Warner Bros.’s Batman PR problem

Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill in a Batman v Superman poster

Just when Warner Bros.’s DC Extended Universe seems to get on track, it’s undergoing a public relations problem during the San Diego Comic Con.

You remember when the DCEU finally was getting good PR? It was just last month when Wonder Woman generated both ticket sales and positive reviews.

Just weeks later, the buzz is that Warner Bros. (aka “Mr. Warner,” this blog’s nickname for the studio) is getting ready to ease the current Batman, Ben Affleck, out of the role. At least’s that’s according to a story by Kim Masters in The Hollywood Reporter.

Affleck got top billing in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That movie introduced Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. It did good (but sub $1 billion worldwide) business while getting terrible reviews.

Still, Affleck’s Batman created a buzz. First, it was the actor would write, direct and star in a solo Batman movie titled The Batman. Then, well, he wasn’t going to direct after all.

A new director, Matt Reeves, was hired. Initially, the buzz was that Affleck’s script would be used. Then, this month, the news came out that Affleck’s script was being jettisoned and things would start over.

Now, Affleck himself may be out. Here’s an excerpt from The Hollywood Reporter story:

(A) source with knowledge of the situation says that the studio is working on plans to usher out Affleck’s Batman — gracefully, addressing the change in some shape or form in one of the upcoming DC films. Exactly when and how that might happen has yet to be determined, but it would be wise to bet against Affleck starring in The Batman.

The thing is, the massive San Diego convention has become a forum for studios to promote upcoming films, and not just movies based on comic books.

Justice League is the next DCEU film and a followup to Batman v Superman. It’s supposed to address some of the faults (i.e. too gloomy) present in the 2016 film.

In Batman v Superman, Affleck, who turns 45 on Aug. 15, played an older Batman. It was very much influenced by the 1986 mini-series The Dark Knight Returns by writer-artist Frank Miller. In that story, Batman comes out of retirement.

We’ll see how all this turns out. Still, it’s doubtful Mr. Warner appreciates the “Affleck is out” buzz generated by The Hollywood Reporter story.

Nolan 007 mania continues

Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan is busy promoting his World War II drama Dunkirk but that hasn’t stopped people from wondering if 007 might be in the director’s future.

Nolan was a guest on a podcast by MTV. It lasts 39 minutes and the Bond portion comes in about 24 minutes into it. However, if you’re busy, @Bond25Film on Twitter posted a transcript about the James Bond part of the discussion.

Among other things, in response to a question, Nolan said actor Tom Hardy would “be amazing. I mean, he really would” playing Bond.

Essentially, it’s the reverse of a Daily Beast interview early this year where Hardy said “it would be so cool” to play Bond while being directed by Nolan.

Hardy has been in a number of Nolan films, including Dunkirk and The Dark Knight Rises. Clearly, the actor and director comprise a mutual admiration society.

In the MTV podcast, Nolan provided a caveat. He said Barbara Brocccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions are “such incredible producers, they do greatly on their own.” Also, Nolan says, “I’m not saying anything” about how he’d do a Bond film.

New trailer for Kingsman sequel released

A new trailer for Kingsman: The Golden Circle was posted online today by 20th Century Fox.

Based on the trailer, things look a bit grim for the Kingsman organization, including having its base of operations destroyed. On the other hand, Colin Firth’s Harry Hart is back despite having appeared to die in the first film, 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. The sequel appears to have at least one James Bond homage involving a parachute.

Take a look. The movie is scheduled to be released Sept. 22 in the United States.

Nolan’s Dunkirk gets a big thumbs up from critics

Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk, the World War II drama coming out this weekend, obviously isn’t a spy film. But there is continuing fascination (admiration by some fans, disdain by others) with the idea writer-director Christopher Nolan might one day helm a James Bond film.

Also, two of Nolan’s collaborators, director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema and editor Lee Smith, worked on SPECTRE. The latest wave of Nolan mania among Bond fans occurred via a Playboy interview timed to come out shortly before Dunkirk.

So the blog decided to look at Dunkirk’s critical response.

The answer is a huge thumbs up. The Warner Bros. release currently enjoys a 97 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website. Here are some non-spoiler summaries of some of the reviews.

KATIE WALSH, TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE: “Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema have crafted a film that places us in this heightened reality, shooting with IMAX cameras on large format film stock. Everything about ‘Dunkirk’ is bigger, realer, in images that are equally breathtaking in their beauty and in their terror.”

BILL GOODYKOONTZ, ARIZONA REPUBLIC: “Nolan is the best example of the filmmaker who, if you asked him what time it was would tell you how the watch works — and in his case that’s a compliment, because he turns the intricacies and minutiae of time and how it’s used in stories into artistic statements. Certainly he has done that here — ‘Dunkirk’ is a great movie, both an old-time inspirational war epic and at the same time very much a Christopher Nolan movie.”

PETER TRAVERS, ROLLING STONE: “From first frame to last, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a monumental achievement, a World War II epic of staggering visual spectacle (see it in IMAX if you can) that hits you like a shot in the heart. Leave it to a filmmaking virtuoso at the peak of his powers to break both new ground and all the rules – who else would make a triumphant war film about a crushing Allied defeat? And who but Nolan, born in London to a British father and an American mother, would tackle WWII without America in it?”

DANA STEVENS, SLATE: Nolan’s 2010 Inception “will serve as my yearly reminder never to go into a movie with preconceived ideas. The swift-moving, pulse-pounding Dunkirk reveals its filmmaker at his most nimble, supple, and simple—all adjectives that seem strange to use in connection with a movie shot in 65mm IMAX format, using practical effects and real stunts…But Dunkirk’s simplicity inheres not in its production logistics but in its storytelling.”

TODD MCCARTHY, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: “(T)his is a war film like few others, one that may employ a large and expensive canvas but that conveys the whole through isolated, brilliantly realized, often private moments more than via sheer spectacle, although that is here, too….In Dunkirk, Nolan has gotten everything just right.”

Martin Landau, M:I’s disguise artist, dies

Martin Landau as Rollin Hand in an IMF dossier photo

Martin Landau, who gained fame as Mission: Impossible disguise expert Rollin Hand, has died at 89, the TMZ website said.

Landau died Saturday at the UCLA Medical Center “after a short hospitalization where he suffered unexpected complications,” TMZ said.

Landau enjoyed a long career that began in the early 1950s. It included a number of espionage-related stories, including portraying Leonard, a henchman in the Alfred Hitchcock-directed North by Northwest (1959); a Cold War themed episode of The Twilight Zone; and playing Thrush operative Count Zark in The Bat Cave Affair, a second-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

But he was most famous for Mission: Impossible, where he appeared during the show’s first three seasons.

M:I producer Bruce Geller wrote the part of Rollin Hand (originally named Martin Land) in his pilot script especially for Landau. Landau didn’t want to sign a series deal. Geller wanted the actor for the pilot badly enough he proceeded anyway.

It would be a decision that would have a major impact on the series.

Initially, the idea was Rollin would only appear occasionally. However, series star Steven Hill, for religious reasons, insisted on leaving work at sundown on Friday.

Count Zark (Martin Landau) menaces Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) in The Bat Cave Affair

As a result, scripts were revised to de-emphasize Hill’s Dan Briggs and to keep bringing back Rollin. Throughout the first season, Landau was listed as either a guest star or making a “special guest appearance.”

After the first season, Hill was fired, with Peter Graves replacing him as a new Impossible Missions Force mastermind, Jim Phelps. Landau was now joint star with Graves.

However, Landau would only agree to do one season at a time. This gave him enormous leverage in his contract negotiations.

After three seasons, Paramount executives wanted to cap costs on Mission: Impossible. The studio had tough negotiations with Landau.

According to Patrick J. White’s The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier, Paramount offered a small raise (to $7,000 an episode from $6,500 in the third season) while the actor wanted $11,000 per episode for the fourth season and $12,500 for season five.

Meanwhile, according to the book, Peter Graves had a clause in his contract that nobody else on the show could be paid more than he was. A raise for Landau also meant a raise for Graves.

Eventually, Landau departed, replaced by Leonard Nimoy as a new disguise expert, Paris. That led to Barbara Bain, Landau’s real-life spouse, exiting the series as well.

Landau and Bain years later starred in Space: 1999, a syndicated Gerry Anderson science fiction series that ran two seasons. The couple divorced in 1993.

Landau eventually secured three nominations for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, with one win for 1994’s Ed Wood as Bela Lugosi. His turn as Count Zark in The Bat Cave Affair decades earlier (where he spoke with the same Lugosi accent) was a sort of warm up.

Neverthless, Landau retained his association as Rollin Hand. In 2014, the MeTV cable channel produced promos for M:I with Landau urging viewers to “watch me on Me…MeTV,” while it was running the series as part of a Sunday night block of spy shows.

Remembering that 1989-95 007 hiatus

GoldenEye’s poster

Our post the other day about the anniversary of Licence to Kill’s release got the blog to thinking about what followed: The six-year hiatus in James Bond film production.

Like the earlier post, this is more of a personal take on the events.

The thing is, in those pre-internet days, the news was much slower in getting around. During much of this period, I saw a number of items in The Wall Street Journal. I had a subscription at the time.

Also, the extent of what was going on wasn’t immediately evident.

There were reports in the trade press that director John Glen and screenwriter Richard Maibaum wouldn’t be returning to the series. This was the first indication (at least to me) that a big makeover, rather than minor tweaks, was in store.

