STREAMING REVIEWS: British black history & more animation magic

Lover’s Rock is one of the films in Steve McQueen’s wonderful Small Axe anthology. And there’s an Animated Feature Oscar nominee, and a new Anime series adaptation of a video game - all in this review.

Lover’s Rock - Small Axe (Amazon Original) - One of the major events of Television 2020, would have to be BBC and Amazon releasing Director Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology. Set in the 1960’s to the 1980’s, it’s McQueen creating five separate films that chronicle the British Black History of that era. While Mangrove is the acknowledged big one, I’ll review that film in the near future. For this review, I’ll talk about the most accessible of the five films, Lover’s Rock. It shows a much softer, and compassionate side of McQueen, the subject matter of the film revolving around one night in 1980, as a blues party (think of today’s block party) is held, bringing together the youth of the local British Caribbean community in London.

There is no plot to really speak of, as we initially follow two girls who are attending the party, and are made flies on the wall as the people who live in the house where the party will be held, prepare for the party night. Music is key to how charming this film is, and McQueen invites us to be one with the partygoers in a fascinating way. And you’ll love how there are always small reminders of how, for these immigrants, the party is essentially a cocoon, an escape from the reality of their hard scrabble lives, and the racism that they encounter on a daily basis. They’re allowed into England to perform certain jobs, but they’re looked down upon. There’s one magical sequence where a reggae song ends on the turntable, and all on the dance floor proceed to sing the song in its entirety, a capella.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmaggedon (Video On Demand) - This Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature comes from Aardman Studios, who you may know best for their Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run films. They’re among the best the world can offer in stop motion clay figures animation. And for their second Shaun the Sheep feature, we’re gifted with a film that’s part tribute to Steven Speilberg’s iconic Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. You can feel the love Aardman has for these two films, and it pays off in a big way. It’s a salute, while smartly crafting its own story, and the result is a feature that both children and adults will enjoy.

Naturally, it has to do with a baby alien coming to Earth; and it’s left to Shaun to protect, befriend, and appreciate the little alien. There’s no distinguishable dialogue, and much like a silent film, we still appreciate the narrative and entertaining story-telling. Little touches and flourishes abound, and careful attention will heighten our love for the attention to detail that fills each frame. The humor is often tongue in cheek, with numerous allusions to those two films that act as muses for this Farmaggedon. Catch this if you can, as it’s wonderfully inventive, and you’ll marvel at how this little masterpiece of stop action was created.

Dota: Dragon’s Blood (Netflix) - This new anime feature shot up the charts of our country’s Most Watched on the popular streaming service, testament to the popularity of the video game it's based on. This series is based on the 2013 Book 2 of Dota, and the success of this release must be attributed in part to the smart marketing ploy of releasing this with a Filipino audio version. Our local audience has never been one for sub-titles, and this American production wisely offers several dubbed versions, to ensure it’s ready acceptance all over the region. The main characters would be Davion, the dragon hunter, Princess Mirana and her mute lady in waiting Marci, and of course, the primary villain, Terrorblade.

In terms of its animation style, it’s not strictly speaking traditional anime; but more like a hybrid that combines anime with American-style animation. It recalls Castlevania, also available on Netflix. Does it work? Personally, it wasn’t too crazy about it, but it does serve its purpose. The start is all about establishing the Dota world and it reminded me of the exposition we get in the Marvel and DC films. It’s all ambitious, but it seems to have paid off, given the rapturous reception the series has received from the legion of Dota enthusiasts. In fact, it was my youngest son who asked if I had managed to watch this, as he was one of the many anticipating the release of the series.