Feb 9, 2016

First Jason Bourne Poster Revealed

Hot on the heels of this weekend's tantalizing Super Bowl spot, now we have our first advance poster for this summer's highly anticipated sequel Jason Bourne. (The tagline, somewhat ironically, reflects another secret agent, recalling both the GoldenEye teaser and Chris Cornell's Casino Royale song "You Know My Name." Still a cool poster though!)

Feb 7, 2016

Trailer: Matt Damon's Jason Bourne Returns in... Jason Bourne

In a bit of a shocker, the new Paul Greengrass/Matt Damon Bourne movie will not follow the standard Robert Ludlum title convention of "The Bourne ______." Instead, it will simply be called... Jason Bourne. While it makes sense to make the title so personal now that Damon's former amnesiac has remembered all of his past at the end of 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum, I'm not really a fan of the "hero's name" school of title that gave us Jack Ryan, Jack Reacher and John Carter. (I still think we're incredibly lucky that the first 007 picture didn't turn out to be called James Bond of the Secret Service! Imagine if the producers had ended up beholden to that formula?) But not only does Jason Bourne strike a personal chord (though shouldn't it really be David Webb if that's what they're going for, since that turned out to be the character's real name?), but it also sends a clear message that this movie really is about Jason Bourne, the hero we want to see, played by Matt Damon, and not about some random stand-in like Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross! (Don't get me wrong; despite not particularly liking The Bourne Legacy, I'd still like to see an Aaron Cross follow-up, just not misrepresented as a Bourne movie.) So here is our first look at the man himself, Jason Bourne, back in action, in, as expected, this Super Bowl spot.

Jason Bourne is scheduled to open on July 29. Alicia Vikander (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Vincent Cassel (Agents Secrets), Ato Essandoh (Elementary), Tommy Lee Jones (Yuri Nosenko, KGB) and Julia Stiles (reprising her role from previous Bourne movies) also star.

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

Classic Japanese James Bond Comics Reprinted and Reviewed

For years I've been searching for copies of the Japanese James Bond comics (known as manga) from the Sixties. But vintage editions (first collected in the Sixties, and reprinted in the early Eighties) tend to command a premium on Ebay on the rare opportunities they come up. So I was absolutely thrilled to discover recently that for the first time in more than 30 years, they are back in print! Four Ian Fleming novels were licensed to Saito-Production Co. Ltd. at the height of Bondmania in 1964, and manga adaptations were produced over the next several years. The four titles are all now finally available again in 300-page paperback collections with, naturally, Japanese text. Live and Let Die, Thunderball, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and The Man With the Golden Gun can now all be ordered from Amazon.jp. (Use your browser's "translate" option to be sure what you're ordering.) And the shipping is fast. I ordered mine on Monday with standard international shipping, and had them in my hands by Friday.

Very little has been written about this crucial chapter of Bond history in Western publications. Even the most comprehensive book on 007 in comics to date, Alan J. Porter's James Bond: The History of the Illustrated 007, devotes little space to these works (probably owing to their longstanding elusiveness). But it's still the best source for publication details. According to Porter, "the manga Bond first appeared in serialized form in an anthology titled Boys Life from Shogakukan Inc, and were later collected ... in 1966 under the Golden Comics imprint. While the manga Bond stories were critically acclaimed, the holders of the Bond literary license withdrew permission [for future adaptations]." Porter speculates that this may have been because the manga "diverted so far from the source material."

Remember that part of On Her Majesty's Secret Service where 007 dresses like a gladiator and does battle with lions? Of course you do!
At 300 pages for each novel (and Fleming's novels are all fairly short), it's not surprising that the stories were expanded upon in their graphic adaptations. While the first one, Live and Let Die, seems to hew fairly closely to Fleming's narrative with a few key additions and changes (more on that below), subsequent stories appear to deviate further and further from their source material. While I can't read the Japanese text, looking at the pictures it appears that On Her Majesty's Secret Service features two main male villains—a bald Blofeld (presumably) and someone else with a goatee and hair that twists into devil horns. (All the stories seem to feature an increased number of baddies.) And no sign of Fraulein Bunt. There's also a lengthy sequence where, prior to making his ski escape from Piz Gloria, Bond is made to dress like a gladiator and do battle with lions in an arena. (See above.) And The Man With the Golden Gun, as best I can glean from flipping through it, appears to have very little indeed to do with Fleming's story—though certain key setpieces remain in place, as does the Jamaican setting.

Two seemingly original sequences from Saito's The Man With the Golden Gun
The writer and artist of these adaptations was none other than Takao Saito, who would find fame shortly afterwards creating Japan's most famous and long-running espionage manga series, Golgo 13. Golgo 13 is an assassin who may have fewer scruples than 007, but gets into very similar sorts of adventures and certainly bears a close resemblance to Saito's Connery-inspired James Bond. (The two share a penchant for white dinner jackets over black dress shirts in Saito's illustrations, as well as distinctive eyebrows and sideburns.) Glidrose Publications (precursor to IFP) revoked the Bond license in 1967 and Saito began publishing Golgo 13 stories in 1968. It has been suggested that his early Golgo 13 stories were nothing but a continuation of what the artist had been doing with 007, merely under a new title.

Whatever the circumstances of his origin, Golgo 13 (also known by the alias Duke Togo) went on to enjoy a robust transmedia career. Besides an ongoing manga series now 179 volumes long, the character has starred in two live action films (the second and better known of which, Assignment: Kowloon, starred Sonny Chiba), two anime features, an anime TV series, and six video games. (My own introduction to the character came via Nintendo in the late Eighties.) Viz has published a number of the Golgo 13 manga in English, though not in their original publication order. (Read more on Golgo 13 at Permission to Kill.)

