Aug 30, 2013

Movie Review: Goldsnake aka Suicide Mission to Singapore (1966)

There were certain code words in Sixties movie titles that instantly denoted spy, and the makers of Eurospy movies took full advantage of all of them. “Agent,” of course, along with any number of variations on the numbers “0” and “7.” “Operation.” “Assignment.” Even “Man” (usually when preceded by “Our” or “That”). But at the height of Bondmania, in the wake of Goldfinger, one of the surest ways to look for a spy movie when scanning the marquees on 42nd street was to watch for the word “Gold.” And if it was used in compound word unlikely to be found in any dictionary, then you knew you’d struck, er... gold. Goldginger, Goldwather (whatever that is), Goldseven, Goldvan, Goldman, Golden Men, Golden Boy… the variations were endless, and rarely had anything to do with the film’s plot. Even when they did, that meaning tended to be arbitrary. (Why else, for instance, would Inspector Ginko name his climactic operation "Operation Goldvan" in Danger: Diabolik if it wasn’t being considered as an alternate title for the film?) Imagine my surprise, then, when an actual golden snake turns up in the final minutes of Goldsnake, thus justifying the predictably (and gloriously) Bassey-esque title ballad! (You can hear that for yourself on YouTube.) Yes, there's actually a golden snake in the movie Goldnake! (Eventually.) In some Eurospy movies you have to appreciate the little things, and I appreciated that. And Goldsnake is a movie where you have to appreciate the little things, because big ones don’t tend to happen.

Stelio Candelli (Planet of the Vampires), credited here as “Stanley Kent,” gets his only shot at Eurospy stardom (though he played a supporting role in Secret Agent 777) as agent Kurt Jackson. It becomes clear fairly quickly why he didn’t get another opportunity. He’s fairly cardboard in the role (and honestly a bit weird-looking for a leading man), and totally devoid of the charm necessary to pull off a Eurospy lead. Jackson is a Western Intelligence agent of indeterminate nationality (he seems to report to French masters, but also refers to taking orders from the Pentagon) who pops up in Singapore with an assignment to track down a missing atom scientist and his son. No, that wasn’t a typo. In this singular instance, the missing atom scientist has a young son and not a comely daughter, as missing scientists nearly always have. While daughters tend to be integral to the plot, however, the son is barely mentioned (and indeed eventually disappears altogether from the narrative).

The scientist, Dr. Chang, has invented a nuclear bomb the size and shape and texture of a golf ball. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I would suspect that the producers were pinching pennies by just using a golf ball, but we’re assured that it’s a nuke on the inside. Naturally, this is of great interest to competing world powers, all of whom are searching for the scientist. Kent doesn’t get his usual briefing in the customary curtained room in Washington or Paris (a popular cost-cutting measure in Eurospy films was to save the expense of a wall by using a curtain to close off at least one side of a boss’s office), but instead turns up already in action at the airport in Singapore, ready for his Dr. No scene. (Even after Goldfinger had reset the characteristics of a Bondian spy movie, Eurospy imitators still diligently went through that whole Dr. No routine of the spy arriving at an airport and finding that either someone wants to take his picture or someone has sent a car for him that he hasn’t requested. In this case, it’s the latter.) Perhaps this is because director Ferdinando Baldi is challenging narrative conventions and chose to boldly begin in media res… or perhaps it’s because Goldsnake is so low budget it can’t even afford the customary stock footage aerial of Washington and the inevitable curtain-walled office. I’m inclined to believe the latter, though I will say that Baldi makes the most of his shoestring budget by filming entirely on location, which makes the proceedings appear more exotic, and hence more expensive.

