Archive for the ‘posters’ Category


Serious Men: The Coens and Soderbergh against the world

November 22, 2009

Is it just me or did anybody else get The Informant! and A Serious Man a little mixed up? You vaguely knew that the Coen Brothers directed one and Steven Soderbergh directed the other, but you couldn’t quite keep them straight, right? (No? Maybe it was just me). For years now the Coen Brothers and Steven Soderbergh have been dividing up the work of making the smartest, most beautifully-crafted, halfway-serious, semi-indie films out there, but until this fall I’ve never really thought of them in the same breath, and that’s despite both of their close connections with George Clooney (who appears in neither of these films, even though he seems to be in every other film out right now). But then The Informant! and A Serious Man were released within two weeks of each other and it got me thinking.

Joel and Ethan Coen are, respectively, 8 and 5 years older than Soderbergh. All three of them have been making films since the mid ’80s. Though the Coen aesthetic is easier to pin down than the Soderbergh aesthethic (Soderbergh being far more restlessly adventurous and experimental) their filmographies have much in common. Both (if I can refer to the Coens as a single entity from now on) have made noiry thrillers (Blood Simple; The Underneath) and both have made comic thrillers (Fargo; the Ocean trilogy); both have made jail-break movies starring Clooney (O Brother Where Art Thou?Out of Sight); both have made ravishing black and white fables (The Man Who Wasn’t There; Kafka); both have essayed left-of-field remakes (The Ladykillers; Solaris); both have contributed short films to portmanteau projects (the Coens to Paris, je t’aime and Chacun son cinema, Soderbergh to Eros). And both have won Oscars and Palmes d’Or.

Above all, both are incredibly fast-working and prolific. The Coens have made half their 14 features in this decade alone. But Soderbergh trumps that, making almost as many features (12, or even 13 if you count Che as two films) in the ’00s than the Coens have made in total, not to mention a TV series (K Street). But the Coens write all their own material, while Soderbergh, who started out as the archetypal writer-director with Sex, Lies and Videotape seems to rely more these days on other screenwriters. The Coens moonlight as their own editor under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes, while Soderbergh (who also moonlights occasionally as his own editor under the pseudonym Mary Ann Bernard) works as his own cinematographer under the pseudonym Peter Andrews (and is one of the best cinematographers in Hollywood at that).

Which brings us to The Informant! and A Serious Man: two very different films which could hardly be more alike. Two films about bespectacled Midwestern suburban putzes who wear their pants too high and feel that the world is against them. Both films had little fanfare before they started getting themselves noticed this summer (The Informant! with its Saul Bass-y poster, A Serious Man with its what-is-it trailer) then premiering within a day of each other at the Toronto Film Festival (though The Informant! had bowed four days earlier in Venice) and opening theatrically within three weeks of their premiere. (Though both directors have appeared in one of the previous two New York Film festivals, I would assume that the NYFF must have rejected both these new works). Though the films have widely differering budgets ($7 million for A Serious Man, $22 million for The Informant!) neither really looks particularly more expensive than the other, with the big difference in cost being the casting: Soderbergh has Matt Damon, while the biggest names in A Serious Man are Richard Kind and Fyvush Finkel (the film’s star Michael Stuhlbarg being better known on Broadway). Though A Serious Man is a film about Judaism (or is it about Jewishness?) and The Informant! is a film about Capitalism (or is it about greed?), the two films have a similar setting and a similar darkly humorous tone. Both films were shot on location (A Serious Man in Minneapolis MN and The Informant! in Decatur IL) and spend equal time in suburban living rooms, kitchens and driveways, offices, and motels. In both films FBI men arrive on doorsteps and bosses linger in office doorways making veiled threats.

Larry Gopnik in the Coen film is a Job-like figure who suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (Stuhlbarg played Hamlet in Central Park last summer in preparation) while Damon’s Mark Whitacre is a man who, though even more paranoid than Gopnik, is more the agent of his own demise. Both ultimately are company men (and scientists no less) just trying to work their way up the ladder—Whitacre as a biochemist at a giant Midwestern corporation, Gopnik as a physics professor at a small Midwestern university.

One of the biggest differences between these serious men, beyond their religion, is their wives. One has the most supportive wife in living memory. The other, the least. If you’ve seen either you’ll know what I mean.

Due to the presence of Damon and the backing of Warner Brothers, The Informant opened with a $10 million weekend, has played on up to 2,505 screens and  has grossed $33 million to date. A Serious Man (distributed by Focus Features) had a $251,000 opening weekend, has played on up to 262 screens and has grossed $7.5 million. But A Serious Man is the better reviewed film (79 metacritic rating, 86% rotten tomato rating, against The Informant!’s 66 and 76%) and looks to play longer.

Adding to the confluence of these films is that I feel almost exactly the same way about them. I enjoyed them both a lot and was a little dissatisfied by them at the same time. If I had to recommend one over the other it would be A Serious Man, but only just.

And then, of course, there are the posters. Assume the position…


Movie Posters of the Week

October 24, 2009


Since I’ve been writing Movie Poster of the Week for two years now, first here, and since March at The Auteurs Notebook, I thought it might be a good idea keep a directory of all my postings here, in reverse chronological order:


On The Auteurs:

The House of the Devil

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Le Feu Follet (and the work of Hans Hillmann)

What? (and other Polanski posters)

The 47th New York Film Festival

Gummo (and other Harmony Korine films)


Husbands (and other French Cassavates posters)

Merman and Stolz der Nation (and other fake movie posters)


Les herbes folles [Wild Grass] (and other Resnais posters)

The Endless Summer (and other surf movie posters)

The Servant (and other Losey/Pinter posters)

La femme de Paul, avec le sourire (the strange case of the lost Godard film)

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

Christmas on Mars (and the work of The Small Stakes)


The Serpent’s Egg (David Carradine R.I.P.)

Next Stop Greenwich Village (and the work of Milton Glaser)

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

The Lacemaker (and the work of Peter Strausfeld)

The Devils


The Rain People

The Holy Man (and the design work of Satyajit Ray)

In the City of Sylvia

The Girlfriend Experience

Late Spring


On this site:



Made in USA (and the work of Rene Ferracci)

Pickpocket (and the work of Christian Broutin)

The International

Dear Zachary (designed by Evan B. Harris)

Let the Right One In

Cool Hand Luke (R.I.P. Paul Newman)

The Headless Woman


Day of Wrath

Getting Straight

Rosemary’s Baby

Burn After Reading

Three Monkeys

Alice in the Cities (designed by All City)

Forgetting Sarah Marshall/Local Hero

Last Year at Marienbad

The Bank Job


The Longest Yard

The Great Debaters/Carbon Copy

Taxi to the Dark Side

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

Decline and Fall of a Bird Watcher

I’m Not There


Be Here to Love Me (designed by Rob Jones)

Pierrot le Fou

The Savages (designed by Chris Ware)

Reprise (designed by All City)

Funny Games

A Brighter Summer Day


Gloria Grahame night

August 13, 2009


It’s Gloria Grahame night tonight on Turner Classic Movies. This poster is one of many superb updated posters TCM has produced for their Summer Under the Stars series. You can see them all here. I bow to few in my love of Gloria Grahame, whom I first became infatuated with after reading the tragic memoir written by her much younger British lover Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.

Apologies to anyone keeping track (thanks Paul) for the poor state of disuse this site has fallen into over the past two months. Mostly I’ve been writing Movie Poster of the Week over at The Auteurs, and writing nonsense (and linking to less nonsensical things) on Twitter instead of T.W.I.T.T.. But I will try to keep house around The Wind in the Trees from now on.


Shining Ephemera

June 10, 2009

In honor of The Shining midnight shows at the IFC Center.

A poster by Polish designer Leszek Zebrowski



A doorway mural on Oranienstrasse, Berlin (thanks to I Dreamed Music)



The worst wake-up ever: The Shining cuckoo clock by Chris Dimino (thanks to Engadget)



Brilliantly oblique tribute poster from Tes One (courtesy of Grain Edit)



Poster by Jeff Kleinsmith for Rolling Roadshow screening of The Shining at the Timberline Lodge (the original Overlook Hotel) in Oregon in October 2008. 



First edition of the Stephen King book




The movie soundtrack LP



The British teaser poster based on a Daily Mirror spread



And, though everybody’s seen it, of course I need to add my favorite fake trailer (if not my favorite You Tube clip of all time)



Movie Poster of the Month: Bruno

April 25, 2009


Perfect in every way, from typography to tagline to color scheme to use of ümlauts.

Meanwhile, an equally sublime Francis Ford Coppola poster on Movie Poster of the Week at The Auteurs.


Sidney Poitier’s Warm December

April 24, 2009

I’ve been on a bit of a Sidney Poitier kick lately, inspired by reading Pictures at a Revolution, Mark Harris’s indispensable book about the five films nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture in 1967, two of which—Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night—starred the great Sir Sidney. I’ve enjoyed watching him, even in hokey pieces like Lilies of the Field and To Sir, With Love, but never more so than in this obscure 1973 London-set romance which I Netflixed purely on the basis of this poster. Poitier plays a brilliant, widowed DC “ghetto doctor” who travels with his 10-year-old daughter to London to race motorcycles (as one does) and falls in love with the alluring, beautiful and doomed niece of the ambassador from Torunda, a fictional East African nation.

A Warm December, just released on DVD for the first time (and seemingly only to pad out the Sidney Poitier Collection that it’s included in), was Poitier’s second film as a director. His first, the western Buck and the Preacher (1972), he had taken over the reins of midway through production. December was a flop, but Poitier went on to become a hugely succesful comic director, helming vehicles for Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder and for 20 years holding the record for the highest grossing film by an African-American director for 1980’s Stir Crazy, until Keenan Ivory Wayans bested him with Scary Movie in 2000. A Warm December, a rather corny and quite touching weepie, is shot like a TV movie, with zooms galore and a terribly dated score, but Poitier never aspired to be Jacques Rivette (despite his occasional experimenting with non-synchronous sound).

What interest A Warm December has, beyond its very charismatic leads, is mostly incidental: its London setting with its Afro-centric enclaves, a succession of fabulous patterned shirts (mostly worn by Poitier, except when he’s walking around with his shirt off), and its plot revolving around international diplomacy, motor-cross racing, hydro-electric dams and sickle cell anemia. There is also a wonderful performance by South African singer Letta Mbulu singing a Miriam Makeba song. And, best of all, a scene in a nightclub where Poitier and Esther Anderson dance to an Afro-funk outfit called Zubaba. Zubaba, it turns out, is the band formerly known as Symarip, best known for their 1969 ska anthem “Skinhead Moonstomp.” 


Making Tea with Satyajit Ray

April 17, 2009

An ad for The Indian Tea Market Expansion Board designed and illustrated by non other than Satyajit Ray in his days as a commercial artist before he changed the world of Indian cinema with Pather Panchali in 1955. Back in October I griped about the disappearance of Ray from American screens, but I’m happy to report that a Ray-trospective is now in full effect at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. I’ve been proselytizing to friends about Ray all week but really all I need do is direct people to this clip from Pather Panchali. The wind in the reeds!

Meanwhile, I write more about Ray’s work as a designer over at the Auteurs.