Mr. Cellophane

In a location adjacent to a place in a city of some significance, what comes out of my head is plastered on the walls of this blog.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Neither a borrower nor a Lenter be?

I'm not much of a religious man. It's been...too long since I've set foot inside a church. I do, however, believe in self-improvement. To that end, I will be fasting for Lent, 'cause if I can give up chocolate and self-gratification (yes, you read that right) for forty days, there's not a thing in the world I can't do.

Anyway you slice it, I just know I'll fare better than Josh Hartnett did.

Monday, February 27, 2006

My Favorite Themes - Part V

Score: Dogma by Howard Shore (Lord of...Return the Tower...uh...The Fly)

About the film: Two rogue angels (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon), bored with purgatory in Wisconsin (!) and unhappy with God, find a way to return to Heaven. Unfortunately, it will prove the Almighty fallible and unmake all of existence. The task of stopping them falls to a woman (Linda Fiorentino) with her own issues against the Lord. She is joined by an apostle (Chris Rock), a muse (Salma Hayek) and...Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith)?! Yes, Virginia, this is a Kevin Smith movie and, perhaps, his most ambitious. Some fine moments of religious insight are mixed with some gruesome killings and low-brow gags. Smith devotees (guilty as charged) may take to it more than others.

Title: "The Last Scion". The theme is connected with Bethany (Fiorentino) and her ultimate identity. This beautiful melody is performed on that most maligned and underrated of film scoring instruments, the ondes martenot (ondz mar-ten-OH). It is best heard in the titular track as the Metatron (a terrific Alan Rickman) tells Bethany about why she was selected. Though she has no romantic partner in the film, this would've, in my opinion, made a fantastic love theme. Special note: the ondes martenot was performed by the then-reigning mistress of the instrument, the late Mme. Jeanne Loriod, who also worked on Elmer Bernstein's Heavy Metal, the first of several scores where he used the instrument.

Other themes of interest: There's the exciting fight music in "The Golgothan" and "John Doe Jersey", the demonically playful "Stygian Triplets" and the powerful choral music throughout. Also, I must mention the song, "Mooby the Golden Calf" (written by the composer and the director). Its melody is infectious, even if its lyrics are amusingly unintelligible. Pity it wasn't worked into the body of the score somehow.

Availability: It was released on Maverick Records (Madonna's label) in 1999. Chances are you can find it used if you know where to look.

Monday, February 13, 2006

What I do believe in...

I'm sure that a lot of animation fans have heard about the sudden cancellations of two favorite cartoons: The Fairly Oddparents and Danny Phantom. Both shows, incidentally enough, came from the once-reputable Butch Hartman, but more on him later.

While I am surprised to see them go (as I figured they were successes for Nickelodeon), I really can't say I'm unhappy about it. In the interest of seniority, I'll start with "The Fairly Oddparents".

I remember seeing the first six episodes back in the long-ago time of 2001. I was blown away. The writing, the like a Ginsu knife. The show a justified hit, more episodes were ordered. Not very many episodes in the following seasons could hold a candle to the first six, instead relying on too much toilet humor, the not-very-funny rivalry between Timmy's father and his next door neighbor, Dinkleburg, and way too much unfocused stupidity (stupidity can be funny, but without a clear M.O., it's just annoying). Some fine episodes to come from that era: "Engine Blocked", "Movie Magic", "Boy Toy", "The Switch Glitch", "Deja Vu" and the enjoyable tele-film "Abra-Catastrophe".

Then came "Channel Chasers". I'll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that, among a few good TV parodies and the rise of an undervalued supporting character, this was the beginning of the end. There's a scene that pretty much left a nasty taste in my mouth and ruined the film for me. The scene, involving Timmy's parents talking to Vicky's parents, occurs about halfway through, and is so unbelievable, it's hard to imagine how it was left in by people with functioning brains. 'Betrayal' is nowhere near strong enough to describe my feelings after seeing it.

The episodes to beach themselves in its wake were just never-ending parades of unpleasantness, anti-hilarity and just poor taste. I'm loathe to cite certain examples, for watching the episodes is like staring at the Ark of the Covenant, only they're not quite as beautiful before they completely destroy you. Let's say that the negative traits of the middle years are turned up to twelve, with an obnoxious Timmy and some spousal verbal abuse* thrown in for bad measure. If you can believe it, there were people who felt that there was nothing wrong with the newer crop of episodes. I like to think of them as Gullible Lolly-gaggers Unaware of Earlier Stories Namely Including Frantic Fairies Enduring Riotous Shenanigans, or glue-sniffers, for short.

* - Some people may not know this, but Cosmo and Wanda, Timmy's fairies, were very open about their love for each other in the early going. Nowadays, it's all about Cosmo insulting Wanda with an unnerving casualness that Stanley Roper would consider tasteless. For him to alienate the one woman who would have him in spite of his flaws is really self-destructive. I'd like to address the writers: just because your parents had lousy relationships, leading you to believe that marriage is a big joke, that gives you no justification whatsoever to push that crap on little kids.

It may seem a little ridiculous to devote so much blog time to a cartoon, but what the show mutated into cut me to the bone. I'm reminded of a terrific episode of "The Simpsons" (to which FOP was compared by its creator), "Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie".

Comic Book Guy: "Last night's 'Itchy and Scratchy' was, without a doubt, the worst episode ever. Rest assured, I was on the internet within minutes, registering my disgust throughout the world."
Bart: "I know it wasn't that great, but what right do you have to complain?"
CBG: "As a loyal viewer, I feel they owe me."
Bart: "They've given you thousands of hours of entertainment for free. What could they possibly owe you? If anything, you owe them!"
CBG: (a pause) "Worst episode ever."

For all intents and purposes, I am Comic Book Guy. What could the makers of FOP possibly owe me? An explanation for starters. An apology wouldn't hurt, either.

I know it's not right to lump all the problems at Butch Hartman's feet. He wasn't responsible for the ultra-crappiness of the later episodes...though with the ghastly "Channel Chasers", "Shelf Life" and "School's Out" under his belt, he's not exactly absolved, either. Hartman was busy on the series "Danny Phantom".

I admit that this had a pretty neat premise (teenager gets ghostly powers and must battle the ghosts that besiege his hometown). Of course, as with anything, success is one part premise and two parts execution. In my opinion, this was a good show that never became great. Some of my reasons:

a) Too much focus on the Danny/Sam thing. Personally, I'd like to see them together, but in fanfiction, not on the show. One thing I despise in current cartoons is this whole, cutesy, will-they-or-won't-they shippy crap that takes away from the narrative. The price paid for the later years of "Hey Arnold!" gets higher every year.
b) The music, courtesy of FOP composer Guy Moon. Now, he is a talented tunesmith, but...I'm forced to imagine a note inflicted on him by...someone: "No one should be able to blink, sneeze or walk without music under it." This over-scoring technique may be fine for a "Tom and Jerry" cartoon, but for a show trying to mix action, humor and drama, it's a misfire. I can't help but wonder how someone like Kevin Manthei ("Invader ZIM") would've approached it.
c) The toilet humor that I had hoped died with my interest in FOP rears its ugly, arbitrarily placed head here. The ending of "Fright Knight" and the little Danny flashback in "The Fright Before Christmas" are but two head-scratching examples.
d) Toonzone forum poster judyindisguise phrases this theory better than I could:

There's also an element of infantile silliness in almost every episode that kills all the earnest stuff that's also in there. Plus as I've mentioned before, Butch Hartman will happily sacrifice a character's believeability
(sic) and likeability (sic) for the sake of a lame joke.

I notice this mainly with Jazz - my favorite character, BTW ("Secret Weapons", "Prisoners of Love") and Tucker (pick any ep at random).
e) DP was, at least in my eyes, one of those 'Russian roulette' programs. It's like this: you get an empty chamber, then another one, and then BANG! In other words, there was usually a good episode to draw me in, then another to make me like the show and then comes an episode (or a moment in one) that shoves me back to arms' length. Like an idiot, I come back for more, thus repeating the cycle. "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends" is a strong example, as are "Codename: Kids Next Door", "Ed, Edd and Eddy" and - sorry, folks - "Invader Zim".

I used the expression 'once-reputable' of Mr. Hartman because, simply put, he was spreading himself a bit thin working on both programs. Between what he's doing now (and that includes some dialogue work on the American dub of the underwhelming looking feature Doogal) and his older stuff, I'll take the older stuff. This includes not only the first six episodes of FOP, but some pretty good shorts shown on Nickelodeon's "Oh Yeah! Cartoons" series and Cartoon Network's "World Premiere Toons". Here's hoping that what he does in the future is a good deal more entertaining than what we have in the present. It couldn't possibly be worse.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

"I'll see you soon."

Coming out this Friday is Final Destination 3. Not sure about the rest of you, but I'm kind of looking forward to it. For me, anything that's scored by Shirley Walker and shot by Robert McLachlan (except for Cursed, of course) is worth a look.

Earlier today, in my 'net wandering, I ran across Jeffrey Reddick's original draft of Final Destination. It retains the concept of a group of teens who escape a gruesome plane crash after one experiences a vision of it, only to die one by one, but it is very much a different film. The doomed characters are all teens of different backgrounds (religious, black, Goth) and the force behind the murders is a dark spectre, like the reaper from The Frighteners before it's revealed as Jake Busey. And there's certainly nothing featuring Candyman, er, uh, Tony Todd as a creepy coroner.

I know that sadness is not an emotion typically engendered by horror films, but that's how I felt reading it. Not because it will never be produced as is and not because it was unentertaining, but because the characters are so likable and that...well, let's say that suicide and guilt figure heavily into this draft, much more than the film. Is it better than the film? I'll say yes...with a 'but'; the ending was weaker than in the movie. That's all I can really remember.

Judge for yourself.