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15 Under-the-Radar Highlights from the 56th New York Film Festival

Written by The Film Stage, September 24, 2018 at 8:40 am 

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Considering the esteemed level of curation at the New York Film Festival, which begins this Friday at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, a comprehensive preview could mostly consist of the entire schedule.

There’s the gala slots (The Favourite, Roma, and At Eternity’s Gate), Main Slate selections (featuring Burning, If Beale Street Could Talk, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Transit, Non-Fiction, Shoplifters, Wildlife, Ash is Purest White), two films from Film Twitter phenom Hong Sang-soo, and much more, as well as a delectable line-up of restorations.

So rather than single all of these out for our preview, we’re looking at a handful of under-the-radar highlights from across the festival. Check them out below and return for our coverage.

Asako I & II (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi)

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Best known for his five-hour drama Happy Hour, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi returned this year with the more palatable Asako I & II, clocking in at a mere 120 minutes. Following its bow in competition at Cannes Film Festival, the film will make its U.S. premiere at the New York Film Festival. Based on Tomoka Shibasaki’s novel, the film plays off Vertigo tracking a vanishing lover whose double then appears.

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

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“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 film, 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.

Border (Ali Abbasi)

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“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” At a glance, you might conclude that that line from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has provided the foundations for pretty much every decent monster movie since James Whale adapted the text back in 1931; perhaps even before. This delightfully grungy and ethereal contemporary horror from Iranian-born, Denmark-based Ali Abbasi concerns a romance between two creatures who happen to be feeling out those opposite warring sides. One is attempting to satisfy a craving for love while the other indulges the violence (incidentally, could Abbasi’s debut Shelley be named for the 19th century writer?). Border, like Frankenstein, is a work about the “Other” and how that Other might operate if it was raised against its nature, only knowing human society. – Rory O. (full review)

Cycles (Jeff Gipson)

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We’ll soon highlight a 14-hour film that’s part of the New York Film Festival, but if you perhaps don’t have that much time in your schedule, how about a 3-minute experience? Walt Disney Animation’s first-ever virtual reality short film is coming to NYFF as part of Convergence’s Virtual Reality Arcade. Directed by Jeff Gibson, Cycles is described as “a bittersweet meditation on memory, emotion, family, and all that goes into making a home.” If one is getting some Up vibes already, they may want to bring tissues.

A Family Tour (Liang Ying)

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The last time that director Liang Ying released a film (When Night Falls, back in 2012) it was apparently deemed to be a dangerous enough critique of the Chinese police and judicial system that sending the cops to provoke not only Ying’s family in Shanghai but also his wife’s family in Sichuan was thought to be a fair response. It was also said, at the time, that the authorities had even attempted to buy the rights to Ying’s film in order to–as we can only assume–stop it from being distributed. So it’s no surprise then that Ying’s follow-up to When Night Falls and his fifth feature, A Family Tour, tells the story of a family torn apart as a result of similarly depressing state machinations. – Rory O. (full review)

La Flor (Mariano Llinás)

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I am starting this review of the 14-hour La Flor from a segment that in the film’s Borgesian labyrinthic narrative would probably go unnoticed, because I think it goes some way toward making sense of that early remark Llinás had made in the prelude, his head bent over a notebook, his hands sketching La Flor’s structure through an intricate series of lines and arrows merging into a skeleton flower. This film is about its four actresses in the sense that it is a testament to how their craft developed through time. And the feeling of awe that transpires from that late montage, the feeling of having watched four artists grow, is indissolubly contingent on the film’s colossal length. – Leonardo G. (full review)

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with Live Score (Rex Ingram)

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Alongside the wealth of revivals and retrospectives at the festival, one special event celebrating classic cinema seems like a night to be remembered. If you’ve been listening to this season of You Must Remember This, you’ve certainly heard about the mega-hit The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which gave Rudolph Valentino one of his first major roles. Rex Ingram’s epic will play in 35mm at the festival, backed by a new live score.

Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher)

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The films of Alice Rohrwacher have always been rich with the sensory magic of growing up, but that atmosphere has, up to this point, been enhanced with the knowledge that puberty was approaching, just out of sight, with all the subtlety of a B52 bomber. With her newest, Lazarro Felice, she has largely forgone that period of adolescence, while somehow not forgoing that sense of everyday magic. What emerges is not simply a next step in her oeuvre and creative growth but a fully formed expression of her virtuosic talents. – Rory O. (full review)

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‘The Tree of Life’ Extended Edition: Terrence Malick’s Magnum Opus Gets a Gratifying Expansion

Written by Jordan Raup, September 16, 2018 at 1:17 am 

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“Tell us a story from before we can remember.”

How can you improve upon one of the greatest films of all-time? Terrence Malick’s “Extended Version” of The Tree of Life–188 minutes long and now available on The Criterion Collection–is less a radical reinvention and more a gratifying expansion, giving a deeper imprint to various threads of the original, ultimately sculpting a more affecting, fleshed-out picture of a story that remains boundlessly evocative in its ambition.

