Friday, March 22, 2019

“I Used To Be a Spy”: Revisiting ‘Burn Notice’

Created by American screenwriter Matt Nix and broadcasted by USA Network, Burn Notice was a TV series with seven seasons running from June 2007 to September 2013. It followed the story of Michael Westen, a CIA agent played by Jeremy Donovan who is “burned” from the secret service in the middle of a mission in Nigeria. Miraculously surviving, he is dumped on his hometown Miami and under strict FBI surveillance. Out of a job, he spends his days helping people with problems like blackmail, kidnappings or robberies at the same time he follows the few leads on the organization that burned him.

Westen is assisted by his ex-girlfriend, former IRA operative Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) and his old friend Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), a former Navy SEAL member whose “origins” story was told in the 2011 TV film The Fall of Sam Axe. At the same time, Michael has to deal with his mother Madeleine (Sharon Gless) and his brother Nate (Seth Peterson), both at first strangers to his suspicious activities and job but later informally introduced to the spy business when a few things go awry. From season four onwards, Jesse Porter (Coby Bell), another CIA burned agent, also joins the team.

I came across Burn Notice back in 2007, yet I was unable to see all the episodes properly until very recently, where I watched all seasons in about a month. My memories on spotting it on TV were good enough to think the series deserved a full watch and I wasn’t disappointed at all now that I could finally go through it.

Burn Notice is highly attractive, innovative, funny and addictive during the first five seasons, with the latter two being so gritty and dramatic that at parts it looks like a different series. I’m not saying the six and seven seasons are bad, but there are quite a few things that make it repetitive, unnecessarily extended and the character of Michael Westen feels closer to an out-of-control disgraced operative, more akin to Jason Bourne than the sort of mix between Ethan Hunt and Simon Templar he was during the first seasons. Without getting into spoilers, there’s a nice nod in the very last chapter to the dialogues we hear in the introduction of every episode.

What I found fascinating was the leading character and the fact he uses spy and special ops techniques to be one step above the petty thieves, kidnappers or drug dealers threatening his clients or relatives. Most of the techniques have Westen getting the trust of his enemy, befriending him and then beating him in his own game – ending in their arrest or their death due to the given misdirection.

Jeffrey Donovan is a fantastic actor and it’s easy to sympathize with his character. Michael Westen isn’t as striking or stylish as James Bond or as determined as Ethan Hunt. His activity, tough, involves techniques used by many cinematic spies like the improvisation of guns and the impersonation of people from different nationalities, where Michael has to adopt the accent of a foreigner in the same way Val Kilmer did in the 1997 film adaptation of The Saint. This and the fact that he has a family (unlike Bond, Hunt, and Templar) generates a connection between the audience and the leading character, as well as his narration of different spy techniques throughout the episodes which felt to me as if he was giving us some basic lessons on how to be a spy. Top marks go to the research for these tidbits in every episode, which was very detailed.

The supporting cast is also very good, particularly the characters of Fiona and Sam and the incredible dynamic the trio have on the job in hand, dealing with last minute changes and having to improvise quickly to achieve their goals. This dynamic is sadly broken when Jesse Porter joins them, as the four tend to usually separate into two groups of two people, each of them handling either the “burn notice” business or solving the current client trouble. Sharon Gless also gives an effective performance as a chain-smoking mother who reprimands her son for “disappearing” plus other typical mother-and-son clichés which work very nicely at first give us the impression that even spies have domestic problems as everyone else.

While primarily set in Miami, later seasons move the actions to Washington and Central America, and the action scenes become more overdeveloped in the sense of a cinematic blockbuster: most of the sixth season has the team with a capture or kill warrant by the government, which detaches the story from the usual humoristic cloak-and-dagger techniques to more of a pure action production with recurring car chases and shootouts. Still, the series manages to attract and be completely addictive, and the 40 minutes of each episode flow in a very appealing way.

Despite the overloaded drama from the last two seasons, which is kind of a setback in comparison to the first ones, Burn Notice deserves a watch if you are a fan of the spy genre and enjoy a pinch of humor. The production makes great use of the usual secret agent clichés and while being very modern in terms of style and scripting they also have a room for escapism and entertainment from the old film and TV productions.

Nicolás Suszczyk

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

'I.G.I. - Origins' Announced!

Every glory has its beginnings. Every victory is achieved by climbing up the ropes and ladders. Every legend has its origins. And therefore comes the time those roots are explored.

Almost two decades after its last release, today the fans of the Project I.G.I. franchise can celebrate the announcement of the third entry in the series which Swedish video game studio Toadman Interactive is developing, aiming for a 2021 release.

I.G.I. - Origins takes us back in time when the organization was seeking its foundations to counter terrorism across the globe. When warlords and criminals were profiting off of civil and national unrest, protected by diplomatic immunity no law enforcement institution could've touched, someone had to step up to execute what others won't. No resources, no backup, an underfunded and nonexistent black ops unit was formed to prevent worldwide chaos before it is triggered.

Other than the reveal teaser trailer, we haven't been informed of much about the project other than its being in early development so far. The game was originally announced back in May 2017 as Project I.G.I.: We're Going In, five months after Artplant purchased the intellectual property from Square Enix.

Without revealing much, it was stated the title will feature "the freedom the series has become known for." However, as the current branding suggests, the game is set before the previous entries, serving as a prequel. The period piece wasn't specified by the reveal. But, it seemingly is set either during the 1970s or the early 1980s by the looks of it. Speculations are all over the place. Whether David Jones is going to be featured in the game or not, that is yet to be clarified.

While the project is said to include members who worked on the original two video games in the series, specifics aren't made yet on who's recurring and who isn't. The fans of Project I.G.I. for instance, highly expect the return of composer Kim M. Jensen who was instrumental in orchestrating the atmospheric soundtrack to the previous titles. But, those inclusions and exclusions are yet to be confirmed.

I.G.I. - Origins Reveal Trailer

For more information, visit the developer studio's official website here.

Thank you for reading. Feel free to discuss the topic below.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Aftertoughts on the 'The World Is Not Enough' Soundtrack

The day of 1999 when my grandmother bought me the soundtrack for The World Is Not Enough could have been somewhere on November or December, but it surely was before the release of the film in my country. I was nine years old and already a huge James Bond fan, having watched all (or most of all) the 007 films on VHS, and GoldenEye on TV and Tomorrow Never Dies on the cinema.

Back then my knowledge of James Bond wasn't big. I didn't even know who John Barry was and his important contribution to the music of the series. Also, I didn't even have a CD player or a PC. So the only option to listen to the soundtrack was going to the place of some of my relatives who had a PC or a CD player. The The World Is Not Enough soundtrack was the only CD I had back then besides the The Best of James Bond: 30th Anniversary Collection compilation which, being released in 1992, didn't reach the Pierce Brosnan era.

I remember that day fondly, I was extremely excited because I wasn't expecting to find it and it was a way to own a part of that new James Bond film, besides I heard parts of Garbage's main title song which I adored and, back then, we couldn't just pop into YouTube to listen to a song. You had to get the album, or wait until MTV shows the music video.

Now, as Renard says in the film, "with no more further interruption, let's proceed". I'll go track by track reflecting on the soundtrack. Mind you, I say "reflecting" and not "reviewing" because I'm not what you might call a music expert and I might be wrong when identifying the instruments used by composer David Arnold. So, it's gonna be more of an informal talk about the soundtrack. So, here we go...

Triptic booklet for the MCA Radioactive The World Is Not Enough CD soundtrack release

001. The World Is Not Enough (performed by Garbage, produced by Garbage and David Arnold, lyrics by Don Black) (3:55)
This is probably the best main title song of the Pierce Brosnan era: a versatile and catchy melody, haunting lyrics, and the great voice of Garbage's Shirley Manson. David Anold did a fantastic job composing this tune and the talent of Don Black needs no introduction. He always delivers what people want in the song he writes, in this case anticipating the evil nature of the victim-turned-villain Elektra King: "I know how to hurt, I know how to heal," the song begins. Fantastic. This song has aged quite well in these two decades.

002. Show Me The Money* (1:28) / 003. Come In 007, Your Time Is Up* (5:19)
Tracks two and three of the soundtrack are actually one, but for a reason split in two. Show Me The Money is, in the film, when Bond learns the briefcase he handed Sir Robert King is carrying a concealed explosive. Come In 007, Your Time Is Up contains the boat chase in the Thames River, with Bond on pursuit of the Cigar Girl. I personally think they shouldn't have divided it, let alone separating it during the James Bond Theme build-up (Bond stealing the Q Boat). I'd say that the Show Me The Money part is nothing out of this world, while Come In 007, Your Time Is Up kicks in with eleven powerful notes that derivate from the main title song or the Bond theme. All in all, there is better action tracks in other David Arnold or John Barry 007 soundtracks, but I don't want to remove merit for this one that fantastic during the boat chase.

