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Posterized April 2019: ‘High Life,’ ‘Her Smell,’ ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, April 5, 2019 at 9:42 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.

I often think there are simply too many films being released any given weekend. When the campaign for Avengers: Endgame (April 26) works best on a computer screen where you can line all the character sheets up and discern the aesthetic meaning of its color palette and the one for Shazam! (April 5) is less than inspiring with Zachary Levi acting a fool with props, however, there can’t be too many because there’s more to look forward to than what we’re going to see anyway. These films don’t need inspired artwork because the opening date is literally the only thing that matters.

The same can be said about remakes of Pet Sematary (April 5), Hellboy (April 12)—although the latter said screw it and went crazy nonetheless (see below)—and to a lesser extent Laika’s Missing Link (April 12). That’s why the indie scene with original works is so crucial to the longevity of posters as an art form. It’s the small stuff looking to standout that has the need to risk everything to be seen. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, there’s a chance you remember.

Peas in a pod

One way to get noticed: sex. So Kustom Creative puts Félix Maritaud front and center in the throes of ecstasy for Sauvage/Wild (limited April 10). Realizing that the words “Graphic” and “Raw” will be read to infer upon what this scene shows outside of its tight crop, they’re allowed to focus more on the face, sweat, and spirit instead. A blurred mustache at top right is all that’s necessary to create a story. The open mouth and closed eyes taking up the left half of the page enough to designate the star’s pleasure. You want to see more? Buy a ticket.

Sex is also what Gravillis Inc. uses to sell the new-adult romance adaptation After (April 12). It’s not surprising since the book series on which it’s based is often compared to Fifty Shades of Grey and apparently deals with the aftermath of losing one’s virginity. Rather than allude to the sexual tension like the marketing for that trilogy, however, this one brings us right into the act.

What’s great about this first poster is the way it simultaneously shows the kiss and censors its participants. This plays into the assumed youth of the protagonists—hiding their eyes so as to hide their identities—and provides a welcome dose of negative space to place the title. Either we settle on the name before coming up for air to see the embrace or we start there and slowly make our way down like a camera pan giving its actors some privacy. Both options are effective.

The final sheet loses that dance between viewer and subject. Here everything is out in the open and we’re simply forced to watch. What had mystery now almost seems comical with a tattooed kid feigning “bad boy” cred and its glamour shot lighting making us think someone will yell “Cut!” so we can see the crew just out-of-frame.

Little Woods (limited April 19) changes gears here by utilizing an atmospheric blend of overlays. Its mystery lies in the parallel scenes of fire amongst the trees above and foreboding figure silhouetted in the dark below. Where the two women factor in is anyone’s guess, those two moments frozen in their heads as memories still haunting them despite being (literally and figuratively) behind them.

It’s a captivating sheet with a great condensed, boxy sans serif font that appears to be expanding further in front of us. What’s most interesting, though, is how this design might reveal NEON’s hand as far as aesthetic goes since it is so similar in style to AllCity’s Gemini. You can’t blame them as the ethereal quality does stray far from the glossy photo sheen of most movie theater wall art. And you can’t blame the agency for giving them something they know they probably will like.

The couple of the month, however, comes courtesy of The Posterhouse and their one-sheet for J.T. LeRoy (limited April 26). Those who know the story know that the two women on the poster are both the titular author and not. So it’s great to see them dressed similarly (hat and sunglasses) despite very obviously being Kristen Stweart and Laura Dern. And for those who don’t know the story, well everything they need is right there.

First you have the faux book spine to depict the literary craft at its back. Then you have the actors themselves in their matching wardrobe. And last the watercolor blotches that turn the whole into some sort of photographic Rorschach test. What do you see? Two women? One man? A lie? Or the truth hiding in plain sight? It’s too bad that all the text makes it so the central image can’t breathe because it’s a good one without it.

Ominous forces

Ominous forces don’t always have to be devils and demons. Sometimes the limelight of fame and fortune can portend even worse things for a protagonist. I think B O N D does a great job presenting this concept with their poster for Teen Spirit (limited April 12). They could have just slapped a photo of Elle Fanning on a stage to get at the musical nature of the film and yet they decide to bring things close and freeze her at a moment of calm and perhaps fright. She’s not belting lyrics here. She’s either at a quiet moment or staring off into the distance at something or someone she didn’t count on being there.

The purple light and neon title call to mind Nicholas Winding Refn and honestly this could have easily been inspired by his collaboration with Fanning on The Neon Demon. We can tell this character’s journey to live her dream isn’t going to be cheery because of the colors, shadows, and contrast providing drama rather than success. This is more electric dread than poppy excess.

Hail Satan? (limited April 19) kind of does the exact opposite by taking its dark material and making it relatably light. This is Black Phillip as the Statue of Liberty—freedom of religion fought for in a country that more and more pretends to be Catholic rather than the melting pot promised by its Constitution.

So we’re not laughing at the juxtaposition as much as letting it remind us that the Satantic Temple has as many rights as the Catholic Church. It must because there’s no point otherwise? Let this animal become a symbol of hope because that’s exactly what it is. The institution has spoken to a nation of unrest and positioned Satan as a voice of reason. He is now asking for your tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning.

Leave it then to Hellboy (April 12) to reclaim the horror of Hell and place it back to the realm of fantasy—despite also giving it the potential to be savior rather than destroyer. This reboot is the type of property that doesn’t need a huge marketing push beyond recognition and dates, yet LA went all-out in creating a massive campaign with unique aesthetics.

To me the more photo-real teaser is the cream of the crop because it embraces the chiaroscuro of flames in darkness to beautiful effect with a formidable subject and a gorgeous crown. There’s malice here in direct contrast to the hokey comic font of the title—a glimpse at what might be if this hero starts fighting for the wrong side.

Compare it to the full sheet and its mishmash of characters to see just how much better less is than more. The red washes everything out until it becomes a boring tint scale instead of a depiction of characters. I’m not sure you can get anything or worth out of this muddled mess.

So good on them for traveling outside the box with a surreal painting meets cartoon hybrid of demons taking Hellboy apart and the regal profile in blood of a Hellboy in reverie. These both take the character out of the Hollywood machine and allow him to put his emotions, history, and fears on display. This is a story about a devil nurtured to be better than his nature. The artwork should reflect that internal battle.

It’s P+A’s The Wind (limited April 5) that I enjoy most in this section, however. This is a thriller with an unseen and unknown entity wreaking havoc on those forced to remain in the desolate plains of unpopulated territories out west. Maybe the title describes the reality of what frightens the woman standing in that doorway or perhaps it’s merely the vehicle on which the more malicious darkness rides to claim its victims. Either way it’s not quite coming for her since it’s already there.

The sheet is a huge evolutionary leap from the original festival piece thanks to the added budget afforded by a distributor. That’s not to say it’s inherently better, though, since this black and white gem does well to express the film’s mood to audiences. It’s more obscure as far as narrative is concerned, but there’s no mistaking the unease you’re about to experience when placing a woman dressed in white and covered in blood at the center of the page.

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15 Films to See in April

Written by Jordan Raup, April 1, 2019 at 9:26 am 

Considering how packed the fall slate can be, distributors often hold their stranger, bolder films for a spring release when they have the opportunity to better thrive. That’s certainly the case this April, when some of the most daring releases will hit theaters, along with some promising studio fare, must-see documentaries, and more.

Matinees to See: The Wind (4/5), Suburban Birds (4/5), Pet Sematary (4/5), Sauvage/Wild (4/10), Dogman (4/12), Teen Spirit (4/12), Girls of the Sun (4/12), Wild Nights with Emily (4/12), Rafiki (4/19), Little Woods (4/19), Carmine Street Guitars (4/24), JT LeRoy (4/26), and The White Crow (4/26)

15. Mary Magadalene (Garth Davis; April 12)

Chalk this one up to mere curiosity more than anything else. The downfall of The Weinstein Company meant that a number of films were left by the wayside, waiting to be picked up by other distributors. One that has taken awhile is Mary Magdalene, a Biblical drama from Garth Davis (Lion). After getting an Easter-timed released elsewhere last year, it’ll now open in the U.S. around that time this year, courtesy of IFC Films. Starring Rooney Mara as the title character and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus, I’ll be curious to see two of our finest actors in yet another collaboration.

14. Shazam! (David Sandberg; April 5)

While there’s a certain superhero film that is on most radars, we have to say this DC offering looks to bring a much greater deal of fun. Jared Mobarak said in his review, “Horror director David F. Sandberg is the perfect choice to bring this character to fruition because of these nightmarish themes. The sins’ creature design is memorably grotesque and the sense of apprehension as far as Billy living up to a destiny he never asked for is palpable thanks to a resonant backstory rooted in abandonment. That horror mindset leading to effective scare tactics is also perfect for the humor inherent to material centering on a fourteen-year-old with the physique of a thirty-something and God-like powers at his fingertips.”

