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?
Painted Skin: The Resurrection Trailer
Never mind that what you have here is a rocket ship ride into your third eye, director Wu’ershan looks to have crafted a vision that, on the surface, seems delicate and brutally pretty.
If it helps, here is a little bit of background:
According to demon lore, it takes hundreds of years to attain human form. Even then, lacking a human heart, a demon cannot experience the true pains and passions of existence. However, there is a legend that if a pure human heart is freely offered to a demon, it can become a mortal and experience true life.
Knowing this, then, I still don’t know what to make of the story as it’s presented here. I’m sure, in theory, that it makes sense to someone but there is no way that this narrative is anything close to cohesive. However, the brilliance here is the way the trailer has a sheen and a patina of something wickedly spectacular. From a woman opening the back of her head, a different woman getting frozen alive, a heart that’s ripped out of someone’s chest, and a guy who wants to go 1:1 with a Kodiak bear armed with nothing but a samurai sword, there is a ton going on here.
The pacing is even and the notion of what we’re seeing is pure fantasy is communicated quite nicely. In fact, as we head towards the end of the trailer where the gentle, magical moments are replaced with full-on battle sequences there is a toughness that comes across which ought to hook anyone who even has a passing interest in these kinds of films. The fantastical elements of the bizarre and the natural mixed in with some beautiful cinematography.
Jay Sun knows how to make Andy Lau look like he’s in full on Blue Steel mode at all hours of the day.
While many can see this as the eastern equivalent of a Mission Impossible, throwaway pablum for dullards who want their action to be simple and fast, it’s nonetheless exciting to have something that doesn’t involve mutants or capes or aliens. A good, old-fashioned action film.
It’s odd that we’ve now moved into a time at the multiplex when it’s a rarity to have normal people acting heroic against bad guys who don’t possess the ability to bend space, time, and physics but a trailer like this gets back to basics with spies and their nemesis’ squaring off in a battle for an end where the hero will absolutely win out and the dastardly antagonist will get their comeuppance.
What’s different about this trailer is, well, nothing much. There is just a frivolity about what you see on the screen, everything from the weak backstory of a spy who has a beautiful lady waiting at home, you have cocktail waitresses on roller-skates who slit throats, a guy in silk boxers who is getting feathered by a pack of lovely lovelies, and all the rappelling you could ever want in a movie.
Frankly, there is just something nice about a movie that could promise to whisk you away to somewhere else and who wouldn’t like to enjoy a movie where you could zone out a bit and enjoy a drama-less, harmless action film that has a little flavor?
The Sapphires Trailer
“Can you make it sound blacker?”
Yes, Kristin Wiig in Bridesmaids was a delight but Chris O’Dowd was doing some of his own heavy lifting.
Director Wayne Blair may have some juice in his native Austrailia for keeping the tv show Lockie Leonard going for a few years but to the rest of the world the sounds of crickets you hear is simply the result of there really being nothing of note to hang a shingle on. However, after seeing the trailer here, I can say that I am keyed in with the kind of film he wants to make.
And it isn’t so much that what we have here are a pack of girls who are looking to strike out on their own as a singing group but that the addition of O’Dowd bringing his flavor to the narrative brings a freshness to a story we’ve all seen before in so many different ways.
There is a definite difference between the beginning of this trailer, which would lead you to believe we have something silly on our hands if you follow what’s going on, and the middle/end of the trailer which transforms this silly story about an A&R/producer of fine music who, of course, is down on his luck but, obviously, is a musical Svengali hidden behind twenty pints of hard cider and covered with a thick coat of stubble and rumpled clothing but who has a good heart. So original.
However, things get a little more serious as this girl group takes off to Saigon. Not unlike the Jamaican bobsled team in Cool Runnings, these girls find their voice and their style. Again, it’s veering into very familiar territory but somehow this feels more genuine and heartfelt. The Vietnam Wat rages in the background as this band of empowered females exert their presence both on and off the stage. I like how we drift between the highs and lows here as it doesn’t try and lather on the melodrama too much but there appears to be some good comedy coming from O’Dowd and, at the end of the day, who doesn’t like a story about some local girls who make good. It’s American. Except, it’s Australian.
Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie Trailer
It seems like directors Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy Newberger are nearly a couple of decades late in championing the mouth that launched dozens of imitators.
However, it was Morton Downey Jr.’s approach to talk television and obnoxious political theater that still resonates today with the rubes and talking heads who are desperate for ratings and will gladly make caricatures out of themselves to gain a few ratings points in an era where it’s about sound bites, headlines, vapid opinion making, that make people take notice.
The trailer here capitalizes on that and it seems almost an extension of the blowhardy firebrands we’re so used to in our pundits who want to make a name for themselves by being outrageous. Going down that path, though, brings up interesting questions of how much of it is an act, how much of it is desperation to be liked and gain rating points, and whether that train really can continue to be fueled by being over the top. Downey, here, is showcased exactly how he would’ve liked to be perceived: a ringmaster of opinionated talk.
The trailer balances that sense of how large his persona was and how it seemed to strike something deep within those who saw it as a gateway for guys like Rush Limbaugh who would eventually look at the format and find a way to bend it to their own will. It’s a movie that appears to tie together all the threads of what made this man of gab so influential but how others who came behind him figured out how to keep it going without drawing swastikas on their own faces.
Glory Hole Trailer
I thought this was about Scott Campbell. The OTHER one. You know, the one who makes those gnarly cartoon drawings? Never mind, though, as this seems awfully insane. In a good way.
Never minding the fact that what you have here is a tattoo artist who is adored as someone blessed with the kind of noblesse oblige of the masses who flock to meet him, which is pretty interesting on its own, as he’s rock star famous in this circle who know about him, this documentary takes a quick turn to the super interesting when Campbell expresses his lack of enthusiasm for events like his own book signing. It gets interesting when we see that, as a way to no doubt amuse himself, offers fans the opportunity to have an original piece of skin art. And not just any art, it’s art that he decides on, at random, and the recipients of which have no say and can’t see until it’s all done.
This is must-see TV.
The way this small promo builds up anxiety around the event, getting a quick soundbite from people who are going to become willing participants in a stunt that will last a lifetime, is sharp. Even I get anxiety seeing people unsure of what’s to become of their bare flesh. The fact we’re not rewarded with a peek at the finished creation only makes me wish that when the trailer said “STAY TUNED FOR THE FULL VIDEO COMING SOON” that it actually fulfilled that promise. As it stands, it’s just leaving me all worked up.
First Winter Trailer
It’s a little strange, to be sure.
This is not your everyday survivalist picture but director Benjamin Dickinson has some unique flourishes that shine though brightly. With hints of Marcy May Marlene echoing through its run time the real draw is the uncertainty of what it is that we’re seeing here.
The music is wonderfully placed in a trailer that could have had some very eerie and ominous overtones. The subject matter of what the movie is about is left completely out of what we’re seeing and, to be honest, I’m glad it does because it only punctuates the final moment of this so much more. I’m transfixed by Paul Manza’s complete transformation into a man who seems to be part cult leader, part yoga teacher, and all around love interest to the ladies who inhabit this secluded farm where all sorts of odd things are going down, to say nothing of that facial hair.
There’s an almost drained energy here when it comes to punctuating moments that we can latch onto but that’s the brilliance of this trailer. It’s a puzzle that it wants you to put together and it wants to live and die by the visual story it’s telling. It’s wide open for interpretation and just as soon as you think you have it all figured out, the final moment showing that black plume rising from miles away let’s you know this isn’t reactionary, it’s legit.
Trailers for the Blind: Safe
I am a fan of Adam Witt. The guy is some sort of percentage, I’m bad at math, of the comedic supergroup Schadenfreude. (You’ve heard of them, they did that funny Really Drunk Cubs Fan on Opening Day) Long and short of it is that he, and fellow contributor to The Movie Guys, Paul Preston, thought it would be funny to offer a service to the sight impaired public by giving a blow-by-blow of a movie trailer. Here, they look at Safe and the results couldn’t have been funnier.
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
In case you missed them, here are the other trailers we covered at /Film this week:
- Hyde Park on the Hudson Trailer – Appears to be absolutely delicious in every way.
- Skyfall Teaser Trailer – I absolutely love this teaser and am only disappointed that the marketers won’t leave it at just this. Hot, zippy, and low on details
- Chinese Zodiac Trailer - I think my kids might get a kick out of it but there doesn’t seem to be anything for adults to hang their hat onto here.
- The Master Trailer - Intriguing.
- Anchorman 2 Teaser Trailer - Flap your Internet rage lips all you like, bit the first film was a mediocre comedy at best and this doesn’t seem to instill any hope it’s second installment will be any better.
- Deja Vu Teaser Trailer – For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.
- Finding Nemo 3D Rerelease Trailer – I really do love this movie.
- Whole Lotta Sole Trailer - Seems like a bit of toothless, harmless fun.
- The Great Gatsby Trailer - I’m kind of overwhelmed by the quick cuts and lack of narrative arc.
- Snow White and the Huntsman Trailer - It still looks pretty damn amazing.
- Inside Jaws Trailer – A fantastic opportunity, it seems, to find out what drove Spielberg to greatness on this.
- Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Red Band Trailer - To the man who made the trailer: you deserve an extra burrito. This is, head and shoulders, better than the trailer that came before it.
- The Apparition Trailer - I think this one is for the teen set. Not much to see here other than a few heavy handed moments that aren’t very effective as horror hooks.