Friday, 27 August 2021

What I'm Watching: August 2021


A recap of my month in movies and media, featuring Disney's Jungle Cruise, some of the big titles on Apple TV+ and Netflix's new Masters of the Universe series.

Jungle Cruise (In cinemas/Disney Plus)

Jungle Cruise is the latest swashbuckling adventure flick from Disney; based off a Disneyland ride of the same name, the film feels remiscent of Jerry Bruckheimer's Pirates of the Caribbean or Stephen Sommers' The Mummy, in that it's light and frothy with a pulpy plot centred around a curse and quirky characters chasing after a mystical artefact. Which is another way of saying, we've seen it all before and done better.

In Pirates, there were cursed pirates and savage natives. Here, there are cursed conquistadors and savage natives. In Indiana Jones, the hero is pursued by villainous Germans. Here, the heroes are pursued by villainous Germans. In The Mummy, a bookish woman and her dapper brother are swept up in an adventure on a riverboat with a roguish man. In Jungle Cruise, it's the literally the exact same thing.

It's not just the plot that doesn't work. The Rock and Emily Blunt just don't have any chemistry; the script is jam-packed with quips and flirtatious banter for them to exchange, but the delivery is off and forced. He calls her Pants (because she wears pants, very unladylike, lol) and she calls him Skippy (rather than skipper). It's all very PG and sexless – and boring. Brendan Fraser and Rachael Weisz, they are not. 

Clocking in an two hours (but it feels like four), Jungle Cruise is a safe and fairly sedative trip along the Amazon River. Not an awful lot happens for the first hour, and after that point it's better to just sit back and see where the current carries you. 

Space Jam: A New Legacy (In cinemas/VOD)

A quarter of a century on from the original, Warner Brothers has revived (or regurgitated) Space Jam for a new generation in Space Jam: A New Legacy. The underlying idea remains the same; the defining NBA star of the era – who in this case is LeBron James – must team up with a motley crew of Looney Tunes characters to play basketball against an opposing team of cartoonish monsters.

The original Space Jam, which paired Michael Jordan with Bill Murray, is – upon reflection – not a great film. It's a fun one, which holds a special place in hearts of my generation – but that's purely down to it coming out when we were young, impressionable and didn't know better. I suspect A New Legacy will fare much the same way with the kids of today, once they sift past the questionable crossovers – Mad Max, Game of Thrones and Casablanca in a kids movie? Really?

It is by no means a good film; the plot is flimsy and is working overtime to cram as many Warner Brothers properties into the runtime as possible, the acting ranges from terrible (Don Cheadle, ooof) to barely passable (face it LeBron, don't quit your day job) and the visual effects are splashy, weightless and lack charm.

The film is a marketing exercise, pure and simple – it exists to sell Happy Meals, HBO Max subscriptions and Pop Vinyls. But kids will probably have a fun time with the colourful characters, bouncy action and general goofiness.

Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

Sometimes you just need something wholesome and heartwarming, to distract from all the dour stuff in the headlines. A feel-good comedy that teaches kindness and understanding, Ted Lasso is exactly that. 

Jason Sudeikis plays the titular Lasso, an NFL coach who relocates to England to work for AFC Richmond, a struggling Premier League football team, despite not knowing anything about 'soccer'. What follows are 10 episodes of stirring television, which mix sweetness and silliness with a dash of sadness for good measure. No doubt you've heard the hype around the one, and I'm pleased to report that the hype is justified. 

Sudeikis is note-perfect as the fish-out-of-water American, who finds his endless warmth coming into conflict with the cynicism of his new English colleagues. Hannah Waddingham plays AFC Richmond's bitter owner Rebecca, who is determined to drive the club into the ground to spite her former husband; meanwhile, Juno Temple plays Keeley, a model who feels disillusioned with her string of football player boyfriends.

Even if you don't know or care a lick about football, Ted Lasso has something for you. It's a sincere show that places character and theme at its core, rather than plot. Some of the episodes are silly and throwaway, but that's okay, because underneath the story, are some great messages about serious stuff, like fatherhood, marriage and 'found family'. Once the new season has finished airing, I'll be diving back in for round two.

Morning Wars (Apple TV+)

Morning Wars (or The Morning Show as it is known outside Australia) is a star-studded affair that served as one of the launch titles for Apple TV+ back in November 2019. 

Created by Jay Carson, who worked on House of Cards, the show follows breakfast television host Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) and her new co-anchor Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) as they navigate a colleague's (Steve Carrell) fall from grace, following a high-profile sexual misconduct claim. The impressive ensemble cast also includes the likes of Billy Crudup, Mark Duplass, Nestor Carbonell, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Bel Powley, as other figures who work on the show or for the network.

During its ten-episode first season, Morning Wars hews pretty close to reality. The characters may be fictitious, but the world and the issues it intends to contend with are very real – Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo Movement are directly addressed or referenced, and some episodes are centred around real events, like the Las Vegas mass shooting from a few years back.

Aniston is interesting and believable as the industry veteran who all of a sudden is under fire and under threat. And casting Carrell as the warm and fuzzy showbiz star who is secretly a creep is an inspired, against-type choice. But the show really belongs to Witherspoon, who is our 'POV' character into the infighting and backstabbing world of breakfast television. Another show I'll dip back into when the second season arrives. 

See (Apple TV+)

Centuries after a virus wipes out all but a few million humans, those left share one thing in common: the inability to see. Society has splintered into tribes, where mysticism and witchcraft are the prevailing ideologies. 

Jason Momoa plays warrior and chieftain Baba Voss, the adoptive father of twins who are born with the power of sight. With the twins hunted by a rival faction who fear a return to humanity's hedonistic past, Voss must uproot his tribe and elude the clutches of the villainous Queen Kane (Sylvia Hoeks). 

See is one of those stories that is good on paper, but doesn't stand up to much scrutiny if you dig deeper than the surface. A post-apocalyptic society where everyone is blind? Yep, I can dig it. Except, when you think about or see how that works in practice – kinda like other high-concept sci-fi, like A Quiet Place or Netflix's Bird Box

Seemingly rife with potential to explore the literal fallout of the saying 'an eye for an eye and the whole world goes blind', See spends its first two episodes trudging through about 20 years of lore, to arrive at what I assume is the 'status quo' – meaning everything I've seen, roughly a quarter of the first season, is essentially...the prologue? I'll stick with it for the time being, because the scenery is gorgeous and it seems to be settling into a rhythm (finally), but I wouldn't blame some viewers for getting restless and ditching it in the first two episodes. 

Masters of the Universe: Revelation (Netflix)

Kevin Smith and Netflix relaunched Masters of the Universe recently, with the release of a new animated series subtitled Revelation. Billed as a direct sequel to the original series from the 80s, the show revives all the faves – He-Man, Skeletor, Castle Greyskull and all that. 

As someone who didn't grow up in the 80s and has never seen the original, my knowledge of the wider 'lore' was lacking, but Revelation is a good entry point for newbies – I didn't find myself struggling to piece it together and in fact I quite enjoyed the wit, design and brevity of this five-episode half-season (with more episodes to come in a few months, I'm guessing).

Apparently this is the latest property to be angrily 'review-bombed' by sad nerds, who are reportedly upset about the show shifting focus from the iconic He-Man to a female character called Teela, here voiced by Sarah Michelle Geller. I don't know, seems like a dumb thing to get upset about if you ask me – judged on its own merits, Masters of the Universe: Revelation is colourful, fun and fleeting.

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