Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Harrison Chevy? (Joke Chevrolet Commercial)

Harrison Ford Chevy

Wouldn’t that be a fun idea for a Chevy commercial, in the mold of that Suzy ChapStick ad campaign? (Suzy Chaffee, an Olympic skier, did an ad campaign in the 1970s where she said she was changing her name to “Suzy ChapStick”.) If Chevy really wants to ramp up its war of words with Ford, and they seem to want to (especially after that Mayan apocalypse Super Bowl spot that cheapened itself and diluted its message by specifically using a great, high concept ad as an opportunity to take a cheap swipe at Ford alone), then what better way to do it than to hire Harrison Ford to do an ad for them where he says he loves Chevys so much, and he deplores Fords so much, that he’s changing his name from Harrison Ford to Harrison Chevy. Here’s how it could work:

The spot begins with Harrison Ford (in the same hat and outfit he wore in American Graffiti) driving that great 1955 Chevy from American Graffiti down a California boulevard. At a stop light, Harrison Ford says: “You may remember that I was in a movie called American Graffiti. Well, in that movie, they had me driving this ’55 Chevy and losing to a ’32 Ford Deuce Coupe. A Chevy losing to a Ford? Yeah, right! Well, in real life, that “Ford” had a Chevy engine in it, and had it not been a fictional story, this car right here would have stomped that Ford into the dirt anyway! If they were going to have me lose that race, they should have put me in a Ford; after all, my name is Harrison Ford! But to be honest, they would have had to let this Chevy win, and I’m so ashamed to be associated with Fords that I’m changing my name to Harrison Chevy! So the next time you see me, just say: ‘Hey there, Chevy!’ And I’ll say hello to you. But don’t refer to me by that other car’s name again: I’ve had it with them! Yes, Chevy makes great cars, but they’re really much more than that. They’re a part of who we are! That’s why Chevy runs deep!” (I’m using their ad slogan here.) And then, we cut to an exterior shot of the car, the light turns green, and Harrison Ford, um, that is, uh, Harrison Chevy, peels out from the light burning rubber all the way. A police car sees this and starts out after him, and then we cut back into Harrison’s Chevy, and he looks at the camera and says: “Police cars: piece of sh*t Fords!” And then he stomps on the gas pedal and leaves the cops in the dust. We cut inside the police car, and the policemen in the police car say to each other: (Policeman 1): “Hey, he just left us in the dust!” (Policeman 2): “Forget it Earl, that’s a Chevy. You can’t catch a car like that in a Ford.”

Wouldn’t that be fun?

(BTW: I am not bashing Ford. I’m simply taking this idea of Chevy attacking Ford in its ads, and playing with it, taking it to its extreme. No offense, Ford, this is just a creative exercise. And no offense to Harrison Ford either, I hope.)

Here’s Harrison Ford in his Chevy from American Graffiti (Hey, maybe his Chevy skidded off the road and caught on fire during that movie’s climactic race because it was rebelling against its driver for being named “Ford”! Otherwise, it would have won that race, right Chevy? Maybe they could have a commercial explaining that.):

And here’s an example of the Suzy ChapStick commercials (“Catfish ChapStick?” How about ChapStick Hunter. That even makes him sound like he wants the product so badly, he’s always hunting for it!):

Get Back! (Insurance Campaign Concept)

I’m referring here to the song “Get Back” by the Beatles. It seems to me that this song would be the perfect song to use for a campaign for homeowner’s insurance. The ad could show someone’s house being destroyed, but because they have this insurance company’s policy, they could “get back to where (they) once belonged”, and we’d see the house rebuilt, and them back in it. Then the whole ad campaign could revolve around this idea of getting back to where you once belonged.

It could even refer to car insurance: Someone’s classic car is mangled in an accident, or even hit in a parking lot and crushed; but because they have this insurance, they show a brief episodic sequence of the car being restored, and then they show the insurance agent presenting the restored car to the owner, who hugs them. And then they show the car owner driving the car again in a state of bliss, and the song plays: “Get back to where you once belonged!” And the overarching theme is that this insurance company will get you back what you have lost, and isn’t that what an insurance policy is all about?

I’ve never seen or heard of this song being used in this way before. But I think it would work wonderfully like this, if Paul would have it. (Yes, it is written by Paul McCartney.)

Here is the song (imagine if you will, its use as an insurance campaign slogan: just use the chorus, and mute the vocals from the verses {or else have a fictional guy named “Jojo”, and have this be his story. But that wouldn’t work as well.}):

(The Beatles’ Let It Be is the first album I ever remember hearing in my life, so “Get Back” was pretty early for me. Even so, “One After 909” was my very first favorite song. I was three at the time. Now there are too many to name. But “You Should Never Have Opened That Door” by The Ramones, an ode to 70s horror films, is one that comes to mind just now. It’s because of the guitar tone in the chorus part that I love it so much. It sounds like a table saw, almost.)

Here’s “You Should Never Have Opened That Door” by The Ramones, for those who care:

Going Mobile

When I was  kid, there was a popular song by The Who where Roger Daltrey sang about “going mobile”. Well, I just got a bill from a credit card company that had printed on it: “Go Mobile”, and it struck me that I hadn’t noticed anyone has ever used that song in an ad for such things. (Maybe it has been used, but I haven’t seen or heard it?) In any case, it so readily suggests itself for such a usage (albeit unintentionally), it’s simply amazing that I haven’t noticed it. Could it have been overlooked by advertisers for use in cellular product and service advertisements? Well, if so, then I’d say now is the time to use it!

Here’s the Wikipedia page about this song:

And here is the song:

It seems to me, upon hearing it again after years, that a commercial could use video depictions of what the lyrics describe (and they could even edit the order of the lyrics to serve their purposes if they wanted), and use that to tell a story about cell phone use, or how using cellular devices keeps someone connected to family, friends, and business, all at once. I have not seen it used like this before. But it would be perfect, wouldn’t it?

I just did a Google search to see if it has been used, and I found it being referred to in a blog post and in an article about the cellular industry and its increasing importance in our lives, but not in an advertising campaign per se. Here are links to the blog post and the article:

Happy Leap Year!

Leapin’ lizards, it’s leap year! I know about this because leap year is in the Gregorian calendar, and my name is Gregory. Apparently it’s also called the Western calendar (I like Spaghetti Westerns especially, so I think it should be called the Spaghetti Western calendar!), and the Christian calendar (Hey, what about the separation of church and date?), but they’re just trying to steal my thunder. Maybe I could get them to fight it out, and the Western calendar would have a gunfight with the Christian calendar; the Western calendar would shoot the Christian calendar, which would turn the other cheek and get shot a second time and get blown away, and the Western calendar would then be charged with murder but die in a shootout with the police, so only the Gregorian calendar would remain. And it would serve them right for trying to usurp credit from people named Greg.

Additionally, apparently there are three Friday the 13ths this year, since the leap year began on a Sunday (New Year’s Day was a Sunday this year), and they are 13 weeks apart, making them extra unlucky. This means that Jason from the Friday the 13th movies will get to select two other deathless slasher movie killers to join him in hunting you down this year, so you can’t escape like you did last leap year. Mwa ha ha! For those who are interested, he’s selected Michael Myers from the Halloween movies, and (despite their earlier fight in Freddy vs. Jason; after all, that was only a movie, and they were just pretending to dislike one another. In real life {death?}, they are good buddies.) Freddy Krueger from the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies. It is a little-known fact that this teaming up of the three major immortal slasher killer movie series stars is the actual threat the Mayan Doomsday Prophecy is predicting. (It’s true!)

They will attack and chase and kill some people (including you, I heard) on the Friday the 13th dates this year, but then they will seem to be finished and disappear. Oh, but that is only a ruse to make us lower our guard and become easier to catch on December 21st of this year, when the rumors they started about asteroid threats, prospective nuclear holocaust dangers and other natural disasters will have us all glued to our TV screens; and that’s when they will creep up behind us and strike! So wear a knife-proof suit and a helmet, and you’ll probably be safe. (But please don’t tell them I warned you, or else they’ll come after me, despite it being a Gregorian calendar!)

Here is some more information on leap year this year, for those who are interested:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hyundai Azera “Talk to My Car” Oscar Commercial

This commercial was apparently made to celebrate the cinema and specifically dedicated to and created for the Oscars. That’s cool, and also a great idea. They show fictionalized scenes from movies involving cars, and from a children’s perspective (that’s how I’m reading it, anyway, as there is a young boy sitting in the back seat), all to play up the connection of voice-command-activated cars to cinema. I’m surprised there wasn’t a Batmobile reference in there, or a Cars reference, but it was probably prohibitively expensive. (I’m pretty sure it was on the ad creatives’ list for the clearance department, though! But then again, I guess with the kid’s mask, they’re combining Speed Racer with Batman right there.) But this selling point of having voice-recognition capabilities, and perhaps even a Siri-like entity to interact with, is wonderfully realized through the eyes and imagination of a child, shown with highly mannerized visuals that appear childlike to adults, in this Hyundai spot shown last night during the Oscars.

