RāViewz: Film & TV | September 2021
With a focus on addiction, superheroes and stories of colour, here's what Rāwiri is watching this month...
What If...? (2021), Disney+
Is there any intellectual property in the world right that is guaranteed success quite like the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Doubtful. And while juggernaut franchises begin to fatigue over time, suffering under re-treads and retellings, nobody can accuse Marvel of lacking imagination.
When Phase Four kicked off at the top of 2021 on the small screen rather than the big one, it ushered in a confident new format with which to tell its stories. WandaVision, Falcon & Winter Soldier and Loki all had fresh eyes working on them, but the familiarity of the characters meant that the transition was barely noticeable. What If...?, Marvel's first foray into animation, is definitely its most unique.
Hollywood's legion of comic book writers have plenty to chew on as this show poses the titular question to stand-alone stories of various familiar characters in brand new, or alternate versions. T'Challa becomes Star Lord; Hank Pym is a psychopath; Dr Strange is a soppy romantic etc. It gives fan service by embracing some of the stranger elements of these characters and giving them room to breathe in a safe environment.
The vast majority of Marvel's talent roster appears in voice work and the novelty of episodes is an engaging watch. Although it would appear almost inconsequential to the fervid MCU fanboy or girl, it is ultimately, a fun distraction from the main series that rivals classic X-Men and Batman animated series.
Respect (2020), Universal Pictures
Ms. Aretha Franklin is one of the most celebrated recording artists of all time and long before her untimely passing in 2018, talks of a biopic had swirled in Hollywood. Thankfully, the wheels of Respect were in motion while Franklin was still alive, and its a fitting tribute to such a legend.
The near-year delay of Respect meant that production was able to gauge how similar biopics Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and The United States vs Billie Holiday fared at the point of mid-pandemic release. Ma Rainey was a Netflix-only affair; Billie Holiday had a small theatrical run while streaming on Hulu. With a much more well-known figure as the focus of this film, and with cinemas in a much better position than in February, Leisl Tommy's directorial debut should generate a healthier box office figure.
Whether or not that happens will likely be down to how much audiences want to see Jennifer Hudson in the lead role. Hand-picked by the Queen of Soul herself, Jennifer Hudson is an inspired choice of casting. Though not an exact match in terms of facial features, she more than embodies the spirit of Aretha, her confidence apparent in every movement; her Detroit accent and accenting every phrase. Hudson exudes charisma, elevating the source material and the performances of those around her, and it's only a shame that the scenes with real emotional heft are resolved (or more so, dissolved) before allowing the actress to truly demonstrate her capabilities.
In fact, quite similarly to Andra Day's performance as Billie Holliday (where, also like Jennifer, they both sang their own versions of the songs), you find yourself wishing that the story, the screenplay and the direction was as immensely impressive as its leading lady.
Money Heist, Part 5 (2021), Netflix
By now you must have heard of Money Heist: the Spanish import, Netflix-rescued heist drama-cum-international phenomenon! Well, it's back for a final mind-blowing season and the first half of the 10 episodes have just dropped.
When we last left our favourite gang of fraudulent gangsters, the team were losing their grip on the hostages, and with Nairobi dead, were fast losing ground with the police negotiation. Meanwhile, in the closing shots of season 4, the Professor was held at gunpoint by a defecting (and very pregnant) Inspector Sierra.
Season 5 picks up at this very moment and the five released episodes run along a very tight timeline. While the Professor is otherwise engaged with Alicia, its up to Lisbon, Tokyo, Rio and the crew to outsmart Tamayo's impending army attack, evade Gandia's killing spree, and make it out alive.
Just as suspenseful as previous seasons, Money Heist yet again delivers on stunning action sequences and both comedic and dramatic flourishes, told through the characters flashbacks (Nairobi and Berlin are back!). The episodes build to an incredible and final few scenes that will leave you breathless, lost for words, and cursing the fact that the remaining five episodes don't come out until December.
Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror (2021), Netflix
Appearing on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, Netflix's five-episode docuseries Turning Point offers an in-depth and often revelatory account of the decades-long tensions between the United States and the leaders of a burgeoning Al-Qaeda.
Episode one centres the attacks themselves and introduces us to a cross-section of American society, whose lives were irrevocably changed. Twenty years on, the startling footage loses none of its impact, and as our survivors tell their fateful stories, we're transported back to September 2001, and of the sheer magnitude of the tragedy.
The ripple effects of this date are examined in following episodes as the War on Terror marches into Afghanistan, and then to Iraq. Osama bin Laden's origins in cosmopolitan and progressive 1970s Kabul is also discussed; his ultimate capture and execution a key element of the series.
Created by and for Americans, Turning Point isn't without its criticisms, though it is apt to point out, through military and governmental aids, the many mistakes that were made in the pursuit of rectifying America's greatest modern tragedy, which makes it an intriguing watch.