At first blush, one will notice the differences in Sean Penn’s introduction. Adding more torment to his life–including hints of extra-marital affairs and metaphoric visuals for outrunning his demons–gives additional credence for why he’d be reflecting back on the fractured memory that is his childhood, if you happen to agree with that interpretation of the film. In this section, Malick also introduces a brief but no less rousing mix of lo-fi new material and archival footage, a preview of the formally thrilling experimental route he’ll expand upon in his subsequent prolific streak.

When it comes to the bulk of the 50 minutes of new material, it is to branch out the 1950s-set section, primarily the character arcs of Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, and Hunter McCracken. New shots are interspersed here and there at a frequent pace, but it’s a few new passages that provide the biggest changes. When it comes to Mr. O’Brien, his unceasing authoritarianism is given more of a backstory with the depiction of his father, who worked endlessly in a thankless job, laying the steps for his son to do the same (and why it’s frequently imparted to his children to not follow in that path). This leads to added weight in one of the best scenes of the original version: Pitt (on the piano) has a bonding moment with Laramie Eppler’s character (playing on the guitar), as they perform Francois Couperin’s Pièces de clavecin, Book II 6e Ordre N°5: Les Barricades Mistérieuses, which becomes a greater recurring theme running throughout the film. It’s one of the few moments we see another side of Mrs. O’Brien, adding to why the boys still may harbor some affection for their tough father.

The most complete new sequence comes with a tornado that rips through town when Pitt’s character is out on a business trip, proving that the way of nature will always find a way to disrupt. It’s a sharp change from the idyllic exuberance in the original version, where Mrs. O’Brien and kids reign free in the absence of Mr. O’Brien. That section is, of course, still intact, but this elaborate tornado sequence is the clearest connection to the fearsome power of the universe as seen in the more abstract book-ends.

The expansion of Chastain’s character is slightly less successful. In the original version, her power came with being the utter embodiment of grace, and most of her dialogue delivered in the form of a heavenly voice-over. In this new version, her fun-loving brother pays a visit (providing a stark contrast in a father figure vastly different than Mr. O’Brien) and in her home, Chastain’s character discusses the life she’s forgone when deciding to get married, especially to someone so controlling. One wishes this was expanded upon, but in its current form, the over-written point is rather hollow and obvious considering the sheer emotion Chastain can convey in just a simple glance. “There are two ways through life: the way of Nature, and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow,” Mrs. O’Brien says. The filling out of these progenitor roles reduces the symbolic strength of these disparate paths, leading to a more human portrait of both. Whether it’s better or worse will be up to each viewer, but overall, it’s the most major alteration from the 2011 original.

Hunter McCracken’s character Jack is also graced with a more well-rounded arc. There are additional scenes of him at both Sunday and middle school (a shot spotlighted on the Criterion menu of children in utter delight on the playground remains maybe my favorite of the film, partially due to the musical choice) and we get more perspective of the relationship with his father, due to the addition of one of his friend’s stories. In it, we see his classmate get mercilessly ridiculed at the hands of his abusive dad, revealing that perhaps Mr. O’Brien’s hard-won tactics aren’t as evil in comparison. In final passages, we see Jack headed to a Christian boarding school as hints of a more complete life with romance and friendship is in his future, albeit with a tinge of isolation, perhaps foreshadowing the Jack of the present day.

If The Tree of Life is a cinematic poem–as it has so often been referred to since its birth at Cannes Film Festival in 2011, where it won a deserved Palme d’Or–this new edition, arriving seven years later, adds and expands stanzas that convey a profound satisfaction while still staying true to Malick’s original vision, one full of mystery and wonder. By expanding what already made the original superb, the “Extended Version” could very well be the definitive version; at least until Malick returns to the editing room.

The Tree of Life is now available on The Criterion Collection. One can read Kent Jones’ new essay here.

Cynthia Nixon, Robert Altman’s ‘Tanner ‘88,’ and Running For Public Office Now & Then

Written by Caden Mark Gardner , September 7, 2018 at 9:02 am 

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The Democratic primary for Governor of New York is on Thursday, September 13. Based on polls, it appears that incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo will prevail and run for his third term despite the populist wave and attention around his primary opponent, actress Cynthia Nixon. Nixon, a longtime public-school and education activist, has never been in elected office, and her acting background has been characterized as both a blessing and curse with regard to her visibility and viability as a candidate. Her iconic role as Miranda Hobbes in the television program Sex & the City can be what Cuomo voters point to in not taking her seriously, in addition to her inexperience; meanwhile, Nixon’s campaign created apparel in the “I’m a Miranda Collection,” which includes t-shirts and tote bags with the slogans “I’m a Miranda and I’m voting for Cynthia.” Nixon’s campaign has played a delicate balancing act in what gets her attention and an outlet to be heard when up against an entire party apparatus and status quo. Yet the renegade, populist outsider–underdog candidate–that Cynthia Nixon has been characterized as in running against the establishment-backed Cuomo does bear parallels to a role in her acting career: Robert Altman and Garry Trudeau’s made-for-television HBO mini-series Tanner ‘88, for which Nixon played the daughter of a Presidential candidate for the 1988 Democratic Party nomination — a series where the lines of fiction, real life, and electoral politics blurred. Cynthia Nixon is for real as a candidate for Governor, but back in 1988 she took part in one of the more unique hybrids of fictional and non-fictional political theater, giving one of her strongest performances.

