Sony passed on chance to buy MGM, WSJ says

Sony Pictures at one time passed on a chance to outright buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the home studio of James Bond, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Journal doesn’t specify exactly when this occurred. But, based on the story by Ben Fritz, it was before MGM reorganized during a 2010 bankruptcy. Here’s the key excerpt:

Sony Pictures executives discussed buying Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, whose James Bond movies Sony had distributed for years. Instead MGM reorganized itself into an independent venture. Other potential acquisitions targets for Sony included DreamWorks Animation and pay-cable network Starz, according to employees. Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. ended up buying the network.

“There was a cautious business philosophy where we did not want to take big swings,” said a former Sony Pictures executive.

The story concerns both Sony Pictures and Paramount described as “Hollywood’s two worst-performing movie studios” by the Journal.

Paramount missed its own opportunity. It initially released movies produced by Marvel Studios. But Walt Disney Co. moved in and bought Marvel.

Sony has released the past four James Bond films, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale. Sony’s most recent two-picture 007 distribution deal expired with SPECTRE. Under that contract, Sony co-financed the films but only got 25 percent of the profits.

The Journal recently reported that MGM’s attempts to sell itself to a Chinese buyer fell apart last year.

Regardless, MGM has no distribution agreement for Bond 25. The studio and Danjaq (parent company of Eon Productions) control the Bond franchise.

Some questions about Bond 25 (20XX)

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

This originally was intended as a humorous post. But, truth be told, there’s not much funny right now.

Sketchy, circumstantial evidence suggests the 007 film franchise is more or less in the same place it was from 2002 to 2006: Trying to figure out what to do next.

The franchise eventually got back into gear by adapting Ian Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale.

You could debate whether a reboot (i.e. starting the series over) or recasting the lead role (letting Pierce Brosnan go and bringing on Daniel Craig) was necessary.

Even if you disagreed with either move, the idea of seeing Eon Productions do a straight adaptation of Casino ensured fan interest. The main question fans asked was, “How will it turn out?”

In early 2017, there isn’t another Ian Fleming novel to adapt.

Eon has already partially adapted the You Only Live Twice novel (with Skyfall). That 2012 film featured a disturbed, off-kilter Bond on a variation of the “impossible mission.”

On the other hand, does Eon Productions adapt the rest of the 1964 novel with Bond 25? Have Blofeld kill SPECTRE heroine Madeline Swann, causing Bond to go off on (another) mission of revenge? Some fans would say yes, saying the “Blofeld Trilogy” would finally be fulfilled on the screen.

Does Eon finally adapt a 007 continuation novel? Over the years, Eon’s Michael G. Wilson has criticized the ones written by John Gardner.

However, Eon opened the door with SPECTRE, adapting a sequence of Kingsley Amis’ 1968 novel Colonel Sun. You had to be patient watching the end titles to catch the acknowledgment citing Amis’ estate. At this point, you don’t have to use one of Gardner’s novels. There are many to choose from.

It still comes down to nobody knows when Bond 25 is coming out. Nobody knows what studio will release it. Nobody knows for sure who will play James Bond. Many fans are sure Daniel Craig will be back. Some will tell you it’s virtually assured that Daniel Craig will be James Bond in Shatterhand (Blofeld’s alias in the You Only Live Twice novel) in 2018.

But, for now, that’s a matter of faith, not fact.

PREVIOUS POSTS: 

WHY NOBODY SHOULD BE SURPRISED THAT ‘NOTHING IS HAPPENING’

PURVIS & WADE DISCUSS WRITING 007 FILMS

 

Lost love: Similarities between Allied, Casino Royale

Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt

Spoilers for Allied

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Some days ago I decided to watch Allied, which had recently premiered in my country. I barely knew something about the plot.  I found a movie that touched my deepest emotions. I linked the love story with the ill-fated James Bond and Vesper Lynd relationship in the novel and film Casino Royale.

The film is set during World War II. The main figure is a Canadian agent named Max Vatan (played by Brad Pitt, in a very emotionless performance I must add).

Recruited by the British, he is assigned to to terminate a Nazi German ambassador in Morocco. There, he meets his “wife,” French Resistance agent Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), who has infiltrated the Nazi society and befriended the wives of their enemy agent targets.

At first, he refuses to fall for her. But the attraction is stronger and they make love inside a car, hiding from a fiery sandstorm.

