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

Oscar Hopefuls 2020

The biggest award of the night if of course Best Picture. There is stiff competition this year with every film in the category gaining multiple nominations. I have not yet seen Joker, Parasite or 1917 so I am discounting those. My pick would be Little Women. It is a much needed film for women and everyone else. It is beautiful to watch, the script is powerful and the acting brought the well-loved and well-done characters a breath of fresh air. Performances were noticed due to the two nominations but sadly Greta Gerwig was not recognised for a project that she made happen. She wrote and directed it and put so much love and care into the story. This film moved me more than the other nominations and to see a film called Little Women with four female leads in a game that is usually about men is amazing. Many people say that equally between the genders has been achieved but as most of the nominations that are for both genders contain male nominees, this is not the case.

I was just chatting to someone and talking through who I would like to win the Oscar in each category and thought why not make it into a blog post? As the Oscars will be gracing our screens tomorrow and into the night for the UK audience, I am going to go through my favourites for this year. Hopefuls and Predictions are different: there are those you would like to win and those that probably will. I will not be doing any categories where I have only seen one film or zero as that is not fair.

The biggest award of the night is of course Best Picture. There is stiff competition this year with every film in the category gaining multiple nominations. I have not yet seen Joker, Parasite or 1917 so I am discounting those. My pick would be Little Women. It is a much needed film for women and for everyone. It is beautiful to watch, the script is powerful and the acting brought the well-loved and well-acted characters a breath of fresh air. Performances were noticed due to the two nominations but sadly Greta Gerwig was not recognised for a project that she made happen. She wrote and directed it and put so much love and care into the story. This film moved me more than the other nominations and to see a film called Little Women with four female leads in a game that is usually about men is amazing. Many people say that equality between the genders has been achieved but as most of the nominations that are for both genders contain male nominees, this is not the case.

If Little Women did not win, I would not mind Jojo Rabbit or Ford vs Ferrari as both were enjoyable with so much hard work being put into them.

Actor in a Leading Role is not a particularly diverse category this year with many familiar players from other award shows present. It is great that Antonio Banderas has been included as he has not been recognised elsewhere. My pick would be Jonathan Pryce as I feel his role was more a stretch as an actor than Driver or DiCaprio. His role as the Pope brought such emotion and depth to the story (The Two Popes). He has also never won before and is such a talented actor that it would be a great ending to his career.

Actress in a Leading Role also contains people that have been picked out in other areas and again not much diversity with the exception of Cynthia Erivo for her role as titular Harriet. Considering this is only her third film role in 2 years and she has been nominated for an Oscar, she has done remarkably well. I loved her performance and the film Harriet really stayed with me hours after watching. I am disappointed it has only been picked up for 2 nominations as the film was so powerful. My pick for Actress in a Leading Role would be Saoirse Ronan. This is her 4th nomination and she is only in her mid 20s. She brought such independence, power, spirit and strength to her role as Jo March in Little Women. I love her as an actress and I hope that this will be her year.

Actor in a Supporting Role is tricky as all of these actors are established Hollywood greats. Brad Pitt has won the SAG, BAFTA and Golden Globe for this role so if he won this one it would be the set. I think however that his performance was not as inspiring as others we have seen this year. Tom Hanks also another great actor has been nominated but as I have not seen his film I cannot comment. My Pick would be Anthony Hopkins for his role as former Pope Benedict. Like Jonathan Pryce, his role brought such emotion to the film and I am not surprised that they have both been nominated.

Actress in a Supporting Role again doesn’t have any diversity other than nationality: American, British and Australian nominees. I am glad there is no double nomination for Margot Robbie as there was at the BAFTAs. I think nominating the same person twice in the same category is too much. I am not very happy with Scarlett Johansson’s double nomination either but at least she had seminal roles in both films whereas as Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, Robbie barely had any lines. My pick would be Florence Pugh as this is her first nomination and she did an amazing job as Amy March in Little Women. She has only been acting on screen for 6 years and her progression to being nominated so early is amazing. Saoirse was also nominated early in her career so this could be the start for Florence.

For Animated Feature Film, I have only seen Klaus and Toy Story 4. Both very different films with different animation styles. My pick would be Toy Story 4 for nostalgia reasons. Watching the film, I felt a strong connection to my inner child and even shed a few tears near the end. Klaus was very moving and a beautiful story but it did not elicit the same response.

