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The Allegorical Power and Sheer Imagination of George A. Romero

Written by Eli F., July 23, 2018 at 7:40 am 

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If there is one thing almost as surprising and unfortunate as George A. Romero’s passing one year ago, it’s the fact that he has not yet risen from the dead to correct audiences’ perception of his films. Despite exerting a singular influence on the last half-century of American popular fantasy rivaled only by George Lucas, Romero was notoriously loath to be seen as a “mere” genre filmmaker. Whenever faced with the insinuation that he was just the man who made zombie flicks, Romero insisted that his work be read through the lens of social allegory. Romero, as much an auteur as any respected filmmaker, was understandably defensive in light of cultural critics’ age-old sidelining of “genre” fiction in the pantheon of “serious” art and literature. He was one of independent cinema’s pioneers of sheer imagination; of determination that artists with even a meager budget and scope of production could meaningfully express big ideas through the symbolic language of fantasy.

Romero’s attitude toward his films behind the camera might give the impression that they are overly didactic, yet in practice Night of the Living Dead, his 1968 debut feature, is typically more compelled to evoke than to dictate. Set and filmed in a rural suburb outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the film follows a small and motley assortment of desperate humans–led, notably, by one of cinema’s first smart, empathetic, and strong black male protagonists–as they struggle to survive the sudden and devastating invasion of… well, you saw the title. Images and scenarios in the film trigger associations with a cornucopia of hot-button issues of the film’s era–from Cold War paranoia to racial violence to the breakdown of the nuclear family–but they never quite cross over into presenting a clear or linear allegory.

Ironically, much of what gives Night its staying power, and the gravitas with which to make such heady evocations possible, is its stubborn literalism. Like Lucas, Tolkien, and other pioneers of genre fantasy, Romero imagines a new world with a strictly coherent system of rules, and merely unleashes characters and situations within it. Night’s zombies are not just vaguely-explained supernatural phenomena, as many horror films might be content to imagine: they are specifically the corpses of the recently deceased, reanimated by radioactive mutation of the brain. They lack language and rationality, but retain a carnivorous hunger and predatory instinct. They move in packs. They are averse to light and fire. They can be permanently dispatched only by way of removing the head or destroying the brain. Scientifically dubious as this set of imagined natural laws may be, they are rigidly and consistently logical enough in the context of the narrative to make audiences believe. In both Night and every subsequent work of zombie-themed fiction, nearly all dramatic momentum is drawn from the characters’ process of discovering, and strategically maneuvering through, the implacable laws of zombology.

In fact, the film is almost gleefully scientific-minded: its most fundamental conflict is between rationality and irrationality. In perhaps its most acute Cold War evocation, the besieged humans are drawn into conflict, not only between one another, but between the conflicting drives of their rational, collective self-interest–which demands cooperation and unity in the face of a pitiless natural force–and their paranoid, ambitious individual egos. The heroes’ plans and debates are cleanly objective, while their actions are more often fueled by personal fear and anguish. Failure to put the rational course of action above the selfish needs of the individual results in mutually assured destruction.

Night of the Living Dead has been given a newly restored Blu-Ray release by The Criterion Collection

Posterized July 2018: ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout,’ ‘Sorry to Bother You,’ ‘The First Purge,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, July 3, 2018 at 8:16 am 

“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is a proverb whose simple existence proves the fact impressionable souls will do so without fail. This monthly column focuses on the film industry’s willingness to capitalize on this truth, releasing one-sheets to serve as not representations of what audiences are to expect, but as propaganda to fill seats. Oftentimes they fail miserably.


There’s no bigger holiday weekend for Hollywood than the Fourth of July and its propensity to get audience members thirsty for high body counts, action, and the occasional counter-programming to compete against such weaponized patriotism with a side of explosions in the sky. So it should surprise no one that this month brings the gift of seven sequels. Seven. If ever you worried about the dearth of studio creativity, this does nothing to assuage your fears.

They will be taking up so many screens that you will probably find it hard to see the handful of independents and foreign films arriving alongside them — especially for anyone outside of a big metropolitan market. That’s why I’m forced to talk about the posters for six of those seven properties in the opening two sections below: sorry for leaving you out, Unfriended: Dark Web (July 20).

Hopefully the ones I highlight in the final two sections will be seen hanging on the walls of your local theater sooner rather than later.


The blockbuster machine

This monstrous entity is nothing if not consistent in its marketing machinations and July 2018 is no exception with quick teases, animated characters without backgrounds, Photoshop challenges of attrition, and the daring decision to give us something worth looking at.

BOND delivers the first with its poster for The Equalizer 2 (July 20). If you’ve seen the original film, you know that star Denzel Washington is a dour, frustrated, and putout man forced to do what he knows he can but doesn’t want to do. So it makes sense to highlight that determined if vacate stare to challenge us. It says, “What? You don’t want to see me beat people up again? Maybe I’ll stay home too — your home.”

And while I like the Roman numeral “2” acting as a window onto Washington’s incitation, I have no idea what’s going on with the title. “EQ2”? I guess earning close to two hundred million dollars would prove me wrong, but did the first film really make that much of a brand impression to get away with such a weird abbreviation? We should just be happy we didn’t get the UK sheet trying to get us to forget how slow and methodical the last one was.

Proof is the firm putting its animated lead from Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (July 13) on a spare background. These types of designs for cartoon fare are always so funny to me because you can literally do anything you want thanks to the medium. You could put this character against any background — whether or not it’s in the final film — as long as it proves exciting to an audience of children. Instead it just feels like the character design of beach-going Dracula was completed early and the studio wouldn’t allow any of its environments out to play. The punny tagline doesn’t make-up for it and the ability to lewdly outline its subject with graffiti is counter-intuitive to its target audience’s innocence.

The second sheet is much better even though it just has a gradient added. Our eyes aren’t stuck looking at Dracula and nothing else. We can travel through its “room”. The shadows and composition provide movement off-screen. And the contrast between positive and negative space isn’t oppressively stark. I can take a journey from the floral beachwear cape to the funny suitcase stickers of more puns and dangerous locales. This creates intrigue for young and old without haphazardly throwing every character’s head into the sand a la BLT Communications, LLC.

Speaking of haphazard, what was LA thinking with their poster for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (July 20)? This thing doesn’t even try to compose a scene or even fake realism where depth and space is concerned. (I think Christine Baranski is flying.)

Do we really need two versions (past and present) of everyone on this tiny little dock? Either bring the number down by half while supplying the remaining lucky souls some three-dimensionality or use the visible flatness to your advantage by turning the whole into a scrapbook of cutout photographs. I already want to go up and peel everyone off as though they’re stickers, so leaning into that aesthetic wouldn’t do any harm.

Thankfully BOND’s tease shows some necessary restraint with a pair of overalls on a dock post. I never saw the first film and yet this image alone would tell me what’s being advertising. I hate saying fortune cookie design mantras, but “less is more” is a concept for a reason.

I’m not sure who is responsible for this gorgeously simple Regal poster for The First Purge (July 4) — LA did the others — but it does what I wish more firms would. When a franchise has an aesthetic that’s able to sell itself, don’t get in the way. And while that would generally mean scary masks on tilted heads for this series, Universal understands the prescience their property has shown when compared to our current government regime. So they get their marketing people to map said aesthetic onto the visual language of our true present.

