May 30, 2013

Burn Notice to End with This Season

It's a sad but inevitable day for Burn Notice fans. The final season draws nigh. USA confirmed that this would be the last year for the popular spy series earlier this month (on Deadline), and today they've released this bittersweet image of Michael Westen and the gang walking off into the sunset. I hope the season lives up to that image! The final season of Burn Notice begins next week, on Thursday, June 6. Read my original review of the pilot, from when Burn Notice debuted in 2007, here.

May 29, 2013

Upcoming Spy DVDs: Wonder Women

BayView Entertainment (controllers of the Retromedia catalog) will release the rare 1973 spy movie Wonder Women on DVD (a widescreen special edition, no less!) on June 18. Shot on the cheap in the Philippines, Wonder Women is way more entertaining than it has any right to be! It unfolds like a Eurospy movie (and I mean that in the best way possible) and truly makes the most of its nonexistent budget. (There's a wonderful car chase through Manila that simply has to be seen to be believed. And you know these stunts were all done for real! And probably not insured.) While it sports plenty of genre tropes (and trumps Bond by implementing a particular plot device the year before it's done in The Man With the Golden Gun), Wonder Women is the only spy movie I know of whose plot is set into motion by a kidnapped jai-alai star. That plot? Here's the official copy:
When top level athletes start to disappear, the insurance giant Lloyd’s of London hires slick investigator Mike Harber (Ross Hagen) to unravel the mystery. What Mike discovers is an island in the Philippines controlled by the evil Dr. Tsu (Nancy Kwan) where she and her sidekick (Sid Haig) run an organ transplant operation with the help of a deadly, all-girl army.
Yep, it's another one of those insurance-investigator-as-surrogate-secret-agent movies! A surprisingly stylish Sid Haig (sporting his own personal funky theme music) and Greedo from Star Wars also star. (Some may be surprised to learn that it was actually a sexy woman inside that costume.) I'm thrilled that Wonder Women is finally coming to DVD at all, but elated that it's going to be a feature-laden special edition! From the press release:
This terrific slice of 1970’s exploitation movie making comes to DVD sporting an all-new widescreen transfer from 35mm film materials plus extensive bonus materials: audio commentary track with director Robert V. O'Neill, on-set Super 8mm home movies, radio spots, TV spots, theatrical trailers, missing scenes from the European version, video interview with stuntman Erik Cord, still photo gallery from original color slides & negatives, media gallery, and scenes from the uncompleted sequel, Warrior Women.
Scenes from an unfinished sequel?! Wow! I can't wait for this disc! It hits shelves June 18 and retails for $19.99, though it can be pre-ordered from Amazon at a substantial discount.
Read my review of Wonder Women here.

Thanks to Bob for the heads-up on this!

May 28, 2013

Tradecraft: Henry Cavill Is the Latest Actor Mooted for Napoleon Solo

Man of Steel star Henry Cavill, who screentested for the role of James Bond in 2005, is the latest actor to be linked to the role of Napoleon Solo in Warner Bros.' Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, Deadline reports. Tom Cruise exited the project, which is being directed by Guy Ritchie, last week. Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger, The Social Network) is still attached to play Illya Kuryakin. Robert Vaughn and David McCallum originated the roles of Solo and Kuryakin on the Sixties TV show. Before you become too attached to the idea of Cavill (The Cold Light of Day) as Solo, however, consider how many actors have been linked to this part over the past few years whose deals never came to fruition. Cavill certainly seems more age-appropriate to the role as portrayed on TV, however! Man, I just want to see this movie get made....

Who Will Direct the Next Bond Movie?

There have been a lot of rumors swirling around who will direct Bond 24 over the past week or so. Last week, The Daily Mail's Baz Bamigboye got the ball rolling by reporting that producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were meeting with Christopher Nolan. While any rumors originating from UK tabloids can (and should) usually be taken with an enormous grain of salt, Mr. Bamigboye seems to be the exception. He's got an excellent track record when it comes to spy movies in particular, and has in the past scooped the trades with items that proved to be true on productions like Skyfall, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Page 8. Personally, I've got faith in him. But furthermore, what he's reporting in this case is basically a no-brainer: simply that the producers are meeting with Nolan. That seems natural. Frankly, they'd be crazy not to! Nolan, one of the most successful directors working, wears his Bond fandom on his sleeve (many of his movies, including The Dark Knight and Inception, contain direct allusions to 007), and has stated his desire to direct a Bond on many occasions. But his dance card is also full for the immediate future, directing the sci-fi adventure Interstellar.

Today two trades owned by the same company are reporting conflicting stories about a Bond 24 director. Variety insists that Skyfall director Sam Mendes has officially passed on the project, which he himself reiterated frequently a few months ago. That trade reports that the Bond producers have been in talks with (or at least considering) Nicholas Wending Refn (Drive), Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Tom Hooper (Les Miserables, The King's Speech), David Yates (State of Play, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) and Shane Black (Iron Man Three, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). Yates feels like the most traditional Bondian fit of that batch (and his miniseries State of Play remains among the best television of this century), but any of them would be interesting. Les Miserables was my second favorite movie of last year after Skyfall, but I'm not sure I can picture Hooper directing 007 though. My own top choice remains Tom Tykwer, but his name isn't coming up on these lists despite his frequent collaborations with the current Q!

