Chris Cornell dies at 52

Chris Cornell

UPDATE III (6:50 p.m.): The Wayne County (Michigan) Medical Examiner said Chris Cornell died from “suicide by hanging” even though a full autopsy report hasn’t been completed according to The Detroit News.

ORIGINAL POST (4:30 a.m.): Chris Cornell, the rock musician who co-wrote and performed Casino Royale’s title song, died Wednesday night at age 52, The Associated Press reported.

The news service quoted a Cornell representative, Brian Bumbery, as saying the musician’s death was “sudden and unexpected.” No cause of death was known early Thursday. Cornell, who had been on tour, died in Detroit, the AP said.

Cornell was the lead singer for Soundgarden and “helped architect the 90’s grunge rock movement,” AP said in its report. He was also lead performer and songwriter for Audioslave.

In 2006, Cornell became the first title song performer for the Daniel Craig era of James Bond films.

Cornell also co-wrote Casino’s title song, “You Know My Name,” with David Arnold, who also scored the movie.

With Casino, Eon Productions opted for a “reboot,” or starting the series over. The Daniel Kleinman-designed main titles were different that previous entries. Graphic elements for the titles included playing card images as well as silhouettes of violent fights as well as images of Craig, who was making his 007 debut.

UPDATE (4:45 a.m.): David Arnold commented on Twitter:

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UPDATE II (9:30 a.m.): Many tributes have been written about Chris Cornell in the hours after his death became public. Here are tweets by the official James Bond Twitter account and actor Jeffrey Wright, who played Felix Leiter in Casino Royale.

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Clifton James, known as 007 sheriff, dies at 96

Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper in The Man With The Golden Gun

Clifton James, a character actor whose career extended more than 60 years but perhaps best known as a redneck sheriff in two 007 films, has died at 96, according to an obituary by The Associated Press.

James embodied a 1970s shift in James Bond films to a lighter, more comedic tone. He played Sheriff J.W. Pepper, a Louisiana lawman who was comic relief in 1973’s Live And Let Die and 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun.

“What are you, some kind of doomsday machine, boy?” James’ Pepper says, emerging from a wrecked police car and confronting Roger Moore’s James Bond following that film’s massive boat chase sequence.

J.W. Pepper was created by screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz. In the documentary Inside Live And Let Die, the scribe said he didn’t want the audience laughing at the African American villains in the film.

Clifton James as J.W. Pepper fit the bill. James said in the documentary he wore padding to make himself look heavier.

The character was brought back for Golden Gun. In one January 1974 draft, by 007 veteran Richard Maibaum (who took over for Mankiewicz), Pepper only had a small appearance.

Somewhere along the way, things changed. In the final film, Pepper accompanies Bond on a car chase. The sheriff at one point is leaning out a car window, yelling at other drivers. (The Maibaum draft had a Thai character simply called “Prospective Buyer” ride with Bond.)

James, however, was far more than J.W. Pepper. He easily made a convincing villain in various television series. He also played cheapskate Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey in Eight Men Out , a drama about the scandal when the baseball team threw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

James’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 100 acting credits from 1954 to 2017.

UPDATE (6:05 p.m., New York time): Roger Moore took to Twitter to note the death of Clifton James.

 
UPDATE II (April 16): The official James Bond Twitter feed published a post about the actor’s passing.

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George Smiley returns in new Le Carre novel

David Cornell, aka John Le Carre, circa 1964

George Smiley is returning in a new novel by John Le Carre, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS REPORTED.

The news service quoted Viking, Le Carre’s publisher, as saying the author’s new novel, A Legacy of Spies, will debut Sept. 5.

“According to the publisher, the novel tells of how Smiley and such peers as Peter Guillam receive new scrutiny about their Cold War years with British intelligence and face a younger generation that knows little about their history,” AP reported.

Smiley appeared in a number of Le Carre novels, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Smiley’s People and, most recently, 1990’s The Secret Pilgrim. In some novels, he’s a primary character, in others a secondary one.

Smiley has been portrayed by several actors, including Alec Guiness and, most recently, Gary Oldman in a 2011 film adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Ringling Bros.’ demise and movies they don’t make anymore

Poster for The Greatest Show on Earth

Poster for The Greatest Show on Earth

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will shut down in May, The Associated Press reported. Its demise recalls the kind of movie you don’t see in the 21st century: The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).

Greatest Show won the Best Picture Oscar, beating out High Noon, Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge and The Quiet Man. It’s hard to imagine Cecil B. DeMille’s mix of spectacle, soap opera, comedy and other elements even being made today, much less nominated.

