December 2008

Nine

trailer-for-9-movie

What is it about numbers as names?

Star Trek Voyager’s Seven Of Nine is (or was) part of the Borg. Her number indicates that she has lost her human identity. But it’s also kind of mysterious and hot.

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House’s Thirteen gets her number from when she was one of many candidates for a place on House’s team. She avoids revealing her real name for as long as possible, because she knows that being called Thirteen makes her sound mysterious and hot. Also, she has Huntington’s disease, is going to die soon, and doesn’t want anyone to know about her personal life, so keeping them from knowing her real name is a good start.

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Battlestar Galactica’s Six, another alien sex robot, basically. I have to admit that I never found her particularly attractive or mysterious, but that’s the idea.

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Ninety-nine from the original Get Smart. Hot in the context of a ridiculous world.

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Five from Peanuts. His father named all the kids numbers, and their last name was their zip code.

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Animation

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Sita Sings The Blues

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This feminist retelling of an ancient Indian story can’t get distribution because the director doesn’t have the rights to the music.

It seems inevitable to me that she will eventually release the film online, where at this point it will get a lot more exposure than it would have if she had gotten the music rights. What’s more, the enforcement of the music rights will be rendered pointless. Or rather, the pointlessness of enforcing the music rights wil become manifest.

I like this trailer. One of the basic conventions of filmic storytelling is that you reveal right away the genre and setting. The first thing we know here is that we’re looking at something that is both postmodern and metafictional, yet reverent and sincere in its own way. A story about religion that is neither anti-religious nor pedagogical, but is rather a rumination on an important myth.

Here’s the trailer for Sita Sings The Blues.

I was reading an article about the problems Sita’s director is having with getting distribution, and the headline was eclipsed by an annoying ad for The Spirit. As I’ve seen The Spirit, and it’s a piece of crap, this image is all too appropriate.

sita-covered-by-spirit

Animation

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The Ugly Truth

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Movies with major stars saying impossibly stupid and unrealistic things usually come together because of some producer’s mandate to write a script that fills a very particular marketing niche. In this case, we have the bizarre and disturbing subgenre, “romantic comedies for dumb men.” Instead of hoping that two attractive but contentious people eventually let their guards down and recognize the traits that make them compatible, we’re hoping that the woman rated #1 in askmen.com’s list of most desirable women can learn to sexualize herself enough to satisfy the leader of the Spartans from 300.

Quicktime trailer.

Comedy

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Wendy And Lucy

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Wendy evokes the dreamer in Peter Pan on the cusp of adulthood, so simultaneously innocent and eager to grow up that she moves asymptotically toward heartbreak with each passing moment. Lucy is the feminine of Lucifer, the light-bringer who, by aspiring too much, found himself illuminating the torture of damned souls.

With the economy gone to shit, some people watch romantic comedies to feel better, while some people (myself included) prefer to see movies like this. On one level, it lets us play out our fears about what might happen if we, personally, run completely out of money. At another level, the fact that mainstream movie star Michelle Williams is playing someone so poor, unknown, and desperate comes across as a touching acknowledgement that those of us living down here on the ground aren’t drinking ambrosia. And it goes without saying (doesn’t it?) that Michelle Williams, widow of the recently deceased Heath Ledger, has a lot of fans looking for an opportunity to commiserate along with her.

Drama

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The Great Buck Howard

the-great-buck-howard

Quicktime Trailer

This is one of those situations where the trailer is so bad that you have to assume that the movie itself is weird, and the studio doesn’t know how to sell it.

The endless series of cameos in the trailer clearly has little to do with the movie. And anyway, all you need to do to get John Stewart and Conan O’Brian to play themselves in your movie is to pay them. Are we really supposed to be tempted to buy tickets just because they got paid? I mean, watching them do what do is actually free.

Clearly, someone was instructed to put together a reel showing all the celebrity cameos, and also showing Tom Hanks and his son together on screen. It’s difficult to even identify the genre here. Drama? Comedy? Bittersweet Kaufmanesque stuff?

Uncategorized

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Know1ng

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Quicktime trailer.

Listen closely to the beginning of this trailer, or you’ll miss the creationism. The hero is a teacher, teaching his class that, according to the laws of science, there is no grand design for the universe.  That somehow leads to the conclusion that, ha ha, it must be impossible for him to be there teaching the class.

It gets worse. The father and son looking each other in the eye and saying “You and me, together forever.” The son asking his father if they’re going to die, and the father promising: “I would never, ever, let that happen.” In other words, they’re both going to heaven.

This looks a lot like the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, with Nicolas Cage as Lot. It’s a telling scene where he selects one woman and child to rescue from a train that’s about to crash; he’s helping God separate the wheat from the chaff.

Drama

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Terminator: Salvation

Quicktime trailer.

The TV show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, while occasionally inventive and interesting, vaccilates between Christian allegory so overt that you expect a DRTV version peddling bibles, and a weirdly anachronistic screed against technological progress. Neither can last for much longer without getting ridiculous.

So now we have a tale of “judgement day,” the inevitable climax of any Christian science-fiction story. The ultimate cyborg thing that is the villain will symbolize something or other, and what that is will be the measure of whether or not this movie makes any sort of sense. Does this uber-terminator represent the devil? Or is he merely a symbol of spiritual emptiness, a soul-less creature who represents the worst possible type of human being: amoral, guilt-free, blasphemous to its creator?

Aliens and robots are usually metaphors for some aspect of humanity, so it’s common for their stories to climax with a hybrid creature that drives home the horror of the familar. Some other examples:

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The Borg Queen in one of those later Star Trek movies singularly personified (literally) an entity that had been so insidious because of its depersonalization. In TV, things spread out, curl back on themselves, and develop endlessly. In movies, they come to a head. After years of hating “The Borg,” viewers are here enticed to be sexually attracted to it. They couple with it in the form of Data, the good cyborg, so the interface still comes at a comfortable distance.

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The werewolf/vampire hybrid in Underworld is a correctional force of nature, arrived after the world of the undead has been consumed by too much politics and arrogance. He’s a new broom in an old house. Nice abs, too.

This trailer for Terminator: Salvation also uses the viewer’s implicit questions about the franchise to generate suspense within it. Does the movie mean the end of the TV show? Do you have to watch one to understand the other?

The key lies in the line “This isn’t the future my mother warned me about.” In other words, everything has changed, and the connection between cause and effect is tenuous. Most likely, the movie will have a sort of Alice In Wonderland ending, where all the events we observe on the big screen cancel themselves out, or something.

Finally, the transition from the small to the big screen tends to often manifest as certain characters or objects literally getting bigger, as if to fill the extra space. This moment in the Terminator: Salvation trailer immediately made me think of Animal’s giganticism in The Muppet Movie:

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Adventure
Science Fiction

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Star Trek

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Quicktime trailer.

J.J. Abrams, creator of Alias and Lost, has shown himself to be very bad at bringing complex stories to a close. So here’s a project he’s much more likely to excel at, one that is focused completely on building exposition around an end that the audience already knows.

The original Star Trek series only ran for three years. Since then, it has expanded into a universe of such depth and nuance that, for those of us who have come to appreciate it, watching the original series can sometimes be cringe-inducing. The obvious costumes, the re-usable sets, the cheap ship-shaking effects… we’d almost like to imagine that, somehow, the original show could be retroactively made better than it was, to make it more obviously deserve everything that it became.

When the voiceover says “You’ve always had a hard time finding your place in this world, haven’t you?”, it’s not talking to the young James T. Kirk; it’s talking to you, the potential viewer. Are you, or were you, an awkward kid (i.e. everybody)? Perhaps you’ll find a career… in space. The voiceover ostensibly directed at the young Spock is similarly directed at the viewer: We all find ourselves born of two worlds in some way or another, whether the divide is racial, religious, geographical, divorced families, dual citizenship, etc. The idea here is to encourage the confused child of two worlds (i.e. everyone) to buy a ticket in order to be exhilarated as that drama made metaphorical is played out on a grand scale.

Adventure
Science Fiction

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Chandi Chowk To China

Now watch the very different Quicktime trailer.

Who’s the intended audience?  Will the comedy play stereotypes against each other, or stereotypes against reality?

A couple other comedies that deal with inter-cultural tension in a way that seemed smooth at the time:

Michael Keaton is the working-class American guy who pretends to know how to talk to Japanese businessmen in Gung Ho. Interestingly, I can’t find a trailer, or even a good still image from that movie. It’s almost as if it’s been erased from public memory, like Songs Of The South. Here’s the climax, though:

Eddie Murphy is a finder of missing children, who must now find the Dalai Lama, or something, in The Golden Child. But does anyone else remember that trailer as a little bit different?

Also, The Guru vs. The Love Guru, previously discussed here.

Adventure
Comedy

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The International

Quicktime trailer

Even those of us who know better would still like to believe in a world in which large, sweeping problems are always caused by evil, powerful people conspiring on a grand scale. Let us indulge in a little fantasy that the ongoing economic collapse is the result of a few bad apples who, formidable though they may be, could in theory be tracked down and shot. It naturally follows that this is true of all your institutional problems, be they with banks or schools or whatever: Somewhere, there is some evil guy whom you could just take it upon yourself to kill, and the problem would go away.

Remember this? It’s the stilt house from Lethal Weapon 2. It symbolizes the South Africa pro-apartheid government, and how it was destined not to last, and how all it really needed was a traditional black-white American cop duo to tear it down.

Much more interesting is that the trailer for Lethal Weapon 2 was really just a trailer for the first ten minutes of the movie, which had nothing to do with South Africa, or even any specific bad guys. And yet it still fits, because it’s about how the American dream of domestic bliss gets messed up at every turn. You think you’re doing something as simple as sitting in your bathroom, reading Field And Stream, when boom, you realize that you’ve been tracked down by haters of all things suburban…

Stilt house image from I Am Not A Stalker.

Adventure
Animation

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