Jul 1, 2015

New Transporter Refueled Trailer

I have to admit, the action in this trailer looks phenomenal! All of these images equal a movie I really want to see. I'm just still having trouble accepting a scrawny Statham substitute. I also don't love the idea of making Frank Martin, the transporter, more relatable by giving him family and personal connections. For me, the big appeal of the character was that he was a total cipher. And that became even more important as James Bond became so excellently rounded out and humanized in the Daniel Craig era. I like a more human Bond. But I liked the Transporter series for filling the void of Roger Moore-era Bonds: daffy action with a charismatic, somewhat superhuman lead. If Ed Skrein is charismatic, this trailer does not convey that. But it does convey the daffy action I crave, along with beautiful, exotic locations and beautiful, exotic women. So I'm on board either way. But I'm still afraid I'll spend this whole movie just wishing I were watching Jason Statham.

A reboot of the granddaddy of the neo-Eurospy movement, The Transporter Refueled opens September 4.

Teaser for Oliver Stone's Snowden

Open Road has released the teaser for Oliver Stone's Snowden. As previously reported, this is the first of at least two projects in the works about the equally famous and infamous NSA whistleblower or traitor (depending on your point of view) Edward Snowden. The second one, somewhat surprisingly, hails from the James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Snowden's all-star cast includes Shailene Woodley (White Bird in a Blizzard), Timothy Olyphant (Hitman), Scott Eastwood (Fury), Nicholas Cage (The Rock), Zachary Quinto (Hitman: Agent 47), Melissa Leo (The Equalizer), Tom Wilkinson (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol), Joely Richardson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Rhys Ifans (Elementary), and, in the title role, Joseph Gordon Levitt. Snowden opens this Christmas.

Jun 27, 2015

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s Mr. Waverly Character Poster Has Arrived

And, today, we've at last got what's probably the final character poster for Guy Ritchie's The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: Hugh Grant as Alexander Waverly, here billed as "the Intelligence." U.N.C.L.E. boss Mr. Waverly was played on the Sixties TV series by Leo G. Carroll (North By Northwest). When the casting of Grant as Waverly was first announced, it struck me as such inspired casting that that was the moment I sat up and took interest, thinking, "Wow, this U.N.C.L.E. movie just might be something special!" And the two trailers we've seen so far (here and here) have only strengthened these feelings. I think this movie will be great.

Thanks to David Diabolik for the tip!

New Transporter: Refueled Poster

EuropaCorp have released a new (better) poster for The Transporter Refueled, this one reflecting the new release date of September 4, 2015. The reboot, intended to kick off a new trilogy of over-the-top neo-Eurospy action, stars Ed Skrein stepping into the very large shoes of Jason Statham as professional transporter Frank Martin. It is unrelated to TNT's Transporter TV series with Chris Vance, though director Camille Delamarre did cut his teeth on a few episodes of the show.

Jun 26, 2015

American Ultra Gets Octopussy-Inspired Character Posters

Here are two trippy, Octopussy-inspired character posters for the stoner spy action-comedy American Ultra, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. Eisenberg (The Social Network) plays a stoner sleeper agent whose Treadstone-like training is suddenly activated, setting into motion a chain of events that bring government spy agencies down on a small town. Walton Goggins lends some bona fide Bourne experience, and Bill Pullman (The Equalizer), Topher Grace (The Double), Sharon Stone (Agent X), John Leguizamo (Executive Decision) and Tony Hale (Veep) co-star. Watch the red band trailer here.


Jun 25, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation 1-Sheet Poster Revealed

Paramount unveiled the final 1-sheet for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation on the movie's Facebook page today. And, while I'm not normally a fan of photo montage posters, I have to say, I really like this one! I like the design, I like that it reminds me of the DVD covers for the TV seasons, and most of all I like that it reinforces that the Mission: Impossible film franchise has finally become a team series, like its TV predecessor. While we've seen a set of character posters for this film already (and Ghost Protocol had one as well), all of the previous Mission: Impossible 1-sheets (even the decidedly team-oriented Ghost Protocol), to the best of my recollection, featured only Tom Cruise (usually in his distinctive profile). This poster would seem to represent a full evolution of the film series becoming more like the TV show, which is a great thing! (Rogue Nation also features the return of The Syndicate, the primary antagonist in the final seasons of the show.) Here, Cruise is flanked by Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames and Alec Baldwin. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation opens July 31. View the latest trailer here.

More Man From U.N.C.L.E. Character Posters

Following on from the poster reveals for Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), we have two more Man From U.N.C.L.E. character posters today: one for Armie Hammer as Solo's Russian partner, Illya Kuryakin (a role played in the TV series by David McCallum), and one for Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager, The Great Gatsby) as Victoria Vinciguerra... or, as the poster bills her, "the evil genius." Some of the most memorable evil geniuses from the TV show were women, including Janine Gray (Danger Man) as Angelique in "The Deadly Games Affair," and the great Anne Francis (Honey West) as Gervaise Ravel in a pair of first season episodes. Hopefuly Debicki will follow in their illustrious footsteps! Now, surely we'll see a Waverly poster showcasing Hugh Grant before the week is out...

