Carter – A No-Spoiler Review

Podcast Episode

Carter – A No-Spoiler Review

Is the new Netflix movie CARTER worth your time? We'll help you decide and enhance your viewing experience by giving you things to look for.

Cropped poster for the movie Carter

This 13-minute Quick-Fire no-spoiler review of the newest Netflix spy movie, Carter will help you decide if Carter is worth your time.  This Korean movie is a high-action spy thriller that we think you will either love or hate.  We’ll help you figure it out!

Our Quick-Fire reviews have no spoilers and are designed to enhance your viewing pleasure if you decide to see the movie. You will get more out of the movie by listening first!

You can listen to more of our podcasts either in your favorite podcast app or on our website’s podcast page.

What did you think of this episode, “Carter – A No-Spoiler Review”?  Did it help you decide? If you watched the movie, did our Review enhance your viewing experience?

Comments: info@spymovienavigator.com

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BLACKLIGHT – Our no spoiler, quick-fire review

Contributed by: Dan Silvestri and Tom Pizzato - Spy Movie Navigator

Posted on
“I was disappointed.  It wasn’t really entertaining” that was a quote we heard from an audience member at the end of the just-released movie, Blacklight. Was it a valid comment? Keep reading for our thoughts. As usual with our quick-fire reviews, we won’t be giving any spoilers in this review. Our goal is to give you our high-level thoughts on the movie, let you know if we think it is worth your time, and talk about any influences on this movie from real-life or other movies. In our January 2022 Spy Movie News, we mentioned that Blacklight was coming out this February and was the only spy movie to be scheduled for this February.  Well, it has just been released.

The Plot

The official website for the Blacklight says: “In BLACKLIGHT, LIAM NEESON is Travis Block, an operative whose discovery of a dark secret pits him against the FBI director he once swore to protect.” So, he’s an operative for a government agency and will have a conflict with his boss.  Yeah, we’ve seen that before. Travis Block, played by Neeson is a “fixer” for FBI director Gabriel Robinson.  When a deep-cover agent has a problem Robinson sends Travis to get them out.  He works “off the books.” Block has known and trusted Robinson for a very long time. Robinson also kept Travis out of a heap of trouble in an incident when they served together in the Vietnam War. That gives us an important plot point. There is a subplot involving Travis’ relationship with his daughter, Amanda, and his granddaughter Natalie.  Travis wasn’t a great father figure because he was gone all the time and is suspicious of everything.  He tries to make amends with his granddaughter in this movie. We all know that in a Liam Neeson action movie you don’t mess with his family.  We could be wrong with this, but we think this family thing was added after Neeson was hired. There wasn’t much reason for them to be there for the story.  Neeson fans want him to go after whoever messes with his family so, from a marketing perspective, this makes sense. The next plot point we’ll mention could be considered a spoiler, but since it is in the trailer, we feel fine talking about it.  The US government is killing innocent civilians under the guise of protecting democracy.  This becomes central to the plot of the movie and is likely where the movie gets its name.  We didn’t hear “blacklight” mentioned as a word in the movie.   We might have missed it but we were listening for it.  There is mention of infrared light, but they didn’t call it blacklight.  We suppose the title was given as light was being shone on this government behavior. A reporter called Mira Jones starts to suspect this is happening and is given reason to believe it is true.  She ends up meeting with Travis to try to figure things out.  And that sets up the story.

The Cast

The movie stars Liam Neeson as Travis Block, Aidan Quinn as FBI director Gabriel Robinson, Emmy Raver-Lampman as Mira Jones, Taylor John Smith as Dusty Crane, and Claire van der Boom as Travis’ daughter Amanda.

The Influences

At Spy Movie Navigator we talk about how scenes in spy movies are influenced by other movies or by real-life events.  So, let’s look at some of those influences. We’ll start this part of the discussion by saying this movie is pretty cliché.  There are the obligatory vehicle chases, fistfights, a big plot twist, a subordinate having a problem with a boss, and since this is a Liam Neeson movie, an issue with his family. Those things are in most spy movies, so it is hard to pick scene by scene on those. One scene had what we think was a great call-back to both the James Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the Harry Palmer movie, The Ipcress File. Travis Block shows up at his boss’ Gabriel Robinson’s house while Robinson is working in his garden.   In The Ipcress File, Harry goes to Ross’ house as Ross is tending to his garden. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond goes to M’s house while M is tending to his butterfly collection.  So, all three of these movies have the spy going to his boss's house while the boss was working on a hobby. We liked that touch. It gives a little more background into the characters.  Plus, most spy movies don't show the lead spy at their boss's house. As for the vehicle chases, there are two major chases in this movie.  One involves a Porsche vs some sort of Chevrolet SUV.  We couldn’t tell the model.  This was very cliché and somehow the Porsche couldn’t easily outrun the SUV. The second chase had Travis’ Dodge Challenger chasing a garbage truck.  It was almost humorous the way the Challenger tried to battle the garbage truck.  That said, we did like this chase.  It was a nice twist on the chase trope. Speaking of Travis’ car: this Dodge Challenger was loud, like really loud.   Yet, he would drive it to places where he needed to go unnoticed.  It seemed like an odd car choice for him. Now, the most obvious call-back to scenes being influenced by other movies has to be with Travis’ family.   From an action movie perspective, Liam Neeson is best known for the Taken trilogy.  That’s probably also his best work in this genre.  In those movies, he needs to find or protect a member of his family. The audience will expect something similar in this movie because, although Neeson’s character has a different name, it is still Liam Neeson’s character using his very particular set of skills.  The trailer leads one to believe this is a huge part of the plot.  In fact, before we saw the movie, we expected this Quick-Fire review to spend all of its time talking about how this was just another Liam Neeson-as-Bryan Mills movie.  Well, fortunately, we were wrong about that part.  There is still a family issue in this movie, but it doesn’t manifest itself until about 2/3 of the way through the movie.  So, while important, it isn’t the main plot of the movie. That’s good in our opinion.

Our Thoughts

So, what are our overall thoughts on Blacklight?  Was that quote at the beginning of this review accurate? It wasn’t a terrible movie, but it was cliché and a bit boring for an action movie.

