The trailer for Gangster Squad isn't selling nostalgia so much as retrograde, standard-issue images of masculinity. An account of the L.A. Police Department's fight against the East Coast mob in the '40s and '50s, the film, directed by Zombieland helmer Ruben Fleischer, is pitched as one manly affair, but unfortunately courts its target bros with a lot of tired bromides. Testosterone is front and center as soon as the preview starts, with ugly-mugged mafioso Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) pounding away at a punching bag and dining with a loaded pistol by his side. Cut to Nick Nolte, another gruff actor with sandpaper features, playing a department head who tells Josh Brolin's squared-jawed cop that “Los Angeles is a damsel in distress” and needs to be saved. It's offered as a quaint proposal for chivalrous heroism, but it really just reminds us, with a sexist air to boot, that tough guys are running the show. “I'll need men,” Brolin's squad chief replies. Naturally.

There's nothing wrong with having a core audience, but with this first clip, Gangster Squad doesn't give much credit to the smarts of its would-be ticket buyers, who've surely heard better speeches about whores and dope than the one Penn's character caps off with an Emeril-like, “Bam!”  (“Overcooked” might be the right word for this umpteenth riff on the Scarface power pledge.) And while the rat-a-tat-tat of tommy guns, like mid-century L.A., will never go out of style in the movies, the same can't be said for a showy montage of bad-cop brutality, or grab-bag catchphrases like “We're going to war” and “There's no going back.”

Ironically enough, the trailer's most interesting element is markedly un-masculine: the squeaky, near-flamboyant voice adopted by Ryan Gosling. A leading man with unlikely character-actor gifts, Gosling gives his womanizing officer a memorable wrinkle of interest, and looks to continue his captivating string of ace performances. He still utters the same Will Beall-penned platitudes delivered by his rather typecast co-stars, but he registers as a fresh gem amid stale goods.

With its basic story seen before in everything from The Untouchables to American Gangster to Public Enemies, Gangster Squad would have done well to differentiate itself, beginning, of course, with this first look. Judging from what's presented, though, journalist Paul Lieberman's source material, a series of articles dubbed “Tales from the Gangster Squad,” has inspired a boilerplate, shoot-'em-up, cat-and-mouse popcorn flick, with a low opinion of its demographic to boot. In one final effort to present a certain hipness, the preview ends with a track from Jay-Z, whose all-too-relevant lyrics about “the American Dream” accompany an admittedly nifty image of cops shooting through a movie screen (take that, 3D!). But in this age of rappers linked to, and long inspired by, unlawful lifestyles, the music cue is just another cliché, and yet more bait for dudes who aren't as dumb as the trailer thinks they are.

R. Kurt Osenlund is the Managing Editor of Slant Magazine's The House Next Door, as well as a film critic & contributor for Slant, South Philly Review, Film Experience, Cineaste, Fandor, ICON, and many other publications.



Trumpeting the long-awaited sophomore effort of Little Miss Sunshine creators Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the trailer for Ruby Sparks tackles that age-old challenge of visualizing the tribulations of a writer, which are inherently and notoriously un-cinematic. Editing substantiates the daily grind of someone like Calvin (Paul Dano), a squirmy novelist whose bursts of inspiration are expressed via fast cuts of punched keys and typewriter carriage returns. Going a bit further, the preview shows us Calvin's writerly thoughts in the office of his shrink (Elliot Gould), whose stucco, vented ceiling is seen through Calvin's eyes and superimposed on his thoughts of the titular dream girl (Zoe Kazan), who starts as his written creation and then actually appears in his apartment.

Manifesting a writer's ideas in three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood form is of course the ultimate way to commit them to film, and it's the basic conceit of this quaint indie rom-com, which matches an author's plight with the sweet reward of found love. As the trailer promises, Ruby Sparks is a less cynical exploration of territory already roamed in films like Secret Window and Stranger Than Fiction, wherein Will Ferrell's lead character was in fact the doomed creation of Emma Thompson's troubled author. Indeed, the similarity inevitably shows a lack of originality, and the sterile production design showcased in the preview only indicates a probable generic quality in the film. From Calvin's ultra-modern space to his hip little typewriter, the film is shown to have a Pier 1-style, catalog aesthetic, which these days is more prevalent in supposedly arty films than pricey blockbusters.

But despite all the trailer's missteps and boilerplate elements (the choral tune accompanying the tonal pick-me-up is dead-tired, while the flashes of big-name players like Annette Bening are dead-lazy in their hectic star promotion), it ably communicates a palpable sweetness that suggests it's not just another cerebral quirkfest. Paul Dano, captured in panicky moments that yield excellent expositional soundbites, may show new range as a performer in this film, ditching his usual gloom and rage to inhabit an endearing, love-struck dork. Naturally, his earnestness is met with obligatory macho wisdom from a co-star (Chris Messina), who speaks for male stereotypes everywhere when Calvin's control over Ruby is discussed. But Dano, ever at home in the roles he chooses, could very well overcome the shallow limits put on him by the film itself.

