May 26, 2015

Movie Review: The Black Box Affair aka Il Mondo Trema (1966)

Okay, here’s the story with this one: someone had access to a funfair and so they decided to make a spy movie. That story could end a lot of ways (like the one about the guy with access to California scrubland who decided to make a spy movie), but surprisingly, the product ultimately cranked out by director Marcello Ciorciolini (Tom Dollar) under the name "James Harris" turned out pretty darn well, all things considered! It’s true that at least three crucial (and lengthy) scenes take place at said funfair (though in the film it’s supposed to be a couple of different funfairs in Hamburg and Vienna), but the real surprises here are—shockingly, for a totally formulaic Eurospy movie—the character moments.

The Black Box Affair is an incredibly low-budget Italian riff on the German buddy Eurospy formula perfected by the inseparable Tony Kendall and Brad Harris in the Kommissar X series and emulated in movies like Scorpions and Miniskirts. (Even the Jerry Cotton movies employ this two-hander strategy to some degree, though there’s no question that Phil is subservient to Jerry rather than an equal partner.) Here, the lead spy guy is John Grant, played by American actor Craig Hill (The Swinger). The producers were incredibly lucky with this casting, because Hill has not only charm and credible fight moves, but also the acting chops to make us care about a Eurospy hero who is, quite atypically for the genre, a tad more fleshed out than usual. (By which I mean that he is not just a stick figure... though I wouldn’t go so far as to call him exactly full-figured.)

The Black Box Affair begins in media res, with Grant gallivanting in some truly gorgeous Italian lakeside scenery. He heads for a big country house, but before he can even get in the door—before we even know his name, no less!—he finds himself attacked right off the bat by some gardeners working the grounds. He fights them off, makes his way inside, fights some more assailants… and discovers that his old spy boss, Mr. X, has commandeered his friend’s house where Grant was hoping to spend a peaceful vacation. All the fighting was a test to see if he was still up to snuff after being out of the spy game for two years. You see, John Grant’s carrying a bit more baggage than your average Eurospy hero. He’s been retired ever since his last assignment got his wife killed. (His general attitude is still overall Eurospy Guy though, meaning grief doesn’t place him above leering at the odd beauty.) Luckily for us (since we are here for spy action, not grief drama), he’s lured back in when Mr. X reveals that the man responsible for his wife’s death, top KGB agent Fabian, has resurfaced. Yes, Grant wants the assignment! And with Grant’s reactivation, he’s re-teamed with his old partner, Pablo (Luis Marin), in keeping with the typical German buddy formula.

Pablo, unfortunately, is kind of annoying. His “thing” is that he’s a ventriloquist—and not really a great one at that. This skill isn’t used for any cool spy moments, but instead for a few lousy attempts at comic relief. It was apparently a big part of Pablo and Grant’s past partnership that they called each other “Apache” and “Paleface,” respectively. This leads to far too much cringe-worthy “Apache”/“Paleface” dialogue between them—as if Jerry Westerby had maintained his annoying “Red Indian” banter with Smiley from his brief scene in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy throughout the duration of The Honourable Schoolboy as well, if I may bring a highbrow spy reference into a lowbrow spy review. These partners are far more interesting—and funnier—when they reminisce about a fellow agent who was “so caught up in James Bond he changed his name to Sean.” (He was killed in a gadget-related accident.)

Grant quickly manages to flush out Fabian, but the two enemies discover that they may be on the same side of this odd black box affair. The titular black box in question is a randomly assigned MacGuffin that is never actually seen, but which allows a nefarious third party (probably the Chinese, Grant quickly concludes—in part, probably, since the German Eurospy movies always seem to have an odd racist agenda against the Chinese and this Italian movie is trying to be German) to pit the Americans and Soviets against each other by sending and verifying fake nuclear strike orders to their planes. For the sake of the mission the two will work together for now in an effort to prevent a war between their countries that’s in the interest of neither. They may even be more alike than either realized. “You can’t forgive yourself for involving the person you loved in our dirty business,” says Fabian sensibly between puffs on his cigarette. “Many years ago something similar happened to me.” Despite this bit of free psychoanalysis, Grant vows to kill Fabian as soon as the assignment is over. But, crucially, not yet.

It’s a good thing The Black Box Affair has this surprisingly strong character dynamic, because its pitiful budget limits it in other departments. Far too much time is spent, for instance, with Grant and Pablo following people around in cars while explaining why—and where these people are going—via voiceover dialogue like in Joseph Losey’s messy Modesty Blaise. (At least the Lake Garda scenery is uniformly beautiful in these long and pointless drives.) Furthermore, much of the action happens on the soundtrack rather than on film. When Grant cleverly books a decoy ticket to Istanbul to throw his pursuers off the track, for example, he and other shocked onlookers at the airport watch as the plane he would have been on explodes on takeoff. The filmmakers couldn’t even afford to stick a firecracker in a toy jet, though, so we the audience only hear the explosion, while watching the onlookers. (The really disturbing thing, though, is how unconcerned Grant seems about inadvertently getting a whole commercial airliner blown up! Instead, he plays it cool when an airline rep tells him he was lucky he missed his flight.)

Likewise, we only hear rather than see a major shootout toward the end of the movie. Clever, that. Even the final final shootout, which takes place in some very dark woods, happens mainly aurally (although they do crush a real car with a crane). In fact, it sounds like the sound mixer simply spliced on the audio from a war movie. We hear scores of continuously firing machine guns over a small group of spies in the forest shooting at each other with pistols!

The best trick with the soundtrack, however, is the score by Gianni Ferrio (Danger!! Death Ray). Either the producers spared no expense on the music in order to elevate their cheapo film, or else Ferrio delivered far above and beyond what he was paid for. A great score makes even a low budget movie like this one seem much more expensive, and Ferrio delivers one of the best Eurospy scores here, from the catchy title song about black boxes to the hero’s theme to some particularly moody underscore for the more dramatic moments. (And, happily, it’s available on CD!)

And those dramatic moments, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, are indeed effective. Grant gets his final showdown with Fabian, and the outcome is surprisingly mature for this genre. In fact, the dramatic climax actually works much better than the action climax, and I really can’t believe I’m typing that about a Eurospy movie. I’m not saying it’s perfect, mind you. The parallels between Grant and Fabian could have been explored in more detail and been even more satisfying, but I was just so taken aback to find them there at all that that was enough for me. And on top of the drama, the film’s got some good comedy, too, like a pair of agents who greet each other by saying, “That sounded like an agreed dialogue between two secret agents in a thriller movie,” and, “Oh, but I hate secret agents!” Amusing dialogue, a great score, and an unexpected emotional throughline elevate The Black Box Affair well above its overall cheapness and transparent “we have access to a funfair” origins. It’s worth seeking out. (And the carnival setting also guarantees us the requisite hallucinatory funhouse sequence, which is always worth the price of admission!)

