Review: ‘Black Widow’ (2021), starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz and Ray Winstone

June 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Scarlett Johansson, David Harbour and Florence Pugh in “Black Widow” (Photo by Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios)

“Black Widow” (2021)

Directed by Cate Shortland

Culture Representation: Taking place in Norway and Russia and briefly in Ohio, Hungary and Morocco, the superhero action film “Black Widow” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and Asians) representing heroes, villains and people who are in between.

Culture Clash: Russian American superhero Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow, battles an evil nemesis from her past named Dreykov, who has sent an assassin named Taskmaster to kill anyone who gets in the way of Dreykov’s goal of world domination through mind control.

Culture Audience: “Black Widow” will appeal primarily to people who already know a lot about what’s going on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Scarlett Johansson (pictured at right) in “Black Widow” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

If you’re not familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), then “Black Widow” might be too confusing for long stretches of the movie. For everyone else, “Black Widow” offers a satisfactory but not particularly outstanding chapter to the MCU. The best parts of the movie are the scenes showing the interpersonal dynamics between an estranged foster family that reunites, because the movie’s visual effects and villains aren’t as compelling as other MCU movies with the Black Widow character.

Directed by Cate Shortland and written by Eric Pearson, “Black Widow” takes place primarily in 2016, in the period of time between 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” and 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” Viewers who haven’t seen or don’t know anything about “Captain America: Civil War” before seeing “Black Widow” will feel like they’ve stepped into a world that has passed them by, because there are several key plot developments in “Captain America: Civil War” that are necessary to know in order to fully appreciate “Black Widow.”

“Black Widow” is strictly a movie for MCU fans, because it assumes that people watching this movie know about have or have seen “Captain America: Civil War” and the other MCU movies leading up to it. “Black Widow” is not the movie for you if you don’t know the answers to these questions before watching the movie: “What is S.H.I.E.L.D.?” “What is Hydra?” “Who else is in the Avengers?”

Likewise, if you don’t know that Avengers superhero Black Widow, also known as Natasha Romanoff (played by Scarlett Johansson), died at the end of 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame” (it’s really not spoiler information at this point), then the end-credits scene in “Black Widow” won’t make much sense. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is in the “Black Widow” end-credits scene, which makes a direct reference to Black Widow’s death and who Black Widow was with when she died, because it’s a likely revenge plot for a Marvel series on Disney+ or a MCU sequel. The “Black Widow” end-credits scene takes place at the gravestone of Natasha Romanoff, so anyone who sees “Black Widow” who didn’t know that she died will have that part of “Avengers: Endgame” spoiled for them.

If you know absolutely nothing about the MCU and Black Widow (whose first MCU appearance was in 2010’s “Iron Man 2”), then here’s what “Black Widow” does fairly well: It shows more of her backstory, in terms of how she was raised at a certain point in her childhood and why she got separated from her biological family and her foster family. The highlights of “Black Widow” are what happens when she reunites with the foster family she had for three years when she was a child.

Each of these family members has gone on to be involved in shady dealings of the Russian government. It’s an often-contentious, sometimes poignant and occasionally humorous reunion. Their up-and-down interactions speak to the love/hate feelings that people have for past or present loved ones. And that’s the humanity that makes “Black Widow” more than just a bunch of action scenes in a big-budget superhero movie.

“Black Widow” opens with a scene taking place in Ohio in 1995. Alexei Shostakov (played by David Harbour) and Melina Vostokoff (played by Rachel Weisz) are a Russian immigrant couple raising two girls on a rural farm. The older girl, who’s 11 years old, is a young Natasha Romanoff (played by Ever Anderson), while the younger girl is Yelena Belova (played by Violet McGraw), who’s 6 years old. Why do they all have different last names? Because they’re not biologically related to each other, but they have been living together as a family for three years.

Life seems to be “normal” for this makeshift family when a day comes that the Alexei and Melina have been dreading: The family will be separated by the Russian government. Some military-looking operatives invade the home one night, but Alexei and Melina have already planned their escape. Melina pilots a small plane with Natasha and Yelena as the passengers, while Alexei tries to keep the home invaders away from the plane, by shooting at the invaders with a rifle.

The plan to escape ultimately fails. Melina is shot but not gravely wounded. A terrified but quick-thinking Natasha takes over in piloting the plane. However, this family of four eventually couldn’t evade caputure, even though Natasha pulls a gun on the military men tasked with separating the family. Alexei hands over a mysterious computer disc to a man named General Dreykov (played by Ray Winstone), who is the one in charge of this home invasion. Meanwhile, the girls are drugged and taken away from the only parents they’ve known up to this point.

The movie then fast forwards to 2016. Natasha is in Norway, and is now a fugitive running from U.S. general Thaddeus Ross (played by William Hurt), because she’s has been accused of assaulting the king of Wakanda. (That’s a reference to the African nation of “Black Panther,” in case you didn’t know.) Natasha is also in violation of the Sokovia Accords, a set of regulations for people with superpowers, especially people working for government agencies. Steve Rogers, also known as Captain America, is also a fugitive, although he does not make an appearance in this “Black Widow” movie.

Natasha has been hiding out in a trailer somewhere in rural Norway. Several times in the movie, Natasha will make a reference to the falling out that the superhero group the Avengers had in “Captain America: Civil War.” As her trusted friend Mason (played by O-T Fagbenle) tells her as he hands her a stack of fake IDs to use, “I hear the Avengers are getting divorced.” Any viewers expecting any of the other Avengers to make a surprise appearance in “Black Widow” will be disappointed. Mason also gives Natasha a box of unopened mail that he says came from the Budapest safe house where she previously stayed.

“Black Widow” follows the typical superhero movie trope of a villain wanting to gain possession of an object that will help the villain take over the world. In this movie, it’s explained in a somewhat convoluted way that Dreykov and his cronies have been capturing female orphans and other vulnerable girls. The captured girls are held in a Red Room torture facility in Russia, where the girls are forced to be in a spy program.

In the Red Room, the victims undergo chemical treatments that alter their brain and allow Dreykov to have mind control over them. All of the victims’ reproduction organs are removed, and they grow up to become trained assassins called Widows, who do Dreykov’s bidding. Depending on how much their brains have been manipulated, the Widows have varying degress of memories of their lives before the Red Room.

Natasha and Yelena both spent time in the Red Room, but the movie has no flashbacks to this painful period of time in their lives. However, it’s revealed in conversations that Natasha was brainwashed but able to escape from the Red Room and never underwent the chemical treatments to the brain. Natasha’s spy life in America eventually led her to join the Avengers. Yelena wasn’t so lucky: She got the Red Room’s brain altering chemical treatment, which leaves her vulnerable to Dreykov’s mind control.

It’s why Yelena is seen in Morocco fighting an operative named Oksana (played by Michelle Lee), who is stabbed by Yelena in an outdoor street battle. Before Oksana dies, she takes a capsule and sprays Yelena with a mysterious red gas. Yelena seems to come out of a trance, and Yelena is soon reported as a deserter. It’s later revealed that this red gas is an antidote to Dreykov’s mind control. And that’s why he wants to get all of this antidote that exists in the world.

Somehow, Natasha has a stash of this antidote, so Dreykov sends a mysterious assassin named the Taskmaster after her to get this stash. The Taskmaster is completely covered in armor and doesn’t speak. Therefore, viewers will be guessing who’s really inside the armor. Is it a human being? A robot? Something else? The identity of the Taskmaster is eventually revealed in the last third of the movie.

Because Natasha currently feels all alone in the world, her emotions are raw when she has a tension-filled reunion with an adult Yelena (played Florence Pugh) when they see each other at that safehouse in Budapest. They have a big brawl that leads to an uneasy truce when they find out that they both want to get revenge on Dreykov because he separated their family. Natasha and Yelena also want to defeat Dreykov because they want to stop what’s going on in the Red Room.

Up until Natasha and Yelena reunited, Natasha assumed that Natasha had killed Dreykov in a building explosion that Natasha caused shortly before she joined S.H.I.E.L.D. (S.H.I.E.L.D. is an acronym for the spy/counter-intelligence/superhero-affiliated agency Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.) But when Yelena asks Natasha if she actually saw Dreykov’s dead body, Natasha replies, “There was no body left to check.”

Dreykov’s daughter Antonia (played by Ryan Kiera), who was about 9 or 10 years old at the time, was also in the building when it exploded. And that’s why Dreykov has an extra-personal grudge against Natasha. A flashback scene shows that Natasha knew that Antonia was in the building when Natasha gave the go-ahead for the building to be detonated. The way Natasha describes it to Yelena, Antonia was “collateral damage.”

This cold and calculating side to Natasha is frequently displayed in the story to contrast with Yelena being hotheaded and impulsive. If Yelena is like fire, then Natasha is like ice. The personality differences between these two women can result in their frequent conflicts with each other. But other times, the contrasts between Yelena and Natasha can work to their benefit when they have to team up for a shared goal.

And even though these two women haven’t lived as sisters in 16 years, there’s still some leftover sibling rivalry. Yelena calls Natasha a “poser” because of the crouching stance that Black Widow is known for before she goes in on an attack. Yelena also mocks the way that Natasha whips her hair around during a fight, as if she’s doing a photo shoot. This “poser” insult becomes a recurring joke in the movie.

There’s also a tinge of jealousy in Yelena’s teasing of Natasha. At one point in the movie, Yelena says in an envious tone to Natasha: “We are both trained killers, except I’m not the one on the cover of a magazine. I’m not the killer that little girls call their hero.”

In another part of the conversation, Yelena explains the differences between what she experienced in the Red Room and what Natasha experienced: “What you experienced was psychological conditioning. [With what I experienced], I’m talking about chemically altering brain functions—they’re two completely different things.” Yelena says what it feels like to have the chemical alterations to the brain: “You’re fully conscious but you don’t know which part is you.”

Natasha is the one who brings up the idea of going to the Red Room and killing Dreykov once and for all. Yelena replies, “That sounds like a shitload of work.” Natasha says with a smirk, “It could be fun though.”

And where have Alexei and Melina been since they last saw Natasha and Yelena? Alexei has been in a Russian gulag, where he has been fuming over all the glory and notoriety that Captain America has gotten all over the world. That’s because Alexei has a superhero alter ego named Red Guardian, whose superhero career was cut short when Dreykov betrayed Alexei and made sure that Alexei was sent to prison. Needless to say, Alexei is very bitter about it.

Melina has being working as a scientist, so those skills come in handy when Melina, Alexei, Natasha and Yelena eventually reunite. This “family reunion” is not a surprise, since it’s been in “Black Widow” trailers and is a big selling point for the movie. The initial awkwardness of the reunion—and some of the sarcastic wisecracks that ensue—bring much of the movie’s comic relief.

“Black Widow” has the expected high-energy chase and fight scenes, including a far-fetched sequence of Natasha and Yelena helping Alexei escape from prison. The movie’s visual effects are hit and miss. There’s a big action sequence that takes place in the snow that is one of the standouts. But there are a few scenes that involve explosions where the fire looks too fake.

Even though Black Widow is a superhero, she’s not immune to getting fire burns. And yet, there are too many moments where she’s right in the thick of explosions, and she doesn’t get the serious fire burns that someone would get in real life. Some of the movie’s more dramatic scenes have cinematography that’s drenched in psychedelic red, which viewers will either think looks great or annoying.

Alexei and Melina are kind of like the MCU version of “The Honeymooners” couple Ralph Kramden and Alice Kramden. Alexei is a lot of bluster and ego, while Melina is his “been there, done that” calmer counterpart. There’s a comedic scene where Alexei tries to impress his reunited family, by putting on his old Red Guardian costume, but due to his weight gain since he last wore it, he has a hard time fitting into the costume.

On a more serious note, there’s a scene with Alexei, Natasha and Yelena in a heliocopter where Alexei makes a crude comment to Yelena by asking her if she’s being so uptight because she’s menstruating. Yelena reminds Alexei that she doesn’t menstruate because her reproductive organs were removed in the Red Room. Yelena then gives a detailed description of what reproductive organs were removed, until a very uncomfortable Alexei tells them to stop talking about it. Yelena then says impishly that she was just about to talk about fallopian tubes.

Although this scene has a sarcastic tone to it, it’s a not-so-subtle commentary on the gender politics that are part of this movie’s storyline. The Red Room is an obvious metaphor for a toxic patriarchy where a male villain is responsible for literally ripping away reproductive rights. And throughout “Black Widow,” the women are the ones who make the best and bravest decisions. Alexei has his heroic moments too, but he’s often outsmarted and outshined by the women in his life.

And if weren’t obvious enough in the movie’s trailers, there’s no doubt when watching all of “Black Widow” that this movie is a launching pad for Yelena, who’s clearly going to be a big part of the MCU. Pugh tends to be a scene stealer in all of her movies, and “Black Widow” is no exception, since Yelena brings a lot of relatable strengths and flaws to this character. Johansson’s Natasha/Black Widow is the ice queen in charge, but some of her emotional ice is melted in effective scenes where she finds out the truth about her biological family and how she ended up in the Red Room.

