Cinematic Slant

The Founder (After the Campaign Movie Review)

When I reviewed the marketing of The Founder earlier this year I wasn’t all that impressed with the scope of the campaign. It sold a fairly standard biopic about someone many people may not know a lot about but certainly had been impacted by. The main draw, and the focal point of the campaign, was star Michael Keaton, still in the midst of a post-Birdman career resurgence.

In the movie Keaton plays Ray Kroc, who we first meet when he’s a struggling salesman hawking milkshake machines to drive-ins in the years following World War II. It’s the latest, we find, in a series of products and schemes he’s engaged in to make a buck and be something more in his life. He happens across a growing burger stand in California called McDonald’s, owned and operated by brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch). Kroc falls in love with the efficiency of their operation. While Dick and Mac are reluctant, Kroc convinces them to partner with him to franchise their concept across the country. Thus is born the McDonald’s empire we know today, though many of Kroc’s tactics are less than exemplary, particularly when it comes to his relationship with the founding brothers.

The campaign didn’t promise anything too innovative in terms of story or filmmaking. What it did promise was the story behind the institution that’s now part of the daily lives of most all Americans as well as people worldwide. Even if you don’t eat at McDonald’s with any regularity, it’s part of the landscape of the country, seen in every town and city regardless of size and promising a hot, reliably consistent meal as you’re traveling down most interstate highways.

That’s what it more or less delivers. The movie isn’t going to blow you away with the visuals and the biopic format doesn’t allow for much in the way of flexibility, instead keeping the story moving along certain lines that promise to hit particular milestones and amp up the drama to keep the audience engaged.

So it’s good that the marketing’s core message was not just about airing Kroc’s dirty laundry but about selling Keaton’s performance. He’s just as dynamic and entrancing an actor as he was in Gung Ho, Beetlejuice and other movies that let him use his entire body to comedic effect. Now he’s more subdued but no less electric. Even in a montage showing him recruiting franchisees at VFW halls and PTA meetings, he crackles with energy that fills the screen. Just as I thought after seeing him in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Keaton makes the most of every scene not by chewing scenery as some actors do, but by confining the energy of those bigger performances within his own body, like a balloon you’re watching being stretched to its limits.

If you’re curious as to how McDonald’s grew to be McDonald’s, The Founder presents a good insight into the beginnings of a massive corporation that, as the ending states, now feeds 1% of the world’s population daily. That story may not be completely engaging all the time, but Keaton brings his A-game to his performance as Kroc, providing the biggest reason to see the movie.

Only Living Boy in New York City – Marketing Recap

Get ready for a healthy dose of white upper-class angst with The Only Living Boy In New York City. Directed by Marc Webb, the story follows Thomas Webb (Callum Turner), a young man who has graduated college but doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his life. Fortunately, he has wealthy parents (played by Pierce Brosnan and Cynthia Nixon), so is in a place where he can amble about a bit.

That ambling includes receiving advice from his neighbor W.F. (Jeff Bridges), an aging frustrated writer who Thomas befriends. Things get complicated not only because of the romantic pressure from Thomas’ girlfriend Mimi (Kersey Clemons) but also the discovery his father is having an affair with a woman named Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). Not just that, but Thomas eventually becomes involved with Johanna himself, causing further problems.

The Posters

The first poster is simple, establishing at least one of the movie’s relationships. We see Turner and Beckinsale kissing passionately while up against a white wall that looks like something you’d find in a high-end art gallery or other establishments. No copy fleshes out or further explains the story, just the cast list.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens up by immediately showing us we’re in the world of well-off, highly literate New York society. Thomas meets his new neighbor and we see he’s having issues with his girlfriend. A night out leads to him seeing his father out with another woman and he begins following her. That develops into a complicated flirtation between the two of them. Thomas is getting life advice from W.F., in some sort of relationship with Johanna, on the outs with his girlfriend Mimi and hiding what he knows from his father, all of which leads to lots of conflicted feelings and problems.

It looks like a decent story but it also certainly looks like yet another entry in the existential angst of the New York white upper class. It’s a Noah Baumbach movie as directed by Marc Webb. There’s nothing wrong with that but it also is ground that’s been well-trod over the years so it’s curious to see what, if any, new this one has to say.