As for black boxes, tomorrow I’ll review another Eurospy flick that uses the same particular MacGuffin in its title as well. Stay tuned…

May 25, 2015

Agent Carter Expands in Second Season

Agent Carter star Hayley Atwell appeared at a comic convention in Houston this weekend, and MCU Exchange (via Dark Horizons) has the whole Q&A on video. The big news she revealed is that the second season of Agent Carter will run for ten episodes instead of eight, like Season 1. Asked if Lyndsy Fonseca (Nikita) would be returning for this season as Peggy Carter's actress roommate Angie, Atwell said that she was not yet confirmed, but Fonseca was a pleasure to work with and she hoped she'd be back. She also confirmed what we already knew, that the second season would be switching coasts, relocating from New York to Los Angeles. Once again Agent Carter is expected to bridge the two halves of the season of ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. More Agent Carter is a great thing! The first season was a wonderful period spy show.

May 24, 2015

From U.N.C.L.E. to Bourne? Alicia Vikander Sought for New Matt Damon Bourne Film

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. star Alicia Vikander (The Fifth Estate) may soon be defecting to another spy franchise. Deadline reports that the in-demand Swede is being sought for the female lead in Paul Greengrass's new Bourne film, the one that sees Matt Damon return to the fold in the title role. Greengrass and Damon are currently writing the script with Christopher Rouse (who edited Greengrass's two previous Bourne movies, as well as Green Zone), and Universal is eyeing a July 29, 2016 release date. Damon and Greengrass are also producing, alongside franchise newcomer Gregory Goodman (X-Men: First Class) and Bourne veteran Frank Marshall. But Vikander, who stars in eight films this year and is already generating Oscar buzz for her terrific turn in the A.I. hit Ex Machina, is apparently wanted by everyone. According to the trade, she's also in talks for Assassin's Creed, opposite Michael Fassbender, and The Circle, opposite Tom Hanks. Right now it's looking like she'll have to walk away from the latter, but her Bourne involvement is not yet confirmed.

May 21, 2015

Tradecraft: Epix Greenlights Olen Steinhauer Spy Series Berlin Station

Premium cable network EPIX, until now a movie channel, has ordered a new 10-episode espionage series called Berlin Station created, written and executive produced by Olen Steinhauer, according to The Hollywood Reporter. This is super exciting news! For my money, Steinhauer is one of the very best contemporary spy novelists (along with Charles Cumming and possibly Jason Matthews, if his second novel is as strong as his debut). His Milo Weaver trilogy (beginning with The Tourist) is a surefire hit film franchise waiting to happen. It's kind of insane it's taking Hollywood so long to get that going; right now it's just money sitting on the table for some lucky studio! (Last we heard Covert Affairs' Matt Corman and Chris Ord were adapting for The Bourne Identity helmer Doug Liman to direct, but that was back in 2012.) The idea of Steinhauer penning an entire TV season (as crime novelist Nick Pizzolatto did so successfully on True Detective) is pure catnip for this spy fan. He's also got  very strong collaborators. Eric Roth (writer of The Good Shepherd and Munich) and Michaël Roskam (director of The Drop and Bullhead) will also executive produce, and Roskam will direct the first two episodes. No casting has been announced, but it sure would be great if Roskam recruited his frequent go-to star Matthias Schoenaerts for a role.

According to the trade, the hour-long contemporary espionage drama from Paramount Television "follows a new CIA case officer in Berlin, Daniel Meyer, who is on a secret mission to find who leaked information to now-famous whistleblower Thomas Shaw. As he investigates further, guided by jaded veteran Hector DeJean, he uncovers the threads of a conspiracy that leads back to Washington." A mission to find out who leaked information from the Berlin Station also formed the basis for Len Deighton's masterpiece Berlin Game, but Berlin Station clearly puts a Snowden-era twist on the classic premise.

"Olen is among the most respected espionage voices of our time, and Michaël has a seasoned and distinct command of noir. Together, they make the ideal creative team to collaborate with on this sophisticated and gritty modern day spy thriller," Paramount Television president Amy Powell said in a statement released to the trade. "We also take great pride in partnering with the distinguished and prolific storyteller Eric Roth and the talented team at Epix on developing an inspired original series that is reflective of the network’s commitment to high quality entertainment."

Production is set to begin this fall, and Berlin Station will premiere in fall 2016. This has suddenly shot to the top of my own most anticipated television.

As reported in March, Steinhauer's latest novel, All the Old Knives, is currently in development with The Mark Gordon company, with Neil Burger (Limitless) set to direct and Steinhauer scripting. Promoting that novel, Steinhaur recently picked his own favorite fictional spies for Amazon's Omnivoracious blog, and proves that he has impeccable taste with the likes of David Callan, George Smiley, Neil Burnside and John Drake. Read his reasons why here. He also discussed his reading habits (including a healthy—and quite obvious—admiration for John le Carré) with The New York Times in another worthwhile read.

May 19, 2015

Bargain Alert: Get Smart Complete Series for Under $40

Would you believe... you can get Get Smart - The Complete Series (that's all five seasons, plus bonus content!) for just $39.96 this week on Amazon? That's cheaper than buying each bargain-priced season individually! The massive 25-disc box set also includes copious bonus features not available in the individual season sets. This collection cost hundreds when it first come out! This is quite a deal for one of the funniest spy comedies ever, and an essential part of any comprehensive library of spy TV. I recommend acting now and not missing it by that much!

May 14, 2015

TV Review: Wayward Pines (2015)

Fox offers a better Prisoner remake than the actual Prisoner remake in its new event series.

A government agent arrives in a small town surrounded by pine forests where he meets the local sheriff and discovers everyone in the town is, well, weird. Sound familiar? Wayward Pines is only Twin Peaks in its ephemeral trappings, however. Let me rephrase the premise. A government agent wakes up in a mysterious village uncertain of how he got there or who put him there. He soon comes to realize that he's a prisoner in this weird village, and that it's very difficult to tell his fellow prisoners from the jailers among the village's eccentric inhabitants. Oh, and he's apparently been given a number, though we don't dwell on that. Again, sound familiar? It's a very clever trick disguising a rip-off of one thing as a rip-off of another!