The project came to fruition through HBO, long from finding its hold on the culture (to contextualize what HBO was then in original programming, this was pre-Tales from Crypt), contacting Pulitzer-winning Doonesbury comic strip creator Garry Trudeau to write a fictionalized account of a 1988 Presidential candidate in the first post-Reagan election, a wide-open field. Trudeau agreed on the condition Altman be contacted to direct every episode. Altman was closing out the 1980s — a far cry from his 1970s peak of Three Women, M*A*S*H*, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and Nashville, best represented in the disastrous critical and financial flop Popeye. Even the films that were well-received during this decade (e.g. the fire-breathing Richard Nixon one-man show Secret Honor and Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean), though completely enthralling as drama, were all contained within a single setting, underscoring how Altman’s scope from a decade earlier felt capped by studios. He had been doing TV movies around that time too, a format where he cut his teeth as a journeyman director decades earlier (his credits included episodes of Bonanza, Route 66, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents) but nothing in the realm of Tanner ‘88. He also agreed and the rest is history. Through 11 episodes broadcast from February to August of 1988, Trudeau, Altman, and their cast — Trudeau would use the news to quickly write out script situations but, also with Altman, heavily leaned on improvisation, inviting real-life figures and candidates to naturally approach their camera and actors — were reacting in real time to the unfolding Democratic primary and the media, all while shooting on location, wondering how they could realistically, compellingly present a doomed-to-fail candidate from the start to end of the primary season.

tanner-88-1The mini-series centers on fictional ex-Michigan Congressman Jack Tanner (Michael Murphy) as a candidate re-emerged after leaving public office in the 1970s to run for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination. Tanner would be presented as interacting and be treated like a real-life candidate, Altman and Trudeau inserting him and his campaign at real primary locations and interacting with real-life figures — politicians, journalists, celebrities, and regular citizen– as though Tanner exists in the real world. There is no known direct political inspiration for Tanner and his political leanings (such as being a critic of the War on Drugs). “Think of Tanner not as a pretend candidate, but a novel kind of one. He does not mirror the electoral process and critique it, as we might suppose, but gains access to the workings of that process and physically interacts with it,” critic Gary Kornblau wrote in an essay for the mini-series when it was released on home video in the Criterion Collection. Through Tanner’s candidacy, Tanner ‘88 was about presenting the process, some of which is ripe for comedy and drama mined by Trudeau, Altman, and company.

Michael Murphy as Jack Tanner is a candidate in identity crisis. Murphy, a longtime Altman player best-known as campaign lackey John Triplette in Nashville for another renegade Altman politician — disembodied, absent Replacement Party nominee Hal Philip Walker (voiced by writer and actor Thomas Hal Phillips) — plays Tanner as a square whose progressive ideas feel untapped. The early episodes focus on that tension of trying to help him gain in the polls and humanize him in ways that mirror the struggles of pretty much every Democratic candidate not named Barack Obama or Bill Clinton since. There is a frank discussion about what it means to be considered an approachable, relatable candidate while also not being “just like” voters (a Jimmy Carter problem) and, rather, a candidate who is “comfortable with power.” His campaign manager, T.J. Cavanaugh (Pamela Reed), forms an ad from secretly videotaping him making unscripted comments in his hotel room, branding Tanner’s authenticity as a breath of fresh air to the Presidential race with the campaign slogan,“For Real” (which also doubled as ads for the show itself). Given that the last known tape of a Presidential candidate — an ugly, misogynistic, sexually profane recording of Donald Trump and Access Hollywood host Billy Bush — was considered a potential hazard to Donald Trump’s viability until he won, it seems equally quaint and bizarre now that raw footage of a candidate would be used by the campaign as an asset. Reed’s Cavanaugh rings as more of a decisive presence than Murphy’s Tanner, but also has some pretty human flaws (e.g. repeatedly saying too much to an embedded reporter, confessing as though he is her priest, on the campaign trail) that prove her not to be some proto-Rove architect who could cynically make her candidate a puppet. And then there is Cynthia Nixon as Alexandra “Alex” Tanner, who, for better or worse, feels fives steps ahead of her own father.