Tradecraft: Mighty Boosh Star Julian Barrett Gets MI5 Upgrade

Bonafide comedy genius Julian Barrett (The Mighty Boosh, Nathan Barley) has cooked up a comedy feature with a spy angle, according to Deadline. Barrett and his fellow Boosh actor Simon Farnaby (MI-High) have cooked up a movie called Mindhorn, about an MI5 agent named Bruce Mindhorn who was captured in the late 1980s and had his eye was replaced by a super-advanced optical lie detector, "which meant he could literally 'see the truth.' He escaped and fled to the Isle of Man, to recuperate in the island’s temperate micro-climate, and today has become the best plain-clothes detective the island has ever seen." If this is anywhere near as Mighty Boosh-meets-Spy In Your Eye as it sounds, I will be in heaven! Acclaimed theater director Sean Foley ("The Play What I Wrote") will make his feature directing debut, and Scott Free's Jack Arbuthnott will produce with Laura Hastings-Smith in association with Steve Coogan's Baby Cow. No casting has been announced, but they better get on that quick, because filming is scheduled to begin on the Isle of Man on July 27. I certainly hope that Barrett himself is starring as Mindhorn, but perhaps they're after a bigger name. Whoever it is, I can't wait to see this! The Mighty Boosh is pretty much the greatest thing ever, and when you take half the Boosh team and add a dash of spies, I expect nothing short of greatness.

Man From U.N.C.L.E. Character Poster: Alicia Vikander's Gaby Teller

Following yesterday's reveal of the Napoleon Solo character poster for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., today Warner Bros. released a second characters poster. But rather than following Napoleon with Illya, they chose to showcase one of the movie's leading ladies, Alicia Vikander as Gaby Teller. (Teller was not a character on the original TV series, but seems to fill the show's formula role of "the innocent" somehow caught up in U.N.C.L.E.'s spy action.) This decision is hardly surprising, as the red-hot Vikander, coming off of a scene-stealing, Oscar-worthy performance in the critical and commercial success Ex Machina, may well be the movie's biggest star at the moment. The Swedish actress will keep on spying after her U.N.C.L.E. tour of duty ends, appearing opposite Matt Damon in the next Bourne movie, it was announced this week. But before that, she's still got a number of other movies set for release this year. Perhaps tomorrow we'll see an Illya Kuryakin poster.

Jun 24, 2015

First Man From U.N.C.L.E. Character Poster

While the final 1-sheet for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was decidedly lackluster (especially compared to the striking teaser poster), at least there are much better character posters to look forward to. Here's the first one, showcasing Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo (played on the Sixties TV series by Robert Vaughn). Presumably we can expect an Illya Kuryakin poster featuring Armie Hammer soon, and perhaps even an Alexander Waverly poster with Hugh Grant. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. opens August 14. Watch the latest trailer here.

New Trailer and Poster for Hitman: Agent 47

Fox has released a fairly cool poster design along with a new trailer for its videogame-based neo-Eurospy reboot Hitman: Agent 47, starring Rupert Friend (Homeland), Hannah Ware (Oldboy), Ciaran Hinds (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Zachary Quinto (Star Trek). The reboot sees Friend taking over the role of the enigmatic Agent 47, played by Timothy Olyphant in the 2007 original (review here). Hitman: Agent 47 opens August 21. Check out the trailer below:

Jun 23, 2015

Tradecraft: New Regency Makes Second Attempt at a Mr. & Mrs. Smith TV Show... This Time as a Reality Series

Back in 2007, ABC ordered a one-hour drama pilot from New Regency based on Doug Liman's blockbuster 2005 Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie film Mr. & Mrs. Smith. The successful team behind the movie was also behind that TV version, with Liman (The Bourne Identity, Fair Game) directing and Simon Kinberg (Sherlock Holmes, X-Men: Days of Future Past) scripting. Married assassins Mr. and Mrs. Smith were reinterpreted as married spies (not difficult, since the movie traded heavily on classic spy iconography), with Jordanna Brewster (The Fast and the Furious) playing the Jolie part and Martin Henderson (Secrets & Lies) stepping into Pitt's shoes. The network ended up passing on the series, and it was shopped elsewhere, but ultimately failed to find a home.

Now, according to Deadline, New Regency is trying again at adapting the movie to television, but with a major twist. This time, teaming with unscripted production company 3 Ball Entertainment, they are doing it as a reality series. According to the trade, the competition show "will feature married couples that compete in a high-octane, high-stakes game, with the producers offering no further details." In the film, Pitt and Jolie each discover that their spouse is, like them, a professional assassin, and that they have each been tasked with eliminating the other, sparking a fierce, over-the-top battle of the sexes. A reality gameshow based on that concept just might work, if it's done properly.

New Regency has been eager to reactivate this brand for a long time. Besides the failed scripted series, they've also attempted to get a movie sequel off the ground (in which the Smiths were to have a child), and failing that, a theatrical reboot just five years after the first movie, which would have focused on a different couple, in their twenties, set up as a fake married couple straight out of spy school. Personally, I'd still love to see Pitt and Jolie reunite for a proper sequel under Liman's direction. It could actually be even more fun ten years later.

Tradecraft: Alicia Vikander Confirmed for Next Bourne Movie

Matt Damon's fourth Bourne movie (fifth in the series overall) is picking up steam! Hot on the heels of the news that Julia Stiles would reprise her role of Nicky from the first three movies comes confirmation, from Deadline, that red-hot Swedish star Alicia Vikander has, indeed, signed onto the project. We first heard rumblings that the breakout star of the sleeper hit Ex Machina (whose previous spy credits include The Fifth Estate and the forthcoming The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) was up for a Bourne role a month ago, out of Cannes. Coming off of a standout performance like she gave in Ex Machina (likely to earn her an Oscar nomination), the actress had her pick of projects, and ended up selecting The Bourne Resurrection (or whatever it really ends up being called) over the likes of Assassin's Creed with Michael Fassbender or The Circle with Tom Hanks.

