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?

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 as, after having dug a little bit into this, 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, but 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.

I might have to find a way to watch the whole thing before the end of the week and make it one of my favorites of 2009.

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.

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.


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