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Abercrombie & Fitch Ad a Tour de Force

30 Jan

Abercrombie & Fitch’s new advertisement (available here), filmed in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, is a tour de force of sociological documentary filmmaking.  While some critics may see the spot as just another attempt to sell shirts by exploiting sexy models and the retro rhythm and blues of Duffy’s “Mercy,” in reality the piece underscores the dire economic conditions and resulting anomie facing the region.

The opening shot of stately coastal homes and sailboats establishes a seemingly exclusive and monied setting.  However, this feint is followed by a reel of hard-hitting economic reality.   The black and white format adds  the existential gravity of film noir.

The lack of a shirt on the male character immediately symbolizes a grave issue facing young people in Maine today.  There is an undeniable lack of well-paying jobs for those in the “recently graduated” demographic. Many of our educated youth are forced to leave the state in search of employment in Boston, New York, or even the West Coast. Those who stay often can’t afford clothes. It may come to down to a choice of wearing a shirt or pants.

There are shots of the young man hauling a row boat to the shore, an indictment of the dying fishing industry. Subsequent scenes of him running with his dog show how Maine men have been reduced to their most primitive state: That of the pre-historic hunter-gatherer who domesticated wolves to aid his survival.

The young woman in the piece also reinforces the theme.  Her first extended scene shows her driving.  She is coming from somewhere else, both in place and in opportunity. Her face is serious and determined. She knows the hardship her man is facing. The film ends with the couple embracing in a field, though it is clearly established that he will be leaving with her.  Oppurtunity and hope exist where she lives.  There he will be able to afford pants and a shirt.

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Hollywood Endings: The Shield and The Sopranos

26 Nov

(Editor’s note:  The Hangover swung and missed on much of our interpretation of the Soprano’s ending.  Please see:  http://masterofsopranos.wordpress.com/the-sopranos-definitive-explanation-of-the-end/)

The Shield’s seven year run of grit ended last night with an episode true to its stomach-wrenching nature.  One could not help but draw contrast to the ending of the Sopranos, HBO’s signature crime drama.  The relative merit of each can be seen through the music used to define the episodes.  For The Shield, it was Vic Mackey’s opening drive through his city to X’s Los Angeles, a seminal punk cut that characterizes the chaotic undercurrent that runs like a riptide through LA.  In contrast, the Sopranos ended with the Soprano family having dinner in a restaurant known for onion rings while the trite, Top 40 strains of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ dominated the scene.  These musical choices alone indicate the merits of the respective finales.

The Sopranos finished in a sea of symbolism.  As Tony, Carmella, and AJ order lousy food, Meadow tries to park her car (signifying how the family will never fit in to mainstream America?).  A man walks in the restaurant, scopes out Tony and heads for the bathroom (Mob hit man?  Innocent passerby?  Or a symbol of the potential threat that will always hang over Tony’s head?).  The camera pans to a young couple obviously in love enjoying their dinner (Symbolizing a young Tony and Carmella, when they believed–cue Journey–their futures were bright?)  The screen turns black as Meadow runs in the restaurant, leaving millions of Americans thinking that HBO has just crashed.  No, the disaster wasn’t in their set.  It was in the guts of the Sopranos producers and writers, who took the “arty” way out–failing to make the definitive statement that writers most often consider critical to story-telling.   Then again, maybe not.  Perhaps The Sopranos team wanted to leave us believing that the Sopranos would never know what lay ahead for them, and that was the curse given Tony’s chosen occupation.  But these are just The Hangover’s interpretations.  Others have seen the episode quite differently.  On the excellent Television Without Pity site, there are 226 pages of interpretation.  That indicates a problem; after six seasons, the producers should have been able to provide a meaningful resolution.  To fail to do so is to walk away from one’s responsibility as an artist.

The Shield, however, concluded with an earned, tough clarity.   Desperation built.  Frustrations grew.  Betrayal became a way of life.  Death was a choice.   No major character escaped unscathed.  Shane, Ronnie, Dutch, Acevada, Claudette, Julien, Corinne, Steve, and Tina all leave wounded.   The filmmaking was brilliant, as letting the final minutes play out on Vic Mackey’s face showed the commitment, faith, and cajones that was clearly lacking in the Sopranos finale.  The price that Mackey pays for trying to walk the wire between justice and morality is clear:  There’s nothing left inside.   Powerful storytelling trumps pretentious symbolism:  Writers and viewers can agree on that.

The Maverick, John McCain, Not Even America’s Best

7 Oct

“John McCain is a maverick.”  Americans have heard that thousands–if not millions–of times over the last few months. We’ll hear it some more, too, as election day approaches.   While McCain contends this “maverick” status will make him a good president, The Hangover remains dubious.  The truth is, McCain isn’t even the best Maverick the United States has to offer.  Therefore, as a public service, The Hangover offers its list of:

Best American Mavericks:

America's best maverick: Bret Maverick

1)  Bret Maverick as played by James Garner

The television show “Maverick” aired from 1957-1962, with Garner playing Bret Maverick from ’57 to ’60.  The show was a comedy-action-western featuring three Maverick brothers and one nephew, all card-playing sharps who dressed well, cracked jokes, and then did good–often reluctantly.  The Museum of Broadcast Communications termed the show “a subversive Western with a dark sense of humor.”  The show can still occasionally be seen on the Encore Western channel. 

Only one or two of the Maverick clan were  featured in an episode, with Garner’s Bret being the lead during the shows creative and ratings peaks.  Garner’s charisma, timing, and acting were impeccable.  Bret Maverick’s ability to carry the day against even more underhanded and over-sized foes made him an icon.  While the typical western character wore jeans and flannel, Bret Maverick operated in his fine gambler’s suit.  He would outsmart his adversaries more often than he’d outslug them, but he was adept at both.  He won chips and broke hearts, including his own.  He always intended to act in his own self interest, but rarely did.  Bret Maverick is the mark against which all Mavericks should be measured. 

2) Mark Cuban

Cuban made his fortume as a technology entrepreneur during the Internet boom of the ’80’s and ’90’s by being a maverick in his field.  He’s currently rated the 161st richest American, not bad for a kid from a working class family.  But Cuban is not only a business maverick, he owns Mavericks–the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA.  He also writes a maverick blog:  http://blogmaverick.com/.  While the Dallas Mavericks have yet to win the NBA title under Cuban’s stewardship, the team is always in the playoffs and made the finals in 2006.  As a real maverick, Cuban is often fined by the league for speaking out, speaking truth, and sharing his opinion, whether it is in his best interest or not.  If only our politicians talked as honestly and straight as Cuban.

3)  Raul Malo

Malo is the former lead singer of the Mavericks, a smooth Latin-tinged roots-country band that broke out in 2000.   While the music itself was excellent, the band’s focal point was Malo’s lush, deep vocals.  Rolling Stone described Malo’s voice “on par with the best of ’em:  Sinatra, George Jones, and Orbison.”  That explains why he continues to grow as an artist in a fine solo career.  This singer-Maverick is among the greatest of all time.

4)  The Ford Maverick     

A better maverick than John McCain

The Ford Maverick: A better maverick than John McCain

The Ford Maverick was a compact car built by Ford from 1969-1977.   With a price tag of $1995, it’s first year sales eclipsed records set by the Mustang in 1965.   Despite being labeled a compact, it’s sporty flourishes gave the car personality and a certain level of muscular elan.  It also proved to be dependable and fuel-efficient transportation during the fuel crisis of the 1970’s.  The Maverick rarely let down its owners and, in fact, The Hangover learned to drive behind the wheel of a ’76 four-door model.  This car was one great maverick. 

 

5)  Bart Maverick as played by Jack Kelly

Kelly’s role as Bart Maverick spanned the length of the entire Maverick series.  And while Kelly was not quite the force that Garner was, he was a model of comic, wry consistency.  The characters of Bret and Bart were not so different, both winners at cards, love, and the high life.  They were distinguished mainly by Bart’s gray hat (Bret wore black).   Episodes where both brothers co-starred are classics. 

6) Dirk Nowitzki

Nowitzki is the face and star of the NBA’s and Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks,  His lifetime stats reveal greatness.  As the leader of the Mavericks, over the last ten years he’s averaged 36.5 minutes per game, 22.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists.  In this years playoffs, he raised his game when it mattered the most with 26.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game.  A real maverick comes through when it counts. Unfortunately, Nowitzki is a citizen of Germany and must be disqualified.

Other Notable Mavericks:

17)  Roger Moore as Beau Maverick.  Beau Maverick was a cousin of Bart and Bret.  Moore, despite being his usual suave self in the role, is also English and disqualified. 

38) Sarah Palin.  The Hangover is unsure how being a hockey Mom, potential book banner, religious zealot, and mainstream Republican make one a maverick.  But seeing as she hit Alaskan energy companies with a windfall profits tax–which actually put money in the pockets of regular Alaskans–she deserves recognition. 

53)  Robert Colbert as Brent Maverick.   Colbert starred in some episodes of the 1961 season, a poor man’s Bret or Bart.  Hence his position down the list.

72) John McCain.  Proclaiming (or having your running mate do so) oneself a maverick does not make it so.  What has McCain done to earn this status?  Co-write legislation that makes sense with Ted Kennedy?  Kennedy’s written legalisation with countless other Senators.  McCain did institute campaign finance reform; unfortunately it was a package that was more “gums” than “teeth.”  Special interest money keeps rolling into candidates’ pockets including McCain’s and Obama’s.  If McCain wanted to be a real Maverick:  he wouldn’t take that special interest money; seven of his tops aides wouldn’t be former lobbyists; and he wouldn’t have voted with George W. Bush 95% of the time.   

99)  Bret Maverick as played by Mel Gibson. Gibson lacked the charisma, self-deprecation, and nuance that made James Garner such as great Maverick. Not even a cameo by Garner could save this debacle. Australian mavericks must have been disheartened by Gibson’s performance.

278) Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell as played by Tom Cruise.  This highly clichéd character in the highly clichéd Hollywood blockbuster Top Gun produced a highly clichéd and therefore low-rated maverick.

Debate Hero: Sarah Palin or Marge Gunderson

3 Oct

In the 2008 Presidential election, the Republicans have cast themselves as Main Street, ready to take on the Ivory Towers in a WWE steel cage match.   This someone-you’d-like-to-have-a-beer-with, regular-person-as-your-fearless-leader strategy worked for them in the last two contests, and in the down home-speak now preferred by the GOP:  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  No surprise there.

But last night’s debate left the Hangover wondering why Palin was doing her best impression of Marge Gunderson, Frances McDormand’s steadfast policewoman from the film Fargo.   Palin incessantly reminded us that John McCain is a maverick and that her experience as mayor of Wasilla (population 9780) qualifies her to be Vice President.  In-between, she dropped more Fargo-isms than we could count—in case we didn’t know that she really was just an above-average average American at heart. 

If you watched, you were treated to such figures of speech as (complete with that northern, folksy accent):

“you betcha”     “back ya up”     “a heckuva lot”     “goin’ on”   “tap into ’em”  “bless their hearts”  “comin'”        “bringin'”          “sayin”      “hockey game”      “hockey mom”    “Joe Six-pack”   “darn right”     “change is comin”     “doggone it”    “there ya go again”      “work with ya”    

Vice President Gunderson??

Vice President Gunderson??

It turns out that Palin may have more talent than we’ve given her credit for.   Sarah does Gunderson/McDormand better than Tina Fey does Sarah.  And that’s saying something. 

With all that’s going on in the country right now, it’s time to give the American people a break.  If the Republicans are going to shove this hometown schtick down our throats with Palin, the least they could do is give her Steve Buscemi as a campaign sidekick.  Then the farce would be complete.

