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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]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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