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

My Top Netflix Picks

Hello readers,

I have recently got a Netflix account so this post will be listing what I have been watching on the popular streaming service. I know I haven’t posted in a while but I was busy as I’m sure you all were over the Christmas/New Year Period. Hope you all had a great festive/ holiday season.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015)

I am currently on Season 2 out of 3 of this show and so far I am really enjoying it. Each episode is only 25 – 30 minutes so it is easy to binge watch which I have been doing.

The premise of the show is that Kimmy Schmidt and three other women were trapped in a bunker for 15 years from 2000 to present day. They are set free to live the lives they were robbed of by their cult leader, the evil Reverend. Kimmy is 29 and decides to live in New York City and create her new adult life there away from Dunsville, Indiana where she was held captive. She meets Lillian, a crazy lady who hates what hipsters are doing to the neighbourhood and Titus Andromedon, someone who also moved to New York City to pursue a dream: to be in the Broadway show, The Lion King. They all help Kimmy readjust to the modern world of mobile phones, the Internet and dating. She also gets a job working for Mrs Jacqueline Voorhees, a rich woman who can’t seem to do anything for herself.

This sitcom is definitely funny in its own unique way. The characters always seem to have a crisis but that’s life! Ellie Kemper (The Office, Bridesmaids) stars as Kimmy; Titus Burgess (30 Rock) as Titus Andromedon, Kimmy’s fabulous roommate; Carol Kane (Hester Street, Taxi, The Princess Bride) as Lillian, their wacky landlord and Jane Krakowski (30 Rock, Ally McBeal) as Jacqueline Voorhees, Kimmy’s self-centred boss.

This show is great if you are looking for something different and fun to binge watch as there are currently 3 seasons on Netflix. Also nominated for 16 Primetime Emmys and 4 SAG awards. The show is written by Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Robert Carlock (30 Rock, Friends).

Stranger Things (2016)

I know many people have seen this show, but I couldn’t not write about it. It is set in 1983 in the fictional mid-west small American town, Hawkins, Indiana. Four friends in middle school, Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will gather in Mike’s basement to play Dungeons and Dragons. On the way home, Mike disappears. In his place appears a strange girl, Eleven who can move things with her mind. Mike’s sister, Nancy also investigates her friend, Barb who goes missing just like Will. Chief Jim Hopper is on the case, he thinks Hawkins Lab has something to do with the disappearances.

The acting and aesthetic of this show is really outstanding. You really believe it is set in 1983. The creators, the Duffer Brothers took inspiration from many 80s films like the Goonies, ET,Ghostbusters and many more. Each episode is 40 – 55 minutes and there are currently two seasons out but this show is also very binge-worthy. I am re-watching it for the second time because it is that good.

The ensemble cast are: Winona Ryder (Little Women, The Age of Innocence) as Will’s mum, Joyce Byers; David Harbour (Revolutionary Road, Suicide Squad) as Chief Jim Hopper; Finn Wolfhard (IT) as Mike Wheeler, the leader of the party; Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson, the goofy, knowledgeable one; Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair, the practical one who brings the gadgets; Millie Bobby Brown as the mysterious Eleven; Natalia Dyer as Will’s sister, Nancy Wheeler; Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers, Will’s older brother; Joe Keery as Nancy’s boyfriend, Steve Harrington; Cara Buono as Mike’s mum, Karen Wheeler and Noah Schnapp as Will Byers.

Above are the main cast for Season 1, there are some added cast members in Season 2 but I don’t want to give anything away.

This show is a drama/mystery/horror and once you start watching you will be hooked. It has also been nominated for 4 Golden Globes (including one win by David Harbour), 18 Primetime Emmys (including 5 wins), 4 Sag awards (1 win by the ensemble cast) and 1 BAFTA nomination.

The Good Place (2016)

This sitcom style show has a different vibe to most TV programmes you see these days. Yes it is funny, with a certain amount of drama with some well developed characters but everyone in it is dead. It takes place in somewhere called The Good Place, somewhere everyone who was really kind and generous on Earth go after death to live out eternity, like paradise. Only those who have dedicated their lives to others go there. Everyone else goes to the Bad Place to be tortured.

Eleanor Shellstrop goes to the Good Place, at first she thinks she earned it but when she finds out the architect of the neighbourhood, Michael thinks she is someone else, she knows she is in the Good Place by mistake. When the neighbour experiences problems and Eleanor realises she is causing them, she decides to try and earn a spot in the Good Place through her ‘soulmate’ teaching her ethics. Chidi is meant to be Eleanor’s soulmate but due to an error, they realise they are only destined to be friends. She also befriends her neighbours, Tahani and Jianyu, who are soulmates or are they?

The show stars Kristen Bell (Frozen, Veronica Mars) as Eleanor; Ted Danson (Cheers, Becker) as Michael; William Jackson Harper (Paterson, High Maintenance) as Chidi; Jameela Jamil (The Republic of Telly and The Great Comic Relief Bake Off – herself) as Tahani, someone who Eleanor finds condescending and is the only one with an accent; D’Arcy Carden (Broad City, Other People) as Janet, a computer program who looks like a person, Janet contains all the knowledge in the universe and Manny Jacinto (The Romeo Section, Once Upon a Time) as Jianyu, a Buddhist monk who took a vow of silence aged 8.

This comedy is something different and I would recommend to ages 12 and up. I have seen season 1 as that is all there is on Netflix but there is also a season 2. Very easy to watch as each episode is about 23 minutes. It also won a Critics Choice award for Most Exciting New Series.

Jack Whitehall: Travels with My Father (2017)

This documentary starring Jack Whitehall (Bad Education, Fresh Meat) an actor and comedian and his uptight and middle class father, Michael. In this 6 part series, father and son go on the gap year Jack never had around South East Asia. They visit Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and go to many spots that only the locals know about. Jack takes his father along for some well needed bonding time as the two are like chalk and cheese. I find Jack Whitehall entertaining and the funny dynamic with his father makes this travel show different from the rest. Good to watch if you enjoy Jack’s humour from his TV series’ or stand up. The filming of the scenery is very good and you see this part of the world from a bird’s eye view and more.

Easy to watch as each episode is only half an hour. I binged this series in a couple of days. It is funny but also informative particularly of the history of Cambodia and the suffering the people have endured in the past, something which I was unaware of previous to watching the show. I would say it is suitable for 15 years and up due to the complex and often rude language used.

The Crown (2016)

This show tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, the monarchy of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. It starts in 1947 when Elizabeth and Philip got married. It then depicts the history of the Crown from King George VI to it being passed down to his daughter. The show also features other members of the royal family from the 1950s, the Queen Mother, Queen Mary, Duke of Windsor, Princess Margaret and Prince Charles and Princess Anne as children. The show depicts the hardship and joys Elizabeth faced as a new queen whilst still trying to be a good wife and mother.

The audience is shown the emotions of the people behind the stories in the newspapers and how they dealt with each crisis. Many people view the Royal Family as having it easy, but there was a lot they weren’t allowed to do and they had virtually no privacy then.

Whilst the show portrays real life people and events that actually happened, we have no way of knowing if what the characters said to each other in private is correct or not. Nevertheless, I think that the show is excellent. The acting and set design make you believe that the actors actually are the people they are pretending to be.

Starring in the Crown created by Peter Morgan is Claire Foy (Breathe, Wolf Hall) as Queen Elizabeth II; Matt Smith (Doctor Who, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Prince Philip; Vanessa Kirby (About Time, Everest) as Princess Margaret; Victoria Hamilton (Doctor Foster, Scoop) as the Queen Mother; Pip Torrens (Pride and Prejudice, Star Wars: Episode VII) as Tommy Lascelles, Private Secretary to King George and Queen Elizabeth and John Lithgow (Cliffhanger, Interstellar) as Sir Winston Churchill.

The show has won 2 Golden Globes (1 for Claire Foy), been nominated for another 3 (1 for Claire Foy and 1 for John Lithgow), won 3 Primetime Emmys (1 for John Lithgow), nominated for another 9 (1 for Claire Foy), won 2 BAFTAs, nominated for another 10 (1 for Claire Foy, Jared Harris (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Lincoln) who played King George VI briefly in Series 1; John Lithgow and Vanessa Kirby).

The Crown has also won 2 SAG awards (1 for Claire Foy and 1 for John Lithgow), been nominated for another 3 (1 for Claire Foy), won a Critics Choice TV award for Best Supporting Actor – John Lithgow and been nominated for 2 more (1 for Jared Harris).

Clearly, the show is a success for Netflix and one of their most popular shows. There are currently 2 series out, I am half way through series 2 and I really love it. I didn’t know half of what happened in the Royal Family at the time and the acting, costumes and set really transport you there. Each episode is about 1 hour long but it is definitely worth watching.

Grace & Frankie (2015)

The premise of the show is quite simple, Grace and Frankie are told by their husbands, Sol and Robert that they both want a divorce because they want to marry each other. Turns out both Grace and Frankie’s 40 year long marriage was only real for half that time. Robert and Sol, who are partners in a law firm have been secretly gay and in a relationship for the last 20 years and want to get married as it is now legal.

Grace and Frankie have known each other for those 40 years but they are far from friends. Grace ran her own beauty business and believes appearance is everything. Grace teaches art to former convicts and is also a hippy who likes to take drugs and live wild and free. After their husbands leave them, they share their co-owned beach house and gradually begin to get along. Both have two children, Grace has feisty Brianna who now runs her business and Mallory who has 2 kids and a husband of her own who is more conventional and generous. Frankie has 2 boys, both adopted, Bud who is practical and a lawyer like his dad and Coyote who is a recovering drug addict searching for his purpose in life.

Together both families navigate their new and unexpected dynamic with hilarity and drama along the way. Starring in the show are Jane Fonda (Barbarella, 9 to 5) as Grace, Lily Tomlin (9 to 5, Grandma) as Frankie, Sam Waterston (Law and Order, The Great Gatsby, 1974) as Sol, Martin Sheen (The West Wing, Apocalypse Now) as Robert, Brooklyn Decker (Just Go With It, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) as Mallory, June Diane Raphael (The Disaster Artist, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) as Brianna, Ethan Embry (Sweet Home Alabama, That Thing You Do!) as Coyote and Baron Vaughn (Cloverfield, Black Dynamite) as Nwabudike ‘Bud’.

This comedy has been nominated for 1 Golden Globe for Lily Tomlin, 7 Primetime Emmys (2 for Lily Tomlin, 1 for Jane Fonda) and 4 SAG awards (2 for Lily Tomlin, 2 for Jane Fonda).

Each episode is around 25-30 minutes and there are currently 3 series with a fourth coming on Netflix very soon. I have just finished series 1 and I will definitely be continuing to watch it.

Recommendations I have received from friends are Gilmore Girls, Brooklyn 99, 13 Reasons Why, Black Mirror, How to Get Away with Murder and Orphan Black.

Hope any Netflix users find my review useful.

Happy Watching,

Robyn 🙂