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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 Missing Person Trailer

This movie is more hip than me, more hip than you, and has a much cooler swagger than any of us will possess this week.

For my money, and believe me there isn’t much, films need to say something fresh, be something more than the fat that is clogging the arteries of our nation’s theaters. This looks like a film that challenges your usual expectations of a film noir piece as it tries to do two things: one, honor the traditions of what makes noir such a sexy piece of the cinematic landscape and, two, set the story right after 9/11, making it an interesting mix of the contemporary and the classic.

I think director Noah Buschel managed to do both as the trailer explodes right away in all the ways a trailer like this should. We get the doling out of information relating to the protagonist’s role, he’s a private investigator (natch), get a little whiff of the snappy writing that is lyrically appropriate to this genre, and we are presented with the information this was a Sundance selection. After that, we just roll right along as we get the fact this guy is tailing a stranger, who seems mysterious and suspicious, from a train to a motel where a clerk actually says, when pumped for information, “Trouble’s my middle name.” Thing is, it doesn’t sound hokey and the cinematography sizzles on the screen. Everything seems to be coated with a dirty sheen of sleaze and bad karma. Delicious.

Our detective isn’t dashing, sexy, or very endearing but he’s all he needs to be in a part that usually calls for someone just like him. The dialogue makes the action more interesting, the visuals are something to behold, and when our man gets out of a trunk of a car in the middle of nowhere I feel like this is territory I feel I already know. The requisite saxophone music that plays as our man Flynn looks like he’s getting a hook-up from a woman who believes that corsets and fishnets are still the way to a man’s heart (they are) is quite charming.

Michael Shannon, who was nominated for his role in Revolutionary Road last year, is comfortable in this space and it really shows as he has the sort of downtrodden yet nascent hope that something might turn out the right way. Amy Ryan, for all her contributions to comedy in the last season of The Office, sparkles as someone who seems bereft of the ability to be sad and it compliments well to Shannon’s dour disposition.

By the end of this thing I may not know how 9/11 factors into this plot at all but it’s alright as the strength of the presentation isn’t in the facts it is in the performances.

Side note: I don’t know who is doing the proofreading/editing for Apple’s trailer section but Noah Buschel’s last name is not spelled Noah Bushel. I realize this isn’t much but give the man his proper due.

Su Qi-Er (True Legend) Trailer

Most people haven’t seen Yuen Woo-Ping back in the director’s chair since his 1996 feature Iron Monkey 2. After he did work on a television mini-series back in 2003 he evaporated to go do other things, notably in the realm of choreographer for films like Kill Bill, The Matrix, Danny the Dog, and even Kung Fu Hustle, but he’s back in a major way, in my opinion.

One of the more thrilling trailers that came out this week, True Legend doesn’t waffle on establishing what kind of movie Yuen has set out to make. Without  even realizing it, we’ve grown accustomed to CGI and technically enhanced action after going through what was, ostensibly, a long period where a lot of action depended on wire-fu; to the point, even, where it became a point of parody, comedy. Yuen was the master of elevating this to an art, many boosting his technique for their own productions simply for the sake of it, but this trailer gets me excited to delve into this arena, where practicality trumps gigabytes.

It may be a little disorientating to be introduced to the film via a series of quick clips that don’t seem to have any connection but a man going into a brawl with knuckles wrapped in chains, a fight happening out in front of a torrential body of fast moving water, our protagonist set adrift in a market where he seems like the equivalent of a brown bag swilling hobo but you’ve got my attention, to be sure.

We’re launched into a ring where our protagonist does away with a series of attackers with a combination of deft martial artistry and a windmill move of death that seems inspired by a routine not seen on film since Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. It’s astounding.

Forget about taking a breath, we slow down to a near halt as our guy takes some time out to smell some roses, gets to know a very special lady; a lady who, by the way, seems to enjoy hanging off rock ledges, picking greenery. The cinematography delights as we can feel the atmosphere of this world, its weight. I’m fully entranced and can almost smell the humidity.

More fighting comes up as our guy does battle with a dude who looks suspiciously like John Cho but with a mane of silky white hair. All the ladies may envy him but the hand-to-hand combat surely makes me yearn to see more of what is going on here in greater detail.

Quickly we move on to a new guy who appears to be riding the short donkey to school, a cloth helmet secure on his head with both flaps covering his ears, as he battles furiously with a man who takes a brutal kick in the armpits from our tiny dancer/fighter. I don’t know what this has to do with anything but I could care less. Ass kickery abounds and I am thrilled.