004. Access Denied (1:33)
After the bombastic tracks two and three, David Arnold tones it down for track four. Access Denied is comprised of what probably are woodwind instruments and synthesizers. The music evokes a mood of mystery, investigation and sophistication with a little pinch of drama. Appropiate elements for the moment where 007 looks up information about Elektra King's kidnapping on the MI6 digital database.

005. M's Confession (1:32)
A dramatic track which is less consistent than Access Denied. It tries to stress on drama, on remembering something from the past, so probably the first word to associate with this music would be melancholy, a melancholy that is wiped out as Arnold introduces some modern synth sound that brings us back to the present. This is from the scene where M tells Bond how she advised Sir Robert King not to pay for Elektra's ransom in order to distract Renard and get a chance to kill him. To me, it's a fairly good track, but it lacks the panache and depth of the other ones.

006. Welcome To Baku (1:41)
And now, here comes the first awesome track of the soundtrack, which also contains characteristic bars of the main title song. As 007 drives his BMW Z8 trough the oil fields of Azerbaijan to meet Elektra, David Arnold gives us a melancholic and ethereal tune echoing the most identificative part of Garbage's song. In the film we have an orchestrated version, while in the soundtrack we also have an ethnic vocal by Natacha Atlas. Both are very good, altough I personally prefer the film version since I find Atlas' vocals a bit distracting. Anyway, this is the big peak of the soundtrack, the one that distinguishes it as a part of that film and it emphazises the Middle Eastern feeling of the story.

007. Casino (2:55)
This is the first track to use the music that characterizes Elektra King, which will be repeated often. Piano, trumpets and flute (I think) make up this adorable song which is sexy and melancholic at the same time. It may qualify as ambient music, in fact it is heard as Elektra King visits Valentin Zukovsky's casino L'Or Noir in Baku, but somehow it distinguishes itself from what you can label as source music because I feel this track has personality, is as if it's inviting us to relax, enjoy and feel a bit of nostalgia at the same time. It works that way with me, at least.

008. Ice Bandits (3:52)
We are back in action again with Ice Bandits. This track goes full techno and its notes again derivate from the main title song. It's catchy and adrenaline inducing, but no better than Come In 007, Your Time Is Up to me.

009. Elektra's Theme (2:06)
The Elektra motif is repeated again, this time in a soft piano version with a few wind instruments in the background. I like it very much, it's romantic but more dramatic and ten times more nostalgic than Casino, but not necessarily better. In fact, I consider it two-dimentional when comparing to the previous one, which I like best. Still, works beautifully for the scene when Bond intimates with Miss King.

010. Body Double (3:00)
Another mystery theme, much less nostalgic than Access Denied. This is for a espionage moment as Bond confronts Davidov and assumes his identity. While most of what we hear must be synthesizers, there are a few strings that make this one quite attractive. Arnold makes a good use of the qanun, a Middle Eastern instrument, for some notes. I adore the feeling of mystery with a touch of ethnical flavour.

011. Going Down - The Bunker (6:27)
This is perhaps my least liked track: too repetitive, a mash of techno sounds superimposing over each other. It starts good, with some suspense, but it gets wrong when it goes full techno and action. In the film, it had a James Bond Theme fanfare during the "Bond, James Bond" moment of this scene. Sadly, it was omitted from the soundtrack.

012. Pipeline (4:15)
This track is comprised of four notes repeated with different intensity, so it's very repetitive but still fantastic. One of the best of this soundtrack: totally catchy and appealing to suspense. The four note cue is accompained by another sound, probably some brass, that gives some direction to the melody until it reaches a spectacular closure. A huge improvement from Going Down - The Bunker.

013. Remember Pleasure (2:45)
Begins with the four notes of Pipeline and follows with a darker, more evil version of Elektra's Theme, perhaps to disclose what we see in the film which is her allegiance with Renard and their love story. I could describe it as a dark romantic theme slightly different to the original version, with some brass adding notes of suspense and cruelty. It's good, not the best of all, but good indeed.

