Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Eurospy Binge

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been indulging in a Eurospy movie binge, working my way through my meager collection of 60s James Bond knock-offs whenever my back starts aching from spending too much time at the computer.

My definition of "Eurospy" is rather flexible; I include 007-inspired films from England as well as those produced on the Continent. This means that entertainments like the two "Hugh Drummond" flicks with Richard Johnson - Deadlier Than The Male & Some Girls Do - as well as Hammerhead, with Vince Edwards as secret agent Charles Hood, have been part of my pseudo-marathon.

I even ordered a new disc for the occasion - a Swedish, Region 2 import of 1966's Killers Are Challenged/Our Man In Casablanca, with Richard Harrison as agent Bob Fleming. I ordered it from Diabolik DVD and was very impressed with their service. I enjoyed the movie, too.

So far, this binge has included: Deadlier Than The Male, Some Girls Do, Hammerhead, Fury In Marrakesh, Lightning Bolt, Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die, Special Mission Lady Chaplain, Mission Bloody Mary, From The Orient With Fury and the aforementioned Killers Are Challenged. Before I'm done, I'll probably be watching Murder For Sale, Espionage In Tangiers, and Modesty Blaise as well.

What triggered this craving for badly-dubbed, bizarro sub-Bondian hijinks? I have no idea. But I'm really enjoying myself, and finding that I'm really getting caught up in the adventures of these amusingly dickish "superspies," enjoying all the gorgeous spy vixens (Daliha Lavi, Margaret Lee, Mitsouko, Helga Line, Daniela Bianchi, Beverly Adams, Elke Sommer.... sigh) and digging the utterly bonkers plots.

Surprisingly, I'm not tiring of them at all, and wish I owned more....

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Well, I don't much like the fact that it's a Limited Edition disc, nor that it's so pricey, but I went ahead and pre-ordered the Twilight Time Blu-ray release of Our Man Flint, the first of two Derek Flint superspy capers starring James Coburn. It's supposed to come out in mid-January, with the sequel, In Like Flint, to follow in February. I'll probably pre-order that one, too. Because these discs are only issued in limited numbers, I can't really follow my usual method of buying used discs cheap on the secondary market; when these suckers go out of print, the price only goes up.

So, why did I bite the bullet on this one? Well, first of all, I'm a huge fan of the movie, and even though I have the very nice Ultimate Flint Collection DVDs that Fox put out a few years ago, this Blu-ray has a buttload of new bonus features, including a couple of new documentaries by John Cork - the guy who put together all the great documentaries on the James Bond and Charlie Chan discs. Ultimately, I just couldn't pass it up.

What can I say? I'm weak.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Spy-Fi Rarities

There are a few James Bond knock-offs that I remember watching on TV in the 70s that I have never heard anyone else mention. One of these was Billion Dollar Threat, a 1979 TV movie that starred Dale Robinette as secret agent Robert Sands, who must foil the nefarious plan of mad scientist Horatio Black - played by none other than John Steed himself, Patrick Macnee - to destroy the ozone layer with a nuclear missile.

I actually taped this off of TV, so I watched it a number of times. It was a pretty fair - if cheap - little Bondian adventure, written by Jimmy Sangster (Deadlier Than The Male), who seemed to have a penchant for this type of stuff....

Sangster also wrote the 1980 ABC telefilm, Once Upon A Spy, which starred a pre-Cheers Ted Danson as a computer expert/reluctant spy who is drafted into a mission to stop another mad scientist - this time portrayed by The Man With The Golden Gun, Scaramanga, in the guise of Sir Christopher Lee - who has a laser cannon (another one?). I remember it as being a bit more deliberately campy in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. sort of way.

Sangster didn't write (I wonder how he missed out on this one), but legitimate 007 screenwriter Richard Maibaum did, the same year's S*H*E - Security Hazards Expert, which starred Cornelia Sharpe as Lavinia Keane, a sort of female Bond in a globetrotting adventure that I remember watching but am unable to recall a single detail of. Omar Sharif played her adversary, an International blackmailer.

