Screening Log: December 1st – December 16th

346. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011, Herzog): B

347. Warrior (2011, O’Connor): A-

348. Margin Call (2011, Chandor): B-

349. In Time (2011, Niccol): D-

350. The Artist (2011, Hazanavicius): B/B-

351. Le Quattro Volte (2011, Frammartino): B+

352. The Debt (2011, Madden): B-

353. The Devil’s Double (2011, Tamahori): C

354. The Arbor (2011, Barnard): A

355. Hesher (2011, Susser): C

356. Terri (2011, Jacobs): B

357. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011, Johnston): B-

358. Moneyball (2011, Miller): A-

359. My Week with Marilyn (2011, Curtis): C-

360. Shame (2011, McQueen): A-

361. Another Earth (2011, Cahill): C-

362. The Thing (2011, Heijningen Jr.): C-

363. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011, Ramsay): A

364. Redline (2011, Koike): B

365. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, Wyatt): B

366. Young Adult (2011, Reitman): A

367. Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011, Yuh): B+

368. Nico Icon (1995, Ofterringer): B-

369. The Mill and the Cross (2011, Majewski): B

List: Top 10 Worst Film Posters of 2011

Tis the season for 2011 film lists. This is the time of year where critics’ circles, bloggers, magazines, etc. roll out an endless barrage of best-of lists. I like to do a bunch of them (all going by favorites, not ‘best’); most will not be posted until January when I’ve seen most everything I meant to catch this year. I’m at 120 2011 films so far and I definitely have more I want to see. By that point, everyone will be sick of these lists, if they aren’t already, but such is the situation.

Coming up with the ten worst posters of the year is a much more difficult task than picking my favorites. For one thing, there are heaps upon heaps of mediocre to terrible movie posters every year. It becomes challenging to sift through and separate the merely bad to the incomprehensibly terrible. Several of my picks would remain under any circumstances; they jump out immediately as being particularly troubling. However, about half of my choices, while brutal, could very easily be switched out and replaced with something equally worthy of a slot.

As I said in my ‘Top 20 Film Posters of 2011’ list, my choices here are going to be a bit repetitious in regards to other lists in this vein. In brainstorming for this, I found myself agreeing with a lot of the choices made by others. So I apologize for the lack of originality here.

10. Certifiably Jonathan
The sole reason this is on here is because of how terrifying Jonathan Winters is in that picture. Font and shameless showcase of which actors will pour on the praise aside, this is just more unintentionally off-putting than words can describe. Who would look at the cover of this and want to watch it?

9. The Darkest Hour
My immediate reaction to this poster was what sealed the deal for its inclusion. The second I saw it, I burst out laughing. Other posters on this list incited guffaws and confusion, but this one really just made me laugh. It is impossible to take seriously on any level; a sorry excuse for a 3D ad. The quality is pretty substandard as well. It almost looks like a Syfy original movie.

8. A Little Help
Maybe it’s because I just don’t like Jenna Fischer. Maybe it’s because her childishly helpless expression suggests that she needs ‘a little help’. Not to mention the weird photoshop work that makes her look like Steven Tyler. In the end, I’m sure many more offensively bad posters could go in this slot…but I just see Pam from The Office when I look at this. And there are few characters I hate more than Pam from The Office.

7. Dear Lemon Lima
I appreciate a poster that wears its identity on its sleeve, but not when that identity makes me want to bash my own head in. This is the kind nauseating faux-quirk I cannot stand. Pink-haired girl’s pouty pout-pout face, the cutesy cursive, the adolescent doodles, the fucking unicorns; I can’t. Thanks, but no thanks.

6. Zookeeper
I have to admit that this poster is so awful that I actually kind of love it. I really do; it’s the only poster on here that transcends how abysmal it is, becoming something I legitimately enjoy.