Returning to Saito's James Bond work, these manga collections are no mere footnote in Bond lore. In fact, running a cumulative total of nearly 1200 pages, they're actually the most significant 007 publications in the graphic novel medium to date! Their republication, officially authorized by Ian Fleming Publications (whose hummingbird logo, seen on last year's continuation novel Trigger Mortis, and circular "007" logo, seen on past IFP products, both appear on these editions*) is consequently the most significant Bond reprint in a long time. While it's great to have them in the original Japanese, it is my sincere hope that IFP works with Dynamite Entertainment (who hold the rights to reprint all James Bond comic books, which I assume includes the manga) to produce English translations for the vast Western market who have never had an opportunity to read these stories in any format. Something along the lines of the excellent reprints of Sixties Batman manga that DC have been recently publishing, giving English speaking readers their first chance to read that series in its entirety. Until such a time, however, I strongly encourage Bond fans with an interest in comics to import these Japanese volumes.

The bullet hole design brings to mind the initial
SPECTRE teaser poster
The new reprints, published by Shogakukan under the banner of "Big Comic Special," are, like all manga, designed to be read from right to left and therefore printed in a way Western audiences might call backwards. It takes a little practice, but after early attempts at translating manga into English that reversed the images (which created its own set of issues) so the stories could be read front to back, millions of Western manga fans have gotten used to reading comics this way, even in English, and it's really not very difficult. (What is difficult, for me anyway, is reading Japanese! I tried using the Google Translate app on the panels, but ended up with mostly nonsense.) They are thick paperbacks, roughly 5x7". Like many Japanese paperbacks, these volumes have dust jackets. And there's even another, smaller strip sleeve on top of the dust jacket promoting SPECTRE with a picture of Daniel Craig in a still from the film.

Beneath the busily illustrated dust jacket, the book itself has an entirely different cover devoid of all the extraneous text that eclipses the outer cover. These simpler monochromatic illustrations could easily be confused for covers to the actual Fleming novels. Live and Let Die depicts gold coins; On Her Majesty's Secret Service displays an Alpine mountainscape, and The Man With the Golden Gun shows Jamaican scenery.  (I don't have Thunderball yet.)

Live and Let Die, as I said above, appears to be fairly faithful to Fleming with the alarming exception of apparently replacing Quarrel with an annoying little white kid! Action has been added where you would expect action to be added when going from a novel to a more visual medium like comics (or movies, for that matter). For example, Bond and Solitaire's railroad journey from New York to Miami now includes a fight on top of the moving train. There are some extra chases and fights throughout, and there appears to be a new (white) henchman in Mr. Big's ensemble. Saito actually prefigured the 1973 Roger Moore movie by dressing 007 in a black shirt with a holster over it when he busts up the voodoo ceremony, which has been greatly expanded to include a huge altar in the best pulpy tradition.

The rose petal motif reminds me of the flower
on UK editions of Devil May Care
On Her Majesty's Secret Service is notable for its bald, eye-patched depiction of Blofeld. (Assuming that character is indeed Blofeld.) This is a far cry from Fleming's description of the villain in that book as being tall and slim. Furthermore, while Blofeld drastically altered his appearance from book to book, I don't believe Fleming ever described 007's archenemy as being bald. Or as having a damaged eye. One has to wonder if members of the You Only Live Twice film crew saw this comic (which was originally serialized in 1966, and would have been available and probably ubiquitous while they were location scouting in Japan) and if it had any bearing on Donald Pleasence's iconic look as Blofeld—bald, with a horribly scarred eye. [STOP THE PRESSES! It turns out (thanks to some rough translation by my friend Stu) that this character is not Blofeld at all, but Mr. Big (which explains his darker coloring), who we last saw at the end of Live and Let Die aboard a pirate ship that was about to explode. (Unless he also stood in for Ernst Stavro in Saito's Thunderball.) Apparently the explosion must have damaged his eye. Can you imagine Fleming's Mr. Big presiding over an Alpine fortress? Well, given the timing and location, I still contend he could have been a model for Pleasence's Blofeld.]

While OHMSS retains the overall plot and setting of the book, it also adds and embellishes. Besides the aforementioned lion fight, Bond's introduction to Tracy has been amped up. Instead of following her car and then saving her from the water when she attempts to drown herself, he and she (in their separate cars) both end up in a breakneck car chase with some bad guys, and Bond spends much of that chase on the outside of Tracy's car. She then careens off the road, and he rescues her from a car accident rather than a suicide attempt. When 007 poses as Sir Hillary Bray at Piz Gloria, he dons a false beard. And the ending... I can't really tell exactly what's going on without being able to read the text, but whatever is happening is definitely not what happens in the book! (Or film.) However, it is very cool to see Bond's Bentley illustrated, and the ski chase and avalanche are appropriately spectacular.

The Man With the Golden Gun appears to be the most divergent from its Fleming source. I was disappointed not to find the brainwashed Bond's assassination attempt on M—at least not occurring as it is described in the novel. Flipping through, it appears to be a largely original adventure. But then that's exactly the appeal of these adaptations. For faithful graphic retellings of Fleming's novels, we have the Daily Express strips as collected in several different formats by Titan. The manga stories, on the other hand, look as if they provide as much in the way of new Bond story material as old! Which makes me very much want to read them legitimately. I can only reiterate my plea for IFP and Dynamite to bring these books to English-speaking audiences as soon as possible. In the meantime, though, I recommend buying these fine Japanese editions for an extremely rare and extremely rewarding slice of hitherto obscure Bondiana.

Now if only someone would reprint those Sixties Man From U.N.C.L.E. manga...

*A note on the branding of these volumes: While Dynamite, whose license is with IFP and not Danjaq, seem to have been assiduously avoiding any logos associated with the film Bond, these editions, also copyright IFP, don't do the same. Obviously they are movie tie-ins as well, given the SPECTRE promotion on the outer mini-sleeves. But the title treatment of each story also recalls the title treatment of the film in question, and even the giant "007" is very much the (older style) movie logo, minus the gun barrel.