Deadline, meanwhile, reports that Mendes is back in the mix. In fact, the trade blog makes him sound like the frontrunner. He seems to have gotten over his post-Skyfall exhaustion (when he claimed he couldn't even think about plunging into another all-consuming Bond production), so the main remaining hurdles were his theater commitments (to a musical version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and a new production of "King Lear") and, according to Deadline, Broccoli and Wilson have "decided to wait for him to work through those other commitments, and he’s now making a deal to start production probably next year." Well, I'm okay with waiting until early next year. But I don't know if I can take another 4-year gap between Bond films! So hopefully they get things moving quickly. As previously reported, Skyfall co-writer John Logan is penning the script for Bond 24.

May 26, 2013

Tradecraft: More Transporter Movies Coming!

It was EuropaCorp's Transporter movies starring Jason Statham that ushered in the whole Neo-Eurospy Age. From their success came further mid-budget action movies with European locations (and money) and Hollywood stars with careers in need of reviving, including From Paris With LoveLockout, Erased and, of course, the mega-hit Taken movies. But now it looks like the original is coming back! Variety reports (via Dark Horizons) that Luc Besson's EuropaCorp has struck a deal with China's Fundamental Films to co-produce not one but three more entries in the Transporter series! What's not known right now, unfortunately, is whether or not star Jason Statham will reprise his role as Frank Martin. (Frank Martin is not a spy, but a professional "transporter," yet he manages to have adventures filled with enough daffy action to rival Roger Moore's James Bond.) Since 2008's Transporter 3 (review here), Chris Vance (Burn Notice) has stepped into the role for a TV version of the character. The show has already aired in Europe (and is on DVD there), but has yet to be seen on Cinemax here in the United States. So will the new trilogy star Statham, Vance, or someone else? That remains to be seen.

What is known, according to the trade, is that "one of the three installments will likely lens in China, qualifying it as a French-Chinese co-production." Together, Luc Besson's EuropaCorp and Fundamental will finance the new films, each of which "will be budgeted in the $30 million to $40 million range." Fundamental will distribute in China. Fox, who distributed the first two pictures in most territories, has a first-look option on the new trilogy, while Lionsgate, who handled the third one, has a second-look. No director has been hired yet. Personally, with the Chinese connection, I would like to see Hong Kong director Corey Yuen, who co-directed the first film with Louis Leterrier and choreographed the first two, return to the fold. (His Hong Kong spy flick So Close is tremendous fun.) But the most essential ingredient is undoubtedly Statham! I hope they get him signed ASAP.

May 25, 2013

Tradecraft: Cruise Quits U.N.C.L.E.

I can't believe Deadline actually labels this story as a "shocker." Given the development history of this movie version of the Sixties TV classic, it pretty much seemed preordained. But the trade blog reports that Tom Cruise has dropped out of Guy Ritchie's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He's the latest in a parade of high-profile actors seeking to fill the shoes of Robert Vaughn to either leave the project (like George Clooney), pass on it (Matt Damon, Bradley Cooper), or be passed over by the studio despite the director's wishes (Channing Tatum, Joel Kinnaman). I can't help but picture the massive bodybuilder Ingo from "The Alexander the Greater Affair" picking up each of these would-be Solos and carrying them bodily out of the room as he does to Vaughn in that episode.

Just last week we were hearing that Cruise might shoot both the U.N.C.L.E. movie and a fifth Mission: Impossible movie back-to-back this year. But, crucially, despite extended negotiations, it had never been announced by Warner Bros. nor Cruise's camp that the actor had actually, officially signed onto the project. (Whereas Paramount issued a press release earlier this month touting his commitment to M:I-5.) And therein lies the rub, according to The Hollywood Reporter, who report that Cruise was able to drop out because "his deal never closed." Both trades lay the blame on the tight scheduling of the two Sixties TV-based tentpoles. While it would have been conceivable to shoot both movies back-to-back were he simply starring, Deadline reports that Cruise has been very active behind the scenes on the Mission: Impossible films (which he also produces), and he likely wanted time to prepare elaborate stunt sequences to rival the awe-inspiring Burj Khalifa sequence in Ghost Protocol.

Where does this leave The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? The Hollywood Reporter asserts that Armie Hammer remains firmly attached to play Illya Kuryakin (the role originated by David McCallum on the TV show), and that Swedish actress Alicia Vikander remains in talks to play the female lead. Deadline claims that Warner will now "go hard" looking for another A-lister to take Cruise's place. Go hard? Gee, I thought that's what they'd been doing for the past several years! But I'm glad that for now the project appears to be holding together. I hope they secure a new lead quickly, lest it all fall apart again. I still want to see this movie happen! Cruise didn't seem like a good fit to me for Napoleon Solo, and it seemed unfair that he topline two different series derived from revered Sixties spy shows. But I did appreciate that his attachment guaranteed a start date. I'd be thrilled if director Guy Ritchie ends up roping in his Sherlock Holmes star Robert Downey Jr., as Downey has conquered most genres by this point but still doesn't have a spy movie under his belt. Or perhaps someone will finally realize that it's been Jon Hamm they should have gone to all along... Hopefully we'll hear something soon, because Deadline reports that the studio is still aiming to start shooting by the fall.

May 24, 2013

Movie Review: Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966)

Harry Levin and Arduino Maiuri’s Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (produced by the prolific Dino De Laurentiis) is another one of those Eurospy movies like Deadlier Than the Male or Hammerhead with a slightly higher budget than usual, making it a good stepping stone from the glossy world of James Bond into the decidedly less polished (but no less entertaining) world of European Bond knock-offs. (It was one of the first ones I ever saw, the bootleg being relatively easy to come by.) It’s even got a hero likely to be familiar to American TV viewers: Joe Mannix himself, Mike “Touch” Connors. Connors makes a great spy hero, in fact, and it’s a shame he didn’t play the role more often. Adding to his likability here, as CIA agent Kelly (“Just ‘Kelly’”), is his amusing affinity for bananas. Kelly helps himself to the tasty fruit at every opportunity, stealing one off the back of a truck that picks him up, pocketing another from a fruit bowl at an embassy function, and helping himself to another from the room of a beautiful woman he’s just saved from death by scorpion sting. He even manages to use the peel from one in the film’s climactic battle!

But bananas or not, this isn’t Connors’ film alone. Adding to its appeal is a top-notch ensemble cast. All-American beauty Dorothy Provine (One Spy Too Many) might seem like an odd choice to play British secret agent Susan Fleming, but her appeal in the role is undeniable. Scene-stealing Raf Vallone is fantastic as the smooth villain Ardonian. This script affords him lots more opportunities to chew scenery than he had in The Italian Job, and here he seizes all of them! But even he doesn’t walk away with the movie. No, the most memorable part turns out to belong to Terry-Thomas, who steals the show as Provine’s unflappable stiff-upper-lip chauffeur, James, whose duties include a bit more than just driving. (Confusingly, Thomas also plays another, smaller role in the film, that of Lord Aldric, who dies in the opening scene.)

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die also features what might well be the best gadget car of the Sixties spy cycle this side of 007’s DB5. The Rolls Royce that James drives our heroes around in offers every possible amenity. It has shields that slide into place protecting someone in the rear driver’s side seat from someone in the rear passenger side seat. It has a GPS tracker... from the days before GPS was a thing. It has a built-in drinks station that swivels into place at tea time with an already-steaming pot for Susan. When Kelly says he’d prefer a Scotch, James presses a button and a minibar appears, Scotch poured. It even adds a spritzer of soda. But when Kelly sips it, he chastises, “James, this is whiskey!” To which a flummoxed James responds, “Really, sir? I’ll have to speak to the mechanic about that!” But the car’s best surprise is its elaborate camouflage system, which I don’t dare spoil as it’s one of the delights of watching the film to discover it in action. All told, it’s no wonder that James spends as much time polishing this impressive vehicle as he does. (“How long does it take to turn out a chauffeur like you?” Ardonian asks him, to which the driver replies, “Oh, not long, sir. Just four to five generations.”) Or that, when Kelly parks his own clunky jalopy next to it, James gives him a withering look prompting Kelly to quip, “Your car doesn't object to being next to my car, does it?” (“Have you had it inoculated?” demands Thomas.) It’s a truly great spy car.

Clearly, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die has a sense of humor. (When Kelly discovers that Susan is also an agent, they engage in their own miniature arms race, revealing gadget after gadget on their persons.) It’s also got the requisite sense of the absurd for this subgenre. The villain’s plan is ambitious enough for Moonraker’s Hugo Drax (or perhaps screenwriter Christopher Wood) to later copy, but even he leaves out the best part—the motivation. Like Drax, Ardonian plots to launch toxins derived from a rare orchid at Earth from outer space, thus rendering all the men on Earth sterile. While Drax plans to repopulate the planet with a race of supermen, Ardonian hopes to repopulate the planet himself! He will be the only potent man left in the world, and he’s frozen a cadre of beautiful women in suspended animation for him to breed with. (His relationship with the female sex is complex and unhealthy, to say the least.)

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die takes place entirely in Brazil, and as in any Brazil-set Eurospy movie worth its salt (there were quite a few of them, for some reason*), Rio’s famous statue of Christ the Redeemer makes its presence known. But it’s not just seen in grainy stock footage aerials here. No, Kelly actually has a fight scene inside and on top of the statue, before climbing from the Savior’s head onto a waiting helicopter!

My only real complaint about the film is the ending. For the most part, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die manages to function as both a spoof and an action movie the viewer is legitimately invested in, a feat not even the Flint films managed to pull off. But in the final moments, the directors make a decision to play up the comedy at the expense of the story, and a deus ex machina played for laughs sadly undermines all the actual suspense they've managed to build. Still, that one small oversight aside, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die offers pretty much everything you could ask for from a first-rate Eurospy movie (once you get past the silly and somewhat incongruous opening): exotic locations, thrilling action, beautiful ladies aplenty (including genre stalwart Margaret Lee, unfortunately wasted in a bit part), killer piranha, deadly scorpions, genuine comic relief, fantastic gadgets, outlandish mod attire, an appealing hero, a dastardly villain, and lots of bananas. And I bet you never even realized that you craved bananas in your Eurospy formula, did you? Watch Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die and you’ll see why.

Sadly, that’s easier said than done. This title has yet to turn up on DVD, and that kind of surprises me. With the well-known star, well-known producer and relatively high production values, I would have expected it to be one of the more likely Eurospy titles to get released—if not on DVD, then at least as a made-on-demand disc. If Columbia still controls the rights, then they need to release a nice, widescreen print as part of their MOD program ASAP. (They’ve done a good job with their Sixties spy catalog for the most part.) And if someone else owns the rights now (De Laurentiis’ company?), then they need to strike a deal with Redemption or Severin or Scorpion or one of those specialty labels. This is one of a couple of Eurospy movies that can boast Quentin Tarantino having called it his favorite, which should make nice copy for the front cover further enticing someone to put it out. Until then, unless they get the rare opportunity to see it in a revival theater, spy fans are stuck with a low quality bootleg.

*Perhaps the country offered good tax incentives. Whatever the case, other Eurospy movies set in Brazil include OSS 117: Furia a Bahia (review), Dick Smart 2.007, That Man From Rio and Ring Around the World (review). All of them lent inspiration to the 2009 genre spoof OSS 117: Lost in Rio (review).

May 23, 2013

R.I.P. Steve Forrest

Steve Forrest, the two-fisted, square-jawed star of ITC's The Baron, has passed away. He was 87. Forrest was one of the American actors imported to star on Sixties adventure shows for Lew Grade's UK production company ITC in order to make the series more appealing to the U.S. market. (To some degree, that worked; The Baron aired on ABC in the United States.) While he never seemed completely comfortable in the role of urbane antiques dealer-cum-sometime secret agent John Mannering, Forrest (who was the brother of film noir and Eurospy star Dana Andrews) used his American-ness to full advantage to stand out in the crowded ITC stable that included suave stars like Roger Moore, Patrick McGoohan and Peter Wyngarde. As the Baron, he also got to drive one of the cooler cars on an ITC series, a snazzy Jensen CV8 MkII. Forrest had the distinction of being one of the few TV spy stars to cross over between the UK's televised espionage factory ITC and the American spy shows of the era when he guest starred on a memorable sixth season episode of Mission: Impossible and on the episode of Burke's Law that introduced Honey West, America's answer to Cathy Gale. In most circles, he was probably more famous for his non-spy roles, including appearances in The Longest Day (with Sean Connery), The Manions of America (with Pierce Brosnan), Dallas and, most notably, as the star of the 1975-76 ABC cop show S.W.A.T. (His final screen appearance was a cameo in the 2003 movie version of that series, starring Samuel L. Jackson.) But he returned to the spy genre in the Eighties as General Sline in the Chevy Chase send-up Spies Like Us. The Baron also spawned a movie in certain territories, The Man in the Looking Glass, but it was simply a two-parter from the TV show spliced together for theatrical release, a common ITC practice. For spy fans, however, Steve Forrest will always be remembered as a genuine ITC hero--The Baron. He will be missed.

Read my review of The Baron here.

May 20, 2013

Tradecraft: Olga Kurylenko Signs Up For Even More Spying

The girl can't stop spying! Hot on the heels of joining Pierce Brosnan in The November Man, former Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko has attached herself to another spy movie as well. And this one also features a male star with James Bond connections. Screen Daily reports (via Dark Horizons) that Kurylenko will star in the Cold War spy thriller Despite The Falling Snow alongside German TV star Maria Furtwangler and the great Charles Dance, who has played both a Bond baddie (in For Your Eyes Only), and 007 creator Ian Fleming (in Goldeneye: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming). According to the trade, "Kurylenko is set to play an enigmatic female spy who falls in love with an idealistic politician. The action will move between 1950s and present day Moscow and London." As she did on her first feature, The World Unseen, Shamim Sarif will adapt her own novel and direct. Morten Søborg, who recently shot Brosnan in the the beautifully filmed Love is All You Need (a much better movie than its generic title would have you believe, by the way) will serve as Director of Photography. Shooting is expected to begin mid-October. Olga Kurylenko can currently be seen spying in Erased opposite Aaron Eckhart.

Secret Agent Spoofs on TCM Tonight

Set your DVRs: Turner Classic Movies has a great lineup of Sixties spy movies tonight! Spy spoofs to be exact. The fun starts at 8PM with James Coburn in Our Man Flint, followed by a pair of Matt Helm flicks, The Silencers and Murderers' Row (the latter being best of that series, in my opinion), Carry On Spying, and the two Vincent Price parodies, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine and Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs. So it's a very silly night of spying. In my opinion, every one of those movies are worth watching, though the actual quality varies quite a bit. Girl Bombs, in particular, is rather horrible, even though it's directed by one of the all-time masters of the craft, Mario Bava. The U.S. cut airing on TCM, however, is not very representative of Bava's work, as it differs considerably from his Italian cut, which actually served as a sequel to an entirely different movie. (Read more about that here.) But the first Dr. Goldfoot film is really quite enjoyable! The only downside is that there are no real rarities in this batch; all of these titles are available on DVD. But despite owning them all, I have a feeling I'm going to find myself sucked into this marathon tonight nonetheless! It serves as a terrific primer to the sillier side of the genre. For more information, check TCM's excellent website, which has incredibly in-depth and informative write-ups on each individual title.

May 18, 2013

SuperSeven Contest Winners

Thanks to everyone who entered. The chance to win DVD sets of the action-packed and hilarious Eurospy send-up web series The Adventures of SuperSeven proved to be one of the most popular contests ever on the Double O Section! Of course, that means the odds were slimmer than ever. So a big congratulations to our three winners:

Nathan C.
Francesco V.
Laurie B. 

I will be in touch with each of you by email, and your discs will be mailed out next week. For everyone else, you can still purchase this amazing 5-disc set packed with extras from the SuperSeven website. And remember to check back on the Double O Section regularly! We'll have another great spy contest coming up pretty soon.

May 17, 2013

Contest Winners Coming Late Tonight

I know I promised to post the names of the SuperSeven contest winners today, but it looks like I'll be delayed in posting until late tonight, possibly after midnight. Apologies for the delay. Check back then!

