Monday, July 18, 2011

Subverting Entertainment History, One Dollar at a Time

So let’s say you’re watching Gene Hackman driving John Travolta through West Hollywood in an open convertible in 1995’s Get Shorty, and there’s that tracking shot rolling down Sunset Boulevard. As in so many other films shot in LA, you see in the background the massive ad on the side of the building at 8401 Sunset. If you’re like me, in movie moments like this, you’re thrilled at the opportunity to see what icon of pop culture was hot enough to warrant 15,000 square feet of billboard space at that point in history. But instead of a 200-foot-tall Clint Eastwood, you see… an ad for Transformers 3? Is that possible?

Thanks to a digital advertising company called SeamBI, it is. A recent Entertainment Weekly story highlights a 2006 rerun of How I Met Your Mother (doing quite well in syndication) that was loaded with digitally-inserted advertisements for the 2011 movie Bad teacher.  Even the plasma screens on which the ads are playing were added into the shots.

If I Ran Hollywood, I would apply some measure of regulation to this practice. Now, I am not against advertisers finding new revenue streams through product placement – my continued bread and butter depends on their success in reaching the audience despite our DVR commercial-bypassing culture. But imagine the many layers of implications in marrying bits of entertainment history with modern products, regardless of the desires of the actors or producers who share credit for the mash-up. I am reminded of an old Diet Coke ad where long-dead performers like Louis Armstrong were digitally resurrected to hawk the (allegedly brain-damaging) beverage in a bubbly new spot. Is this not something Satchmo should have been consulted on first?

More importantly to me is the historic context that becomes sabotaged in this act. Personally, I love spotting the signs of the times when watching old movies & TV shows. It’s a means of dating a film in the context of pop culture at that time. For someone like me, whose reading/viewing/listening diet consists mostly of entertainment, this is an important way to bone up on my history. For most people, it may not mean much to have their pop culture eras mashed in this way – but growing comfortable with the practice of altering our entertainment is inevitably going to subvert our perception of reality. Neo knows what I'm talking about.

We of the Sci-Fi generation can all appreciate the fear of one day living in a world where technology is so advanced, you can’t tell real life from virtual world: a waking dreamscape where any reality can be presented to us and no amount of pinching oneself can deliver us back to the truth. Combine that technology with the ability to quickly and cheaply change the context of history (whether it be entertainment or that other thing…. what is it? Oh yeah, reality), and add a dash of imagination… you can barely fathom what “the truth” really is.
Fast forward a few years… how will this permeate itself into pop culture once it’s become an accepted, seamless approach to feeding us our media diet? How will politicians use this approach to associate themselves (or their rivals) with the desired contextual message (Obama keeps a picture of Hitler on his nightstand?)? How will banks or oil companies use it to “organically” bolster their image in our minds? Will subtle implications like “we were there to help with the 9-11 rescue effort” become an unspoken (therefore ineligible for false advertising charges) means of using a conventional approach to stake a claim on our national good will? What will be the value of “the truth” when reality can so easily be manipulated?

I realize how paranoid and cynical this all sounds. It’s just a stupid ad for a bad movie… relax. Okay, I will relax. But it’s always scary for me when Hollywood and advertisers join forces this way. I still remember when it was a sin to have to endure one or two commercials before watching a feature film.  Disney established a policy refusing to show a film in any theater showing commercials... that was 20 years ago. Last month, when I took my kids to see Cars 2, we had to sit through 20 solid minutes of non-stop advertisements… not movie trailers, commercials - mostly for sugary, caffeinated crap that I won’t let my kids put into their bodies.

Imagine yourself in the year 1984 (if you’re old enough) trying to convince your friends that, one day, we would voluntarily provide gigabytes of sensitive personal information about ourselves into a vast and easily cracked network, plugging into a matrix where our likeness (and that of our children) was stored in a publicly accessible location for all to see, and a handful of paying advertisers to use freely to market products TO YOU – STARRING YOU!

You’d call me paranoid, would you not?

Well I don’t know about you, but I’m hanging onto my old DVD copy of Get Shorty. I don’t want my movie-watching experience to be disrupted by a 20-story tall painting in the background of me and my kids sharing a Diet Coke. 


Monday, November 30, 2009


A message to T-Mobile: Drop a little cash and get some real celebrities already.

I mean, who are these guys? Yeah, Whoopie we all know, she'll pretty much do any show with a craft service table at this point. She's kind of like the network bug in the corner of your screen, there's really no way to get her off your TV set.But who are these other guys? A tall guy with white hair.... Basketball coach I assume... and some dude with tats. Edgy, that one.

Okay, I'm not completely out of it - with a little focus, I can pick-out the coach of the Lakers and the motorcycle douchebag, I just think you coulda shelled out a few more dollars and scooped up at least one celebrity that more than 10% of the population cares about. I mean, you do want to sell phone plans outside of LA, right?

