Jan 28, 2015

Pierce Brosnan Pokes Fun at His James Bond Image in Kia Sorento Super Bowl Spot

Well, Kia has managed to get me to give them free advertising by reposting their commercial by casting Pierce Brosnan in it. And I'll happily do so for any commercial with Brosnan! That's a good way to get my attention during Super Bowl advertising breaks. I found this pretty amusing.

Jan 26, 2015

Tradecraft: Cruise's Next Mission Moved Up

The fuse has been lit early! Usually when tentpoles are dramatically shifted into another season, it's a move backwards. (See: Warner Bros.' The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which has been pushed back twice now.) But today Deadline reports that Paramount is shifting Mission: Impossible 5 up from its previously announced December berth to July 31. Yes, that's this July 31... 2015! So spy fans will get to see the movie sooner than expected. And in terms of genre competition, Ethan Hunt is retreating from James Bond's crosshairs (SPECTRE opens in November and will likely still be in theaters come Christmas) and setting the more vlunerable Napoleon Solo squarely in his own. (U.N.C.L.E. is currently slated for August.) The spacing is good and there's more than enough room for all these spy franchises to coexist... but it's still considerably safer to be the first of the biggies out of the gate than the last, since it's possible the public may burn out a little on the genre after a whopping fifteen spy movies have opened from January to December. (I hope not! And Bond, being practically a genre unto himself, seems pretty safe from such a scenario.) The most surprising thing bout seeing a major action movie shift up by five months is that post-production on these big would-be blockbusters tends to take a long time. But the movie obviously indicates that the studio is confident director Christopher McQuarrie will have all his effects shots finished in time. (This also strengthens the Mission: Impossible series' boasts about relying on practical effects and real stuntwork over time-consuming CGI.) The move means that Paramount's publicity team will have to leap into action, Tom Cruise-style, to build awareness faster than thought. It likely means we'll be seeing a poster and even a teaser trailer quite soon. (Could they even whip up something in time for next week's Super Bowl?) Assuming the effects are in good shape and the marketing folks are up to the challenge, the move makes a lot of sense for Paramount. Currently, the trade points out, the only competition in the weekend of July 31 is Warner Bros.' Point Break remake, Focus Features' sci-fi thriller Self/Less and The Weinstein Company’s Jake Gyllenhaal boxing drama Southpaw, none of which are likely to pose too big a threat to the venerable Mission juggernaut. The move kind of sucks for Point Break, though, since Cruise & Co. will probably poach the very audience its aiming for. I wouldn't be surprised to see it shuffled. The question for spy fans, of course, is what will that mean for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. if Warner Bros. starts shuffling its tentpoles again? If they'd already begun their publicity campaign, it would make sense for the studio to move it up if there's an available frame earlier in the year, but since they haven't it would be more likely to shuffle backwards... yet again. I really hope that doesn't happen.

Jan 23, 2015

Grimsby Retreats to 2016

With all the huge movies slated for this year (among them at least fifteen spy movies, including heavy hitters like James Bond and Mission: Impossible), it was inevitable that some of them would end up shifting dates into 2016. Today it was reported on Box Office Mojo (via Dark Horizons) that the Sacha Baron Cohen spy comedy Grimsby would make such a retreat. It was previously slated to open this July, but considering that there was virtually no awareness yet (unlike Fox's summer spy comedy Spy, which already has a trailer), it's not terribly surprising that Sony has re-positioned it for February 26, 2016. While we've now got more than a year to wait, Grimsby sounds worth waiting for on paper. Working from a script by Cohen (Borat), Phil Johnston (Cedar Rapids) and British comedy genius Peter Baynham (I'm Alan Partridge), Louis Leterrier (who directed the good Transporter movies) helms an impressive cast including Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Penelope Cruz (Sahara), Ian McShane (The Terrorists), David Harewood (Homeland), Annabelle Wallis (Fleming), Scott Adkins (The Bourne Ultimatum), Gabourey Sidibe (Seven Psychopaths) and Isla Fisher (The Great Gatsby). As previously reported, Mark Strong will play a British superspy forced to go on the run with his dimwitted soccer hooligan brother, played by Sacha Baron Cohen.

Jan 22, 2015

Watch Archer on Conan... or Conan in Archer... or... I know, "Phrasing."

This is absolutely hilarious, and a must-watch for fans of FX's animated spy comedy Archer. Conan O'Brien announced on his TBS talkshow, Conan, the other night that his next guest would be the world's greatest secret agent, Sterling Archer. Of course that would be pretty tough because Archer is an animated character, and the actor who (brilliantly) voices him, H. John Benjamin, looks nothing like him. How would they pull off such a feat? Well, the phone rings, and Archer invites Conan to meet him outside the studio. Conan does, and enters the stylized cartoon world of  Archer (becoming an "Archerized" cartoon character himself), ending up in a hilarious car chase with Archer. Watch below to see what happens. While it's full of in-jokes and cool references to reward regular Archer viewers, there's more than enough general spy spoofery going on that any spy fan or James Bond fan should find it pretty funny. I really hope this ends up as a bonus feature on the eventual Archer Season 6 DVDs and Blu-rays. (Surely that was a condition of the Archer team animating the segment...?) Check it out!
(Via io9; thanks to Josh for the link.)

