Dunkirk – Marketing Recap

The story behind the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II is an incredible one. British and other Allied troops had been essentially backed into a corner, stranded on a beach with no route home and the German Army cutting off all land routes. That story is being told once again in Dunkirk, the new movie from director Christopher Nolan.

The movie tells the story of what happened to those on the beach with nowhere to go and no way back to friendly territory from three perspectives. On the land, there are the hundreds of thousands of troops who are waiting for rescue while trying to survive regular bombardment from the Luftwaffe. In the air there’s the Luftwaffe, who are the only German force harassing the troops and the Royal Air Force meeting them for battle. On the sea there’s the story of the makeshift navy made up of British fisherman and other civilians who were called upon to cross the English Channel and actually rescue the troops stranded in Dunkirk.

Continue reading “Dunkirk – Marketing Recap”

A Wrinkle In Time (Quick Reaction)

The first trailer for A Wrinkle In Time is here and I have some thoughts:

  • Chris Pine in a beard may be the most I’ve ever related to him in any movie.
  • Not here for the slow, moody techno cover of “Sweet Dreams,” a song I don’t care for in the first place.
  • Oprah as the wise guru sending someone out to fulfill their life’s destiny is the most on-brand I’ve ever seen someone in a movie.
  • Getting more than a few Tomorrowland vibes here.
  • OK, the look affected by Mindy Kailing and Oprah here *is* pretty cool.
  • Let’s all get down with the fact that a young black girl is finally getting her shot in the “chosen one” type role that’s usually reserved for white girls.
  • There’s just enough shared here that I immediately want more. I don’t remember all the details from the book, which I probably last read 30+ years ago.

The Winners and Losers in the Last 10 Years of Movie Marketing at San Diego Comic-Con (Part 2)

Later this week the entertainment press and countless fans will descend upon the San Diego Convention Center for this year’s installment of San Diego Comic-Con. Yesterday we looked at which movies went on to success or failure after using Comic-Con as a big promotional platform, so today we’re going to finish revisiting the decade by analyzing 2012 through 2016.

2012 – No One Wins, No One Loses

man of steel pic

Hard to pick in either category for this year since most of the notable movies appearing this year went on to decent box-office and various levels of positive critical reception. Wreck-It Ralph was quickly hailed as a modern classic. Man of Steel did well – and started the new DC Cinematic Universe – but wasn’t loved by critics. Looper wasn’t a big success but did keep Rian Johnson making interesting movies. Pacific Rim is loved by many but barely cracked $1m in ticket sales. This is the most mixed bag of the last 10 years.

2013 – The Winner

lego movie

If you have to pick one winner here it seems like it should be The LEGO Movie, which surprised everyone with its emotional story and quirky sense of humor. San Diego was where audiences got their first look at the future animated hit and started a cycle of buzz that resulted in it becoming such a hit the LEGO series is now a franchise of its own.

2013 – The Disappointment

Safe to put Kick-Ass 2 in this bucket. While the 2010 original was fresh and funny with its shocking realistic violence, it couldn’t continue that momentum three years later. Everything that was original in the first movie felt forced and warmed over in the sequel.

2014 – The Winner

mad max fury road

I’ll admit to having been among the skeptical regarding Mad Max: Fury Road. Not because the story was going to be focusing on a woman but because was this franchise still relevant at all. As always, I was wrong and the movie was one of the biggest successes of 2015, both with critics and fans. That was at least in part due to the look given to those in San Diego, a look that won them over with incredible visuals and a unique take on the idea.

2014 – The Disappointment

Similar to other points made above, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For may have seemed like it was perfect for the Comic-Con crowd to go on to champion. That didn’t happen, though, as the clunky story dragged down the comic-inspired visuals despite the attachment of creator Frank Miller.

2015 – The Winner

suicide squad pic

Let’s go ahead and disqualify Star Wars: The Force Awakens from consideration, shall we? It was always going to be a massive hit and succeeded in not turning off audiences, so mission accomplished. With that off to the side, let’s award the prize to Suicide Squad, which got everyone’s attention with an incredible sizzle reel/teaser trailer that had everyone talking. While critics hated the movie with a passion, it went on to do over $325m at the U.S. box office, so it clearly qualifies as a hit. All of that buzz started in San Diego.

2015 – The Disappointment

Again, there’s a caveat to the movie appearing here, Warcraft. While San Diego promotion didn’t do anything to help it at theaters – it grossed less than $50m in the U.S. – it’s done massive business overseas. So it worked, just not exactly like Universal may have had in mind.

