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?


American: The Bill Hicks Story Trailer

Superlatives would be useless when describing the comedic and philosophic influence Bill Hicks had on my maturation.

From thinking about politics, pop culture, governments, to explaining how the combo of Chuck Norris and terminally ill people would make the greatest movie of all time, the man had something to say. To that point, beyond just listening to the man’s CDs, I would have to state on the record that reading Bill Hicks: Agent of Evolution is a good start to fully understanding the man behind the mic.  This trailer would be a good visual companion if what’s being sold is to be believed.

To me, opening with a quote from some random famous dead person is a little tired and weak. Yeah, it  usually contextualizes what is about to follow in a grandiose way but bric-a-brac Cracker Jack quotes just feel lazy. I do like, however, the emblems of all the festivals this movie has played at, always a good thing to come out of the gate declaring, and the opening clips we get of Hicks on stage. There is also the issue of the weirdly generic music in the background but the New Yorker quote that Hulks the man up a bit at least pushes the trailer in a positive direction. Directors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas certainly have a wholly original style of their own as this plumb doesn’t feel like your average documentary and, shaking off the opening moments, the trailer picks up steam.

At about the forty second mark the trailer genuinely becomes something special. The music changes to Sia’s “Breathe Me” without the words,  it’s hypnotic, as the screen drops four, very positive, reviews of the movie all at once. This is the meat of the trailer, the blending of live action and animated still photographs which we’ve all seen in documentaries as of late as a way to make it “feel” like the stationary is in motion.

The last third of this thing just explodes with visual crunchiness that blends animation, Hicks’ footage, his voice, all the while getting faster and faster as it hits the high notes of explaining what he was trying to do with his comedy. It’s compelling as a documentary and, as a fan, I was convinced this could be the kind of movie that could feed my need to get more of this visionary comedian. Unlike Tupac, there isn’t an endless stream of new ideas making its way from beyond the grave but this is nonetheless a trailer that does give us something new about a man who more people should take a moment and listen to.

The Secret In Their Eyes (El Secreto De Sus Ojos) Trailer

Hot off the heels of his 1991 film The Boy Who Cried Bitch, director Juan José Campanella has brought us an Academy Award winning foreign language film about deception, of murder, of people who are shown looking in all different directions.

I know the title of the film has eyes in it but, man alive, the use of the different ways people avert or cast their eyes just threaten to overwhelm a trailer that is neither very compelling nor very good.

One of the issues, I think, just beyond the screaming pronouncement before you even see any footage that this won the gold for Best Foreign Language Film, along with a picture of a little statute just in case you’d like to gaze upon its shiny yellow skin, is the way this is constructed. I can say that I honestly wanted to be shown a movie that beat out the other spectacular films in its field but the hyperbolic quote that gets us started, again, before we see any footage at all, builds this thing up to Mount Olympus proportions and does not deliver.

What we get is a lesson in obfuscation. We meet our protagonist who seems to be a writer who somehow is involved with a murder that is talked about in such cryptic ways that I don’t get what we’re supposed to be zeroed in on. You’ve got some lawyer, I think, who likes to talk in clever quips, some dude who shoots things up with a Tommy gun, and a story that I don’t know where to begin in understanding it.

By the end of this thing I am completely lost and if you were someone who just happened to stumble on it without knowing what’s going on in this movie you’d pass immediately as well. There isn’t a hook, anything to hold onto, in this trailer and it’s obvious that this was either done in a hurried manner to get a trailer out there or people are being way too obsequious about a movie that looks as interesting as a melodramatic telenovela.

THE SQUARE Official Trailer from The Square on Vimeo.

The Square Trailer

If you’re going to have a quote calling your movie one of the best pieces of film noir since Body Heat you better come correct with a little something better than a trailer that gives me every reason why I should skip 90% of your movie just to get to the end in order to see where the double-crosses start unfolding. Keeping in mind, as well, that Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert disagreed on the staying power of Body Heat, leading me to wonder how I fall on this one after being thoroughly confounded by this film’s trailer.

It’s not so much that director Nash Edgerton has made something that fails to utilize the opportunity a trailer can give a filmmaker but the trailer is only able to do so much with something that’s inherently complex, as is some noir is want to do, and it shows.

I think it’s weird we start off with a couple who rewards themselves with returning a dog who strays into their backyard by making out on the porch of the person they’ve returned it to (how is this not bizarre is beyond my ken obviously). It does help, however, that we are given interstitials that spell out out we have an affair going on, a betrayal happening, and some revenge thrown in for good measure. The lack of a coherent plot, I would assert, doesn’t really harm this trailer in that we’re given really a bare bones glimpse into the twisted tale of a guy who seems to be at the epicenter for a whole lot of terrible but it would have been nice to get a little more insight why I should care at all.

