Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nick Fury Net Cartoon

I'm not really up to date on stuff like this, but apparently Marvel has been posting some online "micro-episodes" (why not calle them "microsodes?") of a cartoon called The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes that picks and chooses from Marvel's regular Avengers comics (again, this is Marvel Comics' all-star superhero squad, not the real Avengers you're usually more likely to read about here) and their Ultimate comics.  The latest micro-episode (the ninth) stars Marvel's eyepatched superspy Nick Fury, and he's quite literaly an amalgamation of the the classic Nick Fury of Steranko's comics and the Ultimate version of the character, based on Samuel L. Jackson and actually embodied by the actor in Marvel's live-action movies (most recently Iron Man 2).  The Fury in this cartoon does not look like Jackson, isn't bald, and doesn't wear a long black leather coat.  He basically looks like Steranko's Fury, complete with classic blue jumpsuit and (by the end of the episode) grey streaks in his hair.  But like the Ultimate Nick Fury, he is black, and apparently voiced by a black actor.  It's kind of weird, but personally I like it a lot better than the version of the character based on Jackson.  This version of Ultimate Nick Fury may be of a different ethnicity than the character's original incarnation, but skin color aside he's pretty much the character Steranko fans know and love. (Unlike the Ultimate version and the movie version, wherin Jackson's larger-than-life persona eclipses any familiar Fury traits.) And that's why this little cartoon is kind of cool, and worth mentioning here.  It's a rare chance to see Steranko conceits in motion, including Nick's flying sports car and stretch underarm wing glider thing.  Give it a look on YouTube, then pick up Steranko's Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. trade paperback to see Marvel's version of James Bond from the height of the Sixties spy craze.
(Thanks to Josh for sending me this link.)

Movie Review: Flame of Stamboul (1951)

After the defeat of Germany at the end of WWII (and the end of the Forties spy classics that went with it) and before James Bond came along, most spy movies were simply crime movies with exotic settings. But as the Cold War warmed up, a few managed to subtly buck the trend in the 1950s, in some ways presaging the direction the genre would go in the Sixties, following 007's explosive cinematic debut. Columbia’s B-programmer Flame of Stamboul, directed by Ray Nazarro and starring the future governor of Hawaii Richard Denning, is surprisingly such a film. It’s not a very good film or a particularly exciting one, but what’s interesting about it is how many of the B spy movie tropes exploited to their fullest during the Eurospy boom are already in place. Flame of Stamboul has the settings (Istanbul and Cairo, both established via stock footage), has the strip clubs (in both cities) and the beautiful female spy who strips there (Lisa Ferraday), has the Macguffin (the military secrets variety), has the imposters so prevalent in the genre and even has the louche American hero whose traditional, square-jaw good looks are offset by his jerkiness and quickness to rough up a woman. It’s even got (oddly, for the Red Scare Fifties) a non-political villain (former Moriarty George Zucco–bald, naturally, and for most of the movie seen only in shadow and known as “the Voice”) of the sort later embodied by the agents of SPECTRE, THRUSH and CHAOS (“a spy with loyalty to no country, a mercenary selling information to the highest bidder!”). But what it lacks is more telling than what it has for students of the genre.

What Flame of Stamboul lacks highlights the possibly less obvious, but ultimately more crucial, ingredients of the spy movie as we know it in its 1960s-on model: actual location photography, a catchy, propulsive score, car chases, Technicolor, more than one beautiful girl, a smash-up finale and a substantial quantity of action that amounts to more than just fist fights and the odd shooting. Sure, not every Eurospy movie or American poverty row spy movie of the 1960s has all of those things, but the best examples of the genre certainly have at least some of them.

Location filming may be the most important ingredient of an escapist spy adventure for me. Actual shots of Rome, Madrid, Beirut and Istanbul (all of which even the cheapest Eurospy producers clearly had easy access to) really sell that difference from the standard crime movie, which were certainly a dime a dozen in post-war American cinema. After those grainy establishing shots from the film library, Flame of Stamboul is all sets–mostly cheap, indoor ones, with the occasional jaunt across the studio’s generic, single-street middle-east backlot.

