This week’s new release The Mountain Between Us combines elements of two popular movie genres: The pairing of unlikely and slightly mismatched individuals and the placing of characters in an extreme situation that is so far outside their comfort zone as to be almost impossible to survive.

In this case Kate Winslet plays Alex Martin, a journalist who’s getting married the next day. Idris Elba plays Ben Bass, a surgeon on his way to perform an emergency procedure. The two charter a plane to get out of the airport that’s shut down due to weather. When their small plane crashes, they have to survive the cold and brutality of the mountain they’re stranded on, making their way across it to try and find safety.

The Posters

Elba and Winslet are both seen on the first poster, though they’re facing in opposite directions as if they’re at odds with each other for some reason. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given the rest of the campaign, though. And the copy “What if your life depended on a stranger?” is way more creepy and cryptic than anything else we’ve seen. Odd tone here.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out by introducing us to Ben and Alex, two strangers at an airport. She offers to take him on the private plane she’s chartered to bypass the usual issues. He’s on his way home and she’s on her way to be married. But the plane has a problem and crashes on top of a snow-covered mountain in the middle of nowhere, leaving them stranded far from civilization. She’s hurt and they have limited supplies but decide to set out to try and find help instead of waiting for it to come to them. Things go wrong, of course, as they fight for survival.

It’s alright but the trailer doesn’t do it any favors. It hits all the usual cliches of movies like this, including wild animals hunting them and someone falling through the ice into the cold water below. While there’s every possibility that there’s more to the story than this, the trailer looks pretty generic and like it doesn’t utilize the full capabilities of either Winslet of Elba.

Online and Social

The usual cropped version of the key art graces the top of Fox’s official website for the movie, below which are links to watch the trailer or find the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

The first section on the site is “Videos,” where you can watch the trailer as well as some clips and a few featurettes/interviews. “About” has a story synopsis alongside the cast and crew list and more links to the movie’s social pages, including an Instagram profile. “Poster” just has the single one-sheet.

In “Featured Content” you’ll find some interesting stuff. First is a photo feature that allows you to upload a picture of yourself to a still from the film to make it seem as if it’s you Elba is comforting instead of Winslet. Also there is a link to iTunes encouraging you to buy the new song from Zayn and Sia that was written for the film.

The site finishes off with a “Gallery” of a half-dozen stills and a curated section of “Social Updates.”

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The debut of the trailer was supported with ad buys on social media, including YouTube which ran it as pre-roll before other videos.

The first TV spots like this one get quickly to the action and the peril the stranded travelers face as well as the emotional turmoil they’re put through as they try to survive out in the snowy wilderness. They’re just like the trailers only without as much setup and backstory.

Media and Publicity

It was announced the movie would have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The buzz that came out of that premiere wasn’t wholly positive, unfortunately. Not negative, but nothing to write home about for the most part.

Winslet talked in EW about the challenges of shooting in such a remote and unforgiving environment as well as how her style meshed with that of her costar. A short featurette focused on the extreme conditions that the movie was shot in and the challenges the cast and crew endured during production. The extreme conditions of the shoot continued to be the focal point of the press activity, with the crew and actors talking here about the search for reality and the technical challenges of the locations they found themselves on.

The physically challenging shoot was one of the subjects of this interview with Winslet, where she talked about drawing on the strength she’s built up over the years to handle it as well as what kinds of characters she likes to take on these days.

The two leads conducted in various other interviews and appearances, most of which continued to revolve around the logistics of the production more than anything else.

Overall

First, this is accurate:

The marketing is fine. Nothing special, but it’s fine. The continued focus in the publicity on the extreme conditions of the production and the adjustments everyone had to make have me thinking there’s an awareness the story itself is weak (or, worse, problematic) and so that was decided on as the safest hook for everyone to keep talking about. But whatever.

