Thursday, July 8, 2021

BLACK WIDOW

Scarlett Johansson     Florence Pugh     Rachel Weisz     David Harbour     William Hurt

 


            Noteworthy in this Marvel action film is the “woman’s touch” in directing.  We get a spoof on families, along with its dark side, the bonds of sisterly affection, and loyalty among females in general, even though the female characters are just as ferocious as the men.  The Australian writer and film director Cate Shortland has a short resume of films she has written/directed, but they are well represented in the awards world (c.f., Somersault, Lore, Berlin Syndrome) at this stage of her career.

            Black Widow 2021 is a prequel, showing Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) and Yelena Belova (Pugh) as children of Melina Vostokoff (Weisz) and Alexei Shostakov (Harbous) living as a happy family in Ohio.  When Alexei arrives home one evening, he tells Melina they must flee within the hour.  That’s when the girls learn that they have major roles to play in a world drama.

            Jump ahead twenty-one years, after the family has been broken up.  Natasha is on her own and literally bumps into (read major skirmish) Yelena, whom she recruits to join her in fighting a dangerous conspiracy afoot directed by Dreykov (Winstone).  In their efforts, they reconnect with Alexei (the Red Guardian), springing him from prison, and Melina who now has a pig farm, but is still intimately connected to the Red Room and Dreykov.

            What follows are numerous scenes of death-defying battles, some fought from airplanes and helicopters, which constitute a marvel (pun intended) of CGI and other special effects, with characters from Natasha’s past continuing to pop up.  Warmly amusing in all these scenes, Natasha expresses concern and apologizes or tries to restore their health and well-being.  For whatever reason, the filmmakers want to portray her as caring in the end, particularly as a “big sister” to Belova.

            We get to see the real villain in the course of Natasha’s efforts to stem the conspiracy.  It’s truly horrific, as scene after scene unfolds showing the most inhumane actions, and of course a push for world-dominance.

            The two female actors, Johansson and Pugh, are clearly up to the job of starring in an action film, not only in their ability to portray the ultimate in toughness and brawn, but also in their gift for verbal jabs and playfulness in even the most harrowing scenes.  Rachel Weisz admirably embodies a nurturing figure and technical genius all in the same person (another strong point of the film).  Noticeable too is David Harbour as protective father, Incredibly strong man, and lovable dufus in his many manifestations.

            I enjoyed this more than most action films for its cleverness, underlying ethics, and filmmaking skill in general. Although I tire of the repeated and seemingly endless preposterous battles, I still enjoyed this film.

 

The back story of the Black Widows—and a side of Natasha—we haven’t seen before.

 

Grade:  B                                 By Donna R. Copeland


Thursday, July 1, 2021

I CARRY YOU WITH ME

 Armando Espitia     Christian Vazquez     Michelle Rodriguez


            A tender reminiscence about a Mexican man trying to fulfill his dreams in America after he suffers prejudice and heartbreak in his hometown of Puebla.  Of course, he discovers through the years that he must deal with something similar in the U.S., but it is different enough that he is able to accommodate and make his way toward fulfilling his dreams.  It’s hard to say if his life would have turned out another way if he hadn’t gotten one of the best surprises of his life after years of being here, but the film has a greater interest in helping us learn about and identify with the immigrant’s experience, and the tremendous pulls toward staying in the new country versus moving back to the old one.

            Flashbacks are used effectively to show us Ivan’s (Espitia) and Gerardo’s (Vazquez) memories of the past, both in Mexico and in the US.  Just as in real life, these memories pop up at unexpected moments, illuminating whatever is going on at the time.  Rather surprisingly, this is the first feature for director Heidi Ewing, whose past work is in documentaries about people needing to adjust to changing circumstances (The Boys of Baraka, Jesus Camp, Detropia).  She has a keen eye for points in a story that have universal as well as personal appeal, which makes this transition logical and impactful.  

            Ewing has some advantage in helping the film achieve a real-life quality.  The two figures on whom the story is based are her personal friends with story-worthy lives.  But Ewing went further in being rather daring; she filmed the real people as the two friends in their present-day ages/lives.  This will not be noticeable to most viewers, although some will catch it when the credits come onscreen.  

            The actors seen for most of the movie are well cast, showing major differences in the personalities and backgrounds of the characters.  Ivan is the most sentimental of the three, Gerardo the most practical, and Sandra (Rodriguez) a cross between the two in her capacity for sympathy and understanding, although lacking foresight in making major life decisions.  The pulls back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico are very different for each of them.

            This is a welcome addition to the genre of immigration experiences, and is likely applicable to people from any country who have come to the U.S. undercover.  I doubt that many of us think much about all the people who serve us when we go to restaurants, and all the stories they could tell if we asked them.

 

A captivating story about two immigrants who find the strategies required for subterfuge bear similarities in both countries.

 

Grade:  A                                          By Donna R. Copeland