I was aware of every movie reference they made (I believe), and I was really excited to see this commercial. This may sound silly to people who find ads annoying, but seeing this brought me back to my childhood momentarily, and back to the experience of seeing each of these movies referenced, and back to that sense of wonderment and excitement about the idea of having talking cars and artificial intelligence that was so novel when I was a little kid in the 70s. It’s hard, I think, for someone without my life experience of being a Star Wars fan, loving Sci Fi stuff, etc., back when there were no computers in homes yet, to really, truly relate to the feelings this commercial brought back to me of back when this idea of having a car you could talk to was just a fantasy. Back then, the future predictions were about cars that would drive themselves, and flying cars, etc., but the idea of spoken commands was still just the stuff of movie fantasy. But here it is, and we still have no flying cars! I’m amazed an disappointed at the same time!

But the amazement is mostly with this ad! I used to work with voice-recognition software when I was an IT guy in the 1990s. I thought it would be available long before now. Siri seems new to some people, but I was surprised it took so long, frankly, as we were working with this kind of stuff long ago. There were programs of artificial intelligence you could have conversations with through typing in the early 1980s, even. But in the 1970s, this stuff was still just the stuff of nerdy dreams! And when I was that kid’s age (the one in this ad), I wasn’t even thinking about computer controls on cars, because I was more thinking about the other, more visual stuff we see in this ad (morphing cars that fly, go underwater, etc.). But it still takes me back there, because of the great imaginative visuals, so whoever conceived of this spot did a very good job! (Even if owning this car would be nothing like this ad's first three-quarters: you know, the cool part.)

Here’s the cool cinema-inspired car conversation commercial:

Cadillac Green Hell Super Bowl Ad

Okay, this ad is fine for a car ad, but I’ve got a problem with it anyway. It has more to do with the music, though. You see, this ad is called “Green Hell”, and they don’t use the song “Green Hell” by The Misfits. What the hell? It’s a really rocking hardcore/metal song, and it’s great for this type of scenario! And if they don’t like The Misfits, then Metallica does a great cover version of it! (Is Metallica big and mainstream enough for them at Cadillac? And The Misfits will still see some money from its use!)

So come on, guys: get with the program! When you have an ad called “Green Hell”, use the song called “Green Hell” in the ad, at least to end on! It could just have, towards the end of the spot, Glenn Danzig screaming: “Touch it, see it: Green Hell!” (The announcer talks about checking out “Green Hell” in Germany, so it would work very well.) And then they could switch to the Metallica version for a more recognizable chunky sound to ride out the end of the spot if they wanted. Or else, they could have simply used the ending of the Metallica version, where James Hetfield yells: “Green Hell!” It would have been perfect! And by not doing it, they are alienating all the Misfits and Metallica fans who know about it, and guess what? They are all the right age to be in the market to buy a Cadillac, so they shot themselves in the foot by not using it. And it would have blown away the music they do use in the spot. Oh, well… (Seriously, what the green hell were they thinking here?)

Here is your spot in Green Hell:

Here is The Misfits’ “Green Hell”:

And here is Metallica’s version, but it’s the second song in a two song mash-up (Green Hell begins at 1:29):

Sprint Unlimited Data Limit Ad

This commercial is really fun for me to watch as a complete outsider. I don’t ever go over my data limit, because I use my phone as a phone, and nothing else. I don’t walk around cities glued to my smartphone screen, and I don’t walk into traffic following directions, because I generally look up where I’m going in advance, so I know where I’m going. I don’t have my whole life on my phone, so I can actually smell the roses if I want. (Although there are not many roses in the city, unless they’re in florist shops.) And I can pay attention to the people I’m with, even if they can’t return the favor anymore (because they're glued to their smartphones). But when that grid goes down someday, and it probably will at some point, at least I won't be going through withdrawals and wandering around aimlessly because I depended on my phone to tell me where to go all the time.

Anyway, here’s the unlimited ad:

Salt Shaker Chef’s Hat

On last night’s episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart wore a chef’s hat for a segment about the Pope’s Twitter account name. Well, when he doffed this hat, I could clearly see that there were six holes on the top of it, organized like the holes on the top of a salt shaker. And seeing as how the cylindrical shape, with the ridges around the sides, and the white color, when added to the six holes on the top of it, made it look like a giant salt shaker, that made me wonder: Is this how chefs in New York City have to smuggle in their salt these days, in light of Mayor Bloomberg’s salt assault laws? I hope Mr. Stewart didn't just accidentally reveal their method of contraband smuggling! (The sentencing for salt smuggling is probably worse than it is for cocaine nowadays, what with the food police out in force like it is lately!)

Here’s the salty story, if you’re not aware of it:


Rick Santorum called President Obama a “snob” for assuming everyone has the “aspiration” to go to college. And if everyone does have that aspiration, then Rick Santorum would look like a dummy for saying that. So what he needs is a product to make sure everyone does not have that aspiration. Sort of like an “anti-aspirant”: it’s like an antiperspirant, but it prevents aspiration. Do you suppose it could be called: “Unsure”? There’s a brand of antiperspirant called: “Sure”, so why not have an anti-aspirant called: “Unsure”? (As in, unsure you want to do anything with your life.)

Plus, an anti-aspirant might be good for Santorum in another way. If you look up the definition of “Santorum” on Google, and then you recognize that “aspirant” sounds like a compound word from the words: “ass” and “perspiration”, you’ll see that an “anti-aspirant” might help reduce the instance of santorum for people who wish to lessen its occurrence. And there’s just nobody who would like to reduce its occurrence, or even its existence, more than Rick Santorum.

Here’s the story about Rick’s comments:

Monday, February 27, 2012

(Who’s Afraid of) Virginia Woolf Brand Liquor

I just saw Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf for the first time tonight. I had been avoiding it for years, because I had seen too many crappy Liz & Dick movies, and I thought this must be another one of them. Well, it’s not. It’s really good, especially if you like domestic violence, marital blisslessness, and alcoholism. In fact, there was so much drinking and drunkenness, I think it’s almost indecent that nobody has ever launched a brand of Virginia Woolf brand liquors, in honor of this movie. They could have Virginia Woolf Brandy: It makes you throw up, but then you’ll want to dance all night! And then they could have Virginia Woolf Bourgen (that’s this movie’s inside joke about bourbon): It makes you kill your parents “by accident”, and then you go to the mental hospital for life. Now that’s some good liquor!

Or perhaps this is too insulting to Virginia Woolf? Then how about calling it instead: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf Liquor?” Then the name would be like a dare to macho-types, and they’d all over-drink and act like the characters in this movie, which would be very appropriate, seeing as how it’s named for the film! And if anyone didn’t want to drink it, everyone could say they were “afraid of Virginia Woolf!” And then they’d have to relent and drink themselves into a stupor or else be thought of as a wimp forever after.

And for a feminist liquor, someone could make: “Yellow Wallpaper Absinthe”. And the ad could be that it’s so strong, when you drink it, you’ll start to believe people are trying to break out of the wallpaper all around you, even if there isn’t any wallpaper where you are! (Now that’s a strong drink!) And as a feminist liquor, it’s perfectly named, because then macho-types could accuse each other of being “yellow” if they don’t want to drink it! And then they’d all drink too much of it and throw up and get hangovers due to peer pressure, and the feminists finally get their revenge against the macho guys who have held them back for so long! I’m surprised nobody has thought of this sooner. (They could also say it will launch you through the glass ceiling when you drink it, to attract female drinkers.)

In the Face of Great Adversity

I have heard people say for years, and I heard it during the Oscars last night, that people triumph “in the face of great adversity”. So for all those triumphant stories, and the people who lived them, I’d just like to say: “In your face, Great Adversity!”

MetLife Peanuts 5¢ Life Insurance Ad

Last night on the Oscars, I saw a new ad for MetLife with some of the Peanuts gang in a conference room at what I am assuming is supposed to be the MetLife building (formerly the Pan Am building) in New York. So some corporate drone meets with them and tells them that they are now offering life insurance for as little as $14.00 per month. Well, Lucy is not impressed, and she says it ought to be five cents. And then Charlie Brown agrees that it should be five cents also. (But if you know the Peanuts universe very well, you know Charlie Brown is always wrong about everything, and he never gets his own way in anything.) But then the guy says it can’t be five cents, and Lucy then demands that it must be five cents. (This guy must not be very familiar with Lucy van Pelt! You don’t win an argument with her!)

Look, I am very well-versed in the Peanuts comics and TV specials, and so I already know you can’t defeat Lucy with information, contradiction, perseverance, logic, etc. This guy has no idea what he’s getting himself into! If I were that guy at MetLife, I would simply agree with her, and say: “Fine, we’ll have a life insurance policy for five cents. But it will only pay out five cents, too. Okay?” And then Lucy would probably agree, seeing as how these characters are obviously stuck in the 1950s or 1960s, seeing as how they have not aged one iota since the 1960s. So they’re apparently stuck in a time warp, where five cents is still worth something. So fine, for cartoon characters who are ageless children, MetLife should agree to have a term life insurance policy that only costs five cents: not per month, just five cents for the whole thing. That should cost them nothing, since cartoon children do not require life insurance. But even if they somehow get written out of the comics or something, or they die of some fictional disease or accident, MetLife will still only have to pay out a nickel anyway, and they could probably just draw one, so what’s the difference?

But it’s a better policy (and they should know something about policies, being an insurer!) just to simply agree with Lucy whenever there is a disagreement, no matter what it’s about. She’s in charge of so much stuff with so many people anyway, she’ll probably forget what she made you agree to, so it won’t matter in any case. But look, MetLife has to understand something here: if Lucy can provide psychiatric treatment for five cents, especially with those ridiculously exorbitant malpractice rates, and with the threat of government fines for not strictly adhering to Obamacare’s mandates and persnickety regulations to the letter (she is also taking the same chance kids who try to set up lemonade stands nowadays face: a $50 fine, plus other red tape from local government and heat and harassment from the police, as well as a good humiliating on the local news channels and perhaps even a propaganda segment about government overreach on Stossel), then they certainly can create a life insurance policy for fictional characters that only charges five cents and only pays out five cents. Maybe they could even agree to pay out more, so long as they’re allowed to draw cartoon money to pay out, rather than use actual currency.

But what about cartoonist insurance fraud? They could pretend to kill off characters just to collect on their life insurance policies, and then just bring them back to life whenever they wanted to! So then there has to be a new government agency to look into cartoon insurance fraud! But maybe it could be run by cartoon characters we could pay in cartoon money, so it would be free! It could be led by The Inspector (from the Pink Panther cartoons), and that Irish policeman from the Bugs Bunny gangster cartoons (“You might, rabbit, you might!”). I’m sure they’d get to the bottom of whatever criminal cartoon corruption is clogging up the court system! (And if that didn’t work, we could get Daffy Duck as Dorlock Holmes in Deduce, You Say to untangle that web of criminal cartoon con-artistry!)

Or else, perhaps MetLife could learn some magical way to snap their fingers and have all the Peanuts characters age normally, as though they were real people. Then, all of a sudden, they would all be 60 years-old, and they’d instantly understand how little five cents actually buys! And with Social Security insolvent, they would suddenly be reasonable about insurance rates and payouts. But the joke’s on them, for MetLife will still pay out in cartoon money they can just draw, so it doesn’t cost them a dime, never mind a nickel!

Now I’m just waiting for someone to use The Far Side characters in contemporary TV advertising!

Here’s the argumentative ad:

Here is Dorlock Holmes, for those who aren’t familiar with him, but it’s in French, to make it fun for those who already do know him:

Big Shoes To Fill

Whenever someone takes over for a previous person who was very successful in a specific job or field, people always say that this new person has “some big shoes to fill”, and that it will be hard for them to match the previous person’s success. But of course they won’t be as good if they have to wear shoes that are too big for them! Why not just let them wear their own choice of shoes in their own shoe size? Then they will do a better job and perhaps impress everyone. But that’s not going to happen if they’re constantly tripping over themselves in shoes that are way too big for them, with the shoes all flopping around on their feet, and making them feel silly, and with everybody laughing at them for looking like they are wearing clown shoes.

But if everyone forces them to wear the big shoes, then maybe they should wear their own shoes inside the big shoes. That might work perfectly, and doubly protect their feet from when other people try to step on their toes. In fact, maybe that’s why they are told to wear these big shoes in the first place: because everyone will be trying to step on their toes all the time, since they want the new person to fail so the old hero looks even more legendary. So it could be that people want the new person to wear the shoes that are too big in order to foul them up, or in order to protect their feet from ill-wishers. And since they don’t know the motives of those requiring them to wear such ill-fitting foot apparel, they have to make the best of wearing the big shoes. And anyway, it might simply be a contract stipulation that they wear the oversized shoes in the first place, and in that case, they’ve already agreed to do it, so they’re just going to have to grin and bear it.

But you know, maybe they could get away with crimes if they just wear their regular shoes to commit them in, because everyone will think they would be wearing the bigger shoes, since everyone always sees them wearing them, so they will not suspect them when there is smaller-sized footprint evidence at a crime scene. And maybe those requiring the oversized shoes are doing so because they are co-conspirators who want to misdirect everyone from suspecting their cohort. So it’s all a giant conspiracy, and all so we won’t know that they’re all complicit in horrendous criminal activities! And that’s why they act like they want the new person to fail in replacing the previous legendarily successful personage: so nobody will suspect that they are all partners in a criminal empire! I knew it!

So whenever you hear about someone who has big shoes to fill, you should definitely be suspicious of them! After all, what are they trying to hide in those big shoes anyway? And if they were so innocent, they would just wear their own shoes, wouldn’t they? That’s all I’m saying.

A Russian Fairy Tale

The head of Russia’s elections called serious allegations of voter fraud and ballot box stuffing in recent Parliamentary elections “a fairy tale”. I don’t know that fairy tale. Is that a Grimm’s fairy tale? (It might be a grim fairy tale.) Let me see if I can figure out the story. It seems like a weasel is trying to help a big angry bear win re-election. Does that sound right so far? And then, when anyone criticizes the bear, the weasel and the bear’s fox henchmen go cast spells on them, silencing them or making them disappear. And come election day, the ballot boxes become magically stuffed with unanimous votes for the bear, right? And then everyone is amazed, because they all voted for another animal, but their votes didn’t seem to get counted. Is that the fairy tale he’s talking about? Because that’s actually not all that new. I think it might even have originated here in America. (They should come up with their own fairy tales! If America is so bad, then how come they’re cribbing our fairy tales?)

Ironic Country Names

Have you ever noticed how the most repressive Communist dictatorships are always named such benign and friendly sounding names like: “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”? It’s bizarre, because the completely brutal, repressive manner in which these governments rule their countries with an iron fist really puts the lie to the absolutely propaganda-y names of their countries. It’s like it’s always opposite day there or something, or else they think everyone is too stupid to recognize the absolute dishonesty of their self-branding.

Maybe if they can brainwash most people into believing they live in a Democracy, or a Republic, then they’ll feel they can trust their government; and anyone else who refuses to accept the euphemistic name gets re-educated (or executed). But if the “people” ever wanted to change their system of government (you know, the one that the country name says belongs to them to begin with), well, I think we’ve all seen what happens to them: Tiananmen Square, anyone? They just get tortured and murdered, if not simply gunned down anonymously in the streets.

If it wasn’t so inhuman and disgusting, the way these country’s citizens are repressed and brutalized for criticizing or challenging their own governments, it might even be funny due to how absurd it all is. Because remember: the Soviet-style Communism was designed to be a “workers’ paradise”, and it was so wonderfully successful, they had to build walls guarded by armed guards just to prevent people from trying to escape to a better life (!). Oh, and the guards had to be in teams of three, because a team of two might just agree to escape together, or to let others escape without shooting them in the back.

Yes, the “Democratic” “workers’ paradise”: it’s like the Roach Motel: you check in, but you can’t check out! Only most people checked in by having the misfortune to be born there. But hey, at least they have really encouraging sounding names; and that’s got to help them feel better when they’re feeling down, right? Because after all, the politically-correct tyrants among us,* who sometimes seem like they would like to turn America into a system like those countries have, so they could have the authority to tell everyone what to do all the time (because after all, they know best!), are always saying that the language we use makes a difference, right? So, then, to use politically-correct terms to mask the inhumanity of your government’s repression must make it all feel better, right? Why don’t we ask those people in North Korea about that? Oops, I meant “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, of course! Oh, that’s right: we can’t. Because they’re not allowed to talk to anyone from outside their utopian society: after all, they might become contaminated with freedom or hope or something else threatening to society like that. And that’s something “The People” would never tolerate, especially in a “Democratic Republic”, where by definition, no-one is ever allowed to think for themselves. Or isn’t that the definition of a Democratic Republic?

