SPECTRE filming photos from weekend emerge

SPECTRE LOGO

There was more outdoor SPECTRE filming in London over the weekend, which got coverage in the U.K. press and saw images show up on social media.

The DAILY MAIL described events in its usual, breathless fashion such as this description of star Daniel Craig:

“The 47-year-old actor cut a dapper figure, dressed in suit to portray the titular spy as he strolled along Whitehall in London, drawing large crowds of excited onlookers.” The story has photos as well as a video.

THE MIRROR also chimed in, making some guesses about the plot of the 24th James Bond film based on photos of the filming.

Meanwhile, social media participants also put out photos, such as this one on Twitter.

On THIS PAGE of the message board of the James Bond MI6 website, users downloaded photos from social media outlets and posted them.

Another View (to a Kill): Roger Moore’s farewell

A View to a Kill's poster

A View to a Kill’s poster

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer
Three decades have passed since Roger Moore bid farewell to the role of James Bond with A View to a Kill, directed by John Glen.

The film had a striking marketing campaign, an effective cast and realistic action sequences, but nowadays it remains hidden in the hall of shame by many Bond fans.

There are issues: Roger was getting old, turning 57 during production. The film is way too Americanized. See the “Dick Tracy” police captain lifted out of an Police Academy film. Bond has lost his mystery and his lethal side compared to the Sean Connery days, perhaps.

But why is it that some Bond fans still keep A View to a Kill close to their heart?

Maybe because it’s Roger Moore’s Bond farewell party – and it is done with a lot of style: KGB, explosions, ski chases, dances into the fire, lots of women, luxury, exotic locations. Moore said goodbye in his way.

Delivering punches to his adversaries like when he played The Saint, drinking his trademark Bollinger champagne, smiling to young ladies with his rather evident wrinkles and adopting a snobbish alias (James St John Smythe, pronounced Sin-jin Smythe), the third official 007 threw out a party and we were all invited, before the dark side of Timothy Dalton’s dangerous Bond debuted onscreen in 1987.

Music is a key element of every party. In the case of A View to a Kill we had not only master composer John Barry, but the popular teen idol band Duran Duran, with a rocking main title song that reached No. 1 in the U.S. charts.

Band member John Taylor confessed to be a Bond and Barry fan and approached the composer to sing the title song. Barry, surprised by the young man knowledge of his career, agreed. It was a hit. Every trailer and TV spot voiceover reminded the audience Duran Duran performed the title song.

Former KGB agent Max Zorin was effectively played by Christopher Walken, providing the first ruthless and fiercely violent villain on the series. He guns down his accomplices while trying to escape from a flooding mine and enjoys it. He orders an intruder thrown alive into a propeller. He tires to maim 007 atop the Golden Gate with an axe.

Grace Jones as May Day also provided a shake off as an exotic beauty, a deathly henchwoman who gets close –- literally — with the aging Moore. She was prominently featured in advertisements for the film which asked if James Bond had finally met his match.

On the other side, we had Stacey Sutton, portrayed by Tanya Roberts. Irresistible and charming, Roberts was perhaps not so memorable in acting, but definitively memorable in beauty and sweetness with every expression and glance with her incredible blue eyes.

The action sequences of the film took a realistic approach –- well, if we forget Moore used doubles — with Willy Bogner’s direction of the opening sequence in Siberia, where 007 escapes the KGB troops on skis, snowmobile and an improvised snowboard.

In the style of the Moore era of parodying popular culture (as the Close Encounters of the Third Kind tune in Moonraker or the Tarzan yell in Octopussy), a cover version of the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” song is heard as 007 (actually stuntman Steven Link) “surfs” the snow successfully evading the KGB, but then the dramatic John Barry tune returns as Bond down a pursuing helicopter by shooting a flare into the cockpit.

Then we have Bond pursuing May Day through the Eiffel Tower and through the streets of Paris with a destroyed Renault and escaping the incinerated City Hall in San Francisco with his girl, in a thrilling scene where you’ll seriously wonder if he’ll survive or how he will do it.

A bit satirical and gag-filled scene is the part where Bond boards a fire truck and evades the police, yet Barry’s music brings needed drama to this sequence. Besides the Police Academy films with the silly cops, this action scene is unadultered Moore Bond fun, as is the fight atop the Golden Gate between Bond and his nemesis perpetuated on the film’s theatrical poster. A scene that is not out of drama, thrills, suspense and it still has Moore’s humorous touch.

The very last scene of Roger Moore as James Bond harkens back to the first shot we saw of him in 1973’s Live and Let Die: with a woman.

In his debut, Moore was with Italian agent Miss Caruso in his apartment following a mission. Unlike Sean Connery’s and George Lazenby’s detail close ups before their “Bond, James Bond” moment, Moore let himself be introduced in his incurable playboy fashion.

In A View to a Kill, 007, presumed missing, is sharing a shower with Stacey as Q’s robotic dog observes them. He throws a towel right over the device’s camera-eyes.

It’s pretty logical. The playboy won his girl on his farewell party.

Empire magazine previews U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Empire magazine’s July issue has a preview and new stills from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie.

