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?

There was no column last week, so what better way to kick off a year that saw so many great trailers than by giving you a double-dose of some of the most noteworthy trailers so far in 2010?

North Face Trailer

Director Philipp Stölzl is the modern equivalent, in my eyes, of a video director who dreams of doing something more than just blocking lip-synching bands where to thrust their crotch.

Some video directors ought to stay video directors while some, from time to time, surprise you with what they are able to produce with a full-length feature. While I don’t think you’re going to be seeing Philipp’s name dropped in Variety anytime soon with sentences that start “From directing Rammstein to directing Rambo…” I do believe there is something unique here that’s worth discussing. The film deals with two men in 1936 who have plans on climbing what is affectionately called the Murder Wall in Switzerland. Some people have died trying to make the ascent over 13,000 feet up in the air. We’re not talking about some leisurely stroll up a mountain top either; we’re talking a nearly vertical climb to get to the top. Throw in blowing snow, freezing cold, a true story, and nary an Eddie Bauer to outfit someone properly and you’ve got yourself an interesting beginning.

The opening sequence is presented wonderfully and captures the solitude and mood of the movie real well: the whipping noise of air racing across a mountain, dramatic views of a mountain cliff, and the sound of pounding metal. The metallic pounding is what should catch anyone’s attention, the rhythmic ‘clink clink’ telegraphing exactly the mood we’re all supposed to feel.

I get that it’s two buddies who are at the center of this movie, and when we’re shown them at the top of an ascent all chummy, you know things won’t remain that way for much longer. Cue goose stepping Nazis, a little bit of a sour note on what seems like an inconsequential detail that only serves to pique a layperson’s attention. We’re thrust back into the thick of the climbing and this is where it gets good.

The banging drum starts, the metal upon metal clanging as these guys start driving spikes into the raw rock, and then they start running left to right across the face of the mountain as we then get some quick clips. A little romantic subplot is explored, the fact that people are all gathered at a distance to see them make the ascent and is no doubt a huge news story in Germany is revealed, and then the sweet part: one of the ropes isn’t tied real well for someone who’s climbing up. The visual of the rope leaving what looks like a carabineer with an ostensibly falling climber if the screaming is any indication is fantastic.

Cue more drum beats, dramatic views of the ascent from all kinds of crazy angles, more shots of them near death as they struggle to the top, and then one parting shot of a guy falling downward and you’ve got yourself a movie I’m interested in.

Red Riding Trailer

As it was reported back on September 8th by /Film’s own Russ Fischer, The Red Riding Trilogy is a series of films dealing with police corruption, anomie from within, and the hunt for a child abductor in Yorkshire, England.

These films (over 300 minutes all together) were screened recently in Telluride and opinions agree on at least one fact: it’s a wicked dark exploration into the human condition. I couldn’t have been more excited at the mere premise of a triptych that spans, and is broken up, in the years of 1974, 1980, and 1983 but there is something intensely personal about these movies that holds them all together.

The movies boasts the directorial talent of Julian Jarrold (Becoming Jane, Brideshead Revisited, Kinky Boots), James Marsh (Man on Wire), and Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie, Shopgirl) and stars such as Sean Bean, Andrew Garfield, Rebecca Hall, and David Morrissey among others. It was just poised to be my favorite import of 2010 and then I saw the trailer.

The trailer here is superb in doing what a non-conventional trailer needs to do: breathe like a freshly opened bottle of red wine. Watching this, essentially a promo spot, slowly unspool itself we can spy in on its contents. The actors themselves speak about what they felt drawn to by the roles and even though it’s a little mutual admiration society-esque the interspersed clips work in tandem with the voiceovers. Even though I recognize there might be a lot of BS’ing going on from these actors, we do see representational evidence of what these films want to be and actually are. You’ve got a lot on your shoulders in trying to sell three different films at once and here it’s done brilliantly.

David Morrissey, in particular, has a delicious moment in this trailer whereby he explains the nature of these corrupt cops trying to operate and navigate the troubled waters of what they’ve gotten themselves into; it’s fantastic, really, to hear him put it into context of what we’re watching on the screen.

