Blu-Ray Review: Spione

Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou
Based on a Novel by: Thea von Harbou
Starring: Willy Fritsch, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Gerda Maurus, Fritz Rasp, Louis Ralph, Lupu Pick
Producer: Erich Pommer
Country: Germany
Running Time: 150 min
Year: 1928
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve had an excellent track record with Fritz Lang films (you can read my glowing review of Des Testament des Dr. Mabuse here). Admittedly, I’ve only seen a few, but each one has impressed me greatly. Metropolis introduced me to the wonders of silent cinema back when I was a teenager, M showed me that serial killer films were already in fine form back in the 30’s and, more recently, Des Testament des Dr. Mabuse proved that blockbuster sequels could be masterpieces. Eureka released Lang’s follow up to Metropolis, Spione (a.k.a. Spies), on DVD as part of their Masters of Cinema series back in 2005. I’d been very close to buying it in the past as it sounded like something I’d very much enjoy, but I’m glad I never took the plunge as now Eureka have upgraded the release as a dual format Blu-Ray and DVD set. I requested a review copy to see if it could match up to the other Lang films I’d seen and I’m pleased to report that it certainly did.

Spione is a spy thriller (if the English title didn’t make that obvious) with a labyrinthine plot. I won’t go into too much detail so as not to spoil things, but basically a spy ring headed by the evil Haghi (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is causing chaos at the government’s secret service. Important documents have been stolen, dignitaries have been assassinated and double agents are springing up all over the place. Next on Haghi’s list of crimes is to get his hands on a peace treaty to be signed between Japan and the UK, in the hope that he can use it to trigger another world war. The only man that can stop him is agent 326 (Willy Fritsch). Haghi is always one step ahead though and sends the cunning Russian spy Sonya (Gerda Maurus) to seduce him and lead him down a dark path. A spanner is put in the works however when Sonya and 326 fall in love.

Would you like to know more…?

Trailer: November Man

While this all looks kind of generic in the overly mined out super-spy genre and it also features both a former 007 (Pierce Brosnan) and Bond Girl (Olga Kurylenko) action-thriller November Man does have the great Roger Donaldson at the helm. This Aussie who started his career in New Zealand and launched the career of Sam Neill, has turned out so many diamonds in the rough, including 1977’s Sleeping Dogs, as well as Thirteen Days, The Bank Job, Thirteen Days, No Way Out, , White Sands, Cadillac Man, that I have about started losing count at this point.

Code named ‘The November Man’, Peter Devereaux (Brosnan) is a lethal and highly trained ex-CIA agent, who has been enjoying a quiet life in Switzerland. When Devereaux is lured out of retirement for one last mission, he must protect valuable witness (Kurylenko). He soon uncovers this assignment marks him a target of his former friend and CIA protégé David Mason.

Review: HAYWIRE

Welcome to January, folks – the month when studios tend to dump their dogs into the theatres. If you are not looking to play catch up on the pre-Christmas derby of Oscar hopefuls working their way to a wider release or partaking of the blockbusters deemed too ‘holiday’ for the summer season, you may be on the prowl for one of those buried gems of quality nestled amongst the Hollywood trash heap. Steven Soderbergh makes a solid case for the no-nonsense action thriller, and a bid for a few of your shekels, with Haywire. The film does nothing particularly novel. Another expendable super-spy chase slash revenge picture of which there were at least three of last year – Colombiana, Hanna and Ghost Protocol – and features neither an extravagance for expensive set-pieces nor the over-inflated high stakes. But what then separates this from last year, or a multitude of straight-to-video Jason Statham vehicles is this classic Roger Ebert bon mot, “It’s not what you do but how you do it,” which certainly applies here; even something that feels like this particular filmmaker could do in his sleep has such a precise polish and rhythm that not a second of this film feels superfluous. There are enough little touches and intangables to forgive Haywire for having nothing whatsoever to say other than Soderbergh knows his craft. The film is a walkthrough of all the things that director favours and have been showcased in his prolific c.v. The film knows to be lean and mean and is completely unpretentious about its execution.

Would you like to know more…?