Olga Kurylenko Signs on for Pierce Brosnan Spy Movie November Man (Updated)

The November Man (or possibly just "November Man" with no "The," depending on what source you trust), Pierce Brosnan's return to the world of spying (and potential second spy franchise in a perfect world!) is one of the projects on the horizon that I'm most excited about. But because it's being financed independently, I live in fear that it will fall through, and the longer we go without hearing any substantial news on the project, the more I start to fear. Luckily, my fears are pretty much allayed today! Because the project has an actual start date... and it's next week! According to Deadline, "shooting starts May 20 on the story of an ex-CIA operative who’s pitted against his former pupil in a race to find a woman who holds the key to an international conspiracy." Furthermore, the trade blog confirms what Contact Music first reported a few weeks ago: that former Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko is teaming up with the former Bond star. That's pretty cool! The November Man has long been a passion project for Brosnan (he's been trying to make it since at least 2005), so the solid start date must have made a great birthday present for the actor, who turned 60 this week.

The November Man, better known as Devereaux, is the hero of 13 books by Bill Granger. Strangely enough, this movie is not based on Granger’s 1979 novel of that title (the first in the Deveraux series), but on his 1986 entry (the seventh in the series), There Are No Spies. Roger Donaldson (no stranger to spies, having previously helmed The Bank Job and The Recruit) directs, and screenwriters Michael Finch (Predators) and Karl Gajdusek (Last Resort) penned the adaptation. Donaldson and Brosnan previously collaborated on Dante's Peak. I've never read any of Granger's books (which are sadly out of print), and I definitely need to rectify that before this movie comes out!

Brosnan, for his part, seems quite keen to return to the genre for which he's most famous. "I shall jump back into that arena," he excitedly told WENN (via Contact Music) while doing publicity for his latest movie, Love is All You Need. "I think there's ... room on the stage for another spy! Daniel [Craig] can't have it all to himself. My co-star is a lovely actress called Olga Kurylenko, who seems to be going through leading men like hot dinners. She started with Daniel Craig and she's gonna end up with Brosnan! She's a gorgeous actress, beautiful woman. She's in and it's the older spy, younger spy."

Dominic Cooper, who's playing Ian Fleming in the upcoming miniseries Fleming, was previously attached to this film as well, but it's unclear if he's still involved at this point. [UPDATE: It looks like he's out. Variety reports that the role he was set to play has been filled by Luke Bracey, an Australian actor who played Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe: Retaliation.) Brosnan will next be seen spying in The Coup, opposite Owen Wilson.

May 16, 2013

Reminder: Last Day to Enter Contest to Win SuperSeven DVDs!

Today is the last day to enter the contest to win the 5-disc set of SuperSeven DVDs. If you haven't entered, do so by midnight tonight! SuperSeven is a fantastic web series that pays homage to the Eurospy movies and Italian superhero movies of the 1960s. Eurospy fans should definitely check it out! Click here for full details on how to enter.

Tradecraft: Tom Cruise to Shoot Both The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible 5 This Year?

The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that Tom Cruise "will star in and produce Mi5 and is expected to shoot the movie in the fall after filming Warner Bros.' The Man From U.N.C.L.E." (I'm pretty sure that's their own abbreviation for Mission: Impossible 5 and not any official nomenclature.) The trade also asserts that Jack Reacher writer/director Christopher McQuarrie is indeed still in talks to direct Cruise's fifth Mission, even if Drew Pearce has been signed to write it. I still can't believe that Cruise is now toplining two different film franchises based on classic Sixties spy series! It seems like some sort of conflict of interest or something. But I'm nonetheless delighted that these two movies may well shot this year, and presumably both come out in 2014! That will make next year quite a year for spy fans.

May 15, 2013

Tradecraft: Duncan Jones' Ian Fleming Biopic Gathers Steam

It's been a while since we heard any updates on Moon director Duncan Jones' Ian Fleming biopic, Fleming. In the interim, Jones has signed on to direct the mega-budget videogame adaptation World of Warcraft, and Sky Atlantic has commissioned a four-part miniseries about the James Bond creator also titled Fleming. (That one stars Dominic Cooper.) I'd feared that either one of those developments might have meant that the Jones feature was dead in the water, but apparently not! Deadline reports that French production company Le Pacte has come on board to co-finance the film, which has the official blessing of the Ian Fleming estate. According to the trade blog, "casting has begun with a plan to start production this year." This year? Wow! So I guess Jones will fit it in before he embarks on World of Warcraft! And fans will get two glossy Fleming-based productions in the span of a year--one theatrical, and one on television! It's all very exciting. Jones is writing the script with Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction), based on Andrew Lycett’s excellent 1997 biography Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond (which is apparently getting an update this October).

Tradecraft: CBS Picks Up Intelligence

CBS has officially picked up the spy pilot Intelligence to series. No relation to the Canadian series of the same name, this Intelligence stars Josh Holloway (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol). Basically, it looks like Chuck played straight. Or, as co-star Marg Helgenberger puts it, "It's James Bond meets Frankenstein meets Mission: Impossble." Well, that description certainly has my attention! "It's The Six Million Dollar Man for the Information Age," adds Executive Producer René Echevarria, and that kind of sounds a bit more accurate. Holloway plays a secret agent who has a microchip implanted in his brain that gives him the power to do basically everything, from the looks of this trailer. Hm, I don't know... I like Holloway, so I'll give it the benefit of the doubt, but his powers look ridiculously over-the-top. I was never a Green Lantern fan because his superpower was also basically unlimited. But at least the stuff he pulled out of thin air had to be green! Still, "James Bond meets Frankenstein?" That does sound pretty cool. Intelligence debuts mid-season on Mondays at 10. Here's the behind-the-scenes trailer.

