Sep 3, 2015

Warren Ellis Shares Tantalizing Details About His James Bond Comic Book

New James Bond continuation author Anthony Horowitz's ideas about James Bond's character have been getting a lot of play on the Internet lately for all the wrong reasons, but another new Bond writer has also shared his ideas about who 007 is this week in a couple of interviews. It was announced in July that Warren Ellis would be the first writer on Dynamite's flagship James Bond comic book series, and that was fantastic news. I was hoping (and guessing) the company would spring for a big name on at least the first arc, and Ellis is among the biggest. He's also, happily, a terrific writer, and no stranger to spies having written RED (which formed the basis for the Bruce Willis movies), Reload (with former Bond comic illustrator Paul Gulacy), and his magnum opus Planetary, which featured a Bond/Nick Fury analogue. Speaking with Sarah and Dan's Extra Edition on BBC radio on August 4, Ellis revealed that although his Bond is very much Ian Fleming's literary character, and not the movie Bond, he couldn't resist one homage to the movies - a thrilling, pre-credits sequence-style "cold open." ("It's a duel in a building site outside Helsinki in Finland"). He also gave a description of his first arc, entitled VARGR.

"006 has died," Ellis explained. "And 007 is given his workload to carry on with until 006 can be replaced. And this fine thing going into a situation without the correct preparation. And what he thought was a very simple counterespionage gig involving the drugs trade turns out to be something far, far larger and a direct attack on the British Isles. It's set, as I say, in Finland; it's set in Berlin in the winter, and it's set on a tiny island off the Norwegian coast." He also revealed that the villain of the piece, a Serbian, would be named Slavan Kurjak.

In a more in-depth interview this week with Dynamic Forces, Ellis shared even more. He confirmed that he will be staying with the title for at least one more arc beyond the first six issues, and revealed some of the supporting characters from Fleming's novels who will turn up in VARGR. "You can’t do Bond without M, Moneypenny and Bill Tanner. And Major Boothroyd. I haven’t decided on the second volume yet, but I’d like to work the Felix Leiter of the novels in there." He also explained the somewhat mystifying title (which I had thought was an acronym), saying, "VARGR is an Old Norse word meaning variously wolf, evildoer or destroyer." Proving his cred for writing 007, Ellis shared his own five favorite Fleming novels (all excellent choices, if you ask me!), concluding that "You Only Live Twice is possibly my favorite because it shows Bond at his most lost and broken," which may offer a good indication of the sort of 007 we can expect to see in his comic. Perhaps most interestingly of all, he offers his take on Bond's character, and, proving that there are many valid interpretations of a given text, it's in some ways at odds with Horowitz's analysis. Read the entire interview for all the juicy details and more hints of what we can expect this fall from Ellis and artist Jason Masters.

When it was first announced last year that Dynamite would publish new James Bond comics, it seemed inevitable that we could expect multiple variant covers. (The company loves them.) Now, with the comic due out November 4 (just as SPECTRE hits theaters), we've got our first glimpse of them! Comic Book Resources debuted a handful of variants and retailer incentives that will drive 007 completists crazy tracking them all down this fall, some of which illustrate this story. See the others at CBR. I have to say, I love the title treatment! Maybe not quite as much as I loved Dark Horse's Bond comics title treatment in the 90s, but this one is very contemporary and very striking.

All in all, I can't quite pinpoint whether I'm more excited about Horowitz's 1950s-set novel Trigger Mortis, or Ellis's present-day continuation comic VARGR! It's going to be a great fall for Bond fans.

Besides the contemporary flagship series, Dynamite also plans a period "Year One"-type 007 origin story by a different, yet to be announced writer set in Fleming's original timeline (placing it either in the Forties or Fifties), and a series of graphic novel adaptations of Fleming's novels. Their deal with Ian Fleming Publications lasts ten years, so we can look forward to a lot of Bond comics in the coming decade - hopefully enough to make up for the past two decades in which Agent 007 has been completely absent from comics shelves! (Excepting a one-off graphic novel adaptation of the first Young Bond adventure, Silverfin.)

Sep 1, 2015

TNT Goes Spy in November With Agent X, Legends Premieres

TNT has finally set premiere dates for its fall spy shows. According to Dark Horizons, the Sharon Stone/Jeff Hephner series Agent X (the pilot for which the network ordered way back in January of last year) will premiere on Sunday, November 8. And the eagerly anticipated, retooled second season of the Sean Bean series Legends (formerly a summer show) will premiere the week before, on Monday, November 2. I have a good feeling about Agent X, which centers on an elite secret agent (Hephner) who reports directly to the Vice President (Stone). Maybe the tux in the picture is misleading, but I feel like this could be the sort of small screen James Bond type of spy show that's more or less missing from the otherwise spy-filled television landscape. And I'm certainly looking forward to the return of Legends, the Howard Gordon-produced adaptation of the Robert Littell novel, which concluded its engrossing first season on a game-changing cliffhanger.

Aug 31, 2015

Alex Rider to Return... in Print and on Screen?

Author and TV producer Anthony Horowitz (Foyle's War) gave a spoiler-filled interview with The Mail promoting his new James Bond novel Trigger Mortis, and in it he says that his popular teen spy character Alex Rider may soon return. Rider was very publicly retired in Horowitz's 2011 novel Scorpia Rising, which was subtitled "The Final Mission" and billed as a definitive swan song for the boy agent. But now the author tells the tabloid he will return in a surprisingly political (and now historical) scenario. In the midst of discussing his disillusionment with Tony Blair and disgust with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Horowitz told the Mail, "I’m going to write a new novella – my 'Octopussy.' A five-chapter story set in Iraq. Nobody knows that, so you’ve got a scoop. It has Alex penetrating the mountains in northern Iraq to discover the weapons of mass destruction."

"There are some, then?" interviewer Cole Moreton probes.

"Not after Alex finishes with them. That’s why Tony Blair never found them!" replies Horowitz. Moreton treats this as the very scoop Horowitz promises (and, indeed, the timeline fits; Alex's literary adventures spanned from 2000-2011), though to me it sounds like dry humor, so I'm not sure whether to take that "scoop" at face value or not. A new Alex Rider story would certainly be welcome, however!

Horowitz also teases that the teen spy could return to film. There was a movie made of the first book, Stormbreaker, back in 2006 (review here), but it was unceremoniously dumped by its American distributor and consequently flopped at the U.S. box office, despite a cast that included Ewan McGregor, Damian Lewis, Alex Pettyfer, Bill Nighy and Stephen Fry. Owing to the novels' immense popularity, though (especially in the UK), the franchise would seem one ripe for rebooting a decade later. And apparently there's someone, at least, thinking along those very lines. All Horowitz will reveal is, "There is interest from producers about making another but it is way too early to be able to talk about a film without putting a curse on it." That would be great! In fact, I would rather see Alex Rider get another shot cinematically than make a comeback in print. Let's all cross our fingers.

The whole interview (in which Horowitz makes some controversial statements about Ian Fleming and Skyfall, among other Bondian topics), as well as an exciting excerpt from Trigger Mortis that accompanies it, is well worth reading—but perhaps not until after you've read Horowitz's Bond novel. As I noted above, it certainly appears to be shockingly full of spoilers for the novel, and I wish I hadn't read it prior to reading the book. So proceed at your own risk.

Aug 24, 2015

xXx 3 to Shoot in December?

Rumors of a third xXx movie have abounded for as long as I've had this blog. Vin Diesel starred in the vapid 2002 original, only to have his character, extreme sports athlete turned spy Xander Cage (if you think the early 2000s are still too recent to be dated, meditate for a moment on the phrase "extreme sports athlete turned spy!") unceremoniously killed off in a DVD special feature. (Which has to be just about the most insulting way ever to off a character!) He was replaced in the even more vapid 2005 sequel, xXx: State of the Union, by Ice Cube. Since at least 2008, all the rumors of a third movie have focused on Diesel returning to the franchise, despite his character's ignominious death. And since 2013, Diesel himself has been banging the drum loudest for that to happen. And yesterday he banged pretty loudly, stating in an Instagram post (reported by Collider, via Empire) that "While I was filming XXX, guys on set called me Air Diesel... The time to return has come. Filming starts December in the Philippines." Will the threequel actually come to pass this time? While Rob Cohen, who helmed the original, had at one point flirted with returning, no director has been formally announced. But there's still time for such an announcement between now and December.

While it's true that the series has yet to produce a movie that's actually any good, I'm still kind of excited for a new entry. After all, Diesel's other big franchise, The Fast and the Furious, only really came to life with the fifth movie, suddenly becoming so much more than what it had been! If Diesel could entice the director who enlivened that series, Justin Lin, to similarly vivify xXx, I would honestly expect greatness. (But Lin, who was attached to a second Jeremy Renner Bourne movie which now seems to be history, is currently doing the next Star Trek, and consequently won't be free in December.) Still, I'm at least mildly intrigued at the prospect of more Xander Cage.

In a mostly unrelated, non-Diesel xXx coincidence, I have to admit that the ever so brief footage of Ice Cube in xXx: State of the Union included in the spectacular Straight Outta Compton (a movie everyone should see, regardless of their interest in or familiarity with NWA) actually made me kind of want to watch Lee Tamahori's terrible sequel again. I know it will still be terrible, but maybe the decade since has made it also kind of fun. Maybe?

Aug 19, 2015

Tradecraft: Fox Buys Spy Pilot From Undercovers Producer

Deadline reports that Fox has ordered a spy pilot script from Peter Berg’s (The Kingdom) company Film 44. The untitled hour-long drama was written by novelist and producer Elwood Reid (Undercovers, Hawaii Five-0). According to the trade, the "high-octane character drama ... follows the woman with the most lethal mind in America, a brilliant and ruthless military professor who is recruited by a former student to help a covert branch of the CIA deal with high-priority targets."

Aug 18, 2015

Tradecraft: Carlton Cuse Espionage Thriller Colony Coming to USA

On the TCA Summer Press Tour, producer Carlton Cuse (The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.) told critics (including Deadline's Lisa de Moraes) that he approached his upcoming USA alien invasion drama Colony not as science fiction, but as "an espionage thriller." Written and executive produced by Cuse and Ryan Condal (Hercules), the drama (with a 10-episode order at the cable network) stars Josh Holloway (Intelligence, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) and Sarah Wayne Callies (The Secret Service, The Walking Dead). According to the trade, "Colony takes place in Los Angeles in the near future, in a state of occupation by a force of outside intruders. Some locals choose to collaborate with the authorities and benefit from the new order; others do not, and suffer the consequences." Even though the setting is modern Los Angeles, Cuse told reporters that in crafting the series, he and Condal had in mind Nazi-occupied Paris during WWII. I wasn't interested in another sci-fi alien invasion show, but Cuse's "espionage thriller" description suddenly has me very interested indeed! We learned last year that Len Deighton's similarly themed SS-GB, a spy novel about life in Nazi-occupied Britain in an alternate timeline where Germany won WWII, will also soon be a 5-episode series on BBC from James Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.

Trailer: Dad's Army

1970s UK sitcom Dad's Army has been reinvented for the bigscreen as an all-star spy comedy from Johnny English Reborn director Oliver Parker. Bill Nighy (Page Eight), Michael Gambon (Page Eight), Toby Jones (Wayward Pines), Tom Courtenay (Otley), Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), and Catherine Zeta-Jones (RED 2) star. In the film, the outcome of WWII suddenly depends on the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard discovering the identity of a German spy for MI5. Check out the trailer:

DK Previews Bond by Design: The Art of the James Bond Films

We're coming up on Autumn of a James Bond movie release year... which means collectors can look forward to plenty of new books about 007 timed to tie in with the film's release! DK Publishing has posted a preview of one of the most anticipated ones, their eagerly anticipated follow-up to 2012's beautiful, slipcased art book James Bond: 50 Years of Movie Posters (which will be getting a new paperback edition). The new book, Bond by Design: The Art of the James Bond Films, showcases concept art and storyboards from EON Productions' 24 James Bond films, right up through SPECTRE. Here's the official blurb from the publisher: "Featuring the work of legendary Bond film designers such as Ken Adam, Peter Lamont, and Syd Cain, Bond by Design brings the James Bond art department's story right up to date with behind-the-scenes artwork from the latest film, SPECTRE. With two exclusive prints and authoritative text by EON's own archivist, Meg Simmonds, Bond by Design provides unique, spectacular, and fascinating insights into this hugely successful film franchise." Retailing for $50.00, the 320-page, large-format hardcover will be published on October 6, and is available for pre-order now at a substantial discount on Amazon. Here are some gorgeous sample pages:

First Image of Dominic Cooper as Stratton

Empire (via Dark Horizons) has unveiled the first photo of Dominic Cooper (Fleming, Agent Carter) as titular special forces operative Stratton, a role he inherited from Man From U.N.C.L.E. star Henry Cavill when Cavill dropped out at the last minute. Clearly Cooper didn't have time to grow as full a beard as Cavill had carefully cultivated (seen during the early days of his U.N.C.L.E. press tour), but he still looks the rugged part armed to the teeth with a slightly scruffy chin. In the film directed by Simon West (The Mechanic, The Saint) and based on the novels by Duncan Falconer, SBS (the Royal Navy commando unit which Empire snarkily describes as "like the SAS, only with extra canoeing") Intelligence Detachment operative John Stratton must chase down an international terrorist cell through Central Asia, Europe and London, all while contending with the damage done by a mole inside MI5. Austin Stowell (Bridge of Spies) co-stars as a heroic, hardened American Navy SEAL who teams with Stratton on his mission. Derek Jacobi (Circles of Deceit), Thomas Kretschmann (24), Tom Felton (Harry Potter), Gemma Chan (The Game) and Connie Nielsen (3 Days to Kill) also star.

Aug 14, 2015

Movie Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

In The Man From U.N.C.L.E., director Guy Ritchie concocts a slick, hugely entertaining paean not only to the TV series he’s re-working, but to Sixties spy movies (and, indeed, European cinema of the era) in general. The result is a real treat for fans of the genre, full of knowing nods to specific films, but not merely a succession of references. While he could have used the same exact ingredients of gorgeous Sixties fashions, stunning locations, and sexy stars to simply recreate a typical spy film of that era (and I admit, I probably would have settled for it), Ritchie instead mixes up a whole new cocktail with those familiar flavors. Before we discuss that appealing tipple, however, let’s examine those ingredients on their own.

The sexy stars in question are Henry Cavill (The Cold Light of Day) stepping into the shoes of Robert Vaughn as American agent Napoleon Solo, Armie Hammer (J. Edgar) taking over from David McCallum as Russian agent Illya Kuryakin, Alicia Vikander (The Fifth Estate), and Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager), playing, respectively, the somewhat stock roles from the TV series of the scientist’s daughter (a common variety of “the innocent” who was swept up in the espionage each week) and the femme fatale. Even U.N.C.L.E. boss Mr. Waverly (played on the series by octogenarian Leo G. Carroll, essentially reprising his spymaster role from North by Northwest) cuts a debonair figure this time around, as played by suave 55-year-old Hugh Grant. All of them look spectacular, and show off costume designer Joanna Johnston’s (Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation) incredible Sixties-styled fashions to maximum effect… but they’re also all quite good in their roles!

Cavill demonstrates all the charm and good humor necessary to play Napoleon Solo (a character first dreamed up by none other than James Bond creator Ian Fleming*) and consequently manages to come off as a roguish ladies’ man rather than a leering Eurospy-type creep. He’s clearly studied Vaughn’s cadences, and is up to the task of delivering all the verbal sparring the script (by Ritchie and Lionel Wigram) supplies him with, whether bickering with Illya or flirting with Debicki’s deliciously villainous villainess Victoria Vinciguerra. Hammer’s Illya Kuryakin is a much different character from McCallum’s, affording him the opportunity to really make the role (in this incarnation) his own. He, too, proves up to the task. This Illya is a man of great passions. Imbued with as much DNA from Robert Shaw’s psychopathic Bond baddie Red Grant as McCallum’s Illya, he has a violent temper (which may disturb some fans of the series), but also a charming vulnerability. Hammer finds a great balance between the two, and makes his Illya a convincingly complex character when he easily could have come off as a Russian stereotype. Cavill and Hammer have a great rapport, and neither makes the deadly mistake of confusing cool with careless. This was the undoing of top tier actors Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman in the 1998 movie of The Avengers. The best Sixties spy heroes could retain their composure and decorum in the worst possible situations without defusing those situations of their suspense, and that was a quality fairly unique to the decade. But happily, Cavill and Hammer manage to recapture it.

Coming off of Ex Machina and already lined up to play opposite Matt Damon in the next Bourne movie, Alicia Vikander is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and talented young actresses out there right now. Her role as Gaby Teller, the scientist’s daughter who seems to harbor a secret agenda of her own, may not be as demanding as playing a newly sentient machine in Ex Machina or a grief-stricken student turned WWI nurse in Testament of Youth, but the uncommonly talented Vikander imbues Gaby with enough strength and moxie to elevate a somewhat underwritten role to scene-stealing proportions. And her fellow female Debicki accomplishes the same feat, really relishing her role as the movie’s primary antagonist. Victoria is no mere henchwoman; she is the mastermind behind a nefarious organization’s nuclear terrorism. James Bond never faced a female mastermind in the Sixties, but they were more common on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Debicki stands right alongside the best of them (the very best of them being Anne Francis as Gervaise Ravel in two first season episodes). She’s a treat to watch, and I wanted more of her character on screen. Finally, Grant is just fantastic as Waverly, doing more of an homage to Carroll than I would have imagined, and turning a small part into a very memorable character.  

Besides the stars and the Sixties fashions, the thrilling locations are key to any great spy movie, and Guy Ritchie seems well aware of that, making the most of Rome, the Italian countryside, and, in an opening sure to please spy fans everywhere, divided Berlin. Cinematographer John Mathieson is no stranger to recreating that Sixties film look, having done so on X-Men: First Class, and he juggles a number of disparate styles of the era in this film and makes them cohesive. But my favorite look may have been the grainy, gritty approach to Checkpoint Charlie and East Berlin. The opening climaxes in a spectacular wall crossing, which, as I’ve said often, is pure catnip for this spy fan.

If the Checkpoint Charlie business automatically recalls the second Harry Palmer movie with Michael Caine, Funeral in Berlin, a scene between Solo and his CIA boss, Sanders, played by Jared Harris (remember, this movie is an origin story, and at the beginning Napoleon and Illya work for rival services, not U.N.C.L.E.) recalls The Ipcress File. In gourmet Palmer style, Solo (in apron) cooks a truffle risotto for Gaby. Sanders walks in and chews him out, reminding him he’s serving out the equivalent of a prison sentence for the CIA (like Palmer’s indentured servitude to MI5)—and remarking that the Agency doesn’t pay him enough to put truffles in his risotto. If this interplay reminds you of that between Palmer and Col. Ross (Guy Doleman), it’s assuredly not coincidental! In fact whole chunks of the first act come directly from The Ipcress File. (The third Palmer movie, Billion Dollar Brain, is not left out, either; the end titles deliberately reference Maurice Binder’s main titles for that film.) And, amazingly, this bit of business isn’t the only shout-out to Doleman in Ritchie’s movie! His Thunderball character, Count Lippe, also gets a namecheck later (albeit with a slightly different spelling), sure to elicit guffaws from knowledgeable Bond fans in the audience.

From Russia With Love, GoldfingerThe Quiller Memorandum, and the Eurospy genre as a whole are also among the numerous filmic allusions on display. (From Goldfinger alone we get a vault door, a helicopter, and an Aston Martin, with DB5's proving a unifying factor in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and, based on the second trailer, SPECTRE!) But as I said in my introduction, Ritchie isn’t interested in simply blending together classic bits into a straight pastiche. While the Eurospy presence is undeniable (particularly in Daniel Pemberton’s John Barry-meets-Ennio Morricone score, whose screaming vocals in later tracks would have been as at home in an Italian spy movie as a Spaghetti Western), Ritchie hasn’t constructed his own Italian-style spy movie in the same way the Italians themselves did it in the Sixties. Instead, his stylistic approach seems to be more “What if Fellini had made spy movies?” Ritchie’s camera luxuriates in the La Dolce Vita-style decadence of Roman high society (Vikander takes a sip at one point from the Trevi Fountain), and gauzy filters in loving close-ups of Debicki recall Antonioni more than James Tont. (It should be noted that these homages are purely aesthetic and not artistic; Ritchie has no interest in the themes explored by these Italian auteurs. Indeed, his Man From U.N.C.L.E. is so thematically slight as to be ethereal.)

Other stylistic influences come from the French New Wave, though some feel filtered through Quentin Tarantino’s modern day appropriation of them. There are many cleverly-edited flashbacks and time shifts throughout the movie (useful for revealing little bits of information after the fact, necessary in any good con or caper flick), and when we learn about Napoleon Solo’s background, it’s courtesy of the KGB’s dossier on him as presented to Illya. This comes in flashback as he watches the calculating Solo tracking him in the present, and since the briefing is in Russian, the information is delivered to audiences largely in subtitles (cutely designed in a font evocative of the original Man From U.N.C.L.E. title treatment). It’s an odd choice, but effective. I suspect it will pay off even more on subsequent viewings. I also suspect that the pockmarked Jared Harris, in his gray fedora, is intended to resemble Eddie Constantine, who, in the role of Lemmy Caution, straddled the worlds of Eurospy and French New Wave when Jean-Luc Godard elected to make one entry of the Caution series into an art film, as Alphaville

One thing Ritchie isn’t particularly interested in is action scenes, and he makes this clear from the start. While he knows he’s got to deliver his audience a few bona fide Bond-style setpieces in this genre (like the escape from East Berlin and a car chase that precedes it), he’s much more interested in the luxurious and tactile trappings of the spy genre. In the movie’s best sequence, Solo enjoys fine food and drink, to the accompaniment of an Italian ballad, in the cab of a truck as Illya engages in a furious, fiery speedboat chase behind him. The chase (itself a nod to From Russia With Love) plays out entirely in the background, seen through the windshield or in the truck’s rearview mirror, while our focus remains with Solo enjoying his meal. It’s a hilarious sequence, but also clearly outlines Ritchie’s own priorities and his fairly shrewd deconstruction of the spy genre (Sixties variety) down to its basest elements. Genre fetishes like good living and bespoke tailoring take priority here over fisticuffs. (Solo’s impeccable fashion sense makes for a good running gag, and in one hilarious scene that actually [probably inadvertently] ties in with The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E., he and Illya pit their senses of style against each other while critiquing Gaby's wardrobe.) Another key action scene, late in the film, is presented in elaborate Thomas Crown (or Woodstock)-style splitscreen. This technique again takes the emphasis off of the action itself and onto style—in this case cinematic style rather than culinary or sartorial. All this isn’t to say that there aren’t entirely satisfying legitimate action sequences in the film, but to illustrate that they aren’t Ritchie’s priority… an approach I found refreshing, and one which clearly sets U.N.C.L.E. as far apart from Bourne and Bond and Mission: Impossible as its period setting.