Feb 6, 2016

Tradecraft: Now There's a MacGyver Movie in the Works, Too

CBS just this week handed out a pilot order to Furious 7 director James Wan's TV reboot of the 1980s network staple MacGyver first announced last fall. And now, hot on the heels of that announcement, comes news from Deadline that Wan's Furious 7 producer Neal Moritz will team with the creator of the original series, Lee David Zlotoff, for a MacGyver movie at Lionsgate. The two projects are unrelated, though interestingly Wan's TV project began its life as a Young MacGyver feature set in the protagonist's college days. (A feature has been in the works in various iterations at various studios for years if not decades.) The TV show, which is produced by Henry Winkler, who executive produced the 1985-92 ABC series starring Richard Dean Anderson, will follow a twenty-something MacGyver through his early years with the clandestine spy agency DSX (Department of External Services). Little is known about the newly announced film version, including whether the hero will be an active government agent with DSX, a private contractor with The Phoenix Foundation, or something else.

So, to recap, yes, there are now two separate remakes of the Eighties series about the guy who always saved the world with a pipe cleaner and shaving cream in the works, if you can believe it, each one coincidentally involving a different veteran of the Fast and Furious franchise teamed with a member of the production team behind the original series.

Still no word on a follow-up to the highly amusing 2010 parody movie MacGruber (spun off from a long-running Saturday Night Live sketch spoofing the original MacGyver), but star Will Forte (The Last Man On Earth) has said many times that it remains a priority for him.

Feb 5, 2016

Tradecraft: The Nobistar Affair to Explore Little Known Attempted Coup

Deadline reports that Truth Entertainment (Dallas Buyers Club) and NoEgo Films will produce a movie about a little known chapter of (possible) American espionage activity. According to the trade, The Nobistor Affair will tell the story of a CIA-backed attempted coup d’état to overthrow the government of Ghana in the Eighties by a group of mercenaries. The film is based on the account of mercenary Tim Cormody, a Vietnam veteran who went on to work as a private soldier in Rhodesia in the late Seventies. Per the trade's synopsis, "In 1986, Carmody, a Vietnam veteran and co-founder of the Rhodesia Veterans Association, was recruited by the U.S. government for a top-secret mission to deliver six tons of weapons to the pro-U.S. rebels near Ghana, in an attempt to overthrow the government. While en route, their mission was compromised and aborted. Awaiting extraction in Brazil, their boat, The Nobistor, was overtaken by the ruthless Policia of Brazil. Ultimately, Carmody and his team were sent to one of the world’s most dangerous prisons. With the U.S. government and CIA abandoning them, their only mission now was survival. The Nobistor Affair is a chapter in American history many have never heard of." The Agency, of course, denied any involvement. The New York Times' account of Carmody's escape from the time is pretty fascinating. It seems equally possible that the mercs were duped into believing their arms deal was sanctioned by the U.S. government. No stranger to paranoia and conspiracies, Enemy of the State scribe David Marconi penned the script.

Jan 30, 2016

New xXx Cast Shapes Up; Will Ice Cube Join Vin Diesel in Extreme Sequel?

The cast for the third xXx movie (Vin Diesel's second, representing a return to the franchise he originated) is firming up. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Toni Collette (who will next be seen spying in Michael Apted's Unlocked) is the latest actor to join a cast that already includes Diesel, Jet Li (The Expendables), Tony Jaa (the awesome The Protector), Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries), Ruby Rose (Orange Is the New Black), Bollywood beauty Deepika Padukone (Chennai Express) and Samuel L. Jackson, reprising his pre-Nick Fury role as Fake Nick Fury Augustus Gibbons. On top of those confirmed players, Moviehole (via Dark Horizons) has a very interesting rumor. It's possible that xXx 2: State of the Union star Ice Cube might also be back, joining Vin Diesel's Xander Cage (who was reported dead in the Cube movie) for the third film in the series. The website reports that "the plan seems to be for the xXx franchise to take it’s cue from the later Fast & Furious movies – acknowledge what’s come before, but make sure the characters from the earlier, weaker movies have something more to do this time around." That notion could jibe with the scant story details provided in the THR story: "insiders say it involves two teams of badasses that go head-to-head." Could we end up seeing the two extreme athlete agents (Cube's Darius Stone was chosen to succeed Cage because he had "even more attitude," a quality the NSA seemed to think made for good operatives) facing off against one another – and presumably ultimately teaming up to square off against a bigger threat? D.J. Caruso (Eagle Eye) is at the helm of xXx3: The Return of Xander Cage, which has a script by F. Scott Frazier (The Numbers Station). Shooting is expected to get underway soon, with locations including Toronto, Iceland and the Dominican Republic.

Jan 29, 2016

Tradecraft: Purvis and Wade Working on Refn's Spy Movie?

Deadline reports that frequent James Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (who have had a hand in every 007 script since 1999) are teaming with Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) on a movie set in Asia "with both thriller and action elements." Last summer it was reported that Refn hoped to make a Tokyo-set spy movie called The Avenging Silence, which would be thematically linked with his previous films Drive, Only God Forgives and Valhalla Rising, featuring a similarly stoic and violent male protagonist to those films. Could this be the Asian-set project Purvis and Wade are boarding? Their spy cred (which in addition to 007 includes Johnny English and the forthcoming Len Deighton miniseries SS-GB) would make them ideal candidates, especially given that they have previously collaborated with Refn on a new Barbarella script he is attached to direct. And if it is indeed The Avenging Silence they've come aboard, their involvement would seem to indicate that Refn is going for a more mainstream feel again with this one (like Drive, which was written by Our Kind of Traitor scribe Hossein Amini), as opposed to the almost oppressively esoteric Only God Forgives (which I liked, but I seem to be in the minority), which the director penned himself.