Tradecraft: Iron Man 3 Writer Signs On for Mission: Impossible 5

Deadline reports that Iron Man 3 co-writer Drew Pearce (who's also attached to another Robert Downey Jr. threequel, Sherlock Holmes 3) has signed on to script the next Mission: Impossible movie. I guess this means that the rumors that Jack Reacher scribe Christopher McQuarrie would write and direct proved false—perhaps due to his recent commitment to Warner's Ice Station Zebra remake. Pearce created the UK sitcom No Heroics, and also co-penned this summer's Guillermo del Toro extravaganza Pacific Rim. As previously reported, Tom Cruise is already attached to reprise his Ethan Hunt role.

May 14, 2013

Full-Length Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Trailer!

At their upfront presentation today, ABC unvelied a new three-minute trailer for their Joss Whedon-produced fall TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., based on the Marvel spy comic. And it looks way better than this weekend's brief teaser! In fact, it looks pretty incredible. (I love the typically Whedon-ish bit calling out the preposterous acronym.) Check it out!

And for a full introduction to S.H.I.E.L.D. and its history, read my "S.H.I.E.L.D. primer" here.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will air Tuesdays at 8 on ABC, starting this fall.

May 13, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV Show Officially Picked Up by ABC

Who would have thought when the David Hasselhoff TV movie Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. aired that fifteen years later we'd actually see an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show on a major network? But it's true! ABC has officially greenlit the Joss Whedon-produced series spun out of the world of Marvel's big screen movies. This teaser doesn't really reveal too much, and sadly it isn't particularly impressive. And I'm a little concerned by Agent Coulson's declaration that "it's not just spy versus spy anymore." (There better be some aspect of spy versus spy!) But I'll wait until the fall to pass any judgment. Right now, I'm just super excited that there will really be an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show!!! And I'm really hoping that Agent Coulson's Corvette can fly. At least I hope there's some little nod to the classic S.H.I.E.L.D. comics of Jim Steranko. I'd love to see this show play like MI-5 with super-science. We shall see this fall! If all this is Greek to you, or if you just need a refresher on Marvel's answer to U.N.C.L.E., read my complete S.H.I.E.L.D. primer here.

May 10, 2013

CONTEST: Win The Adventures of SuperSeven on DVD

Yesterday I urged readers to support the terrific web series The Adventures of SuperSeven on Kickstarter. I still urge that. (There's now a day and a half left in their campaign.) And if you haven't yet checked out this action-packed Sixties spy parody on YouTube, and you prefer watching things on your big TV, then here's your chance. I have three DVD sets to give away of The Adventures of SuperSeven 5-disc set, containing the series' first 28 episodes along with with bonus material including blooper reels, interviews, photos galleries and music videos. (If you don't win, you can order the DVD set here. It's a bargain at $19.95!)
To enter to win this DVD set, all you need to do is send me an email with the subject heading "SUPERSEVEN CONTEST" including your name and mailing address by 11:59 PM, Pacific Time on Thursday, May 16, 2013.* The winner will be announced next Friday, May 17. And remember to support SuperSeven on Kickstarter!

*The Fine Print: One entry per person, please. Double entries will be disqualified. One prize-winner will be drawn at random and announced on Friday, May 17, 2013. The winner's first name will be posted here and he or she will be notified via email. All entries will be deleted immediately after the contest’s close, and no personal information will be retained or transmitted to any third parties. This contest is open to anyone, in any country, but foreign readers should note that these are Region 1 NTSC DVDs and be sure they have the proper equipment for playback. Unfortunately, the Double O Section cannot assume responsibility for items lost or damaged in transit.

Trailer for The East

There's a new espionage thriller coming out in a few weeks from Fox that's managed to fly under my radar for a while. In The East, Brit Marling stars as an operative for a private intelligence firm who goes undercover with an eco-terrorist group and finds her loyalties torn. Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Julia Ormond and Patricia Clarkson co-star. The East opens on May 31. Check out the trailer:

Tradecraft: 24 to Return to TV?

Ever since 24 went off the air in 2010 (was it really that long ago???), Kiefer Sutherland & Co. have been trying to revisit his iconic character, CTU agent Jack Bauer, in a feature film. I was really looking forward to seeing that. I felt that the real-time format of the TV show had grown tired (though it really bounced back in its final season), but the character was way too good to let go. Therefore, spinning him off into a film series seemed ideal. Well, that never happened, sadly. But there's good news for Bauer boosters yet! In a surprising move, Deadline reports that 24 may see new life on television... as a miniseries! (Or, as they call them today, as a "limited series event.") The trade blog reports that Fox, having cancelled Sutherland's most recent series, Touch, is keen on reviving 24 as a limited series. I like that plan, too. Jack Bauer's adventures don't have to take a whole day to conclude. Surely some terrorist threats are solvable in 6 or 8 hours? But if it's only 8 episodes, will the title have to change? (Unlikely.) Granted, there's no word yet on whether or not the new version would even retain the original show's real-time gimmick at all. I'd be totally cool with seeing Bauer taking on terrorists in a more traditional format. Like I say, it's the character that appeals to me, not necessarily the gimmick. Longtime 24 showrunner Howard Gordon has gone on to have all sorts of TV success since the show ended, including producing the amazing, amazing spy drama Homeland and executive producing the upcoming TNT spy series Legends. According to Deadline, it was Gordon who hatched the latest comeback plan and pitched it to Fox. All of this is not only surprising, but pretty darn awesome. I love that the TV model has changed so much that an American series can return a few years after it goes off the air in a slightly different format. I'd love to see 24 miniseries of varying lengths come on every couple of years. They really would be events, like the network wants, and we wouldn't get burnt out on them. (I got burnt out on the regular-length seasons around 4 or 5, and found that there were often only 12 good hours in a Bauer day anyway.) And who knows? Maybe the renewed exposure will put the film version back on track, too. But Jack Bauer is too great a character to fade away.

May 9, 2013

Support the SuperSeven Kickstarter in Its Final Week!

Do you watch the fantastic web series The Adventures of SuperSeven? If not, you really should! It's likely to appeal to just about anyone reading this blog. SuperSeven is a parody of and homage to not only Sixties Eurospy movies, but also that very specific subgenre of them that I identify as "costumed adventurer" movies (better known in some circles as fumettis), those movies where the Eurospy heroes wear masks. And skin-tight costumes. Movies like Fantastic Argoman and Flashman, to name two of the most must-see examples. But The Adventures of SuperSeven certainly isn't limited to those flicks! In any given week, you might catch multiple nods to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or The Prisoner (really, Prisoner fans, be sure you check out the wonderfully bizarre SuperSeven homage "The Captive!") or any number of other examples of Sixties pop culture at its poppiest or most obscure. SuperSeven makes the most of its shoestring budget, boasting shockingly high production values in the form of nifty spy props and gadgets, hilarious performances that perfectly capture the essence of the era, bevies of beautiful women, and, perhaps best of all, tremendous fights and stunts performed and coordinated by some of the best stuntmen and stuntwomen in the business. (Yes, most of the cast as well as creator Scott Rhodes are professionals, and it definitely shows!)

But a shoestring can only go so far, and now Rhodes and his team are seeking an extremely modest goal to help fund the next season of Sixties spyjinx and shenanigans. That's where you come in. I've never shilled for a Kickstarter before, but I firmly believe that this one is a very worthy project to contribute to. Check out some of the episodes if you haven't seen them already, and if you're a Eurospy fan, I think you'll probably agree. (I happen to know for a fact that SuperSeven is a favorite among actual-factual, real-life spies in at least one branch of the Intelligence Community, which is pretty high praise... and shows that spooks do have a sense of humor.) But do it soon! There are only three days left in this campaign. Please visit Kickstarter and support this fantastic web series!

Support The Adventures of SuperSeven here!

And if you need further encouragement, check back tomorrow for a terrific SuperSeven contest!

May 8, 2013

Tradecraft: More U.N.C.L.E. Casting

So is this Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie finally really happening? It kind of looks that way! Despite a lack of any official announcement from rumored star Tom Cruise or studio Warner Bros., the trades continue to report on potential casting for Guy Ritchie's film version of the classic 1960s spy show. The Hollywood Reporter reports that A Royal Affair star Alicia Vikander is "in negotiations" for the female lead in the film. At 25, she seems too young to be a romantic interest for 50-year-old Cruise, so maybe she'll be flirting with Illya Kurakin (Armie Hammer) instead of Napoleon Solo? The trade reports that the actress will be playing an original character, and not one from the series or its spinoff, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. According to THR, "Vikander will play a British agent who has a thing for cars." That's all we know. What I want to know most about this production are 1.) who is writing it? Are they using the Scott Z. Burns draft that Steven Soderbergh was working from when he was attached to direct, or is there a new script? And 2.) is it still set in the Sixties, like the Soderbergh/Burns version? I sure hope so!

May 7, 2013

Tradecraft: Cruise Officially Accepts Another Mission; McQuarrie Boards Ice Station Zebra Remake

Deadline reports that Tom Cruise has officially signed on for Mission: Impossible 5—or whatever they end up calling it. That's certainly not a surprising development (especially considering that the last entry, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, set franchise records by grossing almost $700 million worldwide, and garnered some of the series' best reviews), but it does make things official. We already knew that Paramount was keen to do another one, and last we heard frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (who wrote and directed the Cruise vehicle Jack Reacher) was the top choice to direct. But there's been no official announcement confirming McQuarrie's involvement, and indeed another story in today's trades calls it into question. According to The Hollywood Reporter, McQuarrie has just signed on to take on another iconic Sixties spy title—Warner Bros.' previously announced Ice Station Zebra remake. (The busy writer/director has also long been linked to a third spy project, Paramount's Tom Clancy reboot focusing on the black ops specialist John Clark.) Last we'd heard about that project (which was over a year ago), David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) was writing with an eye to direct, but things must have changed because the trade reports that McQuarrie will now handle both those duties. The original Ice Station Zebra, based on the Alistair MacLean novel, marked a rare starring role in a feature film of that era for consummate Sixties TV secret agent Patrick McGoohan (alongside Jim Brown, Ernest Borgnine and Rock Hudson). Its plot was heavily steeped in the Cold War, and today's trade story makes no mention of whether this new version will retain the period setting or update it, but I would guess the latter. The trade does speculate, however, that "the deal may impact the development of Paramount's Mission: Impossible 5, which McQuarrie is rumored to be the favorite to direct. Cruise is back to star in the action tentpole but there is no clear timetable for either movie project." Well, whoever ends up helming the next Mission: Impossible movie, my primary hope remains that he or she maintains the bright palette and clearly-filmed action sequences Brad Bird brought to the franchise in Ghost Protocol (far and away my favorite of the film series)... and most of all that they continue the closer connection to the TV show established in that installment! (Including the emphasis being on a team rather than an individual agent.) Today's story makes no mention of whether any of Cruise's Ghost Protocol costars were on board, but I really hope to see them all come back.

