REVIEW: The Rhythm Section (2020)

A poster for The Rhythm Section

With The Rhythm Section, Eon Productions wanted to show what it could do with the spy genre without James Bond.

In terms of craftsmanship, it’s a respectable effort. The photography is good. The actors give it their all. Director Reed Morano shows off multiple locations. The movie also runs less than two hours, almost a rarity these days.

But when it comes to connecting with the audience, not so much.

Blake Lively’s lead character, Stephanie Patrick, has lost her family after an aircraft crash. She has fallen apart, becoming a drug-addicted prostitute.

Patrick finds out the truth and becomes an avenging angel, diving deep into the world of international espionage and terrorism. She goes after one of her targets by pretending to be a prostitute.

The point is to show a diamond in the rough and what she had to accomplish. Stephanie Patrick is more Jason Bourne than James Bond, and a not very confident (at least at first) Bourne figure at that.

By the end of the film, Patrick has become the new Bourne. She evens things out. She’s ready for new adventures by the end of the movie.

Still, it’d be better if there were more audience investment in Patrick’s story.

Some of Eon’s Bond mainstays show up behind the camera. Chris Corbould, a long-time special effects wizard for the Bond series, is present as second unit director, for example.

Hans Zimmer did not do the score. But he gets the first music credit for producing the score. Steve Mazzaro, one of the composers affiliated with Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions, gets the actual “music by” credit.

Nevertheless, parts of the movie’s score resembles Zimmer’s work on Christopher Nolan-directed movies. Zimmer has been announced as composer for No Time to Die, Eon’s newest Bond film.

An anecdote: I was the third person to buy a ticket at my theater for the first showing of The Rhythm Section on Thursday night. One of the two people who bought tickets before me stopped as the end titles were playing.

“It wasn’t so good, was it?” she said.

Not so much. GRADE: C.

The Rhythm Section off to a slow start with critics

A poster for The Rhythm Section

The Rhythm Section, the non-Bond spy movie from Eon Productions, is off to a slow start with critics.

The movie’s score at the Rotten Tomatoes website was at 41 percent based on 34 reviews early Wednesday evening. The movie comes out Friday, with early showings Thursday night.

What follows are non-spoiler excerpts from a few reviews.

RICHARD ROEPER, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: “Despite a game performance by (star Blake) Lively, ‘The Rhythm Section’ is a junk pile of missteps, from the convoluted screenplay that hops from locale to locale in Advil-inducing fashion to the overly stylized directing.”

PETER DEBRUGE, VARIETY: “From the very first scene, audiences should realize that they’re watching a very different type of character. In many ways, (Blake Lively’s Stephanie Patrick is) even less like ‘Atomic Blonde,’ in which Charlize Theron’s meticulously choreographed, unerringly lethal fighting style is fun to watch but pure fantasy…This isn’t an easy role, but Lively aces it.”

PETER BRADSHAW, THE GUARDIAN: “The movie is an interesting mix of Le Carré/Ludlum locations, invoked with jittery, paranoid urgency…The rapport between (Jude) Law and Lively allows the movie both to relax and pick up the pace. (Director Reed) Morano puts together good fight scenes, robust stunt work and tasty car chases. It’s destined to be viewed on a million long-haul flights, but it works perfectly well as a thriller.”

WILLIAM BIBBLANI, THE WRAP: “You know you’ve got a problem when someone in your movie calls the protagonist ‘a cliché’ and there’s no counterargument, ever, at any point in the film…It hardly feels like a story. It’s as though a vague structure somehow got a mind of its own and wandered into cinemas without supervision.”

A No Time to Die reality check

Daniel Craig/James Bond character poster

Adapted, updated and expanded from previous blog posts.

Ben Whishaw, who has played Q for three James Bond films, has told Collider.com that No Time to Die will be a “summing up” of Daniel Craig’s 007 films.

There has been some fan discussion of how the Craig films will now be this five-film epic, something the series had never attempted. Under this idea, No Time to Die will conclude five Bond films, similar to how Avengers: Endgame was the conclusion of more than 20 Marvel Studios movies.

No Time to Die may be presented that way. But this is just a reminder that Craig’s tenure was never planned this way unlike Marvel.

Let’s go back some years.

Sam Mendes said Skyfall “didn’t connect” to Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace: At a November 2011 press conference, Mendes was asked whether Skyfall was related to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

“It’s its own story,” the Skyfall director said of Skyfall. “It doesn’t connect with the last two movies.”

After the fact, things changed.

The filmmakers once told us SPECTRE was passe: Here’s a quote from Barbara Broccoli in a 2012 interview with CRAVE ONLINE:

Barbara Broccoli: I mean, we’ve talked about Blofeld over the years. The thing is Blofeld was fantastic for the time but I think it’s about creating characters that are, villains that are more appropriate for the contemporary world. It’s more exciting for us to create somebody new. (emphasis added)

The filmmakers told us Quantum was better than SPECTRE: Here’s a summary by the JAMES BOND INTERNATIONAL FAN CLUB of an article that originally appeared in SPX magazine.

Interestingly, Wilson and Broccoli told SFX that they have not abandoned the Quantum organisation, but also confirmed that it is not used in ‘Skyfall’. Wilson also revealed that they have the rights to bring back Blofeld and SPECTRE. ‘We believe we can use them. They’re a little dated at the moment. We went for the Quantum organisation, which was more business oriented, trying to corner the market on scarce resources, rather than a criminal organisation that did blackmail and bank robberies…’.

But Wilson’s co-producer Barbara Broccoli added, cautiously, that they needed a little more time to pass before they could go back to ‘extortion and blackmail! The Quantunm organisation does seem far more realistic. (emphasis added)

In 2006’s Casino Royale, the mysterious organization that Bond battled didn’t have a name. In Quantum of Solace, we found out it was called Quantum. In SPECTRE, we learned there was a tie between Quantum and SPECTRE via Mr. White.

The 2013 settlement with the Kevin McClory estate that gave Eon Productions the ability to use SPECTRE was an opportunity. That changed everything,

With SPECTRE, we got a “retcon” (retroactive change in continuity).

I saw a tweet from a fan who wondered whether No Time to Die was SPECTRE Part II. Essentially, many fans are buying into the idea (seemingly voiced by Whishaw in his Collider interview) that No Time to Die is Casino Royale Part V.

None of this means No Time to Die won’t be an entertaining James Bond. Still, let’s not get carried away.

MGM is leading media acquisition target, CNBC says

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, is the leading acquisition target among media companies as the industry consolidates, CNBC reported.

MGM “has held preliminary talks” with companies including Apple and Netflix “to gauge their interest,” the financial news network said in an online story. CNBC cited two people familiar with the situation it didn’t identify.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Apple held preliminary talks with MGM.

Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions, and MGM control the Bond film franchise. MGM is owned by a group of hedge funds, which acquired MGM out of a 2010 bankruptcy.

MGM may now be worth $10 billion, CNBC said. Besides Bond, it produces television shows for cable networks and streaming services and owns the Epix premium channel.

Netflix has prompted studios including Walt Disney Co. to start their own streaming services. Apple also has established a streaming service and reportedly is looking to add programming.

Broccoli & Wilson considered ‘shutting down’ B25: EW

Daniel Craig/James Bond character poster

Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson “considered shutting down” No Time to Die “entirely” after the film’s first director, Danny Boyle departed, Entertainment Weekly said, citing comments from Broccoli during an interview for a new EW story.

The entertainment publication didn’t provide additional details. It merely says the production continued after the producers met Cary Fukunaga, who got hired as the new director.

Eon Productions makes the Bond films and controls the franchise along with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. No Time to Die is being released by United Artists Releasing, a joint venture between MGM and Annapurna Pictures, in the U.S. with Universal internationally. Presumably those parties would have had to be consulted had a shutdown been ordered.

The movie originally had a fall 2019 release date. With Boyle’s departure because of “creative differences,” it was pushed back, first to February 2020 and finally to its current April 2020 release.

Some other details in the EW story:

–David Dencik plays a kidnapped scientist referenced in previously released plot summaries.

–Broccoli appears to deny that Lashana Lynch’s Nomi character received the 007 designation after Bond left MI6. “People write these theories without knowing,” Broccoli told EW. The Mail on Sunday reported in July 2019 that Nomi had been assigned the 007 code number in the film

UPDATE (4:55 p.m. New York time): Reader Jeffrey Westhoff notes that Brie Larson, star of Captain Marvel (where Lashana Lynch was a co-star) wrote a tweet in December where she believed Lynch’s character had the 007 code number.

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No Time to Die world premiere set for March 31

No Time to Die teaser poster

No Time to Die’s world premiere will be March 31 in London, Eon Productions announced today.

The premiere showing will be at Royal Albert Hall, according to the announcement.

The 25th James Bond film will have its U.K. release two days later on April 2. It won’t arrive in the U.S. until an official release of April 10 (although there will be likely “preview showings” on the night of April 9.)

Royal Albert Hall previously hosted the world premieres of Skyfall and SPECTRE.

No Time to Die finished principal photography in October, with some pickup shots being filmed since then.

The movie is in post-production. Last week, it was announced that Hans Zimmer is scoring the movie and that Billie Eilish is co-writing and performing the title song.

The MI6 James Bond website reported Jan. 7 that recording sessions for the score were underway. The website was the first to report that Eilish would perform the title song.

Some questions Variety could have asked Broccoli & Wilson

Eon Productions logo

This week, Variety published an interview with Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions. What follows are some questions that could have been asked.  Maybe they were but there’s no reference in the story that they were.

–Mr. Wilson, you’re 78. You and your half-sister Barbara Broccoli have run the franchise for a quarter-century. Does Eon have a succession plan in place? If so, can you describe it? Might you retire? Or do you plan to carry on? Or  will Barbara Broccoli take full command?

–Has anyone proposed acquiring Danjaq/Eon in the last 10 years?

–Do you expect the Broccoli-Wilson family will remain in control of the Bond film franchise 10 years from now?

Michael G. Wilson

–Who proposed that “Smallville”-style TV show? (The Variety story said Broccoli and Wilson rejected a “Smallville”-style TV series with Bond at Eton as a teenager) Was it Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, your studio partner? Why did Eon reject it?

–How would have the proposed “Smallville”-style TV show differ from the “Young Bond” novels published by Ian Fleming Publications? Would it have been substantially different in tone than the James Bond Jr. animated show (which featured Bond’s nephew, rather than Bond himself) from the 1990s?

–MGM, has undergone many changes over the past 40 years. It exited bankruptcy in 2010. It hasn’t had a CEO since Gary Barber exited in March 2018. Are you satisfied with where MGM is right now?

–The entertainment industry is facing a lot of changes with streaming. What is Bond’s place amid all these changes? Stay with movies? Make some kind of adjustment?

I did a couple of tweets with a few of these questions. I got some pushback from a reader who felt the questions were rude. The thing is, all of these are legitimate questions.

Remember, Albert R. Broccoli put Danjaq (parent company of Eon Productions) up for sale in the early 1990s. Nothing came of that. But succession planning is common. Even family-owned companies do succession planning all the time.