How not to write a Bond 25 story

Poster for SPECTRE

Like a cancer metastasizing throughout the body, The Mirror’s July 8 story saying Daniel Craig is definitely returning as James Bond is spreading through the media.

Various outlets, including the Los Angeles Times,  Fox News and Esquire have summarized the Mirror story.

However, The Mirror’s original and the stories based on it have mostly overlooked some key facts. Very important facts. Here are some of them.

There’s nobody to pay Daniel Craig — yet. The Mirror & Co. depict Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli as having a firm lock on his services.

Problem: Eon doesn’t pay the bills of a Bond movie. The studio or studios involved do.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is Bond’s home studio. But it can’t release its own movies. It needs a studio partner to co-finance and distribute MGM films. And, for the moment, there is no Bond 25 distributor.

Maybe MGM reaches an agreement later this year. Maybe a commitment from Craig (even a verbal commitment) helps that process. But until it happens, nobody is available to actually pay Daniel Craig if he, indeed, is coming back.

There’s no director yet. You can’t have a movie without a director calling the shots. Maybe Bond 25 will get a director later this year. But until it does, not much is going to happen.

There’s no script yet. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were hired to come up with a story, according to the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye, who has had a number of 007 scripts proven correct this decade.

The duo have had more than four months (and perhaps longer) to work up a story. But until a director comes on board, things can only go so far. Directors love to tweak story elements, etc. And that process can’t begin until you have a director, etc.

What’s this John Logan reference? The Mirror says John Logan, who worked on Skyfall and SPECTRE, is working on Bond 25. There’s no evidence that’s the case.

If it really is true, that would be a big turnaround. Thanks to the Sony hacks of 2014 (Sony Pictures released the last four 007 films), it’s known that Eon was unhappy with Logan’s first draft for SPECTRE, something that eventually led to the return of Purvis and Wade.

If (and that’s a HUGE if) Logan really is involved with Bond 25 that’s a major change. But, of course, you’d have to be familiar with the history to make note of that.

Has anything changed the past three months? In April, Page Six, the gossip operation of the New York Post also said Barbara Broccoli pretty much had Daniel Craig committed.

Has something actually changed since that report? The Page Six story got nowhere near the attention the Mirror has. Regardless, it’s a notable piece of background.

More turmoil at would-be Bond 25 studio partner Paramount

Paramount logo

Paramount logo

Paramount Pictures, one of the would-be studio partners for Bond 25, may be experiencing some more turmoil.

Bray Grey, the studio chief, is in talks with parent company Viacom about taking a different post at Viacom, the entertainment news website The Wrap reported, citing two people familiar with the situation it didn’t identify. Paramount and Viacom did not comment, The Wrap said.

The Los Angeles Times, which also reported on the talks, said Paramount could announce Grey’s exit as early as next week.

Paramount is among the studios that is supposed to be interested in striking a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to release Bond 25. MGM isn’t big enough to release its own films.

Sony Pictures has released the last four 007 films but its most recent two-picture 007 film contract expired with 2015’s SPECTRE. Paramount has done business with MGM, releasing MGM’s 2016 Ben Hur flop.

Paramount has struggled and Viacom was hobbled by a fight where the controlling Redstone family ousted CEO Philippe Dauman last year. The Redstones also control CBS and for a time wanted the companies to consider a merger. Those talks ended in December.

The talks with Grey “come nearly two weeks after” Viacom’s current CEO, Bob Bakish, “made a public mandate for improved financial performance at the studio,” The Wrap said.

Other would-be Bond 25 studio partners also have issues.

Sony Corp., parent company of Sony Pictures, last month wrote down the value of that studio by almost $1 billion. Sony Corp. has said it’s not planning to sell the movie business. Warner Bros.’ parent company, Time Warner, is being acquired by AT&T, but that $85 billion deal is pending regulatory review.

P.F. Sloan, co-writer of ‘Secret Agent Man,’ dies

P.F. Sloan, co-writer of the song “Secret Agent Man,” has died at age 70, the LOS ANGELES TIMES REPORTED IN AN OBITUARY.

“Secret Agent Man” was an anthem for the 1960s spy craze. The song accompanied the main titles of Secret Agent on CBS, the U.S. version of the British television series Danger Man, starring Patrick McGoohan.

Sloan and Steve Barri wrote “Secret Agent Man,” which was performed by Johnny Rivers. The song long outlived the U.S. run of the show.

In 2000, when the UPN network (which later was aborbed into a merger that resulted in the CW network) had a spyish TV series called Secret Agent Man, the Sloan-Barri song naturally figured into the main titles.

