Monthly Archives: February 2010

I Sat Through This Commercial Because of Vicki

Every once in a while, I like to profile a good advertisement here on the blog. After all, I do appreciate when people go through the bother of trying to create something worth watching when they sell their crap to me.  It’s nice when people put effort into something that would normally be odious.  This is one of those times.

121.  Orange’s Wicked Witch Ad

You know an ad campaign has done its job when there’s a Facebook group dedicated to it.  Actually, there’ s more than one dedicated to this commercial.  Impressive.

Before I show the ad, a bit of back story:  Orange is a cell-phone provider here in The UK.  They hatched a brilliant scheme/incentive to rope in new customers:  Sell an exclusive 2 for 1 deal on cinema tickets every Wednesday.  It’s called Orange Wednesday and if you text the word ‘film’ to Orange from your Orange mobile phone, they text you back a coupon code that your ticket booth will use to grant you a free ticket (with the purchase of one).  I use it all the time.  Paying half price for a movie ticket takes the sting away if the movie winds up being a rotten tomato.

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Yes, these tickets look more like ones for a carnival ride and less like those used in modern multi-plexes, but Google Image is a harsh mistress sometimes, OK?

This particular commercial is a new entry into a canon of rather successful ‘2 for 1’ ads.  The series has had such an impact that The Guardian even wrote about the perceived success of the long-standing campaign.  Guardian article Brennan Brown, an American character actor, stars as Mr. Dresdan–a smooth talking producer of Hollywood’s worst films (it would seem).  The Mr. Dresdan ads always feature a sort of B-list celebrity that Mr. Dresden has suckered into starring in his awful Orange-product themed film.  They’ve had Steven Seagal, Emilio Estevez, Val Kilmer, Macauley Culkin, and…a real coup here…A-listers Sigourney Weaver and Anjelica Houston.

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Brown is the one in the middle...a bit Kevin Spacey-esque, yes?

Let me show you a sample before I unveil today’s great thing.  This one stars Mena Suvari:

The ads are charming in a self-aware sort of way and sometimes the Hollywood satire is dead on.  Brennan Brown, I think you’ll agree, is a crucial component behind the success of this campaign.  He’s just a good actor who knows his way around a bit of comedy.  However, the campaign’s been going now for a good four years–at least–and whilst I’m in no hurry to see them ditch it entirely, today’s great thing is a fun new direction.

OK, enough preamble.  I hate it when people put my expectations too high.  Here’s the clip.

So cute and funny, yes?  I had a hell of a time trying to track down the names of the actresses in this spot.  The advertising trades care less about the talent and more about production houses–Fallon, a London agency, made this, by the way.  But, I believe Vicki is played by Catherine Steadman and the witch is Rachel Edwards, who was selected, partially, because she bears a resemblance to Margaret Hamilton (the original wicked witch).  The two work really well together.  I think my favorite bits are when the electricity shoots out of the witch’s fingertips after she’s smashed in the face with leaves.  I also like when Vicki suggests that the witch should “use a scoop”.

I hope we see a few more with this duo OR at the very least, similarly funny pairings of average citizens/iconic movie characters.  It’s a solid concept with room for growth.  I’d almost go as far as saying I’d watch these two in a sitcom…but we all know what happened with the Geico cavemen.

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Filed under Characters, comedy, Movies

The Flavor Lasts and Lasts

You ever experience that feeling of dread that comes after hearing one of your favorite songs in a commercial?  I’ve been gutted by that sensation loads of times.  “True Colors”  was recently used for a Sky television campaign.  Granted, it was a cover version, but it still sent chills down my spine to hear that beautiful song played every ten minutes to sell cable in HD.  The fact that News Corp owns Sky just added grave insult to injury.  Beyond the simple fact that a great tune is being debased by a product, the other drawback to this occurence is that it means you’re going to hear that song ad infinitum, in small 30 second chunks, eventually causing you to fall out of love with it.

It’s a true test of greatness to see a song put through that wringer and still come out the other side as vibrant as ever.  (Though, for the record, i-Pod commercials, weirdly have almost the opposite effect.  They take a little-known song and make everyone love it.)  Anyway, today’s great thing has successfully passed that stress test–on multiple occasions.

120 Peter, Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks”

I know that there will be plenty of folks out there that ARE sick of this song.  But this is my stupid blog and I still love this ditty.  Let’s listen to it now!  Right now!

Such a happy, whistle-fueled, jingly-jangly bit of pop.  That song was my ring tone for TWO years!  I actually thought that I had killed it recently.  I hate taking phone calls at the best of times and I chose this song to alert me to the pesky arrival of an incoming call.  I worried that it would surely drive a stake through the song’s peppy little heart. And, I was indeed starting to roll my eyes when it would sound.  But no, this song’s got nine lives.  It came on my iPod when I was working out recently and it actually made me pick up my pace on the treadmill.  It fueled my joy.  This song’s got legs!