The result is powerful whether yellow police tape covering a nation about to turn (it’s a prequel) its entire geography into a crime scene or a red MAGA hat saying “Make America Purge Again” without putting those actual words in frame. Add the political mirroring of the civil rights movement with their black and white protest scene and you’re taking a firm if calculated stance about our country. There’s boldness to this that you don’t generally see from Hollywood. Give credit to Universal and to Blumhouse for pushing their distributor to the edge of that thin line separating capitalism from art.


The little people

There’s nothing like tiny silhouettes against a massive backdrop that shows their scale in the grand scheme of things to supply relevant drama. Even so, you don’t see it happen quite often enough to have four examples in a single month. And yet here we are.

First up is LA’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout (July 27) and itty bitty Tom Cruise hanging off a cord attached to a flying helicopter. I want to see this poster without the giant Cruise framing device because it can only do its job better with a full sky above and threatening black abyss below. Even so, the placement of everything is top-notch from the cord just clearing the letters along its path and tiny Cruise wishing those thick “Ls” were there to prop himself up and give his arms a rest.

Going from this to Concept Arts’ glossy collage is a huge step down. That fire and mountain isn’t adding drama, so why include their slivers of imagery at all? The goal here is obviously to showcase the franchise’s sprawling cast of A-listers, so fabricating danger only augments the fabrication. I could get behind this style in motion on the screen with each scene quickly playing while the fire engulfs their vignettes separately, but it does nothing for me on the page.

Ironically, it’s Concept Arts that got the hint for Skyscraper (July 13). They let us see just how tall the titular structure is when compared to the other buildings within the city below and show how crazy Dwayne Johnson is for jumping into burning glass regardless of the physics that may or may not make his trajectory impossible (as if that’s the most implausible part of this scene).

Like tiny Cruise, tiny Rock is but an ant trying to save the world one family member at a time. The sky is suitably dark and foreboding and the dangers below are ready to consume him whole. And rather than go boring collage with a follow-up, BLT comes in to do a close-up that retains the context of scale. They put Johnson against a far away ground, holding onto life with four fingers on a jagged window frame. Both might be static images, but both also present a potential energy desperate to release itself in an explosive force of speed.

Art Machine uses the same principles as those two films with Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6), but they do so for comedy instead of drama. BLT may have done the exact same thing for the first, but that doesn’t make it any less effective when adding a second player to the game. And unlike Hotel Transylvania, this isolating white helps matters by creating the perfect contrast to draw our eyes into a squint for clarity.

BOND subverts scale for a Honey I Shrunk the Kids look via Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly walking amongst giant popcorn kernels. But while it is inventive, it isn’t quite as funny. As for the full-sheets: Art Machine’s generic montage has some flair with a diagonal orientation if not unique character and LA’s honeycomb is pretty much just a rehash of their design for Thor: Ragnarok. These are the perils of a cinematic universe being so successful that every single cast member demands equal billing.

Bringing things back to a heavier tone, the French poster for The Night Eats the World (limited July 13) takes a page from Ignition and LA’s Chronicle tease. Rather than show the power of flight, however, this design shows an inversion of falling. With land at top and sky at bottom, we’re watching a silhouette fall upward for a welcomingly disorienting feeling of weightlessness caught in suspended animation.

I don’t blame the film’s American distributor for wanting to give its audience horror context with a bright red makeover of a high contrast black skyline and reaching hands, but boy is it ugly. Maybe that was part of the goal. Maybe the original was too “pretty” to get audiences ready for zombie carnage, but how much of this mentality is predicated on the studio’s lack of faith in its consumer? I don’t know about you, but that’s not a great business model since it means dumbing down what could be great until those able to appreciate it are turned off and those who can’t are pissed they wasted their money.

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‘Room to Dream’ Cracks Open David Lynch’s Mind, In His Own Words

Written by Nick Newman, June 18, 2018 at 4:04 pm 

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Recently and under the influence of alcohol, a shall-go-unnamed collaborator of David Lynch’s confided in me a telling detail: true though he is to himself as both an artist and human being, the Lynch persona is curated — not fake, per se, but cultivated to further his success and maintain much-desired privacy. That I’m even bothering to share this is proof enough of the former, and perhaps whatever interest it yields would account for the latter. We can picture (and certainly hear) the man at the snap of a finger, but does that familiarity make him easier to approach? Or is there only an air of intimidation surrounding anyone who’s grown mythic? I think you can answer that for yourself. Still, could all be a case of repeating — perpetuating — an outsider’s mischaracterization. Maybe I’ve got their phrasing off. It could be that my memory’s slipped entirely. Because that’s what happens: people act, stories of the acts get told, time and recollection shape these stories, and you’re lucky to get half of any of this down by the time sharing it proves useful. Should that ever be the case.

Which is to admit I’ve already (or potentially) contributed further to the “lot of bullshit” Lynch wishes to counter in Room to Dream, a new, blow-by-blow memoir written alongside journalist, critic, and friend Kristine McKenna. And not necessarily with or by: in the realms of biography and autobiography, it is both and neither.

Its two-pronged, inventive approach begins with a half-chapter of reporting by McKenna, meshing previously published texts and new interviews with friends, family, colleagues, lovers — almost unanimously spinning the image of a kind, energetic, creative figure — to chronologically trace a man’s life. Fellow auto-didacts in Lynch studies will find that new details abound, its author’s intimate familiarity with the corpus shining through and proving no small benefit; even this aficionado learned of side projects on which little light is shone, never-before-discussed (and not necessarily abandoned) efforts among them. (Take this summary of a script for which he couldn’t find financing several years ago: “Set mostly in Los Angeles, Antelope Don’t Run No More braids threads from Mulholland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE into a narrative fantasia that incorporates space aliens, talking animals, and a beleaguered musician named Pinky; it’s impressed everyone who’s read it as one of the best scripts Lynch has ever written.”) It is more or less whenever those don’t emerge that Room to Dream can ring light, like a staking of familiar ground — though “the art life” in Philadelphia, the creation of Twin Peaks, and the resurrection of Mulholland are necessary to a comprehensive consideration, it is more or less immediately clear that a book with only this path would’ve been a stronger-than-standard effort that goes in a pile of biographical sketches.

And then, at each chapter’s second half, Lynch appears. Responding to McKenna’s call, the artist engages in a combination of ghostwriting and direct application; per Penguin, he’d “rewrote numerous times” transcriptions of his interviews with the co-author. It’s a neat realization of what “Lynchian memoir” suggests, marked by a logical prose extension of the dorky, peachy-keen tone he’s been working (self-consciously or not) for decades. What press materials have positioned as a dialogue with those from his past, and in reality, to my great pleasure, divert from any clear narrative path. Think of your favorite comedic, horrific, even exhausting scenes from the Lynch canon, their effects on and places within a grander narrative scheme, apply that concept to the autobiography, and Room to Dream‘s shape might start to present itself sight unseen. Notes on the progression of life and career aside, his co-author’s dutiful reporting and insights are often elided wholly for digressions such as, to name a few: sharing a cigar with George Burns and a pontification of his, at 100, apparently untimely death; meetings with a hungry, charming-ish Marlon Brando; his first time masturbating (“And all of a sudden this feeling — I thought, Where is this feeling coming from? Whoa!”); speaking to Fellini days before the legend’s passing; adventures of the youthful troublemaker; and the continued effects of Twin Peaks‘ third season on both his sleeping habits and marriage. (While it’s worth noting the, let’s say, dalliance with 9/11 conspiracy theories, ultimately the less said, the better.)

The rhythm between one writer and another quickly grows comfortable: and-then-this-happened / yes-this-happened-but-also-I-once-had-a-great-milkshake. What any fan seeks from Room to Dream will likely be provided, at least in stops and starts — it’s thorough enough with anecdote, digression, confirmation, and refutation alike to have, essentially, something for everyone. Lynch and his bullshit-clearing hopes probably among them. If there can nevertheless persist a desire for more, the otherwise effective use of so many voices and perspectives to tell one man’s life would imply this complaint is largely an obsessive’s desire. A 512-page book (not counting endnotes; be sure to read through them, up to the very last page) complemented by rare photographs and handwritten chapter titles is one thing — a lot of things all at once, actually. It need not be our age’s exact answer to Autobiography of Mark Twain. Even David Lynch can’t cover every piece of his life’s experience, and I’ll let you deduce how much space is devoted to his explications of what the art means.

Working off recollection and the occasional notes, I’d initially suspected that little strife exists between Room to Dream‘s covers. It’s a troubling, potentially grave feature, all the more so for how it might throw into doubt the veracity of what, at its heart, has such potential to prove a dubious idea: more than an approved project, this could’ve been as clear a recent example of pubic figures forcing their hand onto their own narrative. So what’s chilling is that the largely genial vision largely emerges from others — awestruck, loving voices who are seeing him through their eyes, from the outside. Even a cursory flip-through shows a lot of darkness seeping into Lynch’s recollections. The man who devoted an entire other book to the totalizing force of Transcendental Meditation’s healing properties — a book revealed herein to be, judging by some phrasing, less of his creation than we’ve long been told — broaches fear, anger, depression, and exhaustion as often as any other topic.

Failure, too. Have you wondered how a figure reportedly so sanguine and kind ends up married four times? One woman after another will tell you a similar story — guess — that Lynch won’t refute, yet their contemporaneous testaments are fueled by love. How? An outsider couldn’t answer that, and ex-spouses themselves can struggle to articulate his way of moving through the world. But an answer might lie in the voice to which we keep returning: hagiographic as I sound, it’s impossible to imagine never gleaning anything from David Lynch’s company, camaraderie, and kindness — his palpable desire that everyone have the best.

cover-room-to-dreamRoom to Dream will not answer every question you have, nor does it scan as a last will and testament. It settles for a kind of enlightened restlessness, the book’s poignant-but-unsettled final passages telling us there’s always something to make, someone to hear — work to do. I’m grateful that Lynch and McKenna feel this text earned their devotion.

Jetting us from verbal to visual is the recently published Nudes, a straightforwardly titled, per its hand-written epigraph, “Photographs of Nudes taken in Los Angeles CA. Lodz Poland and one other place.” Open the book and, yes, those are nude women, all right — all unidentified, often faceless, perpetually nude women whose bodies have been given the Lynchian treatment of obscuring shadow, revealing light, and the occasional smoke effect.

The one photo that doesn’t contain human flesh is a plume of smoke before a harshly lit couch. Visions of INLAND EMPIRE? That film can occupy quite a place in my mind, but still the connection is tenable: comprising numerous photos originally featured in his 2007 exhibition David Lynch, The Air is on FireNudes arrives via the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in a very large, strongly ink-scented collection that fits handsomely on my coffee table and neither vertically nor horizontally on any of the nearby shelves. There’s thus the temptation to deem it for-devotees-only, which is fair in light of its price and direct content, inconsiderate of its accessiblity. The photographer’s own comment (at the risk of putting extended faith in press releases) is porbably our best signal of intent: “I like to photograph naked women. The infinite variety of the human body is fascinating: it is amazing and magic to see how different women are.”

Which, granted, sounds not so unlike a photography major’s rehearsed line to the girl he’s had an eye on. But this is not David Lynch’s descent into the style of Terry Richardson; in fact it’s easy to imagine the latter (to say nothing of that student) finding themselves bored. If you have been fascinated, even perturbed, by his camera’s interactions with the opposite sex, Nudes will make a valuable contribution to studies — more than a few spreads recall wordless passages from films’ particularly dreamlike scenarios. It’s more alien that titillating, simultaneously those at its most intriguing turns. You’d be hard-pressed to recognize it as the art of anyone else; isn’t that half the idea of David Lynch, anyway?

Room to Dream arrives on June 19 and Nudes is now available.

‘Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters’: Paul Schrader’s Phantasmagoria of Cartesian Dissociation

Written by Eli F., June 11, 2018 at 12:27 pm 

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More than a few foreign filmmaker have tried relocating to Hollywood, but it’s less often the case that an acclaimed Hollywood artist takes their talents overseas. Paul Schrader, at the height of his post-Taxi Driver, post-Raging Bull success, proved a notable example. In the mid-1980s, he took an opportunity to capitalize on his longstanding fascination with Japan by directing an entire film with an all-Japanese cast and script, his sister-in-law Chieko Schrader serving as linguistic and artistic interpreter. Its subject: Yukio Mishima, a controversial figure whose death so deeply shocked Japan that the film, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, remains banned there. Now — in the U.S. at least — the Criterion Collection is giving the film Schrader considers his finest directorial achievement a new 4K transfer and Blu-ray release.

Mishima, portrayed by Ken Ogata, was one of Japan’s most internationally acclaimed authors, and likely the country’s most infamous suicide. In 1970, after a successful career in poetry, fiction, non-fiction, theater, and film that spanned over two decades, he and four young disciples of his right-wing militant organization staged a failed coup at the military Camp Ichigaya, the man then committing seppuku — ritual suicide by blade — under the dumbstruck eyes of the army and media. With no demands met and no casualties inflicted except himself and his closest confidant, Mishima’s lethal demonstration was less terrorism than performance art — the culminating expression, argues A Life in Four Chapters, of personal philosophies a whole lifetime in the making.

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Schrader’s film, miming Mishima’s lifelong fascination with the theater, is patterned around the Kishōtenketsu four-act structure of Japanese drama — the “four chapters” of its story. Its narrative intercuts between three stylistically distinct “modes”: the framing plot of Mishima’s last day, shot in a conventional realist style; Ozu-flavored black-and-white flashbacks to Mishima’s childhood and developing career; and dramatizations of illustrative scenes from Mishima’s fiction, staged on surreal pseudo-theatrical sets shot in vivid, saturated colors. Phillip Glass’ score, a combination of dreamlike synths, romantic strings, and militant percussion, remains constant throughout. These interpretations of his art, Schrader suggests, may help shed light on the author’s complicated persona and tumultuous inner life; Criterion’s HD transfer is a godsend in this regard, highlighting the subtle differences in light, color, and framing that distinguish the film’s three modes.

Taken altogether, Mishima is a phantasmagoria of Cartesian dissociation, following Mishima’s tortured observation that “words” and “reality” exist in irreconcilable universes. Mishima, obsessed with a transcendental notion of “beauty,” is perpetually haunted by the gulf between his ideals, his body, and the masks (metaphorical and literal) he dons for the world. As a scrawny, sheltered youth, he dreams of fighting and dying gloriously in World War II; yet when reporting for the draft, he exaggerates his own physical frailty and is deemed unfit for military service. As a successful writer, he struggles with his semi-private homosexuality while succumbing to the allure of a fascist ideology that promises to restore the masculine virility of Imperial Japan. As a political activist, he dreams of inciting a revolution, yet only inspires public mockery.