Those hoping for nostalgic reminders of the TV series may be a bit disappointed. Those things are all there (the gun, the theme, the acronym), but all in basically blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos rather than lovingly fetishized. (Jerry Goldsmith’s theme gets literally only a few bars, played on a radio—and not even from the most recognizable bit.) But that’s okay. Because while every little detail may seem like the most important thing when viewed through the filter of childhood nostalgia, the real essence of U.N.C.L.E. is very much on screen. It’s a Russian and an American working together at the height of Cold War tensions. It’s rich characterizations and onscreen chemistry. And it’s style. Oodles and oodles of style. Guy Ritchie recognizes this, and because of that he’s delivered one of the most satisfying TV-to-movie remakes since The Fugitive.

*While Fleming's role in developing The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has been often exaggerated over the years, one contribution that was undoubtedly his was the name "Napoleon Solo." Interestingly, some elements of his Solo (from a memo reproduced in Time Life's DVD box set of the series) that didn't make it into Norman Felton and Sam Rolfe's TV show, like his penchant for cooking, manifest themselves in Ritchie's Solo.

Aug 13, 2015

Video: The Bond Women of SPECTRE

MGM and Sony have released a new SPECTRE video blog, this one focusing on "The Bond Women of SPECTRE." And by "women of SPECTRE," they don't mean Helga Brandt and Fiona Volpe, or even Madam Spectra (obscure reference); they mean Léa Seydoux and Monica Bellucci, the female stars of the 24th James Bond movie. And by "Bond Women," they mean what used to be called "Bond Girls," appropriately updated for the 21st Century.

New Transporter Refueled Trailer

EuropaCorp has released a new trailer for their upcoming Statham-less neo-Eurospy reboot The Transporter Refueled. The Luc Besson-produced movie opens September 4 in the U.S.

Here's the official description: Frank Martin (played by newcomer Ed Skrein), a former special-ops mercenary, is now living a less perilous life - or so he thinks - transporting classified packages for questionable people. When Frank’s father (Ray Stevenson) pays him a visit in the south of France, their father-son bonding weekend takes a turn for the worse when Frank is engaged by a cunning femme-fatale, Anna (Loan Chabanol), and her three seductive sidekicks to orchestrate the bank heist of the century. Frank must use his covert expertise and knowledge of fast cars, fast driving and fast women to outrun a sinister Russian kingpin, and worse than that, he is thrust into a dangerous game of chess with a team of gorgeous women out for revenge.

Aug 6, 2015

Final Trailer for Agent 47

Fox has released a final trailer for their video game-based neo-Eurospy reboot Hitman: Agent 47. It looks better than the previous ones, at least, but still makes it look like the hero is too much of a superman. Still, this could offer some fun end of summer action. Hitman: Agent 47 opens August 21.

Aug 4, 2015

Tradecraft: Dates for 2016 Spy Movies

We're only a little more than halfway through the unbelievably spy movie-packed 2015, in which we've gotten at least one every month, but Studios are already locking down their spy films for next year. Adding to Universal's next Matt Damon Bourne movie (the fifth total), which has July 16 staked down, Sony's Sacha Baron Cohen/Mark Strong comedy Grimsby (directed by Transporter 2 helmer Louis Leterrier), set for February 26, and Millennium's London Has Fallen on January 22 (both the latter two were originally slated for 2015, but fled the stiff spy competition), Deadline reports two more dates have been set. Summit's Criminal, starring Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Kevin Costner (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), Ryan Reynolds (Safe House), Tommy Lee Jones (Bourne 5) and Gal Gadot (Fast Five) will open on April 15, displacing the studio's Jason Statham assassin sequel Mechanic: Resurrection all the way to August 26. The sequel is already better than the original remake, as Statham is supported by the ubiquitous Tommy Lee Jones (Criminal) as well as Michelle Yeoh (Tomorrow Never Dies) and Jessica Alba (Barely Lethal). Two main takeaways: 1) we've already got five months covered for next year in terms of spy releases, and 2) Tommy Lee Jones is in almost all of them.

Jul 31, 2015

Trailer for Michael Bay's CIA Attack Drama 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

The first of the (at least) three Benghazi siege movies currently in the pipeline already has a trailer. Get your first glimpse at Michael Bay's fact-based drama 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, which tells the story of the deadly September 2012 siege on the U.S. diplomatic compound and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya in which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, diplomat Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty lost their lives. I'm not sure I find Bay's ultra-glossy Transformers-style direction appropriate to such a tragic story, but the cast, including John Krasinski (Aloha), James Badge Dale (Rubicon), Max Martini (Captain Phillips) and Toby Stephens (Die Another Day) is solid, and the script is by Chuck Hogan (The Town), so I guess I'll give it the benefit of the doubt. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi opens in January.

Jul 28, 2015

Listen to Samples From Daniel Pemberton's Man From U.N.C.L.E. Soundtrack

Today Amazon and iTunes both posted track lists for an expanded "Deluxe Version" of the soundtrack album for Guy Ritchie's The Man From U.N.C.L.E., featuring Sixties R&B songs alongside score music by Daniel Pemberton (The Game). And they also posted samples! While we've heard snippets in recent trailers and in the promotional videogame, this is our first real chance to hear substantial sections of Pemberton's U.N.C.L.E. score. And it sounds very, very good. While the score doesn't feature Jerry Goldsmith's beloved theme music from the Sixties TV series, it does appear to have a great Sixties spy sound going for it. Sample Track 3, for example, "His Name Is Napoleon Solo," which sounds very nicely reminiscent of John Barry's The Ipcress File. It's been a while since we've heard this particular sort of spy sound, and I can't wait to listen to it in full! Pemberton did a fantastic job capturing a Seventies espionage mood in The Game, and I fully expect him to do the same for the prior decade in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.! The soundtrack is out August 7 (also available on CD, but without the four bonus tracks in the deluxe digital version) from Water Tower Music, and the movie is out August 14.