13. Fast Color (Julia Hart; April 18)

As superhero films dominate the Hollywood tentpole marketplace, smaller productions are finding more interesting ways to expand the storytelling boundaries of such tales. This year, Julia Hart follows up her excellent drama Miss Stevens (which was a break-out role for Timothée Chalamet) with her own take on superheroes in Fast Color. Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a woman with special abilities that must go on the run, the film premiered at SXSW last year and will now arrive this month.

12. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (Terry Gilliam; April 10)

Throughout his career as a director, Terry Gilliam has aimed to portray the outlandish and disorderly in imaginative, transportive ways. His greatest achievements are able to synthesize less a narrative coherence and more an emotional attachment to a character’s eccentric journey through various stages of bewilderment. His long-burning passion project The Man Who Killed Don Quixote–finally seeing the light of day some 30 years later–clearly aims to be an epic descent into chaos, but the adventure often has trouble conveying a sense of entertaining spectacle to go along with the frivolous bafflement. Still, there’s enough to recommend here, especially for those curious to what exactly Gilliam has been dreaming up the last few decades.

11. Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (Pamela B. Green: April 26)

“Alice Guy Blaché helped invent cinema as we know it,” Manohla Dargis recently wrote in The New York Times. The early cinema pioneer, who broke into the industry at the age of 21, went on to direct over 1,000 films, yet largely seems to be written out of film history, at least when compared to her male peers. A new documentary, narrated by Jodie Foster, now aims to correct that narrative with what looks to be an essential, empowering look at early movie-making.

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The Future of Filmmaking: A Comprehensive Preview of New Directors/New Films 2019

Written by The Film Stage, March 26, 2019 at 8:57 am 

Spike Lee, Bi Gan, Steven Spielberg, Kelly Reichardt, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Mia Hansen-Løve, Terence Davies, Jia Zhangke, Pedro Almodóvar, Lynne Ramsay, Tsai Ming-liang, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Guillermo del Toro, Lee Chang-dong, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and Christopher Nolan. Those are just a few of the filmmakers who brought their early work to New Directors/New Films. Now in its 48th edition, the New York City-based film festival continues to spotlight emerging directors representing the future of filmmaking and this year’s edition is particularly eclectic.

We’ve covered all twenty-four of the features playing at the festival, taking place March 27 through April 7 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. Along with gems hailing from Berlinale, Cannes, Locarno, Rotterdam, TIFF, Sundance, and beyond, the festival also features one world premiere (End of the Century) as well as two shorts programs.

Check out our comprehensive coverage below along with links to full reviews.

All Good (Eva Trobisch)

What immense health German cinema has found itself in lately. Since the turn of the decade, audiences of a certain ilk have grown accustomed to seeing names like Ade, Petzold, Grisebach, Schanelec, and Köhler show up on art-house and festival screens. We may soon need to add Eva Trobisch to that list. Yes, if All Good (Alles ist gut)her snare drum taut and timely feature debut–is anything to go by, the East Berlin-born writer-director should provide that rich vein of deutsche Regisseure will its latest transfusion. – Rory O. (full review)

Angelo (Markus Schleinzer)

There is no question that white people are and have historically been capable of racism. The value of Angelo resides in its ability to convey those prejudices that are generally ignored or made invisible within the film medium and the art industry as a whole. Director Markus Schleinzer depicts the true story of Angelo Soliman, a kidnapped African child—sold into the 18th century Austrian upper-class as the surrogate son/ pet of a grieving Countess—who futilely becomes a part of upper-class society but not quite an equal member as a “royal moor,” performing for the enjoyment of his court. With a dry sense of humor Schleinzer—who notably worked as Michael Haneke’s casting director—expands on the direct sort of racism generally understood by arthouse audiences by further identifying the unethical ways which art has flourished under that colonial moralist framework which congratulated white aristocrats for their perceived righteous aim of “civilizing” colonized people. – Jason O. (full review)

Bait (Mark Jenkin)

For his debut feature, writer-director-cinematographer Mark Jenkin takes a parable about a contemporary fishing community under threat from wealthy outsiders and presents it in a style reminiscent of documentaries of the early 20th century, namely Robert J. Flaherty’s 1934 film Man of Aran. The result is titled Bait, a punky, pastoral little movie that draws from the mysticism and iconography of documentaries like Flaherty’s but with a narrative and ironic wit that is inescapably of the here and now. Put it this way: the director may have had those films in mind when he chose to shoot Bait on 16mm and have it processed by hand–for purposes of wear and tear–but perhaps less so when he wrote the scene in which a man on a stag party boards a boat dressed in a large penis costume. – Rory O. (full review)

Belonging (Burak Çevik)

The nature of promise displayed by a new filmmaker can sometimes be an inherently risky proposition. For every Orson Welles or Jacques Rivette, who burst out of the gate and kept making revelatory film after revelatory film, there are countless others who showed an early mastery before all but disappearing. This, of course, makes institutions like New Directors/New Films all the more important for cataloging these talents, but it can occasionally make one wonder if a real discovery will continue to bear fruit in the films and years to come. However, it is important not to let these concerns color the film at hand, and to continue to keep an eye out for such bolts from the blue. Burak Çevik’s Belonging, which premiered in this year’s Berlinale Forum and will play at ND/NF, is an almost ideal example of this phenomenon. – Ryan S. (full review)

The Chambermaid (Lila Aviles)

Set entirely within the confines of a luxurious Mexico City hotel, mostly in rooms and service corridors, The Chambermaid is a fascinating observational drama and occasional allegory for the haves and have-nots. Gabriela Cartol stars as Evelina, a 24-year old single mother working on her GED in a program provided (and later canceled) by the hotel’s union. Like Blue Crush, another film that contained explicit scenes of hotel maids cleaning up after guests, The Chambermaid doesn’t shy away from the usual demands of the job, from a guest who insists on having his room stocked with five times the amenities he needs to a wealthy Argentina woman who calls Eveline to her room to essentially babysit. When her son takes to Eveline, she’s given a tentative offer to leave the hotel behind for a new life in Argentina. – John F. (full review)

Clemency (Chinonye Chukwu)

From Escape from Alcatraz to Cool Hand Luke to The Shawshank Redemption, cinema is rich with not only prison films focused on the plight of the prisoner, but also depicting wardens in an evil light. Clemency, winner of the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival, flips the script in both ways, both turning the spotlight on a warden and painting her in an empathetic, complicated light. Led by Alfre Woodard, she gives a riveting, emotional performance as the Bernadine Williams, a woman who is stuck between the demands of her grueling job and a disintegrating marriage, and can’t give her all to both. – Jordan R. (full review)

End of the Century (Lucio Castro)

Two travelers—Ocho, an aspiring poet from New York, and Javi, a Spanish director from Germany—spend a single day together in Barcelona in the opening act of Lucio Castro’s debut feature End of the Century. Though they converse as if they had just met and hook up with the awkward nervousness of first-time lovers, it is clear that there is nothing casual or chance about their encounter. Their chemistry gives it away. Each layer added to the story—a second act prologue of their first meeting and a third act finale of their future—provides no answers and further complicates things, expanding the boundaries and limitations of time and space in order to properly represent their enigmatic relationship to one another. End of the Century is a love story drenched in a nostalgic magical realism that constantly shifts its own logic, as if recognizing the futility of containing its uncontainable romance. – Jason O. (full review)

A Family Submerged (María Alche)

Grieving takes on a disquietingly beautiful tone in Argentinian actress-turned-cineaste María Alche’s directorial debut A Family Submerged (Familia Sumergida). After her sister’s untimely death, Marcela (Mercedes Moran), grapples with a middle life crisis, a moribund marriage, and a strained relationship with her three children. Dream-like memories of late relatives and loved ones offer a tenuous solace to loneliness, and cinematographer Hélène Louvart (of Beach Rats, Happy as Lazzaro and Maya’s fame, to name but three of her most recent works) perceptively paints Marcela’s apartment in a hazy light and dusty colors, an aquarium-like universe submerged in recollections and family rituals. Lucrecia Martel aficionados will no doubt spot familiar names in Alche’s debut, starting with Alche herself, who had taken the title role in Martel’s 2004 The Holy Girl, and Mercedes Moran, whose first collaboration with Martel dates back to the auteur’s 2001 feature debut, La Ciénaga. But the connections between Alche’s cinematic universe and Martel’s, here credited as a creative consultant, cut a lot deeper. A sense of physical and spiritual decay permeates Familia Sumergida, the same that served as a leitmotiv for Martel’s excursions into bourgeois solitude – yet the world Alche conjures speaks its own language: one of oneiric choreographies and mesmeric apparitions. – Leo G.

