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?

Shadow Dancer Trailer

I’m always down for a movie with intrigue.

One of the more surprising things that you don’t realize before it pops up in front of you is that this is coming to us by way of James Marsh, brilliant documentarian who has made Man on Wire, Project Nim and Wisconsin Death Trap. It’s not a complete shock, though, to those who saw Marsh’s work on Red Riding: In The Year of Our Lord 1980. His camera, as you see in the trailer, seems to be very fluid in the way it moves with the subjects he’s filming. Watching this, it reminds me of Bloody Sunday, in context and cinematography. While I was damn near nauseous watching Sunday, I’m thrilled at the prospect of seeing Clive Owen in something that makes me giddy again.

It’s hard to tell what it is that makes these kinds of previews so effective but hats off to making one here that doesn’t give any context whatsoever. As far as the trailer is willing to tell, there’s something going on with Northern Ireland, Belfast to be sure, and a woman who may or may not be an interloper within the IRA. The circumstances around her involvement with a governmental party that seems at odds with the IRA’s militancy is delightfully opaque so it’s nice to be given snippets here, clips there of moments that are completely disjointed taken out of context but the cloak and dagger stuff never gets old as we try and decipher what in the hell is happening.

The pacing is exactly right as we move quickly through trying to understand what is at stake for this woman who is, in effect, a hard target for those she’s betrayed and the music is expertly chosen as we try and pick up clues to see whether someone will eventually catch up to her. It’s dizzying, honestly, to try and put everyone on their respective boxes as it pertains to understanding who’s who but there is no doubt that this movie looks to be one fun romp.

Kotoko Trailer

I absolutely dare you to figure this out without reading a synopsis.

What immediately jumped out at me was how much of a departure this is for director Shin’ya Tsukamoto, the man who last gave us Tetsuo: The Bullet Man. Long gone are the hideous physical transformations, his Kafka-esque metamorphosis still something to behold,  and replaced with something more cerebral, intelligent.

We open easily enough with a woman suffering with double vision. The hook here, though, and it’s brilliantly encapsulated within mere seconds, is that she seems to be suffering from a psychological double vision as well. The way the guy just lumbers and leaps is contrasted nicely with the hushed tones of our protagonist who realizes it is in her head and throws us the first in a series of thrilling moments which, in this case, is her devotion to augmenting her reality in order to stave off the terror that surely comes over her.

The festival recognition is well placed and timed in the way it doesn’t take us out of trying to understand what’s afoot here but the rub isn’t that a kind, stately narrator will explain everything you need to know. In fact, things just spiral deeper out of control down a well of madness, but, for me, I am riveted by what I see. Almost like a wobbly can that is just moments away from coming loose of its moorings, the trailer just descends into dark places as the echoing sounds of gunshots fill the speakers and as our mom has an a-class meltdown.

I don’t know what’s real, what’s imagined, how far she’s going to take this while having a baby to take care of, but things pass by so fast and with zero clue about how it all fits into the larger picture I am left wet from abject fear about what in the hell is going on. Who is going to end up dying, who is going to end up OK, what’s real, what’s not, is this a commentary on how deep our emotional reality is willing to take us if we let it, these are all evocative things that you are left with after watching this trailer. Without question, one of the more poignant and effective uses of the medium I’ve seen all year.

Canicula Trailer

Jose Álvarez has done something that I know interests me as viewer of documentary film: he lets the story tell itself.

Simply, this movie is “a study of the Totonac settlement in Veracruz’s Zapotal Santa Cruz community.” Easy enough to understand but, what we get out of this trailer are extended moments that define this population. Without words, without context, without narration, you watch these things that go on in the foreground and the most fascinating thing happens: your mind starts to try and organize the information.

Without any guidance your brain tries to define the culture that you’re essentially staring into and there’s a dissonance that’s cleaved in two because instead of there being an artificial buffer between viewer and subject it seems like you’re looking right into this world that is quiet and reverential. A party kicks up at one point and that breaks the silence but there’s just something harmonious with the way these disparate moments gel together into a narrative all their own.

Just sit and watch. Let the stories tell themselves.

I realize this is borderline crazy talk but if there’s something to be said about the use of white space and knowing when to shut your mouth, this would be it. Powerfully effective.

Nostalgia Trailer

I talked about this teaser weeks ago.

