It’s basically been a year since I’ve gotten to do this. In June 2020 I fell behind by two weeks, with the intent of doing a column in July, because that’s when theatre chains were initially planning to open back up. But then everything went even further into the shit, reopening schedules were completely scrapped, and I died a little more inside.
But now the light at the end of the tunnel is in sight, and theatres are back. Every AMC theatre has been reopened nationwide in various capacities, and every state has allowed theatres to resume operations with certain regulations and restrictions until the COVID pandemic is over. That’s good enough for me!
So, if you’re new to this column, welcome. If you enjoyed it for its first year of existence before the hiatus, welcome back. It’s been a long time coming, but I have been loading up on chili and coffee, and I am ready to take a giant shit all over some terrible movie trailers! The irrational joy I get from preemptively mocking what appear to be just awful movies sustains me, and it’s been far too long since I’ve gotten to take a big swig of Haterade.
However, I should note that there will be a couple changes made to the column going forward. First off, just like my DownStream coverage last year, I will only be interested in films with an intended theatrical release (even if they’re released online first) and an MPA rating as evidence. My list of upcoming releases has never been comprehensive on a month-to-month basis anyway, and I’ve always left some things out here and there. But this way, I can avoid the pure straight-to-VOD garbage like The Wrong Missy. Even the trailer was more attention than that abomination warranted.
Two, because I do want to be a little bit positive, whenever possible, I will try to end on an up note, with a look at a trailer that’s actually successful. I still end up seeing some of the movies that appear in this column, and every so often they’re even tolerable. At the same time, I’ve also missed out on good films because the trailer looked bad, most notably last year’s version of The Invisible Man. So with that in mind, maybe just maybe there’s a film that looks like it might be subpar, but the trailer is actually persuasive enough to get me into the theatre. Or perhaps there’s a movie that really looks like it’ll be a hit (commercially or critically), but the trailer itself falls a bit short, in which case it might be worth noting and examining further. I can’t always guarantee this will happen, but whenever it does, I’ll feature something a bit more promising to wrap up the column, starting now.
So let’s get to it. It’s been 11 months since I’ve done this, and there is some shit out there that needs to get lit on fire and left on Michael Bay’s porch. This is the May 2021 edition of “This Film is Not Yet Watchable!”
Mainstream – May 7
Do you enjoy the antics of Logan and/or Jake Paul? Congratulations, you’re a piece of shit, just like them! And what better way to excise these malignant fucks from our society than by legitimizing them via a thinly-veiled analog played by Andrew Garfield?
“Who am I?” asks the overly dramatic Garfield as the trailer opens. The answer is, “a douchebag.” Can we move on? Of course not. See, in this world, Garfield’s character is a YouTube celebrity who dubs himself “No One Special,” and he creates viral content with two other characters played by Maya Hawke and Nat Wolff, which apparently also forms a love triangle. Woohoo.
Written and directed by Gia Coppola, because that family doesn’t have enough cooks in the kitchen, the film posits itself as a satire on viral fame and “influencer” culture, but the trailer offers no hint of subtlety or nuance, and seems to be outright celebrating and endorsing these rudderless charlatans who think they deserve to be billionaires for doing nothing because we as a society allowed the Kardashians to do it. And just for fun, Garfield’s character, who lives for clicks and hits, is named “Link.” I could rip the skin off my face and lie down upon it and I’d be less on the nose than that.
Throw in a bunch of bad dubstep music, faux humility, and a complete lack of anything suggesting a cohesive plot, and you’re looking at a project that looks like it got sold to IFC on the Coppola name alone. There’s a moment towards the end where Maya Hawke is in what appears to be a control room, and she’s told that she can put a stop to this. Yes, she can. We all can. It’s called not giving these assholes oxygen. It’s called ignoring them. What you don’t do is cast Jason Schwartzman as a rapacious capitalist and unintentionally make us root for him because he’s the only one that even suggests canceling this nonsense, and even then it’s only because the numbers are slipping.
The Logan Pauls of this world need to be shot into the sun, not given a spotlight for their aggressive dumbing down of the world. Even if presented ironically, this film appears to do just that.