Paul Greengrass, who helmed The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum as well as the underrated Green Zone with Damon, will direct the new Bourne movie and is writing the script with Christopher Rouse (who edited Greengrass's two previous Bourne movies) after concocting the story with Damon. Damon and Greengrass are also producing, alongside franchise newcomer Gregory Goodman (X-Men: First Class) and Bourne veterans Frank Marshall and Jeffrey Weiner, of Captivate Entertainment, rights-holders of the Robert Ludlum library. Universal has announced a July 29, 2016 release date, but it will be interesting to see if they can actually make that date with just over a year to go and casting only beginning to firm up now. As previously reported, Viggo Mortensen is also rumored to be considering a role in the film.

Read my review of Paul Greengrass's The Bourne Ultimatum here.
Read my review of Tony Gilroy's The Bourne Legacy here.
Read my review of the 1988 miniseries of The Bourne Identity here.
Read my review of Robert Ludlum's novel The Bourne Identity here.
Read my review of Robert Ludlum's novel The Bourne Supremacy here.
Read my review of Robert Ludlum's novel The Bourne Ultimatum here

Tradecraft: Gaumont Plots CIA Assassin Series Crosshair

Gaumont TV Europe will produce a 13-episode season of a CIA thriller entitled Crosshair, Deadline reports. Gaumont announced an aggressive plan last year to produce two new English language series a year, starting with William Boyd's Cold War Berlin-set Spy City. Now they've got another spy show in the pipeline, with the contemporary action thriller procedural Crosshair, following a CIA assassin and shot on location throughout Europe. Crosshair was created by Ken Sanzel, whose producing credits include Numb3rs, Blue Bloods and the Ironside remake. Here's the trade's rather clunky description:
The procedural aspect of Crosshair will see each episode focus on the circumstances and implications of a single rifle shot. The story of the globetrotting thriller centers on John, a freelance sniper with a CIA blessing to go anywhere and shoot for almost anyone. After discovering he has a 16-year-old daughter with the only woman he nearly loved, and realizing that his partner tried to kill him, he drifts into a mid-life crisis. Questioning everything he’s seen and done, he begins to develop a mercurial moral code. There’s also a throughline which sees John attempt to untangle a large conspiracy while at the same time trying to protect his career status and life.
Deadline adds that European broadcasters have lamented the lack of weekly procedurals, designed to be tuned into with no knowledge of what's happened before, as the U.S. becomes more and more focused on highly serialized event programming. Gaumont hopes to fill this void with Crosshair.

Watch Sundance's Deutschland 83 Series Premiere for Free on iTunes

Did you miss the premiere of Sundance's fantastic new Cold War spy series, Deutschland 83? Well, don't worry! You can download the series premiere for free on iTunes. And I definitely recommend doing so. This German import is something special, and I'll have my full review up in the next few days. In the meantime, here's the official synopsis from Kino Lorber:
A coming-of-age drama set against the culture wars and political events of Germany in the 1980s, Deutschland 83 was filmed across several locations in Berlin including the Berlin Stasi-Museum, located on the former grounds of the headquarters of the GDR Ministry for State Security

The series follows Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) a 24-year-old East Germany native who is sent to the west as an undercover spy for the Stasi foreign service. Hiding in plain sight in the West German army, he must gather the secrets of NATO military strategy. Everything is new, nothing is quite what it seems and everyone he encounters is harboring secrets, both political and personal.

R.I.P. James Horner

The Hollywood Reporter reports that film composer extraordinaire James Horner died yesterday in a plane crash. This is tragic news. Horner was among that dying breed of great orchestral composers who wrote grand, hummable themes, in an industry that seems to be relying more and more on non-distinctive electronic compositions that blend together. Horner seemed to score everything in the 1990s, and that included the decade's biggest spy franchise, based on Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan character. Horner scored both of Harrison Ford's outings as Ryan, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger (a score that defines the Nineties spy sound for me). He also provided the jazzy score for another Nineties spy classic, Sneakers, and added great suspense with his music to the paranoid spy chases in A Beautiful Mind.

But the Nineties weren't a decade especially known for spy movies, nor was Horner a composer readily associated with that genre. He's probably best known for his epics like Titanic (still one of the bestselling soundtrack albums of all time, propelled by the Celine Dion song "My Heart Will Go On" for which Horner won an Oscar), Braveheart, Glory, Field of Dreams, and my personal favorite, Legends of the Fall. Composed in the same year as Clear and Present Danger, Legends of the Fall is one of the all-time great film scores. That music still moves me whenever I hear it, and that album very clearly formed the soundtrack of my junior year of high school along with (and every bit as much as) Tom Petty's Wildflowers and the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Other favorite Horner scores of mine include Disney's rollicking comic book blast The Rocketeer (with Timothy Dalton), and his fantasy scores for Krull, Willow and Battle Beyond the Stars, though I think of the latter more for the other New Concorde movies Roger Corman reused it in, like Barbarian Queen, Wizards of the Lost Kingdom and Deathstalker IV. And, speaking of Battle Beyond the Stars, there's no denying the huge impact Horner had on science fiction, with unforgettable scores for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Aliens and Avatar. More recently he'd become choosier about his work and consequently less prolific, but still created memorable, distinctive music for films like The Amazing Spider-man and the forthcoming Wolf Totem and Southpaw.

It's a real shame we never got a chance to hear Horner's take on a Bond score. He was reportedly offered Never Say Never Again, but turned it down, perhaps for fear of displeasing potential future employers at EON.

But what music he did create! James Horner leaves behind a body of work that will continue to move film fans for generations to come. Now I'm going to go put on Legends of the Fall and be transported to the fading West,WWI, and Prohibition... and simultaneously to another time in my own life. Thank you, Mr. Horner, for the memories.

