Avengers sequel has U.S. opening of ‘only’ $191 million

Avengers: Age of Ultron poster

Avengers: Age of Ultron poster

UPDATE (May 4): The actual box office figure came out today. It was a little better than the original estimate on Sunday — $191.3 million.

ORIGINAL POST (May 3) Avengers: Age of Ultron generated estimated U.S. ticket sales of $187.7 million, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO.COM.

That’s an enormous opening for any other movie, but it fell short of the $207.4 million opening of 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers.

Movie box office figures are now covered similar to corporate earnings and monthly auto sales. The figures are gauged against expectations and projections. When the numbers exceed estimates, it’s written as a success. When the numbers fall short, they are often viewed as a disappointment.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “tracking” numbers indicated an opening of $190 million to $230 million.

When the movie didn’t make that level, there was some spinning to do, if this excerpt from the Times story is an indication.

The studio, however, adjusted its expectations on Saturday evening given several major competing events, including the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao “fight of the century” in Las Vegas that kept some potential moviegoers in front of TV sets instead.

“Between the boxing match, NHL and NBA playoffs, the Kentucky Derby … looks like folks were distracted,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s head of distribution. “But the second-biggest opening in history of movie business is something to be proud of and also just the beginning of what we expect to be a spectacular run.”

In a SEPARATE STORY, Ray Subers of Box Office Mojo wrote that repeating a $200 million-plus was going to be hard.

“In the years since the first movie’s opening, no other title has opened anywhere close to $200 million,” Subers wrote. “To make it that high required a perfect storm of factors, which Age of Ultron couldn’t quite replicate.”

Marvel still looks to have an overall financial success. The movie had an estimated production budget of $250 million. According to Box Office Mojo, its worldwide ticket sales are $626.7 million already. The general rule of thumb is that a movie needs to bring in about 2.5 times to 3 times its production budget to be profitable. The original Avengers movie had worldwide box office of $1.5 billion.

Marvel is an example of the corporate model of making films, which emphasizes planning and predictability. Avengers: Age of Ultron is the climax of Marvel’s “Phase Two” of films. The studio already has outlined films for “Phase Three,” which will culminate in a two-part Avengers movie being released in 2018 and 2019.

SPECTRE: What could have been

SPECTRE LOGO

No plot spoilers for the actual movie. If you think nothing should be written based on the Sony hack, stop reading now. No further warnings.

Now that WikiLeaks has set up a searchable index of hacked Sony documents, pretty much anybody with patience and an Internet connection can check out the pre-production of SPECTRE.

The Bleeding Cool website PUBLISHED A LONG POST based on the WiliLeaks material that contained a lot of spoilers and ideas considered, but rejected, for the movie. There have been other stories, SUCH AS THIS ONE concerning details of product placement deals.

The following doesn’t concern what’s in the movie — but could have had things gone differently.

October 2013, a SPECTRE outline arrives: Sony executives are mostly enthusiastic. There are multiple references to “love” this or “great hook” are among the responses.

“Love the idea that their is a mole in MI-6 and it turns out to be Tanner,” reads one of the reactions from the Sony camp.

Hard-core Bond fans — especially those who like Ian Fleming’s novels — might beg to differ. Bill Tanner, M’s chief of staff, was a friend to Bond in Fleming’s novels. In The Man With The Golden Gun book, Tanner asks M if he plans to bring charges against a brainwashed Bond for trying to kill him.

In the Golden Gun novel, when M informs Tanner he plans to send Bond on a suicide mission — to take out the novel’s title character — the chief of staff responds, “You coldhearted bastard!”

March 2014, first draft is delivered: There’s a more mixed reaction. Executives comment at events on various pages, while some visuals get praised.

Tanner is still a traitor. The villain, at this point, is an African, Joseph Ki-Embu, who uses a familiar Bond villain name as an alias. Felix Leiter, Bond’s CIA agent friend, also is in the mix.

May 2014: Amy Pascal, at the time one of Sony’s top movie executives, types up some reactions, including page-by-page notes.

Highlights: Bond is “rejected by two women by page 30.” Bond lets Tanner commit suicide on page 91. On page 122, Leiter calls Moneypenny a “foxy lady.”

