Queer as Folk: Review Part 5

Dear Readers,

Finally comes the time for the fifth and final post of my Queer as Folk Review collection. I have let this final part sit as I focused on other things but it is time to come back to it and finish this show. In the fifth part to my collection of posts, I will be talking about the events of Series 5; the journeys of the main characters as a whole throughout the five series; the effects of the bombing in Episode 10 on the characters and where each of them are at the end of the show. I have also included a list of some of my favourite quotes from across the series.

Please do not read this post if you are under 18 as the programme discussed is explicit in nature. If you do not want to read about a show featuring graphic adult content, stop now.

Analysis of Events in Series 5

At the beginning of the series, we find several of the characters at a crossroads. Those in relationships are suffering from miscommunication and those not are finding difficulties in being unattached. We see Brian convincing himself he doesn’t need Justin anymore. He thinks Justin has moved on to the greener pastures of La la land. Justin himself sees through Brian’s ruse but doesn’t feel he can tell Brian that he loves him. Mel and Lindsay are no longer living together but have not told anyone for the sake of JR. Debbie and Carl have difficulties with where to start their life together. Ben wants to move to a gentrified neighbourhood but Michael doesn’t want to move away. Emmett needs his own space but doesn’t want to be alone and Ted has been putting on weight with comfort eating.

There is a foreshadowing to later events such as Michael suggesting Brian buy a house in the country, Brian picks Babylon over married life. After a sex montage, Brian in an achingly romantic gesture (for him anyway) shows the empty drawer he has ready for Justin after Justin asks to move in again. This indicates a growth for Brian’s character and a turning point for Brian and Justin’s relationship after some time apart.

The main plot of the final series centres around a new law that Congress want to pass called Proposition 14. It would limit the rights of gay individuals by making it illegal for them to adopt children, buy a house together, have joint bank accounts and claim domestic partner insurance. Justin confronts his father again and protests outside his father’s shop. This leads to him getting arrested. The characters go campaigning door to door and hold a benefit which is where the bomb explodes.

The characters all begin to grow up and move to the suburbs or consider more healthy relationships. We see a new side of gay life away from the club scene and constant cruising. Many of the couples now want children, a house, steady jobs and quieter lives in other gay neighbourhoods. This follows the pattern of life for all people who start to want different things as they grow older and wiser. That is except for Brian who is afraid to grow old and commit to Justin lest he become undesirable or bored. Due to his traumatic and abusive childhood, he craves the attention of others, usually countless men, Michael or Lindsay. When both are pulling away he tries to rely more on Justin and Ted but he is unable to fully give himself to Justin due to his fear of no longer being wanted and of rejection. Despite being funny, caring, smart and successful, Brian bases his self-worth on his looks as that is what makes him popular in the gay community.

We see the bombing first as a reflection of light on the character’s faces – Michael, Ted, Ben then we move to Debbie walking down the street and move to Brian in the car and get the full news story. Approaching the scene, we understand events through Brian’s point of view. He was the most removed from the situation out of all the characters as he was not planning to attend the event like the others. This makes for maximum impact as he struggles to comprehend what has happened and if his friends are alright.

Finding Justin’s mother first shows his desperation to find Justin but he also genuinely cares for her. Running inside calling Justin’s name shows that Brian does care about him and in a wider context, the gay community. If he were truly heartless, he would have carried on to the airport but as demonstrated from Brian almost bankrupting himself to letting Justin live with him to organising Ben and Michael’s wedding and Melanie and Lindsay’s; he does actually care but due to his abusive childhood and emotionally neglectful family, he struggles to show it on a more personal level without a crisis.

The scene between Debbie and Brian in the hospital chapel highlights their own faiths as Brian was also raised Catholic. It shows how two people who disagree with their religion’s outlook towards their community and other aspects still turned to that room for support. Brian, of course may have followed Debbie or simply gone to a quiet place to process but I believe he chose the chapel for a reason. Both Debbie and Brian turn to God to help Michael even when they have never particularly prayed or asked for anything from him in the past.

Effects of the Bombing on the characters

Brian admits finally to Justin that he loves him. This has been the biggest obstacle of their relationship for five years as Justin always wanted more than Brian was able to give. Despite Michael and Brian’s falling out, Brian shows his love for Michael at the hospital and with Debbie. Brian’s fears are shown with a funeral that starts off as Michael’s but ends as his own. However when he reached Babylon, he was first most concerned about Justin, showing that someone else finally replaced Michael as the man he cares about most. Romantic love takes precedent over friendship love. Brian then decides to make changes in his life. He sells the loft and Babylon and buys Justin a country manor house that he mentions wanting earlier in the series. He tries to become monogamous and devoted to Justin which surprises all the other characters. He also vows to be a better father to Gus who is now almost five years old.

Ted struggles to face Michael at the hospital as he blames himself for Michael being at the bar in the bombing. He throws himself into work but eventually sees Michael. After a talk with a stranger at the baths, he realises that he was not the cause of Michael’s injury.

Ben tries to carry on and not let Debbie take over. He goes back to teaching but cannot ignore his student’s pleas to discuss the events. He also becomes angry at the vigil and it takes Brian to calm him down. When Hunter makes an appearance once again, having come back after watching the news, Ben is happy after feeling lost when Hunter left.

Debbie becomes overly motherly and is with Michael all the time at the hospital. The effects of losing Vic are still very raw for her and Michael is the only family apart from Carl that she has left.

Emmett can’t get off the couch and suffers from PTSD. Drew tries to help him get back to normal but it takes a harrowing story from Carl about his earl days in the police force and Drew’s agreeing to speak at the vigil that gets Emmett out of the house.

Justin appears alright having dealt with trauma before and paints in his apartment. He initially laughs off Brian’s proposal. After years of trying t get Brian to think of them as something more, he can’t believe that Brian would change. After some corralling, Justin accepts Brian’s offer but cannot stay when he sees Brian changing into a different person. He does not want either of them to compromise their personalities or lives to be happy together.

Lindsay and Melanie come back together and realise their love for each other. After the death of their close friend, Dusty at the bombing they realise how they have to cherish their family. Mel becomes scared for the future and what will happen if Proposition 14 passes. They decide to move to Toronto for better rights as lesbian women.

Brian is influenced by Justin to not give his blessing to take Gus to Toronto and Michael is influenced by Hunter to give his blessing. Brian is influenced by Lindsay and Melanie to make Justin go to New York.

Everyone just wants to be with the people they love i.e. Melanie and Lindsay, Brian and Justin, Carl and Debbie, Drew and Emmett, Jennifer and Tuc, Michael and Ben.

Characters’ Journeys over the whole 5 Series

Michael starts off as the practically virginal inexperienced one who struggles to attract partners. He has two serious long-term relationships and moves into a life that he wants: a job running his favourite comic book store; a husband and kids. He becomes mature and responsible and a great friend. His priorities shift from Brian to Ben as Michael realises that Ben can give him the life he wants and Brian is stuck as a playboy in the clubs. Michael gradually gains his own interests away from Brian and does not let Brian sway him from being a kind and gentle soul.

Brian forms long-lasting friendships and a relationship with Justin. His peak romantic side is in Series 1 but Justin’s attack made him distance himself from his emotions. He blamed himself for the attack after turning up for Justin’s prom. They come back together but after their break up at the end of Series 2, Brian realises that he cannot give his full self to Justin for fear of rejection. Brian gradually starts to see love not as a weapon or something to be afraid of. He becomes a better father to Gus or at least more present and a better partner to Justin. He starts his own advertising agency, Kinnetic when his values are challenged and is fired. He also buys Babylon in an attempt to keep his friends at his stage in life. He fights for gay rights by taking down Stockwell, riding in the Liberty Ride and donating Babylon as the venue for several fundraisers. He tries to change his playboy ways for Justin.

Justin eventually understands that Brian is not going to immediately love him. He finds friends who understand him and forms a good relationship with his mother. He harnesses his talents as an artist and gets into a prestigious art college. He overcomes being seriously injured at the end of Series 1 and the challenges that come along with this. He forms a closer bond with Brian and has the courage to leave their relationship for something new. He moves to LA at the beginning of the fifth series to work on a film version of Rage. In the final episode, Justin figures out that he cannot trap Brian into a life he doesn’t want and has the strength to pursue his career over Brian.

Ted fights his crystal meth addiction at rehab and with the help of his friends and Blake. He has several different jobs such as accountant, adult website manager, singing waiter and success but falls into a depression. He has a few relationships and reconnects with Blake several times. Due to his self-esteem issues, Ted has plastic surgery to help love himself. He gets a job working for Brian and finds passion as an accountant and supervisor at Kinnetic.

Emmett has a string of casual relationships until Ted. He also finds a meaningful connection with Drew. He entertains a few careers such as retail, domestic help, adult entertainer but settles on event planner. He lives with Michael then Ted and finally Debbie and Carl. In the first series after a HIV scare, he joins a conversion therapy group and connects with a woman but they decided to be true to themselves.

Debbie constantly fights for gay rights and always stands up for her beliefs including at Justin’s school, against Stockwell and Proposition 14. She finds love with Carl and they move in together. She nurtures the men into accepting themselves and finding their place in the world. She often acts as a surrogate mother to Brian and takes Justin under her wing when his own father forbids his lifestyle.

Ben finds love with Michael and slowly comes to terms with his HIV status. He fights to keep Hunter as a foster son and make sure he is alright. After Hunter leaves town, Ben becomes depressed. He has Michael and the gang but not any of his own family. A student makes a play for him and he writes a book that gets rejected everywhere.

Melanie works hard as a lawyer and despite having a baby with Lindsay has an affair in the first series. She becomes a mother to Gus and JR. During her pregnancy, she has to stay on bed rest and this causes a lot of friction and subsequent breakup between her and Lindsay. She is always passionate for her rights and speaks of her grandfather who knew to leave Germany as a Jewish man in the 1930s.

Lindsay becomes a mother in the first episode. She initially leaves her teaching job at the university to be a stay at home mother but goes back to work at a gallery in Series 3. She almost marries a gay Frenchman in Series 1 as he needs a visa but after some serious intervention from Brian, she comes to her senses. In Series 4, she has an affair with a man, an artist having a show in her gallery. She then moves out with Gus to a small apartment and then into her parents house until she realises that they want her to be straight. Despite her affair with Sam and mentions of being with Brian in college, Lindsay does not identify as anything other than lesbian.

The End of the Series

Brian goes back to the club and reopens Babylon; Michael has Ben and they adopt Hunter. He lets JR go with Melanie and Lindsay to Toronto. Michael begins the last episode with a voice over like the first episode. A full circle moment. He still hangs out with Brian at the club. Justin leaves Brian and Pittsburgh to pursue art in New York; Ted ends up with Blake and is happy in his job at Kinnetic; Emmett lets Drew go and is happy with himself; Debbie is happy with Carl and Lindsay and Melanie move with Gus and JR to Toronto.

