Netflix announces a star-studded movie slate for the whole year; Marvel’s ‘WandaVision’ channels ‘Dick Van Dyke;’ and a popular British series that was a breakout during U.K. lockdowns comes to PBS
BY CHRIS KORNELIS – The Wall Street Journal.
Last month, Warner Bros. announced it is releasing 17 films on HBO Max this year and Disney+ promised dozens of Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar stories on the horizon. Then this week, Netflix unveiled a massive, star-studded film slate for 2021 that features some of the world’s biggest stars in roughly 70 titles, with at least one new movie promised every week.
The slate includes a western produced by Jay-Z (“The Harder They Fall”), a musical directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (“tick, tick … BOOM”), and a comedy starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence (“Don’t Look Up”). There are also movies starring Idris Elba, Zendaya and John David Washington and Melissa McCarthy.
On Friday, Netflix releases the sci-fi/action flick, “Outside the Wire,” about a drone pilot and android officer working together to save the world. Release dates for most of the rest of Netflix’s 2021 titles are TBD.
Here’s what else is streaming this week:
New Release: ‘WandaVision’
“WandaVision,” the first original Marvel series for Disney+, picks up after “Avengers: Endgame,” and finds the characters Wanda Maximoff and Vision plopped into the golden age of television, living in a suburb that may not be everything that it appears.
Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), as fans of the “Avengers” films will recall, has the power to bend reality, and Vision (Paul Bettany), is a philosophical half-human, half-robot.
The series, which premieres Friday, is in part, an homage to classic family TV series like “Bewitched,” “I Love Lucy,” and “I Dream of Jeannie.” Director Matt Shakman says the creators enlisted experts from the classic sitcom genre to make sure their portrayal of the era is period specific, hiring a laugh track expert, for example, and even consulting Dick Van Dyke—someone Mr. Shakman said he never expected to lean on for a Marvel story “but, boy, was that the best afternoon of my life.”
One of the things Mr. Van Dyke told the director was that part of “The Dick Van Dyke Show’s” boundaries was “if it couldn’t happen in real life, it wouldn’t happen on the show.” This is something Mr. Shakman says they took to heart in “WandaVision,” even though it’s about characters with otherworldly powers.
“Our story is about this love story, and that is as human as can be,” he says. “And whether you’re really good at athletics, or you’re really good at art, or you happen to be a superhero, all of these things are sort of second to this core human relationship. And so we are trying to tell a story that, you know, if it couldn’t happen in real life, it can’t happen on the show.”
Family Hour: ‘All Creatures Great and Small’
In the first episode of “All Creatures Great and Small,” a young veterinarian named James Herriot, straight out of school, catches the train in Glasgow in pursuit of his first job—and what turns out to be a new life—in the Yorkshire Dales. Herriot is played by Nicholas Ralph, a young actor straight out of school, who hopped a train in Glasgow to shoot the series, his first TV job.
“It was a bit of life imitating art,” he says.
The new series, which airs Sunday nights on Masterpiece on PBS and is streaming free at PBS.org, is based on the book of the same name by James Herriot (pen name for James Alfred Wight), inspired by his life as a rural veterinarian. Mr. Herriot’s books have been adapted for the screen numerous times—notably for a series starring Christopher Timothy that began in the ‘70s.
Ben Vanstone, who created the new series—a surprise hit when it premiered in the U.K. last year—says this time around, he wanted to lean a bit more into the darkness from the books that he felt was left out of the earlier series. He also wanted to dig deeper in characters like Herriot’s boss, Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West), and the women in the story, such as Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley), who runs the house that’s home to the veterinary practice and its surgeons.
“For me the story of that house has always been about a slightly unconventional family, all finding something in one another that they slightly lacked and that’s what brings them together,” he says. “Right from the off I was really sort of determined to make sure the female characters didn’t just exist as adjunctive to the men around and that they had proper stories and arcs that would develop.”
New Release: ‘One Night In Miami’
(Amazon Prime Video)
“One Night In Miami” a new film that begins streaming Friday on Prime Video, is set against the backdrop of a real-life meeting between Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke and Muhammad Ali in 1964. In the film, we see the four men discuss their careers, their lives and the roles that they play—or that one wishes the other would play—in furthering equality for African-Americans.
Kemp Powers, who wrote the screenplay—as well as the stage play on which it is based—says that though the meeting is well known, what was said between them is largely a mystery. To fill in the gaps, Mr. Powers says he uses the four men as avatars for the ongoing conversation in the Black community: “How do we exist as Black people in this society that is many times hostile toward us? How do we make our way in this world? And what, if any social responsibility do we have as, as Black people who are also Americans.”
In the film, Malcom X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) takes the more revolutionary approach while Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) prefers a “more prudent approach to working within the system to bring about change.”
“I would hope the audience doesn’t come down feeling like one is unequivocally right,” Mr. Powers says. “Because I don’t believe one point of view is unequivocally right. I think it’s actually situational.”
Escapism: ‘Locked Down’
“Locked Down,” a new film starring Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor that premieres Thursday on HBO Max, is about a couple that remains in the same home as they’re splitting up because, well, Covid. He’s been furloughed and she’s been tasked with firing some of her colleagues. As they stare, talk and rage at each other, they begin to pick up some of the pieces of their relationship and fasten together a plan that involves stealing a diamond. A really big one worth millions.
Though many viewers have been gravitating toward movies and TV shows that take them far way from their Covid reality, “Locked Down” manages to be both a postcard from the pandemic and an escape from it. It unfolds like a Covid-era fantasy: with two cooped-up individuals pouring out the rage, frustration, and anxiety of lockdowns, quarantine, work-from-home, and financial and familial stress into one cathartic escape from reality to do something radical—to steal a diamond—that feels almost as reckless as having a drink at a bar without a mask.
“It’s escapism in that they decide to do this outrageous thing, but these are characters that everyone can relate to,” says director Doug Liman. “It’s not in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s in our universe how it exists right now, not as it existed a year ago.”
—“Bridgerton” is projected to stream in more than 63 million households over its first four weeks, according to Netflix. Read Ellen Gamerman’s story on the impact “Bridgerton” is having on the romance industry, which has otherwise been declining for years.
—Groening’s Growing Catalog: The third season of Matt Groening’s animated series, “Disenchantment,” drops Friday on Netflix. Disney+, home to Mr. Groening’s masterpiece, “The Simpsons,” has broken the massive trove of episodes into some themed silos, making every “Treehouse of Horrors” episode, for example, available to binge in one place. Fans of Mr. Groening’s “Futurama” can find the series on Hulu.
—Christopher Timothy’s “Creatures”: Christopher Timothy began portraying country vet James Herriot on the BBC’s “All Creatures Great and Small” in the 1970s, which can be streamed on BritBox. If that’s not enough, Mr. Timothy has also read “All Creatures” aloud, which can be found on Audible.
Featured article licensed from the Wall Street Journal.