Looks like summer is starting early again with franchises galore this March. Studios are trying to hit the ground running as Oscar season finally comes to a close and theaters desperately look for safe, brand-name IP to get patrons through their doors to purchase the rapidly growing trend of alcoholic beverages. Seems to be working so far with Regal still keeping most of its announced closures open for business well past their shutter dates.
All the more reason to try and wow audiences with a good campaign that sets you apart from the rest like Brian Hung’s Walk Up (limited, March 24)—once again releasing his new poster with only a couple weeks to spare and thus well after I already set my picks for this feature. Especially in small-to-medium markets like my own here in Buffalo, I’ve never seen so many independent films filling the marquees here. Theaters seem to be testing the theory that diversification pays when Disney strong-arms their way to Bogarting 75% of their available screens. Always seemed like a no-brainer to me. We have ten theaters here. They don’t all need to be playing the same exact line-up.
And, speaking of Oscars, here are a few of my favorite alt-posters from the annual trend of paying tribute to the Best Picture nominees (left to right: Chelsea Housand, Matt Needle, Scott Saslow, Eileen Steinbach & Edgar Ascensão).
The treachery of images
It’s not quite René Magritte’s The Treachery of Images nor Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs, but you must hand it to ARSONAL for going avant-garde with their Inside (limited, March 17) teasers. That pigeon, moldy fruit, and canned something-or-other are not Willem Dafoe—that is true. What they are, however, remains a mystery we can assume will be revealed upon buying a ticket.
I love the way the title bleeds into the background whenever it goes beyond the isolated image, causing an optical illusion of front and back to go along with the title’s allusion to inside and out. Is Dafoe within these objects? Are they part of his “solitary exhibition” and therefore pieces of him? Perhaps.
It’s almost disappointing to move from these to the initial one-sheet with an actual Dafoe standing drenched in water, seemingly trapped within a glass box overlooking a city (think Tilda Swinton at MoMA). Talk about payoff with a whimper. Thankfully the final design harkens back to artistic homage with a cubist rendition of multiple Dafoes merging to create one central Dafoe. Too bad the credit box had to be so huge—taking up a third of the page and choking our subject at the neck.
Continuing the art homage front … how about halftones making a comeback? And they said print was dead.
Is this a real poster for Enys Men (limited, March 31)? I honestly don’t know. Neon’s press site for the film includes only stills and composition has little more than title, filmmaker, and Cannes Quinzaine imprint. Maybe it’s just a placeholder, whetting our appetite for what’s to come.
If so, kudos to them. It’s simple, yet meaningful. Light and dark. Reality and nightmare. Photo and print. Are we zoomed in? Filtered away? Should we move closer or stay back? Embrace the dots or let our eyes blur them together? I honestly have no idea and am desperate to figure it all out.
GRAVILLIS’s John Wick: Chapter 4 (March 24) isn’t interested in that sort of mystery. It wants style, style, and more style as it drags Keanu Reeves through grunge filters and graffiti drips straight into the bowels of Hell. Print it cheap, paste it onto a street corner, and step and repeat until Baba Yaga is all anyone can see.
Let’s face it. People are going to see this movie regardless of anything a poster might supply us by way of plot. I’m not even going to bother including the other two sheets with Keanu in close-up or Keanu in front of the Eiffel Tower. They’re boring, Hollywood mainstays. GRAVILLIS knows that they don’t have to move the dial. They simply need to get the hordes excited. That’s what a comic book street art sensibility does. It hypes up an already invested bunch, reminding them their dog-loving assassin is back … again.
LA gets that too with their silkscreened Andy Warhol-lite sextet for Scream VI (March 10). This is a franchise with built-in box office. All you need to do is put the title out there and the people will come. So, you pretty much have carte blanche. Have some fun. Especially with a new setting possessed by its own built-in iconography.
Enter the Pittsburgh-native and NYC pop artist. Replace Marilyn Monroe with Ghostface, make the bright color palette a blood red, and shift the registration ever so slightly to create translucent overlaps that add to the uncanny nature of the whole. And trick us all with a series of red herrings, distracting us so the real killer can attack at bottom right.
I know a lot of people love Concept Arts’ subway map too. As someone who only watched the first two installments and have little to no recollection of what happened, though, the appeal of dead body nostalgia is lost on me. LA’s Ghostface in the subway window is effective if obvious and Doaly’s Times Square/Broadway portrait has some nice polish, but that Warhol one is it for me. That’s the winner.