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It’s tempting to center Mishima’s story on his lifelong struggle with gender expression and sexual identity, or on the psychologically abusive upbringing that would arguably produce many of the themes and fixations that recur in his life and work. (Not prominently touched upon is the relationship with his dictatorial father, nor the strained marriage to the mother of his children while living a secretive second life as a gay man.) But while Mishima doesn’t exactly downplay these themes, Schrader’s interests are characteristically more metaphysical. Like Travis Bickle or any number of other Schraderian antiheroes, he’s driven by a sense of longing teetering on the extreme precipice between earthly and spiritual: he longs for a synthesis of “beauty” and “action,” a completion of his very being, an absolution he becomes convinced is attainable only in the catharsis of death. A craving for perfect beauty — or perhaps merely a sense of belonging — and frustration at its transience eventually fuels a morbid doctrine of self-actualization through violence that leads him on a collision course with his ultimate fate. For Mishima, life climaxed in the intersection of art, fascism, eroticism, and suicide.

While Mishima sidesteps both the melodramatic bluntness and misplaced notions of journalism that sink many biopics, the film also never quite sparks dramatically to the extent of Schrader’s most exemplary work. Ken Ogata offers a thoughtful, stoic performance, but a jumbled chronology, constantly shifting cast, and relentlessly interior scope rob him of the opportunity to exhibit Robert De Niro or Ethan Hawke’s depth, range, and dynamism, leaving instead a distant and muted impression in contrast to those actors’ vivid icons of angry, alienated men. Schrader, an artist of more prosaic temperament, also doesn’t offer the kind of rhythmic, personality-driven eclecticism in imagery and editing that make Martin Scorsese’s interpretations of his work incendiary, or that might fully recreate the sensations of Mishima’s own wordcraft. While it’s more intellectual character study than transportive drama, as opposed to both, it remains an intriguing specimen of cross-cultural collaborative art, and a haunting portrait of one of the last century’s most eccentric literary figures.

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is now available on the Criterion Collection.

Leave the Lights On, to Ease Your Soul: Hammer Horror at the Quad

Written by Willow Maclay, June 5, 2018 at 1:19 pm 

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Hammer Film Productions ran itself on a loose set of commandments that had to be followed in all of their horror pictures. They obviously made more than that, often combing the fertile grounds of science fiction, sword-and-sandal affairs, and even the rare bank robbery, but their legacy is horror, and in those films you were going to see certain things. You could expect Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee (maybe both) duking it out in suave Gothic mansions or the quaint decor of a vampire’s crypt. You were going to see blood, sometimes lots of it, and women were going to wear beautiful, low-cut dresses that mostly existed to sing the praises of God-given cleavage. These were B-pictures, often trashy and always pulp, but behind the camera and in the heart of these movies is the single greatest output of house-style scares this side of Val Lewton’s cabal of war-time chillers for RKO Pictures in the early-to-mid-40s.

The currently ongoing retrospective series at New York’s Quad Cinema, entitled “Hammer’s House of Horror,” showcases 32 of the famous English studio’s pictures. Part one of a mammoth two-leg series showcases Hammer in their glory years from 1956-1967, where they made bank on modern updates of Warner Bros. monsters with films such as The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Horror of Dracula (1958), and The Mummy (1959) while also branching out into radical, chilling science fiction fare from the likes of Joseph Losey (1963’s The Damned) and tightly wound thrillers such as the woefully underseen Cash on Demand (1961).

Part one is a highlighted tour of everything Hammer did well, and one would be foolish to start anywhere other than their monster pictures with the aforementioned Lee and Cushing, as directed by Terence Fisher. Their first film together, an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, leans into the text’s gruesome moments with a focus on Lee’s shambolic sway and nervy gestures, conveying the character tapping into being the manifestation of an open wound. He’s had his humanity stripped from him because he’s something altogether different, and Lee fundamentally understands that this character, while horrific, is not guilty of being a monster. That would fall firmly on the shoulders of Dr. Frankenstein himself, played by Cushing — vastly superior in this film to Colin Clive’s portrait in James Whale’s 1931 WB classic. Cushing has menace bubbling under the surface, but Fisher’s morally ambivalent direction lets us decide for ourselves if the Dr. is just in his quest for a scientific breakthrough or one fool playing god. Everything was considered madness in science at one time or another, so why should we be stuck in the past of our own ideas? And the actor sells that very notion with verve and enough seductive physicality to convince you to follow him on his journey.

Terence Fisher would end up directing five of Hammer’s Frankenstein pictures, three of which play in this series. His penchant for tapping into the decay surrounding the otherwise meticulously put together set dressing of 18th-century England was right at home when he directed their next monster picture, The Horror of Dracula. Shot in gorgeous Technicolor, the film leans into the crimson on the gray of Dracula’s (Christopher Lee) decaying skin. Lee plays the role like a silent film villain leering into the eye of the camera so that the image of his entire face in a blown-up close-up feels completely overwhelming. He’s horrifying, but smartly understands that Dracula is both a predator and a creature of seduction, fixating on gestural acting: his hand slowly moves up a woman’s breast toward the nape of her neck, unleashing her from corsets and letting her bask in the resolute freedom of immortality and sexual anarchy. You just have to die first. With these movies, Lee fixed the image of Dracula as a pop-culture fixture, giving him an immortality of his own.

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Hammer’s Dracula films are the most consistent of all their long-running series, Brides of Dracula and Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (directed by unsung Hammer hero Freddie Francis) equalling the quality set by their initial adaptation of the Dracula narrative. Moving beyond monster pictures, more gems are to be found — including Cash on Demand, which features Cushing’s all-time greatest performance. Directed by virtual unknown Quentin Lawrence, Demand follows uptight, principled, bank manager Harry Fordyce as he gets tangled up in a bank heist and a battle of wills with silver-tongued devil, Gore Hepburn (Andre Morell). Fordyce is a man who values duty, honor, and his job above all else. He keeps a watchful eye over every cent resting in his bank vault, and when Hepburn forces him into a no-win situation by holding his wife and child hostage until Fordyce assists in his bank robbery, he breaks the man. Cushing nails the shift in character when put under the pressure of considering life beyond the bank vault. That he doesn’t go for broad, violent theatrics — instead opting for something closer to humiliation and torment — makes this difficult to watch. Quentin Lawrence shoots everything with a close eye on Cushing’s performance, amplifying his grace notes and perpetual anguish by twisting the knife in even further by never leaving his side. It’s a bottle-episode-as-movie set entirely in one location in near-real time, and the rhythm Lawrence finds in long, delicate dialogue scenes between the over-confident bully with swagger, Hepburn, and the pathetic submission of Fordyce, whose entire worldview is crumbling, is downright electrifying to watch even when it’s harsh. Its loose ties to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol make it one of the sickest Christmas movies ever made, but unlike something such as Black Christmas the only drops of blood here are metaphorical but just as searing.

The Quad Cinema deserves absolute applause for bringing together these lost gems with the already blood-stained-in-the-wool classics, because it shows a deeper picture of what Hammer Film Productions was capable, and the scope of their creative outlet as a studio. There are countless horror titles in their catalog to gravitate towards, many of which are playing in the ongoing series — e.g. the already mentioned monster movies, the astrological occult leaning The Devil Rides Out, the Sherlock Holmes adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles — but the Quad is proving once and for all that Hammer was a place for not only blood and thrills, but engaging, well-made cinema too. Part one is only the tip of the iceberg of showing what Hammer could do, but what is present in this retrospective series is a definitive statement on the quality of one studio’s contributions to the canon of English cinema.

