Oct 18, 2014

Transporter TV Series Debuts Tonight On TNT

After taking a route as long and circuitous as one of the winding Riviera roads showcased on the series, the Transporter TV show finally debuts tonight on American television. Adapted from the Luc Besson-produced neo-Eurospy movies starring Jason Statham, the TV version stars Chris Vance as professional transporter Frank Martin. As one might expect of a TV show, there’s a bit more structure to his business on the show, allowing more regular characters than in the films. On TV, Frank has a reliable support staff. Transporter: The Series, and international co-production, was originally developed to air on Cinemax in the U.S. But for some reason Cinemax backed out, and the first season ended up airing in Europe, Australia and Canada a couple of years ago. Then TNT came to the rescue, ordering the existing first season and commissioning a second. The second one (now overseen by Strike Back’s Frank Spotnitz) recently began airing overseas, and tonight Americans can finally start watching the first one. But there are bound to be some changes from what Europeans saw. Since it was originally intended for Cinemax, the original version ofTransporter: The Series was full of gratuitous nudity, as suits that brand. The nudity will definitely be gone for TNT, and there may also be some edits for language and violence. While it certainly didn’t generate raves overseas, I found the first season of Transporter: The Series (which I broke down and bought on import DVD when it looked like there would be no American airing) to be pretty enjoyable. It’s  got the same daffy action we’ve come to expect from the movies. Vance is no Statham, sadly, but then who is? He makes an adequate lead, but the real star of the show is the car chase action, which is top notch. It’s the sort of all-action, testosorone-driven fare that fuelled basic cable line-ups in the 90s, but has been missing in recent years. If that’s what you’re looking for, definitely check it out.Transporter: The Series debuts tonight on TNT at 9/8c.

Oct 17, 2014

Michelle Yeoh Strikes Back

According to The Hollywood Reporter (via Dark Horizons), Bond Girl Michelle Yeoh (Tomorrow Never Dies) will join the fourth and final season of Cinemax's action-packed espionage drama Strike Back. She'll be joined by fellow Bond alum Will Yun Lee (Die Another Day), along with Adrian Paul (Highlander: The Series), Tim McInnerny (Spooks) and Wolf Kahler (Fleming, The Sandbaggers, Raiders of the Lost Ark). The series has just resumed production after a seven month hiatus following an injury sustained by star Sullivan Stapleton. The final 10-episode season will air in 2015.

Tradecraft: ABC Explores Dark Era of CIA in MKUltra

The Assets may have flopped (unfortunately), but ABC isn't giving up on Cold War CIA miniseries. In fact, they're developing another one from the writer of The Assets, Karen Stillman, based on the Agency's notorious MKUltra program. Deadline reports that the network is developing MKUltra, the story of the CIA's experimental mind control program from the Fifties and Sixties. A precursor of extraordinary rendition and other controversial CIA black ops, MKUltra was one of the infamous "crown jewels" revealed in the Church Committee hearings that shocked the nation in the 1970s. The Agency's Scientific Intelligence Division conducted experiments in human "behavioral engineering" using methods including sensory deprivation, hypnosis, torture and, most famously, drugs. Unwitting American citizens were dosed with LSD as part of these experiments, giving rise to an entire generation's justified paranoia about the CIA - and fueling conspiracy theories for decades to come. LSD and other drugs were also incorporated into the Agency's standard interrogation tactics of the time. This seems like fertile ground for a miniseries. I loved The Assets, and I hope this one gets greenlit.

Oct 15, 2014

Agent Carter Gets Her Own Comic

We know that Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. precursor SSR, is getting her own TV show this winter, spun off from the Marvel One Shot short film Agent Carter. And we got a brief, tantalizing sneak peek when Atwell made a guest appearance on a 1940s-set prologue to the second season premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Now, appropriately, the Captain America supporting character will finally have a Marvel comic of her own to back it up. Newsarama reports that Marvel announced the five-issue miniseries Operation S.I.N., written by Kathryn Immonen and illustrated by Rich Ellis, at this weekend's New York Comic Con. According to editor Jon Moisan, "People can expect a badass Cold War-era spy story featuring Peggy Carter and Howard Stark.... This series is very much a spy story, but done in a way that only Marvel can. And I don’t want to spill too much, but someone definitely fights a bear." Sounds good to me! I'm always down for more Cold War era spy comics. Operation S.I.N. will also somehow tie in to this past summer's big Nick Fury-centric Marvel crossover event Original Sin. The comic debuts in January 2015, timed to coincide with the eight-episode Agent Carter TV show.

Oct 14, 2014

Tradecraft: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck Developing Industrial Espionage Series

Deadline reports that Jason Bourne and Jack Ryan are teaming up for a new futuristic spy series. But Matt Damon (Green Zone, The Informant!) and Ben Affleck (Argo, The Sum of All Fears) are only behind the scenes on this one. The pair are developing "a futuristic espionage thriller" called Incorporated with CBS TV Studios for Syfy. "Set in a world where corporations have seemingly unlimited power, Incorporated will tell the story of one man’s efforts to beat the system." David and Alex Pastor will write the pilot; Ted Humphrey (The Unit) will serve as showrunner and executive produce along with Damon, Affleck and Jennifer Todd.

Tradecraft: Top Showrunners Team Up for CW Spy School Series

As regular readers know, I love the "teen spy" subgenre. And I feel like it's been pretty neglected on television, given its potential. So I'm pretty excited that Deadline is reporting that two very successful showrunners, Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives, Devious Maids) and Neal Baer (Under the Dome, Law and Order: SVU) are teaming up to create a prep school spy drama for the CW. Here's how the trade describes Cheerleader Death Squad: "Described as 'Heathers meets Alias', Cheerleader Death Squad centers on a disgraced CIA agent-turned-teacher at an elite Washington DC prep school. When he realizes that his students have high level access through personal connections, he trains a select few to be his eyes and ears into the world of international espionage and help him earn his way back into the agency." Sounds promising to me! Cherry and Baer will co-write the pilot along with Blue Bloods executive producer Dan Truly. And with that kind of star wattage behind the scenes, I'd say it's got a pretty good shot at going to series at a small network like The CW. Here's hoping!