Yes, these are Made for TV productions, but dare I say that this looks like it could rival even the most sensationalistic thrillers put out by modern studios on this side of the Atlantic. Consider me on a hunt to find out one way or the other.

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers Trailer

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Before you all chime in with how you have heard it and remember it, thank you very much, think about this trailer with regard to how good we’re doing by not repeating the past. Fact of the matter is that, after seeing this trailer, the one right answer is that as Americans we don’t seem to mind with being lied to or having secrets kept from us. If this preview is any indication of what happened with Vietnam, the very same thing has happened this decade.

What makes this a great trailer is that even though books upon books have explored this topic, the issue with what The Pentagon Papers actually meant to modern journalism and the quest for true transparency in the government is crystallized with in two minutes.

We have Lyndon B. Johnson talking about winning totally in Vietnam (echoes of Iraq?), Richard Nixon trying to vilify reporters trying to discover what was happening in this unwinnable war (a recent president did this decades later), and there is a fantastic montage of a Xerox scanning documents with file footage of the war in ‘Nam. Explosions, bombs, guns, and dead bodies.

It’s such a tightly packed opening seconds that I am blown away by its potency. Our man of the hour, Daniel Ellsberg, who at the time worked within the Pentagon as an official and Vietnam War strategist, narrates his decision to just pull a Firm, or Clear and Present Danger if you roll that way, as he copied what he could to get the word out about what he saw as mass murder. Agree or not agree, we at least know in hindsight he was absolutely right (Jon Cryer was also right in Hiding Out, in case you were wondering) and dead people being flung from stretchers into piles just embolden his initial salvo.

The music cues are matched exquisitely well as I learn some things I didn’t know before: John F. Kennedy violated the Geneva Accord, Johnson tossed out more than a few lies to the American public, the New York Times building was surrounded by troops after publishing these papers, tomes really, which equated to 47 volumes, 7,000+ pages in total. I can’t remember being riveted by a documentary trailer but this one does capture your attention.

The intrigue of what this meant not only to Ellsberg and his career but of what this meant for Americans who never knew what was happening halfway across the globe makes a dusty historical factoid brim with life. The trailer also deserves thanks for galvanizing the more tantalizing portions into what could be called a history lesson, the likes of which I only wish I could have been taught in school.

Bushido 16 Trailer

Well, you can’t blame them for ripping Quentin Tarantino off wholesale.

I mean, you’ve got ladies, sword play, the young age factor, and the whole Asian vibe going here. How can you not blame director Tomoyuki Furuyama for wanting to sup at the teat of gloriousness which is the movie that made it fashionable for ladies to be swinging some tempered steel between their hands? The film stars Kie Kitano and Riko Narumi, two starlets who I can’t place in anything I’ve seen from that side of the world, as two girls training in the art of kendou. Not that I could glean that from the trailer proper, big ups to Twitch.com for the assist in explaining this thing to me, but you can sense that just by watching things unfold.

The trailer smacks you in the face with that plunk-plunk instrumental and then kicks into that drum beat as we are introduced to our two ladies. One seems well versed in the art of kendou and is ready to serve a fistful of pain while the other seems frightened to even be standing ringside in her gui. It’s silly when the whole buildup results in the angrier one going out for blood but I guess that’s the point.

There’s nothing fantastic about the direction or cinematography but there is something here that warranted the trailer’s inclusion this week: there seems to be a real story underneath all the artifice. It feels like there is a real Jo/Blair, Facts of Life, kind of kinship happening: it’s a little shallow in its depth but the whole “rising to the occasion” trope is one that we’ve seen countless times is a nice standby. The brutish one no doubt will learn how to be sensitive while the other will figure out that meek and afraid is no way to coast through her existence.

The moments where we see massive amounts of other kendou pupils in their black garb, face masks, oven mitts, swinging their fake swords around does inspire the inner girl in me to think this all about empowerment. In a land where men seem to enjoy a hegemony over a lot of what the culture dictates in terms of gender roles I really do hope this could be a movie that has something to say vis-à-vis Bend It Like Beckham, a movie that was light and airy like a Madeleine cookie but was nonetheless enjoyable.

