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The Best Films of 2019 (So Far)

Written by The Film Stage, June 11, 2019 at 10:17 pm 

2019 is nearing the halfway mark, so it’s time to take a look back at the first six months and round up our favorite titles thus far. While the end of this year will bring personal favorites from all of our writers, think of the below 21 entries (and honorable mentions) as a comprehensive rundown of what should be seen before heading into a promising back half of the year.

Do note that this feature is based solely on U.S. theatrical releases from 2019, with many currently widely available on streaming platforms, home video (both noted below) or theatrically. Check them out below, as organized alphabetically, followed by honorable mentions and a handful of films to keep a look out for the rest of the summer.

Amazing Grace (Sydney Pollack)

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A time capsule that’s as fresh and powerful an experience as it must have been when recorded live in Watts in 1972, Amazing Grace is arguably one of the year’s most-anticipated films arriving after years of litigation and a fetal technical glitch that was resolved thanks to digital workflows. The film that exists, finished by producer Alan Elliot, bursts with intimacy and immediacy capturing a captivating and sublime performance by Aretha Franklin. In between the incredible artistry we discover and are introduced to several influences of Franklin’s including her father the minister and civil rights activist CL Franklin who provides a moving context for the performance along with commentary provided by Reverend James Cleveland. Amazing Grace is a rousing performance lensed with simple, raw, intimate filmmaking that’s unforgettable and nourishing for the soul. – John F.

Asako I & II (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)

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Following his riveting five-hour-plus drama Happy Hour, Ryusuke Hamaguchi is back with Asako I & II, in which he employs a wealth of stylistic flourishes in an absorbing riff on Vertigo. Based on Tomoka Shibasaki’s novel Netemo Sametemo, it follows a woman who falls in love, but her significant other disappears. Two years later, another man appears with a striking resemblance to her former lover. Less melodramatic than that plot synopsis sounds, Asako is fascinating in its use of surreal touches and enveloping playfulness, making for one of 2019’s most delightful, expertedly-directed cinematic experiences.

Ash is Purest White (Jia Zhangke)

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For over two decades the filmmaker Jia Zhangke has, through his movies, shown Western audiences a barometer of life in 21st Century China. Ash is Purest White was both the most expensive and, arguably, least political film that Jia has made (read into that what you will) but it was also his most shape-shifting, adventurous and heart wrenching work, too. The director’s partner Zhao Tao provides that heartbeat as the wife of an absent mob guy who goes on an odyssey to find him. The film–and perhaps the world of Jia itself–would simply evaporate without her. – Rory O.

Coming to Blu-ray on July 16.

The Beach Bum (Harmony Korine)

While it didn’t make a cultural mark akin to Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine’s latest feature is one of his best films. 95 minutes of lovable, shaggy bliss, it’s wonderfully free of stakes with a tone so earnest that it never feels tedious. Yes, Moondog is a role Matthew McConaughey was born to play, but his wayward, hazy journey is also supported by a hilarious cast, from Martin Lawrence’s (worst) tour guide (ever) Captain Wack to Zac Efron’s Creed-obsessed rehab escapee Flicker to Isla Fisher’s care-free Minnie, the wife of Moondog, who receives pleasure any way she wants it. This may be Korine doing his version of dad rock, but he’s locked into a loose inner spirituality that the current state of American independent cinema could certainly use more of.  – Jordan R.

Coming to VOD/Blu-ray/DVD on June 18.

Black Mother (Khalik Allah)

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Comparisons of Black Mother to cinematic poetry are apt, but it’s harder to pinpoint than that, more aptly described in relation to sound or music–free-flowing jazz, fluidly connecting otherwise inconceivable strands of culture, politics, and history in Jamaica. The faces shown rarely match the soundscape and the audio and visual components of the film seem to operate parallel to each other. Words, in this case, fill in what traditional scoring tries but often fails to accomplish. – Jason O. (full review)

Diane (Kent Jones)

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The narrative directorial debut of film scholar, curator, and documentary filmmaker Kent Jones elicits an awful lot of anticipation. Often, first features contain raw emotions and boundless pent-up ideas often toned down in future efforts. Diane, written and directed by Jones–known for his collaborations with Martin Scorsese, along with his previous theatrical feature which aimed to recapture the spirit of Hitchcock/Truffaut’s conversations by engaging with the best filmmakers working in contemporary cinema–is an observant and nuanced dramas which feels closer to the emotional truths of Kenneth Lonergan and Angus MacLachlan than the formal flair of Scorsese and Hitchcock. – John F. (full review)

Available on VOD.

Dragged Across Concrete (S. Craig Zahler)

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Anyone transfixed by the hyper-stylized meathead triumph of blood and violence of Brawl in Cell 99 should be warned. Dragged Across Concrete, S. Craig Zahler’s third feature, is comparatively much tamer than his 2017 prison drama. But where the new entry lacks in bloodshed and bone-splintering violence, it still confirms Zahler’s penchant for complicated characters, and conjures up a bad cops action movie which, despite blips in tension and a second half far superior to the first, crystallizes Zahler’s as a key name to watch for lovers of the genre. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Available on VOD/Blu-ray/DVD.

An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo)

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Though in many respects unpolished, late Chinese director Hu Bo’s first–and only–feature is a cry into the void so raw and resounding it shakes you out of a stupor you never even realized. The breathlessly long set pieces build up a sense of suffocation in real time, while the subtle music and camerawork evoke the constant, unspoken despair of a billion nobodies. This is the work of a keenly observant storyteller who bared his last outrage on screen and who probably proved too perceptive for the moral bankruptcy of this world. – Zhuo-Ning Su

Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry)

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Distinct from musicals, music biopics, and documentaries, fiction films about the challenges faced by musicians in practicing their craft have been around since the earliest days of cinema. From The Jazz Singer and A Star Is Born to recent releases such as Not Fade Away and Inside Llewyn Davis, the tribulations of musicianship have long fascinated filmmakers and audiences alike. Although these struggles are typically emphasized for dramatic purposes, rarely is the viewer subjected to the downward spiral of one of these artists for the overwhelming majority of the runtime, let alone with such intoxicating lucidity; a feat that Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell accomplishes with flying colors. – Kyle P. (full review)

Available on VOD/Blu-ray/DVD.

High Flying Bird (Steven Soderbergh)

It would come as some surprise if any one character actually hears, digests, and applies everything said to them through the course of High Flying Bird, a typically distanced and dense Steven Soderbergh study of institutional malfeasance​. That its verbiage, courtesy Moonlight originator Tarell Alvin McCraney, is an even split between street talk and corporate speak would be dense enough were the subject not so specific: not just the NBA or a player and agent’s duties (unique and mutual both given equal ground), but how its individual, all-too-human parts work amidst a league-wide lockout putting everybody on edge. Words, chewed by a cast like a too-tough steak, flow ceaselessly until a key term or turning point–”protocol” and “lockout” to establish arguments, “you thought” as a sharpened stopper–take us back to earth, briefly, until we go again. And it all sounds like the primary recording device was an iPhone. You’ll miss some things. – Nick N. (full review)

Available on Netflix.

High Life (Claire Denis)

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While High Life has understandably drawn all kinds of comparisons to the 60s and 70s cerebral sci-fi canon (notably Solaris and 2001: A Space Odyssey), for both its abstract use of space imagery and its minimalist ship design which more often than not resembles an artificially-lit hospital filled with dated technology, its soul is firmly in the sensibilities of its filmmaker, French master Claire Denis, who mines the genre for a deeply sensorial and moving portrait of the misery and horror parents are willing and perhaps responsible to endure so their children might not have to. – Josh L. (full review)

Available on VOD.

The Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard)

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Another miraculous, meticulously feat of cinematic collage, The Image Book finds the French New Wave icon continuing his boundary-pushing editing techniques, both in video and sound (to see this at Alice Tully Hall during New York Film Festival was something truly special).  Rory O’Connor said in his Cannes review, “Split into five sections of various lengths titled REMAKES, BOOK OF LAW, CENTRAL AREA, and two others that proved too long for both my memory and my notebook, Le Livre d’Image (for now known as The Image Book in English) offers a collection of fragmented thoughts on cinema and geopolitics, I think.”

