Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Retrospective of the Year and What's Ahead in 2014

Titles from all of the James Bond films produced by Eon Productions
I love looking at all of the titles from the Eon Production James Bond films above. Just about every title I look at I can "hear" the associated theme song. It's hard to pick a favourite but I think I might have to go with Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name" from Casino Royale (2006) in part for Cornell's vocals and lyrics (co-written by David Arnold) as much as the clean, smart looking visuals associated with the song that took a decidedly different approach from the scantily clad and nude women of many of the other songs. Let's have a look at the video:

I do have a soft spot for Paul McCartney and Wings' Live and Let Die (1973) theme song by the same name as well as A-ha's The Living Daylights (1987) theme song. However, if taking an entire film's soundtrack into consideration, my choice has to be On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). Having just rewatched this film in the past few months, I was struck by how stirring the music was - the symphonic sound of the opening theme song is epic and resonates throughout the movie. The pinnacle remains for me the heart wrenching gravel voice of Louis Armstrong belt out "We Have All the Time in the World."

I guess my year here at Spyfi & Superspies took off after I returned from my yearly trek to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association's annual conference in which I secured a book deal to edit together an anthology of essays analyzing the impact of James Bond on popular culture. Progress is being made in that arena towards a completed manuscript next spring. I also started writing blogs on a semi-regular basis with some months better represented than others.

Just for fun, I looked back at my top five posts in 2013:

#5 - Tuesday, May 21st: James Bond in the Cinema by John Brosnan (1972)

I'll be honest, I was a little surprised that this garnered that much interest!

#4 - Tuesday, May 14th: Inside The Secret Service - Part 2 of 2

A fascinating look at Mark Millar's take on the spy tropes in his comic book series.

#3 - Sunday, June 30th: Nods to Bond Where You Least Expect, Part I

The nods are everywhere, especially when the James Bond franchise is celebrating 50 years on film!

#2 - Sunday, October 6th: Recap of Bond Reunion Collector's Show in Los Angeles

I'll be honest, Taschen was a big boost here because they posted a link to this blog post. Thank you Taschen -- fantastic books too!

And at the top spot, by a landslide I might add:

Thursday, May 30th: License to Kill (2010) from SPECTRA*Paris

A HUGE thank you to Elena Alice Fossi, the creative genius and beauty behind SPECTRA*Paris. She shared my blog post with all of her friends and A LOT of her friends stopped by!

Avenues blossomed as the year progressed and provided me opportunities to contribute articles and photographs of popular culture events in my locale with online publishers that included Bleeding Cool, Fanboy Comics, and The Comics Beat. In fact, as the year draws to a close, I have become a West Coast Correspondent for Bleeding Cool, and I am anxious to cover my usual comic con haunts and hopefully, a few new ones as well.

In 2014, I am already preparing articles that I'll be posting here in the coming weeks that will include reviews and analysis of spy/espionage shows, movies, comics, video games, and merchandise such as toys and spy gear (yeah, really!). I'm also planning a trip to the Ronald Reagan Library in the very near future where the "Spy: The Secret World of Espionage" is currently on exhibition through March 9, 2014.

Well, I'm sure I've probably missed something, but that's the magic of editing [wink], I can go back and add it in later. Anyway, it is hard to believe that 2013 is coming to a close in a few short hours here in bright and the mildly warm climate that is Southern California. I hope you have enjoyed reading my posts throughout 2013. I hope you'll bookmark my blog and stop by every so often in 2014.

Always tops in my books:
Max von Sydow in Never Say Never Again with the scene stealing kitty! 

Wishing all of my Spyfi & Superspies readers a fond and joyous New Year! 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Total Film, December 2013

Total Film, December 2013 (Issue #213)
I purchased the December issue (#213) of Total Film this past week because of a short article on the upcoming series, Fleming, starring Dominic Cooper. The four part Bio-drama places Ian Fleming in World War II London at the time of his recruiting into Naval Intelligence. The series will broadcast next month on Sky Atlantic (UK) and BBC America (US).
As I perused the rest of the magazine, I came across two additional articles of Spyfi & Superspies interest. The first one reported on a "first look" at the rebooted 1960s American television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. currently filming in Rome under the directorial vision of Guy Ritchie (Snatch and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels). Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) and Arnie Hammer (The Lone Ranger) star as agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin originally made famous by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum respectively. The film is set in the 1960s and does not have a release date as yet.

Villain regular Javier Bardem was featured in a lengthy interview to discuss his role in The Counsellor directed by Ridley Scott. Naturally, Bardem's role of the villainous Silva in Skyfall came up when he was asked about how he balances his characters so they don't come off to the viewer as over the top. Of course the suggestive dialogue and touch Silva engages in with Bond at their first meeting was brought up. Here is an excerpt from page 114:

Film Interview: Talking of Silva, was it your idea that he should flirt with Bond and rub his thigh?

Bardem: It was there on the page but it was not really there. Sam and I got together. He said, "Did you read that thing, that possibility?" and I said, "I fucking love that possibility." He said, "I agree, so let's work in that direction and see what comes."

FI: It was brave of Daniel Craig to go along with it....

Bardem: The brave part of that scene was James Bond saying, "Who told you it was my first time?" That's a brave line, and a fucking great line. Whether it's true or not, who cares? Bond is Bond because he knows how to fight the enemy, and the only way to fight Silva is with that line. It dismantles him.

Photo from Google Images

Bardem was then asked if it was true he had been offered the role of Renard in The World Is Not Enough that would be portrayed by Robert Carlyle. Bardem could not recall if that was the role or not but he did express that it was not the right time for him, not until he he was offered Silva. Personally, I think that Silva was the better choice for Bardem because it was a more complex character to get inside of -- it was the role to showcase Bardem's acting skills and innate ability to physically embody a character as well.

