Spy fans engage in throwing bricks from glass houses

Mission: Impossible-Fallout poster

Late next week, Mission: Impossible-Fallout reaches theaters. Some 007 fans aren’t happy, feeling the movie is, well, a ripoff.

Specifically, based on trailers, there are at least two segments of M:I-Fallout that seem “inspired” from previous Bond films:

–A villain appears to make an escape similar to the way Franz Sanchez did in Licence to Kill (1989).

–Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt makes a HALO (high altitude, low-opening) parachute jump, similar to how B.J. Worth did one doubling for Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).

The resemblances are undeniable. In fact, the current Hawaii Five-0 series did an “homage” to the Licence to Kill sequence at the start of its third season in 2012. So Mission: Impossible-Fallout doing it wouldn’t be the first time.

On the other hand, memories may be short. So the following should be noted.

–Live And Let Die (1973) when it was released was seen as inspired by “blaxploitation” movies of the early 1970s. While Ian Fleming’s 1954 novel featured a black villain, the movie utilized a few characters but dispensed with the book’s main plot.

–The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) was seen as 007’s answer to Kung Fu movies of the 1970s. Fleming’s 1965 novel of the same name was mostly set in Jamaica and didn’t have any Kung Fu.

–Moonraker (1979) was seen as 007’s answer to Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Fleming’s 1955 novel concerned a rocket but no space travel was involved.

–Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008) were said to be influenced by the Jason Bourne movies that were popular at the start of this century.

Javier Bardem’s Silva in a Joker-like moment in Skyfall

–Skyfall (2012) was inspired by Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Director Sam Mendes even said so. Javier Bardem’s Silva definitely seemed influenced by Heath Ledger’s Joker.

If fans want to accuse another franchise of copying, it can be a matter of throwing bricks from a glass house.

Filmmakers do this sort of thing all the time. Directors channel their inner-Alfred Hitchcock (or Stanley Kubrick, or whoever) all the time.

Christopher Nolan, who helmed The Dark Knight, channeled 007 films in his Batman trilogy. Example: Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) giving Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) gadgets more than slightly resembled Bond-Q scenes from earlier 007 films.

Chances are, if you see a shot or sequence that reminds you of a famous movie sequence, chances are it’s not a coincidence.

The key difference is what does the director do with it? Does it work? Does it contribute to an entertaining film?

In the case of The Dark Knight, whatever you might think of it, Nolan delivered a memorable movie. With Skyfall, whatever was “borrowed” from Nolan, audiences found it an interesting take on a Bond film.

I can’t judge Mission: Impossible-Fallout. I haven’t seen it, other than the trailers.

The question is where M:I-Fallout writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and his star, Tom Cruise, have delivered a good movie. “Borrowing” happens all the time in film. We’ll see soon.

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Live And Let Die’s 45th: The post-Connery era truly begins

Live And Let Die's poster

Live And Let Die’s poster

Adapted from a June 2013 post with appropriate updates.

For the eighth James Bond film, star Sean Connery wasn’t coming back. Three key members of the 007 creative team, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, production designer Ken Adam and composer John Barry, weren’t going to participate. And producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were mostly working separately, with this movie to be overseen primarily by Saltzman.

The result? Live And Let Die, which debuted 45 years ago this month, would prove to be, financially, the highest-grossing movie in the series to date.

Things probably didn’t seem that way for Eon Productions and United Artists as work began. They had no Bond. Broccoli and Saltzman didn’t want Connery back for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. The studio didn’t want to take a chance and made the original screen 007 an offer he couldn’t refuse. But that was a one-film deal. Now, Eon and UA were starting from scratch.

Eon and UA had one non-Connery film under their belts, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They had tried the inexperienced George Lazenby, who bolted after one movie. For the second 007 film in the series not to star Connery, Eon and UA opted for a more-experienced choice: Roger Moore, former star of The Saint television series. Older than Connery, Moore would eventually employ a lighter touch.