New Bourne Title, Trailer Expected February 7 During Super Bowl

According to Dark Horizons, Bourne continuation novelist Eric Van Lustbader (who took over after Robert Ludlum's death even though the original author had very neatly tied up his trilogy about the amnesiac assassin) posted on his Facebook page that the first trailer for the new Jason Bourne movie, re-teaming Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bourne Supremacy), will air during the Super Bowl on February 7. There's no sign of any such post on his page now, so this shouldn't be taken as gospel. But it does seem likely that he let the cat out of the bag early and tried to stuff it back in. With the trailer will come the reveal of the film's title, which hasn't yet been announced. Tony Gilroy's Damon-less (and Bourne-less) spinoff movie The Bourne Legacy utilized a title (but not plot) from one of Van Lustbader's continuation novels, so if Van Lustbader is teasing the new one it seems logical to assume that the new movie will as well. (It would be hard not to. Van Lustbader has written about a billion Bourne novels by now, compared with Ludlum's three, so he's already put just about every espionage-related word that one can after the name "Bourne!" His latest, due out this summer, is called The Bourne Enigma.) Whatever it's called, the next Damon/Greengrass Bourne movie is probably my own most anticipated spy movie of 2016, and I can't wait to get a glimpse of what they've got in store! Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel and series veteran Julia Stiles co-star.

Jan 28, 2016

Tradecraft: Harrison Ford, Anthony Hopkins, Martin Freeman, Natalie Dormer and Paul Bettany Join Ensemble Spy Drama Official Secrets

Quite a cast has come together for the fact-based ensemble spy drama Official Secrets, about GCHQ whistleblower Katherine Gun. Deadline reports that former Jack Ryan Harrison Ford (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger) will again play a CIA agent; Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind) and Martin Freeman (Sherlock) will play journalists; Anthony Hopkins (Mission: Impossible 2, The Looking Glas War) will play a retired British General, and Natalie Dormer (Elementary) will star as Gun, a linguist working for GCHQ (the UK's equivalent of the NSA). Directed by Justin Chadwick (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), a veteran of the hit UK TV show Spooks (known to Americans as MI-5), Official Secrets is 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 actually does kind of resemble Game of Thrones star Dormer) 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 intersection of espionage and journalism (explored to perfection in the 2003 miniseries State of Play) should be extremely fertile ground for contemporary films, though we've seen some misfires like The Fifth Estate (about Julian Assange) and ultimately, despite a thrilling first hour, Shoot the Messenger (about Gary Webb, who first reported on the CIA's involvement in L.A.'s crack epidemic). Let's hope that Chadwick manages to combine spies and conspiracy with the journalistic thrills of Oscar contender Spotlight. He's certainly got an impressive cast to work with!

There is no distributor yet, but according to the trade, "The Solution Entertainment Group’s Lisa Wilson and Myles Nestel are executive producing the feature film and handling financing and international sales beginning next month at EFM."

Delroy Lindo Joins S.H.I.E.L.D. Spinoff as Dominic Fortune

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff Marvel's Most Wanted (is that whole thing the actual title, or can we leave off the "Marvel's" like we do with AOS and just call this thing Most Wanted?) has added another cast member... a Marvel character fairly beloved by a loyal cult of comics fans. Joining S.H.I.E.L.D. stars Adrianne Palicki (as agent Bobbi Morse, aka Mockingbird) and Nick Blood (as agent Lance Hunter), Deadline reports that Delroy Lindo (Broken Arrow, Get Shorty) will play Dominic Fortune, a character created by Howard Chaykin in the Seventies (based on his previous Atlas Comics character the Scorpion). Chaykin's Fortune was a Jewish freelance costumed adventurer (or "brigand for hire"), seeking thrills and, er, fortune, in the 1930s. His adventures appeared (often as backups) in various Marvel comics in the late Seventies and early Eighties. An elderly version of the character also popped up in various contemporary Marvel titles, interacting with the likes of Spider-man and Iron Man. In 2006 he was re-introduced to the Marvel Universe miraculously de-aged in modern times in Sable and Fortune, the first three issues of which were drawn but legendary Modesty Blaise and James Bond artist John M. Burns. (Sadly that book suffered the fate of all Burns books, meaning the issues trickled out late, the artist was changed, and the series was ultimately truncated.) It was the de-aged Fortune (now sporting a mustache) who encountered Mockingbird in the comics, appearing in the series Hawkeye and Mockingbird (which seems to serve as some sort of template for Marvel's Most Wanted, albeit with Lance Hunter as Bobbi's paramour instead of Clint Barton, who's tied up in Avengers movies in the person of Jeremy Renner, who seems quite unlikely to turn up in a TV series).

More recently, however, the Fortune of the comics has aged again overnight (it all has to do with serums and formulas, as you would expect from Marvel), and the elderly Fortune showed up in an especially fun recent issue of S.H.I.E.L.D. drawn by Chaykin (issue 11), teamed up with TV's Phil Coulson. At 63, Lindo is neither old enough to play this version of the character, nor young enough to play the adventurer of the original 1930s-set comics, so presumably they're doing something different with the TV Fortune. (Will he be a Nick Fury surrogate?) Chaykin seems to approve of the casting with one caveat, which he posted in the comments on Deadline's story: "Just as long as he’s still Jewish." Personally, I was really hoping to see the young, vital Dominic Fortune appear on Agent Carter, where his incessant womanizing would have surely rubbed Peggy the wrong way. But perhaps he's too similar to the Howard Stark character played by Dominic Cooper.

Jan 25, 2016

Real Trailer for The Night Manager

After last week's false alarm, which turned out to be clips from the general BBC winter preview stitched artlessly together, here is the real trailer for the BBC/AMC co-production of The Night Manager. Based on John le Carré's 1993 novel, the Susanne Bier directed miniseries stars Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston and Olivia Colman. The Night Manager premieres in America on AMC on April 19, and is expected to air in the UK next month.

Jan 21, 2016

London Spy Starring Ben Whishaw Premieres Tonight on BBC America

London Spy, Tom Rob Smith's 5-part romantic spy drama that we first heard about nearly two years ago, premieres tonight on BBC America at 10/9c. It aired in the UK in November. Episodes will also be available on the cable network's website after it's premiered. Ben Whishaw (Skyfall, SPECTRE) stars as Danny, an ordinary civilian and romantic hedonist who gets caught up in a web of espionage and intrigue when he falls in love with the enigmatic Alex, played by Kingsman's Alex Holcroft. Just as the two of them realise that they're perfect for each other, Alex disappears and Danny, utterly ill-equipped to take on the complex and codified world of British Intelligence, must decide whether he's prepared to fight for the truth. Charlotte Rampling (The Avengers) and Jim Broadbent (Any Human Heart) round out the impressive cast. Smith won the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award in 2008 for his novel Child 44. Check out the trailer for London Spy below, and tune in tonight for the first episode.

