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:

Richard Johnson, would be 007, dies

Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson

Veteran actor Richard Johnson, a potential screen James Bond, died over the weekend.

How close Johnson, who was 87 when he died, to snagging the role isn’t clear.

Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli, in his autobiography, acknowledged Johnson was in the conversation. But the co-founder of Eon Productions, makes it sound as if Johnson wasn’t that close.

(Dr. No director) Terence Young had been promoting the idea of getting that polished British actor Richard Johnson to play Bond. It was a valid idea, but we thought (Sean) Connery was a much more exciting proposition. We called Terence in to hell him.

When the Snow Melts, page 169-170

On the other hand, an obituary by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (VIA THE NEW YORK TIMES) carries a different account.

(Johnson) told Cinema Retro magazine in 2009 that he declined the role and that he felt Sean Connery, who got the part and went on to play it in seven films, was miscast — but that the casting turned out to be perfect, “because it turned the thing on its head and he made it funny.”

Whatever the truth, Johnson did get his turn in the 1960s spy boom. The character of Bulldog Drummond was dusted off and turned into a series of spy films with Johnson as Drummond.

For more information, you can CLICK HERE for a post at Cinema Retro’s website. You can also CLICK HERE for an obit at The Telegraph.

UPDATE: The Double O Section blog HAS A POST that details Johnson’s other spy roles.

The spoiler debate

"Rosebud is the sled."

“Rosebud is the sled.”

With yet another James Bond movie in production, the old debate about spoilers flares up again.

Over the past couple of weeks, Eon Productions has been filming a car chase for SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film. This has occurred on public streets in the capital city (Rome) of a major European country (Italy).

This is the kind of thing that draws publicity, including a video posted by The Associated Press, one of the largest news-gathering organizations in the world. Some 007 fans want to learn more. Some 007 fan sites have written about it. But others complain it’s a spoiler and shouldn’t be covered by the media at all and shouldn’t even be discussed by true fans at all.

Once upon a time, some of the biggest 007 spoilers came from the official Bond apparatus. The novelization of The Spy Who Loved Me came out before the movie’s U.S. debut. That pretty much gave away the ski jump stunt performed by Rick Sylvester in the film. Ditto the novelization of Tomorrow Never Dies, which gave away much of that film’s plot and action sequences. The only differences were changes made in the script after the novelization was written.

Nor was this restricted to novelizations. 007 soundtracks gave away key plot points. Goldfinger’s soundtrack had a track called Death of Goldfinger. Thunderball’s soundtrack had a track called Death of Fiona. You Only Live Twice’s soundtrack had a track called Death of Aki. Doesn’t leave too much to the imagination.

Still, this is the 21st century. There’s this thing called the Internet. Once upon a time, fans who experienced momentary disappointment with finding out details about a movie ahead of time had to accept their fate and move on.

With the Internet, you don’t have to worry about moving on. It becomes a big echo chamber.

As that applies to spoilers, well, people will complain about spoilers when a movie has been out for three months. (CLICK HERE for a September 2013 post on this blog and scroll down to one of the comments.) Some will even complain about spoilers seven years after a movie has come out. (CLICK HERE for a November 2011 post and scroll down to one of the comments there.)

The blog got some flak on Facebook this week for THIS POST, which embedded a couple of SPECTRE car chase videos, including the one the AP posted to YouTube. We arranged the post so, on Facebook, its preview would only show a SPECTRE logo. To actually see the videos, you’d have to click on the link itself. Still, that wasn’t good enough for some, who argued “true fans” shouldn’t even be interested in any video of one of the most expensive movies of all time filming a scene in a major European capital.

To be fair, SPECTRE is an unusual case. Because of the hacking at Sony (which will release the film in November), it’s possible to read memos and a script and get information as late as November. the Gawker website did so back on Dec. 12. (Warning: there are spoilers if you click on that link.)

In a perfect world, fans curious about the movie and those not wanting to see anything before it comes out could come to an understanding. But the Internet, for the most part, works against being reasonable. When people cry foul about movies that have been out for months and years, it’s hard to be reasonable.

Our modest proposal for the title of the newest 007 novel

Jim Murray, ace Los Angeles Times columnist

Jim Murray, ace Los Angeles Times columnist

So, Anthony Horowitz, the author hired to write the newest James Bond continuation novel, let it be known this month he’s delivered his manuscript and he approves of the cover for the U.K. edition.

It’s probably too late to make this modest suggestion for the title. It’s based on the previously disclosed information the novel is based on an Ian Fleming idea for a never-made James Bond television series and it involves a setting in the world of auto racing.

The Fleming story idea was titled Death on Wheels, but Horowitz has previously said that won’t be the title of the novel.

But what would be a good title? Well, one of the best U.S. sports writers of the 20th century provides something worth considering.

