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50 Films to See This Fall

Written by The Film Stage, August 22, 2019 at 8:37 am 

As summer cools down, we’re entering perhaps the best time of year for cinephiles, with a variety of festivals presenting the premieres of some of our most-anticipated 2019 features. 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.

Featuring 50 films, the below feature includes both the best films we’ve already seen (with full reviews where available) and the anticipated films with (mostly) confirmed release dates that are coming over the next four months. A good amount will premiere over the next few weeks at Telluride, Venice, TIFF, and NYFF, 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.

Ms. Purple (Justin Chon; Sept. 6)

In Los Angeles, a brother and sister are brought back together as their father slips away. Such is the crux of Ms. Purple, the sophomore feature from writer/director Justin Chon, who was at Sundance in 2017 with his debut Gook. Kasie (an incredible Tiffany Chu) moonlights as a hostess at a karaoke bar, in which she serves at the whim of male clients. It is demeaning work, something she tries to wash away in the mornings. – Dan M. (full review)

Monos (Alejandro Landes; Sept. 13)

There’s a preternatural feel to the opening sequences of Monos, the brutal, unflinching third film from Colombian-Ecuadorian filmmaker Alejandro Landes (Cocalero, Porfirio). As if we’re floating through clouds at the edge of the world, we witness a group of children, blindfolded, playing soccer, the fear instilled that a misaimed kick could send the ball hurling into the unknown oblivion below. With information patiently, sparingly doled out–even up until the final moments–we learn this tight-knit clan is, in fact, a rebel group in the mountains of Latin America, sporadically visited by a commander but mostly given orders through a radio. Left to their own devices, the two most crucial responsibilities they are given are to care for a cow named Shakira and oversee a kidnapped American engineer, only referred to as Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). – Jordan R. (full review)

Ad Astra (James Gray; Sept. 20)

Considering my sky-high anticipation for James Gray’s space drama Ad Astra, I’ve avoided all trailers thus far, but the buzz has been strong for this Brad Pitt-led story. Also starring Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland and Jamie Kennedy, the film follows our lead as astronaut Roy McBride who sets out on a mission to find his missing father and, of course, discover more mysteries of our vast solar system. Hopefully shaping up to be a singular entry into the fall season, we imagine Gray’s film may not connect with those expecting another The Martian or Interstellar or Gravity–and it’ll be all the better for it. – Jordan R.

Between Two Ferns (Scott Aukerman; Sept. 20)

One may wonder just how the Zach Galifianakis web series Between Two Ferns could be expanded into a feature film, but in the hands of Scott Aukerman, our fears are kept at bay. Netflix is keeping the surely massive of cast cameos a tight-lipped secret, thankfully, so we expect many surprises are in store come this September. “We shot it like an actual documentary, where we built a public-access station and we shot at it. And if something came up where one of the actors would improvise something, we would then get with our production designers and production team and go shoot that scene that just came up in the improvising. So it was really a fun, cool way to do a movie,” Aukerman recently told Vulture. – Jordan R.

Diego Maradona (Asif Kapadia; Sept. 20)

Professional football (or soccer, if it pleases) has never really lent its wonders to the big screen. Lacking the glitz of North America’s more popular team sports or even the staggering, gladiatorial heroism of something like boxing, when it comes to cinematic myth making the so-called beautiful game has always, for one reason or another, faltered. The new documentary Diego Maradona attempts and at times succeeds in addressing that situation by zooming in on the tumultuous years that the Argentinian footballer Diego Maradona–still believed by many to be the greatest ever to play the game–spent at Napoli, an Italian football club based in the city of Naples. – Rory O. (full review)

The Death of Dick Long (Daniel Scheinert; Sept. 27)

When the directing duo known as DANIELS brought Swiss Army Man to Sundance in 2016 they took audiences aback with their peculiarly original vision, involving fart-propelled, jet-skiing corpses and boner compasses. Daniel Scheinert, one-half of the directing team, has now returned with The Death of Dick Long, a more naturalistic but also funnier (and more disturbing) follow-up. A butt rock epic built on bad decisions with plenty of affectation for its idiotic characters, the deeply dark comedy does for small-town Alabama what Fargo did for Minnesota. – Jordan R. (full review)

In the Shadow of the Moon (Jim Mickle; Sept. 27)

With his last film being released in 2014, we’ve been waiting some time for Jim Mickle to return after Cold in July and now he’s back, reteaming with Michael C. Hall. Set for a Netflix release, In the Shadow of the Moon follows a police offer (Boyd Holbrook) on his way to becoming a detective as he tracks down a serial killer. As the synopsis reads, “When the killer’s crimes begin to defy all scientific explanation, Locke’s obsession with finding the truth threatens to destroy his career, his family, and possibly his sanity.” Initially reported to include some sci-fi elements, we’re looking forward to Mickle and company delivering another hard-boiled genre outing. – Jordan R.