Nixon’s Tanner, like Reed’s Cavanaugh, feels more confident and expressive than Murphy, which early on underscores Jack Tanner’s struggles in feeling like a candidate without a voice or control of his own campaign. Her childhood illness is presented in campaign ads as the reason her father, a divorcee, left politics, but said ads quickly reveal themselves as pat and over-simplified. This is not your usual candidate’s daughter. Alex in Tanner ‘88’s entire run is a kind of character never before seen in political campaigns of the real or fictional. This was pre-Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1992, where even having an outspoken spouse was seen as radical; here, Nixon portrays an eighteen-year-old idealist who herself often behaves like a candidate. Dropping out of college to participate in the campaign, Alex becomes as a strong, vocal presence within the entire apparatus, and is outspoken over progressive and liberal causes, such as the anti-apartheid movement for South Africa. But she, too, is imperfect, running her mouth and putting her father in pretty precarious positions. And when Jack Tanner falls for a Michael Dukakis campaign lieutenant Joanna Buckley (Wendy Crewson), it throws his run into a tailspin, not to mention pissing off both T.J. and Alex.

Nixon was credited by Altman as the key approachable figure when he and his crew needed access and a level of believability when having figures — from Pat Robertson to Bob Dole to Gary Hart (pre-Monkey Business controversy) — on camera. Altman recalled that Nixon would simply walk up to people in-character, greet them, and say her father was running for President without skipping a beat. Initially, many candidates and news people that appeared on Tanner ‘88 did not know what to make of who they were interacting with, but as the show was broadcast in real-time, implying it was ultimately harmless and not making a complete mockery of the process, it and the cast were welcomed. (Compare the mixture of real and fictional in Steven Soderbergh’s own HBO project, K-Street, on Washington D.C. lobbyists, which was considered too much of a potential liability for politicians and lobbyists that the show was banned from filming in the U.S. Capitol building.) Tanner ‘88 ends on something of a cliffhanger: Tanner’s new wife implores him to publicly back Michael Dukakis, the candidate lying in bed and mulling his options (e.g. a third-party candidacy) in the final shot. Wishing to continue, Altman and Trudeau left it open-ended, even as they did not expect HBO to do so. It was not because they had further commentary on the election–though there are issues that pop up in Tanner ‘88 (the War on Drugs and racial inequality, to name a few) — but because they were having so much fun producing the series. But the show earned a mixed response, the New York Times lede offering this:

“Call it imaginative; call it satire; call it a mixed result. ”Tanner ’88: the Dark Horse” is too real to be funny, but it’s also not real enough. How can a film make fun of politics when politics makes fun of itself?”

The Criterion Collection’s 2004 release offered a new perspective–the explosion of reality television informing a lot of the show’s reappraisal — as well as admiration of Tanner’s grass-roots campaign and Altman’s precision in shooting the project as cinema verite. Dana Stevens would write in Slate, “Between the murky sound mix and the cheap-looking newsroom video, it’s easy to feel that Tanner is a bit of a mess—that is, until you realize that Altman’s freewheeling use of image and sound is the cinematic equivalent of the mess of democracy itself. Tanner is the kind of ensemble comedy that made Altman one of the great maverick filmmakers of the 1970s: People wander in and out of frame, off-camera grumbles overlap with muffled laughter from a separate conversation across the room.”

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Altman and Trudeau would make a sequel (more of a meta-retrospective), Tanner on Tanner, for the Sundance Channel, with Murphy, Reed, and Nixon reprising their roles. (Alex Tanner is now a college professor who is her father’s daughter in ways that make her faults, e.g. ill-advised relationships with students, as a fully formed adult more comic-tragic.) The show came during another flashpoint in the Democratic Party, the 2004 election, but much more from the periphery than in the thick of the process. It would be the second-to-last project Altman completed before dying in 2006. Trudeau still does Doonesbury and created a political show, Alpha House, for Amazon Prime, but Tanner ‘88 remains a special and unique project where that level of access feels, even in the vantage of a fictional campaign, unattainable now.

Looking back at Tanner ‘88, even at a fictional campaign, the relationship to the real candidacies and media remains fascinating, and shows how far along media has come in their electoral role. In election years, 1988 feels like uncovering and examining dinosaur fossils compared to how quickly the media has advanced in this present time. Which, again, brings up Cynthia Nixon’s candidacy. It is not, à la Tanner’s, thrown into chaos with ill-advised decisions, but it too operates as an underdog pleading for attention. Much has been conducted on social media, be it shaming Governor Cuomo’s mishandling of the city subway systems (a daily issue), taking him to task on his office’s shutdown of the anti-corruption Moreland Commission, or calling for him to debate her in a public forum. This challenge was reminiscent of Jack Tanner’s own issues chasing down Governor Michael Dukakis to publicly debate and, when trying to get attention paid to that demand, not come across as desperate. In 1988, Tanner and any real candidate would have this struggle and not been afforded the tools that Nixon and her campaign have with Twitter as a soapbox for issues and strategy. Nixon ultimately got her debate with Cuomo on August 29th, which was as heated as a New York summer, Cuomo calling her a corporate Democrat, denying any responsibility for maintaining the subways, and, more bizarrely, accusing her of being too chummy with New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio when the reason for her correspondence with De Blasio was to ask him to stop helicopters from disrupting performances of Shakespeare in the Park. Nixon explained this in the debate, and the image of low-flying helicopters made me think of Tanner ‘88, where, in fact, a low-flying news helicopter did disrupt Alex Tanner organizing her father and future stepmother’s outdoor dinner. With that public spat, one can dog-ear where this whole gubernatorial primary made a turn for the strange, and it is probably never returning.