Most spy fans have great appreciation for good scores, but it’s impossible to realize just how much those post-Barry beats add until you try to watch a movie of this sort without them. If someone with a whole lot of time on his hands were ever to re-edit Flame of Stamboul to, say, a Riz Ortolani soundtrack, I have a feeling it would feel a whole lot more like a Eurospy movie even though it would still lack all those other elements.

Color on its own isn’t essential (there are quite a few very good black-and-white Eurospy movies, mostly from the first half of the Sixties), but like a great score, it sure does a lot to pass over a low-budget film’s shortcomings. Some of the weakest Sixties Eurospy movies are saved by vibrant or, later in the decade, psychedelic colors. It functions the same as exotic scenery, flashy cars and sexy, scanitly-clad women (huge apologies to women for relegating your sex to set dressing, but rich characterization was not a hallmark of Eurospy babe roles. Hey, I’m not making this stuff up, merely analyzing it!): it draws the eye away from the films’ ample shortcomings. The shortcomings in Flame of Stamboul are on full display, with little in the way of distractions–and only one woman!

The action in Flame of Stamboul is what you would expect from a movie of this budget and this period, which is to say not much. Even the cheapest Eurospy movies learned quickly to put the least expensive stuff up front and pinch their pennies for a slam-bang finale. (See especially: Lightning Bolt, which pulls out all the stops for an underwater bas/rocket launch finale you didn’t think it was capable of.) Flame of Stamboul ends not in a lair of any sort, but a room–one of those cheap reusable sets with a table and some chairs and a lamp and little else. When the action comes, it’s in the form of punching and a single gunshot–and that’s all diminished because the one previous action scene was also punches and a single shot. I really don’t know what changed from a technical standpoint between the early Fifties and the early Sixties that suddenly allowed low budget movies to have car chases, but it was a crucial change. Some hot chrome would have added a lot to this film.

Of course complaining about all of its shortcomings (which is intended as analysis, and not just bitching about what really couldn’t be, given the limitations of the budget and the period) neglects the film’s more impressive attributes that I cataloged up front. It really is surprising how many of the familiar Eurospy hallmarks are present in a film of this vintage. It plays like a Eurospy movie that’s been stripped of all of its color and pizzaz. Flame of Stamboul isn’t a bad spy movie and it isn’t a particularly good one either. Unless you’ve got a special affinity for B-pictures of that era, it’s not necessary to seek out. But it IS instructive in studying the elements that will cement the genre into the state that we know and love in the 1960s. It will make you long for Technicolor Jet Age magic–and in its way, with its crude use of an old-school burglary plot as a cover for its new-age espionage shenanigans, it played a small part in delivering that, functioning as a stepping stone between film noir crime movies whose plots happened to concern Communist cells and bona fide spy movies of the Swinging Sixties.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

6 Edición de la Fiesta Rosa en LA

Jennifer Garner llevó un conjunto de blusa rosa fucsia y falda de lentejuelas blanca, de Stella McCartney. Llevó botines de ante rosa de Yves Saint Laurent.

Nikki Reed llevo un vestido negro, mostaza y rosa, de Ani Lee Invierno 2010.

Michelle Trachtenberg fue la que más me gustó, con una blusa fruncida, sin mangas en color nude, y falda tubo negra.

Desfile de Oscar de la Renta Primavera 2011, NYFW

Front Row

Sarah Jessica Parker llevó un vestido de Oscar de la Renta Resort 2011 en blanco y negro, con una chaqueta de cuadros de la misma colección.

Desfile de Tommy Hilfiger Primavera 2011, NYFW

La primavera de Tommy Hilfiger es muy refrescante, con colores vivos, aunque sin olvidar sus siempre presentes azul marino y rojo. Nos presenta una colección sencilla pero con estampados y toques divertidos, con aires urbanos y prendas muy ponible.

Front Row

Olivia Palermo llevó un conjunto de falda estampada y chaleco de Tommy Hilfiger.

Jessica Szohr llevó un conjunto de blusa azul de seda, y shorts color cobre, con chaqueta de lana de cuadros, de Tommy Hilfiger Invierno 2010. Llevó unos botines de tobillo de caña alta, en color marrón de cordones, de la misma colección.