Also adding production value is a gorgeous white E-Type Jaguar—always a plus in a Sixties spy film. It’s got some gadgets, but they’re the type that don’t require any special effects. (He pushes a knob on the dash twice and he’s able to talk on the radio… or at least talk at the dashboard.) Locations (the best mansions and docks Singapore has to offer), cars (there’s actually another E-type—a yellow one—later on!), creative gadgets (exploding matches, guaranteed to come in handy when a villain doesn’t have a light to offer you for your last cigarette!) and a strong supporting cast (Juan Cortez is effective in the Kerim Bey role, Jean, and Yoko Tani and Annabella Incontrera lend the requisite beauty and glamor while both proving themselves appropriately ruthless at times as well) all help gloss over the shoestring budget, but unfortunately it shows glaringly when the time comes for action. The most frustrating thing about Goldsnake is that every time things start to get really exciting… it cuts away to another location or another day. If Kurt gets surrounded by thugs with machine guns, he’ll manage to pick off one or two, and then instead of witnessing how he gets out of that situation, we’re treated to a scene of him discussing it later with Jean. Or if he escapes from the villain’s house on foot as armed henchmen prepare to give chase, instead of showing us the ensuing foot chase, we see Kurt waking up the next morning in bed next to his gorgeous assistant Annie Wong (Tani).

Worst of all, any forms of exotic travel are glossed over. At one point Kurt gets Jean to order him a fighter jet so he can get to an island. We’re treated to an actual shot of an actual airport with our actors actually next to the jet, thus proving it’s not stock footage. Kurt climbs into the cockpit in his suit and tie (spies don’t need flight suits!), straps in, and… and we cut to him disembarking from a ferry boat onto the island. What happened, movie?!? Any scenario I can imagine is far too exciting not to be shown. I’m guessing he probably got chased by a bunch of enemy jets, had an awesome dogfight, but ultimately succumbed to superior numbers. So he ejected over the ocean, shot down the final two enemy fighters with his pistol as he parachuted down, then managed to guide himself to land atop that ferry boat. Right? That must be it. But the actual movie, sadly, just cuts from Kurt seating himself in the cockpit to getting off the boat. (And I’m guessing they probably showed us every last centimeter of film stock showing that plane.)

Sex scenes are similarly glossed over, which is par for the course for that era, but so are the seductions. Usually we’re at least treated to the few cheesy lines the agent uses to lure the lovely lady to bed with him. Not here. In one case, Kurt and Annie find themselves fending off gunmen near a beach. Both fall in the water leaving their clothes soaking wet—an untenable predicament which can only be rectified (in Eurospyland, anyway) by sleeping together right away. Not only do we not see how they escape the remaining gunmen; poor Stelio doesn’t even get to suggest, “let’s get out of these wet clothes!” with an arched eyebrow. What we do get is kind of interesting, though. Jean comes to find Kurt, sees the undressed Annie, and connects the dots. This leads to a smug conversation between the two men discussing the role of women in espionage (and, by extension, sadly, in espionage films... or at least Eurospy films). “Just imagine how terrible it would be, spying without women?” Jean asks. “Where else could a spy who fell in the water try to warm up?” Kurt pats his buddy on the shoulder and agrees, “What women mean to our job I don't have to explain to you, do I?” And they share a knowing chuckle. I'm sure all the women who have made sacrifices for their countries in the clandestine services over the years appreciate their consideration.

Overall, Goldsnake ranks pretty low in the Eurospy canon for the things it omits. But that’s no reason to scoff at what it manages to contain. For the most part Goldsnake checks all the boxes expected of low-budget Sixties spy entertainment. We’ve got the cars, the girls, the gadgets, the suave(ish) hero in a dinner jacket. In fact, Kurt Jackson deserves special recognition for the sheer amount of time he spends in his dinner jacket. He dons it for most of the first half of the movie! And that counts for something. In fact, the movie does a good enough job at conveying the spirit of its genre that its poster (admittedly better than the film, as is often the case) became the cover of Matt Blake and David Deal’s genre bible The Eurospy Guide! (The colors were altered on both the Jag and the dinner jacket, presumably because red and black make for more dynamic advertising than a lot of whites.) This is definitely not “first Eurospy movie” material (or even second, eighth or tenth), but seasoned connoisseurs will still find plenty to enjoy here. Goldsnake hasn't got much, but it makes the most of what it does have.

Aug 29, 2013

Tradecraft: Christopher McQuarrie Confirmed to Direct Mission: Impossible 5

This is old news, but still important to catch up on around here since I've been eagerly following the progress of the next Mission: Impossible movie. Christopher McQuarrie, the prolific screenwriter who often does polishes on Tom Cruise movies and has previously directed Way of the Gun and Jack Reacher, has been rumored as the frontrunner to direct Mission: Impossible 5 (or whatever they end up calling it; MI5 certainly doesn't work as an abbreviation!) since last November. Earlier this month, according to Deadline, this was officially confirmed when he tweeted, "Mission: Accepted." What, if anything, this means for McQuarrie's remake of Ice Station Zebra is unknown. (McQuarrie has also been rumored at times to be attached to the Tom Clancy adaptation Without Remorse and to the feature adaptation of the Sixties ITC spy series The Champions, which he told Dark Horizons last December might still happen.) As previously reported, Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3) is writing the script for Mission: Impossible 5, and Cruise will once again star. J.J. Abrams is again producing.

It will be interesting to see how McQuarrie follows up on Brad Bird's series-best installment Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. Personally, I really, really hope that he continues the journey Bird started towards making the films more like huge budget versions of the TV show. I loved that Ghost Protocol was finally a team movie, like the show, as opposed to a one-man operation focusing on Cruise's super-agent Ethan Hunt. I also loved all the little references to the series that Bird packed into his entry, and I was thrilled by the mission briefing we hear at the film's end about a new terrorist organization calling itself "The Syndicate." I really hope McQuarrie and Pearce use the Syndicate! (As a terrorist organization; not as the Mafia, which it was on the show.) I also hope that they retain the same IMF team from Ghost Protocol of Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Paula Patton. They established a good dynamic last time out, and it would be great to see them build on it. (And while you're at it, guys, please restore Ving Rhames to fully-functioning co-star status!) But above all, what I hope for most from the next Mission: Impossible installment is what I hope for from all of them: I hope that they do something to rehabilitate Jim Phelps' good name. At one point, producer J.J. Abrams had teased the idea of a Peter Graves cameo in Ghost Protocol, but the actor sadly passed away before that could happen. But they could still bring in Leonard Nimoy or Peter Lupus or even Sam Elliott to do a quick cameo and explain that the Phelps they worked with was a national hero, and that jerkwad who assumed his name after he retired turned out to be a real loser. Or something along those lines! (But, you know... better.)

Aug 28, 2013

Movie Review: Peau d’espion aka To Commit a Murder (1967)

Peau d’espion turns into a pretty decent spy movie in its second half, though to get to that you have to sit through a slow and confusing first half. Characters appear without any real introductions to speak of, and we’re offered no context for their actions. I suspect this is supposed to be artistic, but it comes off as kind of sloppy instead. Still, when these characters we don’t know are played by Senta Berger (The Quiller Memorandum) and Louis Jourdan (Octopussy) in their prime, they’re fun to watch even if we have no idea what they’re up to! Spy movie regular Berger is as lovely as ever—lovelier, actually, as a redhead—and Jourdan oozes a sophisticated Euro-cool in the Marcello Mastrioni/Jean-Louis Trintignant mode armed with hip sunglasses and an ice-cold stare. It’s kind of a treat for Bond fans to see Prince Kamal Khan as a good guy spy. Of course, we don’t know up front that he’s a even a spy, and “good” is a relative term in the Eurospy realm, because the heroes are often fairly loathsome. (I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Jourdan is Charles Beaulieu, an author and a gambler and a bit of a cad. Berger is Gertraud Sphax (talk about an anti-Bond Girl spy name!), a married woman who picks him up twice but goes cold just when things start to get interesting. (All the inconveniences of having an affair without the fun, he complains.) Her husband has a fashion-conscious thug with a Jag following her around, which leads to a somewhat lackluster car chase that still manages to be the highlight of the film’s first half. The sped-up chase through Paris isn’t terribly impressive as car chases go, but it’s still an E-type Jaguar chasing Senta Berger through the streets of Sixties Paris, so that’s something! (Also, the chase leads Jourdan to deliver the immortal line, "The only thing I admire about you is your Jaguar.")

Nearly a half hour in, a plot finally starts to manifest itself when Charles is summoned to see his former commanding officer from his army days, Major Rhome (the excellent Bernard Blier, from The Great Spy Chase). Rhome now works for the SDECE (French Intelligence), and he likes how close Charles has become with Gertraud, because her husband, Harris (Edmond O'Brien), is the editor of a popular leftist magazine and, Rhome suspects, sympathetic to the Red Chinese. He’ll also be accompanying Henri Banck, a French missile scientist with "a degree in crystallography” on a trip to Heidelberg, where Rhome fears Harris will help Banck defect to China.