McCain’s Speech – Almost Famous

5 Sep

John McCain’s acceptance speech was to be a highlight of the Republican National Convention.  Let’s face it, the man has experience to draw from: Five years in a Vietmanese prison camp to the Keating Five to his 2000 campaign being sunk by a Bush-Rove dirty torpedo to not knowing how many houses he owns.  But he finally got what he wanted, a chance to be President.  One would figure he’d have a lot to say, but it wouldn’t necessarily be easy.

He had to follow Sarah Palin.  The pundits were thrilled by her preformance Wednesday night when she gave a riveting and engaging speech.  Hopefully, the folks at Fox were able to save their wool suits by borrowing the druel buckets the talking heads at MSNBC used during Obama’s acceptance at the DNC.  That people were surprised by Palin strikes the Hangover as being foolish, if not sexist.  Just because the woman is attractive, Americans shouldn’t assume she is incapable of stringing together a few sentences.  After all, she is a former sportscaster and current governor.  Did they expect her to sound like a go-go dancer after one too many midnight happy hours?  But I digress.

While waiting for McCain’s speech, I happened to catch the beginning of Almost Famous on one of the numerous HBO stations populating Time Warner cable.  After five minutes, there wasn’t even a decision to be made.  I could watch a four-star depiction of a budding journalist in a rock and roll setting with numerous three-dimensional characters, or I could listen to a politician spouting the same lines he’s been treading out since this campaign really started back in, what, 1988?  If one doesn’t know who John McCain is and what he stands for by now, those are the people who shouldn’t be allowed a vote. 

The Hangover didn’t need to hear that speech, not when presented with such an alternative.  The characters in the film, William Miller, the members of the fictional Stillwater, Penny Lane, Elaine Miller, etc.., were more real than anyone speaking at or covering the convention–which when you boil it down, is nothing more than a week long political advertisement. 

There’s a scene in the movie when guitar hero Russell Hammond (Billy Cruddup) is tripping on acid, standing on the roof of a garage, proclaiming, “I am a Golden God.”  The moment offers a profound lack of false modesty, which surely fouled the air in Minneapolis.   As Hammond then contemplates jumping and his possible last words, he settles on “I’m on Drugs.”  Fitting, again.  One, because in the world of the film, it is true, and two, because you’d have to be on drugs to believe that anyone you’ve seen at either of these conventions was as truthfuly portrayed as the characters in Almost Famous.   Judge for yourself:

Budweiser: The Great Belgian-American Beer

18 Jul

The business world has been saturated like a rug at a keg party with the news of Belgian brewing giant InBev acquiring all-American Anheuser-Busch.  While this brings us that much closer to a “Rollerball world  where society is dominated and run by a few behemoth corporations, the real question lies in what this means to American Bud drinkers, of which The Hangover is one.

Will Bud taste the same as it does now?  Yes.  Will we still get to watch commercials of Clydesdales playing football in the fall?  Yes.  Will Bud and Bud Light still be brewed regionally? Likely.  Will Bud still be marketed as “The Great American Lager?”  Yes, even though it will be owned by Belgians.

But Americans have no reason to fear Belgian ownership.  Here’s why:  Belgians are great people.  Twenty years ago, The Hangover and one of his associates spent a few nights in a Biarritz casino that could have been a James Bond set.  Our first evening there we cleaned up playing blackjack, winning hand after hand, hooping and hollering and guzzling beer.  While most of the clientele was in suits, we were dressed in jeans and leather jackets; we felt like the Cartwrights cutting loose in Virginia city. 

However, on the following night, our luck wasn’t so great.  Despite the bartenders having our first round arrive at our table just as we did, we started losing.  It got to the point that we were playing hand-to-hand.  A few more bad cards and we were done. 

An older gentleman was seated next to us.  He’d also been at our table the previous evening.   

     “You guys aren’t doing so great tonight,” he said.

     “No, it’s a rough one,” I replied.  We lost a hand just as one of the bartenders came over to see if we needed another round.  We didn’t have the money.

     “Let me buy you guys a beer,” the gentleman said.  “You know, you really got everyone all upset last night.”

