Trailer Mash 04-06-12

Between 'American Reunion' and Whit Stillman's 'Damsels in Distress,' it's a throwback week for opening movies

Above is your weekly 90-second summary of all that is worth seeing on release at your local dream house this weekend. (Mashup by Patrick Katz.)

"The truth is clear and it is brutal. America must be shocked back into consciousness." So declared sinister American industrialist Derek Jacobi in a quasi-fascist rant back in 2008 that was the web teaser for something called Iron Sky. Around the same time, another Iron Sky teaser appeared, the one with the tagline: "In 1945 the Nazis went to the moon. In 2018 they're coming back." While the former continues to elicit "Damn straight"s from irony-free YouTube commentators with Roger Sterling world views, the latter remains, by universal consent, the greatest teaser for a non-existent movie ever produced. It is so good, no movie could ever live up to it. And no subsequent trailer for an actual movie called Iron Sky could promise anything to surpass what might be imagined from those two minutes and 40 seconds, especially if by some mental osmosis they merged in your mind with the Jacobi teaser. So, it's hardly the filmmakers' fault that the trailer for Iron Sky is a bit of a disappointment. When deadpan gags such as a Lunar Bundestag in the shape of a swastika have given way to the Mare Tranquilitatis-broad comedy of having a Sarah Palin-alike president of the U.S., the jig is well and truly up. Even a Laibach score cannot wash away the disappointment. It all could have been so much more. There could have been a thousand years of sequels. But just because the latest trailer doesn't deliver on a four-year-long delusion doesn't mean the movie itself won't be a complete blast on its own sweet, dumbass terms.

How far away are the '90s? Never so far away as in the trailer for American Reunion, which returns to the characters of American Pie now that they have become tediously normal and old enough for inappropriate fantasies about high school girls. This is such a dreary and backwards-looking premise that it has the effect of temporally relocating the American Reunion present yet further into the past, somewhere in the mid- to late 1980s, it would seem. Gags about chugging shorts, parents copulating (poor, poor Jennifer Coolidge, so great in Herzog's Bad Lieutenant) and the relative pulchritude of office staff are at a level even James Belushi might have balked at.

After an absence of 13 years, welcome back Sir Whit Stillman. In an inspired union, Damsels in Distress teams him with Greta "Mumblecore Princess" Gerwig as the leader of a group of girls whose attempts to civilize their male East Coast college contemporaries fall foul of their own very certain ideas and ideals. If you remain in doubt about what to expect from the director of Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco, the trailer is big on quotes from reviews that use phrases such as "utter delight" and "whimsical and witty." This is not a slasher movie.

Nor indeed is The Hunter, unless you count damage that may be inflicted through contact with Willem Dafoe's cheekbones. As he ages, Dafoe increasingly looks like a wood carving of himself. This is by no means a bad thing, especially when he's playing someone for whom a monomaniacal task, such as hunting an extinct creature, is the means by which he defines his relationship with the world. Hard to tell what's actually going on outside the interior life hinted at in this trailer, but the movie looks fantastic, the rugged Tasmanian hillsides a fine complement to Dafoe's awesome face.

If you want to sell a foreign movie to American audiences horrified by the idea of reading subtitles, then one way to go is to remove all dialogue from your trailer. Doing so has become a modern art form. Last week's, for Skoddeheimen teen-sex comedy Turn Me On, Dammit!, was a deft and playful affair, like an animated Brueghel, while this week's trailer for The Assault resembles a cut scene at the beginning of a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare level. "Based on true events," it is a bleached-out portrait of robotic French counter-terrorist soldiers taking on members of the Armed Islamic Group after they hijacked a French airliner back in 1994. Terminer la mission en 90 minutes ou moins.

Absolutely the most fun trailer of the week, on the other hand, is full of subtitles. In We Have a Pope—or Habemus Papum, to give the movie its superior original title—the 86-year-old Michel Piccoli is deftly elegant and completely hilarious as a cardinal who finds that despite the will of God, he doesn't actually want to be the Holy Father after all. Director Nanni Moretti, one of the coolest men alive simply by dint of being both a movie director and an Italian championship water polo player, seems brilliant as the egomaniacal atheist shrink assigned to rebuild the Pope's confidence. And he's president of this year's Cannes Film Festival—so, you know, pay attention.

As everyone knows, ATM stands for automated teller machine. And in what looks like a nicely tuned exercise in suspense, a couple and a third wheel find themselves trapped within an ATM booth by a hooded maniac who inflicts tortures on them from outside. It's 10 years since Colin Farrell was trapped in a Phone Booth, two years since Ryan Reynolds was Buried, and only a week or so since Stephen Dorff was locked in the trunk of a car in Brake. There must be a name for this genre by now.

Guy Maddin is the Canadian surrealist who first created a stir with Tales from the Gimli Hospital back in 1989. A dark and mysterious affair ostensibly based on Icelandic mythology, it promised a world of David Lynch-like magic to come. Ever since, Maddin has delivered a steady stream of consistently weird, idiosyncratic, low-budget, black-and-white indie movies to blight your dreams, lately featuring Isabella Rossellini as his muse. In Keyhole, she's Hyacinth, the wife locked away in a rambling haunted house. Jason Patric is Ulysses, the '40s-era gangster returning home to find her. Plus, there's a girl who is simultaneously dead and alive.

For its portrayal of horror-movie-loving kids who find themselves living inside one, Kevin Williamson's 1996 movie Scream was once the ne plus ultra of pop-culture self-awareness. Adding flavor to the pomo potpourri was Friends star Courtney Cox as a needy TV reporter determined to uncover the truth behind the murders. In later years, a key member of the cast, Matthew Lillard, went on to play Shaggy in the Scooby Doo movies. That's how circular the jerking of these meddling kids got. A decade and a half later, Kevin Williamson is as relevant as Terence Rattigan. In his place there's hot pop-video director Joseph Kahn. Kahn understands his audience was born when Scream was made, has consumed Nickelodeon from infancy and is thereby glazed in pop self referentiality. Accordingly, the trailer for Detention brims with TMZ-ish gags, including Khan mocking his only other feature film, Torque, admitting he's ripped off Scream, and making a Dead Heath Ledger joke. Hunger Games heartthrob Josh Hutcherson will be the draw for many, but the real reason to see this film is to find out why there's a shot of a brown bear walking toward the ramp of a flying saucer beneath a full moon (at 2:00, according to this trailer).