G. Gordon Liddy dies at 90

National Lampoon parody of G. Gordon Liddy, Agent of C.R.E.E.P., as drawn by Dick Ayres

G. Gordon Liddy, one of the most colorful figures in the Watergate scandal that brought down U.S. President Richard Nixon, has died at 90, The New York Times reported.

Liddy “concocted the bungled burglary” that led to the scandal. Liddy worked for the Committee to Re-Elect the President.

Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein abbreviated that to CRP. But it was popularly abbreviated as C.R.E.E.P. The National Lampoon eventually published a comic book parody of G. Gordon Liddy, Agent of C.R.E.E.P. Artist Dick Ayres did a cover that emulated a 1968 cover of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jim Steranko

An excerpt from the obit by the Times:

As a leader of a White House “plumbers” unit set up to plug information leaks, and then as a strategist for the president’s re-election campaign, Mr. Liddy helped devise plots to discredit Nixon “enemies” and to disrupt the 1972 Democratic National Convention. Most were far-fetched — bizarre kidnappings, acts of sabotage, traps using prostitutes, even an assassination — and were never carried out.

Liddy was among the many Watergate figures who did prison time. He was sentenced to six to 20 years but only served 52 months.

Liddy defied the saying that crime does not pay.

The one-time felon wrote an autobiography published in 1980. It was turned into a 1982 made-for-TV movie starring Robert Conrad as Liddy. Liddy went on to host a nationally syndicated radio talk show. Naturally, Conrad was a guest on one installment. Anyone who listened could tell Liddy loved that Conrad had played him.

Liddy also wrote spy novels along the way, such as Out of Control. And he picked up about 20 acting credits, according to his IMDB.COM ENTRY.

Tanya Roberts dies amid media circus

Tanya Roberts in a publicity still for A View to a Kill

Tanya Roberts, who appeared in A View to a Kill, the Charlie’s Angels TV series and That ’70s Show, has died at 65, The New York Times reported, citing the actress’ companion/boyfriend, Lance O’Brien.

Her death was the center of a media circus.

TMZ reported the death on Sunday night. Roberts’ publicist put out a press release. Numerous outlets picked up on it.

Then, O’Brien was taped by Inside Edition, a “TV tabloid” show for an interview on Monday. He sat in front of a green screen, the type used to create fake backgrounds on TV. During the taping, he got a call that Roberts hadn’t died yet.

Naturally, an intimate, emotional scene followed. Inside Edition also posted the segment on YouTube for its 8.44 million subscribers.

TMZ followed up with its own “she’s alive” story. The website was glib about the whole affair. “As for how this could happen … beats us.”

The Roberts publicist, Mike Pingel, said in an earlier NYT story: “It’s a human miscommunication, unfortunately…It’s a shame this happened.”

Do tell.

Anyway, many “Tanya Roberts is still alive” stories ran while the “Tanya Roberts dies” stories were taken down. (The blog ran one of each.) Some of the “she’s alive” stories noted that Roberts was not in good shape. She had been at Cedars-Sinai Hospital since Dec. 24.

On social media, Bond fans made the inevitable 007-related puns because of the bizarre turn of events, including variations on “You Only Live Twice,” such as “this is her second life.” There were also comments evoking Mark Twain saying reports of his death were extremely exaggerated.

Now, O’Brien tells the Times that Roberts did pass away Monday night. TMZ came out with its third story Tuesday morning. Fox News said it got the same information from O’Brien.

In 1985’s A View to a Kill, Roberts played Stacey Sutton, who becomes the ally of James Bond (Roger Moore in his last 007 film) to foil a plot to destroy California’s Silicon Valley.

Stacey Sutton wasn’t the favorite of some Bond fans for the way she screamed “James!” There was also a 28-year difference between Moore and Roberts, who shared a romantic scene at the end of the movie.

Roberts was in the cast of Charlie’s Angels in its final season, 1980-81. She was in That ’70s Show from 1998 to 2004.

As for the media circus that surrounded Roberts’ passing, the MI6 James Bond website had a tweet that summed it up.

Aston Martin deflects current crisis with 2-year-old news

Aston Martin playbook? Play up your connection to the 007 film series. 

Aston Martin, amid a plunging stock price, falling sales and many other challenges, dumped its CEO and selected a replacement. How do you deflect bad news?

If you’re Aston, play up two-year-old news and your connection to the James Bond film series.

Aston said in August 2018 that it planned to build 25 replica DB5 cars complete with gadgets from Goldfinger The cost: (in U.S. dollars) $3.5 million each.

Warning: The cars were not “road legal” (or “street legal” as the term is used in the United States).

Regardless, Aston said deliveries wouldn’t take place until 2020.