There may be one or two of you out there who have never heard this song.  To be fair, I haven’t lived in America for a few years now and I don’t know if  “Young Folks” has been rammed into your earholes as much as it has over here in the UK.  Peter, Bjorn and John are a trio from Sweden.  Is it just me or is Sweden a gold-mine for durable pop?  Three items of proof:  1. Abba  2.  This song  3.  “Love Fool” by The Cardigans.  I’d even argue that Ace of Base have at least ONE song in their back catalogue that people would still enjoy.  (It’d have to be one song as all of their songs sort of sounded like their first single “All That She Wants”.)  “Young Folks” was officially released in 2006.  It was in late 2006, or maybe early 2007, that my friend Paul went to see a Peter, Bjorn, and John show, sort of by chance, and reported back to me that watching that concert made him feel like what the people who first viewed The Beatles must have felt like.

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Look, Swedish people!


But, don’t just take it from me and my supercool friend Paul.  Even the experts agree that this single kicks serious ass.  It was rated # 5 in Pitchfork Media’s Top 100 songs of 2006 and #2 in NME’s list of the year (beaten only by Hot Chip’s Over and Over–which, though it is a fine song, I would argue has less staying power).

Though the recording utilized the lady-vocals of Victoria Bergsman(of The Concretes), Peter, Bjorn and John have collared other female vocalists to assist, like Traceyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura whilst on tour.  The song is also beloved by other musicians.  Kanye West has sampled “Young Folks” twice, once in the song “Interviews (Interlude)” and once in his own version of “Young Folks”–though, I guess that would be less of a sample and more of a rapped-through cover  (same tune, different lyrics).  Shogo Tokumaru, of Japan–natch–has also done a sweet little cover.  I found it exceedingly difficult to actually get a proper clip of it.  However, it is played about a minute into this interview.

“Young Folks” also benefits from some simple and sweet lyrics.  Seems to me that it’s about two people who fancy each other and are surprised to find themselves in such a happy position.  The stuff of ages.

What do you make of this track?  I think it’ll be just as golden in a decade.  Any songs from ten years ago that still hold up as powerfully for you?

Bonus…here’s  a link to The Onion’s AV Club “Random Rules” feature with Peter (of Peter, Bjorn and John).  He seems nice.  Random Rules

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Filed under Music

Crazy for Arkham Asylum

As today is Valentine’s Day, I should really be writing about something within that theme.  I’m a sucker for holiday motifs.  I have mixed feelings about Valentine’s day though and the sentiment it pushes.  I have sort of a love/hate relationship with it.  Well, I don’t ‘hate’ it–but I can understand why people do.  I don’t blame folks for seeing through all the commercialized bullcrap that swirls around the date.  Flowers go up in price, cheap chocolates are passed off as a grand romantic gesture, and restaurants create inane and expensive prix fixe menus.  It can be a bit much, especially if you’re in a relationship where you dote on each other already.  You don’t need a Hallmark card to tell you when to say something sweet!  On the other hand, it can be a good excuse to book a weekend away somewhere nice and drink more expensive wine than what you usually purchase.  But, I’m not NOT writing about something Valentine-centric because of my cognitive dissonance about it all.  No, that’s not why.  It’s because I can’t stop thinking about Batman:  Arkham Asylum, that’s why.  I just can’t stop plugging into the world of the video game–not even to blather on about conversation hearts.  Thank God I’m partnered with sort of a nag.  It’s only because I love my girlfriend that I pull myself away from it at all.  (She expects me to, you know, pay attention/converse with her sometimes.)  If it weren’t for her, I’d be a corpulent and ashen blob with blistered thumbs–never engaging in social interaction or stepping outdoors.  As it is, I’m halfway to that description now.

119:  Batman:  Arkham Asylum


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Gritty!

It’s pretty  much an undisputed fact that this game kicks ass.   It was developed by Eidos and Rocksteady, both of which are based in Britain.  Now, I’m not saying that everything made in Britain comes out classier (Lesbian Vampire Killers, anyone?) but this game certainly reaped the benefits of being designed by folks who walk the streets of London.  They’ve got a real eye for creepy old buildings and that viewpoint is vital to any depiction of the asylum, which is Batman’s dumping ground for his craziest villains .  The Onion rated it as the year’s best game.  I love it when things I like get hipster credentials. Guinness Book of World Records also lists it as the most well-reviewed superhero video game of all time.  

One of the reasons why this latest foray into video games is beloved by so many Bat-fans is that most of the previous Batman video games have essentially been gaming remakes of the film projects.  This is important to Arkham Asylum’s success beyond those games, in my opinion, because you’re not spending the game comparing the likeness of Batman to Christian Bale, or predicting what’s around the corner on the next board because you’ve already seen what happens in the film.  Original material rules.

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Remember when Batman shilled for Onstar?

Another reason people are going ape for this game is because of the voice talent.  Arleen Sorkin as the voice of Harley Quinn is especially excellent.  Sorkin has voiced most of the animated appearances of this character.  Other veteran Bat-animation voice actors also reprise their characters, including Mark Hamill as The Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman.  Here’s a little sample of Harley from the game:

Paul Dini created Harley Quinn whilst he was writing scripts for Batman:  The Animated Series and she first debuted in that cartoon.  Her first foray into the comic-book world was in the one-shot  “Mad Love” (which was a Batman-centered story, of course).  Batman: TAS was great because it was safe for kids to view but had wonderfully entertaining little crime-yarns and real Batman-universe credentials (in other words, it stayed close enough to comic book continuity to keep nerds like me happy and asking for more.)  Batman:  Arkham Asylum is kind of like that cartoon but rated PG-13 instead of PG.

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Batman, scourge of clowns everywhere.

Speaking of Dini, he may be the biggest reason as to why this game is such a success.  Getting a real comic book writer to pen the story of the game was a brilliant move.  It’s about time that the story took the wheel in the world of video games.  We’re familiar enough, as gamers, with the language of gaming that we need to take the medium to the next level of sophistication.  God knows I loved playing Sonic the Hedgehog but I never really understood, from a narrative viewpoint, why he needed all of those gold rings.  The fully developed worlds and intricate storylines make games like this current Bat-title, and Bioshock, and others like it excel.

The combination of combat and detective work that you must complete is also a draw.  The martial arts style is flashy but also semi-realistic and really just looks super cool.  My favorite move has to be the ‘ground takedown’ where Batman jumps on a baddies chest and, depending on which way he’s facing, either punches the villain’s face–or his groin.  Snigger snigger.  The amount of sneaking around and strategizing that you have to do also make this feel more like a Batman video game and less like your standard punch-em-up.  Lots of marquee villains show up, including Zszasz and Bane but other favorites are simply alluded to as Dini is clever enough to know that story comes first.  Mr. Freeze, for example, wouldn’t have made sense in this story–even if it would’ve been cool to fight him.  They resist the temptation.  Superhero film-makers…take note.  Yes, sometimes too many villains spoil the broth.

Having said that, the handful of fan-favorites that they did select are some of the heaviest hitters…real nightmares.  Killer Croc actually made me jump at one point and I was dreading the level where he was the ‘boss’.  Even the random lunatics that run around the island wigged me out proper.  This trailer is particularly villain-heavy.

There’s a good interview with Dini about his first foray into video game writing posted here:  TheReticule

The official website features more clips from the game but also interviews from some of the designers and creators if you’re interested in knowing a bit more about the effort that went into Batman:  Arkham AsylumOfficial Site

At this point, I’ve already won the ‘story’ part of the game.  But, I just can’t bear putting the paddle down.  I’m retracing my steps to pick up all the bonuses (little puzzles left around by The Riddler) and having a blast trying to beat my scores on the ‘challenge’ portions of the game (extra fighting and stealth boards).  When you successfully complete a challenge, the Mark Hamill-voiced Joker usually says something sarcastic.  My favorite is “Nice moves, Bats!  Thanks for showing me them!”.  Hamill nails it–it sounds perfectly deranged.

Now, I wish they’d hurry up and make another one but I know that quality takes time.  So, I’ll have to wait.

Characters I’d like to see in sequels:

Robin (or Nightwing), Batwoman (the current incarnation), Black Mask, and Catwoman.  For an extra baddie or two they could throw in Penguin and Scarface.  There–you’re halfway there already Eidos.  Now just put that all together…

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Filed under Comics, Hobbies

Ice, Ice, Baby

I never thought of myself as the finicky type.  But, it turns out, I am–or at least can be–sometimes picky about my food.  As a junk-food junkie, I just assumed that people saw me as an affable slob.  I thought I WAS an affable slob.  But, as my girlfriend points out, on an almost daily basis, I have strong opinions about the rubbish I put into my body.  For instance, I like the way my Grandma makes lasagna.  So, when my girlfriend makes it, sometimes I have helpful suggestions…even though I’m not the one making it.  I know that it’s the cooking equivalent of backseat driving, but I can’t help myself.  I also don’t like having salad on the same plate as my hot food.  I don’t want the salad dressing to run into any other sauce that might be part of the main course.  That’s reasonable isn’t it?  I mean, that’s what salad bowls were invented for!  As a last example–and more pertinent to today’s great thing–I am spoiled to particular types of cake frosting.  My Grandma made really quality stuff.  Her almond frosting on her chocolate cupcakes was to die for.  But, not being a cook or baker so much myself, I’ve learned to love today’s great thing.

118.  Betty Crocker’s Frosting In a Can


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Hells to the yes.

…just for the sheer delicious reliability.    You see on that can where it says “quality taste guarantee”?  You better believe it, brothers and sisters.  I’m partial to the “Rich and Creamy” range but I wouldn’t kick the “Whipped” off the cupcake or anything.

At least with Betty Crocker’s grocery-bought variety, you know what you’re going to get–a satisfying buttercream frosting.  You see, there are many different types of frosting or icing as the cake-topper is sometimes referred to.  They range from simple glaze, like that on a ring donut, to tangy and thick cream-cheese style.  It can get confusing and even perilous out there for a consumer.  You’d think the simple task of finishing a cake would be something that any old idiot could do.  Not true.  Caveat emptor.  Or as I like to say “caveat obesum”–let the fatass beware.  Perhaps no other edible, save maybe pizza, has the potential to devastate so thoroughly as frosting–simply because regardless of what the sample in question might taste like, it will always look delicious.

The next time you are cake-shopping, consider this possibility:  You are starving.  You’re going to go home and make yourself a delicious sandwich.  Let’s say for this exercise it’s a chicken salad sandwich.  But, your sweet tooth is shouting at you that you need a cupcake.  So, passing by a local bakery window and spotting a dark chocolate cupcake with creamy vanilla frosting, you choose to indulge yourself.  You get that cupcake to go, race home, finish your sandwich, eat your apple and then you take your first bite of your reward…only to find that what you thought was going to be an intensely aromatic, sweet, and slightly firm but melt in your mouth frosting is actually rock hard and barely edible fondant.

Now I don’t know about you, but I would throw that cupcake at the wall.  Or at least cry a little bit–the pitiful and bitter sobs of dashed expectations.

Fondant may be the absolute worst case scenario, but there are plenty of other pretenders out there too.  Let’s have a look.

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I'm speculating that this is that marshmallowy type.

This cake, above, is either that marshmallow–meringue type or that simple whipped cream type.  Both are considered to be of the ‘foam’ variety of icing.  The latter sort of tastes like nothing.  It’s like how lots of British folks use simple pouring cream instead of ice cream to top their desserts with.  Whaaaa?  Picture a chocolate souffle–piping hot, with a perfect scoop of vanilla ice cream ala modeing it…melting into the chocolate heat.  Perfection.  Now picture that same souffle with milk poured over it.  Congratulations, you’ve just turned your delicious dessert into a breakfast cereal.  Now, if it’s the marshmallow variety, it tastes like Marshmallow Fluff.  It’s not hideous…it’s just not as good as it could be.  It’s a desperate choice for someone who has run out of other ingredients.

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Worthy.

Now this cake looks like it might be topped with either a sour cream or cream cheese based frosting.  Depending on the cake type, this could be a winner.  This group of frosting is known to be stiff but malleable with a nice bite…an edge to the sweetness.  It’s an educated and worldly frosting for an expensive cake…like a coconut or spice cake.  Fancy.

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A casualty of global warming?

Now, I’m going to make an educated guess here and suggest that the cake pictured above has a ganache type frosting.  These are typically super-chocolately and are generally nice to eat but they’re certainly more wet tasting than your standard buttercream.  When ganache is good, it’s really good.  Again, you’ll see this mostly on chocolate cakes.  The more expenisive the chocolate used, the better.

The biggest offender HAS to be fondant style icing.  It’s main purpose is to provide elaborate decoration and it has the added benefit of keeping the cake inside very moist.   But, it tastes like despair.

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Looks AND tastes like Play-dough.

If you take a bite, accidentally, of a cake that is topped with fondant, I would recommend spitting it out immediately and chasing it with a shot of rum.  A bit of Mt. Gay will take the pain away and chase off any lingering bad tastes.

So, what’s the lesson here?  When in doubt, go with a classic buttercream–of which Betty Crocker provides over a dozen varieties.

Now that you know how excellent Betty Crocker frosting is, why not buy a can and apply it to the following:

-Plain cookies

-Toast

-Pancakes

-A spoon

-Use it as a substitute for salsa

-Or rim your martini glasses with it?

Would you like to know more about frosting?  In articulating what my mouth already knows, I found this website to be very helpful: The More You Know…ding!

Even more detail can be found here:  Extra Credit

So, next time you’re window-shopping at the bakery, don’t be shy.  Ask questions.  Is it a buttercream frosting?  If not…you might want to consider moving along.  Or…just go home and pop open that sweet, sweet can of Betty C.

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Filed under Uncategorized, Vittles