MI6 Confidential features Armstrong, Picker in new issue

David Picker

David Picker

MI Confidential is out with A NEW ISSUE that, among things, includes features on stuntman/second unit director Vic Armstrong and former United Artists executive David V. Picker.

Armstrong worked on the 007 film series in such films as You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He was interviewed for John Cork-directed documentaries about those movies, providing some behind-the-scenes perspective about how stunts were performed. From 1997-2002, Armstrong assumed the helm as stunt coordinator and second unit director for three Bond films starring Pierce Brosnan.

Picker was among the UA executives who reached a deal in 1961 with producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to get the 007 film series started. His memoirs were published last year, including A CHAPTER ON THE BOND FILM SERIES.

Also included in the issue are stories about Lana Wood and her experiences filming Diamonds Are Forever and Ian Fleming’s taste in cars.

The price for MI Confidential No. 25 is 7 British pounds, $11 or 8.50 euros. For more information about the contents or to order, CLICK HERE.

U.N.C.L.E.’s director of photography talks up Cavill’s Solo

Henry Cavill's Napoleon Solo reports for duty in January 2015

Henry Cavill’s Napoleon Solo

Thanks to C.W. Walker for the heads up.

The man who photographed next year’s movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has made public comments about Henry Cavill’s version of Napoleon Solo, according to THE INDEPENDENT IN IRELAND.

John Mathieson, the movie’s director of photography, commented about Cavill’s performance and Guy Ritchie’s work as director.

Here’s an excerpt:

Speaking at the launch of the new Samsung Curved UHD screen TV in London he said: “I thought Henry was terrific.

“He plays it quite humorously, everything’s slightly quirky, slightly sharp. It was very comic strip in some ways, I mean that in a good way.

“He plays it very differently [to Superman], this is much more earthbound. He’s a peacock, and he’s very funny. I thought he was great.”

(snip)

(I)t’s got a very British feel….We filmed in London on a digital camera but we were trying to give it more of a sixties feel.

“It’s a very good looking film, it’s set in the sixties, it’s very chic.”

Mathieson also said that Ritchie is “still cutting, he’s very close to finishing….We’ve got to do some post production to get that sixties look really right.”

None of this is startling. Crew members rarely talk down on a movie before it’s released. But there hasn’t been much U.N.C.L.E. publicity since the film completed shooting in early December.

The movie has been given a January 2015 release date by Warner Bros. Ritchie’s version, which he co-wrote with Lionel Wigram, is set in the early 1960s and depicts the origin of U.N.C.L.E. The original Warners’ press release said that Solo was a CIA agent and Illya Kuryakin a KGB operative involved in a joint operation. Armie Hammer has the Kuryakin role in the movie.

The original 1964-68 series, starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, downplayed Cold War references.

Earlier this week, some reshoots were filmed of a car chase, something that @laneyboggs2001 at Twitter had sniffed out. The main actors weren’t involved. Cavill is currently in Michigan for production of a Superman-Batman movie scheduled for release in May 2016.

Captain America and spies prove to be big box office

Captain America: The Winter Soldier's poster

Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s poster

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which mixed superheroes and spies, generated an estimated $96.2 million in U.S. ticket sales, according to the Box Office Mojo website.

The movie, starring Chris Evans as Cap, set a record for an April movie opening, according to The Wrap entertainment news site.

The film concerns Cap becoming increasingly wary of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Marvel Comics spy agency. The movie addresses various plot threads going back to 2008′s Iron Man, the first production from Marvel Studios. One of two epilogues in the end titles provides a teaser for next year’s sequel to 2012′s Marvel’s The Avengers. A third Captain America movie has been scheduled for May 2016.

Meanwhile, the storyline of Captain America: The Winter Soldier will affect the ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. USA Today has a story that details how in a story you can view BY CLICKING HERE. Both Marvel Studios and ABC are owned by Walt Disney Co.

Also, BusinessWeek has a story about Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios boss and producer of its movies. You can read it by CLICKING HERE.

HMSS Weblog’s guide to Bond 24 ‘silly season’

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

The Bond 24 “silly season” is underway as reports begin to emerge about possible casting.

The term “silly season” isn’t entirely accurate. Often, at least during the months leading to Skyfall, the reports WERE USUALLY PROVEN TO BE CORRECT.

Still, here’s a few things to keep in mind:

Read the actual story, not just the headline: The entertainment news website The Wrap ran A STORY saying that Chiwetel Ejiofor from the film 12 Years a Slave was the frontrunner to snare the role of Bond 24′s villain. The story was referenced in other entertainment site.

This got 007 fans going all over the Internet. But the story itself was less than definitive. An excerpt:

While Ejiofor does not have an official offer yet and is not in formal talks, he is being eyed for the coveted role and is widely presumed to be the frontrunner amongst the other actors under consideration.

Translation: He hasn’t been cast yet and the situation is still in flux.

That hasn’t stopped fans from debating whether the actor would be a good choice to play a new version of Blofeld.

The Wrap’s story doesn’t even come close to mentioning Blofeld. But, given that Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer finally secured the rights to the character once and for all from the Kevin McClory estate, what’s a little speculation among friends?

Put another way: read the story, don’t just read the headline and don’t make assumptions.

With Skyfall, almost all the major casting news was reported accurately before an official announcement: News of Skyfall casting Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney and other actors was reported before the official press release in November 2011. Given that track record, it could happen again with Bond 24.

Don’t take denials from Eon at face value: Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig denied Ben Whishaw was playing Q in Skyfall even though Whishaw’s agent said it was true. Sam Mendes denied he was in talks to direct Skyfall even though his publicist told other media outlets that was taking place. Barbara Broccoli denied that Skyfall co-writer John Logan had been hired to write Bond 24 and Bond 24 days before MGM announced that Logan had, in fact, been hired.

The past doesn’t guarantee the future: This contradicts the first two points, admittedly. But, as fans read news accounts about possible Bond 24 casting and other news, they should take into account the source. Moreover, they should actually seek out the actual original source.

Often, websites will mention where the news came from. They may even provide a link to the original source. But fans should, at the very least, actually read the original source before getting overly excited. It may still be difficult to evaluate how accurate the report is. At the very least, check out where the news originated and how that source phrased the news.

REVIEW: Captain America in a 1970s spy movie

Captain America: The Winter Soldier's poster

Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s poster

Minor spoilers

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Marvel Studio’s take on a 1970s-style spy movie: dark and more than a little paranoid.

For the most part, it works. Put another way: It’s probably not a coincidence that Robert Redford, star of Three Days of The Condor, plays a prominent role in the film.

In this case, Redford has traded in his role of the semi-naïve lead (held down here by Chris Evans’s Cap) for the Max Von Sydow part.

For the uninitiated, 1970s spy movies had a much darker take the bulk of their 1960s counterparts, which tended to be escapist, led by the James Bond series produced by Eon Productions.

The ’70s were a time of real-life scandals involving the CIA and FBI and a U.S. president (Richard Nixon) forced to resign from office. Lest anybody miss this connection, the new Captain America film includes a long shot of SHIELD’s Washington headquarters where the Watergate apartments can be seen in the background.

To get a flavor of 1970s spy/political thrillers, consider this: Another of the era’s movies of note was 1974′s The Parallax View. It featured Warren Beatty as a reporter who investigates a conspiracy to assassinate political candidates. As a review wrote at the time, Parallax is like having Cary Grant fall off Mount Rushmore at the end of 1959′s North By Northwest.

In translating ’70s style spy movies for the 21st century, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo offers a bit of something for everyone. For those who’ve watched the Marvel-produced films that began with 2008′s Iron Man, a lot of what you thought you knew has been turned on its head. But for newcomers, you don’t need to know all the background.

Suffice to say that Cap, the living legend of World War II (as he was billed during a 1960s comic book revival), has a lot of trouble figuring out who his friends and enemies are. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury keeps things from him as does Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Meanwhile, Redford’s Alexander Pierce hovers, much like Van Sydow did in 1975′s Condor movie.

Fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series particularly may appreciate the 2014 movie’s main plot. Without giving too much away (except for hard core U.N.C.L.E. fans), it’s as if the villain’s plot in the first episode of the dark fourth season had succeeded, except it occurred a long time ago.

Put yet another way: this Cap movie realizes the potential of the notion the Bond movies had with the villainous organization Quantum in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

The Russos clearly like shaky cam, but viewers can keep track of what’s going on. At 136 minutes, the movie is a trifle long, but generally satisfying, except for those who hate comic book-based movies under any circumstances.

Be warned: there are *two* epilogue scenes that take place during the end titles. The first is a teaser for 2015′s The Avengers 2. The other is a teaser for Cap 3, which currently is scheduled for May 2016, opposite Warner Bros.’s Superman-Batman movie.

If Cap 3 is as good as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Warner Bros. executives may want to reconsider that Superman-Batman release date. GRADE: B-Plus.

Will creators be remembered for 2014 comic book movies?

John Romita Sr.'s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 121, written by Gerry Conway

John Romita Sr.’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 121, written by Gerry Conway

There’s a spoiler concerning Amazing Spider-Man 2 in the post below.

April 4 is the start of the comic book movie season with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The presence of SHIELD, Marvel’s spy organization, merits inclusion of the subject here. The film’s arrival raises the question how much recognition those who created the original source material will receive.

Movies made by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios have settled into a pattern. The comic book creators aren’t included in the screenplay credit. But, for the most part, they show up in the long “crawl” of the end titles. Those who did the original comic story get a “based on the comic book by” credit and later there’s a “special thanks” credit for those who worked on stories the film’s writers used in crafting their story.

Example: the first Captain America film in 2011 had a credit for Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who wrote and drew the original 1941 comic book. The “special thanks” credit included Kirby and Stan Lee, among others, who did various stories that helped form the final movie.

Meanwhile, movies where Marvel licensed characters haven’t even done that much. The X-Men movies and the 2003 Daredevil movie released by 20th Century Fox never mentioned the comic book creators, for example.

For that matter, DC Comics-based movies only reference comic book creators where Warner Bros. is contractually obligated to do so. So you’ll see Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s names on a Superman film as well as Bob Kane on a Batman film. But you won’t see Bill Finger, Mark Waid, John Broome, Gil Kane or others who did comic book stories that the movies used. Jerry Robinson got a consultant credit on 2008′s The Dark Knight that didn’t say he actually created The Joker.

Which brings us to Amazing Spider-Man 2, which Sony Corp. will release early next month, having licensed Spider-Man from Marvel. The Spider-Man movies released since 2002 do include Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the original creative team on Marvel’s most successful character.

Gerry Conway, who wrote Spider-Man stories in the 1970s, has taken to HIS TWITTER FEED to let folks know one of his stories — arguably his most important Spidey tale — figures into the 2014 movie.

I see in Entertainment Weekly that Spider-Man 2 is, in fact, based partly on my Amazing Spider-Man 121. Waiting for invite to premiere.

The Los Angeles Times noticed and a post on its Hero Complex blog. Conway’s original story included the death of a major character and there have been hints that will replicated with the 2014 movie.

In any event, many millions of dollars are riding on all this as Disney/Marvel, Sony and Fox all come out with superhero movies this year, with more scheduled for 2015 and 2016. None of those films would be possible without the comic book creators who, for the most part, aren’t with us. The likes of Kirby, Simon, Kane, Finger and others have died. Creators, such as Lee (91) and Ditko (86), are at an advanced age.

Only Stan Lee, with his gift of self promotion, is remembered by much of the population. Outside of comics fans, not many are aware the likes of Kirby, Finger, Larry Lieber (Stan Lee’s brother), Don Heck, Dave Cockrum, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Herb Trimpe, etc., etc., etc., created the characters that are the foundations of the movies.

It’d be nice if that changed in 2014. But don’t count on it.

UPDATE (April 3): Gerry Conway says on Twitter he has been invited to the premier of Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Licence to Kill’s 25th: 007 flops in the U.S.

Licence to Kill's poster

Licence to Kill’s poster

Licence to Kill, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is mostly known for a series of “lasts” but also for a first.

It was the last of five 007 films directed by John Glen, the most prolific director in the series; the last of 13 Bond films where Richard Maibaum participated in the writing; it was the last with Albert R. Broccoli getting a producer’s credit (he would only “present” 1995′s GoldenEye); it was the last 007 movie with a title sequence designed by Maurice Binder; and the it was last 007 film where Pan Am was the unofficial airline of the James Bond series (it went out of business before GoldenEye).

It was also the first that was an unqualified flop in the U.S. market.

Bond wasn’t on Poverty Row when Licence to Kill began production in 1988. But neither did 007 travel entirely first class.

Under financial pressure from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which acquired half the franchise after buying United Artists earlier in the decade), Eon Productions moved the home base of the production to Mexico from Pinewood Studios.

Joining Timothy Dalton in his second (and last) outing as Bond was a cast mostly known for appearing on U.S. television, including Anthony Zerbe, Don Stroud, David Hedison (his second appearance as Felix Leiter), Pricilla Barnes, Rafer Johnson, Frank McRae as well as Las Vegas performer Wayne Newton.

Meanwhile, character actor Robert Davi snared the role of the film’s villain, with Carey Lowell and Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto as competing Bond women.

Michael G. Wilson, Broccoli’s stepson and co-producer, took the role as lead writer because a 1988 Writers Guild strike made Richard Maibaum unavailable. Maibaum’s participation didn’t extend beyond the plotting stage. The teaser trailer billed Wilson as the sole writer but Maibaum received co-writer billing in the final credits.

Wilson opted for a darker take, up to a point. He included Leiter having a leg chewed off by a shark from the Live And Let Die novel. He also upped the number of swear words compared with previous 007 entries. But Wilson hedged his bets with jokes, such as Newton’s fake preacher and a scene where Q shows off gadgets to Bond.

Licence would be the first Bond film where “this time it’s personal.” Bond goes rogue to avenge Leiter. Since then, it has almost always been personal for 007. Because of budget restrictions, filming was kept to Florida and Mexico.

The end product didn’t go over well in the U.S. Other studios had given the 16th 007 film a wide berth for its opening weekend. The only “new” movie that weekend was a re-release of Walt Disney Co.’s Peter Pan.

Nevertheless, Licence finished an anemic No. 4 during the July 14-16 weekend, coming in behind Lethal Weapon 2 (in its second weekend), Batman (in its fourth weekend) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (also fourth weekend).

Glen and Maibaum were done with Bond, the latter being part of the 007 series since its inception.

Initial pre-production of the next 007 film proceeded without the two series veterans. Wilson wrote a treatment in 1990 for Bond 17 with Alfonse Ruggiero but that story was never made.

That’s because Broccoli would enter into a legal fight with MGM that meant Bond wouldn’t return to movie screens for another six years. By the time production resumed, Eon started over, using a story by Michael France as a beginning point for what would become GoldenEye. Maibaum, meanwhile, died in early 1991.

Today, some fans like to blame MGM’s marketing campaign or other major summer 1989 movies such as Batman or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But Licence came out weeks after either of those blockbusters. In the end, the U.S. audience didn’t care for Licence. The movie’s total U.S. box office of $34.7 million didn’t match Batman’s U.S. opening weekend of $40.5 million. Licence’s U.S. box office was almost a third less than its 007 predecessor, The Living Daylights.

Licence to Kill did better in other markets. Still, Licence’s $156.2 million in worldwide ticket sales represented an 18 percent decline from The Living Daylights.

For Dalton, Glen, Maibaum and even Broccoli (he yielded the producer’s duties on GoldenEye because of ill health), it was the end of the road.

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