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

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