Mine was the first family on our street to own a VCR.I’d walk the neighborhood kids in and show them the buttons on the player the size of an industrial microwave oven.“We can record stuff on T.V.,” I’d explain, head cocked back with the smugness of a Scorcese gangster, “and play it back.”The irony being we had nothing to record, although we had found an airing of Nighthawks on a Saturday matinee.We were the first with a VCR, but the very last with cable.Dad was holding out on principle.“Pay for television?Only a fool would pay for something that you should get for free,” he’d say before queuing up Nighthawks.Again.

Radio Shack was the only place we could rent movies after an extensive application process that delved back three generations and required your home, wrist watch, and teeth fillings as collateral.It wasn’t long before we’d gone through all ten titles in stock, half of which starred Don Knotts.

“All right,” dad said one afternoon as the near-useless VCR sat, staring back at him, big-buttoned in silent mockery.“We’ll do it.”And he didn’t mean we’d be getting cable.

Back we went to Radio Shack where he planned to shell out the $100 required for buying a movie on VHS.One we could keep forever and shove under the noses of the neighborhood kids!Except mom and dad bought the Jane Fonda Workout.I dragged my hand all the way down the banister to the parking lot in protest and accidentally cut my finger on a rusty nail.I had to get a tetanus shot because of Jane Fonda.

At any given moment in my house for months, you could walk through my living room and find someone doing butt squeezes with Jane in her belted leotard.And I’ll tell you something no one outside of my family has ever known.My dad owned silver tights for the purpose.(I mean really, dad, one-hundred bucks on Jane Fonda when Cannonball Run was sitting right there on the shelf next to it?)

A college friend once told me how her parents saved dried-up Bic pens in emptied Velveeta boxes.The pens might somehow be of use again, she explained, and the Velveeta boxes already served a renewed purpose in storing the pens.They’d learned by the depravity of their youth to salvage.That’s what depravity does.It helps you regard certain things with a heightened sense of preciousness.My certain thing, thanks to the oppressive early days of home-movie viewing, is the two-at-a-time movie selections my Netflix account now affords me. One has to make the absolute best of such luxuries.Thus, I took serious offense to The Gamer as I slid it out of the envelope in my mailbox nearly thirty years after the Jane Fonda debacle.

“What … is this,” I asked Joe as he busied himself playing Texas Hold ‘Em on Facebook under the guise of our ventriloquist dummy named Gene for whom we’d created an account.Gene sat slumped to the right in his profile photo, revealing a straight flush.

Joe paused to read the title on the DVD in my hands.“Yeah.I thought that looked good.”

“You thought this looked good?”

“Yes,” he said without looking up.With a few clicks of the mouse, Gene folded his next hand with a flash of his constipated smirk.

“Well.You have been duped,” I said, followed by my usual diatribe on wasting our two-at-a-time-movie choices on bad films.“Now we’ll have to wait another three days for a better one!”It was Jane Fonda all over again.I could even feel the sting of the shot in my ass.

I’d waited until after we’d watched The Gamer before penning my “Guidelines for the Movie-Trailer Illiterate Hereafter Referred to as ‘Joe’”:

“My dear husband Joe, who has no less than three times decoded my Netflix password to sneak bad movies onto my Netflix queue, it is high time I educate you in the art of movie selection.Please note that bringing up Con Air at a time like this does not help your case in the least.And you must stop it with the Nicholas Cage ‘drop the bun-nay’ impersonation, because every time you do that you just prove my whole point without even realizing it … which is doubly embarrassing.Last week it was Year One, and this week it was The Gamer.Trust me.You haven’t a leg to stand on here.So listen closely.

The movie trailer is pretty much all you have to go on.Of course, The Gamer ‘looked good.’All trailers are meant to look good.They’re ads, desperate to sell you something.You have to show more savvy than this.For one, The Gamer stars Gerard Butler.Enough said.And please get this straight:Gerard Butler and Eric Bana are two different people.I don’t know how many times I’ve had to explain this, but knowing the difference between them is crucial to your education.They are two different people from two completely different countries, even.If you see that Eric Bana is in a film, there’s about a 60% chance that film will be a good film.Butler, 5%.Got it?

I think people can change.I really do.I think there might be a day when I log onto Netflix and see that you’ve added something like the Constant Gardener or Memento.I see a world in which you stop laughing at fart jokes.So, I’ve taken the liberty of writing some guidelines to help you get to this happy place.Please note that it is a bad movie if:

1. Gerard Butler stars in a movie that was clearly meant for Clive Owen.If even Clive Owen said ‘no,’ well, then …..

2.The preview uses the musical score from Dragonheart (i.e. that score you hear in trailers over and over again and always ask me where it’s from).Dragonheart reeked like a festival port-a-potty in the baking sun, and it’s score tried to make up for the fact.This is the sole job of that score.Making up for extreme reekage.

3.All of the action shots shown are in slow motion.(See note on Gerard Butler)

4.The trailer begins with ‘brought to you by the producer’s of (insert title of much more awesome film here).’For one thing, anyone with money can produce a movie.Like that guy with the pork-chop sideburns and the fanny pack who won the lottery last week.Secondly, they’re only telling you this so you might, just might, second-guess the bad feeling you’re having about the film already.Oh really?The producer of that more awesome film paid for this one too?Hmm.Obviously it must possess some hidden awesomeness I’m just not seeing right now.’It does not.

5.The trailer is one gut-busting punch line after another.Don’t fool yourself.Repeat after me.There are no more gut-busting punch lines to be had.This is all they’ve got.And it took up all of two minutes.Not good.

6.The trailer has no laughs at all.And it’s a comedy.No, they aren’t, as you like to argue, saving the laughs for the movie.There are no laughs here because there aren’t any laughs at all.You will rent this movie for me, and we will not laugh together.

7.Airbrushed musculature is involved. (Gerard Butler)

8.Veins are bulging in the neck of a high-caliber actor in a minor role.They are not bulging because he’s trying with every fiber of his being to persuade the president to let the people fight for their own lives.They are bulging because he is being squashed under the weight of a dreadful movie he regrets signing up for because not even he can save this clinker.But he can try, damnit!

9.The camera angle points up the nose, goes fish-eye, strobes, or jostles like a washing machine with a lopsided load.This is not film-making.This is the maid of honor wresting the video camera out of Great Uncle Philbert’s hands on the dance floor after her tenth mambo taxi.Forget straight to DVD.This movie goes straight to hangover. Yes, this means no more Crank.

10.Someone is walking away from an explosion, and this someone is Gerard Butler.”

After I read this to Joe I had to explain why it was “not funny at all,” and I also had to explain why Gerard Butler wasn’t one of my “guys.”“I thought Gerard Butler was one of your guys,” he said.He likes to explain this to our daughter Hannah whenever they watch a Harry Potter film.“This movie has lots of mommy’s guys in it,” he’ll say.“That’s Alan Rickman.That’s one of them. Oh, Kenneth Branagh, that’s really one of mommy’s guys.Like, the top guy.And Ralph Fiennes, mommy’s friend, but we don’t talk about that.”I met him once, and lets just say if he has forgotten that nervy American tourist who turned a theater-program signing into an impromptu vaudeville routine all the better.“Gary Oldman!He’s been one of mommy’s guys for a long time.And there’s David Dooly.”

“Thewlis!” I’ll loudly correct from the kitchen.

“Yeah, but I call him David Dooly because it makes mommy angry,” he’ll tell Hannah.

In order to be in these ranks you’d have to be someone for whom I’d let a bad film or two slide.David Thewlis, for example, retains his credibility despite The Island of Dr. Moreau and Timeline because of his stellar work in Naked and Besieged.Thus he’s one of “my guys,” I guess, if you want to call it that.But there are plenty of women in these ranks that Joe curiously never mentions.Rachel McAdams, Cate Blanchett, and Gwyneth Paltrow, for example.If you really want to get to the bottom of Joe’s fixation on the my-guy club, mention Colin Firth.“Don’t forget Colin Firth is my guy!” I’ll add and then watch as Joe’s face screws up as he begins his envious, relentless mocking of all things Colin Firth.

“Gerard Butler is so not my guy,” I said, folding up my guidelines into a hard knot.“Forget Gerard Butler.It’s time for a test.”

I collapsed his poker game, ran a search for the latest movie trailers, and cued one up.The chair squeaked beneath him as he shifted to concentrate on the video just beginning to play.It was a preview for Shattered.Starring Gerard Butler.I clicked to close it when it was done and crossed my arms.

“Well?” I asked.

“Wow.That looks really good.”

I threw the knot of paper at him.“Stay away from my Netflix queue,” I said.“And get ready for a Pride and Prejudice marathon!”

“The one with Keira Knightley?” his voice trailed after me with the strained inflection of hope as I stomped away.

“The one with Colin Firth,” I said as vehemently as if I’d uttered the words “Jane Fonda” instead.

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TNB Arts and Culture Editor CYNTHIA HAWKINS teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Most of what she thinks she knows comes from movies, including how to tango, how to take someone down with a ballpoint pen, how to curse in French, and how to catch a moving train. Her work, on movies and otherwise, has appeared in literary journals and magazines such as ESPN the Magazine, Parent:Wise Magazine, The Good Men Project, New World Writing, Strange Horizons, and numerous alternative weeklies and anthologies. You can find Cynthia on Twitter and at cynthiahawkins.net.

40 responses to “Guidelines for the Movie-Trailer Illiterate Hereafter Referred to as “Joe””

  1. Becky says:

    Oh man.

    I love 300.

    A wall of corpses? Count. Me. In.

    I’m afraid we won’t get along too well. I mean, my horrible taste in movies and my horrible taste in music found the perfect marriage in Jack Black. The Pick of Destiny had DAVE GROHL IN IT.

    I totally want to see Year One.

    Then again, Gross Pointe Blank is my favorite movie ever. So maybe there’s hope for me yet.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      No worries, Becky. Sounds like we have some middle ground with the likes of Gross Pointe Blank. John Cusack is one of my guys!

      • Becky says:

        I do love him. A lot. My parents put a moratorium on renting “Better Off Dead” when I was about 12. Maybe younger. “We’re not watching that AGAIN.”

    • Matt says:

      300 is arguably the only good movie Butler has been associated with. Which is too bad, considering that he’s apparently a really, really sweet guy in person. The Kind you’d like to see in better roles.

      • Becky says:

        I’d like to see him in nakeder roles.

        Do they get more naked than 300?

        • Matt says:

          Um….

          I think there was a bath-towel only scene in the second Tomb Raider movie. Oh, and a sex scene in Dracula 2000. But I cannot endorse either movie as an enjoyable viewing experience.

        • Becky says:

          Oy. I forgot he was even in the second Tomb Raider. That can’t be good.

  2. Matt says:

    Cynthia,

    Your introductory membership kit for the Gerard Butler Fan Club was shipped to me by accident, somehow. Email me your address so I can forward it on. I know you’ve been waiting breathlessly all these weeks.

    I kid, I kid.

    We had one of those huge VCRs when I was a kid, one of the ones with the top-loading shelf that would pop up so you could stick the tape in. Ugly, clunky piece of junk—but, credit where credit’s due, it lasted about 20 years.

    I used to be a huge movie buff. I blame the Intro to Film class I took as a college freshman, where I learned to appreciate the subtextual merit of a film even if the text was crap. I’d be willing to watch just about anything, even if I knew it would be dumb going in (I saw Lake Placid in the theater, for crap’s sake). But these days I have far, far less patience–if I’m going to give up two hours of my life, I want them to be spent on something worthwhile. I went to see Iron Man 2 last night, and I realized it’s the first Hollywood film I’ve been to this year; more and more I seem to be scewing towards little independants or foreign films–though it should be noted this is not a guarantee of quality, either.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      You know, I wrote a review panning Butler’s The Ugly Truth, and his fictional character started following me on Twitter. Kind of creepy. I could very easily be intimidated into joining that fan club!

      Somehow I’ve seen all the biggies of late, Iron Man 2 included. I’m probably not as cinematically snobby as I like to think I am, but I’m still stingy. Who has time for Furry Vengeance?

      • Matt says:

        Especially when the title sounds like a work of snuff porn catering to a particular sub-demographic of sexual fetishists.

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          That’s hilarious! Okay, so there’s another reason I won’t be asking for tickets to that one at the theater!

  3. soupy says:

    I’m only 20, but Colin Firth is SO my guy too 🙂 He’s just soooo handsome (but actually I like him more for acting than anything else).
    I don’t get guys – everytime I mention Colin Firth to a guy (be it a boyfriend or my brother) they go off on a tirade about why they “don’t understand why girls like that guy.” Might I add that they actually do it quite defensively too, like they are extremely jealous but not willing to admit it. Just because he’s now 50 and still hotter than most guys in their 20s doesn’t mean that you can’t just admit he’s handsome and a good actor. Geeez!

  4. Zara Potts says:

    I loved your description of the early VHS machines -it brought back lots of memories for me. I remember being really jealous of a girlfriend who lived down the street because her family had a Beta machine and the local video store had lots of Beta tapes but hardly any VHS. Just a year later though -HA! VHS was king.
    Great piece, Cynthia. Welcome.
    PS -Clive Owen makes my skin crawl.

  5. Marni Grossman says:

    This was hilarious. Totally made my day!

    Particularly enjoyed this:
    “The irony being we had nothing to record, although we had found an airing of Nighthawks on a Saturday matinee. We were the first with a VCR, but the very last with cable. Dad was holding out on principle. “Pay for television? Only a fool would pay for something that you should get for free,” he’d say before queuing up Nighthawks. Again.”

    Also. Must know. Must one be from the UK to be one of your “guys”?

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Thanks! So glad you enjoyed it. Hmm, your comment has me thinking (way too early) this morning. I was so pleased that I came up with Christian Bale … and then I remembered he’s actually from the UK. Viggo Mortensen can pretty much do no wrong. And you know, I’ve always liked George Clooney for George Clooney, but his performance in Up in the Air changed my opinion of him as an actor. Also, Sam Rockwell — I agree w/ Simon below. Oh, and the my-guy gang maintains a revolving door for Brad Pitt. Legends of the Fall, out (schmaltzy!). Inglorious Basterds, in. Plus, my mom went to high school w/ his mom. So that makes us just like *this* (intertwining fingers).

  6. Simon Smithson says:

    Sam Rockwell is totally one of my guys. I mean, I’m not into him or anything, but I will give any movie he’s in a 90% chance of being good.

    Welcome to TNB, Cynthia!

  7. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Agreed, Simon (particularly in Moon, loved it). And thanks! Is that a light saber? Awesome.

  8. Joe Daly says:

    Wow, you brought me back to some very dusty old memories. Your “Cannonball Run” reference not only reminded me of that classic flick, but it also reminded me of my own days before cable. We were also a hold out family, and I will never forget the weekday afternoon that my mother graciously allowed me to go over to my friend Doug’s house to watch a movie on HBO. Uncut! With swears! No commercials! Just like in the movie! The movie was “Hooper,” by the way- another Burt classic.

    >>10. Someone is walking away from an explosion, and this someone is Gerard Butler.”<<

    Movie producers need to understand that before they can place an actor in an ironic situation, the actor must have a body of work that is consistent in both quality and volume before the device to become effective. Like Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, and Lloyd Briges in “Airplane!” They were ironic because they were all serious leading men before turning wacky. Gerard Butler has yet to carve out his niche.

    Anyway, welcome aboard and congrats on a fun first piece!

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Damn, this is going to nest funny.

      – there’s also one of my favourite things in cinema, when a comedic actor/comedian pulls out some shockingly serious acting chops. Jim Carrey, Michael Keaton, um… I’m sure there’s a third.

  9. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Much appreciated! You are exactly right about the niche. How else could I let the likes of Jason Statham get away with all kinds of awfulness? A niche, or a sense of irony as you suggest, can make awful a really good kind of awful. (Still hate Crank though.)

