Whiplash: The Telegraph on Skyfall

Skyfall's poster image

Skyfall’s poster image

On May 8, The Telegraph newspaper in the U.K. had a story about THE TOP 10 MOST OVERRATED MOVIES OF ALL TIME.

The No. 1 entry? Skyfall, the most recent James Bond film, which was released in 2012.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the story by Tim Robey.

Awkward in shape and thrilling only periodically, the film’s a fraught salvage job for which (director) Sam Mendes got far too much of the credit.

Look closer and the scars of indecision are painfully obvious, especially in that third act. Ben Whishaw’s Q allows the MI6 server to be hacked by… plugging a pair of ethernet cables into Silva’s laptop? The tube crash is a shambles. The disposal of Severine, after Bond has had his wicked way with this maltreated sex slave, is brutally callous. Daniel Craig seems hardened, waxy, and humourless, with no gift for floating a weak punchline, and the uninspired script (“Got into some deep water”, anyone?) gives him a morass of them.

Interesting critique. Meanwhile, the folks at the MI6 James Bond website sent us a link to The Telegraph’s review of Skyfall, written by Robbie Collin.

The link on The Telegraph’s website gives a Dec. 24, 2014 date, or less than a year ago; comments for the review are dated “three years ago,” suggesting the review was originally published in 2012, when the movie came out. Wikipedia, citing the Collin review, says it was published Oct. 26, 2012.

Regardless, it’s an interesting comparison to the more recent story.

Daniel Craig remains Bond incarnate, although six years on from Casino Royale he has become something more than a brawny cipher. There’s a warmth to his banter with pretty field agent Eve (Naomie Harris), the one-liners make a tentative return, and we even learn about the loss of Bond’s parents: the must-have back story for this season’s conflicted superhero.

Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan’s script constantly reminds us Bond’s physical prowess is on the wane, but his verbal sparring, both with M and new foe Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent turned vengeful computer hacker, is nimbler than ever.

(snip)

“We don’t go in for exploding pens any more,” quips a fashionably tousled Q (Ben Whishaw). Nor do audiences, and it’s no wonder Skyfall was a stratospheric hit.

That sounds like a rave review and it gets four out of five stars. If Skyfall is overrated, it would seem The Telegraph did its fair share of making it so.

To be fair, the two pieces were written by two writers with two different viewpoints. Still, one would think an editor at The Telegraph would at least want to reference the paper’s own review.

Without that acknowledgment, a reader gets a bit of whiplash.

Family model vs. corporate model Part II

Avengers: Age of Ultron poster

Avengers: Age of Ultron poster

We’re on the verge of the newest chapter in the family model vs. corporate model of filmmaking. Once more, some big numbers are being discussed.

Weeks before it opens, there are already box office projections for Avengers: Age of Ultron, the latest entry from Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios, representing the machine-like corporate model of predictability. A story at the DEADLINE entertainment news website says the new Avengers film is “tracking a little better than (2012’s) The Avengers at the same point in the cycle…and is expected to be one of the highest — if not the highest — opening in history.”

Marvel’s The Avengers movie in 2012 had a U.S. opening weekend of $207 million on its way to an eventual $1.5 billion worldwide box office.

The family model is represented by Eon Productions, which makes the James Bond film series. Eon is controlled by Michael G. Wilson (stepson) and Barbara Broccoli (daughter) of Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli.

Eon’s most recent offering, 2012’s Skyfall, scored $1.11 billion at the box office.  Things were closer outside the U.S. where The Avengers had a box office of $895 million while Skyfall had at $804 million, according to the Box Office Mojo website.

The projections cited by Deadline tend to set expectations within the movie industry. If you meet or exceed the projections, you’re doing great. If you fall short, even if the numbers are still substantial, it’s seen as disappointing.

“Geez, what will Disney/Marvel do if they only open to $200M on this one?” Deadline’s Anita Busch wrote.

Eon’s newest 007 installment, SPECTRE, is due out in November. It will also have high expectations when its tracking numbers begin to appear. That’s because of Skyfall’s success as well as SPECTRE’s $300 million budget, which became known because of the computer hacks at Sony Pictures, which is releasing SPECTRE.

Sony appears to confirm a SPECTRE spoiler

SPECTRE LOGO
Like the headline says, this involves a spoiler. The spoiler adverse shouldn’t read.

Last month, a photo emerged of a SPECTRE spoiler, specifically involving a vehicle in the movie. The photo showed the vehicle during filming of SPECTRE.

