John Wick 2 and Logan: Peckinpah for the 21st century

John Wick Chapter 2 poster

John Wick Chapter 2 poster

The name Sam Peckinpah (1925-1984) doesn’t come up much these days. But somewhere old Sam has to be amused that two films following in his footsteps are among the best reviewed movies of 2017.

Those movies would be John Wick Chapter 2 (with a 90 percent fresh rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website) and Logan (at 93 percent).

Peckinpah, meanwhile, became known mostly for film violence in movies such as The Wild Bunch and The Getaway. Monty Python in the 1970s did a Peckinpah parody titled “Salad Days,” where a party is the English countrywide becomes an orgy of blood and severed limbs.

Peckinpah was more than that, of course. One of his earliest films, Ride the High Country, is a mix of ode to classic Westerns with key updates in the movie’s middle section. The 1962 film also lacks the kind of violence he’d be known for later.

There’s an edge to Peckinpah’s work. In a 1956 episode of Gunsmoke scripted (but not directed) by Peckinpah titled The Guitar, citizens of Dodge City manage to lynch two villainous types. But there’s nothing Matt Dillon (James Arness) can do about it. It’s also strongly implied his assistant Chester (Dennis Weaver) was in on it.

Hugh Jackman in Logan's poster

Hugh Jackman in Logan’s poster

Also, there are a few of James Bond-related things related to Peckinpah.

Tomorrow Never Dies was directed by Roger Spottiswoode, who had an “editorial consultant” credit on Peckinpah’s The Getaway and was an editor on the director’s Straw Dogs and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.

Spottiswoode favored a slow motion technique similar to Peckinpah’s in Tomorrow Never Dies. Years later, the climax of the Sam Mendes-directed Skyfall was compared by some to Straw Dogs.

Anyway, Peckinpah’s name tends to be overshadowed by classic director such as John Ford and Howard Hawks as well as directors who started their career later, such as Steven Spielberg.

Still, in 2017, John Wick Chapter 2 and Logan seem to dip deep into Peckinpah techniques and themes.

In the two R-rated movies, the title characters kill dozens of people in messy ways. John Wick’s violence is a bit more stylized, akin to Peckinpah’s work. Both feature characters who are drawn into their situations reluctantly but don’t back down, not unlike Peckinpah’s Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) in Ride The High Country.

This isn’t to say the similarities are intentional. Logan cites a classic Western (and it’s about as subtle as a heart attack) not directed by Peckinpah (don’t click if you’re spoiler adverse).

Nevertheless, Peckinpah enthusiasts may find themselves amused if they sample either movie.

Our parody Bond 25 plot summaries

James Bond, feeling sad after examining his back story one more time.

James Bond, feeling sad after examining his back story one more time.

With no real news about Bond 25 to report, the blog is collecting various parody storylines it has posted on its social media outlets.

If Sam Mendes changes his mind (again) and comes back to direct a third Bond film.

BOND 25 (20XX): Bond (Daniel Craig) discovers he was really adopted, sending him on another mission of self discovery.

If Sam Mendes changes his mind *and* Naomie Harris wins the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Moonlight:

BOND 25 (20XX): Bond (Daniel Craig) discovers he was really adopted, sending him on another mission of self discovery. Meanwhile, Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) escapes prison, killing the father of Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). She swears vengeance, and goes back into the field. The two developments combine in an explosive way.

If Bond 25 takes a lot longer to make than anybody anticipates now.

BOND 25 (2052): For the 90th anniversary James Bond film, Bond (Daniel Craig) and Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) battle to the death in an assisted-living center.

The film brings to an end Craig’s 46-year reign as Agent 007.

“I just don’t want to think about it,” Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli says, repeating comments she made in 2015. “I’m in denial. I don’t want to think about that day. Daniel Craig is Bond, forever, as far as I’m concerned.”

Purvis & Wade discuss writing 007 films

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who’ve worked as writers on the past six James Bond movies, told The Telegraph that writing future 007 films has gotten harder.

“I’m just not sure how you would go about writing a James Bond film now.” Purvis said in the interview.

Purvis and Wade were interviewed concerning SS-GB, an upcoming mini-series they’ve scripted. It’s based on a Len Deighton novel about a United Kingdom where Nazi Germany won the Battle of Britain.

Much of the Telegraph article, naturally, concerns SS-GB. But there are a number of comments concerning Bond films. Some excerpts:

How a changing world affects Bond films: “Each time, you’ve got to say something about Bond’s place in the world, which is Britain’s place in the world,” Purvis said. “But things are moving so quickly now, that becomes tricky.

“With people like (U.S. President Donald) Trump, the Bond villain has become a reality. So when they do another one, it will be interesting to see how they deal with the fact that the world has become a fantasy.”

Skyfall’s origins: Wade is quoted (via paraphrase and not by direct quote) as saying the 23rd James Bond film came from discussions with director Sam Mendes about a new take on Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice novel. The movie includes M (Judi Dench) writing Bond’s obituary, substituting Turkey for Japan.

Working on SPECTRE: Purvis and Wade were brought during 2014 in to rework John Logan’s script.

When the duo arrived, construction had began on a replica of London’s Westminster Bridge. Logan’s script had a helicopter crashing on the bridge. Purvis and Wade’s work had to include that, according to the article.

In the end, they used it as the stage for Bond to make a life-changing choice: would he walk off to a new life with the comely Madeleine Swann on one side, or slink off to M on the other, back to a life in the shadows? Purvis and Wade had him choose the latter: in the end, they were overruled.

“Spectre felt like it closed off a certain way of doing Bond,” Purvis told The Telegraph. “And I think whatever happens next will be quite different.”

To view the Telegraph article, CLICK HERE. You’ll see a preview of the article. You either have to register for the site (no payment involved) or subscribe to the site to see the entire article.

Why nobody should be surprised that ‘nothing is happening’

Naomie Harris in Moonlight

Naomie Harris in Moonlight

Naomie Harris caused some buzz in 007-land this week after giving an interview with Total Film that got summarized in the UK tabloid Mirror.

According to the story, the actress wanted to find out from Eon Productions what was going on with Bond 25. Here’s the key excerpt:

Even though she is part of the 007 franchise, Naomie admits she has equally been drawn into speculation about who will be Bond in the next film, though producers have insisted to her they are not even thinking about the project yet.

(snip)

“I met them recently and said, ‘What’s going on guys? Because everybody keeps asking me.’ I was believing the hype. I was like, ‘Is it Tom Hiddleston? What’s going on?’ They were like, ‘Naomie, nothing is happening.’ Because they’re doing another film at the moment. They were like, ‘We are focusing on this film. We have nothing to do with that.’ “

Nobody should be surprised. Why? Because if we were within a year of production starting, more would be happening.

Some recent history. The Deadline: Hollywood website first reported in January 2010 that Eon was considering Sam Mendes to direct the then-untitled Bond 23.

The project got delayed by the bankruptcy that year of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio. But the movie was a go again by January 2011 — 10 months before it began filming.

Later THAT SAME MONTH, Deadline reported that Eon was considering casting Javier Bardem in the film. Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail reported in February 2011 that Ralph Fiennes was in talks to join the cast. Harris’ own casting in the film was reported by the now-defunct News of the World in June 2011.

In other words, months before filming began, news about the director and cast began to appear. The story was similar with 2015’s SPECTRE, which had an announced writer in November 2012 and a release date and director (Mendes again) announced in July 2013.

With Bond 25, there’s no director, no script (as far as anyone knows) and no cast, including a confirmed James Bond. Daniel Craig, who turns 49 in March, has said he’d miss playing Bond but hasn’t actually said he’ll do it again.

Oh, and there’s no studio to release Bond 25. MGM is too small to distribute Bond films and has no studio partner lined up yet. Sony Pictures has released the past four 007 films.

Many fans are hopeful that Bond 25 can make a fall 2018 release date. But there are no signs Eon is gearing up. Eon boss Barbara Broccoli produced Craig’s now-concluded Othello play. She is working on a non-Bond film (Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) and another play, based on the life of studio mogul Robert Evans.

