Of course, the hope is that the fact that Network is including these selections on this set means that they're hard at work on full-fledged soundtrack sets for each of these series, and this is only a taster. Here's hoping!
Sep 30, 2009
Of course, the hope is that the fact that Network is including these selections on this set means that they're hard at work on full-fledged soundtrack sets for each of these series, and this is only a taster. Here's hoping!
Available to pre-order at half-price!
Alright, time to finally publish a post that's been sitting half-finished for nearly two weeks... Sorry for the delay on this one! For once, U.S. fans won't lose out in terms of an American release of a classic British spy show. Judging from a press release on TVShowsOnDVD.com, A&E appears to have ponied up the dough to license all of the amazing special features from Network's UK DVD release of the 40th Anniversary Collection. (Whose same content is replicated on Network's own recently released UK Blu-Ray set.) Most of these have never been seen before on a North American release. The amazing features I speak of include the impressive feature-length documentary “Don’t Knock Yourself Out” (boasting loads of interviews with all sorts of key production personnel), a featurette on the show's music with music editor Eric Mival (including "a unique look at the Music Bible for the show"), the restored original edit of “Arrival” with an optional music-only soundtrack featuring Wilfred Josephs’ complete and abandoned score, audio commentaries from members of the production crew on seven episodes, trailers for all episodes, commercial break bumpers, behind-the-scenes footage, PDFs of all the scripts and production paperwork, and loads of image galleries. On top of all that, there's also a preview of AMC's upcoming Prisoner remake, which this release is timed to coincide with. Furthermore, the packaging looks satisfyingly compact. Check it out at TV Shows On DVD. A&E's The Prisoner Blu-Ray Edition debuts October 27 with an SRP of $99.99. I'm pretty sure that's (substantially!) less than the company was selling the old DVD set for a few years ago. And—get this—Amazon is currently taking pre-orders at nearly half that price! Right now it's just $50.49!
Sep 29, 2009
Variety reports that former Fox executive turned producer Peter Chernin has come aboard as a producer on Queen & Country, the film based on Greg Rucka's stellar series of comic books and novels. Other than that, the story doesn't tell us anything about the project that we didn't already know. , but I like to report any time that Queen & Country is mentioned in the trades as this is a project I'm really, really rooting for. It's one of my very favorite spy series ever, in any media, so I want to see the film done right! The trade reiterates the same logline the used last time, reinforcing my belief that the current screenplay appears to be based on a combination of the first comic book arc and the first novel. According to the story, Chernin will also produce a new Travis McGee based on the first book in John D. MacDonald's classic detective series, The Deep Blue Goodbye. Leonardo DiCaprio will star and co-produce. Hm. It will be cool to see Travis McGee revived on the bigscreen, and while DiCaprio seems a somewhat odd choice, I think I can see it... maybe. (Apparently, Bish feels differently!)
Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter reports that Pierce Brosnan's next spy movie, The Ghost, has been delayed by the arrest of director Roman Polanski in Switzerland. According to the trade, "Polanski's agent, ICM chief Jeff Berg, said Polanski had completed much of the editing on The Ghost. But other postproduction work, including music scoring and sound mixing, had yet to be done, Berg said." The film does not yet have a US distributor, which Polanski usually lines up after he finishes. Robert Harris, author of the novel upon which the movie is based, reiterates why he thinks Polanski is the perfect director for the material: "There's a lot of psychological intrigue in the story, as well as espionage and politics, and most of the action takes place in an oceanfront house during the middle of winter -- all of it classic Polanski territory." Brosnan stars alongside Ewan McGregor, Tom Wilkinson, Olivia Williams and Kim Cattrall.
Sep 24, 2009
Variety reports that CBS Films has acquired Sleeper Spy, "a fast-paced thriller script" by Anthony Jaswinski. Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down) will direct. The only plot detail the trade provides is that "the thriller centers around the plot to assassinate a political figure." From the title, though, I'm guessing it also involves a sleeper spy. Maybe? Arnold and Anne Kopelson will produce.
According to Variety, Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) has joined the Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz spy movie that was at one time called Wichita and still doesn't have a better title. (I really hope they don't just go back to Wichita out of laziness since that's all anyone calls it!) Dano will play the "charming but mysterious" inventor of the film's previously-revealed MacGuffin, a battery that holds the key to an infinite power source. I'm very curious about this film. It's starting to sound like a really fun, old-school Eurospy-style spy movie. And with Bond having gone so gritty (for better or for worse), there really aren't a lot of those around these days!