Available on Blu-ray/DVD.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (Chad Stahelski)

Beginning with what would be the climax of a standard action film, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum runs like a well-oiled machine, delivering exactly what you want in ways you didn’t know you wanted. Picking up mere moments after chapter two’s finale, there’s only a few minutes on the clock before John Wick (Keanu Reeves) becomes “excommunicado” with a $14 million price tag on his head, and all of the world’s assassins on his tail. Blood is on his hands after a verboten killing on the Continental Hotel grounds so he’s on the run, and his options are running short. Jordan R. (full review)

Long Day’s Journey into Night (Bi Gan)

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One of the most staggering cinematic experiences I’ve had of late was Bi Gan’s transportive, dreamlike odyssey Long Day’s into Night. While much ink has been spilled over its astounding hour-long 3D single take through multiple towns and above, the rest of the film is just as ravishing as we follow (though that word is loosely defined in meditative ways) a detective’s journey to track down a mysterious woman. While influences from Wong Kar-wai to Andrei Tarkovsky are present, this young director establishes a voice all his own, a remarkable feat just two films in. – Jordan R.

Non-Fiction (Olivier Assayas)

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Who needs a middle man’s subjectivity when you have algorithms predicting what people will like? Critics don’t matter much in Olivier Assayas’ talkative Non-Fiction, but they are not the only supposedly anachronistic relic to be thrown out of the window in this gentle and profoundly compassionate human comedy that draws from the ever-widening rift between old and new trends in the publishing industry to conjure up a tale of societal changes and those caught in between them. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Relaxer (Joel Potrykus)

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While many indie filmmakers like Andrew Bujalski started making films in apartments with their friends and scaled up to larger projects, Michigan-based madman Joel Potrykus has gleefully and unapologetically scaled down as his career has progressed. His fourth outing, Relaxer, barely even takes place in an apartment, but rather in the corner of a living room where Abbie (Joshua Burge) is stuck on a couch for nearly six months. While staying there, his cruel (or tough love) brother Cam, (David Dastmalchian),  gives him a series of challenges. For the first one, he needs to drink a gallon of curdled milk out of nine baby bottles. Under the watchful eye of a Sony handicam, he’s not permitted to leave the couch under any circumstances until he’s finished. – John F. (full review)

Available on VOD.

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese has had a long, fruitful partnership with rock ’n’ roll as muse, subject, and accompaniment, and one thing at which he’s uniquely skilled is drawing out the playfully antagonistic relationship between performer and audience. Though 2005’s No Direction Home offered an exhaustive, four-hour look at a sliver of Bob Dylan’s career, it felt almost too civil–absent the combative spirit that has made Dylan such a prophetic and transmuting figure.  His latest attempt, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story–a remastered chronicle of the nearly 60-date tour that took place from 1975-1976–is as indebted to Dylan in form as content. A grandiose lark at least ten years in the making, its opening as a stirring Americana collage belies its later, consciously scattered direction. This is a portrayal of Dylan at his most unadulterated and prickly–a desolate genius who’s still almost always full of it. – Michael S. (full review)

Available on Netflix.

The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)

The Souvenir melds two well-trodden subgenres and through Joanna Hogg’s refreshingly unique vision makes each feel entirely original. Her much-anticipated return after 2013’s Exhibition tells both a painful addiction story and a behind-the-scenes look at film school struggles as we follow Julie (a beautiful debut performance by Honor Swinton Byrne). The daughter of Tilda Swinton (who also briefly turns up), Swinton Byrne is in every scene, and steals them all. Akin to the revelatory introduction to Tom Hiddleston in Hogg’s first two films, Unrelated and Archipelago, she is the lifeblood of The Souvenir, which follows doomed lovers in a story that is conveyed with feels mined from achingly personal memories.Jordan R. (full review)

Transit (Christian Petzold)

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Migration isn’t just a hot-button issue in the political arena. It’s a hot topic in your local arthouse theater, too. At Berlin’s film festival, the subject is everywhere–from Wolfgang Fischer’s Styx and documentaries like Central Airport THF–perhaps natural for the capital of a country now home to more than a million recent asylum-seekers from the middle east and Africa. Local boy Christian Petzold’s audacious retelling of Anna Seghers’s World War II-set novel about refugees escaping Nazi-controlled France is a strange, beguiling creation that will be hard to beat in the competition line-up, and ranks as a rare period piece that utterly gets under the skin of contemporary concerns. It’s an engrossing, uncanny and somewhat disturbing film, and completes something of a trio of historical melodramas after Barbara and his worldwide hit Phoenix, but develops the themes of those in an adventurous, if oblique, way. – Ed F. (full review)

Coming to Blu-ray/DVD June 25.

Under the Silver Lake (David Robert Mitchell)

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David Robert Mitchell is a nostalgic. His debut feature, The Myth of the American Sleepover, paid tribute to such teenage dramas as American Graffiti and the work of John Hughes. Its follow-up, the terrific It Follows, ranks amongst the smartest and most effective specimens in John Carpenter’s vast and variegated suburban horror legacy. Mitchell has now tried his hand at an L.A. noir with Under the Silver Lake, which owes as big a debt to The Long GoodbyeMulholland Drive, and Inherent Vice (to mention but three of the most conspicuous referents) as it does Thomas Pynchon’s labyrinthine, paranoia-laden narratives. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

Available on VOD, coming to Blu-ray June 18.

The Wild Pear Tree (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

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As with much of Ceylan’s work, the majority of The Wild Pear Tree is heavy on dialogue — not in the meandering Richard Linklater sense, but in a more impenetrable, academic way. It is essentially cinema as conversation, and these conversations come in dense chunks, as when Sinan meets a popular local writer and exasperates and antagonizes him with questions about his work or, later (in what is the film’s most exhausting sequence), as Sinan and two old friends walk around eating apples and talking about faith. A lot of the time, this feels like self-reflection. Sinan is constantly attempting to get his book funded by local officials, only to be continuously denied because his work, as they see it, has little value for tourists. Ceylan is Turkey’s most celebrated living filmmaker; we can only imagine similar pressures have been placed on him. – Rory O. (full review)

Looking for more? See our honorable mentions, with additional coverage where available:

3 Faces
All Good
Aniara
Apollo 11
Be Natural
Birds of Passage
Booksmart
The Chambermaid
Combat Obscura
Diamantino
Domino
Giant Little Ones
Hail, Satan?
Homecoming
Hotel by the River and Grass
Knife + Heart
Knock Down the House
A Land Imagined
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Leaving Neverland
Leto
The Mustang
Our Time
Pasolini
Shadow
Sunset
Too Late to Die Young
Two Plains & a Fancy
Us

10 films to look forward to the rest of the summer:

Ray & Liz (July 10)
The Farewell (July 12)
The Art of Self-Defense (July 12)
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (July 26)
Honeyland (July 26)
La Flor (Aug. 2)
The Nightingale (Aug. 2)
Luce (Aug. 2)
Cold Case Hammarskjöld (Aug. 16)
The Load (Aug. 30)

Posterized June 2019: ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco,’ ‘Our Time,’ ‘The Chambermaid,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, June 7, 2019 at 9:10 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.


This June’s box office is pretty much all about four sequels: Toy Story 4, Dark Phoenix, The Secret Life of Pets 2, and Men in Black: International (June 14th). I’d do everything I could to avoid that quartet if I was a Hollywood competitor too. So besides a couple other studio selections sprinkled in as hopeful counter programming, the list of releases is lower than usual to compensate for how many screens will be locked up. (Next month is looking even sparer.)

That means upping your indie release’s game to turn heads in the theater because people will be showing up in droves to see the above. It’s your job now to keep them coming back if not cajoling them into a double-header they didn’t even know they wanted until seeing your poster. Kudos to a few of the titles listed below as they’ve definitely capitalized on that opportunity.


A childhood enriched and hijacked

MGM has no qualms about playing with Disney/Pixar’s intellectual property as their design firm for Child’s Play (June 21) has taken what Legion Creative Group did on Toy Story 4 (June 21) and used it to their advantage. It’s a smart play considering both films open on the same day. While the latter targets children, the former seeks to coax a slighter older crowd embracing the desire to leave “baby stuff” by the wayside. Parents can therefore take their toddlers to rejoin Woody and the gang while their tweens excitedly sit one theater over to watch Chucky wreak havoc upon sentimentality.

Since Toy Story‘s campaign dropped first, we do have to look at their character sheets against high school photo backdrops alone. They hit the right note where nostalgia and aging go with a nice mix of subjects spanning old favorites and new. The animation quality is enough to know the latter are part of the former’s world so information beyond a generic “June 2019” is inconsequential.

If anything, the Child’s Play riffs help bolster this family film’s exposure simply because people want to move back and forth between the two and bask in the juxtaposition. They remind us of one to introduce another and the connection is nothing but a viral scheme to everyone’s benefit—viewers too.

There’s enough to like about these films’ respective posters removed from each other too.