Jan 20, 2016

New Night Manager Trailer (UPDATED)

After offering a few tantalizing glimpses in their general winter show reel, the BBC have released (UPDATE: or maybe not... see comments below) a brief and somewhat strangely edited new trailer for the upcoming BBC/AMC co-production The Night Manager, a miniseries based on John le Carré's 1993 novel. Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston and Olivia Colman star. The Night Manager premieres in America on AMC on April 19, and is expected to air in the UK that same month. I experienced some audio dropouts when I try watching this trailer. I don't know if that's just my computer, or an issue with the video. At any rate, until I find a better version, rabid le Carré fans can feast their eyes on this one:

Jan 10, 2016

Tradecraft: ABC Officially Orders S.H.I.E.L.D. Spinoff Pilot

The saga of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff series focusing on romantically entangled secret agents Bobbi "Mockingbird" Morse (Adrianne Palicki) and Lance Hunter (Nick Blood), has been going on for long enough to warrant a Stan Lee level of hyperbole. It was first rumored in April of last year, but by May we'd learned that it wasn't going forward. At that time, anyway. Perhaps ABC was concerned at the time (as I was) that they would neuter the flagship series by removing the two most interesting new characters, who had almost singlehandedly elevated Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in its second year. But the network must have liked the pilot script by Agents executive producers Jeffrey Bell and Paul Zbyszewski, because according to Deadline, ABC President Paul Lee told reporters at the TCA conference yesterday that the network has given a pilot order to the spinoff, now titled (somewhat lamely) Marvel’s Most Wanted, The trade reports the pilot had been quietly greenlit in August, but only officially acknowledged by the network now. As originally conceived, the project was said to be Mr. and Mrs. Smith in the Marvel Universe (which sounds like a great premise to me), but it has since been retooled. Lee told reporters,“We are making [the pilot] in the next few months. It’s a really good script.” Spinning off Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. standouts Palicki and Blood no longer seems like such a bad idea to me. The flagship series has gotten further and further away from spying this season, focusing too much on the sci-fi antics of the deathly dull Skye (sorry, Daisy) and her Inhuman pals. So a more espionage-centric spinoff focusing on Lance and Bobbi would probably appeal to me more than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in its current incarnation.

Jan 9, 2016

First Photos, Airdate for le Carré's The Night Manager

AMC announced at the TCA conference in Pasadena yesterday that Susanne Bier's eagerly anticipated John le Carré adaptation The Night Manager (first announced back in 2014) will premiere in the U.S. on April 19. (It's expected to air in the UK on BBC One that month as well.) They also released a cast photo, showcasing stars Hugh Laurie (as the silkily loathsome arms dealer Richard Onslow Roper), Tom Hiddleston (as hotelier-turned-field agent Jonathan Pine), The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s Elizabeth Debicki (as English Rose Jed, the object of both men's affection), Olivia Colman (as Pine's pregnant handler Angela Burr, changed from the novel's Leonard Burr) and Tom Hollander (as Roper's sinister majordomo "Corky" Corcoran). David Harewood (Homeland), Tobias Menzies (Casino Royale) and Katherine Kelly (Mr. Selfridge) also star. EW premiered a heroic portrait of Hiddleston on his own a little over a week ago, accompanying a short but interesting article about the miniseries.

Additionally, the third season of AMC's Revolutionary War spy series Turn: Washington's Spies, will premiere the following week, on April 25.

Jan 8, 2016

Tradecraft: Ridley Scott Ponders Prisoner Remake

That feature film Prisoner remake we've been hearing about off and on for years is still in development at Universal, and now it's attracted one of the biggest directors in the world, Ridley Scott (Blade Runner). Coming off of a huge success with the awards favorite The Martian and about to film a new Alien movie, Scott is as hot now as he's ever been. His involvement would be enough to make this movie finally happen (for better or for worse). According to Deadline, the director is in early negotiations to direct the movie version of the classic, surreal 1968 Patrick McGoohan spy series, considered by many (myself included) to be among the greatest TV series of all time. William Monahan (The Departed) has penned the latest version of the script, which Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation) had previously worked on. Monahan and Scott collaborated on the Leonard DiCaprio/Russell Crowe spy movie Body of Lies in 2008, and Monahan is no stranger to adapting beloved British television cult classics to the big screen having written the feature version of Martin Campbell's Edge of Darkness. Scott got his start working on British television in the Sixties (including directing several episodes of the fabulous BBC spy series Adam Adamant Lives!) at the same time that McGoohan was starring in Danger Man and creating The Prisoner.

According to the trade, a number of A-list actors are eagerly circling the project upon Scott's involvement.

Christopher Nolan had at one time considered directing Universal's long in development Prisoner movie, but ultimately moved on. In 2009 AMC remade The Prisoner as a miniseries starring Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen, with highly disappointing results. Last year's Wayward Pines incorporated many elements of the original series rather more successfully. Personally, I'm not a kneejerk anti-remake reactionary, but I also can't bring myself to be more than cautiously optimistic. I think many of the themes of The Prisoner are even more relevant today than they were in 1968, and I think Ridley Scott is well equipped to handle the material, both intellectually and visually. I wish him the best; I really hope this movie turns out to be good!

