Mar 30, 2017


I was not a fan of the first Kingsman movie, but that doesn't mean I'm not excited for the sequel. I still like the premise, and I hope that this time Matthew Vaughn delivers on it with a little more fun and a little less gratuitous and offputting graphic violence. In Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Eggsy (Taron Edgerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) encounter their American counterparts at the secret U.S. spy agency Statesman. Cue that favorite English stereotype of all Americans as cowboys. While the British stereotype (from the first film, but really borrowed from The Avengers) remains well-tailored suits and brollies, the American one is apparently jeans and whips. I would hazard that a larger percentage of Englishmen actually do carry umbrellas than Americans whips. I've lived in three very different geographical parts of the United States and never seen anyone with a whip in public outside of Indiana Jones cosplayers at Comic-Con.... Makes for great teaser poster iconography though!

Mar 29, 2017

More MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 6 Details: Baldwin and Harris Return; Renner Doesn't

Paramount revealed new details about Mission: Impossible 6 today at Cinemacon, and CinemaBlend was there to report on it. Regular IMF team members Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames will return along with the previously announced Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson, the latter making her second franchise appearance and thus becoming the first female agent to recur in the film series. Additionally, Alec Baldwin will become the first director of the IMF to appear in two films, the position having seen more than its share of turnover throughout the years. And Sean Harris, who played Solomon Lane, head of the Syndicate (the organization a nice throwback to the TV series, first teased at the end of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol in 2011) will be the series' first villain to make a reappearance. But Jeremy Renner, who has appeared in the last two movies in the franchise as IMF agent William Brandt, will not be back for this outing. This is probably due to his numerous other commitments - most notably the two back-to-back Avengers movies on his plate. Last week, Variety revealed a few more details about the role to be played by franchise newcomer Henry Cavill (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), and it sounded a lot like Renner's role in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. According to the trade, "Cavill would play some sort of a right hand to the head of Cruise’s unit." Presumably that means Baldwin. So it sounds to me like returning director and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie wrote the part for Renner, but changed the role when the actor proved unavailable. (Team members coming and going is a longstanding tradition in the Mission: Impossible franchise, going back to the days of the TV show.) While Renner it's always possible Renner could still show up in a cameo (like Rhames did in Ghost Protocol), I kind of hope they don't try to address his absence in some unsatisfying way, like saying he was killed off-screen. I'd rather it just go unexplained, like Martin Landau's and Barbara Bain's disappearances from the fourth season of the show.

Some new faces joining the cast for the sixth film will be the previously reported Vanessa Kirby, and British actress Sian Brooks, whose villainess proved the standout character on the most recent season of Sherlock.

It was also announced at Cinemacon that the new movie's shooting locations will include London, Paris, India and New Zealand, and that production commences on April 16. Furthermore, Mission: Impossible 6 will be the first entry in this or any major spy franchise to shoot in 3D. (It's sort of surprising it took this long, since Paramount loves that format.) I could care less about 3D, personally, and would fear it might detract from the series' signature action setpieces, except for the news that it's shooting in IMAX 3D. This is indeed preferable. The sequences shot for the large format in Brad Bird's Ghost Protocol were truly spectacular, and for me 3D works better on the giant screen. (Provided you're sitting in the right spot, that is.)

What sort of death-defying stunts are we likely to see Tom Cruise performing in 3D? Well, producer David Ellison offered some tantalizing teases about that to Collider last week (via Dark Horizons):
"And I will say after the Burj [Khalifa] we thought it was going to be impossible to top that stunt, and then Tom did the A400M for the plane. What Tom is doing in this movie I believe will top anything that’s come before. It is absolutely unbelievable—he’s been training for a year. It is going to be, I believe, the most impressive and unbelievable thing that Tom Cruise has done in a movie, and he has been working on it since right after Rogue Nation came out. It’s gonna be mind-blowing."
So we've got that sequence to look forward to... whatever it turns out to be!

The Mission movies have been on a roll lately, with the last two being easily the best in the two decade old film series. I have every expectation that McQuarrie will deliver once again, and I can't wait to see how!

