Let’s not waste any time this month, shall we? The highlights of my July were receiving my second Pfizer vaccine shot (hooray!) with, once again, practically no side effects, and going to a Titanic-themed escape room with my family, followed by the first meal out at a restaurant I’ve had in literally longer than I can remember. The meal wasn’t great, but it was wonderful just eating somewhere different. The escape room (https://www.houdinisescape.co.uk/) was initially purchased as a Father’s Day gift for my Dad two years ago which we’d booked to do in early 2020, but had to reschedule it due to the whole pandemic and whatnot. It was a lot of fun, with some puzzle-types I hadn’t come across before, although the experience might have been improved if it hadn’t been the hottest day of the year and we didn’t have to wear thick life jackets over our clothes. The host for the show was incredible though, he really knew his stuff. We’d meant to watch Titanic the night before but alas ran out of time, but that’s fine, I’ve seen it so many times that I can just play it in my mind.
My main film goal of July was to finally review The Great Escape. It’s one of my favourite films and I watched it earlier this year as I was the first guest on my friend Rob’s podcast The Great Escape Minute, which breaks down The Great Escape and analyses a minute of the film each day. The first week of shows I was on have been released (spoiler, it’s not my last time on the show) and I thought it’d be fitting for me to release my review along with those episodes. Needless to say I failed at this task, and no new reviews have emerged from my mind for that or any other film. Ah well, there’s always the next batch of episodes I guess. Here’s what I watched in July:
The Tomorrow War (2021)
I didn’t have high hopes, but I ended up enjoying this time travel future war movie. It’s too long and tries to pack so much plot in that this would definitely benefit from being a TV mini-series instead of a film, but I still appreciate the effort. A lot of the supporting cast don’t get much of anything to do, which is a shame as they’re amazing in other projects, and Chris Pratt is mostly devoid of the comedy chops he is more known for, allowing Sam Richardson to capably handle the comic relief (and some emotional beats too). All that being said, there’s still plenty of action, sci-fi fun, alien fighting and plot twists to enjoy, I just have some notes for the proposed sequel.
Choose Film 7/10
Bill and Ted Face the Music (2020)
I used to love the first two Bill & Ted films, but it’s been a long time since I saw either and I’m reluctant to revisit them in case they don’t hold up as much as I’d like. I did enjoy this belated third instalment in the franchise, which allows the now middle-aged Bill and Ted’s daughters (Brigette Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving) to share the spotlight with their on-screen fathers in a century-spanning quest to save the world with music. The main plot elements are almost painfully obvious, but the journey is where this film really rocks. Sadly the best parts were heavily shown in the trailers, but it was still fun to see them in their entirety. Overall it lived up to expectations, but my wife, who has no familiarity with the franchise whatsoever, said it was one of the worst films she’s ever seen. So there’s that.
Choose Film 6/10
Avengers Endgame (2019)
A background rewatch whilst writing Lambpardy questions the night before going to see Black Widow. It turns out I should’ve watched Captain America Civil War instead, but as far as I’m concerned there’s never a bad time to watch Endgame. Still a contender for my favourite MCU movie, I love this whole thing.
Choose Film 10/10
Black Widow (2021)
There’s nothing wrong with this film, at all. It’s pretty great, throughout. Johansson is solid, the new additions to the MCU are mostly excellent, particularly David Harbour, Rachel Weisz and Florence Pugh, the action is awesome and the plot is captivating. It all works, it just came out five years too late. It’s set immediately after Civil War, and prior to Avengers: Infinity War, so by all rights it should’ve come out amidst Doctor Strange or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but instead we get it in 2021 (alright, it was supposed to be 2020), after the event of Avengers Endgame, which might put something of a damper on the excitement for a Black Widow film. Dumb. There’s nothing that can be done about that now, it’s just a little frustrating. Speaking of which, there is no chance that Ray Winstone’s Russian general Dreykov will go down as one of the more memorable MCU villains, he’s just sort of there being evil, and more than occasionally sounding far more like a guy from Hackney than any Russian general ever should, but that’s Ray “Jonesy!” Winstone for you. The plot gets maybe too dark for the 12A rating, tackling ideas of torture and control that freaked me out, as well as an extremely upsetting scene with a pig. So OK, maybe there are a few things wrong with the film, but it’s still an excellent, albeit less extravagant, entry into the MCU, that should’ve come at least half a decade sooner.