Fausto (Andrea Bussmann)

A perturbing reimagination of Goethe’s fable of human hubris, Fausto, Andrea Bussmann’s follow-up to her 2016 Tales of Two Who Dreamt (co-directed with Nicolás Pereda) unfurls as an ethnography of an idyllic stretch of Mexico’s Oaxacan coast and its inhabitants–humans and animals, dead or otherwise. It is a clash of irreconcilable worldviews and epistemologies: echoes of the land’s ancestral myths and otherworldly entities teem with the frustrated quest of total knowledge that animated Goethe’s work as much as the beach-stranded men Bussmann trails behind. They are foreign guests in a world that resists all attempts at subjugation–a universe that constantly seesaws between present and past until the distinction ceases to hold any meaning, and the ethnography ascends to a timeless terrain. Late at night, Bussmann listens to her characters recount anecdotes that draw from a supernatural milieu. There’s the story of the dead who must pay their dues before leaving for the hereafter; magical houses that pop up in the jungle promising travelers endless if ephemeral riches; and psychics who can communicate with animals. Shot in digital but transferred to 16mm, Fausto exists as a site of resistance, a search into dark territories that simultaneously expands and exposes the limits of what can be known–and how knowledge can be passed on to others. – Leo G.

Genesis (Philippe Lesage)

In the grand scheme of things, teenage love affairs–together with all the raptures, jitters, devastations associated with them–probably don’t count that much. But then again probably everyone can relate to the sheer groundbreaking force of that first quickening of the heart, of that blinding rush of hormones that compels us to act with a recklessness that we’ll later learn to forever suppress. Quebecois filmmaker Philippe Lesage’s Genesis is an ode to that time in our lives when we still paid more attention to impulses than consequences. Trifling perhaps in terms of subject matter and scope, but it absolutely mesmerizes. – Zhuo-Ning S. (full review)

Honeyland (Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska)

The need for fidelity characterizes Honeyland, a documentary co-directed by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska (in their feature debut) which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and won the festival’s documentary World Cinema Grand Jury prize. For more or less the entirety of the film, its focus rests upon Hatidze, a Macedonian woman in her fifties who lives with her ailing mother in a deserted mountain village and makes both her living and passion out of harvesting honey. The various synopses describe her as the last traditional female beekeeper in Europe, but this is never laid out in text or voiceover, as the images and moments are presented without any overt intervention by the documentarians. – Ryan S. (full review)

Joy (Sudabeh Mortezai)

One need not take a class on the cinema of Todd Solondz to suspect that there may not be a great deal of joyfulness in a film called Joy (unless, of course, someone like Jennifer Lawrence is involved.) Indeed, the second narrative feature of Sudabeh Mortezai–an Austrian filmmaker of Iranian extraction–shows us a world with little time for life’s lighter emotions. The Joy of the title is Mortezai’s protagonist, a Nigerian woman (played by impressive newcomer Anwulika Alphonsus), who made her way to Europe to find a better life but instead found the world of forced prostitution, horrifically trapped in a spiral of debt to the very people who brought her over. – Rory O. (full review)

A Land Imagined (Yeo Siew Hua)

Cooked with a broth of a few too many ideas, A Land Imagined is a so-close-to-being-great Singapore neo-noir that does all the right things, but simply does too many of them in its snappy 95-minute running time. Only his second feature, Singapore-born writer-director Yeo Siew Hua was awarded the Gold Leopard in Locarno for his enigmatic new film. His story tells of a detective who arrives on a land reclamation site to investigate how and why one of the workers disappeared. What Yeo presents is remarkable for its style and ambition but also for its scattered folly, a world of Lynchian dreams and techno-surrealism that somehow echoes both Chinatown and Wong Kar-wai. It’s also a tale buckling at the knees under all that symbolism and with at least one too many loose ends left dangling. – Rory O. (full review)

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‘The Juniper Tree’ Introduces Björk’s Alien Abilities in Mystical Fairy Tale

Written by Willow Maclay, March 13, 2019 at 12:40 pm 

We’ve devoured the land of our planet in an effort to call it our home. We’ve pulled the resources from her body, filled her oceans with litter, and damaged her atmosphere all in the foolish assumption that it was ours to do with as we pleased. We are small, and the Earth is not ours. She will outlive all of us, and we’ll merely be a fairy tale, a blip on her history. Most movies don’t reckon with the older, more mythical stance we held with nature in generations past, but Nietzchka Keene’s The Juniper Tree does. Shot on black-and-white 35mm, her 1990 picture charts the story of a ruptured family trying to gain some semblance of peace in an environment infused with mystical renderings of ghosts, witches, and moral curses acting as karmic gods.

The Juniper Tree takes its DNA from the Grimm Fairy Tale of the same name while ushering in new elements that stand apart from other adaptations or reflections. Its narrative bones are essentially the same: a father and son struggling in the wake of the mother’s death, a remarriage, and tension between the new mother and step-son. Keene smartly realizes that the cinematographic identity should be kin with Ingmar Bergman. Its visual language is built upon nature: the rough, hilly environments, sweeping waterfalls, and run-down shacks made of rocks and straw recall the same sensibility found when Max Von Sydow would encounter Death in The Seventh Seal–which is to say she understands The Juniper Tree must have death in its blood because her cinematic national identity demands it, much like the nature of Grimm Fairy Tales.

It all begins with a sunken witch and two sisters. Margit, played by soon to be mega-star Björk Guðmundsdóttir, and her elder sister Katla (Bryndis Petra Bragadóttir), discover the dead body of their mother (Guðrún Gísladóttir), who has been murdered due to allegations of witchcraft. The image of the dead woman floating in the peaceful harbor of a creek bed perfectly conveys how Keene will juggle naturalism and mysticism: she insists the image is otherworldy by later asserting that these women do have spell-crafting powers through a relationship with nature, which extends the creek into something more. By immediately gesturing towards the mystical, her film becomes larger than it actually is and opens it up to genre settings where anything could realistically happen. Realism is only applied through the smallness of our relationship to nature and the ways in which these two women bend to the Earth. After discovering their dead mother, they flee town and Katia begins to seduce Johann (Valdimar Örn Flygenring), a much older man grieving the loss of his wife. While Johann quickly falls for Katia, his son, Jónas (Geirlaug Sunna Þormar), doesn’t warm up to the young woman and resents her for trying to take the place of his mother.

What follows is essentially the plotting of the fairy tale, but twisted under the weight of Northern European aesthetics. The most interesting dynamic, however, lies in the debut film performance of a young Björk and how it ties into her subsequent career. When musicians turn to acting, they tend to run far away from their musical personae or aesthetic in hopes to prove themselves as “real” performers. Justin Timberlake, Cher, and Will Smith are a few, but typically the best examples arise from musicians willing to mesh their musical identity and their film presence into one image. Björk does so beautifully in The Juniper Tree, her most notorious performance in Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Darkand in her music videos. Her acting all comes from the same primal place as her music, and even though it has evolved over the years into a meshing of technological and mystical, her identity in the late ’80s and early ’90s stems from a real place of nature.

Her voice, when really reaching for the heavens, could pierce the sky, but she can be gentle enough to pass for a bird. The dexterity of this voice comes through in her acting, and it is a tool Björk uses to convey emotion. In The Juniper Tree, her rendering of the younger sister Margit is thoughtfully in tune with all the creatures of God’s earth. Margit can understand the birds, and Björk spends a vast majority of the film singing along, not so much conveying what’s needed through dialogue but in how her voice lilts in song. Keene separates her from the other characters through visions, and with the work of primitive special effects, Margit can unlock something supernatural that the other characters cannot. When she sees her dead mother revisit her in one scene, she sings gently, and suddenly her mother has a hole in her chest, reminiscent of some effects in Twin Peaks: The Return, and she sticks her hand through. Her mother smiles. One gets the sense that Margit knows something we cannot comprehend–the same feeling evoked by Björk’s music. She’s in touch with something only she can grasp.

These stronger elements of The Juniper Tree mostly render the films more difficult, slower passages less worrisome. It would be foolish to call this “slow cinema,” but it occasionally plays as such, and even a 78-minute runtime feels overlong. Björk’s co-stars struggle to carry the same presence: while they do an adequate job telling this classic story of karma, they cannot command the same attention Björk does through voice. Seeing an early example of this developing artist’s alien abilities is enough reason to recommend the film, but doesn’t make the entire thing completely worthwhile. A smart filmmaker though Keene may be, with a real understanding of what she wants to do with the camera and the form, The Juniper Tree ultimately boils down to whether or not you can fall under the trance of its mysticism and how much you appreciate the artistry of Björk. Fortunately, I take interest in both.

