This Film is Not Yet Watchable – December 2022

At long last, a very tumultuous year is about to come to an end. Inflation was rampant, an absolute slew of beloved celebrities shuffled off the mortal coil, and once again America just barely squeaked by on maintaining the basic tenets of democracy. It was rough, no doubt about it, and there are still 31 days for us to be royally screwed if the universe wants it.

But there were moments of hope as well. Ukraine continues to resist and repel Russia, showing the whole world what an incompetent simp Vladimir Putin really is. Traitorous insurrectionists just got convicted of sedition for their attempted coup against our government. Oppressed masses around the world are rising up to demand their freedoms. And on a much smaller scale, the Academy has taken the first step towards unfucking itself by putting the eight relegated categories from this year’s Oscars back into the ceremony. So it’s not all bad.

But you know how we do here. With the holidays approaching, we have almost no interest in the gifts, instead opting for the lumps of coal. For the final month of 2022, we have a whopping 10 trailers “worthy” of inclusion in this column, from sequels no one wanted, to biopics no one needed, to misplaced awards bait. And of course, it wouldn’t be December if we didn’t have more gag-inducing Christmas movies.

So sit back, relax, put on your favorite ugly sweater, and check your “Naughty” list as many times as you want. I won’t tell anyone about your browser history. This is the December 2022 edition of “This Film is Not Yet Watchable!”

A Hollywood Christmas – December 1

For some ungodly reason, HBOMax decided it wanted to be the Hallmark Channel this year, and as such have churned out so many cheesy Christmas movies that death by fruitcake almost feels palatable by comparison. But what makes A Hollywood Christmas stand out from the glut may be one of the weirdest self-owns in recent film history. The entire concept is basically a parody of a Simpsons parody.

It’s a sobering thought as a fan of the show to know that when it premiered (with a Christmas episode, for whatever that’s worth), I was technically younger than Lisa. Now I’m older than Homer, and the program is still going strong. Anyway, two years ago, “A Springfield Summer Christmas for Christmas” aired. One of the better outings of Season 32, the episode featured Ellie Kemper in a guest role as a producer being forced to make a Christmas movie for a Hallmark stand-in, and Springfield is chosen as the shooting location. Fitting literally every tired cliché of both holiday films and one-note “independent professional woman” characters into the satire, Kemper hates the entire prospect, gets a complete runaround from her bosses, and looks down on the plebeians of middle America, until she meets Principal Skinner and begins falling for him over her handsome surgeon fiancé.

Now, this whole show was meant to display just how stupid and mass-produced these TV movies are, so what does Warner Bros. do? They literally make the same movie, only they try to pretend it’s genuine, with the director (Jessika Van) having a deep love for Christmas pictures instead of Kemper being annoyed by them. As Jessica – wow, big stretch on the naming conventions there, guys – Van is over the textbook schmaltz but still has a nostalgic joy for the Xmas flicks that don’t suck. Then everything gets thrown into disarray (shocker!) with the arrival of Christopher (Josh Swickard), a studio liaison who’s meant to observe and interfere with production so that it’s as toothless and sugary as the WB wants it. So of course they fall in love according to formula, and not only do the characters point out all the tropes, Jessica’s assistant (Anissa Borrego) giddily squeals about them in real time. I’m normally not one to make fun of an actor’s voice, but if Borrego is not doing a bit here, then just… honey… no. That voice is a war crime.

If there’s one thing to recommend based on the trailer, it’s that you get a little bit of inside baseball with Warner Bros. Half the shots take place on the studio lot, and it looks like there will be a few scenes that peel back the curtain on how film production happens, be it on a soundstage (front lot) or dressed up outdoor location (back lot). I’ve worked at Warner for a couple of shows, and I’ve taken the studio tour twice (once with my family, once with my ex; there are different stops and features on different days), and it is a bit of a rush the first few times you start wandering around. So if you’re into that sort of thing, and you can’t make it to Burbank anytime soon, then this might be the one element worth holding your nose for.

Otherwise, run. Run very far away.

Emancipation – December 2

I don’t know why I’m beating on this film! Honestly, I hear it slaps1 It’s the kind of movie that’ll have you leaping out of your seat! Other wordplay about assault and battery!