What We Liked

Now, that said, let’s talk about some of the things we liked about Blacklight. The first highlight for us is Emmy Raver-Lampman who plays reporter Mira Jones.  Although her part wasn’t well written (most of this movie has this problem), we liked Emmy in this role.  You may know her as Allison in the Netflix series “The Umbrella Academy”.  She was also on Broadway in “Hamilton” among other shows. We weren’t familiar with her and thought she did a very good job here. She stood out for us. Aidan Quinn was another high point.  He’s an actor who always delivers good work. Again, his part wasn’t well written, but Quinn stole almost every scene he was in. Another actor who we want to call out is Georgia Flood who plays Pearl.  This is a small role, but she lit up the screen every time she was on it. As for Liam Neeson, if you liked him as Bryan Mills in Taken, you’ll like him here. Yes, he is 69 years old and doesn’t run as well as he did in Taken, but he knows how to play that character.  In our review of The Last Mercenary, we talked about how an older Jean Claude Van Dame could still deliver on his character-type, albeit a bit slower.  The same thing holds here.  The actor knows how to deliver this type of character, so age just means there isn’t quite as much oomph. We already mentioned that we liked the chase between the Challenger and the garbage truck. Another thing we liked was where they didn’t take us.  And they almost did. The movie opens with a politician, Sofia Flores giving a speech.  It was a typical left-leaning speech that we would expect from a Democratic candidate here in the US.  She was quite obviously there to make the US audience think about U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC as she’s usually called).   It made us think “oh, oh”, this movie is going to be all about left-leaning politics, which in the US would irritate half the audience. They then balance that with the next scene where a, what we’ll call “a right-leaning mob”, has a deep-cover agent trapped in her motor home. This scene also had the biggest and best explosion in the movie. They could have taken these two scenes and created a preachy woke movie - and they didn’t.  The conservative vs. the liberal rhetoric ended very quickly.  Given the polarity of these types of topics in the US, it was good they moved off of it. We also liked the overall score.  Mark Isham’s soundtrack works for this movie. Um, that’s about it in terms of the positives.

What Went Wrong?

So, what was the movie’s problem? What didn’t we like? Mainly, in our opinion the script was weak.  There wasn’t much to it.  This could have easily been an hour or 90-minute made-for-tv movie instead of trying to be a Hollywood blockbuster.  It was a ho-hum, “check off the list” of what a Neesom action movie has become. The screenplay was credited to Nick May, his first screenplay and it felt like it. Here are a few examples of some of the lines from the movie to back up our thoughts:
  • “Everything I did was for you”
  • “You aren’t really going to shoot me” the response: “Yes I will”
  • “I suspect I made a poor career choice”
  • “If I find out you had anything to do with my granddaughter disappearing, you’re going to need more men”
  • “You are my weapon. You work for me.”
Yeah, not scintillating stuff. And that’s the problem with the movie. It didn’t grab us. The “big twist” you see in these types of movies, comes out early in Blacklight and Travis Block takes a long time to figure it out. It is very obvious which might be why they give it away early. We hate when the twist comes out early.  Please keep us in suspense further into the movie. We think that May should probably stick to his role as an Assistant Director at the Federal Trade Commission, here in the US. The trailer was also a problem.  Marketing teams never seem to learn.  They blow it for this movie.  In Blacklight, they give away the big twist in the trailer.  It’s like in The Kingsmen: The Golden Circle where the trailer shows Harry was back in the movie after everyone thought he was dead in the first Kingsmen movie. Marketing showed Harry in the trailer which ruined the surprise.  Trailers are supposed to get us excited to see the movie, not give away major twists. The trailer also shows Travis walking into an empty house. He says, “Where’s my family?” This leads you to believe this is another version of the Taken series.  It isn’t. Here's another annoying thing:  Travis Block had OCD which mainly manifested itself by showing him needing to do things three times in a row.  That said, there is no backstory on it.  He just does some things three times in a row.  Someone makes a comment on it, but the behavior isn't explained. Also, this movie could have been called “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight”, but that comedy was made in 1971. We don’t know how many bullets get fired in this movie but probably 99% of them didn’t hit their target.  What is it with spy movies?  Can’t anyone shoot?  We often complain about this in our podcast episodes.  A lot of bullets fly but people either never get shot or it takes 100 bullets to do it. Another thing that drove us nuts was the cinematography or the editing, we’re not sure which it was.  Shelly Johnson was the Cinematographer.  He has an excellent resume as does the Editor, Michael Shawver.  Fairly often there were visual glitches where it looked like the shot would back up a half a second and then go forward.  It almost felt like the film was given a strong shake at this point. This was definitely a choice made either in filming or editing as it was consistent and other reviewers have commented on it, usually negatively. When we edit our videos, we use an editing package that has glitch effects built in.  We hate glitch effects. It felt like that’s what we saw here, and it was distracting.  Often, they are used for transitions but that wasn’t the case here. It didn’t seem to serve a purpose and was just annoying. Then there was another pet peeve of ours.  In one scene a guy walks across a wet floor in an indoor parking garage.  He gets in his Porsche and drives out onto bone-dry streets.  We know they like to shoot on wet pavement as some people think it looks better than dry pavement on the screen with the reflection.  However, when he starts walking in the garage, we were thinking, why is the floor wet?  He’s indoors.  It wasn’t raining in the garage and when he got outside the roads were dry, so it wasn’t raining out there either.  It was just odd.  If it was wet outside, this would have made sense.

A Few More Thoughts

There are a few additional things we’d like to quickly point out.  The first has to do with the filming of this movie.  Although the story’s location was Washington D.C., the movie was filmed in Australia. Given that, most of the supporting roles were played by Australian actors.  We liked that.   This was filmed during the COVID pandemic so that makes sense.  Plus, we like to see local actors used in movies. Next, in the credits there was a team assigned to COVID issues. That was a sign of our times.  We wonder what we’ll think of that if we rewatch this movie in a few years. And finally, the age of the audience was interesting to us.  This is an action movie.  And it stars 69-year-old Liam Neeson.   Ok, this is a very, very small dataset to work with as there were only 5 other people in the theater when we went.  We went to the 5:00 pm showing on the advanced viewing day.  That said, I’m 59 and was at least 10 years younger than any of the other 5 people in the audience.  Is Liam drawing an older audience than what we usually see for action movies, or was this an anomaly?  We don’t know but it is an interesting data point to us.  This Blacklight audience seemed a lot older than what was in the audience when we saw No Time To Die.  We know the James Bond series is fighting their demographics and working to draw in younger viewers.   Neeson may be struggling with that. So, let’s get back to the quote from that audience member about Blacklight that opened this article: “I was disappointed.  It wasn’t really entertaining.”  We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Dan Silvestri and Tom Pizzato are the creators of the website SpyMovieNavigator.com.  We create podcasts, YouTube videos, and more focusing on spy movies.  Our podcast and our YouTube channel share the name “Cracking the Code of Spy Movies”! You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@SpyNavigator), and Instagram too! And we welcome you to join our private Facebook group, The Worldwide Community of Spy Movie Fans!