At this point, there is no sign of the kind of activity that precedes a Bond movie. So the quotes from Harris ought not be surprising. If Eon and MGM showed more urgency a 2018 release date could still happen. But there’s no sign of such urgency.

About that Christopher Nolan directing 007 film thing

Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan

There’s been another breakout of “Christopher Nolan directing James Bond fever.”

The subject comes up every so often. It’s well known the London-born Nolan likes James Bond movies. His Batman trilogy (2005-2008) contains references to Bond films. So does 2010’s Inception.

In May 2013, Nolan’s name was briefly mentioned as a possibility for directing Bond 24 (eventually titled SPECTRE) by Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail. Nolan’s representatives were supposed to have been approached. But, two months later, the return of Sam Mendes, the director of Skyfall, was announced.

The newest outbreak of Nolan fever occurred Jan. 15 after actor Tom Hardy told the Daily Beast website that it “would be so cool” to play Bond with Nolan directing. Hardy has been in several Nolan-directed movies, including the upcoming Dunkirk.

With all that in mind, here are some observations and a question.

Skyfall was Nolan-lite:  Mendes, during Skyfall’s production, acknowledged The Dark Knight (the second of Nolan’s trilogy) was an inspiration for Skyfall. As a result, there are a number of similarities.

There are two ways to look at this. One, you already have an idea what a Nolan-directed Bond film would be like. Or two, why not have the real thing?

Nolan would work with some familiar faces: For SPECTRE, Eon Productions hired a Nolan director of photography (Hoyte Van Hoytema) and film editor (Lee Smith). Both worked with the director on Dunkirk.

What’s more, veteran Eon special effects man Chris Courbould also was a crew member on Nolan’s Batman films and Inception.

Nolan still would make changes: The director likes to write his own movies. No Bond director has also had a writing credit on the 007 film he helmed. It also seems likely Nolan would want to bring Hans Zimmer aboard as composer. They’ve worked together a number of times, also including Dunkirk.

Logo of Syncopy, Christopher Nolan's production company

Logo of Syncopy, Christopher Nolan’s production company

Does Eon bring Syncopy into the Bond mix? With Nolan, you typically also get the involvement of his production company, Syncopy. Nolan gets a producer’s credit. So does his wife, Emma Thomas.

Bond films traditionally were a producer-driven operation. Since the late 2000s. Eon boss Barbara Broccoli has been more enthused by “auteur” directors (Mendes and Quantum of Solace’s Marc Forster). But would Eon accommodate Nolan’s production company in a Bond film?

Many 007 fans reply something like, “Nolan loves James Bond so of course he will!”

This blog is a little more skeptical of that. At this point, though, there’s not much point in speculation. Bond 25 doesn’t have a director or a confirmed leading man. So we’ll see.

Why Sam Mendes directing Bond 25 isn’t a good idea

Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes

A major non-007 Sam Mendes project, a movie adaptation of The Voyeur’s Hotel, has evaporated, according to the Deadline: Hollywood website. That’s because of a documentary coming out concerning the person who is the the same subject as the non-fiction book.

That has gotten some James Bond fans wondering if Mendes could be available to direct Bond 25 (whenever it gets made) after helming Skyfall and SPECTRE.

To quote a retired comic, “Oh, I hope not.” Here are some reasons why.

He’s never sounded enthusiastic about directing a third Bond film: In July 2015, he told the BBC that, “I don’t think I could go down that road again. You do have to put everything else on hold.”

In May 2016, according to a story by The Associated Press, he said: “I’m a storyteller. And at the end of the day, I want to make stories with new characters.”

Directing a Bond film is a big undertaking. If he has even the slightest doubt (and it sounds he has big doubts), he shouldn’t attempt it.

Enough with the homages: Skyfall had homages to past Bond films, including bringing back the Goldfinger version of the Aston Martin DB5.

