Atomic Blonde comes in at No. 4 this weekend

Atomic Blonde poster

Atomic Blonde, the spy movie starring Charlize Theron, finished fourth at the U.S. and Canada weekend box office, according to data compiled by the Box Office Mojo website.

The film generated box office of $18.6 million, finishing behind Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan’s World War II drama in its second weekend ($28.1 million); The Emoji Movie ($25.7 million); and Girls Trip ($20.1 million).

Atomic Blonde is based on a graphic novel titled The Coldest City. It had a 75 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website that aggregates critic reviews.

The movie was also the third consecutive spy movie to get a release date in the final weekend of July. Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation had the spot in 2015 and Jason Bourne did last year. Each finished No. 1 in their opening weekends.

Mission: Impossible 6, currently in production, will be slotted in the final July weekend in 2018.

Sky News says time for 007 to retire

Logo for the Kingsman sequel due out in September.

Earlier this week, the Sky News website HAD A STORY declaring that, “James Bond is dead, long live the Kingsman!”

Essentially, writer Duarte Garrido argued that Bond’s day has passed because he’s a sexist character as well as “his covert racism and weird taste in beverages.”

The new king of spies, we’re told, is Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton, from The Kingsman: The Secret Service.

“Bond was a spy for post-war veterans. Eggsy is a spy for enlightened millennials,” Garrido wrote. “Every generation has its heroes, it’s time for the old ones to retire.”

This is interesting on a number of levels.

A Bond-inspired poster for Kingsman: The Secret Service

–Kingsman: The Secret Service made homages not only to 1960s Bond movies, but Harry Palmer films as well as The Avengers and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television shows. That’s not the blog saying it. Star Colin Firth, who played Eggsy mentor Harry Hart, said it at the 2014 San Diego Comic Con.

So, it’s not exactly like Kingsman is blazing a trail. Rather, it’s more like a new take on a familiar genre.

–What about the ending of Kingsman: The Secret Service?

Sky tells us Kingsman is enlightened unlike that old sexist Bond. Remember, with Kingsman, we’re talking about a film ended with an anal sex joke.

Director Matthew Vaughn told the Cinema Blend website in 2015 that joke was another 007 homage.

It ends [on that joke] for a very strong reason. A lot of Bond movies used to end on things like Bond trying to ‘attempt re-entry,’ or ‘keeping the British end up.’ So I just thought, ‘We’ve pushed the boundary on every sort of spy cliché.’ We’ve got to end it on The Big One. And there’s only one way of doing it, taking it to the next level!

Meanwhile, Kingsman isn’t showing its superiority over Bond. It’s taking a Bond meme and taking it further. Doesn’t seem particularly enlightened.

–What about the connection between Sky and the Kingsman franchise? That would be Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.

The company a 39 percent stake in Sky and wants to buy the rest. It also owns the 20th Century Fox studio, which released the 2015 Kingsman and its upcoming sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

That connection probably should have been noted in the Sky story.

June Foray, cartoon voice, dies at 99

Natasha Fatale from Rocky and Bullwinkle, one of the many characters voiced by June Foray

June Foray, a cartoon voice for decades, has died at 99, according to an obituary posted by Variety.

Her many credits include Rocky and Bullwinkle, where she voiced Rocky the Flying Squirrel and villain Natasha Fatale.

She was also a voice on Warner Bros. cartoons for characters such as Granny and Witch Hazel. Foray eventually got on-screen credits on those cartoons.

Foray also did “bumpers” for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. telling viewers the show would be return after station identification and to stay tuned for previews of the next week’s episode. One of her bumper recordings was included in a home video release of the series. And she was the voice of Talking Tina, a killer doll in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

June Foray (1917-2017)

“She was, of course, the premier female voice talent of her era,” Mark Evanier, a television and comic book writer wrote of Foray on his blog.

“I don’t know who the runner-up was but whoever it was, she was in a distant second in terms of hours logged voicing cartoons and commercials, dubbing movies, doing narration, appearing on radio shows and records…even providing the voice for talking dolls,” Evanier wrote.

The writer called Foray “a talented workaholic who for decades, drove into Hollywood every weekday early in the morning and went from recording session to recording session until well after dark.”

Foray died less than two months short of what would have been her 100th birthday.

UPDATE: Here’s an excerpt of an interview June Foray did for the Archive of American Television.

Le Carre to discuss new George Smiley novel

David Cornell, aka John Le Carre, circa 1964

John Le Carre is scheduled to make an appearance in London on Sept. 7 to discuss his new George Smiley novel, A Legacy of Spies, The Telegraph reported.

Le Carre will be at the Royal Festival Hall, according to the newspaper. He “will read from the book, reveal Smiley’s deepest secrets, and discuss the way his career has reflected world events,” The Telegraph said. “There will also be a rare question and answer session.”

The novel’s summary on Amazon.com reads in part:

Peter Guillam, staunch colleague and disciple of George Smiley of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as the Circus, is living out his old age on the family farmstead on the south coast of Brittany when a letter from his old Service summons him to London. The reason? His Cold War past has come back to claim him. Intelligence operations that were once the toast of secret London, and involved such characters as Alec Leamas, Jim Prideaux, George Smiley and Peter Guillam himself, are to be scrutinized by a generation with no memory of the Cold War and no patience with its justifications.

