This Film is Not Yet Watchable – June 2021

There’s an odd weather condition in southern California known as the “June Gloom.” Here in SoCal it’s a bit of an annual tease. Sometimes we’re in drought conditions, and some years we’re not, but in either case, we basically only get rain during the winter months, occasionally dipping into April. But once spring is in full swing, we don’t see a drop of precipitation normally until at least Thanksgiving. The June Gloom is a mild bit of meteorological taunting, in that for basically the entire month (give or take a few days) the day begins with a dark, grey morning filled with what looks like storm clouds. In any other part of the country, you’d see these clouds and prepare for a rainy day. Not here, though. The normally sunny weather in the area still shows up, usually with a good deal of heat, only it waits until about midday instead of dawn.

It’s that impending cloud cover that comes to mind when I look at June on the movie calendar. It’s Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, and that means we’re firmly into the blockbuster season. Studios are banking heavily on box office, especially as we continue opening up and getting back to normal in this country. But even though the studios are gambling on the quantity or tickets sold, they certainly don’t give a crap about the quality of their product. Just like the June Gloom, the studios spend this month teasing us with something we really need. The weather teases water we never get, and the Hollywood system teases great entertainment that doesn’t exist.

As such, this month’s edition of TFINYW contains a whopping SIX entries. Some of them are expected to do gangbusters despite being obvious crap. Others are just baffling exercises in What The Fuck. Even this month’s bonus good trailer (I’m thinking of calling it the Redemption Reel or something similar; please give me your thoughts if you have an idea) is for a movie that most definitely should not exist.

The dog days of summer are just around the corner. Thankfully, dogs are adorable, and if you’re vaccinated, you can gather with friends and family and play with them again, rather than, you know, sitting through this garbage. This is the June 2021 edition of “This Film is Not Yet Watchable!”

Spirit Untamed – June 4

I wasn’t a fan of the original Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron film from 2002. It was basic, had no real plot, and seemed to be made to sell horse dolls to little girls. So of course, nearly 20 years later, let’s do that again, only this time, make it even more blatantly commercial! Spun off from a Netflix series that itself was spun off from the original movie, Spirit Untamed has all the hallmarks of a story so cheesy and designed to sell shit that the actual Hallmark store thinks it’s over the top.

Let’s check off the cliché boxes, shall we? Dead mom? Check. Overprotective dad? Check. Instant bond with an animal that under normal circumstances would kill a little for coming so close to it with no expertise in how to behave around it? Check. Girl’s insecurity about her place in the world because she has no mom? Check. Inexplicable expert martial arts skills because it’s impossible to have a young female protagonist with any flaws? Check and mate! Throw in the market-tested minimum level of diversity (our heroine is Latina and she just happens to have a white and a black friend, so all the girls at the slumber party can have an avatar doll!) and Taylor Swift’s worst song (and that’s saying something), and you have a movie trailer almost literally tailor-made to get prepubescent asses in the seats while their parents suffer.

But even ignoring all that, this movie just looks awful. It’s 2021 and the animation style here looks like something Pixar would have thrown in the toilet more than a decade ago. This is Boss Baby levels of bad animation (spoiler for next month’s edition, there’s a sequel). Every moment of, let’s call it, excitement, comes from cartoon physics that even the Roadrunner would find absurd. In the span of two and a half minutes, they say the word “spirit” seven times, not even half of them referring to the fucking horse.

The only good thing about this dreck is that, being released in June, there’s a chance you can avoid taking your kids to see it until after Summer Break starts, and then keep avoiding it until it’s on VOD for like, two bucks, and they’ll still be able to see it and talk about it with their little friends when school resumes in the fall. If you prefer to placate them and avoid the screams and crying, try to bargain so you can at least get something out of the deal.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It – June 4

The entire Conjuring universe is a textbook example of how horror is NOT supposed to be done. It’s all bullshit disproven legends, bad acting, and jump scares shamelessly presented as if it has any meaning or purpose. This is the eighth film in the series, because people just don’t know any better, but only the third in the main continuity, thanks to three Annabelle spinoffs, The Nun, and The Curse of La Llorona, which was one of the worst movies of 2019. Even sadder, there are at least two more movies in development to keep this farce going.