I was frightened by the cadre of girls who yell at the end of this thing, I nearly mistook it for an all female ninja attack on my person it was so shrill, but it does keep with the whole playful message of this trailer quite nicely. If I was 13, and a girl, and living in Japan, I would so want to see this.

Jerry Cotton Trailer

I read a thrilling book years ago called Turn Left at Greenland, by Mark Little. It was tome chronicling the waning days of Gore’s failed presidential bid, a little sociological dissection into the lives of Americans, and a little bit of a commentary about who we think we are to the rest of the world. Thing is, Mark Little was an Irish news correspondent who lived in D.C. reporting on the news in our backyard. The book was kind of like a true mirror that shows you how you really look when not flattered by other, more forgiving ones.

The real treat, then, in a movie like Jerry Cotton is that it feels like that book in cinematic form. Based on a book series that started in Germany in 1954, and spawned eight films starring this hallowed FBI agent who obviously did not exist, the series seems to have taken hold with some part of Germany’s pop culture establishment. Nearly a dozen writers have taken the time to pen a tale or two about an agent of the U.S. government yet is grounded in the German language. To see this trailer is to feel like a joke is being played on your country but it’s an interesting thing to just watch and soak in.

At first you don’t think anything of the opening. You’ve got a dead guy, you’ve got some dude speaking German, you feel confident someone will start speaking ingles as we get shots of New York, of The Statue of Liberty but then no one starts speaking English. In fact, we get a lot more German.

Now, this is about where the slapstick comes in. By this point you get that this is a goof, the bumbling superspy of this series (I thought our bad comedies starring idiot agents were our purview) gets into all sorts of awkward moments that are actually very funny. Excusing the real offensive Asian minstrel sideshow that pops in shortly after we get this is supposed to be a comedy, you’ve got yourself a real barn burner of hilarity with what’s on display.

Our man Jerry, who we are led to believe is a master of disguise, displays skills that betray his identity, make him stick out like a bumbling idiot, and somehow get him to eventually be standing in an alleyway with nothing but his boxers and sock garters. Toss in more of the offensive Asian stereotype, a fumfering partner who is the straight man to all the obnoxiousness on the screen, a really sizzling costar, and you’ve got Get Smart in German.

While I think there is a little more seriousness to directors/writers’ Cyrill Boss and Philipp Stennert’s exploration of what is, ostensibly, an Anglo machination I am pretty confident that, with subtitles, this could work for me. Comedic idioms and cultural mores aside, actor Christian Tramitz has the kind of steely look you need for a role like this and I damn well want to see how it all comes together.

My Name Is Khan Trailer

Everyone ought to love a feel-good movie if it’s done right.

Sometimes you get bad feel-good like Patch Adams (sorry to rain on someone’s parade with that declaration) and sometimes you can get good feel-good like Forrest Gump (sorry to rain on someone else with that one). This movie looks like it is not only coming from someplace unfamiliar to me, I am not up to speed with the oeuvre of director Karan Johar, but the movie brims with the kind of easy joy one can get from a movie that looks to be life affirming. True, it helps that actress Kajol is just a delight to the eye and that any movie where you have a guy overcoming a malady like Shahrukh Khan has (think Rain Man) is a recipe for an emotional tearjerker.

More than that, you see, the first minute plays out with a jaunty soundtrack that is completely deceiving. By all intents and purposes this looks like a Bollywood production that takes place on the streets of San Francisco. Done, end of story. However, what follows absolutely belies everything that has come before it in that we quickly understand that this is not going to be a happy film filled with superficial joy, dancing, and the promise of no kissing.

9/11 happens and these characters find themselves in the middle of a contentious maelstrom of ignorance, hate, and violence. It certainly made me wonder exactly what’s happening here and made this feel more than just a movie to display some brightly colored saris with hot dance moves.

