The number of films releasing each month is steadily increasing yet again thanks to vaccines being administered in record time and theaters around the country re-opening (Regal is waiting until May, so expect some of April’s titles to holdover so every screen can be filled on day one). Even so, the marketing for the biggest names among them ultimately proves too lackluster to mention even without the below nine ensuring blocking them out. Mortal Kombat (in theaters April 23) never stood a chance.
Bonus: Now that the Oscar nominations are here, the usual suspects in the alt poster community (I’ve collected a bunch in this Twitter list) have begun their annual Best Picture series. There are a ton of great ones out there, but my 2021 favorites are those created by Eileen Steinbach (Sound of Metal below), Matt Needle (Promising Young Woman below), Snollygoster Productions (The Trial of the Chicago Seven below), and Scott Saslow (The Father below). Definitely check out their currently in-progress sets.
Out of the shadows
The sheet for Giants Being Lonely (VOD/Digital HD, April 6) excels as a result of its simplicity. Black background. Bright text balanced by an equally bright shirt. And an image that simultaneously gives a glimpse of the subject matter, the lead actor, and some formal intent through the pose. Photographing him with head up in disbelief is a choice that adds drama as well as movement—his body becoming our point of reference to journey through the page rather than the baseball that would usually be speeding along.
I really like the zero-point leading that forces each line of the title to kiss and form shapes in the negative space as well as the clean justification of producer/director credits beneath in order for everything to feel contained despite also being staggered in steps on the way down to the tagline scrawl. Its crisp edges are replaced by the soft curves of graffiti under the ballcap, life becoming messy if only because it gets personally meaningful as certainty evaporates into the unknown.
Slalom (limited, April 9) is similar, yet its shift utilizes color rather than precision. By doing so the whole proves as precise as possible with its photo turning into a duotone silhouette of black and red—the edge of its subjects’ faces and hairlines crisply rendered to match the sans serif text above. There’s an almost paper-cut feel to its aesthetic as though everything (man, girl, mountains) has been expertly removed from its actual background to be placed upon this blue sky instead.
Noses, chins, and hair become ski slopes just as easily as the curves in snow as a result, our eyes moving along their contours and jumping from one to the next. The brooding nature of his blackened face forces us to fear him as a villain and sympathize with her as the victim—the red of danger shining upon them so that we can make sure not to look away in case we miss something important.
Caspar Newbolt and (version_industries) ramp up that contrast into full-on chiaroscuro for Funny Face (limited, VOD/Digital HD, April 2). Well. I guess it’s actually Caravaggio who’s doing that considering the imagery used is his iconic Salome with the Head of John the Baptist albeit with a slight difference: the unforgettable plastic mask writer/director Tim Sutton drops into his lead actor’s hands.
It’s a striking alteration that lends a serious scene some discomfiting humor. And it does make sense too once you watch the film and understand the significance of the mask goes beyond its generic ability to grant the wearer anonymity to commit heinous acts of violence. For all we know Herod’s executioner was wearing it way back then to embolden himself in the face of John the Baptist and it’s been traveling through the centuries to eventually land in Brooklyn.
Imagery aside, however, my favorite bit of this piece has to be the subtle typography work that your brain more or less filters out if you aren’t paying attention. Look at the title at a glance and it’s simply the words “Funny” and “Face”. Look harder and notice that the “Ns” have merged into a zigzag union we should have seen much quicker if not for the tight kerning of the rest rendering it almost imperceptible.
I don’t know what’s going on in the poster for Labyrinth of Cinema (MUBI, April 27), but it’s mesmerizingly wild. Enough so that I honestly don’t care what’s happening. I don’t even care that the English title is unreadable over the six image squares upon which it’s placed. That sense of pure anarchy is part of its appeal.
