Friday, 23 March 2018

David at the movies: No stranger to violence


Movies are getting weirder, aren’t they? This one stars Joaquin Phoenix, bearded and larded up, as Joe, a Cincinatti investigator who specializes in rescuing kidnap victims. He is, as they say, “no stranger to violence” and takes a hammer rather than a gun to the building where a senator’s teenage daughter is being held. No sooner has he rescued Nina than she is re-abducted. The state governor has a taste for teenage girls, so we expect more mayhem when Joe arrives at the governor’s mansion.

Directed and scripted by Lynne Ramsay, no stranger to weirdness (she brought us We Need to Talk about Kevin a few years ago), the film is disturbingly shot: extreme close-ups and low-angles on noisy streets and murky corridors. The soundtrack is a mix of teeny-bopper pop-songs and traffic noise. Joe has flashbacks to a violent childhood of his own and scenes of carnage from his military service (was this Vietnam or Afghanistan?)

Joaquin Phoenix, looking and acting disturbingly like Dennis Hopper in one of his more psychotic roles, is the key to the movie, but I have to say I was really never sure what the point was. A paedophile sex-ring in high places was hinted at, but in the end it came over more as just another kidnap movie, albeit at a deeper and darker level than Lian Neeson’s adventures in the same arena.


When a nasty accident cuts short her career as the new star of the Bolshoi Ballet, beauti-ful Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is left in dire straits until her handsome but creepy uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) recruits her to be a ‘sparrow’ – operating what used to be called ‘honey traps’ on foreign business-men and enemies of the State. Dominika goes to a sexual training camp run by a very dour Charlotte Rampling. Then the top guys in the FSB (still remembered by most of us as the KGB) - Ciaran Hinds and Jeremy Irons - insist that her first urgent mission is to seduce CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Egerton), who is the controller of a mole deep within the FSB. Will she or won’t she fall for Nate is – predictably - the crux of the movie.

Red Sparrow is a fast-paced mash-up of a Soviet era John Le Carré and one of the earlier Mission Impossible movies. Lawrence is excellent as always. She does nude scenes which will please her more pervy fans – in one of these scenes she is water-boarded by the CIA. To show that the Russians are much more sadistic than our gallant allies, Egerton gets tortured by the FSB in a scene that belongs more in a Saw spin-off. 

There are three obvious candidates for the Mole - and I made the correct guess – but there’s a ‘twist’ that gives the movie an agreeably bleak ending. By setting it mainly in the Russian camp, the story comes over as fresher than its constituent parts. Matthias and Jennifer wisely leave the Nazi-sounding Russian accents to the old guard (Rampling, Irons and Hinds) who try not to overdo them.

Having introduced Jennifer as a kind of female Ethan Hunt/Jason Bourne, there clearly could be a sequel – or even a new franchise. Bring it on!


This is the latest British tragi-comedy from the Four Weddings school of movie-making. Sandra (Imelda Staunton), the middle-aged wife of a newly knighted police chief in leafy Surrey, discovers he's been cheating on her. She goes to live with her Bohemian sister Bif (Celia Imrie) in a council flat in North London. Bif could not be more different from Sandra: a serial demonstrator, she swims year-roun in Highgate Ponds, drinks too much and smokes pot. She also goes to a dance club for senior citizens. Her best friend Charlie (Timothy Spall) lives on a houseboat in Paddington and daily visits his wife who is in care, so far lost to Alzheimer's that she no longer knows him.

Sandra was a dance champion as a child. She reluctantly accompanies her sister to the dance studio and ... You can pretty well guess the rest of the movie. It's extremely predictable and sentimentality is layered on like celebrity tanning oil, but (a big BUT) it's bursting with charm and likeable - lovable - characters. The cast of 'Britpack' stalwarts includes Joanna Lumley and David Hayman. Everybody acts - and dances - effortlessly to win our hearts. And win them they do. There's an episode where the dance group goes to Rome, and - how obvious is this? - Charlie takes Sandra to the Trevi Fountain at night. Totally beguiling!

This is very much a 'companion piece to Song for Marion (2012) with grumpy Terence Stamp, ailing Vanessa Redgrave and a singing rather than dancing club for seniors. The matinee audience at my multiplex in Brighton yesterday applauded at the end of Finding Your Feet. Applause was deserved. The feel-good factor dances off the screen. You will feel good!

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