Posted on Friday, November 6th, 2009 by Christopher Stipp
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?
1. Lilja 4-Ever is a heartbreaking, sad, dismal film from 2002 and could not be more worth hunting out and watching.
2. Nothing good ever happens in a movie when businessmen go to Thailand. Nothing. If I could submit anything to Roger Ebert’s compendium of movie minutia it would be this.
Much to my delight, director/writer Lukas Moodysson is back with a movie that looks to continue his penchant for films that don’t let you simply be whisked away to a fantasy land. To wit, one of his last films, the Swedish language feature A Hole in My Heart had a “disturbing images” warning slapped on its posters by the Swedish censors which hasn’t happened, if the facts are to be believed, since 1975’s Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom. This doesn’t look anywhere near as troubling as, at first glance, you just think this deals with the issues facing a couple who work too much, have a child, and are in need of some relief.
Well, that release looks like it is going to come from all sorts of places, but the kind of R-O-L-A-I-D-S relief that Gael García Bernal is looking for does not include his lovely wife Michelle Williams and that’s where the Moodysson I know starts to come out.
The trailer opens pretty simply, beautifully. A city block bathed in a nice balance of street light and darkness. It’s serene. Gorgeous. Deceptive.
After the moment is set up we get, what I would consider, a lame interstitial that says, “Their family seemed perfect.” First, any trailer that wants to put that in writing is already giving up the fact that by the end of the movie it’s not going to be. It seems lazy to me that this kind of blunt force trauma upon our collective minds is allowed but since I’m not being paid to slap these together que sera sera. Past that, though, there is some really good tension with dad having to leave mom and daughter for a business trip, mommy having to work in an ER, a nanny who is obviously in despair over the lives of her own children living what looks like thousands miles away, it all feels tightly wound.
I don’t know what to make of the whole connection between Bangkok and the loose morality that happens with guys in movies who go over there. Gael’s business partner obviously loves himself some sex tourism but even the reluctant Gael is somehow rendered powerless against the mighty poon that must turn faithful husbands and fathers into horny monkeys that need to endlessly indulge in carnal delights. The trailer does a bad job convincing me that he would do this without provocation, I believe Tom Cruise had some of that beach love with that woman in The Firm more than I do Gael giving in to temptation, but what I can believe is Michelle Williams’ complete meltdown as she tries to understand how her marriage somehow is now dissolving and how distant she feels to her daughter. That’s something I can feel coming through in this trailer and it’s heartbreaking.
The end of this trailer just makes me feel distant and cold. The image of the nanny’s little boy walking away from someone, I don’t know where in the world he is, looking like he is being walked by a white guy in a way that feels dirty and sad, is just terrifying. I may not know exactly what’s afoot here but I don’t think fidelity is one of those things.
The White Ribbon Trailer
Michael Haneke scares me.
The guy can take a singular idea and contort it into a film that is frightening and thrilling at the same time. I don’t know of anyone who can watch his original version of Funny Games and not reel in the subversive and explicit themes explored in that vision. So, too, do you feel on edge for the complete running time of this trailer. I cannot explain why that is the case when nothing of great importance happens in it but there is tension just beneath its black and white veneer.
It should have gone without saying that the way you lead with this preview is to let the world know that you’re Palme D’or straight trippin’, yo. And without missing so much as a beat, the black and white palette comes into focus as we have one of our German actors talking about a couple of people who were tortured (fancy that) as a woman gingerly moves throughout a room, surveying it. I don’t know where you come from but I am not used to voiceovers talking about torture, barn burning, and the possible murder of a doctor as some handmaid makes the rounds in her palatial estate without so much as a little context. Work with me here, Michael.
Snap to a young fraulein, looking all blonde, sweet, innocent, Aryan, as she has a flirtation with a man who looks dweeby as all get out. They dance and cavort and then, quickly, the same guy is running through a forest. Smash cut to a different guy, stopping in front of a small cabin, opening the door as we see a guy who’s hanged himself. The geek talks some esoteric philosophical jive as a sweet little boy asks whether everyone in the world dies. It’s really a sweet moment before we’re rushed to another image that has no context whatsoever: a guy is dead on a slab in his Sunday best with a doily over his face. I couldn’t tell you who it is or why we should even care but I’m skeeved out.
