Friday, July 31, 2009

Weekly Debriefing 008

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Not much going on, spy-fi-wise, over the last week, as I've been busy with various projects and devoting much of my leisure time to some of my other pop culture obsessions (Dr. Who, Godzilla, super-hero cartoons).

• Just about the only genre "event" of note was that I received my copy of the Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine DVD, and gave it a spin last night. I really had fun with it. Vincent Price is one of my favorite actors of all time, and I'm kinda amazed that I never managed to see this one before.

I almost always enjoy AIP comedy films of the era (though the apparent appeal of Harvey Lembeck' s "Eric Von Zipper" character continues to elude me, so I found his cameo in Goldfoot a bit irritating; Annette's was cute, though) and I had a lot of fun with the movie. The girls were gorgeous, the San Francisco locations were picturesque, and I thought the whole Pit & The Pendulum sequence was admirably shameless on the producers' part. I also thought it was interesting that AIP assumed that their teenage audiences would be familiar enough with the studio's product to pick up on all the in-jokes and references.

I'm glad I picked it up, and wish the sequel was on DVD. I know both films can be watched online at hulu.com, but I hate watching movies on a computer screen.

• I'd been thinking about it for a while, and I think I'm going to try and watch all the James Bond movies – one a week – in chronological order. To that end, I spun the Dr. No Blu-Ray this evening. This was the first time I'd watched the movie in hi-def, and I was knocked back by the amazing restoration work done by the studio. It looked gorgeous.

• That's pretty much it for the last week of July. How was yours?

End transmission.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Intel: Spielberg to Direct MATT HELM?

Will Steven Spielberg direct Matt Helm next? Maybe, according to a report in Variety:
Spielberg is seriously considering a film that DreamWorks developed for several years before leaving it behind at Paramount as part of the divorce settlement between the two companies. But the question of whether Spielberg will direct involves a series of complex issues that touch on the relationship between Paramount and DreamWorks, and the latter studio's new finance partner, Reliance.

Spielberg's camp said he is attached to produce, but it's unclear if he's going to direct. Clearly, Spielberg is excited about the project again after the rewrite that Paul Attanasio delivered last week.

The full article can be found here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review: THE HYDRA CONSPIRACY

Last Summer on our annual camping trip weekend, we stopped – as usual – at this huge old chicken barn on Route 1 that has been converted into an antique and used book store. At that time, I bought the first four "Butler" spy paperbacks by Philip Kirk, mostly because I thought the cover art (by someone named Greifinger) looked really cool, and because I like Men's Adventure spy paperbacks (and who doesn't?).

Anyway, they got packed away in a box with a bunch of other books when I made one of my rare office cleanings, and I forgot about them until earlier this month, when I stumbled across the books while looking for something else.

I decided to finally read them, and back while I was laid up with the gout, I started on the first volume, The Hydra Conspiracy, published by Leisure Books in 1979.

It's a very strange book. For one thing, it is one of the very few Men's Adventure paperbacks I've ever read with a Left-Wing political stance. I can only recall one other MA series that leaned left, and that was a P.I. trilogy also published by Leisure.

Anyway, this first volume introduces a CIA Agent named Butler (no first name is given), who has been questioning some of the missions he's been ordered to carry out. This leads to his superiors "requesting" that he "resign." He does so, and heads for a local bar to contemplate his future with a glass of whiskey. While there, he meets an attractive woman and puts the moves on her. She rejects his advances, and he heads home... only to find the same woman dead in his bathroom and the cops banging on the door.

He's been set up, of course, but by who? His ex-bosses at the CIA? Soviet or Chinese operatives hoping top drive him to defect? Nope, it turns out to be a private, international thinktank called the Bancroft Institute, an organization mostly made up of scientists who are trying to save the world.

From whom? Well, the military-industrial complex. Big business. In fact, they refer to it as "Hydra," a coalition of corporations, governments and organized crime, devoted to keeping the poor of the world poor and themselves in charge.

This makes sense to Butler, so he joins up, and is immediately assigned to investigate an oil magnate named Phillip Noble. Good thing, too, because Noble is about to lob an atomic bomb at some South American rebels – both to resolve a problem threatening his oil interests and in hope that it might piss off the Russians and Chinese enough to justify lobbing a few nukes at them, too.

It's an unusual book, with a very different slant for a spy adventure. Instead of the usual paranoid conservative conspiracies I'm used to finding in these kinds of books, this one swings all the way to the other side of the pendulum. And it's just as ludicrous. As I'm a pretty apolitical guy, and find both points of view equally ridiculous, I had no trouble going with it here. Butler himself is a pretty typical PBO hero, with an insatiable appetite for sex and violence. The writing is quite solid; whoever Philip Kirk is, he can write. His prose is punchy and well-paced, and he handles both of the requisite kinds of action well.

I enjoyed it well enough. It's trash, but fun and different trash. I'm starting the second book, Smart Bombs, tonight.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Spy Fi Poll 006: Results

Last week's question was "Which James Bond continuation author handled Ian Fleming's creation the best?"

The voting was fairly close, with fifteen spy-fi visitors voting. Veteran thriller writer John Gardner, who wrote fourteen original Bond novels from 1981's License Renewed to 1996's Cold Fall, as well as the novelizations of Licence To Kill and Goldeneye, garnered the most votes at five.

Raymond Benson, who succeeded Gardner in 1997 with Zero Minus Ten, and went on to pen a half dozen original 007 adventures and three film novelizations, came in a close second with four votes.

One-shot authors Kingsley Amis (Colonel Sun) and Sebastian Faulkes (Devil May Care) tied for third place, with three votes each.

Me, I voted for Amis, because Colonel Sun is my favorite non-Fleming Bond novel. I enjoyed Gardner's earliest 007 books, but they always seemed thin on characterizations, especially in the case of Bond himself. In fact, I felt that most of Gardner's novels could have featured any secret agent; Bond was pretty much a cypher.

