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

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Movie review: Mockingjay Part 2

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

A year ago today, I and one of my friends went to the premiere of the Mockingjay Part 1 as we have done with all the previous THG films. 12 months later, I have graduated high school and have moved to a different country and I am seeing this film alone,thus, breaking the 3-year-old tradition. And although to an outsider this seems like a laughable occasion to be sad about, I can’t help but feel like another part of my life, the careless teenage years, has ended. I had the same happy/sad/proud/self-reflection moment back in 2011 when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 came out – only then I said goodbye to my childhood. Anyway, enough of my sappy complaining about life, let’s review the closing chapter of another YA series – The Hungers Games Mockingjay Part 2.

IMDb summary: As the war of Panem escalates to the destruction of other districts by the Capitol, Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant leader of the rebellion, must bring together an army against President Snow while all she holds dear hangs in the balance.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Book and Movie

I have read all the Hunger Games books more than 4 years ago, so I definitely do not remember all the details of the story. However, I do feel that the Part 2 was extremely faithful to the book, because I knew all the twist in the story and I could also easily predict the moments of death of a few of my favorite characters – if the filmmakers would have wanted to change that aspect of the story, I wouldn’t have had a problem with that.

The problem I had with the film and its predecessor is the fact that I do not think they needed to stretch out Mockingjay into 2 parts. I have  2 reasons for this:

1.By stretching out the story and then dividing it into 2 films, they made two very uneven movies: one was practically action-less and had a serious, more grown-up tone while the second one had more action (still, not as much as the mainstream audiences expected) and a more youthful, rebellious tone.  If they would have joined the two halves, maybe they could have evened out the tone.

2. THG series has a lot of characters and all of them should have definitely received more screen time. However, half of the characters that were developed in Part 1 were dropped in Part 2 and vice versa – some characters were completely forgotten in Part 1 and reappeared out of nowhere in Part 2. If they would have joined the two parts, the development of the supporting characters would have made more sense and the individual screen time of the characters would have been more even.

Writing/Directing

Francis Lawrence directed the last entry into the franchise. He also did the Part 1 (obviously) and Catching Fire. I think he did a great job – I especially liked the long around/circle panning shots of Katniss hugging Prim and Katniss arriving at the front lines and the crowd greeting her with the hand sign.  I also really loved the shots of Katniss and Cressida running or working together as well as the pairing of Finnick and Peeta.

The screenwriters for the film were Peter Craig (who wrote Affleck’s The Town)Danny Strong (who wrote The Butler) and the author of the book Suzanne Collins herself. I loved the dialogue of the film: it was heartbreaking and extremely sincere.  I also really enjoyed the conversation between Peeta and Gale and the moment that Haymitch and Effie shared (I ship it, do you?).

I heard some people say that the ending of the film was extremely stretched out – similarly to the Lord of the Rings Return of the King. I can see where they are coming from and why they might have a problem with it. However, I did like the ending ,because it was lifted straight from the book. The last words of Katniss, about making a list of all the good things and ”there are worst games to play” came from the book, from the very last pages of it.

Lastly, since I don’t remember the book that well, I wonder whether the Plutarch’s letter was in the book or did they screenwriters made it up so as to deal Philip Seymour Hoffman’s untimely death.

Visuals/Action

Part 2 had more action than Part 1 but not as much as people expected it to have. I did not have a problem with that but it might damage the film’s reputation in the eyes of the mainstream viewers. I really liked the action scene with tar and, of course, the final arrow to the chest.

Music/Soundtrack

We all still remember the hauntingly beautiful song by Lawrence/KatnissThe Hanging Tree (it even reached the top list of various radio stations) from the Part 1. However, Part 2 had amazing music as well by James Newton Howard. I liked the instrumental score which accompanied the action and the ending/credit song –Deep in the Meadow (Lullaby) sung by Lawrence – it triggered this hopeful and optimistic feeling – like everything will be right in the world one day. The fans will remember that this was the song of Rue’s death in the 1st film. Only back then, it caused a very different feeling, followed by tears.

Reality

The Hunger Games has always been praised for reflecting the contemporary events of real life and Mockingjay Part 2 is no exception. It was definitely a version of exaggerated reality and portrayed what happens when personal (selfish) goals get in a way of the public ones. In addition, it showed that fighting violence with violence is not a good idea. The saying ‘Revolution eats its own children’, which I believe originated during the French Revolution, comes to mind.

Acting/Character by character/Themes

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss: It is not a secret to anyone that Lawrence is an amazing actress. I knew nothing about her before her first outing as Katniss in 2012, but now I watch all of her films. Once again she did an amazing with her monologs and speeches as well as all the arrow shooting scenes (made me miss my bow, which I had to leave in my home country). Also, am I the only one who thinks that as the franchise’s themes got more depressing and darker, her hair also became blacker? Or maybe they just used a different wig.

Although the THG franchise is over, Lawrence’s career is only getting started. Next year, she will star in her next big franchise – X-Men Apocalypse and quite highly anticipated science fiction drama Passengers with Chris Pratt.

