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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Super Bowl

Super Bowl: Is Clint Eastwood really a partisan provocateur?

February 7, 2012 |  8:00 am


Of all the directors who could have become a lightning rod for the right this election season, Clint Eastwood wouldn’t be high on the list. Michael Moore? Certainly. Spike Lee? No doubt. But Eastwood? This is Dirty Harry, a man who for years epitomized rugged individualism, outlaw independence, no-nonsense self-reliance. If there was ever an actor who could play Ron Paul, Eastwood is it.

Starting out as a Republican-leaning voter in the 1950s, Eastwood later came to be a vocal critic of the Vietnam War and other U.S.-led conflicts. But in the main, he has stayed above the fray, calling himself a “political  nothing” and showing in his governance of small-town California that he’s far from an ideologue.

Yet the icon's “Halftime in America” spot for Chrysler during Sunday's Super Bowl -- in which, sure, Eastwood spoke his gravelly voice on behalf of a company that was bailed out by Washington, but mostly just rallied America to fight back in an economic recession -- has roused all kinds of right-wing ire.

On Monday, Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor" had him on the show and asked why he was fronting for the president. Eastwood denied that the commercial contained any endorsement.

“I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama,” the director told the cable-news network. But that attitude didn't stop standard-bearers on the right from voicing their displeasure. Karl Rove said he was offended by the ad. Michelle Malkin wondered why Eastwood was supporting bailouts. Their general point seemed to be that Eastwood was aligning himself with the comeback narrative that Obama was making a key part of his reelection campaign.

Watching the storm develop, it’s hard to understand how Eastwood came to be in the eye of this hurricane. His I-don’t-make-political-judgments could seem like a cop-out from many other public figures. But Eastwood has a body of work to support the point.

Wielding an almost singular creative freedom in Hollywood, the director has in recent years chosen to make movies that are conspicuously above the fray. Apart from single-issue pictures like “Million Dollar Baby,” his work over the last decade has a  decidedly apolitical strain -- “J. Edgar” this year was actually criticized for avoiding politics in favor of Hoover’s personal and psychological motivations. Many of his recent movies focus heavily on individual redemption -- like “Gran Torino," coincidentally also set against the backdrop of an ailing Michigan economy, or "Invictus,” with its largely harmless unity-through-sports message.

Eastwood even went to the trouble of making two World War II movies, “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Flags of our Fathers,” to show both sides’ perspective. If anything, the argument is not that Eastwood has gotten too tendentious — it’s that he’s been too neutral.

But you don’t need the movies to see Eastwood's vantage point. Lost amid all the outcry Monday is that the director himself has said he didn’t agree with the bailout, going on record in to my colleague Patrick Goldstein that he was against the package that sent billions to Chrysler and General Motors.

“We shouldn’t be bailing out the banks and car companies,” he told Goldstein, which suggests that, no matter what pro-stimulus message some might read into the ad, Eastwood himself certainly didn’t see it that way when he agreed to do it.

Or just listen to the language of the ad itself, a pep talk so general it could practically be a call to sing Kumbaya.

"I’ve seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life, times when we didn’t understand each other. It seems that we lost our heart at times -- the fog of division, discord and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead. But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right and acted as one."

It's hard to see how Eastwood was doing anything but offering a generic call for strength in hard times -- not saying a comeback has already been completed, and certainly not saying which party should be put in charge of making sure that it did.


Super Bowl ads: Ferris Bueller takes the day off for Honda

Clint Eastwood talks politics; Who's the Democrat he voted for?

Super Bowl ads: Why are the best movie ads not actually for movies?

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Clint Eastwood at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington last week. Credit: Cliff Owen / Associated Press

Super Bowl: Why are the best movie ads not actually for movies?

February 6, 2012 |  6:00 am


The ads that ran during the Super Bowl were filled with some classic films and filmmakers. Too bad none of them had to do with movies actually coming to theaters

Clint Eastwood's impassioned plea for a Detroit comeback on behalf of Chrysler (viewable above) was up there on the acclaim scale with the operatic Eminem-starring, Sam Bayer-directed "Born from Fire" from the car manufacturer last year. And then there was the comedy--Volkswagen's game  riffs on the Star Wars cantina courtesy of a BAFTA-nominated cinematographer, and a Todd Phillips-directed spot for Honda starring Matthew Broderick about how Ferris Bueller might play hookie as a fortysomething man.

The actual movie ads? They were a lot less notable.

As we explore in a story in tomorrow's Times, ads for big-budget explosion-fests such as "Battleship," "John Carter," "Act of Valor," and "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" all came and went with little fanfare. Viewers didn't overly criticize them, but judging by surveys of Twitter and other social media, they didn't  single them out for any special honors, either. The ad for Sacha Baron Cohen's "The Dictator" was hailed as funny, but it aired before the game and seemed to be overshadowed once the high-profile spots began to run.

