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Recommended New Books on Filmmaking: Howard Hughes, Tintin, ‘Isle of Dogs,’ Beastie Boys & More

Written by Christopher Schobert, December 10, 2018 at 8:00 am 

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Yes, you could spend your holiday in the company of family and friends. But wouldn’t you rather curl up with a new book centered on cinema? There are new options aplenty, but let’s start with the latest from one of the most insightful, compelling voices we have: the great Karina Longworth.

Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood by Karina Longworth (Custom House)

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Is there more to say about Howard Hughes after decades of biographies and films? Indeed, and the latest from Longworth, the host of the essential podcast You Must Remember This, is evidence. The focus in Seduction is not only Hughes himself, but the many women in the mega-tycoon’s orbit. These include household names like Katharine Hepburn but also figures like silent star Billie Dove and Mighty Joe Young star Terry Moore. Longworth brings these women to vivid life, and captures the absurdity of Hughes’s universe. The final years, especially, are unforgettably described by the author, one of the finest currently writing on cinema (or anything else): “He barely ate; it would regularly take him eight hours to finish a can of soup. The nourishment of food couldn’t compete with the fulfillment he got from the same source that had been providing it for him for decades: Hollywood movies, starring Hollywood women.”

First Man: The Annotated Screenplay by Josh Singer and James R. Hansen (Titan Books)

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With still a few weeks of releases to go, it’s hard to say if Damien Chazelle’s First Man is the year’s most overlooked prestige picture, but one can make the argument that the Ryan Gosling-starring biography of Neil Armstrong deserved a greater reception from audiences when it debuted this past October. It also deserved this proper screenplay release from Titan Books, which gives one an entirely different experience of this journey to space. In addition to the script, the book also includes notes from screenwriters Josh Singer and James R. Hansen, and plenty of stills.

A Star Is Born: Judy Garland and the Film That Got Away by Lorna Luft and Jeffrey Vance (Running Press)

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Who better to explain the tangled history of 1954’s A Star Is Born than Lorna Luft, the daughter of star Judy Garland? With co-author Jeffrey Vance, she explains why the film’s production was so difficult, and also why it was such a crushing disappointment to her mother. (It was a financial failure, and did not bring Garland the Oscar she’d longed for.) Luft also shares why Star has always been “an upset experience” for her: “The film’s story, and its underlying message about fame and addiction, hits too close to home. The massive disappointment of the film at the time hardened my mother’s heart about Hollywood.” Happily, the years have been kind to A Star Is Born. And with the gargantuan success of Bradley Cooper’s remake, it’s a fine time to explore the power of George Cukor’s version.

The Wes Anderson Collection: Isle of Dogs by Lauren Wilford and Ryan Stevenson (Abrams)

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One of the most delightful literary creations of the past few years are the ongoing Wes Anderson Collection books from Abrams: hardcover, gorgeously designed texts that include interviews, analysis, and production anecdotes. The latest, on Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, is every bit as insightful as the first three volumes. Of particular interest are the behind-the-scenes shots of the stop-motion animated production, as well as a lengthy chat with Anderson and co-writers Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman. Along with a discussion of process and influences, Coppola makes a shocking revelation: “I prefer cats.” Well then!

The Female Gaze by Alicia Malone (Mango Publishing)

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I’m not sure there’s a more engaging host than Alicia Malone, the delightful author known for her work on Turner Classic Movies and the dearly departed FilmStruck. Her latest book, The Female Gaze, is a passionate, tremendously enjoyable exploration of milestone films made by women. In addition to Malone’s writing style, what makes Gaze stand out is its sheer variety–not just writing on canonical classics like Cleo from 5 to 7 and Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels, but The Lure and The Babadook as well. Wonderful writers/critics like Farran Smith Nehme, Jen Yamato, and Danielle Solzman also contribute essays.

Star Wars TY-1300 Millennium Falcon Owners’ Workshop Manual by Ryder Windham, Chris Reiff, and Chris Trevas (Insight Editions)

To paraphrase a young Anakin Skywalker, now this is an owners’ manual. Insight Editions goes deep — schematics of a hyperdrive engine deep — to explain the inner workings of the Millennium Falcon. The result is fascinatingly detailed and surprisingly fun. Note also that the book includes every film featuring the Falcon, from A New Hope to Solo. Finally, a clear view of Lando Calrissian’s custom bar!

Best Movies of the 80s by Helen O’Hara (Portable Press)

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I’m always on the look-out for books I can someday pass on to my kids for some film history background, and Best Movies of the 80s is an ideal choice. This chronological breakdown of each year of the decade is short on surprises (don’t expect, say, Dead Ringers or Diva), but heavy on the fun factor. There’s also solid insight from author Helen O’Hara on the likes of The Thing and Heathers.

Tintin: The Art of Hergé by Michael Daubert (Abrams)

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When my now-eight-year-old son was a newborn, I decided to buy some of Hergé’s Tintin comics, and every so often we revisit the young reporter’s globetrotting adventures. We’ll do the same in future with Tintin: The Art of Hergé, a weighty celebration of ninety years of the character. Filled with biographical details about the author (including some of his other works), early sketches, and pages from the comics, this is a visually sumptuous book–one fans will be poring over happily for years to come.

Monsters of the Week: The Complete Critical Companion to The X-Files by Zack Handlen and Todd Vanderwerff (Abrams)

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Monsters of the Week is the essential guide casual X-Files viewers have been waiting for. For this is an epic, episode-by-episode study from the very start through both films and the latest season. The authors, both AV Club vets, write in a lively, often hilarious manner. Their conversational tone makes Monsters a genuinely gripping read; I love Handlen’s diagnosis of the first Files feature: “Fight the Future sprang more out of brand extension than creative necessity, so … it’s hard to get tremendously excited about the result. But it absolutely could’ve been worse.”

Ad Nauseam: Newsprint Nightmares From the 1980s by Michael Gingold (1984)

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If you long for the days of opening up a newspaper and discovering oodles of ads promoting upcoming films, Ad Nauseam is for you. While the ads herein are mostly for genre films (Terror Train, Funeral Home, Legend of the Bayou), there are also some higher profile selections like Angel Heart and The Fly. There is so much creativity and artistic excellence to savor in these ads, and the text by Michael Gingold is note-perfect.

Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz (Spiegel & Grau)

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There simply could not be a more Beastie Boys book than, err, Beastie Boys Book. This 500-plus page collection of memories from Mike D and Ad Rock, vintage photos, contributions from the likes of Spike Jonze and Colson Whitehead, and truly epic mixtape playlists captures the soul and spirit of the band. The book is also laugh-out-loud funny and, when remembering the late Adam Yauch, a little sad. It adds up to one of 2018’s essential releases.

Power Rangers: The Ultimate Visual History by Jody Revenson and Ramin Zahed (Insight Editions)

Insight’s Power Rangers: The Ultimate Visual History is a shockingly exhaustive trip through every era of Ranger-ia. And even if one is a non-fan (right here!), the book is a grabber. The early days of the series are probably most interesting, but authors Revenson and Zahed spend pretty significant time on every single incarnation, right up to the 2017 film.

Harryhausen: The Movie Posters by Richard Hollis (Titan Books)

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Ray Harryhausen is a film legend whose name is practically a genre. We know what’s coming from a “Harryhausen” effort: elaborate, hand-crafted creatures and epic battles. It makes sense that the poster art for films like 20 Million Miles to Earth and, of course, Jason and the Argonauts would be classics. Paging through them here is a treat, just like the films themselves.

 

Star Trek: The Art of John Eaves by Joe Nazzaro (Titan Books)

John Eaves is not a household name, but for Star Trek fans, it should be. As this book shows, the artist has defined the look and feel of modern Trek. From the dreary Star Trek V: The Final Frontier through the J.J. Abrams reboot and series like Discovery, his work is bold and unique. It’s a joy to see how Eaves’s concepts have evolved.

 

Star Wars Icons: Han Solo by Gina McIntyre (Insight Editions)

star_wars_icons_han_solo_coverStar Wars Icons: Han Solo is described as “the definitive book for Han Solo fans,” and my goodness, that’s an accurate assessment. This hardcover look at every appearance, right down to the comics and Expanded Universe, is wonderfully readable and beautifully designed. What makes Icons especially nice are the new interviews with figures like Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, Alden Ehrenreich, and Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan.

Dungeons & Dragons Art and Arcana by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, Sam Witwer (Ten Speed Press)

“I grew up in the 1980s, and despite what Stranger Things would have you believe, in those days, Dungeons & Dragons wasn’t cool.” So writes Joe Manganiello in his forward to Art and Arcana. As he explains, and the book demonstrates, “[t]hat nerdy, basement game for weirdos and ‘Satanists’ has somehow become both mainstream and prestigious.” Indeed it has, and this visual history, featuring more than 700 pieces of artwork, is the logical next step. It delves into the history of the game and its characters, and also breaks down how and why it took the world by storm.

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Shampoo (The Criterion Collection)

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Hal Ashby is deservingly back in the spotlight, to some degree, with the recent documentary Hal and the Criterion release of one of his most entertaining films, 1975’s Shampoo. The Warren Beatty-Julie Christie starrer has needed this transfer for years — the film has never looked better — and the disc also includes an insightful essay from Frank Rich, and even better, a conversation between Rich and Mark Harris. The greatest pleasure here, though, remains the sight of Beatty at the peak of his sex-god powers.

Continue: The Film Stage’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide

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See more recommended books on filmmaking.

Posterized December 2018: ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,’ ‘Cold War,’ ‘The House That Jack Built,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, December 6, 2018 at 7:36 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.


DC, Marvel, and Transformers? It must be … December. The studios are going big this Christmas on the counterprogramming for Oscar-bait titles and you can’t really blame them. While your cinephile family member brings the tissues, you can bring the fun.

It’s kind of nice too because that means more films to skip as you catch-up on end-of-year list must-sees. The comic book and toy franchises will still be out come January, so you can take your time and give your money to the independents this holiday season instead. They deserve it.


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The poster for Capernaum (limited December 14) isn’t the kind of collage you’d expect—nor is it like the three I’ll be talking about next. Rather than position heads of differing sizes in the center of the page, Sony Pictures Classics goes heavy on critic quotes. And it’s not just brief buzz phrases either since a Pete Hammond centerpiece spans thirty-eight words and four lines. Add the slew of accolades at the bottom and its obvious the studio is banking on praise to sell tickets before unsuspecting theatergoers have a moment to realize there will be subtitles.

It’s too bad because the festival sheet with the same imagery (although clearer, more colorful, and attractive) is stunning by comparison. The painted Arabic is a welcome touch and the single laurel for a Cannes Jury Prize says all you need.

Next is Aquaman (December 21) and its Comic-Con sheet of kitchen sink aesthetic. Jason Momoa might be in the foreground, but Patrick Wilson and Black Mantha take center stage with giant heads stealing our gaze from the chaotic mess below. You can’t necessarily blame Little Giant Studios, though, considering this work is more about exposing paying fans to an early character tease than anything else. This isn’t selling the movie as much as fueling blind excitement from sycophants frothing at the mouth.

And let’s face it: this result succeeds in that goal where B O N D and photographer Michael Muller’s Finding Arthur Curry does not. Is this thing exemplifying his marine biology skills? His shark whispering skills? The designer’s Photoshop skills? All I know is that it’s difficult not to laugh at the grid-like collection of animals with a tagline that says “Home Is Calling” as though they’ve been invited to dinner.

The duo’s gold-plated serious face isn’t any better, but at least it’s positioning this hero as someone who commands respect while still offering some levity thanks to the juxtaposition of “He’s not around here.” You don’t say? The trident tease by Concept Arts is probably my favorite of the bunch, though, since it leaves things to the imagination.

BLT Communications, LLC doesn’t fare much better with their floating heads on Bumblebee (December 21). I will give them credit for letting the Transformer have top billing size-wise, however. Because let’s face it. This property has run its course and the only reason anyone is interested in continuing the ride is the titular character’s penchant for humor. Sorry Hailee and John, but your airbrushed faces framed by a videogame-esque neon logo ain’t the draw.

I’m merely disappointed the studio went in this direction when the kid-friendly, Iron Giant retread imagery was executed with skill. You should lean into the whole kid befriending robot angle because that type of fantasy dynamic will get younger attendees excited. If Paramount were smart they would have gone full PG too with Laika boss Travis Knight at the helm. Transformers are toys after all. The nostalgia my generation had when the first film bowed is gone now. Target the product’s actual demographic.

At least BLT was allowed to do exactly that on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (December 14). It helps when the medium is animation, though, since it brings a built-in preconception of fun. And when the whole point of the film is to showcase a crazy amount of different web-slingers from alternate dimensions, go crazy. Put Miles Morales, Peter Parker, Gwen Stacy, and those other two in frame with a sense of kinetic motion. Create a faux idea of three-dimensionality so the children walking by can stare mouth agape in awe.

And if you want to go a bit more serious, shift the color palette. I’d argue the cooler blues and greens of the teaser complement Spidey’s darker suit with bright red best. The 180-degree spin to have his falling down appear as though he’s flying up adds an invigorating sensation of vertigo too. You can feel the rush of adrenaline watching this thing in 3D will most certainly provide.


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A film I was intrigued by until watching the trailer, Holmes and Watson (December 21) gets a teaser from WORKS ADV as funny as it is tragic. “Holmies?” “H” and “W” hand gestures as gang signs? It’s cultural appropriation at its worst with humor ten-plus years stale. Just give us Step Brothers 2 already.

Thankfully Creative Partnership knows how to do a good two-hander with Mary Queen of Scots (limited December 7). Here we have authentic gazes that can pierce through your soul with an eye for the beauty and drama of period aesthetic rather than its potential for laughs. I love the hand-scrawled title font and the dark coloring to let those two pale faces in chiaroscuro pop and look our way with determination.

B O N D it equal to the task with their gold text on gold wardrobe on gold background piece of art, pulling the camera out to get a look at the full regalia. But it’s the character sheets that outshine them all. These two look like paintings on canvas made all the more stunning with their deep blue on blue and red on red of actors bleeding into backdrop. Stick a gaudy frame on these and ready for war.

Welcome to Marwen (December 21) goes the opposite direction with bright light, plastic surfaces, and odd couple juxtaposition courtesy of Steve Carell and sixth-scale action figure Steve Carell. I’m very leery of the direction this film’s marketing has taken considering the heavy subject matter it’s based upon, but I’d like to give director Robert Zemeckis the benefit of the doubt. Making the intentional choice to pick Forrest Gump out of his filmography, however, doesn’t bode well as far as handling things with a deft touch.

At least LA’s tease gives Carell’s doll a stoic expression as soulful as it is resilient. This is the face Mark Hogancamp’s story deserves and hopefully will be provided. The rest is just clean sans serif text atop more of the same, each letter blending into the next so the artistry and emotion of the portrait shines through.

Kudos then to Empire Design for delivering the month’s best-designed duo with Stan & Ollie (limited December 28). They knew that the most iconic visual motif this comedy partnership has is its hats and they create a funny scene to prove it. Rather than lose that simplicity upon deciding to remove the newspaper, the firm keeps things light and jovial with the white space above the actors reserved for Laurel’s cap in flight.

And don’t discount the font thickness increasing from thin Stan to heavy Ollie. It’s subtle enough to not be a “fat joke” and effective enough to supply a visual metaphor without sacrificing legibility.

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‘The Princess Bride’: Revisiting Rob Reiner and William Goldman’s Paean to Pure Storytelling

Written by Eli F., November 22, 2018 at 8:00 am 

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After Monty Python and the Holy Grail eviscerated the self-seriousness of the Arthurian epic but before Shrek added pop songs and fart jokes galore, Rob Reiner and William Goldman’s The Princess Bride was pop culture’s definitive postmodern comic fairytale. Penned by the late, great screenwriter based on his own novel (sorry–his abridged version of the novel by stuffy 19th-century fantasist “S. Morgenstern”) Goldman’s most beloved creation plays to the uninitiated as a deliciously eclectic mixture of loquacious wit, dry self-mockery, and sweetly earnest paean to pure storytelling–long before such tropes became codified cliche in blockbuster genre cinema. Its precarious balance between irony and sincerity has often been copied, but never truly replicated.

The comic adventure at the story’s core remains as charming today as it was thirty years ago, filled with loving pastiche of the romances of old: passion, intrigue, honor and vengeance all drive a rich ensemble cast of rogues and royalty (portrayed by a who’s who of once and future stars, from premium-TV breakouts Robin Wright and Mandy Patinkin to comedy legends Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest) through fairytale locales almost as colorful as their bold-faced archetype personalities and urbane, witty dialogue. It’s fortunate that Goldman was on hand to adapt his own work, however, because many other writers might have balked or shrugged at the prospect of translating the novel’s defining metatextual framing device to the screen: the withering, dithering color commentary of Goldman’s fabricated proto-Lemony Snicket narrator persona on the fabricated book-within-the-book, used to deliver cheeky parody of the European romances even while lovingly invoking “the good parts”. Lesser writers might have simply excluded this aspect of the source material (or even refashioned the narrative around a more impartial cinematic narrator, as Stanley Kubrick did in adapting the actual 19th-century novel that became Barry Lyndon), but Goldman and Reiner cleverly translate it to a cinema-friendly framing device that is equally subversive and iconic in its own right.

Rather than a scholar adapting the work of “S. Morgenstern” for a contemporary audience, the narrative interpreter of the fictional novel is now a suburban grandpa (Peter Falk) with a Polish immigrant affect, conveying the old-timey story to his skeptical bedridden grandson (Fred Savage). Reiner takes great joy in decorating the fictional boy’s room – the film’s only set outside of the couched fantasy narrative – with every possible signifier of a 1980s consumer culture obsessively tailored to young boys: Transformers, Ninja Turtles, Star Wars, Marvel Comics, Nintendo. Savage’s character functions as both the hypothetical consumer for the 1980s studio blockbuster, and the executive trying to second-guess its creative priorities: he repeatedly pre-empts and interrupts the plot to critique its ability to satisfy, demanding less “kissing scenes”, less talk, less girls, more machismo, more violence. He berates his old-country grandpa, with his repertoire of classic influences, for being strange and boring and out of touch with his generation. Yet Falk defiantly presses on, having total faith in the universality of good storytelling, and we see his efforts pay off as the once-bullheaded child gradually softens, opening his mind to new emotions and narrative experiences right before our eyes.

This, perhaps, is the film’s true staying power. Beyond the many layers of chuckling postmodern irony, it’s a fairytale outside a fairytale; only its magic is the transformative, communal power of storytelling itself. Little wonder that Goldman adored the work almost as much as his audience.

The Princess Bride is now available on The Criterion Collection.

Count Your Blessings: In Praise of the Thanksgiving Film Canon

Written by Caden Mark Gardner , November 21, 2018 at 2:30 pm 

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Thanksgiving film canon is quite small. Part of that is understandable due to the fact that in a film landscape that has become increasingly more international the American holiday (apologies to the Canadian Thanksgiving on October 14th) would get pushed aside. Plus, Christmas is always around the corner, and all of the marketing in being ‘a Christmas film’ that affords a pretty simple campaign and a built-in audience of such films is right there for studios to fall back on. Even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (the central cultural touchstone of Thanksgiving in visual media), while designed to celebrate the holiday, always ends on a note of Christmas with the Santa Claus float closing the parade–itself the inciting plot point of the two versions of Miracle on 34th Street, both Christmas films. Thanksgiving is even hemorrhaging its own calling card to Christmas. It is truly the middle-child between Halloween and Christmas.

Getting to the canon of Thanksgiving films, there’s Alice’s Restaurant, Arthur Penn’s film treatment of Arlo Guthrie’s counter-culture folk album of the same name in 1969. The film has become something of a cultural time capsule of American folk and hippies but deeming it among best cinema of that decade or a highlight of what Arthur Penn (Night Moves, Little Big Man, and Bonnie and Clyde) could offer as a film director would be a hard sell. But it is a Thanksgiving film and for that it is canonized and carries some cultural import once a year. You still would be better off listening to the album while cooking and basting the turkey, though.

John Hughes’ Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) presents Steve Martin’s pilgrimage to reach his family in time for Thanksgiving dinner as a manic farce of a road film, but Thanksgiving is rendered the destination, not the journey. Make no mistake, the delirium and horror of holiday travel has never been better realized than in that film. Perhaps the smartest use of Thanksgiving in film is Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), which has three Thanksgivings serving as intervals in the life stations of its ensemble, who each go through various transformations in love, faith, and profession.

