May 23, 2017

Remembering Roger Moore

The great Sir Roger Moore has passed away after a short battle with cancer, according to numerous news outlets. And this is the piece I have most dreaded writing ever since I began this blog. Roger Moore may not have been the screen’s "best" James Bond in terms of realizing Ian Fleming’s literary character, but he is certainly one of the most appealing. He is the one you most want to hang out with. He was my favorite Bond as a kid, and was always the Bond actor I most fancied having a conversation with. Even now, when I’m in the mood for a Bond movie in general but have no specific title in mind, I find myself most frequently putting on a Moore movie—usually For Your Eyes Only (1981), easily in my Top 5 Bond movies.

Roger Moore personified the witty playboy adventurer who brushes off danger without creasing his immaculately tailored suits. He perfected this persona most famously across three different characters—TV’s Simon Templar on The Saint and Lord Brett Sinclair on The Persuaders!, and of course 007—each distinct, and yet each distinctly Roger Moore. He sold a personal brand long before we spoke in such terms, and he sold it to perfection. Critics have accused him of turning all of his roles into Roger Moore rather than adapting Roger Moore to the roles, but for a movie star, I’ve never seen that as a bad thing. In fact, I’ve always found it incredibly appropriate that at the height of his Saint fandom in the 1960s, while every popular TV character (including The Saint) had his own Annual (hardcover books for children packed with stories, comics, and puzzles), Moore was the only actor to have his own—The Roger Moore Adventure Book.

It was a narrative often put forth by Moore himself that he was not a good actor. Always charmingly self-deprecating, he once famously reduced his own acting ability to, “left eyebrow raised, right eyebrow raised.” He was, of course, selling himself short, and I’m saddened to see that many obituaries today still persist with that narrative. Many James Bond purists lament that Moore played the character so comically, and they certainly have a point. But ask any actor what’s harder, comedy or drama, and nearly unanimously they all answer comedy. It’s true that Roger Moore was not one of the screen’s great dramatic actors (though he was certainly capable of fine dramatic performances, as evidenced in The Man Who Haunted Himself and several crucial scenes in For Your Eyes Only, among others), but he was an incredibly gifted comedian, and deserves recognition as such. His comic timing was impeccable, and his wry delivery of innumerable oft-quoted one-liners unequaled. For proof, one need look no further than other, subsequent James Bond actors who have been saddled with similar lines and unable to pull them off despite their undeniable dramatic gravitas. Roger Moore had a unique talent to sell even the most ridiculous double-entendres or pithy asides, and that talent more than anything else carried the Bond franchise to new Box Office heights in the Seventies and ensured its continuation after Sean Connery.

This is another part of Moore’s legacy that should never be overlooked. While all the other popular spy series of the Sixties (on the big and small screen) dried up in the Seventies (as public perception of spies themselves shifted from heroic to underhanded in the wake of Watergate, COINTELPRO, the Church Committee Hearings, and other scandals), James Bond thrived during Moore’s tenure. Moonraker may not have pleased critics, but it broke Box Office records. What Roger Moore brought to the franchise was exactly what audiences craved in the 1970s. Without him, the series may well have languished, but instead it became more popular than ever.

Despite eventually personifying the upper-class English gentleman, Roger Moore was born into a working class London family. He grew up idolizing suave leading men like George Sanders and Stewart Granger, and following his compulsory army service and a stint as a male knitwear model (which briefly earned him the nickname of “The Big Knit”), had the chance not only to follow in their footsteps, but eventually to work with both. After a string of supporting roles as an MGM contract player opposite the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Lana Turner (during which, Moore wrote in his autobiography*, he and his neighbor William Shatner “whiled away many an evening… sitting around the pool [of their Westwood apartment complex], having a drink or three”), Moore found success on television. First as the titular knight on Ivanhoe (for England’s ITV, where he would later find stardom as The Saint), then as a cowboy with an unlikely accent on The Alaskans and Maverick (both for Warner Bros.), where he had the unenviable task of filling the void left by James Garner, playing Brett (Garner) and Bart’s (Jack Kelly) English cousin Beau Maverick. In the former he found himself speaking Garner’s lines (a writers’ strike led to scripts from Maverick being recycled wholesale for The Alaskans), and in the latter wearing his clothes (from his autobiography: “They assured me that I wasn’t replacing [Garner]. Oh yeah? Then why did all of my costumes have ‘Jim Garner’ in them, semi-scratched out?”). It would prove valuable experience for later, when he once again found himself taking over from a very popular actor!

Moore’s real fame, however, came not from American television, but UK television. After trying himself, unsuccessfully, to acquire the rights to Leslie Charteris’ Saint stories several years earlier, Moore jumped at the chance to play Simon Templar for producers Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker at Lord Lew Grade’s powerhouse production company, ITC. He made 118 episodes of The Saint, the first batch in black and white, and the second (without Berman) in color. Charteris had imbued his hero with ample wit to match his wits, and Moore, naturally, excelled at conveying that wit on screen. His Simon Templar would break the fourth wall to directly address the audience, making the most of Moore’s innate charm. Simon Templar was the absolute perfect part for Moore, the idea match of character and star. In America, The Saint played on NBC, making Moore a household name on both sides of the Atlantic. It was also his first major brush with spy stardom, as, though Templar was no agent, his adventures frequently brought him into espionage territory.

Once The Saint wrapped, Moore was eager to segue from television into movies. He and Baker, now producing partners, made Crossplot, a highly entertaining Hitchcock knock-off (parts North by Northwest and The Man Who Knew Too Much) in which Moore played an advertising executive caught up in an espionage plot who has to stop an assassination. Bernard Lee, best known as M from the Bond movies, co-starred, and the advertising campaign traded heavily on Bondian imagery, prominently featuring Moore in a white dinner jacket brandishing a pistol. It wasn’t the first connection between Moore and 007. His name was linked with the Bond role as soon as the first movie was announced, but of course Sean Connery was cast instead. Still, Moore played the character in a 1964 sketch on the BBC comedy series Mainly Millicent, and in the Saint episode “Luella” (co-starring future Felix Leiter David Hedison), Templar jokingly introduced himself as James Bond. In another episode, he ordered his drink “neither shaken nor stirred.”

Moore and Baker had planned several other films together (including, according to Andrew Pixley, the spy drama The Patterson Report and an action-adventure called Vanishing Point**), but never had the chance to make them. Instead, Moore was lured back to television by Lew Grade, who had already sold The Persuaders! based on Moore’s involvement, but without his permission! He then persuaded Moore to make the series by urging him to think of all the jobs it would create, and the boon it would be to the British economy. (“Think of the Queen!”) And thank God it worked, because The Persuaders! is fantastic. It’s one of my favorite TV series, and it's actually his character from that show, Lord Brett Sinclair, that I think of first when I think of Roger Moore... much as I love his Saint and his Bond.

The Persuaders! arose from an idea Moore and Baker had had while shooting the final season of The Saint—the idea of a buddy series teaming Moore with a brash American co-star. The Saint episode “The Ex-King of Diamonds” served as an unofficial pilot, pairing Moore with The Champions star Stuart Damon. When it came to the series, however, a bigger name was required, and when Rock Hudson proved unavailable, Tony Curtis came aboard as self-made oil millionaire Danny Wilde. When Brett and Danny first encounter each other on the French Riviera, the two wealthy alpha males find themselves instantly in competition, first in a road race (Brett’s Aston Martin DBS versus Danny’s Ferrari Dino), and then in a fist fight over the proper way to make a ridiculous drink called a Creole Scream. In the course of this fight, they tear apart the whole hotel bar and find themselves facing a judge, Judge Fulton (played by Diamonds Are Forever’s Laurence Naismith), who offers them an alternative to a jail sentence. It turns out he manipulated their meeting, having selected them to be his personal vigilante crime fighters. It’s a tenuous premise, but it serves its purpose, setting Brett and Danny on numerous missions against kidnappers, counterfeiters, and, of course, spies. (Somehow this judge is also privy to information about classified British Intelligence operations when the plots require that.) The Persuaders! had a top-notch roster of talent (including Avengers writer Brian Clemens and Casino Royale director Val Guest) both behind and in front of the cameras, and their skills combined with lush location filming in exotic European locales (as opposed to The Saint’s stock footage and studio backlots) made every episode of the series look like a feature film. But more than anything, it was the fantastic chemistry between Moore and Curtis (whose off-screen relationship influenced their friendly on-screen competition) that made the series work so well. While The Persuaders! faced stiff competition in America from Mission: Impossible, it was a huge hit around the world, and a second season was in the offing… until Moore received a life-changing phone call from Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

During his Bond tenure, Moore made numerous other action-adventure movies, including Gold (for Bond director Peter Hunt), The Wild Geese (opposite Richard Burton), Shout at the Devil (with Lee Marvin), North Sea Hijack (aka Ffolkes, with Bond alumni David Hedison and George Baker), and The Sea Wolves (with Patrick Macnee and David Niven). He even found time to, unlikely though it may seem, play Sherlock Holmes on TV, in Sherlock Holmes in New York with Macnee as Watson and John Huston as Professor Moriarty. All of these movies are well worth watching. He also displayed that considerable gift for comedy in Cannonball Run (sending up his own image as an Aston Martin-driving racer who thinks he’s Roger Moore) and Blake Edwards’ Curse of the Pink Panther (1983). While the latter is a pretty lousy movie, Moore elevates it considerably in his brief cameo as a post-plastic surgery Inspector Clouseau, ably aping Peter Sellers’ famous French accent and pulling off the requisite pratfalls with great aplomb. (You can watch his scene on YouTube, saving yourself from slogging through the entire film.) In my opinion he’s the only actor to ever successfully fill Sellers’ shoes in that role (once again demonstrating his ability to rise to the challenge following in famous footsteps), and it’s a real shame that Edwards didn’t make Moore’s Clouseau the star of the film.

Moore played James Bond in seven official entries in the series, more than any other actor (though tied with Connery if you count the unofficial Never Say Never Again), and until he was 57, making him the oldest actor to play 007. Too old, really. Moore himself was the first to admit that A View to a Kill was at least one movie too many, and stretched credibility when he switched off with stuntmen for the outlandish action. He had actually tried to leave the series, but Broccoli simply offered him too much money to pass up.

After finally hanging up the Walther PPK, Moore focused more on charity than acting, devoting much of his time to children’s health as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. (His friend Audrey Helpburn had recruited him to the cause.) He played two more spy roles (in The Enemy, based on a Desmond Bagley novel, and as a guest star on J.J. Abrams’ TV show Alias), and made an intriguing mystery for director Bill Condon, The Man Who Wouldn’t Die, but primarily focused on comedy when he did act. His comedic roles included Bullseye! (an unfortunate miss, but an opportunity to star with his good friend Michael Caine), Boat Trip (an awful movie in which Moore is nonetheless hilarious), and Spice World. The latter was the first of several cameos sending up his Bond image. More recently, he starred in a Lifetime holiday movie, A Princess for Christmas, and played an important supporting role in the unsold pilot for a new version of The Saint starring Adam Rayner. (Sadly, that remains unreleased.) He also found time to record many excellent DVD commentaries, and to pen three memoirs (co-authored with Gareth Owen), My Word is My Bond, Bond on Bond, and One Lucky Bastard. My Word is My Bond is essential reading for any 007 fan, and one of my very favorite showbiz autobiographies, full of humorous and typically self-deprecating anecdotes from Moore’s amazing life.

With Roger Moore’s passing, we have lost one of the true titans of the spy genre, and a very talented comedic actor who never got proper credit for those talents. Fortunately, that Roger Moore brand will live on in his incredible body of work, preserved for posterity on DVD and Blu-ray and no doubt all formats to come. There is truth to the criticism that his Bond movies aren’t so much Bond movies as “Roger Moore movies.” But so what? I find myself frequently craving Roger Moore movies, and I don’t expect that will ever change. It may well be that I'm a bit more of a Roger Moore fan than I am a James Bond fan. Roger Moore was truly one of my heroes, and I am genuinely crushed by his passing. But what a legacy he leaves behind!

*Moore, Roger with Gareth Owen: My Word is My Bond, 2008
**Pixley, Andrew: The Persuaders! Read and Destroy: A Complete Series Guide, 2011

Johnny English Rides Again

Chortle, a UK comedy news website (that is, a website providing news about comedy, not a parody news site like The Onion) reports (via Dark Horizons) that a third Johnny English movie is in pre-production with plans to shoot this year. Rowan Atkinson's (Never Say Never Again) third outing as the bumbling British superspy is set for release in October 2018, which would make a similar gap between the second and third movies as between the first and second. While it should just be considered a rumor for now, should this news prove true, I would certainly welcome it! I thought the first Johnny English (2003) was a far funnier spy comedy than any of the Austin Powers sequels, and found the 2011 sequel a worthy successor which adapted well with the times, sending up the Daniel Craig-era Bond rather than the Brosnan incarnation spoofed in the first film.

May 18, 2017

R.I.P. Chris Cornell



Singer Chris Cornell died yesterday at the age of 52. Numerous outlets report that his death is being treated as a possible suicide. A superstar of the Nineties grunge scene, Cornell rose to fame as the front man of the band Soundgarden. He found similar success with another group, Audioslave, and as a solo recording artist. It’s in the latter capacity that he is probably best known to James Bond fans, for co-writing and performing “You Know My Name,” the theme song to Daniel Craig’s debut 007 movie, Casino Royale, in 2006.

