Archive for April, 2015

Terminator Genisys poster

Bruce Willis is dead the whole time.

If you don’t understand that reference: good. If you do, then you’re also aware that it is one of the most famous plot twists in recent movie memory. Or to use cinematic vernacular: it’s a huge spoiler.

Spoilers occupy an interesting corner of pop culture. Technically, they’ve always existed. I have no doubt that for as long as stories have been told, impolite individuals have ruined the myriad twists and turns for their friends.

But the spoiler as we know it is largely a byproduct of the internet age. Once upon a time, you had to go to the loudmouth at the water cooler to find out the identity of Keyser Soze. But then came the world wide web, where plot details are just a google search away, intentional or otherwise.

Now, take a look at the above poster for Terminator Genisys, which made its internet debut this week. The film is the latest nostalgia property to be retconned into modernity and its promotional materials contain a glaring, willful embrace of spoiler culture that is almost frightening in its audacity. If the strategy works and the film is a success (which is no sure thing) it may very well usher in a Post-Spoiler World, for better or worse.

But before we get to the future, let’s send a soldier back to the past.

Not too long ago, audience members would regularly arrive at a theater partway through a film and watch until the end. Then the next showing would begin, and they would exit once they caught up to themselves. The trailer for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window famously references this practice.

Did you catch that? Here’s the important part.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 5.03.09 PM

Hitchcock, cinema’s Master of Suspense, obviously had a distaste for his films being viewed out of sequential order. He made his living off of surprises, startles and scares, which are hardly effective when you watch Marion Crane arrive at the Bates Motel *after* seeing Norman bates in his mother’s dress.

History tells us that Hitchcock, and others like him, won that battle.

And that was fine for years. A code of conduct was established with unwritten rules dictating the time that the happenings on a new episode of your favorite show or the latest blockbuster would remain privileged. There were stumbles here and there, hurt feelings and minor scuffles, but for the most part a peaceful plot ignorance was preserved.

The first signs of trouble were DVRs and online streaming services, making it easier and easier to watch television on your own timetable. But the dam truly broke with the arrival of scripted programming on Netflix, unloaded as if from a digital dump truck to be devoured, or rationed, at your leisure.

A few stalwarts continued to fight the good fight. J.J. Abrams, a renowned secreteur, fought tooth and nail to preserve the secrecy of what every Trekkie had already concluded: that Benedict Cumberbatch was Khan Noonien Singh.

And entertainment writers had to forge new rules, debating whether to analyze all of House of Cards at once, to satisfy the hunger of binge-watchers, or dole their ruminations out piecemeal in some semblance of the bygone weekly format.

Which brings us back to Terminator Genysis. If you don’t want the spoiler stop reading, but it’s out and it’s proud. As part of its rejiggering of the Terminator timeline and canon, the latest film will feature John Conner, the mythological hero of the human resistance, succumbing to Skynet and transforming into some form of man/machine hybrid.

It’s right there in the trailer. And it’s right there in the poster.

Most reports agree that the filmmakers sensed the film wasn’t meeting expectations. Fan loyalty, it seemed, had not been renewed after two catastrophic failures in the franchise. So rather than preserve their prize pony until opening weekend, the marketing team, like Lawrence Gordon, elected to Saw off their own foot in order to escape. Instead of “Come see the movie to find out what happens,” the campaign says “Here’s what happens, now come see our movie.”

It’s a bold, if not frightening, choice. Should the film bomb at the box office like its predecessor, I suspect nervous studio executives to retreat back into the safety of a spoiler-free cave. But if Genisys suceeds, and the audience shows they’re not deterred by the lure of pre-release meat, then the copycats in Hollywood will no doubt take a second thought at that big reveal they’re protecting so dearly.

For what it’s worth, I think that’s a mistake. A rumor here and a tease there are fine but an outright Spoil does exactly as its name suggests.

Maybe I’m wrong, and the John Conner reveal is a red herring, meant to distract us from the *real* shocker. I hope so, because if I’m right then the Judgement Day may be upon us, the Spoilers are self-aware, and they view mankind as a threat.

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*Note: This review were originally published during coverage of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival

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The Hunting Ground

With the infamous Rolling Stone article about campus rape still sending ripples through the academic community, it’s easy to see Kirby Dick’s “The Hunting Ground” as especially timely.

But what the documentary makes uncomfortably clear is that the epidemic of campus sexual assault is not a recent evil to hit our college and university campuses, nor is it limited to the prestigious upper crust of academia. It is a nationwide plague that has been thriving in  for decades, reaching one out of every 4 or 5 women who set foot on the campus of an institution of higher education.

The statistics are damming and well-documented, but what “The Hunting Ground” emphasizes is the insidious circumstances that lead universities to downplay or even cover-up the criminal acts taking place under their noses. They know where the problems are, with a minority of student predators accounting for the majority of assaults and statistically higher rates of violence among student athletes and fraternities. But higher education runs on money, and it’s easier to shame a victim into silence than take on the powerful booster-check-writing parents of football stars and frat house presidents.

It’s impossible to watch “The Hunting Ground” without becoming angry, hearing first hand accounts of women and men who describe the treatment they received at the hands of campus officials as worse than the actual crimes committed against them. We see them describe, in choked-back tears, how they were ostracized from the campus community while their attackers are allowed to thrive, attack other students and, in one high-profile case, win the Heisman Trophy ahead of a likely first-round draft pick in the NFL.

Grade: A

*The Hunting Ground opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 3.

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