Movie reviews: “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” and “Black Widow”

There are two remembrances you ought to see in theaters right now. One is about a world-travelling outlaw with a shadowy past and a penchant for knives. The other is about Natasha Romanov.

Released five years after his death, “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” tries to puzzle together a satisfying explanation for Bourdain’s self-erasure from a shifting puzzle of friends; ex-wives and girlfriends; family members; and the camera crew and television production assistants who may have known him better, towards the end of his life, than anyone in the previous three categories. Of all the itinerant heroin addicts ever to eke out a couple decades of marginal kitchen employment, Bourdain was by far the best-documented: besides his bracing writing, which felt like someone kicking in the door to your skull and then offering you a cigarette, he left behind thousands of hours of home movies, cell phone and television footage, as he traveled the world telling audience members what he saw, smelt, ate, and felt. However, you get the feeling that this movie would have been just as revealing without any of that. Director Morgan Neville judiciously deploys Bourdain’s favorite songs, clips from his favorite movies, snippets of his writing, and—most effectively—the faces of his friends as they stub out cigarettes, take deep and bracing breaths, and ready themselves to dive into the deep end of his memory. To watch this movie is to be dunked, multiple times, in icy water, then ushered back into a warm and welcoming sauna. Bourdain would have liked it.

Released three years after her character’s death in “Avengers: Endgame”, “Black Widow” is the long-awaited solo movie centering on Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), the only Avenger strong enough to withstand a brief stint as Tony Stark’s personal assistant. Set in a pause between world-threatening crises, the movie follows Romanov as she reconnects with sister Yelena (Florence Pugh), mother Melina (Rachel Weisz), and father Alexei (David Harbour). The family reunion bristles with guns, pigs, potato salad and passive aggression: if it weren’t for David Harbour’s helpfully tattooed knuckles (“Karl” and “Marx” in the Latin alphabet), you’d think you were in Iowa. Since this is a superhero movie, a big baddie is around to remind you that you’re not: since this a Marvel movie, he’s Ray Winstone, and he’s terrifying. Watching him and Nat circle each other, looking for weak spots, feels like watching Walken and Keitel sit across a too-small table from each other. Bloodshed is the only way out of this dining room.

Speaking of the Midwest, a couple of scenes in early 90’s Ohio serve as the underpinnings of the movie, and ground the later action in something resembling reality: even when huge chunks of infrastructure are flying through the sky, we believe viscerally in Natasha’s mortality—a tall order for a cinematic universe where most deaths are about as permanent as a dye job. Bruising, blunt force impact, and body blows add up in the world of “Black Widow”, just as they do here. The only difference is that in the MCU, by Grabthar’s hammer, you shall be Avenged.

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