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 Oath Trailer

I am a Frontline junkie.

Every week I turn into PBS’ strongest series, delving into subjects that are often given short shrift by other news outlets, and find something new about the world I inhabit. Be it a story on the rebuilding of schools in Pakistan or an hour that quietly observed the last days of a dying man’s decision to end his life by suicide, it’s the examination of things without too much editorial interference, not having a slant or a dispositional way of thinking about the subject, which engages me as a viewer. As such, Academy Award nominated director Laura Poitras seems to be concerned with staying out of the way when documenting the real effect our foreign policy has had on the rest of the world post 9/11.

Coming strong out of the gate, putting up this movie won an award at Sundance this year and the “Official Selection” kudos it has earned at festivals, the documentary almost feels like a piece of fiction with how well the shots are composed. There is no interstitial telling us what to think about what we see or hear. It’s haunting in a way.

A man is asked how long he has driven a cab. He seems average, ordinary, plain, but then it socks you: he was Osama Bin Laden’s former bodyguard. The trailer quickly picks up steam as he talks about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s personal stance on interrogation techniques. We see how this cabbie recruited his brother-in-law, Salim Hamdan, into his world only to see Salim detained at Guantanamo and himself, free to operate a livery in Yemen. The facts seem murky but the visual pop this trailer possesses is enough to keep you engaged.

The file footage of reporters asking pointed questions to the government that is detaining Salim and the subsequent reveal that he’s the first prisoner to actually face a military tribunal for what he is alleged to have done. The scrutiny of this case and its implications are well-presented and the quote from the New York Times comes in perfectly as it becomes clear how contentious this story actually is. If the father asking his son, who seems barely able to construct his own sentences, whether he wants to be a mechanic or jihadist and hearing “jihadist” in quiet kid speak doesn’t chill you, it should.

The ending, where our cabbie is asked by an interviewer whether the oath he gave to Osama is still valid? The quiet pause is wonderfully timed to reflect what is probably going to be a film filled with many gray areas. Thrilling.

Auf Der Sicheren Seite (On The Safe Side) Trailer

You’ve got to appreciate when someone takes a mirror to American society, even for a moment, to show you what some other people of the world think of the way we live our lives.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing or a finger-waving thing but, from a sociological standpoint, it’s just nice to have an outsider looking in, documenting a peculiarity we just take as a normal way of life. One of those things, then, and why this trailer made its way into the column this week, is something I’ve never thought about: gated communities.

And why would you think about them, anyway? They’re just places where people who make more money that me live their lives in relatively safe comfort, away from the trappings of street racers or congested streets or just keeping the “riff raff” at bay. You never think someone might think they’re things worthy of a full-length documentary.

I’ll admit that at first there was a feeling of sublime superiority, here was this South African talking about the high walls of her neighborhood with various levels of obstacles to keep the undesirables out and declaration that there has never been a breach of security. Ha ha, silly woman, you’re living in a self-imposed prison. You foreigners are funny.

The music shifts back to an instrumental suite that I would think was popular with my grandma in the Lawrence Welk era and it’s about then when I see Vegas.

The strip, in all its electric glory, blazes forth and you hear the interview which seems to be banal to you and I but, if you’re paying attention, what this resident of a gated community there says about the lives of people living in one should ring true for many. It’s the lives of quiet isolation, the token waves to neighbors in the morning, the night, and the insular living we do when we’re safely in our homes. The interview has teeth because there’s an element of truth to it. I start to feel uneasy as I can at least empathize with the guy talking because it shows you what these kinds of places do to human interaction; it negates it, neutralizes it, in a way.

Bangalore, a bustling metropolis where motorcycles and cars commingle in a sea of petrol fumes and horns, seems so distant as a place but even though it’s in India there’s a feeling of familiarity about this location. It too has gated communities where people’s homes are well taken care of, lawns are manicured, and the environment feels stale and sterile.

My interest in this film comes out of a never ending need to know how not only others perceive the way we live life here in the states but how, as a general idea, what gated communities mean to people in separate parts of the world. [kino-zeit.de]

Cherrybomb Trailer

I dare say that many adults reading this now had their formative years shaped in some way by a similacrum of themselves, or at least the envisioned form of themselves, on the screen.

For me, it was Revenge of the Nerds, a movie that taught me everything I needed to know about what college was absolutely, positively going to be like after a decade after I saw it. The John Hughes oeuvre is an obvious choice when picking a movie that showed me something real about the teenage experience but you can see how some filmmakers are able to tap into that youthful sensibility and throw it across the screen no matter how outlandish in a way, if nothing else, has some element of truth to it. This film looks like it’s no exception and coming from relatively first time directors, co-directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, and writer Daragh Carvills I am surprised by the pep and energy in a trailer that actually has me pumped for a movie with Rupert Grint that has having nothing to do with wizardry or repressed homosocialism.

In fact, as the trailer opens up, it is wonderfully vague about what it is we’re seeing here. Is it three friends who are all knocking around, having a good time with one another? Is there a triangle happening here? By all accounts it’s Ron Weasley who has the girl, his buddy more than happy to listen to his buddy’s exploits as Ron recounts them, but it becomes something far more esoteric as we move along in this thing.

