Oct 7, 2017

Trailer: Amazon's JACK RYAN Series

Today at the New York Comic Con Amazon unveiled the first extensive look at their upcoming series Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, starring John Krasinski (13 Hours) as the CIA analyst previously embodied by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine. I like that Ryan protests being sent to interrogate someone, insisting he's just an analyst... but I'm a little worried about how quickly the trailer cuts to Ryan running around with a gun. I think the key to successfully adapting Clancy's books is making sure that Ryan always remains an analyst, and when he gets into extraordinary situations (like a shootout on a nuclear submarine, or dangling from the open door of Air Force One on a Moscow runway) it's clear that, while capable, he is severely out of his element. Here's hoping that's exactly what this contemporary update of Clancy's classic character who originated in the Cold War does!

Tradecraft: Titan Announces New PRISONER Comic Book

Unpublished art by Gil Kane, inked by
Steve Leialoha 
Patrick McGoohan's iconic Sixties ITC series The Prisoner has been returning in a lot of different mediums lately. Big Finish did a surprisingly good job with their audio adventures, which are not so much sequel, remake, or reboot as an alternate version of the original story. The less said about AMC's 2009 miniseries version, the better. Now Titan Comics have announced a new Prisoner comic book. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the comic will be out next year with Peter Milligan (X-Statix, Hellblazer, Human Target) writing and Colin Lorimar (The X-Files) illustrating. While The Prisoner celebrated the 50th anniversary of its UK debut last week, the comic will be timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of its American broadcast. It won't be set in the Sixties and it won't focus on McGoohan's iconoclastic Number 6; instead it will be a contemporary continuation of the original story, focusing on Number 6's modern-day successor. I first became a fan of Milligan's on his controversial run on X-Force (which became X-Statix), a twisted, surreal, and highly irreverent approach to a beloved property that in my mind makes him the perfect scribe for a modern-day Prisoner comic. "For a story where all is ambiguous," he told the trade, "it’s hardly surprising that everyone takes from The Prisoner something different. Like most people I had my own theories, my own twisted notions – mostly Kafkaesque and existential — of what was really going on in those mock Italianate dwellings. Personally, the stranger and more baffling it was, the better it suited me."

The Prisoner will fit well in Titan Comics' impressive roster of iconic British brands. The company currently has licences to publish comics based on Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Hammer horror (I encourage all Brian Clemens fans to seek out their new Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter comic!), among other popular UK-based TV and movie properties. Wouldn't it be fantastic if The Prisoner proves successful enough to lead to comic book revivals of other ITC classics?!

This is far from the first Prisoner comic book. The most famous adaptation to that medium may be one that was sadly never published, the great Jack Kirby's legendary attempt for Marvel in the early Seventies. Before that, another comics superstar, Gil Kane, made an attempt (scripted by Steve Englehart) that also went unpublished. (In news that might even be more exciting than the new comic, Titan will also be producing an oversized hardcover Artist Edition presenting the original art for both of these never-published adaptations! I'll post more news on that as I can get it.) In 1988, DC published the 4-volume, prestige format The Prisoner: Shattered Visage by Dean Motter and Mark Askwith, a then-contemporary sequel to the original series featuring an aged Number 6. The most recent Prisoner comic was published by Marvel in 2009, and tied in with the AMC miniseries, not the original show. While I'd love most to see new stories about McGoohan's Number 6, based on Titan's track record and Milligan's stellar past work, I'm very much looking forward to this modern take!

Sep 30, 2017

Tradecraft: Bond Producers Tap Jude Law for Next Spy Movie; Paramount to Distribute

Let the speculation end. James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have chosen their next leading man: Jude Law. This, of course, is not for the untitled Bond 25, which we all know will star Daniel Craig (the man himself announced it on Stephen Colbert's show over the summer), but for their female spy franchise starter The Rhythm Section, in which Law (Spy) will play opposite star Blake Lively. Variety reports that Paramount will handle worldwide distribution, which is new information since the film was first announced in July. IM Global will finance, and Wilson and Broccoli will produce through EON Productions. Unlike a lot of non-Bond films announced by EON (including the spy movies Remote Control and No Place to Hide), it looks like The Rhythm Section will actually happen. According to the trade, "the film will begin production this fall and will likely shoot in the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Spain, and Switzerland." No details are offered on what kind of role Law will play in the adaptation of Mark Burnell's 1999 novel.

While I'm hugely excited about the prospect of EON launching a franchise centered on a female spy, the most interesting news in the Variety story is the part about Paramount. If EON are working with that studio, could that be a hint that they will also partner on the next Bond movie? EON and MGM are currently seeking a distribution partner following the expiration of their Sony deal after SPECTRE, and several studios, including Paramount (as well as upstarts like Annapurna, Amazon, and Apple), are said to be eagerly pursuing the opportunity. Could Paramount's involvement in The Rhythm Section be part of a larger deal including 007, or possibly a trial run for EON to see how they like working with the studio? Only time will tell, but the prospect is an interesting one. Paramount, of course, already has a robust spy franchise in Mission: Impossible, but are probably eager for more, especially after the Jack Ryan brand moved to television.

Sep 28, 2017

New Spy Blu-Rays Out This Week: OSS 117 and DIMENSION 5

Kino-Lorber unleashed a tidal wave of Sixties spy goodness (and a little enjoyable Sixties spy mediocrity as well) in high definition this week. The main attraction is definitely their OSS 117 Five Film Collection, a glorious box set of five of the best Eurospy films of all – the Andre Hunebelle-produced OSS 117 movies. The B-picture on this bill is Dimension 5, an American poverty row spy picture from 1966 best known for co-starring Oddjob himself, Harold Sakata, as the Yellow Peril baddie, Big Buddha. None of these movies have been available before in America in legitimate digital form, so Kino are also offering both the OSS 117 set and Dimension 5 in standard def on DVD.