The Times’ obituary emphasized Sloan’s writing of another song of the era, “Eve of Destruction.” Here’s an excerpt:

By the time he was 16, Sloan was a professional songwriter. But even churning out pop hits for big labels with co-writer Steve Barri failed to make him feel like anything but an outsider.

His hits, with Barri, included the Turtles’ “You Baby,” the Grass Roots’ “Where Were You When I Needed You?” and many others.

Then “Eve of Destruction” happened.

“It was the night P.F. Sloan was born,” he wrote.

“I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be Elvis. I wanted to be Ricky. I wanted to be Bobby and Tony and Frankie… But P.F. Sloan? He wanted honesty and truth.”

Anyway, there have been many performances of “Secret Agent Man.” Here’s one, with Johnny Rivers introduced by Judy Garland.

SPECTRE: U.S. reviews keep rolling in

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE reviews from U.S. film critics roll in ahead of Friday’s “official” opening (regular U.S. showings begin Thursday night).

So, with the movie about to come out here in the States, we present our final review excerpts. The 24th James Bond film has a 67 PERCENT “FRESH” RATING on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

As usual, plot details are being kept out of these excepts, but one man’s careful presentation is another’s thoughtless spoiler.

TONY HICKS, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS: “(D)espite having the countenance of a wolf about to strike, (Daniel) Craig finally looks like he’s having fun this time — and not in a Roger Moore, self-spoofing kind of way. Director Sam Mendes gives him rein to indulge himself as the womanizing, violent, always-in-action, quip-dropping Bond like never before….one thing is clear: The 007 franchise is in a much better place than when Craig first appeared as Bond in 2006.”

KENNETH TURAN, LOS ANGELES TIMES: “But like a baseball team leaving its starting pitcher in a World Series game too long (no names, please), the folks at Eon went to the well once too often with both Craig (“Spectre” is his fourth Bond) and director Sam Mendes, doing his second.

“When Craig took on the role in 2006’s ‘Casino Royale,’ his rougher-edged, less-flippant Bond felt like a breath of fresh air, but almost a decade later it’s gone stale. Craig’s expression is so unchanging it might as well be chiseled out of stone, and his emotionally uninvolved performance is similarly lacking in nuance.”

PETER TRAVERS, ROLLING STONE:If there is such a thing as ‘James Bond’s Greatest Hits,’ then Spectre is it. The 25th movie about the British MI6 agent with a license to kill is party time for Bond fans, a fierce, funny, gorgeously produced valentine to the longest-running franchise in movies.

Spectre carries on Craig’s reinvention of Bond, blowing a reported $250 million budget on spectacular action without losing what’s personal. Skyfall director Sam Mendes is back to keep things real, but the plot cooked up by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth is a 148-minute minefield of distractions. Ah, but what distractions. Apologies to The Spy Who Loved Me, but the Bond series has never had a more drop-dead dazzler of an opener than this one.”

LAWRENCE TOPPMAN, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER: “Daniel Craig debuted in the gripping ‘Casino Royale,’ stumbled through the gibberish of ‘Quantum of Solace,’ then topped himself with the terrific ‘Skyfall.’ Now, in ‘Spectre,’ he presides impassively over 2 1/2 hours of mediocrity. He and almost everyone else seem to be fulfilling an obligation so they can make films they care about.”

JAKE COYLE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: “‘Spectre’ is Craig’s fourth Bond movie and his muscular tenure has been defined not just by his full embodiment of the character, but his overall stewardship. His ability to attract top-notch talent, in front and behind the camera, and to imbue the spy series with a seriousness of purpose reads in every frame. His Bond may still sip martinis, but he’s stone-cold sober.”

CHRIS VOGNAR, DALLAS MORNING NEWS:  “Spectre’s quest for seriousness yields mixed results. One big plus: the pedigreed cast, from world-class actors including (Christoph) Waltz and (Ralph) Fiennes to the bit players to the rising French star Léa Seydoux, who still gets saddled with some unfortunate Bond Girl lines.

One big demerit: the excessive running time. If there’s a reason why a James Bond movie needs to last 148 minutes, Spectre does not provide it. A big, dry narrative lull rests at the movie’s core, which lifts only when Waltz makes his grand entry with about an hour left, purring evil as only he can.”

UPDATE: The New York Times, the leading U.S. newspaper, had not published a SPECTRE review as of Wednesday night. As it turns out, the newspaper had a Nov. 4 Times Talks event in New York, where you had to buy tickets to attend, featuring Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes. It began at 7 p.m. New York Times and was webcast while it was underway.