The tempo changes from a lilting sonata to an indie rock screech as it looks like debauchery and vandalism is weirdly on the menu. Whatever intimacy is shared by Rupert and the blond obviously takes a turn as we’re led down a path where these two chaps start sharing the pie with one another. There are strange overtones of drug abuse, some light homosexuality (Andrew Fleming’s Threesome and Lynn Shelton’s Humpday are the only other times I think two male friends ever have amorous encounters like this), and a genuine sense that this is really a movie that is operating in non-exploitative territory. Yes, I think it’s a little disingenuous to say that while we have moments of these people in various states of undress but the trailer doesn’t focus on that.

What we’re given here is a trailer that seems to explore a time between these three individuals, much like when we all were teens, when the boundaries of what was acceptable, dumb, silly, appropriate, or right, was still up in the air. I think I would have appreciated, and the trailer could have benefited from, the inclusion of quotes from those who have seen it. It garnered a positive review at Variety and this alone could be enough to push some people over the fence on a movie that looks to take a moment to examine the lives of some teens just being themselves.

Timer Trailer

What’s so bad about quirky?

I may have a deep, festering itch for inventive stories on love and its many forms, but there are some films that just look like they might have nothing more to say than what we already know, presented in a fresh manner. Pushing that idea further, when you start to employ a science fiction element, much like Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind did with its use of technology, you start to bend the way the information is presented and understood. For example, in Eternal one of the lessons about love — that things ought to be allowed to go through their cycle, that the pain of losing someone is there for a reason — was amplified 500% simply by tweaking a few things here, a few things there, and being sincere with the narrative. This trailer, as well, makes me feel like there might be a sliver of that inventiveness within, and that technology will be there to simply reinforce what we already know.

With a film like this I almost feel predisposed to give the trailer a handicap. It doesn’t have big name actors, the production value looks like they did what they could with what they had, but it does have the good sense to just barrel right into things and focus on what we need to know as an audience. The exchange between our female protagonist and the man she’s with is initially confusing but the explanation that’s given with minimal fanfare more than piques my interest to know what is happening.

The idea is a clever one and the way that we motor through the explanation, taking it as normal that people have “timers” to let them know when they’ve found the one, is great. This begins to get at the deeper meaning of the movie. In a land where everything needs to be explained, I like that we have to project our own sensibilities about love on this trailer. To have something gently play out in front of us speaks well of the confidence someone has in this picture.

The subtle tick-tick-tick in the background adds a nice touch to an overall pleasurable final third of this trailer, even though it does get a little mired in sentimentality and bombast, but the final protestation from our lady protagonist, that she wants a guarantee in life, is a curious one. First, it kind of spells out what the trailer was already implying, and it hit a sour note with me because it was doing so well to this point. Second, the trailer was leading me to believe she was going to forgo the whole timer route in order to buck the very thing she thinks she wants. Don’t get me wrong, however; I sto;; think this is one of those films that has something fresh to say about a subject that has been explored and mined since time immemorial.

I would like to think this movie is quirky with a good heart, and this trailer makes me think it has both things going for it.

Slices Of Life Teaser Trailer

I had an English professor in college talk about the power of the short story.

It’s not so much that the long-form narrative is somehow inferior to the short story, he said, but with a story that only lasts for a dozen, two dozen pages you have to earn every single word on that page. You have to be efficient, he said. I’ve never forgotten that when looking at a movie that is a collection of short films or shorts in general because it’s nonetheless relevant. Here, in this trailer for a genuine independent horror film, I was reminded of what’s possible if you just have the passion to create something meaningful.

Director and co-writer Anthony G. Sumner, along with writers Alan Rowe Kelly and Eric Richter, brings a story that feels more like a compendium than it does one single film. Feeling like a cross between Freddy’s Nightmares, Monsters, and Tales from the Darkside, the trailer just roars right out of the gate with nothing more than a close-up of a phonograph being used and a lovely young fräulein splayed out on some grass, the camera turning slowly. It’s haunting and I love it because we’re given zero information about what’s going on in front of us. No interstitial, no voiceover, nothing to indicate what it is we’re seeing.

The music is the only thing needed, actually, to carry us through this trailer because the visuals do more to help put into motion the events of the movie than someone flat out explaining it to us. Yeah, it might help to know why we cut away from an idyllic, pastoral moment to some blood encrusted corpse laying on a slab, smash cutting to a suburban tract house where a party is ostensibly being planned, but it’s a bold choice not to and I feel drawn in. The next minute or so is filled with these moments that all seem unrelated. The music gets a little more strained, tense, the action on the screen gets more and more uneasy and it’s about at the 1:15 mark when things invert.

Someone looks like they’re about to get murdered, a woman is covered head to toe in blood (?), another woman is bounded and gagged on a floor, monsters pop up, flesh starts becoming an option, more blood everywhere, guns are drawn, zombies of an unknown variety creep on the screen, and it all culminates into one of the more poignant, if not ribald, interstitials I’ve seen in some time.

I appreciate that this trailer is able to get me excited in much the same way the idea of Trick r’ Treat did when it came out. I have a fondness for short story horror and this movie looks like it can capture that same sensibility if it can be as good as this trailer is.

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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