Oct 13, 2014

Listen to Ian Fleming's Thrilling Cities on BBC Radio Online

BBC Radio 4 have previously adapted four of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels - "Dr. No," "Goldfinger," "From Russia With Love" and "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." Now they've created an audio production of the author's non-fiction travelogue, Thrilling Cities. Culled from a series of columns he wrote for the Sunday Times in 1960 and originally published as a book in 1963, Thrilling Cities was a uniquely Fleming sort of travelogue, which focused not on the usual tourist sights in far-flung travel destinations in Europe, America and the Far East, but on the seedier, seemier side that Fleming found thrilling. It's terrific writing, and provides an excellent account of cities like Tokyo, Hamburg, Chicago and Macau at a very specific time - the dawn of the Jet Age. The radio version is, obviously, abridged. The first of three 15-minute segments aired on Friday, October 10. It's available to stream on BBC's iPlayer for the next four weeks. Subsequent installments will be broadcast over the next two Fridays. Give it a listen!

Via MI6

Oct 11, 2014

Archer Nixes ISIS

This was inevitable. The Daily Beast reports that when cartoon superspy Sterling Archer returns to FX this January, he'll no longer be working for ISIS. On Archer, ISIS stood for International Secret Intelligence Service. It was the private spy agency Archer worked for (run by his mother, Mallory Archer), and for five seasons it was a pretty great name for a TV spy agency. But, of course, real world events have sadly made it far from a perfect name now. Series creator Adam Reed explains, "There were people online saying that we should address it and say, ‘Oh, I can’t believe these guys have co-opted our name.’ That’s the way South Park would do it, coming after them and saying, ‘These assholes stole our name,’ but that’s not the way the Archer universe works, where it’s all our own creations. In our universe, [the terrorist organization ISIS] don’t exist." That makes sense. You don't really need to call out assholes for being assholes; everyone knows that they are. I like Reed's version better, that in their world, that evil simply doesn't exist. For the show, the timing is somewhat unfortunate, but also somewhat convenient. Season 5 was a departure, and the gang spent the year away from ISIS, going rogue and trying their hand (very badly) at being drug dealers. (Just watch the show. It all makes sense then!) But in the end events brought them right back to ISIS, and for fans of the series it was set to be a welcome return to the familiar setting. It's sad that's not to be, but then the events of last season also give Reed and his fellow producers an easy out thanks to the CIA's involvement in the plot. So in the first scene of the sixth season (a different first scene than fans saw at Comic-Con this summer, when ISIS was still intact), we'll see an ISIS sign being wheeled out behind Mallory as she explains to Archer on the phone that they all work for the CIA now. And that's the last we'll ever hear of ISIS. The animators have digitally erased all ISIS signage from the rest of the season, and it won't be mentioned. So Sterling Archer is now officially a CIA agent, and the nod to great, silly acronyms of the past like U.N.C.L.E., CONTROL and S.H.I.E.L.D. is no more. And FX is left with a lot of hats, T-shirts, mugs and other merchandise it can't possibly sell now. Adios, ISIS.

Trailer: The Game

We first heard about BBC's new Seventies-set Cold War spy show The Game late last year, and found out America would be getting it too in January. Created by Toby Whithouse (Being Human, Doctor Who - for which he penned one of my favorite episodes), the series sounded like a mixture of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Mission: Impossible. And now we've got a trailer! Which, quite happily, bears out that assessment. Though maybe "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (both versions, really) meets Spooks (MI-5)" would be more accurate, as it definitely seems to blend modern action sensibilities with a Seventies le Carré vibe. And that, to me, seems like an incredible combination! I can't wait to see this show! And the good news is, we won't have to wait long at all! I'm not sure when it debuts in Britain, but in the U.S. it starts airing on BBC America's Dramaville in less than a month, on November 5 at 10pm. Brian Cox (The Bourne Identity, RED) plays the Smiley-esque spymaster "Daddy," and Tom Hughes (Page Eight, The Lady Vanishes) provides the heartthrob appeal as his star agent Joe Lambe. They really seem to be going for the look of the 2011 Tinker Tailor film (with a conference room that could be the same set recycled), and for me that just adds to the appeal! Check out the trailer below, and read more on the BBC America website.

Oct 8, 2014


It's been almost nineteen years since the last time James Bond saw print in a comic book – and even longer since the superspy's last original adventure in that medium. All that is about to change. Today, on the eve of the New York Comic Con, Ian Fleming Publications, Limited and Dynamite Entertainment announced a new partnership to bring 007 back to comics in 2015! According to the press release, "Dynamite has been granted worldwide rights to publish comic books, digital comics and graphic novels starring 007." The deal gives the New Jersey-based publisher the right to produce both "fresh visual adaptations of the classic Bond stories" and "to create a series of brand new adventures" for Fleming's inimitable secret agent. It also grants them the opportunity to publish "original graphic novels and collections." No creators have yet been announced.

Among its first projects, Dynamite plans to explore Bond's early days, pre-Casino Royale. According to the press release, "some other familiar faces from the expansive 007 mythos will also make appearances in this series – criminal masterminds, hired henchmen, glamorous Bond Girls and secret service allies – alongside all-new characters." Nothing else specific was announced about the new James Bond comics, but we can perhaps infer a bit about the publisher's strategy from looking at how they've handled other licensed properties. The origin story is not a surprising move. The publisher has had a lot of success doing "Year One" storylines about heroes like The Shadow, The Green Hornet and Zorro. (Often comics superstar Matt Wagner has been involved in these Year One stories. Could he be boning up on his Fleming?) Given that success, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the series dealing with Bond's early days ends up being called James Bond: Year One. Some of Dynamite's Year One comics have been as long as ten issues.

