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: Cinderella 2015 + Frozen Fever

Movie reviews

Hello!

I have just come back from the early screening of Cinderella in honor of International Women’s Day and this is going to be my review! Happy Women’s day to all the women and girls out there too!!

First of all, let’s start with the Frozen short – Frozen Fever – which they showed before the movie. I was really scared that they wouldn’t show it internationally but they did and I am really happy about it!

I loved the short movie even more than the actual Frozen movie! My favorite story line of Frozen was the sister relationship which is also the main focus of the short film. The quirkiness of Anna and Kristoff is also relatable to me and it’s explored in the short too. And did you see how cute Elsa’s little snowmen look? Now Olaf can have brothers and sisters! Elsa’s and Anna’s dresses were also amazing and really spring-like…I also loved that they re-used the line “The cold never bothered me anyway” to introduce the song “Perfect Day“. One last note: I liked the fact that they showed what Hans was doing after what he did in Frozen…That was a nice cameo.

Trailer: Frozen Fever trailer

Rate: 4/5frozen-fever-poster

Now, let’s talk about Cinderella. First of all, I liked that this was a direct remake of the original one with little changes and not a nitty-gritty evil version of it…Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Maleficent and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, however, I do believe that some things don’t have to change because the original story is that good. Some might say that I have a conservative way of thinking and don’t like changes in general but that would be completely untrue. Some might also claim that I am anti-feminist because I like that women are depicted as beautiful dolls with no brain..Again, both of these statements are completely untrue. I have a very liberal view and I also would call myself a modern feminist because both of these ideologies encourage me to choose freely. And, though, I like strong female characters like Katniss from THG , this time, I choose to watch a “sappy” romance because I have a choice. I also will try to argue that Cinderella is a strong female character in her own way.

Acting

I have seen probably all the possible adaptations of the Cinderella, including all the teen remakes (Another Cinderella Story with Selena Gomez was like my favorite childhood movie and introduced me to Selena Gomez whose fan I still am). However, I will admit that I haven’t seen an original Cinderella animation in a long time..It has probably been at least 3-4 years since I’ve last watched it. Though, I’ve recently seen Into The Woods and really liked Anna Kendrick as Cinderella and Chris Pine as Prince Charming…Having said that, I believe that this movie has even better Cinderella and a Prince.

Lilly James as Cinderella was really amazing. She definitely looked the part but she also sold me on both the emotional connection with her parents and the chemistry with The Prince. Their first dance was sensual and sexual at the same time. I also liked her connection with nature and animals. Because I am a fan of Downtown Abbey, it  was also fun for me to see her do all the work while her maid form Downtown (actress Sophie McShera) played one of the evil step-sisters. They kinda exchanged roles for a few hours. Another step sister was played by actress Holiday Grainger. Both actresses did a nice job. They characters were a bit cartoon-ish but then again – this is an adaptation of cartoon.

Richard Madden as Prince Charming. God, I forgot how handsome he was…He was a great Heir to Winterfell in GoT and, in this movie, he was definitely the most charming Prince you could ever find. I believed his and Cinderella’s love at first sight. Strange, how this type of love works in fairy-tales for me but doesn’t work anywhere else (I have Jupiter Ascending in mind (review)).

Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine/Evil step-mother – talk about a scene stealer. Cate captivated your attention every-time she was on screen. She was such a great evil step mom. I hated her a lot. If I was in Cinderella’s place, I would have punched her in the face after the first week but I guess I am not that kind.

P.S. her cat – Lucifer – was cool Easter Egg too.

Cinderella’s parents: Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin were also great. I am a fan of Hayley (just finished Agent Carter) and I believe that they portrayed a family relationship nicely. My eyes were watering when Hayley’s character was dying..I was also sad that I wasn’t able to see the actress, I like, on screen for a longer period of time.

Derek Jacobi as The King and Stellan Skarsgard as Grand Duke (I guess the director Kennith Branagh of the film had to pick at least one of the actors from Thor – he directed that movie too). I liked that they explored the father-son relationship between The King and The Prince more and added more depth to these characters. The twist on the Grand Duke’s character was also an interesting touch.

Nonso Anozie as the Captain was also a nice addition to the film. His and Prince Charming’s scenes showed The Prince more as a commoner and not a royalty.

Helena Bonham Carter as The Fairy Godmother was also a functional role, though I would have liked to see a fairy godmother more as a sensitive, encouraging character and less like a comic relief character.

