Sunsilk Promotion

Here’s a quick throwaway post – recently I came across these Sunsilk promotional packs for a new anti-frizz product.

The likenesses stay just on the generic side of lawsuit – I must admit, I can’t really see Bond in a purple suit, though – but maybe Daniel Craig could pull it off in the next film.

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Sleeper Cell

(2005 – 2006) – 18 Episodes
Country: United States
Created by Cyrus Voris, Ethan Reiff
Michael Ealy, Oded Fehr, Henri Lubatti, Alex Nesic, Blake Shields, Melissa Sagemiller
Guest Stars: James LeGros, Sonya Walger, Jay R. Ferguson, Jeff Mallare, Albert Hall
Music by Paul Haslinger and Gary Meister
Main title composed by Mike Greene

Sleeper Cell is an amazing television series. It slowly draws you in and by the end it has you firmly by the scruff of the neck. The remarkable thing is that this series just gets better with each episode. The characters are slowly exposed revealing their positive and negative traits. Yep, that’s right – their positive traits! These guys are real people. They are fleshed out. It would be easy to make a series about terrorists who are bad, evil men. But this show’s genius is to make a show about terrorists who are human. Sure, they do, or will do bad things, but they also show compassion for children and care for their loved ones very much. Maybe it’s this passion that drives them on.

The cast and the performances are outstanding. It’s easy to single out Michael Ealy’s performance as he is at the forefront of the series. In essence, he carries it on his broad shoulders, displaying a full range of complex emotions. It never hurts that he is a good looking guy with piercing green eyes.

Possibly even better looking and even more charming and charismatic is Oded Fehr as the head of the terrorist cell, Farik. Fehr’s performance is all the more chilling because he is so likable.

The most complex character is Tommy, portrayed by Blake Shields. The other characters all have their extreme reasons why they have chosen to live a life of jihad, but Tommy is a clean cut all-American boy. Why does he want to be a terrorist? Well part of it has to do with a problem dealing with authority. But deeper than that, his mother is an old school hippy, who used to protest for peace. In fact her quest for peace is so militant it has driven Tommy to the polar extreme.

The other members of the cell are Christian Aumont (Alex Nesic), who is a French skinhead, and the most repugnant character in the cell; and then there’s Ilija Korjenic (Henri Lubatti) who comes into his own in the second series.

Al-Fatiha, the initial episode of Sleeper Cell is a fantastic introduction to this series. From it’s cryptic opening, it drags you into a different world, where black and white don’t meet. In between there are many, many shades of grey.

The episode begins with in Lompoc Penitentiary, and a Muslim prisoner, Darwyn Al-Sayeed (Micheal Ealy) is about to be released. On his final day on the inside, the Librarian gives him the address of a contact on the outside. Unbeknownst to Darwyn, the address is a Jewish synagogue.
Once released, Darwyn goes to the address and is confronted by some angry Jews, who are affronted that Darwyn should have the audacity to enter their sanctum. One man in particular takes offence to Darwyn’s intrusion and chooses to take the argument outside. Expecting a fight, Darwyn is surprised to find that the aggressor is Faisal Al-Farik (Oded Fehr), a fellow Muslim who is posing as a Jew. It is all a cover, because Farik is the head of an Islamic Extremist terrorist cell and he is putting together a team of Holy Warriors to carry out a mission. Now, Darwyn isn’t immediately accepted. First he has to prove himself, and to do this he is teamed with Abdula Habib – known as ‘Bobby’ Habib. Bobby and Darwyn are given a mission to follow a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl and report her movements back to Farik.

They witness the girl, out of school hours, dressed in sleazy attire and dating a white American boy. After witnessing her behaviour they report the information to Farik – and Bobby invites Darwyn to his young daughter’s birthday party which is being held in a park on the following Saturday. Darwyn accepts the invite.

The party is a very wholesome family affair. Young kids are playing in jumping castles and having fun. The adults are laughing and joking and enjoying the moment. It seems idyllic. At the party Darwyn meets a young single mother, Gayle (Melissa Sagemiller) and her four year old son, Marcus. Darwyn knows better, particularly with his secretive, more covert aspects to his lifestyle, but is immediately attracted to Gayle. It isn’t long before the two are involved in a fast and furious relationship.

Now up until this point, it may seem that Darwyn is a bit of a wild man – an American Muslim who has no sense of purpose, place or right and wrong, but he is in fact a deep cover FBI agent and his mission has been to infiltrate a terrorist cell, like the one under the control of Farik. When Darwyn goes to see his parole officer, he is actually seeing his FBI case officer Ray (James LeGros). Together, over the last six months, these men have been trying to work their way into the Al Queda network, and it appears their efforts are finally paying off.