Our man Khan has autism and after the events of 9/11 he wants to go to Washington to talk to the president. Seems like an easy thing to do but this trailer makes you wince with the way some people with any excess of melanin their bodies were treated and Khan is at the receiving end of that. What an interesting thing, to take a film and showcase what it was like to be a foreigner from someone else’s perspective.

What we see here, as the trailer winds its way to the close, is that we’re given scads of images that are somehow related to this guy’s plight to get an audience with the president of the United States. Encountering a little bit of hatred, a little bit of ignorance, a full-on shotgun attack, and, in what puts this movie in the right context, shows him praying in the desert as the outro has him saying, “My name is Khan and I’m not a terrorist.”

I’m fascinated with the promise of where we are going with this movie, not only with the story, but what it could say from a cultural perspective different than our own.

Dog Pound Trailer

I mean, come on, who wouldn’t love a teenage version of Sylvester Stallone’s Lock Up?

Short of guys having their mitts on top of their junk, which we get here, I can’t imagine a more inspired way to start a trailer about a youth correctional facility where everything seems predicated on violence and defiance of the law. There are great documentaries about the prison system and those who find themselves wrapped in it be those suffering from mental illness, those who are recidivists or those who are ostensibly much too young to be serving time, but each one somehow shows how the lines between those wanting to make a difference in their own lives and those who want to stay in jail blur considerably.

This movie, following the lives of three juvenile inmates, looks like it will try and explore the avenues of the people who want to change and those who won’t ever change. Starting with the line-up of these three men as I mentioned earlier it lays out the rules.

The trailer deftly goes from beat to beat as the guard explains what is not permitted in the jail, cut scenes showing how juveniles are getting over on the system, with jolting images of guys getting shanked, of someone cutting the face of another, someone chugging down something that’s obviously not apple juice, and a cavalcade of other behaviors that the system is trying to avoid.

I love the tempo of this trailer, as I do the musical cue used to push things along, because we aren’t allowed to rest on any one image or fact about what’s being put in front of us; we’re essentially rudderless in trying to piece together a cohesive narrative with regard to who’s the protagonist in this tale. Director/writer Kim Chapiron’s previous effort, Sheitan, explored the more jaunty aspects of Satanism and starred Vincent Cassel so it’s a bold choice to come back with a movie that seems daring, starring a couple of names from Canada, one of which, Shane Kippel, people might recognize from Degrassi: The Next Generation.

“The Taken” Trailer from Valentine Entertainment on Vimeo.

The Taken Trailer

Yeah, I get that Saw vibe, too.

At first, I wanted to just reject this trailer outright. There is a sameness to films that have come before it, of a played-out vibe anyone with any kind of interest in horror can pick up on, and possessing the kind of acting usually reserved for local community theater when you’ve exhausted every other entertainment options.

You would be right in asserting that and I’d be wrong to try and sway you. However, what if there was something to this independent vision of a slasher film that embodied the obnoxiousness of 80’s horror, the kind of movie that made you laugh at its production values while also delivering on the promise of a few quality kills? I fell on the side of trying to see the vision of this movie and appreciate it for what it was trying to do. There are little bits and pieces that I do love about it but there is certainly more than enough to goof on.

Something that I liked more than anything is that within the first fifteen seconds we get that this is a move that is dealing with people who are trapped in an enclosed space ostensibly to be tortured (Hostel), that there are some hot ones among the abducted (isn’t that always the way), there is a masked psychopath draped in a mask and butchers apron (but of course), and a game that some of them need to complete in order to have a crack at freedom (Saw). Say what you will but there are hints of so many movies in play that I am bowled over with the giggles just trying to figure out the originality of this film.

I love the cheesy a-chord shred as people start to get eviscerated by this psychopath. As a girl starts to get stuck with a horse sized needle, and we linger way too long on the metal going into her arm, the requisite screaming shatters any sense that this is your average indie thriller. In fact, this movie makes me yearn for a type of film that has long since past: the unintentionally funny horror flick.

You’ve got pieces of Psycho, countless story devices we’ve seen before from newspaper clippings on a wall to a woman-like effigy driving our murder to kill more being resurrected for our amusement, just everything that could, possibly, maybe, add up for a fun time as a rental.