Above Suspicion – May 7
Oh. My. GOD! What the hell is that accent Emilia Clarke is pulling? In his Funbag column this week, Defector writer Drew Magary (one of my favorite writers, as I’ve said before) made a point of saying that we shouldn’t fault foreign actors for delivering a bad American accent. While I agree in principle, he clearly hasn’t seen this trailer. I love Emilia Clarke, but holy shit people, hire a dialect coach! Or just hire an actress from the South!
Once you stop laughing, you can try to pay attention to the actual words being said. “See these trees? They know what’s going to happen,” Clarke says to the bafflement of scholars worldwide. “This is the way the devil comes. He comes as everything you ever wanted.” Good to know that if I ever get to date Emilia Clarke and have her bring her Game of Thrones costumes into the bedroom that she’ll actually be the devil, just like the foosball! “You deserve a reward,” she whispers seductively as she fondles a dude’s crotch outside his pants. THE DEVEEEEL!
Anyway, this is one of those “based on a true story” movies that I’m just guessing took a LOT of artistic license. For example, an FBI agent would not bribe a witness for testimony, nor would a judge allow a trial proceeding to take place where someone from the peanut gallery calls a witness a snitch as they enter the courtroom. Oh, and just for fun, let’s just have another love triangle.
There is one cool moment in the trailer, where someone shoots a Molotov Cocktail out of some other dude’s hand, setting his arm on fire in the process. That is badass. But it felt like a slog just to get through 90 seconds of the trailer to hit that moment. I can’t imagine how torturous watching the movie will be to get to that scene.
Finally, it’s worth noting that both entries so far have Johnny Knoxville in the cast. I’m not saying there’s a connection, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there was.
Finding You – May 14
Never mind. I’ll take Johnny Knoxville all day every day instead of this dreck. Just about every frame of this makes me want to wretch. First off, we have a beautiful, talented young violinist who can’t get into a conservatory because she doesn’t have any “passion” to match her super good playing skill. So, a music school, dedicated to training people to become the best in the world, people that will one day perform in highly-organized orchestras, will reject someone for not standing out? Unless you’re first chair or a soloist, your entire job is NOT to stand out but to be ultra proficient. In what universe does a school reject a technical virtuoso for a lack of perceived passion? We’re already filled to the brim with bullshit and we’re only 15 seconds in.
On a plane to Ireland for a semester abroad (oh great, you’re gonna drag my people down with you), our lovely ingenue meets actor Beckett Rush, which is not a real name, because that name is made up purely to make you swoon about some image of a hunky guy and could never be an actual person. They chat a bit, then part upon landing. Finley (whoever first wrote these names needs to have their hands cut off) meets with a friend who immediately gushes about the fact that the dreamboat actor was on the plane, and every time she opens her mouth, I want to rip my Irish tattoo off my arm. They go to a bed and breakfast owned by the friend’s family, and gosh darn it, wouldn’t you know, Beckett is staying there as well while he films his latest project! Kill me.
Before you can blink, we’re told that this is “based on the beloved novel.” That novel is called “There You’ll Find Me,” a standard-issue Young Adult romance novel that’s so beloved it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. It’s even categorized by Google as “Christian Fiction,” which, ew. I could make the easy joke that everything Christian is fiction, but I’ll just stick with ew, because that means we’re going to have a completely sterile romance with no spark whatsoever, but we’ll definitely overload on the One Direction imagery for our doe-eyed love interests.
*Trailer starts playing “Story of My Life” by One Direction*
Everything else here is a gag-inducing slog. Beckett is the favorite of all the locals. A pub band recruits Finley to play fiddle, noting, “It doesn’t matter what the notes are, it’s how you play them,” which no self-respecting Irishman would ever say. Ireland is the land of song and poetry. The notes fucking matter. Also, Finley’s trying to get into a conservatory. Notes. Fucking. Matter. Finley and Beckett fall in love. There’s “conflict” about his fame. I’ve seen this trailer multiple times in theatres over the last month, and by the time she takes off his stupid hipster hat and says, “There’s the real Beckett,” I’m ready to lead the rest of the audience in throwing stuff at the screen. “Would you risk losing everything to find something real?” asks the on-screen text, to which I respond, “IT’S NOT FUCKING REAL! SHE’S 18 AND DOESN’T KNOW SHIT! HE’S A PRETTY BOY WHO’S NEVER FACED A PROBLEM IN HIS LIFE! IT’S A FLING! IT’S AN AFFAIR! IT’S A FUCKING LARK! BUT IT’S NOT REAL! IN REAL LIFE THEY’D DATE FOR SIX MONTHS AND BREAK UP AS AMICABLY AS POSSIBLE TO AVOID THE PAPARAZZI!”
Seriously, as an Irishman I’m deeply offended. As a fan of movies, I’m deeply offended. As a man who doesn’t really care for scones, I’m fairly indifferent. But as someone with the capacity for critical thought, I am VERY deeply offended!
Cruella – May 28
And with that in mind, we finally come the most offensive bit of all. I don’t even know what to call these things anymore. Remakes? Prequels? Retcons? Whatever they are, they’re almost universally awful, answering questions no one asked, and wasting tremendous actors in the vain quest for box office and (in this case at least), a Costume Design nomination next year.
Just like with Maleficent, no one wanted or needed a backstory on a classic Disney villain. Yet here we are with Cruella, yet another attempt to add dimension to a character that was just fine the way she was. And I’m sure that just like Maleficent, it’ll ruin whatever positive feelings we had about her for the last several decades.
Right off the bat they’re trying to rewrite the fur-loving would-be dog murderer – played by Emma Stone, who is just too good for this shit – as a frustrated fashion iconoclast who is feuding with another designer played by Emma Thompson. Oh goodie, I can see the posters now, Emma vs. Emma. I’d rather watch Godzilla vs. Kong again. She’s portrayed as young and ambitious, all the while suggesting that she might be a psychopath while peppering in images that are supposed to hint at her villainy, but instead slap us across the face with it. There’s a manor called “Hell Hall,” the license plate on the car reads “DEVIL,” and when she crashes a swanky party, three Dalmatian dogs growl at her knowingly somehow. The big reveal happens when she lights her own jacket on fire to reveal her red hair has changed to Cruella’s trademark black/white split as she narrates, “How does the saying go? ‘I am woman, hear me roar.'”
Okay, stop right the fuck there. The original book, “The Hundred and One Dalmatians” by Dodie Smith came out in 1951. The Disney animated film came out in 1961. Helen Reddy’s feminist anthem, “I Am Woman” came out in 1971! The cars and scenery evoke late 50s/early 60s London, but the whole montage is set to Connie Francis’ version of “Who’s Sorry Now?” which came out in 1957. So when exactly is this film set, and how many anachronisms did we just cram in to 50 seconds? Something is definitely rotten in Denmark here, not the least of which is the fact that if you wanted to extend Cruella’s backstory, you could have just used the book’s origin as her being a school friend of the character eventually named Anita in the cartoon. I mean, I never liked “I Am Woman” as a song, but I recognize the impact it had on the Women’s Liberation Movement. How fucking dare you co-opt it for a cash grab retcon of a character that was best served as a one-dimensional obsessive!
But it gets worse. The rest of the trailer is just a montage of her committing flashy crimes. She uses neon graffiti, sets stuff on fire, crashes cars into buildings, and generally dances around in her costumes and makeup like a delighted circus performer before defiantly asserting, “I’m Cruella.” No you’re not, you’re Harley Quinn! Everything in the back half of this trailer looks like a deleted scene from one of Margot Robbie’s DCEU roles. There’s not an original note to be had. It’s bad enough we’re still doing this crap at Disney, but to rip off DC (when Disney owns Marvel, ironically) and telegraph to us directly that you have nothing to offer other than unadulterated derivation is mind-numbingly insulting.
You’ll find my suicide note after this cracks $200 million.
So now that I’ve satisfied my rage boner, let’s go out on a high note. I don’t have a catchy name for this last bit yet, so if you think of one, send it my way. But this is the space reserved for something that actually convinced me to see a movie I otherwise might not have given the synopsis. Feast your eyes on a very pleasant surprise!
