Apr 30, 2015

Tradecraft: J.K. Simmons to Star in New Starz Metaphysical Spy Series

Deadline reports that Whiplash Oscar winner J.K. Simmons (Burn After Reading) will topline what the trade describes as a new metaphysical espionage series on Starz. Simmons will star in Counterpart, which has a straight to series order from the cable network. Created by hot screenwriter Justin Marks (Top Gun 2), the first two episodes will be directed by The Imigation Game's Morten Tyldum. Per Deadline: "Described as an espionage thriller with a metaphysical twist, Counterpart tells the story of Howard Silk (Simmons), a lowly cog in a bureaucratic UN agency who is turning the last corner of a life filled with regret, when he discovers the agency he works for is guarding a secret: a crossing to a parallel dimension. Through Howard and his “Counterpart” on the other side, Prime, the show will navigate themes of identity, idealism, what ifs, and lost love."

UK Release Date, Poster for Brosnan's Survivor

DIY reports that the Pierce Brosnan/Milla Jovovich espionage thriller Survivor will open in the UK on June 5. The site also debuted the UK quad poster, which has the U.S. 1-sheet beat. The movie, directed by James McTeigue, is slated for a multi-platform release in America on May 29. Brosnan plays the baddie. Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), Angela Bassett (Alias), James D'Arcy (Agent Carter), Roger Rees (If Looks Could Kill) and Dylan McDermott (Olympus Has Fallen) co-star.

Watch the trailer here.

Apr 24, 2015

The Sequelizer: Sony Confirms Denzel Washington Equalizer Sequel

We've known for a long time that a sequel to last year's feature film version of The Equalizer was in the works and that Sony hoped it would be star Denzel Washington's first ever sequel, but now it's official. Variety reports that Sony confirmed a follow-up to the R-rated action movie, which grossed $192 million globally. According to the trade, "Washington is expected to reprise his role as vigilante Robert McCall in Equalizer 2." The role of McCall, the former spy who decides to atone for his past sins by helping those with the odds against them, was of course originated in the 1985-89 TV series by Edward Woodward (Callan). While Sony announced the sequel at this week's Cinemacon, little else is known at this time, including a release date, additional cast involvement, or whether Antoine Fuqua will return to direct. Personally, I hope he does! I thought he pulled off one of the better TV-to-film remakes, and made a damn good adult action movie in the process. I'd like to see this series continue, as the first film basically served as an origin story bringing this McCall to the doorstep of the TV version. Maybe they can get him a Jag next time around! While fans wait for the next movie to materialize, they can check out last year's surprisingly thick Equalizer novel novel by series co-creator Michael Sloan.

Barely Lethal Trailer

The trailer has dropped for the brilliantly titled Barely Lethal, starring Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) as a teen spy trying to fit in at a ordinary American high school. An orphan raised in Samuel L. Jackson's assassin school, Steinfeld's character fakes her own death to leave her secret spy agency and attempt to enjoy a normal teenage life. Her plans are thwarted, however, when her old life catches up with her in the form of enemy agent Jessica Alba (Spy Kids: All the Time in the World) and rival spy Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones). Fanboys' Kyle Newman directs. I'm a sucker for the teen spy subgenre, and this looks like fun to me. While we've seen plenty of movies about ordinary kids becoming spies (If Looks Could Kill, Kingsman, Alex Rider), I can't recall one about a trained teen spy trying to become an ordinary kid before. Barely Lethal premieres April 30 on DirecTV, then opens in limited theatrical release and comes to VOD May 29.

Apr 22, 2015

Tradecraft: ABC Eyes Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Spinoff

When it was rumored a few weeks ago that ABC is considering a spin-off series from Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I naturally assumed that the spinoff would be about Skye and her new Inhuman pals, as that plot has been building all season. Which would be awesome, because then I could continue to watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. without having to watch Skye and her new Inhuman pals! But now According to The Hollywood Reporter, the potential spinoff will focus on S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Mockingbird (Adrianne Palicki) and Lance Hunter (Nick Blood). I guess this makes sense, since Palicki and Blood have been largely responsible for the vast improvement in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this season. (It's still never lived up to the promise of that final shot in the pilot, but it has improved.) But it's also a pretty terrible idea, because then the mothership show will lose its best assets, and viewers will be left with the original Season 1 crew of lackluster "agents." But I guess I shouldn't be complaining. It would mean we'll have one more spy show on television, and that's always a good thing. In the Marvel comics, Barbara "Bobbi" Morse, codename Mockingbird, is a superspy, a former Avenger (Marvel Avenger, that is, not the Avengers-Avenger) and ex-wife of Hawkeye (played by Jeremy Renner in Marvel's Avengers movies). On the TV show, she's a superspy, but there's been no mention of an Avengers connection. Her ex isn't Hawkeye, but S.H.I.E.L.D. contractor Lance Hunter. In the comics Lance Hunter is a John Steed sort of British agent (the English answer to Nick Fury, and head of  UK S.H.I.E.L.D. equivalent S.T.R.I.K.E.) who likes suits and bowler hats; on the show he's a rough and tumble mercenary. According to Deadline's story on the subject, the potential show would have a "Mr. and Mrs. Smith vibe." I have to admit, a show about formerly married on-and-off lovers who are spies could be good.