The Hollywood Reporter reveals that Syriana writer/director Stephen Gaghan has penned a new spy thriller. The vague and somewhat confusing logline reported in the trade is that the film centers on "an elite deep cover operative who becomes a Brooklyn beat cop and fights a global organization." Gaghan will direct; Shannon Burke co-wrote the screenplay. Lionsgate will distribute.
Sep 22, 2009
He went into a few more details for WENN, confirming that this was indeed a Harry Palmer project:
"There's a script which I like very much, which is called Cold War Requiem," said Caine, adding that Susan Sarandon was interested in playing his wife in the film.
"It's about an old spy from the '60s in the Cold War, who's now retired - just like me, an old guy. And his enemies come back to kill him because of what he did in those days. ... It's a very good thriller. it might get done, it might not."
"I have a script called Cold War Requiem, which is Harry retired and he's living out his fantasy in some middle class area in London and the guys who he screwed have now got rich and they've decided to come and kill him. I would like to get that done but we haven't got that financed yet.""Harry Palmer" was a name invented for the movie versions of Len Deighton's bestselling novels about an unnamed agent. The novel Spy Story, about the same character, was filmed in 1976 by Lindsay Shonteff featuring a hero called Pat Armstrong (not played by Caine). Caine played a very Palmer-like character named "Harry Anders" in the 1992 HBO film Blue Ice. It's possible that Cold War Requiem might follow the pattern of Blue Ice and slightly change the protagonist's name, but I hope not. The name Harry Palmer carries a lot of weight for spy fans, and I would love to see Caine return to the role once more for a really good final entry, even if it's not based on a Deighton novel. I'd also love to see some of the author's other "Palmer" books like Horse Under Water and An Expensive Place To Die filmed as period pieces set in the Sixties, but that seems less likely and obviously couldn't star Caine.
Caine will next appear in the old guy revenge movie Harry Brown (for which I cannot wait!) and then play a small supporting role in Christopher Nolan's Inception.
Sep 18, 2009
Like most Quentin Tarantino movies, Inglourious Basterds defies easy categorization. It is many genres at once: a spy movie, a Western, a revenge movie and, lastly, a war movie. It may be marketed as a war movie, but it’s more of a wartime movie than a war movie per se. There are no battles, no scenes on the front lines, and very few with men in uniforms. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a WWII picture with so few vehicles before! Most of the action of Inglourious Basterds takes place behind enemy lines, in Nazi-occupied France. The "Basterds" of the title are described as "an American Secret Service outfit" and operate entirely behind German lines. Under the leadership of Brad Pitt’s hillbilly sergeant Aldo "The Apache" Raine, the group of Jewish-American soldiers’ singular mission is to kill as many Nazis as possible in horrific ways, scalping their victims and spreading panic amongst the German ranks. Raine reports to the OSS, America’s wartime intelligence service and precursor to the CIA.
The British, meanwhile, send their own spy (Lt. Archie Hicox, Michael Fassbinder) in behind enemy lines to meet up with the Basterds and a beautiful German actress turned British agent (Diane Kruger) in order to carry out Operation Kino. Operation Kino is a plan concocted by General Fenech (Austin Powers’ Mike Meyers, as usual channeling a good dose of Peter Sellers) and Winston Churchill (Rod Taylor, totally unrecognizable from his Sixties spy days in films like The Liquidator and The High Commissioner). The goal is to take out a good chunk of the German high command when they attend the gala premiere of Joseph Goebbels’ newest Nazi propaganda film, Nation’s Pride. No one involved in it, however, is aware that the proprietress of the theater where it’s being held, Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) is a Jew hiding in plain sight with her own plans for revenge at the premiere.
Inglourious Basterds is divided into chapters, many of which amount to single, lengthy scenes, giving it the pacing of a play. (Or several loosely connected one-act plays.) The length of the scenes, of course, is quite deliberate. Tarantino masterfully builds the suspense to Hitchcockian degrees during the incredibly tense scene in which all the spies meet up under the eyes of a German officer.
Beyond being a great movie, there is even more here for spy fans to latch onto. While he’s publicly bitched about not getting to direct Casino Royale, and mooted the notion of making a trilogy of films based on Len Deighton’s "Game, Set, Match" trilogy, this could be the closest Tarantino ever gets to directing a full-on spy movie, and he can’t resist acknowledging the tropes of the genre. (Just look at the posters!) We get Brad Pitt in a white dinner jacket for most of the climax, including the movie’s funniest scene in which the Appalachian sergeant tries to convince the enemy that he’s Italian. We get beautiful women in sexy dresses packing pistols. We get another nod to a spy-like series of wonderful, pulpy novels, as one character reads a French copy of The Saint In New York, recalling John Travolta’s affinity for Modesty Blaise in Pulp Fiction. And, above all, we get gadgets. One of the basterds uses a glove pistol that fires a small caliber bullet at close range when he punches someone. I was thrilled when I saw this gadget in action in the film, because I remembered it from a book that I loved to thumb through when I was a kid called OSS Special Weapons and Equipment: Spy Devices of WWII by spy expert H. Keith Melton. (He later wrote a follow-up on CIA spy devices of the Cold War, but they weren’t quite as cool.) It was a catalog of 1940s spy gadgetry, and I just loved it. When I saw this weapon in the movie, I thought gleefully Tarantino must have read the same book I did! Then I realized, no, this is Tarantino, and this film is a cornucopia of movie references. Tarantino must have seen it in another movie. It’s probably just one of hundreds of film references I’m not getting, but they’re all working together so well that it doesn’t matter, and they’ll only make rewatching this masterpiece all the more rewarding in the future, with lots of layers remaining to be peeled back. Inglourious Basterds is one of Tarantino's best, and one of the best films of the year, for sure.
Sep 16, 2009
No, I'm afraid I don't actually have any news about tailors from the trades. But all the rest is covered.
We might not be getting that new Peter Morgan-scripted movie adaptation of John Le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy quite as soon as we thought. According to Variety, previously announced director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) has said he plans to shoot the Nicole Kidman sex change drama The Danish Girl "before his previously announced John Le Carré adaptation, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, for Working Title." Sigh.
In quite a different sort of spy news, Variety also reports that FX will air a sneak preview of a new animated spy series called Archer this Thursday night at 10:30 PM following the season premiere of the network's sitcom It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. According to the trade, Archer is "a spy agency where global crises are merely an opportunity for employees to antagonize each other." So, like 24 but animated! Archer features the voices of Aisha Tyler, Jon Benjamin, Jessica Walter, Chris Parnell and Judy Greer. The actual series doesn't premiere until January, but the cable net hopes to build buzz by previewing it with Sunny, which it sees as " a strong companion to Archer."
Sep 15, 2009
Sep 12, 2009
New Rucka Novel On The Way As Well
I somehow missed this bit a few weeks ago, but according to The Hollywood Reporter, the Queen & Country movie is still on track! That's great news! Not having heard anything about it for a few years (when Leverage's John Rogers was penning the screenplay), I had assumed that the film adaptation of my favorite spy series was dead in the water. But the trade reports that the movie version of Greg Rucka's comics and novels starring British agent Tara Chace is set up at Fox, and that Ryan Condal, who wrote last year's Black List script Galahad, is penning a new draft. "The project," they helpfully remind those who haven't read Rucka's work, "centers on a female Special Ops agent who is on the run after carrying out a high-level assassination in Eastern Europe. Those familiar with the project have described it as a female version of The Bourne Identity. [Behind Enemy Lines director] John Moore had penned a draft of Country, which Jenno Topping is producing and Peter Kang is overseeing for Fox." Hm, from that description I'd hazard that they're combining the first arc of the comic series with the first novel, A Gentleman's Game, which really isn't a bad idea. But while A Gentleman's Game in particular offers a lot of action, Queen & Country really isn't Bourne. I hope that's just studio shorthand, and that Fox isn't actually turning the best modern example of the more "realistic" school of spy fiction into a Bourne clone! Rucka's stories owe far, far more to The Sandbaggers than to Robert Ludlum.
All this is particularly topical because Whiteout, a film based on another Rucka comic book (the very one that introduced readers to Tara Chace, in fact, under the guise of Lilly Sharpe) opens in U.S. cinemas tonight–unfortunately to less than stellar reviews. I've been excited for the Whiteout movie since it was first announced (and reported here) more than two years ago, so I definitely plan on seeing it and formulating my own opinion. But the reviews are a bit discouraging. I would really hate to see Rucka's brilliant Queen & Country, which I've previously called the best ongoing spy saga in any medium, turned into a less than brilliant film. So here's hoping that Fox and Condal have a good grip on the material!
The Reporter mentions that Nicole Kidman was at one point attached to the project, which "is seen as a vehicle for a strong female lead." Judging from the tense used, she's no longer attached. A couple of years ago, I picked my dream cast for a Queen & Country movie... and I stand by my choices today. (Click here to see them.) While Kate Winslet would be good (as a commenter pointed out on that post), I still think that Kelly Macdonald is the best woman for the job–and her star has risen considerably since then!
Even if a potential Queen & Country movie is still a long way off, Mister 8's Armstrong Sabian alerted me that Rucka has officially confirmed on his blog that he's hard at work on a new Tara Chace novel! So there's that to look forward to, for sure. Still missing in action is a third Whiteout graphic novel announced in 2007 and now nearly two years overdue, but that sort of schedule is par for the course with Rucka and publisher Oni Press. The good news is, it's always worth the wait!
Sep 11, 2009
As a fan of George Lazenby, I’ve wanted to see The Man From Hong Kong for some time now. But viewing the recent documentary Not Quite Hollywood–which features a lot of stellar clips from the film as well as an interview with Lazenby–really inspired me to finally watch it. A pariah in the mainstream American and British film industries after walking away from James Bond before On Her Majesty’s Secret Service even opened, Lazenby drifted around the margins of international cinema for most of the Seventies, making exploitation pictures in Italy, Hong Kong and Australia. While at the time that must have been frustrating for him, he actually ended up working in three of the most exciting international film scenes of the Seventies. The Italian horror market came alive when Dario Argento breathed new life into it with his seminal giallo, The Bird With Crystal Plumage. (Lazenby’s giallo entry was the somber Who Saw Her Die? in 1972) The Australian film industry was really in an embryonic phase, and prior to getting serious later in the decade with movies like Breaker Morant and Picnic at Hanging Rock, it emerged in the form of the wildly creative exploitation films celebrated in Not Quite Hollywood. And the Hong Kong film industry, of course, was enjoying its all-time zenith thanks to the kung fu craze sparked by Bruce Lee. Lazenby, always an impressive fighter (as showcased on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), signed a contract with Golden Harvest, the company that had made Lee famous, with the plan of starring opposite Lee in several films. Unfortunately, that was just before the star’s tragic and premature death. (In fact, Lee’s Wikipedia entry claims that Lee was due to have dinner with Lazenby the very night of his death.) Lazenby ended up starring instead with the likes of the great Angela Mao in Stoner, and the not-quite-as-great pretender to Lee’s throne, Jimmy Wang Yu in The Man From Hong Kong.
While his fighting skills are impressive (and seen to better effect in period epics like the Zatoichi films and the classic Master of the Flying Guillotine), Wang Yu simply isn’t as exciting to watch in action as Bruce Lee is, especially in contemporary settings. He’s also nowhere near as charming a leading man. It’s unfortunate that the film centers on such a charisma vacuum, but The Man From Hong Kong has enough delirious, gonzo fun going for it (thanks to ubiquitous Aussie action director Brian Trenchard-Smith) that it manages to overcome that handicap. It also affords Lazenby the opportunity to steal the show. Oozing with a confidence not seen in his 007 outing (my theory is that it comes from his impressive mustache, which could easily go toe-to-toe with Timothy Dalton’s Flash Gordon ‘stache), Lazenby relishes his villainous role and chews up all the scenery he can get his mouth on. He’s got swagger to spare (presumably the same swagger that did him few favors off screen amongst the Bond crew) and that comes through both in his fight scenes and his scenes of shouting orders at minions while modeling the best in wide-collared Seventies sleazebag fashions. His character’s arrogance when fighting Wang Yu’s Inspector Fang Sing Leng may come from the steel rods hidden in the wrappings on his fists or the army of henchmen ready to leap to his aid, but the fact is Lazenby stands his ground well against the trained martial artist, and doesn’t appear at all mismatched, as untrained Western villains sometimes do in kung fu movies. (Lazenby did have some martial arts training, and it shows.)
Lazenby’s drug kingpin, Jack Wilton, is introduced a half hour into the film wearing white karate garb with a musical sting very deliberately reminiscent of the James Bond Theme. (This isn’t the sort of film to shy away from in-jokes.) He’s the sort of guy who entertains his guests by shooting apples off of women’s heads with his crossbow. But he’s not one to leave all the fighting to his underlings. "I understand your culture," he says to Fang. "And your language. And your martial arts. Especially those." He goads Wang Yu into a fight at a garden party (under the guise of a "kung fu exhibition") by taunting, "I’ve never met a Chinese yet that didn’t have a... yellow streak." Of course, as soon as the tables turn against him, in rush his goons armed with rakes and hoes!
The ensuing melee is one of many highly entertaining action sequences in The Man From Hong Kong. I was grinning from ear to ear from the very beginning, a drug deal gone sour that leads to a chase and fight atop Australia’s famous landmark Ayers Rock. In his never dull audio commentary (with phoned-in contributions from others), director Brian Trenchard-Smith calls that opening "the most improbable drug deal that you could ever wish to concoct" and says that’s probably why he chose it because "much of the conventions of this film were to reflect the improbable and unlikely stereotypes of action movies at the time." I’m not sure "reflect" is the right word. The movie downright embraces all of the improbable and unlikely stereotypes of action movies at the time (with less intentional parody, I suspect, than Trenchard-Smith now takes credit for), and that’s what makes it so damn enjoyable!
Subsequent setpieces include more melees as well as closed-quarters fighting, a pretty spectacular (and lengthy) car chase, a short-lived foot/motorcycle chase (Wang Yu curtails the bad guy’s getaway plans by knocking him off his bike with a flying kick to the chest), George Lazenby on fire and enough hang-gliding to justify its prominent display in the film’s marketing. The scene where Lazenby (or rather, his jacket) catches on fire, by the way, it the subject of an amusing anecdote in Not Quite Hollywood. After the director demonstrated how safe it was to wear the specially treated, burning coat, the macho George certainly couldn’t turn it down. But when the cameras rolled, he couldn’t get the jacket off! The take used in the movie shows him desperately flailing about trying to get his arm out of the fiery sleeve, and the panic in his eyes isn’t acting. All subjects concerned recall that Lazenby was (justifiably) furious, and Trenchard-Smith claims the actor punched him following the take! Perhaps with the benefit of a selective memory, Lazenby himself denies hitting him, but a stunt man corroborates the story.
Fang is a cop so spectacularly unheeding of rules and regulations that he makes Dirty Harry and Jack Bauer look like champions of due process. To get an idea of just how flagrantly Fang violates the rules of his profession, consider that the Aussie man-bear who sports a remarkable afro/mullet combo and wears his belt around an untucked shirt or tunic, is by comparison the by-the-book cop! (He's the one on the left.)
While cutting his unchecked swathe of violence and destruction across Sydney, Wang Chu spends much of the movie in a blue and white version of Bruce Lee’s famous yellow and black jumpsuit. (It looks kind of like an Emmapeeler, in fact, but he doesn’t wear it nearly as well as Diana Rigg!) The forced comparison doesn’t do Wang Yu any favors, but his impressive fighting skills easily carry him through all the scenes where he doesn’t have to talk. When he does, he’s dubbed (by Roy Chiao, the actor who played Lao Che in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, according to Smith) in an inexplicable John Wayne drawl. I suppose the idea was to emphasize his rule-breaking, lone wolf personal, but it kind of makes him seem like a real jerk (Eurospy hero-style!) in exchanges like this one:
Girl: And do all police officers drive Mercedes?
Him: Only ones in the Special Branch.
Girl: And what’s so special about the special branch?
Him: Allow me to show you.
Cut to sex scene. (And resounding groans.) Trenchard-Smith admits his dialogue is "fairly appalling" but defends it by claiming it’s all "satirical!" Sure, Brian! Either way, it’s entertaining, even in the cringe-inducing moments. But the legacy of The Man From Hong Kong lies not in its dialogue or its acting; it’s in the action, which is uniformly spectacular. (Or possibly in its theme song, "Sky High" by Jigsaw, which is also spectacular and made more of a lasting splash than the film itself in America.) If you’re looking for thoroughly entertaining, well-executed, over-the-top action sequences of the mid-Seventies variety, this film delivers in spades. It’s easily one of Lazenby’s best non-Bond efforts. Furthermore, The Man From Hong Kong left such an unmistakable mark on the genre that it’s hard to shoot action in Sydney without paying homage. It’s influence can be seen in later Australia-set action movies like The Protector and Mission: Impossible II.
The R4 PAL Madman DVD presents a very nice widescreen transfer (certainly much better than the grey market versions that circulated in America for a while). It’s a two-disc affair with good extras–but not quite as good as you might be led to believe by the box. The box states that the second disc includes two bonus films by Brian Trenchard-Smith. What it doesn’t share is that one of those, Hospitals Don’t Burn Down, is an industrial short, made to promote fire safety in hospitals, while the other, Kung Fu Killers, is a documentary on Seventies kung fu and its practitioners. The documentary is actually very good, both on its subject and as a time capsule of the period. But the battered print is not restored or remastered, and it certainly isn’t a feature dramatic film as the omissions on the box might lead one to believe! Other extras are more what you’re expecting. The Australian and Hong Kong trailers are both top-notch. They’re well-cut trailers each with a distinct sort of Seventies voice-over, and they do a great job of conveying the tone of the film. If you don’t have time to show your friends the whole movie, both trailers will give them a nice taste. (And the Hong Kong one even throws in some nudity.) The twenty plus minutes of "never before seen behind-the-scenes footage" contain both alternate takes and some legitimate behind-the-scenes footage, but it’s all MOS (without sound). It would have been great B-roll edited into a whole making-of featurette, cut together with interview subjects, but lacking the sort of budget necessary for such a documentary, it might have livened things up had we at least gotten Brian Trenchard-Smith’s commentary on this material. His commentary on the feature film is clearly the highlight of the disc, special features-wise. He’s self-deprecating and self-aggrandizing at once, a great combination that makes for an audio commentary every bit as engaging as the film itself. And he’s got a great memory, easily recalling stories from the set and doling out fascinating facts about the people involved. As previously mentioned, other contributors to the film occasionally contribute their recollections over a staticky telephone connection.
If you’re a George Lazenby fan, you can’t miss The Man From Hong Kong. And if you have the option of playing PAL discs from different regions, the Madhouse release is definitely the version to get.
Sep 10, 2009
A teaser trailer has gone up on YouTube for the new, comedic reinvention of Sixties Eurospy mainstay Jerry Cotton. As previously reported, Christian Tramitz will step into George Nader's shoes as G-Man Jerry Cotton, and Christian Ulmen will play his sidekick Phil Decker, now apparently comic relief. Penelope's sister Monica Cruz is the girl; the red Jaguar remains the same. See previous behind-the-scenes videos from the set here.
Sep 9, 2009
The Hollywood Reporter reports that Sandy Cohen himself, Peter Gallagher, has joined the cast of USA's upcoming spy series Covert Affairs. This potential Burn Notice companion show stars Piper Perabo and Christopher Gorham. According to the trade, "Gallagher will play CIA director Arthur Campbell, a regal man and former Naval officer who loves a good fight, great scotch and a filthy joke." The OC made me love Peter Gallagher. Like the Bruce Campbell casting in Burn Notice, this supporting part is the one that makes me most excited for the series!
Sep 7, 2009
According to an official announcement on TomPetty.com, the new Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Live Anthology, a four-disc set (or five-disc in a deluxe configuration) will include a number of covers the band has performed live over the years, including their legendary late nineties rendition of the theme song from Goldfinger! I believe this comes from the Heartbreakers' multi-week stint at the Filmore in San Francisco. As a huge Petty fan, I remember reading about this in setlists at the time and being blown away by the notion of their rendition of the classic Bond song. It's circulated as a bootleg over the years, but this will be its first official release. Sadly, I think it's an instrumental. Not that a surf-rock instrumental version by one of the tightest rock'n'roll bands in the world is a bad thing, but it would have been cool to hear Petty's vocal take. Either way, I eagerly await this release. It has to be one of the most unexpected Bond song covers out there!
Scripted by Lem Dobbs, Knockout casts Carano as a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who is given a second chance to use her skills for constructive purposes. The film is a closer cousin to La Femme Nikita and Kill Bill than Million Dollar Baby, in that it doesn’t take place in the fight ring. Rather, Soderbergh considers the film as a flat out action film in the James Bond mold, and will shoot in locations around the world that include Ireland, Turkey and the U.S.
I like the locations. Despite starring a non-actor (like Soderbergh's most recent film, The Girlfriend Experience, which cast porn star Sasha Grey in her first mainstream film role), Soderbergh's name and talent lends a lot of credence to this project. This is the sort of movie that in the 80s would have gone direct-to-video in the U.S. (like most Cynthia Rothrock fare), but today attracts top directors. I like that change in the industry!
Sep 4, 2009
Live in London? If so, I'm jealous of you! Because you could take part in the awesome release event Network is holding to celebrate the release of their upcoming definitive Blu-Ray release of The Prisoner. "The Prisoner All-Nighter" will take place on Saturday, September 26 (the same day Los Angeles spy fans are watching On Her Majesty's Secret Service in dye-transfer Technicolor!) at the Prince Charles Cinema in Central London. The event begins at 8:30 in the evening and continues throughout the night and much of the next day as all seventeen episodes of Patrick McGoohan's legendary series are screened back-to-back, in high definition. "Will you still feel like a free man after being subjected to 17 TV hours in the village alongside special guests who appeared in the show?" asks Network's email announcement, adding that "The Prisoner All-Nighter will be opened by Prisoner Loudspeaker Announcer Fenella Fielding and closed by an additional special guest. More guests are expected, subject to availability." Additionally, everyone attending will receive an exclusive reproduction of a 1967 Prisoner brochure and be entered to win other unique Prisoner memorabilia given away throughout the night. Prizes include six copies of original Prisoner special edition DVD artwork personally signed by the late, great McGoohan!
So how does one get to attend this event? You have to pre-order the Blu-Rays through Network's website. "To mark the Blu-Ray release of The Prisoner the first 125 Network customers who pre-order the Blu-Ray edition from the Network web site will receive a pair of tickets." Head on over and pre-order now (you know you'll be getting it anyway!) to secure your spot! And remember, those who go: I'm jealous of you all!
Sep 3, 2009
The Hollywood Reporter reports that Fox has picked up a new hourlong series from Matt Nix, the man who created TV's hottest (and best) current spy show, Burn Notice. And it's not just a pilot order, but following Fox TV Studios' new "straight-to-series inernational co-production model," the show has received a full thirteen-episode order! The new series, Jack and Dan, is not a spy series. The logline given in the trade doesn't sound particularly original, but then again, Burn Notice's Saintly (or Equalizery) premise probably didn't read that original on paper either, and Nix has approached that tried and true formula with exciting creativity. Jack and Dan "centers on Jack, an ambitious, by-the-book cop who is partnered with Dan, a drunken, lecherous, wild-card cop." I bet Nix cringes at that write-up. He provides more details that provide a better picture of the series: "It's an action comedy cop show that follows both the cops and the criminals and the ways they come together. The fun is seeing how they clash, and that doesn't happen in the conventional procedural ways." I can definitely see that being fun in Burn Notice's tone.
But enough about cops. We're here for spies! How will Jack and Dan affect Burn Notice? Not much, hopefully! "Schedules on both shows will be staggered," according to the Reporter, "to accommodate Nix, for whom Burn continues to be a priority. 'I am extremely conscious of the fact that we have a very good thing in Burn Notice,' he said. 'It's my baby; I love it, and I still think about it all the time.'" So there you have it. It should be possible to juggle two thirteen-episode series, and Nix should be able to still devote himself fully to Michael Westen & Co.
Sep 1, 2009
While it would be hard to give a Victorian detective a bigger handicap than Lady Molly’s gender (given the era and its prevailing attitudes), writer Ernest Bramah gave it a shot by making his Holmsian hero blind. "The Missing Witness Sensation" showcases future Sherlock Holmes (in Billy Wilder’s espionage-oriented The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes) Robert Stephens (father of Bond villain Toby Stephens) as sightless sleuth Max Carrados in the season’s second spy-themed story. Carrados functions like a nineteenth century version of Marvel Comics’ Daredevil: a blind man who has developed his other senses so acutely as to almost fully make up for his lack of vision. Carrados is so proud of overcoming his handicap that he’s constantly showing off–even moreso than Sherlock Holmes. This incurable vanity gets him into trouble more than once, and even gets him captured by a local cell of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
While writer Phillip Mackie occasionally resorts to voiceover describing what Carrados "sees" with his ears and his nose, Stephens does a great job of conveying his character’s handicap without ever making it seem like anything more than a mild inconvenience. Stephens plays the detective very flamboyantly, foreshadowing the way he will play Holmes. Even in the face of death, he can’t resist demonstrating his superior mental powers to those around him. Carrados spends a good part of the episode as a prisoner of the Irish nationalists (though curiously doesn’t grow any facial hair over his lengthy period of imprisonment) and becomes close to the woman in their ranks who lured him into this trap by pretending to be blind herself. His predicament is somewhat similar to Jacques Futrelle’s classic story "The Problem of Cell 13" (itself adapted in the second season of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes), in that Carrados must think his way out of prison. While the entire plot depends a little too much on a complete coincidence, everything comes together in an extremely satisfying manner. It’s great to see how Carrados has managed to remain several steps ahead of everyone else (including, of course, the police, in the form of his friend Inspector Beedle) despite his incarceration.
Hewitt is in many ways the anti-Holmes. Whereas Sherlock is a cold fish all around, Hewitt is warm and sociable. Unlike Holmes (and some of his rivals, especially John Neville’s Dr. Thorndyke), Hewitt is never rude or petulant. He goes out of his way to be nice to everyone. Both of them are good detectives, although Hewitt relies a bit more on doggedly following down every possible lead than on making brilliant deductions in his head. If you were a client and you had to consult with one of them, you would probably prefer the company of Hewitt.
In "The Affair of the Tortoise," Hewitt stumbles upon his latest case while concluding another. He’s just tracked down a young woman to tell her she’s come into a large fortune thanks to a forgotten relative, recently deceased, and he’s clearly attracted to her. (Another stark contrast to Holmes!) Therefore, he’s quick to help her when she complains about her obnoxious, drunken neighbor, Monsieur Rameau (Stefan Kalipha, whose guest appearance on Callan I singled out and is equally impressive here). Rameau terrorizes the building with his drunken caterwauling and mean-spirited practical jokes. He’s soon murdered, and his body vanishes. The kindly caretaker (and brunt of most of Rameau’s jokes) is the chief suspect, and the young woman hires Hewitt to prove him innocent.
The presence of any Hatian character in Victorian fiction generally means the presence of Voodoo, and this case is no different. The Voodoo element makes for a good, exciting story complete with Voodoo doll (always accompanied by drums on the soundtrack, of course) and an expert in the occult. This expert is the proprietor of a curio shop that stocks everything from antiques to a triceratops skull, making it a very interesting setting.
Unlike many of the detectives on this series, Hewitt gets along with well with the police inspector, Nettings, who happily lets him look around in case he finds something the police overlooked. When one character snidely remarks, "Usual story, I suppose. Police baffled? Sorry state of affairs I must say," the indignant Nettings declares "I am not baffled!" Of course he is, and at the end he concedes to Hewitt that "I seem to have made a lot of mistakes on this case."
Hewitt returns in "The Case of Laker, Absconded," following a trail of clues leading to a bank clerk who has supposedly absconded with £15,000. Pryde is on board this time as well, and after "The Case of the Dixon Torpedo" I was looking forward to his return. Unfortunately, he has little more to do than occasionally offering his partner very competent assistance. Hewitt again gets to demonstrate how extraordinarily nice he is, forming a fast friendship with the absconded clerk’s fiancé who accompanies him in the course of his inquiries. He also gets to go undercover as a meter reader for the gas company, and even turns up the charm to seduce a maid! The solution to the case depends on Pryde’s decoding of a classified ad the audience isn’t privy to, but it’s still a very enjoyable journey. The rather unconvincing snowy exteriors, however, reveal a slightly tighter budget than I would have guessed based on the other, fairly lavish, productions.
Not all of the rivals are as kindhearted as Martin Hewitt. Horace Dorrington, for instance (played with a Steedish charm by Peter Vaughn, memorable from his guest appearances on The Persuaders!, The Avengers, The Saint and other classic spy shows) is a downright nasty piece of work. He’s by far the most unscrupulous private detective of the bunch, and really more of an outright scoundrel than a hero. It’s all about money for him, and he’s not above fencing the items that he recovers himself it that nets him a greater profit than returning them to his clients. And despite a perpetual smile, he’s not nice to anyone, including those clients–and his employees. He’s also the only one of the bunch to pull a gun on people. (Not very sporting, what?) Despite his thorough lack of morals, though, Dorrington is actually quite a good detective. He follows leads and discovers clues and even makes brilliant connections. He just uses his conclusions to further his own ends. The "Rivals & Creators" text piece has some interesting things to say about the character. "Handsome and muscular, Dorrington often uses charm to obtain trust, create a ruse and dishonestly make a profit.... Overall, Dorrington was perceived [by Victorian audiences] more as an accomplished criminal than as a trustworthy and effective detective." That sounds about right.
It’s worth noting (Acorn’s copy on the box makes a big deal of it, in fact) that a very young Jeremy Irons makes his first screen appearance in one of the Horace Dorrington episodes, "The Mirror of Portugal." It’s a very small part (credited only as "Nephew") as a Bertie Woosterish dolt who makes exclamations like, "What larks, eh?" Despite this novelty and despite Vaughn’s impressive performance, it’s actually kind of hard to watch an episode centering on such a thoroughly unlikable, downright despicable individual.
Roy Dotrice, however, proves that not every villain need be so unlikable in "The Duchess of Wiltshire’s Diamonds!" Dotrice is gentleman thief Simon Carne, who disguises himself as the aged, celebrated detective Klimo. As an upstanding member of London society, Carne sports a false humpback. While he admits that this phony deformity sometimes gets in the way of his love life, it’s very convenient in throwing any suspicion off of him. How could a humpback possibly pose as Klimo–or anyone else? The episode spends an awfully long time showing Dotrice applying his Klimo facial disguise in real time. I suppose the intent was to show that it can be done, but the scene is a little boring. Carne’s got some great gadgets, including a desk in his study that rotates from his townhouse apartment into Klimo’s adjoining one! He has a different servant in each residence, each of whom is in on the con.
Warner Bros. continues releasing rare catalog titles through their "DVD on demand" Warner Archive program, and today's batch includes an intriguing spy title: Berlin Express (1948). According to Warner Bros., the setting of the film is "as riveting as the action: Berlin Express was the first American movie filmed in post-World War II Germany. Director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, Out of the Past [and, of course, Night of the Demon) and cinematographer Lucien Ballard (The Wild Bunch) capture the ruin of a bombed and devastated nation that just a few years earlier threatened to rule the world." They describe the story of four train passengers who must thwart a Nazi-backed assassination plot as "a tense espionage thriller." Berlin Express stars Robert Ryan, Merle Oberon and Paul Lukas. As a sucker for train movies, I'm certainly intrigued by this one! Berlin Express is available exclusively through the Warner Archive site.