5. A Bag of Hammers
There’s nothing like having the title of your film literalized in the most pitiful way possible. The title contains the word hammers. So, clearly having a poster with hammers falling out of the sky was the way to go. Are those hammers going to hit any of the characters? Why is everyone placed so awkwardly? Why is everyone looking at this kid who is creepily peeping out of the bottom? Who made these decisions and why? Surely there was a better way to advertise this film. Or is the film so boring that this really is the best they could come up with?

4. Martha Marcy May Marlene 
I get that having a QR code as your poster is theoretically a really great marketing technique. But when it renders the advertisement ugly as sin, is it really worth it? Everything about this is off; the version of this without the QR code is misguidedly bare. There are excellent posters for Sean Durkin’s debut feature that were used; it is a pity that this was the one I ran into most often in theaters.

3. The Chaperone
Does Triple H normally look like his face was molded with putty? I really know nothing about him at all. Do I really have to go into this? I mean….Good Lord.

2. X-Men: First Class 
Talk about unfortunate. There are only two things happening here and both of them are really poorly handled even beyond the lack of potential inherent within these teasers. First, the shadowy cut-out of Professor Xavier; it looks like it was shorn by a five-year old. Second, there is the disembodied floating head. Its placement was almost certainly decided from a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. That this is a teaser image that got approved for marketing is more than a little perplexing. Who thought this would make us want more?

1. Big Momma’s House: Like Father, Like Son
It cannot be disputed that there is a worse poster than this from 2011. It uncomfortably mocks Lady Gaga. If the tagline hadn’t been there, I’m not sure if I would have immediately understood what this poster was trying to reference. I do not see the FBI badges as FBI badges. I look at them and I see…monkey heads? I have no idea who came up with this, but it is all fake, bizarre and borderline disturbing.

Review: Sleeping Beauty (2011, Leigh)

Summary taken from IMDB: A haunting portrait of Lucy, a young university student drawn into a mysterious hidden world of unspoken desires

Author Julia Leigh makes her feature-film debut as the writer and director of Sleeping Beauty. It is apparent that at this point in time she does not have the skills to execute her superb allegorically charged ideas. She is getting at something captivating, but has no idea how to make the gaping emptiness on display feel interactively contemplative. Behind the camera she comes through as someone with a capable eye for framing and use of color, backed by a strong technical team. The film is alternately and appropriately luscious and icy. As a filmmaker, her distancing techniques are far too studied and derivative of the likes of Haneke and Breillat, without the elements that make them the vital voices they are. Sometimes her choices are laughable, such as a lengthy monologue featuring Lucy’s (Emily Browning) first client. The gentle elderly man delivers a speech while looking directly at the camera; it is a painfully manufactured contrivance, like something out of a high school theatrical piece.

Her strong suit lies in her ability to take what has been drolly categorized as an erotic drama, and presenting the material with a uniformly effective unerotic frankness. She subverts expectations, and the scenes depicting the clients interactions with Browning are the film’s high points. The clients project their desired purpose onto Lucy; she is a blank slate that reflects much about how men see women as they choose to according to their needs and cravings at any given point.

A common complaint I wholeheartedly do not agree with is that Lucy is too elusive. The way Lucy is portrayed works in theory; again, if only the material were stronger. She is cold and distant although she surrounds herself with people. Her motivations stem not just from money but from a personal quest. Lucy wants to push herself into unknown territory. She is at once impulsive and calculating. Her only real connection is with Birdmann (Ewen Leslie), a lonely suicidal alcoholic who is not long for this world. These scenes remain too underdeveloped to strike; in almost every scene Leigh unfortunately misuses sparse dialogue by sprinkling hollow exchanges that are presented as complex, but really are not. Sleeping Beauty does not bore; I just found myself constantly wishing that the filmmaking and dialogue were up to par with her ideas.

Lucy may seem passive but the opposite is true. She seeks agency through passivity; she is entirely in control and makes herself purposely vulnerable in an extreme way. In a world where women are constantly subordinated, Lucy is trying to make the most of this by turning the needs of men into her own opportunities for experience and money. When I watched Sleeping Beauty, I had been reading quite a lot of Angela Carter, and a lot of her ideas come into play here. Not least is how natural body as commodity is, and how women are looked down upon for simply being logical. Carter was a somewhat radical post-feminist; her ideas are truly fascinating and reflect a lot of what it going on in Leigh’s film.

