Mar 29, 2015

Tradecraft: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers Accepts Damascus Cover

Jonathan Rhys Meyers has dabbled in spying before in Mission: Impossible III and From Paris With Love, but now he's going deep cover - Damascus Cover. While a Syrian-set spy adventure would seem very timely right now, this is actually set in the past. Variety and Deadline report that the actor will topline a new spy thriller based on Howard Kaplan's 1977 novel The Damascus Cover. (The movie version is dropping the "The.") Writer/director Daniel Zelik Berk is keeping it a period piece, but (somewhat confusingly) changing the period. Rather than the novel's late Seventies setting, the movie will be set in 1989 and follows, per Variety, a veteran Israeli agent "sent undercover in Syria to smuggle a chemical weapons scientist and his family out of Damascus. Within days of his arrival he realizes he’s being followed. His partner doesn’t show, his local contact disappears, and a group of men are trying to kill him. It’s not long before his routine mission unravels to reveal a string of murderous conspirators."
Rhys Meyers set the historical context for Deadline, telling the trade, "This was a hugely significant time in the conflict in the Middle East, post-cold war and with the collapse of the Berlin Wall when spies were redeployed [there], where the theatre of covert operations would now take precedence." Well said, Jonathan! It certainly is an interesting setting. Olivia Thirlby (Dredd), John Hurt (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Igal Naor (Green Zone), Jurgen Prochnow (24) and Navid Negahba (Homeland) round out the pretty impressive cast. Filming began last month in Morocco. Kaplan wrote a sequel to The Damascus Cover, Bullets of Palestine, so I suppose it's possible this movie has franchise potential.

Mar 27, 2015

The SPECTRE Teaser Trailer is Here!

Well, here's the one we've all been waiting for! Here's the one that Paramount was clearly trying to beat to the punch when they released the Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation trailer last weekend. And you know what? It turns out the two trailers could not be more different.

Check it out:

Sure, both are introducing audiences to a shadowy criminal organization for their respective heroes to go up against, but they do it in such different ways. (And I love both.) Rogue Nation is all phenomenal, over-the-top action and stunts, and says the name "the Syndicate" again and again and again. (To my unending delight each time.) The SPECTRE teaser, on the other hand, is all subtlety, nuance and menace, and no character ever mentions "SPECTRE" by name. Instead we glimpse a ring with the familiar octopus logo first seen in From Russia With Love. We're treated to certain iconography associated with the Special Executive fr Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion in its classic Sixties incarnation: a "board meeting" of mysterious figures gathered around a wooden table in a luxurious, Old World setting, a shadow, silhouetted person presiding. Everything but a white cat. (Had I cut a trailer reintroducing SPECTRE, it would have just been a close-up of a white cat being stroked by the hands of an unseen villain. But then again, we're still not sure if Blofeld is even in this movie, and if he's not... then I guess there wouldn't be a cat, either.) I love the slow build. I love the beautiful cinematography, courtesy of Hoyte van Hoytema (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). I love that shot of Bond on the boat, tiny and alone in the vastness of that Austrian lake. And I love the use of the Bond Theme played on... is it a cimbalom? A xylophone? Whatever it is, it's stark and effective, like this teaser. And of course I love the final reveal of the logo, and all the franchise history packed into that logo: the octopus logo, Tracy... and a friend pointed out to me that that even looks like the pointed ears of a cat the way the glass is broken around the bullet hole. It's brilliant.

I'm also surprised at how much this teaser seems to reveal in its relatively brief minute and forty-two seconds. Although they've played coy with his actual character since the initial press conference, here they certainly seem to be hinting that Christoph Waltz is playing Blofeld. Or maybe it's all a clever misdirect. But that seems to be his silhouette we see in shadow, and his collar even seems carefully arranged to recall the silhouette of a Nehru jacket! Then there's all that about Bond's childhood. It feels like a very direct continuation of Skyfall (right down to Moneypenny's name-check in the opening moments of the teaser), and it looks like SPECTRE will continue to explore 007's formative years. Freeze on that document, and you'll find that it's a transfer of guardianship from James' Aunt Charmian (a character first mentioned in Ian Fleming's You Only Live Twice, and fleshed out by Charlie Higson in his Young Bond novels) to Hannes Oberhauser, James' childhood ski instructor and a surrogate father figure introduced in Fleming's "Octopussy" and fleshed out in Higson's By Royal Command. Finally, there's the return of Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), the villain from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace whose escape has bothered many Bond fans. Judging from his ragged, unkempt appearance, Mr. White has come down in the world since we last saw him, but he remains as enigmatic as ever. (His advice to Craig's Bond in the teaser hardly seems helpful.) Christensen's involvement in SPECTRE had been rumored, but wasn't officially announced at the press conference last December that revealed other key cast members. Presumably his appearance indicates a connection between the villainous organizations Quantum and SPECTRE, as many fans have hoped for.

What surprises me most, though, is the complete lack of action! Has there ever been a James Bond teaser before that showed actual footage from the film, but no stunts? I can't recall one off the top of my head. But it works! In fact, it works so damn well! I don't think they could have done a trailer like this in the Brosnan era. I think it's specific to Daniel Craig's tenure as 007 that they can get away with a James Bond trailer based entirely on character and drama and suspense rather than bombastic action. Of course we know the action will be in the movie, but I like the confidence that it's not needed to sell the film. Because it's really not in this day and age. As I said up front, the SPECTRE trailer and the Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation trailer could not be more different in how they introduce audiences to their respective revived villainous organizations. But both work in their own right, and both seem very true to the current conception of their respective series. I can't wait for both of these movies! Between them and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., it looks like spy fans are in for one fantastic year.

SPECTRE opens November 6 worldwide.

NOTE: Please speculate all you like in the comments; after all, this teaser trailer leaves us with plenty to speculate about! But, since the script for this movie was leaked in last year's Sony hack, it's necessary for me to implore readers to refrain from making comments with actual spoilers in them, as many fans (myself included) are still trying to go into this movie knowing only what EON and the studios want us to know. Thank you!

