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Trailers are an under-appreciated art form insofar that many times they’re seen as vehicles for showing footage, explaining films away, or showing their hand about what moviegoers can expect. Foreign, domestic, independent, big budget: I celebrate all levels of trailers and hopefully this column will satisfactorily give you a baseline of what beta wave I’m operating on, because what better way to hone your skills as a thoughtful moviegoer than by deconstructing these little pieces of advertising? Some of the best authors will tell you that writing a short story is a lot harder than writing a long one, that you have to weigh every sentence. What better medium to see how this theory plays itself out beyond that than with movie trailers?

36stairs trailer from grzegorz jonkajtys on Vimeo.

36 Stairs Trailer

Sci-fi lovers need to see this trailer.

I can go either way when it comes to dystopian views of the future. You can have hollowed out shells of civilizations, you can have people dressed in clothes that look lightly charred, you can have lots of storm clouds pouring down acid rain, but it doesn’t necessarily help to make a post-apocalyptic film more watchable. You need to have a story in there somewhere and after watching this trailer I don’t think I know what that story is but I know I want to see it.

For those who have seen Grzegorz Jonkajtys’ The Ark know that the director/writer of 36 Stairs has an eye for vfx and animation. Just perusing his résumé of work you can see that he’s someone who, if you had to have someone craft a world that feels like Blade Runner, he would be the person who could create it with the greatest possible fidelity.

This trailer kicks it off with a gorgeous rendering of the land these characters inhabit. Part filth, part squalor, and entirely foreboding there is an inherent tension to the action on the screen. A phone dials out. A man is hunched over with a respiration device strapped to his face. His breathing is labored. The sound of the call indicates someone is calling a medical insurance company. It’s moody and strange but it’s nonetheless curious.

More snapshots of this husk of a city appear on the screen; there is almost a dirty coolness about it. The automated insurance phone line drives our caller to start yelling in a way that I am sure many of us have done when faced with shoddy voice recognition prompts. We get some strange images of parcels, of blueprints, of gauze. The screaming man on the phone is told his insurance policy isn’t valid. A man operates on himself and pulls out of his body an object that appears to be a cross between a cell phone and a creature from Alien. Whaa?

I have absolutely no clue what is happening or why it’s happening to these people. But the brilliance of this trailer is that I don’t care about that, I just want to see the whole thing immediately. I may be left with so many questions but this trailer is effective because it raises such good ones while giving me some delicious clues.

Humble Pie Trailer

Two things: One, the churro lady was always backed up when I was at Disneyland a couple of weeks ago. 9:30 in the morning didn’t even faze some people who wanted a little sugary confection to help get their deep fried day off to a sluggish start. Two, I am a devotee of Bruce McGill‘s work. Be it Timecop or his turn in MacGyver, the man has always come correct in a way that a character actor should. He’s a perennial working man’s actor and it shows.

This film appeals, and should appeal, to that certain segment of folks who exist in the customer service industry that aren’t quite lifers but who are on that path if real change isn’t made. I like that the trailer forgoes the voiceover in lieu of just letting events unfold so we can see them organically take place. As well, our protagonist in this film, played convincingly by Hubbel Palmer, actually looks like the kind of person stuck in a world where customers are the front line and dealing with the petty issues that plague retail establishments everywhere. As a supermarket worker, the guy seems not liked by those around him, it looks like he gets his ass kicked regularly, and his boss at the store, cue McGill, is perfect in delivering the kind of condescending claptrap that ensures the status quo.

And then Billy Baldwin enters the picture.

It’s such a surprise that the man who is responsible for being in one of only two films I walked out of, Sliver, is kind of charming here. His Baldwin voice fills the moments he’s in, you’d be hard pressed to not think it’s Alec, as an acting instructor. Our protagonist worker man wants to better himself through acting and then, as would be the case in a movie like this, the coincidences start flying.

It’s not hard to try and keep track of all that’s happening as this trailer looks to establish that a series of events shake our Palmer’s life but it’s thrilling to see how nuanced things are handled. He achieves a bit of self-confidence about his size as a man, he becomes a star in his acting class, but in a scene that defies logical progression of a trailer he also takes the melon ball that is his co-worker’s head and slams it into an end cap display of colorful cardboard boxes. I don’t know what prompted it but it is funny.

The trailer drops that a producer of Napoleon Dynamite has had a hand in this and it really shows. There’s an individuality expressed in this story that makes it stand out and I appreciate the level of funny that is peppered throughout this trailer.

Splinterheads Trailer

One of the films I thought ought to have been watched by more people last year was Sean Anders’ Sex Drive. A movie that had a little bit of heart, a good sense of comedic timing, and a great cast who took a script that could have been DOA in any other hands was a little fall gem that made me greedy to find another. Whether or not this is it, this film’s trailer gives me a little bit of hope that it could be.

I wouldn’t normally be skeptical prior to seeing a trailer but I when I read that Brant Sersen was the man who was conducting the directorial and writing duties for this film, thus knowing beforehand he had done the forgettable Blackballed with Rob Corddry years ago didn’t inspire a lot of expectation. With a little trepidation I watched the entire trailer and was rewarded with something unique.

There are some real wins but some real losses in this thing and, as all things do, that starts out with the sickly sweet opening moments. While it gets kudos from me for foregoing an obnoxious voiceover and just letting the film literally just show itself without depending on convention it is it is jarring to try and reconcile the idea that a very delectable young blonde woman (Transformers’ one Aussie, Rachael Taylor) working as a carnival barker actually exists. I mean, no muffin top, all teeth in her head (white at that), nice disposition, not strung out on alcohol, meth, or fueling some habit, it is a very long stretch. What saves the moment, however, is relative newcomer Thomas Middleditch who seems to be the bastard child of Chris Martin from Coldplay and a Gap model; easy on the eyes with a kind vibe, he really sells the character as a wimpish geek of sorts.

The minimalist score, which just had to buck the initial impulse to attach some kind of hip indie sounding track that the kids would like, compliments the quick addition of the graphics on the screen that set up the idea this is another boy finds girl story; this year has been littered with them but, as long as they’re good, I could watch one every week. Aside from the cutesy pillow talk these two lovebirds have with one another, the interaction which seems almost false as they grow closer to one another, and the obvious inclusion of a nutty ex-boyfriend into the mix who is just hard as nails (Dean Winters, who ought to be in every show I watch on pay cable), there is something there to entertain and delight.

While I think the visual representation of what geocaching is for those scoring at home, I have to give an air five to whoever signed on the dotted line in using this as an entree to show Rachael Taylor in her skivvies. Inspired decision.

From here we do get a nice peppy indie tune as a whole lot of unassociated scenes are cobbled together as we get introduced to a few more people (Christopher McDonald and Lea Thompson. Power couple right there, peeps) along the way to the end that, ultimately, works for me. It looks light and airy like a funnel cake at a carnival and I couldn’t be more famished for a movie like this.

The HorsemanTrailer

I grew up being absolutely afraid of Shakespeare. As a young kid in the eighth grade, to me the language was cumbersome, the situations complex, and I don’t think I really felt better after having to get through any number of his plays. In college? I voluntarily took three classes on the bard’s work. Finding the chance to delve into the issues that seem to come up in his work made me realize that one of the more curious elements to a lot of Shakespeare’s work is revenge. How it functions, what form it takes, how people can succumb to it.

This trailer is pure vengeance.

What I liked most about this preview is how fast we get into things. No voiceover, just a dead body on a slab, a father, an urn, and some dialogue that tells us what was in this girl’s body at the time of her death. The music is slow, steady, the pictures of the many festivals its been at pepper the screen as we look over this man’s shoulder. It’s a quick sell job that does things effectively and quietly.

Yes, the interstitial that says he can send her killers to hell is a little too bombastic, I like these kinds of things to be implied, not told, but Peter Marshall has a vehemence about him and first time director Steven Kastrissios genuinely captures the mood of what a movie like this should feel like.

Knocking on the door of the first person he’s tracking down to ostensibly tarry away off this earth you can feel how well the movie exists in its space. The camera feels active, the sense of danger heightened as the dad’s first victim is burned alive in his own house, our protagonist gingerly making his way out of it.

The blows he serves on those he feels wronged his daughter with various objects seem real enough. The level of violence obviously kicked up a notch or two. There is a lot shown of what this father is ready to thrash in order to get what he wants and the level of pain he’s inflicting on people just gets me giddy at the thought of seeing how this all ends.

Revenge is a subject that has obviously been done again and again but as last year’s Taken has shown you can reinvent the idea and still have something that will strike a chord with an audience. This looks like something, while not groundbreaking, that hopes to inform the idea of revenge and what it can do.

Uncertainty Trailer

This is hard.

After getting suckered to see Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow I just didn’t know whether I thought that having a film that contained dueling realities could work as a movie that was a) supposed to be dramatic in scope or b) any good. Or, fundamentally, can a movie like this work?

