Month: February 2015

THE GREATEST COMMERCIAL EVER MADE

The real genius of advertising is that it can stick with you, sometimes for years. One particular commercial has remained firmly lodged in my mind ever since I first saw it. Today, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I found it. Watch it here, in all its glory.

As an adult, I think I can appreciate its greatness on a much deeper level. It all starts out innocently enough.

"Morning, Dave!"

“Morning, Dave!”

Look at that early-90s picket fence and Cape Cod home. Isn’t that where every single sit-com character lived back then? One little thing, Dave: you left every light in the house burning. How nice of Dave’s co-workers to take both back seats, making poor Niederman from Accounting drive them around like a chauffeur.

Imodium MailMay I ask who the sinister man in the background is, apparently reading Dave’s mail and heading right inside?

NARRATOR: Just when you think your diarrhea medicine is working…

Oh, shit. Literally, in this case. That’s not what you want to hear. How ingenious was it to subtly reference the famous Jaws 2 tagline, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water?” The words immediately conjure up horror, fear, death, and water churning with blood and viscera – which often happens when I have diarrhea, come to think of it. Now poor Dave utters a line I have been repeating ever since:

"Ooh boy."

“Ooh boy.”

Look at this guy’s face! Whoever played Dave should have been up for a Daytime Emmy after a performance like that. I love how he starts to look around, too, as though his need to diarrhea (yes, it’s a verb) is so bad that he’s pondering using the cup holders.

BACK SEAT GUY: What’s wrong?

Oh, you know, Back Seat Guy. YOU KNOW. Nobody says “Ooh boy” and tries to retract their head into their neck like that because they forgot their wallet at home.

NARRATOR: …It can let you down(Car screeches to a halt in front of an automotive station)

Imodium AutomotiveI’ve had some pretty severe bathroom emergencies in my day… but I don’t know that I’ve ever been forced to stop at a filthy-looking auto shop like this poor guy. It doesn’t even look like a gas station! Would this place have a toilet for Dave to use? Also, make note of the musical score: that sick, raspy-sounding bassoon is the perfect accompaniment to an onslaught of diarrhea.

(Car screeches to a halt in front of a greasy-looking diner)

Imodium DinerDave is in even worse distress this time around. He’s doing the classic “stay together, cheeks” ramrod-straight hustle-walk that you only use when trying to preserve your dignity on the way to the can. I love how the car slams to a stop so quickly – the driver obviously knows Dave is fit to bust at any second.

NARRATOR: But you can count on Imodium AD to stop diarrhea, often in just one dose.

Ahh, we’re back in the safety zone, accompanied by a gentle tinkling of the ivories. Listen to how calm that music is. “All this stress could be gone if you just use our product,” it says. Beautiful.

NARRATOR: Instead of dose after dose, more than a third of a bottle of the pink stuff!

Imodium Pink StuffJust the THOUGHT of having to chug several ounces of clumpy, chalky Pepto makes me nauseous. How can drinking a liquid version of a Valentine heart cure diarrhea? It doesn’t seem legitimate to me.

NARRATOR: And Imodium AD is even better than the leading prescription. 

Imodium prescriptionI wasn’t aware that there was prescription diarrhea medicine. Who goes to the doctor for that? And how bad does it have to be to require a prescription?

WAIT A MINUTE. “Goldstein”??? Does anyone else notice that the doctor’s name on the bottle is “Goldstein”? What, they couldn’t fit “Silverberg” on there? This blows my mind. There’s some very subtle programming at work in this commercial.

Imodium ParkBack to our story. We see that Dave has had to stop a THIRD time – at a township park! How long is this commute?!? Evidently his attacks haven’t gotten any less severe – he’s gone from hustle to full-out sprint.

"I TOLD you we should have stopped for Imodium AD!"

“I TOLD you we should have stopped for Imodium AD!”

Of course they put the black guy in the back seat. And this was during the Clinton years! Somebody call Eric Holder. The faces of these guys absolutely slay me. How disgusted does that guy in the back look? “Oh, Lord have mercy.” And the driver is just shaking his head… “How can Dave hope to make Junior VP when he can’t even control his bowels?” These are supposed to be his friends, and they have zero patience for his little circus act this morning.

NARRATOR: Imodium AD. One-dose relief you can count on.