Online and Social

The official website immediately plays the trailer in full-screen video, and “Video” is the second of the content sections in the menu at the top of the page. If you click over to “Home,” it has a version of the key art along with a prompt to save the release date to your calendar and links to the movie’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter profiles. The only other section on the site is a “Synopsis” that gives a decent overview of the story and the relationships between the various characters.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing I’ve been aware of or seen.

Media and Publicity

Beckinsale and Bridges have, at least to date, handled most of the publicity efforts, appearing on some of the late night talk shows to talk about the movie and do the usual joking around. There was also a feature on Webb where he talked about making the movie and the New York setting of the story.

Overall

Just as I thought the marketing of Fun Mom Dinner might be hurt by the recent influx of movies about women cutting loose, I think the marketing of The Only Living Boy In New York City will be hurt by it being the 748th movie in the last two years about wealthy white people suffering a lack of direction while still having the financial means to wander about drinking high-end scotch and pondering what it all means. I don’t think we can go more than three weeks without a story like this hitting theaters, meaning the marketing needs to present a clear differentiating value proposition to stand out from the crowd.

There’s no such hook in the campaign here. The studio seems to think the relationship between Thomas and his father’s mistress checks that box, but it’s not enough. There’s too much ground being covered here that’s not only familiar but which is out of touch with the reality of the country at this point, where the wealthy 1% are still not beloved by most people. These aren’t characters we can relate to and the story isn’t outlandish enough to be seen as soap opera-like. We’ve pretty much seen this movie before and the campaign doesn’t offer anything unique or innovative enough to stand out from the crowd.

Picking Up the Spare: Detroit, Atomic Blonde

Detroit

  • I don’t necessarily agree with Seth Abrmovitch at THR in his assessment that the movie’s marketing played like a horror film. Tense, sure, but I think equating this to a horror campaign says more about the lack of mature-audience dramas than anything else.
  • Finding songs for the movie’s soundtrack proved quite the challenge, it seems, as producers and others researched music that would fit but wasn’t already overplayed.

Atomic Blonde

  • Also on the soundtrack front, seems assembling an album for this movie was action-packed as they sought songs that would fit the time and mood but also work within the budget for licensing.

New Trailers This Week: mother!, Death Wish and More

  • There’s a full trailer coming early next week, but for the time being here’s a teaser for mother!
  • The trailer for What Happened To Monday sells a high-concept, action-packed sci-fi story.
  • Religious division and sectarianism are at the heart of this trailer for Viceroy’s House, set at the outset of Indian independence from the British Empire.
  • One more trailer for The Hitman’s Bodyguard, which is just as lighthearted and focused on curse words and over-the-top as the others.
  • More religious turmoil, this time in the setting of a convent during Vatican II, in the trailer for Novitiate.
  • The trailer for Death Wish is goofy enough but gets docked several points for including Mancow.

Plot Pitch: 5 Things That Need To Be In David F. Sandberg’s Shazam!

Warner Bros. recently announced that David F. Sandberg, of Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation fame, would be directing a Shazam! movie for DC Films as part of their Extended Universe. It was also announced that it would be the next DC film going into production and that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would not be playing Black Adam in the movie as previously expected. So with that in mind, what elements need to be in the film? Here are five things that Warner Bros. needs to get right in order to make a successful Shazam feature.

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1. Magic Kingdom

The character of Shazam has always been tied to magic one way or another. By keeping the magical aspects of the character in the film, there is a lot of opportunity for Sandberg and co. to do some major world building that will help differentiate Shazam! from other films in the DCEU.

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2. No Crossovers

One thing that made Wonder Woman so much better than Batman v. Superman was that it didn’t worry about trying to fit in so many characters from the DC Universe. It was able to stand on its own as its own superhero movie without having to be confined to a certain continuity or a certain tone. It was able to define itself as its own film without needing to adhere to the same tone as Man of Steel and BvS. If Shazam! follows Wonder Woman’s lead, it can define itself as its own great film and break out of the box of the DCEU.

