Something amazing happened the other day. Over the last three years that I’ve been doing this blog, I’ve been wowed and humbled when I’ve gotten positive feedback. I love it when I get comments on the posts to respond to, or when a production company retweets or likes the links I put out on Twitter. It warms the cockles of this cynical old heart when I get that little bit of recognition and validation. I hold no illusions that I’ll somehow become a world-renowned critic because of this, or make any kind of significant money, but every time there’s a hint that what I’m doing might be legit, I become all of the dither.
Well, last week, I got a response that I would never have expected, and made my jaw just drop. Whenever I post something, I link on the @actually_paid Twitter page and my personal Facebook, as well as reposting on Medium. On Sunday, after a long and refreshing, but ultimately fruitless, spell at the poker tables, I came home to this:
Ho. Ly. SHIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTTT! You guys! You guys! OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS!
I was overwhelmed. This is some of the coolest shit that’s ever happened to me. It took several minutes to even process those two simple sentences as being real. I’m still not 100% convinced that it won’t turn out to be some elaborate prank, which if so, well played. I’m completely floored.
Seeing that also gave me a moment of clarity, because that brief interaction reminded me why I love movies so much. There’s an unbridled joy in creating this highest of art forms and sharing it with the world, starting fun and often crucial conversations. Sometimes I can forget that when I’m reviewing stuff. Thousands of people work really hard for millions of hours to produce even the shittiest of content, and that shouldn’t be discounted.
So let me just say that even when I’m at my harshest, it comes from a good place. Sometimes I say stuff purely in jest, because I’m a snarky bastard. Always have been, always will be. Sometimes I come down especially hard on some films because I know that the above-the-line people behind them are capable of so much more than the finished products we see. Hell, as much as I crack on Michael Bay, I still think The Rock is one of the greatest action movies of all time, and it kills me that he’s never been able to recreate that magic. It’s frustration that drives my lengthiest of rants, and when I rage against the Hollywood machine, it’s because I’ve seen the absolute beauty that can come from it, and I remain ever puzzled when those in charge go for a cheap cash grab rather than living up to their potential.
When I do this shtick, it’s in the interest of sharing my love of film with you all, and in the quixotic hope that one day, we can all wake up and expect more of the people we hand our money to. But even when things are at their worst, I’m still doing the one thing I love most in this world, watching movies. And when I take something to task, it is done with the best of intentions, even if I’m just dicking around.
Now that I’m done with the sappy shit, let’s get to HATIN’ BITCHES!
Welcome to July 2021, where it appears that the movie industry has fully recovered, or at least as fully as it can be. Like, I went through nearly a year of physical therapy after my shoulder froze late in 2019, eventually regaining about 95% of the mobility I lost, and I can sleep on my left side without blinding pain again. It’ll likely never go back to what it was beforehand, but I’m more than able to push forward and resume normal activities with my arm. That’s about as good as I can hope for, and I’m satisfied in the grand scheme of things, similar to how I’m glad the theatres have bounced back, even if it took yet another Fast movie to make it happen. I’ll just be happy that they’re back, not at what brought them back.
As such, there’s almost an overload of new movies coming out this month, now that studios have the confidence to release stuff and hope they can draw asses to seats. I counted some 24 new releases for July between theatres and streaming services (and that’s just counting those that get an official MPA rating and were intended for normal release before opting for streaming). That’s a pretty sizeable load (phrasing, boom!) even in a normal summer blockbuster glut, so there’s plenty to sort through, with just as much to love as to hate.
Between futuristic wars, a slew of horror movies, the long-awaited revival of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and some truly intriguing entries from Sundance getting their wide distribution, there’s a lot going on this month. And sadly, of the 24 movies that are getting a major release, I’ve got EIGHT that look like absolute garbage. A full third of the offerings at the midway point of the year look like they could rank among the worst efforts of 2021.
But at least this time, given the high output, we have options. This is the reason I started this blog, to let people know what’s worth their time and money, and what decidedly isn’t. Well here’s a perfect testing ground to put some economic theory into practice. Every single week that there’s a cinematic abomination debuting at your local multiplex, there are several other options that, at least on the surface, appear to be better, whether it’s Scarlett Johansson kicking ass, a quirky self-inventory at the end of the world, or Nicolas Cage trying to save a truffle pig. What I’m saying is, you’ve got outs. Take them. Please take them. The more we ignore the trash, the more we get the stuff that makes me gush so much that Edgar Wright takes notice.
Strap yourselves in, folks. This is gonna be a long one! This is the July 2021 edition of “This Film is Not Yet Watchable!”
The Boss Baby: Family Business – July 2
The first Boss Baby movie was an utter shit show of nonsense, bad jokes, and complete lunacy, and not in the fun way. I’m still, STILL traumatized by the fact that DreamWorks thought a giant balloon puppy shitting out children counted as humor, yet they felt the need to pixelate infant genitals, because some completely batshit lines just can’t be crossed. The fact that it got nominated for an Oscar, even in a really weak year for animated films, continues to baffle me. I ended up ranking it as the second-worst movie of 2017, only just beating out the god awful Beauty and the Beast remake.
Well, apparently the bigwigs at DreamWorks have the brain capacity and short-term memory of the very toddlers they portray, because against all logic and decency, we have a sequel. Why? Just, WHY?!?!?!?!?!?! There wasn’t a single thing redeeming or charming about the last one. What could possibly have been worth digging up this crap again? Oh wait, half a billion in box office. Right.
Ugh, well, anyway, this looks no better than the last one. James Marsden is stepping in as the adult voice of Tim, replacing Tobey Maguire, because even Poker Player X knows this is beneath him. Amy Sedaris is the new Boss Baby, who makes Tim and “Ted” (Alec Baldwin) go back to their younger selves to help BabyCorp stop yet another scheme that makes as much sense as whatever you thought up on your last acid trip. But somehow Marsden is still the voice of the young-ified Tim instead of the child actor who voiced him last time (or a reasonable approximation), because we can’t do this without a ton of logical questions and existential crises. But really, it’s just an excuse for “Boomer” jokes, even though clearly none of the people in this movie would qualify for that generation other than Tim’s parents, maybe.
The sad thing is, this is shaping up to be another weak year for animation. Most of the good stuff’s coming out of Japan, which usually gets ignored save for maybe one entry, and while Luca (review coming soon) and Raya and the Last Dragon are passable, they’re nothing spectacular. Really, the only truly great animated film so far this year has been The Mitchells vs. the Machines. This means that ignominious history might repeat itself next year, with this dreck getting nominated due purely to a lack of options. This franchise is all the evidence you need to preserve abortion rights.
The Forever Purge – July 2
Hey, remember when people would bend over backwards to try to justify the Purge movies as some sort of satire on white supremacy or governmental overreach or some such bullshit? Well, what do you have to say now? The Forever Purge throws all those attempts at poignancy out the window in favor of just doing an endless parade of gratuitous violence. Now, I’m all in favor of blood and guts if there’s a point, and God knows the Purge producers tried for years to convince us there was one in this series by adding elements of conspiracy, corruption, and racial justice over the years. But here, that’s all gone because a group of people decided, “You know what? Fuck it. Let’s just purge all the time! Who’s really going to stop us?”
Yeah, this is what the experts call, FUCKING DUH! Did it really take almost a full decade to realize that if you give the people a free pass to murder, they’ll just keep doing it? Did anyone really think that in this scenario, people would just lay down their weapons after an arbitrary set of hours when you declare “crime illegal” again (which, redundant, as crime, by its very definition, is illegal)? Of course not.
On the one hand, I almost want to give the filmmakers credit for just abandoning the pretense and getting to what these movies have always been about, which is psychopaths murdering each other. But after four movies where you set these so-called rules, you can’t just toss them aside and say they no longer matter just for the violent spectacle. It’s an utter waste of time.
If you’re actually into this shit, just watch the “Look Who’s Purging Now” episode of Rick and Morty. It has all the ultraviolence of the films while also having a sense of humor. Plus it’s over in 20 minutes.
Gunpowder Milkshake – July 14
Hi, I’m Bill. I’m older than the age of five. Therefore, I’m aware of this thing called JOHN FUCKING WICK! And just like so many reboots, remakes, and outright rip-offs, doing the exact same movie but with ladies doesn’t count as creativity!
Trust me, I love this cast. Lena Heady, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, and Carla Gugino are all awesome. And there’s a not insignificant part of me that might actually be in love with Karen Gillan (I’ll eat fish fingers and custard all day for you!). But that’s not enough to make me watch what is clearly the 2016 Ghostbusters of John Wick movies.
I’ve railed against this gimmick more times than I can count. I’m all for representation and diversity. It’s desperately needed to improve our industry. But that doesn’t justify doing the same movies with a different cast makeup. Do something new, you dicks! Originality is just as important as leveling the demographic playing field.
Die in a Gunfight – July 16
Hi, I’m Bill. I’m older than the age of five. Therefore, I’m aware of this thing called ROMEO & FUCKING JULIET!
Seriously, I don’t mean to be repetitive, but for consecutive trailers to be blatant, naked rip-offs of much better films is genuinely insulting. First Gunpowder Milkshake decides to do John Chicks, now Die in a Gunfight comes out and declares itself as Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet without the charm, costumes, or microscopic specks of creativity. It just looks like they took the basic star-crossed lovers from feuding families dynamic, and added in all the stylized gun violence that John Leguizamo got to do 25 years ago, and called it a day. Something tells me I’d be begging for the poison by the end.
Space Jam: A New Legacy – July 16
First of all, learn how words work. A legacy is something you leave behind, typically after death or some significant event that is definitively and permanently over. Therefore it cannot be changed and made new. Warner Bros. doesn’t need another mindless sequel as much as it needs a fucking dictionary.
Second, let’s be honest here. The original Space Jam sucked. I admit it was funny in places, but it was little more than Michael Jordan sucking his own dick, the quality of the integration between live action and animation was awful and inexcusable a full seven years after Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Bill Murray was utterly wasted, and just WAY too many guys my age were jerking off to Lola Bunny. Seriously, that was the puffy-tailed ass that launched a million furries. Why do people have such nostalgia boners for this movie?
More to the point, given all that I just rattled off, why was this sequel made? Well, apart from the obvious financial bullshit, it’s pretty much for the same reason as the last one, as a vanity project. Don’t get me wrong. I love LeBron James. After a series of bad moves in his 20s – including the infamous “Decision,” which made me truly ashamed to work for ESPN when I learned how it went down – he’s grown up into an awesome man, a great dad, and one of the best philanthropists and social advocates in this country.
But that doesn’t mean we needed to go back to this well, even though it’s been in Development Hell for years. It’s pointless in the extreme, and more than likely will just end up another feature-length commercial, as well as an excuse to throw every WB IP character at the screen a la Ready Player One, but at least that movie had an in-universe reason for it.
More importantly, this movie represents the worst in corporate synergy. In a rare collaboration with Disney, ESPN has produced The Bunny and the GOAT, a six-minute 30-For-30 film about this movie. Now, this isn’t a behind-the-scenes documentary, which would serve the purpose of the 30-For-30 series (founded for ESPN’s 30th anniversary in 2009, and still using the title 12 years later and well beyond 30 films). Instead it’s a manufactured mockumentary positing a journalistic look at the circumstance in which LeBron teams up with Bugs. Not only is this insulting to our intelligence (I couldn’t even make it halfway through this extended commercial, it was so bad), it’s yet another instance where the “Worldwide Leader” falls over itself to declare LeBron as the greatest NBA player ever. It’s one thing to have the debate (I’m firmly on Jordan’s side, and I hated watching him growing up because he always beat my beloved Sixers, and I’d put Bill Russell, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson ahead of LeBron all-time, and maybe even Pistol Pete Maravich could sneak into my personal Top 5 over James), but for an ostensible news outlet to yet again definitively take a side just reinforces the reasons why I left the network seven years ago. They care so much more about selling out for hype than integrity and objectivity.
As for the movie itself, the 3D animation somehow looks worse than the 2D, and while it’s not in this trailer, apparently there’s a scene where Porky Pig gets in a rap battle. I would like to stop existing now, please.
Escape Room: Tournament of Champions – July 16
No. Just no. I was already royally pissed off when they made a horror movie out of one of my favorite activities. I didn’t see it, because I’ll be damned if Hollywood ruins one of the only social interactions I enjoy. Based on the barely passable 51% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I think I made the right choice.
But of course, it made $155 million during the January 2019 studio dump, so naturally a sequel just HAD to be rushed out the door. It was supposed to come out last August, but COVID said no, it had the whole “killing stupid people” thing covered, so the movie got pushed back to now.
The trailer shows you just how formulaic the whole exercise will be. The two who survived the previous movie will be thrown into another “room” along with several other survivors, all of whom will get picked off one by one, dying in visually unsatisfying PG-13 fashion until only one or two remain, and every time the group thinks they’ve solved the room, it turns out they’re in another room with a different deadly puzzle. It’s like the second Hunger Games movie mixed with Saw, but without any real stakes, pathos, or commitment to gore.
If you’re going to just phone in this crap, why not leave it in January? Did Sony really think this was going to be a summer blockbuster gold mine? Yes, it made $155 million, but that was worldwide gross. Domestically it only brought in $57 million, which is a tidy profit against a $9 million budget, sure, but by no means is it a rousing audience endorsement. And since Sony only spent the same amount the second go round, clearly they’re not that confident in the property. I just don’t get it. But even so, don’t fuck with my hobbies.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins – July 23
Hey, remember how X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a resounding success with critics and audiences alike? So much so that Ryan Reynolds never felt the need to lobby for an actual Deadpool movie, and certainly not for a sequel where he went back in time to kill this version of himself because the movie perverted the characters so much? No? You don’t remember it? It surely happened.
Well, okay, do you remember how both G.I. Joe movies released to date were massively critically acclaimed, to the point that they swept the Oscars and weren’t universally mocked? Oh come on, do you not know your film history at all? Next you’re going to tell me the franchise won a Razzie and was nominated for five more. You rubes, you poor, poor, ignorant rubes.
Clearly you have the memory of several goldfish, because the G.I. Joe franchise is one of the most successful and awesome action series ever made, and everyone clearly loves Origins-style prequels. I mean, otherwise, if these things weren’t absolutely true, there’d be objectively, unequivocally no point in doing a film like Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins. I mean, who wouldn’t want to watch an unnecessary prequel filled with characters we know will survive until the main canon of the series, so there won’t be any stakes to the action scenes whatsoever? Who would dare scoff at the idea that such a project was rushed to beat Shang-Chi to theatres so we can have TWO highly Westernized origin stories of Asian comic characters and hope that audiences wander from one auditorium to the other without knowing the difference? Who could possibly not be lining up to buy all the toys and collectibles that Paramount will surely have at the ready?
Okay, even I can’t be sarcastic this long. This just looks like generic garbage. If you want to watch some G.I. Joe with less embarrassing animation, watch the 80s cartoon. Also, note to editors, swords don’t make a metallic clash sound whenever they’re waved or unsheathed. It’s only when they slide against other metallic surfaces, like when they’re being sharpened. Take it down a notch, assholes.
Jungle Cruise – July 30
I hoped, begged, and prayed that this movie would somehow get lost in the shuffle during the pandemic and never see the light of day. As much as I rail on Disney for the live action remakes, at least those movies begin with creative source material, even if that source is their own previously-released material. But this idea that anyone ever truly wanted movies based on rides is completely asinine. They got lucky with Pirates of the Caribbean based solely on the charisma of the cast, and even that got ran straight into the ground. But remember, we also had Eddie Murphy in The Haunted Mansion. Yeah, we never want to bring that up, now do we?
Guess which ride this hunk of junk leans more towards? Have you ever been to Disney World or Disneyland? The Jungle Cruise is the tamest, most relaxing ride in the park. The attendants in the boat with you are so laid back that they don’t even bother pretending the scripted jokes they have to deliver aren’t super lame. It’s just meant to be a load off, a chance to sit down after standing in multiple lines for hours at a time without having to spend $14 on a churro. It is the most inessential, plotless ride there is, and that’s why it’s enjoyable.
SO OF COURSE WE HAVE TO TURN IT INTO AN ACTION-PACKED ADVENTURE! The Rock stars as Indwaynana Johnson! Emily Blunt gets to yell and scream after spending her last two major movies dead silent and whispering! Thrills, CGI, excitement?
Yeah, no. And here’s an advance no for the inevitable Space Mountain movie coming in 2023 at this point.
With that, it’s time to end on an up note, especially since I began with such unexpected positivity. This month’s Redemption Reel – yes, that’s the name I settled on; if you don’t like it, you had your chance to make suggestions – isn’t for one movie, but for three.
Part One: 1994 – July 2
Part Two: 1978 – July 9
Part Three: 1666 – July 16
This is a truly intriguing project. There have been two movies based on R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. The first was Certified Fresh and pulled in more money than Escape Room, so it warranted a sequel, which didn’t do as well critically or commercially, but still had modest returns. So clearly there’s room to further explore Stine’s work in cinematic form.
So Netflix commissioned not one film, but a trilogy, with all three films produced at the same time and released in consecutive weeks. Peter Jackson received tons of praise for filming the entire Lord of the Rings saga in one go, so why not try the concept out again with different IP, and since it’s for Netflix, you can have a much more streamlined release schedule. This is not only ambitious – because you would NOT do this if you didn’t have confidence in the product – but it’s a bit experimental, as we’re getting a preview of what a movie binge might look like if it succeeds.
But beyond the logistical conceit, the trilogy’s trailer looks like an absolute bash. The Fear Street series is much more adult than Goosebumps, and in fact predates the more kid-friendly stuff by three years. I actually remember as a child seeing Stine’s slasher books being read by kids in school well before Goosebumps became the popular go-to, though today it feels like they got lost in the shuffle. This trailer, however, seems to not only embrace the spirit of those earlier books, but present it as a counter-argument to the great Stephen King adaptations, seeking to stake its own place alongside the best that horror has to offer. The trailer offers a good framework for its three-film story, and the timeframes in which they’ll be set, and at least from the preview, there seems to be a good deal of production value behind the effort.
And for what it’s worth, the series will not be chickening out on the imagery. All three movies carry an R-rating, and the trailer alone shows that there will be a healthy dose of gore. Several cannon fodder characters are shown dead to rights just in this sizzle reel, which means that there’s plenty of good kills to go around. This isn’t the Stine stuff you remember from your youth. This is the real shit. For that commitment alone, as well as the creativity and ambition behind the stunt, I have to give it at least a cursory pre-endorsement.
That’s all for this month! Good luck wading through all of this!
Join the conversation in the comments below! Which of these films do you plan on seeing? Are there others you think I should have included? Seriously, how cool is Edgar Wright? Let me know!