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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?

The Damned United Trailer

The one name I will always remember from the trip I took to Ireland in 2002 is Roy Keane. Part of Ireland’s soccer team, he caused quite a kerfuffle when he spoke out about Irish players being treated unfairly during their run for the 2002 World Cup. It led newscasts, it was on every paper and it was the subject people most wanted talk about. I learned a lot about football/soccer on that holiday as I saw people’s home adorned in green, white, and orange bunting as if Christmas really was coming in June.

I know how this sport can grip an entire country and this trailer gets that passion down on film.

Director Tom Hooper, who hasn’t really put out any film of great import, puts down a naturalistic color palette against the introduction to a story that is easy enough for anyone to understand. Some people get it, some don’t, and I am thankful for this getting right into the narrative that sets up the who, what, when, where, and why. It’s England, 1973, we’re talking about soccer (this trailer is obviously Americanized for us yanks who get all con-foose-ed by the two terms), there’s a manager who’s a superstar and a young upstart (Michael Sheen) who wants to take a crack at the old man’s dominance. I am engaged, I am interested, and this only took only 30 seconds; it’s the hallmark of a great trailer.

An a-chord kicks in as we’re appropriately advertised to that this is being brought to us by the guy who wrote The Queen and Frost/Nixon. They’ve got a sales angle and they’re making great use of it. It’s not intrusive or obnoxious.

I didn’t know one thing about this guy’s life but the impassioned speech whereby Sheen makes his case that he’s going to make a run for what Don Revie (Colm Meaney) has was enough to make me push pause to see if this thing is coming to my town soon. One of the other things that struck me, as I mentioned earlier, is how natural the textures are in this trailer. There isn’t a high sheen on any of this and the dank atmosphere comes through lovingly as we press on. The performances, sure, have a little too much bombast but this is a sports picture after all. Whether you’re a movie about a midget who realizes his dream to play for Notre Dame or an Oliver Stone film about American football there is going to be literal kicking, screaming, and pointing of fingers abounding. They’ve got it down here and I think this is a delicious compliment to Sheen’s role in Frost/Nixon as it looks like some of the players involved in that production wanted to keep it all in the family.

Consider me excited and sold.

White Lightnin’ Trailer

What, in the name of all that is unholy, is this? Additionally, why am I really excited to see it?

There’s a lot to be said about rednecks, and all the negative baggage some bring along with that moniker, but this trailer accentuates all that is bad about what we think of those who pioneered a lifestyle many of us only see in episodes of Cops. There is a real sense of purpose and vision from first-time film director Dominic Murphy. What’s initially curious about Murphy is his resume begins in 1991 with two television credits, and then the man’s output goes cold for 18 years.

The trailer opens with the most ubiquitous calling card any southerner probably despises when it comes to caricature: a banjo. It’s a jaunty and spirited plucking as we get a coherent, upbeat voiceover that explains that the man who is throwing a child down in a pile of dirt and mud is this person’s father. Ok, child abuse. Check.

The next scenes explain that this father could dance up a storm and the abused kid admires his father. So much so we see the kid sniffing the dad’s socks. Not appetizing by any means, but it is funny. We move on to what we can only assume is this kid’s foray into a camp run by drill instructors whereby he gets knocked around and pummeled relentlessly. He also still smells socks.

Quickly, the kid is grown up and we see him thrashing the ever loving hell out of some mental patients. He somehow gets out and turns to dancing of his own. Sparkling in his bedazzled stage outfit, performing to who knows how many, we see a portrait emerge; a portrait, you understand, where his old lady happens to be Carrie Fisher. Drinking heavily, looking sloppy while doing it, mutilating himself in the shower with a broken bottle, getting the sign that this film was an official selection of Sundance and the Berlin International Film Festival (which is on the screen way too fast), and a kicking banjo soundtrack this film looks absolutely nuts and bizarre. I love it so.

We get some real rage as people are getting guns, knives, and random objects drawn on them along with what looks like a hanging. It seems our protagonist has some genuine anger/authority issues, as the voiceover affirms, and this film appears to be an exciting examination of the pathos for one man, and appears to be what would happen if H.I. McDunnough and Mickey Knox merged, coalesced into one.

Where does a man go for 18 years only to come back to make a movie that’s written by the director of the excellent documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad and with mixing in a first-time screenwriter as well? I don’t know where he went but I’m glad this is the result.

Smash Cut Trailer

Much of the effectiveness, I would posit, of the horror films that bloomed in the late 70’s and 80’s was how they looked. Period. The films usually appeared grainy, there were always lighting issues, and the acting always took a back seat to the thrill of the chills.

My youth was spent delighting in the movies of this era, and even as we moved into the late 80’s, I knew the writing was scrawled upon the wall with the introduction of Scream. There was a fiddling with the old school horror equation, however intentionally post-modern it wanted to be, that wrecked these movies for a long time. This trailer, though, tries to recapture some of that but it does so with a humorous poke in the ribs.