What might a James Bond: Year One story entail? In citing the year of Casino Royale's publication (1953), the press release (which can be read in its entirety at The Book Bond) seems to hint at a period setting. Fleming himself hinted in his first novel that Bond's career began during WWII. While recovering from his wounds at the hands of Le Chiffre, 007 recounts to his friend Mathis how he earned his Double O prefix. The first man he killed was a Japanese cipher expert working on the 36th floor of the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center in New York. Bond shot him from 300 yards away, in another skyscraper. (This incident was based on Fleming's own wartime experiences breaking into a Japanese cipher expert's offices in that building with his friend, the man called Intrepid, William Stephenson. There was no killing involved.) "The next time in Stockholm wasn't so pretty," Bond tells Mathis. "I had to kill a Norwegian who was doubling against us for the Germans.... For various reasons it had to be an absolutely silent job. I chose the bedroom of his flat and a knife. And, well, he just didn't die very quickly." The year of these killings isn't stated, but if Bond was killing a Japanese cipher expert and an agent who was doubling for the Germans, I think we can easily infer that these exploits took place during WWII. Furthermore, Fleming asserts that those two were Bond's only kills up until that point, which rather inconveniently leaves a gap of at least eight years during which 007 didn't kill anyone, which isn't very conducive to new adventures set in the early days of the Cold War. (I would assume, however, and even hope, that Dynamite will find a way to work around that.) So I don't think it would be unreasonable to assume that Dynamite's origins tale will depict Bond in action during the war, which is something we've never seen before in print or on film. Or in comics. (Well, aside from a brief flashback during William Boyd's 2013 continuation novel Solo, in which the author cast Bond as a member of Fleming's own real-life commando squad 30 Assault Unit.) So that would be exciting!

While this origins story was the only comic book specifically discussed in the press release, does that mean that that's the only James Bond comic we should expect from Dynamite next year? I highly doubt it! Fortunately for Bond fans and comics fans, the publisher has a long track record of being highly prolific with their other licensed properties! At one point this year there were as many as three separate ongoing Shadow series being published at once, maybe four. They previously published three different Green Hornet comics concurrently as well, all set in entirely different timelines no less. (One in the past, one in the present, and one in the future.) That's another thing they've got no trepidation about doing. We've also seen Battlestar Gallactica and Shadow series set in different periods and different timelines being published simultaneously. So just because an origins story might be set in the 1940s doesn't mean that Dynamite won't be publishing contemporary James Bond adventures as well. (This would also be in keeping with IFP's recent policy. They reportedly offer each continuation author the choice of setting his novel during Fleming's timeline or today, which has yielded both results.)

Another thing that Dynamite likes to do is publish spinoff titles. This, too, was hinted at in today's press release, when Dynamite Editor Mike Lake mused, "The Bond villains are some of the most memorable figures in popular culture…where did they come from? And in some cases, where did they go?" Again, I'm speculating, but this tantalizing question would seem to me to indicate that we might see spinoff comics about various Bond villains. And no doubt we'll see certain Bond Girls get their own titles as well. Strong, sexy women are historically Dynamite's favorite fodder for spinoffs. A Dejah Thoris title spun off from Warlord of Mars (based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter books) has, I believe, outlasted the original flagship series. I have little doubt that Dynamite CEO Nick Barucci intends to put a comic called Pussy Galore on store shelves at some point in the near future! But what other characters could be spun off into their own series, miniseries, or one-shots? There's precedent for Moneypenny to take center stage in Samantha Weinberg's excellent trilogy of Moneypenny Diaries novels. Blofeld seems like a natural. But, personally, I'd most like to see a series focusing on Bond's CIA ally, Felix Leiter!

The other thing Dynamite loves to do, historically, with their licensed properties is crossovers. This one I'm not so sure we'll see with Bond. I suspect that IFP will maintain a pretty tight leash on such things, but the possibilities are intriguing. Personally, I have zero interest in seeing 007 relegated to a supporting role in a major mash-up with other characters, which Dynamite is fond of. (Masks unites The Shadow, The Spider, Green Hornet, Miss Fury and even Zorro, among other pulp heroes, into one big jam. Justice Inc. reads like an intriguing pulp-era Justice League, teaming The Shadow with Doc Savage and The Avenger.) But I must admit, certain team-ups with other licensed characters on the Dynamite roster do intrigue me. (It might sound crazy, but I'd love to see Bond team up with Tarzan! I think it could work! And though some time trickery would probably be necessary, I also wouldn't mind seeing 007 thrust into Dynamite's usual team-up - a meeting with Sherlock Holmes! Hey, there's precedent for that one, in the elusive publication "Holmes Meets 007.") And Dynamite doesn't limit their crossovers to their own characters. They're also fond of inter-company crossovers, like Batman '66/Green Hornet, published in conjunction with DC, or Spider-man/Red Sonja, published with Marvel. I can't imagine something like James Bond Meets Batman working (and can't imagine IFP would sign off on it), but imagine a Sixties-set 007/Nick Fury team-up on an over-the-top You Only Live Twice scale? That I can picture... and would love to read! In fact, it just makes sense. And I bet the great Jim Steranko could even be tempted to revisit the character he's most famously associated and provide a cover with the tantalizing addition of James Bond...

Finally, Dynamite also has a history of publishing collected editions of comics about their licensed characters originally put out by other companies. They've released trade paperbacks of some of DC's 1980s Shadow comics (including the unmissable if bizarre then-contemporary story Seven Deadly Finns) and Marvel's original Red Sonja stories, and a hardcover of Marvel Doc Savage tales. So I'm very hopeful that they might reprint some or all of James Bond's past comic adventures. If you stick to the English language material, there's really not that much. Mike Grell's Permission to Die (originally published by Eclipse in the early Nineties) and Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy's Serpent's Tooth are the two best Bond comic stories to date. Both were collected in trade paperbacks in their day, but both are now long out of print and much deserving of new editions. Other Dark Horse Bond comics have never been collected, including the unfinished (but highly promising) A Silent Armageddon. I've heard rumors that the other two issues were actually drawn, even if they weren't published. Wouldn't it be great if Dynamite managed to present that and Topps' GoldenEye (for which pencils were also completed) in their entirety for the first time anywhere? Furthermore, the various movie adaptations over the years have never been collected. There haven't been that many, so it would be easy to include DC's Dr. No, Marvel's For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy, and Eclipse's Licence To Kill (ideally along with the complete GoldenEye) in a single Omnibus volume. And if I want to get really greedy, how great would it be if they eventually published translations of the rare Bond comics from other countries that have never seen print in English? For some reason 007 has enjoyed more success in other countries like Sweden and Argentina and India than in the English speaking world. I'd love to see the Semic or Zigzag titles collected in English for the first time! Or, best of all, the Japanese manga versions of Thunderball and On Her Majesty's Secret Service from the Sixties! But now I must be dreaming... For starters I'd be happy just to see Serpent's Tooth back on shelves.

