What’s at stake for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

After the “lost year” of 2016, Bond 25 appears to be actually getting into gear.

The New York Times reported that five studios (four established, one a newcomer) are bidding for a one-picture deal to distribute the next 007 film from Eon Productions.

However that bidding turns out, the stakes are still high for the 25th James Bond film.

SPECTRE was OK financially but didn’t grow the franchise

2012’s Skyfall was (pardon the pun) a quantum improvement over Quantum of Solace in terms of popular and critical reaction. Skyfall almost seemed like a return to the mid-1960s when Goldfinger made 007 a “thing.”

The 007 series followed up Goldfinger with Thunderball, which was even bigger.

The series followed up Skyfall with SPECTRE, which….wasn’t as big. In the U.S. market, SPECTRE sold the fewest theater tickets (23 million) of 007 movies released since 1995 (and the advent of the home video era).

SPECTRE brought back Blofeld but made him Bond’s “foster brother.” Shades of Austin Powers.

Because of information from the Sony hacks, we know other things that could have made it into the movie. M was a traitor. Tanner was a traitor. Bond watches Tanner commit suicide. Felix Leiter calls Moneypenny a “fox lady.”

Veteran 007 scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were summoned to perform triage. SPECTRE was no disaster at the box office, but it didn’t match Skyfall.

Where is this franchise going? At the end of SPECTRE, Bond (Daniel Craig) is driving off in the Aston Martin DB5 with Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux). The car was seemingly destroyed in Skyfall, but the Eon crew can’t let go.

If Craig comes back, do we go off on another revenge story (as in Quantum of Solace)? If Seydoux is killed by Blofeld (a fan favorite scenario), does Bond fall apart yet again (as in Skyfall)?

Or does Bond 25 mostly ignore SPECTRE, similar to how Diamonds Are Forever for the most part didn’t reference On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? (There are references but very slight.)

In Bond 25, after things don’t work out with Madeline Swann, 007 asks to be reinstated to MI6.

Does Bond 25 cap its production budget? Or does it double down?

 SPECTRE had examples of ridiculous spending. A $36 million car chase (really, a car drive). The “largest explosion in motion picture history” that had no drama because Bond and Swann were well away and safe when it happened.

Does Eon Productions scale back? Or does it try to keep up with the Joneses, i.e. modern movie blockbusters?

We’re a long way off from a movie being filmed. Not a whole lot can happen until there’s a studio to actually release Bond 25. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which exited bankruptcy in 2010, doesn’t have the resources to finance a big-budget Bond on its own.

Here’s the thing. As of now, the Bond series doesn’t have direction. In the 21st century, successful franchises (think Disney’s Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm Ltd.) plan things out years ahead of time.

With Bond, it’s kind of, “Let’s see how it goes.”

For 55 years, since the release of Dr. No, that has worked out. Maybe it will again. Bond 25 will tell us a lot whether that’s still the case.

Still more Bond 25 questions after NYT story

Eon boss Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig: Working together on another Bond movie soon?

Nothing like a story by The New York Times to generate more questions about the future of the film 007.

What’s Barbara Broccoli thinking? Sony Pictures has released the last four Bond movies. Barbara Broccoli, the Eon Productions boss, had by all accounts a good relationship with Sony executive Amy Pascal. The Broccoli-Pascal relationship was noteworthy in a still male-dominated movie business.

Pascal is gone, losing her job as a result of the Sony hacks in 2014 (though having a producer deal at Sony).

One of the bidders to release Bond 25, according to The Times is Annapurna. It’s an “upstart” (The Times’ words) movie concern that is about to release its first film Detroit, a drama about the 1967 riots in that city.

Annapurna head Megan Ellison, 31, is a tech heiress who has been active in producing dramatic films. Could she forge a bond with Barbara Broccoli, who turns 57 in June, similar to the one Amy Pascal had?

Why is MGM and Eon Productions only seeking a one-film deal? Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 a smaller company. It has been rebuilding gradually.

MGM spent much of 2016 negotiating with a Chinese buyer (still unidentified) but those talks didn’t pan out. MGM also has talked about selling stock to the public at some point.

MGM may yet see major changes. Keeping a distribution deal to Bond 25 only provides MGM executives flexibility for the future.

Why isn’t Walt Disney Co. interested in 007, according to the NYT story? Disney tends to think big. It spent billions to acquire both Marvel and Lucasfilm Ltd. (Star Wars) and is reaping the rewards as both crank out big hits.

Being the Bond film distributor means a lot of cost without a lot of profit. Sony, in its most recent deal, co-financed Skyfall and SPECTRE but only got 25 percent of the profits. MGM and Eon got more money than Sony did.

