July 2008

Red

Here’s the trailer.

This is a “stubborn old man just trying to do one thing right” movie.

The death of the dog, of course, is symbolic, and this film isn’t going to draw a mainstream crowd, no matter how it’s promoted.

Sadly, the studio (or the distributor) has decided that it’s not enough to just sell the movie for what it is; they’ve got to try and make this subtle, quiet, character-driven film look like it’s an action-packed bonanza.

Since very little happens that’s conventionally dramatic until late in the story, that means showing audiences a trailer that gives away most of the ending. I was a sucker to see this movie after 30 seconds into the trailer. Now that I know what happens (and now that I associate the ruined ending, rather than the powerful story, with the movie’s release), I probably won’t see it.

Pictured: The Straight Story, about an old man who takes his tractor for a long journey to visit his estranged brother, and Babe, about an old man who enters his talented pig into a shepherding contest. The quirks are what sold both stories, but what made them good was the human characters’ simple, plodding determination to do one simple thing the right way, no matter what.

Too bad whoever cut the trailer for Red didn’t have the same philosophy.

Drama

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Tropic Thunder/Rain Of Madness

Tropic Thunder trailer

Rain Of Madness trailer (requires iTunes)

A lot of interesting stuff going on here. Tropic Thunder is a parody of, among other things, Apocalypse Now. So Rain Of Madness, the non-existent documentary about Tropic Thunder, is a parody of Hearts Of Darkness, the documentary about Apocalypse Now.

It’s an interesting time to make a comedy about the war in Vietnam, given that the US is currently involved in another endless police action. But Tropic Thunder isn’t, on its face, a comedy about war. It’s a satire of the whole idea of making a movie about war.

This extra level of remove insulates the audience from having to think directly about what this movie really is: a sophisticated comedy about the war in Iraq. Not just the war itself, but the perceptions that surround it: the way it’s imagined vs. the way it’s realized, what it’s like to really be in combat vs. what it’s like to feel so immersed in war toys, imagery, and information that you feel you might as well be there, even when you’re not.

If you pay attention to the Tropic Thunder trailer, you’ll see that the heart of it is just the old Seven Samurai formula: A group of misfit performers find themselves having to actually do what they previously only pretended to do. For them, the comedy becomes serious. The audience gets the chance to laugh at a situation that’s both serious and funny, but above all, pathetic. In this context, it means that Americans can laugh at how ridiculous it is that we’re still sending troops to Iraq.

The same trick is being used to make jokes about racial stereotypes. If I’d told you last year that Robert Downey Jr. was going to do a movie in blackface, you might not have believed it. But now, ha ha, he’s doing a movie about an actor doing a movie in blackface, so that’s okay, because it’s not really Robert Downey Jr. doing a movie in blackface. But it is.

Isn’t it?

Adventure
Comedy
Documentary

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