Something that Sleeping Beauty gets right is this idea of the ludicrous dialogue that comes with the sexual exploration film. Films that deal in shady eroticism always seem laughable to a large chunk of the viewing audience. To me though, these kinds of films have an ongoing absurdist trope that always elicits laughter. There’s a self-conscious stiffness at work that, whether Leigh meant it or not, comes through as a knowing acknowledgment of a long line of arty erotically labeled ‘smut’ films that came before.

I cannot help but think that Sleeping Beauty would have worked better as a novel. I realize this review makes the same statement over and over; but it must be stated for a final time. Julia Leigh’s thematic concerns, her elusive lead character, her distancing tactics all work on their own. But she lacks a filmmaker’s instinctive eye, resulting in a substandard and far too studied work. The last thing this director wanted was for someone to talk out of the film feeling indifferent; and yet all it got from me was a comprehensive shrug. Unable to execute her vision, or to justify its bareness with strong material, Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty is thematically rich but, as a film, dead on arrival.

Review: Shame (2011, McQueen)

This review contains an open discussion of the film; spoilers follow.

Summary taken from IMDB: In New York City, Brandon’s carefully cultivated private life — which allows him to indulge his sexual addiction — is disrupted when his sister Cissy arrives unannounced for an indefinite stay.

There is a shot in director Steve McQueen’s second feature film that rivals any other from this year. A long montage depicting a ménage à trois weaves through many a suffocating flesh-filled close-up, eventually landing on our protagonist’s face. Michael Fassbender looks transformed here; his face is hauntingly gaunt and primal. There is no pleasure to be found in his expression; all we see is someone making a desperate life-or-death climb to the finish line. The shot took me to another place entirely; it showed me who this man is and the result gutted me.

There are undeniably only so many layers to Shame, which depicts the life of an affluent sex addict living in New York City. But with a subject matter that has rarely been explored with any degree of seriousness, not much in this case is more than enough. Those basic points are made with the degree of lucidity that McQueen provides. Along with the two performances by Fassbender and Mulligan, it is hard to argue against its somewhat rudimentary vision.

Brandon’s fixes and the likely meaningless chunks of time in-between are experienced with an equal perfunctory indifference. His sexual encounters feel more like a rush to get his satisfaction as opposed to something he entirely revels in. Brandon’s sexual exploits come at him in a multitude of ways, and he has established a routine methodical means that include but are not limited to hookers, web cam models, print and online pornography, a “filthy hard drive” at work and casual hookups. The Internet age allows him a bevy of backup options.

There are a lot of scenes that establish expected territory. Brandon does not comprehend the idea of marriage. Climaxing with the one woman he may have feelings for becomes impossible once intimacy rears its ugly head. His boss, whom Brandon tolerates, spends all night trying to hook up with a woman, only for Brandon to be the one that scores. He does not have one sustainable human connection, and that seems to suit him as long as he has the temporary and empty connections that provide his fix.

Shame really starts to resonate when Brandon’s life begins to unravel due to the presence of his clinging dependent waif of a little sister. Sissy (Carey Mulligan in an unhinged and unpredictable performance that ignites the screen) is an unwelcome presence in his life, but after ignoring her calls only to find her showering in his apartment one night, it is clear she plans on staying a while.

A lot can be said about Brandon and Sissy based on the way they share physical space and interact with one another. Brandon’s desired dismissal of her goes beyond the energy it takes to care for her; the past, whatever that may be, looms over the two in every scene. Sissy wants to make due on the connection they have as siblings who have weathered through a lot together, but Brandon wants none of it. The two are damaged and evidently defined by their likely tumultuous past. Sissy seeks consolation, but Brandon seeks the opposite from her. Having Sissy in his life is unquestionably too hard for him.

