This Week In Trailers: The Lottery, Harjunpää (Priest Of Evil), Great Directors, The Agony And The Ecstasy Of Phil Spector

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?

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector Trailer

You will not see a more bizarre, strange, stultifying trailer this week than you will watching this.

I ask, nay, implore you to try and sit through this thing with a clear head because I know it will be impossible to do so. Why? Because it's impossible. You can't watch this and not think that the person who cobbled this on their Tandy TRS-80 was either not interested in making a trailer worth watching or was keen on exploring the ways that we could telepathically understand the underlying point of this exercise.

Director Vikram Jayanti, hot off his films I Am a Sex Addict, "The Hairy Bikers' Cookbook," and Britney Spears Saved My Life comes roaring to the forefront with a movie about the enigmatic music producer Phil Spector who is best known as engineering the "Wall of Sound" technique. Producing the likes of Tina Turner, The Ramones, The Beatles and scads of other real talents in the business I was eager to get a trailer that finally would take a look at this guy's life. Well, what I got was the opening ditty to The Adventures in Babysitting set to video of Spector's first trial when he was up on charges for killing actress Lana Clarkson.

It's a wholly strange and akward viewing experience in that none of it jives with a normal narrative structure. In a moment of pure hilarity, the music is quieted just a smidge in order to hear testimony from a couple of women who said that Spector held a gun to their faces. Far be it from me to make assumptions but I'm going to gingerly tiptoe out on a limb and say that The Crystals probably wouldn't much approve of this de facto music video, as would Elisabeth Shue who did the video so much better than this.

However, and this is such a diminutive however, there is a moment of clarity, as all psychotics are want to have from time to time. At about the 2:50 (!) mark we get Spector himself opening up about the nature of art and of creation. Now this is where it finally got interesting for me but, sadly, it is way too little and way too late for me. Horrible, every which way you look at it and I couldn't be more embarrassed that this even classifies as a proper trailer.

Great Directors Trailer

What a blowhard.

That was what I thought after walking out of an interview with Mike Leigh after seeing Happy Go Lucky. The man was a pompous, facetious old fool who needed to have a cane properly whipped against his ankles for his hoity attitude and, before watching this trailer, I assumed the film would feel the same way, watching person after person talk about "their process."

Seriously, could any of you think of a more inane thing than to be trapped in a room with half of these artistic types who assume that their world view is somehow more cultured, evolved, refined, or otherwise more precious than the rest of ours? Yeah, I think I'd like to at least witness the joy of hearing some of these people spill out the contents of their heads but, a whole movie?

Then a funny thing happened. I fell in love with the trailer.

It is gorgeous to look at. Plus, David Lynch's opening is pitch perfect in setting off a phalanx of "Official Selection" recognitions the movie has received. The music that's chosen is harmonious with the scenes that are presented and the direction/cinematography is evocative.

As I felt my way though this trailer I found myself warming to the idea of watching these men and women talk about their influences and history. Some of them, yes, get a little esoteric in their explanation of what's rattling inside their heads but I found the pacing and tempo of this trailer to be simply delicious.

Even as we head into the final moments of this thing and we're introduced, formally, to the ten directors we're going to be following you find these people's words to be compelling only from the standpoint that here are the talents who have brought the world great cinema. I see that these aren't all directors I know well and the opportunity to know more about these men and women, even from a creative standpoint, actually seems like a pleasurable endeavor. Color me surprised and interested.

Harjunpää (Priest Of Evil) Trailer

A) Don't let the title scare you.

B) What will it take in order to get these foreign films to play at the same time when they're released elsewhere?

C) Back to the title, it's got a double umlaut. Who wouldn't want to at least see a trailer for a film with a double umlaut?

I realize I'm no studio mogul but after watching a trailer like this I would be hard pressed to guess how much money could be made with savvy enough deals that would allow wicked looking movies like this to at least take a crack at American audiences. I mean, I can't think of a movie titled better than Priest of Evil that was neither a horror film or an exploration of pedophilia in the priesthood. Never minding all that, the trailer is atmospheric, thrilling, and fairly intense for a genre film that looks like it would fit right in with the CSI crowd.

