Trailers of the Week: The Canyons, Flight, Hitchcock, and More

Zero Dark Thirty (December 19)

Silver: I absolutely love this trailer. It’s not overly flashy or high-concept. Instead, through a subtle and dexterous balance of tone and intentional vagueness, we get a Halloween fun-size version of the film. Just enough to whet the appetite and make us want more. The somber and ominous tone is set with excellent music, and with two ambiguous yet badass sound bites from Jason Clarke and Mark Strong. The Hurt Locker was one of the most intense film-going experiences I’ve ever had in a movie theater. There were multiple times I felt like I’d lost my breath. So I can only imagine what director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have in store for their follow-up to that multiple-Oscar winner, which just so happens to be about the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. I also love this cast; the aforementioned Clarke and Stong have been on the precipice of stardom for a while, so maybe Zero Dark Thirty is their coming-out party, but they’re just two in an ensemble of solid performers. Based on this trailer, it looks like Jessica Chastain is the central character, but we also get glimpses of James Gandolfini, Scott Adkins, Joel Edgerton, Edgar Ramirez, Chris Pratt, and Kyle Chandler. I cannot wait to see this film. But for now, I’m going to watch this trailer a few more times, because without a doubt, it’s one of the best released this year.

Browne: This is one of those times where, if it weren’t Ms. Bigelow, I’d be worried about the full film because the trailer is a little too good. But since she is in charge, I’m left to assume everything will be executed perfectly. The most well-done part of the trailer, in my inexpert opinion, is the fact that we get a sense of who the characters are, but little about what their roles will be in the film. Yes, Chastain seems important, but her role isn’t fully explained in the trailer. And I really want to know. Also, seeing Coach Taylor walk across the screen couldn’t have been a nicer surprise. Like you said, Dan, this is easily one of the better trailers of 2012.

The Canyons (2013)

Silver: This first look at The Canyons is immensely disappointing. When I heard that Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis were teaming up on a new film about sexual depravity in Los Angeles that was too risqué for most independent financiers, forcing them to look to Kickstarter for funds, well, to say I was intrigued and excited would be an understatement. Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver, writer/director of Hardcore and American Gigolo) and Ellis (writer of the novel American Psycho and all-around Twitter provocateur) are two men who’ve figured out a way retain their fringe status while still functioning at the epicenter of Hollywood. So with The Canyons I was sincerely hoping for a raw, disturbing, yet honest and self-reflexive look at Tinseltown. But the Grindhouse feel of this trailer suggests that although the themes and messages of The Canyons may be weighty, the film will address them with camp, tongue firmly planted in its cheek. The casting of James Deen (the porn star) and Lindsay Lohan (the “star”?) as the two leads should have been an obvious tip-off, but ultimately it’s my fault for reading into their casting too deeply. Sasha Grey made the transition from porn to legit film when she starred in Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience (and then Entourage). So why wouldn’t Schrader follow Soderbergh’s cue and cast a porn star for a film that was so clearly going to get a little dirty in the sexual sandbox anyway? And Lohan? Well, I simply looked at her casting as the start of a symbiotic relationship. Schrader and Ellis get their free PR (and possibly glimpses of the Lohan who could still act), and Lohan gets to try to flip some of Ellis’s and Schrader’s rebel cred into other gigs. But instead of a new Sex, Lies, and Videotape, The Canyons will most likely be a 2013 version of a Russ Meyer exploitation film. And those films are nearly unwatchable if you’re not in film school or wearing a trench coat in a marginal movie theater in the 1970s.

Browne: This is funny:

Sorry, Silver, but I’m hooked. I don’t know why, but I’m fully invested in Lindsay Lohan: Comeback Kid. I want her to be on top again. Will this film do it? Probably not, but at least she’s working. And who knows, maybe jumping into a role where she can use her own demons to “act” is a smart move on her part, and on the part of Ellis and Schrader. Look, all I know is that Mean Girls came out when I was 17, and some things you just can’t shake.

Django Unchained (December 25)

Silver: (Note to Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis: Study up. This is what a modern-day exploitation trailer looks and feels like.)

I am so glad this trailer came along. With the annual pre-winter-frost Oscar fare starting to trickle out and awards buzz starting to swirl, I’d almost forgotten that a new Q.T. experience was soon upon us. I’ve previously noted how Tarantino is one of the few true auteurs still working in Hollywood, and how not only his films, but his trailers, are truly distinctive. So there’s no reason to launch into another barrage of platitude-packed paragraphs. All you need to know is that this new trailer does exactly what it’s supposed to: It elaborates on the film’s plot and gives us more of a feel of the Django universe (which includes Leo’s tobacco-stained teeth, a prosthetics-covered Sam Jackson, and apparently Jonah Hill now). But more than anything, it reminds us that this holiday season is not going to be all about Hobbits, Presidents, Cosette, and Tom Cruise. There’s a cowboy coming to town, and his name is Django. Spelled D-J-A-N-G-O, and the D is silent.

Browne: First off, watch your mouth. Christmas was invented so that it may one day host the premiere of Les Misérables, but Django appears to be a wonderful companion piece in your holiday double bill. I’m glad the trailer took a more serious tone (especially with regard to Kerry Washington’s character), but did so without losing the jokey nature of the earlier trailers. I’m excited for all the stars who have made their way into this film, but there’s something about Leo as slave master that I can’t wait for. The scene with him, Christoph Waltz, and Foxx, in which Leo says: “Why don’t they just rise up and kill the whites?” is perfectly executed. I was worried at first, but it’s becoming increasingly clear this film’s going to be incredible.

Room 237 (TBD)

Silver: If I didn’t already know that Room 237 was a documentary about Kubrick’s The Shining, this trailer would lead me to believe that this was a film in the vein of Shadow of the Vampire, RKO 281, or Ed Wood — a scripted narrative feature film about the making of a famous movie. A film where after its gala premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, Oscar buzz would already be full tilt for Russell Crowe’s depiction of Stanley Kubrick, Ed Norton’s take on Jack Nicholson, and Miley Cyrus’s tour de force as Shelley Duvall (when the real focus should have been on Katt Williams’s version of Scatman Crothers). But no, this is a trailer for a documentary. Yet with title cards rolling onto the screen that read …

“In 1980, Stanley Kubrick directed his visionary horror masterpiece The Shining.

“For over 30 years its darkest secrets have remained buried. Until now.

“Are you ready to return to Room 237?

“Some films stay with you forever. And ever. And ever.”

This trailer just happens to play like it could be for any horror film released today. Even if I weren’t such a film dork, I feel like this trailer would make me want to see this film. But if I weren’t such a film dork, I’d buy a ticket and then be pissed that it was a 90-minute doc about the making of one movie. And then I’d spend the whole time thinking, “Where the hell are Russell Crowe and Miley Cyrus?”

Browne: I think I’d rather just watch The Shining again. Maybe a second trailer will change my mind about this, but probably not.

Hitchcock (November 23)

Silver: You can toss the imaginary Kubrick/Crowe, Nicholson/Norton, and Duvall/Cyrus film aside, because I’m much more excited about the very real opportunity to see Johansson/Leigh, Mirren/Reville, and Hopkins/Hitchcock. I know a scripted love story about Alfred Hitchcock and his wife framed by the making of Psycho isn’t going to be for everyone, but it is certainly for me. For the purposes of this film, director Sacha Gervasi appears to be leaning heavily on Hitch’s wry wit and distinctly British sensibilities, and not some of his other less-flattering qualities (“tyrannical,” “creepy,” “obsessive,” are words I’ve often heard associated with the man). And I for one am completely fine with this. I love the “public” Hitchcock, the one who walked into his own silhouette and starred in his own movie trailers. The interplay between Hopkins and Mirren might just be worth the price of admission, and the casting of Johansson as Janet Leigh is spot-on. She looks JUST like her. This might be my celluloid-addled brain talking, but I honestly don’t even care how accurate this film really is. I’m all for historical fiction (Hitler and his cronies really didn’t die in a burning movie theater, but that didn’t stop me from loving Inglourious Basterds). I can’t wait to see this film.

Browne: At this point, I feel honored to sit and watch Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren spar, even for the length of a movie trailer. They’re so good at acting and bickering. I agree that this probably won’t be for everyone, but as you mentioned, I, too, am their target demographic: viewers who love sassy old people. Nothing’s better.

Flight (November 2)

Silver: I’d like to believe that at some point on the set of Flight, Robert Zemeckis had a moment where he thought to himself, Wow. Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle are really good together. I really missed working with actors, in real costumes, on practical sets. This isn’t so bad. And it looks so much better. There hasn’t been a harsher critic of Zemeckis than me. I can count the films of his I like on one hand (Back to the Future I-III, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and What Lies Beneath). I find his live-action films to be overly sentimental, bloated awards bait, and his motion-capture films to be just unwatchable. But despite this, there’s no doubt the guy is technically proficient. He’s a director who knows how to seamlessly meld live action with special effects. So my hope is that after a 12-year absence from live-action filmmaking, Zemeckis has rededicated himself to his storytelling skills, and here has combined them with his already deft craftsmanship to make Flight his “welcome home” party to actual filmmaking.

Browne: When Denzel lands this plane upside down, I will stand up in the theater, beat my chest, scream “MY SON’S GONNA LIVE,” and then lead an integrated high school football team to a state championship. Why won’t November 2 come sooner? Also, completely unrelated, but Cheadle and Denzel hitting the big screens a few days before the election will easily seal the deal for Obama. So that’s a thing. Can’t wait.

Gangster Squad (January 11)

Silver: I don’t understand movie studios. The first two Gangster Squad trailers were lackluster at best. They were devoid of enthusiasm, and (the completely inspired use of a Jay-Z song aside) failed at selling the film as anything but an obvious Untouchables knockoff. And then this trailer comes along. This trailer kicks ass, and immediately made me not care about Eliot Ness and his band of wacky Prohibition fighters. For me, Gangster Squad is the ultra-violent, star-driven, sit-in-a-theater-and-just-escape film I need at the start of the new year after a stuffy month of Oscar fodder. Maybe the release-date shift was a smart move. Maybe this film doesn’t suck.

Browne: If there’s one thing this film does well, it’s prove that there’s nothing cooler than one guy picking up a rifle and throwing it to his comrade, who then catches it with one hand. Go back and watch the trailer. It’s just the best. Every time. As for the trailer, yes, I’m finally excited to see this. I didn’t mind it as an Untouchables knockoff, but am pleasantly surprised to see that it may be something more than that.

Filed Under: Django Unchained, Flight, Gangster Squad, Kathryn Bigelow, Movies, The Canyons, Trailers of the Week, Zero Dark Thirty

Rembert Browne is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ rembert