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Posited as a non-denominational holiday combining national identity and family, Thanksgiving’s role in the culture can feel more humble compared to the days and weeks of non-stop Christmas over-saturation. But to say Thanksgiving is without impurity of commercialization and corporate co-option would be dishonest. Ang Lee’s adaptation of Ben Fountain’s satire Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016) is about a lot of things and tackles a lot of topics about America, to various degrees of success. One of those successes is in recreation, a dramatized version of the real-life event used in the book, which is the 2004 Thanksgiving Game Halftime Show in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium. It had Destiny’s Child perform a spectacular music set surrounded by returning Iraq War Veterans who marched around them with intense precision. The scene was an intersection of God, country, football, militarism, popular culture, capitalism, and extra-large American hubris, that if you saw it the way it was intended was also at an accelerated frame rate of 120 frames per second. The film was a tough sell due to that high frame-rate and it became a box-office bomb in addition to a critical failure, but Billy Lynn felt like it was uniquely revealing the unspoken cynical undercurrent that surrounds the holiday and its traditions, increasingly encroached by commercial interests that feed into self-interest. How many Thanksgiving dinners are going to end with people going straight to a Black Friday queue out the mall? Billy Lynn may not be your classic idea of Thanksgiving canon, but it has returned to the mind along with the holiday and will surely be thought of whenever the Cowboys are front and center in their heavily pixelated mausoleum football stadium, along with whoever is doing their halftime act.

There are also Thanksgiving films that bring a level of ironic distance and subversion against the idealized imagery of the holiday, such as the white nuclear family having a blissful  feast at their large dining room table in Norman Rockwell’s painting “Freedom from Want,” the artist’s tribute to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech. That painting has been parodied so many times over that it can bring instant smirking given how many shorthands and riffs exist, from MAD Magazine covers to the poster art of Albert Brooks’ film Real Life to Art Spiegelman’s politically charged art in The New Yorker to, most recently, poster art for Deadpool 2. It should not be shocking that such irony extends towards the creation of ThanksKilling horror films series, giving a mean and scary twist to the holiday. One can also just find there to be something too perverse and gauche with Thanksgiving in relation to America’s colonialist roots and feel most seen in Wednesday Addams (Christina Ricci) in The Addams Family sequel Addams Family Values (1993). While costumed as Pocahontas, Wednesday decries the treatment of Native Americans by the pilgrims and succeeding generations of white settlers in the United States. She proceeds to lead a coup against her sinisterly cheerful, WASP-y summer camp during a Thanksgiving play and the victorious sequence is hilarious. (The film itself was released on November 19th, 1993, right on time to be watched on the holiday in theaters.)

It can be difficult being earnest about the holiday’s iconography and some of the most notable Thanksgiving films bring moods of dark humor or an air of manic futility–sometimes both. Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm (1997), an adaptation of the Rick Moody novel of the same name, at its core is about the deteriorating nuclear family malaise of the 1970s Watergate era, where the hormonal teenagers want to be more like the adults and the adults wish to forego their responsibilities if for one night at a neighborhood key party. The moral fabric has been stained if not outright damaged; everybody is secretive because everybody is untrustworthy. The undercurrent is no more evident than the Thanksgiving dinner of the Hood family. Family patriarch Ben (Kevin Kline) allows Wendy (Christina Ricci) to say grace and it escalates into Wendy making a political statement–as though Moody and screenwriter James Schamus took cues from Addams Family Values–about the treatment of Native Americans and the then-hot topic of the bombing of Cambodia. So much of everyone’s reaction to Wendy at that dinner table and Wendy herself are a microcosm of the Hoods themselves and their central family dynamic. Thanksgiving is where people can be who they are, going up against the next person across from them doing the same, which can lead to volatile shifts between absolute silence and arguments.

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The ultimate–but not necessarily the best–Thanksgiving movie in that regard, would be Jodie Foster’s Home for the Holidays (1995). Single mom Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) gets down on her luck right as she is pulled back into her native Baltimore with her family’s inner-circle and all of its dysfunction on Thanksgiving, clearly the product of years of living under the same roof with so many contrasting personalities. Mishaps, misunderstandings, and hijinks ensue. The lesson, of course, is that, in the end, these insane people in Claudia’s life are still her family and love her. The Larsons are your typical family with a few modern twists (Robert Downey Jr.’s Tommy and Claudia being divorced) which does make their story and film accessible for audiences as opposed to overly awkward, cringe-worthy sendups to the holiday experience. That in turn brings to mind the American indies in this 21st century from Krisha (2015) to Pieces of April (2003) to Tadpole (2002), which have used Thanksgiving as a device in tying the central drama and conflict to characters being at a large family social gathering with varying success rates. Thanksgiving can be about characters coming as they are, but how much baggage can that setting and those other characters handle, never mind the audience?

For most films, what can be the aesthetic of Thanksgiving can also be simply seen as the season of autumn. But there is an opportunity in making a personal connection with the holiday rather than reverse engineering the holiday into a narrative. One such notable example is in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird (2017). Lady Bird is structured as a memory poem of Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) senior year of high school. While the film begins with a Joan Didion quote that contrasts the perceptions of outsiders about California hedonism versus Sacramento Christmases, due to the McPherson family’s financial straits, their Christmas is incredibly low-key. The holiday that gains importance in Lady Bird’s narrative and the central conflict in the film is Thanksgiving. Lady Bird accepts going to her boyfriend Danny’s grandparents home for Thanksgiving in the affluent Sacramento neighborhood the Fabulous Forties, full of revival Tudor and Colonial homes. When Danny (Lucas Hedges) meets her family in the McPherson home, he unintentionally spills what Lady Bird presents to others about her family, that she comes from “the wrong side of the tracks.” Lady Bird’s mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) suppresses her wince when hearing this from Danny but she later does throw that characterization of their family back at Lady Bird in an argument much later on, holding onto that insult that hits on a lot of class shame. Lady Bird’s time in the Fabulous Forties home is a warm gathering where she socializes with people of a different stripe from her and Gerwig chooses to not dig in too deeply in showing the McPherson’s Thanksgiving, never contrasting visually as the viewer can already envision the imbalance and not need further evidence to get the point.

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Lady Bird continues her Thanksgiving with a night out with friends and her mother catching her, Danny, and her best friend Julie high on pot with a major case of the munchies once home. It’s a light, non-confrontational moment, but once her friends leave, Lady Bird talks to her brother’s live-in girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott) who is outside smoking a clove. Shelly discloses to Lady Bird that she was missed at her Thanksgiving dinner and vouches for Marion, noting that after being kicked out of her house due to her parents rejecting her life choices that Shelly was welcomed into Marion’s house. “I admire her,” she softly responds to Lady Bird stating her mother hates her. Lady Bird is silent for a brief moment. It hits her that she is lucky.

Still, within Gerwig’s career in screenwriting she also has given Thanksgiving treatment to “the alternative family.” Toward the end of Mistress America (2015), that Gerwig co-wrote with director Noah Baumbach, Tracy (Lola Kirke) searches for Brooke (played by Gerwig), her would-be sister that due to their parents breaking up off-screen–and not going through with their Thanksgiving wedding–has them no longer in the same orbit. But it would be too dishonest for the two of them to just return to being strangers. Tracy is left to herself on Thanksgiving and reconnects with Brooke after a pretty intense fallout. They make their peace over a meal before Brooke heads out west, having enrolled in college. The last shot of the film is them together, the audience looking at them through a restaurant window, laughing and reminiscing. This is their “Friendsgiving” and it feels earned. The significance of Thanksgiving in Greta Gerwig’s films often stems from her female characters being drawn to the holiday’s offerings as some break, an escape from the chaos and disappointments of everyday life, putting aside any lingering issues they are all holding to sit down, relax, and eat.

Perhaps what can be done in punching up the Thanksgiving film canon is viewing the holiday exactly in these terms that Gerwig succeeds in. Having the characters falling into the holiday as a fabric of their lives, rather than the day itself being the backbone of the film in structure. It is a day in the life, but for many it is also a day of significance and an abundance of feelings, pressures, and deeply personal histories and memories rooted in family and friends. Maybe that is why Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather films, which check off all of those boxes, have been becoming a Thanksgiving tradition on AMC. I suppose that can be acceptable. Thanksgiving film canon needs all the help it can get.

Claude Lanzmann’s ‘Shoah: Four Sisters’ Brings a Female Perspective to Survival Under the Horrors of Nazism

Written by Eli F., November 18, 2018 at 11:23 am 

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Less than half a year after Claude Lanzmann’s passing this past summer, the Quad Cinema in Manhattan has this week premiered the late documentarian’s Shoah: Four Sisters, a compilation of four short features described as “satellites” of his 1985 Holocaust magnum opus. Comprised of selections from the staggering private archive of interview footage compiled by Lanzmann during Shoah’s 11-year research and filming process in the 1970s, the four segments respectively consist of four extended one-on-one interviews with Jewish women who survived the Nazi death camps across Eastern Europe, each one sharing her harrowing personal story of atrocities witnessed and, at times, horrifying compromises made.

The four women speak different languages, hail from different cities, and lived very different lives before and after the war, but in labeling them as “sisters,” Lanzmann draws attention to the identity formed by shared trauma and collective witness to history. Indeed, all of their stories share certain narrative and historical touchstones: an escalating sense of collective terror as the rise of Nazism gave way to increasingly militarized antisemitic oppression, then to abject slaughter; the isolation of being surrounded by indifferent or outright cruel civilian onlookers, happy to see Jews and other undesirables taken from their midst or too self-absorbed to care. Moments of horror-film-like surprise and irony in face-to-face confrontations with murderous Nazi officers and collaborators dot the stories, prefacing acts of absurd, hauntingly pointless sadism by those with the power to use human bodies as they please. Above all, each and every account portrays survivors in an unceasing, years-long race against a colossal oncoming machine of absolute death and destruction.

