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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?

Afterschool Trailer

I have great feelings of amity towards documentaries that pick apart the lives of teens and films that try and get it right with regards to giving us people who seem real, not grown-ups asked to put on varsity jackets.

PBS had a fabulous documentary series years ago called American High and not even last years’ American Teen could capture the level of verisimilitude that’s non-existent in the fluff that passes for teen drama on television today. That’s why movies like Assassination of a High School President, Elephant or even the crowd pleasing Heathers are such an attraction to me; it’s the visceral, evocative explorations into the pain of what it’s like to be a teen and misunderstood as hormones crackle like sparklers.

What is most stark to me is the trailer’s use of silence. Not so much in the classical sense, in that there is movement happening in the opening sequences (a gentle lullaby playing the background) with all that’s happening. No, the silence I’m referring to is of the space between moments where school age boys are talking about coke, when our protagonist acts like Mitch Taylor from Real Genius as he cries home to mom to say how no one likes him, or when we see a passing glance of a lady’s open skirt from the front. There is nothing filling in this void of narrative space. What is happening? What should I be paying attention to? We’re not told anything and that’s a bold move.

Smash cut to young teenage girls playing in front of a video camera. It’s dirty and for a moment I think I accidentally stepped into a Todd Solondz trailer by accident. Smash cut again to a couple of girls, one writing in agony and pulling a body. They’re bloodied. Go to the very same boys who were talking about coke as they watch footage of these girls’ remaining moments. Close-up of the girls’ bloody faces.

The trailer uses dialog to explain the rest of the story. The speed at which the last third of this trailer moves is impressive. It has to explain the necessary bits about the plot and the mystery that is at the center for this movie. The use of quotes from those who have seen it only help to further the trailer’s case why this is a necessary movie to watch. I may still not know what exactly is afoot here but I am glad I don’t.

This is a trailer that whets your curiosity enough for you to take the next step in finding out more. “A” for effort. The silent scream is a very nice touch.

The Attic Door Trailer

I don’t like living in Arizona very much.

In some places it looks exactly like it did in Raising Arizona with its barrenness. This teaser reminds me I live in a wretched backwater…but in a good way.

The opening sequence, showing a girl chasing after a wagon in slow motion with a haunting string arrangement in the background, sets the tone wonderfully. A girl, maybe the same one, mentions that someone’s about to get hurt or get her, the audio is a little muffled, but it’s irrelevant because it doesn’t take away from the creepy mood.

We aren’t given so much as a hint about what is up with this place which seems situated somewhere far in the Arizona desert or on some land that has been forsaken by anyone with a soul. The trailer goes on to show these two kids living with one another, by themselves, it seems to imply, and left to their own devices. It’s seems like an awfully simple notion, two kids lallygagging in the wild. I’m sure Disney could make it a jaunty tale with talking cacti, a mean old bull hot on their tail and have it all scored to a poppy soundtrack with a #1 single by Taylor Swift, but this teaser borders on The Shining.

It’s utterly sparse and it seems like any moment something very bad will happen. More scenes are meted out with no context and we see more of what looks like the sister in this bro/sis combo running towards the very same wagon from the beginning, but she stumbles. I have no thoughts as to why, but this is heartbreaking and alarming based on no information to inform this feeling.

We leave with a dark look at a door (is it the one to the attic, perchance?) and I leave this teaser with the feeling that I so want to see what is afoot here and I wonder why it seems these two kids are gonna die at the hands of some mustachioed gunslinger, rocking a Crips standard issue bandanna. If anyone happens to know whether Marilyn Chambers is behind this door, should it be green, please send me a note. Stat.

Peter and Vandy Trailer

In an age when the offspring of famous actors seem to be granted front of the line status with regard to acting work (Rumer Willis, your table is waiting…) I wasn’t expecting much from a film that stars the son of Jack Tripper, John Ritter. To be honest, I am not familiar with this Ritter and, if you’re anyone who is suspicious of those who seem to be coasting on famous coattails and producing anything of much import (Kate Hudson) to those who really have something to offer (Casey Affleck), this can be a prickly slope if you start ruminating on it too long. Luckily for me, I have a short attention span and just barreled in without any preconceptions.

The trailer begins in much the same way a lot of romantic comedies do: a chance meeting. Jason Ritter is affable and mildly charismatic as he sets eyes on Vandy (Jess Weixler). His opening salvo seems like a forced joke but the tempo of the trailer picks up with a good soundtrack and some very important declarations that this was a Sundance pick (always helpful during the sales process inside a trailer) and comes ready with some quotes from people who have seen it and endorse it. An excellent start for such a small movie, that I certainly never have heard of, but this is a mixed bag with regards to the story and marketing of this film.

While the premise feels like Groundhog Day, in that we’ve seen this kind of movie so many times before, there just seems to be something percolating underneath the surface that gets me to care about it. Vandy seems like she isn’t and wasn’t as into the relationship as Peter, he damn near feels like an emotional sponge, but the guy keeps coming back trying to win her over. I see that this is movie about how some people are more invested in a relationship, or in making a relationship, but this feels like a love story or a lesson to all would-be stalkers in what you need to avoid in doing during courtship.