And, what was the first Bond film that Bardem saw? It was Roger Moore's Moonraker (1979), which just so happened to feature his favorite Bond villain: Richard Kiel's Jaws.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

After The Dust Has Settled...Post Comikaze

I believe the dust has finally settled after attending Comikaze in Los Angeles November 1-3, 2013. Commute time and longer show hours than typical of comic cons made for three long days and then with writing up articles into the wee hours of the morning, I'll be honest, I couldn't wait for the opportunity to recoup lost sleep! 

Shot of the floor (sorry for window glare)
In its third year and anticipating 70,000 attendees, the organizers extended the event into three days this year and pushed it back from its earlier date last year of mid September. In addition, it seemed like the show hours were longer, usually opening at 9 AM and closing at 8 PM (6PM on Sunday). While it provided more time to browse, and hopefully buy, a number of regular exhibitors that I talked with, were none too happy with the long hours. Although it was nice to walk around Friday amongst a smaller crowd, I personally didn't feel the numbers warranted tacking on Friday, because Sunday morning was just as quiet, if one was trying to avoid the Saturday crowds. And the extended hours would have been nicer if there was still some early evening light to enjoy as the show closed for the evening. 

Although Comikaze is trying to become the next San Diego International Comic Con, it's not there yet. Parking was a common complaint, especially for exhibitors trying to transport their wares to the show floor. One remedy would be to only allow exhibitors to park at the convention center parking lot. There's quite a bit of parking around the center. I parked probably five blocks away and paid $5 for the day. One of the other bigger problems was the layout and associated program map. The floor, as you can see in the above shot has zero banners for orienting oneself to familiar floor landmarks. Yes, there are the aisle banners, but those are often lost when trying to see past the crowds (I'm short, I cannot see over all the taller people!). And, the map in the program was squeezed onto one page. I was forever squinting to try to make out the booth numbers on the page. Seriously? Spread that map over two pages! 

One of the exhibitors, Paul Roman Martinez, creator of The Adventures of the 19XX series, wrote his experience as a vendor at the event. Please don't be daunted by the length: it's thought provoking and well-written. 

That said, there is potential with Comikaze and I hope that the organizers will listen thoughtfully, learn from their mistakes, and keep making improvements.

As promised, here's a recap of the articles I wrote for Bleeding Cool covering several aspects of the con: 

Yep, I attended my first ever Geek Fashion Show at a comic con! And you know what? It was a lot of fun. If you like Star Trek inspired cocktail dresses, printed full skirts with various pop culture references  and/or pop culture-themed corsets, this would have been the show for you! 

Count 'em - four special exhibits populated the show floor! I especially enjoyed the walk down video game memory lane, complete with an old yellow variegated sofa and console television! And of course, several arcade cabinets! 

A wealth of knowledge is to be had by attending the various panels presented over the three day event. Self-publishing has become a viable option for individuals in the recent past and this panel helped reveal the pitfalls and provide some pearls of wisdom along the way. 

This was a really fun article because I have a fascination with the clothing and the Victorian era it embodies. I attended one of the many panels on Steampunk and then checked out Steampunk Alley out on the show floor afterwards. 

A fascinating, intellectual panel discussion about just about every facet of this enigmatic comic book heroine, from how to define her, what her background is, to who should play her in upcoming movies. An hour was just not long enough! 

No con is complete without the cosplayers. I know that they have a tendency to attract the attention of potential purchases from exhibitors (but hopefully not often), but their creativity boosts the morals at these events. They are having a fun time and it boosts their confidence -- like the song says "Strike a Pose!" 

My "loot" from Comikaze - there's some spy gold in there! 
Whew! I did manage to find some time to prowl the various exhibitors for some spy oriented comics and graphic novels. Top Cow's Think Tank was a recommendation while standing in line for the con to open up Sunday morning and a stop at the Boom! Studios booth provided me 2 Guns and Imagine. And waiting in line for the floor to open each day did afford me some down time to finally start into Danger Girl from IDW. Created by J. Scott Campbell and Andy Hartnell, the deluxe trade paperback housed the original  series in all its colourful glory. Probably one of the closest stories to capture the excitement, danger, gadgets, and exotic locales that are the epitome of the James Bond movies, this is some fun (and good) stuff! And, it's a great place to start if you like spy and comics! 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween

It's late in the evening and no little secret agents with their play guns, martini glasses, and silk pillowcases came knocking at my door for "Trick or Treat" as I prepare for the next three days when I'll be off to Los Angeles to attend Stan Lee's 3rd annual Comikaze. I'll be there looking for spy genre oriented comic books, writers/artists, and anything else that might be of interest here -- maybe even some nods to Bond?? In addition, I'll be working as a freelance writer for a comic books/transmedia news blogsite. I'll be sharing those article links along with my own blog coverage in the coming days.

Reflecting back, October has been a rather busy month for me. The month started out by attending the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and Cthulhu Con in San Pedro, California in which I wrote an article for Fanboy Comics. The rest of the month has been taken up by my daytime job (got to pay the bills!), writing a couple of blogs (wish I had gotten a couple of more out - sorry about the lack of reading material this month), and managing submissions for my upcoming anthology focusing on the influence of James Bond on popular culture. Those essays are due tomorrow and I have quite a few of the essays already. Of course, I'm still working on my chapter -- expanding on my Spectra*Paris review of License to Kill. Anyway, I'll be in editing mode, along with two other assistants, for the rest of the year. 

And, I have a conference to prepare for and thankfully, the call for presentation proposals has been extended to November 15th for the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association’s annual conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico next February. I cannot emphasis enough what an excellent opportunity this is to present to like minded pop culture scholars. For more details, have a look at my CFP and to see what the conference is all about, take a look the SWPCA website. 

October has also been a good month for all things spy related. Back on the 8th, for us Yanks, the new James Bond novel Solo penned by William Boyd was released (I still need to order it!). Both Pierce Brosnan and Jason Statham (maybe) will star in spy movies. Some great Archer humor punctuated the month with a youtube video that was in the danger zone. And in comic books, Ed Brubaker (Fatale) has a new series out titled Velvet that is awesome and I'll be reviewing shortly. Codename Action, Brain Boy, and Zero all have second issues out in your local comic book shop. There is much reading and reviewing in the weeks ahead, so please stop back by. Thanks! 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Nods to Bond Where You Least Expect, Part II

The nods are back for a second installment as promised here. Although I’ve been keeping a running list, after encountering two in less than one week, I knew it was time to post part two.

Total Party Kill (2013, Short Horror Film)
Now who would have thought a reference to James Bond would be found in a short horror film inspired by the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu? While attending the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival & Cthulhu Con the last weekend of September in San Pedro, California, one of the short films shown had a gem of a Bond reference. Total Party Kill is about a group of friends sitting around the dining room table engaged in the role playing game Call of Cthulhu when the game takes a decidedly turn into the realm of reality. Now, I’ve played Call of Cthulhu a couple of times and while there are hit points, similar to Dungeons and Dragons, there are also sanity points that players track. The sanity points drop every time the player encounters unexplained Lovecraftian creatures and events. With that in mind, in the film, the game master asked one of the characters to do a sanity check. He does and responds that his sanity is “shaken, not stirred.”

Have a look at David Milano’s first short film Total Party Kill that was one of fourteen short films included in the Official Selection at the film festival. 

And as a Fanboy Comics guest contributor, here’s an article I wrote about the event as well as my photographs: San Pedro Falls Under Cthulhu’s Spell

The Vampire Diaries (2012-2013, Television Series)
When I’m not researching or writing about spies, I’m usually catching up with one of my guilty pleasures: the world of vampirism. I love the mythos and have been an avid fan from the days of reading Anne Rice novels way back when. Naturally, The Vampire Diaries is on my radar and I collect each season on DVD when it comes out since I don’t watch television. Season four came out recently and I managed to snag it on a pretty sweet sale. I have been devouring the episodes like they were chocolate! I think it was during season three that I noticed that some of the episode titles were lifted from other well known popular culture references such as television show names, famous sayings, song titles, and of course movie titles. It was inevitable that at some point, Bond would come up and sure enough, episode 12 was titled A View To A Kill a reference to Roger Moore’s last outing as James Bond in 1985.

Take a look at the rest of The Vampire Diaries pop cultural references in this wiki entry analyzing episode titles.  

Gone Home (2013, Video Game)
Do you find yourself skewing your head sideways when you get a glimpse of a shelf in a panning shot during a television show, movie or a picture, trying to quickly read and recognize spines of books, games, and movies? I know I do and game trailer reviews are no exception. Gone Home is a first-person interactive story set in Oregon during the mid 1990s. After spending a year abroad, Kaitlin returns to an empty home and a note from her sister telling her not to try to find answers to her family’s disappearance (Yeah right! That warning will go unheeded!). In one review, there’s a pan across a couple of the shelves and bam – there’s a double feature on a VHS tape of Airplane & Moonraker, another Roger Moore era Bond film. Glad the game developer put together two aerospace films!   

Hello 90s! A double feature somewhere in the distant past

Curious about the rest of the game? Have a look here for the entire review by GameTrailers.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell (2004, Literature)
The world of espionage lost a creative spirit last week: Tom Clancy past away from a brief illness at the age of 66. Clancy’s writings focused heavily on the espionage genre – creating gritty, realistic tense-ridden covert operations in his books – during the Cold War years and beyond. He created Jack Ryan’s universe, and then Alec Baldwin brilliantly brought Ryan to life in The Hunt for Red October (1990). I assumed that Clancy had also written Sam Fisher and his Splinter Cell world, however I was mistaken. Back in 2002, Clancy endorsed game developer Ubisoft for the first Splinter Cell videogame to all of the major console systems at the time. Lending his distinctive gravelly voice that would become a trademark for the franchise, Canadian actor Michael Ironside voiced Sam Fisher, the series’ ongoing protagonist.

In 2004, Ubisoft released their follow up, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. The same year, Raymond Benson, American writer of James Bond novels from 1997 through 2003, took on the pseudonym David Michaels and penned Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, based on the videogame series by the same name. Benson wrote a second book for the series, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Operation Barracuda the following year. Although the series continued under the same pseudonym, a new author was hired to replace Benson. This may not be a real nod to Bond, but it is an interesting tie between two successful franchises, and the two central genres that inspire spyfi and superspies.

Image from Wikipedia

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Recap of Bond Reunion Collector's Show in Los Angeles

It was the quite the crowd yesterday at the Hollywood Collector’s Show at the Los Angeles Westin near LAX. My boyfriend and I arrived about a half-hour after the show opened (or 90 minutes after the early bird opening at 9 o’clock). The Baywatch reunion was assembled in the hallway off the ballroom where most of the celebrities were congregated. As we entered, we passed the long queue already waiting to meet David Hasselhoff. Another long line out one of the ballroom doors led to Bo Derek and once inside, we saw another line of fans waiting for Joan Collins. Fortunately for us, the lines for the various Bond stars had not really started yet, but by early afternoon when we left, it was elbow to elbow down each aisle. Many fans were overburdened with oversized movie posters, books with post-it notes sticking out from the pages, and there were a few ardent collectors with wheeled suitcases!