Most of the actors depicting the characters who are supposed to have Russian accents aren’t actually Russian in real life. Johansson and Harbour are American, while Pugh, Weisz and Winstone are British. Ukrainian French actress Olga Kurylenko is in the movie, but she’s in a role that is supposed to be among the plot twists. Out of all the non-Russian actors who have Russian accents in the movie, most are good but not excellent at sounding Russian, except for Winstone who definitely needed more Russian dialect training.

Shortland’s direction of “Black Widow” strikes a mostly well-paced balance between action, drama and touches of comedy. The movie’s biggest flaws are in how little regard it has for viewers who might be new to the MCU and who will have no idea what the characters are talking about for a great deal of “Black Widow.” In other words, “Black Widow” is definitely not a stand-alone MCU movie. Just like a web that a black widow spider can weave, the movie’s a little too tangled up in other MCU storylines and is best enjoyed by people who’ve already seen most if not all the other MCU movies that have Black Widow.

Disney’s Marvel Studios will release “Black Widow” in U.S. cinemas and at a premium extra cost on Disney+ on July 9, 2021.

Review: ‘Extraction’ (2020), starring Chris Hemsworth

April 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Chris Hemsworth and Rudhraksh Jaiswal in “Extraction” (Photo by Jasin Boland/Netflix)

“Extraction”

Directed by Sam Hargrave

Culture Representation: Taking place in Bangladesh and briefly in Australia and India, the action flick “Extraction” has a predominantly Indian/Bangladeshi cast of characters mostly representing the criminal underworld, with the main character as an Australian visitor serving a dual purpose of being a mercenary and a “white savior.”

Culture Clash: The Australian mercenary goes on a mission in Bangladesh to rescue an Indian drug lord’s kidnapped teenage son, who was abducted because of his father’s feud with a Bangladeshi drug lord. 

Culture Audience: “Extraction” will appeal mostly to Chris Hemsworth fans and people who like high-octane, bloody action without much character development.

Chris Hemsworth and Randeep Hooda in “Extraction” (Photo by Jasin Boland/Netflix)

At this point in Chris Hemsworth’s career (he’s best known for playing Thor in several Marvel superhero movies), he might as well just lean in to being an action hero, since that’s the persona that seems to get the best reaction for him from movie audiences. Hemsworth’s starring roles in serious awards-bait dramas (2013’s “Rush” and 2015’s “In the Heart of the Sea”) have fallen flat. And even though he has a great sense of humor in several of his movies that call for comedic moments, he’s only chosen supporting roles so far for any comedy films that he does.

“Extraction” (not to be confused with the 2015 action flick “Extraction,” starring Bruce Willis) reunites Hemsworth with several key members of the team behind “Avengers: Endgame” and “Avengers: Infinity War”—co-director/co-screenwriter Joe Russo (who wrote the “Extraction” screenplay) and stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave, who makes his feature-film directorial debut with “Extraction.” Joe Russo and his brother Anthony Russo (who co-directed the aforementioned “Avengers” sequels) and Hemsworth are among the producers of “Extraction,” which stars Hemsworth as mercenary Tyler Rake.

It’s a movie that might get compared to “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” (another bloody and violent mercenary movie that’s set in Asia and directed by an American with a stunt coordinator background), but “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” is a far superior movie, in terms of screenplay and character development. “Extraction” is based on the 2014 graphic novel “Ciudad” (co-written by Ande Parks, Joe Russo and Anthony Russo), which takes place in Ciudad del Este, Venezuela. In “Ciudad,” the Tyler Rake character has to rescue a kidnapped adult daughter of a Brazilian crime lord.

Most of the story in “Extraction” takes place over just two days, but a lot of action and killings are packed in that short period of time. And yet, with all the murder and mayhem that takes place—a lot of it on public streets—the police either don’t show up or they’re relegated to being ineffectual extras. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

The plot for “Extraction” is very basic: Two rival drug lords—Ovi Mahajan Sr. (played by Pankaj Tripathi) from India and Amir Asif (played by Priyanshu Painyuli) from Bangladesh—are the top drug lords in their respective countries. However, Ovi Sr. is in Mumbai Central Prison, and has entrusted his right-hand man Saju (played by Randeep Hooda) to take care of his 14-year-old son Ovi Mahajan Jr. (played by Rudhraksh Jaiswal). Ovi Jr.’s mother is not mentioned in this very male-centric movie, which has only two women with speaking roles.

