Dr. No’s 55th: A peculiar anniversary

Dr. No poster

This week, the James Bond film franchise celebrates the 55th anniversary of its first entry, Dr. No. However, it’s a bit of peculiar milestone.

Five years ago, for the 50th anniversary, it was a time of celebration. The golden anniversary of Dr. No was marked with the knowledge that a new Bond film, Skyfall, would be out soon.

For Bond fans, it was a “win-win.” They could celebrate the franchise’s past while looking forward to the near future

For the 55th, not as much.

Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in July announced a November 2019 release date for Bond 25. But, as of this writing, there isn’t an actual distributor to get the movie into theaters. Such a distributor likely would provide a significant chunk of the funding for the project.

The incumbent 007, Daniel Craig, said in August he’s coming back for a fifth outing. However, besides the lack of a distributor, there’s no director in place, either.

Veteran 007 film scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are working on Bond 25 story, according to that July announcement.

But until a director is on the job — and directors are known for bringing in their own writers to re-work a script — things can only proceed so far. One of the reported contenders, Denis Villeneuve, confirmed to The Montreal Gazette, that he has been in talks with Craig and Eon boss Barbara Broccoli. But Villeneuve, coming off Blade Runner 2049, is in demand for other projects.

What’s more, there have been fuzzy, imprecise vibes that Eon Productions might sell off its interest in 007 after Bond 25. Nobody has actually said this will happen but people have said it might happen.

Finally, tech giants Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. are looking to get the Bond 25 distribution rights or perhaps acquire the whole thing, according to a Sept. 6 story by The Hollywood Reporter. Yet, major news outlets that follow both Apple and Amazon closely (think The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal) have ignored the story.

Is there anything to The Hollywood Reporter’s story or not? Who knows?

All this uncertainty overshadows Dr. No.’s anniversary. The first 007 film included Sean Connery introducing the line, “Bond, James Bond. It was a project the followed the unusual circumstances that brought Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman together.

While a modestly budgeted production, the work of production designer Ken Adam made Dr. No look more expensive than it was. And actress Ursula Andress made an impression on audiences. Director Terence Young, not the first choice of either the producers or distributor United Artists, got the series off to a rousing start.

Some Bond fans fans are sure a major announcement about Bond 25 is coming on Oct. 5, Global James Bond Day and also the anniversary of Dr. No’s premiere. Maybe they’re right. We’ll see.

In any case, the 55th anniversary of Dr. No has an uncertainty that the 50th anniversary didn’t.

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Bond 25: Reading between the lines edition

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

There hasn’t been much hard news since Daniel Craig said more than a month ago he’d be back for Bond 25. But some reports suggest things if you read between the lines. And so…

Still no director yet: In July, entertainment news websites identified three Bond 25 director front runners (Denis Villeneuve, Yann Demange and David Mackenzie). Variety said Demange was the top ranked contender.

All was quiet until Thursday night when Daily Mail scribe Baz Bamigboye (who has a record of scoops being proven correct) tweeted that Craig was “keen” on Villeneuve as Bond 25 director.

How much influence Craig will have on the voice is subject to debate and conjecture. But if Bamigboye is correct this time, it certainly sounds as if the decision hasn’t been made yet.

Still no distributor yet: On July 24, Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced Bond 25 would have a U.S. release date of November 2015. It was interesting given that MGM doesn’t have a distribution operation and relies on cutting deals with other studios to get its films into theaters.

Earlier this month, The Hollywood Reporter broke a story saying tech giants Apple and Amazon were now in the hunt for Bond 25 film rights in addition to traditional movie studios.

Not much since then. Interestingly, news outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, which follow both Apple and Amazon closely, haven’t weighed in yet.

So some fans are undoubtedly asking, “Why should I care?” 

Here’s the best the blog can come up with: That November 2019 release date can’t be considered solid until a distributor is in place. Also, just because a release date gets announced doesn’t mean it can’t be changed.

To be clear, there’s no reason for panic. To be honest, there’s not enough information at this point to panic about. But, viewing it from the outside, Bond 25 has some peculiar aspects. Or, as Birth.Movies.Death scribe Phil Nobile Jr. (a big Bond enthusiast) put it on Twitter in response to Bamigboye’s tweet:

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UPDATE: 7:55 p.m. New York time: It turns out Baz Bamigboye wrote about this as part of a column in the Daily Mail.

“Bond star Daniel Craig is rooting for thriller film-maker Denis Villeneuve to direct him in his final 007 movie,” Bamigboye wrote.

Villeneuve “has spoken with Craig and Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson about making what is currently known simply as Bond 25….There are several other directors on the ‘wanted’ list, but I’m hearing that Craig is most interested in Villeneuve.”

Apple, Amazon seek 007 rights, THR Reports

Apple logo

Tech companies Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. are seeking James Bond film rights, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER SAID.

They’ve joined traditional film studios, including Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures seeking a deal to distribute Bond 25, according to the entertainment news website. The Bond franchise is controlled by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Danjaq, the parent organization for Eon Productions.