A restoration of The Juniper Tree opens at Metrograph on March 15.

Posterized March 2019: ‘Us,’ ‘Transit,’ ‘Black Mother,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, March 1, 2019 at 9:21 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 five Friday month so prepare yourself for a ton of new films to hit theaters. From Marvel to Disney (wait, those are the same) to Netflix drops and Sundance hits (already), there will be something for everyone—including those who’ve waited months to years for their highly anticipated festival darling to make it to town (Jafar Panahi’s 3 Faces hits in limited release on March 8).

The positive of this surplus of work is being able to talk solely about the posters I really like. All sixteen below are successes for different reasons, so hopefully what they’re advertising ends up proving just as good.

Title placement

It may not be the best sheet of the month (see the hard-edged cutouts of actors at the bottom), but Urgency Company’s festival poster for Giant Little Ones (limited March 1) does well to capture the film’s modern tone. The bright yellow and pink makes the whole an in-your-face experience while lending a fun poppy feel. We can almost hear the music coming from Josh Wiggins’ headphones as he cycles towards us.

For how confident the kids at the bottom look, however, it’s the crop of Wiggins’ face at top that really gets to the heart of the film’s handling of complex issues concerning adolescence and sexuality—he’s literally pushing himself outside of the box attempting to hold him in frame. Add the borderline thriller font and there arrives a duality moving beyond simple “fun” to the razor-sharp edge of social circles, gossip, and misinformation at the center of this authentic high school drama.

You simply don’t get the same vitality with the official one-sheet hitting theaters now. This one gets more at the main narrative conflict between the two best friends depicted, but it loses the spark and excitement that surrounds them.

By contrast, Palaceworks’ Combat Obscura (limited March 15) excels because of its quieter nature. This is about unfiltered war from the cameramen who are there to shoot footage as a means of recruitment. It’s a glimpse behind the curtain that maybe we were never supposed to be allowed to see. So a severity is necessary to project that truth. A bold black box with white text sufficiently supplies just such an aesthetic by ensuring we understand the weight of what we’re about to see.

Yet the designers aren’t afraid to add flourishes too. The little camera corners around the title subtly augment the craft. The digitized font lends a professionalism and authority that could only be more Orwellian if some was redacted under thick black lines. And while the pixelation of the soldier may give off a videogame vibe, it works because you can almost sense he’s about to disappear. He’s not a recruitment tool in this context, but a casualty glitching out to be forgotten when no longer of use.

For Le Cercle Noir’s Knife+Heart (limited March 15), things get a little weirder. It’s wild what a matte painting of colorful stars can add thematically—you simultaneously get a sense of tone, genre, and atmosphere. Having Vanessa Paradis put under a similar hue with her head titled back to receive a kiss from a demonic looking bird only helps cement this notion. We’ve practically been given a painted Gothic Rock album cover that might be hampered by the neon glow of its title if the quirky name and use of a plus sign as ampersand didn’t increase the overall allure.

Alphaville’s old school throwback exudes a completely different sensibility. Gone is the otherworldly nature of the unknown in order to highlight a down and dirty low-fi horror vibe. If this movie is anything like director Yann Gonzalez’ previous work, however, the phosphorescent hum and glamour shot pose embodies that style to perfection. Maybe he’s gone in a different direction with this one and Alphaville is correct to shift the narrative. Is one wrongly banking on his past work to earn a glimpse? Or has the other completely missed the boat? We’ll have to watch to find out.

At the end of the day, though, it’s Woman at War (limited March 1) that takes the crown in this segment of eccentric font selections. You might not think it on its own, but putting that font next to an electricity tower gives it a jolt of juice to vibrate in place. It becomes the potential energy so the sparks to its left can show the kinetic. And it’s only after looking at this unleashed power that we follow the lines down to the bottom right corner to see the figure ready to shoot an arrow into the sky. Is she the culprit or perhaps a prospective hero?

To shift our focus to The Refinery’s variation on this same theme is to understand just how dynamic the first is. This poster has all the same elements from a different angle. The electric tower is straight on now so its lines can’t lead our eyes. The font is incongruous with a flowing serif that prevents it from integrating with the image beneath. And while the electricity itself is rendered more realistically, it loses its sense of danger. This is a science project whereas the other was an act of God. Drama has been replaced by boredom.

Austere portraiture

I couldn’t quite get a read on Captive State (March 15) from its trailer, but this poster from ARSONAL has me going all-in. It’s full of intrigue with Ashton Sanders standing still in a cloud of red dust because we don’t know what’s going on. Was that gas deployed by the army for cover? Is it poisonous? Alien? Pull back a bit and you start to see it take shape with tentacle arms—almost like a spider on its hind-legs readying to reach out and grab him with the rest.

It’s a perfect tease with nothing but a cryptic phrase split between top and bottom as though a comment and reply. The title is nice and small to be seen against the red without overpowering the whole. And only those eagle-eyed folks finding themselves drawn in closer will see the more exciting stand-in for director Rupert Wyatt’s name: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, itself a bit misleading since people remember Matt Reeves’ Dawn and War best.

Somehow this tease says a heck of a lot more than the final sheet. Besides the addition of the credits box at bottom, we receive nothing new. The size dynamic between alien and human is removed and the beautiful smoke pattern is replaced by electronic glitching that makes no sense. This is a view from inside a car looking out the broken windshield, right? So are we robots with malfunctioning eyes? The execution just isn’t there.

If only we could get our hopes up that Netflix would continue hiring artists like Akiko Stehrenberger to illustrate its studio’s posters. After all, they’re the one’s we can assume have seemingly unlimited budgets to let their films be advertised with creativity rather than template analytics. At least we can bask in the glory that is Rhubarb’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Netflix March 1) in the meantime since it reveals what could be.

The sheet is memorable for more than its incomparable aesthetic, though. There’s also the brilliant composition with agriculture pushed back by the wind and Maxwell Simba pushing himself through it. There’s the delicate use of layers for depth as the title moves below the foreground to be slightly covered while the “Based on” line rises above everything. And don’t ignore the wonderful off-white palette that carries through to the frame around it with an equal amount of space above and below for the important names and studio logo.

It’s this type of handmade flavor that really excels amongst the glossy photography most theaters display. So while it might be a Dolby Cinema-specific advertisement, LA’s Captain Marvel (March 8) transcends its own main campaign. The fact that Michael Muller is credited with photography astounds because I would have bet money this was an illustration. The way LA saturates its colors and handles its iconography lends it a recruitment poster feel that really highlights the heroism and legend-like status of its subject.

The two team-up on the poster at right too with a comparable effectiveness if devoid of the enduring quality seen the above. This one is more cartoonish and photo-based, its colors more vibrant and modern so as to look more at-home in a theater than as an artifact in a history museum.

To go from one to the other is a noticeable shift, but the drop isn’t nearly as far as from the second to eclipse’s more traditional collage. Just because you put Brie Larson on the page twice doesn’t mean surrounding her with all those men won’t send a message this film should be working hard to dismantle.

But the poster that screams timeless in this quartet the most is definitely Sunset (limited March 22). The light on Juli Jakab’s face is that of a classic Hollywood picture, the elongated text seemingly from the same era. There’s drama despite no context and intrigue without action. We’re merely gazing upon a woman with a determined look caught in a crowd, desperate to know what she sees and what she’s going to do next. It feels as though there’s this epic sense of scale with nothing but a close-up. That’s true visual power.

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The Best Films of Sundance Film Festival 2019

Written by The Film Stage, February 4, 2019 at 9:31 am 

With over 50 films viewed and more coverage coming from the Sundance Film Festival, it’s time to wrap up the first major cinema event in 2019. We already got the official jury and audience winners (here), and now it’s time to highlight our favorites.

One will find our favorites (in alphabetical order), followed by the rest of our reviews (from best to worst, including previously premiered features). Check out everything below and stay tuned to our site, and specifically Twitter, for acquisition and release date news on the below films in the coming months.