"Rip-off" may be a harsh word. Regular readers will know that I'm a pretty big fan of rip-offs, in fact. And the basic conceit of "what if, instead of waking up in The Village, Number 6 wakes up in Twin Peaks?" is pretty tough to argue with! It's a good idea (adapted from a novel by Blake Crouch). And the pilot overall acquits itself far less embarrassingly than AMC's officially licensed Prisoner remake a few years ago.

Unlike the AMC remake, most of the changes that director/producer M. Knight Shyamalan and writer/producer Chad Hodge make to the premise make sense for a contemporary update of The Prisoner. Instead of the supremely self-assured agent played by McGoohan, Matt Dillon's agent, Ethan Burke, has suffered past mental trauma and isn't at all confident in his own sanity. Is he hallucinating everything? We're fairly certain he isn't, because unlike The Prisoner, Ethan has family on the outside who are searching for him, and we cut back to them throughout the episode. (His wife is well played by Kiss Kiss Bang Bang's Shannyn Sossamon.) He's also got a former partner, Kate, played by Carla Gugino (Spy Kids) who turns up in Wayward Pines as one of its fully integrated residents. There are certainly shades of the Prisoner episodes "A, B and C" here, but taken to its logical, more continuity-heavy conclusion. Demonstrating that Wayward Pines isn't just a rip-off, there's also a very interesting and potentially sci-fi twist to Gugino's character. While she's only been missing for a few months as far as Dillon's character is concerned, she has apparently aged a lot in that time and tells him she's been living there for years. Intriguing!

The changes from The Prisoner's format that don't hold up so well tend to be cases of intellectual properties they don't have the rights too. A big electrified fence is simply no replacement for Rover! And obviously Ethan can't go around declaring that he's not a number; he's a free man... though I'm sure the sentiment must occur to him.

Further establishing Wayward Pines as clearly its own thing is the eccentric cast of characters both in and out of the pine-shrouded village. There is no Number 2, but there are a lot of Number 2 surrogates. Terrence Howard (Iron Man) plays the town's ice cream cone licking sheriff who's slow to investigate a murder Ethan tells him about, but quick to keep Ethan from leaving town. Melissa Leo (The Equalizer) plays a nurse in the nightmarish hospital Ethan wakes up in who also doesn't want him to leave, and seems quick with a hypo. Like so many Number 2's on The Prisoner, she shrouds her antagonism in obsequious politeness—up to a point, anyway. Most intriguing of all is Toby Jones (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as the doctor in the hospital. Jones is an actor who would certainly have played a Number 2 had he been active in the Sixties, and his sinister character is the only one we see both in and out of Wayward Pines in the premiere. Out when he interacts with some of Ethan's Secret Service colleagues. Again, that's a fresh and logical direction to take from a Prisoner starting point. We never saw any Number 2's outside of the Village, but what if he had—and they were talking to Number 6's former superiors? This twist more than any demonstrates the possibilities of Wayward Pines.

The AMC Prisoner didn't feel remotely beholden to the original Prisoner, but of course it was to a point. It also didn't feel remotely original. Wayward Pines, on the other hand, so clearly inspired by The Prisoner, but in no way beholden to it, has plenty of leeway for an original spin on the concept. There's a good chance it could still drop the ball as disastrously as the AMC Prisoner did (Shyamalan's recent track record with his trademark twists isn't working in its favor), but I'm invested enough to take the ride and find out. I think a lot of open-minded Prisoner fans will also find plenty to enjoy.

Wayward Pines airs Thursdays at 9PM on Fox. The pilot has also been available On Demand for a few weeks already.

Read my TV Review of The Prisoner (2009) here.
Read my DVD Review of The Prisoner (2009) here.

Tradecraft: CNN Announces Spy Documentary Series Declassified

Even CNN participates in the upfronts, announcing their new programming for the coming season. And among those programs announced, according to Deadline, is a new documentary series about covert operations called Declassified. Here's how the trade describes the series:
Declassified is an eight-part series that looks at America’s covert operations around the world. This morning at Turner’s Upfront presentation to media buyers, CNN will announce that the series will be hosted by former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, also the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Each episode will feature a newly declassified mission told firsthand by the agents involved, giving CNN viewers “unprecedented access to world of espionage.” Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, Stephen Lambert and Rogers serve as executive producers on the series from All3Media America.
Declassified will premiere in 2016.

May 13, 2015

Sicario Poster

Lionsgate has released the atmospheric first teaser poster and some stills for Dennis Villeneuve's dark cartel thriller Sicario, which premieres this month at the Cannes Film Festival. "Dark" almost feels like an understatement for this pitch-black look at inter-agency cooperation in the ongoing war on drugs seen through the eyes of idealistic FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) on what the official synopsis describes as a "conflicting journey that descends into the intrigue, corruption and moral mayhem of the borderland drug wars." Rounding out the alphabet soup of government agencies, Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice) plays a CIA agent of dubious morality; Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice) plays a DEA agent; Victor Garber (Alias) plays an FBI boss; and Benecio Del Toro (Licence to Kill) plays what that official synopsis describes as "an enigmatic consultant with a questionable past" who leads the team on "a clandestine journey forcing Kate to question everything that she believes in order to survive." Villeneuve re-teams with his Prisoners D.P. Roger Deakins (Skyfall) to ensure that no matter how ugly things get for Kate, it all looks great on screen. Sicario (which means "hitman" in Mexico, according to the press release) opens in select theaters on September 18, and nationwide on September 25.

Poster For Pierce Brosnan's No Escape

We've seen a couple of posters for Pierce Brosnan's upcoming spy thriller Survivor with Milla Jovovich; now here's a 1-sheet for his upcoming spy thriller with Owen Wilson, No Escape. It's good to see Brosnan so back in the spy game! In No Escape, Wilson plays a father trying to get his family to safety when a violent coup breaks out in the Southeast Asian country they're living in. Lake Bell plays his wife, and Brosnan plays a government agent named Hammond. No Escape, formerly titled The Coup, opens September 2 in the United States. Watch the trailer here.