Kristen Bell llevó un conjunto sencillo, con blazer negro y camisa blanca. Para levantar el look optó por unos shorts de lentejuelas en color azul. Las sandalias negras que llevó son de Jenny Kane.

Jennifer López no me gusto en absoluto, un estilo que ya no le pega nada, quizás funcione sobre en un escenario, pero en un desfile el estilo rock sexy no me parece oportuno para ella. El vestido que llevó es de Emilio Pucci. También vimos que recuperó del armario sus maxi botas de Christian Louboutin.

Rumer Willis me gustó mucho con este vestido de seda en color azul.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tons Of New Spy DVDs Out This Week: OtleyIron Man, Danger Man And More

Woo-whee! (As Sheriff J.W. Pepper might exclaim.)  There are a lot of new spy movies out today!  It's an embarrassment of riches that makes me embarrassed by my lack of riches, because I want them all but my poor wallet just can't handle it.  It's time to start making my Christmas list...  The flashiest new spy title is Iron Man 2, featuring Marvel's two top superspies, Nick Fury and Black Widow, but the best is Otley (1968), one of my very favorite spy movies of all time.  (And yes, as I've often threatened, I will eventually get around to writing a "My Favorite Spy Movies" piece about it, and now I can hopefully illustrate that with screencaps from a lovely new transfer.)  But Otley, unfortunately, isn't a straightforward DVD, and you can't buy it in stores.

With the market for catalog titles on DVD apparently and lamentably dead (thanks as much to the advent of Blu-ray as to the downturn in the economy if you ask me), more and more studios are noticing the success of Warner Brothers' burn-on-demand DVD-R program, the Warner Archive, and emulating it.  We've seen Universal and MGM launch similar (if far less extensive) programs through Amazon, offering movies on DVD-R burnt to order. There are a lot of drawbacks to the formula: while they do generally look pretty good (with the occasional exception, like MGM's pitiful House of Long Shadows), most of the catalog titles released this way are not remastered with anywhere near the precision that a studio puts into a regular DVD catalog release, and they never offer any of the special features like making-ofs or commentary tracks that consumers became accustomed to in the heyday of the DVD format. Then there's the little matter that they're on DVD-R, and not real DVDs. And, worst of all, there's the price point, which remains awfully high for a featureless, sometimes un-remastered DVD-R. But the upside is a big one: programs like the Warner Archive mean that we get to see titles released that might never even have made the cut in the halcyon days of deep catalog releases. And while the quality might not be up to the standards of the few big prestige catalog titles that still come out (like The African Queen earlier this year), it's generally a far sight better than the gray market alternatives.  These DVD-Rs are like legitimate bootlegs, using the best available elements. Overall, they're a good thing in this marketplace, and I'm glad that more studios are jumping on the bandwagon.  Sure, I miss the past, when even obscure catalog titles would get the Special Edition treatment, but the realist in me knows those days aren't coming back, so fans of classic films have no choice but to embrace the DVD-R programs.  Well, there is a choice, but it amounts to those titles never coming out at all, and that's not acceptable. 

The latest studio to launch a Warner Archive-like program is Sony.  A little over a month ago, pre-order listings quietly started turning up on Critic's Choice Video and (more cheaply) their sister site, Deep Discount. (Sadly this post has existed in some unfinished form since then, when it was an "Upcoming Spy DVDs" post!) A press release finally materialized a few weeks later announcing "Screen Classics by Request" from the website  (Listings for some of them finally materialized on Amazon as well, although Deep Discount seems to remain the best bargain.) The first batch officially becomes available today, and included in the hundred-odd titles are several spy movies!

Foremost among them is Otley. The great Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (who would later become Sean Connery's go-to script doctors, making uncredited but integral contributions to the scripts for Never Say Never Again and The Rock) wrote this 1968 counter-culture comedic spy caper starring Tom Courtenay and a host of faces familiar to Sixties spy fans, including James Villiers, Leonard Rossiter, Romy Schneider and Ronald Lacey.  This is a fresh take on the classic "wrong man" subgenre of spy movie, starring Courtenay as Otley, a drifter adrift in Swinging London who (thanks in part to a beautiful woman) becomes accidentally embroiled in complex espionage plot and finds himself relentlessly pursued by eccentric characters representing several different mysterious groups with different goals.  The standout scene is a driving exam that turns into a wild chase through busy streets and even the green of the Goldfinger golf club.  It's absolutely essential spy viewing, especially for fans of that era.  (And who isn't?) 

