4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Black Widow: two James Bonds for the price of one

It’s the characters who drive the special effects, not the other way around.

Black Widow: Scarlet Johansson, David Harbour, and Florence Pugh prove the family that slays together stays together.
Black Widow: Scarlet Johansson, David Harbour, and Florence Pugh prove the family that slays together stays together.

Thoughts of writing this one off were tempting, but the day was hot, the timing right, and the screen large. Was Marvel right to patiently ride out the pandemic by skipping the VOD route in favor of a theatrical release like its DC super-sister? Would this be the first post-pandemic film to draw the masses back to the multiplex? The two-hundred or so souls who joined me inside the big Grossmont for an opening weekend matinee of Black Widow seemed to think so.

At its most elementary, the first shot we see in a movie should in some small way set the tone. The logo faded and in an instant, my palms were drenched, shirt collar tightened, and seat back taxed by what greeted me: an anonymous pan-down from the sky. The same tilt of the camera that had for decades unimaginatively kicked-off live-action Disney comedies, episodic network dramas, and sitcoms alike opened the show. A $200 million budget and that’s all the Marvel braintrust could come up with? Audiences returning for a big screen vision were greeted by WandaVision! Fortunately, it got better fast.

In many ways, this is the best James Bond picture since Daniel Craig assumed the role. Imagine two sibling 007s for the price of one: Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and her little sister (a feisty, pug-nosed Florence Pugh). The act of leaving home to find a home among superhero freaks supplies the backstory for much of what follows. What stands out amid the swamp of special effects is the chemistry between the two leads. (The one message that can’t be hammered home hard enough for this crowd is the one about women making choices.) For the most part, it’s the characters who drive the special effects, not the other way around. The genuine rapport between sisters is what separates this from Brie Larson’s pretentious turn in Captain Marvel. It’s clear that Pugh is being groomed for a standalone feature. Let’s hope future scripts offer her more to work with. Even Margaret Leighton couldn’t have done much with dialogue like “Ha!” and “Whoa!” and “Huh?”

Had the filmmakers trimmed the redundancy, we could have left a good 15 minutes earlier. Mason (O-T Fagbenle), the closest we get to a love interest, returns to Romanoff a box containing mail and personal belongings from her time spent in a Budapest safe house. Her verbal underplaying of the importance of its contents is followed by a lingering shot of her placing the box in the trunk of her car. With all that effort paid to getting audiences to ignore the box, one knows damn well there’s something of importance in it. Mason is Natasha’s answer to 007’s gadget-master Q, providing a beat-up chopper when the girls asked for a jet.

Watching an episode of The Rifleman fifty years ago at the Goldmans’ house comes to mind whenever I pay a visit to the MCU. During the climactic showdown, Chuck Connors hears the villain tiptoeing across the roof above. No sooner did dad Irv Goldman yell “Shoot through the wood!” than Connors aimed and fired his gun skyward to take out his target. Moments like this are geared to make even the most undemanding viewer among us feel one step ahead of the game. Black Widow is padded with at least a half-dozen obviously foreshadowed “Irv Goldman moments.” At least these digressions involve some thought on the part of the audience. One guesses that for all the times the filmmakers spent tricking viewers into feeling smart, they’ll be forgiven when they slip in something blatantly stupid in order to facilitate dad Alexi’s jailbreak: the prison guards are too busy chowing down on the pastries in his CARE package to bother examining the Avengers doll contained within.

If there is one thing the Masters of the MCU are guilty of, it’s their reliance on CGI as a crutch to tell the story. For over a century, filmmakers have delighted in crashing cars for our pleasure. Since when does an action as insignificant as two cars colliding need to be juiced by a computer? CGI is used much the same way slapstick comedians employed sudden bursts of accelerated motion to get cheap laughs. Only in this case, computers aren’t taking work away from stunt people.

