With a focus on addiction, superheroes and stories of colour, here's what Rawiri is watching this month...
WandaVision (2021), Disney+
After pandemic-related pushbacks and a change in the release schedule, we've finally started chapter one in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Black Widow is still a couple of months away from movie theatres, so Disney+ has put forth their first offering, and the first TV show to be official MCU canon, WandaVision.
Wanda Maximoff first appeared in 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron and has clocked up four film appearances so far. For the most part, she has been an under-utilised secondary and tertiary character, whose powers are ambiguous and whose backstory remained largely unexplored. Until now.
Episode 1 kicks off with Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany returning to play the title characters, only here they're playing them through the lens of a 1950's era sitcom. "I think something's wrong here," proclaims Vision from their perfectly-adorned sitcom furnishings. He's quite right, too, though it takes three more episodes - and equally as many sitcom time jumps - before the major arc of the series is revealed.
The setting and style of WandaVision is purposefully odd, even by Marvel standards. It's a risk that both satisfies and underwhelms at different points throughout the show's run. Some of the story elements don't come together in a way befitting of the characters (Darcy, Jimmy, Pietro) but the main issue stems from the inevitable need to have high enough stakes to honour Wanda's journey, but not so high that the creators write themselves into a dead end in any of the future films or TV series.
And maybe that's why the antagonists - both in S.W.O.R.D. Director Tyler Hayward and in the more magicky villain - are underwhelming. The final episode, with all of it's special effects, snappy one-liners and tense emotional beats, does a good job at wrapping it all up, but once all is said and done, it feels like one of the lesser parts of the greater Marvel Cinematic puzzle.
One thing that can't be faulted though are the performances from the cast, and while ably supported by seasoned players and newcomers alike, the show really does belong to Elizabeth Olsen. As a woman moving through the five stages of grief, the scripts call for an impressive amount of nuance and depth, and Olsen imbues Wanda with the requisite power, humility and timing to make the show hum even in its more mechanical moments.
It seems unlikely that a second season will be greenlit, as the show has successfully set up Wanda's forthcoming appearance in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but even if this serves as merely a cynical side-step to the major film franchise, WandaVision will go down as one of Marvel's most experimental efforts.
Available now on Disney+
Malcolm & Marie (2021), Netflix
It's hard to review Netflix's Malcolm & Marie without acknowledging the context of its production and release. Shot in a single location over a few short weeks, with bare minimum crews operating under strict Covid-era rules, Sam Levinson's romantic drama has been praised for its eerie zeitgeist energy - a bottle movie that most viewers took in under lockdown conditions.
It's also been criticised however for the perceived lack of focus in the screenplay and the seeming priority of style over substance. These same critiques, I'll point out, were not at all an issue when a similar story about a relationship breakdown was told by Noah Baumbach and starred Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. Pointedly, they were handed plaudit after plaudit.
So why the double standard? And is it maybe just a lacklustre film?
Sure, the fact it takes place over one night and in one house with only two characters gives the film a certain playwright aesthetic. It's gorgeous black-and-white lens gives Old Hollywood and cinema vérité vibes. But take away these elements and Malcolm & Marie is still a captivating watch, and for that, we have the talents of Zendaya (Euphoria) and John David Washington (Da 5 Bloods) to thank.
"You are by far the most excruciating, difficult, stubbornly obnoxious woman I've ever met in my entire life. I fucking love you," claims Washington's film director Malcolm to his recovering-addict-cum-aspiring-actress-girlfriend. Zendaya's Marie eye wanders. She can't believe it. She's only just finished making him mac 'n cheese, for God's sake.
It should have been a no-excuses good night amongst Hollywood's major players but while Malcolm's star ascends, Marie's reticence to play underappreciated muse announces itself. The true nature of their relationship and their individual motivations for love burst through the cracks in shiny, ugly ways.
In less capable hands, watching two beautiful people argue with each other for 100 minutes would be a merciless slog. With Zendaya and JDW infusing the title characters with urgency and reverence, it's a fascinating and worthwhile watch.
Available now on Netflix.
It's a Sin (2021), HBOMax/Channel 4
It's A Sin explores the lives of Richie, Roscoe and Colin, three young lads who move from various small towns in the UK to the bright lights of London in 1981. Away from the conservative pressures of home, they're free to acknowledge and explore their sexuality, blissfully unaware that across the pond in America, the deadly HIV virus is taking lives and will be soon on its way to England.
Its five episodes - all spaced roughly 2 years apart - tell their stories, along with best friends Jill and Ash. Fast, frenzied and often funny, It's a Sin is a beautifully shot and well designed drama that serves to remind us all of the dangers of misinformation and inaction.
Russell T Davies, the acclaimed creator of Queer as Folk and revered reviver of Doctor Who, is no stranger to tough story-lining and here he deftly mixes the freshness and fun of London in the 1980s with the brutal reality of a silent and unknowable killer.
In his hands, the cast of established artists and young up-and-comers are free to fall into their characters' stories, and they do so with uncanny realism. Tertiary characters might meander through the central flat from episode to episode, but our central fivesome live and breathe together naturally and easily, often with a high-pitched "la" serving to unify them.
It's like Skins, only with more skin, more sex, more heart and more heartbreak.
Available now on HBOMax (US), Channel 4 (UK), TVNZOD (NZ)