American Factory (Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert)

When the Rust Belt was hit hard in the financial crisis of 2008, the blue-collar workers of Dayton, Ohio found a savior in a Chinese billionaire. Six years after the lifeblood that was a General Motors plant was shut down, the car-glass manufacturers Fuyao opened up their first American factory in the town, meaning thousands of new job opportunities. The promise of a steady income lifts the spirits of the workers, but an East vs. West clash of working methods quickly emerges, causing labor division, personal strife, and some unexpected camaraderie amongst the workforce. Directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert–who were Oscar-nominated for another look into the recession, The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant–capture this conflict in it all its complications, humor, and heartbreak in their thoroughly engrossing documentary American Factory. – Jordan R. (full review)

Cold Case Hammarskjöld (Mads Brügger)

In 1961, Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld was killed in a plane crash in Africa under mysterious circumstances. Beginning as an investigation into his still-unsolved death, the trail that Mads Brügger follows in Cold Case Hammarskjöld is one that expands to implicate some of the world’s most powerful governments in unfathomably heinous crimes. Without revealing the specifics of the jaw-dropping revelations in this thoroughly engrossing documentary, if there’s any justice, what is brought to light will cause global attention and a demand for some kind of retribution. – Jordan R. (full review)

Divine Love (Gabriel Mascaro)

Last year’s Sundance Film Festival opened with Tamara Jenkins’s Private Life, a thoughtful, witty drama exploring the struggles of infertility faced by a couple in New York City. Premiering at this year’s festival, Gabriel Mascaro’s strange, alluring Divine Love examines similar hardships, albeit in an entirely different place, time, and aesthetic conceit. Set in the near-future of 2027 in Brazil, Joana (Dira Paes) is a deeply religious woman who is trying to conceive a child by any means necessary. Through his exquisite vision, Mascaro tells a curious tale of spiritual commitment, marital strife, and the blurred separation of church and state, leading to an ultimately surprising, powerful conclusion. – Jordan R. (full review)

The Farewell (Lulu Wang)

There’s something special about The Farewell. Written and directed by Lulu Wang and starring Awkwafina, this is the kind of film that feels specific and universal all at once. The film opens with the title card: “Based on an actual lie.” Wang builds this narrative from personal experience: her family chose to hide a cancer diagnosis from her grandmother (Zhao Shuzhen) and spend the final days celebrating instead of mourning. Or at least that was the idea. A fairly elaborate plan is hatched, involving a sham wedding that forces an abrupt reunion back in China. – Dan M. (full review)

Hail, Satan? (Penny Lane)

Amusingly, Penny Lane’s documentary Hail Satan? is interested in clarifying one critical misconception about the Satanic Temple: its members don’t, in fact, worship the Devil at all. Rather, the organization—or religion, as they’d prefer to be called—is, essentially, an ultimately altruistic group of people, typically self-proclaimed misfits, who wish to highlight the double standards of the so-called separation of church and state—all while co-opting Satanic iconography to get a rise out of Christian conservatives. – Jake H. (full review)

Hala (Minhal Baig)

Geraldine Viswanathan, welcome to the rest of your career. The young star, who stole scenes in last year’s comedy Blockers, is the lead in Hala, written and directed by Minhal Baig. She plays the titular character, a Muslim teenager coming to terms with her parents’ expectations, her religion’s expectations, and the expectations she has for herself. Sundance has offered plenty of coming-of-age stories throughout the years. Few are as effective as this one. – Dan M. (full review)

Knock Down the House (Rachel Lears)

Rachel Lears’ Knock Down the House is a fun, emotionally powerful, inspiring look at the incredible wave of would-be politicians that sought, in 2018, to challenge status quo Democrats and enact meaningful change—all while refusing money from Wall Street fat cats and big business super PACs. Jake H. (full review)

Light From Light (Paul Harrill)

If the jump scares and horror set pieces of Paranormal Activity or The Conjuring franchises were exchanged for an authentic reckoning of the tangled emotions the departed may leave behind, you have something close to Light From Light. There’s a palpable tension to this story of paranormal investigating, but rather than injecting the expected terror, the film’s power lies in never seeing ghost hunting depicted so grounded and character-driven before. This is the kind of film where the minutiae of insurance policies are discussed before any haunting may begin. Those going into Paul Harrill’s second feature looking for frights will be rewarded with something more substantial: an experience rich with atmosphere and humanity, and drama ultimately more enlightening than the cheap thrills that pervade the dime-a-dozen ghost stories we’ve seen before.Jordan R. (full review)

Luce (Julias Onah)

Star of the debate team, straight A student, soon to be high school valedictorian: from his handsome looks and stellar CV, Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is the shining example of the all-American teenager—minus, of course, his history as a child adopted from war-torn Eritrea. As a name, Luce means “light” in Latin, the idea being Luce, a now-beaming youth in the Arlington, Va., area, was removed from unimaginable darkness. But there’s another spin on the allegory here that’s just as meaningful: when people are placed into boxes—stereotypes, to be clear—only so much light can filter in and out of them.Jake H. (full review)

The Mustang (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre)

Can we talk about Matthias Schoenaerts? The Belgian actor made a splash on the festival circuit with Bullhead in 2011, leading to roles–both lead and supporting–in everything from Rust & Bone to Red Sparrow. Since his breakout though, he’s never matched the same attention despite a decade’s worth of good work. With Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s The Mustang, let’s hope that changes. The prison drama is a well-worn sub-genre, ripe with predictive beats and expected narrative turns. Those behind this picture are determined to subvert those expectations, and the attempt–though not fully realized–is much appreciated. – Dan M. (full review)

Native Son (Rashid Johnson)

In Native Son—artist Rashid Johnson’s feature film debut and adaptation of the 1940 Richard Wright novel of the same name—Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders finds himself once again in a similarly complex, utterly electrifying coming-of-age triptych. Fortunately, in this 2019 Sundance highlight, Sanders is given a canvas all his own: one that’s spacious enough for him to fully let loose and create that rare sort of character that feels like a force of nature. – Jake H. (full review)

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Posterized February 2019: ‘Hotel by the River,’ ‘Birds of Passage,’ ‘Cold Pursuit,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, February 1, 2019 at 9:46 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 rough month for posters thanks to an influx of sequels and remakes. I just don’t have it in me to talk about how staid the character sheets are for The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (February 8), Alita: Battle Angel (February 14), and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (February 22); how forgettable Miss Bala (February 1) is; or air-brushed and Photoshopped Fighting with My Family (February 14) and What Men Want (February 8) prove. Rounding their titles up here is enough.

Luckily there are a few gems down below to ensure things aren’t at a total loss. Let’s a give a round of applause to the small shingles providing foreign work the type of stunning artistic complements necessary to stand apart from the glossy Hollywood machine.

On the vertical axis

If you’re going to do a vertical axis collage of characters, you could do worse than The Refinery’s The Unicorn (limited February 15). Is it kind of a poor man’s Bad Times at the El Royale aesthetic that loses LA’s atmospheric mood? Sure. But I like the flatness to it with bright colors lending a graphic feel above photo-realism. This isn’t a “real” neon sign nor are the palm trees giving us a sense of place beyond drug-addled trip into psychedelia. Throw a filter on the actors so their portraiture matches the pared down periphery and you have something.

Doing a bit better on this trend is The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (limited February 8) with the artist pretty much taking the look of Empire Design’s Inglourious Basterds and giving it a more throwback illustrative sense of flair a la John Alvin and his contemporaries. I could do without the dueling Sam Elliotts, though. If you already have him in the foreground as the de facto leader of this motley crew of character actors, you don’t need a giant smiling face as a backdrop above such a somber environment.

The swastika meets bigfoot print is a nice touch albeit thrown in somewhat awkwardly. I could see it being used as an insignia of sorts either to take center stage on a teaser or interact with the laboriously long title. It’s the latter that I cringe to look at. A quick glance and you assume the articles to be The Hitler and The Bigfoot—killer of both lost in our quest to move on before fully comprehending what it is we saw.

Lords of Chaos (limited February 8) uses its vertical axis for symmetrical purposes rather than a backbone for totem heads and its poster proves a captivating one. The backdrop silhouette of Rory Culkin ruins the uniformity by being in profile, but I guess a little chaos in visual language to go with nightmarish carnage works for the theme.

The central image of a burning cathedral is provocative and beautiful in equal measure, the stylized title utilizing its mathematical palindrome to create a visual one. You feel like you can fold the page in half and somehow the knife bladed “L” and “S” will cancel each other out perfectly, the whole a demonic Rorschach test of violence and evil.

The alternate sheet by B O N D just doesn’t live up to this electricity with its subdued typography (I do love the font, though) and black and white Culkin portraiture. It’s a bit boring by comparison and frankly makes me wonder if Rory should have been cast as the new Crow.

For a good example of (mostly) full symmetry, look no further than The Gospel of Eureka (limited February 8). It’s a really simple representation for the culture clash between Evangelical and LGBT communities without any earmarks for the sort of hate and abuse we’d expect from such a pairing. This Jesus has arms wide open with a rainbow of colors providing halos as though forming a tunnel towards His light.

I love the under-saturated trees distilled into a monochrome just barely supplying depth of field above the pitch-black background. Those rainbow arcs are crisp yet thin, emanating out of the statue as radiant positive energy. The stacked title is unwieldy in its attempt to mirror the white/rainbow coupling due to its thick font, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Put them all together and you get a uniquely minimalist work that packs a surprising wealth of context.