In the Cinematography category I have only seen two of the nominations and with both I did not particularly notice the cinematography. I would have to go with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as some of the shots were interesting whereas with the Irishman, nothing noteworthy springs to mind.

Costume Design is a strange category this year. There are a few nominations that confuse me such as Joker and The Irishman. The other three are worthy nominees and my pick would be Little Women due to the detail Jacqueline Durran put into each characters costume. I’ve heard Greta Gerwig explain all her choices and I think so much thought and care went into the costumes that it is a worthy winner.

Directing again is all male nominees which is so disappointing as there were some amazing female led films this year such as Little Women, Harriet, Blinded by the Light, Honey Boy, Queen and Slim and Breakthrough. Out of the selection I would pick Bong Joon Ho even though I have not seen Parasite due to the fact that is not a white man. All the other directors have been recognised many times in their career.

For Film Editing, most of the nominations surprised me as the editing again was not particularly noteworthy apart from Ford vs Ferrari which I think would be a worthy winner. The editing of the Les Mans scenes made the film feel exciting and really highlighted the achievement of Ken Miles.

For the Make Up and Hairstyling award, I would like Bombshell to win as the three main actresses and John Lithgow looked very much the part. I have only seen one other nominee, Judy and while Renée Zellweger was made to look like Judy Garland, I think the effect in Bombshell was more impressive.

For the Original Score, I would like Joker to win as Hildur Guðnadóttir is making waves for female composers but as I have not seen the film, my pick would be Little Women as the score added so much to the film and Alexandre Desplat is an amazing composer.

For Original Song, I am pleased that Rocketman – (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again is nominated and I wold love if this song wins as represents such a pinnacle moment in the film and Elton John’s life. Stand Up from Harriet is also a worthy nominee but I did’t think the song was the best element of the film.

For Production Design I would chose Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood or Jojo Rabbit as both had amazing design that really contributed to the film. The 60s vibes of Tarantino’s Hollywood spectacle were the best part of the film. Jojo Rabbit was also a historical setting but with a more satirical view of Germany in the war.

Sound Editing is a tricky category for me as I am not much of an expert on sound editing but I would like Ford vs Ferrari to win as the sound very much added to the adrenaline of the racing. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is also a worthy nominee as the sound is a big part of any Star Wars film.

Ad Astra would be my pick for Sound Mixing as I haven’t seen all the nominees but this film had beautiful sounds. The setting was also amazing but this is nominated for sound mixing not production design.

Visual Effects is a tie category for me as I think Avengers Endgame and The Lion King both had great visual effects. Avengers Endgame means more to me as a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Lion King looked amazing also but I prefer the 1994 original.

I would love if Greta Gerwig won Adapted Screenplay for Little Women as she has been snubbed in the Directing category. Her interpretation of Louisa May Alcott’s story was so different to other versions of the story. Starting with the girls when they were older was a great new idea. The lines were so strong and meant a lot to me as a woman. It was also relatable and funny in places.

My pick for Original Screenplay would be Knives Out as the script was very different to many of the films going around and a great take on the murder mystery film. I have seen this film twice and it was great to see all the hints and red herrings when you know the ending. Marriage Story was strong but didn’t impress me as much.

Thanks for reading and I hope everyone enjoys the Oscars this year.

Robyn

Little Women

After hearing the announcement of the cast featuring Saoirse Ronan, Timotheé Chalamet, Laura Dern, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Meryl Streep I became very excited. The director Greta Gerwig is one of the only female directors to be nominated for an Oscar for Lady Bird. That was a film I also absolutely loved and it also starred Saoirse and Timotheé. As Laurie and Jo, the pair were just stunning. Every little movement and look heightened the possibility of a love story between the two.

This film really means a lot to me for a number of reasons so this review was always going to be a love letter to Little Women but after seeing the film yesterday, I was truly moved and surprised by the version I saw. This will contain spoilers as it has been out for a while so turn back now if you want to watch in the future although the story has been around for 150 years.

Years ago I tried to read the book of Little Women but gave up due to the complex language. However, after seeing the BBC adaptation at Christmas, a couple of years ago starring Maya Hawke, Kathryn Newton and Michael Gambon, I fell in love with the story. The strength in all of the sisters living in the times they did but managing to be such strong characters was something I really cherished. The fact that it was published in the 1860s in a time when women were not particularly valued as authors really shows the power of the little women.

After hearing the announcement of the cast featuring Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Meryl Streep I became very excited. The director Greta Gerwig is one of only a few female directors to be nominated for an Oscar for Lady Bird. That was a film I also absolutely loved and it also starred Saoirse and Timothée. As Laurie and Jo, the pair were just stunning. Every little movement and look heightened the possibility of a love story between the two.

The story of Little Women follows four sisters: Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth March in 1850s America. The Civil War is raging during their childhood with their father away fighting. They live in a modest house in Concord, Massachusetts with their mother, Marmee (Dern) and their maid, Hannah (Jayne Houdyshell). They are restricted by society at the time of how a woman should present herself and do with her life i.e. get married and have children. They often lament at being poor compared to their friends and others but are soon put in their place after helping out a local family with 5 young children living in one room.

Each sister has their own story, Jo is boyish and doesn’t want to marry. She loves writing and is constantly writing plays for her sisters to act in. Jo is also the main character of the story as it is mainly told from her perspective. Jo’s dream is to live in New York and become a novelist.

The next sister is Amy. She is younger than Jo and Meg and is annoyed at being treated as a baby all the time. For example, she is not allowed to go with Meg and Jo to a dance. She has aspirations of becoming an artist as she loves to paint. She is also cultured and is in ways the smartest sister. She is picked to go to Paris with Aunt March as she knows French and is a good companion.

The sister with perhaps more humble aspirations is Meg (Watson). We hear from Jo of her dreams to be an actress and Jo even suggests running away together but Meg corrects her that she wants to be a wife and live a quiet, happy life. Meg is the oldest sister and often goes to balls or dances which is required to hopefully meet an eligible rich man to marry.

The youngest and most fragile of the sisters is Beth (Eliza Scanlen). She is not interested in finding anyone and her biggest dream is for all of them to be together. She has skills at the piano and Mr Laurence (Chris Cooper) is taken to Beth and even gives her his grand piano. Beth is the kindest and least selfish sister. She even gets scarlet fever visiting the poor family when her sisters keep forgetting.

Laurie played by Timothée Chalamet is a character that interacts with every sister in a way. He lives next door to the March Family with his grandfather. From meeting Jo and Meg at a dance he is enamoured with Jo. She is bold and fierce and cares deeply. They become best friends but Jo never sees him that way. He becomes more relaxed and even angry when he meets Amy in Paris after being rejected by Jo. His nature is a caring one but has a temper that can match Amy’s. Not having any women in his life draws him to the March family and their business. There are many scenes where the sisters are all talking at once but understanding each other. Timothée and Saoirse have great chemistry from playing love interests in Lady Bird so it is not hard to imagine them together as Jo and Laurie which is needed as the audience need to believe in the potential of Jo and Laurie ending up together.

Marmee is a a character that encompasses all the sisters. Greta Gerwig said in an interview that a part of Marmee’s character went to each sister. Her anger at life to Jo, her caring nature to Beth, her desire to be a wife and mother to Meg and her boldness to Amy. Laura Dern is a very dynamic actress and I loved her portrayal of Marmee.

Meryl Streep was brilliant as Aunt March, her comic timing and straight talking brought an authority to Aunt March who acted as a role model to the girls especially Amy and Jo who often sat with their aunt. She never held back any thoughts which was unusual for a woman of the time and she also never married which was even more unusual. There’s a great part where Jo is trying to sell her novel to her publisher and he insists that if the main character is a woman she must be married or dead by the end. That was how society saw a woman’s place in that part of the world.

Greta’s interpretation of the story surprised me as it was not told traditionally. We started with the girls in their adulthood, Jo in New York, Meg married with children, Beth sick and Amy in Paris. The film then went back and forth between the glow of their childhood and the coldness of their adulthood. A few moments that really moved me were Beth’s death, Jo rejecting Laurie, Jo seeing her book ‘Little Women’ being printed, Meg getting married, Laurie finally choosing Amy and the ending where the sisters are all together at Aunt March’s house now turned into a school.

All of the actors were very good at their roles and two have been nominated for Oscars – Florence Pugh for her fierce and bold portrayal of Amy and Saoirse Ronan for her feisty and tempestuous role as Jo.

I think this film will become a classic in the days to come and a masterclass in how to take a well-known, well-portrayed tale and weave it into an emotional, dramatic performance that leaves you feeling like you have lived as a March sister in their house in Concord. Overall I give this film 5/5.