  10. Greg Olear says:

    Welcome aboard, Cynthia. Your Blu-Ray special edition of The Ugly Truth is now in the mail.

    Actor/film success rates would be an interesting study. Harrison Ford had a pretty good run in the 70s and 80s…and there are at least five crappy DeNiro movies for every good one.

    And thanks for giving Thewliss props. Why he never became a bigger star is anyone’s guess. Naked is a fantastic film.

  11. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Many thanks! Good point about Ford and DeNiro. Would love to see either pull off something really memorable and/or great again. Especially DeNiro. There’s got to be a Deer Hunter or Taxi Driver-variety performance still in him somewhere …

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Man, and for Connery to go out on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?

      It just shouldn’t happen.

  12. Jordan Ancel says:

    I watched Nighthawkes every chance I got when I was a kid. Hauer vs. Stallone… The tram scene! You were a lucky kid.

    My parents were the first to get HBO, but the last to get a VCR. I loved recording movies from cable. Especially the classics, like Porky’s (1,2 & 3), Up The Creek, Hotdog: The Movie, and pretty much any movie with a soundtrack by Cheap Trick.

    But that was a long time ago, and I hope that my movie palate has developed a more sophisticated and discerning taste.

    I think movies are a way for people to escape their real lives. After dealing with the job, the kids, the Verizon customer service, the bills, we all just want to be entertained and forget things for 2 hours (3+ if it’s a James Cameron flick from within the las decade).

    Sometimes mindless films chock full o’ fart jokes or gratuitous explosions or gory torture or Adam Sandler “humor” is a way to numb the brain from the day’s frustrations. Sometimes we don’t want to work that hard after hard day’s work.

    Maybe light fare is what Joe needs to unwind? Or maybe he’s just a goof, I don’t know.

    Welcome to TNB, Cynthia.

  13. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Why, thank you Jordan! Loved your “No One is Special” piece, by the way. Have you watched Nighthawks lately? The music is unbearable! Torture by synthesizer. But I do still love Nighthawks. Hauer might very well mark the beginning of my love of villains. And Stallone in drag chopping vegetables as a decoy = classic.

    On the mindless entertainment, true true, it is often needed. But it can be done right. Like The Hangover or Knocked Up. Would this count as mindless or gratuitous excellence? Then there’s hope for me, perhaps. I’ll tell you the problem with Joe. He was very excited to be watching the new Land of the Lost last night. Ay ay ay. He placed a bet that I would laugh out loud at least once. I did laugh out loud, but only at my own jokes. Wait, I think I’m just explaining the problem with me ….

    • Jordan Ancel says:

      Ha! Okay, point taken. Yes, there are “right” ways to do it. Would There’s Something About Mary count? It’s pushing the envelop, and it is over the top, but…

      Maybe Joe just needs to watch Being There a few times.

      I would love to see Nighthawks again. Maybe I’ll buy it 😉

  14. Slade Ham says:

    Wait… Gerard Butler and Clive Owen are two different people?

  15. Laura Bogart says:

    I highly support the idea of giving Cynthia her own film review column. I laughed so hard I spat tea at the monitor!

    This got me thinking about my “guys”. Truth be told, my number one guy has always been Marlon Brando, especially when he was young. He embodied this odd, unsettling mix of vulnerability and brutality.

    I also would sooooo love to hear about your Ralph Fiennes encounter. I’ll bet he remembers it way more fondly than you imagine he does.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Marlon Brando circa On the Waterfront! I didn’t even cover the classics. This would have pushed me past a reasonable word count.

      Funny you should mention hearing more about my good friend Mr. Fiennes. Just what I’m working on now ….

      Thanks, Laura!

  16. […] She schooled her husband — and us — on how to read a movie trailer (hint: Gerard Butler = bad). […]

  17. Tom Hansen says:

    Yes! Gerard Butler stinks! I have a theory about guys like Butler; they’re either dumb and/or soft and let their agent/publicist/greedy mommy convince them that these movies they choose are good ideas. Oh how I long for a film era like the 70’s again–The Hospital/Network (Paddy Chayevsky), early Scorcese (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver), early Coppola, Cassavetes….etc etc etc.

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