Other spy titles available from the Columbia Classics website include The Executioner, Man on a String and DuffyDuffy (also '68)is another incredible document of the late Sixties, again embracing the counter-culture.  James Coburn is the title character in this one, and the setting is the French Riviera.  The Executioner, starring George Peppard, Joan Collins and Charles Grey, represents the more serious side of the Eurospy genre.  It's a gritty and violent tale of double agents, double crosses and flawed heroes.  1960's Man on a String stars a pre-OSS 117 Kerwin Mathews in his first major spy role, as the handler of a real-life double agent played by Ernest Borgnine.  Borgnine's character is called Boris Mitrov in the film, but the real story is that of film producer and musical director (and spy) Boris Morros, whose extensive credits included a number of Bulldog Drummond movies in the 30s. 

Other Screen Classics by Request that excite me and are likely to excite most fans of Sixties spy stuff include Fragment of Fear, a mod psychological horror film written by Goldfinger and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold scribe Paul Dehn, the awesome Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper movie A Study in Terror and the campiest, craziest, trashiest American vehicle for Diabolik star John Phillip Law, The Love Machine.

But not all the spy titles out this week are made to order.  Iron Man 2 is not only available everywhere as a regular DVD, but also as a Blu-ray and in a confounding number of configurations on each format (single discs, double discs, combo discs, digital copies, etc). Spy fans will want to opt for the 2-disc Special Edition DVD or the 3-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo (also available in special metal packaging exclusively from Target), which include the special features "Spotlight on Nick Fury" and "Spotlight on Black Widow," as well as "S.H.I.E.L.D. Files," whatever those are. 

Finally, A&E is re-releasing Secret Agent AKA Danger Man: The Complete Collection.  This seminal Sixties spy series starring Patrick McGoohan (really the cornerstone of the genre on television) has been available before, but now A&E has shrunk the price and shrunk the size of the box, both welcome changes.  The previous set housed each disc in its own slim case; I haven't seen the new one but I'm presuming that it fits two discs per slimline, like TV shows from most other companies.  This set is excellent, and you can read all about it in my review of the its last incarnation here.  (The content has not changed.)  Suffice it to say, Danger Man has gotten lost in the shadow of McGoohan's less successful (at its time) but more enduring follow-up, The Prisoner.  It's much more than just a potential prequel to the later show; Danger Man is the first serious espionage drama of the modern era, and set the template for just about everything to follow. Retail is $99.95, but as with many A&E titles you can find this 18-disc set (containing every single episode from both the half-hour and hour-long series) for nearly half that at a number of online retailers.
Tradecraft: More M:I-4 Casting

Last week we heard that Michael Nyqvist would play a villain in Mission: Impossible 4; now comes word from The Hollywood Reporter that Josh Holloway (Sawyer from Lost) has also joined the cast as another member of the Impossible Missions Force.  That's more like it!  So much for all that talk about this one being a "two-hander" instead of a team movie; with all these team members it's got to be at least somewhat of a team movie...  Anyway, if they're looking for hot young stars to counter what Paramount apparently perceives as Tom Cruise's fading appeal, I think Holloway will bring more potential star appeal to the table than Renner, who is an excellent actor, but seems a bit less likely to bring in the ladies. 

Eventos de la Semana

Premiere de "The Town" en Boston

Blake Lively llevó un vestido negro con encaje en el pecho, de Antonio Berardi Invierno 2010. Llevó zapatos color crema de Elizabeth and James.

Eva Mendes pormociona su línea de Textil para camas en Toronto

Eva llevó un vestido estilo años 60 con vuelo, en color rojo.

Dita Von Teese promociona su show "Be Cointreauversial" en Australia

Dita Von Teese llevó un vestido muy sexy en color crudo con lentejuelas rojas y escote en uve, de Jenny Packham Invierno 2010.