Darwyn’s cover story is put to the test when, at three in the morning, Bobby Habib calls Darwyn away from Gayle. Darwyn reluctantly gets into the van and finds that Farik is behind the wheel and the other members of the cell are ensconced in the back. They cell travels out into the dessert, suggesting potential ‘targets’ on their route as they travel. Once in the dessert, Farik announces that they have a traitor in their midst. Naturally, it appears that Darwyn is the mole, but his story is airtight. It is Bobby Habib who has jeopardised their assignment by phoning his Uncle in Egypt and bragging about their objectives. Bobby has to be taught a lesson, and terrorist cells teach very finite lessons.

Al-Fatiha is an intense, fast paced and emotional show, and to those who are sensitive, it is pretty shocking too. As it is the first episode, all of the characters have not been fully developed yet. Christian and Illya, come off the poorest, but in the following episodes, each character is fleshed out, and each character makes you question whether or not they will actually go through with their act of terror. For me to say, whether the mission succeeds or fails would of course be a major spoiler, so I’ll be tight lipped on that score, but this series is exceptional television and well worth tracking down.

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Mission: Impossible 3 (2006)

Country: United States
AKA: M:I 3
Director: JJ Abrahms
Starring: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Crudup, Ving Rhames, Maggie Q, Laurence Fishburne
Music: Michael Giacchino
Mission Impossible Theme by Lalo Schifrin

I want to start this review slightly of topic. When I saw this movie at the cinemas, the projection team stuffed up. They started running the movie without sound. This continued past the main credits into the movie. Sure, once they realised their mistake, they rewound the film and started again, twenty minutes behind schedule. I wasn’t a happy filmgoer. Why is this important? The opening sequence of Mission Impossible 3 is the least predictable and most memorable part of the movie, and for me it was ruined.

The film starts with Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) handcuffed to a chair, while Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) holds a gun to a girls head. Davian asks Hunt where the ‘Rabbit’s Foot’ is. Hunt stalls for time and the girls gets shot.

What’s going on, we ask? Who is the girl? What’s the rabbit’s foot? We don’t know. Then the film flashes back to a few days earlier – a nice little domestic scene.

Hunt and his fiancé Julia Meade (Michelle Monaghan) and throwing a party. It’s a family affair. During the party Hunt is called to a convenience store by his superior Musgrave (Billy Crudup). It seems, since we last saw Ethan Hunt (in M: I 2) that he has retired as a field operative and now teaches students to be master spies. But there is a problem. One of his students Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell) has been captured in Germany. Musgrave asks Hunt if he will go into the field, one more time to retrieve his student. Initially Hunt says ‘no’ and goes back to his party, but the next day he turns up at the airport ready for active duty.

Accompanying him on the mission are Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames – the only character to return from the first two movies), Declan Gormley (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and Zhen Lei (Maggie Q).

At the time of release, it was heralded in the press that M:I:3 was more substantial than it’s predecessors. This film had more heart, more soul. Maybe it is true that Cruise and the film-makers tried to inject some emotion into the plot, but if you look at the supplemental material on the M:I:2 DVD, you’ll see the same old tired lines in the documentaries. Paraphrasing: ‘Oh, this time we wanted the female lead to be someone, Hunt cares about’. It looks like the press releases were recycled. And in the end Michelle Monaghan’s character is not developed that much. At least not to the point, where you believe there is a strong emotional bond between Hunt and Julia.

At the end of the day, M:I:3 is solid, loud entertainment that can be enjoyed by most genre fans. Just don’t buy into the palaver about this being a superior, deep and emotional spy movie and you’ll have a good time.

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Spy Game (2001)

Country: United States / United Kingdom
Directed by Tony Scott
Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Larry Bryggman
Music by Harry Gregson-Williams

In the interests of presenting a balanced appraisal of Tony Scott’s career as a film director, it must be said that he has a modicum of talent and has made some entertaining movies – but I find there is a certain sameness to all his films. If you look at some of his recent films, like Domino or Man On Fire, you can clearly see the repetition in the way he presents his films. They are all loud, noisy and violent, and feature stylized editing and use different film stocks to add grain to different scenes. It almost appears to be formula film making. That’s not to say that the films are bad – individually they are quite good – but when you look at his body of work, it’s here that the repetitive patterns emerge. Spy Game though, has something that his other films do not, and that is Robert Redford.

The film opens in Su Chou Prison, and a team of Foreign Aid workers respond to a suspected cholera outbreak. Posing as one of the Aid workers is Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt). While plugging in a portable x-ray machine, Bishop is electrocuted. The other Aid workers spirit him into another room and attempt to revive him, but to no avail. They pronounce him dead and draw a blanket over his head.

The electrocution has blown all the fuses in the prison, and the guards frantically try to return electrical power. Meanwhile, Bishop, whose body has been left on it’s own, slowly begins to return to life. First his colour returns and then he regains consciousness. He wasn’t actually dead. Beforehand, he had taken a drug to only make it appear as though he was dead.
Now free to move around in the dark, Bishop starts searching the cells. The first cell he opens contains a man who has been badly beaten. He is not the person that Bishop is looking for. As a gesture, Bishop hands over a stick of bubble gum and then continues his search. The next cell contains a woman whose face is covered. Bishop takes her arm and takes her back to the gurney in which he had been lying. The gurney has a false bottom, in which the female prisoner hides. On top, Bishop resumes his position as a dead man, and then an accomplice posing as a Aid worker wheels Bishop supposedly dead body to an ambulance for removal from the prison. It looks like the operation is going to be successful, but as the ambulance is at the front gate, one of the guards discovers the Asian prisoner that Bishop gave the gum to. The prisoner is blowing huge bubbles, and the guards twig that something is amiss. They stop the ambulance at the front gate and Bishop is taken into custody. He is immediately convicted as a common criminal and is to be executed on the next day at eight in the morning.

Back in Washington, Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) is awoken in his bed by the C.I.A.’s Hong Kong section chief, Harry Duncan (David Hemmings). He advices that Bishop has been captured, and that if Muir wants to read about it before his superiors do, he should get into work pretty darn quick.

After thirty years in the field, it is Muir’s last day at the C.I.A. Half of his belongings have been packed and he was hoping for a easy day. But not to be. He races into headquarters, and gleans what information he can about Bishop’s capture. It appears that Bishop has gone rogue. The operation he undertook in China was not approved by the C.I.A., and an embarrassment to the country. The U.S. President is due to visit China in the next few days, and the C.I.A. intend to disavow Bishop and allow him to be executed. This doesn’t sit well with Muir, who recruited and trained Bishop.

Due to the delicate nature of the situation, a task force is set up, and Muir is called in to provide some information and background on Bishop’s motives and methods. As Muir is asked a battery of questions, the film flashes back to 1975 and the last days of the Vietnam War. Muir requires a sniper to carry out a hit on a Laosian General, but the man he has in mind for the job, had been killed in a mortar attack that morning. As a replacement Bishop is selected. Bishop succeeds in the mission and Muir is impressed. Next Muir puts in motion a plan that will see Bishop join the C.I.A. As the task force briefing continues, Muir relates stories about Bishop’s subsequent recruitment in Berlin and then looks at a mission that took place in Beirut.

Maybe I am too old for a film like Spy Game. I hate the way it is put together and the way it is edited. Incidentally the editor happens to be Christian Wagner who also acted as editor of Die Another Day. My opinion on that debacle is stated earlier in that review and verges on abuse, so I won’t revisit that once again. So begs the question, why watch Spy Game? Robert Redford! His scenes where he plays the ‘spy game’ with the task force are mesmerizing. This is not just about acting – it’s about commanding a scene and in particular, conveying ‘experience’. In the film, the new kids on the block in the C.I.A. may have all the latest hi-tech toys – but nothing beats old-fashioned ‘trade craft’. At one point in the film, Muir says ‘…technology gets better all the time and that’s fine, but most of the time all you need is a pocketknife, a stick of gum and a smile.’ And at the risk of making a clumsy analogy, the same applies to the making of this film – the film-makers may have all the latest hi-tech toys – but nothing beats an old fashioned professional plying his craft. You can finesse all around Redford – jumps cuts, fading to black and white, ramped footage, whatever! – it doesn’t matter because Redford is an old school movie star and he knows how to lay down a scene. If you watch this film, don’t pay attention to the MTV stylization – pay attention to Redford and enjoy watching a professional do what he does best.

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The World Is Not Enough (1999)

Directed by Michael Apted
Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Robbie Coltrane, Goldie, Judi Dench as M, Desmond Llewelyn as Q, John Cleese as R, Samantha Bond as Moneypenny, Colin Salmon as Robinson.
Music by David Arnold
Title Song performed by Garbage

The World Is Not Enough is not just the title of this movie, it is also the motto appearing on the coat of arms of the Bond family. From Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Glidrose Productions Ltd):
Griffon Or broke in excitedly, ‘And this charming motto of the line, “The World is not Enough”. You do not wish to have the right to it?’ “It is an excellent motto which I shall certainly adopt,’ said Bond curtly.
It’s a strange motto for Bond to have. It is more befitting the type of evil megalomaniac that craves world domination that Bond usually battles, rather than the man himself. But if that’s what Ian Fleming decreed, then so be it.

The film, while still being hugely enjoyable is a bit of a mixed bag. The casting of Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas Jones, a nuclear physicist is it’s biggest hurdle. Richards, as with all Bond girls, is very easy on the eye, but she doesn’t have the acting range required for the role as written.

The film also lacks a good solid villain. Robert Carlyle plays Renard who starts out as an unstoppable killing machine. Unfortunately, he is motivated by his feelings for one of the female characters in the film, which means as the story progresses, Renard goes from being a hardened unstoppable killer to a pussy-whipped henchman. It changes the tone of the movie, and reduces the power and excitement of the end scenes.

The film opens in Bilbao in Spain. Bond is acting as a courier and meeting a corrupt Swiss Banker. His mission is to collect a sum of money which was payed by an English businessman in the oil industry, Robert King (David Calder) for some documents relating to Russia’s oil pipelines. The documents were fake and King wants his money back. The transaction doesn’t go well and Bond has to shoot his way out – but he retrieves the money and returns it to London.