According to the trade, the pilot for the potential spinoff will be written by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. executive producer Jeffrey Bell (Alias, Angel) and series writer Paul Zbyszewski (Hawaii Five-0, After the Sunset). Deadline reports that Zbyszewski would be the showrunner should the spinoff go to series. ABC is also considering a secret Marvel superhero project from John Ridley (American Crime, Undercover Brother). Chances are they will only go with one of the new Marvel series if any. While Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. looks good for renewal, Marvel's far superior period espionage show, Agent Carter, is on the bubble as to whether it will come back or not. We should know which Marvel spy shows make the cut come ABC's upfront presentation in May.

Apr 18, 2015

Trailer for HBO's The Brink

To lighten things up a bit from this week's stories about torture tactics and other CIA debacles, here's the trailer for HBO's new comedy series The Brink... about, uh, a CIA debacle in the making. There's more than just espionage here, but the Intelligence Community doesn't escape the satirical scrutiny of this dark satire about the world pushed to the brink of WWIII. Roberto Benabib (Weeds) and Kim Benabib created the show, which is executive produced by Jerry Weintraub (The Avengers), Jay Roach (Austin Powers) and produced by stars Jack Black and Tim Robbins.

Apr 17, 2015

Massive New S.H.I.E.L.D. Omnibus Collects All the Classic Sixties Nick Fury Comics

The complete run of the classic Sixties spy comic Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be collected in one massive hardcover tome due out from Marvel this fall. Though in keeping with current branding, it won't actually be released under its original title, but just "S.H.I.E.L.D.," dropping the Nick Fury. This is obviously in part to tie in with Marvel's current TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which doesn't feature the one-eyed superspy, and in part because Fury himself has largely been written out of the Marvel Universe at the moment. (The Nick Fury featured in these stories has been banished to the moon, believe it or not.) The name change is regrettable, but it's still nice that these classic and essential comics will all be collected together.

Historically, S.H.I.E.L.D. collections have focused on Jim Steranko's undeniably definitive run on the title. That's as it should be, since those Steranko comics are essential reading for any fan of the character or the medium at large, but by focusing on Steranko alone they leave out a lot of good stories by other writers and artists. This Omnibus will be the first time that the entire run of original stories from Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been collected in one place, not just the three issues that Steranko drew. (Most of Steranko's contributions to the character came earlier in the anthology book Strange Tales, though that run began in the hands of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Even the Kirby material is often left out of Nick Fury collections.) This 960-page tome, S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Complete Collection, collects the Fury material from Strange Tales issues 135-168, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1-15, Fantastic Four #21, Tales of Suspense #78, Avengers #72, Marvel Spotlight #31 (featuring a story drawn by Howard Chaykin that explains why WWII vet Fury didn't seem to be aging much by the 1970s), and relevant material from Marvel's self-parody 'zine Not Brand Echh #3, 8 and 11. As far as I can tell, that means the only content not already collected in three volumes' worth of Marvel Masterworks (out of print high end, hardcover collections) is Tales of Suspense #78, a Jack Kirby-drawn story which sees Fury teamed with Captain America to defeat "the macabre menace of THEM." So if you've got the three volumes of Marvel Masterworks: Nick Fury, you might not need this collection. Then again you might, as it is the first time all of this material has been collected in a single volume. The only glaring omission that I can spot is Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Annual #3, which saw the eye-patched Fury (the patch distinguished the contemporary version of the character from his WWII self, star of a long-running series) and his WWII unit reconvened by President Johnson for a special mission in Vietnam. That one didn't make any previous S.H.I.E.L.D. collections either.

The Steranko stories are all conveniently collected in a much cheaper, much easier to hold trade paperback called S.H.I.E.L.D. by Steranko: The Complete Collection. That might be the best place for beginners to turn, eager for their first exposure to Steranko's groundbreaking artwork or Nick Fury's spy adventures. And Fury's whole Sixties run is collected in those three very nice, very readable Marvel Masterworks hardcovers, though those are out of print. But S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Complete Collection Omnibus brings everything together in one convenient place. So if you think you're apt to get hook, this might be a good starting place after all. It will certainly save time in hunting down all of these issues individually! And the Sixties S.H.I.E.L.D. oeuvre is as essential a part of any good spy collection as Ian Fleming paperbacks or The Man From U.N.C.L.E. DVDs.

Marvel will also release a trade paperback this fall collecting the first six issues of their current S.H.I.E.L.D. comic, based loosely on the TV series. (It's surprisingly good!) And the final trade paperback volume of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Classic, collecting the comic's early Nineties run, is due out in June. Between them (and especially when combined with Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D., Wolverine & Nick Fury: Scorpio and Garth Ennis's Fury MAX: My War Gone By), Nick Fury's Marvel legacy is now pretty well covered in trade!

Retail on this behemoth is $99.99, but it's considerably less on Amazon. It will be available with a Steranko cover or a new Alex Ross cover.

