Friday, May 25, 2018

BOND 25 - OFFICIAL NEWS: directed by Danny Boyle, written by John Hodge, distributed by MGM and Universal


Production on Bond 25 will begin in December with Danny Boyle directing Daniel Craig’s 5th outing as Bond. EON Productions and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios (MGM) have reached an agreement with Universal Pictures to partner on the worldwide release of the 25th James Bond film.

Daniel Craig returns as 007 and Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Steve Jobs) will direct from an original screenplay by Academy Award nominee John Hodge (Trainspotting) with production set to begin on 3 December 2018. Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures will release the film theatrically in the US on 8 November 2019 through its new joint venture for domestic theatrical distribution with Annapurna Pictures, and Universal Pictures will release internationally commencing with the traditional earlier release in the UK on 25 October 2019.

Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli commented, “We are delighted to announce that the exceptionally talented Danny Boyle will be directing Daniel Craig in his fifth outing as James Bond in the 25th instalment of the franchise. We will begin shooting Bond 25 at Pinewood Studios in December with our partners at MGM and thrilled that Universal Pictures will be our international distributor.”

“Under the leadership of Michael and Barbara, we couldn’t be more thrilled than to bring the next 007 adventure to the big screen uniting the incomparable Daniel Craig with the extraordinary vision of Danny Boyle,” said MGM’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, Kevin Ulrich. MGM’s President, Motion Picture Group Jonathan Glickman added, “It has been 16 years since Die Another Day was distributed by MGM and it’s incredibly gratifying to be releasing this film alongside the powerhouse team at Universal.”

“Universal is extremely proud to collaborate with Michael, Barbara and MGM on the international marketing and distribution of Bond 25,” said Chairman of Universal Pictures Donna Langley. “The unparalleled combination of Danny’s innovative filmmaking and Daniel’s embodiment of 007 ensured we simply had to be partners in the next chapter of this iconic series.”

Thursday, May 24, 2018

'Forever And A Day' review: 007 is Dead, Long Live Bond

While the cinematic James Bond is doing some silence, the literary James Bond is back. Altough, in this case, we could say he's back... in time! Anthony Horowitz second Bond novel Forever And A Day is a prequel to Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, which introduced the British secret agent to the world, marking the beginning of a timeless legacy.

(Mild spoilers below this point)

Taking place around 1950, one year before the events of the first Ian Fleming novel, Forever And A Day begins with the death of 007. But don't worry, altough this 007 wears Saville Row suits and was a very much regarded agent by M, he's not James Bond. The anonymous 007 has been sent to Marseille to investigate the surprising stop on the narcotic production. The region is a battlefield between the Corsican and Sicillian gangs because of the drug business, so the Secret Services tought someone could be planning something bigger and they sent 007 to survey the French Riviera underworld. There are little leads and no explaination on how the secret agent was unarmed when he was shot at point blank at La Joliette, unarmed, on daylight. There are also no clues on his research, except that he made contact with one Madame 16 or Sixtine, a rogue agent that went freelance selling secrets after being captured and tortured by the Germans during the war. So far, Madame 16 seems the prime suspect of 007's death.

Vintage postcard featuring the Casino de Monte Carlo, where Bond has his first encounter with Madame 16

M resolves to send someone to replace the deceased agent. 008 is recovering in the hospital. 0011 is on a mission in Miami. The head of the British Secret Service turns his eyes to a new recruit, the operative next in line for the 00 section, a man recommended by the Chief of Staff: Bond... James Bond.

Taking the place (and number) of 007, who was a close friend of his, James Bond goes to France and in the following chapters he'll have to face many exhilarating dangers: an infiltration on a film processing plant (used for dark purposes) in the middle of a forest filled of bobby traps, the escape from a sinking luxury yacht rigged with explosives, a downhill escape on jeep and a heroin-based torture. Of course, the perks of his job will also allow him to visit the Casino de Monte Carlo for a Blackjack match against the pretty Madame 16, that will turn out to be a rather memorable woman in Bond's life.

Forever And A Day has -like Trigger Mortis- original Ian Fleming material as the main source, in this case is the TV serial pilot Russian Roulette. The narrative of this book is rather similar to the one of its predecessor, too: very straightforwarding and short in descriptions, but with some subtleties that make it an enjoyable read. In this novel we learn, for example, how Bond started preferring the Morlands cigarettes and why his Martini should be "shaken, not stirred". The second chapter also describes, in full detail, how he eliminated the Norwegian man that spied for the Nazis during World War Two. While the James Bond of Forever And A Day is around 30 years old and a recently promoted 00 agent, he's very smart and definitively not less lethal than Fleming's Bond.

Horowitz deserves a lot of credit for this novel, considering the fact that precedes Casino Royale and every other James Bond novel. The challenge is huge: with the 1953 book defined as the one where Bond went trough emotional and physical hell in the hands of Vesper Lynd and Le Chiffre, the one that shaped him up as the one we know, a precuel for Casino Royale had to be carefully written in order to avoid overshadowing the important characters that meant so much for the secret agent. The girl and the villain can't be emotionally more important than Vesper or Le Chiffre or what Fleming had created would seem fake. 

The French Riviera, where agent 007 was shot dead in mysterious circumstances

At the same time, the elements in Forever And A Day shouldn't be completely weak and uninterested. Yet, the author managed to balance the elements in an exemplar way: the villain, Corsican gangster Jean Paul-Scipio, makes the new 007 feel very uncomfortable during his stay putting him in perilous situations. On the other hand, and despite her protagonism goes a little over the top near the climax where she almost opaques Bond, Sixtine proves to be a very well written character as an experienced agent 10 year older than Bond. She's smart, resourceful and with epic characteristics. Of course she wasn't meant to be over Vesper when analiyzing Bond's life, yet one has the impression he will never forget this girl.

A story of death, betrayal and brutality, Forever And A Day also provides good quantities of elegance and romance (the title itself, as read in the book, has a romantic connotation). At the same time, the action feels very "cinematographic" in a way and there are some elements that are reminiscent to the movies, with a plot somewhat similar to Live and Let Die and Licence to Kill, and some very tiny nods to GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies. The exotic locales are an effective setting for the story, and the fact that the book is set in the 1950s gives it a special touch: the French Riviera, a sunny turistic spot darkened by the occupation of the Corsican and Sicilian gangs, fighting each other for the drug business and using the beautiful locale as a battlefield.

Forever And A Day is a good pre-introduction to the literary James Bond in the same world of intrigue, violence and elegance Ian Fleming created for his hero. Everything in the right balance to avoid overshadowing Casino Royale, but bringing up an exciting product in terms of narrative -and bondian- quality.

Leer artículo en español (

Nicolás Suszczyk

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Beauty and Ugliness of James Bond

Promotional artwork for Dr. No, the first James Bond film, showcasing the attributes of 007's female interests

The Oxford Living Dictionary defines beauty as "a combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight" and ugliness as "the quality of being unpleasant or repulsive in appearance." Without a doubt, in over 55 years of history the cinematic James Bond franchise has played with beauty and ugliness in 24 official movies. Even the two unofficial films, Casino Royale from 1967 and Never Say Never Again in 1983 have echoed these topics, the first one prominently teasing audiences with a tattooed woman holding two guns. 

The good looks of Sean Connery in 1962:
Dana Broccoli's female instincts told
her she was the right man for the job.
In Ian Fleming's novels, Bond was described as a handsome man resembling musician Hoagy Carmichael. The beauty of his women were thoroughly described by the author (their hair, skin, eyes and body shape) as -by opposition- the ugliness of the villains with their bad plastic surgeries or swollen heads. The first cinematic Bond adventure Dr. No, rather faithful to the source material, has respected the Fleming standards for beauty with a handsome and virile protagonist like Sean Connery and three handsome girls coming from different parts of the world: British gambler and playgirl Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson), the exotic and deadly oriental secretary Miss Taro (Zena Marshall) and the Jamaican native Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress). The film's nemesis were represented by the "three blind mice" assassins, corrupt Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) and the evil mastermind Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), who of course couldn't match the elegance and physical traits of Sean Connery's 007. Something different, tough, could be said of his future opponents Red Grant (Robert Shaw) and Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) in From Russia With Love and Thunderball, who could perfectly match Bond's poise and looks. 

An interesting insight on how beauty was of the essence for producers Albert R "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman for their shaping of the long-lasting 007 series was the way Sean Connery and Ursula Andress landed in their roles. Cubby and his wife Dana were watching Darby O' Gill and The Little People and when Connery had appeared in the film Dana thought he was an incredible handsome man. The producer followed the female instincts of his wife and on November 3rd, 1961, the then little-known Sean Connery was announced as the star of the adaptation of Ian Fleming's Dr. No. In the case of Andress, it was producer Harry Saltzman who felt absolutely stunned by a photo of the girl in a wet shirt (taken by her husband John Derek) and that eased her way into the role of the native woman Bond meets in Crab Key who doesn't become his love interest until the very last seconds of the film. 

Claudine Auger in a photoshoot for
Thunderball, showing the deadly
side of her character Domino.
Flash forward 55 years later and it looks as if beauty was an uncomfortable word when promoting the Bond films. Since the late 1980s and particularly in the 2010s, probably because of the resurgence of feminist movements, the intelligence of the Bond girls (sorry, Bond women) is emphasized to the point every one of the female leads in the series has become "Bond's equal": a cliché that now feels as a publicity tactic more than an actual definition of the new generation of Bond's ladies. Maybe only Camille Montes of Quantum of Solace can fit the description and only Anya Amasova from The Spy Who Loved Me or Wai Lin from Tomorrow Never Dies can more faithfully fulfill that definition. The other Bond women could be an intellectual or emotional match or even have some knowledge of handguns. But that doesn't make them "Bond's equal" for sure. 

Probably some people would think Bond girls are mere sexual objects when they're not. They never really were and the James Bond saga has empowered much more than other action films. Take into account Honey Ryder wielding her knife and trying to defend herself of No's guards, or Domino Derval (Claudine Auger) saving Bond's life at the end of Thunderball. In You Only Live Twice, all three girls were far more than a pretty body or face: two skilled Japanese secret agents (Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama) and a deadly redhead vixen (Karin Dor) who pretends to commit to Bond's charm only to attempt against his life shortly later. Don't forget how Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) and Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto) dared to betray their dangerous lovers in The Man With The Golden Gun and Licence To Kill, risking their lives to help Bond (Andrea is ultimately terminated by a golden bullet). A good example is also given in The Living Daylights, where Kamran Shah (Art Malik) and his Afghan men look astonished as Kara Milovy (Maryam d'Abo) rides her horse in the desert with an AK-47 rifle in hand to help Bond, surrounded by the Russian army. Needless to say the Afghan troops weren't used to a woman in their troops and -much less- a woman disobeying a man and going on her own. 

Prelude of an all-girl fight: Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike)
threatens Jinx (Halle Berry) in Die Another Day.
Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) from The World Is Not Enough is a proof that female leads in the Bond films have been empowered by the James Bond series: she used both men for fools: her former kidnapper terrorist Renard (Robert Carlyle) and Bond himself, who believed her to be Renard's target for a second time and a woman who lost her in a terrorist attack, when she was actually the mastermind who employed and seduced Renard to kill her father in revenge for not paying her ransom. The following film, Die Another Day, is the first 007 film to feature a well-choreographed fight between the good and the evil Bond girl, and Pierce Brosnan's 007 debut in GoldenEye had an action scene only with the leading lady Natalya (Izabella Scorupco) escaping from all kind of explosions and finding her way out of the doomed workplace attacked by General Ourumov (Gottfried John) and Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen). 

Daniel Craig in a publicity still for 2015's
SPECTRE. His muscular body was displayed
prominently in his James Bond films.
"I wonder why I'm not seeing people comparing six different actors who played James Bond," said an Alicia Vikander fan Twitter account lately complaining on the fuzz provoked by those who preferred Angelina Jolie over the Swedish actress as Lara Croft in the recent Tomb Raider reboot. However, the six men who played James Bond were compared through their looks and acting skills ever since Sean Connery was replaced by George Lazenby in his one shot 007 flick On Her Majesty's Secret Service, released in 1969, almost half a century ago. Some said Lazenby was handsome but not in the scale of Connery, others that he was a complete failure and talked in retrospect of a "forgotten Bond". Roger Moore was labelled as attractive, but it was always pointed out his lack of virility and strength in comparison to Connery, particularly in his last three films where -despite looking very good at 57- he was "too old to play Bond". Then came Timothy Dalton, who received the tag of being too tight for the role and some humour was needed for Bond. Lately, Dalton was very much vindicated by the fans, but there were those who considered his second and last appearance Licence To Kill killed the franchise. The opposite happened with Pierce Brosnan: applauded and admired during his four films where he reinvigorated Bond as an action hero for the 1990s and the new millennium, but now slammed as being too cheesy, soft-spoken and slim built for a man of action as his replacement, the muscular Daniel Craig, who even tolerated the dishonour of a web site boycotting his choice as the rebooted 007 of Casino Royale. 

Ian Fleming's James Bond always had thoughts for appearances and looks: Donovan Grant's Windsor knot on his tie gives him bad feelings in From Russia, With Love and he suggests Honeychile Ryder not to fix her broken nose with plastic surgery in Dr. No. Moreover, in the John Gardner novel For Special Services, he comforts Nena Bismaquer after learning she had one breast removed. For Bond, reason is not always the answer and a lot is given to intuition, that's why someone's look, attitude, beauty or ugliness can tell him something. 

In the case of the EON Production's franchise, despite their political correct production notes, they always knew a reason why men go to watch James Bond films are the attractive women like Ursula Andress, Jill St. John or Britt Ekland. And a reason why women watched them is because they also felt attracted for the physique of Sean Connery, George Lazenby and Daniel Craig, not forgetting the bon mots of Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore and the virility of Timothy Dalton. 

Never judge a book for its cover, they say. But it's always better when a good book has a great looking cover indeed. 

Nicolás Suszczyk 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

'Red Sparrow': From Russia, without love

Poster artwork for Red Sparrow, featuring Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika Egorova.

Nostalgics of the good old days where "Russia was the enemy" may be pleased with the cinematic adaptation of Jason Matthews' Red Sparrow, starring Jennifer Lawrence and directed by Francis Lawrence, from the Hunger Games saga and with no relation with the leading actress except directing her for a fourth time in a cinematic production.

Vanya offers Dominika a place in the Russian SVR
Any good Ian Fleming fan would notice that the essence of the film is reminiscent to From Russia With Love, dealing with a civillian sent to a training school to become an operative whose primary body is her sex and body. While Fleming's heroine Tatiana Romanova worked for the state in the 1950s Soviet Union and was sent to seduce and turn James Bond to the Russians, Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) faces a more complex situation.
A Bolshoi ballerina who is incapacitated after an accident on stage, Dominika might lose her main income and the pension paid by the theatre, which includes the modest apartment she shares with her ill mother (Joely Richardson). Feeling she has reached a dead end, she is forced to accept the help of her lascivious and greedy uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts), a member of the SVR (Russia's secret service). First he asks her to perform a small job, to investigate Dmitri Ustinov (Kristof Konrad) a corrupt politican who ends up almost getting raping her. She is saved by a Russian operative sent by her uncle, who brutally strangles the aggressor, but since the SVR wants no witnesses of the death of Ustinov -a word that directly involves Dominika- she feels forced to integrate the ranks of Mother Russia's Red Sparrows, a group of women exhaustively trained (phisically, emotionally and psychologically) to get into the mind of their targets, discover their witnesses, seduce and kill them.

Dominika's target, in this case, Nate Nash (another From Russia With Love connection in the name) a CIA operative assigned to protect a mole in the Russian intelligence known as 'Marble'. Joel Edgerton's character is very good agent for the Americans but is known to have some vices, like drinking in excess, hiring prostitutes and watching pornographic videos with frequency - a situation that may facilitate Dominika's job. Nevertheless, she has started questioning the bases of her devotion to the state and sees in Nate the posibility of a escape route for her and her mother from Vanya and the SVR. 

CIA's Nate Nash comforts Dominika.
Is he a trustworthy escape route?
There are those who may agree that Red Sparrow is not a perfect movie and it has a rather morbid taste for violence and sadism. Over its 160 minutes a good deal of blood ("ten pints of blood" one could say to add more Fleming references) is splashed on the screen. It is, perhaps, the kind of film no-one should invite her girlfriend to watch unless she's really into the spy genre and has a very good stomach. However, the action scenes are not continuous and there is more space for intrigue and psychological introspection, a good example is offered by the scene where the Sparrows are trained by a Rosa Klebb-like matron (Charlotte Rampling) and are ordered to perform overtoned tasks as practising oral sex to fellow Russian soldiers because their body belongs "to the state". The kind of situations that are morally questionable but interesting to get us inside the cruel world of an agency who had their roots in the old KGB or NKDV, yesterday's enemy of civilized order. It may feel offensive to some viewers but perhaps the trick is, indeed, that the audience could be offended by Russia so that we can understand why America (and agent Nash) is the only salvation for this poor and extorted girl.

Jennifer Lawrence proves to be a very effective choice for the main role as a woman who is not the femme fatale the poster campaign for the film tried to sell and it's actually victim of her own country instead of a "black widow" victimizer of the opposition. Charlotte Rampling and Matthias Schoenaerts stand out in very believable performances as the deadly representatives of Mother Russia, while Ukranian actor Sergej Onopko perfectly embodies the lethal Simyonov, a skilled torturer that resembles all the dangers of Russia previously described in the Ian Fleming, Len Deighton and John Le Carré stories. Past meets present.

The technical aspects of the film are very well handled, particularly the use of Mozart and Tchaikovsky compositions and the score by James Newton Howard whose overture resembles Lalo Schiffrin's work for The Fourth Protocol (1987) and enhances drama with the use of violins and other wind instruments. The departments of Jo Willems (cinematography) and Maria Djurkjovic (production design) can transport the viewer to Moscow and Vienna making him forget he's actually located in the middle of a theatre.

Red Sparrow is an entertaining story dealing with intrigue and psychology. A story about survival and resistance more than an action film. A story about relatives, love interests, personal interests and Russian state dealing with all these intimate assets.

Nicolás Suszczyk

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Biggest and The Best: Remembering Lewis Gilbert

Lewis Gilbert directing Roger Moore in Moonraker (1979), his third and last James Bond film.

On February 23, 2018, director Lewis Gilbert passed away at the age of 97. He was the first "drama director" of the James Bond series, a path later followed by filmmakers like Michael Apted, Marc Forster and Sam Mendes. Curiously, while the later three "drama directors" embraced their genre and filled the characterization of Bond with complex internal conflicts about his feelings or dedication to duty, Gilbert tought differently.

Hired to direct 1967's You Only Live Twice (the first "last" Bond film starring Sean Connery) a year after the success of Alfie, starring Michael Caine, Gilbert said that 007 was meant to be a big entertainment and full of escapism without too much drama. And while Twice offers a rather poignant scene where Japanese secret service agent Aki accidentally swallows a poison meant for Bond and dies, the film would be the first extravagant Bond movie where the villain plots World War Three to his benefice, operates from a hi-tech lair (in this case, the interior of a volcano) and is run down after an epic battle between Bond's "army" (Tanaka's ninjas) and the opposing forces of SPECTRE guards.

1995 video artwork for The Spy Who Loved Me,
showcasing the climatic battle behind Bond
He wouldn't return to the series until the Roger Moore era with The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, released in 1977 and 1979, respectively. When Ian Fleming specified that the story of his 1962 novel (written in first person from the point of a kidnapped girl saved by Bond) should be avoided except of its title, screenwriter Christopher Wood had the huge challenge to start from the scratch for the 1977 film. This lead to a very suitable film for Gilbert to direct since the plot was very similar in structure and concept to You Only Live Twice: a powerful villain captures a Russian and a British submarine in order to use its nuclear missles to destroy human life and start again with "a beautiful world beneath the sea". 

There are enough quantities of chases and explosions in The Spy Who Loved Me that include a ski chase, a fight inside a train between Bond and the invincible Jaws and the patriotic finale inside the villain's supertanker which, according to author James Chapman in Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films, it's a hidden recreation of World War Two were Bond is joined by the British, Americans and Russians (imprisoned crewmen from the kidnapped submarines) against the villain Stromberg of German lineage (curiously, Stromberg's plot involves the creation of a "new race", just like Hitler). Notably, there was a little drama involved in the story as Anya Amasova, the main girl and a Russian agent who cooperates with Bond, threatens to kill the secret agent when she learns Bond eliminated her boyfriend on a mission. However, this situation is barely a sub-plot hidden under the big action scenes: something that Forster or Mendes would have enhanced in the story much more as Bond's thirst for revenge in Quantum of Solace or his loyalty to Judi Dench's M in Skyfall and after her death in SPECTRE.

German lobby card for You Only Live Twice,
featuring Blofeld inside his volcano lair

Moonraker follows again the same "villain with new world ambitions" predicament with Hugo Drax, who changed sides from being Ian Fleming's bridge cheater war hero who resented England to become an industrialist so interested in the space conquest to the point of eliminating the human race and creating a race of "perfect" specimens on his outer space station. 

The elements of action and humour in Moonraker exceed the extravagancy of The Spy Who Loved Mee and You Only Live Twice with a scene where Bond goes trough St Marks square with a modified gondola (camera takes a detailed shot of a pigeon and a dog looking surprised, a waiter slipping a drink to a costumer played by Gilbert himself, etc) or a Star Wars-like laser battle between the US Marines and Drax's forces floating into space. Far from hiding the fact Moonraker was a tribute to the sci-fi genre in many ways, the classic tune of Close Encounters of The Third Kind is heard as a passcode to enter Drax's laboratory.

After Moonraker, John Glen took over the director's chair and the rest of the Moore films and the two Timothy Dalton adventures had more doseage of thrills and violence. The Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig films have sometimes recovered the grandilocuence of the Gilbert style, but the audience was always remembered not everything in Bond's life were tuxedos, girls and Martinis and that being him was rather tough. Those were other times and other Bonds, and the prospect of a successful hero was far more welcome than today were audiences want to empathise with the protagonist instead of envying him.

Nonetheless, Lewis Gilbert was responsible to make Bond GREAT in every sense. In his films, he didn't save England. He saved the world. And stopped being a British icon to become a worldwide icon.

This is your second life, Lewis. Thanks for the memories.
Rest in peace.

Nicolás Suszczyk

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Dynamite Entertainment Presents 'M'

Every intelligence agency is run by a spymaster who's qualified to last in the business long enough to know how things are tackled, strategized, delivered and organized in full form without any leak of a whole, preferably, to be compromised for the benefit of the opponents. SHIELD has Nick Fury, The Circus has George Smiley, and the most recognizable of them all, Her Majesty's Secret Service has 'M'. A codename for the head of the British Intelligence (or MI-6 in the later films) in the James Bond universe, given to various people over the years, with Ian Fleming's original incarnation remaining Vice-Admiral Sir Miles Messervy.
Comic books publisher, Dynamite Entertainment, has been running the Bond saga in the department since November 2015, with many entries poured under their belt as well as spin-offs centering on characters other than James Bond himself. Felix Leiter had his six-issue miniseries, last year, Moneypenny had her one-shot, and now M gets to have his. Quite a satisfying one, at that, delivered by creators Declan Shalvey and P.J. Holden.

M begins with the debriefing of a rather disastrous mission conducted by one smug and reckless Agent 005 who caused mayhem in Belfast by blowing up an entire building and causing the deaths of innocent civilians while, in a manner, succeeding in accomplishing his objective by bringing an unnamed Duchess to safety. Of course, it's always assumed that some operatives join the world of espionage on for their own thrill of the chase without having respect nor care for anybody else other than glorification of their own. Those smug agents always end up dead in fiction, paving the way in for a specific protagonist to takeover and right the wrong of their predecessors in the shoes. 005 is the sort of agent who has a target on his back, but has not been heard of, since M knocked him off his chair and kicked him out of his office.

Shortly after the debriefing, M receives a palette of a message only he himself recognizes - a piece of ammunition. Without losing any moment, he decides to take a leave and head to Belfast where it was revealed he had been awfully familiar with the region as well as carrying memories that haunt him to every end. Memories that date back to the Troubles, which incidentally, the film franchise's current counterpart, Lieutenant-Colonel Gareth Mallory, also had spent sometime and had experience of the dreadful period. Unarmed in a region where problem could easily bring harm to one's life, M barges in directly to a pub where he meets an old acquaintance. An acquaintance from his past with a bundle of unpleasant encounters he has had with, which dates back to his days in Belfast during the Troubles.

Samuel "Sammy" Wells is the man sought for, an elderly man by now, who used to be young Miles' commanding officer in Belfast back in the day, now retired, who has a leverage on M that is punishable by crime if revealed. Unless M delivers him a list of legally pardoned IRA members - pardoned due to the Good Friday Agreement - Sammy will expose his secret to the public which will be putting the head of the British Intelligence in a pickle he could hardly get out of: A murder. A murder he did not mean to commit but was tricked to pulling the trigger on a presumed IRA informant who was meant to be shot with a rubber bullet as opposed to a lethal cartridge.

Without throwing too much spoilers into the open, it's best to resort to describing the one-shot comic rather than narrating it. M is very much a decent spy thriller that does not involve nor even feature the character of James Bond, anywhere. Starring in a title of his own, M proves that he is a very worth spymaster who can think on his feet and outsmart the opponent using the skills of a master strategist he acquired over the years, isn't afraid to apply his use of variable types of combat on his enemies, and holds on his own rather well without the need of any agent or a bodyguard in his disposal, which is why it makes the character worthy of the spin-off he was given.

David Harewood
This one-shot comic book, M, is a welcome addition to the Dynamite-published Bond comics, narrating a story set in the universe 007 moves around, yet it isn't a pastiche of an adventure that would copy a James Bond thriller. It's nothing groundbreaking, to be honest, but it's definitely not an average entry in the franchise, either. The reader would definitely feel the vigorous character with poise that M is, which would beg the question whether there'd be any feature-length spin-offs planned for the character with proper execution.

With all the constant talk of the 'Bondverse', a common ground for separate films that share, a "universe" originally conceived by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, striking to utmost popularity that every film industry tried to copy ever since. There's been a talk - though unconfirmed - that Eon Productions might initiate a 'Bondverse', which is, frankly speaking, unlikely, given the way they operate. But, if they ever do, I'd like to see M get his one-off film where he goes to solve a problem no one ever could. Either with Ralph Fiennes in the role of Gareth Mallory, or Dynamite's incarnation of Miles Messervy/M come to life, preferably played by David Harewood, who's the most suited actor for the job, both acting and looks-wise as well as the mannerisms. See Spooks: The Greater Good and The Night Manager for his brilliant performances, albeit as a supporting character in both.

M is supposed to be collected in a series of one-shots entitled James Bond Case Files Vol. 1, which also includes Moneypenny as well as titles starring Bond: Service and Solstice, set to come out on 17th of July 2018, later this year.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A reappraisal of 'The Quiller Memorandum' (1966)

George Seagal stars in The Quiller Memorandum as Quiller, experiencing danger in Berlin. 

What do they want of Quiller? What does Quiller want of them?

In the midst of the spy boom of 1966 -the only year where a James Bond film wasn't released since the EON Production series had begun- came the adaptation of Adam Hall's thriller The Berlin Memorandum to the big screen. American actor George Seagal starred this production opposite an international cast that included Alec Guinness, Senta Berger and Max Von Sydow, directed by Michael Anderson and with the unmistakable music of John Barry.

The Quiller Memorandum offers a less glamorous approach to the world of espionage than the James Bond films and is much closer to the Harry Palmer movies, but with less humor. The story focuses on a series of British agents being killed in Berlin while investigating Phoenix, a neo-nazi group in the region. Pol, the head of the British intelligence, sends an operative only known as Quiller to continue with these investigations.

Trusting no-one, Quiller poses as a journalist preparing an article on neo-nazi organizations linked to the arrest of a teacher with nazi ties. Inquiring about "a man named Jones" (the name of one of the dead agents), Quiller intentionally alerts his enemies to know more of them and expects to be taken to their leader. At the same time, he engages into a romance with Inge, the young woman who replaced the arrested teacher. Not much later, Quiller will be captured and taken to Oktober, leader of Pheonix, who constantly subjects him to heavy drugs in order to make him reveal where his base is. The experiment fails, but the agent is subject to an ultimatum: if he doesn't reveal the position of his control, Oktober will eliminate Inge who has also been captured by the organization.

While it may be a low-scaled production, The Quiller Memorandum has its very attractive points. First of all, the John Barry's music bringing thrills to every situation -there are very little fights and shootouts, but many chases- and romance with his "Wednesday's Child" song, used troughout the film as a romantic instrumental and with Matt Monro's vocal version making a "radio cameo" as Quiller enters an cheap-looking hotel in Berlin (in a From Russia With Love fashion). The music is what gives identity to the film and it's different to what Barry did for Palmer or Bond, with more hypnotic tunes and less percussion.

Then comes the protagonist, a very good performance of George Seagal. Unlike Bond's sartorial taste, Quiller uses the same clothes over and over in the film: a single breasted grey suit with a crimson tie, changing only to a very similar brown suit for the very last scene. Quiller refuses to use weapons, since he thinks it would be easier to be captured if he is spotted carrying one. Another good performance is given by the charismatic Max Von Sydow, whose Oktober is filled of charm and menace and -without recurring to violence to much- he can put our hero in a tight spot. Alec Guinnes makes a welcome performance as the stone-faced leader of the British intelligence, who appears rather cold towards the dangers Quiller has to face, and Senta Berger provides the beauty and fragility needed to make the protagonist fall for her.

In the end, The Quiller Memorandum is an enjoyable spy movie with not much action scenes but filled of suspenseful moments that succeeds in engaging the hard spy thrillers afficionados, where a hero can chase or evade his enemies with wits and bare hands.

Nicolás Suszczyk