Commercial Break: Small Packets, Big Lies   Leave a comment

Broadcast: 13 November 2012
Program: Dr. Drew on Call
Channel: HLN
Conglomerate: Time Warner

Advertiser: Nectresse
Owned By: Tate & Lyle
Pitch: We make fake sugar from real things. 

There is something to be said for brevity, especially when it comes to misdirection.  This advertisement for one of those endlessly inferior non-sugar sweeteners takes a mere fifteen seconds, and this is the entirety of the spoken dialogue:

Born from the sweet monk fruit, something this delicious could only come from nature.  New Nectresse, the 100% natural no calorie sweeter, made from the goodness of fruit.  New Nectresse, sweetness naturally. 

As George Carlin one told us, there’s nothing the least bit healthy about something being “100% natural”.  After all, dog shit is totally natural, but that doesn’t make it very good food. 

More important is the quick elision of “Born from the sweet monk fruit”, which is a polite and legally defensible way of saying “this is the plant we started tormenting and manipulating to create this amalgam we’re selling”.  Should ye venture to the website, you’ll find that the ingredients are “(erythritol, sugar and molasses)”, and what is “erythritol”?  They’re glad you asked:

Erythritol is an all-natural, sugar alcohol that is naturally fermented from sugars and is found in many vegetables and fruits.

They once again use the meaningless but positive sounding word “natural” (twice!) to distract from the fact that what they’re actually talking about is a heavily processed chemical that they can derive from just about anything and put into powder form. 

None of which is to say that erythritol is bad or dangerous, or even that it’s a poor substitute for real sugar.  Artificial sweeteners have been around for a long time, millions of people use them, and they aren’t going anywhere.  What’s notable here is the rigorous adherence to trumped up fashion and health concerns that make these poor sentences burst at their punctuation with trendy bullshit.  Look at that narration again:

Born from the sweet monk fruit

First of all, nothing here is being “born”, and certainly not in the sense of a species propagating itself.  Secondly, calling fruit “sweet” is redundant and distracting:

In the culinary sense of these words, a fruit is usually any sweet-tasting plant product

Moreover, saying that . . .:

something this delicious could only come from nature

. . . is complete horseshit.  Everything comes from nature.  Rocks and sulfur come from nature.  Odorous hair gel comes from nature.  So when they say:

New Nectresse, the 100% natural no calorie sweeter, made from the goodness of fruit.

You know that they aren’t actually describing their product, they’re just chanting a refrain.  People like fruit and nature, and though both have just this side of nothing to do with “Nectresse” (which sounds like like what the ancient Greeks would’ve named their soap opera villains if they’d had teevee), by canting those happy words over and over they’re hoping to associate their very unnatural looking powder with “the goodness of fruit”.

That the ad features sugar packets flying like butterflies merely completes the lie:

Freedom, Horrible Horrible Freedom

Attack the humans!  Kill them all!

The entire message here is a deception, one designed to substitute something that doesn’t require a ton of chemical manipulation for something that does.  It isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s this kind of routine, almost habitual fabrication that makes otherwise sensible people think that anything produced by giant food companies is inherently evil.  It’s just a sugar substitute, but the ad tries to make it seem like something that Adam and Steve were using in the Garden of Eden even though everyone knows it isn’t. 

Posted November 14, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Commercial Break

Reading Digest – 14 November 2012   Leave a comment

“Scary, no?  And this guy’s head of the Spaceology Department at the Correspondence College of Tampa!” – Bart Simpson

CNNlogo I have no response to this:

Anal Probes

Actual dialogue from the video:

“even this aviation expert is mystified”

“we first learned about these strange sightings when this metro-area man, who does not want to be identified, brought us his home video”

“but if you slow it down, frame by frame, it’s there”

“we wanted to verify that the video we saw was legit”

And there’s even the bog standard government denial, complete with scary font:

Government Coverup! 

FNLogo FOX generally, and the nationalists specifically, have been pretty subdued since they stood down from Bias Alert last week.  This is more like it:

Not Misleading At All

That’s White House spokesdork Jay Carney in the photo, but the cryptic quote is from a reporter asking about the increasingly spectacular end of David Petraeus.  Not that the combination of the two could be in any way misunderstood.  (Hey, at least they aren’t chasing aliens over Denver.)

DailyCallerLogo Without commenting on the linked story, I just think it’s funny that this rather, uh, aspirational map is the one Tucker & Friends went with:

Romney Wins Wisconsin and Pennsylvania!

You can almost hear the sighs of regret.