So the only real, solid news that we have is that James Bond is returning to comics for the first time since Topps' aborted GoldenEye adaptation (which the publisher had promised was not just a film adaptation, but the beginning of a brand new ongoing James Bond series... which never happened) in 1995 (excluding a Young Bond graphic novel adaptation of Silverfin in 2008, which wasn't published in standard comic book format). But, with the possible exception of the crossovers, I suspect that my speculation based on Dynamite's past behavior may prove to be more true than not. But unfortunately we'll have to wait until at least next year to find out!

Read more about Dynamite's James Bond announcement at:
The Book Bond
The Hollywood Reporter
Comic Book Resources

Oct 6, 2014

Tradecraft: Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston to Star in Le Carre Miniseries The Night Manager

This is super exciting news! John le Carré fans have been spoiled lately with some excellent movies based on the inimitable author's books, but in many ways miniseries remain the best possible medium for adapting such intricate, complex stories. (Smiley's People remains the finest le Carré adaptation to date, in my opinion.) And now, according to The Hollywood Reporter, there's a new le Carré miniseries in the offing! (Or "limited series," to use the preferred present-day parlance.) And its cast is shaping up to be top notch. Hugh Laurie (best known for House and Jeeves and Wooster, but no stranger to the world of spies having memorably guest starred on Spooks and penned the terrific espionage novel The Gunseller) and Tom Hiddleston (Marvel's The Avengers, Only Lovers Left Alive) are set to star in The Night Manager.

The last time we heard anything about le Carré's 1993 novel The Night Manager being adapted, it was as a film being produced by Brad Pitt, and that was back in 2009. Apparently things have changed. The trade reports that the book is now being turned into a miniseries from Ink Factory (le Carré's sons' production company, responsible for the excellent recent films of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and A Most Wanted Man as well as the upcoming Our Kind of Traitor) in partnership with the BBC, whose long association with le Carré material includes the aforementioned Smiley's People, with Alec Guinness, and the original Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The producers are currently seeking a U.S. network to partner with them for a straight-to-series pickup, which shouldn't be too difficult with that star power. David Farr (whose spy credits include Hanna and Spooks) is writing. It's unclear how many episodes the miniseries will entail, but in the United States "limited series" have been getting pretty long lately (as many as ten episodes).

The Night Manager is the story of Jonathan Pine (presumably Hiddleston), a former soldier turned hotelier who ends up volunteering to become an undercover agent for a new branch of British Intelligence in an effort to get revenge for the death of a woman he loved in Cairo. Leonard Burr is the dogged intelligence officer with a background in enforcement who masterminds Pine's mission against Peer of the Realm arms dealer Richard Onslow Roper. Roper is the sort of upper-class Englishman completely devoid of morals for whom le Carré has always reserved a particular vitriol, and Hugh Laurie should have a blast playing him. (I'm assuming he'll be the snobbish Roper as opposed to the working class Burr.) It's a deceptively straightforward undercover story for le Carré, but there is still plenty of material for a miniseries. As Pine risks falling under the spell of his charming adversary (and his beautiful mistress), Burr must contend with overwhelming forces in the British and American Intelligence Community who would rather keep Roper in play, not so much for the chicken feed intelligence he sometimes throws their way, but because they're all becoming very rich off of his nefarious deals. The novel functions as somewhat of a companion piece to the author's 1977 Smiley novel The Honourable Schoolboy. During the Cold War, Smiley represented the forces of Pure Intelligence, who wanted to flip a high value asset and get him to work for the British, but he found himself outflanked by the short-sighted forces of Enforcement (in the form of the American DEA) who would prefer to make an arrest or eliminate the target than flip him. In le Carré's first post-Cold War novel, however, the world has changed. Now it's Leonard Burr who has the author's sympathies, as an Enforcement man who wants to punish the wrongdoer with the aid of the DEA when the now sinister forces of Pure Intelligence would prefer to keep him out of jail, no matter how unpleasant his business.

Hugh Laurie and John le Carré are a near perfect match. I can't wait to see this project come together!

Oct 1, 2014

Trailer and Posters: Bryan Mills Returns in Taken 3... or Tak3n

Fox and EuropaCorp have kept a tight lid on plot details of the third Taken movie up until now, but the just-released trailer makes it clear that the franchise is shifting gears.

Liam Neeson still plays former CIA agent Bryan Mills just as tough as ever, but this time nobody gets taken. And he doesn't jet off to any exotic European cities. So is it still a neo-Eurospy movie? Well it's still from Luc Besson's largely European team (which unfortunately includes Olivier Megaton, director of Taken 2, rather than Taken's Pierre Morel), so it's sure to still have his decidedly Euro sensibilities... so if Intrigue in Los Angeles counts as Eurospy, I'd say Taken 3 (or TAK3N, as they seem to be calling it) counts as well. Because the setting this time out is LA. And the inspiration is clearly The Fugitive. Forrest Whitaker plays the Lt. Gerard role, and he and Neeson riff on the famous Ford/Jones "I didn't kill my wife!/I don't care!" conversation. There's even a dripping circular sewer. But originality has never been a prerequisite for a good neo-Eurospy movie, and all in all, this trailer looks pretty damn good! I like the new direction, and it already looks better than the last one. I will, however, be sorry to see the last of Famke Janssen in this series. Taken 3 opens January 9. While the poster slogan certainly carries an air of finality, Neeson wasn't so final in recent interviews, saying that while he didn't want to outstay his welcome, if audiences still want him he'd be open to playing the role again. Before that ever happens, though, we'll get a send-up of the series in the parody Tooken, starring Lee Tergesen (The Americans) and Lauren Stamile (Burn Notice).

