Fewer trailers

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: What better way to hone your skills as a thoughtful moviegoer than by deconstructing these little pieces of advertising?

This week we go two-tone, become a mercenary after serving our country, upset the wrong people in Mother Russia, hope for an accident to pay some bills, and get a little weird after a teen mysteriously disappears.

Pick It Up! Ska in the 90s

I last checked in on director Taylor Morden’s ode to two-tone in June of last year. Since then, they beefed the film up with even more talent to talk about the ska invasion that overtook our radios in the 90s.

Pick It Up! is an independent documentary film about the rise in popularity of ska music in the 1990s often referred to as the third wave of ska. The film showcases the underground / DIY nature of the scene all over the world and how the push into the spotlight in the mid-to-late ’90s changed everything. The film was made by ska fans, for ska fans.

I have nothing but fond fuzzies for this time in musical history. This documentary may look at a tiny slice of the larger aural landscape from that time, that much is clear, but this trailer is infectious. For anyone who owned CDs of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, Dance Hall Crashers, Save Ferris, Rancid, Goldfinger, etc., this is a feel-good walk down nostalgia lane. To understand how ska suddenly became huge and how it seemed to vaporize just as quickly has always been a tale worthy to tell, and it looks like we will get it here. If you’re down for what they’re selling, little hairs should stick up on your arm as this thing picks up around the 1:35 mark and then sticks the landing right at the finish line.

Ready for War

Director Andrew Renzi delivers on a story that is not only timely but eye-opening.

Thousands of immigrants in the United States enlist in the military, expecting an expedited path to citizenship. But the reality is more complicated. After fulfilling their service, thousands are estimated to have been deported. (The enforcement agency known as ICE won’t divulge the exact number.) Something even more sinister awaits on the other side of the border, where drug cartels convert the US-trained soldiers into mercenaries.

To hear that there are a good deal of ex-American military who have been deported from the U.S. only to be turned into mercs by drug cartels is mind-blowing. The trailer capitalizes on this and perfectly balances the hardcore nature of killers without a conscience with something tender. It threads that needle wonderfully and leaves you wanting more than it will give you here.

Citizen K

Director Alex Gibney’s latest is not only interesting, but it is also wildly prescient if things continue down this political trajectory in the U.S.

Oscar-winning writer/director Alex Gibney’s revelatory CITIZEN K is an intimate yet sweeping look at post-Soviet Russia from the perspective of the enigmatic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oligarch turned political dissident. Benefitting from the chaos that ensued after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., Khodorkovsky was able to amass a fortune in financing and oil production and became the richest man in Russia. But when he accused the new Putin regime of corruption, Khodorkovsky was arrested, his assets were seized and following a series of show trials, he was sentenced to more than ten-years in prison. Today, as an exile living in London, he continues to speak out against Putin’s two-decade stranglehold on power. Expertly researched and photographed, Gibney uses Khodorkovsky’s story as a way to explore the complex interplay between oligarchy and government and its destructive effect on democracy, in Russia and beyond.

There is no way to not see this story as a hint of what’s to come should politicians here continue to believe they can operate with impunity. Khodorkovsky’s story is emblematic of a world that allows these kinds of things to happen in plain view. It’s chilling, it’s vital viewing, and it’s a story that needs telling.

Midnight Family

Upon first glance, it might not seem like Luke Lorentzen has made a documentary. Everything here feels cinematic, but what you see is all happening in real life.

In Mexico City, the government operates fewer than 45 emergency ambulances for a population of 9 million. This has spawned an underground industry of for-profit ambulances often run by people with little or no training or certification. An exception in this ethically fraught, cutthroat industry, the Ochoa family struggles to keep their financial needs from jeopardizing the people in their care.

When a crackdown by corrupt police pushes the family into greater hardship, they face increasing moral dilemmas even as they continue providing essential emergency medical services.

This a movie about a family who depend on people needing medical attention to make ends meet. Seeing how these people navigate such an existence is wild enough that as you see events unfold, it’s simultaneously mind-blowing and gripping.

Knives and Skin

Jennifer Reeder’s directorial follow up from her 2017 film, Signature Move, is quite a departure. After telling an uplifting story about a Muslim lesbian woman falling in love, we are moving into some dark territory with her latest movie.

What happened to Carolyn Harper? Part suburban nightmare, part neon-soaked teenage fever dream, this tantalizing mystery traces the wave of fear and distrust that spreads across a small Midwestern town in the wake of a high school girl’s mysterious disappearance. As the loneliness and darkness lurking beneath the veneer of everyday life gradually comes to light, a collective awakening seems to overcome the town’s teenage girls—gathering in force until it can no longer be contained. Unfolding in a hallucinatory haze of lushly surreal images, Knives and Skin is a one-of-a-kind coming-of-age noir that haunts like a half-remembered dream.

This trailer oozes with something I would expect fromGregg Araki. With the odd dialogue and curious framing choices, I’m enamored by what we get here. This looks like a fever-induced dream with its remarkable visual palette. Without any hesitation, I can say this is a different kind of movie about a missing person. Devilish and delightful.

Nota bene: If you have any suggestions of trailers for possible inclusion 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 or look me up via Twitter at @Stipp

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

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