Army of the Dead – May 21
This. This is what a trailer is supposed to do. Just look at how it’s structured. The thumbnail tells you it’ll be an action movie, probably a shoot-em-up, and if you didn’t see that, the opening image of an expensive car pulling up to a diner where Dave Bautista is working certainly gets the point across (including on-screen text telling you that this is a Zack Snyder property). He’s offered the chance to make $50 million dollars. Okay, he’s a mercenary. We then get a montage of him assembling his crew, including familiar A-list faces like Tig Notaro. There’s almost no dialogue, with the bulk of the soundtrack being Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,” implying that they’re all about to take a huge risk. What few lines there are hint at relative heroism among the group, and that they sacrificed a lot over the years. By the time Hiroyuki Sanada pulls back the the sheet revealing their casino target and the millions that are at stake, we’ve got the setup for a decent looking popcorn action/heist film.
But we’re only 1/3 of the way through the trailer. So what else is there? Sanada says that the money’s buried “under the Strip” as we get a shot of a dilapidated Las Vegas sign, and that there’s a 32-hour window to get the job done as we’re shown deployed military. Okay, something’s going on here. We’re raising the stakes a bit, establishing the conflict. This is how a trailer should look. It grabs your attention, and slowly builds up the suspense to keep you hooked.
The team exits a shipping container and the camera slowly pans to reveal… a wasteland of Las Vegas, casinos still burning, and the streets filled to the brim with the undead.
Now THAT is how you hook the audience! It’s risky to give away the major twist/impetus of the plot in the trailer, but the reveal is so artistically done that instead of feeling like you’ve been spoiled, you’re locked in and ready for whatever comes. I mean, with a title like Army of the Dead, I kind of assumed there’d be zombies, but the opening minute of the trailer allowed for the possibility of a metaphor, like maybe Bautista’s team of mercenaries thought of themselves as “ghosts” or some other death-centric analogy as part of the course of their work. So to subvert the expectation, then pay it off so spectacularly, is just a thing of beauty!
From there, we get a solid minute of just pure kickassery, with rules established about the undead horde, instantly memorable images like a decaying Elvis impersonator, tons of action, and “The Gambler” remixed to sync up with the gunshot sound effects. It can’t possibly get any more intense, right?
So very wrong.
Zombie. White. Tiger! ARE YOU SHITTING ME?!
I mean, it’s a little bit late to the party, as Sigfried and Roy both died in the last year, but holy shitballs! I can even excuse the less-than-stellar CGI just for the sheer creativity of the idea. The tiger roars, the team gets surrounded, the horde closes in, shots are fired, and we cut to the title card.
Oh MAN! I’m still geeking out about this. This is how a trailer is supposed to be done. Get the crowd’s attention, keep it going while you build momentum, raise the stakes as you go, create a mini movie out of the experience, and with the cut out, give us just enough of a tease that we just HAVE to see how this plays out.
When I saw that this was an R-rated Netflix release called Army of the Dead, I’ll admit I rolled my eyes a bit, but I thought I might still watch it as a distraction when I’m bored later in the month. Now, it’ll be appointment viewing to me. And even if it turns out to suck horribly, I won’t be too offended that I spent the time to give it a chance, because the trailer did exactly what it was supposed to do. It sold me on the film. It convinced me that this would be a good use of my time and/or money, and that alone is appreciated at the highest level because so few trailer producers seem to understand this basic concept. Some of the films that didn’t end up in this month’s column could be good or bad, but the information gleaned from the trailer was at least passable, so they’re not worth going over. The four above are terrible both in structure and the details provided for their respective films. This one, though? It actually gets me excited to see something. I’ll still judge it fairly. It won’t get any bonus points for the trailer’s quality, and it’ll only lose points if it turns out that all the good shots were right here and the narrative being sold was an out and out lie. But regardless of how the movie turns out, the team behind this three-minute ad gets kudos from me.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What do you think of these films? Are there trailers you think should have been included? When Disney decides to do a villain prequel for Mad Madam Mim, will you lie and say I didn’t warn you? Let me know!