Going In Style was sold to audiences as a fun time watching three old pro actors – Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin – engage in a bit of thievery in their golden years. That’s more or less what the final movie delivered, but it could have been a bit more.

The story follows three old friends and co-workers, played by the actors named above, who find themselves in tough financial straits. Mortgages have ballooned to the point of being unaffordable, sickness is creeping in and more. That’s made worse when their already meager pensions, earned from decades of factor work, are eliminated when the company is bought by a foreign firm who feels it’s free from those obligations. After Joe (Caine) finds himself in the middle of a bank robbery he enlists his two friends in a scheme to pull off their own heist to get the money they feel is owed them.

As you’d expect from the trailer, much of the comedy in the movie comes from watching three old men try to take on the physical demands of executing a bank robbery that requires precision timing, flawless momentum and more. And as you’d expect, Caine, Arkin and Freeman all deliver amusing and professional performances, moving through the story with the ease and grace they’ve all acquired in decades of work. All three have at some point been referred to as dependable, even in sub-standard movies, elevating the material they’re given.

That’s exactly what they do here. The movie is enjoyable enough as a light-hearted comedy, which is how it was sold. It left me wanting more on a few fronts, though.

First, if you took out the plot about exacting revenge on the financial system, I’d watch a whole Grumpy Old Men-type movie with these three actors/characters. Again, Arkin, Caine and Freeman are such old pros that they know just how to fit into the characters and work through the story without breaking a sweat and I want to see more of the dynamic here. Just 105 minutes of them commenting on “The Bachelorette” and talking about pie.

Second, go the other direction and fully commit to a story of the impact the impersonal, financially-motivated actions of the financial institutions and international businesses have had on vulnerable demographics like the elderly. Because the movie keeps going for laughs related to planning the robbery it never dives below surface level on that front, saying it’s bad but never really exploring that idea fully.

Third, I have to admit I’m intrigued by the idea of Zach Braff taking on more “director for hire” type projects. He has such a reputation with his previous directorial efforts for telling personal stories of ennui and aimlessness in life that I want him to follow his comedic instincts a bit more. There’s nothing here that screams out as a distinct style or approach when it comes to comedy, but I think his fourth such movie down the road could be more interesting. It could be anyone behind the camera here, but I’m curious about what this could turn into.

If you saw the trailer for Going in Style or walked past the badly-Photoshopped poster at some point, you won’t be surprised or disappointed by what the final movie delivers. It’s more or less exactly what you’d expect, with a few surprises and story elements that aren’t explored in the campaign included. So it delivers on that front. I just think there are some other, more fully-committed approaches that could have made it a bit more intriguing.

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

Last Flag Flying

Another interview with director Richard Linklater about his career, the pivot to a story that’s outside of what he usually tells and more.

Detroit

The movie is returning to theaters in select markets around the time it hits home video and there’s a new trailer for that release that hits some very different emotional and narrative beats than were seen in the original campaign.

Lady Bird

More conversations with writer/director Greta Gerwig about the path she took to making this movie as well as with the costume and production designers about creating the look of the movie.

Costar Beanie Feldstein, who plays the title character’s friend in the film, is getting more and more attention now that it’s in theaters, including this profile and interview. And Tracy Letts, who plays the out-of-work father, talks here about how quickly he was attracted to the script and to working with Gerwig.

Thor: Ragnarok

Director Taika Waititi talks here about how he got the rights to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” and thank goodness he did considering how well it plays in the trailer.

Jeff Goldblum explains how he got involved in such a grandiose film and how he worked with Waititi to create a colorful and memorable character.

I don’t think I included this late-breaking trailer in my recap but it’s lots of fun, in no small part because of some cool Valkyrie sequences.

Daddy’s Home 2

Will Ferrell made appearances on late night TV, though as usual those were centered more around his antics than the movie itself.

A great piece here on the fact that Mel Gibson has apparently been totally forgiven by Hollywood (and likely audiences) without really doing anything.

Novitiate

Melissa Leo talks more here about how she took on the role of the Reverend Mother with additional comments from writer/director Maggie Betts on the actress and the character she plays.

Murder on the Orient Express

Not that surprisingly, the costume design for the highly-stylized film has finally received some press attention along with the production design.

Kenneth Branagh talks here about how he updated the story a bit to make it a bit more relevant and accessible for the audience.

Wonder

Lionsgate worked with Jigsaw, part of the Alphabet network of companies, to create a Chrome extension that finds offensive or inflammatory comments and replaces them with messages of kindness. I’m not quite sure I get how that doesn’t cross over into “creepy censorship,” but whatever.

Julia Roberts spoke here about walking the line of sentimentality in the story.

That Facebook Messenger bot I was unsure of a few days ago was what I expected it to be, a platform for people to message the page and receive an inspirational message in return. You can see a video promoting the chatbot, created by imperson, here.

Justice League

Finally, here’s the kind of profile of Gal Gadot that I was hoping to see earlier in the campaign.

Jeremy Irons did a bit of late-night TV to talk about playing Alfred in such a massive production.

Get Out

Jordan Peele has not only responded in his own way to the movie’s categorization as a comedy by the HFPA but also crashed a college course that was discussing the film.

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

bram stoker dracula posterLast week when I wrote about the directorial career of Kenneth Branagh I mentioned that 1994’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was the second movie from Sony to take a fresh approach to classic monster stories that were more in line with the original books on which they were based. The first, of course, was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a movie that celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this week and which, because of that, will be the focus of today’s trip down marketing memory lane.

The movie is an interesting insight into what was popular at theaters in the early 1990s. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, it was an artistically-minded popcorn gothic romance featuring a mix of “serious” actors and those with more mainstream appeal. The former category is represented by Gary Oldman, who stars as the titular Count Dracula, as well as Anthony Hopkins as Prof. Van Helsing. The latter includes cineplex favorites like Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker and Winona Ryder as his fiancee, Mina.