Spy Movie Navigator Recap of ITV’s: “The Ipcress File” Press Conference

Contributed by: Dan Silvestri and Tom Pizzato - Spy Movie Navigator

Posted on
ITV is set to release its new series based on the Len Deighton book, "The Ipcress File".  In advance of the release, ITV hosted a press conference and has released a trailer.  You can see this trailer here on YouTube (ITV - The Ipcress File Official Trailer). The series, which will air starting in March 2022, will be released on ITV in the UK, AMC+ in the US, Seven Network in Australia, Now TV in Hong Kong, Tohokushinsha in Japan, and Lionsgate Play in India, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Dan Silvestri and Tom Pizzato from SpyMovieNavigator.com had the wonderful opportunity to attend a press briefing for the "The Ipcress File" TV series hosted by ITV.

Spy Movie Navigator’s Previous Analysis of the Movie The Ipcress File

In August of 2020, Spy Movie Navigator released our podcasts on the Harry Saltzman-produced movie of the Len Deighton book, "The Ipcress File". These podcasts were very well received throughout the world, thank you to our audience for that. Then, later that year, ITV announced that they obtained the right to produce a tv series based on the book. In those podcasts, we talked about what we liked, and what we wished was different in the movie. Specifically, we called out
  1. The use of Harry’s glasses to bring things in and out of focus
  2. The fact that Jean’s role wasn’t very well developed, and we wanted to see more of her story
  3. The trickery of the camera shots bothered Tom, Dan liked them
  4. The fact that the atoll part of the book wasn’t in the movie. We didn’t know this was a problem until we read the book.
As we discuss our experience here at the press conference, you will see why we are so excited about this series.

Why The Series Excites Us

We can’t wait as there was a lot in the book that they couldn’t show in the movie with Michael Caine. This series gives them a lot more time to flesh things out. The movie, The Ipcress File, ran 1 hour and 49 minutes – so they will have more time here in the series for sure. This is an exciting series whose six episodes have been shot already in Liverpool England and Croatia. It promises to be an outstanding series, starring Joe Cole (of “Peaky Blinders” fame) as Harry Palmer, Tom Hollander as Major Dalby, Lucy Boynton as Jean Courtney, Ashely Thomas as Maddox, Paul Bazely as Morris, David Dencik as Colonel Stok, and Tamla Kari as Deborah. Tom Hollander was just in The King’s Man. He was also in Bohemian Rhapsody with Lucy Boynton. David Dencik played Tom’s favorite character in No Time To Die, Valdo Obruchev. He also was in Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy. And we can’t wait to see Joe Cole after his roles as John Shelby in “Peaky Blinders” and Sean Wallace in “Gangs of London.”  Ashley Thomas played Isaac Carter in the TV series “24: Legacy”. It will also be good to see Paul Bazely and Tamla Kari tackling a spy movie. This is a tremendous cast, and in the press briefing we were able to see some of the clips from the series, and wow! The acting is superb, but so in the condemnatorily, sets and ambiance of recreating a 1960s England and setting. Of course, “The Ipcress File” is based on the works of Len Deighton, and we remember the 1960s movie trilogy starring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin, and Billion Dollar Brain. We have podcasts out on all three of those movies (Podcast links: The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin, and Billion Dollar Brain). The character, Harry Palmer, is offered an opportunity to be a spy, versus serving prison time and that is the basis of his personality and interactions with his boss, Major Dalby. Caine was superb. But the 1960s was a long time ago, and not much has been done with Harry Palmer since, other than a couple of made-for-TV movies that were not that well received. So, now we move to the present!

Press Conference Attendees & Discussion

The meeting was expertly hosted by Boyd Hilton, and in attendance were actors Joe Cole, Lucy Boynton, Tom Hollander, Ashley Thomas, John Hodge (the writer), and James Watkins (the series Director). John Hodge, the writer, suggested that this is a great spy story, embracing social mobility and class, glass ceilings, and more. He is a fan of the books and said that it was appealing to turn this into a 6-part TV series. He also suggests that the tone will be humor, the warmth of human interaction, the feeling of humanity, highlighting small moments – human weaknesses and strengths. He came back to the theme of humanity multiple times in the discussion so this seems like it will be very important to watch out for. We at SpyMovieNavigator.com wonder how much detail will be presented in the series since the movie in 1965 was about 109 minutes. Here they have a series of 6 episodes which will afford them a lot more time to develop the storyline and characters. We very much would like to see the atoll appear in the series.  That whole part of the book wasn’t in the movie, and we want to see what they do with it. It was our favorite part of the book.

LUCY BOYNTON

Lucy Boynton gave us her insights and said that her character, Jean Courtney, is an interesting woman in the 1960s liberation environment – a very interesting era. Here, we may find out more about Jean's personal life. She was an intriguing character in the book but limited. In this series, we will see more of her personality and her in an expanded professional role. They reminded us that the book is written in the first person. Remember, Harry was the first person in the novel and didn’t get a name until the film. Therefore, some of the characters, including Jean need to have their roles expanded, which they do here. So that’s one of the things we mentioned we’d like to have seen in the movie. We’ll get that here. Two things Lucy Boynton said about Jean that grabbed our attention were “She uses that societal underestimation of young women to her advantage” and “She’s such a commentary on what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry.” As for the first quote, Lucy Boynton also mentioned that Jean can hide in plain sight. She also tells us that in the book and the movie, Jean is Harry’s assistant. However, in the series, Jean is an agent in her own right and is “bloody good at what she does.

