Stalag 17: The great Billy Wilder adapted and directed Stalag 17 (1960), a taut WW II POW drama from a play written by two former POWs. If it’s not bad enough being held in a Nazi prison camp, there is a German mole informing on the prisoners. The POWs blame the wrong guy – the cynic played by William Holden – and he must uncover and expose the real traitor and help a POW in peril to escape. This is a thriller, not a comedy, but you can’t tell from this trailer, which oversells the humor; it makes you expect Hogan’s Heroes.
The Anniversary Party: The marriage of a Hollywood couple is about to implode or explode (one or the other), and they decide to host a party. A colorful mix of friends and neighbors show up, do some Ecstasy, play charades and, before you know it, reveal infidelities, abortions and other family secrets. There is an alcoholic relapse. At the end, there’s a tragic family death to go with the end of a marriage. There’s a great cast, some bright humor in the writing, and more than one critic has compared it to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. But, check out the trailer, which sells the movie as an almost screwball dark comedy.
Blue Valentine: The movie is about a failing marriage inexorably stumbling to its inevitable demise. But the trailer features a flashback scene in which the protagonists first fall in love. Halfway through the trailer, there are some visuals of weeping and arguing, but the trailer sells Blue Valentine as a romance (people fall in love). In fact, it’s an anti-romance (person falls OUT of love).
Sunshine Cleaning: This is a dramedy about a woman in desperate straits, who tries to take control by opening her own business. Things get better, but then way, way worse. By the end of the film, although none of her plans succeed and none of her hopes are satisfied, she is wiser and more grounded and more ready to face the rest of her life. The trailer sells the movie as a much lighter comedy.
Time Out (L’emploi du Temps)(2001): In this superb French drama, a middle-aged loses his job with an international consulting firm and can’t bring himself to tell his family. Instead, he pretends to still have that job, and then invents a new, better job in Switzerland. He doesn’t spend his days at the local bar – he actually goes on faux business trips from which he calls his family. He even dresses in a suit and visits the Swiss corporate HQ where he claims to be working, prowling the cubicles and lounging in the lobby while talking on his cell phone like a big shot. The lengths to which he goes in convincing his family (and embracing denial for himself) are pathetic, then creepy and finally chilling.
Of course, he can’t keep up this charade forever. There’s the matter of income, for example, which drives him to join a scam. And then there is the web of lies that must eventually unravel. His wife intuits that something is amiss and starts sniffing around….
Unfortunately, the Miramax trailer makes the movie look heart-warming and melodramatic, even sappy. The harp and swelling strings in the trailer (which are not in the movie) , along with the jolly narration, make Time Out look like a completely different, sappy movie.
Flight (2012): This is a superb psychological thriller about a man’s battle with alcoholism. Denzel Washington stars as a hero can take control of a crisis at 35,000 feet and rise to superhuman performance, but who is completely out of control when he spots a mini bottle of Ketel One. The film’s opening plane crash sequence is thrilling, but the high stakes suspense in the final 90 minutes is about whether he can get his drinking under control. However, the trailer overemphasizes the plane crash and paints Flight as an action movie.