The OSS 117 Five Film Collection doesn't include all the OSS 117 films, but it does include all the Hunebelle-produced ones, which are the ones that matter most. Kerwin Mathews (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) stars in the first two, Frederick Stafford (Topaz) in the next two, and John Gavin (the American actor who was actually cast as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever before a record-setting million dollar payday lured Sean Connery back into the fold) stars in the final film. While most audiences are probably familiar with Agent OSS 117 (if at all) through the superb Jean Dujardin spoof movies from the 2000s, Jean Bruce's literary character actually pre-dates 007. Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, code name OSS 117, appeared in over 200 novels and a handful of films, of which the ones presented here are the most essential. For more on OSS 117, read my in-depth overview of the character and his screen appearances here.

I've reviewed each of these movies individually before, but off of gray market English-dubbed DVDs. I'll update my reviews soon to address the Kino Blu-rays, which appear to use the same HD transfers as the recent French Blu-rays from Gaumont. OSS 117 Is Unleashed (1963, review here) may be black and white, but it's a few years ahead of From Russia With Love, incorporating terrific underwater action with its villains' lairs and breathtaking European locations well before Bond ever made a dive on screen. OSS 117: Panic in Bangkok (1964, review here) follows Mathews to Thailand, where he takes on a caped supervillain. OSS 117: Mission for a Killer (1965, review here) introduces Stafford, co-starring with the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Mylène Demongeot (Fantomas), one of the most beautiful Eurospy babes of all. They hunt Nazis in Brazil, providing a lot of the basis for the later Dujardin parody movies. OSS 117: Mission to Tokyo (1966, review here) is my favorite film of the batch, and again beats Bond to the punch on multiple counts, including many Tokyo locations, geisha baths, and a ship with a bow that opens to swallow up smaller ships. It's tempting to credit the extra Bondian touches to co-writer Terrence Young (director of several seminal Connery Bond flicks), but his actual involvement is said to have been minimal. OSS 117: Double Agent (1968, review here) has plenty of Bond connections of its own. Beyond star Gavin being a notable footnote in 007 lore, legitimate Bond players Luciana Paluzzi (Thunderball) and Curd Jurgens (The Spy Who Loved Me) also star. For my money, Jurgens actually makes a more memorable OSS 117 villain than Bond villain.

All five films are top-tier Eurospy movies. They've also got considerably higher budgets than most Euro flicks of the era (though still not in the Bond league, of course), making them great stepping stones from 007 into the world of his imitators. From what I've had a chance to sample, the high-def transfers look fantastic. My only gripes with Kino's set are that they didn't port over (and sub) the copious extras from the French DVD set, and, more crucially, that they didn't include English audio options. All of these movies were originally dubbed (and quite well) for American release. According to Kino, they were unable to locate those elements in a condition that matched the quality of the remastered picture. Alas. But the English subtitles are excellent, and the French audio sounds great. Overall, this is probably the best treatment any Eurospy movies have ever been given in the United States! And at just under $35 on Amazon, this set is a deal no Bond fan or Eurospy fan can pass up!

Original Enterprise captain Jeffrey Hunter is Justin Power, the spy tasked with taking out Big Buddha in the decidedly lower budgeted Dimension 5. Hunter is a compelling enough leading man, but Power is an unmitigated jerk in the worst Eurospy tradition – and a fairly inept agent to boot. France Nuyen (familiar to spy fans from her many episodes of I Spy) is his Chinese-American support who has all the good ideas, most of which Power ignores since she's a woman. (So astonished is Power when his cut-rate Mr. Waverly boss assigns him a partner with a tiny waist size that the guesses "small boy" and "dwarf" occur to him before female.) Since he can't rely on his wits, Power has to rely on the most preposterous spy gadget ever, a time travel belt. It's slow and it's bad, but if you're a fan of the genre, you probably still need it! Dimension 5 has long deserved a home video release of some sort; I'm kind of shocked the sort ended up being a remastered 4K HD scan! It still doesn't look that great... but it sure looks a heck of a lot better than the grey market copy I reviewed back in 2008. Read that review here.

Please order through the links on this page to support the Double O Section!

Order the OSS 117 Five Film Collection on Blu-ray from Amazon.
Order the OSS 117 Five Film Collection on DVD from Amazon.
Order Dimension 5 on Blu-ray from Amazon.
Order Dimension 5 on DVD from Amazon.

Read my Introduction to OSS 117 here.
Read my review of OSS 117 is Unleashed here.
Read my review of OSS 117: Panic in Bangkok here.
Read my review of OSS 117: Mission for a Killer here.
Read my review of OSS 117: Mission to Tokyo here.
Read my review of OSS 117: Double Agent here.
Read my review of Dimension 5 here.

Sep 19, 2017

Discussing A LEGACY OF SPIES on the Spybrary Podcast

On the latest episode of the Spybrary Podcast, I join host Shane Whaley and Spywrite's Jeff Quest to discuss John le Carré's brand new Smiley novel, A Legacy of Spies. At the beginning of the summer, Shane and I discussed the first Smiley novel, Call for the Dead, so it feels appropriate to end the summer discussing the latest one! Furthermore, Jeff and I have been trying to do a podcast together for a few years now, so I'm really happy that Shane finally made that happen. I will be posting a full review here of A Legacy of Spies later, but in the meantime, listen to the podcast to hear my feelings on the book.

Listen to Episode 18 of The Spybrary Podcast (A Legacy of Spies) here, or subscribe on iTunes.

Listen to Episode 006 of The Spybrary Podcast (Call for the Deadhere,

Read "George Smiley: An Introduction" here.

Purchase A Legacy of Spies on Amazon.

Sep 14, 2017

John le Carré's DEADLY AFFAIR Comes to Blu-Ray in Fabulous Special Edition

Amidst the flurry of John le Carré excitement surrounding the publication of the great author's new Smiley novel, A Legacy of Spies, an excellent new Blu-ray release of the film of his first book has gone somewhat overlooked. Sidney Lumet's The Deadly Affair (1966) was adapted from le Carré's debut novel Call for the Dead, and starred James Mason as the hero readers knew as George Smiley, here rechristened "Charles Dobbs" because Paramount owned the rights to Smiley following their film of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold the previous year (in which the character only had a small part). That film's screenwriter, Paul Dehn (who also adapted Goldfinger for the screen) also penned the script for The Deadly Affair... and actually managed to make a few improvements on the book! Mason is terrific as Dobbs, and sadly overlooked when we think of screen Smileys thanks to his more famous successors. In my opinion, The Deadly Affair is the most underrated of the films of le Carré's oeuvre. (Read my review of it here.) As such, its home video track record has been a bit spotty. For years it was available only as a rather unimpressive Region 2 DVD, and when it finally got Region 1 attention it was merely as a sparse, featureless MOD title from Sony's Columbia Screen Classics by Request. Now that oversight has finally been redressed, thanks to UK company Indicator, who have released a truly impressive, special feature-laden, region-free, limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo! And the transfer is even more impressive than the supplements. This movie has never looked so good, and takes on a whole new life in Indicator's high-def remaster. Here's a rundown of the set's features:

• High Definition remaster 
• Original mono audio 
• Audio commentary with film historians Michael Brooke and Johnny Mains
The National Film Theatre Lecture with James Mason (1967, 48 mins): archival audio recording of an interview conducted by Leslie Hardcastle at the National Film Theatre, London 
The Guardian Lecture with Sidney Lumet (1983, 89 mins): archival audio recording of an interview conducted by Derek Malcolm at the National Film Theatre, London 
A Different Kind of Spy: Paul Dehn's Deadly Affair (2017, 17 mins): writer David Kipen on screenwriter Paul Dehn
• New interview with camera operator Brian West (2017, 5 mins) 
• Original theatrical trailer 
• Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography 
• New English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing 
• Limited edition exclusive booklet featuring newly commissioned writing by Thirza Wakefield , an overview of contemporary critical responses, and historic articles on the film including interviews with James Mason and cinematographer Freddie Young

It also features a cool reversible cover with two choices of poster art and a choice of dark or light spines, either one of which will look good on the shelf next to your Criterion Spy Who Came in from the Cold Blu-ray. The Blu-ray world premiere of The Deadly Affair, a dual format edition, is strictly limited to 3,000 copies; any future pressings, should they happen, won't include the excellent 48-page booklet. (And trust me, you want this booklet!)

The features are excellent, though Kipen misspeaks a couple of times. After reiterating le Carré's claim from his interview on the Criterion Spy Who Came in from the Cold disc that screenwriter Dehn was an assassin for the SOE during WWII, he implies that le Carré trained under Dehn at Camp X with Ian Fleming and Christopher Lee. (Le Carré didn't sign up for spook school until well after the war.) And later he implies that Dehn wrote more than one of the early James Bond movies. It really should have been up to the producers of the special features to edit him better; I get the impression these are just conversational blunders and I suspect he instantly regretted them, as overall he comes across as quite knowledgeable. And despite those minor hiccups, it's great to finally have a documentary shining the spotlight on the underrated Dehn! I learned a lot from this piece, including the fascinating tidbit that Dehn's longtime partner was Hammer composer James Bernard. For some reason Kipen doesn't tell us why Smiley was changed to Dobbs, but this crucial bit of information is covered in depth on the commentary track. He does talk about some of Dehn's earlier, more obscure spy movies, which is great to see. West relates some very interesting anecdotes about cinematographer Freddie Young, and ably gives a great example of just what exactly camera operators and cinematographers do in the form of an amusing anecdote about shooting the scene in theater with Lynn Redgrave. Basically, all of the features are terrific, the transfer looks great, and this is a disc that all le Carré fans and all Sixties spy fans simply need! The region-free disc should be playable everywhere and can be ordered from Amazon.com or Amazon UK. (American consumers may find it works out in their favor to order from the UK.)

Read my movie review of The Deadly Affair here.
Read my book review of Call for the Dead here.
Read my introduction to George Smiley here.

First RED SPARROW Trailer

Fox has released the first trailer for Red Sparrow, Francis Lawrence's film of the bestselling Jason Matthews novel. Last year, the book made my list of the ten best spy novels written during the decade I've been writing this blog, so obviously the movie is one I'm really looking forward to... albeit trepidatiously. Joel Edgerton is definitely not who I pictured as Nate Nash, and I'm dubious of convincing chemistry between him and star Jennifer Lawrence (sixteen years his junior), which is crucial to the story. But overall, this trailer looks pretty faithful to the novel, and quite promising! One major change from the book, however, has already been reported by The Hollywood Reporter. According to that trade, real-life Russian president Vladimir Putin, a key character in the novel (and more so in its sequel), has been cut from the film, allegedly over fears of Interview-style retaliation from Russian hackers. Additionally, one of the novel's primary settings, Helsinki, has been replaced by the more familiar and less exotic (though cheaper) Budapest. Red Sparrow opens March 2, 2018, and Matthews' final novel in the trilogy, The Kremlin's Candidate (whose plot has changed somewhat since it was first announced, either because of or despite its similarity to world events), comes out a few weeks prior.

