The Guardian review of Red Sparrow as a “perverse Jennifer Lawrence thriller” highlights mainstream media’s failings

The Guardian review of Red Sparrow starts with an error in the first line: “a seductive assassin”. Not so. A reluctant spy, maybe, but even that is overstating 90% of the movie.

There are spoilers below, but every fan of the Lawrences will have seen the movie by now.

Jennifer Lawrence filled the screen with Dominika’s evolution

And the third line of the review says there’s “surprisingly extreme sex and violence”. Again, not so. There is sexual aggression and attempted rape, but the violence is not comic-book. The redeeming aspect throughout the film is showing the effects of such extreme violence.

The film doesn’t go off into the over-done detective mastermind scenario, nor the weepy soap scenario. Instead, the film stays with Jennifer Lawrence’s character, masterfully showing the effects of such sexuality and violence on a person who grew up in a family where power is always tinged with violence.

The review also says, “throughout, there’s a shocking willingness to go to the very edge of what’s acceptable in a contemporary studio movie.” Compared to what? Mostly what’s acceptable in contemporary studio movies is a level of violence which is both extremely graphic (but only as CGI) and extremely stupid. The average studio movie hero is tortured by ‘experts’ for hours and yet is never impeded in subsequently killing or neutralising a dozen supposed trained soldiers or guards or bodybuilders or thugs. Single-handedly and, apparently, avoiding all 60,000 rounds of ammunition fired in the process.

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Altered Carbon is a rip-off!

We have nine episodes in Altered Carbon that, at times, really feel like an honest attempt to inject pace and well-thought futurism into a cops-n-robbers-in-space thriller.

You’ll see lots of references to Blade Runner style and Matrix cyberpunk and the like. All of which is sort of true. And there’s plenty of cruelty, especially against women, that is the stock-in-trade of most crime thrillers, no matter whether set in the past, present or future.

To offset that misogyny, there are four strong female characters, played by Dichen Lachman, Martha Higareda, Kristin Lehman and Renée Elise Goldsberry (pictured with showrunner Laeta Kalogridis). And the lead man is played with a great deal of gritty realism by Joel Kinnaman (he was also impressively taciturn in The Killing series from 2014).

Like many Netflix series, there’s a cookie-cutter approach to the plot and sub-plots. Hero(es) just about get a win but then the carpet is pulled out from under them. All very Hero’s Journey but rather too formulaic now that we’ve seen it in, oh, about 14 Netflix series so far!

In keeping with ‘the future’ there’s plenty of bleak darkness – the dark, rainy streets, the glaring neon, the dark alleys, the stark white labs and the dark settings when hero(es) are in a bind and trapped.

The story? Well, we’ve got galaxy-spanning capabilities and intergalactic stormtroopers and rich people who can live forever (more or less – give or take the odd ‘refresh’). And lots of cops-n-robbers street-level stuff, which is a long way below the super-rich living in their spacescrapers.

And, of course, there’s a sort of fate-of-personkind thing and the revolutionaries (good guys?) versus the establishment (bad guys?).

But, and it’s a big BUT, the whole fin de siècle turns out to be completely prosaic when we reach the finale and the underlying reason for a huge percentage of the story.

Spoiler alert: I’m sorry, but the people who are supposed to have lived for a few hundred years would have sorted out the petty insecurities that supposedly set off the main ‘bad deed’.

It’s like we’ve just watched nine episodes of Twin Peaks and the tenth episode (and ‘resolution’) is a weak sub-plot from Dallas.

Netflix Discovery Portal

Just when you thought it was safe to retire from binge-viewing on Netflix, up they come with another raft of interesting, intriguing and often excellent series.

Of course, Netflix is also essential for major historical catch-ups. Those episodes you missed when you were travelling, or even whole series that didn’t work when they were broadcast on networks at weird times, or even networks you didn’t like.

Or you were in a country that didn’t have the series playing while you were there. But now, often, Netflix fills in the gaps. Plus introduces a lot of opportunities to discover new actors, actresses, directors, producers, etc.

For example, Hotel Beau Sejour and its quirky, supernatural theme. And its peculiar combination of ordinary soap tropes (pregnant teenager, reconstituted families, step-sibling rivalry, etc) and the occasional hammy acting.

But then one story arc or one character stands out. And, in this case, it’s not the main actors/actresses – who in many cases are purely playing ciphers. Thankfully, though, Charlotte Timmers brought every scene alive with her convincing and expressive portrayal, from the slightest twitch of a muscle to the full beam of her smile.

Charlotte Timmers

Two-thirds of the way through the series the story arcs got bogged down – not unlike many novels – and then the final few episodes raced all over the place to tie up the threads. If they’d stayed more on track as a supernatural thriller, rather than trying to create an episodic soap, this could have been a stand-out series. 3/5

The Sparkling Ghost in the Shell Extravaganza

I have no idea what all the complaints are about. Authors and Filmmakers appropriate storylines and characters from all of history and all countries. Charlton Heston shouldn’t be in a Roman epic? Mel Gibson shouldn’t be in a Western? And Scarlett Johansson shouldn’t be in Anime?

This is all political and/or cultural and/or censorship correctness gone mad.

Is Ghost in the Shell a great movie? Yes! Is Scarlett a great actress? Yes! Does she do a great job in Ghost? Yes!

Meanwhile, back at the purpose of the movie: entertainment. Ghost is a colourful, exciting and skillful rendition of anime into movie. In other words, job done.

I’d put it in the top 10 of Hollywood adaptations. 5 stars.

Karaoke Horror – Rabies (film review)

Everything about this 2011 movie from Israel is crisp. The camera work is lean and clean, capturing everything in gorgeous colour and clarity. The acting is competent, believable and they all look great. The script is clever and has plenty of twists and turns.

Rabies movie reviewSo why does the Rabies fail at so many levels? It’s film karaoke, folks. The perfect backing track is there. Everyone knows the words like they wrote them. Everyone can sing/act/pretend in a note-perfect way through the whole song. But no-one is Quentin! Or Madsen! Or Uma! Or Liu!

I don’t know if the directors (Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado) shot scenes once, twice or a hundred times, but there is plenty to love about the look of the film. Just like you love the look of a hot young redhead singing a great version of Janis Joplin on American Idol, or a striking metrosexual singing Bowie with guts and passion.

But where is the USP? What really stands out about this movie? To be honest, just that it is an almost perfect copycat horror-thriller.

Rating: 2 stars

Brilliance sans Frontiers – The Zero Hour (film review)

This 2010 feature film from Venezuela is an astonishingly good telling of a ‘stock’ storyline: good boy becomes bad, then becomes good, then vacillates, then ….. in the end!

The Zero HourAnd watching the movie it is impossible not to switch between your expectations of how the many storylines may develop. Secondary characters become major, major characters meet unexpected ends, and all the whole you’re not exactly sure which of the many sides you’re on.

The script is TIGHT! The action zooms along right from the opening sequence, yet this is not in the style of dazzle-with-explosions (and forget the rest). The humour comes from an extraordinary tense and dangerous situation. Spoiler warning: there is lots of death. But nonetheless the script carries each character through their moves with remarkable skill and clarity. In many cases just a few words can speak volumes.

Writer-Director Diego Velasco must surely have a wonderful potential for the future based on this fantastically good movie. And fantastic is what I love from movies, so here’s hoping there’s lots more to come from a new star of the Latin-American melting pot.

Rating: 5 stars

Lost in Translation: See How They Fall (film review)

See How They FallPretend all they like but some French films are poor and get significant praise despite being pretentious flops.

This travesty of cinema is laden with cliche after cliche: the idiot-savant, the dour businessman, the reckless metrosexual, the misunderstood wife.

Plus, of course, dark close-ups, dark transitions, dark sequence captions and dark character expositions. Did I mention dark?

But seriously, See How They Fall is cinema 101 and I wouldn’t care if the director was the son of a whole line of brilliant cinema patriarchs. It is nouvelle-crap.

Although it is from 1994 that does not mean the previous hundreds of years of storytelling should be ignored. So sorry, but them’s the breaks! The non-dark, non-closeup camera work saved what little day there was in the film, so just hauls it out of the 0 star trashcan.

Rating: 1 star

Sight Unseen – Two Months of Film Trailers

There are definite swings and roundabouts in the release schedules of movies, and we appear to be heading for a feast after the past 6 months of mostly famine. Herewith a Dazzling Dozen of potential highlights, although we have reservations about some being able to achieve their hype!


A Dangerous Method – David Cronenberg
Relationships between doctors and patients take on more extreme ramifications when the doctor is a psychoanalyst. Kiera Knightley plays a wonderful role as the crazy/sane/victim/yearner who challenges the opposing ideas of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender).
Potential = 5 stars

The-DescendantsThe Descendants – Alexander Payne
George Clooney again, yet here he swings between convincing parent and his usual persona. His struggle to connect with his two daughters when his wife is ‘absent’ in various ways is well drawn. With Judy Greer, Amara Miller, Shailene Woodley.
Potential = 4 stars

The Girl With The Dragon TattooThe Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – David Fincher
The American version of the film, with Daniel Craig as Blomkvist and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth. A fantastic book and a great Swedish film version will probably remain as the best entry to the Millennium trilogy. Even the trailer for this US version is weak.
Potential = 2 stars

J EdgarJ. Edgar – Clint Eastwood
Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Eastwood about an American icon! Um, no. Every character and every scene in the trailer looks wooden, obvious, hackneyed and overlong. And that’s just the trailer! With Naomi Watts, Dermot Mulroney, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench (all playing typecast roles).
Potential = 1 star

Ides-of-MarchThe Ides of March – George Clooney
Presidential hopeful who discovers the dirty side of politics! Um, no. Even Ryan Gosling, Clooney, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood couldn’t drag me to see this, even if they knocked on the door in person.
Potential = 1 star

