On Superman’s 80th, a few 007 connections

Christopher Reeve (right) with Roger Moore during filming of Octopussy.

This week marks the 80th anniversary of the introduction of Superman. DC Comics is out with Action Comics No. 1,000 to celebrate the occasion

The thing is, there are some elements in common, thanks to how the Christopher Reeve Superman movies were made at Pinewood Studios, the long-time home to the James Bond film franchise.

So here’s a few of them. It’s not a comprehensive list and I’m sure there are many stunt performers who worked on both.

Geoffrey Unsworth: Unsworth (1914-1978) was a celebrated cinematographer, whose credits included Superman (1978) and Superman II (1981), much of which was photographed at the same time as the film movie. Unsworth’s credits also included 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Unsworth also had a James Bond connection. On Dec. 21, 1961, he photographed screen tests for actresses vying to play Miss Taro for Dr. No.

John Glen: Glen directed five James Bond films, 1981-89, after earlier editing and being second unit director on three 007 films. He was one of the second unit directors for the 1978 Superman film.

Stuart Baird: Baird was editor on the first Superman movie. He performed the same duties on Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012).

Alf Joint: A stunt performer on the Bond series, perhaps his most famous bit was in the pre-titles of Goldfinger as Capungo, who gets killed by Bond (Sean Connery). He was also a stunt coordinator on Superman.

Shane Rimmer:  He had small roles in You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever while having a larger supporting role as a U.S. submarine captain in The Spy Who Loved Me. It also *sounds* like he does some voiceover work in the pre-titles of Live And Let Die as an agent who’s killed in New Orleans. (“Whose funeral is it?”)

He also played a NASA controller in Superman II. The IMDB listing for Superman III lists him as “State Policeman.” Truth be told, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie, I can’t confirm.

Guy Hamilton: He directed four 007 films, two with Sean Connery and two with Roger Moore. He was signed to direct Superman but exited the project and replaced by Richard Donner.

(UPDATE 9:40 a.m., April 20): By popular demand, two more.

Tom Mankiewicz: The screenwriter of 1970s 007 films was credited as “creative consultant” in Superman and Superman II. He essentially rewrote the scripts, combining elements of very serious Mario Puzo drafts and much lighter drafts by David Newman and Leslie Newman.

Clifton James: The veteran actor, who played Sheriff J.W. Pepper in two Bond films, again played a sheriff in Superman II.

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Should Marvel’s Feige get a Thalberg award?

Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios

The Playlist website had a story where the writers of the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War make the case for Marvel Studios getting at least some awards love.

““When is someone going to get [Kevin] Feige the [Irving G.] Thalberg award,” scribe Stephen McFeely was quoted as saying. “All he’s doing is remaking Hollywood. Please!”

The Thalberg award is an honorary award given out by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the same organization that gives out the Oscars. The award is given to “creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production,” according to the Oscars website.

The Thalberg award isn’t given out every year. In fact, it hasn’t been given out since 2010 when Francis Ford Coppola, also a noted writer and director, received it.

The thing is, comic book movies generally don’t get a lot of Oscars love. Heath Ledger won a Best Supporting Actor award for The Dark Knight (2008). Suicide Squad (2016) won an Oscar for makeup and hairstyling.

More broadly, escapist movies generally don’t appear to get the same consideration as more serious fare. James Bond films won five Oscars from 1965 to 2016, including two Best Song awards, but none for acting, writing or directing.

The biggest Oscar love was when Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon Productions, received a Thalberg award in 1982, presented to him by Roger Moore, his 007 actor at the time.

Still, the Playlist story may have a point.

Under Feige, 44, Marvel has produced its own movies, rather than licensing rights to other studios, starting with 2008’s Iron Man. In that decade, Marvel established the idea of inter-connected movies all within the same fictional universe.

The success of that universe spurred Walt Disney Co. to buy Marvel, which has mostly let Feige run his own show.

So far, that has resulted in 18 movies, running through last month’s Black Panther. Two more Marvel Studios films are coming out this year, including next month’s Avengers: Infinity War.

Remember, Broccoli won the Thalberg when he was in his early 70s for his Bond output. That was 12 films at the time he received the award (Dr. No through For Your Eyes Only) with the 13th (Octopussy) in preparation. He would eventually be involved with the first 17 007 films before he died in 1996.

Now there are big differences between Marvel and Bond. As the blog has written before, Marvel is a prime example of the corporate model while Eon is the embodiment of the family model.

Still, Feige has had a major impact. Warner Bros., over the decades, came out with Superman and Batman movies that weren’t part of a single universe. Marvel spurred Warner Bros. to follow suit. Other studios have tried to replicate what Marvel did but came up short.

It remains to be seen whether the academy will consider Feige for the Thalberg, considered one of its major awards. But Feige, over the past decade, has had a major impact on the movie business.

Bond 25: The passionless 007?

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Bond 25 is progressing. Nobody knows how quickly. Nobody outside Eon Productions know exactly what’s happening..

Despite questions this blog has raised (including how nobody knows the distributor who will actually get the movie to theaters) , chances are the next James Bond film will still come out in the fall of 2019.

Why? Well, somebody is likely to step up even if Skyfall and SPECTRE generated small profits for Sony Pictures, the distributor for those two 007 films. Bond, at least for now, still generates a lot of global attention.

Bond still is a way to promote other, more profitable movies for studios that may become involved in Bond 25’s distribution.

The question remains whether Bond 25 will generate passion for global movie audiences.

Marvel Studios’s Black Panther, the newest member of the billion-dollar movie club, generated passion. It was viewed as a breakthrough for a vast audience that finally got to see sympathetic movie characters who looked like them.

That’s passion.

James Bond movies, of course, have been around for more than 55 years. There have been a half-dozen actors who’ve played Bond in the films.

Yet, the lack of Bond passion goes beyond familiarity.

The two custodians of the 007 franchise (Barbara Broccoli, 57, and Michael G. Wilson, 76) have spent the bulk of their lives in Bondage. That’s both a tremendous achievement (keeping such a franchise going) and, one suspects, a tremendous burden.

Broccoli and Wilson operated for years under the watchful eye of Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli (1909-1996) and his wife Dana Broccoli (1922-2004).

Since then, Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson have pursued non-Bond projects for many years now. Bond is lucrative. The other projects have provided variety. Maybe even provided passion.

In the coming months, there likely will be many stories generated about Bond 25.

But the larger question is whether Bond 25 will generate passion — for Broccoli and Wilson as well as the larger 007 audience.

Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. But it’s something to keep in mind as the Bond 25 story unfolds.

Not a good weekend for movies not titled Black Panther

Black Panther poster

The March 2-4 weekend wasn’t kind to movies not titled Black Panther.

The Marvel Studios film, in its third weekend release in the U.S., is generating an estimated box office of $65.7 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

Black Panther is nearing the $900 million mark globally, according to the website.

A distant second is Red Sparrow, a spy movie with Jennifer Lawrence, at an estimated $17 million.

Third is a remake of Death Wish, with Bruce Willis subbing for Charles Bronson. It’s estimated to bring home $13 million for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

It’s the first film to be released through a new joint venture between MGM and Annapurna Pictures. That joint venture will release films for both MGM and Annapurna under their respective company names.

The producer of Death Wish is Roger Birnbaum. He and Gary Barber became co-CEOs after MGM initially came out of bankruptcy in 2010. But Birnbaum later dropped out and accepted a producer’s deal at the studio. Since then, Barber has been the sole CEO at MGM, which controls half of the 007 film franchise.

Paul De Meo, writer-producer, dies

Mark Hamill and John Wesley Shipp from a publicity still for the 1990 Flash TV series

Paul De Meo, a writer-producer who developed the 1990 television series The Flash, has died.

His death was announced on Twitter on Feb. 26 by his partner, Danny Bilson. There were few details immediately available.

The duo also scripted a 1991 movie, The Rocketeer, based on a graphic novel by Dave Stevens. The movie featured an Errol Flynn-like actor, played by Timothy Dalton, who is really a Nazi spy.

De Meo and Bilson were also wrote (with Bruce Feirstein) the  James Bond video game Everything Or Nothing. They also wrote the 007: Nightfire video game.

With The Flash, De Meo and Bilson wrote the two-hour pilot TV movie and were executive producers of the series that starred John Wesley Shipp.

There were influences from the 1989 Batman movie directed by Tim Burton. That film’s composer, Danny Elfman scored the pilot for The Flash and provided its theme music. Also, the pilot adapted a meme from Burton’s film.

In Batman, the Bat Plane flies above Gotham City and stops in front of the moon, mimicking the Bat insignia on Batman’s uniform. In The Flash pilot, the camera moves above Central City. A lightning bolt comes down in front of the moon, mimicking the symbol on The Flash’s costume.

The resulting series included casting Mark Hamill and David Cassidy as villains (the Trickster and the Mirror Master, respectively). For Hamill, it was the start of a new side career playing bad guys, including voicing the Joker on Batman cartoons starting in 1992.

The show, which aired on CBS, was one of the most expensive on television at the time, in part because of its special effects. It was canceled after one season.

Below are the tweets that Danny Bilson and John Wesley Shipp posted about De Meo’s passing.

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How Black Panther may be the future of Marvel films

Black Panther poster

UPDATE (Feb. 19): Black Panther’s U.S. box office for Friday-Sunday ended up at $201 million, Exhibitors Relations said on Twitter. 

ORIGINAL POST (Feb. 18): Black Panther, the newest Marvel Studios film, is being celebrated as a huge moment for black America. Examples include The New York Times Magazine (“a vivid re-imagination of something black Americans have cherished for centuries”) and The Guardian (“The film is already being regarded in the US as a positive force for social change”),

It may also be a sign of Marvel’s future.

Black Panther’s estimated Friday-Sunday U.S. box office is $192 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

That figure would be (unadjusted for inflation or higher ticket prices), the No. 2 U.S. opening for Marvel. Here are the other movies in Marvel’s top five (all of which eventually topped $1 billion at the worldwide box office):

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012): $207.4 million.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): $191.3 million.

Captain America: Civil War (2016): $179.1 million.

Iron Man 3 (2013): $174.1 million.

Of the Marvel top five, Black Panther (starring Chadwick Boseman) is the only one not to include Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark/Iron Man.

It was 2008’s Iron Man where Marvel began making its own films, instead of licensing the rights to others. The movie became the building block upon which Marvel built is movie universe. Four years later, with Marvel’s The Avengers, the notion of a “shared universe” became big business.

Some have wondered whether Marvel could withstand Downey’s eventual departure. The actor turns 53 in April and it’s not the kind of thing you can keep doing forever. Other major Marvel actors such as Chris Evans (Captain America) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) have reached the end of their contracts.

What’s more, the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War and an unnamed Avengers film in 2019 is intended as a kind of finale for Marvel films up to now. So, a decade after its first movie, Marvel Studios has reached a transition point.

Black Panther already is a popular and critical (a 97 percent “fresh” score on the Rotten Tomatoes website) success.

Beyond that, Black Panther shows that Marvel is capable of extending itself beyond its first decade of making movies. Black Panther seems destined to join Marvel’s billion-dollar club (it’s at $361 million globally as of this weekend). The movie also is broadening Marvel’s appeal. We’ll see what happens.

The Black Panther’s 007 vibe

Black Panther poster

No meaningful plot spoilers but the extremely spoiler adverse should skip.

Black Panther, which is debuting this weekend in the United States, also has a James Bond vibe.

Director Ryan Coogler, was quoted in stories appearing in January like this one and this one as saying Black Panther was intended to be the Marvel film universe’s version of 007.

Black Panther features Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, the new king of the technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda.

The country is the only source of vibranium, a material with various properties which is the reason why Wakanda is so advanced. Wakandan leaders have long kept the country’s technology a secret. All of this is established in a short prologue that takes the form of a story being told a child.

T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) develops weapons and gadgets. Shuri is clearly this movie’s Q.

Because the movie is dealing with a fictional material, Shuri’s devices are more science fiction that what you see in a Bond movie.

What doesn’t work in a Bond movie (Die Another Day’s invisible car) is kid’s stuff compared to Black Panther, including a uniform with vibranium for T’Challa that stores kinetic energy that can be redirected against his opponents.

It’s similar to what director Christopher Nolan, a Bond film fan, did with his trilogy of Batman films.

In those films, Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox kept Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne supplied with devices. Some of the Freeman-Bale scenes played very similar to their 007 counterpart sequences, where Wayne can’t wait to play around before Fox completes his briefing.

More broadly, Black Panther has espionage undertones. Because Wakanda is trying to keep its technology advances secret — and keep control of its vibranium — it employs a large network of spies deployed throughout the world. As a result, there’s an element of international intrigue. The movie has a lot more going than that, but it makes an interesting subtext.

UPDATE: I should have noted this earlier. At the very end of the film, after the final post-credits scene, there was something displayed that would warm the heart of old-time Bond film fans.

“BLACK PANTHER will return in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.” It’s not the first time Marvel has done this sort of thing, but first-generation Bond movie fans probably appreciate it. In this case, the next Avengers film will be out in less than three months.