List of Favourite Quotes

  • “I’ve just seen the face of God. His name is Brian Kinney.” – Justin – 1×01
  • “If you don’t earn respect when you’re alive, you don’t deserve it when you’re dead.” – Brian – 1×19
  • “You’re Brian Kinney, for fuck’s sake!” – Michael – 1×22
  • “I’d run away screaming but its been a long day.” – Brian – 2×03
  • “Yeah, like I give a shit what God thinks about me. He’d better be worried what I think about him.” – Brian; “How do you figure that?” – Michael; “Well, in all this cold dead universe, we’re the only ones who know he exists, without us he’s nothing.” – Brian – 2×09
  • “Have some balls.” – Brian – 3×08
  • “Don’t be nervous.” – Lindsay; “If my heart rate was any lower, I’d be dead.” – Brian – 2×13
  • “It’s the most historic reunification since Germany.” – Ben – 3×09
  • “He has a boyfriend!” – Michael; “You do?” – Hunter; “In a non-defined, non-conventional way, yeah.” – Brian – 3×13
  • “Mourn the losses because they’re many but celebrate the victories because they’re few.” – Debbie – 3×14
  • “I’m queer, and to anyone who takes pity or offence, I say: judge yourself… This is who I am.” – Brian – 5×01
  • “Stop looking at the shell and see the pearl.” – Emmett – 5×02

Happy Watching,

Robyn

Summer of Cinema: Old

Dear Readers,

I went into this film with not much prior knowledge apart from knowing the director, one actor and the fact that it was set on a tropical island. This was the best way to do it for me personally as watching the trailer afterwards gave away a lot of key details. The screen was pretty busy and I had a good aisle seat. This film eases you in with marriage problems and a family on holiday but after going to the beach, everything falls apart and the story begins to mess with your perception of reality. I have only seen one M. Night Shyamalan film before and it was a long time ago. I knew his films usually had a thriller/horror element and were known for being mind-bending. The screen was semi-packed which gave me confidence in the film, especially as it had already been out for three weeks.

The film title and poster do not give much away other than the ageing element. When I went in I wondered how this would play into things, I imagined the characters being shipwrecked on the island and steadily growing old as we do normally. What did happen was very unexpected. It is hard to talk much about this film without giving away the big idea so I will be talking about the concept of the film and certain plot details.

The film focuses around a family with two young children. They are on holiday from the US but both parents are European from their accents. The trip is one least hurrah before they tell the kids they are divorcing and that the mother has an illness. They check in and are greeted with specially designed cocktails and charming staff. The hotel looks very luxurious and everything seems picture perfect. We meet a few other characters: families on holiday, all Americans so we can assume the Caribbean or somewhere off the US Coast. Nothing big happens until a guest has a seizure and everyone rushes to help. Trent, the youngest of our main family makes friends with another boy his age, Idlib whose uncle runs the resort.

The next day, the manager tells the family of an exclusive beach that is only available to his favourite guests. They are guided to a minibus where the family from the dining hall before have also boarded. They are taken to the beach by a familiar face (M. Night Shyamalan) and told to call if they want to be picked up or the bus will come at 5pm. The group walk through the rocks, armed with deck chairs and heavy picnic baskets and appear on a picturesque, quiet beach. They settle in but notice another man sitting on the sand in the distance.

Things begin to get unnerving when Trent finds a dead body in a shallow rock pool. The man tells the group he was with her and they connected because they both have conditions. While trying to sort out the body, another couple arrive, the woman who had the seizure and her husband. Someone tries to go back through the rocks but ends up blacked-out on the beach. They are trapped.

With all this going on, the parents initially miss their kids ageing up 5 years. The two 6 years, one from each family and Trent’s sister, Maddox who is 11 are all now biologically older. Then the mother of the doctor dies then her dog. Things keep getting weirder and weirder until they work out that they are ageing roughly a year every half an hour. The conditions and illnesses become more prevalent and create problems for the holidaymakers.

I will not give away the ending but it was not one you would expect and had a more logical yet disturbing explanation. There is also a happy ending for some characters so it is not totally doom and gloom.

I liked this film as it had a good concept that was not completely obvious but once it hits, there is little time to find a solution. The characters all had complexities but were easy enough to follow as the concept was enough to hold it together. I also think the casting was great for Trent and Maddox at different ages, especially Trent. I truly believed they were the same person. I related to the characters because I could not see a way out of the situation and any time spent on the problem was wasted periods of their lives.

The diversity was good, it is rare to have two European characters in such prominent roles. There were a few moments that were amped up for shock factor particularly how Crystal and her husband met their ends. Overall, an enjoyable film that makes you cherish the time you have rather than spending that time worrying or not making that change before it’s too late.

I give this film 5/5.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

Summer of Cinema: Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

Dear Readers,

Before watching the first Escape Room, I saw the trailer for the sequel and thought that sounds up my street. My recent foray into the horror thriller world with films such as A Quiet Place Part II, Freaky and now this franchise have given me a taste for something with high energy and twists yet still placing plot over gore level. The escape room element gave a clear structure to the film and while watching the film you can almost play along by spotting clues before the characters and trying to find how they will escape. The cinema was fairly busy for this screening and I had a good seat in the middle back so I was fully immersed and genuinely surprised when it ended. I am looking forward to the third installment after the cliffhanger at the end.

The film kicks off with a quick reminder of what happened in Escape Room, the first outing. We are reminded of the characters being picked off one by one and Zoey and Ben’s survival. They think the key to taking Minos down is in New York City so plan to fly there. Moving to the current film and we see Zoey’s reluctance to get on a plane. She has still not recovered from the trauma of being the sole survivor of a crash that killed her mother and made her a candidate for the first Escape Room.

The pair eventually drive to New York from Chicago with Ben suffering horrible nightmares related to his experience of a room in the game. Ben (Logan Miller) and Zoey (Taylor Russell) find Minos headquarters but it is deserted and almost give up hope until a man snatches Zoey’s beloved necklace and leads them to the subway.

This is when the fun begins. The subway car detaches and peals off to a separate tunnel and becomes the first room of the new Escape Room. There are six passengers in the car, all winners from previous Minos rooms. The game goes on with each room containing different puzzles and accidents. A twist to this time is that familiar motifs crop up in the game such as the name Sonya.

There are many twists to the game as in the first film but bigger and better. There were also a lot of character development and plot used from the first film which I liked as sometimes sequels can distance themselves too much from the development that happened in the first film. Just when you think Zoey and Ben are finally free, callbacks from the beginning of the film and the first one appear on screen and the film ends with a massive cliffhanger.

I was surprised when this happened as I got really into the film and the story and I did not predict that it would end at such a crucial moment. The first film ended with a much calmer scene. I really enjoyed this film and it turned the audience into players of the game as when the end scene happens, you realise that everything has a purpose and no scene was there as a filler but rather as a set-up for later.

I think the rooms were more creative this time, especially as they had a theme that is explained later on but also because the characters have all had experiences before with Minos so are aware that it will be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. We also find out each group had their own connection such as Nate’s being all priests and Brianna’s being influencers.

The film was a bit darker this time with the injuries more obvious and the consequences more fatal. The team felt more at one and they survived longer. I enjoyed the twist at the end and after leaving the screen, I could not help but feel as though everything was a clue and that the world was an escape room.

I would definitely recommend this film but only if you have seen the first one as there are big plot points that won’t make sense. There was a good mix of diversity as in the first one and they avoid usual horror stereotypes.

I rate this film 5/5.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

Summer of Cinema: Supernova

Dear Reader,

This film has been on my radar since its appearance at the London Film Festival in September 2020. Films featuring older gay characters are not very common much less featuring actors of this calibre. I saw this film late in its running and as a consequence there were only two other people in my screening. It made the experience more intimate and I really found myself connecting with the characters even though our life experiences and demographic are quite different.

I enjoyed the British spirit that was threaded throughout the film. The trip to the Lake District, the poor weather, the stiff-upper lip and the family and friends get-together all felt very familiar to what you see in British films, typically those with a family aspect set in the real, modern world. Although Stanley Tucci’s character, Tusker was American, being in a relationship with a Brit and having lived there a long while, he fits in with the tone.

For me this film was very character driven: it is about the relationship between Sam and Tusker while Tusker slowly loses the ability to function properly. The premise itself seems melancholy but when you see the realities of the illness and the strain it has put on Sam and Tusker, the film hits home.

I enjoyed the simple plot of taking a trip to see family and for Sam’s career. There was no big incidences or twists as such but rather small events and truths uncovered between the pair of them. While Tusker is ill, at the start of the film I had hope that he may not be progressing too quickly but towards the middle, especially at the dinner party, we see that is not the case.

I felt particular heartbreak when Sam discovers Tusker’s notebook and we see the progression of his handwriting and how it gets more and more illegible until there is nothing. The scene where Sam shows Tusker the Dictaphone and plays the message Tusker left for Sam was the emotional peak of the film and for me was the best scene as you saw the devastation Sam was facing. I think this film could work well as a play as there were not many speaking characters and it was not about the locations but rather the people and how their lives were going to change.

Definitely worth a watch for the performances of Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth but leave some time afterwards to process as the journey of the film will leave you emotionally exhausted.

I rate the film 4.5/5. The film had an ambiguous ending which I can take or leave but in this case, I was eager to know what happened to them.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

Summer of Cinema: Freaky

It comes as no surprise that Freaky shares the same director (Christopher Landon) as another horror: Happy Death Day as that film also has a comedy trope, time loops. With many of the classic horror plotlines having been used over and over, its refreshing to see someone trying to mix it up a little and also make these films more appealing to those who do not like a simple gore fest. That is also what drew me to this film. It was not going to be doom and gloom, everyone dies. In a comedy horror, you know people will survive.

Dear Readers,

This has never been my favourite genre of film: slasher horror but I made an exception for this one as it stars Kathryn Newton, an actress I love to watch on screen and had the body swap concept which is not a take I have seen on a film featuring a serial killer. The film was like a modern version of the Scream films: set in a small American town, main protagonist is female, killer on the loose, teens at the high school already victims. The comedy aspect from the ‘Freaky Friday’ theme added something different.

I saw the film at a different cinema than my usual and it was very quiet so I got to sit in the centre of the screen with no-one in front of me. The film was easy to get lost in due to the suspense and hopefully none of the cinemagoers sitting at the back saw me jump.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

It comes as no surprise that Freaky shares the same director (Christopher Landon) as another horror: Happy Death Day as that film also has a comedy trope, time loops. With many of the classic horror plotlines having been used over and over, its refreshing to see someone trying to mix it up a little and also make these films more appealing to those who do not like a simple gore fest. That is also what drew me to this film. It was not going to be doom and gloom, everyone dies. In a comedy horror, you know people will survive.

You would be mistaken for thinking that the film had no blood or gore at all. The opening scene establishing the serial killer, The Butcher provides plenty of that. There were some new ways of killing teens that I had not seen before such as with an ancient javelin and a wine bottle down the throat. I definitely was hiding behind my fingers for that one.