Jun 22, 2015

Tradecraft: James Bond Author William Boyd Creates Cold War Berlin TV Series Spy City

I don't know how I missed this until last week, when it was mentioned as an aside in a Deadline article about a new Gaumont series, Crosshair, but way back in October 2014 it was announced that William Boyd, author of the James Bond novel Solo, would create and write a Cold War espionage TV drama called Spy City! Boyd's other books include the excellent generational spy saga Restless  (which the author adapted into a miniseries with Agent Carter's Hayley Atwell) and what might 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.) Variety and The Hollywood Reporter both reported last year that Boyd would create, write, and showrun the 10-episode English language series set in early Sixties Berlin for the French studio. Germany's Odeon will co-produce, and Pascal Chaumeil (Spiral, A Long Way Down) will direct. According to Variety, 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." THR adds, "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."

Divided Berlin is, of course, the absolute perfect setting for a cable series, and I'm really surprised it's taken someone this long to do it! HBO shot a pilot in 2012 for one called The Missionary (co-created by Malcolm Gladwell), but it didn't go to series. And it was announced last month that Epix had greenlit a spy series called Berlin Station created and written by Olen Steinhauer, but that's contemporary. Still, between the two of them, that means that two of my very favorite contemporary novelists both have upcoming 10-episode spy series set in Berlin! And I'm supremely excited for both of them.

Gaumont TV France, whose sister company Gaumont TV International is behind NBC's Hannibal and Netflix's Hemlock Grove, plans to produce one to two English-language European series a year beginning with Spy City. (And Crosshair makes the first two both espionage series!) "In the past few months, many more European-based projects have started coming our way," Gaumont CEO Christopher Riandee told Variety. "Spy City is the perfect English language project for us to produce in Europe and we are thrilled that William Boyd and Pascal Chaumeil are attached to this project,” commented Riandee.  “In addition, with Elizabeth [Dreyer, new head of international co-productions] on board we will be able to focus on additional strong international projects financed and produced out of Europe.”

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!

Another Trailer for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

A third trailer has dropped for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. There's not a lot of new material not seen in the first two trailers here, but there is some, and it all still looks really awesome. Why can't it be July 31 already? Bring on The Syndicate!

Tradecraft: Julia Stiles Returns to Bourne

The next Bourne movie, featuring the long awaited return of Matt Damon to the role of Jason Bourne, Paul Greengrass to the director's chair, and Jason Bourne himself (absent from The Bourne Legacy) to the series whose titles bear his name, is finally casting up. Deadline confirms that Julia Stiles will reprise her role from the first three movies as CIA agent Nicky Parsons. I've often suggested that Nicky would make a good stand-in for Marie (regrettably killed off in the movies) should the filmmakers ever decide to actually adapt Robert Ludlum's terrific novel The Bourne Supremacy, of which they only used the title for the second movie, not the plot. She is, as far as we know, the only other woman that the Bourne of the films cares about enough that her kidnapping might stir him to action. But that's just my own fantasizing; the trade provides no details on what Damon, Greengrass and co-writer Christopher Rouse (Greengrass's frequent editor) have in store for her character. Last month we heard that The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s Alicia Vikander is also up for a role, but that hasn't yet been confirmed.

Additionally, The Wrap's Jeff Sneider tweeted last week that Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises) has been offered a "bad guy role" in the film. Should he accept, that would be pretty damn cool! The Bourne movies haven't really had traditional "villains" (Clive Owen, Karl Urban and Edgar Ramirez, respectively, played antagonists with almost no lines in the first three films), but CIA officials tracking Bourne (played by the likes of Chris Cooper, Joan Allen, Brian Cox and Edward Norton) could also qualify as "bad guys" in these films. It will be interesting to see what kind of role they have in store for Mortensen. I'd love to see Bourne go up against a more clearly defined enemy. (Again, Ludlum's Bourne Supremacy provides such a character. As do his other two Bourne novels in the form of Carlos the Jackal. It would be very cool to see Mortensen play some sort of Carlos analogue, and to see the films explore that fascinating side of the Bourne story!) When David Cronenberg was attached to direct Ludlum's The Matarese Circle for MGM way back when (how freaking great would that have been?), I had hoped that he would cast his frequent collaborator Mortensen as the Russian agent opposite Denzel Washington's American spy. Instead, Tom Cruise became attached in that part. But I'd still love to see Mortensen end up in some sort of Ludlum role, so I hope he accepts. The still untitled next Bourne movie, Damon's first in nine years, is slated to open July 29, 2016.

Jun 18, 2015

First Trailer, New Poster and Images for Sicario With Emily Blunt, Victor Garber and Jeffrey Donovan

Lionsgate has released a stylish new poster and a thrilling, fantastic and dread-inspiring first trailer for Sicario, Denis Villeneuve's pitch-black look at U.S. inter-agency cooperation (or lack thereof) in the war on drugs. Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow) stars as an idealistic FBI agent assigned by her boss (Alias's Victor Garber) to a task force including CIA agent Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice), DEA agent Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice), and a mysterious State Department-placed consultant (Licence to Kill's Benecio del Toro). The trailer affords us our first look at a mustachioed, bespectacled Donovan in this role, and new images below show Garber. As excited as I am for the terrific-looking popcorn spy thrillers on the horizon (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., SPECTRE), Sicario looks like the movie to beat in the dead-serious, le Carré stakes this fall, and a definite Oscar contender.


Jun 16, 2015

Behind the Scenes Video Reveals SPECTRE's Mexico City Shoot

EON, MGM and Sony have posted a new video blog about filming SPECTRE, this time on location in Mexico City. I've been avoiding pretty much all news items and press photos about SPECTRE, because I want to go in knowing much less than I did about Skyfall, but I figure that anything put out officially is okay. But since I know some people are even more spoiler-conscious than I am about this movie, I'll warn that while the video below doesn't give away anything about the actual on-screen action of this scene, it does reveal what part of the movie the Mexico City action will happen in, and shows plenty of the background activity. If you don't even want to know that much, now is the time to avert your eyes.