May 12, 2015

New Details on Agent Carter's Upcoming Second Season

Only days ago we learned, happily, that Marvel's excellent period spy series Agent Carter had been renewed for a second season on ABC. EW has more details on that second season. Once more, it will be an 8-episode arc, bridging the fall and spring halves of the contemporary-set Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell, Restless) will be relocating in her second season from New York to L.A. What this means for the supporting cast from S.H.I.E.L.D. predecessor SSR's Big Apple office remains to be seen. Personally, I would hope to see at least some of Peggy's surviving colleagues return. There were some good characters in the group (particularly Enver Gjokaj and Chad Michael Murray). It might make sense for Peggy's roommate Angie (Nikita's Lynsy Fonseca) to move to the City of Angels with her, pursuing her acting career. I'm sure Howard Stark has West Coast residences, so it's possible his loyal butler Jarvis (James D'Arcy) could continue aiding Peggy, though it's probably unlikely that Stark himself will show up this year as Dominic Cooper (Fleming) has been cast as the lead on the AMC series Preacher. One familiar face I'm fully expecting to see return is Bridget Regan (Legend of the Seeker) as Peggy's Soviet counterpart and presumable forerunner of Black Widow from the USSR's assassin factory the Red Room. But I suspect that with the change of locale will come a pretty big shake-up in the supporting cast. While we might not know the cast, here's what we do know about next season from EW:
Dedicated to the fight against new atomic age threats in the wake of World War II, Peggy must now journey from New York City to Los Angeles for her most dangerous assignment yet. But even as she discovers new friends, a new home — and perhaps even a new love — she’s about to find out that the bright lights of the post-war Hollywood mask a more sinister threat to everyone she is sworn to protect.

Tradecraft: Mace Neufeld Options Stephen Besecker's Novel The Samaritan

Deadline reports that powerhouse franchise producer Mace Neufeld (of the Jack Ryan series and The Equalizer fame) has optioned the 2011 debut novel by Stephen Besecker, The Samaritan. The bestselling thriller is the first in a series of at least three books. Scribe Mike Maples (the forthcoming Padre) has been hired to adapt. The Samaritan is about the half Seneca Indian Kevin "Hatch" Easter, who grew up on New York's Cattaraugus Indian Reservation, raised by his shaman grandfather before becoming a "highly skilled tracker" for the CIA. But Hatch's peaceful life is interrupted when his beloved wife is killed in a mob hit. When everyone involved (or possibly involved) in the assassination starts turning up dead, DDI Jack Slattery assigns his top field man Gray Taylor to investigate Hatch. Has he gone rogue? Is he using his Native American tracking skills and CIA spy skills to avenge his wife's death? Or someone else responsible? Hatch, fighting to clear his name, forms a bond with Gray as the two men work to uncover a conspiracy. Neufeld, who's historically shown a good eye for franchise-worthy material, envisions this as the start of a potential film series.

May 11, 2015

Tradecraft: Agent 13 Returns in Captain America: Civil War


One of the Marvel superspies we haven't seen too much of so far on screen is Sharon Carter, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Agent 13. She had a small supporting role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but apparently we'll be seeing more of her in the next movie, Captain America: Civil War. And Revenge actress Emily VanCamp will reprise the role, Deadline reports. In a separate story, the trade also confirmed that Paul Rudd (reprising his role from this summer's Ant-Man) and Martin Freeman (Sherlock) had joined the cast. That cast also includes just about every superhero in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe, plus some new ones like Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). I'm just hoping there's some room for Captain America in this "Captain America" movie! It sounds more like another entry in Marvel's Avengers franchise. I liked Captain America: The Winter Soldier so much that I would really, really like to see a real sequel to it, but instead it sounds like we're getting a big prequel to Marvel's The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1. I hope I'm wrong about that. I do have faith in directors Joe Russo and Anthony Russo after their stellar work on Winter Soldier. Weirdly, one name I haven't heard mentioned in connection with Captain America: Civil War is Samuel L. Jackson. That's pretty surprising, since Nick Fury really should be in a Captain America movie! (And enjoyed his largest role to date in Winter Soldier.) Marvel's other famous superspy, Black Widow, is confirmed to be a part of Civil War, once more in the guise of Scarlett Johansson.

In the comics, Sharon Carter is the niece of Cap's wartime squeeze Peggy Carter. If that relationship (or one suitably adjusted for the extra generation that now exists between the two women) exists in the movies, it hasn't yet been made clear. Hayley Atwell plays Peggy on the fantastic early Cold War era-set TV series Agent Carter (one of the best of the current crop of spy shows), which has just been renewed for a second season. Now that Revenge is over, I would love to see VanCamp turn up as a new regular on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. That show could really use some Agent 13!

Tradecraft: Lily James and Christopher Plummer Topline WWII Spy Thriller The Kaiser's Last Kiss

Deadline reports that Downton Abbey's Lily James has joined Oscar winning veteran Christopher Plummer (Triple Cross) in a fact-based spy thriller set during the early days of WWII, The Kaiser's Last Kiss. David Leveaux, a veteran theater director with five Tony nominations under his belt, will make his film debut. Set in the aftermath of the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands in 1940, The Kaiser's Last Kiss tells the story of Dutch resistance fighters working covertly with Winston Churchill to infiltrate an agent into the household of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the former German emperor who has lived in exile in Holland since his country's defeat in WWI. "A lethally dangerous love affair ignites between a German officer and a young Jewish Dutch woman (James) with devastating consequences as the Nazis race to identify and eliminate the agent behind the potentially disastrous defection of their former Emperor to England." Producer Judy Tossell told the trade, "It’s about loyalty, duty and a forgotten pocket of history. It’s also a really exciting spy thriller with a love story running through the middle of it." She's right about that forgotten pocket of history. I've long been fascinated by the the Kaiser's days in exile, his contradictory relationship with Hitler, and his rejection of Churchill's offer of asylum in England. I'd definitely be interested in learning more about all that, especially if it involves a good spy story—real or fictional.

Coming off the worldwide success of Disney's Cinderella, James has become one of the most in-demand female leads out there. She's already got Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the television epic War and Peace in the pipeline, and Edgar Wright's contemporary musical Baby Driver coming up. According to Deadline, she will fit in The Kaiser's Last Kiss prior to shooting Baby Driver. Filming is expected to commence in the fall "somewhere in Europe."