Look, I don’t care if this ends up being Will Smith’s Citizen Kane, he doesn’t get to campaign for Oscars immediately after being served a 10-year ban for the shit he pulled. He’s currently using the press junket for this movie as a means to rehabilitate his image, never understanding that the only way for him to do that is to go away for a good long while. Release this movie towards the end of summer, during the August Dog Days dead period, hope you can recoup the budget, and then leave well enough alone. To put out this film now, and to try to sell it as prestige, is just proof that the man, and those around him giving advice, haven’t learned a damn thing.

As for the actual trailer, the story feels like a lame combination of Glory and 12 Years a Slave, Smith’s accent is atrocious, and the washed out color palette looks like they wanted to shoot the thing in black-and-white but just chose not to for some reason. And apparently, since this column might just turn into a string of Simpsons reference, when the slaver says, “I’m your god now,” all I can think of is Homer’s fantasy of Flanders screaming, “Where’s my god now?” in “How I Wet Your Mother,” which was an Inception parody.

Anyway, fuck this movie, and fuck Will Smith for a few years.

Darby and the Dead – December 2

You know what was missing from The Sixth Sense? A Mean Girls angle! Good lord, just about every frame of this trainwreck is patently offensive to the senses, from the fourth wall breaks, to the jaw-droppingly bad high school jokes, to the very concept of a SWEET 17 PARTY! Seriously, if I could see ghosts, and this was who I had to talk to, I’d slit my own wrists and “cross over” just to avoid it. Also, if you’re so shallow that you define your “unfinished business,” and thus your purpose in life, through a made-up party where other equally shallow people worship you, then you deserve whatever comical death you get.

Everyone involved in allowing this movie to happen should be publicly flensed.

Lady Chatterly’s Lover – December 2

Hello, Netflix viewer! Do you diddle yourself constantly to Bridgerton to the point where your clitoris is chafing? Well then have I got a movie for you! It’s the fourth – FOURTH! – adaptation of a trashy romance novel about a bored woman committing adultery, but this one was banned… a century ago, so it must have substance!

If you don’t masturbate furiously to a terrible streaming show, well then, I’ve got nothing for you.

Seriously people, just watch porn if you’re that horny. Hell, apart from the four official adaptations of D.H. Lawrence’s book, there are three more that are actual softcore pornos. If you’re that hard up for it, you have other options, is what I’m saying.

Something from Tiffany’s – December 9

One, we as a society need to stop conflating expensive jewelry with the idea of love. De Beers fucked us all 100 years ago by getting it in people’s heads that diamonds were the only way to convince someone to marry you, and ever since then culture has refused to push back. No one should have to surrender 1/4 of their annual salary – and fund African genocide – just to prove to someone that they care. And it’s even worse when you involve Tiffany’s, the store famous for its reputation of huge markups just for a blue box. J.P. Morgan gets credit for coining the original colloquialism now known as, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it,” but it gets applied to Tiffany and Co. all the freaking time, and for good reason.

Two, stop using expensive gifts at Christmastime as something to aspire to. It’s a slap in the face to every single person who is poor or has ever been poor. Every time I see some posh assholes in the snow validating themselves through Kay Jewelers or BMWs with giant bows on them, I want to break out the guillotines. I’m not one of those, “Put the ‘Christ” back in ‘Christmas'” dicks, but over-commercialization is a real problem, with the high-end companies at the forefront of the bullshit.

Three, fuck this entire movie’s premise with a chainsaw. A dipshit boyfriend buys Tiffany earrings to appease his unappreciated girlfriend, while a successful man in a stronger relationship is ready to propose, so he buys an engagement ring, and oops, the dudes bump into each other and swap bags. High-larious! And then when the mix-up is discovered, Zoey Deutch realizes she might just be in love with the successful total stranger, and maybe that ring really was meant for her!

*Emperor Palpatine voice* Wipe them out. All of them.

This is everything wrong with Christmas laid bare.

