-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

archive

Scene and Heard

Brian Doxtader | Friday, September 29, 2006

There are some films that I like to call “forgotten classics.” Nobody else seems to remember them and if we talk about them today, only our peers seem to know what we’re talking about. I don’t mean movies like “Labyrinth” or “Hook,” because those movies are classics in a weird sort of way – and more importantly, people remember them. I mean the obscure stuff that nobody seems to ever think about except in the most inopportune times, like during tests or mass or interviews. The thing about these movies is that they’re actually pretty good, except that nobody seems to know they exist. With that in mind, let’s take a trip down memory lane and remember some of those oldies but goodies from our younger days.

The RocketeerFor years I thought Brendan Fraser was in this movie, mostly because it seems like the weird kind of part he would take. Turns out it’s some guy named Bill Campbell (not to be confused with the truly awesome Bruce Campbell of “Evil Dead” fame) who stars in this period piece about a guy who gets a jetpack and becomes a symbol of patriotic heroism triumphing over the Nazis.

It’s pulpy and serial-esque, but the concept is truly cool and the outfits and design are actually pretty decent. Timothy Dalton, a one-time James Bond, is the villain and Jennifer Connelly is the girlfriend.

Dick TracyBased on the old comic strip, “Dick Tracy” was directed by Warren Beatty, who also stars as the square-jawed detective. The film’s design, which evokes old comic strips, is superb. And the cast is great. Really. Al Pacino plays Big Boy Caprice, the crotchety gangster baddie, Dustin Hoffman is a memorable mumbling rat and Madonna is Breathless Mahoney … actually, Madonna is really only eye candy until the twist ending.

Pacino actually got nominated for an Oscar for this role, which is surprising because he didn’t get nominated for “The Godfather Part III” which came out the same year. It amazingly won a few awards and was nominated for a bunch more. And come on, how could someone not like a movie in which characters have names like Flattop, Little Face, The Brow and 88 Keys?

TronDisney pumped a ton of money into this special effects-driven film about computer geeks who enter an electronic world and it shows – kind of. The effects are way outdated and the storyline and acting is pretty horrific, but all that overlooks how cool this film once was. The scenes in which characters drive around on a 2D plane on weird, futuristic motorcycles are worth the price of admission. The storyline is about some computer who wants to take over the world or something, but it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is the crazy 1980s special effects, which even manage to overshadow Jeff Bridges (who somehow managed to put this film behind him and become a legitimately good actor). The whole thing is kind of goofy, but if taken on its own terms, “Tron” is still as much fun today was it was 20 years ago.

There are other films I could talk about, like “Flight of the Navigator” or the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Freud once said sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and, a lot of times, nostalgia is simply that – nostalgia. But in these cases, I always wondered why these films don’t get more attention. They awoke our sense of wonder as we were able to fly through the sky with jetpacks fighting Nazis, join the world of comic books and actually enter a video game. I loved all of these films.

While they may not be “good” movies when stacked up against the likes of “Citizen Kane” and “Casablanca,” they make me remember better days, and I hope some of you remember them too.

-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

archive

Scene and Heard

Sean Sweany | Friday, September 1, 2006

It’s an awful feeling. You’re watching your favorite program or a big game and one of the commercial breaks features the utterly worst commercial you’ve ever seen. Whenever a commercial featuring Willie Nelson, Joan Cusack, old men fishing and promoting Flomax, Dr. Scholls or any South Bend car dealership pops on the screen, anger and disgust start to arise like bile.

I had this exact experience recently with a certain Dr. Scholls commercial. Part of the “Are you gellin’?” series, the commercial plays on the word “gellin” and rhymes it with as many words as possible in an attempt to be funny. I became painfully aware of the fact that the writers of the commercial were trying far too hard to be funny, and the end result was a total lack of humor.

“Why,” I wondered, “can’t all commercials be funny and enjoyable?”

I had in mind such commercials as the Geico caveman ads, Aflac commercials, anything featuring Red Stripe and even the Vonage commercials where a spokesman tries to promote cell phones while a lobster gets stuck in a revolving door.

There is, of course, a reason for the disparity in funniness between various commercials. This disparity can be connected to a similar inconsistency found among stand-up comedians. Some comedians, such as Dane Cook, Mitch Hedberg and Jerry Seinfeld, are extremely funny, while others, such as Sarah Silverman and Gilbert Gottfried, lack the capacity to humor intelligent audiences.

The difference lies in that the first three comedians do not overextend themselves in their approaches to humor whereas the latter two try excessively hard to woo audiences and fail in the process. Thus, the best humor is unforced, natural and produces unaffected and hearty laughter.

Humor in television commercials functions in a similar manner. An ad depicting a caveman asking for roast duck at a restaurant is funny because it is not trying overly hard to be humorous. However, Dr. Scholls commercials trying to rhyme and ESPN Mobile commercials trying to use humor so subtly or wittily causes them to fall flat on a majority of television watchers and fail miserably.

The source of many poor commercials is clearly the Super Bowl. While Super Bowl ad time has produced many outstanding commercials in past years such as the Office Linebacker and a prehistoric FedEx spot, just as many bad commercials have come from Super Bowl ad spots. Given large amounts of money and a large public forum, writers overextend themselves and turn out horrible advertisements that in turn make it all right for more ads like these to be produced at times other than the Super Bowl.

In the face of poor advertisements like the ones mentioned here and many others floating around the airwaves, it is necessary to ask what can be done to end the pain and bring about better commercial watching. Doing away with Super Bowl ads is not an option given that some of the best commercials originate here. Simply muting the television or changing the channel when a horrible commercial airs also serves no purpose. The offending ad will still play even if you try to stage a one-person revolt against the television powers that be.

I propose that a reality television show be developed in which commercial writers are subjected to a jury of “ordinary Americans” that has the power to sentence writers of bad commercials to punishments of watching their own commercials for hours on end. In one or two seasons, a show like this could weed through the entire population of commercial writers – for how many can there possibly be?

In this way, I believe we can rid America of bad, unfunny commercial advertisements forever. Until then, we return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Contact Sean Sweany at ssweany@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.