Certain notes also echo eerily in the present moment of the West’s resurgent fascist right: the sheer orderliness of the Nazis’ methods and rhetoric allows them to cling to a pretense of “civility” and “fairness” as they advocate and carry out acts of irrational and unfathomable hatred. Everywhere there are hints of the ways in which the Nazi machinery of extermination came with built-in means to downplay their own responsibility: formal pleasantries which indicate facile nods toward law and order–the families of men slaughtered and dumped in mass graves received postcards informing them of their loss. Euphemisms to soft-pedal atrocities–in one stomach-churning anecdote, Josef Mengele himself is recalled to have avoided the word “selection” in describing his macabre on-site sorting of prisoners into “healthy laborers” and victims of the gas chambers. One survivor posits a plausible theory that the camps were specifically designed to break their occupants’ will to live rather than kill them directly, so that the Nazis could shrug off immediate responsibility when mass deaths were attributed to illness and starvation. Most controversially, the latter two segments of the film deal at length with accounts of the Judenrat, Jews employed by the Nazis to police and pass judgment on their fellow prisoners, some even using a direct line to Adolf Eichmann to negotiate who might be spared while marking others for death.

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More subtly yet even more universally, the four accounts also join together in painting a portrait of women survivors in times of war and brutal oppression. All four narratives are uniquely those of women, indicating the different paths and particular horrors laid before them in that hellish time. Some clung to husbands to survive, while others were forced to negotiate the good graces of male officers as they subsisted in the camps and ghettoes on niches of “women’s work.” One shares the tragic and death-defying story of a pregnancy carried to term amidst the death camps, with a life-saving act of grim mercy provided by a Nazi nurse sympathetic to their shared experience of birth and bodily womanhood. Under siege by unimaginable forces of destruction, such marginalized women are the weakest of all people, physically and socially–yet the survivors cling to life by the strength of their cleverness, cunning, empathy, and sheer will.

Lanzmann’s grainy, unrestored footage, minimally edited and often static in extended takes, gives the impression of a supplemental feature or an archival museum piece more than a stand-alone, prose-poetic film like Shoah itself. Aesthetically and emotionally it’s a grueling, restless task to sit through just one of the film’s four segments, let alone several back-to-back. Yet the restlessness induced by this rough presentation perhaps serves its own purpose. Watching these women tell their stories as a Jew–a Jew with close family residing in the recently-terrorized community of Squirrel Hill, PA–my most immediate response was a dull, creeping sensation of displaced energy. Knowing what was behind me, I–just like the survivors–wanted, or perhaps needed, to move on from its black hole of the past, with eyes turned toward the future. I needed to prove a point, to the antisemites or perhaps the world itself, merely by living and feeling. The women of Shoah: Four Sisters give the impression of plain and earnest people; only their stories are extraordinary. Scabbed and mangled by trauma, yet never truly extinguished, their will to live on, to surpass an unthinkable and seemingly insurmountable violence, is understatedly infectious.

Shoah: Four Sisters is now playing at Quad Cinema.

Posterized November 2018: ‘Creed II,’ ‘The Favourite,’ ‘If Beale Street Could Talk,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, November 2, 2018 at 10:01 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.


Welcome to prestige central. All the spooky goblins and demons have disappeared to be replaced by November’s slate of Oscar-nominated artists (with some winners) swinging for the fences in hopes of another. There’s high drama for parents and fantasy flavor for kids with auteur visions from festival season filling in the blanks. While the studios save their super serious stuff for Christmastime, those more “fun” titles of counterprogramming with critical appeal hit theaters now to whet our collective appetite.


Such a tease

Leave it to the Harry Potter franchise’s producers to look at Thanksgiving and think, “Let’s use the holiday to make sure our second week matches our inevitable first.” It’s a shrewdly calculated and self-aware move. And the same description could be used when talking about the marketing campaign for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (November 16) too.

WORKS ADV hit the streets with familiar iconography, a familiar lead, and the film’s main attraction: Jude Law as young Dumbledore. I’m half surprised they even bothered to include the title since Eddie Redmayne holding a wand is all you need to know what’s being sold. Kudos for the dramatic lighting and electric smoke aesthetic, though. Things are looking much darker than the first.

The conspicuous absentee is of course the rightfully maligned Johnny Depp despite his being the titular character. So it’s hardly surprising that the next card in WORKS ADV’s sleeve makes sure to have everyone’s face visible but his. Yes, there’s contextual reasoning for such a maneuver, but it’s kind of fun to think Warner Bros. was trying to distance themselves a bit from Depp’s current news cycle.

It’s only with the final sheet and its ornately stylish snake-like frame that we finally see his face with equal billing to Law. I’ll admit that this poster is well done considering how stale its content proves. While it’s perhaps not as moody as the tease, the dark palette works infinitely better than the blinding white and too graphically perfect line work of the previous example. In the end it really doesn’t matter, though. This franchise will either show how it remains king or reveal its decline regardless of how pretty the advertising is.

A film that should benefit from good marketing is Bohemian Rhapsody (November 2). Here’s a biopic that has a not so great history considering Sacha Baron Cohen’s public departure from the project after the surviving members of Queen stated they wanted a story that showed “their perseverance as a band despite Freddie Mercury’s death” and the firing of credited director Bryan Singer mid-way through production. So anything able to bring the focus back onto the music and Mercury is necessary.

Gravillis Inc. was up to the task with their UK tease of Rami Malek in silhouette against a gloriously grainy sunset. The coloring makes this sheet what it is, giving the whole an otherworldly feel. The crest under the title isn’t distracting and the dual font selection proves a perfect complement to one another.

Sadly, WORKS ADV’s US sheets aren’t as good. Their close-up of Malek’s jawline could work, but not as is. Putting the word “Queen” in his sunglasses doesn’t negate the fact that this looks like a rejected design for Super Troopers 2. You need to have a concert atmosphere—a microphone, stage, pose, or whatever. I’m not sure what this is trying to say.

Concept Arts, on the other hand, do right by Ralph Breaks the Internet (November 21). The character is recognizable on its own and his sheepish look of “whoops” along with the context of a Google search bar and accusatory arrow provide the title as visual riddle rather than just by the hashtag below. It’s the sort of tease you need to place the brand back into our consciousness well before the release date.

That minimalism is rendered even better when measured next to Ten30 Studios’ sheet. I don’t mind how busy the environment is (the internet should be when compared with a vintage arcade network) and do enjoy the arrow taking Ralph and Vanellope to who knows where. What’s unwieldy is the title as app icon. Putting Disney inside the box is bad enough, but what they do with the notification circle is unforgiveable. Having the “2” there is ingenious, but only if you keep the name “Wreck-It Ralph 2.” Putting those words super tiny inside the circle conversely admits you know the gimmick doesn’t work and were too lazy to figure out a real fix or simply scrap the idea completely.

One poster that doesn’t need meddling is Concept Arts’ Creed II (November 21). Much like their Ralph teaser, they know the character is enough. The added bonus here, however, is that this character wears his name on his clothing. So despite the artwork being nothing but a Frank Ockenfels photo atop a giant Roman numeral “II,” those two pieces are intentionally combined to form the title.

The black and white also adds some welcome drama the second poster loses in its glossy, try-hard attempt to earn emotion through a scream. Is this a happy scream? Angry scream? We don’t know. Maybe he’s singing. And don’t get me started on the title/actor list top right because it needs to be rotated 180-degrees so my left-to-right English-based brain stops screaming as loud as Michael B. Jordan.


This has character

Characters in a film don’t always have to be actors, especially not when we’re talking about documentaries like The Last Race (limited November 16). Here’s the story of a small-town racetrack and the community that rallies around it. The poster could have gone the route of using some citizens that we don’t know to sell its product, but why not go for drama instead? Why not focus on the subject of racing and what this specific track has to offer?

The result is a captivating image of a beat-up stock car painted red, white, and blue with smoke ascending out the engine. It has a showcase feel similar to when dealerships put their latest edition on a revolving circular platform and have photos taken from a low-angle to portray its “muscle.” The condition itself is both a literal representation of what happens and a metaphorical parallel to the track’s struggles to survive. And this car is allowed to exist in alone that headspace, the title bold yet detached for a perfectly balanced composition moving us through the smoke from “character” to text.

For Jinn (limited November 15), Blood & Chocolate have taken an image of its star and cropped her in a way that allows them to mimic the contours of her face with their text. The right justified credits box follow the path of her mouth until the slight slope of the “j” outlines her nose. A river of negative space is therefore created so our eyes can travel down it, the stark white title grabbing our attention before releasing us onto the rest. And the coloring is superb with headscarf and background filling diagonal corners to highlight her smile. The film is about a young girl struggling with her identity and if nothing else this poster gives us hope she’ll come out of it okay.

InSync Plus’ If Beale Street Could Talk (limited November 30) uses similar imagery in a different way. Like the last sheet, both KiKi Layne and Stephan James have heads bowed. Unlike Zoe Renee’s sense of joy, however, these two are tilted with somber reverence and love in the midst of oppression. And rather than having text cradle their faces as it does above, they meet as though pieces of a puzzle matching forehead to forehead as no other soul could.

The coloring is intriguing in that the photo itself is black and white with green at bottom fading cloudily into red at top. There’s good motion in that transition so we can effortlessly shift our gaze along the vertical axis from title to date.

After characters portraying drama, joy, and love comes my fourth entry to this section: comedy. You cannot help but laugh at MIDNIGHT OIL’s The Favourite (limited November 23) simply because of Emma Stone sunk down on the floor with arms crossed while Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz look on regally by comparison. The poster literally frames the latter pair as though they epitomize a pristine image that should be sold and yet it’s the odd woman out who steals our attention and the show.

The rest is a mix of the surreal and idiosyncratic. The bunnies add a nice flourish (I haven’t seen the film to comment on their inclusion), the way Colman’s cape interacts with the false frame and then becomes a rug is delightful, and the decision to force all text into full justified columns proves as confounding as it does memorable. On the whole this poster is simultaneously abstract and matter-of-fact, playful and severe. Knowing Yorgos Lanthimos, the film itself should follow suit.

This design ultimately proves much more palatable than Vasilis Marmatakis’ teaser. That one is much darker and obtuse—perhaps relying too much on our having seen the film to understand it. Unforgettable in concept, I wonder if it’s simply too weird to leave an indelible mark.

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10 Highlights from the 30th Edition of Newfest, NYC’s Premier LGBT Film Festival

Written by The Film Stage, October 23, 2018 at 3:26 pm 

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NewFest kicks off on Wednesday, celebrating the 30th year of New York City’s premier queer film festival. Each year, NewFest presents some of the buzziest titles from all over the world, but it also plays home to brand-new fiction films and documentaries that you can’t see anywhere else.