“Hammer’s House of Horror, Part I: The Classic Years (1956–1967)” is now underway at Quad Cinema.

Posterized June 2018: ‘Under the Silver Lake,’ ‘Hereditary,’ ‘American Animals,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, May 30, 2018 at 8:30 am 

“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is a proverb whose simple existence proves the fact impressionable souls will do so without fail. This monthly column focuses on the film industry’s willingness to capitalize on this truth, releasing one-sheets to serve as not representations of what audiences are to expect, but as propaganda to fill seats. Oftentimes they fail miserably.


It’s an interesting month for wide releases this June—a fact that results from big hitters like Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, and Solo all dropping April/May. The studios have decided audiences will be fatigued in that aftermath and are following them up with some smaller-scale sequels able to hopefully cajole families out of the house for dinosaurs (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opens June 22), heists (Ocean’s 8 opens June 8), and cartels (Sicario: Day of the Soldado opens June 29). Consider these the “adult” version of the superhero fantasies parents have accompanied their kids to see.

Those titles won’t need quite the same number of screens that Disney and Marvel’s behemoths did. Being a five Friday month, that means more indies can flood the market for necessary counterprogramming. It’s therefore no surprise that these films are the ones providing the most evocative posters below. You have to turn those heads or suffer the fate of letting ticket buyers see their favorite blockbuster a third time instead.


How familiar

I hope the estate of Frank Lloyd Wright gets a cut of every film’s gross that has a poster design going full Art Deco window frame. Art Machine went there with a tint of futuristic vibranium on Black Panther and WORKS ADV took the idea and ran with it on The Great Gatsby. BLT Communications, LLC takes it further by turning the aesthetic from purely decorative to structurally relevant on Hotel Artemis (opens June 8). They’ve created a window like the one that might adorn the front of a fancy establishment such as the film’s namesake. And each piece of glass holds a character.

Had this been a tease with only the window, I’d probably champion it. As is, however, the whole is a busy mess. Sometimes the actor is out of proportion behind the bars of the window and other times he/she is super small in front of or spanning multiple dividers. Jodie Foster is top-billed and in the center, but she’s dwarfed by Sterling K. Brown and Sofia Boutella. And then we have an “engraved” monogram and neon-lit title competing for our attention rather than complementing each other (the font on the latter is quirky in the best way). Throw a room key in a random place and we understand just how failed a collage the whole proves.

Nancy (limited June 8) goes the opposite direction and shows itself to be too spare in comparison to its visual counterpart in Ignition and LA’s Ides of March. That poster was one of my favorites of that year because of its ingenuity to both seem unnatural in its perfect scale and natural in its plausible authenticity. It’s also spare, but there’s still a scene—a sense of place.

The sheet for Nancy lacks that reality. Here we have two pictures of the same person, so there should be no excuses as far as letting it line up and give our eyes a break. Instead we’re moving back and forth between color schemes, resolution, size, and angle. It could be a powerful image contrasting past innocence with present at-all-costs determination, not the goofy juxtaposition it actually delivers. Pushing the title to the left gives us the cause to find its balance on the right (a badly blurred hand we’re supposed to ignore) and the critics quotes are so staid that my view gets stuck as though I’ve hit a patch of quicksand.

P+A enters the fray with Leave No Trace (limited June 29) less through mirroring previous artwork than utilizing a well-worn composition tactic. There are many examples of posters pushing the subject to the bottom of the frame so the white space above can add drama and room for text, but the one I thought of first was Compliance.

Both adverts contain a lot of critics’ blurbs as a means of drumming up interest. It’s a good tactic when your marketing budget isn’t huge and your stars aren’t bona fide A-listers because it adds legitimacy. The hope is that you’ll find a writer’s name you know or a publication you respect and take their word for it, keeping the title in mind the next time you’re at the theater.

I like both for different reasons: Compliance‘s title placement inside the list of quotes to line up with Dreama Walker’s eye is great while the size of Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie in Leave No Trace lets the gravity of nature and the futility of their place within take hold. The latter is great in its separation of text between the top left and bottom right, the biggish buzzwords against the biggest title. And it may be subtle, but the way that “No” is a hair smaller than “Leave” and “Trace” is just off-putting enough to steal an extra couple seconds of attention.

The most interesting entry in this section, however, is LA’s Upgrade (opens June 1) because putting it next to the firm’s own Get Out makes you wonder if Blumhouse has crafted a template for their high concept fare. There’s the tiny window of imagery with eyes ever prominent, the (identical) thick sans font for the title, and the solid black/white background to ensure nothing distracts from the meticulously curated information supplied atop it.

I really hope Blumhouse and LA team up for a trilogy capper next year. If it ain’t broke …


All alone

I can’t look at LA’s poster for Gotti (limited June 15) without thinking of the John Travolta from Pulp Fiction meme because his arms are in static robot position. The assumption is that he’s about to button his coat, but the stance is too awkward to blindly accept it. For a guy who once commanded big bucks and marquee space, this glimpse of him teetering over a puddle of water could be a metaphor.

And what is that water anyway? Is he in an alley? Is it the blood of a victim? Urine? I haven’t the faintest clue of its make-up or presence. Why not just put Travolta’s face big and center? You could even keep the weird red tint if you wanted.

Just look at Superfly (opens June 13). If Trevor Jackson is filling this poster and his name isn’t even deemed important enough for an appearance. He stands with a whole city propped up on his gold lion head cane anyway.

This one is weird too because it says so little. We can infer the details with it, though. Jackson’s character is the “hustler” of the tag and whatever game he’s playing now holds control of his home in the balance. LA brings the high contrast darkness of the subject matter to the sparkling gold of the spoils, our eyes moving from title to lion to chain to earring as a means of quantifying this guy’s worth.

What I can’t stop looking at, though, are the credits. “From the producers of The Matrix Trilogy” with “Original Soundtrack Produced by Future.” Those are very specific details that have less to do with the actual product than selling an unproven bill of goods. Perhaps that’s enough to earn money on opening night.

For Won’t You Be My Neighbor (limited June 8), ARSONAL makes Fred Rogers a bit smaller and a whole lot less imposing. They have the icon in familiar pose, pulling on his sweater for a new day teaching children the world over. It’s very bland, though, with a graduation photo gradient blue back. Some would say this tone fits the man perfectly, but it doesn’t necessarily help turn heads at the movies.

Luckily Rogers has a face everyone knows. Seeing his smile and catchphrase should bring a feeling of warmth and excitement to any fan. It simply lacks the energy of director Morgan Neville’s 20 Feet from Stardom and the character of his Best of Enemies (both by Gravillis Inc.). A little excitement makes a world of difference too.

Take Territory Studio’s Westwood: Punk. Icon. Activist. (limited June 8) for an example. Here’s one person against a solid background and yet it screams at us in comparison to Roger’s silence. The giant ink-stroked title, white wardrobe on white wall, and bright hair/banana become an assault together despite their otherwise mundaneness apart. You want to know what this woman is about. You want to know why this is the image chosen to describe her to unversed audiences. There’s mystery in its multiple juxtapositions and a promise of answers from the film.

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Our 20 Most-Anticipated Films of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival

Written by The Film Stage, May 5, 2018 at 8:46 am 

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The Cannes Film Festival, cinema’s most esteemed yearly event, begins in just a few days. While we’ll soon be on the ground providing coverage, today brings a preview of what we’re most looking forward to among the eclectic line-up, ranging from films in competition to select titles on the various sidebars. Check out our most-anticipated features below and follow our complete coverage here throughout the month. Make sure to also follow our contributors on Twitter: Giovanni Marchini Camia and Rory O’Connor.

20. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (Terry Gilliam)

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Hopefully a genuinely worthwhile film rather than a curio as it relates to its long-plagued production history, it’s still not precisely confirmed that Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote will actually be legally approved to premiere at the festival. Let’s hope those issues get ironed out in the next few days, as the promise of Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce side by side in a Gilliam-directed feature, especially this one, is too promising to stow away. – Jordan R.

19. 10 Years Thailand (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Aditya Assarat, Wisit Sasanatieng, Chulayarnnon Siriphol)

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We may have to wait until next year for a fully-fledged new Apichatpong Weerasethakul film (starring Tilda Swinton!), but in the meantime he’s contributed to the omnibus feature 10 Years  Thailand, premiering at Cannes. Rather than looking at the past decade, these directors–also including Aditya Assarat, Wisit Sasanatieng, and Chulayarnnon Siriphol–have each crafted a look ahead at what their country may fall into under its current military dictatorship. – Jordan R.

18. Fugue (Agnieszka Smoczyńska)

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After making waves with her mermaid horror musical The Lure, director Agnieszka Smoczyńska is back, this time in the Critics’ Week section of Cannes. Fugue follows a woman who is suffering from memory loss, yet returns to her family even amongst her inner confusion. It doesn’t quite have the genre hook of the director’s prior feature, but it certainly has a more interesting psychological angle. – Jordan R.

17. The House That Jack Built (Lars von Trier)

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The latest work from cinematic provocateur Lars von Trier is the very project which caused the controversial filmmaker to paraphrase Roger Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon, claiming the film may be his final feature: “I think I’m getting too old for this (shit).” Okay, so maybe he didn’t say ‘shit,’ but von Trier stated that this may indeed be his final film. The House that Jack Built, the director’s first release since his beautifully disturbing two-parter Nymphomaniac, follows a serial killer named Jack, played by Matt Dillon, as he executes a series of vicious murders. Von Trier described the film as his “most brutal,” which after Antichrist, Dancer in the Dark and Dogville, feels like an incredibly bold claim. With Uma Thurman and Riley Keough rounding out the cast, we couldn’t be more curious to see what von Trier has in store. – Tony H.

16. Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

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As he preps for his newest film starring Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda is returning to Cannes with another feature. Shoplifters, starring Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Kengo Kora, Sosuke Ikematsu, Chizuru Ikewaki, Yuki Yamada, Yoko Moriguchi and Akira Emoto, follows a family of shoplifters who take in an orphan. In recent years, it has seemed like every other film from the director has been a stand-out, so this hopefully follows the trend. – Jordan R.

15. Girls of the Sun (Eva Husson)

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No stranger to Cannes Film Festival, Golshifteh Farahani is back this year, leading the war drama Girls of the Sun. Coming from Eva Husson, whose Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) we quite liked at TIFF a few years back, it follows a female battalion in Kurdistan who aim to liberate their hometown “from the hands of extremists, hoping to find her son who is held hostage.” While certainly timely, it also looks to be a well-realized tale from an up-and-coming director who finds herself in the competition for the first time. – Jordan R.

14. Dogman (Matteo Garrone)

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Even when he gets too ambitious for his own good (Tale of Tales), Matteo Garrone is deserving of a look. His latest feature Dogman, described as an “urban western,” follows a dog groomer who gets involved in a boxer that terrorizes his small town, so he takes revenge. As for our anticipation, I mean, just look at that still above. – Jordan R.

13. Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher)

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Returning to Cannes after The Wonders, Alice Rohrwacher’s latest drama follows a peasant and a nobleman living a small village. The two ban together in a kidnapping plot that leads them to experience the city for the first time. Rohrwacher has been one to watch in the past few years, so here’s hoping this serves to be a deserved break-out. – Jordan R.

12. Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski)

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After picking up the Oscar for his austerely vivid drama Ida, Pawel Pawlikowski is back, this time in Cannes competition. His latest feature Cold War is described as a “passionate love story between two people of different backgrounds and temperaments, who are fatally mismatched and yet fatefully condemned to each other.” Set in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia, and Paris during the titular era, it’ll be difficult for the director top his best feature, but we’re eager to see what’s in store. – Jordan R.

11. Birds of Passage (Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego)

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A perfect double feature with last year’s Lost City of Z, Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent was a visionary, transportive journey and now the director will return this year with his follow-up, co-directed with Cristina Gallego. Opening Directors’ Fortnight, Birds of Passage follows an indigenous family who gets involved in the drug trade in 1970s Colombia as the marijuana business booms. Described as a film noir, western, and Greek tragedy, we can’t wait to see what one of international cinema’s most exciting directors has in store. – Jordan R.

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Posterized May 2018: ‘First Reformed,’ ‘The Day After,’ ‘Tully,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, May 3, 2018 at 8:32 am 

“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is a proverb whose simple existence proves the fact impressionable souls will do so without fail. This monthly column focuses on the film industry’s willingness to capitalize on this truth, releasing one-sheets to serve as not representations of what audiences are to expect, but as propaganda to fill seats. Oftentimes they fail miserably.


You can thank Avengers: Infinity War spill over and May’s most anticipated blockbuster Solo (open May 25) for leaving the four week month rather spare where it concerns studio pictures despite being the start of summer. I’d steer clear of the month if I were an executive too—heck, three of the posters highlighted below aren’t even “true” theatrical releases (two hit Netflix with the third making its bow on HBO).

As any cinephile knows, however, there are always a few strong pictures banking on the oft-discussed counter-programming position. So we check out the posters and get excited regardless of needing to navigate through a sea of Disney-backed character sheets assaulting us everywhere we go.


Look familiar?

What May does possess is a healthy number of posters that can’t help but evoke another from the annals of film marketing. While some do so with admitted purpose, most prove to be complete headscratchers. I'[ll give these firms credit and three of these for fall in the former category.

First up is Anon (Netflix, May 4). Let’s be honest: if you have Amanda Seyfried in your movie, you’re putting her on your poster. Apparently, if you’ve used her in one of your past films you call her up for another too. Like In Time, Andrew Niccol is the director of this science fiction starring Seyfried’s bangs. I’m not sure what’s going on with the super-imposed boxes, but I’m sure it’s important.

You can’t blame the designers for recalling Niccol’s past work, especially since this is a Netflix film—a platform that may also have In Time available for streaming by the 4th (a page exists, but it’s blank). That type of brand recognition for the artist is significant. The service doesn’t need posters per se, so creating one must provide purpose even if the result isn’t quite as dynamic as its competitor’s attempts (see the sheet for Sky Cinema at right).

For Life of the Party (open May 11), cold open opts to focus on genre as much as celebrity. They could have just put Melissa McCarthy up there with her graduation cap, but the addition of the tassel as obstacle to vision turns a static, content-driven image into one that’s animated and tone-driven. Crew Creative Advertising did the same with Get Smart a decade ago for identical reasons. This effect of subverting self-serious promotion with visual gag conjures a smile and hopefully helps your brain remember the title. It doesn’t do much on its own artistically, but it does its job.

The poster for Dark Crimes (limited May 11) does neither. I’m not certain as to the motivations of anything on this one besides the decision to fill the frame with star Jim Carrey. Is that slice going three-quarters of the way through the page supposed to signify the “light” and “dark” sides of his mind? If so, why isn’t it separating two distinct expressions? Or maybe his face is good and his head (brain) is bad? At least the “R” is backwards to really show where this film dares to go …

This thing is so innocuous that I just see LA’s Aftermath instead. Aging and grey-bearded actor looking down in profile? Check. Diagonal white line cutting across? Check. But at least this one feels dramatic. It exudes a melancholic sadness by shielding Arnold Schwarzenegger’s eyes and presents context with the “line” being a collision course of two airplanes. We learn something here. All Dark Crimes gives us is confirmation that Carrey does still supplement his painting by acting every once in a while.

And that leaves us with The Cleanse (limited May 4) by Phantom City Creative (when it was still titled The Master Cleanse). It’s a neat image with a little demon dude rising up as a shadow from Johnny Galecki—perhaps the “thing” he must purge from his body. I love the softness of the sheet from its off-white coloring to its almost blurred yet sharply cut font. But I loved this all even more when the firm did the exact same thing with The Void.

I can easily forgive this one, though. Phantom City Creative isn’t some corporate entity slapping photos and text together. It’s a niche, two-person, independent studio that has done a lot of alternative sheets for Mondo over the years and their unique style will of course permeate through the entirety of their work. Is it disappointing that I can’t look at this one without seeing another? Yes. But it succeeds and proves to be distinctly theirs. That’s ultimately what paying customers seek when approaching them for work.


Looking good

There’s a lot to like about Mary Shelley‘s (limited May 25) poster. The crop, the monochrome coloring offset by the brightness of Elle Fanning’s eye, and the blank expression recalling the subject’s most famous creation: Frankenstein’s monster.

But there’s just as much to question. Why fill the title with what appears to be a woodcut illustration from her book? Why split the tagline into three distinct parts despite none of them making sense without the others considering it is a single sentence? Why not use the line “The life that inspired Frankenstein” as the tag (to supply a message) instead of positioning it as a subtitle (to demean observers who do actually know who Shelley was)? This is a good first draft that needed more honing.

The same goes for Gravillis Inc.’s RBG (limited May 4). I like the concept: make a graphic image that embodies its subject without showing the subject. What better way to do this for Ruth Bader Ginsburg than using her trademarked lace collar? There isn’t. But the way it is oriented doesn’t lend itself nicely to what’s around it. The stacked title overpowers in its boldness and the choice to curve the tagline proves misguided in its awkward construction.

The firm’s second design is much better as the lace is allowed contextual shape, the tag is straightened, and the title is adjusted for color, detail, and cohesion. Why is Ginsburg a cartoon, though? I’m not saying we need a photo here, just a more photo-realistic illustration. Here’s all this ornate line work ruined by a simplistic vector portrait sticking out like a sore thumb. It feels like they spent too much time on the bottom and needed to rush to finish the top before deadline.

Cartoon is obviously more relevant when it comes to an anime such as Lu Over the Wall (limited May 11). This simplistic line-drawing aesthetic is the same that the film utilizes—the playful bubble glares a charming inclusion rather than distraction. Boy is it busy, though. I understand wanting to throw in as much as you can, but I’m not sure what it is I’m looking at thanks to too many redundancies.

We don’t need big Lu and tiny silhouette Lu in the title when the title is positioned within her hair(?). That’s a cool stylistic addition when you’re just using the title as a tease or have the title far enough from the image itself to tie them together. I like the upside-down boy at top as a visual contrast and artistic complement, but the dogs are too much. It might be their size, but it feels as though they are drawn in a different style than the humans. And why are there so many umbrellas? I’d rather be given an idea of place than be beaten over the head with a motif that’s meaningless before seeing the film.

The Day After‘s (limited May 11) sheet is for the most part great. It stands apart with its color, staggered title, and unorthodox use of photography. But it’s also somewhat confusing in its visual language by alternating between word and image with laurels, critic quote, and cast/crew seemingly filling in the blanks. With all that excess it can be difficult parsing the main compositional idea of placing a title word in the gap between Kwon Haeyo and whichever woman is left watching him with another. It actually makes it so that we don’t look long enough to even acknowledge this choice.

That’s a shame because I think it really says something about what the film might be. You get the sense of cheating, of Haeyo’s character engaging with three different women at three separate times while another is left alone. Letting his photos change while keeping the women the same is yet another interesting narrative contrast positioning him as the focal point and them the planets orbiting around. I simply wish there was a way to free this dialogue from the business-side so forcefully pushing its way in.

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15 Films to See in May

Written by Jordan Raup, May 2, 2018 at 8:30 am 

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While the summer season got a humongous start last weekend, there’s still four long months of movies this season. After highlighting the ones we’re most looking forward to, it’s time to zero in on the first round of May. Around these parts, much of the month will be devoted to Cannes coverage, but there’s still much to be unveiled in theaters, including perhaps the finest film of the year thus far.

Matinees to See: The Desert Bride (5/4), The Guardians (5/4), Anon (5/4), Mountain (5/11), Revenge (5/11), Terminal (5/11), The Seagull (5/11), Boom for Real (5/18), Pope Francis – A Man of His Word (5/18), and The Gospel According To André (5/25), and Summer 1993 (5/25)

15. How to Talk to Girls at Parties (John Cameron Mitchell; May 25)

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Synopsis: An alien touring the galaxy breaks away from her group and meets two young inhabitants of the most dangerous place in the universe: the London suburb of Croydon.

Trailer

Why You Should See It: Writer-director John Cameron Mitchell (Rabbit Hole, Shortbus) is back, teaming with author Neil Gaiman, and a cast featuring Elle Fanning, Alex Sharp, Nicole Kidman, and Ruth Wilson. Despite premiering at Cannes last year to a fairly tepid response, including our review, there’s enough noteworthy talent involved here to warrant a look.

14. Beast (Michael Pearce; May 11)

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Synopsis: In a small island community, a troubled young woman falls for a mysterious outsider who empowers her to escape her oppressive family. When he comes under suspicion for a series of murders, she defends him at all costs.

Trailer

Why You Should See It: Enjoying a healthy festival run, including Toronto, London, Sundance, and more, Michael Pearce’s drama finally arrives this week. With gorgeous-looking cinematography and an intense dramatic thrust, it looks like to be a break-out feature for all involved.

13. Racer and the Jailbird (Michaël R. Roskam; May 4)

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Synopsis: Set against the background of a brutal crime gang in Brussels, a tragic love story between a high-flying gangster and a young racing driver with very upper-class roots.

Trailer

Why You Should See It: After teaming together for the Oscar-nominated Bullhead and The Drop, Matthias Schoenaerts and Michaël R. Roskam have reunited for another crime drama, this time bringing along Blue is the Warmest Color star Adèle Exarchopoulos for the ride. Racer and the Jailbird, which premiered at film festivals last fall, looks like another stylish, intense outing for Roskam.

12. Filmworker (Tony Zierra; May 11)

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Synopsis: The story of Leon Vitali, who surrendered his promising acting career to become Stanley Kubrick’s devoted right-hand man.

Trailer

Why You Should See It: A week before Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey gets a 50th anniversary theatrical release, featuring an unrestored 70mm print, a documentary that captures his right-hand man, Leon Vitali, will arrive. While it isn’t necessarily the most polished production, it’s still a worthy angle on a different side of Kubrick’s production process. Kyle Pletcher said in his review from NYFF, “Purely as a document and examination of Vitali’s tireless dedication to Kubrick’s vision and legacy, Filmworker is a sufficiently insightful and informative piece, bringing light to the auteur’s profoundly virtuosic filmmaking approach.” 

