Jul 28, 2019

Tradecraft: William Boyd's Cold War Berlin-Set SPY CITY Series Gets Revived with Dominic Cooper

Several years ago, around the same time that Olen Steinhauer's Berlin Station was announced, another Berlin-set spy series from another major novelist was also announced: William Boyd's Cold War-set Spy City. But it sadly never came to be at that time. Now, five years later, though, it's finally happening!

Originally set up as a 10-part series at Gaumont, Deadline reports that Boyd's vision will finally come to life as a 6-part series for Miramax and Germany's H&V Entertainment and ZDF. And it will star a face who's become quite familiar to spy fans--Dominic Cooper. Cooper starred as Tony Stark's father, Howard Stark, in Captain America: The First Avenger, and again on the excellent late 1940s-set spy TV series Agent Carter. He also played Ian Fleming in the BBC miniseries Fleming. He'll continue his run of period spy shows in Spy City by playing a British agent dispatched to Berlin in 1961 to root out a traitor in the UK Embassy or among the Allies, shortly before the construction of the Berlin Wall. "The city, declared by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev as 'the most dangerous place on earth,' is teeming with spies and double agents. One wrong move could trigger the looming threat of nuclear war as American, British and French troops in West Berlin remain separated from their Soviet and East German counterparts by nothing more than an imaginary line."

William Boyd is the author of the James Bond continuations novel Solo, as well as the excellent generational spy saga Restless  (which the author adapted into a miniseries with Agent Carter's Hayley Atwell) and what might very well be my favorite novel so far this century, Any Human Heart. That one's not a spy novel, though it does feature some spying, and Ian Fleming as a minor character. It was also turned into a miniseries with Atwell, as well as Spooks' Matthew Macfadyan and Casino Royale's Tobias Menzies as Fleming. There are a lot of odd connections forming here! An intelligence analyst might even discern some sort of pattern. Can an announcement of Ms. Atwell co-starring in Spy City be far off? So far, Johanna Wokalek (The Baader Meinhof Complex) and Leonie Benesch (The Crown, Babylon Berlin) have been announced besides Cooper. Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Alexandre will direct.

When the project was first announced in its original, slightly longer format, Variety reported that Spy City "sheds light on the personal lives of spies and focuses on a group of men and women of different nationalities and backgrounds who are in the 'hornet’s nest' of divided Berlin." The Hollywood Reporter added, "Spy City is set in the hottest period of the cold war, when Berlin was the center of the global chess game between the powers of East and West. The series is billed as an intimate look at the men and women who risked everything to become spies."

In addition to being an internationally acclaimed novelist, Boyd is also a successful screenwriter. He co-wrote Richard Attenborough's Oscar-nominated biopic Chaplin (1992), adapted other people's novels into Mister Johnson (1990, starring Pierce Brosnan) and Sword of Honor (2001, starring Daniel Craig), and adapted his own novels A Good Man in Africa (1994, starring Sean Connery and Diana Rigg) and Stars and Bars (1988, not starring any James Bond, but starring Daniel Day-Lewis, which is also pretty good), among many other credits. He wrote and directed The Trench (1999), which also starred Craig. Besides Solo, his recent novels include the WWI espionage tale Waiting for Sunrise, the pharmaceutical thriller Ordinary Thunderstorms, and the short story "The Vanishing Game." The latter, Boyd's homage to John Buchan's The 39 Steps, is a great read and a great introduction to the author, as it's available for free (thanks to Land Rover) as an e-book from Amazon and as an audiobook download from Audible. It's a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it. Most of all, though, I can't wait for Spy City! I'm glad it's come back to life.
Thanks to Jack for the heads-up on this!

Jul 27, 2019

First Teaser Trailer for Amazon's JACK RYAN Season 2

At the TCA today, Amazon Prime unveiled a first glimpse at Season 2 of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, again starring John Krasinski as the titular CIA analyst. The show was renewed for a second season before the first had even debuted, and was successful enough for the streamer that it's already been renewed for a third. Once again, this season is an original story rather than a direct adaptation of a specific novel, but just as the terrorism-themed Season 1 took some cues from Clancy's Patriot Games, it's clear from this teaser that the South America-set second season will, as expected, take similar cues from Clear and Present Danger--both the book and the 1994 movie (which starred Harrison Ford as Ryan). Keeping up with current headlines, the action, however, is centered mainly in and around Venezuela rather than Colombia.

