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Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Movie Review Red Sparrow (2018)

Movie Review - Red Sparrow            Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Red Sparrow
Red Sparrow

Red Sparrow
Jennifer Lawrence is Dominika, a former ballerina forced to join Sparrow School, a secret government program that transforms her into an agent who can manipulate, seduce and kill.


In the spirit of the novel, “Red Sparrow” the movie adaptation would probably be Borscht with Seasoned Ham: Combine a Tom Clancy thriller with an early James Bond picture, season liberally with last year’s “Atomic Blonde,” add a cup of the old Mad Magazine panel "Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy" and a pinch of both the 1942 film “Casablanca” and 1946’s “Notorious,” a puree in a blender, and serve chilled with vodka and vermouth on the side shaken, not stirred.

In “Red Sparrow,” prima ballerina Dominika Egorova suffers a grotesque injury during a performance and must say adios to the Bolshoi. As an alternative to losing her modest government-provided apartment and the health insurance she needs to care for her ailing mother, Dominika accepts a proposal from her creepy Uncle Ivan that she enroll in “Sparrow School,” a training program operated by Russian Intelligence.
Jason Matthews' original novel “Red Sparrow” employs an unusual literary device: Each chapter of the book includes a reference to a specific gourmet food and ends with a recipe for its preparation.
Derisively referred to by Dominika as “whore school,” the Sparrow program instructs female recruits in seduction techniques, for use on foreign operatives as a means of gaining secret information. “Red Sparrow” essentially details Dominika’s enrollment and vigorous training in the program, and her first secret assignment.

Directed by Francis Lawrence, who also guided the last three installments of the “Hunger Games” film series, “Red Sparrow” boasts first-class production values, including beautiful photography, music, and a supporting cast of professional actors riding on a sort of merry-go-round of international accents and inflections Brits and Americans using Russian inflections, an Australian affecting American cadences, and Mary-Louise Parker reciting her lines in her signature distracted southwestern drawl.

Unfortunately, “Red Sparrow” is plump and ponderous at 140 minutes, and filled with unnecessary characters, details, and plot twists and turns which will either keep viewers on their toes or hopelessly confuse them. There’s not a single subplot or peripheral character this picture couldn’t jettison as ballast to reduce “Red Sparrow” to a less-punishing running time of under two hours.

Among the players, Jeremy Irons with each new performance grows to resemble legendary horror star Boris Karloff so closely that aficionados of classic films of have taken to examining the actor’s neck for Frankenstein’s electrode bolts. Irons delivers a characteristically exacting and riveting performance as a highly-placed Russian spy with motives that will keep viewers surprised until the very end.

Charlotte Rampling as the matron of the Sparrow School is essentially playing a reheated version of the Lotte Lenya character from 1962’s “From Russia with Love” the scary, bad-tempered, uniform-clad spymaster. Rampling’s performance is also strongly reminiscent of her breakout performance in 1974’s “The Night Porter” which is to say that her character has more than a few kinks in her cable.

The Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts appears as creepy Uncle Ivan, Dominika’s sponsor in Sparrow School. Schoenaerts’ resemblance to Vladimir Putin is so eerily pronounced that it’s impossible to not imagine his character is based on the Russian president, if not actually played by him. And Mary-Louise Parker contributes a cameo performance as a US government employee who might have secrets for sale. Parker’s appearance is a breath of fresh air in a sometimes-repressive movie, but her hasty departure will leave viewers gasping.

The primary assets of “Red Sparrow” are the wonderfully seductive Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika, and Joel Edgerton as the CIA operative she’s sent to seduce. Essentially, Edgerton distracts the girls in the audience while Lawrence steals the picture. As anyone knows who’s seen Lawrence’s appearances as the villain Mystique in the “X-Men” film series, even covered in blue paint and without dialogue the Academy Award-winning actress finds a means of endearing herself to audiences of all ages and genders.

Although the teaming of Lawrence and Edgerton fails to generate the sparks necessary to ignite “Red Sparrow” into the grand romantic entertainment plainly intended by the filmmakers, both actors deliver persuasive and ingratiating performances. Lawrence’s role requires such physical punishment that viewers might wonder if the actress is performing penance for her appearance in the execrable “Mother!” a few months ago, a film so fatally pretentious that even the traditionally easygoing audiences polled by CinemaScore assigned it a grade of F.
“Red Sparrow” is receiving decidedly mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike, although as usual Lawrence’s performance is being praised across the board. The picture has received an MPAA rating of R for nudity and violence, surprisingly little of which is gun-related.
This movie marks the reunion of director Francis Lawrence and actress Jennifer Lawrence, who made 3 of the 4 Hunger Games movies before. Here they go a very different direction, namely an ol' fashioned spy thriller drama, as if we're back in the Cold War (and maybe we actually are). The movie is very plot-driven and, I must admit, quite convoluted, so pay attention! even then, there's a good chance you'll get lost during some parts along the way. 
Lawrence truly takes the movie on her shoulders, appearing in virtually all scenes, and no-one is going to out-tough Jennifer Lawrence! Speaking of Jennifer which there are several extended torture scenes that are just brutal (I had to look away more than once). Besides Jennifer Lawrence, the movie also benefits from the performance of Belgium's Matthias Schoenaerts, in the role of the sinister no-good uncle. 
Charlotte Rampling equally delights in her small role as the sparrows teacher/trainer. The movie's production set is first class all the way, with Hungary standing in for Russia, and extended scenes in London and Vienna as well. Last but certainly not least, there is a warm orchestral score that plays prominently in the movie, courtesy of veteran composer James Newton Howard.

"Red Sparrow" opened wide this weekend, and I couldn't wait to see it. The Saturday early evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was pretty much sold out, which is of course normal for a movie of this stature just opening. Whether it will have staying power, only time will tell. If you are a fan of a good spy story (even it it's a bit convoluted), or a fan of Jennifer Lawrence, you'll want to check this out, be it in the theater, on Amazon Instant Video, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray.
Author Jason Matthews is contracted by his publisher to write a sequel. If Jennifer Lawrence is going to appear in the film version, we should get in line now.
"Red Sparrow" (2018 release; 139 min.) brings the story of Dominika. As the movie opens, Dominika cares for her ailing mother, and then, while dancing ballet at the Bolshoi suffers a brutal leg injury (accident? or not?). We then go the "3 Months Later", when Dominika is forced by her uncle, the Vice Deputy of Security, to go to training school for sparrows (in return for which her ailing mom receives medical care). 
Sparrows are used by Russia to compromise enemies of the state in any way possible. "Every person is a human puzzle of need", they are taught. Dominika is tasked with finding a mole high up in the Russian government. To tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
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Red Sparrow (2018)

Movie Review
Red Sparrow (2018)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Book Review Between the World and Me

Book Review - Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me - Amazon.com
Between the World and Me

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

About the Author :

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an American writer, journalist, and educator. Coates is a National Correspondent for The Atlantic, where he writes about cultural, social and political issues, particularly as regards African-Americans. Coates has worked for The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, and Time. He has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Washington Monthly, O, and other publications. In 2008 he published a memoir, The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. His second book, Between the World and Me, was released in July 2015. It was nominated for a 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction. He was the recipient of a "Genius Grant" from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 2015

It's hard to know what to say about a book about which so much has already been said. If you're familiar with Coates' writing from The Atlantic Magazine or elsewhere you already know that, in terms of style, he is a gifted writer who is always a pleasure to read, regardless of the subject matter he writes about.

The subject matter here, however, is what is most important about "Between the World and Me." Coates' uses the experience of young African Americans and his own experiences growing up to create a poetic and impassioned letter to his son and, indeed to the world, about what it means to be a person of color in the United States at the beginning of the 21st century. My personal belief is that the issue of race and institutionalized racism is the most important issue we as a country face right now. The events of the past two years have focused a bright light on issues that many of us were only dimly aware of. Or, more accurately, that we knew about but didn't want to face. For those who realize that they MUST be faced, no matter how painful we find them, Coates provides a remarkable first step with this compelling, poetic, and sometimes heartbreaking expressionistic book.

The inability to see what causes pain, even though it is right in front of us, is a very human defense mechanism. But it is a defense mechanism that does not serve any of us or our country well. Empathy and a desire to understand that which we haven't personally experienced but that we know are pernicious facts of modern Anerican life are key to the changes we must make. As an upper-middle class white woman, I've lived through very few of the events and feelings Coates describes in "Between the World and Me." Which is all the more reason for me to read it and recommend it.
I've never been shown and made to understood the experience of a life so unlike my own as I have with this book. I felt the frustration and fear that Mr. Coates felt growing up black in America. I felt the anger he feels at people who believe that they are white dismissing that experience as so many sour grapes. I felt the hypocrisy of being told not to wear hoodies or play loud music for fear of someone breaking your body.

That's why this book matters. It's not a solution to our race problems or an accurate assessment of the progress of America as a nation. It is not a book about white people and how we should change. It is simply a powerful testament of one man's experience, and an offering of understanding.

I grew up rich, white and privileged in suburban Virginia. I never had to think about my safety, my future or my pride through the lens of my race. I couldn't even begin to conceive of that experience. Ta-Nehisi Coates is the first person to break through that reality of my upbringing and allow me to step into another experience for a little while.
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Between the World and Me

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