Cinematic Slant

Picking Up the Spare: Despicable Me 3, Spider-Man: Homecoming, A Ghost Story

Despicable Me 3

  • Universal/Illumination not only sponsored selfie lenses on Snapchat but also were the first advertisers to take advantage of that app’s new “World Lenses” augmented-reality ad unit.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

  • Turns out this is the latest movie to feature lots of shots from the trailer not making it into the finished film. There are various reasons for that, some of them around how shots were created just for the trailers or various sizzle reels, which walks right up to the line of “false advertising” in my opinions.
  • Some details here on how Donald Glover finally got involved in a Spider-Man movie (aside from that one “Community” gag) and what it might mean for future films.
  • Nerdist has an exclusive look at one more poster, this one inspired by the cover of Amazing Fantasy #15, with Spidey carrying one of the crooks from the movie.
  • The augmented reality feature of the movie’s official mobile app was covered in-depth here.

A Ghost Story

  • The internet’s big takeaway from this interview with A Ghost Story star Rooney Mara? That she’d never had pie before shooting the movie.
  • The store A24 setup to sell sheets in New York City got more coverage in the LA Times from Steven Zeitchik.

Baby Driver

  • Director Edgar Wright got one more music-themed promotional move in, this time creating a Spotify playlist of what he’s listening to now.

Quick Takes on Trailers for Dunkirk, California Typewriter and More

  • There’s a new trailer for Terminator 2: Judgement Day to promote the movie’s upcoming 3D rerelease in theaters.
  • A new 60-second trailer for Dunkirk amps up the tension through a cool use of sound and cuts in the film. The movie is also getting its own VR experience, which is unusual for a non-superhero/sci-fi flick, and that has a trailer.
  • One more trailer for War For The Planet of the Apes acts as a “previously on…” recap of the previous two movies and the events that have lead to all-out war.
  • The details on which studios are bringing which movies to San Diego Comic-Con to reach that audience have emerged. Some interesting choices here.
  • The first trailer for Icarus, Netflix’s new documentary about Russian Olympic doping, is really powerful. Can you imagine if a system this devoted to cheating set their mind toward, I don’t know, American politics? Yikes.
  • Belle de Jour is turning 50 and getting a big 4K theatrical release, with a new trailer promoting that event that’s amazing. (via IndieWire)
  • I don’t get to watch too many of them but I love documentaries about niche subcultures, so I dug the trailer for California Typewriter about enthusiasts of the technology.
  • Fox Searchlight put out a fun “lyric video” to promote its rap culture movie Patti Cake$.

The Selling of Other Getaway Driver Movies

Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver hit theaters last weekend. In the story Baby (Ansel Elgort) is an in-demand getaway driver for crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), sought after for his incredible skills behind the wheel of any car. That talent comes in part because of innate skill and partly because he keeps headphones in his ears, with music constantly playing to not only drown out the buzz caused by a childhood injury but also to eliminate any distractions from the road in front of him.

Baby Driver is just the latest Hollywood story of getaway drivers, the guys who sit in the car waiting for the heist or robbery to go down so they can get everyone out of there in a hurry. And there are some common elements to how all those movies, including Baby Driver, have been sold to the public.

Rule #1: Show the Car, Preferably in Motion

Makes sense, right? If you want to sell a movie about fast cars then you need to put a fast car on the poster. That’s true for Baby Driver as well as for the one sheets for 2012’s Hit & Run and 1978’s The Driver. All three prominently feature the vehicle the driver will use to get away from the scene of the crime or whatever else the story needs him to escape from. Notably the theatrical one sheet for Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, doesn’t take an action-oriented approach, instead opting for a shot of him sitting contemplatively behind the wheel. That hints at the story’s more dramatic, character-driven approach.

Fast-moving cars are obviously a big part of most all these trailers as well. Drive, Baby Driver and Hit & Run all put the spotlight squarely on the car at various times. All those are high-octane action sequences compared to The Driver, where the scenes of the cars in action come off more like the requisite car chases that were part of almost every episode of “The Rockford Files,” but we’ll try not to hold the 1970s against anyone.

