STREAMING REVIEW: Picks of end-January

Published January 29, 2021, 1:33 PM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

This week sees the return of an Action Drama Limited Series that’s based on an excellent film directed by Bong Joon-Ho, plus a masterful film adaptation of an incendiary stage play that touches on Black Life Matters circa 1964. Then there’s a quiet film about recent Archaeology, and a YA Fantasy series that’s shooting up the charts. Enjoy!

Snowpiercer Season 2 (Netflix) – When this series’ first season ended last year, Snowpiercer had been breached by a new unknown machine, Big Alice, and we were left with the appearance of Mel’s daughter, working with a still-alive Wilford. The first episode of Season 2 picks up from that cliffhanger ending, and the big reveal here would be Sean Bean playing Wilford. He’s a Wilford who now takes center stage as the new heavy, the newly crowned king-villain. He’s an ideal choice, as the series did need new blood – the conflicts and rivalries of the first season beginning to wear thin as the episodes progressed.

On the basis of the first episode of this Season 2, it looks like the series is still hinging its success on a blend of visceral action scenes mixed with gore and blood, all paired with the dramatic moments that punctuate the narrative action. Unfortunately, being stuck on a train that’s a metaphor for the have and have-nots doesn’t allow for much evolving drama – it’s a one note premise that quickly overstays its welcome. Hoping for the best, but it does look like this series will need more action sequences to hold on to its audience.

One Night in Miami (Amazon Prime) – This is Regina King directing for the first time, with a screenplay by Kemp Towers, who wrote the original stage play. The concept is imaginative and ripe with potential, as it’s a fictional used account of one night in Miami, in February 1964, when then Cassius Clay, his spiritual guide Malcolm X, NF L star Jim Brown, and soul singer Sam Cooke, all got together to celebrate Clay’s victory over Sonny Liston and becoming Heavyweight champion of the world. At its heart, it’s about the heavy responsibilities that highly visible and successful African-Americans had to carry at a time when the civil rights movement was just emerging.

It’s whip-smart dialogue, great casting and social commentary that still holds weight in the Black Lives Matter-era of today – showing us how much has changed and how much has also remained the same. Eli Goree as the young Clay is the most entertaining, and Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm is impressive. Leslie Odom Jr as Sam Cooke is really singing his parts, and Aldis Hodge as Brown is a stoic marvel. Expect this film to figure in awards nominations, and be part of the slew of Black-led films that excelled this year – think Ma Rainey, Da 5 Bloods, and Lovers Rock, among others.

The Dig (Netflix) – For those with an interest in Archaeology, Ancient History, and digging up old relics and artifacts, this film will be ‘manna from Heaven’; as it chronicles one of the big excavations of the 20th century – showing that there’ll always be something interesting to uncover and discover about our own history. Set in the English village of Sutton Hoo in Suffolk in 1939, it’s all about the digging up of an Anglo-Saxon burial ship. But the narrative takes us deeper than that, as it explores the conflict between the world of amateur working-class excavators on one hand, and that of academic, archaeologists and museums on the other hand.

The film boasts of a cast led by Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Ben Chaplin, and Johnny Flynn; and they’re all fascinating characters to follow. 1939 means the eve of World War II looms pre-eminently as the events relating to the dig unfold. There’s an Old School charm to the exposition as we follow the widow played by Mulligan contract the excavator portrayed by Fiennes to go digging in her ‘backyard’. It’s real life events brought to cinematic life and dramatized, and it revolves around the search for knowledge. This is an unassuming quality film, directed with restraint; so I personally found it wonderful, but can doubt many will watch it – and that’s such a shame.

Fate: the Winx Saga (Netflix) – Here’s a series that, by all accounts, should be niche YA-fare; but thanks to smart marketing has expanded its audience. Yes, it’s derivative, there’s nothing really original, and it’s as predictable as day & night; so of course it’s shot up the charts of Most Watched. It’s best described as Harry Potter meets Pretty Young Liars, thanks to the predominantly female-lead skewing, and all put in a blender with The Hunger Games. It’s actually adapted from an animated series.

This animation provenance makes me think of Riverdale – for there is a live action transition that also finds Winx relying on sexual intrigue to keep the interest factor high. It’s like the formula we saw used to great success with Bridgerton. Do we feel manipulated, do we feel we’re being fed formula? Obviously not! Netflix can throw its money on prestige projects that give credibility to its production arm; but at the end of the day, it is series such as Winx that make the ‘cash register ping’.