I’ll come right out and say it all has the sheen of (500) Days of Summer with its use of a hip soundtrack and the visual tessellations embedded in it and I’m not so sure that the fact this movie has narrative time line shifts doesn’t make this a valid accusation. I don’t know whether to root for or against, or for Ritter who I think comes off really well, but I do feel something for this movie. The trailer seems so splintered in how it wants to establish itself but I think there is an unconventional love story buried within. I just don’t know what that may be because the trailer has me all wrapped up in determining how they’ve managed to boost the ideas that Summer did genuinely on its own months ago.

Did You Hear About The Morgans Trailer

I need to find the man who helps write these kinds of movies so I too can write awful premises and get them made into feature length films.

This trailer is an abomination.

I mean I get that this has to play to the yentas who want to see Sarah Jessica Parker (squee!) do inane things that they’ll drag their wussified, spineless husbands to (present company included) under the ruse of “date night.” It’s just a painful opening in that we spend almost a quarter of this trailer’s running time with Hugh Grant prolonging a very bad joke/comparison about constellations that doesn’t go anywhere and is quite positively horrible. If it wasn’t for my predilection for painful experiences I would’ve moved on at right about this moment.

Making matters worse is the midsection of this thing where we get more extended moments between these two insufferable twits. Grant is miserable as a man who, well, is miserable. As Parker and he are caught in a rainstorm, Parker, looking downright like a dude (they should have fired whoever was in charge of making sure she doesn’t look like a dude), and Grant narrowly escape being killed by a bad guy who still thinks it’s not cliché to wear a black ski hat in order to kill people in a movie. Friends, countrymen, when are we going to let this unimaginative visual device go?

Cue the 4th grader supposition of what would happen if two people who can’t get along have to get along in the witness relocation program? I guarantee no wackiness will ensue. However, I can absolutely guarantee that bad jokes about city folk who don’t know what it’s like to live on a farm will surely abound. I mean, craziness!

Look, I get that we all need romantic comedies in our lives because women deserve some of the cinematic love we boys have received all summer long. However, as a fan of The Proposal to some degree, I can say that there are good examples of pap on a massive scale and this is not one of them. We already know how this one will finish and the trailer even leads you to believe that this couple, who we think hate one another, will eventually find their way back to one another just in time to fend of the killer who is able to penetrate the witness relocation program in order to find them and kill them.

What I wouldn’t give to have that guy succeed…

Visual Acoustics Trailer

The trailer has the promise to be this fall’s Helvetica, make no doubts about it.

This may be revealing too much about what random minutiae I seem to remember, but even in a movie like Indecent Proposal, there is something redemptive. David (Woody Harrelson) says to a class he’s teaching on architecture, “even a brick wants to be something.” As eye-rollingly lame a lot of that film was I never forgot the line whenever I explored the creations of the structures around me. From homes to buildings I’ve never been able to shake David’s line, and this film feels like the closest thing to finding out why Julius Shulman is the brick’s one chance at being seen. It’s modernism, catch the magic.

This trailer evokes beauty in the snapshots that Dustin Hoffman, who is handling the narrating duties, presents to us in a slideshow that ranges from gas stations to living rooms. Seconds ago I had no idea who Shulman is but I get the idea; buildings are a life-sized representation of artistic passion but it takes a photographer who understands those nuances.

Modernism, to me, doesn’t seem practical when you have little kids who want to destroy everything they can, daily, in the homes they live in, but the vintage clip of Shulman delighting in the telling of how Frank Lloyd Wright appreciated his work as a photographer, how he captured his constructions wonderfully, fascinated me. As well, there is a moment that ought to be compelling to anyone who can sit and listen; Shulman talks about how architecture affects everyone and lists some of the structures that shape our most basic of memories. For a moment you can only agree.

That’s when you realize how right he is. The simple twinkling of the piano and the genteel manner in which we’re presented the idea of Los Angeles being captured by one of this man’s photographs, a woman sitting in a corner of a beautiful modernist structure, is arresting.

Sometimes a trailer inspires you to think beyond what you know and even though I don’t know anyone scrolling at the end other than Gehry I am excited at the prospect to learn.

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

  • Symbol Teaser Trailer - I am not sure I am allowed to comment about the number of baby peni I saw but I did and it was mind bending. This could be the visual equivalent to acid.
  • Messages Deleted Movie Trailer - Larry Cohen seriously needs to stop with these. The trailer looks interesting enough but it just feels like I’ve seen this before. Oh yeah, Phone Booth, Cellular
  • Harry Brown Movie Trailer – Every generation deserves an older guy handing out 6-packs of whoop ass and I couldn’t be more delighted that Michael Caine’s the guy delivering it. Moody, dark and atmospheric, this trailer really brings the noise.
  • The Book of Eli Trailer – I’m burnt out on the charred remains of what’s left after many post-apocalyptic films, but the 80′s drum solo when Denzel starts to flex his knife-fu; the promise that Gary Oldman is bringing some of his sublime, crazy acting back to the screen; and the hint that the action is going to be a cut above your usual actioner has me excited. I want those sunglasses.
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