014. Caviar Factory* (6:01)
This one is fantastic, particularly the first minute where Arnold goes full ethnic with Turkish flutes, qanun and other Balkanic sounds as the screen shows us the walkways of the Caspian Sea at night, where Bond confronts Zukovsky until they are surprised by deadly saw choppers and goons sent by Elektra and Renard. Then, the sound breaks with a five note fanfare to introduce us the danger 007, Christmas Jones and Zukovsky have to face. This melody is often intercut with a techno version of the James Bond Theme, which is nice, altough I would have preferred a less techno approach for that.

015. Torture Queen (2:22)
Very much in the vein of M's Confession, but with more darkness a than melancholy. It's a very dark theme for the moment where Elektra tortures Bond. It repeats sounds from the first minutes of Going Down - The Bunker and towards the end it makes use of the four notes from Pipeline. Wooden instruments are used for small percussions or a few distinctive sounds, but what hear the most is an approach to Elektra's Theme without precisely being Elektra's Theme. Nothing really special in this track, except for those few charactersitic sounds of Pipeline and Going Down - The Bunker.

016. I Never Miss (3:32)

We have an action tune again, this one handles brass, strings and piano for a little more than three minutes, with a slight techno feeling as action kicks in after a minute or so of build up. The build up comes as Elektra is about to kill Bond, Zukovsky comes to the rescue, gets killed and Bond gets himself free. Then we have a number of horns playing short sounds as 007 pursues Elektra to the top floor. As he kills her, we have the cue of her theme once again until we resume action, that is Bond jumping to the Bosphorus Sea to catch Renard's sub. This track is nothing special, similar to the last seconds of Pipeline and Going Down - The Bunker in a way, but I liked the Elektra rendition at the end.

017. Submarine* (10:19)

The longest track of the soundtrack covers, as the title implies, the climax at Renard's nuclear submarine. David Arnold takes elements from Pipeline and Caviar Factory, the most important cues of those tracks, and blends them with a mix of action and suspense troughout the 10 minute lenght of the track. Horns and synthesizers play an important role and the sound is a but similar to Going Down - The Bunker as well, but thankfully played at parts. It's overall very good and I liked the reuse of previously heard notes, but just like in Caviar Factory I didn't like the techno riff of the Bond Theme at the end. Could have been done less techno and it could have worked much better.

018. Christmas In Turkey (1:27)
The very last track from the movie is beautiful. A piano and a violin (I think) make up a beautiful composition for the very last scene when 007 and Dr. Jones celebrate, as the title says, Christmas day in Turkey. It's utterly melancholic, but at the same time sweet and definitively romantic. I feel like if this melody conceals the magic of Christmas Eve and love at the same time, that feeling of "the pain is gone, now you are with the girl celebrating", also a concealed "goodbye" to us from the film since this is what we last hear before the end credits in the last James Bond film before the new Millennium. Brilliant music here.

019. Only Myself To Blame** (performed by Scott Walker, produced by David Arnold, lyrics by Don Black) (3:37)
This is a vocal version of Elektra's Theme, although the orchestration is much closer to Casino with piano and brass. It was meant for the end titles but replaced for a new version of the James Bond Theme by David Arnold. The inception of this song what when lyricist Don Black felt that Elektra's Theme had a hidden song, and so he wrote it from the existentialist perspective of a man looking back at his love life and remembering an unique woman whose face he sees "from city to city" following him "round all over the place". This song is beautiful and striking as a standalone piece, but I think they did right in scrapping it out of the end titles because it wouldn't have fit the film as a whole or the happy ending between Bond and Christmas. However, I'm glad it made the soundtrack and it's a spiritual succesor of Louis Armstrong's We Have All The Time In The World from On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

020. Sweetest Coma Again*** (Japanese end title song - Performed by Luna Sea and DJ Krush, produced and arranged by Luna Sea) (5:10)
To attract a bigger audience for the film, in Japan the prints of The World Is Not Enough featured a Japanese song titled Sweetest Coma Again, performed by a national band known as Luna Sea and Tokio-born DJ Krush. A translation of the lyrics indicate that the song is related to the film indeed, dealing with a man left in "the sweetest" coma after loving a powerful and manipulative woman, apparently Elektra King. This song is indeed shocking for a James Bond film, particularly with that dance music feeling and the heavy techno melody. I can't really say I like it, but maybe people of Japan think differently. Perhaps a Japanese version of Garbage's song would have been more suitable.