Where the trailer finally triumphs is in the chemistry between Dano and Kazan, who, in a bit of trivia only relevant for its apparent onscreen benefits, are an actual offscreen couple. Kazan penned the script and wrote the lead role for Dano, and there's something undeniably effective about these two arthouse darlings sharing their rising-star romance with the audience. It may not be the kind of “magic” Calvin preciously professes, but in just over two minutes, it’s immediately more genuine than dozens of other filmic pairings. What's more, for all its familiar beats, the trailer has the decency to withhold the whole of the plot, and never states if it's the kind of film that's bound for happily ever after. “Don't tell me how it ends,” Ruby pleads, and thankfully, nobody does.

R. Kurt Osenlund is the Managing Editor of Slant Magazine's The House Next Door, as well as a film critic & contributor for Slant, South Philly Review, Film Experience, Cineaste, Fandor, ICON, and many other publications.



At the end of The Dark Knight, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) had to explain to his son why Batman (Christian Bale) was being willfully chased by police—disgracing himself and abandoning his post for the greater good of Gotham. The new trailer for The Dark Knight Rises zeroes in on the sleepy void that abandonment left behind, positioning Batman as the embodiment of hope, which won't return to the city's people until he himself returns. At the center is another boy who, while chalking the bat symbol on the pavement and chatting with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's beat cop, asks the question on everyone's mind: “Do you think he's coming back?”

Christopher Nolan hasn't been wont to cater to fanboy demands, but with the inclusion of idealistic children, he allows for the presence of both innocence and wide-eyed admiration, representative of vulnerable Gothamites and minute-counting franchise diehards. The moods of both parties are evoked in the trailer's first half, which, but for a light score accented with gentle piano notes, uses the sound of silence to ratchet up tension and augment awe. In rather Spielbergian fashion, both viewers and city residents look on as epic effects ravage Gotham in an eerie hush, its bridges, football fields, and crowded interiors handily destroyed by Bane (Tom Hardy), representing the self-professed “Reckoning” of the gray metropolis. “Hope is lost” and “Faith is broken,” read the ominous intertitles, setting up everything, from the music to the masked avenger, to ultimately rise, appeasing all who were flabbergasted by Gotham's quiet undoing.  

Through it all, the trailer finds precious balance in shady Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a character who, beyond possessing unique allure, has notoriously played both sides in Batman's world. In voiceover, she whispers that “a storm is coming,” which one could apply to everything from Bane's impending assault to the movie's probable record-breaking sales. And with both a teasing menace and a clear devotion to the hero, her ambiguity is employed to amplify the theme of unease, another figure denoting citizens' fears and fans' rapid pulses.

The double entendres continue to pour from Selina's mouth, as she assures Batman that he “[doesn't] owe these people anymore,” and that he's “given them everything.” “Not everything,” Batman replies. “Not yet.” Without doubt, this exchange speaks directly to the tricks still tucked up Nolan's sleeve, and aims to assure the masses there's still plenty to come from the Caped Crusader. It's a promise that requires more faith than one may have expected, seeing as this preview doesn't boast the kind of wow factors oft-associated with a year's most anticipated film (the tacked-on reveal of a new Bat-vehicle seems more like a shameless trick than a thrilling addition). But in its use of the silent hovering of hope, the latest Dark Knight Rises trailer weaves audience loyalty into its very fabric, and leaves to the ticket-buyer the final assertion that the storm was worth waiting for.

R. Kurt Osenlund is the Managing Editor of Slant Magazine's The House Next Door, as well as a film critic & contributor for Slant, South Philly Review, Film Experience, Cineaste, Fandor, ICON, and many other publications.



Films that showcase nightlife as a business have a way of settling into their guilt, reminding us that parties have moral consequences despite being the main attraction (think 54, which uses a whole institution to symbolize nightlife's rise and fall). The first trailer for Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike, a male-stripper story loosely based on lead star Channing Tatum's life, doesn't waste much time owning up to this sub-genre cliché. After kicking things off with a policeman striptease straight out of a million bachelorette parties, and some fancy stage work from Tatum's eponymous gyrating hero, the preview quickly veers to the dreamer's yearning for something more, namely a “respectable” profession and a dollop of love on top. In the process, it wags a disciplinary finger at its own conceit, and reductively promises as many plucked heartstrings as flaunted G-strings.

Conversely, the trailer for 2000's Coyote Ugly masks the reverie respite entirely, making no mention of the songwriting goals of its young lead ingenue (Piper Perabo), and instead exhibiting every sweet sin of the titular New York bar. The B-Side to the Magic Mike clip's tips-in-the-pants atonement (“I am not my lifestyle!” Mike promises his sweetheart), the Coyote Ugly preview sells sex to the last shot, emerging as one of cinema's most misleading acts of marketing. By all evidence, the arc of Magic Mike isn't far off from that of its cowgirl predecessor, which also paired a risqué job with wholesome career ambitions. But while the former felt the need to appease its female target audience with bathos, the latter abandoned its demo completely to rope in live, rude boys, who surely left the film with a mind to murder producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

These two previews are as hypocritical in their respective messages as they are revealing about gender in advertising. Magic Mike's trailer, for all its initial oohs, ahhs, and ab-baring, acts as if its drawing factor isn't a man-candy parade (which also features Matthew McConaughey, Alex Pettyfer, and True Blood's Joe Manganiello), but boilerplate romcom developments. It condescends to women or Tatum fans by assuming they need a snuggly love story, and speaks to the unending taboo of showing too much male skin. Coyote Ugly's clip more or less lies to its audience, consisting primarily of girls on bars and bars on fire, which in fact only account for about 30 percent of the film. It exploited the permitting of female exploitation to pull a thorough bait-and-switch. That  the trailer  worked wonders is really beside the point.

Technically speaking, the Coyote Ugly clip is better by a mile, promising a fun and enticing setting and zipping along with ultra-cool construction, right down to the rough-and-tumble font. Magic Mike's preview has its moments, but only truly hits a groove when Rihanna's “We Found Love” sparks a tonal transition. It's a pity neither of these  trailers could find a pleasant medium, for no one wants a movie merely about flesh on display, but they don’t want such an angle to be shoved under the rug, either. The hot rush of naughty nightlife has a massive, vast appeal—it should neither be used as a ruse nor as a cause for a deceptive wrist slap.

R. Kurt Osenlund is the Managing Editor of Slant Magazine's The House Next Door, as well as a film critic & contributor for Slant, South Philly Review, Film Experience, Cineaste, Fandor, ICON, and many other publications.



Sometimes a trailer's ability to sell a novel concept can make you forget its otherwise ordinary construction. Such is the case with the trailer for Rian Johnson's Looper, a clip whose pervasive stylish “whoa” factor offsets the reality that, formally, it's all quite familiar. A time-travel actioner, Looper reunites Johnson with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, star of the writer-director's breakthrough cult fave, Brick.  The trailer suggests that the collaborators are steering toward the mainstream and moving away from the impenetrability of Brick's talky mystery, but an interest in noir remains firmly intact, and it yields aesthetic bonuses that also trump the requisite trailer beats.

In voiceover, Gordon-Levitt's assassin (or “Looper”) dishes the dirt about his job: whacking mob casualties from 30 years in the future, where the invention of time travel has allowed gangsters to get rid of bodies by beaming them into the past. It's occasions like these when exposition is given a major pass, and viewer hand-holding is forgiven thanks to heady plot details. Amid the rest of the film's enticing elements (the makeup effects add much to the appeal), hearing Gordon-Levitt's character explain that he's suddenly tasked to off his older self (Bruce Willis) recalls Ellen Page's wide-eyed play-by-play in Inception, which was criticized by many but enthralling nonetheless. Fascination makes explanation go down easy—this is why The Hunger Games plays so well despite an overall lack of nuance.

One might accuse Johnson of taking a page from Christopher Nolan's book if not for the noir-ish blood coursing through this comparatively modest director's work. From the start, this preview doesn't look like it’s touting a film that takes place in the present, but rather in a slick and smoky 1940s milieu, where men grease their hair, eat in diners, and close deals in shady, nonspecific city apartments (in Johnson's view, what is old is continuously new again, as the gangsters of “the future” are shown in Dick Tracy fedoras, and captured in grainy film stock evoking old photos). Aside from fast new cars and live nude girls that promote contempo sex appeal, there's precious little in the trailer to mark events as being in present-day. Gordon-Levitt's Anton-Chigurh-style blaster could be from decades back, and even the Loopers' payments, evidently strapped to the backs of their targets, are good, old-fashioned gold bars.

The trailer closes with a rather unremarkable montage, which is a perfect foil for its parting shot of adrenaline. Houses explode, guns go off, characters fall from great heights, and recognizable side players are given smidgeons of screen time (there's Emily Blunt wielding a shotgun as a presumable love interest, and scruffy clown Jeff Daniels warning of the obligatory quantum-leap side effects). Scored to an upbeat techno track, the nimbly-edited coda is dishearteningly generic, right down to Gordon-Levitt's final point-and-shoot hand gesture. Fortunately, by then the trailer has already cast an arresting spell.

R. Kurt Osenlund is the Managing Editor of Slant Magazine's The House Next Door, as well as a film critic & contributor for Slant, South Philly Review, Film Experience, Cineaste, Fandor, ICON, and many other publications.