To paraphrase the New York Times‘ 1988 review, the state of American politics in 2018 is too real to be funny and does not seem real enough. To no fault of Nixon herself as a candidate, the merging of the cultural and the political, post-Trump, amplify the bizarre uncanny that turn politics into a taxing, inescapable process. But that is the new normal. Democracy is a messy, disorganized theater where much boils down to the actors and players being comfortable on the major stage–where the power is–and, to that extent, Cynthia Nixon is no less real as a candidate than Andrew Cuomo.

Tanner ’88 is now streaming on FilmStruck.

Posterized September 2018: ‘Mandy,’ ‘The Sisters Brothers,’ ‘Colette,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, September 5, 2018 at 8:56 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.


Festival season is upon with Venice and Telluride in full swing and TIFF just days away. I always contemplate making September into a festival poster piece only to discover there’s no point when so many of the films released are playing at those festivals anyway. Six of the sixteen movies below will be screening in Toronto. And that’s without including The Predator (September 14), Museo (limited September 14), and Fahrenheit 11/9 (limited September 21).

The added bonus to this fact: good posters.


The borderline

This main sheet for Life Itself (September 21) is not necessarily one of those “good” ones. InSync Plus pretty much takes three stills, stacks them up, and places text where it fits. The idea of having the title repeat is interesting, but none of the three are the same size to make it appear like these images were interchangeable. This isn’t a slot machine scenario.

The firm’s character sheets are much better if only because they have a sense of drama and scene. The title and cast list are unobtrusive and the subject itself generally interesting enough to grab some attention. I only wish they didn’t feel the need to put one of the others in the background of each. Having a blurred Olivia Wilde and Oscar Isaac behind Olivia Cooke and whoever’s leather-jacketed back with Cooke located behind Wilde/Isaac is tacky.

Going back to the headline of this section, the poster for Matangi/Maya/MIA (limited September 28) uses separation of imagery much better. Rather than just multiple images butted against each other, the designer takes the idea of a wall and expands its green field to be negative space with which to superimpose more photos atop. It creates a clear division while also ensuring both sides complement each other.

I love the plane images to coincide with M.I.A.’s name too. You have the helicopter for Sri Lanka, the jet that took her to London/America, and ultimately the “paper plane” of one of her most iconic songs. And it’s a captivating juxtaposition that works visually to draw our eyes down from top to bottom when reading the title regardless of our knowledge of their meaning.

LA’s Night School (September 28) takes the concept even further by allowing a prop to create the separation in a real world situation. They could have just place Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish next to each other in front of those lockers, but that wouldn’t have been as memorable as using them to tell a story. Hart is the “student” in this dynamic and therefore stuck in the locker. Haddish is the “teacher” and thus outside the door with a look of disparagement. It may not excite aesthetically or reinvent the wheel, but it’s effective in presenting its visual message.

If you want to see what creativity can do with borderlines, however, look no further than Concept Arts’ The Nun (September 7). Here we have full integration of images whether it’s alluding to Taissa Farmiga being the nun in question or simply showing how it has infiltrated her mind for optimal terror. The black versus white contrast pops and the burn marks along the edge of the rip really amplify this idea of Heaven versus Hell. And the reversed “N” in the title is an added bonus of palindrome symmetry.

You know you knocked the concept out of the park when something this simple and stark can conjure so much more dread than a sheet built to embody dark horror like eclipse’s work. Exorcist homage or not, the atmosphere here is as fake as the scene created.


Collaged overlays

The Refinery’s Colette (limited September 21) isn’t anything new (see Creative Partnership’s Tulip Fever for recent period-set, washed-out color and texture), but it works. We get the star’s face from and center, the specially formed signature title below, and a nice clean all-caps sans serif font to work against the softness of the rest. The way the layers are integrated together is great too with the floral pattern seen in her hair but not her face. Everything has a dream-like quality as a result and yet the warm reds lend a touch of drama to go along with the tagline that “history is about to change” rather than leave things as delicate fluff.

Andrew Bannister’s I Am Not a Witch (limited September 7) takes the collage portion of the headline to heart by ignoring any desire for translucency in order to keep things strictly as scrapbook. All these images are cutout and pasted atop each other with a fantastic flair for paint outlines around them that look like fire. The red fields for text are clearly ripped into shape next to the contours of Maggie Mulubwa’s head.

It’s busy but legible thanks to the yellow/orange title and quotes being stuck to those dark red sections as opposed to the competing colors of the images below. Instead we get to find faces in those photos, moving us closer to see what else we might be missing.

