I remember back in 1998 when the first action figures for The Phantom Menace were being released. One of the biggest hooks for those toys, in addition to being able to get a first-look at some of the first new characters being added to the Star Wars Universe, was the inclusion of stands that had audio chips. When you put the figure on the stand, a snippet of dialogue from the movie would play. It was pretty high-tech.

Things are on a whole new level this year as Disney and Lucasfilm prepare for Force Friday II, the day when new figures, toys and consumer products for Star Wars: The Last Jedi finally hit shelves.

“Find the Force” is an augmented-reality game that fans will be able to play as they go and buy movie merchandise. Using the Star Wars mobile app, people who find the right graphic in stores and scan it will unlock a character who will appear to be in the room there with them. Fans/shoppers can take photos or videos of the AR experience and share them on social media.

The promotion shows the potential that is being realized with AR technology. Augmented reality, unlike its more expensive and immersive cousin virtual reality, isn’t as cumbersome, requiring only a mobile device, not an entire hardware rig. That makes it more nimble. And, as Snapchat and other platforms have shown, people are enjoying being able to add layers to the real world, which feels more like the next evolution of the photo filters popularized by Instagram and others.

It’s also a savvy way to encourage and incentivize repeated shopping trips. With 15 characters being made available over the course of three days – and with some of those certainly exclusive to various retailers – Disney is giving people a reason to go out again and again. Even if they don’t buy something every time, they’re increasing their connections with the Star Wars brand.

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

A recent report from Bloomberg hints that the patience of movie studios is running out, leading at least some to move forward with talks with Apple and others about digital rentals being available just weeks after theatrical release. Those studios are, it seems, tired of trying to work with theater chains which have an active interest in blocking such efforts, and so may proceed with or without their blessing.

While this kind of new windowing is, as the story points out, unlikely to move forward until it has the blessing of the major chains, the studios may be hoping presenting this as a fait accompli may force theater owners to agree to something instead of blocking everything.

It’s going to be super-interesting to see how marketing campaigns may change to accommodate this new release pattern. There are two scenarios that come to mind.

Retain the Status Quo

The first option is that things remain more or less as they are. Studios right now are focused squarely on theatrical release being the central element of most all campaigns, with “buy tickets for opening weekend” being the most common call to action. There are slight variations on that here and there, but it’s a more or less universal approach. That’s usually followed up a few months later with a smaller paid campaign that’s built around the home video release, with TV commercials encouraging people to find the movie on Blu-ray and online ads leading to iTunes or other online platforms.

If the studios want to lessen the pain of the new reality for theaters, this is the approach they’ll maintain with their marketing.

One Campaign, Two Messages

If, however, the studios want to be a tad more antagonistic, they could start lacing in other CTAs, namely an additional message that says “…and then find it on iTunes three weeks later” or something along those lines. Whatever the specifics, it would clearly identify two options the audience can choose from: The theater now (depending, of course, on whether the film is even playing near them) or a premium VOD platform just a few weeks out.

That’s very different and essentially gives the audience an “out,” allowing them to shrug and opt to sit this one out, then make a fresh decision when it’s available for digital rental. It’s hard to see how this doesn’t immediately and substantially impact theater chains, which are already seeing lower tickets sales and foot traffic. It’s different even than the model used by Amazon Studios, which is much more along the lines of the traditional theatrical-centric marketing, making new mention of on-demand viewing until it’s actually available on Amazon Video.

Whatever happens, it’s clear that this discussion is coming to a head. It may not be one theater chains want to have, but studios obviously think this is an important step to take to shore up *their* business model, even if it impacts that of a long-time and valued partner.

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

A bit of news that came out of the blue yesterday: Warner Bros. and DC Comics are reportedly actively working on a solo Joker movie that would focus on his origin. The movie is said to be directed by Todd Phillips, he of The Hangover and Old School, and Martin Scorsese might be interested in producing. The story says it will be released under a new banner that seems to mark it as what amounts to Elseworlds to the main DC/WB Justice League universe, allowing for original stories that don’t need to tie into the main cinematic continuity.

OK…that’s a lot to digest. So let’s try to break it down into a few points that I can more specifically disagree with.


This one just doesn’t track for me. The director has shown no indications or inclinations toward being interested in comic book properties before so producing on a movie that seems as inessential as this just makes almost no sense in my head. I don’t have a problem with this, it’s just the most incomprehensible of the many incomprehensible elements of this story.

Todd Phillips

I’ve liked some of the director’s movies, but he’s not exactly a great one at action sequences, something a Joker movie would almost certainly have plenty of. He has a long history with Warner Bros., which is likely why he got the call when this project came in, but he’s not my first choice.

