Dunkirk (After the Campaign Movie Review)

When I was reviewing the marketing campaign for Dunkirk, the latest movie from director Christopher Nolan, I was intrigued by how Warner Bros. had made two decisions in selling it to audiences: First, Nolan and his name recognition was front and center, building on the popularity of his previous films including The Dark Knight Trilogy, Interstellar and more. Second, the studio went all-in on the historical angle, with VR experiences, interactive websites and other efforts that let people explore the true events of what’s depicted in the movie.

dunkirk pic 2

The story takes three perspectives on that story. There’s the events on the beach, where we follow a British soldier named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he tries one way after another to get on a ship that’s heading home. There’s the events on the water, as we follow Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) one of the citizen sailors conscripted by the British Navy to take their small civilian ships across the English Channel to rescue the soldiers. Finally, there’s the events in the air, as pilots of the RAF including Farrier (Tom Hardy) target the German fighters and bombers who are taking out British warships coming in and out of Dunkirk.

Aside from the emphasis on Nolan as a brand name and the goal of educating the audience, the Dunkirk campaign *looked* like a Christopher Nolan movie. The trailers and posters sold a movie that featured incredible, stark visuals with clean lines and a color palette filled with dark blues and grays. If you watch the Dark Knight movies – especially the last two – as well as Interstellar, The Prestige and Inception, you’ll see that Nolan loves a cool color selection. Visually, then, this fit in with and reinforced in the minds of the audience the kind of movie they could expect from the director.

The final movie delivers on that promise. The story moves along with the cool efficiency we’ve come to expect from Nolan, who knows how to frame a shot in a way that’s both unemotional and packed with tension. His direction to the actors was essential here since, unlike most movies, there’s very little dialogue to move the story along.

There are about three instances, all involving either Rylance’s weekend sailor out to rescue the troops or the Navy’s Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh), where they actually convey important expositional details. They’re the only ones who really talk about what’s going on in a way that sets things up for the audience. Everything else just…happens…and we need to follow along. Looking back at the trailers, that should have been more clear to me. There’s very little dialogue in what’s shown, instead focusing on the visuals. So the campaign pretty accurately sold a movie that’s not exactly silent but isn’t packed with characters walking the audience through the story via conversations.

What was less clear in the campaign is the slightly disjointed nature of the way Nolan tells the story. Each one of the three perspectives – Air, Land and Sea – happens during a different length of time, so things move along at different paces depending on what we’re seeing. Eventually you get used to that and understand what story we’ve jumped back to, but that’s again because of a stylistic choice Nolan made, giving each one of the three a different visual tone. That becomes a shorthand that lets the audience know what they’re now watching.

In the press campaign, Whitehead was called out as the breakthrough star of the movie. And he’s great as a soldier who will do whatever’s necessary to get to the front of the line and get home. He’s the emotional core of the story, the one whose fate the audience is most asked to become invested in, and handles that well. You have to stand up and applaud the performances of old pros Rylance and Branagh, though. These two veterans know just how to play their characters and are always a pleasure to watch. Rylance plays the “It’s our duty, so that’s what we’re doing” part, embodying the stiff upper lip the British are known for, the mindset that got them through the war. Branagh covers similar ground as he does whatever he can or needs to do to help the troops whose fate he shares. With Nolan working with certain actors time and again (Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and more), I’d be fine with these two joining his troupe.

That Dunkirk delivers almost exactly the experience its campaign promised audiences is likely a big reason it repeated as the number one movie at the box office this past weekend. There’s very little, just the shifting story perspectives, that wasn’t clearly conveyed in the marketing, showing that when it comes to directors like Christopher Nolan, a simple and honest message is the best tactic.

Before Atomic Blonde: Selling Female Action Heroes

Last week Universal Pictures pulled out a number of stops to sell Atomic Blonde, an action-packed spy thriller starring Charlize Theron. Set during the Cold War 1980s, Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an agent of MI6 who must go into Berlin and evade enemies, friends-turned-enemies and other dangers to retrieve some form of Macguffin before it falls into the wrong hands, as these things are apt to do.

A good chunk of the marketing for the movie focused around how Theron was not only willing to do but capable of doing her own stunts. Interviews covered her training regime, featurettes showed her working out the fight choreography and more. While the formal campaign emphasized the sleek, stylized world of spycraft Theron’s Broughton operates in, the rest of it made sure audiences knew it was the actress herself who was doing the punching that’s seen on-screen.

That focus almost made it seem like this was the first time a movie campaign needed to sell the idea of a female action hero. The implied message seemed to be some version of “Women : They’re just like men.” which was…strange for 2017. After all, this isn’t the first time we’ve been asked to see a woman kicking just as much hinder as a man would in a movie. It’s not even the first time this year (cough, Wonder Woman, cough). And it’s not the first time Theron has been at the center of the action.

To prove that point, let’s look at six other ways female action heroes have been positioned as the main value proposition for audiences.

The Young Adult Chosen One

If you’re not familiar with the name Katniss Everdeen, I’m not sure what to tell you. The Hunger Games made Jennifer Lawrence a household name after she was cast in the film adaptations of the popular young adult novels. While the Divergent series didn’t reach those box office heights (the final novel’s adaptation is rumored to be going to TV), it too positioned a young girl (Tris, played by Shailene Woodley) as the bright light leading the way out of a bleak, dystopian society. The trailers for the movies in both franchises featured the young women at the center of the stories engaging in equal amounts action and inspirational speeches. Both campaigns proved that fighting the good fight wasn’t just about inciting rebellion and disrupting the status quo but also shooting arrows and throwing punches when necessary.

Sci-Fi Queens

Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley weren’t the first actresses to lead their own science-fiction franchises. Before them came Kate Beckinsale and Milla Jovovich, who took lead roles in the Underworld and Resident Evil franchises, respectively. The marketing of both these series has heavily featured the stars engaging in all sorts of special effects-driven action, whether it’s taking down Lycans or fighting against the evil Umbrella Corporation.

Angelina Jolie: Action Star

Jolie has become more political and socially-conscious with her films of late but the 2000s had her taking on a number of action roles. Between 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and 2010’s Salt, she starred in a number of movies that had her exercising her stunt muscles on-screen. Salt had her on the run after she’s accused of being a Russian spy (which may not even be illegal anymore) and the trailer pulls heavily from the scenes of her evading arrest by running, jumping and more. She’s positioned more as the sexy mentor in the trailer for 2008’s Wanted, but is still capable of curving a bullet if she needs to. She’s deadly and dangerous in the trailer for Mr. and Mrs. Smith, where she plays one half of a married couple who don’t know the other one is also a spy.

Unstoppable and Out For Revenge

Anyone compiling a list of cinematic grievance has to put “That we only got one Haywire movie” somewhere near the top. The trailer shows Mallory Kane (MMA star Gina Carano) as a government operative out for revenge after she’s betrayed by those in power. Similarly the trailers for both parts of the Kill Bill films makes it clear The Bride (Uma Thurman) has been wronged and it out to address her grievances with those she formerly called teammates. That quest ends with a confrontation with Bill (Keith Carradine) himself, but not before Thurman has shown herself quite capable at swordplay.

Solo Action Stars

It’s not as if the female action hero is a new innovation. In 1993 Bridget Fonda starred in Point of No Return, the American remake of La Femme Nikita. As the trailer shows, Nina (Fonda) is a force to be reckoned with, even before she received the training to become an assassin. The trailer for the French-language original takes a different tack that’s much more dramatic than action-packed. And we can’t go without mentioning the one-chick hit squad that is Foxy Brown. The trailer features enough jive talk that you might need Barbara Billingsley to translate, but the message that Foxy is not to be trifled with comes through loud and clear. Finally, there’s this year’s Wonder Woman, which had an entire campaign that wasn’t about Gal Gadot’s training regime but about how compassion and love spur the hero to enter the world of men to fight for the helpless.

The Alien Gold Standard

No, the female action star is not exclusive to the years post 1990. Foxy Brown predates it, but the mold of this particular kind of hero was cast in the Alien franchise (pre-Prometheus, of course) with the iconic Sigourney Weaver. The trailer for the 1979 original may not show very much of Ripley as it’s more focused on the general chaos on board the alien-infested space craft. But by 1986 with the trailer for Aliens things had changed and Ripley’s combat skills come to the forefront. She’s more the inspirational leader and the one who warns of danger in the trailer for Alien 3, but that was a very different movie, going back to being more about hidden terror than mech-suit battles. By the time Fox was marketing Alien: Resurrection Ripley was positioned as a creepy artificial construct, not a hero with her own agency.

The Dark Tower – Marketing Recap

Stephen King comes back to theaters with the release of this week’s The Dark Tower. The movie is based on the popular series of eight books from the author that tell the story of The Gunfighter (Idris Elba), a kind of knight whose order is charged with the protection of their world. That includes protecting the Dark Tower, a mystical structure that is integral to the balance between light and dark that’s enjoyed by all the worlds of the multiverse.

Challenging that balance is the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), the embodiment of humanity’s dark nature and a servant of the underworld. As these two magical, elemental forces collide the story and their conflict unfolds through the eyes of Lucas (Nicholas Hamilton), a young boy from Earth who has begun having visions of a strange, mysterious tower. He eventually crosses over into the world where The Gunslinger and the Man in Black are waging their war, in part causing that war to come to Earth.

The Posters

The first poster promised a mind-bending adventure. Two figures stand at the bottom of the image while a cityscape hovers above them, the buildings upside down from the perspective of those characters. “There are other worlds than these” according to the text that appears alongside the title treatment.

Around the time the first trailer debuted there were two new posters released, one showing The Gunslinger and other showing The Man in Black, with copy on each saying “One man sworn to protect it” and other “And one man to destroy it” just in case anyone needed further clarification on character motivations.

Two more posters took the same approach, with each of the main characters on a different poster, the Gunslinger in the city and The Man in Black on a barren landscape with the titular tower in the background.

Another poster shows the Man in Black and The Gunslinger with their backs to each other, the tower that they’re fighting over in the background. The Man in Black stands in the other world where their battle takes place while The Gunslinger is standing in our real world, showing the split settings of the story.

The Trailers

As the first trailer opens we get the backstory on the Gunslingers and their role as protectors. We meet a boy who’s having visions of the conflict between the two powerful forces and see him find a portal to the world where the battle is being fought. He meets and falls under the protection of the Gunslinger and finds out about the importance of The Tower. Eventually the Gunslinger comes back to Earth with the boy but That Man is Black follows him there and the fight continues. There’s some talk about how he doesn’t shoot with his hand but with his mind and lots of cool action sequences right up to the end.

It’s a pretty good trailer, explaining enough of the story to make it more or less attractive to those of us who haven’t read the source book. While hardcore fans weren’t thrilled with some of the liberties that were taken, the trailer presents an intriguing premise of a shadow war being fought that impacts all our fates and, more than anything, shows off Elba and his sweat-soaked performance.

Online and Social

The official website opens with the trailer playing in a pop-up window. That goes along with “Videos” being the first option in the content menu at the top of the page. After that is “About,” which has a brief synopsis of the movie’s story.

A “Gallery” of about five stills featuring the two lead characters is next, followed by a “Cast & Crew” section that has lists of those involved in making the movie.

Other than the links to the movie’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles, the final section on the site is the “Journey to the Dark Tower.” That’s not a great site but takes you to the world of the tower where you can move the camera around and click on some bright lights that play short clips from the film. It’s not much of a journey as you don’t seem to move toward the tower at all.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A series of TV spots began running in early June that featured narration from The Man in Black or the Gunslinger. Each one sets up the conflict from various ways, explaining who these characters are and what motivates them along with one that brings it all together to sell the movie as basically a superhero story about the fight between right and wrong.

Outdoor and online ads used the key art featuring the two leads or just an image of the tower while social ads utilized the trailer.

Media and Publicity

There was tons of conversation, speculation and reports about casting, filming and more, but the official publicity campaign kicked off with a first look at official stills featuring McConaughey, Elba and others in Entertainment Weekly. Along with the pictures the cast talked about the movie, their characters and more, including how King himself got involved in some ways to help the movie along.

Shortly before release director Nik Arcel cleared up some confusion around the story by stating it wasn’t really an adaptation but a sequel to previous Dark Tower stories, meaning it’s part of the universe not a straight retelling of the book’s story. That’s an…interesting perspective that actually has a high probability of turning off the general audience since it means some prior knowledge is required to get the full mythology of the world. Arcel also commented on the movie’s short – just 95 minutes – runtime, explaining it resulted from a tight script for what was meant to just be the first of many chapters in the overall story.

Not sure what it means about the appeal of this movie specifically but there was a late push to highlight its connections to other Stephen King properties, hoping to draw people in with easter eggs to other movies and stories. That seems like the studios admitting it has a weak hand.

While the cast made the press and talk show rounds to promote the movie and talk about how it compares with the source novels, the big last minute story was one that detailed the troubled road the movie had taken to the big screen. That began with ambitious plans to make a seven movie series with a TV series tie-in that was ultimately pared down, though TV plans are still in the works. Closer to release it also included problematic test screenings, reports of creative clashes between the director, producers and studio execs.

Overall

There’s so much going on with this campaign that it’s hard to get my head around it. “So much” not in the sense of a movie like some of the other big releases from this and other years, where there are an overwhelming amount of trailers, promotional tie-ins and other elements designed to inundate the audience with sheer volume of messaging. No, instead the movie’s message to potential moviegoers is weighed down with so much baggage, the result of its troubled path to production.

That baggage involves more than just the one or two big stories that have detailed specific issues or behind-the-scenes conflict. It also is manifests in the relatively small campaign that’s been mounted. Just one trailer was released, and the posters were all variations on the same theme, none featuring interesting designs or unique appeals. This was not a full-throated effort.

Other major studio release campaigns might suffer from a bit of bloat. Conversely, this one suffers from severe anorexia, especially for a movie that 1) Is a major fantasy release, 2) Is based on a book by a well-known author and 3) Has a built-in fanbase because of those books. Simply the fact that only one trailer was produced and that it only came three months before the movie’s opening weekend creates an odor of issues around it. That might turn the public off, allowing them to feel fine as they choose to finally check out Dunkirk or Baby Driver or see Wonder Woman again.