Empire itself hasn’t put the content online. However, sites including COMIC BOOK MOVIE, HENRY CAVILL NEWS and HENRY CAVILL.ORG have run scans of the stills from the magazine.

A few tidbits in the Empire story via a summary in Henry Cavill News:

–The name Thrush isn’t being used for the criminal organization opposed by Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in the Guy Ritchie-directed film. Empire quotes co-writer Lionel Wigram as saying, “I don’t think you can say that with a straight face these days.” Instead, it’ll be a network of ex-Nazis.

–Henry Cavill comments to Empire about his Solo versus how Tom Cruise would have played the part. “Tom would clearly have been playing a very different character to mine, albeit of the same name,” Cavill told Empire. “It’s not that I was replacing Tom Cruise; it’s that the dynamic of the story changed and I happened to fit that better.”

Cruise was in talks in early 2013 to play Solo. He exited the project to star and produce Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. Cavill, who lost out for the role of James Bond in 2005 to Daniel Craig, was signed as a replacement.

–Cavill wasn’t cast as Illya Kuryakin because director Ritchie thought if the actor colored his hair blonde would look too much like Javier Bardem’s Silva villain in Skyfall. Armie Hammer go the role instead.

If you click on the links there are plot details.

REVIEW: Brad Bird pleas for optimism in Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland's poster

Tomorrowland’s poster

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001, dark has been fashionable at the movie box office. Climate change, wars and other calamities since then have reinforced that.

With Tomorrowland, director Brad Bird pleas for optimism. His second live-action film is a Valentine’s to dreamers in the form of a science fiction/fantasy story.

Bird’s 130-minute movie, which he co-wrote with Damon Lindelof, isn’t a Pollyanna endeavor. It more than acknowledges the challenges facing the world. Still, it has a simple message: We can’t just give up.

Tomorrowland is a place created by dreamers including Tesla, Verne and Eiffel (with Edison taking credit). In the course of the film, we meet former boy inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney), a disillusioned former dreamer, and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a young woman who still is one.

At the start of the movie, Walker is trying to describe events while the more optimistic Casey keeps interrupting his narrative. Bird & Co. doesn’t tip his hand. It takes a while for the story to unfold and the audience needs to pay attention.

Eventually, a confused Casey finds her way to Tomorrowland. Along the way, she encounters friendly robot Athena (Raffey Cassidy) and a number of hostile ones. She’s led to Walker who, we learn, found Tomorrowland at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York but who later was exiled.

Early in the proceedings, we see a display with a countdown. As things stand, something bad is going to happen, but it takes some time to find out what. Walker and Casey, fighting off hostile robots, manage to get to Tomorrowland.

This is a story that couldn’t be told — at least in live-action form — without computer effects. Late in the middle portion of Tomorrowland, things threaten to get away from Bird — similar to how Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar movie got away from him. However, the director pulls things together in the film’s final act.

When all is said and done, the director delivers an emotional and human ending. Here, GCI is a tool. An elaborate tool, to be sure, but one that serves the purpose of the story and not an end to itself.

Summer films are supposed to be “popcorn movies,” and that applies to Tomorrowland. Yet its strong final act provides an additional dimension. Having a human story and computer effects aren’t mutally exclusive. GRADE: A, mostly because of the powerful final act.

UPDATE (May 24): Tomorrowland, while No. 1 at the U.S. box office this weekend, delivered less-than-expected ticket sales. This NEW YORK TIMES STORY has an interesting passage: “While moviegoers have shown a taste for post-apocalyptic movies in recent years, Mr. Bird wanted to offer a more optimistic portrait of the future. But there is a reason studios continue to churn out dystopian fare: People seem to like it.”

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a re-evaluation

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has a special place in the James Bond film series.

It’s the film closest to its source material, Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel of the same name. It’s also a movie whose reputation has improved over the years.

Yet, fans keep pining for things that cannot be. If only the movies had been made in order of the novels, instead of reversing the order of Majesty’s and You Only Live Twice. If only the experienced Sean Connery had played Bond in Majesty’s instead of newcomer George Lazenby.

Here are a few thoughts on that:

OHMSS would have been a lot different if it had been filmed in 1966 instead of You Only Live Twice. The fan argument about the filming the Fleming novels in order (Majesty’s first, followed by Twice instead of the other way around) assumes we’d have gotten essentially the same movie as the one released in 1969.

As stated in Majesty’s, “I wouldn’t go banco on that.”

Charles Helfenstein’s The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, published in 2009, provides a rundown of various Majesty’s treatments and script drafts. According to Helfenstein, Richard Maibaum had a 1966 OHMSS treatment and draft including “an aquatic Aston Martin” a lot more gadgets than the 1969 film would have and the relevation that Blofeld was the brother (treatment) or half brother (draft) of Auric Goldfinger (pages 27-29).

That’s only one example. The book includes a table (pages 38-39) summarizing the differences of 10 different treatments and drafts, from 1964 through the 1969 film’s shooting script. The main thing in common is Tracy, Bond’s doomed wife, dies in all of them.