Gruff circus boss Charlton Heston tries to keep the circus rolling while circus acts Betty Hutton and Gloria Grahame are in love with him and new star attraction Cornel Wilde causes a lot of trouble. And there’s James Stewart’s mysterious clown who never takes his makeup off. DeMille himself is a presence, narrating the film.

The movie was also an early example of product placement. It was produced in cooperation with Ringling Bros, with circus executive John Ringling North playing himself. It also has cameos from the likes of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby watching a circus performance and Edmond O’Brien as a midway barker at the end.

In real life, the circus already was facing changing times when Greatest Show was released. One of the plot points is how some circus management want to end circus big tops and keep to major cities. The circus ceased staging performances in tents in 1956.

The demise of the circus was also due to changing times, according to the AP story.

The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

Nothing lasts forever. Ringling Bros had a good run at 146 years.

For those who haven’t seen the 1952 movie, this extended trailer gives you a sense of what the film was like.

Mendes says, again, he won’t direct another 007 film

Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes, who helmed Skyfall and SPECTRE, said, according to The Associated Press, that he won’t be directing Bond 25.

Here’s an excerpt with the key details:

“It was an incredible adventure, I loved every second of it,” Mendes said of his five years working on the thriller franchise. “But I think it’s time for somebody else.”

Mendes revealed his plans to step down from the series to an audience at the Hay Festival of literature in Wales. A former theatre director whose films include the Oscar-winner “American Beauty” and the somber “Revolutionary Road,” Mendes said he hoped the next Bond director would come from an “unexpected direction,” just as he had.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Mendes has made such comments.

In 2013, he said the idea of directing a sequel to 2012’s Skyfall made him feel “physically ill,” but he directed the next Bond movie, SPECTRE, anyway. Pay raises have a way of calming the stomach.

In July 2015, he told the BBC he “probably” would not direct another 007 film.

Regardless, Mendes’ latest comments are worth noting given how the Bond film series is in flux.

Bond 25, as of now, has no leading man (Daniel Craig hasn’t said if he’s coming back or not), no director, no script and no distributor.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, following its 2010 bankruptcy, doesn’t have the resources to release a Bond movie on its own. Sony Pictures, which released the last four 007 films, saw its contract with MGM expire after SPECTRE.

And, for now, the world goes round and round, albeit without a firm schedule for the return of agent 007.

UPDATE: The AP story has this passage, which raises questions.

Mendes said lobbying by fans is pointless because the decision will be made solely by the series’ producer, Barbara Broccoli.

“It’s not a democracy … Barbara Broccoli decides who is going to be the next Bond, end of story,” he said.

Does Michael G. Wilson, co-boss of Eon Productions, not have a say?

David Bowie dies and his 007 footnote

David Bowie

David Bowie

Musician David Bowie, who had a stellar career with a minor 007 footnote, has died at 69, ACCORDING TO AN OBITUARY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES.

The news was released early Monday. Bowie’s appeal was so wide, something like the Mike & Mike sports talk show on ESPN Radio devoted several minutes to it, interrupting recaps and commentary about professional football games and other sports.

Meanwhile, in London, ACCORDING TO THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, “some models honored David Bowie by sporting glittery makeup, while some had written ‘Bowie’ across their open palms.”

Bowie branched off from music to appear in movies and on television, including once singing a duet of “The Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby.

Here’s an excerpt from the obituary in The Times:

Mr. Bowie wrote songs, above all, about being an outsider: an alien, a misfit, a sexual adventurer, a faraway astronaut. His music was always a mutable blend: rock, cabaret, jazz and what he called “plastic soul,” but it was suffused with genuine soul. He also captured the drama and longing of everyday life, enough to give him No. 1 pop hits like “Let’s Dance.”

His 007 footnote was being offered, and declining, the role of Max Zorin in A View To a Kill. Grace Jones, who played May Day in the 1985 James Bond film, remembered it this way in A 2015 YAHOO! MOVIES STORY.

According to Jones, David Bowie didn’t want take the part of the main baddie because he feared a stuntman would get more screen time than he would. The production then asked Mick Jagger “because they definitely wanted this to be a rock ’n’ roll MTV Bond.” Eventually the role went to Christopher Walken, whose on-screen appearance remained very Bowie-esque notes Jones: “lean, mean, blond, and suavely narcissistic.”

UPDATE: Slate.com has posted THIS ARTICLE with more details about how Bowie was courted to be the villain in A View To A Kill.

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: