Spy Torture Porn: A ‘Red Sparrow’ Review

By Anthony Peyton, Edited by Olivia Norwood

In a world where Hollywood is already littered with spy movies, ‘Red Sparrow’ gives us a twist on the genre that we definitely did not ask for: A revolting combination of torture, rape, and a storyline that fails to grab an audience’s attention.

It’s important to keep in mind that, throughout this review, I will be basing my thoughts entirely around the movie adaptation of the Red Sparrow book by Jason Matthews rather than the book itself.

Jennifer Lawrence gets the unfortunate opportunity to play Dominika Egorova, a Russian girl who cares more about her mother’s safety than anything else. She is also a ballerina in a highly respectable company, but that is quickly taken away from her after she suffers an injury that destroys her career. That was just one of many plotlines that manages to drift off into oblivion.

She later witnesses something that she shouldn’t have which turns into the first (of many) rape scenes. This is where this movie falls apart in its entirety. In a dragged out amount of dialogue and confusing reasoning, Egorova is forced to enter a government-run Sparrow school where she comes to discover that sometimes pleasuring someone against your will is just a part of the job.

Modern cinema’s messages, folks!

After she leaves this school, you might expect there to be action (considering this is an action movie), but even that aims to disappoint. The most you’ll see in this movie is a few cars screeching, Lawrence being tortured with water, and a prolonged skin grafting scene.

And if you’re not attracted to the lack of action, then you can just pay attention to the destructive story that switches around so much there practically isn’t a story.

‘Red Sparrow’ was the first movie of the 2018 movie season that provided absolutely nothing to the culture of cinema this year (‘Fifty Shades Freed’ and ‘Winchester’, who also provided next to nothing to modern cinema, still added more than this movie did).

I would forgive it’s flaws if the director wasn’t seasoned, but that’s not the case. Francis Lawrence directed the entire ‘Hunger Games’ franchise and the classic ‘I Am Legend’. Maybe he hadn’t read the book, maybe this was just a flop in his bucket. Either way, this was not strong on anyone’s part.

‘Red Sparrow’ had the vague potential to be successful in the spy genre, such as ‘Atomic Blonde’, but lacks substance, an actual story, and focuses more on the erotica and torture aspects. The torture-porn genre might be more suited for this film.

My Rating: 50%

Acting: 3/4

Cinematography: 2.5/4

Story: 1/4

Enjoyability: 1.5/4


‘Thoroughbreds’: The Cinematic Study of a Twisted Mind

By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Anthony Peyton

With the rise of teenage girls being the center of film nowadays, Thoroughbreds proves to be the oddball amongst the usual coming-of-age drama. It’s not a Lady Bird and it’s certainly no Sixteen Candles – but that is the beauty of it. It’s a commentary on humanity itself.

The New York based playwright Cory Finley makes a promising leap from stage to screen with his directorial debut that showcases his broad understanding of tension and empathy.

Set within the privileged bubble of upper class America, the emotional Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and the emotionally deficient Amanda (Olivia Cooke) strike up an unlikely friendship as they bond over their vindictive plan of wiping out Lily’s step-father, Mark (Paul Sparks). The story, although initially carrying a very horror-esque style, uses suspense to bring even the slow moments meaning and purpose leading up to the dramatic climax at the end.  

Although the lack of action resulted in a sluggish pace, Finley uses it intentionally. Much of the nervous build up is due to the eerie and disturbing score, composed by Erik Friedlander, that is made up of all of the sounds one might hear in an empty, noisy mansion (i.e. creaks, footsteps, and rumbling). Using this, the film can produce the fear that the characters feel and the frightening tension between them.

The suspense, of course, could not have been achieved without the performances of its stars Cooke and Taylor-Joy. Both actresses instill anxiety in their audience while exposing the behavior of the unsuspecting everyday psychopath. Cooke takes on a character that is very unusual for her to play but delivers the dark and sociopathic Amanda effortlessly and never strays away from the idea that she is still a human and not entirely empty. Amanda is intelligent, emotionless, and leading a carefree life away from remorse or guilt.

On the other hand, Taylor-Joy plays the over emotional, self-centered Lily who seemingly could never hurt a fly. But the actress takes this character to a whole other level that compares her morality against Amanda’s and contemplates if living a life of no emotion really makes a difference in situations where morality is violated.

Could Lily, filled with rage for her stepfather, be a vengeful killer or is the overwhelming feeling of guilt and losing her humanity a deal breaker? Lily is used as a contrast for Amanda – and vice versa- to inquire if one is more capable than the other of murder.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter.