It doesn’t completely work for me but the opening sequence that desperately tries to overlay a pristine shot with the kind of effects available in iMovie at least gets my attention. Brought to us by the man who delivered Jesus Christ Vampire and a host of other films that seem attached to the exploitation era of cinema, Lee Demarbre is trying to make a film that does more of the same.

The screeching saxophone soundtrack helps to at least set the mood as we get introduced to a failed director who is just down on his luck. He makes what look like horror films that just aren’t any good; bad acting, bad lighting, bad set-ups, this guy’s directorial oeuvre would make Lloyd Kaufman cry.

Praise to the trailer makers who just get to it here in establishing the kind of film this is right out of the gate. The mood is stylish, to be sure, and we get Sasha Grey (The Girlfriend Experience) in yet another role where she does have to lean a little bit on her acting ability but what we’re given here just bursts with possibilities. A bad director actually chops up a body and uses the parts in his films? Brilliant. Then, as he yearns for more props to be used in his films, he kills more people? Brilliant-er.

The hokey old guy from the beginning of the trailer comes back to yammer on about how awesomely gruesome this movie is and how people with a heart condition should not see this film, but you don’t hear any of  that as there are some quality z-grade kills going on in this thing. A hand being chopped off, guts being slashed in half, eyes being removed from their socket?  Nothing could be more enticing than the quick clips that make up the last ¼ of this thing.

This is the kind of film that looks to comment on the state of indie filmmaking yet being a reasonable facsimile to those terrible movies we all have grand memories of now and it appears to do it well.

Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces) Trailer

Pedro Almodovar has crafted some genuine mind bending cinema with films like All About My Mother, Volver and what looks like a solid entry into his pantheon, Broken Embraces. Whereas I usually lose my mind at the lack of storytelling in a trailer, the artistic liberties taken are just fine with me.

I am satiated and fascinated by what we’re given in the opening moments of this thing. Penelope Cruz starts talking towards a wrinkled prune of a man who does not face her. She basically says she’s happier with a different guy who makes her happier than he makes her but what’s odd is the change of perspective. In one moment Penelope is wearing a red dress and, as she talks, she is in a different position and is wearing something else entirely. Before you have a change to go “Whaaaa?” a smoky score plays. We get the requisite film festival mention. Here, it’s Cannes and it absolutely adds cache to this thing.

We’re given some disjointed imagery, a staircase, a juggalicious Cruz, a beautiful woman, another woman struggling on crutches and an array of tomatoes arranged in an explosion of color and proportion. In fact, all these images are just delectable. Almodovar has a delicate eye that is at once conscious of everything in his frame, but it’s like watching a breathing sculpture.

Cruz mentions she wants to be an actress.

She tries on different wigs, no doubt trying on multiple personalities along with it, and Cruz bubbles with the kind of free-spirited abandon that works so well with Almodovar. The trailer spins slightly out of control with the rushing of images, the music just twisting out of control.

And then it slows down.

The lilting guitar music eases the frantic first half as the second half gives a little more insight, not much but it is something, into the lives of our main characters. Cruz likes the kind of wild love that’s defined by making out like she’s all horned up and ready to go, the quotes from those who have seen the film help to frame what this movie can be, and the shot of Braille paper taking up the entire screen is very telling. Could this be a story of a woman who will stop at nothing to be an actress? Is her man blind? Is her wearing that blonde wig reminiscent of the many suicide blonde Hispanic women who hit the airwaves every week in Sabado Gigante? All possibilities.

However, this film seems like the kind of antidote to the poisonous treacle that is allowed to pass into multiplexes every weekend.

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

  • Dare TrailerStarring a guy who looks like Skreech all grown up this trailer about sexual liberation doesn’t excite. It seems more a rip off, note by note, of Threesome from over 15 years ago.
  • A Nightmare On Elm Street Teaser Trailer - While there’s no question this film will rule its first weekend, and will fall like a cement shoed snitch the following one, there’s something to be said about a remake that gets Freddy’s burnt appearance down right.
  • A Christmas Carol Movie Trailer – #2 - Is it live? Is it Memorex? While I don’t think the humanoids in this trailer look any less hokey than they did in the Polar Express I am at least hopeful this film takes a step toward greater fidelity as it pertains to showing real emotion.
  • Toy Story 3D Movie Trailer/Clip – In a land of cynicism I am still delighted that I could watch this all the way through with a smile on my face. The clip is still as charming as it was when I saw it in the theater so long ago.
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox Trailer #2 – This thing is worth watching for Owen Wilson’s explanation of Whack-Bat alone. The same Wes Anderson sensibility oozes out of every scene and, for as much as he’s made fun of for it, the movie will hopefully succeed because of his attention to detail.
  • Rampage Movie Trailer – Dare I say this is one of the more interesting Uwe Boll creations to ever entice me through a trailer? I’m not sure it’s groundbreaking but it does look like a fun late night rental.
  • Metropia Movie Trailer – A distinctive style, a unique voice and a different way of appoaching the genre, this trailer offers up something new to the world of what we expect from our animated films. It is equal parts bizzare, breathtaking.
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