Choose Film 8/10
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
The Borg (some evil robot guys that Picard has history with, I assume) manage to go back in time and take over the Earth before humanity headed into space. Picard and the team follow them back in time to attempt to prevent this, and must assist Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) in developing the warp technology that he initially invented in their timeline. I’m enjoying going into these films knowing nothing about where they go or even who is going to be in them, so it was a delight to see Cromwell, Alfre Woodard and a young Neal McDonough amongst the regular cast, all of whom now had much better chemistry with one another than in Generations. I approved of the more action-oriented role for Patrick Stewart, with him heading up the Enterprise team to thwart the Borg’s ship takeover attempt, and Jonathan Frakes did a fine job with the direction. For me this wasn’t a standout entry in the franchise, but I still had fun, and time travel is always welcome.
Choose Film 6/10
Guns Akimbo (2019)
Daniel Radcliffe plays Miles, an internet troll who potentially pisses off the wrong people and wakes up having been forcibly co-opted into the live-streamed underground fighting competition Skizm. He’s had a gun horrendously nailed to each hand and is given the mission to kill Nix (Samara Weaving), the game’s reigning champion whose final mission is to kill Miles. There’s actually a nice blend of extreme violence and genuine comedy – watching Radcliffe try to get dressed with guns for hands or tackle a doorknob with his feet is pretty great, plus he’s not afraid of looking just horrendous throughout – but the plot is far too convoluted for what this film should be trying to do. Samara Weaving is almost unrecognisable and really great as the antagonist and Rhys Darby crops up in a very Rhys Darby supporting role, but the rest of the cast didn’t leave much of an impact beyond being mostly despicable characters.
Choose Life 6/10
Every Breath You Take (2021)
Just awful. I’m not even going to go into the plot, I hated this film. Every possible beat was so predictable, it’s impossible to root for Casey Affleck (even excluding his alleged off-screen history, on screen he’s almost always such an unlikeable presence, even if his character is a bereaved father I just couldn’t get behind any of his actions) and as much as I normally like Sam Claflin, his character is so thin here it’s unbearable. And how is this film 105 minutes long with such little plot in it? And it’s not even entertainingly bad, it’s mostly boring, just waiting for the inevitable plot points to fall into place. Ugh, terrible.
Choose Life 2/10
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (2021)
Delightful, silly and absolutely worth the long wait since it’s 2020 US release. The comedy here won’t be for everyone as it’s often absurd and bizarre, or just plain culottes-based ridiculousness, but I loved it. Barb and Star feel like fully realised characters that Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig have been playing for years, and the supporting cast are all great too. To date I’ve only seen Jamie Dornan is the first 50 Shades movie, but he’s fantastic here, getting some of the film’s more memorable moments. I didn’t love the love triangle/break-up aspect of the plot, as it meant less fun with Barb and Star together, but there’s plenty of that elsewhere in the film. Recommended, but I understand if it’s not for you.
Choose Film 8/10
I was on a podcast discussing my top Michael Shannon performances (here’s the link), so I figured I’d watch a couple of his films that I’d been meaning to get to but hadn’t yet. That’s why I watched a Christmas film in July. Anyway, Pottersville is a rare Shannon lead role in a film he also executive produced, and which is a love letter to both It’s A Wonderful Life and Jaws, whilst also heavily featuring a cult of furries. The main premise is that good-hearted shopkeeper Maynard Greiger (Shannon) gets drunk one night, puts on a makeshift gorilla costume and wanders around town, only for everyone the next day to report sightings of Bigfoot, thereby making the town famous. I loved the convoluted steps involved in getting Greiger into those circumstances, how relevant it all was to the rest of the plot, and everything about Thomas Lennon’s character, particularly his fake Australian accent, which was very reminiscent of James Coburn in The Great Escape. The supporting cast here is excellent – Judy Greer, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Ian McShane! – and whilst few of them are stretching themselves performance-wise, and the story is very predictable and twee, I still really enjoyed the time I spent with this quaint oddity.
Choose Film 7/10
The Current War (2017)
You’d think a film starring Michael Shannon, Benedict Cumbercatch, Tom Holland and Nicholas Hoult would be something I’d be itching to see as soon as possible, as I’m a fan of all four. The only problem is, the film is about the race for electrical dominance in the USA, and despite having worked adjacent to the field for well over a decade, I really dislike anything to do with the workings of electricity, so I’d put off watching this battle between George Westinghouse (Shannon) and Thomas Edison (Cumberbatch). I’d heard that the involvement of Tesla (Hoult) wasn’t exactly the focus of the film, and given his role is the one I have the most interest in, that reduced by anticipation too. This is a technically good film with solid-to-great performances from everyone and considerate efforts made to spark life into these historic events, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about anything. I know others have greatly enjoyed the film, but for whatever reason it just didn’t click with me.
Choose Life 6/10
The Shallows (2016)
Ever since I’ve been co-hosting a shark movie podcast, the main film that’s come up other than Deep Blue Sea is The Shallows, a film that completely passed me by upon release and has never drifted into view since. Well, now we’ve finished our chapter-by-chapter coverage of the DBS trilogy, we’re looking at some Deep Blue Sea-adjacent films until the time comes for our next project, and first on the docket could only be The Shallows, which I’ve now seen three times! It’s great, I loved it, and you can listen to the full episode here. It’s a short film, just 86 minutes long, but that’s perfect for the story at hand, following Blake Lively’s Nancy, a medical school drop-out struggling to get over the recent death of her mother. On a trip around South America she goes surfing at a beach her mother visited in her youth, only to become stranded not far from shore by a vindictive shark, with only a small rocky outcrop, a buoy and a floating whale carcass to keep her alive and out of the shark’s jaws. Oh, and a wounded seagull for company too. The Shallows is great, gripping, tense and with a very satisfying conclusion. I loved it, and am annoyed it took me this long to watch it.
Choose Film 8/10
My only TV aim this year was to finish watching Buffy and, maybe, Angel too. Well, that’s something crossed off, because we’ve done it, hooray!
Loki (Season 1)
It’s difficult to say, but this might have been my favourite of the three Disney+ MCU TV shows so far. I loved everything about the Brazil-esque fantasy world bureaucracy, the playing with time and the notion of how the all-encompassing monumental events from the last decade of movies mean so little to the beings of the TVA. It’s a helpful distancing for the next phase of movies and TV shows to head in a new direction away from the Thanos of it all. Owen Wilson is utterly perfect casting as the low level regular guy Loki has to deal with, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is good as Renslayer, and I’m excited to see where season 2 goes! I’m a little disappointed with some elements of the end of season 1, more Richard E. Grant would, of course, always be welcome, and I’m greatly intrigued by the addition to the cast in the final episode and how they’ll be dealt with in the future. My one note is that I’d have preferred Miss Minutes to be called the Time Being, as in “we’ll make a new plan eventually, but this’ll do for the Time Being”, but maybe that’s just me.
24 (Season 1)
In our quest for a new show to binge after Buffy and Angel, we stumbled across 24 on Disney+. I’ve seen the first few seasons (a long time ago) but my wife had seen none. I still really appreciate the premise, with the entire season lasting a day of screen-time, and each episode is an hour of real-time, but this also felt like a hindrance, with many episodes of padding or repetition to drag it out to those final hours. There’s no way around it, short of calling the show 16, but there we go. My memory of the plot was murky and blended with the subsequent seasons too and, given my wife’s opinion on this, it’s unlikely we’ll get around to watching the later ones, even if I do remember some truly great storylines in there.
Breeders (Season 2)
The return of this very realistic, but also very funny, comedy drama about a couple (Martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard), their two young children and their parents struggling to cope with modern life. That all sounds quite generic, but this isn’t another Modern Family-esque sitcom (as much as I enjoyed that show), and the situations here are increasingly real. I don’t like where the season ended, but it makes sense for all the characters, I just hope we get a season 3 so it can all be resolved. As always, Paul’s parents (Alun Armstrong and Joanna Bacon) are a highlight, and Hugh Quarshie is a welcome addition too.
Books, Sites, House, Health, Podcasts
Look, it’s already October and this is a post for July. Everything else from the past three months that’s normally covered on these wrap-ups has all merged into one big mess, so I’m going to skip them for this bit and hopefully do more of a wrap-up in the next posts. As such, that’s it for July, roll on August!