Sep 21, 2014

McQuarrie Tweets First Team Photo from Mission: Impossible 5

Director Christopher McQuarrie has Tweeted (via Dark Horizons) a candid shot of the latest iteration of the IMF team from the set of Mission: Impossible 5. Comprising a sort of all-star roster from the previous film entries, Jeremy Renner, Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames would be the 8x10s on Jim's desk if the movies ever did that classic TV "team selection" scene... and if the film series hadn't stupidly made Jim Phelps a traitor. (Come on, McQuarrie, please undo that misstep with a throwaway line about how the agent who assumed Phelps' name after his retirement turned out to be a real asshole or something... ideally delivered in a cameo from Martin Landau or Leonard Nimoy or Peter Lupus!) Notably absent is Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol's female lead, Paula Patton. I guess the film series is emulating the TV show's fourth season, when rather than replacing Barbara Bain with another female regular, the producers opted for a guest actress each week. But the important takeaway here is that in his first photo from the set, McQuarrie has chosen to focus on the team, and not on Cruise alone! While the first three movies were mostly solo Cruise vehicles, Brad Bird's Ghost Protocol made huge strides in steering the films back in the direction of the classic show—which was always team-oriented. I hope this is a sign that McQuarrie intends to continue along a similar course. His caption would seem to indicate so!

Sep 20, 2014

Tradecraft: Ben Whishaw to Star in BBC's London Spy

Last February we heard that BBC Two had commissioned a five episode spy series from Ian Fleming Steel Dagger winner Tom Rob Smith (Child 44) called London Spy. If it wasn't already among the most promising upcoming spy television, it certainly is now, because The Hollywood Reporter reports that Q himself, the great Ben Whishaw (Skyfall, The Hour), has signed on to star! Whishaw will play Danny, a "hedonistic romantic" drawn into the dangerous world of espionage when his new boyfriend, Alex, disappears. The drama starts filming next month, with further casting expected to be announced soon. Then, in December, Whishaw begins filming Bond 24.

Billy Joel Covers "Live and Let Die" on New McCartney Tribute

Surely "Live and Let Die" must be the most covered James Bond song ever? Guns'n'Roses probably did it most famously, but the Paul McCartney and Wings tune (probably my own favorite Bond song) has also been covered over the years by Chrissie Hynde, Ginger Spice and Duffy to name just a few. For me, however, the version to beat remains this crazy cover by Brazilian Band Pato Fu performed on children's instruments. This fall, Billy Joel will throw his hat into the ring in a high-profile way when he covers the song (along with "Maybe I'm Amazed") on the forthcoming all-star Paul McCartney tribute album The Art of McCartney. Other artists in the line-up include Hynde (performing "Let It Be"), Bob Dylan (performing "Things We Said Today"), Willie Nelson (performing "Yesterday"), Jeff Lynne, Brian Wilson, Roger Daltrey and Yusuf (aka Cat Stevens). No more Bond songs though, obviously. Still, it sounds like a pretty cool album!

Read more about the sometimes surprising connections between The Beatles and James Bond over the years in my post "The Beatles vs. James Bond (or Blond)."

Sep 16, 2014

Tradecraft: Matt Damon to Reprise His Bourne Identity After All?

Matt Damon has long maintained that he would only return to the role of Jason Boune if Paul Greengrass returned to direct. And Greengrass has been saying for just as long that he would never return to direct, a self-sustaining loop which seemed to preclude ever seeing another Bourne movie starring Damon. Eventually even Universal gave up on hoping to extend their blockbuster spy franchise with its original star, and hired Jeremy Renner to star in a weird placeholder spin-off movie, The Bourne Legacy, directed by series scribe Tony Gilroy. Since Gilroy and Greengrass had famously fallen out during production on The Bourne Ultimatum, and Damon sided with Greengrass, Gilroy's increased involvement in the spin-off seemed to dash further any hopes of a Damon return. Even so, however, The Bourne Legacy was carefully scripted so as not to alter Bourne's universe in any way. That decision effectively neutered the spin-off, but left the door wide open for a Damon return, however unlikely that seemed. Spy fans, of course, learned three decades ago to never say never, and now it looks like just such a return is finally in the cards!

Deadline's Mike Fleming broke the story earlier today that the studio "has begun making deals with Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass to reunite" for another Bourne movie! While this is hugely exciting news, it's important to note that no one at Universal nor reps for either key player has yet gone on the record. Still, Fleming seems confident that a deal is underway. And a little later, The Hollywood Reporter's Borys Kit corroborated Fleming's story with his own sources. And Kit brought another piece of the puzzle to the table; he reports that Greengrass will not only direct, but also script the next Bourne movie. While he hasn't had a writing credit on either of his previous Bourne films (The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum), the director is no stranger to writing or to the spy genre. As a journalist back in the Eighties, he co-wrote one of the most notorious espionage tell-alls of all time, Peter Wright's Spy Catcher. And as a screenwriter he penned the critically acclaimed 9/11 drama United 93, the equally acclaimed Irish Troubles picture Bloody Sunday, and numerous TV projects. Now he'll take a crack at a story conundrum he once said was insurmountable: where do you take the Jason Bourne character now that he's regained his memory? I have a tip for Greengrass on that one. Do what Gilroy annoyingly (and loudly) refused to do, and return to Robert Ludlum's novels. There are several movies' worth of great plots in those books that remain untapped by Hollywood. (The first film really only used the book's premise and opening, while the second two were basically adaptations in name only.) Sure, the previous films have changed a lot of stuff from the books, and killed off a couple of crucial characters, but they haven't done anything that Greengrass couldn't work around. I'd also love to see Damon's Bourne in the Hong Kong and Macau locations of Ludlum's second novel, since we've really only seen him in action in Europe so far. (And briefly in New York, India and North Africa.)

So where do these latest developments leave Renner's Aaron Cross character from The Bourne Legacy? Only months ago it was announced that Fast and Furious director Justin Lin would be helming a second Cross "Bourne" movie. (And I'm still quite keen to see him do it; I think his action sensibility is just what's needed to course correct from the first spin-offs missteps.) Andrew Baldwin was slated to script. But now Lin is attached to direct the second season of True Detective for HBO, and Fleming reports that Universal is eager to slot the Damon/Greengrass reunion about the "real" Jason Bourne in the July 16, 2016 berth previously allotted for Aaron Cross. That doesn't mean, however, that the studio is giving up on Renner's character. Rather, reports Fleming, "Universal intends to continue that series and to broaden its franchise base" along the lines of the interconnected franchises in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That's a smart move, in my opinion, and a win/win scenario for spy fans. One that means we may well continue to see new movies set in the Bourne Universe, focusing on different agents, for a long time to come. Who knows? Maybe one day we'll even see Gilroy's dream of having the two spies cross paths come true. But, given these new developments and old rivalries, probably not with Gilroy himself involved. Personally, I welcome the return of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. It's true that The Bourne Ultimatum was a satisfying send-off for the character, but Greengrass and Damon managed to top it in terms of tour de force action setpieces with their very next collaboration, Green Zone. So I enthusiastically look forward to seeing whatever they come up with next for Bourne.

Aug 26, 2014

New Spy Novel Out From Permission To Kill's David Foster

This is exciting! David Foster, proprietor of my fellow COBRAS spy blog Permission To Kill, has gone from spy blogger to spy author, and he's just published a new spy novel! The Danakil Deception (published under Foster's cover name of James Hopwood) is available now from Amazon. It's actually Foster's second story about secret agent Jarvis Love; the character first appeared in the novella The Librio Defection. (Foster's other fiction includes the Fight Card novel King of the Outback and the boxing short story "Bushwhacked.") But The Danakil Deception is a full-length novel. Here's the official description:
When archaeologists at the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia – the hottest place on Earth – discover a ruby measuring six feet in diameter, the world's scientific community is thrown into a spin. But it's not only scientists who are interested in the discovery. In the wrong hands, the ruby could be used to power a terrifying weapon – a weapon that could change the fate of the world. Meet Jarvis Love, the young operative assigned to investigate the find. Thrown into a harsh unforgiving environment, Love finds himself battling a neo-Nazi with a diabolical plot to assassinate the top world leaders in one massive attack... ...the clock is ticking, and only Love can stop the madman. Filled with hair-raising action and wild chases, The Danakil Deception is an edge-of-your-seat adventure that harks back to the great spy novels of the sixties, but infused with the high-octane punch of a modern thriller. The HOTTEST place on Earth just got HOTTER!
Sounds awesome! I can't wait to read it.

Rare Connery and Moore Movies Coming to Blu-ray This Fall

Michael Caine isn't the only superspy coming to Blu-ray this fall from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. You'll also be able to trace the gathering age lines on Roger Moore and Sean Connery in high definition in some of their post- (or nearly post-) Bond best non-spy roles. Perhaps most excitingly, the company will release the 1984 Golan Globus action thriller The Naked Face, starring Roger Moore, on both DVD and Blu-ray on October 24. Why is this the most exciting? Because the Chicago-set, Bryan Forbes-directed Sidney Sheldon adaptation (which co-stars Rod Steiger, Elliott Gould, Anne Archer and Art Carney) has never before been available in the United States on DVD! And it's one of Moore's best non-Bond actioners. So Moore fans should definitely check this one out.

On September 16, Kino will release a pair of Seventies Sean Connery movies that have previously been on DVD (though are now out of print and quite pricey), but never before on Blu-ray: Michael Crichton's 1978 Victorian caper The Great Train Robbery (co-starring Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down) and Ronald Neame's 1979 all-star disaster spectacle Meteor (co-starring Natalie Wood, Karl Malden and Martin Landau). The latter may not be considered a Connery Classic, but it is one of my own favorite guilty pleasure movies of that era. Then on December 2, the company will release Connery's own career-favorite performance in Sidney Lumet's The Offence (opposite Trevor Howard). The Offence has previously been available in America only as an MOD title. Finally, spy fans may also be interested to know that Kino will put out Hickey and Boggs on Blu-ray the same day. While not a spy movie, the 1972 private eye tale is notable for reuniting one of the most famous spy duos of the Sixties, I Spy's Bill Cosby and Robert Culp. Whew! It's going to be an expensive fall!

Billion Dollar Brain Coming to Blu-ray!

Harry Palmer is finally coming to Blu-ray in the United States! And somewhat surprisingly, not in The Ipcress File* or Funeral in Berlin, but the much more divisive third film in Harry Saltzman's other spy series, Billion Dollar Brain. (Which, on any given day, could easily be my own personal favorite of the three.) Kino Lorber will release Ken Russell's brilliant and beautiful Len Deighton adaptation Billion Dollar Brain in high definition on October 7. (There will also be a DVD edition, as the old MGM release is long out of print.) If you've never seen this Michael Caine masterpiece, read my review here to understand why this is such great news! And if you have, then why not go ahead and pre-order it now on Amazon? So far the only extra announced is the theatrical trailer, but the real question on spy fans' minds is will this version contain the half minute or so of footage excised from previous DVD editions in all regions? Probably not, since the footage in question contains a clip of the Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night along with its prohibitively expensive music. But perhaps Kino has found a way to clear this music? Even if they haven't, it's still well worth owning Billion Dollar Brain in high definition--especially with such pretty cover art! Spy fans and fans of Sixties capers might be interested to know that the company will also release Topkapi on Blu-ray the same day.

*Though it's never been officially released in America, The Ipcress File is available on Blu-ray as a region-free import.

Aug 25, 2014

First Dangling Photos From Mission: Impossible 5; First Official Still From U.N.C.L.E.

It's been a big few days for images from upcoming spy movies based on classic TV shows. Last week we saw some pictures of Tom Cruise familiarizing himself with Mission: Impossible 5's Vienna locations prior to shooting beginning this week, and yesterday various news outlets have provided our first glimpses of Ethan Hunt's latest dangling exploits from that shoot! That's right, the second question everyone always asks when a new Mission: Impossible movie starts shooting (after what hairstyle will Cruise sport) is what will Cruise dangle from? And, thanks to Dark Horizons, we've now got a pretty idea that at least one thing he'll dangle off of this time around is the Vienna State Opera House. (As far as I can tell, these images originated on The Daily Express.) Cruise's partner in dangling here is actress Rebecca Ferguson (Hercules). Presumably the first image is just practice in comfortable clothes, and the gown in the second one is what she'll be wearing in the scene.