Behind the camera, Saltzman largely depended on director Guy Hamilton, back for his third turn in the 007 director chair, and writer Tom Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz would be the sole writer from beginning to end, rewriting scenes as necessary during filming. In a commentary on the film’s DVD, Mankiewicz acknowledged it was highly unusual.

Perhaps the biggest creative change was with the film’s music. Barry had composed the scores for six Bond films in a row. George Martin, former producer for the Beatles, would take over. Martin had helped sell Saltzman on using a title song written by Paul and Linda McCartney. The ex-Beatle knew his song would be compared to the 007 classic title songs Barry had helped write. McCartney was determined to make his mark.

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with their new star, Roger Moore, during filming of Live And Let Die

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with their new star, Roger Moore, during filming of Live And Let Die

Saltzman liked the song, but inquired whether a woman singer would be more appropriate. Martin, in an interview for a 2006 special on U.K. television, said he informed Saltzman if Eon didn’t accept McCartney as performer, the producer wouldn’t get the song. Saltzman accepted both. The song eventually received an Oscar nomination.

Live And Let Die wasn’t the greatest James Bond film, despite an impressive boat chase sequence that was a highlight. The demise of its villain (Yaphet Kotto) still induces groans among long-time 007 fans as he pops like a balloon via an unimpressive special effect. Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), up to that time, was probably the most over-the-top comedic supporting character in the series. (“What are you?! Some kind of doomsday machine, boy?!”)

For Clifton James, the role was just one of many over a long career. But he made a huge impression. When the actor died in April 2017 at the age of 96, the part of J.W. Pepper was mentioned prominently in obituaries, such as those appearing in The New York TimesThe Guardian, The Associated Press and Variety.

Live And Let Die is one of the most important films in the series. As late as 1972, the question was whether James Bond could possibly continue without Sean Connery. With $161.8 million in worldwide ticket sales, it was the first Bond film to exceed the gross for 1965’s Thunderball. In the U.S., its $35.4 million box office take trailed the $43.8 million for Diamonds Are Forever.

Bumpy days still lay ahead for Eon. The Man With the Golden Gun’s box office would tail off and relations between Broccoli and Saltzman would get worse. Still, for the first time, the idea took hold that the cinema 007 could move on from Connery.

Many editors at the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website criticized the movie and its star in a survey many years ago. But the film has its fans.

“I vividly remember the first time I saw one of the Bond movies, which was Live And Let Die, and the effect it had on me,” Skyfall director Sam Mendes said at a November 2011 news conference. Whatever one’s opinions about the movie, Live And Let Die ensured there’d be 007 employment for the likes of Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.

Rise of the ‘Scooby Gang’ in 007 films

SPECTRE publicity still featuring part of the fan-dubbed “Scooby Gang,” Tanner (Rory Kinnear), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw).

There’s a fan-generated 007 nickname that has gotten traction these days.

That would be the “Scooby Gang.” It’s shorthand for how supporting characters in the Eon Production film series join Bond out in the field. It’s based on the cartoon series Scooby-Doo, where the Scooby Gang of young people and a dog go out and solve mysteries together.

“Scooby Gang” was used in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, referring to the cartoon show.

Formerly, Bond was a lone-wolf. M would give 007 the mission. Q would provide some gadgets and Moneypenny would flirt before Bond departed the office.

That’s been changing for a while. In 1989’s Licence to Kill, Q (Desmond Llewelyn) goes rogue, as Bond (Timothy Dalton) has. He not only brings along some gadgets, he acts as 007’s assistant.

After Judi Dench came aboard as M in 1995’s GoldenEye, her character’s screen time expanded. That process started with 1999’s The World Is Not Enough where M’s kidnapping is a major aspect of the plot.

Finally, with 2012’s Skyfall, we got a rebooted Moneypenny (now with a first a name, Eve) who we initially see as a field agent. Also, the Judi Dench M scores more screen time than before because she’s a mother figure for both Bond (Daniel Craig) and the villain Silva (Javier Bardem).

In 2013, there was an early indication the Scooby Gang would come together in SPECTRE.

“Naomie Harris is getting more  of the action in the next James Bond film, which starts shooting next year,” Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail wrote in a story published on Sept. 12 of that year.

Director Sam Mendes, Craig, and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson are all big fans of Naomie’s and don’t want her to be too desk-bound, as other Moneypennys have been.

‘The idea formulating in Bond-land is for Naomie to be much more of a sidekick to James, and for her to get out and harm the bad guys,’ an executive close to the production told me.

Meanwhile, Judi Dench/M perished at the end of Skyfall and was succeeded by Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), who has his own impressive military background.

By the end of SPECTRE, M, Moneypenny, Q (Ben Whishaw) and Tanner (Rory Kinnear) are all out in the field helping Bond. And, thus, the Scooby Gang nickname was born. It has appeared on 007 message boards and elsewhere on the internet.

Now, there has been recent fan speculation/questioning whether Fiennes can return to play Mallory/M because of other acting jobs.

In the “old days,” few fans wondered about the availability of Llewelyn, Bernard Lee or Lois Maxwell. The actors only had a few days of work and the focus was on Bond. Llewelyn was absent from Live And Let Die, but most of the publicity and fan attention was on Roger Moore’s debut as 007.

We’ll see what happens next. Meanwhile, here’s an amusing tweet from Phil Nobile Jr., former writer for Birth. Movies. Death and now editor of a new incarnation of Fangoria magazine. He’s a big 007 fan and has written extensively about Bond films in the past.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Chill, 007 fans: This gentleman agent is used to criticism

“But let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist,” Daniel Craig said while promoting SPECTRE.

Recent stories on websites and British tabloid papers about how millennials are critical of old James Bond films has upset fans of the gentlemen agent.

On social media, that’s generated comments such as, “Bite my bum millenials,” and “I blame the parents……poor upbringing.”

The thing is, the criticisms mentioned in these stories aren’t new. They’ve been around pretty much as long as Bond has. Specifically, Bond is a womanizer, represents imperialism, has racial overtones, etc., etc.

One critique that sometimes is cited is an April 1958 review by Paul Johnson in the New Statesman of the novel Dr. No.

There are three basic ingredients in Dr No, all unhealthy, all thoroughly English: the sadism of a school boy bully, the mechanical two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude, snob-cravings of a suburban adult. Mr Fleming has no literary skill…

(snip)
The plot can be briefly described. James Bond, an upper-class Secret Service Agent, is sent by his sadistic superior, M., to Jamaica, to investigate strange incidents on a nearby island.

This review was published almost 60 years ago, yet mirrors some of the criticisms contained in the recent “Millennials vs. James Bond” stories. Those stories rely heavily on Twitter posts. As the website Medium noted in a Jan. 28 story, not all of the tweets are even written by millennials.

On occasion, similar critiques were made when Bond went to the big screen.

In 1973, for example, Time magazine’s review for Live And Let Die declared Bond to be “a racist pig.”

Needless to say, Bond has survived all that — and not always with help from the principals of Eon Productions, which makes the 007 films.

First, consider what Eon’s Michael G. Wilson told USA Today in 2012. Bond is not even a hero, Wilson has said. “There are plenty of imitators, but Bond really is the first one that was an anti-hero,” Wilson told the newspaper.

An anti-hero is defined as “a protagonist who lacks the attributes that make a heroic figure, as nobility of mind and spirit, a life or attitude marked by action or purpose, and the like.” (emphasis added)

In 2015, Bond star Daniel Craig said of 007: “But let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist. A lot of women are drawn to him chiefly because he embodies a certain kind of danger and never sticks around for too long,” (emphasis added)

A misogynist is defined as “a person who hates, dislikes, mistrusts or mistreats women.” That’s harsher than the definition of a chauvinist, “a person who believes one gender is superior to the other.”

That gave an opening to writer Laurie Penny in an October 2015 commentary in the New Statesman.