Jul 26, 2015

Paramount Unveils Series of Mission: Impossible Posters Celebrating Cruise's Greatest Dangling

Paramount has released a series of what The Imp Awards describes as "minimalist posters highlighting cliffhangers from each of the films in the series." But with the exception of the image for J.J. Abrams' M:I:iii, they might as well be called "dangling posters!" Because these retro-style images (in the tradition of the Sixties-inspired title sequences for Casino Royale, Mad Men or the new Man From U.N.C.L.E.) showcase the best moments of Tom Cruise's character Ethan Hunt dangling from a succession of things ever higher off the ground, culminating in the breathtaking airplane stunt seen in the trailers for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, for which the actor actually strapped himself to the exterior of a flying plane. They're pretty cool! I wonder if there are paper versions of these?

Jul 22, 2015

New SPECTRE Trailer

After a very effective teaser back in March, MGM and Sony have released the first full trailer for SPECTRE, the 24th official James Bond movie. And, unsurprisingly, it looks utterly fantastic, with plenty of great imagery for longtime Bond fans to chew on. Daniel Craig in a white dinner jacket! Christoph Waltz in a Nehru jacket! And Q once more unveiling a new Aston Martin for 007... with "a few little tricks up her sleeve." It's about time Bond had some real gadgets again! (Not that I want this Aston to turn invisible, mind you. Just some practical tricks, please!) SPECTRE opens November 6 in the United States, and a week earlier in the UK.

EON also released a new plot description of the film. Personally, I don't consider things put out officially by the studio to be spoilers, but this description definitely reveals more about the plot than I'd seen anywhere before. (I've been avoiding any information based on the script leaked in the Sony hack.) So bear that in mind if you choose to read further.
A cryptic message from the past sends James Bond on a rogue mission to Mexico City and eventually Rome, where he meets Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), the beautiful and forbidden widow of an infamous criminal. Bond infiltrates a secret meeting and uncovers the existence of the sinister organisation known as SPECTRE.

Meanwhile back in London, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the new head of the Centre for National Security, questions Bond’s actions and challenges the relevance of MI6, led by M (Ralph Fiennes). Bond covertly enlists Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) to help him seek out Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of his old nemesis Mr White (Jesper Christensen), who may hold the clue to untangling the web of SPECTRE. As the daughter of an assassin, she understands Bond in a way most others cannot.

As Bond ventures towards the heart of SPECTRE, he learns of a chilling connection between himself and the enemy he seeks, played by Christoph Waltz.

Jul 21, 2015

Mission: Impossible TV Soundtrack Box Set Coming Next Month!

2015 has proven not just a great year for spy movies in theaters, but also for archival spy releases. I thought Network's Deadlier Than the Male Blu-ray would be tough to beat, but La La Land has just done it with the announcement that they will release what's long been a Holy Grail for fans of spy music: a six-disc box set of soundtrack music from the Mission: Impossible TV series! Produced by spy music expert Jon Burlingame (who also produced and wrote the liner notes for the excellent FSM Man From U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack CD releases a decade ago, and literally wrote the book on James Bond film music), Mission: Impossible: The Television Scores contains selections from all seven seasons of the iconic spy series starring Peter Graves, Greg Morris and Peter Lupus (among many others) that ran from 1966-1973, the majority of them never before released! While Lalo Schifrin's Mission: Impossible Theme is probably the most famous and iconic piece of spy TV music ever, he is certainly not the only composer to contribute to the fantastic sound of this series. Besides Schifrin, the work of Gerald Fried, Jerry Fielding, Don Ellis, Richard Hazard, Robert Drasnin and more will will also be showcased in this box set. And every track has been meticulously restored and remastered from the original studio elements. (Most of them are presented in the original mono.) Burlingame, who personally selected each piece included, also contributes comprehensive liner notes contained in three informative booklets loaded with photos. (Just take a look at his Man From U.N.C.L.E. liner notes for an idea of how awesome these will probably be!) According to the press release, the 6-disc set is housed in an attractive hard-cover slipcase. Just look at the picture! It's so attractive that even if it didn't have all that incredible music I'd still want this thing on my shelf! The music was restored by Chris Malone and mastered by Doug Schwartz, with art direction on the package by Joe Sikoryak.

UPDATE: Burlingame revealed on Facebook that "Every single episode that had original music is represented. In some cases it's just a few minutes; in the case of the Schifrin-scored episodes it's a lot."

Limited to 1500 units, Mission: Impossible – The Television Scores will be available for order from La La Land's website starting July 28, 2015 at 12 noon PST (just in time for the release of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation in theaters) and will commence shipping out to customers on August 10. That's right around the corner! The box set retails for $99.98.

And you also need to clear just a little more room in the M section of your spy music shelf. La La Land will also release Joe Kraemer's score for Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation on August 4. If you order through their website, the first 100 units will be signed by the composer. You can currently listen a sample track from that score on Soundcloud.
Thanks to Collin for the heads-up!

Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Seventh TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Sixth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Fifth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Fourth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Third TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Second TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The First TV Season here.