As much as I love Adele’s “Skyfall,” for me “You Know My Name” is easily the best Bond song in the last 30 years. It’s also the last one, to date, to be co-written by the film’s composer—in this case David Arnold. Arnold and Cornell achieved a perfect creative symbiosis with this track, which boldly introduced Craig’s new, younger, rawer Bond with aggressive first-person lyrics. According to John Burlingame’s The Music of James Bond, Arnold wanted the song to serve as an alternative theme for the less mature Bond, who wouldn’t “earn” the classic Monty Norman/John Barry version of “The James Bond Theme” until the end of the movie. Therefore, he wanted it to have “the same genetic material as the Bond theme, but in a different order and in a different shape.” Indeed it does, and it makes for a truly fantastic substitute theme as Arnold weaves the melody throughout his score. Yet it’s Cornell’s powerful vocals (at the time the first male vocals on a Bond song in nearly two decades) that really cement “You Know My Name” as one of the all-time great Bond themes.

Incredibly, given that he is one of the youngest and most recent, Cornell is the first James Bond main title vocalist to leave us. (The songs performed by Matt Monro, Louis Armstrong, and Dusty Springfield did not play during the main titles of their respective films.) Cornell had battled addiction for most of his life, but seemed to be doing better in recent years. In his final performance, with Soundgarden, earlier last night, CNN reports that he substituted the planned encore with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying.” Cornell’s death so young is a tragedy, but in addition to his lasting impact on popular music, he left an indelible mark on the Bond series with a terrific theme song for one of the franchise’s best films.

May 9, 2017

Tradecraft: NBC Renews TAKEN TV Series

Variety reports that NBC has renewed Taken, the TV series based on the hit Liam Neeson movies, for a second season. Though it wasn't a ratings smash, the show proved popular internationally, living up to its neo-Eurospy pedigree. Clive Standen stars as a younger version of Neeson's character, Bryan Mills. A prequel to the films, the first season chronicled Mills' initial recruitment into the CIA. I only saw the pilot and was less than impressed, but if it was popular enough to be renewed, I should probably give it another try. While the first season was only ten episodes (which currently fill up my DVR), the second will be sixteen. Europacorp has a pretty good track record with TV series based on their spy movies. Transporter: The Series (a truly entertaining action show) lasted two seasons, and Luc Besson's 1990 film La Femme Nikita spawned not one but two successful shows to date.

May 5, 2017

Tradecraft: Ruth Wilson to Star in Miniseries About her Own Family's Spy History

This is fascinating! Deadline reports that Ruth Wilson (The Prisoner) will star in the three-part drama The Wilsons for BBC One about her own grandparents, in which she will play her grandmother, Alison Wilson. When Alison's husband, Alec, dies suddenly, she discovers that she wasn't his only wife. It turns out that he had several wives and several families! And that he was a spy for MI6 in the years between WWI and WWII. I'm honestly quite surprised I've never heard of Alexander Wilson, because not only was he a contemporary of Sidney Reilly's as a British agent, but he was a prolific and apparently popular spy novelist! Writer Tim Crook published a biography of him in 2010, The Secret Lives Of A Secret Agent: The Mysterious Life and Times of Alexander Wilson, and that led to a rediscovery of his fiction, which has been rediscovered and reissued in recent years. Based on his own experiences, his "Wallace of the Secret Service" series spanned nine volumes between 1928 and 1940 (beginning with The Mystery of Tunnel 51) and is said by some to be a precursor to the James Bond books because of the 007/M-like relationship between the Wilson-like field agent and a spymaster who closely resembled real-life C, Sir Mansfield Cumming. (Of course all spy fiction is discussed today in relation to James Bond!) I really am shocked that I've never come across his books, because I've explored a lot of spy fiction from that era and read a lot about Cumming. I will need to make up for this post-haste! The Wilsons will be set in 1940s and 1960s London, and 1930s India.

Tradecraft: Chris Pine and Michelle Williams to Star in Olen Steinhauer Adaptation ALL THE OLD KNIVES

The film rights to Olen Steinhauer's most recent novel, All the Old Knives, were sold a year before the book even came out. When it was published, it was reported that Neil Burger (Limitless, The Asset) would direct, but that never came to pass. Today Variety reports that the project is still alive and well, now in the hands of The Theory of Everything and Shadow Dancer director James Marsh. Chris Pine (Wonder Woman, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea) will star. They're a bit younger than I pictured the characters in the book, but both terrific actors who I can't wait to see in those roles!

The brilliant concept, indicated in the text itself (Steinhaur often tips his hat to his influences in his novels), is Christopher Reid's The Song of Lunch meets Len Deighton's Berlin Game. It's the search for a mole (as in the latter) played out in flashbacks over the course of a dinner between two ex-lovers (as in the former). A man and a woman meet in Carmel by the Sea to relive old times and go over an intelligence debacle in Vienna they were both party to six years prior. The novel trades off first person narration between the two of them. Each is apparently suspicious of the other, and both are potentially unreliable narrators. It's a complex spy game formulated by a writer at the top of his craft and played out in a relatable and intensely emotional scenario. It should make a great movie if Steinhauer (who wrote the screenplay himself) has found a way to make the flashbacks and framing structure cinematic. He's gotten a lot of practice lately on visual storytelling, having created and penned several episodes of Berlin Station on EPIX. (Berlin Station was recently renewed for a second season.)

Now if only we could get some movement on the long overdue adaptation of Steinhauer's masterpiece, the Milo Weaver trilogy! Last we heard, Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) was attached to direct the first novel, The Tourist, with his Covert Affairs partners Matt Corman and Chris Ord penning the script. But that was way back in September, 2012. There haven't been any developments reported on the project since then, and Liman keeps adding movie after movie to his schedule that aren't The Tourist. Hopefully All the Old Knives is a huge hit and kick-starts that franchise.

Apr 28, 2017

The Hollywood Reporter Celebrates 20 Years of Austin Powers

Its reputation irreparably harmed by sequels of astonishingly diminishing quality and catchphrases done to death by a generation of frat boys and office drones in grating put-on accents, reduced as if by choice to the image of a discount Halloween costume consisting of bad teeth, a Union Jack Speedo, and a fecund chest merkin, it's sometimes sadly easy to forget that Jay Roach's Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was not only a bona fide comedy classic, but something of a minor masterpiece. And as much as Jack Ryan or Nikita might beg to differ, it certainly ended up being the defining spy movie of the Nineties. It's also somewhat hard to believe, at least for someone who came of age to a soundtrack of Britpop and trip-hop during the Clinton Administration, that it's twenty years old this week. But it is. It's been that long since Mike Meyers' singular creation managed to simultaneously send up and pay homage to everything Sixties and British from The Beatles to Jason King to Harry Palmer to, of course, Agent 007, in the process forever ruining puns for future Bond actors. Sure, there are plenty of people to this day unaware that their ringtone actually comes courtesy of Derek Flint, not Austin Powers, but there are also plenty of people who never would have discovered Flint or The Avengers or Casino Royale or just about anything covered on this blog had it not been for the Meyers movie. So it's a movie well deserving of the lavish and rather wonderful oral history devoted to it in The Hollywood Reporter this week. Check it out. It's definitely worth a read for spy fans!

