This Week In Trailers: Valhalla Rising, Reel Injun, Black Field, Oil City Confidential

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?Oil City Confidential Trailer

I am not what you would call an audiophile or a connoisseur of music.

Any argument I could make about my taste in music or what I would defend in public would be specious at best and utter drivel at its worst. I am intrigued, though, by the acts that came before Samantha Fox or Debbie Gibson burst onto the scene like an unclean zit needing popping. That's why, I think, I appreciate any opportunity to get dirty in discovering the not well known stories about phases in musical history. I was transfixed by Penelope Spheeris' The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years as I think it got right down to what made this such an incredible and wretched time in popular culture. And certainly, without question, having the guy who brought The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle and Earth Girls Are Easy and Janet Jackson's "Alright" video should engender some kind of excitement, right? Of course, it's the former work that made such an impact, some would say that the cinematic train wreck of Julie Brown made a bigger divot and that Julien Temple ought to have been banished to a remote island because of it, but that's neither here nor there.

What I see in the Oil City Confidential trailer is a whole lot of excitement for a sliver in time that I never knew existed. I don't live under a rock but I've never known about the players in this movie or why a movie needed to be made of them. Hell, I've never heard of Dr. Feelgood (I did hear Motley Crue's version growing up and that was but one influence on my basis of knowledge so a) that explains a lot and b) I apologize for having such low standards) who hailed from Canvey Island in the UK but the opening of this trailer does an exquisite job in relating what that time was like. We see this beaten up, blue color town that seems suffocated by pollution and desperation. The opening sequence electrifies with the promise that there is a story here and the epicenter is a place that should have yielded hooligans, not rock stars.

Meeting the members of the band and getting a quick bio on each one helped me to understand who these guys were and what they were about. Nothing could compare, however, to the insanity of seeing guys literally fall out of cars, dudes flailing around on stage, people smashing into one another in a grand thrashing fashion, and trying to make sense of how all this fits together. The music is blisteringly catchy, and it seems like a lot of people went gonzo over it if the file footage is any indication, and the final declaration that this was "The Greatest Local Band...In The World" puts this into the right perspective for someone like myself.

This isn't a story about some guys who never got their chance but, rather, it seems like it's a story of some guys who got their chance and influenced those who would change the world. The trailer is like a great pop song: it's got a hook, a little bit of emotion, it has superb rhythm, and it makes me want to buy into what they're selling.

Reel Injun Trailer

As someone who lives surrounded, literally, by Indian reservations I see where they're coming from.

As background, I enjoy the local stylings of KUPD DJ John Holmberg and his vocal creation of Chief Double Down, a surly Indian character whose sole existence is to put down whitey in a bit that has him playing blackjack over the phone with callers. Chief loves "butt-weiser" beer, an occasional "yamba yoose" smoothie, and a "yumbo yak" from that place that has a clown named Jack for a company spokesman, all the while poking at that relationship between those who live here and those who lived here first. It has a mix of hilarity, of the subversive quality in having a character that's done by a pasty white guy and of the feeling that there is some tension among some folks who live in the valley of the sun with regard to Indian's right of sovereignty. It shouldn't be an awkward interaction between us and them, you would have thought we would get it right by now, but the fact of the matter is that Americans aren't doing a lot to make things right and this trailer perfectly nails what's at issue.

Much to this movie's credit, this trailer is not aggro or wanting to throw this issue in your face in order to get your attention. Rather, it's done playfully and with a funny slant. It is in that playfulness that engenders a sinking feeling in your belly as you sense the filmmakers are  absolutely right.

The opening sequence of some guys horsing around on the set of a western just sets up Clint Eastwood's little yarn about how, a long time ago, he was on set of the western and the director wanted to use a real Native American for a scene. However, chuckle chuckle ha ha, they couldn't find one. I mean, it's a western, and not one Native American could be found! This perfectly lands us in Chris Eyre's lap, a Cheyenne/Arapaho filmmaker, who talks about the practice of using white men for Indian roles. It's unsettling, true, and a little uncomfortable but you go along with it when Chris then says how funny it is to him when he sees that happen.

Cue snippets of Anthony Quinn (Mexican), Burt Lancaster (Irish), Charles Bronson (Lithuanian), Daniel Day-Lewis (British/Irish), Sylvester Stallone (Italian), and on and on it goes as we see all these actors who have taken on Indian personas. Again, it's incredibly unbelievable but it's done in such a way that the egregious information speaks for itself. It's right there.

We move beyond this as we see that the movie is one filmmaker's journey to define the Native American experience in cinema. Jim Jarmusch has a fabulous soundbite that is poignant and gets to the heart of what is at play here. Additionally, we get some film buffs who talk about Dances with Wolves and the implications that movie had with regard to the positioning of Indians. With all the talk about how Avatar cribs so much from this story you can see how this might be the case with the blue people as well. It's dead on as you see the practice still happens today and you've just got to wonder how it can continue on like this.