“James Bond is a guilty pleasure but one in which the pleasure is increasingly overwhelmed by the guilt. Even Daniel Craig seems to know this,” Penny wrote.

Then, there’s Eon boss Barbara Broccoli, who told the Evening Standard in 2012, that women characters in Bond movies today are better than most of their earlier counterparts. “Fortunately, the days of Bond girls standing around with a clipboard are over,”

In the interview, Broccoli wasn’t specific about the “clipboard” women. She complimented the characters of Honey Rider (Ursula Andress) in Dr. No and Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) in Goldfiner. In Moonraker, Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) was holding a clipboard, but she was also a CIA agent and an astronaut.

Recently the website Haphazard Stuff did an in-depth review of 2012’s Skyfall. But it took the occasion to note all the times that women actors in Bond movies over the decades said their characters weren’t like the “empty-headed” Bond girl stereotype. It’s the video below, roughly from the 12:00 to 18:00 mark.

Remember, the actors said this as part of promoting the movies they were in. It’s almost as if running down its earlier product as part of promoting the current product is part of Eon’s standard operating procedure.

In any case, Bond fans should take a deep breath and move on. Millennials likely are no more critical of Bond novels and movies than previous generations. Bond has been fired at for a long time. But he’s still here.

Roger Moore: Let’s just say, ‘Au Revoir’

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

On Dec. 31 2016, I spent New Year’s Eve alone. I decided it was a way to say goodbye to my late father who – among other things – introduced me to James Bond.

So, breaking all the known traditions, I popped in the BluRay discs of Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun and Moonraker starting around the afternoon and ending minutes before midnight, to bid farewell to him with those three classic films he always told me about before we watched them on blurry VHS tapes after he picked me up from school.

Little I knew that I was bidding farewell of their protagonist as well.

Painful Year

2017 will be remembered as a painful year for the James Bond community. On May 23, we lost our most remarkable ambassador: Sir Roger Moore, the longest serving James Bond actor in the official cinematic series starring Ian Fleming’s secret agent.

I received the news of his passing with great shock on the afternoon of that fateful day, during my lunch break. It was a simple text message saying “RIP Roger Moore.” My immediate reaction was, simply, to ask “What?!”

Of course, it sounds silly. One should expect an 89-year-old man to depart soon. Maybe I was among those who thought he would live forever and that’s where my surprise and astonishment of sorts came.

Sir Roger Moore became the first (official) film Bond to visit the ultimate location no other Bond has been in: heaven.

My first touch with Moore’s Bond came shortly after I discovered GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies, almost 20 years ago.

It was my dad – whom I hope he has meet Roger up in the borderless skies by now – who once told me (in another lunch break, this time from school) about a Bond movie where a car made a 360 degree jump over a bridge.

Some days later, we were watching The Man With The Golden Gun on a VCR. And months later, we were enjoying Live And Let Die and Moonraker, in that order.

The days went on and as much older people than me explained that Roger Moore was also a relevant figure in The Persuaders! and The Saint, I managed to get a glimpse of those two wonderful TV series thanks to a retro channel that broke the barriers of time.

And as kids of my age were on Dragon Ball Z or Knight of The Zodiac, I was into the globe-trotting adventures of Lord Brett Sinclair and Simon Templar.

Personal Connection

I’m sure I’m not the only one who will feel Roger’s departure as something personal. He joined us on our childhood, teens and adult life.

He retired from the role of James Bond in 1985, exceptionally looking good at 58 years old and he went on to work in comedies and doing small appearances on TV shows like Alias. Much more important, he joined UNICEF and has been actively working as a Goodwill Ambassador, helping children in need.

Still, he always showed gratitude to the role he played in seven films over twelve years. He never refused an autograph. “I’m here because of them,” he told his daughter Deborah when she noted that he took so much time to sign photos, posters or DVD covers.

But more than that, he has been the only one true Bond Ambassador. Having his word on every released 007 film on his many published books or his Twitter account.

