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 Story Of Furious Pete Trailer

Besides celebrating my 6 year-old’s birthday on July 4th, I think watching the gustatory bacchanalia of the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest on ESPN is perhaps the one thing I look forward to most all summer.

Joey Chestnut taking on Takeru Kobayashi in a dog for dog match of wills, fighting to suppress that gag reflex, trying not to be DQ’d for a “reversal of fortune”, it honestly ranks right up there with Christmas. That said, I was all over this documentary by George Tsioutsioulas as soon as I caught wind of it after listening to the Film Junk podcast.

The premise seems innocuous enough: it’s a story about a competitive eater. Already I’m excited as ESPN somehow makes that one hour before the actual hot dog eating contest fun as all get out with their profiles of the athletes who compete in that thing. However, I am of the mind where I can see how it might lose its luster if you’re just focusing on one guy. Thing is, however, whoever made the trailer I think recognized this and went another way with the narrative.

When we meet Pete at the beginning he’s just a man standing on a boardwalk, staring at the camera. Other people are interviewed but no one brings up the eating thing initially. He’s called an animal, a unique human specimen, his mom talks about her little shy boy, and just when you think you can’t take the secrecy Pete just pops the top that was welling underneath him. Casually, he states his competitive eating occupation and a barrage of food is slammed into our eyes as Pete rears back and shovels things of all kind into his maw.

Drawing out a little time with Pete’s mom as she wonders whether she should be proud of the lil’ guy is unintentionally hilarious but then something poignant happens and it’s the reason why I think this is one of the most compelling reasons why this movie should be sought out. Looks like Pete was anorexic and the story that we’re given is not only told well and presented well but it elevates the movie from mere humorous spectacle to a documentary that seems poised to play both the dramatic and funny in ways that seem to work.

Respect the size of the man’s nuts, indeed. [Film Junk]

R U There Trailer

I want to see this movie…I think.

It’s kind of like when you meet someone who comes highly praised or recommended only to find out after a little social interaction you have no idea what those people were thinking. This film, the latest from filmmaker David Verbeek, of famed alt.suicideholiday.net fame, which sounds like a lovely picture to share with friends and family, doesn’t seem like one that would get included into this year’s Cannes film festival.

It is interesting to have an opening where you start off with a kid barking orders through his headset, ensconced in blue and gold club lighting as he plays a multi-player shooter with other nerds looking on, smash cut to a rooftop pool where it looks like our protagonist is floating quite still. The juxtaposition is interesting but then we get the title of the film: R U There. Seriously? I get it, alright, we’re dealing with youth culture but this falls into territory of replacing words that end in s with z’s or y’s into i’s. It’s all so juvenile but whatever. People have heaped kudos at its feet.

I do like the cinematography, however, as we get to know this gamer who appears to travel the world for this hobby of his and is rather intense about his game play. From slamming weights at the gym to destroying things in the bathroom it looks like he has some anger to work though. Conveniently, we meet the woman who ostensibly will be playing the part of the person who will help this kid break through on some emotional level but, and as awkward as it is to even write it, she mentions the game Second Life as a way to mitigate his rage. And then we see a bit of Second Life. It’s about here where it looses me because I don’t know if this is a film or some elaborate commercial for something that obviously was written by a fifteen year-old who is in love with this service.

We go back to the more interesting part of the film which looks at how this kid is able to strategically map out  his moves prior to picking up a controller as well as looking at a life which just happens to be led by a man who plays video games for a living. The premise is genuinely interesting and the colors just pop and sizzle on the screen but I just cringe when I see Second Life come back onto the screen once again but this time in what is supposed to be a dramatic moment. Our girl hammers out “R U There?” on the screen in the virtual world as our dude’s avatar just gazes in another direction, not saying a word. I suppose that means something but, honestly, it just makes me up to the ceiling feeling embarrassed for whoever thought this was poignant.

South Of The Border Trailer

Oh, this should be good.

Couple of years ago I interviewed Jesse Ventura about a litany of topics. One of the things that came up was the time he spent in Cuba and met Fidel Castro. The story he told then of an amiable man who had no real beef with Americans, just American policy, was one where you begin to think that perhaps there is something that’s not aligning with perception and reality. As well, I’ve seen a few documentaries on the Venezuelan state as it pertains to President Hugo Chavez and every single time I have seen a picture of a man who manipulates the media and marginalizes his critics. Seeing that Oliver Stone went down with a camera made me think this was the best chance of seeing Chavez in a different light and getting a solid grip on what’s happening down there.

What I saw here, oddly, didn’t change my own interpretation of the narrative and, frankly, I’m not moved by what I see here as important enough to find and watch.

The opening is good enough with its declaration that in January 2009 Stone went to Venezuela to investigate the image the U.S. media has made of Chavez. To me, that was intriguing, made me curious to see if he found something that I haven’t yet. Plus, it says he met with seven other presidents in that general region and supposedly uncovered a larger “more compelling” story. I tell you what, if it was anything other than Oliver playing kickball with one of them I was really let down.