That continued with SPECTRE. The DB5, despite being blown to smithereens in Skyfall, is miraculously put back together in SPECTRE. A fight between Bond (Daniel Craig) and Hinx (Dave Bautista) seemed modeled after a similar scene in From Russia With Love. The Independent published a story listing other homages.

Mendes can’t help himself. The next movie, when ever it may come out, needs a break from homages.

No more boasting:  In an April 2014 interview on The Charlie Rose Show, Mendes said he cast all the major supporting characters, including Tanner.

Problem: Tanner was played by Rory Kinnear, who first portrayed the character in 2008’s Quantum of Solace, a film Mendes had nothing to do with.

Mendes also claimed that in Skyfall “for the first time characters were allowed to age.” Problem: He’s wrong, it happened a number of times in Bond films.

Enough already.

If Mendes comes back, that means Thomas Newman comes back as composer: Newman is Mendes’ guy. Fans have mixed opinions about Newman’s work on Skyfall. He did get an Oscar nomination but didn’t win.

However, with SPECTRE, it was clear that Newman had run out of ideas. He recycled a number of Skyfall music bits in SPECTRE. That’s true not just of the compositions, but the sound and orchestration.

John Barry used the 007 theme in five Bond films (From Russia With Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker). But it had different arrangements and orchestration each time. The repeated music in SPECTRE sounds the same as it did in Skyfall.

What’s more, based on his other work, it’s clear that smaller-scale dramas (such as Bridge of Spies) are more in Newman’s wheelhouse. He’s a talented composer with such films. Bond films just aren’t his strength.

Let someone else have a try on Bond 25. But that won’t probably won’t happen if Mendes is back as director.

What is Wilson’s role in the 007 franchise?

Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson

Over the past year, a narrative has taken hold that it’s Barbara Broccoli who calls the shots for the James Bond franchise. Period. Full stop.

Perhaps the person most responsible for shaping that narrative is Sam Mendes, director of the past two 007 films, Skyfall and SPECTRE.

“It’s not the X Factor, it’s not the EU referendum, it’s not a public vote,” Mendes said in May at an event sponsored by The Telegraph, which ran a story about the director’s remarks. “Barbara Broccoli chooses who’s going to be the next Bond: end of story.”

The comments were picked up by the likes of Vanity Fair and the BBC, among others.

As a result, there’s the perception that Broccoli, 56, is the driving force of 007 land. Meanwhile, her half-brother, Michael G. Wilson, 74, doesn’t get mentioned much, even though the half-siblings are supposed to be the co-bosses of Eon.

In December 2014, when it was announced SPECTRE would be the title of Bond 24, Broccoli was present with Mendes but Wilson wasn’t. However, when the production shifted to Mexico in early 2015, Wilson was involved in publicity.

This weekend, the tabloid Mirror ran a story saying Guy Ritchie was in talks with Eon to direct Bond 24. One element that caught the blog’s eye was how the Mirror said Ritchie supposedly was meeting with Wilson, rather than Broccoli. (Note: we slapped the Caveat Emptor label on it.)

It’s hard to tell how accurate, or significant, the Mirror story is. It’s simply interesting that Wilson is being depicted as a major decision maker after the way Mendes made it sound as if nobody’s opinion except Broccoli’s matters.

Of late, stories about the 007 franchise discuss Broccoli but don’t get around to Wilson.

Wilson, since the 1990s, have periodically complained about the grind of making James Bond movies. That’s something his step father, Albert R. Broccoli, never said publicly.

Wilson has spent longer than anybody else working on the 007 franchise, even co-founder Cubby Broccoli. If Wilson were to retire tomorrow, nobody could argue that he wasn’t a major figure in 007 movies.

Neither Wilson nor Barbara Broccoli revel in publicizing Bond movies the way Cubby Broccoli did. Eon is a very private outfit, not wanting to open the curtain very much on its operations.

Still, the Mirror story (whether it was accurate or not) was a reminder that Wilson is a big wheel in the 007 franchise. It would be interesting to know whether Mendes is indeed correct about Barbara Broccoli’s 007 status or if reality is more complicated.