The Toy Story 4 teaser from Proof uses heavily saturated colors to lend it an intriguing mood steeped in more dramatic weight than we’re perhaps used to with this band of toys. And the illustrated IMAX sheet from Disney/Marvel staple Tom Whalen follows suit with determined faces instead of joyous ones. With such an iconic logo and cast of characters, there’s little you can do to reinvent the wheel than add atmosphere.

Child’s Play, on-the-other-hand, possesses the room to be different if only because it’s a remake of a film whose original franchise is still running. They need to standout as both something to see above the other selections at the theater and as a totally new vision of terror removed from its predecessor (this doll is ruled by artificial intelligence and thus firmly entrenched in science-fiction rather than the more supernatural notion of a killer’s spirit taking control). That doesn’t mean Blood & Chocolate is willing to use the latest Chuckie’s face in its teaser, though. They rely on mood too, shrouding the box in shadow so fans can’t complain about the doll itself.

The final sheet keeps their monstrous toy out of frame too, letting the knife as weapon speak for itself when placed above the bed of a sleeping child. I like the texture and old school vibe of the aesthetic as well as the menacingly sharp corners of the title. The whole is hardly unique, but it does its job.


On white

When your film is shot in black and white, it’s only fitting that your poster would be too. I would have liked something a bit more stylish when it comes to Leto (limited June 7), though, since the movie itself can be quite bold visually. Instead we get a simple cast shot masked from its background so it may sit atop white while its title screams out in thin lines on black. I always find it interesting when foreign films don’t translate their titles for American audiences. Does “Leto” have more allure than “Summer”? Maybe.

I don’t necessarily love Le Cercle Noir’s rendition either, but it’s definitely more exciting and true to the source. The film has brief splashes of color (albeit never this neon bright) and a ton of rotoscoped line work throughout to augment the action during some glorious musical numbers. Despite being black and white, Leto is far from stagnant or dour. So the energy this poster owns helps to portray the perhaps surprising sense of fun and optimism it does exude.

Anna (June 21) also has a stark black and white sheet with silhouettes merging into shadows to create awkward anatomy. (Is Sasha Luss looking over her shoulder? Is she facing us? Is her gun hand seen through her legs or in front of it? This bad optical illusion is messing with my brain.)

Rather than go too in-depth with that one, I’d rather look at the French sheet from the same design firm of mattverny / vanilla core. It’s nothing special on the surface being that we get a film still and text, but the way it’s cropped provides mystery nonetheless. Because her fur coat and hat are brighter than the background, they create a windowed “V” with which to showcase Luss’ powerful stare. It also lets the dark crevice of a cut pop off her cheek and complement the red title above some Matryoshka dolls bottom right. It’s cool, cold, and simple.

By contrast, Wild Rose (limited June 21) lets the white of Jessie Buckley’s jacket bleed into the background. She becomes the focal point not through contrast, but color. The poster itself becomes the window and the yellow of her skin and hair provides the pop with its saturated shadows holding the vacuous emptiness around her in check.

I’m not on-board with the italicized “Rose”, though, since it inherently separates the titles’ two words further than kerning should allow. I get why they did it—the right side angle now matches that of the left side “W”—but it’s more distracting than appealing.

The best use of white this month is The Chambermaid (limited June 26). It’s off-white like Anna so we see every fold and crease of the fabric piled behind the woman sitting below. By refusing to let us see context with a wider look at the room, the poster creates its own sort of optical illusion by simultaneously seeming as though she is inside a cave and outside a wall. We want to enter the frame and figure out which is true, risking a reality wherein the mounds will fall down upon us.

Credit its use of typography too as the sans serif font is more playful with its curves than stoic with rigidity. The “Hs” line-up perfectly so the whole remains on a faux grid and therefore proves easier on our eyes even if the “A” is pushed farther right than the “E” above it should allow. There’s as much care towards its legibility as its attractiveness.

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The Nitrate Picture Show is a Vibrant, Vital Celebration of Cinema History

Written by Jordan Raup, May 7, 2019 at 7:54 am 

Inside the projection booth at George Eastman Museum’s Dryden Theatre.

It’s been nearly 70 years since Kodak manufactured their last nitrate film, but the appreciation for the highly flammable, stunningly vivid film stock lives on in more ways than one in Rochester, New York. The George Eastman Museum, home of photography and moving image collections, opened in 1949 and two years later in 1951, the 500-seat Dryden Theatre was unveiled. However, it wasn’t until 1996 that the museum’s nitrate collection found a more secure home. Located in North Chili, NY–about a 15-minute drive from the museum–the unassumingly adorned Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center is a safe haven for nitrate film stock.

With room for 40,000 reels of film (about 26 million-plus feet) amongst its 12 vaults–completely separated to prevent a total catastrophe if a fire breaks out in a single vault–the center houses some of the most precious gems in film history. While taking a tour, I was able to hold reels of the original camera negatives of Gone with the Wind and Wizard of Oz, as well as an early Lumière short and the infamous Judy Garland test shoots for Annie Get Your Gun.

Also the home of restorations of Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire and Orson Welles’s Too Much Johnson, as well as the silent films of Cecil B. DeMille and Georges Méliès, it’s only a miniscule sample of what’s behind the vaults, which contain about 55% of Warner Brothers-owned films, much of which are currently undergoing inspection as the company prepares its own streaming service.

While the museum is dedicated to the art and craft of preservation year-round, even launching The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation in 1996, which has over 240 graduates to its name, the Dryden Theatre is one of the few in the world equipped to show these 35mm nitrate prints.

But it’s only more recently–in 2015–that they found an occasion to share both the nitrate prints they store and those from around the world with The Nitrate Picture Show. Now in its fifth edition, the film festival of rarities brings in people from around the world, from a Rochester native like myself all the way to an attendee I met that flew in from western Australia, whose family has been in the film exhibition business for decades.

Taking a Telluride-esque approach of revealing the lineup the morning the festival begins, the excitement of the unknown only further fuels interest leading to nearly sold-out crowds and more concentrated fervor around the annual grand finale: Blind Date with Nitrate. (More on that later.) Founded by Paolo Cherchi Usai and headed by directors Jared Case, Jurij Meden, and Deborah Stoiber, the festival celebrates the craft of cinema and exhibition like no other I’ve previously attended. Each screening begins with a hearty, personal thanks to the projectionists in the booth, receiving a round of applause and, when it came to the marquee screening of Rebecca this year, a standing ovation. Following a carefully considered introduction–which details both the source and status of the nitrate print, as well as essential production tidbits–the curtain raises in a leisurely fashion, as if the treasures to be displayed underneath warrant a moment of ruminative reflection before unspooling.

The curtain raises at Dryden Theatre.

To get a sampling of the luminous quality of the nitrate stock, the festival began once again with a shorts program. Opening with John Ford’s transportive 1942 war documentary Battle of Midway, the tranquil, vivid blue oceans are soon met with destruction and the director captures the siege from both below and above ground in startling clarity. The program also included a few animations: Frank Tashlin’s subversively sexual egg-laying satire Swooner Crooner, Dave Fleischer’s imaginative lark The Cobweb Hotel, Connie Rasinski’s amusing The Temperamental Lion (which was found and sent to the Chicago Film Society and they traveled with it here to see it for the first time), and, presented with most impressive condition of the batch was George Pal’s Puppetoon short, Tulips Shall Grow. The colorful, creative Oscar-animated short, released in 1942, follows a love story between a Dutch boy and girl that turns dire when Nazi-esque evil invades their idyllic garden of love. Also included in the shorts were a trio post-war travelogues: the beautiful testament of resilience, Looking at London; the Norway adventure, Landscape of the Norse; and the underwater Coral Reef adventure, Gardens of the Sea.

Moving to the features, kicking off the evening was Henri Langlois’s print of Luis Buñuel’s L’âge d’or, bought by curator James Card when the Cinémathèque Française founder needed some cash while visiting the United States. The dark humor of the the surrealist, subversive masterpiece, fully appreciated by the audience, gave the film new life, particularly those who may have first screened it in rather drab film school settings. From scenes of lovemaking in the mud to child murder to toe-sucking, it was the ideal bourgeois-bashing way to begin the festivities.

Friday night continued with Preston Sturges’ rip-roaring Technicolor comedy The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend, which opens with a riotous bit of child-rearing before jumping into the madcap hijinks of the sharp-shooting Betty Grable, gloriously shining on nitrate. As her character of Freddie gets further in trouble with the law, Sturges plays the comedy up to high heavens. A gag featuring a goon falling off a roof over and over again after getting shot and another in befuddlement, getting hit in the face with water after each shot, may hint at where a few of David Wain’s They Came Together ideas came from.

