Thursday, November 27, 2008

Labels and Love

Posters of the Year 2008
A cross. A wire. A trampoline. A clueless president. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple image to convey the mood of a film. When it comes to movie posters, I prefer simplicity and classicism above all, and the best use their images sparingly and appropriately. The art of the film poster is a bit of a lost one these days. Below are my choices for those in 2008 that retained it best.

Honorable Mention:
With a logo this iconic, what else do you need? I'll tell you what: flashing lights, plenty of pink, and one of the most unabashedly adorable taglines ever.

And the Rest:

I had a hard time choosing which version to go with here, since there was also that great "misunderestimated" lot floating around that riffed on "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil." I decided on the one above not only because it illutrates the falseness of modern politics in the media but also because it drives home the nearly unanimous notion that Bush was little more than a puppet.

This film's marketing campaign far exceeded the film itself. The trailer for Michael Haneke's remake of his own sadistic 1997 thriller was perhaps the year's best, and this stirring image encapsulates the helpless fear of its characters with just one tear and one knockout actress' desperate expression.

Half the glory of this propaganda-like one-sheet was its much-anticipated reveal -- the poster itself was a big premiere. The other half consists of a blonde-topped man beaten down by life, a hope-inspiring and action-suggestive array of lights, and an eloquent endorsement of a very Oscar-friendly performance.

One of three illustration-only titles on this list, this pink confection is as buoyant as Sally Hawkins' turn as the sprightly Poppy. The version with the actress tossing her hair back is a joy as well, but nothing beats the lightheartedness of the work above.

The only one in the bunch that borders on busy, "The Fall" ranks high because it accurately communicates the fantasy film's wonder and color-filled beauty. Don't know who the heck Lee Pace is? Or Tarsem, for that matter? Who cares? Look at those reds and blues pop.

Few posters have the bravery to go for just black and white and a little selective color (you'll have to take my word on the line-thin inclusion of a small stained-glass window in primary hues), especially when you've got Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as your five-star faces. The simple image has the movie's enigmatic controversy all over it.

A thrilling homage to the famous work of Saul Bass from the '50s and '60s, this caper-tastic collection of precariously stacked, jagged text and eccentric spy illustrations gets a top spot simply for its classic appeal. It doesn't hurt that the names shown represent one of the year's strongest casts.

A great example of how critical praise can elevate a poster's impact. Floating at 4,000 feet, the word "exhilarating" (quoted from the NY Times' Stephen Holden) appears to be feeling what it means. And that big, majestic blue sky holds within it the lofty dreams of that tiny speck of a man -- dancing on a wire.

In this poster lies all the sexy style of Woody Allen's latest international outing, squeezed into a box that's surrounded by text which almost echoes the endlessly inventive storyteller's signature credit font. It doesn't get much hotter than one gorgeously cropped shot of Penelope, Scarlett, and Javier, and the strategically bisected faces are subtly - or not-so-subtly - indicative of their characters' motives. I would frame this and hang it on my wall.

Want more?

Happy Thanksgiving

...from Kurtis and April.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Meet Your Heavyweight Contender for BEST ACTOR

Variety is the first to unveil the much-anticipated trailer for "The Wrestler," Darren Aronofsky's character study of an aging professional. . .duh. Looks like some seriously meaty work by lead star Mickey Rourke, who's all but destined to make the final five at this point. This has suddenly become one of the most intriguing looking films of December (at least for me). See for yourself:

The 'Twilight' Zone

(I have to admit, I stole that headline from James Wolcott's Vanity Fair article on the blood-sucking blockbuster. But it's a rather fair game analogy, no? I couldn't resist.)

I've got nothing invested in the massively over-hyped film version of now immortal author Stephenie Meyer's massively successful undead anthology. I'll not be attending any midnight screenings, or twilight ones, for that matter (listen to me, once again, temptation not withstood). In fact, I'm thinking of boycotting this film altogether. If I see one more web site ad banner with Photoshop-ed pics of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson (like the one below), I might just sink my teeth into my laptop's power cord.

Seriously, this bitch is everywhere. Cinema sites can't get enough, Entertainment Weekly is downright obsessed (devoting two of its covers to the flick so far), and even Men's Health has car part-sounding co-star Cam Gigandet as its cover boy. Yet, amidst all this relentless excitement, no one can seem to say anything viable about the quality of the film itself. If the best endorsement Summit Entertainment can dig up about their product is "a full-blown pop culture phenomenon" (from the LA Times), they may as well tell everyone to stay home and watch "Dancing With the Stars."

I'm sure that "Twilight" doesn't reek as bad as, say, "Queen of the Damned," but unless someone gives me a damned good reason to catch this movie (besides the fact that it's wildly popular or that Pattinson looks like a post-mortem James Dean), I'm holding tight to my garlic.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Johnny in Burtonland

A sneak peek at Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton's upcoming rendition of "Alice in Wonderland." I'm not really digging the Carrot Top hairdo but the hat is bundles of fun. Ditto the rabbit, even though he looks a little terrified (and rightfully so).

Friday, November 14, 2008

'Christmas Cottage' Cheese

Here's an abomination if I ever saw one:

You read right. Thomas Kinkade, that sentimental sellout of a painter whose glowing renderings of snow-covered vistas now appear on everything from throw pillows to coffee mugs, has made a MOVIE...about HIMSELF. "Christmas Cottage," a straight-to-DVD holiday tearjerker named after one of Kinkade's most rampantly reproduced works, stars "Supernatural"'s Jared Padalecki as Kinkade in his youth and chronicles his rise to become "The Painter of Light" (a title that's even trademarked within the synopsis on the back of the DVD).

What a sinful addition to the already much-tainted holiday movie genre. What a shameful self-promotion from a man who embodies the problem of tasteless American consumerism (on that note, the flick will probably sell like mad). What an unforgivable paycheck project for Peter O'Toole (so much for those eleventh hour Oscar hopes) and Marcia Gay Harden (she can file this one away alongside "Welcome to Mooseport"). What a joke.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

OSCAR is Coming

It's November, which means there are only two months to go before Academy prez Sid Ganis and whichever semi-obscure female Oscar winner he's got on hand announce the Academy Award nominations for the year '08.

Last year, this blog went Oscar crazy, and the trend will likely continue in the coming weeks. However, I haven't talked much about 2008/09 Oscar predictions at all, just some light teasing. I've learned the hard way not to set anything in stone before the buzz has reached a fever pitch, so I dare not make any definitive calls until all 12 months have wrapped.

In the meantime, given the buzz I've gathered from watching films incessantly and keeping an ear to the street, here are the names I've been thinking about in regards to the year's second-largest election. Can I even compare the Oscar race to the U.S. presidential race?

Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Rosemarie DeWitt, "Rachel Getting Married"
Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Kate Winslet, "The Reader"

Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Robert Downey Jr., "Tropic Thunder"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"
Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Eddie Marsan, "Happy-Go-Lucky"

Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Sally Hawkins, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Meryl Streep, "Doubt"
Kristin Scott Thomas, "I've Loved You So Long"
Kate Winslet, "Revolutionary Road"

Leonardo DiCaprio, "Revolutionary Road"
Clint Eastwood, "Gran Turino"
Sean Penn, "Milk"
Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"

Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Baz Luhrmann, "Australia"
Christopher Nolan, "The Dark Knight"
Gus Van Sant, "Milk"

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Slumdog Millionaire"
"Revolutionary Road"

...And, there you have it. (I'm sure I'll be switching these babies around once the precursors start rolling in. But it feels good to get a batch of predix out of my system.) Stay tuned, kids!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Krispy Kreme

In honor of Election Day, I've provided a clip from one of my favorite political films, Mike Nichols' Clinton send-up, "Primary Colors." The scene, which shows John Travolta's Clinton doppelganger musing over politics in a Krispy Kreme just after more attacks on his character have been released, is alternately fierce (cheers, Emma Thompson), funny, and, most importantly, hopeful. Aren't we all? Enjoy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Force of Nature

Nominated for 2007's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar but only released stateside this year, "Mongol," a sweeping and stirring account of Genghis Kahn's rise to power, is a thing of beauty. The picturesque multi-regional cinematography by Rogier Stoffers ("Quills") and Sergei Trofimov ("Night Watch," "Day Watch") rivals anything to be seen in '07 or '08.

The old-fashioned epic is also a thing of ferocity, depicting the warlord's formative years from fierce youth to steadfast conqueror, bleeding and suffering along the way. If Russian writer/director Sergei Bodrov and co-writer Arif Aliyev have presented this historic tale accurately, Genghis (formerly known simply as Temujin) endured years of immense hardships before becoming the conqueror that history remembers. Slavery, torture, loss, humiliation, and near-death all befall him -- a lesser man would have surely given up or, more likely, died.

Had Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano, who plays Temujin with a growling physicality, given less of a one-note performance and become more of a force of nature like the film itself, "Mongol" would have been a thing of perfection.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy Halloween!

...a day late. Boo!

To celebrate the most cinematic of holidays, I followed up my obligatory, annual viewing of John Carpenter's 1977 classic with "Fear(s) of the Dark," IFC Films' annoyingly titled-but-eye-catching compilation of scary animated shorts from six international filmmakers (call it, the "Paris Je T'aime" of your nightmares).

Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Disciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, and Richard Maguire each supplies his or her own vision of terror; one political, one science-fiction-al, one primal, all rather dismal. Caillou's bit, about an Asian schoolgirl trapped in a terrible dream (above), is one of the more inventive. The best is the piece by Charles Burns, a creepy-crawly tale about humanoid bugs. There's also a nasty aristocrat walking a quartet of even nastier dogs...

"Fear(s) of the Dark" deserves kudos on the grounds that it's enriching stuff compared to, say, "Saw V." It's not very scary; on the contrary, it's usually a joy to look at. Does that mean it fails to achieve what it set out to? Nah. I've just been to one too many haunted houses to be spooked by a couple o' toons.