Happy New Year from The Spy Command

Our annual holiday greeting.

Happy New Year from The Spy Command. Best wishes to all of our readers.

And, as Napoleon Solo says, remember to party responsibly. We’ll see you in 2016.

solonye

Stan Lee at 93: a complicated legacy

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965, during happier days.

Stanley Martin Lieber, aka Stan Lee, turns 93 today. People who’ve never read a comic book have heard of him. Lee co-created the Marvel Universe of comic book characters, starting in 1961 with the Fantastic Four.

He is famous because of that and also through his own commercial sense and self promotion.

Stan (it’s hard not to call him that for anyone whoever read Marvel titles in the 1960s and ’70s) broke out from writing and editing comic books long ago. His IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 91 acting credits (though most are cameos or consist of voice over work) and 156 “self” appearances.

Stan had a way of making readers feel they were part of a club that “got it.” Marvel was less stuffy, less formal than arch rival DC.

One example is an Iron Man story in Tales of Suspense No. 84 in 1966. Tony Stark has suffered a heart attack just as began testifying about the Iron Man armor.

Outside Stark’s hospital room, reporters are present when Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts (yet another example of Stan’s alliterate character names) show up. “It’s Miss Potts, Stark’s private secretary!” says one. “And Happy Hogan, his right-hand man and trusted confidant!” says another.

The later quote has an asterisk that refers the reader to a caption. “We know people don’t really talk this way…but we wanna bring any newcomer up to date! —Smiley.” Smiley, of course, is one of Stan’s nicknames.

By the mid-1960s, general awareness of Marvel was taking off. Stan Lee was the face of the Marvel.

The problem was, Marvel was a lot more than Stan Lee. Artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Wally Wood, among others, largely plotted the stories.

Kirby, in a Fantastic Four story, created the Silver Surfer on his own. Ditko created Dr. Strange on his own and actually began receiving the plotting credit for Amazing Spider-Man starting with issue No. 26. Wood felt he did as much writing on Daredevil, if not more, than Lee did. (Wood was credited with writing one issue shortly before exiting the title.)

All three left Marvel by 1970. Fans of the artists make the case none of them, and others, got the due they should have received.

In a visual medium, it was Kirby who brought the FF, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, The Avengers and the X-Men to life in a two-year span. Earlier in his career, Kirby had co-created Captain America. As a result, Kirby laid the groundwork for much of the Marvel movie universe.

In the past few years, there has been a re-examination of Marvel’s early days, such as Sean Howe’s 2012 book, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

Still, there’s no question there’s something about Stan that appeals to the public. In 2010, Lee made an appearance at a comic book gathering in Dearborn, Michigan. There was a long line of people. All had purchased tickets to receive a Lee autograph, each ticket costing at least $40. Lee, accompanied by bodyguards, began making his way to the desk where he’d write out the autographs.

“We love you, Stan!” somebody in the line yelled.

Lee, without missing a beat, replied, “I love to be loved!” It got a big laugh.

So, excelsior, Stan Lee. Below is an early 1970s installment of the syndicated To Tell the Truth show. Stan is the contestant in the second game.

SPECTRE at $850 million worldwide box office

SPECTRE LOGO

SPECTRE’s global box office now totals about $850 million, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO.

Unadjusted for inflation, SPECTRE is the No. 2 007 film in wordwide box office. In the last weekend of 2012, Skyfall crossed the $1 billion mark en route to a $1.11 billion result.

SPECTRE’s run in the U.S. and Canada is winding down. According to Box Office Mojo,  the 24th James Bond film’s box office in the region is projected to total $865,000 for the Dec. 25-27 weekend. SPECTRE was being shown on 372 screens in the U.S. and Canada, 853 fewer than the previous week. The movie’s total box office for the region is projected at $196.2 million.

REVIEW: a look at SPECTRE’s soundtrack

SPECTRE promotional art

SPECTRE promotional art

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer
Thomas Newman became the third composer to do more than one Bond album after John Barry (11 007 scores and David Arnold (five). It happened when Sam Mendes returned for the 007 director chair for SPECTRE, after the success of Skyfall.

With the son of the legendary Alfred Newman being one of Mendes’ favorite musicians, it was almost predictable that Newman would be coming back as well.

By the beginning of October, two tracks from SPECTRE were released through the British radio, disappointing many people as they sounded too similar to Skyfall.

Of course, both Barry and particularly Arnold repeated some of their previous films cues into the Bond film in hand, yet the SPECTRE soundtrack seemed almost a remix of the Skyfall score.

However, when watching the movie, the soundtrack effect grows.

The gunbarrel –back at the beginning for the first time since 2002’s Die Another Day – has a sound reminiscent to Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is not Enough, with the last bars of the James Bond Theme as the blood drips down. It was, unfortunately, discarded from the commercial album, which starts with a track titled “Los Muertos Vivos Están” (The Dead Are Alive).

Track 1 is a pretty cool rendition of the James Bond Theme accompanied by the drums of a Mexican band known as Tambuco.

Something very important to say is that Newman, this time, seems more confident when using the Bond Theme, using it prominently and in full, unlike his previous job where he seemed a bit afraid to repeat his predecessor’s expertise in handling the piece attributed to Monty Norman.

Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman

More effective uses of the James Bond Theme are heard during the last seconds of “Detonation” (track 23) and “Westminster Bridge” (track 24, very similar to Skyfall’s “The Moors”). An unreleased Bond fanfare is heard at the end of the helicopter fight during the pre-credits sequence, with a piano orchestration leading us to Smith’s theme.

As Vauxhall Bridge (track 2) reminds us to “New Digs” from Skyfall (funnily enough, Bond points out the CNS building as “C’s new digs” in the scene), the third track is almost a cut and paste version of “Brave New World,” also from Skyfall. Yet, Newman manages to change the epic Hans Zimmer-esque sound for a lyrical chorus to enhance Bond’s arrival to Rome aka “The Eternal City,” which is the title given to the track.

The use of the chorus, also present in “Backfire” (track 6) and the end titles (track 26) were perhaps the best thing Newman did and one of the strongest points of the score.

“Donna Lucia” (track 4), used for 007’s seduction of Monica Bellucci’s character, reminds us a bit to Die Another Day, particularly the scene where Pierce Brosnan’s Bond is visited by Peaceful Fountains of Desire.

Romantic pieces are Newman’s strong point as he proves in “Madeleine” (track 9) and “Secret Room” (track 13). The piano notes and the strings make us fall in love with the leading lady and feel some empathy for the death of her father, as she observes her childhood photos on Mr. White’s hidden room in an African hotel. A choral version of Madeline’s theme is reprised during the end credits.

The North African sounds combined with Hoyte Van Hoytema’s shots of the train through the desert are perhaps one of the best audiovisual moments in the whole franchise.

Track 15 is the only time when we hear a rendition of Sam Smith’s theme song, “Writing’s on the Wall”. Newman made his own instrumental version (the first minute sounds very similar to the original) for Bond’s intimate moment with Madeleine Swann on the train.

As Bond escapes a horrid torture by Oberhauser, a piece titled “Tempus Fugit” (track 19) is heard for the second time. Closely similar to another track from Skyfall titled The Bloody Shot, this track first appears as Bond fights Sciarra inside an helicopter atop Mexico City, at the very beginning of the film.

Perhaps the least interesting piece is the atonal “Snow Plane” (track 11), where it seems Newman tried to imitate Bill Conti’s For Your Eyes Only disco score. This scene – where 007 chases Hinx and his goons with a plane across the snowy Austria — needed a more John Barry or David Arnold like sound, a closer feeling to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, way more darker.

Apart from that, it was a nice nod of Newman to add a source piece in the score. Track 18, “Day of the Dead”, features Tambuco and has the actual chorus from the festive mourners, cheering up for the “resurrection” of their deceased ones.

Before the end titles, the composer closes with “Out of Bullets” (track 25), which is a very beautiful version of the romantic piano cue from “Secret Room” and “Madeleine”, combined with a lush sound reminiscent to David Arnold’s romantic sounds from his Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day scores.

In conclusion, the SPECTRE score is indeed special and fits with the conclusion of the story opened in Casino Royale, almost ten years ago. A needed criticism has to be made to the way Newman made that cut-and-paste to the Skyfall score (he should have used the cues in a more subtle way), but it indeed achieves the objective of transporting us to the magic atmosphere of the film’s locations –from the lyrical Rome to the exotic Tangier– in a very pretty way.

