Apr 19, 2018

Tradecraft: xXx Rides Again

Xander Cage will return again. Apparently, you just can't keep an extreme spy down! Variety reported on Tuesday that a fourth film featuring Vin Diesel's extreme sports athlete turned secret agent will go before cameras this December, with xXx: Return of Xander Cage director D.J. Caruso returning at the helm. To make this possible, Diesel's One Race Films and Chinese-backed, U.S.-based finance and production company The H Collective have acquired the xXx franchise rights from Revolution Studios, who produced the first three films. Revolution will retain its rights to those movies, and Diesel & Co. can proceed with the further adventures of Xander Cage.

If you guessed that the reason for this sequel happening was China, you'd be right. (We heard as much a year ago.) Said The H Collective CEO Nic Crawley, "The response from the Chinese box office [to the third film] was unprecedented. Bringing the next installment of the xXx franchise to The H Collective complements our diversified slate and mission to produce content for a global audience." Deadline added some further financial details, pointing out that while the first three films have collectively grossed nearly a billion dollars, their popularity has waned Stateside. The original xXx raked in $142.1 million domestically in 2002; the latest one topped out at $44.8 million domestically in 2017. But it set box office records in China, pulling in more than $164 million in the Middle Kingdom and contributing mightily to its $346.1 million worldwide haul. This, of course, was the intention; in his third outing Xander was backed up by a diverse, Fast & Furious-style team of international stars, including Chinese box office idols Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and Kris Wu (Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back), who were both featured heavily in advertising there. There's no official word yet on any cast beyond Diesel, but it seems like a good bet that those Chinese stars will be back as well. (Personally, I'd like to see Indian actress Deepika Padukone and Aussie Ruby Rose return, too. They were highlights of the last movie.)

While the first two xXx movies were distributed by Sony (where Revolution Studios had their deal at the time), the third was released by Paramount. Yesterday, Deadline ran a second story shedding some light on the fourth film's possible distributor. It looks like Xander Cage will be headed back to Sony. The trade reported that The H Collective has made a pact with Sony for the studio to distribute up to four of their films per year. xXx 4 (or whatever it's ultimately called) will likely be a flagship title among those films. So one day, xXx: Return of Xander Cage may well be the odd title left out of Blu-ray (or whatever format we're on by then) box sets... the Return of the Pink Panther of the xXx series. if you will.

While I had little interest, initially, in seeing the return of an extreme hero so firmly (and hilariously) rooted in such a specific time as the heady, Mountain Dew-fueled X Games era of 2002, xXx: Return of Xander Cage caught me by surprise with a ridiculous but effective reinvention that proved the definition of dumb fun. There's something amusing about watching a 50-year-old man in Capri pants do skateboard tricks and hit on twenty-somethings... it all felt very Octopussy to me. (Which I should clarify I mean as a compliment, as others might not.) I think Caruso proved he's the right person to spearhead another xXx movie. I just hope there's more of Ice Cube and Samuel L. Jackson in the next one...

Tradecraft: James Gray to Direct I AM PILGRIM

MGM is moving forward with their feature version of Terry Hayes' bestselling spy novel I am Pilgrim. Deadline reports that James Gray (The Lost City of Z, We Own the Night) has closed a deal to direct. Kingsman helmer Matthew Vaughn was previously attached, but opted to focus on the Kingsman sequel instead. Hayes, who was a prolific screenwriter before turning novelist, has adapted his book himself. I Am Pilgrim follows a Nicolai Hel- or Derek Flint-like perfect super-agent, code-named "Pilgrim," who comes out of retirement to solve an engrossing locked room mystery (where the killer has used Pilgrim's own obscure book on forensic science to create the perfect crime), and simultaneously save America from a terrorist threat of astronomical proportions and a terrorist mastermind, "Saracen," capable of carrying it out. It's an exciting, globe-hopping adventure in the Ludlum vein with the action mainly taking place in New York, Turkey, and the Middle East. According to the trade, the James Bond studio is interested in launching another spy franchise, though so far, there have been no sequels to the book. (Follow-ups have been rumored, but not confirmed. Hayes' next book is apparently unrelated.) I suppose the implication could be that the studio plans to turn the existing book into more than one movie. It's long enough, and packed with enough subplots, that you could probably get three movies out of I Am Pilgrim alone. In fact, it's difficult to imagine how the entire book could be packed into just one feature without losing a whole lot. (And I fear the first to be jettisoned would be the second locked room mystery, in Turkey, which was actually my favorite part.) Whatever route they choose, however, this book certainly has potential to launch a major spy franchise. This is definitely a project to keep an eye on!


Robert McCall is back! Sony has released the first trailer for Denzel Washington's first ever sequel, The Equalizer 2. Director Antoine Fuqua and writer Richard Wenk also return in their respective roles behind the camera from the first film, as do Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman in front of the cameras. This time Pedro Pasqual (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) and Ashton Sanders (Moonlight) also gets in on the action, and cinematographer Oliver Wood brings his Bourne experience to the look of the film. The Equalizer movies are, of course, based on the 1985-1989 TV series created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim, which starred spy icon Edward Woodward (Callan). Like the series, the premise of the movies finds former secret agent McCall attempting to atone for his past sins by using his espionage skills to help those with the odds against them. The revenge-driven story in the sequel, however, seems to be more motivated by McCall's spy past than any present client. (Such storylines were also a staple of the show, though less frequent.) With the revenge storyline and (at least partial) Turkish setting, this trailer does bring to mind Taken 2, but hopefully this spy sequel will prove more original than that one, which basically rehashed the plot of the first Taken movie. The first Equalizer proved to be a surprisingly solid TV-to-film adaptation. The Equalizer 2 opens July 20.

Apr 5, 2018


Universal has released the first trailer for the third Johnny English movie starring Rowan Atkinson, Johnny English Strikes Again. I think it's hysterical. For me, the English movies have always been superior to the Austin Powers (though the Jean Dujardin OSS 117 movies take the cake as far as spy parodies go), and I'm glad they keep coming. There are some Pink Panther-level gags in this trailer that crack me up. (And, of course, that no doubt intentionally resonant title.) I'm also very happy to see Ben Miller's Bough (English's straight man assistant, a highlight of the first film) back in a larger role.. though also sorry to see no sign of Daniel Kaluuya, the sidekick from the second film. (Obviously he's gone on to bigger things.) As usual, there's a stellar supporting cast including Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace), Emma Thompson (The Love Punch), Jake Lacy (Miss Sloane), and a beautiful red Aston Martin V8 Vantage.

Johnny English Strikes Again opens September 20, 2018.

