RāViewz: Film & TV | Apr 2021
With a focus on addiction, superheroes and stories of colour, here's what Rāwiri is watching this month...
Judas and the Black Messiah (2021), Warner Bros.
Co-written and directed with style and agency by Shaka King, Judas and the Black Messiah is one of the most compelling films of the year, and one whose historic story is only more relevant in the light of 2020's #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Lakeith Stanfield plays Bill O'Neal, a petty crim turned informant for the FBI. His assignment is to infiltrate the Black Panther Party and befriend its leader, Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya), in the hopes of bringing down the party, which the FBI believes to be a terrorist group.
Hampton, a man who worked to provide equity and equality for black people through education and social initiatives, is routinely harassed and vilified by corrupt and racist police officers, while the media and brands him a terrorist simply for standing up against the racist institutions of the time.
Since premiering at Sundance 2021, Judas... has been rightly lauded by critics for all aspects of its filmmaking. It's nominated for six Academy Awards this month, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for both Kaluuya and Stanfield - an interesting move on the Academy's behalf.
Beautifully shot, Judas and the Black Messiah crackles with energy from its first frame, and holds your attention through big moments and small. The script is tight and tense, with winning performances from top to bottom.
Kaluuya as Fred Hampton has received the lion's share of kudos (he's won the Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG award already) and while he is phenomenal in affect and embodiment, Lakeith Stanfield equally brings astounding presence to the film as Bill: a tortured and beleaguered character who really acts as the audience's lead in.
See it now!
Available now in select theatres, HBO Max and Amazon Prime
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021), Disney+
Hot on the heels of WandaVision comes the second TV series (and second entry to Phase 4) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and though starkly different to the fantastical Scarlet Witch vehicle, this buddy-action-comedy-drama-thriller is a competent and worthy entry to the MCU, if not a particularly original one.
Four episodes into the six-ep season, Falcon and the Winter Soldier explores the post-blip fallout through Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes' eyes. Both have their own emotional traumas to reconcile and both are desperately trying to make sense of a post-Captain America world, and their roles in keeping the peace.
Now seasoned super heroes, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan develop their on-screen chemistry with sarcastic quips and punchy fight choreography. Having always been supporting characters, its fantastic to watch them eat up the screen time. Both are excellent and they shine equally in the superhero scenes, and the quieter character-driven beats the script quite rightly affords them.
It does make for some unevenness in the episodes, with the action sometimes crawling forward until a clever plot twist is revealed to punctuate a cliff hanger ending. Its look and feel is a big contrast to WandaVision which will no doubt disappoint fans who were just getting used to the whacky weirdness of that series. Here, the action is straighter, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, given the sheer number of character plots to incorporate.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier brings together existing and new Marvel characters in ways that make sense and surprise more often than not, and the protagonist motivations are more thoroughly explored and satisfying here than in Wanda's show.
With two episodes to go, there's still enough time to pull out some really big moves, but given the nature of the show so far, it seems Marvel are content with Sam & Bucky's outing being an upstanding (if not outstanding) supporting story of Phase 4. Pretty fitting, then.
Available now on Disney+
Cousins (2021), Vendetta Films
Based on the popular 1992 novel by Patricia Grace, Cousins, a moving story about three young Māori women over the course of several decades, is finally brought to the big screen.
The film begins with the three titular leads - Makareta, Mata and Missy - in 1940s rural New Zealand. Their strong familial bonds are tested when one of the girls is unlawfully adopted, one escapes a predetermined marriage, and one assumes responsibility of the wider whānau.
Directed by Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace Smith (who also plays Oldest Makareta), Cousins honours its source material and does a great job of embodying Aotearoa over various time periods.
As the film tracks 50+ years in the lives of these characters, it requires four actresses for each of the three lead parts. It features roundly beautiful turns from the eldest trio (Briar Grace Smith, Tanea Heke, Rachel House, and additionally, a wonderful performance from Miriama Smith, too), but a lot of the film's emotional heavy lifting is burdened to the younger cast who can't quite keep up with their older counterparts.
The time jumps and actor jumps can make the story disconcerting, but at its heart, Cousins is an effective film, and a worthy addition to New Zealand's film canon.
In theatres now.
Crisis (2021), Quiver/Elevation Films
Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer and Evangeline Lilly star in this crime/thriller about the devastating effects of the opioid crisis in America.
Weaving multiple plot lines and featuring an effective ensemble cast, Crisis has all the hallmarks of a Steven Soderbergh film, and in its best moments, hints at the excellence of Traffic and Contagion.
Crisis is Nicholas Jarecki's second outing as Writer/Director. His first, 2012's Arbitrage, was an aptly-directed indie film and was noted for Jarecki's ability to draw strong performances from stars Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon. Here again he manages to evoke great work from his cast (especially Lilly and Oldman) but it's the overall pacing and story choices that feel compromised.
The film features a handful of impactful scenes and a good message, but ultimately, it doesn't live up to the potential promised by its pervading epidemic.
In theatres, and available on Amazon Prime.