This Film is Not Yet Watchable – September 2021

First things first, my apologies for not getting this column out sooner, as we’re already into Labor Day Weekend, and some of the “films” (air quotes) mentioned here have already been released. The last few weeks have been insanely busy with my 9-to-5, leaving very little time to take care of business here. I still have two reviews in my backlog, which I’ll hopefully get to this weekend before I resume watching new content. It’s the nature of the beast, and I’m having fun with the extra work, but it is tiring, so I’m deeply sorry if you’ve been on the edge of your seat waiting for this month’s installment of TFINYW. Hopefully the wait will have been worth it.

Now, on to business. With the calendar rolling over to September, we’re heading into the last major transition of the cinematic year. The blockbuster season is basically over, save for a few stragglers here and there (Shang-Chi is sure to clean up at the box office for a few weeks at least) before Christmas. We’re also on the fringes of Awards Season, with the studios making their first forays into the prestige fare, hoping to get a head start on the Oscar buzz. This can be a double-edged sword, however, because if the movies are lost in the shuffle, they’ll be completely forgotten by December. Also, if the movie honestly sucks, it can backfire into long-term mockery, which can doom future projects. Finally, as autumn approaches, we have the usual glut of horror films, which can gum up the works and remove the more genuine efforts from the collective consciousness.

This is all to say that this September is an absolutely overloaded month for movies. All that shit I just mentioned is part of the equation, but more importantly, as the theatrical industry continues its recovery and the hybrid theatre-streaming release strategies remain legitimate for Academy consideration, we as a viewing public are left with a panoply of options. For the purposes of this month’s column, I pored over a whopping 32 trailers, which in layman’s terms is what we call a metric fuckton. And as usual, the laws of averages play out accordingly, giving us eight absolutely rotten-looking entries to dissect, literally 25% of the field. Amazingly, this isn’t the largest amount I’ve done here. That record stands at 12, from August 2019, I believe, which was roughly half the releases that month.

Still, that’s a lot of shit to wade through, to the point that I definitely needed a shower after the first pass. And to be clear, it’s not like the other 24 films available are all certified winners. In fact, quite a few of them look mediocre at best, and there’s one disgusting-looking “Christian” documentary available as well. As to the latter, I refuse to even dignify it by mentioning the title or linking to it here, especially in the wake of the Texas Taliban’s latest assault on women’s rights; at this point a fetus with a gun has more rights than a living woman in the Lone Star State. I implore local doctors to continue performing abortions and just logging them as miscarriages and instances of mortal danger to the mother, as the burden of proof would be on the vigilantes suing the women and medical staff to show that wasn’t the case, and I’m pretty sure HIPAA ensures they can’t be compelled to testify as to the accuracy of such notes, though I’m by no means a legal expert.

What I mean to say is that just because a movie clears this hurdle does not mean it will be good. I’m a touch averse to including documentaries here anyway, as any genuine effort to educate on an issue is worth consideration in most cases, even if it ends up being terrible. And as to the rest, I still may be turned off by the concept or the cast, but I let them go because I see something in the trailer that at least hints at some kind of quality. That’s why films like We Need to Do Something, Catch the Bullet, and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie aren’t here. I don’t think I’d personally like them based on what I’ve seen, but stepping outside of my own preferences, I can see where someone would find legitimate value in them. They’re not for me, but that doesn’t mean they’re not for anyone else, particularly someone with taste or who could think critically.

From that, you can easily infer just how loathsome the eight trailers I’m about to delve into really are. Among them are direct and indirect remakes no one asked for, truly baffling displays of “romance,” a biopic that offends the eyes on several fronts, and the latest entry into one of the most disturbingly bad children’s franchises out there, just to name a few. Misery loves company, folks, which is why I do this. Suffer with me for the sake of collective catharsis, and take fair warning to spend your movie-going dollars wisely. The leaves will fall soon, but that doesn’t mean your pride has to.

This is the September 2021 edition of “This Film is Not Yet Watchable!”

Cinderella – September 3

Oh boy, we’re off and running. I make no secret that I’m not a fan of modern pop music, mostly because the vast majority of it doesn’t even meet the basic definition of the word, “music.” But this is another level of insulting. The film stars Camila Cabello, formerly of manufactured girl group Fifth Harmony from the US version of The X Factor, who brought us such poetic lyrics as “Gimme gimme, I’m worth it,” and whose solo work includes the hit, “Señorita,” which, if you’ve seen the video, is basically softcore porn. So, you know, totally appropriate for the kiddies.

This totally superfluous interpretation of the classic fairy tale is completely off the rails just from watching the trailer. First off, we’re shoehorning (see what I did there?) a hollow feminist story into the mix by having “Ella” dream of being a fashion designer and opening her own dress shop in medieval France. So we’re already combining Disney’s horrible Cinderella remake with Disney’s horrible Cruella prequel. Second, this production, which apparently wants to rip off everything, is going the Moulin Rouge route by trying to make large numbers out of established pop songs, opening with a group of peasants dancing to Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and palace guards chanting Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” I already have a migraine from rolling my eyes.

It only gets worse from there. Idina Menzel is forced to act well beneath her talents as the stepmother, splashing wine on a dress that makes it look like a stab wound. Pierce Brosnan apparently needs a whole lot of money, because nothing else can explain him phoning it in as the king. And then, worst of all, there’s Billy Porter as Cinderella’s “Fabulous Godmother.” Ugh.

Oh wait, did I say worst of all? Never mind, because here’s James Corden as the human version of one of the lazy CGI mice going spastic about his missing tail. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. The man has more than worn out his welcome, with literally every movie he’s in being an embarrassing piece of shit. Does no one understand that just because you call attention to something stupid, it doesn’t excuse the moment from being stupid in the first place? It’s still just as stupid, only you’re telling us that you had the option to not be stupid, and chose stupidity anyway, then leaned into it as if that makes you smart. It doesn’t. It’s insulting to our intelligence, and it can only rot the minds of the impressionable children you’re trying to sell this crap to.

And then, just for good measure, apparently the brilliant idea from writer-director Kay Cannon is to turn the convention on its ear and have Ella assert her own independence for this idiotic dress shop idea. She even goes so far as to have Menzel’s stepmother encourage Ella to go through with marrying the prince for the sake of the family’s status, but Ella doesn’t want a life of “waving from a box.”

This might almost work if it weren’t for all the other bullshit front-loaded into this trailer. If you want to do a revolutionary take on the Cinderella story where expectations are subverted and the heroine has agency, I’m all for it. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have her resist the idea of marrying someone she just met when you’ve just shown us a scene of her begging to go to the ball because her future happiness depends on it. Are you suggesting that she sees this royal event, created entirely so the prince can choose a bride, as some kind of networking opportunity? Get the fuck out of here!

The whole thing rings completely false, especially knowing as we do that the Prince and Ella will end up together in one form or another. You can’t shove the conventions of this outdated story down our throats, only to then induce vomiting to shove a patronizing display of surface-level feminism down in its place.

Everything about this movie feels insulting. It’s miscast, it’s full of pandering, it ruins good music while simultaneously forcing even worse music into our collective eardrums, and honestly, for a movie that leans so hard into this idea of Cinderella as a fashion designer, the costumes look bland as fuck. There’s nothing in this trailer to suggest that the project should have made it past first pitch, especially when there are literally dozens of other versions the kids can watch for free. Please, do not reward the artistic dishonesty and cinematic laziness of this tripe.

Kate – September 10

Oh look, another rampage movie. People, listen to me. Just because John Wick rules and the first Taken was a masterpiece does NOT mean you can replicate that success over and over again with the same lame motivations and formula. That’s why Ava didn’t work, and it’s why Gunpowder Milkshake ended up in this column earlier this summer.

But even setting all that aside, this just looks lazy as hell. The pink neon car almost literally burns my eyes every time I see it, the Yakuza dialogue is stilted and probably racist, and absolutely NONE of the stunts we see look convincing.

I was going to give this a pass for one brief moment, but even that was a disappointment. About midway through, there’s a shot at a club where it looks like one of my favorite bands is playing, the J-pop/death metal hybrid act, BABYMETAL, but when I paused the video, I saw that the sign behind the band in the background was not that of the killer kawaii, but just a lookalike that might be for a real group, but it still feels like a ripoff.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but what could this movie offer that we didn’t already see in Birds of Prey when she played the Huntress? Hell, even the petite Asian sidekick seems to serve the same basic purpose as Cassandra Cain, so what’s the point?

Yeah, nothing to see here.

Queenpins – September 10

Okay, there’s a lot to unpack here. First, “From the studio that brought you Hustlers” will never be an enticement. For one thing, fuck that movie and everything it represents. For another, the studio has nothing to do with anything. So STX had a hit, big whoop. If Disney were to put out a hardcore snuff film, what value would there really be in selling it with “From the studio that brought you The Lion King?” All the studio did was write a check. They didn’t have any creative input, and if they did, that’s a BAD thing. Shit movies are shit, and the studio doesn’t get to take credit for releasing it.