I Think We’re Alone Now (limited September 14) by Champ & Pepper Inc. goes for full illustration to allow artist Blair Shedd freedom to build his image without a need to conform to what’s at his disposal. So rather than merge portraits with backgrounds or cut and paste existing promotional materials, he designs around the concept with his own specific style. His comic book sensibilities come through with graphic hair whether Peter Dinklage’s subtle highlights or Elle Fanning’s geometric flames. Contrast it with detailed gradient work on faces and minimalist line work on the goldfish and road scene and you get a memorable piece of original art.

It’s weird that Champ & Pepper Inc. would squish the director’s name under the large title, but otherwise the text block works to highlight the film’s selling points. The typography’s coloring helps the whole from feeling like two disparate entities—not that it’s a bad thing to simply slap a label underneath a canvas.

Mandy (limited September 14) conversely uses its painting for the poster’s canvas rather than forcing it to exist on its own. That’s easier in this case because of the way it is constructed. The actors form a triangle at the center for cosmic swirls of dark mood lighting to surround it as prime real estate for text. I think Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough’s names are too close to be read separately and perhaps too big to let the title standout, but I do like the whole’s aesthetic. It looks like a heavy metal progressive rock album cover and that’s the perfect tone for what the film delivers.

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55 Films to See This Fall

Written by The Film Stage, August 22, 2018 at 8:38 am 

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As summer cools down, we’re entering perhaps the best time of year for cinephiles, with a variety of festivals — some of which will hold premieres of our most-anticipated 2017 features — gearing up. As we do each year, after highlighting the best films offered thus far, we’ve set out to provide a comprehensive preview of the fall titles that should be on your radar.

We’re doing things slightly different this year, combining both the best films we’ve already seen (with full reviews where available) and the films with (mostly) confirmed release dates that are coming over the next four months and have us intrigued. While some won’t show up until late December, a good amount will first premiere over the next few weeks at various film festivals, so check back for our reviews.

See our list below, and return soon for the second part of our preview: the festival premieres with no release dates and/or U.S. distribution we’re most looking forward to.

Bisbee ’17 (Robert Greene; Sept. 5)

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Here is a story that makes Faulkner’s adage about the past not being past seem horribly valid. A hundred years ago, both the Arizona mining town of Bisbee and America itself were wracked with controversy over pointless war, hatred toward immigrants, and rampant inequality and injustice. Today, only the wars are different. In 1917, over a thousand miners protesting for better wages and working conditions were rounded up by authorities in Bisbee, with the help of two thousand deputized townspeople. At the behest of the company which essentially owned the town, the strikers were crowded onto a train and exiled to New Mexico, threatened with death if they ever returned. Most of them were immigrants, most of whom came from Mexico. In 2017, the residents of Bisbee, now long past its days as a mining town, observe the centennial of the deportation with a reenactment of it. Robert Greene and his crew were there to film it. – Dan S. (full review)

I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni; Sept. 7)

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Recalling the polemics of Ousmane Sembène, Rungano Nyoni’s Zambian film I Am Not a Witch is an impressively crafted comedy of manners turned tragedy. The film centers around the accusation that an 8-year old girl, Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) is engaging in witchcraft solely because people in the town say so, and because the girl refuses to confirm or deny whether she’s a witch. – John F. (full review)

Five Fingers for Marseilles (Michael Matthews; Sept. 7)

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Director Michael Matthews and writer Sean Drummond were drawn to the landscapes of South Africa’s Eastern Cape while traveling their homeland, especially the echoes of classic cinematic western environments. Learning about how its current towns arose — from the ashes of Apartheid-era cities mimicking European capitals by name — only cemented the comparison, each a product of the locals taking control once their oppressors left after their government changed hands and the train lines shutdown. This new frontier became the pair’s setting, their story gelling after seven years of research and development to do right by the inhabitants’ history and struggles. Sprinkle in a bit of legend and lore to create an antihero hidden beneath rage and Five Fingers for Marseilles was born. – Jared M. (full review)

Hale County This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross; Sept. 14)

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Structurally, Hale County This Morning, This Evening does not do much to distinguish itself from other contemporary vérité documentaries which focus on quotidian details within a certain milieu. But even so, it still finds value in the unique incidents it captures. Send a hundred different filmmakers to a hundred different places, and even if their work is aesthetically identical, they’ll each document at least a few unique moments that will make each piece worth it. Beyond that, director RaMell Ross demonstrates a talent for framing a scene in a striking manner, such as shooting a trash fire so that the rays of the sun shine through the smoke. – Dan S. (full review)

Mandy (Panos Cosmatos; Sept. 14)

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In an era of dime-a-dozen Nicolas Cage movies, you may think you know what you’re getting when sitting down for his latest feature. Rest assured, nothing could prepare you for the experience of Mandy. I’m not even referring to the gory and gleeful shocks–of which the back half has many–but rather Panos Cosmatos’ intoxicating, singular version, which mixes beauty and batshit insanity for an LSD-fueled descent into darkness like no other. – Jordan R. (full review)

The Land of Steady Habits (Nicole Holofcener; Sept. 14)

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Nicole Holofcener is known for her character-driven stories and snappy, melancholic dialogue, which for her five previous films have all been (mostly) driven by women. However, the lead of her upcoming film The Land of Steady Habits, premiering at TIFF and quickly landing on Netflix, is Anders Hill, played by the always-great Ben Mendelsohn. He plays a retired man who decides to quit his life of “steady habits” in Connecticut, leaving his wife Helene (Edie Falco) in the process. – Stephen H.

