My Top 6 Super Bowl Commercials


Let’s just admit that the Super Bowl was weird this year.

I’m not talking about the game.  To be honest, I could really hardly care less about the game.  When it comes to winners and losers, I’m one of those people who wishes that both teams could win. I think the coach of the winning team should let the losing team score a touchdown so that no one’s feelings get hurt.  I worry about concussions, broken ankles, and compound fractures.  I can handle some of the most graphic zombie films ever made but football just freaks me the fug out.

Instead, I’m one of those people who watches for the commercials and this year, the commercials were odd.  I guess that’s to be understood, all things considered.  But even when you take into account the pandemic and the general sappiness of modern American culture, the commercials felt weak.  There were a lot of inspirational commercials.  Bruce Springsteen gave a two-minute monologue about America while sitting in a jeep.  There was a Ford commercial about how we’re all in this together or something like that.  The beer commercials were less surly and more cringey this year.  There were a lot of commercials with celebrities where the whole joke seemed to be, “Hey, look!  A celebrity!”

There were precious few commercials for any upcoming movies or TV shows.  In fact, there were four.  FOUR!  Every previous year, I’ve worked myself to a beautiful exhaustion trying to keep up with all the movies being advertised during the big game.  This year, I wrote a few — very few — words about Coming 2 America, Old, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Raya and the Last Dragon.

Anyway, with all that in mind — here are 6 commercials that I did enjoy.  I don’t know if it’s right for me to say that any of these really qualify as a “favorite” because I really didn’t have any favorites this year.  But, the important thing is that I enjoyed the commercials below.

6) Edgar Scissorhands — Cadillac

I guess Edward is dead or something?  Because Edward’s definitely not in this commercial.  I can only assume that he died or he moved to Paris and was later judged to be too problematic to be invited back to appear with his son.  Well, regardless, this is a cute commercial.  I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a good commercial because people are going to remember Edgar on the bus more than they’re going to remember the Cadillac but still, it was nice.

5) Adam Levine Sets Up Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton — T-Mobile

But if not for the spotty network, Gwen and Blake never would have gotten together!  Oh well.  What matters is that Gwen and Blake are a cute couple.

4) Jason Alexander Hoodie — Tide

This was actually kind of a disturbing commercial but then again, I like the idea of clothing that screams at you.

3) Doritos — Flat Matthew McConaughey

It was weird enough to work.

2) Alexa — Michael B. Jordan

It was sexy enough to work.

  1. Reddit

This made my night.  This ad was short.  It wasn’t pretentious.  It didn’t pretend that it was going to bring America together.  It didn’t feature Bruce Springsteen doing his Kerouac imitation.  Instead, it popped up for five seconds, it freaked a lot of people out, and it kind of gave the finger to the whole silly culture that’s sprung up around Super Bowl advertising.  That was brilliant.  (Considering that Reddit has now become the favorite scapegoat of the establishment, I applaud them for raising their profile as opposed to just meekly waiting for the storm to pass.)

Reddit wins the night!  And, just in case the above video gets taken off of YouTube for some reason, here’s the ad:

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Burning (dir by Tony Maylam)


Among some horror fans, the 1981 film, The Burning, has long had a reputation for being one of the best of the many films to come out of the early 80s slasher boom.

I have to admit that the first time I saw it, my thought process went something like this:  Oh great, more campers …. I can’t wait to see all of these people die …. God, these campers are annoying …. Thank God I never went to summer camp …. Wait, is that Jason Alexander …. when is the killer going to show up …. oh hey, that is Jason Alexander …. if I wanted to sit through a bunch of silly summer camp hijinks, I wouldn’t have gone searching for a horror film …. goddammit, was it really necessary for Jason Alexander to moon the camera …. wow, this movie is boring …. I don’t know who said this was scary but seriously …. oh God, now it’s turning into a movie about rafting …. I’ve about had it …. this movie is so bor–OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED! AGCK!  THERE GO HIS FINGERS OH MY GOD….

Seriously, The Burning is a film that requires a bit of patience.  You got to sit through a lot of silliness before you actually get to the horror but once you do …. oh my God!  It’s intense.  The killer in The Burning is Cropsy, a former groundskeeper who was set on fire by a bunch of campers years ago.  Now, he’s everyone’s worst nightmare — a madman with gardening shears.  It takes a while for Cropsy to really get into the spirit of things.  In fact, for a good deal of The Burning, no one is even talking about Cropsy, which is always a mistake when you’re trying to make a movie about a killer in the woods.  A young camper named Alfred (Brian Backer) keeps thinking that he see Cropsy sneaking around the camp but nobody believes him, largely because Cropsy doesn’t ever do anything to let people know that he’s back and ready to demonstrate how gardening tools can be used as an instrument of revenge.

However, once Cropsy actually gets going, he is terrifying!  The Burning is a good example of the type of horror movie that was made before the Nightmare on Elm Street series introduced the idea that killers could not only talk but also tell a lot of corny jokes.  Cropsy doesn’t speak.  Crospy doesn’t joke.  All Cropsy does is kill.  What makes Cropsy especially disturbing is that — much like the killer in The Prowler — he seems to get a lot of joy out of killing as brutally as possible.  He’s not Jason or Michael, killers who killed because that’s all they knew how to do.  Cropsy plots and calculates and hides and is basically everyone’s campfire nightmare come to life.

Now, as I said before, it does take Cropsy a while to get started.  And we do end up spending a lot of time watching campers do stupid things.  Yes, Jason Alexander is one of the campers.  He not only has hair but I think he’s supposed to be a teenager in this film.  He was 21 when the film was shot and he looks like he’s about 35.  He delivers his lines in such a way that it’s impossible not to think of The Burning as being a lost episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza goes camping.  On the plus side, he does get some vaguely funny lines, which is more than his co-stars get.

Speaking of co-stars, keep an eye out for Holly Hunter.  She was dating Jason Alexander at the time (as well as rooming with Frances McDormand) and she makes her film debut as one of the campers.  She gets one line.  “What if they don’t come back?”  It’s a good question.  What if they don’t?  (Cue dramatic music!)

Anyway, The Burning is a slasher film that requires some patience but when it needs to be scary, it gets the job done.  (The gore effects are by the one and only Tom Savini and yes, they are shocking and a bit disturbing.  If you’ve ever wanted to know what losing four fingers at once would look like, this is the film for you.)  It’s a bit too padded for its own good but Cropsy is an effective villain and the movie actually catches you by surprise regarding who survives and who doesn’t.  Amazingly, there was never a sequel to The Burning.  Personally, I don’t think it’s too late.  I want to see Jason Alexander return to the camp and finish Cropsy off, once and for all!

Favorite Son (1988, directed by Jeff Bleckner)


During a reception on the steps of U.S. Capitol, an assassin kills Contra leader Col. Martinez (Geno Silva) and seriously wounds Sen. Terry Fallon (Harry Hamlin), an up-and-coming politician from Texas.  An eager media catapults Fallon to national stardom and the beleagued President (James Whitmore), who is facing a tough reelection bid, is pressured to replace the current vice president (Mitchell Ryan) with Fallon.

The FBI only assigns two of their agents to investigate the assassination, a sure sign that someone wants the investigation to just go away.  Nick Mancuso (Robert Loggia) is a crusty, hard-drinking veteran agent whose career is nearly at an end.  David Ross (Lance Guest) is his young and idealistic partner.  When Mancuso and Ross discover that Martinez was injected with the HIV virus just two days before the assassination, it becomes obvious that there is a bigger conspiracy afoot.  It all links back to Sally Crain (Linda Kozlowski), who is Fallon’s legislative aide and also his lover.  (Fallon has a wife but she’s locked away in a hospital.)  Sally has an interest in bondage, as Ross soon finds out.

Favorite Son was originally aired as a 3-night, 4 and a half-hour miniseries.  It was later reedited and, with a running time of less than two hours, released theatrically overseas as Target: Favorite Son.  As a miniseries, Favorite Son is an exciting conspiracy-themed film that is full of scheming, plotting, interesting performances, and pungent dialogue.  Target: Favorite Son, on the other hand, is disjointed and, unless you know the original’s plot, almost impossible to follow.  If you’re going to watch Favorite Son, make sure you see the original miniseries.  My mom taped it off of NBC when it originally aired.  That was the only way that I was able to originally see the film the way that it meant to be seen.  The entire miniseries has also been uploaded, in three parts, to YouTube.

Hopefully, the original miniseries will get an official release someday because it’s pretty damn entertaining.  Harry Hamlin isn’t really dynamic enough for the role of Fallon but otherwise, the movie is perfectly cast.  Robert Loggia is so perfect for the role of Nick Mancuso that it almost seems as if the character was written for him.  (Loggia did later star in a one-season drama called Mancuso, FBI.)  Linda Kozlowski seems to be destined to be forever known as Crocodile Dundee’s wife but her performance as Sally shows that she was a better actress than she was given credit for.  The supporting cast also features good performances from Jason Alexander, Ronny Cox, Tony Goldwyn, John Mahoney, Kenneth McMillian, Richard Bradford, and Jon Cypher.

Favorite Son may be over 30 years old but it’s still relevant today.  In the third part, John Mahoney gives a speech about how American voters are often willfully ignorant when it comes to what’s going on behind the scenes in Washington and it’s a killer moment.  Melodramatic as Favorite Son may be, with its portrayal of political chicanery and an exploitative national media, it’s still got something to say that’s worth hearing.

 

Horror Film Review: Jacob’s Ladder (dir by Adrian Lyne)


The 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder asks the question, “Who is Jacob Singer?”

Is Jacob (played by Tim Robbins), a soldier serving in Vietnam who has just been severely wounded in an enemy attack and who is now barely clinging to life in a helicopter?

Is Jacob a withdrawn postal worker who lives in 1970s New York with his girlfriend, Jezzie (Elizabeth Pena), and who is haunted by horrifying visions of faceless, vibrating figures and viscous demons?  This Jacob is haunted by ill-defined past incidents.  Whenever he gets depressed, Jezzie is quick to demand that he snap out of it and that he stop thinking about anything other than the present day.  This Jacob can only watch as all of his old friends either sink into paranoia or die.  He hears rumors that they all may have been part of some sort of experiment involving LSD.  He’s sure that he served in the army but when he attempts to hire an attorney, he’s informed that the army has no record of him ever having served in combat and that they say he was discharged for psychological reasons.

Or is Jacob the husband of Sarah (Patricia Kalember) and the father of Gabe (Macaulay Culkin — yes, that Culkin)?  This is the Jacob who occasionally wakes up in bed with his wife and tells her that he’s been having the weirdest dream, one where he was living with “that crazy woman” from the post office, Jezebel?

Which one of these three realities is the truth for Jacob?  At times, Jacob himself doesn’t even seem to be sure.  Perhaps the one thing that you can be sure about in this movie is that whenever Jacob closes his eyes, he’s going to reopen them and discover that he’s in a different time and place.  Jacob spends almost the entire film trying to work out what’s happening in the present, what’s happening in the past, and what’s just happening in his head.

And, to be honest, it all gets a bit pretentious at times.  The film’s script has a lot on its mind.  In fact, it might have a little bit too much going on.  No sooner have you soaked in what the film has to say about denial and acceptance than you’re suddenly getting a crash course in MK-ULTRA and other mind-control conspiracy theories.  Whenever Jacob isn’t seeing demons and faceless apparitions, he’s being kidnapped by government agents.  There’s so much going on that this film can get a bit exhausting.

Fortunately, the film itself is such a triumph of style that it doesn’t matter that the script is a bit of a mess.  Director Adrian Lyne does a great job bringing Jacob’s nightmarish world to life.  Jacob seems to live in a world where the skies are permanently overcast and the streets are always wet after a recent storm.  When Jacob makes the mistake of walking down a subway tunnel, Lyne frames it as if Jacob is literally following a tunnel into Hell.  When a subway train rushes by Jacob, we catch disturbing glimpses of featureless faces facing the windows.  When Jacob sees a demon at a party, Lynne films the moment so that, just like Jacob, it takes us a few minutes to realize what we’re seeing.  And when Jacob is kidnapped and taken to a Hellish hospital, the scene is nightmarish in its intensity.

Tim Robbins gives a great performance as the emotionally withdrawn and haunted Jacob.  (In fact, he’s so good that it makes it all the more sad that he really hasn’t had a decent role since he won an Oscar for 2003’s Mystic River.)  He’s matched by Elizabeth Pena, who constantly keeps you wondering if Jezzie truly cares about Jacob or if she’s just another part of the conspiracy that seems to have taken over his life.

Jacob’s Ladder is an intensely effective, if somewhat messy, horror film.  Apparently, like almost every other horror film released in the 20th century, it’s currently being remade, with the remake due to released on February 9th.  Just in time for Valentine’s Day!