9:06 Trailer

Igor Sterk. Igor Sterk?

Anyone?

I will have to admit that I haven’t had much contact with the filmmaker Igor Sterk. Hailing from Slovenia, or at least that’s where I think he hails from if the country he has filmed so many of his movies is any indication, the filmmaker has made a handful of movies I’ve never heard of. But I do want to hear about this one.

A trailer that just punches you in the face with so much humanity and mortality, it really does communicate a universal truth about sadness and the gnawing feeling that can happen when we feel connected to events beyond our ken.

It thunders right out of the gate as we learn within the first few seconds this is a movie about a cop, a mysterious death, and the impending obsession that will consume his life. It couldn’t be more easy to understand and yet all this happens halfway across the world. It feels intimate and the score that plays through it all underscores another accident that results in a car we see turned over in a wheat field. It just rests there, undisturbed, and we are given context as to why this flipped car is so personal to this cop. It’s haunting and the composition is glorious.

The story just gets richer and more complex as we see how this movie is going to weave in how his personal life, love life, and this case of a strange, shaven nude dead man all interlock. (Grammatical note to the trailer maker: Strength is not spelled “Strenght”) The descent seems to get deeper and a little weirder as our man partakes in some pretty thrilling lovemaking (NSFW) along with shaving himself clean no doubt spurned on by the case that started this trailer.

What is pretty amazing to note about what’s on display in this trailer is that there seems to be a real focus on obsession, about things that drive people to dark places in their lives. To see it distilled through foreign eyes it makes you feel that there is something here akin to the original Insomnia.

Celine: Through the Eyes of the World Trailer

I try to keep an open mind about almost everything.

Pedophilia, murder, those kind of things aside, I’d like to think there is validity in every argument and that only when people seek to understand can there be any meaningful change in the world. Take Michael Jackson’s This Is It that came out months ago.

I went in there to have a good laugh, see what kind of macabre ghoul slapped together an unfinished cinematic portrait of a man we all pretty much made up our minds about years ago, and to just enjoy the mess that ought to have been Michael Jackson’s swan song. Color me surprised when I found myself satisfied by what was on the screen. Kenny Ortega ought to win an Oscar for Sycophantic Toadie of the Year but the dancers, the behind the scenes choreography, the orchestration, and a glimpse into Michael’s processes were fascinating. There is a lot of quibbling you could do about how it all came together but there is no mistaking that it was a good film. Period.

Now, like I said, open mind. This time we’re talking about Celine Dion. We all know her as a woman who sang that song about being on a boat (no, the other one), and who married someone who looks like he could play the role of Old Giant in any number of Merrie Melodies cartoons. I took this trailer as an opportunity to hopefully see this Quebecer as something more than a plasticine doll that has the personality of a walnut. I was honestly hoping to get a frank presentation of what it’s been like to be an international pop sensation, to have grown up and matured before a world audience, what it’s like to live in a bubble.

What this trailer presents, however, is just a highly polished PR piece.

An exercise in shallowness, the trailer just showcases the very thing that prevents this from being a deep document of the woman who has sold millions of records. I wouldn’t have minded the clips of her strolling across various stages across the world, showing how big of a production every show is, how much she wants to entertain; this would actually be exactly how it should start. Though, as things progress, it feels more like a portrait of an artist as an old lady. Showing Celine only at her absolute best, the clips that come after presenting this is a movie all about her feel like a whole lot of falsities.

Before we get back to this trailer, as an aside, one of the things that made Truth or Dare such a great concert film was that, whether she was acting or performing for the camera, Madonna revealed herself to be someone who cared about what it took to give the audience what they wanted, what it took to be the best at what she did. What we get here, in contrast, just feels false.

At about the thirty second mark we see Celine serenading a girl in front of a phalanx of cameras and onlookers. It doesn’t look like the most developed of countries where she is doing this and as she pushes through a hurried version of “Because You Loved Me” to a girl who genuinely looks delighted to see her, it just smacks of opportunism. A lot of this does and even though we get slivers of the reality I would genuinely be interested in sitting through, we get more and more of her just performing on a stage.