Back at M.I.6 headquarters, Robert King meets with M (Judi Dench) to collect his money. The mission appears to have gone well, and King leaves with case. But inside, the money has been dipped in liquid fertiliser and a miniature detonator has been inserted into the bank notes. As King makes his exit, the money, which is in effect a bomb, is detonated and King is killed.

Bond is the first to realise what has happened and witnesses ‘Cigar Girl’, armed with a rifle, in a boat on the Thames beside M.I.6 headquarters. Bond, logically believing she was the trigger person for the explosion, borrows a jet powered speed boat from Q Branch and engages in a chase along the Thames. Bond finally chases down ‘Cigar Girl’, but by this time she has left her boat and now is in an ascending hot air balloon. As she tries to escape, Bond latches onto one of the mooring ropes and is lifted up as the balloon drifts away. Feeling that she is captured, ‘Cigar Girl’ chooses to put a bullet in one of the balloon’s helium tanks rather than be taken in for questioning. The balloon explodes, ‘Cigar Girl’ dies, and Bond is thrown from a great height onto the roof of the Millenium Dome, where he sustains severe shoulder damage.

Once Bond has recovered from his injuries he is assigned to protect Elektra King, who is Robert King’s daughter. She has now inherited control of her father’s oil business and it is believed that attempts will be made on her life.

Over the years the Bond universe has been subject to silly and inconsistent casting. We have had Charles Grey, Maude Adams, Joe Don Baker, Martine Beswick, Burt Kwouk and Shane Rimmer appearing in multiple films as different characters. In the days before home video and DVD, this wasn’t so much a problem, because nobody could remember the faces of the minor support players. But with the scrutiny that digital age brings, means that inconsistency and poor continuity are blatantly obvious, even to the most casual viewer. Having said that, The World Is Not Enough shows the welcome return of a few characters. The first is Robinson (Colin Salmon), a staff member at M.I.6. His is not an important or flashy role, but it does provide a sense of continuity in the films. Robinson first appeared in Tomorrow Never Dies and continued the role in Die Another Day. More noticeable in his return is the character of Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane). Zukovsky is a Russian mafia Don and first appeared in Goldeneye.

The World Is Not Enough was also the last film Desmond Llewelyn appeared in as the gadget master ‘Q’. In this film they gave the aging ‘Q’ an assistant, ‘R’, played by John Cleese (R comes after Q in the alphabet, get it?) At the time of the films release, Cleese was inspired casting to take over from Llewelyn. Unfortunately for Cleese, in this film he is simply comic relief (and not that funny either), and in the next film he got lumbered with some ridiculous gadgets (invisible car – my arse!) Subsequently Cleese’s popularity as ‘Q’ waned. It is interesting to note that the ‘Q’ character does not appear in Casino Royale (2006) or Quantum Of Solace.

Onto the Bond girls – if you’ll forgive the clumsiness of that expression! Earlier I talked about how Denise Richards doesn’t stack up as a Bond girl (at least acting wise). Thankfully, Richards isn’t the only girl in the film. French beauty, Sophie Marceau plays the complex Elektra King. Elektra is a fascinating character, and for once – despite every actress’ ascertation that she is different to what has gone before – she actully is different. Italian actress, Maria Grazia Cucinotta has a small but flashy role as a character called ‘Cigar Girl’. She is Renard’s number one henchwoman, and as a bad girl her days are numbered. In fact she doesn’t make it past the pre-credit sequence. Rounding out the United Nations of Bond girls, representing England is Serena Scott Thomas, as Dr. Molly Warmflash (I’m not making this up – that’s her character’s name). Dr. Warmflash is the doctor who tends to 007 after he injures himself during his pursuit of ‘Cigar Girl’.

The film has an interesting, although not inspired collection of gadgets. Once again BMW supplies the car for Bond’s mission, it’s a Z8 Roadster, but it doesn’t get a full workout. The most useful vehicular gadget that Bond navigates is miniature jet boat, dubbed the ‘Q Boat’. This little beast is put to good use during the prolonged pre-title sequence. Bond races around the Thames and even cuts across land as he pursues ‘Cigar Girl’. Like most Bond vehicles, it comes with a selection of guns and missiles, with which Bond can defend himself. For the sequences in the snow capped Caucasus mountains, the villains are equipped with para-hawk gliders, which are like a snow buggy and with a parachute. They can drift from the sky and then land on the snow continuing their pursuit of Bond, all the while peppering Bond with machine gun fire.

While I find The World Is Not Enough to be an enjoyable Bond film, I still still see it as somewhat of a missed opportunity. The film has a good cast, a decent director, and David Arnold’s score is excellent, but still the film just doesn’t quite work. Even though I applaud the attempt to create multi-layered villains rather than cartoon clones of what has gone before, in this instance the duality in these characters only serves to mute the sense of threat or danger that these characters provide, and in turn weakens the film as a whole.

Put into the context of the Bond series, The World Is Not Enough also falls in between Tomorrow Never Dies – which I consider the best Brosnan Bond film but had poor villains, and the abysmal Die Another Day, which had even worse villains. Whatever strengths The World Is Not Enough may have, tend to be lost in this lacklustre period in the Bond cycle. I do not believe Brosnan was to blame. He was a good Bond; he was simply lumbered with poor scripts and miscast supporting actors. It will be interesting to see how the passage of time will treat this film – will it be seen as an interesting blip on the Bond radar, or will it be lumped with it’s surrounding Bond films as a particularly uninspired addition to the Bond canon.

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Our Man Bashir (1995)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Episode 80: Our Man Bashir
Country: United States
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Alexander Siddig, Andrew Robinson, Avery Brooks, Rene Auberjonois, Michael Dorn, Terry Farrell, Nana Visitor, Colm Meaney, Armin Shimerman, Marci Brickhouse
Music by John Debney

Obviously Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is not a spy show, but for one episode they ventured boldly where they had never been before – back to Earth in the 1960’s. A time when swingin’ sixties dilettantes roamed the globe. The episode starts with a thug wearing an eye patch being thrown through a plate glass window by Deep Space Nine’s resident Doctor, Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig). Today though, he isn’t dressed in his usual Starfleet uniform. He is decked out in a tuxedo, and standing beside him is a svelte blonde in a red dinner gown. With the threat removed – that being the thug – Bashir reaches for a chilled bottle of `45 Dom Perignon. Reflected in the glass of the champagne bottle, Bashir sees the thug regain consciousness and get to his feet. In a smooth fluid movement, Bashir turns and pops the cork on the Dom. The cork flies straight into the thug’s head, rendering him unconscious once again. Bashir quips, ‘Quite a lot of kick for a `45 Dom!’ Then the girl asks his name – the good Doctor responds, ‘Bashir, Julian Bashir!’

Yes, the scene is taken directly from the Bondian cliché book, and that’s the way it should be. For those not familiar with the Star Trek universe, most ships and space stations are equipped with holo-suites – that being a large area where holographic movies are played. These holograms are 3D interactive movies in which the viewer can live and act out the stories contained within. These holograms also contain other virtual characters who will react and respond to the situations that they find themselves in. These holograms are so real, not just visually, but touch, feel, smell, hear, and taste, that they have safety protocols installed so that no one gets accidentally killed. The opening sequence is Julian Bashir ensconced in a holo-suite, living out his very own private Bondian fantasy.

A reoccurring guest star on Deep Space Nine was Andrew Robinson, who played a character called Garak. Robinson is known  to film fans as the psychopath, Scorpio from the original Dirty Harry film, but in this show his character is considerably more likeable. Garak was a Cardassian agent sent to spy on the Starfleet officers on the space station. Over the series, Garak and Bashir formed a loose friendship. Despite this friendship, Bashir is not thrilled to find Garak intruding in his fantasy program. Having someone intrude on your fantasy life is a bit like being caught masturbating. Initially Bashir is furious at Garak and orders him out of the holo-suite, but Garak’s silver tongue persuades him otherwise. Garak promises that he will not interfere – he simply wants to observe. Before the main titles roll, Garak makes one final proclamation: ‘What could possibly go wrong!’

As you know dear reader, that’s the kiss of death in a show like this. When a character says, ‘What could possibly go wrong,’ you know for sure that something is going to go wrong – horribly wrong.

In the real world, a contingent of Deep Space Nine’s crew, comprising of Commander Sisko (Avery Brooks), Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor), Jadziah Dax (Terry Farrell), Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) and Chief  O’Brien (Colm Meany) are returning for a conference in their space runabout. As they approach DS9 there is a problem with their warp coil (engine, I think). Just as the ship is about to blow, Sisko radios for help and they are beamed aboard DS9. Well almost – they are beamed just as the ship explodes and the explosion causes a malfunction in the transporter. The crew are now just floating bits of information. The DS9 computer is trying to retain their body patterns and neural signatures, but is running low on memory for storing this significant amount of information. The computer searches for a suitable place to store this information until repairs can be made and the only viable solution is in the holo-suite. So the DS9 computer chooses to interrupt Bashir and Garak’s spy adventure. This results in the crew of the runabout now portraying the characters in Bashir’s spy simulation. But to make things even more complicated, even thiose these characters are computer generated, if Bashir or Garak should kill one of them in the course of the mission then the computer would wipe the character from it’s memory and in essence destroy the person playing it. Got that!

Wait. There’s more. Adding one last layer of plot convolution, the ‘safety protocols’ in the holo-suite have been turned off, which means that Bashir and Garak can be killed by the artificial characters.

