DID YOU READ

When Viral Marketing Goes Wrong

When Viral Marketing Goes Wrong (photo)

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“2012” may have destroyed the box office this weekend, but it also did plenty of damage to NASA, who received thousands of letters and phone calls from concerned citizens that the world was going to end in just over two years — so much so that NASA set up a site to specifically debunk their fears. Roland Emmerich’s latest disaster flick would’ve inevitably inspired some to panic regardless, but these calls got an assist from Sony’s viral marketing campaign for the film, which included a web site devoted to The Institute for Human Continuity that, among other things, offers visitors an opportunity to register for a lottery to increase their chance of survival when the apocalypse strikes. The move inspired some, like Stuart McGurk at the Guardian to look at the ways viral marketing “can go bad.” I’d like to add to the pile four more risky movie marketing maneuvers that bombed, sometimes literally:

11162009_spiderman2.jpg“Spider-Man II” Bases

Although it didn’t strike fear in the hearts of the general public, baseball fans cried foul when Sony signed a deal with Major League Baseball to place the Spider-Man II logo on bases and in on-deck circles in 15 stadiums in June of 2004. At first, the MLB declined the offer of putting Spidey-style netting behind home plate as the netting to catch foul balls because they thought it would distract the players, but the league felt okay with the bases having a Spidey diamond in the center. As MLB president Bob DuPuy said to ESPN, “This is not a step toward wallpapering the ballpark,” but that’s exactly what fans believed it was. They complained profusely until the MLB nixed the plans at the last second. (It didn’t help Sony’s cause that “Spider-Man II”‘s director Sam Raimi is a baseball purist who previously directed “For Love of The Game.”) Geoffrey Ammer, then-marketing head of Columbia, told ESPN, “We saw some of the polls on the Internet that said that 71 and 81 percent of the fans didn’t approve of it.” But hey, who could blame them for covering all their bases?

11162009_captivity.jpg“Captivity” Billboards

What better way to push a movie starring the voluptuous Elisha Cuthbert than to see her imprisoned, wrapped in gauze with a tube of blood being pumped from her nose? It was at the height of torture porn’s popularity in 2007, but most Angelenos and New Yorkers were turned off by the billboards for “Captivity,” which outlined the four steps of the horror film’s plot — abduction, confinement, torture and termination — in prominent locations. After Dark Films CEO Courtney Solomon claimed the billboards were a result of a printing error, telling the L.A. Times “I don’t know where the confusion happened and who’s responsible,” before adding later in the same interview that the film was “about something that happens to 850,000 people in this country a year.” Joss Whedon and future “United States of Tara” writer Jill Soloway weren’t convinced that After Dark was raising awareness for female abduction and campaigned to the MPAA to have the film’s rating removed, which would effectively limit the studio’s ability to advertise at all. The billboards were taken down at significant cost to After Dark and the Roland Joffe horror flick never found an audience.

11162009_mi3.jpg“Mission Impossible III” News Racks

In 2006, Paramount decided to install digital music equipment into Los Angeles Times news racks that would play the “Mission: Impossible” theme song when opened, but when wires from that equipment weren’t completely contained, those going about their morning routine thought they might be in for an explosion like the one that sent Tom Cruise blasting through that train tunnel in the first “Mission: Impossible.” The Los Angeles arson squad destroyed one such news rack after hearing a complaint and soon after, the 4,500 news racks in L.A. county, which were equipped with the theme music that starts with signature sizzle of a match, were dismantled. Said Mark Kurtich, the then-senior vice president of operations for the L.A. Times, “I think Paramount is pretty happy about [the publicity they received].” It didn’t help the film, however, which was the lowest grossing in the franchise.

11162009_mooninite.jpg“Aqua Teen Hunger Force” Boston Bomb Scare

Again, terrorist threats aren’t exactly the best way into the hearts and minds of potential audiences, but that’s exactly what people in Boston were led to believe when they saw electronic light boards featuring “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” characters called Mooninites, crescent-shaped cartoon creations waving a middle finger to anyone who passed by. Like those who installed the “Mission: Impossible” news racks, the duo responsible for the installation of the lightboards didn’t do a very good job of hiding the wires and as a result, Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens were arrested by the Boston police for causing a public panic. The lightboards had the dual purpose of promoting the “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” show as well as the upcoming feature film. Cartoon Network executive vice president Jim Samples was forced to quit after TBS, the network’s corporate parent, paid $2 million to settle the bomb scare claims in Massachusetts. As for Berdovsky and Stevens, they pleaded not guilty to charges of disorderly conduct and placing a hoax device and at a press conference after the hearing, would only answer questions about their hair. Which was fair, since they put the dread in Boston’s security locks.

[Additional photos: “Spider-Man II” base, courtesy of ESPN; “Captivity billboard, courtesy of /Film; L.A. County Sheriff’s Department inspecting a Santa Clarita MI3 newspaper rack, courtesy of The Signal; Cambridge Mooninite, courtesy of Wikipedia, all used without permission]

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

The Fantastic and the Apocalyptic

The Fantastic and the Apocalyptic (photo)

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Richard Curtis sets out to the high seas to rock our world, Roland Emmerich just obliterates it and Wes Anderson reenvisions it in stop-motion animation, while as a group of documentaries ponder real world issues of war, God, poverty and Glenn Gould.

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“2012”
On behalf of moviegoers everywhere, we here at IFC would like to thank that schoolyard bully who must have so traumatized a young Roland Emmerich that he has spent his recent career ritualistically laying waste to our world one famous landmark at a time. Having previous employed such excuses for mass destruction as alien invasions and global warming, this time cinema’s most destructive director turns to an ancient Mayan prophecy that foretells the end of all mankind, and once again batters humanity — specifically John Cusack and assorted stragglers — like the fist of an angry god through a barrage of CGI natural disasters that rapidly consume our planet.
Opens wide.

“Dare”
Stretching their 2005 short of the same name into a feature, writer David Brind and director Adam Salky offer up a multi-strand narrative about a trio of romantically confused teenagers in their last semester of high school that impressed at its Sundance unveiling earlier this year. Emmy Rossum stars as Alexa, an overachiever and aspiring actress chasing validation, alongside Ashley Springer, who plays Ben, a closeted homosexual struggling for self-acceptance. “Friday Night Lights”‘ Zach Gilford rounds out the trio as Johnny, a privileged bad boy whose anti-social antics mask deep personal insecurities.
Opens in limited release.

“The End of Poverty?”
Employing the anti-capitalist theories and writings of historian Clifford Cobb (on board as an exec producer) for a foundation, activist filmmaker Philippe Diaz delivers a broad view of recent economic history as it relates to the developing world, positing that capitalism is merely the extension of colonialism by other means. With interviews with experts like Joseph Stiglitz and Chalmers Johnson, the left-leaning director points his finger firmly at the West, arguing that the wealth gap has become so severe that the only viable solution is nothing less than the total abolition of privatization.
Opens in New York.

(more…)

A guide to Roland Emmerich’s early work.

A guide to Roland Emmerich’s early work. (photo)

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I’ve had so much fun writing about “2012,” I’m almost sad it’ll actually be coming out next Friday. Almost. In a fairly amazing recent interview with Roland Emmerich, the schlock auteur explains he could get away with casting John Cusack because “I make movies where the movie itself is the star” and says it’s totally cool that “2012” is a whopping 158 minutes because “The ten most successful movies of all time are all around three hours long. My favourite movie, ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ is four hours. So there!” Same thing!

But what really caught my eye was an allusion to one of his earlier films, “The Noah’s Ark Principle,” which Emmerich says “was also about morality and what you can and can’t do in these situations.” Earlier film? I thought he hit the ground running with “Universal Soldier” and “Stargate.” How wrong I was. Here, for your edification and mine, is a guide to the early work of Roland Emmerich:

The Noah’s Ark Principle (1984)
After 1979’s short “Franzmann” (set in 1937, about a young German lad who has to figure out whether to go study in France or stay and join the army), Emmerich’s first feature was a class project, made for one million deutschmarks, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival. Really! It’s about an international space station named FLORIDA ARKLAB that, in the words of DVD Verdict‘s Michael Rankins,”becomes a pawn in an international chess game involving American hostages in Riyadh. The suits on the ground have stumbled on the notion of employing the space station’s radiation blasters as weapons of mass destruction (funny how no one thought about that before the thing went up). Will Billy and Max carry out their new orders to wreak havoc on behalf of the American government, or will they remain true to their peaceful humanitarian mission?” Here’s a clip from the opening, nicely highlighting Emmerich’s shameless steals from “Alien” (that crawl of the space station across space’s inky black) and “2001” (a computer named H.A.R.V.E.Y.):

Joey (1985)
Emmerich followed up “Ark” with “Joey,” aka “Making Contact.” Despite have studied several plot summaries, the movie still doesn’t make any sense to me, but as far as I can tell it’s basically about a boy who discovers he has telekinetic powers, which brings him into contact with an evil ventriloquist’s dummy that lives in his closet and opens another world there. Here’s a trailer that does not clarify anything, but does seem to indicate several “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” likenesses:

Ghost Chase (1987)
Also known as “Hollywood-Monster,” this was the first Emmerich film to be shot at least partially in the US. As with “Joey,” it appears to be difficult to summarize, but it’s essentially about three guys who unleash a ghost that comes out of an old clock and leads three aspiring filmmakers to a lot of money they can use to finance their movie. If you watch only one of these clips, let it be this superbly hacky one, replete with campy ’80s, a ghost that looks like “E.T.” (or maybe just “E.T.” rip-off “Mac and Me”), a sword-fight with a spectral knight against a strobe light, and a narrator who insists on making bad puns: “They may not have a ghost of a chance, but they’re gonna have the time of their lives!” Amazingly, this saw the light of theatrical projection in the US, a first for Emmerich.

Moon 44 (1990)
The last Emmerich film to go direct-to-video in the US, “Moon 44″ is closest in spirit to where Emmerich would end up in his career. “The year 2038,” the narrator intones in the trailer, “a world of intergalactic corporations locked in ruthless rivalry.” According to IMDb commenter junk-monkey — who deems it “testosterone driven pile of pseudo homo-erotic horse cookies masquerading as an SF movie” — this standard-issue robots-vs-humans on a outer-space mining station movie has some truly memorable characters: “these guys ARE as thick as two short planks because, having been told that their lives are in the hands of their teenage navigators they seem to think it’s a good idea to anally rape one of them in the shower.” Also, at some point someone says “I got fed up with talking to my French fries.” And after this project, well, it was on to “Universal Soldier” and glory!

[Photo: “Moon 44,” Lions Gate, 1990]

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