Jul 31, 2017

Tradecraft: Bleecker Street Walks a High Wire With Jon Hamm

Spy fans have been eagerly anticipating the Brad Anderson-directed, Tony Gilroy-penned High Wire Act ever since Anderson (claimed in May 2015 that veteran Bourne series scripter Gilroy "may have been channeling John le Carré when he wrote this." And now the 1980s Beirut-set spy movie starring Jon Hamm (Keeping Up With the Joneses) and Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) at last has a U.S. distributor! Deadline reports that Bleecker Street will release the picture here. No date has been set yet. According to the trade, Hamm plays a U.S. diplomat who, having fled Lebanon after the death of his wife in the Seventies, is recruited by CIA agents PIke and Dean Norris (The Book of Henry) to go back a decade later for a mission only he can accomplish. The script is said to be more in the vein of Gilroy's smart, adult thrillers like Michael Clayton and Nightcrawler than his Bourne movies. Anderson's directing credits include Session 9 and The Machinist.

Jul 29, 2017


With Atomic Blonde premiering this weekend, Lionsgate has released the trailer for their own female spy action movie, Unlocked, starring Noomi Rapace (The Girl Who Played With Fire). We first heard about this one back in early 2014, so it's good to see it finally coming to fruition. Michael Apted (The World is Not Enough) directs, and Michael Douglas (Haywire), John Malkovich (RED), Toni Collette (xXx: Return of Xander Cage), and Orlando Bloom (Black Hawk Down) fill out the impressive cast. Unlocked opens September 1, kicking off a spy-rich month of movies that also includes Kingsman: The Golden Circle, American Assassin, and American Made.

Jul 24, 2017

Tradecraft: James Bond Returns November 2019; New York Times Reports Daniel Craig will be Back

Daniel Craig drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz
MGM and EON Productions have set a North American release date for the still untitled Bond 25. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the 25th official James Bond movie will hit U.S. theaters on November 8, 2019. The only creative involvement included in the announcement was that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (who have had a hand in every Bond script since The World is Not Enough in 1999) will once again handle writing duties, and Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson will, naturally, produce. According to the statement, cast, crew (including a director) and a distribution partner will be announced "at a later date." The omission of one key cast member in particular is, of course, jarring. One might expect such an announcement to come only when the studio had a star nailed down, and if Daniel Craig was indeed on board to reprise the role he's played so successfully in four 007 films to date, it would be logical to think that information would be the leader in such a statement. But at least one outlet isn't worried. The New York Times is confidently reporting that "Mr. Craig’s return is a done deal, according to two people briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid conflicts with Eon and MGM." I really hope they're right! Not only am I dying to see the actor back at least once more as the world's most famous secret agent; I am more than ready for the constant tabloid speculation of his possible replacement to end... at least until the next movie comes out!

Also essential to nail down is a distribution partner. Sony has partnered with MGM and EON to release the previous four Craig Bond movies. Their contract is up, but of course they are anxious to extend it as other studios vie for the prize. Personally, my money is on upstart Annapurna, Megan Ellison's boutique production company that will branch out into distribution next month, in partnership with MGM, with Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit. The two companies signed a multi-year deal (which currently does not cover James Bond titles) earlier this year.

It could be that MGM was just keen to stake its claim before the prime fall date filled up with more releases from rival companies. It's already been claimed by Disney for an untitled live action fairy tale movie. Hopefully we'll learn more soon!

Jul 23, 2017

S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Return to Marvel Movies

Ever since S.H.I.E.L.D. was taken apart in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (one of the best spy movies of the decade), we've seen very little of its agents in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Apparently that's about to change. Two announcements earlier this month indicate that two of Marvel Comics' most famous agents will be making their way into upcoming MCU movies.

Deadline reports that Samuel L. Jackson will return as Nick Fury in 2019's Captain Marvel, where he will reunite with his Kong: Skull Island and Unicorn Store co-star Brie Larson (Free Fire). Jackson last appeared as Fury in a brief cameo in The Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2014. He is expected to reprise the role in The Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel. At first I assumed this news probably indicated that Fury will survive those films, which are expected to take a high toll on the MCU heroes. But yesterday Deadline updated their story, reporting that Captain Marvel will for some reason take place in the early 1990s, making it a prequel to all the other MCU films except for the first Captain America (which took place in WWII) and the Eighties-set opening scene of Ant-Man. Moreover, Marvel chief Kevin Feige revealed at Comic-Con that Fury will have two eyes in Captain Marvel. Does that mean he'll still be in the Army? (Presumably the MCU Nick also started out as Sgt. Fury, even if he came along long after the Howling Commandos.) Will Jackson sport his Pulp Fiction wig? (That I'd like to see!) We probably won't find out until closer to March 2019 when the movie opens. And in the meantime, Nick Fury is as precariously poised as anyone else when it comes to surviving the Infinity War.

Even more exciting, perhaps, is the news that first appeared on The Tracking Board (via Dark Horizons) and since been confirmed by multiple outlets that Randall Park (The Interview) will portray Agent Jimmy Woo in Ant-Man and the Wasp! Woo debuted in the late 1950s as an FBI agent in Marvel precursor Atlas Comics' The Yellow Claw before Jim Steranko brought him into his Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. stories in Strange Tales and ultimately made him a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent himself. Woo has sine been a fixture of the Marvel Universe, appearing in various comics over the years including Godzilla and Agents of ATLAS. Park is an excellent actor, but primarily a comedic one. (He stars on the sitcom Fresh Off the Boat recently made a scene-stealing cameo in Snatched.) I can imagine him fitting in very well with Paul Rudd and Michael Pena in a comic relief role, but I hope that's not the case. Jimmy Woo was the first Asian-American comic book hero, and was treated as a serious member of the team in the Sixties. I would hate to see him reduced to a joke. That said, the part could of course be both comedic and completely competent, which is what I'm hoping for. Either way, it will be cool to see Woo make his MCU debut.