Apr 16, 2015

Tradecraft: Three Rival Benghazi Movies in the Pipeline

There are at least three rival projects in the works chronicling the harrowing and deadly September 2012 siege on the U.S. diplomatic compound and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya in which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, diplomat Sean Smith, and two CIA contractors lost their lives. The latest, according to Deadline, comes from Alcon Entertainment. Zero Footprint tells not the story of the siege itself, but a more macro tale of events leading up to it. "This about why it happened and the siege of the embassy is the last part of the third act," says Alcon co-founder and co-CEO Andrew Kosove. "This is about everything that led up to that attack." Scott Charnick (The Wake), Charley Parlapanides (Immortals) and Vlas Parlapanides (Immortals) penned the script in close consultation with an ex-Special Forces operator who must remain anonymous. The complex story of deniable operators, secret missions, and shifting allegiances in the ongoing war on terror is told from his perspective.

If Alcon's approach is comparable to Syrianna or Zero Dark Thirty, the other two sound more akin to Black Hawk Down, focusing on the siege itself. Another project (currently untitled), Deadline reported separately, will focus on the two fallen CIA contractors and comes from Relativity Media, who have optioned "the life rights of former U.S. Navy SEALs-turned CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, who rescued thirty Americans in the attacks on the U.S. Diplomatic Compound." The studio also acquired the life rights to Woods’ wife Dorothy Woods and Doherty’s best friend and estate executor, Sean Lake, and will work closely with them in developing the film. Matthew Sand (Ninja Assassin) is writing the screenplay for the untitled drama, and Dana Brunetti (Captain Phillips) will produce.

Michael Bay is ahead of them, though, with his own Benghazi drama at Paramount, 13 Hours, already shooting in Malta and Morocco. Bay's version, scripted by Chuck Hogan (The Town), is based on Mitchell Zuckoff's book Thirteen Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi. In a story earlier this year, Deadline reported that James Badge Dale (Rubicon) "will play the leader of the security team that tries to protect U.S. lives in the assault." Freddie Stroma (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) plays an undercover CIA agent in Libya, and John Krasinski (Aloha) and Max Martini (Captain Phillips) also star.

Apr 15, 2015

Tradecraft: BBC Cold War Spy Drama Close to the Enemy Sets Cast

Deadline reports that BBC2 has announced the cast of a new Cold War espionage drama from playwright Stephen Poliakoff ("Soft Targets," Dancing On the Edge). The six-episode drama Close to the Enemy takes place in the earliest days of the Cold War and immediate aftermath of WWII, a new popular period for exploration on TV following the likes of Agent Carter and the last two seasons of Foyle's War. According to the trade, Jim Sturgess (Cloud Atlas) stars as Callum, an intelligence officer charged with ensuring that a captured German scientist, played by August Diehl (Inglorious Basterds), brings his jet engine know-how to the RAF and not the Russians. The drama unfolds against the backdrop of a bomb-damaged London hotel, whose other occupants include Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel), Charlotte Riley (London Has Fallen), Alfie Allen (John Wick), Charity Wakefield (Any Human Heart), Angela Bassett (Survivor) and Alfred Molina (Matador). Producer and frequent Poliakoff collaborator Helen Flint told the trade, "Close To The Enemy is set in the transitional period of 1946 — the brutal Second World War is finally over but the destruction of families and cities permeates everyone’s lives. As the Cold War takes its hold in Europe and the public realization that the atom bomb could be used by any government, our hero Callum passionately believes that to safeguard the future you mustn’t heed the past regardless of how terrible it has been." Hopefully PBS or BBC America will pick this up for U.S. broadcast.

Apr 14, 2015

HBO Explores CIA's Psychological Torture Tactics

After a brief period where fact-inspired spy dramas like Argo and Zero Dark Thirty portrayed some of the CIA's wins, we seem to be returning to the ever popular exploration of the Agency's disastrous missteps. While the Jeremy Renner drama Kill the Messenger sank quickly last fall (despite an exciting and truly harrowing first half reminiscent of All the President's Men), there are currently two Iran-Contra scandal movies in the works, two Edward Snowden movies, two three(!) Benghazi movies, and now two TV project's about CIA psychological torture techniques. We've already heard about ABC's MK Ultra miniseries from the writer of The Assets, which will examine the Agency's Scientific Intelligence Division's notorious 1960s experiments in human "behavioral engineering" using methods including sensory deprivation, hypnosis, torture and, most famously, LSD. But that kind of "enhanced interrogation" techniques are old hat now. To the U.S. government's unending embarrassment, Langley has continued to push the boundaries in that field. Deadline reports that HBO Films will examine today's brutal torture techniques used in the war on terror and popularized (if that's the word) late last year by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's so-called "torture report." According to the trade, Scott Z. Burns (whose many spy script credits include The Bourne Ultimatum, The Informant! and Steven Soderbergh's unfilmed version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) will write and direct Rorschach and Awe, based on the 2007 Vanity Fair article of the same name by Katherine Eban. Per Deadline, "Rorschach and Awe will explore how the CIA hired two psychologists to build a torture program with the full knowledge and cooperation of the American Psychological Association. In her article, Eban shed light on the roles of psychologists James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen as architects of the coercive interrogation tactics. For their services, the duo were rewarded with $180 million in CIA contracts, $81 million of which had been paid before the agreement was terminated in 2009."

