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NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN — AGAIN Sony Pictures shook up United Artists’ martini pitcher this week by joining with producer Kevin McClory to announce a new series of James Bond movies, to be released as early as 1999. McClory, who produced 1965’s Thunderball and its 1983 remake, Never Say Never Again, owns rights to material he wrote with novelist Ian Fleming that became the basis for Thunderball, the novel and the movie. But an angry MGM/UA chairman Frank Mancuso, guarding his studio’s Bond franchise — including its 18th installment, Tomorrow Never Dies, starring Pierce Brosnan, which opens Dec. 19 — called McClory’s claims ”delusional.” Responds McClory, ”Whatever noises they make will have little effect on the outcome.” Since Sony’s hopes for a new Bond series could well be sidetracked by a protracted court battle, the studio might want to figure out how to remake Casino Royale, the 1967 Bond spoof that was originally released by Sony’s Columbia Pictures and the rights to which currently belong to both UA and Columbia. Quentin Tarantino has been telling pals he’d love to direct a serious remake of Casino Royale if those rights ever became available — and that could be Sony’s view to a killing.

NECK AND NECK From Dusk Till Dawn, the 1996 George Clooney vampire flick written by that ubiquitous Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriguez, may have scared up just $26 million at the box office, but Dimen- sion is in preproduction on back-to-back, direct-to-video spin-offs — a prequel and a sequel which the pair are executive-producing. The prequel, The Hangman’s Daughter, starring Marco Leonardi (Like Water for Chocolate), begins shooting in December in South Africa. No date has been set for the sequel, Texas Blood Money.

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