While not a fan of straight up police films that deal with a detective, usually brash, with drinking problems, can't get along with their boss, are accused of being mavericks, the chief of police always riding their ass, this trailer does appeal to me. The reason it does is because it removes the law enforcement aspect and simply presents the dramatic elements that both inform the thrust of the movie's action and keeps people like me entertained with the flashy stuff.

Director Olli Saarela might have been toiling away in Finland for over two decades in the film business but this seems like a movie that could appeal to many an American looking for a movie with the kind of mystery and thrills we don't see much of anymore. Long gone, it seems, are the days of The Bone Collector or even something like The Fugitive, mass appeal vehicles whose stories are meant to be consumed quickly and forgotten just as fast.

With this trailer we get an opening reminiscent of Seven, the tricks with camera movement and showing quick shots of overexposed film layered over disparate images. Here we get maggots squirming on the ground, writhing bugs and detritus scattered across a floor as we see this is all taking place in a bustling metropolis.

There might not be anything said but, masterfully, a few images put together the entire story for you in a matter of seconds: security cameras, a guy who looks like our murder, the man on the hunt for them, the subway where this is all going to take place, and a screaming rock track to kick it all off. The images get more convoluted but they're lovely to look at from a technical point of view. It looks like it really embraces the nuances of a film that wants to be more than just an adapted procedural, this story is one of many from a book series starring the detective in this trailer, and the flourishes that really drive it home for me is the tail end of this thing that seems promise a movie showcasing the demented sadism of a madman on the loose.

The trailer ends way too soon and only leaves me all jazzed in wondering why there isn't a way for more people to see the finished product. [Twitch]

The Lottery Trailer

I'm not saying this is a Deep Impact/Armageddon kind of face off, but this shiznit just got real.

When you have a documentary like Waiting For Superman vying for the same audience as this one does, and pretty darn close to the material that is being explored in Superman, you have to wonder if this is a case of whoever gets to market first wins the race. I would say, categorically, no. As well, this trailer shows why both are important in an age where old people who only care about their pensions coming every month or ignorant sloths who don't see the value in giving anything to educating the younger generation. Both the former and latter are prone to vote against initiatives to help pump money into school systems where teachers are going out and buying their own supplies (I've known a couple who do) and I would say that both films serve a purpose.

The messages in these movies should get you riled up and this trailer does an excellent job in stoking that ember of disgust at what some children, human beings, have to go through in order to just be educated.

Director Madeleine Sackler may have only been known as an associate editor on The Human Giant television series but huzzah to her, or whoever it was, to start things front and center in this trailer with all the festivals this movie has played in. IFF Boston, Tribeca, and scads of others flash across the screen as does that statistic about the average black 12th grader vs. their white 8th grade counterpart. This opening salvo ought to get your attention as, if it failed to even register with you, why don't you keep on moving and watch the new trailer for Cats and Dogs 2 to keep you entertained.

For those still here in rapt attention the next few scenes are nothing short of heartbreaking as we get the entire story in a matter of seconds: every year, thousands of parents from all across America vie for the chance of dumping their public school for a charter school. That chance is a random lottery that is no more fair than realizing that the district these kids live in are ill-equipping kids to be grown-ups. There is not enough room and this trailer bangs it out quick and makes the salient points it needs to make.

The trailer then expounds on its thesis by showing the administrators and those charged with trying to make this an equitable means to help these children but all you see are the faces of kids who just want to be educated. People want to bemoan the hard-luck state of our school system but I can't think of a time when two films have come out to shine a light on the problem in the hopes of getting some kind of response.

When you see four sets of parents waiting with baited breath, anticipating the moment when their number is literally called there really is no other response more appropriate other than hope. To see the problem highlighted and showcased like this is an exercise in crash course understanding of what is, no doubt, a complex issue is not only interesting it does provoke you in a positive fashion.