SPECTRE finally passes M:I in U.S.-Canada box office

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE on Dec. 23 finally passed Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation in U.S.-Canada box office, making as the 24th James Bond film the highest-grossing 2015 spy film in the region.

SPECTRE had estimated box office of $385,000 in the region on Dec. 23, ACCORDING TO BOX OFFICE MOJO. That put SPECTRE’s total U.S.-Canada box office at an estimated $195,059,955, edging past M:I Rogue Nation’s $195,042,377. SPECTRE now is No. 10 for the U.S. and Canada among all films for 2015.

SPECTRE had passed the fifth Tom Cruise M:I movie some time ago globally. The Bond film is at No. 6 worldwide at about $838 million as of today while M:I Rogue Nation is No. 8 at $682.3 million, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO.

SPECTRE is winding down its U.S. theatrical run. It was on more than 1,000 screens this past week. That figure will go down on Christmas Day, when a number of new movies open.

SPECTRE has sold an estimated 22.7 million tickets in the U.S. and Canada. It trails Quantum of Solace’s estimated 23.5 million.

2012’s Skyfall’s worldwide box office was $1.11 billion. That included $304.4 million in the U.S. and Canada, where an estimated 37.8 million tickets were sold.

Merry Christmas from The Spy Command

This has been the blog’s annual holiday greeting since 2011, going back to when the blog was affiliated with the now-inactive Her Majesty’s Secret Servant site.

The graphic was designed by Paul Baack, who had the idea for the blog. It’s such a great image and it’s presented here once more.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone.

HMSS-Xmas-greetings

Bond 25 news to watch for in 2016

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

As SPECTRE winds down its run in theaters, here’s a look at some events related to Bond 25 that may take place in 2016.

MGM selects its studio partner for Bond 25: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s deal with Sony Pictures to distribute 007 movies is expiring. A lot of people expect the decision whether to continue with Sony or to go with another studio to occur early in the year.

Michael G. Wilson, co-boss of Eon Productions, said during an appearance this year, that he expected the decision in “probably in January, February.”

Under the now-expiring Sony deal, it co-financed Bond films with MGM and paid for advertising costs in return for 25 percent of profits. With 2012’s Skyfall, which had worldwide box office of $1.11 billion, Sony got a profit of $57 million, according to an Oct. 30 story in The Wall Street Journal, citing an internal document that surfaced in the Sony hacks.  MGM received $175 million and Danjaq, holding company for Eon, got $109 million, the Journal said, citing the document.

Sony’s profit for SPECTRE will be smaller because the box office will be less (almost $837 million through Sunday) and its budget was bigger.

In any case, there’s not much that can happen until the decision is made. You need a distributor to set a release date. MGM, which emerged as a much smaller company after exiting bankruptcy, doesn’t have a distribution arm. And it needs a partner to shoulder Bond movie production budgets.

Daniel Craig decides whether he’s coming back or not: Wilson has said Craig isn’t under contract for Bond 25. The actor, in a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone had made it sound like he was under contract through Bond 25.

Wilson has said he’s optimistic Craig will return. The actor isn’t necessarily in a hurry. Still, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise there’s some kind of announcement about Craig and Bond 25 after the studio partner question has been dealt with.

Bond 25’s release date is revealed: Eon, MGM and Sony jointly announced the release date of the then-Bond 24 in July 2013. The studio partner question might slow things up this time. Still, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if MGM and whatever studio partner it selects sometime next year stake out a release date for Bond 25. (Our guess is that date will be sometime in 2018, but that’s a subject for another time.)

Bond 25’s director is revealed: If a Bond 25 release date actually is announced, it’d be good public relations to have a director signed. The July 2013 announcement was a double dip, providing the Bond 24 release date and the news that Skyfall director Sam Mendes would return for another film.

Of course, things don’t have to play out that way. The original Bond 22 release date release ARCHIVED AT THE JAMES BOND DOSSIER  didn’t have a director’s name and said the movie would come out on May 2, 2008. The release date was later changed to fall 2008.