ASHLEY THOMAS

Ashley Thomas, who plays Maddox, fleshes out the character of an African American in the 1960s – a very capable man with twists and turns - who is in a position of power, so it is interesting to explore this dynamic of an African American in that time. In the series, he has a sense of humor, smiles during some tense moments which relives the serious scenes a bit. Ashley said that he approaches each character with respect (accents, back story, etc.) and wanted to get that unique perspective on 1960s African Americans. He also liked the fish and chips in Liverpool where they filmed a lot of this series.  We like to hear comments like this in press briefings.  It lets us learn more about the talent involved in the production. Ashley talks about how his character is expanded, especially for an African American in a time of racial oppression. He said they made “sure these things were addressed, and I wasn’t just shoehorned into the series. So, I was really excited with what John and James had come up with for the character. He’s a very capable man and many people who are African American or just black whether in the UK or in the US are very capable. Given the state of society at that time weren’t given those opportunities.” He then says “He’s in a position of power. He’s going to have to be very good, if not better than some of his counterparts to be in those positions.” He mentions how black people were often not shown in positions of power in that period. They then commented that his first onscreen line is “Yes, that’s right, I’m black”. So, with both Jean and Maddox, the humanity that John Hodge talks about will come through.

TOM HOLLANDER

Tom Hollander, playing Major Dalby said it was a strong script by John Hodge – witty, economical, authentic to the period, while still making things fresh. Dalby, he thinks, is a “headmaster” type – complicated and slightly jaded. He looked at the script, looked at the original film but did not finish the book. We like that Hollander says that Dalby was fun to play. That “headmaster”, “slightly jaded” points he mentioned probably added to his fun. Hollander is such a good actor that it was good to hear his excitement for this role. Dalby is a huge part of the story. He also commented on how the writers, John and James, were quite receptive to character development ideas from the actors. Which, he said doesn’t always happen.  We like hearing when the writers and directors take input from the actor. We think we see better performances when the actor has that input. He or she has an idea of how they want to play a role and having the powers that be buy-in is great to see.

JOE COLE

Joe Cole plays Harry Palmer. Joe said that he was not really familiar with Harry Palmer, but after speaking with people, he realized what an important character he is. He saw the Michael Caine stuff, he said but still did his own thing. He looked at the book, watched the movie, but did not want to do a Michael Caine impersonation – he wanted to do his own thing with it. We thought that was a good insight on his part. It would be so easy for an actor to take on an iconic role and just try to duplicate what the first guy did. And with Michael Caine’s style, it would be easy to fall into an impersonation. So, it’s good to see Cole acknowledge or recognize that and point out that he didn’t want to just do an impersonation. He also talked about the point of working-class versus his superiors. When Joe was asked how it felt to put on those glasses for the first time, Joe said: it was important to get them right and he tried a lot on – haircut, glasses clothes – all important. He joked that “the glasses were a great thing to hide behind!” And he admitted they were non-prescription. From the clips we have seen, Joe does a bang-up, brilliant job as Harry Palmer. They did keep the glasses thing as part of the Harry Palmer image!

JAMES WATKINS

James Watkins – the Series Director said, they started with Joe Cole as Harry Palmer and built around that. He suggested that Joe has that intersection of gentleness and knowing the world is against him. He said that Joe as Harry uses humor well and is the kind of guy you want to hang out with like Hans Solo. One thing that Watkins mentioned that hit home for us was that Len Deighton describes Harry Palmer as “a winner who puts himself across as a loser.” He is angry and he’s got insolence. “Joe and I spent a lot of time trying to capture that tone.” The opening shot of the show is of the glasses – out of focus, then in focus with the glasses on – like the movies. This was another from our list of items we liked in our podcasts on the movie.

JOHN HODGE

Hodge added that the series comments on social attitudes – social issues, mobility. That era in the 1960s had freedom promised but not always delivered. We saw that in the movie, but it was filmed in the 60s. So, it’s good to see that they kept that feel.

THE TEAM INTERACTION

Lucy Boynton, playing Jean Courtney, said that Joe Cole brought a sense of humor and the freedom to have fun with it. Her character, Jean, was a person who was impenetrable – and Harry was the first to penetrate that. Joe was asked if Harry was an anti-James Bond? Joe says he read that somewhere. He is very different and sees Harry as working class, who doesn’t have a lot of money, and who is hyper-intelligent and he’s fun. Cole says” The most important thing for me was to try to capture that.” The trick was making Harry likable too – likable but facetious, a balance. He wants to push a few buttons that make Harry tough and critical, but also likable. Cole gave an example of this when he described a scene from the beginning of the first episode when Harry is with Jean. He talked about how the writing and Lucy’s powerful performance as Jean in this scene really could make Harry “look like a dick”, and how he had to make Harry likable. The repartee between Joe as Harry and Tom as Dalby is great! Tom says it is in the taught, witty script – “dynamic class stuff in it!” They talked about how Harry knows he is trapped (forced to be a spy) but that Dalby is also trapped in a way – “both dancing on their own pinheads – restricted by the world that is theirs.” Joe also gave us some insight into acting with an accomplished actor like Tom Hollander playing Dalby. Joe initially thought that in his first scenes with Dalby, Harry would have a swagger about him. But then he thought, no, Tom will see right through that. So, he quashed those ideas and went with what John had written. You don’t hear actors talk too much like that, so we thought this was refreshing to hear. We thought that was a great insight. And you can see that in the characters themselves. Brilliant.

LOCATIONS

In general, they commented that locations were important for the character’s journey. James Watkins, the director says that they are going to some of the places that were in the book that they didn't have in the movie due to budgetary constraints. YES!!!! This makes us very happy because we saw the movie first and then read the book. There is a section of the book on an atoll that wasn’t in the movie but makes it into the series. We mentioned it in our podcasts on the movies. We didn't miss it in the movie since we saw it first, but after reading the book, we missed it immensely in the movie. Len Deighton’s description of this part of the story was so vivid we can’t wait to see what they do with it here in the series. We’re so glad they will have that and Beirut and Finland in the series. YES!!! Watkins also said that "James Bond is a superhero movie whereas Harry Palmer is a real person. He wants to not work on his weekends, and he wants to reclaim his expenses, is interested about what he's cooking. It's real life" he’s a real guy and the plot in the series is to get to know the characters and hang out with them. As for filming in Liverpool, they all said they liked Liverpool.
  • Tom Hollander said they liked Liverpool because it was full of amazing buildings and history – bits of Britain from the 1960s still there.
  • Ashley said it was the first production in the UK during Covid – so there were adjustments with masks, etc.
  • Joe said he liked Liverpool, while Lucy said she had not been to Liverpool before.
We found it was interesting to hear about how the pandemic lockdowns affected their experience.

