By Anne Brodie
Black is King is Beyoncé’s long awaited and stirring visual album, a reimagining of the music of The Lion King traces African roots, lineage, history, culture and music. It’s aimed at “young kings and queens in search of their own crowns” and was shot over a year in New York, Los Angeles, South Africa, West Africa, London and Belgium. This celebration of the black experience features uncredited celebrity appearances by Whoopi, Kelly Rowland, Pharrell Williams, Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o and many more. Black is King opens with a Biblical image of a basket floating down an African river; the boy’s rescued, educated and loved and embarks on his life experience from childhood, boyhood, adulthood to old age, reflecting on the individual and collective Black journey. Natural wonders and trippy, lush art design and costuming are astounding, and song, dance and portraiture add to the visual frisson. It’s mesmerizing and loaded with changing images, bordering on visual exhaustion; the creativity of all cast and crew is unleashed. It’s suitable for all ages, no violence or sexual themes break up this joyful musical celebration of life. Written, produced, starring and co-directed by Queen Bey, it’s a remarkable addition to the pop world and tribute to her artistry. Now on Disney+.
Netflix’ hit sci-fi series The Umbrella Academy shot in Toronto, proved to be a massive win for the streamer. Colm Feore is Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a bespectacled intellectual who adopted seven children born under mysterious circumstances, each with superpowers. Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, Vanya, Five, and Ben are uniquely drawn, unalike in every way except the adoption. Their wildly diverse and defined personas are important aspects of the series’ greatness. Season 1 found them dancing up a storm (I Think We’re Alone Now, whew), fighting to save the world from asteroid destruction and failing, but they survived. Season 2 finds them landing separately in Dallas between 1960- and 1963, with character resets. Klaus is a spiritual guru (!), Allison is one of the earliest Civil Rights movement figures, Diego’s locked up with a strange girl, Seven’s sounding the anti-Soviet alarm, claiming the US is about to be invaded, Luther’s fighting in a ring for the mob and Vanya is living blissfully on a farm, unaware of her past. The world will end in October 1963, so the Hargreeves kids must find one other over the years, and wage war on the coming Apocalypse. New enemies appear, a forebodingly familiar face emerges from the darkness, and the sky’s on fire, all on the eve of JFK’s visit to Dallas. And that ain’t all. The series’ incredible flights of fancy, brash grandeur and wit are in full force; the intertwining of real history, sci-fi and psychological themes are fully engaged, and the insanely high production values are in jaw-dropping play. Even better than Season One and that’s saying a lot.
Nic Cage is back baby and he’s as cool as he ever was as Frank the animal custodian. He’s been fired from eight zoos in ten years, has an “authority problem’ so now works for himself as an exotic animal trader. Primal opens with him in the Colombian jungle, stumbling across a one-in-a-million white jaguar, a priceless rare beast he captures with chemical darts. (CGI, its ok) He cages it with his collection of critters aboard a ship bound for Puerto Rico and from thence, it will go to the highest bidder. Problem is, that same ship’s transporting a dangerous sociopathic narcissist, former US military officer (Kevin Durand – from Thunder Bay!) now a mercenary assassin with ice for blood and a permanent smirk. The military is guarding him but naturally, he escapes. He dismantles the ship’s working parts, releases the animals and guns down his captors. Frank is only interested in his animals’ welfare “they haven’t eaten in 12 hours!” as a lot of the inevitable happens. Nicholas Powell’s tongue in cheek actioner is undeniably hokey and derivative with flavours of Ten Little Indians, The Poseidon Adventure and Up Periscope, but Cage’ smooth as silk sarcasm and grace under pressure continue to entertain. There’s still that eccentric individualist energy about him.
River comes to BritBox this weekend and what a trip. Stellan Skarsgård, one of the hardest working actors alive, and father of actors Alexander, Gustaf, Bill, Valter and Sam, takes on crime in London as genius police officer John River. However, his abilities and recall share headspace with anxiety, depression and hauntings by ghosts, most recently that of his murdered partner (Nicola Walker) plus his confrontational, raging father (Eddie Marsan), murdered victims in open cases and others unknown to him. His boss (Lesley Manville) realises River’s not in a fit state of mind and orders him to rest. He can’t, he must find who killed his partner; she keeps showing up with a jolly smile and words of encouragement on his work and moods. His contacts with ghosts help him work with traumatised victims, but there are limits. During a police news conference, he’s asked about a case, sees the murderer’s ghost in the press corps and states “all murderers are punished unless they do it to the sound of trumpets.” He obsessively views CCTV footage of his partner’s murder until one day, he notices something … if his instincts are true there’s a lot more at stake than a murder. Her funeral intensifies his visions and now he knows who killed her. River is one of those offbeat, magical series that comes along occasionally, bursting with possibility, whose leading character is in some ways the best and worst of us, whom we immediately recognise.
The Swedish crime series Rebecka Martinsson ended three years ago but its finally back for a second season on Acorn.TV. The Arctic noir, starring Sascha Zacharias as Åsa Larsson’s bestselling crime novel heroine takes place in a world of snow, ice and secrets. The hard-nosed lawyer has returned to her rural mountain hometown of Kiruna, a place not too small for vile murders. Right on her doorstep, four cases, a young man’s supposed overdose, a cold case blows open, a woman and child found dead in a blizzard and a dangerous family and cultural feud is at a boil. Rebecka’s still dealing with her parents’ death, overtures from her old Stockholm law firm to return and an ex- who now has someone else. Trouble’s brewing in a fight between an indigenous family and Swede over a shared herd of reindeer, an act of depravity and murder and the injured party shot to death so its open season. As in small TV detective show villages, everyone falls under suspicion. Time for Rebecka to get her hands dirty. Fun!