Tradecraft: Pierre Morel to Adapt Victor the Assassin

The Hollywood Reporter reports that Taken and From Paris With Love director Pierre Morel will follow up his forthcoming Sean Penn assassin movie, The Gunman, with another assassin movie. Morel will reunite with two of his Gunman producers, Andrew Rona and Alex Heineman from The Picture Company, to launch a potential franchise for Studiocanal based on Tom Wood's "Victor the Assassin" novels. Morel plans to helm a movie based on the first book in the series, The Killer (no relation to the classic John Woo movie). The trade humorously acknowledges that the plot "is something spy-thriller fans may have seen before," their tongue-in-cheek description still sounds alright to me: "a hitman on the run, chased and double-crossed by many parties." Yeah, that's what I like.... The publisher's description offers more details. Victor, "a man with no past and no surname," pulls off a kill for hire in Paris in order to retrieve a flashdrive with details about a sunken Russian submarine carrying a payload of next generation missiles. But when he returns to his hotel, he's set upon by a cadre of international hitmen, propelling him on a chase across Europe and eventually to CIA headquarters pursued by the world's intelligence agencies. In a capsule, that sounds kind of similar to Mark Greaney's The Gray Man (currently in development as a film at Sony)... but then it was hardly an original one there, either. It's all in the execution, and I haven't read the book so I don't know how Wood handles it. But I'll watch that movie every time someone makes it, whether it's based on a book by Robert Ludlum, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Mark Greaney or anyone else. Especially when it's directed by Pierre Morel, grandmaster of the neo-Eurospy genre! There are four Victor novels to date (the most recent being No Tomorrow), so if the movie is a hit, it certainly has franchise potential... which is clearly Studiocanal's hope.

International Trailer for The Gunman

Here's the international trailer for Pierre Morel's latest neo-Eurospy moive, The Gunman, starring Sean Penn, Idris Elba and the great Javier Bardem. It shows a little more than the previous domestic trailer, but mainly shows why Morel is the reigning grandmaster of the neo-Eurospy genre. With furious action spanning the Congo, London, Barcelona and Gibraltar, this doesn't look like a very faithful adaptation of the cult French noir novel Prone Gunman, but it does look like a pretty worthy follow-up to Taken and From Paris With Love! (If only Morel had continued to direct the Taken movies!) The Gunman opens March 20.

Jan 21, 2015

Tradecraft: Covert Affairs Cancelled

This month brought some most unwelcome news for fans of USA's spy drama Covert Affairs. According to Deadline, the network announced that it's cancelled the series after five seasons. While in some ways the finale of the fourth season seemed like a logical ending point, the fifth season unfortunately concluded with a number of cliffhangers and unanswered questions, intended as seeds for sixth season plotlines. Obviously fans will hope for a movie or miniseries to wrap up these threads, but the trade says that's unlikely. "While that always is a possibility as Covert Affairs producer Universal Cable Prods. has been high on the series and is a sibling to the network, making it happen is usually prohibitively expensive. Therefore, chances for a different conclusion to the series are slim, despite Covert Affairs creators/executive producers Matt Corman and Chris Ord’s hope for a sixth season." It's worth reading the whole story at Deadline, as they go into the interesting financial reasons behind the cancellation. (Among other factors,while the show remained quite popular, it's audience primarily viewed it on DVR rather than live, apparently making it difficult to monetize.) Personally, I'm quite sorry to see it go. Covert Affairs remained a consistently entertaining spy series, and one of the few that actually filmed on location around the world (a factor that made it expensive to film) as opposed to the more common Alias-style "Burbank-as-Barcelona" approach. And NBC's State of Affairs is a poor substitute when it comes to CIA blondes having Affairs.

Jan 15, 2015

Two Trailers For SPY With Melissa McCarthy and Jason Statham

Fox has released two versions of the first trailer for Paul Feig's Spy, the Melissa McCarthy/Jason Statham spy comedy we've been following since mid-2013. Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes), Rose Byrne (X-Men: First Class), Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man), Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians of the Galaxy), Allison Janney (The West Wing), Morena Baccarin (Homeland), Miranda Hart (Call the Midwife), Will Yun Lee (Die Another Day) and 50 Cent (13) round out the impressive cast. The somewhat unimaginatively titled Spy has nothing to do with the UK sitcom of the same name, but it does seem to follow a very similar plot trajectory (analyst thrust into the field as spy) to the movie version of Get Smart... which itself was virtually a beat for beat remake of the movie version of I Spy. It also looks like it has the potential to be better than either of those! The green band (all audiences) trailer feels like the more promising of the two to me, because the red band seems to add a lot of swearing for swearing's sake, which doesn't automatically equal funny. But I'll reserve judgment, because I imagine Jason Statham can probably make a stream of foul language very funny indeed. Spy opens May 22. Check out both versions below:

Jan 10, 2015

Tradecraft: Susanne Bier to Direct Le Carre Miniseries The Night Manager

According to Deadline, AMC confirmed at their TCA session this week that, as previously reported, they have indeed picked up U.S. and Canadian broadcast rights to the BBC John le Carré miniseries The Night Manager. They also confirmed the roles that the stars will be playing. As I'd assumed, Tom Hiddleston (Marvel's The Avengers) will play hotelier-turned-undercover agent Jonathan Pine, and Hugh Laurie (Spooks/MI-6) will play the charming but despicable millionaire arms dealer Richard Onslow Roper, one of the author's best villains. (And a role in which Laurie should shine.) Additionally, the cable network revealed that acclaimed Danish feature director Susanne Bier (Brothers, In A Better World) will direct the miniseries. While she's never tackled espionage before, Bier may be familiar to spy fans from having directed Casino Royale's Mads Mikkelsen in After the Wedding and Pierce Brosnan in one of his best post-Bond films, the excellent but poorly titled Love Is All You Need. Bier has two features presently in the can and awaiting distribution, A Second Chance with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and The World Is Not Enough's Ulrich Thomsen, and Serena, which re-teams Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. Landing Bier for television is quite a coup. I'm a big fan of her work, and I can't wait to see what she does with the material! I also look forward to further cast announcements, as this is quickly shaping up to be among the most exciting spy projects on the horizon. The Night Manager will run six episodes in the UK, but may be re-cut into eight episodes for America to accommodate commercials on AMC.