I love anything that might help me recalibrate my sensibilities so I welcome the chance to see how this plays out in its entirety because I already am sold on the basic tenets set out in this trailer. Co-Director/Writers Neil Diamond and Catherine Bainbridge have something here which really is fresh and original; it's just too bad that filmmakers who use white people for Indian parts are neither.

Valhalla Rising Trailer

Let's just get this out of the way: Mads Mikkelsen is just one intimidating individual.

Yeah, he wasn't so much a threat to be dealt with in the Bond films but the man just has a presence about him where you understand why a filmmaker like director/co-writer Nicolas Winding Refn likes to work with the guy. He just comes across as a person not to be ignored when he comes on screen so it should be no surprise that when you ask whether he could pull of being a one-eyed mute with "supernatural strength", like some human chimpanzee, the only correct answer is undoubtedly "yes."

The opening sequence is a delight to look at. The rolling hills, the low clouds creating a smoky environment, the gathering of a few men to bear witness of Mads being extensively tied up to ostensibly keep that roid rage in check, all the while as  some lad finger paints on his back.

The smash cut to us seeing Mads get pummeled while chained to a stick in the ground like some canine is awkwardly presented and doesn't really invoke that sense of grandeur I think we should feel for what will ostensibly be a movie about this man's personal journey. Further, I'd add that a lot of this kind of looks like Louis Leterrier's Danny the Dog: guy is kept as a slave monkey, learns how to beat people when unleashed, literally, finds meaning in his life, and learns how to pick up ladies the Morgan Freeman way. All loving aside, I'm not sure what's different but when when our guy takes events into his own mitts and slashes the throat of the guy who's trying to keep him under control I am wildly engaged with what's happening.

However, this is where things get a little weird and a little confusing.

So, he kills some guys in order to get free. He gets propositioned to be a part of some gang to kill other people and he accepts the offer. They all start paddling, like Vikings are wont to do when there's a boat in the water, down a river when one of the gang members gets an arrow in his chest from a pack of hooligans brandishing weapons on one of the river banks. The net effect of all of this is a little concerning because I don't think I have anything invested in this guy who I could care less if he survives or dies. He just seems like a merc who has nothing in the game, as it were.

Smash cut to our mute just slaughtering his way through the last third of the trailer. Literally, there are heads being carried off the field of battle, hands being stuck on the end of spears, ax fights are just blurring into bloody faces. But the one thing that's troubling is the sound mixing is horrendous. Also, the musical track being used, if I'm not mistaken, is that of The Terminator. Huh? Seriously, I'm confused even more by the sudden auditory inclusion of a score that doesn't really belong but I'm quickly given a visual back-rub with an ending that couldn't better sum up what we're going to see.

I love Refn's work. I do. This is, unfortunately, a case when a weak trailer is released for a film I was really looking forward to see. It's almost like being in rush hour traffic with a lot of fits and starts and then nothing. Let's hope it's just a matter of a bad artisan who was allowed to do whatever they wanted in slapping this together.

Black Field Trailer

How often was The Crying Game used for comedic punchlines after its release?

A lot? Too much? More than your occasional Brokeback Mountain joke? I think a lot of people have supplanted their insecurities for homosexuals or homosexual behavior, even weak perceived behavior, in general with this "joking around". It's to the point where you really can tell a lot about a person's stance on these kinds of things by the number of times this gets used whenever something "questionable" comes up.

A movie like this stirs something in me that I certainly am not able to identify with but I think it's a universal connection many people have when you have a love story between two individuals. Without question, however, there is that element of the forbidden, of the licentiousness inherent with the act of man-on-man love. I don't think the number of Greeks who practiced same sex love, to say nothing of the incredible strides made in poetry by Sappho that dealt with homosexuality from a woman's perspective and helped keep the memory of a time long since passed alive, would object to a movie like this. I certainly welcomed a fresh take on a tale that's a lot older than some would think.

It certainly does start majestically. The vistas, plains, mountains, and atmospheric elements we see coalesce into an opening sequence that tells us we are insanely far from anyone even near a telephone. A horse carries the body of a beat up solider who needs 40 winks and a little bit of superglue to close up the gashes that brought him to a Christian nunnery. No one knows who he is or what he's all about. It's kind of like The Bourne Identity for the Age of Crisis era but it's all very clandestine. No voiceover, no narrative clues.

While the cinematography is gorgeous to look at I can't say that seeing one of the nuns cut themselves, graphically, in the inner thigh with a sharp implement, and deep too, is something I can square up in my head. There is something going on here but we come back to the warrior who wakes up. Cue a beautiful violin playing the background as the guy fools around with one of the young sisters who we might as well all know now is really a young brother.

They make out, the nun starts a fight with the guy as the two of them get into a slapping contest (huh?), they float on a raft down a slow moving river, they get accosted by two soldiers in a forest as it looks like the two of them will get their heads chopped off. I seriously can't make out what the heck is happening.

Is the nun running away with him? Is the nun going to return? Why did the he/she cut her/his hair off? How on earth did they end up sleeping on a grassy rock where the two of them give into carnal pleasures with regard to man on man love? Now, I have no evidence of where we could reasonably pick up where the warrior figures out that he's not a she but I don't think he has an issue with it either way.

Curiously, we're given an ending where our young boy lays down on a grassy field as we're left to just interpret whatever we want about why we're lingering so long on this shot. It's all very Walt Whitman, I feel, but it has the effect of being more emotionally compelling than many of the manufactured moments I've seen in other films.

Consider me (bi)curious on this one.

In case you missed them, here are the other trailers we covered at /Film this week:

  • Losers Trailer - Underwhelming and looks like yet another cookie cutter film with a suave, sophisticate at the head of team with a cast of colorful characters. I thought we left this kind of film to die in the early 90's but I guess there's a time and a place for resurrection when originality is not your aim.
  • Outrage Trailer - There is a real grittiness to this trailer. While I may not understand one single word there is an effective use of tension and doesn't waste any time in getting to the heart of this gangster story that just screams violence at every turn.
  • Takers International Trailer - I never wish ill on anyone but I do hope this movie suffers a slow, bleeding death at the box office. The trailer tries so hard to convince me it has the swagger of Heat, the playfulness of Bad Boys, but all it possesses is a fistful of suck.
  • Red Riding Trilogy Trailers - The reason why I love these trailers are that they rely on performance and just a little bit of visual sizzle to sell what looks like the sweetest triptych you'll see all winter. Further, these trailers lay out succinctly what is contained in these films without ever tipping their hand about how it's going to end. For that, it deserves a little love.
  • Cemetery Junction Trailer - After The Invention of Lying floundered at the box office I saw that Ricky Gervais is not infallible. This trailer, however, makes me believe once again that the Gervais/Merchant synergy is still there. While some of the trailer is a bit jumbled and its presentation a little clunky there is still the hope that a great movie is in here.
  • Clash of the Titans International Trailer - Boy, did Stan Bush and The Transformers Band score this trailer? Apart from the cheese rock embedded in this thing the trailer does showcase more of the set pieces which ought to make this one of the more exciting films to be surprised by this year. I'm not expecting much but this trailer gives you so many reasons why I should.
  • Ong Bak 3 Trailer - I never thought I'd say this but this Tony Jaa trailer let me down a little bit. I don't know what I should expect from a film series that is a continuous fist fight but we linger much too long on one of  these fisticuffs in this trailer. Variety is the key to these trailers, I need to see him kicking all kinds of ass in various ways, but we only get this one moment and it leaves me feeling underwhelmed.
  • The Secret of Kells Trailer - For a movie I didn't know about until early this week, I am surprised by how this didn't make it onto my radar this past year. The animation here takes full use of its space and bends reality just a smidge in order to sell a story about a boy on a quest. While I don't know what's really happening that piece is irrelevant when you consider how eager I am to watch this entire film from start to finish. Any movie that gets me jazzed for 2D animation deserves, at the very least, a viewing.
  • Kick-Ass International Trailer - What's really odd about this trailer is that the first half of this thing just blows. It sucks, honestly. Then, when we get our cast of characters in place and when it decides to stop being vanilla, at about the mid-way point it really starts humming. It's this part of the trailer that makes me want to see this film and what, I would assert, would want to make this movie's core demo see it as well.
  • Heartless Trailer - The trailer starts with such fantastic promise and then just loses its momentum by the end.  I'm not invested in the character at all as I think this trailer wants to rope in an audience that likes its horror explosive but this trailer really feels like it's a more cerebral experience. I don't know which is right but it wants it both ways.
  • Hotel Hell Vacation Trailer - Forget about the shameless plundering and needless mining of a franchise that died years ago. I think the greatest thing about this trailer is the fact that we're all about to see how low Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo, these shameless shills, will bend over for a penny. I love it and cannot wait to be at the intersection before this car wreck happens.
  • The People vs. George Lucas Trailer - I love this trailer. It has an excellent pace, it sets out its agenda, it teases you ever so slightly, and it doesn't linger on any one moment for too long. What you have in this trailer is the promise of a documentary where people will allow the subjects to do the talking. It's what made Trekkies such a delight and hopefully this will be too.
  • A.D. Teaser Trailer - There is a deep emotional despondency that exists within this trailer. It's almost sad in a way, the music really helps to amp that up, and it's odd when you consider this is a zombie killin' kind of movie. I am floored by how much I care about yet another undead themed film but this one looks like a keeper.
  • Cop Out Red Band Trailer - So much better than the first trailer. I guess I'm a mark for puerile humor but that doesn't change the fact that I at least laughed in a couple of spots. While I'll wait to see what others have to say about the movie before seeing it, I was impressed by what I saw here.