Nitrate prints available for viewing, including ‎Linda Darnell‎ in Forever Amber, a Russian cologne ad, and Gregory Peck’s camera test for Duel in the Sun.

Saturday began in the bowels of the carnival underbelly with Edmund Goulding’s vicious rise-and-fall story of mentalists and magicians, Nightmare Alley, led by a fierce Tyrone Power. In a print from UCLA Film and Television Archive, Lee Garmes’s marvelously shadowy cinematography seeps into the dark consciousness of the mind as the road to fame bites back. Screening on the heels of the news that Guillermo del Toro would be reimagining the William Lindsay Gresham-penned source text for his next film, one imagines Leonardo DiCaprio back in the psychologically-fueled thrills of Shutter Island with this shadowy noir.

What followed were two rather unfortunately lackluster offerings. With its beautiful, flowery Finnish landscapes and buocolic images of lovers embracing in the gleaming sun, it’s clear why Valentin Vaala’s Ihmiset suviyössä (People in the Summer Night) was selected to play, but the film seems to be in search of a never-found worthy narrative as the dull characters flounder about. Then there was Gordon Douglas’ by-the-numbers Cinecolor western The Nevadan, in which Dorothy Malone’s red scarf juxtaposed against a blue sky provided one of the patchy film’s few moments of splendor. Aside from an entertaining Randolph Scott, the MVP is the town’s sheriff, Dyke Merrick (Charles Kemper), who is simply content being poor amidst the greed-fueled gold rush as he fashions fake teeth for getting into nightly brawls.

The star of the show was Daniel Selznick’s personal print of Alfred Hitchcock’s Best Picture winner Rebecca, which was presented in all its pristine glory transporting the viewer back to 1940. From the opening shots as we track through the forest before seeing the de Winter mansion to the crashing waves hiding a dark secret to the tears of Joan Fontaine as her innocence becomes inadvertently twisted by the ghost of the past, every moment was rendered with new clarity. Since George Eastman Museum also preserves nitrate screen tests of the films, they screened them after the film, showing a humorously uninspired Fontaine in a number of costume tests–including one used for another Selznick production, Gone with the Wind–as well as test featuring two actresses who didn’t get the part: Anne Baxter and Loretta Young, the latter who was, well, simply too young for the role.

The final day kicked off with another noir-fueled descent into madness, courtesy of John Cromwell’s Humphrey Bogart-led Dead Reckoning, an overstuffed but no less entertaining mystery. Recently discussed as one of Bogie’s overlooked films on our podcast, The B-Side, Hollywood’s preeminent movie star is in top form here, sprinkling pulpy barbs across the deliciously convoluted voice-over and numerous sultry exchanges with Lizabeth Scott.

Nightmare Alley

The penultimate screening was William Wyler’s adaptation of the Broadway play, Counsellor at Law, which is wholly set inside the revolving door of the law practice of Simon (John Barrymore) & Tedesco (Onslow Stevens). Elmer Rice’s chatty screenplay weaves together intriguing examinations of social status as Simon sheds his lower-class Jewish upbringing for the riches that the highest level of legal practitioning brings, and those he’s left behind are not afraid to confront him about his change. Burdened by the unceasing demands of his clientele and a scandal that could find him disbarred, the drama is most poignant when it slows down. In a chilling climax well-executed by Wyler, Barrymore’s Simon peers out over the streets below Empire State Building, contemplating suicide.

A tinge of excitement and sadness swept through the Dryden as it was time for the festival to come to an end with a Blind Date with Nitrate. Judging from the widespread gasps and cheers when “A Production of The Archers” appeared after the curtain rose, the surprise was clearly well-kept and thoroughly embraced. If there were ever directors whose work was born to play on nitrate, it is certainly the vibrant films of Powell and Pressburger, whose beloved The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus played in past years. This year they dug deeper into the archives to present their fantasy melodrama Gone to Earth in its original U.K. edition, rather than the heavily re-cut U.S. version titled The Wild Heart. Starring a radiant Jennifer Jones as Hazel Woodus, who believes in the whims of nature to decide the path of her heart, she’s torn between two lovers: the dashing, Gastonian Jack Reddin (David Farrar) and the timid local minister Edward Marston (Cyril Cusack). Shot by Christopher Challis in glorious Technicolor on location in the English countryside, the setting lends a mythic quality to the doomed romance as we see man’s conceited objectification lead to destruction.

As better resolution, more dimensions, higher frame rates, comfier seating, and dinner menus have sidetracked the industry into seeking a more lucrative theatrical experience, the Nitrate Picture Show is a testament to the most transportive time one can have in a cinema–and the process by which these stunning prints see the light of day is dying. If a nitrate film shrinks any more than 1%, it becomes virtually un-projectable. Through the efforts of the George Eastman Museum and the few conservation institutions like it left in the world, vivid pieces of film history are being kept alive. While their annual festival is an invigorating, unforgettable experience for any cinephile–most importantly, it’s a vital reminder to support the preservation of these invaluable relics.

The Nitrate Picture Show will return June 4-7, 2020. Explore more about this year’s program here.

Posterized May 2019: ‘The Souvenir,’ ‘John Wick: Chapter 3,’ ‘The Third Wife,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, May 3, 2019 at 8:28 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 a pretty tame May for blockbusters this year. A lot of that probably stems from studios not wanting to compete with Avengers: Endgame‘s legs following a billion-dollar global opening weekend, but still. A Disney rehash, kaiju battle, and Nintendo critters are pretty much it besides A-list starring comedies and action flicks.

This isn’t a bad thing for posters since it means the little guys can reign supreme. While one side of the theater has six frames dedicated to the 24-hour superhero screening cycle, the other facilitates a war between those left to vie for the rest of our attention. This is counter-programming’s moment to turn some heads.


Altogether now

I really like AllCity’s poster for Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (Netflix, May 3) because of its 1970s vibe. The title treatment is like that of an old school paperback that appreciates its own cumbersome length. People are going to just call this thing Extremely Wicked for short anyway, so highlight that as the focal point to remember. The rest is still present, but not forced down our throats as though it’s all or nothing.

What stands out most, however, is the imagery itself. While it might not be anything too special on its own (besides the subtlety of a scowl in reflection that could very well infer upon his internal rage as compared to any warmth his girlfriend may still believe he possesses by sight), it’s great when compared to its counterpart.

OOG Creative’s American sheet utilizes a similar concept, but reverses what we see. The reflection is now a smile and perhaps a means to provide him humanity when none should exist. It completely changes the mood of the piece—something that isn’t helped by boxes of supporting cast members and a less foreboding air of mystery. The way AllCity’s UK poster uses that wall to push Bundy off the page in order to leave the monster in his stead is infinitely more interesting.

Art Machine looks to capitalize on some drama too with their Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (May 10). What is a colorful game of cute creatures running around and waiting to be caught arrives here with a stormy night’s sky and modern noir neon lighting. It’s a captivating juxtaposition that I personally can’t wait to experience (whether my complete ignorance to the franchise assists this enthusiasm or not). To look at the characters in a barroom setting through the building’s window in the foreground has me thinking it might be what Happytime Murders should have been.

There’s actually a lot to discover within the frame from an Aipom at the top of the scaffolding to the titular hero smiling back at us on his human friend’s shoulder. You can take a journey through the streets to catch more neon in the hustle and bustle below, but to me the sign above is what lingers in my mind. The effort to make it look real with three-dimensionality and actual tubing is appreciated.

Legion Creative Group’s tease isn’t quite up to snuff. Here the title sign is just floating rather than affixed. Things are darker and yet not as mysterious—filtered rather than enhanced. And without the sense of scale from above, the whole proves a lot busier. If you’re not paying close enough attention, you might miss Pikachu standing there at the center.

We move from cartoons trying to be real to reality trying to be cartoon via the US-release of Non-Fiction (limited May 3). It’s a fun sheet if somewhat off-putting due to the faces being so much more detailed than the bodies. There’s a weird quality to it that makes you feel as though the heads were pasted on afterwards and, if inclined, could be swapped around. It’s definitely eye-catching, but I wonder if it might have been more effective as photography to alleviate any issues in perspective a la Crew Creative Advertising’s Shortbus.

The French version by comparison is a lot more polished. Not only do the illustrations look cohesive, but the composition of them falling rather than piled atop each other lends a necessary motion and white space reprieve. Having the actors’ names placed right by their doppelgangers is awkward, but not a deal breaker. I’ll take zany and crowded over uncanny discomfort every time.

That’s probably why I like the poster for Diamantino (limited May 24) despite its surrealism risking going overboard. Caution has surely been thrown to the wind as its collage of characters finds random vehicles, odd costumes, and an almost universal sense of shock and uncertainty (minus the shirtless dude lounging on a … soccer ball).