Detective Knight: Redemption – December 9

No! Stop it! I’m done! This cannot be allowed to go on any further! At this point it qualifies as elder abuse! Stop putting out these horrible pulp action movies with Bruce Willis. We all know they’re terrible. They have no redeeming qualities. All they do is denigrate his legacy. This one is somehow a sequel to a terrible one from two months ago (that didn’t even have a trailer online in time for me to put it in October’s column), and there’s another one coming next month for a trilogy of exploitation! This cannot stand! Lionsgate has been slowly but surely sacrificing their credibility for the last decade or so, but this is beyond the pale. Let the poor man retain his dignity in retirement instead of continually trying to cash in on what remains of his cognitive functions! This is offensive in every way imaginable.

Just cast someone else in these shitty movies so I can focus on the absolute lack of production values or the fact that the title sounds like the worst video game in the bargain bin at GameStop. But please, for the love of all that is holy, leave him be, you whores!

5000 Blankets – December 12

We can’t go a full holiday season without at least one bit of sanctimonious Christian propaganda now, can we? As faith-based movies go, this one doesn’t seem too offensive, in that it at least thinks it has its heart in the right place and isn’t calling for a fundamentalist revolution or anything, but it still looks just terrible, and of course, it’s tone deaf as all fuck.

Based on “An Extraordinary True Story” and starring no one you’ve ever heard of (other than maybe Anna Camp) because real actors have standards, the story glosses over two major societal issues in the name of piety and prayer. A man suffering from what appears to be severe mental illness and PTSD essentially runs away from his family and willingly becomes homeless. With the power of Jeebus, his wife and son set up a charity to give blankets to the 5,000 homeless people living in their community.

There is a real “Phillip’s Wish” charity that serves as inspiration here, and I’ll never say that it’s a bad idea to give blankets to the homeless, but you know what they really need? FUCKING HOMES! When you’re sleeping on concrete, blankets do fuck all. Because the impetus is from a kid, you can kind of forgive the practical emptiness of the gesture, because he’s doing all he’s really capable of at his age, and should be lauded for even trying. But for everyone else, there’s something more insidious at play.

This is the kind of convenient token act that so-called Christians like to hang their hats on to assuage whatever guilt they might have that they’re not doing anything of substance to solve a real-world problem. You know, like Jesus would. They take comfort in donating a $10 blanket and offering their disingenuous prayers while going full NIMBY to protest the construction of actual homeless shelters, voting for politicians that cut taxes for themselves and pay for it by slashing welfare programs, and interpreting their own privilege as favor from the Almighty. Yet I guarantee you that not a single person involved in these movies would ever let a vagrant in their house.

Then there’s the mental illness side of the equation. People who deal with these issues need serious medical help, therapy, and tangible support. What they do not need are fucking BLANKETS! Based on the trailer, this is not handled in anything remotely resembling an appropriate response. Camp puts up missing person signs, talks to a couple of homeless people who have no information, then goes right to the blankets, pontificating in church about how important the stupid things are (after the standard “faith is the answer” nonsense scenes). Fuck’s sake woman, go find your husband! Encourage the donations, sure, fine, but the emphasis should be on finding your severely ill husband at all costs before he hurts himself or others. Collect dirty duvets after your family is safe and whole again.

The donations aren’t a bad idea, because doing something is always better than doing nothing, but this movie has all the earmarks of doing the right things for the wrong reasons. There are serious problems going on that need to be earnestly explored, regardless of your level of faith. I live in a city with nearly 70,000 homeless, and I see them every day. I don’t really ever do much, aside from occasionally offering some cash for food when I’m driving by, so I’m probably not the best person to decide what people should and shouldn’t do, but the idea of handing over a blanket you no longer use, calling it a day, and then using that as your holier-than-thou Christmas messaging feels incredibly shortsighted and borderline patronizing.

If you want to see it, and if you think it’ll warm the old cockles, fine. Just don’t let those feelings end when the credits roll. Get out there and actually do something to help these people get – or get back to – a normal life.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish – December 21

Puss in Boots was the best thing about Shrek 2, which was also the last good movie in the franchise. Antonio Banderas was fun the first time around, just like the rest of the characters, but basically every appearance since has been an exercise in cringe. And whoever decided to give the character his own spinoff movies should be punished with ghost pepper diarrhea for a solid week.

The entire series at this stage is the dictionary definition of “diminishing returns,” as the idea of using fractured fairy tales to send the important message that inner beauty is better than outer has spent every entry post-2004 just regurgitating the same tired pop culture references and toilet humor through lazier and lazier pastiche parodies of classic characters. This latest sequel looks to be no different, with the addition of Florence Pugh as an assassin version of Goldilocks with her requisite bears (already being used in a series of fast food tie-ins), an eye roll-inducing “ugly dog” sidekick, and the most common of characters in medieval Europe, an old black woman with a Deep South accent so we can have a slew of cat lady jokes. Yay.

The apparent crux of the story is that Puss, being a cat, is on the last of his “nine lives” after several foolhardy stunts, and thus must find a source of magic so he can wish his full complement back. Throw in a very confused art style that looks like it’s trying to mimic Into the Spider-Verse (which is apparently intentional, as Dreamworks directed both this project and The Bad Guys to ripoff Sony’s aesthetic) but compositing it with the traditional Shrek look, and I’m already praying in vain for the cat to die, or for the film to even have the balls to honestly suggest that it might happen.

I Wanna Dance with Somebody – December 21

You ever notice that musical biopics basically only have two possible naming conventions for the title? It’s either the name of the band/performer (The Doors, Selena, The Buddy Holly Story) or the name of one of their songs (Rocketman, Straight Outta Compton, Coal Miner’s Daughter, and so on). We need to come up with something new before we get the long-awaited Megan Thee Stallion film, Wet Ass Pussy. On second thought, don’t. I want to see Ben Shapiro’s head explode.

Anyhoo, I admit I may be a little biased here, because I was never that big a fan of Whitney Houston. Her voice was nice, and the film’s title is the only song of hers that I truly loved, but honestly I always felt that she was overrated. Come at me if you must, but just remember that her most famous work was a Dolly Parton cover recorded for a terrible movie, and after the turn of the 21st century she was a tabloid joke until the day she died. I’m not just pulling stuff out of my ass to be contrarian.

But even if I was solidly in her corner, I would be skeptical of this movie based solely on the fact that it looks like every other music biopic in existence. She comes from nowhere. Her shot is an unexpected surprise. She wows everyone. She becomes a superstar. There’s only the most surface-level acknowledgement of the darker aspects of her life. She emerges defiantly as the greatest who ever lived. Lather, rinse, repeat. Sometimes the formula can work, like Bohemian Rhapsody, but for the most part it becomes tiresome unless you add in something different to truly set it apart, and even then, it could crash and burn like Elvis.

And from what I see in this trailer, that extra dimension simply isn’t there, especially when you consider these facts. One, Anthony McCarten, who wrote Bohemian Rhapsody, also penned this movie’s script, suggesting this is the same story with a different lead. Two, the major triumphant moment for Whintey is her pre-recorded performance of the national anthem at the Super Bowl, which did way more harm than good in the grand scheme of pop music, because it basically encouraged a generation of artists to not perform live when they’re on a live stage, and every major singer since has tried to one-up it rather than having an ounce of humility and just singing the damn anthem. Three, there is no hint of anything other than unabashed hero worship in this thing, with a suggestion that her music isn’t “black enough” being the closest thing there is to even a whisper of criticism, and it’s only there for her to dismiss it and assert her superiority.

If Whitney was the best thing ever for you, that’s perfectly fine. I hope you enjoy it. As for me, all I can think of is my favorite dark parody joke from several years ago. Sing along, everyone!

Oh, I wanna drown in my bathtub!
I wanna suffocate in my bathtub!
Yeah, I wanna drown in my bathtub,
High as fuck on cocaine!

***

With that, we move to the very bottom of the stocking, one smelling of rancid feet. It’s “The Worst Trailer in the World… This Month!” For November, I ripped into shameless Oscar bait that was designed to tug on the heartstrings. So for December, it only makes sense to go in the other direction and tear through shameless Oscar bait designed to tap into our reptilian brains.

Babylon – December 23

Now, I will cop to one factual error I made in this video. Towards the end I suggest that the film’s release was intentionally delayed for an entire year, specifically to campaign for awards, because Damien Chazelle et al knew it wasn’t good enough to compete in 2021. I still have a feeling that was in the back of everyone’s collective thinking, but I should correct myself slightly and acknowledge that COVID did delay production a bit, to the point that filming wasn’t finished until last October. I should have double-checked that rather than implying that the movie had been in the can for a whole year. I thought about taking the video down, fixing my monologue, and then reposting it, but as I note in the outtakes at the end, it took way too many tries to get the read right the first time. I’m too lazy to go through it again. And if people want to call me out, I’m willing to accept the slings and arrows and admit when I’m wrong rather than pretending I didn’t make a mistake.

