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Posterized December 2017: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi,’ ‘Phantom Thread,’ ‘The Shape of Water,’ and More

Written by on December 4, 2017 

A cast worth seeing

Just because LA’s I, Tonya (limited December 8) is Margot Robbie on a non-descript background with a large title doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. The firm could have just slapped her face large and centered and called it a day, but they took a great attitude pose and created a well-designed piece instead.

It probably won’t turn heads, but it won’t make you look away either. They’ve implemented their generic elements in perfect synergy by moving Robbie’s figure to the side for space to put critics quotes. They’ve placed her in the scene by masking out her head to cover part of the title. And they’ve chosen a bold yet fun font with reverse serifs that almost have our eyes moving against the grain. I like to think it creates an ice-skating movement with our wanting to propel forward despite physics pushing us back.

P+A crafts a similarly deceptive work with their tease for The Disaster Artist (limited December 21). Despite highlighting its star and director James Franco channeling the infamous Tommy Wiseau against a plain green backdrop, everything is intentionally positioned for the greatest impact.

They’ve pushed Franco to the bottom so that ample space can be freed at top for the title—only they stick an embellished one-liner there instead to dial into the cult appeal of The Room and get fans into the joke. The green isn’t “plain” but the green screen used to recreate a rooftop they could have just shot on anyway. And the boom mic and spotlight signify the behind-the-scenes aspect of the story being told. We’re given access to the chaotic insanity that occurred during the making of the worst movie in the history of cinema.

The final sheet simply cannot equal its efficacy of saying so much with so little. Instead it provides a scene of excitement and trepidation with the two stars (and a couple familiar faces Photoshopped in behind them). Rather than look behind the curtain, this poster is merely homage with its black and white coloring and specific font choice. All it needs is that hideous reflection filter to finish the job.

The Refinery delivers a lot more detail than these previous two with Wonder Wheel (limited December 1), but it’s just as minimalistic. It’s still only actor (Kate Winslet), title, and background. What’s different is that the latter isn’t a solid color. No it’s a gorgeous window view onto a perfectly centered Coney Island Ferris wheel in bright yellows and blues to contrast the shadowy figure haloed in light at the foreground. We’re suddenly transported to a time and place unlike our own.

I love the heavily saturated hues that render it with a painterly touch. I want to believe the entire film is shot with this same aesthetic knowing that it would be impossible. Talk about using the “magic hour” with some post-production filtering involved to augment its otherworldly time capsule. There’s drama, austerity, and beauty all at once as it moves from light to dark to subtly bright text in Woody Allen’s trademark font. The film will have a lot to live up to with this serving as its introduction.

Take that faux illustrative work to the next level and achieve something akin to James Jean’s delicately unforgettable The Shape of Water (limited December 1; wide December 15). Talk about unorthodox romance and yet I can’t think of a sight that expresses love any better this year. To these two creatures nothing else matters but the other.

Give the studio credit for letting this piece of art virtually standalone. Jean wasn’t able to create a unique typeface like he did with mother!, but I can’t say the chosen font isn’t attractive in its own right with a thin weight and lowered centers. The light touch of his lines becomes a brilliant contrast to the rigidity of those within text. And it’s not like the latter is taking up a lot of space to distract anyway.

The colored version is great too thanks to its added definition, but I do prefer the other’s more wistful existence as though of a dream. This version is made too “real” and therefore closer in tone to the photography-based sheet of an actual underwater embrace than the fantastical storybook feel of the first. It’s a very fine line of distinction, though, as all three prove extremely memorable nonetheless. Much like I’ve heard the film does too.

Distinct perspectives

You’ll probably never see LA’s poster for Voyeur (streaming December 1) in the wild considering it’s a Netflix “original,” but I have to commend the subscription service for finally spending the money to commission it anyway. A lot is said about how they don’t take the time to market their products (no argument there), but they are starting to embrace the theatrical machine now. Just because the film won’t play in many theaters doesn’t mean you can’t still canvas big cities and push awareness.

Many of the studio’s posters have been generic at best, photo/title at worst. This one, however, is really nice. The benefit of not needing these for multiplexes is that they don’t need a lot of text. While this works for the piece itself, it does do a disservice to the film’s artistic team. At least put the documentary’s director’s name on there somewhere.

I like the use of scale with the tiny subjects dwarfed by the massive neon sign displaying the title. You literally read the tag at top and follow the lit line at left down to the arrow point to see Gay Talese and the release date. It’s economical and captivating.

There’s always ways to get around the amount of text theatrical posters are required to hold too: just make it all really small. That’s what Devon Gibbs did with The Tribes of Palos Verdes (limited December 1). The title is important, the cast will sell tickets, and the studio logos should be readable at tiny sizes (if not, that’s their brand manager’s problem). Stick it all in the middle and go wild with a concept.

The one’s simple with Maika Monroe sunbathing and Jennifer Garner shadily peering down upon her. There are obvious similarities to the international sheet for Swimming Pool, but the tension is ramped up thanks to an extreme vantage point heightening the drama. The way the pool edge angles to break up the whole’s symmetry is especially nice since its positioning also ensures the actors fall onto the center line to maintain symmetry nonetheless. And it looks real. There’s probably a ton of manipulation at work, but it’s hardly noticeable.

With BLT’s The Post (limited December 22), I will admit I needed to give it time to grow on me. At first I hated it because of the giant translucent names at top and the white border hiding the fact that those horizontal lines are stairs rather than background texture. I still hate the former, but the latter has become a sort of intriguing optical illusion that draws me in rather than completely shut me out. It’s probably a stretch, but I keep thinking about Filth and its warped perspective of having an overhead shot of cocaine lines become a straight-on shot of ladder rungs.

But just think how good this thing would look without “STREEP” and “HANKS” dwarfing things at top. Those words are almost twice the size of the title and not nearly as expertly placed (I love the bleed of white on white so “The Post” becomes part of the frame). Take off those names and this is a Top Ten contender. With them, however, it’s merely a great concept undone by celebrity commodification.

InSync Plus’ version does the right thing by keeping ratios consistent with importance: title is number one, star power number two, and filmmaker third (whether I’d argue filmmaker should be first or not). It’s all clearly there without assaulting our eyes. I even like the angle and positioning of the actors despite them looking a bit too airbrushed. It possesses good movement and intrigue despite its familiarity.

What’s not quite familiar? That would be eclipse’s Phantom Thread (limited December 25). It has the same ratio as that second The Post sheet as far as text goes (title, actors, then director) and has only two figures displayed, but the drama isn’t manufactured. It feels like an actual image captured and cropped rather than worked over. It provides us a predatory gaze masked as “occupational hazard,” subtly showcasing the notion reported weeks ago about the film having a Fifty Shades of Grey sexual vibe. This man sees this woman as an object.

That’s a lot to say with a simple image like the one presented. Much of it arrives from that full-bodied 45-degree cock of interest and judgment. We don’t need to see his face to know what it looks like. And he’s not leaning so we can see the text. The text is there because he’s leaning to view her—to visibly be seen as being in the act of seeing. The result is an insidious potential for danger, the dark title suddenly appearing horror-infused and American Psycho-esque rather than formally noble. We should expect nothing less from Paul Thomas Anderson.

And while the final sheet isn’t that much different as far as the players, the mystery is removed. The firm goes for a translucent overlap a la BOND and Nocturnal Animals—an interesting idea that still doesn’t quite work. Suddenly things become perfume ad meets romance drama. By seeing their faces we can begin assuming motivations. Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t have judgment. He has sorrow. An intense power dynamic has been transformed into love scorned.

What is your favorite December release poster? What could have used a rework?

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