When Ovi Jr. gets kidnapped in the back alley of a teen nightclub, Ovi Sr. blames Saju and demands that Saju find Ovi Jr., or else Ovi Sr. will have Saju’s young son killed. Saju knows someone who can get the job of finding and rescuing Ovi Jr., but he knows that this mercenary is out of Ovi Sr.’s price range.

That mercenary is Tyler Rake (played by Hemsworth), who’s tracked down in the Kimberley, Australia, where he’s a heavy drinker and opioid pill-popper who lives alone in a messy, ramshackle abode. Tyler also likes to dive off of cliffs and hold his breath underwater for as long as he can while sitting cross-legged, as if he’s doing a combination of a meditation and a daredevil death wish. Viewers find out later in the story why Tyler (whose name isn’t revealed until halfway through the film) is such an emotionally damaged and reckless soul. (It’s the most cliché and over-used reason for lone-wolf antiheroes in action flicks.)

The person who goes to Australia to find out if Tyler will take the assignment is Iranian arms dealer Nik Khan (played by Golshifteh Farahani), who’s written as a glamorous badass who doesn’t reveal much of a personality during the entire movie. It’s a very token female character without any depth or backstory. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t fall into the predictable cliché of making her the love interest (which would be too distracting to the single-minded brutal mission in this movie), although the way that Nik and Tyler sometimes eye each other hints that there might be some sexual tension between them.

Nik spends a lot of time communicating with Tyler remotely, since she’s in a room with colleagues waiting to receive an electronic payment for Tyler’s services, although later Nik finally gets in on some of the physical fight action, where she’s the only woman. The only other woman to have a speaking role in the movie is Saju’s spouse Neysa (played by Neha Mahajan), a small supporting role that is very much the stereotypical “worried wife at home” character that’s seen all too often in action movies.

The opening scene of “Extraction” shows a very bloody Tyler shooting at people with a military gun on a highway bridge with abandoned cars. His injuries are so severe that it looks like he’s ready to pass our or die at any moment. The movie then switches to a flashback to two days earlier, which is when the kidnapping of Ovi Jr. took place in India, and the teenager was then taken to Dhaka, Bangladesh.

It isn’t long before Tyler finds Ovi Jr. and rescues him, in an unrealistic manner of Tyler violently taking down the 10 or so thugs who were tasked with guarding the kidnapped boy in a run-down building. Tyler has some assistance from a remote sniper named Gaetan (played by “Extraction” director Hargrave) and later from an old pal named Gaspar (played by David Harbour), who lets Tyler and Ovi Jr. spends some time hiding out at his place. Saju is also looking to rescue Ovi Jr., who has to make a decision to either go with Saju or stay with Tyler, for reasons what are explained in the movie.

One of the best scenes in the movie is a long sequence of Tyler and Ovi Jr. escaping in a thrilling and very suspenseful car chase. The cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel is top-notch in that scene. But in other scenes where it’s just shootout after bloody shootout, the violence becomes a little too repetitive and unoriginal. And, of course, there’s a predictable double-cross in the film that astute viewers can see coming long before it happens.

The only scene in the movie where there’s any  emotional vulnerability from the adults involved in these killing sprees is the scene were Tyler opens up about his past to Ovi Jr., who spends most of the movie looking terrified. Ovi eventually learns to trust Tyler, and in the course of just two days, Ovi apparently becomes so emotionally attached to this man that he just met that he starts to see Tyler as sort of a father figure.

In a scene where Ovi and Tyler are at Gaspar’s place, Ovi looks at Tyler in awe and asks Tyler why he’s so brave and if he’s ever had to kill people. This is after Ovi Jr. saw some of the carnage that Tyler caused, so clearly this is a kid who doesn’t have common sense if he’s wondering at this point if Tyler kills people. Ovi Jr. is supposed to be the son of a high-ranking drug lord, but he isn’t very “street smart.” In another scene where there’s a big shootout with several abandoned cars on a bridge, Ovi Jr. hides behind a car on the bridge that’s on fire, as if he doesn’t realize that the car could explode at any minute.

There’s a bit of a “white savior” mentality to “Extraction” that might be off-putting to some people. And there are a few scenes of children getting murdered, such as when one of Amir’s thugs throws one of Amir’s underage drug runners off of a roof, which might be too disturbing to watch for sensitive or young viewers. And some of the teenagers in Amir’s gang are sent to do battle with the adults, and let’s just say that things happen, and Tyler ends up calling them “the Goonies from hell.”