International titles with strong acclaim are some of the best films in this year’s slate, many making their NYC debuts: the Kenyan lesbian love story Rafiki, which premiered at Cannes, is the festival’s International Centerpiece; Mario from the Locarno Film Festival; and Hard Paint from the Berlin Film Festival. Yen Tan’s critically acclaimed AIDS drama 1985 starring Cory Michael Smith will open the festival, followed by Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased as the U.S. Centerpiece. NewFest closes out with Making Montgomery Clift, directed by the actor’s nephew Robert Anderson Clift and Hillary Demmon.

We selected 10 titles among the dozens of excellent projects at this year’s festival. A 20th anniversary screening of the Angelina Jolie-starring Gia and 10th anniversary screening of Gus Van Sant’s Milk are also cineaste highlights. NewFest runs from October 24-30, and you can check out the slate right here.

1985 (Yen Tan)

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Adrian (played with heartbreaking sensitivity by Cory Michael Smith) is coming back to his small Texas hometown for the first time in three years. He’s brought Christmas presents for his conservative parents (an extraordinary Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis) and his little brother who keeps his stash of Madonna tapes hidden, but he also comes with a couple of secrets: he’s been living as an out gay man in NYC, and he’s HIV positive. Set in the title year, director Tan’s attention to detail makes the festival’s Opening Night Film a treasure trove of 80’s nostalgia. But in many ways, the film itself (shot in grainy 16mm) also feels like a relic from the era. With characters painted like archetypes rather than people, and life lessons imparted that you can see coming a mile away, it’s more after school special than poetry. – Jose Solís

Daddy (Jonah Greenstein)

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In his directorial debut, Jonah Greenstein takes on the sad reality of homelessness in New York by focusing on a young man (Alexander Horner) who survives in the city by sleeping in the homes of the “daddies” he meets on Grindr. Almost every scene shows him showing up at the apartment of a different man, most of whom fetishize his youth to the point where he seems more like a sex toy than a human being. That is until he meets William (the always remarkable Thomas Jay Ryan) who seems to see the young man for who he is, rather than what he wants from him. Greenstein has a keen eye for capturing the many ways in which people become invisible in NYC, and through subtle cues (a TV set is blasting a live report on the 2016 election) he shows the ways in which an intimate encounter with a stranger can make all the difference. – Jose Solís

Hard Paint (Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon)

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You wouldn’t expect a film about a glowed up camboy to tackle social repression, bullying, and the internet’s ability to erase class boundaries through the avatars at our fingertips, but Hard Paint does so with a keen eye. Like directors Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon’s previous films, Hard Paint–which won the Teddy Award for Best Feature Film at this year’s Berlin Film Festivalis based in Porto Alegre in southern Brazil. Pedro (Shico Menegat) is a teen, socially ostracized by his community for defending himself against daily bullying. Seeking an outlet from his restricted reality, Pedro transforms himself into NeonBoy, a cam model performing with neon paints and earning his living from private performances. When a competitor steals Pedro’s neon schtick, he has to find a creative solution for maintaining his livelihood. Pedro’s neon sexual performances and real-life encounters shine a light from the chromatic edges of civil society on boundary-less networks of internet communities. – Joshua Encinias

I Hate New York (Gustavo Sánchez)

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Director Gustavo Sánchez followed four transgender performer-activists over ten years in New York City, resulting in a title proclaimed by many: I Hate New York. The J.A. Bayona-produced documentary profiles Amanda Lepore, Chloe Dzubilo, Sophia Lamar, and T De Long, who inherited the infamous club and art scenes that integrated with the broader culture–or their culture disintegrated, depending how you look at it–after 9/11. A musical structure replaces a traditional visual beat of beginning, middle, and end. With the audacity of Godard’s audio editing, composer Ryūichi Sakamoto weaves the women’s stories together as a testament to their cultural interregnum in the early 2000s. – Joshua Encinias

The Heiresses (Marcelo Martinessi)

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After being together for three decades, Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irún) are about to face their first significant time apart when Chiquita is sent to prison for fraud charges. Having lost all their wealth, and even being forced to sell the possessions they inherited from their families, Chela suddenly finds herself becoming a cab driver for the rich ladies in her neighborhood. In his feature directorial debut, Martinessi crafts a singular portrait of being a woman in Latin America, and the way in which class comes into play to the extent that if you’re rich enough, no one will question the gender of the partner you choose to spend your life with. Brun and Irún are true forces of nature as women who refuse to kneel in the face of disaster, with Brun in particular displaying an emotional inner life that allows viewers to almost literally see her become someone else in front of their eyes. – Jose Solís

Making Montgomery Clift (Robert Anderson Clift and Hillary Demmon)

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Making Montgomery Clift makes a compelling case for an alternative to the accepted history of Montgomery Clift self-destructive gayngst. Made by Robert Clift (nephew of Montgomery) and Hillary Demmon, they analyze family archives, including phone calls between Montgomery and his brother, recorded for posterity. Robert acts as the on-screen, documentarian gumshoe, like a minister presiding over an exhumation and reburial of his long-deceased uncle’s legacy. At times the documentary glosses over the substance abuse that lead to Clift’s early death, but its analysis is worth considering. For instance, by infamously refusing to sign studio contracts, he was considered a diva about town, but it also allowed him to forgo the kind of sham marriages studios foisted on gay stars like Rock Hudson. One wonders if the evidence provided in the documentary warrants reconsideration of Clift’s legacy as a tragic homosexual, or if it says something about the family’s uneasiness with that legacy. – Joshua Encinias

Mario (Marcel Gisler)

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Following the basic plot of Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country but set in the world of soccer, Mario’s sexually repressed titular character, played by Max Hubacher, has plans for a fantastic soccer career. These become threatened by Leon Saldo (Aaron Altaras), a dark-haired and sexually open teammate from Germany. The two stumble into love only to have it threatened by the unwritten, homophobic rules held by their soccer club. The film highlights there are no openly gay players in Premier League. More importantly, Mario’s lived-in characters take the film beyond its tropes with broad humanistic appeal. Hubacher won the Swiss Film Award for best actor for the 71st Locarno Film Festival selection. – Joshua Encinias

Rafiki (Wanuri Kahiu)

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Love stories rarely come with the vibrancy and swoon-worthiness of Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki. Set in modern day Nairobi, we meet Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) the pink-haired “perfect Kenyan girl,” and the tomboyish Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) who fall in love despite their fathers being political rivals, and homosexuality being taboo in their country. Kahiu paints a portrait of a country caught in the middle of unrelenting change, where spiritual leaders can no longer provide the comfort young people need to satiate their innermost longings, and where forbidden love must seek secret places in which to thrive. Despite having many moments of tragedy and loss, the film is remarkable for its liveliness. It embodies the youthful spirit of its protagonists to show that, and as corny as it may sound, love is always meant to win. Banned in Kenya for depicting a lesbian relationship in a positive manner, Rafiki is political cinema that truly inspires. – Jose Solís

Retablo (Álvaro Delgado-Aparicio L.)

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Fresh of a successful bow at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Álvaro Delgado-Aparicio L.’s directorial debut is a worldview-shattering welcome into adulthood for fourteen-year-old Segundo (Junior Béjar Roca). The film follows a rift between Segundo and his artisan father Noe (Amiel Cayo), who creates story boxes that earn him the title of “maestro” in their Peruvian community. Noe is the paragon of manhood in their male-dominated community, but when Segundo encounters his father having sex with another man, he loses the ability to calibrate the man he’s expected to become, with the man his father is, and his own burgeoning sexuality. – Joshua Encinias

The Skin of the Teeth (Matthew Wollin)

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Josef (Pascal Arquimedes) arrives at the apartment of his hedge fund manager date, the much older John (Donal Brophy), and is instantly impressed by the simple opulence: the steak dinner, the wine, the music and the view. Things go out of hand when the young man, who assumes a rich dude ought to have the best drugs, takes a pill he finds in John’s bedroom, and wakes up in an interrogation room where the very essence of his being is questioned. Even though the film is never as clever as it thinks (the ending seems like it’s meant to “shock” rather than the bring the story to a rightful conclusion) there is a lot to enjoy, especially in the earlier seduction scenes which brim with sensuality and playfulness but sadly fail to bring to surface how class and racial dynamics play out in gay dating. Now that’s a mystery worth cracking. – Jose Solís

The 30 edition of NewFest runs from October 24-30. See the lineup here.

Recommended New Books on Filmmaking: Coen Brothers, Marilyn Monroe, Caitlin Cronenberg, and More

Written by Christopher Schobert, October 22, 2018 at 7:00 am 

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Fall is a fine time to submerge oneself under an afghan with a good book, and there are many new treats centered on cinema. From a Hollywood super agent’s tell-all to a comprehensive look at the Coen brothers, there’s plenty here to enjoy in between diving into leaf piles and clutching a pumpkin latte. The autumn cliches are now complete, so let’s move on.

The Endings: Photographic Stories of Love, Loss, Heartbreak, and Beginning Again by Caitlin Cronenberg and Jessica Ennis (Chronicle Books)

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One of the most thrilling photographers on the planet is Caitlin Cronenberg, the marvelous shooter of Drake’s Views From the Six album cover (the memorable shot featured the Canadian artist perched atop Toronto’s CN Tower), among other gems. Cronenberg’s latest project, a collaboration with art director Jessica Ennis titled The Endings, is her most stunning achievement to date. A series of photographic vignettes featuring the likes of Keira Knightley, Tessa Thompson, Julianne Moore, Patricia Clarkson, and Juno Temple, The Endings is audacious, gorgeous, and nakedly emotional. As American Psycho director Mary Harron puts it in her introduction, “Caitlin and Jessica think of these stories as stills from a film that was never made.” Indeed, each set of images carries the dramatic weight of a full-length film. Several “histories” at the book’s end outline the imaginary backstories of each vignette. Yet there is also room for the reader to imagine different tales. This is an extraordinary creation; a book of startling beauty and great mystery.

Who Is Michael Ovitz? by Michael Ovitz (Portfolio Books)

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There was a time when no Hollywood titan wielded more power than Michael Ovitz. Those days are over, but the CAA co-founder and super agent brings that period to vivid life in his long-awaited memoir, Who Is Michael Ovitz? It’s a brisk, compelling read featuring a swath of cameos, including but not limited to Bill Murray, David Letterman, and Martin Scorsese. Ovitz comes across here as honest and self-effacing, while also justifiably proud of the role he played and the respect his position garnered. This is not the hit-job many anticipated. Rather, it’s a smart exploration of how projects like Schindler’s List came to be, and why a figure like Ovitz was often an essential part of the process.

