Movie review: Red Sparrow

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to March – the new ‘it’ month for high-profile movie releases. And it opens with Red Sparrow!

IMDb summary: Ballerina Dominika Egorova is recruited to ‘Sparrow School,’ a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon. Her first mission, targeting a C.I.A. agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations.

Writing

Red Sparrow was written by Justin Haythe (who wrote two previous Gore Verbinski’s films The Lone Rangerand A Cure For Wellness), based on the book of the same name by Jason Matthews. I found the writing to be quite uneven and I’m going to unpack my ideas more broadly by discussing the narrative and the themes. The film had two parts, each about an hour long. The first hour acted as an extensive set-up and developed the main character quite a lot. The viewers got to follow her life as an everyday citizen (though she was never just an everyday person – she was always special, first as a ballerina and later as a sparrow), then to witness the inciting incident and its consequences: the extensive training to be a tool of the state (more on that in the second part on themes). The set-up was quite long but it did work: the main character’s capacity for the horrific actions that she was going to commit as a sparrow was always present in the set-up.

In the second hour of the film (+20minutes), Red Sparrow’s actual plot unraveled, and sadly, it was quite uneven. The writers really tried crafting a complex and layered story, full of characters with constantly shifting allegiances. And while that sounds all good – actually it is quite fascinating – the mysterious and the secretive nature of the plot was not always realized compellingly. Also, looking back to the plot – not all the dots necessarily connect and make sense. Still, I have to applaud the ending of the story. For a while, it seemed like the movie was headings towards a typical romantic conclusion but then it broke away from all of that and delivered and strong finale with some great double-crosses and twists. Though, the reveal of the mole was a bit heavy-handed and surprising it a bad way a.k.a.it came out of nowhere.

Thematically, I’d like to touch upon two major things: the usage of sex in the film as well as the Russia vs. US standoff. Before going to see the film, I got the impression that the main weapon of the sparrow will be psychological manipulation but I feel like the ads and trailers lied to me. Red Sparrow, in my mind, was missing its promised psychological manipulation and was all about the pure physical manipulation a.k.a. manipulation through sex. And while physical and psychological manipulations are certainly connected, I really wish that the movie would have looked at that actual connection or the psychological side quite a lot more. Also, the usage of sex by a specifically female heroine of the film raised even more questions about the position of female sexuality on film. While it can certainly be seen/used as a strong creative choice, it has also been reduced to a cheap trick quite a few times. Also, there is but a fine line between female sexuality as a form of empowerment or a tool of exploitation. To my mind, Red Sparrow was leaning more towards the second option, as the female sparrows were taught and made to use sex as a weapon by a patriarchal system rather than having chosen it as a weapon out of their own agency.

On the US v Russia front, the picture was certainly successful at establishing the askew nationalistic ideas that were/are so prevalent in Russia and portraying the brainwashing politics accurately. Still, it had an overall message of American heroism as the better/ the winning option. The weird US/Russia antagonism also made the movie’s temporal setting feel rather vague: it could have been set during the Cold War, the early aftermath of it in the late 90s/early 2000s or even just last year.

Directing

Francis Lawrence (the director of the 3 last The Hunger Games films, including my two favorites – Catching Fire and Mockingjay 1) directed Red Sparrow and did an okay job. I highly appreciated the style of the picture: the raw and indie feeling of it as well as the cold and cool tone. However, the slowness of the pace and the length of the movie really minimized the enjoyment of the film. Moreover, the plot (the substance) wasn’t good enough to make up for the lacking pace. The graphic violence and graphic nudity were both present in Red Sparrow and I don’t really know whether they served the plot or were they just there for shock value. During the scenes of violence, Red Sparrow did feel like a more contemporary version of its predecessor Atomic Blonde, while the scenes of creepy nudity were more plentiful than in the whole Fifty Shades franchise.