Unlike the classic Bela Lugosi Dracula of 1931, the story here adheres much more closely to Bram Stoker’s original, hence the appending of his name to the movie’s title. Jonathan is summoned from London to a far-off Eastern European village to help arrange the affairs of the mysterious Dracula. Once there he falls into the Count’s various machinations, eventually escaping and returning home profoundly changed for the experience. Dracula meanwhile has become obsessed with Mina, believing her to be the reincarnated spirit of his long-dead lover. When he comes to London he tries to bring Mina under his spell, but only after turning her best friend Lucy (Sadie Frost) into a vampire. Harker joins with Van Helsing and the three suitors who had vied for Lucy’s affections (played by Cary Elwes, Richard E. Grant and Billy Campbell) to hunt Dracula down and end his centuries-long reign of terror.

The theatrical poster (which I once owned, because come on) immediately sets the tone for the film. It shows a relief of a demon head flanked by two fork-tongued hounds that is built onto the side of a dingy grey wall. That dark tone is reinforced by the title treatment that appears to have been written in dripping blood and the copy “Love never dies.”

All of those elements combine to create a unique brand identity for the movie meant to set is apart from previous incarnations. There are outsized emotions and visuals that the audience is promised with this image, which eschews showing the formidable cast in favor of making an impression by selling the tone.

All of that tone and vibe are on display almost as soon as the trailer opens. We hear about how we’re going to follow the history of Dracula and “the woman he loved,” Mina. The interplay between the two of them dominates the early footage, showing them move around each other in various ways, him all brooding mystery and her all swooning romance about how irresistible he seems. Van Helsing talks about the history of Dracula but the point is the power he wields over Mina, who is at first reluctant but then a willing supplicant.

Along with that there are various shots of people falling victim to Dracula’s power, the fight for Lucy’s soul and more. But the focus never leaves the Dracula/Mina dynamic for very long. Oldman’s scenery-chewing performance is certainly on display, as well it should be, but the point is to tell this as sort of a Harlequin Romance set against the backdrop of a monster story.

What’s surprising about watching this again is how sensual and steamy it is. That’s certainly representative of the film as a whole, as Coppola clearly loved shooting the massive sets as well as Ryder, Frost and the other women as they turned from proper young ladies into creatures lusting after fleshly pleasures. So the trailer and poster combined to sell the movie fairly accurately, promising the audience that they could expect soaring, overly-dramatic romance alongside a gothic horror story.

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

I’m by no means an apologist for stupid corporate decisions. When a company or brand does something wrong their motives and actions should be questioned in the hope it changes course. It’s why I was heartened to see the quick turnaround on the blackout of the Los Angeles Times by Disney a couple weeks ago.

The latest kerfluffle to rock the entertainment world was the revelation earlier this week that Rotten Tomatoes would withhold its aggregate score for Justice League until Thursday morning, despite reviews being public before that. The tactic was publicly explained as being one to create some buzz and anticipation for the new Facebook Live show the site was launching, offering a unique reason for people to check it out.

The problem is that most everyone saw shadier reasons for the movie. Hollywood’s big studios have been warring with Rotten Tomatoes for years, a conflict that’s only intensified in the wake of recent periods of falling ticket sales, a trend studios lay at least in part at Rotten Tomatoes’ feet. They claim that poor – “Rotten” – scores for expensive movies have contributed to box office failures, undermining massive marketing campaigns and leading to big corporate losses.

Adding to the skepticism that this wasn’t just an effort to keep a negative score out of public view for as long as possible is that Warner Bros., the studio behind Justice League, owns Rotten Tomatoes. So, it seemed, corporate strings were being pulled to keep one division from materially impacting another.

I agree the optics are bad. As David Ehrlich points out, the move by RT from dumb aggregator to a content producer is problematic at best, especially given the additional relationship with ticket seller Fandango. If you have a vested interest in getting people to buy movie tickets – much less two such conflicts – you can’t exactly be trusted to provide objective editorial opinions or freely share information.

My perspective is that this is simply a really bad idea that was poorly executed, not signs of intent to completely squash film criticism. RT needed something to create some tune-in buzz for its new show and the Justice League Tomatometer score was something everyone was going to be watching for, so it wasn’t a hard call. Having been involved in more than one corporate editorial feature in my career, I get the thinking but realize someone should have been pointing out some obvious issues. It’s a situation they need to learn from.

That being said, if RT wants to establish itself as a content producer it’s going to have to address the financial issues that are going to hang over its head on an ongoing basis. It will need to establish clear editorial guidelines and standards that are clear to the public or suspicion will follow it everywhere. Companies have their own blogs and social profiles and many are launching unbranded (though clearly labeled) print magazines that cover topics related to their industries. But if Ford tomorrow bought Edmunds and suddenly negative reviews of every Taurus on the site was hidden from view, eyebrows would legitimately be raised.

I may not agree with Ehrlich in this specific case but I do with the larger point that’s made. The threat to film criticism is the same one that’s facing the media world on all fronts: Independent voices are being silenced as the result of ownership consolidation and precedents that infringe on free speech. When Joe Ricketts can blithely shut down a massive blog network he owns because he disapproves of its mission or Peter Thiel can kill another network because it tweaked his nose on occasion, we all suffer. When one company owns the creation of media, its distribution, and its criticism, that’s a bad situation whether we’re talking about movies or any other industry.

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

mudbound posterThe racial divide in America is a terrible thing. There are countless examples of blacks being held to different standards than whites, both in general society and through the constructs of our legal system. When a black man jaywalks he runs the risk of being shot by police, while a white man who guns down mall shoppers is portrayed as a troubled lone wolf who needs mental health care.

Mudbound, the new movie from director Dee Rees, jumps back 70 years in America’s history to show just one example of how things vary greatly depending on the color of your skin. Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, the story follows two soldiers returning home to Mississippi after serving in World War II. Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) is black and Jamie McAllen (Garrett Hedlund) is white. Coming back to the Jim Crow South means means that despite both putting their lives on the line to protect the world from despotism, one is welcomed much more warmly than the other.

The Posters

The first poster features the whole cast arrayed around the real estate of the image. Along with the cast list at the top and the prominent placement of the Netflix logo we also see the marks of TIFF and Sundance to tout the movie’s screenings at those festivals.

A series of character posters showed each individual up close in a grainy, high-resolution shot that showed the misery and despair on their faces along with the lines, dirt and sweat that comes with the lives each one leads. These are a stark collection that’s meant to evoke photos we’ve seen of people living through droughts and other events in this country.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out with a Jamie hitting the dirt after hearing a car backfire, the after-effects of his time in the war. Ronsel helps him up and we see the Jim Crow-heavy world everyone’s living in, even Ronsel, who served his country in the war. Racial tensions impact everything and everyone, despite the fact that they’re all living in the same squalor and desperate conditions regardless of race.

The second trailer begins from the perspectives of the women who were left behind while their husbands went off to war. Those men, when they return, find a world that hasn’t changed to anyone but them. Jim Crow is still in place and there are still other dramas that are impacting everyday life and, it seems, those things are just always going to be so.

The movie is sold here more like a general drama than one that’s explicitly about race relations. Not that that’s unspoken or hidden, it’s just one part of a larger picture here where it’s been the focus in the other efforts. I don’t think that marks any great shift in strategy, just an evolution of messaging.

Online and Social

While, as usual, Netflix didn’t create an official website for the movie there were both Twitter and Facebook profiles. That may not seem like much but it’s more than is usually put in place and shows the commitment the company had to selling the movie more fully.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Online ads placed a few weeks prior to release used the key art showing the faces of the leads, with some including positive quotes from early festival reviews. There were also reports on Twitter that some TV spots were run but I’ve not been able to find them or otherwise confirm.

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 shortly after that. That screening garnered a tidal wave of positive word-of-mouth, including speculation that the 2018 Oscar race was now official underway. Much of that praise was directed at director Rees, who talked about the story and why she opted to tell this story. And it stood out as one of a few movies taking a look at the toll of war on individuals. Netflix eventually bought distribution rights despite the steep asking price. The movie was then scheduled for a screening at the New York Film Festival, where Rees commented on how Netflix was an ideal creative partner because none of the other studios felt the movie was commercial enough to acquire and release.

Later on Rees talked about how she’s worked to position her career and the choices she’s made over the years that have impacted it, including a commitment to smaller movies that require passion, not studio gigs that come with big paychecks and lots of publicity.

Rees and others talked here about the movie’s early festival buzz, the potential for awards consideration and how long it took to find a distributor willing to pick it up. That last point, it turns out, was the result of the backlash to and disappointing results of The Birth of a Nation last year, which made some distributors gun-shy about signing on for a period movie dealing with racial issues. Oh, and there’s the fact that the story, which involves clashes with the KKK, is super-relevant today, which caused additional squeamishness.

There was also this group chat where Rees talked about what inspired the story and the cast talked about how shocked they were at the poor treatment of former soldiers. The movie was also announced as the opening night feature at AFI Fest. Another joint interview with Rees and members of the cast talked about the difficulty of filming the many emotional scenes in the movie and more.

Mary J. Blige, who plays Florence Jackson, Ronsel’s wife, was a major focus of the publicity campaign mounted by Netflix. She appeared on both late night and morning talk shows and was the subject of numerous profiles and feature interviews like this where she talked about taking on such a transformative role as well as her career in general along with issues of race, sex and more. Blige in large part became the central figure of the campaign right alongside Rees, who did her own publicity work to talk about being a black female filmmaker, the inspiration her family provided and more.

If it wasn’t a glowing portrait of Blige is was a profile of Mitchell and how he’s the next big star about to break into the mainstream. Or commentary on how this might be Netflix’s most serious play for Oscar validation. Carey Mulligan, who plays the sister-in-law of Jamie McAllen, also made various media appearances to talk about the movie and acting in general.

Overall

I kind of love this campaign. It’s low key but intense, just like the characters in the story. Unfortunately, any portrait of unequal treatment based on race is not only going to present a look back into the past of our country but an uncomfortable spotlight on our own times. That comes through loud and clear in the official marketing and is underlined in the publicity, where issues of race and gender were mentioned repeatedly.

That focus is going to make this a campaign people respond to very differently. It’s being sold as a prestige drama, exactly the kind of thing that wouldn’t fly at the box office going up against Justice League this week. And it’s attracted all the right kinds of attention, especially for Rees and Blige, to gain traction in that capacity. But the fact that the message of the film still has unfortunate timeliness may turn off some people who don’t want to be preached to or who feel, wrongly, that we should be moving beyond discussions of race.

Whatever the reception, the campaign itself is damn powerful, presenting a movie that pulls few punches in telling the story of people just scraping by.

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

Fox is not resting on its laurels or taking a more conventional approach to selling Deadpool 2. At least not based on the first few efforts that have been undertaken.

deadpool 2 poster

The introduction of the new character Domino was handled by calling back to the first image released for the first movie, showing her laying atop a prone Deadpool in front of a fireplace.

The first poster continued the meta approach while also playing with the idea that so many characters were being included, using a Norman Rockwell-esque painting to show all those characters sitting around a Thanksgiving dinner while a painting of Stan Lee hangs on the wall.

Deadpool was announced as the guest editor of a special issue of Good Housekeeping where he offered his usual brand of irreverent holiday recipes and decorating tips.

Now the first teaser is out but, of course there’s only about 15 seconds of footage from the movie in there. Instead it’s focused on Deadpool pulling a Bob Ross and showing people how to paint scenic landscapes.

It’s good to see that Fox isn’t messing with what worked so well the first time. There’s the risk that it will go too far and take things to an extreme, as well as the potential for them to pull back and play it safe so as not to damage the franchise.

That’s why it’s important to remember the franchise is *about* taking it too far. None of the jokes in that teaser trailer should really be allowed, but because Deadpool is unapologetically himself, it works and plays into the brand image.

These first marketing moves are great, but it’s also important to remember there was actually a traditional campaign that paralleled all the goofiness for the first movie. Traditional trailers came along with the ones where he addressed the audience directly and made fun of Hugh Jackman. So those will be coming for the second movie as well.