Jul 15, 2015

Deadlier Than the Male and Some Girls Do Double Feature at LA's New Beverly Cinema Next Week

Attention Los Angeles spy fans! Heck, attention West Coast spy fans in general, because this one's worth a drive! The New Beverly Cinema in L.A. will screen the two Sixties Bulldog Drummond spy movies, Deadlier Than the Male and Some Girls Do, next week, in honor of their late star Richard Johnson, who passed away last month. This unmissable double feature will play on Sunday, July 19, and Monday, July 20. Deadlier Than the Male (1967), as most readers are probably aware, is the best James Bond knock-off ever. To learn why, read my in-depth review here. Besides Johnson (Danger Route), the main attraction is the deadly duo of Elke Sommer (The Venetian Affair) and Sylva Koscina (Hot Enough For June) as a pair of bickering, speargun-toting assassins who steal the show. Nigel Green (The Ipcress File), Steve Carlson (The Wild Wild West), Laurence Naismith (The Persuaders!) and Leonard Rossiter (Otley) round out the stellar cast. While Some Girls Do (1969) doesn't live up to its predecessor, the more comedic sequel is still highly entertaining Sixties spyjinks. In that one, Johnson is joined by Daliah Lavi (Casino Royale), James Villiers (For Your Eyes Only), Yutte Stensgaard (Lust For a Vampire) and Robert Morley (Hot Enough For June).

Both movies will be shown in 35mm, Deadlier Than the Male in an IB Technicolor print! Both evenings, Deadlier Than the Male plays at 7:30 followed by Some Girls Do at 9:30 There's also a 5:40 screening of Some Girls Do on Sunday. Tickets are $8 for the double feature and are available for pre-order on Brown Paper Tickets or at the theater box office.

It is extremely rare to see either of these movies on the big screen (each has played only once in the fifteen years I've lived in Los Angeles, and there are many repertory cinemas here), and even if you're a Bond fan but have never seen a Eurospy movie before, I encourage you to go. Deadlier Than the Male is the perfect gateway Eurospy title! Seriously, this is sure to be the spy event of the season! Personally, if I can I'm planning to go both nights.

Other Johnson tribute movies playing this month include The Haunting, Zombie and Beyond the Door. Check the New Beverly calendar for details.

Jul 14, 2015

Tradecraft: Richard Jenkins to Head Up Steinhauer's Berlin Station for EPIX

Olen Steinhauer's Berlin Station has its first agent. Richard Jenkins (Burn After Reading, Undercover Blues) will play the Chief of Station, a Cold War veteran named Steven Frost, on spy novelist Steinhauer's contemporary Berlin-set TV series for premium cable channel EPIX. Deadline reported the casting. As we learned in May, Berlin Station (which sounds kind of like a Snowden-era variation on Len Deighton's classic Berlin Game) will follow Daniel Meyer, a rookie CIA case officer stationed to Berlin with a secret mission to spy on his own colleagues and root out a mole who leaked information to now-famous whistleblower Thomas Shaw. Guided by the jaded career spook Hector DeJean, Meyer ends up uncovering a conspiracy that leads back to Washington. Steinhauer, one of the best writers currently working in the espionage genre, will write all ten episodes, and executive produce along with showrunner Brad Winters (The Americans, Dig), The Good Shepherd screenwriter Eric Roth, and The Drop director Michaël Roskam, among others. Roskam will direct the first two episodes. Jenkins, who hasn't starred on a television series since Six Feet Under (though he was excellent in the HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge last year), is an excellent choice for a spy series. I'm already incredibly excited about this series because of Steinhauer; this first piece of casting just strengthens that excitement.

Berlin Station, which starts shooting this fall, is one of two Berlin-set espionage cable dramas in the pipeline for next year. The other one is William Boyd's Spy City, set at the height of the Cold War in the 1960s. Berlin made an excellent spy setting then, and still does now, and both series sound excellent.

Steinhauer's latest novel, All the Old Knives, is currently in development with The Mark Gordon company, with Neil Burger (Limitless) set to direct and Steinhauer scripting.

Tom Cruise's Latest Death-Defying Mission: Impossible Stunt

It's possible Tom Cruise might be totally nuts, but he harnesses that for our entertainment, which is really pretty awesome. He's a consummate showman, as proven in this utterly insane stunt. We saw some news footage of it when they shot this last fall, but in this new featurette you can see the actual dailies from a locked down camera on the actor (not a stuntman) as he clings to the side of an airplane as it takes off. It's just incredible. (A long way from Roger Moore's green-screened airplane clinging in Octopussy!) I'm sure the finished scene will be fantastic with wide shots and close-ups edited together and Joe Kraemer's version of Lalo Schifrin's Mission: Impossible Theme blasting out of ATMOS speakers... but all that may not be quite as impressive as this simple locked-down camera on Cruise--even without his harness digitally removed. It's stunning. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation opens July 31.

Jul 13, 2015

Watch Archer's Comic-Con Greeting

Check out Sterling Archer's special greeting from this weekend's Comic-Con panel. The animated superspy is joined by Pam and Krieger (both cosplaying Mad Max: Fury Road), and lobs some Archer-style barbs at a number of films with panels at the Con, including fellow Cold War spy throwback The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Jul 12, 2015

Holy Emmapeeler, Batman! DC Comics Announces Batman/Avengers Team-Up!

The best news out of Comic-Con came on the final day. DC co-publisher Dan Didio announced a forthcoming comic book crossover between Batman and The Avengers. Yes, those Avengers! The real Avengers, Steed and Mrs. Peel! They will be crossing over with, most appropriately, the Adam West TV version of Batman from the Sixties. There aren't many details yet (no creators announced, no promo artwork, and no number of issues), but Batman '66/Steed and Mrs. Peel is coming, and that is wonderful. Hopefully a high-profile comic like this will revitalize Boom!'s flagging Steed and Mrs. Peel line and lead to more solo comic book adventures for the most dynamic duo of Sixties television. (I'm assuming this is an inter-company crossover with Boom!, but I suppose it's possible that the Steed and Mrs. Peel license has shifted to DC, which would also be an interesting development.) DC has been publishing a Batman '66 line, based on the West TV series, for a few years now, and it's already included a lengthy crossover series co-published with Dynamite Entertainment featuring the Caped Crusader and the Green Hornet, who had previously crossed over in a memorable TV episode. No doubt in this Avengers crossover, we'll get to see Steed in an umbrella duel with the Penguin, and Emma in a catsuited catfight with Catwoman. I can't wait!