The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard; Sept. 21)

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Jacques Audiard’s Palme d’Or win for Dheepan has given him the clout to recruit his finest ensemble yet for The Sisters Brothers, his English-language debut that’s a neo-noir western, an adaptation of the novel by the same name from Patrick DeWitt. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix, Riz Ahmed, and John C. Reilly, the story follows two brothers (Phoenix and Reilly) who hunt down a gold prospector (Gyllenhaal) in 1850s Oregon. With the makings of a stranger tale than his last few films, hopefully Audiard steps up his scope in a big way here. – Jordan R.

Colette (Wash Westmoreland; Sept. 21)

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Keira Knightley returns to the genre that she has become synonymous with: the period piece. In Colette, she finds another tenacious character in a corset in the true story of the famous French author. Trying to balance her newfound success, her exploration of her sexuality, and a marriage to her dominating husband Willy (Dominic West) Colette must find her voice in order to save her career, and herself. Following praise at Sundance, it’ll arrrive in theaters this September. – Stephen H.

Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. (Stephen Loveridge; Sept. 28)

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Long before “Galang” and “Paper Planes,” and prior to her Oscar nomination and universal fame, there was a time M.I.A. was Mathangi Arulpragasam, the daughter of Tamil refugees who fled conflict-stricken Sri Lanka to settle in 1980s England. More an account of her origins than a stylized tour documentary, Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. draws from over 700 hours of footage M.I.A. personally recorded at different stages of her career to offer an intimate pre- and-post-stardom bio-doc that feels just as magnetic as the artist it brings and dissects on screen. – Leonardo G. (full review)

The Old Man & the Gun (David Lowery; Sept. 28)

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At 81 years of age, Robert Redford is truly one of the last great movie stars we have left, in a career that spans five decades and countless iconic films. Back in 2016, he announced his upcoming role in David Lowery’s crime drama throwback is set to be his last one before retirement. In the film, Redford plays Forrest Tucker, a bank robber who begins another string of heists. His two co-stars are Casey Affleck as the detective trying to hunt him down, and Sissy Spacek as his kind-hearted love interest. Sporting a nostalgic tone in its trailer, Lowery’s A Ghost Story follow-up promises to be a final return to form for one of Hollywood’s greatest stars. – Stephen H.

Hold the Dark (Jeremy Saulnier; Sept. 28)

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Green Room and Blue Ruin director Jeremy Saulnier is stepping away from colors for his next film and getting bleak(er) and bloodier for Hold the Dark, starring Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgard, Riley Keough, and James Badge Dale. The adventure thriller is based on William Giraldi’s novel, which follows a wolf expert (Wright) who comes to Alaska to investigate disappearing children with the prime suspect being — you guessed it — wolves. Keough plays the mother of a son who died, while her husband (Skarsgard) goes wild when he returns from Iraq, and is being tracked by a detective (Dale). Promising to be another dark, brutal thriller, the Macon Blair-scripted film will hit Netflix following a TIFF premiere. – Jordan R.

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Posterized August 2018: ‘The Meg,’ ‘BlacKkKlansman,’ ‘Skate Kitchen,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, August 3, 2018 at 8:48 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.


Five Fridays, fifteen wide releases, a slew of limited engagements, and the activation of Wednesdays for additional real estate: it must be August.

We’ve got sharks, Pooh, canines galore (in multiple forms), and Muppets gone bad to sprinkle a little fun, terror, and plenty of popcorn-throwing eye-rolls into your summer’s swan song before another school year begins. Which to choose from now that MoviePass is no longer running at full speed to catch them all? No other month is as crucial to marketing reach that cuts through the noise than this one and yet no other month is hampered by a dearth of creativity either (except maybe January).

But while big budget character sheets will assault you everywhere you turn in the lobby, a few should stop you from running with eyes closed to your seat. Audiences know what they want to see during the summer and will go regardless of advertising. It’s therefore the perfect moment for the independents to sway them back for something different too.


A tale of two posters

I laugh now whenever the latest trailer for Alpha (August 17) starts playing with its inspirational soundtrack and optimistic voiceover about “man’s best friend.” I laugh because it wasn’t too long ago when I sat in that same theater and watched a very different tease depicting a boy left stranded in the wild who must tame a wolf to prove his might as a warrior. Oh what a five-month postponement and complete marketing overhaul can do to transform a niche thriller into a family friendly blockbuster event.