The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together by Adam Nayman (Abrams)

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Adam Nayman’s The Coen Brothers is the book the directors of Blood Simple, Fargo, and No Country for Old Men have long deserved. A big, bold walk through every feature they’ve ever made (up to ending on Hail, Caesar!), this is, indeed, the book that really ties the films together. Nayman, whose book on Showgirls is another gem, finds insightful connections between films like The Hudsucker Proxy and Hail, Caesar! while also diagnosing the significance of each entry in the duo’s filmography. (“True Grit,” Nayman explains, “was a big-tent movie for the Coens”–in other words, a major box-office success with real cultural impact.) In addition to analysis, plot details, stills, and behind-the-scenes photos, the text includes interviews with collaborators like Roger Deakins and Carter Burwell. What is most endearing about This Book is that it spends a comparable amount of time on each entry in the Coens’ filmography. Even the lesser-regarded likes of Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers are explored with thematic insight and detailed photographic analysis. There’s no doubt this is one of 2018’s must-own books for film lovers.

Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope (Hachette Books)

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The story of Jho Low seems ripped out of fiction: a shady Wharton grad with an ability to raise billions of dollars produces films like The Wolf of Wall Street and befriend the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio. It couldn’t last, of course, and thankfully authors Tom Wright and Bradley Hope are here to show Low’s downfall in entertaining detail. It’s a story that seems to demand the big screen treatment, so fingers crossed that Billion Dollar Whale inspires a documentary adaptation.

Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon by Charles Casillo (St. Martin’s Press)

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Do we need another Marilyn Monroe biography? Yes, when it is fresh and insightful as Charles Casilio’s Private Life of a Public Icon. The screen legend’s tortured story is recounted with much new detail, especially the conflicting accounts of Bobby Kennedy’s whereabouts during Monroe’s final days. The reader finishes Casilio’s text in a state of sadness, but that is more than appropriate. There is quite simply no other emotion more fitting when pondering the end of Marilyn.

The 1990s Teen Horror Cycle: Final Girls and a New Hollywood Formula by Alexandra West (McFarland)

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Alexander West is a unique and important writer about modern horror. In The 1990s Teen Horror Cycle, she digs into an era that is easy to overlook. In films like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, West sees legitimate attempts at asking teen audiences to confront the nature of violence. It’s a fascinating thought, and the author also explores a number of films mostly ignored by the critical establishment, including Fear, Teaching Mrs. Tingle, and Idle Hands. As she stalks through these horror entries, it’s more than a nostalgia trip, making for a juicy read.

Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary (New Edition) by Pablo Hidalgo and David Reynolds (DK)

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It seems like there’s a new Star Wars visual dictionary from DK every few months, and guess what? Each one is stellar. The latest, a new edition of The Complete Visual Dictionary, is the finest and most comprehensive yet. It features the prequel trilogy, the original trilogy, The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Last Jedi, and Solo over the course of nearly 350 pages. As always, a plethora of visual delights are included, most memorably a full spread of the infamous Sarlacc that is sure to delight (and gross out) hardcore fans.   

Solo: A Star Wars Story by Mur Lafferty (Del Rey)

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It’s quite interesting to watch Ron Howard’s enjoyable, underrated Solo: A Star Wars Story at home along with the deleted scenes, and then read Mur Lafferty’s novelization. Many of these deleted scenes are also included in the Hugo-nominated author’s book, and some of them–Qi’ra’s backstory, Han’s time as a pilot in the Imperial Navy–strengthen the story’s choppy first chunk. (Lafferty also makes the scene in which Han and Qi’ra reunite much more emotional.) This is certainly a case in which the novelization adds additional layer and texture.

Die Hard books from Insight Editions

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This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of Die Hard, and Insight Editions is celebrating with three new books. First is Die Hard: The Ultimate Visual History by James Mottram and David S. Cohen, a wonderfully detailed run through the history of all five Die Hard films. Most interesting is the pre-production and production info related to John McTiernan’s original, specifically the project’s link to Frank Sinatra (the book on which the film is based was a sequel to Sinatra’s 1968 drama The Detective) and the names bandied about for John McClane (Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Burt Reynolds, James Caan, and, er, Richard Dean Anderson). The victor, of course, was Bruce Willis, and the rest is history. While the book becomes less compelling as the series progresses, it’s still tremendously readable. Next is A Die Hard Christmas, written by Doogie Horner and illustrated by JJ Harrison. Yes, this is a storybook version of the film that playfully answers whether Die Hard should be considered a Christmas movie. The illustrations are suitably delightful, and suitably violent. Lastly is a graphic novel sequel, A Million Ways To Die Hard, written by Frank Tieri and illustrated by Mark Texeira. Taking place thirty years after Die Hard, it features an older, now-retired McClane on the hunt for a serial killer. It’s a fine continuation, and certainly a more compelling McClane story than A Good Day to Die Hard. Note to Fox as they plan the inevitable next franchise film: Book Willis, bring back McTiernan, and let them rip.

Building, crafting, making: Three picks for kids

As a parent, one of the joys of writing about film-related books is receiving examples tailor-made for my own kids. I knew that Star Wars Maker Lab: 20 Craft and Science Projects (by Liz Lee Heinecke and Cole Horton; DK) would be a hit in the Schobert household, and indeed it was. While many of the projects are a bit involved (an R2-D2 holoprojector, a Hoth snow globe), that’s part of the fun. And searching for the right materials makes this a nice weekend afternoon activity. Meanwhile, DK’s “build your own adventure” Lego books offer a nice blend of text (there’s generally a brief story) and detailed building instructions. The latest Ninjago edition, Greatest Ninja Battles, offers some neat ideas for young ones; my favorite is the food stall featuring wee fried eggs. And then there’s Batman: Flashlight Projections (by Jake Black; Insight Kids), a clever creation featuring cut-out windows featuring the Dark Knight and lots of villains. My phone flashlight proved perfect for this one, and the text is simple enough for beginning readers.

Killer comic-inspired creations

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Speaking of kid-friendly releases, I can’t tell you the positive effect DK’s Marvel Studios Visual Dictionary (by Adam Bray) has had on my eight-year-old’s Lego building. He literally opens the book, pages through it until he finds an image of a superhero whose minifigure he has not yet acquired, and creates his own. But the book is not just for little ones. Any Marvel fan will find much to chew on in this wonderfully exhaustive collection of oddball character details (Pepper Potts’s ring was a gift from her grandmother!), close-up photos of weaponry (Hawkeye’s quiver!), and lots of backstories. A little too creepy for kiddos but fascinating for older fans is DC: Anatomy of a Metahuman, written by S.D. Perry and Mathew K. Manning, and illustrated by Ming Doyle (Insight Editions). It’s an anatomical breakdown of everything from Bane’s veins to Aquaman’s lungs, and it’s pretty stunning. Doyle’s illustrations, in particular, deserve a callout. And the last noteworthy entry for comics fans this month is DC Comics Absolutely Everything You Need to Know (by Liz Marsham, Melanie Scott, Landry Walker, and Stephen Wiacek; DK). This colorful guide is ideal for a lazy fan like yours truly, and I expect longtime followers will also find much of interest. Best of all is the presence of minor characters like Bizarro’s clone, Zibarro, and simian sleuth Detective Chimp. The latter deserves his time in spotlight, dammit.

Blu-ray bonuses

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A case can be made that The Tree of Life is one of The Criterion Collection’s most audacious and important releases in their history. While Terrence Malick’s 2011 film remains a bold, exhilarating viewing experience, what makes this 2018 release so noteworthy is what the disc includes. There is the film, of course, and the usual special features, some text (an essay from Kent Jones and Roger Ebert’s original review), and an expert restoration. But the cherry on top is the presence of Malick’s new, extended cut featuring an additional fifty minutes. The Brad Pitt-Jessica Chastain starrer that cuts between the dawn of creation, 1950s Texas, and the present day, in many ways, feels like an entirely new film. For more, check out Jordan Raup’s feature.

Nearly as exciting is Criterion’s release of Olivier Assayas’s Cold Water, a 1994 drama rarely seen in the United States. This tale of two teenagers in 1970s Paris features a party sequence that critic Girish Shambu, in a wonderful essay included in the booklet, says “might be the fullest and most ambitious expression of Assayas’s ability to wed his mastery of movement to a structural bedrock of music, a series of songs that accompany the episodes we witness.” Cold Water, then, would make a fascinating double bill with the director’s seemingly overlooked autobiographical 2012 drama, Something in the Air.

See more recommended books on filmmaking.

The Films within Films of ‘The Other Side of The Wind’ and ‘La Flor’

Written by Caden Mark Gardner , October 17, 2018 at 7:43 pm 

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At the 56th New York Film Festival there were titles that have intrigued, beguiled, and challenged viewers, perhaps none more so than Mariano Llinás’ fourteen-hour grand experiment La Flor and Orson Welles’ posthumously released The Other Side of The Wind. The former will be lucky to achieve any life after the festival; the latter will be widely available through Netflix next month. These are both films of grand ambition, creativity, and reflexivity. Quite coincidentally, both feature films within films that underscore this reflexivity, center the process of filmmaking for viewers, and show Llinás and Welles unlocking a kind of creative freedom that very few are privileged to make and be seen in such a way.

How does any filmmaker justify a fourteen-plus hour runtime? In the case of the Argentine Llinás, it is to express or at least give the impression of self-awareness in his massive undertaking with La Flor, the six-part, eight-hundred sixty-eight minutes long that is all at once tedious, bonkers, original, riveting, and unpredictable for its entirety. Llinás first appears in the film jotting down on a public park bench in his notebook and directly speaking, in voice-over, to the audience. He draws out the symbol of ‘La Flor’ something of a flower while also something of trident, spear type of weapon as he briefs viewers into what each episode shall entail. La Flor can best be characterized as postmodern, the most accessible way to pitch to even fellow cinephiles would be to compare it to the postmodernist works of literature such as Thomas Pynchon, or Argentine literary titans Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar, particularly Cortázar whose incredible novel Hopscotch notoriously included a ‘Table of Instructions’ that recommended two different ways of reading the novel out of order. Llinás’ previous film in 2008, Extraordinary Stories (that got some North American play in 2011), had a similar playful literary pretense of Llinás devising his comparably leaner four-plus hour-long film in alternating multiple voice-overs that served as anticipating, predicting, and revising the increasingly knotted threads throughout the film. And even that does not fully prepare a viewer for La Flor. Nor does any of recent epic films like Miguel Gomes’ three-part Arabian Nights film or the equally endowed-to-literature anthology film of the Coen brothers western, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and citing Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz or Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 as comparisons on account of length also is ill-fitting. Those films still had were unified as one whole story and situation. La Flor is quite simply nothing you have ever seen before in being six different movies. The movie is a test of a director, his actresses, and his crew. There is rigor, but there is also something subliminal percolating throughout the project.