Until then, let’s just sit back and enjoy the goofiness.

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

justice league poster sdccJustice League hits theaters this weekend, the seeming crowning moment of the DC Cinematic Universe, or whatever we’re calling it. It comes four years after Man of Steel launched the new continuity, though that debut wasn’t without its critics. Shockingly, it was a full three years before the story continued in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which made it clear that someone didn’t know what to do with Superman on his own and needed to get Batman into the story as soon as possible. The mediocre reception continued in Suicide Squad but then things turned around when Wonder Woman finally got a solo film, showing offering audiences a bright attitude and an alternative to the brooding male stereotype could turn things around on a number of fronts.

Now there’s a whole team of heroes that have been assembled by Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) and Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) to fight a growing menace to our planet. With Superman (Henry Cavill) out of the picture (sure), they recruit the Atlantean Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the speedster The Flash (Ezra Miller) and the high school student/machine Cyborg (Ray Fisher). These cast of disparate characters will need to learn to work together if they’re going to stop the forces of Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) from laying waste to the earth.

The Posters

The first teaser tells us to “Unite” as it shows the logo with a bright beam of light bursting out of the middle of it. There’s not much that’s being conveyed here, it’s just about building or reinforcing awareness.

After that there was a series of character posters that featured each of the five heroes standing on a rocky outcropping and posing for the camera. The same JL logo appears in the background of each and it all culminated in a single poster that brought all five of them together and includes the “Unite” call to action as well. Still missing is Superman, which is notable.

All five of the heroes came together on a poster that shows them all in profile, facing some unseen, off-camera threat. “Unite the league” is the copy that’s laid over the image in big, bold type.

A poster was given away to attendees at San Diego Comic-Con and released online that assembled the team (still sans Superman) around the copy “You can’t save the world alone.” That copy featured the icons and symbols of each character, including Superman. It’s lit and arranged to give the impression, at least among comics fans, that it’s the artwork of Alex Ross with his hyper-realistic style. Upon closer impression, though, it seems just to be photographs of the cast. Either way, it’s a striking image.

Another series of character posters put each hero in profile against a solid background, their unique symbol interlaced with the team logo at the bottom.

More featured the character in action. All the symbols for each hero appeared in a row at the top, with the relevant one highlighted. Notably, Superman’s symbol *is* shown here but he didn’t get a poster of his own. Some of these better than others and a couple are just ridiculous. Each featured the copy “All in,” presumably conveying their commitment to the team and its cause.

Another series had each character’s face half-covered by the mask they wear.

I’m not sure what the art department was thinking with the next poster, which brings all five heroes together in action poses centered around the title treatment. The photos used show no sense of motion or energy. This looks more like the kind of awkward imagery that would be used for licensed product signage than a one-sheet for a tentpole release from a major studio.

A couple posters were created specifically to be given away to customers buying tickets through Fandango, select IMAX screenings and so on.

The Trailers

The first look at the movie came at San Diego Comic-Con 2016, when WB released a pseudo-trailer that centered around Bruce Wayne’s quest to assemble a team to fight the coming evil. The biggest part of that is recruiting Arthur Curry/Aquaman, for which purpose he travels to a small fishing village where he frequently pops up. Curry’s not hugely on board, but the same can’t be said for Barry Allen, who accepts Wayne’s invitation almost before he actually makes it. Wayne is working with Diana to build the team and we see some of the interplay between the two of them. Also coming along is Vic Stone, who we see both before and after his transformation into Cyborg.

It’s actually a pretty great trailer and seems to address one of the big complaints about Batman v Superman, which is that it was so super-serious. This one, in contrast, is full of humor and little jokes and funny moments. It doesn’t seem WB and Snyder are going full-on Joss Whedon’s Avengers here but it does play much more light-hearted than what has come before, showing the team dynamic may be a little more spirited than in BvS.

The first “official” trailer starts off with Wayne wandering through the frozen tundra on his trip to recruit Aquaman. After that we meet Cyborg and Flash as they’re pulled into the team alongside Batman and Wonder Woman. Aside from the team building shots, there are quite a few scenes of them fighting parademons in various ways, either hand-to-hand or, if you’re Batman, in the Batmobile or other machines. Along the way we get glimpses at Barry Allen’s imprisoned father, Mera swimming through the sea and, at the end, Commissioner Gordon giving Batman some encouragement.

This one is alright but it looks sooooo dark. There’s no light in the trailer, either from an actual lighting or from a tonality point of view. Sure, there are a couple jokes or funny lines here and there but overall this looks just as humorless and slightly depressing as Batman v Superman, where the tone was one of the major points of pushback from critics and audiences alike. But when you have Zack Snyder at the helm, you’re going to get a Zack Snyder movie.

A year after the first footage WB once again released a new “sneak peek” trailer at Comic-Con that opens with a scene of Wonder Woman handling a terrorist incident easily. That’s not surprising given this is the first big asset following her solo movie’s massive success. Diana and Bruce discuss the need for heroes to rise once again before we see Steppenwolf arrive on Themysciria. He narrates that there are no protectors on Earth, specifically no Kryptonians and “No Lanterns,” a nice nod to the existence of that intergalactic police force. The heroes do join forces, though, to take on the bad guy and his army and we’re shown lots of cool shots of Cyborg taking over the Batmobile, Aquaman knocking a parademon out of the sky and lots of things exploding. It all ends with Alfred meeting someone he’d been told to expect while all we see is the red shoulder of the visitor, a heavy hint that it’s Superman finally showing up.

I like this trailer a lot as it shows more of the team dynamic than earlier spots have. It’s still all very attitude-heavy, with lots of glowering and brooding, but let’s also note that it’s Wonder Woman who’s providing a lot of the inspirational uplift for the other heroes. And, again, the Amazons get quite a bit of screen time to take advantage of their popularity with audiences. Basically, the character types each hero will play to are shown clearly here, as well as how they integrate together.