COSTUMES

As for costumes, James Watkins said they looked at stuff from the 1960s so they could “incorporate elements of the character information” through the costumes. For instance, there is a collision between the way Dalby and Palmer dress – the class thing again.  Class is very important in this story.

THE COLOR PALETTE

As for the color palette in general: they wanted to show a bleached color palate – to look like 1965 – dirty whites, grit – more life textures in terms of costumes and design. A pattern of dirtiness. We thought this discussion was great. No one talks about this. Yes, people talk about the virtues of shooting on film or digital, but they normally don’t explain why they like one or the other. But Watkins talked about the differences here. He said that he and the cinematographer, Tim Maurice Jones, spent a lot of time on that. How to take a chemical film approach to digital film. how to make the reds right. They are plum red; the whites are dirty ivory whites. He said that if you film a white wall on digital it's all ones and zeros and it looks the same from frame to frame to frame, on film each frame is a different photochemical composition so there is a grain structure to it. Yes, this was geeky, but it helped us understand the differences and the challenges of trying to shoot something today and make it look like the 60s.  We loved this discussion.

CAMERA ANGLES

Another topic from this part of the discussion with Watkins scares Tom Pizzato, from Spy Movie Navigator, a bit, but not Dan Silvestri. Watkins mentions that there are off-kilter camera angles in the series. He says they looked at the movie The Third Man for inspiration. Remember at the beginning of this podcast we mentioned that the tricky camera angles in the movie, The Ipcress File, bothered Pizzato. Harry Saltzman, who produced the movie, got into disagreements with the director of the movie about them.  It was editor Peter Hunt who convinced Saltzman that they worked. Pizzato is wary about this while Silvestri loved the variety and unique camera angles in the original movie! One of Pizzato’s concerns here is that the cinematographer for the series is Tim Maurice-Jones. He was also the Director of Photography for the just-released movie The 355. In our review of that movie, we commented on the shakiness and off-plane camera shots, especially for the close-in fight scenes. Pizzato didn't like those. So, we’ll have to see what Watkins means with the “off-kilter” camera angles here in this series.

KEVIN LYGO FROM ITV

ITV’s Director of Television, Kevin Lygo, came on at end of the discussion and said that this is a great production – movie quality. The team joked around a bit that this was a higher-level production than what ITV normally produces. They compared it to a big-budget Netflix series. And from what we saw, it looked like that for sure.

OUR WRAP UP

If you look at the list we mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, it looks like this team kept the stuff we liked from the movie The Ipcress File and except for the off-kilter camera stuff, addressed the stuff we didn’t like. We can’t wait for this to come out. The atoll was a bit later in the book, so we’ll probably have to wait for a few episodes to see it, but this press conference has us on the edge of my seat waiting for March when this comes out. Finally, it was great to be invited to the press conference – we were two of 64 journalists around the world on the call, so this was pretty special!  We want to thank ITV for inviting us to this press conference for the upcoming ITV series “The Ipcress File”. Dan Silvestri and Tom Pizzato are the creators of the website SpyMovieNavigator.com.  We create podcasts, YouTube videos, and more focusing on spy movies.  Our podcast and our YouTube channel share the name “Cracking the Code of Spy Movies”! You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@SpyNavigator), and Instagram too! And we welcome you to join our private Facebook group, The Worldwide Community of Spy Movie Fans!
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BLACK WIDOW – a Quick-Fire , No Spoiler Reaction! – Transcript

Related: BLACK WIDOW – a Quick-Fire, No Spoiler Reaction!

Contributed by: Tom Pizzato and Vicky Hodges for SpyMovieNavigator.com

Posted on
This article is an edited transcript of Spy Movie Navigator’s quick-fire reaction podcast for the just-released movie, Black Widow. Our podcast show is called Cracking the Code of Spy Movies on your favorite podcast app and our YouTube channel.

Our hosts for the podcast are Tom Pizzato from the US and Vicky Hodges from the UK.

Don't Forget To Watch Black Widow's Post Credit Scene

Tom

I want to start up front with a warning for you. I have a friend of mine who is a very big MCU fan, and I forgot he told me that after the closing credits MCU movies have a post-credits scene. I forgot about this when I went to the theater. We left during the credits and Vicky, there was a scene at the end and I think people probably should have stayed to watch, correct?

Vicky

Yeah, you just need to sit there and just watch all the names scroll down the screen for about two or three minutes. Right to the very end and then you will get a scene that will lead to something in the future.

Tom

I can't believe I was so stupid because I read something about the ending and I said to myself: Oh man, I forgot Anthony told me that.

Overall Reaction

Tom

So let's talk, again non-spoiler as we can, about what this movie was. We'll talk about if we liked it, where it may have been influenced by either real-life things or previous movies, and give you an idea if it's something worth your time. I didn't think I was going to like this movie as I'm a spy movie fan and I'm not a fan of the MCU. Boy was I wrong. I really like Black Widow and I think you will too. We're going to do this by taking a quick-fire look at the movie The goal of our quick-fires is to give you a spoiler-free look at the movie since we do them right after the movies are released, so we won't go into too many details on the movie. So again, I'm coming to this from a non-MCU fan. In fact, prior to seeing the movie, I had only seen two of them. I had watched the prior two MCU movies the day before I saw Black Widow. I went to this because it was supposed to be a spy movie and since we're SpyMovienavigator.com, this definitely made sense for me to do. However, I did not want to watch it since it was an MCU movie. I didn’t want it to be like The Avengers. I hate those movies where they've got characters that morph into things or animals that take on human-like roles. And there's some of that in The Avengers and it's also why I don't like Star Wars. It's that's not what I like, and fortunately and happily for me, this movie isn't that. This movie was a spy movie. The end fight scene, there's always an end fight scene, that was a little MCU-ish, but it didn't have all these goofy characters in it, so I really like this movie. What about you, Vicky?