First Love (Takashi Miike; Sept. 27)

The last film legendary Japanese ultra-violence auteur Takashi Miike brought to Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight (Yakuza Apocalypse, 2015) featured a character that was essentially a person in a felt frog costume that looked like it’d gone through the wash a few too many times. The being had a knack for martial arts and, like some acid-trip Sesame Street version of the four horsemen, was said to signal the coming apocalypse. So to note that First Love, Miike’s latest deliriously violent mob film, which opened this week in that same renowned sidebar, is the more sober of the two is to perhaps not say a whole lot. – Rory O. (full review)

Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar; Oct. 4)

Pedro Almodóvar, the punk chronicler of post-Francoist Spain, turns inwards for his 21st feature Pain and Glory, which arrives in competition at Cannes as a summation of his storied career, a quasi-self-portrait of an artist as an older man. Even for Almodóvar, this is an especially personal work, anchored by the director’s on-off muse Antonio Banderas in perhaps his greatest performance and sweeps through the Spanish maestro’s recurrent themes: high melodrama and kitsch comedy, piety and carnal lust, sex and death, human pain and transcendent glory. – Ed F. (full review)

Memory: The Origins of Alien (Alexandre O. Philippe; Oct. 4)

Four decades after its release, it’s become etched in cinema history that Ridley Scott’s Alien was a landmark achievement in not only the science-fiction genre, but horror as well, and specifically the feat of nightmarish imagery that now exists in the deepest corridors of our collective conscious. As the compelling new documentary MEMORY—The Origins of Alien explores, the space odyssey “didn’t come out a vacuum.” Rather, it was an immensely collaborative effort that drew on paintings, novels, films, mythology, current events, and centuries-old sociological and ideological issues to conjure such a masterpiece. – Jordan R. (full review)

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Posterized August 2019: ‘The Nightingale,’ ‘La Flor,’ ‘Genesis,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, August 2, 2019 at 7:49 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.


With five Fridays of box office fun to play with this month, many posters are obviously going to get forgotten. A majority of them are the franchises with built-in bases like Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (August 2), The Angry Birds Movie 2 (August 14), and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (August 9). Whether we’re talking a blockbuster spin-off, videogame adaptation, or childhood favorite, the advertising becomes unnecessary. Just because one of the posters below may grab your attention away from the task at hand, the money you set aside to see those three films is still going to go towards those three films.

It’s therefore sad to leave work that will deserve extra attention such as The Peanut Butter Falcon (limited August 9) and What You Gonna Do When the World’s On Fire? (limited August 16) out of this feature. Are their one-sheets good enough to turn heads? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s just so easy to get drowned out these days when opening weekend dictates whether word of mouth is even a possibility. That “maybe” can sink you before you even get a chance.


Window shapes

Another such borderline design is Legion Creative Group’s Luce (limited August 2). Similar to Empire Design’s quad sheet for Before I Go to Sleep, the firm looks to add intrigue and mystery via obstruction. Where that one had the added benefit of extra vertical boxes to mimic blinds as though we could flip them to see a different side of the actor, Luce sticks with one field each as a window into their turmoil.

Where it works best is the eyes. Everyone is looking at Kelvin Harrison Jr. while he looks directly at us. It’s a challenge of sorts—one for which we will either fear the consequences like those at his side or meet with equal tenacity.

Where it fails is the desire to use so many gradient fades into nothing. The designer doesn’t want to cancel the photos out by making them all solid from top to bottom, but those fades become distracting because we’re unsure what or where these characters are. Are they ghosts? Why do the women get a smidge of their left eye to remain visible? Why can’t we just get the quartet around a table with three staring at one? This isn’t a deck to shuffle. It’s faces of “truth.” But all I see is artifice.

That’s one reason why Canyon Design Group might have gone with straight-up boxes to separate its three leads on The Kitchen (August 9). The other reason is that this property is based on a comic book and colorful cells of action and character fit that mold. You can almost forgive how artificial things look with high-contrast cutouts pasted atop washed-out backgrounds because the visual style is the point. It’s still boring, but its flair isn’t to be dismissed completely.

What I can’t abide, however, is the title treatment bleeding out of the top stanchion in two directions. It becomes a part of the frame and thus a distraction rather than a focal point. We’re trying to look behind it to see Tiffany Haddish and Melissa McCarthy. It’s in our way. The last thing you want to do is make your name the thing we most want to ignore.

That’s why I like that Cardinal Communications USA tries to change the pattern up with their sheet for Sony Pictures Classic’s After the Wedding (limited August 9) remake. The whole is by no means “good” in the sense that you’ll see it as a tractor beam to look closer, but it will standout amongst the likes of those two films above. The triangle windows are perfect both as a way to triangulate where we’re to look (the center of each) and to guide us through the page with each pointing downwards to the next until one breaks free and points back up to the title.

Unfortunately, those words are difficult to really enter our consciousness when they become so similar in size and shape as the cast list. While the title is twice the font size, its surface area is almost identical. As a result my eyes can’t stop breaking it apart into three sections: Julianne Moore’s After, Michelle Williams’ The, and Billy Crudup’s Wedding.

Something like Starfighters / Nordisk Film’s original sheet for Susanne Bier’s film conversely knows how to ensure there’s no confusion. The Wedding itself becomes a formal event wherein we use last names with the cast (all in white). It’s only After the wedding that things get more exciting to bleed red and let everyone become a bit more personal.

Creative Partnership’s Vita & Virginia (limited August 23) is thus the sole example within this section that utilizes its “window” as both an opening to imagery and an elegant design element in its own right. The double “Vs” recall the title as they segment the frame almost in half, the deep neckline of Elizabeth Debicki’s blouse creating a midway connection point between it and the decorative “Vs” behind her.