Some are taking issue with the film’s lack of backstory, but the film supplies so much rich substance in the scenes between the two, that it never becomes a question to feel cheated by its lack of explanation. In fact, the pivotal line as said by Sissy, “We’re not bad people; we just come from a bad place” provides all the confirmation and backstory people are finding absent. It is an explicit statement of past trauma that discards any purported hesitation we have towards throwing the word abuse around when discussing the source of their behavior. Whatever else that piece of dialogue is, it is far from ambiguous. It provides an orthodox cause-and-effect answer, and I am still trying to decide if I feel the line should have been in the film. Because it is not just the line; its placement and Sissy’s emotional state in that moment of audio provide the climax (no pun intended) of the film. It says a lot that the line is heard on top of Brandon’s unsettling self-destructive excursion; perhaps too much.

Sissy’s arrival does two things; first, it takes Brandon’s mind back to a place in time he does not want to be. Secondly, it takes away his privacy and thus, his ability to get off in the comfort of his own home. The combination of the two is the catalyst for Brandon coming apart at the seams in the film’s latter half. Shame’s purpose as a character study lies in Brandon’s eventual realization of how badly he needs sex once it is gradually deprived of him.

Brandon’s journey is bookended by two segments that set his exploits to moody tormented cello complete with the tick-tock passage of time. The first sequence opens the film and introduces Brandon as a walking calamity. His routine of traveling from high to high has been long established by the time we meet him. All that self-loathing is there but its familiarity allows it to barely register as the score hovers around unbeknownst to him.

By the time the second sequence of orchestral gloom comes along, Brandon has a heightened awareness of how desperate he has become. He cannot masturbate or interact with his laptop at home because of Sissy’s presence. Her being in his apartment is problematic for any number of reasons. He is indirectly called out on his hard drive stash by his boss. He is impotent with Marianne (Nicole Beharie), a woman he is legitimately drawn towards, throwing his sense of self into disarray. The routine that masked his crippling addiction has fallen out from under him; those strings are ringing louder and louder in his ear. Thus begins his bender where the hunt for release becomes fraught with increasingly disconcerting encounters. The notes follow him as he almost gleefully walks into a confrontation with the boyfriend of a woman he tries to pick up using graphically descriptive means, not to mention his hands. His lack of options leads him into an underground gay nightclub; his search for an outlet wrenchingly complete.

Watching Michael Fassbender dissolve right in front of us is quite the spectacle. This has been the year of Fassbender and we are all the better for it. He and Steve McQueen have established a working collaborative relationship, producing results that heighten the material through their partnership. Brandon is gritting through life, only out for his own base needs. The people he interacts with are meaningless, especially including the ones he sleeps with. Fassbender is an explosive force to be reckoned with as he completely gives himself over to the camera for observational purposes.

Mulligan is no less impressive introducing unbridled frenzy as Sissy who is much farther along the path to futility than Brandon is, or rather, is farther along the path precisely because she is aware of it. She deserves as much praise as her costar, hurtling off the screen with abandon. She takes a character that is mainly a plot device (the only similarity to her turn in Drive), but makes so much more of this role than the former because her character in Shame moves beyond her functional purpose. Props must go to Nicole Beharie as well for her lovely supporting turn; I cared about her immediately and was frustrated by my inability to tell her to abandon ship.

Steve McQueen has the confidence of a veteran; his vision is clear and he presents it with poise. Between this and Hunger, it is obvious that long takes are his strong suit. One more film from him and they will be a fully-fledged trademark. He risks distracting the audience but he does not; his lengthy observations make us more attentive, more aware of the physical space and of body language. They allow us to get a fuller sense of the performances and they enhance the notion of the audience observing Brandon through the glass-plate walls; he is a test subject. McQueen distances us with the sterile environment and cagey glass. He puts us up close when it counts, and when it becomes important to unsettle the audience. His methods set the methodical pace of a representative case study.