More problematic for me is something I didn’t notice until looking at the website, specifically that “In This With Idris” photo feature. What caught my eye is the fact that there’s only one option available, to erase Kate Winslet and put yourself in the position of the person relying on the big, strong man to protect them. That’s a little sexist, reinforcing gender roles. And it’s a lot disturbing that the feature asks you to literally remove a female character from the picture. The simple addition of both options would make it slightly better, at least allowing for equal opportunity removal and substitution.

After I saw that I went back and rewatched the trailer and noticed something else. Elba’s character is trying to travel because he’s Important. He has a Very Important Job To Do because he’s a highly-skilled individual who’s needed to save a life. His motivation is based in his talent and abilities. Winslet’s character, on the other hand, is emotional and feminine. She wants to get married. Her motivation isn’t about her own skills – her profession as a journalist is only passingly mentioned – but about her personal life.

The second issue is one the marketing campaign can’t do much with, though I have to wonder if that issue is one of the ones being masked by the “it was such a tough shoot” press focus. The first one, though, is an unforced error that seems out of whack with the current societal climate. It’s disconcerting that only the woman is deemed replaceable, easily swapped out with anyone at all. Someone in the marketing department needs to rethink that kind of approach and make sure female characters aren’t being written out of their own narratives.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

  • Director Matthew Vaughn apparently pleaded with Fox to not put that big reveal of a character’s still-alive status in the trailers but was overruled.

American Made

  • This interview with Domhnall Gleason nods to the fact that American Made is just one of at least four movies he’s in that hit theaters in the last four months of the year, including the already-out mother! as well.

The third feature adaptation of a Stephen King story to be released inside of two calendar months, Gerald’s Game might be the least well-known of the batch. Coming from director Mike Flanagan, the movie stars Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood as a long-married couple who head to a remote cabin to try and rekindle some passion in their relationship.

Things turn south when, in the middle of a little light bondage, Gerald (Greenwood) suddenly dies, leaving Jessie (Gugino) handcuffed to the bed. With no one around for miles, she begins to panic, eventually flashing back to long-repressed memories of a trauma from years past. Those memories may help her survive, but they also may hint at dark secrets hidden in the house where she’s trapped.

The Posters

The poster flips the orientation of the photo that makes up its primary element, rotating it 90 degrees. That means the shot of Jesse and Gerald lying in bed, she handcuffed to the headboard, has her arms extended from top to bottom and not side to side. Doing so throws off the perspective of the audience just a bit to make them think about what’s going on. Gerald isn’t obviously dead, so there’s no real sense of terror here, it just looks like they’re in a kind of a tender moment in bed. The terror is hinted at only in the copy “Some games you play. Some you survive.”

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out as Gerald and Jessie are on a weekend outing. They begin to engage in some marital activities but he has a heart attack, only after he’s already handcuffed her to the bedposts. She’s alone out in a remote cabin and starts struggling to free herself, soon hallucinating from thirst and isolation. We soon get flashbacks and other details that show this isn’t the first time she’s been in a situation like this and has to draw on repressed memories to try and find a way to survive.

This is my favorite kind of thriller, one that bends reality and fantasy into something truly twisted and interesting.

Online and Social

Nope. As is usual, Netflix gave it some attention its brand social channels but that’s about it.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Again, nothing I’m aware of.

Media and Publicity

The movie was announced as one of those screening at this year’s Fantastic Fest, where it picked up pretty good reviews and word of mouth from the critics there.

King did a bit of publicity for the movie, speaking highly of it while also mentioning the other two adaptations he had in theaters. Greenwood and Gugino talked about working with Flanagan and the process of filming a story this insular and difficult as well. Other than that and a few other minor comments, the release of the marketing assets formed the crux of the press coverage for the movie.

Overall

As I said above, this is my favorite kind of “horror.” At least that’s how it’s being sold, as a thriller that pushes the boundaries between reality and fantasy and makes characters question what is or isn’t real. It’s “horror” in the tradition of Hitchcock and others, where the very foundation the characters are operating on is always shifting and changing under their feet.

That’s conveyed mostly in the trailer but also to an extent in the poster. With word-of-mouth pretty positive coming out of festivals and increased attention due to it being just the latest of this fall’s King adaptations (and not even the last one), it looks like it may find an audience on Netflix.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

We live in…interesting…times. Today’s political climate in Washington, D.C. has invited more than a few comparisons to the era of the Nixon presidency, including the love of secrets (along with the racism and xenophobia, but let’s focus on secrets). That makes it an intriguing time to release Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House.

In the movie, Liam Neeson plays Mark Felt, at the time of Nixon’s administration a high-ranking FBI agent. As the investigation into the 1972 Watergate break-in that captured the public’s attention, thanks largely to the reporting of Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, begins to involve the White House more and more, pressure from the president and his aides to shut down that investigation mounts. They want it gone but Felt, the career man who believes in the power of the agency and the check it provides on power, refuses to comply. Facing obstacles, he becomes an anonymous source for Bernstein, helping to guide the reporting. Basically, if Felt can’t get justice one way, he’ll do what he needs to to get it another way. This “Deep Throat” was born, a secret that would be kept for over 30 years.

The Posters

There’s no additional copy or story insights on the poster, which just shows Neeson as Felt looking very serious and somber. The clunky subtitle was apparently deemed enough explanation to convey to the audience.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens with the same scene that was used in an earlier clip, with Felt making it clear to a group of White House advisors that he knows all their and other people’s secrets. He’s a career FBI official, so he’s the first one called when a group of people break into the Watergate Hotel. There’s a group of people who want that investigation stopped dead, though, but he’s determined to see it through, steadfast in his belief that the FBI is the ultimate power in government. White House pressure increases but so do Felt’s efforts to get the truth out, even if it’s through unofficial channels. That leads to the last scene in the trailer, showing Felt meeting with a certain Washington Post reporter and being informed his status as an anonymous source has earned him a particular nickname.

It’s a powerful and intense trailer that sells the movie as a political thriller more than anything. What can’t be missed, of course, are the parallels between the events depicted here and the headlines we’re all seeing on a daily basis about independent councils and investigators that the current White House occupant would like to see disappear or discredited. It’s great to see Neeson back in a drama like this as well.

Online and Social

The trailer greets you when you open the movie’s official website, which you should watch again because it’s pretty good. At the top of the page are buttons to watch it again or get tickets along with links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

There’s a menu on the left but you can navigate to all the content by simply scrolling down the page as well. “About” is the first section, which includes a Synopsis and a Director’s Statement from Peter Landesman where he explains how he got involved and what resonated with him most about the story.

The “Cast” and “Filmmakers” sections offer not just the usual lists but more biographical details about each individual when you click on their names.

“The History” is a great section that offers some backgrounds and details on the real life people whose stories are being told in the film, including Felt, those at the Post and others involved. You can scroll through the “Gallery” of over 20 stills and production photos.

Finally, the “Links” section has links to the IMDb pages of the main cast members and “Reviews” has a few pull quotes from positive write-ups of the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing here that I’ve seen, not even paid ads on Twitter.

Media and Publicity

A screening at the Toronto Film Festival generated overall positive buzz and word-of-mouth for the movie, with lots of people praising the story and Neeson’s performance in particular. While there Neeson talked about how he was kind of done with the action movie phase of his career, due largely to him getting a bit older.

A bit later the director, Peter Landesman, spoke about how he didn’t know who Mark Felt was or what he’d accomplished until he started working on this project.

Neeson made some TV appearances as well to talk about playing a historical figure who loomed so large, though almost completely unknown, in U.S. political history.

In subsequent interviews, Landesman would continue talking about how he was intrigued by the real story of Felt and why he took the actions he did. He also, of course, had to address how the story is still extraordinarily relevant today, especially given the current administration’s reputation for dirty dealings. Tony Goldwyn and Josh Lucas also spoke about their reasons for joining the movie as well as the relevancy the story still has today.

