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?

Becoming Chaz Trailer

Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato are the film equivalent of sociological documentarians. If ever there was a duo who have damn well spent a lifetime’s worth of talent exploring the nooks and crannies of our society, from highbrow to lowbrow, these men have done it. From Hitler, to Traci Lords, to The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Inside Deep Throat, Party Monster, Million Dollar Listing, their resume makes for some endlessly fascinating reading when you consider the breadth of their work. Here, then, is a trailer for yet another subject that many people have some tangential grip on but may not understand thoroughly. This is Bailey and Barbato’s strength, this is what they’re great at doing, and it shines through ever so briefly in this swift trailer.

I know about as much as you when it comes to the actual events that led up to why we would be following the daughter of Sonny and Cher on a very personal journey. However, just like Bailey and Barbato’s Eyes of Tammy Faye, there’s a baseline that’s established at the outset in this trailer in order to get everyone on the same page. It shows Chaz Bono for who he was then, as a little girl, and now as a man looking to establish his identity in a world where he says he’s fought inward confusion and uncertainty. What is so effective about this promo is that it cuts right to the parts of this story that are relevant and doesn’t mess around with grandiose themes or meandering metaphors. There’s no gristle here.

Seeing Cher being slightly glib about it all “At some point I’m going to have to start calling her a him” punctures the natural question of how Chaz’ mom feels about her daughter’s journey to where he’s going but it’s also the honesty that gets me. The material here is spread out before us in snippets and shows us what it’s like to be on this path towards a new life, a new identity. I think one of the other things it does do well is serve as a guide for those of us who look at a story like this as a learning opportunity, to find out more about about what it’s like to live as a transgender at this point in history and in this country.

Blood In The Mobile Trailer

I didn’t realize that there was a new precious metal on the market that wasn’t gold or silver.

Danish filmmaker Frank Piasecki Poulsen has made something that looks not only timely but appears to blend elements of a story you would see on Frontline with the kind of danger associated with covering an ongoing war. The great thing about the trailer is that doesn’t beat you over the head with the facts about our obsession for things like iPads and smartphones and the very thing we’re about to see here in order to make them. It eases you into this conflict, this debate.

It scrolls just the high points about the civil war in Congo, a place where many of us have just grown numb to the millions who have died there in the decade and a half long battle amongst themselves, but then rockets us into the story proper and what it is we’re doing here, why we should even care.

Poulsen does an excellent job as narrator, realizing that giving subtle teases wouldn’t be enough to provide enough context of what it is he has set out to do, as he doles out information specifically tied to this journey. Yes, it’s about the mobile phone/computing industry getting its hands dirty with tangential ties to what we see is essentially heavily fortified work camp but it’s still very specific in its focus. It’s one mine, one representative sample, and it’s only then when that’s juxtaposed with shots of mobile devices glistening in all their convention hall luster.

It’s simple Marketing 101 messaging, guilt by association, but the trailer’s good at not only getting you interested in the story of how these people survive these heinous conditions but, alternatively, how companies like Nokia are dealing with the rising awareness of these electronic  “blood diamonds” for the 21st century.

Behind The Walls (Derriere Les Murs) Trailer

In my (unintended) series this week of duos directing films we continue with this gem from Julien Lacombe and Pascal Sid. While neither has made something worth noting this looks like an explosive start to a career in long form filmmaking.

What I think makes this a thrilling trailer is that it doesn’t really show you anything. It doesn’t want to show any specters, any ghouls, any hobgoblins, nothing of the paranormal. It simply starts by showing a dainty woman stepping off a train to spend some time alone in a nice looking chateau. What it does well, then, is establishing a tense feeling. The music that seems to be just one note being played over and over again is evocative and haunting as we’re just waiting for this woman to get decapitated at any moment, just mauled by a seven foot tall demon. She’s wandering through an empty house which ought to be fairly benign on its own but it just gets a little more eerie, and a lot more interesting, as we push forth in watching her gingerly tiptoe from room to room.

The bathtub, the bed, these moments that show you when it is we’re going to have some fun with the supernatural is all reminiscent of Insidious. Apart from being one of the better movies I’ve ever seen in this genre, at a PG-13 price point, that film’s trailer feels very much like this one. It simply does not want to give anything away and it wants to hold on to as much of the thrills as it can while also promising and telegraphing the idea that this could be a fun ride. And hopefully it does want to go for the more classical scares, again why Insidious worked so well, as it comes down to direction and mood.

If they’re able to make a movie here that is as concerned with technique as it is with wanting to make a good trailer then it could be one to watch out for as this import makes its way to our shores. [Twitch]

The Last Rites Of Joe May Trailer

Consider this my one and only public plea to hang with someone of great public visibility. I would love to hang out for one afternoon with Dennis Farina. In Chicago. With an Old Style. Watching this commercial at the 4:50 mark to kick off the day. I could care less about his performance in Get Shorty or Snatch. I want to talk beer. And, from the looks of it, the character here is all about the booze. Honestly, this just looks like a Farina showcase like no other and this trailer sells Dennis perfectly.

Director/writer Joe Maggio has a taken a novel approach to the trailer medium by interspersing clips of the film with still photos of the scenes that are being played out before us. It’s like watching a slideshow with the audio track of a movie still playing in the background. It’s different but I like it. It doesn’t feel gimmicky in any way and lends itself, actually, to being able and focus on what’s being said instead of paying attention to things that don’t matter.

We get that Farina is fresh out prison, that his prospects are limited, that we’re not in a glamorized version of Chicago but the real Chicago where it can be gray and dreary and wet for days on end; where you have to keep your lights on in the middle of day. Dennis is hip deep in his own lingering cloudiness and it’s captured sensationally.

While we don’t really get clued in on what the angle is I’m perfectly fine to let the moments play themselves out, characters presenting themselves and giving out bits and pieces of information in order to create a whole picture of what who Farina is.

When we get the little girl of the movie asking Farina why she heard him cry late into the night, and all we hear is him say “Life, I guess, how things might have been”, that’s what sold me. That’s why I’m giving this movie my money. Watching Dennis walking down a wet sidewalk on a crap looking afternoon, looking dejected, it’s all I can do to wonder how fast this is coming my way.

Dennis, the first round of Old Style at the Signature Room Lounge is on me. [Twitch]

Island Trailer

Our last filmmaking team of the week, directors Elizabeth Mitchell and Brek Taylor, look to have made a film that requires a bit of concentration.

What is so good about a movie that looks like it could be quite involved with regard to untangling a morass of narrative through lines with all the characters in this thing with their varied back stories (it is based on a book after all) is that it puts it all out there at the beginning: our protagonist is out to kill her mother.

We don’t know why or what she has done to deserve that fate but it immediately washes the rest of this thing in a dark patina. The mood is heavy, the cinematography makes it seem like everything is damp, wet, and dank, while the characters we’re given absolutely seem like those created within a book. There’s the distant mother who is lost in her own affectations, the girl who looks like she’s inwardly emoting and pondering at all times (obviously a vestige from having dozens of pages to translate to the screen), and then the boy who has a special relationship with her.

I’m not sure what’s afoot in this strange home where dozens of candles are lit as if this was the 17th century and it’s the only source of light but the violent outbursts and flashbacks to a time long since past adds to that excitement that some real evil is about to sprout up somewhere. And that’s what I genuinely appreciate about this trailer and that’s it’s not going to show you the money shot. It wants you to stay confused, it shows some genuine restraint, and I like that anything is possible. I don’t feel like I’ve been given the whole story.

In fact, I now want the full story and need to know if this ends the way with it begins: with a promise of murder.

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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