Front Row de Rebecca Minkoff Primavera 2011, NYFW

Michelle Trachtenberg llevó un vestido rojo de Rebecca Minkoff. Me encantó como lo combinó con botines de leopardo.

Front Row de Rebecca Taylor Primavera 2011

Shenae Grimes llevó unos pantalones pitillo de cuero, con chaqueta de print de leopardo de Rebecca Taylor Invierno 2010.

Premiere de "The Other Guys" en Londres

Eva Mendes llevó un vestido verde esmeralda, con perlas en el pecho, de Prada. Llevó unos zapatos morados de Salvatore Ferragamo, con una maxi cartera de estampado floral de Prada.

Front Row de Herve Leger by Max Azria Primavera 2011, NYFW

Jessica Szohr llevó un vestido negro, con transparencias, y estampado geométrico, de Herve Leger by Max Azria Invierno 2010.

Fiesta The Montblanc John Lennon Edition, NY

Olivia Palermo me encantó con estos pantalones de cuero, con blazer azul marino con camiseta gris, y botines de cordones de Tommy Hilfiger Invierno 2010.

Fiesta Sunglass Hut en NY

Rachel Bilson llevó un vestido con estampado ochentero, de Suno Resort 2011.

Whitney Port promociona su nueva campaña con TRESemme en la Semana de la Moda de NY

Whitney llevó un vestido color perla muy original con volúmenes en las caderas.

Rachel Bilson patrocina "Full Time Fabulous", NY

Rachel llevó una blusa color nude de estampado floral de Vanessa Bruno. Llevó un short negro, y botines peep toe de Maison Martin Margiela.

Desfile de Donna Karan Primavera 2011, NYFW

Donna Karan nos propone una primavera llena de color neutros, nude, cremas, tierra, beis y el ya olvidado topo que vimos fugazmente este verano.
Pudimos ver vestidos con telas vaporosas y cortes muy sencillos, con una tendencia ya un poco olvidad como es la arruga marcada.

Front Row

Ashley Greene asistió al desfile con un vestido azul cerúleo, de Donna Karan Invierno 2010. Con escote palabra de honor.
Llevó zapatos multicolor, de Charlotte Olympia.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mejor Vestida de la Semana 39 del 2010

Aquí está la sección semanal con las elegidas a mejor vestida de la semana, más vale tarde que nunca, dicen. Espero que os guste, y que votéis por vuestra favorita. ¡Gracias por Votar!

Ashley Greene, Mejor Vestida de la Semana 38 del 2010

Hola a todos y todas!! ya estoy de vuelta, después de una semana en las Islas Canarias, con un calor increíble. Ahora la vuelta a la rutina, e intentaré ponerme al día con todos vuestros comentarios, y los cientos de desfiles que tengo pendientes. Me lo he pasado muy bien, aunque se agradecía un poco menos de temperatura. Muchas gracias a todos y todas por vuestros comentarios de despedida.

Mientras recupero el ritmo de la rutina os dejo la Mejor Vestida de la Semana pasada, que no pude publicar, Ashley Greene con un vestido de Giambattista Valli.

En segundo y tercer lugar, dos compañeras de trabajo, Blake Lively y Leighton Meester. Blake con un conjunto de Matthew Williamson y Leighton con un vestido de

Saturday, September 25, 2010

TV Review: Undercovers Pilot (2010)

To be honest, I was expecting very little of Undercovers, NBC’s new romantic action series about married spies. True, it’s J.J. Abrams directing (and co-writing), which is a rarity on TV these days (now that he’s a fancy-schmancy film director), and it’s J.J. Abrams directing spies, which usually warrants outstanding results. (Alias pilot, anyone?) But the print ads were boring (I liked James Hibberd’s dismissal of the campaign in The Hollywood Reporter: “Let’s have a dangerous espresso!”), the extended trailer shown at upfronts was dull, the regular trailers looked unoriginal, and for the most part reviews were negative to lukewarm. So I went in with very low expectations... and I actually kind of enjoyed what I saw. (Don’t stop reading now, though; there are some huge qualifiers coming up ) Is it as good as Alias? Certainly not. Is it as good as Mission: Impossible III? No. Is it... good? Um, well, no, not really... but it’s still entertaining (especially if you have a very high threshold for what entertains you when it comes to spies, which I do), and sometimes entertaining is more important than good. This is a lighter-weight fluff than we’ve ever seen before from J.J. Abrams. It’s so derivative (including from his own Alias) that you literally know everything that’s going to happen before it happens. There are no surprises. And I kind of like that. I’d call it a guilty pleasure except that both words feel a bit extreme: it’s not bad enough to prompt any guilt, but it also probably won’t generate that much pleasure in most viewers.