Overall

It’s natural that the publicity portion of the campaign would so often reference the shenanigans happening in Washington today. It may have forced Landesman and Neeson into some uncomfortably political conversations, but a story about the media taking down a President when the Feds won’t has too many parallels to our current world to ignore. Still, the director, in particular, tried to keep the focus on how this was more about the story you don’t know about the man many of us didn’t know of until 12 years ago but who changed the face of the politics nonetheless.

The rest of the marketing is a bit dry and stuffy, clearly selling the movie as a prestige release coming out in the early weeks of awards season. Neeson’s performance, of course, is at the core of the campaign, but it’s surprising that the studio couldn’t create a more compelling, relevant narrative for audiences to latch on to. I’m not suggesting it should have been misrepresented as a white-knuckle thriller, just that there could have been some stronger messaging offered. The lack of tagline or anything on the poster is particularly notable here.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

There was a story last week that caught us up on a new trend in movies: The increased usage of John Denver’s music. Denver tunes have appeared in a half-dozen recent films – Free Fire; Alien: Covenant; Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul; Okja; Logan Lucky and Kingsman: The Golden Circle thanks to a new rights management agreement that’s opened up his catalog for more people to select when looking for the perfect accompaniment for key scenes.

I decided to do some digging myself and see if that usage extended to inclusion in the marketing of the movie in question.

Free Fire

Nope. While “Annie’s Song” features prominently in a key action sequence, it wasn’t enough to make it into the red-band or any of the international TV spots for the shootout comedy.

Alien: Covenant

Yep. It wasn’t in the longer trailers but a TV spot uses “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” the gentle sounds contrasting with the increased terror that’s shown on screen. There’s also, I’m sure, a secondary message that has to do with the story of the search for humanity’s origins.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

Nope. The soundtrack features a cover of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by Me First And The Gimme Gimmes but as near as I can tell that’s not used in the trailer or TV spots.

Okja

Nope. “Annie’s Song” is once more the song of choice, but nowhere in the trailer can those chords be heard. Again, the song is played during a key action scene as a contrast to the mayhem on-screen.

Logan Lucky

Nope. This time it’s “Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone)” that reportedly features prominently into the movie but it didn’t make the cut as being interesting enough for inclusion in the marketing.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Nope. Again, it’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” that is pulled from Denver’s catalog and is apparently used to underline an emotional and quintessentially American moment in the story.

So what does all this mean? While Denver’s popularly may be resurging thanks to filmmakers who grew up with his music in their homes now calling on it in new ways, it’s still not mainstream enough to become part of the sales pitch for those movies in all but one case. And based on reports of the kinds of scenes the music is moved in, it’s often used ironically, which is interesting given Denver’s baked-in sincerity.

Whether or not filmmakers will continue this trend – and if they learn there are more than two songs in the songwriter’s catalog – remains to be seen. For the time being this is strictly for filmgoers with quick and attuned ears.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

The original movie was one that was watched by me and, I’m guessing, countless others of my generations, on VHS repeatedly at late-night get togethers with friends. Now Flatliners is returning to the big-screen in a remake starring Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton and Kiersey Clemons.

Page plays Courtney, a medical student who’s obsessed with knowing what lies on the other side of death’s curtain. She enlists a growing number of fellow students to help her in an unauthorized experiment to die and come back. Initially a thrill, the experience winds up causing each of them to have visions and waking nightmares dealing with the sins of their pasts. Convinced the answer lies in going deeper, they die over and over again to find out how to stop these visions.

The Posters

The first poster goes all-in on the divide between life and death, using a heart beat monitor image to divide the clear photo on the left from the fuzzy, color-separated image on the right. “You haven’t lived until you’ve died,” we’re told. Overall it’s not too spooky but does hint at some mysteries to come.