Stay tuned near the end as we have something that looks like ninja zombies doing battle with our hobo. The pale skin, the ruddy deep circles under the eye, the expression of too much testosterone in their actions, all point to what ought to be the next film meme: zombies who not only run fast but can mess you up with their newfound love of the east’s greatest export. Again, no clue what’s happening here but who cares?

We’ll figure all this out when the movie drops but this is a teaser that does what it needs to do and certainly piques my own curiosity as this could be a film that redefines the business of fighting with wires.

Endgame Trailer

Sick Boy.

I can’t remember an actor who I thought would just completely blow up, professionally, but when Ewan McGregor won the lucky lottery for actors Jonny Lee Miller just seemed to dissipate like perfume out of an atomizer after Trainspotting came and went. I could easily look up where he’s been but I know that between a few snoozers and a show on ABC that was wiped from their website (go check for yourself) it hasn’t been a semi-charmed kinda life for Miller.

Director Pete Travis, whose biggest credit is Vantage Point to some, Henry VIII to those in cultured circles, has done something that has caught my eye in a way that I can thank District 9 for doing: looking for more stories about South Africa. Be it a treatise on the nature of apartheid veiled behind a flashy cloth of special effects and science fiction or a story that looks at apartheid in its dying throes I have been interested in hearing more about this country’s tumultuous last couple of decades.

I like that we just get right into it with Chiwetel Ejiofor, playing Thabo Mbeki, only the second president following the country’s long established policy of apartheid. Chiwetel comes out and says he’s a terrorist but there’s nothing in the trailer to establish this. You’ve got helicopters flying around, guys hanging out of them with guns drawn, a near riot in the streets, more cops, and the whole thing feels disorienting; we have no idea who anyone else is, what’s going on, or what all the hubbub is about.

Miller pops on the screen as an enigma. I don’t know what his deal is all about but this trailer metes out the information sparingly: he wants to talk with Chiwetel but is also talking to “the other side,” whatever that is, wants to talk in the UK, and a car blows up. (Side bar: I love car bombs for some reason. Mission Impossible, Casino, The Hurt Locker, etc…, take your pick. I am a fan of anything to do with cinematic moments dealing with them.) There is chaos again and, still, I’m wondering what is afoot here.

Everything changes, though, as when we do get to a palatial estate in the UK we learn that these are two sides of the struggle against/for apartheid. The whites want complete dominance and want Travis alum William Hurt to play spy for the crackers while Chiwetel is trying to express how he’s been conditioned by the whites to fight back. It’s all shot so tightly that the trailer does an exceptional job in expressing Travis’ abilities to communicate what he’s trying to say.

Toss in more threats against everyone’s life for participating what I can only assume is a process to bring peace to South Africa’s people through the abolition of apartheid, guns, explosions, cars ramming into other cars, and screams galore. You’ve got yourself a tightly wound thriller that is not only based on true events but looks like it could be an interesting look into how tightly those in power will try and grip it.

All Tomorrow’s Parties Trailer

I love this trailer.

If you were lucky enough to catch Tarnation when it was released in the theaters or on video, you know how powerfully connected Jonathan Caouette is with his inner muse. It is, without question, hardwired into his whole sense of self as that film mixed a veritable cornucopia of mediums to tell one single story, a story of his life growing up with a schizophrenic.

You could have hardly believed the story was a real one, yet, the storytelling was, without question, crystal clear. Almost like taking people who can either learn visually or through auditory signals, Caouette took his tale and very much made it translatable to the screen.

I think he is the right person to handle this project and his sensibility comes through in this trailer in which not one word is spoken, not one plot point is given, no sense of direction is established, yet the whole thing plays out like one quick hit of speed to your eyes.

I have no clue what All Tomorrow’s Parties, the festival, is about but whoever thought to make this trailer doesn’t think you need to either. With an opening sequence that drew me in fairly quick, it’s use of a Rossini’s William Tell Overture (how strange to use such an American used anthem like this for a very British festival but it works for me here, in situ) that’s banged out from a harmonica. With some old home movie footage that’s sped up a little bit you are at a loss to figure out what’s afoot here.

Images of a family park where there is dancing, amusement rides, families enjoying the pool, burro riding (!), and even a little cheekiness as people really look like they’re cutting loose just barrages you as the music stops and we’re shown the title of the film.

Blast forward as the William Tell Overture’s BPMs increase exponentially as current film of this place, some old film mixed in there like a blended drink, the words “Sonic” and “Youth” and “Modern” flashing on the screen in milliseconds, as everything gets faster. It’s enough, I would think, to make some people move on to some other trailer but I love what is happening here. I may be disoriented but I think I “get” what this trailer is selling and I am more than happy to buy.