We then meet Millie (Newton), an average high-schooler who has retreated within herself after her father’s death. She is invisible at school but hangs out with her friends, Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich). She lives with her mother (Katie Finneran) and older sister, Charlene (Dana Drori) who is a cop. We meet many of the usual high school tropes: the football team, the popular girls, the mean ones. Millie has a role as the team mascot on the cheer squad, a position usually occupied by the ‘loser’ of the film.

When waiting for her mother to pick her up after the homecoming game, Millie is left alone in the dark. Not a good idea with a killer on the prowl. He finds her and in running away she makes it to the football field again. He manages to stab her shoulder with his new weapon, gained in the first scene but before her death, Millie’s sister comes to the rescue.

The next morning, Millie wakes up in the body of the Butcher (Vince Vaughn) and he wakes up as Millie. With help from her friends after they realise the Butcher is actually their friend, the three figure out that they have 24 hours to stab Millie’s body again with the knife, otherwise the swap will be permanent.

Meanwhile, The Butcher as Millie has taken on a whole new look that gets heads turning. It grabs the attention of Millie’s crush, Booker (Uriah Shelton). He also comes to learn of the swap and the pair have a tender moment while Millie is still the Butcher which made for a strange yet funny scene.

The film concludes with a hunt for the killer at the homecoming party held of course, at an abandoned mill where the Butcher resides. There is a second ending where the Butcher comes after Millie and her family but he is finally put to rest.

I enjoyed the teen tropes of the film and that only characters who had wronged Millie or others in some way were victims. The style of the film was great with Millie’s outfit that the Butcher picks being a favourite. There were some gory deaths but they did not take over from the comedy side of the film. The acting was good and just the right tone for this sort of comedy horror. My issues with the film is that there were a couple of jokes made about rape that were in very poor taste and completely unnecessary. That disappointed me as many films and television shows have moved beyond this humour.

Overall, I enjoyed the film and the acting but it was let down by a couple of comments. I give it 4/5.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

Summer of Cinema: Black Widow

The Widows and their master, Dreykov (Ray Winstone) has a strong relevance to Hollywood after the MeToo Movement and the equality that women in the industry have been working towards since cinema began. Dreykov takes the free will and childhoods of these girls and turns them into killing machines. The big reveal of the film is the identity of Taskmaster. An assassin with the ability to copy any fighting style they see and beat an opponent with their own moves. When Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko) is revealed as Dreykov’s daughter who Natasha thought she had killed before defecting to join S.H.I.E.L.D, it shows the lengths that Dreykov will go to for power. Changing the character from male to female for the film, gave an added element to the female power as the mysterious villain is often male.

Dear Reader,

I, like many others have been waiting for this film for over a year. Marvel fans have had some amazing TV shows to keep us entertained in 2021, but when the time came for Black Widow, I had to see the first female Avenger get her due. In some ways, it has been much longer than a year waiting for this film. The friend who organised my group outing has been anticipating since Black Widow’s debut in Iron Man 2 (2010). Natasha Romanoff has always been a mystery. We have seen a little of her back story in the Red Room, training to be an assassin but how did she really become Black Widow and how did she join S.H.I.E.L.D?

I saw this film at a Vue Extreme screening in Westfield Shepherd’s Bush, London so I definitely got the full effect. The screen was massive and the audience was packed for a Friday afternoon. I went with a group of friends and mutual friends and despite not everyone being a Marvel geek, we all enjoyed seeing Black Widow get her moment to shine.

There’s so much to dissect within the film including amazing aerial fight sequences, powerful female characters, an unexpected family drama aspect, humorous squabbling and the long awaited Budapest story.

I will start first with the characters. We have met Natasha Romanoff in several Marvel films as different versions of herself. There was Natalie Rushman in Iron Man 2 and her true name, Natalia Alianova Romanova was revealed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Despite an appearance in eight other Marvel films, Black Widow has always kept her cards close to her chest in terms of her origin story; we have only been given little bits and pieces.

In Black Widow, we find Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) on the run from the government after the events of Captain America: Civil War. She expertly evades Secretary Ross (William Hurt) and ends up in Norway. She still has her trademark red hair but we know that at some point she will dye it blonde for her appearance in Avengers: Infinity War.

We also learn of Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), a Black Widow agent on mission in Morocco. After exposure to a chemical, Yelena wakes up from mind control and goes rogue. Natasha finds her in Budapest and after trying to kill each other, the two remember their past as sisters in America.

Natasha and Yelena were raised as sisters for three years with the Red Guardian – Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachel Weisz) – a former Widow posing as their parents. The first sequence shows their life together and then suddenly having to leave sleepy Ohio for Russia to train in the Red Room.

When Natasha learns that the Red Room still exists and girls are still being trained as assassins, she agrees to help Yelena take it down. They team up with Alexei and Melina once again who help them find the Red Room. There is a big focus on aerial stunts in this film which is something Marvel loves to dabble in with its flying heroes such as Falcon, Iron Man, Vision and War Machine but we have not seen this so much with Natasha. There is the small airplane sequence where Alexei tries to fend off the police from the wing of the plane; the helicopter jailbreak in Russia with Yelena flying it and Natasha swinging from a cable and of course, the fight sequence when everything falls after the Red Room is blown up.

The Widows and their master, Dreykov (Ray Winstone) has strong relevance in Hollywood after the MeToo Movement and the equality that women in the industry have been working towards since cinema began. Dreykov takes the free will and childhoods of these girls and turns them into killing machines. The big reveal of the film is the identity of Taskmaster. An assassin with the ability to copy any fighting style they see and beat an opponent with their own moves. When Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko) is revealed as Dreykov’s daughter who Natasha thought she had killed before defecting to join S.H.I.E.L.D; it shows the lengths that Dreykov will go to for power. Changing the character from male to female for the film gave an added element to the female power as the mysterious villain is often male.

When Natasha and Yelena sit down for dinner with Alexei and Melina, family dynamics that had been forgotten for 20 years come into play with Melina criticising Natasha’s posture and Alexei telling the women to listen to their ‘mother.’ The humour and banter between the four characters demonstrates the closeness they once shared. They are able to fall back into familiar roles.

An element of the film that fans have been waiting for is the story behind what happened in Budapest with Natasha and Clint Barton. It started as a throwaway line in Avengers (2012) but has become a key part of Natasha’s story. When she finds Yelena in Budapest at a safe house, she recounts meeting Clint and him helping her avoid being recalled to the Red Room. We get details such as hiding in an air duct in the Metro for two days and using the same safe house where Natasha and Yelena meet. This is evidenced by arrow holes in the wall. Natasha mentioned before that Clint was sent to kill her but instead gave her a chance to join a different side. Her accidental killing (or so she thought) of Dreykov’s daughter was her proof that she had separated herself from Dreykov and the Widows.

Overall, this film was entertaining and a welcome return for Marvel at the cinema. It was funnier than I expected whilst still maintaining a serious plot and a worthy adversary to destroy. The aerial stunt at the end was like nothing I had seen in a Marvel outing or elsewhere and was amazing to see on a big screen. If you have been waiting to return to the cinema, definitely make this film your first one back.

I give this film 5/5.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

Summer of Cinema: The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

The cast for this film is exceedingly good: Ryan Reynolds, Salma Hayek, Samuel L Jackson, Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas. This group have 18 nominations and wins at big award shows but even they could not make this film entertaining. The plot was very lacking. Some guy trying to make Greece the leading economy wanted to ‘blow up’ Europe by taking out all the power. He was going to use a massive diamond drill a la Armageddon (1998) to drill into the power line from Europe to North America. Very unbelievable and like something from a 1950s comic strip.

Dear Readers,

Despite the negative reviews for this film, I was entertained by the first iteration and I try to make up my own mind rather than be swayed by the critics. I should have taken the warning as this definitely did not live up to the first. If you’re looking for mindless action with big stars then you might enjoy it but anyone looking for a continuation of the first or any semblance of a plot, should not watch.

The film is meant to be a new adventure, this time with Sonia Kincaid, out of jail and joining the team of Michael Bryce and Darius Kincaid. The trio make their way though Italy, first saving Darius then trying to stop the bad guys. Interpol are also on their backs with their own new team, including a special agent from Boston.

The cast for this film is exceedingly good: Ryan Reynolds, Salma Hayek, Samuel L Jackson, Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas. This group have 18 nominations and wins at big award shows but even they could not make this film entertaining. The plot was very lacklustre. Some guy trying to make Greece the leading economy wanted to ‘blow up’ Europe by taking out all the power. He was going to use a massive diamond drill a la Armageddon (1998) to drill into the power line from Europe to North America. Very unbelievable and like something from a 1950s comic strip.

The characters were not developed properly and had strange relationships to one another. Sonia and Darius saw Michael as a son even adopting him at the end as a joke. He is infuriated by them but still helps free Darius when Sonia asks. When Morgan Freeman is revealed as Michael’s father (step), I stopped looking for the logic and rolled with it. Frank Grillo’s character was more of a shell, his only trait being that he hated Europe and wanted to leave. He also had trouble understanding a Scottish accent.

The locations in Italy were one of the only redeeming qualities but even they were spoiled by the excessive shoot-outs between Michael, Darius and Sonia and various adversaries. The sound was an assault on the ears at points and there was so much violence with little remorse which marks Sonia and Darius as psychopaths in some definitions, despite them being on the good team.

Overall, a poorly executed idea that could have made a half way decent film with better writing, less gun violence and a more believable plot.

I give this film 2.5/5.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

My culture fix – Inspired by The Times

My favourite author or book
Simon James Green writes great gay YA novels that I lap up.
Beauty Sleep is a recent favourite along with Red White and Royal Blue.

The book I’m reading

Any Way The Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell. The third in the trilogy and it has recently come out. My edition has a great pink flowered edge. Lovely. I am lapping up the book but it is over 500 pages. Excited for the conclusion of beloved characters.

The book I wish I had written
Solitaire by Alice Oseman. The feelings and emotions of the main character spoke to me in such a way that it could have come from my own brain. I wish I had the talents to produce something as intimate and eviscerating.

The book I couldn’t finish
Dracula. Studied at school but I never made it past chapter 1. Thank goodness for the Internet.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

To Kill A Mockingbird or Normal People. Both culturally significant and talked about. I did see the show of Normal People.

My favourite film
The Day After Tomorrow
An unusual favourite but shows my love for New York City and natural disaster films. I love the way people band together under extraordinary circumstances. I get a rush when this happens so chase the feeling on film and in life. I felt a thrill every time the fire alarm went off at university in the middle of the night or waiting for a teacher to turn up to a lesson. I am forever seeking this feeling.

My favourite play
I am more of a musical gal but I did enjoy the National Theatre Live production of Fleabag. I saw at the cinema and I can see why Phoebe Waller-Bridge launched her career off this one-woman show.

The box set I’m hooked on
Elité was a recent binge. I have a new thing for foreign language Netflix shows. I am also currently watching Modern Family and The Bold Type.

My favourite TV series
I loved The Wilds on Amazon Prime. I find myself drifting back to The Office along with Lost and Brooklyn 99.

My favourite piece of music
Sour by Olivia Rodrigo has been the only music on my radar lately. In particular brutal and jealousy, jealousy convey deep emotions. Such strong lyrics for someone so young.

The last film that made me cry
Black Widow. The thrill of seeing it in the cinema in London on a massive screen with some dear friends moved me to tears. The culmination of female superheroes and the journey for equality along with the resurrection of Natasha Romanoff. Albeit in a flashback.

The lyric I’d wish I’d written
Who I am if not exploited – brutal
I lost my mind, I spent the night, crying on the floor of my bathroom. You’re so unaffected I really don’t get it. – good 4 u.

Both from Sour and both speak to me.

The instrument I play
Piano and previously violin.

The instrument I wish I’d learnt
Guitar. Always looks so cool and sexy whenever someone can rock a song on the guitar. Think John Lennon or Brian May.

If I could own one painting
Anything by Mondrian or Jack Vettriano for my mum as he is her favourite artist.

The place I feel happiest
With my parents in their apartment. Especially in summer.

The movie I’m looking forward to
Dune with Timothée Chalamet. I would watch him do anything.

I wasted an evening watching…
The Euros final with England and Italy. Only the third football match I had ever seen and I watched it in case we won. Felt like a let down after the football did not come home as was promised.

The film I walked out on
I’ve never left the cinema but I did want to when seeing The House that Jack Built at Cannes 2018. Very disturbing by Lars Von Trier.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure
Queer as Folk US. An old show from 2000 but it got me through feeling under the weather earlier this year and inspired a collection of blog posts. It does have questionable ethics and depictions of the gay community but I love the characters and the plots so much.

Overrated
Love Island.

Underrated
The Wilds on Amazon. How is everyone not talking about this show?

Summer of Cinema: In the Heights

I loved the setting and the massive dance numbers featured in the film. While on the streets of New York, the flash mob like crowds all dancing as one reminded you that this was heightened reality and a musical and not how things really work. That being said, the ideas and fears presented are very real to many people. One of my favourite numbers was 96,000 set at the local swimming pool where the characters all dream of what they would do if they won the lottery after the winning ticket was sold at the bodega.

Dear Readers,

I am back again with my new series, Summer of Cinema and today I am recounting my experience of seeing In the Heights. I went along with a friend and we both enjoyed the film despite its long runtime. Our screen was fairly quiet and we were sitting more forward than I usually choose but it did not detract from this lively, culturally eye-opening and fun musical. If you saw Hamilton, then you will definitely enjoy In the Heights.

The setting for the musical is the area of Washington Heights in Manhattan and almost in the Bronx. The characters in the film are mostly all immigrants from Latin countries and the plot centres around them trying to make it in a world where they have not had advantages that others have had. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and starred in the original musical on Broadway that is the basis for the film.

The cast are a mixture of well-known faces: Anthony Ramos from Hamilton (another Miranda Broadway original); Jimmy Smits (The West Wing); Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn 99) and new comers: Melissa Barrera, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace and Gregory Diaz IV.

The story is set in Summer and centres around a city wide blackout. The residents all have their own dreams: Usnavi wants to carry on his father’s legacy in Dominican Republic; Vanessa wants to become a fashion designer in Midtown; Daniela wants to make her business work despite moving to the Bronx and Nina wants to leave her college and reconnect with her neighbourhood.

Throughout the film, we see each of these characters and others trying their best to fulfil these dreams. They try to get through the tough times to emerge out of the other side with their heads held high. Many of the songs centre around working hard as an immigrant in New York City and the challenges that come with being an immigrant. Much in the style of Hamilton, the songs are political, personal, full of truths about the world.

This is a story you can’t help but get lost in and swept up with the emotions of the Barrio and even though the struggles of the characters are not similar to my own, I felt that I could relate to their pain and their hope for the future. Especially after 2020, the film feels very timely. The characters make their own dreams come true without waiting around for the right time. They also compromise to make the best out of a situation.

I loved the setting and the massive dance numbers featured in the film. While on the streets of New York, the flash mob like crowds all dancing as one reminded you that this was heightened reality and a musical and not how things really work. That being said, the ideas and fears presented are very real to many people. One of my favourite numbers was 96,000 set at the local swimming pool where the characters all dream of what they would do if they won the lottery after the winning ticket was sold at the bodega.

Overall I enjoyed the vibe of the film and the colours and dance numbers helped me escape to another place for a while but still kept me grounded in the issues facing immigrants in New York. The film was long but the pacing was good and I didn’t find myself worrying about the time once I was enraptured by the film.

I give this film 4.5/5

Happy Watching,

Robyn

Summer of Cinema: Cruella and A Quiet Place Part II

The use of sound in this film elevates it from your usual gore fest filled with horrific creatures and gruesome deaths. One of the characters is deaf and in the sequel she takes over the role of the patriarch and becomes the one to find a safe haven for her family. We get to experience sound the way she does, when the film shifts to her point of view. It was a great technique that helped the viewer relate to a deaf character when this can be tricky to do if you do not know anyone who is deaf in the real world.

Hello Readers,

Welcome to my new series Summer of Cinema. The cinemas have reopened and I together with thousands of others have been going to watch the films that we have been waiting for in the last year. I have made the trip twice this month and I am planning to enjoy the experience many times this summer. I will be continuing my series with a review of every film I see in the cinema this summer, of which I hope there will be many. Time to once again sit back, relax and enjoy the magic of the big screen.

