Showing posts with label Woody Allen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Woody Allen. Show all posts

Friday, March 23, 2018

"Red Sparrow" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Red Sparrow" as well as DVDs "Wonder Wheel" and "The Man Who Invented Christmas."  The Book of the Week is actually two books that seem to go together: "The Little Book of Lykke: Secrets of the World's Happiest People" and "The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Sunrise."]

Red Sparrow

When a Russian Bolshoi ballerina has a career ending injury, she is recruited to "Sparrow School," a Russian spy service where the "sparrows" use their sexuality as their weapons.

Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is a famous Russian ballerina who lives with her mother (Joely Richardson) who is very ill. Dominika's ballet career pays for her mother's care. When she breaks her leg during a performance and discovers that she will never dance again, she is approached by her uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) who works for Russian intelligence and asked to seduce a Russian politician and replace his phone with a state-provided phone.  If Dominika does this, she will be able to continue to pay for her mother's care.  Basically, her uncle is blackmailing her. So much for relatives sticking together! 

When the plan goes awry and the politician tries to rape Dominika, a Russian operative authorized by her uncle shows up, kills the politician and saves Dominka.  Later, her uncle tells her that they planned to kill the politician all along and now Dominika's life is in danger because Russian Intelligence wants no witnesses so... she has two choices: join Russian Intelligence or be executed. Uhhhh, mmmm, gee...I wonder what she will choose.  So much for having a helpful uncle.

Dominika is sent to "Sparrow School," to train as a "sparrow," a spy who uses sexuality to get information from targets.  Dominika excels at this. Charlotte Rampling plays Matron, a cold disciplinarian who teaches the fledgling sparrows and Rampling, with her eternally turned down mouth and her expression that looks like she smells something she doesn't like, is perfect for the role. 

Enter her target, Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), a CIA agent working in Moscow who has gained access to a mole - code name Marble - who is high up in the Russian ranks but a meeting between the two has been thwarted by Russian police and, because Nash has been compromised, he is sent back to the U.S. but while there he convinces his bosses that Marble will only talk to him and begs that they send him back to make contact with Marble.  However, he can't go back to Russia so he is sent to Budapest to try to reengage with Marble.  Meanwhile, the Russians know what Nash is up to (these days the Russians know everything we are doing, it seems) and Dominika is on her way to Budapest to gain his trust and discover the identify of Marble using her newly acquired sexual wiles that she learned at "Sparrow School."

And of course Dominika and Nash get together both knowing what the other is up to and a cat and mouse game ensues with many twists and turns - which side is Dominika really on? - as Dominika tries to find out who Marble is and Nash tries to find out if Dominika is telling him the truth.

I have confessed before that I am not very good at spy movies because the plots are often so intricate that I just can't seem to figure out what is going on and who is doing what to whom.  I think I am an intelligent woman but when it comes to movies like this I guess I'm not.  But I have to say, during this film, I think I knew what was happening most of the time.  I liked it while I was watching it, but then realized later, I had forgotten most of it. Maybe it's because despite the fact that Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton are an item in real life, I thought they had zero chemistry in this movie.  I thought the same thing about Lawrence and Chris Pratt in "Passengers," so maybe it's Lawrence who is holding back and can't produce that film chemistry so essential to movie love stories.

However, this was a part that Jennifer Lawrence could really sink her teeth into (she is in practically every scene) and her performance has mostly taken away the bad taste in my mouth that I had after seeing "mother!" She also has her clothes off most of the time.  Early buzz about this film said that guys would go to see what Lawrence looked like with her clothes off.  And now we know.  But she is actually very good in this film.  She even has a passable Russian accent.

And speaking of accents, they can be a problem in movies. Some actors are good at them.  Some are not.  Here most everyone is supposed to be a Russian so everyone sports some semblance of a Russian accent, some better than others.  Lawrence was OK.  Jeremy Irons not. 

But it's great to see Jeremy Irons again.  I have always liked him ever since "The French Lieutenant's Woman" but he has a tendency to go over the top from time to time.  Remember "Dead Ringers?"  But here he keeps it toned down despite his terrible Russian accent.

Edgerton is one of those actors who is a total chameleon.  I first noticed him in "The Gift," where he played a smarmy obsessed guy, but since then he has played everything from an Egyptian King in "Exodus: Gods and Kings" to a bent FBI agent in "Black Mass" to a cowboy in "Jane Got a Gun" to the main character in "Loving," where he is almost unrecognizable as Richard Loving, the man who was at the center of Loving v. the State of Virginia which overturned a ban on interracial marriage.  He is one of those actors who can play anything.