I only wish someone told Paramount to stop trying to make the “M” into a “VI” happen. It’s bad. Really bad.
Whether it’s faces or landscapes—there’s always something beautiful about a poster that lets the textures and light takeover the image. That’s not to say there isn’t any manipulation in this trio’s Photoshop layers. Whether lens flare, grain, or filters, whatever these artists use only augments and accentuates what was already there.
I’ll start with Scott Saslow’s All the World is Sleeping (limited/VOD/Digital HD, March 17). It could have just been a woman in profile, but why not enhance the connection between image and title by manifesting a dreamscape of motion blurs and light orbs to simultaneously add to the anxiety (the sweat on her brow infers things aren’t going so well) and provide an escape.
The ability to shrink the credit box really helps with the composition while also allowing that text to melt into the background so the title can pop. This is necessary with a stylized script type. You don’t want to have to blow it up so big that it becomes a distraction, but you do need it to be legible. The brightness helps the latter, the shifting of words helps the former. Our eyes can follow the loops as the “W” acts as a swing between “All” and “the” with the “Sleeping” all but drifting off left to bring us back up the edge to Melissa Barrera’s face.
Next is Riceboy Sleeps (limited, March 17). It zooms out to put its subject in motion—running from foreground to background against a small town quietly nestled beneath a paint wash of sky. You can see the watercolor streaks and the ripples of wet paper. Swooping brush strokes from left to right creating a layer of nostalgia as much as a barrier separating past from present. Is he running towards his new life in Canada? Away from his birthplace of South Korea? Or is he simply running home to Mom?
And while it might be subtle, so much of the success here lies with the typography. The lowercase serif on a line calling to mind grade school practicing with letters and penmanship. The dual instances of an “e” next to another circular letter, the kerning squished and the leading lowered so that it seems to nestle in close to its protector while also potentially looking for an escape from its grasp. A young boy with only his mother in this strange world and a teenager trying to break free.
Then there’s Midnight Marauder doing their thing with Palm Trees and Power Lines (limited, March 3). So many of their posters use a similar aesthetic with close-up face/faces and overlapping text, but no two are ever alike.
The grain is what makes this one standout, but the crop is just as important in how it centers a cheek rather than a face. We’re looking at the point of contact between his hand and her head. A touch that implies love and romance out of context and yet something sinister when read in concert with the film itself. It nicely matches the title treatment with nature vs. machine. Two structures standing against the sky with very disparate origins, uses, and interpretations depending on what angle you seek to approach them.
For the full grunge aesthetic, look no further than Brandon Schaefer and Jump Cut’s poster for Therapy Dogs (limited, March 10; VOD, March 17). Filtered to look like spray paint left behind an elaborate photo-stencil complete with concrete texture running through the black of the page’s top half and you really get a sense of time and place—but timelessly so. This could be last year. It could be your own high school experience decades ago. Some earmarks exist beyond a calendar’s constraints.
Throw the red stenciled title in at an angle and pushed off-center and you find perfect balance with the text at the top left to slingshot your way around the page. It’s a great example of polished non-polish. You can assume it was all manufactured in post and yet the illusion is too good not to wonder if it might be real.
Frost Foundry skews the opposite direction with Rodeo (limited, March 17). The illustrative nature of its black and orange graphics atop a buff page is the point. This is meant to look mass-produced—a two-plate press job feeding out copy after copy like a concert flier advertising a motorcycle show with all the excitement and intrigue of a western rodeo.
The back wheel tricks are rendered in succession for a nice focal point of deep black sleekness, but it’s those distressed tire tracks that grab my attention every time. An overhead view of where those three riders have just left, the after to their before cutting through the page before hitting the title and continuing past. It’s like a film strip moving at breakneck speed, flickering over and over with that one frame of angular, bisected letters coming into focus.
Yet it’s the dissolution of focus in this Japanese poster for The Five Devils (limited, March 24) that has so enraptured me this month. It uses the same still of Adèle Exarchopoulos that every iteration in multiple languages does, but it refuses to just slap the title in the blackness beyond the fire. It blows it up instead, filling the page from left to right with its Japanese characters expertly aligned in the white spaces left by the structure of those three giant, lost words.
And as the fire rages behind them, the white letters gradually fade away to fly like dandelion seeds. A delicate contrast to the violent flames and yet just as complex in its existence at the edge between destruction and rebirth.