Friday One Sheet: American Pastoral

This handsome, exceptionally well designed, one sheet for Ewan McGregor’s directorial debut, American Pastoral is eye catching in part due to the sepia-on-fire colour palette, but mainly due to the 90 degree tilt. Lovely use of both the large tree, and the negative space for which to put an unconventional title placement (notably in the smoke of the fire). Based on the Philip Roth novel of the same name, one can hope that the film itself is as good and thoughtful as the energy that went into the poster design!

Trailer: The Shallows

American Honey

I wish more trailers were cut this good. Somehow we missed Sony’s colour-saturated, tiny shark survival movie starring Blake Lively, when it first popped up online. But with its soundtrack, voice-over and smooth edit, this is one of the best trailers I’ve seen this year, and too damn good not to post; hence, we offer it now. The film, at least in Canada, opens this weekend, even if the trailer says June 29th.

The Shallows is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who was responsible for two underrated Liam Neeson action flicks (I know, I know, there is a glut of these), Non-Stop and Run All Night

Trailer #2: The Birth of a Nation

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Nate Parker’s ‘taking back the title’ historical drama, The Birth of A Nation is an important corrective measure in American cinema, coming to cinemas 100 years after all the damage that D.W. Griffith’s epic blockbuster of the same name enabled back in 1915 — not the least of which is resurrecting a near-extinguished KKK. Griffith’s film also is considered the first mega-sized film produced, and kicked off the ‘bigger is better’ mentality that has been the rhythm of Hollywood almost ever since.

If 2016’s The Birth of A Nation looks like Oscar-bait, that is because it is. But not the cynical, play the game Hollywood boutique kind, that of an earnest, passionate voice looking to come to the table on his own terms. This is what Oscar-bait should look like if we are to take the derogatory connotation away from the phrase. The challenge of this picture is to come out from the long shadow of Steve McQueen’s extraordinarily shot and acted, 12 Years A Slave.

The Birth of a Nation won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival before being picked up by Fox Searchlight. The film hits theaters stateside on October 7, 2016. And the second trailer is below.

Trailer: Andrea Arnold’s American Honey

American Honey

I like the word “Youthquake” that critic Owen Gleiberman applied to the film when he caught it at Cannes this year. American Honey gives the vibe of what you would get if Spring Breakers was directed by a Brit instead of an American. That’s my two cents, but don’t let me oversimplify, there is some incredible energy, cinematography, intimacy and overall film-making going on at work here. I can’t wait to see the latest film from the director of Fish Tank and Red Road. In fact, I’m due for a full Andrea Arnold marathon pretty soon.

Review: The Neon Demon

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One of the many striking things about Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film, The Neon Demon, is how heavily it builds itself on the fusion of soundtrack and imagery. It is the first indication that we are in Only God Forgives or Valhalla Rising territory where static framing with and sonic force reign supereme, more-so than Drive or The Pusher Trilogy, although to be fair, both all of his films show a wonderful proficiency on setting a distinct rhythm to the storytelling.

The Neon Demon is a foremost a mood piece first. Refn’s fellow countryman, Lars Von Trier is fond of abstract filmmaking challenges informing his cinema, and here Refn seems to want to take one of the most blunt storytelling cliches, “Hey, the fashion industry sucks the life out models and turns human beings into sickly ghouls,” and the challenge is to apply such brilliant cinematic craft to the proceedings, like the make-up and gemstones constantly being brushed onto Elle Fanning’s visage, to make it appear more than what it is, even, and this is important, if the raw talent has always been there. With this film, appearances are not the goal it is the raison d’etre.

And through an delightful alchemy of influences – David Lynch, Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick and Dario Argento are all distinctly quoted – Refn not only pulls it off, he makes it look both inevitable and easy. It is as if the films glittery closing credits (highly reminiscent of the best of the James Bond title sequences, or David Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo opener) are saying, “Yea, all movies are made this way, aren’t they?”

Forgive the gushing, The Neon Demon was more than a bit of a balm after a pre-summer warm-up of sequels extruded at great cost with the aim mainly to tease for the next installment in the franchise. The few exceptions, Fury Road, Ex Machina and Chi-Raq, in isloation, serve as reminders that pop-entertainment does not have to be vanilla or focus grouped; it can be ghastly, challenging and visceral. Refn practices what he preaches, with all the one liners in the film espousing the theme of, ‘Everything worth having is worth a little pain.’ If the movie is pulling you out with its juvenile dares, stick with it, the back nine is a jaw-dropper. He is being both earnest and ironic such that down is up and up and down. To live in the recent films of this filmmaker is to live in a world that is too intense and too abstract to be real. In other words: Cinema. But unlike typical offerings from the dream factor, this is cinema where life lessons and morality (and definitely good taste) are un-tethered.

I wonder if this is what John Boorman was striving for with Zardoz before it collapsed under the kitschy weight of Sean Connery in a big red diaper and fuck-me boots? Refn borrows the prism of the mind sequence from that film, But I digress.

Back to the soundtrack. After two seasons of The Knick, Martinez’s retro-future-current-right-now jangle of electronic sounds and instruments haunts my dreams. I am not sure if the goal was for Vangelis-on-Ecstasy or KMFDM-on-Quaaludes, but it is somewhere in that space, and it sure hits the spot. Combined with the framed-tableaux cinematography – surely The Neon Demon started as a feature length expansion of that weird shot in Drive of all the fashion models motionless in their underwear in a weirdly lit nightclub that Ryan Gosling purposefully strides through – it is an immersive experience that transcends any semblance of Hollywood business-as-usual.

Would you like to know more…?

Friday One Sheet: The Neon Demon

I can’t stop posting marketing materials from Nicolas Winding Refn’s forthcoming feature, The Neon Demon. This one is from the prolific Mondo imprint, who always take a less marketing driven approach and go for something a bit more artistic. The inverted triangles are well featured in the film, so that design element makes sense, and otherwise, the geometric, sterile weirdness is entirely the tone of the film (which, btw I’ve seen and is one of the most brilliant uses of tone and structure since Mulholland Dr.). A strange choice to go black and white when the film is all about the use of colour, but in our photoshopped and instagrammed filtered world, a black and white poster, with no shades of grey, certainly stands out in a crowd. As does The Neon Demon.

Sunday Video Essay: Bullshit!

American philosopher and author, Harry Frankfurt, efficiently sums up the subtle difference between lies and bullshit in this short monologue. It is posted here for two reasons. One: the audio is cut to a lovely edit of classic cinema, stock footage, and news clips; and two any time someone puts something of nuance into the conversation on the internet, it is worth celebrating.