May 1, 2016

Tradecraft: Paul Rudd to Play Moe Berg

Variety reports that Paul Rudd (Captain America: Civil War) will play the legendary baseball player/spy (more legendary as the former than the latter) Moe Berg in The Catcher Was a Spy for Palmstar Media. Since it has the same title, I'm assuming this film will be based on Nicholas Davidoff's 1995 book, and I honestly can't believe it's taken so long for that to make it to the screen. There have been many books on Berg, however (ESPN calls him "the only utility player to be the subject of three biographies"), so it's possible that the movie has other source material. Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) wrote the screenplay and Ben Lewin (The Sessions) will direct.

Berg was perhaps the ultimate Renaissance man. With degrees from Princeton and Columbia Law (as well as studying at the Sorbonne), he was a polyglot and an athlete. During a fifteen-year career in the major league he bounced around between multiple teams including the Chicago White Sox, the Washington Senators and the Boston Red Sox. An undistinguished record didn't stop him from accompanying the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Japan in the years before WWII, where he covertly photographed Tokyo for the U.S. government, taking films that were supposedly used in planning the Doolittle raid. He went on to serve in the OSS and the CIA, taking on numerous perilous wartime assignments.

Apr 26, 2016

SPECTRE Returns in Warren Ellis' Second James Bond Comics Arc

According to the solicitation copy for Dynamite's James Bond 007 #7, in stores June 15, Warren Ellis's second 007 arc will see the return of the villainous organization SPECTRE to the pages of comics. Indeed, as the comics are licensed from Ian Fleming Publications and based on the Fleming novels rather than the films, the storyline "EIDOLON," also marks the first appearance of SPECTRE in print (in the world of the literary Bond) since John Gardner's tenure as the official continuation author back in the 1980s! Here's the description:
After World War Two, army intelligence groups created ghost cells called "stay-behinds" across Europe in the event of a Warsaw Pact surge. “EIDOLON” is the story of a SPECTRE stay-behind structure – ghost cells of SPECTRE loyalists acting as sleepers until the time is right for a SPECTRE reformation and resurgence. The time is now.
Ellis gave an interview with Comic Book Resources, revealing slightly more about the story. "SPECTRE is over as a threat at this time in Bond's life, and Blofeld is gone," he tells the website, promising, "This is something new." The inspiration for "EIDOLON" (a Greek word meaning "ghost," "phantom," or... "specter"), he reveals, draws as much upon current events as it does on those WWII stay-behind units. "I'd been looking for a way to introduce asymmetrical warfare and modern combat conditions into Bond without being too clunky about it -- AQ, Daesh, the movement of money, all the stuff that didn't necessarily pertain when Fleming was writing," he told CBR.

And while we might not be seeing Ernst Stavro Blofeld rise from the ashes, Ellis does promise one figure from Bond's past. Fans can look forward to CIA agent (or former CIA agent, depending on which part of Fleming's timeline Ellis ends up drawing from) Felix Leiter popping up in "EIDOLON."

Meanwhile, Ellis's first James Bond 007 storyline, "VARGR," will be collected in hardcover this summer, in stores June 28 and available for pre-order on Amazon.

Apr 25, 2016

New Trailer and Posters: Le Carré's Our Kind of Traitor



We saw the British trailer a couple of months ago; now we get our first American trailer for Our Kind of Traitor, courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions—along with the rather uninspired U.S. (above) and UK (below) posters for the John le Carré adaptation, based on his highly entertaining 2010 novel. Ewan McGregor (Stormbreaker), Naomie Harris (Skyfall), Damian Lewis (Homeland), Mark Gatiss (Sherlock) and Stellan Skarsgård (The Hunt for Red October) star. Our Kind of Traitor opens July 1 in the United States, and May 13 in the UK.


New Poster: Jason Bourne

Here's the second teaser poster for Jason Bourne, the fourth movie starring Matt Damon as Robert Ludlum's amnesiac superspy, and the third directed by Paul Greengrass. Jason Bourne opens July 27, 2016 (two days earlier than previously announced). Watch the latest trailer here. View the first poster (same slogan, full body) here.