Jan 7, 2015

Upcoming Spy DVDs: The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs

Network have been slowly working their way through many ITV spy series over the years, and in March they'll finally get to one that I've never seen, but long been curious about. Cold War comedy The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs ran for a single 13-episode season in 1974 and starred David Jason (Rough Diamond, Danger Mouse) as clueless SIS agent Edgar Briggs. In the tradition of Inspector Clouseau and Maxwell Smart, Briggs usually managed to bungle his way to success, rising - mystifyingly, to his flummoxed colleagues - to the number two position in the Service. The 2-disc set is out on March 3, and will retail for £12.24.

Jan 6, 2015

Marvel's Period Spy Drama Agent Carter Debuts Tonight on ABC

The new season of spy TV kicks off tonight with the premiere of Marvel's period spy drama Agent Carter on ABC. The 8-part miniseries, a spin-off of sorts from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., stars the incomparable Hayley Atwell (The Prisoner, Any Human Heart) in her second 1940s-set spy saga (following the superior William Boyd adaptation Restless) reprising her role as Agent Peggy Carter from the Captain America films and the Marvel One-Shot short film Agent Carter. (She also appeared in that role in flashbacks on two episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last fall, and will play the part again on the big screen in Ant-Man later this year.) Besides being a part of the larger juggernaut known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Agent Carter is notable for the period in which it's set. We've seen very few spy series so far set in the nascent days of the Cold War following the conclusion of WWII. It will be interesting to see to what degree the period even plays a role on the show, as geopolitics are less likely to figure into storylines than larger-than-life Marvel comic book plots about alien technology and the like. Either way, I'm expecting the show to be a lot of fun! Atwell is a fantastic actress, and she's supported by a good roster of talent as well including Dominic Cooper (Fleming), Lyndsy Fonseca (Nikita), Bridget Regan (Legend of the Seeker), Shea Whigham (American Hustle), Chad Michael Murray (Fruitvale Station) and Enver Gjokaj (Dollhouse). Behind the scenes, Louis D'Esposito (Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter) directed the pilot, and Joe Russo, co-director of one of the year's best spy movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, helmed the second episode. Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas (Reaper) serve as showrunners. ABC airs the first two episodes tonight (in the usual Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. timeslot while that show is on winter hiatus), starting at 8pm Eastern/Pacific.

Dec 25, 2014

Movie Review: The Interview (2014)

Ever since the Thunderball references in a deleted scene from Pineapple Express, I’ve wanted to see Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg take on a spy parody. They do just that in The Interview (co-directing from a script they co-wrote with Dan Sterling), but take a typically non-traditional approach. Rather than using James Bond as their leaping-off point like so many spy parodies, their touchstone would appear to be The Chairman, the 1969 movie that found Gregory Peck’s scientist interviewing and possibly (inadvertently) assassinating a then sitting political leader, China’s Chairman Mao. The premise to The Interview is very similar. James Franco plays an Andy Cohen-like fluff talkshow host, Dave Skylark, who lands the interview opportunity of a lifetime when it turns out North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is a fan of his, and willing to grant him his first worldwide sit-down interview. But as Skylark and his producer Aaron Rapaport prepare for this opportunity of a lifetime, they’re approached by the CIA and asked to assassinate Kim while they’re at it. Whether or not this controversial plotline is in good taste or is even responsible filmmaking is certainly a valid debate, but not one I’ll engage in here. Instead I’ll be reviewing it as a spy movie.

Skylark may be seen as a softball interviewer, but as the film opens he manages to draw a pretty amazing revelation out of Eminem (in a truly hilarious cameo), and coaxes Rob Lowe to make a surprising on-air admission. Be that as it may, Kim and his propaganda team see Skylark as a good candidate to stick to their script of pre-approved questions celebrating the glory of North Korea and invite him to the presidential palace with unprecedented access. The CIA comes calling in the appealing form of Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), who counts on using Skylark in much the same way as Kim. While it seems rather unlikely that the CIA would ever invite a muckraking journalist of all people to help it contravene Executive Order 12333 and assassinate a foreign leader, Agent Lacey certainly has Dave’s number. Aaron realizes what’s happening and pulls Dave aside, telling him, “They’re honeypotting us!”

“What?” asks Dave.

“It’s an attractive spy woman who lures men into doing shit they’re not supposed to do!” Aaron explains, not only providing malapropismic exposition on honey traps, but also setting up one of the movie’s running gags. (Every character seems to be either “honeypotting” or “honeydicking” someone, to use the movie’s amusing, gender-dependent vocabulary. Whether this terminology ends up entering the actual spy lexicon like le Carre’s remains to be seen.) Dave insists that such an insinuation is sexist (because “women are smart now”), a sentiment Agent Lacey herself later echoes, but Aaron enumerates how the sexy agent is playing to Dave’s known predilections: big boobs, bangs and glasses.

“Fake glasses?” asks an incredulous Dave, to which Aaron sarcastically deadpans, “How could the CIA come up with such a thing?” in the first of several clever riffs on spy gadgetry.

