21st Century ‘Black Widow’ Movie Review

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Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenle, Olga Kurylenko, Ray Winstone, William Hurt

Director: Cate Shortland

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: July 9, 2021 (Theaters and Disney+ Premier Access)

“Plug it in, plug it in.” That’s the classic slogan of the famed Glade air freshener line of products. I currently find myself revisiting it in light of having recently watched the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero film Black Widow, as my primary reaction to that movie was, “Well, that character has now been plugged into the MCU.”

Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova? She’s been plugged in. David Harbour as the Red Guardian? He’s certainly been plugged in. And Rachel Weisz as Melina Vestokof? Yet another character that’s been plugged in! Yes indeed, they plugged ’em all in.

Grade: 4 or 5 Tasks out of 1 Taskmaster

This Is a Movie Review: Loopy Royal Period Piece ‘The Favourite’ is a Career Highlight for Its Three Lead Actresses

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CREDIT: Yorgos Lanthimos/Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: R for A Very Sexual Royal England

Release Date: November 23, 2018

The hype for The Favourite indicates that it is not your typical period royal court drama, which is to be expected, given that it is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek auteur behind such clinically chilling visions as The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. And while The Favourite is certainly an oddity within the genre, that does not mean it is totally anachronistic. Lanthimos’ version is probably not an exact reflection of how the people within the orbit of the British Queen Anne spoke and behaved some 300+ years ago, but it does not seem impossible that they could have acted that way. People use certain four-letter words that are seldom heard from movie characters with the poofiest wigs and dresses, but these are words that have been around for centuries and surely some people were using them back then. Besides, The Favourite is not especially concerned with historical accuracy; the story behind it all is just inspiration for Lanthimos to craft his own devilishly compelling tale.

The most reasonable way to think of The Favourite is as a showcase for its three lead actresses (who get a little bit of help along the way from a few dudes), who have rarely, if ever, been better. Olivia Colman is Anne, hobbled by gout and occasional indecisiveness, perhaps more than a little manipulative in how she courts favor, but breathtakingly formidable once she has made up her mind. Rachel Weisz is Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, close advisor (and much more) to the queen. She prides herself on being ten strategic steps ahead of everyone else, which is her greatest strength, even when it appears to be her downfall. Her wits allow her to get out of any sticky situation, up to and including kidnapping by a brothel. And Emma Stone is Abigail, Rachel’s cousin and new arrival to the court. She initially appears to be so unfailingly kind that it makes her a little stupid, but ultimately it is clear that she is a full-fledged ingratiator. Stone has never before immersed herself in such a dark persona. If Lanthimos has done his job right, and I think he has, your loyalties will constantly switch along with the characters to the point that you just want to applaud everyone.

The Favourite is Recommended If You Like: Amadeus, All About Eve, Persona

Grade: 4 out of 5 Powdered Wigs

 

This Is a Movie Review: With ‘Disobedience,’ the Rachels Weisz and McAdams Seek Love in an Orthodox Place

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CREDIT: Bleecker Street

This review was originally posted on News Cult in April 2018.

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola

Director: Sebastián Lelio

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: R for Bodily Fluid Swapping

Release Date: April 27, 2018 (Limited)

It’s nice when a movie like Disobedience, which looks like it is on a one-way track to a depressing conclusion, actually manages to have a happy ending. Now, “happy ending” might be a bit of a stretch, as it does not wrap up with the most joyous of notes, but the main characters do have decent prospects for the future, thus managing a note of hope I was nowhere near expecting.

Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) is a photographer living in New York who returns to the insular Orthodox Jewish community in London where she grew up to attend the funeral of her rabbi father, a pillar of the community. While there, sparks re-emerge between her and Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams), a childhood friend and clearly much more. Disobedience then is a close relative to Brokeback Mountain, as it is a gay love story negotiated within an oppressively culturally conservative community, but whereas Brokeback’s arc is tragic, Disobedience manages to be about resolution and compromise.

While the Orthodox Judaism of this film is hardly open-minded to the prospect of a lesbian couple, there are other traditional ideas that manage to be more insidiously oppressive. It feels like a bigger scandal that a woman would choose to be childless or abandon her home than for her to fall in love with another woman. Thus, Ronit bears the brunt of the ostracization, whereas Esti, who has married a man and made a steady living as a schoolteacher, maintains cordiality and respect despite her orientation being something close to an open secret. Esti’s husband Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) knows the truth about her, and he embodies the idea implied by the community that if you are a woman and you have an affair with another woman, it will be more or less ignored so long as you get married and have sex once a week and at least try to have a baby. Disobedience is smart about recognizing that while romance and its attendant passions are important, there are other fundamentals to life that are worth focusing on.

This is a drab film, with characters endlessly dressed in black or other dark tones. Surely that is partly to due with mourning the loss of a loved one, but you get the sense that this is how this community always dresses. Perhaps they are taking a cue from the perpetually rainy weather of their hometown. Even the brunette Esti wears a wig of a darker shade. While these outfits strike me as painfully passionless, much of the community wear them well. Esti can make them work to a certain extent, while Ronit is clearly uncomfortable throughout. This is a story about whether the two of them can meet in the middle, and being surprisingly okay with it when they cannot quite get there.

Disobedience is Recommended If You Like: Brokeback Mountain, Doomed (But Not That Doomed) Romances, Portrayals of Orthodox Life

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Orthodoxies