Showing posts with the label Spy

Book Review: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Ian Fleming, 1963

So when we were researching Christmas espionage for the podcast, I realized I never wrote a review of this novel. And that was an oversight that could not stand.

I need to start by saying that I enjoy the Bond books. They are dated. They are sometimes awful. But I love the style, and I love how much more complex they are than the films.

For one thing, the series, taken as a whole, is the story of a man who has a thankless, terrible job that forces him to be a heartless weapon. The books very seldom glamorize the life of a spy.

In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond is tired of it all. He's ready to chuck the whole career in the bin, and he grasps at his whirlwind romance with Tracy as one bright thing, a light at the end of the tunnel. When we meet her, she's traumatized and suicidal after being abandoned by a husband and the death of a child. Bond is drawn to her need for rescue, but we never see whether the relation…

Podcast Episode 4: Insert Cold War Joke Here


Danger Mouse: The Snowman Cometh (2015)

I'm only marginally familiar with the original Danger Mouse series, but I've been enjoying the 2015 reboot. It's not one of my favorite shows or anything, but the series's willingness to embrace surrealism and cartoon physics makes it a lot of fun. Both in tone and style, it feels a lot like Powerpuff Girls, albeit with less drama. The show is ultimately a farce, through and through - there's no real character development or emotional stakes (at least not in the first season).

While most installments are only half-episode length (i.e.: 15 minutes minus commercial breaks), the season one Christmas episode runs for the full half-hour (again, exempting those meddlesome advertisements).

This isn't the Snowman's first appearance in the reboot - the character shows up periodically to be soundly humiliated by Danger Mouse - but it's the first in which he's the main villain or in which he poses any kind of meaningful threat.

This is remarked on in-world, i…

Get Smart: Our Man in Toyland (1965)

Get Smart was an espionage parody about counterintelligence agents battling an organization of international spies and criminals. Mel Brooks is credited as a co-creator, so it probably shouldn't be surprising to hear this show completely holds up. It's bizarre and quirky, and even more than fifty years later, the antics of Don Adams (who'd later voice Inspector Gadget) remain hilarious.

"Our Man in Toyland" was only the fourth episode aired. It should be noted that its inclusion here is somewhat questionable. Logically, the episode must take place during the holiday season, but the show is intentionally illogical to the point, I'm not sure the justification was anything more than a joke.
The premise of the episode is that KAOS, the aforementioned SPECTRE stand-in, is using a department store as a front to sneak state secrets out of the country. CONTROL (a.k.a.: the good guys) send in a handful of agents to determine how they're accomplishing this.
The ma…

The Avengers: Too Many Christmas Trees (1965)

Not to be confused with Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers was a British spy series from the 60s which cycled through a number of iterations and styles. We've looked at a later episode, "Take-Over," that sort of fit our loose definition for Christmas in July (absurdly loose: Take-Over was set in February, and the holiday elements only appeared briefly).

"Too Many Christmas Trees," on the other hand, was far more entrenched in holiday fare. It was also a more iconic example of the series, featuring Emma Peel, by far the best known of John Steed's partners.

In this one, they're pitted against a team of psychics attempting to steal national secrets from Steed's mind by eroding his sanity through a series of yuletide nightmares.

This should already be obvious, but I loved the hell out of this episode.

All of this is set at an English mansion where Peel was invited for a Christmas party. She invites John after the idea to bring him just pops int…

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

Three Days of the Condor is one of those movies most of us have heard of but never seen, despite movie critics and historians swearing it's extremely important. The premise of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was largely drawn from this: it's a tense espionage tale about a CIA agent trying to stay alive when he uncovers a conspiracy within the Agency itself.

Robert Redford plays the lead, Joseph Turner, who's responsible for reading and analyzing books. He's smart, but no spy or assassin. Max von Sydow, on the other hand, is a cold-blooded killer working for parties unknown. While Turner's out picking up lunch, Sydow shows up with a group of mercenaries and kills off the rest of the branch. Turner returns to find he's the only survivor. He pulls a handgun out of the receptionist's desk and runs.

He calls into the head office, but the agent sent to bring him in tries to kill him. Turner then abducts a woman off the street at gunpoint, ties her up, and fo…

Ronin (1998)

The number of action movies set at Christmas is staggering. You can add Ronin to the list, though this one is really only a technicality - the holiday elements are faint to the point of being nearly nonexistent. But, for whatever reason, it's established that it's set during Christmas, so we're reviewing it in the interest of being complete.

Ronin might be one of the 90's better action flicks, though that's really not saying much. It's a tense, realistic spy thriller that masquerades as a heist movie. We never get more than a first name for most of the movie's characters, nor do we really get a good sense of their motivations. It's a movie about secrets, so don't expect a great deal of emotional depth.

Set in France, it follows its lead, Sam, played by Robert De Niro. He's a former CIA agent hired by Irish terrorists to work with a group of mercenaries in order to steal a briefcase before it's sold on the black market to the Russian mafia. …

The Avengers: Take-Over (1969)

That's the British Avengers - a pair of super-spies - not their American counterparts. These Avengers predate Lee and Kirby's team by a couple of years.

I'm not 100% certain of this, but I think this is the first full episode of the classic series I've ever seen. It won't be the last - there's an actual Christmas episode from 1965 that's on our list. I have, however, seen the 90's movie, which I kind of love despite the fact it's an awful movie.

Apparently, the one we just watched isn't the best to start with. Both tonally and structurally, it's a long way from the norm. The episode opens with Steed and Tara going separate ways. Tara, filling in for the more iconic Emma Peel, is barely present at all: other than this scene and a few at the end, this is a solo adventure for John Steed, who's going to visit some old friends to celebrate Christmas in February.

Quick aside: I think we've already made it pretty clear that we're playi…

Code Name: Kids Next Door: Operation N.A.U.G.H.T.Y. (2005)

If you glanced away from Cartoon Network in the mid-00’s, you might have missed Code Name: Kids Next Door. A show about a group of kids who fight as a spy team against corrupt, bumbling and evil adults, it's exactly the sort of premise I loved as a kid. However, given that it premiered when I was was in my 20’s, I always found the premise more fun than the execution.

The holiday episode has been on our to-watch list for a while now, and I finally found it on a Cartoon Network holiday compliation DVD.

The premise is simple enough on the surface: The KND's arch-enemies (the Delightful Children from Down the Lane) are sick of being on the naughty list, and they're willing to destroy Christmas to get presents for themselves. Where it gets downright odd is that the whole thing is a Marvel comics parody. Tons of minor characters are thrown in as references, Santa's sleigh has a Cerebro-esque interface, and the narration that keeps breaking in (panning out to a page of comic…

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the sixth James Bond movie, based on the tenth James Bond book. It’s a quieter movie than a lot of the others, it follows Bond’s relationship with one woman, Tracy, and an unaffiliated mission to track down Blofeld. This is the only movie starring George Lazenby as Bond, and there are a couple internal nods to the fact that this is the same character with a different actor.

The romance between Tracy and Bond is fairly poignant, if occasionally as over-the-top as the rest of the movie. The action plot revolves around Bond posing as a genealogist to infiltrate Blofeld’s stronghold in the Alps. Blofeld has a fairly silly plot to use a bunch of hypnotised young women to damage the world’s food supplies (this made slightly more sense in the book), but the important thing for our purposes is that it’s Christmas! So there is a ski chase which is sometimes very exciting and sometimes a little too obviously blue-screened, and a chase through a ice-skating Ch…

The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

I loved this movie when I was in high school, but - despite having a copy - I haven't actually sat down and watched it in years. I'd more or less forgotten it was set at Christmas until I saw it on a list of holiday movies. I figured it would be cheating to count this as a "Christmas movie" and decided it would be a good time to re-watch it. Turns out I was wrong about it being a stretch: the holiday elements permeate the setting, tone, and music of the film. This is definitely a Christmas movie, and a fantastic one at that.

The Long Kiss Goodnight is directed by Renny Harlin, better known for Die Hard 2. The writing is credited to Shane Black (hence the Christmas setting, I suppose), though Wikipedia mentions there was some script-doctoring involved.
The movie is, among other things, absurd and implausible: if you can't suspend your disbelief, don't bother putting it on. But it's clearly not intended to be realistic. This is unapologetically pulpy: the …

Kim Possible: A Very Possible Christmas (2003)

I saw several episodes of this series back in 2002/2003, but stopped watching before this episode aired. Kim Possible, for those of you who don't watch enough cartoons, was a Disney animated series about a super-spy in high school. Elements of both The Powerpuff Girls and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer can be felt, and its creators worked on the criminally underrated Sky High.

This Christmas episode was almost entirely comedy, focused around Ron Stoppable (Kim's partner) and Drakken (her bumbling nemesis). Normally, that might grate on me, but here it seemed to work. The writing was snappy and clever, with the exception of a running gag about X-Treme sports that didn't age well.

The episode did a good job juggling the absurdity of Kim's world, along with the trappings of holiday cheer, and while the result wasn't Earth-shattering, it was absolutely entertaining.

If you're flipping through the channels and stumble across this, I definitely recommend giving it a chan…

Prep & Landing: Naughty Vs. Nice

Well, this is depressing.

First the good news: this wasn't awful. In fact, taken on its own merits, it was even good. It was funny, cute, and kind of fun.

But that's just not good enough this time. This isn't a new special existing in a vacuum: it's the sequel to the single best Christmas special made in more than a decade. And this one doesn't measure up.

The original, while not being too dark for kids, was exciting. Yeah, half was devoted to heart, but when things turned, there was a real sense of danger. That was completely missing this time around: I never felt like the elves could actually die.

There were still some cool scenes, particularly the opening, which expanded the series's mythology by showing the other half of the operation: the elves there to punish the bad kids. For a minute, there was a darkness to the tone, but they just couldn't hold it. Almost immediately, we shifted to the comic relief. And guess who played that role.

If you said eith…

Prep and Landing: Operation Secret Santa (2010)

This is a BRAND SHINY NEW Prep and Landing short.  It's only about 7 minutes, but it's 7 minutes of pure win. If you didn't see Prep and Landing last year, you missed the best new Christmas special probably for decades.

It's from Disney, now that they've had a heart and charm upgrade courtesy of Pixar.  What else would you expect? This new addition to the world introduces Betty White as Mrs. Claus, and she's got a special mission for our favorite Prep and Landing team.

So see the original first, and then add to your cheer with Prep and Landing: Operation Secret Santa.

Streaming on both Hulu and

More About Prep & Landing (2009)

I'm sure Lindsay's writing something about this, too, but I'm going to say my piece all the same.

Prep & Landing is a new addition to the holidays, but it's already claimed a spot.  I know most of you have never seen this - have probably never heard of it - but that has to change.  This is one of the best Christmas specials ever produced.  It can hold its own with just about anything out there.

First, let me give you some background.  A few years back, Disney "bought" Pixar.  The word "bought" is in quotes for the simple reason that, as part of the deal, Disney more or less handed the reins of their entire corporation over to Pixar's leaders.  In other words, Disney paid Pixar a large amount of money to take control of Disney.

This is, incidentally, why Disney suddenly started producing films that don't suck again.  It also left John Lasseter in the position to green light things like Prep & Landing, a half hour Christmas special ab…

Prep and Landing (2009)

Mission Impossible elves!

I may swoon! I simply adore this, easily the best new holiday special in years.

If you didn't see it last year, go now. NOW. It's free, it's online again, GO. Alternate Link. I'm even including it below. Click already!

If you saw it last year, see it again. Did you notice the amazing music by Michael Giacchino (my current favorite composer)? Did you remember all the amazing details, the gear, the lingo, all the small jokes in the background?

Prep and Landing has the most fantastic Christmas Elves ever. It's sweet and funny, has both action and heart, and features the best sleigh take-off I've ever seen.

I love the characters, I love the humor, I love the story, I just love this special!

See this one. Revel in the warm glow brought into being by the Disney/Pixar merger.