Apr 21, 2016

Trailer: Jason Bourne

We got our first glimpse in nine years at Matt Damon in action as Jason Bourne during the Super Bowl spot for the eponymous new movie. Today, Universal has released the full trailer, and it looks pretty spectacular! Damon re-teams with his Bourne Supremacy, Bourne Ultimatum and Green Zone director Paul Greengrass, and the results are exactly what you'd expect of that team. Jason Bourne (which bodly abandons the traditional Robert Ludlum title structure) opens July 29.  Alicia Vikander (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Vincent Cassel (Agents Secrets), Tommy Lee Jones (Criminal) and Julia Stiles (reprising her role from previous Bourne movies) co-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

Apr 19, 2016

The Night Manager Debuts Tonight in America

I've been covering this miniseries with much excitement since it was first announced in 2014, and tonight it is finally here! After it aired in the UK last month and in various other territories since then, American audiences at last get to tune in to the six-part BBC/AMC miniseries The Night Manager, based on John le Carré's 1993 novel, starting tonight. Hugh Laurie (House), Tom Hiddleston (Marvel's The Avengers), Olivia Colman (Broadchruch) and Elizabeth Debicki (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) star in Susanne Bier's contemporary take on le Carré's much loved thriller. Laurie has long been a fan of this novel, having attempted to secure the rights back in his Jeeves & Wooster days hoping to play the role Hiddleston now takes on, and written his own fantastic parody of it (and the spy genre at large) in The Gun Seller. (And according to Adam Sisman's recent le Carré biography, Laurie has actually known the author personally since the Nineties, having met him through Stephen Fry.) Attempts to film The Night Manager date back nearly to its original publication. As recently as 2009, Brad Pitt hoped to star in a feature version. But in many ways le Carré works best on the small screen, where there is plenty of room to explore all the nuances, twists and turns of his complex plots. (The BBC's miniseries versions of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People starring Alec Guinness remain high water marks of the genre to this day.) Amazingly, it's been 25 years since the last small screen le Carré adaptation, 1991's A Murder of Quality (review here). After the success The Night Manager has already enjoyed in Britain (where, like the Guinness miniseries before it, it was a bona fide cultural phenomenon), it's unlikely we'll have to wait so long again. The Ink Factory, the production company founded by two of le Carré's sons behind The Night Manager, is already cooking up a three-part adaptation of the author's 2003 novel Absolute Friends.

The Night Manager debuts tonight, Tuesday, April 19, at 10/9c on AMC.

Apr 4, 2016

Blue Ruin Director to Helm Robert Littell's Defection?

This project was first reported back in 2014, but things have been quiet since then. I'm glad to learn it's still progressing! According to The Tracking Board (via Dark Horizons), Jeremy Saulnier, who helmed the acclaimed 2014 indie feature Blue Ruin and the upcoming Patrick Stewart white supremacist thriller Green Room, is in talks to make his studio debut with 20th Century Fox's Defection. As previously reported, Defection (scripted by Black Hawk Down's Ken Nolan) is based on The Defection of A.J. Lewinter, the first novel by spy stalwart Robert Littell, whose works have also served as the basis for the TNT series The Company (with Michael Keaton) and Legends (with Sean Bean). Here's how The Tracking Board describes the project:
Cut from the same cloth as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but set in an Edward Snowden era, Defection tells the story of Leo Diamond, a broken down CIA case officer who uses his calculated Cold War training to go after a mid-level CIA intelligence contractor who has defected to North Korea and has taken a mysterious suitcase with him.
Littell's novel is a bona fide classic, but very, very much seeped in the Cold War period in which it was written. Relocating it to North Korea wouldn't be nearly as simple as doing a find/replace swapping "Pyongyang" for "Moscow;" it would require considerable research into the ins and outs of North Korean politics and power structures (which I'm presuming are just as internecine as they were in the Soviet Union in the Seventies). And changing the defector from a scientist to an intelligence contractor, while timely in the wake of Snowden, will also create major ramifications in the novel's plot—possibly even affecting one of the all-time great final twists in spy fiction. Just making the very play-like, talky novel cinematic would be a major challenge, so I look forward to seeing how Nolan pulls it off. Saulnier is an expert at creating tension, so I have no doubt he'll pull off this difficult page to screen transition.

At one point Brad Pitt was attached to star in and produce Defection. He's not mentioned in this report, so I'm not sure if he's involved any longer.

