June 2008

Stephen Colbert Endorses Trailers Undone

Well, not explicitly. But if you saw his interview with Will Smith last night, you know what I’m talking about. Colbert’s final question to Smith was whether Hancock is a metaphor for the United States - powerful but reckless - and Smith came about as close as he will ever get to squirming.

See my discussion of Hancock from months ago, where I suggest the same thing.

I’ll embed the YouTube clip of the Colbert-Smith interview as soon as someone posts it…don’t see it yet. Anyone else?

Adventure
Comedy

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Robin Hood And Shangri-La

Seth Roberts has a short post about the relationship between the trailer for Costner’s Robin Hood and the movie, and it was mirrored on his Amazon employee blog.

TV Tropes has a great breakdown of similar shots.

Here’s the short trailer, with the famous arrow shot at the end:

Here’s the longer trailer, featuring the arrow shot sooner, but not as prominently:

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The Longshots

Here’s the trailer.

Several overlapping formulas here:

Movies about girls playing boys sports aren’t very interesting in themselves anymore, and even real-life stories about girls playing on boys’ teams are common. This formula only really worked by itself when the audience could imagine that the battle for serious recognition of female athletes was still being fought. That’s not to say that it can’t still work, but something new would have to be brought to it. Ironically, the villainous kids’ taunt to “get a little dirt in your skirt” echoes a self-empowering zinger often shouted by the female baseball players in A League Of Their Own.

Speaking of A League Of Their Own, it featured a down-and-out coach with a drinking problem (Tom Hanks). So did Hoosiers (Dennis Hopper, assistant coach), and so did The Bad News Bears (Walter Matthau in the original). These are all what we might call “fallen mentors.” They take a path parallel to, but different from, the misfits they guide. The misfits want validation, the mentors want redemption.

That the title, The Longshots, is so reminiscent of the very recent The Comebacks, which is a parody of exactly this kind of film, is revealing in terms of just how not-self-aware this production is.

It’s not an accident that all the jeers in the trailer are made by white kids, and aimed at black kids. That’s a lame effort to get you angry enough at the white kids to pay for your ticket. Is it going to work?

Drama

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The Last Mistress

Here’s the trailer.

Usually, American trailers for foreign films are all either a) all in the original language, with English subtitles, or b) edited so that you never actually hear the actors speak, but instead you hear only the American voice-over, a technique designed to keep you from realizing that the movie is not in your native language.

Here, we have something very unusual. The trailer is in French, there are English subtitles, and there is a voice-over in English, and there are additional narrative titles in English to lead you through the trailer (”It was the wedding of a lifetime,” etc.).

This is because the movie is packaged (much like Asia Argento herself) as exotic fare for Americans. Face it, you saw the trailer but you have no idea what this movie is about, except that Asia Argento is hot and foreign. People will go to see this movie because they want to feel honest when they say that they only read Playboy for the articles.

One man…two women, one an angel, the other a diabolical schemer…historical French drama…nobody sees this trailer without thinking of Dangerous Liaisons. Nobody. And that’s not an accident.

Drama

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Religulous

This trailer is nothing but a series of jabs from Bill Mahr, with cuts before we get to hear the responses of the people he’s talking to. The implication is that you’re not going to see the movie to learn anything, witness a meaningful dialog, or see anyone except Mahr (or those who agree with Mahr) say anything clever or cutting.

Much like Borat, the work of Tom Green, or all of reality TV, the basic mechanism here is the exploitation of unwitting people who are caught off guard, don’t know what audience they’re speaking for, and have no control over the editing process. It’s the epitome of old-school media: monolithic, dogmatic, non-interactive, and subject to the views of whoever is calling the shots.

The fact that the first moment in the trailer is practically identical to a moment in The Godfather Part 3 underlines just how myopic this whole venture is. No doubt, Mahr doesn’t know about this similarity, or doesn’t care, because, after all, it’s all about him.

Documentary

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My Best Friend’s Girl

This movie is a combination of While You Were Sleeping, and that scene from Back To The Future where Marty’s father says “Take your damn hands off her!”



My Best Friend’s Girl
is what’s known as a low-stakes comedy, leading to the obligatory scene when the poor sensitive guy gets his heart broken, followed by the resolution in which he realizes that he doesn’t actually give a shit. The resolution is so well understood from the beginning that there really isn’t any suspense at all, which is why the whole movie is in the trailer. The studio is betting that a profitable number of people will be titillated by Dane Cook grabbing Kate Hudson’s ass, and this is the vehicle in which that’s going to happen.

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The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

Paramount asked YouTube not to show the trailer for this movie. So in its place, we give you the trailer for Youth Without Youth below. The trailer for Benjamin Button is here.

Stephen King’s short-lived The Golden Years had a similar idea:

But when it comes down to it, the “man growing younger” motif is much, well, older. Look at this excerpt from William Blake’s “The Mental Traveller”:

Her fingers number every nerve
Just as a miser counts his gold;
She lives upon his shrieks and cries—
And she grows young as he grows old,

Till he becomes a bleeding youth
And she becomes a virgin bright;
Then he rends up his manacles
And pins her down for his delight.

Then later, he gets young and she gets old, and it goes on forever. Here’s the complete poem.

These aren’t just “fountain of youth” stories; they are about someone old becoming younger. Is that just because the transition provides more texture for the story, more time for the anti-ager to marvel at his own transformation, or is there something else to it?

The “fountain of youth” story goes back forever, and the appeal is as simple as the universal fear of death. (Isn’t it?)

Here’s another one (of many) in the larger genre:

Drama

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The House Bunny

This is a Pygamalion story, and in American pop culture it goes like this:

The cool kid helps the geek become cool. In the process, the cool kid becomes less superficial, and comes to appreciate the inner beauty of the geek.

This story is such a cliche at this point that it’s a surprise to see it repeated here with no apparent irony or self-awareness. Worse, sorry to hear the producers didn’t get the memo, but we are living in the age of the hot geek girl. Those huge eyeglasses do nothing but emphasize Emma Stone’s beauty, and on any modern college campus, that Zeta house would have boys swarming around it. The trailer shows Shelley (the bunny) trying to make herself smart for a smart guy, but it doesn’t show her succeeding, and it doesn’t show her coming to realize that these girls don’t need her help, which would be the only outcome that might make this movie worth seeing.

About the other images:

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Comedy

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Wanted


Here’s the Quicktime trailer.

The trailer’s voiceover says: “I used to be just like you. Until I met her.” The implication is that you, the viewer, would be a much more interesting person if only Angelina Jolie would recognize that you and she are meant to be together, and Morgan Freeman took you under his wing and identified the hidden skills that will make you a superhuman.

The deeper implication, the one you’re not meant to examine, is that this will never happen to you, and if there was any chance that it would, then you wouldn’t need to see this movie as a substitute.

This is a “meant for greater things” story, with the attendant fantasy of discovering that your real parents were actually much more interesting than the ones who raised you.

It’s likely that the protagonist ends up doing battle with his new mentors. That’s how this kind of story works. The protagonist doesn’t really come into his own until he takes the gifts he’s given and makes his own decisions about how to use them. Morgan and Angelina probably killed his father. The guy who is ostensibly after him in the drugstore at the beginning is probably an ally.

About the images:
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Swing Vote

(Here’s the trailer.)

This is an “honest man in politics” movie, much like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, in which Jimmy Stewart is a naive senator who learns to make the system work for him, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, in which Gary Cooper is a good ol’ boy who outsmarts city slickers with his down-home common sense, and Dave, in which Kevin Kline, a presidential look-alike and comedic impersonator, finds himself standing in for the real thing.

Dave is perhaps the most similar to Swing Vote, in that it’s also a “little guy shouldered with great responsibility” movie. Another relevant example is Amazing Grace And Chuck, in which little-league pitcher Joshua Zuehlke (never did another movie) decides to stop playing ball until there are no more nuclear weapons on the planet, inspiring a string of professional athletes to follow suit. (Am I the only person who actually saw that movie in the theater?) Citizen Ruth places Laura Dern (playing the most oblivious and irresponsible mother imaginable) at the center of the abortion debate.

About Swing Vote itself: Continue Reading »

Comedy

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