* (No, that is not a veiled attack on President Obama. While I have my problems with him from time to time, I don’t think he wants to turn America communist. But there are some who do want to try to push America in that direction, and I think that is an ill-advised plan, seeing as how it never works well anywhere else. We’ve got some problems here in America, but we have a good system. It just needs to be cleaned out once in a while, and we need to adhere to the Constitution. If people want to change it, there is a system for doing that: amend it.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

And the Best Picture Is…

Well, it’s The Artist, obviously. Anyone who saw them all knows that. I wrote a post critical of this movie, but that’s mostly because I found the ads for it misleading. I think that’s false advertising, and it also led me to expect something the movie does not deliver for most of its running time: a feel-good story. It has a happy ending, but most of the running time is not a feel-good movie.

But did you see the Oscars? Nobody clapped for The Artist when it was read aloud as a nominee for best picture. WTF? Was it jealousy because it is the best picture of this past year? Everyone calls it “a French film”*, but as they pointed out: it’s the only movie of them all that was 100% made in Hollywood! So it’s really more of a Hollywood movie than all the others! (I knew that from watching it!)

So shouldn’t it have been cheered on for all the jobs it brought to Hollywood? Oh, that’s right, I forgot: only the “above the line” people are even invited to the Oscars, so they don’t care one little teensy bit about local Hollywood jobs. They’re already rich, so they don’t care, and why would they? But I’ll bet the IATSE people (you know, the people who really make the movies) would have cheered it heartily! For not only was this a great movie, but it was made in Hollywood, USA! And that ought to count for something, especially in this outsourced recession economy of ours. Don’t you think so?

* (Sometimes it takes an outsider to truly appreciate something wonderful we take for granted because we’re exposed to it all the time, n’est-ce pas? And then we see it for the great thing it is again. This is what The Artist does for Hollywood. And this is the real gift, and the legacy, of this movie. I have always loved classic Hollywood movies, so I have always appreciated them and the mystique of old Hollywood. But living here all the time, I forget sometimes that this is where it all happened. In the daily grind, the exceptional loses its luster, and the magic evaporates. That’s why it takes a French team to remind us that we’re in the stardust factory: this is Hollywood, baby! And it is special, even if we sometimes forget that because we live here all the time. And we should appreciate it.)

Oscars Ads

Wow, I was busting on the Oscars earlier, but I didn’t realize it’s also apparently like another Super Bowl for ads! Some of these commercials are new, and they’re really good! Is it usually like this? I might have to start watching the Oscars for the ads like I do for the Super Bowl, even when the Giants aren't playing. (Actually, the horrible truth is that I'm fickle: I like a lot of different football teams, so I always like the Super Bowl, regardless of who’s in it.)

My sister has recorded this, and I missed most of it, so I will report on these ads later. I’m sorry I missed it now! I didn’t know there would be good ads, or I would have been watching it! Why don’t they tell us these things? I thought it would just be a bunch of pampered stars patting themselves on the back for hours. But if people knew there would be good commercials on, maybe more people would watch it! (It’s okay if you miss it though: they will repeat these ads until you hate them later on. I promise!)

Skechers Mr. Quiggly Dog Racing Ad

Here we have a greyhound racing scenario, and a French bulldog wearing two pairs of red Skechers beats them all and then moonwalks across the finish line backwards just to rub it in. And then he’s torn to shreds by the other dogs, both because he’s a jerk about hot-dogging the finish, and also because the greyhounds are so underfed they’re ravenous. (And Mr. Quiggly is too pooped to run away.) I’m kidding. Mr. Quiggly wins and demands a new contract with Mark Cuban, who then has him roughed up by toughs for being too big for his dog breeches, and all four of his legs are broken to teach him a lesson, which is then applauded by all the greyhounds because he embarrassed them. I’m kidding again. But isn’t animal cruelty so funny? That’s why animal rights activists loved this ad so much! (Actually, that’s another issue that’s not really visible in the commercial: allegations of behind-the-scenes cruelty to the greyhounds.)

So this ad is really fun and cute. But somehow, it seems to me they would have done better to use horseracing: after all, horses already wear “shoes”, so to simply make one set of shoes a quad of Skechers, and make that horse win by a lot, would seem a bit more natural and convincing to me. But this commercial’s concept is really fun and attention-getting. It’s cute, etc., and people will definitely remember it. The thing is, since it’s only got one dog with shoes on, will it help sell Skechers? I don’t know the answer, and my idea for the horse race might not be any better on that account. But horses already wear “shoes”, so one horse having the Skechers winning might have made more sense, although again it doesn’t show it to be better than other brands of athletic shoes. But since there are other horse “shoes”, that might mitigate that issue somewhat. They could also have a pony beat a bunch of thoroughbred horses, which would do the same thing as having a French bulldog beat a bunch of greyhounds. But even if the horseracing idea worked better than the dog racing (which is debatable), it would still only be possible because of this concept created by this ad agency, and it’s a really fun idea. Kudos!

But you know, if it’s the shoes that won the race, why doesn’t Mark Cuban just buy a new set of those shoes for another dog? Wouldn’t that be cheaper? And how come everyone always worships Michael Jordan for being so great at basketball when those Nike ads from the ‘80s made it clear that it was just the shoes that allowed him to play well? Any basketball legend (or player) who has Nike make shoes for them could be just as good, right? No? And that’s the problem with these athletic shoes commercials that make these claims: Michael Jordan would have been just as great with another pair of shoes, and he’d still be better than everyone else barefoot, so it puts the lie to this type of ad. But they’re fun ads nonetheless.

Okay, so this commercial has kicked up quite a kerfuffle with the animal rights people, apparently. This spot is really a fun concept, and as such I wish it would be viewed simply as the fun, silly entertainment it is, rather than have it be picked apart for something that is not the ad agency’s fault. Rather than bashing the ad, and demanding that Skechers pull the ad, and threatening to boycott Skechers, I really feel the animal rights activists should have done this instead: They could have said that this is a fun and cool ad, and that in addition to being a cute commercial, it also raises another issue people ought to know about: cruelty to greyhounds in the sport (or at that track, or whatever the specific allegations are). Because after all, this product and this ad agency are not responsible for the treatment of the dogs, they don’t run the dog track, and they didn’t know about the allegations of mistreatment until after they had already made the commercial. So rather than bash the commercial, the animal rights people could have piggybacked their message onto this spot in a positive way. That way, they could have ridden a wave rather than fighting it: See what I mean?

Plus, then they would have targeted the appropriate people for the alleged abuse, rather than blaming the innocent. And targeting the wrong people is really bad for the cause, let me tell you! It’s kind of like throwing red paint on someone with faux fur on: They will hate you and fight you afterwards forever. Remember: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar! (Even if it is really mean to trap flies, man!)

Sometimes the animal rights people just shoot themselves in the foot. That’s why I make fun of them a lot on this blog. It’s certainly not because I love to see animals suffer, as nothing could be further from the truth. But it’s the way the activists sometimes behave, and how silly and counter-productive some of their strategies are, that I have a problem with. This ad is a great example of that: It’s a great commercial, and it should be celebrated for its fun, whimsical quality, and not accused of torturing animals and threatened with boycotts of Skechers’s shoes. If anything, people should boycott Skechers because they’re ugly; but because a commercial of theirs has dog racing in it? Honestly: Grow up!

Here’s the canine careening competition commercial:

Levi’s Curve ID Jeans Print Ad

There’s a Levi’s Curve ID Jeans print ad that’s generating something other than sales. It seems that the ad is for some plus-sized jeans, or at least trying to attract that market. The only problem is, while the headline pays lip service to the idea of hotness coming in all shapes and sizes, the three models in the ad all look slim and about the same body type. There are some minor differences, but they’re all models, and they’re all about the same size. This has been perceived as insulting to some women, and perhaps also damaging to women’s body image perceptions.

Perhaps the ad should simply have added another line of copy underneath the picture of the models. The ad’s headline, written above a photo of three models looking very similar in shape and size, says: “Hotness comes in all shapes and sizes.” Maybe they should have simply written under the picture: “Unfortunately, our jeans only come in one size: slender. So buy someone else’s jeans, you plus-sized hotties!” That’s what the ad looks like it’s implying anyway, so why not just come out and say it? Then nobody could excoriate them for subliminal messaging about body image. (Of course, they could berate them about explicitly stated body image messaging, but that’s a different issue.) But if this is not what Levi's intended to say in the ad, they really ought to correct it with some differently-sized and -shaped models. They're selling the jeans to women, so I think it might be a better idea not to make women mad at Levi's with their advertising. But it's just a suggestion.