11. Solo: A Star Wars Story (Ron Howard; May 25)

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Synopsis: During an adventure into a dark criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.

Trailer

Why You Should See It: With Fury Road being a bit of an exception, Cannes Film Festival usually isn’t the best birthplace when it comes to Hollywood tentpoles, however it does provide some added pre-release clout. And one film that can certainly use the boost is Han Solo: A Star Wars Story. Arriving with a shrug as it pertains both to the concept of this prequel and the footage we’ve seen thus far, perhaps Ron Howard has peppered some magic into this one, but we’ll need a great deal of convincing.

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40 Films to See This Summer

Written by The Film Stage, April 19, 2018 at 9:19 am 

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The summer movie season is upon us, which means a seemingly endless pile-up of superheroes, reboots, and sequels will crowd the multiplexes. While a very select few show some promise, we’ve set out to highlight a vast range of titles–40 in total–that will arrive over the next four months, many of which we’ve already given our stamp of approval.

There’s bound to be more late-summer announcements in the coming months, and a number of titles will arrive on VOD day-and-date, so follow us on Twitter for the latest updates. In the meantime, see our top 40 picks for what to watch this summer below, in chronological order, and let us know what you’re looking forward to most in the comments.

Manhunt (John Woo; May 4)

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John Woo’s return to the genre that made his career isn’t so much of a comeback as it is watching one of our best action directors become unleashed. This is a film of superlatives, where storylines and subplots pile on top of each other in the middle of action setpieces that astound in their absurdity. There are cover-ups, conspiracies, badass assassins, jetski chases, revenge plots, super soldiers and much, much more, with Woo orchestrating all of his madness into a giddy delirium while giving viewers a big ol’ self-reflexive wink. One of the most purely entertaining films of 2017, Manhunt is the exact kind of maximalist fun we need right now. – C.J. P.

RBG (Betsy West and Julie Cohen; May 4)

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RBG is an essential documentary for the adoring fans of Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg aka The Notorious RBG, according to some millennials. They have created an entire mythology out of a quiet, brilliant women who rose to the rank of the court’s chief dissenter post Bush v. Gore. Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West have crafted an engaging documentary to hold us over until she, like fellow pioneer of civil rights Thurgood Marshall, gets a biopic of her own later this year. – John F. (full review)

The Day After (Hong Sang-soo; May 11)

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Hindsight is a marvelous thing. To quote the lead character of a recent Hong Sang-soo film (and by recent we mean Claire’s Camera, the second of three the prolific director has premiered so far this year): “The only way to change things is to look back on them, slowly.” It’s a mantra Hong clearly lives by as a filmmaker, as do many of the people who inhabit his movies. Hong’s world is all about repetition, and while the cold domestic and workplace settings of his latest film, The Day After, are somewhat of a departure from the unfamiliar streets his character usually walk down, the majority of his signature ingredients are present and accounted for: sad, unfaithful men abusing positions of relative power; dialogue that meanders between the everyday and the sublime; his current muse, Kim Min-hee; and, of course, generous lashings of Soju. – Rory O. (full review)

Lu Over the Wall (Masaaki Yuasa; May 11)

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Japanese animation director Masaaki Yuasa, long a cult figure in the U.S., is getting new exposure this year. Following up on Netflix’s release of his series Devilman Crybaby, GKIDS has picked up three of his films for distribution this year. One of these, Lu Over the Wall, demonstrates everything that makes Yuasa one of the best contemporary anime filmmakers. It’s an energetic, frequently hilarious, always visually riveting ride. – Dan S. (full review)

Filmworker (Tony Zierra; May 11)

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A week before Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey gets a 50th anniversary theatrical release, featuring an unrestored 70mm print, a documentary that captures his right-hand man, Leon Vitali, will arrive. While it isn’t necessarily the most polished production, it’s still a worthy angle on a different side of Kubrick’s production process. Kyle Pletcher said in his review from NYFF, “Purely as a document and examination of Vitali’s tireless dedication to Kubrick’s vision and legacy, Filmworker is a sufficiently insightful and informative piece, bringing light to the auteur’s profoundly virtuosic filmmaking approach.” 

Sollers Point (Matthew Porterfield; May 11)

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With his small-scale, deeply felt, and wonderfully-realized dramas, Matthew Porterfield has carved out an impressive eye for a Baltimore we don’t often see on screen. After earning acclaim on the festival circuit and elsewhere with Putty Hill and I Used to Be Darker, the director returns this summer with Sollers Point. Premiering at San Sebastián International Film Festival last fall and touring around, Oscilloscope Laboratories will release it in a few weeks. The drama, starring Jim Belushi, McCaul Lombardi, and Zazie Beetz, follows a man under house arrest who must reacquaint himself with both his family and the community at large. – Jordan R.

First Reformed (Paul Schrader; May 18)

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Made with a kind of formal rigor that one would’ve assumed was long past Schrader after the “post-cinema” experimentations of The Canyons and Dog Eat DogFirst Reformed is first and foremost most admirable for its sustained mood. Shot in The Academy aspect ratio and maintaining a stillness and greyness that manages to seem utterly alien to the slow cinema standards of contemporary art films, one gets the sense of the director really having a genuine stake in the making of this picture. It seems the religious content is not so much an affect as a genuine late-in-life plea. – Ethan V. (full review)

On Chesil Beach (Dominic Cooke; May 18)

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It’s 1962. Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) have just been married. She’s from a wealthy family and he a provincial one; her desire to be active in world affairs beyond her status’ ambivalence and his hope to be accepted as an intellectual with the potential of outgrowing a brawler reputation placing them at odds with the environments that raised them to seek escape. And they are in love: a true, deep, and unstoppable love that allowed their differences to take a backseat as far as community and parentage was concerned. It’s propelled them towards a hotel honeymoon suite on the water, an isolating venue affording them the privacy such auspicious occasions crave and the stifling quiet able to intensify their utter lack of sexual experience and wealth of insecure awkwardness. – Jared M. (full review)

The Tale (Jennifer Fox; May 26)

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What does your life mean if the memories that have defined you are revealed to be false? What if the memories are tied to devastating trauma? For Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern), when letters are unearthed revealing more about a “relationship” when she was 13, she starts to not only investigate in the present-day, but excavates the memories that she’s repeated since the trauma and opens a dialogue with her younger self (Isabelle Nélisse). What she perceived as a relationship was, in fact, repeated rape. Directed by Fox herself, The Tale is an emotionally debilitating drama, the powerful kind that makes one want to scream rage at the events on the screen, but are choked by silence as the credits roll, comprehending the irrecoverable damage caused to the protagonist and the director, as the events are based on her own life. – Jordan R. (full review)

American Animals (Bart Layton; June 1)

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The rich genre of crime film in which dumbasses get themselves in way over their heads has a proud new entry with American Animals. Though premiering as part of Sundance’s U.S. Dramatic Competition, I’d strenuously argue that it is in fact a documentary that happens to be 90% reenactment. Hell, the movie itself even states in the opening chyron that it is a true story, not based on one. The real figures involved not only provide commentary but also shape the film itself, as conflicting testimonies will change a scene’s location or what a certain person is wearing. The conflict between differing points of view and retrospective perspective express the movie’s themes of shaping one’s reality by acting as though you’re in a different story than the one you think you’re living. – Dan S. (full review)

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