“Red Sparrow” film review

Intense. Riveting. Spine-tingling, A masterful spy thriller crafted in a classical fashion with sex appeal. Red Sparrow will harness your full attention from the opening. Directed by Francis Lawrence, this spy movie is the level of excitement that 2015’s Bridge of Spies wished it was. Whereas many espionage movies fail to develop a plot that keeps you guessing from beginning to end–allowing you to feel like a covert operative or detective–this film delivers a mesmerizing story filled with intriguing characters and close calls. In many ways, this film contains elements that could be likened to a Hitchcockian suspense thriller with influences from Billy Wilder and David Fincher. Jennifer Lawrence displays an uncanny performance that truly shows the versatility of the Oscar-winning actress. With tensions rising between the US and Russia in real life, this films comes at a perfect time because we may find ourselves in a cold war that’s reminiscent of the latter part of the 20th century. Not for those who are weak in the stomach, this film contains cringy visceral horror that will get under your skin. Without the need to rely on science-fiction gadgetry to carry the story, this film provides well-developed characters and an intriguing plot that’s filled with twists and turns.

Prima Bolshoi Ballet ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is faced with a bleak and uncertain future following a severe career-ending injury while on stage performing. Her high-ranking uncle persuades her to attend Sparrow School: an institution that trains seductive spies in order to pry information from targets by using extreme sensuality. Sparrows turn their minds and bodies into weapons for the state. Being determined to remain special, Dominika completes the sadistic training more quickly than the other students and is recruited for a covert assignment to track and report on an American CIA operative (Joel Edgerton) who Russia feels will lead them to the mole within their own ranks.

The beautiful opening of Red Sparrow is abruptly ended when Dominika suffers a horrific injury that instantly ends her ballet career. This acutely intense moment will cut you directly to the bone–you will undoubtedly wince or cringe, feel the break in your own legs. This is but a taste of what is to come throughout the movie. In an exquisite fashion, the gorgeous dance at the opening is juxtaposed against the alleged drug deal gone bad. Paralleling one another, the event that unfolds concurrently enable the plot to get a quickly paced fantastic start out the gate. Unfortunately, this excellent start does lead into a slower paced latter half of Act I. However, there is important background information that is revealed during Act I that foreshadows and sets up the remainder of the turning points in the plot. You will also notice the use of the color red in many places during the movie. Analyzing the shades of, and placement of the crimson hue has the potential to generate conversations between cinephiles.

The color red is not the only symbol in the movie that can be analyzed; there is a theme of your body belonging to the state. Essentially, this can be read as a commentary on celebrity. As a prima ballerina, Dominika’s body was weaponized for the stage and figuratively belonged to the Bolshoi and by extension to the public. Much in the same way her Sparrow weaponized body literally belongs to The State. It’s her body, but the Bolshoi and The State determine her career. But she is determined to not allow herself to become a commodity that can be abandoned, traded, or punished. This can be said about conventional celebrities and the public. In a manner of speaking, the public decides whether or not you are worth seeing on screen and how you should behave. Back during the days of the Studio System, this was a big problem because the Studio controlled your image, who you dated, slept with, when/if you had kids, your marriage, and more. There was mass exploitation in that system, and one of the reasons why it was ended. The empowering message of rebelling against The State, who is determined to own you and your body, can be witnessed through the covert actions of Dominika.

In the grand Hitchcockian fashion, there is a lot of suspense that increases tension but does not always provide a release. Though Hitch would have handled the level and pacing of the suspense more perfectly, you can read his famous bomb theory in Red Sparrow. Hitchcock knew how to take a two-dimensional situation and find a third-dimensional approach to impress the audiences and hold firm their attention. And to the film’s credit, there are a few times that the level of suspense coupled with the symphonic score channels Hitch. Unlike many spy movies that rely too heavily on a love story, the film brilliantly leaves you wondering whether or not Lawrence and Edgerton are in love or rather it is a facade employed in order to extract vital information for their respective allegiances. The level of romance and eroticism is just enough to add the sex-appeal to the relationship without the movie becoming about the romance between two individuals who serve two opposing countries.

Not for the faint of heart, there are some incredibly intense moments in the film that might make you queasy in the stomach. But the movie chooses to place more emphasis on the action, plot, and characters more so than that which threatens your eye. It’s certainly a new breed of spy movie, but it’s one that is incredibly interesting and will hold your attention for the more than 2hr runtime.