Imodium EndingWe fade out on Dave hustling toward the latest bathroom. His credibility at the office is gone. You can’t respect a guy you’ve seen rushing into three reeking public toilets on the way to work. But that’s what happens when you don’t trust Imodium AD!

Can you appreciate the sheer artistry of this commercial? It plays our fears – the very adult fears of shame and humiliation in front of our peers – like a fiddle, and presents Imodium AD as the solution. “Do you want to gag down a bottle of pink sludge and shit yourself in a Saturn SL?” they ask. “Or would you rather take two little pills and marry Cindy Crawford (probably)? The choice is yours.” There was apparently a whole series of commercials like this, all featuring people being publicly disgraced by rampant diarrhea (a guy with the window seat on a plane, an astronaut just before takeoff, etc). It’s savage. It’s relentless. It is, quite simply, the greatest commercial ever made.

 

LILYHAMMER

2012 to Present – New York gangster Frank Tagliano (Steven Van Zandt) enters the witness protection program and tries to start a new life in Lillehammer, Norway, as Giovanni “Johnny” Henriksen. Adorable fish-out-of-water gags and good-natured mob violence ensue.

E-Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt played strutting, sneering gangster Silvio Dante on the greatest TV drama of all time, The Sopranos.

Van Zandt as Silvo Dante

Van Zandt as Silvio Dante

He now plays swaggering, smirking gangster Frank Tagliano / “Giovanni Henriksen” on the Netflix original series Lilyhammer.

Van Zandt as Frank Tagliano / Giovanni Henriksen

Van Zandt as Frank Tagliano / “Giovanni Henriksen”

Yes, Mr. Van Zandt is obviously an actor of outstanding range and subtlety. For that devoted group of Silvio fans who always wanted to see their favorite consigliere in a goofier, more subtitle-heavy environment, Lilyhammer will not disappoint. There are currently three seasons of the show available on Netflix; I’ve watched the first two, and I don’t think I have much interest in seeing the third.

Season 1 sets up the general premise: after arriving in Norway, Frank is unable to resist falling back into his old racketeering habits. He recruits bumbling brothers Torgeir (Trond Fausa Aurvag) and Roar (Steinar Sagen) to be his primary henchmen and comic relief, meets love interest Sigrid (Marian Saastad Ottesen), and quickly runs afoul of police chief Laila Hovland (Anne Krigsvoll). Eventually he has to come to terms with his past when a few of his old mob colleagues track him down.

These eight episodes are great fun, building up Frank as an anti-hero who’s much easier to root for than, say, Tony Soprano or Walter White. Even more entertaining than watching him slowly establish his petty criminal empire is seeing him clash with naively liberal Scandinavian society. Although the show is Norwegian-produced, there’s something heart-warmingly American about it all. Frank tackles the political correctness and endless bureaucratic red tape as only an uncultured American could – with threats, bribery, and extortion. The attempts of the good-hearted Norwegians to “integrate” him invariably end in comedic disaster. You could base a decent drinking game solely on the number of times he groans, “Oh, what the fuck is this?”

Unfortunately, these themes start to run out of gas in Season 2. The going gets tougher – Frank faces ruthless British gangsters, dangerous art thieves, and still more New York associates – and his ability to get out of any difficulty begins to strain credibility. To me, he started to seem too wise, too prepared for every contingency, too able to convince the dopey Norwegians to go along with his schemes.

No matter how clever or brutal his antagonists are, Frank is always able to defeat them and everything returns to normal. This saps the series of its tension: there are occasional tragedies, but we know that things will always turn out just fine for our protagonists. In order to establish him as the hero of the series, they make Frank too much of a nice guy. I never get the impression that this man could have been a vicious New York mobster. Sure, he roughs people up – but they either deserve their comeuppance or become his buddies immediately afterward.

My advice: give the first season a chance. There are good laughs, drama, and plenty of that delightful Norwegian language that seems to bubble off the roof of the mouth. The story comes to a satisfying conclusion, all the loose ends are tied up, and there’s really no need to tune in for further adventures.

IN A WORLD…

2013 – Vocal coach Carol Solomon (Lake Bell) lives in the shadow of her father Sam (Fred Melamed), Hollywood’s go-to movie trailer voice, as she tries to break into the field.

