With a focus on addiction, superheroes and R&B/hip-hop, here's what Rawiri is watching this month...
Soul (2020), Disney+
Released exclusively to Disney Plus at Christmas, Soul is the latest in a long line of animated features that works brilliantly across multiple age groups, and transcends its Big Apple setting to deliver universal comedy, intrigue and existential themes.
Jamie Foxx voices Joe Gardner, an everyman type with a gift for music, whose life is unceremoniously cut short. Approaching the Great Beyond, Joe pairs up with 22, a soul reluctant to move past their state of comfortable arrested development, and together they hatch a plan to return to Earth so that Joe can pick up where he left off.
Directed by Pete Docter, the man responsible for Inside Out, Up and Monster's Inc, the latest effort from Pixar could hardly have been left in more capable hands. As always, the animation is exceptional, blurring the reality/fantasy divide throughout, but its the scenes featuring jazz musicians and their instruments that the technological achievements really pop.
Add to that the most compelling soundtrack of any Pixar film to date (don't @ me) and stellar voice work from Foxx, Tina Fey and Rachel House, Soul is the perfect movie for Family Film Night in the Lockdown Era.
Wonder Woman 1984 (2020), Warner Bros.
It's been a while since the cinema hosted a big tentpole superhero flick and pre-Covid bets that Wonder Woman 1984 would triumph at the box office would've been on the money. Sadly, even without the effects of a global pandemic it's likely this sequel to 2017's mammoth hit would've quietly disappointed regardless.
Let me just say, it's not all bad. Gal Gadot is equally charming here as she was in first solo outing, and again, her chemistry with Chris Pine results in some of the more inspired scenes of the film. It also brings in Kristen Wiig to the proceedings, who has finessed the art of awkward museum worker to such a degree that she effortlessly steals every single scene she appears in.
It also has a couple of strong action sequences that allow Gadot and director Patty Jenkins to flex their creative muscles, and it's here that the movie works best.
The unfortunate reality of WW84 is that its just too much. Too much lag time, too many characters and so many plot points that the runtime suffers under the weight of its own ideas and expectations. It's equal parts thrilling to watch and hard to swallow.
It's messy; but, like, fun messy.
Cobra Kai, Season 3 (2021), Netflix
Adopted by Netflix from Youtube Red/Premium, the third season of this 1980s nostalgia trip further cements Cobra Kai as the champion of rebooted franchises.
It wastes no time picking up with Johnny, Daniel and the teenaged martial artists, following through on the central conflict of season 2's finale, and developing the characters in new and surprising ways.
That Cobra Kai managed to find three seasons of material is note worthy. That it works as well as it does, is the happy shock of 80's babies everywhere. Ralph Macchio and William Zabka continue to put in committed performances as the lead characters, while Xolo Maridueña, Jacob Bertrand and Tanner Buchanan are given equally compelling material to work with, and bring energy to the screen.
It's not the most high brow of concepts, and with all the spinning plates, not every plot thread and character is given the time to develop so strongly, but over its 10 episodes, Cobra Kai is relentlessly fascinating and always enjoyable. It's all but assured a fourth and final season, and if any reincarnated series can stick the landing, this would be my bet.
The Queen's Gambit (2020), Netflix
If over the past few months you've been challenged to a game of chess, there's a good chance it's because of The Queen's Gambit - Netflix's late 2020 juggernaut that garnered unanimous critical acclaim and had 62 million people tuning in within the first month of release.
Based on the 1983 novel of the same name, and set in 50's/60's-era middle America, the story belongs to Beth Harmon, a bright young girl who becomes an international threat to the traditionally male world of competitive chess.
Anya Taylor-Joy has been roundly raised for giving nuance, depth and fastidious charm to Beth and the scenes that feature her dreaming of, and playing to, the choreography of the game make Queen's Gambit a thrilling, compelling watch.
While reviews have understandably concentrated more on the game itself, its the accurate depiction of drug and alcohol addiction that largely inspire the series' greatest moments. High to low, Taylor-Joy embodies the euphoria and the depression as competing chess pieces, her superior intellect and emotional instability pushing her closer to checkmate.
Throughout the series you root for her to win. And with characters like Beth Harmon, you understand there are moves to make and risks to avoid if you're going to emerge victorious.