A big-budget Netflix spy thriller and an Amazon rom-com coming out July 22 are here for your streaming pleasure while the big, lone theatrical release is the much-anticipated “Nope” from “Get Out’s” Jordan Peele (unfortunately, it screened too late for review).
Here’s our roundup.
“The Gray Man”: Leave it to the Russo brothers (“Captain America: Winter Soldier,” “Avengers: Endgame”) to go completely bonkers with their star-studded, overblown and spectacularly preposterous $200 million Netflix action extravaganza. Based on Mark Greaney’s best-selling spy thriller, “The Gray Man” doesn’t give a damn what critics will think of it since it exists solely to take audiences on a thrill ride of epic proportions.. And does it ever deliver.
As a covert American assassin dubbed the “Gray Man,” Ryan Gosling outshines everyone else in the cast, including the charismatic and funny Chris Evans, a hoot as Gray’s mustachioed and white-panted spy nemesis. Gosling makes for a very fine spy on the run, a fall guy who’s targeted for death by a former boss played with coiffed menace by “Bridgerton’s” impossibly beautiful Rege-Jean Paul. Toss in Billy Bob Thornton as the Gray Man’s current point man and Ana de Armas as a kindred kick-ass assassin, and you wind up with a Jason Bourne/”Mission: Impossible” imposter that exchanges all its brain cells for pure brawn. Framed around breathtaking action sequences — a grandiose mano-a-mano fireworks kerfuffle in Thailand, a ridiculously over-the-top but exciting car chase in Vienna and so on, “The Gray Man” barrels along, burning the millions of dollars earmarked for its cast, globetrotting ways and special effects. Is it good? Not really. But is it fun? Hell, yes. Details: 2½ stars out of 4; opens in theaters and on Netflix July 22.
“Anything’s Possible”: “Pose’s” Billy Porter makes his directorial debut with this effort that is every bit as buoyant, sunny and bursting with sparkling attitude as its stars. It’s a lovely high school romance that’s different — a sexy and sweet affair about a love connection between a nature-loving student, who is trans, and the awfully cute boy in her senior class. As the charismatic Pittsburgh duo navigating prejudice, jealousy, social media trolls and nosy parents, Eva Reign and Abubakr Ali are adorably irresistible — mandatory qualities for a rom-com. Contributing in making this so warm-hearted and upbeat are a peppy soundtrack, snappy dialogue and colorful characters and their sun-bursting fashions. “Anything’s Possible” is a perfect little pick me up. Details: 3 stars; available July 22 on Amazon Prime.
“The Rehearsal”: While there are too many zero-calorie reality series out there, this edgy HBO series, with its innovative and uncomfortable-making premise, is like no other. Comedian Nathan Fielder cooks up a “Truman Show”-like concept featuring “real” people, from a bar trivia player, a single evangelical Christian wanna-be mom and a brother squeezed out of a will and so on, rehearsing their roles and/or come-to-Jesus exchanges that they need to work through. Sound odd? It is but it’s also endlessly fascinating as the elaborate scheme finds Fielder turning into a manipulative Oz, overstepping ethical boundaries and then suffering from existential doubts himself. The elephant-in-the-room question is whether “The Rehearsal” is real. Doesn’t matter, really. It’s a frank, unorthodox look at ourselves, our obsession with reality TV stars and our relentless, often selfish desire to be that lone puppet master pulling all the strings and determining the fates of others. “The Rehearsal” is so uncommon, so smart that I suspect it’ll be written about, dissected and argued over for years to come. Details: 4 stars; available now on HBO and HBO Max.
“Edge of the Earth”: Less concerned about why extreme athletes pursue death-defying feats, and more attuned to showcasing those activities in nature, this four-part HBO docuseries gives adrenaline junkies and armchair adventurers plenty of reason to claw their couches to shreds. Each 60-or-so-minute episode follows a different band of athletic risk-takers as they battle the elements, their psyches and occasionally each other so they can get to their goal. Each segment contains breathtaking shots of natural global wonders along with nerve-wracking POV sequences. Directors Steve and Todd Jones — brothers and founders of the extreme sports media biz Teton Gravity Research — put their expertise and insight into energetic use. They chart a perilous snowmobiling/skiing/snowboarding journey to climb and descend a mountain in Alaska; a first-of-its-kind, multi-day kayak trip down the untamable Chalupas River in Ecuador; a duo climbing the daunting Pik Slesova in Kyrgyzstan and a surfing expedition challenging the un-surfable waves in a remote region in South Africa. The first two episodes are available now; the remainder coming out succeeding Tuesdays. If you like getting your nerves frayed, fileted and fricassed, this is a must. Details: 3 stars; available now on HBO and HBO Max.
“Good Mother”: Black women suffering PTSD from South Africa’s apartheid class system makes for a fertile theme in Jenna Cato Bass’s supernatural-tinged takedown of the white privilege that is far from being extinguished in her homeland. A mercurial Chumisa Cosa plays distressed mom Tsidi, a feminist standing up to her brothers. After a confrontation backfires over her dead grandmother’s property, she and her young daughter move temporarily in with mom Mavis (Nosipho Mtebe), a longtime de-facto caregiver for “Madam,” who is bedridden in a mansion and all but forgotten by her grown children. Tsidi soon suspects something sinister is at work, and her elevated fears transform into nightmares. Or maybe they’re not dreams. “Good Mother” rattles not with gore but with the weight of history and injustice. The closing scene is a bold choice, reaffirming without a shriek or drop of blood everything that Bass has so strategically chess-moved to accomplish. Details: 3 stars; available July 21 on Shudder!
“My Donkey, My Lover & I”: In Caroline Vignal’s fatally flawed French romantic dramedy, a bumbling teacher is having an affair with the married dad of one of her students and then makes one bone-headed move, to stalk her lover’s family hiking trip along the Cevennes range. It’s an ill-advised plan and the irritating Antoinette (an exuberant Laure Calamy who performs CPR on a DOA role) is ill-equipped to perform it solo, let alone with a loaner donkey named Patrick, who’s understandably dubious about his latest client. This airy but really airless lark has won awards, but left me cold because of the annoying and fickle central characters. The lovers are both asses, and in the end, it’s the donkey we only care about. No wonder he gets star billing. Details: 2 stars; at select theaters July 22.
“She Will”: Famed but fading actress Veronica Ghent (Alice Krige) seeks, pays and demands some R&R after getting a mastectomy. So she retreats with a short-term nurse Lois (Amy Mason) she treats miserably to an isolated inn in Scotland. Her travel agent should be fired. Not only is the spot booked solid for a pretentious artistic retreat where the guys (including Rupert Everett) expound and mansplain everything, it’s located on a site where women were branded as witches and burned at the stake. Veronica taps into the ashen spirits that surround her since she, too, has suffered at the hands of men, specifically those of an acclaimed director (Malcolm McDowell). In her crackerjack feature debut, co-writer/director Charlotte Colbert brings a feminist bite to these supernatural, atmospheric proceedings. Krige is its powder keg and she nails every delicious line, including “I am NOT going to do the wretched group activity,” with sweeping Gloria Swanson-like theatricality. “She Will” is a fantastic debut with one incredible lead performance. Details: 3 stars; now streaming on multiple platforms.
“Both Sides of the Blade”: Unconventional risk-taker Claire Denis comes up with one of her best films yet, a sly, disquieting triangulated romance that fires up old grudges and desires and metaphorically mirrors tangled political relationships in the Middle East. How does she pull it off? You’ll just have to see this spellbinder and its superb performances from Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon and Gregoire Colin. This is shrewd, distinctive filmmaking that challenges your own perceptions throughout. Details: 3½ stars; in select theaters July 22.
Contact Randy Myers at [email protected]