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:

  • Boardwalk Empire Trailer - A series I can get excited about in a big way. The trailer blends enough of the narrative and a peek of the performances that we're going to get from those in this series in a way that's both informational and mysterious.
  • Tangled International Trailer- Besides hearing what Zach Levi would sound like if he were from deutschland the trailer just reaffirms that it could be going the same way as How To Train Your Dragon with the way it's animated, how it carries itself.
  • Resident Evil: Afterlife Trailer #2 - I know this ought to be a trailer I just shred but this is a pretty great piece of marketing. It knows its audience, it even aims at it with its musical cues, and it looks like a film that was built with the same kind of altruism that has given us the Saw installments: none.
  • Eastbound and Down / Bored to Death Season 2 Trailers - I know a lot of you would suckle at the teat of anything having the words Eastbound and Down across it but hopefully this series can at least rise above its over dependence on its crude language, most everyone mistaking shock value for quality entertainment. The trailer for Down isn't very good but Bored to Death: Season 2? Competent, if not marginally exciting.
  • Somewhere Trailer -Aww...My life sucks because I'm rich and famous and now I have to play the part of a dad all of a sudden? Please, cry me a river. This trailer doesn't really do anything but make me think why this story is anything but a bourgeois tale of a self-loathing rich guy who would do better to simply ditch it all in order for me to care. Call me when he's penniless. Maybe then the trailer won't make me so angry watching people of privilege have even more privilege than I ever will.
  • Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 Trailer - I've never played an MMORPG but this trailer makes me want to. I may see George Lucas as a guy who had one great idea and saw it as a license to print money but, you know what, he ought to with things like this.
  • The Illusionist Trailer - Such a moving trailer. The level of animated sophistication comes though every moment you see on the screen. There is truly something special in this film and it shows in the way the backgrounds and foreground dance with one another seamlessly.
  • Entourage Season 7 Trailer - What a dangerous trailer. If you've watched every season you know the events contained in any given episode never get to the level of deep drama this trailer makes you think goes on. I would love if the series this thing was selling was actually made but I know that what I'll ultimately get is Entourage: Season 7.
  • Never Let Me Go Trailer - Any of you know that exchange in Airplane where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar throws out those litany of  "Huh"s? This trailer is maddening in exactly the same way. I think there's something important going on but I'm just too confused by its love for itself, its place, and its story for me to care.
  • Bagman Trailer - Casino Jack and the United States of Money was so good that this trailer is basically moot and uninteresting. Even if you were to see both of them side by side you would still say that the documentary is a lot more interesting than this made-for-TV special.
  • Legend of the Guardians Trailer - What is this, Happy Feet meets 300? There isn't a rock track available that can mask the funk of talking owls on the big screen. I suppose if you're 10 or 11 there's a certain allure in this thing but it's not for me in any way.
  • Oz Trailer - Move along, nothing to see here. Literally, besides some girl walking a lion down a corridor, there is nothing to see here.
  • The Smurfs Teaser Trailer - A) Who thought that using that font from Fresh Prince From Bel Air was a good idea? B) Equally, whose idea was it to use Tone Loc's "Wild Thing" and did they think this was the best choice? Let me answer both for you: they weren't good ideas and nothing about this teaser makes you think otherwise.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Trailer - This trailer was as laborious to get through as I am sure the movie is going to be. Everyone wants their own Harry Potter cash cow but I would have a rousing debate with any adult who finds this preview exciting because it simply isn't with the way it caters to the young demo.
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World International Trailer - At the end, Brandon Routh, best part of the trailer. Quibble if you must but that exchange encapsulates the reason why I hope there's a sneak peek of it at Comic-Con next month. A trailer made as if it were constructed with lots of Mountain Dew and Pixy Stix.
  • Conviction Trailer - Is it premature to say this looks like Oscar bait but it has all the telltale signs of it: the sweeping musical cues, the slo-mo dramatic weeping, the "I'm never getting out of here!" delivered in a Nicholson "You can't handle the truth!" kind of way, and cinematography that is as bland as the audience this looks like it's being pitched to.
  • Cyrus International Trailer - A +2 to the trailer maker who snuck in a little Elastica in there. Besides being all kinds of fun this trailer gets just the right blend of narrative and mystery correct. Not only does it make me want to see the film but I have moments now that I want to see played out in their entirety.