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta: I have never been a huge fan of Peeta but I really liked him in this film. The conversation ‘real’ and ‘not real’ were amazing. Since THG is now over, Hutcherson is moving onto different projects. In 2016, he will be in James Franco’s film In Dubious Battle and in 2017, we will see him in another of Franco’s films – The Long Home.

Liam Hemsworth as Gale: I liked the moments he shared with the other characters and I just wish that we could have spent more time with him not only in this film but in the whole franchise. I also wonder what could have happened if Gale would have taken Peeta’s place in the First Hunger Games? Next year, Hemsworth will star in the Independence Day sequel – Independence Day: Resurgence.

Sam Claflin as Finnick: The scene in the tunnels was the one I was dreading since I knew what was going to happen to him and Finnick is my favorite male character out of the franchise. Claflin was a perfect choice for this character: charming and extremely likable even if he plays a cocky or full-of-himself type of character. I loved how they gave the line ‘Welcome to the 76th Hunger Games’ to Finnick as well! Claflin has a few upcoming movies: he is reprising his role of William in 2016’s The Huntsman and starring in a few smaller projects – Their Finest Hour and a Half and Me Before You opposite Emilia Clarke.

Natalie Dormer as CressidaI love Dormer on Game of Thrones and I really liked her in THG films. I loved the fact that she was a bad ass with both the camera and a gun. In 2016, Dormer will be in a few horror films- The Forest and Patient Zero.

Woody Harrelson as HaymitchElizabeth Banks as EffiePhilip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch were all really great additions to the cast. I don’t have anything specific to say about their characters since they had only a few scenes. However, I can mention that I am really excited for Harrelson’s next film Now You See Me: The Second Act since I loved the first movie. Banks’ career is also on a high note with Pitch Perfect and various producing as well as directing gigs.

Julianne Moore as President Coin and Donald Sutherland as President Snow. Two antagonists which are worth each other. Perfect casting choices. I have never been a huge fan of Moore’s but she won me over in Part 2. I also recently saw the film called The Hours – she was wonderful in it. Sutherland’s Snow’s last laugh was also perfect – straight from the book too.

Willow Shields as Primrose had only 3 scenes. If we would have spent more time with her, the emotional impact of her death would have been much stronger. Shields’s career is also just beginning – I think we will see more of her in a near future.

Jena Malone as Johanna had only a few scenes which she killed. The dialogue between Johanna and Katniss in the hospital was heartbreaking and funny/witty/sassy at the same time. We will see more of Malone next year in one the most highly anticipated films – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Stanley Tucci as Caesar, Jeffrey Wright as BeeteeElden Henson as Pollux also had tiny roles or cameos. They did a nice job with what they had. Tucci will start in Beauty and the Beast in 2017, Wright will voice one of the characters in The Good Dinosaur later this year and Henson still has Netflix’s Daredevil’s Season 2.

Gwendoline Christie as Commander Lyme and Patina Miller as Commander Paylor also had really tiny roles, although both of them had nice/inspiring speeches. Christie will also be in Stars Wars The Force Awakens in a few weeks and Miller in the TV show – Madam Secretary.

In summary, Mockingjay Part 2 was a great film, although it could have been much better if joined with the first part. The acting was really nice, the dialogue – heartbreaking and the action – exciting. The fact that the film reflected the real world didn’t hurt either.

If I was asked to line-up all the films in the franchise, this would be my list:

  1. Catching Fire
  2. Mockingjay Part 1
  3. Mockingjay Part 2
  4. The Hunger Games

Goodbye, and for the last time- May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor!

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Mockingjay Part 2 Trailer

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Movie review: The Huger Games Mockingjay Part 1

Movie reviews

Hello!

I have just come home from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 premiere at my local cinema. This is going to be my completely biased review because I am a huge fan of THG and I would much rather turn a blind eye to anything they did wrong than admit that it was wrong. SPOILERS AHEAD

Book to Movie changes

I have read all 3 The Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins 4 years ago when they were released in my mother tongue because, back then, I couldn’t read in English well enough to understand the story. So, since I have read the books quite a long time ago, I couldn’t remember the exact events to the smallest detail. However, this made the movie even more enjoyable for me because I knew that something big was going to happen but didn’t actually know what and could be as excited as other non-readers.

Visuals and Music

The visuals, the scenery and the special effects were great. Cinematography was done by Jo Willems. The film was edited by Alan Edward Bell and Mark Yoshikawa. The district 13 looked exactly as I have imagined it. The musical score by James Newton Howard as well as Katniss’s song were also special additions to the film. Moreover, the whistling of the Mockingjay theme is my ringtone and I jump every time somebody calls me.

Directing

The director Francis Lawrence did an amazing job as with the 2d film .I wish he would have directed the 1st film as well, but they probably will reboot The Hunger Games in 20 years, so he might get his chance.

Touching moments

I have already mentioned one of my favorite touching moments – that Katniss’s song about a hanging tree. I loved how the people sang that song while going to a fight. Plus, the hospital scene and the hand sign sent shivers down my back. All the propaganda videos also contained powerful messages that were touching and terrifying at the same time.

