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

Written by on August 2, 2019 

“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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