Acting

Jennifer Lawrence (reunited with F. Lawrence after THG) played the lead of the film and did a good job but she wasn’t great or irreplaceable. Her Russian accent was fine, though, at times, she did sound like she was speaking with a clogged noise (as if she had a cold). Her decision to play this role is probably more interesting than the performance itself. The actress has vocally expressed how uncomfortable she was with the skin tight costume of Mystique in the X-Men movies and yet she was somehow fine with complete nudity in this film? Was this an act of bravery and growth as a performer or a desperate attempt to reclaim some fame? Her fan circle has been decreasing: The Hunger Gamesfinished a with whimper rather than a bang, she annoyed a lot of Marvel/X-Men fans because of her lack of enthusiasm about that series, her various comments on talk shows have also been reacted to quite badly online, and even her last two more serious awards films failed to connect with the audiences or the critics (Joyat least got her another Oscar nomination, while mother! turned out to be a complete disaster).

Some big-name talent was also involved with this film on the supporting front. Joel Edgerton (Bright, Midnight Special, Loving, Black Mass) and Matthias Schoenaerts (Far From The Madding Crowd, The Danish Girl) had two best-developed and most interesting male roles in the film. Jeremy Irons (BvS, High-Rise) and Game of Thrones’ Ciaran Hinds (Justice League) also both appeared but in much smaller, cameo-sized roles. Charlotte Rampling (45 Years, Assasin’s Creed) played the matriarch of the school of the sparrows and it was quite unexpected seeing her in a film with a, supposedly, strong female lead after her sort of anti-women comments a few awards seasons ago (that ran along the lines of ‘women in the West don’t have anything to complain about’).

In short, Red Sparrow was a mediocre thriller that betrayed its message and overstayed its welcome.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Red Sparrow trailer

images.jpg

Advertisements

Movie review: Assasin’s Creed

Movie reviews

Hello!

Notoriously, the video game movies have always been pretty bad. Everybody hoped that this cycle would be broken with this summer’s Warcraft but the majority of people and the critics hated it (I and the Chinese audiences actually liked it a lot). Now, all hopes have been directed towards Assasin’s Creed but it has also been getting some pretty nasty reviews. Similarly to Warcraft, I knew nothing of the mythology of the game before going to see the film. I vaguely remember reading Assasin’s Creed comic, which I got during the free comic book day, but that’s about it when it comes to my knowledge on the subject.

Nevertheless, I was still looking forward to the movie because of its cast and because its blend of the future and the past interested and intrigued me. I used to think that history and modernity were two incompatible concepts, however, I just binged Westworld over Christmas and absolutely loved it, so I thought that maybe Assasin’s Creed could further extend my love for this new concept of fusion. Sadly, while I did like the acting and the atmospheric setting of the film (two things that I was looking forward to), other components of the movie left me pretty disappointed.

IMDb summary: When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society.

Writing

The film’s script was written by Michael Lesslie (Macbeth), Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (Exodus, Allegiant, 2015’s Transporter). Their track record has not been great and their quality of work really showed in Assasin’s Creed. Let’s mention the things that I liked before going into the negatives. So, I quite liked the mythological ideas of the film – the fact that blood is our main relation to the past and to our ancestry. However, I didn’t think that these ideas were conveyed clearly or interestingly in the film: all the expositional dialogue felt clunky, hard to understand, and, frankly, quite boring. The movie’s commentary on the modern world was clearly wrong too: freedom and free-will are now more important than ever rather than being easily surrendered.

The writing for the characters wasn’t great either. They didn’t receive enough development and the choices that were made for and by the characters were super weird. Cotillard’s character had such an unclear story, her decisions opposed one other from scene to scene. In fact, her whole plotline seemed quite stupid. The cliche artifact didn’t help the story much either. The motivation for the actions of the other assassins was not clear too. Lastly, the ending was unsatisfying – they were hoping for a sequel, which they are not going to get. Why would they not worry about a sequel and make a good stand-alone film for once?

