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Martha Marcy May Marlene (#110 of 9)

Poster Lab: Darling Companion

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Poster Lab: <em>Darling Companion</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Darling Companion</em>

In general, this column isn’t designed to verbally tear bad posters in half, but when something as shoddy as the one-sheet for Darling Companion is put on the market, it’s pretty hard not to chime in. Almost shockingly unpolished, this blandly conceived fiasco reads like the rushed efforts of a first-day intern, who was tasked to cook up something to be shuffled out the door, and in an over-caffeinated panic, made a sinful hybrid of Lassie, The Devil Wears Prada and Martha Marcy May Marlene. Hell, maybe that leg even belongs to the intern’s boss, whose blurry blob of a platform heel recalls those digi-bras used in VH1’s “Movies That Rock” broadcast of Showgirls (come on, y’all know which ones I’m talking about).

It’s a good thing the intern remembered to include the collie, because this design otherwise reflects next to nothing that’s conveyed in the movie’s trailer, which promises over-50 ensemble kookiness, not working-woman minimalism. Maybe if that foot were wearing a saddle shoe and slacks, we might at least believe it belongs to lead star Diane Keaton. As is, it implies a tony glamazon who leaves Fido with a sitter. If there’s any half-decent design sense to speak of, it’s that the woman’s leg provides line quality and hugs the dog’s left side, thus offering a literal visual of the titular theme of pet-owner closeness. In all likelihood, though, it was probably just that poor intern’s way of scaling down the clipping-path duties, which, given the number that was done on the paw, was probably a blessing.

Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Actress

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Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Actress

If you want a good cross-section of Oscar habits, look no further than this year’s top five candidates for Best Actress. In Michelle Williams, you have the eternally baity case of star playing star, and this time the star being played just might be history’s brightest. In Tilda Swinton, you have a classic case of Academy catch-up, wherein voters nominate a brilliant talent for minor work as a means to remedy past snubs. Category fraud is exemplified by Viola Davis, whose push as a leading star is, admittedly, a falsity of the filmmakers and not of any voting body, but who should nevertheless be considered as supporting. In Glenn Close, there’s you’re wholly undeserving knee-jerk nominee, armed with a shameless checklist of Oscar-y draws like gender-bending, homosexuality, uglification, makeup effects, period details, decades-long commitment, and “past-due” desperation. And as for Meryl Streep, well, she’s an Oscar habit in and of herself, isn’t she?

Understanding Screenwriting #86: Tower Heist, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Lady Eve

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Understanding Screenwriting #86: <em>Tower Heist</em>, <em>Martha Marcy May Marlene</em>, <em>The Lady Eve</em>
Understanding Screenwriting #86: <em>Tower Heist</em>, <em>Martha Marcy May Marlene</em>, <em>The Lady Eve</em>

Coming Up in This Column: Kawasaki’s Rose, Tower Heist, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Lady Eve, Page Eight, Enlightened, but first…

Fan Mail: Glad to see from David Ehrenstein’s comments on US#85 that he finally thinks I am doing something right by getting into Preston Sturges’s work. David is right that Sturges’s “direction is part of the writing process.” See below how that happens on The Lady Eve.

Kawasaki’s Rose (2009. Written by Petr Jarchovský. 100 minutes.)

Wild Strawberries meets The Lives of Others: This film, which is finally getting an American release, gets off to what I found was an unsettling start. It is a Czech film about a psychiatrist who stood up to the Communist regime in the ’70s, but the opening shots are of a very wide river that seems to open into the ocean. There are several ocean-going ships along the river and bridges large enough for them to pass under. Nice shots, but the Czech Republic is a land-locked country. Some nice rivers, but none go to the ocean. So where are we? What struck me about the river and the bridges is that the place looked awfully like Gothenberg in Sweden. I have never been there, but my wife’s grandfather was a well-known Swedish painter in the area. We have several prints of his paintings of the river and harbor on our walls.

Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2011

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Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2011
Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2011

Dishonorable Mention

A Dangerous Method (Italian): Don’t let those pretty faces fool you. While sheer actorly beauty kept the Italian one-sheet for David Cronenberg’s latest out of the Top 10, it can’t mask the fact that this is an absurdly lazy piece of advertising, a makeup ad masquerading as a movie poster. The French variation at least had the decency to imply what the film is about. This one simply implies studio starfucking. [Poster] [Article]

Atlas Shrugged: Or, at least, the designers did. In addtion to the Tea Party-targeted adaptation of Ayn Rand’s doorstopper looking like a dated TV movie, its poster reads like a flyer a Jehovah’s Witness might leave on your welcome mat, its beveled, golden, B-grade text beckoning for converts. As expected, the corner-printshop marketing couldn’t save the film—a blown opportunity, and part one of a planned trilogy—from tanking. [Poster]

Burning Palms: You don’t want to see Burning Palms? A multi-character L.A. drama featuring Shannen Doherty, Adrianna Barraza, a hippie-fied Lake Bell, and “five tales that will f#%! you up for life?” What about if this poster tries to sell it to you? No? Okay. [Poster]

Poster Lab: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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Poster Lab: <em>The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo</em>
Poster Lab: <em>The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo</em>

It’s hard to decide whether Sony has done a better job promoting David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with its own in-house marketing, or with outside sources like a sneak-peak, in-character W Magazine photoshoot with Rooney Mara. Either way, the combined effort is working, helping to drum up a great deal of interest in a Hollywood adaptation of a tale whose outcome virtually everyone knows, either via Stieg Larsson’s pen or Swedish cinema’s take on the trilogy. The halfway point of the promotional one-two punch seems to be a little Tumblr site called Mouth Taped Shut, which regularly posts exclusive Dragon Tattoo production stills and recently released the film’s newest poster, an artful alternative for those who don’t warm so well to Nipplegate-style sensationalism. There’s some talk around the web saying the poster isn’t studio-backed, and is simply getting major press for an independent designer. Whatever the source, this new one-sheet is a jewel of accessible design, putting forth the necessary story elements and faces without compromising what’s been a hard and edgy film lead-up.

Like the previous poster, the new one opts for black and white, a choice that proves as necessary for conveying mood as it does for evoking classic noir. It is yet another triumph of character-within-character superimposition, which this year has already factored into very handsome designs for Jane Eyre and Martha Marcy May Marlene. The implication here is that Daniel Craig’s Mikael Blomkvist is forever trying to get at the inner-workings of Mara’s Lisbeth Salander, while himself being an increasing presence in her brilliant mind. Amid their stoic looks (and amid that great, spiky coif), we get the delicate inclusion of pressed-plant leaves (denoting long-dead case subject Harriet Vanger), and that central swirl that’s fast become Salander’s signature earring. The better details, though, are the small elements that make up great design, like the precise place in which Craig’s left side touches Mara’s lips, and the choice to mark the lower edge of her silhouette with a zipper’s teeth. It’s classy line quality, and it speaks to Fincher’s own meticulousness.

New York Film Festival 2011: Martha Marcy May Marlene and Goodbye First Love

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New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Martha Marcy May Marlene</em> and <em>Goodbye First Love</em>
New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Martha Marcy May Marlene</em> and <em>Goodbye First Love</em>

Is it possible for a cinematographer to be considered an auteur even more than the directors for which he works? On the basis of his work on films as disparate in subject matter, style and tone as Afterschool, Tiny Furniture, and now Martha Marcy May Marlene, one could make such a case for Jody Lee Lipes, the phenomenally talented 29-year-old cinematographer who shot all three of them.

The stylistic tics are remarkably similar in all of those films: prolonged takes, carefully worked out mise-en-scène, a penchant for wide shots within a 2.35:1 frame. Obviously, each director uses these signatures for their own purposes, psychological dread in the case of Afterschool and Martha Marcy May Marlene, wistful deadpan comedy in Tiny Furniture, but the style is so consistent that, in some ways, all three films can be considered just as much Lipes’s as they can their directors’. At the very least, one can’t help but wonder what subsequent films by Antonio Campos, Lena Dunham, and Sean Durkin, respectively, will look like if they choose not to work with Lipes.

Cannes Film Festival 2011: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Oslo, 31. August, & Predictions

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Cannes Film Festival 2011: <em>Once Upon a Time in Anatolia</em>, <em>Oslo, 31. August</em>, & Predictions
Cannes Film Festival 2011: <em>Once Upon a Time in Anatolia</em>, <em>Oslo, 31. August</em>, & Predictions

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest cinematic breadcrumb trail, follows a group of conflicted institutional figures (lawyer, doctor, police chief, mayor) trying to reconcile the difference between public record and fairy tale. Both inevitably become part of the same communal lie, markers of deep-seeded social and familial manipulation. Throughout Ceylan’s sprawling anti-mystery, where these “respected” men escort a criminal around the desolate Turkish countryside fruitlessly trying to find the body of a murder victim, fact and fiction often overlap through lengthy conversations and shared memories. But this isn’t a form of togetherness binding the men. Ceylan is purely interested in slowly unveiling a thematic can of worms that will tear them apart one long take at a time.

Limited character perspective develops mystery and tension during the long and arduous all-night police search. The characters are sectioned off into three vehicles, and we listen in on segments of each group’s meandering displays of verbal one-upmanship. Ceylan weaves the men’s competing voices together in interesting ways, overlapping dialogue and sound design to maximize a sense of character and place. As with Distant, Ceylan revels in hypnotic extreme long shots of the countryside, capturing the wind in the trees, a falling apple rolling down a stream, and the endless rolling hills of Anatolia. His static camera examines long character exchanges from afar, usually in one master shot, extending the duration and importance of seemingly minute details about each character.

Cannes Film Festival 2011: The Artist, Martha Marcy May Marlene, & House of Tolerance

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Cannes Film Festival 2011: <em>The Artist</em>, <em>Martha Marcy May Marlene</em>, & <em>House of Tolerance</em>
Cannes Film Festival 2011: <em>The Artist</em>, <em>Martha Marcy May Marlene</em>, & <em>House of Tolerance</em>

Hollywood is a windfall business. Stars are easily born, but once the the cracks in their public image start to show, careers can evaporate in 24 frames per second. This scenario describes many of the silent-era stars stripped of their powerful stature by the invention of talkies in the late 1920s. The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius’s beguiling new silent film about these iconic personalities dumbfounded by the sound revolution, tap dances through the end of an era with effortless panache. Striking black-and-white cinematography and brilliant flourishes of sound amid an otherwise silent landscape give The Artist its stylistic identity, but this story of evolution and adaptation is all about the power of on-screen chemistry.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a titanic personality, hamming it up in adventure films and real life with equal measure. Despite his endless charisma, George’s eyes reveal hints of loneliness, further confirmed during a Citizen Kane-esque montage of cold-shouldered breakfasts with his wife (Penelope Ann Miller). Always accompanied by a tenacious Boston terrier, his co-star in all situations, George bumps into an aspiring young actress named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) while leaving a packed theater premiere. Their initial meeting spins into a feature-length flirtation of knowing glances, charming asides, and fateful disappointments, a dual character arc that aligns with the technological changes taking place in cinema. Classic Hollywood music becomes a crucial confidant for the characters, magnifying Dujardin’s welling eyes and Bejo’s lovely smile during key close-ups.