The final third of this thing, after the storylines are loosely established, just mixes in quotes from notable notables that essentially all praise Allah in support of this guy’s ability to be just the like the Cohen brothers back in the day. The scenes that are tossed at the screen like cooling spaghetti are utterly useless, however, as this is not Iron Man 2; very fast quick clips that have no context for a movie like this just make me even more confused as I try and think about what in the world is happening. Why is this guy running away? Why is he driving like a maniac? Who are all these people he’s fighting? Why is he fighting them?

All these things are questions I shouldn’t be asking myself as this trailer is selling its wares to me because I should be fully zeroed in on the message which ought to be, “Come watch me!” But I’m not as I’m frustrated and wondering what everyone else has seen in this movie that I obviously cannot.

Kajínek Trailer

At about the 40 second mark in this trailer a car goes careening off a ramp. It’s just floating in the air, just seemingly weightless, as it fades into a dude doing pushups fading out to a S.W.A.T. team ready to break down a door.

This is all you need to know about this movie.

The trailer had me riveted from the opening, the way in which it just threw away any pretense to add in dialogue or exposition or, for that matter, an explanation of the movie as it just sticks to the fun parts of a Fugitive meets Rambo kind of movie.

Yes, I abhor trailers that want to be all creative with the way they partition information and I hate the ones that try and keep it from me but, for a piece of marketing madness like this, seeing a guy on the run with the sound of heart beating in the background forgives this usual break in etiquette. We fade out, then in, a technique that may be used a little too much in this I have to point out, and see a gun blast, fade out, fade in, see a guy get shot in the passenger seat of a car, fade out, fade in, see a pretty lady using her fingers as a gun as she tries to recreate something. It’s a tease and it works well.

We see our protagonist running through a forest, away from the po-pos as fast as he can, the pretty lady comes back and it looks like she’s a lawyer, a heavy and fast drum beat just amps up the awesome as we get faster and faster with the clips that all kind of make sense in a warped way before, hush, a car careens off a ramp.

And then it goes quiet.

Our man is never labeled a psychopath or a sympathetic character and, frankly, this is where the trailer really sets itself apart. By keeping this bit of information vague, it’s apparent that his legal representation is trying to piece things together, ostensibly so we too can make our own choices on this, and we are getting a glimpse into a movie that looks like it is going to be filled with action and some very quiet moments where our little prisoner is being held in solitary.

What a wicked good piece of marketing from director Petr Jákl, actor in xXx and EuroTrip, but who obviously can make something look ferocious. There is just something here and the trailer makes you believe it could be something you would want to spend your time watching.

Jake Teaser from Alastair Tye Samson on Vimeo.

Jake Trailer

Part of the allure that goes along with a movie like Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind was that within the layers of dense concept that makes no real sense in the logical world there was a very real, very compelling love story that slowly withered before our eyes. I like high concept if you can do something with it, infuse humanity somewhere in it. To that end, this independent film looks like it has managed to marry both humanity and high concept in a way that’s fresh and interesting.

What’s most exciting about this trailer for a film by first-time writer/director Doug Dillaman is the way we just get in and get out with the information and presentation. We’re not lingering in any way trying to find out what it is we’re seeing, as the opening sequence essentially tells us everything we need to know: Our protagonist Jacob seems like an ineffectual everyman who isn’t making any great impressions on anyone. His life’s a bore, his family’s a bore, he has a quirky friend that is obviously there for the comedic relief and everything is pointing at generic indie that wants to be nothing more than just an exercise in metaphysical navel gazing about the meaning of existence. Again, what’s interesting about the trailer is that we don’t waste any time in pushing past this and revealing the heart of the film.

It’s when we see a new person literally introducing himself as the individual taking the place of the character we thought we would be following throughout the movie energizes the interest I thought was lost in what appeared to be mediocre material. The story wants us to believe, and I don’t know how, that this person who looks nothing like the guy we were following until now to is going to go about this guy’s daily duties and live his life for him. The concept is broken down relatively quick and we don’t have much time to linger on the possibilities. And I think this is one of the trailer’s problems if it had any. I would like to know more about what is going to happen in this film, I want to see more of how people respond to this “stand-in” living in the space once occupied by a guy who will probably, no doubt, find the backbone needed in order for him to live his own life by the end of this movie.

The premise is just so interesting that keeping it to almost a minute ought to be tantamount to teasing. There is a way to keep information back and only taunt your audience but there is so much more that should have been expanded here, and could have elevated my interest in this movie higher, that I am left feeling like I not only didn’t see enough.  I wanted to see more in order to make my mind up about the movie. As it stands, however, I am a fan of an independent movie that wants to do more than just playing it straight, take a risk with an original idea.

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

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