The day arrives and the mission is successful. They kill the ambassador, eliminate a few enemy agents and escape. They fall in love and marry back in London.

Things seem to go well and admist a WWII bombing she gives birth to Anna, their little girl.

But happiness doesn’t last long. His superiors inform Max that his wife is suspected of being a spy for the Nazis, a woman who killed the real Marianne Beausejour and took her place. A bait with false information is set up for her, and Max is given two options if they confirm Marianne is a mole: He kills her or they’re both executed for treason.

After some investigation by Max on his own, he discovers the truth: Marianne was a spy. She claims the Nazis threatened to kill her daughter, but she swears to have truly loved him from the beginning. They both plan to escape to South America after Max eliminates – one by one – all the people who were blackmailing his wife.

As they are about to leave the country, he is captured and his boss ignores all the reasons given by Vatan to save them. Seeing there is no way out for his loved one, Marianne dedicates a last “je t’aime” to Max and shots herself. The film ends with a letter from the woman to her daughter, whom Max is taking care of.

I have to admit this story made me cry, way more than Casino Royale. That’s probably because I knew the ending for the Ian Fleming novel before reading it or watching the film and because director Robert Zemeckis really knows how to make his audience weep, as he showed in films such as the acclaimed Forest Gump.

But the subject I wanted to bring up here are the many connections between this movie and Casino Royale.

First of all, Vatan is working for the British and the party scenes are very reminiscent to the lifestyle Ian Fleming had during this time: men in tuxedos, booze, cigars, and beautifully dressed and made up women.

French is also widely spoken trough the film, very much like in Casino Royale.

Max contacts people to check the true identity of his wife: an alcoholic soldier who lost his arm and a disfigured comrade who has lost an eye on the line of fire. These physical attributes are shared with Gettler, the black-patched agent of SMERSH who trails Vesper, and the hotel receptionist whom Bond interrogates about Gettler, who has lost an arm during the war.

In Allied, Marianne wants to change her life and escape from the Nazi threat by marrying Max, which is what Vesper hopes to do with James by escaping to South America trough Le Havre in Casino Royale.

While 007 and Vesper didn’t have a family and Bond’s patriotism is enormous, Vatan does not hestitate before betraying his country for the love of Marianne and the daughter they had in common.

If Vesper Lynd was blackmailed with her captured Polish boyfriend, Marianne is blackmailed with the life of her daughter by an incouspicious looking old woman who babysitted Anna and a jeweler who drops by to a party she was hosting to “offer her a necklace.”

Allied poster

Allied poster

Marianne is leaking information to the enemy in a similar way to what Vesper was doing to that number at Invalides she was calling when he almost discovers her, while being controlled all the time. In the latter case, it was a man with a black patch.

Both women share the same ending: while Vesper dies after an overdose of pills while the secret agent was asleep, Marianne shots herself in front of her husband and the capturing agents. They both leave a letter for posterity: Vespers’ is dedicated to 007, revealing the truth and a few information on how she was blackmailed and some leads. Marianne’s letter is dedicated to Anna, telling her a words of love and some memoirs of the happy times.

A main difference is again established between Max Vatan and James Bond.

In the very last scene,  Vatan is seen retired, walking next to a teenage Anna on the farm he always dreamed of having. He holds a good memory of his wife, with photos of her across his room.

On the other hand, a saddened Bond feels furious for the damage Vesper’s actions caused to his country and he swears to go behind the men who threatened her. He would complement the moment by reporting that “the bitch is dead,” even tough when he would pay a visit to her grave in a future novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Both Casino Royale and Allied are a testimony to how WWII affected lives and relationships and how enemies or allies haunted the private lives of these men and women who dedicated their life to a major cause.

How fans view 007 movies as LEGO blocks

On Her Majesty's Secret Service poster

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service poster

Fans treat the object of their affection like LEGO blocks. You can just move a few blocks from here to there without any other differences.

So it is with 007 films and 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

For years — decades, actually — Bond fans have debated the subject. The 007 film series produced its adaptations of Majesty’s and You Only Live Twice out of order.

Take out George Lazenby and put in Sean Connery? OHMSS would be a lot better is a common talking point.

Except, real life doesn’t necessarily work that way.

“If only they’d made OHMSS before YOLT…”

Except, you don’t get Peter Hunt as director. In turn, that means a ripple effect. You likely don’t get the most faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel, as the 1969 movie turned out to be.

Instead, you get You Only Live Twice except the character names and locations are changed.

Meanwhile, you have a greater chance of an underwater Aston Martin (in one of the script drafts before Hunt came aboard). You may even get Blofeld as a half-brother of Goldfinger.

All this isn’t speculation. Author Charles Helfenstein provides a summary of the various 1964-68 treatments and drafts for Majesty’s written by Richard Maibaum. Blofeld as Goldfinger’s half-brother was in a screenplay dated March 29, 1966, according to the book (pages 38-39).

In real life, making movies is more complicated. Change a major piece, such as the director, and there are ripple effects throughout the production.

Meanwhile, Eon Productions changed the order it filmed Dr. No and From Russia With Love.

With the novels, Russia came first. Dr. No came second. The movies reversed the order. Yet, few Bond fans complain about that.

Fan discussions about 007 movies are similar to debates among sports fans. Example: Which baseball team was better, the 1927 New York Yankees or the 1976 Cincinnati Reds?

For fan purposes, things would have been a lot better if Ian Fleming hadn’t sold off the rights to Casino Royale, his first novel, so quickly. In theory, if that had happened, Eon could have done Fleming’s novels in order.

Except, does anyone believe Sean Connery would have done a dozen Bond films?

Would Connery really have been satisfied doing that many 007 films in a little more than a decade? On the other hand, would fans have been satisfied with a Bond series of only six Connery movies starting with Casino Royale and ending with Dr. No?

Fans have their fantasies. Real life, though, is more complicated. Certainly, making movies is not like assembling LEGO blocks.

Four 007 films credited with saving the franchise

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

This week’s 10th anniversary of Casino Royale generated a number of stories crediting the 21st James Bond film with saving the franchise.

However, this wasn’t the first time the series, in the eyes of some, had been saved. What follows is a list of four.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971): Sean Connery returned to the Eon Productions fold for a one-off after 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman weren’t looking for Connery’s return. But United Artists executive David V. Picker was. As a result of efforts by Picker, Connery was offered, and accepted, a $1.25 million salary coupled with other financial goodies. John Gavin, who had  been signed as Bond, was paid off.

None other than Picker himself, in his 2013 memoir Musts, Maybe and Nevers,  said the moved saved the Bond series.

Hyperbole? Maybe. Still, Majesty’s box office ($82 million) slid 26.5 percent from You Only Live Twice and 42 percent from Thunderall. Those percentage change figures won’t warm a studio executive’s heart.

Diamonds rebounded to $116 million, better than Twice but still not at Thunderball levels. Nevertheless. Picker has argued his strategy of getting Connery back kept the series going.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): The 10th 007 film was made after Broccoli and Saltzman dissolved their partnership, with UA buying out Saltzman.

What’s more, the box office for the previous series entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, had plunged almost 40 percent from Roger Moore’s Bond debut, Live And Let Die.

As a result, there was anxiety associated with the production. Spy ended up re-establishing Bond, in particular the Roger Moore version. The movie produced a popular song, Nobody Does It Better, and the film received three Oscar nominations.

GoldenEye (1995): The 17th Bond adventure made its bow after a six-year hiatus, marked by legal fights. Albert R. Broccoli, at one point, put Danjaq and Eon on the market, though no sale took place.

As the movie moved toward production, health problems forced Broccoli to yield day-to-day supervision over to daughter Barbara Broccoli and stepson Michael G. Wilson.

The question was whether 007, now in the person of Pierce Brosnan, could resume being a successful series. The previous entry, Licence to Kill, didn’t do well in the U.S., finishing No. 4 in its opening weekend, even though it was the only new movie release released that weekend.

GoldenEye did fine and Bond was back.

Casino Royale (2006): This week, a website called History, Legacy & Showmanship had comments by various Bond students, including documentary maker John Cork, who is quoted as saying, “Casino Royale saved Bond.” Yahoo Movies ran a piece with the headline ‘Casino Royale’: The Movie That Saved James Bond Turns 10.

Meanwhile, GQ.com ran a article saying Casino was the best 007 film while Forbes.com aruged the movie “provides a helpful template in terms of doing the reboot just right.”