Detroit – Marketing Recap

detroit poster 2Summer is usually when studios put out movies that don’t challenge audiences all that intensely. People want to be entertained, not lectured to. Dunkirk challenged that a couple weeks ago and now Detroit seeks to do likewise, only more so.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the movie stars John Boyega and others in a story based on the true events that took place in the titular city 50 years ago. Specifically, it’s focused on the raid by police of the Algiers Motel in Detroit and the subsequent death of three black men and the severe beatings of other men and women. That raid took place during protests and riots by black citizens in the city that emerged following an earlier confrontation and was followed by continued unrest that culminated in the National Guard and other military elements being sent in. What precisely happened in the Algiers was never made entirely clear and, just as is too common today, subsequent trials exonerated the officers involved.

The Posters

detroit pic 1The first poster employs a tactic that’s being used more and more, that of shifting the perspective to show an image that is actually a landscape that’s turned on its side to be in portrait format. Some of the copy is oriented for portrait but the main photo of cops holding back a group of protestors and the title are both landscape. The photo is a bit beaten up like it’s been handled and stored for decades and is worn. It’s pretty effective at establishing the setting and story without giving away too much. “It’s time we knew” is the copy that tells us we’re getting some story we likely aren’t aware of.

A second poster uses the same portrait orientation for the title while placing four close-up shots of members of the main cast in quad format around the poster. Again, the appeal is made that this comes from the director of Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker and is based on a shocking and “terrifying” true story of a time in America’s recent history.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off with actual news footage from the 1967 violence that gripped the city. So we hear about the snipers that have everyone on edge and other actions. We meet Melvin, a security guard who’s just trying to do his job and keep things peaceful before cutting to a bus load of citizens who decide to hole up at a local motel until things calm down. Things begin to escalate when someone pulls a prank involving a starter pistol that no one outside knows is fake. So the police and national guard that are in the city raid the hotel and start looking for the gun. That brings everyone together as the burnt out military just wants answers, Melvin wants everyone to survive and the violence everywhere escalates.

It’s an incredibly effective and terrifying trailer that shows the historical context for the story and the very personal perspective we will be asked to follow. Boyega looks great as the cop who just wants to keep the peace and do his job. The violence keeps ramping up further and further and this looks like a gripping story.

As the second trailer opens we see Melvin is being questioned by the police about the events of the dramatic night. He recounts what he knows from his involvement as a security guard but it turns out the police have it in mind to pin at least some of the deaths at the hotel on him. It’s then the trailer pans out to set the historical context of what happened in the city as a whole and in the hotel where everything went down.

I kind of dig how this one takes a more personal approach to the story. It’s not just about the city, it’s about *this* guy and what happened to him and what he saw. That makes sense both from the point of view of connecting the audience very personally with the story and because hey, why not put Boyega front and center for at least part of the campaign, right?

Online and Social

When you load the official website it’s clear the site is built on Tumblr from the way content is laid out. The trailer starts playing in one of the tiles at the top of the page, with another letting you play a video that intercuts footage from the movie with an interview with a number of people who lived through the events depicted and the filmmakers.

Keep scrolling down the page and you’ll encounter a number of other photos from both the film and the news of the time. You can sort which ones you’d like to see by choosing either “Film” or “1967. The “Trailer” will play the final trailer for you.

Most importantly, more of the interviews can be found in “True Stories,” which gives you the same one seen at the top of the page as well as a second with more memories and insights.

The bottom of the page has links to the movie’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV advertising kicked off with a spot that condensed the story down to show the racial climate that will be portrayed in the movie, with shots of kids acting tough and cops getting in everyone’s faces as tensions begin to boil over.

The second trailer was used pretty extensively in social ads on Twitter and Facebook. Key art was used for outdoor billboards as well as banner and other online ads.

Media and Publicity

One aspect of the movie got particular attention, namely that it was a movie about black people that was written by a white guy. Screenwriter Mark Boal addressed that disconnect head-on, discussing how he discovered the story, the responsibility he felt to tell it, working with Bigelow again and lots more.

Boyega also was a focus of the press, where he talked about taking on this role, what it’s been like to bounce between Star Wars and other projects and other topics like how familiar he was or wasn’t with this particular part of America’s history. Boyega also did the late night talk show rounds to promote the movie there.

detroit pic

As a well-known director it was good to see Bigelow get the spotlight as well. She and co-star Anthony Mackie did their own press appearances, was interviewed about how this movie fits into her body of work that focuses on real-life action and violence and otherwise talked about doing what she could to highlight a part of history.

Overall

This is a challenging movie to sell. It’s the kind of low-profile prestige movie that doesn’t usually get big release platforms these days. Indeed, I kept having to remind myself it wasn’t a Netflix original film, something they picked up at a festival.

The campaign hasn’t shied away from some difficult topics, though, including the attitudes and behaviors of the police and military who were in or sent to Detroit to deal with the situation. Boyega’s security guard character is clearly our entry point into the story, the one we’re following and who is shown to be beholden to two viewpoints, both that of law enforcement and his identity as a black man. It’s through his eyes that we see what’s happening and how things spiral out of control.

Not only is what’s being sold an important historical lesson – especially for people like me who knew of but weren’t all that familiar with what happened there – but it’s so incredibly timely to the world we live in now. It seems like once a month a new instance emerges of police killing unarmed black men, women and children and eventually being set free. Riots and protests have popped up around the country in the last three years in response to this and while none have reached the fever pitch of Detroit 50 years ago, they’re all reminders that we have a long way to go. The marketing of Detroit never makes that connection explicitly, but it’s there in the background for anyone who’s been watching the news.

Slanted Review: Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan is out to reinvigorate the war movie genre with his latest cinematic outing, Dunkirk.

Anyone who has seen any Christopher Nolan film knows that he is never a straightforward director, and Dunkirk is no exception. While it is certainly more grounded in reality than something like Interstellar (since it is based on the true events that happened at Dunkirk in the second World War), that doesn’t mean that the film is less masterful. On the contrary, Dunkirk is truly a one of a kind film, and it stands out against other films in Christopher Nolan’s filmography just because of one thing: the action.

Similar to Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes, which came out a few weeks ago, Dunkirk does not rely on dialogue to drive the story forward.  But while Planet of the Apes used emotional beats in the story to drive the plot, Dunkirk instead relies heavily on the action. Whereas other movies in the “war” genre are more traditional movies, using mostly dialogue to propel the story, Dunkirk smartly uses the battles and tragedies on screen to tell its story. What really sets Dunkirk apart from other war movies is that it uses slower pacing and minimal dialogue to capture the feeling of a true war. Without much dialogue, things often feel out of control and chaotic onscreen, and there is a true sense of unpredictability that Nolan captures extremely well.

What also makes Dunkirk so unique is the way that the story is structured. Dunkirk does not tell the story of just one man or one group of men during the Battle of Dunkirk; it tells three separate stories of multiple different people during the events before and after the battle instead. This makes the film feel more real, adding to the unpredictability of the story. In this sense it is almost like 2001: A Space Odyssey: No one specific character advances the story, and the story is not so much a coherent plot as it is a series of events leading to one big climax. This only enhances the movie and makes Dunkirk feel extremely fresh, something that audiences seem to be yearning for nowadays.

Dunkirk is in theaters now and is rated PG-13.

Slanted Rating:

9/10- See it in theaters NOW. 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (25th Anniversary Marketing Flashback)

buffy vampire slayer movie posterEarlier this year the internet celebrated the 20th anniversary of the series debut of “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.” The show, created by Joss Whedon, broke quite a bit of new ground for mainstream television. It reversed the usual horror dynamic by positioning the young female character not as monster fodder but as the one who would take the fight to the monsters. The show was also a giant metaphor, using actual demons as stand-ins for the emotional and social demons afflicting all teenagers, particularly teenage girls, in their high school years. The anniversary of the show, which introduced many a genre fan to Whedon and created a legion of loyalists, really culminated in an Entertainment Weekly cover story reuniting most of the show’s main cast.

As any fan will tell you (usually preceded by an “Actually…”), the two-part series premiere of “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvest” wasn’t the culture’s introduction to Buffy Summers and her role as the key to surviving the vampire assault. No, that came five years earlier with the feature film Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, which hit theaters 25 years ago today.

In this initial incarnation, Kristy Swanson takes on the role of Buffy, a free-spirited high school student in Los Angeles. She’s one of the most popular girls in the school, with her world revolving around friends, boys, and shopping. One day a man named Merrick (Donald Sutherland) approaches her and informs her she is the Slayer, the one chosen to kill vampires and other monsters, and he’s there to teach her. After her initial reluctance, she eventually agrees to accept the responsibilities thrust upon her. That brings her into conflict with Lothos (Rutger Hauer), the reigning vampire in the area. With Merrick’s help and training, Buffy eventually saves the day.

(Sidenote: The events of the movie don’t *quite* mesh with the series’ continuity. You can make them work if you squint a bit, but as Whedon has expressed his displeasure with the finished film, putting too much effort into it isn’t a great idea. Basically, the premise is similar but the execution is a bit different. Let’s move on.)

So how did 20th Century Fox work to sell this unusual and unexpected story and character to the public in 1992?

The theatrical poster does what it can to sell the disconnect between the two parts of the title, the character’s name and her job description. Swanson’s face isn’t shown (it’s not even clear if this is her) as we just see a girl from the waist down as she stands in a cheerleader outfit on what we can assume is a football field. In one hand is a pom pom, in the other a giant wooden stake. That shows the two roles the character has to play, one the innocent cheerleader, one the hunter of vampires. The title is shown in bright pink to accentuate the feminine focus, with copy below it that reads “She knows a sucker when she sees one.”