The THR story raises the possibility that Apple and Amazon could expand 007’s reach beyond theatrical films.

Here’s an excerpt:

But the emergence of Apple — which is considered such a viable competitor that Warners is now pressing MGM hard to close a deal — and Amazon shows that the digital giants consider Bond one of the last untapped brands (like a Marvel, Pixar or Lucasfilm) that could act as a game-changer in the content space. Apple’s and Amazon’s inclusion in the chase would indicate that more is on the table than film rights, including the future of the franchise if MGM will sell or license out for the right price.

 

Two former Sony Television executives, Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, are leading Apple’s effort, the Reporter said. The move suggests “Apple is interested in cutting a larger rights deal or acquiring full ownership to exploit Bond’s largely unmined TV potential,” according to the story by Tatiana Siegel and Borys Kit.

Studios have scrambled to acquire “intellectual property” that can be the basis of movies, television and other outlets as well creating merchandising opportunities. Walt Disney Co. spent billions to buy Marvel and Lucasfilm Ltd., which originated Star Wars. Disney’s Marvel and Lucasfilm operations now account for much of Disney’s film output.

The Reporter says the Bond franchise could be worth anywhere from $2 billion to $5 billion. Apple and Amazon both have the resources to make that kind of deal.  Each is among the largest companies in the world. Amazon recently spent more than $13 billion to acquire Whole Foods.

In July, Eon announced a U.S. release date of November 2019 for Bond 25. But no distributor has been announced. Sony has released the last four James Bond films. MGM doesn’t have a distribution operation.

Judge can’t resist 007 puns in box set ruling

Never Say Never Again’s poster

A federal judge in Seattle on Aug. 3 issued a 14-page ruling by a consumer who bought a James Bond box set marketed as containing “all” of the 007 movies but didn’t include 1967’s Casino Royale and 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

The ruling, reported on earlier by The Hollywood Reporter, rules for the consumer in part and against the consumer in part. Essentially, it does let the case proceed.

We’re mostly interested how Judge Ricardo S. Martinez couldn’t resist a good James Bond pun (or four) in his ruling.

Page 2: “At this time, Court will Live And Let Die. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants’ Motion.”

Page 10: “From the Defendants’ perspective, this claim will have to Die Another Day.

Page 12: “Plaintiff may amend her claim once if she discovers sufficient facts to establish privity, thus this claim may Only Live Twice.”

Page 14: “Although Diamonds Are Forever, if Plaintiff wishes to amend her Complaint as directed above, she only has fourteen (14) days from the date of this order.”

The 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again were not made by Eon Productions. But both films are now owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, home studio for the Eon 007 series.

A Sampling of Early Atomic Blonde Reviews

Atomic Blonde poster

Atomic Blonde, this summer’s spy movie, has received mostly positive back in March when the film was shown at the South by Southwest film festival.

The film, starring Charlize Theron, had a Rotten Tomatoes score of 81 percent because of those reviews. It remains to be seen how the score may change with newer reviews that come in ahead of its opening this week.

Regardless, here are some non-spoiler excerpts of reviews.

ERIC KOHN, INDIEWIRE: “The first solo effort by ‘John Wick’ co-director David Leitch, ‘Atomic Blonde’ exists in the same realm of hyperstylized action built around the cold ferocity of an unstoppable action star. It only falters when attempting to tie more story around her….Oscillating between the relentless energy of ‘John Wick’ and the dense plotting of a John Le Carré novel, ‘Atomic Blonde’ never quite finds a happy medium between the two. But when Theron goes back to kicking ass, nothing else matters.”

JOHN DEFORE, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: “The more obvious comparison, of course, is with the latest, earthily violent incarnation of James Bond. As enjoyable as Atomic Blonde can be at times, its main utility may be its demonstration that Theron deserves better than this. If not a reincarnation in which James becomes ‘Bond, Jane Bond,’ then at least something with more staying power than this actioner, which looks good and gets some things right, but is as uninterested in its protagonist’s personality as its generic name suggests.”

ANDREW BARKER, VARIETY: “Lifted from Antony Johnston’s graphic novel ‘The Coldest City,’ ‘Atomic Blonde’s’ heroine is a blank slate of emotionless efficiency. A master of cold stares and even colder line readings, (Theron character) Lorraine’s entire diet appears to consist of frozen Stoli on the rocks…Leitch seems uninterested in developing relationships between his characters, leaving them to scamper about on parallel tracks until the hazy machinations of the plot conspire to bring them together.”

JOANNA ROBINSON, VANITY FAIR: “In Atomic Blonde, (Theron’s) Cold War-era spy character, Lorraine Broughton, brutally dispatches Russian and German agents without ever losing an inch of style. She’s the captivating eye of a rather messy plot storm, and you won’t be able to keep your eyes off her for a second. The film had a triumphant, ecstatic debut at SXSW on Sunday night, but won’t debut in the U.S. until July 28. All other summer blockbusters should just surrender now.”