Dec 17, 2015

Tradecraft: TNT Cancels its Spy Shows Legends and Agent X

In one fell swoop, TNT has disavowed all of its spy shows. After previously cancelling Transporter: The Series, the cable network today (per Deadline) also axed its fun freshman series Agent X, and sophomore Legends. In both cases, this is really too bad. Agent X, starring Sharon Stone and Jeff Hephner, was lots of fun and delivered weekly escapist action in the Alias-vein. Legends, from Homeland and 24 executive producer Howard Gordon, started strong last season but had become absolutely brilliant in its second year after a thorough re-tooling. The Sean Bean spy series based on Robert Littell's novel had become an excellent and worthy companion for Homeland. I will miss this one greatly, and dearly hope that Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime scoops it up for a third season. This series has already shown an amazing ability to survive, surfacing on TNT a year after being passed on by NBC, so anything seems possible....

Dec 15, 2015

UPDATED: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation Hits Blu-ray... in Annoying Multiple Versions

The fantastic Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation hits Blu-ray today... but it's hardly a clear-cut purchase. Confusingly and infuriatingly, Paramount has given it their Star Trek treatment and released several different versions as exclusives for several different retailers. As usual when the studio pulls this reprehensible crap (Paramount isn't the only offender, but they are by far the worst), they provide no convenient guide that I am aware of as to the differences between the various retailer exclusives or even how many there are. (The official website lists several versions, but provides no useful details as to content.) I'm aware of three, but if you know of others, please share in the comments.

First, there's the regular Blu-ray/DVD combo available from Amazon and other retailers with that cool cover collage. (I like that this art depicts the whole team and echoes the TV season DVD covers... though the artwork might have been even cooler had Paramount gone with the rejected painted version.) This version includes an audio commentary with star Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie, 45 minutes of bonus features ("Lighting the Fuse," "Cruise Control," "Heroes…," "Cruising Altitude," "Mission: Immersible," "Sand Theft Auto," and "The Missions Continue"), and a digital copy. There is also a standalone DVD (which is absolutely bare-bones, with no extras whatsoever) and, for just twice as much as the Rogue Nation Blu-ray on its own, a 5-disc set including all the films in the series to date. (Handy if you're looking to upgrade previous entries from DVD to high-def.) I'm assuming that this set includes the same version, with the same extras, as the Blu-ray/DVD combo. UPDATE: It does. All of the discs contain the same extras as their individual releases.

On top of that, Target has an exclusive 3-disc set of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation on its own. This includes a Blu-ray, a DVD, a digital copy, and an exclusive bonus disc with "over 50 minutes of exclusive [that word again!] footage as Tom Cruise and Writer/Director Christopher McQuarrie reveal how they conceived, created and filmed the impossible stunts of Rogue Nation, including the mind-blowing airplane and underwater sequences." On top of featurettes on the stunts, it also includes featurettes on Lalo Schifrin's famous theme and composer Joe Kraemer's approach to it, on editing the spectacular opera setpiece, and on the opera itself. The exclusive featurettes are "...And Rogues" (a companion piece to "Heroes..."), "Top Crews," "Travel Agents," Opera-tion Turnadot," "Practically Impossible," "Stunts," "Variations on a Theme," and "Cut!"  I cannot yet confirm if it includes all the bonus material that's on the regular edition or not. If Paramount follow their own precedent set by Star Trek Into Darkness, then it's entirely possible that this set might be missing the commentary or some other feature found on the regular version. I will update this post as soon as I have an answer. UPDATE: I can confirm that the Target version does indeed include all of the bonus material from the standard edition, making this, in my view, the one to get. Enticingly, this Target version comes in "exclusive packaging [including a] custom book with 48 pages of production images, storyboards, and set photos taking you inside the creation of breath-taking stunts." The cover image is different, sporting the advance poster image of Cruise clinging to the side of the airplane, the film's signature stunt. (Personally I prefer the regular cover because it highlights the team aspect of the latest films in the series, harkening back to the TV show I love, rather than showcasing Cruise on his own.)

Finally, Best Buy is offering their own exclusive packaging in a Steelbook case showcasing another of the film's exciting stunt sequences, the motorcycle chase. (And, again, only Cruise.) Their website gives no indication of which extras are included (again, I will update this article when I know), but does assure us that the Steelbook contains the Blu-ray, the DVD and the digital copy. UPDATE: The Best Buy Steelbook includes all the features on the standard Blu-ray release (but not the extra ones found on the Target version). Many people like collecting Steelbook packaging, and I admit, they are nice, but I think the book with production art holds more appeal for me personally. I just wish either exclusive version came with the regular cover artwork.

Best Buy is also offering their own exclusive version of the 5-film set, with much cooler packaging, also in the Steelbook vein.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to pick the version that's right for you. Or you could try to send Paramount a message that consumers are fed up with this sort of horseshit by not buying any editions... but then, of course, you'd be missing out on owning one of the most entertaining spy movies in years. (Plus, I abstained from buying Into Darkness in outrage, and obviously the studio didn't get the message when tallying up their books and finding they were roughly $17.99 short of their expected sales goals...) But I certainly wanted to post a Buyer Beware alert before you go out and get the wrong version, and end up disappointed.

Dec 11, 2015

New Trailer: The Brothers Grimsby

Following on our initial glimpse in a red band trailer in October, Sony has now released a new all audiences trailer and a poster for The Brothers Grimsby (or is it just Grimsby? It appears to be one domestically and another internationally), the Sacha Baron Cohen/Mark Strong spy comedy we first heard about way back in 2012, when it was set up at Paramount. Spy veteran Mark Strong (Kingsman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) plays a British superspy saddled on his latest adventure with his idiot soccer hooligan brother, played by Cohen (Borat). Louis Leterrier, whose Transporter 2 remains one of the very best neo-Eurospy movies to date, directs, so hopefully we can expect some good action along with the comedy. The film was originally set to come out this past summer, but ultimately relocated from the crowded 2015 spy marketplace to a February 2016 berth. I have a feeling this could be the spy comedy hit of next year that Spy was this year.


