Binge-r #120: Bloom + Game Night
Streaming Service: Stan
Availability: All six episodes now streaming
The category of Australian-made supernatural drama made for a streaming service that’s debuted in the last three weeks is small but not entirely exclusive: Netflix has the mermaid crime soap Tidelands and Stan has responded with the ageing in reverse thriller Bloom. Don’t mistake the two – Tidelands is poorly executed and negligible at best, while Bloom is compact, suggestive, and crisply plotted. I would have appreciated a little more ambition from Glen Dolman’s six-part series, but given that Stan’s record in commissioning Australian drama primarily consists of ineffectual movie reboots such as Wolf Creek and Romper Stomper it’s a step in the right direction.
Bloom is about the lure of the second chance, and how the mythology of a fantastical proposition can’t account for the troubled reality. It begins in a small country town where a wall of unexpected water kills five locals, only for an unknown fruit-bearing plant to grow at the site of each fatality 12 months later. The fruit turns back time’s clock: the old become young once again. It is a miracle for Ray Reed (Bryan Brown), who has lost his wife of 47 years, former actress Gwen (Jacki Weaver) to the neurological degradation of Alzheimer’s disease. One berry and she’s once again a young woman (Phoebe Tonkin).
But the berry doesn’t just remove age’s ravages, it dispels inhibitions as well. The young Gwen is filled with desire – which leaves Ray feeling inadequate – while Sam (Ryan Corr) is revealed as a criminal on a rampage because he believes he is no longer is living with consequences. A lust for life brings a certain amorality, and the show is very good in suggesting complications while moving quickly through plot twists with lashings of born-again sex and baleful humour. What it doesn’t do is pause for contemplation in the way that makes the masterful French back from the dead drama Les Revenants (also on Stan, anglicised as The Returned) so compelling.
Filmmaker John Curran (Tracks, Chappaquiddick) starts to assert his eye with the second episode (he does the first three, with Mat King completing the season) and he gets particularly strong performances out of the older cast members, including Weaver, Brown, and John Stanton, whose dairy farmer Max has spent his entire adult life in love with Gwen. When she seeks him after her rebirth he thinks he’s seen a ghost, but the second chance that presents itself is a source of growing obsession for him. The choices Bloom make always ratchet the mood up or force a decision. It’s a reasonable effort, but like its revitalised protagonists it feels as if it’s desperate to make every second count.
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
Game Night (Netflix, 2018, 100 minutes): Salted with nineties movie references and situated on a couples’ cusp of parenthood, this entertaining (and skilfully shot) Hollywood studio comedy neatly plays to Generation X – it ignores the Baby Boomers and has fun with Millennial concerns. Happily competitive, Annie and Max (Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman) host a weekly game night for friends, but when Max’s older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who perpetually overshadows him, comes to town a staged mystery gets entangled with a criminal conspiracy. The various couples can’t initially tell the difference – a wry comment on American susceptibility to fakery – and thankfully instead of forced comic set-pieces there’s quick-witted dialogue and a briskly evolving plot. Bateman does his muttered exasperation routine, but McAdams wins as Annie, burnishing her reputation as a comedienne. As with the Bad Neighbours films, their marriage is one of comic equality: either can flip out or drop acidic retorts.
New on Netflix: Set in 1950s Pittsburgh, Fences (2016, 139 minutes) never quite leaves August Wilson’s play behind, but with Viola Davis and director Denzel Washington in full flight that doesn’t matter; Allied (2016, 124 minutes) is a throwback: a romantic drama set amongst World War II spies that relies on the star power of Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as cohorts turned couple.
New on SBS on Demand: Leos Carax is one the great prophets of French cinema and with Holy Motors (2012, 111 minutes) he creates an intoxicating vision of modern creativity and the playing of roles through long-time collaborator Denis Lavant; Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999, 111 minutes) is Jim Jarmusch’s idiosyncratic take on the Ronin tradition, mixing Wu-Tang Clan nomenclature with existential French gangster classics.
New on Stan: Tomb Raider (2018, 118 minutes) is a reasonable attempt to update the exaggerated dimensions of the game’s Angelina Jolie adaptations, with Alicia Vikander as the heiress caught up in hectic chases and confrontations; a remarkable Henry James adaptation and a haunting love triangle of deception and desire, Wings of the Dove (1997, 102 minutes) features Helena Bonham-Carter’s finest performance.
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