The plan calls for Dave to wear a Ricin poison patch on his palm, dosing the Supreme Leader with a twelve hour delay when he shakes his hand.  Along with some conveniently multi-functional wrist watches, the Agency provides the duo with some specially designed luggage in which to smuggle this tiny weapon. But Dave deems their choice of bag far too unfashionable, and makes his own arrangements setting off a series of blunders. After losing the first patch, Lacey’s team races to send their poorly-chosen assassins another one via drone. This leads to one of the movie’s funniest sequences, involving a drone, a tiger, covert communications, night vision imagery, and (this being Rogan and Goldberg) Aaron’s anus.

Besides the initially ludicrous premise, Rogan and Goldberg make the wise choice to keep The Interview’s spyjinks fairly low-key and plausible—but still all too easy to screw up in the hands of two idiots. We’ve seen idiots fumble with over-the-top Bondian stuff plenty of times before, so it’s refreshing to see them fumble something so credible. As in all of this duo’s movies, there is a somewhat half-baked“bromance” at the film’s center (and there are also a lot of funny Lord of the Rings references), but it was this fresh approach to spoofing spy tropes that I found funniest. Less funny was the violence. I’m in no way squeamish about violence in movies, but I do find graphic violence (even of the over-the-top, comedic variety) out of place in a spy comedy, and like Pineapple Express and This Is the End (only moreso), The Interview becomes very, very violent. There is an unnecessary level of gore that I found off-putting as the film careens towards its jaw-dropping and (until it ended up splashed all over the news, anyway) unpredictable denouement. But even at this point, the violence is still laced with plenty of humor—both scatological and satirical. American foreign policy takes a well-aimed jab when one character asks, “How many times can the U.S. make the same mistake?” and Dave replies emphatically and patriotically, “As many times as it takes!”

The Interview also scores well in its production design. Production Designer Jon Billington (World War Z) creates a truly imposing and thoroughly Communist edifice in Kim’s luxury bunker compound. There are lots and lots of greys in this North Korea, and all feels very real, even if these locations also boast a decidedly Ken Adam spin.

I enjoyed the first half of The Interview, but the violent excesses of the third act ultimately left a bad taste in my mouth. Spy fans who come across it on TV in the future should certainly watch at least the first half, and will be rewarded with an interesting take on the spy parody subgenre and quite a few genuine laughs. But anyone expecting more from this movie thanks to its dramatic will it or won't it be released? controversy will probably find themselves let down, and wishing that if this sort of brouhaha had to be stirred up, it had been over a better film. Because ultimately, The Interview is a wildly uneven movie, and at best a mixed bag.

Dec 24, 2014

Tradecraft: Gary Oldman Joins Kevin Costner Spy Movie

They played similar spymasters, one British, one American, in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Now Gary Oldman and Kevin Costner will star in a spy movie together, according to The Hollywood Reporter. When Millennium Films first acquired the script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg (The Rock) last year, Deadline described it as "an action movie about the right man in the wrong body. In a last-ditch effort to stop a diabolical plot, a dead CIA operative’s memories, secrets and skills are implanted into an unpredictable and dangerous prison inmate in hopes that he will complete the operative’s mission." Because, of course, a dangerous prison inmate is exactly who you'd transfer those memories into, not, say, a CIA volunteer who has had the same spy training himself. Oldman will play the director of the CIA. Ariel Vromen (The Iceman) directs. The cast also includes Ryan Reynolds (Safe House), Tommy Lee Jones (Yuri Nosenko, KGB), Gal Gadot (Fast Five) and Alice Eve (Men in Black 3). Criminal is produced by Millennium and will be released by Summit in August 2015.

Tradecraft: Malkovich, Douglas, Bloom and Collette Join Noomi Rapace in Michael Apted's Unlocked

We first heard about the Noomi Rapace spy thriller Unlocked last April, when Mikael Håfström (Escape Plan) was attached to direct. Since then, Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough, Enigma) has replaced him, and several more actors have been cast, according to Deadline. John Malkovich (RED) and Toni Collette (Hostages) will co-star, along with Michael Douglas (Haywire) and Orlando Bloom (Black Hawk Down) in what the trade describes as a female-driven, "Bourne-esque" thriller. (Of course, as we know, every spy movie nowadays is described as "Bourne-esque.") According to the trade, Rapace (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) plays "a CIA interrogator who unwittingly gives info to terrorists and must race against the clock to stop their biological warfare attach on London." Lorenzo Di Bonaventura (RED, Salt, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) produces, from a Black List script by Peter O'Brien (Halo: Reach). I'm a big fan of Rapace, and I can't wait to see her topline her own action spy thriller. This could be good!

Dec 23, 2014

Tradecraft: Henry Cavill Keeps Spying After U.N.C.L.E.

When he's not Superman, he's a spy. It looks like Henry Cavill plans to keep right on spying after playing Napoleon Solo in the upcoming Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature. Through his production shingle, Promethean, the actor has optioned a series of action-oriented espionage novels by Duncan Falconer. According to Deadline, "John Stratton is an operative of the SBS [Special Boat Service, the Naval equivalent of the more famous SAS] who works with the Intelligence Detachment in Northern Ireland. The movie, envisioned as the first in a franchise, is simply titled Stratton, but according to Falconer (via HenryCavill.org) is based on his novel The Hostage. The plot of the novel involves the IRA, a mole in MI5, a captured U.S. Navy SEAL and a deadly terror plot against London. For the movie version, according to the author, the antagonists have been changed to Islamic fundamentalists and Paris to Rome. Surprisingly, that means Cavill will limit his spying to the same locations he covered as Napoleon Solo. According to the trade, Stratton will shoot in Southern Italy, Rome and London, all locales seen in Warner's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Shooting is scheduled to begin in the spring.