Other than Alias, the shows that Undercovers feels most derived from are 80s shows: Remington Steele, Hart to Hart and, to my personal pleasure, Scarecrow and Mrs. King (review here). These shows were also light and fluffy and certainly aren’t critical milestones, but there’s really nothing else like them on TV anymore, so I found the totally unoriginal Undercovers fairly refreshing. It is to those romantic adventure shows what Human Target is to the male-dominated action hours of that era, like The A-Team or my favorite 80s television series, Magnum P.I.: not as good, but good enough to evoke nostalgia. So I don’t mind Undercovers’ lack of originality, but it does have some other faults that can’t be as easily excused.

What passes for a romantic plot often gets in the way of what passes for the spy plot. For example, the couple risks exposing themselves by pausing for what’s supposed to be a sexy dance in the middle of their mission. One might expect a writer of Abrams’ caliber to use that moment to inject some conflict between the characters’ romantic and professional goals, and have the romance-based decision cost them on the spy front. He doesn’t, however; they’re not exposed and they don’t pay for their choice at all. Instead, all the audience gets out of it is a dance–and not even a very good one. As far as big spy dance scenes go, these two can’t compare with Sean Connery or even Arnold Schwarzenegger and their respective tango partners Worse still for a romantic spy comedy, while the leads generate decent chemistry, their dialogue fails to sparkle like the exchanges between Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan or Kate Jackson and Bruce Boxleitner. For this series to work, they will require some genuine banter, not lame jokes about “sexpionage” (a word that Abrams and his co-writer Josh Reims seem to think that they made up–and also seem to think is much funnier than it is–which, here, is not at all). “You look pretty hot yourself” simply doesn’t cut it as romantic repartee; the writers of Undercovers need to brush up on their Thin Mans if they want to figure out how to generate genuine romance between married adventurers.

Undercovers’ Nick and Nora are Steven and Samantha Bloom, played by Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. (Nice try, guys, but it takes more than alliterative names to equal Mr. and Mrs. Charles!) They met and fell in love while both working for the CIA, but quit the secret agent biz because they worried that the secrecy and deception would be bad for their marriage. Five years later they run a successful catering company. What is J.J. Abrams’ obsession with attractive black women running catering companies and restaurants? Remember the fabulous first season episodes of Alias, and how the only really boring parts were when the show cut away to Sydney’s friend Francie trying to start–and later running–her own restaurant? Did you ever say to yourself, “I wish there were a whole show just about Francie’s restaurant?” No, nobody did, but that’s almost what Undercovers gives us. Luckily, we’re mercifully saved by the appearance of 80s TV vet Gerald McRaney (Simon and Simon).

McRaney shows up as a grizzled, all-business career CIA agent, Carlton Shaw (great name!), and implores the two former agents to return to the fold. His deadpan delivery alone is nearly enough to grant this series a season pass on your TiVo. McRaney only gets a few scenes in the pilot, but he’s awesome in them and steals the show out from under its leads. They hem and haw and refuse and then, as you already know from the trailers, they both turn up at his office independently and behind the other’s back. When they realize they were each thinking the same thing, they say yes, they’ll take him up on his offer and spy again. (His office, by the way, is one of those CIA offices based in sunny SoCal that bothered me so much on Alias. It just makes me thankful once more for Covert Affairs, a spy show actually set in Langley and Washington!)

