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?

Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light) Trailer

For all the blowhardy things I say about what makes this trailer a good one or that one a miserable failure there always seems to be one that just, well, is. There isn’t anything extraordinary about these trailers. They defy normal rubrics. You watch them with rapt attention not because it’s stellar or wonderful but because it’s saying something worthy enough to be paid attention to.

I am unfamiliar with the work of Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán, a glance at his IMDB page shows that the man seems to have garnered quite the number of accolades and awards for his work, but that changes now. It’s constructed so delicate, this trailer, that it feels fragile as you sit and experience it.

The doling out of back-story, the way our narrator smoothly talks over what should be stark images of our planet, is done interestingly. Noting that one of the world’s best places to put a telescope is an arid patch of land, and the only patch of land in the world, that has no humidity is a factoid I never knew. The music swells as we catch grand images of our celestial sky, the Cannes logo not appearing until just then, as we push into the universe.

Really, you can’t undersell how perfect the music is here. It all feels kind of Disney with its sense of awe and wonder and neutralness but then someone flips the script.

The punch comes from out of nowhere and catches you with its right hook. You think this is going to be something in the vein of IMAX’ Hubble but then we see a vast desert, the Atacama Desert from the opening sequence, and women bent over the flat, crusted earth. You wonder what they are looking for as this is, ostensibly, a movie about a telescope but then it says the word “Pinochet.” The mood changes.

Seems that the very same desert where these telescopes were placed was also the area where Augusto Pinochet took his political prisoners to die. The stark contrast between the gorgeousness of the universe and the sadness of seeing women hunched over looking for body parts years after that animal’s actions is arresting. The trailer doesn’t get too deep with the meaning and symbolism of this, and how it all fits in, but it does lay the groundwork.

I’ve got to know how these two are linked and I am now needing to see how the narrative meshes them together.

How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster? Trailer

The Reichstag building is inspiring.

No matter how you feel about modern architecture there simply isn’t a way to complain about this edifice of towering glass and its come hither allure. The trailer does well by opening quietly without any intrusion between us, the viewer, and the thing which we are supposed to be fixated on.

Much like the films Objectified and Helvetica (If you didn’t already know, Erik Spiekermann is a contemporary mad scientist of letters, of form, of weight) we’re not here to take jabs or poke at an idea but to understand the idea behind this building. The openness, the sleek modern touches, the way it seems to breathe, it’s impressive.

The music changes from a simple tug on some violin strings to a more aggressive beat of a war drum as we hear from Norman Foster, the man of the hour, who explains his design philosophy. I can’t help but feel that in some ways it might be downright boring for some people to listen to a guy who talks about the form factors that go into a complex construction of a building like the Reichstag but it might as well be design porn for me.

The tempo changes as the music swells and we get a little faster with the cuts we take, moving from beyond Germany and into Asia, other parts of the world, a documentary that is talking to all kinds of talking heads involved with architectural design (who the hell invited Bono to the party?) and it all crescendos around the 1:20 mark when we get a peek at a bridge that is not just utilitarian in design, it breathes with the environment around it.

I could not be more thrilled at the prospect of seeing this as directors Carlos Carcas and Norberto López Amado look like they’re following in the same footsteps as the most recent films dedicated to examining the art of design.

Blood Ties Trailer

How could I resist?

In my e-mail I received a note from the “director/writer/actor/editor” of a new independent action film. It would have been tossed with the other trailers that don’t really do any thing for me but my curiosities were piqued with the info that this movie, “was filmed in 3 countries, in 6 cities, with a total cast over 100, a crew of 3, and all post, including score, by 1.”

Could this be the sequel that the world has been hankering for after Who Killed Captain Alex was thrust into international stardom? No, sadly, but there’s enough here that delighted me to some degree. It made me remember how much, as a kid, I used to love renting Showdown in Little Tokyo or Red Scorpion, Kickboxer, even Patrick Dempsey’s Run for that matter, for the thrills of watching people get their face caved in.

Normally, clicking the link to someone’s trailer causes me to clench my teeth and watch with one eye but I was impressed with the level of excitement here. There’s a keen intensity to getting the beats right with regard to making sure the usual tropes of action films are present throughout. From our protagonist getting a gunnysack tossed over his head, him taking on packs of dudes with guns, knifes and swords (?) using only the lethal weapons attached to his wrists, to getting the utterly cheeseball dialogue we’ve all come to expect out of a film of this caliber there is no way anything can come close to matching the enjoyment you’ll get out of seeing this.

I would have to assume that when you want to emulate the kinds of movies you always loved growing up, wanting to pay homage to them while crafting your own path, you do what you know and it looks like director/writer/actor Kely McClung wanted to make something that will be easy to digest while getting people riled up while doing it.

Those directors who wanted to become someone of note in the field of ass kickery had to start somewhere and as I ruminated about how you would go about doing that when realizing the basic tenets of action films requite a lot of stunt work, effects, and pyrotechnics the end product here speaks to a lot of ambition and focus. The trailer, for what it is, is really good and hopefully, with a little more money, McClung can go from being an uncredited fight choreographer of American Ninja 4: The Annihilation to being someone who deserves to be mentored when it comes to filling the bombastic britches of Michael Bay once he no longer has the steam to blow crap up.

Tornado Alley Trailer

Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of schadenfreude.

There’s just something about the destructiveness of Mother Nature and all she’s capable of that is utterly fascinating. For every kid in America who has been woken up by a thunderstorm, a whipping wind pushing raindrops against the windowpane hard enough to make you think it was going to burst, there’s a kid in the Midwest or in the South who has been roused out of bed by the very real sound of tornado sirens. The former experience was always assuaged by reinforcing the idea that nothing was going to happen but it was the latter experience, myself being part of that group, that shook you up a bit because you didn’t know what was going to happen.

Sitting in a cold basement, huddled with blankets and a small radio, it was not knowing where these tornadoes were going to strike that amplified the fear and scariness of the event. This trailer captures that chaos.

Screw Twister, a bush league level p.o.s. that was miserable to watch, this trailer ironically begins with Bill “Always Chet To Me” Paxton talking about Tornado Alley. It’s breathtaking to see the scope of the clouds that coalesce into a definitive funnel cloud and it’s at about :20 when we get a beautiful tornado. And props to the people who made this thing, because we stay on it for a good five to seven seconds as we just watch it churn. I realize, in the way of someone’s house equals not cool, that by itself it’s just majestic the way a tornado swirls in such a tight funnel and with definitive force.

And I’ll be goddamned if the quick musical bed that plays beneath the introduction of the yahoos driving a fully armored vehicle towards the savagery wasn’t exciting as all get out.

I like that this isn’t a boring treatise on the ways in which we need to scientifically explore these events, these people are just getting after it. The way the trailer crescendos with things going all different directions, the weather literally changing as they try to find their way into a tornado, people screaming directions, it’s the kind of thing that really tickles a primordial portion of my limbic system. Destruction good.

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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