RāViewz: Film & TV | June 2022
With a focus on addiction, superheroes and stories of colour, here's what Rāwiri is watching this month...
Stranger Things, Season 4 Part I, 2022 (Netflix)
Despite its sci-fi horror leanings, Stranger Things has, at its core, always been a grounded coming-of-age story. A show about four young boys in anytown, USA.
Part I of Season 4 picks up directly where its third season ended. Joyce, Will and Eleven have settled in California (the latter two suffering separation anxiety from Mike), while the remaining Hoosiers embark on high school in Hawkins. Hopper is still held captive in Russia but it is surreptitiously messaging Joyce, and Sam Owens tracks down Eleven with the promise of restoring her super powers... for a price.
With four major storylines and sixteen core cast members, there is a lot going on this season. The Duffer Brothers have done an incredible job at story-lining, as each stream is given the requisite space to breathe, twist, turn and excite. The Upside Down features more prominently too, and our heroes are tested in ways we haven't seen before.
The young cast continue to stand out, with Millie Bobby Brown's Eleven further cementing her commanding screen prowess. Fan favourites Steve (Joe Kerry) and Erica (Priah Ferguson) match the gravitas of O.G.s Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Mike (Finn Wolfhard), and more excitingly, time is given to develop Max (Sadie Sink) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and the season lands all the better for it.
The only frustrating thread this year is the continuous relegation of Will. His tortured season 2 portrayal of PTSD demonstrated just how good an actor Noah Schnapp is, and yet, like last year, the writers keep him teetering close to danger only occasionally, and almost always in other characters' storylines. The first episode of Season 4 hinted at potential and it will be interesting to see how that story resolves in Part II.
Just weeks away from the final two episodes, the show still has a lot to conclude. With Eleven's help, Vecna has broken free from his institutionalised prison cell - will he and the Mindflayer finally get the best of our favourite 80s kids? Will Nancy survive in the Upside Down? Will Will reveal his art project?
Part II drops July 1.
Ms. Marvel, Season 1, 2022 (Disney+)
Before Ms. Marvel had even entered production, bigots of every persuasion had vocalised their discontent at the MCU turning woke. Yes, its true that Marvel had largely centred straight white men - first in their late 20th century comics and then again in its 2010s film series. But Marvel had also been quietly breaking ground with respect to representation of black people, women, and other ethnicities for decades before Kamala Khan's 2013 debut.
MCU's Phase 4 alone, with Eternals, Shang-Chi and Moon Knight have done a lot to tell stories outside of White America and with their latest series, we're treated to a classic origin story with cultural relevance. Kamala Kahn is a typical 16-year-old fangirl who discovers she has superpowers and must evade capture from the Department of Damage Control... all while her young mind grapples with best friends, boyfriends and book assignments.
Comedian/writer Bisha K. Ali executive produces here, as well as writes and directs its pilot episode, setting the scene for the series and its sparky protagonist. A small team of writer/directors gives the show internal logic and consistency. As the title character, Iman Vellani is a revelatory find, and wears the Marvel mantel like a second skin. She hits the beats both comedic and dramatic with ease and as the episode count builds, we'll no doubt see her reach even greater depths of performance.
She's supported by a talented cast of primarily Indian and Pakistani-American actors, all of whom give nuance and authenticity to their characters.
It's a show aimed at the age group of its leading lady, and as such, it dials up its animation aesthetic. This gives Ms. Marvel a cool comic-come-alive feel: a marvellous introduction to one of the MCU's future torch-bearers.
The Boys, Season 3, 2022 (Amazon Prime)
With supernatural IPs as ubiquitous as they are, its refreshing to find a unique take on the superhero journey. Since its debut in 2019, Eric Kripke's silver screen adaption of niche comic The Boys has stood outside of the DC/Marvel landscape as its own, beautifully original, absolutely insane entity.
Season 3 picks up with a humble Hughie enjoying some hard-earned normalcy. This first episode does a great job of building the audience's hopes, knowing full well that the oblivious Hughie is going to end up covered in somebody's blood by the episode's end. What's unexpected is the path the writers and showrunners take to get us to that point.
More than halfway through this new season, The Boys has expertly shifted its characters through new highs and lows while unveiling a season-long arc that looks set to pay off handsomely. As always, it's pace is voracious; its tone batshit crazy. The body count is high and grotesque and the jokes hit hard and fast. Karl Urban, Antony Starr and Jack Quaid deliver career-best performances as the series' rotating protag and antagonists, while newcomer Jensen Ackles sets the proverbial house on fire with an intriguingly interlinked backstory.
More excellent satire, more gravity-defying effects, and this year, we're even treated to termite cocaine adventures and a scene so brain-etching, you'll never look at octopus the same way again. You've been warned.
Hustle, 2022 (Netflix)
It might not be on the level of the early 2010s McConaissance, but Adam Sandler's recent u-turn from lazy slapstick into nuanced path of pathos is hitting its stride. With his winning performance in 2018's Uncut Gems still in mind, the funnyman puts in another solid turn here in Hustle.
Sandler plays Stanley Sugerman, a basketball scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, whose recent discovery of a Spanish street baller ushers in the potential for both to achieve fame and fortune.
Co-writer Will Fetters is familiar with the major-talent underdog storyline, having penned the Gaga-led Star is Born remake in 2018. Here he swaps music notes and recording montages for three-pointers and Rocky-esque training scenes. It hits all the right beats, and the story benefits from the input of second co-writer Taylor Materne (NBA 2K19, NBA 2K20) whose insider knowledge grounds the script in authenticity.
Director Jeremiah Zagar aptly carries the story, finding plenty of deeper moments between Stanely and Bo Cruz, played with charm by NBA stalwart Juancho Hernangomez. Queen Latifah delivers a rounded performance as wife Teresa, while Ben Foster and Jordan Hull shine in supporting roles.
It's not a classic in the sports film genre yet but with all the right ingredients, Hustle does more than enough to win the game.