View from the Rental Counter: 11/30/04

Mainstream
Daredevil: SE
MPAA: PG-13 (action & violence and some sexual material)
Budget: $75M
Gross: $102.5M
DVD Formats: Widescreen
Market: This director’s cut is sure to appeal to the segment of the audience who were, let’s just say, under whelmed by the big-screen adaptation of ol’ hornhead. This one features 30 additional minutes of movie which reportedly reinserts Coolio’s cameo as a defendant of Matt Murdoch (Ben Affleck) and more character building moments. The same folks who soiled themselves at the Hellboy: Director’s Cut will snap this one up.

Spider-Man 2
MPAA: PG-13
Budget: $200M
Gross: $373.4M
DVD Formats: Full screen, widescreen, Superbit and Gift Set with extras
Market: The entire world! Hahahahahahahahah… Sorry. Seriously, though, this one is going to be marketed to everyone. That’s why the commercials for the DVD release so heavily emphasize the action when everyone who saw the movie and liked it praised the character development and plotting. They are trying to get those last two dozen people who are looking for a mindless action flick to rent it or blind-buy the disc.

Hero
MPAA: PG-13 (stylized violence)
Budget: $30M
Gross: $53.4M
DVD Formats: Widescreen
Market: Click on the title’s link for my take on the movie. The DVD is being marketed the same way.

Off the Beaten Path
Luther
MPAA: PG-13 (disturbing violence)
Budget: N/A
Gross: $5.8M
DVD Formats: Widescreen
Market: This one isn’t as high profile or as controversial as Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ but the market is fairly similar. Granted, the audience may be somewhat narrower as Gibson’s film was relevant to all Christianity whereas this deals with one aspect (the founder of the Lutheran church) specifically. It’s doubtful this one will be argued over or shown by churches still not on board the Reformation.

Television and Box Sets
Northern Exposure – The Complete Second Season
Market: Fans of quality TV will jump at this offering. This is from the good years, before they tried to keep the show alive after Rob Morrow pulled a David Caruso and left for that fat movie cash.

Lost in Space: Season 2 V.2
Market: Remember the awful Matt LeBlanc headlined movie? Neither do I. Go get this instead for space travel that’s as campy as it comes.

Ray Harryhausen 5pk Giftset
Market: Fans of and students of the history of special effects will hold this one near and dear. Note how the stop-motion animation still looks more realistic than anything in The Day After Tomorrow.

Tru Calling – The Complete First Season
Market: Sorry, the only thing that’s coming to mind is some sort of divine union between those seeking a Luke Perry fix and everyone who missed Eliza Dushku after she left Buffy.

Quick Takes: 11/24/04

Bewitched
Two teaser materials have popped up from Sony for this Nicole Kidman/Will Ferrell remake: A website and poster, both utilizing the same image.

Fantastic Four
SuperHeroHype has gotten a copy of the first picture of Dr. Doom in armor. This looks every bit as corny as I expect superhero movies to be and, so, I love it.

Tideland
JoBlo posts a copy of the teaser poster from Terry Gilliam’s upcoming flick. Don’t hold your breath waiting for this one to actually appear in U.S. promotional material.

Meet the Fockers
The theatrical poster has appeared. I agree with the writer, Mike Sampson – This one pales in comparison to the teaser.

King Kong
Could this be our first look at Peter Jackson’s incarnation of Kong? Something tells me know, that this is fan art, but we’ll see.

Serenity
Despite the website still listing April, 2004 as the release time reports come from Joss Whedon himself that the movie will be pushed back to September 2004.

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Nov. 29 will see the release of the trailer for the extended DVD edition.

Spanglish
There’s a new official one-sheet for this James Brooks effort. The big question in my mind? Which Adam Sandler will show up?

Movie Marketing Madness: Alexander

alexandermmm01story“Sandals and swords epic”. That’s the catch-phrase adopted by hundreds of entertainment writers across the spectrum. Somebody used it when describing Gladiator (overdone, overacted, underdeveloped), someone else read that, cribbed its usage, then two people cribbed it from that writer, and then two.. you get the point. It’s a lazy journalistic meme that was last applied to Brad Pitt’s Troy and which you’re sure to see in reviews of “Alexander”.

The fictional biography (?) of Alexander the Great, this Oliver Stone owes its existence to “Gladiator” and owes a debt of gratitude to whoever pulled the plug on Baz Luhrmann’s planned biopic covering the same subject. This one though presents some challenges in marketing. Present it as too heavy and you risk losing the audience just looking for mindless entertainment while resting their feet after doing their Christmas shopping. Present it as too light and all Oscar-potential credibility is lost.