Dec 6, 2015

Trailer for New Canadian Spy Series The Romeo Section

Chris Haddock, the creator of the 2005-07 Canadian spy drama Intelligence, has a new spy show on the air in Canada. The Romeo Section premiered this fall and airs Wednesdays at 9 on CBC, exploring the world of sparrows, sexpionage and honeytraps. I hope Acorn Entertainment eventually releases this one in the United States (or at least puts it on their streaming platform), as they did with Intelligence. Check out the trailer:

Thanks to Scott for the heads-up!

Dec 5, 2015

Tradecraft: Agent Carter Season Premiere Delayed by Two Weeks

ABC had to revise their winter schedule when it was announced that the 2016 State of the Union address would be delivered a few weeks earlier than usual. President Obama will speak on January 12 instead of the traditional end of the month time. ABC had planned to debut the new season of Marvel's 1940s spy series on January 5 with two back-to-back episodes. Not wanting its flow interrupted so quickly, Deadline reports that the network will now wait until after the State of the Union and air the season premiere on January 19. Unfortunately, that presumably means a few more weeks of back to back episodes, since they have to be done in time for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s return to that timeslot on March 8. The S.H.I.E.L.D. dates are probably not very flexible, since the series usually syncs up with the big Marvel theatrical releases, and Captain America: Civil War opens on May 6. Watch a trailer for the new season here.

Trailer: Eye in the Sky

Check out the intense trailer for Bleecker Street's upcoming drone thriller Eye in the Sky, starring Helen Mirren (RED), Alan Rickman (Smiley's People), Aaron Paul (Mission: Impossible III), Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) and Jeremy Northam (Enigma).

Nov 25, 2015

Tradecraft: WB Tries Again for a Spy Franchise of Their Own with White Knight

Universal has one with Bourne. Paramount has one with Mission: Impossible. As of this year, Fox now potentially has two with Kingsman and Spy. And of course MGM has the biggest one of all with James Bond. For the time being anyway, Sony shares it. (Sony's co-production deal ended with SPECTRE, and MGM and EON will renegotiate that deal or else find a new partner early next year.) Warner Bros. is the only major studio without a lucrative spy franchise. And they want one—badly. Really badly. It's easy to see why. Paramount, Fox and Sony/MGM each made more than half a billion dollars off of their respective spy franchises this year alone. Warner tried hard this year with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (review here). They continued making big, expensive TV ad buys in its second and third week even after Guy Ritchie's film opened below expectations. And it's a real shame their efforts didn't pay off, because The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was an excellent movie, and has all the makings of an excellent franchise. (Personally, I'm still praying it does well enough on home video to warrant a sequel, but that's admittedly a long shot.) But for whatever reasons, they didn't. So Warner Bros. is still searching for a spy franchise. Next year they'll make a big play for Bond, but obviously they can't rely on that, so they're looking other places as well, especially at filmmakers with whom they have good relationships. One such filmmaker is Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace), whose Johnny Depp gangster pic Black Mass was one of the studio's few hits this year.

Deadline reports that Cooper "is making a deal to rewrite and direct White Knight, a film that gives Warner Bros a potential series in the Bourne Identity/James Bond mold." I assume that's Deadline's roundabout way of saying it's a potential spy franchise. According to the trade, "Cooper will rewrite a script by Bill Dubuque (The Judge) that focuses on a disgraced Secret Service agent. When his relationship with his employer sours, the agent takes a job protecting the family of an arms dealer, putting himself at the center of a global CIA manhunt." "White Knight" was of course James Bond's callsign in Tomorrow Never Dies (and the title of a highly memorable piece of music by David Arnold), so perhaps that bodes well for WB. Then again, I doubt anyone involved in this project realizes that! Of course, if Warner Bros. is successful in their bid for Bond, then I expect interest to dwindle rapidly in this project, and probably all hope to fade completely for an U.N.C.L.E. sequel.

Nov 24, 2015

TNT Cancels Transporter: The Series

The Digital Spy reports (via RenewCancel TV) that Transporter: The Series, which aired in America on TNT, will not be returning for a third season, sadly. The series starred Chris Vance in the role originated on the big screen by Jason Statham in a trio of action-packed neo-Eurospy movies produced by Luc Besson. Frank Spotnitz, who served as showrunner on the show's second season and thoroughly revamped it, told the website that he would love to keep working on Transporter, but blamed poor timing for its low ratings. He also revealed that he hadn't yet seen the latest Transporter movie, The Transporter Refueled, saying, "The truth is, to make it into a TV series we had to change a number of things about the central character, because it was sort of his anonymity and his solo nature that drove the movie series. And in the TV series, because people watch TV for characters, we had to create relationships and dimensionalize him in a way that I don't think they did in the movies that I saw, anyway." Refueled does actually attempt to do that as well, by taking a page (let's face it, more than a page!) from the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade playbook and teaming Ed Skrein's younger Frank Martin with his father, played by Ray Stevenson (Rome). Spotnitz is currently producing the Amazon Prime alternate history series The Man in the High Castle.

It's unclear from Spotnitz's comments if he means that TNT is passing on a third season (which would leave the European/Canadian co-production free to seek out another U.S. partner, like the El Rey Network, where it would be a good fit), or if the European production company Atlantique has decided not to proceed... which would pretty much mean the end of the road. And what a long and circuitous road it's been for this show—nearly as twisty as one of the winding Riviera roads showcased on the series. The show was first announced way back in 2009; it was officially greenlit in late 2010, and in early 2011 it was reported that Cinemax would partner with EuropaCorp to air the series in the United States. Later that year Vance (best known to spy fans from an arc on Burn Notice) was tapped to star as Frank Martin, and subsequently joined by Andrea Osvárt as his handler, Carla, a former CIA operative and a character who didn't appear in the theatrical films. That fall, the trouble started, with the original showrunners departing over creative differences. Before the first season's twelve episodes would wrap, their replacement would also ankle, and production would shut down when Vance was sidelined with an injury. The first trailer came out in the summer of 2012, heralding airdates that fall in Europe and elsewhere, but another year went by with still no announcement of a Cinemax premiere. In August of 2013 it was announced that the cable network had backed out, and the show's international producers were seeking a new U.S. partner. Undaunted by all these setbacks, they were still pressing forward with a second season, and had tapped Spotnitz to oversee a retooling after he had shepherded two hit international action co-productions on Cinemax, Hunted and the first American season of Strike Back. Vance's option had expired, but was renegotiated. Production finally began on the second season at the end of February 2014, shooting in Canada, Morocco and the Czech Republic. TNT (where Vance was a familiar face from a recurring role on Rizzoli & Isles) came on board to air both seasons in the U.S., and last fall that finally happened. Season 2 (which was aired back to back with Season 1 here) ended on a cliffhanger, and we've been waiting ever since to hear if there would be a Season 3. Now I guess it looks like there won't be, which is really too bad. Transporter: The Series would have made a great stablemate with TNT's new escapist spy drama, Agent X.

