By Jonathan Campbell
Greed is good.
At least that’s what Oliver Stone’s most infamous cinematic incarnation espoused on the streets of wall.
But, to judge from his love of documenting all things socialist South of the Border, it’s probably not a sentiment Stone buys into.
South of the Border is Stone’s latest release and, as if living up to the promise of his name, he rolled into London last week for a promotional tour of a film he didn’t expect to get this far.
Stone’s original ambition reached no further than releasing his interview with president Hugo Chavez to Venezuela’s local TV networks.
Yet after meeting Chavez, and having debunked the demonisation perpetuated by an increasingly paranoid and reactionary section of the American media for himself, Stone was sufficiently inspired to embark upon a political road movie that tells the story of neighbouring South American countries that have since elected socialist governments in the wake of Chavez’s success.
South of the Border opens with some witless banter between three Stepford coiffed TV presenters that neatly establishes both their collective inability to read from an autocue, as well as confirming that misinformation delivered through America’s modern media represents a far greater threat to their way of life than socialism ever could.
Following a brief history of Chavez’s rise to power, including a failed coup d’état’s committed by and against him, the direction settles into a traditional documentary format consisting of one on one shaky-cam interviews between Stone and his subjects, those ubiquitous talking head shots and stock news footage.
The most pertinent revelation of which was the tacit support from the west, predominantly America and Spain, for Pedro Carmona’s illegal and undemocratic coup of Venezuela in 1992.
A coup which lasted less than 48 hours, for that was all it took for the Venezuelan people to march upon the presidential Palacio de Miraflores and demand the man they elected be reinstalled.
Interviews with democratically elected socialist presidents of Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Ecuador and – of course – Cuba followed, illustrating the social reform sweeping through this continent and the positive effect this is having on the poorest people of these countries.
A revelation conspicuous by its absence from the majority of western media outlets I’ve encountered.
And this is South of the Border’s raison d’être; to raise awareness of events that have taken place in South America over the last decade that our media seem reluctant to cover.
As with any film that chooses to represent one side of an argument over another, South of the Border leaves itself open to accusations of partisanship.
It’s difficult to accept any director, or anyone for that matter, wouldn’t be swayed by the swathe of palatial hospitality granted to them when given such access to the intimate trappings of national office.
Perhaps South of the Border would have benefitted from granting President Barack Obama, or even former incumbent George W Bush, an interview in the name of even handedness.
But, in a wider context, it makes sense to marginalise western views that its intended audience would already be familiar with to give a platform to the underrepresented ideas of modern South American politics.
We can then decide for ourselves what we believe for, much to the chagrin of Bacchus, truth lies in discourse.
After the film Stone talked of his ongoing project, The Secret History of America, and his hopes that this will leave a lasting legacy for Americans bombarded with one eyed interpretations of their own history.
For a man who has achieved so much, you could accuse Stone of being greedy.
But perhaps greed can be good after all.
By Becca Hutson
Disney owned studio, Pixar is leading Hollywood in animation. Having the hallmark stamp of Pixar on a film, guarantees an audience and revenue. It also guarantees audiences value for money and Toy Story 3 is the 11th feature from the studio, which began life in 1984 as the computer graphics division of George Lucas’s Lucasfilm Ltd, before Steve Jobs bought it for $10m two years later.
According to the Guardian, only Japan’s Studio Ghibli has been more consistently groundbreaking in animation, and even it has floundered somewhat with its last two films. Arguably, Pixar has not floundered, although Cars did see a dip in the usually splendiferous profits. Toy Story is one of the studio’s biggest hits, with humour in double entendres satisfying both children and adults mixed in with brilliant effects and story lines which are engaging and heartwarming for all without being mushy. My ultimate personal Pixar favourite is Ratatouille which reminded me of the Disney films I used to watch in the 90s such as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. In Ratatouille, the effects enhance the story rather than the story being a byline to technical gadgetry. The story warmed my cockles, leaving me feeling emotionally involved with a rat that dreams of being a world class Parisian chef.
According to reviews, Toy Story 3 shouldn’t fail to please, especially in 3D. It’s already out in the US but it will come to UK cinemas on July 19th.
By Alice Rowsome
Angelina Jolie is said to be following Elizabeth Taylor’s footstep as she takes on the role of Cleopatra in a new film about the Queen of the Nile. And starring opposite her as Marc Anthony? Her very own leading man, Brad Pitt. Yes a very intersting set up!
Originally it was Elizabeth Taylor who starred in the historical epic which followed the triumphs of the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, alongside lover Richard Burton in the 1963 Classic.The film will be inspired by the new biography about Cleopatra, written by Stacy Schiff, who has said she strongly believes Jolie would be a wonderful fit for the Egyptian Queen. She said:‘I think she’d be perfect for it and I can see a possible Oscar in her future. Physically, she’s got the perfect look.’