Apr 4, 2018

Future of EuropaCorp's Neo-Eurospy Movies

After the disappointing box office of Luc Besson's sci-fi epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, EuropaCorp is in trouble. Deadline reported in January that several suitors are lining up with aims to buy Besson's French studio, or at least its library of titles, with Lionsgate at the time chief among them. (Lionsgate itself has also been the subject of buyout rumors, with Amazon a potential buyer.) According to the trade, the company was "expected to discuss the sale of its assets, which includes its film library — consisting of movies such as Taken and The Transporter — with buyers at a Paris-based presentation" to be held in February.

According to a later Variety story, Netflix also entered the fray as a potential partner. The trade reports that when discussions between the streaming giant and Besson began, they were just about him directing several movies for Netflix, who have made a major push into original features in the past year. But apparently the scope of the conversations broadened, and now "as part of the deal, Netflix could also buy into EuropaCorp’s library, which has an estimated value of €150 million ($186 million) and includes such franchises as Taken, Taxi and Transporter."

This week, The Hollywood Reporter reported that EuropaCorp shares jumped 30% following French news reports that Netflix was closing in on a deal. According to a report originating in the French financial paper Les Echos, "the deal would see Netflix take over control and operation of EuropaCorp, but Besson would stay on as creative head of the company." The paper foresaw a deal being announced as early as next month's Cannes Film Festival. Deadline chimed in with a story that EuropaCorp itself is downplaying the coverage, confirming only that "indeed discussions are taking place with several potential industrial and/or financial partners," but neglecting to name Netflix or any other entities specifically. (The trade reports that Warner Bros, Sony, TF1, Vivendi and current EuropaCorp investor Fundamental Films, from China, are all in the mix as well.)

How does all this affect spy fans? Well, it could actually mean revivals of some of EuropaCorp's popular neo-Eurospy franchises, like the Transporter or Taken movies. (EuropaCorp probably ranks as the number one purveyor of neo-Eurospy content in the past decade, with other titles including From Paris With Love, 3 Days to Kill, Columbiana, and Lockout.) These intellectual properties are among the more appealing elements of the EuropaCorp catalog, and while the current regime at EuropaCorp has chosen to forgo further Liam Neeson Taken movies or Jason Statham Transporter movies in favor of an NBC television series (in the former case) and an under-performing prequel starring Deadpool's Ed Skrein (in the latter), a new owner might not feel the same way. It's possible, for instance, that Netflix might recognize the value in luring Statham back to the Transporter franchise. (The Skrein reboot, which was supposed to be the first in a new trilogy, reportedly happened because the studio refused to meet Statham's asking price.) Liam Neeson has publicly stated that he wouldn't reprise his Taken role of former CIA agent Bryan Mills again... but as another aging spy star once learned, never say never. (Neeson has also repeatedly forsworn further action movies in general, yet keeps coming back to them.)

Luke Evans appeared on Late Night With Seth Meyers earlier this year and revealed a few details about Besson's own next directorial effort, Anna. The project has been shrouded in secrecy besides the fact that, like Besson's hit Lucy (and the brilliant spy movie that put him on the map, La Femme Nikita), it will be a female-driven action movie. Evans confirmed that it's also a spy movie, saying it's about Russian assassins and he plays a KGB agent. (I don't know if this means it's a Cold War period piece, or if he's using "KGB" interchangeably with SVR or FSB.) Cillian Murphy and Helen Mirren also star, while Russian model Sasha Luss (pictured, who also appeared in Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) plays the title role. Lionsgate will distribute the English-language thriller. It seems possible that Anna could launch yet another lucrative EuropaCorp neo-Eurospy franchise.

Tradecraft: UK Period Spy Drama JERUSALEM Casts Up, Lands Director

Deadline reports that actors Emma Appleton (The Nun), Michael Stuhlbarg (The Looming Tower, The Shape of Water), Keeley Hawes (Spooks/MI-5), Matt Lauria (Friday Night Lights), and Luke Treadaway (Ordeal by Innocence) have been cast in Channel 4's 6-episode period spy series Jerusalem (no relation to the 2013 contemporary spy movie Jerusalem). As the trade previously reported, Jerusalem, from Boardwalk Empire and Masters of Sex veteran Bash Doran, follows Feef Symonds (Appleton), "a bold 20-something woman who joins the Civil Service in 1945, just as the Labour party sweeps to victory, defeating Winston Churchill in an unexpected landslide. Her ambition to make something of her life goes unrecognized by her family, and is further complicated by her American lover."

"Feef agrees to spy on her own government for the Americans, who have a hidden agenda in making sure England’s burgeoning Socialist ambitions don’t play into Soviet hands. Struggling to work out what she stands for, and what she’s capable of, Feef must learn to think for herself and play by her own rules at a time when knowledge becomes power and nothing and no one is what they seem." Lauria stars as Feef's American lover Peter, Stuhlbarg plays an American zealot named Rowe, Hawes plays Feef’s demanding civil service superior, and Treadaway plays a newly elected Labour MP.

While this setting and these characters have all the makings of a great spy series, they are also personal to the writer, who tells Deadline that Jerusalem is, "my perspective on a defining moment in British history when the nation was divided and there was a fight for Britain’s soul. I left England for America not long after I graduated. This show has always been for me an exploration of why I left and my way of coming home."

In a separate story, Deadline also reports that Dearbhla Walsh has been hired to direct. Walsh has experience helming both U.S. and UK television, including episodes of Penny Dreadful, Fargo, The Punisher, and Shameless. She directed all five episodes of the acclaimed 2008 BBC miniseries Little Dorrit.

No American broadcast partner has yet been announced, but with so many names both in front of and behind the camera known to U.S. audiences, such a deal seems inevitable.

Mar 30, 2018

Stonebridge and Scott STRIKE BACK Again Tonight on Cinemax

While they're not part of the main cast of Cinemax's rebooted counterterrorism action drama Strike Back, Deadline reports that Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winshester will return as the beloved and iconic Stonebridge and Scott in tonight's episode of the revived series. Stapleton and Winchester starred in the series' second incarnation when Cinemax first came aboard, following an initial UK season on Sky which starred Richard Armitage and Andrew Lincoln. The Stapleton/Winchester version came to an end after four seasons, and the two stars moved on to other shows. Then the cable network decided to reboot the show again, re-launching it with a new cast that includes Warren Brown, Daniel MacPherson, Roxanne McKee, and Alin Sumarwata. Tonight, Stonebridge and Scott will presumably show the new generation how it's done... assuming their appearance proves more satisfying than Armitage's incredibly disappointing guest spot on the first Cinnemax incarnation!

The sixth season (confusingly the fifth on Cinemax following the one on Sky) wraps up on April 6, but per Deadline the rebooted Strike Back has already been renewed by the cable network for seventh season to air next year.

Mar 27, 2018

Trailer for Titan's new PRISONER Comic

I'm a month behind on this, but Titan released a video trailer for their new Prisoner comic book series in February. Set to the theme music from Big Finish's Prisoner audio series, it looks pretty darn cool! As first reported last year, the series by Peter Milligan (X-Statix, Batman) and Colin Lorimar (Harvest) will serve as a sequel to the Patrick McGoohan's classic Sixties ITC TV show and focus on a new Number 6 in a contemporary Village. (I wonder if it will also take into account DC's 1980s sequel comic, Shattered Visage?) The art for all the different covers, however, clearly leans on the iconic original! There's even one variant that features Jack Kirby's original pencils from his legendary abandoned Marvel adaptation (which will finally see publication this summer, also from Titan--along with another previously unprinted adaptation drawn by Gil Kane) newly inked by Mike Allred! (Allred, who worked with Milligan on seminal runs on X-Force and X-Statix, and whose pop sensibility also landed him cover duties on comics like Batman '66 Meets The Man form U.N.C.L.E. and Batman '66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel, also provides his own original cover, below.) Let's hope this new take on the classic show will be better than the misguided 2009 AMC TV miniseries attempt. With Milligan at the helm, I have a feeling it will! Anyway, check out the cool trailer and see for yourself.

Mar 26, 2018

First Teaser Trailer: CONDOR TV Series

It was just over three years ago that we first heard Three Days of the Condor would be remade as a TV series. Last week AT&T's Audience Network released the first trailer for their upcoming series, Condor (a simplified title that, while lacking some coolness, conveniently avoids the potentially limiting question of a specified number of days altogether), a reimagining of one of the spy genre's cornerstone stories, based on James Grady's classic 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor and Sydney Pollack's iconic 1975 film of it, Three Days of the Condor. While the trailer doesn't look very familiar to fans of the movie or the novel, the description on the show's official website does:
Joe Turner has always been conflicted about his work for the CIA. But when something he’s discovered gets his entire office killed, leaving Joe as the only survivor and forcing him to go on the run, the theoretical reservations he’s always harbored turn into all-too-real moral dilemmas. Under life or death pressure, Joe will be forced to redefine who he is and what he’s capable of in order to discover who’s behind this far-reaching conspiracy, and stop them from completing their deadly objective that threatens the lives of millions. Inspired by Paramount’s Sydney Pollack 1975 political thriller Three Days of the Condor. Condor stars Max Irons, William Hurt, Leem Lubany, Mira Sorvino, Brendan Fraser, and Bob Balaban.
So, as we first learned a year ago, the series protagonist played by Max Irons (Crooked House) will be named Joe Turner, like Robert Redford's character in the film, and not Ronald Malcolm, as in the book. But the movie was close enough to its source material (despite a few key differences) that if the TV series is at all faithful to either, it should at least resemble both. Katherine Cunningham (The Playboy Club) takes on the Faye Dunaway role of Kathy Hale (again using the character's movie name rather than book name), and 20-year-old Israeli Arab actress Leem Lubany (Rock the Casbah) plays Gabrielle Joubert, a variation on the iconic role of the professional killer played so memorably by Max Von Sydow in the film.

When it was first announced, the project was described as a limited series (what we used to call miniseries). But that's changed, and now it's just referred to as a series. Should we get subsequent seasons, I would love to see them based on some of Grady's later Condor novels--especially the overlooked second one, Shadow of the Condor. I kind of doubt that will happen, but it would be cool.

My understanding is that the Audience Network was previously only available to DirecTV satellite subscribers, but now there is an app, DirecTV Now (similar to HBO Go, I think), that allows users to stream it on various set-top devices. I haven't done this myself, and can't vouch for it. But when Condor premieres this June, I will have to figure out how to see it, and this seems the easiest way.

Mar 22, 2018


Lionsgate released the trailer yesterday, and posters today, for this summer's The Spy Who Dumped Me, starring Mila Kunis (Black Swan) and Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live) as best friends who become embroiled in espionage when one of them (Kunis) discovers her ex was a secret agent. Justin Theroux (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) and Gillian Anderson (Johnny English Reborn) co-star. The Spy Who Dumped Me was directed by Susanna Fogel and written by Fogel and my talented friend Dave Iserson (Mad Men, Mr. Robot). I know they'll knock it out of the park! Check out the trailer, which opens with some well done Casino Royale-style title graphics.

Mar 19, 2018

Ridley Scott to Direct QUEEN & COUNTRY?

Every couple of years we Queen & Country fans get another little nugget that maybe Greg Rucka is planning another comics series, or maybe something's happening with the forever stuck in development movie. Last week was time for the latest movie rumors. The Wrap reports that powerhouse director Ridley Scott (Body of Lies, Adam Adamant Lives!) is in talks to direct it for Fox. The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed the story.

For those who don't know, Queen & Country is a multi-media spy series by Greg Rucka, spanning a comic book series (handily collected now in four omnibus editions) and three novels. It's heavily inspired by the incredible Seventies TV series The Sandbaggers, but also distinctive in its own right with a cast of terrific, believable, flawed characters. Foremost among them are SIS field agent Tara Chace and her boss, spymaster Paul Crocker, representing, respectively, the field and desk sides of the story. As with The Sandbaggers, Crocker's bureaucratic and political entanglements back at HQ are equally compelling (if not more so) to Tara's life-and-death struggles in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, and other international hotspots. Queen & Country was one of the main inspirations for me in starting this blog, and the subject of my fourth ever post on the blog's first day of existence nearly twelve years ago, in which I called the series "the best current, ongoing spy saga in any medium." Sadly it hasn't been current for years (the last novel was published in 2011, and only a few more comic issues trickled out after that), but it remains one of the genre's all-time high water marks. And I would love to see Tara and her cohorts on the screen. Yet we've heard enough sporadic updates on that adaptation before over the years that I can't help remain skeptical until the cameras actually start to roll--or at least until the studio sets a start date.