Second, any movie that uses Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Got Your Money” is an automatic fail. I love me some ODB (God, he’s been dead for 17 years now, I feel old), and Wu-Tang Clan will forever be nothing to fuck with, but this track has always been terrible, like, objectively so. Seeing Kristen Bell sing and raise the proverbial roof to it does not improve things.

Third, the advertising then tries to promote itself as coming from “the producer of Tropic Thunder and Zoolander.” The former of those two is one of the most polarizing movies of the modern era, and the latter, while funny in parts and certainly meme-worthy, was near-universally panned when it came out. Again, not a great selling point.

But really, the reason not to see this movie is the presentation we get here. The plot, which was “inspired by true events,” which can mean anything from an actual adaptation of a newsworthy story to something as tossed off as an anecdote told by an office water cooler, is that two women with mounting debts decide to counterfeit coupons in order to drastically reduce grocery bills for struggling women and families. On the surface, this has the makings of an interesting bit of comedy, something along the lines of The Big Short if it’s told cleverly enough. But sadly, it just doesn’t appear to be the case.

Instead of something inspiring and witty, this just looks like a ripoff of the short-lived NBC show, Good Girls, only with more forced feminism and less charm. The trailer tries to present its two leads as Robin Hood-like characters, stealing from greedy corporations and helping those struggling to get by, while at the same time making it rain with stacks of cash because they’re selling the fake coupons rather than giving them away. And of course, they just can’t have a modern suburban heroine without making her some kind of social media influencer. Gag me.

But worst of all is just how stupid the competition is supposed to be. Vince Vaughn is brought in looking like a guy who hasn’t gotten a paycheck in years. And Paul Walter Hauser, playing the postal inspector trying to track them down, is once again playing a bumbling fool who’s fat, stupid, overly confident, and fat. It’s a cliché, and one of the lamest in modern cinema at that. While we’re all bitching about representation, how about having an overweight male character who isn’t a complete waste of space for once, eh?

The Voyeurs – September 10

Hey, remember Rear Window? Remember how awesome that was? Hell, do you even remember its far inferior remake, Disturbia? Well, have it again, only this time with Justice Smith and Sydney Sweeney. And just for good measure on the insult, the trailer contains a heavily edited version of that horrible “Trampolines” song. I’ve had lots of dreams. Very few have been about jumping on them. Oh yeah, I’ll throw Shaed all day. Hard pass.

Dating & New York – September 10

Over the last several decades, it was common practice to have dueling versions of the same basic film come out at roughly the same time. Despicable Me was released basically alongside Megamind. Deep Impact was met with Armageddon. And in 2011, we got two fuck buddy films in the forms of No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits, which ended up being doubly creepy given that each film involved either Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, who eventually married.

Well, if those two flicks didn’t trigger your gag reflex, we have Dating & New York, which is essentially the same movie, only with more social media bullshit inserted for no fucking reason other than to pander to Gen-Z idiots. Swiper, no swiping, assholes! Even worse, the protagonist is played by Jaboukie Young-White from The Daily Show, who is openly gay, and includes that identity as part of his comedy. He’s hilarious. I absolutely love his stand-up and his very youthful perspective on current events, not to mention his hysterical impersonations of news outlets on Twitter. But knowing this very public aspect of his personal life, it’s utterly impossible to take him seriously as a hopelessly romantic straight guy. He’s good at a lot of things, but, I’m sorry, he’s not that good of an actor.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye – September 17

And here we have the opening salvo of Awards Season, which means I’ll probably have to see it, but God do I very much not want to. This has all the earmarks of the usual “Please give me an Oscar” Best Actress showcase, this time for Jessica Chastain, who has been nominated before but has yet to secure the big prize. Whether or not the bid is successful remains to be seen, but I can already feel myself suffering through two hours of bullshit to justify a For Your Consideration campaign. Maybe I’ll get lucky, and the fact that the Golden Globes have been effectively cancelled for next year means that the studio can’t buy nominations before the end of the year, and this will be ultimately forgotten.

The film, such as it is, is a biopic of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, based on 2000 documentary of the same name. Directed by Michael Showalter (who previously helmed The Big Sick and is a part of the brilliant comedy trio known as Stella) and produced by Chastain herself, the movie is basically an attempt to make us feel sorry for Tammy Faye, presenting her as a naïve Christian idealist who just wants to help people and impress her boorish mother, all while being manipulated and controlled by Jim (played by Andrew Garfield) and the likes of Jerry Falwell (Vincent D’Onofrio).

I’m sorry, but no, just no. For one thing, I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and saw Jim and Tammy Faye’s grift firsthand. Unless she was held at gunpoint, you are NOT going to get any sympathy from me. She may have been the least evil of the bunch, but she was still evil. Just because she was slightly more accepting and compassionate about the gay community and the AIDS epidemic doesn’t change the fact that she was a willing participant in decades of fraud and discriminatory practices. I can’t imagine a less sympathetic person to get the glossy biopic treatment. The movie feels particularly tone deaf in the here and now, as we’re once again in the midst of a holy war between evangelicals and basic human rights in this country, and the last thing we need is an attempt to rehabilitate the image of one of the worst offenders.

Still, I may end up seeing this because the studio will lobby hard for Chastain to get a nomination, and even if that doesn’t materialize, I won’t be surprised if it gets a pity nod for Makeup & Hairstyling. Tammy Faye was known for her outlandish sense of style, and while it was ugly as sin, the film does appear to recreate that look accurately enough. The same can’t be said for Andrew Garfield as the still-grifting Jim Bakker (recently sued for trying to sell a “cure” for COVID). When he isn’t made up to just look like Andrew Garfield, he looks like Dana Carvey’s impression of George H.W. Bush, and even sounds like it at times. The creep factor is dialed up to 11 here, and I don’t think that’s intentional.

My Little Pony: A New Generation – September 24

Fuck this movie, fuck the entire franchise, fuck “Bronies” (I’m sure they’re good people, but good Lord are they creepy at times), fuck the fake racism lesson we’re all supposed to learn here, fuck the parody T-Mobile billboard in one of the shots, fuck the soundtrack, fuck the Dance Dance Revolution knockoff, and fuck this movie!

Friendship may be magic, but this is just naked commercialism, and I weep for every parent that’s going to be bombarded with demands to see this dreck and then buy all of the toys.

After We Fell – September 30

I didn’t think it was possible, but apparently there’s another bean-flicker series out there that started as fanfic (this time based on One Direction, which, ew) that’s been made into a movie franchise, and somehow, it’s even worse and more clueless about eroticism than the Fifty Shades series. How is this possible? And how is this the third of FOUR movies? Finally, how did Hero Fiennes Tiffin (nephew of Ralph, who played the younger Tom Riddle in Half-Blood Prince) grow up to play a character more off-putting than fucking VOLDEMORT!?

***

Okay, now to cleanse our palates and our bodies, let’s move on to this month’s Redemption Reel. I know I feel icky as hell after going through this parade of shit, so as always, we’ll end on an up note.

Language Lessons – September 10

I’m very cautious around movies that use social media as its main story and cinematic device. Horror films like the Unfriended series are passable at best, and political thrillers like Profile end up falling mostly flat. The one real bright spot in the subgenre was Searching from 2018, which used the conceit to great effect as a mystery procedural, and to me was one of the best films of the year thanks to John Cho’s masterfully committed performance.

We might have another strong entry in the form of Language Lessons. Seemingly taking place entirely on Zoom and/or Skype, the film stars Mark Duplass and Natalie Morales, two very fine actors who don’t normally get the spotlight, as a reluctant student and Spanish tutor respectively. Seeing one star or another in various corners of the screen as each deals with their own insecurity through the shared intimacy of language is an intriguing concept, and after the year-plus we’ve all endured (and are still enduring in many parts of the country), it’s nice to see a capsule of the isolation we’ve all felt to one degree or another (which I’ll get into more when I review Together in the coming days; that’s what we call a teaser, kids).

But even more than the fun angle of what is inherently a depressing framing device, this film appears to follow in the footsteps of the tremendous Together Together from earlier this year, as it’s a movie celebrating platonic love and friendship without the burden of romantic melodrama, as Duplass’ character is gay, his husband being the one who paid for the 1,000 lessons that sets up the main dynamic. That opens the door for a ton of avenues for character development and emotional honesty without muddying the waters with cliché relationship beats.

Will it be as good as I hope? I won’t know until I see it, obviously. But this is a trailer that truly succeeds in its sales pitch, because it presents a new angle to a familiar story in a still-fledgling creative framework. It may be the next step in legitimizing this style of filmmaking, or it may completely flop, but at the end of the day, the point of a trailer is to convince you to see a movie, and this gave me enough to say, “Okay, you’ve got my attention, you’ve piqued my curiosity, and I will reward that with my money.” Hopefully I won’t regret my decision.

Join the conversation in the comments below! Are you planning on seeing any of these films? Are there others that you think should have been included? What’s the next excruciating bit of pop culture that will get turned into erotic fan fiction? Let me know!

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