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3. Large Cast of Characters

One thing that the Shazam mythos relies on is the many allies and friends that Shazam has. Introducing these characters into the film would allow for some added drama in the film, and would also make for some interesting stories for any feature films. What works so well in the comic book source material is the occasional tension between Shazam’s supporting characters that provides some drama beyond just the hero fighting a handful of villains. That said…

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4. Don’t Worry About the Villains

Although Shazam has always had a fairly large rogues gallery, his villains have never been the focus of the comics the film will be based on. If Warner’s doesn’t shoehorn a bunch of villains into the movie, they can give the story of Billy Batson some room to breathe. Which brings us to…

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5. Pure Imagination

The greatest part of the Shazam story is the story of Billy Batson. At the beginning of his story, Billy is an orphan in the foster care system who just wants to turn 18 so that he never has to live in a foster home again. He hates bullies; he wants to stand up for the little guy; he wants to find his real family; but he’s not particularly nice to the people trying to help him, especially his new foster family. Then, one day, he gets to fulfill the dream that every child imagines: he gets magic powers and becomes a superhero. He is finally able to stand up for the little guy; he is finally able to fight the bullies he so deeply hates. And over the course of his adventures, he discovers the true meaning of family: family is what it can be, not what it should be. These elements of Shazam are essential to the movie. Without the heart and hope and wish fulfillment aspects of Shazam, the movie just wouldn’t be the same.

Those are our top 5 things that need to be in the Shazam movie. Did we miss anything? If you’ve got your own item you want to add, feel free to add your own comment to this post.

Okja (After the Campaign Movie Review)

Netflix’s campaign for Okja, from director Bong Joon Ho, was pretty substantial when compared to some of the other efforts from the streaming company and nascent distributor. There were two trailers, a handful of posters and a decent press push that included a controversial screening at Cannes. All of that was to support a prestige movie the company hoped would raise its profile among filmmakers as well as attract new subscribers.

The movie’s story follows Mija, a young girl growing up on a farm in the remote mountains of South Korea. For the last 10 years that life has included caring for a super-pig named Okja, a massive but gentle beast with whom Mija spends most of her time. When the multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation takes Okja, Mija sets out to rescue her pet, along the way encountering a group of peace-loving animal liberators, an over-the-top wildlife program host, and other colorful characters. Some want to help, some not. The only thing that matters to Mija is finding Okja.

The marketing was a bit inconsistent in tone, with trailers selling it as if it were akin to Pete’s Dragon or something, a tender story of a child’s love for an unusual pet. Sure there was a bit of tension and some exciting chase scenes on display, but those were tempered by healthy doses of whimsy. The posters, on the other hand, along with some notable in-world promotions, presented the movie more as the tale of corporate greed, a cautionary tale of the dangers of the industrial food system.

It’s surprising to find, then, that the movie itself is all of that. It’s both a touching story of a girl and her super-pig and an indictment of the companies that control our food supply and who are concerned only with public image and profits generation. So it’s not that the movie was ever sold poorly or inaccurately, it’s that with so much going on tonally it’s hard to convey all of that in the limited space Netflix provided. Add another poster and another trailer and you have more room to dive deeper into the different aspects of the movie and sell all that to the audience.

Here I’d like to turn the spotlight to Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Johnny Wilcox, a self-aggrandizing host of nature specials and who now works for Mirando. Gyllenhaal gives a performance that’s so over-the-top and captivating I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like it in quite some time. Every scene is so BIG as he flails his arms, squeaks his voice and flop sweats to dominate the frame as much as possible. By contrast, Tilda Swinton’s performance as Lucy Mirando (and her twin sister Nancy), which is at times outlandishly cartoonish, is downright restrained and subdued.

If I were to take issue with one aspect of the campaign, it’s that it misrepresents a premise that’s at the core of the story, specifically Okja’s past. It’s not a huge problem, but the marketing gives an impression of the creature’s history and the circumstances under which he’s taken from Mija by the Mirando Corporation that’s not accurate to the story. That winds up being important because the ending of the film is as gut-wrenching and disturbing as any documentary you could watch about slaughterhouses and industrial beef farms.