The spot for "Valor," which aired in the pricey fourth quarter, had a bigger issue--it followed the "Bueller" commercial and seemed that much more earnest by comparison.

It shouldn't be too surprising that the movie ads fell flat--if you're spending $3.5 million on 30 seconds of airtime, as a studio does, you're going to promote the biggest movies in the broadest possible way, which kind of rules out too much originality. On top of that, you're trying to drive sales to a single opening weekend, something an automaker, for instance, doesn't have to worry about.

But don't give movie marketers too much of a pass. Last year, Paramount's Super Bowl spot for "Super 8" managed to tease enough mystery and intrigue to get people talking about the ad. And far from hurting the film at the box office, it sent the film on its way. It's not impossible to spend millions and still put out a good Super Bowl movie ad.  It's just not easy or terribly desirable.

--Steven Zeitchik



Super Bowl ads: Matthew Broderick takes a day off for Honda

Super Bowl ads make use of movie imagery

Super Bowl ads: Why Volkswagen returned to Honda


Week in review: 'The Help's' SAG win; movies at Super Bowl [video]

February 3, 2012 |  5:30 pm

It's a season of contests and between last weekend and this one we've had some big ones. First the SAG Awards showed us that maybe there is something else to think about besides "The Artist" winning it all. And this weekend, of course, the biggest game on television becomes a contest for best advertisement. The studios aren't content to miss out on this possible record-breaking audience with many of them pulling out all the stops to show off their summertime wares.

L.A. Times reporters Steve Zeitchik and Nicole Sperling discuss the latest machinations in awards land and who will win the eyeballs at this weekend's Super Bowl.


SAG Awards: 'The Help' wins big

Super Bowl ads: 'The Dictator' evokes 'Borat'

Super Bowl 2012: Matthew Broderick channels Ferris Bueller in ad

Super Bowl ads: 'The Dictator' evokes 'Borat'

February 1, 2012 |  5:38 pm


You have to admire Sacha Baron Cohen’s (and Paramount’s) gumption — it’s not many Super Bowl ads that start with images of dead dictators (Kadafi and Kim Jong Il) before going on to tease a wide-release movie ("The Dictator," due May 11).

The rest of the 30-second piece from the creative team behind "Borat" is amusing, though it doesn’t tell you all that much about the film. Baron Cohen is again speaking in some mash-up accent, he’s again a fish out of water, he again makes jokes about American media (he bought NBC) and celebrities (the Kardashians). Unlike other Super Bowl ads, there’s no extended spot to parse online. Still, there's ample entertainment just in contemplating how Baron Cohen's establishment-baiting will play alongside ads for tub-thumping military pics like “Act of Valor” and “G.I. Joe—Retaliation."


Super Bowl ads: Why Volkswagen returned to Honda

Super Bowl ads: Ferris Bueller takes day off for Honda

Matthew Broderick on his Ferris Bueller ad: I'm part of a virus

-- Steven Zeitchik


Super Bowl ads: Why Volkswagen returned to 'Star Wars'

February 1, 2012 |  3:29 am


Few Super Bowl commercials have been as highly anticipated as the "The Dog Strikes Back," the (potentially) "Star Wars"-themed spot for Volkswagen that airs during this weekend's game. Teased in this initial promo that features dogs barking the "Imperial March," the new movie-referencing ad, which you can watch below, sees a suburban dog coming to life when a red Volkswagen passes by. (It wraps up with the motley crew of colorful characters from the franchise's Chalmun's Cantina debating whether the Darth Vader kid from last year was better ... before a surprise guest shows up to settle the matter.)

In the above video, the creators behind this year's spot explain how and why they furthered their "Star Wars"-themed story, dog fat-suits and all. Like last year's commercial, the new ad is directed by Lance Acord, a well-known cinematographer who was nominated for a BAFTA for his work on "Lost in Translation," shot Spike Jonze films such as "Where the Wild Things Are" and "Adaptation" and also produced this year's Sundance hit "Robot and Frank."

And like the competing Ferris Bueller homage for the Honda CRV, his commercial airs during the Patriots-Giants game this Sunday -- and is likely to elicit party chatter along the lines of the debate seen in Mos Eisley's pirate bar.


Super Bowl ads: Ferris Bueller takes day off for Honda

Matthew Broderick on his Ferris Bueller ad: I'm part of a virus

Vidoes: Matthew Broderick and more Super Bowl commercial teasers

-- Steven Zeitchik

Super Bowl ads: Broderick's Ferris Bueller takes day off for Honda

January 30, 2012 |  8:42 am


Ferris Bueller has been gone from the big screen for more than a quarter-century, but he receives the perfect homage in an extended cut of a new Super Bowl ad for the Honda CR-V released Monday (check it out below).

Without ever mentioning the names Bueller, Cameron or Principal Rooney, director Todd Phillips and the creative team at the Santa Monica ad agency RPA pay homage to the cinematic truant in a 2½-minute short that is a veritable festival of references for '80s movies geeks. (The material, which continues a Super Bowl advertising trend of referencing modern classics such as "Star Wars" and "Vacation" -- that is, movies thirtysomething and fortysomething consumers grew up with -- will air as a 60-second commercial in the fourth quarter of Sunday's Patriots-Giants game.)

Matthew Broderick begins the spot by calling his agent and feigning illness so he doesn't have to shoot that day. (He's in an L.A. hotel, presumably in town from New York making a film.) Said agent excuses him, annoyedly, from his call time, and the Ferris wheel begins to turn.

PHOTOS: Super Bowl halftime performances

A valet attendant calls out "Broderick, Broderick," in a nod to Ben Stein's monotone as he gives the actor his Honda, which he uses to speed around Los Angeles on his day off. The agent standing in for Rooney misses catching his hooky-playing subject whooping it up on television (this time he's on his cellphone at a high-end restaurant).

There are vanity license-plates ("SOCHOIC" instead of "NRVOUS") museums (Natural History of L.A. instead of Chicago Art) and parades -- only instead of "Twist & Shout" and "Danke Schoen" with marching bands on the streets of Chicago, it's a Mandarin tune with a traditional choir in a Chinese pride gathering.

Broderick even comes out after the spot seems to be over to wonder what we're still doing there. And, for true Bueller geeks, the name of the agent, Walter Linder, is a nod to the name listed under sausage king of Chicago Abe Froman on the restaurant-reservation list in the original film.

Of course, in the original, Broderick tools around in a 1961 Ferrari, not a burgundy Honda CR-V. But as even he might admit, we all need to grow up a little bit.


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Videos: Matthew Broderick and more Super Bowl commercial teasers

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Matthew Broderick in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Which Super Bowl movie commercial had the most impact? [poll and video]

February 7, 2011 |  1:29 pm

An online consensus seems to have formed around several spots that aired during Fox's telecast of the Super Bowl on Sunday: Bridgestone's "Reply All," Chrysler's "Imported From Detroit" and Volkswagen's "The Force" were deemed the best of the bunch.

But movie ads had their own parallel contest -- think of it as the Puppy Bowl to the Super Bowl -- with roughly a dozen commercials for upcoming films. Which ones did the best job of enticing viewers? The "E.T." stylings of the "Super 8" teaser? The strangely low-key ad for "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"? The whimsy of "Rango"?

Refresh your memories with the commercials below, then vote in our poll.

--Steven Zeitchik





Continue reading »

Super Bowl 2011: The force isn't with most film promos

February 6, 2011 |  8:34 pm

Movies figured into some of the biggest ads during Sunday's Super Bowl. Unfortunately for Hollywood, those weren't commercials for movies.

A number of the best-received spots referenced well-known films: Kia threw a slew of movie tropes at the screen — including a helicopter chase and an alien invasion — with a spot for its new Optima called “One Epic Ride.” Coke featured a bevy of computer-generated ogres with cinematic overtones in one of its commercials.

Meanwhile, Chevrolet used a car hanging off a bridge “Inception”-style, and a spot for Budweiser saw a saloon crowd join together in a rendition of Elton John's “Tiny Dancer” in the manner of a popular scene from Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous.”

Perhaps the most buzzed-about commercial invoked “Star Wars” as Volkswagen touted its new Passat in a spot called “The Force” that used a child dressed as Darth Vader to promote the car's remote-controlled ignition.

The actual movie ads? They landed with more of a thud.

Perhaps the most well received — or at least the most intriguing — came with “Super 8,” the J.J. Abrams-directed, Steven Spielberg-executive produced science-fiction film that comes out in June. While some Twitter users said it reminded them a little too much of Spielberg's “E.T.,” comments about the commercial were retweeted often and generously.

Another Spielberg-affiliated movie, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” earned a warmer reception than ads for previous films in that franchise, in part because the spot took a less noisy approach than earlier incarnations. (The Paramount Pictures film also teamed with Chevrolet for a post-game spot called “Bumblebee,” named after the auto-robot in the film; both the car brand and the movie were flogged in the commercial.)

But a pregame ad for the new Adam Sandler comedy “Just Go With It,” with a woman running on a beach in a bikini, was less well regarded.

Passing almost as quickly were short spots for “Thor,” Kenneth Branagh's Marvel superhero film, and Fox's ad for the talking-bird animated film “Rio,” which also tried to hook viewers with a multimedia campaign. A spot for Johnny Depp's animated movie “Rango,” directed by Gore Verbinski, did earn a reasonably enthusiastic reception.

Depp also saw his “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” promoted during the game in a commercial that emphasized comedy over action. "Captian America: The First Avenger," meanwhile, gave audiences their first look at the World War II action adventure.

Hotly anticipated coming into the game was a spot for Jon Favreau's genre-bending “Cowboys & Aliens,” which comes out in July. [For the record: An earlier version of this post said that the film was being released in June.] But the immediate reaction online was lukewarm. (The full video below.)

Companies paid as much as $100,000 per second to advertise during the Super Bowl. Nearly a dozen films were pushed before or during the big game, with the aim of appealing to the largest single-day audience on the TV calendar. Last year, however, that effort yielded mixed results: For every ad promoting mega-hit “Alice in Wonderland,” there seemed to be one touting a dud like “The Wolf Man.”

Hollywood did make its presence felt in other ways on Sunday evening. Popping up in several ads were the unlikely faces of Oscar winners: Adrien Brody, Timothy Hutton and Cuba Gooding Jr. all hawked products during the show.

--Steven Zeitchik




After Super Bowl quagmire, will Hollywood rethink big-game spending?

February 8, 2010 |  9:27 am

Perhaps the best that can be said of the movie spots during  the Super Bowl last night is that no one's talking about them. Amid a mind-numbing and often-banal parade of the Dorito-loving and the pant-less, the spots for films like "The Prince of Persia" and "Alice in Wonderland" generally escaped scorn, if also good mention of any kind.

The "Shutter Island" ad was probably the most compelling of the bunch, and it had been shown before. "The Wolfman," which took just 15 seconds to make its Gothic, shape-shifting points instead of the trailer's minute-and-a-half, was a fine if unremarkable reminder of the Del Toro-fest set to premiere this Friday. "Alice in Wonderland" was intriguing but cryptic and overly "Where the Wilds Things Are"; it may simply be too hard to showcase the weird brilliance of Tim Burton in 30 seconds (at least we hope that's the reason). "The Prince of Persia" ad was entirely forgettable.

It's a curious crossroads for the film business and its Super Bowl involvement, which was already on the wane this year. Many movies will doubtless see little direct effect from their budget-chomping spots. (It's telling that, in contrast to a few years ago, most of the movies advertised are opening in the coming weeks, not this spring or summer; it's certainly not the platform for a big unveiling that it once was). And if "Iron Man 2" and other franchises sitting on the sidelines open to big business despite their big-game absence, it will further raise questions about the wisdom of spending so big for pieces of marketing that, creatively and commercially, do so little.

Film culture did find its way into the spots, some of it in the better ads. "National Lampoon's Vacation" made a (sort of) subtle appearance in a Homeaway ad reference to the '80s comedy classic. Bridgestone nodded to a modern comedy classic with its "Hangover"-inspired use of a killer whale. And memories of "This Is Spinal Tap" came flooding back with Christopher Guest's commercial for the Census Bureau." In the future, the best way Super Bowl commercials could be about the movies is not to be about the movies.

--Steven Zeitchik

Does fewer Super Bowl movie spots mean better Super Bowl movie spots?

February 7, 2010 |  3:18 pm

Super Bowl movie spots haven't featured much these past few years besides things getting blown up, as though one has wandered from the (semi) wit of beer and snack food spots smack into Michael Bay's editing room. In three of the most popular live-action spots last year -- for "Transformers," "G.I. Joe" and "Star Trek" -- a total of exactly eight lines of dialogue were uttered (and with gems like "You don't stop, you don't hide, you run," Noel Coward it wasn't).

So it may not be the worst thing in the world that we're seeing fewer ads this year, as only three studios (campaigns for approximately seven movies) splurge on the $3-million buys. Studios instead are relying on the more cost-effective province of Comic-Con and the Web.  (Paramount, responsible for all three of the aforementioned spots, has opted for just those avenues for "Iron Man 2," holding back on a Super Bowl ad for the film despite the massive success of an "Iron Man" commercial two years ago.)

Still, the reaction to the trailers does have a way of foretelling quality and commercial reception, which is why ads for the likes of "Shutter Island," "Alice in Wonderland" and, possibly, "The Prince of Persia" will be watched closely when the game kicks off momentarily. In the meantime, behold one of the 2009 gems. It's a low bar; someone, for the love of Peyton, please kick it over.

--Steven Zeitchik


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