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?


Earthwork Trailer

Amazing.

Sometimes you don’t have to treat a trailer like a SWAT team looking to gain entry into a gun-toting, junkie’s home. It’s unnecessary to employ the most bombastic tactics to get attention so I appreciate a trailer like this to remind me that simplicity is everything if it’s done right. And it’s certainly done well here.

While I wouldn’t know writer/director Chris Ordal from anything he’s done, the guy’s most recognizable credit was that he was a sound recordist, and  production assistant, on the high concept film C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America. That film might not have displayed anything of note, but based on what’s in this trailer the guy has some blistering talent that pops right through the screen.

Like I mentioned, the trailer doesn’t bludgeon you. In fact, it slowly eases you into its world by taking you through its trophy room, displaying the many festivals it’s played at and won awards from, without playing a note of music, without showing a thing from the movie.

Then the slow guitar plays and we’re introduced to our protagonist through a series of matter of fact, and creatively styled, statements about who we’re about to meet. Actor John Hawkes, who you would remember from this season’s Lost, comes off as the quintessential cowboy from Kansas who’s on a mission and that mission is trying to obfuscate any solid facts about him or try to piece together what he’s doing in the concrete jungle of a modern metropolis.

On the surface it looks like he’s beautifying a lot that’s been left to be overgrown with weeds and detritus but there’s something spiritual going on without it ever seeming false. It’s a slow burn with there being an equal number of questions being raised as there are answers to give. The composition of shots and the cinematography seem to be acting in harmony with a sales pitch that is as subtle as anything you’ll see pitched this year.

It’s always a grand pleasure to find trailers like this out there and I couldn’t be more interested in a movie that didn’t feel the need to bowl me over on the way to my wallet.

A Film Unfinished Trailer

There is something appropriate about Jewish filmmaker Yael Hersonski directing a film about an unfinished, Nazi, propaganda piece.

Of course, with movies like Inglorious Basterds, bringing to life a story about Jewish revenge was quite sweet indeed in that you had a pack of soldiers ready to exact the recompense they never were quite able to get in real life. However, real life is more acute and less forgiving in such an un-Hollywood fashion but this trailer just brims with the electricity of a story that needed to be told. Here, the well never runs dry in the true examination of the master race and its heinous attempts to deceive nations.

The opening is quite compelling not only from a presentation standpoint but from an emotional one as well. Without showing a frame of actual narrative we understand why we’re all here watching this trailer, what this film is about, why it is important, but, better yet, why you should be keep watching.

A beautiful score plays underneath the accolades this documentary has won, which is quite tastefully presented, as the narrator comes in and lowers us into the mental crevasse which we all draw from when thinking about the footage we’ve seen from World War II in Germany.

The quotes trickle in as well, critics and human rights advocates sharing the same space, as they almost demand you keep watching and listening to everything this trailer has to say.

From insight into how the Nazis filmed these pieces, to the cajoling they employed to elicit the reactions they wanted, those being interviewed off camera provide the kind of insightful commentary that shows the depths of these minions from hell’s lowest order would stoop in order to “craft” their version of reality.

The trailer ends simply, superbly. Without fanfare or mining his subjects for an easy sympathy pull-quote we get a trailer that feels like it should be required viewing for anyone who even has a passing interest in WWII, or human history for that matter.

As well, the tone of the piece is right in line with the ethos of the fine folks at Oscilloscope Laboratories who, for those who have been keeping an eye on this company, know how to pick the best in independent entertainment this side of Criterion.

The Dead and the Damned Trailer

I won’t lie. If it weren’t for my current addiction to Red Dead Redemption this trailer wouldn’t be looking back at you right now.

One thing I don’t have a problem with is people playing with genres. Some really have an adverse reaction to people mixing their metaphors. I say, the more the merrier. In this case we have a mutant apocalypse coming up against some 6-shootin’ pistol types in a true mash up of what looks like a fabulous ride.

Writer/director Rene Perez‘ first film, 2009’s War Machine, a wholesale rip-off of G.I. Joe done in a manner that I can only say is heinously horrendous if I’m being kind (although, I would love to watch this thing like a train coming off the rails if anyone’s got a copy), seems like a distant memory when you see the trailer for this film. It has the look and feel of the old west and certainly the make-up here more than makes me believe that a pack of deranged mutants truly are trying to overrun a small outpost of settlers just trying to eke out a living on the plains.

What I like about this trailer is that it has the stones to just lead off with a money shot. In the first fifteen seconds we get a wonderfully protracted look at a gooey mutant screaming its head off, a shot of a severed head resting peacefully on top of a spit, a not too shabby looking cowboy who appears to be our hero squeezing off a few blanks, a zombie-like beast that is dressed dapperly in a dark vest and pleated pant combo, and an all out struggle with a demented monster intent on killing its victim. You can’t have a better opening sequence for such a low budgeted film, the make-up and effects really show a movie for what it is, as its production values seem properly hidden behind great action and good indie filmmaking.