I liked this movie. What’s wrong with me? I need to find one I hate, STAT.

Sort of an “awkward comedy” (the kind where you grit your teeth and wince instead of laugh out loud), sort of a drama, In A World… has no right to be as good as it is. The central drama is the race to get movie trailer voice-over jobs; there are a ton of characters; it’s one of those “written, directed, and starring” things that are usually so insufferable. But writer, director, and star Lake Bell manages to establish a convincing world populated by unique, engaging characters, creating a true Netflix gem.

You know the “in a world” guy, right? Don LaFontaine was basically the God of movie trailers, and his trademark phrase, “In a world where…” was used so often that it’s become a cliché. In a World… takes that obscure bit of pop culture trivia and makes it the premise of the movie: they’re going revive that phrase in the trailers for an upcoming Hunger Games-esque “quadrilogy,” and competition for the voice-over is going to be fierce.

Reigning champ Sam Sotto claims he doesn’t want the job. He’s sponsoring up-and-comer Gustav Warner (Ken Marino). Sam’s daughter Carol has always dreamed of a job like this, but is trapped by the voice-over industry’s glass ceiling for women – and also just accidentally slept with Gustav at a party. Meanwhile, she has to deal her father’s young new wife Jamie (Alexandra Holden), awkward co-worker Louis (Demetri Martin), and sister Dani’s (Michaela Watkins) troubled marriage with Moe (Rob Corddry). We’ve only got 90 minutes for all this. Sheesh.

Although it seems to be Bell’s first full-length screenplay, the movie doesn’t fritter away any time. The plots are woven together so that every scene contributes to the overall dramatic momentum. With so many names and relationships and so little time, it’s a credit to the movie that I only lost a few here and there (I didn’t realize Dani was Carol’s sister until halfway through).

It’s not perfect; some of the gags are definitely more funny in theory than in practice. One sub-plot – Moe’s seeming crush on his flirty English neighbor – seems to vanish without a trace. Otherwise, this movie serves as a wonderful reminder of just how much you can do with an hour and a half.

The film’s signature achievement is that it made me really care about the jerk from Hot Tub Time Machine. Beyond that, In a World… gives us some good old-fashioned heart-warming reasons to stay engaged. A daughter secretly wishes to make her father proud; a nerd works up the courage to ask out his crush; a long-time couple struggles in the face of suspected infidelity.

Heartily recommended. Oh, and Eva Longoria appears for two minutes. What was she famous for again?

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE

2014 – The world’s most clandestine club of gentleman spies is looking for recruits as it faces a new threat that could destroy human society.

Now this is how you make a Bond movie. We’ve got it all here – a dashing, handsome hero (or two), slick costumes, amazing set design, gadgets, puns, a strong villain, grotesque henchmen, a tongue-in-cheek attitude, and a spectacular final battle where the protagonists race to stop a ticking timebomb (while pausing for some romance along the way).

Kingsman: The Secret Service  isn’t about James Bond, but I seriously doubt we’re ever going to see a real Bond film again, so I’ll have to take what I can get. It follows the exploits of Harry Hart, code name Galahad (Colin Firth), an elite spy who sponsors the unlikely Eggsy (Taron Egerton) to replace a recently-fall comrade. The Kingsmen need all the help they can get to stop a threat from lisping lunatic Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a global warming alarmist with the ultimate solution to the human population problem.

The movie easily and cleverly balances its two plots – can the rough-edged, lower-class Eggsy fit into the world of cognac and umbrella duels that the Kingsmen represent? And can old-school spies stop Valentine’s ultra-modern program for genocide? Director Matthew Vaughn, of Kick-Ass fame, keeps things moving at a crisp pace, never battering us over the head with the “poor kid vs. rich kids” cliches or tiresome “hero in training” sequences that I was fearing.

The two-hour run time is an amazing celebration of what makes escapist fantasy great. It didn’t have its characters mumble and stare broodingly into the dark to make them “more real” – it built them up with clever dialog and revealing action. It didn’t waste our time with any “spying is a harsh game and human life is cheap” tripe – it toasted fallen Kingsmen with Napoleonic brandy and got back to the action. Firth and Egerton play their heroes with a grin and an elevated eyebrow that would make Roger Moore green with envy. The supporting cast includes Michael Caine and Mark Hamill, but Caine doesn’t talk like Alfred and Hamill doesn’t do his Joker voice, so… meh.