Cool Spy Toys: S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier Gets Lego-ized reports (via Blastr) that Lego will release a nearly 3,000-piece set to construct the famous S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. This has to be one of the coolest spy toys in a long time! Of course the toy is meant to tie in with Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron movie, not with the classic Sixties Jim Steranko or Jack Kirby Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. comics from which it originates, but it's cool either way! Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. was Marvel's way of cashing in on the Bond-based Sixties spy boom, and S.H.I.E.L.D. was essentially their version of U.N.C.L.E. But because Marvel was making comic books, not movies or television (and largely because the creative genius Steranko was drawing them), they ventured further into the realm of the fantastic than even Ken Adam could realize on screen. Aston Martins with ejector seats didn't go far enough; Nick Fury drove an invisible Porsche capable of flight. And a building with a secret entrance through a tailor shop would hardly do as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s HQ (although they did have one of those, too); Fury needed a flying aircraft carrier from which to direct his intelligence operations! The helicarrier is perhaps the ultimate symbol of Marvel's unique take on spy-fi, which blended espionage with superheroics and science fiction. And though it's remained a mainstay of the Marvel Universe in comics ever since, it seemed so outlandish that I never dreamed we'd see a big screen version. But Joss Whedon proved me gloriously wrong in Marvel's The Avengers (2012), realizing the improbably airborne spy headquarters with as much realism as possible. So much so that with that set-up, audiences had no problem with a whole fleet of helicarriers in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)! And now, at last, we've got ourselves a Lego helicarrier. Oh, how I want one! But the price is likely to be prohibitively steep, and the size would pose a display problem. But take a look at this video to see how detailed and all around awesome it is, and you'll probably want one too! Owing to its enormity, the helicarrier isn't in scale with standard Lego figures, so Lego have created a cast of even smaller figures to assemble on its deck. Among, naturally, are superspies Nick Fury (in his Samuel L. Jackson incarnation) and Black Widow (based on Scarlett Johansson).

Read more about the helicarrier in my S.H.I.E.L.D. primer, here.

Mar 26, 2015

Full Trailer for Spooks: The Greater Good

Just two days ago I belatedly posted the teaser trailer (and posters) for Spooks: The Greater Good; today the full trailer arrives—no doubt timed, like Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, to preempt the previously announced debut of the SPECTRE teaser tomorrow. This is the big screen spinoff of the popular BBC TV series Spooks (broadcast in America as MI-5) that ran from 2002-2011. The full trailer looks great, and very much in keeping with the series. (Not surprising, given that director Bharat Nalluri helmed six episodes of the show, including the pilot.) Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones) stars along with fellow newcomers to the franchise Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty), David Harewood (Homeland), Elyes Gabel (Exit Strategy, A Most Violent Year) and Tuppence Middleton (The Lady Vanishes). Peter Firth (The Hunt for Red October), the only consistent regular cast member throughout all ten seasons, Lara Pulver (Sherlock) and Tim McInnerny (Johnny English Reborn) reprise their roles from the TV show. As for Harrington starring, it is completely in keeping with the series to introduce a new male lead. The show had a shockingly high mortality rate among its key players (though not everyone to leave was killed off), and went through a succession of leading men. Bringing in someone entirely new also helps make the movie accessible for viewers who might not have seen the series. Spooks: The Greater Good opens May 8 in the UK. Frustratingly, there is still no release date or confirmed distributor for the U.S.

Tradecraft: CW Orders Teen Spy Pilot

Deadline reports that the CW has given a pilot order to the teen spy school drama from Desperate Housewives' Marc Cherry and Law & Order: SVU's Neal Baer that we first heard about late last year. Written by Cherry, Baer and Blue Bloods' Dan Truly, the "Heathers meets Alias" drama follows a disgraced CIA agent turned Washington D.C. prep school teacher who tries to get back in the Agency's good graces by training his well-connected students to be his own personal network of agents. Alan Van Sprang (Reign, The Tudors) plays the agent, Stone, and Gia Mantegna (And Soon the Darkness), Pepi Sonuga (General Hospital) and Abbie Cobb (Intelligence) play the mean girls he trains to be spies, Grace, Ursula and Maddie, respectively. Speaking of mean girls, the actual Mean Girls helmer, Mark Waters, directs. Newcomer Aylin Bayramoglu also has a role. Regular readers know I'm a sucker for the teen spy subgenre, so I'm really rooting for this one to get picked up to series!

Mar 25, 2015

Tradecraft: Legends Undergoes Changes in Season 2

Deadline reports that TNT's Legends will undergo some significant changes in its second season. Ken Biller (Legend of the Seeker) will take over from David Wilcox as the new showrunner on the Sean Bean spy series executive produced by Howard Gordon (24, Homeland). According to the trade, "Biller is taking the reins of Legends as part of a creative revamp." Biller himself says "reimagining" and Fox 21 TV Studios president Bert Salke says "reshape," so it's pretty clear that something transformative is planned. When the series was renewed (rather late in the game, in December), it was reported that there could be some supporting cast changes. Since then it's been announced that Morris Chestnut, who was a regular on the first season, would only appear in several episodes of Season 2 as a guest star, and another Season 1 regular, Amber Valetta, has booked a new pilot. I really liked Season 1 (though it did take a few episodes to come into its own), so I hope they don't change things up too much (please find a way to keep Tina Majorino!), but the first season ended with a cliffhanger that gives them the ability to shake things up pretty thoroughly in an organic fashion and reshuffle the supporting cast dramatically. I have faith in Biller, because I loved Legend of the Seeker, and I think it would be pretty cool if he brought in some of the actors from that series... particularly Bridget Regan (Agent Carter).

Legends went through a very rough road to production before its first season, too, switching networks and stars in the process. It will be interesting to see what new direction this series, based on the novel by Robert Littell, takes. When Legends returns in August, it won't be TNT's only spy series. The cable network also has a 10-episode season of Agent X in the pipeline.

Ned Rifle Trailer

Here's the teaser trailer for the Kickstarter-funded final film in Hal Hartley's quirky, tragicomic, indie quasi-spy series that began with Henry Fool (1997) and continued with Fay Grim (2006). Ned Rifle, starring Aubrey Plaza, Parker Posey, James Urbaniak, Martin Donovan and Thomas Jay Ryan, opens theatrically in New York (at the IFC Center), and on Vimeo On Demand April 1. It expands theatrically to Los Angeles (CineFamily), San Francisco (The Roxie), and Toronto (The Royal) on Friday, April 3, then to further markets on April 10. Read my review of Fay Grim here.

