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.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Favorite Themes - Part XXIV

Score: Casino Royale by David Arnold (Independence Day)

About the film: Having recently obtained '007' status, James Bond (Daniel Craig) must enter a high-stakes poker game, preventing banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) from winning and, thus, continuing the funding of terrorist activity. This is an exceptional origin story, with superb action set pieces, a well-tuned performance from Craig and strong doses of humor and heart, perfectly assembled by Martin Campbell (GoldenEye).

Title: "You Know My Name". Not only does the song make a terrific Bond theme, but Arnold's interpolations of it in the score are as peerless as anything in Barry's works. Whether as a pulse-pounding action motif ("African Rundown", "Miami International") or as a sweeping travelogue melody ("I'm the Money", "Blunt Instrument", "Aston Montenegro"), it rouses you fully.

Other themes of interest: A wafting string melody heralds the beautiful "Solange", reprised in the tense "Trip Aces" (with string work reminiscent of the darker parts of The Living Daylights). A feather-light piano touches off a gorgeous theme for Bond's relationship with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), appearing in "Dinner Jackets", "Vesper" and "City of Lovers". The legendary Monty Norman theme is hinted at throughout the score, but gets its fullest airing at the finale (for obvious reasons; see the film).

Availability: The lion's share of the score was released on Sony Classical. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough room for the song, available as a single. (For the truly curious, the remaining thirteen minutes is available at iTunes.)


Saturday, September 29, 2007

The fairness of fate.

Lousy title, I know, but I said I'd revisit this and I meant it.

The year is 2004. An Academy Award-nominated actress, who once played FBI Agent Clarice Starling, stars in a film about a woman lamenting the loss of her child, only to be told by everyone around her that she never had one. She is tireless in her search and she uncovers something sinister behind her child’s disappearance.

Cut to 2005. An Academy Award-winning actress, who once played FBI Agent Clarice Starling, stars in a film about a woman searching frantically for her child, only to be told by everyone around her that she never had one. She is tireless in her search and she uncovers something sinister behind her child’s disappearance.

(And who says that Hollywood is running out of ideas?)

Not that I’m accusing one film of ripping off the other; I’m a bigger man than that. It’s just that The Forgotten and Flightplan seem a great deal similar. Another common link: the music of James Horner, though this can be chalked up to happenstance. Flightplan was originally set to be scored by Rachel Portman, and personally, I find romantic stories to be more her bag (Benny and Joon, Emma, Chocolat).

I saw both movies in the same second-run theater toward the end of their respective years. The Forgotten appealed to me because of its immediate premise - woman loses someone dear to her, but cannot convince anyone of the person’s existence, whereas I saw Flightplan for its immediate similarities to The Forgotten. It is ultimately the executions of the basic idea that separate the films…and why I ultimately prefer The Forgotten.

Here there be spoilers!

In between her duties as a book editor, Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) spends her days flipping through old photo albums and watching videotapes. Her young son, Sam, died in a plane crash some fourteen months ago, and she still misses him, her mementos of him comforting her. Her psychiatrist, Jack Munce (Gary Sinise), helps her to cope, though there are small traces that her memories may be betraying her. She soon finds that her photo albums and videotapes are blank. She’s quick to blame her husband, Jim (Anthony Edwards), but he assures her that they never had a son. Peculiarly, Dr. Munce seems to support this claim, stating that a great trauma (such as a miscarriage, which is mentioned) can cause people to create memories.

Refusing to believe this, Telly seeks out another person who lost a child in the crash. Former New York Rangers player Ash Correll (Dominic West) grieves in his own manner: hitting the bottle. She struggles to convince him of the existence of his daughter, Lauren, but he insists that he never had a child. Telly uncovers drawings that Lauren had done on the wall of her bedroom. She encourages Ash to say his daughter’s name, as she believes that saying Sam’s name was part of what kept him in her memories. Even after calling the police on Telly, Ash gives it a try…and the memories come flooding back. He tries to stop the police from taking her, but then the NSA intervenes…

The very thought of losing someone dear to you and, even more, being told that the person you lost never existed is such an intriguing concept that the execution seems secondary. Thankfully, The Forgotten gets it mostly right.

There’s a fragility to the approach taken with the premise. The shaky cam in the scene where Telly frantically puts the tape in the machine, and especially the chase scenes, makes you feel like you’re really there (kudos, by the way, to Anastas Michos for his impressive cinematography).