The second poster kept up the visual idea of distortion, showing three of the leads, Page, Luna and Dobrev, lying prostrate with fuzzy, screaming versions superimposed over them. That’s a cool way to communicate the idea that things are out of sync in some manner. The terror is heightened with the copy “Cross the line. Death will follow you back.”

A series of character posters continued the fuzzy, multi-dimensional theme, showing the faces of each of the cast obscured and distorted to keep selling the idea of out-of-body-experiences.

The Trailers

As the first trailer opens we meet Courtney as she recruits a guy she knows at medical school to help stop her heart so she can experience what’s on the other side of death before coming back. She’s obsessed with knowing what happens after you die but she seems to come back with additional skills that can’t be explained. A whole group gets involved and they all try to one-up each other in terms of how long they can stay dead. But the disturbing experiences that follow them back only get creepier and more frequent, leading to a breakdown in the group and the individuals.

This first spot does more to evoke It Follows and other recent horror movies than anything like the original movie. It’s fine and looks like it might have some interesting things to say about what death is like, but it also seems, by today’s standards at least, kind of generic.

The second trailer ditches all the story, character introductions and other setup elements to focus solely on the incredible experiences those characters have while dead. There are some hints that there’s a dark side to those experiences, but it’s mainly just fast-cut visuals and heartbeats and the promise that you haven’t really lived until you’ve died.

Online and Social

When you load the official website you’re greeted with one of the international trailers. In fact the whole site seems geared more for a non-U.S. audience, notable in the repeated use of “cinemas” instead “theaters,” the more common domestic U.S. terminology.

Links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts are in the top right. Scroll down the site and you’ll see the content is somewhat lackluster, with a brief synopsis in “About,” a handful of stills in the “Gallery” and finally a “Cast & Crew” list with no deeper information on anyone.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spots provided a quick bit of background as to the premise, showed most of the key characters and highlighted the dangers this group of thrillseekers has exposed themselves to by trying to make death a hobby. One TV spot also got quite a bit of press because it included a brief shot of a cameo by one of the original movie’s stars.

In the days leading up to release the social advertising was ramped up, with clips showing Page’s character filming her video confessional used on Twitter with links to buy tickets.

Sony bought a Snapchat Lens for the movie that applied the same blurry effects seen on the posters to your photo. It also created a feature in conjunction with Spotify called “Pick Your Pulse” that allowed you to find a playlist to match your heartbeat.

Media and Publicity

Entertainment Weekly’s fall movie preview included an interview with Dobrev about the production, including shooting a scene where her character catches fire, which was a bit panic-inducing.

Luna, Dobrev and Page did most of the heavy lifting on the publicity front, talking to the press and appearing on the talk show circuit to varying degrees. The combined effort wasn’t massive but it was geared toward building general audience awareness of the movie. Page talked a bit about the movie here but the interview was oddly focused on two other upcoming movies she’s in while giving only cursory mention of this one.

Overall

Of all the remakes, reboots and legacy sequels that have dominated theaters in the last several years, I feel like this campaign does the least to lean on the nostalgia that may exist, particularly in my generation, for the original. It really is a remake and is being sold by and large on its own merits, with just that one TV spot nodding to the 1990 version this updates.

It does that largely by creating a unique brand identity for the movie that ditches the early goth feel of the original’s campaign and goes with something tech-based and relatable to the current audience. The fuzzy, distorted visuals are consistently used across posters, advertising, and other executions, so no matter where you encountered the campaign you saw the same brand message. The appeal is very much to a new, young audience and not the 40-somethings like me. That’s bold on Sony’s part. Now it just remains to be seen if that approach pays off.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

There was a problem with the marketing campaign for mother! that never really coalesced in my mind until I saw a new poster. The one-sheet uses a half-disfigured photo of star Jennifer Lawrence surrounded by, on one half, quotes praising the movie and on the other quotes calling it “insane,” “grotesque” and more.

The new poster elicited strong criticism, both for its use of an apparently abused woman as a selling point and for the approach of hiding the face of one of Hollywood’s most beautiful and bankable actresses.

That last point is what finally brought a concern to the forefront of my thoughts, specifically, the disconnect between the marketing and publicity portions of the movie’s campaign.

The official marketing of the movie – the trailers and posters – borrowed elements from the horror genre to sell it as a psychological thriller with mysterious characters, no sense of story and lots of jump-scares. If you are going by the marketing alone, you would come away with the sense that this is an unconventional and terrifying drama from a director known for disturbing imagery and a penchant for making the audience uncomfortable.

The publicity, though, featured Lawrence being her usual self-effacing and charming self. She was funny and dressed to the nines, joking with Fallon and the like. If you were going by this public effort alone, you’d get the sense that yeah, it’s a bit more serious than The Hunger Games, but it’s J-Law and so we know generally what to expect.

Those contradictory tones seem, now, predisposed to create confusion, disappointment, and anger in the audience. Anyone who hadn’t been following film festival coverage and who went to opening weekend likely came out of the theater and warned all of their friends away from it, telling them this confusing, disturbing and not worth their time.

The problem faced by studios like Paramount, which made the questionable decision to open mother! wide from the start, is that release patterns like that are dependent on reaching the general population who aren’t tracking buzz and reviews from festivals and elsewhere. That necessitates mainstream exposure like an interview on Fallon and other shows where the star was likely instructed to keep it light and tell funny anecdotes about the set, not getting bogged down in discussions of religious symbolism and other weighty topics.

Those tactics inherently create expectations which, in cases like this, are out of sync with the actual movie being sold. It’s a no-win situation: You need the audience to justify the release plan, so you go broad in the sales pitch, even if the product has at best niche appeal.

Don’t get bogged down in discussions of whether or not mother! was sold as a horror movie or not and what effect that might have had. Instead, focus on the conflict in approach between the owned and earned media efforts as a key component of audience confusion and dissatisfaction.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Two of Hollywood’s most iconic, most charismatic and most talented stars reteam for the first time in almost 40 years in Our Souls at Night. In the movie, Jane Fonda plays Addie, a widow who one day knocks on the door or Louis (Robert Redford), a man she’s been neighbors with for decades but never really gotten to know. He’s a widower and she’s decided that, with both of them alone and in their sunset years, maybe it would be good to spend some time together.

What she’s proposing isn’t necessarily romantic in nature. It’s more about companionship, someone to talk to and fill an empty house. Louis agrees to the idea and the two form a friendship that, despite its original intent, becomes something more.

The Posters

The movie’s poster uses its primary asset as the key selling point, namely the pairing of its two stars. Fonda’s head rests on Redford’s shoulder in a pose of obvious emotional intimacy. The hazy filter applied to the photo gives it a slightly gauzy look that brings to mind the one-sheets for movies based on Nicholas Sparks books, but let’s overlook that for the moment. The credentials of both actors, as well as the movie’s appearance at the Venice Film Festival, are at the top.

The Trailers

The first teaser doesn’t have a lot, just a single shot of Addie and Louis driving along a barren highway in an old truck, Addie gradually moving over to be closer to Louis. It’s not much but it’s enough to promise the repairing of these great actors, which is actually quite a lot.

The full trailer starts as Addi knocks on Louis’ door She wants to get to know him better after years and years of the two living near each other. They’re both alone and want to avoid the appearance of a scandal, just some companionship through the last years of life. They develop a friendship and spend more and more time together, with that friendship eventually evolving into something more.

Dang…the chemistry between Fonda and Redford is practically a character of its own here. They both bring their usual world-class chops and abilities, shown here in subdued, understated performances, to the role. I’m completely on board, though that has been the case for quite a while now.

Online and Social

Nope. Netflix gave the movie limited promotion on its brand social channels but didn’t set up separate websites or social profiles to promote it.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

No paid advertising that I’m aware of.

Media and Publicity

The first real look at the movie, along with a brief interview with Fonda about the story and her on- and off-screen relationship with Redford, came in EW’s 2017 preview. Fonda kept talking about the movie and her long-lived career working with Redford, usually while promoting other projects.

It was announced the movie would screen at this year’s Venice Film Festival, which also hosted an event celebrating both Fonda and Redford. Both Fonda and Redford talked here about reuniting, the changed dynamic between the two of them after so many years and more. That would be a constant theme throughout the publicity in various other interviews with the pair of leads.

(Side note: It’s not part of the movie’s publicity or anything, but if you haven’t been listening to Karina Longworth’s latest podcast series on the political activism and film career of Jane Fonda, you’re doing the internet wrong.)

Overall

I would have loved to see even more attention and press turned to the movie, of course. But that’s because I’m a huge fan of Redford and Fonda and have loved their previous collaborations. While current, younger actors are often great, there’s nothing quite like the older generation that brings with it the ease and charisma of the old days of Hollywood.

That charisma and charm are on central display in this limited but effective campaign from Netflix. The reteaming of Fonda and Redford is enough of a draw in and of itself and the company knows it. There’s just enough story shown to let the audience know what to expect and there are sure to be twists on that, but the focus is on two stars whose chemistry hasn’t diminished a bit over the decades.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

In a recent interview, Bill Skarsgard, who played Pennywise in the recent surprise hit It, hinted that there were scenes shot showing the clown before he became the mysterious embodiment of evil in a small town.

Now I haven’t seen the most recent incarnation of It, nor have I read the source novel, but I did watch the 1990 TV version and am familiar enough with the story to be relatively sure that Pennywise’s origins and backstory are never explored. The impetus by the filmmakers is part of the growing tendency by storytellers of all sorts to offer explanations for the villains and show how they were once people before they became evil. It’s also part of the desire to leave no mystery unresolved.

While this isn’t a new trend, it’s one that betrays a relatively lazy mindset. Not only are the filmmakers not content to leave certain stones unturned but they don’t trust the audience to not freak out and throw their arms up whenever they don’t get all the answers. That’s manifested itself most recently in a series of articles where director Darren Aronofsky and the stars of mother! have been asked what the movie means, each offering various answers. Also see the fact that David Simon is still asked about what happened after the ending of “The Sopranos” and countless other examples.

All this came to mind as we were recently watching Big for the first time with the boys. As the movie neared its end, it was clear the focus would remain on Josh (Tom Hanks) and his struggle over abandoning his grown-up life in order to return home to his family and friends. His efforts were to find the Zoltar machine, not the mysterious old man who had predicted his magical transformation into a 30-year old man. He finally found it not through the guidance of some sort of mystical mentor who had guided him along but through the patience necessary to wait while local government bureaucracy worked itself out. The origins of the Zoltar machine were never hinted at, much less addressed. It was simply there, dispensing wishes.

That shows a belief in the audience by writers Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg as well as director Penny Marshall. They apparently had faith that this unresolved mystery would be acceptable and not cause undue controversy among the press and public that would hurt the movie.

Personally, I prefer the kinds of movies that don’t explore every rabbit hole and explain every plot contrivance. Leave something out there for the audience to scratch their heads over. Don’t explain away the evil, don’t remove from mysteries the very thing that makes them intriguing. Tell the most compelling story you can, but resist the urge to lay out every single bullet point worked up during the development of the story bible. Not doing so is making the public more demanding, less patient and less capable of critical thought, all traits we need desperately right now.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

The “action/adventure” phase of Tom Cruise’s career continues in this week’s American Made. Directed by Doug Liman, the movie casts Cruise in the true story of Barry Seal, an everyday guy who’s recruited by the CIA to run drugs on behalf of a cartel as part of a covert operation.