I very much enjoyed Benson's books, and felt that they would have made exciting films. They, like Christopher Wood's film novelizations, seemed to take the Bond of Fleming's books and drop him down into movie-styled plots. I didn't care for Devil May Care at all, so I can't say I thought much of Faulkes' take on the character.

Anyway, I'd be interested in reading which author you chose and why in the comments.

A new poll has been posted. You'll find it – as usual – in the sidebar to the left. If you read this blog in your RSS feed, you may want to swing by sometime this week and participate in the voting.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Weekly Debriefing 007

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• Picked up the 2002 I Spy movie from Wal-Mart's bargain DVD bin the other night. After the last poll about 60s remakes/reimaginings, I realized that I hadn't seen this one. Mostly because I'm a very big fan of the original series. Well, I broke down, bought it and watched it last night.

Overall, I found it entertaining, although I couldn't much stand Eddie Murphy's character. I also can't quite grasp why Hollywood thinks that "buddy movies" have to be based on characters arguing all the time. The original I Spy show portrayed two men as friends who genuinely cared for each other and enjoyed each other's company. You know, like real buddies. And they even managed to be funny without forced, artificial conflict. Of course, writing insults and arguments is a lot easier than genuinely witty dialogue.

I did like that generally, Owen Wilson's spy wasn't a total incompetent, just under-appreciated and poorly equipped. Several times in the course of the story, he used his brains to get out of tough situations, and that was refreshingly different. And, of course, I enjoyed Famke Janssen, but I always enjoy Famke Janssen.

• My only other spy-fi purchase this week was the soundtrack CD for the movie Johnny English. After re-watching the movie a couple weeks ago, I decided that Edward Shearmer's musical score would make a good addition to my Spy-fi hi-fi collections, so I ordered a copy online.

• I expect to receive my Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine disc next week. I'm looking forward to watching it. I also expect to finish reading the spy paperback I'm in the middle of. It's weird. I'll review it when I wrap it up.

How was your week?

End transmission.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Review: ESPIONAGE IN TANGIERS

I don't have a region-free DVD player. My wife and I have considered buying one at various times over the years since we're both huge film buffs and there are a number of movies we're interested in that are not yet available on R1 discs, but we've never actually managed to pick one up. And frankly, right now, we probably wouldn't be able to afford expensive import discs anyway.

So, when it comes to watching Eurospy films on DVD, I'm currently limited to titles that are available on R1 DVD – and that's not all that many – and gray market DVD-Rs that people have occasionally sent my way (and if anyone has some they'd like to send to Spy-Fi Command, drop me a line!)

One of the handful of Eurospy epics actually available commercially in the U.S. is 1965's Espionage In Tangiers (Marc Mato, Agente S. 077), which Dark Sky Films released a few years ago as part of one of their "Drive-In Double Feature" discs. The co-feature is Assassination In Rome (1965, starring Cyd Charrise and Hugh O'Brien), which I've yet to watch all the way through. Rome is a espionage thriller in the sub-Hitchcockian vein, but Espionage In Tangiers is a full-fledged Eurospy caper in the 007 (or 077!) tradition.

Espionage stars Luis Davila (A Quiet Place to Kill, Ypotron) as agent Matt Murphy, who is assigned to track down and recover a scientific Macguffin – in this case, a small metal plate that is the vital component of a disintegrator ray gun (one of the absolute cheapest-looking props I can recall ever seeing in a film!). Murphy heads for Tangiers to meet a man who may know something about the theft. Of course, when he arrives, the contact has been killed, so our intrepid operative is forced to pursue more and more tenuous leads, which eventually – and I'm not really sure I followed it all – leads him to Nice and, ultimately, the thieves.

As usual, the plot in this film is a throwaway, linking standard spy-fi set-pieces together, mostly (in this case) energetic fistfights and attempted assassinations of our hero by various ingenious means. The movie could certainly use a bit more juice – it often just kind of plods along, and the bizarre, whistling theme music doesn't help. While convoluted, the story isn't quite as kooky as most of the other Eurospy flix I've seen, and a little of that kookiness would have helped the film, I think. Especially the ending, which is rather anticlimactic.

Davila, on the other hand, is an energetic lead (sometimes overly so), playing his role with a near-perpetual wiseass grin and flamboyant gestures. He's a handsome guy, but there's just something a little "off" about him. I can't put my finger on it, though. In any case, he certainly throws himself into the fight scenes with great enthusiasm, even if his fists and feet rarely seem to be connecting with any of his adversaries.

The back of the DVD case calls Murphy "agent 077," and maybe the movie was sold that way in some countries, but the code number is never mentioned in the movie that I can recall. The packaging also perpetuates the myth that future James Bond star George Lazenby appears in the movie, but that's been debunked repeatedly. Just because something's stated on the IMDb doesn't make it true, folks!

Dark Sky has managed to produce one of the best looking Eurospy DVDs I've seen, with a remarkably sharp and bright 1.88:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that evidences very little age-related wear and tear. There are a few specks and a scratch or two, but they're rare.

Overall, it looks great; probably the best Eurospy transfer currently available on R1 DVD. The movie's not too bad, either... except for that damned theme!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Review: A MAN CALLED SLOANE - "Lady Bug"

Episode ten of A Man Called Sloane, "Lady Bug," features more spy-fi gadgets than any other episode, including a gas-spewing silver dollar, a submersible automobile, a tape-recording wristwatch, a keyring that can give off electric shocks, and a cigarette case with a 2-way TV communicator. Oh, and The Director (Dan O'Herlihy) plays around with a rocket-launching umbrella in the lab, much to "Q"-girl Kelli's (Karen Purcill) dismay.