Dec 22, 2014

First Image From Warner's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Movie

We saw a small, blurry version of this still last fall, but now Warner Bros. (via Dark Horizons) has released a great big, high-res version of the first official photo from their forthcoming feature version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Stars Henry Cavill (who plays Napoleon Solo), Armie Hammer (as Illya Kuryakin) and Alicia Vikander are pictured in a lush Roman setting showing off the movie's Sixties fashions. (I love that director Guy Ritchie chose to retain the TV series' Cold War setting!) The Man From U.N.C.L.E. opens in August.

Sutherland on 24's Future

24 star Kiefer Sutherland talked to The Telegraph (via Dark Horizons) about the future of his iconic character Jack Bauer. And, to hear Sutherland tell it, that future doesn't look too bright. Then again, he's got a history of being a bit of a downer on the subject. When the cancelled show returned to Fox as a summer "event series," 24: Live Another Day, there were rumors that it could live on as a series of miniseries. (And it worked way better as 12 episodes, in my opinion, so I hope it does.) Or even that the long-gestating 24 movie, which had gone through a series of fits and starts since the end of the eighth season, was still in the cards. Sutherland seems to shoot down those ideas, telling The Telegraph, "Me, I don't see going back to it. We had set out to do 12 episodes [of Live Another Day] to end the show and deal with some of the past history of the show. It was also an irresistible opportunity to go shoot in England. So for all of those reasons it made sense to do that last season." But even the actor himself realizes that when it comes to reprising iconic spy roles, it's best to listen to Micheline Connery and never say never, admitting, "I think I said the same thing at the end of Season 8. So I would hate to be held to that." Hopefully he can be convinced to return again, either for another limited series or a movie. Jack Bauer is such a great character that it makes a lot of sense to revisit the format every couple of years during the summer. Plus, fan-favorite supporting character Tony Alemeida (Carlos Bernard) was frustratingly absent from Live Another Day, but made a surprise appearance in a DVD and Blu-ray bonus feature that seemed to portend his return should the series come back in any form, and many fans would love to see that happen. So let's hope Sutherland changes his mind....

Dec 18, 2014

Tradecraft: Fox Films Littell's Defection

Deadline reports that screenwriter Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down) has sold a spec script called Defection, based on a Robert Littell spy novel, to Fox. The trade doesn't happen to mention which Littell novel in their story, but Coming Soon has reached the very reasonable conclusion that it's the author's first spy novel, The Defection of A. J. Lewinter. But that Cold War tale has been updated for our times. The script made the prestigious Black List, which offers a plot summary: "After the Edward Snowden affair, an intelligence contractor defects to North Korea, taking a mysterious bag with him, and the CIA hires an expert trained during the Cold War to help with the case." (Let's see if it's still North Korea by the time the film gets made since studios seem to be scared of them right now.) Last month, The Tracking Board reported that Brad Pitt was attached to star in and produce Defection. I'm not sure if he's still in the picture, or if that deal fell through and the Fox one supersedes Pitt's involvement.

Dec 11, 2014

Trailer: The Gunman

Sean Penn (Fair Game) throws his hat quite aggressively into the "over-the-hill-actor-reinvents-himself-as-an-action-hero" sweepstakes in the trailer for the latest neo-Eurospy movie from Taken director Pierre Morel, The Gunman. And the results look pretty stunning to me! Almost as stunning as the heavy-hitting cast, which also includes Javier Bardem (Skyfall), Idris Elba (Luther), Ray Winstone (Edge of Darkness) and Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall). Morel (who also directed From Paris With Love) is a master of this genre, and I cannot wait to see this movie! It seems like we've been hearing about it forever, but I guess it's really only been about two yearsThe Gunman (based on the Jean-Patrick Manchette novel Prone Gunman) hits theaters in March.

Dec 9, 2014

Tradecraft: Showtime Buys Corporate Espionage Comedy From Marc Webb

Deadline reports that Showtime has bought a half-hour corporate espionage comedy pilot from Amazing Spider-man and (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb and writer David J. Rosen (I Just Want My Pants Back). Titled Professionals, the trade reports that the potential series "centers on two partially-broken mid-level employees who become ensnared in a dangerous game of corporate espionage." The cable network has ordered three scripts, designed to serve as the first three episodes should it go to series, but will still go through a pilot phase before making a final decision on the project.

Dec 4, 2014

Tradecraft: TNT Renews Legends

Well, here's some good TV news to offset Monday's disappointing announcement about the cancellation of Matador. Deadline reports that TNT has picked up Homeland and 24 producer Howard Gordon's latest spy drama Legends for a 10-episode second-season. Based on the Robert Littell novel, Legends stars Sean Bean (GoldenEye) as FBI Special Agent Martin Odum, a deep cover operative who has lived so many legends he can no longer be sure of his own identity. The first season ended with a paradigm-shifting cliffhanger involving MI6, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, an assassination and of course a vast conspiracy, so fans will be relieved to learn of the pickup. I was seriously fearful it wouldn't happen when TNT cancelled Dallas a few months ago, and Sean Bean committed to another TV show. (UK period drama The Frankenstein Chronicles is also a short season show, so the industrious actor can do both.) So this is most welcome news! The first season started off a bit rough, but quickly evolved into the terrific sort of spy TV we expect from Gordon. According to the trade, "there could be some supporting cast changes going into Season 2." That's not surprising considering how radically the events of the first season finale shook up the show's infrastructure.

James Bond Will Return in... SPECTRE!!!