There’s not much else going on besides Gemma Arterton’s gaze bringing us into the fold, but there also doesn’t need to be more. The color is unique, the contrast from light to dark is eye-catching, and the title’s white can’t help but pop out at us to remember it. That’s really all you need.


Focal point assistance

There are other ways to guide our eyes into a poster than windows and The Refinery (with photography by Brian Bowen Smith) uses one on their Dora and the Lost City of Gold (August 9) teaser: a spotlight. Here’s a scene shrouded in shadow at the foreground with a trio of backs and one face looking up while Dora herself is found standing just high enough to let the sun bathe her with the same light that renders everything in the background colorful and inviting. She is the lead of this story. She is the leader of this group.

It might not be dynamic compared to some of the posters I’ll be discussing below, but it possesses a lot more panache than BLT Communications, LLC’s final sheet. Everything is now illuminated and there’s no mistaking how much photo manipulation has been done. Dora is still our focus, but it’s due to size now rather than intrigue. And everyone else is just flatly stood up behind her at different scales to pretend distance is in play when it surely is not.

Gravillis Inc. actually embraces that flatness with their poster for One Child Nation (limited August 9). They lean into it with a gorgeously rendered propagandist painting to be passed by and looked upon by the two characters at bottom left (and us). Rather than use light or size to draw our eye to a single person, this crew uses its absence. They cut this little girl away because she’s deemed less important than a son—expendable under the rule of law to which parents must abide.

With such an illustrative aesthetic, that gaping hole of white is impossible to ignore and thus impossible to misconstrue. That the yellow rays of the sun emanate out towards the yellow title assists us in moving from silhouette to haloed faces to text with the tagline serving as a pit stop along the way.

There are also ways to purposefully obstruct our view in order to lead us to one part of a composition above another. The Amazing Johnathan Documentary (limited August 16) does it by pixelating the face of the person behind the subject. Is he “the man behind the man?” Is he someone who has left the picture? Or perhaps a secret reveal we’re about to see uncovered? Who knows?

It’s nice to speculate because the boom microphone very clearly shows this scene has been manipulated. There’s a level of fiction to go with the documentary that could ultimately make the whole that much better.

As for the title: crossing out “Untitled” is a cute little joke. The Amazing Johnathan is the topic being discussed so of course an easy placeholder name would be “Untitled Subject Film.” That removing “Untitled” would also make sense is but a cherry on top. This is his documentary.

InSync Plus uses a similar bit of manipulation so that their Brittany Runs and Marathon (limited August 23) poster keeps its star Jillian Bell front and center. Because of the act of running being intrinsic to the film’s name, blurring everyone but her can also have contextual meaning. They are moving at too fast a speed to be captured crisply while she is virtually standing still. Not only that, she’s also going the opposite direction with a wine glass and straw in-hand. She might be running this event, but she’s obviously not worried about her ranking.

It works because it’s a scene that has so much to say. The firm’s text-based counterpart on the other hand does not. I’m not sure what they’re going for here with the shape of the text (title wider than quotes which is much wider than the “based on a true story” below it). Does the phallic nature of its shape contain relevant meaning or is it some sort of elongated mushroom cloud or geyser exploding into the air with Brittany comfortable at top? I’m at a complete loss.

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Paranoia Reigns Supreme in Three New Criterion Releases

Written by Eli F., July 31, 2019 at 8:57 am 

Paranoia reigns supreme in three recent Blu-Rays from the Criterion Collection. Leading the charge is Alan Pakula’s 1971 neo-noir Klute, widely regarded as the first and most overlooked of the director’s 1970s “paranoid trilogy” which also includes The Parallax View and All the President’s Men. A phenomenally tense, haunting and deliberate detective thriller, Klute leverages two intense lead performances from Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda cast as perfect foils: a stoic, repressed private dick visiting New York City in search of a missing friend, and an outspoken, libertine call girl and aspiring actress who may be connected to the case. Fonda’s performance was met with emphatic critical acclaim at the time, culminating in an Academy Award, and for good reason: her antiheroine Bree is one of the most multilayered and intriguing femme fatales in all of cinema, a child of the sexual revolution who is simultaneously empowered and enslaved by her pursuit of economic and sexual “freedom.” Sutherland’s detective Klute, by contrast, is a morose, chiseled monument to anti-charisma, a rejoinder to Humphrey Bogart-esque stoic machismo, whose perpetual silence is both reassuring and unnerving as Bree endeavors to deconstruct his icy persona.

Pakula and writers Andy and Dave Lewis use the tensions between the two characters, their contrasting social positions, and web of hidden sins they unravel together as vehicles for a complex and deeply cynical reflection on the age of sexual “liberation,” in which peeling back the layers of repressive social custom reveals a seedy underworld of drugs, crime, and alienation, and the promise of women’s liberation is perpetually thwarted by systems of economic and patriarchal violence embedded far deeper than we can fathom. Its visualization of The Deuce-era New York is a breathtaking claustrophobic fever dream, using long skulking tracking shots and eerie wide-shot compositions of asymmetrical geometry and light to poke up hidden corners of urban squalor seeping with imbalance and unease, as uncertain POV shots and a preponderance of surveillance equipment (prefiguring Coppola’s The Conversation) indicate that in the big city, you are never alone.

Next up in the Criterion paranoia-thon is Michael Radford’s adaptation of 1984, cheekily filmed and released within the very timeframe predicted in George Orwell’s 1949 novel. John Hurt stars as Orwell’s nebbish “thought criminal” Winston Smith, as Radford and an up-and-coming Roger Deakins attempt to visualize on their own terms the story without which other iconic cinema dystopias (see: THX-1138, Brazil) would be unthinkable. Orwell’s philosophy-heavy novel is primarily concerned with language – its sociological dimensions and its capacity for co-option by authoritarian politics – so it’s maybe inevitable that any faithful feature-film adaptation is doomed to come off as a bit sparse, muddled and incomplete, as this one does, in spite (or because?) of its ample poetic silences. But Radford does offer a sumptuous, rattling and unforgettable visualization of Orwell’s trailblazing imagery, thanks in no small part to Deakins’s contributions. Eschewing both the abstract futurism of THX and the expressionist pandemonium of Brazil, these two sets of eyes behind the camera craft a more grounded and immediately believable dystopia, filming in and around uniquely dilapidated bits of London in perfectly dusty, cracked and oblong sets, populated by gaunt English faces and cast in inky deep shadows on a pre-digital desaturated color palette. Of course, nearly every scene and set is complemented by the omnipresent propaganda telecasts, broadcast in grainy sepia tone on giant, clear oval screens–fittingly, the only part of London in this crumbling Soviet-gothic nightmare which seems to be appropriately maintained. One of Deakins’s many breathtaking shots sees Winston hunched in the corner of his dingy apartment, scribbling thoughts in his forbidden private journal as the glowing, giant televised face of the Stalin-esque Big Brother glares down at him from the center of the frame. None of it feels like a retro-futurist abstraction – the world on the screen truly looks like London gone the way of Pyongyang, glimpsed in dreams of a terrible alternate history.

Finally, there is Agnieszka Holland’s 1990 Europa Europa, a historical drama which seems too outlandish to believe, yet is based on a mind-boggling true story relayed in the autobiography of Holocaust survivor Salomon Perel. Playing like a perverse mix of Barry Lyndon and The Pianist, the film–part survivalist thriller, part gloomy family drama, part pitch-black satire–follows the German-born Perel’s transnational youth as he assumes an escalating succession of lies and falsified identities to escape persecution at the hands of two dueling dictators in Eastern Europe. Uprooted by the ascendant Nazi movement, his family flees to Poland, only to find themselves caught between the invading Nazis and Soviets. Alone and separated from his family, Salomon settles into a Bolshevik refugee camp to be educated in the ways of Soviet Communism, only to end up back in the hands of the Nazis, where his lifesaving gambit of passing as an ethnic German sees him sent off to a Hitler Youth Academy to be re-re-educated as a Nazi. As miraculous luck and quick wits repeatedly save his life, on each side Salomon must lie about or alter his identity: to the Soviets, he disavows the religious devotion of his family and downplays their “bourgeois” ownership of a small business ransacked by the Nazis; to the Nazis, he must falsify his entire heritage, claiming to be a German victim of Bolsheviks and keeping his composure amongst rituals of rabid antisemitism. Europa Europa, a largely prosaic drama, lacks the eye and budget of those classics to which it begs comparison, yet it still serves as a perceptive, damning portrayal of the contradictory and cruel ways in which Jewish identity was manufactured and policed during wartime Europe, leading–as in Salomon’s eventual case–to the resurgence of Zionism as the Jewish repudiation of civilizations which reject them on not just materially but existentially.

So much of Salomon’s identitarian angst is centered around his circumcision, and branching from this the film has strange and unnerving sexual undercurrents woven throughout. Adults of both genders repeatedly take one-sided sexual interests in the adolescent boy, whose nude body is displayed before the camera more than once–and the consequences of these attractions, and the non-consensual contact they inspire, seem to risk Salomon’s life before unexpectedly saving it (an adult Nazi soldier and closeted homosexual who makes unwelcome advances on Salomon in private discovers his secret–then, out of affection, agrees to keep it). Meanwhile Salomon’s girlfriend at the Hitler Youth Academy, Leni, is virulently fixated on Nazi eugenics. In one particularly grueling plotline, a paranoid and horny Salomon attempts to uncircumcise himself using home implements, to excruciating results. The sign of Salomon’s dreaded difference is invisible to the casual observer, yet inescapably marked on his body: the anxious paradox of Jewish identity in a nutshell.

Klute, 1984, and Europa Europa are now on The Criterion Collection.

Five Unmissable Films at Japan Cuts 2019

Written by The Film Stage, July 23, 2019 at 9:02 am 

Japan Cuts festival, which takes place at the Japan Society in New York City, has become a staple in the sea of summer cinematic offerings in terms of counter-programming to the onslaught of weekly blockbusters and tentpoles. In such a rich program, it’s always a bit dizzying to choose one film over another, and while if you choose any options now playing until July 28 you are likely to have a good time, these are my personal picks for the five unmissable events.