Mar 21, 2016

Tradecraft: Edward Holcroft Returns for Kingsman 2

At least one seemingly dead character from Kingsman: The Secret Service will be back for the sequel. Deadline reports that British actor Edward Holcroft (who went on to play a much more dramatic spy role opposite Ben Whishaw in London Spy) will return as Eggsy's (Taron Edgerton) snobby Kingsman candidate rival turned antagonist, Charlie. Though Charlie presumably perished in the mountain bunker at the end of the first movie, I don't think we actually saw it on screen. Does his reappearance open the door for another, much more popular, character who was killed off far more definitively? While the official word is no, many fans are still hoping director Matthew Vaughn has a surprise in store regarding that character. Kingsman 2 is set to shoot this summer, from a script by Vaughn and Jane Goldman (not, this time, working from a Mark Millar comic book). According to the trade, Halle Berry (Die Another Day) and Julianne Moore (Laws of Attraction) are also in talks to star in the sequel, with Berry as the head of the CIA and Moore as the villainess. As previously reported, Vaughn will once again direct.

Mar 11, 2016

Tradecraft: Michael Keaton to Costar in Flynn's American Assassin

The long, long gestating Mitch Rapp movie seems to finally be gaining some traction and moving towards production. First set up at CBS Films for producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura way back in early 2008, actors like Gerrard Butler, Matthew Fox and Chris Hemsworth have all at one time or another flirted with playing Vince Flynn's counterterror hero in what's hoped to be a franshise based on the late author's 13 novel series. It was reported a while ago that Homeland veteran Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger) would direct, but we haven't heard anything new since then and I wondered if he was even still involved. (Legends' Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Legends of the Fall's Ed Zwick had previously been linked to the project in that capacity.) Evidently he is. In the first casting announcement of this particular incarnation, Deadline reports that Michael Keaton (The Company) will play the supporting role of Stan Hurley in American Assassin, Rapp's CIA mentor, a shadowy veteran of Cold War Black Ops. Bruce Willis had been attached to this role in a previous incarnation of the Rapp movie. American Assassin isn't based on Flynn's first book, but on the chronological first story in the series. (Originally it was CBS Films' plan to adapt Flynn's Consent to Kill first.) Published in 2010, the novel was a prequel telling the origins of the fearless Rapp, who joined the CIA hungry for revenge after his fiance was killed in a terrorist attack and came under the tutelege of Hurley.

Feb 17, 2016

Tradecraft: Kingsman Sequel Gathers Steam With Julianne Moore as Villain

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the sequel to last year's Kingsman: The Secret Service is gearing up for a June shoot, and Julianne Moore (The Fugitive) has been tapped to play the main villain. The trade reports that Matthew Vaughn will direct again (I was kind of hoping he'd tackle his other percolating spy movie, the adaptation of Terry Hayes' I Am Pilgrim, next) and Taron Egerton (now starring in Eddie the Eagle) will once again star as Eggsy. Not returning is Colin Firth. Last year it had been rumored that Vaughn was looking for ways to bring his character back. Personally, I'd still love to see two franchises grow out of Kingsman: a series of sequels starring Egerton, and a series of prequels starring Firth.

Read my review of Kingsman: The Secret Service here.

Tradecraft: Sony Shops Salt for TV

Screen Daily reports (via Dark Horizons) that Sony is developing a television version of their 2010 spy film Salt. The original starred Angelina Jolie (after a lengthy development process that saw the protagonist's gender changed after Tom Cruise left the project), was directed by Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games) and written by Kurt Wimmer (The Recruit). According to the trade, "The Hollywood studio is pitching the adaptation to broadcasters and co-production partners at this week’s European Film Market, which runs alongside the Berlin Film Festival." Diego Suarez joined Sony last year as Senior Vice President of International Television Production with a mandate "to develop local and international TV around the world. Suarez told the trade,“We want to bring [the Salt series] to Europe in a completely different way." Transporter: The Series was a European TV show based on a European movie property; NBC's upcoming Taken series a U.S. TV show based on a European movie property. "If successful," the trade notes, "Salt would mark one of the first Hollywood pictures to be turned into a television series in Europe."

Last we had heard, Sony was still keen on a theatrical sequel to Salt, and had set Becky Johnston to write. (Wimmer had worked on a previous draft.) That was back in 2012, however, and things have been pretty quiet on the Salt front since then. It's unclear what a prospective TV series means for the movie sequel.

