Funny Pages, El Gran Movimiento, Free Chol Soo Lee and more

It’s been a quiet month for studio blockbusters. Sony has High-speed train (August 5) and The invitation (August 26); Universal has The beast (August 19). Not to mention how good they are – I haven’t seen any yet – but these aren’t the kind of titles competitors are scrambling to avoid.

As such, the board is wide open. Attract an audience with a compelling marketing campaign and earn ticket sales. It’s no surprise that A24, Bleecker Street and IFC each have two or more titles on the schedule – they’ve found the weak spot and they’re capitalizing on it.

less is more

I never know where to place Lionsgate in the hierarchy. Probably between the high-end and mid-range studios mentioned above. Their latest is To fall (August 12), a film of which I have seen nothing except the poster of Richard Rho. It might not be enough for me to go, but it earned me a mention here.

Because, despite the boring sans-serif title that acts more as a requirement than a descriptor, the image itself is exciting. Reminds me of that picture of Tom Cruise on the Burj Khalifa, except this time we’re supposed to believe it is a threat of falling. Implausible logistics or not, you get the spirit of a single-location thriller with characters battling vertigo, fear of heights, wind, and faulty engineering. Simple and straight forward, either you see this sheet and hit your friend saying “we need to see this” or you smile and keep walking.

For the Mubi Free Chol Soo Lee (limited, August 12), it’s less about experience and more about subject. Those who know the story will only need a name. Those who don’t need it will need contextual clues. This means a photo of him with microphones and cameras entering what we assume is a courthouse. “Free” means he’s being held for a crime, after all. Now we also know the frame.

From there, it’s a matter of aesthetics. And like Three identical strangers, the nature of the blocked cutout of the black-on-yellow text seems to evoke notions of non-fiction journalistic integrity. This one is more dynamic, different sizes and sections guide us around the page, skipping the gaps to move from blurbs to title. These quotes from critics are never more necessary than with documentaries too, telling us about the political orientation of the work and the potential emotional resonance. No explosions or fire effects here.

And then you have Midnight Marauder channeling Eadweard Muybridge for their El Gran Movement (limited, August 12) posters. This is a film about a young man who falls ill in Bolivia, only to be taken to a witch doctor. It’s a seductive conceit made more mysterious and uncertain by these series of images featuring an actor and a light, the latter in different apertures to become brighter or darker depending on the version.

One is in the mouth, the other in the eye: our senses of sight and speech are enhanced amid visual repetition to more or less embody the cinematic experience itself. The red and green coloring keeps them minimal but bright enough to wake us from the usual bright photography on theater walls. It’s a bold campaign that puts intrigue above narrative to mesmerize us with a vision of the unknown.

Fields in the background

The poster for Three minutes: lengthening (limited, August 19) takes a no-no photo manipulation and turns it into a beautiful effect. There are stamp and dressing tools in Photoshop because you can’t just take a background field and scale it any longer. This is sometimes true even when you think the field is a solid color. The reason you can’t: These fields are made up of pixels. So rather than adding pixels, you stretch what little you have. And that leaves you with a ribbon curtain as seen here.

Where designers change things up is by using this curtain as the background they are looking for. So this is not a case of someone creating more than what is available can provide. He is an artist who consciously chooses to use what is available to him and build something completely new. You can see this in the fact that the “real” background of the photo remains visible under the curtain. These bands of colors are superimposed rather than a product and an extension of the image itself. We therefore obtain the image and the metaphorical illustration of the “elongation” of the title. That’s wonderful.

The Refinery is also building its backdrop for Summer (limited, August 12), albeit in a very different way. Rather than taking and tinkering with what is already visibly present, they draw a scene to complement what is there. And it works wonderfully with the slogan: “Summer is a state of mind”. The idea these words cultivate is the feeling that these children playing in the grass might actually be playing in the snow. Their literal environment is thus rendered secondary to that of their mind. If they want to believe it’s summer, it becomes summer.

It is a concept that allows true creativity; the company does not disappoint. Beyond the simple drawing of a tree, they provide a host of uniquely styled icons in the sky, from fries to milkshakes to snails. Even the tree itself is not a tree but a collection of green handprints adding to the playful nature of the whole thing. And with the subtle corner wear, it looks like one or more of these kids made the poster themselves on a thick piece of paper to remember the fun they had.

Get away if you can (limited & VOD, August 19) is perhaps the simplest of this trio, its backdrop being nothing more than a bluish-green tint rectangle. But it’s hard to call anything from Aleksander Walijewski “simple.” The Polish artist has really taken the independent poster scene by storm over the past couple of years; this one only adds to a growing portfolio of beautifully surrealist work.

It contains the boat that TJ and Domi (the film’s stars, writers and directors) take to a deserted island in hopes of rekindling the spark in their relationship. It has the two plunging deep into the water (that rectangle acting as the sea and a screen with which to project the story of those in the boat) while a domineering father figure (Ed Harris) looms above, watching. Do they escape his grip as much as their own troubled present? Maybe. To find what they seek, they must move further and further away from what has held them back.

The grandchildren

I picked A24 and IFC in the opener – three of this month’s combo titles (which offer alternative programming) all have posters designed by GrandSon. More than that, Sister Hyde personally participated in the three highlights above.

What’s also great about her hiring is that she provided the best poster credits breakdowns of anyone, sharing on social media the names of designer, illustrator, letterer, director creative, etc for each. I hope other companies will follow because it’s hard to know who has done the work under a corporate umbrella these days, beyond when the artists themselves share the information. Early publicist posters still do not provide the umbrella unless asked. Sometimes not even then.

Back to work.

I’m a fan of Body Body Body (limited, Aug. 5; expanding, Aug. 12) teaser. It’s fun and cheeky in its depiction of a “safe space” via dotted line and label, the machete cutting through the words as we wonder which pair of eyes are holding the weapon.

It goes very well with the finished sheet. (Sister Hyde didn’t post this one; I’m guessing it was done by someone else at GrandSon.) Eyes now come with faces, and the title’s blurry, vivid colors are mimicked via necklaces, bracelets and phone flashes. They’re all still confined to this “not-so-safe space” too – none of them are even trying to free themselves because, perhaps, they’re not yet aware that they’re in danger. And the only one we trust is Amandla Stenberg – she’s the only one looking at someone other than we. Because if other people only worry about us, we can’t believe it’s not because they’re the ones out to kill.

Next is a glorious pocket cover of the crate aisle for spin me around (limited, August 19). Illustrated by Steve Chorney with the title and copy of Sister Hyde, the set is very reminiscent of his ironic brother in the cover of Criterion for Polyester (artwork by Sam Hadley with design and lettering by Raphael Geroni). It’s a fun little faux found object thing with a creased/worn perfect binding. All that’s missing is a folded corner to finish the look.

What I really appreciate are the small details. Having the award and publisher’s logo on the bottom left and a garter banner strip on the top left add a lot to the overall aesthetic. The same goes for the raised gradient of the title treatment alluding to the puffy letters on the page. He commits to the bit and excels for the trouble.

Last but not least is funny pages (limited, August 26). Designed by Sister Hyde with artwork by Johnny Ryan, the poster leans heavily on underground comedy style thanks to Terry Zwigoff’s work with Daniel Clowes. From ingested knives to bare butts to stretched orifices, there’s a lot here that you’d almost expect lawyers to miss before hitting the streets for public consumption. It makes you wonder how far the film goes.

The composition itself is nice and clean, symmetrical on the y central axis like so many others. Where this one stands out, though, is the typography. Rather than having three or more fonts cluttering things up, Sister Hyde sticks to just hand lettering. His letters are also inconsistent; I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that everything was done by hand. Even the credit box at the bottom uses the same squiggle, bolding the director’s name so it doesn’t have to be copied and pasted multiple times above (I’m looking at you, Lighthouse). It’s a comic book page for a movie about a comic book artist.

Calvin W. Soper