‘The Old Guard,’ ‘Homemade,’ and More: Here Are Our Mid-July Streaming Picks
Here’s what’s on the streaming services—and here’s what we think of them
It’s relatively lean pickings this week, unless you’re looking for children and teenage-oriented shows. Leading the way for us consenting adults are a comic book adaptation, an intriguing anthology, and a Japanese horror treat. And our ‘consuelo’ could be how films like Little Women and Train to Busan are now available for streaming on Netflix.
The Old Guard (Netflix)
In a year when it looks like there may be no big budget comic-book superhero film release (when was the last year that this happened?), made-for-streaming services Originals like The Old Guard may be the next best thing for those in dire need of their superhero fix. Based on the 2017 comic-book of Greg Rucka, the Highlander premise has to do with a band of modern-day Immortals operating like mercenaries, but doing good instead of being guns for hire. Led by Andy (Charlize Theron), the action scenes carry this film into competent, but paint-by-numbers territory; and they smartly come with regularity to keep us munching on our homemade popcorn.
There’s an interesting arc involving a new recruit, African-American military recruit Nile (Kiki Layne); and the effort is made to make gender sensitivity & diversity part of the landscape. But beyond Charlize’s reprising her Atomic Blonde action fixation, there’s an unfortunate absence of sparks and genuine interest in our protagonists. What can you conclude when the end credits sequence becomes the most exciting part of the film, making the possible sequel a more interesting proposition. This may keep the male viewer glued to their seats, and rise up the Most Watched charts here in the Philippines, but my final verdict would still call this Lowlander.
Seventeen filmmakers were asked to create shorts during this time of quarantine, and as can be expected, it’s a mixed bag of true delights, some so-so’s, some flights of vivid imagination, and some realistic depictions of the interminable boredom and repetition of lockdown. They range from six minutes to eleven minutes, and it is illuminating to note how some of the shorter ones actually feel more complete in terms of storytelling. What’s nice is how directors from all over the world were approached to submit these entries, with most just using their smartphones and pre-existing footage.
If you’ll cherry pick, I would recommend the following:
- Paolo Sorrentino of Italy (Episode 2) - An imaginary, naughty love story between Queen Elizabeth and the Pope. You’ll love the use of toy figurines, and the locations within Sorrentino’s Rome residence.
- Pablo Lorrain of Chile (Episode 4) - Beautifully done, it starts of as an impassioned plea from a senior citizen trying to woo an old love, then becomes too hilarious to give away! My absolute favorite of the bunch, with wonderful acting.
- Sebastián Lelio of Chile (Episode 16) - Melancholy, but I like the way he uses song and music, choreography, and striking images to impart succinct commentary about the pandemic.
- Ana Lily Armipour (Episode 17) - Not much story here, but as narrated by Cate Blanchett, this gets my nod by the skin of its teeth because of the arresting Los Angeles images created by the drone operator. So cinematography above all else.
Some are downright indulgent—I see you Kristen Stewart and Maggie Gyllenhaal—but it is revealing to watch how these diverse filmmakers responded to the challenge.
Ju-On Origins (Netflix, Japan)
A 6-episode limited series that’s set in Japan, this one could be worth your while if you’re out looking for a J-horror series that takes an urban setting and manages to make one house both a malevolent presence, with a sinister and sustained agenda. The events of the series extends over four decades, starting with a first episode that’s set in 1988. This is basically an offshoot of the legendary Grudge franchise of films. And what makes for its startling difference, is that rather than relying on jump scares, this one is centered on extreme violence and sustained dread.
Strictly speaking, even with the Origins in the title, this series isn’t served up as a sequel to Ju-On or Grudge. Supposedly inspired by real events, that if you’ll believe that claim, makes several of these even more horrific than what we’ve witnessed in the films. We’re ‘subjected’ to overlapping narratives that have to with a paranormal researcher, an actress living in a haunted house, a schoolgirl who’s raped and becomes a horror story unto herself, and a seemingly regular couple with the wife ‘infant-ticipating.’ Be forewarned that there are some truly gruesome scenes in the series (practically one in each 30-minute episode); and punches aren’t pulled. There’s a supreme conviction in giving us both physical and psychological nightmares.
Lead photo from Netflix