Schiff also stated she thought Pitt would make the perfect actor to play out Marc Anthony.
‘They are the Burton and Taylor of our day, reconciling and breaking up within a day in the tabloids.’
Schiff’s book isn’t published yet but the film script is already being put together.
Taylor and Burton have set the bar high. It is not sure whether Pitt and Jolie will be able to compete with the passionate lover’s version….
By Jonathan Campbell
I’m lovin’ it.
Food that is.
Fast food, slow food, healthy food and – of course – the not so healthy kind.
But how much love does the food industry have for us?
That’s the question Food, Inc. sets out to answer.
Directed by Robert Kenner and nominated in the Documentary Feature category at this years Oscar’s, Food, Inc. is an investigation into the modern methods used by the American food industry. Read more »
By Jonathan Campbell
I love girls.
Wait. Read more »
By Nicholas Deigman
Dir: Kirk Jones Cast: Robert DeNiro, Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale
Frank Goode has spent his whole life making rubber coating for the telephone wires that run alongside America’s railways. This has had two major consequences: firstly, he has developed an illness from decades of breathing in noxious fumes; secondly, he barely knows his own four middle-aged children. Both of these things come to light in the weeks following his wife’s death; and so it is fair to say that Frank has been granted a rare and precious window to peer inside his own past and find out where he lost his way.
As his four children make their excuses to avoid visiting him for a reunion dinner, Frank decides to head out on an ill-advised (in fact downright forbidden as far as his doctor is concerned) road trip to surprise his unwitting cubs in their natural surroundings. In Frank’s eyes this can have nothing but cheerful and fulfilling consequences; his successful, grounded, and thoroughly happy children couldn’t possibly have anything to hide from their loving, if slightly distant, pater right? wrong.
As Frank travels the length and breadth of Whitman’s beloved country, he watches the great American Dream crashing before him and hurling the wreckage at his feet. He discovers that his wife had lied to him about the his children’s successes, and neglected to tell him about their multitude of frailties and failures. His artist son, David, is nowhere to be found in New York; and his only truly successful child (Amy, an advertising executive) is too busy juggling a failed marriage and trying to find out what the hell has happened to David (he was last heard from in a Mexican jail) to pay her long lost father any attention. Robert, supposedly a famous conductor, actually plays a timpani drum at the back of the orchestra; and Rosie, a “famous dancer”, is a single mother tending a bar in Las Vegas.
The most painful thing about this slow crumbling illusion is the pitiful desperation with which each child tries to conceal their failure. Frank is heart-broken by the realisation that his children would rather lie than be honest with him; and he comes to realise that this is essentially his fault. But through determination and a new found humility, he is able to bond the family together again, and as he stands before his wife’s grave delivering an update on how the kids are doing, he is able to honestly reflect that… everybody’s fine.
Whatever Kirk Jones set out to do, he has created a truly sparing and beautiful film. There is plenty of humour and melodrama to keep commercial audiences happy, but beneath that there really is a depth of emotion that is quite devastatingly affecting. Frank’s realisation that he is the main source of antagonism in the lives of the four children that he has spent his whole life supporting is brutal, but the fact that there is no real opportunity for resolution is even more heartbreaking. It is too late to help his children improve their lives, and it is too late to witness them becoming the individuals they are now. All that is left for Frank to do is let the past slip away and try to enjoy an uncertain but comfortable future now that the illusions have been obliterated.
There is also a deep emotional resonance in the stories of the four children. For most of the year, we are confident in the conviction that the endless struggles and compromises that fill our daily lives are actually part of the fabric of modern life; but then we all have those awkward meals and visits when our parents ask us why we aren’t happier or more successful, and it is at these crushing moments that we suddenly feel like we have failed in some way. It is a painful but inspiring reminder that ‘Life’ is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted; and this universal truth is etched on the faces of Frank’s desperately fragile children, especially Sam Rockwell, who is superb as the childish but shy musician.
But more than anything else, this really is a powerful, elegiac ode to America: The Place Where Nobody Feels At Home. Some of the greatest films about nations are made by outsiders – Alan Parker, a born and bred Londoner, created two of the greatest films about 20th century America with Mississippi Burning and The Life of David Gale – and Kirk Jones achieves a similar result with Everybody’s Fine. Frank is a blue-collar man who has spent his life working in a factory while his wife and country lie to him about successes at home and abroad. He has buried himself in his work and allowed the American Dream to whisk him away from the gritty reality of life. When he finally wakes up and takes a look outside his cave – and takes off on the railways and highways that he, in a sense, helped to build – he realises that he lives in a nation of alienated and scared souls travelling from place to place. This is the tangible sense of loneliness at the heart of the film. Frank’s speciality was telephones, but everything about the American Dream is innately ‘tele’ – spread over great distances with no real connection or community to link it’s disparate elements.
