We’re in the thick of it now. Awards Season is officially underway, with the first submission deadlines come and gone for next year’s Oscars. The studios are making their major moves, planning their releases as well as their For Your Consideration campaigns. In most years, this would also be the point where checks would start clearing with the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to essentially buy Golden Globe nominations, but with that sham effectively cancelled for next year, we can at least avoid that stain on artistic credibility for once.
The other big aspect of the November movie scene is the beginning of the Christmas onslaught. Every year our culture seems to get more and more inundated with Christmas advertising, to the point where this Tweet from a few days ago sums up my feelings quite succinctly:
At least with the movies, there’s some semblance of respect for the calendar, with holiday movies only starting this month, rather than in August, when Walmart and Target start selling decorations and wrapping paper. But I’m very much a traditionalist, in that for me the Christmas season cannot start until after Thanksgiving, specifically when Santa Claus arrives at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Going even further, as my sister’s birthday is on December 4, exactly three weeks before Christmas, it’s been my family’s unofficial rule to not start any Xmas shopping until that point. Plan all you want, but don’t you dare click a cart or go to a mall before that date, because you see, my family is what you would call SANE!
From a cinematic standpoint, that’s the long and short of it for this month. There is always going to be regular studio fare with big production/advertising budgets (Eternals, looking at you), but the major heft of November is a fairly even split between holiday films and prestige. Will it all be good? Reader, it will not. In fact, of the two dozen or so options available for mainstream viewing, six have “qualified” for this month’s column, including three potential bits of Oscar bait and a holiday entry that just smacks of people taking way too many drugs while green-lighting projects. And just for good measure, we also get a month late horror movie and a piece of A-lister fluff that most definitely should not exist.
But, as we’re getting into the season of giving, I am feeling a bit generous. So this month, I’ll provide not one, but two winners for the Redemption Reel. It allows us to ring in the season with a double dose of positivity, but more than that, it was just so nice to see two separate trailers for family films that aren’t completely insulting to our intelligence. I’ve mentioned this before, but for the longest time, before I moved out west, it was a tradition in my family to avoid the malls on Black Friday and instead take in a family film together. Some were good, some were bad, some were REALLY bad (fucking Enchanted), but it was always a fun, almost joyous moment to share something as a family unit while most others were fighting and trampling each other. So to see two trailers for this month’s roster that look like they would have been fun options for my kin to watch with each other warms the cockles of this jaded old heart enough to give them both a preliminary endorsement.
Welcome to the November 2021 edition of “This Film is Not Yet Watchable!”
Spencer – November 5
Oh boy, where to begin here. I guess let’s start with the obvious. I haven’t seen such blatant begging for an Oscar since the last time I saw a dog dancing on its hind legs for a Mayer wiener. We’ve already had a few of these movies so far this season, naked attempts to secure nominations and wins by showcasing the lead actress. Jennifer Hudson was spectacular as Aretha Franklin in Respect, though the rest of the movie fell short. I haven’t even seen The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and I won’t unless Jessica Chastain gets nominated, but I can at least say from the trailer that the makeup job and Chastain’s vocal affectations are good enough to make me see the character rather than the performer, a crucial hallmark of a good performance.
But this? This?! One, Kristen Stewart doesn’t look like Princess Diana. Two, Kristen Stewart doesn’t talk like Princess Diana. Third, and most important, Kristen Stewart CAN’T ACT!
Seriously, name me all of her good movies. Tell me all of the great performances this dead-behind-the-eyes waif has given over the course of her baffling career. Personal Shopper? Seberg? On the Road? Nope, nope, and double nope! And those ARE supposedly the good ones. I don’t even have to get into the utter drivel that was Charlie’s Angels, Underwater, and the entire Twilight series, or the fact that Snow White and the Huntsman‘s entire existence is predicated on the laughably absurd suggestion that she’s better looking than Charlize Theron. She’s utterly terrible. She barely moves her lips when she talks (but never closes them when she doesn’t), she shows no emotion, she stares blankly when she’s supposed to react to anything. What is the appeal? You want to know how useless of an actress she is? This movie, as I said, is yet another “Best Actress Showcase,” meant to draw all attention to the lead and get her a win. Kristen Stewart was already in one such movie, Still Alice, which was a showcase to get Julianne Moore an Oscar (and it worked). Kristen Stewart herself was a disposable background character meant to make someone else look better by comparison, and she has shown the world absolutely NOTHING since then to suggest that she should be elevated to Moore’s position.