On April 2, Sony Pictures Canada put out a Tweet that appears to confirm said vehicle will be in the 24th James Bond film.

For the spoiler adverse, this is your last chance to leave without seeing.

Here’s the tweet:

On Dec. 4, it was announced SPECTRE would feature the Aston Martin DB10, a limited-production model. Nothing was said about the Aston Martin DB5, which was blown to bits in the climatic sequence of Skyfall.

As you can see, Sony Pictures Canada tweeted a picture of the DB5 as it appeared in Goldfinger. So, it would seem Sony has confirmed the return of the iconic car yet one more time.

The case for and against SPECTRE

SPECTRE's soon-to-be-replaced teaser image

SPECTRE’s soon-to-be-replaced teaser image

This is a weird time for SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film.

The movie is coming off a huge financial success with 2012’s Skyfall. This should be like 50 years ago, when Thunderball was in production coming off Goldfinger. But it isn’t.

Instead, the past few days have concerned how the production may have made script changes to qualify for as much as $20 million in Mexican tax incentives. The reason for going for the tax incentives was that the budget may have shot past $300 million, making it one of the most expensive movies of all time.

Images of what appears to be an elaborate car chase in Rome have come out (it is hard hard to disguise your intent when filming in public locations). But that’s gotten drowned out by the publicity about the other matters. We know that because of the hacking at Sony Pictures, something that didn’t happen with other Bond movies.

Regardless, here’s a guide to some of the pros and cons for the movie’s prospects.

PRO: Bond has a built-in audience: No question. Around the globe, there are 007 maniacs eagerly awaiting SPECTRE, regardless of recent publicity. For these folks, Marvel’s Avengers aren’t super heroes, 007 is.

CON: SPECTRE is playing around with serious money: The rule of thumb for movies is they need to have box office equal to 2.5 times to 3 times the production budget to be profitable. Marketing costs total almost, or as much as, the production budget. Theaters take a share. Taxes must be paid, etc.

With Skyfall, with an estimated $200 million budget, its $1.1 billion worldwide box office was like the cherry on top of the sundae. For SPECTRE, a $1 billion box office is almost a necessity. Put another way, if SPECTRE’s worldwide box office totals $750 million, it will be seen as a disappointment. That sounds crazy. But that’s the way it is.

PRO: Eon Productions has been in this place before and it always turned out well in the end: True enough.

There were a lot of questions about the cinema future of 007 in 1977 when The Spy Who Loved Me came out. It wasn’t an easy production, with many scripts written. It went through one director (Guy Hamilton) before Lewis Gilbert brought it home. And it was the most expensive 007 film up to that date. Yet, it was a hit and Bond would go on.

Just two years later, Moonraker’s budget almost doubled from initial projections. Producer Albert R. Broccoli refused the financial demands of leading special effects companies for Agent 007’s journey into outer space. But Broccoli’s boys, led by Derek Meddings, did just fine and got an Oscar nomination. Moonraker also was a big hit.

In 1997, Tomorrow Never Dies was a chaotic production with a number of writers (only Bruce Feirstein got a credit) taking turns on the script. Feirstein returned to do rewrites during the middle of filming. Still, Pierce Brosnan’s second 007 outing did fine in the end.

Past performance isn’t a guarantee of future performance. Yet, it would seem extremely premature to bet against 007 at this point.

CON: The Sony hacks showed there were a lot of troubles during pre-production, particularly with the script: The Sony hacks are unprecedented in that they revealed inside information while an expensive movie was in production. To say more would mean major spoilers. We’ll avoid that here.

Suffice to say, the hacks revealed the kind of detail that, for other 007 films, only emerged many years after they were released, when people could research the papers of 007 principals such as screenwriter Richard Maibaum.

On March 17, a teaser poster for SPECTRE is to be unveiled. This may be the start of changing the conversation about SPECTRE compared with the past few days. 007 fans certainly hope so.

SPECTRE: Welcome to the new MI6

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

Minor spoilers in this post.

By Nicolás Suszczyk, guest writer

The countdown has already begun for the release of the 24th James Bond film, SPECTRE, on Nov. 6.

The movie is directed by Sam Mendes, who helmed the previous 007 film Skyfall, whose story (apparently) completed the James Bond reboot process bringing back the full MI6 team missing in the first two previous James Bond films starring Daniel Craig, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

Throughout the story, the 2012 film introduced the audiences to Miss Moneypenny, played by Naomie Harris; gadget-master Q, played by Ben Whishaw; and a male M in the person of Ralph Fiennes’ Gareth Mallory.

