I’m not gonna lie, folks. I had almost no motivation to do the column this month. My mom’s passing hit a lot harder than I thought it would, even though I knew the moment was coming for the last three years. I thought that extra time to prepare might dull the impact, but it didn’t. The two weeks I spent back in New York setting her affairs in order – a process that’s still not nearly done yet – took an emotional toll on me, and even though I’ve been back in Los Angeles for just over a week, I’ve found myself having little to no desire to do much of anything.
At the same time, I’ve been in some very dark places over the years, and I know that’s no way to live your life. My mom was pretty matter-of-fact about a lot of things, including her own mortality. Though she had a modicum of faith, she made it clear when she still had her faculties that one day she’d be gone, and it would be up to me and my sister to mourn her and eventually move on.
So that’s what I’m doing now. Bit by bit I’m regaining my initiative and getting back into my routines. Another of mom’s mantras was the old adage of “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Well you know what? I love making fun of shitty movie trailers! And if you think that was a tasteless and tone deaf way to transition into this monthly exercise, then 1) you clearly haven’t been reading my shit for very long, and 2) you don’t know how twisted my – and my mother’s – sense of humor really is. She would have found this hilarious.
But in all seriousness, this is part of the healing process for me. I’ve always used humor as a coping mechanism. The overriding philosophy of my life is that if you can’t step back and laugh at something, especially something objectively absurd, then you might just be lost. I’ve gotten through some very rough times by cracking jokes at varying levels of appropriateness. It’s just how I get through the day sometimes. It’s a way of letting myself know that the world isn’t so terrible, and even when it is, oftentimes it’s terrible in funny ways, and that helps me when I need it the most.
All this is to say that, as we fully begin the Summer Blockbuster Season, there’s an awful lot of dumb shit to make me chuckle with rage-induced mirth. As I watched through all the available trailers this month, I found myself pausing to realize that my jaw was dropping at just how idiotic some of them were, and in my own weird, fucked up little way, I felt normal again. It’s also not lost on me that I’m writing this on May 4th, Star Wars Day, and while I’m sure there will be some who think I’m a total psychopath, sometimes it’s cathartic to “let the hate flow through you.”
There are 10 trailers that earn ignominious honors here tonight, as well as this month’s “Worst Trailer in the World” and our eventual “Redemption Reel” getting their own spotlights as usual. So, in tribute to the woman who introduced me to good movies, bad movies, and Mystery Science Theater 3000 as a means to playfully lambaste the shittiest of the shitty, let’s get to it. This is the May 2023 edition of “This Film is Not Yet Watchable!”
Love Again – May 5
You might think that after losing my mom I might be susceptible to a romance film where the female lead has just suffered a tragedy of her own, especially one where the central concept is the idea of that person thinking she’s reconnecting with her dead lover through an odd coincidence. Yes, you might think that. You also might smoke crack.
This is just fucked up, and not in a fun way. First of all, not to minimize anyone’s experience or past trauma, but Priyanka Chopra (I will never add the “Jonas” because I have standards, unlike Priyanka Chopra apparently) only lost a boyfriend. Not a husband, not a sibling, not a parent or a child, a boyfriend, one whose life is seemingly reduced to one box of belongings after the fact. Am I really supposed to care or sympathize? Second, the melodrama is off the charts, with her playing a children’s author whose latest project seems to be the Goth Guide to Second Grade given how emo her writing has allegedly become (side note: fuck the publisher who thinks no one would put out a children’s book about how to cope with disappointment and grief; the genre is literally made for that), as well as texting her boyfriend’s old number with lines that make Fifty Shades of Grey seem like Charles Dickens. Third, this entire story literally ends if Sam Heughan does what any normal person would do upon receiving her messages, and simply texts back, “New phone, who dis?” Fourth, Celine Dion. She chastises Heughan, saying he knows nothing about love, if he dares question whether she believes in the things she sings. Never mind that it’s a completely legitimate question, as Dion doesn’t write any of her songs (though the trailer advertises new music “by” her that it doesn’t include). The trailer heavily uses “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” which was written by frequent Meat Loaf collaborator, the late great Jim Steinman, and was originally recorded by Pandora’s Box. Dion believes in profiting off of what she sings, but anything else stretches believability.
But worst of all, and this is a habit that Hollywood really needs to break, the sound of people clacking on their phones to text, followed by notification alerts when the text goes through, might be among the most irritating noises in all of media. This is the modern version of all those commercials in the 90s and 00s where people typing on keyboards was cranked up to 11. When I say that ASMR and similar sound effects causes me physical pain, this is what I’m talking about. These are bits of audio that are meant to be soft and quiet, and instead some jerk in a foley booth has to ratchet them up to a level that’s far beyond natural. For some it might be soothing, and if it is, enjoy it in the privacy of your own home. For me, it’s torture, and I’m sick of movies, TV, and ads raping my ears with them. Never mind that it’s completely unnecessary, as we can see the actors tapping the phone, followed by the stupid text bubble, it’s just stupid and excessive. Most phones don’t make a noise when you text, and if it does, it’s very subtle and unobtrusive. When I text, I more feel a slight vibration than I hear a clicking sound. I know it’s there, but it barely registers. That’s as it should be, because believe it or not, cell phone manufacturers have noticed over the last three decades that their customers don’t like it when other users are annoying and draw attention to themselves, so they design their products to accommodate. But not in this world. No, the clackety-clack is loud as can be, Celine Dion is an authority on romance, and longing texts from a stranger are an impetus for new love rather than an instant block.
Book Club: The Next Chapter – May 12
Hey, remember how we all hate these movies where celebrated actresses in their autumn years are forced to play horny grandmas? Well apparently Hollywood hasn’t gotten the memo, so once again we must objectify Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen in an utterly baffling sequel to a previous entry in this infuriating subgenre from five years ago.
I mean, how many more times are we going to do this? How many more times are we going to hear Fonda make mildly crude jokes? How many more times do we have to see an award-winning actress caught in an “awkward” position? How many more times do we have to form an entire movie around an old lady getting post-menopausal moist after reading a trashy porn book? It might almost be worth it if there was an original story to go along with this, but it’s the same tired bit over and over again. It was never funny or entertaining, and yet we keep going around in this circle because they’re so cheap to make that even one half-filled auditorium counts as making the budget back.
Funny side tangent, a couple of months ago, when I named 80 for Brady as the “Worst Trailer in the World,” I got a rather snide comment on my YouTube channel, which I have since deleted, as I’m all for well-meaning disagreements, but I will not suffer fools or argue with idiots who only wish to insult me. The user, who clearly stopped watching after I said “Eww” at the idea of Jane Fonda having a lady boner for Gronk, said something along the lines of, “It’s no surprise that you have so few subscribers. If this is what you think of older women, it’s 100% (they used the “Keep it 100″ emoji incorrectly) what you deserve.” Now, setting aside the fact that my subscriber count has nothing to do with the quality of my work (there’s no way I could be just trying to build an audience in my own way without acting like the douchiest “Smash that LIKE button!” YouTubers who shill for followers while offering no actual content), I had to laugh at the assertion that I “deserve” to have no subscribers if this was what I really thought about older women. You mean the part where I explicitly state that I think they should be treated with respect and dignity, and that they shouldn’t be exploited for the same tired clichés in shitty movies, treating them as nothing more than sex objects well into their 80s? Yes, truly, I am a monster.
The Mother – May 12
Now that the theatrical model is back in full swing, we’re starting to see a distinct pattern when it comes to movie releases. Basically, even if it has an MPAA rating, and thus will get a small release for Academy eligibility, any movie before Awards Season that debuts on a streaming service you can assume is likely going to be dreck, with a few exceptions. Still riding the high of CODA winning Best Picture last year, Apple does seem to be putting its best foot forward when it comes to film quality, and very occasionally Netflix will drop some gold, but usually by accident. Otherwise, the moment you see the logo for Amazon or Paramount or Peacock or Disney+, you can be pretty well assured that whatever they’re putting out isn’t worth your time, at least until September or October.