Even while functioning within familiar narratives through genre riffs, La Flor best functions as an autopsy, deconstruction, and reconstruction of films and filmmaking through ways that are revelatory and sometimes through some pretty shaggy digressions. This will of course challenge viewers’ patience with Llinás always popping up, usually at the precise right moment to note how much time is left and wishing viewers good luck on their viewing endeavor or even mockingly snore through his voiceover. This, again, may test viewers who find no pleasure in a director being that aware. However, La Flor’s reflexivity does not make it immune for further investigation. In fact, Llinás challenges the idea of reading and interpreting of his work by dedicating the entirety of the fourth episode, or Episodio IV, by creating a film within a film standing in for La Flor called “The Spider.” This episode unlocks everything about the project, becoming a commentary of this journey in cinema that Llinás shares with four actresses who appear throughout most of the film.

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Each episode of La Flor is indeed different, the first episode is a New American cinema (although at times shot in a near Son of Saul styled third person perspective of harsh rack focus) meets Val Lewton mysterious mummy movie that plagues cats and people that was intended, to paraphrase Llinás, be the type of B-movie that Americans used to make with their eyes closed but have since forgotten how to shoot. The second episode is a mixture of an anti-A Star Is Born battle of two singers, an older man and a younger woman, and an international cabal obsessed with scorpion blood. The third episode of a cross-continental Cold War spy thriller of traitors, double-crossers, and some of the most prominent uses of foreign language dubbing in quite some time (much of which is played for laughs, including a cameo by Llinás), and is the longest episode that according to Llinás took between six to seven years to complete. When Llinás sketched out the pretense of the project early on, that he has no idea what the story after the third episode would be about other than to escape from the Cold War world he did in the previous film. He admittedly did not have a complete script, instead opting for images and build stories from that than the other way around.

And so with Episodio IV, there comes ‘the switch’ in the project. If the third episode was reaching the peak of the mountain, the fourth episode is the travel back down, the aftermath of accomplishing the most rigorous labor, returning perhaps more enlightened but also at a loss of what can possibly come next as to finish this project.

A group of four actresses (all played by Llinás’ four actresses), one dressed like a First Nation woman (unsure if she is just dressed like one or playing one for her character because postmodernism), two dressed as Canadian Mounties, and one dressed like a bearded frontiersman (and unsure if she is playing a man or just dressed like one because, again, postmodernism) who are having their patience and trust tested in their Quebec location of Kashwakamak Lake. They are frustrated by their director, a surrogate for Llinás with the same hairline, facial hair, and red colored work shirt, for not having a script and developing an obsession of filming trees as opposed to filming them. They have been working on a project called “The Spider” (the director also sketches out the symbol of the film that resembles less of a spider and more of an ant) for six years and feel they have hit a creative roadblock. Their film–something of sci-fi conspiracy–goes nowhere and it is then revealed that the actresses are all witches who will avenge their grievances on their director and crew by casting a spell that has the director go missing as his blue Volvo gets found in a tree and his crew have gone mad and scandalize the local sanitarium. This leads to an investigator who attempts to use the director’s notes to crack the bizarre mystery. Some of the notes are inscrutable to this investigator, the dramatic irony that the audience knows more about the insights in the tree obsession. But there is of course new information for the audience with a section devoted entirely what the director has read, leading to his possible inspiration from Casanova’s journals that include a Peter Greenaway-esque period reenactment of four concubines (played by the four primary actresses Pilar Gamboa, Elisa Carricajo, Valeria Correa, and, the most recognizable actress to international audiences for her appearances in Matías Piñeiro films, Laura Paredes) who all conspired against Casanova within their secret society.

Episodio IV is a riff off of the project itself and of films where the idea is unfinished and reflexively leaving it all out there while on an elusive search of that inspiration becoming the text, in the mode of Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ and Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie. The episode’s middle-section is a demanding, gonzo series of digressions where narrators and perspectives change but things introduced are called back (call it Chekhov’s techno beat). The episode ends with the four actresses as themselves in portrait-like landscapes looking directly, at various distances, towards the camera with smiles and personal gestures. These are not concubines, witches, or mere pieces to bend towards one director’s vision… These images of beautiful women conclude after Llinás and his on-screen surrogate initially rebelled humans to shoot trees, as he says to start at the very beginning after the lengthiest, most grueling work he had done. It is a cinematic exhale.

What follows in the proceeding episodes in La Flor are films where the actresses become absent or filmed into abstraction. It makes Episodio IV’s conclusion indeed feel like a natural progression and perfectly placed as a celebration of these actresses. For in Episodio V, the actresses are absent in a remake of Renoir’s A Day In The Country (silent except when lifting music and French–not subtitled–dialogue from the Renoir original) and in Episodio VI are in camera obscura in recreating a turn of the 20th century narrative and early 20th century style silent film of ‘captive women’ as told from a 1900 diary of an Englishwoman among Native women in the Americas. Where the first few episodes heavily delved into conspiracies, bureaucracy, and surveillance as a frequent narrative beat, those become absent, as though the fourth episode exorcised and cleansed the remainder of the project. These episodes are short but creativity and inspiration pulsate through both with Llinás recreating and imitating other texts and styles from film to painting.

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In The Other Side of The Wind, the central text is also on a director struggling to complete a project with an incomplete script that appears to be a director out of time readapting into a different kind of Hollywood movie. Given his history of many incomplete works, John Huston as Jake Hannaford can be described as Welles’ on-screen surrogate and obvious parallel. The film uses a documentary-style technique to follow Hannaford on his 70th birthday party as he shows his incomplete latest work. Jake Hannaford has returned from years of exile to make a film, a film of which, quite disarmingly, fits right into the mold of New Hollywood psychedelia.

This film within film is a ponderous thriller of barely clothed hippies, a man and a woman (played by Welles’ real-life partner and co-writer for the film, Oja Kodar, who is mostly nude), who may be involved in some politically motivated bombing–the uncompleted film does not return to that thread–but it quickly digresses into scenes of bathroom orgies and an explicit sex in a moving car. The precision and alchemy of these scenes feel out of reach by a veteran like Hannaford and also a veteran like Welles and yet, they are incredible stand-ins of the real thing. Quite intriguing on their own, these imitations also offer critiques of what these styles are representing.

Even without explicitly calling out any directors by name, it is clear that the film Welles is riffing on his film within a film is Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. Other reviews of Wind have pointed out the comparisons to Antonioni’s much-maligned (but itself a cult classic) foray into New Hollywood cinema but the connections to Antonioni also influence the conflicts within Wind beyond aesthetic parallels. Like the Antonioni film, Hannaford’s film is cast with two unknowns who move across various landscapes of urban and ghostly bare Western landscapes to engage in sexual activity. But the reason why Hannaford cannot complete the work is due to the fact he got into a dispute with his actor John Dale (Bob Random), much like Antonioni had with Mark Frechette, who briefly left filming of Zabriskie Point during production. Welles concentrates on Hannaford’s deliberate self-sabotage and precarious place in Hollywood in old age as part of the reason for this crisis in film completion, but there is certainly an excoriation happening within the spoof of it all. Antonioni was a rare auteur that Welles went on-record several times for disliking. When asked about Antonioni in a 1967 interview with Playboy magazine deemed the Italian filmmaker as making ‘perfect backgrounds for fashion models’ and a ‘pioneer and founding father’ for ‘boredom as subject.’ There is deliberate imitation of this style by Welles as to show how ridiculous and absent of narrative drive these films have. As Welles would see it, the freedom of the New Hollywood cinema appeared to be more of narrative stripped away in favor of experimentation and minimalism that veered into masturbatory teenage boy fantasies; the first shot the audience sees of Hannaford’s film being a gratuitous shot of many naked women in a shower that exist for no other reason than Hannaford getting to cast a bunch of ‘nudies.’ Hannaford himself seemed to be filming in rage and embarrassing his actors either as a way of wanting an out from this film or finding no true artistic pleasure in creating it. And one can only question if Welles got any pleasure from imitating on that level. The film imitation is so well-done. Could there really have been no pleasure in making something that looks that good? What cinematographer Gary Graver achieves in balancing both the documentary-like quality of the Wind and the film within the film, such starkly different styles, is an artistic achievement in itself. And Welles himself did magician work in being a different kind of filmmaker twofold in imitating the styles of documentary filmmaking and psychedelic-infused New American cinema. In seeing this work decades after it stalled, The Other Side of the Wind shows an older filmmaker testing himself within the confines of a new style while critiquing it, serving up an imitation that is close to the real thing.

When Mariano Llinás was asked by Jordan Cronk in CinemaScope in looking at La Flor as a challenge to himself, his response was, “It was more like I wanted to give a gift to myself—pleasure, something restorative. It was more like that—exploring regions that have been forsaken by the cinema. And of course each of these stories would help the actresses develop and showcase what they can do. The genres were a way of finding new images.” Similarly, Orson Welles was doing something restorative in confronting work he detested by remaking it, showing its flaws, and having a little fun with it. Welles never completed another fictional motion picture after stalling on The Other Side of The Wind, but the film offered a glimpse of there being more to think of what he could have given cinema. There is no telling what Llinás will do next and one hopes whatever ambition in any form he has for film is served. With both of these works, we see directors at different stages of their career testing themselves and the limits of cinema that flicker with inspiration through mirroring and recreating styles in and out of fashion. La Flor and The Other Side of the Wind distill the exhaustive journey of cinema, using their films within films as exercises in genres that test their own creative capacities that, in turn, reward the patient, willing viewer.

The Other Side of the Wind hits theaters and Netflix on November 2. La Flor is seeking U.S. distribution.

Posterized October 2018: ‘Burning,’ ‘Suspiria,’ ‘First Man,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, October 4, 2018 at 7:59 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.


October is here with a fantastic collection of poster designs from big studio pictures to small independents looking to standout against them. It makes sense since awards season is now upon us with the “prestige” festival season having recently completed. There’s a lot coming each week this month and many will be lucky to get a second week depending on the size of your market. So hook ’em early and hopefully reap the rewards.


Compare and contrast

It’s interesting to look at ARSONAL’s (with photography by Sheryl Nields) The Hate U Give (limited October 5; expanding October 19) and riddertoft’s Border (limited October 26) together because you’d generally assume the Hollywood production would want to fill the frame while the foreign import would remain stark. While the opposite is true here, the effect is no less successful with either. One is focusing on the message its title brilliantly represents as the other strives to capture your attention with the surreal.

The former’s title might be more obvious to discern in motion at the end of the trailer, but justifying the words to the left so the first letter of each lines up does the trick in print with a subtlety no blatant in-your-face maneuver can possess. That “U” is intentional so we read “THUG” as we move from top to bottom—a label many have weaponized as a means to dehumanize an oppressed population desperate to survive. And it’s potent enough to understand the meaning, its placement on a sign held by a young black woman in a hoodie providing the context we need. The bright white ensures we can’t look away.

Much like the trailer highlighting this duality, the UK sheet falls prey to a knee-jerk desire to make certain the audience gets the message. Putting these “two” different versions of Star together may even subvert the idea of confronting us. This could be intentional (I haven’t seen the film yet), but this one pits her two halves against the other rather than specifically engage our humanity (or bigotry depending on how racist you are). I’m sure this is intentional—that compartmentalization to exist in two vastly different worlds those with privilege are quick to say don’t exist—but to me the domestic sheet calling us out is much more effective. It could simply be a result of America and Britain’s differing relationship with the issue.

That level of starkness from the first couldn’t work with something like Border. It’s not entrenched in this political and social tipping point happening in our nation and thus must lean into what it does possess: the weird. This poster is gorgeous with its face either sinking into the ground or that greenery rising to consume it. You can’t help but want to take a closer look to try and comprehend what’s happening and why. The firm lets the imagery speak for itself, doing little with text other than highlighting the actress, title, and director. What more do you truly need?

The US poster loses that sense of the otherworldly. It’s not bad per se, just much less powerful as far as providing something no other design on the wall has. Now we have a critic quote, a comparison point (“We know you don’t know the author’s name, so we’ll mention that cool movie you saw that you also didn’t know he wrote”), and a tagline. The latter is good: “Sense Something Beautiful.” But what does that mean in context with this image of two people screaming at the sky? I also hate that there’s so much white space above the laurel and yet the tagline is squeezed in above the distant mountain. My eye can’t stop moving directly to that near overlap because it didn’t have to be that way.

With Life and Nothing More (limited October 24) and P+A’s Wildlife (limited October 19) we see a number of similarities. There are the actors in semi-profile looking at each other or off-screen and the titles floating at the top in very specific fonts providing a sense of personality and authority respectively. What’s different is how the mood and drama is created by minimalism and metaphor. One is dark and mysterious, the other a depiction of its artificial façade risking to come crashing down.

It’s great to compare them from a distance because P+A has done a wonderful job letting their text-heavy sheet fade into the background. Looking at them above as small thumbnails really shows them to be striking in their simplicity despite up-close appearances that would assume otherwise. Where Life and Nothing More gives you raw emotion, Wildlife finds a way to somehow equal it while still fulfilling its studio-driven obligations for credit and buzz.


Studio pizazz

So is it Mid90s or mid90s (limited October 19)? I prefer the latter—how BLT Communications, LLC formats the title on their teaser—but it seems the former is official (on A24’s website, IMDB, et al). Does it matter? Not really. I just find the lowercase more pleasing to the eye as the capital “M” ruins its informal flow. Sadly what looks good doesn’t always dictate what people want for professional reasons. They’ll simply dismiss this discrepancy as a result of the poster wanting to use lowercase for everything, but I’ll be here thinking about the missed possibility.

I believe that aesthetic should have been embraced because of the film’s subject matter too. This is a young teen trying to cement an identity he can live with against those others would enforce upon him. This is the struggle every boy in the movie combats with differing success so the lowercase is a nice way to portray how new to this world and unprepared they are. Squeezing everything together without a space already brings us to a juvenile incongruity of English “norms,” so why not go all the way with it?

While that great use of typography was retroactively replaced, Warner Bros. went all-in on Concept Arts’ treatment for A Star Is Born (October 5). It’s an interesting layout with the staggered alignment of words seemingly arbitrary at best. There were many opportunities to align serifs or letters and the firm took pains to ensure none were used. The leading between lines one and two is tighter than that between two and three and the placement of actor names is off-centered and almost an afterthought. It’s kind of a mess and yet it somehow works.

I wonder if the perfect use of gradient that lends the whole a brushed metallic finish lets us forgive the rest. Making that gold look gold on a regular printer without any special foils or inks isn’t easy and yet it appears effortless here. That effect also mixes well with the muted coloring and hazy background, popping for some subtle flair against an otherwise simplistic visual.

And the image or color scheme doesn’t matter as evidenced at right. Give Gaga and Cooper a smile, have them touch heads affectionately, and voila. Much like the film itself these posters provide a clichéd, oft-remade property the homerun hit you simply wouldn’t believe until seeing it for yourself.

Typography aside (it’s a gorgeous font), InSync Plus’ poster for Beautiful Boy (limited October 12) is both attractive and fitting. If you’ve seen the film you’ll know a lot of it takes place as memories of happier times on behalf of Steve Carell’s character, so this faded photograph hits upon that nostalgia with authentic emotion. Even if the concept didn’t work for the art itself, though, the care in rendering those folds and its muted Xerox monochrome is stunning. You could say it doubles as a “missing poster” too. This is the son he has lost. Maybe Timothée Chalamet’s character will see one posted around town and not recognize who he’s looking at.

As a composition it’s objectively nothing special and yet it stands out because of the choices within that frame. Cast list, image, title, and credits: so many posters follow this template. Few filter it in intent. Few choose a unique font that embodies its tone. And fewer still stop one piece from overshadowing the rest. The focal point is revealed to be those smiling faces—a miniscule piece of the whole. We’re shown what once was so the film can devastate through that harsh reality that it may never be this way again.

From washed-out and heartfelt arrive dark, brooding, and dramatic thanks to BOND’s (with photography by Dan Winters) First Man (October 12). This image of the smoke trail as Apollo 11 rises through the clouds to continue towards the moon portrays the terror and excitement the event simultaneously possessed. Juxtapose that with the rather nondescript title and we know exactly what this movie is about without any additional context. That’s how ubiquitous this historical moment was and how powerful everything surrounding a cinematic depiction of it needs to be to resonate.

This is a distinct departure from a campaign spanning multiple firms. They each focus on Ryan Gosling’s Neil Armstrong specifically—something that makes sense considering the film is about him rather than the mission alone. We get BOND’s introspective head bow with moon as spacesuit helmet shield. There’s ICONARTS CREATIVE’s J.J. Abrams zoom of fire with numbers that remind us of a flux capacitor. And finally we have Creative Partnership’s more generic (but no less intriguing) mix of character and event. They all have their positives (and negative thanks to the very bad title treatment with sliver moon “R”), but none match the awe of that first.


No photos allowed

It may just be a festival art print, but Bill Sienkiewicz’s illustration on LA’s Halloween (October 9) is memorable in its attitude, vantage, and craft. The way the moonlight creates a halo around this monster’s head is great, the highlight a contrast to the dark, lifeless eyes below. Our position beneath him intrigues because we don’t seem to be his current target—but are we a viewer or casualty gazing up without sight? And the stylistic title treatment complete with double “E” represented by horizontal lines alone is the icing on the cake.

The journey our hype takes from this to the studio-friendly sheets is akin to jumping off a cliff only to discover the ground a foot below you. That tease is bland: is Michael Myers looking down at us or is this just a mask hanging on the wall? The second with focus on Jamie Lee Curtis is uninspired: faces that don’t notice each other. Letting a property this famous be squandered by ubiquitous, static motifs is unforgiveable.

A similar thing happens with Venom (October 5) as LA delivers a wild illustrative effort only to make way towards Hollywood convention. Just look at that tease above. The character is hunched a la The Maxx vol. 1 with eyes crazy and tongue out. This is the menacing face of insanity we crave—the R-rated embodiment of anti-superheroics that’s apparently been taken away from us with a PG-13. There’s danger, violence, and a connection to the property’s comic beginnings. It’s perfect.

And then you see the others. The half-Venom/half-Hardy image is understandable if poorly rendered, but the final sheet is laughably silly with a giant Venom that looks like it still needs at least five more passes through the rendering process. Does he have wings? Is that a spaceship? If not for the pedigree of the visible cast, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking this the half-baked artwork for a direct to DVD rip-off desperate to ride the coattails of a more robustly budgeted counterpart. Realizing it’s the Hollywood iteration is therefore depressing.

Thankfully films that are outside the studio system can keep their animated posters intact without a need for by-the-numbers marketing-by-money entries to overtake them in the end. This means the quirky style of Shirkers (limited October 26) can grace our presence with its bright colors and chaotic content that’s able to surprise anyone who didn’t realize it was a documentary. It’s bold and loud, the checkered border housing an unlikely journey decades in the making as the title grabs attention with its three-dimensionality, translucency, and partial outlines.

Contrast this with the more staid Private Life (Netflix October 5) to see how versatile illustration really is. Chris Ware (who also created the artwork for Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages) comes in to build a scene with surprising emotion thanks to the faceless masses being broken by two leads at odds and yet still together with the touch of their hands. I love how the title bleeds into the white frame and how the bottom of “Private” kisses the top of the iron fence—a flawless bit of placement only beaten by the perfection of wedging the “I” right between two tall buildings in the background.

P+A is credited with the design, but I have to imagine Ware was responsible for the title because of this magnificent placement. That’s not to say the firm doesn’t do a great job complementing his color scheme with the critics’ blurbs or by keeping verbiage to the right of the tallest building for a welcome bit of visual stability. Meticulous synergy between image and text like this doesn’t come along too often.

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