Red Sparrow

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Fox;
Thriller;
Box Office $46.83 million;
$29.99 DVD, 34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.
Stars Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Joely Richardson, Ciarán Hinds, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeremy Irons.

Based on the same-titled 2013 novel by Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow is a complex psychological thriller about the divided loyalties of a young woman caught amid the international intrigue of spycraft in Eastern Europe.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika, whose career as a ballerina is cut short by a leg injury. She is quickly recruited by her uncle, a Russian spy chief, to train as an elite covert operative, lest she be executed for her knowledge of an assassination.

Her mission is to root out a mole in the Russian government by seducing his U.S. contact, Nash (Joel Edgerton). What follows are a series of plot twists and turns as Dominika maneuvers through a complicated game of espionage while her true allegiances remain a mystery.

The film is more or less a slow burn that really benefits from multiple viewings. Director Francis Lawrence even helps out with an audio commentary that dissects the storylines and delves into the motivations of the characters, if they aren’t already apparent from the performances.

The subplot of a secret spy school in the heart of Russia brings to mind the backstory for Marvel’s Black Widow, and in the absence of a long-anticipated solo movie for that character, Red Sparrow plays like a bit like an ersatz stand-in, minus the dozens of obligatory references to other comic book movies.

The Red Sparrow Blu-ray includes 12 minutes of interesting deleted scenes that can be viewed with option commentary from the director.

The disc also comes with more than 70 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes organized in standard fashion by the various aspects of the production. The 13-minute “A New Cold War: Origination and Adaptation” deals with the development of the film from the source material; “Agents Provocateurs: The Ensemble Cast” is a 15-minute round-up of the actors; “Tradecraft: Visual Authenticity” covers the look of the film in 13-and-a-half minutes; “Heart of the Tempest: Locations” is an 11-minute piece about the film’s settings; the 12-minute “Welcome to Sparrow School: Ballets and Stunts” focuses on the action sequences, limited as they may be; and the 14-minute “A Puzzle of Need: Post-Production” deals with things like editing and music.

‘Red Sparrow’ Coming Out on Disc May 22

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has set a May 22 release date for Red Sparrow, a suspense-driven spy drama starring Jennifer Lawrence.

The film will be released on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray Disc, and DVD.

As of April 15, Red Sparrow has earned $46.5 million in U.S. theaters.

Lawrence portrays Dominika, a former ballerina forced to enter Sparrow School, a secret government program that thrusts her into a treacherous espionage game between Russia and the CIA. She emerges trained as a lethal agent, but is trapped in a world she desperately wants to escape.

The film was directed by Francis Lawrence (Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2) and features a supporting cast that includes Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Irons, Matthias Schoenaerts, Mary-Louise Parker, Charlotte Rampling and Joely Richardson. Bonus material takes viewers inside the making of the film, exploring source material with the author, cast and director commentary, deleted scenes and more.

All three disc releases comes with director commentary and deleted scenes (with optional commentary by director Lawrence). The 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Disc also include the following:

  • “A New Cold War: Origination and Adaptation”
  • “Agents Provocateurs: The Ensemble Cast”
  • “Tradecraft: Visual Authenticity”
  • “Heart of the Tempest: On Location”
  • “Welcome to Sparrow School: Ballet and Stunts”
  • “A Puzzle of Need: Post-Production”
  • Movies Anywhere Digital Code

    

Justice League

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 3/13/18;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $229.01 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 3D BD, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi violence and action.
Stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, Diane Lane, Billy Crudup, Ciaran Hinds.

As a movie, Justice League is a perfectly fine, entertaining superhero adventure, in which Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) recruit a handful of superheroes to fight an alien invasion. Except, you just can’t shake the feeling that it could have been so much more.

This was supposed to be the DC Comics version of Marvel Studios’ The Avengers, with the greatest superheroes of all time finally coming together on the big screen. But with Marvel’s cinematic universe having such a head start (Black Panther is the 18th MCU film, while Justice League is just the fifth for DC), the DC films creative team took a few creative shortcuts to try to jump-start its mega franchise, mostly by foregoing introductory films for many of the characters and relying on the audience to have built-in knowledge of and nostalgia for who the characters are supposed to be.

In that regard, Justice League is primarily a sequel to 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which introduced Wonder Woman in advance of her own solo film, as well as most of the concepts meant to pay off in Justice League. But when audiences balked at BvS being too long and confusing, the studio allegedly mandated trimming Justice League to a manageable two hours, leaving little room for complex plot dynamics or character development.

So, where the Marvel films have become an intriguing network of interconnected stories and characters that invite and enable audience investment, the DC films have mostly been disposable popcorn entertainment, about as distinct a representation of the characters as any of the direct-to-video animated DC Universe movies, or the multitude of DC-based shows on the CW, which managed to pull off their own mega-crossover shortly after Justice League came out that many fans considered a much better example of how to present a satisfying superhero team-up.

The film itself was vastly overshadowed by rumors of production issues, as director Zack Snyder left the project following a family tragedy, and Avengers director Joss Whedon stepped in to guide re-shoots and post-production. That led to some fans trying to dissect the film to determine who directed what, with most guessing incorrectly. Then, irony of ironies, once the film came out, the fan base that decried Snyder’s vision as having muddled both Man of Steel and BvS suddenly demanded a mythical “Snyder Cut” of Justice League, as if he were suddenly their favorite filmmaker (a dichotomy somewhat echoed by the “Star Wars” fans who hated the unfamiliarity of The Last Jedi after criticizing The Force Awakens for being too familiar).

The Blu-ray offers no hint of whatever behind-the-scenes discord influenced what finally ended up on screen. For what it’s worth, Whedon is never mentioned in the bonus materials, and there’s plenty of footage of Snyder on set and praise from the cast for his direction.

Anyway, the film is fun, flashy and filled with action, though the abundance of CGI makes most of it look like it came from a video game. (I won’t even get into the controversy about Henry Cavill’s moustache grown for Mission: Impossible — Fallout having to be digitally removed because Paramount wouldn’t let him shave it for the JL reshoots.) And there are plenty of moments that comic book fans should enjoy, particularly when it comes to the homages to the classic versions of the characters.

Another highlight is the musical score from Danny Elfman, who mostly abandons the sound from the previous films in favor of something more akin to his traditional filmmusic sensibilities. In this case, that means straight-up re-using his own Batman theme from 1989 and John Williams’ classic Superman theme. Whether it serves the franchise will be open to debate, but it’s certainly helps fuel the nostalgia the film needs for the audience to embrace its version of the characters. (Though for some perspective, there were 21 years between the 1960s Batman show and the 1989 Tim Burton movie where Elfman debuted his theme, and then 25 years between Batman Returns and the theme’s return in Justice League; it’s no surprise some fans might have found it a bit jarring).

On top of all that, Justice League also serves as a decent set-up for the upcoming Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Flash (Ezra Miller) movies, and with a little tweaking to the DC formula a team-up sequel with the same characters and some new additions wouldn’t be unwelcome.

With rumors the film was heavily edited from its original intentions, there has been a lot of speculation about what deleted scenes were out there. Notably, the Justice League home video versions do not include an extended cut of the film, as happened with previous DC entries BvS and Suicide Squad. Instead, the Blu-ray includes just two short deleted scenes, running a total of two minutes, tying into the “Return of Superman” subplot.

The rest of the extras consist of about an hour of behind-the-scenes material, segmented into shorter featurettes. Most interesting for fans of the lore will be the “Road to Justice” featurette that traces some of the history of the characters.