Mar 22, 2017

Sixties Spy Show CORONET BLUE Coming to DVD At Last

Well, here's a welcome surprise! Kino Lorber announced today on their Facebook page that they will release one of the few remaining American spy shows of the Sixties not yet on DVD later this year! The elusive CBS series Coronet Blue, starring Frank Converse, was shot in 1965 but not aired until 1967 as a summer replacement series. It sounds like The Fugitive meets The Bourne Identity... though of course it pre-dated Robert Ludlum's book by more than a decade. The intriguing premise has long put this one need the top of my DVD wish list, and I'm thrilled that I'll finally have a chance to see it! Here's how Kino Lorber describes the series: "In this espionage thriller, Michael Alden (Frank Converse) is an amnesiac double agent in search of his true identity, while assassins of a mysterious syndicate are trying to locate and kill him." The strange (and probably detrimental) title comes from the few, seemingly nonsensical words that Converse can remember: "Coronet Blue." Coronet Blue: The Complete Series will include all 13 episodes - two of those never aired during its original run. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled before its central mystery could be solved, but one extra announced for the DVD is sure to clear that up. There will be a new interview with series creator Larry Cohen (whose career has encompassed everything from Sixties spy shows like Espionage and Blue Light to Eighties schlock classics like Maniac Cop and 21st Century high-concept thrillers like Phone Booth and Cellular), who has never been shy in sharing where he intended for the series to go. (Don't read the show's Wikipedia page, for example, if you don't wish it spoiled before you get to watch these DVDs.) So while the show may not have an ending, at least, unlike with The Sandbaggers, we can watch the creator describe what would have happened had it continued.

An impressive roster of guest stars on Coronet Blue included Alan Alda, Candice Bergen, David Carradine, Dick Clark, Denholm Elliott, Vincent Gardenia, Signe Hasso, Hal Holbrook, Sally Kellerman, Janet Margolin, Chester Morris, Juliet Mills, Patrick O’Neal, Mitchell Ryan, Roy Scheider, Daniel J. Travanti, Brenda Vaccaro, John Vernon, Jon Voight, and Billy Dee Williams.

It's been years since we've gotten a new release of an American Sixties spy series on DVD! (I think Jericho was the last one, and that Warner Archive set of Man From U.N.C.L.E. producer Norman Felton's 1966 WWII espionage drama happens to currently be on sale for a ridiculously low price on Amazon!) I never expected to see Coronet Blue get this treatment, and it's a most welcome announcement. Notable titles remaining MIA include Blue Light (also created by Cohen), Amos Burke: Secret Agent, The Double Life of Henry Phyfe, and, most of all, T.H.E. Cat. Let's hope some of those also turn up out of the blue in the months ahead!

Mar 16, 2017

Tradecraft: Henry Cavill Joins Mission: Impossible 6

Napoleon Solo is ditching U.N.C.L.E. for the IMF. Deadline reports that Henry Cavill has joined the cast of Mission: Impossible 6. Director Christopher McQuarrie made the announcement on Instagram before warning Cavill that "your social media account will self-destruct in 5 seconds." So apparently the actor holds no ill will against Tom Cruise for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation crushing The Man From U.N.C.L.E. at the late summer box office in 2015. (Cruise himself was briefly attached to play Solo before dropping out due to scheduling conflicts from that M:I movie, opening the door for Hammer... who totally nailed the part.) There are no details whatsoever on what sort of part Cavill will be playing in the still untitled Mission: Impossible movies, but the trade reports that he will join "Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, and Jeremy Renner" in the cast. If this is true, then it would seem unlikely that Cavill will be a member of Cruise's team. It was rumored that Renner might not be available for this one, but if he is on board, it seems unlikely that there are three positions on the team for handsome men of action. (Imagine if the original TV lineup had been all Peter Lupus!) So will he be a villain? An external ally? I look forward to finding out! Cavill may have lost out on James Bond to Daniel Craig, but he seems determined to make up for that by booking roles in all the other spy franchises! (Is there a part for him in the next Bourne movie...?)