That said, my flub doesn’t change the fact that the picture was still intended to be released last December, solely to busk for hardware, and it still could have been put out at almost any other time this year. Yes, post-production can take a while, especially on a big budget project, but there’s nothing saying the decision-makers couldn’t have found a way to put this out in May or September. I work in this industry. Trust me when I say that the existence of COVID did not mean shifting everything years down the line. As soon as we were allowed to get back to work, the film and television business found myriad ways – some efficient, some not, some exploitative – to work through contact restrictions, keep productions rolling, and even speed up the process in some instances. You cannot convince me that there wasn’t a way to put Babylon out earlier in 2022, unless the only thing Chazelle and/or Paramount cared about was manufactured prestige.

So yeah, I goofed on the facts a little bit, but I stand by everything else, especially the jokes on what appears to be some really derivative shit despite proclamations of seeing something new. And if nothing else, here’s a fun tidbit for you. The film was screened for critics and industry insiders a few weeks ago. Some people I follow on Twitter posted pictures from inside the theatre. On the screen was a message encouraging the guests to post their impressions of the movie on social media, but declaring an embargo for reviews “until further notice.” Some argued that this meant the studio and producers were confident in the finished product. To me, it suggests the exact opposite. What they want is for their friends – particularly those with a huge base of followers – to generate buzz for the film, but they won’t let an outsider say anything about it, positive or negative, until they give the go-ahead. That’s not confidence. At best it’s manipulation, and at worst it’s a tacit admission that the movie is so bad that they need to get out ahead of the critical press lest they lose out on nominations and/or box office. They know their friends will say good things, and if they don’t, they won’t be invited to the next screening, so they make up this word-of-mouth free advertising construct to preemptively drown out any legitimate criticism. I’m not falling for it

***

And finally, we reach the end of this advent calendar of suck with one truly sweet treat after all the bitterness, this month’s “Redemption Reel.” After the absolute cavalcade of shit that was this year’s slate of Christmas movie trailers, it’s only fitting to acknowledge the one entry into this year’s holiday canon that actually looks fun.

Violent Night – December 2

I was cautious when I first heard about this, mostly because the basic description of John Lequizamo invading someone’s home on Christmas sounded like a remake of The Ref, and as much as I love Denis Leary, nobody wants that. Thankfully, when I finally saw the trailer for Violent Night, my fears subsided.

I absolutely love David Harbour, and I don’t even watch Stranger Things. He was great on The Newsroom (God, that came out 10 years ago), and he was by far the most enjoyable part of Black Widow. The man has incredible range when it comes to drama, action, and comedy, with this film seemingly showing off the latter two. The idea of him being a version of Santa Claus who’s settled into a routine with Xmas, taking a cavalier attitude to his duties, and then just straight up killing fools when they invade the home of a girl on his “Nice” list just sounds like a blast.

Speaking of blasts, the shot of him dropping a grenade on one of the baddies, starting to walk away, and then defying the trope by announcing that he just has to turn back to see the dude blow up might be the single funniest thing I’ve seen this year outside of Deirdre Beaubeirdre’s weaponized auditing awards. So much time during the holidays is devoted to sentimentality, and I’m no Scrooge when it comes to the warm and fuzzies. But sometimes you just need a stupid, gratuitous, laugh, and by God this movie looks like it’ll provide exactly that.

***

That’s all for this month, folks! Enjoy the holidays however you celebrate, be good to one another, and take comfort in the fact that we made it around the Sun one more time. It’ll provide a slight emotional buffer for when the calendar turns over and we get the unbridled parade of putridness that is January at the box office. Happy holidays, everyone!

Join the conversation in the comments below! Are you planning to see any of these films? Was I too harsh on any of them? Will movies ever admit that most cats are lactose intolerant? Let me know!

One thought on “This Film is Not Yet Watchable – December 2022

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