None of these are available on DVD, although S*H*E did get a VHS release.I would really like to see all of these again one day....

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wishing a very happy birthday to the under-appreciated 007, George Lazenby!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

In An Alternate Universe...

Yesterday, over on the Illustrated 007 blog, I came across this astounding piece of "what if?" art by the talented Steve Sistilli. I was, obviously, quite taken with it, and thought that Steve did a terrific job evoking - without imitating - Robert McGinnis' Bond poster artwork. In the early hours of this morning, just for fun, I mocked up a poster using the art.

Before anyone goes nuts nitpicking it - I only spent about a half-hour on it. The fonts aren't quite right, and there are a few missing details, but hopefully people can enjoy it for what it is: a bit of goofy fun. I just hope Mr. Sistilli doesn't mind....

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Watching The Spies...

I may not be posting here at Spy-Fi Channel regularly, but that doesn't mean my love for the genre has in any way diminished. It simply means that I'm doing most of my blogging on other subjects of late.

That said, I am looking forward to this year's 007 installment, Skyfall, and remain hopeful that it will be a better movie than Quantum Of Solace, which, in my opinion, was the worst in the series since A View To A Kill (an opionion I know will ruffle a lot of feathers, but I stand by it). I've also been adding to my spy-fi video collection, and have recently purchased  a multi-region DVD player, which has opened up my choices considerably.

This has led to my buying the Region 2 DVDs of the Hugh Drummond (Richard Johnson) films, Deadlier Than The Male and Some Girls Do, from Network in the UK, and the Swedish disc of Fury In Marrakesh.

From the Sony Classics manufacture-on-demand label, I have Hammerhead on the way, with Vince Edwards as Charles Hood.

 The purchase I'm most anticipating, of course, is the complete 007 Blu-ray set, due out in the Fall. Sure, I'm annoyed that I have to re-buy the ones I already got (fortunately, I have a local dealer that will allow me to trade them in for store credit), but I'm looking forward to having all of the Bond films in high definition. I'm particularly eager to see On Her Majesty's Secret Service and The Spy Who Loved Me restored and remastered in HD.

Monday, May 21, 2012

SKYFALL Teaser Trailer

Well, it's an intriguing teaser, I'll give it that, and visually, it looks good. But I haven't really been much of a fan of the Craig era of 007, and was really disappointed in Quantum Of Solace. I also miss the James Bond theme. But... I look forward to seeing more, and hope that the producers surprise me in a more positive way with Skyfall....

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Picked up the second season of the 80s Mission: Impossible series last night. 

In 1988, in order to circumvent a long-running writer's strike and get some "new" programming on the air, ABC commissioned from Paramount Television a new version of the spy show Mission: Impossible as a mid-season replacement. The idea was that the studio would simply re-film the best of the scripts from the 1966-1973 version of the show with a new cast in Australia, and thus, not need to wait for the union writers to come back to work. That was the plan, anyway, but they only ended up using old scripts for about four or five early episodes before the strike ended.

This was actually the first version of M:I that I ever saw, so my reaction was quite different from those who found it inferior to their memories of the original series. I thought it was the coolest thing on TV at the time, and now, watching it on DVD, it's still better than most adventure shows from the late 80s.

Admittedly, the writing is generally not up to the standards of the original show's early years, but it's often better than the later, early-70s "mob-busting" seasons. Also, it was shot in Australia which offered a lot more variety in locations/environments. Unlike the 60s version, they didn't have to try and pass off the Paramount offices, parking lots and soundstages for Iron Curtain foreign cities every week. In Australia, they were able to pretty well simulate everything from London streets to the American southwest, to the Caribbean islands. In one episode, they even constructed an eerily believable replica of the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie.

The 80s M:I is also fun because it acknowledges the original show in a variety of ways. Aside from the presence of Peter Graves - reprising his iconic role as IMF team leader Jim Phelps, Greg Morris comes back as Barney a couple of times (his son, Phil Morris, is a regular - as Barney's son!), and Lynda Day George even shows up for one episode, reprising her original role as Casey.