Mar 15, 2017

Tradecraft: Pigeons Accept Missions

In a story about an upcoming animated kids' adventure movie called Darkmouth, Deadline mentions another animated project in the pipeline from Fox Animation and Chernin Entertainment called Pigeon: Impossible. Of course a title like that caught my attention, so I did a little research. Written by Lloyd Taylor and currently set for a 2019 release, it's a big budget, feature adaptation of Lucas Martell's animated short of the same name (viewable on YouTube), about a superspy who gets turned into a pigeon. Hey, I'll take my spies in any form the studios want to bring them to us in!

Mar 13, 2017

Public Service Announcement: Don't Forget to Reset Your DVRs for New Season of Archer on FXX

Archer returns for a brand new season on April 5. By now everyone is probably aware that the former spy parody will undergo a pretty big format change this year, morphing via coma dreams (Magnum-style, in keeping with last year's Eighties detective stylings) into a 1940s film noir send-up... but you may not know that it's also changing networks, moving from FX to FXX. And if you did know that, you still may not have considered the immediate ramifications of that switch. If you have a series recording set on your DVR, with many models you will need to cancel that recording and set up a new one for the new channel. Otherwise, Archer: Dreamland will fail to automatically appear in your recordings and you'll probably forget about it and miss the whole season. Or maybe that's just me who still uses a DVR and misses seasons when shows switch networks. But just in case! And another thing that might help you not forget that the new season exists is watching this promising trailer:

Mar 10, 2017

Full Red Band Trailer for Atomic Blonde

Yesterday we saw the teasers for the trailer, and today, sure enough, Universal has delivered for our viewing pleasure the full red-band trailer for Atomic Blonde in all its restricted and NSFW glory! I've said before that this will be the spy movie of the summer, and this trailer, every bit as fantastic as I had expected, would seem to confirm that! Everyone is going to be talking about David (John Wick) Leitch's film version of Antony Johnston and Sam Hart's Cold War Berlin-set Oni graphic novel The Coldest City (even despite the unfortunate title change)... especially after it premieres shortly at SXSW. Unfortunately it doesn't open until July, but that's plenty of time to build up enthusiasm! Charlize Theron (The Fate of the Furious), Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service), James McAvoy (State of Play), John Goodman (Argo), and Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) star.

Mar 9, 2017

Tradecraft: Night Manager Producers Plot New Period Spy Drama

Deadline reports that The Ink Factory, the production company behind the hit John le Carré TV adaptation The Night Manager (along with films of his work including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, A Most Wanted Man and Our Kind of Traitor), is plotting a new spy drama. The company, run by two of le Carré’s sons, will partner with Rise Films and Film4 to develop a Cold War spy film not based on one of the author's novels. Instead, the inspiration for The American War, an espionage tale set against the backdrop of the fall of Saigon in the last days of the Vietnam War in 1975, will be two non-fiction memoirs by former CIA agent Frank Snepp: Decent Interval: An Insider's Account of Saigon's Indecent End Told by the CIA's Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam and Irreparable Harm: A Firsthand Account of How One Agent Took on the CIA in an Epic Battle Over Free Speech. Tom Morton-Smith, who wrote the acclaimed play "Oppenheimer," about the father of the atomic bomb, will pen the screenplay.

According to the trade, "the film will follow the rising tensions between the intelligence community and a U.S. administration whose refusal to accept the facts prompted a catastrophic compromise of vulnerable American and South Vietnamese personnel and their families, followed by a refugee crisis. Despite this system failure and heart-breaking betrayal, individual acts of heroism and Snepp’s own desperate last-minute efforts to persuade his superiors in Saigon to admit defeat resulted in the evacuation of many people." So, obviously, they're going for a very timely take on the material!

Two Teasers for the Trailer of Atomic Blonde

Universal has released two short, tantalizing teasers for a longer, red-band trailer set to drop tomorrow for Atomic Blonde, which I've said before will be the spy movie of the summer. Seriously, everyone is going to be talking about David (John Wick) Leitch's film version of Antony Johnston and Sam Hart's Cold War Berlin-set Oni graphic novel The Coldest City (even despite the unfortunate title change). Why? Well, take a look at these micro-teasers and see for yourself! Charlize Theron (The Fate of the Furious), Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service), James McAvoy (State of Play), John Goodman (Argo), and Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) star.

