Trailer Park: Sundance Hits and Action Misses

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Welcome to “Trailer Park,” our regular Friday feature where we collect the week’s new trailers all in one place and do a little “judging a book by its cover,” ranking them from worst to best and taking our best guess at what they may be hiding. This week, we’ve got ten new ones — taken as a group, a rather eclectic mix of styles and subjects indicating that the summer movie season is drawing to a close. Check ‘em all out after the jump.

Arena

Okay, are we all agreed that we’ve passed the tipping point with Samuel L. Jackson? There was a time when we were willing to forgive how many bad movies he was in because he continued to balance that out with good ones — like Michael Caine or Gene Hackman in the ‘80s, Jackson is a working actor, and he likes to work, and he does a lot of films (over 100 since 1990). But let’s be honest — he’s mostly doing bad movies now, and what’s worse (and what you couldn’t say about him in, say, the ‘90s), he’s very, very bad in them. As exhibit A, we offer this trailer for Arena, a laughably terrible-looking techno-action disaster with something called a “Kellan Lutz” (ah, I see, he’s a Twilight person. Ignorance is bliss) and, regrettably, Lost’s Daniel Dae Kim. Did the trailer editor have a specific grudge against Mr. Jackson? Because that’s the only way I can explain including his middle-school-drama-production reading of “And I’ll SET’CHA FREEEEEE!,” or that little dance he does at 1:25. Sam: Listen to me now. I’ve been a fan forever. Since Coming to America, for God’s sake. TAKE SOME TIME OFF. You’re not some struggling New York nobody actor anymore. You’re Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson. You can be… what’s the word… selective. (For what it’s worth, Arena is out in October. And — brace yourself for the surprise — it’s going straight to DVD.)

The Darkest Hour

It’s only up for a flash, so you have to really look to see how they’re pulling the wool over your eyes, but this is an actual bit of on-screen text for the trailer of this sci-fi action picture: “Presented by the visionary director of Wanted.” Let’s take that apart, shall we? It’s not from “the visionary director of Wanted,” because said director is Timur Bekmambetov, and he didn’t direct The Darkest Hour. He is presenting it — i.e., he is a producer of it, so flashing up a quickie connection between the two films is roughly equivalent to a Transformers: Dark of the Moon trailer insisting that it is “Presented by the visionary director of Jurassic Park” just because Spielberg has a negligible producer credit. (All of this is, of course, operating under the assumption that you would agree that the guy who created a beat-for-beat rip-off of The Matrix is a “visionary.”) Anyway, that’s an awfully quick moment to obsess about, so let’s continue to the trailer itself. It looks terrible, agreed? Good. Let’s move on.

Twixt

Francis Ford Coppola’s interactive promotional presentation for his new film Twixt was reportedly a must-see at this year’s Comic-Con, so why is this (rather flabby) trailer so underwhelming? The cast is intriguing (Val Kilmer and Bruce Dern have certainly made some turkeys, but they’re always fun to watch; add in Elle Fanning and Tom Waits and we’re certainly sold), the premise has promise, and this is the guy who made The Godfather and The Conversation, after all. But this is also the guy who, after a decade-long exile from directing, made Youth Without Youth and Tetro — two films with a very specific issue that, from the looks of the Twixt teaser, Coppola may still be battling: Beautiful to look at, masterfully crafted, and absolutely DOA narratively. Coppola’s written great screenplays, but these were not among them; Twixt doesn’t quite look to be the return to form we were frankly hoping for.

Red Tails

This dramatization of the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen has been a longtime passion project for George Lucas, who started talking about it 20 years ago and had to watch as the excellent 1995 HBO movie The Tuskegee Airmen (seriously, rent it, Andre Braugher will make ya cry) got there first. Now comes the Lucas-produced Red Tails, with some pretty reliable red flags (a January release date, extensive post-production reshoots) and a trailer indicating some incredible dogfights buttressed by the kind of tin-eared, cliché-ridden dialogue we’ve come to expect from a Lucas production. But still, this is a compelling story with a good cast (including Terrence Howard, Bryan Cranston, and Tuskegee Airmen co-star Cuba Gooding Jr.), and yep, there are some goosebump moments in this trailer. Sorry, people. We’re not made of wood.

The Sitter

Do yourself a favor and skip over the first 1:15 of this clip, a rather strained “introduction” for Jonah Hill’s new comedy, which is barely amusing and mostly just serves to illustrate the jarring contrast between the Jonah Hill we’re used to seeing onscreen and the newly svelte, 21 Jump Street Jonah. And speaking of jarring contrasts: yes, yes, it is still hard to accept that George Washington/All the Real Girls director David Gordon Green is just going to do low-brow R-rated comedies now. But, that said, The Sitter doesn’t look like another Your Highness; there’s laughs to be found in this “red-band” (read: dirty) trailer, the participation of Sam Rockwell and the underappreciated Ari Graynor is encouraging, and the production appears to have nicely replicated the manic energy of its clearest inspiration, the immortal Adventures in Babysitting. Looks like dumb fun, but fun all the same.

In Time

We’re excited about In Time, and you should be too, and here’s why: Andrew Niccol. He’s the writer/director of this Philip K. Dick-esque vaguely futuristic sci-fi thriller, and did the same duty on a film that could be described in much the same way — 1997’s Gattaca, easily one of the smartest and most thought-provoking studio pictures of the 1990s. His later output has been a bit uneven; S1mOne didn’t have many fans (though your author was among them), and Lord of War disappeared rather quickly (though most critics rightfully praised it). Fox is playing up the bang-bang crash-crash angle, probably wisely, but the picture’s thematic intertwining of science fiction and class-based social commentary looks like Niccol is back to what he does best. (Speaking of people doing what they do best: Bonus points for casting Vincent Kartheiser as a rich, weaselly putz.)

Shut Up Little Man!

This “true story of an accidental phenomenon” is familiar to devotees of This American Life, which ran a segment on it way back on their seventh episode (when the show was still under its original title, Your Radio Playhouse) — it’s a fascinating tale, not only of a (to say the least) problematic relationship, but of how those oddball recordings became a kind of audio verité phenomenon. This documentary account of both played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and, well, we can’t wait to see it.

Like Crazy

Which brings us to another Sundance player — the biggest of 2011, winner of the Grand Jury prize and a Best Actress award for co-star Felicity Jones. These are pretty dark times for screen romance, which has descended into a muck of unwatchable Kate Hudson and Katherine Heigl vehicles, but from the look of this trailer, director Drake Doremus has crafted a delicate and naturalistic picture that seems refreshingly short of Hollywood bullshit. Here’s hoping, anyway.