A Double Feature Review!
Black Widow is a great Marvel movie — half spy thriller, half superhero flick all packed with action throughout. Our MCU hero finally gets her time to shine in a worthy solo picture. Scarlett Johansson is strong as ever, while Florence Pugh steals every scene. Along with great performances from both David Harbour and Rachel Weisz. An entertaining standalone adventure. Black Widow is the first MCU movie back in theaters since 2019's Spider-Man: Far From Home. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a 2020 drought for Marvel, so it was a little refreshing seeing one of our favorite Avengers back on the big screen. Director Cate Shortland's (Lore and Berlin Syndrome) superhero film travels back in time, taking place after the events of 2016's Captain America: Civil War. During this time the Avengers have broken up, giving Shortland a chance to focus solely on Natasha Romanoff's (Johansson) story. I don't want to go into too much detail as far as the plot goes because I was to keep this review spoiler-free.
I will say, Black Widow had one of the best opening sequences in the MCU franchise, along with a killer opening title sequence (a cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Think Up Anger, featuring Malia J). Pugh also steals the show with every scene she's in, continuing her winning streak for grandeur performances (2019's Midsommar and Little Women). There are some flaws with this film, particularly with the final act. These action sequences seemed a little messier than the rest of the movie, along with trying to wrap up loose ends for the plot. However, these are minor, and they did not hold down the film as a whole. Black Widow also broke several pandemic box office records upon release, including $80 million for its opening weekend theatrical release. In addition, the film made $60 million in Disney+ global revenue in its opening weekend and has grossed over $270 million worldwide, becoming the sixth-highest-grossing film of 2021. All-in-all, it felt great seeing a Marvel flick back on the big screen, along with a worthy solo film for Johansson herself.
Black Widow is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Some Language | Intense Violence/Action | Thematic Material.
See in theaters, or watch on Disney+ via Premium Access.
Directed by Cate Shortland
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone, and O.T. Fagbenle.
In The Heights
I understand the hype now. In The Heights is a joyous celebration of community and culture. This vibrant and dazzling musical will sweep you off your feet. It’s a summer sensation that will have you dancing in the air. In The Heights is a story of family and dreams — Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) put the Latino community front and center. Based on Miranda's groundbreaking 2008 Broadway musical, In The Heights is a musical wonder that will capture your eyes and fill your heart. It's a fact that Latinx representation has been lacking in Hollywood over the years, so to see a big-budgeted Hollywood musical with a Latinx cast was refreshing. My wife, Glynis, is Peruvian-American, while my younger sister, Tatiana, is Colombian-American. Telling these stories is critical and will continue to be an important perspective for the future of filmmaking.
In The Heights takes place in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City — a neighborhood known for a large Dominican population on the upper Manhattan side. Translating a musicals stage production to film is no easy task, but Chu wonderfully executes that task. Our story follows a variety of characters throughout, but at its core, the story centers around Usnavi (a perfect Anthony Ramos). Usnavi is a bodega owner who looks after Abuela Claudia (a powerful Olga Merediz), the neighborhood matriarch and woman who raised him after his parents passed away. Merediz's song "Paciencia y Fe" will send chills down your spine and bring tears to your eyes. Usnavi dreams of winning the lottery someday so he can escape to the shores of the Dominican Republic. We also follow the stories of Vanessa (a strong Melissa Barrera), the girl Usnavi has a crush on working at the neighboring beauty salon; Benny (a captivating Corey Hawkins), a dispatcher; and Nina (a mesmerizing Leslie Grace), who has just returned from Standford after dropping out.
This is a close-knit community, as we see everyone's dreams sung out on the screen before your very eyes. In The Heights is beautifully shot and remarkably orchestrated throughout — capturing the magic of celebration and heritage. It's a shame that this film disappointed at the box office, only grossing $40 million against a $55 million budget. Don't let this discourage you from seeing this movie because it really does dazzle. In The Heights blends Latin culture, from its music to its more authentic touches — it even tackles DACA, Usnavi's cousin, Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), is a "Dreamer." In The Heights deserves your attention, so make sure you watch this film if you have not done so already. Let the music speak to your soul.
In The Heights is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) For Some Language and Suggestive References.
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Starring Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz IV, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco, Noah Catala, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
As promised, F9: The Fast Saga delivers big-dumb popcorn fun. Fueled with over-the-top action sequences, F9 keeps this series moving. I had a good time seeing it on the big screen with my family and, in the end, that’s all that matters.
What is there to say about F9? A cheesy, over-the-top action flick from a (somehow) 20-year-old franchise. My expectations were low for this film, and I came away mostly satisfied. I knew what to expect from this car racing turned spy thriller series — there was going to be nonstop action sequences, corny dialogue, a soap opera plot line, and Vin Diesel saying the word "family" about a hundred times throughout the movie. That's exactly what F9 was, just with a little more brainless action sequences and the word "family" was used on steroids. I personally think that this series should have ended on a high note with 2015's Furious 7, sending the late Paul Walker out on a swan song, but here we are, six years later, still chugging along.
This time around, Dom Toretto (Diesel) is living a quiet life off the grid with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his son, Brian. Cue, the evil bad brother, Jakob (John Cena), who is out terrorizing the world. Dom's past has finally caught up with him, so it's up to him and his team (Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Nathalie Emmanuel) to go out on a new mission and stop Jakob. See, the plot is kind of like a bad soap opera — Dom's long-lost brother Jakob has shown up out of thin air and is doing bad guy things. Yet, I can admit, that I was never bored with this film and the crazy action sequences kept me engaged. Director Justin Lin (who has directed a majority of these movies) uses his signature film trait of stunts and thrills, but this time he has turned the dial up to 11. My younger siblings had a blast seeing it in theaters, and I had a great time seeing it with them too.
So, with all of F9's flaws and eye rolls, I was entertained the entire time. F9 is definitely not the best Fast and Furious movie (looking at you, Fast Five), but it is also not the worst Fast and Furious movie either (looking at you, 2 Fast 2 Furious). For me, this movie comes in about mid-tier for the franchise. Universal says that it's making two more of these movies (10 and 11) and then calling it quits. But I will believe that when I see it. Of course, if Universal does decide to call it quits to the franchise's main storyline, then they are going to go crazy with the spin-offs. In the end, F9 rocks and rolls through the streets, with cars blazing and some even flying off to space. F9 also did give Han's (Sung Kang) character justice and a nice comeback, which I did appreciate. Gravity and logic went out the window for this franchise a long time ago. All in all, F9 delivered just enough brainless fun and action to keep me satisfied.
Want to hear more of my thoughts about F9, check this podcast review with my friends, Matt & Ashley, on their website, mashleymovies.com.
F9 is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Language | Action | Sequences of Violence.
Directed by Justin Lin
Starring "The Family" (Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Charlize Theron, John Cena, Sung Kang, Dame Helen Mirren, Finn Cole, Vinnie Bennett, and Kurt Russell).
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It adds some new scares to the franchise, yet this latest chapter to the horror series feels a bit weary and tiresome from the previous Conjuring films.
The Conjuring franchise has now made three linked Conjuring movies and five spin-off movies (Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation, The Nun, The Curse of La Llorona, and Annabelle Comes Home). The Conjuring Trilogy has followed our main paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by a terrific Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. While the spin-off films have followed different aspects of The Conjuring universe, like the creepy Annabelle doll or the "Demon Nun." These spin-off films have felt more like a roller coaster — some stories were good, some stories were pretty bad. The first two Conjuring films (2013 and 2016) remain superior to this expanding horror franchise — giving us old-school scares and engrossing stories of different hauntings and supernatural activity.
Director James Wan (Saw, Furious 7, and Aquaman) crafted the two vastly frightening pictures from The Conjuring's chapters one and two. These two horror features gave off bone-chilling vibes that make you want to sleep with a night light on afterward. So, with chapter three coming in and changing up the formula, we essentially get a weaker horror film. The Devil Made Me Do It decides to go a different route and focus on a legal trial where a defendant (Ruairi O'Connor), who's accused of murder, claims to have been possessed by the devil himself (demonic possession). So, it's time for the Warrens to step in and investigate. The third chapter also adds in a new director, Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona), but keeps Wilson and Farmiga. As usual, Wilson and Farmiga's acting chops are strong as ever, but we are missing the noble craftsmanship from Wan.
Stripped away are the original spooks and scares — instead — Chaves tries to add more crime thrilling elements. The Devil Made Me Do It also borrows heavily from far superior horror movies, like The Exorcist (1973) and The Shining (1980). However, I will give the film's opening scene some major props, giving us an incredibly frightening and terrifying exorcism sequence. Unfortunately, as far as the story goes, the rest of the movie begins to peter off after that. The Conjuring franchise does not look like it's slowing down anytime soon. If Wilson and Farmiga continue to return, then I will, of course, continue to watch. Here's to hoping the next chapter with the Warrens goes back to the franchise's original horror roots and haunting atmosphere.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is rated R (Restricted) Terror | Some Disturbing Images | Violence.
Directed by Michael Chaves
Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O'Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, and John Noble.
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