2 Contributions by: Farah Cheded On Netflix Japan

Staff & contributors

This adaptation of a tragedy by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson might retain the mostly minimal setting of its source material — two rooms in a Chicago recording studio — but the searing performances at its heart more than warrant the translation to the big screen. A ferocious Viola Davis plays the titular ‘Mother of the Blues’, a fiery artist whose diva-ness is powerfully revealed to be a matching of the same transactional energy with which she’s treated by her white managers. 

On a steamy day in the roaring 1920s, one of Ma’s recording sessions morphs into a tinderbox of debate on art, race, and these exploitative power dynamics that exist at their intersection. As her band awaits her characteristically late arrival, its members tease, and then bicker, and finally erupt at one another. The youngest musician, Levee (Chadwick Boseman), is the most hot-headed — in his older band-mates’ eyes, he’s an arrogant young upstart with delusions of grandeur, but Levee’s ambitions are powered by real pain, as revealed in a blistering monologue. The film is unabashedly stagy in many respects, a quality that can work both ways — but, ultimately, the crackling current that runs through Davis and Boseman’s acting gives the movie all the blazing, goosebump-inducing immediacy of a live performance.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Daniel Johnson, Dusan Brown, Glynn Turman, Jeremy Shamos, Jonny Coyne, Joshua Harto, Michael Potts, Quinn VanAntwerp, Taylour Paige, Viola Davis

Director: George C. Wolfe

Rating: R

A classic text of English literature classes is handsomely brought to life in this screen translation of the still-radical play An Inspector Calls. The Birlings, a wealthy industrialist family thriving in 1912 England, have a cozy family celebration shattered by the arrival of a police inspector investigating the suicide of a young working-class woman. But that’s not the only bubble that’s burst: as Inspector Goole (David Thewlis) interviews the family — gradually revealing the part each played in forcing the woman to such a desperate state — he holds a mirror up to the casual cruelty and entitlement with which the Birlings move through the world. Part of what makes JB Priestley’s original play so enduring is how these characters are used as a wider metaphor for their social classes, and that translates with delicate but undeniable force here. A damning indictment of individualism and blind privilege on original publication in 1945, this is a story that retains the same relevance and power today.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller, TV Movie

Actor: Chloe Pirrie, Chrissie Chow, David Thewlis, Donnie Yen, Eric Tsang, Finn Cole, Flora Nicholson, Hans Zhang, Herman Yau, Karena Ng, Ken Stott, Kyle Soller, Lam Ka-tung, Liu Yan, Louis Koo, Lucy Chappell, Miranda Richardson, Raymond Wong, Sophie Rundle, Teresa Mo, Wanda Opalinska

Director: Aisling Walsh, Herman Yau, Raymond Wong

Rating: TV-PG