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Posts Tagged ‘The Russia House’

We have been waiting a long time for a new James Bond movie.  Development began on No Time To Die all the way back in 2016, a few months after Spectre’s October 2015 release (itself delayed a couple of times).  Danny Boyle was originally attached to direct but left the project in 2018 due to creative differences.  Cary Joji Fukunaga was then hired.  Fukunaga worked with script writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade on a new story, the third script/story as Purvis and Wade’s (who had scripted all of Daniel Craig’s previous Bond movies) original idea had been scrapped when Boyle signed on to direct.  This caused the first significant delay with principal photography commencing in  late April 2019, four to five months after it was originally scheduled.  They wrapped around six months later with final pick-up shots taking place in December.  A month after the originally scheduled release date in November 2019.  The release date was immediately pushed to February 2020 when they announced Boyle’s departure, and then to April 2020 during production.  By February it was clear that COVID-19 wasn’t going away anytime soon, and On 4 March 2020, MGM and Eon Productions announced that the release was to be postponed again, this time until 12 November 2020.  Two further delays have been announced, first to  2 April 2021 and then to 8 October 2021, nearly two years after Danny Boyle’s film was scheduled for release. 

Over the past year I have read numerous stories and tweets from Bond Fans who are undertaking marathon re-watches of the whole Bond film series.  But what do you do when you have watched the movies so many times you can remember every Roger Moore quip,  or know just what time to go and put the kettle on t avoid having to watch Sheriff J.W. Pepper?  What are the other spy films to keep Bond fans entertained while they wait for No Time To Die?  Here are a few suggestions, some obvious, others less so:

North By Northwest (1959): Ian Fleming didn’t intend Dr. No to be the first Bond movie, it wasn’t even going to be based on one of his novels, it was going to be an original idea, that eventually became the basis for his eighth novel  Thunderball (yes you guessed it this was where the infamous Legal disputes started). Fleming wanted the Alfred Hitchcock to direct, but he declined as he had only just made a spy thriller and wanted to do something different.  The spy movie he had just made was North by Northwest, the something different turned out to be Psycho, and Thunderball is a great book so it didn’t turn out too bad, but just imagine a Hitchcock Bond movie! For those who don’t know, North By Northwest is my favourite Hitchcock, and one of my favourite movies.  Taken one of the directors well used tropes of “the wrong man” on the run, the film is absolute perfection.  It zips along with such ease and pace I am always staggered how long it is, the time flies by when you watch it. 

The Ipcress File (1965): Based on Len Deighton’s novel The IPCRESS File, despite sharing a producer with Bond, Harry Saltzman this is far from a Bond movie.  Like When Eight Bells Toll, it is intended to be more realistic than Bond, with its sneering look at bureaucracy  it is almost satirical at times.  But the real difference is the main character, Harry Palmer, played by Michael Caine.  Bond loves his job, or more to the point he loves the trappings of his job, his fancy suits, his Swiss Watch, fast cars, fancy hotels.  Harry Palmer is a reluctant spy, British army sergeant forcibly drafted into the security services to avoid a prison sentence! He just wants to do his time, and would like a pay rise.

When Eight Bells Toll (1971): Made with Bond audiences in mind, but with the intention of being more gritty and realistic.  Based on a novel of the same name by Alistair MacLean, British Treasury secret agent Phillip Calvert (Anthony Hopkins) investigates hijacking of cargo ships in the Irish Sea.  Intended as the first in a series around the time when the Bond franchise was rumoured to be in trouble following the departure of Sean Connery.  Further films never materialised, partly due to poor boxoffice numbers in America, and possibly due to Connery returning to Bond later the same year.  Not a classic, but good fun adventure movie, at 95 minutes it won’t outstay its welcome.  I would watch it over Diamonds Are Forever!