What I saw here was your usual fare when talking about Hugo. It shows news clips from here in the States saying how much of a threat the man is to the people of the world, a real vilification. However, once we get past that we see El Presidente declare that Venezuela just wants to be left to its own devices. Period. Now, that’s all well and good but Stone doesn’t how he can dispel the notion that, at the heart of it, Chavez is a manipulator and isn’t exactly playing fair with his people. I feel like we’re kind of being led down an impressionistic path, Stone’s impressions, not necessarily the facts, that doesn’t touch upon anything of much importance other than the political rhetoric of the very people who are blowing smoke up their own people’s rear ends.

I would also recommend just skipping the middle portion of this thing. It’s boring, does nothing to help establish what Oliver is really trying to do and, as a kicker, we’re treated to an extended scene of Stone kicking around a soccer ball with the president of Bolivia. It’s awful, pedantic, and does nothing to engage the viewer.

And buried, all the way in the back, of this thing we get Stone’s thesis: these countries are trying to get out from underneath U.S. economic control. Hey-Soos, Oliver, why didn’t put this at the beginning of this dead-on-arrival mess? It certainly would have helped to inform what we were seeing and would have maybe persuaded me from thinking this will be the first Oliver Stone movie I will not see in the theater. Pass.

The Two Escobars Trailer

This is fascinating just from a time line point of view.

I would love to talk to one of the co-directors of this film, Michael Zimbalist, about how he could write one single story for the Back to the Future cartoon show that ran from 1991-1993 and then essentially disappear from entertainment altogether until 2010. The other director, and brother, Jeff Zimbalist has been knocking around since 2002 producing documentaries of different kinds. Much like the Wonder Twins coming together it seems it takes the two of them in order to make something worthy enough to look like it would kill on the History channel.

I appreciate and savor a good documentary on any kind of organized crime as if it were a fine wine. It’s easy to make because you have the basic ingredients (facts) available but it’s hard to make something that will make people remember it because it’s all in the presentation. Luckily, the trailer does a superb job in establishing why, of all the programs dedicated to Pablo Escobar, this one stands out.

“With my own hands, I’ve killed around 250 people.” Sold.

Leading off with a Pablo’s right hand man, and resident psychopath, is the path of least resistance to get my attention and what better way to cajole someone into watching your movie than to trot out the one guy you would never want to cross. Lest you think that his 250 and the purported 5,500 murders Pablo might have had a hand in sounds far-fetched do me a favor and read the news about what’s happening in the border region of Mexico with regard to drug murders and tell me again that you don’t think that’s quite right.

This guy is fascinating to listen to about how obsessed this man was with, of all things, soccer. I don’t have a reason why the yarn of how these guys were on the run from Johnny Law only to be cornered in their own version of the Alamo all the while Pablo is rocking his transistor, listening to a soccer match though his earpiece. There is limit to how deep in the crazy one person can go but, as a specimen, Pablo looks like he ranks right up there with the best of them. Count me in on this.

For those wanting to see this , you won’t have to wait long as it will premiere June 21st on ESPN Deportes and then on June 22nd on ESPN.

The Housemaid Trailer

Never poke the hired help. That’s all I’m sayin’.

There was an amusing Kids in the Hall sketch where a married man has some lusty thoughts about his not-attractive-in-the-slightest housekeeper. She’s gross, has a mustache and he has an endless string of amusing nightmare scenarios where he ends up making out with the doughy maid only to wake up screaming.

Filmmaker Im Sang-soo, however, seems to have created a movie that is sweeping in its scope yet tightly focused in on the relationship that people have with levels of power; namely, those who have it, those who enjoy the thought of possessing it, and the struggle that ensues when it’s given without thought. I can’t admit seeing his previous efforts, Geuddae geusaramdeul or Orae-doen jeongwon but what I see in The Housemaid (Hanyo for my South Koren sisters and brothers) is a movie that can easily translate when you consider how smooth we glide into this story via its trailer.

The opening is just captivating with the tight strings of a violin that immediately should put everyone on edge as the sounds of a woman writhing in pain and agony is pushed aside when we see a wet, mascara smeared woman talking about getting revenge. We have no idea what on earth this is about but this trailer wastes no time in getting down to the essentials.

We back up to a pretty young lass who doesn’t seem soiled by society, entering a manse of such epic and modern proportions as to make anyone’s abode seem like a dump, who is playing the part of the maid. What’s so alluring about this almost too simply set up story is that the camera dances in and out of the narrative. Sang-soo bathes his subjects in thick, rich colors, the blacks and reds just popping off the white marble floors, the pasty white walls.

The world just spins out of control for this family that obviously has a perv as its patriarch. I have to admit feeling kind of steamy watching the maid get all wet scrubbing down a bathtub as the master looks on, forlorn. You just have to know it’s going to end bad and Sang-soo doesn’t disappoint as he tries to be as ambiguous as he can be without giving too much. At one point the trailer says this is an exercise in sensual suspense and that stops me cold.

I think about that statement.

Sensual suspense? I mean, what in the hell does that even mean? But you know what, who cares! This dad is going to get his world rocked and the trailer flutters around you only teasing with pieces of its story, drawing you into its demented world just as slowly has this woman was when she entered it.

My nether regions are afraid to watch this reason and, I believe, that’s a mark of a wonderful trailer.

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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