This looks pretty incredible! "I wanted the audience to be dropped right into the middle of a very, very specific, very heady, rich environment. It’s the Day of the Dead, everywhere you look there’s colour and detail and life," says director Sam Mendes. I heartily approve! The Day of the Dead celebration is a perfect backdrop for some good James Bond action, reminiscent of Thunderball's Junkanoo, Live and Let Die's New Orleans funerals, and Moonraker's Carnival. It looks like a visually spectacular backdrop for whatever action Mendes and his crew have lined up to unfold there. And it also makes perfect sense as a setting for 007's first ever trip to Mexico as Mexico. While Licence to Kill was filmed there, the action took place in fictional Isthmus City.

Jun 13, 2015

Dr. Goldfoot Movies Come to Blu-ray

Kino Lorber Studio Classics has announced on their Facebook page that they will be releasing both of the Vincent Price Dr. Goldfoot spy spoofs on Blu-ray this fall! Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, co-starring Frankie Avalon, and its sequel Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, co-starring Fabian and the Italian comedy duo Franco & Ciccio, and directed by the great Mario Bava (Danger: Diabolik) will each be available separately, and only on Blu-ray. (That's okay. The pair are already available together on a budget DVD double feature.) I cannot believe how far we've come! For years the first movie was available on DVD, as part of MGM's late, lamented "Midnite Movies" line. Girl Bombs was only available on VHS for years, until that double feature disc finally popped up with zero fanfare (and initially as a Walmart exclusive) in 2012. We were lucky to have it. And now, they'll both be out on Blu-ray? And on a label with "classic" in its name, no less? I can hardly believe it!

As ecstatic as I am to know these camp classics are headed to high-def, I am also greedy. I want these releases to be all they can be... and I know all they can be! I am the sort of crazy Dr. Goldfoot fan (I say "the sort," but for all I know I may be the only one) to have re-planted my DVDs into a custom-made "ultimate Dr. Goldfoot box set." This set includes both Dr. Goldfoot movies, the Italian version of Girl Bombs, Le Spie Vengono dal Semifreddo (available as a Region 2 import), the DVD Vincent Price: The Sinister Image, which includes the TV special Shindig! The Weird Wild World of Dr. Goldfoot, and a bootleg of the Franco & Ciccio Eurospy movie Due Mafiosi Contro Goldginger. The Shindig! special was made up of musical numbers excised from the first film when the studio decided it shouldn't be a musical. The presence of the Franco & Ciccio movie requires further explanation.

Bava's Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs actually serves as a sequel to two completely different, unrelated movies: Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, and Due Mafiosi Contro Goldginger. The former was a hit in America; the latter was a hit in Italy; the studio thinking was that both audiences could be pleased with one movie. But this resulted in two significantly different cuts of the film for the two countries. The Italian version features a lot more of Franco & Ciccio, for one thing. (Though huge in Italy, they are at best an acquired taste for most American audiences, who tend to find that a little goes a long way.) The American version features more of American teen idol Fabian (The Million Eyes of Sumuru). While neither cut is, um... good, exactly, both have their pluses and minuses. Therefore, for a complete appreciation of the Dr. Goldfoot oeuvre, on must watch both versions.

Now I feel my fake Dr. Goldfoot box set has the possibility of actually becoming, somewhat, a reality! I've got my fingers crossed that Kino clears the necessary rights to include The Weird Wild World of Dr. Goldfoot as a bonus feature on their Bikini Machine Blu-ray. And that they include both the U.S. and Italian cuts of Girl Bombs on that Blu-ray. It's not unheard of. They recently released a Blu-ray of Bava's early giallo masterpiece The Girl Who Knew Too Much and included both that Italian version and AIP's American cut, Evil Eye. So it's possible! And for icing on the cake, they need to include a commentary by Bava biographer Tim Lucas, who has recorded many fantastic commentary tracks in the past for other Bava movies, included on past Kino releases. Though this movie is probably Bava's worst, Lucas's chapter on it in his book Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark is one of the book's most fascinating and informative. I would love to listen to a Lucas audio commentary on Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs! I don't actually imagine they would be able to include Due Mafiosi Contro Goldginger as a bonus, but at least a trailer would be nice to give us a taste of it. Come on, Kino Lorber, please make these momentous releases all that they can be!

Jun 11, 2015

Remembering the Great Christopher Lee

According to numerous outlets including The New York Times, Sir Christopher Lee has died at the age of 93. I find that hard to accept. Obviously 93 years on this earth is an incredibly good run for anyone, and especially for someone who has managed to pack those years with careers as an airman, a spy, a musician, a writer, a scholar, and, certainly not least, an actor with over 250 credits in film and television, including among them work with some of the biggest directors of all time and in several of the biggest franchises ever. But even in his nineties, and even after an on-set injury left him less mobile and reliant on a cane, Christopher Frank Carandini Lee had shown no signs of slowing down. He continued acting right up until the end, reprising his iconic role as the wizard Saruman in last year's The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, and celebrated this past Christmas by releasing an EP of heavy metal carols. I had fully expected him to keep going strong for another decade still. So it was with shock more than sadness that I awoke this morning to this terrible news. Because such a full life of so many accomplishments is one to be celebrated rather than mourned.

My first exposure to Christopher Lee was in the James Bond movie The Man With the Golden Gun, opposite Roger Moore. For me, Christopher Lee was the greatest Bond villain ever. The Man With the Golden Gun was certainly not the best movie (though it was my favorite as a kid), but Lee was fantastic as the titular assassin Francisco Scaramanga, transforming a character who was basically a common thug in his step-cousin Ian Fleming's novel into a much more interesting thug who has cloaked himself in a veneer of charm and sophistication. Scaramanga was the first, and most successful, of several attempts over the course of the series to create a villain who was a dark reflection of 007 himself, an equal in his deadly skills, and thus a truly worthy adversary. Lee brilliantly delivered what's probably my favorite villain monologue in the whole series when Scaramanga shares his personal history with Bond while seated next to him in a kickboxing arena. While keeping the tone conversational and even jovial, Lee subtly conveys tragedy, pathos, and eventually sadism and psychosis by the time he concludes his story of seeking revenge for the mistreatment and death of a beloved elephant with the line, "You see, Mr. Bond, I always thought I loved animals. Then I discovered that I enjoyed killing people even more."

While Lee is of course most associated with the horror genre (a genre he did a lot to elevate), and it's no accident that EON and George Lucas looked to a quintessential Dracula actor for their respective spy and sci-fi villains, he worked across all genres over the course of his career, and actually racked up quite a few spy roles. One of his earliest parts was an uncredited role as a KGB agent in the 1952 Oskar Homolka spy comedy Top Secret. He was probably able to rely to some degree on his harrowing real-life role in wartime military intelligence for his role as a Nazi commandant in the resistance thriller Missiles From Hell (1958). One of his surprisingly few forays into Eurospydom came very early in the cycle, in 1962's Cold War thriller The Devil's Agent. His only other Eurospy movie came six years later, with a villainous cameo in Five Golden Dragons. His ridiculously fun Sixties Fu Manchu movies all have an espionage flavor, as do the horror movies Scream and Scream Again (1970), The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973, in which the Count takes on MI5), and Raw Meat (also '73, in which Lee himself has a small role as an MI5 agent). He also brought horror to spydom with a cameo as Dracula in the Sammy Davis, Jr./Peter Lawford spy spoof sequel One More Time (1970). One of his best roles was as Mycroft Holmes in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), a film that very much plays up Mycroft's espionage activities. (Lee also played Sherlock Holmes himself on two separate occasions, once in 1962 in Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, and again in two miniseries in the early 1990s collectively known as Sherlock Holmes: The Golden Years.) He was a popular villain in TV spy movies including Once Upon a Spy (1980), Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979) and Detonator (1993), the latter opposite Pierce Brosnan. Lee's guest appearances on spy television series included an episode of O.S.S. (1958), two episodes of The Avengers opposite his grammar school classmate Patrick Macnee ("Never, Never Say Die," with Diana Rigg, and "The Interrogators," with Linda Thorson) and a spy-themed episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles ("Austria, 1917"). It's also notable that over the course of his career, he acted opposite three James Bond actors: Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig (in The Golden Compass).

His real life spy adventures are not so well documented, as he always adhered strictly to the secrecy expected of him. While in Air Force Intelligence, he was attached to the SAS and SOE, but when pressed for details in a 2011 interview with The Telegraph, he enigmatically (and typically) responded, "Let’s just say I was in Special Forces and leave it at that. People can read in to that what they like." The wartime stories he recounted in his autobiography Lord of Misrule (an updated version of Tall, Dark and Gruesome) were mostly humorous anecdotes about things like awful commanding officers ("some people are just bastards") making him empty latrines in the desert. But when I was working on behind-the-scenes documentaries for The Lord of the Rings, I remember a moment caught on camera (though I don't recall if it made it into one of the documentaries) where Peter Jackson was attempting to demonstrate to Lee how Saruman should cut the throat of his hapless lackey Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). Lee took the knife from Jackson in exasperation and told him, in that inimitable baritone, something to the effect of, "no, this is how it's done." An awed and bemused Jackson then whispered to the camera, confessing his embarrassment at trying to direct a former commando how to cut a throat. So maybe it's best to follow Lee's advice and "leave it at that."

During his final months of service, according to his autobiography, Lee served with the multinational Central Registry of War Crimes and Security Suspects, investigating and apprehending fugitive Nazi war criminals. These investigations took him to a number of concentrations camps, the all too real horrors of which left him completely inured to the greasepaint horrors of the movies he would later star in.

Lee's horror filmography is the stuff of legend. His performances as Frankenstein's monster and Count Dracula in Hammer Studios' Curse of Frankenstin (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958), respectively, helped launch the genre into the color era—and Lee to stardom. His Dracula, while terrifying, had a carnal sexuality absent from Bela Lugosi's earlier portrayal. Both of those Hammer gothics were directed by Terrence Fisher, with whom Lee would work many times over the course of his career, and both co-starred Peter Cushing. Cushing and Lee had both previously appeared in Lawrence Olivier's Hamlet (1948, in which an uncredited Lee played a spear carrier) and John Huston's Moulin Rouge (1952), but it was their twenty horror and fantasy movies together, many for either Hammer or Amicus, for which the pair became famous. Lee and Cushing starred together in the Hammer classics The Mummy (1959), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), The Gorgon (1964, a must-see), and the camp-fantastic Dracula 1972 AD, among others. Without Hammer, they made more great horror movies with unforgettable titles like Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965), The Skull (1965), Island of the Burning Damned (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1971), The Creeping Flesh (1973), Nothing But the Night (1973), The House of Long Shadows (1983), and my personal favorite, Horror Express (1972, and another must-see), as well as fantasies like She (1965) and Arabian Adventure (1979).

