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?

Sherlock Holmes Trailer

This is a trailer that I can’t help but throw my arms up in the air in complete, abject disdain.

I would say this is the most awful trailer I’ve seen in 2010 but that would be unfair. That honor I could bestow on a few other trailers I’ve seen as what makes this one so dreadful and so awful is not only its content but that, in its mechanics and execution, it decided that just being another ripoff was not enough. This film, it may be no surprise, coming from the people who brought us Paranormal Entity, and the piggybacking it did on Paranormal Activity, but what that trailer had was a little pop, a little sizzle. I was actually all the way on board for that film because there seemed to be a genuine spirit inside of  it. What we have here, though, smacks of indolence and an unwillingness to at least attempt a sales pitch to make anyone interested in this movie.

It’s not all harsh, though, as the opening of the trailer is pretty solid. Not only does this outfit, The Asylum, have the kind of branding aims to let everyone know they’re the ones who are bringing us this movie as they telegraph this info but they at least have the brains to not smack us with the absurd right away. No, instead it’s a very slow, very measured intro that’s quite good, actually. There’s no mistaking this movie for Guy Ritchie’s solipsistic interpretation as this feels like something you would see on Masterpiece Theater. But, it’s at about that feeling when the crap-tageous, shockingly miserable flying dragon that looks like it was done on a Packard Bell 386 circa 1993 flies in front of our face.

Before you have the time to say “Whaa?” we downshift back into the gear where this trailer excelled, the period piece that at least tried to capture some essence of goodness, as we get some reflective moments from those in the film that look watchable. This is about the time the velociraptor makes an appearance. Huh?

We get some more moments where nothing makes sense, which is fine with me because I can forgo a little story in lieu of some visual sizzle, but when you have a giant squid take over a boat (What in the hell is going on here?) I can’t get a handle on anything.

I mean, I don’t purport to be any great observer, but this is truly a mess. It wants to be dramatic, it wants to inject action, it wants to rip off Iron Man wholesale, it wants to be emotive, but here’s a situation where it’s just too much. Not even on a lark would I subject myself to this and the trailer does a great job in making the case as to why not.

It feels like that scene where Neil Page is laying into Del Griffith about being a conscientious storyteller in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. “You have to discriminate,” he said, “You choose things that are funny or mildly amusing or interesting.”  This trailer truly is a miracle, it has none of that.



Blood Into Wine Trailer

I’m not a Tool fan but I’ve got a buddy, Amir Raza, who would follow this band into the depths of an Arizonan dust bowl hell if that meant he could be front row to rock on with his bad self.

I don’t understand the cult of personality that surrounds the enigmatic lead singer of an outfit that sells out countless shows all across the globe but that’s OK, I figure. The fact that makes me really interested in this man isn’t his music. At all. My interest stems around the singular idea that Arizona produces the foulest wine you’ve ever put to lips. I mean, I honestly think I should be blind after supping on the swill people claim will change my stance on local wines but Maynard Keenan has been creating some incredible buzz. The man is garnering positive attention in that he has been able to churn out some really delicious varieties of wine. What could be so interesting about a rock singer that can make a solid cabernet? I am not sure but the trailer is wild fun.

Bob Odenkirk kicks things off with a little cutsie play on words. Fumbling with a screwdriver, and passing himself off as an intense wino and making a slight joke in the process, the opening sequence leads gingerly into Maynard, tending to his very real crop of grapes.

This leads us to the thing that hooked me instantaneously: Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Good Job! Now, I don’t know what it is about the two of them but everything I read about Maynard has him painted as a man who’s very serious about what he does, and big ups to his bad self for being that way, but this paring of him and the dynamic duo of subtle comedy is a thrill to watch.

I next see Milla Jovovich making a little bit of the funny funny as she insinuates herself into what seems to be a self-reflexive joke about the nature of this documentary. True, as Tim Heidecker asks Maynard, why would or should anyone care about a guy who manufactures poison, but the look he gives the camera and the music that thunders in just blows the lid off this thing. It’s endearing.

And we’re not just talking a documentary on wine. This looks like it really is going to deconstruct the reasons why a guy who has it all wants to be involved with an endeavor that not only seems a little quaint for a rock star but how his Natty Light swilling audience would react to their icon being involved in a process seems a little frou frou. It’s a lie, of course, to say that the two have to be mutually exclusive, music making and wine producing, but this trailer just hits the right beats with giving the audio snippets that show why this could be really fascinating to all audiences.

Like I said, I am not a fan of the band but this trailer does have a good beat that you can dance to and it is positively content rich with trying to connect you with the idea of how this one guy has managed to create a great wine where there hasn’t been many who have succeeded. I am thirsty to find out how he did it.

Pumzi Trailer

The higher concept the better is my motto when it comes to sci-fi.