So it’s finally clear that Charles is a spy (sometimes, at least), and since he’s working against the Communists I guess that makes him a good spy. This being Eurospy territory, however, he’s not necessarily that good a spy-guy. True to the subgenre, in fact, he’s kind of a jerk. In one scene, he goes into a Parisian bar and acts like an asshole for no reason whatsoever, first hitting his boss and friend, Major Rhome (and clearly enjoying it), and then picking a fight with long-haired hippy kids just because they have long hair. (He fights them by slapping them repeatedly, apparently because he doesn’t think them worthy of man-punches.) At one point, he dodges one of their punches intentionally so that it lands on the woman he’s just been dancing with, square in the face. Afterwards, he cringes at her black eye, but still hands her his card and instructs her to, “Call me… when you’re able to read my number.” He also stands by and watches with what appears to be smug satisfaction as his pal gets beaten up by the hippies because of the fight he started. None of that is motivated in any way by his mission or by the story being told; it just happens because he’s a jerk. But at least the pointless bar fight is edited in a dynamic fashion, cutting on each punch or slap to a close-up of abstract Sixties wall art, all to the diagetic strains of a catchy pop instrumental on the bar’s juke box. It’s pointless, but stylish.

Style is something this movie has in excess, starting right off the bat with a fantastic and beautiful title sequence which prefigures Daniel Kleinman’s use of playing card suits in the Casino Royale credits. The cinematography is gorgeous as well, to match all the gorgeous Sixties fashions on display throughout the film. The editing is also stylish. It’s never quite as trendy as it is during that bar fight, but it’s always interesting and highly visible. There are times when visible editing is a bad thing for a film, but in this case it’s a boon rather than a distraction.

There are a lot of agents and double agents playing very complicated games on one another, but none of that is remotely clear to the audience until the final half hour. We don’t even know that it’s happening until then! We’re not given enough information early on to even suspect. By the end of the movie, though, hardly any character turns out to be who you thought they were at first. Everyone’s spying for someone, but to reveal who’s on what side would spoil the fun. It all builds up to quite a compelling moral quandary for Charles, however—one which justifies the film’s somewhat unspyish English language title To Commit a Murder. Ultimately, despite its confusing beginning (and despite a touch more propaganda than this type of film usually boasts), Peau d’Espion is well worth watching for fans of the more serious side of the genre. But it requires patience to get to the interesting stuff. Its artistic ambitions are considerably higher than a lot of Eurospy fluff, though, so even when you’re confused, there are at least plenty of visual treats to behold.

Tradecraft: NBC Developing Drama About NSA Hitman in a Coma... Or Something

Um... I don't understand this well enough to paraphrase, so I'm just going to reprint verbatim what Deadline reports about a new drama series in development at NBC: "Ricochet is a high-concept serialized action/thriller about a professional hitman who is trapped in a coma and forced to serve as a guinea pig for a secret NSA espionage program; a project that uses technology discovered while researching near-death-experiences to send operatives into other people’s bodies." Got it? Wait, what would the NSA want with a hitman? Oh, because he's in a coma! I see; that makes sense now. But...  Hey, wait. Well, Tripp Vinson, one of the producers on CBS's Josh Holloway spy series Intelligence, executive produces, so presumably he knows what all that means.

Aug 27, 2013

Tradecraft: Lionsgate to Distribute Le Carre's Most Wanted Man in America

The next John le Carré movie, Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man, has secured a U.S. distributor. Variety reports that Lionsgate will release the picture in the United States, but has not yet set a date for it. I really hope they're able to get it out in time for awards consideration this year, though that seems like a fast turnaround. I'm dying to see this one! As regular readers know, this adaptation of le Carré's 2008 novel stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright and Nina Hoss. A Most Wanted Man is set in Hamburg where the worlds of banking, terrorism, espionage, immigration and extraordinary rendition intersect tragically. Hoffman plays German spymaster Günther Bachmann; Hoss (who was wonderful in the understated 2012 German spy film Barbara) plays his invaluable associate Erna Frey; Dafoe plays Scottish banker Tommy Brue (assuming the character is still Scottish); McAdams plays the idealistic immigration lawyer Annabel Richter, and newcomer (to English language cinema, anyway) Grigoriy Dobrygin has the crucial role of Chechen immigrant Issa Karpov. Wright plays a CIA operative whose methods clash strongly with Bachmann's. I love that we're seeing a whole new wave of le Carré movies, but I was thinking the other day that it's a pity his work is missing from television. There are some wonderful limited series about espionage being produced right now on both sides of the Atlantic, and le Carré's books lend themselves wonderfully to that format! I wish we could have a few le Carré miniseries mixed in with all these films! He's got a large enough catalog to easily fuel both mediums... But perhaps I'm being greedy.