The Russia House (1990): I have largely avoided movies based on John le Carré novels here as they are a very different beast to Bond.  More thoughtful and realistic and lacking the action and adventure associated with Ian Fleming’s creation.  I am not including this as it has any of those elements, quite the opposite,  I have chosen it, because it stars Sean Connery, and he is excellent playing a very different part Bond.  

The Rock (1996): Hands down Michael Bay’s best movie low bar, I know but this is genuinely good! The third and final Sean Connery movie on the list, here, he plays a former British SAS captain and MI6 operative.  Some fans have suggested the character is Bond in all but name, but in a lot of ways he is more badass  than his Bond ever was.  The plot is unimportant filled with McGuffin’s and contrivances but the film is great fun, Connery and co star Nicolas Cage are excellent together. 

The Bourne Identity (2002): Probably the most obvious choice on the list, but an excellent one! Based on Robert Ludlum’s novel of the same name, this first film in the franchise is the only one to take any real plot from the novel series.  Directed by Doug Liman, and often overshadowed by Paul Greengrass who made a further three movies in the series.  My favourite of the Bourne movies, it has the best story and some great performances throughout.  It is also notable for the impact it had on Bond! Released in the summer of 2002, Die Another Day would have been in the can by this time, but it the next Bond movie, Casino Royale four years later was the closest the franchise has come to a reboot, and it was all the better for it. 

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006): If you want spoof of Bond and other spy movies of the genre it isn’t Austin Powers, it has to be Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, AKA OSS 117.  Both Jean Bruce’s OSS 117 spy novels and the first film adaptations of them predate  Ian Flemings Bond novels and EON’s adaptations of them.  I know nothing of the French novels or films beyond the fact there is a lot of them! However, in 2006 the character was re-imagined  by writer director Michel Hazanavicius and starring Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo (Hazanavicius’s wife).  You may recognise these names, they went on to make the multi Oscar winning The Artist (2011).  A parody of the genre, OSS117 is an idiot who a little like Inspector Clouseau solves cases by either luck, or other people doing it for him.  There was a sequel  OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2009), and a third film is due out this year OSS 117: Alerte rouge en Afrique noire (2021).

Atomic Blonde (2017): What if John Wick was a woman, and she was a spy? That is pretty much what Atomic Blonde is.  Directed by David Leitch who was an uncredited  co-director with Chad Stahelski on the first John Wick movie.  Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City; set in Berlin in 1989 in the last days of the Berlin wall, the plot is a typical find the McGuffin story, this time a list of double agents.  What sets the film apart from anything else, is the style, and breathtaking action.  Its like a Bond or any other film on this list stripped back and boiled down to its core elements.

Red Sparrow (2018): A fictional version of the real life use of “sexpionage” by the Soviet Union, and possibly Russia in the post soviet era.  A decent film with although it does over rely on the charisma of stars Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton.  Better than the movie I would recommend the trilogy of books (the movie was based on the first) written by Jason Matthews, a former Central Intelligence Agency Officer.  Matthews sadly passed away a few weeks ago, so these three books are his only books. 

Kingsman (2014): As much as I love the Craig era Bond movies, but to quote Harry Hart when asked if he likes spy movies “Nowadays, they’re all a little serious for my taste. But the old ones… marvellous. Give me a far-fetched theatrical plot any day.”  A truly silly film that manages to be a great spy movie and a great spoof of a spy movie at the same time! 

And finally, a few honourable mentions: Mission Impossible (1996–present): Tom Cruise’s movie series based on the 60’s TV show. Hanna (2011): Saoirse Ronan as a teenage assassin. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015): Guy Ritchie’s movie based on the 60’s TV show had decent reviews but failed to find an audience.  Its good fun id a little lightweight.  Inception (2010) More a high concept sci-fi heist movie than a spy movie, but there are a lot of elements reminiscent of classic Bond movies.  No Way Out (1987) A crime thriller set against a backdrop of espionage. Well worth watching if you haven’t already seen it.   

As infuriating as the delays to No Time To Die are, was the right thing to do, all I really want is to watch the movie in a cinema on the biggest screen I can find.

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