Trailers of the Week: Gravity, Captain Phillips, The World’s End, and More

Gravity (October 4)

Silver: Alfonso Cuaron has only directed three films since 2001 (his section in Paris, Je T’Aime does not count), and yet when you look at those three titles it’s easy to understand why he’s still considered to be one of the most revered filmmakers working today.

2001’s Y Tu Mamá También is the type of intimate, highly sexual, intensely emotional, character-centric piece American indie filmmakers have longed to produce.

2004’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is undoubtedly the turning point for the series. Chris Columbus’s insistence on staying impeccably true to the source material resulted in the first two films feeling rigid and somewhat emotionless. Then Cuaron entered and immediately loosened the reins. He infused some reality into Potter’s magical world with the use of more muted colors and handheld camerawork. He allowed the students of Hogwarts to dress and act more like real children, and refocused Potter’s narrative on the emotional stakes contained within the interpersonal relationships between the characters. No film since Azkaban has looked or felt like the first two films in the series. And even though the first two films were box office hits, a case could easily be made that this franchise would not be the multi-billion-dollar behemoth it is today if it weren’t for Cuaron.

Then came 2006’s Children of Men, a dystopian sci-fi tale that garnered three Oscar nominations despite being a piece not many have seen. But those who have usually regard it for what it is: a revolutionary cinematic masterpiece. Before Children of Men, I’d only sat in a theater twice and felt that I was seeing an instant classic (There Will Be Blood and The Social Network), and only once thought that it would alter the landscape of cinema production as I knew it (The Matrix). With Children of Men, I had both thoughts at the same time.

Which now (finally) brings us to Gravity. Although Cuaron’s single tracking shot technique has been utilized in other films since, I’ve yet to see it as deftly, seamlessly, and organically implemented as it is in this trailer. Never, in any of Cuaron’s films, does style supersede emotion and narrative. His technique drives the story forward and raises the stakes. And given the advances in technology since 2006, how could anyone possibly know what to expect from Gravity?

This first glimpse hints at a high-concept sci-fi thriller that is really just a framing device for an incredibly small-scale story of two people’s survival. And let’s not overlook that, aside from the two shots of Clooney and Bullock in their spacesuits, this entire trailer was made up of special effects shots, and yet not a moment of it feels gratuitous.

There should be no misunderstanding: Gravity is a big deal. But will it be this generation’s 2001? Or will it be this year’s Cloud Atlas, an admirable yet failed attempt at greatness? We’ll all find out on October 4, but my money’s on greatness.

Browne: This shot is enough to get me excited for this film:

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This might be the first movie that should be required to be seen in IMAX 3-D. There shouldn’t be another option.

 

Ender’s Game (November 1)

Silver: A sure sign that a geek is starting to show his or her age is when another billion-dollar hopeful franchise is spawned from a series of YA novels they had no idea existed. To that point, I’m old and unhip, because this trailer was my first introduction to Ender’s Game. So, knowing as much about the plot of Ender’s as I do advanced calculus, I can really only speak to what’s in this trailer.

First, Ender’s feels like a bouillabaisse of The Hunger Games, Highlander, Star Wars, Independence Day, and Harry Potter. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Ender’s is certainly chock full of familiar narrative tropes.

And what’s with all the references to Academy Award Winners and/or Nominees? What tween or teen gives a frak about that? And if a potential adult patron was already put off by the sci-fi component, noting that Ben Kingsley won an Academy Award won’t sway them back into the fold. That tactic feels incredibly forced, and I hate to say it, awfully desperate.

Ender’s does have a pretty terrific cast, though. Butterfield, Steinfeld, and Breslin are three of the best thespians under 20. The only way they could be outshone is if Chloe Grace Moretz shows up in some kind of cameo. And I’m all in on Harrison Ford’s recent string of grizzled and crotchety old men. I’ve been really enjoying watching him play the guy who seems like he’s pissed that he’s no longer “the man.” It’s exactly what I want to see from his Han Solo in Episode VII.

And finally, although the perceived stakes are much less, Hood has placed himself in a similar situation to Zack Snyder with Man of Steel. Like Snyder after Watchmen and Sucker Punch, Hood is in desperate need of a hit after the dismal X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the equally forgettable Rendition. So as Snyder has teamed up with Nolan and Goyer, Hood joined with Alex Kutzman and Roberto Orci (J.J. Abrams’s co-producers on Star Trek, M:I 3, Alias, and Fringe) with the hope they can keep Hood focused. Hood can make a good film. 2005’s Tsotsi was of the better films of that year, so we soon shall see.

Browne: I really see no need to add another 3,500 words to this review, so just take a moment and pay respect to Ben Kingsley’s face tats.

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The Butler (October 18)

Silver: I normally scoff at trailers that unashamedly pull at the heartstrings, much less a film that is so blatantly jockeying for an Oscar. But damn, this trailer went straight for the mushy center, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get me all riled up and emotional.

Wow. Who knew that the same qualities that Forest Whitaker brought to some of the most intense and creepy characters on both film (The Last King of Scotland) and TV (The Shield) could be reappropriated for such an endearing, pensive stillness? After this brief 2:30, I just want to give his Cecil Gaines a big hug. His butler appears to be a fresh lens through which to view both American and presidential history.

I’m a Lee Daniels fan. We all know how good Precious was, and I’m one of the few fans of The Paperboy. This is a writer/director who takes big swings. They may not always connect with audiences, but Daniels’s films are always personal and unique. For that reason, they’re always worth watching, and The Butler certainly feels like it will have the broadest appeal yet.

And let’s not forget that the queen of the world, Oprah, makes her triumphant return to serious acting with this film. There’s a small part of me that wishes I was David Oyelowo. How great would it be to get slapped by Oprah? Cherish that moment, David. Seriously.

Yet the most surprising aspect of this trailer is how much James Marsden is in it. I like Marsden; he’s a talented dude. He’s handsome, he’s funny, he can sing. He’s a perfect forgettable leading man for most rom-coms. Yet, as The Butler’s roster of performers was filling up with various Oscar winners, former nominees, and just generally respectable dudes playing various U.S. presidents — Williams as Eisenhower, Rickman as Reagan, Schreiber as LBJ, and Cusack as Nixon — I always felt the selection of Marsden as the iconic JFK was a bit bizarre (and Minka Kelly — yes, Lyla Garrity — is Jackie O). And yet, of all the presidents focused on in this first trailer, Marsden gets the most screen time. Maybe this is ol’ Jimmy’s step up into the big leagues of dramatic acting. We soon shall see.

Regardless, this film quickly leaped to the top of my must-see awards-season list.

Browne: I really see no need to add another 72,000 words to this review, so just take a moment and pay respects to Lenny, Cuba, and Forest looking like the Delfonics at an Inauguration Ball.

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The World’s End (August 23)

Browne: Before you gush over this, Silver, let me just say this looks fantastic. Yes, I am entertained and enthralled by every disaster movie, but this one trailer stands out from the rest. This just can’t be bad. Not a chance.

OK, go.

Silver: Game over. Game over, other films of 2013. This is The World’s End.

Some films in 2013 may be cinematic masterpieces, and some may be the most fun you’ll ever have in the theater, but none of them, literally NONE OF THEM, can hold a melting Cornetto ice cream cone to a new piece from Wright/Pegg/Frost.

On this site, I’ve made no secret of my unabashed love … no, something stronger … unwavering adoration for these three men (here and here). Many a professional poseur and delusional film school nerd (like myself) have oft attempted, and ultimately failed, to copy their hilariously heartfelt, ingeniously aware, genre-melding bravura and style.

It’s just not possible. Of us all, these are the three “chosen ones” — the true talents who just so happen to also be geeks, and not just geeks who assume they have talent.

As of this moment (9:10 a.m. ET) I’ve seen this trailer 17 times and counting. I even forced my wife to watch it last night, and although she herself is a huge geek, and has seen and liked Spaced, Shaun, and Fuzz, she stared blankly at me as I attempted to explain what “The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” was, and why this film was so significant.

OK, Silver. Calm down. And as Tim Bisley would say, “Skip to the end.”

Alas, aside from what’s presented in the trailer — the cast, a fantastically funny fence-jump callback, a brief glimpse at Mark Heap as a bartender (he played Brian in Spaced), and the Invasion of the Body Snatchers influence — there’s not much indication of exactly how this film is going to unfold.

But I don’t care. I’m going to let The World’s End wash over me as if it were a warm wave at the beach, then I’m going to let that wave recede and wash back over me again. Like this trailer, I’m certainly going to see this film a few times.

 

Inside Llewyn Davis — Red Band Trailer (December 6)

Silver: This is essentially the same great trailer released back in January. There are a few new bits, and a few extended, now explicit (hence the red band), scenes. But quite honestly, none of this matters. From the looks of it, Llewyn is a Coen brothers movie in the truest sense. Which immediately narrows down its audience to the population of Fargo, North Dakota. (Like what I did there?) It’s beautifully shot, has John Goodman in it, and appears sufficiently quirky. So, as an honorary member of the Fargo cinema society, I’m quite looking forward to this film.

Browne: Just so we aren’t glossing over this fact, JOHN GOODMAN IS IN THIS FILM. There’s something that happens when he pops up halfway through a trailer that immediately increases one’s curiosity in a film (most recently: Flight). Very excited about this.

 

Captain Phillips (October 11)

Silver: Rem … by the beard of Zeus! Have we ever had a week with this many strong trailers? After Gravity, The World’s End, The Butler, and Inside Llewyn Davis, I didn’t think it was possible to rile me up again.

But then came Captain Phillips. Curse you, Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass!

Posing itself as the successor of Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, and with its cast’s proven pedigree — Hanks, Greengrass, Rudin, Brunetti, De Luca, Ray — it’s clear that Captain Phillips aims to be this year’s crossover success story. Phillips is even going so far as to follow Argo’s early fall release strategy, most likely starting with a premiere at the Toronto Film Festival to build up some buzz, then dropping into theaters, having a healthy first two weekends, and selling the film to broad audiences and awards voters as the film that was both financially and critically prosperous (hence the crossover).

After Larry Crowne, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Cloud Atlas, and twice as Robert Langdon in Ron Howard’s cinematic equivalents of hocking an allergy-prompted loogie, it’s nice to see Hanks back in a role we all would actually want to see him in.

And Paul Greengrass: I know his style is hit-or-miss with some, but I think he’s a true talent. With his two Bourne films and Flight 93, Greengrass ushered in a new style of filmmaking that I’d go so far as to say paved the way for the modern action thriller by grounding traditional action films in reality, and attempting to honestly depict the rawness, brutality, and real-life consequences of the unfolding events. (Let’s not forget that James Bond didn’t truly bleed onscreen till 2006’s Casino Royale, a film released two years after The Bourne Supremacy.) And in Flight 93, Greengrass cast actual government employees and used their actual transcribed words to relive what was most likely the worst day of their lives. His films are shot and dexterously presented as if they were a documentary.

Storywise, Phillips should be a layup for Greengrass & Co. And I for one am most excited to see how Greengrass’s cameras move within the confines of that tanker. I’m sure there will be many claustrophobic, Das Boot–esque moments, mixed with a vast sense of aquatic isolation. We all should prepare for some nail biting.

Browne: This is the pirate movie I’ve been waiting on for years. I love pirates. I love the idea of being on a ship and that ship being overtaken by pirates. Or being a pirate that overtakes a ship. So, just to sum these feelings up, I love pirates. I wish I was a pirate. I’m a pirate. #Pirate.

Filed Under: Inside Llewyn Davis, Trailers of the Week

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Rembert Browne is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ rembert