McQueen and cowriter Abi Morgan use Brandon as a representative for sex addiction, which may be disappointing to some and it is understandable. The decision forces Brandon into a broadly stroked corner. But McQueen knows what he wants to do and he does it with aplomb using Fassbender as his riveting translator. The director balances Brandon as cornerstone example with a sibling dynamic ripe for rich exploration. Brandon’s surprisingly conventional, but no less powerful, arc towards disintegration is tinted with more hope than one would expect. Shame is arresting cinema that loyally follows its self-loathing protagonist wherever he may go.

Review: Le Quattro Volte (2011, Frammartino)

Originally posted on CriterionCast on December 8th 2011

Ancient Greek mathematician/philosopher Pythagoras theorized that all souls transmigrate into man, animal, vegetable and mineral. It is on this tenet that Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte is based. Part minimalist observations, part docudrama; it is a trancelike rumination that shows everything and tells nothing, allowing us to drift in and out of our own ponderous observations. Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray release amply captures this meditative wonder.

The first half is occupied by an elderly goat herder (Giuseppe Fuda) in an Italian village. He spends his time going about his daily routines. His tasks are revisited using the same camera placements, capturing the repetition in routine. Eventually, the goat herder passes on, beginning a cycle of passage that transfers to the life of a goat, a fir tree and charcoal. Each segment monitors how the subject encounters its daily life and its routines. We follow interactions with the surroundings and how other beings interact with the subject whether it be creation, destruction or a mere encounter.

Le Quattro Volte contains no dialogue, no music, no narration and almost no camera movement. Frammartino emphasizes observation at all times; it is necessary that everything we see must feel like something the camera just happens to be catching. Nothing can feel artificially placed. Nothing can feel staged. It all must flow with a precise stoicism, showing us the matter-of-factness of the life cycle, but capturing the miracle of it through its normality.

The theory of transmigration adds a level of spiritualism to the proceedings. This further shines a light on this idea of the simplicity of existence, lending itself to a greater recognition of the phenomenon of it all that we take for granted. Thankfully, the film never tells us we take this for granted; it is just an understanding that comes through the film implicitly. Didacticism is nowhere to be found, and Le Quattro Volte is all the better for it.

This basic level of existence is emphasized through the film’s depiction of nature. This rural village is surrounded by hilly landscape. Once the goat herder passes, gradual steps are made towards the unfettered natural world. The baby goat still encounters herders and is contained within the village but ends its story abandoned under a tree after losing the herd. The third segment starts out as entrenched in nature as it gets; a fir tree sturdy in its expected territory. The tree is then chopped down; nature is infiltrated and by the end of the film, which depicts how charcoal is made, we are brought full circle.

All things are connected in Le Quattro Volte, but this is no hippie-dippie piece of filmmaking. The film shifts from object to object with a respectful and appropriate fade-out; a visual passing of the baton. The director makes sure never to come off as imposing, placing crucial importance on what we see and how we see it. Most of the film takes on a static fly-on-the-wall position.

What will surprise many is how amusing the film can be. In one of the single best, not to mention funniest, scenes of the year, the birds-eye view camera observes an Easter processional that takes place down a long road. The goats are fenced in on the left, a truck is parked on a hill on the right and a sheepdog nags at the villagers as they continue their ritualistic reenactment. All of the elements are set into place for the events that will unfold before us. The way the camera slowly pans and tracks how it all happens is an example of the type of experience only this film can give. The film constantly surprises with the minute details it catches and how often it can make us smile.

The hushed spatiality of Le Quattro Volte allows us inordinate room to think about the images we see at our leisure. Each person will be drawn to different details or segments. I admit that the first half of the film containing the goat herder did not mesmerize me much. This is entirely preferential and not a knock on the film at all. Rather, it was the goat, the tree and the charcoal that had me entirely within the film’s grip. These segments entranced me and had me floating above the subjects along with the camera, often times not thinking at all but just soaking in the environment. You are free to move in and out of Le Quattro Volte; to engage and not engage and to simply take it all in. It puts all of its stock in this one conceit of transmigration and beautifully observes rather than trying to tell us anything; and by that, it tells us everything.

