Film

Toy Story 3’s Steady and Unlikely Trail of Promotion

Watch the commercials and decide if they help or hinder the film’s chances at the box office.

The last big animated hit at the box office was DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon, which has taken in over $400 million worldwide since it opened last March. A mixture of great reviews, happy early audiences, and a relentless merchandising campaign spearheaded by Wal-Mart turned the movie into a big success. However, this week, a new animated movie is seeking ticket sales, the highly anticipated Toy Story 3. Not surprisingly, its makers seem to be using the same strategy as Dragon’s backers did, in featuring the film in a couple of high-profile commercials. Whereas recent flop Shrek Forever After used the same cliched trailers and McDonalds promotions in order to spread the word, Toy Story 3 is serving up interesting commercials that manage to boost two different products/services to consumers.

Somehow, this commercial for the Visa debit card introduces you to the movie’s central characters, makes you want to see more of them, and makes you want to use your Visa debit card to buy official merchandise at a local toy store. I adore the attention to detail put into this. At the very beginning, the toys are standing on top of a display for the probably fictional “Red Herring” board game, which advertises itself as “a game of skills and scales”.

A major plot point in Toy Story 3 is the toys’ accidental arrival at a rowdy preschool. In this commercial for Aflac insurance, scenes from the movie are used to talk about job hazards. An unlikely comparison, but it is all pulled together by the company’s cute spokesduck, who appears as a “duck in a box”.

However, the best tie-in I’ve seen yet is this spot for the US Postal Service. In it, Hamm the piggybank (voiced by John Ratzenburger, who played the quintessential TV mailman on Cheers) dresses up as a letter carrier in order to inform the toys about “priority-rate shipping”. If the USPS ever makes a piggybank that looks like that, I will unashamedly buy it. The second-best part, however, is what he says to Slinky Dog.

Some might argue that this steady stream of advertising will tire audiences and make people not want to see Toy Story 3, but only time will tell if those nay-sayers are right.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

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Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

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