“Gentlemen, start your coffins,” Jim Murray, sports columnist of the Los Angeles Times, wrote in a column about the Indianapolis 500 published in 1966.

At the time Murray penned those words, the Indy 500 was at its height as the pre-eminent auto race in the world. In the 1960s, the 500 was so big, the stars of Formula One and NASCAR came to Indianapolis to compete in the event. In 1965 and 1966, Formula One stars won the race.

But the 500 could also prove deadly. As late the as the 1980s, The Associated Press news service would send to member newspapers a list of all fatalities that occurred during the race over the years. Meanwhile, Murray’s line for his Indy 500 column was just one of many memorable comments he wrote over a long career. Murray died in 1998.

Pinewood Studios to Open U.S. facility

Pinewood Studios plans a U.S. production facility near Atlanta, according to THE ASSOCIATED PRESS VIA HITFIX.

Pinewood is known to James Bond fans as the primary production home for James Bond films, with various exceptions such as Licence to Kill and GoldenEye.

Here’s an excerpt of the AP story:

The large-scale film complex will be called Pinewood Atlanta, and Pinewood will manage the facility under an agreement with a group of private investors. Plans call for the studio to be developed on 288 acres south of Atlanta in Fayette County and initially include at least five soundstages as well as production offices.

According to AP, Pinewood Atlanta is a joint venture between Pinewood Shepperton PLC and River’s Rock LLC, “an independently managed trust of the Cathy family” which is “known for establishing the Chick-fil-A fast-food restaurant empire based in Atlanta. The chain last year generated both criticism and support when company president Dan Cathy made comments against same-sex marriage. The company later said it would stop funding anti-gay marriage groups.”

Construction is underway and the first production work will begin in January, Andrew Smith, a Pinewood executive, told AP.

James Garner dies at 86

James Garner

James Garner

James Garner, an actor at home playing drama, comedy or a combination of both, died July 19 at 86, according to AN ASSOCIATED PRESS OBITUARY on the Los Angeles Times website. (UPDATE: You can view The New York Times obit BY CLICKING HERE.)

The Oklahoma-born Garner was best known for the 1950s Western television series Maverick and the 1970s detective show The Rockford Files. Garner’s Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford preferred to outwit rather than outfight adversaries. But neither character was to be taken lightly and could handle themselves in a variety of situations.

In both series, Garner & Co. weren’t afraid to poke fun at their genres.

One Maverick episode, “Gun-Shy,” was a parody of Gunsmoke, as Marshal Mort Dooley keeps running Maverick out of town. A sixth-season Rockford Files, “Nice Guys Finish Dead,” has Rockford instructing would-be a private eye on the art of smiling and sucker punching opponent. Meanwhile, ace private investigator Lance White (Tom Selleck) is aghast, saying a proper detective begins a fight by saying, “Put up your dukes!”

In the end, Lance White corners the villain, says, “Put up your dukes!” and knocks him out with one punch.

Garner was popular enough in both roles he participated in revivals: a one-season series called Bret Maverick in the early 1980s and a series of Rockford Files television movies in the 1990s.

The actor had plenty of other work, with other highlights including The Great Escape, The Americanization of Emily, Grand Prix (where he did much of his own racecar driving), Marlowe and Support Your Local Gunfighter.

Here’s an excerpt of a long interview Garner did about his career. It concerns the early days of The Rockford Files.

Marvin Hamlisch, an appreciation


A preliminary version of the poster for The Spy Who Loved Me

Composer Marvin Hamilsch has died at age 68 (click here for the Associated Press’s Hamlisch obituary via the Huffington Post). He is being remembered for a long career of film scores. He also has a special place in 007 movies despite only working on one.

Hamlisch scored two Oscar nominations for his work on 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me: for best score and for the title song, “Nobody Does It Better,” the latter with Carol Bayer Sager.

Hamlisch’s music is often noted for introducing a 1970s sound to the movie, including his “Bond 77” track in the pre-titles sequence. But Hamlisch also worked in an homage to John Barry. There’s a scene where Roger Moore’s James Bond and Agent Triple-X (Barbara Bach) are searching for Jaws at some Egyptian ruins. Hamlisch’s score for the scene, while using the ’70s sound of the movie, was based on Barry’s music for the pre-titles sequence of From Russia With Love.

“Nobody Does It Better,” meantime, would become one of the most popular songs of the Bond series. Even people who didn’t care for Bond appreciated the song. “Nobody Does It Better” took on a life of its own; if you glance at the “soundtrack” section of the composer’s BIO ON IMDB.COM, you’ll see it pops up a fair amount. Hamlisch may have just been “passing through” the 007 franchise, but he was still a big contributor to the Bond film legacy.

UPDATE I: Here are some other obituaries for the composer: from BLOOMBERG NEWS, from THE NEW YORK TIMES and from the LOS ANGELES TIMES.


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