Such is the case with The Mother. Now, if there was a betting pool for who the next middle-aged actor would be to try their hand at being an action hero, Jennifer Lopez would be high on my list. It’s not because I think she’d be particularly good, but now that she’s 20 years removed from her “Jenny from the Block” fuck-you-I’m-rich videos, pretty much everything she does is about showing you how in shape she is, trying to convince you that she’s hotter in her 50s than you were in your 20s. It’s still self-serving, conceited, and utterly tone deaf, but after the 300th commercial for workout gummies that she’s put out, you had to know this was coming.
The trailer looks… utterly pointless. I literally watched the entire May slate of trailers three days ago, and all I can remember is a shot of Lopez doing pull-ups in the snow and some really bad de-aging CGI in an early scene after she gives birth to the daughter she has to protect from afar because terrorists or some such bullshit. The whole thing is horribly generic and forgettable, and the backwoods winter scenery only makes me wish that Blue the Raptor would pop out and eat her. But given her output to date, I’m pretty sure horribly generic and forgettable is the highest quality J-Lo can hope for.
Hypnotic – May 12
So, funny story, when I was looking this trailer up, the first result I found was for a Netflix movie where women get mind-controlled by a therapist into killing themselves and each other. It was hilariously bad and completely stupid. Then I realized that I was looking at the wrong movie, as this Hypnotic had come out in October 2021.
So then I went to the correct movie with this same title, directed by Robert Rodriguez and starring Ben Affleck. This one is about a detective with a missing daughter trying to track down William Fichtner, who robs a bank (I’m assuming as payback for Heath Ledger’s Joker getting one over on him in The Dark Knight) by mind controlling civilians and police into killing themselves and each other. Totally different, but still hilarious and completely stupid.
Do filmmakers and writers just not understand how hypnosis works? For most people it’s just a relaxation technique that leads to a placebo effect of extreme focus. For those who claim it actually works, it’s a form of concentration that dulls the senses to a certain extent and makes someone slightly more susceptible to suggestion in their relaxed state. That’s it. I’ve participated on stage during hypnosis shows before. I felt a little bit sleepy but still was in complete control of my actions the entire way, playing up the scenario for the sake of the comedy of the performance because I wanted to have fun with my friends.
That’s all hypnosis is. At best it can be used as a form of therapy to help implant the idea for some habitual behaviors in a willing patient. You can’t take over someone’s brain or order people around without their knowledge or consent. That has never happened and is literally impossible. And yet, we’ve recycled this trope for pretty much the entire history of film. If you want to have mind control, just invent a bullshit device for mind control and play up the science fiction element of it rather than denigrating therapists. It’s just lazy and misinformed. In the 1950s it was fine, especially for cheap horror thrills, but we’ve had 70 years to literally and figuratively wake the fuck up and recognize hypnosis for what it really is, a calming parlor trick. To make two movies within 18 months of each other that use a complete fantasy of its purpose as the catalyst for the entire plot is just dumb.
Crater – May 12
Man, this is looking like one shitty ass weekend to go to the movies, and for Mother’s Day no less. And while this is it for the main portion of this column, we’re not done with it yet (that’s what we call a teaser, folks). Anyway, remember what I just said about streaming movies? Yeah, this one’s on Disney+, which tells you all you really need to know.
On the surface, this doesn’t look too offensive, like something that would have been on the Disney Channel about 20 years ago as a bona fide made-for-TV movie, but for some reason the execs at the House of Mouse insisted on screening this for the MPAA and promoting it as if it was a legitimate film. It’s a fairly basic kiddie adventure story about children who live on a Moon colony and decide to embark on a quest to see a nearby crater that apparently has something special in it. Antics and hijinks ensue, including non-perilous peril (because Disney doesn’t have the balls to actually kill tweens who make unsafe choices) and some really cheap looking special effects.
But what really earns the film its spot here are three things. One, the trailer advertises this as “From Producers of Stranger Things.” What the fuck does that have to do with anything? So you hired writers who worked on a show. So what? Again, you’re Disney. You do not have the Moon Rocks to actually put these kids in real danger like Stranger Things would, so what are you trying to accomplish? You’re not stealing viewers from Netflix when the program’s in its offseason, especially when none of the cast members are actually in this. Two, the main character, Caleb (Isaiah Russell-Bailey) and his father (Kid fucking Cudi, ugh) are depicted early on as having this weird sort of Will and Jaden Smith dynamic from After Earth where the dad talks in a complete monotone, and I just don’t want to ever think about that movie. Three, the entire trailer has narration where Cudi waxes philosophical about road trips… on the Moon. What in the actual retail fuck? Who keeps giving this guy work?
Fast X – May 19
I’m sure there are a bunch of you reading right now who are genuinely surprised that this didn’t get picked for “The Worst Trailer in the World.” Well, I was too. This would seem like an easy target, the latest entry in a series that arguably should have never existed, but we can all agree should have at minimum died with Paul Walker. But honestly, there wasn’t much for me to joke about that hasn’t been done to death already (wasting great actors, the giant middle finger to the laws of physics, etc.), and given how many people in the YouTube comments were ready to die on the hill of Scream VI (again, most of their comments were deleted when they had no other substance but to lobby insults at me), I figured it was best not to attempt another potential flame war for a while.
Still, there are two things to highlight amidst all the cheesy lines, Michael Bay-esque explosions substituting for plot, and absolutely insulting CGI. First, in one of the trademark clichés of the franchise, in this particular trailer, the word “family” is uttered a total of five times. You know what word only gets said three times?
Yeah, it wasn’t enough to spit in the face of science with every entry, now they’re even shitting on the basic tenets of language. The most commonly used word in the English language only gets 60% of the usage that this series’ idiotic “theme” does. That’s just grotesquely stupid.
Now, if I’m being super generous, there is a way for “the” to equal “family,” and that’s by including the two printed uses in what has to be the most flabbergasting tagline I’ve ever seen: The end of the road begins. WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? If you’re at the end of the road, there is no beginning, because you’re at the end. These words are literal antonyms! I thought maybe they were trying to be faux-philosophical and posit that every beginning is the beginning of the end of something, but even a benefit of the doubt large enough to fill the Grand fucking Canyon can’t work here, because this is inexplicably the 10TH CORE MOVIE IN THIS FUCKING FRANCHISE! The first movie was the beginning of the end if we’re trying to use proper grammar as the lowest possible bar.
But even in practical terms, what does this mean? Apparently this is meant to be part one of a two-part finale, but all we know for certain is that the next sequel is coming out in 2025 (and presumably there’s a Hobbs & Shaw sequel in development as well as other spinoffs). Well if this really is the planned end to the series, which I don’t believe for a second, why not just call this Final Fury, Part One or something that makes the point as clear as possible? Why does every single decision in this wholly illogical series have to be so frustratingly braindead? I’d honestly be okay with it if the series was consistently framed as dopey, turn-your-mind-off action fun, but they’re the ones who decided this had to be all high-minded and about “family” and other failed attempts at poignancy, so make up your fucking minds, people! Make like sane drivers who don’t have a death wish and PICK A FUCKING LANE!
White Men Can’t Jump – May 19
Who the hell decided this needed to be remade? Is it the same idiots who greenlit the House Party remake? As a general rule remakes are bad enough, but seriously? You guys are so bereft of ideas that not only can you not come up with an original story anymore, you’ve even scraped the bottom of the barrel for reboots?
Don’t get me wrong, the original White Men Can’t Jump is a comedy classic, but that was because Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes, and Rosie Perez were already well-established actors at the top of their respective games (for the time). They all had a natural chemistry, excellent comedic timing, and you could feel the genuine rapport through the screen, making an otherwise shoddy story concept somehow work.
But that’s a one in a million stroke of good fortune where all the pieces magically fit together when common sense says they shouldn’t, and so much of that came from the commitment of the seasoned cast. Who the fuck’s in this film? A kid from the Friday Night Lights TV show and a mediocre white rapper. This is the hardest of hard passes, and to the surprise of no one, it’s going straight to Hulu.
The Little Mermaid – May 26
I’m sure there are a bunch of you reading right now who are genuinely surprised that this didn’t get picked for “The Worst Trailer in the World.” Well, I was too. This would seem like an easy target, the latest entry in a series that arguably should have never existed, but we can all agree should have at minimum died with the Beauty and the Beast remake.
Wait, this all sounds familiar.
Yeah, again, this is a case where I could have piled on in video form, but what would be the point? I’ve already made fun of a Disney remake before, and there’s really no joke I could tell that would top the self-own Disney suffered when they shoehorned an entire segment into this year’s Oscars devoted to this piece of shit. Seriously, seeing the universally negative reactions on Twitter briefly gave me hope that we as a people could find a way to come together once more.
Literally nothing in this looks like it’ll be anything different from the line of Disney remakes to date. Nothing of importance seems to be added, the design on Flounder is pure nightmare fuel, there’s so much CGI that there’s really no point in calling this a “live action” remake when it’s pretty much still just a cartoon, the water effects are outclassed by Finding Nemo, which was released 20 years ago, we somehow changed Scuttle to a female character and had Misspelled Bottled Water voice it (Between this and Lorraine Bracco voicing a seagull in the Pinocchio remake, what is it with Disney and raspy-voiced birds? Is it a commentary about seagulls eating cigarette butts or something?), and after being inundated with musical ads for a travel site since the Super Bowl, the thought of giving Melissa McCarthy one of the greatest villain songs of all time feels like a disaster waiting to happen. I’m pretty sure the most common sound you’ll hear is the collective grinding noise of Pat Carroll, René Auberjonois, Kenneth Mars, Samuel E. Wright, Ben Wright, Paddi Edwards, Will Ryan, and Buddy Hackett spinning in their graves.
Much of the early backlash for this movie was for the dumbest of reasons, the fact that they cast Halle Bailey as Ariel, because how dare fictional mermaids be black. That argument is completely asinine, and ignores the real problem, which is that these remakes keep making money and therefore keep being made despite them being uniformly terrible. It’s even a counterproductive bit of griping, as it probably will be used to fuel box office success for the film in response. Given Disney’s feud with Ron DeSantis, I’m amazed there isn’t an overt campaign to sell tickets off the idea that it’ll piss off racists. Now, while the whole “controversy” is idiotic in the extreme, it should be noted that there is some weirdness in the racial dynamic of the casting. Let me be absolutely, 100% clear that I do not care what color a mermaid’s skin is. It literally means nothing to me, as the whole idea of an underwater lifeform having any skin tone is contrary to basic science, and the whole thing is made up anyway, so no one should give a shit. However, I did somewhat chuckle when I saw Javier Bardem as Triton, because the Spanish actor has just so much apparent African DNA to pass down. Similarly, Prince Eric is played by the very white Jonah Hauer-King, yet his mother, in a role created specifically for this film, is played by African-born actress Noma Dumezweni. Sure, why not? At this point I’m just laughing, because Disney don’t give a fuck about anyone’s skin, even if it betrays the basic laws of genetics. Honestly, either chalk it up as one more instance of laziness on the part of these remakes, or give them a degree of sly credit for trolling those out there who would be triggered by this, daring them to question any of it. I’m too busy hating the rest of the film’s existence to give it more than a sarcastic paragraph.
But watching this trailer, I did come to a realization about why these remakes are so terrible across the board, and it comes down to the music. This particular preview shows Bailey singing “Part of Your World,” particularly the final crescendo on the rock as the waves crash. Other versions have different parts of the same song. Now, this may seem like an act of sadism, but if you can, listen to Bailey’s version of the song alongside the original done by Jodi Benson in the first animated film. Part of the reason animation works for these stories where quasi-live action doesn’t is because the originals started with the voice recordings. A voice director and a music director guided Benson on how to inflect and intone each phrase, knowing how they were going to draw and paint around it. That’s why the song builds slowly on screen, with Ariel interacting with all of her thingamabobs, leading up to the somewhat mournful, “Wish I… could be” line, where the latter half is spoken rather than sung. Then when she rescues Eric and resolves to join the humans, it becomes a goal, a personal credo, a story motivation, and a statement of determination that Benson doesn’t oversell in the vocals because she knows the visual will complement the emotion of the scene.
Compare that with Bailey’s version, and the clips you see in the trailer. Now don’t get me wrong, she’s a talented singer. I didn’t hear her go off key or anything like that. But the way she sings the song, it’s just a performance like she’s on stage in front of an audience. During the “Wish I could be” line (notice I didn’t use the ellipses here) she just sings it straight, going up a couple of notes on the last word like someone singing the national anthem and elongating “O’er the land of the free-eeeeeeeeee” (watch some other versions of the teaser/trailer if you need proof), and then in the video, she just perches herself against the rock and raises her voice to the point where she’s practically screaming, “PART OF YOUR WORLD,” holding the last note loudly for several seconds. It’s a good demonstration of her vocal range, but it makes no sense in character. She’s hiding in the rocks so as not to be seen by Eric’s guards, so of course why not belt a line out at the top of your lungs for everyone to hear?
This is one of the core problems with so many of these movies. The worst parts of just about any Disney animated musical are the pop covers of some of the songs over the credits. But rather than get rid of them, Disney decided to put them in the main bodies of the stories and basically build entire films around them, banking entirely on your nostalgia and affection for the original to fill in the gaps in quality. That’s why Bailey looks so lifeless in the scene, no matter how passionate her voice might sound. Jodi Benson was coached on how to sing so the cartoon could be animated around the vocal. Bailey’s vocal is just there to supplement a reenactment of the visual you already have committed to memory, and the filmmakers are relying on you superimposing the original image over the new one in your mind, thus associating it as something of value, when it very much is not. Imagine how shitty Frozen would be if Demi Lovato’s version of “Let it Go” played during that pivotal scene instead of Idina Menzel. The movie would be a train wreck. But that’s what they’re doing here with Halle Bailey’s singing. That’s what they did with Will Smith covering “Friend Like Me.” That’s what they did with Emma Watson Auto-Tuning to “Belle.” These people aren’t singing for the story or for their characters. They’re singing (some of them horribly) for Radio Disney, telegraphing the artificiality of the entire affair directly to the audience who can’t get their money back. They are literal false notes.
But what does it matter? This will somehow still make half a billion easily, no matter how much we all know it’s going to suck, and I may still force myself to watch it when it probably successfully lobbies for a token Oscar nomination next year. At least then I’ll be able to watch it on Disney+ rather than shelling out $20 for a ticket and financially supporting this continued madness.
About My Father – May 26
I mentioned last month when I named Somewhere in Queens as the “Redemption Reel” that I picked it as a preemptive response to About My Father, which I already promised would end up in this column. Yeah, a month later, I stand by my assessment. I haven’t seen Somewhere in Queens yet, and I may not get the chance, but based on the trailer, it looked like the right way to make a lighthearted family comedy about the foibles of Italian-American households. This however, is garbage, plain and simple.
There is literally no Italian stereotype joke Sebastian Maniscalco doesn’t roll out here, and for some reason he felt the need to drag Robert De Niro’s good name through the muck in the process. You might as well just play two minutes of people saying, “Gabba goo!” and “Bada bing!” instead of the actual film footage. It would be just as funny and insightful. Oh, and just for good measure, we murder a peacock and cook it, because… other white people, I guess? I don’t know. This looks just as terrible as Easter Sunday did last year, only Jo Koy has a lot more public goodwill on his side to get away with this type of humor.
As previously stated, Maniscalco is one of a number of comedians complaining about not getting as many high profile gigs these days because of “wokeness,” blaming his audience for no longer finding his tired, lazy jokes all that hilarious or charming. Mind you, he was never more than a poor man’s Andrew Dice Clay to begin with, but that’s a rant for another day. But really, the issue is that he, like so many others, acts like an asshole, and then wonders why people don’t respond positively. Trust me, as an asshole myself, I can recognize my own. The difference between me and him is that when I do assholey stuff, I make it clear that I’m doing a bit, that it’s not the real me, and if I rub people the wrong way, I walk it back a bit, because the intent is never to offend, but to have good-natured fun and share a laugh. It doesn’t always work, but I try my best. What I certainly don’t do is double down on the asshole behavior and expect to be celebrated for it. That’s what he fails to recognize, and that’s how we end up with a movie like About My Father, or literally anything Pete Davidson does.
Kandahar – May 26
Guys, I think we may have to admit to The Ugly Truth. A Geostorm of fact has been forming for some time now, and we need to recognize The Vanishing façade in front of our eyes.
You guys, I think Gerard Butler might not be all that good an actor.
I mean, look at his résumé. Really look at it. What has he done of any real quality outside of 300 and the How to Train Your Dragon movies, the latter of which were just voice roles? The Fallen trilogy? The Bounty Hunter? Gods of Egypt? Playing for Keeps? Is there an actual winner anywhere in there? I submit that there is not. He was even in the lamest segment of Movie 43, and that’s saying something.
I’m sure he’s a nice guy and he works hard, but I think we just have to accept that he’s mediocre at best. He’s serviceable, but nothing special, and his latest, Kandahar, is but another example. He plays a CIA operative who goes undercover destroying Iranian nuclear facilities, but when his cover is blown, it’s up to him and his Afghan translator to drive across the desert to Kandahar for extraction, avoiding/shooting every terrorist they come across on their trek.
Never mind the cultural insensitivity. Never mind the fact that this movie is thematically similar to The Covenant, which was just released two weeks ago. This is just boring and pointless. It’s yet another shoot ’em up that seems to be completely lacking in creativity or even basic thought. I’m not saying that mindless action can’t be fun, but what about this is supposed to be fun? The entry-level espionage subplot? The gunshots fired into a literal fog of war as sandstorms kick up? Whatever the hell accent Butler is trying to affect? What are we honestly supposed to latch onto in order to enjoy ourselves here? You know he’s going to succeed in his mission, or at minimum he’s going to sacrifice himself to get his translator out. We know he’s going to stack the bodies ten-high. We know there will be tons of explosions and low-register music stings to try to make things sound way more dramatic than they are.
So what is the point? It’s impossible to take any of this seriously, so why bother? I’m sure Butler’s made enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life, so why waste time and goodwill by shitting out yet another piece of nothing that will just get trounced by remade mermaids anyway?
With that, we move on to May’s rock bottom, “The Worst Trailer in the World… This Month!” Now, as I’ve said, the likes of The Little Mermaid remake or Fast X were seemingly low-hanging fruit, and in a time when I’m still processing my grief, it would make sense to go for something easy. But again, I didn’t want to ignite any passions or inflame hurtful comments. I’m just not in a mental space where I can deal with that right now.
Thankfully, the universe provided me with a lovely alternative. When I went to see Suzume after returning home, this was the last trailer I saw, and it was all I could do not to fall over laughing at how chintzy and lame it looked. Sometimes things just work out.
Knights of the Zodiac – May 12
You want to know how shitty this movie looks? The bad guy is apparently called the “Phoenix Knight” (to contrast with the hero’s “Pegasus Knight”), and his handler is Famke Janssen, who played the Phoenix in the first X-Men trilogy. And that’s not even remotely the laziest thing about this. Even the title is astonishingly trite, as literally none of the characters mentioned have anything to do with any zodiac that I’m aware of. And despite it being Blood and Chocolate levels of silly, I realized this morning that I never mentioned the title of the movie in the video. So it’s phenomenally stupid, but also totally forgettable. Good lord!
Thankfully, we can now put all that ugliness behind us, and end as we always do on a more hopeful note, with this month’s “Redemption Reel.” As usual, the Summer Blockbuster Season doesn’t offer all that much in the way of true high quality, with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 being the only major output that shows promise. However, while the studios are fighting over how much money they won’t pay writers (I’m not WGA yet, but I stand with them wholeheartedly), every once in a while a smaller film can sneak in and raise an intrigued eyebrow. And this month’s winner appears to be just the type to pull it off.
Fool’s Paradise – May 12
See, I told you we’d be back to the otherwise awful weekend of May 12. In fact, we came back twice, thanks to Knights of the Zodiac being the month’s nadir. Hopefully everyone will notice that pretty much the rest of the weekend is a lost cause, and if they’ve already seen Guardians (I’m guessing much of the reason for these dregs is the other studios getting out of Marvel’s way for two weeks), they’ll give this a shot.
Admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of Charlie Day. I like him in small doses, and I think that, alongside Anya Taylor-Joy and Jack Black, he was one of the better casting choices for The Super Mario Bros. Movie. He’s the reason I started getting into It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but he’s also part of the reason I stopped watching, as I hit my limit with his character’s antics. He’s hit and miss for me, though I recognize he’s got immense talent and almost impeccable comic timing. So when I learned that Day had written and directed this film in which he also stars, I’ll concede that I was a tad skeptical.
But then I watched the trailer, and all doubt washed away. This looks absolutely brilliant. Day plays a mental patient who has gone mute as a sort of psychosomatic response to some form of trauma. Spotted on the streets of Los Angeles by an aggressive publicist (Ray Liotta in one of his final roles), he’s brought to a movie set, where it turns out that he looks identical to an uncooperative actor. Not voicing any objections, because he can’t or won’t speak, Day fills in for the actor and becomes an overnight success.
From what I can see, this could work extraordinarily well on two fronts. One, in just two short minutes the satire on display outshines the overwrought and pretentious scat-fest that was Babylon by leaps and bounds. A lot of this is down to what looks like a very game ensemble cast (including John Malkovich, Edie Falco, Ken Jeong, Adrien Brody, Kate Beckinsale, Jason Bateman, Common, and Jason Sudeikis among others) that appears to embrace all of the farce going on around them. The trick to a good send-up is for the characters to get you to say, “What the fuck?” in your seats rather than the characters themselves screaming it in a cheap attempt to make you think something shocking is going on when it’s not.
Second is Day himself. From his miming, body language, costuming, and general mannerisms, it’s clear he’s going for a sort of Charlie Chaplin/Buster Keaton/Harold Lloyd homage, a tribute to the slapstick stars of the silent era, with an emphasis on exaggerated physical comedy. Not only is it refreshing to see a silent protagonist (for another recent example, I just watched Sisu tonight, review coming soon), but the contrast of having this incredible throwback character opposite loud, boisterous personalities is ripe comedic territory with near limitless potential.
Again, I’m not always down for Charlie Day’s shtick, but this looks like an amazing experiment if nothing else. He’s got the chops to pull it off, despite his occasional shortcomings. And even if this fails, it feels like it would be a spectacular failure given the sheer amount of risks he’s willing to take to make it work. We don’t get too many great, memorable comedies these days, but I get the feeling that when I see it, it’ll stick in my mind for a while. I’ll take whatever positives I can get in that regard.
That’s all for this month. As always, thanks for taking the ride with me, and I hope you enjoy whatever tickles your fancy at the movies for this merry merry month of May!
Join the conversation in the comments below! Do you plan on seeing any of these films? Was I too hard on any of them? Can we get a movie where Vin Diesel explodes some cars over on the set of the next Disney remake, and kill two birds with one stone? Let me know!
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