Mar 24, 2015

Posters and Teaser Trailer for Spooks: The Greater Good

Mission: Impossible 5 (now known as Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation) isn't the only spy movie spun off from a successful TV series with the initials "MI-5" coming out this year. As we first learned back in late 2013, the popular BBC series MI-5 (as it was known in America; Spooks to UK viewers), which ran from 2002-2011, is also getting the big screen treatment this year. Spooks: The Greater Good is set for release in Britain on May 8 (lucky Brits!), and two posters and a brief teaser were unveiled at the end of January. They somehow slipped by me until now. So far there is unfortunately no U.S. release date set. Presumably in the States it will be titled MI-5: The Greater Good, so you would think that Fox (who are distributing in the UK, but not confirmed for North America) would want to get it out here prior to Rogue Nation to capitalize on spy fans' confusion. I admit, that's a rather cynical position to take on a movie I'm really excited about, but I'm trying to think like a distributor. The only confirmed regular cast members from the TV series are Peter Firth (featured on the poster above), returning as Security Service spymaster Harry Pearce, and Lara Pulver (Sherlock), who was introduced in the 10th and final season as Erin Watts. Tim McInnerny reprises his recurring role as Oliver Mace, while the rest of the cast is rounded out by newcomers. (The movie is designed to be accessible to first-time viewers as well as dedicated fans.) Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones) leads the pack (and is pictured on the poster below), along with Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty), David Harewood (Homeland), Elyes Gabel (Exit Strategy, A Most Violent Year) and Tuppence Middleton (The Lady Vanishes). Check out the teaser:

Read my review of MI-5: Volume 1
Read my review of MI-5: Volume 2
Read my review of MI-5: Volume 3
Read my review of MI-5: Volume 4
Read my review of MI-5: Volume 5

Mar 23, 2015

Tradecraft: Neil Burger to Direct Olen Steinhauer's All the Old Knives

Deadline first reported last October that Divergent director Neil Burger would helm an adaptation of Olen Steinhaur's new novel All the Old Knives for Chockstone Pictures partners Steve Schwartz and Paula Mae Schwartz and Nick Wechsler, who preemptively optioned the novel a whole year before its publication. Last week the trade updated their story, adding that The Mark Gordon Company and Entertainment One have come on board as financers and distributors, making All the Old Knives the inaugural picture for their new joint studio. This is terrific news. I'm only about three quarters of the way through the book right now, but so far I'd say it could well be Steinhauer's best book to date. (A far slimmer volume than last year's The Cairo Affair, it's simultaneously a denser work.)

The brilliant concept, indicated in the text itself (Steinhaur often tips his hat to his influences in his novels), is Christopher Reid's The Song of Lunch meets Len Deighton's Berlin Game. It's the search for a mole (as in the latter) played out in flashbacks over the course of a dinner between two ex-lovers (as in the former). A man and a woman meet to relive old times and go over an intelligence debacle in Vienna they were both party to six years prior. The novel trades off first person narration between the two of them. Each is apparently suspicious of the other, and both are potentially unreliable narrators. It's a complex spy game formulated by a writer at the top of his craft and played out in a relatable and intensely emotional scenario. It should make a wonderful movie if Steinhauer (who is writing the screenplay himself) can find a way to make the flashbacks and framing structure cinematic. It's the best sort of two-hander, and the complex characterizations should attract top talent in both primary roles. Burger recognizes that, telling the trade, "As a director, I love that it’s a tightly woven puzzle, a mystery involving counter-terrorism and also a mystery of the human heart. Best of all are the two very clever and calculating characters at the center of the story who are dealing with issues of loyalty, sacrifice and a lot of sexual tension. I can’t wait to start casting them.”

Now if only we could get some movement on the long overdue adaptation of Steinhauer's excellent Milo Weaver trilogy.... Last we heard, Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) was attached to direct the first novel, The Tourist, with his Covert Affairs partners Matt Corman and Chris Ord penning the script. But there hasn't been any news since September, 2012. Come on, Hollywood! This is a surefire blockbuster franchise!

Mission: Impossible: What is The Syndicate?

After watching the trailer for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, many viewers may be asking themselves, "Who or what is this Syndicate?" Longtime fans of the TV series, however, are probably already grinning. The Syndicate has a long history with Mission: Impossible... though not in quite the same context as this new movie iteration.

Although the later seasons of Mission: Impossible are commonly referred to as "the Syndicate years" since the organization became the Impossible Missions Force's primary antagonist, the Syndicate actually first reared its ugly head as early as the very first season. Bob Johnson, the iconic voice on the self-destructing tapes who gives Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) and Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) before him his missions, first mentioned the Syndicate in a mission briefing in Episode 17 of Season 1, "The Frame" (though an "International Narcotics Syndicate" was referenced ten episodes sooner). We're told, "The Syndicate has a finger in every legitimate business. Now they're moving into government." Yes, this Syndicate was organized crime. Essentially the Mafia, though that word wasn't spoken much on American TV in the Sixties. The Syndicate also popped up frequently on another Bruce Geller TV show of the era, Mission: Impossible's sister series the private eye drama Mannix. It was a polite way to talk about the mob on television.

The Syndicate made a big splash going up against Phelps and his IM Force in the second season two-parter "The Council." This was a significant appearance, because the two episodes were edited together into the first theatrical Mission: Impossible movie, Mission: Impossible vs. the Mob, for release in foreign markets, Jim's mission was, according to the recording, to "put an end to [new Syndicate boss] Frank Wayne and his organization." The crew may have succeeded in ending Wayne's career, but clearly they didn't accomplish the objective of smiting the organization, because the Syndicate would return again and again. In "The Council," the scope of the plot is still international (the Syndicate is laundering its money in Swiss banks), keeping the IMF's purview fairly CIA-like and foreign-oriented, but that would change. From the very beginning, the IMF always took on the occasional homegrown criminal between spy missions (everything from large scale con men to armored car robbers), but eventually they would turn their focus more towards domestic crime and the Syndicate behind it.

By Season 4's "Mastermind," the writers had learned to stop having the team go up against the Syndicate's top man every time. You could only take out so many leaders before it all got implausible. Henceforth, the IMF's Syndicate-based missions would mostly be against local leaders or men with specific roles in the vast organization that was the Syndicate. (An organization big enough to have its own convention in "Mastermind.")

It was in Season 5 (the 1970-71 season) that the show's producers made a conscious decision to focus less on Cold War politics with fictional Iron Curtain countries (story consultant Lawrence Heath expressed frustration about not being allowed to use real countries and current events). In his essential book The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier, Patrick J. White explains that the change was a reaction to plunging ratings. The writers felt that the show had become too predictable in its old format. Since only two episodes of Season 4 had taken place in the United States, a decision was made to shift the series geographically. And the primary enemy on the homefront was the Syndicate. Even with this mandate, however, a good chunk of Season 5 episodes still took place overseas and focused on traditional espionage. It was in Seasons 6 and 7, after Leonard Nimoy left, that the Syndicate really came to the forefront.

During the final two seasons, we hear Bob Johnson talk about "the Syndicate" so often that it becomes a whole new trope for the show. It's almost as familiar as "your mission, should you decide to accept it," or "this tape will self-destruct in five seconds." Because of that familiarity, it came as a delight to many fans of the TV show when the fourth Tom Cruise film, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, mentioned the Syndicate in an offhand manner. At the end of the movie, once the action is over, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) gets a new mission briefing about "a new terrorist organization calling itself 'The Syndicate.'" This is only one of many Easter Eggs in that movie for TV fans, but it made me clap out loud in the IMAX theater. Still, the question remained. Was it just an Easter Egg? Or was this briefing laying the groundwork for the next movie? Happily, we now have an answer. It was laying the groundwork alright, for a ferociously reinvented Syndicate who's back in a big way in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation.

