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Guilty Pleasure Watches: A Summer List

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Published June 29, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


Jessica Biel in Candy - COURTESY OF HULU
  • Courtesy Of Hulu
  • Jessica Biel in Candy

When I started reviewing movies at Seven Days, we only reviewed newly released theatrical feature films. The rise of streaming and the takeover of Hollywood by franchises (do you really need a review of the umpteenth Minions movie?) changed that. The closure of theaters during the pandemic delivered the coup de grâce to our old format.

I love the wealth of choices that comes with reviewing streaming as well as theatrical content. But with all of those options comes pressure to choose the best stuff that's available, which is why you may have noticed our film ratings hovering at a higher level than they once did. With a surplus of films and series out there in any given week, it feels less defensible to give a full review space to something fun but fluffy, or to catalog the silliness of a so-bad-it's-good movie at length.

I still watch and enjoy plenty of movies and series that I don't deem quite review-worthy, though. Since it's popcorn-movie season, I've made a highly subjective list of some of my favorites from the past year.

Life's a Beach

M. Night Shyamalan's Old (2021; HBO Max, Hulu, rentable) starts like your dream vacation, with a couple of families escaping to a secluded tropical beach. Things get scary — and then silly — as they realize the beach is somehow hitting the fast-forward button on their internal aging mechanism, turning kids into adults and adults gray in mere hours. Given its stilted dialogue and sloppy ending, I wouldn't shell out theater-ticket money for Old. But the premise is fun, and it's the perfect film to revive memories of encountering weird little B movies during late-night channel flipping.

Raiders of the Lost Art

Sandra Bullock is a best-selling romance author with no romance in her life. Channing Tatum is her longtime cover model. When she's kidnapped, he vows to rescue her, and somehow these two unprepared urbanites find themselves on a swashbuckling, Indiana Jones-style quest. If The Lost City (2022; Epix, Paramount+, rentable) sounds like a modern retread of Romancing the Stone, is that really a problem? Especially when Tatum makes a more affable leading man than Michael Douglas did in the beloved 1984 film? The Lost City is totally ridiculous, but it's also funny, sweet and good-natured. Escapism should always be this much fun.

Mormon Melodrama

Dustin Lance Black's seven-episode series "Under the Banner of Heaven" (2022; Hulu) is a semi-fictionalized dramatization of Jon Krakauer's 2003 true-crime book of the same name. Like the book, the show has drawn controversy, with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints describing it as a biased portrayal of their religion. I'm more inclined to charge the series with being absurdly overwrought, but I couldn't stop watching it.

Andrew Garfield stars as a constantly teary detective who has a crisis of faith while investigating the brutal murders of a woman and her infant child, members of a prominent LDS family. Set in 1984 — with interludes on the 19th-century frontier for historical context — the series draws us into a lurid world of emotional abuse, patriarchy on steroids and far-right ideology. None of these ills, astute viewers will recognize, is unique to the LDS setting, and all remain rampant and relevant today.

Wyatt Russell hams it up shamelessly as Dan Lafferty, who believes that God has ordered him not to pay taxes, to marry multiple women and, basically, to do whatever else he feels like doing. Daisy Edgar-Jones is painfully affecting as the doomed Brenda Lafferty.

The series' greatest fault is that, despite its overt feminist messaging, it gives the lion's share of screen time to male characters. To get acquainted with some spirited women who resisted their roles in a fundamentalist LDS splinter community (similar to the one the Laffertys hoped to establish), watch "Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey" (2022; Netflix). Yes, this docuseries also contains plenty of lurid material. But, with their strength, wryness and wit, the interviewees may shatter your stereotypes about women who were raised to be submissive.

Sweet and Sour

True crime has inspired so many new drama series that you might be inclined to ignore the five-episode "Candy" (2022; Hulu), which advertises itself with the iconically unglamorous image of Jessica Biel in big glasses and a perm. Based on a 1980 case that I, for one, had never heard of, "Candy" meticulously re-creates the details of small-town living in Texas during that era. But there's a lot more to this series from Nick Antosca and Robin Veith than the vintage hairstyles and home décor.

Methodical and meditative, "Candy" sucked me right in with its noir lighting and tart, subtle humor, which evokes the twisted domestic thrillers of Patricia Highsmith. Biel and Melanie Lynskey completely inhabit the characters of homemakers Candy and Betty — the former high-energy and restless, the latter deeply depressed. These two nice church ladies are friendly in public but not friends, and tension grows between them until it explodes.

Because the narrative skips around in time, we already know which woman will meet a terrible end at the other's hands. The question is why, and the eventual verdict could make you gasp. Like the new dramatic version of "The Staircase" (2022; HBO Max), "Candy" foregrounds the act of storytelling, reminding us that murder victims never get to tell their side.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Guilty Pleasure Watching: A Summer List"