NPRlogo Derp-a-durr!:

How No One EverSteals a Car From the accompanying article:

At some carwashes, Kinkade dropped off the car with a copy of Maxim magazine inside it — the magazine contains plenty of suggestive pictures of semi-clad women. Underneath a seat, Kinkade also left crushed beer cans.

The idea, he said in an interview, was to suggest the driver of the car was somehow "deviant." Kinkade said he and his colleagues wanted to explore the possibility that when people’s behavior marks them as being somehow out of the mainstream, they are more likely to become victims of crime.

It will surprise you not a whit to learn that the idiot conducting this “Study” works at a private Jebus college. 

ABC Logo I’m so glad I started checking ABC News.  It’s almost a tabloid:

Potential Suitors to Increase Our Pageviews

Yup, it’s a pageview whoring slideshow of other famous people.  Nothing more, nothing less, and if you look closely, you can see the heavily tortured almost-corpse of journalism begging for death in the corner. 

Partial Admission of Centrist Media Sins of Omission and Commission   Leave a comment

Who knew there would be a nice simmering boil of political news after the election, eh? The Petraeus/Broadwell/who the fuck knows who else will crop up story is like manna from heaven for news divisions.  And not that old bland manna, no, this has garlic and oregano and a slut everyone can shame.  Plus there’s all the drama of who will replace Petraeus at the CIA, and who will be put up for which position in the cabinet reshuffle.  Exciting times for a news outlet.  Too bad they’re so fucking terrible at it.  Both of the dominant strands in political news coverage at the moment can serve as case examples in the ways the media fucks up in covering political events.

If there’s one essential piece of Petraeus analysis everyone needs to read it’s Spencer Ackerman’s absolutely brutal dissection of the kinds of media coverage Petraeus garnered over the past few years.  Several subtle interlocking mechanisms provided Petraeus with his golden-boy image: he gave longer and more courteous interviews to reporters; cultivated an image with reporters and colleagues of being a different kind of military thinker, “intellectual” instead of “blood ‘n guts”; had a stock bag of tricks to structure interviews in order to generate sympathetic coverage, including the infamous “going for a jog with the interviewer”; and had a staff that was trained and competent in re-enforcing all of the above.  It all resulted in nigh-universal proclamation that He Was The One We Had Been Waiting For, a new type of general for a new type of war, with a new strategy and a new way of running combat operations.

This image was so robust that even as it started to become obviously false, when Petraeus started to lord over air strikes and commando raids and use criteria completely incompatible with counter-insurgency doctrine like “count every male in the vicinity as a terrorist”, the golden halo around Petraeus as the counter-insurgency guru fighting a different smarter kind of warfare continued to shine in the media.  (Ackerman doesn’t spare himself any embarrassment, by the way; he even recounts how the ol’ “go for a jog while you interview me” tactic worked about as well on him as it did on Broadwell . . . no, nah, let’s not even go there.)

This is an important piece, not only for popping the bubble around Petraeus but for illustrating the basic dynamics among political coverage more generally.  Every single thing Ackerman describes occurs at every level of political reportage; even the workout trick is adapted into stuff like holding interviews in exotic locations, or during downtime while waiting for conferences with foreign leaders, or in-between phone calls with high-level officials.

And so we get the same results.  We get Newt Gingrich the ideas man, Jeb Bush the bold reformer, Rudy Giuliani the not an absolute disgrace of a human being.  We get Larry Summers the wise sage, Michelle Rhee the uncompromising savior of American students, Erskine Bowles the not an idiot who can’t read actuarial tables.

*                    *                    *

Of course, it’s not all due to seduction by political operatives.  A lot of the inane and wrong coverage comes from other factors.

Laziness is always a good one.  Right now political coverage has got more buzz than a honeybee whorehouse about who will get which cabinet position.  Will they nominate John Kerry for Defense Secretary as a consolation for giving State to Susan Rice?  Will the GOP use Rice’s confirmation hearings as a battleground in the shadow war over Benghazi?  Who will step into the (quiet in order to avoid people hearing him sneak around) shoes of Petraeus at the CIA over from Petraeus?

These staff positions shape an administration’s policy enormously, so it’s important to treat them as a big deal.  But, um . . . the fuck was this coverage during the election?  If it’s important to know who’s going into which position, why weren’t the campaigns asked about it when they were running for the right to make those staffing decisions?  Jennifer Rubin is an intellectual Paraquat who must be so releaved she can take a breather after holding down jobs both as a Washington Post opinion writer and Mitt Romney’s press secretary, but she’s right about this one thing: this stuff wasn’t gone into during the campaign, and that’s a tremendous failure.  She frames it as a failure of the media to let the American people know they would have a faggy VC peacenik as Defense Secretary, but the general point is a good one.

