BLACK WIDOW: 3 STARS
If you were to do a Venn diagram of “Black Widow,” now on Disney + with premium access, and the recent animated film “The Boss Baby: Family Business,” you’d be surprised at the overlap. Both films are about separated families reuniting and siblings finding a way forward after years of bitterness. One is much louder than the other, but underneath they are both family oriented.
“I chose to go west and become an Avenger,” says Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson). “They treated me like family.”
The story begins with a flashback.
It’s 1995 and sisters Natasha (played as a child by Ever Anderson) and Yelena (Violet McGraw) are separated from their Soviet sleeper cell family in Ohio. Removed from their parents undercover agents, scientist mother Melina (Rachel Weisz) and super-soldier father Alexei (David Harbor), they are placed under the supervision of the evil Soviet general Dreykov (Ray Winston) in a training camp called the red room where they are brainwashed and teach widows death ways.
Step forward 21 years to the gap between the events of “Captain America: Civil War” and “Infinity War”. Natasha (Johansson) is cut off from her Avengers friends after breaking the Sokovia accords. The superhero clan has “divorced” and Natasha is in hiding in Norway. When attacked by Dreykov’s bodyguard, the mysterious Taskmaster, she reunites with her ex-family to confront the Russian general.
“Black Widow,” the first Marvel Cinematic Universe solo release for the character of Johansson, has spent a year bouncing around the pandemic release schedule and brings with it great fan expectations.
Directed by Cate Shortland, Romanoff’s convoluted backstory is handled in a pretty straightforward way, part Marvel, part “The Americans”. The film offers a fair amount of fan service, but still provides some steamy action and some basic, relevant themes about the importance of family and responsibility to the casual viewer.
Despite the savage CGI action and Jason Bourne-style one-on-one fights, the film feels more grounded than most other Marvel films. Maybe it’s because Natasha and Yelena (Florence Pugh) don’t have superpowers (although they are VERY resilient) or maybe it’s because the story details the dysfunctional and tragic past that put Natasha on the path to becoming an assassin or maybe it’s because the villainous Dreykov barely makes an impression, but the usual stakes – saving the world – take a back seat to more personal concerns.
“Black Widow” is a swan song for Natasha. The character jumped off a cliff in “Avengers: Endgame,” sacrificing himself so his superhero buddies could acquire the Soul Stone and help defeat the genocidal warlord Thanos. Johansson sends her off with a decent but vulnerable performance, and when she isn’t running, jumping, punching, or shooting, she brings real humanity to quieter scenes.
Pugh and Harbor bring a much-appreciated levity, the former as a sarcastic younger sister, the latter as an insecure aspiring super-soldier who is just a little too preoccupied with her heritage. Their feuds and subtle touches of character help add life to the family vibe so important to the story the film tries to tell.
Like so many Marvel movies, towards the end, “Black Widow” succumbs to over-the-top, loud, and frenzied CGI action scenes. The family is united, much like “The Boss Baby,” but the on-screen fireworks overwhelm the fascinating family history that is at the heart of Natasha’s journey.
NO SUDDEN MOVEMENT: 3 ½ STARS
“No Sudden Move,” a new film by Steven Soderbergh starring Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro and now playing on Crave, is a film noir that gets lost in its gnarly plot, but is kept on track by a cast of first order.
Set in 1954 in Detroit, the action begins with Jones, a shady character played by Brendan Fraser, recruiting three low-level criminals, Curt (Cheadle), Ronald (del Toro) and Charley (Kieran Culkin), for a job that pays off. too expensive to be as easy as he says. They all agree, as long as someone by the name of Frank (Ray Liotta) isn’t involved.
Their job is to invade the home of General Motors accountant Matt Wertz (David Harbor), silence his family for an hour while he retrieves a document from his boss’s safe.
It sounds simple, but this is Detroit in 1954. Industrial espionage between the Big Three automakers is a dangerous game and, of course, Frank is involved. “Everyone has a problem with Frank these days. “
As things get out of hand, greed sets in and the quick money petty criminals hoped to make causes big trouble.
Soderbergh immerses his characters and the viewer in a world where secrets propel action. No one is what it seems and the motivations are even more obscure. It makes for a twisty story that’s partly a crime story, partly a social story of the spark that sparked Detroit’s slow decline.