Finally, and so inherent to the success of the film, is the performance of Robert DeNiro. He has been an absorbing, brooding New Yorker for four decades, but his attempts at expressing a more sympathetic side to the human condition have often fallen short. Perhaps largely as a result of his age, rather than a conscious change in his style, his performance in this film is wonderful. The powerful and stubborn DeNiro of Raging Bull is still hiding in the ridges and wrinkles of his aged face; but he is stooped in a softening pathos for the entirety of the film, and we cannot help but fall deeply under the spell of his quivering frowns and tear-filled eyes. If DeNiro was the John Wayne of New Hollywood, then this is his The Quiet Man.
After I’d seen John Hillcoat’s The Road earlier in the week I wandered out into the light to find myself a little dazed and drained, standing in the lobby of The Ritzy in Brixton, London, staring up at Matt Damon’s grimacing super-face. A face that sells film. Bourne but not Bourne looks over his shoulder at me, all black and white and grainy. Cluttered all around him are groups of four stars, word’s like “Explosive” and “Epic”, multitudes of exclamation marks. The words Green Zone, in some plain, bland, Helvetica-like font are slapped in the darkest corner of the frame.
A large print of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, sits above my fireplace at home. It’s boldness, it’s style and it’s mystery complements the film beautifully. The famous “empty” statement at the climax almost lives in the empty space of it’s composition. Faye Dunaway peers out of Gittes’ cigarette smoke and a wave of water laps at Nicholson’s coat, escaping from frame. In a nut shell the poster hints at the story of the film but, more importantly, uses elements of it to create something that stands apart.
But let’s not get too “art-critic”.
I flash back to Damon’s face. In all of it’s you-know-i-could-kick-your-ass-just-by-looking-at-you-ness. I like Damon, I admire Paul Greengrass’ breakneck technique (though the editing is far too fast) and I’m looking forward to Green Zone, but, seriously, is this really all we have in the way of poster art to tantalize us into the cinema? Is this really what movie posters have become? Boring unimaginative standard A-lister masturbation?
Film campaigns these days generally come with 3 built in layouts.
1. The “Romantic Comedy Layout” has a large Vince Vaughn type standing back to back with a Sarah Jessica Parker type on a white background. A bubbly colourful tag line above their heads, the pair, perhaps standing on the title.
2. “The Thriller Layout” usually comprises of Jason Statham or Gerard Butler’s bucket shaped heads in a cloudy sky above an outline of the city in which the movie is set. Often other smaller faces will accompany them. Usually the character who dies first on the far left.
3. 80% of “The Horror Lay Out” advertising will consist of a grimacing off centre face, peering from behind a shattered door under splatters of blood or an outline of a house in a corn field.
I’ve seen more creativity in lame cattle.
From the early 1900’s to around 1980 the National Screen Service (NSS) was originally responsible for the creation and printing of film posters in America and, I believe, of distribution overseas. A considerable amount of the work would be done by freelance artists, usually a few individuals at a time. Unfortunately after the NSS dissipated during the eighties the studios handled the work themselves and the era of new cinema advertising, as we know it today, was born.
Not only did the cheap studio marketing techniques eradicate the possibility of a new great poster artists working independently but, after Jaws had set the pace for the summer blockbuster and as the mentality in film making itself began to shift to one slanting towards pure advertising, it inadvertently also changed the purpose and vitality of the poster. The dumbing down began…
As is always the case, of course some great artists managed to succeed within the studio in the 70’s and 80’s. In fact, some of our most iconic and most loved were hand drawn by the likes of illustrators like John Alvin (Blade Runner) Bob Peak (Apocalypse Now), Richard Arnsel (Chinatown) or crafted by the prolific Bill Gold (Dirty Harry).
But again, as film changed, as what was possible in film changed and as Hollywood lulled in storyline, so did a lot of beautiful posters.
Isn’t beauty is in the eye of the beholder? I bet you’re one of those people who yearn for tube amplifiers , reel to reel recording, film cameras and, whilst reading actual words from a second hand paperback, in an armchair not bought from Ikea, you think about the days when record stores were overflowing with stacks of good vinyl and the cobble stoned streets were filled with rosy cheeked women carrying handkerchiefs that smelled of lavender…
Well… look, I’m not a true technology disser. I’m not saying every film poster made after ‘90 and built Photoshop isn’t even fit for a quick recycle and sent the way of the loo roll, let alone be allowed to adorn your local cinema foyer. Not at all. There are great works out there, I’ve managed to find some over the course of writing this, but they can’t hide the almost savage laziness of bland film marketing or the fact that, rarely, do the best make it into our cinemas.