*Contains portions of the James Bond Theme.
**Not heard in the film.
***Only in the Japanese edition of the soundtrack.

Enhanced CD Content (US Theatrical Trailer)
With the upswing of the personal computer era, the The World Is Not Enough CD soundtrack included a CD-ROM "enhanced" content. When you popped in the CD on your drive, the US Theatrical Trailer played in what is now a very low and pixelated quality. Nothing more than that. Watch here (in today's "good quality")

Left: cover artwork for the German edition of the The World Is Not Enough soundtrack, using the international artwork. Right: back cover for the Japanese CD soundtrack featuring Sweetest Coma Again, their exclusive end title song.

Unreleased Music

Some beautiful music for the film was sadly excluded of the CD release, altough two of them were available thanks to David Arnold trough his (now extinct) official web site for a while.

Snow Business (1:16)
It's so beautiful that its omission form the commercial score feels utterly painful. Horns, violins and bells emphasise the beautiful snowy mountains of the Caucasus as Bond and Elektra ski together. Very reminiscent to the beginning of the Ski Chase theme from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Listen here.

Kazakhstan (1:22)
Another good use of the main title tune in a more powerful and steadfast way than in Welcome To Baku, used for when Bond goes incognito to a nuclear facility installation in Kazakhstan. It begins with a pinch of suspense and exoticism and then the crescendo introduces us the melody of The World Is Not Enough with some horns and drums. Again, it should have been on the album. Listen here.

More Unreleased Music
Some of the music never saw the light outside the film itself, starting with the gunbarrel sound (same as Tomorrow Never Dies but slightly more techno). The escape from the Swiss fight and fight with Lachaise's bodyguards featured a cool orchestration of the James Bond Theme, much better than the other techno sounds that made into the soundtrack. My personal favourite is the one heard as Bond kisses Dr. Warmflash, which consists of a few piano notes of The World Is Not Enough with a synthesizer heard in the background. There are other omitted themes, too, an evil music introducing Renard at the Devil's Breath and a cue similar to Remember Pleasure as Renard arrives to Istanbul to reunite with Elektra. The James Bond Theme from the end credits was not released either, it's actually the trademark Bond music intercut with a small suite of music from the film, the cues we can hear in Come In 007, Your Time Is Up. Listen to this Bond theme version here.

Early track listing
It usually happens that the track listing change their titles since their announcement and The World Is Not Enough wasn't an exception. Here's the preliminary track listing for the Bond 19 soundtrack. One track is missing: Casino. Perhaps they decided to add it later. Anyway, I'll post the early track listing before it gets lost on the cyberspace.

  1. The World Is Not Enough (performed by Garbage)
  2. Show Me The Money
  3. Q Boat Chase
  4. Bonding At The Computer
  5. M's Confession
  6. Baku
  7. Ski Chase
  8. Elektra's Theme: The Bedroom
  9. Spying In Baku
  10. Going Down
  11. Pipeline
  12. M And Renard
  13. Caviar Factory
  14. Garotte
  15. Elektra Upstairs
  16. Submarine
  17. Christmas In Turkey
  18. Only Myself To Blame (performed by Scott Walker)

In retrospect, I see The World Is Not Enough as a fantastic album, perhaps my favourite from David Arnold. While Tomorrow Never Dies is very good and it's very Bondian without doubt, I feel like this one is a bit more exotic and the music fits the film perfectly. I would have preferred that Arnold avoided going too techno sometimes, notably in Going Down - The Bunker, but the romantic and "Bond goes to the mission" tracks have an unique feeling.  

Nicolás Suszczyk

UPDATE - November 23, 2018: La La Land Records has announced a 2 CD edition of this soundtrack complete with unreleased music and bonus tracks to be released on November 27, 2018. Check it out here.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

'Johnny English Strikes Again': A Bit Repetitive, But Nonetheless a Welcomed Return

Without doubt, any James Bond fan who also had a good laugh with Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean in the 1990s will adore the Johnny English trilogy. The first one, simply titled Johnny English, came in 2003 shortly after Die Another Day was released and with the same team of writers behind the 20th Bond adventure. It was funny, yet it felt a little weak and cheap at times. Much better was 2011's Johnny English Reborn, with a much more developed plot, bugdet and locations, plus the inclusion of a former Bond girl like Rosamund Pike. In that film, Atkinson went a bit further than just mocking 007 and added some Inspector Clouseau antics that made that film more richer.