The villain of the piece is a KARTEL contractor named Chandler (the late Edie Adams), a glamorous, middle-aged woman who likes to surround herself with young male bodybuilders. She's working with a disgruntled entomologist (!) who has bred a hybrid species of "devil locusts" that can strip a field of crops in a matter of seconds, and whose bites are fatal to humans. With the help of a pretty young entomologist (Barbara Rucker), Torque and many of those aforementioned gadgets, Sloane manages to save America's breadbasket from KARTEL's sinister plan to corner the world's food supply.

"Lady Bug" is a hoot, with an entirely ludicrous – but amusing – plot and a great performance by Adams, who seems to be enjoying her opportunity to play against her usual image, with charm and a sly wit. Torque actually gets a little bit more to do in this episode, rescuing Sloane from a grasshopper and demonstrating a few new accessories for his cybernetic hand. There's also a fun homage to Hitchcock's North By Northwest when a low-flying crop duster drops a load of poison gas on Sloane and his lady faire in a field. Unfortunately, there's also a judo match between Sloane and a henchman (played by Martin Kove), where it's clearly – even on my crappy copy of the show – a stunt double filling in for Conrad.

A fun episode. Two more to go!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Video: THE WILD WEIRD WORLD OF DR. GOLDFOOT


This is a cool find, I think – the opening titles to the AIP Television special, The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot, which aired in syndication to promote the 1965 feature film spy-fi spoof, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, starring the legendary Vincent Price. Theme song by The Supremes!

Which, quite coincidentally, I ordered a copy of last night. I'm still trying to fill some gaps in my collection. I've never seen it, but I'm a HUGE Vincent Price fan, I dig those 60s AIP comedies, and I love attractive girls in bikinis... so why not?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Spy-Fi Poll 005: Results

Wow. Apparently, if you want people to participate in a poll, asking them about what they dislike is more compelling than asking what they like.

The last poll question, "Which modern film remake/update of a classic 60s spy series was the most disappointing?" resulted in the largest number of voters to date, with 27 Spy-Fi visitors casting their ballot. There was also some last minute vote changing – perfectly within the rules, but indicating that the question certainly engendered strong opinions.

And why not? Hollywood’s lack of originality and callous treatment of other peoples’ creations in nothing new, and completely missing whatever elements made an entertainment property popular in the first place is, sadly, par for the course… which is why they keep making these movies and why they very nearly always suck.

Most voters apparently found the 1998 feature film version of the classic British spy-fi series The Avengers to be the most disappointing remake/reimagining, with 11 votes cast. Coming in second was the 1999 film version of the American show The Wild Wild West, with 10 votes. 1996’s Mission: Impossible and 2002’s I Spy tied for third place with three votes each. Last year’s Get Smart film apparently didn’t annoy anyone quite enough to take a hit, and I regret that I neglected to include 1997’s The Saint on the ballot, ‘cause I’m sure somebody out there hates that one.

I voted for The Wild Wild West. I haven’t seen the I Spy movie – and have little inclination to do so – but I’ve seen the others, and as I noted back in the first Spy-Fi Poll, West is my personal favorite of the old 60s spy shows.

And frankly, when I watch The Avengers movie, despite the lack of charm (or chemistry) in the leads and gaping plot chasms riddling the clearly studio-savaged story, I get the impression that at some point, early on in the process, somebody involved actually wanted to make an Avengers movie that did justice to the material. There’s just enough residual circumstantial evidence buried in that cinematic train wreck for me to believe that. Additionally, I rather like the movie’s production design and musical score. The film is crap, no question, but I have actually managed to watch it all the way through a few times, and may again.

The Wild Wild West, though, that abomination is wrong on so many levels, from conception to execution. A piecemeal script incorporating leftover elements from other aborted film projects (the giant mechanical spider was, infamously, originally intended for an unproduced Superman flick), horrible, illogical casting, and no attempt whatsoever made to recreate the sly, semi-surreal, tongue-in-cheek tone of the original material – instead, the filmmakers ladled on ham-fisted broad slapstick comedy that ridiculed the heroes and subverted the entire premise. Unlike in The Avengers, there’s not a single redeeming thing in that film for me, and I cannot bring myself to watch it again. Not even the pulchritudinous perfection that is Salma Hayek could salvage a frame of that disaster.

I am a bit surprised at the votes against the Mission: Impossible movie. Personally, I rather liked the first (and third) film, and while yeah, I somewhat resent the changes the filmmakers made to Bruce Geller’s original conception… I still thought the movie was pretty good, and I guess that made the difference.

Oh well. I just noticed that with two exceptions, all of these movies came out ten years ago or more. Man, time flies. As always, I encourage you to share your thoughts and the reasons for your choices in the comments, and hope you’ll check out the new poll over there in the sidebar.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Intel: Alex Rider Will Return in CROCODILE TEARS

My first Spy-Fi Intelligence Item – and of course, I cribbed it from fellow COBRAS colleague Paul Bishop. I am a big fan of Anthony Horowitz' Alex Rider series – though I respectfully disagree with Paul about it being better than Charlie Higson's Young Bond series – and I'm eagerly looking forward to reading the next installment.

From BOOKSELLER.com:
Walker Books has brought forward the publication of the new Alex Rider novel, Crocodile Tears, to this autumn after author Anthony Horowitz delivered the manuscript earlier than expected. The announcement will be welcome news to the book trade in the run-up to what is expected to be a difficult Christmas on the high street.

The last Alex Rider title,
Snakehead, was published in 2007 and achieved £2m of sales in hardback and paperback (figs from Nielsen BookScan TCM). The eighth Alex Rider novel will now publish on 12th November.

Next year marks the tenth anniversary of Alex Rider. Walker Books’ publishing director Jane Winterbotham said that Horowitz’ family appeal would be the focus of the marketing, sales, PR and events programmes.
"We believe that in a challenging economic climate retail needs its strongest brands more than ever before," she said.

Spy-Fi Flashback: LICENCE TO KILL

In May, I noted the thirtieth anniversary of Moonraker, which debuted in 1979. Ten years later, in the summer of '89, I was back in the theater for Licence To Kill, which marked the end of one Bond era while foreshadowing another.

