Chris Cornell dies at 52

Chris Cornell

UPDATE III (6:50 p.m.): The Wayne County (Michigan) Medical Examiner said Chris Cornell died from “suicide by hanging” even though a full autopsy report hasn’t been completed according to The Detroit News.

ORIGINAL POST (4:30 a.m.): Chris Cornell, the rock musician who co-wrote and performed Casino Royale’s title song, died Wednesday night at age 52, The Associated Press reported.

The news service quoted a Cornell representative, Brian Bumbery, as saying the musician’s death was “sudden and unexpected.” No cause of death was known early Thursday. Cornell, who had been on tour, died in Detroit, the AP said.

Cornell was the lead singer for Soundgarden and “helped architect the 90’s grunge rock movement,” AP said in its report. He was also lead performer and songwriter for Audioslave.

In 2006, Cornell became the first title song performer for the Daniel Craig era of James Bond films.

Cornell also co-wrote Casino’s title song, “You Know My Name,” with David Arnold, who also scored the movie.

With Casino, Eon Productions opted for a “reboot,” or starting the series over. The Daniel Kleinman-designed main titles were different that previous entries. Graphic elements for the titles included playing card images as well as silhouettes of violent fights as well as images of Craig, who was making his 007 debut.

UPDATE (4:45 a.m.): David Arnold commented on Twitter:

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UPDATE II (9:30 a.m.): Many tributes have been written about Chris Cornell in the hours after his death became public. Here are tweets by the official James Bond Twitter account and actor Jeffrey Wright, who played Felix Leiter in Casino Royale.

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Writers Guild authorizes strike; will it affect Bond 25?

Writers Guild of America West logo

More than 96 percent of Writers Guild of America members participating voted to authorize union leaders to call a strike during current contract negotiations, according to The Hollywood Reporter and other entertainment news outlets.

The idea of a possible WGA strike makes James Bond fans uneasy. Quantum of Solace was affected by a WGA strike and 007 fans fret it could have an impact on Bond 25 as well.

First, a strike-authorization vote doesn’t guarantee a strike. A union has to conduct such a vote before a strike can happen. Some times, there is an authorization vote but a settlement occurs without a walkout.

On the other hand, if a WGA goes on strike, it could occur as early as May 2.

Quantum’s WGA strike history: The 22nd James Bond film originally had a release date of May 2, 2008. (CLICK HERE to see the text of the July 20, 2006 press release announcing the date. It came out before Casino Royale was released.)

Later, the release date was pushed back to fall 2008. However, the WGA went on strike from Nov. 5, 2007 to Feb. 12, 2008. Screenwriter Paul Haggis dropped off a draft just before the strike began. The strike is blamed for story shortcomings in Quantum, even if it doesn’t explain everything.

Bond 25’s writing history (such as it is): Nothing is official, but the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye reported last month that veteran 007 scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were hired to write Bond 25.

Naturally, Bond fans wonder if a new WGA strike might disrupt things.

Still there’s one key difference.

The 2007-08 strike began shortly before the beginning of Quantum filming. Bond 25 doesn’t have a director. It doesn’t have a studio to distribute it. It hasn’t cast any actors. It has no production start date.

A strike may delay Bond 25 scripting but that process isn’t anywhere near as advanced as Quantum was just before that WGA strike.

Just to be clear, this post is from the narrow perspective of Bond 25. The WGA negotiations cover serious, broader issues.

Skyfall’s 5th anniversary: Brief return to Bondmania

Skyfall’s poster image

Five years ago, the James Bond film franchise reached a level — unadjusted, adjusted for inflation, or whatever measure you’d like — not achieved since the height of Bondmania in the 1960s.

That was Skyfall, the 50th anniversary 007 film. It was the first (and so far only) Bond film to reach and exceed the global $1 billion box office level.

Even taking into account ticket price inflation, the 2012 007 adventure is No. 3 in the U.S. in terms of number of tickets purchased. On that basis (or “bums in seats” as the British would say), Skyfall is  No. 3 in the U.S. market for Bond films, behind only Thunderball and Goldfinger.

Bringing the 23rd James Bond film to cinemas, however, was a more difficult undertaking than usual.

Beginnings

Initially, Eon Productions hired three writers: The team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade as well as prestige film writer Peter Morgan. Morgan had been twice nominated for an Academy Award.