Photo op: me, my boyfriend and the bewitching Caroline Munro

 There were a handful of vendors in the ballroom with all sorts of collectables on sale lining their tables and huge posters hung from the perimeter of the room where most vendors were set up. As seasoned show attendees, we always take a turn of the room to see which celebrities made it and who cancelled. For this occasion as is typical, all of the Bond stars were together: George Lazenby and Richard Kiel headed up at the aisle end cap of tables. Shirley Eaton and Valerie were down one side next two show veterans Caroline Munro and Martine Beswick, who are thick as thieves. Rounding out that side were Tanya Roberts, Trina Parks, and Gloria Hendry. Britt Eklund led the other side of tables. Luciana Paluzzi was chatting with Mary Stavin and Kristina Wayborn, both who were new to the show. And, the show organizers delivered Michael Madsen, who has been a no show for each scheduled appearance over the past few years. Lana Wood was at the opposing end cap. With all these stars, the question was who to start with first?

Just before making the decision of who to will be the first celebrity to approach, I find myself tense and uncertain because I’m hoping for quick easy rapports to develop in the few minutes I will have with each star. While I have seldom run into a star that has been sour to being at the show (thank goodness!), sometimes a star is new to the circuit or is kind of shy, leading to hesitant pauses as either the fan or star takes the lead in the exchange. Or, sometimes, just as you get in front of the celebrity, some person shows up to monopolize their time, taking the attention and time you paid for when purchasing their autograph. And, of course, this happened as I stepped up to the table of my first star of the morning.

Long time in coming, but finally, Michael Madsen - yay!
Michael Madsen looked like he was straight out of Reservoir Dogs, minus the suit, but attired all in black, including his unkempt jet-black hair. Silver rings and tattoos adorned his hands; he had the total bad boy image going on. Mr. Madsen seemed intrigued by my James Bond Archives book, as I opened up the huge book and the pages fanned out before him. I offered him to have a look through the pages of Die Another Day before returning to the title pages for that film where I figured he could sign since there wasn’t a picture of him from the movie included in the book. (I am always a bit worried, especially if the star had a major role but was relegated to one rather small picture in the corner of a page. Sadly, this happened to Tanya Roberts.) I always ask for the autograph to be personalized, which he did, but due to a wannabe-VIP who decided to make Mr. Madsen guess which three films they had been in together (it sounded like the guy had been a stuntman?), Mr. Madsen misspelled my name. I didn’t say anything though because it happens sometimes. I really wanted to wait for wannabe to get through his twenty questions, but my exchange was already in motion. But in this case, there was a silver lining: as Mr. Madsen finished signing his name, he said that since the book didn’t have a photo of him, he tucked one of his stills from Reservoir Dogs into my book. I thought that was very kind and generous of him to do and kindly thanked him.

Luciana Paluzzi was just to Michael Madsen’s right and even though I already had her autograph in my book, we had brought a print of a photograph we had taken with her back in January for her to sign. The thing about Ms. Paluzzi is that she is a bright spot to any Bond reunion and it is not just because of her red hair. Still gorgeous 50 years on from Thunderball, she has a graceful demeanor sprinkled with a hint of shyness that is just so sweet. She mentioned she would not be traveling out for awhile after doing two shows in the same year (I believe she lives in Rome).

Taschen book provides insight to the Eaton's golden transformation
Next, cue Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger and images of a golden Shirley Eaton draped over the edge of a hotel bed in death is one of the most enduring icons of the Bond franchise. By the time we got to Ms. Eaton, the ballroom was buzzing with excitement as fans met and chatted with their favourite stars. My book had a fantastic two-page behind-the-scenes spread of setting up that famous shot, so it was the best place for her autograph. Her assistant cradled my book in his lap as she signed. I think they both mentioned the size and weight of the book, which was beginning to cause fatigue to my carrying arm – a twenty-pound (actually according to Amazon, it’s just shy of fifteen pounds of Bond goodness) book has a tendency to do that!

As hotel receptionist, Valerie Leon checks Bond in
Known for her work in the British Carry On series, Valerie Leon had an impressive array of stills and a rather slick banner advertising her past roles. I haven’t seen any of the Carry On films, but she did star in a Hammer film called Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) that looked interesting (I have a fondness for all things related to Egyptian antiquity) and she did have quite the costume! (Starring in Hammer films did seem to be a recurring theme for a number of the Bond women. I was kind of kicking myself for not taking my Marcus Hearn book The Art of Hammer: Posters from the Archive of Hammer Films along.) Out of the two Bond films, she picked The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) over Never Say Never Again (1983). In the former, she made a brief appearance as a hotel receptionist and in the latter, a fisherwoman who catches more than a fish one afternoon.

Magda's unwrapping departure was unique
Originally from Sweden, Kristina Wayborn was exquisite in her khaki outfit, complimenting her tanned skin and her blond locks were pulled up into a partial bun while the rest cascaded down her back. I think her beauty then and now would give just about any woman a run for their money and any man left babbling incoherently in a pool of drool, such as my boyfriend. Other than her role as Magda in Octopussy, she’s been in one other film, Forbidden Warrior (2004) and several one-off television episodes for a number of the popular American series. She was generous with her time with us, and my boyfriend floated in the clouds when he had his picture taken with her. He had a goofy smile on his face the rest of the day!

The flag marks the spot where Stavin's Kimberly Jones awaits Bond
As I mentioned above, I feel awkward when I meet a Bond star and the book photo of them isn’t flattering or worse, there isn’t a photo at all. If money were no object, I would buy a still, get it autographed, and tuck it in my book. However, in my experience so far at the shows, I have noticed that it seems that being involved with Bond, even a small part, is cherished and an honor. Mary Stavin was an Octopussy girl, then agent Kimberly Jones in the opening sequence of A View to a Kill. Seriously, the photo is of her white sub breaking the icy surface, but she still liked the photo and autographed the opposing page.

Beswick sizzles in Thunderball promo
Martine Beswick (also associated with Hammer films) had returned from some nefarious adventure with Caroline Munro by the time we finished over at Mary Stavin’s table. It was the last autograph of the day and although there were a couple of photos of her fight in From Russia With Love, I picked out the two-page spread spotlighting a photo shoot for Thunderball promos. Ms. Beswick was at the 2009 Bond reunion, so we had met her before. My impression each time is that she seems like the type of person that you could have a good laugh with and has been a willing partner (or instigator) in some devious plan a time or two (I should have asked Caroline Munro!). After getting her autograph, I got my photo with her. Sheer joy!

Photo op: me and the stunning Martine Beswick

Before we took off, I had my picture taken with George Lazenby since the one taken back in 2009 was kind of blurry – that’s the risk when asking a random stranger to take a picture with a camera whose digital display turns out to an image of misrepresentation! Mr. Lazenby is always the gentleman (it’s our third meeting) and indicated he was having a good weekend. He was never at a loss of company or charm – swoon.

Photo op: me and the always charming gentleman, George Lazenby

Rounding out the Bond reunion included Lana Wood, Trina Parks, Gloria Hendry, Tanya Roberts, and Richard Kiel – all were keeping very busy too. I had gotten their autographs in January, so I didn’t spend time at their tables this time. 

My collection of autographs was now up to 23 and I was already plotting who I might be able to secure in the future. There has been the odd Bond star at past shows such as David Hedison who played Felix Leiter twice – Live and Let Die and Licence to Kill – and Robert Dix, the agent killed during the funeral march in New Orleans. Timothy Dalton Bond Girl Virginia Hey has been to one of the shows a couple of years ago as well. And through the various Southern California Cons, I have had the pleasure of meeting long time stuntman extraordinaire Carl Giarfalio who played the warehouse guard who had an “eelectrified” death scene in Licence to Kill. I hope to see them all again and add their autographs to my book. All in all, a productive show! 


My book: Taschen’s The James Bond Archives edited by Paul Duncan.

A special thank you to my boyfriend who, as an early birthday present, purchased all of autographs and photo ops yesterday. Thanks to him, my autograph count is now up to 23!
While researching some of the facts for this post, I did across the tidbit that two Bond girls were featured in music videos with Englishman Adam Ant of Adam and the Ants back in the 1980s. Can you name them? No? Mary Stavin was in Adam Ant’s Ant Rap and Strip, while Caroline Munro was the secretary in Goody Two Shoes

Photo op: me and Caroline's beautiful daughter, Tami

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bond Signing Opportunity in Los Angeles This October

Cue the familiar James Bond theme, grab your memorabilia, and a wad of cash and head to Los Angeles Westin at the Los Angeles Airport for the opportunity to meet your favourite Bond girls, villainous henchmen, or even James Bond himself! Since most of us cannot afford the jaunt across the pond to the home of MI6, Eon Productions and Bondstars, the quarterly collector’s show being held Saturday and Sunday, October 5th and 6th (a preview of vendor merchandise is Friday evening from 6 to 9 PM), is hosting 50 years of Bond reunion. The show had a big reunion at the beginning of the year with almost 20 Bond stars and this time, there’s already fourteen stars scheduled to appear. Many on the list have been to the collector’s show before, but new this time are Shirley Eaton, Mary Stavin, Valerie Leon, Kristina Wayborn, and Michael Madsen (organizers have promised he will show this time!).

As of today, the following stars are scheduled. Check the collector website often since there's time for more individuals to be added before the show.
  • ·       Luciana Paluzzi – Fiona Volpe in Thunderball
  • ·       Britt Ekland – Mary Goodnight in The Man with the Golden Gun
  • ·       Caroline Munro – Naomi in The Spy Who Loved Me
  • ·       George Lazenby – James Bond from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  • ·       Lana Wood – Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever
  • ·       Martine Beswicke – Zara in From Russia with Love and Paula Caplan in Thunderball
  • ·       Mary Stavin – Octopussy girl in Octopussy and Kimberley Jones in A View to a Kill
  • ·       Shirley Eaton – Jill Masterson in Goldfinger
  • ·       Valerie Leon – Hotel Receptionist in The Spy Who Loved Me and Bahamas fisherwoman in Never Say Never Again
  • ·       Tanya Roberts – Stacey Sutton in A View to a Kill
  • ·       Kristina Wayborn – Magda in Octopussy
  • ·       Trina Parks – Thumper in Diamonds Are Forever
  • ·       Richard Kiel – Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker
  • ·       Michael Madsen – Damian Falco in Die Another Day

If This Is Your First Show

I have attended this collector’s show many times in the past and can say that this is wonderful opportunity for fans to meet their favourite Bond stars in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. In my experience, all of the Bond stars have been exceedingly gracious and kind, not rushing through the autograph to get your money and move on to the next person. Because of that, it’s important to have patience while others have their turn with the respective star. And, in return, be cognizant to not monopolize the star’s time since there are other fans behind you awaiting their own opportunity to chat with the stars.

On average, expect to spend $30 - $40 per autograph. Sometimes the photo op is included in the price, sometimes it is not. Stars who have done the collector shows in the past will typically have their prices posted and what’s included and what’s separate. Most will have 8 x 10 photos you can purchase and have autographed, or you can bring your own item, such as the coveted limited edition DVD, poster, lobby cards, etc. Plan ahead and bring enough cash with you. There may be ATM machines available at the hotel, but likely with a fee attached.

Sometimes there are maps printed up providing a layout of the stars’ tables, but as I have experienced, the organizers and the stars themselves, have moved tables. Sometimes there’s a sign indicating as much; sometimes there isn’t. Also, be aware that stars cancel at the last moment due to unforeseen circumstances. The organizers usually have a list posted, but if you are looking for a star and cannot find them, then ask – there are many volunteers that are ready and willing to help you.

TIPS: There are two. First, after you have paid your admission, walk around. Get a lay of the rooms and figure out where everyone is. Check prices and tally against your budget, if you are on one. See if there are any known no shows that impact your budget. Then, step up and meet the stars. Second, be respectful of their time (you know, all those other fans waiting behind you?) and personal space (which includes asking if they are okay with you putting your arm around their shoulder or waist during that photo op).

Have fun and if you see me – I’ll be toting my 20 lb. Taschen James Bond Archives book – take a moment to say hi and introduce yourself as I would love to meet fellow Spyfi & Superspies fans!

The Who, What, Where, and When

Location: The Westin Los Angeles Airport, 5400 West Century Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90045.
Friday, October 4th:  Advanced Preview (check out the vendors at your leisure!) 6 to 9 PM
Saturday, October 5th: 10 AM – 5 PM
Sunday, October 6th: 11 AM – 4 PM
Cost: Varies depending on day you are going and time; check website for pricing options
Parking: $7

If for some reason you are not there for the Bond stars, the show is also hosting a reunion of the following television shows: Baywatch, Dynasty, Knight Rider, and Knots Landing. And, there is a reunion of all the children from the award winning 1960s film The Sound of Music.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Codename Action (Comics, 2013)

Francavilla and Lee Covers (left to right) for Codename Action

This is an ongoing monthly review as each issue is released. This month I provide an overview, with more in depth analyze in subsequent months as the various stories are revealed. 

Out now on comic book shelves is the first issue of Codename Action, a toy franchise acquisitioned by Dynamite Entertainment earlier this year. If the title sounds vaguely familiar, then toy and comic fans may remember a 1960s character by the name of Captain Action, a creation by Stan Weston. Captain Action could take on the identity of his brethren – Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and many others. Costumes of the other heroes were sold for Captain Action and he became such a hit that DC published a comic based on him. (See Toys You Had website for images of the original Captain Action figurine and various superhero outfits. There is a Round 2 Captain Action line out which you may have seen at your local comic shop. )

The series opens with three intertwining stories in the first issue that link into the larger, main story arc. The first story pairs a young new agent (Operative 1001) with a Cold War veteran agent (Operative 5), who must work together to solve who is the master mind behind supplanting key world leaders with antagonist, hot-headed doppelgangers hell-bent on kicking off a conflict with global repercussions. Right off the in opening pages, the reader is introduced to Operative 1001 as he successfully traverses through a danger infested office building. It is soon revealed that it was an obstacle training course, a beginning similar to the opening scenes of From Russia With Love (1963) and Never Say Never Again (1983). Meanwhile in France, an all female air defense team (reminiscent of Pussy Galore and her team in Goldfinger, 1964) is just finishing up a mission when they receive orders to eliminate a Soviet threat in Egypt. They question the order because of the global implications of carrying it out, tipping the reader off that the French Prime Minister is a doppelganger. The reader is left to wonder if they will follow orders. And in the third story, America’s officially sanctioned superhero, who has the power to influence US policy decisions, holds a press conference in which he advocates diplomacy as a peaceful resolution rather than war. However, when the masked crusader arrives home, he discovers a doppelganger waiting to step into his place.

French Pilots in action

The concept of using doppelgangers is not a new one, especially to the spy/espionage genre and of course the Bond franchise. In Thunderball (1965) and Never Say Never Again, doppelgangers were incorporated in the storyline: French NATO pilot Francois Derval and USAF pilot Jack Petachi (this impersonator also undergoes a retinal operation) respectively. These two Bondian examples were characters with high level security clearance rather than heads of state as in Codename Action, but they still had coveted access to nuclear bombs. And, one must not forget that even the various Blofeld characters in Diamonds are Forever (1971) were doppelgangers of Bond’s ongoing nemesis.

Other Bond tropes exist in Codename Action. Although the villain or secret organization is unknown at present after issue one, we do have M (Director Flagg) and a gadget specialist referred to as Quartermaster. There are gadgets aplenty, from low tech to high tech. We are deep into Bondesque territory, but writer Chris Roberson, who has written for several ongoing titles – Fables, House of Mystery, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Memorial from earlier this year - keeps the story fresh and readers looking forward to the next installment.

Lau uses white space to his advantage while Nunes colours and Bowland's lettering completes the page

Rounding out the Codename Action creative team: Jonathan Lau, Illustrator and Dynamite exclusive artist (Bionic Man, Green Hornet); Simon Bowland, Letterer; and Ivan Nunes, Colorist. Lau does a great job keeping the panels uncluttered and easy to follow. For example, the motion of a car chase and an aerial maneuver by the French pilots and parachutists is not stifled by too much detail, or alternatives, by not enough. Lau experiments with panel placement and size and is not afraid to incorporate white space to further the action on the page.  Bowland has a variety of dialogue types to contend with – television coverage, translation of an exchange in a foreign language, along with the typical dialogue of characters in the various scenes. He makes clear demarcations of the various dialogues via his lettering techniques that are clean and crisp. Nunes sticks with a palette of muted blues, greens, and browns that compliment Lau’s work beautifully and gives a serious undertone to the series.

Typical of Dynamite, they have offered up readers five “regular” cover styles from the some of the industry’s top artists including Francisco Francavilla (writer/artist of the recent noir series, The Black Beetle) and Jae Lee (cover artist of Stephen King’s Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born series). Francavilla and Jason Ullmeyer’s covers spotlight the agent story while Johnny Desjadins cover highlights the French pilots storyline. While at the moment, it would seem that Lee’s cover takes a decidedly sexy tone rather than focus on any of the storylines at all. In addition, Dynamite offered up exclusive, incentive, and ultra limited cover art for the few fortunate collectors out there.

Dynamite treats readers to several cover choices

Codename Action can be found at your local comic book shop for $3.99 and is a six-issue series from Dynamite.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Espionage Filmography, A Review

I recently picked up The Espionage Filmography: United States Releases, 1989-1999 during an online sale at the McFarland Publishers website since I had seen the book before, but hadn’t purchased it. Written by Paul Mavis, the oversized book has two indexes: cast list (70 pages) and crew list (40 pages), plus a two-page bibliography. There are 1,760 entries laid out alphabetically, starting with The Abductors (1957) and ending with Zotz! (1962). Each movie includes year of release, alternate titles, running time, format, cast and crew, distributor, brief synopsis, and comments by the author, which might include a quote of a review at the time of the release. While the book’s title indicates releases for the United States only, if a foreign film had a release in the US, it was included. For example, we tend to forget that the Bond films are foreign, but all of them are given their due in Mavis’ book. It also accounts for why there are so few Eurospy films included in the book. Seasoned with a light hand are good quality black and white photographs of movie posters, lobby cards and stills.

According to his bibliography, Mavis relied on the American Film Institute’s catalogue for much of his list, which accounts for some gaps in the movies listed. For instance, prolific director Doris Wishman’s Double Agent 73 starring is one such gap. And in one review comment on Amazon, early films that films shorter than five reels (the pre-1920 films) would have not been in the AFI catalogue, so consequently are not in this book. I think a chronological listing would have been helpful for connecting trends in the genre and general comparative studies. Also, since Mavis cast a wide net for films – he included some unexpected agencies such as the Post Master, Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Justice – a list of films by agency portrayed would have been fascinating. Hence, a real missed opportunity to dissect the genre in a new way.

I found the comments were helpful when they included reviews and/or analysis at the time of the release, mostly because the quotes provide a quick glimpse of historical context. I think this is the book’s strength, well, if that is where your research and interest takes you. The author’s personal comments were interesting from an anecdotal standpoint, but at times, they were too brief and of no substance. For example, the 1970 Sabra explored an Arab investigator’s unorthodox torturous relationship with an Israeli spy sounds fascinating and unique, but Mavis’ comment is too brisk and dismissive.

Keeping a book current is very difficult when it is a filmography. However, at the risk of dating the book with ever changing availability (I’m thinking grind house movies making a comeback from obscurity after the release of Planet Terror), missing from each entry was whether the movie was readily available on DVD, VHS, or via streaming. This is a feature that Blake and Deal included in their book The Eurospy Guide (2004, Luminary Press) and they included comments on the format quality, which was helpful when I was trying to find copies of particular films.

Of course, those items aside, it does come down to deciding whether to spend forty bucks on materials that you can find through searches on IMDB, Wikipedia or the American Film Institute. For the spy and espionage enthusiast (or completionist), this book belongs in your personal library, but if you are counting your pennies and you have the extra time, do the research online.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Numbers Station (2013, Film)

The Numbers Station opens with two men parked on a darkened street in present day Jackson, New Jersey. The driver, an older man named Grey (Liam Cunningham), is relating the mineral worth of humans – less than five dollars – while the passenger is focused on his small black notebook writing a series of numbers down, circling some of the digits while referencing a separate printed page of numbers. Emerson (John Cusack), the decoder, acknowledges he has received his mission directive, lights the page on fire and tosses it out the window. Grey gives him 10 minutes to complete his task. Thus begins this suspense-driven thriller that follows Emerson's fall from grace within the CIA's Black Ops organization when he fails to kill an innocent bystander who witnessed him cleaning up a hit, causing him to spiral into a psychological journey to discover his answer to “why” through the rest of the film.

Emerson (John Cusack) has a lot on his mind

Emerson is given one more chance to prove his worth with what should be a straightforward babysitting mission. In an off-the-radar bunker located somewhere in rural Suffolk, England, Emerson protects a civilian codes operator, Katherine (Malin Akerman), who broadcasts shortwave messages encrypted in a series of apparent random numbers. However, Emerson’s mental and emotional state after the last hit has followed him; on his off duty hours, he drinks to block out images of the witness’ death. After two months pass without incident, Emerson and Katherine are shot at as they await a switch off with the other team in the bunker. The bunker becomes a dangerous refuge as they try to unravel how the bunker became compromised during the prior team’s watch, and more importantly, how to reverse 15 suspect broadcasts that could be orders for nefarious activities. Emerson’s safety net, the organization’s operator, directs him to “retire” Katherine, putting him squarely in the same situation of being ordered to kill an innocent person. Feelings of extreme emotional conflict bubble to the surface for Emerson. This time, he must face his demons and reconcile who he is and what he believes in.

Emerson drinks himself into a stupor to find momentary peace

A Closer Look at The Numbers Station

The first and most rudimentary question when a clandestine agency is involved in the storyline is where the movie (television show, book, manga, et. al.) fits along the spy/espionage spectrum and others of its ilk. Because the genre is a conglomerate of varying degrees of spy and espionage and identifiers of genre can be and are often shared, it seems easier to talk in terms of one overarching genre, but I think that does a disservice to what is being analyzed. 

