Monday, August 07, 2023

Seen in June and July 

It wouldn't be summer without The Tour de France, or maybe several movies about The Tour de France.

Summer should always be about fun in the sun, camping, BBQs, swimming, lying in a hammock but also, watching movies. Whether at home or in an air-conditioned theatre, you can enjoy an escape, without sunscreen, bug spray or sand in your underpants.

Shazam: Fury of the Gods
Meh. This follow-up to the lighthearted first Shazam film tries to recreate its previous success but winds up mostly treading water rather than expanding on the world they created. I cannot muster the energy to describe the plot, but as you might guess it has to do with superheroes saving the world from evil doers (oddly Lucy Liu and Helen Mirren) who want our world for themselves.

The Reluctant Traveller
Apple TV+
This is a fun travelogue with 75-year-old Eugene Levy as the host staying in fine hotels and basically getting out of his comfort zone. Levy admits he doesn't care much for "outside adventures" or trying food any more experimental than an egg salad sandwich but in this series, part of the draw isn't just the spectacular locations, but the wondrously opulent hotels we'll never have a chance to step inside as Levy steps outside. Can you go to Venice? Yes. Would it be as much fun staying in an econo-lodge? No. Likewise, in Utah, where Levy stays in a marvel of modern architecture reserved for celebrities and the wealthy. Still, the luxury isn't rubbed in our noses but shared with the same delight and amazement as the big wide world.

Girls5Eva S02
This series about an aging girls group now reunited in their 40s, has become a favourite. If you enjoyed the kind of humour of shows like 30Rock or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt then you'll enjoy this show and maybe find yourself humming their invented inventory of pop tropes such as their theme song Girls5Eva ("we're gonna be famous 5Eva 'cause forever's too short"), Bend Not Break ("the only banger about orthopaedic surgery you can slam ham to"), B.P.E. or my personal anthem, New York Lonely Boy ("His playground is the lobby/has a palette for wasabi, He has a favorite font/trick or treats at a restaurant").

The Tour de France: Unchained
There were stories to be told in the 2022 edition of The Tour, which was one of the most exciting in years, but instead, this documentary series decided to manufacture them while following a familiar template. It is unspeakably stupid to not once interview one of the biggest stars of the race, Tadej Pogačar, or despite how often he appears in footage, American super-domestique, Sepp Kuss. Worse yet, in every episode recap they showed a moment that captured the spirit of that year's race during Pogačar's wipe out, as the eventual winner, Jonas Vingegaard waited in a show of often unseen sportsmanship but then never even mentioned it in the entire series. Instead of "Unchained" this series should be dubbed "unforgivable".

Slow Horses, set in London, but not Ted Lasso's London.

Slow Horses S02
Apple TV+
The misfit MI5 agents at Slough House find themselves in the thick of a Russian power play. Yet, their haggard leader, Jackson Lamb, played so well by Gary Oldman, and his crew of losers are up for the task. This show is so good. It presents spy craft as immensely tedious but intense, while those who practice it protect themselves with a kind of unique gallows humour only the British can muster. As a bonus fact, the series is run by Canadian Graham Yost, son of the late, great entertainment interviewer and cinephile, Elwy Yost.

Hae Sung, Yoo teo and Nora, Greta Lee, in Past Lives.

Past Lives
A Korean-Canadian story set in New York City and Seoul. A young girl, Na Young, and her family migrate from Korea to Canada, leaving behind her best friend, Hae Sung, who quietly has a schoolboy crush on her. 12 years later they reconnect via the Internet but she now lives in New York, studying writing and goes by her English name, Nora, while Hae Sung has started studying engineering in Seoul. They quickly get past the first awkward hellos to becoming as close as internet video calls allow. Realizing they were growing close enough to be a distraction to their studies, they pause the calls. Another ten years pass and Nora has married while Hae Sung has a girlfriend who he isn't quite in love with, perhaps because he loves Na Young/Nora. Hae Sung travels to New York to see Nora and what he finds and how those days unfold are something of a beautiful mystery. An unrequited love, that is spoken about but not to. There is a wonder to their friendship but also a sadness that has its own beauty and wonder. It's not a simple story with a simple ending and will make you think about all that has come to pass or has been passed in your own life.

Summer Interlude
This 1951 Ingmar Bergman film brings introduces us to Marie, played by Maj-Britt Nilsson, a beautiful professional dancer who has spurned romantic relationships to protect herself from ever feeling the heartbreak of lost love ever again. I think it's about that. Most of the film is told as a remembrance of a magical summer Marie spent idling and swimming with her young lover, Henrik, Birger Malmsten, at her family's summer place. This is a perfect film to watch on a rainy summer afternoon if you're feeling nostalgic for summers past.

Loot S01
Apple TV+
Maya Rudolph is Molly Novak, a recent divorcée of a fabulously wealthy tech entrepreneur and has decided to get her mojo back attending to her charitable foundation. Except she finds her years of affluence have separated her from her roots and even her own ambitions. It's a fun show but admittedly I had trouble remembering much about it.

The Last Rider
This is the third documentary I've seen about Greg Lemond (some think he is perhaps the last Tour de France winner to win clean). This is the retelling of his recovery from a hunting accident and his path to winning the 1989 Tour de France on the last stage of the Tour, which that year was a crucial time trial on the Champs-Élysées. It was the closest margin of victory in the Tour's history and it is a surprisingly thrilling and emotional story.

A beautifully animated sci-fi fantasy film about a monster who isn't a monster but just wants to be accepted for who they are… I don't mean to be trite. This is a great film with a lot of action and unexpected twists but it also has some very big expected plot points. I've run out of fingers to count how many films have followed this plot on Netflix alone. Yet, let's assume you haven't seen Sea Beast, then watch this one.

Cocaine Bear
Amazon Prime
Once upon a time, some drug dealers flew over rural America and dumped a load of cocaine. Police discovered a man in a suburb wearing an unopened parachute, dead on someone's lawn . Later, they also found a bear, dead in the woods, it's muzzle covered in cocaine. What was that bear's story? What were its last hours like? This is that bear's made-up story. It's funny and in a way, restores your faith in nature's ability to bounce back.

Three Thousand Years of Longing
Amazon Prime
What if you find a bottle in a Turkish market, take it back to your hotel and find it contains a genie, or Djinn (the 'd' is silent) who, to release himself from his bondage, must grant you three wishes. Though if you are like Alithea, Tilda Swinton, you really don't have any burning wishes, other than hearing how this Djinn, Idris Elba, ended up in this situation. Based on a short story by A.S. Byatt and directed by George Miller (yes, Mad Max Fury Road, George Miller).

Asteroid City, the most Wes-Andersony Wes Anderson film ever.

Asteroid City
The most Wes Andersony Wes Anderson Film yet. This story is a complicated little play-within-a-television-show-within-a-film construct. Which isn't too different from Anderson's Grand Hotel Budapest where an author describes meeting the subject of his popular book who in turn tells the author how he came to own the hotel. Don't worry too much about that. Sit back and enjoy seeing a large cast go to the desert for some kind of young inventor's competition and have an alien encounter.

Shrinking S01
Apple TV+
Before Ted Lasso, many of the same writers created this story about Jimmy, a therapist, played by Jason Segel, trying to treat his patients with a more "hands-on" approach while he's in the middle of his own crisis of mental health. One of the biggest surprises is seeing Harrison Ford as Jimmy's mentor in what is essentially a work place comedy.

This season is different, and better.

Star Wars Visions S02
Season one of this experimental show allowed a different Japanese studio to tell their own short animated Jedi story in Animé style. I found the only problem with that approach was, well the conventions of animé meant a sort of sameness to even the most inventive stories. Season two has every animated short created by a different animation studio from around the world. The results are so much greater, diverse and fascinating and gives you the hope and feeling that the world George Lucas created has infinite possibilities.

Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy, reunited.

Spider-man: Across the Spider-verse
Strap yourself in and prepare to be overwhelmed with an intense and insanely, dense, rich overload of animation styles and comic book quandaries. In this version of Spider-man, our web slinger is Brooklyn born Miles Morales and leaping from the first film, this sequel lands into a multi-verse of Spider-men/women/other who have joined forces to keep each universe on 'canon'. In comic books, there are always so many versions of heroes that it's difficult to remember what is 'canon' and this film seems to use that as both an inside joke and its main plot point. Having watched this film and the first one, and loved both of them, it's a little hard for me to admit that this is not for everyone. It is a wild, ridiculously overwhelming experience that may be headache inducing for the uninitiated, but a thrill ride to anyone who is fine pretending they are 11-years-old for a couple of hours.

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