By the end of  Skyfall, we had the MI6 team as we know it from the 1960s Bond films: M, Q and Moneypenny. The latter two were absent in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, while M was still portrayed by Judi Dench who was first cast in 1995’s GoldenEye, the first outing of Pierce Brosnan as James Bond.

But is SPECTRE bringing back the old MI6? We’ll just get Bond flirting with Moneypenny, then M’s briefing followed by the Q lab scene? Probably not.

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes

In a videoblog last week, Mendes – who says he shaped Fiennes, Harris and Whishaw in their roles – pointed out that the trio “will risk their careers in order to help Bond,” a far cry from the old days where the service remained in Whitehall or Vauxhall Cross to brief Bond and wish him luck on the job.

In fact, since Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997, Judi Dench’s M has had more screen time, even going to the field to assist Bond (something that Robert Brown and Bernard Lee barely did) or being a substantial part of the plot in 1999’s The World is not Enough as well as Skyfall.

Introduced in Skyfall as the chariman of the security comittee, Gareth Mallory is set to replace the Dench’s M. A former lieutenant colonel of the British Army, he was captured by the IRA and after his retirement he turned into a bureaucrat.

Nevertheless, he gets involved  in a shootout very well as he proves during Silva’s attack during the inquiry audience, even after being wounded by one of the villain’s bullets.

In SPECTRE, M will battle political forces – in a fight where Andrew Scott’s Denbigh character probably is involved. What makes us think that Mallory won’t be going into the action this time?

More of this in Moneypenny's future in SPECTRE?

More of this in Moneypenny’s future in SPECTRE?

Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny sat at a desk of MI6 facilities in Egypt and Brazil in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, or posing as a HM Customs officer in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. But it looks as if Naomie Harris’s version will be involved in the action, as we saw during the inquiry scene in Skyfall. In February 2014, the British actress said she thinks her character “needs to be in the action,” even when she followed Bond’s advice that “field’s work is not for everyone” and took a desk job.

A big revelation may be provided by Ben Whishaw who plays Q.

Desmond Llewelyn’s Q is known for heading to the field to deliver Bond his gadgets as we could see in You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy and most notably Licence to Kill, just to name a few examples. On the contrary, John Cleese’s Q in Die Anopther Day stuck on the MI6 underground lab proud of his invisible Aston Martin Vanquish.

Recently, German actor Detlef Bothe told the press that he’ll have a showdown with Ben Whishaw’s character on a cable car, which seems pretty logical after footage of Q entering a gondola in Austria has been released on the videoblog.

Ben Whishaw with Daniel Craig in Skyfall

Ben Whishaw with Daniel Craig in Skyfall

This probably leads to a new approach of the MI6 quartermaster, perhaps taking advantage of Whishaw’s age (34) that seems more suitable for fist-fights than the elderly Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese.

Twenty-six years ago, in Licence to Kill, the character of Q had the longest screening time appearance in the series when he decides to help Timothy Dalton’s 007 on his personal vendetta against drug lord Franz Sánchez in the field, not only as his armorer but as a field operative and integral part of the mission. He poses as Bond’s chauffeur at Isthmus City and helps the agent and the CIA’s Pam Bouvier to sneak into the Wavekrest vessel.

It’s likely that Whishaw’s Q will have a similar part in SPECTRE while going even one step further – action scenes. According to Empire Magazine, 007 visits Austria following the lead of one Dr. Madeleine Swann, Léa Seydoux character, apparently a psychiatrist or therapist working on a clinic in the Austrian Alps.

If Q is going to the clinic to assist 007 or take part into the mission, is he probably doing the same than Agent Campbell in the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? Maybe he won’t face the same fate than the “sportsman” agent, who was hanged upside down by Blofeld in his Piz Gloria clinic. With that in mind,  it wouldn’t be strange that Q would play some kind of aid on the field to James Bond.

However it is done, it’ll be interesting to see Mendes’ take on the new MI6 staff, classic but redefined and modernized.

 Nicolás Suszczyk is editor of The GoldenEye Dossier.

Aston Martin, glamorous on screen, struggles in real life

Daniel Craig and Aston Martin DB5 in a Skyfall publicity sill

Daniel Craig and Aston Martin DB5 in a Skyfall publicity sill

Aston Martin, thanks to James Bond movies, including the upcoming SPECTRE, is a symbol of glamor and British ingenuity. In real life, it’s not easy being Aston.