The silent void

There is one remake/sequel this month with a pretty decent campaign: Cold Pursuit (February 8). We shouldn’t be surprised since it stars Liam Neeson, comes out in the Jan/Feb winter months, and somehow wields the straight-to-DVD qualities of lower-brow genre fare with enough gravitas to make waves at the box office. So why not give the actor’s choices some extra marketing dollars to tip them over the edge? Why not let someone design something instead of slapping faces onto a sheet of paper with fire effects?

This Americanized version of a popular Norwegian film starring Stellan Skarsgård has a key element to combat the latter trait being that it is set in the snow. No need for fires here when frostbite will suffice. So LA leans into the whiteout nature of a blizzard with the sheet, filling two-thirds of the page with weather effects before showing us Neeson dragging a dead body in front of his snowplow. It’s not the greatest variation on this compositional theme and the imagery looks really fake regardless of production value, but it stands out.

I personally prefer Empire Design’s teaser simply because of its wild subject matter. A car impaled on a tree? How can that not pique your interest? That type of death paired with the pleasantries of a “Welcome to Kehoe” sign projects the kind of tone we should expect and frankly what more do you need?

Hotel By the River (limited February 15) conversely does a much better job at the whiteout look by retaining a photo-real quality that the pasted on Neeson couldn’t. This is a scene captured rather than manufactured. The snow is real rather than a layer of translucent white superimposed above another manipulated piece.

The layout is gorgeous with two virtual silhouettes standing in the pure white field of snow, popping out to grab our attention next to a solitary tree. If for some reason you don’t see them first, the centered “V” in “River” above serves as an arrow to direct us down so their gaze can bring us back up to the town in the distance. And what a great imperfectly rendered font of circles as lights, suns, snowballs, or simple glares to both scream its name against the darkened sky and whisper its presence as it floats for a second before shimmering away.

BOND is using snow in a different way with Arctic (limited February 1). Instead of having it be a way to separate us from the scene, they use it to isolate the character at its center. It’s the perfect “survivalist” trend—an expanse of emptiness with nowhere to turn. You simply cannot match this vantage point’s dread with one that’s straight on (see the firm’s second design at right with crashed helicopter and foreboding storm clouds). The latter still gives you a destination and a sense of coming and going. The former being uniform in every direction means there is no beginning or end. You could run in circles and never know.

No matter how effective that poster proves, however, it’s the one for Styx (limited February 27) that will “wow” you. The alternate version at right is more similar in its bird’s eye view of the unknown (see The Shallows and many others before it too), but the one above taps into the psychological consequences of the scenario’s despair.

Rather than just be ocean water, its fractured triangles puzzled together create some wholly new nightmare out of time and space. Are those waves upside down? Are those swaths a rocky pattern to salvation or disjointed possibilities ready to slice you to pieces? Add the red title that isn’t afraid to get lost in the texture of reflections and foam and you will find yourself as disoriented as the character we’re sure to meet lost within. You’re lucky if you don’t get a little seasick after peering into its labyrinth too long.

Strikingly different

The whole title on its side effect doesn’t always work for myriad reasons: the letters/font leave weird negative space, the word(s) is/are too long to take up enough real estate, or the stuff put on or around it detract from the boldness of the maneuver. Donnybrook (limited February 15) doesn’t have these issues. Well, it doesn’t the way this poster’s artist handles it.

Where the effect works best is with a short word like Blind (added style points from HANDVERK for using it as an obstruction to mirror one definition of the word). Because Donnybrook is ten letters broken in half between syllables, you can stack them together for added surface area. That’s not enough to avoid the wonky angle of a “Y” and “K,” though—especially when both fall on the same end. So you flip the one half. “Donny” is read bottom to top and “Brook” top to bottom. The “Y” and “K” are now positioned kitty-corner instead of side-by-side, and our eyes continue reading the whole as a single unit by snaking around the top.

Honestly, that alone would have made this a good poster. Red text with director name in the triangle of the “K” and cast list (with subtly “top-billed” Frank Grillo raised slightlyabove the title’s horizon) alongside the “Y.” So the decision to put faces in proves another slippery slope to contend with if you’re not careful. Once again, though, the artist is up to the task with monochrome profiles exiting out from the center like the film’s world is literally born from this poster and desperate to escape.

Another design trend you see once in a while (The Greasy Strangler comes to mind) is graffiti. Sometimes it’s just a pre-packaged font superimposed atop the imagery, but other times it’s actually integrated into the scene. P+A’s Velvet Buzzsaw (Netflix February 1) is strangely similar to Greasy in its use of a frame. The reason is different (this one deals with the art gallery world), but the visual possibilities remain.

Netflix posters are tough since so often they arrive as teasers and final key-art in one because the time between announcement of release and release can be truncated. I wonder then what the next step in this campaign might have been. This is a good start, but also a rather sterile one.

Why isn’t the title itself bleeding over the frame like its river of drips? The effect is messy enough to go with it and the “V” and “W” are close enough to flirt with that edge. I’d understand wanting to “frame” the text, but then the drips would be behind said frame. And I know it’s nitpicky, but the names at top are really distracting too. They’ve made the light fixture’s support system go off-center to allow Jake Gyllenhaal’s letter-count and yet the “J” still goes beyond its edge anyway. Just put the names below the light and remove the vertical bars completely. We’ll believe there’s a bar affixing the light to wall that it blocks from view. Voila.

I commend the concept, but mourn the execution.

One of my favorite design tricks movie posters use a lot is the dramatic cropping of faces. The simple ability to draw us into the emotion of the characters rather than leave us watching a scene can have a profound enough impact to burn the title into your brain. ARSONAL’s Everybody Knows (limited February 8) is one such example. We see the desperation on Penélope Cruz’s face and wonder about the hidden Javier Bardem behind her. Is he sad and contemplative? Or manipulative and domineering, blocking her from turning back? Cruz’s eye staring us down makes me think the latter.

As far as the rest of the poster goes, the firm simply lets things lie as they normally would without any threat of distracting us from that powerful gaze. Everything is centered at bottom in the usual hierarchal way, the title gradually blurring left to right the sole flourish of note.

Now compare this to Goodlab’s Italian sheet. Now you have text bold and all over the place in differing transparencies. You have a red filter atop the image in a heavy-handed display of warning. And the camera has pulled out to remove emotion, drama, and intrigue. Cruz is no longer looking at us, but towards the distance. Both their faces are now rendered sad and worried. There’s no mystery, only some ham-fisted tension. The changes are tiny, but the result night and day.

Pushing trends aside, I’m going to finish this column with what should prove one of the year’s best one-sheets simply because it rejects convention to deliver something unlike anything else by its side. Just take a gander at P+A’s Birds of Passage (limited February 13) and absorb its beauty, dread, and fine art sensibilities.

No disrespect to Dan Petris’ work, but P+A takes the delicate composition of his unforgettable photography and cursive type (see right) and repackages it to deliver a slap to our face. Look at he added grunge and texture taking us from crisp photography to aged and saturated painting; the addition of the gun and disturbing skull recesses in the cloth (the moody weight recalling Storm Thorgerson’s cover art for The Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute); and the strong yet ornate serif text blocked to become one with the layout rather than separate above it.

Where Dan showed us a scenario constructed, P+A provides the power of its message. One is a behind the scenes look and the other the final result in all its glory.

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

The True Showdown in ‘Glass’ is Doubt vs. Faith

Written by Brian Roan, January 22, 2019 at 2:34 pm 

The fundamental problem with anticipation is that what we see as an active engagement with something is actually just the uncontrollable force of our own desires filling a vacuum. When we say that we are looking forward to receiving or experiencing something—a gift, a date, a new piece of art—what we perceive to be a vote of confidence and support is actually just a selfish hunger based off what we believe we will receive. We anticipate a present because we suppose that when we unwrap it the gift will be something we want. We anticipate the date for the promise of a fulfilling romantic encounter. We anticipate art because we hope to receive from it the same things we received from the artist’s previous works. Looking forward to something is a judgment on what came before, and is more of a curse to the promised “next” than the leg-up we assume it to be.

This is all a long-winded and perhaps too-cerebral way of saying that if you are one of the many who had been anticipating Glass as a follow-up to Unbreakable, you may have been disappointed. If you are one of the many who anticipated Glass as a follow-up to Split, your disappointment may have been less, but still present. Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan—a man whose career will someday make a great FX Networks original series for all of its ups and downs—created a movie that moves at its own speed, exists to fulfill its own goals, and seems to have given only enough consideration for what fans may have desired from it so that it might subvert that expectation. Glass is less interested in being a sequel to Split and Unbreakable than it is in being the Scream of comic book movies—with a dash of Shutter Island thrown in for good measure.

