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: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Movie reviews

Hello!

I went to the cinema too many times this week, so I apologize for a bunch of back-to-back movie reviews. I promise the next post will not be about any film! But for now, let’s review The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – to my mind, one of the better films of this summer.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is based on a 1964 TV show with the same name. At first, I was hoping that this film was based on an original idea and only while writing this review I found out that it’s an adaptation of an old TV series. I guess we can’t escape the remake zone anymore…However, while nowadays the word ‘remake’ instantly feels like a bad idea (for example, Fantastic Four), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a really solid and enjoyable film.

IMDb summary: In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.

History

As you probably know, I am a huge history buff, so any movie set in the past is an instant favorite of mine. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is set during the Cold War – the most recent historical event and it deals with the aforementioned war’s biggest problem – the creation of an atomic bomb. I love when movies interweave real-life events and figures into their plots. The idea of making a CIA agent and a KGB agent work together is also brilliant.

Visuals

Since the movie is set in the 1960s, the costumes play a huge part in the film. If the appearance of the characters miss-matches the timeline, the viewers are instantaneously taken out of the movie. Thankfully, that does not happen in this film. All the costumes are spectacular and appropriate to the period. If you have read my post about the fashion exhibition that I’ve recently visited (here), you may know that 1960s fashion is one of my favorites, so this film definitely appealed to me on that level. And even though I am a girl and should have been jealous of the girls for having amazing dresses, I was feeling a huge suit envy, because the men of the film looked dashing. BTW, the scene in a clothing store is very funny – look out for it.

The setting and the architecture were also wonderful. The characters traveled trough a variety of different locations but all of them were unique and interesting in their own way. The final chase scene on a private island had a beautiful scenery as well,

Directing and Writing

This film was directed and written by Guy Ritchie (Lionel Wigram also helped with the script) who directed the latest Sherlock Holmes adaptation and its sequel starring Robert Downey Jr. Ritchie is also making a King Arthur film set to be released in 2016. (Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur from 2004 is one of my favorite films ever, so I can’t wait for this one as well. On a side note, I’ve already seen Fuqua’s latest film Southpaw, the review of it will be released during the weekend). Speaking about U.N.C.L.E, that film had amazing directing. The shots were heavily stylized, so that definitely made the film stand out from other Hollywood action flicks. While I am not a huge fan of contemporary spy dramas/crime dramas (except Mission Impossible and James Bond), this one, with its historical setting and unique point of you, definitely pleases me. It reminded me a bit of Kingsman The Secret Service (review). That movie had a unique setting and a quirky premise and so did U.N.C.L.E. Both of the films also created their own sub-genre – weird action comedy spy drama. Moreover, while Kingsman had amazing long shots, U.N.C.L.E. had a few unique styles of filming as well. Some scenes looked like they came out straight from a graphic novel, while others reminded me of the actual pages of a comic book with a few different panels appearing on screen. Zoom in/zoom out technique of filming was also present during the final action piece and it looked really cool.

Acting

The main trio of the film was played by Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, and Alicia Vikander.

Henry Cavill (Superman) is British but plays an American. However, his accent never came through and he killed it in this role. Not only did he look amazing but he felt like James Bond from old movies – efficient and confident womanizer.

Armie Hammer played the Russian agent and although Hammer himself is an American, his great-grandfather had ties with the Soviet Union, so there is a small real-life connection with his role. Armie Hammer was also really great in the role and his chemistry with Cavill was amazing. I hope that this will be the redeeming film for Hammer because he only stared in critical and financial flops these past 5 years (for example, The Lone Ranger). His latest successful film – 2010’s The Social Network. 

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander played the leading lady of the film – a German mechanic (I love when movies switch up gender roles – I like cars too and I am a girl) Gabby who was also a British Spy. The twist involving her character was a surprising one for me. Vikander starred in a plethora of movies this year. in 2015, she played the AI in Ex-Machina (loved that film) and an English writer Vera Brittain in the Testament of Youth – a World War I memoir (review coming soon). She also had roles in 2012’s Anna Karenina (review) and 2014’s terrible adaptation of a great book – Seventh Son. I’ve enjoyed almost all the movie that Vikander started in and I can’t wait to see how her career evolves. She will start in a highly anticipated The Danish Girl alongside recent Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne. That film will probably be nominated for an Oscar, so Vikander might get her big break with critics very soon. However, her mainstream career will also get a boost, because she will be in the 5th Bourne film set to be released next year.

The main villain of the film was played by Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki, who shined in a supporting role in 2013’s The Great Gatsby. She did a nice job playing the villainous Victoria Vinciguerra and Italian actor Luca Calvani starred as her husband.

A few accomplished English actors – Jared Harris and
Hugh Grant – provided their services in supporting roles, while German actors Sylvester Groth and Christian Berkel rounded up the cast.

This film definitely had one of the most diverse casts: Americans, Brits, and Germans were sharing the screen with Italians and a Swedish actress. I love when films include a wide variety of nationalities because Hollywood films are seen all around the world, so they should represent all of their audiences and not just the domestic ones.

All in all, The Man from U.N.C.L.E (which stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) was a pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect to like the movies as much as I did. The plot was interesting, the action and visual effects – pleasing to the eye and the acting – just superb. They definitely left room for a sequel at the end of the film, but I doubt that they will make it because U.N.C.L.E. isn’t doing so great in a box office. But I will have my fingers crossed and you should too.

Rate 4.5/5

Trailer: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. trailer

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Movie Saturday!

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

Today was a beautiful day in Lithuania, sunny and warm. However, I spent it indoors, watching movies instead of enjoying nice spring weather.  Bellow you will find my short review of each and every one of them as well as recommendations, when to watch it. Enjoy!

1. I started with a romantic-drama “The Spectacular Now”.  I wanted to watch it a long time ago, because it has one of my favorite actresses – Shailene Woodley – in it. This movie really surprised me – it is not a stupid romantic comedy with silly jokes, but a very emotional, inspirational movie with a very-well written scenario and well-developed characters. The movie follows lives of two teenagers – Sutter Keely and Aimee Finecky. It shows how they search for their true identity, how they deal with parents’ problems and of course – how they fall in love. The film is based on a book with the same name written by Tim Tharp (I am definetly going to read it) and premiered at a Sundance Film Festival, where it was praised by critcs. I would definetly recommend this movie for a girls night, when you want something romantic but still something authentic that captures the intensity, the beauty and the scariness of first love. Similar movies – The Perks of being a Wallflower.  Rate – 5/5

2.   The second movie was a classical one – “The Great Gatsby” (2013 version). I love Leonardo Dicaprio in every single movie he stars in, but this one didn’t amaze me. Maybe that’s because I am not huge fan of 1920s era? Or maybe because I was so angry with one of the main characters – Daisy – for treating Gatsby the way she did. Short summary: The movie is told from Nick Carraway’s point of view. He is in a sanatorium to treat his alchoholism. He tells a story of a millionaire Jay Gatsby, who devoted his life for a woman he did not even knew. The plot has a few twist and turns and no happy ending.  It is based on the book with the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is not a first time this story is made into movie. In 1926 it was made into a silent film, in 1949 and 1974 into a proper motion picture, in 1999 – into opera and finaly in 2000 – into TV film. Rate 3/5

3. The third movie I watched – “Inception”. It came out 4 years ago – in 2010. Leonardo DiCaprio also stars in this one.  Unlike Gatsby, this movie really astonished me. The plot was interesting and unpredictable and the overall idea of the movie was very innovative and exciting. The science fiction thriller explores the posibility of controling dreams, dreaming inside of dreams and so forth. I would not be surprised if this fantasy would actually come true in a couple of year’s time. Despite having Leo, film’s large ensemble cast includes Ellen Page,  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine. This movie is perfect for Sci-fi fans out there as well as dystopian fantasy lovers. Rate 4/5

4.  The last movie of the day (night – I finished it around midnight) – “The Lone Ranger”. This one tells a story of the Lone Ranger and Indian named Tonto as they attempt to find justice in a corrupt world of XIX century. It is based on a book “Lone Ranger“ by Fran Striker and George W. Trendle. Johnny Depp portrays Tonto – Comanche Indian who is looking for revenge for his tribe. The Lone Ranger’s role went to Armie Hammer. His character is also trying to avenge those, who were close to him. William Fichtner plays Butch Cavendish, a ruthless and cannibalistic outlaw who is the main antagonist of the movie. The film is full of funny little jokes that usually involve horse and in my opinion, Johnny Depp is one of the greatest actors today and all his characters a very complex, interesting and unique. Rate 5/5

That’s all for today. Tomorrow, I am planning to post a short description of my Easter – I will tell you all about traditions in my family. Hope you have a great day. Bye.

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