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Movie Reviews
Black Widow
(PG-13 / 2hr 13m / Marvel Studios)

Overview: Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises.

Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy, and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.

Verdict: Scarlett Johanssons ass-kicking Avenger gets a stand-alone movie at last in Black Widow.

No longer just a sidekick to Iron Man or Captain America, Johansson gives a cracking performance as Natasha Romanoff, a whip-smart, Russian-trained killing machine.

Now she is on the side of the American Avengers, and begins a mission to destroy the Russians Red Room program, which trains and brainwashes young girls, including herself, to become Black Widow killers and spies.

Natasha is joined and almost immediately upstaged by her little sister Yelena, played by British actress Florence Pugh with oomph, wit and often hilarious, childlike enthusiasm.

Yelena was also trained in the Black Widow program, and the two catsuit-clad female assassins rival the best of the supermen in Marvel Cinematic Universe with the balletic brutality of their fight sequences.

Their enemy is hardman Ray Winstone playing Russian supervillain Dreykov, the genius behind the Black Widow assassin program. He hams it up as he tries to make his East End accent sound more Eastern Bloc.

Compared to the clunking, overblown efforts in some previous Avengers films, Black Widow has shape, coherence and emotional heft, thanks to Australian director Cate Shortland. Every character has depth, which lifts this above its cartoonish origins.

The story goes back to Natasha and Yelenas childhood in suburban Ohio in 1995, a happy family shot in nostalgic Kodachrome. Rachel Weisz is the mother Melina, but their father Alexei turns out to be super-soldier Red Guardian (David Harbour). The family is not what it seems. Dysfunctional does not even come close to covering it!

The film cuts to 21 years later, when Natashas Black Widow is a grown woman, one of the few Avengers who relies on intelligence and athleticism, rather than superpowers.

Yelena takes the mickey: I do not think the god-from-space had to take an Ibuprofen after a fight, she laughs.

The action matches the wit, with spectacular daredevil stunts on clapped-out helicopters, and traditional motorbike-to-car chases which end untraditionally.

The finale has all guns and space-stations blazing. Johanssons combination of vulnerability and power gives her a magnetic screen presence, and Black Widow, cancelled twice because of Covid, has been worth the wait.

In Another Round, Mads Mikkelsen has the face of an ancient Norse god, emotions crossing it like dangerous storms.

Who better to play a teacher who stays slightly sloshed, every day, in search of a better life? In a delightfully daft premise, Mikkelsen plays Martin, one of four secondary teachers suffering from midlife malaise who decide to test a psychiatrists theory that human beings have a blood alcohol level that is just 0.05 per cent too low!

Basically, we need that first-glass-of-wine feeling all the time. The history, gym, psychology and music teachers soon find that being tipsy invigorates their classrooms and their stultifying home lives.

Instead of schoolchildren hiding booze in the toilets, teachers are sneaking around hiding vodka in coffee cups.

When the men go out on the lash, their silly behavior is hilarious and more like that of their late-teen pupils.

The four believe in releasing creativity with alcohol, pointing out that Sir Winston Churchill said I never drink before breakfast, but fueled his war on champagne, cognac and cigars.

There is also a montage of squiffy-looking politicians, from Boris Yeltsin to Boris Johnson.

Made by Hollywood, this would have been a comedy. But in the hands of brilliant Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, it is a more subtle tragedy and revelation.

Mikkelsen is perhaps best known as a Bond villain, televisions Hannibal Lecter, and in a new role as Grindelwald in the Fantastic Beasts series. But Another Round is a performance on another level.

Unspoken agony hovers beneath the surface. Tears well up instead of joy during a caviar and champagne dinner, and the silence of his long marriage to Anika (Maria Bonnevie) feels like a shroud. Alcohol liberates and also detonates.

The uncanny power of the scenes made sense afterwards, when I read that Vinterbergs daughter Ida, who was due to play a small part, had died in a road accident.

The crew returned, shaken, a few months later, and completed shooting. The film is dedicated to Ida, and ends with Mikkelsen dancing: wildly alive, and alive to loss.