“Black Widow” Special Look Review!

In what could technically be considered the second trailer for Marvel’s Black Widow but is instead being called the first “special look”, ex-KGB assassin Natasha Romanoff is forced to reunite a lethal team of trained killers to take on a new wave of Black Widows, and all the might of the villainous, government-operated Red Room program that created both them, and her.

This special look gives us a hint of what has spurred the events of the Black Widow movie, which take place after Romanoff went on the run following Captain America: Civil War but before Thanos’ invasion in Avengers: Infinity War. All the way back in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Natasha made a brave decision to leak all of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agency’s deepest, darkest secrets (including her own) onto the internet in an attempt to expose the far-reaching corruption of organizations like HYDRA. In this teaser, Natasha seems to reference that, saying “I was trying to do something good” when asked why she’s suddenly being stalked and hunted by Russian operatives.

But Natasha learned a lot from her mentor Nick Fury, and one of his lessons must have been how to assemble a great team – because she’s got the help of some of the deadliest Russians ever to bear arms in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at her side in her fight: Yelena Belova, her “sister”, whom we still don’t see wearing her iconic spider-eye mask, much to my dismay; Red Guardian, (played by David Harbour, currently the only member of the main cast without an Oscar nomination in real life), who appears to be something of a father figure to Natasha; and the mysterious Melina, a white-suited martial artist who has a certain maternal charm in one scene, and then cold-blooded killer instincts in another.

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These four are up against the Taskmaster, who has a much better showing in this teaser than he (or she?) did in the movie’s first trailer, which earned him/her a bunch of criticism for looking like a Power Ranger in the light of day. Interestingly, all of his/her scenes here are at night – and they look fantastic. In the first trailer it was hard to tell whether the character (who in the comics is legendary for his “photographic reflexes”, which allow him to mirror any opponent’s fighting moves) was displaying his/her unique power-set, but here there can be no question, as we see the masked mercenary perfectly replicate not only Natasha’s moves as they fight on a Budapest bridge, but also those of Natasha’s dear friend Steve Rogers, even employing the Captain’s very same shield-tricks. In the comics, Taskmaster is typically a man named Tony Masters – but it looks like Marvel could be shaking things up, because a couple other characters in this same movie have already been shown to have skills like “photographic reflexes”: Yelena Belova copies Natasha’s moves as they fight in her shabby apartment, and Melina emulates the fighter’s classic superhero pose at one point – and the “new wave of Widows” all seem to move in perfect harmony. Considering that all these characters originated in Russia’s Red Room, another possibility is that Taskmaster is the head of the program, or even the very first Black Widow (who in some comics is also Natasha’s identical clone, if I remember correctly).

So what do you think of the trailer? Do you think it’s a good idea for Natasha to work with a team, or will they stab her in the back (figuratively or literally)? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 7.8/10

“Little Women” Non-Spoiler Review!

A century and a half has passed since Louisa May Alcott first set pen to paper and sat down to write the semi-autobiographical story of four sisters’ journeys towards adulthood, but the tale of the “little women” is still just as relevant and iconic nowadays as it was back in 1868. And visionary director Greta Gerwig has lovingly (and masterfully) crafted an adaptation of Alcott’s classic that is not only faithful to the original book, but more in line with both modern sensibilities and Alcott’s own feminist philosophy than any previous iteration.

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Gerwig has, first and foremost, chosen to tell the story in a non-linear fashion: while this decision may confuse the unwary (which is why I’m warning you in advance), it is a conscious choice that enables Gerwig to have what are essentially two stories simultaneously playing out onscreen, linked through flashbacks, flash-forwards, and what some may view as a bit of fourth-wall breaking – one story being the first half of the novel Little Women, covering the March sisters’ adolescence and happy, hazy childhood, awash in golden lighting; the other being the novel’s latter half, the grimmer, bleaker post-Civil War era, in which the March sisters have all grown up and gone their separate ways, and heroine Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) is beginning to more closely resemble Alcott herself. But while this might at first appear to be a narrative trick to keep the story compelling, it becomes clear in the film’s final minutes that there’s a shockingly exciting reason for the non-linear structure, one that will make Gerwig’s Little Women a topic for debate for many years to come. Keep your eyes peeled, for Gerwig drops plenty of clues and hints as to what’s coming in the finale, but you still might be caught off-guard if you’re not looking – or you might even miss it altogether.