Jul 20, 2017

Dynamite Reveals Art from Upcoming CASINO ROYALE Graphic Novel

When it was first announced back in 2015 that Dynamite had landed the license to produce James Bond comics, part of that announcement was that the publisher would release period-set graphic novel adaptations of the Ian Fleming novels. The first, Casino Royale, was originally set for publication last year with a different artist, then delayed several times. Now, at least, it is almost here! Dynamite will release the 160-page graphic novel Casino Royale, adapted by Van Jansen and illustrated by Dennis Calero, on October 17, 2017, under a stunning cover by Fay Dalton. Dalton's involvement is a nice bit of synergy for Ian Fleming Publications, as she also illustrates the beautiful slip-cased Folio Society editions of the Bond novels. (Indeed, her slipcase art for Folio's Casino Royale, below depicts the same characters as her comic cover!) This week Dynamite provided a first glimpse at Calero's interior artwork in Previews. The final art will be in color.

Jul 12, 2017

Tradecraft: Blake Lively to Star in Spy Movie THE RHYTHM SECTION for EON Productions

EON Productions, producers of the James Bond movies, are going from the Double O Section to The Rhythm Section. The Hollywood Reporter reports that 007 producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, along with IM Global, will produce a film adaptation of Mark Burnell's 1999 novel The Rhythm Section starring Blake Lively (Age of Adeline). The Rhythm Section is the first in a four novel series about a woman named Stephanie who, through both self-preservation and the training of the intelligence agency that recruits her, lives many lives in many identities. (In this respect, it sounds somewhat similar to J.J. Abrams' Alias, or the Robert Littell novel Legends, and should afford Lively a good opportunity to play many different roles in one.) The publisher's blurb describes it as a tale of a massive identity crisis. Stephanie embarks on her journey of multiple identities and revenge after her family is killed in a terrorist bombing. It would certainly be interesting if EON manages to launch a successful series about a female agent alongside their Bond films!

Jul 10, 2017

Tom Cruise Posts Team Photo from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 6

We've gotten a few paparazzi shots of filming in the streets of Paris and a bunch of great on-set portraits shot by the film's director, Christopher McQuarrie, via his Instagram feed. Now we have what I assume must be the first official still from Mission: Impossible 6, a great shot of the whole IMF team in costume and in character posted jointly on McQuarrie's Instragram and Tom Cruise's Facebook page. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I'm glad that the first official still is a team shot. Hopefully it portends that the sixth movie in the series will still be team-oriented, like Ghost Protocol and, to a slightly lesser extent, Rogue Nation (and of course like the TV show, most importantly), despite telling a more personal story for Ethan Hunt. The occasion for this photo's release is the crew's departure from New Zealand (which in the film doubles for Iraq at least part of the time), where they're pictured. They now head back to London for the final stretch of principal photography.
Thanks to Craig Arthur for the heads-up on this one!

Jul 1, 2017

WILD WILD WEST TV Soundtrack Coming Next Week!

It was rumored earlier this year, but today La La Land Records officially announced on their Facebook page that they will release a 4-disc soundtrack for the classic Sixties spy Western The Wild Wild West on July 11! (Which makes this a very good summer for Wild Wild West fans, as the two TV reunion movies were just released on a standalone DVD for the first time a few weeks ago.) The set will be produced by Jon Burlingame, renowned not only for his immeasurable soundtrack knowledge at large, but particularly for his spy music expertise. Burlingame wrote the book The Music of James Bond and previously produced four excellent volumes of music from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the amazing 6-disc Mission: Impossible TV soundtrack. He also provided extensive liner notes for each of those releases, and this one will be no different, coming with a lengthy booklet.

According to a post from Burlingame, the set includes "excerpts from 26 scores representing all four seasons. Composers include Richard Markowitz, Robert Drasnin, Richard Shores, Dave Grusin, Fred Steiner, Harry Geller, Walter Scharf, Jack Pleis -- plus the never-before-heard Dimitri Tiomkin theme that was rejected early on." Burlingame asserts that there were three rejected Tiomkin themes (at least one a vocal), but it's unclear if all three will be included in the set or not. The tapes that made this release possible were found in an exhaustive two-year search of the UCLA Film and Television Archives, which also contained alternate, unused versions of Markowitz's iconic main theme. The set contains over an hour of music by Shores.

Limited to just 1,000 units, Music From the Television Series The Wild Wild West will be available to order from the La La Land website starting at noon Pacific on July 11.

Jun 27, 2017

Trailer: Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan in Martin Campbell's THE FOREIGNER

STX have released a trailer for GoldenEye and Casino Royale director Martin Campbell's The Foreigner, starring Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan. And it looks great! I love seeing Chan (who, like Brosnan, has aged well) in a grittier, more serious action movie than we're used to. The terrorism drama based on Stephen Leather's 1992 novel The Chinaman opens October 13 in the United States.

Jun 22, 2017

Rare Eurospy Movies Including OSS 117 on the Big Screen in Los Angeles This July!

On July 26 and July 27, Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles will screen two exceedingly rarely shown Eurospy movies, including a classic OSS 117 title! Better still, each will be presented in 35mm IB Technicolor prints! The night kicks off at 7:30pm with genre stalwarts Ray Danton, Margaret Lee, and the impossibly sexy Marisa Mell (Danger: Diabolik) in Secret Agent Super Dragon (1966). That's followed by 1968's OSS 117: Murder for Sale (aka OSS 117: Double Agent, aka No Roses for OSS 117), starring John Gavin (Psycho) as superspy Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath and co-starring Margaret Lee along with Bond luminaries Luciana Paluzzi (Thunderball) and Curd Jürgens (The Spy Who Loved Me). Gavin himself was of course briefly cast as 007 in Diamonds Are Forever, before Sean Connery agreed to return and Gavin was quietly paid a large sum to walk away. (It's okay. He went on to become U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.) Presumably that casting was partly because of his more than credible spy performance in this movie. I've said before that the five main OSS 117 movies from the Sixties are the cream of the crop when it comes to Eurospy cinema. Don't miss an extremely rare opportunity to see one in the cinema! Tickets for both nights' shows are available from Brown Paper Tickets, and cost just $8 (plus service fee) for both movies.

Both of these titles will probably sound familiar to comedy fans as well. Secret Agent Super Dragon made a memorable episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (but that should not dissuade viewers from giving it the benefit of the doubt on its own, as it is legitimately fun low-budget spy fare), and director Michel Hazanavicius revived the OSS 117 brand in 2005 as a very successful send-up of Sixties spy fare in two wildly popular French comedies. But great as those ones are (starring Jean Dujardin), the originals are absolute must-sees for any serious spy fan.

Read my review of OSS 117: Murder for Sale here.
Read my Introduction to the OSS 117 series here.

Jun 21, 2017

New AMERCIAN ASSASSIN Red Band Trailer and Poster

Lionsgate and CBS Films have released a new poster and two new trailers - one a restricted red band, the other approved for all audiences - for the first Mitch Rapp movie, American Assassin, which opens September 15 amidst a spy-packed month that also sees the releases of the Tom Cruise Iran-Contra movie American Made and Matthew Vaughn's eagerly anticipated sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Mitch Rapp has taken a long, winding road to get to the screen, and it's unfortunate that author Vince Flynn 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 mentor role that eventually went to Michael Keaton. Legends' Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Legends of the Fall's Ed Zwick (who ultimately earned a writing credit on the final product) 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 at some point they shifted gears to tackle Flynn's prequel novel telling Rapp's origin story, and now American Assassin is a reality!

Jun 19, 2017


During the production of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, paparazzi photos of location filming were the best glimpse fans could get of what to expect. On the sixth Mission: Impossible movie, the best source has been director Christopher McQuarrie's own social media feed - particularly his Instagram account. He's been posting a series of individual cast portraits (including our first official view of Henry Cavill's look in the film, and the revelation that Michelle Monaghan would be reprising her M:i:III role of Julia), and now his latest posts include a portrait of Rebecca Ferguson (reprising her Rogue Nation role of Ilsa Faust) and a group shot of four of the film's female leads. From the left, the show taken on the movie's New Zealand set shows series newcomer Vanessa Kirby (The Crown), Angela Basset (Survivor) as the Director of CIA (a role she also played on Alias, for M:i:III director J.J. Abrams), Ferguson, and Monaghan. Not pictured (and likely not involved in the New Zealand shoot) is Sherlock's Sian Brooke, who rounds out an exceptionally strong female cast. With all these excellent actresses, will this be a blockbuster spy movie that manages to pass the Bechdel Test? To date, no Mission: Impossible movie has. (In McQuarrie's Rogue Nation, Ferguson played the only significant female character, and thus did not converse with any other women.) But I'd say the odds are looking pretty good for this one! The men in the cast include series returnees Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, and Sean Harris, and newcomer Cavill.
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Jun 14, 2017

Tradecraft: Aldrich Ames Movie CIRCLE OF TREASON Moves Forward with Director

It's been a while since we heard of any progress on the movie version of CIA counterintelligence officers Sandra Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille's book Circle Of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed, which was already filmed (quite effectively, I thought) as a 2014 ABC miniseries called The Assets. But the movie still lives! Yesterday, Deadline reported that Focus Features has set Massy Tadjedin to direct the film, working from a script by Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel, the writers currently penning the Edge of Tomorrow sequel for Doug Liman and Tom Cruise. Tadjedin is best known as a screenwriter (whose credits include the Daniel Craig movie The Jacket), but she also directed the 2010 Keira Knightley movie Last Night. Hopefully in the wake of Wonder Woman's success, we'll see even more female directors like Tadjedin given the opportunity to tell strong female-centered stories like this one. Circle of Treason tells the true story of how real-life female Smileys Grimes and Vertefeuille uncovered one of the most damaging moles in the history of the CIA, Aldrich Ames. Hindering their investigation more than Ames' Soviet handlers is the Agency's institutional chauvinism. It's a great book that already made a compelling (if notoriously under-watched) miniseries, and should make a terrific movie as well. I'll be interested to see who signs on to play Grimes and Vertefeuille, as they are both juicy roles that should attract top-caliber actresses. And, depending on how much screen time he ends up with, Ames himself should be a great role for a top-tier actor as well.

Senate Debates Spy Fiction, Including Jason Matthews

During his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions engaged in a brief and somewhat baffling debate on spy fiction with Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR). It was certainly surprising to hear the following exchange (which you can watch on CNN) occur on the Senate floor!

Cotton: Mr. Sessions, are you familiar with what spies call "tradecraft?"

Sessions: A little bit.

Cotton: That involves things like covert communications, and dead drops, and brush passes, right?

Sessions: That is part of it.

Cotton: Do you like spy fiction? John le Carré? Daniel Silva? Jason Matthews?

Sessions: Yeah. Alan Furst. David Ignatius... I just finished Ignatius's book.

Cotton: James Bond? Jason Bourne? Do you like Jason Bourne or James Bond movies?

To the last question, a giggling Sessions claims, "No..." then quickly admits, "Yes." I honestly thought for a second that some stenographer was going to end up transcribing a debate about who made the best 007! Weird as the exchange was (ultimately forming a basis for Cotton to compare allegations of collusion in Russia's tampering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election to fantastical espionage fiction), it does show that the two men have pretty good taste in spy writers. The inclusion of Jason Matthews (a former CIA officer) was especially apropos... or, I suppose, ironic, depending on your point of view.