5. JesusBoku wa Iesu-sama ga kirai (Hiroshi Okuyama)

Japanese cinema has always had a strange visual relation with Christianity and its symbols, exoticizing and equating it to something more like mythology than a faith. Although with a more interiorized approach, Hiroshi Okuyama’s debut doesn’t stray too far away from that tradition as it tells the story of 10-year old Yura, who recently moved to a new town and is enrolled in a Christian school, something that his parents were apparently unaware of. Yura’s exploration of faith turns around when he prays for the first time and a thumb-sized Jesus appears in front of him, apparently willing to concede his “wishes” (as Yura calls them), like finding a friend in school or having some money. 

The film’s visual approach, which doesn’t want us to pay too much attention to the imaginary (or not) Jesus, as most shots that contain him are wide, where finding the miniature God is something akin to a game for the audience. Eventually the film finds its wavelength beyond the wishes, moving from a portrait of two friends growing up together, to then evolve into a harrowing drama in its final third. Even if the “kawaii” Jesus continues to appear, the point of view of the director is clear regarding how alone we truly are in this world, and that not even religion can fill that void, something that Yura learns the hardest way possible.

4. The Kamagasaki Cauldron WarTsukiyo no kamagassen (Leo Sato)

Kamagasaki is an old slum in Osaka, Japan, where poverty runs rampant and crime lords seem to control everything. But an early scene features one of the few kind events that happen in that place: the Sankaku Park Soup Kitchen, an organization which uses a giant kama (or “sake cup”) to cook soup for the homeless and anyone who approaches them. It’s that kind of extreme poverty that’s the background for a film that pits a pickpocket, the young son of a travelling actor, a prostitute, and the son of the boss of the Kamatari gang into a search for the “sacred” kama, used by the Kamatari gang to induct new members and to pass the baton of who’s the boss.

Shot on film, with direct sound and an extremely low budget, the film feels like an exaggerated social exploration of the problems that the common people of Kamagasaki live through every day. The absurd elements are present, but also the highly political stakes that the film takes when it comes to social outrage, police brutality, international welfare organizations, and even Karl Marx being name-dropped. The grainy look of the film helps accentuate the feeling that what we’re being shown are the real streets of Kamagasaki, with all its guarded posts to avoid people from sleeping in the street, but also makes the fantastical elements appear congruent with the world, like when a priest starts to deliver justice by torturing criminals. A film that’s just one of a kind.

3. KillingZan (Shin’ya Tsukamoto)

Tsukamoto is the big guest at this year’s Japan Cuts, as he’ll also receive the Cut Above award, given to those who’ve made with their careers an outstanding achievement for Japanese cinema. And for sure, there’s no other way to define Tsukamoto’s career, as he’s pioneered in genres and visual styles that have taken the world by storm. Things are no different for his latest film, which premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival. It centers on a wandering samurai who’s working in a small farming town as he waits for his eventual travel to the big city, all of this while training a young farmer who apparently has quite the talent for fighting. Suddenly, a master samurai (played by Shin’ya Tsukamoto himself) appears and wants to hire both the wandering samurai and the farmer so they can be part of a paying army that’s being formed to protect the nearby city. The joy and the fulfillment that these characters feel is cut short with the appearance of some violent thugs that menacingly surround the town.

The film constantly shifts in terms of its visual style, particularly when it comes to the camera movements and editing. At the start, the camera seems obsessed in capturing every gesture and small attitude change in each character, while the editing constantly cuts between the characters at play, and the framing is absolutely dictated by the performances. It’s strange how the camera seems to slow down whenever the samurai master is near, as if the presence of the director himself were to give the visual style a different approach, which is telling in a sequence in which he’s watching a training and we see his face in a static shot, while what he’s seeing is the fighting with a constant moving camera. In a sense, the actual story of the film isn’t as interesting as the ways in which the cinematography and the acting work together in creating the sensation that the world is slowly sinking into darkness.

2. Being NaturalTennen seikatsu (Tadashi Nagayama)

Maybe the most genre-twisting film of the program is this awkward comedy that constantly evolves into something far more sinister and dark than what the innocent beginning may suggest: Taka, a simple yet unemployed man, plays the bongos at the countryside house of his wheelchair-bound uncle, with whom he lives with and takes care of. He’s constantly being insulted and doubted by the old man, to which Taka responds only with bangs on his bongos, coming up with some sort of musical language which later devolves into a happy mellow song that gives way to the opening credits of the film. It’s only time until Taka’s uncle dies, and the old man’s brother, who allows the poor man to keep living there, inherits the house. It’s then that a family, escaping from Tokyo’s life style, enters the small countryside town, willing to do anything to open a natural style café in an old house… Taka’s house.

Although clueless for a long stretch of the film, eventually Taka realizes that he has to defend the place where he’s staying, even breaching the trust that his other uncle has put on him. Revealing more about the movie would be unkind to an unsuspecting viewer, but the series of twists, turns, and even mean ways in which some plot elements turn onto the protagonist and his companions is almost unbelievable. To be seen to be believed, especially its final five minutes.