Okja isn’t an easy film to watch and may not be as consistently great at Ho’s previous Snowpiercer but is still recommended. Just make sure the dinner you’ve enjoyed before or will be eating later is just a salad.

Kathryn Bigelow – Director Overview

It’s kind of surprising, but this week’s Detroit is the first movie Kathryn Bigelow has directed in five years. In an era where random dudes are being pulled from single-camera TV comedies and lining up seven movies over five years out of the gate, that Bigelow has often gone three years or more between movies seems notable.

It’s even more surprising considering the consistent high quality of the movies she’s helmed. While not all of these have gone on to be considered cinematic classics, they almost uniformly are really good movies, largely due to her influence. So with Detroit in theaters now, it’s a good time to look back at her previous efforts to see how the trailers for each has sold the movie to audiences.

Near Dark (1987)

Near Dark would fit so well in today’s cinematic marketplace I’m honestly surprised there hasn’t been a feature or TV remake. The story revolves around Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar), who becomes part of a group of traveling vampires after meeting – and being bit by – the lovely Mae (Jenny Wright). Things get complicated due to the presence of the violent Severen (the late Bill Paxton) and the protective leader of the group Hooker (Lance Henriksen).

The trailer for this 1987 drama, Bigelow’s second movie, surprisingly doesn’t play up the vampire aspect of the story to much. There’s plenty of talk, either in the dialogue of the characters or in the narration, about how nighttime is the most dangerous and that daylight will be much safer, but vampirism isn’t mentioned explicitly. Instead the activities of the gang are presented mostly as just psychopathic, people who just enjoy violence and want to see if the new recruit will pull his weight.

Blue Steel (1990)

Let’s all fondly remember the 80s and early 90s, when Jamie Lee Curtis was a dependable and powerful leading lady, capable of being funny in ensembles or leading dramas on her own. Blue Steel falls into the latter category, with Curtis starring as a rookie cop who is suspended after the questionable shooting of someone holding up a grocery store. Through a series of circumstances, she becomes involved with a stock trader (Ron Silver) who winds up being at the heart of a mystery Curtis’ Megan Turner is investigating.

As the trailer starts we get the backstory that she’s being suspended after the shooting that no one can corroborate was justified. We see that incident and see Silver’s Hunt take her gun, which is part of the problem. It then goes on to show that he uses that gun to go on a killing spree of his own, with the complication being that he and Turner used to date. It’s selling a story of violent obsession and is tense and pulse-pounding.

Point Break (1991)

I think we all know the story of Point Break, which features Keanu Reeves as Johnny Utah, a cop who goes undercover to break up a gang of thieves led by Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). This is no ordinary gang, though, as they’re all involved in extreme sports such as surfing, skydiving and more. So in order to fully become accepted by Bodhi and his crew, Utah has to become just as good as them. the two bond, making Utah’s betrayal that much more emotionally impactful.

Reeves is certainly the focal point of the trailer. We get the background of The Ex Presidents (the name the gang as adopted due to their habit of wearing masks of former presidents during their heists), and see how committed they are to not only crime but sports. Likewise, we watch as Utah is given his assignment and begins to become part of the surfing and sporting lifestyle. There’s not a whole lot here about the brotherhood that forms between the cop and the criminal, showing the main appeal in 1991 was deemed to be the presence and personalities of Reeves and Swayze.

Strange Days (1995)

Bigelow’s 1995 movie Strange Days took advantage of the emerging presence of the web and increased interest in the cyberpunk works of William Gibson and others. Set just four years out in 1999, the story follows ex-cop Lenny (Ralph Fiennes), who now deals in black market discs of people’s personalities and emotions that others can plug into their own cybernetic implants and experience for themselves. He gets pulled even deeper into the underworld when he receives a disc containing the memories of a murderer and is motivated to investigate it for himself.

 

“Have you ever jacked in?” Nero asks as the trailer begins. It’s explained that experiencing someone else’s memories and emotions is better than TV, better than any kind of artificial high. We see the setting is the last day of 1999 and that Nero has started getting disks he’s not comfortable with from someone he doesn’t know. The violence increases as police, criminals and others all come after the tape for their own reasons, all set against the backdrop of the dark days when the world might end when the clock strikes midnight.

