Saturday, December 31, 2011

Odds - Future

Counting this article (and I guess barring any sudden uncontrollable compulsions to update in the next four or so hours) my final year end tally for entries on "Victor Sells Out" will top out at 52. It averages out to about a post a week, a pretty modest number for a supposedly active personal blog; additionally I'm not even factoring in the actual quality of these 52 posts. Of the five years (feeling so, so old) since I started the blog proper, it'll rank right in the middle as my third most productive year (if I remember my middle school math that will make it the "median"). It's nowhere near my prolific 130 from 2008 (I really should have been studying a lot more that first year of law school) and almost double my pathetic 27 from 2010 (I really should have written more since I was unemployed for most of that year).

My ideal target since I started this blog has been to average 10 posts a month for 120 on the year. The only year I actually matched (and surprisingly surpassed) it was my magical 2008. Since it is the end of 2011 and the promise of a fresh new 2012 with seemingly limitless possibilities looms ahead (and seeing as I needed one more entry to make things an even 52) I figured I would publicly set an official post goal to keep me accountable for the upcoming year; although truth be told there are no real consequences for me if I miss this number aside from mild disappointment. It'll also give something for you compulsive types to wager on. After some consideration I will officially set my target goal for the coming year at: 100 Posts.

Now having told you that my ideal number of posts every year is 120, it may seem a bit defeatist to set it well below my defined standard for success. However, aside from being a nice looking round number to set a milestone towards, I like to think 100 posts is a tempered, realistic goal and a admirable step towards gradually achieving an output of 120. Also, I'm a massive pessimist. Do you know anything about me? Have you ever read anything here?

Of course, this target number will be null and void if the world comes to an end as supposedly the Mayans and "The X-Files" predicted. Happy New Year Everybody.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Keep The Change

It may not be all that apparent from the look of the posts but this new Blogger interface that has finally been forced upon me...SUUUUUCKS!!

Now I'm sure like every other form of initially jarring interface change I've ever encountered on my favorite internet sites and applications (new blogger, new gmail, new facebook, etc.), I will eventually get used to it and, who knows, may even find it superior to the way things used to be. For now though, all I know is it took me about 15 frustrating minutes to get the proper formatting done to make my latest Lockhorn vs. Lockhorn update conform with the rest of the site. Normally it takes me about a minute to put up a post. This is the complete opposite of progress.

Are people really calling for all these websites to overhaul their setups? Or is this superfluous change for the sake of change? I for one had absolutely no problem with gmail and the old blogger and was particularly miffed at the shuffle. I know I'll probably hate timeline, but I'm actually getting a little ignored that the folks at facebook haven't even pushed it upon me yet. There are clearly websites that are asking for an overhaul (my yahoo mail account for one kinda blows), but why change a site that the overwhelming majority agree is fine the way it is?

In the end I suppose there's just no use fighting progress. I just wish my blog margins and line spacing stayed consistent.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Two Tragic, Yet Fascinatingly Freakish Stories I Read On Yahoo! News That Tangentially Reminded Me Of Scenes From Famous 80s Action Movies

No doubt the first in a series...

Your clothes. Give them to me. Now.

Unfortunately I couldn't find a good copy of the original scene so I had to go with the crude Lego reenactment; but you all know how it goes.

Now if only there was an article about a distinguished Detroit cop who was left in critical condition after a gang shooting or a group of terrorists taking over a Los Angeles office building and holding its residents hostage.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ain't No Cure For The Sunday Night Blues

For me the one downside of having an extended weekend is the extended cases of the blues I get at the end of it on Sunday night when the prospect of the work week ahead looms overhead. It's really not the work itself that I dislike, it's that it's just so damn time consuming. Those daylight hours that I'm squandering at work are my prime, most promising hours of my waking life; the high ceiling hours with the highest potential chance (as objectively remote as they may be) that I do something life changingly awesome. There's got to be a better use for them (I mean look at the proliferation of posts over just these four days!). The idea that this wonderful string of leisure filled, responsibility-less free days may actually come to an end starts to drip into my awareness as early as Saturday night, but once Sunday afternoon rolls around and everything starts to take on a dim golden light I'm already dreading that moment Monday morning when I sit at my desk and realize I have a whole day of this nonsense ahead. As the last thing I usually see before going to sleep, NBC's Sunday Night Football, has now perversely become this depressing funeral for the weekend; with Tony Dungy, Dan Patrick, and the rest of the studio team serving as awkwardly bantering pallbearers.

While I thought that this Sunday melancholy was just a label for the personal complaints of slackers and people who don't like their jobs, according to Wikipedia (which we all know is the universal arbiter of ultimate legitimacy) it is a real medical condition known as "Sunday night blues". Who knows how many untold millions are quietly suffering from this terrible affliction? Forget restless less syndrome meds and boner drugs, if someone could crack the Sunday night blues, and invent a pill that will make you think you'll be going on a beach vacation on Monday, they'll be bigger than penicillin (currently the closest thing to an available cure is having an extended boozy Sunday brunch). I will admit that the actual page for Sunday night blues (or SNB as I will now call it on my workers comp forms) is quite sparse and lightly researched and is probably headed towards deletion without any further intervention; but until that happens I have a new semi-legitimate medical excuse in my pocket for missing work on Mondays.

Friday, November 25, 2011

I Said No, No, No

As a Netflix subscriber, I am quite diligent and thoughtful when it comes to rating the movies or TV shows I've viewed. Like many, Netflix has sort of turned the once leisurely activity of watching entertainment into a task bordering on a chore and I often find myself putting in extra effort to consume enough media to get the best of my monthly subscriber fee (this is especially the case with unwatched mail-in DVDs which just sit on the counter as a conspicuous red faced reminder of my laziness). So when I get through a title, I find it to be a triumphant ritual to give my immediate one to five star impression of it. Additionally, constant feedback is what allows the cutting edge Netflix personal recommendation algorithm to continue to give me astoundingly accurate and spot on suggestions.

As far as my grading tendencies go, I'm a relatively soft grader. The way I see it, the fact that I had enough interest in the TV series or movie to select it to watch should give it at least a presumptive 3 star rating. In the end it all sort of works out to a curve with the great majority of titles residing in the 3 to 4 star, ok to good, territory. It takes an exceptional film to get a 5 and it takes a pretty lousy piece of cinema to get a 2 (1 star is exclusively reserved for my all time, truly terrible, eighth circle of hell, films of which there are only currently eight; I may cover these in another post but to give you an idea one of them is "Nothing But Trouble"). Since an exceptional 5 film or a poor 2 film are both equally rare, it's always a notable occasion when I run across one.

Unfortunately, this time around the latest outlier was a 2 rating for the 2000 Sandra Bullock dramedy (although it really fails on both levels) "28 Days". I had the absolute lowest of expectations going into this movie since I just needed something to watching while trying to get to sleep, yet it somehow failed to even live up to these low stakes. Actually, if the film was even duller and it instantly put me to sleep, I may have given it the gentleman's 3 for getting some beneficial reaction out of me. In the end though, the film turned out to be so muddled in its content and middling its delivery that it failed to entertain even as a failure (which is truly the worst kind of failure).

The brief as possible summary is as follows: Sandra Bullock is an alcoholic along with her jerky enabler boyfriend (Dominic West in actual English accent mode); she gets drunk at her sister's wedding and ruins the whole affair (although the ridiculousness of her actions and the damage she causes makes it look like alcohol causes her to go temporarily insane); which gets her sentenced to a rehab retreat populated by a bunch of "quirky" addicts including Mike O'Malley (playing the same cap wearing laid back dude roll he has played in everything), Viggio Mortenson (as the possible love interest), the guy who played Poppy from "Seinfeld", and some vulnerable looking teenage girl who I immediately (and correctly) predicted would die later on to lend the story some tragedy; after some initial friction Sandra comes to grips with her problem, makes friends, makes amends with her sister, leaves rehab and her boyfriend, and looks ahead to a clean and sober future.

The main problem with the film is that it is indecisive on whether it's going to be a black comedy or gritty drama about addiction and fails at being both. You know the old joke about "28 Days" being the prequel to the zombie horror film "28 Days Later"? That is funnier than any of this film's attempts at humor. O'Malley is supposed to be the sarcastic comic relief but he's had better material in his cable commercials. There's another resident, Gerhardt, whose fey eurotrash German-ness is apparently supposed to be inherently funny. Once again the indecisiveness of the filmmakers when assembling the supporting cast of residents sinks the film. They apparently didn't want everyone to be one joke caricatures but they also didn't want everyone to be complex, grimly realistic depictions of addicts so they found this bland medium of lame partially formed characters that the audience isn't really compelled to care about. As for the drama, every time things start to get serious or we start to learn about the sad history of a resident, the film tries to be light and immediately reels back. As for Sandra's character there are all these flashbacks and implications of a traumatic childhood for her and her sister involving their alcoholic mother and her untimely death, but it gets resolved so quickly after one quick heart to heart chat between the sisters towards the end that you wonder why they never got around to this prior.

In addition, the film also doesn't seem to know what to do with Viggio Mortenson's character. Even though he's probably the most fully realized supporting character and has one of the more interesting back stories in the film, he's a famous baseball pitcher currently in rehab, they never really go into it all that deeply nor do they show him making progress with his addictions at the clinic. From the outset you think she's going to fall for him when he makes his first appearance in the film by heroically carrying her into the rehab center after she nearly kills herself trying to escape through her window. There is obvious tension between them throughout and they do have an awkward kiss and he has a confrontation with the boyfriend but then he sort of disappears for a while down the final stretch. Even all the way at the end when she's leaving the facility and he chases her car down to have a big final confrontation with her, they make their peace but it doesn't end with them falling in love. She just goes back to her life, decides to leave her boyfriend, and that's how it ends. I guess it's commendable that the filmmakers were trying not to go with the cliche ending but the alternative seemed incomplete.

Oh, and I also forgot Steve Buscemi is also in the film as Sandra Bullock's counselor. As you can tell, his character was just as forgettable as most of the others.

Put it all together and you have the makings of a ultimately forgettable 100 minutes and a textbook example of how to become a 2 star film in my account; neither memorably awesome or memorably awful. There's a reason you probably haven't thought about the film since around 2001 and that this review is probably the detailed discussion of the film since then.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I Hate Mondays

For the past two weeks I have been weirdly fascinated, bordering on obsessed, with the above screen cap. I find it hilarious yet utterly terrifying. It's from a Onion Avclub review of the Halloween episode of the new Tim Allen sitcom "Last Man Standing" (aptly or uncreatively titled "Last Halloween Standing") that randomly caught my eye. From what I've gathered the Garfield costume was imposed upon the one daughter as a sort of anti-sexy Halloween guise (which she apparently later alters to turn sexy). I have not seen a single second of the show nor do I want to make any real effort to see an episode, though it sort of looks like "Home Improvement" with girls and Hector Elizondo, but I have to say this image should live on far beyond the show's run (which despite some pretty low reviews was still popular enough to recently warrant a full season order from ABC).

Friday, October 21, 2011

If You Say So Mr. Loggia...

A few days ago I suffered a completely random pop culture acid flashback about the above Minute Maid Orange Juice Commercial featuring veteran actor Robert Loggia from circa 1998. I was not at the breakfast table at the time nor was I drinking any orange juice or watching "Necessary Roughness". It was just one of those inexplicable overflows from the thick simmering stew that is my subconscious (also maybe my body's telling me I should get more vitamin C in my diet?).

Regardless, after looking up the commercial again I came upon a few new observations and conclusions that escaped me when I initially saw it in the late 90s:
  • Before I even get into the content of the commercial, I was surprised at how much more popular this commercial was than I originally thought. I thought the ad was so obscure that there would be a good chance that it might not even be available on the internet. Additionally, despite a having a career that spans television and movies all the way back to the 1950s, Loggia's performance in this commercial takes up on entire paragraph of his wikipedia entry. It may either be a testament to the popularity of the commercial or the shoddiness of his wikipedia page (I'd say a combination of both; it's definitely not the best written of pages).
  • The commercial predates "Family Guy" by nearly a decade in discovering the previously unknown inherent humor of just mentioning the name Robert Loggia. I don't know if the "Family Guy" cutaway was supposed to be a loose parody of the commercial, or an inspired pastiche of the ad, or just a weird random coincidence. I still find it pretty funny; although like all "Family Guy" cutaways I have absolutely no idea what the actual episode was about.
  • The joke of the commercial is ostensibly supposed to come from a young boy randomly suggesting an unexpected actor like Robert Loggia to be a source of integrity about the deliciousness of the new orange juice and the sudden appearance of said Mr. Loggia into the kitchen to convince the boy. It's all a pretty surreal scene. However, the commercial becomes far more interesting and oddly more logical if you suspect that the mother is having an affair with Robert Loggia. Check out the knowing, beaming smile of the mom when he invades the kitchen. The dad reacts the way any normal person would in that situation, with surprise and suspicion, but the mom just keeps that gigantic devilish smile going through the whole scene. Add that to the knowing wink Loggia gives to the mom right before he leaves and you have to suspect something's going on. I can't rule out the possibility that Billy is the secret love child of Robert Loggia and the mom and our poor bald dad is a pathetic cuckold whose "son" doesn't even respect him enough to believe when he says he'll like the taste of the juice.
  • As to the implausibility of a pre-adolescent boy knowing who Robert Loggia is, while it's highly unlikely that he knows him from is tough guy roles in mature movies like "Scarface", "Prizzi's Honor", or "Lost Highway"; but he might have just saw him the night before in "Big" or maybe "Independence Day" (ID4 was still sort of fresh in all our minds around 1998). What's really inexplicable is why the kid is so ardently anti-calcium; does it even have a taste?
  • That extra Robert Loggia "yeah!" at the very end of the spot really is the cherry on top, the whole spot would be nothing without that final exclamation point. The bite special effect that comes right before the "yeah!" however makes it sound like he's the one who took a bite out of the carton.
Next week, I'll be covering that old Little Caesars commercial where the little girl goes to meet the head of Little Caesars only to have it be George Burns instead (although she doesn't seem disappointed in the least by it).

Monday, October 17, 2011

I Should Know, I'm Bocephus

During all the recent controversy involving country music star (although it has been a pretty dry two decades career wise) and amateur political pundit Hank Williams Jr.'s Hitler accusations against the President leading to his subsequent firing from his longstanding tenure as Monday Night Football's official football readiness ambassador; I found it surprising that in all the internet coverage, I have yet to find a single reference to the above 1997 SNL sketch with the late Chris Farley playing Bocephus.

For SNL and Chris Farley fans the October 1997 episode with Farley as the host will always be a little bittersweet since it would turn out to be his last major television appearance before his unfortunate death from an overdose a mere two months later. I remember finding the whole episode to be pretty damn awesome at the time. Watching it again recently, in an abridged form on Netflix Instant, some parts still hold up well, I will always find Farley's turn as "El Niño" to be stupidly hilarious (note: the full sketch, which was unavailable on youtube has Jim Brewer, doing the worst Ric Flair impersonation in history, coming in at the end to fight El Niño), but it has definitely lost its luster in other parts. Through the prism of hindsight it becomes pretty obvious that Farley was sort of a wreck at that point: he's gigantic, perpetually sweaty, and his voice is unusually horse (even the opening sketch is Tim Meadows trying to "convince" Loren Micheals into letting Farley host, despite his reservations about his ability to keep it together which leads to an opening monologue involving him initially flaking out before being talked into going on stage at the last minute).

As for the above sketch featuring Hank Williams Jr., it stayed about the same in my eyes in terms of humorousness. Although that isn't really saying much since I only found it mildly funny the first time. The sketch really doesn't go anywhere and is almost totally held together by Farley's ridiculous portrayal of Williams Jr. as a fat talentless drunken clown. The interesting thing about the sketch compared to recent events is that Farley's Bocephus turns out to be a sympathetic victim, having been unfairly mocked and generalized by the seemingly cultured, urban, studio engineers. Bocephus gives a softhearted monologue about empathy, not making snap judgment about others, and his ultimate goal of bringing people in his own awkward way together through his music. This comes off as a bit of a contrast to the the real Bocephus who responded to his critics and firing by releasing a hastily put together, county fried, reactionary diss track about guns and freedoms and decrying the "United Socialist States of America" that makes Ray Stevens sound as liberal as Bruce Springsteen by comparison.

In these polarizing times, I think we can all learn a little something from Farley's Bocephus.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

It Was The Last Game of the Season

Ideally this post about David Geddes's mostly forgotten, cumbersomely titled, 1975 top 20 hit "The Last Game of the Season (A Blind Man in the Bleachers)" would have been most relevant last Wednesday when it actually was the last game of the MLB season for all the teams. It could have still been relevant if Atlanta or Boston didn't complete their spectacular month long collapses and ended up at least forcing an extra play-in game for the next day. However when it comes to posts on this blog, we should all be happy enough to get posts let alone timely ones.

As I was saying, since discovering "The Last Game of the Season" a few years ago the final regular season games of all the major sport teams I follow have reminded me of it for obvious reasons; I can't really think of any other notable songs off the top of my head about the last game of the season. Additionally, since most of the big four sports teams that I have a rooting interest in have long been in periods of "rebuilding" (Islanders, Mets, Knicks, Bills) the regular season have often become the end of the line.
That being said, I sort of wish that there was a better song to commemorate the end of professional sports seasons. I have to admit "The Last Game of the Season" is well, more or less, kind of terrible. Ostensibly it's not even related to professional sports, the song's story is about the last high school football game of the season; and even then it's pretty lacking in any actual details about the game and focuses on the ludicrously cornball story about the underdog second string running back protagonist and his faithful titular blind man father who listens to his games from the stand.

Generally I am a huge fan of the overly melodramatic and overwrought 70s story song and I actually really enjoyed Geddes's more successful first single, the deliciously over the top tale of doomed star crossed love, "Run Joey Run" (it still absolutely blows my mind that Glee once covered this obscure hit). However, there's just something lacking about "The Last of the Season". The song's set up is fine and there's plenty of excessive sentimentality in the story: the dad's boundless optimism for his scrappy underdog son's future success (perhaps blind faith?) contrasted with the sad predicament of the father only being able to see his son scoring touchdowns in his dreams. The reveal at the end is killer, where after the son comes into the game and inexplicably leads the team to a thrilling come from behind victory he reveals that his father had passed away in a hospital during the middle of the game but he takes solace in the fact that "it's the first time that my father's seen me play". Utterly devastating. Basically you take "Rudy" and make the dad blind and kill him off at the last game of the season; a game which Rudy makes an actually meaningful contribution to the team's end of the season victory rather than just getting the symbolic victory of getting on the field in garbage time.

Unfortunately the music and the singing just doesn't bring across with enough gravitas to support the heavy concept. The vocals could have been more soaring, the chorus could have been expanded, the score stripped of even more subtlety. The song felt like it was pulling its punches, or I guess in this case, not pulling enough on the listener's heartstrings. In addition, there weren't enough little touches to paint a vivid enough picture to match the emotions. It's never explained how far the team was behind, if the game meant anything to the team, or what exactly the son do to get the win.

To put it into a more relevant sports analogy, there's certainly a lot of potential in the song but at the end of the season it ultimately and disappointingly falls short of the playoffs.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Do You Remember?

Maybe one can blame it on the sullenness associated with the sluggish economy or the problems caused by the recent hurricane or maybe it's the residual gloom from the 10th anniversary of 9/11 but I must say, with only a mere three days left, I have sensed a definite lull this year in overall excitement for September Day; a situation which I find totally unacceptable.

For some of the more distant foreign readers of the blog and the terminally unfunky, "September Day" is the annual celebration of legendary R&B and funk band Earth, Wind & Fire's 1978 top ten Billboard hit "September". Since its inception in 1979, the year following the song's debut, smooth groove loving fans of getting down and funky from all walks of life have made an effort to "remember the 21st night of September" by gathering at sundown and partying the night away listening to, and performing should the mood strike oneself, "September" along with covers and remixes of varying quality; reveling in the singular joy of the band's 6th or so highest charting single.

With the nation's current state of general malaise, we are in desperate need of a particularly jumping edition of September Day. It is more important than ever for people today to let love change the mind of the pretenders and once again chase those clouds away; to once again let hearts ring and the keys of our souls sing as we dance the night away.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Portnoy's Compliment

If one day one of my grandchildren ever comes up to me and asks, "Grandpa Victor? What did you do during Hurricane Irene?" I would smile, pick them up with my newly implanted cybernetic Jax arms, sit them on my lap and say to them, "well, I suppose I spent most of that weekend inside watching re-runs of 'Cheers', they had the whole series run on Netflix."

That probably will be my lasting legacy from the great tri-state hurricane of '11, watching episode after episode of the delightful early "Sam and Diane" years of the show and discovering a great classic sitcom that I was far too young to appreciate or be aware of during its initial run. I haven't yet moved onto the latter, equally successful, half of the show's life with Woody Harrelson and Kirstie Alley replacing the late Nicholas Colasanto (I'm really going to miss Coach, definitely my favorite supporting character) and Shelly Long respectively; but I have to say the bar has been set pretty high (I just noticed the unintentional pun there) from what I've seen in the early years.

While I wholeheartedly recommend anyone with a Netflix streaming account to check out the series (start with the much lauded pilot episode, it's a rare example of a long running series whose first episode is actually considered one of it's best), one danger I must warn anyone watching multiple episodes of "Cheers" in a row is that you will get the show's iconic theme song stuck in your head for an extended period of time. Did I even need to include a reference link? You all know how it goes. Even if you haven't seen a single episode of the show (which was my case until just the storm), you will most likely be able to still sing along with the chorus. Aside from being insidiously catchy, the lyrics convey a comfortable sweater warmth that finely walks the line between genuine sympathy and empty saccharin; perfectly fitting the theme of the show. It is really the crowning achievement of its singer/co-writer Gary Portnoy.

While he has enjoyed a successful career outside of television as a songwriter for the likes of Dolly Parton, Englbert Humperdinck, and Air Supply since the early 80s, his obituary headline will clearly start off with "Writer/Performer of Cheers Theme". While "Cheers" is his unquestioned lasting legacy, I also found out that he is responsible for two of my other all time favorite television theme songs: the themes to "Punky Brewster" and "Mr. Belvedere".

Oddly enough, growing up I never really saw a full episode of any of the three Portnoy theme songed shows. Like "Cheers", "Punky Brewster" and "Mr. Belvedere" were just slightly out of sync with my prime sitcom watching years (the early 90s). However, whenever I did catch the beginning of a rerun of any of these shows I would often hang around long enough to take in the introductions before switching the channel, a true testament to the accomplishments of Mr. Portnoy. Considering how much I enjoyed the songs I'm not really sure why I never made that logical next step into watching an episode. It can't all be blamed on my age gap because I did watch a fair amount of contemporary shows like "Who's The Boss" (also another great theme song) and "Golden Girls" (total classic).

I think "Punky Brewster" just looked a little too sad and gritty for me. Compared to the cushy, middle class suburban, loving nuclear families of the TGIF line up, the premise of an abandoned child living illegally with a grumpy senior citizen in a run down tenement, made it about as grim and gritty as "The Wire". Most of the elements of the "Cheers" theme are pretty apparent in "Punky", most obvious being Portnoy's distinct vocals. It also the follows the same theme of acknowledging the often difficult and seemingly cruel nature of living and sympathizing with the audience; then singing of a welcome repast from the hardships of life, in the case of "Cheers" a neighborhood bar with all your best friends to commiserate with and give you support and in this case a special young girl whose innocence and boundless optimism brightens your day and melts the most coldly cynical of hearts. Also, dig those killer synths.

In the case of "Mr. Belvedere", I suspect that the re-runs of the show coincided with my usual after-school homework time (5:00 pm), so I never really got an opportunity to get into it. The theme song is in striking contrast to the other two Portnoy tunes. The familiar vocals have been replaced by the almost cartoonish, old timey sounding, voice of Leon Redbone along with a similarly old time jazzy accompaniment. Not really sure how that sort of music fits in with a story about a prim British butler coming to work for an uncouth suburban clan in Pittsburgh (technically Beaver Falls), but hey it was still catchy as hell. I guess the tune also follows along the lines of the themes of the other songs in that the character of Mr. Belvedere is helping the family through the daily trials and tribulations of life and showing how much fuller it can be (my favorite line: "According to our new arrival, life is more than mere survival."). Since the show never really became a huge rating hit or developed a dedicated cult following, I don't think this song nearly gets as much credit as it should.

While he won't be confused with Mike Post anytime soon, Gary Portnoy's contributions to 80's sitcom television deserves all time merit in my book. If he never accomplishes anything else of merit ever again, he can still stand proud of this impressive trio of themes. And for those of you out there wondering, yes part of the motivation to write this post was to have a chance to use that title.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Power Play

One can only ponder the sort of mysterious machinations and manipulation of metrics that go on behind the curtain of Netflix's rating and suggestion system, all to suggest to you to watch "The Larry Sanders Show" based on your viewing of an episode of "The Office" or that "Stripes" tops their list of suggested "Raunchy Underdog Satires". One particular film that often comes up when Netflix generates any list for me involving the phrases "Political", "Thriller", "Action", or "Steamy" (Steamy Political Action Thriller?) is the above forgotten straight to video flotsam from 1997 "Executive Power".

While I would have, like most of America when it came out, totally overlooked and forgotten about this inconsequential piece of cinema (so irreverent that it couldn't even muster a wikipedia entry), I just could not ignore the eye catching shoddiness of its cover every time it popped up on the site. There is no shortage of poorly designed and ascetically questionable covers on Netflix, arising mainly from but not limited to low budget straight to video fare, but something about the "Executive Power" cover really makes it stand out among its fellow bad cover contemporaries. Mainly the cover makes it look like the main protagonists (that high profile pairing of Craig Sheffer and Andrea Roth) are being literally chased by the White House, like it's trying to eat them or something. Of course if there was a horror film about a cannibalistic White House it would obviously be called "Executive Power". As for the title, it's weirdly subdued and taken off center and stuffed in the top corner for seemingly no good reason (show off that sweet shot of the White House?). Additionally why two separate fonts? Don't really see the need to change it up like that. On a subtle level, I think the lack of a tag line or critic quote or even credits on the front (you mean you're not going to capitalize on the high profile pairing of Craig Sheffer and Andrea Roth?) also throws you off.

In the film's defense, the above terrible cover may have been a hastily created alternate for the original cover. The VHS copy of the film on Amazon shows a completely different, more "traditional" (got the names up top, taglines and consistent font title front and center) albeit more risque cover. I suspect that the prudes over at Netflix opted out of this original cover, which looks like a Harlequin novel written by Tom Clancy, to the more vanilla yet aesthetically unpleasant alternate.

On an interesting side note, the basic premise of "Executive Power", male and female protagonists (the high profile couple of Craig Sheffer and Andrea Roth) trying to uncover the truth involving the cover-up of a sex scandal turned murder by the President (noted 80's asshole William Atherton) while being pursued by dangerous shadowy individuals within the administration (John Heard), is quite similar to another 1997 political thriller "Absolute Power" where male and female protagonists (Clint Eastwood and Laura Linney) try to uncover the truth involving the cover-up of a sex scandal turned murder by the President (Gene Hackman) while being pursued by dangerous shadowy individuals within the administration (Judy Davis). This shouldn't be confused with the other 1997 film "Murder at 1600" where male and female protagonists (Wesley Snipes and Diane Lane) try to uncover the truth involving the cover-up of a sex scandal turned murder by the President (other noted 80s asshole Ronny Cox) while being pursued by dangerous shadowy individuals within the administration (Alan Alda).

Was there something about the second Clinton Administration that fostered such fantasies of the President being a lecherous murderer? The Lewinsky scandal which eventually broke the following year showed he was sort of a sleaze, but a murderer? Well...

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Just as I was finally getting over my survivor's guilt from Tuesday's devastating earthquake, I start hearing all this noise about Hurricane Irene coming up from the south for a historic weekend visit. Two rare East Coast natural disasters in one week? Would somebody please take their cat off the keyboard with the disaster menu open (when will I stop making esoteric SimCity 2000 references? Maybe when a giant alien comes down and attacks me). I have a sinking feeling that this upcoming hurricane won't be as mild as Tuesday's earthquake (then again a light rain on Sunday morning would have been a stronger display than Tuesday's earthquake).

Even at this point, the prospect of the storm has shuttled one of my plans, my friend's yearly summer bbq party near the Jersey Shore, from what was looking like an unusually busy weekend. I still have three more social obligations (facebook invites, so you know it's serious business) that have specifically alerted everyone that they will still go on despite conditions, so I'll have to see how things pan out.

But really, you didn't come here to read about my weekend plans. When the concept of an earthquake and a hurricane (or typhoon, for those of you in the Northwest Pacific Ocean west of the dateline) working in tandem to cause great destruction, you, like I, immediately thought about the great former WWE Tag Team champion team of the late John "Earthquake" Tenta and Fred "Typhoon" Ottman; better known as "The Natural Disasters". As a kid, I thought this team was just about as powerful and unstoppable as their respective natural disasters. You pair the two biggest and heaviest wrestlers of the pre-Yokozuna era and really who could possibly stop them? Certainly not a pair of jobbers like Kato and Barry Horowitz. Every time they had a match, young me was legitimately concerned about the lives of the members of any tag team foolish or suicidal enough to agree to fight them; I think we all knew where we were that dark day when Earthquake nearly killed the Hulkster with his repeated "Earthquake Splashes" (seriously what young Hulkamaniac would not be shaken to their core after watching a non responsive Hogan being taken out by paramedics). While they did cut an impressive path of strained ring ropes and squashed wrestler on the way to winning the tag championship belts; in the end their existence as a team surprisingly turned out to be as brief as they were destructive, lasting only 2 years.

So I guess the lesson here is always have flashlights with fresh batteries for emergencies in your home.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

There Was An Earthquake In This Town

Apparently that mild moving sensation that I felt this afternoon at work wasn't due to my shoddy office chair nor caused by my cubicle neighbor twitching their leg. Supposedly that brief, ethereal feeling was the long distance effect of a moderately strong earthquake in Virginia. Having now gone through my first earthquake, I'd have to say the experience was pretty underwhelming. I probably would not have noticed anything if it hadn't been for people around the office getting up and a check of my facebook newsfeed revealing multiple updates of simultaneous earthquake speculation among friends. Of course, an earthquake is one of the most devastating of natural disasters (Haiti, Japan, SimCity 2000) and it is pretty insensitive of me to complain about the mildness of my first earthquake experience; but I did still expect something more for my first earthquake.

I especially expected more given the completely disproportionate response my office gave to it. There was a formal announcement of potential evacuation and cancelling the rest of the day which eventually fizzled out (but apparently some buildings in the city actually did empty). For at least a good hour everyone appeared to be too shaken and frazzled to get back to work (hey, can't complain about a free break). I can only imagine all the cynical residents of California, Japan, and other fault lying regions chortling at our relatively gross overreaction to a incident of seismic activity that probably happens to them everyday. They probably look at us the same way we look at people in the South who freak out when a rare inch of snow falls in the region.

The other interesting thing about my light earthquake experience is that when it occurred I had the above "Earthquake Song" by The Little Girls in my head since Sunday, after hearing it on my friend Lisa's mix CD while coming home from a weekend road trip. Suffice to say the earthquake experience has only further entrenched the song into my brain. It's just a delightfully catchy piece of early 80s New Wave quirk. If I ever achieved one of my dream jobs of slightly exploitative pop music svengali I would create a female group based entirely on this sound. It would be cute girls, standard rock band set up (maybe I'll throw in an organ, too); singing cheery, lighthearted songs about dark and often gruesome subject matter. Had this song had not been almost completely forgotten by time it would most definitely be banned on the radio every time a devastating earthquake occurred just as Julie Brown's "The Homecoming Queen's Got A Gun" would be banned every time there was a school shooting.

Man, 80's kids had problems.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Zoo Knew?

I was recently sorting through the perpetual flow of Groupon and Living Social promotional deal emails that had accumulated in my inbox over the previous weeks (you buy one pair of discounted movie tickets once and you're marked for life) and amid the 75% off tango lessons, $15 for $30 random restaurant credit offers, and free first months of yoga classes, I was completely shocked to find a discounted offer for a one-year subscription to Zoobooks Magazine.

I had to briefly check my calendar just to make sure that some unseen cosmic force hadn't randomly transported me back to 1993. Sure enough, as it had been for the past eight months, it was still 2011. It was still 2011 where printed media was being assailed on all fronts with the newspaper and magazine industry engaged in a particularly conspicuous slow death spiral. It was still 2011 where every Borders bookstore had just gone completely out of business, while Kindles and other eReaders were entering the mainstream. It was still 2011 where even a young adolescent could have easy access to all the accumulated information of the internet over their smartphone. It was still 2011 and I was staring at an offer for Zoobooks magazine; the educational monthly animal magazine for kids whose commercials looked outdated and lame even to my 9 year old self in 1993.

How could any kid over the age of 5 have any possible interest in a magazine subscription to Zoobooks? Forgetting the fact that it is competing against Xboxes, digital cable TV, Angry Birds, and the internet for their actual attention; even if a kid was way into animals, what could Zoobooks possibly provide, with its thin collection of frozen nature photographs and drawings with captions delivered at the relatively glacial pace of one animal a month, that an interactive website or a DVRed Discovery channel documentary watched on an iPad couldn't? Even back in the 90s when they were more relevant I never knew any kid who actually had a superscription beyond that ubiquitous first free Elephants issue (which I assume is the most printed single magazine issue in the history of publishing). I always figured Zoobooks were almost exclusively subscribed to by pediatricians for their waiting rooms, alongside Highlights (which is also amazingly still in print).

Although writing this little cranky observation about the differences between my adolescent years and how outdated and incongruous an item from that period, like Zoobooks, now appears in the present has made me feel older than I've ever felt, it's still sort of nice to see this ancient creature of the 90s still somehow managing to thrive in this harsh environment of the present. To think that perhaps I may actually be able to give my child the free elephants issue of Zoobooks is a mind blowing but not unagreeable notion. Now if they could only bring back Disney Adventures.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

What the Fax?

I had the superfluous task of sending an "official fax" to my bank earlier this week and, like many modern individuals who don't have easy access to an office fax machine and no longer have landlines in their home, I had to go a nearby copy place and pay the exploitative price of $1.50 a page to use an ancient monolithic fax machine made circa 1992. We just retired the space shuttle and have long since gotten over Joe Piscapo and yet this living fossil from the over three decades ago still somehow remains in our 21st century homes alongside our flat screens and iPads, is a fixture of even the slickest, modern office, and is still sold (do companies even bother to make new models anymore?) alongside the latest tech gear at Staples.

Try as we might, it appears that contemporary society still cannot completely obsolete the dusty fax machine. I think it's quite ironic that of all the farout retro visions of 2015 as shown in "Back to the Future II" from hover cars to up to the second weather prediction to $50 bottles of Pepsi, the one thing they may still end up unintentionally getting right will be the continued relevance of fax machines (although they may not be as ubiquitous as to be in every room of the house). So given the seemingly invincible, obsolescence proof, recession proof, public need for basic faxing services combined with the sharp decline of people actually having fax machines in their homes, there might be a market for an outlet store whose whole purpose is to provide reasonably priced faxing services (like a laundromat for faxes).

I'll take care of the name if you're willing to provide the capital, time, labor, and is okay with assuming all the risks. Take your choice:
  1. Just The Fax
  2. Reasonable Facsimile
  3. Faxonomy
  4. Faximum Overdrive
  5. Faxination
  6. The Fax Man
  7. F.A.X. (Fax Access eXchange)
  8. Fax In The Box
  9. Fax Solo
  10. Yes We Have Fax Machines Here
  11. The Faxin' Invasion
  12. Death and Faxes
  13. Lord Faxondale's Faxtastic Faxdom
  14. Fax On The Run
  15. Fax City, USA, Population You

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ice To See You

Today was a welcome relief from the recent stifling heatwave. I even earned the right to complain about the high temperatures after spending all of Saturday grilling alongside the meat at a sweltering backyard BBQ. In my brief time outside today I enjoyed the seemingly forgotten feeling of a cool breeze again and, at the end of the day, gladly welcomed walking back to the car in a thundershower. Ironically, the cooler weather made the building turn down the AC so it actually felt a lot warmer than usual in the office. The day wasn't exactly like the twist in the "Twilight Zone" episode where the earth kept moving closer to the sun until it turned out that it was only a dream and that the earth was actually moving away from the sun so everyone was going to slowly freeze to death; but it was still a notably refreshing change of pace.

So in honor of this terrifically temperate day and in step with maintaining the balance of the universe, given the last heat-centric post, I figured I should blog about something cold; and really what's colder than three random personal thoughts on long time Batman villain "Mr. Freeze" (thought I was going to go with the Snow Miser didn't you? Well here's the song as a consolation prize):
  • I become quite heavily reliant on AC during the last few days. I spent most of my time as a sort of prisoner to whatever room or building that had a functioning air conditioner. Only under the most necessary of circumstances would I have left the comforts of recirculated air for the baking oven that was the natural world. I suppose this must be a taste of what it's like to be Mr. Freeze. Anytime he walks out of his random freezer hideout or his cold suit springs a leak or he leaves the special cold area of his prison cell, it must be like walking into the worst heatwave imaginable. I can kind of relate to that now, it sort of humanizes the character (definitely a lot more than the whole mourning over his frozen wife stuff. I ain't married).
  • Speaking of Freeze's trademark handicap, I also came to a realization about Arnold Schwarzenegger's portrayal of Mr. Freeze in the much maligned "Batman & Robin". His character's notorious compulsion to drop a never-ending stream of increasingly ridiculous, groan inducing ice related puns makes a lot more sense if you go into the film with the assumption that, in addition to constant sub-zero temperatures, his unfortunate condition actually forces him to keep spouting cold based one-liners to stay alive. It's like his body cannot stop producing terrible freeze themed jokes and if he doesn't find an outlet for them he'll suffer a stroke or a maybe aneurysm. Why else would he keep saying those lines? It's definitely not to be funny or amusing.
  • Of course as wacky as the film adaptation of Mr. Freeze was, it was practically cinema verite compared to any of the character's portrayals on the wonderfully campy 1960s "Batman" TV series. The series Mr. Freeze went through three different incarnations featuring three incredibly unlikely guest actors. He was first played by Academy Award winner George Sanders, who instead of using that sophisticated yet sinister Shere Khan/Addison DeWitt voice spoke with a clunky German accent. He was then replaced by acclaimed director Otto Preminger in one of his rare acting roles. This was the Mr. Freeze I always remembered grown up (also it always feels more right for Mr. Freeze to be bald); at least the German accent was more legit this time around. Finally, the third version was played by the immortal Eli Wallach (seriously he's 95 and still actively working) who looked downright pixieish in the role; sort of like an elf who went rogue from Santa's workshop. Really a strange trio and it is fairly debatable who was the best.

Friday, July 22, 2011

So How Hot Is It?

I don't know about you but it was pretty hot day. I guess the Siberian fans of the blog can't really relate but I'm pretty sure most of the US is currently in the midst of a stifling summer heatwave. From all the comments I read about the high temperatures on the old Facebook wall, it's almost as if we were all suddenly in that episode of the "Twilight Zone" where the earth kept moving closer to the sun and all of society started agonizingly melting apart from the hopelessly extreme heat.

It was indeed a scorcher, probably the hottest day in recent memory. Walking across the scorching black pavement of the parking lot from my car to the office, I felt like a sizzling pat of butter on a large hot skillet. The few times I went out during the day the heat felt like hot sand being thrown in my face. And when I left for the evening it was just as relentless and suffocating as the morning. It was hot.

However as I was driving home, in my comfortably cool air conditioned car I wondered to myself: was it really that hot? I mean between leaving my air conditioned home to commute in my air conditioned car to my air conditioned office and back again, I experienced maybe a grand total of five minutes tops of exposure to uncomfortable temperatures. If anything the prevailing sensation of the day for my was probably chilliness from the over compensating central air in the office. All these record breaking triple digit temperatures and heat indexes might as well have been abstract concepts to me; it could just as well been 150 degrees outside. Thanks to the comforts of modern climate control technology I really had nothing much to complain about, and I suspect more than of few of these people out there complaining were in the same boat.

What's the point of making a big fuss about the weather if it hardly affects you at all? Especially the temperature, which in modern times has been reduced to one of the least relevant parts of the weather. Sure a blizzard could ruin your commute, a shower can cancel a ballgame, a hurricane and obliterate everything dear to you, but what's the temperature really going to do to you if you have basic shelter? Obviously people do freeze to death and die of heatstroke and the homeless are particularly vulnerable in such extreme scenarios. However for those folks who have a heated place to be in the winter and a cool place to be the in the summer and spend most of their time in them, what's their right to complain?

I think there should be a specific time requirements for people to complain about the temperature. One should be personally affected by elements for at least 1 hour before they can make a critique. I spent the great majority of the day in a generally comfortable climate, I have nothing to complain about (I guess except to complain about people who complain about things). The Victor from most of three years of law school who lived in apartments and drove a miserable car without air had every right to sweat and vent during the summer months. The Victor who spent a sweltering June backpacking in Costa Rica and Panama without experiencing a single kiss of reconditioned air could say a few things. But the Victor from today, who consciously wore a long sleeve shirt because he knew he'd be cold in the office has no standing.

So really, hysterical suffering nation of overheated victims; if you spent most of the day just looking a number that said it was 100 degrees outside, you didn't actually suffer and your point will not be noted. Relax, before you know it you'll be complaining about how bitter cold it is and how much you're looking forward to summer soon enough.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Extended Cut

So it would appear that a while back Youtube extended their video limit to a staggeringly long 10 hours. Upon hearing of this development it didn't take long for the denizens of Youtube nation to respond by posting insane 10 hour versions of already notable Youtube videos. A quick search for "10 hour" videos reveals marathon length editions of viral classics like Trololo, Peanut Butter Jelly Time, and that flying toaster cat thing that all the kids are keen on these days. Actually upon closer inspection almost all of these videos seem to be uploaded by the same insane poster.

While I shudder at the thought of the demented amount of patience and dedication an individual would have to render and upload 10 hour long videos to Youtube (I remember getting frustrated uploading a 2 minute video back in the day; of course that was like 2007, maybe things a lot easier) I sort of dig them; the edited video of Justin Bieber's character getting shot on CSI is down right hypnotic.

My humble request to this dedicated Youtube user or some other benevolent member would be to take the time to put up a continuous 10 hour version of "The 900 Number" by DJ Mark the 45 King aka "The Ed Lover Dance Song" aka the sample from DJ Kool's "Let Me Clear My Throat". I could listen to that funky looping sax solo and breakbeat for forever. I don't think I've ever had one sitting of listening to the track where I felt I've heard it long enough; perhaps 10 hours or so of it will finally satisfy my hunger. If anyone ever gets around to doing this I will actually throw a party with "The 900 Number" playing the entire time in the background (that or the Epic Sax Guy). Of course I could just put a mp3 of it on repeat but it's totally not the same as having one dedicated Youtube video going for nearly half a day. Imagine the sense of accomplishment one would get from surviving through that and getting that end screen with all the other video links at its conclusion.

Internet, you have your orders.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Power Rankings!: Bazooka Joe Raps

Nobody buys Bazooka Joe Gum for the actual gum. It's quite possibly the lowest quality gum available on the market, right below stale gumballs from a machine and Double Bubble. It's like chewing flavored shoe leather and even then the flavor doesn't last more than a minute. No, the only reason anyone would ever willingly purchase Bazooka Joe Gum is because of the sweet comics that accompany it. For over 50 years humorous little vignettes, plus jokey fortune readings, starring everyone's favorite one eyed (I always wondered how he ended up losing an eye at such a young age), blue baseball cap wearing teen protagonist and his ever changing gang of oddball characters have rewarded those willing to purchase a piece.

The success and longevity of the Bazooka Joe comics can be attributed to its many changes over the years to keep up with emerging trends. Through the decades, Bazooka Joe and crew have demonstrated a Madonna-like ability to constantly reinvent themselves; from evolving drawing styles, tweaking fashions, shamelessly co-oping fads, to straight up replacing members of the gang. Sure the eyepatch and cap remained but the modern day Bazooka Joe is a far cry from the moon faced youth of the 50s.

As someone who came of age in the 90s, it's that 90s era Bazooka Joe gang (actually "gang" was replaced by "and Company" due to negative connotations with all the gang violence going on at the time. Hey this was the same decade the the Bullets become the Wizards.) of Bazooka Joe, Metal Dude, Mort, Zena, and Ursula that I'll always associate the comic with. In addition to the hip new 90s cast, the comic creators also co-opted the emerging new genre of "Rap" music by releasing a set of Bazooka Joe "Raps" comics featuring all of the characters laying down some laughably crude rhymes about themselves and their wild gum fueled times together. Of all the comics I read then, these definitely stand out the most prominently in my mind; I'm afraid to admit I can probably recite a couple of these from memory. So given that I've had about 20 years of reflection and hindsight, here are my definitive Bazooka Joe Raps power rankings:

7. Bazooka Joe (#37)
Bazooka Joe may be "extra cool" and the iconic leader of the gang but his rap skills leave much to be desired. Here he's sort of all over the place. He starts with a possible shout out rap about his loving girlfriend Zena and then suddenly he throws in a line about how he likes to prank on people (and yes he actually used the word "jive") only to end with essentially a promotional message to buy Bazooka Joe gum. I guess since he is the namesake of the product he has to plug whenever he can. Overall, the weakest of the Raps.
The fortune was pretty clever. I liked the visual pun of the upside down message; not easy to pull off. Additional points for being a line that could actually be a fortune, some times Bazooka Joe fortunes are merely just punchlines.

6. Bazooka Joe (#15)
The bottom two Raps and they both turn out to be ones by the great Bazooka Joe. While the fact that he is the only character that gets multiple raps does make it more likely that he would be pulling up the rear, it's still a poor showing. Once again, Bazooka is done in by the lack of focus in his lyrics. The image on the left of a football uniform wearing Bazooka with a hockey stick and a basketball is symbolic of his slapdash approach to these Raps (plus, as we all know, the Chicago Bears Shuffling Crew has been the only hip hop artists to successfully merge the disparate elements of sports and rap). I also get the feeling that he's dissing on baseball, since his one positive line about ballplayers is they "pose for cards". Compared to the high praise he heaps on the other 3 sports, it does come off a little insulting. He also once again concludes the Rap with another plug for his gum. Give it a rest, Joe.
Fortune: Some nice word play there. It may be an irreverent pun, but it also has a relevant implied message about the importance of independence and being self reliant.

5. Zena
Our first contribution from a member of Joe's crew. I will give Zena credit, her Raps' themes of gross materialism and conspicuous consumption are a bit ahead of their times for the early 90s. I could totally see Lil' Kim or Nicki Minaj dropping similarly themed lyrics, perhaps with a bit more complexity. Had she stayed on her original topic for the whole rap she would have been ranked higher. However Zena loses significant points for turning her rap into a declaration of love her for beau Bazooka Joe. You can't talk about how bad you are and how much you drop at the mall and then say how all those things are secondary to your love of Bazooka Joe.
Fortune: This one sounds like a real fortune that you'd get from a fortune cookie or wherever. The humor element is a bit too subtle for what I expect from a Bazooka Joe comic. The best ones are groan inducing and read like they need to end with a rim shot. It's still good advice I suppose.

4. Bazooka Joe (#23)
Bazooka Joe comes back for his third and final appearance on the rankings. It's not that much of a leap forward from the previous two Raps but I do like how it gives a nice overview of the entire gang. Metal Dude may be a wild man but I don't know how well he'll take being labeled a "maniac". As for his view of Ursula, nobody wants to brag about a new pair of sweatpants. Really this should have been the first Bazooka Joe Rap in the series but going by comic numbers it's apparently the fourth. While the rhymes are lacking I do have to admit it's quite impressive how he can spit them out while blowing a gigantic bubble gum bubble. Of course no Bazooka Joe helmed rap can be complete without another aggressive push for the gum.
Fortune: This one is even more a straightforward fortune than Zena's. I can't really find the joke here. Nevertheless it's a good message about living for today and making every moment count. You won't get that from a pack of Chiclets.

3. Ursula
If I were the sort of person to rely on broad generalizations and unfair stereotypes I may have assumed that Ursula, being the only black member of the group, would have been the odds on favorite to top the Power Rankings. Fortunately I don't see color and it's not the case here. Overall Ursula's risque gym room rap is commendable and does come up in the top half of the the rankings. I find Ursula's steamy rhymes about looking hot in tights, checking out the sights, compromising workout positions, and making many "friends" at the gym to be the perfect compliment to Zena's previous rap about her obsession with shopping and her envious high end lifestyle. Put those two together and you get the ultimate empowered female rapper. This Rap also looks like the comic version of Oliva Newton-John's music video for "Physical" with its mix of sexy exercise chic and rampant homoeroticism.
Fortune: Now this is an example of a classic Bazooka Joe fortune. It starts off with a well known saying and then flips it at the end with a cheesy one liner. The fact that the joke is about jokes itself, just makes it all the better.

2. Metal Dude
Metal Dude's Rap is quite an important and pioneering track. Instead of insulating himself in his familiar genre of heavy metal rock, he took the impressively progressive step of incorporating his metal with the emerging rap sound. As far as I'm concerned, Metal Dude's Rap is right up there with Anthrax and Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise" as critical landmarks of 90s rap metal. You also get to see a rare vulnerable side to the usually wild and outrageous Metal Dude when he talks about his admiration and loyalty to his friend and shockingly admits his long held secret that he is actually deaf. Heavy stuff, dude.
Fortune: This is one of those fortunes you get from a cookie where instead of predicting anything it just gives you a random observation about yourself. It still has a bit of the classic Bazooka Joe cheekiness to it.

1. Mort
Full disclosure, I admit that there is a little bit of personal bias here. Mort was always my favorite Bazooka Joe character and the Mort Rap comic is by far the Rap I received the most growing up. I'll probably be able to recite it until the day I die. That being said, I also remember it so well because it's a pretty decent rap. It stays true to the Mort character (gifted in the sciences while lacking even the most basic of social skills) and the lyrics don't sound as arbitratry or forced. Anyone else always suspected that Mort's unseen lower face was horrifically scarred, possibly from an unfortunate lab accident?
Fortune: A solid Bazooka Joe fortune pun, having fun with another tired old saying. Compared to a lot of the other fortunes, however, that preach seizing the day and being self sufficient, letting nature takes its course and hoping for the best seems somewhat incongruous.

Finally, I would like to give a hearty shout out to The Bazooka Joe Page at Caltech, clearly a holdover website from the early days of the internet when only members of large research universities had the technology and the time to create websites devoted to trivial pop culture minutiae, which featured quality scans of all 90's era Bazooka Joe comics.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

An Alternative Approach

About a week and a half ago I gave my armchair adman commentary on a recent TV campaign featuring Nutrigrain Bars; praising how, through subtle editing, its creators cleverly managed to tie a product of questionable nutrition and wholesomeness with an effective message of all purpose wellness and self improvement. I thought it was a pretty nifty bit of soft selling.

In STARK contrast to those ads, here is a previous Nutrigrain Bar spot from around five years ago I found that also promises similar themes of great self improvement using what I can be considered an alternative approach:

From what the ad indicates, it would appear that Kelloggs was experimenting with a new line of Nutrigrain Bars containing significant doses of PCP in the mid oughts. While the current spots says choosing to eat a Nutrigrain Bar will bring you happiness and self improvement by leading you to make other modest but effective positive lifestyle choices, this ad seems to say that eating a Nutrigrain Bar will bring you happiness and self improvement through reckless and insane decisions and actions. What I don't understand is why is everyone else also insane? The main character is the only one who actually ate the laced Nutrigrain Bar. Shouldn't they all dismiss his wild eyed, hyper intense behavior? Maybe that's just how powerful these new bars were, they would give you the power (in addition to invulnerability from physical attacks) to get everyone on your side (whether it be quitting your job or having hundreds of babies), no matter how ludicrous your proposition was, through sheer force of will.

Now is this a "good" advertisement. Well, people remember it and I'm writing about it for free aren't I? Did it move Nutrigrain Bars? I'm not sure. I suspect that this ad might not even have aired publicly. It's all part of that age old advertising debate of whether the quality of an advert is judged solely on it's effectiveness in the market place or is there an inherent creative, cultural value regardless of sales? Ideally it should be both but more often it's one or another. As for me I don't know, I just liked the ad (Nutrigrain Bars still sorta suck though).

Also, did you notice the protagonist's friend Larry was handling woman's lingerie right before he burst into his office to tell him he was quitting? I must have seen video like five times before I spotted that. Not sure how that contributes to the story.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Double Vision

Every once in a while I will come across an advertisement or campaign that will really catch the eye of the former communications student/aspiring copywriter in me and make me say "wow, that was pretty good". With that being said I find the two recent television spots for Kellogg's Nutrigrain Bars to be subtly brilliant.

The two spots have been running for at least a couple of years, but there's really nothing flashy or buzzworthy, or even outwardly memorable about them. They don't have any gimmicks or jokes and their biggest visual firework is a simple split screen (cutting edge!). Ostensibly the story is about as straightforward as they come, in both commercials you have the unhappy woman on the left who didn't start their day with a Nutrigrain Bar and the happy woman on the right who made the great decision to start their day with a Nutrigrain Bar. Message to viewer: eat Nutrigrain Bars to be happy.

Reading a little deeper into the commercials though, it's impressive how subtly the advertisers put forth what is really quite a powerful message.

First and foremost, the commercial never explicitly states that Nutrigrain Bars are really any good for you; and as someone who ate his fair share of Nutrigrain bars in high school, it's sort of true. On the whole they're just slightly better for you than eating a candy bar. In both ads the first and only time you see the bars is when they are compared with blatantly unhealthy food. A Nutrigrain bar is not the best thing you can have for breakfast but it is certainly better than a chocolate frosted doughnut with sprinkles or a monstrous pastry the size of your head. That's the only thing the commercials can say about the actual nutritional merits of their product, all the other scenes simply show the general benefits of healthy life choices (taking the stairs, opting for fruit, drinking more water) completely unrelated to Nutrigrain bars.

The commercials manage the clever trick of associating the simple act of eating a Nutrigrain bar in the morning to living a better, happier life and simultaneously shows the quiet sadness and misery that comes with not starting your day with one. They deftly manufacture this fairly impossible correlation between eating these marginally not unhealthy bars and achieving almost every general healthy lifestyle goal. In reality, if starting your day off with a Nutrigrain bar would cause you to make so many healthy choices in your life, you would end up replacing the Nutrigrain bar the next day with oatmeal and fruit. The ads may appear to be geared primarily towards woman, but it has a general appeal that taps into everyone's inherent desire for self improvement, to better oneself whether it be to lose weight, to get a better job, spend more time with loved ones, read more, to live a better life.

It's the subtlety of the two simultaneous scenes that really drives home the message. While they are in sharp contrast to each other neither of them are extreme scenarios. This is far more effective than the hard sell of an infomercial where they give you a totally unrelatable scene of a monochromatic hell of laughably exaggerated horrors where even the simplest of tasks is a surreal ordeal and then show you how unbelievably happy your entire life would be after this one peeve is eliminated. In these commercials there is no exaggeration of the happy or sad lives. One side isn't losing a foot to diabetes while the other side is winning a triathlon. One just has a little bit more pep, a few more smiles, and bit more energy than the other which makes both scenes utterly relatable which makes it far more affecting on a personal level. We can see ourselves in both windows. We've all had days or moments where we felt like we were trapped in the unhappy left side of the screen and that a ticket to the happier more productive right side was just an adjustment or a routine change (or in this case a purchase) away.

This is the all powerful message of improvement that every ad for a consumer product is trying to get through to the viewer; your life will be better for buying this good. With just a simple concept and some effective editing, Nutrigrain bars has managed to associate their product with a universally desired picture of health and happiness while never explicitly saying their product is even all that healthy. Pretty good.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

It's Like...

Recently I've developed a mild fascination with the above frequently run commercial for Dunkin' Donuts' new Frozen Hot Chocolate drink. For such a brief 15 second spot for a product that would appear to be essentially dressed up chocolate milk (isn't that what a "frozen hot chocolate" really is?) this shouldn't be taking up so much of my attention, that is any of it.

Maybe it's just me but the more I watch it the more I'm convinced that the white man and woman on the other side of the table are totally high (I do often tend to jump to conclusions about characters' drug use). Right off the bat you have poor man's Lizzy Caplan way too emphatically describing her drink as an "iceberg volcano" while even poorer man's Ryan Gosling quickly interjects with equally unnatural zeal that it's like "lightning in a snowball". When the afroed straight man dryly tells them that it's like Frozen Hot Chocolate they bust out into a completely genuine and un-ironic expression of wide eyed amazement (If someone could go ahead and make me an animated gif of that brief scene, it would be much appreciated) at his normal observation . Our big haired protagonist reacts to all this with a look of perplexed disgusted as if he's asking himself "why am I hanging out with these ridiculous degenerates?" Even the final tagline for the commercial "It's like Frozen Hot Chocolate" sounds like it was written by someone totally baked.

I do feel a bit sorry for the main protagonist. When he's not wasting his weekends with these goobers, as seen in this recent Zyrtec ad he gets plenty more of this idiosyncratic nonsense at work (also what happens when you mix juice and Allegra, does it turn into mustard gas or something?). So it would appear that he is forever doomed to hang out in parks as the black third wheel to a quirky white couple.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Bear-ly News

I noticed that the most popular story in Yahoo! News today was the the following Reuters article with the attention grabbing headline: "Flying Bear Kills Two Canadians in Freak Accident"

Now I don't want to make light of a tragic car accident that leaves two people dead, but I expected a far more interesting story if it was going to lead with such a sensational headline. I mean essentially the car hit a bear while traveling at a high rate of speed. It's obviously an appallingly unlucky break for such a collision to lead to fatalities and the unusual manner in which the bear's body ended up entering and exiting the car could be considered freakish in its uniqueness but to categorize the bear as a "flying bear" is just irresponsible journalism.

Many animals involved in a drive by collision are technically "flying" for varying periods of time. If I hit a deer or a moose or a possum at the right angle, I can claim to have been accosted by a "flying" variant of that species. If I pulled a hit and run on a drifter "I Know What You Did Last Summer"-style, would that be considered the vehicular manslaughter of a special flying man? The next time I see a headline about a bear that slips the surly bonds of Earth it better have been piloting a Piper Cub or was accidentally shot out of a cannon in a terrible circus mishap, or was the first of a new and terrifying breed of winged ursine.