Welcome to your weekly preview of new-movie releases based solely on their trailers. This week, we open with the entirely appropriate union of Prometheus and Madagascar 3 in the mashup above, by Mac Smullen.
Are you 7? Then the trailer for Madagascar 3 would have had you tickled pink a year ago. That silly giraffe in that rainbow afro wig singing a pretend circus song? Hilarious! A year ago. But what about all these other moments in the trailer? The ones that make your parents grunt involuntarily? Will they make you grunt involuntarily, too, when you're older? Well, they may. You see, young one, besides distracting 6-year-olds, movies like this must also offer comfort to those paying for the tickets. And little is more comforting to the softened brain than comedy cartoon archetypes aping moments already seen in movies meant for grownups—like the pre-title sequence from Goldfinger when James Bond's head rises out of the dock waters, or the famous bit from the first Mission: Impossible movie when Tom Cruise starfishes at the end of a cable. This undemanding, reassuring flimflam is perfect for mommies and daddies addled by lack of sleep and diets composed exclusively of children's leftovers and red wine. It helps take their minds off cursing the breeding-program propaganda that led to them spawning you in the first place.
Greta Gerwig is the star of Lola Versus, ostensibly a comedy about a New York twentysomething recovering her self-esteem after she is dumped by her fiancé on the day she buys her wedding dress. But really, this trailer tells us, it is the means by which we may once again examine Gerwig from every angle to determine whether or not she can transcend mumblecore-royalty status to become a proper mainstream kooky girl. Is she a Zooey Deschanel in waiting? Might she even be a Diane Keaton? All those Brooklyn vistas help, but she should watch out for sidekick Zoe Lister-Jones, the Emily Blunt to her Anne Hathaway, to continue with these lazy comparisons.
Look up "mumblecore" on the Internet, and the name Mark Duplass shows up sharpish. He's the star and a producer of Safety Not Guaranteed, which, like Lola Versus, is seemingly about more than the premise of its trailer would suggest: Journalist tracks down the man who placed a classified ad looking for a companion to time-travel with him. The thing of it is that you can't extract the idea from its origin, which was a joke ad placed in a 1997 edition of Backwoods Home Magazine which subsequently became an Internet meme. Apparently. So, the film possibly isn't really about what happened, or about what might have happened, but about the idea of what happens when you believe in something self-evidently unbelievable. Maybe. Good characters, the plot mechanics seem slickly done, and Duplass is charmingly credible as the supermarket shelf-stacker who places the ad.
Great that Todd Solondz is back with a new movie, not so sure that on the basis of this trailer Dark Horse is going to scale the heights of Welcome to the Dollhouse or Happiness. A thirtysomething schlub living at home (this is now a genre) falls in love at first sight with Selma Blair (he's a schlub, not blind) and decides to marry her. The film then appears to follow his attempts to change his life as comedy parents Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken, the latter channeling Lurch from the Addams family, screw everything up. Wherever the movie ends up going, this grim trailer looks like Neil Simon fan fiction.
"Why are you wasting your time making a film about Paul Williams?" asks Paul Williams in the trailer for Paul Williams Still Alive. Despite opting for a postmodern tone by self-consciously itemizing all the things you need for a personality documentary (friendship, love, a little sex and so on) and featuring a central character who purports to be utterly uninterested in being a central character, this looks to be a traditionally warm appreciation of a unique and rather wonderful pop-culture figure of the 1970s. About 30 years ago songwriter and Carson show regular Paul Williams dropped off the map, apparently by his own volition, but he also wrote "We've Only Just Begun" for the Carpenters and that alone renders him a near-mythological creature by anyone's lights.
Peace, Love & Misunderstanding is a movie about family values which at any point from 45 years ago to 40 years ago could have been described as modern. The story of some kind of square mom who takes her kids to move into her hippy mother's commune after her husband asks for a divorce is the means by which director Bruce Beresford trots out a litany of hippy gags and clichés no one under 60 understands anymore. A pretty extensive cast includes, at one extreme, Elizabeth Olsen and Pinterest fodder Chace Crawford, and at the other, Catherine Keener and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (this generation's John Forsythe). Orbiting the very edges of reason, Jane Fonda is the wise old hippy grandmother.
The space jockey. A dangerously rocky planet surface. Eggs full of trouble. Space suits full of sweat. A girl in white underwear running past steam vents … you've seen all those Prometheus motifs before. And that rhythmic, piercing screech that warns of untold horrors? That's in Alien, too. If this trailer makes Prometheus look like a glossy remix of the themes, ideas and visual conceits delivered to absolute perfection in 1979, then, to be fair, what more can you expect? When work started on Alien—original title: Star Beast—Star Wars didn't exist. From the ground up, the production design, the sound sculpture, the camerawork, the casting, and a carefully wrought script were thrown into the crucible of Ridley Scott's indefatigable will to take a B-movie premise and turn it into a major work of art. Nowadays you can't walk six feet without bumping into a grown adult with a collection of action figures. There are more movies about space unicorns than there are movies about actual humans. It is impossible in today's cinema to create a movie experience that would even approach the thrill of seeing Alien for the first time: 1979 is a world so different from ours, it may as well have been a parallel universe. So, while Prometheus can never attain the status of Alien, in the drooling fantasy-drenched cinema of our times it looks about as good as we can hope for, at least according to this trailer.