The Weight of Water (2000)

Jean (Catherine McCormack) is a newspaper photographer who travels with her husband Thomas (Sean Penn) and others to New Hampshire as part of her research into the murder of two women in 1873. Tensions arise as Thomas openly flirts with Adaline (Elizabeth Hurley), one of their companions. Meanwhile Jean becomes increasingly convinced that the century-old murders were not committed by the man who was ultimately hanged for them but by a third woman exacting revenge for that man’s failure to requite her love.

As the trailer starts we see the two couples in present day setting out on a boat for some time at sea. There’s some setup that Jean has come to investigate the murders, accompanied by her husband, brother-in-law and his wife (Adaline). Scenes, and narration, about the simmering desires and tensions aboard the boat are intercut with scenes pulled from the past of the trial that followed the murders and it’s clear there are parallels between the two stories. Again, this is all about building up the tension to the point where the audience can’t wait to find out what happens next.

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

Bigelow started to expand the scope of the stories she told with K-19: The Widowmaker. In the movie, Harrison Ford plays the captain of a Russian nuclear submarine on its maiden voyage in 1961, the height of the Cold War. The nuclear plant that powers the sub experiences a catastrophic failure on that voyage, one that could not only destroy the ship and kill its crew but be interpreted as a sign of war that could have worldwide repercussions.

We meet Ford’s Captain Vostroikov as the trailer opens and see that he’s being given a mission to command a sub not just as a demonstration of Russia’s power but a response to perceived U.S. provocation. Various events, including contact with an American sub, create tensions between Vostroikov and a political officer played by Liam Neeson. The narration tells us it’s based on an “astonishing true story” as the reactor meltdown occurs, leading the captain to make impossible decisions to save his boat and his crew and prevent all-out war.

The Hurt Locker (2008)

If Bigelow wasn’t a household name before 2008, she was when she directed The Hurt Locker. We meet Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) as he arrives in Iraq to help disarm bombs. The story follows not just James but others in his crew as they all deal with the psychological impact of living in a war zone. James’ methods are a bit off-book, which brings him into conflict with others in the squad, including Sgt. Sanborn, played by Anthony Mackie.

The trailer starts just as James arrives in Iraq and begins to acquaint himself with his new deployment. We watch as he takes off his protective gear to deal with one particular bomb, a move the others question. It’s clear his unorthodox methods aren’t always appreciated by those who depend on him to save their lives. Still, they all bond as they all know they’re working toward the same end and devoted to the same mission. It ends with shots of James’ personal life and family, showing the emotional stake he has in surviving each and every task he’s sent out on.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Staying in the political and military realm, Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker, for which she won a Best Director Academy Award, was Zero Dark Thirty. This time the focus was on Maya, a fictional CIA analyst played by Jessica Chastain who’s been tasked with finding Osama bin Laden in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Beginning in 2003, the story follows Maya as she uses every method available to her to turn sources, decipher intercepted communications and more to bring justice to bin Laden.

There are lots of hijab and guns and more as the trailer opens, accompanied by comments from an interrogator about how he’s not a nice guy. We meet Maya and we see how dedicated she is to her job and how good she is at doing it, though it’s often frustrating. 10 years go by and she’s still at it, culminating with a mission to find bin Laden that not everyone in the agency is convinced will work. It ends with the SEAL team opening a remote house in the desert, presumably on the raid that would ultimately take down the terrorist leader.

While Bigelow has focused, particularly in the last 10 years, on political stories (including Detroit), the common theme throughout her work is tension. Sometimes that’s on a boat of people with evolving relationships, sometimes it’s in an RV full of vampires, sometimes it’s in a bomb disposal unit deployed to Iraq. The marketing of her movies has worked to highlight not just the action but the relationships between those involved, with all of creating pulse-pounding moments that the audience is asked to invest in.