Directing

Macbeth’s director Justin Kurzel helmed Assasin’s Creed and left me kinda baffled. I expected more from a Palme d’Or nominated director. To begin with, the whole jumping around from the past to the present while in the Animus was unnecessary and uneven. In addition, I felt that the majority of the movie’s scenes were cut short. The confused, all-but-the-kitchen-sink camera work, which included everything from the long tracking shots to the first person’s POVs, wasn’t great either. The shaky cam was also not pleasant – the filmmakers should just stop with the shaky action – it has already stopped working for the Bourne series and it originated this technique. Nevertheless, let’s end on a positive note: even though they were unbelieavble, the parkours and the roof jumps did look cool and were entertaining.

Acting

The cast did a pretty good job with the awful material that they have been given. Michael Fassbender (X-Men, Steve Jobs) was great in the lead but his producing input on the movie did not help it. Marion Cotillard (Allied), Jeremy Irons (BvS), Brendan Gleeson (In The Heart of The Sea), and Charlotte Rampling  (45 years) were okay too, although I was quite surprised to see Rampling getting work in a big blockbuster after her last year’s comments on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Ariane Labed (The Lobster) played probably the most interesting character with a lot of potential that wasn’t tapped into. 

Briefly: Assasin’s Creed wasted a great premise on a cliche story. Throw in some faulty directing and good acting into the mix and you have another forgettable video game movie. I only recommend it to super fans of the game or Fassbender.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: Assasin’s Creed trailer

asscreedinternational

The Awards Season Round-Up 2016

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello Hello Hello!

Welcome to the last (finally) post dedicated to the awards’ season. This time, I won’t be reviewing any nominated motion pictures (I have done that already), but I  will tell you my own personal winners and will list all the others films in a very subjective order in each category. I am listing all the films because it was very hard for me to pick a definite number 1 spot. In addition, a lot of these films would have probably made my Best movies of 2015 list if I had seen them before January 1st, so I feel the need to at least mention them here.

Now, my categories won’t have a definite number of spaces in them. I have actually picked 20 films in total that have been nominated for either a Golden Globe, a SAG, a BAFTA, an Oscar or for all 4.  Also, I will be joining adapted and original screenplay categories into one. The distinction between lead and supporting roles will also be treated subjectively and not necessarily the way that the studios wanted. At the end of each category, I will also give my more objective prediction of who will probably take home the Academy Award.

P.S. The reviews of all these movies are linked to the names of the films only once – in the first category because it just seemed irrational to link you to a single post 5 or 6 times.

Best Picture

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. The Revenant
  3. The Martian
  4. Spotlight
  5. Creed
  6. The Big Short
  7. The Hateful Eight
  8. Steve Jobs
  9. Room
  10. The Danish Girl
  11. Bridge of Spies
  12. Brooklyn
  13. Ex-Machina
  14. Concussion
  15. Joy
  16. Straight Outta Compton
  17. Trumbo
  18. Beasts of No Nation
  19. Carol
  20. 45 Years

Prediction: As much as I would love for Mad Max to get the win, it seems very unlikely that this will happen. Although, with all the backlash against the Oscars online, the Academy might want to calm the fanboys/fangirls down by giving the award to the fan favorite. If they do decide to go the traditional route, The Revenant will probably be their top pick.

Best Directing

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller
  2. The Revenant – Alejandro González Iñárritu
  3. The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino 
  4. Room –  Lenny Abrahamson
  5. The Big Short – Adam McKay
  6. Creed – Ryan Coogler 
  7. Beasts of No Nation – Cary Joji Fukunaga
  8. Bridge of Spies – Steven Spielberg 
  9. Straight Outta Compton – F. Gary Gray
  10. The Martian – Ridley Scott
  11. Steve Jobs – Danny Boyle
  12. Ex-Machina – Alex Garland
  13. Spotlight – Tom McCarthy
  14. Concussion –  Peter Landesman
  15. The Danish Girl – Tom Hooper
  16. Brooklyn – John Crowley
  17. Trumbo – Jay Roach
  18. Joy – David O. Russell
  19. Carol – Todd Haynes
  20. 45 Years – Andrew Haigh

Prediction: Again, I would love for George Miller to take the award home, but I kinda think that Iñárritu will get his second win in the row. I would be willing to let Iñárritu win if Mad Max gets the Best Picture statue.

Best Writing

  1. Spotlight – Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
  2. The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino
  3. Steve Jobs – Aaron Sorkin
  4. The Martian – Drew Goddard
  5. Creed – Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
  6. The Big Short – Adam McKay, Charles Randolph
  7. The Revenant – Mark L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
  8. Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris
  9. Bridge of Spies – Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
  10. Straight Outta Compton – Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff
  11. Ex-Machina – Alex Garland
  12. The Danish Girl – Lucinda Coxon
  13. Room – Emma Donoghue
  14. Trumbo – John McNamara
  15. Concussion – Peter Landesman
  16. Joy – David O. Russell
  17. 45 Years – Andrew Haigh
  18. Beasts of No Nation – Cary Joji Fukunaga
  19. Brooklyn – Nick Hornby
  20. Carol – Phyllis Nagy

Prediction: this is the hardest category to predict. My best bet is that the original screenplay statue will be awarded to Spotlight, while the adapted one – to The Big Short.

Best Male Performance in a Leading Role:

  1. Leonardo Dicaprio for The Revenant
  2. Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl
  3. Tom Hardy for The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road
  4. Matt Damon for The Martian
  5. Jacob Tremblay for Room
  6. Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs
  7. Samuel L. Jackson for The Hateful Eight
  8. Michael B.Jordan for Creed
  9. Will Smith for  Concussion
  10. Bryan Cranston for Trumbo
  11. Tom Hanks for Bridge of Spies
  12. Christian Bale for The Big Short
  13. Mark Ruffalo for Spotlight
  14. Domhnall Gleeson for Ex Machina
  15. Abraham Attah for Beasts of No Nation
  16. O’Shea Jakcson Jr. for Straight Outta Compton
  17. Tom Courtenay for 45 Years

Prediction: this is one of the few categories where my objective and subjective side think the same thing. If Leo does not win this year, he should just stop trying altogether.

Best Female Performance in a Leading Role:

  1. Brie Larson for Room
  2. Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl and Ex-Machina
  3. Charlize Theron for Mad Max Fury Road
  4. Rooney Mara for Carol
  5. Jennifer Lawrence for Joy
  6. Rachel McAdams for Spotlight
  7. Cate Blanchett for Carol
  8. Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn
  9. Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years

Prediction: once again, I both objectively and subjectively think that Brie Larson should get the Oscar, although, I would be pleasantly surprised if Vikander gets the win. On a side note, the saddest part about this category is that out of the 20 films, I could only find 9 actresses in  leading(-ish) roles, while there 17 male leading roles.

Best Male Performance in a Supporting Role:

  1. Ryan Gosling for The Big Short
  2. Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies
  3. Sylvester Stallone for Creed
  4. Nicholas Hoult for Mad Max Fury Road
  5. Domhnall Gleeson for The Revenant
  6. Bradley Cooper for Joy
  7. Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation
  8. Oscar Isaac for Ex-Machina
  9. Matthias Schoenaerts for The Danish Girl
  10. Walton Goggins for The Hateful Eight
  11. Michael Keaton for Spotlight
  12. Alec Baldwin for Concussion
  13. Corey Hawkins for Straight Outta Compton

Prediction: while I would like Gosling to win, I think that the award will go to either Mark Rylance or Sylvester Stallone. I wouldn’t be sad in either case.

Best Female Performance in a Supporting Role

  1. Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs
  2. Jennifer Jason Leight for The Hateful Eight
  3. Jessica Chastain for The Martian
  4. Tessa Thompson for Creed
  5. Amber Heard for The Danish Girl
  6. Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Concussion
  7. Diane Lane for Trumbo

Prediction: I would like the win to go to Kate Winslet, but the actual award will probably find itself in the hands of Jennifer Jason Leight. On a side note, this was probably the hardest category to fill, because I put a lot of actresses in the leading role category, while the Academy and the studios said that they were playing supporting roles.

I really hope that you enjoyed this post because I worked really hard on it. I felt the most challenged not when I was compiling the actual final lists, but while I was watching and reviewing all the films. Tell me in the comments your personal winners! Bye!!