The Elseworlds Banner

This makes the most sense to some extent, but it also bucks what DC/WB publicly tried to in the wake of Man of Steel, which is create a unified cinematic universe. While this strategy makes a lot of sense with comics, where creators can come in and tell one-off stories that don’t impact the core universe at all, the stakes for films are a bit higher. What happens if this movie is successful? Will there be a sequel? What about spin-offs? How far will things go before there are competing cinematic universes?

The Origins of The Joker

Here’s where I have some very real issues, where things move from “chin-scratching” to “oh heck no.”

I realize that The Joker’s origin has been told in various ways at various times and in various media. “Batman: Year One” included the early days of the low-level criminal that would go on to become Joker. 1989’s Batman gave him a name and showed how Batman himself was responsible for his creating his enemy. Other comics have at other times provided hints and clues as to his origin. But in the last 20 years at least the edict seems to be to keep the real story (if there is one) under wraps.

That’s most clearly shown in 2008’s The Dark Knight, with Heath Ledger as Joker. On two separate occasions he tells the people he’s terrorizing what terrible events of his past lead to him breaking down and taking up a life of crime. But those two retellings are contradictory and it’s likely an aborted third attempt late in the movie would have contained a wholly different version. The very point, one of the key parts of the movie that made the character so dangerous and compelling, was that he was sowing confusion for its own sake. Did he even know the truth? Did it matter?

Inevitably a story that purports to give The Joker’s true origin story is going to do two things: 1) It’s going to be more dark than fun, focusing on the psychosis of the character, 2) It’s going to explain away or rationalize his violence and sociopathy. It’s that last point that I’m most concerned about. We don’t need an Explaining Hitler for The Joker. It’s OK for the bad guy to be the bad guy without casting him as a sympathetic, misunderstood character who’s just doing what *he* feels is right.

I’m sure whatever the final product here looks like it will be fine. This isn’t me flying into a nerd rage and announcing a boycott of the movie. I just think this is the least essential that could be told. It’s indicative, though, of how DC/WB defaults back to the Batman universe whenever possible, even after Wonder Woman was such a critical hit as well as box-office powerhouse.

In the new movie Beach Rats Harris Dickinson plays Frankie, an aimless teen in Brooklyn with no real goals or ambitions for how he spends his time. He’s got a sort-of-girlfriend in Simone (Madeline Weinstein) but nothing serious. He’s also spending as much time as he can out of the house to escape the intrusions of his family.

His rebellion and questions about his own identity lead him into a lifestyle of visiting websites to arrange hookups with older men. That behavior becomes increasingly dangerous and erratic and winds up having consequences for his relationship with Simone and his life in general.

The Posters

There’s not much to the first and only poster. It just shows Frankie and a group of guys, apparently on the beach because they’re all shirtless and one has a towel across his shoulders. The movie’s festival credentials are above the title and below it are a couple of quotes from critics praising the film. The audience can certainly get the gist of the kind of lifestyle Frankie is leading but there aren’t a lot of details on display here.

The Trailers

There’s not too much going on in the first teaser. It’s mostly just shots of a young shirtless man taking a mirror selfie, which we see only sporadically as text cards come on screen. At the end we see three guys standing on the beach, looking out over the ocean.

So it’s not so much about selling the story as it is making it clear what the subject matter is, which is that it’s about young men. That’s all that’s going on here.

The full trailer starts out by showing us how Frankie is just kind of messing around with life, hanging out with his friends and meeting girls. But there’s a secret he has, namely that he’s attracted to men and engages in all kinds of cruising and other activities that are becoming increasingly dangerous.

That’s about it for the trailer, which is more about setting the tone than fully explaining the story. There’s enough there for the audience to get the general sense of but the focus is on Dickinson’s performance as Frankie.

Online and Social

Full screen video of clips pulled from the trailer greet you as you load the movie’s official website. There’s not a whole lot of material here, though. Outside of the “Get Tickets” prompt and the encouragement to “Share” the site on social networks, there’s just “Videos” with the trailer and a clip and the “Synopsis” with a quick write-up of the story and a cast and crew list. There are also links to the movie’s own Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing in this category that I’m aware of. It’s too small to have warranted a big paid advertising spend of any sort or attracted any corporate partners.

Media and Publicity

The movie got pretty good buzz coming out of its premiere at Sundance. A few months after that screenwriter Eliza Hittman talked about the journey she took in creating the story.

Most of the press in the subsequent months has come from the release of marketing assets like trailers and clips, not from any concerted publicity activity.


Without a lot of activity in the months between Sundance and release, NEON is obviously putting a lot of weight on that festival buzz. It’s even been a while since the most recent trailer or poster were released, so there hasn’t been much of anything recently to keep the movie at the top of the audience’s mind. Without a big competing release this weekend it might be enough to succeed in whatever limited release window the studio has planned, but odds are good the vast majority of filmgoers aren’t aware this is coming out.

That being said, the small-scale campaign that’s been mounted isn’t bad. The focus seems to be on making the audience connect with Frankie and his atmosphere more than anything else. So we’re shown how his behavior changes depending on the situation he’s in and how that impacts some of the people around him. It’s not overt, preferring to establish mood than create strong personal connections, though. That may come off as cold to some, particularly without a familiar face to latch onto.

There’s nothing the internet loves more than debating a list. We love pointing out obvious omissions, selections we vehemently disagree with and orders we would rearrange if given the opportunity.

The latest example of this has been provided by the BBC, which put out a list of what it considers to be the 25 greatest comedy movies of all time. The list is fine and yes, I could engage in any of the above-mentioned activities, pointing out that because it doesn’t have Anchorman it’s by definition inaccurate or that ranking Blazing Saddles so low is obvious proof of inaccuracy. I could try to create my own list to counter the BBC’s, but that sounds like a lot of work and I’d inevitably leave one or more movies off that I’d never forgive myself over.

A list of “best” comedies is, by virtue of its very nature, going to be subjective because comedy is subjective. What I find hilarious isn’t going to even make you politely smile. You’ll never understand why I think Martin Mull being pushed into a corner in the opening minutes of Clue is a Top 10 comedic moment and I’ll never understand why you love Kingpin as much as you do.

It’s enough to make you ask what even counts as a comedy? The BBC list covers everything from the nuanced pratfalls of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin to the deadpan satire of Dr. Stranglove to the sophomoric humor of Airplane!. There are at least half-dozen sub genres on display in the list, which doesn’t even touch on the more recent caricatures of Will Ferrell or the relationship-heavy humor championed by the likes of Judd Apatow. The lack of anything released after 1998 means it’s ignoring the last 20 years of comedy.

I’m not in a position to offer a definitive, universal explanation of what does or doesn’t constitute a comedy. Instead, I’ll offer this: There’s no movie that consistently makes me laugh out loud more than Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which doesn’t even make the Top 10 on the BBC’s list.

The movie just works for me on every level. From the coconuts and the debates about the airspeed velocity of various kinds of swallows to Denise and his mud-farming autonomous collective to Tim the Enchanter and everything in-between, I laugh through the whole thing no matter how many times I watch it. That’s in part due to one thing: The writing and performances by and from the Monty Python troupe all are absolutely committed to the premise.

Too many comedies, both new and old, wink at the audience in the middle of the hijinks. “Look how funny we’re being.” Jokes are underlined and emphasized, taking the audience out of the disbelief they’re suspended in because the actors or filmmakers themselves have stepped outside the frame like a character in The Purple Rose of Cairo to make sure everyone is having a good time.

Holy Grail never does that, nor does the rest of Monty Python’s work. From the TV show to the movies, the troupe never once breaks or looks like they’re taking what’s happening as anything less than totally serious. No matter if it’s a French Taunter or a dispute at a cheese shop, everyone is committed to the moment and their character.

You can write the funniest material in the world. But if the performers can’t convey that without stepping all over the joke, it’s not going to land. It’s that sort of approach that makes Holy Grail the leading example, at least to me, of what constitutes an effective comedy. I can’t argue with most of the BBC’s list, it’s fine. I just know what works for me.

The opening shot of the trailer for Let’s Play Two tells you everything you need to know about what is ostensibly a Pearl Jam concert film. Instead of showing the band on-stage or preparing for the show, we see the first base-side grandstands of Wrigley Field, dusk falling heavily in the sky, and a microphone with guitar picks placed for easy access in the forefront.

Let’s Play Two is a document of Pearl Jam’s two-night stint playing the Friendly Confines in August of 2016, the height of what would go on to be a magical season for the Chicago Cubs. At this point in the year, postseason play was all but assured and talk of not only a World Series appearance but a win had turned from speculative to confident. That made it a notable time for the band, helmed by noted Cubs fan Eddie Vedder, to play the stadium.

As the trailer begins we hear members of the band talk about how playing Wrigley was beyond any of their dreams. More traditional shots of the band backstage quickly give way to archive footage from an old Cubs game (looks like the 80s but it’s too quick for me to get a bead on the player) and then back to Vedder and the band. That formula – a little band, a little baseball – continues throughout the rest of the trailer as we see shots of not only the performance that was captured but also 2016 Cubs players in action. There are also scenes of Vedder reveling in the team’s accomplishments as a fan, albeit one who’s allowed to hug and celebrate with owners and players on the field.

I don’t know what the Venn Diagram overlap of “Pearl Jam fans” and “Cubs fans” look like. This film, which will screen at Chicago’s Metro for PJ fans before being shown in theaters, on TV and then be available on home video, is being sold as a memento for both. It’s not just a marker of what by all accounts was an incredible and very emotional couple of nights for the band but as a memorial of a historic and very emotional baseball season. Vedder is no fair weather fan, having grown up a Cubs fan and sticking with the team through thick and thin. This is hardly his first overt nod toward that fandom. Instead, it’s his – and the band’s – way of solidifying those connections with the city and the team.

If the trailer is any indication, Let’s Play Two could be a solid choice whether you’re looking for an archive of a powerful performance from one of rock’s foremost bands or a snapshot of a baseball season Cubs fans like Vedder (and myself) waited over a century for.

News broke last week that that Disney was beginning to move forward with yet another installment in the “Story” arm of the Star Wars films, this time a stand-alone movie for Obi-Wan Kenobi. There are no details as to the story because there’s no script yet, only early conversations with a candidate to direct the film, though the lack of details like that hasn’t stopped Disney or other studios from announcing release dates and more in the past.

Kenobi is, of course, no newcomer to the big screen. In the original Star Wars trilogy he was played by Alec Guinness as the wise mentor who helped Luke Skywalker learn more about his Jedi abilities and, reluctantly, his true parentage. In the prequel trilogy Ewan Mcgregor played Obi-Wan in his early years, growing from a sometimes brash young Jedi apprentice into a roguish General during The Clone Wars.

With so much of Kenobi’s story already told, what gaps are there to fill in?

The Tatooine Years

This is the era most people seem to be focused on and guessing the story will come from but to me it’s the least interesting of the available options.

Based on where Obi-Wan is left at the end of Revenge of the Sith and where we find him in A New Hope, he’s spent the intervening years hiding out in his simple hut on Tatooine, living a hermit’s life. It’s this era that is represented by a new Sideshow Collectibles statue that shows a grizzled Kenobi who’s older than Revenge but not yet as old as in Hope carrying a pack and obviously braced for survival on Tatooine’s unforgiving wastelands.

The problem I have with this approach is that it necessarily throws the premise that Ben has remained undetected all those years into question. Anything interesting enough to warrant our attention would, it would seem, also be enough to make the Empire take a look and completely blow his cover. Yes, he sliced a guy’s arm off in the cantina, but he was heading off-world and knew the end was near, so was throwing caution to the wind. It’s hard to believe word of a lightsaber-wielding old man wouldn’t stay confined to Mos Eisley if he were doing this all the time. And any adventures that took him off-world would mean he was essentially abandoning Luke, which doesn’t fit with anything we know about the character.

That’s why I’m just not that interested in this period. This is a span of years that’s alright being left unexplored because we know more or less what he was up to. Going beyond that risks upending some basic character and story points.

The Padawan Years

This seems like much more fertile ground to me. The Obi-Wan that we meet in The Phantom Menace is at the same time completely devoted to the Jedi Order and to his master Qui-Gon. But even there we get the sense he’s a bit of a rogue, someone willing to go to the boundaries of what the Jedi will allow while not breaking the letter of the code, even if the spirit of the guidelines is a bit bruised. That also fits with the evolution of the character through “The Clone Wars” animated series and both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

So how did that begin? What was he like while training with Yoda? What kind of hell did he raise with the other Younglings? Going back to the days of the teenage Obi-Wan and seeing him learn the extents of the Force and what it meant to be a Jedi, including maybe being scolded and brought back into line, would show us where he began.

Not only that but it doesn’t provide as many opportunities for cheap nods to the Original Trilogy. There’s no chance of referencing Vader or anything like that because we’re still in the years of the Republic, when everything was good and pure and the Jedi were the shining guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy. The character can be shown aspiring to being part of that noble order, not making throwaway comments that allude to his eventual fate that are meant only to make the audience knowingly chuckle.

How about you. What do you want to see in a standalone Obi-Wan movie?

Later this week Terminator 2: Judgement Day returns to select AMC Theaters locations, a re-release to mark and celebrate a new 4K 3D restoration of the film that was supervised by director James Cameron, taking time away from working on the seven Avatar sequels he’s planning. Unlike some other filmmakers, though, he’s done very little tweaking of the original, finding it sufficient to improve the master print as a way to make the film accessible on the big screen to a whole new generation of fans.

I’m old enough to remember the first theatrical release, though, and how controversial and notable it was that the film had a production budget of over $100 million, at the time an unheard of sum. Now $100 million is table stakes for anything above a title like The Big Sick. While I wasn’t a die hard fan of the 1984 original, I still stood in line for the sequel, not wanting to miss out on what was being hyped and discussed as the most essential film the summer of 1991 had to offer.

The movie picks up several years after the events of the original. Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) is in a psychiatric ward because of her insistence that the rise of the machines was coming and that humanity’s days were numbered. Because of her incarceration her son John (Edward Furlong), now 10, has bounced around the foster system and is kind of a punk. One day a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) that’s identical to the one who hunted Sarah down 10 years prior shows up but this time its mission is to protect John from the T-1000 (Robert Patrick). That new, more advanced machine is made of a living, liquid metal that can take any form it wants and is even more unstoppable than the earlier model. Sarah and John, with the Terminator’s aid, try to find the man responsible for the creation of Skynet and get him to stop before he can build the AI that will cause nuclear annihilation on what in the future is known as Judgement Day.

At first it may not seem like there’s a lot going on with the theatrical poster. It doesn’t include any hints or copy that would allude to the story outlined above. It doesn’t feature anyone but Schwarzenegger, who sits astride a motorcycle while holding an imposing shotgun. The only copy here outside of the title, credits and release date is “It’s nothing personal,” which even with the advantage of hindsight doesn’t seem to be super-applicable to the story.

What the poster does convey, though, is the look. That cool, dark blue. The reflection of street lights off the leather jacket. The matte black of the gun. Those are all the key visual elements of the movie, particularly as the story moves toward its climax. Not only does it focus on the presence of the star, by then the biggest movie star in the world, but it also shares an essential color palate with the audience, setting up the expectation for the tone of the movie they’re being asked to see.

The trailer starts out by catching us up on what’s happening and setting the idea that the Terminator we saw from the first movie is back with a very different mission. We see the Terminator find and work to protect John Conner, the new machine the whole team is up against, the interplay between the Terminator and John and more. The narration over the action talks repeatedly about how the action is even bigger and more intense than before, promising at the end that “He’s back….for good.” which is a much better tagline than what’s on the poster.

It’s surprising how much of the story is actually shown in this trailer. You get a pretty good sense of what’s happening and why here, though the emphasis is certainly on the visual. Not just the action set pieces but the T-1000’s liquid transformations in particular. Those were the big draw, the subject of countless press stories at the time, held up as the next big leap forward in computer-aided visual effects.

That really presents a portion of the campaign that can’t adequately be captured here. Remember that this was only Cameron’s fourth major directorial outing, including the original Terminator. While his reputation was certainly well known, particularly in the sci-fi genre, he was still pretty green. So the focus was, at the time, on the special effects, which were pretty mind-blowing. This was still very much the early days of computer animation, with Toy Story still four years away and only 10 years removed from TRON and Star Trek II. So the innovations coming out of Cameron’s workshop were not only groundbreaking but also a substantial audience draw in and of themselves.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day would go on to enormous box office success, cementing Cameron’s place as a top-tier director (though he’d only helm three more movies over the years) and establishing The Terminator as a legitimate franchise, albeit one that’s had a few spotty subsequent entries without Cameron’s involvement. Still, this campaign stands as a testament to the power of selling the audience on a movie based on the presence of a familiar star and a continued story that was bigger and better than the original.

This week Logan Lucky hits theaters, marking director Steven Soderbergh’s return to feature films after a self-imposed five-year hiatus. That makes it a good opportunity to look back at how the previous films he’s directed have been sold via trailers.

Soderbergh, like the Coen Bros., is a tough nut to crack when trying to identify a grand unifying theory of his work. Instead of one overall theme that clearly stands out, it’s evident that he bounces from one genre and approach and story type to the next. That’s in part, it seems, to keep himself engaged and fresh and in part to satisfy all his various instincts and career desires. With that being said, there are a handful of genres his various films fall into that help bring Soderbergh’s approach to cinema into somewhat clear focus.

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Brothers Jimmy and Clyde Logan (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, respectively) come from a long line of losers in the new movie Logan Lucky, directed by Steven Soderbergh. They decide they’re going to turn things around, though, and set out to reverse their fortunes by robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600.

The problem is they don’t exactly have the smarts to pull off such an elaborate heist. So they enlist the services of a convicted thief named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) to help them out. Between the three of them and with the reluctant help of Logan’s sister Mellie (Riley Keough), they execute their scheme. But will they actually get away with it?

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