Appropriate to our times, the new Syndicate feels a lot more threatening than the old one, which eventually boiled down to a lot of sweaty men in ill-fitting Seventies suits who sometimes seemed beneath the talents of the IMF. But the reinvented Syndicate is an equal to the IMF. It's a "rogue nation" unto itself according to the trailer, "trained to do what we do," in Ethan's words. "An anti-IMF," as Benji (Simon Pegg) puts it. Furthermore, it's shrouded in secrecy. According to Alec Baldwin's character, "the CIA has never discovered any intel regarding this Syndicate." When he poses the possibly rhetorical question as to why to Agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Brandt brashly asks, "Do you want the polite answer, or the truth?" Does this exchange indicate that the Syndicate might have infiltrated the CIA itself? Or just that it's so good at covering its tracks it's managed to elude them? I tend to favor the former. This new Syndicate certainly seems to owe a lot to Marvel's Hydra (particularly as seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where the evil organization had managed to fully penetrate intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D.) and James Bond's SPECTRE. But with that resonant name, it still holds a uniquely Mission: Impossible identity. I love every twist that manages to bring the movies closer to their small screen antecedent, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how this new Syndicate plays out.

Read my reviews of the Syndicate-heavy seasons of Mission: Impossible:

DVD Review: Mission: Impossible: The Seventh TV Season
DVD Review: Mission: Impossible: The Sixth TV Season
DVD Review: Mission: Impossible: The Fifth TV Season

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation Full Trailer and Expanded Analysis

Yesterday we saw a minute long teaser for TV and a cool poster; today we have the first full trailer for Christopher McQuarrie's Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (formerly known only as Mission: Impossible 5). Check it out! What follows is a write-through from my commentary yesterday with a lot more to say about the longer version.

There are many, many things to love about this trailer, especially for fans of the TV series. Chief among them is that it delivers—big time!—on the tantalizing promise that concluded Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol: the big screen IMF are now taking on The Syndicate! But this isn't the organized crime Syndicate of sweaty, balding men in bad Seventies suits from the TV show. ("Syndicate" was a popular and more acceptable term than "Mafia" on television back then.) This new Syndicate was introduced (to the delight of long-term fans) at the end of the last movie as "a new terrorist group calling itself 'The Syndicate,'" and in this trailer we learn even more about it. It's the "rogue nation" of the title, an "anti-IMF" with the same extraordinary skill sets. It's so secret that the CIA haven't been able to dig up any intel on them. Or is the implication in the trailer less polite than that? Has the Syndicate infiltrated the CIA? Are they affiliated with them? This version of The Syndicate certainly seems kin to Hydra (as seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), SPECTRE (returning for the first time since 1971 to antagonize James Bond in the next movie), KAOS (who earn a subtle verbal allusion from Alec Baldwin in the Rogue Nation trailer) and THRUSH.

With at least three of those villainous organizations active on screen this year (Hydra is set up to return in The Avengers: Age of Ultron), it's clear that evil agencies are enjoying a comeback. Why is this? Is it because of real world terrorist groups like ISIS? (In the face of actual, seemingly insurmountable evil, perhaps audiences crave acronyms that can actually be destroyed by heroes.) Or is it because of increased distrust in our own governments? (Concocting conspiracies of cabals that have infiltrated all levels of government seems preferable to admitting that giant bureaucracies are inherently fallible.) Or is it just because Marvel had huge success adapting a kind of silly SPECTRE rip-off for the big screen and making "Hail Hydra" a $700+ million cultural meme? Whatever the case, I love the idea of reviving The Syndicate in the Mission: Impossible movies. I'm a big fan of the so-called "Syndicate Seasons" from the show's later years, even though that term is really a misnomer. The Syndicate showed up as early as the very first season, and even in the last season it wasn't all organized crime; the IMF was still taking on spies and terrorists as well. And hearing Bob Johnson's tape recorded voice say "The Syndicate" dozens and dozens of times in his mission briefings for Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) conditioned me to crave it in the movies.

The Syndicate isn't the only nod to the original series in this trailer. Best of all is that this movie, like Ghost Protocol before it (but unlike the first couple of theatrical features) seems to follow the team format of the series rather than being "The Tom Cruise Show." The most obscure reference is actually to a script that was never made. The premise of dismantling the IMF comes from George Schenck's sadly unfilmed script for a TV reunion movie entitled Mission: Impossible 1980. That script opened audaciously with Jim Phelps being released from prison(!), identified as "the last of the Watergate-era criminals." He's been paying the price for, as the script puts it, "violating people's civil rights and intervening in the domestic affairs of other countries." (All of which, of course, the IMF of the TV show was most certainly guilty.) But Jim remains confident of his decisions. "Everything I did..." he explains, "everything the IMF did... I believed was for the good of the country."

"But the country convicted you!" argues a journalist. "On six counts of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping, and two counts of refusing to testify before a Congressional committee." Which all sounds an awful lot like the Alec Baldwin character's reasons for wanting to shut down the IMF in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing this interesting premise finally explored on film. All in all, this movie looks great. It clearly draws from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Skyfall, but those are excellent sources to draw from. And their themes can be explored differently in the context of Mission: Impossible. I can't wait to see how it turns out! Based on the trailers, between this and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (and hopefully SPECTRE by the end of the week!), spy fans have quite a lot to look forward to this year.

Read my reviews of the Syndicate-heavy seasons of Mission: Impossible:

DVD Review: Mission: Impossible: The Seventh TV Season
DVD Review: Mission: Impossible: The Sixth TV Season
DVD Review: Mission: Impossible: The Fifth TV Season

Mar 22, 2015

First Poster for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

In addition to the TV spot released earlier today, Paramount have also revealed the first poster for this summer's Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (via Impawards). Unlike the video, which makes it clear that like Ghost Protocol (and more importantly the TV series before it), this movie will be a team movie, the poster remains very Tom Cruise-centric. That's okay. He's earned that right with his insistence on outdoing himself in each movie with a crazier stunt, like the one shown on the poster. In which (unlike Roger Moore in Octopussy), he actually clings to the exterior of an airborne plane at 5,000 feet. (As proven in the behind-the-scenes photography from filming.) Additionally, USA Today (via Dark Horizons) offers more stills from the new movie, including this one of Cruise with actress Rebecca Ferguson (Hercules, The White Queen).

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation Teaser Revives The Syndicate!

Paramount provided our first look at Christopher McQuarrie's Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (formerly known only as Mission: Impossible 5) today, and it is awesome. This is a minute-long TV teaser, with a full trailer due to hit tomorrow. Take a look!

There are many, many things to love about this teaser, especially for fans of the TV series. Chief among them is that it delivers—big time!—on the tantalizing promise that concluded Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol: the big screen IMF are now taking on The Syndicate! But this isn't the organized crime Syndicate of sweaty, balding men in bad Seventies suits from the TV show. ("Syndicate" was a popular and more acceptable term than "Mafia" on television back then.) This new Syndicate was introduced (to the delight of long-term fans) at the end of the last movie as "a new terrorist group calling itself 'The Syndicate,'" and in this trailer we learn even more about it. It's the "rogue nation" of the title, an "anti-IMF" with the same extraordinary skill sets. This version of The Syndicate certainly seems kin to Hydra (as seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), SPECTRE (returning for the first time since 1971 to antagonize James Bond in the next movie), KAOS, and THRUSH.

With at least three of those villainous organizations active on screen this year (Hydra is set up to return in The Avengers: Age of Ultron), it's clear that evil agencies are enjoying a comeback. Why is this? Is it because of real world terrorist groups like ISIS? (In the face of actual, seemingly insurmountable evil, perhaps audiences crave acronyms that can actually be destroyed by heroes.) Or is it because of increased distrust in our own governments? (Concocting conspiracies of cabals that have infiltrated all levels of government seems preferable to admitting that giant bureaucracies are inherently fallible.) Or is it just because Marvel had huge success adapting a kind of silly SPECTRE rip-off for the big screen and making "Hail Hydra" a $700+ million cultural meme? Whatever the case, I love the idea of reviving The Syndicate in the Mission: Impossible movies. I'm a big fan of the so-called "Syndicate Seasons" from the show's later years, even though that term is really a misnomer. The Syndicate showed up as early as the first season (and in the second, two Syndicate episodes were stitched together for overseas release as the feature Mission Impossible vs. The Mob), and even in the last season it wasn't all organized crime; the IMF was still taking on spies and terrorists as well. And hearing Bob Johnson's tape recorded voice say "The Syndicate" dozens and dozens of times in his mission briefings for Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) conditioned me to crave it in the movies.

Based on trailers, between this and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (and hopefully SPECTRE by the end of the week!), spy fans have quite a lot to look forward to this year.

Read my reviews of the Syndicate-heavy seasons of Mission: Impossible:

DVD Review: Mission: Impossible: The Seventh TV Season
DVD Review: Mission: Impossible: The Sixth TV Season
DVD Review: Mission: Impossible: The Fifth TV Season

Mar 21, 2015

Tradecraft: Pierce Brosnan Movie Update

Deadline offered updates today on two eagerly anticipated Pierce Brosnan movies. First, the trade reports that The Moon and the Sun, in which the former 007 plays King Louis XIV of France, has been removed from Paramount's release schedule for the time being. Hopefully this is just because they're still working on the effects or something, and not because the studio has lost faith in the film. Personally, I'm very excited for this period fantasy film based on the Vonda McIntyre novel, so I hope it reappears on the studio's fall slate. It's just as well that it won't be coming out on its original release date of April 10, as there has been no advertising so far. A delayed release will give the studio time to properly market the movie.

Of more direct interest to spy fans is the news that Survivor, James McTeigue's (V for Vendetta, Ninja Assassin) all-star espionage thriller with Milla Jovovich, Emma Thompson, Robert Forster, Angela Bassett, James D'Arcy, Dylan McDermott and Brosnan as the baddie, has a U.S. distributor. According to the trade, Alchemy Entertainment (formerly Millennium Entertainment, distributor of my own horror movie Dead Within which everyone should of course buy!) has acquired the U.S. rights, and the film "will get a multi-platform release this year." It would be nice to know when this year and on which platforms, but at least fans now have a ballpark notion. Deadline reports that Phil Shelby’s screenplay (the plot of which bears an uncanny resemblance to his 1998 novel Gatekeeper) "centers on a Foreign Service officer [Jovovich] in London who tries to prevent a terrorist attack set in New York but is forced to go on the run after she is framed for crimes she didn't commit."

Another Poster and More Footage From The Transporter Refueled

Only yesterday we saw our first glimpse of the Statham-less neo-Eurospy reboot The Transporter Refueled, and today we have more. First there's the French teaser poster (where the title still translates as The Transporter Legacy), which is a whole lot cooler than the American one (recognizing that minus the identifiable star, it's the car and the locations that will sell this reboot), and then there's a featurette about the new Frank Martin, Ed Skrein. It's a mixture of behind-the-scenes material and footage from the film, some of which is all-new. Definitely worth watching!

Mar 20, 2015

Statham Spoofs SPECTRE in Spy Poster

It's perhaps a little cruel of Fox to give us this perfect Transporter poster on the same day that EuropaCorp released their imperfect one. (Imperfect in that it clearly doesn't star Jason Statham.) But coming on the heels of this week's SPECTRE poster, this Statham-centric character poster for Paul Feig's spy comedy Spy is both awesome and hilarious. And it goes a step further than 007. Daniel Craig upheld a longtime spy tradition by dressing for action in a black turtleneck. Statham adds himself to the pantheon that includes Illya Kuryakin, Number 6, James Bond and Sterling Archer by not only posing in a turtleneck, but spelling it out for us! In SPECTRE-style letters no less. (This is the second Spy poster to parody a Bond one; McCarthy mimicks Craig's pose from the Skyfall 1-sheet on the previously released ensemble poster.) Spy, in which Statham co-stars with Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne and Jude Law, and opens June 5.

Mar 19, 2015

Trailer, Poster and New Title for the Transporter Reboot

This is kind of a weird trailer. For the life of me, it looks just like a Transporter trailer... except the Transporter himself, Jason Statham, is nowhere to be seen! Which is too bad, because I really like the Transporter movies--and primarily because of Statham. These are the kind of movies where the star is the draw, not the character of Frank Martin. True, EuropaCorp has done okay with getting audiences to accept a different actor in the role on their TNT TV series, but that's TV. Will they accept a new Transporter in the movies? Will I? Hm. Speaking for myself, I'm really not sure. I admit, this trailer does look pretty cool. I love the identical blond wigged babes in gas masks. That's a neat image. And it really does look like a Transporter movie. So much so that some of the scenes seem recycled verbatim from the previous entries. I can't say I'm terribly impressed with what we see here of new star Ed Skrein though. So what I'll have to ask myself come this summer, as will audiences, is do I crave the over-the-top, daffy action of Luc Besson's ridiculous neo-Eurospy movies more than I care about the stars? The answer should prove interesting. So far, stars have been very important in the success of these neo-Eurospy movies, from Statham to Taken's Liam Neeson to Lockout's terrific Guy Pearce to Sean Penn in this week's release The Gunman. Will action alone be enough to propel a refueled Transporter to success? (I do like the reboot's new title, The Transporter Refueled. It's better than the previous one, Transporter Legacy.) Take a look and reach your own conclusions.