This looks far more than just a concert film, far more than just a document on what this place offers modern youth culture, and more than just an expose on what this place actually is. Through kind of the same prism that allowed Caouette to tell a tale about insanity so to does it seem like he wants to tell a tale of a festival that seems just as insane.

Oh, and if you’re not ripping down drywall by the end of this trailer, just be-bopping along to the beat, you’re missing a gene.

Wrong Turn At Tahoe Trailer

Every once in a while you need a trailer like this to remind you that there are some bad films being made out there. And, when not even a trailer can hide the awfulness, it must be monumentally miserable to experience.

To say Cuba Gooding Jr. has become a punch line for jokes about how far one actor can fall would be missing the real point. The guy is just willing, perception would tell you, to act in anything as long as the check clears. I think it’s an accurate description of the motivations behind the man’s acting choices and the movie looks like it is a loaded bomb ready to descend on the decks of a redbox near you, never knowing what it’s like to be shown with the likes of Zyzzyz Road.

One of the things that this trailer ought to serve as is a cautionary tale of what not to reveal about a bad movie. First, don’t highlight elements of your old, busted, tired, script. If you lead off with a line like “This is business, this is nothing personal,” the warm chestnut “My father used to say life is like a road,” or “You’re out when I say you’re out” you better be ready to lose half of the audience who like their movies without the lines that seemed destined to be spoken by Antonio Sabato Jr. Secondly, stop with the hip-hop soundtrack that blares across a bunch of machismo clips of your protagonist, here it’s Cuba, looking all “street” with them beating people up with pool cues or performing a double gun, arms extended action man; it is something that went out in the 90s and, additionally, nothing screams lack of confidence more than a movie that seems to purposely pigeonhole itself. Third, I can understand Miguel Ferrer (I really did love you in Robocop, don’t get me wrong) for a movie like this, but Harvey Keitel? And not just any ordinary Keitel but a Keitel that wants to vomit lines talking about big fishes, sharks and, painfully, even talks about dancing with a devil. Seriously? Was this a William Taft High School winner for creative screenwriting? Did the writer get a five dollar credit to use in the bookstore?

The trailer is a sloppy mess and I included it here because I feel that even though this is a direct to DVD release that doesn’t excuse the bad execution of its marketing and it ought to be pointed out.

Every film deserves to be shown in its best light but the simple fact remains that you have a trailer here that is painful to get through and it does not sell the movie well. In fact, it was enough for me to point out as a case study in wretched trailer creations.

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

  • Edge of Darkness TrailerI guess my parents deserve a movie they can look forward to. I’m left feeling this a by-the-numbers thriller that I could wait until it came out on video before seeing.
  • Mary and Max TrailerI could have done without the cheap excretion gags but this, nonetheless, looks like an endearing film. A story about pen pals certainly bucks the trend for saccharine sweet animated film plots so count me in.
  • A Christmas Carol Japanese TrailerRuss Fischer was spot on in his assessment that this trailer, with its goofiness excised, could actually get people like myself excited. It’s a mix of foreboding doom and scariness that does not reveal any of the more cheeky elements which will keep the kids happy.
  • Bunny and the Bull TrailerI could care less about the bizarre show The Mighty Boosh but this is a trailer that I find myself coming back to quite often. I love its aesthetic and the story seems weird enough that might shed some light into why some people love the Boosh so much.
  • Black Lightning TrailerLast time I cared about a film about a car that could fly I think I was 9 and the movie was called Flubber. Timur Bekmambetov certainly knows how to make action work and this is no exception.
  • That Evening Sun TrailerThis looks like a serious exploration into the lives of a few southern individuals. It appears to be a riveting movie about generational divides, one man’s path of old age, with some violence mixed in for good measure.
  • Old Dogs TrailerAnd I suppose those poor souls who made Wild Hogs a financial bonanza deserve their one crap film for the year. This certainly looks like a movie, if I didn’t have to mention here, I would never speak of again.
  • The Wolfman Trailer #2I don’t know who put this trailer together but it certainly wasn’t the wunderkind who did the first incarnation. To compare the two you would think these are two separate films with this trailer being the one you would actually want to see.
  • Season of the Witch TrailerNicolas Cage is the hardest working man in show business with the number of projects he’ll say “yes” to. Hopefully, some day soon he’ll decide to say “yes” to some that actually are worthwhile and don’t accentuate whatever new weave he’s put on his head.
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