Tradecraft: Liam Neeson in Talks for Spy Thriller A Willing Patriot

In interviews for each successive action movie he makes (recently Taken 3 and Run All Night), 62-year-old Liam Neeson intimates that he's on the verge of retiring from the genre. But thankfully for his fans, he keeps signing on to new action and spy projects nonetheless. His latest will be A Willing Patriot, for MadRiver Pictures and Hollywood Gang. According to Deadline, Neeson is in "final negotiations" to play a CIA agent racing the clock in a desperate bid to outsmart and capture a terrorist planning an imminent attack in this dark, gritty, violent espionage thriller that the trade describes as "a cat-and-mouse film." I say bring it on! I never get sick of seeing the perpetually cool Neeson in this sort of role, and despite the preponderance of action roles he's taken in the last decade, it's pretty rare for him to play a straight-up spy. Taken's Bryan Mills is a retired CIA agent, and the most recent film in the franchise didn't really have any spy elements in it other than Mills making use of his famous "very particular set of skills" honed in his Agency days. In Run All Night he was a drunken former gangster; in A Walk Among the Tombstones (the best of his recent efforts) he was a formerly drunken private detective; in Nonstop he was a drunken air marshal. Even in Unknown (review here), which was a spy movie, Neeson himself didn't play an agent of any intelligence service. (Nor was he a drunk for whatever reason.) So I look forward to finally seeing the "aging action star"-era Liam Neeson playing an active secret agent. Danish director Martin Zanvliet, who is best known in Europe for his behind-the-curtain show biz dramas like Applause and A Funny Man, but has also helmed the anticipated POW drama Land of Mine, will make his English language debut on A Willing Patriot. Jason Keller (Escape Plan) penned the script. The trade reports that the project was originally developed at Warner Bros., and subsequently moved over to MadRiver. "A wide domestic release deal is expected to be announced during the Cannes Film Festival."

James Bond Returns to Radio in Diamonds Are Forever Adaptation

Website Bond Miscellany has scored a scoop via Twitter that the next James Bond adaptation for BBC Radio will be "Diamonds Are Forever." Lucy Fleming confirmed that to the site. In her Tweet, she teased "an amazing cast" and a possible July airdate. Presumably, this radioplay will once again star Toby Stephens (Die Another Day) as 007 and hail from Jarvis & Ayers Productions, like the previous radioplays of "Dr. No," "Goldfinger," "From Russia With Love," and "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." I have to admit, as happy as I am to learn that the series (which began as a one-off to celebrate Ian Fleming's Centenary in 2008) will continue, I'm a bit disappointed in the choice. For me, Diamonds Are Forever (along with Goldfinger, which they've already adapted, and The Man With the Golden Gun, which they haven't) ranks among Ian Fleming's weakest novels. With five radioplays to date, it's a bit of a shame that two of them will be of weak books. I was hoping they would follow up their excellent "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" chronologically with a new adaptation of You Only Live Twice, following James Bond's mission of revenge after his wife's death at the hands of Blofeld. You Only Live Twice has, however, already been adapted for radio, back in 1990 starring Michael Jayston (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) as James Bond. So maybe that's why they didn't opt to do it again? Whatever the case, Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Thunderball and Moonraker all would have ranked ahead of Diamonds Are Forever as my personal next choice. But I'm sure the amazing cast Fleming teases will knock it out of the park (as Ian McKellen & Co. did with "Goldfinger") and make "Diamonds Are Forever" a terrific listen! I look forward to hearing that cast announced in the coming months.

Shout! Factory's Next MST3K Set to Include Agent For H.A.R.M.

According to Shout! Factory's website, Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXIII will include the 1966 poverty row spy flick Agent for H.A.R.M., starring Peter Mark Richman (a frequent guest star on Sixties spy series like Mission: Impossible and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) as sweater-fancying not-so-special agent Adam Chance and Barbara Bouchet (Casino Royale) as the requisite professor's daughter. Agent for H.A.R.M. was reportedly a failed TV pilot (an attempted U.N.C.L.E. rip-off) turned into a sort of "American Eurospy" movie and released to drive-ins. Unlike Mario Bava's brilliant Danger: Diabolik (review here), which I will probably never forgive MST3K for riffing, Agent for H.A.R.M. definitely deserves this treatment. In fact, there's a good argument that Mike and the 'Bots (it was a 9th season episode) make it far more watchable. Which is just as well, since it's never been officially released on DVD on its own, making this MST3K set will be the only way, for now, to see it easily at home. (Weirdly, it does sometimes turn up on Time Warner's On Demand movie listings, though.) Among the special features (including the hilarious Mystery Science Theater Hour host wraps) is the new interview "Peter Mark Richman: In H.A.R.M.'s Way," presumably featuring the actor discussing Agent for H.A.R.M. (Perhaps he'll confirm that it was indeed shot as a TV pilot.) I think I'm probably safe in supposing that this is the only documentary material that's ever been devoted to this particular title. The DVD set also includes original theatrical trailers for all the films skewered, and the usual exclusive mini-posters by artist Steve Vance. (I look forward to seeing Vance's H.A.R.M. artwork.) This is a pretty great set overall; besides Agent for H.A.R.M., it also includes the classic episodes Daddy-O and Earth Vs. The Spider, as well as Teen-Age Crime Wave.

While Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXIII is available at a substantial discount from Amazon, if you order directly from the Shout! Factory website, then you'll get your discs two weeks earlier than everyone else and you'll also receive an exclusive set of MST3K coasters.

Read my review of Agent For H.A.R.M. here.

And, if you're so inclined, also check out my reviews for similar "American Eurospy" poverty row spy flicks like A Man Called Dagger and Dimension 5.

May 9, 2015

Tradecraft: Charlize Theron to Star in The Coldest City, Based on Antony Johnston's Graphic Novel

Well, this is cool! Deadline reports that Focus Features has bought the North American rights to a film version of Antony Johnston's Cold War Berlin-set graphic novel The Coldest City (review here), and "has committed to a wide release." The graphic novel (and I hope the movie as well) is set in the final days before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Personally, I feel like divided Berlin was just as interesting in the 1980s as the 1960s, but we get far too few period pieces taking advantage of that fascinating time, so I'm particularly looking forward to this one! Charlize Theron will star as British agent Lorainne Broughton, who's got a ticking clock to solve the murder of a fellow agent and recover some vital intelligence before the climate in Berlin thaws forever. John Wick's David Leitch and Chad Stahelski will direct, and Kurt Johnstad (300) will pen the script. That behind-the-scenes team would seem to bode a more action-oriented tale than the refreshingly cerebral story of Johnston's graphic novel (more in the Len Deighton tradition than Ian Fleming), but it's a talented group of people, so I'll give them credit for more than just what we've seen them do before. Johnstad really impressed me with Act of Valor. In that movie, he managed to assemble a serviceable spy plot out of what basically amounted to footage of Special Forces teams training, so just imagine what he'll be able to do with source material of this caliber! Johnston is a longtime spy fan whose other comic book credits in the genre also include an arc of Greg Rucka's stellar Queen & Country and adaptations of Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider graphic novels.