1. The Legend of the Stardust BrothersHoshikuzu kyôdai no densetsu (Macoto Tezuka)

The most important film to be seen in a big screen is a repertory title, a Japanese musical that became a cult hit both in its country of origin and throughout the world for those “in the know.” Recently restored, this is a unique opportunity to see one of the craziest musicals that have ever been put to film, comparable only to classics like Rocky Horror Picture Show, Phantom of the Paradiseand Little Shop of Horrors. Based on music written by Haruo Chikada, the director (the son of famed manga artist Osamu Tezuka, of ‘Astroboy’ fame) took the songs and created a plot around them, following the story of a duo called Stardust Brothers who became one of the most popular music acts in Japan, only to fall into the greed and shady businesses of the record label that signed them up.

What to some might sound just like your average rise and fall story, this movie packs a visual inventiveness throughout with catchy songs that attract beyond the obvious language barrier. The way in which each song is performed and shot in a different manner puts the horror film Hausu to mind, specially in the way that it mixes colors with animation, but here adding dancing choreography, chase sequences, and how the songs thematically tie up to every moment that the two main characters are living through, even if they were written before there was even a script for the film. Tezuka’s talent is undeniable, and it’s a shame that his films aren’t better known in the West, but here’s a chance for his other equally inventive films to finally reach to us. For now, let’s enjoy this crazy musical; it’s the only one you’ll see this year that has a song about how singers are trained pets under the control of record labels.

Japan Cuts 2019 runs through July 28. See more information here.

Recommended New Books on Filmmaking: Making ‘Alien,’ Chantal Akerman, Analyzing ‘Peterloo’ & More

Written by Christopher Schobert, July 10, 2019 at 8:35 am 

It’s summertime, and that means a roundup of film-related books must include some lighter fare—hence this column’s inclusion of reads about Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Alien, and Dungeons & Dragons. However, there is also a fascinating exploration of Mike Leigh’s underrated Peterloo and a memoir from the late Chantal Akerman. Plus, Howard Stern returns with a deep dive into his years of stunningly insightful celebrity interviews. 

The Making of Alien by J.W. Rinzler (Titan Books)

J.W. Rinzler’s books on the original Star Wars trilogy rank among the finest making-ofs in recent decades. And few films are more befitting of the Rinzler treatment than Ridley Scott’s Alien. This beautifully designed text from Titan Books is bursting with illustrations and behind-the-scenes photos, as well as stories of the difficulties Scott faced making the film. There are also absurdly lovely details, like Harry Dean Stanton happily playing guitar while waiting for the filming of the “chestburster” scene. While the stories are a highlight, nothing tops the photography. Perhaps greatest of all is one of the final images in the book, a simple black and white shot of Sigourney Weaver in makeup at Shepperton Studios. She is young, focused, yet also clearly unaware of how her life as about to change. Who would have known what was to come? The answer is no one. But Rinzler does a fine job of showing why, exactly, Alien became one of cinema’s greatest creations.

Star Wars After Lucas: A Critical Guide to the Future of the Galaxy by Dan Golding (University of Minnesota Press)

Anyone fascinated by the post-George Lucas Star Wars universe will find Dan Golding’s Critical Guide to the Future of the Galaxy an essential read. Focusing on The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Last Jedi, and Star Wars Rebels, Golding crafts an insightful, smart analysis. Perhaps most interesting is his comparison of the use of the faces of Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing in Rogue One to Sean Young in Blade Runner 2049 and Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy: “Leia has, in one timeline, become General Leia, an aged leader, strategist, and mother; in another, she has returned as Princess Leia to the beginning of her serial narrative loop, before she was a mother, unable to age, unable to grow old and unable to escape nostalgia’s deathly grasp.” That’s good writing, and a convincing POV.

Peterloo in Process: A Mike Leigh Collaboration by Orla Smith and Alex Heeney (Seventh Row)

Mike Leigh’s bold, ambitious historical drama Peterloo came and went from cinemas rather quietly. But it deserves a close reading, and that arrives thanks to a truly wondrous eBook from the Seventh Row gang. Reading this caused me to revisit the film, and actually change my opinion—and how rare is that? The writing is top-notch; consider this, from Alex Heeney: “Mike Leigh’s Peterloo is a rare story about the fight for a fairer democracy: one of carnage rather than triumph, one that ends with tragedy and unfinished labour rather than success and social change. In other words, despite its broad canvas, including more than a hundred characters acting out historical events, Peterloo is every bit a Mike Leigh film: peppered with flawed, complicated characters, inspirational because it is a story of recognizable people, and nothing like the silk-swishing period pieces that are a staple of British cinema.” 

Howard Stern Comes Again by Howard Stern (Simon & Schuster)

For more than two decades, fans of Howard Stern wondered with the King of All Media would someday follow up his two bestsellers, Private Parts and Miss America. The announcement that he would, with Howard Stern Comes Again, was downright shocking. And perhaps just as surprising was the news that the majority of the book would be transcripts of his years of radio interviews. But this is no simple rehash. The Howard Stern Show interviews included here—featuring the likes of Lady Gaga, Bill Murray, and, of course, Donald Trump—are uniformly enthralling. So too are Stern’s thoughtful, passionate introductions. Stern calls Comes Again “a book about conversation.” It is that, and a lot more. 

My Mother Laughs by Chantal Akerman (The Song Cave)

The sudden death of filmmaker Chantal Akerman in 2016 was a tragedy. However, she left behind an unmatched filmography, including her 1975 masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. She also left a moving memoir, My Mother Laughs, authored just before her passing. It is an often painful read—“I had had enough of all of these survivor stories,” she writes. “For years, I was consumed by them. Now I had had enough.” It’s a somber experience, but also a reminder that Akerman’s voice was utterly unique.