24: India Trailer

Here's something pretty awesome to keep 24 fans going while we anxiously await our first glimpse of Jack Bauer's return in Fox's upcoming 24: Live Another Day. Reader Silent Hunter left a comment on my original 2011 post about the Bollywood version of Fox's classic real-time series alerting me that the trailer for 24: India is now online! It's in Hindi, of course, but you should be able to follow the gist of what's going on and appreciate the distinctive 24 style even if you can't understand the language. I'm a little surprised that it appears (from what I can tell, anyway) to be a fairly direct remake of the first season of the American 24. I was hoping it would be a brand new storyline specifically tailored to the Indian setting. (Though that Season 1 storyline is pretty universal anyway.) If they continue directly remaking the seasons, I hope a tiger terrorizes the Kim character in Season 2! That's automatically cooler than a cougar! 24: India will air on Colors TV and stars Anil Kapoor, who played President Omar Hassan on Season 8 of the American 24, as the Indian Jack Bauer, Jai Singh Rathod. Bollywood megastar Kapoor (who spy fans will also recognize from Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) loved his 24 experience and worked closely with producer Howard Gordon to secure the rights to an Indian version. Here's a taste:

Sadly, it seems unlikely that non-Hindi speakers will ever have a chance to see this series in its entirety, but I remain hopeful that maybe there will one day be a DVD set with English subtitles. I'm very curious!

Tradecraft: Katherine Heigl CIA Drama in the Works

Deadline reports that actress Katherine Heigl (Killers) is eyeing a return to television... as a spy. The actress has been actively involved in the development of this spy series along with writer Alexi Hawley (Castle, The Following), producer Robert Simonds (This Means War, The Pink Panther 2), and (this is the really interesting part) "a team of former senior CIA officials." Although Heigl is often associated with romantic comedies (the less said about Killers the better), this would be a serious and realistic look at the day-to-day workings of the CIA. According to the trade blog, "the procedural focuses on how the CIA handles hotspots around the globe, with Heigl playing an adviser/communications liaison for the U.S. president." Deadline reports that the project has been shopped to both broadcast and cable networks, and that NBC "appears a strong contender," though other networks are also interested.

Aug 26, 2013

Is Universal Talking to Matt Damon About More Bourne?

Twitchfilm (via AICN) reports that Universal "is in simultaneous negotiations with both Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass for both to return to the Bourne franchise." Variety, however, did their own follow-up on the Twitch story, and reports that "sources with the studio are denying the story saying there is nothing going on between the studio and Damon and Greengrass." So what's true? Who's right? Neither site cites an actual Uni spokesperson, just "sources." Furthermore, Variety has a long history of being a studio mouthpiece, good for this sort of denial when information leaks out before a studio is ready for that to happen, while sites like Twitch pride themselves on getting inside scoops before the trades... but with a predictably shaky track record. So what's really happening? I'm afraid that I have no "sources" of my own inside Universal, but I'm going to give Twitch the benefit of the doubt here. Because Universal would be insane if they weren't always in some sort of negotiation, however informal, with Damon and Greengrass. Damon is the heart of their billion dollar franchise. Damon-less spin-off The Bourne Legacy, starring Jeremy Renner, didn't live up to the Damon trilogy either critically or at the box office. (Though it wasn't a flop by any means, either.) And the spin-off deliberately left the door open for Damon to return to the series (as the title character) in the future. Damon, for his part, has said many times in the past that he wouldn't do that without Greengrass, who helmed The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, as well as Damon's Green Zone. (Green Zone was a flop, but might actually be the best Bourne movie to date despite not actually being a Bourne movie. Fans of the franchise should definitely seek it out.) So it only makes sense that the studio attempt to woo Damon (and Greengrass with him) back into the fold. I'd be willing to bet there are talks going on at some level, however informal.