So - overall, while the 80s M:I is not as good as the original show (and the cast is much less memorable), it's better than it has a right to be, all things considered, and at least a handful of episodes are just as good as the original series' best.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: BALLISTICA (2009)

For the last few years, I've been watching the many sci-fi mockbusters and megamonster movies of The Asylum and thinking that Paul Logan, who has had supporting or co-starring roles in many of the studio's productions (TERMINATORS, MEGAFAULT, MEGA PIRANHA, et al) would make a great 80's-styled action hero. He's ruggedly good looking, physically fit, has some mad fighting skillz, and even some genuine screen presence. But The Asylum has never released a straight-forward, contemporary action flick... until now. And that action flick, BALLISTICA (2009), is a genuine star vehicle for the aforementioned Mister Logan.

About time. But... was I right? Does Logan make a good action hero? Let's see....

Logan is "Damian," a CIA agent trained in ballistica, a form of martial arts that combines hand-to-hand combat moves with gunplay - a sort of  "gun-fu, " if you will. As the movie opens, he's on a one-man raid of some sort of scientific facility in Russia, where he is searching for a deadly "micropulse warhead," a "genetic bomb" that causes people in its blast radius to literally explode, while leaving structures and technology unscathed. Unfortunately, the weapon isn't there, and all he gets away with is a pretty American physicist named Alexa (C.B. Spencer) who claims she didn't know what she was working on. Turns out that the warhead is in the hands of a dangerous terrorist named Dragomir (Andrew Divoff, LOST, THE WISHMASTER), so Damian is ordered by his C.I.A. superiors (Martin Kove, KARATE KID and Robert Davi, LICENCE TO KILL, MANIAC COP 2) to hunt down the mad Russian and retrieve the weapon, with Alexa at his side.

I wish I could say that BALLISTICA's a great little action movie, but unfortunately, that's not the case. It doesn't suck, but an espionage action flick should have some scope and a strong forward momentum, and BALLISTICA doesn't have that. The best spy thrillers have their heroes jetting around the world to exotic international locales, but this one stays firmly planted in L.A., even when the filmmakers would have us believe otherwise. The low budget and reliance on cheap CGI for explosions, muzzle flashes, flying bullets and other pyrotechnics, undercuts the film's effectiveness, especially since the action scenes as a whole are underwhelming. Logan's got some decent moves, but it's clear that most of his opponents don't, leading to some lethargically-paced and blandly-choreographed fights. The titular martial art, ballistica, is also unimpressive, with one scene consisting of two "masters" just running at each other, firing pistols wildly while pretending to dodge CGI bullets.

There is a pretty fair car chase in the final act, though.

As for the script - well, screenwriter Sean Rourke does try to give Damian some backstory and angst, but all the other characters are stock, and their motivations shallow. The third act "twist" is telegraphed early, and the dialogue seems cribbed from episodes of 24 and ALIAS. Logan is perfectly adequate as the stoic, heroic lead, while Kove and Davi (both of whom also have producer credits) manage to bring some dramatic weight and professionalism to their primarily office-bound scenes.

The DVD from the Exclusive Entertainment/Hollywood Wizard label presents BALLISTICA in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a flawless transfer that properly showcases the sharp, colorful digital videography. The audio track is available in 5.1 or 2.0 mixes. Extras include a "Making Of" featurette and the usual assortment of Asylum previews.

While I think that BALLISTICA is a bit of a misfire, it does have its good points, and I still think that Logan has the potential to be a good B-action leading man. Maybe if someone could slot him into a "lone wolf cop" flick or a "one man vs terrorist gang" DIE HARD-type role, he might actually get a chance to show his chops. But a micro-budget spy flick like BALLISTICA, which hasn't the resources to exploit its more complicated & fantastic plot elements, doesn't seem to be the right vehicle.

BUY: Ballistica