The final “Heroes” trailer lives up to its name by including a slowed down version of David Bowie’s song of the same name. It opens with a scene of Lois greeting Clark in the cornfield, but we see that’s likely just a dream. Superman is dead, we hear via a news broadcast, and the world is having problems. Bruce talks about the threats that are coming, which Diana identifies as an invasion. They enlist the help of the other heroes, with Bruce convincing them they’re stronger together. That all is followed by lots of fighting between the Justice League and parademons who are looking to unleash hell on Earth.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website opens with the final trailer and once that’s over or you close it you’re greeted with a version of the painting-like key art of the team. In the upper left are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles. You can also see it’s “wrapped” in the branding and navigation of DC Comics, bestowing the traffic to the home of the IP and encouraging any casual visitors interested in the movie to check out more of the comics and characters offered. Along the bottom are prompts to get tickets or watch the recent red carpet premiere event.

Moving to the top of the page, the content menu there starts with “Video” which surprisingly just has the same trailer that opened the site. After that, “Unite the League” gives you a couple options to either create your own superhero symbol or create a 360-degree image that you could add your friends to. The results of the first option could be downloaded either as a JPG or an MP4 video but not as a GIF, which seems like an oversight.

“First Look” just has the team image that has been used sporadically throughout the campaign, including on licensed products, and which notably includes Superman among the heroes. That’s followed by a link to “Join the League” to access exclusive material and get early updates on new merchandise.

You can find out more about the “VR Game” that lets you play as Batman as he tests his own abilities as well as those of his new teammates but you’ll need the required equipment to play. After links to get tickets and find release dates, “Partners” finishes off the site with links to the companies helping to promote the film.

A virtual reality experience came in four flavors. The first, accessible via mobile devices, allowed just small snippets of gameplay for each of the main characters. An HTV Vive version at New York Comic-Con provided for enhanced gameplay. Next, a couple IMAX locations in the country had an exclusive version that let you test your superhero abilities and learn to use your powers. Finally, a fully-featured version was available for commercial VR platforms that took players inside the actual superhero experience.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV commercials started running after the release of the final trailer, about a month prior to the movie hitting theaters. Most all took slightly different approaches to selling the same concept, which is that the team has to come together to be more than a team to defend the world. A better look at Mera was offered in another spot that was also used as a promoted post on Twitter.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • AT&T, which created a portal for all its Justice League-themed material, including character profiles featuring cast interviews and explanations of his or her powers and role on the team. Clips and excerpts from those videos were also used in paid ads on Twitter leading the audience back to that portal.
  • Mercedes, which launched a campaign involving TV, outdoor, online and print advertising to promote the movie as well as its new AMG Vision Gran Turismo, which is featured in the movie. The TV spots positioned the car as the perfect mode of transportation, even for heroes who can fly, run and more. There was also a co-branded digital comic that was created and promoted across social channels by the car company.
  • Hot Topic, which created a line of clothing and apparel based on the characters and heroes of the movie.
  • Google, which added “bots” based on the five heroes in the movie to Android Pay, allowing users to unlock and collect them.
  • Gillette, which sponsored the above-mentioned VR game and created movie-branded packaging (conspicuously omitting Wonder Woman) that was supported by a TV campaign. It also ran something called the “League of Influencers” involving social media celebrities, but there was no information that could be found about that campaign.
  • Dave & Buster’s, which offered a special Justice League Platter along with an exclusive Injustice arcade game, supporting those efforts with a TV advertising campaign and presumably in-store signage.
  • Kendrick Motorsports, which, in conjunction with Great Clips, had Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. driving movie-themed cars at the Texas Motor Speedway. This is just the latest partnership between WB/DC and Hendrick.
  • Orville Redenbacher’s, which offered a variety of actives and promotions, including an AR selfie tool and more.

Warner Bros. worked with IMAX on a virtual reality experience that would be available at theaters around the country. An augmented reality game was launched wherein Walmart shoppers could take pictures of themselves alongside characters from the movie when they found in-store displays and also play a game involving the Flying Fox, the team’s transport.

Both WB and DC ran social media ads on Twitter and Facebook that either included the trailers as they were released or encouraged people to visit the movie’s official website and “Join the League” for access to exclusive content and merchandise. Licensed product partner Mattel created a nifty version of the trailer involving stop-motion animation featuring action figures.

DC Comics took two additional moves to promote the movie, declaring November 18th to be “Justice League Day,” coordinating local events and giveaways and putting movie-themed variant covers on its November comics releases.

Media and Publicity

Outside of casting and other production news, the first big news cycle came as the result of a set visit by various members of the press. That brought lots of cast and crew interviews as well as details about who some actors were playing, who the villain of the story was going to be and the first official logo. It also brought with it plenty of confusion as there seemed to be conflicting stories as to whether there was going to be just one or, as originally announced, two Justice League movies.

Later on there was a new photo featuring Flash, Batman and Wonder Woman released along with some brief comments from Miller who talked about Flash’s role in the group dynamic. Another new photo came in an interview with Snyder about the story and characters. A small feature on Momoa called out his role as Aquaman as being part of the actor’s big breakout push.

Unfortunately some bad news came up back in May, when Snyder announced he was stepping away from the movie due to a family tragedy a couple months prior. WB kept things on track for the release date, though, by bringing in Joss Whedon to handle the rest of the additional filming that was planned as well as post-production. Helping make that a seamless transition was the fact that, as the story reveals, Snyder had already reached out to Whedon to help write additional scenes deemed to be missing from the initial production, so he was already in the Justice League mindset. Eventually that situation led to this movie being the latest to have its reshoot budget and schedule picked apart by the press for signs of trouble and other issues, including how much time and money was being spent digitally removing Cavill’s facial hair. No, I’m not kidding.

Costume displays, as well as consumer products, were shown at the annual Licensing Expo show. Another new still, this one featuring Flash, Batman and Wonder Woman, appeared in EW’s San Diego Comic-Con preview issue. Comic-Con also provided a venue for the studio to show off costumes from the movie as well as a full-size Batmobile.