But those weren't the only spy images to debut in the last few days. The Comic Book Movie (via HMSS) has a picture from the new issue of Empire billed as the first official still from Guy Ritchie's Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. While unofficial behind-the-scenes shots have been all over the Internet since shooting began, it's cool to finally see an officially approved image of Armie Hammer (as Illya Kuryakin), Alicia Vikander and Henry Cavill (as Napoleon Solo) in the Sixties-set spy movie. And I think it looks great! The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was recently pushed back from January 2015 to August 2015, so we've got a while to wait yet. But the second half of next year will bring us U.N.C.L.E., Mission and Bond all in a period of a few short months!

Aug 22, 2014

Mission: Impossible 5 Sets Cast, Begins Filming in Austria

The cast is coming together for Mission: Impossible 5, and we've got our first notion of what Tom Cruise's hair will look like (always the biggest question as an M:I movie gears up for production) thanks to a photo of the actor scouting locations. Austrian paper The Local (via Dark Horizons) published this picture. They report that the age defying star/producer was up on the roof of Vienna's State Opera House, where he'll be shooting an action scene at night. (Austria is fast becoming the location for spies to attend operas; James Bond also spent a night at the opera in that country in Quantum of Solace's most memorable scene.) Cameras start rolling on Saturday.

In his fifth outing as IMF superspy Ethan Hunt, 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). Deadline reports that Baldwin will play the Director of the CIA. Swedish actress Ferguson is still a relatively fresh face, but I was quite impressed by her in this summer's Hercules and look forward to her spy debut! Her role is as yet unknown.

Mission: Impossible 5 will also shoot in London, where the Houses of Parliament themselves are rumored to be a possible filming location. As previously reported, Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) is directing, and he's got his work cut out for him if he wants his film to live up to the benchmark set by Brad Bird with the fourth film, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (by far the best entry in the film series to date). Personally, I'm hoping McQuarrie continues in the promising direction Bird pointed the franchise, making the films more like the classic television series. While the first three films were largely star vehicles for Cruise, Ghost Protocol truly felt like a team movie, a hallmark of the series. It was also packed with clever references to the show, and even established the TV IMF's longtime nemesis The Syndicate (re-dressed as a terrorist organization instead of the mob) as a potential enemy in the fifth film. I hope that comes to pass! While previous films in the series have gone by the shorthand "M:I-2" or "M:I-iii," this one will have to find a different moniker. (Hopefully it will get its own subtitle like Ghost Protocol.) Not only is MI5 the name of the British internal Security Service, but in America it's also the title of the TV series about that service that was known as Spooks in the UK. And Spooks has its own movie coming out soon, which will also presumably utilize the MI-5 title on this side of the pond. None of that, however, has stopped McQuarrie from hashtagging his Tweets "#MI5Diary."

Aug 1, 2014

Tradecraft: Paul Greengrass Returns to Spies for Agent Storm

He may have forsworn any further Bourne movies (causing Matt Damon to do the same, saying he won't return to the role without his director), but Paul Greengrass will still be returning to the spy genre. Deadline reports that Sony has acquired the forthcoming non-fiction book Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA by Morten Storm, Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, for Greengrass to direct and Scott Rudin to produce. (Greengrass and Rudin previously teamed on last year's Best Picture nominee Captain Phillips.) According to the trade, Agent Storm follows follows Storm, a member of a Danish motorcycle gang turned Islamic radical as he becomes a double agent for the CIA and British and Danish intelligence. (Storm penned the memoir blowing his own cover because he felt betrayed by his handlers.)

Tradecraft: Winter Soldier Directors Tackle Greaney's Gray Man

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the best big budget spy movies in years, and its sibling directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, are looking to stay in that genre. Variety reports that the duo are attached to write and direct an adaptation of Mark Greaney's 2009 novel The Gray Man for Sony and producers Joe Roth and Palak Patel. My initial reaction is that they're better than this material. The Gray Man is one of the worst spy novels I've ever read. Then again, it's not the premise that's faulty; it's Greaney's execution. The Russos are just the guys to take the barest shred of that premise (a former CIA operative turned private assassin races across Europe to evade all the world's intelligence services and save the kidnapped family of his handler) and retrofit it into a far better film. It's a little alarming, however, that Joe Russo told the trade, “we found the material to be very compelling and ultra realistic.” Perhaps the series gets better, but one trait not found in the first novel of the four book series is ultra-realism. The book's climax beggars all belief as the hero catches more bullets than Butch and Sundance combined and still proceeds to single-handedly take on an army. That's the sort of thing I hope the Russos end up improving upon.

Roth told Variety, "We think this could be the next Bourne Identity movie series," which, of course, is exactly what he, and readers, and now viewers, are meant to think. The novel is a shameless retread of Robert Ludlum's bestselling tour de force. Hopefully the producers will continue to follow the Bourne movie template, and stray as far from the literary source material as the Matt Damon movies did.

Sony aren't the first studio to see Bourne-like potential in Greaney's series. Way back in 2010, New Regency had the rights and hired Adam Cozad (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) to script. In January 2011 James Gray became attached to direct, and later that year Brad Pitt flirted with starring. That incarnation, evidently, fell apart. Which is too bad, because I really would like to see Brad Pitt topline a potential spy franchise.

It's unclear where The Gray Man will fit into the Russos' schedule, as they're slated to direct Captain America 3, which is set to open on May 5, 2016. Before that, however, their next espionage assignment will be helming the second and third episodes of Marvel's upcoming period spy series Agent Carter on ABC.