Apr 13, 2015

Tradecraft: Transporter Refueled Delayed Until Fall

EuropaCorp's neo-Eurospy series reboot The Transporter Refueled is going to spend a little bit more time at the gas station before reaching its destination in theaters. Deadline reports that Luc Besson's distribution company has decided to move the film out of its original, busy mid-June frame (where it would have been competing with Jurassic World, Pixar's Inside Out, and the original Transporter himself, Jason Statham, in Spy) to September 4, where it will go up directly against the Pierce Brosnan action movie No Escape, which opens the preceding Wednesday. Historically, fall has been the traditional time frame for Transporter releases. The Transporter Refueled stars relative newcomer Ed Skrein in the role originated by Statham and played on TV by Chris Vance. Watch the trailer here.

Tradecraft: Clooney Acquires Cold War Spy Story Three Minutes to Doomsday

Variety reports that George Clooney and Grant Heslov's Smokehouse Pictures has acquired the film rights to a forthcoming non-fiction book by Joe Navarro and Howard Means called Three Minutes to Doomsday. According to the trade, "the book follows the FBI’s leading body language expert Navarro, who was sent to track down Rod Ramsey to report on his knowledge or association with Clyde Lee Conrad, an U.S. Army officer who sold top-secret classified information to the People’s Republic of Hungary. It documents Navarro and Ramsey’s relationship and interviews against the backdrop of the Cold War." I find that description a little frustrating because it neither tells who Ramsey was nor when during the Cold War all this went down. So for some more background, according to SpyMuseum.com (a very cool online resource on espionage history), Conrad was an NCO stationed in West Germany and "tasked with maintaining and protecting top secret documents related to the military plans in case of a war with the Soviet bloc." In 1975 he was recruited by Zoltan Szabo, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Hungary and Sergeant in the U.S. Army who was really a Colonel in the Hungarian Military intelligence, to pass along the documents he was charged with protecting. Over a ten year period, he passed along more than 30,000 documents, among them NATO strategies, troop positions and nuclear weapon sites. In 1983, he recruited his then assistant, Sgt. Roderick Ramsey, to assist him in his treason as well as his army work. A CIA asset tipped off the Americans that they had a leak, and Conrad was finally arrested in 1988 and convicted in 1990. So presumably Navarro's investigation happened during the mid-Eighties.

According to Navarro's website, he was recruited by the FBI at the tender age of 23 as one of their youngest agents ever (this would be 1976 or '77), and "spent the next 25 years at the FBI, working both as an agent and supervisor in the areas of counterintelligence and counterterrorism. Through his work he was able to study, refine and apply the science of non-verbal communications. His acumen in this field, and his success as a spy-catcher, led Joe to begin training FBI agents and the intelligence community." He retired in 2003.

Means previously collaborated with former CIA agent Robert Baer on the books See No Evil and Sleeping with the Devil, which served as the basis for the Clooney movie Syriana. Scribner recently acquired U.S. publication rights for Three Minutes to Doomsday.

Apr 12, 2015

Bond Producers, Oliver Stone Behind Rival Edward Snowden Movies

Last year's powerful, Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour chronicled the story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and the ramifications of his revelations about domestic spying in the United States. It's a fascinating film, and together with the Frontline report "United States of Secrets" actually managed to change my opinion of Snowden. But audiences don't turn out in droves for documentaries, so most moviegoers will have to wait for the feature version to form an opinion. Make that feature versions. There are two rival Snowden movies in various states of production/development, and one of them comes from the most famous producing team in all of spydom.

It's extremely rare that James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson tackle anything other than 007. (Broccoli produced the HBO movie Crime of the Century back in 1996, and the pair were attached to produce the spy movie Remote Control back in 2009, but that project never materialized.) But last year Deadline reported that they're doing just that, and in stark contrast with the fantasy spy world of James Bond, they're planning to tell one of the most famous real-life espionage stories of our age. According to the trade, Sony acquired Glenn Greenwald‘s book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State for Broccoli and Wilson to produce. The book narrates Greenwald's work with Snowden to expose the NSA's domestic spying operations in The Guardian. "No Place To Hide is a terrifying personal account of one of the most relevant political events of our time," Wilson and Broccoli said in a statement. "We are thrilled to be working with Glenn to bring this important story to the screen." But they won't be the first people to deliver a movie about these events.

Broccoli and Wilson are not alone in their passion for the Snowden story. Oliver Stone has them beaten to the punch with a Snowden project of his own for Open Road Films and Endgame Entertainment, which is already filming in Munich and on schedule to be released this year. Stone's Snowden stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the controversial whistleblower. Stone's movie is based on another Guardian journalist's book, The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man, by Luke Harding, and a novel by Snowden's Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, called Time of the Octopus. (That should be the title of the movie!) Harding and other Guardian journalists and staffers will serve as consultants. "This is one of the greatest stories of our time," Stone said in a statement published on Deadline last year. "A real challenge. I’m glad to have The Guardian working with us."

Shailene Woodley (White Bird in a Blizzard) stars opposite Gordon-Levitt as Snowden's girlfriend, Lindsay Mills. Timothy Olyphant (Hitman) plays a CIA agent; Clint's son Scott Eastwood (Fury) plays an NSA agent, and Nicholas Cage plays a what Deadline describes as "a former U.S. Intelligence official." Anyone who's seen Citizenfour or "United States of Secrets" can probably guess that this character is likely based on NSA whistleblower William Binney, who plays a crucial role in the story. Zachary Quinto (Hitman: Agent 47) plays Glenn Greenwald (good casting!), Melissa Leo (The Equalizer) plays Citizenfour filmmaker Laura Poitras, and Tom Wilkinson (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) plays Guardian defense and intelligence correspondent Ewen MacAskill. Joely Richardson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and Rhys Ifans (Elementary) round out the impressive cast. A few weeks ago, Deadline revealed the first photos of Gordon-Levitt as Snowden (above).

