Wondering what the watch this weekend?
Autobiographies and biopics make up the bulk of this week’s streaming highlights, arriving in the form of two 80s American icons named Michael: Jordan, and J. Fox.
The film about the former, the Ben Affleck-directed Air, indirectly explores the basketball great’s lasting influence through his historic deal with Nike over the Air Jordan brand.
The film about the latter is Still: A Michael J. Fox Story, from An Inconvenient Truth director David Guggenheim.
Read more: Everything new on Disney+ in May
This week also brings with it some striking genre work, with James Gray’s introspective sci-fi epic Ad Astra starring Brad Pitt arriving on Netflix.
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Air (2023) | Prime Video
Continuing Ben Affleck’s hot streak of efficient and crowd-pleasing dad movies, Air uses the infamous Air Jordan sneaker as a focal point around which to engage with the legacy of basketball great Michael Jordan.
The movie exists around him rather than exploring his life directly or chronologically, focused on the point in time when Nike was a struggling running brand, lagging behind competitors Adidas and Converse in the basketball scene.
Read more: The true story behind Air
Affleck’s long time creative partner (and co-producer on the film) Matt Damon plays Sonny Vaccaro, the mastermind behind the game-changing deal that emphasises player agency and star-making over the more stolid licensing deals of the time.
How much of that historical detail is viewed through rose-tinted lenses, which is part and parcel of the biopic format, and like its peers Air does breeze through its portraits of some businessmen — eg Nike's Phil Knight, played by Affleck — who in reality are a lot more unsavoury than the film is willing to engage with. But audiences already know to take things like this with a hefty pinch of salt.
Watch a trailer for Air
On the other hand, Affleck’s philosophy of allowing actors space to riff on their material and adjust to it is evident onscreen and Air is all the more watchable for it: whether it’s Chris Messina screaming down the phone to Matt Damon, or Chris Tucker's heartfelt turn as Howard White.
Affleck's Knight with his mildly adversarial, faux new-age tone is also entertaining to watch, even if his rather canny dissections of his character’s contradictions land with greater impact in the press than they do onscreen.
Read more: Everything new on Prime Video in May
But it’s not a movie about Phil Knight, it’s a movie about Michael Jordan — how his stardom fuelled drastic changes in sports entertainment and as the film points out, in the priorities around players, citing Vaccaro’s later role in securing better payouts for college players.
The film similarly highlights the efforts of Jordan’s mother Deloris, played with a kind of serene fortitude by Viola Davis, in securing that same safety net for her son (who, in deference to the real guy, never really appears on camera).
With a number of pop cultural icons getting the The Social Network-Moneyball treatment with slick-talking businessmen making aggressive deal moves, Air stands out among the rest for how Affleck gives its rock-solid ensemble a comfortable base to work from, and let their great talents speak for themselves.
Also on Prime: One True Loves (2023)
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (2023) | Apple TV+
In the telling of Michael J. Fox’s life up until and after his Parkinson’s Diagnosis and the changes it wrought, Still consolidates footage of the actor’s performances along with behind-the-scenes archive, recreation and contemporary footage as Fox explains his subjective experience of that timeline, in memoir fashion.
Read more: Michael J Fox's Parkinson's journey
The key to Still is that it puts it Fox’s enduring charm, and his willingness to address the uglier parts of his life, above its rather workmanlike direction. The Back To The Future star addresses his mistakes and his struggle with alcoholism with good humour and self-deprecating jokes, in the same way he talks about his Parkinson's.
In a line direct to camera at the film’s opening, he more or less refuses a miserablist angle on how it changed his life, but that doesn’t mean that the pain of living with the degenerative disease is ignored — as Fox says himself, discussing that pain “it wasn’t my priority”.
Fox is a compelling storyteller, and all director David Guggenheim needs to do, and does pretty well, is allow him the space to tell it himself.
Fox is the only talking head in the film, and that utter focus and interest in his subjective experience puts the film above a lot of documentaries of this nature.
Also on Apple TV+: Ghosted (2023)
Ad Astra (2019) | Netflix
When it’s not the backdrop for Wars or Treks or cosmic superheroes, the all-consuming void of outer space often makes for a great cinematic backdrop for patrilineal angst: take for example Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.
James Gray’s Ad Astra takes an inverse approach, instead of a father agonising over his decision to leave his children behind, Gary follows Brad Pitt’s unnaturally calm astronaut Roy McBride as he searches for his errant astronaut father.
Read more: Everything leaving Netflix in May
His father (Tommy Lee Jones) has gone the way of an outer space Colonel Kurtz, causing power surges around earth through a strange signal from the other side of the Solar System. Gray famously didn’t have final cut on the film, a decision that feels evident in a couple of rather eccentric action sequences — a moon buggy gunfight and a zero gravity fight with baboons — that contrast with the film’s otherwise meditative tone, as well as a narration from Pitt that didn’t land for some.
Despite those rough edges, Gray’s imagery cuts through all of that blockbuster noise – not just in the wide outer space photography but also its more expressive, gorgeous refractions of light that sometimes turn Pitt into a ghost onscreen, in reflection of his relationship to other people.
Read more: Everything new on Netflix in May
He drifts in and out of his partner’s life, he’s a non-presence: often appearing as a sort of obscured image, a shadow or an empty spacesuit. Even as the narration leads its audience through this a little too much, it doesn’t diminish the impact of that visual work and the straightforward but sincere emotional climax it points toward: choosing to actively live in the world, rather than simply flow through it.
Also new on Netflix: Royalteen: Princess Margrethe (2023, Original), The Mother (2023, Original)