One thing I absolutely dreaded was seeing chronic loud-talker Samuel L. Jackson as the bad guy, but he ended up being a highlight. As Galahad himself observes, the strength of a good spy movie always depends on its villain. Valentine isn’t some weepy stooge with a maudlin back-story, he’s an absolute nut committed to (and reveling in) his villainy. His henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) is a double amputee whose feet have been replaced by razor-sharp blades – kinda like an even more murderous Oscar Pistorius. Since it’s always been a dream of mine to make love to a woman missing either an eye or a limb, she gets an A+ in my book.

There’s also a sub-plot involving the world’s elite basically deciding that Valentine is right and global warming is bad, so killing everyone else is okay. One of them, seen only from behind, is clearly an Obama stand-in. I think it’s the first time he’s gotten “the Bush treatment” (a.k.a. when a movie shows a president and doesn’t say who it is but ha-ha it’s really him and he’s an asshole). I salute the filmmakers for that.

SKIP AHEAD IF YOU ARE NOT INTERESTED IN A LENGTHY RANT ABOUT THE DECLINE OF THE JAMES BOND FRANCHISE

With all due apologies to Skyfall, I felt that Kingsman was the best Bond film in well over a decade. If they’re going to turn Bond into a Jason Bourne knock-off who, as a friend once put it, “just gets pissed off at people and doesn’t spy on anyone,” then I’d be more than happy to accept Eggsy’s (hopefully) continuing exploits as the fun, slick action series of the new millennium.

See, here’s the thing: I don’t want Bond to be some hulking, squinty brute. I want him to be lean and debonair. I want him to play golf with the villain (or eat McDonald’s with him, as in Kingsman) and engage in a little witty banter, not just glare righteously and stab him in the back. I don’t want or need my villain to be sympathetic, either. I want him be delighted with his scheme and annoyed at Bond’s mosquito-like persistence in disrupting it. Someone once observed that the ideal Bond/villain relationship is like a rebellious student and a strict master. Note that they didn’t say “mush-mouthed bodybuilder and metrosexual douchebag” (I’m looking at you, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace).

When was the last time a Bond bad guy even had a BASE? Or at least a cool set-piece for a final confrontation? Auric Goldfinger had Fort Knox. Karl Stromberg had an underwater laboratory. Hugo Drax had a damn space station. The bad guy from Casino Royale had… what? His hotel room? That’s pathetic. In Kingsman, Valentine has a base in the side of a mountain. Much better.

I’m also not interested in seeing Bond being unshaven or walking around in sweat pants. Bond is well-dressed. That’s his thing. As a character, he cares about how he looks. Don’t show me a stubbly Bond wearing lounge pants and say, “Oh, well, this is his character. He’s just like us.” No, it’s not, and no, he isn’t. In Kingsman, the heroes wear suits and ties, don spectacles, and carry umbrellas. That’s what I’m talking about.

I don’t particularly want to see Bond holding a machine gun, either. Bond is about elegance and sophistication and subtlety. That’s why he has his brains and his gadgets. Remember the scene in The Living Daylights when Bond, armed with his .380 Walther PPK, took on Whitaker, armed with an assault rifle and full body armor? He still won. In the real Bond films, you had the main villain (who was often physically weak but had great intelligence) and a henchman (who was usually dumb but far stronger and better-armed than the hero). When Bond defeats both of them, it proves his supremacy in both physical combat – craft over brute force – and mental dueling – cunning and wit over raw genius. Do the current leaders of the franchise seriously think that having Bond slap around some sniveling little shit in the desert gives him “hero” credentials? In Kingsman, the hero ignores an entire room full of guns and picks up an umbrella instead. I wanted to applaud.

One more thing: don’t condescend to me and say that the newer Bond movies are “more realistic.” No. No, they aren’t. They just have all the joy sucked out of their absurd moments because damn it we are making a SERIOUS movie here. Whew. Okay, I’m finished.

END LENGTHY RANT ABOUT THE DECLINE OF THE JAMES BOND FRANCHISE

So. To sum up: Kingsmen. Go see it, because it’s fun and violent and not too long and an attractive woman shows her butt near the end.