I guess if that’s your thing, so be it. However, I am genuinely disappointed that this looks like something that should have been packaged and sold as a DVD inside the store devoted to nothing but her merch (I walked through a very real store like this at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. It’s as hideous and heinous as you would think) because if you’re going to be superficial you ought to expect to be judged as such.

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

  • The Warlords Trailer - I don’t know if I’m just burnt out on the genre but this doesn’t feel like it’s anything different than I’ve seen in Hero or any number of films with a cast of thousands. The last thirty seconds are good but, honestly, it’s nothing that I wouldn’t mind waiting to watch in the secondary market.
  • Inception Teaser Trailer #2 - Phenomenal. I could not be more impressed with a trailer that has all the potential for a movie that is expertly written, shot, and acted. The line between reality and fantasy appears to be blurred and I could not be more pleased.
  • Space Tourists Trailer - I love the idea behind this story. I even am wildly passionate about the way in which this movie has been filmed and presented in the trailer. The shots from space are breathtaking. I am not wild, though, with the 2-bit soundtrack underneath it all.
  • Tucker & Dave vs. Evil Trailer - I watched this one a while ago and I still think it looks like a great time. For it to be selected in the Park City at Midnight category during Sundance just heightens my interest in this movie.
  • How to Train Your Dragon Trailer - As a father of two possible tickets for this movie, a whopping $15 potential dollars, I will say that I will do what I can to not pay for this movie. The animation looks absolutely ridiculous when you consider how high the bar has been set by studios who are trying to be something more than just average.
  • Solomon Kane Trailer - Kind of like Clarence from Robocop said “Guns, guns, guns” but here it’s swords and knives. I’m just as giddy as Clarence, however, as this movie has the appeal for a movie I wouldn’t mind renting. But as far as a theatrical purchase? Nope.
  • Armless Trailer - The trailer has a very amateur feel to it but it makes up for this in its coy back and forth about what it’s building towards. You wouldn’t quite know that the guy wants to be an amputee of his own making and it’s a bold decision, to withhold that info, to make.
  • Space Battleship Yamato International Teaser - Well. It certainly is a different kind of trailer, I’ll give it that. I don’t know what’s being said or how they’re positioning this film but the effects look pretty fantastic.
  • Toy Story/Toy Story 2 Blu-Ray Trailer - I thought I would be all aglow with this trailer for discs that I am absolutely buying. Instead, what I was given felt like a commercial produced by some ad agency that has no conception of what geeks would like to know about what’s on these things or, at the very least, some teases of the special features.
  • Fantasia, Fantasia 2000 and Fantasia World Blu-Ray Trailer - Now this is a sales pitch. Someone dropped a big ball when they made the above Toy Story Blu-ray trailer as this one hits all the high notes with telling you what to expect, what’s special about these versions, and certainly makes a better case for your cash.
  • Amer Trailer - Stylish, moody, and all kinds of uncommon. What this trailer communicates has more to do with its substance than with its marketing message. It’s a decision not often make and it’s a road not many take but the result here feels like a throwback to a different age in film that I can’t wait to consume.
  • From Paris With Love Trailer #2 - While this feels more of the same that’s certainly not a bad thing. Not surprisingly, I get the whole Taken feel but that film proved you can be fun and airy without worrying about things like characterization or plot. Thanks to that film it’s helped sell me that this could be more of what I came to enjoy about it.
  • Fish Tank Trailer #2his has to be one of the most effective trailers I’ve seen all week. It’s got a punch to it that probably has to do with the strength of its story and its execution. I may not know exactly what’s happening but we’re given enough of the story that it matters little when you consider the evocative moments contained in its running time.
  • She’s Out of My League Trailer - I really love Sex Drive and I am enamored with the promise of Hot Tub Time Machine but this trailer, the latest from Sean Anders, is dreadful. Awful. It’s really bad. It’s hard to fathom how a guy who thought of slapping a dong on a doughnut could come up with something so generic and flimsy.


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