How everything is put together feels very reminiscent to The Refinery’s one-sheet for The Unicorn. Where that one is rigid and flat, this one is soft and inviting with a depth of field that has us thinking we’re floating above those red clouds to join the others in their coffin-like void. Add a bold cursive title that’s practically an unreadable series of humps and you won’t find anything else in the theater lobby that’s wild enough to match it.


Portraiture

I know it seems Rocketman (May 31) is getting flack across the internet due to it coming hot on the heels of the subpar Oscar nominee Bohemian Rhapsody, but I’m really looking forward to it. Knowing that it’s leaning more towards fantasy and embellishment rather than adhering to strict bio-pic standards is a great direction to take for someone as iconic as Elton John. So it makes sense for BLT Communications, LLC and photographer David LaChapelle to create a freeze frame of electric action that delivers more than mere stage presence.

Taron Egerton looks like he’s about to fly away with those feathers forming wings around him. He’s provoking us specifically rather than an unseen audience inside a disembodied scene. Compare it to BLT’s second sheet with him simply singing at the piano devoid of kinetic energy. One is an assault threatening to leave the page while the other remains a pose imprisoned by it. Hopefully Gravillis Inc.’s Bohemian sheet of sunset silhouette that captures a similar moment of arched back performative force is the only part of that film to out-do this one.

It’s been years since its debut, but Pasolini (limited May 10) is finally hitting theaters this month. The smart move that all its posters make is to highlight the star: Willem Dafoe.

Some do it better than the others, however, with BIG JELLYFISH®’s Italian entry proving my favorite. Yes, it’s just a film still flanked by white text on black. And yes the red title weirdly rises above the bottom border for no reason. But look at the treatment of the photo itself. Not only does the moire pattern of the print become a wonderful texture depicting time and aesthetic, the color plates have been taken off balance to lend a queasy blur that mesmerizes as much as it sickens.

The VHS look at right doesn’t compare with its old TV lined halftone pattern replacing print. It’s practically the same and yet not even close to as impactful due to the loss of visual and thematic clarity. And I don’t have much to say about the new American sheet besides to give a yawn.

If you’re trying to make a portrait interesting, you need to do more than just bump up the contrast to the point of unrecognizability. Give it some character like Perfect (limited May 17). This thing is gorgeous with its blues and purples clouding vision as the head at its center distorts beyond the physical towards the psychological. The colors will grab your attention alone, but the way they split this face in half draws you in figure out what’s going on.

I also like the outlined title superimposed above what could be Japanese as easily as some electronic language removed from Earth. It’s the one detail that’s carried over onto the next poster’s darker sight of a body in water. There’s intrigue in the glowing radial pattern around that eye, but not quite as much as the carnival mirror effect above a la Cam. The second intellectualizes its sci-fi underpinnings while the first captures its possibilities through sheer unpredictability.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (May 31) moves away from people altogether to give us a canvas of mythic proportions. This Comic-Con tease takes identity even further by presenting it in a scene that digs underneath the surface at its subjects’ destructive function. There’s drama, atmosphere, and unbridled rage illuminated solely by a strip of light dividing good from evil. Setting is inconsequential as the fight itself takes our senses over.

If I remember correctly, that artwork was a big hit amongst fans. Don’t be shocked then to discover B O N D took its concept from paint to computer for an international and domestic version with varying success.

I like the Japanese roadshow one because it retains the haze while separating its opponents on either side of a monument meant to supply scale. The US one might be more exciting on paper with its Godzilla caught and soon to be engulfed in flames, but the ethereal mood has been replaced by a harshness of war. It’s a dark backdrop behind humans left on the ground to watch—less drama than chaos, less anticipation than inevitability.

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Martin Scorsese Breaks Down Five Iconic Scenes from His Career

Written by Joshua Encinias, May 2, 2019 at 10:42 am 

At this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Robert De Niro hosted friend and collaborator Martin Scorsese for a freewheeling conversation about the director’s career. They discussed his titles ranging from their 1982 flop The King of Comedy (and how it was resuscitated by film culture) to Scorsese’s massive success with Leonardo DiCaprio in 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street

Seated at the Beacon Theatre, the duo tie their latest project, The Irishman, into Scorsese’s oeuvre of operatic scoundrels. De Niro introduced the book I Heard You Paint Houses to Scorsese, which the director chose as the feature film to follow his 2016 religious epic Silence. “You profoundly feel the heart of this character and the situation. It’s a universal story that happens to be set in that world,” Scorsese said of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran’s story, played by De Niro. Scorsese’s other Irishman tidbit is the movie borrows musical themes from other films, à la Casino.

We’ve excerpted the best of their conversation. Each section features the clip Scorsese used to talk about his films and his breakdown of how the scene came to be.

Mean Streets

This scene gave an evolution to the film when I was cutting it. I know you did Bang the Drum Slowly and Brian De Palma’s films, but when Mean Streets was released, this scene is the one I think grounded our careers. Something just shot out of the screen. It was your idea to do it because you felt Charlie, played by Harvey Keitel, goes through so much to defend your character Johnny; it’s complicated, but he does. You said I had to show how Charlie was taken in by Johnny. You came up with an improv and I wrote down those notes in a little book. On the last day of shooting I had to beg our producer, Jon Taplin, to give us another two hours to shoot this, and I forgot the book! You had to remember everything from four weeks earlier.

When I made this movie it was a real dream, but I didn’t know if the picture would be released. I thought when this scene was done, if anyone wanted to know what it was like living in that world at that time, it’s like a time capsule. Just play this one scene to get a sense of the subculture of Sicilians, Neapolitans in downtown, not necessarily in the Bronx, but the east side. Some of the people who the characters were based upon were offended, understandably.  

I grew up on Elizabeth Street in Little Italy in 1949. We were surrounded on the east by what they called Devil’s Mile, the Bowery. The West was called Murder Mile, Mulberry Street. Those were names given to those places over a period of decades, so they had to have elements of the dark side, and that’s where we grew up.

The Last Waltz

Music conjures up images in my head. It’s the most extraordinary feeling of freedom, the imagination and frisson in music that you respond to, all kinds of music. Here you have “Evangeline” by Emmylou Harris and The Band, being in America is amazing because you get the influence of all these different kinds of music, especially on the east coast. “Evangeline,” “The Wait,” and The Last Waltz itself were done and designed on paper, to music, shot-by-shot. All the drawings do exist. It wasn’t a situation where you have seven cameras and you select later. It was a matter of: the first shot was a tracking shot which ends on Emmylou and it comes around and you cut on a tracking shot from the rear… I’m sliding along to the music, sliding along to the guitars, and her voice is like an angel and you start soaring away.

Raging Bull

I resisted Raging Bull for some time because I didn’t understand boxing. I didn’t have any experience with sports. But I realized it was about De Niro’s character and not about the boxing scenes. This character is so extraordinary that I thought the boxing scenes had to be special and I didn’t know… I designed the fights according to your choreography and I let the music move me. If you had four lefts and one right that was two bars of music. So what I did in The Last Waltz was applied to the boxing scenes.

Casino

There’s a gloss with the shot of the sunglasses with the car’s reflection. It was a three-hour film packed with music. I think up until that time it was the most expensive soundtrack ever, including that instrumental piece you heard on the car, George Delerue’s music for Godard’s Contempt, which has themes of prostitution, cinema, etc. We mixed it in with the drums of Ginger Baker of Cream. We started to pull themes from other movies.

In this scene, Joe’s language is like a jazz riff, it’s like music, music, music, and finally you’ve been warned. Bob’s character’s whole thing is the frozen look, trying to get a word in. Often a lot of people confuse something for good acting because they can see it; but when you think you’re not seeing it, that’s the big deal. The look on the face, the eyes. That’s why when a silent film is restored, the style, the acting—not all of them, believe me—in many of the great ones you can see this extraordinary expression in the actor’s faces.

Silence

In the middle is Shinya Tsukamoto, an avant-garde horror filmmaker, and the older one on the right is Yoshi Oida, who’s worked with Peter Brook for fifty years–he was eighty-two years old on that cross. The only thing he said he wouldn’t do is go in the water, but they wanted to stay on the cross and keep doing it. I was very concerned.

For me, the faith I was instilled with as a kid changes; it’s been a struggle towards a mature faith, whatever that is. This film took me a long time to pull together this story by Shūsaku Endō because I didn’t know how to write it based on the script by Jay Cocks. Ultimately, it’s about the struggle toward the very essence of faith–not certainty. The kind of thing I dealt with here [and also] in Kundun and The Last Temptation of Christ is not fashionable, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It doesn’t mean we don’t do it with conviction. It doesn’t mean there isn’t room for it. Terrence Malick wrote me a letter [after seeing Silence], and he said “What does Christ want from us?”