Along with Krasinski, Wendell Pierce and John Hoogenakker return as, respectively, Ryan's mentor James Greer and SAD operative (and quasi-Clark surrogate) Matice. With the new setting, a lot of newcomers also join the cast, including Noomi Rapace (Unlocked, The Girl Who Played With Fire) as German intelligence agent Harriet “Harry” Baumann, Michael Kelly (Fair Game, House of Cards) as CIA field officer Mike November, Tom Wlaschiha (Crossing Lines, Game of Thrones), Jovan Adepo (Overlord), Narcos alums Cristina Umaña and Francisco Denis, and the always excellent Jordi Molla (Knight and Day, Criminal). Amazon hasn't yet set a premiere date for the second season, but the first one did well in August, so I'd hazard we can expect this one soon.

Jul 23, 2019

Tradecraft: Marvel Announces Shang-Chi Casting, Title

As much as I love Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and I love it dearly!) and Black Widow, my favorite Marvel spy comic has to be the original 1970s run of The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu... particularly the issues showcasing the brilliant collaboration of writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy (a team who would go on to produce the best James Bond comic book to date, "Serpent's Tooth"). Last December, it was first reported that a Shang-Chi movie would feature among Marvel Studios' next slate of films. All has been quiet since then... until this past weekend. On a massive panel at Comic-Con Saturday night, Deadline reports, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced the first official details about the studio's upcoming Master of Kung Fu movie, including its title and who will play the titular master, Shang-Chi.

Feige told the assembled hordes of fans in SDCC's Hall H that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will open on February 12, 2021. Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu will play Shang-Chi. Best known for a Canadian sitcom called Kim's Convenience, Liu has earned spy cred with roles on Nikita and the Taken TV show. As studied Marvel fanatics will glean from the title, Iron Man comics villain the Mandarin (basically a Marvel rip-off of Sax Rohmer's 1920s-created "yellow peril" character Fu Manchu) will replace the actual Fu Manchu (a character Marvel licensed in the Seventies, but no longer has the rights to) as Shang-Chi's criminal mastermind father... and the great Tony Leung (Lust, Caution, The Silent War) will play him. Actress and rapper Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean's 8) will also appear in the film, though her role was not announced. I can't really imagine her as Shang-Chi's love interest Leiko Wu, but she might make a good foil as his duplicitous half-sister Fah Lo Suee. (Or she could be playing an original comedic role, of course.) As previously announced, Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) will direct, and Dave Callaham (Jean-Claude Van Johnson) handles scripting duties, making up an all Asian-American creative team driving the picture.

The comic book The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu was created in the early Seventies to (obviously) cash in on the kung fu craze of the time. Comics legends Steve Englehart (Batman: Strange Apparitions) and Jim Starlin (Avengers: Infinity War) originated the character, but it was the dynamic writer/artist team of Moench and Gulacy who became most associated with Shang-Chi... and who gave the comic a new direction as an espionage series.

Shang-Chi's real world origins at Marvel are a bit complicated, as the publisher had acquired the rights to Rohmer's villainous Fu Manchu character (still well-known at the time thanks to a series of Christopher Lee movies in the Sixties), but Englehart was more interested in the popular TV series of the time, Kung Fu. So he incorporated Rohmer's characters Fu Manchu and his nemesis, British adventurer Sir Denis Nayland-Smith, but invented a new character to star in the series more inspired by Kung Fu... Fu Manchu's hitherto unknown son, Shang-Chi. Though the father had seen to it that the son was trained from birth to be a Master of Kung Fu, when Shang-Chi discovered that the father he believed to be munificent was actually a diabolical criminal mastermind, he turned on him, and found employment with Nayland-Smith and the British Secret Service. In the hands of Moench and Gulacy, secret agent Shang-Chi encountered all manner of spy hijinks, from moles inside MI6 to supervillains with private islands, gadgets galore, and robotic armies. He also developed a roster of memorable sidekicks, including Nayland-Smith's assistant and bodyguard Black Jack Tarr (drawn by Gulacy to resemble Sean Connery in The Man Who Would Be King), and fellow MI6 agent Clive Reston (drawn by Gulacy at first to resemble Connery in Goldfinger, but later looking more and more like Roger Moore), who is strongly hinted to be the son of James Bond and the grand-nephew of Sherlock Holmes. Should the character of Black Jack Tarr make the movie roster (and it's hard to imagine Master of Kung Fu without him), I'd love to see Jason Statham brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in that role! Sure, he's too short... but I think he'd nail the attitude--and make a formidable physical foil for Liu.