A Legacy of Spies is scheduled to be published Sept. 5, according to Amazon.

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.”

Jon Burlingame on Wild Wild West, other TV soundtracks

Cover to The Wild Wild West CD soundtrack

Jon Burlingame is a journalist, author and academic, writing extensively about movie and television music.

Over the past 15 years, he has produced a number of television soundtracks, including CD sets for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible. His latest effort, a soundtrack for The Wild Wild West is now available from La-La Land Records.

The blog interviewed Bulingame by e-mail.

SPY COMMAND:  Movie soundtracks have been done for decades. But television soundtracks (actual music from TV shows, as opposed to new arrangements of TV music), by comparison are rarer. Why is that? Is part of it the notion that television work was more disposable than movie work?

JON BURLINGAME: That’s a very interesting question, Bill, and something not really understood by most outsiders.

Historically, TV soundtracks have generally been re-recorded because of the union rules involving music recorded for TV shows. In the past, the American Federation of Musicians demanded a full repayment to every musician who played on each score. If those rules were still in place (and the union relaxed that demand several years ago, making these “historical soundtracks” possible), the record label would have been responsible for repaying every musician (or his or her estate) for every recording session represented on the album; in this case over 200 individual musicians playing on more than two dozen scores over four years would have incurred a huge cost, possibly tens of thousands of dollars.

Cover to one of Jon Burlingame’s Man From U.N.C.L.E. soundtracks released in the 2000s.

I encountered this when I first proposed a classic MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack in 1990; the estimated union repayments alone were in the neighborhood of $80,000, making it prohibitive for any label attempting it. So it was always less expensive to just go back in the studio for one day and create a new recording of the various themes.

Also, the success of the show itself is always a factor — and, as you point out, a lot of TV music is just deemed forgettable.

SC:  The TV soundtracks you’ve produced have come out decades after the series involved. What are are some of the common challenges? (i.e., finding the music, etc.)

JON BURLINGAME: It’s always multiple challenges. First, does the music still exist? That alone can be a difficult problem (the Lorimar library, for example, is gone; there will never be a WALTONS soundtrack featuring those wonderful Jerry Goldsmith scores because all that music is lost).

Then, who controls that music? Is the studio that produced it still in business, and if so, will they license a soundtrack to an enterprising label interested in creating an album?

Then there are the creative aspects of producing: how to create an enjoyable listening experience featuring just the music, away from the images it was always meant to accompany.

SC: What’s the back story with your latest project, The Wild Wild West soundtrack?

JON BURLINGAME: La-La Land Records had a big success with its 6-disc MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE TV-score collection, which I produced for them in 2015. So when I asked if they’d like to follow it up with another classic 1960s spy show, THE WILD WILD WEST, their answer was an immediate and enthusiastic “yes.”

I knew it would be more of a challenge, but having already produced multiple MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and MISSION albums, I really wanted to do this. There had never been any commercial recording of that wonderful Richard Markowitz theme (much less any of the dramatic scores), and it seemed like a terrible oversight given the classic status of the Robert Conrad-Ross Martin series.

It was a different situation than the MGM-produced U.N.C.L.E. music or the Paramount-produced MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE music. Those studios retained copies of all the music on (mostly) quarter-inch tape, and once the deals were made, we simply accessed those archives, transferred the music to digital and went to work.

Artwork from the second-season Wild Wild West episode The Night of Big Blast.

WILD WILD WEST was different in that CBS (the original producer) closed its music-department doors in the early 1990s and donated its tapes to UCLA; unfortunately that collection was incomplete and many of the tape boxes were not well labeled, so finding individual scores was much more difficult.

I had very good documentation of who composed what and when it was recorded, so armed with that information I went looking for all of the original music. Some scores simply weren’t there or were impossible to find given the inadequate labeling.

I feel incredibly lucky, however, to have found nearly everything I really wanted for the collection in pristine condition at UCLA, including 10 of the original 11 Markowitz scores, all four of the original Robert Drasnin scores, and four of the six original Richard Shores scores. Add to those a handful of others by Harry Geller, Jack Pleis and Fred Steiner.

Four of the 26 scores we feature on the album — for which we could not find original tapes — had to be restored from the isolated music tracks from the shows themselves. But our restoration guy, the uber-talented Chris Malone, did such a brilliant job that you’ll be hard-pressed to tell which of those weren’t from tape sources.

I had great partners in the collaboration: Not just La-La Land executives Matt Verboys and M.V. Gerhard, but Film Score Monthly founder Lukas Kendall, who cleared everything with CBS and was my liaison on a daily basis; Johnny Davis, Chris Malone and Doug Schwartz, who transferred, restored and mastered all those 50-year-old tapes into the CDs you now have; spy-TV expert Craig Henderson, who looked over everything I did and helped ensure the accuracy of the booklet; and art director Jim Titus, who had never seen an episode prior to designing our cover and booklet, and yet created a spectacular, colorful, fun package that captures the spirit and look of the old show. He used some of the original art of the train and the opening titles and lots of great old photos of the cast and guest stars. It’s an eye-popping package, worthy of a Grammy if you ask me!

SC: While working on The Wild Wild West soundtrack, was there one moment that gave you more satisfaction than the rest of your work?

JON BURLINGAME: It’s always fun working with classic music from the era in which you grew up. WEST was filled with challenges, but a few moments stand out: Discovering that we had Markowitz’s original pilot score in three-track stereo; hearing Malone’s remarkable restoration of Dave Grusin’s delightful waltz from “Night of the Puppeteer”; and re-discovering Richard Shores’ thrilling action music, especially from the third and fourth seasons.

Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979)

We knew that Dimitri Tiomkin had written two different songs for the series that were eventually rejected. The question was, which were recorded and could we find those? I knew that the Tiomkin estate had a full-length vocal demo of one and sheet music for both. Especially satisfying during the search process was the discovery that an instrumental version of one of the themes had been recorded (in a last-ditch, ultimately unsuccessful, effort to salvage the Tiomkin deal for CBS) and that lyricist Paul Francis Webster actually wrote three lyrics for the two tunes, parts of which we reproduce in the booklet. Webster’s papers are currently being archived and preserved by the Film Music Society, and that’s where that discovery was made.

Robert Drasnin (1927-2015), who delivered memorable scores for The Wild Wild West

Very late in the process (in fact, the album was nearly finished), it occurred to me that former CBS music director Herschel Burke Gilbert retained many, many tapes from throughout his career. A glance at his inventory revealed that he had kept various mixes of the Tiomkin vocal demo; our mastering engineer Doug Schwartz did his magic and what’s on the CD actually sounds better than the version owned by the Tiomkin estate!

And one final thing: composers Markowitz and Drasnin didn’t live long enough to see this album reach fruition, but their children have, and it’s been a pleasure to be able to work with Kate Markowitz and Michael Drasnin, both of whom have been supportive and supplied materials (photos, scores, tapes) that enabled us to put together a package that honors their music and their memories.

Richard Shores (1917-2001)

SC:  I personally find it interesting that some of the composers who worked on The Wild Wild West (Robert Drasnin and Richard Shores) also worked on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Specifically with Drasnin (who composed the de facto theme for Dr. Loveless) and Shores, their names aren’t that well known among the general public. What makes their work special?

JON BURLINGAME: These guys were great composers and great human beings; I met both of them while writing my first book back in the early ’90s.

Drasnin could score anything, drama, comedy, Westerns, science fiction, you name it; he was the perfect composer for television, which requires not only immediate inspiration but also enormous craft. Plus he was tremendously witty (look at some of his amusing cue titles on the box).

Shores had an immediately recognizable style, and an unique rhythmic sense that inevitably brought a smile to your face (whether you were listening to his music for U.N.C.L.E., WEST, IT TAKES A THIEF or HAWAII FIVE-0).

A sampling of Richard Markowitz’s title cards.

SC: Finally, I wanted to ask about Richard Markowitz, who composed The Wild Wild West theme (and did a number of scores for the series, including the pilot). He did a lot of television work but probably isn’t that well known among the general public. From what I’ve heard on different series, he was pretty versatile. What made him stand out?

JON BURLINGAME: You’re right, Bill, he was incredibly versatile. He had a big record hit with the Johnny Cash vocal of THE REBEL, but if you listen to his music for episodes of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, THE FBI, POLICE STORY, MURDER SHE WROTE; or his themes for HONDO, JOE FORRESTER, THE LAW & HARRY McGRAW, you’ll hear a composer with a wide range and ability to work in any style. He worked consistently for more than 30 years in television. But I think THE WILD WILD WEST may be his most memorable theme.

SC: Final question. If you could only produce *one* more television soundtrack (and any pending rights situations were resolved), what would it be?

JON BURLINGAME: Hahaha! I guess I’d most like to round out my spy-TV experience by doing another I SPY album (there are two out there, and I only wrote the notes for one, but I’d love to produce one too), or a first-ever IT TAKES A THIEF soundtrack. I have a special fondness for THE GREEN HORNET at Fox, and if rights could be ironed out that would be fun too.

I have a long-range, hoped-for plan to do HAWAII FIVE-0 one day (have it all mapped out on paper) but there are legal issues that may preclude that from happening for some time. We’ll see. For now I am delighted to have been able to create soundtrack albums for some of my favorite shows as a kid.

Jon Burlingame also is the author of The Music of James Bond.

New trailer for Kingsman sequel released

A new trailer for Kingsman: The Golden Circle was posted online today by 20th Century Fox.

Based on the trailer, things look a bit grim for the Kingsman organization, including having its base of operations destroyed. On the other hand, Colin Firth’s Harry Hart is back despite having appeared to die in the first film, 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. The sequel appears to have at least one James Bond homage involving a parachute.

Take a look. The movie is scheduled to be released Sept. 22 in the United States.