Beginning three weeks after the end of Split, and 19 years after the end of Unbreakable, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is now a vigilante superhero known as The Overseer, helped in his crusade against street-level crime by his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark). The duo is currently on the hunt for Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), whose animalistic alter-ego The Beast has been kidnapping and cannibalizing young women since his emergence. A common Marvel or DC film might make this game of cat-and-mouse the whole of the film, but Shyamalan is less interested in watching two strongmen fight than in exploring what makes these characters tick psychologically. Thus, after their first bout, both men are captured by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychologist who specializes in treating those with delusions of being superheroes, who has already taken over the treatment of Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who prefers his self-selected moniker “Mr. Glass.”

At this point, what had promised to be a duel between good and evil becomes a much murkier and more interesting battle between belief and doubt. Rather than having to struggle against one another, The Beast and David have to struggle against themselves, their own uncertainty about their place in the world and the authenticity of their gifts. Dr. Staple, in an attempt to “cure” the two men and keep them out of prison, slowly chips away at their sense of self, attempting to peel back layers of self-mythologizing in order to find the mundane truth at the foundation of their lives. Shyamalan has, in effect, made a movie where the hero and the villain are both on the same side, the side of wanting to believe that something spectacular is possible, and the antagonist is the system—and the people with the system—attempting to keep everyone from believing that there could be something more.

It may seem insane for a movie to spend so much time trying to convince two super-powered beings that they are normal, especially to an audience who has seen their genesis and know the truth of their conditions. However, much like the full arc of the narrative of the film itself, this mind game isn’t meant for the audience; it is meant for the characters. The tension for the audience isn’t whether or not Dr. Staple’s hypothesis is right, it is whether her injections of doubt will be successful in poisoning these two into abandoning their gifts.

The film’s biggest narrative coup, however, is when the true hero of the piece emerges in the form of Lex Luthor-style supervillain Mr. Glass. In a story in which doubt, discouragement, and renunciation are the greatest evils, the man who stands up for faith, confidence, and glory is the ultimate champion. Though his methods are morally reprehensible, resulting in death and destruction, Mr. Glass is the only person whose faith never flags, and who is actively working to help those around him embrace and fulfill their true potential. Jackson, who is clearly having a ball playing a physically weak but intellectually powerful villain, is the heart of the movie, the one who we hope to see succeed. His giddiness and steely certainty in his own plotting are infectious.

All the while the most important people in these men’s lives—Anya-Taylor Joy as Casey Cook, Charlayne Woodard as Elijah’s mom, and Treat Clark as David’s son—provide commentary on the proceedings based off of comic book tropes. Rather than looking at this as the work of someone out of step with our current boom in comics literacy, I prefer to view it as the pure point of the film, the true apotheosis of what was begun in Unbreakable. Comics, in the world of Glass, aren’t just pulp fun, but rather the outlet for our subconscious yearning for what we know to be true. Holy texts pointing us toward the truth, born out of our Jungian collective unconscious. In a world in which we are fairly drowning in comic book movies, these observations can seem a little tired and obvious, but to the characters in the world of Glass, these are the signs in fulfillment of a prophecy, the necessary steps to be taken in order to usher in a new world. A world of heroes and villains, united by their possession of singular gifts and talents.

Walking into Glass, it would be forgivable to believe that the climax of the film will be David fighting The Beast. The previous decade-plus of superhero movies would lead us to believe that was so. By the end of Glass, however, it is clear that the ultimate victory won’t be dictated by the outcome of the fight, but rather the existence of the fight itself. After a whole movie with not-so-subtle hints at the most likely setting of the climactic battle—a large modern tower that recalls both Nakatomi and Stark Tower—the muted and ultimately aborted final conflict happens in a parking lot. The possible cost in life and property, the very means by which other films like Avengers and Justice League measure their stakes, could not possibly be lower. And yet in no other film is the existential purpose of the fight so ultimately meaningful. Plotted to fulfill the dictates of the comics medium, the “showdown” becomes the ultimate goal, the evidence required to prove to the world that the impossible is possible.

So at the end, even when David and Kevin and Mr. Glass (who probably prefers that name to Elijah) are all dead and their loved ones are left standing confused in the ashes of the admittedly micro conflict, it might be easy to feel betrayed. Dr. Staple is shown to be a member of a secret cabal whose purpose is to suppress the existence of super-powered individuals. Her attempts at “therapy” were actually a pilot program at gaslighting people into doubting their gifts to keep them in line. That we have never heard of or seen hints of this group before makes their victory feel like a cruel trick, but really they are just the most concrete form of a universal force anyone who has ever tried to do something great has felt before.

Most importantly, though, this group did not win. Their purposes isn’t to kill heroes or villains. Their purpose is to hide the truth and keep people from meeting their potential beyond what the cabal deems to be acceptable, and they failed. Mr. Glass—again, the titular hero of this film, despite his seemingly evil mien—wants to show the world what can be done, what is real and what is possible, and his master plan is a success. David and Kevin have died, but not before scoring the only victory that truly mattered; embracing and accepting and demonstrating their true power. Mr. Glass has, over the course of 19 years, gone from super-person finder, to super-person recruiter, to super-person promoter, and his life’s goal is fulfilled. The people left behind, those who supported and understood these three men both, get to use their legacy to usher in a whole new universe.

In our world, where superhero films are supposed to be about the good guys defeating the bad while setting up the next chapter, to see such an amorphous, existential, and ultimately morally anarchic objective put on screen feels revolutionary. Of course, any revolution will have its dissenters and detractors, not to mention those who fight in the name of the status quo. All the same, given the creeping homogeneity of the usual superhero fare, it would be a mistake to damn or belittle Glass for trying to show us something truly special. Regardless of what one may have been expecting, it would be a mistake to call this movie a failure—it’s simply possible that you didn’t realize the real battle it was fighting all along.

Our 20 Most-Anticipated Sundance Film Festival 2019 Premieres

Written by Jordan Raup, January 21, 2019 at 11:50 am 

Comprising a considerable amount of our top 50 films of last year, Sundance Film Festival has proven to yield the first genuine look at what the year in cinema will bring. Now in its 41st iteration, we’ll be heading back to Park City this week, but before we do, it’s time to highlight the films we’re most looking forward to, including documentaries and narrative features from all around the world.

While much of the joy found in the festival comes from surprises throughout the event, below one will find our 20 most-anticipated titles. Check out our picks below and for updates straight from the festival, make sure to follow us on Twitter (@TheFilmStage, @jpraup, @djmecca, and @joshencinias), and stay tuned to all of our coverage here.

20. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (Joe Berlinger)

From Brother’s Keeper to his Paradise Lost films to Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, documentary extraordinaire Joe Berlinger is returning to the realm of narrative feature filmmaking for the first time in nearly a decade with this drama about serial killer Ted Bundy starring none other than… Zac Efron. Even in less-than-stellar films, the actor proves his charisma, so it’ll be intriguing to see what he does with more dramatic material here in the film which looks to explore more of his family life and his unassuming wife, played by Lily Collins.

19. The Sound of Silence (Michael Tyburski)

One of the more compelling-sounding films in the Sundance Film Festival is the directorial debut of Michael Tyburski, which follows Peter Sarsgaard as a self-described “house tuner.” His career path takes him into people’s homes (notably Rashida Jones’ character) to analyze their aural experience and if it’s creating a disturbance in their lives. The director was a feature film fellow for Sundance Institute’s Music and Sound Design Lab at Skywalker Sound, so with this plot and that experience, we imagine this will be something special.

18. We Are Little Zombies (Makoto Nagahisa)

After winning the top short film prize at Sundance two years ago with And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool., Japanese director Makoto Nagahisa returns this year with his feature-length debut We Are Little Zombies. Following a group of thirteen-year-olds whose parents die, they form an eccentric rock band to help heal the wounds. A seasoned director in the world of commercials and music videos, we imagine this will be a kinetic, dazzling debut.

17. Knock Down the House (Rachel Lears)

Every year there are so many timely documentaries at Sundance, one always hopes they aren’t rushed to the finish line and have at least a bit of perspective with the subject(s) they are depicting. One that has our attention is from Rachel Lears as she focuses on four women in the primary race for Congress: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin. When it comes to AOC rightfully disturbing the peace in her new position, we imagine Lears may still be editing this one right up until the premiere.