Feb 16, 2016

Trailer: Idris Elba Neo-Eurospy Movie Bastille Day

StudioCanal have announced an April 22 UK release date for the Idris Elba neo-Eurospy movie Bastille Day, and released the first trailer. Variety reported last November that the distributor was re-evaluating their release schedule in the wake of the shocking real-life Paris terror attacks. (It was originally due out in February.) Bastille Day will open in France on, appropriately, July 13, just in time for the real Bastille Day celebrations. Focus Features has yet to set a U.S. release date. Directed by James Watkins (The Woman in Black), Bastille Day stars Elba (The Gunman) as a CIA agent who teams up with a pickpocket (Richard Madden) to stop a terrorist attack from being carried out in Paris in the next 24 hours. The premise seems pretty similar to another neo-Eurospy movie, From Paris With Love, but the execution and tone look sufficiently different. Check it out:

Feb 13, 2016

More Trailers for Le Carré Miniseries The Night Manager

What a week of treats for John le Carré fans! Yesterday we finally got to see the first trailer for Susanna White's summer movie of Our Kind of Traitor, and today we get another look (or two!) at Susanne Bier's spring miniseries of The Night Manager! A few weeks ago we saw the BBC's trailer; today brings us a 30 second Hugh Laurie-centric spot from American production partner AMC... along with a completely different minute-long trailer from AMC Asia, which for my money is the best one yet. The Night Manager stars Laurie (MI-5, The Gun Seller), Tom Hiddleston (Marvel's The Avengers), Elizabeth Debicki (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Olivia Colman (Broadchurch), David Harewood (Homeland) and Tobias Menzies (Casino Royale).

According to an article in today's Guardian, "Laurie said at a recent screening of the drama that many years ago he had unsuccessfully tried to buy the rights to the book. His aim had been to play the hero, Pine, because the story was 'so romantic, noble, stirring and thrilling.'" More than twenty years later, Laurie is now playing the antagonist, Roper, instead. I could have seen him as Pine in the Nineties, but honestly, I think he'll make a much better Roper! Laurie was actually such a fan of le Carré's 1993 novel that he's credited it as the inspiration for his own rather wonderful spy novel, The Gun Seller. While it gently sends up the genre in general, The Gun Seller is mainly a comedic version of The Night Manager. (And The Gun Seller would still make a great movie! I've wanted to see that filmed ever since first reading it when it came out. Unfortunately Laurie is probably too old now to convincingly play the hero, but it could still be great with the right casting.)

The 6-part event series The Night Manager premieres Tuesday, April 19, in the United States. I cannot wait!

Feb 12, 2016

New Red Band Trailer for The Brothers Grimsby

Sony has released a new Red Band NSFW trailer for the raunchy Sacha Baron Cohen/Mark Strong spy comedy The Brothers Grimsby, directed by Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2). It looks quite funny indeed.


They've also released a clip of the late night audience on Jimmy Kimmel Live! watching a clip from the movie. That's right, a clip of an audience watching a movie clip... but not the movie clip itself. That's because the scene in question is way too offensively raunchy to be shown on TV... or even the Internet, apparently. But it's probably better publicity to show this great reaction instead! Trust me, this clip really is worth viewing. Watching the absolutely appalled looks on the faces of the audience as they veer between disgusted and hysterical is funny in itself... and will likely make you very curious to see the movie and find out what on earth could make them all react that way!

Via Dark Horizons

Trailer: Criminal

Criminal is a weird one with a great cast that we've been hearing about for a while now. (It was first announced in 2013, the cast firmed up in late 2014, and it was originally supposed to be released in August of 2015.) Here's the first trailer. It has an odd tone, but it's certainly very cool to see powerhouses Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Tommy Lee Jones (Jason Bourne) and Kevin Costner (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) in the same room together! The plot, as best I can make out, finds the CIA putting the mind of a deceased agent (an oddly un-billed Ryan Reynolds, despite being the first name mentioned in the studio's synopsis on YouTube) into the body of a hardened criminal (Costner) in order to access his memories and, presumably, complete his mission. Why they would choose a criminal as the vessel I still can't parse out, but hopefully the movie explains it. I'm glad, at least, that this time it's Reynolds' character being put into the body of a more interesting actor (because I'd certainly rather watch Costner in this kind of movie) rather than vise versa, as in last year's Self/Less wherein Ben Kingsley's mind or soul was put into Reynolds' body. (I think Reynolds is excellent in Deadpool. I just don't tend to like him in more serious roles, like Safe House.)