Seal, a natural hustler and fast-talker, is a perfect fit for this assignment, able to talk his way out of any situation, while alternatively relying on the resources of either the cartel or CIA, depending on the situation. So he’s living the high life while acting as both patriot and criminal, able to enjoy the benefits of both employers.

The Posters

Cruise walks toward the camera with a bag spilling out money in his hand and a cocky smile on his face. “It’s not a felony if you’re doing it for the good guys” reads the copy at the top, building the expectation that the story will live right on the edge of legality. A cool red-striped design behind him shows the criminals his actions bring him in contact with, the plane he’s going to be flying and his worried-looking wife. It’s a cool design that, because there’s even a bit of attention being paid to how art works, sells a pretty appealing movie.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens by showing Seal being accosted mid-air by the DEA and forced to land on a suburban street before beating a hasty getaway. We then flashback to see him as a regular airline pilot who’s recruited by the CIA to run some very questionable shipments into some rough areas. He’s really good at this and so operations expand, but so does the scrutiny given to him and the stakes of what he’s doing. That not only causes tension with his wife but also leads to him being at the wrong end of a rifle more times than he might be comfortable with.

It’s a fast, loose and fun trailer that shows how much style director Doug Liman has when he wants to. Cruise is more appealing here than he has been in at least a few years because he’s not trying to be all brow-furrowing serious but because he’s given a chance to bring his natural charisma and charm to bear. It’s not just about him running, it’s about a character that lives on the edge of danger and that’s a Cruise we don’t see too often these days.

Online and Social

When you load the official website you’re promised “The sky is never the limit.” In the upper left is a prompt to buy tickets while in the bottom right there’s a small video player just above links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

In the upper right of the main page is a button encouraging you to “Fly With Barry.” That opens up an interactive map where you can explore the routes he took and the missions he was engaged in. It’s a cool way to dive into the real story that inspired the movie.

Back to the main page, scroll down and after a few images and graphics you get to the “About” section that has a brief synopsis along with a cast and crew list. The “Characters” section just has a still along with who the actor playing the real-life character is.

“Photos” has some production stills and the poster you can scroll through, while “Videos” has the trailer and a couple featurettes that take you inside the production or offer insights into the real Barry Seal.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The trailer, or at least parts of it, were used as pre-roll ads on YouTube that play out the unbelievable nature of the story, which is presented as fast and loose. Other pre-roll spots included a featurette that focused on Cruise’s enthusiasm for doing his own stunts. Social media ads used clips from the trailer as well.

Media and Publicity

Liman apparently sought Gleeson out for the movie, citing the actor’s work ethic as a big reason for casting him. The director also spoke about how Cruise did all his own flying, a variation on the “does many/all of his own stunts” theme that often accompanies his movies, meant to prove the actor’s continued youth and vitality despite the fact that he’s 55.

Oddly, at least at this point, there’s no major presence by Cruise himself in the publicity campaign. Instead his role has been limited to featurettes and official media like this one, which keep him on-script and don’t open him up to unpredictable questions or audience interactions. That might be because of the increased scrutiny Scientology is under at the moment or because of a lawsuit over the deaths of two pilots during production that he’s named in. Whatever the reason, it’s odd to have a star of his magnitude confined to the sidelines.

Overall

As we’ve seen a few times in the last month, this is being sold as a middle-of-the-road adventure-filled comedic drama featuring a huge star. It promises the audience a rollicking good time following the story of someone few are likely to be already familiar with but which promises exotic locations, drugs and a lavish lifestyle courtesy of illegal activity. It’s positioned as escapist entertainment.

The combination of a limited marketing campaign – just one poster and just one trailer for a Tom Cruise movie! – and a publicity push that didn’t include the star almost at all make it a lackluster overall effort, though, and one that the public might see through. There’s some good stuff here to be sure but I can’t escape the notion there’s a lack of faith betrayed by the marketing. Clearly being in the Tom Cruise business is still a good call, but for some reason the studio is a bit gun-shy it seems.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.