Vicky

I actually rate this one of the higher films in the Marvel run of films because of the spy element. It's essentially a prequel set after the events of Captain America: Civil War. But if you aren't, as Tom said, an MCU fan, you can go and see this as a standalone film. You don't need to have seen any of the other films to enjoy this.

Tom

The whole thing is about Natasha Romanoff, who's a spy in the MCU. And it's really about her adventures.

Vicky

Yeah, It's essentially her origin movie. The origin of her character: like we've had with The Wolverine and a number of other characters. This is her origin. She's a trained assassin and it shows you how she leads to this.

Tom

And the timing of it's weird to me because like I said, I watched the last two Avengers movies before I saw this, and she appeared to die in Avengers: End Game.  So I'm like: why are we seeing her as a young person and then now as an adult when I thought she died? I thought that was weird timing-wise.

Vicky

Well, as I say, when they do these origin-type films they want to show you where it starts and you know what influences, things that happen to her. I can't rate it highly enough, to be honest with you. In fact, I would like to see it again. That's how much I like it.

Tom

Yeah, I was shocked that I liked it as much as I did. When I say that, I'm not degrading it at all, 'cause I really liked it.

Influences From Other Movies

Vicky

Yeah, and it has so so many influences of other films that it draws on and you find yourself sitting there going. Ah, ah, yes, that's what I found myself doing.

Tom

Why don't you talk a little bit about some of those influences, again without giving the scenes away in Black Widow? Let's talk about some of the movies that might have influenced Black Widow.

Vicky

Yeah, Key ones. You definitely have got James Bond in there. Lots lots of things for Bond to be honest with you. You've also got a little bit of Mission: Impossible

Tom

Before we get to Mission: Impossible, let's talk a bit about Bond because Natasha is sitting at home one night watching Moonraker.

Vicky

Yes

Tom

So that movie influences this one.

Vicky

Yeah, I mean I think this is a key one for them to pick. When you see something later on in the film. Yes, and that was one where I went ahhhahhh. I sort of nudged my other half.

Tom

Yeah, absolutely.

Vicky

And the locations. For me as well, is very much Bond. Lots of locations throughout the movie. I sat there thinking oh, has Bond been to here then as I've you know, my mind was drifting off to other places.

Tom

OK, what about On Her Majesty's Secret Service? I saw some influence there.

Vicky

Now that's an interesting one. I didn't pick up on that. Interesting.

Tom

OK, So what I will say is: what Dreykov was doing, Dreykov’s big scheme has some influences from On Her Majesty's Secret Service in my mind.

Vicky

Yes, yes, I'd also got that there was some influence of Moonraker in that as well, there was a mixture of the two. Yeah yeah.

Tom

Yes, there absolutely was, yeah. And so again trying not to give it away, but I’m saying that these are two movies from the James Bond world that we think influenced this one. So now you were going to say something about Mission: Impossible.

Vicky

Yes, there was a little bit of Mission: Impossible in there. Just a couple of seconds which took me to Mission: Impossible.

Tom

Oh, I went there immediately.

Vicky

Yeah yeah yeah, and that again I think I leaned over and said “Mission: Impossible” I also got a little bit of Star Wars in there from the costume.

Tom

I saw the first Star Wars and that's the only one I've seen.

Vicky

Yeah, there's a little bit of costume, and I think it might be a little bit of a nod to Star Wars, which would be then a nod to Moonraker so it sort of crescendos on.

Tom

Yeah, there was also a very big influence in my mind from the Jason Bourne trilogy, especially from Bourne Ultimatum., I really think there's a very important influence there, and if you're not a Bourne fan you might not pick it up. I watched that and I went back and watched the first three Bourne movies again because I couldn't remember which one it was in. So it was in the third one. Huge, huge influence.

Vicky

Just going back to Bond, you've pretty much of course got some very high-end stunts and also that leads from Mission: Impossible. And of course, a supervillain, which again is Bond.

Tom

With a lair.

Vicky

But without copying. Without really copying, it's more of a homage to each of these things,

Tom

You could see influence without it saying we're copying. Any other TV or movies that you came up with because I've got two more to talk about, OK?

Vicky

Not for me, more connections with perhaps the cast that all picked up on, yeah?

Tom

OK, well yeah we'll talk about the cast in just a second. So there are two other things that I kind of wanted to point out as influences. The first was that there was a tv show called The Americans. I don't know where in the world showed. I saw it here in the US. I don't know where else you can see it. I don't want to give anything more away than that, but there is a particular scene that was heavily influenced by that show. That show was based on real-world events. There is a scene in Black Widow that is very heavily influenced by the tv show, so if you're a fan of The Americans when you see that scene, you’re going to say: “That's what Tom was talking about.”

Vicky

Right, yeah I do know of the program, but I haven't watched it to myself. But I do know it's been highly spoken of.

Tom

OK. The last influence is a stretch, especially because Dreykov has been around for a while. When I first heard it in the theater I thought they were calling him “Draco”.

Vicky

Yes

Tom

That “v” wasn't there when I heard it. And if I think about it in movies, you have Draco Malfoy who was Harry Potter's big rival in the Harry Potter movies.  You've got Mark-Ange Draco, who's the crime boss in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  And then here Dreykov is the villain. But there's this “v” at the end of his name. So, again, I'm making a stretch here. I'm going to take some liberties here: One of the translations of the word “Draco” is “dragon”, and if you look at Merriam Webster under Dragon, it talks about a violent, combative, or very strict person as a person. Someone formidable or baneful. And I think those two nail Dreykov here. Now here's where I go out on the ledge with this. There's a video game that has a character called The Ultimate Dragon who has posted talking about the fact that there is a character called Drake in that video game. It is a lower class of dragon. Now, the English translation of the Russian word “Dreykov” is “Drakes”. At least according to Google.  So, is this whole “dragon” tie in part of it? I don't know, but I looked at it and thought that that could have influenced his name. But again, given that Dreykov has been around for a while, I don't know if that's valid. That was just something I picked up on.