Fast forward to (500) Days of Summer with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and there was an excellent use of split screen reality that only worked for me as a filmgoer but actually informed the protagonists’ struggle. Now, a film that was done long before Joseph did Summer this movie looks to try and make another go at this temporal shifting subgenre of film.

From the directing duo that brought us Bee Season we get an opening that is pretty well done and it certainly draws you in. No voiceover, no information, just the voices of Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins. Today’s the day, for sure, but what does that mean? The conversation between the two of them is stilted, a little wooden. I can’t tell if this is supposed to be a tender moment between two lovers or if it’s an ad for Massengill, Valtrex herpes medication.

After this moment passes we get the transitory moment where the shift happens. One runs one way off a bridge and the other runs in the opposite direction. The lilting music stops as the first alternate reality, Manhattan, has these kids picking up a cell phone of someone who seems intent on getting it back, all Eagle Eye serious. The other direction? Brooklyn, for what seems like the story I’m more interested in seeing. A story of pregnancy, a story of difficult young love, it feels like a double feature that’s only as good as the other half. The other, more obnoxiously outrageous one that has guys in black SUVs stepping out of the car in suit jackets and wonderfully coiffed hair just seems out of place. Side note: the 90’s era techno synth soundtrack in the background for this portion of the trailer? Belongs in an Energizer commercial, not a movie like this.

I am torn, just like those in this movie, about what to make of all of this. I think I want to see the love story but I am not sure I am in the mood for what looks like a remake of Run with Patrick Dempsey.

The last 20 seconds of the trailer, however? Clutch.

In case you missed them, here are the other trailers we covered at /Film this week:

  • Collapse TrailerThis is the trailer that ought to appeal to anyone looking to see what might be on our financial horizon. The soothsayer at the center of this makes a compelling case as to why you should check this out.
  • American Pie Presents: The Book Of Love TrailerThis film looks like an abhorrent attack on thinking people everywhere. I know Eugene Levy is willing to sell his soul to the devils of direct-to-DVD hell but Booger from Revenge of the Nerds? Like Bony T said in Boomerang, there’s nothing to believe in anymore.
  • Invictus TrailerYeah, uplifting, inspiring, I’m gonna see it, blah blah blah. The trailer doesn’t do a great job, though, in convincing me I won’t be spending the whole time being distracted about these North Americans doing South African accents.
  • Cracks TrailerI was expecting something explosive from the daughter of Ridley Scott but all I got was lace and doilies. It looks like something that belongs on PBS’ Masterpiece Theater and I can’t help but be confused at all that’s going on here.
  • Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassin’s BallEnough already with the blue, red, green, purple, or any other primary color for primary lighting of any scene. You can’t paint over the fact that this looks like a painful, step down of a follow-up to a film that was pretty good and ought to have been left alone.
  • Shutter Island Trailer #3So many incarnations already for this film and I think this one appeals to be more than any of the others. I can’t unsee, however, all the other plot details I learned from the first two but, looked at as a set, you have three distinct marketing angles.
  • Alice in Wonderland Teaser Trailer #2Apart from Johnny Depp looking like a clownish fop turned vampire from Salem’s Lot this teaser really gives a lot for us to chew on. Sure, we know a lot of what we’ve seen already but, for a teaser, this only whets my appetite to see more from this fabulous looking creation.
  • Nowhere Boy Trailer - What a fabulous looking film. The musical cues are spot on, the performances are pretty damn effective for what we’re given, and I am left feeling that this could be one of the best bio pics I could see all year.
  • Green Zone Trailer - Try all you want to convince me otherwise but this is a new Jason Bourne movie. Jason’s back in the line of duty and is ready to kick ass, this time in the Iraq! Looks serviceable as a thriller, shaky-cam, actioner but nothing more than that jumps out at me.
  • 24 Season 8 Teaser TrailerThe explosions, the running, the frequent cell phone usage, the yelling for no reason, it’s all back. They can keep churning these out because nothing spells good network television than an action serial done in real time.
  • Avatar Theatrical Trailer - Aside from the stilted dialogue, this trailer is a slight improvement on the previous previews. While everything is explained and laid out like I’m a mush brained five year-old I think this trailer actually commits one of the worst offenses in trailer creation: giving everything away. I could be wrong but I know how this thing starts, what happens in the first and second acts, what’s at stake, and all I’m left with is wondering how it will all end.
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