While Marvel's most famous spy agency, S.H.I.E.L.D., never showed up in the pages of Master of Kung Fu (though Shang-Chi did eventually team up with Nick Fury and Black Widow in a multi-issue arc of Marvel Team-Up), Gulacy's stunning artwork owed a clear debt to Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. artist Jim Steranko. Like Steranko, Gulacy reveled in quasi-sci-fi technology and weaponry and innovative, experimental page layouts. (One particular standout turned the page into a maze, following Shang-Chi's progress against a variety of opponents as he navigated the labyrinth.) He also brought his own obsessions to the table, like Bond-inspired, movie poster-style splash pages, relentlessly sexy women in proto-Gaultier leather fashions, and the liberal use of famous actors' likenesses to "cast" the book with everyone from Bruce Lee (upon whom Gulacy's Shang-Chi was clearly based) to Marlon Brando, Christopher Lee (as Fu Manchu, of course), David Niven, and even Groucho Marx. The result was a truly unique book that far transcended (and consequently outlasted) the kung fu movie trend from which it was born, and drew influence from all sorts of popular culture. I think it may well be my very favorite Marvel comic. Long unavailable outside of back issue bins, the entire 125-issue series has at long last been reprinted over the past few years in four massive, hardcover omnibus volumes, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Marvel has also recently begun a line of cheaper paperback "Epic Collections."

Jul 20, 2019

Tradecraft: ARCHER Renewed for Season 11 and a Return to Spying

When FXX ordered 3 additional seasons of the animated spy comedy Archer back in 2016 (taking it up to 10), it was expected that Season 10 would be the show's last. But executive producer Casey Willis surprised fans at today's Comic-Con panel, Deadline reports, with the announcement that the cable network has renewed the show for Season 11. And, after three seasons taking turns parodying other genres (the most recent two through Archer's coma dreams), the program is expected to make a welcome return to the genre it started out spoofing: espionage. Wilson said, “We are incredibly excited for our 11th season and look forward to Archer waking up from his coma and returning to a spy world that has continued without him for the past three years." Personally, I'm also very much looking forward to that return. While I was initially excited by seasons lampooning Magnum PI, Sam Spade, Tales of the Gold Monkey, and Space: 1999 (among other classics of their various genres), the show, which began as a James Bond parody, is simply strongest operating on the familiar ground of international intrigue. In 2014, current events forced the series to abandon its original spy agency, ISIS (International Secret Intelligence Service) for obvious reasons. In the last full season of spying, Season 6, the team (including Sterling Archer, voiced by H. John Benjamin, his sometimes wife Lana Kane, voiced by Aisha Tyler, and his mother Mallory, voiced by Jessica Walter) worked for the CIA under the auspices of control Slater (voiced by Christian Slater).

Jul 15, 2019

Trailer: THE KING'S MAN (2020)

So far each Kingsman trailer has gotten me excited, and then each movie has disappointed me. But now they've done it again! Even after being burnt twice, I'm still on the edge of my seat waiting for director Matthew Vaughn's latest excursion into that world, this time a prequel set in the early 20th century. I'm a real sucker for WWI-era spy stories, and there are altogether too few. So despite my misgivings about the contemporary Kingsman movies, this trailer has me 100% on board for The King's Man!

The King's Man opens on Valentine's Day 2020, having moved into that slot (previously occupied by Bond 25, which then jumped to April) from fall 2019 after the Disney acquisition of Kingsman studio Fox.

Obviously none of the characters from the first two Kingsman movies, set in the present, appear in this one (which will depict the birth of the organization), so there's an all-new cast including Harris Dickinson (Trust) as Conrad, the WWI-era equivalent of Eggsy, Ralph Fiennes (Skyfall), Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace), Rhys Ifans (Snowden), Matthew Goode (Cambridge Spies), Daniel Brühl (Captain America: Civil War), Djimon Hounsou (Alias), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), Charles Dance (For Your Eyes Only), and Tom Hollander (The Night Manager) in a triple role as Royal cousins King George V of England, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.