Without Cushing, Lee made more excellent Hammer movies (The Two Faces of Dr. Jeckyll, Scream of Fear, The Devil Rides Out) and excellent non-Hammer horrors, including two collaborations with Mario Bava, The Whip and the Body (1963) and the phantasmagorically awesome Hercules in the Haunted World (1961). He also made two off-brand Dracula movies, Jess Franco's Count Dracula (1970), a Dracula movie that aimed to, but didn't quite succeed at, sticking closer to Stoker than the Hammer interpretations, and the under-seen, under-appreciated and unfortunately poorly dubbed French comedy Dracula, Father and Son (1976). In 1973, he made what he (and many others) considered to be his best horror movie, Robin Hardy's cult classic The Wicker Man, opposite Edward Woodward. I think I would say it's his best film, and one fully deserving of all the praise that's been heaped on it over the years.

I discovered Lee's horror movies a little late in the game, in college, but it quickly became an obsession tracking down even the most obscure. Because his presence assured a good time, even on the occasions the movies themselves were not good. Christopher Lee was the sort of actor who elevated any material. I couldn't hazard a guess as to what percentage of my own DVD library is Christopher Lee movies, but it's not small.

In recent years, Lee enjoyed a real renaissance. He became a good luck charm for Tim Burton, appearing in the director's 1999 Hammer homage Sleepy Hollow as well as The Corpse Bride (2005), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Dark Shadows (2012). Martin Scorsese cast him in Hugo (2011), George Lucas cast him as the villainous Sith Lord Count Dooku in two Star Wars prequels, and of course Peter Jackson cast him as Saruman, a once great wizard turned villainous in his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. That was a dream role for Lee, who was a lifelong devotee of J.R.R. Tolkien, and read the books on a yearly basis. I suspect he knew more about Tolkien than anyone else involved in those productions. (He also knew more about Bram Stoker than anyone else involved in his Dracula movies, and often insisted on line changes or cuts to reflect the author's intentions.)

Apparently, there were few subjects in which Christopher Lee wasn't an expert! He was also a polyglot. In his autobiography, My Word is My Bond, Roger Moore recalls working on an episode of Ivanhoe with Lee in which Lee played Otto the Hun. Moore was fighting a duel with him for the freedom of a serf, played by a child actor. Lee uttered a phrase of German, and the boy asked if he spoke it fluently. "Without pausing for breath," Moore writes, "Christopher said, 'Yes, and Portuguese, French, Italian, three dialects of Urdu, Swahili...' He went on and on - and yes, he does speak all these languages." Maud Adams recalled that on the set of The Man With the Golden Gun, she and Britt Ekland used to speak Swedish to gossip about all the other people in the cast and crew, thinking they were doing so in complete privacy. One day they made the mistake of doing it in the presence of Lee, who turned around and surprised them by joining the conversation, much to their shared embarrassment.

That mastery of languages, literature, and pretty much all things is part of Lee's legend. He was the total sum of the vast and varied parts of his extraordinary life. When he spoke, everyone listened. On those Lord of the Rings documentaries, we always knew that if we were ever stuck for a crucial line of narration, all we had to do was go back to the Christopher Lee interview, which occupied far more tapes than anyone else's. He provided erudite commentary on any aspect of Tolkien or Ring lore you could wish for, as well as the production. And he did so in such a commanding voice!

I seriously regret never meeting Christopher Lee in person, despite several close calls and feeling like I knew him through those tapes. But I did see him once in traffic, driving the most appropriate vehicle imaginable. After fifteen years of living in Los Angeles, where you see a star almost every week, that moment remains my favorite star sighting ever. I was stopped at a traffic light in the left turn lane at the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica in Beverly Hills around the time Star Wars: Attack of the Clones was due to be released. I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw a vintage, mustard colored Rolls Royce drawing near in the next lane over. It pulled even with me, and I glanced over and did a double take. At the wheel was Christopher Lee, in his Eighties but driving himself, and his wife Gitte was seated next to him. Both were, of course, impeccably dressed. I couldn't believe it. Now that he's gone, I'll cherish that memory even more. As I'll cherish the immense and astounding body of work he leaves behind.

What a life! What a star! Sir Christopher Lee was undeniably one of a kind.


Second Trailer Drops for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.!

Warner Bros. debuted a second trialer for this summer's feature film version of the classic Sixties TV show The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with some prints of San Andreas a few weeks ago, but it never made it online. Today they've finally made a new trailer available online. (Whether it's the same as the one that played in theaters, or a version of it, is still a bit unclear. ) Like the first one, the new one makes Guy Ritchie's film look absolutely fantastic! The bit with Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) ziplining across the Berlin Wall (in pursuit of Napoleon Solo [Henry Cavill] and his female companion [Ex Machina scene stealer Alicia Vikander], as we know from that EW story last month), just hits all of my Cold War spy fandom buttons! I love the 1960s setting, and I cannot wait to see this film! Check it out:


The Man From U.N.C.L.E. hits theaters on August 14, 2015.

Jun 10, 2015

New Man From U.N.C.L.E. Poster

Warner Bros. has released a new poster for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in advance of the new trailer expected this evening or tomorrow (after premiering on Entertainment Tonight). Hm. It's not as striking as the teaser poster, which was pretty good. Even allowing that all movie posters nowadays are pretty boring (especially compared to the vibrant Sixties and Seventies spy artwork of Frank McCarthy and Robert McGinnis), this one is kind of a letdown. I like the colors, and I like the individual elements (exotic location, girls, guns, cool car... yep, this is a spy movie in the Sixties vein!), but the boring Photoshopped layout is underwhelming. Hopefully there will be some more variations before release, or ideally a Mondo design (like the recent one for Spy) that gives us some new U.N.C.L.E. artwork... Also, I'm kind of surprised that Alicia Vikander isn't more prominent after her starmaking turn in the sleeper hit Ex Machina. Stay tuned for that new trailer imminently! In the meantime, why not enjoy the unbelievably excellent first one again?