You'll be hearing a lot more about Atomic Blonde once it premieres next week at SXSW! It opens nationwide in July.

Mar 8, 2017

Trailer for George Lazenby Docu-Drama Becoming Bond

For the past year or so we've heard little about that George Lazenby documentary that was rumored to be in the works. But today it careened onto the internet in a spectacular way, with a fantastic trailer and the announcement that it will premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival next week. And the trailer reveals that it's actually quite a bit more than a traditional documentary. It's a "documentary-narrative hybrid," which combines interview material with Lazenby today with recreations of the larger than life tales he narrates. The recreation cast includes Josh Lawson (House of Lies) as Lazenby, Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm) as Harry Saltzman, and Dana Carvey (Saturday Night Live) as Johnny Carson. Jane Seymour (Live and Let Die) and Jake Johnson (Drinking Buddies, Jurassic World) also star, the latter playing a presumably made-up or composite character with an inside joke name that may tickle hardcore Ian Fleming fans: Peregrine Carruthers.

Lazenby is an incredible raconteur, and the tale of how he basically conned his way into the most coveted role in the world, taking over from Sean Connery as James Bond despite zero acting experience, and went on to make a movie that many (myself included) consider to be the best in the series, On Her Majesty's Secret Service... and then promptly pissed away his sudden success... is certainly one deserving of this kind of lavish treatment! 

Director Josh Greenbaum's Becoming Bond premieres at SXSW on March 11 and makes its streaming on Hulu on May 20. EW premiered the stunning trailer, which you can see below: 

Now, if only Lazenby would finally write that autobiography he's been promising for years! Hopefully this movie will be a resounding success and spur him to do so.
Thanks to Sybil for the heads-up!

Mar 7, 2017

John le Carré to Publish New George Smiley Novel A Legacy of Spies!

This is perhaps the most exciting news I have ever written about here, in my ten plus years of blogging about fictional spies. It was announced today that John le Carré, the master of the espionage genre (and my personal favorite writer of all time) will publish a new novel about his most famous protagonist, George Smiley, in the fall. A new Smiley novel! Can it possibly be true? It is! There's a plot description on the author's website and even a pre-order listing on Amazon. A Legacy of Spies will be published September 5, 2017, in the United States, and September 7 in Britain. Here is the official description:
After 25 years, Smiley is back... 
Peter Guillam, staunch colleague and disciple of George Smiley of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as the Circus, is living out his old age on the family farmstead on the south coast of Brittany when a letter from his old Service summons him to London.  The reason? His Cold War past has come back to claim him.  
Intelligence operations that were once the toast of secret London, and involved such characters as Alec Leamas, Jim Prideaux, George Smiley and Peter Guillam himself, are to be scrutinised under disturbing criteria by a generation with no memory of the Cold War and no patience with its justifications. 
Interweaving past with present so that each may tell its own intense story, John le Carré has spun a single plot as ingenious and thrilling as the two predecessors on which it looks back: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
So not just Smiley will be back, but also many of our other favorite characters from the earlier novels, including Guillam (whose role was disappointingly small in the previously final Smiley outing, The Secret Pilgrim) and even Alec Leamas, hero of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold! (Le Carré once seemed sworn against ever writing about him again, joking in his introduction to a later edition of The Looking Glass War that at the time of its initial publication, all the UK public seemed to want from him was Alec Leamas Rides Again.) Penguin editor Mary Mount provides some further fascinating hints of what we can expect from A Legacy of Spies on the Penguin website. "A Legacy of Spies asks questions about how we reckon with the past and with our political history," she writes. "As with all of le Carré’s fiction, it brilliantly illuminates human folly and our frailty. The pain, the clarity, of hindsight is so beautifully rendered showing how the passage of time fully exposes acts of violence, framed as utterly necessary at the time, for what they are."