     “We were just having a good time,” my associate said.

     “I enjoyed it,” the gentleman said.  “Whenever you can piss off these French assholes, go ahead and do it.”

      “I take it you’re not French,” I said.

     “The hell with that,” he said, smiling.  “I’m from Belgium.”

As soon as the beer the Belgian bought us arrived at the table, our luck changed.  We went on a winning streak that recouped our losses and then surpassed our winnings of the night before.  We owed it all to the kindness of the Belgian spirit. 

The Hangover will continue to support and enjoy Budweiser.  And when the InBev-Anheuser Busch deal is finalized, The Hangover fully expects his first “Belgian” Budweiser will bring him more than just a buzz.

[Editors note:  Rollerball, as a movie, is a good one with compelling characters, action, and suspense.  It was filmed in 1975 based on a storyby William Harrison.  However, if viewed today, the movie reveals itself to be eerily prescient social commentary.  You’d have to be stone drunk on American-Belgian Budweiser to miss the connections between the sci-fi world of the film and the one you actually live in.]

Big Hype, Bad Movie–The Love Guru Standard

22 Jun

The Hangover suspects that the amount of marketing preceding a movie’s release exists in an inverse proportion to the movie’s quality.  In other words:  Big Hype, Bad Movie.   This thesis results from 1) suffering throught a month-long, full scale media assault by Mike Myers and 2) various reviews of his film The Love Guru.  (Full Disclosure:  This is a movie that The Hangover won’t be seeing until it hits HBO in the hopefully distant future.)

In the past few weeks, Myers has:

  • Appeared on the cover of the July Esquire.  The accompanying article 45 Years in 45 Sentences wasn’t nearly as funny as it could have been, although it did manage to pimp The Love Guru and re-pimp Shrek, Wayne’s World, and Austin Powers
  • Hosted the 6th Annual TV Land Awards (6/15/08 )
  • Appeared with Justin Timberlake (also from the movie) on ESPN’s Sportscenter.  (And this is after hockey season.) (6/13/08 )
  • Appeared on The Tonight Show (6/12/08 )
  • Hosted MTV Movie Awards (6/1/08 ), resurrected a tired Wayne and Garth
  • Appeared on Ellen (5/21/08 )
  • Appeared on American Idol Finale as Guru Pitka, his character from (surprise) The Love Guru. (5/21/08 )
  • Well, you get the point by now.  The Hangover also wishes to remind the reader that this is only a partial list.

Now let’s compare the amount of Myer’s promotional work with some reviews of The Love Guru.

From Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe ( earning 1 out of 4 stars):

“Some movies are polite enough to save their outtakes for the closing credits. Others wait for the DVD release. “The Love Guru” doesn’t have that kind of patience. It’s a pitiful assortment of bad ideas and gags that never work; I don’t know what else to call a movie that asks us to find Jessica Alba credible not only as the owner of the beleaguered Toronto Maple Leafs and a comedian, but as a woman attracted to a vulgar, hirsute Mike Myers. Oh, yes I do: Embarrassing.”

From A. O. Scott of the New York Times: 

“Which (the movie’s catchphrase being much less amusing than it should be) might sum up “The Love Guru” in its entirety but only at the risk of grievously understating the movie’s awfulness. A whole new vocabulary seems to be required. To say that the movie is not funny is merely to affirm the obvious. The word “unfunny” surely applies to Mr. Myers’s obnoxious attempts to find mirth in physical and cultural differences but does not quite capture the strenuous unpleasantness of his performance. No, “The Love Guru” is downright antifunny, an experience that makes you wonder if you will ever laugh again.”

The Hangover realizes that we may be committing a stasticial fallacy by taking this one example and extrapolating the “Big Hype, Bad Movie” theory of film marketing.  We’ll have to put the research department on this for further study.  Or perhaps we’ll wait and see what happens when Shrek Goes Fourth comes out.  The guess here is that Myers will have a much less demanding promotional schedule–those Shrek movies are actually funny.