Ads are usually meant to attract, not repel, the prospective clients, or at least I think it works better that way. But maybe you could use reverse-psychology to make people want your stuff, like by saying: “Hotness comes in all shapes and sizes, except for yours. You're ugly, so you're not allowed to buy our jeans.” Then, maybe people would want them even more, because people always seem to be attracted to whatever is forbidden. Also, everyone wants to have something exclusive, so maybe if their ad said you can't have any, everyone would demand them. I guess you never know. Arrogant Bastard Ale uses this approach on its label, and it's fun. But I think it should have gone even further, saying at the end (it basically says you're probably not sophisticated enough to appreciate the ale): “In fact, upon further consideration, you can't have any, so just put the bottle down right now!”

But about this Levi's size issue: Maybe Helmut Lang has taken over Levi’s? (He used to make those ridiculously unforgiving jeans for men that would normally not fit on most people. When I was younger, I fit into them perfectly, but I was pretty slim and in good shape back then. But people would try on his jeans and come out of the dressing room fuming, saying stuff like: “That’s not a 32!” So maybe he’s doing the new women’s Levi’s?) That might explain it.

Here’s an article about this ad which shows what the ad looks like:

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

I’ve read a lot about this movie and its TV movie precursor, so I bought the DVD(-R) of the TV movie, and I watched it with my sister and her 9-year-old daughter. (I sometimes make the mistake of believing people’s rave reviews on Well, the verdict was that it’s not scary, but it’s fun and kind of cool. (This kid {my niece} isn’t scared by anything, though, so that’s not the best indicator! {I would have been scared silly by this TV movie had I seen it as a child!} But it seems like kids today have a sort of “seen it all” jaded mentality, where it’s almost un-cool to be scared by a movie. But that’s perfect, because most of these days’ horror films aren’t scary at all anyway! They’re just gross and chock full of too much CGI and sound effects, as well as too much heart-string-tugging and jolt-you-out-of-your-seat music.) So then I wanted to see the new remake, to see if they had done it justice, so I got it from NetFlix. Uh, yeah.

So first things first: I was very excited when I saw a period pre-credits sequence, because I thought it would show how the original guy had gotten the house infested with little demons by making a pact with the devil for unlimited power or something. No such luck, however, as we’re instead shown a sequence that doesn’t explain anything other than that the little monsters like to eat teeth. Guillermo del Toro had the “tooth fairies” in Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, so this must be a tip of the hat to that reference by a grateful director because del Toro is producing the movie. (del Toro also co-wrote the script, so maybe he imposed it.) Unfortunately for those who know, that just makes a little trivial connection to another movie, and hence destroys the atmosphere of the current film. But whatever. I don’t know what’s so hard about just trying to make it work well on its own terms, but I guess that’s outdated now, so we all have to have hipster references that connect everything nowadays. Lame.

Oh, and also, they have to have the CGI “camera” fly through everything in the early part of the movie, just to remind everyone that everything is fake. Lame again. But at least there is the part in the beginning after the credits where they get to the house, and Guy Pearce answers the phone and grovels for someone named “Mr. Jacoby” (!). So he works for Jacoby and Meyers, huh? No wonder he’s being tormented by demons after working for an ambulance-chasing lawsuit firm! This is his just punishment! But why did he have to subject his family to it? (Maybe so he can sue the little demons later?)

Oh, and then we get the broken family brat who won’t accept the new parent: I think this is the new movie cliché, huh? Except that it’s not new anymore, either. This just adds another layer of stuff that distracts from the demons/goblins angle. So is this supposed to be horrifying for those kids from broken homes who aren’t scared of the little monsters? I don’t know why they put this plot point in so many movies nowadays, as it simply muddies things further. When I was a kid, and we didn’t want to eat something, our parents would say: “There are starving children in (wherever they were starving at the time), you should appreciate it!” And then we’d say: “Then send it to them!” So I was hoping Guy Pearce would say to Sally when she rejected Katie Holmes: “There are children in (wherever) who don’t have any stepmothers! You should appreciate her!” And Sally could say: “Then send her to be their stepmother!”

At this point in the movie, it struck me that if these goblins like to eat children’s teeth, they ought to just set up a free children’s dental clinic or an orphanage: then they’d get lots of kids’ teeth, since children lose teeth all the time! (I mean that their baby teeth fall out, not that they get their teeth knocked out.) Plus, they wouldn’t even have to be mean to get them; but then I guess it’s not a horror movie anymore. Or, they could drive around and burgle houses for the kids’ baby teeth when families are out of town on spring break or whatever holiday; but then it’s a heist movie with little demons, and that’s not going to be a big draw, I’ll bet. (Maybe they could make a remake of Home Alone with these little monsters trying to steal the Macaulay Culkin kid’s teeth! No? But they could call it Home Alone 4 Tooth Protection! And it could be sponsored by Crest or Colgate toothpaste, and Listerine mouthwash. Still no?) Oh, whoops: did I ruin the conceit of the movie? Sorry!

Okay, so then we get to the part where Sally finds the basement, and Guy Pearce smashes through the wall, and then Sally sets the monsters free. I was hoping they would play that Police song: “Set Them Free” (“Free, free, set them free! Set them free! Free, free, set them free!”), but no dice. I wondered where Sally got the strength to remove those huge bolts from such a thick piece of metal after years and years of rust and stuff, but then I realized the writers had simply given her super-strength to make it even less believable.

So then these fake-looking CGI thingies start terrorizing Sally, but the movie still wants to dwell on the broken marriage thing, so we get more of that: Yay! It seems that Sally’s not happy in the new house and its demon infestation, but her mother doesn’t care, and naturally Guy Pearce couldn’t care less. So I don’t care either. Except that it does seem kinda odd to me that this Sally looks a lot like her step-mom (she has the same pouty lips and saggy cheeks, and she has the same hair color), and nothing like her father. No wonder Guy Pearce doesn’t feel connected to her: it’s not his daughter anyway! Maybe that’s going to be the twist ending: She’s really Suri, and Tom Cruise is really her father, and Katie Holmes is really her mother, and they did this whole elaborate ruse to trick the Paparazzi into chasing someone else’s brat every day for years. (Cheaters! It’s no wonder the kid is being hounded: these “demons/goblins” are secretly Paparazzi! And when they say they want her teeth, they just mean they want her to smile for the camera! Or maybe they want to sell her baby teeth on eBay? And maybe it's called Don't Be Afraid of the Dark because it's really the flashbulbs of Paparazzi cameras she should be afraid of! See? That gives it away right there!)

Okay, so now Katie Holmes is starting to believe the kid just because she cut up all her dresses with scissors or whatever, and she goes to the library to check up on the original house owner/designer’s documents there. It’s truly amazing that her husband, who is shown to be completely fanatical about the original house builder guy and his house and restoring it, etc., hasn’t already done this, but I guess the script writer was out to lunch for this part of the movie (!?). I mean, I could believe it if she had found something hidden, and she had to go to some obscure college professor, who only knows little bits and pieces about this one specific thing; but to have all this stuff just available at the local public library? And Guy Pearce didn’t find it before, when he’s been researching this guy and restoring the house for months? Get real! This just makes me tear my hair out at how incompetent the writing is! And I’m supposed to be focused on this story? Yeah, right!

So then we get the back story on these demon/fairy monsters, and it’s worse than I thought it would be. Without the beasties eating kids’ teeth angle, this would have been great: just say the original guy sold his soul to the devil for power, and instead he got infested with these demonic entities: great! That works really well! But no, we had to reference Hellboy 2, so it’s just dumb. Oh well. Plus, by the end of the movie, there are like 100 of these little tooth fairy monsters running around attacking everyone, so how is one child’s teeth supposed to sustain them all for another hundred years or however long it will be before someone else lives in this house? Are they going to share? Maybe one tooth for every four goblins or something? Are children’s teeth like Everlasting Gobstoppers for these creatures? This really doesn’t work at all, sorry.

