Red Sparrow ***

Red Sparrow is a very contemporary play set against the rising threat of Russian expansionism. The cold war of old has been re-kindled but old spy craft is still a primary tool used against the West.

Enter Jennifer Lawrence as one of the nails used by the Russian hammer against, in this case, the Americans.

The story continues with great pace and gusto that gives the initial impression of being an exciting and gripping story. However, this is no Le Carré or Deighton story. There is no light and dark in the characters. The bad guys are all super-bad and the good guys could almost be wearing white hats.

The viewer is kept guessing about the true motivations of Miss Lawrence’s character till the end, but you can see within the early scenes who is going to lose the most.

Red Sparrow 2On top of this plot is laid a visual assault of violence, gore and sex that is unprecedented in my experience in the legitimate cinema. Many scenes were bordering on the pornographic both in violence and nudity.

This may be artistically justifiable, indeed the presence of several A-List actors would indicate they felt it was justified, but not for me.

This would have benefited from clearer story telling, deeper characterisation and less visual exploitation.

Just 3 out of five stars.

 

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The Shape Of Water ****

The Shape of Water is an adult fairy tale, of monsters and lovers, sacrifice and hatred.

We are taken to the post WW2 anti-communist paranoid America, coloured with a dark palate, giving an impression of an old gothic horror.

Emotions are all ramped up to the maximum with no time for nuance or subtlety.

Thankfully the plot moves quickly as a result and the 2 hour 3 minute duration flies as quickly.

This film is probably the director Guillermo Del Toro’s best work (I haven’t seen them all so cannot be certain).

The performances by actors Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Doug Jones are all excellent.

I would particularly pick out Doug Jones who inhabits the central creature around which the story revolves. He brings the full range of emotions to his character without benefit of language, purely by his body language, which shines through his latex prosthetic body. (You may have seen him recently in Star Trek: Discovery, similarly cloaked in alien costume.)

As the story reached the ultimate and predictable conclusion, I felt this to have been a satisfying experience.

This will not be everybody’s cup of tea; indeed I resisted seeing it until after its Bafta success.

It is well worth 4 out of five stars.

Darkest Hour *****

Darkest Hour is the story of the few days when Winston Spencer Churchill became Prime Minister to the end of the Dunkirk evacuation.

I found this to be one of the most enjoyable history lessons I have ever experienced.

The political machinations show that anything we see from Westminster now is nothing new.

The hype surrounding Gary Oldman’s performance is well founded, as he produces a totally convincing image of the great orator.

An outstanding technical and artistic cast supports Oldman. Together they produce a near documentary recreation of real events.

If you collect DVDs, I would recommend pairing this film with Dunkirk as a perfect evenings viewing.

This film scores on all measures that I use to rate films and fully deserves its 5 stars.

The Post *****

The Post (The Washington Post) is a thriller set in the immediate pre-Watergate Washington of Richard Nixon.

The story is set in the newsroom of the Washington Post.

Driving the story is the relationship between the Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep characters.

Steven Spielberg expertly crafts tension into what could have been simply a tale of talking heads.

There are no adrenalin pumping murders, violence or heart pounding chases. What you do get is a very invigorating work out for your brain following the intricacies of the plot.

Indeed I would say it ranks alongside masterpieces such as The West Wing and All The Presidents Men.

I found this to be an intelligent political drama and thriller, which left me feeling very satisfied.

Strongly recommended with 5 out of five stars.

The Death of Stalin ****

The Death of Stalin has bee created by Armando Iannucci and David Schneider.  You can expect the foul language and biting dark humour of Iannucci’s various television projects for which he is MV5BMTcxMDc1NjcyNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDU0NDYxMzI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_famous.

A large cast of recognisable actors inhabit the characters at the top of Russians political and military hierarchy.   These include Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambour, Michael Palin and Paul Whitehouse.

The events before and after the death of Stalin are treated as a pantomime of opposing ambitions, jealousy and incompetence. However, custard pies are replaced by copious numbers of executions. Running in parallel are stories of families torn open by divisions, massacres and exploitation.

On top of this is the paranoid fear of Stalin that is ingrained into the population, from politicians to musicians and housekeepers who looked after him.  This is made believable by not making the actors adopt stereotypical Russian accents.  Their natural voices are used to great effect to portray the mix of regions they came from within Russia.  It also makes the cacophony of arguing voices easier to follow.

In our age of less than conventional politicians, it is only too easy to suspect the events as shown in this film, may be underplaying the reality of what really happened when Stalin died.

This is a well made political satire.  Four out of five stars awarded.