The chief villain Amir is written as someone who sends his minions to do his dirty work for him, and he doesn’t talk much in the film. He’s a stereotypical cold-blooded criminal, but there was a missed opportunity for screenwriter Joe Russo to give this character more of a personality. It certainly would’ve made “Extraction” more interesting.

And because almost all the main characters in the movie act like killing machines, there’s almost a video-game quality to “Extraction” that’s disappointing for a feature film that could have been better. The ending of “Extraction” hints that there could be a sequel. If there is a follow-up movie, let’s hope that more attention is paid to developing main characters that people will care about more, instead of making the action sequences the only memorable things about the film.

Netflix premiered “Extraction” on April 24, 2020.

 

2019 CinemaCon: What to expect at this year’s event

April 1, 2019

by Carla Hay

CinemaCon

CinemaCon, the annual convention for the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), will be held April 1 to April 4, 2019, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. About 5,000 people attend the event, which gives movie studios the chance to showcase what they expect to be their biggest hits of the year.

A major change to this year’s event is that Sony Pictures Entertainment and 20th Century Fox will not be giving presentations. Movie studios scheduled to give their presentations at the event are STX Films and Warner Bros. Pictures on April 2; Universal Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures on April 3; and Paramount Pictures and Lionsgate on April 4.

Independent film studio Neon will promote its music-based drama “Wild Rose” with a screening of the movie on April 1 and a “Wild Rose” party on April 2. Other movies that will be screened in their entirety at CinemaCon 2019 will be Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Blinded by the Light” on April 2, Amazon’s “Late Night” on April 3 and Lionsgate’s “Long Shot” on April 4.

CinemaCon culminates with the CinemaCon Big Screen Achievement Awards ceremony, which will take place April 4.

Here are the announced winners of the awards:

CinemaCon Icon Award
Steve Buscemi

Steve Buscemi (Photo by Kristina Bumphrey/Starpix)

One of the most respected actors in the entertainment industry, Emmy-winning “Boardwalk Empire” star Steve Buscemi has played a wide range of characters in movies and television. His most memorable films include 1992’s “Reservoir Dogs,” 1996’s “Fargo” and 2001’s “Ghost World.” He has also voiced several roles in hit animated movies such as 2017’s “The Boss Baby,” and the “Hotel Transylvania” films. Buscemi’s 2019 film is the horror comedy, co-starring Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton.

CinemaCon Vanguard Award
Jamie Lee Curtis

Jamie Lee Curtis (Photo by Andrew Eccles/Universal Pictures)

In a career spanning more than 40 years, Jamie Lee Curtis has made her mark in the film industry, beginning with her starring role in her movie debut: the 1978 horror classic “Halloween.” She has starred in multiple “Halloween” sequels, most notably 2018’s “Halloween,” which made her the first woman over the age of 60 to star in a movie that debuted at No. 1 in the United States. Curtis’ other well-known movies include the 1980 horror flick “Prom Night,” the 1988 comedy “A Fish Called Wanda,” the 1994 action film “True Lies” and the 2003 remake of the comedy “Freaky Friday.” Curtis has two films due out in 2019: the crime drama “Knives Out” and the comedy “Senior Entourage.”

CinemaCon International Star of the Year
Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart (Photo by David Lee)

Kevin Hart is one of the busiest people in showbiz, with starring roles in movies, TV and Web series, in addition to headlining successful arena tours. The year 2019 started out with the dramedy “The Upside” (starring Hart and Bryan Cranston) debuting at No. 1 in the United States. His 2018 comedy film “Night School” was also a hit.

CinemaCon Ensemble Award: The Cast of “Terminator: Dark Fate” – Linda Hamilton, Natalia Reyes, Mackenzie Davis and Gabriel Luna

Natalie Reyes, Mackenzie Davis and Linda Hamilton of “Terminator: Dark Fate” (Photo by Kerry Brown)

“Terminator: Dark Fate” is the 2019 entry in the longtime “Terminator” film series. “Terminator: Dark Fate” stands out from the rest of the films in the series because the cast is led by women: Linda Hamilton (who starred in the first two “Terminator” movies), Natalie Reyes and Mackenzie Davis. The movie’s cast also includes Gabriel Luna. Original “Terminator” star Arnold Schwarzenegger is reportedly making a cameo appearance.

CinemaCon Directors of the Year
Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Joe Russo and Anthony Russo (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Director brothers Joe Russo and Anthony Russo helmed the superhero movie “Avengers: Endgame,” which is expected to be the biggest box-office blockbuster of 2019. The Russo brothers also directed several other Marvel movie blockbusters, including 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” and 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

CinemaCon Action Star of the Year
David Harbour

David Harbour (Photo by Marion Curtis/ StarPix for Summit Entertainment)

David Harbour might be best-known as a co-star of Netflix’s horror series “Stranger Things,” but he’s aiming to make a big splash in movies by starring as the title character in the 2019 superhero flick “Hellboy.” Harbour takes over the role that was originated by Ron Perlman.

Cinema Spotlight Award
Octavia Spencer

Octavia Spencer  (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images for Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Octavia Spencer won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her breakthrough role in 2011’s “The Help.” She has also has Oscar nominations for her supporting roles in 2016’s “Hidden Figures” and 2017’s “The Shape of Water.” Spencer has branched out into producing films, including the 2019 horror flick “Ma,” where she has a starring role.

CinemaCon Male Star of Tomorrow
Henry Golding

Henry Golding (Photo by Kelsey McNeal/ABC)

Henry Golding made his feature-film debut with a starring role in the 2018 blockbuster romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians.” He was also in the 2018 crime thriller “A Simple Favor,” co-starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. Golding has re-teamed with “A Simple Favor” director Paul Feig for the 2019 romantic comedy “Last Christmas,” co-starring Emilia Clarke, Emma Thompson (who wrote the movie’s screenplay) and “Crazy Rich Asians” co-star Michelle Yeoh.

CinemaCon Female Stars of Tomorrow
Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever (Photo by Francois Duhamel)

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever co-star in the 2019 comedy “Booksmart,” about two straight-laced best friends who decide to go wild on the day before their high-school graduation. Feldstein is also known for her supporting roles in the 2018 Oscar-nominated comedy film “Lady Bird” and the 2016 comedy film “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,” while Dever is a co-star of the comedy series “Last Man Standing.” Dever’s other recent film roles include the 2018 dramas “Beautiful Boy” and “The Front Runner.”

CinemaCon Breakthrough Director of the Year
Olivia Wilde

Olivia Wilde (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images)

Olivia Wilde made her directorial feature-film debut with the 2019 comedy film “Booksmart,” which got rave reviews when it had its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. Wilde is an accomplished actress who has starred in such films as 2018’s “Life Itself” and 2010’s “Tron: Legacy.” She is also known for her past TV roles in the medical drama “House” and the nighttime soap opera “The O.C.”

CinemaCon Comedy Stars of the Year
Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron

Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron (Photo by Philippe Bossé)

Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron play unlikely love interests in the 2019 political comedy film “Long Shot.” Rogen is best known for his comedic roles in movies (such as 2007’s “Knocked Up,” 2008’s “Pineapple Express” and the “Neighbors” films), while Theron does mostly dramatic and action movies, including 2005’s “Monster” (for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress), 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” and 2017’s “Atomic Blonde.”

Other awards that will be given at the ceremony:

  • CinemaCon International Filmmaker of the Year Award: Graham King, producer of 2018’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • CinemaCon Passpartout Award: Helen Moss, Paramount Pictures senior vice president of international distribution
  • NATO Marquee Award: John D. Loeks, Studio C chairman
  • Career Achievement in Exhibition Award: Jérôme Seydoux, Pathé co-chairman/CEO and Les Cinémas Gaumont Pathé chairman/CEO
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Anthony Bloom, Cineworld Group chairman

‘Stranger Things’ team backstage at the 2017 Screen Actors Guild Awards

January 30, 2017

by Carla Hay

The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards took place on January 29, 2017, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

“STRANGER THINGS”

SAG Award win:

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series

Here is what these SAG Award winners said backstage in the SAG Awards press room.

Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Millie Bobby Brown, Noah Schnapp, and Caleb McLaughlin at the 2017 Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles.
“Stranger Things” cast members Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Millie Bobby Brown, Noah Schnapp and Caleb McLaughlin at the 2017 Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

BACKSTAGE INTERVIEW

How strange is it to have this award?

Caleb McLaughlin: Oh my gosh, it’s a blessing. I was sitting there. I was waiting for “The Crown,” “Game of Thrones,” all of the great competition that we had. And then I just heard, “Oh my gosh.” I just heard the “s,” and I knew it was us, and I just started jumping.

Finn Wolfhard: I’ll say something very quickly. I looked to Natalia, I looked to Millie. I was like, “Guys, I’m going to sleep. See you later.” And I laid my head on the rest. And then they were, like, “Stranger Things” …

Millie Bobby Brown: And it was actually funny because the Duffers, the [“Stranger Things”] directors, we thought we had no chance. It is so incredible to be in such an incredible category with so many talented, incredible shows that have worked so hard. I really want to thank everyone I didn’t get to say on stage because David Harbour just rocked it, but I just want to say thank you so much to every single nominee in that category.

Noah Schnapp: Mr. [Matthew] Modine actually told me that it’s like it’s already like winning when you get nominated, and then being able to win after being nominated is just the feeling, the rush; it’s just such a blessing.

Gaten Matarazzo: Yeah, it really is just a great opportunity to be here, and the great thing about it is that we’re in our first season. We are in our first season of this show, and we just won this award. And it’s the whole cast, and they called our name, and I’m like, “How the hell? Like what? You’re kidding me!” And Dave’s speech was just amazing, and I could listen to that a hundred times. It was just a phenomenal job. Thank you to just everyone and David Harbour. It’s exciting.

You’re all so young. What would you say to kids who aspire to be actors?

McLaughlin: I would say just keep striving for your dreams and never give up. Don’t believe anyone that puts you down. Just keep going because you’re your own person, and you have to just keep doing it. Just keep going.

Wolfhard: My answer to that would be keep trying. Every actor has been in the position, well not every actor. Some actors like us got lucky with this, but some actors don’t get lucky, and they work their whole lives to be on a show like this. I’ve only been acting for five years, four years. Some actors have been acting their entire life, because we’re not old. That sounded awful. Sorry. Not all on the older side. We’ve only been on this planet for 14 years. I would just say keep trying; keep auditioning for stuff.

Brown: I’ve always thought just go into an audition room thinking you haven’t got the job, and that’s really bad advice but to me that really works. And when I went into “Stranger Things,” I thought, “I really am not going to get this. I mean, there’s so many talented … 306 girls, I think, auditioned for Eleven.” And I’m just like, “It’s to be going the same audition as them,” so I just thought, “I’m going to get this.”

Schnapp: So my answer would be … everyone says this but it’s really true: Just never give up and stay motivated keep trying. One day you’re going to get it if you love it. Just go after it, because if you love it, put your heart into it and your passion. One day it’ll come.

Matarazzo: So mine is to say that tonight really proves that kids can be good actors too, because there are a lot of things that a lot of people give a lot of stereotypes saying kids aren’t good actors because they don’t have experience. But it’s not about experience. It’s about your will to do what you love, and it’s about your passion for it. It is about how much you really want to do this, because you can really just do amazing things, no matter how long you’ve been on this planet.

So if any kid out there that says they aren’t as good as someone because they’re older, they are wrong because age does not matter no matter how old you are. You can be a hundred years old in there [he points to his head] even if you’re 9 years old. That’s what I have to say. Any kid can do amazing things.

David, you got very emotional in your speech. How long did you take for you prepare it?

David Harbour: I didn’t expect us to win at all, actually, because we’re the newcomers, and there’s a lot of kids in the show, and it’s a strange show to give an acting award. I think I’m so proud of this cast, and I think it’s well-deserved. I think the work that these guys are doing is so extraordinary, but I did not think we were going to win. I did know that if we did win, I’m very bad at improvisation, as the rest of the cast can tell you. So I did not want to go up there with nothing to say, so I did write this speech.

And it’s gone through many iterations. I’ve had a lot of feelings and thoughts this last week, and I wanted to express it in some way that dealt with what we do through our art and also the craft of acting. And I feel like in our society now, it’s important to remember that acting is a craft, and that this is a guild, and it is something worthy of study, and it’s something worthy of hard work and dedication. It’s not about how popular you are; it’s not about how many “likes” you get on things. I see some trends in our society going a certain way, and I think acting is, at least for my life, has been a very important component about self-expression that is very worthy of a guild. And so I wanted the speech really to be about that.

Had you run the speech by your castmates? It looked Winona Ryder was hearing it for the first time.

Harbour: I didn’t see her reaction. Actually we were at dinner the other night, and it was Cara [Buono] and the teens and myself. And I was like, “Guys, I want to say this kind of crazy speech. Can I run it by you? And Charlie [Heaton] was like, “No, no you’ll ruin it. You’ll jinx it.” But finally we beat him into submission. And I did do it for them.

But it even changed last night, based on the protests that are going on at the airports and all this stuff that’s going down. I started to change it some more, but they did help me, and they did reassure me that it was an okay thing to say and that it wasn’t pretentious,  and that I could say it. So I was very appreciative of their feedback.

 

 

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