I read recently that Guillermo del Toro likes the dark conception of fairies, so fine: let them be fairies rather than demons (although this does not make as much sense). But having them want children’s teeth does not work at all and it sinks the whole movie. I’m sorry, but it’s true. If you’re going to remake a previously well-loved movie, then do it right! Create your own dark tooth-eating fairy movie on your own, don’t ruin an already good story! Really, they had it all right there in the original story: demonic entities infesting the house, but only three of them. Just show the guy selling his soul for some power or something, but instead he summons these nasty little demons, and they want to trap souls, not eat teeth. (Then it would be like a Chick Publications religious propaganda comic book!) This is not really all that hard, guys! If you want a challenge, write something new! And if you can’t write something new, then don’t ruin something that’s already good. Ruin something that sucks: that way, nobody will notice you ruined it.

Hey, the original was cheap and quick, and it had lame monster costumes, but it was really great: the woman’s grandfather made some evil deal or something, and the house got infested with three little munchkin demons: no other explanations, and we didn’t need any, either. (I may even be inventing that evil deal part, I don’t know. {Yes: No evil deal; the grandparents just bought the house, unbricked the fireplace, and voilà: goblins!} The house might have just gotten infested with goblins with the first owners, and without a local supernatural exterminator, they were just screwed. {BTW: It just occurs to me now why there are three of the goblin/demon monsters in the original TV movie version: They make the person who releases them "one of them", so then there's the original one, which would work perfectly as a soul-stealing demon created by some Satanic pact gone wrong, there's the original home owner, and then there's Kim Darby's grandfather: that makes three.}) Plus, the musical score was great and creepy! (Billy Goldenberg was a master at this type of horror score!) But this one overdoes everything: it overdoes the story, and overdoes the monsters, and it’s just a bit tedious. Now, I’m glad they made the movie, but I was really hoping for a better movie. It’s acted fine, and the camera stuff looks good too, mostly, so it’s really a writing issue. There’s too much CGI, but it would probably make everyone else mad if there weren’t too much CGI these days, so I grudgingly accept that, although movies would be way better without too much CGI. (The Woman in Black didn’t have too much CGI, and maybe that’s why it’s a hit: who knows. It also didn’t ruin a great TV movie, so that may be why it’s a hit, too.) The problem is when remakes decide they want to make the source movie “better”: They usually just end up gumming up the works with their extra crap and ruining what could have been a great movie. Such is the case here. Oh well…

I was really expecting a lot more from Guillermo del Toro. But you know, his movies are all chock full o’ way too much CGI these days, so I guess I should have realized what to expect. If only he could get back to that spooky realism he got with The Devil’s Backbone. Now that’s one of the all time great ghost movies right there! The CGI is perfect, and everything is so believable, you cringe in the bullying sequences. I never feared for anyone in this remake of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, because the monsters were so phony, and the whole production screamed: “Designed for a movie!” But it was really the writing that ate the teeth out of this one. But maybe that’s somehow appropriate after all.

In the original, the main characters inherit this house from the woman’s grandmother. They don’t get much warning except not to mess with the fireplace in the basement by some old handyman who was also the handyman for the woman’s grandparents, so he knows something is wrong here, but he can’t just come out and tell them, because it’s so unbelievable (and also for another reason). And the house was built by some unknown guy in the 1800s. But in this new version, the family buys this house after it has been unoccupied since the guy who built it died over 100 years earlier. So how does this handyman know about the goblin monsters? It would have been far better to have had this house inherited from grandparents who bought it years before, and that it had a bricked up fireplace back then, too. That way the handyman knowing about the goblin monsters makes more sense, provided he’s old enough, and everything else flows better too. Then, everyone could find out about the house together, so Katie Holmes beating Guy Pearce to the library files doesn’t look so ridiculously improbable; and they could be working on the house, so things falling or moving around would be more expected, so it would make sense when the parents don’t believe Sally, and then they could have jettisoned the whole broken family plot point which is such an unnecessary distraction.

But the one change I really liked was having Sally be a little kid instead of a grown woman. That was an inspired choice. But the broken home stuff makes it too convenient that nobody believes her about the monsters. Less aloof parents would have made the story way more gripping, because little kids make stuff up all the time, and have imaginary friends, etc.: they don’t need to be from broken homes! That just gums up the works with extraneous fiddle faddle. (Applesauce?) Stick to the story and its shock-machine potential! Then we’ll never be bored, like I was for far too much of this movie.

I have watched a bunch of made for TV horror movies lately. You can find a lot of them on YouTube at the moment. They’re fun, but mostly, they’re disposable entertainment. They were simply intended to scare kids and keep them occupied so their parents could get a break. They were never intended to stand up to the kind of scrutiny people can give them now with DVD transfers, etc. They were made to be shown one time only, on a crappy early ‘70s television set, and that was it! So it’s sad when the TV movie is better than a new theatrical movie. That shouldn’t happen. And it didn’t have to happen, either. This original TV movie provided a minimal story background to serve as the basis for a pure shock machine. And this remake should have done the same thing. But maybe because they made Sally a little kid, they felt they couldn’t subject her to the same amount of horror throughout as Kim Darby had in the TV movie. And if you’re doing that in a theatrical horror movie, you should really rethink your victim choices. I like that they had a kid this time, but if they were going to pull their punches, they should have stuck with the wife and have them have no kids at all.

Also, with this kid being from a broken home, with uncaring parents and an unwanted step-mom, this makes her endangerment seem less gripping, since it looks like nobody would care that much if she were killed: see what I mean? It's far more horrifying if the family is a strong unit, and it's just a misunderstanding that makes the parents think she's kidding or imagining it about the goblins. Kids also go through phases, and it could be her acting out about moving away from her old friends at school, etc., so the parents think it's something else. And if the parents really care and love her, then when they find out the threat is real, they will be extra panicked and feel extremely guilty: this would have ratcheted up the tension immensely! And if they really love and care about this little girl, we do too; if she's an outcast loner without caring parents, we might feel there's an undercurrent there of this kid maybe having earned people's not caring about her somehow. And she already comes across as a moping little brat, so she's much less sympathetic than she should be for being our identification figure. So if they're going to switch the victim character to a little girl from the wife, then they should make sure it's going to work as well, if not better. And really, that should be the case with every change they make to a previously good story.

Recently there has been one movie that remade a great film and outdid the original, in my opinion. That original movie coincidentally also starred Kim Darby as the female lead. (What are the chances of that?) The movie I’m referring to is True Grit: It was great, but the new version is even better. But it didn’t get that way by changing large chunks of the plot or characters. They just really rethought the locations, and decided night scenes would work better than day scenes, etc. And I’m not big on Westerns, either (unless they’re Spaghetti Westerns from the ‘60s and ‘70s). But that was the Coen Brothers, so perhaps that sets the bar too high. But seriously, if you can’t make a made-for-TV movie-of-the-week better in a remake, then you’ve got a problem.

The thing I find most disappointing is that I was really looking forward to this movie, and I really wanted to like it! And it’s just a case of over-tinkering with the story that does it all in. (Well, that, and too much CGI.) Reworking a story is fine, but it really ought to make it better, not ruin it. But this could have been a great movie: one for the ages! Unfortunately, they screwed the pooch here, at least in my opinion. And that’s such a shame, because everything they needed for success had already been done for them. Oh, well.

Want to find out what happens to Sally…? Rent the movie. But you still won’t save her… (Mwa Ha Ha!) Actually, I’m joking: Katie Holmes gets abducted by the little guys: just like in real life! (I heard Tom Cruise is short.) Oh, sorry: spoilers. But really, I mean it when I say you should really see this movie if it sounds at all interesting to you. Always support movies you might like, or else you might not get others in the future! (These guys deserve credit for making it in the first place!) And if you haven’t seen the original made-for-TV movie, you might love this! And even for all its problems, it's way better than a lot of other movies out there, and I'd choose it over 95% of everything else these days in a New York minute! So while I can't help being disappointed in it, it's not all bad. And if I wasn't really interested, I wouldn't have written anything about it. (And this is the longest post on this whole blog!) My college art professor said once to his best student, after he finished eviscerating her work, and she complained about the harsh criticism: "If I didn't think it had real potential, and if the intent weren't excellent, I wouldn't have said anything, because I don't waste my time on things that don't deserve it." Such is the case with this movie and me: I expect so much from it because it's exactly what interests me. They didn't nail it, but then again, I'm pretty exacting about my favorite things, so there you are. But you might love it, and I might be wrong about everything I've said, too. I don't think so, but you might: who knows.