2016 – The Winner


The winner is Wonder Woman. The winner is always Wonder Woman. The first look at Gal Gadot as the Amazon princess came in 2014 as part of the early promotion for Batman v Superman. It was in 2016, though, that the marketing for her solo movie really kicked into gear. It’s now the highest-grossing movie directed by a woman, the second-highest grossing DCCU movie and is just generally awesome. Another clear indicator that it’s not just adolescent (physically, mentally or both) males that pay attention to SDCC buzz.

2016 – The Disappointment

Prior to San Diego Comic-Con last year, horror fans seemed to be moderately interested in The Woods, a new movie from director Adam Wingard. Just before a scheduled screening of the movie it was revealed it was actually a sequel to The Blair Witch Project. That was meant to make the movie a must-see among not just horror aficionados but also the general public. While its eventual box-office take of $45m is nothing to sneeze at, it’s nowhere near what had to be expected based on the secrecy and big reveal.

Blade Runner 2049 Trailer 2 (Quick Reaction)

The new trailer for Blade Runner 2049 is out and I have some thoughts:

  • Thank you to the person who put “California 2049” in the opening as it’s now clear where the story is set.
  • Dave Bautista’s character appears to be the new Leon Kowalski and I’m here for it.
  • I still remain unconvinced that the filmmakers didn’t just pop in on Jared Leto one day and film him. Basically, this may just be how he is and not him playing a character.
  • OK, that’s a pretty big spoiler in Harrison Ford’s speech, right? At least there’s a way to interpret it as being a very big spoiler.
  • Sylvia Hoeks as some sort of bad-ass enforcer for Leto’s mad genius is giving me some Terminator 3 flashbacks.
  • Everything here is pointing toward how finding Deckard is going to upset the balance and, as Robin Wright’s character says, “break the world.” I do like me a trailer with stakes.

Girls Trip – Marketing Recap

We’ve seen groups of female friends learn How To Be Single. We’ve seen them embrace the dark side and become Bad Moms. We’ve seen them have a Rough Night. Now we’re going to see them take a Girls Trip. This latest installment in the “ladies behaving badly” genre follows four longtime friends as they travel to New Orleans for Essence Festival, a weekend of music, eating and inspirational speakers hosted by the magazine of the same name.

The four friends in question are Ryan (Regina Hall), Sasha (Queen Latifah), Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish), all of who are, of course, at different places in their lives. They all agree to get together for a long-overdue road trip, though. Despite the reservations of some of the group, they all wind up getting loose once in town as they enjoy all the spirits and men New Orleans has to offer.

Continue reading “Girls Trip – Marketing Recap”

The Winners and Losers in the Last 10 Years of Movie Marketing at San Diego Comic-Con (Part 1)

Later this week the entertainment press and countless fans will descend upon the San Diego Convention Center for this year’s installment of San Diego Comic-Con. The convention, which runs four days, is massive, taking up the entirety of the center with other stunts spilling out into the surrounding area.

This is the 48th year of the geek gathering and it’s long been a favorite target for movie studios looking to sell their upcoming movies to an audience with the potential to turn into a rabid fanbase. It’s not just science-fiction and fantasy movies that have been pitched here, though. Spy stories like Salt, comedies like Superbad and others have also been brought here in an attempt to get people talking and hopefully create a few movie ticket buyers.

Still, genre movies are the bread and butter of the event as they line up clearly with the interests of attendees who are more than happy to drop $250 on that ¼ scale resin bust of Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters. So we’re going to look back over the last 10 years at just a small snapshot of the movies that have had a significant presence at SDCC to see how they’ve fared. Here’s 2007 through 2011.

2007 – The Winner

iron man pic

Today the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the model every studio is trying replicate. The Mummy tried to establish a “shared universe” with its marketing, as did King Arthur and many other movies over the last few years. But in 2007 we were introduced to Robert Downey Jr. in advance of the first Iron Man movie, which went on to box office success and set the stage for the next 10 years (and more) of movies featuring Marvel’s cast of characters.

2007 – The Disappointment

Speed Racer should have been a hit. It was the first movie from the Wachowskis following their massive Matrix trilogy and, as an adaptation of a beloved cartoon, was pretty well positioned to do well with this crowd. While the initial buzz was pretty good, though, it never connected with a mass audience. The movie still has ardent fans and is occasionally rediscovered and given new appreciation, but it’s not a household name.

2008 – The Winner

twilight pic

Many people like me were skeptical the Twilight franchise could become a box office hit. Surely the success of the books was a fluke, right? Nope. The cast and crew of the first movie stopped by SDCC in 2008, a few months before the movie opened, and went on to become a hit. An important reminder here that it’s not just “fanboys” here, or at any other geek gathering, but a diverse audience that wants lots of stories, not just super-violent superheroes.

2008 – The Disappointment

Does The Watchmen count here if it ultimately made over $100m domestically? How about Keanu Reeves’ overly-heavy and boring The Day The Earth Stood Still remake? Or The Spirit, which confused and turned off audiences with its odd visual style? Honestly, these are just a few of the movies that tried to enlist the San Diego crowd but failed to launch. Rough year.

2009 – The Winner

avatar pic

Clearly, Avatar is the big boy in this crowd. Director James Cameron came out and showed off the movie’s incredible visuals, which connected on every level with those in attendance. Not just that, but those who got a first look went back home and turned everyone else they knew onto the movie, turning it into one of the biggest box-office success of all time.

2009 – The Disappointment

Disney pulled out all the stops to sell TRON: Legacy, a sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic, including real-life deployments of Flynn’s Arcade at various events and an appearance at Comic-Con. It’s odd to call this a disappointment because it scored over $170m in ticket sales, but the overall reception to the movie was very mixed. The lack of a follow-up in the last eight years shows it wasn’t enough for someone to keep things going.

2010 – The Winner


The first solo outings for both Captain America or Thor weren’t even out when Marvel went about as big as any studio had gone before or has gone since, bringing out the entire cast of The Avengers, which wouldn’t come out for two more years. Director Joss Whedon appeared on stage as well, as the audience was really introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time.

2010 – The Disappointment

Again, which one to pick? Scott Pilgrim Vs The World should have been the biggest movie of the decade based on buzz out of both SDCC and SXSW but didn’t catch on with audiences. Geek God Harrison Ford made his first San Diego appearance to promote Cowboys & Aliens but it wasn’t enough to get people talking about – or watching – that genre mashup. Seth Rogen didn’t make a convincing comic hero in The Green Hornet. And then there’s Green Lantern, which didn’t do badly but has become such a punchline it was used as a throwaway joke in Deadpool.

2011 – The Winner

amazing spider-man pic

The Amazing Spider-Man, with Andrew Garfield rebooting the Spider-Man franchise, is probably the biggest box-office success to come out of SDCC this year. It loses points for being rebooted just four years later, though, and I have to mention Attack the Block, a movie about aliens attacking a block of London flats and being repelled by the residents there. It didn’t light up the box-office but has an impeccable reputation among critics and introduced us to John Boyega, who the rest of the world discovered four years later when he starred in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

2011 – The Disappointment

Colin Farrell took over for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the remake of 1990’s Total Recall. Despite the brand recognition and the big names involved, including director Len Wiseman, the spark failed to ignite. The Adventures of Tin-Tin, which combined the geek muscle of Steven Spielberg, Edgar Wright, and Peter Jackson but which couldn’t sell its animated look to audiences, would also qualify here.


Picking Up The Spare: The Big Sick, Spider-Man: Homecoming, War For The Planet Of The Apes

The Big Sick

  • Michael Showalter has started doing more press as the movie has expanded to more theaters, including this “The Late Show” appearance where he talked about that as well as “Wet Hot American Summer.”

Spider-Man: Homecoming

  • I’m honestly not 100% certain these are official, but these posters that reference 80s John Hughes movies and acknowledge this movie’s own high school story are…not bad.

War For The Planet Of The Apes

  • There was a big feature interview with Harrelson that dropped just after I finished the marketing recap column where he talked about being part of this movie as well as various other topics.
  • Director Matt Reeves later talked about some of the technical issues and hurdles he had to surmount to shoot the movie on an accelerated schedule.

Baby Driver (After the Campaign Review)

Baby Driver is a remarkable cinematic achievement, mostly because of audacious originality. While it’s certainly derived in part from other movies and stories (everything is based on or at least inspired by what’s come before), it feels like a breath of fresh air at the theater. Even with above-average superhero movies like Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Baby Driver is a much-needed dose of pure adrenaline-fueled inspiration.