We get more of that as our Aryan blonde bombshell is crying her eyes out and as people are trudging through the forest with torches, a la Frankenstein, confronting the woman at the entrance of her home. Cut to a barn burning as some kids look on. No matter, we get shoved into a monologue about the nature of white ribbon and how it’s used in everyday dress to convey purity to the outside world. Then we get some mean old guy who I think is literally kicking a kid. I can’t be sure but the cries are enough evidence for me.
The movie is littered with these moments that make you feel uneasy, not pleasant, and I am amazed that this constitutes as trailer at all as it seems more like a mockery of films that have too much self-importance.
I don’t know what to think of a trailer that looks like it could be something special when you consider the band that’s scoring it, Blink-182’s vocalist/guitarist Tom DeLonge’s side project, Angels and Airwaves, are prominently displayed in the film’s title. It feels a little megalomaniacal but if you’re the one making the movie then I guess you can do whatever you like.
The question remains, however: Is this one long music video for the band? Is this like R. Kelly’s Trapped In The Closet series but instead of hilariously mouthed lyrics are we going to get a lot of emo posturing? Does the fact that DeLonge also is helping to co-produce somehow put this film in a different category? I don’t know the answers to the questions but I do know that the premise, of a man being abandoned on the International Space Station one that is ripe with possibilities and it is interesting.
Of course, none of this is made evident by watching the trailer but what I do like about it is that it doesn’t give any of this away and we start with a real quiet sequence. It’s space, there’s a space station, and there’s one guy in it. We don’t know who he is, what he’s doing, or why he’s there. Oddly, but interestingly enough, we shift to a guy who looks like he’s from the civil war. Just like the astronaut, he’s alone and he’s in the middle of what looks like the desert. Next scene, a modern day soldier is hanging out of the back of a truck in the middle of what could be any country where we’ve started a war. Next scene, some old guy who looks like Zach Galifianakis’ dad is getting dirt rained upon his head.
Then we get the news. It is revealed, albeit very slightly, that our astronaut is in some kind of trouble. Flash back to the earth and we get people playing pool, some skateboarders out at night, a different civil war figure appears draped in snow flakes, a guitar plays in the background, and it all crescendos with a torrent of music that is undeniably done by Angels and Airwaves albeit without any words.
The flood of scenes that we’re given is simply too many to count or to make any sense out of but I will be damned if I don’t think this looks like a movie I want to see if for no other reason than to find out whether it can be interesting beyond a snappy looking music video.
One of the things that fascinate me as a movie lover is finding the documentaries that exist in other countries and deciphering what these films say about life elsewhere.
Kind of like Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad, a good documentary made beyond this country’s bounds that informed the sensibilities of the artist, the country, this trailer wants to make an objective observation though his eyes. That’s why when I see Chris Atkins’ latest documentary on the nature of fame it really stoked a flame inside of me. Not only does this production, Atkins’ last dealt with how terrorist attacks in Britain seemed to produce the same liberty-snatching steps our own legislature did here, look at the notion of fame but the trailer engenders excitement because it’s something that transcends the thousands of miles between us. They, too, love their idols as much as we seemingly do with no rational exploration as to why we covet the details of these people who are simply more popular than we are.
What really got me excited about this movie is that all the information above is well and good but the one question remains: How do you make a documentary sexy? Somehow, the job in selling this movie to those who need to come out and support it fell upon the shoulders of a trailer maker that jazzed up the theory to make it more thrilling. The quick graphics at the outset satisfied my ADD need for things to get right to it and right to it this trailer certainly does. I like it even more that the jaunty voiceover lets me know this is a movie about me. The mere utterance of this line buys this trailer extra selling time, so it’s fortuitous.
The use of classrooms with people of varying ages giving the affirmative nod to the query of “Who would like to be famous?” is interesting. It’s amusing. This springboards into a dissection of how we’ve reached a point in our modern media consumption and what it means to the overall picture of fame and the famous.
I am not so sure, though, of the use of the Mr. Wizard top hat with the rest of the trailer being set up as a card trick that needs to be exposed but it does allow the trailer to break things up in smaller morsels. From the hint that one of the twisted morons that “judge” on America’s Got Talent, Piers Morgan, actually helped to change the face of journalism in the UK to one that depended less on tradition to one based on sensationalism to the implications this has had on celebrity is fascinating.
While it gets kind of uneven towards the end, it still does not take away from the fact that the images of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and other celebrities are used to a good degree in bolster the hypothesis of what we’re in for, as a global entity, as the desire for fame seems omnipresent.