If Casino saved the franchise, it wasn’t necessarily in a financial sense. 2002’s Die Another Day was a success at the box officce. But Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were having a creative mid-life crisis.

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Wilson told The New York Times in October 2005. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

The something new was casting Daniel Craig in a more serious version of 007 and starting the series over with a new continuity.

Casino was a hit with global box office of $594.4 million compared with Die Another Day’s $431.9 million. In the U.S. market, Casino actually sold fewer tickets than Die Another Day (25.4 million compared with 27.6 million). But, with higher ticket prices, Casino out earned Die Another Day in the market, $167.4 million to $160.9 million.

On Twitter, the blog did an informal (and very unscientific) survey whether fans thought Casino had saved the series. You can see the results below.

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Dr. Strange: Marvel conquers the mystic realm

Dr. Strange poster

Dr. Strange poster

Last month, this blog ran a post saying the Dr. Strange move was a test whether Marvel’s movie juggernaut would continue.

The studio’s answer, essentially, was, “C’MON, MAN!”

That’s because the movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch successfully translates one of Marvel’s quirkiest characters to the screen while still retaining the studio’s basic style, which includes a health amount of humor (without going overboard).

Put another way, Dr. Strange is a movie you can enjoy without every having read a Dr. Strange comic book story or, for that matter, having watched another Marvel-produced film.

The Scott Derrickson-directed film uses the eight-page Stan Lee-Steve Ditko Dr. Strange origin comic story (the sorcerer’s third appearance in Strange Tales) as a springboard for a much larger epic.

Dr. Strange also is an example of how computer effects are integral to the movie. Realizing the mystic realms devised by Ditko (the artist created the character) would be impossible without them. At the same time, the Dr. Strange movie tells an actual story, complete with an arc for its lead character.

James Bond film fans should take note. The lead villain is played by Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre in 2006’s Casino Royale). Another sorcerer, Mordo, is portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was in the conversation to play Blofeld in SPECTRE before Christoph Waltz was cast. Readers of the original Dr. Strange comic book will recognize the significance of the Mordo character name.

This being a Marvel film, Dr. Strange makes a (brief) connection to the rest of the Marvel movie universe. There are two brief scenes in the end titles. If you’re one-and-done with Dr. Strange, you can pass them by. If you’re a Marvel film fan, you’ll want to see them.

By now, Marvel has shown it can adapt virtually any of its characters successfully to the screen. The ride continues. GRADE: B-Plus.

Casino Royale’s 10th: The ‘kids’ make the series their own

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli

This month’s 10th anniversary of Casino Royale is best known for the debut of Daniel Craig as James Bond and the 007 film series being rebooted.

But it’s also when the “kids,” Barbara Broccoli, now 56, and Michael G. Wilson, now 74, really made the series their own.

Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon Productions, died in 1996. His wife Dana, mother to both Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, remained a behind-the-scenes presence until she passed away in 2004.

The “kids” (as some fans refer to them) were looking to make their own mark and make changes.

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Wilson told The New York Times in October 2005, recalling his thinking on the matter. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

That included the reboot, starting the series over; finally adapting Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel after acquiring the film rights after many years; informing Pierce Brosnan he no longer had the 007 role; and casting Daniel Craig (with Barbara Broccoli as his primary champion), performing a tougher interpretation of the part.

In November 2006, when Casino arrived in theaters, the movie, its new approach and its lead actor received many good reviews. It has a 95 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson

“Daniel Craig makes a superb Bond: Leaner, more taciturn, less sex-obsessed, able to be hurt in body and soul, not giving a damn if his martini is shaken or stirred,” movie critic Roger Ebert (1942-2013) wrote of the film’s star.

Of the movie itself, Ebert wrote: “With “Casino Royale,” we get to the obligatory concluding lovey-dovey on the tropical sands, and then the movie pulls a screeching U-turn and starts up again with the most sensational scene I have ever seen set in Venice, or most other places. It’s a movie that keeps on giving.”

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade did the initial adaptation, with Paul Haggis polishing up the story, with all three receiving credit. Martin Campbell came aboard as director. Campbell had helmed Brosnan’s first Bond with GoldenEye and oversaw Craig’s first 007 adventure.

Casino Royale set a high bar for the “new” series to maintain. The challenges of doing that would unfold in coming years.

The main thing in November 2006 was, after a four-year absence, Bond was back — different but still 007. And the “kids” were responsible.