Red Sparrow

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Red Sparrow

If Red Sparrow were a little less terrible, making fun of it might be an entertaining exercise. But because it is truly and inexplicably bad, there’s no fun to be had in writing about it. Here is one the twelve confusing paragraphs from the International Movie Data Base summary of the movie. Good luck.

“Dominika is removed earlier than expected to carry out a mission under her uncle and General Vladimir Korchnoi (Jeremy Irons). The target is an American CIA operative, Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). She is to find out the name of his Russian contact. She is placed in a rooming flat with Marta (Thekla Reuten) who also went to Sparrow school. Nate has convinced Dominika to become a double agent and work with the CIA.”

That’s just a hint of the dozens of characters we are expected to track during its exasperating length of two hours and twenty minutes. Audiences walk out shaking their heads after failing to follow the impossible puzzle. Listen up, Hollywood: You can’t ask any audience to sort through a crowd of characters with the implied command that they must know the importance of every single one.

The Sparrow School operates under the ice cold control of Matron (Charlotte Rampling) who is teaching women how to use their bodies as espionage tools. Because Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) needs money to support her ailing mother (Joely Richardson), she enrolls. After learning – by mistake – the identity of a double agent, she has no choice but to use her body as her tool for navigating the Russian/American spy underground.

The red sparrow is played by Jennifer Lawrence who has often won the hearts of audiences with her skill, her personality, and the marvelous voice that she can bend to all kinds of movie demands. In this story, that creative voice is reduced to a skilled monotone Russian accent that hides all her personality and skill. She moves through a complex world of espionage and sex with a heavy heart and many tears. She will be raped, beaten literally to pulp, vomiting from horror and naked through much of the story. She plays Dominika as well as anyone could but all this to support your mom is a thin premise.

In a fine gang of good male actors, the confusing script leaves us wondering which one is Jeremy Irons, or Joel Edgerton, or Matthias Schoenaerts. Huge casts with secondary parts defeat good stories.

We live in an era where there is nothing unusual about on-screen nudity or sex, but this movie raises the question of what has happened in our culture to make people want to watch vomit, rape, beating, and torture with a new tool that allows the torturer to literally skin his victim who is chained to a chair. The question always surfaces: Is it a reflection of our current culture or is it Hollywood creating a new one? At the very least, when your mother needs financial help, don’t become a red sparrow.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : RED SPARROW
Word Count: 499
Running Time: 2:20
Rating: R
Date: 9 March 2018


Murder on the Orient Express

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Murder on the Orient Express

Kenneth Branagh has remade the iconic Murder on the Orient Express with mediocre results. Agatha Christie’s 1934 book has rafts of loyalists who are usually skeptical when books, movies, and now TV shows are patterned on it. This time, they’re right, but most of us will go anyway.

The plot is irresistible for writers, filmmakers, and movie lovers. What’s more fun than legendary detective Hercule Poirot on a train as he tries to discover who among thirteen strangers has killed a man in their car? Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The sight of it is rivetingly beautiful. The train leaves the station in light snow that grows heavier as it moves into the storm. We are treated to prolonged shots of the silver sleeper plowing through the white snowdrifts until an avalanche knocks a car off the track. Cinematographer Hans Zambarloukos delivers the beauty of the train roaring through the blizzard.

The magic of any train is its movement; that’s what they do and it’s why they are loved. The movement of the Orient Express seems to wrap the train in the mystery that is unfolding inside as Poirot questions the murder suspects. The derailment in this version stops not only the train but turns the questioning into something bordering on job interviews in a cramped space. The magic is gone. Suspense is absent.

Poirot questions the tangle of strangers deftly but what they reveal about themselves has a dull feel. We watch as a fine cast is fed dialogue which they deliver in contemporary accents that undercut the atmosphere and the story. We want this to be 1934 when trains were the apex of travel. Don’t modernize it.

We watch Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacoby, Lucy Boynton Judi Dench, and other good actors as they struggle to become characters against the odds director Branagh has laid on them. The stilted questioning in the silent train seems in the stillness like a narrow hotel corridor. They try, but this part of this story is doomed.

In a welcome exception, Branagh, the actor, creates an interesting Poirot. Anyone who plays this famous fictional guy is welcome to create a new portrait of him as long as it includes the detective’s passion for truth along with his vain, intuitive, stylish, tough self. It is always fun to watch Poirot as he sifts through the lies that surround him. And the new moustache is Branagh’s personal quirk. He continues a fine tradition of bringing his own version of Poirot alive from Agatha Christie’s pages.

Is anything as romantic as a train moving through the snow? No, but beautiful filming doesn’t make up for the oddly dull search for the murderer. There is one perfect solution: go see it and thrill to the sight of the train moving through the blizzard. When the train is stuck, just leave. Go out for dinner and discuss the beautiful first hour.