Visuals/Costume/Setting

The movie looked breathtakingly beautiful. The costumes were exquisite, the sets looked real and authentic and the overall visual realization of the film was just spectacular. Props to Sandy Powell for costume design, Haris Zambarloukos for cinematography and Martin Walsh for the beautiful editing of the film.

Story

Probably all of you reading this know, how Cinderella’s story plays out. And I really love it for what it is. I am a romantic and I believe in true love and I would like to find true love in my life too, be it at first sight or the second. I also believe that Cinderella encourages young girls to play nice, to fight evil with kindness and goodness, to support each other and stop the bullying. It also shows that if you play nice and stick to your way of thinking, you can achieve what you want. You can win without changing who you are, because you are beautiful as you are. Some might say that Cinderella has the advantage of her beautiful looks and I can agree with them. However, beauty is such a subjective concept, so she might look pretty to some people while others might have a different opinion. In addition, though, our world is changing ever so slightly, you will never convince me that the outside beauty doesn’t matter. It has mattered for centuries and it still matters, because all first impressions, which a crucial while living in a contemporary society, are based on looks.

So, to sum up, I loved this movie, it dragged at some place but it was still a feast for my eyes and for my heart. “Enjoy it while it lasts” – I certainly did and escaped my life in order to spend a few hours in a fairy-tale.

Trailer: Cinderella (2015) trailer

Rate: 4.5/5

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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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Movie review: The Maze Runner + book

Movie reviews

Hi!

Today, I went to the early screening of The Maze Runner because I am in love with the book series by James Dashner and I couldn’t wait for the movie. I was really happy with the casting choices but more about that later.

Let’s start with the summary: When Thomas wakes up trapped in a massive maze with a group of other boys, he has no memory of the outside world other than strange dreams about a mysterious organization known as W.C.K.D. Only by piecing together fragments of his past with clues he discovers in the maze, can Thomas hope to uncover his true purpose and a way to escape? – Written by 20th Century Fox

The first book in The Maze Runner series came out in 2007 and the two sequels The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure in 2010 and 2011 respectively.  The prequel for the series The Kill Order was published in 2012. I have heard about these books a couple of years ago but, just when I got the news that they are making the movie with Dylan O’Brien, I decided to read them. It took me just a week to fly through all 4 books. I love this particular genre – dystopian science fiction – and a lot of people do too. Some readers state that The Hunger Games started this new phase in young adult’s literature and all other series are just copying THG. I can agree with them only partly. Of course, THG added to the overall success of the dystopian genre, but, for example, the first book in The Maze Runner series was published a year before THG came to the bookstores. Also, I personally don’t care if these books have similar premise – if they weren’t fresh and exciting for me, I would not read them. Other similar books: Divergent, Uglies, Delirium, The Giver, Gone.

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But back to The Maze Runner. I loved the characters of the books and I believe that they made perfect casting choices. Dylan O’Brien was perfect Thomas, Thomas Sangster – Newt to the point (By the way, I am a huge Teen Wolf and Game of Thrones fan so I was familiar with the work these actors have done. If you haven’t seen any Dylan’s movies, I suggest you watch The First Time – you will laugh and cry all the time) and Ki Hong Lee – was a real life Minho. Plus, Will Poulter portrayed Gally, the first enemy of Thomas, superbly and Aml Ammen did a good job as Alby. Special props go to Blake Cooper who played the most annoying but the most loveable character – Chuck. The only casting choice I wasn’t particularly excited about was Teresa – Kaya Scodelario did a good job but didn’t blow me away. Strange, how I love the entire male cast and feel kind of shaky about the only girl in the group? This shows that if the movie is dominated by one gender that doesn’t mean that just that gender will go to see it.

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First of all, let’s acknowledge book to movie changes: There were quite a few changes in locations, appearance of some stuff and even in the overall plot. However, these changes were small and not critical. They basically added more action (CGI and color palette looked great). I didn’t mind these changes because I had already learned to enjoy the book and the movie separately. I read the book before I go to the film because I like to be familiar with the characters and the setting of the story but not to know what will happen to the smallest detail. I might imagine the story in one way while the director has his own imagination. And the character or plot point changes are just another interpretation of the same story.

At first, I was enjoying the movie but not loving it completely. But as it went on, it got better and better and belter. I didn’t want it to end. I hope that it will deliver in the box office and that we will get the 2ND movie because The Scorch Trials is my favorite book in the series.

Trailer: The Maze Runner Trailer

Rate 5/5

UPDATE: The Scorch Trials got a release date – September 18st, 2015 !!!

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