To add to the disorientation, Soderbergh films the action through a fisheye lens that blurs the edges of the screen, mimicking the moral fog of the script.
“No Sudden Move” bites almost more than it can chew. It’s awkward at times, with too many double crosses and characters vying for screen time, but the star-studded cast easily cuts the noise from the script. The result is a scrolling caper, backed by surprises (including an uncredited big-name cameo), lively dialogue, and a big debt to Elmore Leonard.
FEAR STREET PART 2: 1978: 3 ½ STARS
“The Summer of Fear” continues on Netflix with the release of “Fear Street Part 2: 1978”, the second part of their RL “Goosebumps” Stine trilogy about the cursed town of Shadyside, where terrible things have been happening for three hundred years. years .
Going back in time sixteen years after the first installment, this film is set in 1978. In a classic slasher movie setting, a sleepy room on a lake called Camp Nightwing, a group of teenagers, halfway up the wealthy town from Richie of Sunnyvale, the others of possibly possessed Shadyside are gearing up for a summer of swimming, campfires, secret encounters and… murder. As Ziggy Berman (“Stranger Things” Sadie Sink) puts it, “bad things always happen to the Shadysiders.”
Spot the Gallons of Blood, the Masked Killer, a Pentagram, and more clues as to why some Shadysiders just can’t stop killing people. With axes.
In real life, 1978 was a pretty good year for horror movies. “Halloween,” “Stranger in Our House,” and “Dawn of the Dead” were all dropped that year and all feel like they’re being honored by director Leigh Janiak. “Friday the 13th” also dominates “Part 2”, both in ambiance and look.
Janiak is true to the tropes of vintage slasher films, and despite the young adult label that accompanies Stine’s work, he doesn’t spare blood, sex hints, language, or scares. Characters we care about are offended by powerful ax blows, spurts of blood, and teens react like teens would, using language that might make mom and dad blush.
“Fear Street Part 2: 1978 ″ may look in the rearview mirror for inspiration, but what’s innovative is how it ties into the other two films, connecting the narrative over the course of the trilogy. They are not sequels of each other, but a Shady verse, bound by a certain set of rules, some of the same characters and lots and lots of gore.
“Fear Street Part 2: 1978” is rated R for obvious reasons, but the rating seems necessary and authentic for the genre. What seems less necessary are exposure scenes and a long story between Ziggy and her sister Cindy (Emily Rudd), but when the rest works so well, it’s bickering.
RISE LIKE A GIRL: 4 STARS
“Pumping Iron”, the movie that helped make Arnold Schwarzenegger a household name, probably has more weightlifting scenes than the new sports documentary “Lift Like a Girl”, now airing as part of the Impact series , but he has no heart.
Director Mayye Zayed spent four years shooting this breathtaking documentary. It’s all about weightlifting, but like all good sports movies, sports aren’t quite essential. It is the story of the complex relationship between a coach and an athlete.
Captain Ramadan is the coach. Legend in Alexandria, Egypt, he coached the country’s most famous weightlifters, his daughter Nahla Ramadan and Abeer Abdel Rahman, the first Arab woman to win two Olympic medals. We meet her latest protégé, Zebiba, when she is a determined fourteen, in hopes of one day adding her name to Captain’s list of famous students. The film follows years of their relationship, as Captain pushes Zebiba to be the best and strongest, physically and mentally, that she can be.
“Prioritizing boys is outdated,” said the captain. “Girls must be as strong as a bull.”
“Lift Like a Girl” puts the link between athlete and coach at the forefront. It’s a push-and-pull, complex, often volatile relationship, but always rooted in encouragement and hard love.
This is real life, not a Hollywood version of events, so Zebiba’s journey isn’t always easy. The victories and defeats, the physical and mental problems are present in equal measures to the inspiration against all odds provided by the story.
“Lift Like a Girl” is a sports documentary, but Zayed goes deeper into the story, weaving many threads throughout. The competition is there, but it’s taking place against the backdrop of a changing Egypt and messages about the importance of mentors. Like the people he documents, he’s vibrant and rambling, but always wears his heart on his puffy sleeve.