“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.
There’s a good mix of independent originals and blockbuster remakes/sequels this month to satisfy young and old. How they’re all going to fend for screens I’m not sure—Finding Dory may finally have to bid us adieu until its home video release in October. So if you haven’t seen it or Star Trek Beyond, go quick. Suicide Squad (August 5) is going to be taking over very soon and I don’t think Batman v Superman‘s relative “failure” will affect its own longevity.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
One of the aforementioned sequels (Suicide Squad is technically one too, right?) is Mechanic: Resurrection (August 26). Did you know this was happening? I enjoyed the original Jason Statham vehicle (itself a remake of a 1972 Charles Bronson movie), but never thought in the wildest recesses of my brain that it would warrant a second go-round—especially without Ben Foster.
When I saw this first poster I immediately thought of Taylor Lautner sliding down a glass skyscraper in Abduction only to discover it’s even more identical to the poster for its own 2011 predecessor. I remember the black and red graphic sheet with gun made of other guns, but not this repelling Statham readying to fire. The new rehash doesn’t possess the same amount of action—his staring up at a window trying to figure out how he’ll grab that other anchor with a gun in his hand conjuring giggles, not suspense. The logo block is at least improved with the removal of that awkward “The” inside the “M,” though.
I think I’d actually prefer the other sequel sheet by The Refinery if only because of Tommy Lee Jones’ goofy goatee. I kind of want to go just to see that thing in action.
BOND’s poster for War Dogs (August 19) is equal to the copycat task by blatantly ripping off Scarface. The surprising thing, however, is that the update works. I love the pastel coloring and floating heads above black and white backgrounds with its scratchy, mirror-like (cocaine) texture. Besides the struggle to make the top text readable along the transition line, this thing is bold enough and familiar enough to grab your attention in the lobby.
It’s a heck of a lot better than WORKS ADV’s alternate showcasing Jonah Hill’s cackle. The way the title is drawn with the actor names popping out brighter than the “War” makes it seem like the movie is simply known as “Dogs.” I guess it gets the whole “From the director of The Hangover trilogy” aesthetic across, though. Two buffoons shooting automatic weapons and laughing about it—tickets will sell themselves.
Another successful redux arrives from BLT Communications, LLC with Pete’s Dragon (August 12). If you’re going to crib off another family friendly film, you can do a lot worse than P+A / Mojo’s Where the Wild Things Are. It’s a perfect glimpse of mystery, the giant tree in the foreground masking the reveal of both Pete and the dragon as it shares just enough to whet our appetite for its fantasy adventure.
The second poster from cold open delivers its own sense of the unknown in a way that bears resemblance to Disney’s original cartoon/live action hybrid. The cupped tail holding Pete is just similar enough to the bent tail supporting him in the 1977 version to make the nostalgic connection. We see the boy’s joy and the comfort and security the dragon supplies. We don’t need to be exposed to anymore than this before sitting down to watch the film for ourselves.
P+A’s own Disorder (limited August 12) has a distant relative in Concept Arts’ Focus if only because of its desire to use pretty people with stoic looks to sell us style before the substance can even be exposed. That Will Smith vehicle used some grainy contrast to set it apart from the more polished photo-heavy sheets on the wall, but Disorder takes it even further. You can almost feel the bumps of shadowy dots speckling Matthias Schoenaerts and Diane Kruger’s faces.
What I really enjoy is the bold decision to put the text vertical. The designers do a good job rotating the words rather than putting them as one letter above the next (a design no-no). My preference would have been to take it one-hundred and eighty degrees more so we could still read left to right, but maybe forcing us to read right to left plays into the “disorder” aspect.
It’s a nice improvement over the older festival sheet when the movie was still called Maryland. That one has intrigue, but the stark white downplays the drama a bit. I like the new one because it’s darker and in close for added tension. These attributes seem to fit what the overall feel will ultimately provide.
Quite the characters
It never ceases to amaze me that a film like Stephen Frears’ Florence Foster Jenkins (August 12) can garner the marketing appeal for a character series. Do we need three-sided monuments to Meryl Streep’s latest vehicle starring at us while we buy popcorn? Won’t a one-sheet with the three actors together be enough to let people know that a movie they were probably already interested in seeing is coming out? It boggles the mind.
I do like what Creative Partnership has done on the posters, though. The ornate framing, canvas cracks, and muted coloring make it all look very period specific while correctly juxtaposing the air of haughty taste against hammy expressions. Streep’s face is fantastic; Helberg’s hilarious. Just put the final advert through the same carefully selected filters and call it day. As is these character sheets end up working better than that cartoonishly bright abomination they made.
Ben-Hur (August 19) doesn’t necessitate so many posters either, but I understand that its budget warrants their creation. BLT got to make two different character series for this one: full body poses and up-close portraits. Some are alternate photos (Jack Huston) and others merely zoom in further (Morgan Freeman) to the same one. Add buzzwords instead of a tag and we’re thrown into this world … or so the studio hopes.
