RāViewz: Film & TV | November 2021
With a focus on addiction, superheroes and stories of colour, here's what Rāwiri is watching this month...
Eternals (2021), Marvel Studios
Chloé Zhao had one of the hardest jobs of an MCU director in bringing to life not just one character's story, but 10 of them. To complicate matters, they're also stories told over thousands of years of human history. With these facts taken into consideration, its a feat in itself that Zhao has delivered as thoughtful and engaging a film as Eternals is, even if its focus ebbs and flows.
She pulls almost a full house of winning performances from her stacked cast, and handles the fight, stunt and CGI aspects of Marvel filmmaking with deft hands. It looks and feels and breathes like a superhero origin story and there are big and small moments that stand up with some of the studio's greater feats.
Still, by bringing in all new characters it becomes necessary to provide a lot of expositional context and in doing so, some characters are given little to do throughout much of the film.
Much has also been said of the wokeness of Marvel's new film and cynically, it does become hard to distance yourself from the check-list of minority experience in its cast. Asian, black, Hispanic, gay, female and deaf characters feature prominently in a move that is pleasingly progressive, however, it's also not lost that none are required to carry the burden of blockbuster filmmaking alone - Phastos or Makkari are welcome additions, but would Marvel back them as headliners of their own movies? Probably not.
And its hard to watch Eternals completely detached from these settings, at least at the time of release. As time goes on, it's more likely that audiences will be able to watch the debut story of Ajak, Sersi, Ikaris & Co and simply enjoy the landscape. There is, after all, much to like.
Passing (2021), Netflix
Based on the 1929 novel by Nella Larsen, Passing is an intriguing and insightful film written and produced by first-time director Rebecca Hall.
It tells the story of Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson), a light-skinned black woman in 1920s Harlem, who reconnects with high-school acquaintance Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga), a light-skinned black woman who not only passes for white, but who is married to a racist-but-oblivious white man (Alexander Skarsgård).
As the two women spend more time together, Irene becoming more enamoured with the idea of privilege, and Clare longing for acceptance amongst her own people, their complicated relationship brings laughter, love and tragedy. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga are exceptional in their roles and a joy to watch on screen.
Shot in black and white, director Rebecca Hall keeps the mechanics of filmmaking simple, wisely choosing to provoke exploration and questioning through her two lead characters. The concept of 'passing' to evade racial discrimination was controversial in the 1920s, and though contextually very different in 2021, encourages deep thought and reconciliation.
On My Block (2021), Season 4, Netflix
When On My Block debuted in 2018 it was rightly lauded for being a teen comedy drama like no other. Notably, the four young leads were all people of colour, and were an accurate reflection of Los Angeles inner cities.
The high-school set show dealt with the typical coming-of-age dramas you'd expect, but stood out for its quirky and exaggerated comedic edge. After four equally enjoyable seasons, the adventures of Monsé, Ruby, Jamal and Cesar comes to a close.
Its final outing focuses on the group's temporary fracturing as a result of Monsé's change of school setting and Jamal's ascent to the top of Freeridge High's social ladder. Elsewhere in the season, Cesar grapples with taking on the mantle of his gangbanging older brother and the group finally get closure on the Roller Rink Mystery that shadowed the series run.
Brett Gray (Jamal) is a talented comedian, bringing physicality to his delivery that dishes out the laughs easily, and Jessica Marie Garcia as Jasmine also revels in her character's extra one liners. As the heart of the show, Sierra Capri has often carried the show's dramatic weight on her shoulders and here in season 4, she triumphs, indicating a very promising career ahead of her.
Like Dear White People, who also finished a four-season arc this year, On My Block is able to examine the psyche of young people of colour and do so with a finish that honours its character and its unique production design.
Shameless (2021), Season 11, Showtime/Neon
When Showtime delivered an American version of Shameless at the top of 2011, few could've guessed how successful the show's run would be. With William H. Macy heading up a cast of relative unknowns, and the compelling story of a family from the wrong side of the tracks, Shameless found a loyal following as viewers became intrigued by the wild antics of the Gallaghers.
Fast-forward to 2021 and the Gallaghers are now all grown up. The past two seasons of the show have tracked along smoothly without Emmy Rossum's star-making turn as would-be Matriarch, Fiona, and the 11th and final season brings several storylines full circle before the characters take a final bow.
The aforementioned Macy delivers career-best work as Frank succumbs to alcoholic dementia, while Jeremy Allen White's Lip battles relapse, renovations and fatherhood this year, while turning in some outstanding scenes of his own. Shanola Hampton and Steve Howey (Vee and Kev), mostly used for comedic effect, get to flex some quieter, more intimate moments, while Gallavich (played by series favourites Cameron Monaghan and Noel Fisher) take on some of the lighter moments while staying true to their Southside roots.
And speaking of Southside, Shameless' poverty-stricken Chicago setting also delivers this season. Acting almost as a secondary character throughout the show's run, its the city's last few years of gentrification that prompts the Gallaghers final steps forward. The show's recognition of the importance of its setting allows for the relevant inclusion of Covid-19 to its stories this year, and it does seamlessly, making the fates of certain characters against this Southside backdrop, appear inevitable.
After a decade of some of the funniest, saddest, strangest and most outrageous moments of American television, the Gallagher family call it quits, and this final season is a fitting tribute to them, and the roster of talent that portrayed them.