List: Top 20 Film Posters of 2011

If you have eyes, then I’m guessing you’re sick of seeing the same images again in again with different actors acting as various ciphers. There’s Photoshopping galore, some it truly sad. Each genre has its own set of expectations. They have all become tired; heaps of tragically unaware self-parodies plastered everywhere. Each year we can lament and question; where has the magic of movie posters gone?

Well, it’s not entirely gone. Hopefully my choices this year will emphasize that periodically something aesthetically worthy comes along. I cannot lie though; the countless mediocre/pitiful posters I had to go through to get to these is more than a little disheartening. I would go through 100 posters before anything stuck out.

The ‘Worst Posters’ list will soon follow. But I prefer this list this year. Why? Because there have been a few Worst Posters list to come out already and I must admit that after doing my own research, they hit the nail on the head for nearly all of them. Which means that my list and theirs will be very similar.

What were your personal favorite posters of the year? Here are the 20 film posters of 2011 that represent mine. The rule was only 1 poster per film. I do not claim these to be the best; just the ones that caught my eye the most and that I find myself most drawn to. I have seen 14/20 of the films here. A few of these films I’m not really a fan of but a great poster is a great poster regardless of the quality of the film it represents (and I won’t be getting into which films those are here). Off we go.

20. Shit Year
Here, we get Ellen Barkin, whose presence seems to be single-handedly melting the watercolors (Watercolors? Inked water? I suck). She looks like a clown, has a cigarette hanging out of her mouth and the title indicates this was not a very good year for her. This poster makes me want to find out why.

As the list continues, you will see a lot of ‘it makes me want to know more’. That is what a poster should do. It is first and foremost an advertisement. If it can do this in a way that is not tired or a simple rehash of the ten stock images we get from posters these days, it is a success.

19. Hobo with a Shotgun

Last year I had a couple of posters on my list that evoked the exploitation era. Hobo with a Shotgun, coming from Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse trailer contest, follows suit in what has now become a welcome trend. Creases, lots of action overlapping with each other, a self-aware tagline; it’s all there.

You will see as we go through the list just how represented Magnet releases are (five total). They do some of the most consistent poster work out there and they deserve their due for presenting advertisements in a way that promotes creativity.

18. Drive Angry
Again with the Grindhouse inspired kind of look. This just works on every level for me from the font size to the artificial messiness of it. It is unfortunate that this poster was not the one mainly used, but such is the case; even the few great posters exist to be largely unused.

17. The Devil’s Double
An in-your-face concept that goes for the jugular as far as poster concepts go. It goes to an extreme to make its point and for that, it deserves major props. The only thing working against it is the oddly misrepresentative tagline; a minute irritation. I still say Dominic Cooper looks more like Michael C. Hall here than Dominic Cooper. I can’t be the only one that sees this; can I?

16. The Muppets
Out of all the imaginative send-ups for the return of the Muppets, I chose a sparse Kermit-centric one, the only reason being that I have a soft spot for Kermit the Frog. Any poster with his head on it earns a spot on this list. Just look at that smile; oh how it melts my heart.

15. The Future
It is hard to articulate what it is about this poster that I find so memorable. The centered upside-down photo with the font contained within has an unexpectedly long-lasting effect on the mind. There’s just something about it….

14. I Saw the Devil

I was so happy to be able to get this on here as it really stuck with me throughout the year. This is a haunting use of space with the victimized yellow car illuminating the shadowy figure just enough to get a sense his weapon but not his identity. Those who have seen the film will recognize this as a reference to the opening sequence.

13. We Need to Talk About Kevin
There is suspicion and paranoia afoot as Swinton’s temperament towards her child is shown with this image. I love posters that have this purple-brown hue to them. Just look at I Saw the Devil’s poster for further proof. I don’t know how else to describe it so there you go; purple-brown hue. My description skills are clearly tops.

12. Martha Marcy May Marlene
A case of the fuzzies. I can’t help it; I love out-of-focus images on posters. This really captures Jody Lee Lipes’ cinematography on the film which is still my personal favorite of the year. The poster provides a hook; why is she running away? Who from? Does she make it? Coincidentally, it is almost a reverse shot of the Margaret poster which was the last I cut for this list. And both have ‘M’ names. Weird.