Originally, Leverage creator John Rogers penned the script, and at one point Nicole Kidman was attached to star. Later, Ryan Condal (creator of the TV series Colony) came on board to write a draft. In 2013, Ellen Page was attached to star, hot off of Inception and Juno. A few years ago, Seth Meyers (a vocal fan of Queen & Country, who has also discussed the comic with fellow enthusiast Rachel Maddow when she was a guest) asked her if she was still attached and she said yes, but apparently that's now changed. In 2014 commercial director Craig Viveiros came aboard, but now The Wrap reports that "neither [Page nor Viveiros] is still connected to the project." According to their story, Scott, fresh off of All the Money in the World (a gritty 1970s period piece in which Mark Wahlberg plays a former CIA officer), is in talks to direct and produce. It's unclear from the story who the writer of note is at the moment, but their description makes it seem like his version would be based on Rucka's first Queen & Country novel, A Gentleman's Game. Previous drafts appeared to be based on the first two arcs of the comic book (again, just based on capsule descriptions in trades).

I really hope this comes to pass! Scott has the clout to finally get this movie made (though he is fickle and has abandoned other spy projects in the past, like a feature version of The Prisoner), and to attract a big star to play the plum role of Tara. In a 2007 post I chose my own fantasy cast and picked Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting, Boardwalk Empire) as my ideal Tara, but she probably doesn't have the star wattage to get the film greenlit, and Scott may wish to cast younger. I think either Emily Blunt (Charlie Wilson's War) or Saorise Ronan (Hanna, Lady Bird) would be great choices. I still see Hugh Laurie (The Night Manager) as the only possible Crocker!

Read my review of the third Queen & Country novel, The Last Run, here.
Order Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition - Volume 1 here.
Order Queen & Country: A Gentleman's Game here.

Mar 12, 2018

Trailer and Poster for Final Season of FX's THE AMERICANS

FX has released a trailer for the sixth and final season of The Americans, which premieres on March 28th at 10pm EST. They've also released a typically stunning poster promoting the season. This series about Russian KGB spies living undercover as "illegals" in 1980s America started strong and went from strength to strength. In a word, it's been utterly fantastic throughout its run. Although a period drama set during the waning days of the Cold War, it's also become surprisingly more topical in recent years. The original plan was to see Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) through the fall of the Berlin wall. Unless the final season spans multiple years, I don't see how they'll get to that point in history, but there are plenty of other burning questions to keep us on the edges of our seats until the finale. When I interviewed producer Graham Yost on the eve of The Americans' debut back in 2013, he concluded the session by quoting the FX Networks President. "John Landgraf said something that I thought perfectly sums it up: 'We know who won the Cold War. We don't know if Phillip and Elizabeth will survive. And that's the story. Will the marriage survive? Will the children survive?'" Five years later, we're on the verge of those answers. I can't wait to find out! Get a taste from the trailer below:

Read my 2013 review of The Americans pilot episode here.
Read my 2013 interview with executive producer Graham Yost here.

Mar 9, 2018

Tradecraft: THE IRREGULARS TV Series Explores Wartime Espionage Exploits of Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl

Buried in an exciting Deadline article about Paramount's latest attempt to reboot the venerable Matt Helm spy franchise was another item of note to spy fans. The writer who will be tackling the Donald Hamilton spy series, Tom Shepherd, has already adapted another great spy tome—this one non-fiction. Giving background on Shepherd, the trade mentioned that along with an upcoming Dr. Dolittle movie with Robert Downey Jr. and a period action-adventure spec script teaming up a young Agatha Christie with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to solve a baffling mystery, Shepherd has already written an adaptation of Jennet Conant's terrific Roald Dahl biography The Irregulars for Anonymous Content and Paramount TV. No further information is provided, but I would assume the format would be a limited series. (Or miniseries, as we used to call them.) The Irregulars focuses on Dahl's period as a British spy operating in Washington D.C. during WWII. The future Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author and You Only Live Twice screenwriter worked for Sir William Stephenson's BSC (British Security Coordination) after he was shot down early in the war and unable to continue as an aviator due to his injuries. In Washington, he was basically a gigolo for England ("the things I do for England," as 007 would quip in You Only Live Twice), seducing society wives with the goal of getting them to convince their powerful husbands that America should join the war and come to the aid of Great Britain. Ian Fleming and his friend Ivar Bryce also figure prominently in the narrative, Fleming having worked for British Naval Intelligence at the time and Bryce, eventually, for the American OSS. There's an amusing account of Dahl and Fleming competing for the affections of the same woman, and the revelation that Fleming gave Dahl the idea for one of his more famous short stories that would later be adapted into an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The Irregulars is essential reading for anyone interested in Dahl, Fleming, James Bond, or wartime espionage (and a great companion piece to William Stevenson's famous Stephenson biography A Man Called Intrepid, or William Boyd's fabulous BSC novel Restless), and should make for great viewing as well. I'll definitely have my eyes open for more information on this project.

Tradecraft: Matt Helm Movie Reactivated

Paramount has been trying to make a new Matt Helm movie for nearly a decade, ever since the studio came away with the rights to the character in their split from DreamWorks in 2008. Prior to that, DreamWorks had been attempting a screen revival of Helm closer to Donald Hamilton's gritty novels than the spoofy Dean Martin movies ostensibly based on them in the Sixties. At various times director Robert Luketic, star Josh Duhamel, and writers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas had been attached. But Paramount started fresh. In 2009, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Alias, Mission: Impossible III), riding high on the success of the Star Trek reboot they'd co-scripted, came aboard to produce the Helm film, with veteran screenwriter Paul Attanasio (The Sum of All Fears, The Good German) scripting. Orci and Kurtzman told me at the time that their goal was a tone somewhere between the Hamilton novels and the Dino movies, but leaning toward the former—serious, but also fun. A few months later came the big bombshell, when Variety reported that Steven Spielberg (Munich) was circling the project to direct. Spielberg had long harbored a desire to make a popcorn spy flick. (Having approached the Bond producers in the late Seventies and been crushingly denied the opportunity to direct 007, he jumped at the opportunity to helm a project his pal George Lucas had dreamed up that he claimed was "better than Bond"—a little movie called Raiders of the Lost Ark.) Sadly, by that August, his brief flirtation with directing Matt Helm was over. A few months later, Seabiscuit director Gary Ross (fresh off of scripting another big project that never came to be, the fourth Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire Spider-man movie) was considered the front runner to direct Matt Helm, and for the first time Bradley Cooper (Alias) was mooted as the film's likely star. The script of note was still Attanasio's. But despite an apparently unanimous appreciation for that script, the movie, of course, never came to be. And the project seemed to go dormant.

Until today.