Once the crazy set up is complete, the rest of the episode is a rollicking spy adventure where our two intrepid heroes, thrust together in a life and death situation must battle the megalomaniacal Dr. Noah and his evil henchmen. I cannot begin to tell you how much fun this episode is. Sure, the set up is the biggest load of piffle – but it’s not really important. It simply serves to place the crew of Deep Space Nine into the middle of an overblown Bondian spy adventure – and what’s wrong with that?

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Reilly: Ace Of Spies: An Affair With A Married Woman (1983)

Country: United Kingdom
Directed by Jim Goddard
Sam Neill, Jeanne Crowley, Leo McKern, Norman Rodway, John Rhys-Davies, Michele Copsey, Peter Egan
Music by Harry Rabinowitz
Based on the book by R.H. Bruce Lockhart

An Affair With A Married Woman is the first episode of the Reilly: Ace Of Spies Thames television series. Although, based on the biography, Ace Of Spies by R.H. Bruce Lockhart, this series has taken many liberties when recounting the tales of Sidney Reilly’s life of espionage. This may because, Reilly himself is a bit of an enigma. Most biographies on the man differ in the telling of the events of his life. It appears that Reilly was a bit of a ‘story-teller’ and intermingled amongst snatches of truth there was also quite a bit of balderdash. With that in mind, Sidney Reilly’s first encounter and subsequent affair with Margaret Thomas (the married woman of the title) is a bit off the mark. But never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn.

This episode is a bit of a slow starter, and many of the details are deliberately vague so as to keep the viewer guessing who the characters are. Good and bad are not easily discernible at the beginning. But as the story unfolds, character allegiances and motivations become clear.

As this is a period drama, and as I’ve mentioned, based on a true story, there is a sense of realism to the show. The costumes, sets, and art-direction in general, are all very low-key and appear authentic.

The show also does not feature any far-fetched action sequences. In fact, at times it almost seems like the film-makers have gone out of their way not to show any action. Two of the more pivotal and violent scenes take place off screen – we only see the aftermath and the repercussions.

The episode begins in 1901, aboard a train travelling across Russia. The train is stopped by a group of men who look suspiciously like bandits, but they are in fact the authorities. Three passengers are removed from the train – Professor Rosenblum, from Odessa University; Reverend Thomas (Sebastian Shaw), a crusty old pastor; and Margaret Thomas (Jeananne Crowley), the Reverend’s much younger wife. As they are taken away, Rosenblum hides some secret documents in the Pastor’s luggage.

They are taken to Baku where they are interrogated, especially Rosenblum. The interrogator is a man named Tanyatos (John Rhys-Davies), who suspects Rosenblum of some crime but refuses to say what. But as he cannot find any evidence, he chooses to keep him (and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas) under arrest. This isn’t so bad, as the prison also happens to be the local hotel, so all parties are put up rather comfortably – or at least as comfortable as you can be in that part of the world.

Rosenblum knows that it is only a matter of time before Tanyatos finds out the truth so he formulates a plan to escape. This involves slowly ingratiating himself upon Mrs. Thomas. At first, she ignores his advances, but at heart she is a lonely woman who only married the lecherous old Pastor out of convenience – and for money.

Once Rosenblum has Margaret on side, he suggests that one night she comes to him in his room. This, well apart from the obvious, is so that the guards will not check his room that night. If they think he is ‘occupied’ then there is little chance of him attempting to escape. But escape he does, and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas are left trapped in Baku to deal with the aftermath – this entails languishing in prison (a real prison) for nineteen weeks until the British Government can broker a deal.

Back in London, Fleet Street hears the sordid tale of a British agent having an affair with a married woman, and a scandal erupts. Rosenblum conveniently goes into hiding. Meanwhile, the ordeal has taken it’s toll on Reverend Thomas and he has a stroke, leaving him invalided. Margaret is then left to defend her honour on her own. Feeling the heat from the press, the British Secret Service under the leadership of Captain Mansfield Cumming, known as ‘C’ (Norman Rodway) decide to distance themselves from Rosenblum, and claim that he is not an agent in their employ.

But what is all the fuss about really? How come Rosenblum had to get out of Baku so urgently? Well the secret papers which he had stolen outlined Russia’s oil drilling program. Naturally the Russian’s want them back. Through, Tanyatos they expected to retrieve the stolen documents, but once that failed they had to use other means. In London, the Russian’s are represented by Basil Zaharov (Leo McKern) who is a resourceful power broker, who controls his own secret army of minions.

At the end of the episode everything works out well for Sidney and Margaret. Reverend Thomas finally passes away and our scandalous couple get married. At this point, Rosenblum chooses to take Margaret’s maiden name as his surname. He will no longer be Sigmund Rosenblum – but Sidney Reilly. And the adventure is only beginning – Cumming has a new mission for Reilly. It’s in Manchuria, and that’s where he heads next with his new bride in tow.

Sam Neill cuts a fine figure as the man who would become Sidney Reilly. He has a hint of cruelty about him – which was utilised in the third of the Omen films, The Final Conflict. You wonder just how far this character would manipulate people for his own ends. Less successfully cast is Jeanne Crowley as Margaret Thomas. She lacks conviction in her scenes with Neill, and it is hard to believe she has fallen for the scoundrel.