EON Productions, MGM and Sony announced this morning that the next James Bond movie, once again starring Daniel Craig as Agent 007, will be called SPECTRE! Obviously that title holds enormous ramifications for the film's plot and the series. Thanks mainly to legal issues, now resolved, the eponymous villainous organization hasn't officially been heard from since Diamonds Are Forever back in 1971.

Joining Craig will be returning cast members Ralph Fiennes as M, Ben Whishaw as Q, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, and Rory Kinnear as Bill Tanner. This time around they'll be joined by Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), Monica Belucci (Agents secrets) as Lucia Sciarra, David Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) as the unfortunately named henchman Mr. Hinx, Léa Seydoux (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) as Madeleine Swann, and Andrew Scott (Sherlock) as Denbigh, who director Sam Mendes described as "a new addition to the Whitehall family." The producers remained enigmatically cagey about exactly what the rest of those roles entail, and Waltz's character name, perhaps tellingly, was not revealed. The stunning Belucci was first rumored as a Bond Girl way back in 1997 for Tomorrow Never Dies, when Pierce Brosnan strongly advocated her for the role of Paris Carver.

Perhaps more anticipated than any human actor in the film, the new Bond car was also revealed. And it's nearly as stunning as Belucci. It's the all-new Aston Martin DB10, which Mendes claimed the Bond team had designed together with the car company.

As previously reported, Skyfall's Mendes will once again direct, this time joined behind the camera by editor Lee Smith (X-Men: First Class, Inception) and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, HER, Interstellar) stepping in for Roger Deakins. Van Hoytema previously indicated that while Deakins shot Skyfall on digital, he will shoot on film. Thomas Newman will return to score once again, as will production designer Dennis Gassner, 2nd unit director Alexander Witt, special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, visual effects supervisor Steve Begg, costume designer Jany Temime (no word yet about Tom Ford, but I would assume he'll be providing Craig's suits again) and stunt coordinator Gary Powell. The twenty-fourth official James Bond movie begins its seven month shoot on Monday, and opens worldwide on November 6, 2015. (It was previously slated to open in the UK two weeks prior.) Less than a year to wait! You can see more pictures from the event at 007.com and watch the video of the press conference below:

Dec 3, 2014

Watch the Official Bond 24 Title and Cast Announcements Early Tomorrow Morning

While rumors about the likes of Kristoff Waltz, Monica Belucci, Dave Bautista, Léa Seydoux and Andrew Scott (as well as Fiat 500s) have been swirling, EON, MGM and Sony will officially announce the cast of Bond 24 along with the film's title early tomorrow morning or late tonight, depending on where you live. The press conference will be live streamed at 11am Thursday, GMT, which works out to 6am for Americans on the East Coast and 3am for West Coasters like myself. Will the title be one of the remaining unused Fleming titles, like Risico or The Property of a Lady? Will the rumors be confirmed? Debunked? Are there any surprises left? Watch here when the moment comes!

The Condor Flies Again

Thirty-seven years after he last wrote about the character, James Grady is revisiting his most famous creation. Ronald Malcolm, hero of the classic 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor and its 1978 sequel, Shadow of the Condor, will return next year in the provocatively titled Last Days of the Condor. According to the publisher's copy, "Last Days of the Condor is the bullet-paced, ticking clock saga of America on the edge of our most startling spy world revolution since 9/11. Set in the savage streets and Kafkaesque corridors of Washington, DC, shot through with sex and suspense, with secret agent tradecraft and full-speed action, with hunters and the hunted, Last Days of the Condor is a breakneck saga of America’s secrets." Grady previously explored the post-9/11 intelligence world with the Condor concept in an odd "reimagining" of his classic novel, a short story entitled "Condor.net." That tale was about a new, young Condor; this one is about the original Condor in his old age. The Kirkus Review provides a few more details about the plot of the new novel:
All these years after achieving notoriety as a CIA whistle-blower, the silver-haired Condor lives on the edge of reality. Put on meds for every conceivable kind of post-traumatic disorder following a heart attack, he's visited by ghosts and gets "lost in time." When a distrusting federal agent assigned to monitor his recovery is found brutally murdered in Condor's apartment, [Condor] is the prime suspect.
That kind of makes it sound like more of a sequel to the movie version, 3 Days of the Condor, than the book. In the movie, the hero (rechristened Joe Turner and played by Robert Redford) ultimately blows the whistle on the CIA, an iconic finale both in keeping with its own post-Watergate, post-Pentagon Papers, post-Church Committee times (in which the country was deeply distrustful of the government and its intelligence agencies) and uncommonly prescient regarding our own (countless contemporary spy movies including Green Zone and Safe House have copied that ending, and supporters of Edward Snowden constantly compare him to Condor). In the book, there is no whistle blowing. Perhaps Kirkus Review is referring to something that happens in Shadow of the Condor, I suppose; I haven't read that one. But one could hardly blame Grady for incorporating the mythology of the film into his literary Condor world. While the book is inarguably one of the cornerstones of the modern espionage genre, there is little doubt that today more people are familiar with the story through the Sydney Pollack-directed movie. As a fan of both versions, I just hope he goes to the trouble of reconciling the two. According to Grady's publicists, the forthcoming sequel has already been optioned for a film itself, by MGM. (It would be quite cool if Redford could be lured into reprising his famous role.)

Last Days of the Condor hits shelves on February 17, 2015, published by Forge, and is available for pre-order on Amazon now.

