Film Review: Black Widow (2021)

Release Date: June 30th, 2021 (Madrid fan event premiere)
Directed by: Cate Shortland
Written by: Eric Pearson, Jac Schaeffer, Ned Benson
Based on: Marvel Comics
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenie, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Rachel Weisz, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (cameo), Jeremy Renner (cameo, voice)

Truenorth Productions, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“[to Natasha and Yelena] You both have killed so many people. Your ledgers must be dripping, just gushing red. I couldn’t be more proud of you.” – Alexei Shostakov

I initially planned to see this in the theater but I was travelling for work when this came out and by the time I got caught up and was going to finally see it, it was gone. Also, I wasn’t going to pay an additional $29.99 to watch it on Disney+ when it would be free a few months later. That price tag is stupid, especially when HBO Max drops the new movies without any additional cost. But this isn’t a “bitch about how dumb and greedy Disney is” article, it’s a movie review about the long overdue first (and only) film about one of the greatest Marvel Cinematic Universe characters.

Sadly, this doesn’t live up to any hype one would have for it. Also, it’s five years too late and had it been made five years ago, it probably would’ve been a much better, much more coherent and much more entertaining picture.

Also, this proves that wedging a chapter in the MCU franchise into a previous point in the timeline, further fucks up and wrecks that timeline. Captain Marvel, Avengers: EndgameLoki and probably some other things have also done this and created serious continuity issues, not to mention, altering characters in ways that don’t make sense or ruins them.

If you can completely turn your brain off and watch this without questioning anything, it’s probably an entertaining spy thriller. I can do that with many things but not with the nearly 30th entry into a thirteen year-old franchise that features a title character that has existed in eleven of those thirteen years.

There are so many problems with this movie like its terrible plot and incoherent logic, the fact that Black Widow is apparently made out of titanium, Taskmaster isn’t in anyway Taskmaster, the main villain is by far the worst in the franchise and it has the worst pacing and editing of any MCU movie.

I won’t harp on about how a small prop plane full of bullet holes can’t fly from Ohio to Cuba with S.H.I.E.L.D. in pursuit or how secret intel is sent to a safehouse used by many other people after its existence was made known to S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra and everyone else. I won’t talk about how the entire movie was a string of plot conveniences and contrivances where if just one thing didn’t go smoothly, the entire story would’ve been fucked. I won’t grill the filmmakers about the stupidity of a secret flying fortress in a world with the MCU‘s technology, Tony Stark, Skrulls, Kree, satellites and Google f’n Earth. I won’t bring up physics or how the human body reacts to explosions, smashing into hard objects during free fall or how joints, muscles, nerves and nose cartilage work.

So since I won’t spend thousands of words on the stuff just mentioned, I will talk about how the characters never felt right. Natasha’s family felt forced and just wedged in to her personal mythos. Where were any of these people during the events of Infinity War and Endgame? Not to mention the twenty or so other Black Widows that Natasha freed at the end of the film. Mathematically, roughly half of those Widows would’ve survived Thanos’ snap and could’ve been helping Natasha, who was essentially running the show when half the world and its heroes disappeared. Ten-to-twelve Widows would’ve been really helpful in the first act of Endgame and twenty or more showing up for the final battle with Thanos could’ve been a hell of an advantage, especially a Taskmaster fighting on the side of good. Hell, we could’ve gotten a Captain America and Red Guardian team-up moment.

Additionally, we never really get to explore her time in the Black Widow program, which I’m pretty sure was something that everyone was anticipating. So here we have a character that’s appeared in at least half, if not most, of the MCU films and she doesn’t really have an origin story. There’s the ridiculous opening sequence in this movie and a credits montage but beyond that, everything we know about the character’s past is revealed through clunky dialogue. Dialogue which may or may not be reliable considering the villain is well… a fucking villain and Natasha and her sister Yelena have both had their minds altered on some level.

Getting to Taskmaster, I honestly don’t care that the character is a woman and out of respect for her gender, I’ll refer to her now as Taskmistress. My issue with the character was that other than being able to instantaneously learn from her opponents and mimic them, she wasn’t Taskmaster in any other regard. Taskmistress is a completely different character created from completely different circumstances, devoid of personality, devoid of style, missing the iconic skull face and thus, totally lacking the character’s charisma and coolness. Taskmistress is just generic super soldier cyborg lady. And what’s even more distressing is that she is clearly a man until the helmet comes off for what was meant to be a shocking reveal but was honestly, more expected than my cousin Lindsey getting pregnant again.

Look, I like this character and I like Scarlett Johansson and her commitment to this character over what may be a dozen movies now. The problem is that she deserved a movie earlier than this and she also deserved a better story than this. Hell, she probably should’ve had three movie by now, just like the boys on the Avengers team… well, except Hawkeye but that’s another sore subject with me.

Through this, I also liked Florence Pugh as Yelena and I don’t hate the idea of her taking the mantle if Johansson is truly done with it. However, her being sent on a mission to kill Hawkeye for “murdering” her sister is retarded, as the Avengers are more famous in their world than Scarlett Johansson is in ours. Yelena would’ve known that Hawkeye was her sister’s best friend and teammate, as the entire world knows that they’re both Avengers. Man, the MCU is run by idiots these days but just look at what Disney has done to Star Wars.

Before I go, I guess my last bone to pick is in regards to Red Guardian. So we’re supposed to accept that this guy is a smart badass that has high technical prowess and is somewhat on Captain America’s level as a fighter and hero. Yet he’s Fat Thor turned up to eleven with a Russian accent and communist tattoos that make him look like a Portland SJW angrily tweeting from a MacBook Pro in a corporate chain cafe sipping an $11 coffee and eating a $7 vegan muffin. I’m supposed to accept that this slobby juvenile idiot was his country’s Captain America and that he has actual smarts?

Anyway, I’m glad I just waited to watch this for free… or with my existing subscription. It’s not as bad as Captain Marvel was but it’s honestly in the same ballpark. Everything in this is pretty forgettable and as we’ve seen, none of it mattered to the bigger picture of the MCU. At least Captain Marvel set up some things. Not things I specifically want to see but it had more of an effect on the franchise. I guess this will tie directly to the Hawkeye television series but Yelena gunning for Clint Barton is fucking stupid for reasons I already explained.

Rating: 5.25/10

Film Review: Quantum of Solace (2008)

Also known as: Bond 22 (working title), B22 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: October 29th, 2008 (London Film Festival)
Directed by: Marc Forster
Written by: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Based on: James Bond by Ian Fleming
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Gemma Arterton, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, Judi Dench, David Harbour, Jesper Christensen, Rory Kinnear, Alfonso Cuaron (cameo), Guillermo del Toro (voice)

Eon Productions, Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 106 Minutes

Review:

“They say you’re judged by the strength of your enemies.” – James Bond

Quantum of Solace is a weird James Bond movie that seemed like it was trying to reinvent the franchise, tonally, after it already went through a major stylistic overhaul in the superb, previous film, Casino Royale.

I think that the director, Marc Forster, took a lot of creative license and the film suffers for that. Something that is part of a franchise, should have certain standards that keep the film cohesive and consistent with the other chapters in the larger, decades long, body of work.

I don’t necessarily blame Forster, as the studio may have been really keen on altering the Bond franchise following the immense success of Casino Royale. Plus, Forster wasn’t a guy known for action movies, he is known more for his dramatic, artsy films like The Kite Runner, Stranger Than Fiction, Stay, Finding Neverland and Monster’s Ball. And if I’m being honest, his other major action film, World War Z, really missed the mark too. But, personally, I really like most of Forster’s dramatic work and he is typically a great visual storyteller. I think that is probably why he was given a shot with this film, as Eon Productions possibly wanted an actual visionary to come in and freshen things up even further.

However, the problem with his action direction is almost immediately apparent in this film, as the opening scene features what should be a really fantastic sequence but it’s destroyed by quick, choppy edits that make it pretty hard to follow. It’s like a rapid paced mess of wasted, expensive shots, all of which deserved more than a split second of screen time knowing the level of craftsmanship and work that went into setting up those shots.

This issue carries over into all the other action scenes though and this is a hard movie to watch and absorb during these moments, which are aplenty.

Apart from that, the film also feels incomplete. It feels like two-thirds of a Bond movie were slapped together as best as the studio could salvage and then released with the hope that it would just be a hit, capitalizing off of the great movie before it.

For those who might not know, this film was made during the time of a big writers strike in Hollywood. When the strike happened, for better or worse (definitely worse), all writers stopped working. So it’s possible that the script was unfinished and for fear of losing money and being delayed, the studio just shoved this into the filming stage. It’s hard to really place blame on anyone due to the situation but the end result was a really lackluster Bond film and the worst one of the Daniel Craig era. Granted, there is still one more Craig-led film, which is slated to come out whenever this COVID-19 crap passes.

Quantum of Solace isn’t terrible; it’s just okay. Frankly, it’s almost forgettable other than the plot threads that tie it to the reemergence of the villainous SPECTRE organization.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other James Bond films of the Daniel Craig era.

TV Review: Stranger Things (2016- )

Original Run: July 15th, 2016 – current
Created by: The Duffer Brothers
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Mac Quayle, Heather Heywood, Alexis Martin Woodall
Cast: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Cara Buono, Matthew Modine, Noah Schnapp, Joe Keery, Sadie Sink, Dacre Montgomery, Sean Astin, Paul Reiser, Maya Hawke

21 Laps Entertainment, Monkey Massacre, Netflix, 17 Episodes (so far), 42-62 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I became a really big fan of Stranger Things the moment I watched the first episode, last year. I wanted to review it after season one but I decided to wait until after the second season, at least. Reason being, as great as this was from the start, greatness has a really hard time maintaining over the long haul. I wanted a larger sample size but now I’ve gotten it.

So now that I have seen season two and know that I’m halfway through the series, as The Duffer Brothers have said it will end with season four, I thought now was a good time to talk about what is currently one of my favorite shows. In fact, out of what’s on TV in 2017, this and Mr. Robot are the only shows that I really even care about on more than a casual level.

The thing is, Stranger Things, at least by the end of season two, has done the impossible. The show has maintained its greatness. The high precedent set by the first season was not a fluke, Stranger Things 2, as they call this season, is on the level. It may even surpass it, to be honest.

A quality that the show has that others don’t, is that it doesn’t constantly churn out a set number of episodes. The Duffer Brothers don’t want to be confined in that way. They write the story and however many episodes they need to tell it, is what they make. It isn’t a show bogged down by filler episodes or dragging its ass because more episodes mean more advertising revenue. I hope all other streaming shows follow suit and realize that this is probably the best way to present a show. I mean imagine if a movie just introduced a random character out of nowhere and then distracted you for a significant amount of time, disrupting the overall narrative? (*cough – Matt Damon in Interstellar)

I’ve never been a big fan of kid actors, especially in ensembles. It barely ever works out but the 1980s were a strange decade where a lot of child ensemble films just worked. This show is a true throwback to that because these kids are magic together. And maybe we’re coming into some child actor renaissance, as It also featured a great young ensemble cast. That film also featured Finn Wolfhard from this show, so maybe he is a magic ingredient.

Stranger Things is three parts 80s Stephen King, two parts John Carpenter, one part The Goonies, one part Monster Squad, one part E.T. with a John Hughes floater. This is probably why it is such a popular show with people my age, those of us who were the age of these kids in the same decade it takes place. The show also resonates with a younger generation too but that’s probably because this is a real 80s throwback and the 80s were infinitely cooler than today’s pop culture. Hopefully, the show’s popularity has inspired younger people to look at this show’s influences because I’d rather watch anything this is an homage to than Scream Queens or the television remakes of Teen Wolf or Scream.

This is a stupendous show. Really, it’s fucking amazing and even that feels like an understatement. It was a breath of fresh air that entered our pop culture scene a year ago and hopefully, stays fresh over its upcoming final two seasons. If not, I’ll have to adjust my rating and express my loss of enthusiasm. But, at the midway mark, it deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: Black Mass (2015)

Release Date: September 4th, 2015 (Venice International Film Festival)
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Jez Butterworth, Mark Mallouk
Based on: Black Mass by Dick Lehr, Gerard O’Neill
Music by: Tom Holkenborg
Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Johnson, David Harbour, Adam Scott, Juno Temple, W. Earl Brown

Cross Creek Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2015.

“Take your shot, but make it your best. ‘Cause I get up, I eat ya.” – Whitey Bulger

Black Mass is the latest mobster biopic to come down the pipeline. What makes this one interesting is Johnny Depp wears a bunch of heavy make-up that looks odd and makes him look like the elderly love child of Ray Liotta and one of those reptilian aliens that I heard are taking over the U.S. government.

The film is directed by Scott Cooper, who also did the critically-acclaimed Crazy Heart and the mediocre Out of the Furnace. He also acted in an episode of The X-Files a long time ago. I wouldn’t say that this film brings back the bright shining star status Cooper had with his debut Crazy Heart but it isn’t a bad film by any means. It is more eventful than Out of the Furnace but unlike that film, I don’t care about any of the characters in Black Mass.

Depp’s portrayal of James “Whitey” Bulger is interesting and well executed for the material but there is a real lack of material there. There is no character building or development. What you have is a one-dimensional psycho on screen from the opening bell to the closing bell. His backstory is casually mentioned, his relationship with his friends and family is bland and he just feels like a cookie cutter bad guy in a cookie cutter mob film. I don’t care about Bulger, good or bad. I don’t sympathize with him or hate him. I should feel something, correct? And that is how it is for every character in this film.

For a movie boasting a cast of names like Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Joel Edgerton, Jesse Plemons, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Julianne Nicholson and Juno Temple – I expected more. Additionally, Rory Cochrane from Dazed and Confused and Empire Records has an integral role, as does Dakota Johnson, who I am not as familiar with but she is some sort of big deal because she was in Fifty Shades of Grey (hopefully that’s not all she’s going to be known for).

This film seems to be getting a lot of love from critics. I’m not sure why. It plays from scene-to-scene and has a logical and fairly fluid plot but there just isn’t a lot of suspense or build up. Everything is predictable. You know who is going to die and when, you know what this psycho is thinking. Realistically, shouldn’t the psycho surprise you? I know that this is a biopic but some of us don’t know the whole “Whitey” Bulger story and the film would benefit from giving us a few surprises instead of blatantly foreshadowing everything to the point of eliminating any real tension or drama in the movie.

Black Mass is more good than bad, even though I am being somewhat harsh. The thing is, it is pretty forgettable in the grand scheme of gangster movies. It is interesting enough to watch but it certainly isn’t a classic in the sense of Goodfellas, The Godfather, Scarface or even Depp’s 1997 film Donnie Brasco.

Rating: 6/10