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Marrakech International Film Festival 2015 Francis Ford Coppola’s "Landmark Decision"

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Marrakech International Film Festival 2015: Francis Ford Coppola’s “Landmark Decision”

Kabreet Productions

Marrakech International Film Festival 2015: Francis Ford Coppola’s “Landmark Decision”

In Apocalypse Now, as Willard and his crew make their way up the Nung River, the captain learns that Kurtz, his main target, previously staged a successful, but unofficial, operation called Archangel. Instead of being nailed “to the floorboards” for insubordination, Kurtz was promoted to full colonel “after the press got hold of it.” To these events, Willard concludes: “The bullshit piled up so fast in Vietnam, you needed wings to stay above it.” I’ve reached a similar conclusion about the awards ceremony for the 15th Marrakech International Film Festival, which ended on December 12, where Francis Ford Coppola served as jury president for the festival’s main competition. In short, when it came time to award the jury prize, Coppola announced a “split decision”: The prize was going to “cinema itself” and, thus, every film in competition.

Summer of ’90 Quick Change

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Summer of ’90: Quick Change: Kennedy Airport Is the Promised Land

Warner Bros.

Summer of ’90: Quick Change: Kennedy Airport Is the Promised Land

The protagonists of Quick Change are so desperate to leave New York City that they finance their exit with a million-dollar bank heist. The meticulously planned robbery is executed with minimal problems and maximum cleverness. The criminals even outfox a veteran police chief (Jason Robards) and the entire SWAT team waiting outside the bank. With bundles of cash taped to their bodies, mastermind Grimm (Bill Murray), his gal, Phyllis (Geena Davis), and his best buddy, Loomis (Randy Quaid), head toward a new life in Fiji. All they have to do is escape from New York.

Unfortunately for them, this is the pre-Giuliani, pre-Bloomberg New York City; it’s that scrappy animal the President of the United States once told to “drop dead,” and it’s not giving up its denizens without a fight. It will throw an ever-escalating series of After Hours-style mishaps at the potential escapees, roadblocks they could have easily avoided had they been more observant. Quick Change chooses this lack of observation as a theme. In its opening scene, Grimm, dressed as a clown for the robbery, exits the subway in front of a huge advertisement for the old MTA “Train to the Plane” Kennedy Airport subway service. This would seem the easiest route of escape, but it’s never considered. Grimm’s crew will use a car, a cab, a bus, an airport luggage cart, and their tired feet in their suspenseful bid to reach the promised land at JFK.

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 St. Vincent and Manglehorn

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Toronto International Film Festival 2014: St. Vincent and Manglehorn
Toronto International Film Festival 2014: St. Vincent and Manglehorn

Theodore Melfi’s debut feature, St. Vincent, is a heartwarmer that never insults—exactly the opposite of what its protagonist, Vincent (Bill Murray), is supposed to be: a disgruntled drunk who nobody likes. Trading in the quiet, aloof, melancholic persona of his Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers characters, Murray at first seems to be going full grouch. Ultimately, though, Vincent turns out to be just the kind of character who aging actors play regularly these days: a curmudgeon with a heart of gold. (Fitting, then, that Jack Nicholson was apparently interested in the part before Murray.)

Poster and Trailer Drop for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Poster and Trailer Drop for Wes Anderson’s <em>The Grand Budapest Hotel</em>
Poster and Trailer Drop for Wes Anderson’s <em>The Grand Budapest Hotel</em>

Assuming he’s one filmmaker who’s heavily involved with the marketing of his movies, Wes Anderson has become a master of the fetching teaser poster, using mysteriously detailed, illustrative one-sheets that only hint at what the given film is about. Recently, the posters for his films fall somewhere in between those that peddle attractive casts and director-as-brand, and those that merely tease a brand itself. Anderson is so unfailingly unique and exciting a filmmaker that he has become his own draw, but he doesn’t seem to rely on that, nor do his marquee names seem to be scrawled across his ads just to sell his pictures. They’re doing that, of course, but given that Anderson has come to work with recurring players in a kind of company, the cast list reads more as a celebration of an ensemble, particularly when the biggest name in the lineup is Bill Murray. And how glorious it is to gaze upon a poster that is pushing nothing recognizable, no known faces or logos, but simply something curious, handsome, and new.

Twice in a row, Anderson has employed this specific approach, first with last year’s poster for Moonrise Kingdom, which we named one of the best movie posters of 2012, and now with his poster for The Grand Budapest Hotel, unveiled just days ago. Like the Moonrise Kingdom ad, we’re given a fairy-tale tableau, with an unfamiliar subject in the foreground (here, the titular inn substituted for a Hansel-and-Gretel duo), and a background that stretches off to the horizon. Furthermore, the wedding-cake-esque hotel is surrounded by numerous quirky details, like the perched buck that appears statuesque, the topiaries on the lower terrace that seem to be playing chess with one another, and the cemetery-style arch that bears the movie’s title, perhaps implying that death is afoot.

Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2012

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Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2012
Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2012

Dishonorable Mention

The Sessions: The flagship poster for The Sessions is just your latest example of a marketing brainfart: How does one sell a dramedy about a polio survivor looking to lose his virginity? The answer, sadly, is the old, square, film-still-collage standby, whose slanted positioning doesn’t make it any less banal. The ad may be preferable to its illustrated counterpart, which walks a dangerous line between the inspired and the vulgar, but it still fails to do the movie justice, its design appearing unfinished and its lone pullquote a cheap ploy for Oscar love. [Poster]

Save the Date: Never mind the whole bottom-heavy layout here, which opts to crush a pair of stills with a needless mountain of whitespace. The real problem is what’s conveyed in the stills themselves: an aesthetic defined by boring over-the-shoulder shots. Is it a metaphor for the male characters’ lack of emotional presence? Is it underscoring the prominence of the females of the film? Not really—it’s just bad design. And rather than providing quirky adornment as intended, the pencil-drawn faces merely appear tacked-on, somehow making this minimalistic-in-all-the-wrong-ways fiasco look busy.[Poster]

The Giant Mechanical Man: A wonderful gem that never quite found an audience, The Giant Mechanical Man deserved much better than this tossed-together one-sheet, which basically slaps a still on a blue background and scrawls in some text. None of the film’s infectious, magical-realist nature is expressed, only the fact that Jenna Fischer and Chris Messina go for coffee. The lone cloud and subtle heart might suggest that love is in the air for these drifters, but none of it succeeds in piquing interest. [Poster]

Poster Lab: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

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Poster Lab: <em>A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III</em>
Poster Lab: <em>A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III</em>

In case you’ve been wondering what Charlie Sheen’s been up to, it appears he’s been busy portraying another Charlie: Charles Swan III, the womanizing protagonist of Roman Coppola’s latest, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. Along with the wordy, head-trippy title, the film’s flagship poster suggests a very Hunter S. Thompson-esque romp, the sun beating down on a whole lot of hedonistic, ’70s-era elements. The ad deftly achieves a groovy, throwback mood, nailing that evocative cool that’s also been used to promote flicks like Jackie Brown. Its red-tinted characters back up against a hazy California sky, and their duds and hairstyles scream disco-day nostalgia (yes, that’s Jason Schwartzman sporting a Jheri curl). An accomplished music video director known for keen stylization, and for collaborating on the meticuolus work of his sister Sofia and friend Wes Anderson, Coppola no doubt hand a strong hand in the movie’s one-sheet development, bring artful verve to the push of a film that seems quite the hard sell.