Daily Archives: July 16, 2021

Movie Review – Black Widow (2021)

Russian spies! Explosions! Boris and Natasha accents!

BQB here with a review of the latest Marvel movie, Black Widow.

It’s funny, I forgot to mention in my Major Grom interview that it would have been better if the characters who dubbed the English lines over that film had spoken in bad Russian accents. It was odd to see characters running around Russia speaking American English, whereas if they had just spoken like Count Dracula, my American ears would have been like, “Oh, OK! Now I can get into this!”

Well, don’t worry because the accents are here…except for Scar Jo. I guess it would be a lot to ask her to keep up a Russian accent for so many films. But I digress.

Anyway…so after a year and four months of not going to the movie theater, I finally ventured out and saw this one…in a theater…with a bag of popcorn…and miracle of miracles…I didn’t die…yet…for all I know someone might have sneezed the Delta Variant on me while I wasn’t looking, but oh well, I suppose you can lock yourself up from all the world’s ills and live forever, but then again, if you do that, you will have never truly lived.

I’ll say it up front. It’s good. The movie is a prequel that should have been a sequel. I mean, for Christ’s sake, they gave Ant Man two movies before they gave Black Widow one. It sort of feels like an afterthought, i.e. now that Marvel ended the Avengers films, they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. Loki gets a show. Falcon and the Winter Soldier get a show. Holy crap, even Loki gets a show. But Black Widow was never bottom of the barrel material. She was ready for primetime all along.

The plot? In the 90s, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz appear to be a typical couple, parents of two daughters living in Suburbia. As it turns out, they are spies, posing in the states so as to get their hands on U.S. tech, and once the mission is done, they return their lives as covert spies, Melina as the Iron Maiden and Harbour as the Red Guardian, Russia’s answer to Captain America.

The daughters, quite horrifically, are sold out. Young Natasha aka Black Widow was old enough to know she was just posing as an American kid for spying purposes, but wanted the idyllic American life to continue. Sadly, Yelena was so young she thought she actually the spies were her parents and was heartbroken to discover they weren’t.

The years pass. The “Red Room” program begins, led by the evil Dreykov, aptly portrayed by Ray Winstone, who honestly, is pretty decent as comic book villains go. While other MCU villains rely on gadgets and costumes and powers, Dreykov relies on espionage combined with an army of abandoned young girls turned Black Widows, or brainwashed assassins who murder and destroy on his command. Oh, and his top baddy is The Taskmasker, a masked evildoer capable of copying an opponent’s fighting style and using it against them.

Long story short, Yelena, now a Black Widow herself, discovers a chemical that can break her fellow widows free of Dreykov’s mind control, but she must team up with Scar Jo’s Natasha as, well as Red Guardian and Iron Maiden…in order to take Dreykov down and set the widows free.

Overall, a fun time and Florence Pugh steals the show, the bratty little sister who constantly mocks Natasha’s alleged posery (What is this stance you do where you land on your feet and grab the floor? What is that all about?)

My main criticism is I thought Natash and Yelena forgive their faux parents way too easily. I guess you could make the argument that they live in a rough world where parental figures selling them out are the least of their worries…not that this isn’t something to worry about but, you know, you have to prioritize when bad guys are literally trying to explode you every five minutes. But ultimately, Guardian and Maiden were the only Mom and Dad these kids knew…they’re just forgiven too easily for abandoning their parental roles and turning them over to the evil Red Room program…but then if they didn’t you wouldn’t have a movie.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. I have to be honest, I always was a big fan of movie theaters. I have stayed away a long time out of COVID fears, plus it didn’t feel like Hollywood really put out anything worth while, opting to save their best stuff for post Covid days. But Black Widow got me back to the theater, even though I could have rented it on Disney Plus.

I’ll be honest, there were days in the past where I almost went to the theater to see anything, literally anything, just for something to do. But now…I mean…will I go to the theater to see something like Space Jam? I hate to admit it but in the past, on a lazy Sunday afternoon with nothing better to do, I might have (OK I would have) but now…I mean yeah, if they’re letting me see it on TV now, I’ll watch Space Jam at home and only the big movies like Black Widow will get me to buy a ticket.)

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Movie Review – Major Grom: Plague Doctor (2020)

Wow, 3.5 readers. It’s official. The Russkis have entered the comic book movie world.

BQB here with a review.

So like the rest of you, I was scrolling through Netflix’s Top Ten the other day and came across a film by the above name. I thought it sounded like a dumb name for a movie but then again, when I scroll through most of Netflix’s original offerings and read the titles and descriptions, it makes me feel like their entire greenlight strategy is that there’s a chimpanzee in a business suit in the basement of Netflix HQ throwing darts at various words and phrases and whatever the darts land on ends up being the next show.

But I digress.

