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“Inception,” and how to market a film while maintaining a sense of mystery.

“Inception,” and how to market a film while maintaining a sense of mystery. (photo)

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Not since Peter Jackson was fresh off “Lord of the Rings” has a filmmaker had as much leverage to do whatever he likes as Christopher Nolan has gotten for “Inception.” The one oasis of hope in an otherwise predictable-looking summer, “Inception” naturally raises a niggling doubt. What if Nolan takes all that money and freedom and delivers his very own “Southland Tales”?

For now, in the absence of much concrete information, what we have is a meta-story about the challenges of marketing a blockbuster whose hooks are a) intelligence and b) strictly not to be revealed for the time being. Whatever’s going on in the film, there will be surprises, probably in the third act.

Brent Lang at The Wrap notes that there are some problems with this marketing tactic. For one, by concealing the premise from audiences that have proven time and again they want to know exactly what they’re getting going in, the potential for alienation is massive. (Per the girls at my subway stop who spent last summer starting down a poster for “Funny People” and saying “I don’t know what that movies’s about” in a contemptuous voice, not even Adam Sandler can save you if the premise and tone are unclear.)

06152010_matrix.jpgAnother issue, says Lang, is the potentially cerebral nature of the goings-on. As he puts it, “The ‘Matrix’ trilogy may have managed to ride allusions to French theorist Jean Baudrillard to a $1.5 billion worldwide box office gross, but other high-concept movies such as ‘Artificial Intelligence: AI’ and ‘Public Enemies’ have found the summer season less hospitable.” So you need to give audiences something so that they won’t think they’re going into an incoherent intellectual treatise. (Though really, when was the last time that happened?)

Personally, I’m not too worried. While Lang cites bloggers who insist that mainstream audiences need more information than trailers featuring “Leo and crumbling buildings” and that the marketing is “infuriatingly vague,” those trailers are perfectly adequate insofar as they tell you the following two things: “Inception” is a movie featuring some very expensive special effects, and also some potentially mind-blowing twists. A formula that, for what it’s worth, worked quite nicely for “The Matrix”:

That trailer? It tells you about as much (or as little) as we’re getting about “Inception” how. It implies there’s a nebulous “they” who are “watching” and that there’s a revolt on the way — but of goo-ridden bodies, robot masters, mind-control and all the rest there’s nary a hint, just a barrage of disorienting, intriguing images, successfully concealing the fact that the big twist is in the first act. The immediate impact of that twist energized audiences as much as any slow-mo gunfights.

“Public Enemies” and “Funny People” may be tougher cerebral sells (relatively speaking), but they’re also on the dowdier side. When you combine a blockbuster director and blockbuster effects, you get a pass. When you sell a pre-valued property it’s the opposite: people now want to know exactly effect they’ll be getting, hence e.g. the dominance of the Kraken in “Clash of the Titans” trailers. This is something different: you’re selling the promise of mystery from one of the most trusted directors working today:

[Photos: “Inception,” Warner Bros., 2010; “The Matrix,” Warner Bros., 1999]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.