Mar 17, 2015

New SPECTRE Poster Unveiled

Today the official James Bond website unveiled four versions of a new advance poster for the 24th official 007 movie, SPECTRE. The stark image shows Daniel Craig (sporting a much more Bondian haircut than he did in Skyfall) dressed for action in a dark mock turtleneck and shoulder holster. It instantly conveys a plethora of screen spy history--not only a classic shot of Roger Moore in a similar pose for Live and Let Die, but also other agents with similar styles, from Illya Kuryakin to Number 6 to Sterling Archer. The four versions released online include a black and white US advance (above), a color US advance, a black and white UK quad, and a color UK quad (below). Personally, I rather like it... though my girlfriend scoffed that it made Bond look like Putin. It's unclear if both the color and monochrome (save for Craig's blue eyes) versions will make it into cinemas, or if one is online only. SPECTRE opens November 6 worldwide.

Mar 12, 2015

Christopher McQuarrie Offers Mission: Impossible Updates on Twitter

Director Christopher McQuarrie offered an impromptu Q&A on Twitter this weekend in which he revealed a number of tantalizing details about the fifth Mission: Impossible film. Collider provides a nice recap of what he revealed, but it's still worth digging through McQuarrie's tweets (#McQAndA) for some choice nuggets. As someone who appreciated the steps that Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol took to course-correct the film franchise by emulating the classic TV show, I was particularly interested in what McQuarrie had to say with regard to the original series. My number one hope for this film is that it delivers on the promise at the end of the last one to introduce frequent TV series nemesis "The Syndicate." Based on McQuarrie's responses, maybe it will! When a user asked if his movie would have the feel of a TV episode, the director answered, "Promise." When asked if he was a fan of the show and who his favorite character was, McQuarrie tweeted, "Loved the show. Morris was the man," referring to the great Greg Morris, who played electronics expert Barney Collier in all seven seasons. (Great answer! Sadly, though, the director declined to pick a favorite season.) Asked if there would be "many nods to the original like the last one" (meaning Ghost Protocol, which was packed with delightful Easter Eggs for fans of the series), McQuarrie promisingly answered, "nods to the fans abound." (He also said, separately, that there would be nods to Brian DePalma's somewhat misguided first Mission: Impossible movie, which is less promising.)

Beyond discussion of the TV show, it seems like Ghost Protocol (the series' top earner to date) is the model for the next film, which is also good news. Asked, "are you aiming for a darker tone than Ghost Protocol, or will it have the same sense of humor/fun?" the director enigmatically replied, "We were aiming for Ghost Protocol, but Mission has a life of its own and goes where it wants." Hm. Well, I'm glad they started out, at least, aiming for the somewhat lighter tone of Ghost Protocol, which I prefer. I was worried that McQuarrie's Mission might have a darker tone, like his last Cruise collaboration, Jack Reacher. I guess we'll have to wait and see to determine the true answer to that one. McQuarrie told another fan (not entirely convincingly) that previous female IMF agents from the film series Paula Patton (Ghost Protocol) and Maggie Q (M:i:III) were unavailable. (Oh well. In its way a rotating roster of female agents could be an oblique reference to the series, which followed exactly that model for Season 4 after Barbara Bain left.) The director also revealed that we can expect a subtitle and trailer (as well as official publicity stills) imminently! So, following the Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol model, they are not reverting to numbers, which is good, as M:I-5 would be too easy to confuse with the British Security Service, or the TV series Spooks which was known in America as MI-5, and also has a feature film spin-off due out this year! Finally, he confirmed that Michael Giacchino, who scored the last two movies (quite fantastically at that!) would not be returning for this installment. Instead, McQuarrie's regular collaborator Joe Kraemer (Jack Reacher, Way of the Gun) will handle the score and is "playing with something retro, of course." Kraemer doesn't have much mainstream experience outside of his work with McQuarrie, which means that along with The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s Daniel Pemberton (whose prior work is mainly television), we'll be getting two major spy scores this year from relatively fresh voices. That should be exciting!

Now I'm just holding my breath for this trailer....

Mar 11, 2015

Tradecraft: 3 Days of the Condor Gets Remade for Television

The Hollywood Reporter (via Dark Horizons) reports that we'll soon get a new adaptation of one of the all-time classic spy novels, which was previously adapted into one of the all-time classic spy movies. According to the trade, Skydance Productions (better known for their big screen ventures like Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and the upcoming fifth entry in that series, but also behind WGN's atomic espionage series Manhattan), in partnership with MGM and Paramount TV, is developing what they call "a small-screen remake of Sydney Pollack's Three Days of the Condor" (1975). Whether that's really what it is, or whether writers Jason Smilovic (Lucky Number Slevin, My Own Worst Enemy) and Todd Katzberg are going back to the original source material, James Grady's 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor, remains to be seen. Differences between the page and screen are greater than just the number of days for which Condor is on the run, and both have their strong suits. The ending is radically different from version to version. So is the name of the hero, interestingly, changed from Ronald Malcolm in the book to Joe Turner in the movie. When we hear which name they're going with for the TV lead, that might be a clue as to which source they'll primarily draw from. The project is currently being shopped to networks, and it's unclear at this time if it will be a miniseries or an ongoing show.

Grady recently published a new sequel, Last Days of the Condor, (as well as a short story, "Next Day of the Condor," which bridges the 37-year gap between the second book, Shadow of the Condor, and the new one) which was optioned by MGM for a possible film. (It would certainly be great to see Robert Redford return to that role.) And the Condor character also made a cameo in his 2006 novel Mad Dogs, which is itself being prepped for a film version by director Jay Roach (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.) I love both the book and the movie, and I have no problem with a new television interpretation of Condor. In fact, I think it's a great idea. I'll be very curious to see how this one pans out.