May 8, 2015

Tradecraft: Agent Carter Renewed for Second Season; S.H.I.E.L.D. Spinoff Not Going Forward

Good news all around for fans of ABC's Marvel Universe spy series! Most importantly, according to Deadline, the network has renewed the terrific Agent Carter, starring Hayley Atwell, for a second season. They've also renewed Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for Season 3. Who knows? If it continues to improve exponentially the way it did from its first to second season, it might earn itself a positive adjective one day as well. And one sign of improvement is the fact that the network has, the trade reports in a separate article, decided not to proceed with the mooted spinoff we heard about a few weeks ago. The proposed series would have neutered the mothership series by spinning off its two best new characters onto a show of their own... and leaving Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with only its far less interesting original cast members. Since there won't be a new spinoff series, Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood will remain on the original show, now as regulars. Perhaps in another season or two it might make sense to spin them off into a second series, but to do so now would have been premature. It's possible that the ideas for the spinoff concocted by Agents executive producers Jeffrey Bell and Paul Zbyszewski could end up incorporated into storylines on the flagship series next year.

Agent Carter, which ran as a limited, 8-episode series to bridge the fall and spring halves of the season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., is set in the same universe nearly seven decades earlier. The period spy show follows Captain America's wartime girlfriend, Agent Peggy Carter (Atwell), in the early days of the Cold War. In its first season it delivered everything fans could hope for from a period spy series with over-the-top, comic book elements. The blend of history and mild science fiction was perfect, and Atwell made a more compelling lead than any of the contemporary TV Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. While the first season ended in a conclusive enough manner that it could have wrapped things up altogether, I am thrilled that we'll be getting more Carter next winter! (Once again, it's expected to serve as a bridge while Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. goes on its winter hiatus.) Before that happens, Atwell will next be seen in the role of Peggy Carter in this summer's Ant-Man.

May 7, 2015

Tradecraft: Kevin James Mistaken for an International Assassin

I think the headline really says everything. I'm not sure you're even reading beyond that. I'm really not sure why I'm writing beyond that! But there is a little more to the story, and some hints that maybe, just maybe, this project might be something better than Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. Maybe. (But probably not.) Deadline reports that America's favorite fat man Kevin James will star in The True Memoirs of an International Assassin. Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2, Never Back Down) will direct. But remember that part where I just said that there are some signs that it might actually be better than the Blart stuff? Well, here's why. According to the trade, the script for this project by Jeff Morris was actually on Hollywood's prestigious Black List! And it sounds kind of like a riff on the 1973 Jean-Paul Belmondo spy classic Le Magnifique. "James [plays] a mild-mannered accountant and would-be author who gets mistaken for a killer-for-hire when his fictional novel about an international assassin is published as a true story. He heads to Belize to escape his sudden celebrity, but gets entangled in an assassination plot. Thrown into a world of real danger, he must find a way to channel his lead character Colt Rodgers and save the day." Congratulations! Now you've read your Kevin James news for the day. Please proceed with the rest of it.

Tradecraft: Jon Hamm to Star in Tony Gilroy's Le Carré-esque High Wire Act

Tony Gilroy may have dropped the ball with The Bourne Legacy, but when he's on his game (Michael Clayton, Duplicity, the previous Bourne movies), he's one of the best screenwriters in the business. And for his newest effort, according to director Brad Anderson (Transsiberian, The Machinist), he's channeling his inner le Carré. "Tony may have been channeling John le Carré when he wrote this," he told Deadline, "and as such it has many of the themes I love that make those stories so great – the political intrigue, the betrayals, the morally compromised characters, the reluctant heroes. And it’s set in a world – war-torn Beirut – that’s seldom depicted on screen." The movie in question is High Wire Act. Anderson will direct for Radar Pictures, and Mad Men's Jon Hamm will star. According to the trade, the plot goes something like this: "Set in 1980s Beirut, Hamm plays a former U.S. diplomat who is called back into service to save a former colleague from the group possibly responsible for his own family’s death." Jon Hamm in a le Carré-esque Eighties-set political thriller directed by Brad Anderson and written by Tony Gilroy? I'm in!

May 5, 2015

New Spy DVDs: Warner Archive Releases Sol Madrid (1968)

Wow, the hits just keep coming from the Warner Archive Collection for spy fans! On top of last week's release of The Scorpio Letters and last month's Where the Spies Are, WAC today (finally!) released the long-awaited Sol Madrid (1968)! So apparently the recent TCM broadcasts were indeed a hint of things to come. Just as Robert Vaughn made The Venetian Affair (also available from WAC) to capitalize on his Man From U.N.C.L.E. stardom while at the same time broadening his horizons to grittier spy far, so his co-star McCallum made Sol Madrid (along with a bunch of U.N.C.L.E. guest stars!). Sol Madrid found McCallum starring as an agent tasked by Interpol to take down a drug kingpin (On Her Majesty's Secret Service's Telly Savalas, of "The Five Daughters Affair") hiding out in Acapulco. To accomplish the task, he goes undercover as a heroin smuggler and finds himself trapped with a beautiful woman (Stella Stevens, The Silencers) between Savalas's drug kingpin and the Mafia, in the person of Rip Torn ("The Alexander the Greater Affair"). Ricardo Montalban ("The Dove Affair"), Paul Lukas ("The Test Tube Killer Affair"), Michael Ansara ("The Arabian Affair") and Pat Hingle (The Ugly American) also star. Where Eagles Dare's Brian G. Hutton directed, and, as with The Venetian Affair, Lalo Schifrin provided the fantastic soundtrack. Sol Madrid is available as a made-on-demand (MOD) DVD from The Warner Archive Collection for $21.99, though it's currently on sale at a discount.

May 4, 2015

Jim Steranko's Nick Fury Birthday Card

©Steranko
Comic Art Fans has a Steranko Nick Fury illustration for sale that I've never seen before that's truly incredible. This piece was created as a birthday gift to Marvel editor and Fury co-creator Stan Lee in the early 1970s. I'm surprised this piece isn't better known. Though rough, I think it ranks up there with the iconic cover for Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #4 in terms of definitive Fury images. Rarely have I seen the essence of superspydom boiled down so succinctly in a single image. I love it! A well-heeled spy fan can own the original for just $7,000.

May 3, 2015

Upcoming Spy DVDs: Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has announced Blu-ray and DVD releases of Kingsman: The Secret Service on June 9 (following a digital release nearly a month earlier on May 15). According to The Digital Bits, extras on the Blu-ray will include the 6-part documentary Kingsman: The Secret Service Revealed ("Panel to Screen: The Education of a 21st Century Super-Spy," "Heroes and Rogues," "Style All His Own," "Tools of the Trade," "Breathtakingly Brutal," and "Culture Clash: The Comic Book Origins of the Secret Service") and galleries of behind-the-scenes images and photos of sets and props. Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman, about a delinquent teen (Taron Edgerton) recruited by a John Steed-like gentleman spy (Colin Firth) to follow in his footsteps and save the world in fashionable suits, proved the first big hit of a year filled with spy movies, grossing over $400 million worldwide and reportedly spawning a sequel. Read my review of Kingsman: The Secret Service here.