It turns out this is a Russian movie. It’s dubbed in English but you can tell it’s a bit off, i.e. it might make more sense if you knew Russian and saw it in the original Russian, but then you’d also have to know Russian expressions, manners of speech, accents, colloquialisms etc. Sometimes I wonder if these movies are better not dubbed. For example, I thought the IP Man movies were better with the subtitles and lost something when they got popular and were dubbed with English speaking actors. With the subtitles, you could find out what they were saying but then also hear what is emphasized, what isn’t in the native language even though you don’t understand it.

Anyway…

Bubble Studios is behind this, a name I’d never heard of until coming across this movie. After looking it up, it turns out they’ve been bringing American style comic books to Russia for the past ten years, with the ultimate goal of making a movie and this is it.

It stars some Russian guy as the titular Major Igor Grom (yeah I’m not looking up all the actors and stuff I am too lazy), a St. Petersburg police detective with a reputation for being tough on crime, not afraid of skirting the rules if it means putting a bad guy behind bars. The beginning sequence and aftermath, where he chases down a van of bank robbers by wrecks half the city while doing so, only to end up getting yelled at by his captain makes me think some Russian film executive somewhere is a fan of the Lethal Weapon series and all the cop movie tropes that come with it.

Moving on, after the obligatory, “Give me your badge and OK you can have your badge back we have bigger problems!” sequence, we learn the son of a powerful billionaire has, in a most crooked manner, been released on charges stemming from him running an orphan down with his fancy sports car. From this incident, the vigilante known as the Plague Doctor is born. In olden times, Plague Doctors, with their big long beak masks, would treat the diseases, sometimes setting fire to afflicted areas if need be.

Here, the vigilante sees corrupt rich oligarchs as the modern disease that he must burn with the fire shooting fists of his elaborate costume.

Naturally, Grom must investigate, with a nerdy rookie sidekick in tow and a love interest in the form of an intrepid lady journalist on his arm. Sometimes he stops to eat a burrito (I think it is a burrito unless it is a Russian treat I don’t know about) to give him personality.

Overall, the movie is very silly, laden with plot holes, and sort of reeks of Russian film execs saying, “Hey look! We can sell out just as hard as the Americans!” A lot of stylized action and so forth, a lot of explosions and special effects and the occasional attempt at humor or plot explanation.

There are some things will come across as odd to Americans. For example, the Plague Doctor becomes popular on social media, leading some to ask why the government doesn’t just shut his postings down – after all, he’s hamming it up for likes and might stop if his attention goes away. Clearly, the Russian government has a greater power to do that than in the US. The freedom of speech becomes a key plot point – if we pick and choose who can speak, pretty soon the government will warp that into just shutting down any and all governmental criticism. Still, sometimes people say things that are pretty awful. In America, we’ve accepted that we have to accept people saying awful things as the cost of saying everything else we need or want to say, and of course, one person’s awful thing to say is another man’s firmly held believe so where does it end and where does it begin?

There are also some cultural differences that some American viewers might question. For example, Yulia, at first a thorn in Grom’s side as a journalist who keeps bothering him and later a love interest, obtains her goals through trickery and deception, for she lacks Grom’s muscles which he uses to smack the answers he needs out of most of the film’s goons and henchmen. In an American film, Yulia would just smack the goons around herself, the 300 pound brutes being flung wildly through the air upon a single kick from her tiny high heel shoe, although to the film’s credit (SPOILER) she does get to mace a couple of baddies so that’s fun. At any rate though, my brain registered a few moments where American feminists might be rattling off a curtly lettered complaint letter to…I’m not sure where such letters go in Russia…probably some bureaucrat in Siberia I guess.

Long story short, this is probably something I never would have watched if we a) weren’t in a pandemic where Hollywood has scaled back and new, blockbuster American films are few and far between lately and b) if Netflix didn’t put it in front of me. I would have never gone in search of Russian comic book movies. It was fun and I suppose the rub is now that I watched one I’ll probably watch a sequel.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy, though I do worry about the implications of the Russians entering the global blockbuster type popcorn munching movie market. The movie is fun and makes Russia seem like a nice place to live where tough guy cops like Grom have the citizen’s back. However, I’m not sure these movies ever would ever criticize the Russian government or Putin. Maybe there are Russian legal reasons why they can’t or maybe, more understandably, they just won’t because they don’t want to wake up cracking rocks in the gulag one day. I’m not sure what life is like for the average Russian and info coming out of that country seems to be scarce. My gut tells me its probably better than it was during the Cold War but not as good as it could be. Somewhere in there but what do I know? All we know is Putin has been president for what? Twenty something years? There isn’t a true democracy that would keep anyone in power for twenty something years. Add to that how Putin’s critics have a tendency to go belly up and well…I just worried a growing trend of Russian action/comic book movies might leave Americans thinking, “Hey, look! It’s a lot of fun over there! No need to worry about human rights abuses and so on.”

Putting the obligatory geo-political worries aside, the movie is fun and it isn’t lost on me that Grom has no powers other than he punches bad guys in the face, then eats a burrito while his girlfriend and nerdy sidekick do all the paperwork, which let’s be honest, is probably the Russian version of having a superpower.

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