I won’t deny that Freeman’s face will sell tickets that may not have been sure things, but static shots don’t possess the same impact as an action piece. This is Ben-Hur, we need to see chariots and speed. The full sheet may not be spectacular (especially considering BLT gives it to us in stages with background extras and without alongside a generically metal-wrought title block), but it’s at least exciting. You hire director Timur Bekmambetov to supply visual wonderment and this one alludes to that fact where the others don’t.
Where Kubo and the Two Strings (August 19) is concerned, however, characters are the selling point. Kid films attract their audience by the potential toy lines they will purchase from store shelves and McDonald’s Happy Meals. You don’t hide the insanely detailed monkey for later; you show that thing in all its brilliance right now.
What’s great about these P+A posters is that Frank Ockenfels is credited with photography on those first two. To me this means that Laika let him come into the studio and pose their figurines for action shots to shoot. That’s pretty cool. Pixar can’t do that with their computer-generated pixels. Laika understands what it is that sets them apart and they utilize it to full effect.
Those first two capture the detail of the characters beautifully—something the next pair loses with burnt colors. The second couple is over-exposed in a bad way when compared to its subtler counterparts.
P+A truly excels on the combination shots that provide a sense of scale and environment. I love the profile entry with Monkey, Kubo, and Beetle gazing right and the tease with Kubo’s sword in the air. And the other three are glorious examples of the crazy aesthetic to expect. Laika has gone bigger with every subsequent film so far and this is no exception.
Task Force X
Warner Bros. is flashing their cash this month with Suicide Squad. You can’t blame them after the relative defeat of Batman v Superman at the box office (it only made $875 million). It’s time to blanket America with villains whether as nicely rendered icons, too perfect coat-of-arms, or cartoonish comic colors.
The icons come courtesy of Concept Arts—or from the movie, as you’ll see since they are almost identical if not exact to the ones utilized there. I like these a lot. They’re simple, to the point, and attractive. Each character is distilled to its essence in graphic form. And that full sheet capping the row by WORKS ADV is slick too. If you’re going to Photoshop everyone together, doing something different like this eagle-eye vantage makes up for it.
The too perfect coat-of-arms are credited to BOND. I like them and hate them in equal measure because while boring, they are effective in their iconography. I’m not sure if they’re supposed to be tattoo art or graffiti work, though—the aesthetic isn’t rough enough for the latter and not pristine enough for the former. The #Title at top does nothing to help their cause either, distracting our attention with a font that never fits the detail of the imagery below. BOND hit the tease out of the park, though. The lollipop/candy look is nicely ironic/iconic.
My favorite series, however, comes from Statement Advertising. These things are wild. The photo-quality images of the actors are outlined thick in black and the rest is graffiti-inspired doodles and text to get at the tone the trailers allude to (if the actual movie doesn’t quite match it). They’re fun, flashy, and gaudy in a good way considering the source. As for the firm’s capper bomb cloud assault on our senses—it wears the style out very quickly.
Thankfully Concept Arts’ icons can cleanse the palette because the “group shot” is definitely best when we aren’t peering at their actual faces. Making them into Lucky Charms marshmallows for a bowl of cereal? That’s plain genius. The film may not satisfy your sweet tooth, but this final poster surely will.
Next is a quartet of effective posters using their cast as more than silhouettes to cut out and re-fashion without context to the original shot. They may be more or less film stills and/or production shots, but they work nonetheless.
First up is Five Nights in Maine (limited August 5) with David Oyelowo and Dianne Wiest looking off into the distance. Admittedly they are probably the least interesting part of this design (and may very well have been cut out and placed on that blue sky considering the tight edge of their faces’ contours).
Its real success is in the regimented composition sticking to its central vertical. The actor names at top aren’t overpowering (I could do without the huge kerning gap between first and last names, though), the credit block is super small to look more like a pedestal for the title than names to read, the actors are perfectly centered below, and the title font is absolutely fantastic. Those letters are stylish in their off-the-beaten path sans-serif construction. They pop off the page by being bigger and bolder than the rest, the full justify only grabbing our attention more as it forms a “T” with the rest.
The sheet for A Tale of Love and Darkness (limited August 19) isn’t anything special, but I appreciate its class. While not doing too much, it’s effective in showcasing its lead/director and its solemn tone. Everything from the font to the coloring to the faint background texture of handwritten words fits the provided aesthetic well and I give extra kudos for making sure author Amos Oz’s name is seen bold amidst the credits.
What’s most interesting is how a little polish can turn a drab design into an attractive one. The Hebrew version isn’t bad, but it’s definitely lacking by comparison. The off-centered layout ruins the streamlined effect from top to bottom, the international production logos are always distracting, and the coloring looks like a yellow fluorescent bulb was present at the camera snap. Sometimes the best work is that which isn’t noticed unless a “before” version is present for contrast.
For LA’s Blood Father (limited August 26), the actors seem like an afterthought because they’re relegated to the bottom right corner as the yellow sky burns above them for 4/5ths of the page. They aren’t, though. In fact, they may be the most important part. They give the sheet motion by forcing our eyes down and off the edge, even when we’re staring at the white title in the middle. No, really. Look at the central text and tell me your mind doesn’t pretend Mel Gibson is walking out of frame. You have to dart your vision to make sure he isn’t.
I’m not certain what’s happening with the weird texture pattern in the sky, but I don’t hate it. If anything it gives the whole an intriguing two-dimensionality. It’s like something was set on top of the poster and ultimately ripped some of the pigment off when it was removed. There’s a tactile feel to this as opposed to the usual glossy sheen on theater walls. That alone makes it better than the busy alternative of Gibson’s face looking through letter windows. The top half is cool, the bottom a struggle to find focus.
In stark contrast to the above drama, Ignition lets Morris From America (limited August 19) retain its comedic flair. Craig Robinson and Markees Christmas are doing their best to look unmoving and stern, but you can’t help laughing anyway because of the stream of water shooting from the latter’s bright red gun. I love this thing from that tough exterior/playful frivolity juxtaposition to Christmas wearing an American flag to the tagline “Nothing rhymes with Germany.” I see this at the theater and make sure to keep tabs on what Fall 2016 means in relation to my city’s release schedule.
The second version by Matt Frost is fun too in its crayon box colors and strangely authentic aura surrounding Christmas to float him off the page, but it lacks the humor. I feel weird saying that since the first is literally a staged portrait and this one tries to give us a scene to latch onto, but it’s true. Frost hopes to provide us kinetic action and yet his is more static than Ignition’s. Less is quite often more.
I’ve been seeing BOND’s poster for Anthropoid (limited August 12) everywhere the past month. It’s even been on the wall of my local art-house theater so you have to give Bleecker Street credit for getting their sometimes-at-Regal/sometimes-on-indie-screens films seen. Strangely enough, however, it wasn’t until right now that I noticed Sean Ellis as the director. Cashback remains one of my favorite underrated gems of the 21st century—short and feature alike.
My enjoyment of his talents notwithstanding (Metro Manila is worth a look too), I do like this poster. The stark black on red will always set an image apart from photography, but this one has a creepy factor that earns our gaze as well. There’s nothing necessarily special happening here—an almost silhouette profile bleeding down into a city skyline frame with the leads small and centered underneath—but it’s memorable just the same. The odd name and beveled font help too. It’s sleek and sharp and sometimes that’s enough.
LA’s Hands of Stone (August 26) goes for the same color scheme but with a less polished graphic style. If the text weren’t so perfect a sans-serif font I’d say the sheet reminded me of Saul Bass’ work.
I like the simplicity and the elongated “arm” created by the title and actors. The duotone is effective and the hand-drawn glove a nice “personal” touch of artistry. Where it falls apart is in the transition from one to the other: from scribbled, charcoal-like construction to solid, computer-generated letters. It’s like the bottom of the glove was sloppily erased to let the text stand stronger against its deep black shape. It feels unfinished.
HANDVERK’s In Order of Disappearance (limited August 26) is the opposite. It embraces its straight edges and obviously computer-drawn aesthetic by pushing its image towards street sign territory. I have absolutely no idea what this thing is presenting me other than a tone of dark hilarity. It’s like a warning you’d find on your snow thrower’s side in the garage. When you’re too focused on killing someone in one direction, you may be unsuspectingly chopped up from the other.
I like that the firm continued this style with their English-language version too albeit a little less blatant and fun. This time we get a snowplow graphic drawn on a metallic surface subsequently shot by three bullets. But while the texture of those holes tell us this is a street sign, the decision to go white on orange instead of black on orange subverts that discovery. It seriously loses the effect because of this, especially since the other one uses the colors correctly.
Regardless, though, both are a huge step up from the other two shown at right. These are funny too, but wholly unintentional.
In the end, my favorite poster of the month is P+A’s Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (limited August 19). It’s a perfect encapsulation of the documentary itself considering Werner Herzog’s journey to discover the internet’s ever-widening reach and the scary ramifications of its evolution, but also a stunning visual artwork on its own.
I find the decision to italicize “And” in the title an unnecessary flourish, but I can’t really find fault with anything else. The image of a tangled head of cords is humorous, relatable, and strangely foreboding. The colors of the electronics against the hazy gray works and the text is all proportionately small to not try and force our attention away.
I enjoy the Stanley Kubrick monolith homage, its meaning a bit more “inside baseball” than the other. The evolution from chimp to a hunched human at a desktop console is funny in its own right—this entry containing the best title design with its clean sans that still changes the “And” from the rest, but in a much subtler way. And let’s just forget about the monks. Its glowing font and alien light beams ruin an inherently captivating image beyond repair.
What is your favorite August release poster? What could have used a rework?