New Spy DVDs Out This Week From Warner Archive: The Scorpio Letters and Escape From East Berlin

The Warner Archive Collection have been dipping into their spy catalog again recently, and that makes me very happy! Following last month's long awaited made-on-demand release of the elusive David Niven Eurospy title Where the Spies Are, WAC has released two more rare Sixties Cold War movies this week. The Scorpio Letters stars Alex Cord (Airwolf, The Etruscan Kills Again), Laurence Naismith (The Persuaders!, Diamonds Are Forever) and Goldfinger's Golden Girl Shirley Eaton. The 1967 ABC TV movie is a real rarity. To be honest, I hardly know anything about it, so I'll let WAC's description do the talking:
Who is Scorpio and what's his connection to the suicide of a British spy? These are the questions Joe Christopher (Alex Cord, TV 's Airwolf) has been hired to answer. Working for one of England's Intelligence Services, the American ex-cop discovers Scorpio is an extortionist who pressured the agent into taking his life. Teamed with rival operative Phoebe Stewart (Shirley Eaton, Goldfinger), Christopher sets out to smash Scorpio's operation, unaware that the blackmailer knows of their plans and intends to strike the fatal blow first. Based on the novel by Victor Canning, The Scorpio Letters was directed by M-G-M veteran Richard Thorpe (Ivanhoe) and scored by ... Dave Grusin [The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.] in his feature film debut.
Escape from East Berlin (1962) isn't actually about spies per se, but it is about escaping from East Berlin at the height of that Cold War, and that's still very much a subject of interest to this spy fan. Shot in cinema verite style by noir master Robert Siodmak (The Killers, Criss Cross) and based on true events, Escape From East Berlin is a gripping drama of a divided city. I was lucky enough to see it at LACMA several years ago on a double bill with Funeral in Berlin, and I've been hoping for a DVD release ever since. Here's WAC's description:
When his friend Gunther Jurgena attempts to break out of East Germany by crashing his truck through the Berlin Wall, Kurt Schröder (Don Murray) watches in horror as he is shot dead by the border guards. So when Gunther's sister Erika (Christine Kaufmann) follows her brother and barely escapes the same fate, Kurt offers to help. Aided by 26 family members and neighbors who also wish to defect, Kurt tunnels under the Wall, unaware that Erika's parents have betrayed them and that armed troops are about to move in. Based on an actual mass breakout attempt that occurred in January 1962, Escape from East Berlin is a masterful tale of thrills and suspense.
Both MOD titles are available directly from the Warner Archive Collection (The Scorpio Letters, Escape From East Berlin), or from Amazon (The Scorpio Letters, Escape from East Berlin). Retail is $21.99, but both vendors offer discounts.

May 2, 2015

New Spy DVDs: Double Crossed: 10 Classic Spy Thrillers

Mill Creek is famous for their budget collections of ten, twenty-five, fifty, even 100 classic (read: public domain) movies in a single set. They're usually grouped by genre, like 50 War Classics or 50 Great Mysteries or something along those lines, and I've long wished they'd do a set of spy movies. Because obviously there are plenty of great spy movies in the public domain! What's more, Mill Creek now distributes a lot of titles from the MGM catalog, so that opens up their options. And, sure enough, they've finally gotten around to the espionage genre. Granted, on the lower end of the quantity spectrum, and focusing solely on WWII espionage movies. But still, their set Double Crossed - 10 Classic Spy Thrillers seems like a pretty great bargain for just over $10! (And under from some retailers.) While the odds are good many spy fans will already own a few of these (the Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Moto movies, for example, have long been available in boxed sets of their respective heroes), the set is probably still worth its low cost for the others. Included are "classics" (both legitimate and otherwise) starring the likes of James Cagney, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, and Peter O'Toole. Below is a list of he movies spread across these three discs, including the distributor's descriptions.

Mr. Moto's Last Warning
Mr. Moto investigates a plot involving the French and British governments that could start a war over the Suez Canal. In a race against time and assassins on his tail, he must expose the agents before it's too late.
Starring Peter Lorre, John Carradine
(1939) Black and White 71 Min NR

British Intelligence
During the beginning of World War II, a German woman comes to stay in the home of a high-ranking British official. The family does not know their visitor is really a German spy who is meeting up with another agent already in the house trying to steal documents.
Starring Boris Karloff, Margaret Lindsay
(1940) Black and White 61 Min NR (Violence)

The Black Dragons
A famous plastic surgeon is hired by Japan's Black Dragon Society to transform six operatives into exact duplicates of six power American executives to sabotage the U.S. war effort. Will agents from the F.B.I. be able to unravel the plot?
Starring Bela Lugosi, Clayton Moore
(1942) Black and White 62 Min NR

Submarine Alert
In a devious plot, the FBI unexpectedly fires a loyal radio engineer who is recruited by the Nazis. But is he actually bait to trap their spy ring of saboteurs?
Starring Richard Arlen, Wendy Barrie
(1943) Black and White 67 Min NR (Violence)

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon
Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) are searching for a kidnapped scientist whose invention may decide the fate of World War II. Both the Allies and the Nazis are in a desperate race to possess it for their own benefit.
Starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce
(1943) Black and White 68 Min NR

The Adventures of Tartu
A British soldier is recruited for an undercover assignment inside Nazi-controlled Czechoslovakia. His must infiltrate a chemical factory and work with the local underground resistance to sabotage the operation.
Starring Robert Donat, Valerie Hobson
(1943) Black and White 104 Min NR (Violence)

Blood on the Sun
This Oscar-winning film begins prior to the outbreak of World War II. Nick Condon (James Cagney), the American editor of a Tokyo newspaper, discovers plans for Japan's military conquest of the world. He vows to secure the document and get it into the hands of the American military at any cost.
Starring James Cagney, Sylvia Sidney
(1945) Black and White 94 Min NR (Violence)

The Green Glove
Glenn Ford stars as an American GI who travels back to France after the end of World War II, to try and recover a jewel-encrusted glove, which had been pillaged from a country church during hostilities.
Starring Glenn Ford, Geraldine Brooks
(1952) Black and White 89 Min NR

The Limping Man
An American WW II veteran returns to England to visit an old flame he met during the war. When he arrives at the airport, a fellow passenger, with ties to the woman, is gunned down.
Starring Lloyd Bridges, Moira Lister
(1953) Black and White 76 Min NR

Rogue Male
An English aristocrat attempts to assassinate Adolph Hitler but is captured by the Nazis and horribly tortured. After enduring the suffering, he escapes and returns to England, but he is trailed by Nazi agents bent upon preventing him from revealing Hitler s true plans.
Starring Peter O'Toole, Alastair Sim
(1976) Color 103 Min NR

The latter, the most recent movie in the collection by a good twenty years (though still in keeping with the WWII theme), is a remake of Fritz Lang's Man Hunt (review here), based on the novel by Geoffrey Household.