Apr 26, 2017

Tradecraft: New Cast Set for STRIKE BACK's Fifth Cinemax Season

Strike Back began with a season on UK satellite channel Sky starring Richard Armitage and Andrew Lincoln (review here). Then Sky made a deal with American cable station Cinemax for further seasons (pilot review here), but Armitage had moved onto The Hobbit and Lincoln was starring on The Walking Dead, so Cinemax reinvented the counterterrorism drama with American Philip Winchester playing Brit Stonebridge, and Aussie Sullivan Stapleton playing his American partner, Scott. The series made stars of both actors. But it concluded after four seasons (not counting that original UK one), and both leads moved onto other shows. Then, last December, Cinemax decided to bring it back again. Now, Deadline reports, the all-new cast for the new season (once again a continuation, not a reboot) has been set.

According to the trade, British actor Warren Brown (Luther) stars as “Mac” McAllister, Australian Daniel MacPherson (The Shannara Chronicles) plays Samuel Wyatt, Roxanne McKee (The Legend of Hercules) is Natalie Reynolds, and Alin Sumarwata (The Diplomat) is Gracie Novin. Nina Sosanya (Marcella), Trevor Eve (The Interceptor), and Katherine Kelly (The Night Manager) round out the cast.

Filming on the third incarnation of Strike Back is already underway, with locations including Jordan and Hungary.

Apr 25, 2017

Full Trailer: KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

Last week we saw the weird, but kind of neat, "teaser for the trailer" for Kingsman: The Golden Circle; now we can watch the full trailer. I certainly enjoy that returning director Matthew Vaughn is unabashedly going full Roger Moore Bond here, because it's nice to have something filling that void while the actual Bond movies are doing something different. And who doesn't love a London cab sprouting a gatling gun? But I do wish Vaughn had been a little more creative in his take on Bondian classics. For example, did the car have to transform into a submarine in the exact same way Moore's Lotus does in The Spy Who Loved Me? I just fear that a generation unfamiliar with Seventies Bond might now grow up thinking of that as a Kingsman thing rather than appreciating the allusion. (Personally, that sequence in the trailer reminds me more of a similar one in a James Tont Eurospy movie, but I'm pretty sure that's not the actual reference Vaughn was aiming for.) Such petty gripes aside, though, it all looks pretty cool, and despite not caring for the first Kingsman movie I retain high hopes for the sequel! After all, it's obviously playing right to my interests with mountaintop lairs, submarine cars, physics-defying stunts, gadgets, and impeccably tailored suits.

Taron Edgerton, Mark Strong, Edward Holcroft (now sporting a Bionic Barry arm), and even Colin Firth (with a nod to Nick Fury) all return from the original Kingsman, joined this time by Michael Gambon, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, and Julianne Moore. In a recent schedule change reported by DeadlineKingsman: The Golden Circle now opens September 22, a week sooner than the previously announced September 29. Doug Liman's Tom Cruise spy movie American Made will open on that date, with Universal executives hoping a week is enough time to get out of the sure to be massive box office orbit of the Kingsman sequel.

Apr 19, 2017

Another Trailer for ATOMIC BLONDE

Last week Universal released a second trailer for the Cold Ware Berlin-set Atomic Blonde, and it's even more action-packed than the first one. Based on Antony Johnston's graphic novel The Coldest City and directed by John Wick co-helmer David Leitch, Atomic Blonde is clearly the spy movie to beat this year! Charlize Theron (Fate of the Furious) stars, alongside Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service), James McAvoy (State of Play), John Goodman (Argo), and Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).

Apr 18, 2017

THE WILD WILD WEST Reunion Movies Finally Come to DVD on their Own

Back in 2008, CBS/Paramount put out The Wild Wild West: The Complete TV Series, which included all four seasons of the classic Sixties spy Western starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin, along with a bonus disc including the two TV reunion movies from 1979 and 1980, respectively—The Wild Wild West Revisited and More Wild Wild West. Rather than a nice bonus feature, though, this proved a bone of contention with many fans who had bought each season as it was released individually and, understandably, did not wish to shell out for a large, annoyingly-shaped box set just to get one extra disc. At the time, it was hoped the two movies would be released on their own, but that never happened. Even worse, when the studio repackaged The Complete TV Series in a streamlined, more shelf-friendly version... the reunion movies were not included. I was therefore quite pleasantly surprised to read on TV Shows On DVD that nine years after their inclusion in the original Complete Series set, CBS/Paramount will finally be releasing a standalone double feature DVD of these two reunion films this summer! And fans who have clung to their individual season releases for all these years can finally complete their collections. The disc will be out on June 13 and will retail for $14.99. It can already be pre-ordered on Amazon. Wow, it gives me such a sense of nostalgia to write a DVD announcement for a Wild Wild West title! I duly reported on the original season releases as they were announced back in the early days of this blog—and the heyday of DVDs—and reviewed them as they came out.
Thanks to Jack for the heads-up!

Read my review of The Wild Wild West - The Second Season
Read my review of The Wild Wild West - The Fourth Season


Teaser for the Trailer for KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

I'm not really a fan of the new trend of teasers for trailers, but I do admire the fact that the Kingsman: The Golden Circle team have discovered a new approach. Rather than just showing a few seconds of action from the trailer, they've released a super high speed version of the complete trailer. So let your eyes imprint on brief snatches of what we can expect from the full version of the first trailer for the eagerly anticipated sequel when it drops in the coming days, or else go meticulously frame-by-frame through it to get glimpses of everything. Be warned, of course, that if there's such a thing as a spoiler for a trailer, this effectively manages to "spoil" the entire thing. Taron Edgerton, Mark Strong, and even Colin Firth all return from the original Kingsman, joined this time by Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, and Julianne Moore. Matthew Vaughn once again directs.  Kingsman: The Golden Circle opens September 29 opposite Doug Liman's Tom Cruise spy movie American Made. (Let's hope we get a trailer for that one soon, too!)

Trailer: AMERICAN ASSASSIN

After an infinite development process including many false starts, Mitch Rapp is finally that much closer to the big screen with a trailer! And a release Deadline reports that Lionsgate and CBS Films have set a September 15 release date for the first Vince Flynn adaptation, American Assassin, starring Dylan O'Brien and Michael Keaton. September is shaping up to be a spy-heavy month, with Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle and Bourne Identity director Doug Liman's Iran-Contra movie with Tom Cruise, American Made (formerly Mena), both set to bow on September 29. (Expect trailers for those ones soon.)

Mitch Rapp has taken a long, winding road to get to the screen, and it's unfortunate that his creator didn't live to see the results. (Though like Bourne and Bond, Rapp has outlived his creator with new books still being published by continuation authors.) First set up at CBS Films for producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura way back in early 2008, actors like Gerrard Butler, Matthew Fox and Chris Hemsworth all at one time or another flirted with playing Flynn's counter-terror hero, and Bruce Willis was at one point up for the role that eventually went to Keaton. Legends' Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Legends of the Fall's Ed Zwick were both linked to direct at one time or another, before the job eventually went to Homeland veteran Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger), working from a script by The Americans' Stephen Schiff. Originally it was CBS Films' plan to adapt Flynn's 2005 novel Consent to Kill first. But now American Assassin is a reality, and here's the trailer to prove it:

Trailer for SAS Drama 6 DAYS

The first trailer is out for 6 Days, an SAS thriller about the same 1980 hostage standoff in the Iranian Embassy in London that inspired the action classic Who Dares Wins (aka The Final Option). Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Kingsman), Jamie Bell (TURN: Washington's Spies) and Abbie Cornish (Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan) star, along with the late Tim Pigott-Smith (Quantum of Solace) in one of his final performances and, in a nice touch, Who Dares Wins star Lewis Collins' old Professionals cohort, Martin Shaw. While there's still no release date officially set, Deadline recently reported that Vertical Entertainment "is eyeing a fall theatrical bow in the U.S. for the pic." Netflix is distributing in a number of international territories.

Apr 13, 2017

Tradecraft: William Hurt Among Cast for CONDOR Remake Series

Variety reports that the cast has been set for The Audience Network's TV series version of 3 Days of the Condor. (All the trades refer to it as being "inspired by" Sydney Pollack's iconic 1975 film, rather than adapted from James Grady's 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor (itself a cornerstone of the spy genre). Indeed, the series protagonist played by Max Irons is named Joe Turner, like in the film, and not Ronald Malcolm, as in the book. But the movie was close enough to its source material (despite a few key differences) that if the TV series is at all faithful to either, it should at least resemble both.

Joining the previously cast Max Irons (Crooked House) as Turner are Hollywood heavyweights William Hurt (The Accidental Tourist), Bob Balaban (Best in Show), Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite), and Brenden Fraser (The Quiet American). Anyone who's seen A History of Violence knows that Hurt would be a perfect choice to play the assassin originally portrayed so memorably by Max Von Sydow, a role it's absolutely crucial for the series to nail in order to succeed. (And a role that's actually much more interesting in the movie than in the book, where he is more of a generic hitman.) But... that's not who he's playing, unfortunately. That part will actually be played by 20-year-old Israeli Arab actress Leem Lubany. Lubany was very good in Rock the Casbah (2015) and scored great reviews for the Oscar-nominated Omar (2013)... but her casting in this part raises some alarm bells for me. I've got no problem with the gender flip, but the age is a different matter. Casting a sexy young star in the role certainly changes the part from Von Sydow's scene stealing elder statesman of murder for hire. And based on Deadline's description of her character, Gabrielle Joubert ("an elite Special Forces operative whose formidable physical talents are matched by a deep emotional imbalance"), the role sounds closer to the generic killer of the book than the fascinating enigma of the film. Which is too bad.

Hurt, meanwhile, will play what sounds like a variation on John Houseman's character from the film. Per Variety: "Bob Partridge [is] a decorated CIA field operative who is rusty and a little soft after 20 years behind a desk. He’s tried to make changes for the better while at the CIA, including recruiting a team of the country’s top young minds to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to some of the United States’ most intractable problems."

Balaban is career CIA administrator Reuel Abbott, a name I don't recall from either the book or the movie. Sorvino, according to a different Deadline story, "will play Marty Frost, an investigator who has come out of retirement to take over the investigation after an attack at Joe’s office." It sounds like her role may be inspired by Cliff Robertson's in the film.

Fraser, per yet another Deadline story, "will play Nathan Fowler, an unstable yet efficient central cog in an unholy alliance between the private military company that employs him and the CIA. He’s motivated by his hatred of radical Islam, but also by his inner child’s desire to win the approval of his war-hero father. Nathan is redeemed by his fierce love for his daughter, but that relationship and his fanaticism are on a collision course."

Katherine Cunningham (The Playboy Club) takes on the Faye Dunaway role of Kathy Hale (again using the character's movie name rather than book name), reimagined for our times as "a corporate lawyer who’s lonely and dissatisfied with her buttoned-up life." Kristoffer Polaha (Castle) plays another character from the movie, Turner's friend and colleague Sam Barber.

Apr 11, 2017

First Set Photos Emerge from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 6 Paris Shoot

This still untitled sixth Mission: Impossible movie began shooting this week in Paris, and inevitably set photos and videos have rapidly emerged. They depict Tom Cruise performing a motorcycle stunt (presumably part of a chase) where he rides into traffic, hits a car, and flies over the handles via a harness. Hopefully Cruise and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie have something really spectacular in mind to differentiate this motorcycle sequence from the one in the last movie, or the one in M:I-2... or the ones in other recent spy movies like Jason Bourne, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or Skyfall... or the one in Cruise's other spy movie Knight and Day. Perhaps that's not fair. After all, just about every spy movie has a car chase, and while there have certainly been good ones and bad ones over the years, I wouldn't say those ever got old. But it seems to me like spy movie motorcycle chases tend to do the same thing again and again. And a lot of the recent ones (especially Knight & Day and The Bourne Legacy) have felt like retreads of the one in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). But I do have faith in McQuarrie, and I have no doubt there will be plenty of other stunts in Mission: Impossible 6 as well!

While there are videos all over YouTube of Cruise filming the stunt, Dark Horizons has curated a good assortment of the best ones, along with a number of photos. Check them out! No cast members besides Cruise were spotted on set so far.

Mar 30, 2017

First Poster for KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

I was not a fan of the first Kingsman movie, but that doesn't mean I'm not excited for the sequel. I still like the premise, and I hope that this time Matthew Vaughn delivers on it with a little more fun and a little less gratuitous and offputting graphic violence. In Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Eggsy (Taron Edgerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) encounter their American counterparts at the secret U.S. spy agency Statesman. Cue that favorite English stereotype of all Americans as cowboys. While the British stereotype (from the first film, but really borrowed from The Avengers) remains well-tailored suits and brollies, the American one is apparently jeans and whips. I would hazard that a larger percentage of Englishmen actually do carry umbrellas than Americans whips. I've lived in three very different geographical parts of the United States and never seen anyone with a whip in public outside of Indiana Jones cosplayers at Comic-Con.... Makes for great teaser poster iconography though!

Mar 29, 2017

More MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 6 Details: Baldwin and Harris Return; Renner Doesn't

Paramount revealed new details about Mission: Impossible 6 today at Cinemacon, and CinemaBlend was there to report on it. Regular IMF team members Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames will return along with the previously announced Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson, the latter making her second franchise appearance and thus becoming the first female agent to recur in the film series. Additionally, Alec Baldwin will become the first director of the IMF to appear in two films, the position having seen more than its share of turnover throughout the years. And Sean Harris, who played Solomon Lane, head of the Syndicate (the organization a nice throwback to the TV series, first teased at the end of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol in 2011) will be the series' first villain to make a reappearance. But Jeremy Renner, who has appeared in the last two movies in the franchise as IMF agent William Brandt, will not be back for this outing. This is probably due to his numerous other commitments - most notably the two back-to-back Avengers movies on his plate. Last week, Variety revealed a few more details about the role to be played by franchise newcomer Henry Cavill (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), and it sounded a lot like Renner's role in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. According to the trade, "Cavill would play some sort of a right hand to the head of Cruise’s unit." Presumably that means Baldwin. So it sounds to me like returning director and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie wrote the part for Renner, but changed the role when the actor proved unavailable. (Team members coming and going is a longstanding tradition in the Mission: Impossible franchise, going back to the days of the TV show.) While Renner it's always possible Renner could still show up in a cameo (like Rhames did in Ghost Protocol), I kind of hope they don't try to address his absence in some unsatisfying way, like saying he was killed off-screen. I'd rather it just go unexplained, like Martin Landau's and Barbara Bain's disappearances from the fourth season of the show.

