The balls have dropped, my friends! And while I still have a huge backlog of reviews to do (plus year/decade retrospectives and upcoming Oscar coverage), you didn’t seriously think I’d forget to put on my Hater O’Haterly hat for our monthly slog through shit, did you?
Of course I can’t let this slip away. January is traditionally the absolute WORST month for movies. It’s a studio dumping ground like no other, as the main focus is on promoting their prestige material from the year before. If you’re like me and live in Los Angeles (or New York, and sometimes Chicago), you live in the “select” cities that get to see the Oscar bait before the end of the year, because Academy rules require them to play before year’s end. But for everyone else, they have to wait until January to see the good stuff, if they get a chance to see it at all, as the studios gamble on their awards press before giving films their wide release. The hope is that a nomination here and there (or a whole bunch of them), will make America’s collective mouths water, and thus boost their box office take during this traditionally dead period.
However, if their bets don’t pay off, the studios still have to make money somehow, right? That’s where the “dumping” comes in. The vast majority of films released in January are standbys and hedged bets, hoping to scrape up a few extra million in case the prestige fare tanks critically or commercially. The studios know most of this is garbage, which is why they inundate you with trailers up to six months in advance to wear you down – the old axiom of telling a lie enough times that it becomes accepted truth. If you say some random action or horror flick is the greatest thing since Betty White and sliced bread for half the year, enough people will believe it and shell out their cash in January, especially if they just need an excuse to get out of the house during the winter months or a palate cleanser from the more artsy options.
But I’m not here to give you comfort food. I am here to tear down and expose bullshit while laughing at the absurdity that anyone making my annual salary in a week would think these movies were worth producing! And with January being the dregs of the cinema slate, you best believe I’ve got a lot of material this month. Give into your aggressive feelings and let the hate flow through you!
This is the January 2020 edition of “This Film is Not Yet Watchable,” dedicated in loving memory to Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub.
The Grudge – January 3
If you’re a fan of the YouTube channel, CinemaSins, you’re well familiar with one of their continuous running gags, the sin of “This movie exists.” As explained years ago, this was first applied to The Amazing Spider-Man, a complete reboot of the series and character by Sony after the first three movies, which was wholly unnecessary and stupid. That sin has endured for several years now, put in not as a one-sentence critique of bad movies (though it could certainly apply), but as a knock against remakes and reboots that no one asked for. It will certainly be the opening to this reboot of the 2004 film, The Grudge, which was itself an Americanized remake of a Japanese film from 2002, though at least the original director helmed the American version.
This lazy rehash stars the great John Cho and is produced by horror master Sam Raimi, which shows just how desperate Sony is to try to lend some credibility to the proceedings. But of course, Raimi isn’t directing this piece of trash, instead handing the reins to Nicolas Pesce, an up and coming horror director who has shown a lot of potential in his first two films (The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing), but really this just looks like this has been thrown in his lap so the studio has someone with less of a résumé to blame if the whole thing goes tits up.
As for the trailer itself, it tells you all you need to know. It’s the exact same story, the exact same broad mythology that sets no real rules, and even some of the exact same jump scares, like the grinding gargle noise and the ghost fingers coming out of the back of someone’s head in the shower. They’re not even bothering to add new elements. They’ve simply changed the cast and the location. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film opens with Bruce Campbell killing himself instead of Bill Pullman.
As much as I don’t like remakes, there was a time when they had a purpose, and even had quality. One of my all-time favorite films, The Maltese Falcon, is a remake of a less successful version of the same story from a few years earlier. Sometimes it makes sense to see what works with something, improve what didn’t, and give us a new version. But that was, sadly, over 70 years ago. Now we get carbon copies of classic films, reboots of intellectual properties way too soon after the originals so that studios can milk their license for all it’s worth, or outfits like Disney just saying, “Fuck you, the old version no longer exists, pay for this new crap.” Sometimes I think the gargling Japanese ghosts got the better end of the deal.
Underwater – January 10
It’s like they had a bulletin board of horror movie tropes and just threw darts at it, and what they came up with was, Alien, but at the bottom of the ocean. From the sets that range from grody to uncomfortably sterilized, to the forced camaraderie of the cannon fodder crew, to the isolated core setting, to overly sexualizing the leading lady, this whole thing just screams that they owe Ridley Scott a shit-ton of money for ripping off his magnum opus.
The only impressive part about this trailer is that they somehow found a way to make Kristen Stewart even more dead-eyed and non-reactive than normal, and this is in a situation where earthquakes are destroying subterranean undersea laboratories and squid zombie things are eating her colleagues. Also, given that they’re at the bottom of the ocean, how do they not die instantly from the water pressure as soon as they’re exposed to it? I’d watch the movie to hear whatever bullshit fake science they come up with to explain it, but I have standards, and dignity, and a gag reflex that can be induced through pure rage.
Can’t we just watch reruns of Sealab 2021 instead?
Like a Boss – January 10
This is your friendly reminder that even great actors have to slum it sometimes. Enter Salma Hayek, Academy Award nominee and one of the greatest actresses of her generation, all to play a shallow cartoon villain trying to steal makeup ideas from Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish. Oh, and Stifler’s Mom, too (I know her name is Jennifer Coolidge, but it’s not like you know her in any other context except maybe her time on 2 Broke Girls).
I love a good R-rated comedy as much as the next guy, but none of this is funny. Tiffany Haddish is a comic genius, but seeing her cling to a banner (where you can almost see the production plank she’s leaning on in the background of the shot) and scream apologies to a random white lady in case she falls and dies on her is the kind of shit that even Kevin Hart thinks is beneath him.
Every once in a while a star has to lower themselves a bit to help out a friend or elevate a new actor into the spotlight, but who’s being helped by this? Haddish and Byrne are legit talents on the brink of superstardom (if they haven’t already hit it), Hayek is a legend in her own right. Even Billy Porter has jumped sky high into the cultural zeitgeist with Pose, so this whole exercise feels like a complete waste of time. And really, when you look at the faces of the actors as they deliver their “jokes,” you can kind of see that they figured this out for themselves somewhere along the way. But hey, you get to have an Oscar nominee give a deadpan declaration that her tits are enormous, so… yay?
Also, this is as good a time as any to ask (if I haven’t already), but why are all these YouTube trailers prefaced by a quick supercut to tell you you’re about to watch a trailer? We clicked on the link! We know what we’re watching! We chose this! How stupid do they think we are that we’ll forget what we clicked on that quickly? Then again, if you get a bunch of ads and actually sit through them before watching the trailer (which is itself, literally another ad), then maybe enough of your brain cells have died to necessitate the reminder.
The Informer – January 10
Hey, this looks familiar. Oh yeah, because I already broke down this copy/paste corrupt cop drama back in August. It got released in the UK as scheduled, and apparently it was so bad that Warner Bros. decided to hold off on it until the January dumping ground here in the States. Nothing more need be said. Next!
The Sonata – January 10
This is the rare independent film that makes this column, but sadly it’s for all the right (wrong) reasons. Originally released in international markets and festivals as far back as 2017, this movie tries to combine your standard haunted house horror movie with the snobbery of the classical music scene.
In better hands, an enticing gothic horror could emerge, blending mood and suspense intertwined with a brilliant orchestral score. Instead the story immediately goes to the well of “demons,” with the titular sonata being the key to summoning the Antichrist. You know what, fuck that noise. Prove to me that Christ even existed before you posit on a demonic mirror version bent on destroying mankind. And I’m sorry, but if you’re going to throw jump scares at me with violins, when it’s a violin sting that usually cues a jump scare in the first place, you’re doubly pissing me off. No sale!
Dolittle – January 17
Yet another “This movie exists” sin about to come down, and this one is just mind-boggling on a lot of levels. One, how does Robert Downey, Jr. think that this is the best bet for him post-MCU? You’ve got all the clout in Hollywood, and you opt for a Doctor Dolittle reboot? Really? Second, the CGI on the animals looks just as fake as every Disney “live action” remake of late, but with somehow even less personality. Three, who decided to take the worst elements from both Dolittle franchises (the aloof boredom of Rex Harrison and the slang-talking animals from the Eddie Murphy movies) and highlight them together? Why does Kumail Nanjiani voice an ostrich? Ostriches are native to Africa, not Pakistan! I dare you to look at an ostrich and imagine any voice it might speak if it were human. I guarantee you won’t think of Kumail!