And I really like Matthias Schoenaerts, but he seems to be playing a lot of bad guys these days.  I like him better as a leading man.  Loved him in

"Far from the Madding Crowd."

Directed by Francis Lawrence (who directed the last three "Hunger Games" movies and is not related to Jennifer) with a screenplay by Justin Haythe and based on the novel by Jason Matthews, there is lots of nudity and sex but strangely little sensuality, considering that Dominika is supposed to be a well-trained seducer but if you've ever wanted to see Jennifer Lawrence in the all together, here's your chance.  Be warned, though: this is a nasty little film and I am not talking about sex.  No, it's the torture scenes that are just too much.  I had my hands over my eyes for the whole last 20 minutes of this film.  There's that bad taste in my mouth again.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is Jennifer Lawrence in the raw in more ways than one but sadly it's a forgettable movie except maybe for the nudity and the torture. If you are into that kind of thing, you might like it.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


Wonder Wheel (2017)

The lives of a middle-aged Coney Island carousel operator and his unhappy wife during the 1950's are turned upside down when his long lost daughter arrives.

The film is narrated by Mickey Rubin (Justin Timberlake), a Coney Island lifeguard who dreams of becoming the next Eugene O'Neill.  He meets Ginny (Kate Winslet) who is married to Humpty (Jim Belushi), a Coney Island carousel operator (who names their kid Humpty?) and recovering alcoholic who spends most of his time fishing when he isn't working.  Ginny is an unhappy wife who had once been an actress and still dreams of those days while working as a waitress at the Clam Shack. She tells Mickey: "I'm not a waitress in a clam house.  There is more to me than that.  I'm playing the role of a thankless waitress."

Ginny's son Richie (Jack Gore) lives with them and Richie is a bit of a pyromaniac which doesn't help. They all live right in the heart of Coney Island and much like "The Florida Project," the garish advertisements and Coney Island lights and flashy rides belie the seedy lives within the park, real life in the shadow of make believe.  Ginny calls Coney Island a "honky tonk fairy land." 

But then Ginny meets Mickey and they embark on an affair, and then Carolina (Juno Temple) shows up.  She is Humpty's daughter who he hasn't spoken to in years after she left college and married a gangster.  Now she is on the run from her husband and begging Humpty and Ginny to let her stay with them, because she fears her husband is going to kill her because she "knows too much." Then Carolina meets Mickey and you can guess what's going to happen though it's much darker than you might expect.  Hey, this is Woody Allen.

You can always tell a Woody Allen movie because all of his films use the same tropes: black and white credits, Dixieland jazz, A-list actors, a meaty role for his latest actress muse, gorgeous cinematography by Vittorio Stararo, fixation on death and a dark view of life.  And this film is no exception.

 "Everybody dies.  You can't walk around thinking about it."  

Classic Woody.

Woody is known for putting out a movie every year and he has made some of the greatest movies of all time ("Annie Hall," and my favorite "Sleeper"), but his movies have not had the cachet they once had partly because he fell out of favor when he married his own adopted daughter and partly because some of them just weren't as good as others.  But whether it's the spectacular "Manhattan" or the less spectacular "Scoop," his brilliance as a writer and director who can capture real life and the foibles of us imperfect humans cannot be denied. His early films were satirical masterpieces and his later films were existential character driven dramas that often showcased the yearnings of women, and that is the case here as Ginny longs to relive her success as an actress and pull herself out of her tiring life.  At 82, Woody can still pull on our emotions and pull A-list actors who all want to work with him.

Justin Timberlake has turned into a believable actor as has Jim Belushi, though I think Belushi overacts a bit here, but it's Kate Winslet and Juno Temple who take over this picture.  I am a huge fan of Winslet.  She has this vulnerable breathless quality that is very dramatic and appealing which plays well against Juno Temple, who is quirky and underplays everything.  I have never understood why Temple has not become a bigger star.  She was on my list of "15 Really Really Good Actors You Have Never Heard Of" that I posted back in 2014.  Happily many on the list are now actors you have heard of but Juno, maybe not.  She works constantly but hasn't yet been able to really break out.  She deserves to because as I said back in 2014, she is really, really good.

