describes the new take:
Turner is an idealistic millennial who secretly joins the CIA hoping to reform it from within. But when everyone in his office is massacred by professional killers, this brilliant analyst is forced out of his ivory tower think tank and into battle with the most dangerous elements in the military-industrial complex. If he is to have any chance of surviving, Joe will have to do things he never imagined himself capable of — and discover that no one knows their true character until they’ve been tested under fire.
The good news is that other than the de facto "millennial" label, that description pretty much matches both the classic movie and the classic novel. (Both are essential for any spy fans!) The bad news is it doesn't really give us any hint of which source the scripts by Jason Smilovic (Lucky Number Slevin, My Own Worst Enemy) and Todd Katzberg will hew closer to, or what changes they've made to the material. But it is kind of amazing how easily Grady's plot (originally conceived in the Nixon era) can be applied to today's post-Snowden world and feel timely.

It was announced around the same time this project was first announced (early 2015) that Jay Roach (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery) was attached to direct a film of Grady's 2006 novel Mad Dogs, which features an older Condor in a bit part, but we haven't heard anything about that since. At any rate, I have high hopes for this new Condor miniseries! The material is still relevant, and Condor deserves to be a better known brand in the spy landscape. It would be great if the series proves successful and subsequent seasons draw from Grady's follow-ups Shadow of the Condor and Last Days of the Condor!

Tradecraft: Zoe Saldana to Star in Assassin Thriller Hummingbird

According to Deadline, Zoe Saldana (Colombiana) has signed on to star in the assassin thriller Hummingbird, based on a 2016 Black List screenplay by John Tyler McClain. (That's Black List as in the annual list of best unproduced scripts, as chosen by Hollywood assistants, not as in the one word NBC TV series.) Here's the official Black List logline for the movie: "A black-ops assassin’s latest mark forces her to question the truth of her identity and ultimately confront the unsettling fact that she’s more than a hired gun, she’s an entirely new breed of weapon." So... The Bourne Identity meets Hitman? Just a guess. Fundamental Films acquired the script last year and will finance and produce with Broken Road Productions.

Feb 5, 2017

Trailer: Len Deighton's SS-GB (Updated With Widescreen Version)

The BBC has finally put out a trailer for their adaptation of Len Deighton's alternate history spy novel SS-GB (first reported on in November 2014). Set in an alternate 1941 in which Germany successfully invaded Britain, the story follows a police detective (Sam Riley) in Nazi-occupied London as his routine murder investigation leads him into a conspiracy of espionage, atomic secrets, and the fate of the world. Kate Bosworth co-stars. Regular James Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade penned the 5-part miniseries, which premieres this month in the U.K. While The Weinstein Company partnered with the Beeb for U.S. distribution, no American network or premiere date has yet been announced. TWC and BBC last partnered on War and Peace, which aired domestically on Lifetime.

The 24 Clock Starts Again Tonight After the Big Game

The long-awaited 24 revival, 24: Legacy, premieres tonight following the Super Bowl on Fox. Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, Kong: Skull Island) stars as former Army Ranger Eric Carter, who finds himself reluctantly following in Jack Bauer's CTU footsteps when followers of a terrorist leader killed by his team come after the team on their home turf. (Wasn't that more or less the exact same plot as the first season of 24 with Dennis Hopper? I guess they figure if it worked once...) Miranda Otto (Homeland, Lord of the Rings) co-stars as Rebecca Ingram, former director of CTU now on the campaign trail with her Presidential candidate husband John Donovan (Jimmy Smits). Carlos Bernard provides continuity with the original series as fan favorite Tony Almeida. Like the excellent previous revival, 24: Live Another Day, 24: Legacy will be just 12 episodes/hours of real-time action, as opposed to the 24 of the original series. This is a great thing, because at 24 episodes the show used to consistently lag in the middle of the season. This was not a problem with Live Another Day, and I don't expect it will be one with Legacy.

[Trailer removed]

Feb 4, 2017

Tradecraft: ABC Orders Spy Dramady Starring Toni Collette

Deadline reports that ABC has ordered the spy dramady Unit Zero to pilot. Unit Zero was created by Black-ish creator Kenya Barris and producer Lindsey Shockley. Shockley wrote the hour-long pilot. Toni Collette (Velvet Goldmine), who's been on a spy kick lately with roles in XXX: Return of Xander Cage (currently in theaters) and the upcoming Michael Apted thriller Unlocked, will star. According to the trade, "Unit Zero follows Jackie Fink (Collette), a brilliant but unassuming CIA engineer and single mom, as she leads a team of desk jockeys into the field as secret agents. Overlooked in the workplace, their invisibility makes them perfect for the CIA’s most covert missions." So it sounds kind of like Spy for television... which is certainly not a bad thing.

Feb 1, 2017

New Trigger Mortis Limited Edition from Easton Press

Connecticut-based publisher Easton Press, who specialize in high-end, leather-bound limited editions, has just announced a beautiful new signed edition of Anthony Horowitz's bestselling 2015 James Bond continuation novel Trigger Mortis. The Easton edition is the same dimensions as the first American edition, but bound in leather with 22kt gold accents and a hubbed spine. The pages, printed on acid-neutral paper, are sewn, and there's a ribbon bookmark sewn in as well. Easton are no strangers to James Bond. In 1990 the publisher produced a gorgeous illustrated, leather-bound edition of From Russia With Love as a one-off; later that decade they created slip-cased facsimiles of all the Ian Fleming UK firsts as "The James Bond First Edition Library," and in 2005 produced "The Complete James Bond Collector's Edition," a beautiful leather-bound set of all 14 Fleming novels. Both of those sets, long out of print, are now highly sought after collectors' items, selling for many times the publisher's original price.

It's unclear what the limitation is on Easton's Trigger Mortis, but the signed volume is available from the publisher's website for three monthly installments of $44 until the edition sells out. Unfortunately, signed books cannot be shipped to California because of a well-intentioned but idiotically executed law passed in 2015, which is sure to annoy a lot of fans.

Other notable Easton Press spy titles over the years include leather editions of John le Carré's A Perfect Spy (this is a really cool book, with a "secret code"-themed pattern on the cover), William F. Buckley, Jr.'s Saving the Queen, Robert Ludlum's The Parsifal Mosaic and James Grady's Six Days of the Condor. Last year they produced a beautiful set of le Carré's "Karla Trilogy," featuring a Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy signed by the author that also comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by (and this is neat) both le Carré (a pen name) and David Cornwell (his real name). This set is still available.