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Posterized April 2015: ‘Ex Machina,’ ‘Lost River,’ ‘Furious 7,’ and More

Written by on April 2, 2015 

“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.


April is here and it’s a quiet month. Well, it is for blockbusters at least as theaters will still be jam-packed with releases. The biggest one—Furious 7—is out the first week, though. You know what that means: it stays up through May.

Otherwise we’re receiving a lot of small films with varying rollouts and the odd studio picture thrown in for good measure. This means the chance for a lot quality design and for the most part publicity firms have taken advantage.

(Yes, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 does come out April 17th. Don’t remind me.)


High concept trumps convention

You can almost imagine the meeting. Ignition comes in with the inventive concept of putting The Age of Adaline (April 24th) star Blake Lively together with multiple photo aesthetics spanning her immortal life. Another firm LA speaks about how they can do a whole series of her in photos wearing period garb—shooting for class and intrigue while also putting a beautiful face on theater walls for months in advance of release. Lionsgate says they love it. But … can we do one that “pops” with a “sleek” font and “cool” photo manipulation?

We see it all the time—or at least its aftermath. Who knows how many derivative designs hanging on walls came after brilliant ones were dismissed? I’m sure more than we’d like to imagine. LA took the notes and came back with the steely logotype and tired imagery above. What’s going on here? Is the film’s secret that Blake Lively is actually Michiel Husiman?

The positive is that even if Lionsgate decides to dump Ignition’s fantastic photo puzzle for metallic hues, LA still got to see their series come to fruition. Just look at the first few. 1925’s distress is perfect, 1931’s hazy vignette a treat, and 1943 a neat wartime script stamped with authenticity.

For Desert Dancer (limited April 10th, expands April 17th), ImageMassive embraces the dance aspect with a gorgeously shot diptych of its stars. The combination sheet with Freida Pinto at top and Reece Ritchie at bottom retains the curves of their separate iterations while losing the open sky, but there’s something nice about the radial symmetry drawing your eye clockwise around the page.

The sand and Ritchie are one and Pinto’s silk envelops her while also augmenting her body’s shape. There’s a sensuality to both that’s completely absent in the second version’s want for the familiar. The pose of both actors could be cool if the camera pulled back to show them on the wide expanse of desert behind, but its close-up removes any sense of scale or motion. Putting the tagline above in huge translucent letters only distracts us from the main content more.


Femme focus

It’s not rocket science to use the aesthetic of a painting your film hinges its plot on, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be effective. Using the specks of gold and colorful motifs from Gustav Klimt‘s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer”, the poster for Woman in Gold (limited April 1st) possesses more interest than a sad portrait of Helen Mirren could alone. The gold looks like pixels of a disintegrating face—not the greatest outcome—yet the morphing idea from painting to photo still comes across.

While the imagery could be improved upon, I do like the text block. The thin sans serif is bright enough white to be read and tiny enough in width to fall out of view when judging the work as a whole. Making “Gold” and “Coming” gold gives it an attractive inverse effect as well to counter the confetti.

To me it’s the best of the bunch for this film—definitely better than the Nazi shadow. The way the title is scuffed and claustrophobic in the bottom corner recalls many horror movies of the past decade and the swastika elongated as it is makes it seem Mirren and Ryan Reynolds are dancing with arms in the air. The design does have one positive, though: comparing Mickey Mouse to Hitler via similarities to Saving Mr. Banks.

Effie Gray (limited April 3rd) has no reason to be inspired by the work of Dutch Baroque painter Godfried Schalcken, but it’s tough not to think about his use of focused light against darkness upon viewing this first poster. I’ve always been fascinated by his work and the use of a focal point making so much of the page’s surface dark. I say dark rather than empty because not seeing what’s beneath the shadow doesn’t make its absence less important.

The poster is a good one from the centering of the candle, the soft fabrics seeming soft due to the light hitting its fuzz, and the tilt of Dakota Fanning‘s head matching that of the logotype to place a triangle above the flame. I even enjoy the title font for its gaudy flourishes. It gets the old-timey feel right and this sheet would look great against the bright colors of Hollywood fare.

This is easy to tell because of how great it looks next to its more readily available sibling. Floating heads, bright light washing out the actors’ faces, and a dismantling of the logotype—all knocks making it a pale comparison. What was a neat breath of fresh air becomes another artwork of redundant design cliché to simultaneously fit in and get lost.

The work done on Félix et Meira (NY April 17th, LA April 24th) is pretty singular as well with its monochromatic palette subbing in for Effie‘s shadows. Something about the homogeneity of it along with the look on its stars face with a figure looming behind her makes it more horror/thriller than “tender romance”, but it definitely gets you to remember it. I love the precarious closeness of the text butting up against the edge of her silhouette too—completely enclosed yet attempting to break free.

It’s a rare improvement for English language posters compared to their international counterparts. I like this other one due to its hand-drawn aesthetic and roughly colored shapes, but it doesn’t have the same impact. The title’s bold stroke is its major flaw as it takes all your attention, making it’s tough to look elsewhere despite the coloring below being so bold.

Of all the female-centric one-sheets this month, however, it is P+A‘s Alex of Venice (limited April 17th) that sticks out the most. It’s not just because of the sweet innocence on Mary Elizabeth Winstead either. I like the halo of light surrounding her so we take notice and the lens flares placed above to give a sense of distance and three-dimensionality to the flat space. And I really applaud the faith in the image that’s necessary to keep the text so small and in its place of secondary importance.

As for the title, the playfulness is a memorable bit of flair. The marker scrawl of the first two words give it character and personality while the lit-up letters in “Venice” add a dose of whimsy. There’s a sense of regal portraiture being subverted with its clear-cut view of Winstead and the contemporary banner of name and signifier. We are meant to know her and I can hear a voice announcing her introduction every time I look at it.

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