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by Bill Gibron

24 Aug 2009

In a recent interview, Quentin Tarantino took the criticism over the marketing of his latest effort, the brilliant Inglourious Basterds, to task. “How else were they supposed to sell this movie?” he asked, and in some ways, he has a point. PR is all about the hook, about getting the reader/viewer/consumer excited about experiencing something that they previously had no inclination or interest in doing so, and within the artform known as film, there are lots of ways of getting an audience’s attention. Comedies have jokes, horror titles have scares. Dramas have their stars and directors. Action has it set-ups and stunts. So for the most part, individuals in charge of advertising have no problem dealing with their proposed pitch. They cut a few key scenes into a trailer, add an imposing narrator, and wait for the weekend box office results to rate their efforts.

But recently, it looks like grifters have taken over the preview trade. Over the past few months, there have been several films sold as one thing when they really represent something else. In the flim flam game it’s known as ‘bait and switch’ - promise one thing, deliver another. It’s not a new Hollywood trick - Tinseltown has been twisting the truth about its occasionally underwhelming works ever since the dawn of modern advertising. In a desperate attempt at an angle or an equally panicked desire to minimize critical damage, they’ve reworked storylines and star power into their own “unique” vision of what a film was about. Yet in 2009, there seemed to be more of this ‘sell one thing, deliver another’ ideal - and in at least one case, it cost the film both commercially and creatively. 

Take Adventureland (coming to DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday, 25 August). Greg Motolla was not a household name when his film about a couple of high school seniors on the prowl for a good party went from good to Superbad at the box office. But success allowed the Daytrippers director to craft a semi-serious autobiographical film about his late ‘80s summer at a sad East Coast amusement park. Named Adventureland, and starring newcomer Jesse Eisenberg and Twilight gal Kristen Stewart, it was Motolla’s attempt at updating the already overdone coming of age film, a genre bereft of anything remotely resembling truth or emotional honesty. So naturally the minds behind the ad campaign completely ignored the film’s lack of dick jokes and outrageous scatological humor and tried to paint it as a proposed pseudo-sequel to Superbad. Even the trailer took a path toward otherwise absent obviousness, concentrating on the “jokes” that seemed most geared toward an Apatow-prone demographic.

Of course, it didn’t work. Fans coming in expecting more penis-laden laughs were legitimately let down by Adventureland‘s wistful, warm embrace. Instead of scatology, they got sentiment. Motolla’s motion picture tribute received good reviews but did mediocre business, moneywise. Many blame the low budget and lack of stars, but with a current member of Stephanie Meyer mania in tow, there should have been some leftover Bella bait. Besides, you’d have thought the Madison Avenue aces would have learned their lesson from another post-Apatow underachiever - Observe and Report. In that instance, Seth Rogen was positioned as the star of a security guard spoof, sold as part 40 Year Old Virgin, part Paul Blart: Mall Cop (the January smash starring Kevin James). Slapstick and toilet humor ruled the teasers and trailers. Turned out, writer/director Jody Hill had a Motolla up his sleeve. Instead of a balls-out farce, he delivered a dense dark comedy which raised as many unsettling questions as it delivered big belly laughs.

And yet no one paid attention to the failure of such telltale tactics. All throughout the Summer of 2009, similar PR approaches were taken for Land of the Lost, Year One, and Brüno. Each was presented as something (cocky kiddie film, all out Biblical lampoon, a gay Borat redux) that it turned out not to be (mean spirited and crude, one note and nominal, obsessed with pushing the homophobe button). About the only films never wincing at what they had to offer were the season’s biggest hits - Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (more of the same, and it was - BOY was it…), Star Trek (adventure filled revamp of the classic characters), Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (CG eye candy) and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (more boy wizard intrigue). Sure, some of these titles were presold, and there were examples of underperformance even when marketing made no bones about what was up on the screen (Public Enemies, Drag Me to Hell).

In the last two weeks, however, we have come across instances where movies, once again, flummox the people paid to sell them to audiences. In the case of District 9, webuzz had this Peter Jackson produced epic as a Halo adaptation in disguise. It was going to be a grand scale first person shooter video game experience additionally amped up by WETA’s wonderful F/X work. While many expected some kind of race-related allegory, action and alien ass kicking was the film’s perceived raison d’etra. Turns out, everyone was wrong - especially those marketing the movie as Independence Day with a conscience. Instead, as Movie City News’ David Poland once said, District 9 turned out to be The Defiant Ones with extraterrestrials, the story of a bumbling bureaucrat, a raid gone horribly wrong, and his pair-up with a “prawn” (racist slang for the spacemen) who wants nothing more than to go home.

That was followed by this week’s entry, Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. For years, ever since the Pulp Fiction maverick announced his desire to make a World War II flick, he’s tossed around the idea of an ultra-violent Dirty Dozen, or something similar to the ‘70s Italian exploitation effort which inspired the name. Even when script reviews suggested something more over the top and broader in scope, fans were foaming over the prospect of seeing some Jewish Nazi hunters scalping krauts and chewing bubble gum - and Bazooka Joe was nowhere to be seen. Oddly enough, that’s the exact approach taken by the earliest trailers. Brad Pitt (truly a star, but perhaps not THE star of the film) was plastered all over posters while bloody knives and baseball bats adorned unnerving preview publicity stills. The marketers were making a very clear statement - this is one gory good time.

Except, that’s not what Inglourious Basterds is. Not exactly. Oh, it’s a good time all right, but the pleasures come from areas outside of ample arterial spray. The Pitt-inspired storyline is one of the MINOR elements in the movie, a subterfuge which allows Tarantino to explore the importance of media as a means of manipulating our view of war, including a subtle statement on how movies can literally snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat. There’s a plot involving the assassination of Hitler (only hinted at in later trailers), a entire storyline centering on the British part of said plan, and the Jew Hunter angle featuring the brilliant acting work of Christophe Waltz is all but absent. Indeed, what one gets from this approach is that anyone learning about the film’s true nature wouldn’t appreciate its actual ideas, and instead, must use a supplemental sleazoid subplot to sell itself.

Maybe they can all take a page out of the Pixar manual. For years now, the animation giants, creators of some of CGI cartooning’s greatest efforts, have been experts at defying expectations. Take this year’s Up, for example. As with Wall-E before, the premise did not sound promising at all. There were elements of the storyline that seemed twee and rather trite. Even with their track record of turning cloying kiddie fare (a robot falling in love with another machine) into brilliant, brave entertainments, it didn’t seem like it would work. Yet Pixar offered up a marketing campaign that kept most of the narrative elements a secret, and instead, used specific images (the balloon laden house, the old man/fat child dynamic) as a means of selling the “idea” of the movie. Indeed, that’s what Pixar and Disney does best - giving the impression of what to expect without giving it all away. It’s more about tone and overall entertainment value, not shouting specifics. It’s clearly an approach that others in the media advertising game could benefit from.

Still, Tarantino has a point. When you deliver something unusual, difficult, or clearly outside the norm, it’s almost impossible to democratize it. Populism is based in the lowest common denominator (at least partially) and complicated concepts usually find a hard time fitting in. So Adventureland needed the Superbad shill in order to warrant its existence in the minds of viewers, while District 9 and Basterds were smart in finding already existing parallels to their otherwise unique visions. And when you’ve got someone like Seth Rogen in the cast, why should you sell a movie’s darker side? Still, it seems odd to walk into one proposed kind of entertainment and walk out having witnessed another. Even worse, what if this becomes the norm? What if every movie is sold as something other than what it really is? Truth in advertising is one thing. Apparently, truth in media promotion is another issue all together.

by PopMatters Staff

24 Aug 2009

Gogol Bordello
Live from Axis Mundi
(Side One Dummy)
Releasing: 6 October

Gypsy punks Gogol Bordello are releasing a deluxe new live DVD and CD set in October featuring many of the most popular tunes from their incendiary sets. Plus, the set will gather many rarities from their various TV appearances and well as demos and videos.

01 Ultimate (BBC Sessions)
02 Wonderlust King (BBC Sessions)
03 Mishto (BBC Sessions)
04 Alcohol (BBC Sessions)
05 American Wedding (BBC Sessions)
06 You Gave Up (Roumania) (BBC Sessions)
07 Stivali E Colbacco (Super Taranta Sessions)
08 Troubled Friends (Gypsy Punk Sessions)
09 60 Revolutions (Demo)
10 Immigrant Punk (Demo)
11 Immigrant Punk (Instrumental)

Disc 2 - DVD
Not a Crime
Dogs Were Barking
Wonderlust King
Forces of Victory
Tribal Connection
60 Revolutions
Start Wearing Purple
Think Locally, Fuck Globally
Punk Rock Parranda
Baro Foro

Immigrant Punk
East Infection
Avenue B
Harem in Tuscany

Start Wearing Purple
Not a Crime
Wonderlust King
American Wedding

Creative People Must Be Stopped!
Sacred Darling
Purple (The Pizdetz)
Musika Agressia

by Omar Kholeif

24 Aug 2009



In times of happiness and despair, I find myself returning to my pink, velvet-bound Sex and the City box set. Before you start assaulting my virile masculinity, or judging me for clinging onto passé cultural nuances, I think it is important to assert that Sex and the City (1998-2004), now that’s the TV show, not the movie(s), is a timeless cultural by-product.

The term ‘by-product’ is key here because the programme’s success is ultimately put down to the fact that it was a masterwork of self-reflexive puns, clichés and popular assumptions. It embraced glamorized notions of the everyday, and illuminated them into a bustling fantasy-world that everyday boys and gals could quote, imitate or joke about, whilst refilling their empty bottles at the water cooler.

by PopMatters Staff

24 Aug 2009


Dizzee Rascal
Tongue N’ Cheek
(Dirtee Stank)
Releasing: 21 September 2009 (UK)

01 Bonkers
02 Road Rage
03 Dance Wiv Me
04 Freaky Freaky
05 Can’t Tek Me No More
06 Chillin Wiv Da Man Dem
07 Dirtee Cash
08 Money Money Money
09 Leisure
10 Holiday
11 Bad Behaviour

by PC Muñoz

24 Aug 2009

“Don’t You Want to Be There” - Jackson Browne
Written by Jackson Browne
From The Naked Ride Home (Elektra, 2002)

This V-C-V first appeared in slightly different form on pcmunoz.com, June 14, 2005

In his speech inducting Jackson Browne into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, Bruce Springsteen coined a fitting term to describe Browne’s music: “California Pop-Gospel”. I like that description quite a bit, because not only does it distinctly locate Browne as a Californian artist, it also acknowledges a kind of spiritual component to his work. Like his musical soul-brother Bob Marley, Jackson Browne has often urged us to consider the state of our spiritual selves as well as our connectedness to others, concerns that are usually addressed in the liturgical realm. The fact that he writes about these concerns with probing self-doubt (and often self-indictment) is significant, and in my mind a major reason why his many admirers have such a strong, emotional bond with his work.

“Don’t You Want to Be There” is primarily a meditation. Like a lot of Browne’s best work, it will break your heart, call you to reflection, and inspire you to hopeful action, all in the span of one listen. It opens with a simple enough invitation: “Don’t you want to be there / Don’t you want to go / Where the light is breaking / And the cold clear winds blow?” Around the middle, that invitation softly becomes an encouraging challenge: “Don’t you want to be there? /  Don’t you want to cry / When you see how far you’ve got to go /  To be where forgiveness rules / Instead of where you are?” The last line of the last verse then contains the most potent variation of the titular question, one that no listener can escape: “Don’t you want to be where there’s strength and love /  In the place of fear?”

//Mixed media

How a Song By Unknown Newcomer Adam Johnston Ended Up on Blondie's New Album

// Sound Affects

"Adam Johnston of An Unkindness wrote a song at 17 years old and posted it online. Two years later, magic happened.

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