Meanwhile, as we heard last week, Cruise also remains attached to another movie based on a classic Sixties spy TV show, Warner Bros.' The Man From U.N.C.L.E. But there's still been no official announcement confirming his involvement in that one.

May 6, 2013

Tradecraft: Page Eight Becomes a Trilogy... With a Killer Cast

We knew that Bill Nighy was keen to do a sequel to David Hare's superior 2011 TV spy thriller Page Eight, but we've heard very little on that front for a while now. I was about to give up hope when today news came (from Deadline) that there would be not one, but two sequels to form "The Worricker Trilogy." Nighy and Hare are both returning, the former reprising his role as MI5 officer Johnny Worricker and the latter once again writing and directing. As with the first film, which co-starred Michael Gambon, Rachel Weiscz, Judy Davis and Ralph Fiennes, Hare has lined up stellar casts for his follow-ups. According to the trade blog, Skyfall's Fiennes and Strike Back's Ewan Bremner will reprise their Page Eight roles in the second movie, Turks & Caicos, joined by Christopher Walken (A View to a Kill), Winona Ryder, Helena Bonham Carter (who has, amazingly, never made a spy movie before, I don't think), Dylan Baker (The Tailor of Panama), Zach Grenier (24) and James Naughton. Then Page Eight's Judy Davis, Kate Burdette and Saskia Reeves will return for the third film, Salting the Battlefield, as will Fiennes, Bremner and Bonham-Carter, joined by Casino Royale's Malcolm Sinclair.

Deadline also provides a few details on the plots of these sequels, but they contain mild spoilers for the first movie, so if you haven't seen Page Eight yet, go ahead and do so! If you have, then you'll remember that its conclusion found Worricker leaving both the service and the country, heading off to Turks & Caicos. But if he thinks he's out of the spy business, he's quickly proven wrong. In Turks & Caicos, he runs afoul of the CIA, who force him "to deal with a group of ambiguous Americans who are on the islands for a high-level conference." Meanwhile, "an old girlfriend is being asked to betray her boss in London in order to establish an illicit connection between the prime minister (Fiennes) and dark goings-on in the war on terror." The final entry, Salting The Battlefield, finds Worricker and that old girlfriend together on the run from MI5 "until Worricker returns home to confront the prime minister in a duel of wits." I'm so thrilled to learn we'll see more of Johnny Worricker! I love smart spy television of this nature, and the Brits do it better than anyone. I'm just a little disappointed that there's no mention of Rachel Weiscz reprising her role.

May 3, 2013

CIA Reviews of Spy Books and Movies

In a fascinating piece for The Telegraph, Dead Spy Running author Jon Stock reports on an internal CIA newsletter that publishes reviews by serving Agency officers of popular spy fiction, films and television. (Read an all-review issue from 2009 here.) I found it particularly fascinating to read a pseudonymous CIA psychologist's highly perceptive take on the neo-Eurospy flick Taken (excerpted below) in which she finds some surprisingly relatable content in a ridiculously heightened reality.
Although based on unrealistic operational and relationship scenarios (most of us are not granted the opportunity to fix our damaged family relationships by becoming a one-time hero), the movie touches upon the hidden and quite common fantasy that a person can remedy significant family upheavals resulting from challenging and time-consuming careers or other distractions by ironically employing unique work-related knowledge and skills to rescue the estranged loved ones. Furthermore, Hollywood’s propensity to glorify the world of espionage as dangerously sexy—but hidden from most people living mundane lives—appeals to our fantasies on another level. While at times the world of espionage is indeed both dangerous and exciting, our loved ones tend to find our opaque and mysterious work unpredictable and frustrating—even if in real life our work and the skills we employ are often not all that far removed from those employed by ordinary people in ordinary, fully transparent jobs. In this sense the price Neeson’s character pays in his personal life refers to very real dangers to relationships caused by a covert lifestyle, not to wildly overimagined operational dangers portrayed in the movie.

In the end, therefore, Taken indulges us with fantastic tradecraft, dangerous psychopathic villains, and epic operations and portrayals of awed and grateful family members that have very little connection to reality, yet are very fun to imagine.
The most interesting takeaway for me was how positive most of these reviews are. I would have expected people actually engaged in the business of intelligence to be dismissive and derisive of fantasies like The Bourne Identity, Burn Notice, or Anthony Horowitz's premiere Alex Rider novel, Stormbreaker. But the CIA reviewers enjoyed all of those. Less surprising are their takes on The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (read my own review here) and The Hunt For Red October. (There's also a humorous piece in which a number of recent trainees fresh off The Farm review The Recruit. They aren't all so positive.) Anyway, the journal offers a fascinating point of view on popular spy fiction, and is well worth checking out.

And speaking of contemporary spy authors writing about le Carré, you can also read Olen Steinhauer's review of A Delicate Truth at The New York Times.