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?


The Good, The Bad and The Weird Trailer

You’ve got to give it up to the Wilhelm.

It’s that indelible sound effect that telegraphs so much about where a movie is coming from, what its identity is. Here, in Kim Jee-Woon’s newest creation, I see the hopefulness and vitality of a movie that just feels like it was born in sunshine and raised with a healthy sense of pacing. At least, that’s what the trailer tells me.

What’s especially enjoyable about this trailer is that the opening is one of the better ones I’ve seen this year. There isn’t any messing around, no b.s., just a quick and dirty snapshot of our geography and a drum beat to push the action along.

Never mind how gorgeous the blue sky and brown desert is captured, the set design and costuming just feel fresh. Kudos for also not putting in one word of dialogue or putting this moment in context as when some guy is whipping around a double barrel shotgun, running through a series of train cars, and a debonair man in black sporting a six shooter I don’t want words. I get trumpets with drums, evoking the nostalgia of spaghetti westerns of yore or any number of Quentin Tarantino films, and there is a real excitement that’s created here.

The level of polish these scenes have, as just the choreography alone helps to play some part in establishing why this just seems like a fun film, could not be more evident than when the good and bad start trading single shot gunfire out of the train window. You see, there isn’t anything exceptional about it but we’ve been so inured to accept guys with automatic, rapid-fire weapons it’s just refreshing to slow that pace down.

The story, as well, couldn’t have been better communicated without saying one word. There’s an old time map that we’re shown and the events that happen after that say everything without having to say it outright. And that’s about where the Wilhem comes in. The trailer just feels fun because it is fun, evidenced by the sound effect that represents the first “voice” we ever hear out of these three players.

Bam, the music gets hotter, the graphics lay out the many festivals this movie has played at, we get to sample the dialogue and acting, and the trailer bucks tradition and instead of a multitude of quick clips at the end we are still given a host of varying clips but we get seconds to enjoy them instead of passing glances.

I could not be more sold on this film as whoever did this trailer ought to be given a sack of sliders from White Castle.

Shaolin Trailer

I need more meditative moments like this.

The trailer for Benny Chan’s latest work, he of Gen-X Cops 2: Metal Mayhem fame and writer of the immortal classic Robin-B-Hood, is something that I didn’t know I was looking for until I saw it. I had been growing tired of quick cuts of daring flips in the air, fists that were edited like a spastic MTV video montage, and I was just seeking something fresh. This trailer disarms any thoughts of violence as it becomes a lesson in how a trailer can be effective without plunging a needle filled with adrenaline in your eye.

Again, I didn’t know what to expect, as I didn’t read the film’s description before watching it, but that almost feels like a moot point after watching this, a movie concerned with flow and stability.

Opening with the sounds we all can agree is typical of the classical music that emanates from so many Asian films, we barely can make out the small boy who is furiously hacking and slashing the air. The snowy temple he’s practicing his martial arts in front of is eye-catching, as is the massive drum that is rhythmically being smacked in tempo with the music. A womb of serenity starts to seep into this thing and you almost forget that there’s a movie here.

Cut to dozens of Shaolin warriors practicing in front of the snowy temple, slow dissolve to spring/summer where they’re all practicing in unison. Visually, it’s arresting. But then we’re hit with the drama. The Shaolin’s lives are disrupted by those in actual power, the hand-to-hand combating is a nice touch, as we get soldiers, ninjas (wicked awesome), and even Jackie Chan in a role that seems rather interesting. From here the music gets quicker, the clips start to unravel strife of the most violent kind, and the story is tucked nice and neat behind the details of what we’re seeing. The trailer here reveals just enough without being too eager to please with loads of information. [Twitch]

Legacy Trailer

Sometimes you can do a lot of damage within a short amount of time.

This teaser trailer is a great example of what a teaser should do; not really in terms of how it needs to go, per se, but in how you should feel after having watched it. There should be more questions than there are answers but, and here’s the paradox, you need to have people excited without knowing why.

This film, written and directed by Thomas Ikimi looks like a visual feast that not only feels like a claustrophobic character study but there is some genuine anxiety that’s created without ever knowing what’s going on.

It speaks well that we come out of the gate with the declaration that this is an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival. It establishes credibility and certainly goodwill with an audience who may or may not know whether they should even spend the seconds to watch this all the way through.

Idris Elba, who many would recognize from The Office but who I came to dig in the much maligned Jeremy Renner fun film 28 Weeks Later, leads things off with an odd voiceover as I don’t know if it’s him or someone else in the audio.

The visuals of what looks like the insides of a VCR in record mode don’t really align with what’s going on but I like that we’re not on stable ground. He’s scruffy, holed up in a room that is perfectly composed where we, ostensibly, are going to be spending the majority of the time. He’s working out with push-ups, pull-ups the ticktock of a clock is faintly heard in the background.

Smash cut to him brandishing a machine gun, squeezing out round after round as he comes to the aid of someone who looks like a teammate. Cut back to him in the hotel room, pacing about, the ramblings on the audio obviously indicating the man might be losing his grip on reality. Charles Miner this is not. But then we get everything we need to know: One Man, One Mission. I mean, we don’t know what this guy is about or whether he’s stable or capable of snapping at any moment. For all we know the guy could be crazy. But that’s it, though.

This is about as vague as anything there could be but the phone call that we hear, what happens when he picks it up and says hello, the way it cuts out, it’s brilliant. They have my attention, they have my curiosity, and I am pretty sure they would have my money if this was playing anywhere near me. [Twitch]

Bananas!* Trailer

Well, showing a dead body in a coffin is certainly one way of getting my attention.

When I prepped to talk to Michel Gondry about his new film The Thorn in the Heart I was surprised to read that the man doesn’t like to watch films about fiction at all and, instead, turns to documentaries to satisfy his cinematic jones. I, too, find some kind of satisfaction that I don’t get with many films which are obviously false by default. Documentaries ought to elevate your consciousness, expose you to a subject you may not have ever pondered before, inform your existence in some way. What I found with the trailer for director Fredrik Gertten’s Bananas!* (thanks to Gwen Stefani I am now able to spell it right the first time) was that it was pretty incendiary in a way I haven’t seen before.

Sure, you have guys like Michael Moore taking on “The Man” before but his punches seem covered with 16 ounce gloves, they’re regulation. This trailer doesn’t seem to have any restraint with the way it aggressively establishes its point and demands your attention. Like I said, showing a dead body, which this trailer leads off with as it talks about banana workers who work with a certain chemical, ostensibly one that assists in the growth or maintenance of these yellow treats, dies. Cut to body in coffin.

And that’s when the person talking says that the death equates to a victory for the Dole Food company. If you couldn’t hear it, that’s the sound of the ringside bell going off. It’s on.

We meet Juan Dominguez who continues to narrate and he talks quite effectively of how he abhors exploitation, the big guy picking on the little guy, all the while we see men with machetes cutting down rows and rows of bananas. Then we get the court scenes. Worker after worker testifies they were never told about a chemical agent used on the banana crops, file footage shows these crops being drenched in liquid as workers stomp through the soaked mud. Dole is accused of using a banned pesticide and is in court to try and defend itself.

The last third of the trailer is extremely effective at showing a story with both sides, obviously we get a little more of the pro-worker side with the way it characterizes Dole’s positioning, but I actually found myself anxious to know how this trial turns out. Did they win, did they not win? What was the outcome? And wanting to know how it all ends makes this trailer so very successful.

I Know You Know Trailer

This is good, I can work with this. No, it’s not a spectacular trailer but it there is one that is hiding beneath the confused veneer of the one we have here. Writer/director Justin Kerrigan, the man who was behind the movie that had a rip-off-the-doors-caffeine-infused trailer, 1999’s Human Traffic (any UK’ers out there seen this thing and, if you have, is it as good as the video makes it out to be?), is back with a movie that just feels like something special.

Part hit-man part Mr. Mom, a little crying here and there, the movie feels like it’s a wholly original idea as I don’t think this is territory that’s been trodden over much in the last decade. Knowing that this is a movie about a guy who does nasty things who has a boy that is, well, a boy I can understand that there isn’t really a road map to sell these kinds of movies.

How it decides to play it out, though, is certainly curious. Having Robert Carlyle talking to a mirror, porn ‘stache in full effect, is a solid start in that it establishes nothing but as the 70’s wah-wah guitar starts in it all at least feels like a jaunty trip into a movie that feels fun. He’s got a full-on swagger and attitude to match as the voiceover establishes him as a bit of a player. This all feels like it is leading down a path where everything is going to be funny or start to get violent. Unfortunately, we get neither as this is about when the boy enters the picture.

The whole spy mystique is jettisoned for a mood that starts to get confusing as a viewer. It’s not that the kid is dragging anything down but we literally stop with the funkafied sounds of 70’s soul to a jingle jangle James Taylor acoustic number that confuses me thoroughly.

When Carlyle starts talking about how his cover has been compromised and needs assurances his kid will be protected and how the two of them start having a pillow fight I am just lost. Lost in that I wonder whether this is a hunting and killing kind of movie, it certainly is being sold that way as we see Carlyle squeezing off a magazine’s worth of bullets, or a family drama when we see him and his kid smiling after enjoying some fireworks and literally spending time in a forest, on a swing. Add in a four star review from Total Film, some high praise from Empire and you’ve got me all sorts of confused.

I think I love both parts of these stories but the marriage here just isn’t working for me. Someone needs to do a better job in bridging the dramatic with the fantastic because as it stands it looks like a mess just waiting to unfold if this trailer is any indication of how sharp it turns, dramatically, throughout the movie. [Network Releasing]

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

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