The Kremlin's Candidate, the forthcoming final book in Matthews' trilogy that began with Red Sparrow (a book I selected as one of the ten best spy novels of the past decade) was at one time, according to a publisher's blurb posted last summer, supposed to deal with the exact topic being discussed at the hearing—Russian meddling in an American election! However, since the election it seems that the plot of the final novel has mutated somewhat as the book keeps being put off. I'm kind of surprised, because the original plot description seemed so literally torn from developing headlines that I would have thought Scribner would have done everything in their power to get it on shelves ASAP. Instead, they delayed the book until 2018 (ostensibly to tie in with the release of the Jennifer Lawrence movie of Red Sparrow, but last I heard the film was still slated for this fall), removed that original plot description, and replaced it with another, and then another, each one moving farther and farther away from the original, incredibly prescient premise. (The final version, sadly, sounds very much like a retread of the first two novels, when I was hoping for something different. I'm still looking forward to it, though, and hoping for the best!) Here is the publisher's original blurb, long since removed from Amazon and other retail sites.
The dazzling finale to the Red Sparrow Trilogy from New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jason Matthews, featuring star-crossed Russian agent Dominika Egorova and CIA’s Nate Nash caught up in a blackmail scandal with Vladimir Putin and the newly elected US President.

A junior American code clerk has defected to the Russians. He informs the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service that former US Secretary of Commerce Natalie Childers manipulated US global trade agreements to facilitate trade deals for the investment conglomerate owned by her husband. Natalie is now the Democratic presidential candidate, in the middle of a vigorous national campaign.

Meanwhile double agent Dominika Egorova is ordered by Vladimir Putin to begin work on a special operation in which Russia will inform candidate Childers that her malfeasance will be made public unless she agrees—if she is elected President—to order Pentagon budget cuts, to propose debilitating reforms in NATO, and to move toward the dissolution of the Atlantic Alliance. Refusal will result in scandal and her impeachment. When Dominika reports on her mission to her CIA handlers, Nate, Benford, Gable, and Forsyth, they know that any leak, any misstep, will trigger the Kremlin to go public, destroy the American democratic process, and discredit the country forever. But any counter to the operation moreover will expose Dominika as a CIA asset. Dominika decides they must eliminate the blackmailers: President Putin and his diabolical mastermind, the only two other Russians who know about the plan.

With a plot ripped from tomorrow’s headlines, The Kremlin’s Candidate is a riveting read if you've never read Jason Matthews, and a thrilling conclusion to the trilogy begun with Red Sparrow and Palace of Treason, which The New York Times Book Review called, “a primer in twenty-first-century spying...terrifically good.”
I want to read that book! Perhaps Matthews elected to change the plot because tomorrow's headlines too quickly became today's, and he feared the timeliness had worn off. Or perhaps it was a political decision, since the candidate in the book was clearly based on Hilary Clinton, perhaps under the assumption that she would win the election and he didn't want to risk impugning the current Administration. (That doesn't seem like a very good reason, as the book is ultimately fiction either way.) Or perhaps the decision was editorial rather than the author's. Whatever the reason, that surefire bestselling plot now seems to be out the door, replaced with one that sounds sort of like Matthews' take on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Here is the current description on Amazon:
Russian counterintelligence chief Colonel Dominika Egorova has been a recruited asset of the CIA, stealing Kremlin secrets for her CIA handler Nate Nash for over seven years. In the dazzling finale to the Red Sparrow Trilogy—which will be published right before the release of Red Sparrow, a major motion picture starring Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgarton—their forbidden and tumultuous love affair continues, mortally dangerous for them both, but irresistible.

In Washington, a newly installed US administration is selecting its Cabinet members. Dominika hears a whisper of a closely held Kremlin operation to place a mole inside a high intelligence position. But it’s worse than that: One of the three candidates under consideration has been a paid Russian spy for a decade, selling precious US secrets. If the Kremlin’s candidate for the position is confirmed, the Russians will have access to all the names of assets spying for CIA in Moscow, including Dominika’s. But which of the three individuals is the mole?

Dominika’s report triggers a desperate mole hunt before she’s exposed and arrested. Resisting all suggestions to defect and save herself, Dominika recklessly immerses herself in the palace intrigues of the Kremlin, searching for the mole’s name, and stealing as many of President Putin’s secrets for her CIA handlers before her time runs out—even as Putin’s dangerous interest in her grows. The treasure trove of her intelligence reporting sends Nate Nash and colleagues on desperate missions to Sevastopol, Istanbul, Khartoum, and Hong Kong.

With a plot ripped from tomorrow’s headlines, The Kremlin’s Candidate is a riveting read if you’ve never read Jason Matthews, and a thrilling conclusion to the trilogy begun with Red Sparrow and Palace of Treason, which The New York Times Book Review called, “a primer in twenty-first-century spying...terrifically good.”
As I said... I'm still excited to read it, either way! But it does seem like a strange (or appropriate) connection for this author to have come up for discussion at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on real Russian interference in a U.S. election. And it's still kind of hilarious that a Senator asked an Attorney General, under oath, if he likes James Bond movies!

Jun 13, 2017

Michelle Monaghan Joins MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 6

This weekend, Mission: Impossible 6 director Christopher McQuarrie posted portraits of some of the film's stars on his Instragram account. Today he's added two more, and used the social media platform to reveal that Rebecca Ferguson (who previously co-starred in McQuarrie's 2015 Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation) won't be the only actress returning from a previous franchise installment in the new movie. Michelle Monaghan (The Bourne Supremacy, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), who played the female lead in J.J. Abrams' Mission: Impossible III (2006) and returned for a cameo in Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) will once again reprise her role as Julia, Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise) estranged wife. Ethan and Julia tried to settle down into blissful domestic life in M:i:III, which aimed to tell a more personal Mission: Impossible story. Their bliss was naturally short-lived, however, and she was kidnapped by Phillip Seymour Hoffman's villain to use as leverage against the adrenaline-fueled superspy. In Ghost Protocol we learned that Hunt still cared for her, and after faking her death had set her up in a new life without him... though he still (apparently) liked to kind of creepily spy on her from time to time to make sure she was safe. Since McQuarrie has stated that he intends to make Mission: Impossible 6 a more personal story once again, it makes sense that Mrs. Hunt would return in some capacity. Just what that capacity is remains a mystery. Will she have a starring role, or just another cameo? Will she appear in the present, or in a flashback sequence? We don't know. But it's apparent that at least some of her scenes will be shot in New Zealand, where production is currently underway and where McQuarrie snapped this beautiful portrait of the actress. He also posted what amounts to our first look at Simon Pegg on set of this entry. Pegg returns for his fourth go-round as IMF agent Benj Dunn. Mission: Impossible 6 also stars Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Alec Baldwin, Vanessa Kirby, Angela Bassett, and Ving Rhames, and opens next summer.