Jun 9, 2015

New SPECTRE TV Spot


A TV spot for SPECTRE airing during the NBA finals tonight revealed copious new footage after beginning in a familiar way for anyone who's seen the teaser trailer. And, man, does it look cool! The teaser was notable (and effective!) for not showing any action at all. The second half of this spot is pretty much all action, and it's fun to see how it seems to tie in with the non-action bits we were already treated to. For example, it looks as if James Bond doesn't get out of that mysterious meeting he seems to have infiltrated all that easily. There's even a hint that, just possibly, 007's Aston Martin DB10 might have a gadget! I can't tell if that fire behind it is because the road's on fire, or because it has some sort of rear-mounted flame thrower. Considering Q is still stuck at a computer monitor dealing with a system shutdown (again?!), perhaps it's not a gadget after all. Making up for a relative lack of romantic conquests in his films compared to other Bond actors, Daniel Craig gets close to both Bond women (Léa Seydoux and Monica Bellucci) in this trailer... and even finds an entirely new way to deliver his immortal line of introduction, "Bond... James Bond!" Hopefully this TV spot portends a longer trailer in the very near future. We just saw a second Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation trailer, and the new Man From U.N.C.L.E. trailer is supposed to drop tomorrow, so we need another Bond one to match!

First Trailers for Cold War Spy Show Deutschland 83

Sundance Channel has started aggressively advertising for Deutschland 83, their Cold War miniseries event that will mark the first ever German-language program broadcast on American television that we first heard about in February. Set (naturally) in Germany in 1983, Deutschland 83 is a teen coming of age story mixed with an espionage drama unfolding against an ever-escalating Cold War as East and West came the closest to WWIII since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Filled with period-appropriate pop music, it should make an excellent counterpart to The Americans. It looks sort of like that show re-imagined for MTV Europe. Watch a cool teaser with no footage and a more traditional trailer on the Sundance website, or check out a tongue-in-cheek, narration-heavy trailer full of tradecraft below:



This looks pretty great! Deutschland 83 premieres next week, June 17, at 11/10c on Sundance.

Jun 7, 2015

R.I.P. Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson has passed away at age 87, according to the BBC and other sources. A RADA-trained founder member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Johnson starred in a number of spy movies and was reportedly considered for the part of James Bond. Most importantly, however, he starred in the greatest Bond knock-off ever made, 1967's Deadlier Than the Male. (Read my review here.) While Elke Sommer and Sylva Koscina stole the show as the titular femme fatales, Johnson more than held his own as hero Bulldog Drummond. Sapper's famous character was re-imagined for the 007 age, and Johnson (who actually began his film career in 1951 with a bit part in Calling Bulldog Drummond, starring Walter Pidgeon) played him suavely and with great charm. Charm was never a given with leading men in Eurospy movies, and it was Johnson's easy appeal that put him ahead of all the other wannabe Bonds of the Eurospy scene. He reprised the role two years later in a more comedic sequel, Some Girls Do. Other notable spy-related roles for Johnson included an appearance on one of ITC's early adventure shows, The Four Just Men, the all-star WWII espionage thriller Operation Crossbow (opposite Tom Courtenay, George Peppard, Anthony Quayle and Sophia Loren), a tough-as-nails performance as super-agent Jonas Wilde in Amicus's sole foray into Sixties spydom, Danger Route (another fantastic Eurospy movie that really, really needs to be on DVD!) A Twist of Sand (opposite Honor Blackman), the hard-hitting IRA thriller Hennessy, an episode of the Quiller TV show, playing Richard Sorge on an episode of BBC's fact-based series Spy!, as a Brigadier on a couple of spy-themed episodes of Magnum, P.I., an episode of Mr. Palfrey of Westminster, Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, and a recurring role on the seventh season of Spooks (MI-5). His more famous non-spy credits include The Haunting (1963), Khartoum (opposite Charlton Heston), Lucio Fulci's seminal 1979 gore-fest Zombie, Dr. Watson to Heston's Holmes in Crucifer of Blood, and Anglo-Saxon Attitudes and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (both co-starring Daniel Craig). Never as well known as he deserved to be, Richard Johnson was a titan of the spy genre and will always be remembered in circles where Deadlier Than the Male and Danger Route (which Quentin Tarantino slotted in a personally curated cable programming block a decade ago) are recognized as the absolute classics they are. Rest in peace, Bulldog Drummond.

In what turns out to be a fitting tribute, Deadlier Than the Male will be released on Blu-ray in the UK this week by Network.

Jun 5, 2015

Art Poster For Spy

20th Century Fox has released a new Mondo poster design for its Melissa McCarthy/Jason Statham comedy Spy, opening tonight. I like the retro artwork that evokes Seventies and Eighties comedies like The Trouble With Spies and 1941 (though the faces aren't quite cartoony enough for that style), but I would have personally preferred to see this cast rendered in a classic Bondian McCarthy or McGinnis style. Still, it's a good poster for a very funny movie. The campaign for this film has been pretty great all around, from strong parody posters to album artwork.

Trailer: Bridge of Spies

We saw the poster yesterday; today comes our first look at Steven Spielberg's Cold War spy thriller Bridge of Spies in a fantastic trailer. Pretty much every shot is pure catnip for Sixties spy buffs. It's pretty amazing that we're getting two big spy movies set in that period this year—The Man From U.N.C.L.E. for Bondian fantasy and this for gritty, fact-based drama. I can't wait to see both movies!