Love The Beast Trailer
I am not a gear head. Frankly, I am amazed I am able to get by on knowing so little about cars.
Lately, however, I am enamored with listening to Adam Carolla’s CarCast that tackles all things automobile in a way that is part informative and part entertainment. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the way in which men fall in love with a heap of metal but this movie with Eric Bana looks like it will at least give me some insight into this phenomena. What I like about this trailer, though, is that while, superficially, the subject matter doesn’t excite me the presentation is enough that it gets a nod from me after an engaging opening sequence. As well as the quote that deserves to be pulled for any future marketing materials at about the 35 second mark; one of Bana’s oldest friends laments on how much the Hulk loved the car that the movie seems to be about: a Ford GT Falcon Coupe.
Like I mentioned, the opening sequence is very airy, very simple, just a shot panning overhead of a winding road that seems to twist and gnarl around a mountainous path. The music is soothing as is Bana’s voice. He recounts the past passion of wanting to be a race car driver, of seeing his career as a movie star as a bit of a diversion, but he emphasizes the relationship he still has with his friends and with the car known as The Beast.
We’re blasted though a chute of clips and sound bites ranging from his oldest buddies to, oddly, Dr. Phil as it pertains to the connections we have with inanimate objects. What I think really shines, though, is the racing that Bana does through the small towns at a wicked rate of speed. He’s racing through a neighborhood with a navigator at his side, all suited up in a helmet and a flame-retardant outfit, and he’s power sliding all over the road. Fast forward to more tripping through the countryside and then the screen goes black. The sound of crunching metal can be heard.
I am, further, a fan of this trailer in that this seems to be a movie that is the first of its kind. It looks like it’s the first documentary to deal with the loss of a vehicle. Most people are just thankful everyone’s alright, giggle about it, and then are made whole by a new car. Not Bana. He looks dejected and I am utterly not convinced how this could possibly be a feature length production. However, what this mediation on car ownership might have to say in helping me understand my gender a little more is a curious idea.
Plus, how could you not want to see what Bana has to say as a director of his first film? The curiosities are everywhere and to see a celeb being slagged by his mates could prove to be an interesting exercise.
In case you missed them, here are the other trailers we covered at /Film this week:
- Despicable Me Trailer #2 – I am still confused at what is supposed to be going on here. If you can’t make it clear to a 34 year-old mental midget imagine what it is doing to a young’un. The trailer is messy and wants to be something more than it is.
- Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time Trailer with Commentary – I think the only thing more grating than a guy reviewing movie trailers with words is having to hear someone lay down a commentary track on one. Seriously, I barely made it all the way through this.
- Sherlock Holmes Trailer #3 – As many times as I see this trailer I cannot get a sense that Guy Ritchie is trying to stretch as a director. I guess I should be happy for the guy who is comfortable in making different variations of the same movie as I am sold on seeing this opening weekend.
- Salt Trailer – My parents have been looking for a film they can call their own ever since Duplicity. With hints of Wanted and a dash of Mission: Impossible with just a tablespoon of PG action I am sure it will do well to appease the masses who like their action movies bland.
- Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time International Trailer – This looks like a mishmash of all the bad sword and sandals productions we’ve received in the last decade. I am sure kids under the age of 12 will love this but I’ll pass.
- The Final Storm Trailer – Hey, everyone, Dylan from 90210 is back and he’s looking for answers about where his Porsche, and hair, have gone. The movie, however, actually looks leaps and bounds over previous Uwe Boll films so I think that’s something positive, right?
- How To Train Your Dragon Trailer – I guess this looks OK. I don’t know what it is about DreamWorks but when you have a varsity athlete like Pixar on the field DreamWorks always seems like the kicker who’s constantly shanking it to the left of the uprights.
- The Road Trailer #2 – Well, someone wants you to believe this is an action packed meditation on the more emotional side of post apocalyptic destruction. I want to see it either way but I know they’re selling a list of goods that aren’t there.
- The Killer Inside Me Trailer – One of the more complex trailers I’ve seen this week, it appears that Casey Affleck is on a mission to thrill. The story seems simple enough but there’s more than we’re given and I appreciate that as someone who doesn’t need every plot point spoiled.
- The Brothers Trailer #2 – I like the trailer. That said, the voiceover is completely unnecessary, some of the scenes used seem really out of place, but the overall chilling vibe it was trying to convey comes across perfectly.