This Week In Trailers: Percy Vs Goliath, American Oz, A.rtificial I.mmortality, Together Together, Moby Doc

Trailers are an under-appreciated art form insofar that many times they’re seen as vehicles for showing footage, explaining films away, or showing their hand about what moviegoers can expect. Foreign, domestic, independent, big budget: What better way to hone your skills as a thoughtful moviegoer than by deconstructing these little pieces of advertising?

This week we go up against The Man of all the Mans out there, pull back the curtain on L. Frank Baum, go in search of a different kind of whale, search out a surrogate, and try to not be too afraid of our PC.

Moby Doc

Director Rob Gordon Bralver examines a musical oddity.

Moby Doc is a surrealist biographical documentary narrated by Moby as he reflects on his turbulent personal life and iconic music from underground punk bands to chart-topping solo artist, and from struggling addict to vegan activist. Featuring interviews with David Lynch and David Bowie, along with extraordinary concert footage, utilizing a unique blend of re-enactments, interviews, and archival footage, audiences will be treated to an insightful, unvarnished look at an artist who has sold more than 20 million albums, an activist who has long championed animal rights, and a man whose traumatic childhood shaped him in profound ways. This introspective journey sets out to answer existential questions of purpose and meaning by examining a life of extreme highs and lows, joy, tragedy, success and failure.

It’s perfectly okay to look askance at a documentary where the subject themselves is narrating it. But the trailer gives us a lot of narrative dirt to not let that be an issue with all the warts on display. This is a near-perfect blend of the accolades the musician has received from talking heads like David Lynch while being bluntly honest about who the man before us once was. We’re not shying away from his past or the wretched things he did in the days he indulged in the kind of hedonism most of us will never understand. Still, he has an incredible story to tell, can claim one of the best musical outros from action movie history with the Bourne franchise (“Extreme Ways”), and seems someone I’d at least like to understand a little better.

Together Together

Director Nikole Beckwith has made something that looks easy and breezy.

When a young loner becomes the gestational surrogate for a single man in his 40s, the two strangers come to realize this unexpected relationship will challenge their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love.

A few seconds into this trailer, I was already about to bail. The saccharine levels of the twee-ness on display was almost too much. And then there it was. The Sundance 2021 logo. Normally that would convince me to keep watching on its own merits, but in this case, I just needed to understand how it got this honor. The directing seems capable enough, but the music is borderline grating, and the premise doesn’t feel that special. I see glimmers of truth here with Ed Helms talking about the loneliness of being single so late in life, but then we see how “inept” he is at putting together things or having a stuffed bunny fall on the floor from his papoose. The tense relationship with his surrogate feels really contrived too. I’m hoping for a curveball to explain how this got into Sundance, but this just looks like a slow pitch in the worst way.

A.rtificial I.mmortality

Director Ann Shin delves deep into AI.

If you could create an immortal version of yourself, would you? Once the stuff of science fiction, A.I. experts now see it as possible. This feature documentary explores the latest thinking and technological advancements in AI.

Thinking about where technology is headed excites me. /Film’s own Devindra Hardawar makes appearances on This Week In Tech where things like this are discussed and dissected. It’s thrilling to see where tech is going and this trailer asks daring questions. It does, however, linger a little too long on actual robots. Actually, it lingers way too long on robots and how their ascension plays into all this. But it’s the work being done to further our understanding of artificial intelligence that’s most engaging. It’s also a little provocative with its tense score and doomsday imagery that’s peppered here and there, no doubt to elicit a reaction. However, it still looks like it would be worth my time to check out.

American Oz

Directors Randall MacLowry and Tracy Heather Strain examine a writer who has never been forgotten.

Explore the life and times of author L. Frank Baum, the creator of one of the most beloved, enduring and classic American narratives. By 1900, when The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published, Baum was 44 years old and had spent much of his life in restless pursuit of success. With mixed results he dove into a string of jobs — chicken breeder, actor, marketer of petroleum products, shopkeeper, newspaperman and traveling salesman — Baum continued to reinvent himself, reflecting a uniquely American brand of confidence, imagination and innovation. During his travels to the Great Plains and on to Chicago during the American frontier’s final days, he witnessed a nation coming to terms with the economic uncertainty of the Gilded Age. But he never lost his childlike sense of wonder and eventually crafted his observations into a magical tale of survival, adventure and self-discovery, reinterpreted through the generations in films, books and musicals.

I am already a fan of MacLowry and Strain as they both come from strong PBS backgrounds. The work they do isn’t to showcase or promote their own “signature” style of direction, but they’re just here to deliver a story that is well-told, well-constructed, and hews closely to the likes of Nova, Frontline, and more. I could be wrong, but the trailer certainly doesn’t do much to refute that. There are no great directorial flourishes. In fact, it’s almost intentionally devoid of them. Instead, they let the subject speak fo itself by showing his effects on others and how his work has transcended the page. Solid work.

Percy Vs Goliath

Director Clark Johnson is working with some solid talent.

Academy Award Winner Christopher Walken, Zach Braff and Christina Ricci star in the true story of a small-town farmer taking on one of the largest agricultural and food manufacturing corporations. Percy Schmeiser (Walken), a third-generation farmer, is sued by a corporate giant for allegedly using their patented seeds. With little resources to fight the giant legal battle, Percy joins forces with up-and-coming attorney Jackson Weaver (Braff) and environmental activist Rebecca Salcau (Ricci) to fight one of the most monumental cases all the way up to the Supreme Court.

In an age where facts seem to be as important as your horoscope, it’s nice to see an almost genteel “Based on True Facts” flick that not only looks okay but seems pretty well acted too. The trailer doesn’t seem like it wants to challenge anything about the way you’ve seen this kind of story. In fact, it almost looks like it’s taking a page out of Hallmark’s directorial playbook. That said, even inoffensive movies like this still have a place in my heart when you’ve got someone like Christopher Walken doing what he does best. I’m sure this will be here and gone once it drops, but you could do worse if you’re looking for something to watch.

Nota bene: If you have any suggestions of trailers for possible inclusion in this column, even have a trailer of your own to pitch, please let me know by sending me a note at [email protected] or look me up via Twitter at @Stipp

In case you missed them, here are the other trailers we covered at /Film this week: