Jun 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

Jun 21, 2017

New AMERCIAN ASSASSIN Red Band Trailer and Poster

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

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

Jun 19, 2017

The Women of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 6

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

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

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

Senate Debates Spy Fiction, Including Jason Matthews

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

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

Sessions: A little bit.

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

Sessions: That is part of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun 13, 2017

Michelle Monaghan Joins MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 6

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

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Jun 11, 2017

Christopher McQuarrie Shares Set Portraits of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 6 Stars

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

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Jun 7, 2017

Tradecraft: TAKEN Series Gets New Showrunner for Season 2

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

Jun 6, 2017

Talking le Carré on the Spybrary Podcast

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

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

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

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

Jun 5, 2017

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

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

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