Wednesday, August 21

Trailer Talk: ‘Jane Got a Gun’ and ‘Elvis & Nixon’

Natalie Portman stars in “Jane Got a Gun,” a Western film releasing Jan. 29. The trailer for the movie fails to wow the audience enough to make them want to see it, focusing on scenery rather than gunplay. (Courtesy of 1821 Pictures)

Natalie Portman stars in “Jane Got a Gun,” a Western film releasing Jan. 29. The trailer for the movie fails to wow the audience enough to make them want to see it, focusing on scenery rather than gunplay. (Courtesy of 1821 Pictures)

Movie trailers are like free samples at Costco: The good ones excite you and leave you wanting more, while the bad ones make you cringe. Each week, A&E columnist Matthew Fernandez will dissect movie trailers and analyze the Hollywood fare to come.

Thirteen trailers were released last week ranging from the wonderfully original to the blandly cliche. From the mix of sequels and horror flicks came two period pieces of opposing quality.

“Jane Got a Gun” and “Elvis & Nixon” are period pieces, set in the Old West and the 1970s respectively. Though both films tread in familiar territory, “Jane Got a Gun” seems a tired and unimaginative rehash of western tropes, while “Elvis & Nixon” shows potential for fresh ideas and comedic energy.

When I picture the Old West, I think of an arid place full of shoot-first-question-later Clint Eastwood types. I think of sheriffs and bandits, of horse poop and rattlesnakes, of drought and cacti. What I do not think of is Natalie Portman shooting up the desert.

The “Jane Got a Gun” trailer shows Jane Hammond (Portman) fleeing a bloodthirsty gang of outlaws led by Colin McCann (Ewan McGregor). After her husband is presumably killed by the outlaws, Jane must turn to her ex-lover for help to keep her daughter safe.

A movie trailer has one job: to wow the audience enough to make them want to see the movie. They dropped the ball with this one.

Two crucial parts of the Western genre are the shootouts and the setting, but it doesn’t look like the “Jane Got a Gun” filmmakers got that memo. The trailer shows a lot of scenery, but not much gunplay. All the characters really do in the trailer is point small, old guns at each other.

I understand the publicity team might be trying to keep the film’s big shootout a surprise, but to hide any action in the trailer of a Western movie is asking the audience to put a lot on faith. That faith, so far, is undeserved.

The trailer’s only merit is the beautiful, picturesque setting. The dusty, desolate landscape is so stereotypical of the American West that before a single horse or wanted poster is shown, I already knew the genre. Eight different shots of dusty, galloping horses within the first 35 seconds of the trailer subtly indicate there will be many scenes of dirty equines throughout the picture. I get it already – it’s a Western.

The characters are depicted inside lamp-lit wooden houses, dimly shot, giving the audience the feeling of living in a world with no electricity. The set pieces and props are also, like the covered wagons, old-timey wanted posters and a hot air balloon (What possible purpose could a hot air balloon serve in a Western shootout movie?)

Aside from the scenery and props, very little in the trailer indicates that the movie will have anything worthwhile. All it really does is get Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got a Gun” stuck in your head even though it isn’t related to the film.

Some of the best period films are those that explore contemporary icons and portray new angles of their lives. The trailer for “Elvis & Nixon,” was also released last week, which explores the clandestine Dec. 21, 1970 meeting between the king of rock ‘n’ roll and Mr. Watergate.

The idea of these two 20th-century giants meeting is borderline absurd. The trailer uses the inherent weirdness of the meeting to build intrigue behind the event, citing the photograph of the meeting as the National Archives’ “most requested photo of all time.”

From there, it emphasizes the irreverent antics and self-assured ease of Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) in his quest to secure a federal narcotics badge.

Between Elvis’ blatant disregard for authority and Nixon’s self-restrained ire, the film looks to be an interesting clash of egos. Michael Shannon is at ease in Elvis’ famous tassels coupled with his signature swagger. Kevin Spacey, whose “House of Cards” character Francis Underwood is portrayed with a sinister sense of control, is utterly convincing as the hopelessly outmatched and peeved president.

Trailers are a studio’s best weapon in the box office war for viewers. They’re all about give and take: Give the audience something to look forward to early on in order to take their money later. Last week’s flood of trailers showed examples of both a stingy trailer and a generous one. Films like “Jane Got a Gun” don’t give audiences much besides showing them the stars of the atrocious Star Wars prequels are now in a Western.Elvis & Nixon,” on the other hand, does a good job of finding a new story to tell about an otherwise well-trodden era, portraying iconic historical figures in a new light.

– Matthew Fernandez

Are you excited for the release of “Jane Got a Gun” or “Elvis & Nixon?” Email Fernandez at [email protected]

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