Luckily we have the evidence of what was, though. We can look back at the first poster and see the dual faces of intimidation thanks to WORKS ADV and Frank Ockenfels’ photography. Here’s a boy covered in mud and ready to kill, flames licking at his chin. These two figures seek blood and are willing to do whatever is necessary to survive. Rage fuels their flight.

Fast-forward to eclipse’s wholesome tagline with its aspirational view of a family of elephants in the distance and a docile pooch following its master on an adventure that will only bring them closer together in the fore. We’re talking night and day when it comes to tone. What makes it even weirder is that I haven’t heard anything about the film getting extensive reshoots or anything. (How it could since its first release date was September 2017?) It’s as though test screenings showed children liked it more than adults and the studio decided a shift in focus onto them was their best chance for success.

Luckily most movie-going audiences have short memories and will probably forget the original poster and trailer’s wildly different intent.

Skate Kitchen (limited August 10) doesn’t suffer from the same schizophrenia, but it is interesting to compare the down and dirty aesthetic of its festival one-sheet to the polished photography of its studio advert.

There’s a grunginess to the first that lends itself to the subject of skateboarding—especially since the stars of the film are a real life collective known for their skills on wheels as opposed to acting. This is the type of Xerox on colored paper effect you’d see in a flier handout taped to a telephone pole. It has crude drawings of banana peels and a hot pink scrawl of a title giving it character. It’s about an in-the-moment adrenaline rush of unbridled speed.

The second loses that sense of ephemera. Here the banana is real and enlarged into a half-pipe populated by the boarders in glamour shot poses. The action is manufactured, the artifice of this fictional narrative on display rather than pushed to the background so the realism could remain intact. Skate culture has literally been replaced by Hollywood convention rather than injected into it. Where the yellow, in-your-face loudness jolted me out of my multiplex malaise, the soft peach pallor of the other lulled me back to sleep.


Big budget variety

The best films for expansive campaigns are those utilizing multiple genres. When you have more than one tone and aesthetic to capitalize on, you can go for broke without risking audience alienation. Throw some comedy at viewers to remind them their actioner isn’t just about explosions. Add some drama to show thrills hide behind the camp.

It’s in this vein that The Meg (August 10) is able to keep churning out new posters on a regular basis. Canyon Design Group can focus on the scale of this prehistoric shark by leaning into the horror aspect of what its hunt could deliver while Statement Advertising can infuse their depiction of scale with a clever “Opening Wide” pun. We therefore both fear what might happen to the characters putting their lives on the line to stop this beast and revel in their inevitably hilarious, hubristic demises.

But there’s also a lineage to uphold via Concept Arts’ food chain progression from man to shark to megalodon. And from that nesting doll depiction we can move towards the appeal of bright colors and throwback artistry wherein the orange-red sky behind a doggie-paddling canine could feasibly connect this film to the MonsterVerse courtesy of Kong: Skull Island similarities.

Scale aside, however, these four all retain a sense of drama that overshadows any potential humor. If anything they are dark enough to earn strange looks from those who hear you laughing after taking a gander. So it’s nice that we do get one poster refusing to divide its intent. This illustration is hilarious in that the numerous inflatable tubes flying through the air thanks to the creature’s aggressive surfacing maneuver look like donuts. Rather than appear as a scene that little boy in the foreground should fear, it comes across as a dance party with colorful confetti and flailing attendees enjoying their ride through the sky.

The only real quandary with this series is the title itself and the weird separation happening with the “G.” Is that supposed to be the megalodon’s dorsal fin coming up for air? It looks more like a periscope to me. Neither good nor bad, I simply wonder what the designer was thinking. Maybe he/she just thought it looked cool.


It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the second example of variety comes from another action/comedy in The Spy Who Dumped Me (August 3). Instead of having a monster to combat, however, the studio focuses upon its leads’ personalities. LA (with photography from Cullin Tobin) puts its stars front and center with Mila Kunis’ serious expression opposite Kate McKinnon’s humorous embellishment. The former is thrust into a situation spiraling out of her control while the latter goes along for the ride with excitement that may or may not prove incongruous to the peril.

What’s great about this campaign is that we don’t simply receive these photographic depictions with different coloring. The studio instead enlists outside artists to commission their interpretations of the property with unique styles all their own. So we get June Bhongjan’s gorgeous paintings with hand-lettered text; Monica Ahanonu’s minimalist constructions resembling fashion designer sketches collaged with texture; and Amanda Lynn’s idiosyncratic illustration so disinterested in likeness that it feels like a wonderfully creative foreign bootleg DVD cover.

There are a ton of these things from the seemingly vectorized work of Allison Reimold’s detailed, three-dimensionally rendered playing card to Adrianne Walker’s flatly simply portraiture above a smoky exhaust fume title. They each arrive with varying levels of success (my faves are the above by Bhongjan and Ahanonu because of their polished yet uninhibited rough draft feel). Put the lot of them together and you see a mammoth marketing budget. Beyond that bankroll, though, is a true desire for artistic ingenuity above tired rehashes.

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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.