11. 13 Assassins
A marvelous illustration for yet another Magnet release. Busy but not too busy, and positively engaging.

10. Black Death
I flat-out love this bleak and foreboding poster for a film that unfairly went under the radar. For those counting, this is the fourth Magnet release on the list. That endlessly hopeless feel the Middle Ages have (at least for me) is truly represented here. I think I caught the Plague just looking at it.

9. Gainsbourg
It goes without saying that Serge Gainsbourg equals suave. A poster for this biopic needs to be able to capture the personality we all think of when we hear the French lady killer’s name. This version adds the perfect touch in capturing his demeanor through the cool blue and lusty red. Just looking at this makes me want to listen to “Histoire de Melody Nelson” for the billionth time. In fact….

8. Rubber
….yeah, I put the album on; I couldn’t resist.

This graphic brings you front and center to the leering eye of a tire; a directly anthropomorphized illustration. It advertises its unconventionality, wearing it on its sleeve, begging onlookers to dig deeper into the unknown.

7. Certified Copy
I almost went with the equally impressive color-splatter poster for the film featuring the same image. The grey in this one allows Juliette Bincohe’s startling paleness to stick out as well as the ruby red of her lips and earrings in this important moment from the film.

6. Le Havre
In addition to having an irresistible illustration that is at once sparse and full of intrigue. I want to know more about what I am seeing. Who are the players and how do they relate to each other?

5. The Skin I Live In
What strikes me most about this poster is that it looks like a mid-twentieth century middle school textbook. Would it actually be found in a classroom? Who knows? But it gives off that kind of educational vibe with an artistic twist that really drew me in.

4. Shame
The poster for Shame evokes with its ruffled bed sheets an immediate context of the film’s title. It is slightly confrontational with its placement of the title smack dab in the middle; this film is not tiptoeing around its subject matter. Whether you have seen the film or not, the poster says a lot about the kind of experience it provides.  Well, that quote does not exactly scream subtlety as an allusion to the film’s content. Either way; we get the idea.

3. Cold Weather
There is an exquisite use of patterning going on and I love the placement of the actors. Even the font kills. It’s just perfect.

2. Sleeping Beauty
Emily Browning’s porcelain exterior blends right in with the beautiful embroidered couch behind her. The poster’s color palette is gorgeous. Her supposed vulnerability is being subverted just like in the film (although the film is questionably successful at this). What we would expect to be a pleading look is actually a stern stare-down daring us to pass judgment on her.

1. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
As soon as I saw this poster, I knew it would be likely impossible that another poster would take its place at the top of the pack. Designed by Chris Ware, best known for his visually complex graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, everything here is absolutely captivating. Ware also designed the equally impressive poster for 2007’s The Savages. The color scheme, the symmetry, the jellyfish-like middle, the water, trees; there is so much happening and it is all done through abstraction. So many aspects of the film are emphasized here, but you don’t have to know that to appreciate this masterful work on display.

Short Review: Warrior (2011, O’Connor)

Steeped in the throes of Greek tragedy, Warrior takes chamber-piece family drama to the arena of MMA. Knowingly playing with clichés and being able to deliver on familiar grounds can be just as difficult to execute properly. It is no small task, but the film is able to deliver. The first hour is a lot of set-up. It is transparent where almost all of these scenes are going, but it conveys them with an unexpectedly quiet meditation. This gives the actors and the circumstances they have to play a refreshing amount of room to breathe. By the end, proportions of such raw physical intensity are reached that you can actually feel the decades of family dynamics being brought into the arena. The result is a well-earned cathartic finale as powerful as anything I have seen this year.