Everyone knows what the media coverage of the campaign did instead of actual reporting: horse-race coverage!  Who’s up, who’s down, who’s spending money where.  It’s easy, sure, but it also avoids rocking the boat; it’s just a stenography job writing down what each campaign is doing and what the polls are saying, can’t really lose access over doing that, can I, what do you mean I’ll be sitting in the back of the press plane from now on oh please don’t do this no please please I’ll do anything you want yes I will put your press flackey’s words in the mouth of an Ohio mother of two yes I said yes I will Yes.

And those dynamics don’t stop once the campaigns over.  There’s a tremendous amount horse-race aspects of the jockeying for cabinet positions.  Kerry was an early front-runner for State, but fell behind Rice, now he’s “in the mix” to lead the Pentagon, although he seems to be losing momentum.  Although why is he in the running at all, since the political implications are dire?

This is happening while allegations of the number 2 House Republican coerced the FBI into bringing down the CIA Director by continuing an investigation that was winding down, remember.  Horse-race coverage provides reporters with access since everyone’s spinning like mad, it doesn’t open yourself up to accusations of bias, it’s easy.  It’s just not very useful.

Ah well.  Maybe Ackerman will end his long journey through the wilderness and be hired by an actual paper.  And maybe I’ll marry Pippa Middleton.

Posted November 13, 2012 by Ben in Uncategorized

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Reading Digest – 13 November 2012   Leave a comment

“A hundred thousand for a picture of Britney peeing on a ladybug!  Imagine what a photo of her crapping on a squirrel is worth!” – Kyle Broflovski

CNNlogo Atlanta is flush with the truly pointless this morning:

Bieber Latenight A celebrity break up plus Jay Leno and David Letterman doing their jobs, and that’s before we get to:

Ooh Catfight And:

Julie After Dentist

Here’s what I don’t get.  The video of the kid being stoned after getting her wisdom teeth removed is labeled “Distraction”, but the one about the celebrity relationships and the two about comedy programs doing comedy aren’t.  Very odd editorial standards they have there. 

DailyCallerLogo Carlson’s House of Wingnut Welfare continues its mission to bring light spank material in a proper, conservative manner:

NBA Cheerleaders (Probably Obama Voters)

Coming tomorrow, which hospitals have the sexiest nurses and a revealing look at bras: which work better, front clasp or the other kind?

DailyBeastLogo Balancing the sex versus the more important security and political connotations of something like the still expanding Petraeus story is a tricky job for even the most reserved and intelligent of news outlets.  This is not how you do that:

Paula!

We’re already reducing a person who isn’t accused of anything except unapproved sex as “Paula” and referring to her interactions with another woman, about whom the news knows even less, as a “cat fight”.  Not that we should expect sobriety and intelligence from Newsweek Jr.:

Secret Affair Tips for Discerning Sparkly Vampires

ABC Logo Mickey’s News Club is also working the celebrity beat this morning:

Weight Loos, Famous People, Click Bait!

There’s nothing quite as click worthy as extreme weight loss plus fame, but that doesn’t make it informative, and last I checked the word “News” was still part of the title down there. 

Posted November 13, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Reading Digest, South Park

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Commercial Break: E-Trade Has Cooler Graphics Than Ever!   Leave a comment

Broadcast: 11 November 2012
Program: Face the Nation
Channel: CBS
Conglomerate: National Amusements/Viacom/CBS Corporation

Advertiser: E-Trade
Owned By: E-Trade
Pitch: The new E-Trade isn’t as shitty as the old one, we promise.

As the poster company for on-line stock speculation, E-Trade has always been at the forefront of turning “investing” into nothing more than an elaborate on-line gaming experience that happens to involve real money.  As the years have gone by and the promise of instant wealth trading stocks in your pajamas has been repeatedly exposed as a fantasy, their marketing has become increasingly vague over just what they’re offering.  These days they hardly mention money or the stock market, instead highlighting all the features that make trading easy for you (yes, you!), the small investor who can can detect trends and opportunities better than those coked out dollar jockeys in the canyons of Manhattan.   

