Monday, February 07, 2011



Passing On the Peas

by Wayne Robins

The tired notion that Super Bowl commercials are more interesting than the game needs to be moved from the category of conventional wisdom to that of urban legend. Sunday night's game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers exciting from kickoff to final whistle, ebbs and flows that alternately aroused and depleted partisans of each team.

The first pre-game ad that caught my attention, for the March release of the movie "Battle: Los Angeles," looked like the trailer for a videogame. And isn't a movie about an alien invasion of L.A. a non sequitur? If aliens haven't already taken over the capital of the coast, than what are those creatures on Melrose Avenue? Of course, none of the movies are aimed at my generation: Certainly not "Thor," nor Vin Diesel's "Fast and Furious 5," which I take it is not a biopic about Grandmaster Flash. But "Cowboys & Aliens," directed by Jon Favreau and starring a really grizzled Harrison Ford, looks brilliant, a concept so simple and enticing that it took one of those resident aliens in Los Angeles to scratch down the idea on a cocktail napkin.
Also promising: "Super 8," apparently another creatures/criminal scum movie (a la "District 51"), directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg. The animated "Kung Fu Panda 2," featuring the voices of Jack Black and Angelina Jolie, may provide some gentle comic relief, especially considering clever fragment shown of a version of that Queen classic, "We Will Wok You."

There is also the matter of the latest Cameron Diaz flick, "Third Base," co-starring Alex Rodriguez.'re telling me that wasn't a movie promo, that a Fox camera caught Diaz with her hand in A-Rod's mouth, feeding popcorn to her Yankees' squeeze spontaneously, with such effortless sensuality, that football announcer Joe Buck seemed embarrassed?

At least that bit of reality TV was more authentic than anything we are likely to see on what is now euphemistically known as The History Channel, or THC: Certainly someone must have been on THC in creating the forthcoming cable program "Only in America," featuring Larry the Cable Guy touring the country. What's the chance we'll see him visiting Watts, or even hipster Brooklyn? Git-R-done!

Among the good moments: a commercial for the Motorola XOOM tablet, on which the only independent thinker on a subway full of white shrouded uber-conformists is seen reading George Orwell's "1984." It would have been too brilliant if the next commercial, which was for the BMW Advanced Diesel, used a piece of David Bowie's "1984" rather than a segment of "Changes," which after 40 years doesn't exactly signify "change" anymore. In a marketing coup, Bowie music was also featured yesterday in an auto ad debut in the U.K., on ITV, for the Renault Clio ("Va Va Voom"), with a fragment of a steamy burlesque scene by Dita Von Teese, a bit of peeping by Red Bulls soccer star, Thierry Henry, some Audrey Hepburn, some Marlon Brando, a bit of "Space Oddity" as well as Claire Magure's "Ain't Nobody" and Rihanna's "S&M." Much too mature for American TV.

A refreshingly downbeat but defiant drive through Detroit revealed Eminem at the wheel of a Chrysler 200, closing with the rapper, now the face and voice of his city's resilience and dignity (who would have imagined), closing the ad with the words: "This is the Motor City, and this is what we do." The two-minute commercial may be the most expensive in history, with the Detroit Free Press quoting Chrysler's chief putting the cost at "under $9 million."

In a cute odd couple bit, Ozzy Osbourne proved he is still the world's supreme Ozzy Osbourne imitator, in Best Buy bit with Justin Bieber. "What's a Bieber?," Oz asked, echoing precisely my sentiments.

For sheer American ugliness, nothing could undercut the bottom-feeding Pepsi Max ads. The first was violent with disturbing racial overtones. A black couple is arguing on a park bench. He tosses the Pepsi Max can, she ducks, and it hits another woman (of indeterminate, possibly mixed race) on the head. The black perpetrators flee after the accidental assault. In another low moment, a nerd who has been mocked by a jock at a party gets revenge when he discovers the ability to direct a Pepsi Max missile into the jock of his adversary. Evidently, Pepsi Max has zero'd in on its demographic: the "Jackass" crowd, both with and without quote marks.

The blowback to the live musical moments has been intense. Christina Aguilera's muffing of the "Star Spangled Banner" has been widely derided. But her performance should be faulted not because she blew the lyric, but because she blew the treacherous obstacle course of the melody: Putting her ego first, Aguilera added embellishments where none were needed—in fact, where to do so would be insane. The song, like so many national anthems, is histrionic to begin with. To add histrionic layers showed immense musical immaturity.

Speaking of which, most of my Facebook crowd detested the Black Eyed Peas performance. True, if we were going to have a hip-hop halftime show, I would have preferred Public Enemy, but you can't always get what you want. And in this case, we didn't get what we needed either, though I thought the Peas were an effective anchor for the choreographed hundreds in illuminated body suits on the field, a display reminiscent of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. I thought Fergie's singing was the best I have ever heard her, especially under the circumstances, and especially since in the past she had displayed very little vocal skill at all. She worked hard for the moment, for the unexpected mega-stardom that has fallen on her, and for that, I congratulate her. Usher's descent to the stage from the skies upstaged any musical muscle he might have provided. And the appearance (not a "surprise" to anyone, as his publicist claimed in an early morning e-mail) by Slash on guitar for a version of a Guns 'N Roses song proved only that an actual musical composition like "Sweet Child O' Mine" will always make the Black Eyed Peas' juvenile nonsense riffs sound like TV commercials.

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