Jul 11, 2015

Watch the New, 5-Minute Long U.N.C.L.E. Trailer From Comic-Con!

Warner Bros. has decided to share the clip reel from today's Man From U.N.C.L.E. Comic-Con panel with the public! And it's a doozy. Everything we've seen so far from this movie has looked fantastic, but this is the best trailer yet. And it's five minutes long! But therein lies the rub: it's possible that this reel might give away too much of the movie, it shows bits of so many setpieces (but doesn't seem to spoil any major plot points). So if you're already positive you're going to see the film and you have more restraint than I, you might perhaps want to just wait until August 14. But if you're at all on the fence (or don't care about giving some of the action away), by all means, feast your eyes on this awesomeness! It looks... like The Man From U.N.C.L.E.! Perfectly realized with a 21st Century attitude and budget, whilst retaining the 1960s setting. Which is to say, it looks like perfection. I am so excited!

Jul 9, 2015

Tradecraft: Dominic Cooper Steps In for Henry Cavill in Stratton

The special forces espionage adventure Stratton, adapted from Duncan Falconer's books, hit a major setback in late May when star and producer Henry Cavill (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) suddenly and unexpectedly bolted the project weeks before filming had been scheduled to begin. Now a replacement has been found. Deadline reports that Dominic Cooper (Fleming, Agent Carter) will take over the lead role of SBS Intelligence Detachment operative John Stratton, who must chase down an international terrorist cell through Central Asia, Europe and London, all while contending with the damage done by a mole inside MI5. It seems doubtful that Cooper, who was recently announced to return as Howard Stark on Season Two of Agent Carter as well as playing the lead on AMC's Preacher, will have time to grow the sort of beard Cavill had grown for the part! (And sported during the early rounds ofhis  U.N.C.L.E. publicity tour.) Additionally, Austin Stowell (Bridge of Spies) will play Lt. Hank Monroe, a heroic, hardened American Navy SEAL who teams with Stratton on his mission. Derek Jacobi, Thomas Kretschmann, Tom Felton, Gemma Chan, Tyler Hoechlin, Connie Nielsen and Jake Fairbrother also star, and Simon West (The Mechanic, The Saint) directs.

Tradecraft: Legends Sets Second Season Cast, Shifts to Europe and Autumn

For TNT's highly compelling but under-seen spy series Legends, based on the Robert Littell novel and starring Sean Bean (GoldenEye), the road to Season Two has been nearly as rocky as the impossibly rocky road to Season One. (And that prolonged development period saw the drama series take three years, two networks and two stars to reach the screen!) The renewal came harrowingly late in the game (last December, months after the first season's cliffhanger finale aired), and we learned in March that the second season would undergo some fairly major changes from the first one, in showrunner, format, location and cast. Ken Biller (Legend of the Seeker) took over the helm from David Wilcox (though Homeland and 24 mastermind Howard Gordon remains Executive Producer), and first season co-star Morris Chestnut went from regular to recurring.

Today, Deadline reports that the rest of the second season cast has been rounded out with a more international flavor, and that the action will shift to Europe. (That part's not too surprising, given the events of the first season finale.) According to the trade, British spy vet Ralph Brown (The Assets, Agent Carter, TURN) will play Terrence Graves, "a sophisticated, wry MI6 Intelligence Officer ... both personally and professionally compromised" beneath his "polished exterior." Czech actress Klára Issová (Transporter: The Series) will play Ilyana Crawford, a refugee from war-torn Chechnya and a smart, stubborn survivor who will do whatever it takes to remain one. Bean returns as Martin Odum, "an undercover operative who has learned he isn’t the man he believed himself to be. On the run for a murder he didn’t commit, Martin searches for his true identity, following a trail that takes him to London and the European continent, where he discovers a dark and violent past that holds the key to his future survival." Season Two is currently shooting in Prague and London. TNT recently pushed back the second season of Legends from Summer (where it debuted last year) to fall, where it will be paired with the network's newest action spy show Agent X, starring Sharon Stone.

Trailer: London Has Fallen

Lionsgate has released the first trailer for London Has Fallen, the sequel to the surprise hit White House under siege movie Olympus Has Fallen. This time, Gerard Butler's secret service agent and Aaron Eckhart's U.S. President team up with an MI-6 officer (Charlotte Riley) to, improbably as it might sound, solve the murder of the British Prime Minister, prevent the assassinations of all the world leaders attending his state funeral, and save London from a massive terrorist attack. London Has Fallen opens early next year.

Jul 4, 2015

Strike Back's Final Season Trailer

Cinemax has released a trailer for the final season of Strike Back, its version of the UK series of the same name.

Jul 1, 2015

New Transporter Refueled Trailer

I have to admit, the action in this trailer looks phenomenal! All of these images equal a movie I really want to see. I'm just still having trouble accepting a scrawny Statham substitute. I also don't love the idea of making Frank Martin, the transporter, more relatable by giving him family and personal connections. For me, the big appeal of the character was that he was a total cipher. And that became even more important as James Bond became so excellently rounded out and humanized in the Daniel Craig era. I like a more human Bond. But I liked the Transporter series for filling the void of Roger Moore-era Bonds: daffy action with a charismatic, somewhat superhuman lead. If Ed Skrein is charismatic, this trailer does not convey that. But it does convey the daffy action I crave, along with beautiful, exotic locations and beautiful, exotic women. So I'm on board either way. But I'm still afraid I'll spend this whole movie just wishing I were watching Jason Statham.

A reboot of the granddaddy of the neo-Eurospy movement, The Transporter Refueled opens September 4.