You can see that vagueness in those screechingly awful talking baby commercials, where the whole pitch is that anyone, even infants, can invest with their tools.  (And since you’re smarter than a baby, how hard could it be?)  You can also see it in more generic commercials like this one, which doesn’t so much as discuss what you might actually be doing, but rather makes stocks look like a cool video game that you can play from anywhere.  It’s a short ad, just 15-seconds, and this is the entirety of the narration:

E-trade technology can help make you a better investor.  Our E-trade 360 investing dashboard shows you where your money is live.  E-trade Pro is so useable you’ll actually use it.  And our apps are the ultimate in mobile investing.  Become a better investor, at E-trade.

Note that there’s nothing there about actual investing, what their tools do, or even a single number about commissions, trades, whatever.  Anything that smacks of complexity or risk has been eliminated.  All they’re offering is something that’s bigger, cooler, and more powerful than the previous version.  But the narration is the minority partner here, the real heavy lifting is done by the graphics:

E-Box 360

Cool laptop, bro.

That would be the “E-trade 360 investing dashboard” which presumably does not play Halo 4 and stream Netflix, but might.  But wait, there’s more:

E-Trade Pro Comes In Five Different Colors

Awesome, I’ll look just like those guys on TV with all the monitors!

This is “E-trade Pro” the thing that’s “so usable you’ll actually use it”, which is good because the small, negligibly legible print says that you must make at least 30 trades every “calendar quarter” to keep using it.  In other words, this is E-trade 360’s version of in-game purchasable content.  Don’t want to spend two hours looking for the Wizard Key?  Just make at least ten trades a month.  Finally, we get to the new handheld version:
 For the Gambler on the Go

Yeah, but does it play Tetris?

This is the best part, because if there’s one thing that’s the opposite of careful, well researched investment, it’s the need to buy and sell stocks while you’re in line at Starbucks, sitting on the can, or frustrated by the new expansion pack for Angry Birds.  Like casinos that put the slot machines near the entrance because they’re the easiest game to play, all E-trade is pushing here is convenience.  They want you to know that the barrier to entry for flinging money around is lower than it’s ever been, that you (yes, you!) can do it just like the big boys, as though the only thing holding you back was better graphics and a slicker user interface. 

Posted November 12, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Commercial Break

Minority Report Card: The Wedding Band and More.   Leave a comment

“What up? We’re three cool guys looking for other cool guys who wanna hang out in our party mansion. Nothing sexual. Dudes in good shape encouraged. If you’re fat, you should be able to find humor in the little things. Again, nothing sexual, underlined.”-Mac

With premiere season over, this column is now going to monitor representation in a sample of seven episodes every week (until midseason premieres – woohoo!). I will be looking at whether it passes the Bechdel test, a test that asks whether the premiere has two female characters who have a conversation about something other than a man. I will also see whether it passes the same test modified to apply to people of color (the “Troy and Abed test”) and then modified to apply to queer people (the “Will and Jack test”). I’ve selected one TV show from every night of the week to look at (skipping Tuesday this week since TV took  break for politics). I don’t have a particular system devised for selecting episodes to look at, so please comment if you have any requests.

American Dad! (Fox)

For Sunday night I selected the only TV show that still hasn’t passed a single one of these tests so far this season. The episode I looked at this week was Episode 8.3 “Can I Be Frank With You?”

Bechdel test: Fail

Troy and Abed test: Fail

Will and Jack test: Pass

Notes: I honestly didn’t expect American Dad! to be the show that went this long without passing one of the tests– after all, CBS exists. The episode that finally made it over the hump did it in the worst way possible, with a throw away joke where the goldfish talks to Roger and we find out that they’ve been having sex. I guess this makes the fish bisexual and so I’m giving it a pass. Mostly to get this show off my back. But damn are they bad at this.

Gossip Girl (The CW)

Monday night’s show was the evening soap opera about the Upper East Side’s elite. The episode I looked at this week was Episode 6.4 “Portrait of a Lady Alexander.”

Bechdel test: Pass

Troy and Abed test: Fail

Will and Jack test: Fail

Notes: Just like in the premiere, this show failed everything except Bechdel. Back in the early seasons, the show had a prominent queer character (Erik) and a prominent person of color (Vanessa), but it’s been lacking in diversity for a while. I’m hoping that before the season ends we get a return from Erik and possibly some follow-up on the plot they started with Nelly Yuki.

Supernatural (The CW)

On Wednesday I looked at this long-running drama that tracks two demon hunters. The episode I looked at this week was Episode 8.6 “Southern Comfort.”

Bechdel test: Fail

Troy and Abed test: Fail

Will and Jack test: Fail

Notes: After a promising premiere, this episode went back to the show’s roots of focusing on white, (allegedly) straight men. On the plus side, next week we’re getting a prominent plot involving Kevin Tran and his mother.