Surrounding the worst casting this side of Tommy Wiseau are three additional elements that sink this project for me. One, director Pablo Larraín is billed with a reference to one of his previous films, Jackie, which was also a shameless “Best Actress Showcase” for Natalie Portman, which did not pan out. Why would you advertise yourself with a movie that failed in its sole intention? You might as well have Francis Ford Coppola advertise himself as the director of The Godfather, Part III instead of the two that won Best fucking Picture. Don’t remind people of your previous misfire. That’s the exact opposite of an incentive, and it only serves to make your golden ambitions even more transparent.
Two, seriously, for the love of God, these slowed down versions of pop songs in trailers has to stop! This time it’s Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” that gets the same Mormon Tabernacle Choir treatment that Radiohead’s “Creep” got in The Social Network. But at least there it made some sense, as that movie was about Mark Zuckerberg, an elitist asshole who, unbeknownst to David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin at the time, would soon bring about the destruction of Western society. So the idea of putting a hoity-toity spin on a morose alternative rock song worked in a weird, somewhat off-putting way. But this? What the fuck does Lou Reed have to do with Princess Diana? There’s no way in fuck she taught William and Harry that song, or that it has anything to do with her married life. Actually, strike that, there is one bit that might be relevant, the ending repeated line of “You’re going to reap just what you sow.” But of course, we’re not going to include that lyric, because we can’t suggest for even a second that some of Diana’s tragedy might have been of her own making. That would require intellectual honesty.
Which brings us to the third insult of the trailer, which is a line in one of the final shots. Stewart as Diana actually says, “Will they kill me, do you think?” That’s right folks, we’re seriously ending this trailer on the tacit suggestion that the royal family might have at least conspired to kill Diana, feeding into the conspiracy theory to end all British conspiracy theories. At minimum, they’re suggesting that the royals wanted her dead, and unless you can come correct with some evidence, that’s borderline libelous.
Diana Spencer was a good person who met a tragic end. That’s a story worth telling. Focus on her good deeds, get to the heart of who she was as a human being, show her flaws, both in character and decision-making. Take the time to show her as a loving mother and a timid outsider to royalty, but do it honestly, and just end it with her death and/or funeral. Let “England’s Rose” be a real person, not some melodramatic paranoid heroine waiting to die, and then miscast her with someone who doesn’t even know how to convey melodrama, or even basic signs of human life. Jesus Christ, fuck this movie!
Red Notice – November 5
There’s a rather brilliant episode of Rick and Morty that came out last season called “One Crew Over the Crewcoo’s Morty” (they like to shoehorn both pop culture references and either Rick and/or Morty’s name awkwardly into episode titles as part of the bit) that absolutely delights in deconstructing how dumb heist movies can be, from the interminable number of double-crosses, to the pun-filled dialogue, to the super intense music that feels more like a parody the longer you hear it. It really was just an excuse for Dan Harmon to vent about how much he hates the genre, and how excitedly Netflix as a distributor seems to cling to it. Even Justin Roiland admitted in an HBOMax extra that after recording the episode, he sat down and watched some heist movies and realized just how lame they could be, and that every heist movie is basically the same.
It should come as no surprise to learn that I basically played that episode over and over in my head watching the trailer for Red Notice. It hits every cliché in the book when it comes to the heist genre, offering nothing for your time. In the three minutes that this teaser lasts, it looks like Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot betray each other about 468,718 times, all the while never telling a single good joke (but they’re certainly pausing for laughs that will not come), with the whole thing set to a repeating instrumental theme that honestly sounds like it was ripped off from that very episode of Rick and Morty.
All of these actors are good enough, and funny enough, to do something truly self-aware and satirically parodical with the genre, but amazingly (and not in a good way), they seem to be playing it completely straight. I’m sorry. I’ve watched the last two Deadpool movies. I know Reynolds can kick some ass. I can’t believe for once second that he’d be a clumsy thief here. At least Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard gave us a trailer that seemed to embrace its own stupidity and realize it had no reason to exist. This just looks like they’re all cashing a paycheck but trying to pretend this was actually worthwhile. There’s a reason Netflix had to introduce fucking zombies into the mix of tropes earlier this year to even make a remotely watchable heist movie, and it still ultimately fell flat. This just seems completely pointless in its existence.
Home Sweet Home Alone – November 12
Oh. My. God.
I can’t, you guys. I just can’t. It takes a LOT to make me angry to the point of rage vomit, but this came close. Recycled lines, making the kid British for some reason, keeping the movie in the same neighborhood as the old movies, but having no connection to it other than a bumbling cop named McAllister (I’m guessing Buzz, as he’s fat and slack-jawed). It’s just such an insult. There’s no way this could even be remotely entertaining.
But to go even further into bullshit territory, to be so damaging as to gleefully slice open someone’s stomach and pour rock salt directly into the gash as a means rubbing salt in the wound, the Disney demons outright admit what they’re doing to your nostalgia as well as good movies in general. Onscreen text towards the end happily announces that “Holiday classics were meant to be broken.”
Are. You. Shitting ME!?
No, assholes, holiday classics are meant to be left ALONE! That’s why they’re classics! You don’t get to take a classic back and reboot it, tear it apart, and declare that this is the version we’re supposed to love now, you fucking pieces of human excrement. Whoever came up with this tagline deserves to be shot in the nutsack in front of their children on Christmas morning! With this one sentence, you have embodied everything that is wrong with Disney, reboots/remakes in general, and the current state of corporate Hollywood. Fucking DIE!
House of Gucci – November 24
Do you want to see wealthy people fuck each other and fight over inheritance and even more wealth? Well, watch any soap opera or Succession, but don’t watch this. Between the heavy-handed use of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” to the parade of A-listers who can’t pull off a convincing Italian accent, to the lumping in of Lady Gaga as an Academy-level actor even though her Oscar was for Original Song, to the horrendous makeup jobs, this just screams that Ridley Scott is trying to double-dip (or triple-dip in Adam Driver’s case, as he could easily be nominated for two other roles this year) and get two movies vying for top prizes next year.
It’s so transparent as to be thin air, and not one second of it looks remotely intriguing. Even worse, just like with Cruella, in a film about the fashion industry, the costuming looks cartoonishly ugly, arguably defeating the entire purpose.
Finally, we just need a moratorium on “Based on a True Story” or “Based on True Events.” It’s a ways down on my backlog, but Scott’s other major film this fall, The Last Duel, uses it as well, and in a problematic way, to give a mild teaser for the upcoming review. The problem in that film is the editorial/artistic license taken that obfuscates the actual facts of the matter. I won’t go any further for now, but suffice to say, if Ridley Scott played so fast and loose with that phrase in one of his prestige films, it’s safe to assume he did in the other. Thankfully, with The Last Duel, there was a lot of stuff that still made it a very good, entertaining film. This on the other hand, looks completely superfluous, meaning I already have no reason to watch, and whatever manipulations of facts he weaves in will only make it worse.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City – November 24
Uh, you guys know Halloween was last month, right? Why are you putting out a horror movie now? You missed the window, fuckos!
Though, it’s not like the creators of this franchise have ever cared about putting out a quality product. This is the seventh movie in the series, a reboot/prequel that was green-lit shortly after the release of the last movie, dubbed The Final Chapter, which means we as an audience should get to sue the studio class action-style for false advertising. The previous six movies have an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 27.6%, with the most recent film being the peak of the series at 37%. So clearly, another movie was desperately needed.
The CGI and scare effects look just as lame as ever, with the actual video games looking more realistic these days. And of course, the dialogue and narration are just as stupid.
“Every story has a beginning.” Yes. And? Oh, did you think that was profound or something? Next you’re gonna tell me the sky is blue or some other bombshell I’d still understand after a severe head injury.
“Discover the origin of evil.” I already discovered it. It was a video game released by Capcom in 1996 (which of course the movie retcons to 1998). By the way, those two lines are delivered one right after the other, with no visual context or connective tissue. It’s literally an empty platitude followed by an unrelated command, because apparently this trailer had no editors. The rest of the trailer is just bad monster designs and more mentions of the word “Umbrella” than a Rihanna video. If you’re a fan, you’re going to see it anyway, so there’s no point ranting further. But seriously, this is fucking stupid, and the studio knows it, or else they would have released it at any other time of the year than right after Halloween. If it was even remotely exciting or scary, it would have gone in the proper season. Just keep that in mind while you’re ignoring common sense and paying money for this nonsense.
Bruised – November 24
There are two things that should never really be allowed to happen anymore. One is actors directing themselves in starring roles. When you’re Clint Eastwood or Robert Redford, you can get away with it. You’ve earned that deference, even if the movie ends up sucking. But Halle Berry? No, just no.
Second, stop giving the UFC cinematic advertising. This isn’t the first movie to basically be a feature-length commercial for one of the most ethically bankrupt organizations in sport (and that’s saying something), but it should definitely be the last. Really, no sporting league should get to exist in a film, because what it really means is that the owners and managers get to sign off on the content, robbing the proceedings of any credibility.
But even without that corporate bullshit, this movie just looks so run-of-the-mill. I remember in Barton Fink when the title character was hired to write a B-movie about a wrestler, and how pissed the studio head was that Fink tried to do anything more ambitious. From this trailer, I get the impression that Bruised is the MMA equivalent of what he wanted, a pointless struggle movie about a washed up fighter living on the streets redeeming herself in the eyes of her estranged son and returning to (temporary) glory. It’s paint-by-numbers, right down to the gag-inducing name of Berry’s heroine, Jackie Justice. Gee, I wonder if her opponent will be named something more subtle, like Karen Datbitch, or Ruthless McIhatepuppies.
Finally, it’s one thing to play a range of ages, and it supposedly fits the theme for Justice to be a little older than your average MMA fighter, but Halle Berry herself is 55. And she looks 55. There is not a damn thing wrong with that, but it means you can’t be a convincing MMA fighter. She kicked ass with John Wick a couple years ago. That worked, because it was about guile, shooting, and trained dogs. There’s larger scale choreography to work with. Inside the Octagon, however, it just looks silly.
Okay, now that we’re done with the sour, it’s on to the sweet. As promised, here’s a double dose of the Redemption Reel, featuring two movies that I honestly think will be great for you to enjoy with your family if you ever want to take up my family’s old tradition of a Black Friday matinee.
Clifford the Big Red Dog – November 10
First things first, let’s address the big, red elephant in the room. The CGI on this is, to say the least, not convincing, and neither is the interaction with the human characters. But that said, there is something lively and vibrant about Clifford’s eyes and expressions that sort of makes up for it, and given the target audience (of which I do not belong, so I probably won’t be seeing this myself), I think the littlest of little kids won’t care in the slightest.
Because what really matters are the hijinks and the emotion behind this harmless kiddie adventure, and from the trailer, it really seems to work. The idea of magic, John Cleese’s assurance that Clifford will grow proportionately to how much he’s loved, and the commitment of the main humans to see him safe and appreciated are all essential to keeping the attention of the pint-sized audience and inflaming their imaginations. They’ll get laughs out of Clifford bouncing a human-sized tread ball while also learning a valuable lesson in acceptance and pure love. What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing, that’s what.
Further, the adults that take their kids to see this look like they’ll get a bit of worthwhile entertainment as well, in the forms of reliably funny actors like Cleese, Kenan Thompson, and Tony Hale as our main villain. It’ll be a bit of a nostalgia trip – my mind immediately went to Beethoven for instance – and every once in a while it’s nice to see something that’s just shamelessly cute and innocent while the little ones begin learning to process more complex emotions. Yeah, the CGI is crap, but I get the feeling that, in the end, it won’t matter.
8-Bit Christmas – November 24
Remember how pissed off I got a few paragraphs ago about Disney’s delighted defenestration of a timeless Christmas movie? Well, this is how you update a classic without calling forth the wrath of an unmerciful god. Dubbed in the trailer as “The next great Christmas Story” (italics used here to emphasize the font change), 8-Bit Christmas looks like a double homage to two 80s classics with an extreme nostalgia factor thrown in that has me hook, line, and sinker.
Just like Home Alone, this film looks to be a sort of stylized update of A Christmas Story by way of The Princess Bride, featuring Neil Patrick Harris telling the story of how he got his most wanted Christmas gift ever, with the Nintendo Entertainment System taking the place of the Red Ryder BB Gun. It’s the idea of a kid wishing against all wishes and hoping against all hope in a zeitgeist moment of cultural history, complete with the childhood shenanigans and unexpected friendships (with revisionist jokes) that go along with it. It pays respect to the films that inspired it, while also adding something new and presenting a familiar story to a different generation. But for once, it’s not pandering to kids, but to my generation, so that we can relate to the earlier plight of Ralphie, and unexpected yet brilliant choice.
And yeah, the nostalgia’s going to hit hard here for me. I’ve gotten some great gifts from family and friends over the course of my life, including a bound screenplay of It’s a Wonderful Life signed by Zuzu herself, Karolyn Grimes (after watching the earlier trailer, I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney’s working on a reboot where Clarence only gets his wings after Ariana Grande rings bells from a surprise concert or some such bullshit). But my most favorite present I ever got was that very NES in 1988.
So now it’s story time! I was six years old. My mother had an Atari that played Pole Position II and Donkey Kong, Jr. and there was an arcade at the mall and the roller rink, so I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with video games, but when I saw the Nintendo, it was all that was on my mind. Some of my friends had one, and that made their houses the go-to places after school. There was something so alluring, so addicting, to the idea of holding a controller in my hand, pressing a few buttons, and entering new worlds to win at something I never imagined possible.
So yeah, it was the thing I wanted more than anything back then, but I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I grew up poor. My mom could barely make ends meet, and my grandmother was on the brink of a forced retirement due to ongoing medical issues. I heard my mom tell our babysitter (a friend of hers from high school) that she couldn’t afford $100 to buy one (that was a LOT of money back then). When we did our annual photos with “Santa” (played by the babysitter’s father, funnily enough), I only whispered to him that I wanted the system, spelling out the name rather than saying it out loud, because I knew it would make my mom feel bad that she couldn’t get one. But I wished harder than I’d ever wished before. Maybe Santa would leave one under the tree. Maybe my list would make it to the North Pole. Maybe some miracle would happen.
When I was a kid, I would always get so excited for Christmas that I couldn’t sleep on Christmas Eve, no matter how hard I tried. Eventually I would doze off, but the anticipation was always so great that even though I was actively trying to fall asleep, my mind kept racing. At some point that night between 11pm and 4am, I blinked myself into the void. I got up around 5am and crept from the bedroom I shared with my younger sister at the time (an addition to the house two years later would finally get me my own room) and tiptoed down the hall to the living room, just wanting to see if the gifts were laid out, because Santa comes when you’re asleep. I had no intention of sneaking any peaks or opening anything too early – our rule was that nothing got opened until everyone was up and we’d all had our traditional breakfast of monkey bread – I just wanted to see the room all lit up with presents under the tree.
And there it was. It wasn’t even wrapped. Just a beautiful, huge rectangular box sitting front and center with the system and logo emblazoned across it, its only adornment a sticker with Santa Claus on it, reading “To Billy, From Me” with an arrow pointing back to Santa. I started weeping silently, so as not to wake anyone up. I just stared at it for close to two hours. I could read on the box that it included the NES itself, two controllers, a Zapper gun, and a cartridge combining Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt.
I never went back to bed, which is what I would normally do to wait until everyone else was up and about. I just sat there in my PJs, reading and examining every square inch of the box until the rest of the family arose. When my mom half-scolded me for getting up too soon, I just looked up at her and whispered, “He’s real. He’s really real.” I believed in Santa Claus for the first and really only time in my life. My fondest wish had been answered, despite it being impossible. This wasn’t just some random toy I saw on a cartoon and decided I wanted, only to play with it for a week and get bored. This was the only material thing I ever truly thought I needed as a child, and it changed my life. That feeling of childhood euphoria is something I will never forget.
I kept that Nintendo until it literally broke down in my early 20s, blowing and cleaning cartridges that wouldn’t start until the seventh or eighth attempt, renting and buying any game I could afford, which wasn’t much, especially since the more popular games were running $70-80 at the time. I used to get in trouble for playing too much rather than going outside. It made me more diligent with my schoolwork, because I couldn’t play until all my homework was done.
I learned about five years later that my grandmother was the one who bought it. It was my mom giving me the talk that Santa wasn’t real, and letting me in on some of the family’s financial struggles, because now that I was 11 (Harris’ character’s age in the movie – I haven’t forgotten about it in the midst of my reminiscence) she figured I could handle the truth, and I could. My grandma took $100 out of her Social Security check, money she’d normally spend on cigarettes (she smoked two packs a day until the day she died), and set it aside so that I could have this one thing. Even my mom didn’t know about it until after the purchase was made. This was a big deal in the 80s, giving up about 10 cartons of smokes for the sake of a Christmas present. It made me appreciate it all the more, because it taught me what it meant to sacrifice for those you love, and it made me that much more committed to being good at playing video games, because I didn’t want this great gift to ever go to waste. As soon as my mom finished telling me, I went straight to my grandma and hugged her tighter that I ever had before and thanked her for being my Santa.
So yeah, I’m in for this movie. It looks like a ton of fun, it respects the Christmas classics that came before it, and the nostalgia meter will be kicked up well past 11. If you were anything like me as a kid, whether your fondest wish was for a Nintendo or any other significant gift, this feels like one of those movies that will play as a lark while also crystallizing that feeling of holiday enchantment that is so rarely accomplished these days. The cynic in me hopes they don’t fuck it up, and the kid who saw his wish come true has faith that they won’t.
Join the conversation in the comments below! Will you see any of these films? Am I being too hard on some of them? What was your most beloved gift? Let me know!