SUMMER OF SELLOUTS

Compiling the best, most shameless cross-promotion this summer.

As we all know, summer is largely a time for artistic integrity to flourish among the film community, what with audiences lining up around the block for Lars von Trier’s latest five-hour indulgence or some such.
Well, not really but maybe in Sweden or some other magical film market that doesn’t exist yet. 
No, summer is the time for studios to blow their wads on films with the biggest budgets possible and hope to recoup some of their coke expenses. Lord knows, it doesn’t all come from the scripting department.
“Faster than a speeding check…”
With monster budgets comes a monster need for even more people to see their films. So often this results is cross-promotion, which, according to Webster’s dictionary, translates to “Hot damn, we need to stamp this shit on everything we possibly can!!!” 
That’s why we get things like Superman teaming up with IHOP and Sears last year to save the world, while kissing the ass of the National Guard during his free time.
And while no film this summer has yet to reach the level of whoring Man of Steel accomplished last year, there are still a few that are trying their darndest to come close.
https://youtube.googleapis.com/v/SnfctSWW9Ps&source=udsDisclaimer: I’m not really bothered by most cross-promotion, provided it doesn’t beat you over the head with it (see: Transformers, any goddamn Adam Sandler movie). Moreso, it’s just kind of interesting to see what ends up with what and have fun with it.

Does whatever a USPS carrier can

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 didn’t quite get as many butts into seats as they hoped but it certainly wasn’t for lack of awareness.

In addition to releasing what felt like a new trailer every week, the ASM 2 crew partnered with the US Postal Service to put the web head’s mug on every priority mail parcel across the nation.

Their flagship ad features Spidey answering a frazzled theater owner’s prayers as he delivers the movie (presumably including the remains of however many scenes they slashed out) to an exuberant audience. Stan Lee also shows up because why wouldn’t he.

https://youtube.googleapis.com/v/0bpwmiuwjLo&source=udsAll in all, this ad is fairly harmless. It didn’t do them too much good in the end but it did get a certain film writer counting down the days until the movie’s release. There’s a joke somewhere here comparing how fast Spider-Man got to his destination and how fast they churned out the film but I’m not the one to make it.

Mighty marketing

Not only did Godzilla return to screens this summer, so did his penchant for doing a bunch of tie-in commercials. Following the ’98 film’s legendary Taco Bell team-upthe latest film’s marketing crew upped the ante with not one, but two prominent ad appearances.

https://youtube.googleapis.com/v/QKpzU2GSVC0&source=udsThe first, admittedly, is pretty damn funny. This Snickers ad sees the king of monsters before and after hunger strikes. Honestly, the ad would still be funny without a big movie tie in around the corner. But seeing how casually Toho sues for using the character’s likeness, I’m guessing this wouldn’t exist without the movie.

The other ad is… kinda strange. Somebody somewhere thought putting Fiat and Godzilla together would make sense and, bless ’em, they made it happen.

I’m not sure what to take away from the ad other than a) knowing the basics around the giant monster, Fiats must be highly radioactive for big G to want to eat them or b) one of the main selling points around Fiats is that their size prevents them from being swallowed by giant lizards.

On second thought, sold!

A burger of heroic portions

This is just lolsy now. Hardee’s/Carl’s Junior already struck hard with MOS last year and here they’re at it again for X-Men: Days of Future Past with something to make every fiber of your being squee with awkwardness.

Just glancing over the Hardee’s menu makes me think I would need some sort of genetic mutation to even get through one of their entrees — at very least, Quicksilver’s hyper metabolism would come in handy to not have all that sitting around in my arteries afterwards. Mystique may be “mutant and proud” but the hell if she’s going to be seen eating that disgusting thing in her true form.

Absolutely cringe-worthy…

Return of the king

Ohp, spoke too soon. It’s just not a product placement article until we talk about Transformers and this latest entry in the saga of awful has a recent partnership that is so ironic, it’s hard to imagine that nobody high up didn’t notice it.
You see, when it comes to film, Transformers is leading the charge in pushing the medium as far away from artistic integrity, towards pure commerce as possible. Much as I may rip on Man of Steel for its blatant marketing ploys, there is absolutely no touching what Michael Bay does in the Transformers films.
Every other film on this list has had the decency to keep their business partners confined to commercials; Bay makes his entire “films” commercials. Age of Extinction reportedly features glaring appearances by Bud Light, Victoria’s Secret and Beats, in addition to the regular GM overlords.
But elsewhere, on the cross-promotion side of things, something magical happened. Amid the sea of Oreo commercials featuring Optimus finding the strength to fight on in milk’s favorite cookie, Transformers may just have found its perfect ad partner.