Watch their full conversation from Tribeca here.

Francis Ford Coppola Debuts ‘Apocalypse Now: Final Cut’ at the Tribeca Film Festival

Written by Nick Newman, April 30, 2019 at 11:57 am 

This is not a recapitulation of the production (Eleanor Coppola did that), a summation of how and why there is now a definitively subtitled Final Cut (Francis Ford Coppola did that), or a conveying of the power that comes with seeing Apocalypse Now projected big and played loud (I don’t want to do that). Nor is it a review, which at this point is not unlike describing The Last Supper to Renaissance enthusiasts.

So, yes: Final Cut. The words conjure up hope for those who love pieces of Redux‘s approximately seven-hour additions, start shifting in their seat once Col. Kurtz appears in full daylight–one of many choices suggesting a work best left carved-down–yet are unable to shake Coppola’s assertion that the original iteration isn’t actually quite to the level of weird for which he’d aspired. (Up next: extended tangents about Dracula, Youth Without Youth, and Coppola as the American Raúl Ruiz.) Those who prefer going theatrical will likely roll their eyes at his Lucas-like one more try (or, cynic says, the fact that this ties into a 40th anniversary). Coppola stood before the Beacon Theatre on Sunday evening and briefly explained a desire to reconcile the best impulses found within two phases of his career: while the 2001 recut was easily dismissed–202 minutes of the most difficult undertaking in Hollywood history relegated to a terse “too long”–its spirit haunts Final Cut. More a reigned-in second stab than radical reworking, it suggests where he’d turned right or wrong, shows an affable stubbornness in the retention of lesser-liked pieces, and at day’s end maybe breeds further ambiguity as to what really shapes a masterpiece.

Odds say you’d mostly like to know what’s changed. With the caveat that I have not seen any iteration of Apocalypse Now in several years–his caveat itself qualified by an assertion that Apocalypse Now, seen at least a few times, sticks in the brain more than most things last viewed around that time–it’s safe enough to say this is, at close to three hours (new end credits included!), the beloved 1979 film with a retention of Redux‘s infamous French-plantation segment and an occasional splash of the other edit’s colors: the bit with Kilgore’s surfboard, perhaps some more Kurtz at his camp, several atmospheric shots.

The idea of a perfect edit having been invoked by the man himself, one hopes he’s found finality on this movie that sometimes seems it could stretch ad infinitum. I hesitate to call it so, much less definitive. Impatience creeps in as Willard arrives at Kurtz’s compound and is subjected to readings of T.S. Eliot, these reservations are closer to momentary and ephemeral than an obvious fissure in the big picture; whether an intermission might’ve mended my impression of two closely connected parts, the reconfiguration, compartmentalization, and selective editing of memory proves generous. And the magnificent is only more magnificent once provided big and loud, and to slightly break the last promise up top: Apocalypse Now on this scale, at this seat-vibrating volume, offered a fresh lesson in well-walked ground, which is more or less the high watermark for anything so steeped in the culture.

Apocalypse Now: Final Cut gets limited theatrical engagements in August, followed quickly by a 4K home-video release, obviously–it’s unthinkable that American Zoetrope would make this a one-time event, all the more when a 40th anniversary’s to be celebrated. Whatever my doubts about the necessity, I hope Coppola lives long enough and hoards enough resources to give us a new edition should his super-active mind get the idea. Maybe I’ll wonder why one thing’s here and the other thing’s gone next time around; it’ll be an event all the same.

Mike Mills and The National Let Their Souls Shine with the Ambitious ‘I Am Easy to Find’

Written by Jordan Raup, April 25, 2019 at 8:31 am 

Update: Watch Mike Mills and The National’s full short film below. See special features here.

Through seven albums, the Cincinnati-born band The National have evoked images tailor-made for the big screen: glowing young ruffians walking around half awake in a fake empire; reminiscing about being raised up in the arms of cheerleaders; being carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees, and even eating brains. For their eighth LP, I Am Easy to Find, they are now more completely embracing the visual form.

While they’ve previously been the subject of their own films (Mistaken for Strangers and A Skin, A Night), the band has teamed with Mike Mills for a 24-minute film, also titled I Am Easy to Find even as it’s a work that stands entirely on its own with the director’s signature voice. Shot in black-and-white and starring Alicia Vikander, the film–which captures an entire life in 164 moments–made its U.S. premiere this week at “A Special Evening with The National” at New York City’s Beacon Theatre. Following the screening, frontman Matt Berninger, Aaron Dessner, and Mills were joined by special moderator Julien Baker to discuss the project before the band played the album in full (though out of order) for the first time publicly, as well as a few older favorites.

Far more than just a side project to drum up attention for the album–which arrives on May 17 alongside the film–Mills actually had a profound effect on the making of their new music. Initially talking to the band about making a music video, a more ambitious idea was sparked in the mind of the director. As a proof of concept, he first presented the band a five-minute cut featuring footage of a black & white “artsy fartsy French film” (Berninger’s words, and the name of which Mills wouldn’t reveal) that layered The National’s new music over it. When it was clear the idea was working, Mills took early arrangements of unfinished songs and went ahead to shoot the film. When it was wrapped, the band was about halfway done with their album and upon seeing the film, it helped inspire new ideas for the second half of the album’s production, so much so that two songs were borne out of the Mills-written short. As Berninger says “they were stewed in the same pot,” and resulted in two congruous projects that spoke to each other in beautiful ways.

Built on the fragmented style of memory-filled detours found in Beginners and 20th Century Women, Mills charts the entire life of Vikander’s nameless character through these fleeting 164 moments. As a handful of songs from The National play throughout, a near-constant stream of text pops up with each new scene to narrate the life of the character: “She has her first kiss, Her father dies,” etc. With its pristine cinematography and checkboxes of major life events,  it could pass during its first moments as a perfectly fine commercial for the latest medical treatment. Yet as it evolves, Mills injects his story with an emotionally piercing honesty that gradually builds to become something immensely affecting.

As we see her grow up –whether she’s two or elderly≠–Vikander’s appearance rarely wavers. This decision of a fixed physical presence suggests the idea of how throughout life, it’s easy to cement a youthful self-image in one’s mind and as Berninger describes, “All these things being embodied by the same sort of soul, by the same image really spoke to us as in a way we think of ourselves in an identity.” There’s birth, playfulness, first kisses, boyfriends, heartbreak, school, work, marriage, children, infidelity, friendships, and beyond. Not unlike Terrence Malick’s opus The Tree of Life, Mills tackles these ideas with an impressively disarming specificity as such that moments will ring true to any viewer. He also leaves room to fill in one’s own memories in colorful, single-tone frames that relay the passing of time and toss out reminders of the financial, political, and terror crises.

Perhaps the most touching aspect is the cyclical depiction of life. She moves out of the house, but still calls her father on Sunday, then decades later, she rings her son on the same day. What could come off treacly is handled with both an overt directness in the script and a tenderness in the imagery that culminates into something both recognizable and overwhelming. “Her husband is different than she thought,” writes Mills as we see the honesty of a love made vulnerable. Most remarkable of all is how the project does indeed stand on its own. Being a fan of the band surely helps, but Mills set out to tell a fully-formed story that is devastatingly universal in its truths about life. In miraculous fashion, he’s able to synthesize the emotional highs of his previous film, the exuberantly alive 20th Century Women, into short-form, and still have viewers come away with similar feelings about life’s entire emotional spectrum.

During the Q&A, Berninger revealed that Mills even went into the studio when they were recording the album, becoming a creative director of sorts, something that was certainly seen during the band’s performance of their new album–as well as the event’s poster. As each song began, projected in text behind the band was the song title with what was clearly a Mills-selected color frame. For select songs, congruous text was displayed that differed from the lyrics, some pulled from the film and others presenting intriguing ideas connecting with what Berninger was singing.

Thanks to the location being nearby Brooklyn Youth Choir’s home base, they joined the stage and the band was able to debut three songs live they are featured on: Her Father In The Pool, Dust Swirls In Strange Light, and Underwater. Overall, the new album felt like a satisfying mix between the sublimely low-key Trouble Will Find Me (noticeably in the Patti Smith- and Robert Mapplethorpe-inspired Roman Holiday, Quiet Light, and Light Years) and the more poppy High Violet (particularly Where Is Her Head and Rylan). There was also the peculiarly lovely encore opener Not in Kansas, a ballad which contains lyrics about Annette Bening (someone’s been catching up on Mills’ films), alt-right opium going viral, and punching Nazis.