Snowden is currently slated to open Christmas Day. It will be interesting to see if Stone's film clicks with audiences like All the President's Men or flounders in its proximity to the events it's portraying like Bill Condon's 2013 Julian Assange movie The Fifth Estate and fails to find viewers. If it's a hit, will Broccoli and Wilson still proceed with their Snowden movie? Presumably they won't be turning their full attention to it until after SPECTRE comes out, and it's possible that more time passing from Snowden's exposure of classified material and subsequent flight to Russia will give them the perspective necessary to make a better film. It's a complex news story, and there is certainly room for multiple films with multiple perspectives on the issues and events surrounding the divisive Snowden. Personally, I hope both movies become a reality. I'd really like to see Broccoli and Wilson's take on real world espionage.

Upcoming Spy Music: The President's Analyst Finally Gets a Soundtrack Release

Quartet Records recently announced the first ever official soundtrack release of Lalo Schifrin's score for Theodore J. Flicker's peerless James Coburn spy satire The President's Analyst—one of my very favorite spy movies. (One day I'll get back to doing that series of reviews of My Favorite Spy Movies, and The President's Analyst and Otley will probably be next.) It's paired with Schifrin's score for the Cliff Robertson suspense drama Man on a Swing. (I've never seen that one.) The President's Analyst follows Coburn as a psychoanalyst selected by the heads of the thinly disguised CEA (Central Enquiry Agency) and FBR (Federal Bureau of Regulation) to be the President's personal analyst. But soon the pressures of the job become too much to bear, and the man with all of the nation's secrets in his head goes on the run, making himself a target for spies of all nations (including Russia and Canada) and, worse than the KGB, the omnipresent Phone Company. It's a hilarious film that deftly treads the line between Pink Panther-style absurdity and smart, prescient satire. Its prescience, in fact, is somewhat scary, as the film neatly predicted our current surveillance culture and willing surrender of our privacy in exchange for the latest communications gizmos. Rather unfortunately, it remains as relevant today as it was when it was made in 1967. Per Quartet's copy, "the terrific Schifrin score, one of his most imaginative from the period (and one of the most desired by his fans), is a kaleidoscope of parodic patriotic music, throbbing spy/suspense sound, pop, jazz, Christmas songs and a catchy 'paranoid' theme." Sadly, the soundtrack appears to be missing the folk epic "Inner Manipulations" by "Eve of Destruction" singer Barry McGuire that scores the movie's best setpiece, as well as The Clear Light's "She's Ready to Be Free." (The latter at least is available elsewhere, but the movie version of the former is the piece of music from this film I, frustratingly, most want to own!)

Rock songs aside, though, Schifrin's score is also terrific and I've long desired it as well, and am very happy I'll finally be able to own it! Quartet does offer connoisseurs a word of warning about their source material, however: "Sadly, the only available source for The President’s Analyst was the mono music stems, but we have made a big effort to restore them as much as possible. We have evened out the up-and-down shifts in volume and minimized the small bits of dialogue that bled into the audio masters. We think the end result is satisfactory—and the music is well worth the effort!" I'm sure it is. I've always been quite happy with Quartet's releases, including their epic, 2-disc, as near-definitive-as-possible version of Burt Bacharach's score for the 1967 Casino Royale. And if that release, which went out of print, started commanding astronomical prices, and eventually earned a rare second printing due to popular demand, is any indication, you may want to get your hands on The President's Analyst sooner rather than later. Like the first printing of Casino Royale, it's limited to just 1,000 copies. And without the juggernaut affiliation of James Bond, I suspect that in this case, when they're gone, they're gone. And if you need one more reason to pull the trigger, the record company promises that "the lavish package includes a 20-page booklet with in-depth liner notes from film music writer Jeff Bond." Man on a Swing/The President's Analyst is available for pre-order from Screen Archives Entertainment for $19.95. You can listen to samples from it on Quartet's website. Here's the complete track list:


1. Maggie’s Theme (0:23)
2. Source Muzak #2 (1:06)
3. Source Muzak #1 (0:34)
4. Maggie’s Theme (0:56)
5. Evelyn Story (1:42)
6. Source Muzak #3 (0:41)
7. Wills’ Trance (5:56)
8. Source Muzak #5 (1:21)
9. Source Muzak #6 (1:41)
10. Source Muzak #7 (0:35)
11. Rosehaven Motel (1:54)
12. Maggie Retraced (1:49)
13. Source Muzak #9 (1:20)
14. Choked Up (1:48)
15. Juke Box Source (1:25)
16. Radio Source (1:39)
17. Dialatone / Empty Porch / Mailman / Phone Voice / A Wet Nothing (3:25)
18. Penultima Trance (4:11)
19. Wills’ Last Trance (1:14)
20. Forest Finale (0:21)
21. End Credits (1:17)