In TimeIn Time – Andrew Niccol
Science Fiction of the Thriller type pits Justin Timberlake against a corrupt regime that allows life or death on a fickle whim. His struggle is eased by the support of Olivia Wilde and Amanda Seyfried, while Vincent Kartheiser and Johnny Galecki handle the bad guy roles.
Potential = 5 stars

Martha Marcy May MarleneMartha Marcy May Marlene – Sean Durkin
Reclusive folks up in the hills who run a little cult! Hell yes! But seriously, this trailer looks a hundred times better than all the other films of the same ilk. With John Hawkes, Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson.
Potential = 4 stars

MelancholiaMelancholia – Lars von Trier
Another thriller with a sci-fi twist, with Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg as two very different sisters who have extra stress on their relationship when a new planet is discovered to be on a collision course with Earth. With Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling, Alexander Skarsgard.
Potential = 5 stars

Rum-DiaryThe Rum Diary – Bruce Robinson
Hunter S. Thompson is a rich vein for salacious yet enticing stories, and Johnny Depp brings the film alive with a gonzo portrayal, ably assisted by a plethora of brilliant actors, actresses, script lines and director. With Amber Heard.
Potential = 5 stars

The-Skin-I-Live-InThe Skin I Live In – Pedro Almodovar
Antonio Banderas in a chilling role in a trailer that reeks quality and tension. Obsession and corruption are interwoven in a combination of science fiction and chiller. With Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes.
Potential = 5 stars

Straw-DogsStraw Dogs – Rod Lurie
This remake, with James Marsden and Kate Bosworth, will in no way compete with the original – which was both groundbreaking and inspired. However, this version will appeal to a whole new audience, especially with the support of James Woods and Alexander Skarsgard.
Potential = 4 stars

The-ThingThe Thing – Matthijs van Heijningen
Promoted as a “prelude” to John Carpenter’s classic 1982 film of the same name, the trailer positions Mary Elizabeth Winstead to take over the fantastic Sigourney Weaver role of inspired-woman-against-evil-alien-thing! On the strength of the trailer alone, Winstead achieves this level of magnificence. With Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen.
Potential = 5 stars

A month in the cinema

July 2011 was not great for films that could make Best of the Year lists.

SUPER 8 – five stars
This one film achieved so much of what is possible with a great script, extremely talented acting and skilled directing. Compared to everything else we saw in July, Super 8 warranted all the superlatives, including the ones bestowed on the other movies even though they don’t deserve them.
The skill of the young actors was drawn out cleverly by both the storyline and the directing. The increasing drama and danger was shown on the faces and in the dynamics within the group of youngsters, with no false steps or lapses. Anyone looking for signs of a healthy movie industry can take great heart from this super cast.


LITTLE WHITE LIES – three stars
Ensemble pieces, especially of the French variety, can throw rich characters into a melting pot and achieve some great performances. The star of Lies is Francois Cluzet who can portray a dozen emotions with slight facial changes. And when he explodes the whole impact is tremendous theatre. In fact, all the men provide sterling performances, the clever pacing of the storyline giving them all opportunities to shine. The weaknesses revolve around the women’s roles, especially when the hackneyed Marion Cotillard character becomes pregnant, even though much is made of the condom scene earlier.

SLEEPING BEAUTY – three stars
Apart from falling into the same trap as Special Treatment (see below) of very out-dated stereotypes of the men who frequent special services, a number of other subplots rang true. “Stuff” happens to people like Emily Browning’s central character, as if the ability to navigate modern life is no longer taught or learned. The dysfunctional parent card does not need to be played every time, especially as we know most parents – most people – have varying degrees of future shock (and pace-of-change slippage). The director played one very false card, however. There is nothing in the central character’s background that would make her scream so long and loud about a dead body.

THOR – two stars
The special effects and storyline hold together much better on this movie than the two below, and some of the acting even strays from wooden. And, at times, there was even a little concern about the human characters. Yet the guts of the story has no real depth because all the set pieces were just that, not giving us anything or anyone to really care about. A shame.

GREEN LANTERN – one star
It seems many comic-to-film attempts fall on the same stony ground – the special effects barely match the comic art and the human characters fail to achieve the grit of the source. Here’s a quick checklist of ways to fail:
– pretty boys playing the lead roles
– pretty girls who are not allowed to act
– special effects that light the screen but not the story
– slipshod story continuity
– paper-thin villains that hold nothing of their comic origins
Don’t know why but it seems the Marvel comics translate to film better than D.C.

See above – plus how come the all-powerful “bad” transformers can kill, it seems, millions of other humans except the fumbling so-called heroes. And destroy every other building except the one the heroes are inside. Just a plain, dumb movie that even a 5-year-old would think was weak.

Despite the wonderful cinematography, the cardboard cutout characters failed to interest or impress, leaving the film a vapid and sterile exercise, just like the lives portrayed. The attempt to draw comparisons between the prostitute and the psychoanalyst failed, the supposed links so shallow that the screenplay could have been written by a high-school student of literature. The fat, rich men and the passé fantasies were trite and lacking in any update of the last 100 years. The hype was not met.

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