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: What better way to hone your skills as a thoughtful moviegoer than by deconstructing these little pieces of advertising? This week we ponder what happens when first contact is made, deal with rape on college campuses, get fatherly advice from Vincent Cassel on how to raise an assassin, explore a moment in underground pop culture, and spend some time with a man who made sense of the Ben Affleck/Bill Maher tussle. 

The Visit Trailer

What should happen if and when alien life makes contact with human beings?

These kinds of thought experiments are usually the fodder for nerds who long to be taken aboard pie-shaped aircraft that could whisk them away to uncharted regions of the galaxy (as long as they can avoid an anal probe) but director Michael Madsen, who directed the fantastic Into Eternity documentary in 2010, is back with a movie that deals with the thought experiment head on. The trailer is simple but fantastic in its execution. By leading us down these small moments of parts unknown, with no one to provide a clear explanation of what we’re supposed to make of all this, it keeps us off balance. However, once we hit our stride at about the :30 mark it all becomes obvious about what’s happening, why people are speaking the way they are. It’s a fantastic fantasy of the unknown and how we’re trying to prepare for a moment that, if you’re a negative Nellie, will never come. It’s nonetheless one of those trailers that is composed so well that you have no other feeling by the end of it than to feel like you need to see more. Those at Sundance this year will be able to do just that.

The Hunting Ground Trailer

Rape.

The way in which the word rape has seeped into our collective consciousness as an invective to hurl at the most egregious of human violations is, at the very least, some kind of indication that we are moving forward as a culture. On college campuses, though, the bastions where the fountains of knowledge, propriety, and progressive dialogue, you would think, flow free. Documentarian Kirby Dick, though, who gave us the emotionally biting and sobering look at the politics of sexual assault within the US military in the 2012 Oscar nominated doc The Invisible War, isn’t done with examining rape in large scale institutions.  The trailer is as effective as anything you would think about a documentary on rape on college campuses should be and the real answer to “Why does it appear that colleges operate under some kind of different legal system than you or I are used to?” is right there. At least the hypothesis is and it’s sickeningly troubling. The trailer hits the high points about what is most likely afoot and why this is a systemic issue within the higher educational system. It should make you sad, it should make you angry, and it should remind you about the forces at play when there are those who put the reputation of a brand above the rule of law.

Partisan Trailer

There are times when I’m convinced that Vincent Cassel can look straight through to my soul.

It’s just something to wonder, thinking about how Cassel has this fluid ability to be so damn intense and, at times, light and airy like a freshly baked Madeline. This trailer is one of those former moments. I don’t know what director Ariel Kleiman is up to but if the trailer for his wildly received short Deeper Than Yesterday is any indication it will be glorious. This teaser/trailer is testament to the insane amount of impact you can have if you compose things a certain way, position others, and bringing it home with a moment that begs to be understood, snatching it away before you have a chance to resolve it. There might be oodles and oodles of information explaining what it is that we’re witnessing but when I see a little kid with a heater who is ready to kill someone in what looks like a remote, bombed out outpost enclave of Bavarian freedom fighters you’ve got my attention, my curiosity, and, soon, my money. Cassel as a father looks ready to kill and, soon, his boy will be too. Damn anyone who is able to see this when it shows at Sundance.

The Beaver Trilogy – Part IV Trailer

First, listen to this particular This American Life story. It’s about as strange and odd, yet wildly engrossing, as anything you’ll hear this week.

To think that this moment in time still has a life of its own and managed to get a documentary made of it is not only wild, it’s flat-out amazing. Documentary filmmaker Brad Besser, with narration help from Bill Hader, is going down a road here in the trailer that is damn near unsettling. We don’t really get any indication about the bizarre circumstances involved in how we’re going to know our subject and what it is, exactly, that brings us together today but it makes the mystery of all this so much more delicious. By withholding the real hook of why this could be just an enjoyable examination into one of the last real underground moments in history that not a lot of people know about, they not only should be commended but they should be praised for showing such butt-puckering stinginess in giving us the goods.

Mad as Hell Trailer

I fell in love with Cenk Uygur when he dissected the Ben Affleck/Bill Maher kerfuffle that erupted over Islam.

From an epistemological vantage point of breaking this conversation down to its essence parsing moments of this debate which were filtered through Uygur’s point of view was a fascinating watch. I don’t know much about Uygur or his operation but the trailer is just money. Here’s a brash guy who has a point of view, who seems rather learned about the world, about politics, and appears to have carved a niche for himself in a landscape littered with bloviating blowhards and butt-heads. I’m intrigued by his story, his ascent, his chance at greatness, and what appears to be the tale of what happens when that gold ring is snatched from your fingers when you’re that close to realizing your dream. Director Andrew Napier appears to have constructed something with this guy’s story that makes Uygur a genuine underdog. The promise this trailer has to live up to is whether it captures the ascent and how it deals with the events that follow when it reaches its turning point.

Nota 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 or look me up via Twitter at @Stipp

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

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