That copy is a bit clunky, meant of course to allude to the vampires she’ll be slaying. But it also sounds like she could be a con artist or something, always on the lookout for her next mark. There’s also, of course, a sexual allusion being made that’s a bit creepy considering it’s being used to sell a movie about a high school girl. The character is obviously being sexualized, though, with the photo showing her bare midriff and legs. Yes, that’s not an uncommon cheerleader outfit, but the marketing obviously didn’t make any effort to not take the easiest possible path, even at the risk of leering more than a bit.

When it came time to actually show the movie, the studio chose to immediately show in the trailer where Buffy is before she embraces her destiny. She’s shopping, she’s hanging out with her friends, she’s rebuffing the flirting of Pike (Luke Perry), a bad boy-type she can’t be bothered with at first. Interestingly – likely because this was coming out at the height of the popularity of “Beverly Hills 90210” on which he starred – Perry provides the narration and introduction to the story. He’s the one who explains Buffy is more than she might seem and that things are getting weird in their town. We see her meet Merrick and question his sanity and eventually start to fight the vampires, not only Lothos but his right-hand vamp Amilyn (Paul Reubens). She’s constantly bouncing between her duties as the Slayer with her desire to lead a normal life, a focus the movie shares with the TV show it would spawn.

Is this the best presentation of the movie? It’s hard to figure out what would be. Certainly, it presents something that’s far more broadly funny than the show would be, playing up the one-liners and physical gags. We see Buffy’s overall arc, albeit somewhat disjointedly, from Valley Girl to Slayer and get shots from some of the bigger fights, showing her kicking vampire butt and saving Pike and others on a few occasions. In that respect it works.

What seems ham handed 25 years later is the attempt to focus on Luke Perry. Yes, he was the heartthrob on “90210” but he was not a leading man and his presence here comes off as more caricature than anything else. His position as the narrator in the trailer and continued presence throughout the action takes the focus off of Swanson’s Buffy, which runs counter to what the character was and would continue to be about. Sure, she’s shown as the one who saves the day, but the trailer seems to want us to view the story through Pike’s eyes, not Buffy’s.

That may betray the lack of confidence Fox had in the concept at the time. When you put it together with the usage of midriff on the poster, you come away with an effort that isn’t sure audiences will come see a strong female action lead – something that was pretty unusual at the time – but which might come for the brooding hunk from TV and plenty of shots of girls in cheerleader uniforms.

Wind River – Marketing Recap

After receiving critical and commercial acclaim for writing last year’s Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan makes his feature directorial debut with the noir thriller Wind River. A murder mystery set in the bitter winter of the Wyoming wilderness, the story is put in motion when US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) discovers a young girl from town has been killed.

The FBI gets involved in the investigation, sending agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) on what turns out to be her first case. She enlists the skills of Lambert not only to track and find the killer but also navigate the insular politics of the town. See residents there don’t much care for outsiders but do like their secrets. So the pair finds that uncovering the past of the murdered girl isn’t as easy as they hoped. Not only that, but some people seem to be actively working against them.

The Posters

The first poster shows Renner, with only his face and the rifle he’s holding visible as he’s wearing a white suit that camouflages him in the snowy background. Scenes of the story’s setting are visible in the transparent title treatment while at the top we’re told “Danger comes with the territory.” That’s a bit of a generic tagline, but I’m guessing they were meaning to allude to something like Native American “territory” with the terminology.

The same line “Danger comes with the territory” is used on the second poster but there’s also the copy “Nothing is harder to track than the truth,” which offers at least a bit more hints at the story. This one positions Renner and Olsen on opposite sides of the image, separated by a shot of a man walking out through the snow, gun in hand like he’s tracking someone or something. Still setting up a noir-ish thriller here, which is cool.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out with someone, it’s not clear who, on the run across a frozen lake. Her body is discovered by Lambert and we’re told we’re in a remote area before Banner from the FBI shows up. She enlists his help because of his experience and knowledge of the area, by their efforts are frustrated by locals who aren’t eager to help. The drama and music build to the ending.

It’s a good first effort, setting up a tense drama set in a tight-knit world of secrets and survival. It reminds me of Winter’s Bone more than a little. Renner and Olsen look like they turn in tight, emotional performances.

Another trailer, labeled a “review” trailer, continues to sell this as a story of a murder mystery in a small town that tightly protects its secrets. There are a few more plot details that are shared here that weren’t in earlier trailers but the main appeal here comes from the quotes pulled from early reviews that praise the acting, direction and other aspects of the story. It’s all very tense and pulse-pounding.

Online and Social

There’s no official website I’ve been able to find, nor is there any shared in the trailers or other materials. That means the only online presence for the movie is the collection of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles where The Weinstein Co. has been sharing videos, links to news stories and photos.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A series of TV spots like this one emphasized various aspects of the story, from the remoteness of the location to the secrets of the town to the hunt for the mysterious killer. Most all of them include that it comes from the creators of Hell or High Water, though, taking advantage of that movie’s good reputation from last year.

I’m not aware of any online or social advertising that was done, nor have I seen any artwork that’s been used for outdoor billboards or other signage.

Media and Publicity

The first bit of publicity came when it was announced the movie would have its official premiere at Sundance 2017. The first look at the movie came around that same time. Just before that debut, the movie was dropped by The Weinstein Company, which had picked it up back around the time of Cannes. The screening at Sundance resulted in plenty of positive word-of-mouth, though.

It later screened at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival where Renner had nothing but praise for first-time director Sheridan and shared his enthusiasm to work with him again. That praise was echoed by Olsen at the movie’s premiere. Sheridan himself talked about how directing was something he approached only after feeling comfortable as a writer. Renner also got a profile all to himself where he talked about his personal life, his career to date and more.

Other press involving both Olsen and Renner also included hefty doses of mentions of their other movies, particularly The Avengers franchise since they’re both involved in that.

Overall

The emphasis on Sheridan is clearly meant to take advantage of the positive buzz that came out of last year’s Hell Or High Water, which gained a very good reputation with critics. That’s why all the trailers and posters reference that movie and why so much of the press coverage has focused on Sheridan. Most of the stories have either been about him directly or about the cast’s relationship to him. TWC obviously knows what’s going to get people’s attention and in this case, it’s creating ties between this movie and Sheridan’s most recent success.

Outside of that the campaign works hard to create a noir-like sense of mystery and mostly succeeds on that front. This isn’t The Maltese Falcon, of course, but does play up story elements common to the genre, including the town full of reluctant witnesses with agendas of their own and more. What the audience is being sold is a solid procedural crime story that, with the attachment of stars they like and the creative force behind a recent popular movie, will hopefully spur their interest. It may just be the alternative people who aren’t interested in the rest of this week’s new releases are looking for.

Picking Up the Spare

Early 2019 brought details of an arrangement The Weinstein Company made with the Indigenous groups depicted in the movie, a deal that was effectively discarded by the bankruptcy resulting from Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault and abuse actions.

Picking Up The Spare: Brigsby Bear, Wonder Woman, Atomic Blonde

Brigsby Bear

  • Nice use of sponsored content as Sony Classics buys a sponsored trailer on The A.V. Club, which has a solid movie-loving readership, just the kind that will champion this unique film.

Wonder Woman

  • Variety reports that WB is mulling an Oscars campaign for both Wonder Woman and director Patty Jenkins. If successful, it would be the first comic book movie nominated and Jenkins would be the first woman since Kathryn Bigelow. The “groundbreaking” adjective might be a bit much to describe the potential For Your Consideration campaign but would be apt for any actual nominations.

Atomic Blonde

  • Stoli ran a co-branded campaign for Atomic Blonde, which is the spy’s drink of choice in the movie. Pandora also helped with promotions, creating movie-branded 80s music channels.

The Emoji Movie

  • Sony ran some dynamically-updated outdoor billboard ads in Los Angeles that changed messaging and which emoji character was featured depending on weather and traffic conditions.

Tron (Flashback Movie Marketing)

Among the many movies I felt The Emoji Movie was borrowing themes and approaches from as I reviewed its campaign, TRON was among the most prominent. While Inside Out or Wreck-It Ralph might be more current examples of stories taking place inside a hidden world filled with characters we were unaware of, TRON kept coming back to mind. That’s likely due in large part to my age. I’m 42 and so was nine when TRON hit theaters 35 years ago this month. It’s a childhood favorite I revisited often and so is a solid, fixed cultural touchpoint in my life.

The story was, for 1982, cutting edge. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) was a computer programmer at ENCOM, a huge technology company that develops various kinds of software. He was fired in disgrace and his work stolen by Ed Dillinger (David Warner) and now runs a popular arcade. When two current ENCOM employees, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan) find there may be shady happenings at the company they enlist Flynn’s help to hack into the system and see what’s going on. Flynn is only too happy to do so since he believes evidence still exists somewhere of how Dillinger stole his programs and forced him out. The AI Master Control Program that runs ENCOM isn’t thrilled with that and so uses company technology to scan Flynn and transport him into the computer system. There he discovers a whole world of anthropomorphic computer programs that resemble their users, including TRON (who looks like Alan) and Yori (who looks like Lora). The three team up to take down the MCP and his lackey Sark (who looks like Ed) and restore freedom to the system.

The theatrical poster immediately establishes what the audience can expect, which for the early 80s was pretty mind-blowing. Specifically, the copy promises the story takes place in “A world inside the computer where man has never been. Never before now.” We see TRON and Yori standing on one of the game grids that will be part of one of the movie’s more memorable sequences, him reaching out toward a disk that’s floating either toward or away from him, it’s hard to tell. Their costumes look like circuit boards, making it clear the story is based on technology.

Let’s stop here and consider a few things. First, There’s a clear effort here to evoke the first poster for Star Wars, which features Luke reaching out toward the sky with his lightsaber. Second, let’s keep in mind the time period. As portrayed in the movie, 1982 was a time of dummy terminals that accessed a mainframe you needed to schedule processing time on. There was only so much power available and it had to be spread around to everyone on the network. Apple was just a few years old and the personal computer market was still the territory of hobbyists who largely built their own machines. So the idea that people knew what was happening under the beige plastic covers of the machines more of them were being asked to use was kind of out there. That makes the promise to find out what’s going on inside the network all that more far-fetched (and presumably interesting), because the vast majority of the audience had likely never used a computer, or had only done so marginally at work.

The trailer starts out by intoning just how intelligent those mysterious machines were becoming. The ENCOM 511 is referred to as an extension of the human intellect, one that will protect itself at all costs and is about to become our ultimate enemy. We then move over to the story and see Flynn discussing the plans to break in with Alan before Flynn is captured by the MCP and taken prisoner inside the digital world. That world is filled with danger and we’re shown some of the gladiatorial events he’s forced to compete in just to survive. There are light cycles and destroyer tanks and more. Finally, the narrator invites us to enter the world of TRON in the summer.

What the trailer does well is show off the look and feel of the digital world. The introduction is a bit shaky and seems to move as quickly past the events in the human world to get immediately to what happens once Flynn is inside the computer and fighting his way out. Flynn yells at one point about “the evidence” but it’s never explained what that’s all about and what exactly he’s looking for.

Instead the message is more that the machines are dangerous things that are out to destroy us. They’re smarter than us and will do what they need to in order to ensure their own survival. That’s the premise that was sold to the audience in 1982, that they could expect a journey inside the beating heart of an ominous foe they likely didn’t understand. That doesn’t quite jibe with the message of the movie, though the MCP certainly has less-than-noble intentions in the story. Those specifics aren’t shown, though, in favor of more vague concerns about the encroaching and possibly dangerous nature of the machines that were becoming part of people’s everyday lives.

The Incredible Jessica James – Marketing Recap

Jessica Williams, well-known to viewers of “The Daily Show,” stars as the title character in the Netflix-original movie The Incredible Jessica James. Jessica is a playwright in New York who’s brimming with confidence but is still having trouble navigating her life, particularly romantic relationships.

Having broken up with her longtime boyfriend (Lakeith Stanfield), Jessica is on the rebound and so is setup by her friend Tasha (Noel Wells, magnificent in the first season of “Master of None”) on a blind date with Boone (Chris O’Dowd). As the two begin a tentative romance, Jessica continues to believe she’s the absolute bomb and begins to find some professional success.

The Posters

A poster shows off James, of course, and that’s great. What’s not so great is the “Likes are easy, love is hard.” copy that’s at the top. That’s a bit breezier than the rest of the campaign, making it seem like this is a story about the disconnect between the online social and the real world, which isn’t what is being sold elsewhere. Still, it’s a striking image that’s being used, with a fun patterned background behind James’ face.

The Trailers

The first trailer introduces Jessica as a take-charge free spirit who shuts down her Tinder date and dances without judgement in her apartment stairwell and gets guys on the subway to put their legs together. That’s about it, but it’s full of quotes from critics who have seen it praising Jones and her performance, which appears to be absolutely warranted.

The second trailer is just as amazing as the first, but includes more of a focus on her new relationship with Boone. We see her out partying with her friend Tasha, dealing with a boyfriend who can’t express himself, causing some uncomfortable moments at a baby shower, dancing like no one is watching and generally feeling comfortable in her own awesome skin.

Online and Social

No website or social presence I was able to find. As usual, Netflix didn’t feel that was necessary but did give it some promotion (though not as much as their original series) on their own social channels.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

No paid efforts I’ve seen anywhere.

Media and Publicity

The first bit of publicity came when it was announced the movie would have its official premiere at Sundance 2017. Netflix picked it up before it even had a chance to screen and wrack up incredibly strong word of mouth coming out of the festival.

There were various interviews Williams did in the weeks leading up to release, but the biggest pop came in a feature interview in The New York Times. There she talked about her career to date, writing the movie and more, including touching on sexism, racism and other hot-button topics in her usual no-holds-barred style.

Overall

More than anything, this seems like a movie that’s both intensely current and also a throwback to a different time. It’s “right now” in how Williams’ character is a strong, proud, confident black woman who’s in charge of her own destiny. That’s a very current message that fits squarely with where we are in society at the moment. But the movie seems like the kind of indie-financed starmaker that existed more in the late 90s or early 00s. That’s not a bad thing, just indicative of how things have changed in the last 20 years.

The campaign, just as James describes herself in the trailer, is friggin’ dope. That’s largely due to Williams, who is the unquestioned central focus of the campaign and who seems to dominate every frame she’s in through sheer force of will. She’s a larger than life personality and the marketing promises the chance to follow along with her and get a glimpse into her life. I continue to wish Netflix would do a bit more to promote their original movies, even if they aren’t giving them theatrical releases like Amazon, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards here.