Flash forward to late spring of 2020, Aston Martin has gotten a new CEO. After years of saying it needed to diversify from James Bond, Aston is as tethered to Bond as ever.

How do you get out of this?

Play up your Bond connections. Again.

The New York Times bit in a May 25 story. So did the Hindustan Times in a May 28 story.

The Times’ story referenced how Chris Corbould, who has worked on special effects for many Bond films, was involved in the project. But, that wasn’t news, either. An August 2018 release by Eon Productions mentioned how Corbould was involved in the project.

Safe to say, Aston Martin has many challenges ahead. But the 25 DB5 replicas aren’t going to save the company.

The blog’s complicated feelings about Moonraker

Moonraker teaser poster

This week, I participated in an upcoming episode of the James Bond & Friends podcast where everybody watched Moonraker and commented about it in real time.

Afterward, I reflected on my own conflicted feelings about the 11th James Bond film.

When Moonraker came out in the summer of 1979, I was all in. The Spy Who Loved Me two years earlier had re-energized the franchise. Producer Albert R. Broccoli promised he was going all out with his next effort.

When the movie came out, Broccoli delivered. It even got favorable reviews from The New York Times (Vincent Canby wrote it was “one of the most buoyant Bond films”) and Time magazine, which likened Broccoli to the proverbial Jewish mother who doesn’t let anyone go away hungry. And it was a big hit.

Later, after the initial hit waned, I noted the lack of Fleming material in the movie. And, yes, that double-taking pigeon was a reminder the movie went for comedy in places.

I probably felt the lowest toward the movie in the 2000s. I was a contributor to the now-offline site Her Majesty’s Secret Servant. The site asked its contributors to rank all the movies up through 2006’s Casino Royale. We were also asked to write some remarks and mine about Moonraker were pretty tough.

Since then, my opinions toward the movie have mellowed. Here in the 21st century, there’s been a lot of bad news, including two major financial recessions a decade apart. Escapist entertainment, such as Moonraker, looks a lot better now. I appreciate it a lot more for what it is.

My stock line about Moonraker is, whatever you think of it, is it’s not pretentious. That’s not true of all Bond films.

Also, at this point, we have 25 Bond films from Eon Productions. The fact we can’t see the 25th (because of the release delay because of COVID-19) is another indicator of just how the 21st century has a lot of bad news.

That’s yet another reason why escapist entertainment like Moonraker is better appreciated.

Did Jeffrey Epstein see Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die?

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die poster

You can’t make this up.

The New York Times today came out with a blockbuster story about Jeffrey Epstein, rich hedge fund manager accused of raping under-aged girls. Here are the first two paragraphs:

Jeffrey E. Epstein, the wealthy financier and accused sex trafficker, had an unusual dream: He hoped to seed the human race with his DNA by impregnating women at his vast New Mexico ranch.

Mr. Epstein over the years confided to scientists and others about his scheme, according to four people familiar with his thinking, although there is no evidence that it ever came to fruition.

This sounds uncomfortably like the 1966 spy movie Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die. It starred Mike Connors and Dorothy Provine as American and British agents trying to foil the plot of a rich adversary.

Said villain intends to make mankind sterile in order to avoid an ecological disaster. But the villain has many beautiful women in suspended animation. So when the time comes to repopulate the planet, he’ll take it upon himself to get all those women pregnant.

The plot is awfully similar to 1979’s Moonraker, the 11th James Bond film from Eon Productions. In that movie, Hugo Drax plans to wipe out most of Earth’s population while he operates an orbiting “stud farm.”

Regardless, the natural reaction is something like, “EEEEEEkkkkkkk.” This is supposed to escapist entertainment, not a serious plan.

NYT column casts Putin as 007 villain

Vladimir Putin, head of Russia

U.S. President Donald Trump has been in Europe and the U.K. the past few days for a NATO summit and a visit to the U.K. Much has been written but one column in The New York Times is evoking James Bond films.

Columnist Michelle Goldberg, writing from Berlin, interviewed Cem Özdemir, described as “a member of the German Bundestag from the center-left Green Party.” He commented about Trump and Vladimir Putin, president of Russia.

Özdemir, the first politician of Turkish descent to serve in Germany’s parliament, according to the column. He brought James Bond films into the conversation.

“It reminds me of a James Bond movie,” he said. “You have a guy” — Putin — “who has a clear plan. Step 1, Step 2. It’s Brexit, it’s President Trump, it’s having Europe stumbling, it’s having authoritarian regimes getting stronger on a daily basis, it’s an escalation in Syria. He gets everything he wants.” But while the world seems to be ruled by Bond villains, he said, there is “no James Bond.”

Disclaimer: I know readers of the blog have differing opinions about Brexit and Trump. This post is to draw the comment to your attention. Any way, at least there was no From Russia With Love pun in the column.

1991: A NYT writer revisits the literary 007

The Ian Fleming Publications 007 logo

While researching another topic, the blog stumbled on a 1991 New York Times Magazine article, “Demigods Aren’t Forever.”

The writer, William Grimes, was born in 1950 and discovered Bond in the early 1960s when Ian Fleming’s novels became a big deal in the U.S. thanks to President John F. Kennedy.

As it turns out, the article is part of the “James Bond is washed up” genre. Grimes also writes about Cambridge (a film reference), rather than Eton and Fettes College.

Still some passages caught the blog’s eye.

Discovering 007

For me, 1963 was the year of Bond. The timing was perfect. I was 13, and Ian Fleming’s slender thrillers had become a national sensation after J.F.K. pronounced “From Russia, With Love” one of his 10 favorite books. On top of that, Sean Connery had just made his first appearance as the British spy in “Dr. No,” and more films were on the way. This cultural ferment helped redefine my goals. Before 1963, I wanted to be my father. After 1963, I wanted to be Bond.

Preference for the literary Bond over the cinema 007

Bond moved easily and masterfully through all situations because he knew things. That was the appeal. Even at 13, the sexual repartee so prominent in the Bond movies seemed a little bogus to me. …In my mind, Bond was a suave intellectual who could slice through life’s difficulties with the ruthless efficiency of Oddjob’s hat.

Living like Bond is harder than it looks

On a pleasant spring evening (during a trip to France), I entered a bistro and, although the place was empty, was immediately shown to the worst table in the place. Fine, all part of the game — advantage France. As Bond Man, I would watch the waiter’s contumely shade into dismay at my effortless French, grudging respect at my daring yet perfect menu selections and frank admiration at my handling of the wine list.

None of this came to pass. Tension caused my French to falter. The waiter merely shrugged at the food order, as though to say, it’s your money, do what you want with it. Ditto the wine.

Disillusionment

Recently I reread most of the Bond books. The casino action held up pretty well. And so did the driving, which I could now, as an actual driver, analyze with a critical eye. But Bond — the Bond of the books much more than the movies — turned out to be not quite as smooth as I remembered. His taste in food runs to enormous slabs of steak and giant lobsters… On wine matters, he patently bluffs. He apparently knows nothing about literature, music or art. The Bond bookshelf contains nothing weightier than Ben Hogan’s “Modern Fundamentals of Golf…The superspy had gotten old, stale. He was no longer up to the job. The time had come to retire 007.

Obviously, your mileage (especially if you’re busy reading the newest 007 continuation novel, Forever and a Day) may vary.

Bond 25: The distributor edition (aka TOLDJA)

Bond 25: Still in search of a distributor

Remember all the posts this blog had when it kept asking why there wasn’t a distributor yet for Bond 25? And how some readers felt it was overkill?

Except, apparently, it wasn’t. The Hollywood Reporter on April 4 reported that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer hasn’t yet selected either a U.S. or international distributor. According to the entertainment news outlet, MGM may be setting itself up for a sale and its 007 film rights are a big part of the marketing.

MGM and Eon Productions said back on July 24, 2017, that Bond 25 would have a U.S. release date of Nov. 8, 2019. The blog asked that day, “Who’s going to distribute Bond 25? The blog either asked the question again or discussed the issue on Aug. 29, Oct. 6 and Oct. 20.

As a 007 fan wrote to the blog on Twitter: “I think you need to chill about the distributor. It’s going to happen don’t you think.”

Separately, some fans participating on 007 message boards felt it was all lined up, it was merely a well-kept secret. After all, the thinking went, there’s no way they’d announce a release date without a distributor lined up.

Except, apparently, MGM and Eon did just that. Perhaps it was to call dibs on the November 2019 date. It doesn’t really matter. The announcement went out without having secured a way for the movie to make it to theaters. That was the case then. It’s still the case now apparently.

Almost a year ago, The New York Times reported how five studios were trying to cut a deal with MGM to distribute Bond 25.  Since then, the parent company of one of the contenders, 20th Century Fox, agreed to sell that studio to Walt Disney Co.

Another, Annapurna Pictures, formed a joint venture with MGM to distribute each other’s movies in the U.S. However, Bond 25 wasn’t part of the deal.

Deadline: Hollywood reported in November, in a story labeled “EXCLUSIVE,” that the MGM-Annapurna joint venture was “thisclose” to getting the Bond 25 U.S. distribution deal. Some outlets have subsequently written as if it were a done deal.

Except, apparently, it wasn’t.

Neither the Times nor Deadline ever felt a need to revisit their previous stories. It wasn’t until this week when The Hollywood Reporter finally got around to it. It would seem if something is “thisclose” to happening but it hasn’t occurred months later, it might be time to make new inquiries.

What critics are saying about Villeneuve

Blade Runner 2049 poster

Denis Villeneuve, a potential Bond 25 director, is getting a lot of attention in reviews for Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to Blade Runner that he helmed.

007 fans are playing a game of “will he or won’t he” regarding Villeneuve, He’s acknowledged being in talks about the next James Bond film while also having other projects on his plate. The Blade Runner 2049 reviews may further boost the interest of Bond fans in Villeneuve.

Blade Runner 2049 currently has a 94 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website that collects reviews.

With that in mind, here are non-spoiler excerpts (focused on Villeneuve) from some reviews.

CHRIS KLIMEK, NPR: “I’m severely restrained in my ability to tell you very much, as the publicity team read to the critics at the screening I attended an appeal from Villeneuve: an exhaustive list of specific characters and plot developments he has kindly asked that we not discuss. I’m complying because he has made a superb movie, one that really is stocked with revelations and counterrevelations worth preserving intact.”

A.O. SCOTT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: “Like any great movie, Mr. (Ridley) Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ cannot be spoiled. It repays repeated viewing because its mysteries are too deep to be solved and don’t depend on the sequence of events. Mr. Villeneuve’s film, by contrast, is a carefully engineered narrative puzzle, and its power dissipates as the pieces snap into place. As sumptuous and surprising as it is from one scene to the next, it lacks the creative excess, the intriguing opacity and the haunting residue of its predecessor.”

MICHAEL O’SULLIVAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: “‘Blade Runner 2049,’ the superb new sequel by Denis Villeneuve (‘Arrival’), doesn’t just honor that (Blade Runner) legacy, but, arguably, surpasses it, with a smart, grimly lyrical script (by [Hampton] Fancher and Michael Green of the top-notch ‘Logan’); bleakly beautiful cinematography (by Roger Deakins); and an even deeper dive into questions of the soul.”

DAVID JENKINS, LITTLE WHITE LIES: “What Villeneuve had presumed in his lightly passive-aggressive memo (asking critics to not include spoilers) is that there would be material in his film that viewers would possess a natural urge to spoil. And yet, to these eyes, there was nothing. This film is little more than a bauble: shiny, hollow and shatters under the slightest pressure. Maybe it’ll be good news for the spoilerphobic among us, but there is little in the film that is actually worth spoiling – at least not without reams of fiddly context and turgid backstory.”

DANA STEVENS, SLATE: “Denis Villeneuve, who made Arrival, Sicario, and Enemy, is a director who enjoys not-fully-solved enigmas, and 2049’s twisty, misdirection-filled story alternates between suspenseful and tediously murky. But Villeneuve is working with the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose mobile yet stately camera provides stunning bird’s-eye perspectives on the bleak urban habitat where these humans and replicants live.”

An early Bond 25 accuracy scorecard

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Bond 25 has a star (Daniel Craig), a release date (November 2019 in the U.S.) and confirmed writers (Neal Purvis and Robert Wade).

While there’s more than two years before the next Bond film adventure, here’s a look at the accuracy of some major stories written about the movie.

News before it was announced: By that, the stories were accurate before there was a formal announcement.

Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail wrote in March that Purvis and Wade, who’ve worked on the 007 film series since the late 1990s, were hired to write Bond 25’s story. That was confirmed in a July 24 announcement on the official 007 website.

Emily Smith of Page Six/New York Post wrote in April and Brook Barnes of The York Times wrote in July that Daniel Craig would be back for a fifth outing as 007.

The Page Six item, being a gossip column, ragged on Tom Hiddleston being determined by Eon Productions to be too smug. That’s certainly not proven.

But the key phrase was “Multiple sources tell Page Six that Bond franchise producer Barbara Broccoli has ‘just about persuaded Daniel Craig to do one more Bond movie.'”

The Times’ story, published the same day as the Eon announcement about the 2019 release date said, “Daniel Craig will play James Bond in at least one more film,” In any event, Craig confirmed he’s coming back on the Aug. 15 telecast of The Late Show on CBS.

Looking shaky: Radar Online in September 2016 said Sony Pictures offered Craig $150 million to do two more Bond movies. At the time, there was no distribution deal for Bond 25 and one still hasn’t been announced.

Then, as now, nobody knows if Sony will even be involved with Bond 25. Given a release date has been announced, you’d think a distributor is in place but nobody outside of Eon actually knows.

The Mirror, a U.K. tabloid, said last month that Bond 25 will be titled Shatterhand and be based on a 007 continuation novel by Raymond Benson. Benson, however, went public and said nobody at the Mirror even contacted him and said he “can only assume the article is fabrication.”

The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. tabloid, said earlier this month Craig was “on the verge of signing for not one but two more installments” in the 007 film series.

Craig told CBS, “I think this is it,” referring to Bond 25. But people have been known to change their minds. We’ll see.