Based on prior exposure to the genre’s many offerings, let’s start by dividing the genre into soft spy-fi and hard spy-fi. The former is based in fantasy and the fantastical plots of world domination and/or complete destruction. Technology will usually be a prominent feature, typically in the capabilities of the gadgets and weapons brandished by secret agent/superspy and maniacal villain alike. Character development may be secondary to the mission as the main plot device to propel the story towards its conclusion. Examples of soft spy-fi would include the Bond and Eurospy films, Get Smart, Deux Ex, and Najica Blitz Tactics. The latter form is rooted in the realistic spy and espionage, with emphasis on technical aspects of the clandestine activities. The spy uses their ingenuity over gadgets on steroids; likely, they may only have a smart phone at their disposal to compliment their experience and training. A personal character flaw may become an important aspect to the story. Some examples would include The Quiller Memorandum, Enigma, MI-5, Burn Notice, 24, Splinter Cell, and novels by Ian Fleming, Edward Aarons and Stieg Larsson, to name but just a few. The lines are apt to blur when one takes on some of the characteristics of the other, leading them to fall more in the center of the spectrum than further away to one of the opposing points.

Mystery encryptions - can the key be found? 

So, where does this put The Numbers Station? This movie sits squarely in the hard spy-fi camp because it portrays a sense of realism to being a Black Ops agent for the CIA. Issued with a little black notebook and a gun, Emerson relies on his seasoned experience and training to get himself through the various issues he must face during the movie. Technical encryption expertise is explored in some detail from the viewpoint of coder (Katherine) and decoder (Emerson) when they must work together to figure out how to reverse the 15 encrypted codes broadcast. This narrative of sharing encryption expertise and problem solving is reminiscent of Tom and Hester in the 2001 Enigma (although neither one of them are spies: they worked for a clandestine British intelligence organization at Bletchley Park during World War II).

Psychologist: "We are sociopaths...it has all been distilled down to zeros and ones" 

The Numbers Station does spend a fair amount of time on exploring the character flaws of Emerson and briefly, Katherine, because it does weigh in on decisions made during the movie. After many years of being a “yes” man, Emerson begins to question the “why” when he botches his hit and he refuses to follow through on an order to kill a bystander. After the event, Emerson ia subjected to a psychological evaluation to examine what went wrong:

Emerson: She [the young woman who he refused to kill after she witnessed the hit] asked a very good question.

Psychologist: Which was?

Emerson: Why.

Psychologist: We are sociopaths. We’re vulnerable to qualms of conscience like anyone else. We face these decisions every day, and we vote up or down. Like everything else, it has all been distilled down to zeros and ones.

According the psychologist, decisions are black and white and seem to carry the same weight regardless if it is deciding which brand of soap to buy or whether to follow an order, even an order to take another person’s life. For Emerson, decisions do not distill down to a binary structure of one or the other; it’s a concept that he is forced to revisit a number of times.

At one point, Emerson and Katherine sharply point out each other’s shortcomings: he tells her she fits the coder’s profile of a college dropout, insecure, a possible victim of sexual abuse, and highly intelligent, and she responds that he is an arrogant person hating everyone and seeing everyone as a potential hit. He tells her she is close, but in actuality, he assesses himself with the following traits that led Emerson to reveal how the CIA was able to recruit him:

Emerson: I had a stable childhood but with an underlying desire to break free from control or authority. Restless. Sense of entitlement. Striking lack of empathy or compassion for other people….Recruited me straight out of college. Said it was the best opportunity I’d ever have. Told me I’d do special things, important things.

Katherine: But you’re worth more than that, what some bureaucrat wrote down on a piece of paper 20 years ago.

Emerson: All they’re talking about is what’s real. Reality. They know how to use it. They’re good at it.

While Katherine’s belief is that it is a job – hers and his – and that when the going gets rough, it’s as simple as walking away and doing something else. However, is it that simple? Tempers flare again and Emerson pushes Katherine to realize that although she is a civilian employee, she is still culpable for the part she plays within the organization. Her na├»ve patriotism and service to her country is not an excuse of innocence, claims Emerson in an angry outburst. As the anger subsides, each set to their respective tasks – Emerson to resolve the physical threat of the unknown assailant and Katherine to discover the password to the master encryptions so she can broadcast cancellation orders. 

Despite differences of opinion, Emerson and Katherine find code a common thread

After evaluating against the spy-fi spectrum, I look for any facets of the film that can be traced back to Bond’s sphere of influence on popular culture. Sometimes there are blatant homage instances to James Bond and other times, it may be subtle or none at all. In the case of The Numbers Station, Cusack’s Emerson is anything but Bond incarnate. Rather, his portrayal of a flawed Black Ops CIA agent is gritty and a pragmatic approach to the spy genre. Emerson toils away his evenings in tormented contemplation – haunted by his growing sense of morality, questioning his loyalty to the agency. He drinks to excess to dull the pain in the wee hours of the night, but the doubt remains and is at the forefront of his mind as he deals with the central crisis of the movie. Daniel Craig’s interpretation of Bond, especially while pretending to be dead after the opening sequence of Skyfall, one could find some parallels between the two characters. However, in the case of Emerson, he calls into question one’s blind allegiance, exploring and challenging the rules of engagement in the Jason Bourne series and hit man type films such as Wanted (2008) and The Replacement Killers (1998). Otherwise, Bond is no where to be seen or felt in this movie.

As an independent film, the use of one location – an old English bunker – for the vast majority of the movie is utilized to stretch a modest budget. Although the use of audio playback and visual flashbacks build a sense of suspense, there are other indie films that have utilized the single location to better advantage: Pontypool (2009), The Outpost (2008), and The Devil’s Rock (2011) come to mind. What works for The Numbers Station is the psychological component of two people, competently acted by Cusack and Akerman, having to pool their respective skills and knowledge and find trust with each other in spite of their character flaws. While Emerson is no Bond, he does add to the hard spy-fi offerings within the larger, ever evolving spy/espionage genre. 

Emerson deep in thought