Le Carré has always prided himself on staying topical and never looking" back, never dwelling on the past. When the Berlin Wall came down, many critics tried to write him off, but he not only stayed aggressively relevant in the post-Cold War world; he produced some of his greatest work against the backdrop of the New World Order (The Night Manager, Our Game) and the War on Terror (A Most Wanted Man). Perhaps writing his memoirs, The Pigeon Tunnel (published last year) got him in a more reflective mood and inspired him to revisit his beloved Cold War characters, but it certainly sounds like he's found a way to do so while still remaining doggedly current, which seems appropriate, especially in a time when half the daily headlines seem torn from the pages of a le Carré novel!

George Smiley first appeared as the protagonist of le Carré's first novel, Call for the Dead (1961), and served the same role in his second, A Murder of Quality (1962). The character took a backseat in his next two books, playing a more minor role in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) and The Looking Glass War (1965), before taking center stage once more in the epic "Quest for Karla" trilogy, beginning with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), and continuing with The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) and Smiley's People (1979). Just as the character never seemed to be able to retire from "the Circus" (as British Intelligence is known in le Carré jargon), the author never seemed quite ready to retire his character. He brought George back (again relegated to a secondary role) for a swan song in The Secret Pilgrim (1990), his eulogy for the Cold War. "It's over, and so am I. Absolutely over," Smiley told a gathering of MI6's latest recruits. "Time you rang down the curtain on yesterday's cold warrior... The new time needs new people. The worst thing you can do is imitate us." And so he exits, leaving them with one final piece of advice: "We've given up far too many freedoms in order to be free. Now we've got to take them back." Even that exit, it now seems, was not, absolutely, his final. I suspect the new novel will develop that final theme further.

Two other le Carré novels, The Russia House (1989) and The Night Manager (1993) are set in the same world and feature some of the same characters, but not Smiley himself. They form a loose trilogy with The Secret Pilgrim as the middle book. The latter, which was made into a successful miniseries last year, features Smiley's Secret Service protege, Burr.

Smiley himself has been portrayed many times on screen, most famously by Alec Guinness in a pair of BBC miniseries and most recently by Gary Oldman in Tomas Alfredson's 2011 feature film adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Presumably, he'll next be seen on the small screen in the forthcoming miniseries version of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (previously filmed in 1965).

The Smiley Files
Part 1: George Smiley: An Introduction
Part 2: Movie Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Part 3: Book Review: Call for the Dead (1961)
Part 4: Movie Review: The Deadly Affair (1966)
Part 5: Book Review: A Murder of Quality (1962)
Part 6: Movie Review: A Murder of Quality (1991)
Part 7: Book Review: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963)
Part 8: Book Review: The Looking Glass War (1965)
Part 9: Book Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974)

Tradecraft: Vanessa Kirby Joins Mission: Impossible 6

According to Variety, Mission: Impossible 6 has begun casting. Vanessa Kirby, who plays Princess Margaret on the Netflix hit The Crown, will play an unspecified female lead. The trade reports that the unknown role "is expected to be on the same level as [Rebecca] Ferguson’s in [Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation]." Ferguson herself, having made such a star-making impression in that movie, is also expected to return. This will be the first time in the film series that a leading lady has reprised a role in more than a cameo. According to the trade, "Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner are also expected to return, though it’s unknown in what capacity." Rogue Nation's Christopher McQuarrie will write and direct, marking another first for a franchise previously known for showcasing a different director's style each outing. McQuarrie recently said that the sixth film would explore Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt character more. That makes me a little wary. While I always loved the rare character-focused episodes of the TV series, that was because they were such anomalies. The franchise, in both film and television, is not known for deep character exploration, but for elaborate cons and, in the films, enormous action setpieces. Still, McQuarrie did an excellent job with the last movie, so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Mission: Impossible 6 is expected to start filming sometime this spring. Cruise's next spy role, in the meantime, will be playing real-life CIA pilot Barry Seal in the Iran-Contra movie American Made (formerly known as Mena) for director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity).