Despite the never-ending presence of COVID, the summer tentpole has largely returned to from where it came, the theater. But Netflix has what it hopes will be a big summer blockbuster on its hands with Borne-esque spy thriller The Gray Man. Starring Ryan Gosling, and directed by the Russo Bros., the film was shot with a reported $200 million production budget, making it conspicuous at a time when Netflix is losing subscribers and laying off staff. Netflix, which hoisted an unusually aggressive promotional campaign for The Gray Man, is insisting that it won't cut back on its content ambitions, which are budgeted at around $17 billion this year. But given a Gray Man bomb scenario, one could imagine a paradigm in which Netflix begins to focus more on local productions in growth regions like India, while cutting back on expensive popcorn fare in the U.S and Canada, where it just lost 1.4 million customers in the second quarter. A 52% aggregated critics score for The Gray Man on Rotten Tomatoes tempers our excitement. But arriving Friday on a living room platform that's kind of grandfathered into our monthly credit card bill, that probably won't stop us from checking The Gray Man out on Friday night. Consider that Red Notice, Netflix's biggest movie hit of all time, only scored a 37% fresh rating last year. Like Netflix's stock price, which rebounded nicely this week when Wall Street learned that Netflix hasn't lost as many subscribers as feared, The Gray Man is probably gonna be just fine.
The Last Movie Stars (HBO Max, July 21)
There really aren’t any current movie stars that resemble Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. The couple not only had looks, talent and charisma, but class, and they stayed married for 50 years. This six-part documentary chronicles Newman and Woodward’s careers as well as their marriage, but not in the traditional bio doc way. Instead, director Ethan Hawke brings the couple to life via transcriptions of interviews with Newman, Woodward, now 92, and their friends and colleagues. Newman, who died in 2008, made the recordings, intending to write a memoir, but decided against it and burned all the audiotapes. The transcripts, however, lived on, and the couple’s children entrusted Hawke with them. Actors including George Clooney, Laura Linney, Oscar Isaac, Melanie Griffith, Sam Rockwell, Billy Crudup, Sally Field, Zoe Kazan, Karen Allen and Steve Zahn read the transcripts throughout the film. The first two episodes of the docuseries were released at the South by Southwest film festival in March and at Cannes in May. “Delving into their experiences over six engrossing hours, The Last Movie Stars explores how two “high-living, hard-living young warriors,” as Arthur Penn characterized them in their ambitious early days, went on to build a life together.
Rap Sh!t (HBO Max, July 21)
The comedy series follows two estranged Miami high school friends, Shawna (Aida Osman) and Mia (KaMillion), who reunite to form a rap group. The eight-episode series comes from Emmy nominee Issa Rae (Insecure). Rae first gained attention for her web series and subsequent best-selling book, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. She created and starred in HBO’s Insecure, which ended in December after five seasons. In addition to multiple Emmy nominations, Rae also garnered several Golden Globe nominations for the show. According to Rae, Rap Sh!t was inspired by “all female rappers that are out right now, from Cardi B to Megan (Thee Stallion) to the City Girls, No Name, Nicki Minaj and Tierra Whack. We took different pieces of their lives and put them through Shawna and Mia’s story.”
The Gray Man (Netflix, July 22)
This action thriller starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans is based on Mark Greaney's eponymous 2009 debut novel. Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo (Avengers: End Game), the film follows Court Gentry (Gosling), a Central Intelligence Agency agent who, after uncovering government secrets, is hunted across the globe by a sociopathic rogue operative (Evans). The film, which was released theatrically on July 15, had a $200 million budget making it the most expensive movie to ever be made by Netflix. So far, critics have mixed feelings about The Gray Man, but there is no denying that Jason Bourne fans will take a liking to this film. “Production budgets swell, stock prices go down, but Netflix subscribers are the big winners in this Bond-level summer blockbuster from the Russo brothers,” wrote Variety’s Peter Debruge.
Trying Season 3 (Apple TV Plus, July 22)
This British television comedy first came to Apple TV Plus in 2020 and has since been a success with American audiences. Created by Andy Wolton, the series follows Nikki (Esther Smith) and Jason (Rafe Spall), a couple who wants a baby but can have one. In the second season, the duo decides to adopt. Whether or not they can handle the responsibilities of parenthood is Season Three's main storyline. “With Esther Smith and Rafe Spall back in delightful form, it would be hard to find a better pair to build a heartwarming comedy around,” wrote IndieWire’s Steve Greene about the show’s second season.
Santa Evita (Hulu, July 26)
This seven-episode original series is based on the best-selling historical novel by Argentine author Tomás Eloy Martínez. The fictionalized series focuses on former First Lady of Argentina Eva Perón and the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her embalmed body in 1955. After she died in 1952, Peron’s corpse was seized by the same military coup that overthrew Peron’s husband, Argentinian President Juan Peron, in 1955. Peron was considered a saint after her death, and her body was hidden for 19 years to prevent it from becoming a symbol against the regime. The series explores how Peron’s wandering unburied corpse haunted Argentines for over two decades. Santa Evita stars Natalia Oreiro as Eva Perón.
We Met in Virtual Reality (HBO Max, July 27)
This bizarre, touching documentary was filmed entirely inside the world of virtual reality (VR). Director Joe Hunting rooted himself in VR communities that exist on the online virtual world platform VRChat and discovered a small group of users who make unexpected connections. Hunting follows a long-distance couple growing their relationships in VR and a sign language teacher dedicated to supporting a welcoming community for deaf and hard-of-hearing VR users. The 90-minute doc premiered in January at The Sundance Film Festival. “Joe Hunting's inventive and touching vérité documentary enters the social VR universe to witness the ways the technology has brought comfort, inclusiveness, and love in an era of discomfort,” wrote RogerEbert.com’s Robert Daniels.
Great White Comeback (Discovery Plus, July 27)
Discovery's Shark Week is back for the 34th year. That’s right. The network has been creating hours and hours of new unscripted shark-oriented programming, unfurling annually over seven July days. Every year celebrities participate in Shark Week, and this year is no different. Johnny Knoxville and Stranger Things’ Noah Schnapp have shark specials that will appear over the course of the week. But arguably, the most interesting program coming out of Shark Week 2022 is Great White Comeback, about the 2017 disappearance of an entire great white shark population in the waters of Seal Island in South Africa. In this special marine biologist, Alison Towner investigates what happened to the missing sharks. Did orcas, which love to dine on shark liver, scare them off, or was it human activity? Shark Week is an important franchise for Discovery, now in a feeding frenzy over what to do with the debt that came along with that $43 billion Warner Bros. Discovery merger. Last year, 21 million viewers tuned into the annual summer franchise. Celebrity-driven programming combined with science-driven specials like Great White Comeback makes its enticing content.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series – Season 3 (Disney Plus, July 27)
Season 3 of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series follows the Wildcats, a high school drama class, during their time at a California sleep-away camp called Camp Shallow Lake. The show is a behind-the-scenes look at the drama that occurs while trying to put on a high school musical. The third season will follow students as they spend the summer working on a production of the Disney musical Frozen. The show was inspired by the Emmy Award-winning 2005 High School Musical film trilogy that made Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale stars. In this latest incarnation of the series, Corbin Bleu, an original cast member of the film trilogy, appears as himself in a guest role. Disney Plus has already renewed the series for a fourth season.
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