The big news over the weekend was that Marvel’s newest movie Black Widow pulled down $80 million at the domestic box office and an additional $60 million from Disney+. It’s a big pay day for everyone involved in the MCU, but was it worth the wait? Along with Black Widow, we look at two independent films – the spoken-word poetry dramedy Summertime and the true-crime documentary The Phantom.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline might not make any sense since (spoiler alert) the Black Widow character died in Avengers: Endgame, but Black Widow is still an entertaining addition to the MCU franchise and a compelling exploration of who Natasha Romanova is. Oscar-nominee Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story) stars as the title superhero, who is uncovering the darkest parts of her past with the help of her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh). Both were trained to become assassins when they were children in a Soviet-run program known as the Red Room, which they are now aiming to destroy. Johansson packs some butt-kicking abilities, but also carries some emotional weight. Plus, Pugh and actor David Harbour (TV’s Stranger Things), who plays Natasha and Yelena’s father and old-school superhero Red Guardian (way more fun that his version of Hellboy), add another layer to the narrative that makes the whole picture pop. Black Widow is currently playing at theaters and streaming on Disney+ Premiere Access. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)
Directed by Carlos López Estrada (Blindspotting), Summertime follows a group of Los Angeles-based, high school students and spoken-word poets doing what they do best – stringing words together into lyrical works of art. The cast is massive, so there’s not much time to learn about what makes each character tick beyond their poetry, but in some cases, that’s all audiences really need. Estrada has built a creative tapestry of talent and personalities who touch on everything from identity to family to love. Just like a real-life poetry slam event, not every performer is going to speak to you on a personal level, but the one or two that do will make Summertime feel like a fascinating experience. Summertime is currently playing at limited theaters. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)
The criminal justice system is tragically flawed. Such seems to be the case for Carlos DeLuna, a Latino man in Corpus Christi, who was arrested and executed by the State of Texas for the murder of Wanda Lopez, a gas station employee, in 1983. In The Phantom, director Patrick Forbes lays out a convincing case that it wasn’t DeLuna who committed the murder. Instead, evidence points to DeLuna’s friend Carlos Hernandez, who is referred to as a “phantom” since no one seemed to be able to track him down (or simply didn’t care to uncover the truth). Through interviews with officials involved in the case and dramatic reenactments, Forbes slowly builds the case against DeLuna before toppling it over. Once it’s obvious that DeLuna wasn’t the killer, it’ll be hard for audiences to not be upset at the situation that unfolds. The Phantom is currently streaming on VOD platforms. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)
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