The film is written and directed a few notches above competency by Gavin O’Connor, but the real power lies in the hands of the three leads. Edgerton takes a fairly flat character beaten down by external forces and sells us empathy as a seemingly hopeless underdog. Tom Hardy achieves a kind of introspective intensity that is something to behold. Decades of estrangement and past dynamics have been so clearly defined in his head, that his dialogue evokes a perspective of factual simplicity reminiscent of a child. And Nick Nolte is devastating as the haggard father trying to shake his previous actions that all but define him far too late in life. His eyes desperately cling onto his sons for any semblance of forgiveness.

All of the melodrama and emotions are boiled down into a pure testosterone-driven sweat, served up for consumption for the audiences in and of the film. It even impressively follows through on the MMA side, with multi-dimensional choreography that is a mite too shakily filmed.

Going into the final scene, the stakes are more than felt, and for all of the nitpicks I could have, Warrior ultimately packs too much an emotional punch to dismiss. There is no bad guy here; just two brothers whose unfortunate pasts have never left them. It all leads up to the moment they grapple with redemption in the ring.

Afterthought; Warrior is not the only film to have two equal protagonists enter a combative sport. South Korea’s fabulous Crying Fist did it in 2005. Seek it out.

Short Review: The Muppets (2011, Bobin)

The Muppets proves that Jim Henson’s zany bunch of felt-skinned characters will indeed live on. With “The Muppet Show”, Henson brought a welcome off-kilter perspective to humor complete with star hosts. With The Muppet Movie and future films, Henson used that humor as a gateway to showcase tangible heart with its potent messages of friendship, camaraderie and the ability to achieve one’s dreams. Led by actor/writer Jason Segel, this revival reminds us why we love the Muppets so much in a story laced with regretful longing and time past. Its more serious themes follow through on the conviction that these characters mean something to people. Jason Segel’s assemblage is from start to finish a tangible labor of love that the audience can immediately feel and relate to. The highlights come from the songs by music supervisor Bret McKenzie, which contains no throwaways, and infectiously lingers with you for days after. “Man or Muppet” in particular is superb.

Admittedly, there is a struggle to maintain a balance between the wackiness and poignancy. Some of the jokes work splendidly, but a sizable chunk of them either don’t or fall somewhat short, throwing the axis of tone in favor of sentiment which threatens to take over the picture. Overall, it is steeped in Muppet tradition, and thus the film scores more hits than misses. Its heart is in the right place and that makes up for it not being quite the consistent work it could have been. Between the love and care radiating off of Segel, the music, and the invaluable presence of the Muppets themselves, who remain irreplaceably special creations, The Muppets serves as a much needed reminder of the world Jim Henson built.

Afterthought: There is a film in the Muppet franchise that I consider one of my ten favorite films. It is not the one you think. It’s a work I would defend to the death. Like so many, The Muppets mean quite a lot to me; four of the films I have seen countless times (we’re talking numbers in the hundreds) and  the show remains a favorite. I am one of those saps that will, without fail, be brought to tears the second Kermit starts to sing. Something that felt really gratifying leading up to this film’s release was the excitement coming from the blogosphere. Granted, the film’s relentless and wildly achieved marketing helped with this, but a communal sense of appreciation for Henson’s work was felt across the board from everyone involved in making the film to the people anticipating it. And that aspect of it was just as wonderful to see as the finished product.

Screening Log: November 16th-30th

329. Bill Cunningham, New York (2011, Press): B

330. Yves Saint-Laurent: L’Amour Fou (2011, Thoretton): C+

331. Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011, Rossi): B-

332. Bellflower (2011, Glodell): B

333. Being Elmo (2011, Marks): B+

334. The Descendants (2011, Payne): B+

335. Team America: World Police (2004, Parker): B+

336. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011, Marshall): D+

337. The Help (2011, Taylor): B-

338. Beginners (2011, Mills): B

339. Crash (1996, Cronenberg): A-

340. The Muppets (2011, Bobin): B

341. The Sleeping Beauty (2011, Breillat): B+

342. Outrage (2011, Kitano): C+

343. Tyrannosaur (2011, Considine): A-

344. Rampart (2011, Moverman): B-

345. Hugo (2011, Scorsese): A-