As soon as the spy couple are back in the game, we get the genuinely horrible opening title sequence: clips of them in action in the middle of a spinning wedding ring. The ring then somehow turns into the "C" in UnderCovers, the title itself in a particularly bland and generic–if shiny–font. It could easily be lifted straight out of the 1991 married spy series Undercover (no "S"); it certainly doesn’t look any more modern than that. But you know what? I’m going to cut the show some slack on this front, too. As with its premise, I found the dated nature of its titles kind of charming.

The spy hijinks are the usual stuff: breaking into a bank in Madrid, jumping out of a plane to infiltrate a wedding (huh?), then revealing themselves to be wearing a suit and dress, respectively, under their jump suits like Sean Connery in Goldfinger, getting into fights on Paris rooftops. Not one sequence will surprise you, but they’re all slickly directed by Abrams–particularly Kodjoe’s Parisian roof battle. You can see everything coming in both the spy plot (“Are they aware of the real reason they’ve been reactivated?” “No!”) and the romantic plot (“How do you know so much about this agent we’re supposed to be saving?” “Because we used to date!”) I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

What works well is the comedy. Bits with a comic relief backup agent named Hoyt (Ben Schwartz) who hero-worships Steven but ignores his wife could have so easily played as grating, but Schwartz and Abrams somehow make them hilarious. The lackey constantly compliments Steven throughout the mission, both in person and in his ubiquitous earpiece. (“Great work with that camera, Mr. Bloom!”) He also runs through a catalog of Steven’s past successes (he’s studied his file), and he’s particularly impressed by “the Senegal incident.” (“Are you a robot? Are you half robot?”) Between Schwartz and McRaney (who manages to maintain the dignity of his character while providing top-notch comic relief–even when not wearing pants!), the comedy angle is well covered, which is a good thing in a show this lighthearted.

The production values are also praiseworthy. I’m sure even J.J. Abrams didn’t really fly around the world to film this pilot, but he did find good locations and mixed them well with stock establishing shots to at least achieve this effect. If it’s the old Alias “Burbank as Barcelona” routine, then it’s handled very well. In a variation on the Alias captions introducing each city its spies visited, the foreign locales on Undercovers are introduced with a whole CGI postcard image listing their names in two languages. It’s not quite as effective as the cool place names in Quantum of Solace (one of the very few areas in which you’ll ever catch me praising that movie), but it does the job well for television. These postcards are of course accompanied by raps in whatever language/dialect is appropriate to the locale, which is the new favorite cross-media method of establishing a foreign location for American audiences.

The finale comes in Moscow–in a warehouse, no less–of course–and the bad guys shoot a whole lot of rockets around that warehouse without ever injuring (or even really posing the threat of injury to) our main characters. Samantha grabs one of the rocket launchers for herself and shoots it out of a taxi she’s stolen while driving, exploding a fleeing villain’s car but naturally not killing him. If that’s not the modern equivalent of Scarecrow and Mrs. King (pretty much the same exact scenarios, simply upping the ante in the armament department), then I don’t know what is. The espionage, it should probably go without saying, is also on about the same level of realism as Scarecrow and Mrs. King. Which is to say, not at all real. This is pure fantasy–even moreso than Alias, and that had actual fantasy in it!

In the end, it’s set up so that the Blooms can still have their catering company, but also work for the Company on the side, taking on assignments that the CIA can’t afford to be officially associated with. This freelance arrangement gives Abrams the scenario that he strived for in the first season of Alias but ultimately abandoned: a chance to explore spies balancing personal lives with secret ones. That’s not a very fresh notion anymore, and Covert Affairs is handling it much better than Undercovers at the moment, so if this show somehow makes it to another season, I’d expect Steven and Samantha to probably become full time spies again. (Although I doubt Samantha’s annoying sister will end up shot dead on the kitchen floor and replaced by a deadly double. This really isn’t that sort of show!)