So, what can we expect from Johnny English Strikes Again?

The third entry of the "greatest" MI7 spy played by Rowan Atkinson has the development of the second one, but the structure it's sadly very similar to the first one, and that's what disappoints a little. Like in the 2003 entry, the threat comes from someone who befriends an important person in the British Government (in this case, the despotic Prime Minister played by Emma Thompson) and wants to ridicule the country from the inside. It all sounds very much to John Malkovich's Pascal Sauvage, but here the villain has some links with Skyfall's Raoul Silva with his obsession of technology and data - which is the way he hacks into the British Secret Service and leaks the identity of every agent. This is what leads to MI7 to hire the retired Johnny English (now a Geography primary school teacher, secretly training kids as potential agents) once again with a number of former operatives in their eighties, two of them played by Charles Dance and Edward Fox.

To get the job done, English reunites with Bough (Ben Miller, who appeared in the first film) and heads to Antibes, from where the prime suspect has apparently initiated the hacking to MI7. As the attacks begin to become more and more frequent (one includes dealing with the London Eye), English thinks the best way to defeat this mysterious villain is to avoid the use of smartphones or any kind of 2.0 technology, which leads to incredibly funny situations.

This is perhaps the most positive point of the movie, the dealing with the old and new ways. How English tries to familiarize with the technology he trivializes and how that takes him to cause panic: for example, the brilliantly done the virtual reality scene where he ends up attacking innocent turists and citizens thinking he has infiltrated the enemy field.

Johnny English Strikes Again is overall funny, but the humour is a bit toned down in comparison to the previous entry. It lacks that punchy feeling Reborn had seven years ago. Also, there are too many parts dedicated to the Prime Minister and her troubles. Some scenes, also, are a bit over the top and predictable, particularly if you watched and remember well the first entry. And while Olga Kurylenko's character is fantastic (and she looks much prettier here than in any film before!), her relationship with Johnny feels a little bit rushed towards the end.

In the end, despite its small flaws, the return of Johnny English is more than welcome and we can always hope another one is coming in the next couple of years!

Nicolás Suszczyk

Thursday, September 20, 2018

'The Ipcress File': Revisiting the Winning Formula of a 1960s Spy Classic

A man wakes up to a noisy alarm clock at 8 am. He puts on his glasses to correct his myopia. Prepares some coffee, gets dressed in a decent-looking grey suit and takes a look at the horse racing results on the newspaper. He makes his bed, where he finds a cheap-looking diamond imitation necklace (perhaps from some “company” he had a while ago). As he tidies the sheets, a Mauser handgun can be seen hidden, which immediately makes us connect this urbane middle-class man with a man of danger.

This is the beginning of 1965’s The Ipcress File, directed by Sydney J Furie, produced by Harry Saltzman and starring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, the protagonist of the Len Deighton novel of the same name (although his identity remained anonymous in the source book). As we join Harry during a common pre-work breakfast session, the film’s credits are displayed and John Barry’s catchy theme tune (aptly titled “A Man Alone”) is played. A mix of jazzy trumpets and wind instruments feel like a strange mix of urbanity with mystery, two words that fit our leading man very well.

It appears a “brain drain” has been going on in Great Britain: physicists who disappear or leave the country in the peak of their career. Dr Radcliffe (Aubrey Richards) is the last name in the list of missing experts, so Colonel Ross (Guy Doleman) transfers the “insubordinate and insolent” Sergeant Palmer to an intelligence section dedicated to investigate the whereabouts of Radcliffe and the threat behind the missing physicists, led by one Major Dalby (Nigel Green). While Dalby has a preference for bureaucratic leg work, the disobedient Palmer prefers to tackle his sources and have a more direct approach to the job in hand.

More than five decades after its release, The Ipcress File continues to be a gem among the spy fiction world. It’s very representative of the 1960s but its influences can still reach relatively recent productions: the brainwash scene has been imitated in a chapter of 1988’s Noble House and some shots of the initial confrontation between James Bond and bent MI6 section chief Dryden in 2006’s Casino Royale were strongly inspired by this film, as director Martin Campbell said.