16. Ms. Purple (Justin Chon)

Two years ago, Justin Chon brought his L.A. riots drama Gook to Sundance Film Festival where it picked up the top prize in the NEXT section. He’s now back with his follow-up Ms. Purple and he’s stepped up to U.S. Dramatic Competition. Once again focusing on Los Angeles, this story follows Kasi (Tiffany Chu) who works as a doumi girl in Koreatown’s karaoke bars as she reconnects with her family when her father’s caretaker departs. Chon showed his gift for cultural specificity with his debut and we imagine it will be carried through with his second feature.

15. Hail, Satan? (Penny Lane)

For many, the Satanic Temple only enters their radar when they make headlines, whether it is suing the producers of Sabrina for using the likeness of their deity or putting their stamp of approval on The Witch. At Sundance this year, one can dive much deeper into the religious movement with a new documentary from Penny Lane, the filmmaker behind The Pain of Others, NUTS!, Our Nixon, and more. Lane has always been a playful director and we can’t wait to see what devilish fun she has in store here.

14. The Sunlight Night (David Wnendt)

Five years ago, David Wnendt brought his debut Wetlands to Sundance and it was among the talk of the festival for its shocking take on the coming-of-age story. He’s now back this year with something that at least on the surface might be a bit more palatable, but hopefully retain his distinct touch. Starring Jenny Slate, Zach Galifianakis, Alex Sharp, and Gillian Anderson, The Sunlight Night follows a woman who has reached a dead end in her life in America and ventures to a Norwegian island for an art residency that becomes much more strange then expected.

13. Them That Follow (Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage)

An outsider’s look into strange communities seem to be a running theme when it comes to Sundance premieres and the most promising one this year is Them That Follow. Starring Olivia Colman, Kaitlyn Dever, Alice Englert, Jim Gaffigan, Walton Goggins, and Thomas Mann, the film follows a community of Pentecostal snake handlers in rural Appalachia. If that’s not enough to sell you, Goggins plays the lead pastor of this insular, strange group, which should prove a meaty role.

12. American Factory (Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert)

Oscar-nominated filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert return to the arena of blue-collar industry with their latest documentary, American Factory. Back in 2014 at a defunct General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opened a Fuyao glass factory, which meant thousands of new jobs in the area. Bognar and Reichert were on the ground to capture the excitement, the cultural collision, and more in what promises to be a documentary that’s a microcosm of our global marketplace.

11. Judy & Punch (Mirrah Foulkes)

Australian actor-director Mirrah Foulkes (who you may have seen in Top of the Lake, Animal Kingdom, and Sleeping Beauty) makes her feature-length debut with Judy & Punch. Starring Mia Wasikowska, it follows her story as she takes revenge on a cohort in a marionette theatre act they run after he beats her senseless. Joining the recent streak of movies in which the actress ingeniously humiliates self-serving men (after two other Sundance films, Piercing and Damsel), this is a thematic trilogy we can get behind.

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Our 100 Most-Anticipated Films of 2019

Written by The Film Stage, January 10, 2019 at 8:15 am 


After highlighting 50 films that we can guarantee are worth seeing this year, it’s time we venture into the unknown. Rather than regurgitating a list of dated-years-in-advance studio releases, we’ve set out to focus on 100 films we’re genuinely looking forward to, regardless of their marketing budgets. While the majority might not have a set release–let alone any confirmed festival premiere–most have wrapped production and will likely debut at some point in 2019, so make sure to check back for updates over the next twelve months and beyond. Be sure to keep the following one-hundred films on your radar (with release dates, where applicable). If you want to see how we did with our picks last year, head on over here.

100. Matthias & Maxime (Xavier Dolan)


While the five-year stretch that comprised his first five films resulted in Xavier Dolan’s rise in international prominence, the last years haven’t been as kind, with It’s Only the End of the World and The Death and Life of John F. Donovan receiving less-than-stellar reviews and distribution woes. One hopes that Matthias & Maxime–which recently finished production–is a return to form. Starring Dolan, Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas, Pier-Luc Funk, Antoine Pilon, Samuel Gauthier, Adib Alkhalidey, Catherine Brunet, Marilyn Castonguay, Micheline Bernard, Harris Dickinson and Anne Dorval there are no plot details yet, but we imagine it’ll land on the festival circuit this year. – Jordan R.

99. Star Wars: Episode IX (J.J. Abrams; Dec. 20)


After perhaps the best entry in the entire franchise, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, J.J. Abrams has a difficult task ahead of him in following up the much-needed rejuvenation of the Star Wars saga. Considering how safe he played it when it comes to The Force Awakens, hopefully his trilogy-capper will enter more daring territory while keeping the same level of entertainment. And if all else fails, we can’t wait to see Richard E. Grant join this universe. – Jordan R.

98. The Woman in the Window (Joe Wright; Oct. 4)

After hitting a career low with The Darkest Hour, there’s nowhere that Joe Wright can go but up when it comes to his next project. Reteaming with Gary Oldman, but led by Amy Adams, The Woman in the Window finds the director in Hitchcockian thriller territory in the Tracy Letts-scripted adaptation of A.J. Finn’s novel. Also starring Julianne Moore, Wyatt Russell, Brian Tyree Henry, Fred Hechinger, and Anthony Mackie, it follows an agoraphobic child psychologist who sees a crime occur at her neighbor’s house. – Jordan R.

97. My Zoe (Julie Delpy)


Though her last film, the French-language Lolo, didn’t gain as much attention stateside as her 2 Days films, Julie Delpy’s next feature will likely reach a larger audience. My Zoe follows “a divorced mother looks to protect her daughter after an unexpected tragedy.” Starring Delpy, Gemma Arterton, Richard Armitage, and Daniel Brühl, expect a festival premiere this year. – Jordan R.

96. The Kindness of Strangers (Lone Scherfig)


This year will mark a decade since Lone Scherfig made a splash with An Education and since then we’ve been waiting for a film that lives up to that debut. Her next feature has quite a bit promise, set to open this year’s Berlinale with the cast including Andrea Riseborough, Zoe Kazan, Tahar Rahim, Bill Nighy, Caleb Landry Jones, and Jay Baruchel. The film follows various storylines that intersect at a Russian restaurant in New York City and hopefully makes for a compelling small-scale drama. – Jordan R.

95. Bad Education (Cory Finley)


Released last spring, the dark comedy Thoroughbreds felt quite accomplished for a directorial debut and now Cory Finley is stepping up his scope with his follow-up. Tackling the true story of the Roslyn superintendent who embezzled over $11 million, it’s written by Mike Makowsky, who actually attended the school at the time of the scandal. Starring Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Ray Romano, Geraldine Viswanathan, Alex Wolff, Kayli Carter, and Rafael Casal, we’d imagine a fall festival bow is in the works. – Jordan R.

94. Queen & Slim (Melina Matsoukas; Nov. 27)


After his break-out in Get Out, Daniel Kaluuya had supporting turns in Black Panther and Widows, but he’s back in a leading role this fall. Scripted by Lena Waithe and Melina Matsoukas’ directorial debut, Queen & Slim follows a man (Kaluuya) and woman (Jodie Turner-Smith) on a first date who get stopped by a cop and kill him in self-defense, then go on the run. With the makings of an unfortunately timely, thrilling drama, it should be a must-see this fall. – Jordan R.

93. Lucy In The Sky (Noah Hawley)


After an adventurous 2018 with her sci-fi odyssey Annihilation and ambitious pop star drama Vox Lux, Natalie Portman will head to (or rather, return from) space this year. She’s leading Lucy in the Sky (formerly Pale Blue Dot), a drama which follows her character as an astronaut whose life unravels when she returns from a mission. Coming from Noah Hawley, it will mark his directorial debut and we’re curious to see how his experience creating Fargo and Legion translates to the big screen. – Jordan R.

92. Going Places (John Turturro)


Per the Coens’ wishes, we won’t ever get a sequel to The Big Lebowski, but the universe of their cult hit will live on in John Turturro’s next directorial effort. Going Places is not only a spin-off featuring the return of his Jesus Quintana character but also a remake of the 1974 French film by Bertrand Blier. Also starring Bobby Cannavale, Audrey Tautou, and Susan Sarandon, it will follow the adventures of a trio of sexually deprived misfits. With filming completed back in 2016, we’d be surprised if it didn’t see the light of day this year. – Jordan R.

91. The Story of My Wife (Ildikó Enyedi)


After earning the Golden Bear and an Oscar nomination for On Body and Soul, director Ildikó Enyedi will return this year with The Story of My Wife. Starring Léa Seydoux, the film is an adaptation of Milán Füst’s 1942 novel, which tells the story of a Dutch sea captain who makes a bet that he’ll marry the next person who walks into the cafe he is at. After doing so, questions of infidelity will cause a crisis. Marking the sixth feature from the director, we expect Seydoux’s attachment will lead to even further recognition. – Jordan R.

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