The future of the movie was thrown into doubt with a story that appeared just the day before Warner Bros.’ big Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con. That story reported Affleck’s future as Batman was up in the air for various reasons relating to both the age of the actor, the physical demands of the role and more. It’s something Affleck had to spend no small amount of time rebutting, or at least addressing, saying he was happy to play Batman for as long as WB would let him.

In addition to their presence as part of Warner Bros. Hall H presentation, where the official trailer was shown, the cast showed up to sign autographs at the DC Comics booth on the show floor. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though, as the movie’s big San Diego stage was preceded by a story that cast Affleck’s future as Batman in doubt for various reasons. It’s something he wound up addressing and which took up some of the space that would ideally have been used on more positive angles.

EW’s fall movie preview issue showed off the first look at Batman’s big team transport The Flying Fox, which was also the subject of a later LA Times feature. It also had Affleck talking about how the film reflected the work of both directors and that the movie would show DC’s universe was really hitting its stride and more, as well as promising a more traditionally heroic version of The Dark Knight, not the rage-fueled character of BvS.

Later on an Empire Magazine cover story contained more first looks and other stories. More new photos and comments from the actors like this one focusing on Momoa continued to trickle out. There was also the fact that the movie introduced so many characters the general audience may not be completely familiar with.

In the last week or so before release, Affleck made the media rounds to talk about what both Snyder and Whedon brought to the project, his early near-brush with the world of Batman and more. Gadot also did her share, though in light of the conversations currently dominating Hollywood many of those appearances turned to her thoughts on sexual harassment. The rest of the cast put in the miles and time as well.

The theme of sexism, in general, came back up in a big way when Melissa Silverstein, among others, noticed the drastic difference in the warrior garb donned by the Amazons in this movie compared to what they wore in Wonder Woman. The addition of more bare mid-riffs and other exposed skin was quickly called out as being indicative of how women view women and how men view women.

More late-breaking controversy when, despite the fact that reviews had been posted already, it was announced the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score would not be revealed until the day before it hit theaters. While that news was couched as being an incentive for people to tune into the first episode of the site’s new Facebook Live show, it raised the spectre of corporate control over information. That wasn’t a huge leap given how studios have stepped up their fight against Rotten Tomatoes, saying it’s poisoning fans against certain movies. Oh, and it’s owned by Warner Bros. So…yeah.

Overall

I’m hard-pressed to think of a campaign in recent memory that’s had so many unexpected twists and turns to it. To name a few:

  • Snyder’s replacement by Whedon for the final phases of production. While it’s understandable, it’s also very odd and unusual.
  • The continuing will he/won’t he conversations about Affleck’s future as Batman, a situation that’s changed with each new publicity cycle.
  • The impact Wonder Woman’s success had, which likely resulted in her becoming a much bigger part of a campaign that started well before that movie was released.

All that has made is kind of hard for the campaign, particularly the publicity element, to remain focused and on track. While Fisher, Miller and Momoa have kept up the theme of just having a good time and living the dream playing superheroes for a living, Affleck’s attempts at that same tone have come off as stilted and been undermined by the ever-changing narrative about his future. And let’s be honest, there hasn’t been a whole lot of Gadot here, which is surprising. So it’s been hard, at least from an outside observer’s point of view, for the publicity to get its footing for any length of time.

In the marketing components things have been a bit more consistent, but whether or not that’s a good thing is going to be in the eye of the beholder. All the trailers, while they sell different plot points, have been very similar in terms of tone and style, presenting a dark and violent action movie. Yes, there are certainly more laughs on display than in the marketing of BvS, but that’s not a high bar to clear. It seems as if no matter how much the studio may have wanted to change perceptions in the wake of Wonder Woman it was limited by the material available to work with.

In short it looks like another Zack Snyder movie, for good or ill. Lots of heavily-stylized characters and a story that’s only hinted at from time to time lest it take the focus off the special effects and action sequences.

It also can’t go without saying that the inconsistent approach to Superman’s presence in the story is somewhat laughable and almost amateurish. 95% of the official marketing materials keep him off-camera, but then he’s just standing there like it’s no big deal in the other 5%, as well as in all the imagery for the licensed products on store shelves. Adding to the disconnect is that the character’s absence is only mentioned once or twice in the campaign, so it’s not as if him being gone is clearly what’s motivated Batman and the others to rise up and join together. If you’re going to hide a character from the marketing, do so for a reason.

I can’t say I don’t like the campaign. I’m still a comics nerd, after all. But there are some real issues that weren’t addressed at all or, if they were, only made the message to the audience that much more muddled and somewhat confusing.

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

Netflix sold What Happened to Monday? as a dystopian science fiction about the lengths one will go to in order to protect family when society says they are disposable. That’s only part of what the movie delivers.

The story involves seven sisters – all named after one day of the week and all played by Noomi Rapace – who are hidden by their grandfather (Willem Dafoe) because the world is short of food and water and so has enacted a one child per family law. He raises them to all fit into a single persona, which they slip on when they are allowed to go out on the day of the week they’re named for. Eventually such a complicated arrangement begins to fray at the edges. Not only do the sisters, now adults, want to be themselves but they want to be unafraid in the world. When one of their number disappears the six others try to track her down but their efforts only make matters worse in many regards, setting into motion events that will impact not only themselves but the world as a whole.

Netflix’s trailer and other marketing efforts sold the movie as an action drama. Only around the edges of the campaign are there hints at the social commentary of the story involving the sacrifices and hard choices that must be made to ensure the survival of the human race as a whole. Those choices are embodied by Glenn Close, who plays the politician behind the “no siblings” policy.

Unfortunately the action drama elements often overshadow the social commentary in the movie. There are too many sequences of Rapace running away from government agents or engaging in gun battles or other close-quarters fights with them. Some of the violence is shockingly graphic, which took me out of the story more than it served to heighten the reality or stakes in play.

Because it’s so concerned with chases and physical fights the script overlooks some of the messages that it’s trying to convey. More troubling, the script sets up a dynamic that not only is never fully explored but actually winds up subverting expectations in a way that, once the movie is over, is frustrating and disappointing.