Well, director Johnnie Hobbs is back and has brought with him more Dulé Hill. Much like my last critique , this trailer just has an uptempo spirit about it. While many independent features, even at the trailer level, feel like it’s going to be a slough to get through, this one feels open and welcoming. Also, as it struggles with a storyline that mixes in the issues that children face with aging parents there is still the promise that as we float back, nostalgically, natch, this is going to show us more about a life lived than it is a depressing slip into abject sadness.

Of course I want to be challenged as a viewer to hear a story about a man who is reflecting on his life and the woman he loved and this trailer, I think, challenges that notion of what a movie like this can be. I could be completely wrong but seeing how films like The Artist made it OK to explore what it means to be up one moment and down the next, and to mix in dancing with reflections on a life lived, this trailer makes me want to move a foot, tap a toe. It’s still hard to make out what it is we’re saddling in for if we take that chance but the trailer succeeds in doing everything it needs in order to evoke an emotional response of some kind. For me, it’s one of joy and sadness. You leave the trailer wondering what the celebration is all about, not focused on the moments that will no doubt punctuate a story that will at least have something to say about getting older.

After The World Ended Trailer

You’re on your own with this. (ed from Russ: We’ve been informed this is a mood reel, not a trailer.)

I’ve watched this trailer more times that I’d like to admit publicly and I’m not any closer to understanding what’s afoot here than I was when I began. The only saving grace, though, is that it is so ambiguous. Director Tony Sebastian Ukpo has made something that triggers curiosity yet gives only the bare minimum about the content of his film. More power to him, I say, as the core driver here is to drive awareness and there is no question that he’s been able to do just that. The intentional artiness of it all is quite effective in laying out its generalities but what’s really nice is how it closes that loop a bit by conceding some of the rudimentary plot points without giving you anything else. Characters, and that’s about it.

That said, it works for me. As a teaser, it’s spot on. [via Quiet Earth]

Step Up To The Plate (Entre Les Bras) Trailer

How does director Paul Lacoste know I like family films so much?

Specifically speaking, a story about how a father is turning over his restaurant, nay, his reputation, over to his son not only has to be filled with the kind of petty drama that makes daytime television so interesting but I’m positive, especially because of the popularity of the fantastic Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this is the kind of film that foodies everywhere will rejoice in seeing. One of the more out of the way, yet wholly satisfying movies, I saw last year was El Bulli: Cooking in Progress. I may not have any kind of handle as to what molecular gastronomy really is but it’s great to watch two guys ground and pound it out when it comes to their opinions of the composition and delivery of food.

Again, while I don’t share in the fervor of what it’s like to inject CO2 into my veal cutlets the trailer here is all kinds of great. The shots are well composed and the cinematography is delightfully natural but there is a true concern for the ideas and thoughts of the patriarch for a very successful restaurant as it pertains to his young son. I know nothing of these gents but their story already has me itching to see what kind of strife and friction there is between this father/child duo. It seems introspective and honest, two qualities that will always get me to pay attention.

The Will Trailer

Christian Sønderby Jepsen has made a movie about three brothers who seem like they’re the life of every party they go to. While I’m not sure of the exact details of how these grandkids are laying claim to a dead man’s fortune this trailer nonetheless posits what it actually looks like when you have distrust and rankor as your two main modes of personality.

The more comedic elements to this story isn’t how these brothers are trying to get their mitts on some money they feel is coming to them (but that certainly does help), it’s the fallout from these dopes vying for information as it pertains to whether they’re on easy street or if there is something else more nefarious that will stand in their way to a life of ease and tranquility.

It’s a bit convoluted, why there seems to be a fuss in the first place, what in the hell they’re all doing on the road to Germany, wondering if someone could just simply have the will looked at to see what these boys are entitled, or not entitled, to. The pull quotes are promising one hell of a story but, as far as I can tell, there isn’t much more here other than some burn outs who enjoy a good cold one while driving and who enjoy the sweet release of methadone.

If the movie is so damn good, then give me a reason to think so! There isn’t anything more frustrating than to feel like a trailer is repeating itself but that’s what this thing does as we, over and over, hear the family patriarch talk about how they can find what they want by going to the widow. That said, I’m intrigued by the premise. I’m on board and I am ready to indulge in some good ol’ fashioned familial infighting. Just give me something a little more substantial than extended moments with a bunch of idiots who wouldn’t be able to tell me the story of their lives even if I had a fresh jar of lutefisk at the ready to hand over.

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:

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