For a long time, I’ve been decrying the constant use of CGI in features, abused for everything from substitute blood squibs to placing an actor’s head on someone else’s body. The Forgotten, however, features some of the most effective and scrupulously applied CGI effects I’ve ever seen. There’s a beautifully staged car crash, the now-famous sight of people being whipped into the sky and what can only be described as a more serious, modern-age version of the Large Marge gag in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Also, pay close attention to the clouds when Telly looks up at them after being chased by the NSA. This stuff is scarier than most horror films that have come out in the last few years (though, given the overriding predilection these days to gross people out, that may not exactly be fair).

What people unfairly seem to focus on when discussing this film is the ultimate explanation for the memory erasures. Who’s to say that another race of creatures wouldn’t or couldn’t come to this planet to run experiments on us? Who’s to say it hasn’t already been done?

That said, it’s not a perfect film. As noted by reviewer Richard Scheib:

There is no particular explanation of why the aliens (if indeed they even are aliens) are conducting experiments in erasing parental memory, why the NSA and some individuals appear to be cooperating with them, how they manage to eliminate so many memories (does this mean, for example, that they have to also erase the memories of every single person who has seen Julianne Moore’s son including her family, friends, co-workers and people they might have bumped into on the street?)…it is a plot that by the end you realize is ever so contrived in that what has been given to us is only there for the purpose of propelling the story and that we are not given one iota of information more than that.

These questions feel like they could be answered in a direct-to-DVD sequel (hint, hint; available for assignments).

Another problem: the treatment of the observer (Linus Roache). Throughout the film, he’s this vaguely ominous character weaving in and out of the story. Unfortunately, someone (I’m not sure who) wanted to have a clear villain. The theatrical ending has him using force and fear (that Large Marge callback I mentioned) to get Telly to forget. While some would argue this to be a more effective narrative choice, I find it something of an ‘easy way out’ method of story-telling, and something like this can’t rely on that. From a narrative standpoint, the original ending works better, as Telly tries desperately to get to Sam (unharmed, and - apparently - back in his room) while the observer (much less threatening) wipes one memory after another. Ultimately, she is allowed to retain her memories.

Horner’s score is a bit lower-key than his more famous orchestral works, relying on piano and electronics, particularly an eerie yet heartfelt synthesized violin.


Propulsion engineer Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster in a role originally written for…Sean Penn!) is taking her daughter, Julia, and her husband, David, on a flight from Berlin to New York City. David recently suffered a fall…from a tall building and his body is being taken to the states for the funeral. Early in the flight, Julia seems to disappear from the seat next to Kyle. Strangely, no one seems to recall the girl boarding the plane. Kyle tries to organize a search throughout the double-decker craft, but when it comes up empty, she takes matters into her own hands, drawing the ire of air marshal Gene Carson (Peter Sarsgaard) and Captain Rich (Sean Bean).

Remember what I said earlier about execution being the deciding factor? Flightplan proves my point perfectly. A woman searching frantically for her child is, no question, an emotionally fraying experience. With The Forgotten, this is a nightmare that you’re plunged into. With Flightplan, however, you aren’t really plunged into a nightmare because you’re all too aware that you’re watching a movie. The production design of the A474 plane is impressive, as is the cinematography by Florian Ballhaus (son of Michael), but these factors - especially the latter, with its 360-degree spins depicting Kyle’s loss of control - don’t really get you involved as they would if they were less subtle.

Also, there’s the question of Julia herself. In The Forgotten, all we saw of Sam were pictures and videos; we never saw the kid in the flesh. Julia is right there from the beginning, so when the moment comes that we’re asked to accept that she died along with her father, we don’t feel shock so much as impatience. Of course, Julia is still alive and a Fight Club/Secret Window-style twist where Kyle imagined her daughter boarding the plane does not fit this film in any way.

And I haven’t even mentioned the ‘suspicious Arabs’ sub-plot. During the search, Kyle encounters a pair of Arabs, who she swears she saw outside her window the night before the flight. She accuses them of having something to do with the disappearance. One would think that the writers were building toward some kind of message, but all this does is pad out the running time unnecessarily.

For this column, I sought to rent Flightplan. I looked in the ‘drama’ section (which is where I found The Forgotten), but no luck. I asked the cashier and she told me that it was to be found in the ‘action’ section. I found this placement a tad curious, as Flightplan makes for a rather sedate action film for its first two-thirds.