By the time this film was released, James Bond was at his high with the release of Thunderball, who made the character a popular myth. But while Bond was what every man wanted to be and couldn’t get to be, a man surrounded of the finest things and travelled to the most exotic places, Harry Palmer was almost his exact opposite: a man that we all could very well be, someone with a dull and rather monotonous life.  

We see Bond and we know he’ll win, we see Palmer and we doubt if he’ll reach that far: both Dalby and Ross have some contempt for his intelligence, however, he saves the day thanks to his ingenuity and improvisation when locked and brainwashed by the opposition.

Visually, the film is a masterpiece: cinematographer Otto Heller knows how to balance the colour palette (the visuals are colourful or desaturated when needed), take full advantage of the width of the lens and provide some clever shots of people who you barely payed attention is spying at the leading characters. John Barry’s soundtrack is among his finest albums ever released: the title tune is repeated often in different versions, although some tracks are filled of enigmatic cues for the scene Palmer is tortured by starving and imprisonment before he gets the Ipcress treatment.

Action is not abundant throughout the film, although there’s quite a lot of suspense and thrills as well as the minefield of treachery the somewhat innocuous Palmer has to go through, with both Ross and Dalby blaming (and framing) each other until his wits and reflex acts lead him to the truth. Much like he did for the Bond films, Peter Hunt’s editing is key to ensure an entertaining pace to the film and to show the key moments in a clever way -notice at the assassination of one of Palmer’s friends as he waits for the red traffic lights to turn green- or to give a faster pace to the many days where Palmer is captured, tortured and imprisoned in a place we are meant to believe is Albania – once again, a huge set by another Bond genious, Ken Adam.

Director Sidney J. Furie and screenwriters W. H. Canaway and James Doran delivered a fantastic film, a product that goes from an investigative story to an intricate spy movie filled of suspense and some humour when needed. The Ipcress File is a good testimony for a film where all the key elements of a movie are well blended and the goal is achieved with great success.

Nicolas Suszczyk

OFFICIAL BOND 25 NEWS: Cary Joji Fukunaga Directs, Release Date Set for February 2020

It was announced today by producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, with Daniel Craig, that True Detective's Cary Joji Fukunaga will direct the upcoming James Bond film after Danny Boyle's departure last August. The release date, originally set for a November 2019 release, will be delayed three months and is now set for 14 February 2020. 

“We are delighted to be working with Cary. His versatility and innovation make him an excellent choice for our next James Bond adventure,” said Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.

Daniel Craig will play James Bond for a fifth (and probably last) time. After screenwriter John Hodge departed the project with Boyle, it is understood that the film will be based on the original treatment penned by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, who have been in the series since 1999's The World Is Not Enough.

What else can be said? May James Bond be your funny Valentine this time, ladies!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

EON Productions: Bond's First Line of Defence

James Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli during a premiere for 2015's SPECTRE.

Oscar-winning British director Danny Boyle has left Bond 25. In a very short statement, EON Productions and Daniel Craig announced he was no longer directing the upcoming James Bond film due to "creative issues". For some, this is bad news. On the other hand, others are relieved.

While this may delay Bond 25's schedule a bit, there's something rather important to point out. There are some good news inside the bad news. This is the fact that this is the perfect example to prove how much producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli defend their franchise, the legacy of the great producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli (with Harry Saltzman during the first 12 years) and previously Ian Fleming, who created James Bond.

Since 2008, EON showed interest for auteur directors like Marc Forster and Sam Mendes, the first one helming Quantum of Solace that year and the second one behind Skyfall and SPECTRE in 2012 and 2015, respectively. Following this logic, in May this year Danny Boyle was announced as the director of Bond 25, with his long time collaborator John Hodge as screenwriter.

Boyle and Hodge had an apparently innovative idea, which EON liked enough to discard the original script penned by the regulars Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, present in the series since 1999's The World Is Not Enough. This way, the shooting was announced for December 2018 with Annapurna and Universal distributing the movie by November 2019.

The bomb was dropped last Monday when Boyle decided to leave the director chair empty. 