The story, as Nolan laid out before, is pretty simple: Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a young man who’s being coerced to act as a getaway driver in the heists engineered by criminal planner Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby’s debt to Doc is almost paid and he’s looking forward to being out of the world of bank robberies and other violence. The light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter when he meets Debora (Lily James) and the two dream of running off together. But things get complicated when Doc won’t loosen his grip and the job Baby was hoping would be his last goes sideways, resulting in problems and unexpected outcomes for everyone.

The word that’s been circling my head ever since walking out of the theater has been “intentional.” Writer/director Edgar Wright doesn’t do anything halfway, something that’s been true in most all his movies to date. He knows exactly the shot he wants, knows exactly how he wants it framed, knows what information he wants to convey with the framing and composition and so on. Every move he makes is intentional, meant to accomplish as much as a single frame of film (or its digital equivalent) can.

Nowhere is that better on display than during a tense shootout involving Baby and the criminals he’s paired with. Without spoiling too much for those who haven’t yet seen it, the sequence – which can’t last more than three or four minutes – is remarkable for the coordination in filming, music timing, editing and other elements. It’s simply unlike any other scene, action or otherwise, that’s been filmed in recent years. Everyone refers to Quentin Tarantino as a stylized filmmaker, but this is next level to an extent Tarantino hasn’t yet hit and may not even be capable of.

All of that originality of voice, tone and style was on display in the trailers and other marketing elements. As I said when looking at the campaign, the emphasis was on the music that powered Baby’s driving skills and that was clearly a focus of the story. He carries around a half-dozen iPods with different music selections on them, makes his own mixes including conversations he secretly records and always has music in his head, either literally or figuratively. It’s the rare case of an extensive mixtape-like approach to the soundtrack isn’t just about selling albums but is essential to the story. That’s clear not only in the above-mentioned shootout but even in smaller scenes like one where Baby fumbles with the radio of a car he’s just stolen until he finds the perfect music.

If anything, the trailers played down the style Wright has imbued the movie with. It’s *more* than what was sold. So if you haven’t seen it yet, be ready to be bombarded by the talents of one of the most original thinkers Hollywood has working right now. I wouldn’t be mad if the reports of a sequel turn out to be true, though I enjoy Wright when he’s farming fresh ground, not revisiting previous material.

The Magnificent Ambersons (75th Anniversary Marketing Flashback)

magnificent ambersons posterIt’s so interesting to think of where Orson Welles was following the critical, if not commercial, success of 1941’s Citizen Kane. If that were released in 2011 and had met with a similar fate he probably would have been mentioned on the short list of potential directors for an upcoming Star Wars movie or something from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Those franchises love to poach (men, mostly) from the independent film world, finding acclaimed directors and giving them big budgets and tight reins.

But this was the 1940s and Welles chose to follow  Kane with an adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s 1918 novel The Magnificent Ambersons. The story is a Victorian melodrama of the first order, following the travails of a wealthy Indianapolis family at the start of the 20th century. The focus is on George (Tim Holt), the son of Wilbur Minafer and Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello), who has a reputation around town as a troublemaker. When Wilbur dies, Isabel’s first – and true – love Eugene (Joseph Cotton) seeks to rekindle their long-dormant romance. Meanwhile, George is longing to woo Eugene’s daughter Lucy (Anne Baxter). Through it all, The Narrator (Welles), makes sure the audience is following along with all the machinations and manipulations that are part and parcel in a drama about high society, inheritances and arranged marriages.

The movie is infamous for having been taken out of Welles’ hands by RKO, for whom he filmed it and to whom he had ceded final edit. The studio not only cut Welles’ initial version by around 40 minutes but reshot the ending so it more closely resembled the source book’s, not the more melancholy and somewhat downbeat one written and shot by Welles. Those changes are part of Hollywood lore and have been for almost all of the intervening 75 years. Attempts have been made to locate any surviving footage, but the original film was destroyed by RKO because it was taking up storage space. Welles’ notes on the ending survived, though, and in 2002 A&E Network shot a remake that used those notes, though it didn’t adhere strictly to his wishes.

All this makes the movie more than a little relevant in this age of extensively-covered reshoots. After all, we spent six months awash in speculation over what was being changed in Rogue One reshoots and are about to experience the same phenomenon in the lead-up to Justice League. So with the movie celebrating its 75th anniversary this week, let’s take a look at how this was sold to audiences back in 1942.

First up, the theatrical poster which shows…

[record scratch] [peers in for closer look]


Yes, that’s right, the poster features the artwork of one of the masters of the 20th century, Norman Rockwell. His name appears down there below the face of Richard Bennett. That should be apparent if you actually look at the artwork, which is unmistakably in the artist’s signature style. That in and of itself would have been something notable to audiences of 1942 as this was well into his tenure at The Saturday Evening Post and elsewhere.

Moving on, the design of the poster doesn’t exactly sell the same epic tone we’ll see on display in the trailer. The faces of the six main characters are shown arranged around the poster, half framing the title, which is in the same size font as Welles’ name and the fact that it’s a “Mercury production of Booth Tarkington’s great novel…” Above the ring of heads is the reminder that this comes “From the man who made ‘The best picture of 1941,’” a reference to Kane, of course. Welles is name-dropped again at the bottom, where it’s stated he wrote, produced and directed the movie.

The trailer immediately starts out by drawing a connection between the movie and the novel, with the camera panning in on the book’s cover, which is adorned not only with the title but also a large representation of the Pulitzer Prize it won after release. The Ambersons are called “Literature’s most fascinating family” by the narrator, who calls out that it’s coming to the screen courtesy of the director of Citizen Kane. That movie is referenced a couple more times as the cast is introduced. We’re quickly shown that the main conflict will come between George and everyone else, from his mother Isabel to Eugene to the entire rest of the town, which can’t stand him and his irresponsible antics. George is going to get in the way of anything and everything just because he can. It ends with another reminder that the movie comes not just from the director of Citizen Kane but also features “many of the Mercury Theater players” who appeared in that film as well. The book closes to provide a closing to the trailer.

magnificent ambersons pic

Considering it was not a box office success, Kane is mentioned pretty often here, so clearly it was well known enough and had a good enough reputation that it was assumed the audience would be moved by appeals mentioning it. Outside of that what’s on display here is a big, epic story of a wealthy family that is in danger of eating itself. There’s a line from the narrator about it enjoying all the privileges of royalty with none of its responsibilities and that’s indicative of the overall tone. In 1942, just as America was pulling itself out of the Great Depression and just about to enter World War II, the public is being sold on a 24-year old story about the problems of an affluent family. Why? Because it’s escapism of a sort. It’s the same reason people watch “Real Housewives of X” now, non-rich people enjoy watching rich people behave badly.

All in all, that focus on the movie’s connections to Kane are a bit surprising. While It’s not uncommon now for second efforts following an underwhelming, if critically acclaimed, debut film to reference that first effort, the film market is much different now. There wasn’t the same indie film scene, with devoted fans that will follow coverage of a director’s career from festival to festival and eventually try and find a limited release movie somewhere. 1941 was the middle of the studio system, when those powerhouses decided who was and wasn’t a star by sheer force of will. So it’s not as if there was the 40s equivalent of a Reddit forum that was devoted to Kane’s work and eagerly anticipating his next film.

That more likely, then, has to do with Welles’ influence. He was a big ego even then and obviously had the power to make sure his name was plastered everywhere it could be, even if he still wasn’t powerful enough to ensure the movie was released under his supervision. While The Magnificent Ambersons has gone on to become almost as revered as Kane, its reputation is focused primarily on its contentious production, a legacy that’s endured for three quarters of a century.

Could Tarantino Handle The Real Life Manson Story?

Quentin Tarantino doesn’t make movies lightly. Each one seems to go through years of prep work and pre-production before he finally commits a single moment to film. The results may sometimes be mixed, but you can’t fault him for not having a plan.

So it’s interesting to hear the next project he’s reported to commit to is based on the Manson Family murders, the horrific crimes committed by Charles Manson and those under his influence in 1969. The story says the Weinstein brothers, Harvey and Bob, would be involved in some manner and that Tarantino has approached Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lawrence to star in the movie.

It’s an unusual development because Tarantino is so well known for creating his own worlds. All his stories have taken place outside our own reality. Jackie Brown is probably the most grounded of the bunch, but that’s not saying much when you put it up against Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight and others.

I’ll admit I’d be curious to see if Tarantino can retain any of the real-life story’s elements (retold remarkably in a past season of Karina Longworth’s excellent You Must Remember This podcast. Start here and work your way through the whole series.) The violence and characters in Tarantino’s stories are usually accentuated and dramatized right up to the point – and sometimes beyond – where they become a caricature. While that might work for a fictional history of a German hunting battalion behind enemy lines in WWII, it might not when constrained by the need to adhere somewhat to reality.

Tarantino, for all his faults, is someone with a unique cinematic vision. How that vision could be used to interpret and retell real events remains to be seen.