I’m still not 100% clear on the significance of Red Room. At the risk of alienating audiences with unpleasantry, if it’s the child-slavery ring I think it is, the filmmakers should have played it up more. Come for the special-effects, stay for the subplots involving adoptive daughters and their deeply damaged parents, played spectacularly by Rachel Weisz and an uncompromisingly amusing David Harbour. I haven’t enjoyed a Marvel movie this much since the second Captain America. Be glad that they waited for the theatres to reopen to release it. Why wait for your living room? See it on a BIG screen. ★★

—Scott Marks

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

The Boss Baby: Family Business — Apart from Frank Tashlin’s The First Time (it’s narrated by a fetus), talking baby movies are not my bag. Adding to the aggravation, this joins Spirit Untamed as the second film from Dreamworks Animation in as many months to base a sequel on a small screen counterfeit and not the spawning theatrical release, and it shows. Like any lazily conceived follow-up, this Baby laughs at the thought of continuation and character advancement, opting instead for the sparkly distraction of simply parroting its older brother. Ted (Alec Baldwin) and Tim (James Marsden) have grown up and apart. Tim is quick to admit that being a dad is the best job in the world. But his older daughter Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt) is at that stage where it’s become hip to distance herself from dad. A handshake replacing a goodnight kiss is one thing, but there’s something downright creepy in the slow motion rage Tim undergoes while watching Tabitha kiss her Uncle Ted. The movie never finds a story on which to string it’s only sporadically amusing series of gags. For adults looking to experience the feel of being buried eyeball deep in a digitally enhanced ball pit for nearly two hours, look no further. 2021. — S.M.

Die in a Gunfight — We come galloping out of the gate, practically tripping over an overabundance of cracker-barrel narration (spoken by Billy Crudup) and characters’ names spelled out in the corners of the frame. In the numerous physical altercations Ben Gibbon (Diego Boneta) has been in since the age of five, the win to loss ratio stands at 0 to 723. The son of an obnoxiously wealthy telecommunications magnate, poor little rich boy Ben won the lottery the day he was born. With nothing in life to motivate him, the closest our masochistic heir gets to experiencing human feeling are the constant slugfests he provokes. Even his choice of girlfriends — Mary (Alexandra Daddario), the daughter of Ben’s father’s bitter rival, is his perfect fit — sparks a blood feud. The couple’s elopement kicks off a downhill race between modern-day Montagues and Capulets towards a decisive face-off between the lovers and the carnivalist assembly of hitmen hired by their parents to permanently annul the marriage. The romantic chemistry is potent and director Collin Schiffli and Ant-Man and the Wasp scribes Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari steep their latest action comedy in color-drenched panels. Alas, they do so without stopping long enough to smell the satire inherent in what could have been a comic book clash between CNN and Fox News. 2021. — S.M. ★★

Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over — A 75-minute crash course on the 62-year-old singer, poet, and performance artist for those, like me, familiar with the name but not the work. You’ve heard of New Wave? Lydia’s aggressively insane contributions to music — she champions “unlistenability and unpopularity” — fall under the category No Wave. It’s a rare case that finds me loving an artist and not their art. The sound of her voice hit my ears with the similarly unpleasant sonorousness of a tray of silverware being hurled off a 20-story building. She became sexually promiscuous “in order to wash the taste of my father off my hands” and was strong enough to transform his unspeakable acts into her art. Lydia didn’t eff her way to the top; people effed her to get to the top. Former band mate Jim Sclavunos reveals that one of the prerequisites to joining the band was his agreeing to allow Lydia to relieve him of his virginity. Unable to perform on the spot, an appointment was set for the defloration. He brought the Redi Whip, Coca-Cola, and gum as requested, but rather than seeing them incorporated into the sex act as expected, they turned out to be Lunch’s dinner. Much of what comes out of her mouth is meant to shock, none more than her thoughts on Harvey Weinstein’s victims. (“They couldn’t crack the * of a fat man in a bathrobe?”) And how can you not love someone who describes the cop who assaulted her as “Robert Blake with a cheese-grater complexion.” Beth B directs. 2019. — S.M. ★★

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

The memories floating in Judith Moore's mind

The small town, solitary holidays, the dad reading Babar, summers in Washington state, the gay uncle, granny's farm
Next Article

San Diego actors' worst stories, he guards Volcan Mountain, community college adjunct

Oceanside's mapmakers, Somalis work Santa Fe Depot, a La Jolla boiler room, limo drivers file class action, SD Museum of Art's restorers, the SDSU rock man
Black Widow: Scarlet Johansson, David Harbour, and Florence Pugh prove the family that slays together stays together.
Black Widow: Scarlet Johansson, David Harbour, and Florence Pugh prove the family that slays together stays together.