Dec 2, 2014

Tom Cruise Performs More Crazy Stunts in Mission: Impossible 5

In each Mission: Impossible movie, Tom Cruise seems to like to top whatever crazy stunt he performed in the one before it. Dangling from the side of the world's tallest building, Dubai's Burj Khalifa, in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol seemed pretty hard to top—terrestrially, anyway. Obviously once you've scaled the tallest building, if you still want to go up, you've got to dangle from an airplane. Or at least cling to one. And that's exactly what Cruise did last month while filming in the UK. ABC News reports (with pictures and video) that the 52-year-old actor had himself strapped to the side of an Airbus A4005 and clung to fuselage of the massive transport plane as it took off and reached an altitude of 5000 feet (putting him almost twice as high off the ground as he was in Dubai) at a speed of 340mph. So, yeah, maybe that tops running down the Burj Khalifa. And earlier today, according to the London Evening Standard, he filmed a chase scene in London's Piccadilly Circus shoving his way through real crowds. Okay, so that one's not quite as death-defying, but it does sound pretty harrowing if you happened to be stuck in traffic in the area. As previously reported, Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) is directing, and Cruise is joined by returning team members Jeremy Renner (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Bourne Legacy), Simon Pegg (Mission: Impossible III and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) and (per Dark Horizons) Ving Rhames (veteran of all the Mission: Impossible films to date), along with newcomers to the series Rebecca Ferguson (The White Queen) and Alec Baldwin (The Hunt For Red October). Mission: Impossible 5 opens Christmas Day next year.

Additionally, The Mail Online posted this amateur video of the stunt in progress. (McQuarrie, obviously, will make it look considerably more exciting, no doubt with the aid of Lalo Schifrin's famous theme music!)

Dec 1, 2014

Tradecraft: Matador Cancelled

This is very disappointing news! After initially announcing that it was already renewed for a second season before the first one even started airing, El Rey Network have changed their minds and cancelled their entertaining spy series Matador. Deadline reports that the series, billed as a "Latino James Bond" (but really more of a Latino Alias) did fairly well in America, but failed to find international buyers. That's really too bad, because Matador was a lot of fun. It was an entertaining, action-oriented, somewhat fantastical throwback spy series. And it came from a roster of heavy hitters, including Alias producers Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who recycled some of their Alias mythology by mixing spies with mystical artifacts) and El Rey founder Robert Rodriguez. The news of its cancellation comes on top of the sad news of the premature death of one of its stars, Elizabeth Pena. I will miss Matador.

Nov 30, 2014

BBC Plots New Version of Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent

The Guardian reports that the BBC will air a new 3-part adaptation of Joseph Conrad's 1907 novel The Secret Agent in 2015. Playwright Tony Marchant (The Whistleblowers, The Mark of Cain) is behind the new miniseries. Conrad's tale of a spy posing as a Soho shopkeeper ordered by his Russian handler to set off a bomb in order to provoke the British government into cracking down on anarchism is particularly relevant today. It's been adapted several times before, as a 1996 feature with Bob Hoskins, Christian Bale and Robin Williams, a 1992 miniseries with Peter Capaldi and David Suchet, a 1967 telefilm with Nigel Green, and of course Alfred Hitchcock's 1936 Sabotage (he'd already used Secret Agent as the title of his Ashenden adaptation) with Oskar Homolka, but not in the post-9/11 era when the turn-of-the-century tale of terrorism takes on new contemporary resonance. This commission comes in the same slate as the Len Deighton adaptation SSGB. No casting, airdate or U.S. broadcast partner have yet been announced.

Nov 27, 2014

New Agent Carter Promo

Celebrate Thanksgiving with a new promo for ABC's upcoming period spy drama Agent Carter...

Nov 20, 2014

Tradecraft: Purvis and Wade Adapt Deighton for BBC

Variety reports that James Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Skyfall, Casino Royale, The World Is Not Enough) have signed on to write a 5-episode miniseries for BBC One based on Ipcress File author Len Deighton's novel SS-GB. As much as I love Deighton, I have to confess I've never read that one because his alternate history novels never interested me as much as his Cold War spy thrillers. So I'll rely on the trade's plot summary. "It is set in an imaginary Britain controlled by the Nazis, if Germany had occupied the country. It centers on a police detective caught between the Nazis and the British resistance." But the alternate history setting doesn't mean that it's not a spy story! Speaking to The Guardian, Purvis and Wade called SS-GB "a brilliant tale of espionage that dares to think the unthinkable." I'll certainly have to read the book before this miniseries airs in 2015! I can't help but be a tad disappointed that this isn't news on the new television adaptation of Deighton's masterful Bernard Samson cycle that was first reported on last year, but on which there have been no updates ever since, but I guess I should just be glad that any Deighton is coming to television. And this sounds like fertile ground for a series, for sure! Besides their contributions to the last five Bond movies, Purvis and Wade's other genre credits include Johhny English and The Italian Job remake (on which they ended up uncredited).

Nov 19, 2014

Double O Section Classic: Encore Review: Espionage Agent (1939)

In the days leading up to WWII, Joel McCrea made near back-to-back spy films with polar opposite political agendas. Alfred Hitchcock’s genre-defining action masterpiece Foreign Correspondent warned of the chaos brewing in Europe and made the clear case that it would be impossible for America and Americans to avoid being caught up in it, so the U.S. should make a stand soon and come to the aid of its overseas allies. (As a Brit working in Hollywood, Hitchcock himself had an obvious patriotic agenda.) Prior to that role, however, McCrea played an American diplomat in Espionage Agent, a movie that dared to vilify Hitler’s Germany at a time when studios preferred to play it safe with international politics, yet at the same time advocated America’s neutrality. "If America, lacking the protective laws it needs, is drawn into another war," one mouthpiece character declares, "it will be because of those human ostriches who keep their heads buried in the sand." While advocating isolationism, the movie recognizes its drawbacks. "Isolation is a political policy, and not a brick wall around the nation," comments another character. "And fancy pants guys [meaning spies] walk right through political policies."

Espionage Agent blames nefarious foreign spies and saboteurs for warmongering in America, ignoring all the other factors that led to U.S. involvement in the Second World War, but at the same time makes the sound case that the United States badly needs a counterintelligence agency of its own to root out those spies. That, the film’s creators naively believe, will be the end of it. As long as U.S. authorities can round up all the foreign agents operating within the country, America need have no more involvement with the war in Europe. So while it’s heart may have been in the right place, the movie’s politics have dated badly. But how does Espionage Agent fare as pure entertainment? Sadly not so well. Director Lloyd Bacon and the four credited writers had not yet cracked the genre the way Hitchcock had.

At a time when Hollywood films weren’t supposed to stir up trouble by specifically identifying the foreign powers behind the spies and saboteurs creeping all over movie screens, Espionage Agent boldly opens with headlines about German agents operating subversively on U.S. soil and Congress’s need to take action. They get away with this by hiding behind a title card that identifies these events as occurring in 1915, but the implication is clear that they’re happening again. Once we flash forward to the contemporary setting of 1939, there’s no more specific mention of Germany, though all the foreign agents speak with German accents and have names like Muller and come from a country that borders Switzerland with soldiers whose uniforms closely resemble those of the SS.

McCrea plays Barry Corvall, a U.S. diplomat in Algiers. He helps a throng of American travelers escape the revolution-rocked nation, including the beautiful Brenda Ballard (played by the equally beautiful Brenda Marshall). When he sees Brenda, it’s love at first sight. Unfortunately, we’ve just seen her agreeing out of desperation to spy for the loathsome Herr Muller (Martin Kosleck) if only he’ll furnish her with an American passport so she can get home. Barry books Brenda passage on the same steamship he’s taking back to the States, and woos her throughout the voyage. Not wanting to drag him into her own unfortunate predicament, Brenda adamantly refuses his advances.

Back in America, Barry and his friend Lowell enroll in some sort of advanced diplomat school, and learn more about the dangers of foreign spies. This section plays out like the Top Gun of the diplomatic corps; it’s clearly designed to attract eager recruits for foreign service. Barry eventually completes his higher learning and gets posted to Paris. And he finally convinces Brenda to marry him. Of course, that’s when the snake Muller emerges from the shadows, reminding her of her debt of service to his organization. Here, the movie does something surprising. It doesn’t milk the drama of a wife coerced into spying on her husband. Instead, Brenda comes clean with Barry and tells him everything. He, in turn, reveals all this to his bosses in the State Department.

I don’t know if their response accurately belies the astonishing ignorance of the pre-war U.S. intelligence community, or merely the astonishing ignorance of Hollywood’s screenwriters at telling good spy stories. Either way, instead of using this newfound asset as a double agent to pass misinformation along to the Germans, the honchos at the State Department call Muller into their office and tell him exactly what they know, blowing their chances at running any sort of counterspy operation. Muller smiles and says it’s all true, but what can they do about it? He’s a foreign citizen, so under the current U.S. law they have no choice but to let him go. Way to go, State Department; way to accomplish nothing. Yes, that’s the movie’s point, but it makes for frustrating plot development.

So halfway through the movie, we’re robbed (twice) of what could have been the compelling espionage drama promised in the film’s title. Luckily, Corvall feels just as cheated as the audience, and vows to single-handedly bust up this spy ring. Of course Brenda won’t let him go it alone, so he reluctantly accepts her help. As a private citizen, he’ll fashion himself and Brenda into a two-person CIA. And so they head off together to take on all the espionage agents in Europe, trying to gather evidence of infiltration that will force Congress to act... somehow. This private mission leads to the good stuff we expect from Thirties spy movies, like secret codes, foreign embassies, listening to conversations through windows and–of course–crossing borders on trains. But still, Barry and Brenda are dogged by America’s general lack of preparedness to function as a superpower. When Barry tries to bluff that American agents are watching all the train stations, the head German (oops, I mean head "foreign") agent snidely gloats, "Ve know America has no counter-espionage service."

Things still manage to get exciting in a kind of third-rate way, and then wrap up very suddenly against the same conditions that end Foreign Correspondent, with the world on the verge of war. It’s not giving away too much about a movie of this era to say that Barry does something worthy of praise, but sadly America is in no position to offer it. "You helped forge the weapon the service so badly needed," says his former State Department superior. "And yet the service can’t show its gratitude for it." The age-old secret agent’s dilemma: there’s no public reward for secret service. Of course, the movie itself has managed to make its very public case for an American counterintelligence agency, so it’s undeniably successful to some degree, and of considerable interest to students of spy history. Yet its creators remain blissfully hopeful that such an organization will enable the country to maintain its isolationist outlook, and steer clear of the troubles in Europe.

Espionage Agent is a curious time capsule from that moment when Hollywood was first dabbling with the notion of a secret agent hero. Spies were still shadowy villains, aiming to do America harm, but what about a counterintelligence officer, protecting the country from such threats? Barry Corvall is still a private citizen, and a cinematic James Bond is still two decades away. Despite a few anomalies during WWII, the heroic counter agent wouldn’t emerge until the Cold War, but Espionage Agent is notable as an early experiment in that direction. It’s also worth seeing for solid performances from Joel McCrea and the truly stunning Brenda Marshall, whose career was sadly never as big as it should have been. But it’s far from top-shelf spy entertainment. For that, seek out McCrea’s next spy movie, Foreign Correspondent.