And when the remaining pieces of the puzzle are revealed…well, I still find it hard to believe that people roast The Forgotten. At least, it went somewhere original with its story. As it turns out, the person responsible for the safety of the people onboard - that would be air marshal Carson - is behind it all, even going so far as to tell the Captain that Kyle will blow up the plane unless a large sum of money is transferred to an account.

There’s a moment that may not have been intended as somewhat amusing, but it ended up that way, anyway: when Carson is chatting up his partner-in-crime - flight attendant Stephanie (Kate Beahan). He chides her for worrying about the plan and even states that Kyle believes that there are Arab terrorists on the plane. Carson’s logic, however xenophobic, is perfectly sound. There are Arab terrorists everywhere you look: sitting next to you on the bus, turning tricks on the street corner and even in that box of Corn Flakes you empty out little by little each day. Besides, as we all know to be true, White people would never, ever pull shit like this.

Then we get to the moment where the plane lands and the passengers and crew are evacuated. Carson plans to kill Kyle, who believes that she is being allowed to search the plane. She confronts Captain Rich, apologetic and convinced that Julia will be found. In what has to be a remnant from a first draft - I mean, there’s no bloomin’ way that any seasoned writer would reveal information like this - Rich tells her that her demands of money have been met.

Pretty soon, Kyle (having grabbed onto an awful lot of information from just Rich’s chastising) and Carson are engaged in a cat-and-mouse chase throughout the plane. It’s technically impressive and occasionally exciting, but it merely enforces the ‘this is a movie’ feel of the enterprise. It undermines the basic idea of ‘woman searching for a child no one believes to have existed’. Try to imagine Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors with its original ending instead of the theatrical one and you’ll have a sense of how ill-fitting the third act is.

Given how obvious Flightplan wanted to be an action movie, I’m a little surprised that the final exchange between Kyle and Carson didn’t go like this:

Carson: What do you think you’re doing?
Kyle: What can I say? It’s been a blast.

The reality, however, was a little more mundane:

Carson: What are you gonna do? You gonna blow us up?
Kyle: No. Just you.

So, let’s recap: Flightplan’s plot hinged on a man in a position of power singling out an individual who knew plane designs, not to mention framing that individual for planting bombs on said plane (and killing the individual’s spouse and kidnapping their child) so that said powerful person can obtain an obscene amount of money. This person was also able to rope into his scheme a stewardess and the morgue director who tended to the spouse’s corpse. (Never mind that the individual could well have been a loner with no ties to anyone.) But because it didn’t feel the need to involve aliens in the narrative, it is clearly the superior and more believable film. Cretins.

Horner’s score, while more orchestral than that of The Forgotten, is a fairly dark affair, highlighted by a pretty three-note theme for Kyle and Julia.

I really do believe that The Forgotten is superior. Even Leonard Maltin agrees with me on this:

Woman still grieving for her son, who died more than a year ago, is told the boy never really existed! She refuses to believe this and doggedly seeks the truth, which leads her into unexplored territory. Thriller goes way off base for a while, testing our patience and credulity, before tying things up with an interesting payoff. A couple of real jolts along the way keep it from ever getting dull. **½

Grieving mother (Foster, solid as always) takes her young daughter home on a jumbo plane that’s also carrying her husband’s coffin. When she wakes up from a nap, her little girl is missing and no one believes that the youngster ever boarded the plane. Suspenseful at first, this contemporary thriller becomes remote and uninvolving; by the climax, it’s just plain ridiculous. Too bad Miss Froy wasn’t along. **

A small part of me hopes that this story will be revisited someday. It was rumored a while back that Reese Witherspoon was headlining a remake of Bunny Lake is Missing (which also details a woman searching for her ‘nonexistent’ child and which predates both of these films by four decades), so we’ll see. With any luck, it will be released in a September, scored by James Horner.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Back in two and two.

Yesterday, I went on my first date. No, scratch that; I went on my first eight dates. I'm no pimp. I'm just...shall we say desperate? Sponsored through my alma mater's alumni association, this get-together (as I euphemistically described it to my parents) comprised of a little trend known as 'speed dating'. Each person is given eight minutes to meet and chat up a complete stranger. Just from the concept, it's a real step up from offering one's seat to women on the bus (only to have them ignore you for another seat, but that's neither here nor there). Understandably, I was intimidated; women don't much pay attention to me and I'm not much of a talker. Still, I wanted a scenario where I took a chance by diving into a swimming pool, whether or not it was full (this metaphor I'd been saving for quitting my job and heading West).