Today, Deadline reports that Paramount is once again attempting to revive the franchise, this time with Tom Shepherd penning a new script. Shepherd is the writer of the forthcoming The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the beloved Victorian vet of children's book fame, as well as an action-adventure spec script teaming a young Agatha Christie with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to solve a baffling mystery, and a script about the real-life wartime espionage adventures of Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming. While the writer may be new, a lot of familiar faces are still attached in behind-the-scenes capacities. Bradley Cooper remains attached to star as Helm, and Kurtzman and Orci (though no longer business partners) remain attached as executive producers, now joined by Grant Heslov and George Clooney (who was, at one point, himself rumored for the lead role). Additionally, the trade tantalizingly (if nebulously) reports that, "Steven Spielberg is involved in some capacity."

I've long since learned not to hold my breath on a new Matt Helm movie, but I'm still happy every time I read about movement on the project. Hamilton's 27 novels, beginning with 1960's Death of a Citizen, are largely secret cornerstones of the spy genre, and they deserve wider exposure and a faithful screen treatment. I admit that I'm a fan (to an extent, at least) of the quartet of Sixties Dean Martin pictures, but they're so far removed from Hamilton's wonderful books that they might as well bear no relation. I've often said that only one of them, Murderers' Row (co-starring Ann-Margaret and Karl Malden) even really qualifies as a movie. The others are bizarre assemblages of Sixties genre tropes like motorcycle chases, copious cocktail consumption, gratuitous zoom-ins on bikini-clad bottoms, and even, in the case of the first film, The Silencers, Martin singing. Plots are secondary at best, and non-existent at worst, and production values are generally low. Hamilton's novels, on the other hand, are terrific gritty, cynical, and brutal espionage stories on par with Ian Fleming and deserving of much wider recognition. It's possible that they've never gotten the credit they deserve outside of cult circles because they were published as paperback originals (excepting the 11th novel, The Menacers, which was the only one published in hardcover... but only in England), but that shouldn't be taken as a value judgment. They're fantastic, and like the spy fiction equivalent of the music of The Velvet Underground, hugely influential on the genre from Tom Clancy to 24 to Taken. Every spy fan should read them, and hopefully if a movie more faithful to the books ever gets made, the books themselves will become as widely known as they deserve to be.

By the way, while the series is probably best read in order, if you're looking to try just one Matt Helm book for a taste, I heartily recommend the sixth one, The Ambushers. Packed with sexy Soviet agents and nefarious neo-Nazis and rifles and missiles and even sword fights, it's quintessential spy fiction. And, if you're listening, Tom Shepherd... it would make a hell of a movie! Especially done as a period piece.

Mar 6, 2018

Tradecraft: Fox Banks on EPOCH INDEX

According to Deadline, Fox has emerged the victor in a competitive situation for the rights to the Christian Cantrell novella "Epoch Index." The 36-page novella was self-published in 2010, and the film rights have just sold for six figures. In "Epoch Index," the trade reports, "a CIA analyst is tasked with tracking down a flashy assassin whose targets are seemingly random. Connected only by a series of numbered tags left on each victim, Quinn Mitchell comes to a mind-boggling discovery: the targets are being sent to the assassin from the future – by her." Brad Peyton (San Andreas, Cats & Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) will direct from a script by Justin Rhodes (the upcoming Fantastic Voyage remake), and War for the Planet of the Apes helmer Matt Reeves will produce.

Feb 20, 2018

Tradecraft: Danny Boyle in Contention to Direct Bond 25

Variety reports that Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) is now high on MGM's wish list for directing the next James Bond movie. Boyle, known for his fast-moving, visually stunning films, is no stranger to James Bond. He's actually already directed Daniel Craig as the character in an appearance with the Queen in the opening ceremony to the 2012 London Olympic Games. (I had so hoped the segment would be included on the Skyfall Blu-ray, but alas, it wasn't. This essential part of any complete James Bond film collection is, however, available on the UK BBC DVD London 2012 Olympic Games, but not the American equivalent.) Additionally, the movie that shot Boyle to international fame, Trainspotting (1996) featured characters who loved to talk about James Bond, especially their Edinburgh hometown hero Sean Connery. Much of the Bond discussion came from the character Sick Boy, who was played by Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary), the grandson of original M actor Bernard Lee. The bestselling Trainspotting soundtrack even featured a song by Blur frontman Damon Albarn, "Closet Romantic," whose lyrics consisted solely of Albarn reciting the titles of Sean Connery James Bond movies. So Boyle has quite an arms' length history with Agent 007. He's also been rumored as up for the plum Bond directing gig several times in the past.

According to the trade, "Boyle has keen interest in the project and has always wanted to direct a Bond film. He is currently developing a project for Working Title, but with no cast currently attached, there is always the possibility of pushing that movie back to direct the 25th installment in the series." No formal offer has yet been made, however, and 71 and White Boy Rick director Yann Demange (said to be a favorite of producer Barbara Broccoli) is still in the running as well. Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Blade Runner 2049) previously turned down the Bond 25 assignment in favor of his Dune passion project, and both Skyfall and SPECTRE director Sam Mendes and tabloid favorite Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) have ruled themselves out from helming Daniel Craig's final Bond outing.

As previously reported, the still untitled Bond 25 is set to open November 8, 2019. No distribution partner has yet been named after Sony's co-production deal expired following SPECTRE, but MGM recently struck a wide-ranging distribution deal with Annapurna which could ultimately include Bond 25, but doesn't as of yet.

Feb 14, 2018

Tradecraft: Keira Knightley and Matt Smith Team for Katharine Gun Movie

Two years ago we heard about Official Secrets, a fact-based spy movie with an incredible cast about GCHQ whistle blower Katherine Gun. The all-star cast was to include Harrison Ford, Anthony Hopkins, Paul Bettany, and Martin Freeman, behind Game of Thrones' Natalie Dormer in the lead role. But as exciting as that cast sounded, nothing ever came of the movie. Now it's back on track, but reconfigured with a different cast. The Hollywood Reporter reports that Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game) and Matt Smith (Doctor Who) will now star in the revamped version of Official Secrets. Justin Chadwick (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Spooks) was originally set to direct, but now Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) will serve in that capacity.

Official Secrets is still based on the 2008 book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell. The title pretty much says it all, but Gun (who more closely resembles Dormer than Knightley) leaked an email to The Observer exposing an illegal U.S./UK intelligence operation designed to influence U.N. approval of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The film, financed by eOne (who will also distribute in certain territories), is set to start shooting next month.

Feb 11, 2018

Tradecraft: BETHLEHEM Director to Adapt Mossad Tale THE ENGLISH TEACHER

Yuval Adler's Bethlehem (2013) is the best spy movie of the last decade that no one has seen. It's truly a must-watch for any fans of gritty, le Carré-esque espionage yarns with only shades of grey and no easy answers. (It also made my list of the 10 Best Spy Movies of the last 10 years.) Which is why it's great news that Adler will be returning to the genre with an adaptation of former Israeli intelligence officer Yiftach Reicher Atir's bestselling novel The English Teacher! Only it won't be called that. According to Deadline, Adler's film version will be called The Operative (admittedly more generic), and star Eric Bana (Hanna, Munich) and Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds). Though it's been in my stack for a while, I still haven't read The English Teacher. (This news will probably inspire me to move it up a few notches!) But here's the publisher's description:
After attending her father’s funeral, former Mossad agent Rachel Goldschmitt empties her bank account and disappears. But when she makes a cryptic phone call to her former handler, Ehud, the Mossad sends him to track her down. Finding no leads, he must retrace her career as a spy to figure out why she abandoned Mossad before she can do any damage to Israel. But he soon discovers that after living under cover for so long, an agent’s assumed identity and her real one can blur, catching loyalty, love, and truth between them. In the midst of a high-risk, high-stakes investigation, Ehud begins to question whether he ever knew his agent at all.

Feb 9, 2018

Next James Bond Continuation Novel Announced: FOREVER AND A DAY

Yesterday, Ian Fleming Publications announced the title of the next official James Bond continuation novel--the second by Foyle's War and Alex Rider creator Anthony Horowitz. Out in May in the UK, but not until fall in the U.S., the new novel will be called Forever and a Day. If that title sounds somewhat familiar (or at least evocative), it's because last year saw the release of a quasi-James Bond novel by Hard Case Crime (not affiliated with IFP) called Forever and a Death. Forever and a Death was the late crime novelist Donald E. Westlake's novelization of his own rejected script for the Pierce Brosnan 007 movie that ultimately became Tomorrow Never Dies (and was novelized under that title by Raymond Benson, then the reigning Bond continuation author). While it was based on the plot that Westlake concocted for the film, James Bond himself was, obviously, not a character in the resulting novel. Nor is there a direct and obvious Bond analogue with only the name changed. There are instead a number of heroes working independently to stop the villain's plot, none of them secret agents. But here's the rub: Forever and a Death was simply a better Bond title than Forever and a Day, with that classic, darkly comic, ironic Ian Fleming twist on a familiar phrase along the lines of Live and Let Die or You Only Live Twice. (John Cox at The Book Bond has pointed out that Diamonds Are Forever was simply an unaltered phrase, too, but I would argue that the irony comes specifically in the pairing of that title with that story... and indeed perhaps that will be the case with this Horowitz novel as well.) It's kind of a shame that a Bond novel should be out-Bonded by a quasi-Bond novel before it even existed. All that said, though, were it not for the existence of Forever and a Death, Forever and a Day would be a pretty great title--far better than Horowitz's first Bond title, Trigger Mortis, or indeed any of his Alex Rider titles. And of course it's really the story inside that matters, not the title. After all, Devil May Care was a great Bond title, but proved a lousy Bond novel. And Trigger Mortis sounded more like an Alex Rider title, but turned out to be one of the very best Bond continuation novels. I have faith that Horowitz can do it again!

As far as that plot goes, here is the information on the new book provided by Ian Fleming Publications:
Anthony Horowitz’s second James Bond novel using original material by  Ian Fleming will be published on Thursday 31 May 2018, it is announced today. Forever and a Day is a prequel to Casino Royale, Fleming’s first 007 novel, and will explore the origins of the world’s most famous secret agent.

‘M laid down his pipe and stared at it tetchily. “We have no choice. We’re just going to bring forward this other chap you’ve been preparing. But you didn’t tell me his name.” 

“It’s Bond, sir,” the Chief of Staff replied. 

“James Bond.”’ 

The sea keeps its secrets. But not this time. 

One body. Three bullets. 007 floats in the waters of Marseille, killed by an unknown hand. 

It’s time for a new agent to step up. Time for a new weapon in the war against organised crime. 

It’s time for James Bond to earn his licence to kill. 

This is the story of the birth of a legend, in the brutal underworld of the French Riviera.
That time period is interesting, as no 007 continuation novels to date have taken place immediately prior to the events of Casino Royale. (Though Charlie Higson's and Steve Cole's Young Bond novels obviously take place a good deal prior to that book, when James Bond is just a schoolboy.) It's also been announced that an upcoming Dynamite comic book (also officially licensed by IFP) will focus on Bond's war years, so slowly but surely all of his life prior and up to becoming a Double O agent is being revealed.

Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz will be published May 31, 2018 in the UK by Jonathan Cape, the original publisher of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and now an imprint of Vintage Publishing. It's available for pre-order from Amazon.co.uk. There's no word yet on who the U.S. publisher will be come Fall, but Trigger Mortis was published here by Harper Collins, as was Horowitz's most recent novel, his clever twist on Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries Magpie Murders (whose U.S. publication was also substantially delayed from its UK debut), so I'd say they seem like a good bet.

Feb 7, 2018

Tradecraft: Teen Spy Kim Possible Makes a Live Action Comeback

Well, here's some unexpected and very cool spy news! According to Deadline, teenage superspy Kim Possible is poised to make a comeback after an 11-year absence. (And a decade after an unsuccessful campaign for a fifth TV season.) But not quite as you might expect, should you be familiar with the hilarious, whipsmart cartoon spy parody Kim Possible that aired on the Disney Channel from 2002-2007. The new Kim Possible will be a live-action movie. The trade reports that series creators Mark McCorkle and Robert Schooley have penned the script along with Josh Cagan (The DUFF). Adam B. Stein and Zach Lipovsky (Mech X4) will direct. Casting is currently underway. Unfortunately, the new Kim Possible won't be a theatrical feature, but a Disney Channel Original Movie.

In the original series, Kim was an ordinary teenage girl dealing with ordinary teenage problems like crushes, dating, acne, social hierarchy, cheerleading, and homework... along with less average ones like supervillains, monkeys, ninjas, and monkey ninjas. Because in addition to being a regular full-time high school student, she was also a freelance superspy and crime fighter. (Her genes were in her favor, being the daughter of a rocket scientist and a brain surgeon.) With her best friend and sidekick, the clumsy but utterly loyal Ron Stoppable, his pet naked mole rat Rufus, and 10-year old Q-type gadget genius Wade, she took on the likes of the nefarious Dr. Drakken and his henchwoman Shego, Lord Monkey Fist, Señor Senior, Sr. and Señor Senior, Jr--not to mention her cheerleading rival, Mean Girl Bonnie Rockwaller. Part Buffy the Vampire Slayer and part James Bond, the series never condescended to its young audience and featured razor-sharp scripts sure to entertain any adult spy fan with humorous send-ups of 007, Mission: Impossible, S.H.I.E.L.D., Alias, and countless more spy standards. It was also quite impressive visually, with sets galore inspired by Ken Adam.