Tradecraft: Jeffrey Donovan and Josh Brolin Play Agents in Sicario

Now that his Burn Notice has been rescinded, Jeffrey Donovan is free to spy again unimpeded. But he's switching agencies. Donovan will play "a no-nonsense DEA agent" in Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, according to Deadline, opposite Josh Brolin (No Country For Old MenW.) as a maverick CIA agent. Deadline reports (in a separate story) that Brolin's CIA agent runs a task force out to bring down the kingpin of a powerful drug cartel. He recruits Emily Blunt’s (Charlie Wilson's War) character, a Tuscon SWAT officer, to help him. Benecio Del Toro (Licence To Kill) plays a mysterious character working with them to the same end. The trade reports that Donovan's Steve Forsing becomes involved "in an all-out firefight at the Juarez border while transferring a prisoner." Maximiliano Hernandez (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Americans) and Daniel Kaluuya (Johnny English Reborn) round out the cast.

Jul 12, 2014

Second Trailer and Poster for The Equalizer

Well, it doesn't look much like the classic Eighties TV series, but the latest trailer for the feature film version of The Equalizer does look pretty good! (I can't say the same for the new poster, however, which isn't nearly as good as the advance one.) Denzel Washington stars as former intelligence operative McCall in this update of the Edward Woodward TV show. In a startling difference from Woodward's McCall, Washington's McCall doesn't use guns. But he's clearly still plenty deadly. The Equalizer opens September 26 in theaters and IMAX.

Jun 26, 2014

DVR Alert: Rare Eurospy Movie Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die Airs on GetTV Tonight

The rare 1966 Eurospy movie Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (review here), starring Mannix's Mike Connors (along with Raf Vallone, Dorothy Provine and Terry-Thomas), will air tonight on the Sony-owned cable channel GetTV at 11:05pm Pacific. This isn't a channel I was familiar with, but you can find out if it's available in your area here. It seems to have pretty wide coverage. They've been showing a lot of relatively obscure Eurospy movies lately, including Assignment K and the wonderful Hammerhead (review here). (Both of those films have been airing a lot, so check your listings. Hammerhead, in fact, will screen immediately following Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die.) But both of those titles are available on DVD through Sony's MOD program. To date, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die, frustratingly, is not. Since this is a Sony owned station, apparently programmed largely from the Sony library, I hope this means that the studio still owns the rights to this film... and more importantly that they might have plans to release it on MOD. It's a real classic, and I've often expressed surprise that it hasn't been made available by now. If you haven't seen it, be sure to set your DVR! And Bond fans may be particularly interested to see how much its plot foreshadows the movie Moonraker.

Another spy movie (also available on Sony MOD) that they've been playing a lot is Who Was that Lady (review here) with Dean Martin and Tony Curtis. Speaking of Matin, the Matt Helms also seem to be a fixture in the GetTV rotation.

Read my review of Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die here.

Thanks to Bob for the alert!

Jun 23, 2014

Covert Affairs Returns Tomorrow Night

The new season of Covert Affairs (the fifth) kicks off tomorrow night at 10pm on USA. Though it's had its ups and downs, Covert Affairs remains strong after so many years. It's followed the trajectory of most modern spy series that start off fairly serious. (I'm thinking of you, MI5!) After more grounded early seasons in which CIA agent Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) engaged in fairly realistic spying and didn't carry a gun, by last season she had transitioned into a full-on female James Bond, not only armed but deadly, and when last we saw her engaging in some Jack Bauer-style shenanigans in Shanghai. But the good news is Perabo and the series have handled that transition well, and while the overall tone has changed a bit (even the office politics, which remain my favorite part, have become soapier... though still not as soapy as 24), Covert Affairs is as much fun to watch as it ever was! I'm looking forward to seeing where the fifth season takes Annie. Covert Affairs: Season 4, meanwhile, is now available on DVD, with extras including deleted scenes, a gag reel, an action reel, and the prequel minisodes series Sights Unseen: Auggie Undercover.

Jun 22, 2014

ABC Quietly Reactivates The Assets

ABC tried to capitalize on the success of FX's 1980s-set Cold War spy hit The Americans with a period spy drama of their own last winter, the ambitious 8-part miniseries The Assets. Based on the book Circle of Treason, The Assets told the true story of the hunt for the most damaging Soviet mole in the CIA's history, Aldrich Ames. Unfortunately, none of the success of The Americans rubbed off on The Assets. With little or no advertising behind it, the miniseries netted the lowest ratings in the network's history, and got pulled after just two episodes. Which was a shame, because the viewers who did tune in found that after a rocky pilot, The Assets was becoming pretty compelling in its second episode. And those of us who liked it were left hanging as to how we might ever be able to see the remaining eight episodes. Now, six months later, with as little promotion as accompanied its inauspicious debut, ABC has quietly snuck The Assets back into its schedule. The third episode, "Trip to Vienna," aired Saturday night at 9. The fourth, "What's Done Is Done," is currently scheduled for next Saturday at the same time. Hopefully it won't be pulled from the summer schedule as well, and we'll get to see the whole series. And hopefully the network will put it On Demand as well, so that fans who missed the unpromoted return last night can still catch it. And while we're hoping all these hopes, I also still hope that a DVD set eventually materializes. For now, though, I'm just grateful that it's back on the air.

Jun 12, 2014

New Matador Trailer

El Rey Network has released a new, longer trailer for their upcoming spy series Matador, from writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Alias, Mission: Impossible III) and director Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, Machete Kills). I'm excited about this series, about a secret agent whose cover is an international soccer star, but I'm worried that the title may throw off potential audiences. After all, he's a spy and he's a soccer player, so a title pertaining to one of those two professions might make sense. One thing he isn't, as far as I can tell, is a matador. Seems confusing. Gabriel Luna, Nicky Whelan and Alfred Molina star. Matador debuts July 15 on El Rey.

May 25, 2014

Trailer: The Equalizer

The first trailer is out for the big screen remake of The Equalizer. Denzel Washington steps into the role made famous by Edward Woodward on the Eighties TV show, that of Robert McCall, a former intelligence agent who uses his unique skill set to help people with the odds against him. At least that's what the show was about. The movie looks a little different. And while it does have a shot of a car's headlights turning on (albeit a wide shot from afar), the classic Stewart Copeland theme is nowhere to be heard.