Mar 8, 2015

Tradecraft: NBC Pulls Allegiance

Apparently NBC has no allegiance to its new spy drama Allegiance. Try as they might, for some reason the networks just can't seem to duplicate the success of FX's excellent hit Cold War spy series The Americans. Last year ABC attempted it with their own Eighties-set miniseries about a KGB mole in the CIA, The Assets. That turned out to be quite a good show, but nobody saw it, and ABC pulled it from the schedule after just two airings. (Fortunately, it can now be streamed in its entirety on Netflix.) Allegiance, another midseason launch, made it for all of three episodes before being pulled. After three under-performing airings, with this week's episode hitting a low 0.8, Deadline reports that the network "is yanking Allegiance from the schedule effective immediately." According to the trade, "It is not an official cancellation but is as close as you can get to one without announcing it." There are currently no plans for the eight unaired episodes. That's too bad, because I actually enjoyed the soapy family spy drama from The Bourne Ultimatum co-writer George Nolfi. Despite its obvious debt to The Americans, Allegiance stood on its own. Its contemporary setting was made all the more relevant thanks to an FBI sting against Russian SVR agents operating in New York just days before the premiere. And the frothy tone set it apart from FX's gritty period drama. I hope those remaining episodes are made available at some point, whether NBC burns them off two at a time on Summer Sunday afternoons like ABC tried (at first) with The Assets, or puts them up On Demand, or just releases them streaming on Netflix down the line (as eventually happened with The Assets). Sadly a DVD set is probably too much to hope for, even though NBC's lesser freshman spy show, State of Affairs (also likely on the chopping block), just got an MOD release.

Mar 7, 2015

New Spy Titles on MOD

Spy fans have been waiting a long time for the Warner Archive Collection to make the 1966 David Niven Eurospy title Where the Spies Are available as an MOD DVD. The title was added to WAC's streaming service two years ago, but finally becomes available to purchase on MOD next week! (It is no longer streaming, though.) Directed by Val Guest (Assignment K, Casino Royale), Where the Spies Are stars Niven (Casino Royale) as Dr. Jason Love, hero of ten books by James Leasor. (This one is based on the first entry, Passport to Oblivion.) The supporting cast will also be familiar to spy fans. It includes Francoise Dorleac (Billion Dollar Brain), John Le Mesurier (Hot Enough For June), Noel Harrison (The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.) and Eric Pohlmann (the original voice of Blofeld). Niven is a bit old for the role (which is probably why the hoped for series never materialized), but he's still charming and ably supported by gorgeous Beirut locations, a bevy of beautiful spy babes, a cornicopia of nifty gadgets, and a vintage Cord. The WAC DVD is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

Another Sixties espionage title that was previously streaming only and is now available on MOD (also as of March 10) is The Alphabet Murders (1965), in which Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot gets a Bond-age tweak in the person of Tony Randall (Our Man in Marrakesh). Robert Morley (Some Girls Do) co-stars as a British Intelligence officer who can't keep up with the Belgian sleuth. Spy stalwarts Anita Ekberg (Call Me Bwana), James Villiers (Otley), Patrick Newell (The Avengers) and Julian Glover (For Your Eyes Only) round out the cast. Frank Tashlin's film arrives on Warner Archive in its original aspect ration of 1.78:1.

Additionally, Universal has made the the first (and quite likely only, given the poor ratings) season of the fledgling NBC spy drama State of Affairs, starring Katherine Heigl and Alfre Woodard, available as an MOD title. The 3-disc set, billed optimistically as State of Affairs: Season One, is available now through Amazon. This soapy mix of Scandal and Homeland had impressive credentials (with Joe Carnahan directing the pilot), but lost my interest after a few episodes. Still, maybe I'll check out the rest eventually on DVD. I do still really like that key art...

Mar 5, 2015

Tradecraft: Olivia Colman, Tom Hollander, and Elizabeth Debicki Join Le Carre's Night Manager

Deadline reports that Olivia Colman (Broadchurch), Tom Hollander (The Company) and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s Elizabeth Debicki have all joined the cast of the BBC/AMC John le Carré miniseries The Night Manager. They join previously announced stars Hugh Laurie (Spooks/MI-5) and Tom Hiddleston (Marvel's The Avengers) in the Susanne Bier-directed adaptation. Debicki will play the crucial role of le Carré's "equestrienne," Jed, the mistress and kept woman of peer of the realm/arms dealer Richard Onslow Roper (Laurie). Hiddleston's character, former soldier and hotelier turned undercover agent Jonathan Pine, can't help falling madly in love with the aloof English rose in a relationship that recalls that of Jerry Westerby and Lizzie Worthington in The Honourable Schoolboy. Hollander will play Roper's suspicious majordomo, former military man "Corky" Corcoran. (The snake-like, sexually ambiguous Corky should offer a scene stealing opportunity for Hollander.) Colman, finally, will take on the role of Burr, the hardworking, much put upon spymaster who recruits Pine for his dangerous undercover mission. Readers of the book will immediately detect something a bit odd about that casting, as Leonard Burr is most assuredly male in the 1993 novel. (In fact, Colman's Broadchurch co-star David Tennant might have been perfect as that version of the character.) Still, it's not hard to imagine Colman as the embattled Burr, scion of Whitehall and the Intelligence Community for her dogged pursuit of justice. In fact, the gender swap (presumably the decision of writer David Farr) might further highlight Burr's ostracism in the Boys' Club atmosphere of Whitehall Intelligence mavens who are all in bed with Roper through dodgy financial ties. (And there are presumably more women in such jobs now than there were in the early Nineties.) The Night Manager is a reversal of the Enforcement vs. Pure Intelligence conflict of The Honourable Schoolboy. Whereas in that story Smiley found his goals of recruiting a long-term asset threatened by DEA agents who preferred a big arrest, Burr's Enforcement agent can't stomach the Intelligence operatives who would gladly keep a big-time criminal at large so long as he tosses them an occasional bone. The Night Manager will air in 2016, becoming the first le Carré TV adaptation in twenty-five years.

Trailer: Pierce Brosnan in No Escape

Only a few weeks ago we learned that the long-in-the-works Owen Wilson/Pierce Brosnan action movie The Coup had undergone a title change to No Escape, and now, at long last... there's a trailer! Behold the former 007 in action alongside Wilson (I Spy) and Lake Bell (In a World). It was initially reported in the trades that Brosnan would play some sort of government agent in this movie, but that is not clear from the trailer. Still, it looks like a good, intense thriller! The Busy Brosnan also has another international thriller on his plate, Survivor, which remains undated as of now, as well as the historical fantasy The Moon and the Sun (in which he stars as King Louis XIV of France), the romantic comedy How to Make Love Like an Englishman (opposite Salma Hayak and Jessica Alba) and the trippy drug thriller Urge. The Weinstein Company's No Escape opens September 2 in the United States.