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“Batman v Superman” movie review

BMvSMBetter brush up on your comics before watching this movie. If DC set out to produce a movie that was completely different than the Marvel movies, then they succeeded. Batman v Superman leaves you feeling like you are watching a sequel without an original movie. And no, Man of Steel does not sufficiently set up this “sequel.” Imagine if you will, opening a book and starting to read. You are a few pages in, and you realize that there are situations, characters, settings that are unfamiliar or seem out of step. Oh, duh, you started on chapter two by mistake. Just as you flip back to find chapter one, you discover that the pages are missing. DC’s attempt to setup an entire comic universe (Justice League), in one movie, failed miserably. However, you will be hard pressed to find another superhero action movie that is more cinematic than this one. The sound and visual effects blew my mind–exponentially more impressive than anything that Marvel (Disney or Fox) has produced; but that’s Zack Snyder for you. Unfortunately, the man should have assisted a director in crafting a visual story, not attempted to tell it himself. If DC was fighting a losing battle up a hill, now it is fighting that same battle up a mountainside.

Look! Up in the sky. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a box-office bomb. Two years following the epic battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod, Metropolis is still recovering from the mass devastation. Affected by this infamous battle, crime-fighting billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is fully convinced that Superman is a threat to humanity and must be contained or destroyed. Although he is not as young as he used to be, Affleck once again dawns the Batman uniform and sets out on his personal vendetta against the god-like Kryptonian. Feeling the growing threat of Batman, Superman will stop at nothing to defeat Batman and save the city. In an effort to save their respective cities from destruction, Batman and Superman vow to kill one another. While each superhero has it in for the other, Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg) is cooking up something in his research park that can defeat gods and titans. It’s a good thing that Metropolis and Gotham are closer together than Tampa and St. Petersburg are (LOL).

Film is a visual storytelling medium, but storytelling nevertheless. The only other more visual medium, one could argue, is comics. And, you better have studied your Justice League universe comics before buying your ticket to this attempt at a Springtime/Easter blockbuster. But unfortunately, that’s all that this movie has going for it–its unparalleled use of phenomenal visual and sound effects to create a fantastically stimulating experience. One problem: where’s the story??? I thought that this was (to borrow from Star Wars: the Force Awakens) “supposed to make things right“? Ironic how Easter is a holiday and season which represents rebirth; and as hard as DC Comics and Zack Snyder tried to rebirth this struggling universe, it still remains in the ground. All the water and fertilizer in the world could not help this Easter lily, for the farmer forgot to plant the bulb. There is little to no exposition in the entire movie. If you are unfamiliar with the story from the comics, you will most certainly feel dazed and confused. DC really needed this movie to tell an excellent story in order to continue to compete with the Marvel movies that are coming from Disney and Fox. After this travesty, there is almost no competition any longer. One can only hope that the next installment fixes things. But, it’s highly unlikely at this point.

Sometimes poor writing can be covered and masked by flashy graphics and stunning cinematography, other times, it can be assisted by an excellent cast. Well, fail once again. The casting only aided in highlighting the fallacies in the plot structure and nearly non-existent, poorly setup story. Before I negatively criticize the majority of the cast, I need to point out what worked for the film in terms of cast. Although I have been informed that he did not portray the Lex Luther from the comics, I firmly hold to that Jesse Eisenberg played the Lex Luther that this film needed and benefitted from. The quirky, psychopathy, childlike, socially awkward, intellectual Lex Luther works for this universe. He was probably my favorite part of the whole movie. He was quite the juxtaposition to other villains that have been in Marvel and DC movies–a refreshing new take. Amy Adams also plays a great Lois Lane. Since I am not familiar with the comics, I am not going to try to compare and contrast her portrayal to that of past Lois Lanes or the ones from the comics. Still, Adams brought about a fantastic charm to the character and she fit in well with Henry Cavill’s Superman.

Sadly, the rest of the principle cast was terrible. Since when did Alfred (Jeremy Irons) become nearly Bruce’s age??? Maybe he is ten years his senior, but that’s pushing it. Alfred is supposed to be a lovable and endearing old man, and Batman’s Jiminy Cricket, so to speak. Neither does Irons fit the age nor the personality traits of Alfred. I sure missed Michael Caine and Michael Gough’s Alfreds. There was a lot of concern when Affleck was chosen to become the caped crusader; and as it turns out, these concerns were valid. He has demonstrated that he cannot fill the cape in the manner in which Michael Keaton and Christian Bale were so successfully able to do. It’s entirely possible that Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman/Diana Prince could have been the much-needed support that the film lacked, but their respective characters were severely under-developed. Also, not so much cast as he is character but where did the Kryptonian deformed creature come from??? I think the film tried to explain, but again, it failed. Who cares, though? He made the climax shocking and exciting. A solid match for Superman.

If you want to have your eyes and ears stimulated beyond what you have likely experienced in superhero action movies in the past, then this is the movie for you. Just don’t expect much beyond the mesmerizing surface. Already having a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, most likely the grade will continue to drop. That being said, I DO believe that if you are a follower of the comics and know your stuff, then you will most likely thoroughly enjoy this film. I warn you; be prepared to be your group’s personal Wikipedia after the movie.