I'm a bit dubious about the live-action angle, and particularly worried about how Rufus, the naked mole rat, will be handled. (An anthropomorphized CG critter could ruin a live-action version.) I wish we were getting an animated feature or a rebooted cartoon series, but I'm excited to see Kim Possible returning in any form! The original remains one of my favorite spy shows of this century.

Feb 4, 2018


As promised, Paramount released the full trailer for Mission: Impossible - Fallout today, the sixth film in the series starring Tom Cruise. A cut-down version of it also aired during the Super Bowl. Rather unsurprisingly after two truly stellar franchise entries, it looks pretty awesome. I'm not sure it's possible to top the airplane stunt in the last movie, but this helicopter stuff looks pretty cool. I am a bit worried that this entry will be even more Cruise-centric after Rogue Nation and especially Ghost Protocol had made such great strides toward the team dynamic of the TV show, but with such a solid (and large) supporting cast including returnees Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, and Michelle Monaghan, and newcomers Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby, and Henry Cavill, perhaps that won't be the case.

I'm a little more concerned (probably without cause) about who the handcuffed man in the hospital bed is that Luther (Rhames) restrains Ethan (Cruise) from lunging at. Because it's clearly not any of the people mentioned above, yet it seems to be someone who means a lot to Ethan Hunt. And it looks... sort of... like Jon Voight. We can't see his face clearly and I could be completely wrong here, but if it is, then would mean director Christopher McQuarrie plans to revisit one of the most controversial chapters of the film series' history--and my own least favorite. Many fans of the TV series were appalled and insulted by the twist in the original 1996 movie revealing Voight's Jim Phelps (the character originated on television by the great Peter Graves), Ethan's mentor, to be a traitor. (I don't think it's really possible to spoil a 22-year-old movie. There's a statute of limitations on such things!) It took the film series three chapters to dig its way out of that whole for me. If they are re-treading that particular ground (and the trailer makes it very clear that this mission is all about the ghosts who haunt Hunt, among whom Phelps would likely be foremost), it could go one of two ways. Either it could undo the damage done in Brian DePalma's movie by revealing Voight's Phelps to be a different character from Graves' (the franchise is, after all, famous for its use of doubles and disguises)... or it could double down on it. If the latter, it's likely to be enough to make me hate the film. (Yes, that's a little irrational. I understand. But I love Graves and the show so much that I can't help it, even if I recognize it.) McQuarrie mentioned in a very insightful interview last May that he had re-watched the first Mission movie in preparation for this sixth one, so it's certainly possible that Phelps could have been on his mind when scripting it. Furthermore, producer J.J. Abrams has mooted the possibility of revisiting the Phelps betrayal in the past... though he considered it when Peter Graves was still alive, and had hoped to bring him into the film series. Sadly that opportunity is now past. So despite the apparently definitive death of the Movie Phelps in Mission: Impossible (1996), I do think it's at least a possibility we could see his return. And such a return would likely be enough to set Ethan on the wild course he seems to be taking in Fallout, based on the trailer. (We clearly see scenes of him going up against his own teammates, and even, apparently, teaming up with Syndicate baddie Solomon Lane.)

Yes, I know... this is a lot of speculation from me over a quick image of a man in profile chained to a hospital bed. But these are the things I fixate on.

Feb 1, 2018

Tradecraft: Patrick Hughes to Direct Action-Comedy UNSAFE HOUSE

According to Variety, The Hitman's Bodyguard and Expendables 3 director Patrick Hughes has attached himself to helm the action-comedy Unsafe House for Lionsgate. The trade reports that the script by Adam J. Epstein and Andrew Jacobson "follows three friends who rent a Bahamas beach house over the summer for some R&R, only to come [to] realize that the location is actually [an] MI-6 safe house already occupied by a CIA operative. When the house comes under attack, the three friends must team up with the spy in order to survive the ordeal." I have to say, I like the sound of that! Is it possible that Hughes will reteam with his Hitman's Bodyguard star Ryan Reynolds, and that the star of Safe House (the less said about that 2012 spy movie the better... though I did say a lot more in my review, here) will also star in Unsafe House? The trade does not indicate that, but it's kind of fun to imagine.

First Advance Poster for MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT

Today Paramount released the first advance poster for Christopher McQuarrie's Mission: Impossible - Fallout. I could be wrong, but off the top of my head I think this may be the first time a Mission: Impossible poster has depicted Tom Cruise holding a gun. The trailer is expected to drop this weekend, along with a Super Bowl spot. The sixth entry in the venerable film franchise (and second to be directed by McQuarrie, who also helmed Rogue Nation) opens July 27, 2018.

Jan 30, 2018

Amazon Announces Airdate for JACK RYAN, Releases Super Bowl Spot

Amazon has released the Super Bowl spot for their upcoming TV series Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan a few days early, and with it, finally, an indication when we can expect the show to drop. And, frustratingly, it's not until August. But, on the plus side, the spot looks promising! It's very similar to the trailer we saw a few months ago, but better. John Krasinski stars as Tom Clancy's iconic CIA analyst character who always seems to find himself in over his head for the first time. Like the last two theatrical attempts at re-launching this franchise, the events of the show take place prior to The Hunt for Red October, yet in the present-day. Check it out:

Jan 28, 2018

Indicator Brings OTLEY to Blu-ray in March!

Wow! UK distributor Indicator, who released that terrific Blu-ray special edition of The Deadly Affair last year, have announced a new spy title. And it's one of my favorite spy movies of all time, and one I never expected to see on Blu-ray--Otley (1969)! Adapted by the great Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Never Say Never Again, The Bank Job, Spies of Warsaw) from the novel by Martin Waddell and directed by Clement, Otley plays like a comedic version of the Len Deighton school of spy story. Like The Ipcress File, it owes as much to Raymond Chandler as it does to the spy genre, with a terrifically irreverent and in-over-his-head antihero played to perfection by Tom Courtenay (A Dandy in Aspic). Otley deserves to be mentioned in the company of Billy Liar and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner when it comes to Courtenay's career-defining performances, and it's a shame it's not better known.

Gerald Arthur Otley fancies himself an antiques dealer, but is really more of a small-time thief who sleeps on the couch of whatever friend will put him up (and put up with him) until he wears out his welcome. Then he suddenly finds himself mixed up with all sorts of spies, never certain how he got into this mess or how he can get out of it. The entire cast is a who's who of spy actors (most of them recognizable from memorable guest appearances on The Avengers and The Saint), including Romy Schneider (Triple Cross), James Villiers (For Your Eyes Only), Alan Badel (Arabesque), Leonard Rossiter (Deadlier Than the Male), Geoffrey Bayldon (Casino Royale), Ronald Lacey (Raiders of the Lost Ark), James Cossins (The Man With the Golden Gun), and Edward Hardwicke (The Return of Sherlock Holmes).

