Jan 30, 2015

The Prisoner Returns in Original Audio Dramas From Big Finish

Big Finish, the UK company that resurrected the lost first season episodes of The Avengers by producing the original scripts as excellent new audio dramas, has secured the rights to another cult Sixties spy series: Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner. The company announced earlier this month that Number 6 would return in a series of full-cast audio dramas with original scores. Big Finish co-executive producer Nicholas Briggs (best known as the voice of the Daleks on TV's Doctor Who, but also the writer of some of Big Finish's Doctor Who audio dramas) will write and direct the new series. Voice actors haven't been cast yet. It's a real shame this didn't happen when Patrick McGoohan was still with us, because it's hard to envision anyone else in the role. But still exciting to anticipate new adventures set in the world of the original TV show! Briggs is a fan and promises to treat the material reverently (while not delivering "a slavish retelling of all the original episodes," fortunately), which is more than can be said of the best forgotten AMC miniseries remake a few years ago. It's also exciting to dream about what other ITC classics Big Finish might delve into! The Champions? The Persuaders!? Man in a Suitcase? (Richard Bradford's still around!) Any of those would be great, but what I'd really like to see them do after listening to their fantastic audio recreations of the lost Avengers episodes would be to created audio dramas based on the lost episodes of Adam Adamant Lives! and Callan. In the meantime, though, I'll definitely be checking into the Village next January, when The Prisoner - Volume 1 (four episodes plus a making-of documentary) comes out. It's already available to pre-order ($60.38 for a lavish CD box set with a color booklet, or $35.00 for digital download) from Big Finish's website.
Thanks to Phil for the tip!

Listen to Red File for Callan On BBC

BBC Radio aired the first installment of a 4-part abridged reading of James Mitchell's Red File for Callan this week, and for the next month you can listen online. Red File for Callan (originally published as A Magnum for Schneider) was the novel that introduced the world to David Callan, one of the great antiheroes of the spy genre. Mitchell adapted it twice for the screen, first as an episode of Armchair Theater (which actually predated publication of the book) that served as the pilot to the Callan TV series, and later as the feature film Callan, both starring the incomparable Edward Woodward. But the novel is fantastic in its own right, and deserving of a place alongside the better known likes of Deighton and Freemantle in the canon of working class spy fiction. While abridged versions are never the best way to read (or listen to) something, Ben Miles does quite a good job narrating, and free is infinitely preferable to the inexplicably steep price of the unabridged Story Sound audiobook (which is itself quite excellent if you can find it more cheaply).
UPDATE! And... you can get it more cheaply right now! When I composed this post last night it was its usual exorbitant $64.95, but at this moment it's available on Amazon for 88% off... just $7.86! At that price, go buy this unabridged audiobook right now! Buy it! Now! You won't regret it. Who knows how long this amazing deal will last.

Read my review of Acorn's Callan: Set 1 here.
Read my review of Acorn's Callan: Set 2 here.
Read my review of Network's Callan: The Monochrome Years here.

Jan 28, 2015

Pierce Brosnan Pokes Fun at His James Bond Image in Kia Sorento Super Bowl Spot

Well, Kia has managed to get me to give them free advertising by reposting their commercial by casting Pierce Brosnan in it. And I'll happily do so for any commercial with Brosnan! That's a good way to get my attention during Super Bowl advertising breaks. I found this pretty amusing.

Jan 26, 2015

Tradecraft: Cruise's Next Mission Moved Up

The fuse has been lit early! Usually when tentpoles are dramatically shifted into another season, it's a move backwards. (See: Warner Bros.' The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which has been pushed back twice now.) But today Deadline reports that Paramount is shifting Mission: Impossible 5 up from its previously announced December berth to July 31. Yes, that's this July 31... 2015! So spy fans will get to see the movie sooner than expected. And in terms of genre competition, Ethan Hunt is retreating from James Bond's crosshairs (SPECTRE opens in November and will likely still be in theaters come Christmas) and setting the more vlunerable Napoleon Solo squarely in his own. (U.N.C.L.E. is currently slated for August.) The spacing is good and there's more than enough room for all these spy franchises to coexist... but it's still considerably safer to be the first of the biggies out of the gate than the last, since it's possible the public may burn out a little on the genre after a whopping fifteen spy movies have opened from January to December. (I hope not! And Bond, being practically a genre unto himself, seems pretty safe from such a scenario.) The most surprising thing bout seeing a major action movie shift up by five months is that post-production on these big would-be blockbusters tends to take a long time. But the movie obviously indicates that the studio is confident director Christopher McQuarrie will have all his effects shots finished in time. (This also strengthens the Mission: Impossible series' boasts about relying on practical effects and real stuntwork over time-consuming CGI.) The move means that Paramount's publicity team will have to leap into action, Tom Cruise-style, to build awareness faster than thought. It likely means we'll be seeing a poster and even a teaser trailer quite soon. (Could they even whip up something in time for next week's Super Bowl?) Assuming the effects are in good shape and the marketing folks are up to the challenge, the move makes a lot of sense for Paramount. Currently, the trade points out, the only competition in the weekend of July 31 is Warner Bros.' Point Break remake, Focus Features' sci-fi thriller Self/Less and The Weinstein Company’s Jake Gyllenhaal boxing drama Southpaw, none of which are likely to pose too big a threat to the venerable Mission juggernaut. The move kind of sucks for Point Break, though, since Cruise & Co. will probably poach the very audience its aiming for. I wouldn't be surprised to see it shuffled. The question for spy fans, of course, is what will that mean for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. if Warner Bros. starts shuffling its tentpoles again? If they'd already begun their publicity campaign, it would make sense for the studio to move it up if there's an available frame earlier in the year, but since they haven't it would be more likely to shuffle backwards... yet again. I really hope that doesn't happen.

Jan 23, 2015

Grimsby Retreats to 2016

With all the huge movies slated for this year (among them at least fifteen spy movies, including heavy hitters like James Bond and Mission: Impossible), it was inevitable that some of them would end up shifting dates into 2016. Today it was reported on Box Office Mojo (via Dark Horizons) that the Sacha Baron Cohen spy comedy Grimsby would make such a retreat. It was previously slated to open this July, but considering that there was virtually no awareness yet (unlike Fox's summer spy comedy Spy, which already has a trailer), it's not terribly surprising that Sony has re-positioned it for February 26, 2016. While we've now got more than a year to wait, Grimsby sounds worth waiting for on paper. Working from a script by Cohen (Borat), Phil Johnston (Cedar Rapids) and British comedy genius Peter Baynham (I'm Alan Partridge), Louis Leterrier (who directed the good Transporter movies) helms an impressive cast including Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Penelope Cruz (Sahara), Ian McShane (The Terrorists), David Harewood (Homeland), Annabelle Wallis (Fleming), Scott Adkins (The Bourne Ultimatum), Gabourey Sidibe (Seven Psychopaths) and Isla Fisher (The Great Gatsby). As previously reported, Mark Strong will play a British superspy forced to go on the run with his dimwitted soccer hooligan brother, played by Sacha Baron Cohen.

Jan 22, 2015

Watch Archer on Conan... or Conan in Archer... or... I know, "Phrasing."

This is absolutely hilarious, and a must-watch for fans of FX's animated spy comedy Archer. Conan O'Brien announced on his TBS talkshow, Conan, the other night that his next guest would be the world's greatest secret agent, Sterling Archer. Of course that would be pretty tough because Archer is an animated character, and the actor who (brilliantly) voices him, H. John Benjamin, looks nothing like him. How would they pull off such a feat? Well, the phone rings, and Archer invites Conan to meet him outside the studio. Conan does, and enters the stylized cartoon world of  Archer (becoming an "Archerized" cartoon character himself), ending up in a hilarious car chase with Archer. Watch below to see what happens. While it's full of in-jokes and cool references to reward regular Archer viewers, there's more than enough general spy spoofery going on that any spy fan or James Bond fan should find it pretty funny. I really hope this ends up as a bonus feature on the eventual Archer Season 6 DVDs and Blu-rays. (Surely that was a condition of the Archer team animating the segment...?) Check it out!
(Via io9; thanks to Josh for the link.)