Take for example this classic poster for Sam Peckinpah’s controversial Straw Dogs. An amazing image on any level, only intensified when looked at with even a little knowledge of the film. A vital film, definitely not loved by all but a definite landmark for the boundaries of cinema and an image which holds up even against Peckinpah’s savage film making style. So when it finally got a DVD release in the UK in 2002 after being banned since the early 70’s what adorned the cover of the DVD?
No offense to whoever out there put this together, after all we all have briefs sometimes.
A few months ago I read an article which looked at the poster campaigns for Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. A film which on paper would seem perfect to design a poster for. It’s beautiful to look at, has many interesting, dark and controversial themes and many varied artistic influences such as Hieronymus Bosch, Stephen King and Ingmar Bergman to name but a few. Maybe it was surprising then, maybe it wasn’t, to see Antichrist marketed all over London with this blunt and ridiculous piece of type-setting.
“Wow, look how shocking this film is going to be!”
“What’s it about?”
Things get worse; Have a look at the UK’s blunt, blood splattered DVD. You can imagine the conversation in the video store in which some husband tries to convince his wife about cuddling up on the couch to watch a scary movie. “Ooh this looks good… like Saw III”. If there’s a film out there that isn’t going to get you a cuddle fellas its this one. Things might be a different story (at least to begin with) for the same couple in Australia where Jeremy Saunders came up with this similar yet more subtle and far more fitting poster.
So are we forever destined to have films angled for mass sale at the detriment of something once designed so beautifully? After a lot of searching around I was finally happy to find poster artists, bloggers and illustrators from all industries similarly baffled at the situation. There are many wonderfully designed Criterion Edition discs and many fans of the company who, often rather beautifully, produce their own fantasy Criterion releases.
In my hunt I’ve also completely cemented my love for one countries frequently amazing designs. Poland has seen many of the greatest film artworks ever escape into it’s mainstream. Sometimes having little, in regards to theme or mood, to do with the actual feature, the art works instead search for some metaphor within the the film itself and use it’s plot ideas to create something entirely different but interestingly linked, none the less. Something inspiring.
The slightest hope that some of these gifted artists can make their way into the studios, where, as we speak, someone is once again placing Bold Helvetica font on Matt Damon’s head, really makes me smile. So it’s not all doom and gloom… More than anything it’s interesting and exciting to have discovered a bubbling independent resurgence of wannabe poster artists and to have found other people who I think have a real appreciation of what once made (and what could make again) some classic poster artworks for our cinemas.
At the very least it would be beautiful to see what they could do to Matt Damon’s face.
Thank you for reading. As a film poster fan it would be really interesting to hear from all of you. What is your favorite film poster of all time? Do you believe that film poster art has changed in style but not in a level of creativity? Am I an just an old fashioned romantic? I hope so… - Neil Innes
Brooklyn born Darren Aronofsky, one of my all time favourite contemporary filmmaker’s is currently filming his newest release Black Swan. The critically acclaimed director of the dark classics Requiem for a Dream and Pi, has written and is now directing a supernatural thriller about a ballerina competing against a rival dancer who may be another version of herself.
This intriguing story has the unexpected all star cast of Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey and Vincent Cassel. What’s more if you are not immediately drawn in by the undoubted promise of Aronofsky’s signature intense and beautiful filmmaking, then perhaps you will be tempted by the ecstasy-induced aggressive angry sex scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.
In a recent interview Portman said “I’m trying to find roles that demand more adulthood from me because you can get stuck in a very awful cute cycle as a woman in film”. Well, if you want a director who has the ability to strip you of all your childlike innocence in one swift scene then (as Jennifer Connelly found out in Requiem for a Dream) Aronofsky is your man. Similarly Portman’s co-star Kunis is about to take a big step forward out of easily defined Hollywood genre movies, and prove to us that she can pull off dark and edgy and not just cute and funny.
Although critics of Black Swan’s script say it seems little self-indulgent, with too much ‘empty time and space’ (meaning it looks like it will feature long shots of not much at all) I think they grossly under-estimate Aronofsky’s directing abilities. When you remember back to Pi and Requiem for a Dream they are both slow paced films, often with long shots of walking or a cup of coffee, yet in my opinion these are two of the most epic movies ever made – so what’s down on paper doesn’t necessarily give anything away!
Furthermore, when the words “ballerina” and “dance rivalry” are mentioned Darren Aronofsky is not by any means the first director who would spring to mind. However, when delving into the second part of the synopsis: competing against a dancer who may be another version of herself, it all clicks into place. Aronofsky’s perhaps David Lynch-esk take on this classic worn out genre becomes apparent, and I for one can’t wait to see where his unpredictable mind will take it.
Due for release this year with Fox Searchlight officially behind it, I think Black Swan will definitely be one to watch out for!