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?


Waiting For Superman Trailer

I realize a lot of readers out there don’t have kids of their own and to them I will say this: the smart money is on the bet that the public school system where you live isn’t doing a very good job.

Myself, I wish I could move as far away from Arizona as I could. We’re consistently one of the last states ranked with regard to quality of education and it consistently bothers me. The Twilight Zone fact of the matter is that no one seems to care as the rich are able to put their brood in private school while the rest of us have to fend for ourselves in making these campuses of learning worthwhile through lots of personal involvement. My perception of the issue is that it’s a never ending battle between schools who are begging for more money and the governments who are consistently asking them to do more with less. Thankfully, filmmaker of An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim, has decided to follow up his two Oscar wins with a movie about the state of education in America.

The way we slide into this trailer is clever. It’s a one two punch with having a couple of delightful kids who tell us what they want to be when they grow up. One, a teacher, the other, a nurse. It’s all very begin when you have a Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the D.C. public school system casually talk about the ruinous education these kids are getting and so begins the process of chipping away at the façade that America the Great is succeeding in training these human beings who want to be something, do something, in their lifetime.

Then the animated graphs come out.

I don’t know about you but I am, and will always be, a visual learner so it delights and horrifies me to see where we rank in the world with regard to math and science skills. Again, it’s a one two punch with showing this statistic but it then follows this up by showing us how we are the leader of another statistic: confidence in ourselves. Cue packs of screaming kids just happy to be out of school, play Green Day’s “American Idiot” in the background, and then show a tool careering off a ramp on his Mongoose and into the side of an apartment building. Yeah, there is some slanted propaganda here. But, so what? It is illustrating a problem that has been festering for some time and I, for one, am being sold on the hypothesis.

There is talk of a lottery for some school aged children that doesn’t make much sense to me, I assume it has to do with some lucky kids being eligible to attend a much better school than they’re in, but when you have Bill Gates make an appearance to talk about the importance of rage and passion to change the system, probably the school system, you just have to listen.

Something about this movie just piques my interest in a way that’s personal and it hits all the right emotional chords to get someone like me fired up to see what’s going on.

Sound of Noise Trailer

Ever have a moment after a long day, you’re exhausted, you’re driving home, and you find yourself transfixed on the lines on the road? It’s highway hypnosis and I sometimes enjoy it. There’s almost a calming, repetitive feeling to seeing the lines, one after another, streak by the car.

This trailer has that kind of hypnotic effect where you can’t help but just let the film wash over you, disarming your impulse to try and decipher what in the world is going on. No matter that it’s not in American, so you won’t understand it anyway, but the latest from the Swedish filmmaking team of Johannes Stjarne Nilsson and Ola Simonsson, those who brought us Spättans väg (gotta love a title with a double umlaut) and Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, are back with a movie that just feels fresh and exciting.

I obviously don’t speak Swedish but, if I did, I would recognize that a guy getting torqued at someone playing their music at an inappropriate level in the office, getting read the riot act, is, on some comedic level, amusing to me. He’s so satisfied at having squashed this problem, the scene playing out longer than anything usually allowed in a trailer, but I am glued to what I just saw.

Count off 1, 2, 3, 4, and we get a drum intro that sounds close to the Go-Go’s “We Got The Beat.” Over and over again the beat plays on. A woman drives a van as she reaches for a metronome (odd) and slaps it on the dashboard. She is pounding her head to the beat, getting into the beat, staring into the rear-view mirror. 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, the same beat plays. We pan into the back of the van and a guy with a sport coat is playing with a full drum kit. The driver is weaving, speeding, and the drummer is a champ as he keeps going with the same pattern over and over again.

The camera movements, the music accompaniment, the cinematography, it all adds up to a trailer that defies explanation but utterly demands your attention. Willingly, and gladly, I give it. And just when you think it’s going to stop…It changes tempo and starts to really sizzle. At this point I could care less about the plot as I am just in love with what I am seeing on the screen.

However, when a cop on the side of the road decides to pull over this van that’s a-rockin’ the most strange thing happens: the guy kicks open the back doors, starts shouting at the cop who’s trying to pull them over, and hurls all his drums one at a time at the po-po on his motorcycle.

I don’t know what I just saw but I want more. Lots more. [Twitch]

Calvin Marshall Trailer

I used to think that Happy Gilmore was Adam Sandler’s movie about a guy with no discernible talent who would eventually use his inability and turn it into his opportunity. Then I realized, after all these years, it was all just an excuse to have Rob Schneider in his movie.

The thing I love about movies that have an underdog is that they’re not required to do much beyond being complete failures. Life, for the most part, is like that anyway and to have that personified in a lovable loser who eventually has that one moment in the sun to show everyone that they’re not homogeneously broken as a human being is something special. Steve Zahn is a lot like that kind of person. The guy is just on that edge of being much more than a character actor yet he’s just not leading man material. However, in this trailer, he embodies everything that’s right about what we all should like about the man as an actor.

The opening sequence has no airs, no pretension, nothing to indicate it wants to do anything else but tell a story. Even though any good teacher of writing will tell you opening up on a tale to the sound of an alarm clock is a pretty lazy way of going about introducing your story, the presence of Zahn as a crazed coach of a baseball team that looks well stocked with gimps and rejects more than makes up for that.

Our protagonist (Alex Frost) playing the part of Marshall is incredible in that the last film I saw him in, Elephant, the kid was mowing down high school kids without an ounce of compassion in his eye. But, here, he just brims with goodness and a certain charm. Throw a girl into the mix, add a little Zahn craziness as he parses the particulars of stalking versus scouting, and you’ve got yourself a pretty cozy romantic comedy of sorts.

The cinematography seamlessly weaves itself into what’s happening on the screen, allowing me to feel a level of reality and believability to this already interesting trailer. To say nothing of the strong last third of this trailer, we get minimal interference with someone telling us what this movie is all about plus a delightful musical interlude that really drives home that this Marshall is someone special and, dare I say it, I buy what they’re selling hook, line and sinker.

It may not be major league material but it more than shows it has what a lot of trailers lack: a chance to be sought out and watched in its entirety.

Thieves By Law Trailer

A lot has been made of the rise of the oligarchy in modern Russia.

Communism went head to head with capitalism and lost painfully but there are those who made out quite nice, thank you very much. But those who were able to rise above their station in life and snatch what they felt was theirs is the interesting story here. It’s the Russian mafia’s role in the establishment of capitalism that intrigues me as the story of the Russian mafia is one that only gets explained in vague terms, a plot point that’s referenced in movies in a smoky, opaque manner. It’s men with machine guns that seem ruthless and kill without regard for honor or tact (read here: Training Day’s ending), and it seems like there has never been a good exploration of this segment of the criminal population outside of a one-off History Channel presentation.

The latest from filmmaker Alexander Gentelev who, appropriately enough, made a documentary on the changing face of Russia thanks to new money, is back with a movie that focuses on three men who went into the mafia trade only to come out on the other side with a lot of stories to tell.

The trailer is a special one in that it’s not showy or flamboyant. Whereas some would open with scattered black and white photos of dead people on a street, video of some guy being hauled off in handcuffs, of guns blazing forth in a manner we all would find fascinating, there is a subdued introduction to the men we’re going to talk to. One guy is quietly cliff jumping, one is gently talking about how if given the chance to do it over that he would, and one is skeet shooting while coyly admitting to popping a cap or two into some people…to defend his honor and/or life.

This is so unlike any mob movie you’ve ever seen, or trailer for that matter. The music is oddly chosen for what’s happening on the screen; the tense soundtrack doesn’t jive with the pedestrian manner in which some guy talks about enjoying the finer things in life, in his yellow fuzzy boat anchor slippers. But that’s about when the confessions start coming out.

Against the backdrop of the file footage I was just waiting for (big ups for using that video of a severed head), these guys start spilling. One of the guys talks about popping some cad for calling him a bad name without any hesitation whatsoever on his part, another talks about how he managed to narrowly escape his own execution, these stories are being told in such a casual manner I am frightened by these guys. These men exude a certain vacancy behind the eyes that you don’t see much outside of an action film. They feel like the real deal and the trailer does an excellent job in pulling these moments out of these former mobsters in a way that makes you feel uneasy.

If there ever was a battle to end all battles between Russian mobsters and the Italian Mafioso, after seeing this trailer, there is no question I would put my money on the Ruskies. I wouldn’t do anything to harsh their buzz.

Countdown To Zero Trailer

I watch a trailer like this and all I hear is echoes of Clarence from Robocop as a phalanx of pistols and firearms are brandished at a negotiating table.

Sure, the “Guns, guns, guns” chant doesn’t really apply here with regard to nuclear weapons but the context is entirely appropriate: who will pull the trigger first and do you hope the other guy doesn’t squeeze one off before you have a chance to pull first?

From Lucy Walker, director of Devil’s Playground, a documentary on young Amish individuals celebrating rumspringa, and an indeterminate amount of episodes for Blue’s Clues, comes a trailer that honestly gets me in a pensive state of mind. I like to be challenged with information about hot button topics and what better subject to explore than nuclear proliferation. Plus, and this is huge, it looks like there are neat animations to help my ADD-addled mind focus.

The opening is pretty dramatic with scenes of mass destruction through the eyes of security cameras and after shots of the damage left by what is, ostensibly, mass explosions. I’m confused as I thought this was about nuclear weapons and what I see seems to be the destruction made by man-made bombs. No matter, however, as the voiceover comes correct real fast with the statistic: there are approximately 23,000 nuclear weapons in the world. The accompanying animation is slick, impressive.

Now comes the fear mongering.

Look, I believe that rouge nations are seeking this weaponry for their own use but this trailer is pretty influential as it paints Iran and North Korea to be these crazed nation-states that are greedily looking to get these nukes at any means necessary. The music, all percussion and evoking of sense of doom and gloom, could haven’t have been more masterfully chosen.

Listening to the little yarn about the rocket America launched in Norway to study the northern lights, only to have Russia mistake it as a missile invasion and then prepare a retaliatory nuclear strike, is powerful stuff when you’re trying to get people’s attention. Again, it’s effective as are the quick clips showing heads of state, and former heads of state, who all say that we should just get rid of nuclear weapons. Music swells underneath it all as average Joes and kids on the street say we should strive for nuclear disarmament. Man, this one effective trailer if you’re looking to hit that sweet spot of Audi driving, Wild Oats buying, no TV watching, all organic breakfast cereal eating, movie viewer.

The file footage of John F. Kennedy, as he proclaims that we should abolish these weapons, is a nice touch and kicks up that prideful, hippie kind of feeling in your chest to proclaim that we get rid of these bothersome devices. I’m just not so sure that should be the case.

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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