I Am the Night

I Am the Night

​​​​​​​Coming in early 2019 as part of TNT’s “Suspense Collection,” I Am the Night promises to be a thrilling match-up, with Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins directing Hollywood phenom Chris Pine. In this series, a runaway woman discovers that she’s familially connected to a doctor-come-murderer, George Hodel. The suspense that ensues promises equal parts horror and film noire, and the trailer certainly obliges.

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Halloween

Halloween

Not quite a reboot and not quite a sequel, Halloween is part of an eleven-instalment franchise stretching back to 1978. Without particular for continuity with its previous sequels, this version of what’s become a sort of re-told myth in the American slasher tradition of filmmaking sees Jamie Lee Curtis reprise her original role as Laurie Strode, seeking some forty years later to enact violent revenge on the escaped mental patient and original film’s murderer, Michael Myers (Nick Castle). As such, the film is best thought of as a direct sequel to the original, within its own continuity.

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The King

The King

In recent weeks on this blog, we’ve been tracking a recent spate of biopics, including seminal musical legends Whitney Houston and Freddie Mercury / Queen. This week we’re continuing this trend with an upcoming feature retrospective on Elvis Presley called, suitably if obviously, The King. The previous trailers were relatively straightforward, presenting a predictably positive overall image of Houston and Mercury. However, with The King, it becomes apparent midway through the trailer that this film is as much an extended metaphor acting as a comparison to and appraisal of the current American cultural moment as it is a remembrance of where and how Elvis Presley impacted his own time.

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19th Annual Golden Trailer Awards Nominees Announced

19th Annual Golden Trailer Awards Nominees Announced

The Golden Trailer Awards nominees have once again been announced. Practically the Oscars of motion picture trailers and television marketing, the nomination tallies reflect a shifting of the cultural guard over from the traditional major studios towards the major players in streaming such as Netflix. This year, both Warner Bros. and Netflix round out the top two studios with 62 nominations each.

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Whitney

Whitney

It’s only natural that the music of Whitney Houston would take centre stage in the trailer for her biopic, due for release July 6th. A joint release by Miramax and Roadside with Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald on board, the trailer includes an interesting choice of music that balances a view of Houston in popular culture with the deeper understandings of an individual that any biopic worth its salt will offer.

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Johnny English Strikes Again

Not detracting from a noticeably rampant Hollywood affliction of “sequelitis”Johnny English Strikes Back is nonetheless a sequel that relatively few might recognize as its entries have been released about seven to eight years apart. Including 2003’s Johnny Englishand 2011’s Johnny English Reborn, which both earned $160 million worldwide, the series is a send-up of the Bond franchise, probably drawing inspiration from the Austin Powers trilogy (1997 - 2002).

 Strikes Again sees Rowan Atkinson back in action as a bumbling MI7 agent. While best known as “Mr. Bean,” Atkinson’s brand of comedy shines here, while also giving him the ability to have a speaking role and to fit a bit better amongst the broader cast, something that “Mr. Bean,” taking after the Charlie Chaplin school of comedic miming, was never intended for.

The trailer opens by taking advantage of the fact that few are expecting a sequel to Johnny Englishright now: a solemn cello is paired with a sombre drone in the upper strings against a shot of the London Eye; an incredibly sophisticated MI7 headquarter is presented as a trailerized version of Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero” is sung against stark images of phones off the hook and a few action shots. 

The ruse is revealed, however, on the word “hero,” which is contrapuntally juxtaposed with the image of Atkinson’s famously goofy visage, as he raises a martini glass and opines that someone is “looking particularly beautiful tonight.” It turns out there is a second reveal, as we realize he is actually, for some reason, teaching this gesture to a large class of schoolchildren. 

At 0:38 we’ve reached the second third of the trailer, and with it, after the reveal, a marked change in tone, with a rollicking rock riff pausing only on cue for the comedic dialogue, with the occasional trailer-signature “winding down sound”for good measure. 

At 1:18 the music changes track to more of a stomping groove as various other cast characters and new gimmicks particular to this entry are introduced, such as a virtual reality gag. 

By 2:00 the final third of the trailer is in play, which, while keeping the same music, has moved from presenting an assortment of clips to a more extended scene involving magnetic boots. At 2:12 we get the main title card, and at 2:20 there’s a moment of synchronicity between the music and image, as the music seems to be building towards a climax, only to end in Atkinson’s thudding body as he falls off a cruise liner’s railing, emphasizing Atkinson’s penchant for slapstick humour. The music returns at 2:28 with the release card (“coming soon” – more precisely, September in North America and October in the UK). 

Strikes Again’s trailer reaffirms many things that we already know of the modern comedy trailer, including the trope of the fake-out opener. It is interesting, however, that the editors would go for a completely new rendition of an existing Bonnie Tyler song rather than anything fully new or pre-existing. It could be that by presenting such an over-the-top song in this context, it could act as a subconscious indicator that the world of Johnny Englishis fundamentally satirical and more than slightly ridiculous. The effort to lampoon the slow pop song trope in a way that completely lifts from Bond openers, including the slowly rising and falling chromatic embellishments, is noticeable.

 

– Curtis Perry

Westworld Season 2

For the Season Two trailer of recent hit HBO show Westworld that dropped on March 29th, the music is a true highlight. Credited to series composer Ramin Djawadi, the music embodies the second season’s tagline – “chaos takes control.”

While it is another trailerized cover song in an environment where such an approach has become if not tired then certainly a norm, this rendition of seminal grunge band Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” is impactful on multiple levels. The first and most immediate aspect of note might be its intertextually allusive power. For a series that is a “dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin,”fn the themes implied in the title of “Heart-Shaped Box” resonate with those of Westworld, a series that is nothing if not an elaborate rumination on suffering and consciousness.

The trailer begins with a 19-second dialogue between Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright); both of them are “hosts” (artificial beings) who have both recently become aware of their apparent inhumanity. According to biographer Michael Azzerad, songwriter Kurt Cobain said that the song was inspired in part by documentaries about children who have cancer. The music video, meanwhile, was a surreal landscape that included imagery from The Wizard of Oz, and various other absurdist, surreal elements such as artificial crows. In this context, the choice of song is generationally powerful; those in the teenage demographic at the time of the song’s release are now well into their 40s and well in the position of recognizing what the song stands for and how it ties into the themes in this HBO drama.

All that being said, this pairing also works not least because the music is quite powerful in its own right, whether or not you might be aware of the original song. At first, the piano simply outlines a minor chord, and even the keenest listener would be able to identifiably discern that a cover song is underway.

By 0:38, however, the piano plays the quasi-famous riff in full, and there is no doubt for those familiar with the tune. At 0:50 a cello enters with the main melody and the dialogue continues over a montage of violent and dramatic scenes. At 1:15 we get a subtle pick up of energy; with every repeat of the riff, the intensity slowly builds. At 1:27, the staccato strings enter and we get additional harmonization to the main melody that wasn’t present in the original.

At 1:35 we get a brilliant musical takeout as everything cuts out except a closely-mic’d piano playing a tritone (known sometimes as “the devil’s internal”), which in turn allows the chorus of the song at 1:38 to enter in full epic bore, with pounding orchestral percussion and blaring brass. The jarring tritone that acts as the chorus’ hook works in tandem with the clearly mounting and ever-escalating conflict. At 2:14 we get a slight shift in the melody to direct it towards a climactic moment, rather than the usual descending tritone.

A black screen at 2:14 and a soft but clear major piano chord connote a bookending return to the opening aesthetic. Dolores’ smile enters in conjunction with a descending chord that chromatically modulates keys; it is bittersweet – just as we know Dolores’ smile is a brave one, fraught with all of the concerns presented to us earlier, the two major chords are separated by a minor third, and there is an underlying sense that something is fundamentally wrong.

Dolores asserts, “why on earth would you ever be frightened of me?” – and the Westword and HBO with release sate title cards quickly enter at the end as the piano plays the tritone motif once more, with a static hiss in the background and the last few notes fading out. It’s an ending as creepy as it is intriguing.

Westworld’s Season 2 trailer joins a fairly short list of paratextual media that very convincingly justify its sustained use of a cover song. It’s most reminiscent of the campaign for last year’s Logan, which used Johnny Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nails track “Hurt.” In both trailers, both the musical motifs and their connotative thematic resonance feel effortlessly compatible with the trailers they underpin.

 

– Curtis Perry

Terminal

Terminal is Margot Robbie’s self-produced follow-up to the well-received I, Tonya, for which Robbie received a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars. What’s great about the teaser for Terminal is that it is not something that purports to be a teaser, when it divulges much of the plot – one really cannot ascertain about it much beyond the overall tone of the work, which clocks in at under a minute.

Amidst the distant screech of a waterphone and various atmospheric sound effects, Robbie’s character intones in a creepy, layered? voice that “there is a place like no other on earth.” The sound of footsteps is as far as the trailer gets towards establishing a tempo.

Twenty-two seconds in, we’ve been treated to a few dimly-lit shots and Robbie’s mildly disconcerting voice, but nothing concrete yet. At 0:26 we see a hallway glowing an effervescent red, and then a second hallway glowing blue. Robbie assets that you “need to be as mad as a hatter, which luckily I am.”

And that’s it. However, at 0:39 two very notable things occur as the main cast appears in neon signage one by one on the title card. First, perhaps, is the inclusion of Mike Myers, whose name people haven’t associated with major movies for a while if the YouTube comments are anything to go by. More pertinent to this blog, however, is the clear whistling of the popular folk tune “Danny Boy.” It immediately brings to mind the famous whistle from “Kill Bill”; Robbie’s placement as another femme fatale type character reinforces this interpretation.

Satisfyingly, and suitable for a teaser, it leaves one with far more questions than answers. What, if anything, does “Danny Boy” have to do with the film? Despite that lack of immediately available context, the repurposing of this innocent tune in a nefarious atmosphere is suitable to the teaser’s goal of focusing on the feeling of the film and inciting curiosity, rather than giving away the plot.
 

– Curtis Perry

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

This week we are looking and listening to the latest instalment in the far-reaching Harry Potter (or is it Fantastic Beasts?) franchise by J. K. Rowling – Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Naturally, the sequel picks up where the first Fantastic Beasts left off, after the arrest of the eponymous character, a dark wizard bent on conquering the wizarding world. It also features, notably, the debut of a younger Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law).

In terms of musical treatment, it’s an unabashedly grandiose, orchestral affair throughout, and mostly of a rather fitting if generic variety, with at least one subtle but important exception which will be pointed out.

Composed and licensed by Versus Music, a fairly prodigious outfit currently airing its 19th volume of music on YouTube, it begins immediately with a sweeping harmonic minor gesture as we see some lush panning shots of Hogwarts, back in the 1920s when the Fantastic Beasts series takes place.

At 0:12 the main theme begins with steady, beating woodwinds and lower strings, in a swift compound meter, some dialogue atop it. The subtle flourishes of flute are in keeping with the overall tone of the Fantastic Beasts (and, again, Harry Potter as a whole) series. At 0:31 the harmony thickens in tandem with the thickening plot (“I know he’s working under your orders”). It is at that point that Jude Law as young Dumbledore is revealed (brining to mind, somewhat, the revealing of a young Han Solo in another trailer released on Super Bowl Sunday).

At 0:38 we get out first pause in the music, appropriate, for Dumbledore’s dialogue. At 0:45 the studio cards come in, and the music comes roaring back, now with epic choir, suddenly becoming more intimate again at 0:49, only to dynamic ratchet it up again for J. K. Rowling’s title card at 0:53. It’s a bit of a dynamic rollercoaster, but it works well as we move from chord to chord on each title card.

At 1:03, about the midway point, a slightly more humorous, off-hand dialogue is exchanged, giving the audience a breather mid-way through and effectively prepping the audio viewer for the second half, which begins with the release date title card (“This November”).

Now all of the stops are pulled: sforzando strings, rapid woodwind scales, and choir all feature prominently across the action montage which ensues. As the action becomes more, well, fantastical, we hear the not-so-subtle inclusion of harp glissandi. At 1:18 we get the classic epic chord change, the so-called Neapolitan chord. No need to know its name, of course – you can hear it, loud and clear, an epic turn that immediate imparts the feeling that things have gotten real.

From 1:25-1:29 we get a prolonged dominant chord as the action escalates further and further, finally reaching at peak at 1:31 as the catchphrase title card comes in.

For the final action sequence at 1:39, we get something rather different – grunting vocals and epic percussion more in line with typical modern action trailer fare. As a brief sequence, it works.

Now, the aforementioned musical quotation comes at 1:46 – as if on cue, the famous Hedwig’s theme enters, albeit augmented (slowed down) and given an epic treatment, now sounding somewhat like a superhero theme, with the title card entering view and ending unresolved on the dominant chord, and finally resolving with an entirely different instrumentation on the final title card, for the exact release date. That final note, of course, alludes to the glockenspiel version of Hedwig’s theme which fans are intimately familiar with.

Much like just about any other long-running film franchise in recent memory, then, the trailer for Grindelwald leverages the most memorable musical theme of its series to assist in the sale of its newest instalment. What may be slight different here, however, is the way that theme has clearly been changed in terms of genre to fit the movie. As Grindelwald promises to be more action-oriented than the Potter series was, so we hear a version of Hedwig’s theme at cleaves closer to the conventions of epic music. And even then, there is – if only for a single note! – an allusive nod to the earlier musical memories of film-going Potter fans everywhere.

 

– Curtis Perry

The Grinch

While it’s only March, it’s already time for holiday films to begin their promotional campaigns. Likely to be a forerunner in that category for families is Illumination Entertainment’s take on The Grinch. Set for release statewide November 8th this year, the film takes on the bright 3D animated style that Illumination (The Secret Life of Pets, Despicable Me) is known for, a marked change in style following the live action version starring Jim Carrey back in 2000, and of course the classic, hand-drawn TV special from 1966.

The trailer isn’t shy about letting you know the studio’s pedigree, either – the title card for Illumination is the first thing we see, even featuring a minion, the small yellow creatures from Illumination’s Despicable Me series, in favour of anything Seussical.

Musically, the trailers conducts a double fake-out. At first, we are lead to believe we are in for an epically orchestrated trailer; deep, driving strings beginning from the first title card proceed to full-blown brass and winds in a rollicking 6/8 theme in a harmonic minor key as the camera swerves steadily up what is presumable the Grinch’s keep. Soon enough, the imagery of the Grinch’s bedroom – looking decidedly well kept and civilized – foreshadow what’s about to happen musically: the orchestra cuts out, and the clock strikes seven, at which point a mild breaking of the fourth wall occurs. Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” emits from the clock radio; it is possible that that musical choice is as much an intertextual allusion to the use of the same song in Despicable Me 2 as it is a not-so-subtle stroke of situational irony, as the Grinch grumpily wrestles with the unwelcome alarm.

This scene serving to clearly tie together Illumination’s past successes with what they hope to bring to the Grinch’s story, then, at 0:52 that point is hammered home with a card citing as such (“from the creators of Despicable Me, The Secret Life of Pets, and Sing”). Alongside this, we hear a new cover rendition perhaps the single most recognizable musical riff in all of Seuss: the jazzy, bluesy brass of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”.

After a scene showcasing the Grinch’s comically grouchy morning routine with his dog Max, we finally get some spoken word thanks to the inner monologue of Benedict Cumberbatch, who assumes to the new mantle as the mean green one. The music continues without lyrics as he proceeds to embark on some shenanigans, subtly causing strife in the lives of those down in Whoville. In this respect, the film already appears to be taking a slightly different narrative tack than it did in the original, which featured a decidedly more hermit-like Grinch.

The final musical flourish at 2:00 ties in nicely with the turning on of a large holiday lighting and float display, culminating in the accidental walloping of the Grinch by an inflating snowman.

It is pretty clear, whether looking at the musical choices or the title cards, that Illumination is leaning rather heavily on past works and suggesting it is an indicator for future success. While it is hard to argue that there is anything here that is genuinely new, using “Happy” as an intertextual marker is a fairly subtle and likely effective strategy for imparting that message competence. Moreover, the use of a faithful-yet-new cover of “You’re a Mean One” works well with the visual style, which clearly adheres to the illustrative style of the original books.

Everything about this trailer seems to prioritize safe bets over artistic risks, and under the consideration that this is likely the studio’s goal, this trailer achieves that goal with aplomb.

 

– Curtis Perry

Mary Poppins Returns

This week we are listening to a trailer that is clearly an exercise in restraint, where the music truly is the driving force of the film cutting process. Today the teaser trailer for “Mary Poppins Returns” was dropped by Disney; the sequel/ reboot starring Emily Blunt appears to take the opportunity of staying aesthetically faithful to the original both in terms of visuals and music, while at the same time leveraging the full fidelity of contemporary filming and recording equipment.

The original Disney film was a 1964 adaptation of the book series by Pamela Lyndon Travers published from 1934 to 1988. The interest in a sequel likely follows the box office success of “Saving Mr. Banks,” a 2013 period drama specifically detailing the working and creative relationship between P. L. Travers and Walt Disney.

The opening at 0:08 gradually fades in a shimmering cloud of upper strings emanating from a romantic orchestra; a strong solo bassoon enters, roughly outlining the melodic contour of the classic Poppins track “A Spoonful of Sugar.” The scene is a wet and dark London of about 1930, as the original film took place in 1910 and the children from it have now became adults.

At 0:27 we hear a much fuller orchestral phrase, highly reminiscent of the era when romantic film composers such as Max Steiner ruled the roost. In 2018, however, the style is downright unusual and identifiably nostalgic in tone.

In tandem with this choice of music is the style of the trailer itself. The music is sweeping, and it is never usurped or otherwise punctuated by modern trailer tropes like having dialogue splicing up the soundtrack, or epic percussion, or any extra diegetic sound effects. Instead, the title cards are effectively cut to the natural ebb and flow of the orchestra’s phrasing. In many cases, music is cut and composed to fit the narrative demands of the visual. In this case, it is quite possible that the scenes were cut to match the length of the musical phrases.

Besides the sweeping, chromatic orchestral music, we only hear the flapping of a kite in the wind, and the bicycle bell of a new chimney sweeper (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda). Dialogue is saved for the very end.

The chords enter a sequence at 1:10, leading us higher and higher (in tandem with the visual of the kite gaining altitude), until finally as we reach the cadence, Poppins (Blunt) appears once more, riding in with the wind.

With a positively retro trill of the woodwinds and a quintessentially straightforward coda ending resolutely on key alongside the release date title card (Christmas), the trailer campaign lives up to its promise. It gives us a faithful return to the time and the aesthetics of the 1964 original, albeit updated, but only in ways that aid in the fidelity of what was already there, fulfilling the film’s promise as a vehicle for nostalgia.

 

– Curtis Perry