02 March 2018

Fly, Sparrow, Fly!

For some reason I keep thinking about how Javier Bardem says "Sparrow" in Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) - and that's definitely going to be the only reference to Priates 5 you'll read in an unrelated pop culture post this year. Anyway, with that little Spanish Sparrow continuously on my mind, let's talk about Red Sparrow (2018).

And most impressively, she pulls off bangs!
We here like to discuss some of the cultural, critical, and commercial potential of any big release that drops, and while we've done a really really bad job in 2018 so far, we've got some fun releases today to discuss. Red Sparrow is a big one, but one that also is definitely a bait and switch somewhere a little better than mother! (2017) for the Jennifer Lawrence brand. On a similar side we've got the 2018 version of Death Wish, which is coming out at the worst possible time, although these days, every time is the worst possible time. Let's talk about that one for a bit, first.

Death Wish should be good. Directed by Eli Roth from a script by Joe Carnahan and starring Bruce Willis, there's a lot of campy exploitative violence there, but all three of those dudes knows how to make a good movie. Of course, this is like a drunken duck quacking through a political minefield. Gun violence is an extremely volatile subject in American discourse right now, although it basically always is. For some reason the most recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida has set off some particularly potent anti-gun attitudes. It's not the best time to debut a movie about vigilante gun justice.

But Death Wish was already pushed back from its original November release date. They obviously thought there'd be room in the spring, but hey - Black Panther (2018)! And massive gun debate! There has been hardly any advertising for this at all, it ought to sink like a stone. I could see the pro-gun lobby getting amped, after all, it's all about a lone man who is betrayed by the system taking the law into his own hands. This is a kind of fantasy of supreme judgment that's pretty popular with just about everyone. It's Batman. With guns. I still think this flops.

"Just because you're a communist, does that mean
you can't wear anything nice? You look like Trotsky."
Back to Sparrrroow. This actually has a cool Haywire (2012) / Atomic Blonde (2017) vibe with perhaps a little bit less style to it. It's also a kind of odd departure for J-Law who really only seems to do Oscar bait indies or big time blockbusters. This is a mid-range spy thriller, which is rare enough and likely only doable when someone like Jennifer Lawrence says she's game. It looks fairly sexually exploitative, and that's really just J-Law doing whatever she wants, people saying that she's a hypocrite feminist and her yelling back "uh-uh!"Anyway, this kind of sexuality built into the framework of a film is really just an excuse to see some titties, even if it turns out that J-Sparrow is redeemed or a strong character in the end. It's still exploitative, which kind of sucks, especially for J-Law who continually gives off the impression that she wants to be a role model but also really really wants attention. She did the same shit with Passengers (2016).

And I spend so much time on her because like how she's the only reason this film was made, it lives and dies by her appeal. She really fucked up her brand with mother! even though personally I loved that fucking movie. It's amazing and she's amazing in it. Still, it's pretty damn far from ya ya ya Hunger Games and even really far from her boldest Oscar work, which is...I don't know, Winter's Bone (2010)? That's getting to be back in the day. We'll see how much that rocked her brand, I guess, but this seems different enough.

It would also be unfair if we didn't bring up the fact that this is basically Black Widow: The Movie, and is definitely the closest we're ever going to get to a feature film starring the popular and totally under-served Scarlett Johansson character. I mean, it's her exact origin. You always kind of wonder if 20th Century Fox, even though in selling their assets, including ironically, J-Law's Mystique to Marvel, felt like cutting off any Disney attempt to go ahead with a Black Widow movie by putting out Red Sparrow. Of course, by being its own thing and avoiding any obvious kid fan interest they're totally able to tell a bolder, more sexualized story.

That's the thing about anyone clamouring for a Black Widow origin story - how the hell are you going to make one that fits into the Avengers brand? It's impossible. It would end up being a straightforward spy flick. Maybe that's not terrible, but Red Sparrow, by switching some names is able to freely tell its own R-rated story. I'm actually getting myself more pumped up for Red Sparrow now.

Anyway, it'll totally get buried by Black Panther. Game Night (2018) and Annihilation (2018) are weaker opponents that it ought to clear, but I don't see this being a huge game changer movie. It's a pretty unique J-Law entry and a type of film you don't see that much any more, so it could have its own cogent cultural identity, but likely not widely seen enough to really enter the lexicon.

What are you watching this weekend?

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