Peter Hunt, making his directing debut in Majesty’s, was one of the driving forces to keep the movie faithful to the novel. Had Majesty’s been after Thunderball, Hunt wouldn’t be the director. We might have gotten a similar film, but it’s likely we would have gotten something with more gadgets and a different tone (probably closer to Goldfinger) than audiences received in 1969.

Would Majesty’s really be better with Sean Connery than George Lazenby as Bond? For many, the answer is “of course.” Lazenby had no real acting experience before the film and Connery was, well, Connery. But not everyone subscribes to this conventional wisdom.

Writer Jeffrey Westhoff IN THIS ESSAY (in which he details why Majesty’s is his *favorite movie* not just favorite 007 film), argues against that idea. Here’s an excerpt.

I have often heard film critics and fellow Bond fans acknowledge the superior script and technical work in OHMSS, but then say, “It would be the best James Bond movie if only Sean Connery were in it.” I reject that.
(snip)
But let’s pretend a younger, amenable Connery was cast in an OHMSS directed by Hunt. It’s still a dubious proposition. For the story of OHMSS to work, particularly the ending, Bond must be vulnerable. From Goldfinger onward, Connery’s Bond was invulnerable, Superman in a tuxedo. I’m not saying Connery didn’t have the ability to play Bond as vulnerable, but after Goldfinger I doubt the audience would have accepted it.

For many reasons, OHMSS required a new actor as Bond….Lazenby’s athleticism in the fight scenes cannot be matched, and his acting improves as the film progresses, reaching its fruition in the proposal scene. More than any scene in the entire series, this one puts the greatest demand on the actor playing Bond.  (emphasis added)

The thing is, there is no right or wrong answer to all this. Without a time machine to go back to change events, or the ability to travel to an alternative universe where things occurred differently, there’s no way to know.

At the same time, real life is more complicated than what we want. So it is with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The only certainty is the movie remains — perhaps flawed but still one of the best entries in the Bond series.

Whiplash: The Telegraph on Skyfall

Skyfall's poster image

Skyfall’s poster image

On May 8, The Telegraph newspaper in the U.K. had a story about THE TOP 10 MOST OVERRATED MOVIES OF ALL TIME.

The No. 1 entry? Skyfall, the most recent James Bond film, which was released in 2012.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the story by Tim Robey.

Awkward in shape and thrilling only periodically, the film’s a fraught salvage job for which (director) Sam Mendes got far too much of the credit.

Look closer and the scars of indecision are painfully obvious, especially in that third act. Ben Whishaw’s Q allows the MI6 server to be hacked by… plugging a pair of ethernet cables into Silva’s laptop? The tube crash is a shambles. The disposal of Severine, after Bond has had his wicked way with this maltreated sex slave, is brutally callous. Daniel Craig seems hardened, waxy, and humourless, with no gift for floating a weak punchline, and the uninspired script (“Got into some deep water”, anyone?) gives him a morass of them.

Interesting critique. Meanwhile, the folks at the MI6 James Bond website sent us a link to The Telegraph’s review of Skyfall, written by Robbie Collin.

The link on The Telegraph’s website gives a Dec. 24, 2014 date, or less than a year ago; comments for the review are dated “three years ago,” suggesting the review was originally published in 2012, when the movie came out. Wikipedia, citing the Collin review, says it was published Oct. 26, 2012.

Regardless, it’s an interesting comparison to the more recent story.

Daniel Craig remains Bond incarnate, although six years on from Casino Royale he has become something more than a brawny cipher. There’s a warmth to his banter with pretty field agent Eve (Naomie Harris), the one-liners make a tentative return, and we even learn about the loss of Bond’s parents: the must-have back story for this season’s conflicted superhero.

Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan’s script constantly reminds us Bond’s physical prowess is on the wane, but his verbal sparring, both with M and new foe Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent turned vengeful computer hacker, is nimbler than ever.

(snip)

“We don’t go in for exploding pens any more,” quips a fashionably tousled Q (Ben Whishaw). Nor do audiences, and it’s no wonder Skyfall was a stratospheric hit.

That sounds like a rave review and it gets four out of five stars. If Skyfall is overrated, it would seem The Telegraph did its fair share of making it so.

To be fair, the two pieces were written by two writers with two different viewpoints. Still, one would think an editor at The Telegraph would at least want to reference the paper’s own review.

Without that acknowledgment, a reader gets a bit of whiplash.

John Stephenson, original Dr. Quest, dies

John Stephenson

John Stephenson

John Stephenson, a veteran character actor and the original voice of Dr. Benton Quest, has died at 91, according to BLOGGER MARK EVANIER, who frequently writes about television and comics.

Stephenson was part of a Jonny Quest cast that also included the voices of Tim Matheson, Danny Bravo and Mike Road. After the first several episodes, Don Messick took over as Dr. Quest’s voice but Stephenson continued to do a lot of voice work for Hanna-Barbera.

Stephenson also served as the announcer who informed the audience of the outcome of a case in the 1960s version of Dragnet. He also was a frustrated Thrush official in New York forced to take orders from Cesar Romero’s Victor Gervais in The Never-Never Affair episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., one of the most popular installments of that spy series.

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