The Poster

Most of the principle cast appears in profile. I like the look of the poster, which has an almost marble feel to it, but it would have been better if they had gone the full nine yards and made it a marble relief. Just my opinion. One problem, Val Kilmer (to the left of Colin Farrell) looks like Matthew Perry from “Friends”. “Could this toga BE any looser?”

The Trailers

Most of the first trailer involves horses riding past a narrator and some of the more action-ey scenes. The second shows even more action and features voice-overs from various characters describing how legendary or powerful Alexander is. Neither is particularly stirring or appealing. They both give glimpses of the reach of the movie in terms of Alexander conquering so much of the known-world, but how many snap-cuts from military conquest to intimate (and I mean that in the best Rosario Dawson-esque sense of the word) do we actually need?

The Website

Back in my column for Spider-Man 2, I said “I’m as big a fan of Flash as anyone, but after a while you begin to realize that the full potential of the tool really hasn’t been utilized by anyone out there”. Well, they’re starting to get the idea.

First off, there is a “lite” version of the site that first greets you, allowing people quick access to some features if they don’t want to enter the full Flash-based site. This is great as it provides a simple way for a visitor to view the trailer, or read a synopsis without navigating through all sorts of information that isn’t important to them.

For those of us trying avoid work, er, I mean trying to thoroughly research for our column, entering the full site opens up a ton of features that are well produced if still a tad overly slick.

Very detailed Production Notes as well as backgrounds on the Cast and Filmmakers can be found under “About the Film”. The Prod. Notes especially contain a small textbook’s worth of material. At one point I actually started daydreaming on how to ask out the girl in my sixth-period Science class it was so in-depth. All aspects of the production are covered over the course of about seven or eight sections.

“Making of Alexander” contains a preview of the “Making of Alexander” book with the ability to download the entire first chapter as a PDF document as well as a link to buy the book. I love the free chapter idea as it’s a great tease for those who may be on the fence and are looking for something really flashy for Christmas. There’s also a great feature on the Costumes where you can view the final product compared to the production design sketch.

An extensive Photo Gallery as well as the Trailer and two TV Spots are in the “Media Section”, although the TV spots were still listed as “Coming Soon” when I visited the site. Also on its way is a trailer for the Game based on the movie. Really? There’s a game? Why? There’s also a cool interactive feature called “Life of Alexander” which allows you to see how the various characters are connected. The navigation leaves a bit to be desired (you can’t go back at all and there really aren’t any bios on these people) but it is a great use of Flash.

“Downloads” has a wide array of posters, wallpaper, AIM icons, and other multimedia goodies. There’s also a Game Demo. Once again – Really? There’s a game? Why? Other sections that aren’t quite ready for prime time are “Timeline” (presumably a timeline listing the real Alexander’s achievements) and “Game” (probably a snark-ridden column written by a 30-year old wise ass. Wait, that’s this column. Shit.).

Overall

One thing that I noticed was lacking from the campaign is any mention or allusion to the homosexual themes or elements that have been so widely reported. It’s not that surprising since, despite there not being anything wrong with that, the current social and political environment isn’t exactly welcoming toward, shall we say, alternate lifestyles.

All the marketing materials play up the epic scope of the tale and actually seem least effective when it dials that down to personal relationships. For a large-scale big budget major studio release, this one may come down to good old fashioned word of mouth. If people are sufficiently impressed by the visuals and not turned off by whatever themes may run throughout the movie then it may be successful. My guess is it will under-perform at the box office, but we can expect to see a major push in connection with a potential Oscar nomination.

View from the Rental Counter: 11/22/04

Mainstream
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
MPAA: PG
Budget: $130M
Gross: $250M (just shy)
DVD Formats: 2 Disc set (Widescreen or Full Screen formats)
Market: The same friggin’ mix of preteens and baby boomers who feel reading the books and seeing the subsequent movies helps them hold on to their youth. This one will be gone from your local rental store faster than you can say “muggle”, whatever the hell that means.

The Terminal (2004)
MPAA: PG-13 (brief language and reference to drugs)
Budget: $60M
Gross: $77M
DVD Formats: 2 disc set (widescreen or full screen) or 3 disc set
Market: Everyone with a pulse but they will be making a concerted effort to bring in all the people (and based on the box office there were quite a few of you) who missed this in the theater. It’s the perfect piece of candy corn for a cool fall evening, much more so than escapist summer entertainment.

Sleepover (2004)
MPAA: PG
Budget: $10M
Gross: $8M
DVD Format: Widescreen
Market: Wait a minute: This is directed by Joe Nussbaum? The same Nussbaum who wrote and directed George Lucas in Love, one of the funniest things in recent years? What the hell? I can’t even muster the strength…

Off the Beaten Path
Tanner on Tanner (2004)
MPAA: N/A
Budget: N/A
Gross: N/A
DVD Format: Not sure.
Market: This follow up mini-series to the original Showtime mini-series was placed on the Sundance channel right in the heat of the actual Presidential race. Considering co-creators Garry Trudeau and Robert Altman’s political leanings, this is likely to appeal more to the left-wingers in the population. Of course put those two things (Sundance channel original and politically lefty) together and anyone interested will probably have to look hard for this one and are more likely to have to go online to rent it.

Cloak and Dagger (1984)
MPAA: PG
Gross: $9.7M
DVD Format: Widescreen
Market: This is a childhood favorite of mine, which is why I’m including it here. Good fun and a wonderful performance in dual roles by Dabney Coleman. Anybody else remember this one?

Television and Box Sets
Golden Girls: Season One
Market: ………….

Star Wars: Animated Ewoks, Animated Droids and Ewok Movies
Market: Fan boys. Pure and simple. Those (like me) who want it all: anything associated with Star Wars. The only disappointment is that the animated Ewoks and Droids sets aren’t complete seasons. Instead they are “movies” that consist of four or five episodes of a story arc cobbled together. The Ewok movies are the ones that you have nightmares of, especially considering one of them stars Wilford Brimley. Run, don’t walk to your local store to pick these up.

Home Improvement: Season One
Market: The same folks who are chomping at the bit to see Christmas With the Kranks and think Jungle 2 Jungle is the end all be all. I love the TV on DVD trend as much as anybody, but what’s the replay value here? This is in contrast to…

Seinfeld: Seasons One, Two and Three
NOTE: Seasons one and two come together. Season three is sold individually but there is a “Re-Gift” box set of all three.
Market: This could go up there with the Simpsons as one of the all-time best selling TV shows on DVD. I can’t think of one good reason why everyone wouldn’t want this in their collection (and please note, that not liking the show is not a good reason as there is no reason not to like it).

Movie Marketing Madness: Christmas with the Kranks

christmas_with_the_kranks_ver2In 2001 John Grisham took a break from the legal potboilers he had become famous for – first with the novel “A Painted House” and then with what could probably be called a novella in “Skipping Christmas”. “Skipping” was the story of a man who decides to opt out of the shiny and glossy trappings of the holiday season, much to the dismay of his wife, who reluctantly goes along with his plan, as well as his neighbors. You see, his participation is needed if the street is going to win an annual decorating competition against another neighborhood.

Far from being motivated by Grinch-type hatred of the season, Grisham’s protagonist is an everyday guy. He now simply feels going through the motions of decorating the house and preparing an elaborate meal is unnecessary since their only child is away from home for the first time. If it’s just the two of them in an empty nest why bother? Eventually, through a series of plot contrivances, he does get swept up and comes to realize that he can do all the traditions (no matter how hokey) and still enjoy himself.

So how the hell did Grisham’s low-key story get turned into a slapstick-ridden movie featuring, as one of its comedic centerpieces, Tim Allen (who really was moderately funny once. Seriously. There was about 15 minutes in the early 1990’s when this happened) hosing down a cat and turning it into an icicle? I suspect the author didn’t come to a revelation in the last three years that what his story really could have used was the husband sliding down an icy roof or having water drip out of his mouth after receiving Botox injections.

Instead what I think most likely happened was an ambitious (and partially brain dead) studio executive felt he or she knew best what formula to follow to create a “holiday classic”. Take one part John Grisham name recognition, extract and discard all character development and generous portions of the story. Add Tim Allen, who has a proven if critically suspect track record in Christmas-themed films and add a splash of jokes recycled from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. For garnish and to completely remove all flavor have Chris Columbus (who desperately needs a fatwa to be issued, not against him personally, but his career) write it and Joe Roth direct.

Christmas movies as a genre have suffered multiple slings and arrows over the last decade or so. Beginning with the first Home Alone and running right up to this years Surviving Christmas, the holiday has been used as an easy out for screenwriters to put a character in a situation where they change their life or see the error of their ways because of the general good feelings that abound in late December. Whether they are trying to get home (I’ll Be Home For Christmas with the kid from “Home Improvement”), trying to reconcile with their family from beyond the grave (Jack Frost with Michael Keaton, who also deserves better) or do the right thing for a lonely kid (last year’s horrible Bad Santa), the characters in Christmas movies are always trying to better themselves.

Just last month the inspirational Christmas movie club got it’s newest member in Surviving Christmas, the widely panned Ben Affleck vehicle (which I haven’t yet seen). You may notice the similarity between Affleck’s flick and the source novel for Christmas With the Kranks. The title of the latter was, no doubt, changed to avoid confusion in the minds of the public (we are exceedingly stupid of course). But why change the name of an existing property? I can only guess at the legal brinksmanship and deals that resulted in a decision that, to my mind, makes no sense.

I know that movies are often misrepresented by their marketing materials. I’ve been writing a column for another site for a few months now specifically devoted to the marketing of movies and have gotten burned badly in the past (I’ll never forgive the people who convinced me to see Nicholas Cage’s Snake Eyes) so I am often wary whenever I see a new trailer. However, taking Grisham’s book and selling it’s adaptation on the basis of pratfalls and slapstick humor seems to be the wrong call to make.

They have taken the pains of changing the name, so why not actually present The Kranks as an actual alternative? If physical humor and Allen’s antics aren’t the centerpieces of the move, then leave them out of the trailers and such. Play up the similarities to Grisham’s book instead of highlighting portions of the movie bearing no relationship to the movie. Then you can actually appeal to the same group that enjoyed the book. For all I know 90% of the movie may adhere to the story Grisham laid out and these scenes are culled from the 10% where Columbus and Roth exercised their “artistic license. Audiences stayed away in droves from watching Ben Affleck get hit in the head by a shovel. If the makers of The Kranks have misrepresented the movie and it meets the same fate, they have no one but themselves to blame.

So my recommendation to everyone is to seek out the book (without the lame movie tie-in cover if you can find it). Spend a few hours reading it. It’s short and not exactly up there with Dickens, but well written and despite the sap that does bleed through charming. The time you spend reading will certainly be more enjoyable and better for you than watching Tim Allen act, well, cranky.

Weekly Wrap-up 11/19/04

 

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Yahoo! Movies has posted the teaser trailer. Am I the only one worried by the distinct lack of tongue-in-cheekness to this?
Batman Begins
EA Games has announced they will be producing a tie-in video game for the upcoming movie.
There will reportedly be a new trailer attached to Ocean’s Twelve.
Elektra
The movie’s website has updated with a bunch of new features. The site continues an annoying trend for 20th Century Fox flicks – The trailer is only in QuickTime.
Be Cool
MGM has launched the movie’s official site.
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
TheForce.net has obtained scans of upcoming promotional items from Burger King.
Assault on Precinct 13
FilmForce has linked to the teaser trailer for this cult-classic remake.
Constantine
Click over to MTV for a first look at the poster. Quite frankly I don’t think it’s particularly spooky looking for a supernatural thriller.
Fantastic Four
SuperHeroHype reports that a first look at Dr. Doom in full armor will appear in this weeks Entertainment Weekly.
Spider-Man 2
TV spots have started airing for the Nov. 30 DVD release. Remember how most of the reviews, almost all of which were positive, praised this movie for it’s deep and honest emotional core? Forget about it because all the commercials show is Action! Action! Action!
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory
The site consists solely of a teaser poster for the Johnny Depp starring and Tim Burton helmed adaptation, but it’s great. I’m so glad it’s Burton at the wheel for this.

Revenge of the Sith teaser poster

I’ll kick this off with the latest (and reportedly last) entry into my favorite film cycle of all time, Star Wars. To date two materials have been released to the general public for Episode III – Revenge of the Sith: the teaser poster and a trailer. The poster works for me, but not as a movie poster. Honestly, this looks like the cover to the comic book adaptation. The teaser poster for Ep. I worked because it played up the story that would be unfolding over the next three movies, namely that of this small boy turning into Darth Vader. The sheet for Ep. II similarly used the image of Anakin and Padme divided physically by the Jedi Code to highlight the emotional core of the movie (even if it did make Hayden Christiansen look like he had a bruise on his jaw).The trailer relies heavily on nostalgia for the first series of movies (the ones we grew up with and Lucas has endlessly futzed with in the last decade) to draw people in, devoting the first third to half of the running time to scenes from A New Hope. This is the wrong time to do that, George, as your core audience is still fuming that you can’t keep your hands off the editing software with the recent DVD release and the previous Special Editions. After it gets off the past, though, the trailer does kick into high gear with scenes of a large capital ship space battle, a couple shots of masses of honked-off Wookies and, just because it was viewed as a highlight of Ep. 2, two or three views of Yoda wielding his mini-lightsaber. I can tell you that I think this is great as a teaser since it contains no dialogue and really does just tease at the entire movie, not just one or two scenes. I’ll be revisiting Revenge of the Sith quite a bit over the next few weeks and months as we get closer to the May 2006 release.