Tradecraft: Pierre Morel to Adapt Victor the Assassin

The Hollywood Reporter reports that Taken and From Paris With Love director Pierre Morel will follow up his forthcoming Sean Penn assassin movie, The Gunman, with another assassin movie. Morel will reunite with two of his Gunman producers, Andrew Rona and Alex Heineman from The Picture Company, to launch a potential franchise for Studiocanal based on Tom Wood's "Victor the Assassin" novels. Morel plans to helm a movie based on the first book in the series, The Killer (no relation to the classic John Woo movie). The trade humorously acknowledges that the plot "is something spy-thriller fans may have seen before," their tongue-in-cheek description still sounds alright to me: "a hitman on the run, chased and double-crossed by many parties." Yeah, that's what I like.... The publisher's description offers more details. Victor, "a man with no past and no surname," pulls off a kill for hire in Paris in order to retrieve a flashdrive with details about a sunken Russian submarine carrying a payload of next generation missiles. But when he returns to his hotel, he's set upon by a cadre of international hitmen, propelling him on a chase across Europe and eventually to CIA headquarters pursued by the world's intelligence agencies. In a capsule, that sounds kind of similar to Mark Greaney's The Gray Man (currently in development as a film at Sony)... but then it was hardly an original one there, either. It's all in the execution, and I haven't read the book so I don't know how Wood handles it. But I'll watch that movie every time someone makes it, whether it's based on a book by Robert Ludlum, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Mark Greaney or anyone else. Especially when it's directed by Pierre Morel, grandmaster of the neo-Eurospy genre! There are four Victor novels to date (the most recent being No Tomorrow), so if the movie is a hit, it certainly has franchise potential... which is clearly Studiocanal's hope.

International Trailer for The Gunman

Here's the international trailer for Pierre Morel's latest neo-Eurospy moive, The Gunman, starring Sean Penn, Idris Elba and the great Javier Bardem. It shows a little more than the previous domestic trailer, but mainly shows why Morel is the reigning grandmaster of the neo-Eurospy genre. With furious action spanning the Congo, London, Barcelona and Gibraltar, this doesn't look like a very faithful adaptation of the cult French noir novel Prone Gunman, but it does look like a pretty worthy follow-up to Taken and From Paris With Love! (If only Morel had continued to direct the Taken movies!) The Gunman opens March 20.

Jan 21, 2015

Tradecraft: Covert Affairs Cancelled

This month brought some most unwelcome news for fans of USA's spy drama Covert Affairs. According to Deadline, the network announced that it's cancelled the series after five seasons. While in some ways the finale of the fourth season seemed like a logical ending point, the fifth season unfortunately concluded with a number of cliffhangers and unanswered questions, intended as seeds for sixth season plotlines. Obviously fans will hope for a movie or miniseries to wrap up these threads, but the trade says that's unlikely. "While that always is a possibility as Covert Affairs producer Universal Cable Prods. has been high on the series and is a sibling to the network, making it happen is usually prohibitively expensive. Therefore, chances for a different conclusion to the series are slim, despite Covert Affairs creators/executive producers Matt Corman and Chris Ord’s hope for a sixth season." It's worth reading the whole story at Deadline, as they go into the interesting financial reasons behind the cancellation. (Among other factors,while the show remained quite popular, it's audience primarily viewed it on DVR rather than live, apparently making it difficult to monetize.) Personally, I'm quite sorry to see it go. Covert Affairs remained a consistently entertaining spy series, and one of the few that actually filmed on location around the world (a factor that made it expensive to film) as opposed to the more common Alias-style "Burbank-as-Barcelona" approach. And NBC's State of Affairs is a poor substitute when it comes to CIA blondes having Affairs.

Jan 15, 2015

Two Trailers For SPY With Melissa McCarthy and Jason Statham

Fox has released two versions of the first trailer for Paul Feig's Spy, the Melissa McCarthy/Jason Statham spy comedy we've been following since mid-2013. Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes), Rose Byrne (X-Men: First Class), Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man), Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians of the Galaxy), Allison Janney (The West Wing), Morena Baccarin (Homeland), Miranda Hart (Call the Midwife), Will Yun Lee (Die Another Day) and 50 Cent (13) round out the impressive cast. The somewhat unimaginatively titled Spy has nothing to do with the UK sitcom of the same name, but it does seem to follow a very similar plot trajectory (analyst thrust into the field as spy) to the movie version of Get Smart... which itself was virtually a beat for beat remake of the movie version of I Spy. It also looks like it has the potential to be better than either of those! The green band (all audiences) trailer feels like the more promising of the two to me, because the red band seems to add a lot of swearing for swearing's sake, which doesn't automatically equal funny. But I'll reserve judgment, because I imagine Jason Statham can probably make a stream of foul language very funny indeed. Spy opens May 22. Check out both versions below:

Jan 10, 2015

Tradecraft: Susanne Bier to Direct Le Carre Miniseries The Night Manager

According to Deadline, AMC confirmed at their TCA session this week that, as previously reported, they have indeed picked up U.S. and Canadian broadcast rights to the BBC John le Carré miniseries The Night Manager. They also confirmed the roles that the stars will be playing. As I'd assumed, Tom Hiddleston (Marvel's The Avengers) will play hotelier-turned-undercover agent Jonathan Pine, and Hugh Laurie (Spooks/MI-6) will play the charming but despicable millionaire arms dealer Richard Onslow Roper, one of the author's best villains. (And a role in which Laurie should shine.) Additionally, the cable network revealed that acclaimed Danish feature director Susanne Bier (Brothers, In A Better World) will direct the miniseries. While she's never tackled espionage before, Bier may be familiar to spy fans from having directed Casino Royale's Mads Mikkelsen in After the Wedding and Pierce Brosnan in one of his best post-Bond films, the excellent but poorly titled Love Is All You Need. Bier has two features presently in the can and awaiting distribution, A Second Chance with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and The World Is Not Enough's Ulrich Thomsen, and Serena, which re-teams Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. Landing Bier for television is quite a coup. I'm a big fan of her work, and I can't wait to see what she does with the material! I also look forward to further cast announcements, as this is quickly shaping up to be among the most exciting spy projects on the horizon. The Night Manager will run six episodes in the UK, but may be re-cut into eight episodes for America to accommodate commercials on AMC.

Jan 7, 2015

Upcoming Spy DVDs: The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs

Network have been slowly working their way through many ITV spy series over the years, and in March they'll finally get to one that I've never seen, but long been curious about. Cold War comedy The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs ran for a single 13-episode season in 1974 and starred David Jason (Rough Diamond, Danger Mouse) as clueless SIS agent Edgar Briggs. In the tradition of Inspector Clouseau and Maxwell Smart, Briggs usually managed to bungle his way to success, rising - mystifyingly, to his flummoxed colleagues - to the number two position in the Service. The 2-disc set is out on March 3, and will retail for £12.24.

Jan 6, 2015

Marvel's Period Spy Drama Agent Carter Debuts Tonight on ABC

The new season of spy TV kicks off tonight with the premiere of Marvel's period spy drama Agent Carter on ABC. The 8-part miniseries, a spin-off of sorts from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., stars the incomparable Hayley Atwell (The Prisoner, Any Human Heart) in her second 1940s-set spy saga (following the superior William Boyd adaptation Restless) reprising her role as Agent Peggy Carter from the Captain America films and the Marvel One-Shot short film Agent Carter. (She also appeared in that role in flashbacks on two episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last fall, and will play the part again on the big screen in Ant-Man later this year.) Besides being a part of the larger juggernaut known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Agent Carter is notable for the period in which it's set. We've seen very few spy series so far set in the nascent days of the Cold War following the conclusion of WWII. It will be interesting to see to what degree the period even plays a role on the show, as geopolitics are less likely to figure into storylines than larger-than-life Marvel comic book plots about alien technology and the like. Either way, I'm expecting the show to be a lot of fun! Atwell is a fantastic actress, and she's supported by a good roster of talent as well including Dominic Cooper (Fleming), Lyndsy Fonseca (Nikita), Bridget Regan (Legend of the Seeker), Shea Whigham (American Hustle), Chad Michael Murray (Fruitvale Station) and Enver Gjokaj (Dollhouse). Behind the scenes, Louis D'Esposito (Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter) directed the pilot, and Joe Russo, co-director of one of the year's best spy movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, helmed the second episode. Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas (Reaper) serve as showrunners. ABC airs the first two episodes tonight (in the usual Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. timeslot while that show is on winter hiatus), starting at 8pm Eastern/Pacific.