The Office (NBC)

On Thursday I looked at the final season of the sitcom The Office. The episode I looked at this week was Episode 9.6 “The Boat.”

Bechdel test: Pass

Troy and Abed test: Fail

Will and Jack test: Pass

Notes: It’s nice that they’re giving lone gay character Oscar a love interest and a storyline this season, but their handling of this plot is pretty sloppy. Because its outside the world of the show to give Oscar and Robert significant scenes together, we’re really not given any information about the relationship besides the fact that Robert is married to Angela and they have a baby, so they both mostly come off as terrible people, although it sometimes seems like we’re supposed to be invested in them successfully keeping the relationship a secret. It’s not really an offensive plot line, especially since many of the straight couples have equally sloppy plot lines lately. It’s just a bummer to see their first really significant plot line involving too gay characters handled in such a sloppy way.

Degrassi (TeenNick)

On Friday I looked at this Canadian teen drama. The episode I looked at this week was Episode 12.25 “I Want It That Way.” 

Bechdel test: Pass

Troy and Abed test: Pass

Will and Jack test: Pass

Notes: There was a point while I was monitoring all the American major network premieres when I started to wonder if I was just asking too much, since show after show kept failing these tests. This episode was a reminder that this really isn’t that hard. The a-plot was a love triangle between an Indian girl (Alli) and two black guys (Dave and Dallas) and while there was romantic tension in her scenes with both of them, they also gave her scenes dealing with her friends, family and academic career so she comes off as a fully realized human being. Both of the subplots involved queer characters– one was about Fiona wanting to win over her girlfriend Imogen’s mother and the other was about Tristan wanting to lose weight. Both of these plots kept the characters’ queer identity in mind while still realizing there are other aspects to them. It was refreshing and also made all of the American shows I looked at more depressing by comparison.

Wedding Band (TBS)

On Saturday I looked at the premiere of the latest TBS sitcom. I can at least assure you that it’s better than Sullivan & Son.

Bechdel test: Pass

Troy and Abed test: Fail

Will and Jack test: Fail

Notes: I appreciated the fact that there was a major subplot involving two women working together at a business, especially since something had to balance out all the nagging wife jokes. Poor Harold Perinneau (Lost, Oz) was the one person of color and his dialogue was largely made up of “I’m the black guy” jokes.

 

That’s it for this week. Next week I’ll have seven more episodes, including the season two premiere of the groundbreaking feminist sitcom Whitney.

Reading Digest – 12 November 2012   Leave a comment

“You too, huh?  Hey, I know a good yogurt place.” – Jimmy Carter
“Get away from me, loser.” – Bush the Elder

WSJlogo1 Ha!:

Aww, Sad Fugees

The big story with the picture of the sad brokers is the lead, because that nasty government might be raising taxes and scaring away the Confidence Fairy.  The actual story, the one that doesn’t fit the Murdoch line of all taxes are bad all the time, is that stock futures have risen.  This is why you never let Rupert Murdoch buy your once respectable newspaper.

DailyBeastLogo This morning Newsweek Jr. is deeply concerned about aristocrats who fell short of power:

Mitt and Some Lady I supposed it’s nice to see Mittens reduced to speculative tabloid copy, but this is still pretty low, even by the waiting room floor standards of Newsweek Jr.

DailyCallerLogo More penile insecurity from Tucker & Friends:

Mmm, Dark Dong

If you’re wondering whether or not there’s a picture of a woman in a bikini in the article, please don’t.  Of course there is.

PoliticoLogo Swampgas Daily still thinks it’s the 1990s:

Newt's Essay on How He Spent His Summer Vacation

Little Newtie’s essay is entirely comprised of one sentence paragraphs.

Like this.

No, I don’t know why.

He probably doesn’t either.

And in addition to him, we’ve also got:

Politico Self Portrait

Is it possible for a crappy “newspaper” to take a self portrait?  Because that’s what this would be if there was any shred of honesty down at Villager HQ.

ABC Logo Hey Mickey, get fucked:

Durr, Twilight Is Popular Still

And as if that wasn’t newsless enough, right next to it we’ve got:

Cavalcade of Celebrity Mourners

This particular piece of celebrity chasing is notably worse than usual because they put it up on account of what used to be called Armistice Day (note the fashionably mournful hat), but it’s actually just 93 (!) pictures of that British princess doing stuff.  We won a war to not care about that, and you’re retreating on Veterans Day?  Fuck you, ABC.

Posted November 12, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Reading Digest, The Simpsons

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Bond 24: Action! Nostalgia! Sequels!   Leave a comment

“Our last film tonight is the new, politically correct version of James Bond, ‘On His or Her Majesty’s Secret Service’.” – Jay Sherman
“Well, darling, thanks to my efforts, Blofeld’s army will now admit homosexuals, the blind, and midgets.” – James Bond

Top Line: Skyfall is exactly what we’ve come to expect from a Daniel Craig James Bond movie.  It’s executed much better than Quantum of Solace, and has a better bad guy than Casino Royale, but it isn’t much different than those two in terms of what happens or whether or not you’re likely to be entertained by it. 

Who (probably) should see this movie: James Bond fans (obviously), and anyone looking for something other than kids fare and overly serious Oscar bait here at the end of the year. 

Who (probably) should not see this movie: People who don’t like Bond movies, and/or anyone who wasn’t all that thrilled with Casino Royale (2006).

Box Score:

Runtime: 2h:23m – It certainly could’ve been a bit shorter in places, but it never drags.

Actual Start Time: Showtime + 20(!) Minutes

Friday Evening Demographics: Packed house. 

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking

Seems about right, though it is funny that we now actually point out when someone lights up a cigarette in a movie.  (Don’t worry, it’s not Bond.)

Should Be Rated: PG-12

Three Stars:

  1. Javier Bardem – Mincing, Blonde Psycho-Spy: 
    No surprises here.  Bond villains always get to have the most fun, and Bardem is great every time he’s on the screen.
  2. Daniel Craig – James Bond:
    His ultra-tough, ultra-muscled Bond is back for a third go.
  3. Judi Dench – M:
    Her ultra-controlled, no nonsense M is also just what you’d expect.
Need to See In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +1 (Definitely some action sequences that look very good on a big screen.)
  • +1 (James Bond is usually more fun with an audience, and that’s true of this one as well.)
  • -1 (It’s a Bond movie, it’s going to be on television and in home video releases from now until the Sun explodes, so it’s not like you’ll never get another chance.) 

Final Score: 4

Need to See Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 (James Bond!)
  • -1 (James Bond.)

Final Score: 5

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 (for Judi Dench being in much more of the movie than she is in most of her Bond appearances.)
  • -1 (for Naomie Harris not doing much of anything after the opening scene.)
  • -1 (for Bérénice Marlohe not having much to do, period.)

Final Score: 4

IMDb Sez:

Director:

  • Sam Mendes:
    Well respected director of middlebrow critic pleasers like American Beauty (1999), Jarhead (2005), and Revolutionary Road (2008).

Writers:

  • Neal Purvis:
    Wrote the previous two Daniel Craig Bond movies.
  • Robert Wade:
    Pretty much the same as Purvis.
  • John Logan:
    Has been involved with plenty of big budget Hollywood screenplays over the years, ranging from very good (Rango (2011), The Aviator (2004)) to the not so good (Gladiator (2000), Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)).

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 93% Top Critics: 91% Audience: 91%

Notes:

  • Skyfall is a good James Bond movie, but I’m surprised at the rapturous Rotten Tomatoes numbers.  It suffers from way too many typical Bond problems (incompetent henchmen, a bad guy who prattles on instead of getting shit done, goofily dumb computer jargon/hacking) to be a truly excellent move on its own. 
  • The opening chase scene in Turkey is just wonderful.  It’s exactly what you want from a Bond movie: a cool location, lots of neat stunts, and over the top action. 
  • As Bond and the bad guy are riding motorcycles on the roof in Istanbul, there are two close shots of Craig that are hilariously, obviously shot in front of a fake background.  I’m honestly not sure if they left it looking that fake deliberately as a nod to the countless times that Sean Connery, Roger Moore, et al did the same thing. 
  • Okay, Sony, we get it.  You make cool electronics. 
  • Speaking of the many instances of product placement, they do feel more out of place in these grittier Craig movies.  Near the beginning of the film Bond is holed up in some tropical paradise drinking himself into a pleasant stupor after being accidentally shot by one of his own.  Despite his state as a physical and emotional wreck, he remembers to keep the label of his beer bottle facing the camera. 
  • Oddly enough, and somewhat disappointingly, the final showdown is probably the weakest part of the movie.  For a film that likes its twists and machinations, there’s something inherently unsatisfying about a bunch of nameless henchmen getting blow’d up and shot in a pretty anodyne action sequence.  There’s nothing terrible about it, but the rest of the movie’s big moments show a bit more creativity. 
  • The numerous nods and winks to Bond traditions and predecessors is a constant and amusing undercurrent.  So, for example, we get Bond wearing a tuxedo in a casino, but when he goes for the drink with the beautiful woman we don’t see him order his martini shaken not stirred, we see the bartender shake it and then simply have him thank her. 
  • Many of the above are subtle, the Aston Martin DB5 is not.  It’s just pure fan service, so much so that it actually got a smattering of applause. 
  • For all its talk about Bond getting old and broken down, Skyfall makes very sure to leave the table set for the further adventures of Daniel Craig as James Bond. 

Bottom Line: The James Bond franchise has survived, as Skyfall happily reminds you at its ending credits, for half a century now.  It has managed to stay relevant and popular through all that time by changing with the culture.  The days when Sean Connery can smoke like a chimney and more or less force himself on any woman on screen are long gone.  So too are the campy 1970s versions, the 1980s late Cold War ones, and the bombastic Pierce Brosnan movies that felt the generic Hollywood need to make each sequel bigger and louder until the audience went numb with the sheer absurdity of it all.

Since 2006’s Casino Royale we’ve had Daniel Craig’s tougher and harsher version, where Bond still comes out on top, but not without getting bloodied, bruised and emotionally tormented first.  Skyfall is a very good addition to this current version of Britain’s super spy.  Bond performs heroic stunts and impossible feats, all in the name of patriotism and beating the bad guy, but he isn’t a hopeless smartass who seems above it all. 

The particulars (the chases, the locations, the comic relief with Q) are all up to snuff, and Javier Bardem steals every scene he’s in.  As Bond villains go his ambitions are considerably smaller than world domination, but he brings a novel enthusiasm to the requisite callousness that lets him do terrible things.  He straddles the line between glee and insanity so well that you almost don’t notice him making classic Bond villain mistakes like not killing Bond and then simply asking his goons to make sure he’s dead. 

All in all, Skyfall is an entertaining and worthy addition to the franchise.  Since Bond movies are destined for a long shelf life, it’ll take a couple of decades before we can properly situate it among its peers, but I’ll be surprised if it’s considered a poor entry. 

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Skyfall:

Promised Land – Matt Damon sells fracking to economically distressed farming communities, becomes conflicted.  He’d like to thank the Academy. 

Side Effects – Taught, sexy thriller from the makers of . . . Contagion?  Ugh. 

Jack Reacher – Oh good, another massively cliched Tom Cruise action vehicle.  That’s what the movie going public has been clamoring for.  (Is he a loose cannon cop who plays by his own rules, but, damn it, he gets results?  Yes.  Yes, he is.) 

The Hobbit – Well, at least it was a new trailer, even if it does it’s best to make sure that the general movie going public won’t realize that Gandalf and the rest of the characters they recognize are barely going to be in these movies.

Red Dawn – Surgeon General’s Warning: The massive stupid of this movie may be harmful to pregnant women, people with heart conditions, and anyone with a BAC below 0.08. 

Die Hard 5 – As if Die Hard 4 wasn’t awful enough.

Django Unchained – I know what I’m going to see on Christmas.  Woo-hoo! 

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Posted November 10, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Box Score Cinema, The Critic

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Commercial Break: Crizal Lenses Are So Good You Don’t Need Glasses   Leave a comment

Broadcast: 6 November 2012
Program: Cyclops
Channel: SyFy
Conglomerates: Comcast & General Electric

Advertiser: Crizal
Owned By: Essilor
Pitch: Invincible lenses for your glasses mean that you don’t need glasses.

[Programming Note: Box Score Cinema for Bond 24 will be delayed until tomorrow morning.]

One of the fun parts of low budget programming, like a movie on SyFy about a giant CGI cyclops who has to battle his way out of a Roman gladiatorial arena, is equally low budget commercials.  It is in that spirit that we get this odd, poorly animated, one trick, first person viewer of a commercial for specialty eyeglass lenses.

We begin by looking out onto a rain soaked street as a hand (male and white, naturally) puts on a pair of glasses:

A Very Boring Dramatization

There’s an ammo pack hidden behind that pillar during multiplayer matches.

It’s all pretty much the same from here on out.  On the left we have the “ordinary lens” and on the right we have the miracle lens, and in the lower right we have the “Dramatization” disclaimer to let you know that the rest of this is, in fact, completely made up.  Not too surprisingly, the lens on the left is instantly covered in blurry rain drops while the lens on the right is spotless and perfect.  This pattern will repeat itself.  The narration:

Just look at the difference a Crizal lens can make on your sight.  Neither rain, nor snow, nor dust, nor dirt, nor smudge, nor scratches, nor glare of night, can keep your lenses from giving you the clearest vision possible.

As the narrator hits each obstacle (snow, dust, dirt, etc.) we switch to a new scene, each with its own distinct flavor of poorly done computer graphics.  First, snow, complete with a bratty kid hitting him square in the monocles with a snowball:

Nor Snow

Then comes dust and dirt, which is maybe the worst one since the commercial appears to think there is a sandstorm worthy of the Sahara occurring in this not-at-all-desertified downtown:

Nor Dust

Then comes smudges and scratches, represented here by this guy’s inability to protect his face from a beach ball thrown by a toddler:

Nor Scratches

And finally, “glare of night”, which sounds like a cool noir detective movie but is, in fact, our first person guy standing by a railing with an attractive woman who looks appropriately upper middle class:

Nor Glare of Night

Through each of these scenes we see ugly smudges on the left lens while the right remains perfectly clear.  What makes the whole thing even more low rent than it already is, however, is the way that the view through the right lens is identical to the view outside of them.

I get why they did that, you wouldn’t want most of your image to be blurry nothingness, but once you notice it, a cheap nonsensical commercial becomes even cheaper and more nonsensical.  Nevermind the crappy CGI, nevermind the hokey and fatuous locations, nevermind that this guy’s kids throw shit at his face with alarming regularity, the clarity they’re explicitly holding up – in a comparison they came up with themselves – is dwarfed by the overwhelming majority of screen real estate taken up by something that isn’t their product.  Of course, when you’re advertising on Cyclops on the SyFy channel you can probably assume that the audience isn’t paying details that much attention anyway, but still.

Posted November 9, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Commercial Break

Reading Digest – 9 November 2012   Leave a comment

“Welcome to Decision ’96, it’s eighteen months till the election and tonight we’ll focus on the Vice-Presidential candidates.  Since this is so boring and pointless, we will periodically be inserting clips from Baywatch.” – Political Reporter
“Help, help!  An octopus stole my bikini top!” – Hot Blonde
“I’ll get it.  But first I better put on my octopus repellent.  Ooh, oh yeah, that’s good octopus repellent.” – Not David Hasselhoff

CNNlogo Most people greet presidential elections with relief.  To all but a tiny, gossip obsessed minority the campaigns and their attendant horseshit are aggravating and frustrating, and seeing the end of them is all to the good.  CNN, of course, is run by some of the dimmer lights of that tiny minority, and has this:

2016 Aztec Apocalypse

As profoundly embarrassing as this should be for them, they double down with the subhead:

Analysis: The 2012 election just ended, but the 2016 campaign for the White House is underway.

First of all, that isn’t “Analysis”, that’s product positioning.  Second, no the 2016 campaign is not underway.  Not even close.  The only thing that’s underway are wanna-be insiders one upping each other with pointless, uninformed speculation.  But that never ceases. 

PoliticoLogo See?  Never:

Hillary Is Already Looking to the General

Put down the crack pipe, Politico.  We’re all worried about you.

FNLogo FOX has been on Bias Alert every day since well before the election.  But as any competent naval commander will tell you, readiness goes down if you leave the men at general quarters too long, which appears to be what’s happened this morning:

Damned Entertainment Reporters

The “Reuters Journo” in question is, drum roll please, an entertainment reporter who just became a citizen and committed the heinous crime of voting for the first time on Tuesday.  Of course, none of that stopped the twitchy paranoiacs at the Bias Alert CIC quoting from the Reuters handbook to try and damn her:

Reuters journalists should be mindful of the impact their publicly expressed opinions can have on their work and on Reuters.

What they fail to mention is that her Twitter page, to which the FOX article contains a broken link, says this right at the top:

Surrey girl, Warwick Uni/USC alum. All views my own, RTs not endorsements. Also tweeting @ReutersShowbiz

It specifically notes that these aren’t the views of Reuters, and since she’s not a political reporter, it’s difficult to think how tweeting about her first vote as a U.S. citizen for Obama impacts her work. 

To review: A reporter who doesn’t cover politics used her personal Twitter account, which specifically says that it doesn’t reflect the views of Reuters, to talk about the first time she voted.  Might be time to stand down from Bias Alert before someone starts taking inventory on the strawberries. 

Posted November 9, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Reading Digest, The Critic

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