Character by character

Jennifer Lawrence was amazing as Katniss as you would expect. I have so much respect for Lawrence as an actress and I will always be a huge fan of her and will go to see any movie she is in. Katniss is an idol to so many girls in a contemporary world. We can all find a piece of ourselves in her. I can relate to Katniss because we are both stubborn and don’t give up without a fight even if we know that we might definitely lose or at least het hurt in a process. Of course, I haven’t faced the challenges that Katniss has faced with but I channel her strength, energy and power to fight my own everyday battles.

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta: Josh had a chance to shine as an actor and he delivered for sure. Even though you saw him only through a double screen, his eyes, and his facial expressions portrayed so many emotions. And the physical and mental changes he went through were also mind boggling.

Liam Hemsworth as Gale:  I really enjoyed Gale as a character, just wish he would have gotten more screen time. Although, the scene where he is talking about the destruction of the district 12 was an extremely powerful moment.

Sam Claflin as Finnick: I am a huge fan of Sam Claflin. (Review of his last film Love, Rosie here). I really wanted to see more of Finnick on screen. The way he delivered the monologue which was used as a distraction was amazing. His eyes showed so much hate and so much disgust towards capital, although, behind the toughness you could see that he was hurt deeply.

Woody Harrelson as Haymitch: It was strange to see Haymtich sober but I loved his and Katniss dysfunctional/ loving relationship.

Elizabeth Banks as Effie: Effie has undergone so many changes through the franchise. Both her looks and her way of thinking changed tremendously. And I have to say – for the better. She looks so much better without the wigs and the make-up and the puffy dresses. Also, we all know that she grew up in the capital and her ability to see that the capital needs to be destroyed gives me hope that other capital citizens will turn to the good side too.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch: I have a strong admiration for this actor’s work and I was really sad when I’ve heard the news about his death. The world lost a remarkable talent who will be missed.

Julianne Moore as President Coin: Moore’s performance was great. I have two completely different emotions when talking about her character. I understand that she has to be a cruel and serious president in order for the rebellion to succeed. However, her intentions seem shady to me. It might be the problem only for me because the one thing I can clearly remember from the book is that Coin is not what she seems to be.

Donald Sutherland as President Snow: I have such strong and hateful feelings towards Snow. He is a natural dictator. The biggest problem is, however, not his decisions as a dictator but the pleasure he gets from making them.

Natalie Dormer as Cressida: Natalie is such an intelligent young woman who I admire. I have recently seen the press conference and a few interviews with her about this film and she is so well spoken and so smart. I am also a huge fan of her on Game of Thrones.  Cressida was the most relatable character for me because I would like to make movies one day and I can understand that the events in real life and through a camera lens look completely different.

I also loved Willow Shields as Primrose and Stanley Tucci as Caesar.  Willow grew as an actress alongside her character and Tucci is amazing with fake acting.

Themes

This movie has so many meanings and so many layers. You can talk about it without a break.

The first and the most obvious theme is the fight against dictatorship. Throughout history my country has been occupied several times, and since I am familiar with my country’s history, I can understand the cruelty, the insanity and the inhumanity of dictatorship. But history has already happened and we live in a now and we are dreaming about the future.  This film hits the audience right where it hurts: if we don’t take actions to preserve democracy, we will end up under the iron fist of a dictator once more in a near future.

You can also draw similarities between the movie and the current actions in the Middle East, Africa, Ukraine and other countries where rebellions are rising and where people are fighting for their beliefs. I just wish their beliefs would be based on facts and not speculations and I only want the people to know what they are truly fighting for.

Another theme of the movie is the power of propaganda and the media. As I have said, the camera lenses can manipulate the truth and turn it into a weapon.

Another theme that stuck in to my mind was the inner fight of Katniss. She is dived between her personal and public goals. She wants her nation to be free but she also wants to be happy with Peeta or Gale. I have recently written an essay in my Literature class on this topic and I have come to the conclusion that you cannot succeed in both spheres, you have to pick one. And Katniss still haven’t made a clear decision but she will do it in a 4th film.

The film also portrays the war very realisticly and shows that, in war, there is no honor, no heroism, and no humanity. (This is the view of authors, painters and philosophers from the
Romanticism movement.)

These are the main themes I wanted to discuss. However, the film has so many more details and metaphorical meanings. Every character’s ark is full of examples that we can learn from. For instance, Effie shows us that the upbringing isn’t the only thing that defines a person. Gale’s story ark is all about the ability to cope with the losses and the understanding that sometimes it’s enough to be your best self.

All in all, since I am a huge fan of THG, I can’t give it a bad review even if I wanted to. But I don’t want to! I loved the movie, the themes, the acting, the visuals and, basically, everything about it. The story was smooth and it had flown perfectly, I couldn’t divide the movie into 3 separate acts. Although, some scenes could have been longer and some actors could have gotten more screen time. But I am not complaining, this was only a Part 1 and they were just laying the ground work for an epic closing chapter to this worldwide phenomenon.

Rate: 5/5 (no surprise here, huh?)

Trailer: Mockingjay trailer

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