Vicky

Yeah, I want to sort of. You said Drake over Drax. I mean, I know it's not quite the same, but it's going in the direction I was as well. Drax from Moonraker.

Tom

Yeah, exactly. And I don't know what that translates to. That could be “dragon” as well for all I know.

Preview Differences

Tom

One other thing before we get into the characters that I thought was kind of interesting was when you watched the previews when you were in the theater watching it. 'cause you saw this in a theater, right?

Vicky

Yes

Tom

Yeah, so did I. They didn't have a No Time To Die preview. They had The King’s Man and almost everything was a Disney-based movie. So I think that might have been why they may have only been previewing their movies

Vicky

Ah, now I did have No Time To Die.

Tom

You did OK, so I did not so.

Vicky

I only had that one. That's the only one I have.

Tom

Oh, we had 25 minutes of previews in the US. That's how they do it. They say the movie starts at 11 and the movie started at 11:25.

The cast

Tom

So let's go and talk about the cast. Obviously, Natasha, the lead who is also called Black Widow, is played by Scarlett Johansson taking that role forward and I thought she did a great job here. My wife, the first thing she said when we got out of the theater was “Scarlett Johansson was really good in that”.

Vicky

She's a good actress and I think she takes on that role well. Yeah, it suits her very well.

Tom

Yeah, and she says this is her last go-round as Natasha, and given that we saw her die in Avengers: End Game I guess that makes sense.

Vicky

Yeah.

Tom

There's another character and I'm only going to refer to the characters by the first name without telling you who they necessarily are because if I do that, we'll be giving some of this away, especially at the beginning of the movie.

Vicky

Yeah, yeah.

Tom

There's a character Yelena played by Florence Pugh who I absolutely thought was fantastic in that role. What do you think?

Vicky

I think she was the standout person in the film.

Tom

Yeah, now she also got the best lines in the movie.

Vicky

Yeah, she was just really good. She just looked good and the action scenes were good with her. She was funny, you know? Spot-on casting there, spot-on casting.

Tom

Before the ending credits started, it kind of looked like maybe they'll have her back in other roles or in other movies. I might want to go see those even if they are the other kind of MCU movie. We'll see. So, the next name then is David Harbour who plays a character called Alexei. James Bond fans may remember him as Greg Beam who's the section chief of the CIA.

Vicky

In Quantum of Solace. Yeah, yeah.

Tom

If you ever saw the movie Hellboy, he was Hellboy.

Vicky

He's been in lots of things and he's been very good in everything. I particularly like him in Stranger Things. That's what I watch him in, and he's always very funny. And he's I must admit it without giving much away, he is the comedy element in this movie.

Tom

Yes, And he played that really well too. He did a good job with that.

Vicky

Very much so. Yeah, yeah.

Tom

Since you mentioned Quantum of Solace, we have another alum here: Olga Kurylenko. And she has a decent-sized supporting role in the movie. Now, in Quantum of Solace, she played Camille. And if I didn't tell you she was in this movie, Black Widow, you might not recognize her. Now that I've told you she's in it, I bet you recognize her. I knew she was in the movie when I first saw her and I didn't get that it was her. And then like the second or third time you saw her, I was like, oh yeah, that's her. Did you recognize her instantly?

Vicky

Yes. Well, I must admit I looked to see who was in the cast. But I didn't clock that her name was in this movie and when it came up on the screen I was like “Oh, OK more Bond people." I just don't, I don't wanna give too much away but you don't see it straight off. So, it was like “well where, what character is she gonna be?”

Tom

Yeah, she wasn't recognizable at all initially. Yeah, Yep, all right. And then finally we have Rachel Weisz, who plays Melina, and you know she's always good, right? You may know her as Tessa, Quayle, in The Constant Gardener. She won the Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar in 2006 for that role. And that was based on the John le Carré novel. Bourne fans may know her as Dr. Marta Shearing from The Bourne Legacy if you watched that one which I think was the worst of the Bourne movies But, then a lot of people know her as Daniel Craig's wife. And I only mention that because she was on one of the late-night talk shows here in the US. They were trying to figure out when to release Black Widow in the theaters? We've got this No Time To Die monster that we're going to have to be up against at some point to some degree. How do we stay away from it? If we only knew what they were going to do on the release. And Rachel said I'm sitting there and I hear Daniel walking down the stairs and I don't even know if these people realize that I'm Daniel's wife. And I kept thinking to myself: Well, do you want me to just ask Daniel? It was like some super-secret meeting they were having trying to figure out the planning of it. Ok, let’s talk about Ray Winstone.

Vicky

I'll be honest with you, I'm not a fan of Ray Winstone. I think he's good at playing a “cop near East End” gangster. But not so much in other things, doing other things. But I'm not going to take anything away from the performance that he did. But, he was probably, for me, the weakest of the main characters.

Tom

OK, I thought he played a pretty good bastard. Which was his role. He was Dreykov. He's mentioned in other MCU movies but I don't think he was in any. Dreykov, The character wasn't in it, right? This is the first time you actually see Dreykov, right?

Vicky

Yes, yes, and also there's a character called Mason, played by O-T Fagbenle. He was a good tie into Q from the Bond films.

Tom

Yeah, the guy who could get the gadgets?

Vicky

Yeah

Tom

That's good. Yeah, I like that. That's a good tie-back. There's one big thing for me there that we haven't talked about. And I loved the preponderance of women roles in this movie and how they did the women roles in this movie. Almost all of the fighting is done by women. And importantly, unlike some earlier MCU or other spy movies. They fought dressed like they were a spy fighting, not in a ninja costume. No high heels, no tight skirts, nothing like that. They're dressed for the role they were supposed to be doing. And there was none and there was none of this “ I've almost got him, but I need a man to finish the job.” There was none of that. These women were in charge. They took charge of what was up. And they did their jobs. You didn't have any of the stuff we normally see there and I think it's great. Especially when I think about No Time To Die. We see pictures of Paloma fighting in a dress. If you saw the debacle of a movie in 2019, Charlie's Angels, sometimes I didn't know what the heck they were wearing here. The women in Black Widow had strong roles and they looked the part for the role they were playing.

Vicky

Yeah.

Tom

Which I really thought was great.