It’s funny in a way because, as a boy, I would have just as soon lapped up the Zemeckis world of tomorrow in Back to the Future, which I realize is a real loose interpretation of the genre, or Star Wars than I would Dune. Dune for me has always been a fuzzy photo of Sting wearing a blue winged jock strap that not only made him look completely silly and foppish but it had the effect of completely turning me off as a viewer. I was a kid, who could blame me. As I got older, though, movies like Aliens and Blade Runner took hold of my attention and I have enjoyed flicks like this in a variety of ways. I realize that some are written well and there are some, ones I eschew, simply because they want to try too hard and lean on the science of it. Pumzi seems like it’s a lot of the former with its concept of a world that is populated with people who don’t, or aren’t allowed to, dream.

The trailer opens with the sound of a drippy tap followed by the sound of a soothing computer voice companion, a la HAL, a la GERTY, a la Bishop, you get the point, letting her ward know to take her dream suppressants. We’re no more than seconds into this movie and it’s already laying down the theoretical groundwork. No grandiose, sweeping shots of this land, no prosthelytizing about what this new world is all about, it just gets right into it.

Our protagonist takes a pill to what we can only assume stops dreams from happening (sociological spoiler alert as this movie is coming from South Africa as we could easily talk about the real world inspiration for this). We then shift to some guy wearing stirrups in order to walk on a treadmill (I’ve heard barefoot running is all the rage nowadays) and we see this land in all its CG glory which is a pretty descent rendering. This is about where we get the flashpoint for this film.

While I think there is some heavy handedness with getting the message across that people aren’t allowed to dream and that they aren’t allowed to leave their underground cocoon without permission, and that here’s a woman who is starting to question why’s she under mind control, there is something to be said about what we’re seeing.

I like where things leave off after our protagonist sees a small green plant growing in a soil sample for reasons we’re not sure of and, as a result of this, she begins to have vivid dreams about what this could mean. She’s subsequently dealt with for defying authority as she starts to shed her complicity.

The one or two gripes I do have, though, is that we’re given just a little bit of the story and we ought to have been given more if for only to understand what’s at stake for this future person. As well, and this absolutely unforgivable, putting the fact that this was a Sundance 2010 selection at the very end of this thing? That was an awful decision and one that the person who cut this together should have second guessed.

As it stands, I can go either way with wanting to see this film.

The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulu Trailer

The closest I come to knowing what H.P. Lovecraft was all about is by reading Locke and Key on a monthly basis from IDW Publishing. It’s a solid comic book. Outside of that? Not a clue.

Lovecraft seems like a real fiction fanatic with his weaving of the fantastical, horror, and sci-fi all together in a mishmash of what appears to be some good readin’. To that point, though, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of a trailer that looks pretty damn impressive from a man who had only directed two shorts before this full-length feature. Additionally, the director Henry Saine, has worked on Will & Grace, Wild Hogs, Entourage, and a host of other projects, but only as a graphic artist. However, everyone deserves to be judged solely on the work they produce and this thing pulled me in quickly and didn’t relent to which I say this feels like a very funny film.

I loved, first of all, that I had no dog in this hunt insofar that I didn’t care about what I was watching but it managed to make me care right away. It’s kind of cute in a way that the first guy we see seems to be a brotherly descendant of the scraggly haired man John Mason from The Rock. He’s over the top and just hooks you with his empathic suggestion of how to deliver what looks like a metal door knocker.

Boom, cue the dramatic string number, flash up that this is an official selection of the 2010 Slamdance Film Festival (I appreciate that they embrace their inclusion into it),and  start the awkward chubby guy explaining to his memaw that’s he is going on a quest like a nerd is wont to do. Now we’ve got ourselves quite an opening. It’s mysterious, funny, the shots chosen are rather compelling, and when we back around to awkward chubby guy the closing comments deliver in full. As does the moment we get the fish man who enters the moment with the kind of absurdity that even defies my ability to explain why I laughed so hard at it.

We’re then thrust into a musical montage that is just straight caffeine to your soul. Clips of all kind that try and show off just what’s in store does this film so much more favors than just pounding more dialogue into our ears. We see samples of their effects work, the creative liberties they’ve taken with how they’ve designed their monsters, we get to see the deceptively funny Martin Starr from Party Down mixed in, and we get an ending that, again, leaves us guessing about what in the world is happening.

This trailer is the modern day equivalent of a girl you almost could go all the way with if she wasn’t so prudish; she leaves you wanting more but, good for her, she’s just going to tease you.

The Last Rites of Ransom Pride Trailer

Look, there are just some things that I am not into.

I know some people love to talk about how they love all music…with the exception of country. There’s always one of those in a bunch. I hate country too but I learned to appreciate Johnny Cash and look at the hybrids that have come out, Wilco can be included in that, to take the genre and reshape it in their own image. I am reminded of the things I sometimes tell people when I say I like all kinds of movies …with the exception of westerns. I just can’t get into them. I’ll watch Tombstone and think it’s good and all, but it just doesn’t move me on an artistic level, a visceral level.

In contrast, this trailer had me by the short and curlies.

A trailer that has no compunction at all with using the word “dwarf” in their marketing campaign has my attention, as is the creation of this thing which seems to borrow a lot from the action genre. Just because a movie is set in the Wild West doesn’t mean it has to look like it and this one absolutely does not. It has a swagger, an air, a sense of humor, and an eye for ass kicking that genuinely gets me going. Director/co-writer Tiller Russell’s resume is a curious one in that a few of his past films doesn’t really scream “old school western” director. Hell, they don’t even whisper “action” director. From movies about people overcoming adversity, a documentary on cockfighting, a tale about someone who grew up to become an arm-wrestler after overcoming a brain tumor at the age of 18 months, there isn’t a lot to say why this works, or should work, but it does speak about his unique perspective.

That’s really what jumps out at you as you watch the opening sequence of this trailer, guys firing their six-shooters, of Dwight Yoakam coming off all greasily as a nefarious ne’er-do-well, of the independent sheen that this movie seems steeped in, and of the interstitials that kind of lighten the heavy mood.

It feels like an action movie should: light, airy, and a little thrilling. You’ve got Peter Dinklage making an excellent introduction as a “gun totin’ dwarf” and the indication, based on the weaponry and the equipment, that this is a modern throwback. Specifically, there are motorcycles and pump action shotguns in the same scene as women dressed in frilly lace and period dress. I mean, I have no idea what’s going on, I have no clue what the story is, I’m confused about what year I’m in, I think I’m going out of my mind, but it’s all OK because here’s a movie that looks like it wants to shake up our notion of what a western is supposed to be and I couldn’t be more open minded about the possibilities.

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

  • Cyrus Trailer - I think I like this trailer. I mean, it has all the elements I would look for in a movie that is a little strange and a little sweet but I keep expecting some kind of comedic explosion at any moment. As it stands, I absolutely want to see more from this dynamic trio.
  • Happy Tears Trailer - Well, thanks for letting me know how this movie will go. Honestly, when will the practice of pulling back the veil of a movie’s contents cease? The performances look “meh” and the overall effect of all the talking in this thing just makes it feel way too busy.
  • Machotaildrop Trailer - This is all kinds of exciting. A movie that looks like a reality bending foray into  surreal underground skateboarding I couldn’t help but feel this is a completely original idea whose time has come and we, as viewers, must bear witness to it. Looks flippin’ sweet, it does.
  • Nick Nolte: No Exit Trailer - If Gary Busey had a kid brother, Nick Nolte would be that boy. True, Nolte is more stable than ol’ Chicklet Teeth, but with a wiley spirit that seems shatter resistant this looks like a story worth sitting down and taking in. He is one of the greats, but let’s hope this sheds light on all facets of this charismatic thespian and isn’t some navel gazing exercise.
  • Submarino Trailer - Man, I do wish I knew what they were saying. Jakob Cedergren has the kind of natural charisma that many here in the States lack but he comes off so quiet, so cool in a role that looks like this could be a movie worth putting down a translated subtitle to see.
  • From Paris With Love Clip - Brooke Shields once said don’t hate her for being beautiful and I feel the same kind of mea culpa coming on for admiring what’s going on in this movie. It looks like complete dumb fun. No guilty pleasure here, I’m going to enjoy all of this thoroughly.
  • Repo Chick Trailer - What a pastiche of acid-stained imagination come to life and total anarchy of normal narrative storytelling. This trailer not only opens your 3rd eye to the possibilities of what can be attained through dynamic filmmaking but it is entertaining as all get out. Consider me sold.
  • Mother Trailer - An amazing trailer. It slowly builds its case as to why it deserved to play at prestigious festivals and it certainly shows why this could be the one movie you didn’t know you needed to see until after the trailer is finished. A mix of heartbreaking drama and thrills that look like they can come from anywhere, this just feels like a dazzling film.
  • Big Money Rustlas Trailer - If there is a higher power, diety, or shaman-like entity out there they will bless us with a wide release of this movie. Not since I discovered this photo essay detailing the lives of Juggalos in their natural state (just keep hitting the “more juggalos” link at the bottom, I swear to you that it will not disappoint) have I been this excited about a movie I know nothing about for one simple reason: if you would like to view what passes for enriching entertainment to people who have less IQ points than teeth in their skulls this is their Dark Knight. I mean, Jimmy the friggin’ Hart is in this. How could it possibly be anything less than extraordinary?
  • Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Trailer - I don’t know if I was more excited by the possibility of what this movie can be based on what’s in this trailer or if I just appreciated how well it positions itself. The trailer is a phenomenal example of how you can tip your hat to a previous film without it coming off as snarky or insulting. Just a thrilling peek at what might be a fantastic follow-up and which couldn’t be more timely.
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