Little Women is beloved because of its cast of extremely relatable and interesting characters, many of whom are best known to movie-lovers through the 1994 adaptation of the novel that starred Winona Ryder as the rebellious, free-spirited heroine, and a young Christian Bale as her love interest, charming, carefree Laurie. But Gerwig’s Jo and Laurie are slightly more modernized than the prim and proper couple of that film: Laurie, here excellently portrayed by rising star Timothée Chalamet, is a gentle, easygoing, and somewhat gender-neutral character who feels like the perfect soulmate to Saoirse Ronan’s socially awkward but passionate Jo – neither is entirely comfortable within the constraints laid upon them by their gender, but neither can do anything but fight the system in small ways – whether that means marrying for love or trying to establish their own place in the world. To reinforce the essentially gender-fluid relationship between the stars, Gerwig even had Ronan and Chalamet swap articles of clothing onset in order to break down the boundaries between them.

Personally, I’ve always been a huge fan of Jo March: it’s sort of a mandatory thing, I think, for most writers. We love her not just because of how sympathetic her daily struggles are, but because of how she chooses to use the written word as a weapon in her fight – hers is a pen far mightier than any sword.

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But Gerwig also allows the other March siblings to have their chance to shine: romantic, idealistic Meg (Emma Watson) is finally given a leg to stand on in her ongoing struggle with her character’s critics and detractors, who have always claimed she’s the least feminist of the sisters, and the most outdated in this modern age. Petty, vainglorious Amy (Florence Pugh) is actually respectable in Gerwig’s film – yes, she’s still a brat, but she’s also forced to grow up too quickly and bear a heavy burden upon her shoulders; she’s the only one of the March sisters who has a chance of marrying well, and for women in Alcott’s era, marriage was a woman’s only respectable method of achieving success. Amy’s speech to Laurie in which she details all the ways in which marriage is nothing but “an economic proposition” is one of the film’s most powerful scenes. Then there’s poor Beth (Eliza Scanlen), who is crucial to the story’s plot but still never quite rises above being the shy, pious outlier in the group without very much to say or do.

On the sidelines, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep have small but excellent performances as Marmee and Aunt March, respectively. Streep, especially, is a delightful addition to the cast with her biting wit, passive aggressive humor, and dainty mannerisms. Louis Garrel has the thankless job of portraying Professor Friedrich Bhaer, one of the most purposefully disappointing characters in Alcott’s novel, but he plays the role as well as he possibly can.

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Little Women is also an exceptionally beautiful film, with a myriad of dreamy, pastel-colored scenes that look almost like they leaped straight from the painter’s canvas onto the big screen (a special shout-out goes to cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, who apparently had the camera follow the Marches like a “fifth sister”, dancing and twirling with them on their youthful frolics and adventures, giving the audience a chance to feel even more connected to the close-knit cast). The production and costume design are superb: every detail of the March family’s dark, cozy homestead and every accouterment of high-society Parisian fashion is lovingly crafted.

Greta Gerwig deserves the Oscar for Best Director, and the fact that just this morning it was revealed that she is one of a multitude of talented women not on the Academy Awards shortlist for that honor is a travesty. What she has designed, directed and delivered is a love-letter to both Alcott’s novel and to Alcott herself, who was forced to play a part all her life and sacrifice her artistic freedom. A century and a half later, Gerwig has finally done justice to this author’s work in a way that seemed almost unimaginable to me, going into the theater. Little Women is an instant classic, despite how hard Hollywood will try to ignore or downplay this incredible work of art.

Movie Rating: 9/10

“Black Widow” Teaser Trailer Review!

A decade in the making, the Black Widow solo movie is finally on the horizon, with a teaser trailer that has my heart racing and tears flowing. It’s emotional, it’s powerful, and it’s long overdue. The character of Natasha Romanoff had to endure setback after setback before getting to this point – and even now that she’s here, it’s a bittersweet victory for the character, who died in Avengers: Endgame. This movie is set to be a prequel, exploring her origins, and how she became the most fearsome assassin, spy and heroine the Marvel Cinematic Universe had ever known.

And the trailer gives us a tantalizingly brief glimpse into that story: we are quickly re-introduced to our protagonist, Natasha Romanoff, at a dark time in her life – sometime just after Captain America: Civil War, according to rumors. On the run from the government, she assembles a ragtag team of her Russian friends and former adversaries to help her infiltrate the notorious Red Room that created her and an army of other fiercely skilled (and perfectly choreographed) Black Widows.

Along the way, she will cross paths with the deadly Taskmaster, a master tactician and warrior armed with photographic reflexes which allow him to mirror the fighting techniques of any opponent. While his outfit leaves much to be desired (he’s being unfavorably compared to a Power Ranger online), it’s to be hoped that his superpower will make him a worthy adversary of the Widow’s. There’s also a fair amount of suspicion that Taskmaster won’t end up dying, but will instead return further down the line as a member of the Thunderbolts, a team of reformed villains from the Marvel comics – whose lineup also includes another Black Widow star, the antiheroine Yelena Belova. Belova, who I talked about many months ago, has finally made her onscreen debut in this trailer – and Florence Pugh is clearly having the time of her life playing the dangerously aggressive younger “sister” of Natasha Romanoff, armed with vicious sarcasm and a heavy Russian accent.

The trailer also reveals Rachel Weisz as the character Melina, and David Harbour as the Red Guardian, a genetically-enhanced superhuman created by the Soviet Union as an answer to Captain America at the height of the Cold War. Both characters seem to have come out of hiding or retirement to join Natasha’s desperate endeavor, though it appears that Melina still has some connections to the Red Room, as she is seen conversing with an unnamed character, possibly played by Ray Winstone, who appears to be the head of the covert operation.

Natasha herself is off the charts in this trailer: she’s always had to rely heavily on her wits in the Marvel Universe, since most of the Avengers’ enemies tend to be gods, cyborg superhumans or alien warlords who probably aren’t going to be too fazed by bullets and martial arts, but here, in her own territory, on her own terms, she has no reason to hold back. And that is the coolest part of this whole trailer – for the first time, Natasha Romanoff is on her own, without anyone telling her what to do or where to go. And assuming all goes well, Natasha will finally be able to prove, once and for all, that she always was a heroine – she never needed the “redemption” that the Endgame writing team had to offer her.

The next era of Marvel history is about to dawn, and it’s Natasha who will guide us into that new day.

Trailer Rating: 9.5/10

“Little Women” Trailer Review!

Visionary director Greta Gerwig is bringing the story of Little Women back to the big screen this Christmas, and it’s like nothing you’ve seen before. This is an adaptation of the story that turns the spotlight on 19th Century gender politics, and the four March sisters who learn how to navigate an oppressive society without sacrificing any of their freedom and passion for life. This is, according to Gerwig, a story drawn not only from Louisa May Alcott’s original novel, but from the author’s personal worldviews and other writings: it is a message about what defines true love, perseverance and resistance.

It leads to an unusual but exciting first trailer for the film, which seems both old-fashioned in its setting and peculiarly modern in its attitude; even radical at times. Saoirse Ronan, the film’s lead actress, portrays Jo March, the eldest of the four sisters and the writer of the group, who tries to publish a novel in which the lead character, a woman, doesn’t marry – something to which her publisher strongly objects; Emma Watson is Meg March, who, of course, does end up happily married, despite Jo’s insistence that she should follow her dream to become an actress – she’s seen as one of the weaker characters in the story by some modern critics, but Watson is clearly making her much more sympathetic; Florence Pugh is Amy, the self-absorbed “last hope” of the March family; and Eliza Scanlen is Beth, the family’s quietest, most soft-spoken member, who also receives the least screentime in the trailer. All four are forced to look at their lives in new ways, as they experience the turbulence of first love, marriage, motherhood, grief and the pain of growing up and out of their naive innocence.

Meryl Streep also makes an appearance as the short-tempered and domineering Aunt March, easily stealing her scenes in the trailer. We’re in for a definite treat here, with Streep bringing wit and charming elegance to the role of the elderly matron, whose callous exterior hides a gentle heart.

The main takeaway from this trailer is that this Little Women is awards-season gold: a close, intimate study of the era’s views on gender, and the slowly blossoming feminist movement, witnessed through the eyes of four independent and strong-willed heroines. I won’t spoil the story for anyone new to this, but I can assure you it’s perfect material for Christmas: it has heart, personality, and plenty of tearjerking moments, and there’s a strong emphasis on family.

And if you’re not into historical fiction, don’t fear: the first trailer for Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding’s holiday rom-com, Last Christmas, apparently drops tonight, so I’ll probably review that too.

Trailer Rating: 10/10

The “Broken Women” Of “Black Widow”.