An Affair With A Married Woman is an intriguing opener, but it is far from ground breaking television. Thankfully, the series still had it’s best to come.

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Mission Impossible: The Killer (1988)

Director: Cliff Bole
Starring: Peter Graves, Thaao Penghlis, Antony Hamilton, Phil Morris, Terry Markwell, Bob Johnson, John de Lancie, Virginia Hey, Vince Martin
Mission Impossible Theme: Lalo Schifrin

The Killer is the first episode in the revived Mission: Impossible series. Revived? In 1988 there was a writer’s strike and no new product came out of Hollywood. ABC’s answer was to recycle old scripts and they decided to remake the Mission: Impossible series. To confuse matters even further they decided to make the series in Australia. The first year was filmed in and around Melbourne, whilst the next two seasons were filmed on the Gold Coast in Queensland. One of the shows biggest assets is that they were able to acquire the services of Peter Graves to reprise his role as Jim Phelps. Graves is so indelibly linked to this show that his participation indicated that the new series intended to continue in the spirit of it’s predecessor. This episode details how Phelps is called back into action.

The show opens at an ultra-swank cocktail party behind held in an upper level of a multi-storey apartment complex. Amongst the guests is IMF operative, Tom Copperfield (Vince Martin). Copperfield is investigating a shady terrorist, known only as ‘Scorpio’. Scorpio knows that the IMF are on his trail and he wants Copperfield dead. To carry out his dirty work he has enlisted the services of a professional hitman, Michael Drake (John De Lancie). Drake is also at the party with his sights firmly set on Copperfield. What makes Drake such an effective and unpredictable assassin, is that he performs each hit in a completely different fashion. At the party, Drake chooses to use a hallucinogenic dart to bring about Copperfield’s demise. He fires the dart at Copperfield who then begins to believe he is on fire. Fearing that he is going to be burnt alive, Copperfield runs out onto the balcony and then hurls himself off into the void.

Copperfield happened to be Jim Phelps protegé and friend. His death prompts Phelps to be re-instated as an IMF team leader. His mission, if he chooses to accept it, is to continue Copperfield’s investigation into the mysterious and deadly Scorpio. The only lead that Phelps has is Drake, and he sets up an operation based around the hitman. But first he has to assemble his new IMF team to carry out the mission.

The first member is Nicolas Black (Thaao Penghlis). Black moonlights as a drama teacher and naturally he is a master of disguise. Next is the beautiful Casey Randall (Terry Markwell). She is a fashion designer and the group’s femme fatale. The we have the muscle, Max Harte (Antony Hamilton), who is an ex-soldier. And rounding out the team is Grant Collier (Phil Morris). Collier is a technical whiz, and just so happens to be the son of Barney Collier (Greg Morris), who was a part of Phelps’ IMF team in the 1960’s and 70’s. Once Phelps has his four man mission team, he is ready to engage in the mission.

Sometimes the 80’s seem like the decade that taste and style forgot, and as such, many of the television shows from that era can be hard to watch today. Thankfully, stylistically, Mission: Impossible didn’t deviate too far from the classic template set in the 60’s and 70’s. Sure, there’s the odd poncey hairdo, and dated musical cues, but this show holds up quite a bit better than many of it’s contemporaries – and to be honest, it’s a lot better than I thought it would be.

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Hannay: The Fellowship Of The Black Stone (1988)

Country: United Kingdom
Director: David Giles
Starring: Robert Powell, Charles Gray, Gavin Richards, David Waller, Christopher Scoular, Dominique Barnes, Davyd Harries
Music: Denis King
Based on characters by John Buchan

I did a quick overview of the Hannay series a few years back, but I thought it was worth going back and looking at a couple of individual episodes. I afraid though, that this revisitation hasn’t made me change my original opinion that Hannay is sluggish and lacks atmosphere.

The Fellowship Of The Black Stone is the first episode in this thirteen part series. The show opens in Damaraland S.W. Africa in 1912, or so we are told – it looks like a gravel pit outside London. But regardless, we meet our hero Richard Hannay (Robert Powell) riding a horse through a tortuous sandy landscape. Hiding amongst the sandy peaks is Count Von Schwabing (Gavin Richards) who is brandishing a riffle. As Hannay rides past, Von Schwabing shoots him. Hannay falls off his horse – the wound appears to be fatal. Pleased with his handy work, Von Schwabing scoots out from his hiding place and approaches Hannay’s inert body, then presses a smooth black stone into Hannay’s hand. Naturally he expects Hannay to die from the wound.

Some time later, we join Hannay on a steamer bound for London. On the last night of the trip, Hannay receives an invite from Lord Hazelmere (David Waller) to join him for drinks. While Hannay is enjoying Hazelmere’s hospitality, a gloved figure (we do not see their face) places a wrapped parcel in Hannay’s steamer trunk.