Criminal opens April 15, from Lionsgate. Alice Eve (Men In Black 3), Gal Gadot (Fast Five), Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire), Scott Adkins (The Bourne Ultimatum) and Robert Davi (Licence to Kill) round out the impressive cast. Ariel Vroman (The Iceman) directs from a script by the team behind The Rock (1995), David Weisberg and the late Douglas Cook.

Feb 11, 2016

Our Kind of Trailer

At long, long last, we finally have a trailer for the new John le Carré movie Our Kind of Traitor! This movie has been in the works for a looong time, from when it was originally rumored to be directed by Justin Kurzel (Macbeth) and star Mads Mikkelsen and Ralph Fiennes, to its final cast of Ewan McGregor (Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker), Naomie Harris (Skyfall), Damian Lewis (Homeland) and Stellan Skarsgård (The Hunt for Red October) under the direction of Susanna White. This trailer also finally confirms that Mark Gatiss (Sherlock) is indeed in the movie! His involvement was rumored early on, but subsequently put in question. He was first touted to play Luke, but it's clear from the trailer that that isn't the case. (Readers of the book will realize quickly what role he is playing.) Luke is played by Khalid Abdalla (Green Zone). This UK trailer is kind of an odd watch because there seems to be a very short teaser for the trailer on its head, and lines like "based on the novel by John le Carré" and "You betrayed your country!" are repeated in the main body of the trailer. Overall, despite some changes of location (like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and a younger Hector than I ever imagined, the trailer makes the movie look pretty faithful to the novel. Between this in theaters and The Night Manager on television and The Pigeon Tunnel in bookstores, 2016 is shaping up to be an excellent year for le Carré fans!

Our Kind of Traitor opens May 6 in the UK and in America later in the summer.

Feb 9, 2016

SPECTRE Blu-ray Retailer Exclusives

As seems to be the norm these days (infuriatingly, for consumers), SPECTRE hit Blu-ray today in North America in several different retailer exclusive configurations. This guide is not intended as an endorsement of this frustrating practice, but more of a consumer alert, a buyer beware, so you can make sure you choose the version that's best for you. First, there's the standard Blu-ray edition available from most retailers (including Amazon). The special features are annoyingly scant, but do include the excellent 20-minute featurette "SPECTRE: Bond's Biggest Opening Sequence," covering the Mexico City shoot of the movie's breathtaking pre-credits sequence and the film's premiere. This is the best James Bond Blu-ray special feature since the excellent Cloverland documentaries on the Casino Royale Special Edition. Besides that, all there is in the way of value-added material are the video blogs that ran on 007.com throughout production (all short EPK pieces), three trailers, and a rather disappointing gallery consisting solely of publicity stills and no production artwork or advertising campaign material.

Target offers their own exclusive edition that includes a bonus DVD (that's right, standard def) containing three additional special features totally over 20 minutes (a nice addition given the dearth of extras on the regular disc). "From Title Song to Title Sequence" (06:27) is a featurette about the making of the title sequence (which Mendes aptly describes as "a whole other film, a piece of art") and the song (and also the music video, complete with BTS footage), including interviews with title designer Daniel Kleinman, singer Sam Smith and director Sam Mendes (who praises Smith's controversial falsetto). "The Shadow of SPECTRE" (10:15) features writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade discussing SPECTRE's history within the film series, past films in general, and Ian Fleming. It's basically a recap of things fans will already know. There's also a little bit at the end addressing how they tackled the villainous organization in the new movie. (Purvis: "Everyone was aware that if we're going to do SPECTRE, you've got to make it very different to how it was.") Finally, there's the music video for Sam Smith's somewhat lackluster theme song "Writing's On the Wall" (04:45). The video itself is quite good, and certainly should have been included on the standard Blu-ray.

Finally, Best Buy is offering their own exclusive edition in an attractive steelbook design featuring the octopus/bullet hole teaser artwork (pictured). The features are the same as the regular version. So if you value bonus material (like I do), you should opt for the Target disc to get maximum extras. If you value aesthetics and packaging, the Best Buy one might be right for you. And if you don't really care and just want the movie itself in an admittedly stunning HD transfer, just go for the regular version.

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: