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Box Office Rap: The Counselor and the Prestige-Film Fallacy

The entirety of the marketing for The Counselor suffers from what I’m calling “prestige-film fallacy” (PFF).

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This Friday sees the release of The Counselor, a film that, by all conventional accounts, should be a lock for a $20-million opening at the box office this weekend, and yet the film is unlikely to crack double digits, even with a mega-wide 3,000 theater release. Certainly, as many have been doing, we could point to Gravity as a reason why The Counselor is likely to stumble; earning over $30 million in its third frame last weekend, I’m inclined to think it will finish on top yet again, besting primo contender Bad Grandpa by a few million, and making it the first film since The Hunger Games in April 2012 to top the box office for four consecutive weekends. However, its highly impressive run cannot fully explain why The Counselor is going to fail. Rather, we would be better served to examine how Fox has been marketing the film and, beyond that, question precisely why Ridley Scott’s production company, Scott Free, and Fox believed this to be a financially viable project to begin with.

The entirety of the marketing for The Counselor suffers from what I’m calling “prestige-film fallacy” (PFF). The PFF relies on the prior prestige of those involved, rather than ingenuity, to convince prospective viewers of the new film’s worth. Everything about a PFF campaign reeks of derivative, outmoded notions of “quality” cinema and often hitches its wagon to the premise that sexy, rich characters played by sexy, rich stars equal big bucks. The Counselor is an epitome of these tendencies and, for those attuned to these developments, will serve to test our fundamental question: Can you sell a film based purely on prior pedigree?

An eyeball test of the poster features Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, and Brad Pitt, in a typical vertical column design, each looking cleaned, clipped, and bathed in high-key light. The film’s trailer is resolute in highlighting sex appeal; the first 30 seconds alone flash shots of actors speaking softly in bed, exchanging six-figure gifts, driving six-figure cars, and offering faux-provocative platitudes about their statuses as outliers to normative socio-economic practice (“I know why I’m in it. Do you?”). The remainder features the inevitable “shit-hitting-the-fan” scenario, with Fassbender’s “counselor” seemingly pitted against a nameless drug cartel. Finally, like many recent trailers, the credits are sure to let us know which actors have previously received Oscar nominations and wins.

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I can’t think of a marketing campaign in recent memory so disinterested in characterization and so adamant in amplifying impending threats of faceless violence. Even the trailer for Oliver Stone’s Savages, while relishing the cartoonish ferocity of its drug-running characters, offered a degree of humanity beyond mere human figures and stakes beyond merely “potential death.” There’s a non-specificity to all of the film’s paratextual materials, which even extends to the title!

The issue isn’t that audiences have become disinterested in thrillers; on the contrary, it’s that studios have become increasingly incapable of actually promoting their products. Look back to a film like Double Jeopardy. Simply from reading its premise, one can quickly ascertain its basic, high-concept leanings. However, when watching that trailer, one quickly notices the amount of careful, economical characterization that goes into detailing and teasing the film’s 105-minute runtime in just two and a half. Each character is given a clear role within the diegesis; instead of plodding through non-contextualized exchanges, Double Jeopardy’s trailer streamlines events with creative techniques like flash cuts to mimic flash photography, switches to black and white which don’t occur in the actual film, slow-motion, narrator voiceover, and a virtuoso, concluding credit sequence with actor names super-imposed on shifting waters.

I use Double Jeopardy to show that, a little over a decade ago, even a routine crime thriller, when given an enthusiastic, well-made trailer, could be made to seem far more immediate and essential than it really is. That’s the whole idea of marketing: to convince viewers to actually see a film they might otherwise not. Double Jeopardy opened to $23 million and finished with $116 domestic, figures that certainly surprise, in hindsight. That Bruce Beresford film can now likely be found in many a department store’s bargain bin, yet in 1999, audiences paid to see it because they were sold a film that they were made to believe mattered. Now, studios marketing “adult” thrillers often make only nominal efforts to hype their films, produce trailers that could have been cut in an hour, and conspicuously insist that the money originally thrown at big-name actors is all that needs to be done in order to guarantee a hit. So the question returns: Can you sell a film based purely on prior pedigree? Fox and Scott say, “Yes.” I say, in the words of Max Cady, “It’s going to take a hell of a lot more than that, counselor, to prove you’re better than me.”

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Box Office Weekend Predictions

1. Gravity: $22.8 -26%

2. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa: $20.2 NEW

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3. Captain Phillips: $11.3 -31%

4. The Counselor: $9.8 NEW

5. Carrie: $8.4 -48%

6. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2: $7.1 -26%

7. Escape Plan: $4.5 -54%

8. Enough Said: $1.4 -20%

9. 12 Years a Slave: $1.2 +29%

10. Prisoners: $1.1 -45%

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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