Cruella (2021)

I chose this film for my return to the cinema as I was interested in the concept. A 101 Dalmatians prequel of Cruella in 1970s London and in the fashion world. What’s not to love? The film starts with how Cruella ended up in London as a young child in the 60s and jumps to her life as a common thief with her two friends and their dogs. Cruella who is first known as Estella, gets a simple job at Liberty’s and after an avant-garde unprompted window display, she goes to work for the House of Baroness, a notorious fashion house. Estella then decides to become an even bigger presence in the fashion world than the Baroness and to do this she must unleash her bad side – Cruella.

The film was a bold move for Disney as even though the film is a 12, it is pitched towards a younger audience as well. I think the film bridges the divide between a film for younger audiences and older ones. Many people in the screening were adults. This was a fresh take on a villain’s back story and it created a world that had not been associated with Cruella De Vil in other iterations. Whilst we know Cruella as the dog-napping rich old woman with little joy and a grudge against spotty dogs; Estella in this version is fun, kind-hearted and poor. Later in the film when she takes on her Cruella persona, we see some of the Cruella we have known in other films appear. She is a more toned down version than the original and no dogs are harmed in the film.

One of the best parts of the film for me was the fashion. There were so many wonderful and striking designs made by both the Baroness and Cruella. While the Baroness took measured risks and presented as prim and proper; Cruella smashed the expectations and matched rock’n’roll and feminist angst with a runway show. Seeing Cruella’s ideas to outshine the Baroness get even more outrageous and punk was a fun highlight.

Emma Stone was wonderful in the role and her accents were on point both as Estella and the slightly posher Cruella. She played all facets of Cruella seamlessly. I was initially sceptical of Emma Stone’s casting as Glenn Close gave such an iconic performance as Cruella. My fears definitely were vanquished after seeing the iconic performance that Emma gave. It was like she was born to play the role.

I thought that the other actors were all amazing in their roles, especially Emma Thompson as the villain and the children who played the younger versions of Estella and the gang. My only issue with the whole film was that Estella and her friends were around 11/12 years old then it jumps to 10 years later but the actors playing them in the 1970s look at least 30 and not in their early 20s. Emma Stone could just about pull this off but the other two were pushing it. Once I let this go, I enjoyed the story and let go of realism.

The music for was another iconic part of the film with some great classic 70s tracks that paired with Cruella’s bold fashion pieces created a punk rock London scene that I would love to experience.

Overall I give this film 10/10. Every element was on point and my expectations were lowered as it is a Disney film but I feel like the film was suitable for all audiences especially with the period setting and witty dialogue. If ever there was a prequel or continuation of a well-loved classic to live up to or even surpass the original, it would be Cruella. A warm welcome back to the cinema and a great start to a Summer of Cinema.

A Quiet Place Part II (2021)

In contrast to Cruella, I have been waiting for this film since it was announced that there would be a sequel. I do not normally enjoy ‘horror’ films such as these with monsters and jump scares but A Quiet Place bridges the gap between ingenious filmmaking and scaring for scaring’s sake. At the heart of the films is a family that represents everyone. Their struggle to survive in the post-apocalyptic world, especially after the death of a child and the man of the house touches a nerve with many, especially after the past year.

The use of sound in this film elevates it from your usual gore fest filled with horrific creatures and gruesome deaths. One of the characters is deaf and in the sequel she takes over the role of the patriarch and becomes the one to find a safe haven for her family. We get to experience sound the way she does, when the film shifts to her point of view. It was a great technique that helped the viewer relate to a deaf character when this can be tricky to do if you do not know anyone who is deaf in the real world.

I am especially attached to the characters because of the actors. John Krasinski and his wife, Emily Blunt play husband and wife as well as John directing both films. This is rare in the film world and of course their on-screen chemistry is reflected by their real life bond. They already know how to move around the other and as they have children of their own, acting as parents is second nature to them. The actors who play the kids, Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds are two of the best young actors in Hollywood today and both do excellent jobs reprising their roles in the sequel and picking up where the first film ended.

While a direct sequel, this film also has a flashback to the first day of the apocalypse and we get to see a glimpse of who the family were before they became survivalists. We get to see John Krasinski and their other son again amongst other members of their small town. The town is actually a replica of the one we see in the first film. I personally did not notice any difference but then again three years have passed in between the two films.

We also have a new character introduced, Emmett who takes over John’s role as the adult male. While Emmett does help the family out when they are being pursued by monsters, it is Millicent’s character who assumes his role as the protector and forward thinker. She becomes the one in charge of saving the family after she hears a clue on the radio and goes to search for an island that she believes will be a new home for her family. In the other storyline, we see Emily Blunt step up to protect her new baby and her son, Marcus who gets badly injured at the start of the film.

The family flee their burning house to find somewhere new to hide when they come across a disused flour mill, or so they think. After being pursued by a creature who we get to see up close for the first time, Marcus gets caught in an animal trap and they seek shelter. By coincidence, the mill is being occupied by Emmett, a friend from before the meteor struck. He offers them shelter and after Regan (Simmonds) leaves to find the island, he goes to get her back and the two form a father-daughter bond.

Marcus then steps up as the man of the mill and looks after his baby sibling while his mum ventures to the nearest pharmacy for medical supplies. What follows are tense encounters with the monsters all set to a backdrop of a genius soundscape that helps the audience immerse themselves in the characters’ world.

There were a few jump scares and seeing the monsters close up wasn’t pleasant but again this film centred around family and human survival. There were twists and unexpected moments that had me holding my breath, not daring to make the slightest noise. Leave your popcorn at home again for this one.

Overall I give this film 9/10. I think some elements could have been expanded slightly and it was missing something that makes a film 10/10 for me but it was a worthy sequel and the acting was on point. Another great venture for John Krasinski and co.

Happy Watching,

Robyn