Last night, I began my coverage of Marvel’s San Diego Comic-Con panel with a brief post about what had been revealed at the Black Widow presentation; there seemed to be very little at first – it was a prequel, Florence Pugh would play Yelena Belova, and the film’s villain would be Taskmaster. And that seemed to be it. Boy, was I wrong.

Since then, there’s been a bunch of interviews with the cast of Black Widow (who are about to head back to London for more filming): a lot has been revealed, and we’re going to have to go over it all. Forget basically everything in my initial post. There’s a lot to talk about now.

The big thing about the film, apparently, is that it’s a drama: what with Black Widow herself being something of a small-scale superhero, it makes sense to focus on finding creative ways to make this film stand out, since, honestly, in a universe where Captain Marvel can punch spaceships out of the sky with her bare hands and Thor can harness the power of a dead star, Black Widow’s skills with a baton just aren’t gonna cut it. Scarlett Johansson has revealed that this film is much more intellectual than other Marvel movies: she gets to “talk more” than ever before, and says that there’s a lot of dialogue. It’s an introspective movie that will explore Black Widow’s mental and emotional state during a very interesting period of her life, when she was a fugitive in between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. It looks like, during this time, Black Widow is on her own and trying to figure out her purpose in life when her past suddenly catches up with her and takes her on a wild ride back to places she remembers from her youth – the Red Room and Budapest, for example. The Black Widow we see here is someone who’s a little out of her element, and more than a little scared of what’s happening all around her: but we know from Avengers: Endgame that Widow will eventually pull herself back together and find her moral compass once again, only to have to sacrifice everything she’s won to save the world. Prediction: this film will prove, once and for all, that Black Widow is the most tragic character in the entire MCU.

What she finds on her journey will surprise her: first up, we have Florence Pugh’s character, Yelena Belova. We have a few new details on this elusive Russian assassin – she’s got a complicated history with Black Widow. The footage shown to the crowds at Comic-Con depicted Belova first attempting to murder Widow by strangling her with a curtain before sitting down with her to share a drink. Pugh says that Belova is very strong, but is dealing with her own issues – I think we’ll see Belova struggling between sticking with the Red Room that she’s known for her entire life, or leaving to follow Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, into the great unknown. It’s becoming more and more likely that Belova chooses to take on the mantle of “Black Widow”, when she learns of Romanoff’s self-sacrifice. Can you imagine how shocked the remaining Avengers will be when Belova arrives and introduces herself as Black Widow?

Now, we have a tidbit of information that has me flabbergasted: there’s no Taskmaster in this movie, apparently. Turns out, the footage shown at Comic-Con did not show the hooded villain as was previously reported – no, the character seen in that footage (footage which has not been released online) was a woman, Melina, who becomes the Iron Maiden character from the comics – the footage apparently showed Melina and Black Widow fighting in the wreckage of a fiery car crash. This character will be portrayed by Rachel Weisz, who says of Melina that she is an embittered woman who has been cycled and recycled through the Red Room program five times already, but had never been able to match the skill and prowess of her antagonist, Black Widow. She also mentioned that Melina is part of some scientific project which she couldn’t describe in any detail.

It looks like these three women will be at the center of the film: just as Captain Marvel explored the power of female friendships, Black Widow will probe deep into even more complex relationships of hatred, fear and resentment, as all three are trying to survive in a dangerous world.

But the two confirmed male characters both have interesting storylines as well – David Harbour confirmed that he is playing Alexei, the Red Guardian, a superhuman character born from Cold War conflicts; basically, the Soviet Union’s answer to Captain America. Considering that the Soviet Union disbanded quite some time ago, it would be interesting if Red Guardian was a relic of bygone days, someone who isn’t quite sure what he’s meant to do in a post-Cold War world: rather like Black Widow herself. Harbour promised that his character is very complex, which sounds awesome.

O.T. Fagbenle, meanwhile, is apparently not playing the villain, as previously speculated: instead, he’s a self-described “fixer” named Mason, who helps Natasha because of his romantic feelings for her. He’s a shady guy, who operates an extensive underworld of secret contacts and is always ready to help out his highest-paying customers by giving them emergency backup. He sounds like an interesting fellow, but we don’t know very much else about him yet.

So, now that we’ve gotten all this additional information; what do you think? Are you excited for Black Widow? Do you like the thought of it being a drama? Share your thoughts in the comments below!