Whether you’re a borderline psychopath or an emotion-lead killer, both are capable of the worst. Both use either their feelings – or the lack thereof – as a motive. Lily uses them as revenge towards her stepfather, Mark, while Amanda kind of just doesn’t care as she believes she has nothing to truly live for.  

Many of the critics’ reviews of this thoroughly investigative film were missing this point. Manohla Dargis states in her New York Times piece that Cory Finley “never settles on a point or theme” and seems to be “invested in performing a cultural autopsy on Lily and Amanda”. While it is agreeable that the dissection of privilege and class was an odd message to the film, Dargis also misses the true theme. Finley aimed to reinforce the idea that humans, psychopath or not, are fully aware and completely capable of the violation that they are partaking in.

Thoroughbreds dives into the world of psychopathy and human capability by successfully developing a new lens of how every mind is different from another but no matter what the condition is, anyone can be twisted.

My Rating: 87.5%

Acting: 4/4

Cinematography: 3.5/4

Story: 3.5/4

Enjoyability: 3/4


The Unordinary Simon: A ‘Love, Simon’ Review

By Anthony Peyton, Edited by Olivia Norwood

It’s an undeniable fact that ‘Love, Simon’ hit the classic closeted high school student’s coming out story with a variety of twists and a cycle of failed love interests that anyone can relate to, gay or straight.

Located in a Georgia neighborhood where Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) lives, – and most people in the real world wish they lived – he and his group of the most ideal best friends one could ever have, including a soccer player, a grunge fanatic, and a gorgeous theatre newbie, make their way through life living as millennial and liberally as they could manage. Which, debating on who you know, those terms have become practically synonymous with each other. Not usually in Georgia, I’ll admit.

No southern pride, no stereotypical racism, basically nothing that could, in any way, prove that they live in the heart of Georgia. Unless you paid attention to the one time that patriarch Jack Spier (Josh Duhamel) wore a Georgia t-shirt, you would think they live in the suburbs of California.

Maybe that was intentional on director Greg Burlanti’s part for not wanting southern habits and stereotypes influencing the movie and its story. Or it wasn’t intentional and Burleski simply thought the story didn’t need it. Either way, that’s one negative statement that ‘Love, Simon’ avoided at all costs.

That didn’t stop the negativity from drizzling on in through other reviews stating just how ordinary Simon’s story is. Or, in Daniel D’addario’s TIME Magazine article, he questions whether or not YA audiences need this movie because “there’s no reason that the first gay romantic comedy…necessarily needed to look so much like the pat, flat rom-coms with which today’s teens are barely familiar.”

‘Love, Simon’ is anything but ordinary. Sure, he may be from a cookie cutter white family living in a cookie cutter white neighborhood (except for the four or five ethnic people we see throughout the film, three of which just so happen to be leads in the film) and going to a cookie cutter high school, but that may be exactly what makes the movie unique.

I mean, It’s an LGBT movie where the protagonist is a closeted white teen boy whose best friends consist of a white girl, a black male, a black female, and to further it even more, Simon has a black love interest. If you ask me, that’s exactly the kind of unordinary that society wishes actually was ordinary.

That’s the definition of what we need, Mr. Journalist-Who-Wants-To-Cause-Problems.

Simon invites us into a cringey, tragic, but altogether fulfilling story of the most modern way of falling in love with someone – through the internet. He professes his love for his anonymous Romeo weeks before he actually knew who it was. Only Simon would be lucky enough that who it actually was – no spoilers, I swear – was attractive and not some 40 year old white guy typing anonymously to the cute teen from his computer.

I’ve got to say that it sure does help that the entire school just so happens to religiously follow the same blog, CreekSecrets, named after their Californian high school (Sorry! I meant Georgian*). This is a blog where everyone posts just about every fragment of gossip they hear around school in a day and – as if this didn’t already feel like high school enough – everyone believes everything.

This here may be the second reason that this movie is so remarkably the opposite of ordinary. It hypes up the teen life so much that it makes you cringe in your seat knowing that teenagers actually act like this.

It should be emphasized that Simon’s story is so far from what most closeted teens actually go through, but it is one version of a story that’s been told a million different ways. Not everyone lives in a place where people can be accepting, but it is possible. This is a movie to prove that point.

That point is exactly where ‘Love, Simon’ transforms from just an ordinary coming out story to a unique blend of breaking boundaries and turning what might be seen as generic into a movie worth watching. It teaches the most valuable life lessons a questioning kid can receive: sometimes, after holding your breath for so long, it’s more important to just exhale.

My Rating: 91%

Acting: 3.5/4

Cinematography: 3/4

Story: 4/4

Enjoyability: 4/4