Happily, both seasons are at least available (and quite cheaply, on Amazon!) on DVD in their full, uncut European versions. (Which means with lots of nudity. Remember, this show was originally bound for Cinemax!) And I recommend them for fans of the Statham movies, fans of the neo-Eurospy genre at large, or fans of daffy action and crazy car stunts in general.

Order Transporter: The Series - Season 1 here.
Order Transporter: The Series - Season 2 here.

Nov 23, 2015

Another Agent Carter Promo

ABC has released another promo for the new 10-episode season of Marvel's Agent Carter, which premieres Tuesday, January 5, at 9/8c. And, based on these 30 seconds of footage, it looks like it will be every bit as great as the first season!

Trailer: Spy Time

It's a big week for father/son spy duos. Hot on the heels of that Extraction trailer, check out the trailer for Spy Time, the new, big-budget Spanish language neo-Eurospy movie from Film Factory Entertainment. This looks great, so I really hope it gets a U.S. release! Here's the studio's synopsis:
This Christmas is going to become a living hell to Adolfo. Not only does his girlfriend leave him for being a guy with no ambition who works in a security company, but to top it off, he becomes the objective of a series of thugs led by Vázquez, a dangerous criminal who just escaped prison.
What did he do to get into such a mess?
It's then that he discovers taht his father has a double identity. He's not the sausage maker living out in the countryside on his farm that Adolfo always thought he was. He's Anacleto, a secret agent in a slump and the man who locked Vázquez away thirty years ago. Adolfo will have to venture out of his comfort zone and work with his father, the person he gets along with least in the world, in order to survive Vázquez's vengeance and to try to win his girlfriend back, all while making it through shootouts and chases.

Thanks to Bob for the heads up!

Nov 22, 2015

Trailer: Extraction

We first heard about Extraction back in February, and I wondered if it would get a theatrical release. Happily, Deadline reports that it will get at least a limited theatrical release on December 18 from Lionsgate Premiere, though it also premieres On Demand that same day. Bruce Willis is making a bit of a niche for himself now playing CIA agents' dads. He did it in the last (terrible) Die Hard movie, with the charmless Jai Courtney as his agent son. He did it in The Cold Light of Day with Henry Cavill for a son. And now he's doing it again in Extraction, this time with Kellan Lutz (The Expendables 3, The Twilight Saga) as his son. (In the latter two, Dad plays second fiddle to his boys.) Gina Carano (Haywire) co-stars as a CIA agent charged with tracking down Lutz after he goes AWOL to rescue his missing agent father. Check out the trailer:

Nov 20, 2015

Trailer: Central Intelligence

When we first heard about the spy comedy Central Intelligence way back in 2009, Ed Helms was attached to star. Helms is still an executive producer, but at some point the opportunity arose late last year for the film to star the ridiculously appealing comedy duo of Dwayne Johnson (Get Smart) and Kevin Hart (Ride Along), and if you can do that, obviously you're going to! Sure enough, it looks like the stellar casting pays off in this mostly funny trailer, excluding one appallingly misjudged CGI joke at the end that will leave you with an image you can never wash off of your eyeballs. Amy Ryan (Green Zone), Aaron Paul (Mission: Impossible III), and Danielle Nicolet (Key and Peele) co-star; Rawson Marshall Thurber (We're the Millers) directors from a script by Ike Barinholtz & David Stassen (The Mindy Project) and Thurber. Theodore Shapiro, who absolutely killed it with his David Arnold-sounding score for Spy, returns to familiar spy comedy territory. (He's also scoring Zoolander 2.) Central Intelligence opens June 17. Hopefully we'll get to see Johnson tackle a serious spy movie one day, too, if the Ludlum adaptation The Janson Directive ever gets off the ground....

Nov 19, 2015

Tradecraft: Dreamworks Picks Up Pavone's Travelers

Deadline reports that Dreamworks has acquired Chris Pavone's forthcoming spy thriller The Travelers for Andrew Rona (Unknown) and Alex Heineman (The Gunman) to produce. The trade describes the book, due out in March, as "a Hitchcockian thriller with shades of Mr. and Mrs Smith and North by Northwest." From that sentence you'd think they meant Alfred Hitchcock's Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but I assume they actually mean Doug Liman's completely unrelated Jolie/Pitt film. Here's Deadline's plot description:
Will Rhodes is a Gotham-based journalist who unknowingly works for a spy agency posing as a luxury travel magazine called Travelers. After meeting a mysterious and beautiful woman on his latest international assignment, Will finds himself drawn into a tangled web of global intrigue, and it becomes clear that the network of deception ensnaring him is part of an immense and deadly conspiracy —and the people closest to him, including his wife may pose the greatest threat of all.

Nov 18, 2015

Trailer: Zoolander 2

After 15 years, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are back as world-saving male supermodels Derek Zoolander and Hansel, respectively, and once again they're up to their meticulously manscaped eyebrows in international intrigue. Will Farrell and Christine Taylor also return, and they're joined by newcomers Benedict Cumberbatch (as the new "It" male model, All), Kristen Wiig (as villainess Alexanya Atoz) and Penelope Cruz (as Interpol agent Montana Grosso). The worlds of high fashion and global espionage collide once again in February 2016.