Like The Deadly Affair and other Indicator releases, the Otley Blu-ray is a limited edition (limited to 3,000 copies), and loaded with copious special features including:
  • High Definition remaster
  • Original mono audio
  • Audio commentary with director Dick Clement
  • The Guardian Lecture with Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (2008): archival audio recording of an interview conducted by Dick Fiddy at London s National Film Theatre
  • New interview with actor Tom Courtenay (2018)
  • New interview with actor Phyllida Law(2018)
  • New interview with actor Freddie Jones (2018)
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography
  • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Laura Mayne, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and historic articles on the film
Now I hope that Indicator have their eyes on Clement and La Frenais' previous scripted feature, The Jokers (directed by Michael Winner). That one's not a spy movie, but it's a terrific caper picture every bit as charming and entertaining as Otley, and another wonderful time capsule of London when it swing.

The limited edition Blu-ray of Otley is available for pre-order on Amazon.co.uk for the very reasonable price of just  £14.99.

Jan 25, 2018


A post shared by Tom Cruise (@tomcruise) on
Tom Cruise took to Instagram today to reveal the title of his upcoming sixth Mission: Impossible movie and what he'll be dangling from this time, the latter reveal coming in the form of an exciting first-look image. The title (probably better associated with another Sixties spy series–The Prisoner) is Mission: Impossible: Fallout. And what he's dangling from this time is a helicopter, which might sound like a comedown from the gigantic transport plane in the last movie, but looks pretty cool in this picture! He also unveiled the official synopsis of the Christopher McQuarrie-directed sequel:
The best intentions often come back to haunt you. Mission: Impossible – Fallout finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team (Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames) along with some familiar allies (Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan) in a race against time after a mission gone wrong. Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, and Vanessa Kirby also join the dynamic cast with filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie returning to the helm.
Sean Harris also returns as Syndicate villain Solomon Lane, last seen inside a large box. Mission: Impossible – Fallout opens July 27, 2018.

Jan 14, 2018

Trailer: Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike in BEIRUT

Bleecker Street has released the first trailer for Beirut, a movie set in one of my favorite spy locations that we first heard about in 2015 under the better title of High Wire Act. No matter what they're calling it, this spy movie has a rich pedigree. It's written by Bourne franchise veteran Tony Gilroy, and directed by the always interesting indie auteur Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian). And it stars the very appealing duo of Jon Hamm (Keeping Up With the Joneses) and Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day), along with Shea Whigham (Agent Carter) and Dean Norris (Death Wish). Hamm plays a former American diplomat who fled his old Lebanon stomping ground in 1972 after a tragic incident at his home. A decade later, when he's a washed-up drunk working in the private sector, he is called back to war-torn Beirut by CIA operative Pike to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind.

Beirut opens April 13. Before that, it premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, January 22.


This is cool! UK distributor Network have been releasing a number of classic ITC shows piecemeal on Blu-ray, one volume at a time. They're in the midst of putting out the great Richard Bradford series Man in a Suitcase that way, and they're offering something a little different. The latest volume available for pre-order is actually the feature film version of the two-parter "Variation on a Million Bucks," re-titled To Chase a Million. Like America's Man From U.N.C.L.E. "movies" (or Mission: Impossible vs. the Mob), a number of two-part episodes of ITC series (or very occasionally standalone episodes) were cut together and released continentally as theatrical Eurospy features. While some are readily available and sometimes even included in the DVD or Blu-ray series sets (A&E frustrated some fans by only including the feature cut of one of the two Saint movies, and not its episodic equivalent; all of the Persuaders! feature cuts are included as standard-definition bonus features on Network's Complete Series Blu-ray collection), others of these movies, like To Chase a Million, are quite rare. Since television and film are paced differently, a lot of these feature re-cuts feel a little clunky (lots of padding) and don't make great introductions to the shows. But they're a treat for fans! I always try to seek out the film cuts, and personally I hope that Network makes a regular practice of high-definition standalone releases of these movies. (They should also appeal to Eurospy collectors only looking for rare movies who don't necessarily go in for TV shows.)

I would love to see both Saint movies get their own Blu-ray releases, especially since Network hasn't yet started releasing that series in HD. (There even exists a commentary track for Vendetta for the Saint with Roger Moore, Johnny Goodman, and Robert Baker, recorded for an American MPI DVD release. It would be great if Network could license that for a Blu-ray.) Just seeing those unique opening titles to The Fiction Makers in HD would be reward enough! Even the lackluster Baron movie, The Man in a Looking Glass, would be neat. (That's another series they haven't yet given the Blu treatment.) Best of all, though, would be some of the super-rare ITC movies, like the Sentimental Agent movie Our Man in the Caribbean. I've never been able to track that one down even as a bootleg, but as best I can tell it incorporates the completely unrelated Sentimental Agent episode "A Very Desirable Plot" (guest-starring Diana Rigg) and the Man of the World episode that introduced Carlos Thompson's Sentimental Agent character, "The Sentimental Agent" (guest-starring Shirley Eaton). How they pulled that off I'd really like to see! So fingers crossed that To Chase a Million represents only the beginning of Network's ITC feature film standalone Blu-ray releases....

In To Chase a Million, former American spy McGill (wrongfully kicked out by U.S. Intelligence when he was set up to look like a traitor) if bequeathed the key to a safety deposit box in Lisbon, supposedly containing $1 million stolen by his friend Stein (the always wonderful Anton Rodgers of The Prisoner and Zodiac) from the KGB before his defection. This sets off a chase across Europe as McGill races to get to it from London before the Russians, Americans, or various other intelligence services and freelancers.

Network's To Chase a Million Blu-ray, featuring a brand-new HD remaster from the original 35mm film elements, is (unlike their series volumes) presented in its rarely seen original widescreen theatrical aspect ratio. (The full-screen TV version is also included as a bonus.) According to their website, it is an all-region release, so it will play in regular American Blu-ray players. It's currently available for pre-order from the Network website for £10.00 (including VAT). It will be released on February 19, 2018.

Read my review of Man in a Suitcase - Volume 1 (which includes "Variation on a Million Bucks" parts 1 and 2) here.
Read my review of Man in a Suitcase - Volume 2 here.
Read my review of The Sentimental Agent here.