With the album clocking in at over an hour (the longest in their discography), the live I Am Easy to Find comes across as a rather sprawling work as the band reaches for new heights through the use of choral arrangements and a new vocal perspective in their use of female artists, including Sharon Van Etten, Lisa Hannigan, Mina Tindle, and Kate Stables (the latter two which performed on stage).

During the Q&A, one audience member asked the band why they perhaps ignore their earlier albums. “They look zitty prom pictures,” added Berninger, refuting, “None of us are ashamed of those records at all. It was where we first figured out how to make sounds together.” Matched with the beauty of Mike Mills’ film, The National’s new music shows a clear maturation for the band as they turn two decades old, while still carrying the Alligator and Boxerfueled spark that led to their breakthrough. Yes, they are conveyed with more lyrical grace and musical refinement, but these are still sad songs for dirty lovers in all their magnificent glory.

I Am Easy to Find is out May 17 via 4AD. See the schedule here for worldwide preview screenings of the film.

40 Films to See This Summer

Written by The Film Stage, April 24, 2019 at 8:11 am 

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.

Knock Down the House (Rachel Lears; May 1)

Rachel Lears’ Knock Down the House is a fun, emotionally powerful, inspiring look at the incredible wave of would-be politicians that sought, in 2018, to challenge status quo Democrats and enact meaningful change—all while refusing money from Wall Street fat cats and big business super PACs. Jake H. (full review)

Non-Fiction (Olivier Assayas; May 3)

non-fiction-1

Who needs a middle man’s subjectivity when you have algorithms predicting what people will like? Critics don’t matter much in Olivier Assayas’ talkative Non-Fiction, but they are not the only supposedly anachronistic relic to be thrown out of the window in this gentle and profoundly compassionate human comedy that draws from the ever-widening rift between old and new trends in the publishing industry to conjure up a tale of societal changes and those caught in between them. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Shadow (Zhang Yimou; May 3)

With its gorgeously choreographed sword duels, sabers slicing through paddles of blood and rain, watercolor bi-chromatic palettes and sumptuous costumes, Zhang Yimou’s Shadow (Ying) is a film of visual charms. To enter into the Fifth Generation maestro’s latest period piece is to be invited to marvel at a 116-minute long dance – a stunning return to form from a director who’d previously ventured into semi-autobiographical terrain with the 2014 moving Coming Home, and later veered into the bombastic Chinese-cum-Matt Damon blockbuster epic letdown The Great Wall (2016). Shadow brings heart and spectacle together, and the result is a bombastic martial arts wuxia replete with duels of breath-taking beauty that will please longtime Zhang acolytes and newbies alike. – Leonardo G. (full review)

The Biggest Little Farm (John Chester; May 10)

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After getting evicted from their apartment in Los Angeles due to taking in a stray dog, filmmaker John Chester and food writer Molly Chester decide to try and cultivate a storybook farm in The Biggest Little Farm. The latest entry into the canon of films exploring food and ecosystems, like Aube Giroux’s Modified and Andrew Grace’s Eating Alabama, the documentary works as well as it does because of a reliance on its relatable subject and the director as its narrator. – John F. (full review)

Pasolini (Abel Ferrara; May 10)

“Cinema is a never-ending long take,” Pier Paolo Pasolini once said. “And death is a form of instant editing of a whole life, picking and arranging our most significant moments.” There’s a lot of cinema and one devastating death in Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini, but instead of a series of “most significant moments,” this unconventional biopic limits its scope to the last day in the life of a writer, poet, director, and leading intellectual voice in Italy’s post-war era. – Tommaso T. (full review)

The Third Wife (Ash Mayfair; May 15)

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It’s 19th century Vietnam and fourteen-year-old May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My) has just been married to a wealthy landowner named Hung (Long Le Vu). She wears a genuine smile on her face, this next chapter in life as hopeful as it is scary. She has two other women to help steer her through womanhood, motherhood, and sexual pleasure (Nu Yên-Khê Tran’s first wife Ha and Mai Thu Huong Maya’s second wife Xuan) and a future of comfort awaiting her with but one goal: bearing a son. A bloody sheet is displayed to represent consummation; a growing belly to prove no time was wasted for conception. And as the days progress with less and less to do thanks to servants, May’s eyes and mind begin to gradually wander. – Jared M. (full review)

The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg; May 17)

The Souvenir melds two well-trodden subgenres and through Joanna Hogg’s refreshingly unique vision makes each feel entirely original. Her much-anticipated return after 2013’s Exhibition tells both a painful addiction story and a behind-the-scenes look at film school struggles as we follow Julie (a beautiful debut performance by Honor Swinton Byrne). The daughter of Tilda Swinton (who also briefly turns up), Swinton Byrne is in every scene, and steals them all. Akin to the revelatory introduction to Tom Hiddleston in Hogg’s first two films, Unrelated and Archipelago, she is the lifeblood of The Souvenir, which follows doomed lovers in a story that is conveyed with feels mined from achingly personal memories.Jordan R. (full review)

Asako I & II (Ryusuke Hamaguchi; May 17)

Following his riveting five-hour-plus drama Happy Hour, Ryusuke Hamaguchi is back with Asako I & II, in which he employs more stylistic flourishes in an absorbing riff on Vertigo. Based on Tomoka Shibasaki’s novel Netemo Sametemo, it follows a woman who falls in love, but her significant other disappears. Two years later, another man appears with a striking resemblance to her former lover. Less melodramatic than that plot synopsis sounds, Asako is fascinating in its use of surreal touches and enveloping playfulness, making for one of 2019’s most delightful cinematic experiences. – Jordan R.

Aniara (Pella Kågerman & Hugo Lilja; May 17)

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The title shares its name with a city-size spacecraft ferrying humans from Earth to Mars in barely three weeks. It’s a routine trip that’s never run into problems with many passengers already having family on the red planet to greet them upon arrival. But there’s a first time for everything as a small field of debris forces Captain Chefone (Arvin Kananian) off course. Unfortunately a screw breaches their hull anyway, pushing their nuclear fuel supply to critical mass. Expelling it may save them for the moment, but without it they cannot steer. So despite having enough self-sustaining electricity and algae (for air and food), there’s no way to return onto their necessary trajectory. Either a celestial body interrupts their path to slingshot back or they simply drift forever. – Jared M. (full review)

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (Chad Stahelski; May 17)

John Wick is back, and for the first time he’ll be doing his business during the summer movie slate. Once again directed by Chad Stahelski, the story follows Keanu Reeves’ character on the run after the cliffhanger that ended the last chapter, which featured a global call-out that put a price on his head. Also starring Laurence Fishburne, Lance Reddick, Jason Mantzoukas (!), Anjelica Huston, and Ian McShane, we’re only a few weeks away from what’s shaping up to be the action spectacle of the summer. – Jordan R.

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Posterized April 2019: ‘High Life,’ ‘Her Smell,’ ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, April 5, 2019 at 9:42 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.


I often think there are simply too many films being released any given weekend. When the campaign for Avengers: Endgame (April 26) works best on a computer screen where you can line all the character sheets up and discern the aesthetic meaning of its color palette and the one for Shazam! (April 5) is less than inspiring with Zachary Levi acting a fool with props, however, there can’t be too many because there’s more to look forward to than what we’re going to see anyway. These films don’t need inspired artwork because the opening date is literally the only thing that matters.

The same can be said about remakes of Pet Sematary (April 5), Hellboy (April 12)—although the latter said screw it and went crazy nonetheless (see below)—and to a lesser extent Laika’s Missing Link (April 12). That’s why the indie scene with original works is so crucial to the longevity of posters as an art form. It’s the small stuff looking to standout that has the need to risk everything to be seen. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, there’s a chance you remember.


Peas in a pod

One way to get noticed: sex. So Kustom Creative puts Félix Maritaud front and center in the throes of ecstasy for Sauvage/Wild (limited April 10). Realizing that the words “Graphic” and “Raw” will be read to infer upon what this scene shows outside of its tight crop, they’re allowed to focus more on the face, sweat, and spirit instead. A blurred mustache at top right is all that’s necessary to create a story. The open mouth and closed eyes taking up the left half of the page enough to designate the star’s pleasure. You want to see more? Buy a ticket.

Sex is also what Gravillis Inc. uses to sell the new-adult romance adaptation After (April 12). It’s not surprising since the book series on which it’s based is often compared to Fifty Shades of Grey and apparently deals with the aftermath of losing one’s virginity. Rather than allude to the sexual tension like the marketing for that trilogy, however, this one brings us right into the act.

