Wondering what to watch? Plenty of action and adventure this week on streaming, as several blockbuster releases make their way to different platforms as the summer season extends from the multiplex to the living room. Chief among such releases is the latest from Netflix Animation in the form of The Sea Beast, a new original film from Chris Williams, best known for his co-direction of Disney Animation’s Moana.
The Sea Beast is similarly sea-faring, but with some twists of its own, and the heart to match it. Amidst what feels like a dearth of great movies featuring galleons, with its incredible rendering of sea battles with mythical monsters it feels like a genuine treat.
Read more: Everything new on Disney+ in July
Meanwhile, in the midst of what seems like a campaign to saturate the web with sneak photos of the set of Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie Barbie, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) flips and roundhouse kicks its way onto Prime Video, while the historical romantic drama Dangerous Liaisons comes to iPlayer.
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The Sea Beast (2022) - Netflix
Chris Williams' The Sea Beast is new, but it feels familiar. Somewhat close in theme and structure to How To Train Your Dragon, centring on an ongoing conflict with a fantastical fauna that changes due to a new understanding of the exact nature of the things the humans are vengefully hunting.
Red, or so the sea creature comes to be called, is like a more mellow, but kaiju sized Toothless, even resembling him in its sleek appearance and catlike personality. In the portrayal of the bond that forms between human and mythical creature The Sea Beast could be described as How To Train Your Dragon via Moana (which Chris Williams co-directed), Moby Dick and King Kong, along with the adventure stories Williams loved in his youth.
Read more: Everything new on Netflix in July
Photorealism is no substitute for style, and The Sea Beast feels in places like proof of that. In others, its a real looker, bathed in deep red and purple hues to contrast with its naturalistic palette out on the water, or the resplendent gold and green of the royal navy’s headquarters, it’s ornate architecture arranged at the centre of an impressive island city.
Watch a trailer for The Sea Beast
But in its early stages especially it falls into the contemporary trap of 3DCG animated films that prioritise and fetishise realistic textures in hair, water and backgrounds but keep cartoonish character models and designs, and an almost rubbery texture to their character’s skin, a victim of lighting calibrated to show off the former rather than the latter. There’s an extreme clash between how real the water and hair looks, and, well, everything else.
On the other hand, those cartoonish designed contain a lot of character, especially when personifying the down-to-earth roughness of the Inevitable’s crew versus the pampered privilege of the royals who commission them and demand they risk their lives. The trouble is in reconciling the gap, the lighting making character skin appear unnaturally smooth by comparison to the intentional roughness of everything else.
That said, it’s hard to stop watching Karl Urban’s lucious hair wobble around whenever he speaks, or revel in the crusty character design of an eyepatch-wearing seadog voiced by Jared Harris (whose galleon bonafides include the excellent The Terror). The accents and sailor dialect of said cast members are a little ropey and the dialogue a little unnatural as a result but it’s charming regardless. Much like the rest of the film’s most glaring flaws its papered over by charm and even just sheer kineticism, as the roaming camera and fun use of space on the boat, feel both expansive and claustrophobic when the situation requires it, which becomes especially exciting when combined with some fun shot choices and energetic, quickfire editing.
Read more: Everything new on Paramount+ in July
The story itself is fun, rejoicing in its seafaring adventure and salty dialogue. The actual staging of the action is dynamic and exciting, even if the characters suffer under the film’s harsh lighting. It’s especially delightful in how it has lot of fun with scale, which might be the key difference between it and the seafaring family tale of William’s previous work.
Also new on Netflix: Viceroy's House (2017)
Birds of Prey (2020) - Prime Video
With the approaching overexposure of behind-the-scenes photos from the set of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, Margot Robbie is probably on a lot of people’s minds right now. Having been somewhat stranded in various blockbuster roles, particularly in the awful Suicide Squad (later revisited by James Gunn in his sequel The Suicide Squad… not at all confusing).
Read more: Everything new on Prime Video in July
In the wake of that however came Birds of Prey, an opportunity for Robbie to cement her take on the character of Harley Quinn and have a little more fun with it. Also known by its longer and somewhat more obnoxious title Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), Cathy Yan and Robbie’s collaboration gave Warner Bros. increasingly bloated slate of films based on DC Comics a shot in the arm, borrowing some style from Hong Kong action films and other American interpretations of them.
Watch: Margot Robbie talks to Yahoo about Birds of Prey
Not only does it have a real sense of place, but surprisingly complex and hard-hitting fight scenes, with more than a touch of John Wick's distant long takes and complex choreography via Hong Kong action films, with a touch of Looney Tunes gymnastics and outrageous props for good measure.
Yan’s film isn’t too concerned with making a grand statement nor is it interested in 'elevating' itself beyond other comic book movies. Instead it steers into gleeful crassness and vivid stylisation through its opulent set and costume design It sometimes overindulges, whether in slow-mo, voiceover, musical cues that range from bizarre, breathy covers of 80s anthems to fairly obvious girl power needle-drops.
Still, Birds of Prey’s gleeful overindulgence is part of the point, and while mileage will vary for some, for this writer it remains a pretty great time.
Also on Prime: The Breakfast Club (1985), At Eternity’s Gate (2018)
Dangerous Liaisons (1988) - BBC iPlayer
Stephen Frear’s 18th century set drama of French aristocrats seducing and scheming each other has lost none of its lustre over time.
From a screenplay by Christopher Hampton, based on his 1985 play Les liaisons dangereuses, it follows the Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close in one of her finest roles). She asks her ex-lover Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich, who might be jarring as a love object to the contemporary viewer) to seduce the young, virgin future wife of the Comte de Bastide (another ex-lover of hers) in an act of revenge, in exchange for one last night with her.
The scheme of course falls apart as a web of various affairs begins, all part of the pleasure as Frears weaves a seductive web of deceit.
Also on iPlayer: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), Happy End (2017)