BTW: There is one way in which this movie could be very satisfying: If you are a step-mother or a step-father to an ungrateful brat who is a jerk to you no matter what you do, then this movie could be very cathartic for you. Just don’t tell anyone that’s why you’re watching it, or else they’ll think you’re a child-abuser. But the ending reveals that the step-parent always loses in the end, so you’ll be resigned to your fate. Maybe that’s the “moral” of this movie: Don’t marry into a broken home, or else all your clothes will be cut to ribbons, you’ll be rejected and dumped on by your step-children, and you’ll just be eaten by goblins in the end, so run, run, run away before that wedding day!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Woman in Black

I’m a big horror movie fan, but what I really like the best are the old classic horror movies, and then the ones from the 1960s. But my favorite movies of all are supernatural horror movies, especially ghost stories and black magic movies; but they have to be well done: so often they are either overdone claptrap, or they’re too dull and obtuse (Shades of Darkness, anyone?). To give you an idea of ghost movies I think are done right, there’s The Uninvited from 1944, and The Innocents from 1961. Then there’s also fun stuff like The Legend of Hell House, but it’s not quite as good as the earlier ones. There are a lot of other ghost movies that have potential, but many of them end up having the hauntings be faked to try to drive someone insane: That’s a lame copout, and ghost story fans will always be mad at that sort of thing. There are also a couple of movies from Mexico in the 1960s by a guy named Carlos Enrique Toboada, and they’re terrific! (No, really!) There are also some other good ones from the ‘70s and ‘80s, like The Changeling, The Haunting of Julia, and Ghost Story. And then there’s The Woman in Black.

Really, there are two Women in Black: there’s the BBC version, and then there’s this new movie version. The BBC version is really a great ghost story. It has no big budget or flashy special effects (actually, I think ghosts don’t require a lot of special effects, so much as a translucent ghost, an out-of-focus apparition, etc.), but it’s a wonderfully realized slow-burn ghost story, and it’s really one of the real champs! And then there’s this new version, from the renewed Hammer Films: it’s up there as well. I believe this version sacrificed story detail for jolts, but it’s also very well done. I was afraid they would ruin it with too many/too much flashy CGI effects ruining the reality of the scenario, but such is not the case. They really get the balance right with the visuals, I think. I actually prefer the sparser look of the BBC version, but it might have been too dull for the horror movie circuit. In any case, they didn’t ruin the story, they didn’t gore it up, and they didn’t throw in too many flashy special effects to ruin the story and fake it all up, like Poltergeist did. (Poltergeist is just a crappy special effects movie to me. It’s a great popcorn movie, but if it’s a ghost movie, I want it spooky! Plus, anything with Craig T. Nelson gets my “thumbs down”!)

If you look at viewer reviews of The Woman in Black, you’ll see it’s another one of those “love it or hate it” movies. That’s usually a good thing: if everyone loves it, it’s usually crap. (Like with music: Just look at the Grammys. I’ll admit Adele is talented, and the Foo Fighters are rockin’, but the rest of that stuff? Yeesh!) People who didn’t like it wanted more gore or torture porn (more of what they’re used to, that is), or they thought it was too slow and depressing (ghost stories usually are). I thought it was a bit too loud in the music, and too much dependent on the jump scare, rather than the icy cold chills, but it delivers both. It also doesn’t over-explain its story. I still don’t understand some things, and guess what that means? It means I’m still thinking about the movie! This means it has me in its grip even after it’s over: You can’t ask for much more than that from a movie. Some people say that if you get a song stuck humming in your head, it means it’s a great song. That’s not always true: it could also mean it’s really annoying. But when you’re still thinking about a movie, in a good way, for days after you’ve seen it, then that’s usually a good sign.

I grew up on Hammer movies, and this movie, for me, is the perfect Hammer comeback vehicle. (They made a few recent movies before this, but this is the best yet.) I love their classic horror movies, but they never really made a ghost movie, I don’t think. Well, if you’re going to make a ghost movie, you couldn’t pick a better one to do than The Woman in Black. It’s a great ghost story, tugging at so many human emotions, and making you think about human relationships: like, does mother love trump them all, etc.? And an interesting point not touched upon by either rendition is this: (Spoilers ahead!) The dead boy for whom the woman in black is taking her revenge out on everyone was her son, but when she tried to take him away with her he didn’t know that she was his mother! He had never known another mother than her sister, so it’s no wonder she can’t connect with him in the afterlife: He doesn’t know her as anything other than a kidnapper! And perhaps this is what makes her not be able to forgive: He died fighting her and fearing her, and it may even have been what killed him. (They died in a carriage accident, sinking into the mire. But we never find out why. I think it’s because he tried to escape, it fouled the horses, and they all went down into the morass. But I don’t know that. Actually, in the BBC production, the woman in black dies with her son, but in the new movie, she survives but hangs herself, and that’s even worse: but it's even better for a horror story!) Yet this issue is not really discussed in either production of this story. But do you know what? I thought of it, and I still think of it. And maybe everyone else does, too. And maybe we're meant to.

When mysteries are explained away, they lose their interest; that’s why a mystery movie is never quite as much fun the second time around: you already know what everything is building towards. But with a mystery that’s never quite all solved, it keeps you thinking about it, and it keeps it interesting. That’s why so much has been written over the years about what is perhaps one of Charles Dickens’s lamer stories: The Mystery of Edwin Drood; and that’s because since it was never finished, and the culprit never unmasked, it leaves everyone still wondering what the hell was supposed to happen. Never mind that it’s a sub-par Dickens tale: that doesn’t seem to matter much. The fact is, everyone is still wondering how it was intended to end, and that’s a lesson many others could learn from. But it helps to have a good foundation on which to build (like, for example, a writing reputation like Dickens’s, or a great ghost story like The Woman in Black.): if your story is lame, or your movie sucks, nobody will care about the open-ended quality, they’ll just be mad. But if it’s good, they’ll want more, and they’ll think about it in a tantalizing way. That’s why good mysteries shouldn’t always explain everything completely away: because then we won’t think about it; we’ll just be spoon-fed information, like in a Matlock episode.

But with this, this new movie version of The Woman in Black: we’ll have older people say it’s not as good as the BBC version, and we’ll have younger viewers say it’s better. But for me, they’re both great! And as they are pretty different, I’d say this new version is the perfect companion piece to the BBC production. I was lucky enough to get a DVD of the BBC version back before they disappeared. I read about it, and the reviewers said it’s one of the best ghost stories ever on film. I agree completely, and that’s why I really hope that this new movie, when it’s released on BluRay, will have this BBC production as a special feature on the disc, just so everyone can see them both. This is not an instance where they have to make sure the original remains obscure, since it’s better. It’s different, and it adds extra information for those who want to know more. But the new movie is great also, and all I’d say about it is that it contains some elements that are more contemporary than the TV version (like a loud musical score, and some very good special visual effects). And they are both very good, but they are both very different too. You’ll recognize the similarities immediately if you have seen the BBC one, but that just makes it more interesting; for rather than mucking it up, they simply have produced a version with a different intent: as a horror movie for theaters, rather than an understated TV movie for Masterpiece Theater. And as this BBC version is long out-of-print, and its quality almost legendary, making a remake for theaters seems to me the most intelligent thing imaginable for Hammer to have done. You see, it has a great reputation, and it’s very elusive, so it should pique a lot of curiosity for those who know about the story. And the kicker is, they hit it out of the park!

So Hammer Productions is back: great! I can’t wait for more from them, and I want them to succeed like no other company. The only problem is, and I’ve seen a few of their new movies now, that they are not sufficiently playing up the Hammer name! It’s just listed equally with a bunch of other production/distribution company names. Lame! It should be big and front and center: “A HAMMER FILM”! For those who know, the Hammer name is a big lure; and now, after they failed to ruin this great classic ghost story when most everyone else would have spoiled it, the Hammer name should win more and more converts. But not if they don’t see the name prominently displayed! I watched Wake Wood, and I didn’t even see the Hammer name in the credits at all! WTF? If they fail to put this name up in lights, so to speak, they are squandering one of the greatest names in horror ever! (Actually, one of the greatest names in movies: period.) Surely the other production companies can understand that, can’t they? It’s like putting the goose that laid the golden egg with a bunch of regular geese: nobody will know which one is magical! So show us it’s “A HAMMER FILM”: please! It could only help the bottom line! Because Hammer is horror Royalty! So play it up! Otherwise, it’s like Polo selling a shirt without a Polo logo on it: Where’s the selling point for the brand? (Or more to the point, it’s like making a Brad Pitt movie, but crediting him way at the back of the credits, and leaving his name out of the advertising, so nobody knows he’s even in it.) And when it comes to horror, there’s no bigger brand than Hammer! It should be prominently displayed with pride, like a Lacoste crocodile!

And do you know what? Hammer made this a success by the same formula that made them a success back in the day: They picked a previously produced story that was done well, and they put a new spin on it, making it more shocking and gruesome for the theatrical market. And, and this might be the most important part, they did it with a big name actor in the lead. Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe was great here, and I hope he does more for Hammer in the future! If they stick with this formula, they should have hit after hit after hit! How about remaking Ghost Story, or The Uninvited (the 1944 ghost movie), next? This team could really pull it off! I hope they do it! But whatever you do, if you like ghost stories, or spooky horror movies, rather than empty-headed slasher fare, then go see this movie!

Bud Light Rescue Dog Ad

“Here Weego!”

This is the cute, high concept ad that proves you can teach a dog to fetch, but you can’t teach it taste in beer. Light beer tastes like crap, but people still drink it in the hopes that they won’t get fat. It seems to me that light beer is just regular beer with some water added to it to make it less calories, and so it tastes watered-down. I hope I didn’t just reveal any trade secrets there. But we’re Americans: we’re supposed to be fat! So drink a real beer like a man, even though there’s a whole Lite campaign based upon manhood, equating it to drinking their piss-water beer. (And by all means drink a real beer like a woman too: I’m not trying to be sexist, I’m merely trying to bash that stupid Miller Lite “Man Up” campaign. {Am I being too hard on this Miller Lite “Man Up” campaign? Maybe they’re just trying to distract us from the fact that light beer tastes bad, and it’s just a case of misdirection and peer pressure to help sales. Well, if that’s the case, then it’s understandable. But it’s still lame.})

But this “Here Weego” commercial is very cute, and it also serves as a way to advertise for encouraging people to adopt rescue dogs. I hope they’re not going to be adopted by drunk frat boys expecting them all to be able to fetch beers for them all the time. I also hope these dogs don’t end up being previously abused by drunks, because that may continue if this ad is any indication. (They’re not quite abusing him yet here {although PeTA might disagree!}, but they’ve just started drinking. Give them some time, and it might happen: you never know.) Also, the dog in this commercial would have to go back to the pound if this owner ever decided he was an alcoholic and needed to quit drinking: Every time he called the dog, it would bring him a beer, and he’d fall off the wagon again and again and again! So back to the pound for the dog, and only for obeying commands! Oh, the irony! (Life is so unfair!)

But it’s a cute ad with an adorable dog, and it’s fun and all that. But would you really want dog saliva all over your beer bottle? And isn’t this violating dog labor laws? I’m just saying…

Here’s the doggie bartender spot:

And here’s an example of that ad campaign for Miller Lite that equates drinking their lame beer with manliness:

Hiding A Dagger Behind A Smile

China, in its explanation for its support of Assad’s blatant murdering of thousands of unarmed civilians in Syria, said that the United States and Europe were “hiding a dagger behind a smile” in the attempts to end the bloodshed. This is embarrassing, because it sounds like it might be true. You see, here in America, we all have gleaming, glittering, shiny white teeth that are their absolute whitest, unlike those in Arab nations or in China. This is because we all use Crest White Strips. We all say it’s so we can get our teeth their absolute whitest so we can look all sexy and stuff, but it’s possible that we’re also doing it to blind everyone with our bright white teeth so they won’t be able to see the shiny dagger behind our smile. (I hope I’m not accidentally giving away any vital spy secrets or anything!)

I know you’re probably thinking: “Well, why go to all that trouble? Couldn’t you just paint the dagger’s blade black or something, rather than bleach your teeth white like that?” Well, you could, if it were legal. But the United Nations has strict laws on how you’re allowed to hide daggers in your mouths, and painting them is cheating. Don’t blame me, I don’t make the rules here. But the laws are obviously behind the times, and they never could have predicted we would develop tooth whiteners that would outshine even the shiniest daggers. And that’s why the U.N. is so ineffective: They never even update their regulations and laws to keep up with the cosmetics and dental industries! (And that’s just lazy!)

But you know, and maybe no-one has thought of this yet, if China suspects us of hiding a dagger behind our smile, then why don’t we just hide it somewhere else? They’d never be expecting that! We could put it in our back pockets, hide it up our sleeves, or even put it up our own butts: they’d never think of looking there! So while they’re busy inspecting our mouths, we could crap out the dagger and stab them (or whoever else we're trying to stab)! See? It’s foolproof!

(I feel like there must be an ad for Crest White Strips in there somewhere, don’t you?)

But do you suppose if we sent diplomats without any teeth, China might trust us then?

Here’s the stabtacular, smiling story:

belVita Breakfast Police Ad

Here we have a couple of incompetent police officers shilling for some new breakfast cookie things. They say it gives them the energy they need to perform their duties. But they perform their duties so incompetently, does this really end up showing the product in a good light? After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, giving you the energy to perform or denying you energy so you under-perform, right? Well, then is it that much of a stretch to assume that these guys are so bad at their jobs because their breakfast is not sufficient to fuel them appropriately for their demanding work? It just seems like you could easily read that into this commercial.

Also, if their judgment is bad enough for them to assault a beehive like they do here, then isn’t their judgment about breakfast foods equally suspect? They like this belVita stuff, so couldn’t we assume it’s a bad choice, just like the other demonstrably questionable choices we see them make in this spot? It kind of seems that way to me. I mean, this ad is cute, but it makes them look like they suffer from a lack of judgment, energy and competence, and as such, it looks to me like it could be that their breakfast food is not up to the task of fueling them for the day. They’re the ones making the argument about being fueled up by the breakfast food, and then we see them being sluggish, slow-witted, and incompetent. Is this really the message they’re trying to send?

I like the spot: it’s cute and funny. But it does seem to me that the argument they’re making at the beginning is proven to be false by what they are showing us in the ad. And after all, actions speak louder than words, do they not? So cute or not, this is sending the wrong message, at least in my opinion.

To fix this would be easy. They could have them say that before they found belVita, they didn’t have the energy they needed for their active profession; then they could have shown them doing dumb stuff like crashing through the fence, whacking the beehive, etc. Then they could say that since they’ve found belVita, they’re more on the ball than they used to be; and they could show them doing something effectively. And they could start with the radar gun on the baseball, to match the “on the ball” statement (this would be the transition piece), and then show them doing things very energetically and effectively. It would be a “before and after” type of ad, and that way they could keep the comedy, but it would still make the food they’re advertising look good, rather than like Keystone Kops Cookies. See what I mean?

Here’s the commercial for a breakfast that protects and serves:

Chevy Sonic Stunts Ad

This is the Chevy Sonic spot from the Super Bowl where they kickflip the car, drop the car out of an airplane with a parachute, bungee jump the car, etc. This is a fun spot, but the odd thing is, it didn’t make me think much about the kind of car it was, and even if it did, it’s not like you could do this in it if you bought one: they even beg you not to do these stunts, so why do them in the ad? This spot is more entertainment than anything else, and it doesn’t really work very well as an ad for the car, in my opinion (although I guess it doesn’t hurt). The thing is, it doesn’t really do anything to sell me on this car. I’m not busting on the ad: maybe I’m wrong about this, and it will get people to remember the car, and to go check it out if they’re in the market to buy one. But it seems to me that by showing the car doing things we can’t do in it, and that it’s not designed to do, it’s really just a spectacular example of false advertising. (It is fun and super slick, though, and I like it a lot: I just don’t think it sells the car, so much as it entertains us.)

But this ad could work really well as a commercial for two things: car insurance, and some gasoline additive like STP Gas Treatment (or maybe some high-octane brand of gas). The insurance angle would be for obvious reasons: these stunts could be disastrous. Then they could say: “We hope you wouldn’t drive like this, but you still might have an accident anyway. And if you do, with us, you’ve got no worries. So get the enjoyment and thrill out of driving you deserve. And even if you do these stunts, we can cover you for that, too. (Just please tell us first so we can write a new policy.)”

Then, there is the gas treatment angle. (I like this one better.) The reason I think this would be a great ad for either a gas additive or a high-octane brand of gasoline is this: This ad reminds me of the Mountain Dew ads where they show people doing extreme sports activities, like snowboarding, skiing, skateboarding, etc., and it strikes me that this car is doing the automotive version of those very same activities. So just like showing people doing this stuff makes for a great commercial for Mountain Dew or Red Bull, showing a car doing this stuff makes for a great ad for whatever a car drinks to fuel up for these types of activities: Get it? So it’s basically a take off on the Mountain Dew ad campaign concept, but for cars. And I’ll bet it would work really well to entertain people as well as build brand identity, basically on the back of another great ad campaign, and in so doing, it would probably work to sell more Mountain Dew (or Red Bull) as well (because it would remind people of that campaign).

Here’s the daredevil stunt driving spot (There’s a little intro at the beginning of the ad for some local dealership; sorry, I couldn’t find a cleaner one.):