The core storyline continues with a refocus on the charlatan Warrens, who continuously bilked society over the course of their lives with their so-called “demonology” studies. This film in particular centers on the story of Arne Johnson, who killed his landlord in the 80s and claimed demonic possession as his defense. Not surprisingly, he was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison (though he only served five), because get this, demons don’t fucking exist.

“The court accepts the existence of God every time a witness swears to tell the truth. I think it’s about time we accept the existence of the Devil.” This is Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren giving his pitch on the stand to accept Johnson’s possession defense in open court. Right off the bat, let’s break down that bullshit. No court supposes the existence of God, and the affirmation to give testimony does not have any specificity of religion. Many use the phrase, “so help you God” as an admonition to those who are religious that there might be an additional moral penalty for them should they lie, even if they don’t get caught by the court itself. Even in the 1980s, the use of the phrase was being phased out, because you cannot presume the existence of one iteration of God in an American trial that follows the Constitution. If a witness is an atheist, their lack of belief in God does not give them license to lie, nor is it supposed to be used to prejudice a jury into thinking that witness is less than reliable.

But even if we take this idiotic assertion at face value, how does the existence of God prove the existence of Satan? There are hundreds of thousands of religions, including sects within the Judeo-Christian tradition, that believe in God and Heaven but do not believe in Hell or the Devil. Just because words have antonyms does not mean they have equal intellectual value in an argument. This is the equivalent of saying, “If New York has subways, it must also have domways,” or “The existence of Times Square implies the existence of Divided-by Square.” It’s completely stupid, and yet this film wants to present it as a legal argument that actually carries weight. Are you serious?

After that, the trailer is nothing but a string of cheap horror clichés and scare teases, none of which looks even remotely suspenseful. Hell, they lead with a kid on a waterbed with a ghost reaching up out of it. They did that shit for a cheap kill in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, for God’s sake (incidentally the first Nightmare film I ever saw). The only remotely promising moment is when Vera Farmiga – still wearing these dresses in 1981 that wouldn’t have been out of place 100 years earlier – nearly runs off a cliff, then gets pulled off it by the ghost right after the on-screen text reads “Every story has an end.” It makes me at least moderately hopeful that this means this series of unfortunate events is coming to a close, but again, there are two more movies in the works, and as I said earlier to frame this entire column, June Gloom. NEXT!

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway – June 11

I was originally going to cover this piece of shit last February, after I had already been subjected to the trailer in basically every theatre I had gone to in early 2020. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to quickly get out of control, Sony made this movie one of the first casualties, delaying it for over a year, before abandoning all pretense of quality and skipping the Easter season as well (though not in Australia) before settling on mid-June just to get it off the schedule.

Just like its predecessor, it’s an utter insult to the work of Beatrix Potter and anyone with a first grade level of reading ability. Just like its predecessor, it crams so much James Corden down our throats when no one asked for it that we need a collective Heimlich Maneuver to continue living. And just like its predecessor, it’s probably going to make a shitload of money in spite of all this, because we just can’t have nice things.

“Did you miss me?” asks Peter, only to be answered by several animals standing in for the audience shaking their heads with a combination of shock and disgust. “Peter is heading your way,” notes the on-screen text, coming off more like a threat than an enticement as the rabbit is involved in a fucking high speed car chase (before the ski chase and the skydiving). You can’t even hear Potter spinning in her grave anymore because she’s going so fast that both her corpse and the coffin have been smoothed out entirely so that there’s no friction. If Jesus really was the Messiah, he’d come back down and put a stop to this.

Wish Dragon – June 11

We’ve had a pretty decent go of it animation-wise so far this year, with Raya and the Last Dragon doing well for Disney and The Mitchells vs. the Machines being an absolute joy. Adding to that, Pixar’s latest, Luca, is slated for release on June 18. But before we get there, we have to slog through some absolute shit. First we had My Sequel Pony, and now we have Wish Dragon on Netflix. If you can sit through this thing without wanting to throw something at the screen, then I applaud you. I made fun of Cruella last month for being a ripoff of Harley Quinn, but now the tables are turned, because this is a straight up ripoff of Aladdin, only with an East Asian aesthetic slapped over it. I guess Disney has to take what it dishes out from time to time.

We start off with a “street rat,” in the form of Din, a delivery driver in Shanghai who wishes he was richer, as evidenced by his affinity for fancy clothes. He even weaves through marketplaces and narrow alleys as if he’s being chased and has to be “One Jump Ahead.” A “wish dragon” then emerges from an ancient teapot that Din somehow rubs, and says he’ll grant him three wishes, but he can’t make anyone fall in love with him. I mean, just dig up Robin Williams if you’re going to recycle shit this hard. He even emerges with the same epic smoke only to be undercut by a sardonic speaking style and attitude like the Genie. An ending “joke” scene has the two arguing over what constitutes a wish so that Din can escape, not from a collapsing Cave of Wonders, but from a traffic jam. This is just shameless.

The one original note this movie seems to offer is that Din doesn’t pine for romance in the form of Lina, but simply to reconnect with a childhood friend. That almost sounds admirable, and a little cute, until the movie shows us that the way to do that is to make him a “prince” (just like in Aladdin) in the form of…

Oh, what am I thinking of? Dammit, it was right on the tip of my tongue. A screwy wealthy Asian? A mentally unsound affluent Asian? A batshit loaded Asian? Ah, no, it’s gone. I hate when this happens.

F9 – June 25

Here’s a fun fact. On a computer, the F9 key essentially has no real function. It can refresh a Word document or help you open Mission Control on a Mac, but that’s about it. Of all the “F” keys on the top of the keyboard, it is one of the most pointless.

Another fun fact, F9 the movie also has no real function, and is sure to be one of the most pointless films of the year. I mean, the entire Fast and Furious series is pointless with no real function, and this is just the latest bit of cinematic diarrhea unleashed upon the world, but you see where I’m going with this.

I’m not even going to bother with all the things wrong with this trailer. You can see them for yourself. Helen Mirren, John Cena, and Charlize Theron get dragged into the nonsense this time, with Cena playing Vin Diesel’s heretofore unknown brother who wants to kill him and Theron inexplicably talking really slow to try to sound devious, I think. Anyone who values their ears will have them raped with yet another techno track dick cranked up past 11 with no escape. There’s even more impossible physics than the last installment, including a “magnet” plane that apparently magnetizes at the whim of the writer, cars with rockets strapped to the back, and just straight up manipulating falling bridges to slingshot cars. Just once I want an installment of this series where the laws of physics apply just 1% of the time, but that would be impossible, because the entire cast would be dead in 30 seconds, and I’d be happy.

But you want to know what’s really egregious here? This film now stands as an example of just how little the studios care about you. In the press circuit running up to the release, John Cena gave an interview where he offhandedly referred to Taiwan as a country. Now, Taiwan is a country. He did not make a factually inaccurate statement. Taiwan is an island near mainland China that split off and declared their independence, though not many other international entities recognize that, including our own government, which sees Taiwan only as a semi-autonomous region of China. We maintain a “One China Policy” for the purposes of diplomacy. I don’t agree with it, but that’s the ultra mega uber CliffNotes version of the dynamic. Cena called it a country, no big deal. At worst, it’s a slip of the tongue, the Chinese equivalent of calling Scotland a country when it’s part of the United Kingdom. At best, it’s an accidental acknowledgement of marginalized people under the thumb of an authoritarian dictatorship on the mainland. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t a political statement or an assertion of allegiance to one side or another.

However, that slip-up couldn’t just be left alone as the innocuous statement that it was. No, Cena then had to go on Chinese television and issue an apology, IN MANDARIN, for daring to call Taiwan a country on a Taiwanese broadcast. Why did he do it? Because Universal cares more about Chinese box office than anything else. If Cena didn’t apologize, it’s very possible – I’d even say likely – that China would restrict or outright ban the film from being released in the country, thus sacrificing up to a billion dollars in profits. And nothing says “family” (you know, that horseshit underlying “theme” of this insultingly titled “saga”?) like kowtowing to a foreign power for the potential of money.

This is disgusting on so many levels, not the least of which is the fact that the core audience for these increasingly asinine movies are the same turbo-headed macho assholic so-called “real” Americans that are literally beating Asian people in the streets as a response to the pandemic, and voted in droves for Donald Trump because he tried to conflate Joe Biden with China. You would think these people would be as anti-Chinese censorship as possible, and would boycott because of Cena’s selling out, most likely at the behest of his studio overlords. Instead, they’ll still turn out in droves for this hunk of shit, and we’ll be subjected to Fast Avogadro’s Number by 2030.

This is the stuff I’m talking about when I rant and rage against the Hollywood machine. In a world where this film’s very fanbase will bitch about “cancel culture,” we’re seeing an instance where the star of this movie got “canceled” by his own bosses and turned into a patsy and fall guy for the purpose of crass corporate greed, where his freedom of speech has been effectively robbed from him as well as his dignity, for saying something completely innocent. But that doesn’t matter. All that really matters is getting those dollars, and by hanging Cena out to dry, not only will they still get the same people who should be against this forking over their money, they’ll also get that sweet sweet Chinese box office to rub all over their naked bodies.

What I’m saying is that there was never any integrity in this series, and if you have any in you at all, you’ll stay away from this piece of shit on principle alone, and not just because it’ll be just as terrible, gratuitous, and illogical as all the others in the series.

Zola – June 30

Émile Zola was a French writer who came to fame in the 1890s for his incendiary newspaper piece, J’Accuse, which detailed the epic frame job that went into the sham conviction of military officer Alfred Dreyfus, and his subsequent imprisonment for treason. Dreyfus was eventually exonerated thanks to Zola’s help, and Zola was nominated twice for a Nobel Prize. His contributions to society were documented in the Best Picture-winning film, The Life of Emile Zola from 1937. And while I’m not in favor of remaking Best Picture winners (see: Rebecca, or rather, don’t), I am kind of interested in seeing a different take on his life, maybe his more formative writing years or some earlier projects that might have had an impact on–

I’m just kidding. This stupid movie is about a Twitter thread.

“You wanna hear a story ’bout how me and dis bitch fell out? It’s kinda long, but it’s full of suspense.” Thanks for the warning, random stripper lady! Yes, the new movie, Zola, distributed by A24, which will basically greenlight anything outside the mainstream, is a story about two strippers on a road trip, with one of them basically out of her damn mind the entire way. If I wasn’t going to watch Hustlers, you already know you got no chance with me here.

But what makes this even more seemingly atrocious is the source material, a viral Twitter thread about said road trip that was filled with drugs, violence, and sex trafficking. Oh joy. If this is what passes for story inspiration these days, I may as well stop being a writer and just kill myself. I use Twitter myself, mostly to vent frustrations or to promote this blog, but at best it’s a necessary evil, like all social media. It shouldn’t be seen as a ripe content source, and if you don’t believe me, just look at this trailer. Strippers praying for coked-out n-words with good credit scores, a white girl trying to talk more black than Misspelled Bottled Water does, half the shots are either through a phone or are shown with them posing for the phone. This is about as vapid as vapid gets.