But in addition to the actors, the gorgeous cinematography by Woody's cinematographer of choice, Vittorio Stararo, also plays a starring role in this film as does the set decoration. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...a moody, dark tale with a stellar performance by Winslet.

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

A fanciful version of the creation of Dickens' classic tale, "A Christmas Carol."

For those of you "Downton Abbey" fans who have never gotten over the death of Matthew Crawley, you can get your Dan Stevens fix here as he stars as 19th century author Charles Dickens. We now know that Matthew Crawley had to die so that Dan could make a name for himself in Hollywood, and though he has yet to make it as big over here as he did on "Downton Abbey," Stevens has had some successes, though not sure if this role is going to put him over the top.

Here Stevens brings Charles Dickens to life in this family friendly take on how "A Christmas Carol" came to be.  

It seems that despite past success Charles is now in a bit of a writer's slump.  For the last 16 months, his latest books have been flops and he has writers block.  "Martin Chuzzlewit" and "American Notes" didn't make any money and his lifestyle is suffering. He has a family, a gentlemanly lifestyle and house renovations to pay for.  He has an advance on a new book but doesn't have any ideas. Will he ever write anything as great as "Oliver Twist" again?  We know the answer to that but here poor Charles doesn't.

But one night, Dickens' Irish maid gives him an idea.  It's the holiday season and she tells him that she believes that on Christmas Eve the spirits come out and mingle with those who are alive.  Then Charles meets a rich man at a party who expresses no sympathy for the poor, and then he sees a funeral where the grave diggers are talking about the rich man they buried who had no mourners. Sound familiar?  Charles gets fired up and starts to write and the characters who will star in "A Christmas Carol" all show up in his study to help him write his story.

When he pitches the idea to his publishers, they not only say there is no time to get the book published before Christmas but they also say that no one cares about Christmas anymore so who would care about a Christmas story?  So Charles decides to publish the book himself and the rest is history. The book was published on December 19 and completely sold out by Christmas Eve.  It's tale of a miserly man turning into a generous one uplifted the public and charitable giving soared. Christmas was back! And Charles had also gotten his groove back. "David Copperfield," "Bleak House" and "Great Expectations" were still to come.

Directed by Bharat Nalluri, this is a film within a film.  We have the story of Dickens trying to revive his career and we have the story of how his characters in "A Christmas Carol" came to be.  As Dickens sits in his study and writes his story that will become a Christmas classic, he humorously interacts with his characters who give him advice on how the story should go.

I know it's not the holiday season but this film was just released on DVD and when this film first came out I thought it looked like a lot of fun and would be a big hit.  But alas it came and went so fast I didn't get to see it. Based on the book by Les Standiford and adapted for the screen by Susan Coyne, this is a good family picture though it might be a bit slow moving for very young children.

Dan Stevens does a good job as Dickens but it's Christopher Plummer as the inspiration for Scrooge who tears up the scenery and makes this film worth seeing.

Rosy the Reviewer is an idea for a fun Christmas binge - watch this film followed by "A Christmas Carol."  Might be your new holiday tradition.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

151 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Sunrise (1927)

The age old story of a married man who can't keep it in his pants.

A country bumpkin (George O'Brien) and his wife (Janet Gaynor, who was the Julia Roberts of her day) meet a city gal (Margaret Livingston) who is vacationing in the country.  She is a temptress - we know that because she smokes! - and she is just too much for the bumpkin. He falls under her spell despite the fact that his wife is practically a saint. 

This is a morality tale.  How do I know?  Because the characters don't have names.  They are just "The Man," "The Woman," and "The Woman from the City."  Also the subtitle is "A Song of Two Humans."

The Woman from the City wants The Man to move to the city with her.  When he asks, "What about my wife?" the Woman says, "Couldn't she drown?"  Though part of him wants to strangle The Woman for making such a suggestion (this guy is kind of violent), he can't help himself and the two plot the murder of his wife.  He takes his wife out in a boat with the idea that he is going to kill her but the family dog knows something is up and jumps in the water and foils the plot.  It slowly dawns on the the wife what was about to go down and she cowers from her husband.

This felt like a 1920's silent version of "Dateline."  The killer is always the husband. But this is also the story of good vs. evil as The Man fights his urges and his guilt.

And in the end, the saintly wife wins her husband back and the independent devil woman is sent packing.

These old films love to show the woman as the evil one who seduces the poor man who can't resist her.  But it's not his fault.  He is a man and we all know a man can't resist a sophisticated woman especially if she smokes!

The look of the film is fairy tale like. Just imagine a Thomas Kincade painting but in black and white.  That's what this film looked like.  For a black and while silent film it has an amazingly magical look. 
Camerawork was fairly static back in the silent era but director F. W. Murnau had a breakthrough in this film achieving a look that made the camera seem to fly.

Critic Roger Ebert said:

"F.W. Murnau's "Sunrise" (1928) conquered time and gravity with a freedom that was startling to its first audiences. To see it today is to be astonished by the boldness of its visual experimentation. Murnau was one of the greatest of the German expressionists; his "Nosferatu" (1922) invented the vampire movie, and his "The Last Laugh" (1924) became famous for doing away altogether with intertitles and telling the story entirely with images."

Why it's a Must See: "Trivia buffs might note that, although many history books often cite Wings (1927) as the first Best Picture recipient at the Academy Awards, the honor actually went to two films...Wings for 'production' and [this film] for 'unique and artistic production.' If the latter category sounds more impressive than the former, that explains (in part at least) why Sunrise, and not Wings, remains one of the most revered films of all time and...ratified [director F.W. Murnau's) peerless reputation as a cinematic genius...Sunrise remains a benchmark by which all other films should be measured, a pinnacle of craft whose sophistication belies the resources at the time."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is melodrama of the highest order and the acting in these old silent films can be laughable if taken out of context, but the film is beautiful to look at and quite engaging.

***The Books of the Week***

The Little Book of Lykke: Secrets of the World's Happiest People by Meik Wiking (2017)

Who are the world's happiest people?  The Danes. But you can be too. Find out how.

Pronounced loo-ka, lykke literally means happiness and though the Danes repeatedly get the award for the world's happiest people, author Meik Wiking, who is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, says the Danes aren't the only people in the world who are happy. He identifies the six factors that make people happy across the world—togetherness, money, health, freedom, trust, and kindness—and tells us how we too can become happier. It's the little things. We can deepen our happiness by making small changes like sitting around a table with loved ones and friends and lingering over good food  or dancing the tango like Argentinians in Buenos Aires. 
The book is filled with "Happiness Tips" so we too can achieve those six factors that people in other countries have seem to discovered.  Here are some of those:
  • Move more each day
  • Free yourself from technology overload
  • Know your neighbors
  • Encourage praise among coworkers to increase trust
  • Smile and chat to strangers
Rosy the Reviewer says...all good tips but I think the source of happiness in Denmark and other happy countries is more likely free higher education and free medical care!

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson (2018)

Dealing with the inevitable when it comes to all of that stuff you have.

First there was Marie Kondo's "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" and "Spark Joy," which I talked about in my blog post "How to Turn Your Undies into Origami, or Is There Joy to be Had in Decluttering," which I wrote back in 2016, and now we have this book.  I know the title sounds a bit scary but that title is very Swedish - sobering and direct. Why not call a spade a spade?  You are going to die someday so get rid of all of that junk because at best you might have to downsize and move to a smaller home or worse you are going to die and you don't want someone else to have to deal with it all.  

So death cleaning is literally that - preparing for the inevitable - but it is also a guide, like Kondo's books, for getting rid of all of that junk and clutter you don't need.  Basically you can do this any time, but Magnusson says do it sooner rather than later because know...

Whether it was intended or not, the book reads like a Swedish person giving you advice on decluttering.  It's very no nonsense and the Swedish accent just oozes off the page.

Here is an example:

"If you receive things you don't really want from your parents or someone else who wants to reduce the number of their possessions in their home, you should say, 'No, thank you, I don't have room for this.' Just moving things someone does not want in their house to your house is not a good solution for anyone."

See what I mean? No nonsense. Makes sense. My mother was Swedish and it sounds just like her.

Margareta starts with the possessions that are easy to get rid of such as clothes you haven't worn for ages and unwanted presents and then moves on to how to deal with the more difficult items such as photographs, love letters and your children’s art projects. She also shares glimpses of her life in Sweden in a humorous and, oh so, Swedish way.

Rosy the Reviewer's all about letting go.  Now excuse me, I need to get onto this death cleaning thing because I'm not that far away from that old nursing home...or worse.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of 

"A Wrinkle in Time"

The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 

I Die Project." 

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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.

Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). 

Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.