As it turned out, Morgan had deep doubts about the viability of the James Bond character, something he didn’t go public with until a 2010 interview. “I’m not sure it’s possible to do it,” Morgan said in 2010, after he had departed the project.

Still, Morgan’s main idea — the death of Judi Dench’s M — would be retained, even though the scribe received no screen credit.

But there was a bigger challenge. While the film was being developed, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the 007 franchise’s home studio, went into bankruptcy.

Delay

Eon Productions, on April 19, 2010, said Bond 23, as the yet-untitled film was known, had been indefinitely delayed.

MGM emerged from bankruptcy in December 2010. There was a cost, however. MGM, which had already shrunk from its glory days, was even smaller. It had no distribution operation of its own.

Skyfall teaser poster

Behind the scenes, things were happening. Eon was bringing director Sam Mendes on board. Initially, he was a “consultant” (for contract reasons). Eventually, Mendes got his preferred writer, John Logan, to rework the scripting that Purvis and Wade had performed.

Mendes also was granted his choice of composer, Thomas Newman. David Arnold’s streak of scoring five 007 films in a row was over. Roger Deakins, nominated for multiple Oscars and who had worked with Mendes before, came aboard as director of photography.

Revival

In January 2011, a short announcement was issued that Bond 23 was back on.

Mendes officially was now the director. Over the next several months, the casting of Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw and Berenice Marlohe leaked out, with Eon not confirming anything until a November 2011 press conference.

Even then, some specific character details remained unconfirmed. For example, Eon wouldn’t confirm that Whishaw was the new Q until July 2012, well after the actor had completed his work on the film.

Publicity surge

Regardless, Skyfall benefited from much hype. Being the 50th anniversary Bond film got the movie additional publicity.

What’s more, London hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics. A major part of the opening ceremonies was a Danny Boyle-directed sequence featuring Daniel Craig’s Bond and Queen Elizabeth supposedly parachuting to the festivities.

Mendes, a director of the auteur school, also imported his style into the movie itself. Various segments were intended to provide dramatic moments to the principal actors.

Among them: A shaky Craig/Bond seeking redemption; a theatrical entrance for Javier Bardem’s villain; a dramatic reading of a poem for Judi Dench’s M, who is under fire by U.K. politicians.

Behind the curtain

Not everything holds up to scrutiny if you think much about it.

–Bond deserted the service, apparently upset about being shot by fellow operative Naomie Harris, while MI6 doesn’t seem to mind that at all. This was based loosely on the You Only Live Twice novel, where Bond went missing because he had amnesia. That doesn’t appear to be the case in Skyfall.

–Bond has the Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5 in storage, all gadgets still operational. Purvis and Wade originally wrote it as the left-hand drive DB5 that Bond won in Casino Royale in a high-stakes poker game. But Mendes insisted it be the Goldfinger car.

–M blathers on. She’s fully aware — because Rory Kinnear’s Tanner told her — that Bardem’s Silva has escaped.  But that’s secondary to the poem, which gives Silva and his thugs time to arrive and shoot up the place.

Unqualified success

None of this mattered much with movie audiences.

Every time the Spy Commander saw the movie at a theater, the audience reacted positively when the DB5 was revealed.

Some British fans rave to this day how wonderful the M poem scene is. Yet, when you break the sequence down, the doomed MI6 chief got numerous people killed by Bardem’s thugs by keeping them around instead of letting them disperse.

For all the trouble, for all the script issues, Skyfall was an unqualified hit. The movie’s release was the biggest Bond event since Thunderball’s release in 1965.

Oscar wins

Skyfall also broke a long Oscars losing streak for the 007 film series. The movie won two Oscars (for best song and sound editing). Both Newman and Deakins had been nominated but didn’t win.

Barbara Broccoli

Normally, a studio or a production company would want to strike while the iron was hot.

Not so in this case. Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli, in 2012 interviews, made clear she would not be hurried into the next 007 film adventure. There would be no quick attempt to follow up on Skyfall’s success.

At the same time, Mendes indicated he didn’t want to direct another Bond film. He relented and his hiring for the next Bond movie was announced in July 2013.

It’s possible a bit of hubris set in. You can imagine people saying something like this: “If this movie did $1 billion at the box office, the next 007 film will surely do $1.5 billion!” Or whatever. That’s human nature after all.

Instead, the next Bond outing would run into a new set of problems. Nevertheless, that should not distract from what Skyfall achieved (even for fans who didn’t enjoy the movie as much as others) five years ago.

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.