Week Of 07.11.2021 Movie Reviews

Reviewing Black Widow, Rurouni Kenshin: The Final, And Shiva Baby

- S Grade; 5.0 Stars: The Best Film One Has Ever Seen, Everyone Has An S Film
- A+/A- Grade; 4.0/4.5 Stars: One Of The Best Films Of The Year, If Not All-Time
- B+/B- Grade; 3.0/3.5 Stars: Worth A Trip To The Theatre For First Viewing
- C+/C- Grade; 2.0/2.5 Stars: Watch From Home For First Viewing
- D+/D- Grade; 1.0/1.5 Stars: Don’t Bother Watching This At All If You Can Help It
- F Grade; 0.5 Star: One Of The Worst Films Of All-Time
- Reminder: Reviews For These Films Can Change Over Time And Will Be Reflected Over At Our Letterboxd

- The Plot: Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow, confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.

- The Review: There was a time the MCU had me by the balls. You could have called me a proud “Marvel b*tch” as some of the cynical cinephiles on Film Twitter had labeled us MCU fanboys. I barely questioned any of it and exclaimed it the greatest film franchise of all time save for maybe my beloved Godzilla films. At least one of their films made my personal Best of the Year list each time from 2014 to 2018. And then my relationship with Marvel started to go awry…

I really liked AVENGERS: ENDGAME, I liked CAPTAIN MARVEL and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, and I thought SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME was decent - but I never loved those movies like I did previous MCU flicks. I started to sense a pattern of more rubber stamped formulaic good but not great movies pumped out to make tons of money in an era when people will buy even a brick if the Marvel brand was slapped onto it. The high risk, high reward storytelling of groundbreaking films like a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY or a DOCTOR STRANGE or a THOR: RAGANAROK was simply not there anymore and the characters had begun to be overused and over-recycled.

Add to that a ridiculous time travel plot hole caused by the last AVENGERS film and now we have this obligation of a film about a dead character that has no stakes and takes place in a part of the MCU timeline we long passed over. This movie was already coming in with low expectations for me, but I was not prepared for just how underwhelmed I would be by it. In a time we’ve discovered the mystical and galactic side of the MCU, bringing this down to earth was already going to make it feel lesser than for me.

To its credit this film has a killer intro that blew me away, it actually felt for ten minutes like the MCU was about to give us something less formulaic and predictable. Then the film shifts to the actual plot set between CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and the story’s creativity and non-formulaic style nosedives from there. We spend overlong action sequence after overlong action sequence with choppy pacing following Black Widow around as she reunites with former family members. Its not until half-way through the film that the presence of David Harbour and Rachel Weisz at least brings a little more fun to the story and even then not all the comedic relief moments landed for me like they usually do in these MCU films. Oh and that’s without mentioning the painfully bad and inconsistent Russian accents in here from the supporting cast.

We suddenly stop all the action for a pretty mundane house reunion scene and then have a convoluted setup for the third act of the film which takes place up in the air in a villainous fortress belonging to yet another subpar MCU villain. While the climax does have some fun action sequences, it just feels so pedestrian compared to previous MCU climaxes and you never buy any of these characters are in any danger given we already know Natasha’s fate. Instead I felt like I was just mindlessly watching a big giant climatic action sequence that didn’t have me on the edge of my seat because again it just felt like we were going by the motions.

Overall I came away from this only being more sure this was a mistimed obligation that we had to get through to get to more interesting and exciting stuff later on this year from this franchise when Phase 4 truly begins. I want to give this a C+ so bad, but like with F9, I have to give it a very slight pass in that I can see plenty being entertained enough by this during a trip to their local theatre and getting what they paid for, but like that film it barely makes the above average range for me. Its a generic film that could and should have been done earlier and better than this. B- for BLACK WIDOW. The MCU has set such a high bar for itself that I know it can do better than this, but with so many watching their films no questions asked there isn’t that much imperative to meet that high bar consistently these days.

- The Plot: In 1879, Kenshin and his allies face their strongest enemy yet - his former brother-in-law Enishi Yukishiro and his minions, who’ve vowed their revenge.

- The Review: As I kick off my massive month-long binge of 2021 films that I need to catch up on, I made the decision to have an expanded and more detailed review for two films that are part of that catching up. First up is the adaptation of this hit anime and manga series, which itself is a follow up to the intensely popular trilogy of films that came out from 2012 to 2014. Three films that I liked, ranging from loving the first two to thinking the third film was a decent, albeit a bit disappointing and underwhelming, film. This is but the first of two of these as this one finishes the story of Kenshin the murderous Samurai turned peaceful guardian and a later film that will explore the origins of that backstory - which having seen this now, I think should have come out before this.

I was really hoping this would be more in line with the quality the first and second were for me, and there’s still a lot of the great recipes that were put together for those films in this. The directing, acting, costumes, cinematography, fight scenes, and production designs are all on point. It can be difficult to properly do a live action adaptation of such an eccentric and expressive style of animation without coming off a bit too surreal or hokey, but these films somehow manage to pull it off time and time again. The adaptation is also a rather well done one, following this particular arc of the story well enough that fans of the series can be proud of the effort put into this on almost all fronts.

Unfortunately, I would probably rank this one alongside the third film in the trilogy this is a follow-up to in that it has an incredibly slow pace that drags to it that makes the film overstay its welcome. There’s one point I paused the film and was shocked to see there was still fifty or so minutes left because it had felt like it was wrapping up. That’s not a good feeling to have as a movie-watcher. On top of that the references to the upcoming prequel are done so sloppily that if you haven’t read the manga or watched the anime, you’ll be easily confused when we get flashbacks teasing that film. Once again, I find myself wishing they released that one before this one.

Overall, this movie is a well done adaptation that stays faithful to the source material and will make fans of the franchise proud. It delivers on all the technical aspects. But it also drags, has sloppy flashbacks that hurt the story, and left me feeling like the movie needed some major script cleaning to climb from something I liked to something I’d love. B- for RUROUNI KENSHIN: THE FINAL. Not a bad movie, but I just wish it was at the quality of the first two films more than the third. Hopefully the upcoming prequel aspires to more.

- The Plot: A college student attends a family Shiva where she is accosted by her relatives, outshined by her ex-girlfriend, and face-to-face with her sugar daddy and his family.

- The Review: As I continue my massive month-long binge of 2021 films that I need to catch up on, I made the decision to have an expanded and more detailed review for two films that are part of that catching up. This is the second one of those in the form of a dramedy (with a TINY hint of romance even) that some have even compared to playing out like a horror flick.

A film that lasts only for less than eighty minutes and yet delivers so much witty dialogue, so many comedic moments, so many great scenes of tension, so much sex appeal, so much to relate to even if you’re not Jewish or of the LGBT persuasion (And yet delivers a great representation of a queer character), and what might be my favorite score of the year all in one film. Again, all in less than eighty minutes. This could be the first ever modern “Film Twitter” movie that I actually loved as much as it does following up how underwhelmed I was by the likes of a ZOLA.

On paper this could have easily been one of those films that don’t connect with me. One of those that just goes for such cynical story beats and character motivations that I just tune out and end up not joining the Film Twitter bandwagon. But I found our protagonist incredibly relatable and I felt every bit of her emotions as the horrid day that was playing out for her did. Better yet all of the characters around her all helped the story only to be better, and everyone in this ensemble showed up to give us great performances on screen. Add this to the great directing (From a debut director no less), the great subtle cinematography, the great script, and the amazing score and you get a really terrific and fun movie.

The only thing keeping this from getting an A+ from me is that it does seem like it starts to lose steam towards the final act, though in its defense that’s when it starts to pull out where as other films (Looking at you MALCOLM & MARIE) end up overstaying their welcome. That said overall a solid film that will be a strong contender to make our Best of the Year list. A- for SHIVA BABY. About time I found a Film Twitter bandwagon I can hop on.

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