Thoughts of writing this one off were tempting, but the day was hot, the timing right, and the screen large. Was Marvel right to patiently ride out the pandemic by skipping the VOD route in favor of a theatrical release like its DC super-sister? Would this be the first post-pandemic film to draw the masses back to the multiplex? The two-hundred or so souls who joined me inside the big Grossmont for an opening weekend matinee of Black Widow seemed to think so.

At its most elementary, the first shot we see in a movie should in some small way set the tone. The logo faded and in an instant, my palms were drenched, shirt collar tightened, and seat back taxed by what greeted me: an anonymous pan-down from the sky. The same tilt of the camera that had for decades unimaginatively kicked-off live-action Disney comedies, episodic network dramas, and sitcoms alike opened the show. A $200 million budget and that’s all the Marvel braintrust could come up with? Audiences returning for a big screen vision were greeted by WandaVision! Fortunately, it got better fast.

In many ways, this is the best James Bond picture since Daniel Craig assumed the role. Imagine two sibling 007s for the price of one: Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and her little sister (a feisty, pug-nosed Florence Pugh). The act of leaving home to find a home among superhero freaks supplies the backstory for much of what follows. What stands out amid the swamp of special effects is the chemistry between the two leads. (The one message that can’t be hammered home hard enough for this crowd is the one about women making choices.) For the most part, it’s the characters who drive the special effects, not the other way around. The genuine rapport between sisters is what separates this from Brie Larson’s pretentious turn in Captain Marvel. It’s clear that Pugh is being groomed for a standalone feature. Let’s hope future scripts offer her more to work with. Even Margaret Leighton couldn’t have done much with dialogue like “Ha!” and “Whoa!” and “Huh?”

Had the filmmakers trimmed the redundancy, we could have left a good 15 minutes earlier. Mason (O-T Fagbenle), the closest we get to a love interest, returns to Romanoff a box containing mail and personal belongings from her time spent in a Budapest safe house. Her verbal underplaying of the importance of its contents is followed by a lingering shot of her placing the box in the trunk of her car. With all that effort paid to getting audiences to ignore the box, one knows damn well there’s something of importance in it. Mason is Natasha’s answer to 007’s gadget-master Q, providing a beat-up chopper when the girls asked for a jet.

Watching an episode of The Rifleman fifty years ago at the Goldmans’ house comes to mind whenever I pay a visit to the MCU. During the climactic showdown, Chuck Connors hears the villain tiptoeing across the roof above. No sooner did dad Irv Goldman yell “Shoot through the wood!” than Connors aimed and fired his gun skyward to take out his target. Moments like this are geared to make even the most undemanding viewer among us feel one step ahead of the game. Black Widow is padded with at least a half-dozen obviously foreshadowed “Irv Goldman moments.” At least these digressions involve some thought on the part of the audience. One guesses that for all the times the filmmakers spent tricking viewers into feeling smart, they’ll be forgiven when they slip in something blatantly stupid in order to facilitate dad Alexi’s jailbreak: the prison guards are too busy chowing down on the pastries in his CARE package to bother examining the Avengers doll contained within.

If there is one thing the Masters of the MCU are guilty of, it’s their reliance on CGI as a crutch to tell the story. For over a century, filmmakers have delighted in crashing cars for our pleasure. Since when does an action as insignificant as two cars colliding need to be juiced by a computer? CGI is used much the same way slapstick comedians employed sudden bursts of accelerated motion to get cheap laughs. Only in this case, computers aren’t taking work away from stunt people.

I’m still not 100% clear on the significance of Red Room. At the risk of alienating audiences with unpleasantry, if it’s the child-slavery ring I think it is, the filmmakers should have played it up more. Come for the special-effects, stay for the subplots involving adoptive daughters and their deeply damaged parents, played spectacularly by Rachel Weisz and an uncompromisingly amusing David Harbour. I haven’t enjoyed a Marvel movie this much since the second Captain America. Be glad that they waited for the theatres to reopen to release it. Why wait for your living room? See it on a BIG screen. ★★

—Scott Marks

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

The Boss Baby: Family Business — Apart from Frank Tashlin’s The First Time (it’s narrated by a fetus), talking baby movies are not my bag. Adding to the aggravation, this joins Spirit Untamed as the second film from Dreamworks Animation in as many months to base a sequel on a small screen counterfeit and not the spawning theatrical release, and it shows. Like any lazily conceived follow-up, this Baby laughs at the thought of continuation and character advancement, opting instead for the sparkly distraction of simply parroting its older brother. Ted (Alec Baldwin) and Tim (James Marsden) have grown up and apart. Tim is quick to admit that being a dad is the best job in the world. But his older daughter Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt) is at that stage where it’s become hip to distance herself from dad. A handshake replacing a goodnight kiss is one thing, but there’s something downright creepy in the slow motion rage Tim undergoes while watching Tabitha kiss her Uncle Ted. The movie never finds a story on which to string it’s only sporadically amusing series of gags. For adults looking to experience the feel of being buried eyeball deep in a digitally enhanced ball pit for nearly two hours, look no further. 2021. — S.M.

Die in a Gunfight — We come galloping out of the gate, practically tripping over an overabundance of cracker-barrel narration (spoken by Billy Crudup) and characters’ names spelled out in the corners of the frame. In the numerous physical altercations Ben Gibbon (Diego Boneta) has been in since the age of five, the win to loss ratio stands at 0 to 723. The son of an obnoxiously wealthy telecommunications magnate, poor little rich boy Ben won the lottery the day he was born. With nothing in life to motivate him, the closest our masochistic heir gets to experiencing human feeling are the constant slugfests he provokes. Even his choice of girlfriends — Mary (Alexandra Daddario), the daughter of Ben’s father’s bitter rival, is his perfect fit — sparks a blood feud. The couple’s elopement kicks off a downhill race between modern-day Montagues and Capulets towards a decisive face-off between the lovers and the carnivalist assembly of hitmen hired by their parents to permanently annul the marriage. The romantic chemistry is potent and director Collin Schiffli and Ant-Man and the Wasp scribes Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari steep their latest action comedy in color-drenched panels. Alas, they do so without stopping long enough to smell the satire inherent in what could have been a comic book clash between CNN and Fox News. 2021. — S.M. ★★

Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over — A 75-minute crash course on the 62-year-old singer, poet, and performance artist for those, like me, familiar with the name but not the work. You’ve heard of New Wave? Lydia’s aggressively insane contributions to music — she champions “unlistenability and unpopularity” — fall under the category No Wave. It’s a rare case that finds me loving an artist and not their art. The sound of her voice hit my ears with the similarly unpleasant sonorousness of a tray of silverware being hurled off a 20-story building. She became sexually promiscuous “in order to wash the taste of my father off my hands” and was strong enough to transform his unspeakable acts into her art. Lydia didn’t eff her way to the top; people effed her to get to the top. Former band mate Jim Sclavunos reveals that one of the prerequisites to joining the band was his agreeing to allow Lydia to relieve him of his virginity. Unable to perform on the spot, an appointment was set for the defloration. He brought the Redi Whip, Coca-Cola, and gum as requested, but rather than seeing them incorporated into the sex act as expected, they turned out to be Lunch’s dinner. Much of what comes out of her mouth is meant to shock, none more than her thoughts on Harvey Weinstein’s victims. (“They couldn’t crack the * of a fat man in a bathrobe?”) And how can you not love someone who describes the cop who assaulted her as “Robert Blake with a cheese-grater complexion.” Beth B directs. 2019. — S.M. ★★

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

San Diego actors' worst stories, he guards Volcan Mountain, community college adjunct

Oceanside's mapmakers, Somalis work Santa Fe Depot, a La Jolla boiler room, limo drivers file class action, SD Museum of Art's restorers, the SDSU rock man
Next Article

Willows and sycamores going yellow, poison oak going red

Look in San Clemente Canyon and Penasquitos for fall color
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close