Monday, February 6, 2012

Film News

Pretty But Perfunctory

*Editors Note: Pretend Clint Eastwood is narrating this entire post!

      Beyond an investment of $3.5 million (per 30-seconds, up from $3 million last year) and a critical mass upwards of 90 million, what distinguishes a Super Bowl spot from any other spectacle-less day of advertising? Well, because of the exorbitant monetary outlay and the mammoth exposure, the biggest distinction is, presumably, creative disbursement. All that money—enough to feature Taylor Kitsch in two prominent spots—has to go to good use, correct? The answer, of course, is yes. But, more important, do the yeoman efforts, from marketers, actors, directors, and sponsors, produce effective results? Sadly no. In the hotbed of filmic fanaticism, the 2012 Super Bowl will be synonymous with three words, transitively etched in the amorphous footprint of Twitter: Pretty but perfunctory.
      Shock and awe campaigns shrouded in secrecy: That was once the hallmark of the Super Bowl commercial. That mystique has vanished. Instead, modern marketers, who confront a marketplace glutted by near homogeneous product placement, rely upon the baroque; an ad executive's new currency is flamboyance. Thunderbolt mechanisms, whose chief aim was "Hey, look, surprise!" are no longer captured after-the-fact by local news stations; consumption is instantaneous Online platforms, spurred by the ubiquity of information and the proliferation of social networks, have dramatically altered the landscape of old media. These dual pillars of the Digital Age, unsurprisingly, necessitated a decline in, what has become, the lost art of information concealment. Corporate bigwigs, emboldened by this change, disseminate provocative material prior, in this case, to the Big Game. This seismic shift in the business model has eliminated mystery, lessening the wow factor. We know in advance the commercial line-up itinerary, and worse, viral previews propagate the Interwebs ad nausem. 
      Generally, in the joint marriage between Hollywood and Super Sunday, we are bombarded with the year's upcoming tent-pole titles as well as a smattering of other costly cinematic adventures. Extravagant, bombastic, action-packed, testosterone-fueled blockbusters, as you'd expect, comprise the commercial void. But, and this is a big Kardashian-sized But, the real story of this year's trailers is the discovery of the movies not shown. Some of the biggest titles of 2012, the ones we expect to be reminded of during the Super Bowl, were conspicuously absent. Promos for Brave, Prometheus, The Hobbit, Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, The Amazing Spider-Man, Men in Black 3, on, and on, and on, did not receive even an iota of TV time. The appropriate question is why? 
      Information has become, in a word, transparent. The methodology of information exchange is mechanical. And Hollywood is keenly aware of the diminishing returns it provides. Consequently, fewer studios decided to take flight in the commercial airspace of Super Bowl Sunday, a day even Morgan Freeman, whose voice can unite warring nations, proclaimed "the most epic day in America." 
      It is a shame. But, as with any lavish adventure, a gem is bound to materialize. Big money and marque can, if anything, showcase spectacular and innovative. And with every great find, discussion follows. So, without further ado, my breakdown of the 2012 Super Bowl's Best Movie Trailers.

Disney's substantial marketing power and Joss Whedon's predisposition to being awesome assembled together for the second best Movie Trailer of the night, and without question, the most anticipated. Marvel's all-star superhero cast—enough star power to green-light an Ocean's 14—and Whedon's instinctual gift for storytelling illuminated aspects, instrumental for any comic book adaptation, that generate fervent cross-appeal (fanboys and the general moviegoing public). What stuck me as most impressive was the tonal composition. Joss Whedon's direction, beyond expert gravitas, appeared confident. Furthermore, there were new visual clues that foretell vital details as to what we'll see in May: A little more Hulk, hordes of aliens, and the complete Avengers line-up. Whedon's long-anticipated superhero extravaganza is set to kick off the summer blockbuster movie season as well as infinite loads of ass on May 4. And, by the way, if you were tasked with saving Planet Earth, you'd definitely enlist the revamped, costumed services of Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner. Loki: "I have an army." Stark: "We have a Hulk."