Vicky

Yes, and it brought me to thinking about the fight scenes and how they were choreographed because they were so entertaining. It brought back again a couple of links to different films. Pretty much reminded me of John Wick and the fight scenes. Very stylized routine and also elements of Kill Bill. I was almost thinking of

Tom

Yeah

Vicky

Because she was quite a powerful character with them in that movie and with what she’s got on, which is similar to the things that we're seeing in this movie.

Tom

Yep.

Different Theater Experiences

Tom

So now you said you saw this in a movie theater.

Vicky

Yes

Tom

As did I. But this has been released on a couple of different formats in the movie there's Superscreen, there’s Dolby Cinema, there's IMAX, and then there's the more traditional theater format. And so you saw it in more of a traditional theater format, correct?

Vicky

Yes, I did.

Tom

So you have recliners? No, seat shakers.

Vicky

We can't just yeah, just reclining seats. Lots of lots of legroom, lots of space, and yet they're quite a huge screen that curved, yeah?

Tom

OK, oh you. So it was a curved screen?

Vicky

It was a curved screen, but it wasn't all singing all dancing.

Tom

How was the audio on it?

Vicky

Good, yeah. You felt you were there, you know, surround you, you're in the action.

Tom

Yeah, that's great. We saw it on Dolby cinema here. Dolby Cinema means you've got the blackest black when the screen is supposed to be black. It's the blackest black that's out there right now. I could have seen it on IMAX but I was trying to get to the first show when that was going to be an 11:00 show. I would strongly suggest seeing this in a theater, not streaming it.

Vicky

I agree.

Tom

I think you would lose so much if you streamed this for your first time, seeing it. We had the seat shakers and there's a scene with an avalanche. I'm not going to give away what happens with the avalanche, but there is one. And I'll tell you, those seat shakers really make you feel like you're in that scene when you see the snow coming down and your seat shaking like this and you're feeling it, not just seeing it and hearing it. Which was which was great. So, if you can see this in a theater not streaming for the first time, 'cause I think at home you'd lose a lot. I also think it would be a great movie to see on IMAX

Vicky

Yeah, I agree.

Tom

Especially the second half of the movie. Which also makes me really look forward to No Time To Die. Because they did some of the filming on that on the IMAX 70-millimeter cameras, so I just really want to see a good action movie done that way. And how crowded was your theater?

Vicky

Where there were not many people in it was an afternoon showing. We were all spaced out. It was all very. I didn't feel at risk. It was a nice comfortable afternoon. I thoroughly enjoyed it, yeah?

Tom

Had you been, had you been to the cinema coming out of the pandemic yet?

Vicky

This was the first film that I have seen since the pandemic, yeah.

Tom

OK, OK all right. So this is the fourth one I've seen since the pandemic started. We saw Tenet when it was released in September. And I also saw The Courier. I did a quick-fire podcast on that one. I saw that movie Cliff Walkers. That one I saw twice. I was the only person in the theater or the second time I saw it. It was the first showing of the day. I also did a quick-fire podcast on Cliff Walkers. For Black Widow, the theater was probably 30 to 40% full. The nice thing about that is you didn't feel crowded. You felt there was some social distancing, but there were other people to hear, and see the movie and get their reactions.

A Laugh Track?

Tom

So, Vicky, there was one other thing in this movie that I wanted to talk about that I bet you didn't catch. Did you hear the laugh track?

Vicky

The laugh track?

Tom

Do you know what I mean by a laugh track? I don't know if maybe we have different terms for that. But when they show a movie

Vicky

I'm not aware of that term, what?

Tom

It's a term here in the US, at least, where when they're showing a movie or a TV show, there's laughter on the tape.

Vicky

We call it canned laughter.

Tom

OK, so did you catch the canned laughter?

Vicky

No. oooh.

Tom

OK, so so I don't want to give this away. But Vicky you've seen the movie. Once you've seen the movie search for Yelena or Florence Pugh. There is a scene they've got a trailer out on it when I saw it in the movie theater, I thought the people in the audience were laughing and they may have been because I was laughing at this one line. It's one they kind of touted in some of the trailers and stuff coming up. I watched a video of that trailer and there was laughter in the track so there was canned laughter in it. Now maybe it was somebody had filmed it in the theater, but it sure looked like it was a regular trailer cut for me. And there was laughter, and it shocked me when I heard that. So if anybody knows, did I just see a weird trailer of it? And it's not really there? But it was and it was in exactly the spot I thought I heard the laughter when I saw it in the theater.

Vicky

No, I didn’t hear that. Interesting.

Tom

Well, all I can say Vicky is you're such a poser. (laughter)

Release Schedule

Tom

One more thing I wanted to talk about this movie because of James Bond. They released Black Widow in almost all of their locations on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of the same week, except for Thailand and Indonesia. So, they staggered the release, but it was within that same weekend. And it meant that I didn't get the spoilers before I saw Black Widow. For No Time To Die, there are 10 days between when it releases first in Belgium to the time it hits the US. And there's no way I'm not going to know what happens by the end of that with social media and all that we do as spy movie fans.

Vicky

Yeah

Tom

And I really wish Eon Productions would take, especially since you're not going to allow streaming, that approach. And I believe No Time To Die, probably, especially with the IMAX filming they did should be seen in a movie theater at least the first time you see it.

Vicky

Oh Yeah. Definitely yeah.

Tom

This movie should also be seen in a movie theater for the first time. But make it so we don't get it spoiled before we see it and get these releases closer in timing at least in my opinion. So I mean, you're lucky, Vicky, you get a chance to see No Time To Die the second day it's been released.

Vicky

Yes.

Tom

It's in only one location, it's in Belgium the day before, so there's only one country that has it. Even on the day you get it, there are 15 or 16 countries that get it. So, that wraps up our quick-fire look at the new Marvel movie Black Widow. We think this is a spy movie to watch, especially if you can see it in a theater. And if you're an MCU fan, you'll like it. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. Subscribe to our show, Cracking the Code of Spy Movies on your favorite podcast app.

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Join Tom and Vicky as have a no-spoiler discussion about the major release from Marvel, BLACK WIDOW which is out in theaters now, and steaming through Disney+ for subscribers who pay extra to see at release time.

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