MEREDITH BORDERS: BIRTH. MOVIES. DEATH:Atomic Blonde gives us so little to actually care about, an exercise in style over substance where even the style starts to grate after a time.”

Warner Bros.’s Batman PR problem

Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill in a Batman v Superman poster

UPDATE (July 22): Ben Affleck said at the San Diego Comic Con today he’s still playing Batman, according to numerous reports.

Among the outlets reporting on Affleck’s remarks: COLLIDER.COM, the New York DAILY NEWS and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

It was the latter, in a story on Friday, that said Warner Bros. was ready to ease Affleck out of the role.

ORIGINAL POST (July 21): Just when Warner Bros.’s DC Extended Universe seems to get on track, it’s undergoing a public relations problem during the San Diego Comic Con.

You remember when the DCEU finally was getting good PR? It was just last month when Wonder Woman generated both ticket sales and positive reviews.

Just weeks later, the buzz is that Warner Bros. (aka “Mr. Warner,” this blog’s nickname for the studio) is getting ready to ease the current Batman, Ben Affleck, out of the role. At least’s that’s according to a story by Kim Masters in The Hollywood Reporter.

Affleck got top billing in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That movie introduced Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. It did good (but sub $1 billion worldwide) business while getting terrible reviews.

Still, Affleck’s Batman created a buzz. First, it was the actor would write, direct and star in a solo Batman movie titled The Batman. Then, well, he wasn’t going to direct after all.

A new director, Matt Reeves, was hired. Initially, the buzz was that Affleck’s script would be used. Then, this month, the news came out that Affleck’s script was being jettisoned and things would start over.

Now, Affleck himself may be out. Here’s an excerpt from The Hollywood Reporter story:

(A) source with knowledge of the situation says that the studio is working on plans to usher out Affleck’s Batman — gracefully, addressing the change in some shape or form in one of the upcoming DC films. Exactly when and how that might happen has yet to be determined, but it would be wise to bet against Affleck starring in The Batman.

The thing is, the massive San Diego convention has become a forum for studios to promote upcoming films, and not just movies based on comic books.

Justice League is the next DCEU film and a followup to Batman v Superman. It’s supposed to address some of the faults (i.e. too gloomy) present in the 2016 film.

In Batman v Superman, Affleck, who turns 45 on Aug. 15, played an older Batman. It was very much influenced by the 1986 mini-series The Dark Knight Returns by writer-artist Frank Miller. In that story, Batman comes out of retirement.

We’ll see how all this turns out. Still, it’s doubtful Mr. Warner appreciates the “Affleck is out” buzz generated by The Hollywood Reporter story.

Nolan’s Dunkirk gets a big thumbs up from critics

Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk, the World War II drama coming out this weekend, obviously isn’t a spy film. But there is continuing fascination (admiration by some fans, disdain by others) with the idea writer-director Christopher Nolan might one day helm a James Bond film.

Also, two of Nolan’s collaborators, director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema and editor Lee Smith, worked on SPECTRE. The latest wave of Nolan mania among Bond fans occurred via a Playboy interview timed to come out shortly before Dunkirk.

So the blog decided to look at Dunkirk’s critical response.

The answer is a huge thumbs up. The Warner Bros. release currently enjoys a 97 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website. Here are some non-spoiler summaries of some of the reviews.

KATIE WALSH, TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE: “Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema have crafted a film that places us in this heightened reality, shooting with IMAX cameras on large format film stock. Everything about ‘Dunkirk’ is bigger, realer, in images that are equally breathtaking in their beauty and in their terror.”

BILL GOODYKOONTZ, ARIZONA REPUBLIC: “Nolan is the best example of the filmmaker who, if you asked him what time it was would tell you how the watch works — and in his case that’s a compliment, because he turns the intricacies and minutiae of time and how it’s used in stories into artistic statements. Certainly he has done that here — ‘Dunkirk’ is a great movie, both an old-time inspirational war epic and at the same time very much a Christopher Nolan movie.”

PETER TRAVERS, ROLLING STONE: “From first frame to last, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a monumental achievement, a World War II epic of staggering visual spectacle (see it in IMAX if you can) that hits you like a shot in the heart. Leave it to a filmmaking virtuoso at the peak of his powers to break both new ground and all the rules – who else would make a triumphant war film about a crushing Allied defeat? And who but Nolan, born in London to a British father and an American mother, would tackle WWII without America in it?”

DANA STEVENS, SLATE: Nolan’s 2010 Inception “will serve as my yearly reminder never to go into a movie with preconceived ideas. The swift-moving, pulse-pounding Dunkirk reveals its filmmaker at his most nimble, supple, and simple—all adjectives that seem strange to use in connection with a movie shot in 65mm IMAX format, using practical effects and real stunts…But Dunkirk’s simplicity inheres not in its production logistics but in its storytelling.”

TODD MCCARTHY, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: “(T)his is a war film like few others, one that may employ a large and expensive canvas but that conveys the whole through isolated, brilliantly realized, often private moments more than via sheer spectacle, although that is here, too….In Dunkirk, Nolan has gotten everything just right.”