This Film is Not Yet Watchable – June 2020

If you’re actually reading this right now, there’s at least a calculable chance that your first reaction was, “Why even bother?” For one, we’re still in the throes of lockdown, with basically no functioning movie theatres to go to. For another, it’s June 11 that I’m posting this. We’re more than a third of the way through the month. What’s the point of doing the column at this stage?

Well, I can answer that last bit, anyway. One, I want to, so NYEH! Two, I was planning on doing the column anyway. Unfortunately, over the last two weeks I’ve been insanely busy with work and my viewings of the We Are One festival (I’ll have stuff to show you on that soon). There have been several nights over the last 14 where the options were a) write the column, or b) sleep. And since I’m lazy, diabetic, and sitting on my bed roughly 22 hours a day, guess what I chose?

As for the more primary concern, as we continue to slog through the COVID crisis, I had considered not doing the column this month, especially since major chains are targeting July to reopen, which means we could really go at it next month. And when I saw a couple of trailers for the few films that are being released in June, I thought to myself that maybe things weren’t bad enough to warrant the attention.

But as usual, at least with terrible things, the universe was more than happy to provide. Out of the 12 films being put out this month, I ended up seeing SIX trailers that looked utterly abominable. I know the studios are holding on to the good stuff until we can go back outside (to go inside a theatre), but COME ON! Give us SOMETHING! Literally half of June’s output is shit!

So, better late than never. Put on your hatin’ shoes and join me for the monthly venting session that keeps me sane.

This is the June 2020 edition of “This Film is Not Yet Watchable!”

The Last Days of American Crime – June 5

This came out on Netflix last week, and hopefully, it’ll be buried by next week. Never mind the utterly tone deaf decision to release a film about criminals going to war with cops in the midst of the George Floyd protests, this just looks awful.

Apparently it’s based on a graphic novel from 2009 that got some decent response, and the basic plot is that the government has a sonic device that can stop crime in its tracks. And of course, the criminals want to turn it on the government for one huge heist, the crime to end all crimes. Maybe this worked in comic form, but as a practical matter, it’s just gratuitous.

The trailer all but seals the deal with its parade of clichés. We’ve got robbers throwing money into the air, horrific gunshot violence, a woman whose only purpose is to fuck the protagonist (Edgar Ramirez) due to the thrill of lawlessness. If this graphic novel were released in 2019, it’d be laughed off the bookshelves because of how outdated all of the themes appear to be, and yet it’s set in a dystopian future where police have all but disappeared and crooks and looters rule the streets.

Ugh, just distasteful, and again, that’s BEFORE you consider the timing coinciding with George Floyd’s murder. When you add that in, this just comes off as some #AllLivesMatter wish fulfillment wet dream. I mean, for God’s sake we have a scene of store windows breaking in the first 30 seconds. Oh, the pearl clutching!

Instead of just slamming this, though, I’ll actually recommend an alternative based on the one intriguing part of the premise, that there’s a frequency that can stop people from committing crimes. I’m a fan of Sword Art Online. I’ve been hooked since the first episode of the anime, I’ve seen the movie multiple times, I own all the Blu-Rays, and I’m currently on Volume 18 of the original light novel series.

For the past 10 volumes, the series has been in what’s called the “Alicization” arc, where supporting characters have created a virtual world with a true bottom-up artificial intelligence. The anime is currently also on this arc, with the final episodes set to debut in Japan next month, and I assume it’ll be about four months or so until we get them on Toonami here in the States.

In this story arc, the artificial residents of this virtual world – dubbed the “Underworld” – are beholden to an organization called the Axiom Church, and a set of rules called the Taboo Index, absolute laws that can’t be broken. Literally, anyone who tries to disobey the laws of the land, or even considers doing so, experiences severe pain due to a programmed seal in their right eye. To break the seal is to destroy your own eye, but it also means you’ve exceeded the limitations of the programming, making the A.I. a truly sentient being.

THAT is worth exploring. If there’s a way to block behavior with computer programming or sound frequencies, the entertainment isn’t in using the technology against its creators for the purposes of violent crime. It’s in breaking through your own limitations and asserting yourself as something more than what others tried to control. If you want to explore the theme with some actual nuance and profundity, watch SAO instead. Because guess what? There’s a reason this movie has a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Or, if you just want to watch Edgar Ramirez in a decent-looking movie, he’s in another Netflix movie out in June that didn’t make this column, Wasp Network.

Becky – June 5

This movie was supposed to debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, but sadly, that’s been postponed. Instead, it was released to drive-ins and on-demand. And while normally I use this space to complain about clearly terrible-looking films, here I’m just mostly confused. There’s even a morbid curiosity about the movie, but it just feels like there’s too much wrong with it to recommend.

I mean, on the one hand, it’s a violent revenge plot against some neo-Nazi skinheads. I’m all about that. Fuck Nazis. I am anti-fascist, and all of you should be as well. Trump calls that being a terrorist, I call it being a patriot. We had a whole war about it and everything. So anything that involves beating the shit out of some Nazis is cool with me, especially since the very real threat they pose can make for some excellent filmmaking, particularly in films like American History X and Green Room.

On the other hand, the main skinhead is Kevin James. I just can’t take that seriously. I’m all for comedic actors trying dramatic roles, but it’s got to be a gradual change. Tom Hanks dabbled in semi-serious stuff before taking on Philadelphia. Adam Sandler had Spanglish and Punch-Drunk Love under his belt long before Uncut Gems. Kevin James? Not so much. You can’t jump from Paul Blart to Hitler, though both are sickening.

On the one hand, you have Joel McHale as the patriarch of a mixed race family under direct threat. On the other, you have dialogue about how rottweilers are pure-breed dogs from James. I’d buy the line if the dogs weren’t black. How can you seriously argue that black dogs are pure but black people aren’t?

On the one hand, the title character sets some sadistic traps to stop the Nazi invaders, which probably sets up some righteous kills a la The Last House on the Left. On the other hand, because she’s a kid, all I see is a more vicious Macaulay Culkin.

I don’t know. Maybe I’ll see it, especially since it’s playing in drive-ins, which is another notch in the plus column and another similarity with Last House on the Left. My mother used to work drive-ins that played it when it was still called Night of Vengeance, and the tagline of “Just keep telling yourself, ‘It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie.'” was a great marketing campaign. But there are so many other bits that just don’t sit right. Your call, folks.

Think Like a Dog – June 9

If you’re like me and have DirecTV, you’ve noticed over the last year that you now get ads whenever you pause your DVR for more than five minutes. Most of those billboards are for on-demand movies, including the new releases that have had to be relegated there instead of getting their scheduled theatrical release because of COVID.

Well, if there’s one movie that looks like it absolutely should have been VOD-only, it’s Think Like a Dog. The DirecTV slate makes it look like a cheap, direct-to-video Disney movie from the late 90s/early 00s. Seeing the trailer, it’s even worse.

Picture this. A kid comes up with a machine that can read people’s thoughts. That’s right, folks, we’re ripping off Homer Simpson’s brother and the baby translator. Instead of a human test subject, the child prodigy, Oliver – played by Gabriel Bateman of Annabelle and the horribly ill-advised Child’s Play remake – decides to use it on his dog, Henry. And wouldn’t you know it, the dog can talk now, though for some reason he’s voiced Todd Stashwick doing a weird combined impression of Norm MacDonald and Brad Garrett. Also, his parents are inexplicably played by Josh Duhamel and Megan Fox, cause they just seem so desperate for money these days.

If the story ends there, then it’s just insipid kiddie fare, no worse than Blank Check. But oh no, there has to be something sinister. Kunal Nayyar – as in Raj from The Big Bang Theory Kunal Nayyar – plays an evil scientist/industrialist who somehow spied on Oliver’s experiment and will stop at nothing to control/own/exploit/profit from it, to the point that he FUCKING KIDNAPS A KID AND HIS DOG!

Seriously, Kunal, what happened? First the Trolls sequel, and now this? You were one of the five highest paid actors on TV. You clearly don’t need a paycheck this badly. Does Lionsgate have dirt on you? Are you under duress? Key your headset twice if you are.

Artemis Fowl – June 12

Remember how Disney fucked up A Wrinkle in Time, wasting the talents of Ava DuVernay for a generic bit of fantasy schlock filled with bad CGI and pop songs? Well, get ready for the same thing with more recent beloved children’s literature, Kenneth Branagh, and rap music.

If you’ve read the young adult trilogy, then the most glaring issue with the trailer is apparent from the opening scene – Colin Farrell as Artemis’ father. In the books, Artemis tries to rescue his father in the second book, not the first. The first is about juggling themes of greed, establishing links between the real world and the magical, and delving into the ambiguities of good versus evil, as Artemis dubs himself a “master criminal,” but he’s doing it all in service of healing his sick mother. I guess Disney couldn’t get on board with a mother who was only sick, not dead, so they decided to cram the first two books into one movie. Because that never backfires!

Instead, this trailer is just a worthless CGI-fest, throwing everything possible at the screen in the most confusing manner possible. I think I saw chihuahua-goblin hybrids at one point. And any subtlety is completely gone, as the trailer establishes right from the off that both Artemis I and Artemis II are just good people with gadgets (the reveal of the suits should draw a lawsuit from the makers of the Kingsman and the Men in Black series), and that everything is a big misunderstanding, while young Artemis seeks to clear his father’s name.

All of the fun is instantly stripped from whatever proceedings we have here in a spastic, cartoonish blur. My only ounce of hope is the fact that even Disney seems to realize they’ve got a dud on their hands. This was supposed to be a theatrical release at the end of May. The April premiere was scrapped due to COVID, and now the release has been cancelled altogether, with the movie only being shown on Disney+. And even then, it only has a 14% on Rotten Tomatoes. Now if only the same could have happened for the Mulan remake…

The King of Staten Island – June 12

Pete Davidson is a douchebag. And what’s worse, he’s not even a funny douchebag. And I’m not talking about his breakup with Ariana Grande, either. They’re both the bad guy in that equation. Who the fuck gets engaged after knowing someone for like, two weeks?

As for this movie, I don’t have a problem with semi-autobiographical films, and I certainly don’t have a problem with Judd Apatow being at the helm for them (see, Trainwreck and to a lesser extent, Funny People and This is 40). But again, this is Pete Davidson. No one wanted a redemptive story arc for this loser. This is a guy who made fun of a Congressional candidate for having an eye patch after fighting in Iraq, and TOOK BACK his apology in a comedy special, yet in this film he wants us to feel sorry for him because his dad was a firefighter who died on 9/11? You can’t have it both ways, numbnuts! If you can’t show some fucking empathy, you sure as fuck don’t deserve it from us!

And it’s a shame, too, because the rest of this cast looks solid. Marissa Tomei, Steve Buscemi, Bill Burr (a douchebag who KNOWS how to be funny)? They’re all great. But it looks like they’re going to be utterly wasted in service of a fake self-aware laugh-cry fest for a guy who makes Post Malone’s tattoos seem reasonable. Also, they destroyed one of my favorite 90s songs.

Also, note to Judd, don’t put your fucking daughter in lingerie in a movie. The hell is wrong with you? That’s some Woody/Soon-Yi shit right there.

You Should Have Left – June 19

Hey, you know what’s scary? A house that’s bigger on the inside!

Oh wait, that’s not scary, that’s the TARDIS!

The funniest thing about what appears to be yet another jump scare parade is that on YouTube, every trailer I searched for to view for this column was preceded by an ad for the this trailer. If you ever needed more proof that advertising isn’t effective, there you go. I was going to watch the trailer anyway, so they failed in enticing me, and now that I’ve seen it, I have no interest in the actual movie. And just to stick it to them, I’m not linking to Universal or Blumhouse’s official page for the trailer, so you don’t even get the extra views. Way to spend those marketing dollars, idiots!

* * *

That’s all for this month. Now to breathe for two weeks and do it all again, hopefully with a slate of films we can actually GO see.

Join the conversation in the comments below! What do you think of these trailers? Is there anything you want to see despite the red flags? Seriously, how big of a douchebag is Pete Davidson? Let me know!

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