The Ambassador

He didn’t go to premieres often, but he cherished every time a new Bond adventure was released. He was the one who bid farewell to the many members of his cinematic family like Richard Kiel, Geoffrey Holder or Guy Hamilton, and a man that retained the same charm, style and sense of humor he had when he portrayed the role.

The truth is… I don’t see any of the other five actors fully acting as “Bond Ambassadors.”

Sean Connery seems out of the spotlight and has barely reconciled with the character that brought him to fame. Timothy Dalton remembers Bond from time to time. George Lazenby and Pierce Brosnan would be the closest ones as they often share an anecdote of their time as 007.

Lazenby had a funny biopic titled Becoming Bond and we see Brosnan sharing some publicity stills on Instagram although he’s clearly focused on his current projects. Yet, nobody had the panache of remembering James Bond as Sir Roger Moore did.

While the others portrayed Bond as another job, Moore was Bond until he died. That day, I felt as if James Bond –the unbeatable secret agent– had died. I never stopped feeling that at any age he still had the charm of the James Bond of the 1970s and 1980s.

Roger Moore was a very much important part of my time as a Bond fan. It’s fair to admit that I owe much of my good taste and my sense of humor to him.

It may be a cliché to say this at this point but, truly, nobody did it better.

Good-bye Roger, or – as I’ve learnt from you in that film of 1977 – let’s just say ‘au revoir.’

Thanks for being part of my life.

Roger Moore’s Live And Let Die diary gets new printing

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with Roger Moore during the filming of Live And Let Die.

Roger Moore’s diary written during the filming of Live And Let Die and published in 1973, is getting a new printing in 2018.

The announcement of the new printing was made on The History Press website and the late star’s official Twitter account, which is still active.

Based on the cover image, the title has been tweaked. The book originally was published as “Roger Moore’s James Bond Diary.” The new printing has the title “The 007 Diaries.”

The original version, in addition to primary image of Moore, also had stills that included Live And Let Die co-stars Jane Seymour and Gloria Hendry. The new printing only has a Moore image, based on what’s on the tweet and History Press website.

Earlier this year, writer Phil Nobile Jr. of Birth.Movies.Death wrote about the original version of the book. 

“It’s so rare to get truly candid thoughts from an actor about a film of theirs,” Nobile wrote. “Performers hit the promotional circuit to support a film’s opening, say a lot of publicist-approved things, and that’s usually that…That’s what makes 1973’s Roger Moore as James Bond 007 such a fascinating, jaw-dropping, and at times fucking surreal read.”

(snip)

“That it was published to coincide with the release of the film is mind-blowing, as Moore just types and types unflattering details about the producers, shooting conditions, and even his own personal peccadilloes.” Nobile’s story also includes short excerpts from the book.

The new printing of the book is scheduled to be published in June.

UPDATE (Nov. 28): The official Roger Moore Twitter feed added a couple of other details.  David Hedison, who played Felix Leiter in Live And Let Die, has written a new foreward. Also, the new printing will be in hardback.

MI6 Confidential brings out 2 new publications

Peter Lamont

MI6 Confidential is bringing out two new publications.

The first is a 100-page special publication focused on Peter Lamont’s work on 1973’s Live And Let Die.

In the publication, “Peter tells the story of making the film, location by location, as they appear in the film. It is lavishly illustrated with rare stills from the film, behind the scenes photographs never committed to print, and notes and storyboards from Lamont’s personal collection,” according to the MI6 Confidential website.

Lamont had the title of co-art director on the film. He worked on the 007 film series in various art department capacities starting with Goldfinger and running through Casino Royale. The only Bond film he missed was 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies because he was production designer on Titanic.

The other publication is issue 42 of the regular MI6 Confidential magazine. It concentrates on George Lazenby and 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Included is a story about Lazenby and “007’s lifelong shadow” on the actor as well as a feature on Diana Rigg.

To order the 100-page special, CLICK HERE. The price is 17 British pounds, $22 or 19.50 euros.

To order MI6 Confidential No. 42, CLICK HERE. The price is 7 British pounds, $10 or 8.50 euros.