The rest of the trailer includes pull quotes from mostly reliable sources, including The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, which lends the project some degree of credibility, but I have to laugh at two of them, one from The Root, and the other from Jezebel. Both are owned by Kinja, which is terrible, but that’s not the main point, though one must wonder if the corporate bosses ordered positive reviews from two separate website critics to inflate the numbers. But more importantly, this film, directed by Janicza Bravo in her feature debut, was originally supposed to be directed by James Franco, who lost the job after his #MeToo Moment. Can you imagine Jezebel’s take on this exact same film if it had been Franco at the helm? Even if every single frame was identical, I’m just going to go out on a limb and guess this movie about sex trafficking and strippers would not be seen as “a triumph” in their eyes. Just putting that out there. THR and Variety seem legit, the L.A. Times is a little iffy, but probably above board. But Jezebel? Knowing where this film came from and could have gone? Nuh-uh. It feels about as disingenuous as the premise of making a movie out of a Twitter thread.

***

And now we move on to our positive look at a trailer so we can end the column on an up note. This month’s entry will almost certainly be a terrible movie, and it should in no way have been made. That said, it feels like the producers of the trailer, and maybe of the film itself, seem to realize that fact, and thus lean into all the absurdity of its very existence.

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard – June 16

There is absolutely no reason that a sequel should have been made to The Hitman’s Bodyguard. It only has a 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and only grossed about $75 million domestically, which is still a profit on its $30 million budget, but a disappointment by most modern metrics, where franchise fare crosses $1 billion worldwide and $100 million domestically is seen as the bar for success for action movies. Still, somehow, a sequel got greenlit, so here we are. The new movie sees Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) taking a sabbatical from being a bodyguard after the events of the first film, until Darius (Samuel L. Jackson) gets kidnapped and his wife Sonia (Salma Hayek) conscripts him to help in a rescue effort.

Honestly, yawn. Even if the first film didn’t exist and didn’t suck, I wouldn’t be inclined to watch based on the premise. But what’s intriguing about the trailer is that all involved seem to know this, as the voice-over actor (I’m guessing Jon Bailey, the “Epic Voice Guy” from the “Honest Trailer” videos) starts off narrating like it’s a serious movie, but even he trails off into recognizing the really dumb underlying concept. “Michael Bryce was trying to put his past behind him… then he got pulled back in… to protect this homicidal nutbag’s… wife.” I can’t do it justice in text, but the line reading is hilarious. As if the trailer is self-aware and in on the joke, there’s no more narration for the rest of the video, which still has almost two full minutes to go. It’s like even the narrator said, “Seriously, this is fucking stupid. I’m out.” midway through the recording session and just left the booth.

Everything else in the trailer seems designed for us to not take any of it seriously. Antonio Banderas plays a villain with an accent so thick that it gets mocked in other versions of the trailer. Sonia talks about her and Darius having a baby even though we all know Hayek is in her mid-50s and Jackson is in his early 70s. Ryan Reynolds talks about giving up bodyguarding like the Fonz trying to say the word, “Wrong.” The on-screen text refers to the trio intentionally as “a killer threesome.” In lieu of action music, they use that incessantly stupid “Calabria” club track that no one has ever been able to understand. Every single frame of this trailer screams, “This is stupid! This should not be here! You should not be watching any of this! So laugh at it since we’ve already spent the money on it!”

It’s kind of ballsy, to be perfectly honest. I’ve seen trailers and movies presented ironically before, but this is just flat out telling you how pointless and insipid this movie’s going to be, and I kind of have to respect that. I still have no intention of actually seeing this movie, but I have to applaud at least this small slice of it for not insulting our intelligence. It’s almost like they made an “Honest Trailer” as the actual trailer. They won’t get my money, but they get a tip of the hat from me as I put this column to bed for another month.

***

A crazy rich Asian! That’s it! That’s what Wish Dragon was also ripping off, Crazy Rich Asians! Man, that was really bugging me.

Join the conversation in the comments below! Do you plan to see any of these movies? Was I too hard on any of them? Are you compelled to watch a movie so self-aware about how shitty it is that it not only doesn’t hide it, it promotes it? Let me know!

One thought on “This Film is Not Yet Watchable – June 2021

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