Some new faces joining the cast for the sixth film will be the previously reported Vanessa Kirby, and British actress Sian Brooks, whose villainess proved the standout character on the most recent season of Sherlock.

It was also announced at Cinemacon that the new movie's shooting locations will include London, Paris, India and New Zealand, and that production commences on April 16. Furthermore, Mission: Impossible 6 will be the first entry in this or any major spy franchise to shoot in 3D. (It's sort of surprising it took this long, since Paramount loves that format.) I could care less about 3D, personally, and would fear it might detract from the series' signature action setpieces, except for the news that it's shooting in IMAX 3D. This is indeed preferable. The sequences shot for the large format in Brad Bird's Ghost Protocol were truly spectacular, and for me 3D works better on the giant screen. (Provided you're sitting in the right spot, that is.)

What sort of death-defying stunts are we likely to see Tom Cruise performing in 3D? Well, producer David Ellison offered some tantalizing teases about that to Collider last week (via Dark Horizons):
"And I will say after the Burj [Khalifa] we thought it was going to be impossible to top that stunt, and then Tom did the A400M for the plane. What Tom is doing in this movie I believe will top anything that’s come before. It is absolutely unbelievable—he’s been training for a year. It is going to be, I believe, the most impressive and unbelievable thing that Tom Cruise has done in a movie, and he has been working on it since right after Rogue Nation came out. It’s gonna be mind-blowing."
So we've got that sequence to look forward to... whatever it turns out to be!

The Mission movies have been on a roll lately, with the last two being easily the best in the two decade old film series. I have every expectation that McQuarrie will deliver once again, and I can't wait to see how!

Mar 22, 2017

Sixties Spy Show CORONET BLUE Coming to DVD At Last

Well, here's a welcome surprise! Kino Lorber announced today on their Facebook page that they will release one of the few remaining American spy shows of the Sixties not yet on DVD later this year! The elusive CBS series Coronet Blue, starring Frank Converse, was shot in 1965 but not aired until 1967 as a summer replacement series. It sounds like The Fugitive meets The Bourne Identity... though of course it pre-dated Robert Ludlum's book by more than a decade. The intriguing premise has long put this one need the top of my DVD wish list, and I'm thrilled that I'll finally have a chance to see it! Here's how Kino Lorber describes the series: "In this espionage thriller, Michael Alden (Frank Converse) is an amnesiac double agent in search of his true identity, while assassins of a mysterious syndicate are trying to locate and kill him." The strange (and probably detrimental) title comes from the few, seemingly nonsensical words that Converse can remember: "Coronet Blue." Coronet Blue: The Complete Series will include all 13 episodes - two of those never aired during its original run. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled before its central mystery could be solved, but one extra announced for the DVD is sure to clear that up. There will be a new interview with series creator Larry Cohen (whose career has encompassed everything from Sixties spy shows like Espionage and Blue Light to Eighties schlock classics like Maniac Cop and 21st Century high-concept thrillers like Phone Booth and Cellular), who has never been shy in sharing where he intended for the series to go. (Don't read the show's Wikipedia page, for example, if you don't wish it spoiled before you get to watch these DVDs.) So while the show may not have an ending, at least, unlike with The Sandbaggers, we can watch the creator describe what would have happened had it continued.

An impressive roster of guest stars on Coronet Blue included Alan Alda, Candice Bergen, David Carradine, Dick Clark, Denholm Elliott, Vincent Gardenia, Signe Hasso, Hal Holbrook, Sally Kellerman, Janet Margolin, Chester Morris, Juliet Mills, Patrick O’Neal, Mitchell Ryan, Roy Scheider, Daniel J. Travanti, Brenda Vaccaro, John Vernon, Jon Voight, and Billy Dee Williams.

It's been years since we've gotten a new release of an American Sixties spy series on DVD! (I think Jericho was the last one, and that Warner Archive set of Man From U.N.C.L.E. producer Norman Felton's 1966 WWII espionage drama happens to currently be on sale for a ridiculously low price on Amazon!) I never expected to see Coronet Blue get this treatment, and it's a most welcome announcement. Notable titles remaining MIA include Blue Light (also created by Cohen), Amos Burke: Secret Agent, The Double Life of Henry Phyfe, and, most of all, T.H.E. Cat. Let's hope some of those also turn up out of the blue in the months ahead!

Mar 16, 2017

Tradecraft: Henry Cavill Joins Mission: Impossible 6

Napoleon Solo is ditching U.N.C.L.E. for the IMF. Deadline reports that Henry Cavill has joined the cast of Mission: Impossible 6. Director Christopher McQuarrie made the announcement on Instagram before warning Cavill that "your social media account will self-destruct in 5 seconds." So apparently the actor holds no ill will against Tom Cruise for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation crushing The Man From U.N.C.L.E. at the late summer box office in 2015. (Cruise himself was briefly attached to play Solo before dropping out due to scheduling conflicts from that M:I movie, opening the door for Hammer... who totally nailed the part.) There are no details whatsoever on what sort of part Cavill will be playing in the still untitled Mission: Impossible movies, but the trade reports that he will join "Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, and Jeremy Renner" in the cast. If this is true, then it would seem unlikely that Cavill will be a member of Cruise's team. It was rumored that Renner might not be available for this one, but if he is on board, it seems unlikely that there are three positions on the team for handsome men of action. (Imagine if the original TV lineup had been all Peter Lupus!) So will he be a villain? An external ally? I look forward to finding out! Cavill may have lost out on James Bond to Daniel Craig, but he seems determined to make up for that by booking roles in all the other spy franchises! (Is there a part for him in the next Bourne movie...?)

Mar 13, 2017

Public Service Announcement: Don't Forget to Reset Your DVRs for New Season of Archer on FXX



Archer returns for a brand new season on April 5. By now everyone is probably aware that the former spy parody will undergo a pretty big format change this year, morphing via coma dreams (Magnum-style, in keeping with last year's Eighties detective stylings) into a 1940s film noir send-up... but you may not know that it's also changing networks, moving from FX to FXX. And if you did know that, you still may not have considered the immediate ramifications of that switch. If you have a series recording set on your DVR, with many models you will need to cancel that recording and set up a new one for the new channel. Otherwise, Archer: Dreamland will fail to automatically appear in your recordings and you'll probably forget about it and miss the whole season. Or maybe that's just me who still uses a DVR and misses seasons when shows switch networks. But just in case! And another thing that might help you not forget that the new season exists is watching this promising trailer:

Mar 10, 2017

Full Red Band Trailer for Atomic Blonde

Yesterday we saw the teasers for the trailer, and today, sure enough, Universal has delivered for our viewing pleasure the full red-band trailer for Atomic Blonde in all its restricted and NSFW glory! I've said before that this will be the spy movie of the summer, and this trailer, every bit as fantastic as I had expected, would seem to confirm that! Everyone is going to be talking about David (John Wick) Leitch's film version of Antony Johnston and Sam Hart's Cold War Berlin-set Oni graphic novel The Coldest City (even despite the unfortunate title change)... especially after it premieres shortly at SXSW. Unfortunately it doesn't open until July, but that's plenty of time to build up enthusiasm! Charlize Theron (The Fate of the Furious), Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service), James McAvoy (State of Play), John Goodman (Argo), and Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) star.

Mar 9, 2017

Tradecraft: Night Manager Producers Plot New Period Spy Drama

Deadline reports that The Ink Factory, the production company behind the hit John le Carré TV adaptation The Night Manager (along with films of his work including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, A Most Wanted Man and Our Kind of Traitor), is plotting a new spy drama. The company, run by two of le Carré’s sons, will partner with Rise Films and Film4 to develop a Cold War spy film not based on one of the author's novels. Instead, the inspiration for The American War, an espionage tale set against the backdrop of the fall of Saigon in the last days of the Vietnam War in 1975, will be two non-fiction memoirs by former CIA agent Frank Snepp: Decent Interval: An Insider's Account of Saigon's Indecent End Told by the CIA's Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam and Irreparable Harm: A Firsthand Account of How One Agent Took on the CIA in an Epic Battle Over Free Speech. Tom Morton-Smith, who wrote the acclaimed play "Oppenheimer," about the father of the atomic bomb, will pen the screenplay.

According to the trade, "the film will follow the rising tensions between the intelligence community and a U.S. administration whose refusal to accept the facts prompted a catastrophic compromise of vulnerable American and South Vietnamese personnel and their families, followed by a refugee crisis. Despite this system failure and heart-breaking betrayal, individual acts of heroism and Snepp’s own desperate last-minute efforts to persuade his superiors in Saigon to admit defeat resulted in the evacuation of many people." So, obviously, they're going for a very timely take on the material!

Two Teasers for the Trailer of Atomic Blonde

Universal has released two short, tantalizing teasers for a longer, red-band trailer set to drop tomorrow for Atomic Blonde, which I've said before will be the spy movie of the summer. Seriously, everyone is going to be talking about David (John Wick) Leitch's film version of Antony Johnston and Sam Hart's Cold War Berlin-set Oni graphic novel The Coldest City (even despite the unfortunate title change). Why? Well, take a look at these micro-teasers and see for yourself! Charlize Theron (The Fate of the Furious), Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service), James McAvoy (State of Play), John Goodman (Argo), and Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) star.

You'll be hearing a lot more about Atomic Blonde once it premieres next week at SXSW! It opens nationwide in July.


Mar 8, 2017

Trailer for George Lazenby Docu-Drama Becoming Bond

For the past year or so we've heard little about that George Lazenby documentary that was rumored to be in the works. But today it careened onto the internet in a spectacular way, with a fantastic trailer and the announcement that it will premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival next week. And the trailer reveals that it's actually quite a bit more than a traditional documentary. It's a "documentary-narrative hybrid," which combines interview material with Lazenby today with recreations of the larger than life tales he narrates. The recreation cast includes Josh Lawson (House of Lies) as Lazenby, Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm) as Harry Saltzman, and Dana Carvey (Saturday Night Live) as Johnny Carson. Jane Seymour (Live and Let Die) and Jake Johnson (Drinking Buddies, Jurassic World) also star, the latter playing a presumably made-up or composite character with an inside joke name that may tickle hardcore Ian Fleming fans: Peregrine Carruthers.

Lazenby is an incredible raconteur, and the tale of how he basically conned his way into the most coveted role in the world, taking over from Sean Connery as James Bond despite zero acting experience, and went on to make a movie that many (myself included) consider to be the best in the series, On Her Majesty's Secret Service... and then promptly pissed away his sudden success... is certainly one deserving of this kind of lavish treatment! 

Director Josh Greenbaum's Becoming Bond premieres at SXSW on March 11 and makes its streaming on Hulu on May 20. EW premiered the stunning trailer, which you can see below: 



Now, if only Lazenby would finally write that autobiography he's been promising for years! Hopefully this movie will be a resounding success and spur him to do so.
Thanks to Sybil for the heads-up!

Mar 7, 2017

John le Carré to Publish New George Smiley Novel A Legacy of Spies!

This is perhaps the most exciting news I have ever written about here, in my ten plus years of blogging about fictional spies. It was announced today that John le Carré, the master of the espionage genre (and my personal favorite writer of all time) will publish a new novel about his most famous protagonist, George Smiley, in the fall. A new Smiley novel! Can it possibly be true? It is! There's a plot description on the author's website and even a pre-order listing on Amazon. A Legacy of Spies will be published September 5, 2017, in the United States, and September 7 in Britain. Here is the official description:
After 25 years, Smiley is back... 
Peter Guillam, staunch colleague and disciple of George Smiley of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as the Circus, is living out his old age on the family farmstead on the south coast of Brittany when a letter from his old Service summons him to London.  The reason? His Cold War past has come back to claim him.  
Intelligence operations that were once the toast of secret London, and involved such characters as Alec Leamas, Jim Prideaux, George Smiley and Peter Guillam himself, are to be scrutinised under disturbing criteria by a generation with no memory of the Cold War and no patience with its justifications. 
Interweaving past with present so that each may tell its own intense story, John le Carré has spun a single plot as ingenious and thrilling as the two predecessors on which it looks back: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
So not just Smiley will be back, but also many of our other favorite characters from the earlier novels, including Guillam (whose role was disappointingly small in the previously final Smiley outing, The Secret Pilgrim) and even Alec Leamas, hero of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold! (Le Carré once seemed sworn against ever writing about him again, joking in his introduction to a later edition of The Looking Glass War that at the time of its initial publication, all the UK public seemed to want from him was Alec Leamas Rides Again.) Penguin editor Mary Mount provides some further fascinating hints of what we can expect from A Legacy of Spies on the Penguin website. "A Legacy of Spies asks questions about how we reckon with the past and with our political history," she writes. "As with all of le Carré’s fiction, it brilliantly illuminates human folly and our frailty. The pain, the clarity, of hindsight is so beautifully rendered showing how the passage of time fully exposes acts of violence, framed as utterly necessary at the time, for what they are."