Between watching Comedy Central on one of the bar's many TV screens and devouring the refreshments (what I, more or less, usually do at functions like this), I met some interesting people. As I went on, it (to my relief) became less about the need to hook up with someone and more about the art of conversation; talking to people, finding out what they are like and what they do. We were given the option to meet these people again for friendship. Maybe I could do with a few friends before I pursue a relationship.

I know that, given the opportunity, I'll take on another session of speed dating...especially if the food is good.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Random thoughts.

- Resident Evil: Extinction opened with $24 million this weekend, enabling its star, Milla Jovovich, to make five more years of crappy choices. If you're not enraged by this news, dig this: Good Luck Chuck (or, if the trailers are anything to go by, Jessica Alba Falls Down a Lot) opened with $14 million. Meanwhile, the genuinely entertaining Shoot 'em Up struggles to recap its considerably low budget. Really, does anybody goddamn read scripts anymore?!

- Last year, Cartoon Network aired "Re-Animated", a live-action project about a young boy whose transplanted brain allows him to see cartoon characters. It was boring, juvenile, a waste of talent (Fred Willard, Tom Kenny, Neil Flynn) and the villain was the most irritating I've seen since The Hard Way's Party Crasher. Unfortunately, it was also a ratings winner (which I chalk up to the curiosity factor more than any real desire to want to watch it), so what does the network do? Make a series based on it and call it "Out of Jimmy's Head". I'd like you to re-read the first sentence, paying special attention to the phrases 'Cartoon Network' and 'live-action'. If you don't see any sort of problem with this, then congratulations; you may already be in the running for the channel's next CEO.

- The internet is quite addictive, but YouTube has to be one of the most addictive sites. The music videos and clips from TV shows were seductive enough, but then I discovered cartoon theme song mashups and, more recently, old time (mainly 1970s) trailers and YouTube poop. The latter can only be seen, not described. Trust me on this. The animated music videos set to original Weird Al songs are also quite enjoyable. (Just look up "Dare to Be Stupid" and "Your Horoscope for Today".)

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wheels are turning.

There's a get-together for alumni of my alma mater next week in hopes of meeting someone.

Two weeks into October, I have another driving test, and if I do as well as I did in today's practice...let's just say that confidence is high.

Put these things together and I just may be escaping this piteous rut my life has devovled into.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Galaxy High": a retrospective.

...or "I love it! I love it!"

The year is 1986. Screenwriter Chris Columbus (short for Christopher; the field day his classmates must’ve had with this) has penned a trio of box office hits for no less a producer than Steven Spielberg: Gremlins, The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes. It’s pretty safe to say that the world is his freakin’ oyster. The exact specifics of circumstance are unimportant (primarily because I don’t know them), but he was asked to develop an animated series being produced by animation studio TMS Entertainment. That series was "Galaxy High", which premiered on this day in 1986.

The setup (as delineated in the terrific theme song) is pretty straightforward: Two high school students - big man on campus Doyle Cleverlobe (voiced by Hal Rayle) and cute-if-geeky Aimee Brightower (voiced by Susan Blu) - are transferred to the intergalactic institute of Galaxy High. However, their roles end up reversed: as intelligence is valued at the school (proving conclusively that the show takes place on another planet), Aimee becomes the popular one, while Doyle struggles for acceptance.

Among the classmates that Doyle and Aimee encounter: six-armed class president Milo DeVenus (David L. Lander); Booey Bubblehead (Jennifer Darling), who, in her own words, is "forgetful, but not absent-minded"; vampy Wendy Garbo (also Darling); the mouthy - literally - Gilda Gossip (Nancy Cartwright); the clingy, yet strangely endearing Creep (Danny Mann) and Flat Freddy Fender (also Cartwright, utilizing a voice that, with some tweaking, became her most well-known character: Bart something-or-other). Doyle ends up running afoul of the Bonk Bunch, led by the Earth-hating Beef (John Stephenson). Among the faculty is Principal - and sometime teacher - Biddy McBrain (Pat Carroll, a far cry from The Little Mermaid’s Ursula) and the always cool (or should that be cold?) Professor Icenstein (Howard Morris, also the show’s voice director). As Doyle needs to pay his way through Galaxy High, he toils at Luigi’s Lunar Pizza, run by the excitable Luigi (also Morris).

Like a number of programs, the original premise (jock and geek find their fortunes reversed) was gradually abandoned, the students ultimately becoming friendly with each other. However, "Galaxy High" featured good, character-specific writing; the kind that one doesn’t much find in today’s anything-for-a-laugh cartoon landscape. (Not that all cartoons airing today are terrible; "Class of 3000", "The Replacements" and - on its good days - "Kim Possible" are entertaining, but they are all beholden to the aforementioned anything-for-a-laugh style of writing that, to be honest, makes fanficcing such shows a nightmare.)

One would think that I loved the show in its heyday and that this column is a means of trying to convince myself - and others - that the show is still great (overall, cartoons from the 1980s aren’t exactly notorious for surviving the passage of time). Though I was vaguely aware of the show’s existence in the past, I truly discovered it in the last few months and, shorn of the crutch of nostalgia, I can confidently say that it not only holds up, but, effectively, kicks the ass of nearly everything on the air today. (It’s not quite a perfect show; for one, the whole ‘breathing in outer space’ thing was never explained, but, really, it’s one of those hurdles to clear while watching a cartoon.)

In watching the show, one can easily see that this comes from a simpler, more innocent time. Best example: the handling of Beef. Unlike a lot of obnoxious, bullying characters on cartoons today who are so irritating, you spend more time devising nasty ways for them to die than enjoying the show - *coughBonnieon"KimPossible"cough* - Beef, even with the prejudice, seems like an okay guy; the kind you might want to hang out with...from a safe distance. Also, Booey could’ve easily devolved into a one-joke character, but they used her just enough to keep her funny (the Memento-like meet-cute in "Beach Blanket Blow-Up") and sweet (her pursuit of Mick Maggers in "Those Eyes, Those Lips"). And the Creep certainly had the potential to be annoying, but then he launches into one of his lounge lizard singing routines and it’s just impossible not to like them.

Even the weaker episodes - "Doyle’s New Friend" (where the pranks were more irritating than gently annoying) and "It Came from Earth" (which sets most of the action on Earth and contrives to place the characters in various roles) - were redeemed by solid, character-driven writing. Compare these with the worst episodes of anything-for-a-laugh shows like "Danny Phantom" ("Splitting Images", "The Fright Before Christmas"), "Foster’s Home" ("Impostor’s Home...") and "Kim Possible" ("Royal Pain", "Return to Wannaweep"); it’s like having a front-row seat to a live train wreck.

And, as a fan of film and television music, I don’t think I could talk about this show without mentioning the contributions of Don Felder. The former Eagle wrote the catchy-as-hell theme song as well as the underscore. Some pieces that stand out:

- an upbeat, pop theme that represents the day-to-day happenings of Galaxy High
- a light-hearted melody that I would term Aimee’s theme
- a synth tympani tune for chase scenes
- an all-purpose melody based on the theme song
- the amusing piano lounge music for the Creep’s songs
- a descending motif used for scenes of danger and/or impending doom (this is my personal favorite of the show’s melodies, as well as my main justification for wanting the show’s music on CD)

As with many fantastic television programs, "Galaxy High" had a limited run: only 13 episodes were produced for the 1986-87 season and aired on CBS. Thankfully, Media Blasters put the show out on two affordably priced-DVDs, even if the cover art bears but a scant resemblance to the show. It’s easy to wish for a revival, but in today’s cartoon world (where the favored trends are pointless character humiliation, anything-for-a-laugh writing and enough forced shipping to make one vomit), it’s much better to leave well enough alone.

I can only hope that "Galaxy High", which seems to have fallen through the cracks, can gain a higher profile in animation circles and that this column can contribute to that.

By the way, here's the title sequence with that cool theme song. For an extra twinge of nostalgia, it's prefaced by the Family Home Entertainment logo, and I know we all remember that. (I believe it was a "Pound Puppies" tape for me...or maybe, it was "Care Bears". I fear I may be dating myself.)


Saturday, September 08, 2007

Funky feature.

So, I clicked on the 'next blog' tab at the top of the page. I'm assuming that it's one of those random, 'not the same blog each time' sort of things. The first one was some sex site, easily identifiable by the naughty terms in lower case lettering. The second is already gone from my memory, but the third one...

Just click on the link:

Is that not freaking cool or is that not freaking cool?

From what I can figure, it's a blog by a Malaysian girl with a lovely singing voice, or, at least, pretty tastes in music. However, I'm freaking jealous of that effect. I really am.