Ford Motor Co. owned Aston for 20 years. The U.S. automaker sold off the niche maker of expensive sports cars in 2007 amid as Ford got its own economic house in order. Ever since, Aston hasn’t been owned by a major automaker unlike other British vehicle brands such as Bentley (owned by Volkswagen AG) or Jaguar and Land Rover (India’s Tata Motors).

Aston, however, is carrying on, including plans to introduce a seven-vehicle lineup this week at the Geneva Motor Show, according to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.

A quick excerpt:

GENEVA — Andy Palmer once tried to convince former employer Nissan Motor Co. to buy niche sports-car maker Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. Now as the tiny British car maker’s chief executive, Mr. Palmer is fighting to keep it independent.

Long associated with its role as a featured automobile in the James Bond series, Aston Martin has struggled in recent years even as a cast of high-end rivals surged. Sold by Ford Motor Co. in 2007, annual sales have since fallen about 40%, from 7,300 to 4,000 in 2014.

Palmer, a U.K. native, has been on the job for less than six months. He’s counting on a cost-sharing agreement with Daimler AG to help the British company stay competitive with other automakers who are ramping up spending on research and development, according to the Journal. Daimler owns 5 percent of Aston.

For more details about Aston’s new lineup, you can view the Journal story BY CLICKING HERE. There is a pay wall at the Journal’s website.

Alan J. Porter discusses his James Bond Lexicon project

Promo for The James Bond Lexicon

Promo for The James Bond Lexicon

Writer Alan J. Porter is coming out with a new reference work, The James Bond Lexicon. He’s also at work on a similar project concerning The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Porter discussed both projects in an e-mail interview. The Bond project is further along and within a few months of being published.

QUESTION: Please describe the format and organization of The James Bond Lexicon and The Lexicon Affair about U.N.C.L.E. About when will each be published?

PORTER: The Lexicon series from Hasslein Books (http://www.hassleinbooks.com) are encyclopedia style references guides related to various pop-culture franchises. They already have volumes on The Planet of the Apes, Back to the Future, and Red Dwarf. My wife, Gill, and I will be adding volumes on James Bond and U.N.C.L.E.

First up will be “The James Bond Lexicon” which will cover the world of 007 across all media, movies, novels, TV, and comics. The manuscript is currently with the publishers for copy-editing, and given it’s size (about 700 pages in total) we are discussing the possibility that it will be published as a two-volume set. Publication is slated for end of September, early October this year — around the same time that SPECTRE hits the movie screens.

While the Bond book is in production we have started writing “The Lexicon Affair: A Guide to the world of U.N.C.L.E.” This will cover both Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Girl from U,N.C.L.E. in TV, movies, novels, short stories, and comics. As we are relatively early in the writing stage we don’t have a publication date set just yet.

QUESTION: What do The James Bond Lexicon and The Lexicon Affair bring to the table compared with other books such as Raymond Benson’s James Bond Bedside Companion or Jon Heitland’s Man From U.N.C.L.E. Book or Cynthia W. Walker’s Work/Text Investigating The Man From U.N.C.L.E.?

PORTER: I believe that these will be the first books to comprehensively cover the franchises in detail across the full range of media. Plus they will be as up to date as possible. For instance the Bond Lexicon includes entries from the recent Stephen Cole authored Young Bond novel, Shoot to Kill.

The U.N.C.L.E. book will cover the upcoming movie reboot along with the classic series. The book style is more of an encyclopedia reference rather than a critical review style, although there will be a few supporting essays touching on items such as series continuity (or lack of) and the enduring popularity of the two franchises.

QUESTION: Did your encounter any surprises while researching each book?

PORTER: I think the biggest surprise from working on the Bond Lexicon was just how many different officially sanctioned interpretations of James Bond there has been over the years. I’m not talking about between actors, but distinctly different back-stories, ways of operating, time periods etc.

We grouped various Bonds together by loose continuity; for instance we considered that the Connery-Lazenby-Moore-Dalton-Brosnan Bond was a single Bond, while the Craig Bond was a completely new Bond.

Similarly, we counted the Fleming, Gardner, Benson Bonds as being three separate incarnations and so on. In the end we counted 18 different James Bonds. And I’m sure not everyone will agree with the way we defined those different Bonds either.

It’s early days on the U.N.C.L.E work so I can’t say that we’ve discovered any major surprises yet (although I’m sure we will). One initial observation is the appalling lack of consistency, often even within the same story. It’s making for some interesting discussions around how, and where, certain entries will go in the book.

QUESTION: What are the similarities, as you see them, between James Bond and Napoleon Solo? The differences?

PORTER: It’s often been stated that Ian Fleming designed Solo to be “Bond for the small screen” with the same basic traits and attitudes of a “suave sophisticated secret agent” with an eye for the ladies. But I think it’s fair to say that beyond that superficial description the two characters clearly diverged over the years.

Bond has that rougher edge, the underlying truth that he is a violent man, a “blunt instrument,” out to do a dirty job. In many ways Bond is the archetype lone stranger who arrives, sorts out the problem, and leaves.

Solo (ironically given his name) became the opposite of that, he is a team player, and part of double act where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Solo is less of the blunt instrument and more of the protector.

QUESTION: Who were you a fan of first? Bond or Solo? How did you become a fan of each? (Or are you a fan of each?)

PORTER: I can clearly date the start of my interest in Bond to the winter of 1965 and playing the Thunderball board game at a friends house, but with U.N.C.L.E. it’s always been more of a case of general awareness that probably started around the same time. I had both the Corgi Aston-Martin DB5 and the THRUSH buster toys, read Bond comics in the newspapers and U.N.C.L.E. comics in TV Tornado each week. Obviously U.N.C.L.E. faded into the background and Bond became more prominent because of the franchise’s continuing presence in the public eye, but I never forgot the guys in the secret headquarters behind the tailor’s shop.

QUESTION: Both Bond and Solo will have a film adventure in 2015, SPECTRE and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. What are you looking for from each one? What needs to happen for each film to be considered a success?

PORTER: Wow – the answer to that could be an essay all of its own.

I will say I was disappointed that they actually used SPECTRE as the title of the next Bond movie. I would have much preferred that the revelation about the return of SPECTRE would have come from the plot and been a surprise (much like the fate of M in Skyfall). Having said that, like most people I believe, I’m hoping for a return to some of the good old classic Bond movie tropes we’ve been missing for a while. The end of Skyfall hinted at it, I just hope they follow through with something that has the same vibe as movies like From Russia With Love, or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

With the U.N.C.L.E. movie my underlying hope is that they respect the source material, unlike certain recent Hollywood abominations (Green Hornet for instance). It looks like they have the tone and period right from what we’ve seen in the trailer so far although I was disappointed not to hear the classic TV show theme used. My fingers are crossed that it will be a fun ride and one that reinvigorates interest in the franchise bringing more people back to discovering the TV show. Then maybe I can wear my U.N.C.L.E. logo t-shirt without people asking me what it stands for.

QUESTION: Daniel Craig is now filming his fourth Bond film. What is your analysis of his tenure?

PORTER: I’ll be honest I’m still not sure. I thought Casino Royale was great, and loved his portrayal of Bond in that, although he was too old to be a Double-O at the start of his career. Hated Quantum of Solace, but I think that was more to do with the weak story and the frantic style of direction.

Skyfall left me conflicted, loved it at first but on each rewatch I dislike it more and more. Craig definitely plays the aging agent well, but, to put it bluntly, his Bond in Skyfall is simply incompetent. I’m looking forward to SPECTRE being the movie when the Craig era redeems itself in my eyes.

QUESTION: Henry Cavill, the new Solo, lost out to Craig to play Bond. How do you think he may do as Solo? (Right now, all we have to go on is a trailer.)

PORTER: From the short glimpses of him in the trailer he looks well suited to the part (much more so than he is to the Superman role). He’s an actor I’ve enjoyed watching over the years, although I’m not sure he would have worked as Bond either, and hopefully Solo will be his breakout franchise role.

QUESTION: A book is always hard work, but has either, or both, been fun to do?

PORTER: There is always a point about midway through any book project where you think, “What the hell am I doing this for.” The Bond Lexicon turned out to be a much bigger project than we first thought and ended up taking about three years to find everything and do the research. There was a point when we never wanted to look at anything Bond related again, but it didn’t last long. We’ve had so much support and interest from friends and fellow fans in the Bond community that it’s been a wonderful experience. We can’t wait to share the results of all that work later this year.

The U.N.C.L.E. book is great fun to do, and as we haven’t seen most of the material in decades, and in some cases this is the first time we’ve read many of the spin-off stories, it’s like rediscovering the franchise all over again.

For more about The James Bond Lexicon, CLICK HERE. For more about The Lexicon Affair, CLICK HERE. For Alan J. Porter’s website, CLICK HERE.

 

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