You can predict everything that happens on Undercovers before it happens (you just know the bad guy is going to shoot the henchman who delivers him bad news...) and the show delivers no surprises. But as I said in my intro, I sort of like that. It’s like watching a favorite movie, where you know all the scenes already, or singing along with a favorite song when it comes on the radio. It’s comfort food. And in that regard, even though it’s exactly like plenty of spy shows that have come before it, it still manages to be unlike anything else currently on the air. If the writers manage to make the currently tepid romance sparkle a bit, and better integrate it with the action (ideally creating at least a bit of non-rote conflict between the lead characters’ romantic and professional ambitions), then it might even grow into a great show in its own right. The voiceover announcing, “Here are scenes from next week’s Undercovers” at the end embodies the tone of the show fairly nicely. “If anyone asks... you haven’t seen them.” It’s an old joke, but it still works. If that appeals to you, give the show a try.
Tradecraft: The Swedish Daniel Craig Plays M:I Villain

Well, that's not really accurate.  But Michael Nyqvist, the actor who plays crusading financial journalist turned amateur detective Mikael Blomkvist in the Swedish movie of Steig Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo will be playing the villain in Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible 4 (or whatever it's called), and Daniel Craig will be playing the part of Blomkvist in David Fincher's American remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, so he's sort of the Swedish Daniel Craig...  The Hollywood Reporter reports that Nyqvist will join the illustrious pantheon of memorable villains from past Mission movies including Phillip Seymour Hoffman and... and... whoever played the villains in those other two movies. (No, of course I remember who played the villain in the first one. It still pisses me off to this day!)  Actually, the trade's specific quote is that he will play "one of the lead villains." Hinting either that there are still others left to be cast, or else that one of the good guys we already know about (Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner or Paula Patton) turns out to really be bad.  Anyway, I really liked Nyqvist in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, so he seems like a good choice to me.  As for those mysterious and possibly imaginary other villains, may I suggest Antony Zerbe?  He played all the best villains on the TV show!  (Or maybe Ed Asner?) 

The same article also reveals that Vladimir Mashkov (who guest starred on a couple of episodes of Alias) has joined the cast as well, but provides no details on the nature of his character.
Tradecraft: No New Spy Shows Announced Or Greenlit Today

After a week like this averaging two a day, it seems like news to report that as far as I could tell, there weren't any today.  Perhaps the networks were just resting.  It seems easier to report days that new spy series aren't picked up than when they are, spies are so popular this season... Keep 'em coming, Hollywood! If ten make it to air next year, then by the law of averages we're bound to get some good ones, right?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Upcoming Spy DVDs: The Prisoner: The Ultimate Set

Network has announced yet another UK DVD release of The Prisoner, this time as The Ultimate Set.  In addition to all of the truly wonderful features included on the company's 40h Anniversary EditionBlu-ray set and current DVD set, The Ultimate Set also includes Network's 3-CD Prisoner soundtrack set and the 2009 remake of the series starring Ian McKellen and Jim Caviezel.  (The latter is also available on its own on DVD and Blu-ray from ITV Studios, and includes all the special features from the American DVD. It's not available on Blu-ray in the United States.)  I suppose the remake is the main selling point, but it doesn't really deserve that honor.  However, I kind of like that it's included, because it's basically found its proper place: as a DVD extra on the real series.  From that standpoint, it's easier to appreciate the remake.  It's a curio that one can watch after watching the Patrick McGoohan series.  It's for completists, and this Ultimate Set is a completist's dream.  While I'm sure most Prisoner fans who want them already own both series and the soundtrack, this is a good way for future fans to pick up everything at once.  The inclusion of the soundtrack music is much more attractive than that of the remake; again, its meticulous archival nature makes it a perfect DVD feature.  The set, packaged in an eyecatching if unweildy box, also includes the booklets originally available with Network's DVD and CD sets (by Andrew Pixley and Eric Mival, respectively).  I'm not sure if it includes the special features associated with the new version of the show, but I would assume so.  Overall, there's no reason to get this if you've already got the stuff it includes, but it's a pretty good archival collection for future generations.  Or Christmas present for this generation, which I'm sure Network's banking on!

The Prisoner: The Ultimate Set, a Region 2 PAL DVD release, will be available on October 25, 2010.  It will retail for £99.99, but is available to pre-order from for £74.99 and will be available from Network's website for just £62.99.

Read my original TV review of The Prisoner 2009 remake here.
Read my review of the 2009 Prisoner remake DVD here.

Desfile de Carolina Herrera Primavera 2011, NYFW