Rule #2: Show the Conflict

The poster for 1997’s Heaven’s Burning shows Russell Crowe in one shot while masked thugs are seen in surrounding photos. So we don’t get a clear sense that he’s a getaway driver of any sort but do see he’s surrounded by armed tough guys who he’ll likely go up against. Similarly, the poster for The Driver, starring Bruce Dern and Ryan O’Neal, makes it clear those two, one a cop and one a driver, are going to butt heads.

The trailer for The Driver hits that especially hard, making it clear there’s a girl that stands between the two men, with the cop leaning on that woman in an effort to get the driver he’s trying to arrest. Hit & Run takes a much more comedic approach, explaining to the

 

audience that Dax Shepherd’s character is reformed and while Bradley Cooper’s is out for the money he’s owed they can still get along.

Rule #3: Emphasize the Skill of the Driver

Watch the trailers for both Baby Driver and Drive and there’s someone, in both cases a crime boss, who’s extolling the talent of the driver and his ability behind the wheel. That’s usually accompanied by a montage of clips showing just how talented they are. There isn’t that kind of boasting in trailers for The Driver or Hit & Run, though. In both those cases the drivers aren’t repeatedly referred to as “the best,” just as very good at what they do, or at least good enough to not be either in jail or dead yet.

That skill level is a little harder to convey on the posters, but it’s still clear who the talent behind the wheel is from the way they’re arranged. It’s assumed no one is calling Kevin Spacey “Baby Driver” and Gosling, as he moodily stares into the middle distance is obviously ready to “Drive.” Similarly, the one without the gun on The Driver’s poster is probably the one ready to do the driving. Hit & Run’s poster is less clear, just showing the car and cast headshots.

Rule #4: Use a Car Pun or Reference In The Tagline

Drive: “There are no clean getaways”

Hit & Run: “A comedy that never takes its foot off the gas.”

OK, both are fine, but are kind of on the nose when you’re selling a car-centric movie. You can’t really take points off because they’re thematically appropriate, but you also can’t help but wince a bit at the obviousness.

There are two exceptions in this case. Baby Driver used “All you need is one killer track” is more of an extension of the campaign’s overall focus on the music and soundtrack than anything else. Throughout the marketing of the movie the music has come up again and again, so it makes sense that this is the approach taken when it came to copy. The Driver used “To break the driver, the cop was willing to break the law,” which similarly continues that campaign’s emphasis on the looming showdown between two men on opposite sides of the law.

Fun Mom Dinner Trailer (Quick Reaction)

Well, the first trailer for Fun Mom Dinner is out and I have some thoughts.

  • There’s a hot take to be written at some point about how we’re supposed to just assume that something is funnier just because it involves mothers, with the comedy derived mainly from putting the person most responsible for everyone in outrageous situations designed to show them acting out.
  • This is being sold in almost exactly the same way as both Bad Moms (and now Bad Moms Christmas) and Rough Night. Girls Trip is a bit different, though.
  • Putting both Adam Scott and Paul Rudd in the movie is almost unfair in how it’s going to appeal to certain subsets of the female audience.
  • Speaking of which, is Rudd playing the same character he did in My Idiot Brother? Has anyone else posited this yet? I feel I’m on solid ground.
  • I’m 100% surprised there isn’t vomiting shown on-screen here.
  • Also, I’m 100% certain at some point I’ve inadvertently referred to watching my own kids as “babysitting.” Let’s just move on.
  • Is it just me or is Rudd not included in the credits at the end? What’s up with that?

Comparing Spider-Man: Homecoming’s and Wonder Woman’s Poster Campaigns

“Marvel vs DC” is an easy narrative that’s picked up both fans and critics. Goodness knows there’s been plenty of opportunity to have that discussion, either in comic shops or theater lobbies, where films based on comic book characters are squaring off against each other.

Today I’m going to focus on something that hasn’t been endlessly debated already but which came into focus in the last month. Namely, the massively different approaches taken on the posters for the two most recent comic book movies, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

If you look at the posters for Wonder Woman, many of which were created by either Concept Arts or BOND, you’ll see a sleek, simplified approach. Each poster went for one specific message while also carrying over some brand consistency. So a series of posters emphasized character traits like “Courage” and “Power” while others conveyed those characteristics simply by posing star Gal Gadot in various ways. They all tied together through the use of red, orange and blue, using visuals that reflected the light, clearly telling the audience the movie would have a brighter tone than previous DCU films. Each one was striking for its minimalism, something that may have been equal parts intentional and simply the result of not having a whole cast of heroes that needed to share the spotlight.

Contrast that with the overly-busy posters for Spider-Man: Homecoming. The designers here seem to have been given the direction to leave nothing off. Every poster, even the early ones, make it clear that Spider-Man is now part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s done either (relatively) subtly by just putting Avengers Tower in the background of the New York City skyline or overtly by including Iron Man and/or Tony Stark. And it’s not just that the character shows up here and there. Just like with the trailers, Stark/Iron Man is everywhere. By my count, there were eight domestic U.S. posters and six of them feature either Iron Man or Avengers Tower. All sense of understated design thinking is discarded on a couple of the posters that seem to have been created by someone pasting photos from Google Image searches together. It’s a very colorful campaign, but it’s also as subtle as an elephant with a sinus infection.

I’m not going to expect the less artistically-minded approach taken in Spider-Man’s campaign to impact its box office at all. But it’s notable how this is being sold as a movie that literally has *everything* the audience might be looking for, as compared to Wonder Woman’s posters that sold an image of a strong, confident solo woman superhero who stood out on her own. That shows a completely different mindset on the part of the studio, one that’s more committed to selling an attitude and style versus one that just needs to make sure it hits all its contractually-obligated beats.

I know which one I prefer.

How my unexpected Wonder Woman experience made the movie that much better 

wonderwoman.jpg

The first time I went to see Wonder Woman was about three weeks ago. I sat in the theater with my jaw dropped almost the entirety of the movie. I could not believe that a comic book property was being taken so seriously, being treated with such respect and made so well. Then, just as the breathtaking finale was about to start, as Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor made the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the world, disaster struck in the theater: the sound went out.

Of course, I was a bit disappointed, but not a whole lot. After all, I had still been able to see and hear nearly the entire film, and had still been able to see the action of Diana’s final, climactic battle with Ares. I knew I would see it again in one way or another, and figured that really, all I missed was some CGI punching and exploding. Boy was I wrong.

Naturally I went back to see it again in theaters a couple weeks later. After all, I thought it was a great film, and was excited to see it again. Catching the dialogue from the last 20 minutes would just be an added bonus. I sat, again, through the first couple hours of the film, loving it as much the second time around as I did the first. Then came the scene where the sound had gone out the first time I had seen the film. I have to admit, my heart started racing in the few seconds leading up to that particular moment, but I still didn’t think that anything particularly interesting would happen during that fight sequence. I’d seen dozens of cinematic superhero fights before. This one wouldn’t be all that different. Again, I was wrong.

What before was only Wonder Woman holding a tank over Isabel Maru was now a beautiful example of Diana’s compassion toward mankind. What once were random soldiers picking the wounded out of the rubble were now reflections of the goodness that lies within man. And what once was a simple shot of Diana walking out of the fire was now her short, simple, yet beautiful creed: “I believe in love.” This experience made a movie I already loved ten times better. It was, simply put, wonderful (pun intended).

Wonder Woman is on its way out of theaters, but is available for pre-order on DVD and digital.

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Marketing Review

Spider-Man is back in theaters in this week’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. After an extended cameo in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, this is Tom Holland’s second outing as the web-slinger and his first in the character’s own movie. Well…kind of his own movie. The corporate cooperation that began with Civil War continues here. Sony, which owns the theatrical rights to Spider-Man, is essentially loaning him out to Marvel Studios, which manages the highly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. So Sony gets to use the successful platform of that behemoth to help launch their third go-around at Spider-Man, while Marvel gets to incorporate Spidey into their big event movies.

Continuing the story set up in Civil War, Peter Parker is enamored with the tech genius Tony Stark (played again by Robert Downey Jr.). Stark provides him with a high-tech suit to help Parker fight local neighborhood crime as Spider-Man. The stakes get considerably higher when Spidey crosses paths with, and gets on the wrong side of, The Vulture (Michael Keaton). That conflict threatens everything that Peter holds near and dear and could upend the life he leads as a seemingly unremarkable high school student.

Read More

Slanted Review: Baby Driver 

Baby Driver marks Edgar Wright’s fifth cinematic outing as a director, and it’s arguably his best feature film to date.

At first glance, and based on what the trailers show you, Baby Driver is a simple film. And, to be fair, it really is. The film follows Baby, a young getaway driver for a crew of unsympathetic thieves and murderers, and his quest to end his career as a driver. But once the film actually begins, you really realize that the brilliance of this movie has been drastically undersold.

Story wise, Wright tells the story of Baby wonderfully. Baby quickly becomes a sympathetic character, and one immediately finds themselves rooting for Baby for the whole movie from start to finish. The characters are witty when they need to be, and not once does a piece of dialogue ever feel out of place. The characters are also extremely complex. The evolution of certain characters, particularly the ones played by Kevin Spacey and John Hamm, from start to finish is a testament to the brilliance of Edgar Wright. That the characters change and grow (or in some instances deteriorate) through the whole film feels surprising at times but never out of place or forced. This shows just how well Wright has crafted these characters and gotten into their psyches to make their behaviors seem exciting but natural at the same time. The plot moves at a constantly exhilarating pace and not once does one find oneself bored in the middle of viewing this film. (This is also due in large part to Wright’s directing, but more on that in a bit.)

The performances from the cast members are, for the most part, phenomenal. Kevin Spacey’s performance as Doc, Baby’s “boss”, is outstandingly dry and nearly emotionless, but he still has a few emotional scenes and, as mentioned before, scenes that really build his character and change it in an exciting but natural way. Jamie Foxx’s performance is almost frightening at times, as he plays Bats: a hardened criminal who feels just as unpredictablely nutty as he does terrifyingly dangerous. Ansel Elgort completely strays away from his previous roles in cinematic adaptations of YA novels but delivers what is perhaps the greatest performance of his career so far. His performance as Baby makes you feel sympathetic for the title character, even when his decisions are not always the right ones. Some of the best scenes in the movie come when Baby is simply alone listening or lip-syncing to his music, and you can tell that Elgort is having massive fun in each of those scenes.  But what is perhaps the greatest performance in Baby Driver is that of Jon Hamm as Buddy. At the start of the film, Buddy is a character who, like the audience, feels almost sympathetic to Baby. At one point he even bonds with Baby over their love for music, only to later completely turn on Baby by the end of the film, and reveal himself to be a nasty, unsympathetic character, almost the complete opposite of Baby. Hamm’s performance as Buddy is not only a testament to how good of a writer/director Wright is, but also to how great of an actor Jon Hamm is.

Though the cast was wonderful and the story was great, what really shines through about Baby Driver is Edgar Wright’s direction. Wright is commonly known as being a visionary director, but his work on Baby Driver shines above anything else he’s ever done. As you’ve probably heard by now either from social media or from the film’s marketing campaign, Baby Driver is set entirely to the music that Baby listens to while he drives. But just saying that is a complete understatement. Not only is the film set to his music, but every scene is completely choreographed to the music as well. There are entire fight sequences which feature fights that you would expect from an R-rated heist movie, but are made 10 times better because they are completely choreographed to the song playing in the background. Not once does a character so much as move outside of the beat of the song. At the start of the film also, as Baby is walking down the street with his headphones in, the lyrics of the song he is listening to are graffitied onto parts of the street, light posts and buildings, and Baby walks past each of them perfectly as the lyrics play. Having the actions of the characters match up perfectly with the rhythms and beats of the song turns what would initially feel like a messy fight into an interesting and viscous sequence. This may be the most ambitious thing that Wright has done in a film period, and this films is where his true directorial brilliance is illuminated.

If there are two things that Baby Driver is, it’s ambitious and cohesive. The story is solid; the performances delivered by the cast are each individually interesting; the direction is a true work of genius.

Baby Driver is rated R and is in theaters now.

Slant Rating: 9/10- See it in theaters NOW. 

Sony Teases Close Encounters Announcement

Sony is hinting at something with the release of a video (I’m not referring to it as a “viral video” as some others are doing because you don’t get to decide that, it’s the result of it being well-received, not a designation that’s assigned) entitled “This Means Something.” The video is in some manner tied to Steven Spielberg’s classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind and takes audio from a key sequence in that movie involving an air traffic controller listening to reports of an unidentified object in the skies that’s been seen by some commercial airliners. At the end of the video the URL WeAreStillNotAlone.com is displayed and when you go there you can sign up to “receive updates on UFO sightings.”

So what’s Sony up to? There’s no official news here but it likely has something to do with this December being the 40th anniversary of the movie’s release. It’s almost inconceivable that a sequel of any sort could be in the works, so the simplest explanation is that there’s a theatrical rerelease or new Blu-ray set coming later this year to mark the movie’s fourth decade.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve begun preferring Close Encounters more than Spielberg’s other early-career science fiction effort, E.T. I enjoy the languid pacing of the story, identify with the struggles of Richard Dreyfuss’ slightly-mad father and feel the full weight of the final act on the top of Devil’s Peak more intensely. It’s just as heartwarming in its own way as anything else the director has helmed, though it comes at that somewhat sideways and takes a long time to get there. Still, I find it rewards multiple viewings more than most other Spielberg movies.

Stay tuned for updates.

A Ghost Story – Marketing Recap

A Ghost Story sees writer/director David Lowery returning to his indie-film roots after taking his turn at a big studio movie with last year’s Pete’s Dragon adaptation. The movie reunites him with the cast of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, both Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck.

It’s a simple story: Affleck plays the ghost of a man who has recently passed away, returning to try to connect with his still-living wife (Mara) in their home. But, floating around like a cliched ghost in a white sheet, he finds he’s not in one time or place, instead floating throughout his own timeline as he’s forced to grapple with some of life’s most serious questions.

The Posters

The first poster uses one of the key images of the movie to stark, simple effect. So aside from the title, a short pull quote and the cast list, the only thing here is a photo of someone standing there in a bedsheet with the eyes cut out. “It’s all about time” we’re told in the copy toward the bottom of the design. The whole thing looks like it’s in black and white and the starry background that’s shown gives it a weird, mysterious scope, which is cool.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens with the sheet-covered figure standing in what looks to be a quarry before we get shots of M and C in bed and generally being a cute couple. She’s telling him about the notes she used to leave in an old house so she’d have something to come back to. When we see that he’s died she becomes depressed and through the rest of the trailer we see the ghost lingering on the edges of the action of M and others.

I’m not sure what exactly is going on here but I’m on board. The performances from Mara and Affleck look great and this seems like a mysterious, twisty story that really has to be seen to be fully understood or believed. It certainly lives up to the hype that came out of festival screenings.

Online and Social

The official website is wholly unique. First of all, the URL ends in .store and the point here is – or at least was – to get you to “buy” a sheet like the one worn by Affleck in the movie. There are prompts to enter to redeem a code or you can hold down your mouse button and watch a 9-minute long video of scenes from the movie with text like “Why are you here?” and “Are you feeling infinite?” over them before you’re given the chance to order your own. Unfortunately they’re all out of stock but the site still looks like it’s selling them, with promotional copy akin to what you’d find on the site of Land’s End or something. There’s even a link to a store in New York where you can, or could, get your own.

Aside from that there’s a “Synopsis,” the “Trailer” and links to the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing I’ve been able to find. The movie isn’t big enough to get a huge ad spend so while there may be some targeted ads in select cities, there’s nothing to my knowledge that’s run nationwide.

Media and Publicity

The movie got some early votes of confidence when A24 picked up distribution rights before it even premiered at Sundance. It was there that Lowery talked about the emotional journey of making the movie and Affleck and Mara talked about working together again and what it was like to take on such a gut-wrenching story.

There were a few other interviews by Lowery, Mara or Affleck to talk about similar subjects. And there was some coverage of the small storefront A24 set up to sell sheets and the whole experience the studio created for that.

Overall

I’m intrigued by how A24 has set out to sell this as something very, very different. It’s not Ghost, with its swooning love story about eternal love. But it’s also not a story of overtly trying to set things right or come to terms with the life you lived while you were here. Instead it’s being sold as a mysterious love story that is more about the rubble one leaves behind in a life than an effort to pick up that rubble.

The campaign really has to be divided into two halves: First, the poster and trailer are nicely consistent in how they present a strange, unusual story about a man wearing a white sheet and kinda sorta haunting his widow; Second, the website and the experiential element of actually having people being able to to order and buy the sheets shows the studio having a bit of fun with the concept. That’s great, but it’s doubtful that’s going to do much to reach more than a small subset of the audience outside of film press and those who hang on their every word. Still, it’s a fun execution and deserves some kudos.