Depending on the time it takes them to find a new director, this could delay the November 2019 release date of the film. However, it is good to take into account that EON may have had another filmmakers shortlisted before going for Boyle. Plus, there's the possibility they re-hire Purvis and Wade and focus on their original idea. Back in July 2017, even before Daniel Craigannounced his return to the role, EON released a statement announcing November 2019 as Bond 25's release date and that Purvis and Wade were working on the script. In that case, they could reach that deadline after all.

But the good news inside the bad news is that this ordeal with Boyle's departure reaffirms the fortitude of producers Wilson and Broccoli and the zealous way in which they defend their James Bond saga, inherited from the legendary producer Albert R. Broccoli who, in 1962 with his then partner Harry Saltzman, knew how to build a solid cinematographic identity for the character: a pop-culture myth that has survived more than five decades, geopolitical changes, entire generations, globalization and many changes in the actors portraying the leading role.

Rumours and insiders point out that Boyle's departure was due to his insistence to cast Cold War actor Tomasz Kot as the leading villain, in his idea a Russian nemesis in a script based on a "modern-day Cold War". Apparently, Daniel Craig, who has a say in the casting, felt the Polish actor was "too left-field" for the role. Other sources point out that Barbara Broccoli was infuriated with Boyle bringing his whole crew for the movie, namely John Hodge who caused the forced departure of Purvis and Wade in favour of the Boyle/Hodge idea.

Following with more speculation, it's also probable that Boyle wanted to gamble too far with his style and the particular stamp every one of his movies has. We can see that in both Trainspotting movies, the drama Slumdug Millonaire and Trance to understand what that personal stamp is (narration, vocal song soundtrack, surrealism, etc). 

The origins of the big screen James Bond: Sean Connery surrounded by producers Albert R. Broccoli (left) and Harry Saltzman (far right) with author Ian Fleming (sitting).

The thing is we'll never know exactly what idea he proposed for the upcoming James Bond adventure, but probably he wanted an abrupt change, either in the artistic or story field. Other speculation point out the Russia angle as proposed by Boyle was a political gamble that could have gone too far. Remember that EON always wanted to avoid political feuds as much as possible to make everyone line up in Bond's side. This way, in 1963's From Russia With Love, SPECTRE replaced the Russians from the same novel as the main enemy. In You Only Live Twice, it's Blofeld the one who wants to frame Russia as the responsible part in hijacking an American space capsule to provoke World War Three, and in the 1980s we have the figure of the charming KGB leader General Gogol (Walter Gottell) who ended up joining the British to achieve world peace. 

Moreover, while Donald E. Westlake and Bruce Feirstein worked on treatments based on Hong Kong's handover to the Chinese in 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies, the plot veered to a multimedia tycoon trying to provoke a war between China and the United Kingdom to increase his ratings and the historical milestone was set apart, the main reason being that EON didn't want to dare a Bond film set on a very political event set the same year the movie was going to be released in case something went wrong with the ceremony.

Back to the artistic aspect, the producers made a mistake in letting Marc Forster take many artistic determinations with Quantum of Solace. Namely, the interpolation of a Tosca performance with a shootout between Bond and Greene's goons held at the same theatre complex in Austria. Something alike happens minutes before as 007 chases an MI6 traitor over the roofs of Siena, Italy, and the scene is intercut with the traditional Palio horse race taking place nearby.

Probably Boyle aimed something along these lines and it felt like too much for Bond, who has a very established formula and "dogmas" whom an audience wouldn't like to be touched. Sam Mendes, another drama director, avoided to impose his aesthetic seal too much on his two James Bond movies, yet in the line of his films, the story whirls around the protagonist recent or remote past.

Depending on the kind of director they end up choosing for Bond 25, we could say Wilson and Broccoli learnt from the mistakes of their past. But the most important thing to point out is that they still keep in mind the message "Cubby" Broccoli left them: "Don't screw it up. Everyone's going to try and mess with it".

With this determination, it's very clear that EON holds its legacy with a very firm hand and there's the certitude that the legacy they knew to build, inherit and hold is in capable hands, despite some occasional hit and miss.

"Cubby" Broccoli always insisted that in a James Bond movie, the star is always James Bond and no-one else. Therefore, when you make a James Bond movie, you are not making a Daniel Craig, John Hodge or Danny Boyle movie.

You are doing a James Bond movie.

Nicolás Suszczyk