22. Paramount Seal and Opening / Main Title (4:46)
23. Hey Me (2:24)
24. The Long Walk (1:02)
25. The Nest (1:27)
26. On Call (1:58)
27. Lonely Hours (1:29)
28. Paranoid Starts / Cocktail Lounge (3:14)
29. Spies Paranoid / Dream Paranoid / Suspicious Paranoid (0:43)
30. Sidney Plans Escape (1:30)
31. Car Radio / More Car Radio (2:12)
32. Total Sound (1:15)
33. Stinger #1-2-3 / Cooler and Sweater Number (1:10)
34. Sidney’s Flight (2:02)
35. Fast Boat to Moscow (1:40)
36. Telephone Trap (1:09)
37. T. P. C. / Cerebrum Communicator (1:47)
38. End Title (3:05)

Apr 11, 2015

Entertainment Weekly Reveals Cool Man From U.N.C.L.E. Movie Details

In its summer movie preview, Entertainment Weekly has revealed some very cool details about Guy Ritchie's upcoming movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. We already knew that it was a period piece set in the era of the TV show (and the height of spymania), the 1960s, and we knew from the trailer that East/West checkpoints play a role. But until now I hadn't seen anything to indicate that the movie would feature one of my very favorite tropes of Cold War spy fictions both fantastical and realistic—a Berlin wall crossing! According to the magazine, "In one extended chase sequence, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander) elude Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) by zip-lining across the Berlin Wall." This, of course, happens before the American and Russian agents eventually team up, as the movie serves as an origin story for the famous partnership. I would guess the zip-lining leads into the sequence we've seen in the trailer (albeit clearly edited out of order) in which Illya pursues the pair in a nighttime car chase. EW provides some terrific concept artwork for the sequence, too (above). "What we’re trying to capture are iconic memories of the East-meets-West scenario,” Ritchie told the magazine. "Getting over the Wall is part of that world." The stunt, EW reports, was inspired by a real-life incident in 1983 in which Michael Becker and Holger Bethke fled East Berlin in the same manner. "We looked up every conceivable way of getting over the Berlin Wall," said Ritchie. "That was the most plausible." (But did he consider Jason King's method of being transported across in a shipping crate lined with luxurious cushions and stocked with champagne?) As well as the series itself, Ritchie was inspired by the Sixties Bond movies and the Harry Palmer films starring Michael Caine. Wall crossing plays a major role in the second of those movies based on Len Deighton's novels, Funeral in Berlin. And the concept of escaping an Eastern Bloc nation also recalls one of the very best episodes of the TV show, Season 1's "The Dove Affair." I would be very happy if it turns out that the movie leans heavily on that Robert Towne-penned classic! Henry Cavill News has scans of additional illustrations from the print version of Entertainment Weekly, including a cool storyboard image of the zip-lining sequence.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. opens August 14.

Gary Oldman's Tinker Tailor Sequel Headed to HBO?

It's been quite a while since we've heard anything on the Smiley front about a follow-up to Tomas Alfredson's fantastic 2011 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (review here). More than two years ago, StudioCanal Chairman and CEO Olivier Courson revealed, "We are working on Smiley’s People with Working Title. It’s still at the development stage - but, yes, the old team of Peter Straughan and Tomas Alfredson is back together." Now, Tinker co-writer Straughan has just scripted Wolf Hall, the popular and well received miniseries adaptation of Hilary Mantel's bestselling novels about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII. The Writers Guild of America's official magazine, Written By, interviewed Straughan about the miniseries for their current issue, and in the course of the article casually drops this previously unreported tidbit: "Currently, [Straughan] is adapting the Le Carré novel Smiley's People for HBO. It's another huge task...." HBO? That's interesting! HBO was not involved in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which was produced by StudioCanal and Working Title Films, and distributed in the U.S. by Focus Features. The film performed better and made more of a critical and cultural impact in Britain (where it won two BAFTA Awards) than the States, so I suppose it's possible that StudioCanal couldn't find a theatrical partner in the U.S. and instead opted for TV.

HBO has indeed proved a refuge lately for A-list filmmakers with adult projects. Steven Soderbergh famously made his dream project Liberace there after every film studio in town reportedly passed on a theatrical version despite the attachment of stars Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. It's also possible that HBO Films might be involved in a theatrical venture. While most of their theatrical features, like this summer's Entourage, are based on existing HBO shows, they did offer a limited run of the documentary Going Clear last month. The involvement of HBO also raises the intriguing question of whether the Seventies-set sequel, which Straughan has previously said would incorporate some elements of the second novel of the "Karla Trilogy," The Honourable Schoolboy, with the bulk (and title) of the third, Smiley's People, might emerge as a miniseries instead of a feature. It was, of course, previously filmed that way by the BBC in 1982. Personally, I would bet not. I would hazard a guess that we might be looking at a StudioCanal/Working Title/HBO co-production released theatrically in Britain and Europe and airing on HBO (perhaps in conjunction with a limited, Oscar-qualifying theatrical run) in the United States. But I would sure love some sort of official announcement that might shed some more light on the subject! It's a pity Written By didn't ask a follow-up question for clarification.