Right up front, I want to make clear that I've always considered Timothy Dalton one of the best James Bonds. To my mind, he was perfectly cast, with the right looks, physicality and the dramatic weight the character deserved. I also feel that Dalton, arguably, came the closest to Ian Fleming's literary conception of the character. I would have been thrilled if he'd headlined a full half-dozen 007 epics.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way, and through no fault of his performance, both of the series entries he starred in were deeply flawed. The Living Daylights began as a Roger Moore (or Pierce Brosnan) vehicle and had to be hastily re-tailored to better suit Dalton's interpretation of the role. It also suffered from a ham-fisted "safe sex" approach to the character and a very uninspired villain, leading to an unsatisfying climax.

Licence To Kill was tailored to Dalton's style, however, with a grim 'n gritty 007 the likes of which we wouldn't see again until 2006. The script posited a very atypical mission for Her Majesty's Secret Servant, a mission born out of loyalty and personal loss. I frequently see LTK dismissed as a "typical revenge film," but there's more to it than that. Not only is Bond seeking vengeance for the maiming of his friend and the murder of his friend's wife, but it's strongly suggested that he's trying to make up for not having brought his own wife's killers to justice years before.

BTW – I'm going to assume here that everyone reading this blog has seen and is familiar with the plot of the movie. I don't have the energy to write a detailed synopsis. And this isn't a review, anyway; it's just my personal thoughts and musings on this polarizing film.

Bond goes rogue – and the scene at Hemingway House in Key West where he resigns to a startled M is one of my favorite scenes in the canon (though the "Farewell to Arms" gag doesn't work on the pan & scan TV and VHS versions of the movie, since the sign identifying the historical residence is cropped out and never seen). When the MI6 sniper actually opened fire on the fleeing ex-007, I actually let out with a "holy shit!" in the theater.

Pursuing his own vendetta against Central American druglord Sanchez, Bond keeps screwing up other people's plots (Hong Kong Narcotics agents, the CIA, etc.) against the villain. And I love that. It's so rare to see Bond make mistakes, and even rarer to see him own up to them, which he does in LTK, once he realizes how his actions are messing things up.

Unfortunately, this strong, personal story is undercut by other factors, and that's made the movie quite controversial among Bond fans, many of whom outright hate it.

There were budget and tax problems, so the movie was mostly shot in Mexico and Key West, Florida instead of England and more exotic locations. The story's milieu, with it's Noriega-styled heavy and drug running scheme, resembles a lot of other 80s action flicks, mostly of the "B-movie" variety. And, for some reason, Eon chose to cast this film out of Los Angeles, filling the cast with too-familiar American character actors. Robert Davi, Don Stroud, Anthony Zerbe, Priscilla Barnes, Wayne Newton(?) – these people are good performers, but to American audiences, they were too familiar, mostly from TV. We tend to expect fresh new faces (usually of the European variety) in our Bond films.

Oh, and that "happy Felix" tag at the end. WTF?

Still, LTK is one of my favorite Bond movies. Not since On Her Majesty's Secret Service had the mission involved any personal stake for Bond (an element, you'll note, they tried to force into most of Brosnan's subsequent outings). Bond demonstrates his skills and detective ability rather than having M and Moneypenny lay everything out for him. He uses virtually no gadgets (not even the "signature gun" – he's attacked before he can actually fire it). He's smart, using his brains – and charm – to insinuate himself into Sanchez' good graces. It really is a great exploration of the James Bond character, and Dalton plays it masterfully.

When LTK was released twenty years ago this month, it opened against Ghostbusters 2, Lethal Weapon 2, Star Trek 5, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade... and Batman. With its overly-familiar trappings and horrible promotional campaign, it never had a chance. And then, the producers got tied up in legal proceedings that led to seven years without another 007 movie... and Dalton, understandably, declined to return with the series in the 90s, opening the door for Brosnan to finally claim the role.

When I saw Licence To Kill in '89, I loved it. From the pre-credits sequence to Maurice Binder's (final) titles – to the last frame of the film, I loved it. I was pleased to see elements of the Live & Let Die novel and a couple of Fleming's short stories woven into the plot, I enjoyed seeing David Hedison return as Felix Lieter, but most of all, I loved seeing James Bond off the reservation, kicking ass and taking names. ... and all with style, class and intelligence, and never descending to the level of a thug.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Weekly Debriefing 006

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• Was laid up for most of the last eight days, so I didn't do much, spy-fi-wise. As noted previously on the site, I finished reading Tod Goldberg's second Burn Notice novel, purchased and viewed Fathom... and that's about it.

• I have started reading the first "Butler" paperback original spy novel by Philip Kirk, published by Leisure Books in the early 80s. A couple years ago, I bought the first four books in the series at a used bookstore, then promptly boxed them up with some other stuff and forgot about them. I stumbled across the books a few days ago, dug them out and started reading the first one, The Hydra Conspiracy, yesterday. I'll post a review if and when I finish it.

• Will be watching another Sloane episode this weekend. I'm sure you were all anxiously waiting on the next review. Look for it in a few days.

• Just in case you haven't seen it on any of the several thousand other websites that ran it over the last several days, you'll find above a picture of actress Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow, Marvel Comics' ex-Soviet superspy, as she will appear in next summer's Iron Man sequel. Looks good to me.

How was your week?

End transmission.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Review: FATHOM

Several years ago, right around the time that Mike Myers unleashed/inflicted his third Austin Powers parody on the public, Fox Home Entertainment dug four Sixties spy-fi romps out of their vaults and released them on DVD. These four titles included the two Derek Flint flix – Our Man Flint and In Like Flint – the eccentric 1966 Modesty Blaise film, and this one, 1967's Fathom, starring Raquel Welch.

I bought the first three, but for reasons now forgotten, I passed on picking up Fathom at the time.

Recently, I decided to rectify that oversight – it's not as if there are a whole lot of 60s spy movies available commercially on disc, after all – and ordered a used copy from an online dealer. It showed up this morning, and I watched it this afternoon.

For those who haven't seen it, the story revolves around a lovely young dental hygienist from California named Fathom Hargill (in an amusing touch, whenever anyone inquires about her unique moniker, she always gives a different explanation for it), who also happens to be part of a U.S. skydiving team touring Europe. In Spain, she is recruited by operatives of an international espionage agency called H.A.D.E.S. who happen to need an experienced skydiver. They're seeking a nuclear trigger codenamed "The Fire Dragon" and need her help. With the safety of the free world at stake, the patriotic parachutist agrees, and soon finds herself deeply embroiled in a duplicitous caper of full of double crosses and double identities.

I call it a caper, because that's what it is – a good-natured play on the Hitchcockian spy formula (innocent abroad caught up in international intrigue) with plenty of Bondian touches. At one point, Fathom is provided with explosive earrings, and heavy Sergi Serapkin (Clive Revill) resembles an Ian Fleming villain with his unusually low body temperature and craving for warmth. It's never boring, the plot – even with all its twists – is easy to follow (not a claim most Eurospy flicks of the era can make), and the Spanish scenery is attractive.

I'd read a lot of reviews of the movie slamming Welch's performance, but really, she's not that bad. I like that while she's a bit of an innocent, she's not naive or a pushover. She may be a little gullible, but that's part and parcel of her character's good and trusting nature. It's actually an appealing trait, especially when contrasted against all the cynical, mercenary characters surrounding her.

And, of course, the 27 year-old Welch is utterly stunning to behold, a truly glorious vision in the brief, neon-green bikini that she sports during most of the second act. Sheer feminine physical perfection.

The overall tone of the film is light, with pretty much everyone working hard – and in Revill's case, maybe a bit too hard – to keep it that way. It's fluff, but it's fun.

Fox's DVD is currently out of print. It contains a nice, if slightly faded 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby stereo sound. The only extras on the disc are the theatrical trailer and the trailers for the other three spy-fi films that were released on disc at the same time.

Fathom has a lot of ties with other spy-fi flicks. The screenplay is by Lorenzo Semple Jr., who also scripted 1983's Never Say Never Again. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe shot the same film. The opening titles (see previous post) were designed by Maurice Binder, who performed the same duties for all of the 007 films from Thunderball to Licence to Kill. Handsome supporting player Tom Adams had previously starred as secret agent Charles Vine in several spy-fi spoofs (Where The Bullets Fly, Licensed to Kill) and appeared on The Avengers and other British spy shows. Clive Revill played in several spy-fi productions, including the aforementioned Modesty Blaise, and A Man Called Sloane/Death Ray 2000.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Video: FATHOM


These are the opening titles – designed by Maurice Binder – from the 1967 spy caper Fathom, starring Raquel Welch and Tony Franciosa.

Actually, I've never seen this movie, and when Fox released it on DVD some years ago alongside the two Flint flix and Modesty Blaise, I passed on it for some forgotten reason. It's now out of print, so, of course, I recently decided I wanted to add it to my DVD library. Last week, I ordered a used copy from an online dealer, and had hoped to have received it by now so I could review it here on the Spy-Fi Channel... but it hasn't shown up yet.

Maybe tomorrow.

UPDATE JULY 16: It did show up today. Review forthcoming!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Spy-Fi Poll 004: Results

No surprise here. This week's Spy-Fi Poll question was, "Which of John Steed's female partners was your favorite?" With a resounding 90% of the vote, the clear winner was Dame Diana Rigg's Emma Peel.

Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), Emma's predecessor, and Tara King (Linda Thorson), Emma's successor, each garnered a single vote, tying them to a distant second place. Purdey (Joanna Lumley) of The New Avengers, didn't manage a single vote (although, personally, she's my second favorite "Steed girl.").

I voted for the lovely Mrs. Peel, myself. There's no question that when most spy-fi fans think of The Avengers, it's Steed & Mrs. Peel that first come to mind, no matter how capable and attractive the other distaff Avengers may have been. It was Emma Peel, with her fighting leathers and mod outfits, her wry charm and insouciant wit, that set the mold and style for female spies of the era and beyond. Even today, a black leather catsuit is the default uniform for any pop culture spy gal, from comics like Danger Girl to Mimi Rogers and Elizabeth Hurley in the first Austin Powers parody.

Thanks to everyone that voted, and check out the new poll in the sidebar.

Review: BURN NOTICE - The End Game

I've been laid up for the last four days with the gout, of all things. Aside from the embarrassingly medieval nature of the ailment, I have an unusually high tolerance to pain medications, so while they don't do much to alleviate the agony, they do mess up my head and make it difficult to concentrate.

Which is one reason why it took me so long to finish Tod Goldberg's second Burn Notice tie-in novel, The End Game.

Overall, it's pretty much as good as the first of his BN books, set somewhere during the first half of the second season of the show. As with the first, very little attention is given to Westen's ongoing investigation into his burn. However, the story, in which Westen, Sam and Fi become involved in big-bucks yacht racing and the Mafia, is twisty, exciting and involving. It's good stuff and a good read.

I only have one minor quibble with the writing – though, truth be told, I don't quite know how Goldberg could have handled it any other way. It bugged me a bit in the first novel, too. As the books are written from Michael Westen's POV in first-person, whenever Sam or Fi go off to handle their parts of the operation on their own, we are to assume that they filled Michael in on all the details afterward. Problem is, there are a lot of details, and it just seems unrealistic that Michael would be able to relate their experiences – and reactions and emotions – with such thoroughness.

As I said, I don't really know how else the author could handle such scenes, and probably wouldn't even be noticeable to most readers, but it did nag at me a bit.

The End Game is a thoroughly entertaining crime novel, and very faithful to its television source. Fans of the show should be reading these books.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Weekly Debriefing 005

Begin transmission:

• Been watching Season 6 of Mission: Impossible from 1971-72. This was the season where the show officially stopped being spy-fi, as the Impossible Missions Force turned its attentions exclusively toward domestic criminals beyond the reach of "conventional law enforcement agencies." This mostly means the mob - or "Syndicate," as it's referred to here.

The stories also seem a lot less tightly plotted, and some of them – like "Encore," where an elderly gangster played by William Shatner is 'de-aged' and made to believe he's back in the 30's, or "The Visitors," where Phelps and Casey pretend to be extraterrestrials to con a crooked newspaper magnate – are just plain silly.

Still, there are some compensations. The show actually looks better now that it's not trying to pass off the Paramount administration buildings and sound stages as Eastern Bloc airports and warehouses. Now it can shoot openly on the streets and in the skyscrapers of L.A. without trying to pretend they're somewhere else. Also, Barney (Greg Morris) and Willy (Peter Lupus) no longer have to skulk around inside walls and hiding in utility vans all the time; the pared down IMF team frequently needs both of them to actually play face roles in their elaborate cons. Finally, Linda Day George joins the team as mistress of disguise Casey, and she's not only a beautiful woman, but handles her multitude of roles very well.

She's especially good in "Nerves," where the villain is played by her real-life husband, the late Christopher George (who probably would have made a great TV secret agent himself, now that I think about it).

• My only spy-fi purchase this week was the Blu-Ray edition of 1989's Licence To Kill with Timothy Dalton. I've been slowly upgrading my Bond collection to Blu-Ray, and LTK is one of my favorite Bond films. It has its problems, but I very much like Dalton's performance and the whole "007 going rogue" storyline. And it looks incredible on BR!

How was your week?

End transmission.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Review: A MAN CALLED SLOANE - "Sweethearts of Disaster"

The ninth episode of A Man Called Sloane opens with Sloane and Torque in France, covertly observing a test of a laser cannon in an isolated valley that in no way resembles L.A.'s Bronson Canyon. (Sure!) They're not the only ones, as Sloane observes an attractive woman (Andrea Howard) also watching. As these bystanders stand by, a team of six women attack the scientists testing the laser, beat them up, and steal the weapon.

Sloane repels down a cliff to intercept their fleeing truck, only to have his ass handed to him by the "Sweethearts," and then be tossed unceremoniously off the moving vehicle.

It's not a total embarrassment for UNIT's "only Top Priority Agent," though – somehow, in the melee, he managed to steal the ruby needed to make the laser cannon function. Anyway, UNIT decides to try and lure the thieves into the open by having Torque pose as an African king who is auctioning off one of the only two other rubies capable powering the device. KARTEL baddie Bannister (Ted Hamilton) and his all-female terrorist squad - The Sweethearts – as well as the beautiful KGB agent that Sloane saw in France, all converge in Vancouver to fight over the gem. The usual hi jinks ensue.

As a poster on the IMDb points out, this is a smaller-scale, faster-paced remake of the Death Ray 2000 pilot film, which hadn't been seen on TV yet, with the gratuitous addition of the sexy "Sweethearts" – a virtual necessity on Fred Silverman's NBC at the time. The episode is briskly directed by veteran B-movie and TV auteur Jack Starret (Cleopatra Jones, Race With The Devil), who, in keeping with the tradition of nepotism on the Sloane set, cast his daughter as one of the Sweethearts! Not the series' best episode, but far from its worst.

• Andrea Howard, who portrays KBG operative Anna, also co-starred with Don Adams the following year in the first Get Smart feature, The Nude Bomb, where she inexplicably took the place of Barbara Feldon's 99. She was pretty and likable, but a poor substitute for Feldon.

• With so much of today's TV being shot in Canada, I find it interesting and amusing that in this 1979 production, Los Angeles is standing in for Vancouver, rather than the other way around!

Spy-Fi Giveaway Winner

Happy birthday to me... and congratulations to Craig Zablo, whose name was randomly picked by my better half, and who will be receiving a set of the two-issue Bloodthirst: The Nightfall Conspiracy vampire spy comic that I wrote way back in '94.

After my little whine about not getting any entries, my e-mailbox filled up fast (gee, emotional blackmail does work!), and I appreciate everyone's participation. Look for more giveaways here at the Spy-Fi Channel in the future!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Countdown...

Here's a reminder that the deadline to enter the first Spy-Fi Birthday Giveway drawing is coming up in just 24 hours. So far, the response has been extremely underwhelming; so much so that my feelings are actually a little hurt. :(

I may have undersold the book in my previous post, but it's really not a bad little comic. The manga-inspired art by Delfin Barral and Chuck Bordell is quite nice.

Anyway, if you want a shot at a free copy of the two-issue Bloodthirst: The Nightfall Conspiracy miniseries, with all its vampiric espionage action, send in your e-mail right away!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Spy-Fi Poll 003: Results

Well, it looks like youth and attitude has once again won out over class and experience, with the results of the latest Spy-Fi Poll. This week's question was: "If your life was in danger, which of these ex-spies would you call for help? Robert McCall (The Equalizer) or Michael Westen (Burn Notice.)"

Early voting showed the two former secret agents-turned Samaritans neck and neck, but in the last couple of days, Miami's "burned" operative, Michael Westen (played by Jeffrey Donovan) pulled ahead to a pretty definitive victory over Robert McCall, (played by Edward Woodward), the self-styled "Equalizer."

Fifteen votes were cast. Westen received nine, while McCall garnered six.

Me, I voted for McCall. He's got more experience, more resources, and his plans usually result in far less property damage than Westen's. Like Westen, he's shown an aptitude for MacGyver-like improvisation in turning common household items into lethal weapons, but he's also got more than two operatives he can call on for back-up. In the first season alone (the only one on DVD so far), he's got at least a half-dozen other moonlighting pros he can bring in to help him in his operations.

I can see the appeal in Westen, though. He's young, handsome, presumably has faster reflexes, and while his "assets" may be limited, both Sam and Fiona are extremely competent – and likable – in their own rights. Unlike McCall, though, his operations tend to result in explosions and, because he can't actually put any bad guys behind bars, the people he's helped often have to leave town and assume new identities away from Miami.

So, while I'd certainly rather hang out with Sam Axe in a Miami safehouse with a case of beer than hole up in a loft in Manhattan with one of McCall's brooding spook pals, I think that The Equalizer would probably be more likely to protect my life while still leaving me a little life left to enjoy.

Feel free to share your reasons for why you voted the way you did in the comments, and check out the new poll in the sidebar.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Review: THE GREEK SUMMIT

The Greek Summit, a 1983 Nick Carter novel by Robert J. Randisi, relates an unusually low-key assignment for the superspy known as Killmaster.

Dr. Lucas Johns is an American weapons scientist who is supposed to attend a secret summit in Athens with British, Russian, German and French experts. Unfortunately, Johns is a completely unlikable, arrogant ass, who doesn't want to attend at all, and is being forced to do so by the United States government. When he finds he can't get out of it, he makes more trouble by refusing to be accompanied by a government bodyguard. Eventually, a compromise is reached: he will hire his own bodyguard – a private detective – to protect him at the summit.

Of course, it's been sneakily arranged that the P.I. he hires is none other than Nick Carter himself, who joins the scientist and his beautiful (and neglected) young wife on their trip to Greece.

There's very little violence in this book and no globe trotting at all, aside for the one-way flight to Greece (virtually the entire story takes place within a hotel)! In fact, Summit contains the least amount of action of any Carter book I've read. There's one brief fight scene between Carter and some street thugs, a couple of gunshots, and that's all I recall. Instead, this one plays out more as a private eye mystery story, with N3 relying on deductive brainwork instead of fists or firearms to bring his assignment to a satisfactory conclusion.

There's plenty of the other kind of action, however, as Carter carries on a torrid affair with the scientist's wife, and even manages to squeeze in a tryst with the British representative to the scientific conference.

Randisi is an old hand at P.I. fiction, so it probably shouldn't be a surprise that The Greek Summit reads the way it does. Heck, Carter is even posing as a P.I. (named "Nick Diamond!") for most of the novel. Even without a lot of physical action, though, the story moves at a brisk pace thanks to Randisi's clean, spare first-person prose and deft characterizations. And it's well-plotted; I figured out one mystery/twist fairly early on, but the big one at the end caught me by surprise.

It's very much a change of pace from the more familiar, explosive novels in the series, however, and I'm curious about Randisi's other contributions to the Carter canon. I'm going to have to try and hunt them down....

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Spy-Fi Birthday Giveaway

My birthday is this coming Thursday, so I thought I'd celebrate by giving a present to some lucky reader of the Spy-Fi Channel.

Back in the early 90s, I wrote my first published comic books. These starred a female vampire who operated as a secret agent. The backstory was that she had been a French partisan during WWII, and while assisting the Allies in dismantling a secret Nazi laboratory, she was attacked and infected by a vampire prisoner that the Germans had been experimenting on.

She didn't die – so she was not truly undead – but she did contract the vampire's insatiable thirst for blood and many, but not all, of the traditional vampire powers.

After the War, an O.S.S. agent arranged for her to come to the United States, and recruited her into one of the U.S.A.'s new intelligence agencies, the Top Secret Division, whereupon she assumed the name "Christine Bishop." 50 years later, she went to work for a different, international organization called A.C.T.I.O.N. (Allied Counter Terrorism International Operations Network) under a man named Cromwell.

I was actually pretty proud of that acronym at the time!

Anyway, the books came out with very little fanfare and underwhelming sales. Unfortunately, the title anticipated the 'bad girl' phenomenon of violent femmes in the mid-90's by a couple of years. Also, the books were drawn by my pal Delfin Barral in a somewhat manga-inspired style – which also hadn't really caught on yet with American readers, so I think we were just plain ahead of our time.

The company published a one-shot called "The Terminus Option," (my very first comics script) then a two part miniseries titled "The Nightfall Conspiracy." I also wrote a third adventure, "Dangerous Prey," but it was never drawn.

I still have a few copies of the second Bloodthirst comic that I wrote (and I was still learning the basics back then), "The Nightfall Conspiracy." While I think I've improved considerably as a writer since 1994, I also think that these two issues aren't too embarrassing. In fact, I'm still kinda proud of the villain's plot....

It's not pure spy stuff, obviously. But I did try to write it as an espionage adventure first and vampire fantasy second, taking advantage of the comics medium to give the story some scope and filling it with set pieces and "special effects" that would have been prohibitive to do in a film or TV show. Some of it's a little clunky, and some of the then-fresh ideas seem pretty old hat now, but, overall, I think it holds up okay.

So – I'm giving away one set of the two-issue miniseries, with the recipient selected at random. If you'd like to be included in the drawing, send an e-mail to atomicpulp@gmail.com with the subject line: "Bloodthirst Giveaway," and include in the body of the message your name and mailing address. The deadline is Midnight, July 8th, 2009. The winner will be announced on the 9th.

One entry per person, please. Double entries will be disqualified. One winner will be drawn at random and announced on Thursday, July 9, 2009. The winner’s name will be posted here and will be notified via email. All entries will be deleted immediately after the contest’s close, and no personal information will be retained or transmitted to any third parties. The contest is open to anyone, in any country. Unfortunately, I cannot assume responsibility for items lost or damaged in transit.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Spy-Fi Flashback: 007 Souvenir Magazines

When you're a James Bond fan of limited means, the really high-priced collectibles are hard to come by. Still, over the years, in my humble way, I've managed to accumulate a nice – if small – collection of 007 memorabilia. I've multiple copies of most of the Ian Fleming novels, several 007 film encyclopedias, a half-dozen one-sheets (which I actually hung on my walls with tacks when I was a teenager, so they're rather ragged these days), a 007 lunchbox from the 60s, a Corgi Aston Martin, and three of the 12" Sideshow Bond action figures.

I also have a bunch of movie magazines with James Bond cover stories – Starlogs, Cinefantastiques, Cinescapes, Empires... and, best of all, many of the "Official Movie Magazines" that were published to tie-in with the various films' releases in the 80s and 90s.

The first of these that I bought as a burgeoning Bond fan were the Moonraker magazine published by Warren Publishing (Famous Monsters, Eerie, Vampirella) and the Moonraker fold-out poster book from the Starlog folks. In the pre-home video 70s, these magazines were a way of revisiting and re-experiencing the film while waiting for it to show up on ABC. In the years that followed, I also bought the "Official" souvenir mags for Octopussy, A View To A Kill, The Living Daylights, Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough. (Was there ever a Licence To Kill mag? I don't know.)

Basically, they all followed the same model: first, a detailed synopsis of the film's plot. Then, profiles of the cast and the characters they played. A long, more-or-less in-depth article on the making of the movie. Finally, a pictorial feature on the gadgets, girls or villains of 007 – and maybe all three. Sometimes, there would be poster pull-outs.

Aside from the Moonraker and Goldeneye mags, most of these were published by the Starlog group, which always confused me a bit, since the 007 films – while fantasies, of a sort – weren't really science fiction films. But maybe the gadgets and various killer satellites were enough to slip in on a technicality – or maybe there was just money to be made.

I don't know if tie-in magazines were published to coincide with Die Another Day, Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace. Maybe in today's DVD and Internet digital world, such things as souvenir mags are archaic and passe. If so, it's too bad.

When I was a teenager, I really loved these things. I was always fascinated by how movies were made, and back then we didn't have DVD commentaries and behind-the-scenes documentaries at our fingertips. Interviews with the directors and screenwriters gave me some insight into the creative and technical process of filmmaking, and helped make me the film buff I am today.

Besides, those color photos of the Bond girls were really nice, too.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Weekly Debriefing 004

Begin Transmission:

• Well, I wrote some spy fiction this week. It was an 8,000 word short story called "Countdown to Midnight" for an upcoming prose anthology I'm editing for Moonstone Books featuring the old radio, serial and comic book hero Captain Midnight. In our version of the character, Cap is very much a black ops-type guy, a "flying spy" operating in an alternate history where WW II never happened. In my story, he has to destroy a secret fortress in the Andes, the launch site for the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile. The book's supposed to be out in January or February of 2010, and also has stories by Stephen Mertz, Win Scott Eckert, and John J. Nance, among others.

• I'm currently reading the 1983 Nick Carter novel The Greek Summit, which a frequent visitor to this blog, Robert J. Randisi, informs me is one of the half-dozen that he contributed to the series. Expect a review in a day or two. I'm also reading Tod Goldberg's second Burn Notice novel, The End Game. Will post my thoughts on this one soon, as well.

• This week's spy-fi purchases: I picked up four more early Nick Carter, Killmaster paperbacks from a used bookstore that recently opened nearby. The titles were: The Kremlin File, The Cobra Kill, The Vulcan Disaster, and The Sign of the Prayer Shawl. One of these days, I'll get around to reading them.

Wednesday night, I picked up the DVD of the 2003 spy-fi spoof, Johnny English, at our local Big Lots for a couple of bucks. Not one of my favorites, despite a screenplay by Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and a really excellent musical score by Edward Shearmur. Fact is, I'm just not much of a Rowan Atkinson fan. I despise his Mr. Bean character, and even Blackadder, which I recognize as being good, just isn't to my tastes. Even his small role in Never Say Never Again always irritates the hell out of me.

So why did I pick it up? Well, it was dirt cheap, for one, and it was a spy spoof, for another – and I collect spy spoofs. And even the weakest spy spoofs – like The Nude Bomb or Dr. Goldfoot – have a few bright spots and gags that prompt a chuckle or two.

And did I mention that I liked the music? I really have to track down the soundtrack CD.

• Well, that about covers the last seven days. How was your week?

End Transmission.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Review: A MAN CALLED SLOANE - "Samurai"

Episode eight of A Man Called Sloane features yet another "old enemy" of T.R. Sloane's – this guy's got a lot of old enemies! Didn't he ever, you know, kill, any bad guys?

In this case, it's a man named Tanaka (the always-welcome Mako), a martial arts master, who's escaped from a Jakarta prison and founded his own religious cult in the U.S. Aside from exploiting the youth of America with his so-called religion, he also takes on odd jobs for KARTEL, like kidnapping the daughter of a South American Premier (right out from under Sloane's nose!).

KARTEL demands that the Premier resign – publicly, on live TV – so one of their puppet politicians can assume leadership of the country. UNIT's only lead is a young woman named Carrie Baldwin (Nancy Conrad), a former member of Tanaka's cult. Eventually, Sloane and Tanaka face off in a decently staged – if too brief swordfight – and, with the help of a faked newscast, the girl is saved.

This episode is more down-to-earth than previous installments, with no big sci-fi MacGuffin or mad scientists. Sloane even has to do some legwork this time. Fortunately, Mako portrays Tanaka as a worthy adversary with some honor and respect for his opponent, and he even gets to knock Robert Conrad around a bit!

• More nepotism! Nancy Conrad is – no surprise – Robert Conrad's daughter. Like Conrad's wife, Lavelda (who guest starred in episode four), Nancy appears to have pretty much only acted in projects Mr. Conrad starred in, including Baa Baa Black Sheep and Murph the Surf!

• This is episode is written by TV veteran Dick Nelson, who scripted an earlier entry, "Tuned For Destruction," as well as several episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.