What’s great about this first poster is the way it simultaneously shows the kiss and censors its participants. This plays into the assumed youth of the protagonists—hiding their eyes so as to hide their identities—and provides a welcome dose of negative space to place the title. Either we settle on the name before coming up for air to see the embrace or we start there and slowly make our way down like a camera pan giving its actors some privacy. Both options are effective.

The final sheet loses that dance between viewer and subject. Here everything is out in the open and we’re simply forced to watch. What had mystery now almost seems comical with a tattooed kid feigning “bad boy” cred and its glamour shot lighting making us think someone will yell “Cut!” so we can see the crew just out-of-frame.

Little Woods (limited April 19) changes gears here by utilizing an atmospheric blend of overlays. Its mystery lies in the parallel scenes of fire amongst the trees above and foreboding figure silhouetted in the dark below. Where the two women factor in is anyone’s guess, those two moments frozen in their heads as memories still haunting them despite being (literally and figuratively) behind them.

It’s a captivating sheet with a great condensed, boxy sans serif font that appears to be expanding further in front of us. What’s most interesting, though, is how this design might reveal NEON’s hand as far as aesthetic goes since it is so similar in style to AllCity’s Gemini. You can’t blame them as the ethereal quality does stray far from the glossy photo sheen of most movie theater wall art. And you can’t blame the agency for giving them something they know they probably will like.

The couple of the month, however, comes courtesy of The Posterhouse and their one-sheet for J.T. LeRoy (limited April 26). Those who know the story know that the two women on the poster are both the titular author and not. So it’s great to see them dressed similarly (hat and sunglasses) despite very obviously being Kristen Stweart and Laura Dern. And for those who don’t know the story, well everything they need is right there.

First you have the faux book spine to depict the literary craft at its back. Then you have the actors themselves in their matching wardrobe. And last the watercolor blotches that turn the whole into some sort of photographic Rorschach test. What do you see? Two women? One man? A lie? Or the truth hiding in plain sight? It’s too bad that all the text makes it so the central image can’t breathe because it’s a good one without it.


Ominous forces

Ominous forces don’t always have to be devils and demons. Sometimes the limelight of fame and fortune can portend even worse things for a protagonist. I think B O N D does a great job presenting this concept with their poster for Teen Spirit (limited April 12). They could have just slapped a photo of Elle Fanning on a stage to get at the musical nature of the film and yet they decide to bring things close and freeze her at a moment of calm and perhaps fright. She’s not belting lyrics here. She’s either at a quiet moment or staring off into the distance at something or someone she didn’t count on being there.

The purple light and neon title call to mind Nicholas Winding Refn and honestly this could have easily been inspired by his collaboration with Fanning on The Neon Demon. We can tell this character’s journey to live her dream isn’t going to be cheery because of the colors, shadows, and contrast providing drama rather than success. This is more electric dread than poppy excess.

Hail Satan? (limited April 19) kind of does the exact opposite by taking its dark material and making it relatably light. This is Black Phillip as the Statue of Liberty—freedom of religion fought for in a country that more and more pretends to be Catholic rather than the melting pot promised by its Constitution.

So we’re not laughing at the juxtaposition as much as letting it remind us that the Satantic Temple has as many rights as the Catholic Church. It must because there’s no point otherwise? Let this animal become a symbol of hope because that’s exactly what it is. The institution has spoken to a nation of unrest and positioned Satan as a voice of reason. He is now asking for your tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning.

Leave it then to Hellboy (April 12) to reclaim the horror of Hell and place it back to the realm of fantasy—despite also giving it the potential to be savior rather than destroyer. This reboot is the type of property that doesn’t need a huge marketing push beyond recognition and dates, yet LA went all-out in creating a massive campaign with unique aesthetics.

To me the more photo-real teaser is the cream of the crop because it embraces the chiaroscuro of flames in darkness to beautiful effect with a formidable subject and a gorgeous crown. There’s malice here in direct contrast to the hokey comic font of the title—a glimpse at what might be if this hero starts fighting for the wrong side.

Compare it to the full sheet and its mishmash of characters to see just how much better less is than more. The red washes everything out until it becomes a boring tint scale instead of a depiction of characters. I’m not sure you can get anything or worth out of this muddled mess.

So good on them for traveling outside the box with a surreal painting meets cartoon hybrid of demons taking Hellboy apart and the regal profile in blood of a Hellboy in reverie. These both take the character out of the Hollywood machine and allow him to put his emotions, history, and fears on display. This is a story about a devil nurtured to be better than his nature. The artwork should reflect that internal battle.

It’s P+A’s The Wind (limited April 5) that I enjoy most in this section, however. This is a thriller with an unseen and unknown entity wreaking havoc on those forced to remain in the desolate plains of unpopulated territories out west. Maybe the title describes the reality of what frightens the woman standing in that doorway or perhaps it’s merely the vehicle on which the more malicious darkness rides to claim its victims. Either way it’s not quite coming for her since it’s already there.

The sheet is a huge evolutionary leap from the original festival piece thanks to the added budget afforded by a distributor. That’s not to say it’s inherently better, though, since this black and white gem does well to express the film’s mood to audiences. It’s more obscure as far as narrative is concerned, but there’s no mistaking the unease you’re about to experience when placing a woman dressed in white and covered in blood at the center of the page.

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15 Films to See in April

Written by Jordan Raup, April 1, 2019 at 9:26 am 

Considering how packed the fall slate can be, distributors often hold their stranger, bolder films for a spring release when they have the opportunity to better thrive. That’s certainly the case this April, when some of the most daring releases will hit theaters, along with some promising studio fare, must-see documentaries, and more.

Matinees to See: The Wind (4/5), Suburban Birds (4/5), Pet Sematary (4/5), Sauvage/Wild (4/10), Dogman (4/12), Teen Spirit (4/12), Girls of the Sun (4/12), Wild Nights with Emily (4/12), Rafiki (4/19), Little Woods (4/19), Carmine Street Guitars (4/24), JT LeRoy (4/26), and The White Crow (4/26)

15. Mary Magadalene (Garth Davis; April 12)

Chalk this one up to mere curiosity more than anything else. The downfall of The Weinstein Company meant that a number of films were left by the wayside, waiting to be picked up by other distributors. One that has taken awhile is Mary Magdalene, a Biblical drama from Garth Davis (Lion). After getting an Easter-timed released elsewhere last year, it’ll now open in the U.S. around that time this year, courtesy of IFC Films. Starring Rooney Mara as the title character and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus, I’ll be curious to see two of our finest actors in yet another collaboration.

14. Shazam! (David Sandberg; April 5)

While there’s a certain superhero film that is on most radars, we have to say this DC offering looks to bring a much greater deal of fun. Jared Mobarak said in his review, “Horror director David F. Sandberg is the perfect choice to bring this character to fruition because of these nightmarish themes. The sins’ creature design is memorably grotesque and the sense of apprehension as far as Billy living up to a destiny he never asked for is palpable thanks to a resonant backstory rooted in abandonment. That horror mindset leading to effective scare tactics is also perfect for the humor inherent to material centering on a fourteen-year-old with the physique of a thirty-something and God-like powers at his fingertips.”

13. Fast Color (Julia Hart; April 18)

As superhero films dominate the Hollywood tentpole marketplace, smaller productions are finding more interesting ways to expand the storytelling boundaries of such tales. This year, Julia Hart follows up her excellent drama Miss Stevens (which was a break-out role for Timothée Chalamet) with her own take on superheroes in Fast Color. Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a woman with special abilities that must go on the run, the film premiered at SXSW last year and will now arrive this month.

12. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (Terry Gilliam; April 10)

Throughout his career as a director, Terry Gilliam has aimed to portray the outlandish and disorderly in imaginative, transportive ways. His greatest achievements are able to synthesize less a narrative coherence and more an emotional attachment to a character’s eccentric journey through various stages of bewilderment. His long-burning passion project The Man Who Killed Don Quixote–finally seeing the light of day some 30 years later–clearly aims to be an epic descent into chaos, but the adventure often has trouble conveying a sense of entertaining spectacle to go along with the frivolous bafflement. Still, there’s enough to recommend here, especially for those curious to what exactly Gilliam has been dreaming up the last few decades.

11. Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (Pamela B. Green: April 26)

“Alice Guy Blaché helped invent cinema as we know it,” Manohla Dargis recently wrote in The New York Times. The early cinema pioneer, who broke into the industry at the age of 21, went on to direct over 1,000 films, yet largely seems to be written out of film history, at least when compared to her male peers. A new documentary, narrated by Jodie Foster, now aims to correct that narrative with what looks to be an essential, empowering look at early movie-making.

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