There were occasional stories about potential new directors and screenwriters. Things got more serious when it was announced that Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions, was putting itself up for sale. Eventually, no sale occurred, but seeing the original announcement was an eye-opener.

What’s more, the soap opera at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, went into overdrive. MGM was bought and sold again, with a bank (Credit Lyonnais) taking over the operation. Bond fans now needed to read the business pages of newspapers just to keep things straight.

Also, Danjaq/Eon filed a lawsuit related to what was going on with MGM. It was clear the next James Bond film wouldn’t be made soon. Even when the lawsuit was settled (I had a chance to read the press release at my office), it still wasn’t clear when production would resume.

Timothy Dalton

During this period, there were questions about what would happen with the incumbent 007, Timothy Dalton. Geraldo Rivera had a syndicated U.S. television show at the time and one broadcast was devoted to Bond. Some Bond experts participated. Rivera asked if Dalton would be back. The experts said they expected him to return.

Finally came the announcement that Dalton was gone. What was going to happen next?

Attention turned to Pierce Brosnan, who lost out on his chance to play Bond in 1986, when Dalton got the nod.

Eon maintained in a 1987 television interview that Dalton was always its No. 1 choice. In that interview, Albert R. Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson said Brosnan had never been signed to play Bond.

Brosnan had been signed (and it’s detailed in the Inside The Living Daylights documentary that’s part of home video release), but NBC reacted by ordering more episodes of Remington Steele. That, of course, was what gave Dalton his opportunity to play Bond.

In 1994, shortly before the casting decision was announced, The Wall Street Journal weighed in with a long front-page story about the Bond search and that it was not a clear-cut choice.

Regardless, Brosnan got the node. Many fans, no doubt, thought, “Finally!”

Advertisement for 1994 James Bond convention

Still, Bond had been away from theater screens for quite a while. Eon did something it had never done — having an official James Bond fan conventions in the fall of 1994 and 1995 (the latter days before the premiere of GoldenEye).

That was part of an effort to revive interest in Bond. For hard-core fans, they were anxiously waiting all along. Still, both conventions were interesting to attend. For some fans, it was a chance to meet like-minded people they had never had a chance to encounter before.

In the end, Bond resumed production. 007 even maintained an every-other-year schedule until the end of the 1990s.

Still, looking back at the hiatus, it’s a reminder that film franchises — for fans, for productions companies, for studios — can’t be taken for granted.

Licence to Kill: Odd opening day in 1989

Licence to Kill’s poster

Twenty-eight years ago today, Licence to Kill, the 16th James Bond film had its U.S. opening.

It didn’t go well, financially. Licence to Kill finished No. 4 at the U.S.-Canada box office that weekend, behind even Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

But even leaving that aside, it was an odd day for various reasons. This is a more personal post about that day.

I had arranged to take the day off from work. Back then, you didn’t really have the Thursday night preview showings (starting at 7 p.m.) that are common today. You’d have to show up late and the movie would begin just after midnight. It was technically a Friday showing.

Anyway, Mrs. Spy Commander and myself went to the first showing. It was after 1 p.m. Today, multiplexes start their day at 10 a.m. or earlier.

I knew ahead of time there was a scene (“He disagreed with something that ate him”) based on the Live And Let Die novel that had gone unused when the book was adapted by Eon in the early 1970s. I knew Licence to Kill was supposed to be a grittier Bond film and was more than ready to view it.

My initial reaction was the movie probably needed another draft for its script. It didn’t have the polish of previous Bond adventures. But I was also aware that a Writers Guild strike meant Richard Maibaum hadn’t fully participated in the proceedings despite the fact he shared the writer’s credit with Michael G. Wilson.

Anyway, after it was over, I asked Mrs. Spy Commander what she thought.

“It was….fine,” she replied.

Uh-oh. This was my first sign she didn’t like it. I pressed for more of a reaction.

“No, it’s OK,” she said. “They got their revenge story.”

When things really got odd was when we got home. I turned on TV and began “channel surfing.”

Suddenly, on Nickelodeon of all places, there was a Licence to Kill special. Kid anchors from the network were interviewing the principals of Licence to Kill. Clearly, the interviews had been done months before when the crew was filming in Key West, Florida.

The most unusual sequence was a joint interview of producer-screenwriter Michael G. Wilson and character actor Anthony Zerbe, who played secondary villain Milton Krest.

The kid interviewer asked about the increased violence in Licence to Kill. Wilson said something about how Bambi was emotionally intense.

Zerbe reacted by pretending he was about to cry. “I never got over Bambi,” he said.

That was the highlight of the show, such as it was. Timothy Dalton also did an interview for the Nickelodeon special, but it wasn’t nearly as memorable as Zerbe’s bit of comedy.

The thing was, I had no idea it would be more than six years before I’d have a chance to see another new James Bond film.