The question is, what would such talks mean for the future of Jeremy Renner's character, former Outcome agent Aaron Cross? It was recently announced that Anthony Peckham had been hired to pen a follow-up to The Bourne Legacy again focusing on Cross. Frankly, the Damon negotiations don't need to have any effect on that. It would be entirely possible for the studio to simply spin off the Cross character into his own franchise, and call the next one The Cross Continuation or something more serious but suitably Ludlumy in nature. At the same time, they could proceed concurrently with more Bourne titles starring Matt Damon as the actual Jason Bourne. Win/win. Or, it's equally possible that they could manufacture a crossover, featuring both characters (agents of more or less the same top secret government program, whether it's called Treadstone or Outcome) in one film. AICN speculates that Peckham might be the lynch pin behind such an attempt, as he worked with Damon on Invictus. Doing press for The Bourne Legacy, that film's director Tony Gilroy said that such a crossover was his hope. Damon (who has a longstanding feud with Gilroy), however, seemed to dash such hopes last fall when, without having seen Legacy, he said, "from what I understand, it kind of relives [Ultimatum] from a different perspective. What that means, because they use our actors and characters, is that whatever they said [in Legacy] is true and so we'd have to acknowledge it in any Bourne movie that we'd do. And that makes it really tough. I don't think we can do the Dallas it-was-all-a-dream scenario." Perhaps by now he's seen the spin-off and realized that while Legacy does use the same characters, it goes out of its way (to the movie's detriment) not to seriously impact the events of the Damon films! So perhaps with Gilroy apparently not involved in this one, Damon would be amenable to working with Renner? (Surely Ben Affleck, who's worked with both of them, could take a brief break from his Batman training to put the two actors in a room together to hash it out?)

Together or apart, I'd certainly be in line to see more adventures of both characters. (I was disappointed by Legacy as a whole, but liked Renner in it.) But, like most audience members, I think, what I really want is more Bourne, and that means more Damon. I hope the studio does whatever it takes to bring Damon and Greengrass back on board. And while I'm hoping so much, I might as well reiterate what I always say in these Bourne film updates: I also hope they take the opportunity to go back to the Robert Ludlum novels, which Gilroy pretty much abandoned after the first act of the first film. There's all sorts of good material there for future films! (Read my review of The Bourne Supremacy here to get an idea of what I'm talking about.)

And one last Bourne-related hope: I hope someone writes a really good warts-and-all behind the scenes history of the Bourne film franchise one day. From the notorious troubles on the set of Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity to Greengrass and Damon's feud with Gilroy to Gilroy's displeasure with the aborted Treadstone TV series to Damon's displeasure with The Bourne Legacy, there would be loads of juicy material! But the great story in such a book would be how the franchise managed to flourish despite all that friction. It would be a story of overcoming enormous difficulties rather than succumbing to them, setting it apart from other Hollywood tell-alls of that nature.

New Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Trailer

There's a new trailer out for ABC's upcoming comic book-based spy series Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Via Dark Horizons.) Unlike the last one we saw, this spot incorporates footage from episodes beyond the pilot. Perhaps it's the choice of music, but to me this looks much more like a Joss Whedon show than a S.H.I.E.L.D. show. Personally, I love both Joss Whedon shows and S.H.I.E.L.D. comics, so that's not any sort of accusation, merely an observation. I'm fully aware that this show won't be a direct translation of the 1960s Steranko comics I love so much, but I do hope that it finds clever ways to embody their spirit! Those comics themselves, products of that decade's spy craze, owed a lot of James Bond and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but Jim Steranko mixed in spandex and superheroics and surrealism and psychedelia to create a really unique, anything-goes take on spy-fi. As previously announced, Steranko's entire run on the series (which started out in the anthology comic Strange Tales before graduating to its own title) will be reprinted in a single volume this fall to tie in with the ABC show. For more background on the comic and the history of the fictional spy organization, read my full S.H.I.E.L.D. primer here.

Aug 25, 2013

Tradecraft: Frank Spotnitz to Run Second Season of Transporter TV Series

America might be the only territory that still hasn't seen the Transporter TV series (or has it not yet aired in Britain either?), but it's been a big enough hit in the rest of the world that a second season is in the works. However, the show is going to be retooled for that second season. That's hardly a surprise for this troubled production, considering it was already retooled several times during the filming of its first season, and went through several different showrunners! Now, according to The Hollywood Reporter (via Screen Crush), a heavy-hitter is being brought in to run the next season: The X-Files' Frank Spotnitz, whose recent spy credits include two Cinemax hits: the first U.S. season of Strike Back and the Melissa George series Hunted. Spotnitz's involvement would seem natural given that Transporter was originally set to air on Cinemax as well (in the USA anyway), but Cinemax has since backed out and the international producers are seeking a new U.S. partner. Huh. That's very frustrating news! I'd been eagerly waiting for this series (since it was first announced nearly three years ago!), and would have actually added a Cinemax subscription to my cable just for it, something I didn't even do for Strike Back or Hunted. Their loss! Hopefully now it ends up on a channel I already get. (Spike TV would seem like an obvious match for the material, or USA.) If the American networks drag their feet too much, U.S. fans with all-region players can always buy the import DVDs, which are coming out in just about every country now.

Chris Vance (Burn Notice) took over for Jason Statham in the TV version of the neo-Eurospy vehicular actioner. According to the trade, Vance "is still attached to the TV series, though his option period has expired and a second-season gig would require a new deal." Let's hope that all comes together, and that Spotnitz manages to attract a new U.S. network partner! Come to think of it, I wonder if his involvement might spark Cinemax's interest anew? He's already working with them on a new miniseries about Sam Hunter, the lead character from Hunted. And Strike Back, which he's no longer involved with, remains a big hit for the cabler.

As far as I know, the Transporter TV series is completely separate from the new trilogy of Transporter movies that were recently announced. Hopefully those movies will bring back Statham.

Anyway, until some American network comes on board, here's a glimpse of what we're missing:

Watch a Russian Army Choir Cover Adele's "Skyfall" Tune

This has to be seen to be believed! MI6 (the James Bond fansite, not the spy agency) discovered this astounding video from a recent St. Petersburg morning show of a male Russian army choir performing the theme from Skyfall. Wearing the same sorts of uniforms that they wear to exchange gunfire with 007 in Octopussy and The Living Daylights and GoldenEye no less. Who could have imagined such a bizarre sight as a Russian military choir covering a James Bond theme song thirty years ago? It's not merely notable for its bizarreness, though; they actually do quite a good job! (Though I think that crazy Brazilian cover of "Live and Let Die" performed on toy instruments is still my favorite strange Bond song cover video.)

Aug 24, 2013

Bond Fans Should Definitely See The World's End

Rosamund Pike (who first garnered international attention in Die Another Day) isn't the only James Bond luminary to appear in Edgar Wright's new film The World's End. There's another major Bond star in the film whose presence has been successfully kept a secret throughout the marketing campaign. Now the star is listed on IMDb* (and he or she is credited in the film) and probably mentioned in a lot of reviews, but since Wright and Co. seemed intent on keeping this person's presence in the film a secret, I won't spoil it here. I must admit, it was a fantastic surprise to see this star unexpectedly pop up in the movie! And it's quite an excellent movie, a fitting conclusion to Wright's "Three Colors Cornetto" thematic trilogy with Simon Pegg (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) and Nick Frost. (Bond fans will no doubt recall that Timothy Dalton made a memorable impression in the second movie, Hot Fuzz.) Go see it! You won't be disappointed.

*UPDATE: Or you can check out this piece at USA Today, in which the surprise is explicitly reported and Wright discusses it and why it was a surprise and Bond at large. If you've seen the movie, then it's well worth reading!

Aug 15, 2013

Tradecraft: Darren Aronofsky Mulls Spy Movie Red Sparrow

Let me go on the record as saying I would love to see a Darren Aronofsky spy movie! There's a chance that could happen. According to Deadline, the Black Swan and Requiem For a Dream director is in talks to direct Red Sparrow for Fox. The studio purchased the new novel by former CIA agent Jason Matthews after winning a bidding war in April, prior to its publication. Red Sparrow tells the story of Dominika Egorova, a "sparrow," or trained seductress, working for Russian intelligence in present-day, Putin-controlled Moscow. She's assigned to ensnare CIA wunderkind Nathaniel Nash, the man running America's top mole inside Putin's government. Allegiances shift, moles are uncovered on both sides, and, I'm guessing here, a deadly cat and mouse game probably ensues. That's usually how these things go, and you know I wouldn't have it any other way! I've actually got this book in my stack, and hope to read it soon. When the news broke about its sale to Fox, I immediately thought it sounded like a great vehicle for Olga Kurylenko. I'd love to see that, though should Aronofsky come aboard I suppose it's a definite possibility he might want to re-team with his Oscar-winning Black Swan star, Natalie Portman.

Closed Circuit Trailer

Somehow I hadn't heard about this one until now, when it's less than a month away. Closed Circuit is a new London-set thriller about lawyers caught up in a terrorism case involving an MI5 asset starring Eric Bana (Hanna), Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3), Ciaran Hinds (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Jim Broadbent (Any Human Heart) and Julia Stiles (The Bourne Ultimatum). It's written by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Redemption) and directed by John Crowley (Is Anybody There?), but Focus Features is billing it as "from the producers of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," (that would be Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner) which is a surefire way to get my attention at least! Oddly, unlike Tinker Tailor and Skyfall, we Americans get this Brit thriller first. It opens in the U.S. on August 28, and in the UK November 1.

Aug 5, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Poster

Marvel revealed the official poster for this fall's Joss Whedon-masterminded Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show at ABC's TCA presentation today. I still can't believe there's really an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show! Read all about the history of the fantastic spy comic on which it's based in my S.H.I.E.L.D. Primer here and be a step ahead of everyone else come September 24 when the series premieres at 8/7c!

Aug 2, 2013

Tradecraft: The Cross Continuation: Bourne's Legacy Grows in Sequel

The Bourne series, initially based on Robert Ludlum's terrific trilogy of novels about amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne, is one of Universal's most successful franchises going, so it's no surprise whatsoever to learn that another installment is in the works. We all expected it. Universal chairman Adam Fogelson said as much earlier this year. Now it's official. Deadline reports today that Anthony Peckham has been hired to pen a script chronicling the continuing adventures not of Matt Damon's Jason Bourne, but of Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross, the Outcome agent who filled in for Bourne as hero of the most recent movie in the series, The Bourne Legacy. This, also, is not unexpected. While Damon still reiterates from time to time that he'd be willing to return to the series should director Paul Greengrass (who helmed the second and third Damon entries) return as well, he's also voiced his displeasure that Universal continued the series without him. (This despite the fact that The Bourne Legacy actually went out of its way not to step on the toes of a potential Damon return, and to make it clear that Bourne himself was still out there!) While I was disappointed in The Bourne Legacy (read my review here), I did like Renner in the lead role, and would be happy to see him continue the series. I just hope Peckham (who's previously had a go at another iconic fictional spy, as one of the many writers to contribute over the years to the next Jack Ryan movie) comes up with something better for him to do than keep chasing his pills! I still wish that they'd simply recast the Bourne role, like James Bond, rather than stepping into spinoff territory, but obviously that ship has sailed now. In either case, I firmly believe that the best direction for future Bourne movies lies with a more faithful adaptation of Ludlum's excellent novel The Bourne Supremacy (review here). The movie of that title took only the title, and created an entirely new plot to go with it. (Writer Tony Gilroy was reportedly not a fan of the Ludlum source material.) Ludlum's dense Hong Kong-set novel contains enough plot to propel another two Bourne movies (at least!), and the material could be adapted to suit either Damon's film version of Bourne (along with Julia Stiles' Nicky, since the movies killed off the Marie character who's so important to the plot of that book) or Renner's Aaron Cross (along with Rachel Weiscz' Marta). In all likelihood, though, I'll probably have to wait for the inevitable Bourne reboot years down the line to see a more faithful film version of that story!

There's no word so far about a possible title for this next film, but since the franchise is internationally recognized by the name Bourne, not Cross, I assume it will still have Bourne in the title even if the character himself is nowhere to be found. Which is kind of weird, but whatever. I'll happily pay to see another Bourne film no matter what it's called! But I'd be even more interested in seeing some of Ludlum's other novels adapted for the screen. Some of the great ones, like The Parsifal Mosaic, The Chancellor ManuscriptThe Matarese Circle and The Sigma Protocol (review here) have long been in development, but frustratingly have yet to materialize.