Game of Thrones: The Storyboards by William Simpson (Insight Editions)

Yes, Game of Thrones is over. Yes, the final season was pretty much a disaster. But we have the memories. And, there’s also The Storyboards, a stunning coffee table book that rather remarkably goes season by season and episode by episode. Full of intricate detail and a few surprises, this is, quite frankly, a book die-hard fans will treasure. It’s also a reminder that even before the series became the pop phenomenon we know today, it was an imaginative, emotionally powerful tale of heroism, romance, and darkness. 

Inside Family Guy: An Illustrated History by Frazier Moore (Dey St.)

However one feels about Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy, the illustrated history from Dey St. is a visual (and comic) delight. Is it necessary that we know the inspiration for, say, the Drunken Clam? Probably not. But that does not mean it’s not fascinating all the same. This exploration of the show’s birth, death, and resurrection is well-explained, and the making-of illustrations are pretty damn funny. And, since we’re talking about Family Guy, also a tad discomfiting. Griffin-ites would not want it any other way.

Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir and Sarah Anderson (Ten Speed Press)

The new graphic novel Cheshire Crossing is centered around a killer trio—Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Wendy from Peter Pan, and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz—and adds a boarding school for teens with supernatural powers to the mix. Written by The Martian’s Andy Weir and gorgeously illustrated by Sarah Anderson, Cheshire is a thrilling, imaginative journey. I demand a film adaptation. 

Off Beat Cinema Presents Movies 365: A Good Movie for Every Day of the Year by Greg Sterlace (Adequate Life Publishing in conjunction with Lulu.com)

Shot in my hometown of Buffalo, NY, and broadcast nationwide, two-hour weekly movie showcase Off Beat Cinema is a long-running favorite of film fans. It is only fitting, therefore, that Off Beat Cinema Presents Movies 365: A Good Movie for Every Day of the Year is so, so fun. Authored by Greg Sterlace and featuring input from folks like Off Beat’s Constance Caldwell, 365 is a book that can be opened and enjoyed at any point. Featuring everything from The Young Lions to Mistress America, it’s a hard-to-put-down pleasure of a read.

Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides: Monsters & Creatures and Warriors & Weapons by Jim Zub, Stacy King and Andrew Wheeler (Random House)

The recent release of season three of Stranger Things has rekindled interest in malls, new Coke, and, of course, Dungeons & Dragons. So the time is right for the release of two new Young Adventurer’s Guides for young readers. They provide a useful starting point, with background on characters and creatures. The books are well-designed and easy to read; my son is now officially hooked. 

Lego Star Wars Visual Dictionary New Edition by Simon Beecroft, Jason Fry, and Simon Hugo (DK)

DK’s Lego books seem to grow more detailed and more enjoyable with each new edition. And the favorite in my house is the frequently updated Lego Star Wars guides. The latest brings us right to Lego’s Solo sets. My 9-year-old was especially enamored with the book’s accompanying exclusive minifigure: Finn in his “naked, leaking” recovery outfit from The Last Jedi. While it’s a bit of a tease—many of these sets are long gone from retailers—it’s still a blast to see all that’s come before. 

Blu-ray bonuses

Two David Lynch films arrived on Blu-ray in recent weeks, and both releases were newsworthy. Criterion’s release of 1986’s Blue Velvet features 53 minutes of deleted scenes assembled by Lynch, a true treasure trove for devotees of his work. In addition there are multiple documentaries and, of course, the classic film itself. Frank Booth has never looked and sounded so ferocious. Kino Lorber’s release of 1997’s Lost Highway comes, to put it mildly, with some controversy. Lynch criticized the release for not using the original negative, while Kino Lorber said it was Lynch who passed on overseeing the restoration. It is hard to say who is correct, but it is undeniable that having this fugue state thriller on Blu-ray is momentous. And one more noteworthy and ultra-intense release is Criterion’s special edition of Michael Haneke’s original Funny Games. It remains one of his most upsetting provocations. As the great critic Bilge Ebiri writes in the booklet, “Funny Games may be simple and sadistic in conception, but it is complex and humanistic in its particulars. That’s why it works so well.” One can also listen to our discussion of it on The Film Stage Show here.

See more recommended books on filmmaking.

Posterized July 2019: ‘Once Upon a Time In… Hollywood,’ ‘Midsommar,’ ‘The Farewell,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, July 5, 2019 at 9:09 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.


Disney (again) and Tarantino takeover this month and it’s not the best thing for creative diversity when theaters only have four Fridays at their disposal. Add the re-release of Avengers: Endgame to try and squeeze past Avatar for box office supremacy and real estate will be hard to come by. So it’s crucial that the little guys get the word out to steal some attention their way. And a few of the campaigns below do exactly that—if your market is brave enough to bring them to town. Sadly fewer and fewer places outside of the big metropolises have that ability anymore.


Face-to-face

Nothing turns a head faster than a white man’s face covered in Nazi tattoos, so InSync Plus (who I do believe designed every A24 poster this month to set themselves apart as the studio’s go-to firm) does exactly that with Skin (limited July 26). Despite being directed by the same man who won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film in February, this is not a feature expansion on that piece. Instead it concerns the true-life reversal of Bryon Widner from violent skinhead to activist in search of redemption—a journey set to the painful sessions he underwent to remove those “patches” covering his body.