SPOILER WARNING

Throughout the film, Close’s character Nicolette Cayman is setup as the villain, the big bad who is ripping children away from their parents and siblings away from each other. She’s heartless and cruel and, of course, the “processing” those children are subjected to isn’t nearly as benign and compassionate as it’s sold to the public. All the actions of the Sisters are taken to not only find their missing member but also, at least in part, to take Cayman down. They want to expose her misdeeds and save the children who are being removed from society because they can’t imagine any one of them not being allowed to fully live.

Cayman has made hard choices and the one-child policy is undoubtedly heartless and cruel. But it’s also necessary. In the backstory that’s provided throughout the movie we learn that the world’s population has outgrown humanity’s ability to feed itself. That, combined with the effects of climate change, has lead to massive food shortages. The only solution is for there to be fewer people.

No one wants to see children suffer and the reality that’s exposed is even crueler than the public is lead to believe. But while Cayman’s solution may not be perfect it’s at least a solution.

The actions of the Sisters exposes what’s really happening to the children who are taken away, exposure that not only undoes her policies but leads to Cayman’s downfall and arrest. At the end of the movie we see a nursery of infants who are all now able to live because people are once more free to have children as they see fit.

What’s the impact of that going to be, though? The movie has spent so much time explaining how the old rate of growth of the human population was unsustainable. The Sisters’ actions result in a reversion to that previous growth rate, the logical conclusion of which is the end of humanity, which will slowly starve itself to death.

That ending undoes, at least for me, anything the story may have earned up to that point. While the Sisters are presented as virtuous and loving, the ending shows that love and compassion are shortsighted and irresponsible. I’m not advocating for mass incarceration or elimination of children, but then why the surviving Sisters smile at how pleased they are with their actions shows they haven’t considered the ramifications of their efforts. By celebrating their victory, the story undoes any goodwill the Sisters may have earned by their devotion to each other.

Again, only parts of the story are hinted at in the marketing, so there are lots of surprises – not all of them great – for the audience to encounter. They may be taken aback at the movie’s attempts at a Blade Runner-type aesthetic and the message of social responsibility. Mostly, though, I think they’ll be surprised at the massive and ill-fitting cop out the ending provides.

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

roman j israel posterDenzel Washington stars as the title character in this week’s new release Roman J. Israel, Esq. Coming from writer/director Dan Gilroy, the movie follows Israel beginning with his time as a idealistic young lawyer doing what he needs to do to succeed while those above him win all the glory.

A series of events sees him recruited by a prestigious law firm by the former student (Colin Farrell) of Israel’s professional mentor. That decision ultimately puts Israel in a position where he has to make choices that may conflict with the ideals he’s long clung to and could threaten his entire professional standing and career.

The Posters

The movie’s one and only poster shows Washington as Israel from the back, his hair taking up a good amount of the image’s real estate. That, combined with the glasses, old-school Walkman headphones and purple suit coat are meant to visually communicate who the character is and what sort of unconventional and unique personality will be on display. “All rise” we’re told at the bottom.

The Trailers

Israel is a go-for-broke lawyer as the first trailer opens, using every means at his disposal to get his clients. When he’s laid off from his firm he has a bit of an identity crisis. An unethical and illegal decision he makes during a case comes back to haunt him years later after he’s risen once more to the top of the field and various people and groups are tightening around him to find out the truth and bring him down.

Gotta love Washington in these kinds of roles. He’s fast and smart and goes all in on every aspect of the character, both good and bad. There are quite a few subplots hinted at in the trailer but you get a general idea and see what the big beats are going to be.

Online and Social

After the trailer plays on the official website the splash page features the same image seen on the key art. There are links in the upper right corner to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

That one trailer is the only thing in the “Video” section that starts the content menu at the top of the page. After that is “About,” which has a decent synopsis of the story. “Cast & Crew” just has lists of names and finally the “Gallery” has a handful of production stills.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one presented the story as a portrait of a man who cuts his own path and makes a lot of enemies along the way. He’s brash and mildly offensive and unconventional in his approach, cutting through the bull and making a name for himself.

Media and Publicity

A few first-look stills were released around the same time it was announced the movie would premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. It picked up pretty good word-of-mouth while there and it was eventually given a release date by Columbia Pictures.

Aside from the release of marketing materials and few Q&As featuring Washington and Gilroy there doesn’t seem to have been a big press push here.

Overall

I know I’ve said this a lot lately, but this is the kind of movie that would have been a summer tentpole for any studio 30 years ago, so it’s a bit odd to see it almost flying under the radar here. Washington is one of his generation’s finest actors, always delivering solid and often extraordinary performances. Those skills are certainly on display in the campaign, particularly in the TV spots where the focus is a bit tighter, but there isn’t nearly the kind of general appreciation that should accompany any new film he’s in.

Instead it’s a decent but subdued campaign for a movie that has almost no chance at the box-office this weekend. It’s going up against a powerhouse in Justice League and so will be swamped by that as well as anyone who’s not still catching up on Thor or another recent release. It’s this kind of reality that has many movies of this type – a serious drama meant for adults and featuring an all-time great actor – headed to streaming services.

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

wonder theatrical posterIf you’ve read the book on which this week’s new movie Wonder is based you’ll know what it means to have a good cry. The story follows Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), a young boy born with facial deformities who, after years of surgeries that have kept him home – and home-schooled – is about to enter fifth grade at his local public school.

Confident in who he is and supported by his mother (Julia Roberts), father (Owen Wilson) and older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), Auggie is nonetheless self-conscious about how different he is from the other kids. There are ups and downs as he seeks to make friends and be accepted by the kids – and adults – around him.

The Posters

“Are you ready to meet Auggie Pullman?” we’re asked on the first poster, which shows Auggie while he’s wearing his astronaut helmet. Not only does it state clearly that it’s based on a New York Times bestseller but the blue in the background is the same shade that was used on the cover of the source novel. That’s a nice touch.