Le Carré has always prided himself on staying topical and never looking" back, never dwelling on the past. When the Berlin Wall came down, many critics tried to write him off, but he not only stayed aggressively relevant in the post-Cold War world; he produced some of his greatest work against the backdrop of the New World Order (The Night Manager, Our Game) and the War on Terror (A Most Wanted Man). Perhaps writing his memoirs, The Pigeon Tunnel (published last year) got him in a more reflective mood and inspired him to revisit his beloved Cold War characters, but it certainly sounds like he's found a way to do so while still remaining doggedly current, which seems appropriate, especially in a time when half the daily headlines seem torn from the pages of a le Carré novel!

George Smiley first appeared as the protagonist of le Carré's first novel, Call for the Dead (1961), and served the same role in his second, A Murder of Quality (1962). The character took a backseat in his next two books, playing a more minor role in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) and The Looking Glass War (1965), before taking center stage once more in the epic "Quest for Karla" trilogy, beginning with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), and continuing with The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) and Smiley's People (1979). Just as the character never seemed to be able to retire from "the Circus" (as British Intelligence is known in le Carré jargon), the author never seemed quite ready to retire his character. He brought George back (again relegated to a secondary role) for a swan song in The Secret Pilgrim (1990), his eulogy for the Cold War. "It's over, and so am I. Absolutely over," Smiley told a gathering of MI6's latest recruits. "Time you rang down the curtain on yesterday's cold warrior... The new time needs new people. The worst thing you can do is imitate us." And so he exits, leaving them with one final piece of advice: "We've given up far too many freedoms in order to be free. Now we've got to take them back." Even that exit, it now seems, was not, absolutely, his final. I suspect the new novel will develop that final theme further.

Two other le Carré novels, The Russia House (1989) and The Night Manager (1993) are set in the same world and feature some of the same characters, but not Smiley himself. They form a loose trilogy with The Secret Pilgrim as the middle book. The latter, which was made into a successful miniseries last year, features Smiley's Secret Service protege, Burr.

Smiley himself has been portrayed many times on screen, most famously by Alec Guinness in a pair of BBC miniseries and most recently by Gary Oldman in Tomas Alfredson's 2011 feature film adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Presumably, he'll next be seen on the small screen in the forthcoming miniseries version of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (previously filmed in 1965).

The Smiley Files
Part 1: George Smiley: An Introduction
Part 2: Movie Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Part 3: Book Review: Call for the Dead (1961)
Part 4: Movie Review: The Deadly Affair (1966)
Part 5: Book Review: A Murder of Quality (1962)
Part 6: Movie Review: A Murder of Quality (1991)
Part 7: Book Review: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963)
Part 8: Book Review: The Looking Glass War (1965)
Part 9: Book Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974)

Tradecraft: Vanessa Kirby Joins Mission: Impossible 6

According to Variety, Mission: Impossible 6 has begun casting. Vanessa Kirby, who plays Princess Margaret on the Netflix hit The Crown, will play an unspecified female lead. The trade reports that the unknown role "is expected to be on the same level as [Rebecca] Ferguson’s in [Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation]." Ferguson herself, having made such a star-making impression in that movie, is also expected to return. This will be the first time in the film series that a leading lady has reprised a role in more than a cameo. According to the trade, "Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner are also expected to return, though it’s unknown in what capacity." Rogue Nation's Christopher McQuarrie will write and direct, marking another first for a franchise previously known for showcasing a different director's style each outing. McQuarrie recently said that the sixth film would explore Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt character more. That makes me a little wary. While I always loved the rare character-focused episodes of the TV series, that was because they were such anomalies. The franchise, in both film and television, is not known for deep character exploration, but for elaborate cons and, in the films, enormous action setpieces. Still, McQuarrie did an excellent job with the last movie, so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Mission: Impossible 6 is expected to start filming sometime this spring. Cruise's next spy role, in the meantime, will be playing real-life CIA pilot Barry Seal in the Iran-Contra movie American Made (formerly known as Mena) for director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity).

Feb 23, 2017

The Coldest City Warms Up to Atomic Blonde, and Charlize Keeps Spying

The bad news is that, according to Deadline, Focus Features has changed the title of their Cold War Berlin comic book adaptation The Coldest City to Atomic Blonde. They had one of the coolest spy titles ever, and now they've got a Roller Derby competitor. (Nothing against Derby Dolls; they just aren't the same as spies.) They had a brand, and now they have a handicap. The good news, though, is that the movie looks awesome enough to overcome a title like that! (Perhaps it's just so damn cool that the studio thought it was only fair to handicap it?) Adding ammo to my suspicion of the movie's actual awesomeness and the studio's confidence in their product is the news that they will debut it at the hip South by Southwest film festival four and a half months before its July 28 opening, allowing plenty of time to build positive buzz. (And in another sign of confidence, they had previously moved up that opening from August to July, at the height of summer.)

Atomic Blonde is based on the Oni Press graphic novel The Coldest City, by Antony Johnston (Alex Rider, Queen & Country) and Sam Hart. While the moody, black and white comic (to which Johnston recently published a prequel, The Coldest Winter) played up the chilly, brooding Cold War paranoia of 1989 Berlin, it's clear from the (thankfully very cool) poster that the movie adaptation (penned by Kurt Jonstad and directed by David Leitch, half of the duo behind the ultra-stylish actionfest John Wick and the man tapped to direct Deadpool 2) instead plays up the neon MTV aspects of that decade. So perhaps it will be a little more Deutschland 83 than The Americans as 1980s-set spy entertainment goes. I think it's safe to say that we can expect a bit more action from the film, penned by Kurt Jonstad (Act of Valor), than the comic, which was more concerned with the treacherous internecine bureaucracy of Cold War espionage. Reigning action queen Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) stars as MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, dispatched to Berlin to unmask a mole on the eve of the fall of the Wall. James McAvoy (State of Play), Sofia Boutella (Kingsman), John Goodman (Argo), Til Schweiger (Inglourious Basterds) and Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) round out the impressive cast roster. Trust me, even with that title, this is going to be the coolest spy movie of 2017!

Theron, meanwhile, appears to be addicted to spying. In a separate story, Deadline reports that Universal has optioned Need to Know, a forthcoming spy novel from former CIA analyst Karen Cleveland, for her to star in and produce. (She also produces Atomic Blonde through her Denver & Delilah Films shingle.) According to the trade, the thriller follows "a wife and mother who works as a CIA analyst. One morning while digitally searching files in hopes of unmasking a Russian sleeper cell in the U.S., she makes a shocking discovery that threatens her job, her family and her life." There is no publisher yet set, but the manuscript apparently sparked an intense bidding war. Theron was also previously attached to star in a movie of the Mark Greaney novel The Gray Man, in which the book's generic male super-assassin hero was going to be changed to a woman, but we haven't heard any news on that project since 2015, so I'm not sure if she's still involved or not. The actress will next be seen in The Fate of the Furious, a project that reunites her with her Italian Job director and co-star, F. Gary Gray and Jason Statham. (The trailers make it look like this movie easily tops Die Another Day's car chase on ice.)