Archive for the ‘movies’ Category

Moonlight Shines a Light

Monday, March 13th, 2017

imgresIn a supposed land of equality there are all too many of us who, from the cocoon of our comfortable lives, all too often ask questions such as:  What is wrong with our society? Why are our prisons filled to capacity? Why can’t everyone just follow the right path and take advantage of the opportunities that exist for us all?  Watch the Oscar-winning “Moonlight” and you may feel differently.

Without giving away too much of the plot, the story centers around three phases in the life of an African American youth (“Little”) living in a rough neighborhood in Miami.  Without the role models, without the guidance, without the proper day-to-day guardianship, he is rudderless and largely helpless.  He truly never stands a chance.  How does one communicate your hopes, your fears without anyone to communicate them to? As for goals and aspirations – what are those?

I have not seen “La La Land” but by all indications, it appears to be a wonderful film. Perhaps fittingly it is the polar opposite of “Moonlight”; a throwback fantasy far flung from reality.  And while I know I might appreciate the performances in the former, I associated deeply with the school bullying sequences in the latter – a life experience that made me stronger and helped shape my life for the better but that I will never forget.

“Moonlight’ will shock, sadden and disturb but should move you to introspection. As my mom used to say to me as we walked by someone less fortunate, “If there but for the Grace of God go I.”  We will never and should never tolerate drugs nor crime but this movie works to force each and every one of us to contemplate the ‘why’ of it all.  “Moonlight’ does not provide answers but does ask us to consider compassion and, eventually, redemption.



Ray Kroc’s Grand Brand Plan

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

raykrocnw2On Friday, at the kind invitation of PR pro and educator extraordinaire Dr. Linda Hagan, I guest lectured a class of young artists at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. In fitting with the curriculum of business and marketing trends and practices, I advised the group on how best to go about creating their own brand.  A significant slice of what I covered is evident in the excellent new movie, “The Founder,” starring Michael Keaton.  Because when it comes to brands – iconic brands – McDonald’s best-known owner Ray Kroc was a true visionary.

I began the CCS class by asking students, ‘What constitutes a brand?’ In response I heard, ‘A logo’ and ‘A slogan’ before another chimed in with, ‘What you stand for.’  All correct, I told them, when taken together.  Because, I further opined, a brand is the sum of all attributes of a particular company, product or service – it is how you answer your phones, how you treat your customers, referral sources and employees. It is how you differentiate yourself from your competition – not just in words but also by delivering upon a value proposition and brand promise.

Ray Kroc understood this as well as anyone ever.  While peddling milkshake mixers to drive-ins across the country in the 1950s, he stumbled upon a little single shingle establishment in San Bernardino, California where an amazing thing was happening: families were waiting in line (and not long) for delicious hamburgers and soft drinks that took minutes from order to delivery.  This was in stark contrast to the traditional drive-ins Kroc had experienced that were littered with trash, loud music and smoking teenagers in their hot rods. Food often took 30 minutes or more and orders were routinely wrong.  The alternative restaurant? The brainchild of the McDonalds brothers.

McDonald’s was the model of efficiency, consistency and wholesome family dining. They offered a unique brand value proposition and delivered upon it each and every time.  Kroc saw the vast opportunity to take this badly needed model across the country via franchising. He likened the golden arches to the church steeples and city hall flags he saw in every town he visited on his sales travels. These arches would add another icon to the skylines of each and every town in America, he predicted.  And once these restaurant chain stores opened in their respective markets, Kroc worked tirelessly to maintain brand standards in operations, food offerings and, most importantly, customer service.

A brand, I told the class, works best when it is honest, genuine and true to who you are.   As current students and future employees or entrepreneurs in the world of art and film, I offered, they needed to be true to who they were but also mindful that their brand must also keep in mind the audiences they want to reach.  After all, a brand cannot be successful, ultimately, if it doesn’t resonate and compel. It must also stay open to evolution.  In fact, McDonald’s has gone through decades of changes to meet evolving consumer tastes and priorities, as evidenced by their expanded menu options, dollar value meals and healthier fare.  Ray Kroc didn’t found McDonald’s but he certainly honed and developed its brand, building the restaurant into arguably the greatest fast-food chain ever.  And to millions starting in the Cold War era, Americana never tasted so good.


A Movie To Die For?

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

Suicide-Squad-Joker-character-posterAll my friends are heathens, take it slow / Wait for them to ask you who you know / Please don’t make any sudden moves / You don’t know the half of the abuse.  Thus opens the new song by Twenty One Pilots, “Heathens” from one of the year’s most anticipated movies, “Suicide Squad”, in theaters this weekend.  It’s debut will take comic book filmmaking in a totally new direction while showcasing movie marketing at its finest.

Hollywood has a knack for repeating what works and, indeed, this flick will join a long line of still-popular celluloid representations of characters and story lines currently running in the funny papers. Yet, this is superhero-dom with a twist – as these stars are actually anti-heroes – for perhaps the first time ever.  Some might argue that the forgettable “Punisher” movies of yesteryear previously walked this ground, yet, this time, the individuals taking center stage in “Suicide Squad” are villains; some among the most dangerous from the Batman mythos.

Pre-promotion of “Squad” has been heavy and somewhat predictable with early screenings of previews at the country’s top Comicons.  The movie’s stars, including A-Listers Jared Leto (Joker) and Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn) have, similarly, been making appearances here there and everywhere, including on the late night “Jimmys”.  As important in the hype, though: the 2016 blockbuster Batman v Superman movie, which set the table for a new Gotham while TV’s “Arrow” and “Gotham” have both shined a light on members of the Squad and the mythical New York City, respectively.

Which brings us back to the music. If you liked the score from “Fury” or “Gravity” – both moody and atmospheric – you’ll similarly be drawn to this one, also composed by Steve Price.  Still, it’s the popular Twenty One Pilots and “Heathens” that really steals the show.  The tune has been rocketing up the charts via radio stations across the country and could someday be considered alongside Prince’s 1989 “Batdance” as one of the greatest super hero movie-related tunes ever.  This is the stuff of James Bond soundtracks and should further ensure that ticket buyers for the new “Suicide Squad” leave the theater both shaken and stirred.


Batman v Superman? How about DC v Marvel

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 6.04.31 PMDespite the fact that DC Comics (originally known as National Allied Publications) has been around since 1935, it has never before featured two of its superheroes – let alone its most iconic – in one feature length motion picture.  In the newly released movie, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which opened in theaters Friday, not only we do we get to see two of comicdom’s oldest and most storied characters, we are also presented with Wonder Woman and, (spoiler alert) a glimpse at Aquaman and (it is rumored) The Flash (I have yet to see the film).  Obviously DC is looking to take on Marvel with a league of its own.

As I have written previously, when it comes to the Silver Screen, Marvel has forever ruled the roost (Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Iron Man) with DC possessing a monopoly on the boob tube (Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow).  Now, DC plans to borrow a page from their cross-town publishing rival’s playbook and release two movies a year over the next five years, building toward their super team team-up.  Where Marvel has the Avengers, DC has the Justice League; but first we have to get to know the players. Wonder Woman will be the next to star in her own film. One would assume Aquaman is next.

What is perhaps even more intriguing about “Batman v Superman” is what the story is based on.  Frank Miller (he of “3000″ and “Sin City” movie fame) is also widely recognized as one of the best comic book writers of our time and, indeed, his top grossing movies were based on his graphic novels.  Along with “Watchmen” (which he did not write), “The Dark Knight Returns” comic book series, originally published in 1984, is hands-down the greatest Batman graphic series ever, featuring an aging, retired Bruce Wayne who confronts a bought-and-paid-for by the federal government Superman.  You’ll even see certain scenes in “Dawn of Justice” that come directly from “Dark Knight” (including this blog’s featured image). The plot might be different in “Dawn” but its foundation is pure Miller.

And that’s a good thing.  Once again, the celluloid creators who have been entrusted to stay true to the characters and their lore are showing they deserve it.  Watch “Arrow” and “Flash” on TV and you will see it: references to events and names and obscure characters that demonstrate show writers have done their homework and respect comic history. It’s basically Marketing 101: know who you are trying to reach and then create and message a product or service that will motivate your audience to action.  If the trailers for “Batman v Superman” are any indication, we are in good hands once again.



Marketplace Moves New Music Tuesdays

Monday, September 7th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 3.50.43 PMIn recent weeks, the official release day for all music worldwide almost quietly moved from Tuesday in the U.S. to Friday everywhere.  Previously, new music also debuted Fridays in Australia and Mondays in the U.K.  The reason, as recently reported by Brian Mansfield in the USA Today, is fairly simple: With music being consumed differently today via streaming and online sources, the old “bricks and mortar” methodology has largely become obsolete. The only real wonder is why this change did not happen sooner.

Previously, retailers could sell through initial demand early in the week and still have time to gauge continuing interest and order more in time for the weekend.  The new model, however, is necessitating these same retailers anticipating that demand in advance and pre-ordering in appropriate numbers accordingly.

Another dynamic, reports Mansfield, is how bands touring worldwide will overcome the challenge of a uniform release date when, previously, according to Keith Caulfield of Billboard, “they could appear in Australia, then Europe, then the U.S. to maximize their visibility throughout the week, as the album was released” via a staggered schedule.

On the positive side, says Tom Becci of Universal Music in the USA Today piece, when a new song leaked on a Thursday or Friday before a Tuesday U.S. release, weekend pirating ramped up dramatically.  A universal Friday debut date, he feels, will lead to more legal downloads and, in turn, less demand for illegal fare.

Like anything else, time will tell and an evolving marketplace will continue dictate what changes and what stays the same – a bit akin to the movie industry where the hottest new movies, forever released on Fridays afternoon/evenings, are now more often unveiled 12-13 hours earlier at midnight, in order to maximize buzz and weekend box office takes. Like anything else in marketing, its all about adapting to demand and to the wants and needs of your audience.

For Vintage Media, Internet Archive Takes You Back to the Past

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

mighty_mouseWhile watching the latest developments in media entertainment, one cannot help but also sometimes pine nostalgic; for past programming enjoyed during our youth but also that talked about fondly by our parents and grandparents. That is the beauty of Internet Archive – a digital journey into all things classic television, radio, movies and more. Digital media observer Kim Komando shines a spotlight on the resource gem in her online column today.

Originally founded in 1996 in San Francisco as a non-profit digital library with a mission of providing “universal access to all knowledge” while advocating for a free and open Internet, Internet contains 10 billion petabytes of information (that is, 1,000 terabytes or 1,000,000 gigabytes). That includes one million books in the public domain available free for downloading (in fact, in 2007, the site was officially designated as a library by the State of California).  In other words, there’s a heck of a lot of stuff here. But is it good?

It is, in a word, golden. As, where else can you so many mass media defining moments, performances and innovators?  From silent films from Charlie Chaplin, a Vaudevillian originator of precise physical comedy to an amazing archive of vintage radio programming where visuals sprang from the theater of the mind of its listeners.  There’s live, variety programming such as “(Dean) Martin and (Jerry) Lewis” where comedy melded with crooning and serial programming such as the original “Dragnet” and “Gunsmoke” series (the latter airing a Herculean 480 episodes in its 9 year radio run (before moving to television for another 20).

As intriguing as anything in the TV section of the site’s “Wayback” area are the classic commercials that allow an eye-opening look back at visual persuasion and “shilling” including for cigarettes prior to their being banned from the medium; advertisements that are hard to watch but equally hard to look away from for historical reference.

And, as fun as anything are the early animation reels that harken back to a time when cartoons were only available before movies or on Saturday morning television (both no more). You’ll see Mighty Mouse, Popeye, Betty Boop and more; many most of us did not see when they originated but would later enjoy in other contexts.

Indeed, while everything must evolve and change in order to move forward, comfort can forever be found and lessons learned by also looking back; in particular to special moments that touched or intrigued and left indelible impressions.



Emagine Eschews Cinematic Terror-Dictate

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 4.53.05 PMIt is so outrageous one would think it was a plot created in Hollywood.  A communist country cyber attacks a major movie company preparing to release a movie offensive to that country. Moreover, that country threatens violence should the studio place the film into theaters. And so it is pulled from distribution. In the case of Sony Pictures’ “The Interview,” life is truly stranger than fiction.

Thankfully, in the name of freedom of speech and good, old-fashioned entrepreneurship, the show is going on with, most notably, Emagine showing the Seth Rogan/James Franco satire for free (or donation to charity) in select theaters.  The move is a stroke of PR genius by Emagine CEO Paul Glantz.  While touting freedom of expression Glantz’s actions also symbolically and publicly does what each of us would like to do: thumb our collective noses at North Korea while telling Sony to demonstrate a bit more backbone in the future.

And while Emagine reports it will lose between $15,000-$20,000 for the free showings, the brand equity it is building is incalculable, especially at a time when our society is growing weary of terrorist threats dictating our lives.  Moreover, from an immediate economic standpoint, losses in ticket sales should be defrayed in large part by concession sales.  As industry consultant Jack Oberleitner recently told Marketplace regarding the theater business: “We’re now in the popcorn business.” To be sure, concessions represent 40% of a theater’s profits with profit margins at 85%. As a comedian once joked of exorbitant candy prices, “It’s no wonder they keep their offerings in jewelry cases.”

While Sony Pictures did finally come around, inking a deal with YouTube to show “The Interview” online and on demand, their image will be tough to repair, internally and externally.  And while such threats must be taken seriously, giving in to cyber bullies and terrorist states is far more dangerous.


The CW: In a (Justice) League of It’s Own

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 9.25.58 PMWhile the proliferation of superhero movies on the silver screen continues (with Marvel leading the charge with the upcoming The Wolverine and second Thor flick), DC Comics is looking toward the smaller delivery format – television – where it continues to generate success; sometimes against all odds.

No one, for example, expected the CW Network’s Arrow to be a 2012-2013 season sleeper hit.  After all, the “emerald archer” had never been a headliner in any media incarnation, funny books or otherwise.  And, if the success (or lack thereof) of Ryan Reynolds’ 2012 celluloid space age Green Lantern was any indication, the earth-bound playboy turned Robin Hood stood nary a chance of catching on. Wrong.

TV has been an interesting place for the masked avenger genre, in particular early on. The Lone Ranger and Green Hornet caught on from radio while Superman and Batman made a successful transition from the Saturday morning theater serials.  Batman’s “Technicolor” success in the late 60s would also spawn a series of tongue-in-cheek imitators (remember, for example, Mr. Fantastic, the gas station attendant, who by taking a magic pill and turning his jacket inside out to reveal a shiny cape fought evil to a canned laugh track)? The 80s would see The Greatest American Hero, the 90s a Danny Elfman scored The Flash and Superman revival Lois & Clark.

Perhaps the most successful and certainly longest running superhero TV show has been Smallville which helped establish, appropriately enough, a once fledgling network, the CW.  And, it is the CW that is now looking at a potential Arrow spinoff of The Flash (after he appears in the upcoming season), announced today at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour.  Other Justice Leaguers – from Black Canary to Batman could also make Arrow appearances and cameos in the not to distant future. Next, it is further being reported, a Wonder Woman television program is being prepped for development.

It is said there are only so many great ideas and that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. It is also said by some that Hollywood has lost its creativity and is too risk averse. I would argue that the time-tested stories of good over evil can never go wrong, especially when enacted by heroes we grew up with and are ingrained in our American pop culture.

Legend of The Lone Ranger Lives On

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

lone_ranger1With the summer blockbuster movie season now in full swing, a film with a refreshing twist on the oft-crowded super hero genre debuted this week – The Lone Ranger – a white-hatted, white-horsed, masked and avenging former Texas ranger whose actual origins harken back not to the Old West but rather to Metro Detroit.

In 1933, the Ranger appeared for the very first time on WXYZ-AM radio in Detroit; a show reportedly conceived by station owner George W. Trendle and Fran Striker. The nightly program (one of radio’s very early serials) was so popular, it would be picked up by NBC’s Blue Network (later ABC radio), with new episodes running through 1954.  Over the years, such catch phrases as “Hi-Yo, Silver, Away!” and “Kemosabe” would become iconic, as would Gioachino Rossinis’s 1829 overture to the opera William Tell, best known to modern day audiences as the Ranger’s theme.

Interestingly enough, The Lone Ranger (with his trusty sidekick Tonto) would spin off another Detroit-based radio series, The Green Hornet, which also originated on WXYZ-AM radio and would be syndicated nationally.  The crime-fighting Hornet, the legend went, was the son of the Ranger’s nephew. His sidekick, of course, was Kato, later immortalized on TV by a young karate champion Bruce Lee.

It is also TV where the Lone Ranger is perhaps best know, with actor Clayton Moore’s stoic portrayal of the hero in blue running between 1949 and 1957. In recent days, though, it has been reported that the grandson of Brace Beemer, the voice of the Ranger on radio is looking to keep his grandfather’s legacy alive with a documentary, due out later this year.

And what of the Lone Ranger’s latest incarnation? When I first heard Johnny Depp would  be involved (as Tonto) and saw his Jack Sparrow-like costume, the word “campy” immediately sprung to mind. Indeed, there is plenty of that (although thankfully not to the degree of Seth Rogan’s Green Hornet). Yet, by the end of the film, Armie Hammer’s rendition of the Ranger has moved beyond milquetoast to an ‘into the sunset’ hero to be proud in a movie worthy of a look.

New Film to More Closely Examine the Man Behind the Steel

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

976994_546228235423136_955611673_oIn 1980, one of the first and arguably the best superhero films of the modern era debuted to rave reviews.  Director Richard Donner famously promoted his red, white and blue clad hero with the line: “You will believe a man can fly”.  This Friday, Superman flies again and when he does, it is sure to be an experience unlike most have grown accustomed to over his storied 75-year history.

Amazingly, Man of Steel is only Superman’s sixth appearance in the past 30 years with Christopher Reeve’s iconic portrayal spread over four of those movies; cementing the image of Superman for modern movie goers, including through his predecessor for one film, Brandon Routh, in 2006′s largely disappointing Superman Returns. We have all become familiar with bumbling newspaperman Clark Kent who tranforms himself via costume change into the Son of Krypton – an all-powerful hero (save Kryptonite) beloved by and dedicated to his adopted planet.

Known for his faithfulness to comic book story lines, Director Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300) is sure to unveil a very different Superman and a world that reacts very differently to him. How, for example, might our government and military act when faced with an all-powerful alien from another planet? It also appears we will be provided with a more in-depth look at how Clark Kent deals with discovering he is not who he thought he was (a sort of self preservation vs. self discovery dynamic).

It is sure to make for more complex and conflicted characters and story lines and great entertainment (have you seen the trailers and the special effects glimpses?). Superman, in his flag-like attire, has always been about truth, justice and the American way. Here, he will be a world-saver in the never-ending battle of good vs. evil. A far cry from “…it’s a bird, it’s a plane…”, Man of Steel will instead present a more intuitive – even human – portrayal of the extra-terrestrial “man” who fell to earth.