James Bond January: “Dr. No”

Director: Terence Young (From Russia with Love, Thunderball)
Novel: Ian Fleming
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather
Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
Starring: Sean Connery, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, John Kitzmiller, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 110 min.


This is the first in a series of reviews that are part of the James Bond January blog-a-thon started at paragraphfilmreviews. Each day throughout the month a new review of each of the films in the 007 franchise by various bloggers, fans and critics. Enjoy!

As a child of the 80’s and 90’s I’m much more familiar with the more gadget driven Bond, popularized by Roger Moore and later more gimmickily and outlandishly from Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. Dr. No on the other hand, the first in the Bond empire and a first time watch for me, is much simpler; leaning dangerously close to simple detective story rather than a cloak and dagger, spy picture. Sure there’s some international intrigue and some exciting action moments, but more than half of the film is searching for clues, interviewing suspects and gathering information from the (almost bumbling) local law enforecment. Of course in retrospect, I suppose that all of the Bond films do this in some respects, but with Dr. No it feels much more straight forward and simplistic. I better understand now why Daniel Craig’s Bond (specifically Casino Royale) was touted as returning to the roots of the 007 franchsie.

Now that is not to say the Bond conventions are not present. Quite on the contrary. The femme fatales with inuendo names (Honey Ryder), the menacing henchmen, the not so surprising traitor and of course the mysterious evil genius with a unique character trait (in this case, super-human, robotic hands). Many of the things we expect 007 to say and do are all present here and with all of the ensuing entries in the franchise, they almost feel like cliche caricature traits at this point. Of course this isn’t a bad thing. This is what makes Bond one of the most beloved characters in cinematic history. Being the first film in the series, this is the picture that sets the tone and general style of the adventures and the tenets of the character for years to come.

Would you like to know more…?

Review: The American

 

Of all the visual metaphors for sexual tension, I am surprised that this one has not been done before (feel free to correct me if I am wrong): A woman slowly, but efficiently assembles a heavily caliber weapon, lingering on every pin and component, literally screwing them in. It is a moment of visual wit adrift in a sea of self-serious and meticulous construction. From the initial ultra-slow dissolve you can safely guess that a world-class photographer is at the helm of this film. The director is Anton Corbijn, the dutch photographer who defined much of the style of a diverse group of rock and roll acts (From U2 to Bjork) in Album art, magazine stills and music videos before moving into feature film territory with a biopic on Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. There is no denying that his new film, The American, is stunning to look at. From its icy space in Sweden to its cobble-stoned Italian village (Castel del Monte will surely get a boost in tourism after this) nestled in the mountains as well as the framing of some of the more beautiful human specimens on the planet there is a diligent respect for space and geography but it seems to eat away at everything else in the film. Compare The American to other art-genre pictures such as Le Samourai or Point Blank or The Limey – films that feature anti-heroes who have little in their lives but their professional details – and there is something distinctly lacking. Maybe I am missing something, but those former films seem to have something else on their plate beyond pure craftsmanship, whereas The American is all craft and no soul. It plays well enough while its on, but evacuates your brain the moment the end credits roll.
Would you like to know more…?

Travolta Playing a Badass? From Paris With Love Trailer

FromParisWithLoveOneSheetMy first introduction to Pierre Morel was with the high octane District B13. He followed it up with the laughable yet entertaining Taken and his work with my Favourite French Dude continues with his newest film, a buddy action film titled From Paris With Love.

Though it might be a titled after a Bond film, Morel’s film is nothing of the sort. There appear to be no mysteries, no drama, just lots of heart pounding action as Jonathan Rhys Meyers, a young employee in the office of the US Ambassador, teams up with an American spy, played by John Travolta, to save Paris from a terrorist attack.

It looks mindless, over the top and completely awesome and the fact that they’ve squeeze Meyers into a role in an action film tickles me silly. Yes, I’ll gladly hand over my $12. If it provides half the fun of either of Morel’s previous films, it’ll be well worth it.

From Paris With Love opens on February 5, 2010.

Trailer is tucked under the seat!

Would you like to know more…?

From Swedish Vampires to English Spies

Tomas AlfredsonLast year, director Tomas Alfredson worked his magic and brought to audiences one of, if not the best, vampire film in years. Let the Right One In was praised (for good reason) and much loved around these parts. The film didn’t just breathe new life into a genre which has recently lagged under the weight of the teen vampire craze, it did so while also introducing a talented visionary. Now it looks as though said man will be putting his stamp on a another genre which, to me, is a little stale: the spy thriller.

Empire has news that Alfredson has signed on to direct his first English language film and it happens to be an adaptation of a John le Carré spy novel: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. This isn’t the first time this particular story has seen life beyond the page. In the late 70s the BBC produced a version starring the one and only Alec Guinness and in the late 80s there was a radio play version of the story but this will be the first film adaptation and so far, it’s shaping up quite nicely. Aside from Alfredson the production also has Oscar nominated screenwriter Peter Morgan on board.

So what’s it all about? Empire explains it as:

Set in cold war London, Lisbon and behind the Iron Curtain, le Carré’s novel centers on the hunt to uncover the Russian spy at the heart of British Intelligence. The hunter, MI6 agent George Smiley, is a careworn but brilliant spy whose implacable drive leads him out of retirement and into the middle of a labyrinthine conspiracy.

There’s a whole lot more information on the novel on the wiki.

Spies aren’t usually my thing but this production has my full attention.

Cronenberg, Washington, Spies; Oh My!

David CronenbergIt’s clear that I’ve been out of the loop for a few days (sorry) because this would usually be headlining news around here but alas, better late than never and in this case, I divided on whether never may have been best.

I’ve liked David Cronenberg’s last few films (I’ll venture to say that I down right love Eastern Promises) but I’m not thrilled by the recent news that Cronenberg has signed on to adapt Robert Ludlum’s “The Matarese Circle”. The first book in the “Matarese Dynasty” series, it is the story of Brandon Scofield (an intelligence officer) and Vasili Taleniekov (a KGB agent) who end up working together to solve the riddle of the Matarese, an organization that has infiltrated all levels of society and politics. I’m sure it makes much more sense when you’ve read the novel but the wikipedia entry is a bit bare bones but it sounds to me like this is basic spy stuff though it has some resemblance to a few of the overarching themes in his past two films (powerful over reaching “secret” organizations, power struggles, control issues) and I can only imagine that Cronenberg will incorporate, however mildly, his fascination with body alteration/mutilation but I too can’t help but shake my head at the casting news that go along with the production announcement.

Denzel Washington has been slated to star in the film as Scofield, the American agent, and there is a bit of speculation as to who else may be cast in the film. The folks at /Film feel, not all that surprisingly, that recent Cronenberg favourite Viggo Mortensen could also join the cast though I also found some information over at CBC that Tom Cruise is in talks to star in the film, likely as the KGB agent. I assume that Cruise will forgo the Russian accent which could make for interesting back-story (or are we simply to pretend that he’s actually speaking in a Russian accent?)

Though on any given day I would probably be at least mildly interested in a Washington/Cruise pair up, the fact that they could end up together in a Cronenberg film is both exciting and disappointing. Who knows? Maybe this will be an out-of-the-ballpark hit but a piece of my heart agrees with Heather Buckley’s editorial and like her, I too will take him back as the master of “the New Flesh” but I haven’t given up. He hasn’t given me a reason to; at least not yet.

First Quantum of Solace Trailer

I‘m going to out myself as a huge and I mean huge James Bond fan. I’ve read several of the books but for me it is the movies that count. There has only been one Bond movie that I did not thoroughly enjoy and that is Thunderball. Yes, that means I even enjoyed the later Brosnon ones where technology got way out of hand and also the Roger Moore where humour got way out of hand. I know I’ve got a serious case of nostalgia going on and that I have a hard time recognizing what is wrong in each movie but so what everyone needs something they gush about.

So you can bet that I’m pretty damn happy about the new Quantum of Solace trailer that has just come out. I really enjoyed Casino Royale and I can now say that I really like the look of this new trailer. Daniel Craig may not be at the level of Connery yet but he sure is approaching it and after one or two more Bond movies he may very well become my favorite Bond.

You can also check out the Quantum of Solace trailer in High Definition at AOL