In London, Hannay has an old army acquaintance, Reggie Armitage (Christopher Scoular) who has arranged lodging for him at the ‘20th Century Club’ in Pall Mall. Over a few stiff drinks, Hannay retells the tale of his near death experience at the hands of Count Von Schwabing. Armitage, who it appears is a member of the Foreign Office (or possibly even the Secret Service) confesses that in Africa he has lost five agents and two couriers over the past few months – all of them found with a black stone in their hands.

Later that evening, Hannay unpacks his steamer trunk and discovers the parcel. It is addressed, so he takes the parcel to the address and hands it over unopened. For his trouble he is blackjacked from behind. When he awakens, he is tied to a chair in a stone dungeon with an imposing figure standing over him. The gentleman happens to be a henchman for Von Schwabing who is now operating out of London.

As the story unfolds, Hannay not only ends up involved in a plot by the villainous Germans, but also end up being pursued by Commander Neville of Scotland Yard (Charles Gray), wanted on two counts of murder.

While I profess to having enjoyed all four filmic version of The 39 Steps, I must admit that I find the Hannay series rather cold and lacking atmosphere. The pacing, for this episode at least, is quite okay and the story is a pure ‘stiff upper lip’ British Imperial adventure, but strangely I am not drawn into this world. I want to like the series, but there’s a lack of chemistry happening on the screen. Initially I thought that this was because it was filmed on videotape and lacked visual depth, and that barrier was distracting me – but soon after watching this show, I watched some episodes (quite a few actually) of The Sandbaggers which utilises the same production techniques. Instantly I was drawn into the world of The Sandbaggers – but not so Hannay. I’m afraid, for me, this series just doesn’t work.

To read my original overview of the series click here.

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The Persuaders: Overture (1971)

Director: Basil Dearden
Starring: Roger Moore, Tony Curtis, Lawrence Naismith
Music: Ken Thorne
The Persuaders Theme by John Barry

Overture is the first episode of the twenty-four episode series of The Persuaders starring Roger Moore and Tony Curtis. In the mind, the thought of teaming Moore and Curtis seems rather clunky. They shouldn’t make a good ‘buddy’ pairing, and this aspect is played upon in the opening twenty minutes of this show. But once the guys resolve their differences the show works against type. Moore and Curtis make a formidable duo. They play off each other very nicely and there seems to be some genuine chemistry between the two men.

The episode opens on the Cote d’Azur and we are in a huge luxurious mansion owned by Judge Fulton (Lawrence Naismith) – well, ex Judge really – Fulton has retired. Fulton is concocting a scheme where he will bring together two men to battle evil-doers who slipped through his legal court, or got off on technicalities. The two men he wants are both womanizing dilettantes. They are Lord Brett Sinclair (Roger Moore) – an aristocratic Englishman; and Danny Wilde (Tony Curtis) – a self made American millionaire.

The first dilettante we meet is Danny Wilde. He is on his private jet, surrounded by a bevy of beauties. The jet is about to land at Nice airport. Also traveling to Nice, but in his car, is the second dilettante, Lord Brett Sinclair (his car number plate happens to be BS 1, which of course reminds us the Roger Moore was previously the Saint – who had a car number plate of ST 1). Sinclair is dropping off some female traveling companions at the airport.

Wilde has now landed, and gets into his motor car – which happens to be an electric orange 1969 Dino 246 GT (made by Ferrari). As he tries to leave the airport, his path is blocked by Sinclair who is farewelling his passengers. Once done, he gets back into his car which is a Bahama Yellow 1970 Aston Matin DBS.

Both men have been sent invitations and offered pre-paid accommodation in a luxurious hotel in Monte Carlo. So naturally, they are both heading in the same direction, which leads to a car race along the coast of the French Riviera. Once they arrive at their destination, simultaneously, the ‘niggle’ between these men is palpable. Later that evening in the bar, they start disputing the correct amount of olives apportioned to a Creole Scream (a cocktail). Neither refuses to back down and a fist fight erupts resulting in the destruction of the hotel’s bar and dining area.

The brawl results in the arrest of both Sinclair and Wilde, but rather than taken to the local police station, they are taken to Judge Fulton’s palatial residence. Fulton had guessed that such strong personalities in close proximity would come to blows. The Judge threatens both of them with three months jail for their little indiscretion; that is, unless they perform a small service for him. The Judge’s attempt at blackmail works, and the boys agree to team up.

The mission itself, isn’t too much of a stretch for Wilde and Sinclair. It involves the seduction of a beautiful woman named Maria (Imogen Hassall). Unfortunately there is more to it than that, because Maria happens to be the sister of a mobster.

There’s a lot to enjoy in The Persuaders, and because this is the first episode and sets up so much of what the series is about, including the relationship between the two men, this is easily one of the best episodes. The show features plenty of early seventies, jet-setting excess. There’s exotic location, seventies super cars, and women in skimpy costumes. It all adds up to perfect entertainment. Overture is a great introduction to a splendid series.

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