News on the movie front — and if you grew up in Madison you should recognize this …
…. starts with John Fund:
The movie that many Americans have been waiting for — a full-length feature on the life of Ronald Reagan — is becoming a reality. Last week, it was announced that 64-year-old Dennis Quaid (The Right Stuff, Soul Surfer) has been signed to play Reagan in a biographical movie scheduled for release next year. Quaid will play Reagan as an adult, and teenager David Henrie will play the Gipper as a young man. The film is produced by Mark Joseph, who has been an executive on 45 films ranging from The Passion of the Christ to Max Rose, the last film starring comedian Jerry Lewis. The executive producer is Ralph Winter, of the X-Men superhero franchise.
What makes the movie exciting to Reagan fans is that it will be the first movie that will not seek to take down or tarnish the former president. Reagan was intimately involved with Hollywood for some 30 years, first as a leading man, then as the host of the top-rated General Electric Theater and as six-term president of the Screen Actors Guild. But most of Hollywood never forgave Reagan for becoming a conservative. Take Ida Lupino, the noted actress and director. She used to babysit Reagan’s children in the 1950s. But after he became a Republican in 1962, she cut off all ties and never spoke with him again.
The films in which the character of Reagan has made an appearance have reflected that bitterness. In 2003, CBS hired left-wing activist James Brolin, Barbra Streisand’s husband, to play Reagan in a three-hour miniseries. The New York Times got hold of an advance script and found several scenes, involving the Hollywood blacklist and AIDS, that it called “historically questionable.” One showed Nancy Reagan begging her husband to help AIDS patients only to hear him reply, “They that live in sin shall die in sin.” Lou Cannon, Reagan’s most prolific biographer, dismissed the film by saying the assertion that Reagan had been an FBI informant was “really wrong” and that “Reagan was not intolerant” toward gays. CBS executives eventually caved and shunted the film to their Showtime cable channel, where it bombed.
That disaster kept Hollywood silent on the topic of Reagan for about a decade. Then, in 2016, only weeks after the death of Nancy Reagan, it was announced that Will Ferrell was going to star in a “comedy” about Ronald Reagan’s slipping into Alzheimer’s while he was still president. The script had made Hollywood’s informal roster of the best unproduced scripts making the studio rounds. It was given a live read, with Lena Dunham and James Brolin (again!) playing various parts. Here is the summary:
When Ronald Reagan falls into dementia at the start of his second term, an ambitious intern is tasked with convincing the commander in chief that he is an actor playing the president in a movie.
Luckily, the outrage from Alzheimer’s-advocacy groups and the Reagan family forced Ferrell to abandon the project only two days after it was announced.
Mark Joseph, the producer of the new Reagan film starring Quaid, says he felt compelled to make his movie before Hollywood attempted once again to rewrite history. His research has been meticulous. He personally reviewed KGB and FBI files kept on Reagan. He interviewed more than 50 of Reagan’s friends, aides, and cabinet members. Among them were people who rarely grant interviews, such as Donn Moomaw, Reagan’s pastor, and Ben Aaron, one of the surgeons who operated on Reagan after the attempted assassination against him in 1981. The script is based on two biographies by Reagan historian Paul Kengor and is personally endorsed by Ed Meese, Reagan’s close confidant and attorney general while he was president.
The script premise is a fascinating one. It begins with a Putin-like figure, the new leader of Russia, visiting a nursing home to interview an old KGB agent named Viktor Petrovich (played by Jon Voight) to learn how Reagan and the U.S. defeated Communism. The movie tells Reagan’s story through Petrovich’s eyes as he follows Reagan for four decades; Petrovich can’t get his superiors to heed his warnings about Reagan until it is too late. The Petrovich character is a composite of several KGB agents who did indeed track Reagan throughout his career. The film also covers other aspects of Reagan’s life, including his domestic policies and religious faith.
“The story of Reagan is a fascinating one, whatever one’s politics,” Joseph told me.
We came at it from the angle of wondering what his enemies thought of him and how they followed him and ultimately lost to him. Nobody knew him like his enemies did — and it’s through that lens that we tell the story. It’s impossible to understand the last century without understanding who Ronald Reagan was.
I agree, and here’s my prediction: It will be impossible for millions of Americans to resist seeing a film that finally puts Ronald Reagan in proper historical perspective, and that will be highly entertaining to boot.
Given Joseph’s involvement, I’m guessing Reagan fans need not worry about a Brolin- or Ferrell-like savaging of Reagan in this movie. Of course, sometimes things change. Consider actor Timothy Bottoms, who played George W. Bush for laughs in Comedy Central’s “That’s My Bush” and a Bush-like doofus in “Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course,” but then played dead-serious Bush in Showtime’s “DC 9/11.”
Quaid is an interesting casting choice. I’ve been a fan of his ever since one of the most underrated movies of all time, “The Big Easy.” For some reason I saw that before Quaid’s portrayal of astronaut Gordon Cooper in “The Right Stuff.”
Meanwhile, Jordan J. Ballor writes about a movie now in theaters:
I saw Incredibles 2 over the Father’s Day weekend, and just like its predecessor, there’s a lot to ponder beneath the surface of this animated film. In the real world we’ve had to wait 14 years, but the sequel picks up basically where the original left off.
As the Rev. Jerry Zandstra wrote of the original, “litigiousness and mediocrity are some of the biggest obstacles in our culture. The propensity to settle every dispute by legal action undermines values, such as trust and forgiveness, that are essential to the maintenance of genuine community. Fear of rewarding or achieving excellence discourages human persons from fulfilling God-given potential.” In the sequel, superheroes are still illegal, for reasons of both litigiousness and social anxiety over “supers,” that is, those who have super abilities.
Incredibles 2 has a lot to do with the virtues of a system that allows individuals to find out what they can do well and how those abilities can serve others for their good. In this, it is true to the stewardship mandate at the heart of all superhero tales: with great power comes great responsibility. Or as Jesus puts it, to those whom much is given, much is expected.
But the issues of trust are at play as well in the sequel, and in a way that shifts the focus beyond the legal system to the marketplace. It is always notable when the businessperson or the entrepreneur in a film is something other than the villain, and without spoiling it, Incredibles 2 stands out in this regard. The villain is someone who wants to sow discord and distrust, and who mocks the trust that, among other things, characterizes the marketplace. Why would we trust someone we don’t know well (or at all) to care about our interests? Adam Smith gave a compelling answer to that question long ago, but the film does a good job making the case for re-examining the dynamics of trust and distrust in a digital age.
And while it may not offer a fully-fledged theory or philosophy of society, Incredibles 2 does a fantastic job of opening up lines of conversation and discovery around a host of issues, including family structure and gender roles, vocation and stewardship, digital worlds and virtual reality, as well as law, justice, and the market. Among the offerings of brooding anti-heroes and gritty realism of many superhero films lately, Incredibles 2 is a film that is helping to make superheroes great again.
Remember: No capes.
And then The Spy Command reviews:
For the eighth James Bond film, star Sean Connery wasn’t coming back. Three key members of the 007 creative team, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, production designer Ken Adam and composer John Barry, weren’t going to participate. And producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were mostly working separately, with this movie to be overseen primarily by Saltzman.
The result? Live And Let Die, which debuted 45 years ago this month, would prove to be, financially, the highest-grossing movie in the series to date.
Things probably didn’t seem that way for Eon Productions and United Artists as work began. They had no Bond. Broccoli and Saltzman didn’t want Connery back for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. The studio didn’t want to take a chance and made the original screen 007 an offer he couldn’t refuse. But that was a one-film deal. Now, Eon and UA were starting from scratch.
Eon and UA had one non-Connery film under their belts, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They had tried the inexperienced George Lazenby, who bolted after one movie. For the second 007 film in the series not to star Connery, Eon and UA opted for a more-experienced choice: Roger Moore, former star of The Saint television series. Older than Connery, Moore would eventually employ a lighter touch.
Behind the camera, Saltzman largely depended on director Guy Hamilton, back for his third turn in the 007 director chair, and writer Tom Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz would be the sole writer from beginning to end, rewriting scenes as necessary during filming. In a commentary on the film’s DVD, Mankiewicz acknowledged it was highly unusual.
Perhaps the biggest creative change was with the film’s music. Barry had composed the scores for six Bond films in a row. George Martin, former producer for the Beatles, would take over. Martin had helped sell Saltzman on using a title song written by Paul and Linda McCartney. The ex-Beatle knew his song would be compared to the 007 classic title songs Barry had helped write. McCartney was determined to make his mark.
Saltzman liked the song, but inquired whether a woman singer would be more appropriate. Martin, in an interview for a 2006 special on U.K. television, said he informed Saltzman if Eon didn’t accept McCartney as performer, the producer wouldn’t get the song. Saltzman accepted both. The song eventually received an Oscar nomination.
Live And Let Die wasn’t the greatest James Bond film, despite an impressive boat chase sequence that was a highlight. The demise of its villain (Yaphet Kotto) still induces groans among long-time 007 fans as he pops like a balloon via an unimpressive special effect. Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), up to that time, was probably the most over-the-top comedic supporting character in the series. (“What are you?! Some kind of doomsday machine, boy?!”)
For Clifton James, the role was just one of many over a long career. But he made a huge impression. When the actor died in April 2017 at the age of 96, the part of J.W. Pepper was mentioned prominently in obituaries, such as those appearing in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Associated Press and Variety.
Live And Let Die is one of the most important films in the series. As late as 1972, the question was whether James Bond could possibly continue without Sean Connery. With $161.8 million in worldwide ticket sales, it was the first Bond film to exceed the gross for 1965’s Thunderball. In the U.S., its $35.4 million box office take trailed the $43.8 million for Diamonds Are Forever.
Bumpy days still lay ahead for Eon. The Man With the Golden Gun’s box office would tail off and relations between Broccoli and Saltzman would get worse. Still, for the first time, the idea took hold that the cinema 007 could move on from Connery.
Many editors at the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website criticized the movie and its star in a survey many years ago. But the film has its fans.
“I vividly remember the first time I saw one of the Bond movies, which was Live And Let Die, and the effect it had on me,” Skyfall director Sam Mendes said at a November 2011 news conference. Whatever one’s opinions about the movie, Live And Let Die ensured there’d be 007 employment for the likes of Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.
“Live and Let Die” is my favorite Bond movie.
Yes, the ending is ludicrous, but the entire premise has gotten increasingly ludicrous. That doesn’t mean Bond movies aren’t entertaining.