Yes, a lot of what you see here is laughable. The copious amounts of times someone eats a body part, the different hues with which individuals are made up to look like creatures from another plant, the obviousness of the performances that let on that there is some humor in there, but you can’t beat the location and the way they made it work for them. If we’re to believe that a meteorite has come to this part of earth and is transforming people into freaks then they went at the premise whole hog.

I have no idea whatsoever about why our protagonist cowboy is in a fistfight with an Indian in a battle when freaks are on the loose but who cares! We’ve got fast moving animals that want to eat flesh, gun battles set in the new old west, and all the elements that absolutely sold me that this couldn’t be an easier decision to make about whether it’s worth the rental cost. [Twitch]

Deadfall Trailer

When you see a trailer like this you wonder what a filmmaker could do with more money, more support.

While some jobbers knock around the big leagues that have no discernible skill besides being someone’s yes man you have a trailer that has some real sense of depth, of talent. I may not have ever heard of fellow Arizonan Roze (kind of like Seal but with less pockmarks, I would assume) but it’s evident that this director knows what they want.

Set in the sparse, brutal, and unforgiving back country of Arizona’s Kaibab National Forest the trailer opens up with just a picturesque shot of the forest proper. It’s nice to see a director try and capture the environment along with trying to push the narrative with it but to see someone so fresh on the scene not lean on the performance aspect is a nice departure.

The voiceover, as well, is solid. The guy doesn’t become distracting and it too strikes a good balance of the narration establishing why we’re here in the first place and letting the actors do the lifting along with that. These three guys seem like any other pack of idiots traipsing through a forest but what’s remarkable from a marketing point of view is that we cut through what has to be tons of exposition in showing us that these cats are there for whatever reason and just get right to it: one of the guys gets stuck with their own deadfall trap.

What follows is a curious example of how you can take a really good idea and elevate it to something else. We see that these dudes have to now get out of the forest to help their buddy but the tone changes rapidly. It goes from rescue mission to these guys going Section 8 on one another. They lose it. Whether it’s dehydration, lack of food, whatever it is, the trailer just explodes with a visual delight of men wrestling in a pit filled with blood (whaaa?), one guy about to bash another with a rock on his head, as it devolves into a full on death match where these two are perhaps hunting each other.

Which is exactly the point. We don’t know everything but we know something. In a landscape filled with trailers that give away too much, some that give out too little, this one is a harmonious blend of both the expected and unexpected from someone you have never heard of, I have never heard of, and is doing it better than some of the bigs out there.

It’s moot whether the film can sustain the tense atmosphere of the trailer as it’s already got my interest and that’s quite enough for someone just looking to stand out from the crowd.

Farewell Trailer

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others not only depicted the schizophrenic nature of life knowing you are not safe from your government even if you’re in your own home but it also showed what that kind of regime does to a people on the whole. As the Dude said, “This aggression will not stand, man.”

Once more we go back into the realm of when the cold war was in full swing, when we were pitted against the powers of those who we figured would do us harm, and this trailer captures that sense of time, place, wonderfully.

What’s unique about this trailer is that we get the standard opening of a thriller. Director/writer Christian Carion, who also directed/wrote the wonderful Joyeux Noël, uses his talent for creating a sense of time and space within the first few seconds of this thing. The colors are washed out, the characters feel like they fit within the time and you get the feeling of paranoia right from the beginning. Not only that but when we shift from subtitles to the titan of the terrordome, Remo “The Man” Williams, Fred Ward, as president Reagan speaking English I can appreciate that this will be a foreign language movie unlike many out there.

As well, getting a pull-quote from Reagan about this based-on-true-events story is a technique not usually employed but it is effective. Effective it certainly is, along with everything else that follows, as the tension ratchets up and up and up as we see this lowly guy in Russia becoming a part of what would eventually help to bring down a government, a way of life. The clandestine photo taking, the level of paranoia, it’s all there in the trailer.

The festivals it has played at, the quotes from critics lauding this film, it all integrates seamlessly into this pitch and I say that anyone who can appreciate the first half certainly should see the final moments of this trailer as excellence. The pacing picks up, the level of intrigue is heightened, the music shines, and it makes such a powerful impression that you can’t help feeling this is a movie that is a must-see in the coming weeks.

Note bene: If you have any suggestions of trailers to possibly be included in this column, even have a trailer of your own to pitch, please let me know by sending me a note at Christopher_Stipp@yahoo.com

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

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