Nonetheless, if you choose to continue down this path, let me state for the record that I'm pretty popular down at the neighborhood clubhouse, and I'll do the whole spot for a phone plan with free texting... plus enough cash to get some new glasses, since I'll be texting a lot.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Artist Probation

I just saw the latest example of Jason Statham's willingness to do (or drive) anything for a paycheck - an Audi spot featuring the once respected actor wheeling his way through history via an evolution of Audi models. If not for the ultra fast cutting and distracted narrative, I probably would have picked up on some examples of the eras represented, but much like his films of late, there was too much emphasis on blurred kinetic motion and choppy editing and not enough on character or story.

When exactly did Jason Statham become permanently typecast as the sexy tough guy who dives cars really fast? The answer of course is five minutes after he became a star... but how does one acquire such specifc typecasting? The problem with motor-obsessed films is (much like their magazine counterparts), they're not usually very good.

If I ran Hollywood, there would be an Artist Probation program designed to increase the quality of Tinseltown's offerings. The program would be voluntary of course - you could go on probation, or drop out of the film industry altogether. I believe in offering artists a choice.

In my new program, Jason Statham would only be allowed to work in Guy Ritchie films (where he earned his stature as an edgy leading man type), and in any car driving scenes, he would have to remain in moderate-to-heavy traffic. This would force him to do 50% more acting, and Mr. Ritchie could possibly have a positive effect on his script-choosing skills. After a 5-year sentence in this probation, he could venture out with other directors, but only on bicycles or skateboards at first, until he can drive and act simultaneously again.

And speaking of Mr. Ritchie - no more films with Madonna. Period. I probably don't need to say this, I'm sure he's made this decision on his own already - but he's gotta go cold turkey on the Madonna. Once was more than enough. Don't even reference her music for at least 3 films.

 As for Madonna, keep making your music. After all, throngs of teenage and wannabee teenage girls still extract life-giving manna from your performances. But no more movies for you. That part of your career is over. You may still do SNL appearances, where your talents can truly be mined for parody gold. In fact I encourage regular surprise appearances on Saturday Night Live, if only to maintain your significance as the 50's take hold and your aerobically baked arms slowly turn into gristle.

Now then, regarding Saturday Night Live, there are a few Alumni in need of re-education. While greats like Sandler, Belushi, Murray, Fey, Aykroyd, Murphy, Poehler, Ferrel, and Myers have maintained successful (if critically spotty) film careers, other have done little more than stain the DVD landscape with their misguided creations and adaptations.

Chris Kataan, you're first. I love you man, I do - you gave me so much on SNL (you stood toe-to-toe with Walken), and you were the only funny thing in Monkeybone! But your days of filmmaking are officially suspended. Even Bollywood Hero, your self-deprecating attempt to satirize the very point I am making, was hardly watchable. Jean Claude Van Damme pulled it off more successfully... hell, even unscripted abominations like The Surreal Life have more celebrity-roasting entertainment value.

But it is certainly not over for you Chris. I decree an SNL re-education program whereby past greats are sentenced - er, invited - to rejoin the current staff and remain in the warm fold of Lorne Michaels' creative womb until such time that they are ready to get back out there and try again. Come back to SNL Chris, work your magic again. Get back in shape.

Even Dana Carvey - who I utterly worship - couldn't transcend feature-film sidekick status without severe embarrassment. I tend to blame some unseen agent for this, but no matter - get your ass back on SNL Dana, where you will quickly regain your godlike status. I will TIVO every episode, and even watch the commercials if that is what's required.

There's room there for Fallon as well, but alas, we have lost him to what appears could be a successful talk-show stint. While his monologue skills remain drab and colorless, his celebrity chatting acumen is as sharp and personable as ever. You are free to do your thing, Jimmy. Chevy, you just squeaked by the probation requirements with your new gig on Community. Way to show us you can give your all after so many years of phoning it in. I'm proud of you Chevy.

Anyone else out there willing to take a voluntary Artist Probation assignment can write to me, the self-appointed King of Hollywood, courtesy of this blog. I will do my best to find you an appropriate, career reviving, crap-reducing sentence somewhere in Tinseltown.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Allison, where's the evidence?

What the hell is the problem with Phoenix District Attorney Manuel Davalos? After 5 seasons of Medium, hasn't this guy figured it out yet? Allison Dubois is always right!

Why is he always telling her "so and so has an alibi" or "we have no evidence to back this up" or - my personal favorite - "am I supopsed to arrest this man just because you had a dream?"

 YES! That is exactly what you're supposed to do. I don't care if he's a doctor or a politician or some other upstanding citizen.. If Allison dreamed she saw the man carve a smiley face into a dead body's eyeball, send Scanlon the hell out there and arrest the sonofabitch! You know you're going to do it anyway - or at least the audience does.

It's one of the many predictable elements of this show, along with the plot and the likelihood that we'll see Joe Dubois in his pajamas before the end of the show.Ahh, guilty pleasures...

And how about that Particia Arquette? All grown up and mom-like... has it been so long since your dreams revolved around Freddy Kruger and your fellow juvie asylum teen Dream Warriors?