Mar 4, 2015

Steven Spielberg's Spy Movie Gets a Title

According /film (via Dark Horizons), Steven Spielberg's forthcoming Cold War spy movie starring Tom Hanks finally has a title. The project, which went all the way through shooting as "Untitled Cold War Spy Movie" or sometimes the code name "St. James Place," will apparently be called The Bridge of Spies. As far as I know, though, the film isn't based on Giles Whittel's 2010 nonfiction book of that name, though the book covers some of the same people and events as the fact-based film. Spielberg's Bridge of Spies tells the story of CIA lawyer James Donovan (Hanks), who is sent behind the Iron Curtain to negotiate the release of captured U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, whose spy plane was shot down in 1960 over Russia. Donovan's efforts led to a famous spy swap in 1962 on the titular bridge, which served that function on multiple occasions owing to its strategic location spanning from West Berlin to Potsdam in East Germany. These events and locations certainly have all the makings of a first class spy movie. Spielberg directs from a script by the Matt Charman (Black Work) and the Coen Brothers (Burn After Reading), and the director's regular collaborator John Williams has been confirmed to score. The impressive cast includes Alan Alda (The Blacklist), Amy Ryan (Green Zone), Mark Rylance (The Gunman) and Sebastian Koch (The Lives of Others). Bridge of Spies is set to open this fall.

Mr. Porter Examines Spy Style

Mr. Porter, the menswear fashion retailer offering a line of bespoke suits, trench coats, umbrellas, tortoiseshell glasses, and other style items inspired by the movie Kingsman, posted a cool video essay last month on the history of spy style. James Bond, John Steed, Illya Kuryakin and other Sixties icons are all covered. The essay is by Vanity Fair contributing editor David Kamp, and the stylish photo animation is by Mosaic Films. Check it out:

Feb 28, 2015

R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy: We'll Always Have Paris

Another IMF team member has completed his mission. The great Leonard Nimoy, who joined the cast of Mission: Impossible in Season 4 and stayed through Season 5, passed away yesterday at the age of 83. I have such a deep emotional connection to this series that I'm always profoundly saddened to lose one of its stars. As with Peter Graves before him, Nimoy's passing dashes the hopes I held that he might pop up in one of the Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible movies reprising his TV role as Paris. (Unless he filmed a cameo in secret for this summer's Mission: Impossible 5...? We can only hope.)

A replacement for the departed Martin Landau, Nimoy's Paris was a former stage magician (he performed as "The Great Paris," but rarely utilized his magic skills as part of his missions) and master of disguise. Despite being well into his thirties, Nimoy brought a youthful flair to the series (though not quite youthful enough to successfully pull off masquerading as a student protester in "The Martyr..."), wrapped up in natty mod fashions. His clothes, often including cravats and bright, colorful, patterned shirts, stood in stark contrast to the government-issue suits favored at the time by his teammates and predecessors. I've said before that Seventies fashions snuck into the series on Nimoy's back (even though he joined the team in the late Sixties) and slowly spread to the other agents until Jim (Graves) sported orange turtlenecks and Barney dressed like Shaft. But they weren't the only thing he brought to the show. Nimoy also introduced a twinge of humor to what had always been a very serious spy show. Paris was quick with a quip, and Nimoy always had a twinkle in his eye. He clearly relished the opportunity to play so many different types of roles (old and young, mustachioed, bearded and clean-shaven, even Latino and Japanese) in Paris's many disguises, which he leaped into with all the gusto of Landau before him. All of this added to the show. It's a common fallacy that the early years were its best, but personally I enjoyed Mission: Impossible more and more thanks to the subtle changes brought on via Paris.

Some of Nimoy's best episodes include Season 5's "My Enemy, My Friend," in which Paris is brainwashed to kill Jim Phelps and the character's past is delved into, and "The Merchant," in which Paris gambles life or death poker stakes against George Sanders' evil arms dealer, and Season 4's "Lovers' Knot" (which I selected to watch last night in honor of the late star), in which Paris displays very un-Spock-like emotions and allows himself to fall in love with a beautiful enemy agent, and "The Falcon," a 3-parter that allows Paris (and Nimoy) to show off his magician's talent. Besides Mission: Impossible, Nimoy's other spy roles included a pre-Star Trek pairing with William Shatner on one of the best episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the surprisingly Mission: Impossible-like "The Project Strigas Affair" and as the gadget-toting KAOS assassin Stryker in the first season Get Smart classic "The Dead Spy Scrawls."

Leonard Nimoy may not be an actor immediately associated with spies because he was, quite rightly, most readily associated with science fiction thanks to his timeless performance as Mr. Spock on Star Trek (a role it was a joy to see him reprise in J.J. Abrams' 2009 franchise reboot). But his legacy in the pantheon of great TV spies should be equally assured. His tenure on Mission: Impossible covered some of the show's very best episodes, and he himself contributed immeasurably to their success. Mission accomplished, Mr. Nimoy. We'll always have Paris.

Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Fourth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Fifth TV Season here.

Spy Character Posters From Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron

Of course spy fans know better than to think of Marvel's Avengers as the real Avengers, but even if it doesn't have John Steed and Emma Peel, Marvel's Joss Whedon-directed sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron still boasts some A-list superspies. Yesterday Marvel Studios (via Imp Awards) released character posters for their star secret agents Nick Fury and Black Widow (played by Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlet Johansson respectively) from the new movie. Though he may not be an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. anymore (or is he?) after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I'm glad to see that Nick Fury is sporting his slick spy look again, with trademark eye patch back in place, instead of his sunglasses wearing homeless look from the end of that movie. In fact, Jackson looks cooler than ever on this poster! I'm not sure why Black Widow has decided to add Tron-style neon blue trim to her leather Emmapeeler (doesn't seem very good for being stealthy), but I've never been one to complain about a beautiful lady spy in a catsuit... and maybe it's a deliberate nod to Emma? Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron opens May 1.

For comparison, see these secret agents' previous character posters from the first Marvel Avengers movie and Captain America: The Winter Soldier here and here, respectively.

See Black Widow's introductory character poster from Iron Man 2 here.

Read my primer on Marvel's superspies here.

Feb 20, 2015

Tradecraft: Bruce Willis, Kellan Lutz and Gina Carano Topline Extraction

Deadline reports that Bruce Willis (RED), Kellan Lutz (The Expendables 3) and Gina Carano (Haywire) will star in a new spy movie for Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films called Extraction. (Good title!) According to the trade, "Lutz plays CIA rookie agent Harry Turner, who sets out to find his kidnapped father (Willis) against the agency’s wishes" and "Carano plays Victoria, a tough field operative assigned to hunt down Harry." Dan Bilzerian (The Equalizer), Lydia Hull (Escape Plan) and Tyler Olson (Bus 657) co-star. Steven C. Miller (Scream of the Banshee) will direct from the script by Umair Aleem and Max Adams (Bus 657). I've been itching to see Carano do another spy movie ever since Haywire, which I really enjoyed. It will be interesting to see if this one gets a theatrical release.