Late June 2014: BAZ BAMIGBOYE OF THE DAILY MAIL reports that veteran 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have been brought back to rewrite the script by John Logan.

Jonathan Glickman, an executive of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which controls half of the 007 franchise, sends an e-mail to Sony executives. “Who spills the beans on this? P and W’s agents?” He’s also not happy with some John Cleese quotes in the Daily Mail story.

August 2014: There’s a debate because SPECTRE director “Sam Mendes is thinking about shooting 3 sequences in IMAX, a la (director Christopher) Nolan on Batman and Interstellar.” This will add $7 million to the movie’s budget. The same month, it’s decided that won’t happen. The three sequences will be shot “with full aperture, spherical lenses v. the rest of the pic which is anamorphic.”

007 film locations: New Otani hotel, Tokyo

James Bond (Sean Connery) just before an action sequence in You Only Live Twice

James Bond (Sean Connery) just before an action sequence in You Only Live Twice

TOKYO — Some visitors to the New Otani hotel in Tokyo likely get a feeling of deja vu.

Osato Chemical

Osato Chemical “headquarters” today

They should, at least if they’ve seen a lot of James Bond movies. The hotel provided a key exterior for the 1967 film You Only Live Twice.

In the film, Bond takes the place of an assassin he has killed. The agent is taken to the headquarters of Osato Chemical & Engineering Co. He ends up having to fight his way out, helped by Aki, an agent for the Japanese Secret Service.

Later, Bond goes undercover into Osato headquarters to try and find out more about the company, which turns out to be a front for SPECTRE’s plot to start World War III. Again, he needs Aki’s help to get out alive. That leads to a high-speed car chase, climaxing with a helicopter with a giant magnet, snatching the car chasing Bond and Aki.

In real life, at least in 2015, it’d be extremely difficult to have a high-speed car chase. The nearby streets are crowded most of the time. Most of the Osato sequences were actually filmed on Ken Adam-designed sets at Pinewood Studios in England.

The hotel includes a revolving restaurant at the top and a variety of stores and services. Its guests include tourists from around the world and is also used for corporate events.

Here’s a 2011 video contrasting the hotel as it appeared in the movie (filmed in 1966) and in real life.

Stan Freberg, brilliant satirist, dies

A Stan Freberg album

A Stan Freberg album

Stan Freberg, who wrote and performed satire of the first order for decades, died today at age 88, according to obituaries published by THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, USA TODAY and DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD, among other news sites.

Freberg was in demand to do humorous commercials, to voice cartoons and in general to make people laugh. He also has a connection to the 1960s spy craze, although few people will remember for it. Truth be told, Freberg might have preferred to forget it himself.

Freberg was a guest star in The Carpathian Caper Affair of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. To read a detailed review, CLICK HERE. Here’s an excerpt:

Perhaps producer Douglas Benton thought he scored a coup when he signed the great satirist Stan Freburg as a guest star. True, Freburg as Herbert Fummer comes across as amusing and sympathetic. But Benton might have been better off hiring Freberg to write an episode instead. Had that occurred, we would have been spared this insipid mess.

Freberg’s legacy is vast and his U.N.C.L.E. appearance is, at most, a footnote. Here’s an excerpt from from The Hollywood Reporter obit.

The godfather of humorous and irreverent commercials, Freberg lampooned cultural institutions and described himself as a “guerilla satirist.” The New York Times dubbed him the “Che Guevara of advertising,” and years later, “Weird Al” Yankovic called him a major influence on his career.

“Very sad to say that one of my absolute all-time heroes has just passed away,” Yankovic wrote on Twitter. “RIP Stan Freberg. A legend, an inspiration, and a friend.”

Here is just one parody that Freberg wrote in the 1950s, doing a takeoff of Dragnet. Daws Butler, who would later do voices on Hanna-Barbera cartoons, provides many of the voices here:

UPDATE (10:05 p.m.): To read a tribute to Freberg by Mark Evanier, a television and comic book writer who was a friend of Freberg’s, CLICK HERE.

The HMSS Weblog is now The Spy Command

spycommandwebloglogo-blogfinal.jpg

This blog has changed its name to The Spy Command.

The blog began in 2008 as The HMSS Weblog. It was a spinoff of the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. The blog developed its own voice as it continued regular publication while Her Majesty’s Secret Servant published less often. The blog became independent last year.

Without going into details, there’s a business reason for the name change. There’s no change in format. The blog will continue to write news and commentary about James Bond and The Other Spies.

Why Spy Command? It rhymes with “high command.” Also, the “C” in U.N.C.L.E. stood for “Command.” The combination sounded good.

The name change doesn’t affect the effort to archive some stories from Her Majesty’s Secret Servant. If you look at the green tabs above The Spy Command logo, you can see a tab for one of them, IOWA, SPY CENTRAL.

The blog’s TWITTER FEED has been changed. A new Facebook page will be constructed.

UPDATE: There is now a FACEBOOK PAGE for The Spy Command.

Announcing an archive project

The HMSS Weblog Spy Command has begun an effort to archive at least some articles from the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website.

So far, only three articles are back online: IRON MAN, THE COLD WAR YEARS (originally published in 2010), MATT HELM, AMERICA’S LOADED WEAPON, originally published in 2000 with an update in 2007, about the Dean Martin movies, and IOWA: SPY CENTRAL, about the University of Iowa’s collection of papers by 007 screenwriter Richard Maibaum and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. executive producer Norman Felton.

We have the text and art for several other articles and will try to get those up as time and real life permit. There’s no way for the blog to preserve all the stories but we’re trying to do what we can.

Her Majesty’s Secret Servant was published from 1997 until 2014, with the last new issue in 2011. The HMSS Weblog, now The Spy Command, started in 2008, formally became a separate entity last year. The name Her Majesty’s Secret Servant is copyrighted by Paul Baack and Tom Zielinski.

UPDATE (Feb. 8): Two more stories have been archived:

THE BOND TOO BIG FOR 007: The first draft of Moonraker was so big, it was too much even for James Bond. Story looks at that script as well as drafts for Diamonds Are Forever, Casino Royale and Tomorrow Never Dies. Originally published in 2011 in the final issue of Her Majesty’s Secret Servant.

QUANTUM OF FLEMING: How much “Fleming content” is in each James Bond film? A feature article expanded from posts in The HMSS Weblog originally written in 2010. Updated to include Skyfall. The expanded article never ran until now.

NYC hangout for Bond writers, collectors loses an owner

Jean-Claude Baker

Jean-Claude Baker

Jean-Claude Baker, a New York restaurateur, died this week at 71. He owned Chez Josephine, a colorful establishment that on more that one occasion served as a place for James Bond collectors and scribes who wrote about Agent 007 to gather.

One can only imagine how Ian Fleming would have described Chez Josephine. It was part restaurant, part shrine for Baker’s adoptive mother, Josephine Baker. There’s live music and the restaurant does brisk business from New York theater goers.

There was also something of a James Bond clientele.

Gary Firuta, a Bond collector, often brought the likes of writers James Chapman, Raymond Benson, Alan Porter, John Griswold, Anders Frejdh and Joseph Darlington to Chez as well as video producer Mark Cerulli.

Jean-Claude, upon seeing the Bond-related groups enter, would immediately say, “Oh, my friend!” in his French accent and fuss over those present. One could be away for months or a year or two. It was always the same when Jean-Claude spotted you.

Today, there are myriad Chez Josephine customers who wish they could hear “Oh, my friend!” just one more time.

For more information about Jean-Claude Baker’s colorful life, you can view AN OBITUARY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES or a PLAYBILL OBIT.

UPDATE: Here’s the text of an e-mail the restaurant sent to customers:

With great sorrow, the Chez Josephine family mourns the passing of Jean-Claude Baker.

Throughout his eventful life, Jean-Claude fulfilled with passion and commitment his one true vocation: to bring laughter, joy and love to all who knew him. His larger-than-life personality and unfailing generosity touched everyone around him.

His spirit was irrepressible. His love will endure in the lives touched by his special magic. A magic that his Chez Josephine family will do its best to continue in his honor.

The restaurant is closed today–Thursday, January 15–out of respect to our “Maman Jean-Claude.” We will reopen on Friday, January 16, as Jean-Claude would wish.

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