May 1, 2015

Tradecraft: Amy Ryan to Chase Down The Rock in Central Intelligence

She might not be in the Michael Caine zone yet, but Amy Ryan continues to steadily boost the number of spy credits on her resume. Following roles in Paul Greengrass's Green Zone (review here) and Steven Spielberg's forthcoming Bridge of Spies, Ryan has joined the cast of the Rawson Marshall Thurber action comedy Central Intelligence, Deadline reports, in which it sounds like she'll play a variation on the Joan Allen character from the Bourne movies. Central Intelligence, for those who can't keep straight all the spy comedies currently in the pipeline, is the buddy picture pairing Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Kevin Hart. Hart plays a former high school jock now living a humdrum life as an accountant, and Johnson plays a former high school wimp who has grown up to become, well, The Rock... and works as an assassin for the CIA. The CIA agent, who I'm guessing from the description of Ryan's character must have pulled a Bourne and be on the run from his own people, enlists his old classmate at a high school reunion to help thwart a dastardly spy plot. According to the trade, "Ryan will play the CIA operative who is chasing Johnson’s character." Danielle Nicolet (The Starter Wife) recently joined the cast as well, playing Hart’s childhood sweetheart turned wife. Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen penned the script.

Upcoming Spy DVDs: Chessgame: The Complete Series

This summer, Network will release a Region 2 DVD set of the 1983 UK spy series Chessgame, starring Terence Stamp. This will mark the series' first ever DVD release in its original episodic format. Chessgame was adapted from Anthony Price's excellent series of novels about the intellectual spymaster David Audley and his rotating roster of assistants. Though he doesn't quite match the author's physical description of his hero, Stamp (Modesty Blaise) plays Audley. Robin Sachs (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) co-stars as Hugh Roskill; Michael Culver (Philby, Burgess and Maclean) plays Nick Hannah (an amalgamation of several Price characters including Col. Butler), and Carmen du Sautoy (The Man With the Golden Gun) plays Audley's love interest Faith, whose role is beefed up from the books. The six hour-long episodes cover the first three novels, The Labyrinth Makers, The Alamut Ambush (a truly terrific spy novel) and Colonel Butler's Wolf. They were subsequently re-edited into a trilogy of feature films for television syndication in the U.S., and are available that way on budget Region 1 and Region 0 DVDs of limited quality re-titled (respectively) Cold War Killers, The Alamut Ambush and The Deadly Recruits. Not only does this forthcoming Network release guarantee a level of quality not found on those discs, but it certainly offers a much more attractive package as well! And I'm looking forward to seeing the show in its proper episodic format, with its original opening title sequence. Price wasn't satisfied with these adaptations (and fans of the books will understand why), but they're still quality Eighties spy television. The 2-disc set is due out July 20, and will retail for £12.24. It's available through Network's website or on Amazon.co.uk.

Now if only BBC would release their trio of  Michael Denison/Lucy Fleming miniseries, Blood Money, Skorpion and Cold Warriors, we'd finally be pretty well appointed for serious Eighties UK spy series on DVD... (We've already got Smiley's People from BBC, Mr. Palfrey of Westminster from Network and Acorn, Harry's Game from Network, and Glory Boys and The Contract from Acorn.)

Apr 30, 2015

Tradecraft: J.K. Simmons to Star in New Starz Metaphysical Spy Series

Deadline reports that Whiplash Oscar winner J.K. Simmons (Burn After Reading) will topline what the trade describes as a new metaphysical espionage series on Starz. Simmons will star in Counterpart, which has a straight to series order from the cable network. Created by hot screenwriter Justin Marks (Top Gun 2), the first two episodes will be directed by The Imigation Game's Morten Tyldum. Per Deadline: "Described as an espionage thriller with a metaphysical twist, Counterpart tells the story of Howard Silk (Simmons), a lowly cog in a bureaucratic UN agency who is turning the last corner of a life filled with regret, when he discovers the agency he works for is guarding a secret: a crossing to a parallel dimension. Through Howard and his “Counterpart” on the other side, Prime, the show will navigate themes of identity, idealism, what ifs, and lost love."

UK Release Date, Poster for Brosnan's Survivor

DIY reports that the Pierce Brosnan/Milla Jovovich espionage thriller Survivor will open in the UK on June 5. The site also debuted the UK quad poster, which has the U.S. 1-sheet beat. The movie, directed by James McTeigue, is slated for a multi-platform release in America on May 29. Brosnan plays the baddie. Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), Angela Bassett (Alias), James D'Arcy (Agent Carter), Roger Rees (If Looks Could Kill) and Dylan McDermott (Olympus Has Fallen) co-star.

Watch the trailer here.

Apr 24, 2015

The Sequelizer: Sony Confirms Denzel Washington Equalizer Sequel

We've known for a long time that a sequel to last year's feature film version of The Equalizer was in the works and that Sony hoped it would be star Denzel Washington's first ever sequel, but now it's official. Variety reports that Sony confirmed a follow-up to the R-rated action movie, which grossed $192 million globally. According to the trade, "Washington is expected to reprise his role as vigilante Robert McCall in Equalizer 2." The role of McCall, the former spy who decides to atone for his past sins by helping those with the odds against them, was of course originated in the 1985-89 TV series by Edward Woodward (Callan). While Sony announced the sequel at this week's Cinemacon, little else is known at this time, including a release date, additional cast involvement, or whether Antoine Fuqua will return to direct. Personally, I hope he does! I thought he pulled off one of the better TV-to-film remakes, and made a damn good adult action movie in the process. I'd like to see this series continue, as the first film basically served as an origin story bringing this McCall to the doorstep of the TV version. Maybe they can get him a Jag next time around! While fans wait for the next movie to materialize, they can check out last year's surprisingly thick Equalizer novel novel by series co-creator Michael Sloan.