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Jun 11, 2017

Christopher McQuarrie Shares Set Portraits of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 6 Stars

Director Christopher McQuarrie has shared some of his own portraits of actors in Mission: Impossible 6 on his Instagram feed, offering us glimpses of franchise newcomers Henry Cavill and Angela Basset in character. As we saw in paparazzi shots and a shot McQuarrie shared on Twitter from the recent Paris shoot, Cavill sports a full mustache in his role - presumably in part to clearly differentiate him from his other Sixties TV-derived screen spy, Napoleon Solo, and from his most famous role, Superman. I like the look! All we really know about Cavill's role is that he'll be the right-hand man to Alec Baldwin's IMF chief, which is the same function Jeremy Renner's character, Brandt, filled in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. So it seems likely that Cavill is stepping in for the unavailable Renner in a similar but slightly re-written role. (There is plenty of precedent for this sort of actor substitution on the original TV series, where Peter Graves replaced Steven Hill as the team leader in Season 2, Leonard Nimoy replaced Martin Landau as the disguise expert in Season 4, and Sam Elliott briefly filled in for Peter Lupus on a bi-weekly basis in Season 5.) Bassett will play the new CIA director, a position Baldwin's character occupied in the last film before accepting the IMF position. I'm really hoping neither of them turns out to be a traitor, because the Mission: Impossible film franchise overdid it on rogue agents and moles to such a degree in the first three installments that I never need to see another one in this series! Finally, McQuarrie also shares a very nice shot of fan favorite Ving Rhames, who returns for his sixth Mission as Luther Stickell. The director recently explained how he planned to make his second entry in the series stand apart from his first (and why that's important in a franchise that has never tapped the same director twice before) in a fascinating podcast.

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Jun 7, 2017

Tradecraft: TAKEN Series Gets New Showrunner for Season 2

Deadline reports that Greg Plageman has been hired to succeed the departing Alex Cary as showrunner on the second season of Taken, the NBC TV series prequel to Luc Besson's neo-Eurospy movies starring Liam Neeson. Plageman specializes in "procedural drama with an ongoing mythology," and most recently served as co-showrunner on CBS' procedural spy show Person of Interest. It is expected that he will take Taken in a more procedural direction (with ongoing mythology) in its 16-episode second season, Taken stars Clive Standen and Jennifer Beals, and follows Bryan Mills (Standen, in the Neeson role) in his formative days as a secret agent, decades prior to the events of the first film (yet set in the present day). Plageman's credits also include writing an episode of the 2000 spy series Secret Agent Man.

Jun 6, 2017

Talking le Carré on the Spybrary Podcast

I'm a guest on the latest episode of the Spybrary Podcast, where host Shane Whaley and I discuss John le Carré's debut novel, Call for the Dead. Call for the Dead was also the debut of one of the greatest characters in spy fiction, George Smiley, whose more famous outings include Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. We also touch on the 1966 film version, The Deadly Affair, which was adapted by Paul Dehn in the same remarkable three-year period in which he also penned Goldfinger and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It was a pleasure talking spy fiction with Shane, and I hope to do so again in the future.

Listen to Episode 006 of The Spybrary Podcast here, or subscribe on iTunes.

Read "George Smiley: An Introduction" here.
Read my review of Call for the Dead here.
Read my review of The Deadly Affair here.

Purchase Call for the Dead on Amazon.
Purchase The Deadly Affair on Amazon.

Jun 5, 2017

Trailer and Poster for Doug Liman's Iran-Contra Movie AMERICAN MADE

Universal has released the first trailer for the Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Fair Game)/Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Knight and Day) reunion (following their successful sci-fi collaboration Edge of Tomorrow), the Iran-Contra story American Made. This is the one that we first heard about two years ago, when it was called Mena, in which Cruise plays the infamous CIA pilot Barry Seale. Seale ended up at the epicenter of an intricate conspiracy involving the Agency, the White House, the Medellin Cartel, the Nicaraguan factions the Sandinistas (the government) and the Contras, Manuel Noriega, Pablo Escobar, Vice President George Bush, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, and Oliver North, to name-check just a few strands of the web. Liman has a very personal connection to the material, as his father, Arthur Liman, was Chief Counsel in the Senate's investigation of the Iran-Contra Scandal and conducted the televised hearings that fascinated the nation in the summer of 1987 and made household names out of people like North and CIA Director William Casey. It's clear from the trailer that he has chosen to take a somewhat light-hearted approach to the subject matter (which makes sense when you focuse on someone involved at a ground-level, as opposed to North or Casey), possibly focusing more on the criminal aspects of Seale's career than the espionage aspects (not that there was any clear delineation between the two!). I can't wait to see the results!

Cruise will next be on screens in Universal's Mummy reboot, and is currently filming the next Mission: Impossible movie with returning director Christopher McQuarrie. American Made hits theaters September 29, coming in the same a spy-saturated month that also sees the releases of Kingsman: The Golden Circle and American Assassin.