Black Widow and Summer of Soul movie reviews.
Like many of you, I have been biding my moviegoing time with a fairly sizable home screen and an assortment of new films available via different streaming services. I wanted my first trip to the multiplex to be something approximating an “event.”
(“Godzilla vs. Kong” or “In the Heights” would have fallen into that category, but I wasn’t ready yet.) Luckily, Scarlett Johansson and “Black Widow” came along, and though the film has some of the flaws inherent (and probably particular) to any Marvel release, it is a very entertaining, and even relevant film (given its subject matter).
“Black Widow” Review
By now, many of you know that this “Black Widow” isn’t an origin story, but rather a showcase vehicle for Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow) during a time within the Avengers arc when there was internal friction and flight among members of the Avengers. (Early on, the movie answers the question of why there aren’t any other Avengers around to combat the world-domination plot—a query which could be made in practically every other Marvel film.)
Natasha’s refuge in Norway is disrupted when she receives a package from “long-lost sister” Yelena (Florence Pugh), a package that is also sought by some super villainous Russians with an army of female assassins at their disposal—whose ranks once included Natasha and Yelena. Natasha’s uneasy alliance with a now-liberated Yelena (it is some package) eventually leads to an equally uncomfortable family reunion, with “father’ being a hearty, past his prime, imprisoned Russian superhero (an endearing, scene-stealing David Harbour) and “mother” a Russian scientist (Rachel Weisz) with a stern manner and questionable loyalties. Past betrayals (real and perceived) and life-altering choices come to the fore as Natasha and Yelena grapple with their notions of family honor, redemption, power and subservience (as they apply to both men and women) and the nature of heroism.
What works in this Marvel installment is how the film (directed by Cate Shortland) integrates (for the most part) the spy thriller aspects, the action sequences, and the scenes of the family warily coming to terms with each other—and their respective missions. Yes, “Black Widow” goes overboard in the last 15 minutes, containing the usual Marvel overkill in terms of effects and explosions. (As a side note, the amount of physical abuse the Black Widow character takes makes it hard for me to accept the nature of her fate in “Endgame.” Just saying…)
However, the scenes between Florence Pugh’s Yelena and Johansson’s Natasha crackle, with both actors’ (and characters’) qualities complementing each other. If Johansson plays it relatively straight next to Pugh’s sardonic younger sister, it diminishes neither’s effectiveness, as Johansson does a creditable job humanizing this lethal, though conscience-stricken “widow.” Harbour and Weisz are also quite good, and the developments that result from the family summit are both unexpected and well-presented. “Black Widow” succeeds both as an exciting spy thriller and as an affecting, poignant family drama—albeit one with some sharp humor, mainly courtesy of Pugh and Harbour. If you’re planning to go back to the movies, this is a pretty good choice.
“Summer of Soul” Review
I would also say the same about “Summer of Soul,” a significant, insightful and uplifting documentary from Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (best known as the drummer for the Roots) which recounts the “other” music festival in the summer of 1969 that occurred at the same time as the more famous Woodstock celebration. This Harlem outdoor concert was a cultural festival that took place in June 1969 and continued over six successive Sundays. It was captured on film by television producer Hal Tulchin and his small crew but he was unable to find investors and producers to convert this into a feature film. (That in itself should speak volumes about the times—and the movie industry.).
The concert footage has languished in obscurity for over 50 years; seeing it now is a revelation. Summer of Soul seamlessly integrates concert footage of artists in their prime (Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, the 5th Dimension, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson…the list is endless) with the participants’ recollections (Marilyn McCoo and Stevie Wonder are among those that stick out, but all are priceless.) Both the artists and the other interview subjects convey not only their vivid memories of the concert, but also of the turbulent time period as well. We see the activists and the politicians (among them Jesse Jackson and Mayor John Lindsay), the audience members, the observers and the artists, all of whom combine to provide a priceless look at an event that is now accessible to all (especially if you have Hulu—worth getting a free trial just for that.)