That same concept was used on a series of character posters. Each features a different actor’s name, a drawing of their head that’s done in the same style as the book cover, and the name of the character they’re playing.

The next poster shows Auggie in profile, this time the visor of his helmet open so we can see part of his face. The same blue background is used along with the same copy, this is just about giving us a slightly better look at the main character.

Another poster has “Choose kind” as its primary message, this one using the same drawing of Auggie that’s featured on the cover of the book. Another once more puts Auggie in the helmet he loves to wear but adds the dog, showing a row of school lockers in the reflection of helmet’s visor. This time we’re promised, “Auggie Pullman will change your world.”

That’s the same message conveyed on the next poster, which drops the blue background that’s been used to date for a white one. Here, Auggie is sitting, still wearing his helmet, in front of a massive globe. A couple more posters featuring either Auggie on his own with his helmet off and in his hands or getting a pep talk from his parents.

The final (?) theatrical poster disposes with the blue theme of the entire rest of the campaign and just uses one of the production stills showing Auggie walking to school with the rest of his family. It also uses a wholly different approach with the copy, asking the audience “Who gives you the courage to face the world?”

The Trailers

The first trailer will hit you right in the feels. We meet Auggie as he’s about to start public school for the first time, something he’s nervous about because of the way his face looks. We hear him narrating what went into the surgeries that have resulted in his situation. His parents try to reassure him and he eventually makes a real friend at school, then another.

Shut up and give me a minute while I finish ugly-crying.

The second trailer once more starts with Auggie heading to his first day at school, where he encounters some bad attitudes from his classmates despite the encouragement of his family. Eventually he makes some friends and finds his groove, getting more involved and helping to inspire other kids. The primary element of the trailer is the inclusion of a new song from singer Bea Miller.

I said give me a damn minute.

One more short trailer hit that emphasized the role of Auggie’s family and how important they are to him.

Online and Social

There’s full-screen video that plays in the background of the splash page of the movie’s official website. Auggie is there in the corner holding his helmet just as in the key art alongside the release date, the movie’s official #ChooseKind hashtag and links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

Over in the opposite corner are a few activities and options, starting with the “Daily Dose of Wonder,” which opens up a Facebook Messenger conversation with the movie, though what you’re supposed to do next is unclear. It might be that you’re meant to share something inspiring, but there’s no clear call to action or anything right here. There’s also a “Portrait Creator” that lets you create your own version of a self-portrait in the style of the book’s cover. You can download the finished product as an image to share on social media, a desktop image for your phone, computer or tablet, or an avatar or cover photo for your social media profile. iMessage stickers could be downloaded and you could enter the Omaze-powered Choose Kind campaign.

Moving to the content menu at the top of the page, the first section here is “Story,” which has a brief synopsis to check out. “Videos” has a lot, from the trailers to a number of character introduction videos to some of the “Choose Kind” short films that were created and a couple of featurettes.

There are several production stills in the “Photos” section and the “Posters” section has at least most of the key art that was created. “Cast” just has stills of each of the cast in character. There’s another link to the “Portrait Creator” and then a “Partners” section.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot played much like a shorter version of the trailers, showing not much of the actual story but focusing on how strong Auggie is in the face of such adversity and how supportive his family is. More spots kept hitting the inspirational aspect of the story, showing how tough Auggie is.

For a family drama, there were a number of interesting promotional partnerships:

  • Wattpad, the short/serialized fiction publishing platform, along with Tongal sponsored a short films series featuring stories that were shared there.
  • GapKids launched a back-to-school campaign centered on community heroes and kids with inspiring stories that included at least one TV spot using both Tremblay and R.J. Palacio, the writer of the source book. That was also part of GapKids’ overall “Forward With” campaign of other emotional and uplifting stories and commercials.
  • Roma, which created a special movie-themed rain boot as part of its overall mission to help those in need around the world have proper footwear and access to education.
  • Funoogles, which created special movie-themed eyewear and accessories.
  • HelloFresh, which offered a deal on its meal delivery service tied to the movie and asked recipients to send back a postcard with their stories of moments where they “chose kind.”
  • City of Kindness, which launched its own Choose Kind campaign. Mayors of select cities offered tools to help citizens make good choices and some hosted local screenings, all culminating today, World Kindness Day. Cheerios and Crest offered free product to organizations working with that campaign.

The trailers and other videos were used for social media ads and the key art, along with clips from the trailers and more, were used as online ads. Outdoor advertising used that key art as well.

Media and Publicity

There was certainly coverage of casting and production, but it’s notable that one of the first big pieces of press was from Daveed Diggs (of “Hamilton” fame), who talked about how he got the role. In EW’s fall movie preview Tremblay talked about working with Roberts as well as wanting to be part of such an important emotional story.

Tremblay, Roberts and Wilson all made a variety of media appearances and gave various interviews that talked about how inspiring they found the material and how that motivated them to get involved in the project. Director Stephen Chbosky also spoke about how he wound up making the movie and how he worked with Palacino to bring Auggie’s story to the big screen.

Overall

It’s OK for me to admit that this campaign plays every heartstring that still lies within a grizzled, cynical 40+ year old exterior. That’s partly because I have read the book it’s based on, so I know how the story plays out, and partly because it’s just damn effective. It uses the talents of all involved, from Tremblay to Roberts to Wilson, to great effect to sell the movie as one that’s inspirational and touching. I’m also struck by how it’s sold as both a movie for kids and young adults who will be drawn in by the relatability of how strange and alienating fifth grade can be as well as a movie for full-on adults and parents, who will identify with all the emotions shown by Auggie’s mom and dad.

It also can’t go without stating that there’s a great branding consistency going on in most all of the campaign. The trailers all hit the same beats as the TV spots and of course the posters, for the most part, use the popularity of the book to great effect, grabbing that distinctive robin’s egg blue for much of the campaign. Where many adaptations seek to discard much of the source book’s branding (aside from a title treatment or something) this one knows how often people have seen the cover on their own bookshelves or on the racks of book sections at Target and want to draw a straight line for the audience right to the box office.

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