Fun Mom Dinner – Marketing Recap

Fun Mom Dinner, opening this weekend, offers audiences at least the third opportunity just this summer to come and see what happens when a bunch of otherwise responsible ladies cut a bit loose. This time it’s not about a bachelorette weekend or a raucous weekend in New Orleans, it’s just about a group of moms getting together for what should be a nice dinner.

The moms in question are Kate (Toni Collette), Jamie (Molly Shannon), Emily (Katie Aselton) and Melanie (Bridget Everett). The four are connected by a class all their toddlers are in, but not everyone gets along with each other. That means the evening starts off rough but as the alcohol (and more) flows things loosen up and the ladies begin seeing what they have in common. Meanwhile, the clueless husbands are left to their own devices, which isn’t great and which shows how much they depend on the women in their lives.

The Posters

Looks like there was just one poster for the movie, but it pretty clearly explains the premise to the audience. All four ladies are shown and it’s apparent we’re catching them well into the evening here. Not only are they all smiling, but Melanie is carrying Emily on her back and wearing a blue unicorn onesie. So…yeah. While Jamie still looks pretty put-together (still carrying a box of crackers), Kate is a bit the worse for wear, her outfit smudged and dirty. They all look like they’re having a good time, an impression reinforced by the copy declaring “Every mom needs a time out.” The movie’s comedic credentials are explained not only by that photo but by the cast list at the top, which includes the four leads along with names like Adam Scott, Rob Huebel and others people will recognize.

The Trailers

We’re immediately introduced to the frustrating, poop-filled lives of the moms we’re following in the first trailer. They’re just trying to get out for a fun dinner by themselves. Soon the drinking begins and that leads to other drug use and they’re off to the races, engaging in all kinds of hijinks and shenanigans while the dads and kids are left to their own devices.

This is largely the same territory mined by last year’s Bad Moms as well as Rough Night and other movies, showing the people who are supposed to be responsible for everyone going a bit off the reservation. The cast is likable enough and there are a few laughs here, but it can’t help but seem overly familiar.

Online and Social

There wasn’t much of an official web presence for the movie, it seems. There were only two things I could find: A page on the Momentum Pictures website that has a synopsis, the poster, the trailer and a list of theaters it’s opening soon at and a Facebook page.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing I’ve seen or am aware of. I’d wager there’s been some online advertising done, particularly since it’s available via VOD as well as in select theaters, and those ads may be driving to one or another download service.

Media and Publicity

The first bit of publicity came when it was announced the movie would have its official premiere at Sundance 2017. It was quickly picked up, before it even screened even, by Momentum Pictures and Netflix.

The cast all did the talk show rounds in the weeks leading up to release. All four ladies made various appearance, either on their own or in some combination, on late night and daytime shows to talk about making the movie, working with the other actresses and more.

Overall

I’m going to try really hard not to sound sexist here. It’s hard to see this campaign being a huge success in getting people’s attention and interest not just because of its relatively small scale but because it’s selling territory that’s been well-trod in the last three months. That’s not to say that we can’t handle more than one story that’s focused on the outrageous antics a group of ladies get up to because they’re women. If this was the third movie in a short period of time where guys were acting out and cutting loose it would seem just as tired.

That being said, the biggest asset the marketing has is the charm and talent of the four leads. Collette is always very good (love her in The Way Way Back) and Shannon is riding a wave of resurgence thanks to last year’s Other People. Aselton has some name recognition thanks to “The League” and more and Everett, who I’m not as familiar with, has some solid comedy credentials including Trainwreck, “Difficult People” and more. It’s not clear if that will be enough to activate the audience to check it out, but it’s the strongest hand the campaign has to play.

One surprising thing is that there isn’t a stronger call to action to find the movie on VOD, which seems like the primary release platform. That’s not mentioned in the trailer, nor are there links to make the purchase on any of the web profiles. Seems leaving immediate conversions out of the content mix is a missed opportunity.

Dunkirk (After the Campaign Movie Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before Atomic Blonde: Selling Female Action Heroes

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

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

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

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

The Young Adult Chosen One

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

Sci-Fi Queens

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

Angelina Jolie: Action Star

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

Unstoppable and Out For Revenge

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

Solo Action Stars

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

The Alien Gold Standard

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