As long as the key team of Alfredson (Let the Right One In), Straughan (The Debt) and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (SPECTRE) all return, and key actors like Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciaran Hinds are involved, I don't much care if I see the sequel in a theater or on TV. Just so long as we get to see another Oldman Smiley movie! If HBO were to bring substantial extra funding to the equation, though, what I would really like to see would be the Hong Kong-set Honourable Schoolboy as that follow-up before concluding the trilogy with Smiley's People. Alas, it seems unlikely we'll ever see that masterpiece properly adapted due to cost issues. And I can hardly complain about a new version of Smiley's People, which is also a wonderful novel!

Read my article "George Smiley: An Introduction" here.

Apr 8, 2015

Support Assassin 9 on IndieGoGo

My friend Chad Jones has created what promises to be a really cool spy comedy web series, Assassin 9, and he and his partners have turned to Indiegogo to raise finishing funds. I've read the script, and personally I can't wait to see Chad's somewhat warped vision realized. The five-part series follows Agent J9, Janine, an "offensive security specialist" in the SPECTRE-like S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Corporation, a multinational conglomerate whose business model happens to include world domination. Janine is an expert when it comes to killing, but never lands the big assignments because she doesn't have the seduction skills necessary for more delicate missions. She's got to get her act together or face termination—literally. To overcome her shaky relationships with HR director Gladys and sociopathic CEO the Komodo, Janine will have to seek help from her chief rival, Bogdana, an Eastern-European vixen with nothing but contempt for J9. Assassin 9 has something for just about everyone who's ever toiled as a corporate drone to relate to: disagreeable coworkers, nondisclosure agreements, insurmountable corporate bureaucracy, lasers, ninjas, sexy spy babes, evil acronyms... you know, the daily grind. Think of it as The Office set inside Hydra. Go poke around the project site, check out the videos, read the pitch, peruse the premiums, take seduction tips from Bogdana, and if you like what you see, please support Assassin 9 on Indiegogo! After all, global domination is always a good cause, right?

Apr 2, 2015

Trailer and Poster for Pierce Brosnan's Survivor

At last! We've been hearing about this movie for what seems like years, and now we've finally got our first look at Pierce Brosnan and Milla Jovovich in the new espionage thriller Survivor, directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta, Ninja Assassin). It's interesting that even though Jovovich is top-billed, the poster clearly makes Brosnan the main attraction. I think Brosnan is always great playing bad guys, going back as far as his turn as a cold-blooded KGB assassin opposite Michael Caine in The Fourth Protocol. It looks like Survivor affords the former Bond the opportunity to put his own spin on the Edward Fox role from another Frederick Forsyth-based movie, The Day of the Jackal. I can't wait to see the results! Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), Angela Bassett (Alias), James D'Arcy (Agent Carter), Roger Rees (If Looks Could Kill) and Dylan McDermott (Olympus Has Fallen) round out the cast. When the movie was first announced, Emma Thompson was also listed as part of the cast, but I see no sign of her here, so perhaps that didn't work out. Survivor is written by Phillip Shelby and is apparently quite similar to, if not actually based on, his 1998 novel Gatekeeper. As reported last month, Survivor will be receive a multi-platform release later this year from Alchemy (formerly Millennium Entertainment), in partnership with Lionsgate.

Big Finish to Produce New Steed and Mrs. Peel Audio Dramas; Classic Sixties Avengers Comics to be Reprinted

For the past two years, UK company Big Finish has been producing top-notch, full cast audio dramas (what we might have once called radio shows) recreating the lost episodes from the almost entirely missing first season of The Avengers. These episodes predate any of gentleman secret agent John Steed's more famous female partners like Cathy Gale or Emma Peel, and find him teamed with a male amateur instead—Dr. David Keel. On TV Dr. Keel was played by Ian Hendry, and Steed was of course played by the incredible Patrick Macnee. In the Big Finish audio dramas, Anthony Howell (Foyle's War) and Julian Wadham (Double Identity) step into those respective roles and do so as perfectly as any fan could hope for. Steed in particular is at once instantly recognizable as Macnee's Steed, and yet at the same time very much Wadham's. It's a brilliant interpretation.

Last month the company (who made their name producing quality Doctor Who audio adventures) announced the next phase of their Avengers license. Alongside the continuing Lost Episodes line of recreated first season episodes, they will introduce Steed's most famous partner, Mrs. Emma Peel (originated on the series by the frankly inimitable Diana Rigg). Wadham will continue to play Steed, and the company are currently searching for an actress to play Emma. Presumably it has not escaped their attention that the perfect choice would be Dame Diana's daughter, Rachel Sterling (The Game)! She actually sounds quite a lot like her mother while being a supremely talented actress in her own right, who would no doubt bring the same blend of new and old to the role that Wadham does with Steed. I suppose it's possible that Ms. Sterling might not wish to step into her mother's most famous role, but she's shown no qualms in the past about aligning her career with Rigg's. She played Rigg's role from the film in a stage version of Theater of Blood, and appeared alongside her mother in familial roles on a recent episode of Doctor Who. Yes, Rachel Sterling would be the perfect choice to revive Emma Peel in new audio dramas! I hope it happens.