Bond fans may object, but for Disney releasing Bond movies would probably be more trouble than its worth. Disney would only get involved with 007 if it could buy everybody out and control it all, the way it did with Marvel and Star Wars.

 

Bond 25 questions/observations after NYT story

Daniel Craig

The New York Times turned up how five studios are bidding to release Bond 25. That new piece of the jigsaw puzzle adds information and raises new questions.

So much for that fan theory: Until now, there has been a popular fan theory that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer really had a Bond 25 distribution deal in its hip pocket but was just waiting for the right time to announce it.

If The Times is correct, no way. The April 20 story says MGM and Eon Productions only now “have started attending dog and pony shows put on by studios that want the (distribution) rights.”

A sliver of uncertainty in an uncertain world: Relatively speaking, Sony didn’t make as much money as you might think from distributing Skyfall and SPECTRE, the two most recent entries in the 007 series. Sony co-financed the movie but only got 25 percent of the profits. MGM and Eon got a bigger share of the haul that Sony did.

However, as Brooks Barnes of The Times wrote, the competition reflects “the realities of the modern movie business. As competition for leisure time increases, studios have focused more intently on global blockbusters, and those are in short supply….Having a Bond movie on the schedule guarantees at least one hit in a business where there is almost no sure thing.”

Now the questions.

So when does Bond 25 come out? Not soon. Until a distribution deal is reached, things such as budgets can’t even be discussed. Some fans still hope that Bond 25 can still go into production in early 2018 for a late 2018 release.

Is Daniel Craig coming back as Bond? Still unknown.

What is Annapurna? It’s one of the five bidders, along with Sony, Warner Bros. Universal and 20th Century Fox.

Annapurna is a movie company founded by tech heiress Megan Ellison. Here’s a description from a 2011 New York Times story:

Annapurna Pictures has Megan Ellison, a 25-year-old scion of Silicon Valley, who over the last year or so has been feeding what may soon be hundreds of millions of dollars to the hungriest part of the movie business: the writers, producers, directors and stars who make sophisticated dramas and adventure films that are too risky for studios and their corporate owners.

Annapurna, for example, has a Kathryn Bigelow-directed drama due out in August, simply titled Detroit, set during the 1967 riots in that U.S. city. Ellison, now 31, has producing credits including Zero Dark Thirty. Finally, Annapurna has done business with MGM in the past.

5 studios seeking to release Bond 25, NYT reports

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Five studios are seeking to release Bond 25, The New York Times reported, citing five people familiar with the process it didn’t identify.

What’s more, according to the newspaper, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Eon Productions are only offering a one-film deal. Sony Pictures has released the last four Bond films and its most recent two-picture agreement expired with 2015’s SPECTRE.

The studios identified by The Times are Sony, Warner Bros., Universal, 20th Century Fox and Annapurna, “an ambitious upstart financed and led by the Oracle heiress Megan Ellison.” Neither Walt Disney Co. nor Paramount are involved, The Times said. None of the companies involved returned calls from The Times seeking comment.

Reporter Brooks Barnes described an elaborate presentation by Sony that involved Kazuo Hirai, the CEO of parent company Sony Corp.

“Casting for the franchise has not been discussed in the meetings, according to the people briefed on them, although producers hope Daniel Craig will play the lead for at least one more chapter,” Barnes wrote. “He has a gap on his docket, according to movie industry databases, that would allow for filming.”

Under the most recent distribution deal, Sony co-financed Skyfall and SPECTRE but only got 25 percent of the profits. MGM emerged from a 2010 bankruptcy as a smaller company, without its own distribution operation. MGM mostly produces television shows. It relies on distribution deals with other studios for its small film slate.

Wild Wild West TV movies get home video release

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

TV movie revivals of The Wild Wild West from 1979 and 1980 are getting a separate home video release, according to the TV Shows on DVD website.

The Wild Wild West Revisited and More Wild Wild West were released in 2008 as part of a complete series release of the original 1965-69 series.

However, according to TV Shows on DVD, the two TV movies are being released as a double feature in June by CBS/Paramount.

Both TV movies included the original stars, Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. Both were directed by Burt Kennedy and produced by Robert L. Jacks, with Jay Bernstein as executive producer.

The Wild Wild West Revisited was written by William Bowers. In its original broadcast, More Wild Wild West had Bowers sharing the writing credit with another scribe, Tony Kayden. But at least some subsequent TV releases had Bowers getting sole writing credit.

Both TV movies had a much lighter tone than the original show. Still, Conrad and Martin were in fine form, the best reason to watch both.

The Wild Wild West Revisited is set in 1885, with the agents summoned from retirement to combat Miguelito Loveless Jr. (Paul Williams), who has mastered cloning and the construction of atomic bombs.

More Wild Wild West is set in 1890, when our heroes are again taken from retirement to combat a Albert Paradine II (Jonathan Winters), who has a pair of “Hulks” to do his bidding. (CBS was airing The Incredible Hulk TV show at the time.)

Also making an appearance is Victor Buono, as a character modeled after Henry Kissinger. Buono was the villain in the original show’s pilot and played Count Manzeppi in two second-season episodes.

Neither TV movie is the best The Wild Wild West has to offer but if you have all four seasons of the original series, it’s worth completing your collection.

For more information: WILD, WILD WEST?

U.N.C.L.E. sequel being written, /Film says

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer
(Art by Paul Baack)

Armie Hammer is quoted by the /Film website as saying a sequel for the 2015 Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is being written despite the film’s tepid box office.

According to the website, Hammer said he contacted Lionel Wigram, the co-producer and co-scripter of the 2015 movie.

“I was like, ‘Dude, what’s the deal? I get asked about this shit all the time. Can you just write a sequel?’” Hammer is quote as saying.

“He was like, ‘You know what? Yeah, fuck it, I’ll do it. Sure, I’ll write a sequel.’ I was like, ‘If you write one, I’m sure we can get one made,’ so who knows? Today is the first day I’ve actually told anyone that story.”

Two caveats: 1) Studios and production offices are littered with scripts that were never made into films. 2) Wigram, in this telling, doesn’t exactly sound like it’s his top priority.

The U.N.C.L.E. movie’s global box office was less than $110 million. During its opening weekend in the U.S., it came in No. 3, behind Straigh Outta Compton and Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. The latter debuted two weeks earlier than U.N.C.L.E.

Wigram’s collaborator in writing the film was director Guy Ritchie. The duo’s latest project is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which has had three separate release dates but is currently scheduled to come out May 12. That movie also is being scored by Daniel Pemberton, who did the music for the U.N.C.L.E. film.

The 2015 project was an “origin” story and dispensed with familiar U.N.C.L.E. tropes such as a secret headquarters. It had Hammer as Illya Kuryakin and Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo. Cavill currently is working on Mission: Impossible 6.

UPDATE (April 17): The Collider website also chatted with Armie Hammer. That story had slightly different quotes from the actor. “I actually recently talked to Lionel Wigram… and I was like, ‘Dude if you don’t start writing this script I’m gonna show up at your house and cut all of the tires of all of your cars, I swear to God.’”

So, in this telling, Wigram replied (according to Hammer), “You know what? Fuck it. I’m just gonna do it, I’ll probably start writing it.”

Clifton James, known as 007 sheriff, dies at 96

Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper in The Man With The Golden Gun

Clifton James, a character actor whose career extended more than 60 years but perhaps best known as a redneck sheriff in two 007 films, has died at 96, according to an obituary by The Associated Press.

James embodied a 1970s shift in James Bond films to a lighter, more comedic tone. He played Sheriff J.W. Pepper, a Louisiana lawman who was comic relief in 1973’s Live And Let Die and 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun.

“What are you, some kind of doomsday machine, boy?” James’ Pepper says, emerging from a wrecked police car and confronting Roger Moore’s James Bond following that film’s massive boat chase sequence.

J.W. Pepper was created by screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz. In the documentary Inside Live And Let Die, the scribe said he didn’t want the audience laughing at the African American villains in the film.

Clifton James as J.W. Pepper fit the bill. James said in the documentary he wore padding to make himself look heavier.

The character was brought back for Golden Gun. In one January 1974 draft, by 007 veteran Richard Maibaum (who took over for Mankiewicz), Pepper only had a small appearance.

Somewhere along the way, things changed. In the final film, Pepper accompanies Bond on a car chase. The sheriff at one point is leaning out a car window, yelling at other drivers. (The Maibaum draft had a Thai character simply called “Prospective Buyer” ride with Bond.)

James, however, was far more than J.W. Pepper. He easily made a convincing villain in various television series. He also played cheapskate Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey in Eight Men Out , a drama about the scandal when the baseball team threw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

James’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 100 acting credits from 1954 to 2017.

UPDATE (6:05 p.m., New York time): Roger Moore took to Twitter to note the death of Clifton James.

 
UPDATE II (April 16): The official James Bond Twitter feed published a post about the actor’s passing.

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