God this whole thing just looks like a swirling toilet bowl full of shit. And it turns out, it probably was, and still is. The film underwent over three weeks of reshoots last year after test audiences absolutely despised it. Sometimes you can delay a film and fix the problems, making something better than what was originally intended. That looks like the case for Sonic the Hedgehog, out next month. Audiences saw the nightmare fuel that was the original CGI rendering of Sonic, and the studio said, “Okay, we hear you loud and clear. We’ll go back to the drawing board and fix this.” Months later, the new trailers look pretty sweet, and Sonic looks like Sonic. They took the time and put up the money to get it right, and even if it turns out to be a lame movie, I’ll pay to see it simply as a thank you for acknowledging the concerns of the audience.
Dolittle, however, got sent to the January cemetery. Something tells me the reshoots didn’t help.
Bad Boys for Life – January 17
Even if this technically isn’t Michael Bay directing, it still has all his earmarks: explosions in lieu of plot, misogyny, some scrawny pencil-pusher standing in the way of “real” men with guns, ultraviolence, and somehow, ‘Murica. I mean, how does anyone buy this crap? It’s one thing to do an action movie, but it’s a whole other universe to set these films in a world where they can’t possibly exist. If Miami had even 1/10 of the violence between police and criminals that we just see IN THE TRAILER, the city would be a Mad Max-style dystopia. The characters worry about helicopters. I’m worried about the wall of military-style assault weapons casually displayed in a police station like it’s completely normal.
I can only hope that Will Smith’s offering of “one last time” to Martin Lawrence is sincere, because irresponsible movies like this are why we can’t have any meaningful conversations about gun control.
The Turning – January 24
Man, Finn Wolfhard is getting all the work these days, isn’t he? I don’t really have much else for this one, except that it’s yet another jump scare-a-thon with creepy kids in a big house (complete with CGI Shining ripoff hedge maze) that we’ve all seen a hundred times too many.
“Nothing should have to suffer,” says Wolfhard as he stomps a fish to death with his shoe, to which I respond, “But I’ve already had to sit through this trailer.”
Gretel & Hansel – January 31
In a weird way, I almost want to endorse this, as the Grimm fairly tale source material is probably a lot closer to the cheap horror thrills this movie wants to concoct than any cutesy adaptation we’ve gotten over the years.
But then I actually watched the trailer, and decided I’d rather see Hansel and Gretel be “Witch Hunters” again. God, even when these studios have a kernel of a good idea, they just have to ruin it with tropes and cheap jump scares.
The Rhythm Section – January 31
I’m going to ignore for a second that this movie has a stupid title (same as the book that its adapted from) and that the actual plot just seems to be Taken with the leitmotif of “Let’s do it with a lady this time!” This trailer serves as two glaring examples of what’s wrong with movie marketing these days.
First, I saw this trailer for the first time back in July! It’s been six months that Paramount has been trying to shove this movie down our throats. I’ve seen it more times than I can count. It’s played before basically every commercial film I’ve seen in the back half of 2019, regardless of whether it’s appropriate for the audience/genre of the movie I came to see. And yet, there hasn’t been a follow-up. It’s just been this one trailer over and over again. This tells you immediately that this movie should be avoided, because they literally put everything worth seeing into these two minutes. They didn’t even have enough compelling footage for a second trailer. That’s how little this has to offer.
Second, and I’m sure I’ve harped on this before, but I hate, Hate, HATE these faux-ethereal, low register, minor-key cover songs in trailers. This time the crime against music is “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” made famous by Bill Monroe and later Nirvana. If you listen closely, you can hear a distinct grinding noise during the track, especially when the bass is kicked up high enough to rape your ears. That’s Kurt Cobain continuing to spin in his grave, which he’s been doing since Moulin Rouge.
These songs add nothing to the proceedings and only serve to annoy. Watching Blake Lively’s stunt double pretend to kill people while some random singer screams “MY GIRL! MY GIRL” incessantly is not an enticement to see a movie. At best, it just comes across whiny. At worst, I head to the bathroom to attempt to pee for two minutes straight and resolve never to put a single cent down for something so insulting to my intelligence and assaulting to my senses.
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That’s all for this month. Ten movies? God, January sucks. Still, there are a couple of promising diversions out there, this month, and if nothing else, there’ll be plenty of movies to chase down once the Oscar nominations come out in 10 days. Keep it locked here for all the coverage I can muster!
Join the conversation in the comments below! Do you think a film on this list should get a pass? Is there something you think should be added? Is there any better way of saying “Happy New Year” than a slew of cheap horror movies? Let me know!