Here are some tweets the newspaper sent out from the event:

U.N.C.L.E. trails Straight Outta Compton on Thursday

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

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

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is assured of not being the No. 1 movie this weekend in the U.S. and Canada. The question is how far it will trail Straight Outta Compton.

The Guy Ritchie-directed U.N.C.L.E. film had ticket sales of $900,000 on Thursday, while Straight Outta Compton had $5 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Times is reporting that Straight Outta Compton, about the rap group N.W.A., may exceed $40 million in ticket sales for the weekend, while U.N.C.L.E. may total $16 million. The newspaper cited “analysts who reviewed pre-release audience surveys going into the weekend.”

Straight Outta Compton also has been better reviewed, with an 87 percent “fresh” rating on the ROTTEN TOMATOES website, while U.N.C.L.E.’s “fresh” score is 67 percent as of late Friday morning New York time.

Movie draws attention to U.N.C.L.E.’s origins

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie comes out this week, prompting the Los Angeles Times to examine the origins of the 1964-68 series it’s based on.

The story looks at a number of angles, including how 007 author Ian Fleming was involved in the first few months of the show’s development.

Susan King of the Times talked to the likes of Dean Hargrove, one of the main writers on the show; Steven Jay Rubin, author of books about James Bond; film and TV music expert Jon Burlingame, who produced a series of U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack recordings in the 2000s; and Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media in New York.

Here’s an excerpt:

Young moviegoers checking out the feature film version Aug. 14 starring Henry Cavill as Solo and Armie Hammer as Kuryakin probably don’t realize the original TV series existed — let alone know of the show’s impact on baby boomers.

“Man From U.N.C.L.E.” hit at the right time. Noted Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media in New York, “The same excitement seeing the Beatles live on television which happened a few months before, I think the same thing happened when ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ debuted in fall 1964.

“There was something cool about it. It created an emotional resonance for TV. It became the most popular show on campus in 1964, ’65 and ’66 — the first two seasons. It was a cultural phenomenon.”

Separately, The Hollywood Reporter talk about how U.N.C.L.E. MAY HERALD THE RETURN OF SPY ACRONYMS.

U.N.C.L.E. helped popularize such acronyms, although Marvel Studios has beaten the U.N.C.L.E. movie to the punch by including SHIELD (which didn’t debut until a year after U.N.C.L.E.) in its films.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in knowing more about the show, CLICK HERE for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide, produced by The Spy Command.

Avengers sequel has U.S. opening of ‘only’ $191 million

Avengers: Age of Ultron poster

Avengers: Age of Ultron poster

UPDATE (May 4): The actual box office figure came out today. It was a little better than the original estimate on Sunday — $191.3 million.

ORIGINAL POST (May 3) Avengers: Age of Ultron generated estimated U.S. ticket sales of $187.7 million, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO.COM.

That’s an enormous opening for any other movie, but it fell short of the $207.4 million opening of 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers.

Movie box office figures are now covered similar to corporate earnings and monthly auto sales. The figures are gauged against expectations and projections. When the numbers exceed estimates, it’s written as a success. When the numbers fall short, they are often viewed as a disappointment.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “tracking” numbers indicated an opening of $190 million to $230 million.

When the movie didn’t make that level, there was some spinning to do, if this excerpt from the Times story is an indication.

The studio, however, adjusted its expectations on Saturday evening given several major competing events, including the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao “fight of the century” in Las Vegas that kept some potential moviegoers in front of TV sets instead.

“Between the boxing match, NHL and NBA playoffs, the Kentucky Derby … looks like folks were distracted,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s head of distribution. “But the second-biggest opening in history of movie business is something to be proud of and also just the beginning of what we expect to be a spectacular run.”

In a SEPARATE STORY, Ray Subers of Box Office Mojo wrote that repeating a $200 million-plus was going to be hard.

“In the years since the first movie’s opening, no other title has opened anywhere close to $200 million,” Subers wrote. “To make it that high required a perfect storm of factors, which Age of Ultron couldn’t quite replicate.”

Marvel still looks to have an overall financial success. The movie had an estimated production budget of $250 million. According to Box Office Mojo, its worldwide ticket sales are $626.7 million already. The general rule of thumb is that a movie needs to bring in about 2.5 times to 3 times its production budget to be profitable. The original Avengers movie had worldwide box office of $1.5 billion.

Marvel is an example of the corporate model of making films, which emphasizes planning and predictability. Avengers: Age of Ultron is the climax of Marvel’s “Phase Two” of films. The studio already has outlined films for “Phase Three,” which will culminate in a two-part Avengers movie being released in 2018 and 2019.