I’ll just leave these here for your convenience…

  

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL REVIEW

There’s no substitute for a good story — not a perfect cast, not a moving score, and especially not 4,500 visual effects shots. Wes Anderson’s latest not only preaches the wonder of a great story, it features one of the most unconventionally told tales told as of late.

Told from the words of an aging writer (Tom Wilkinson, Jude Law), the life story of the mysterious Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham/Tony Revolori) is recounted, particularly his younger years working as a lobby boy in the extravagant Grand Budapest Hotel. There, he meets a most unusual mentor, Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the hotel’s concierge and an effeminate charmer of elderly rich women, who is accused of murdering one of his longtime acquaintances.

For a while there, I was afraid Wes Anderson was going down the Tim Burton road. His early works (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) are undoubtedly awesome but his most recent film, Moonrise Kingdom, reeked of being a vanity project that only appealed to him and his regular collaborators. That sounds better than throwing bad child actors under the bus, right?

Conversely, all of Anderson’s best qualities are on display for Grand Budapest. The sheer joy brought by watching Anderson craft zany, extreme environments and situations and fill them with characters who are just a little too casual finally returns. The director’s signature playful camera work weaves between shifting aspect ratios for each timeline while the aesthetic of the bright pink lodge pops off the screen. Almost every second of Grand Budapest is filled with subversion and mischief, almost to a dark degree (there’s a surprising amount of murder for an Anderson outing), and all 100 minutes could not be more enticing because of it.

Here, all the Anderson-y goodness we’ve come to expect is focused like a laser in order to best tell the story, not the other way around. Even while juggling three storylines and a nice helping of wacky comedy, the charm of the movie is never strained, nor the movie’s deeper moments lost. Deliberately hidden under the craziness are moments of genuine melancholy that sneak up and resonate with tuning fork-like precision.

But the bright, pastel frosting on the cake must be Fiennes’ performance. Anderson and Fiennes build an exceptional dialogue rhythm with Gustave that uses profanity to its fullest. (Yes, not many films can boast using expertly timed swearing — Grand Budapest is one.) Just when you think this man couldn’t be any suave and sophisticated, things end on a hilarious turns as he compares train car brandy to cat piss or telling a dead woman he wants some of her makeup.

That’s just the magic of Grand Budapest: nothing is content to be basic — everything subverts your expectations. Anderson tops even himself in creating a films that looks unlike any other. The film’s dark comedy comes from unexpected dialogue turns more than broad shtick. Above all, story comes first as we’re treated to a well-rounded tale that is fit to be tied in weirdness. Grand Budapest is charming and effective in all the odd ways and hits home with great panache.

9/10

ENTERTAINMENT NEWS UPDATES: 6/16 – 6/22

Star Wars sequels set in Brick

In a truly surprising announcement, Deadline broke the news Friday that Rian Johnson has been hired to write and direct not only Star Wars Episode XIII, but write a treatment for IX as well.
The news of the Looper helmer’s involvement comes in the midst of production on Episode VII, headed by J.J. Abrahms. Further details on production are understandably few at this point but just by looking at Johnson’s short but strong body of work, it’s clear that the galaxy far far away is in very good hands.

The Batman returns

Hot off the supposed leak of Warner Bros.’ DC film plans, reportedly set to announce at Comic Con, one strange absence among the roster was the most popular member of the lot: Batman.
Now, word is arriving via Latino Review‘s scooper extraordinaire, El Mayimbe, that plans may be in motion for the Dark Knight’s next big screen solo outing after all. Reports indicate that Warner is monitoring 2019 to release the next Batman solo film, appropriately titled The Batman (how very 2004).
Ben Affleck has another project, Live By Night, in between Batman v Superman and Justice League, but sources imply he may put his considerable directing talents to work for The Batman and other DC projects in the future.

Better Call Saul… later

The first of two TV stories that came out of left field this week, AMC’s Breaking Bad spinoff series, Better Call Saul, had good news and bad to share.
The bad news: the show, starring Bob Odenkirk reprising his Saul Goodman character from Bad, has been postponed for another year. The series was originally supposed to debut this fall.
The good news: while premiering later than expected, Saul has already been optioned for a second season. Already. Yeah, that fast.
Meanwhile…

Korra returns… like, really soon

Most of us didn’t expect the excellent Legend of Korra (well, at least the first season) to be back for a few more months. Furthermore, most people would expect a good deal of notice about its return, it being one of Nick’s most celebrated shows.
We guessed wrong. Korra announced via its official Facebook page Friday that its third season would debut in just one week. No reason has yet been given for the abrupt notice of the season three debut.
Legend of Korra: Book 3, titled Change, will revolve around the Avatar team dealing with the fallout from season 2’s finale and the new world of humans and spirits.
Change will debut Friday June 27, at 6 p.m. central time, with three episodes up front.

ENTERTAINMENT NEWS UPDATE: 6/8 – 6/14

We have an Aquaman

Jason Momoa

According to HitflixGame of Thrones actor Jason Mamoa has signed to play Aquaman in the Man of Steel follow-up Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
This news comes just days after reports leaked of Warner Bros.’ plan to announce its upcoming DC slate at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. Post Dawn films are rumored to include the inevitable Justice League in 2017, Wonder Woman, a Flash / Green Lantern teamup film, and a proper Man of Steel sequel.
Mamoa’s involvement in the superhero stunner has long been rumored, of which he has continually denied. An official statement from Warner or Mamoa has not yet been made but sources this time appear to be genuine.
The former Conan and Baywatch star is just one more face being added to the sequel, due out May 6, 2016, that is meant to lead into bigger things in the back-to-back Justice League film.

Amazon pre-orders for Warner titles on hold

Speaking of Warner Bros., Amazon has suspended all pre-orders for upcoming Warner Home Video titles.
Collider reports via The New York Times that the reason the online retailer has stopped taking pre-orders for upcoming Warner Bros. releases like The LEGO Movie, Transcendence300: Rise of an Empire, and Edge of Tomorrow is due to disputes between the two parties over the studio’s price of the Blu-rays and DVD.
Although there is no news at this time when pre-orders will return for future Warner titles, Amazon is still selling Warner films that have already been released.
While many might see this as a giant retailer putting the pressure on a major studio, this could end up working out for the consumer. We may seem disadvantaged now, but Warner Bros. home video titles can often rank among the more expensive of them all. If an agreement can be reached, perhaps a more affordable situation can be reached for the consumer.

Spider-Man possibly pushed to 2017

With Blu-ray specs on the verge of announcement for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (more on that very soon), word is circling that The Amazing Spider-Man 3 may be pushed back to 2017. The threequel was originally slated to be released June 10, 2016 but disappointing box office numbers and reviews on the latest Spidey may have caused Sony to temper their pace on the franchise in order to better realize how to go forward.
If this is true, there’s no word on whether the upcoming Sinister Six spinoff film will move up and take the place of the Marc Webb helmed sequel or not.
While it would be nice to keep things on track, maybe this is something that needs to happen. If they want to solidify their game plan, more power to them. That said, they’re going to have to deliver results with this, and by results I mean a movie that doesn’t end up being messy and doesn’t leave half its stuff on the cutting room floor. Or, you know, maybe let the director be creatively in charge as opposed to a desperate studio. Food for thought…

American Horror Story double-header

Sarah Paulson - American Horror Story: Freakshow

News on the upcoming season of American Horror Story, titled Freakshow, has been slow. Until now.
Show veteran Sarah Paulson took to Twitter to reveal her enigmatic character, or make that characters. Paulson will be playing conjoined twins Bette and Dot for the upcoming season, a character she has called her most challenging so far on the show.
Freakshow will feature the return of Paulson, as well as series regulars Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Evan Peters, Frances Conroy, Dennis O’Hare, and Angela Bassett, while The Shield star Michael Chiklis is set to come on board. 
The newest story in the anthology series see Lange playing a German ex-pat running one of the last remaining freakshows in Florida during the 1950s. Bates, Peters, Chiklis and Conroy are all rumored to play freaks, while O’Hare is slated to play a collector of freaks and rival to Lange.
American Horror Story: Freakshow will premier on FX this October. 

22 JUMP STREET REVIEW

“Do the same thing. Everyone’s happy.”

From the very opening, 22 Jump Street announces that fact that it’s a sequel. Hell, it can’t stop reminding us of the fact and how it intentionally sets out to repeat the outline of the first film. There are so many worse films to repeat almost verbatim than 21 Jump Street but if you’re going to take the beat-for-beat approach, cynicism can only get you so far.

After making a mess of things during an undercover drug bust, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are told in very 4th wall-breaking terms that they’ll be headed back to Jump Street to do what they do best, this time at college. And once again, the bromantic couple start drifting apart in their investigation, this time thanks to Jenko bonding with the football team and frat house. Will the duo ever get back together or will they go their separate, ah fuck it. You know how this goes. After all, you’ve seen it already once before.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller are on a roll lately after the runaway success of The LEGO Movie and 22 Jump Street is hardly a mark against that. Like it’s predecessor, the film knows that it’s got magic in the form of Hill and Tatum’s chemistry, as well as Lord and Miller’s irreverent humor. But watching the film you can’t help but wonder if the movie is too cynical about its existence for its own good.

There are some funny, funny moments in 22 Jump Street. Ice Cube’s epic food freakout, our protagonist’s even trippier, well, trip, a cameo or two from the first film and Tatum kind of admitting White House Down was a bad idea — take your pick. But there’s also a huge dry spell in the middle of the film where Lord and Miller seem content to simply revisit the conflict of the first movie without adding anything all that comedic. Sure, there are a few chortles but on the whole, everything grinds to a halt.

In the absence of truly funny stuff happening during this stretch, Lord and Miller fall back on the idea of more sequel related stuff and it wears thin fast. The film feels almost every minute of it’s near two-hour runtime and while it does eventually pick back up, there’s no shaking the feeling that they shouldn’t have to dwell so long on obligatory drama that they got down pat in the first movie.

The action sequences do their job and feature a few really good gags, while the addition of Peter Stormare and Jillian Bell are wholly welcome. Even at their most under-utilized, Hill and Tatum can still light up the screen with their presence and the directing duo know how to pull some truly hilarious, unexpected material out of thin air.

A little bit of self-awareness is always appreciated but not as much when you rest the entire movie upon it. The parts are all there to make it work again but the movie gets too caught up in its own defeated purpose to get the most out it. Just because you’re a sequel doesn’t mean you have to try less. It’s what can make the difference between complete hilarity — the first movie — and above-average amusement — this one.

6.5/10

EDGE OF TOMORROW REVIEW

Most everyone would like to repeat a day in their lives. Almost nobody wants it to be the day they die.

Tom Cruise finds himself in the worst Groundhog’s Days scenario ever as one fateful encounter causes him repeat a bloody battle against alien invaders until he can properly defeat the enemy. As Cruise grows more and more familiar with his options, Edge of Tomorrow continues to play upon our familiarity with the action genre in ways that are surprising, innovative and highly amusing.

Major William Cage (Cruise) hasn’t seen a day of combat in his life. A media figurehead for the military, a series of events puts Cage on the front line against an invading alien force, much to his chagrin. A supposedly easy mission becomes a slaughter and Cage is killed, but not before he comes into contact with the blood of one of the creatures, codenamed “mimics”. Waking up the previous day, Cage discovers he has gained the power to reset the day. The catch is he must die to do so. Teaming up with a hard-as-nails warrior who knows what’s happening to him (Emily Blunt), Cage must use the mimic’s time abilities to prevent a full-scale invasion, and inadvertently become a complete badass while he’s at it.

Edge of Tomorrow is in many ways 2014’s World War Z — a film that went through numerous production issues and inspired little confidence beforehand but ended up being a summertime blast. Director Doug Liman delivers a film that hinges on its sci-fi plot twist and gets the most out of it. As mechanized soldiers fire at terrifying robo-aliens on a beach, one can’t help but think the story is poking a bit of fun at first person shooter video games with heroes that can come back to life, no problem.

The film succeeds as the rare plot-driven summer blockbuster. The fun doesn’t come from witnessing special effects-laden battles and cluttered chaos but rather from watching Cruise redo the past and learn from his mistakes. While Cruise is trapped in the time loop, the film is now free to branch off in several unexpected story directions and is smarter because of it.

Cruise has proven these last few years that he is more than capable of carrying an action blockbuster and Edge of Tomorrow is probably his most demanding. The emotional weight of the film is on him and he doesn’t disappoint. His journey from cowardly figurehead to unshakable killing machine is handled with appropriate solemness but also a welcome sense of humor as his strange situation brings a hearty amount of laughs. His combat training alone would be the comedic highlight of the film if not for numerous mishaps he has with passing trucks.

Blunt is believable as the veteran alien killer and Bill Paxton shows up for a spirited role as an eager sergeant, both of whom thankfully don’t get lost among the noise. A concept like this can also become naturally repetitive but editing is handled gracefully here and keeps the momentum going.

But like so many summer action movies (and sci-fi flicks), things just kind of fall apart in the third act. The once clever set up essentially goes away and we’re left with the routine, noisy actioner that is so dimly lit, it’s near impossible to decipher. And like it’s aforementioned comparison piece, the film makes no secret of the fact that they had no clue how to end the film. Other than being abrupt, you eventually have to resign yourself to the fact that the ending makes not a lick of sense.

But once you do get over that little qualm, the sky is the limit on how enjoyable this film can be. Cruise’s charisma, a smart intent and some effective editing make Edge of Tomorrow an experience worth repeating.

8/10 

HANNIBAL SEASON 2 REVIEW

Having narrowly dodged being devoured by NBC for the second time, Hannibal once again lent credence to the idea that only the good die young (and messy). Just not yet.

After a stellar first season, Bryan Fuller’s take on Thomas Harris’ world of cultured intrigue and cannibal carnage took things even farther for its second outing, setting up a ticking clock from the start while Hannibal and his frienemy Will Graham engage in a deadly game of cat and mouse. Like season 1, Hannibal’s second outing is saturated in the same expressionist visuals and psychological madness as before, and while it doesn’t all work, this new season ramps things up with urgency and a genuine uncertainty at how far things will escalate. And who will be left in one piece.

Hannibal is a weird show — unlike anything on TV, even. As much as it hurts to say it, it’s a little understandable why it’s not doing well in the ratings. It’s tone is so far outside the normal realm of television standards that it can come off as off-putting. What it really is is challenging.

At every turn (well, almost), Hannibal stretches the boundaries of comfort and convention. In a television landscape of noise and over-explanation, the show basks in quiet, mumbly reflection. We the audience have to work for answers as we are rarely are given an omniscient look into the situation until the characters are — we know what’s going on when they do. Like the titular character, Fully and company craft a sophisticated show that does not baby its audience.

The relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal Lector is a wonderfully complicated one, and one that defies every archetype of male interaction on television (brilliantly explored in a recent NPR article). The entire heart of the show is these two having deep, philosophical conversations that outline the larger themes at play, over some of the most artful meals ever put to screen. They do not need to posture their masculinity to each other, as they understand one another too much for that sort of thing.

Instead, the dichotomy between the two carries the show. Will and Hannibal are two sides of a coin — dark and light, heaven and hell — and watching them play tug of war with ideology is fascinating. It’s just one of the things that puts this show so far beyond regular crime dramas and while the actual interplay often needs subtitles (the entire show operates on a softer volume than the average bear), Mads Mikkelson and Hugh Dancy kill it on a routine basis.

Season one made a name for itself with its ridiculously artful gore. Season two looks back and says “what, you thought that was gross?”. Nearly every episode features some assortment of stomach-turning carnage, that is executed so beautifully that it looks as if it should be in a museum somewhere. Last season’s champ was the mushroom corpses (by a narrow margin) — this season features too many to count, but as someone with an aversion to bees, one episode had something special just for me.

Structurally, season two follows a mostly similar pattern as season one. The first chunk of episodes sees a series of gruesome crimes occurring while Hannibal operates in the background. A sort of shift happens midway through and the third quarter sees a lot of reality twisting and blurred lines before things intensify in the last couple episodes and end on similar notes. This season has its share of weak episodes (the courtroom episode and all involving the animal-man didn’t measure up) but the overall arcs succeeded, as both halves of the season ended on game-changing twists that nobody saw coming.

The major failing of season two has to be its female cast. Next to the main relationship between Will and Hannibal, the women on the show suffered. The general trend seemed to be “get gone or get dumb”. Smart, able characters like Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki) and Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) were absent for large chunks of the season, but were allowed to keep their wits about them. Meanwhile, previously sharp female characters like Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) and Beverly Katz (Hattienne Park) were present in big ways this season only to make one incredibly stupid, out-of-character decision after another that would bring doom upon them even faster. For a show that is so progressive in how it handles its males, it seemed odd to sacrifice the women players’ agency. Thankfully, there’s always next season.

But the one wild card that came in like a storm and revitalized this season was Michael Parks’ performance as Mason Verger. The psychotic, pedophilic meat-packing heir from Harris’ Hannibal novel made an unexpectedly early appearance on the show and what an appearance it was. Parks is essentially playing The Joker here but Verger’s gleeful depravity is a perfect foil to Hannibal’s controlled, sophisticated madness. Fuller and company utilize the character perfectly and Parks steals every scene he’s in. His implied presence down the road is all the more reason to tune in.

Hannibal still has stories to tell and with this season pulling the rug out more than once, next season promises to be a different beast altogether. The road getting to this point wasn’t perfect but it was always engrossing. Hannibal is never content to play it safe and because of it, it’s all the more easy to let go and embrace the madness.

8/10