Why? Because that’s not the only place these specific words exist. Look closely at those squares and you can make out each letter of “Labyrinth” via its color fields. The “of” is the sun and bracelet loops intersecting into an abstract “f”. And “Cinema” can just be made out in the circled images below that. The colorful filmstrips at the bottom are assumed to be intentionally laid out to help spell the title in Japanese as well—the over-arching chaos never without exacting purpose as long as you’re willing to find it.
About Endlessness (limited, April 30) delivers the exact opposite energy with its staid presentation of dream-like revelry as its characters escape the confines of their world to fly above. They’re simultaneously gliding and floating in a sort of lo-fi Superman pose of love and protection rather than adventure and exhilaration. The hazy gray is a great way to both create atmosphere and isolate our focus with texture and personality.
It’s an image that turns heads all on its own, so anymore text beyond the director’s name and title would just ruin its sense of wonder. Turning the font into stippled dots helps diffuse the brightness of the white so the letters can fade ever so slightly into the background—staying important without also becoming a distraction.
Rather than hold letters or create them, the circles of Malni – Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore (virtual cinemas, April 2) are unbeholden to anything but themselves. They exist as shapes forming a spiral towards the center of the page above a watery horizon: a visual representation of the Pacific Northwest’s Chinookan people’s death myth via rough and universal geometric shapes.
Its starkness isn’t about tone like Endlessness, though, as its minimalism feels almost as overwhelmingly loud as Labyrinth‘s tumult. The hand-written font and charcoal title give the whole immediacy to match the hypnotizing spiral’s hold. Everything draws us in until we’re drowning in the blue, helpless to escape the centrifugal force of its whirlpool dragging us out to sea.
Ends in “y”
If you want a striking image, call Portrait of a Lady on Fire painter Hélène Delmaire because her work on Sugar Daddy (VOD, April 6; limited, April 9) is exactly that. I’ve yet to see the film, but the trailer’s quick cut ending with glimpses at the scene depicted here is enough to pique interest—especially because of the color inversion. The footage appears to be blood coming out of Kelly McCormack’s mouth while this takes on a bright mixture of hues to counter the otherwise gray whole. Life is trying to escape this musician’s starving artist’s malaise.
You can’t blame the typesetter for shrinking everything but the title and tag bullets to an illegible size in order to make room for the portrait to steal our undivided gaze. It’s the kind of “read the room” mentality I’d love to see more of on a monthly basis. Make your final sheets more like teasers. Create a mood, capture our attention, and earn our money to discover the rest on-screen.
High Council’s Shiva Baby (limited, VOD/Digital HD, April 2) accomplishes the same thing by showing off Rachel Sennott in full cream cheese smear attire. This isn’t a scene from the film. It’s a photoshoot creation that gives us a taste (pun intended) of the subject matter and humorous tone without blindly choosing a still. This is a “star shot” with high school graduation backdrop and little else to distract.
Does it make you think there are going to be dream fantasy sequences throughout the movie? Sure. But that’s less misleading on the studio’s part than blindly assuming wrong on ours. It doesn’t therefore negate the appeal of using visual metaphor to deliver message/content above plot/narrative. Let the print medium tell its own story without trying to pretend it can tell the same one moving pictures can.
It’s the type of sentiment that MOCEAN embodies on their fantastic sheet for Monday (limited & VOD, April 16). This is probably a shot from the film, but it appropriates it in a vertical frame via deft composition augmented by bold typography. The image and type are married in such perfect harmony that I couldn’t even begin to guess which came first. The bright sun gives us a place, the comfortable smiles a sense of this couple’s hard-earned love.
The “M” serves as our starting point (balanced by the laurels under Denise Gough’s name like it rests beneath Sebastian Stan’s). From there we follow the word in a zigzag behind the two actors riding their motorcycle—their faces becoming our brief resting place before hitting the “D” between them. Shift left to the “A” nestled into the credits box and over to the “Y” in direct opposition to the “M” above. It’s fluid and yet precise; objectively informative and subjectively playful. I adore it.
What is your favorite April release poster? What could have used a rework?