It’s therefore a no-brainer to put Jamie Bell (a dark horse in the Best Actor conversation) front and center with full regalia intact. The first critics quote becomes crucial towards understanding “redemption” is coming for this man, but the imagery is provocative enough to pique interest regardless. That sense of hope definitely helps to sell a ticket when audience members may not want to just watch a brutal drama of racism, but the latter’s power is what grabs you first.

F Ron Miller delivers a different face for David Crosby: Remember My Name (limited July 19). This one has a comedic flavor with the singer shirtless and smoking while precariously holding an American flag wrapped gun to his temple. It’s an absurd bit of imagery that promises to go beyond the music into his personality and politics. So why not have some fun and use a photo less interested in regal portraiture than candid freedom?

And where it lets the frame breathe with white space, B O N D refuses to follow suit with their tease of Spider-Man: Far From Home (July 2). This thing is a strange-hold of oppression with the superhero pressed against the lens so we can see every single tourist sticker affixed to his mask. Will he actually end up hitting all these places during the course of the film (Prague, London, Venice, Swiss Alps, and Berlin? Who knows? It depends on what Nick Fury orders.

It’s not the best poster, but it does standout if only because it doesn’t look like BLT Communications, LLC’s Photoshop project with floating torsos on a metallic spider logo that looks like a design of tuning forks. The tease may be generic, but at least it’s not boring. Thankfully BLT increases the fun quotient with their IMAX sheet by adding some illustrative flair, but the cardboard cutout adults remain stiffly stood-up at the bottom.

Leave it to Akiko Stehrenberger to therefore bring some electricity to this section with A Faithful Man (limited July 19). It’s not her best work in that it’s really just portraiture squeezed into a frame, but it’s playful and colorful with a vintage look. Putting the title in cursive lipstick is a perfect touch too to complement the bright pink smooches left atop Louis Garrel’s cheeks.

Put it against RYSK’s French version of masked-out actors walking with artificial shadows and it’s even better. I do love the font choice here, though. The lowercase thick to thin from verticals to horizontals is attractive and almost distracts us enough to ignore how the actors are just slapped on and left to fend for themselves.


The gang’s all here

Is it still a floating head collage? Yes. But there’s personality to the poster for Sword of Trust (limited July 12) anyway due to its slapdash, off-the-edge composition. The whole thing is a little wonky with director Lynn Shelton’s credit tilted one way and the title tilted in about five different contrasting directions. Those heads therefore become an enclosure that points us inwards to read the vertical construction of text—an arrow pointing upwards so we can read down. And you can’t tell me Marc Maron starring straight into your soul isn’t off-putting since the rest look off-screen. Unsettling is still memorable.

So too is funny, the thing that Concept Arts puts front and center with their tease for Stuber (July 12). From Kumail Nanjiani’s look of wide-eyed discomfort to Dave Bautista’s tough guy squint to a dog that neither seems phased by between them, it’s a wild scene of claustrophobic proportions. The comedy of the scenario is there even if you don’t get the full details until watching the trailer.

BLT’s final poster loses that spontaneity with a busy mash-up of every single actor in weird positions that say nothing. By making Bautista unnaturally 50% larger than Kumail so that he can look down upon him with a disparaging teacher to student gaze, you lose the situational rapport. The line-up of supporting players melds together since none are given the room to standout; the tagline just shoe-horned in at center makes it difficult to read let alone spot; and the doubling of the stars at bottom is more “We have to put something here” then “This is where they go.” The old school 70s drop shadow flair on the title is nice, though.

If you have to Photoshop a bunch of people in a line, at least make it purposeful like with InSync Plus’ The Farewell (limited July 12). Why they had to when they could have theoretically gotten the actors to pose together is the problem here. My eyes see more shadows than people because the hope of faking a common light source to remove its fabrication failed.

As a composition it is serviceable, though. The quotes and tag aren’t too big to distract from the characters and the image is allowed room to exist without fighting against the title. If they got them all in the same room to snap a photo, it would have been great. And if you tell that’s what this is? I say it’s time to hire a new re-toucher.

This is why the only way to really succeed with composite imagery is to stick to illustration like BLT did by having Steven Chorney draw their Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood (July 26) key-art. There’s a line of folks at middle, but they form a triangle to mimic the one created by the trio of large heads at top—driving our vision instead of stagnating it. The title is in the middle now and it’s on a background that allows it to pop without getting bogged down by its surroundings unlike Stuber. Add some scenes at the bottom to break the frame early and not keep things enclosed and you create visual excitement.

WORKS ADV’s teasers did nothing of the sort with their cutout actors on blurred backdrops of Hollywood. These things were so poorly received that they became memes on social media and inspired Alphaville Design (Midnight Marauder & Studio Stella) to draw up a concept that should have been completed from the start. Looks pretty close to what BLT did, doesn’t it? Coincidence? Probably. But also evidence that there’s a correct way to do this stuff.

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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.

Available on VOD/Blu-ray/DVD.

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)

Available on VOD/Blu-ray/DVD.

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 Amazon Prime/Blu-ray/DVD.

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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