But what are these dramas based on, if all the Emma Peel era episodes thankfully survive? In an interesting choice, Big Finish will adapt them from the Avengers comics that ran in the UK children's magazine Diana (not named after Rigg) from 1966-67. That's... an interesting choice. The Diana comics are highly sought after and well worth reading, but that's for their gorgeous artwork (by Emilio Frejo), not for their stories. The storylines tended to be rather sophomoric, relying on the cliches of kiddie comics of the era rather than the sophisticated wit of the TV series. (One adventure saw Steed and Emma protecting England from a new wave of Viking invasions, a theme that seemed to weigh heavily on the minds of British children in the Sixties. That plot was, if you can believe it, used twice in Avengers comics, and also in comics based on other popular spy shows of the decade!) Since the artwork can obviously not be translated into an audio drama, the story is the aspect that will carry over. Luckily, each of the eight Diana storylines ran for only six pages, spread out over the course of three issues. So Big Finish's writers will have plenty of room for embellishment and improvement in the course of adapting them into hour-long audio dramas! The advantage the comics had over the TV show was that they weren't restricted by budget, and so we saw things like ski chases and helicopter crashes that simply wouldn't have worked on the series. The best place to learn more about these comics, including complete synopses of each one, is on the wonderful website The Avengers Illustrated. You can even read my reviews (as a contributor, before I had my own spy blog) on the first two Diana stories there! (My review of Story 1, and Story 2. And for fun, but with no bearing on this news story, you can also read my reviews of some New Avengers comics here.) You can also see examples of Frejo's beautiful artwork.

Which brings me to the other exciting aspect of this venture. In addition to putting out audio dramas based on the comics, Big Finish will also publish a graphic novel collecting all of those rare and sought after Diana comics for the first time ever! This is huge news in its own right. None of the Sixties Avengers comics have ever been reprinted before. (Though Boom! Studios have done a great job of collecting the 90s Steed and Mrs. Peel comics by Grant Morrison along with several volumes of their own current take on the characters.) It will be great to have all that beautiful Frejo Avengers artwork bound together in a single bookshelf volume! (I wonder if it would be possible for Big Finish to secure the rights to the terrific black and white comic strip "The Growing Up of Emma Peel," which ran in the comics anthology June and followed the adventures of 14-year-old Emma Knight long before she ever married pilot Peter Peel or met the mysterious John Steed? It would make a fantastic bonus feature in such a collection!)

Now for the bad news: all of this is a long way off. A whole year away in fact. According to Big Finish's website, the eight episodes of The Avengers - Steed and Mrs Peel: The Comic Strip Adaptations will be released over two box sets in April and November of 2016, and the graphic novel will also be out that November. All of them can currently be pre-ordered in various configurations, as either digital downloads or lavish CD box sets. There are also cost-saving deals on various bundles. (And you always save money by pre-ordering with Big Finish.) In the meantime, though, be sure to pick up the continuing releases of The Avengers; The Lost Episodes! Volume 4 is due this July.

As previously reported, Big Finish also have new audio dramas based on The Prisoner in the pipeline. I hope they continue to add other classic British spy and adventure series from the Sixties to their roster! It would be great to hear new adventures of Jason King or Man in a Suitcase... though what I'd like most of all would be to hear audio adaptations of the lost episodes of Adam Adamant Lives! and Callan.

A big thanks to Phil for the tip on this exciting news!

Apr 1, 2015

The Americans Renewed for Season 4

Happily, we'll be getting more of the best spy series on television! Deadline reports that FX has renewed The Americans for a fourth season with four episodes remaining in the third. And that is fantastic news, because this unbelievably good series just keeps getting better and better and better as it goes along. It started off strong, but has only gotten stronger with each successive season, with each successive episode. The Americans follows Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell), two KGB spies posing as a normal American husband and wife in suburban Washington D.C. as Cold War tensions escalate in the Reagan-era Eighties. It's a brilliant condensation of the East/West spy game boiled down to one very unusual family and the ever-growing spiderweb of people they affect. (It's tough to keep track of how many different women Philip is juggling relationships with—each relationship fraught with impossibly compelling drama. The Americans has yet to be recognized with all the Emmies it deserves, but hopefully this amazing season will change all that. And hopefully the renewals will continue and we'll be able to follow Philip and Elizabeth (and their fascinating wigs) all the way to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Season 3 finale airs on April 22. Welshman Rhys recently appeared on an episode of FX's other great spy show, Archer, where they made a joke about his Americans accent.

New Trailer and Poster for Spy Starring McCarthy and Statham

Fox has released a new trailer and new poster for Paul Feig's summer spy comedy Spy, starring Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale and Peter Serafinowicz. Personally, I can't wait to see Statham do a spy comedy. And the new poster is interesting, too. All of Spy's posters so far have been James Bond parodies. The first one saw McCarthy imitating Daniel Craig's firing-from-his-back pose from the Skyfall 1-sheet, and more recently we saw Statham sporting a turtleneck in a send-up of the just-unveiled SPECTRE teaser poster. We have yet to see Craig strike the classic Bond pose of Dalton and Brosnan (gripping a Walther with two hands next to his head), but now we can see McCarthy give it a try in this gold-hued Spy poster. And on top of that there's the pretty clear nod to Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger. I think it's a pretty clever—and amusing—campaign. Spy doesn't open until June 6, but bolstered by positive reviews in the trades, Fox have already begun having sneak previews to build word of mouth. And all the word I've heard so far has been pretty positive!