Solid spot from Paramount for G.I. Joe: Retaliation. But I was hoping, of course, for a more spectacular display. Solid, you could safely infer, is an underwhelming description especially considering Paramount had their Super Bowl spots online before the end of last week. While it is difficult to translate taut storytelling in a 30-second spot, Paramount did, with only a cursory evaluation, competently sell the attitude and atmosphere by invoking the lyrical genius of Jay Z. And, of greater consequence, the trailer emphasized the indomitable presence of The Rock (will he be sweating as uncontrollably as he did in Fast Five?), crazy gadgets, freakishly cool vehicles, grand explosions, kinetic fight sequences, mountain climbing ninjas, and the persistent tough-guy Bruce "Made of Granite" Willis on an El Camino, which, one could wager is a good way of saying, "There's a whole lot of badass."

      Battleship is Universal's big tent-pole. And upon first glance, Tranformers 4 is only three months away (5/18); not much of a surprise considering both franchise's trace their lineage to Hasbro. Such a blithe reaction, in terms of creativity, is an indictment. So, thank you Michael Bay, I mean Peter Berg, I mean Michael, I mean, I don't know who I should thank. And I guess, why not, right? The Transformers franchise has grossed only $900 billion dollars, the kind of cash that could peacefully rid the world of the Kardashians, completely terraform Mars, and theoretically implant the face of Tom Cruise on Stephen Colbert's body, transforming already one of the smartest, funniest political pundits into the World's biggest movie star. America, We've Sunk Your Battleship! Rounding out this feast of implausible excess is the vocal Goddess, Rihanna and final boss to all swarthy goons, Mr. Liam Neeson. This unlikely pairing could mean only one thing: Ladies and gentlemen, the Year of the Apocalypse. On further glance, Battleship seems like a cross between, you guessed it, Transformers and an extremely fun but preposterous sci-fi action thriller, Independence Day. This comparison is apt when we're talking about the emergence of a mysterious alien battleship whose sole purpose is wreaking untold havoc on Earth. Yep. Battleship is destined to be big and loud. But will it be good? Well, this is Taylor Kitsch's year either to establish himself as a viable movie star or signal his abrupt return to television. The former means all this intemperate marketing was worth it; the latter forebodes disaster.

Another exhaustively marketed Paramount vehicle is The Dictator. Sacha Baron Cohen, lighting rod of controversy (also comedic genius and University of Cambridge graduate), is back with another irreverent, nuanced, intelligent look at the life of an obscure, Middle Eastern character; in this case, a dictator whose steadfast oppression of his people jeopardizes not only his life but his ardent denial of democracy. As was the case for G.I. Joe: Retaliation, this spot was available for public consumption last week. So much for veiled secrecy, right? To be perfectly honest, it was pretty much exactly what we've already seen. Such indifference confirms the big studio's apprehension towards expending exorbitant dollars for Super Bowl ad space. Megan Fox, a mildly attractive, sure-fire lock for a Best Supporting Actress nod, is Cohen's sultry sex partner (I was kidding about the mildly attractive part). If you're on the fence about doling out hard cash for this flippant Middle-Eastern satire, I doubt these 30-seconds will change your mind. Just know: You can blame your indifference on the studio.

John Carter of Mars, another ad via Disney's magic machine, was satisfactory. It was, from my vantage point, seeking to establish the core competencies of the overarching story; specifically, the scope, the look, and the feel. I believe the studio's pursuit for cohesion is earnest, and my hopes rest squarely on the shoulders of Andrew Stanton, the luminous storyteller behind Finding Nemo and Wall-E, who will be making his live-action debut. All I'm asking for (thank you, Aretha Franklin and Pepsi) is some good old-fashioned pulp, particularly the big, fun variety.

Are you hungry for some games? This was Lionsgate's second trailer, and it was released before the Super Bowl. Are you discovering a trend? Fans of Suzanne Collins' trilogy have been anticipating the cinematic adaptation for quite a while, but the wait is almost over as the March 23rd release date fast approaches. Set in a post-apocalyptic United States, Hunger Games revolves around the diabolical workings of The Capitol, the central metropolis which orchestrates an annual macabre event pitting one boy against one girl (ages 12-18, selected by lottery) in a fight to the death. If you've seen Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale, none of this dystopian, gladiatorial adolescence will surprise you (watch that movie right now! Seriously, it is thrilling). The popular question, among film and literary pundits, is whether Hunger Games, directed by Gary Ross (of Seabiscuit, Pleasantville fame), will become the new Twilight? My answer, unsurprisingly, is yes and no. If my prescience is rewarded, then Ross's adaptation will not only surpass the teenage fiendish fodder in terms of box office gross, but also, and of most importance, eclipse it in every facet. Readers, we shall unite in our inexorable detest for Stephanie Meyer's soul-less saga; The Hunger Games may be just the impetus to vanquish it.

Dr. Seuss is an icon of children's literature. With a virtuous voice and a pulse on the peculiar, whimsical happenings of adolescent wanderers, the prolific writer's talents are being mined by Hollywood for only the second time in the upcoming computer-animated 3-D film The Lorax. The lustrous work chronicles a fanciful tale of environmental exigency, in what many scholars contend is a remarkable fable of the modern industrialized society. The book, well ahead of its time, posits a fairly gloomy outlook albeit with an upbeat coda. It can be interpreted, based on this glimmer of optimism, as an entreaty for systematic improvement in the world's treatment of their natural environment. Universal's ad delineates Seuss' tale as a colorful adventure romp complete with buoyant sounds and amusing, mischievous narration. The studio is taking many liberties with his work, so much so, he's probably turning over in his grave. But I'll suspend judgment until I'm presented with a more nuanced glimpse of the wayward happenings of the Lorax. 

Perhaps Eminem's thumping, gritty lyricism fueled my optimism; perhaps the clever twist on the familiar military drama straightened my stance; perhaps a shrewd marketing campaign that began with a trailer on the official website of the video game Battlefield 3 (including free downloadable dogtags to be used within the game) coaxed my interest; or maybe it was the exceptional yet brief ballads of action that tingled my spine; I cannot pinpoint the exact reason, but the bottom-line is Act of Valor, distributed by Relativity Media, was my number one Movie Trailer from Super Bowl Sunday. Instead of a film based on actual events, this is a fictional story portrayed by real, active-duty Navy Seals. The heroic band of brothers set off on a covert operation to rescue a kidnapped CIA officer while also combating an imminent terrorist threat on American soil. Interwoven in this harrowing tale is a promising human drama. What began as a recruitment video has blossomed into a riveting illustration of militaristic hostilities. Principally shot in Cambodia and San Diego, and interspersed with raw footage (which the Navy, emboldened by Final Cut privileges, oversaw), the film looks absolutely thrilling and terrifying. Finally, the anticipation need not linger: Act of Valor is scheduled for release on February 24, 2012.

P.S. There are few instances in my career of sports fandom where a Super Bowl champ has excited me less than the last two: the Packers and Giants. Two teams I absolutely, unequivocally loathe. Next year, as this trend of crowning the football teams I dislike most seems indefatigable, ladies and gentlemen, raise a future glass for the 2013 Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, those terrible-towel wielding vagrants complete my trio of gridiron scorn. Geez, I hope I'm wrong. Anyway, #Let's #Go #Knicks!


  1. Only the Avengers and John Carter interested me, and I've already seen so many trailers for each. With Battleship, I still have a hard time wrapping my brain around the alien aspect. (Clearly I played with the wrong game as a kid, because all I had were plastic ships and pegs.)
    Overall the best commercial was the Ferris Bueller ad. And I'd already watched the long version last week.
    After forty-plus years of watching the Super Bowl, I can safely say I've seen worse!

    1. Haha, I can imagine, Alex. Neither the worst nor the best display of the Super Bowl commercial bonanza. 2012 was, I could safely say, underwhelming. All that money and creativity was put to little use. There were some brilliant spots, but considering the volume, not enough to warrant an effusive endowment of praise.

      I, too, am eagerly awaiting The Avengers. Can May get here already!? And your take on Battleship is totally objective; how dare the studios completely reconfigure a classic game and still have the audacity to call it the same thing. They are banking on the familiarity of the property, and as you point out, it wreaks of disingenuity. It's a poorly disguised money-grab.

  2. Act of Valor looks great and I agree. It was the best of the trailers. Loved Avengers and ol Cap looks like he's got some edge to him at last. No more hokey boy from Brooklyn. Battleship seems very odd considering the game I played as a kid, but it looks fun and it has Taylor.

    I love the look of Hunger Games as well as John Carter. Here's hoping Catniss and crew will vanquish The Ivory Pretty Boy, his Queen of Blah and their Puppy. I can't stand those three and thei Heinous Creator.

    And I'm countering with Let's Go Bulls. LOL

    1. Glad you're with me on the Act of Valor bandwagon, Mel! It looks very promising. And as you shrewdly pointed out on Twitter, let's hope the cinematic translation is righteous and not dreadfully commercial. We're polished (and astute) enough in our filmic assessment to know the difference.

      Haha! "Vanquish The Ivory Pretty Boy, his Queen of Blah, and their Puppy." OMG! The Queen of Evisceration strikes a caustic deathblow!

      Let's go Bulls/Knicks! How's that!?

      P.S. Every time I see the words, let's go Bulls, I think of Bill Murray's line at the end of Space Jam.

  3. Top of my list for the evening - Avengers, and why not? John Carter. Bottom bottom bottom of my list (did I mention bottom?)Hunger Games - saw this as a full trailer in the theater this weekend - regardless of how it turns out - it REEKS of Twilight inspired opportunism, and therefore is of no use to me. (I doubt they made it for me anyway). And the shoe scrapings of the night: The Dictator, starring that waste of oxygen Sassy Barren Co-Op. From his moronic one note Ali-G character, through the hugely crafted-within-an-inch-of-its-life-and-not-nearly-as-"verite"-as-they-want-you-to-believe Borat and right on to this movie, few have ever been less funny in the pursuit of comedy. This guy is Carney and Brown bad. Sorry if you like him Matty - but got to keep it real across this virtual aisle...

    1. Craig, much like Alex, I understand. An upbeat expectation for The Avengers is, at this point, obligatory. I refuse to imagine an underwhelming adaptation from Mr. Joss "Can Do No Wrong" Whedon.

      You're not of the minority in your skepticism of Hunger Games. It does wreak of Twilight. Let's hope the tangential comparisons are merely specious.

      Haha! To be honest, I rarely encounter a detractor of Mr. Cohen. He is a beloved comedian among my circle of friends. But your analysis is solid, and, purely as a matter of taste, I can empathize. By the way, did you watch Hugo? If so, what did you think of his performance?

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. OMG, The Avengers banner on the top of your post is currently featured on my Blackberry screen. How cool is that?!:)

    Excellent previews, and I'm looking forward to every single one of these movies.

    1. Good deal, George! That Avengers banner is pure awesomeness.

      Thanks! There's a few good ones to look forward to in this breakdown.

  5. Matt, I am hoping for something worthwhile. Maybe the Avengers will meet my expectations?

    1. Hi, Susan! I think The Avengers could fulfill your wishes. Joss Whedon rarely disappoints. He is a vivid storyteller with an eye for surprise. Keep it on your radar :)

  6. Interested in The Avengers but not John Carter. I think I might be the only person on Earth that thinks that movie will suck. And on a non-related note, loved the Jerry Seinfeld car commercial during SBXLVI.

  7. Interesting. You are definitely of the minority. But I, too, share some skepticism. While i have faith in Stanton, I still am a tad underwhelmed by everything I've seen thus far. Perhaps I'm placing too much faith in Mr. Wall E.

    Yes, the Seinfeld commercial was one of my favorites mainly because I love Seinfeld. I still watch the reruns, the mark of a true FANatic. The Soup Nazi return was a great surprise.

    Thanks for stopping by! I'll be checking out your blogging digs!