Friday , December 14 2018

Spy saga ‘Red Sparrow’ with Jennifer Lawrence takes off – Saudi Arabia begins issuing cinema licenses

LOS ANGELES, March 3, (Agencies): Jennifer Lawrence’s spy saga “Red Sparrow” has taken off with $1.2 million on Thursday night.

The film played at 2,775 North American locations starting at 7 pm. That’s the same preview gross as Universal’s thriller “The Girl on the Train,” which opened with a $24.5 million weekend in 2016.

Fox is expanding “Red Sparrow” to 3,056 sites on Friday, with recent tracking in the $15 million to $19 million range. Lawrence is returning to collaborate with Francis Lawrence, who directed the final three “Hunger Games” movies.

In the James Bond films, … with a globe-trotting spy seems to be fun, fun, fun. A tuxedo, a witty line or two and then it’s off to a luxurious bed with two tanned, muscular bodies. Not so in the new thriller “Red Sparrow ,” where the … is cold, ugly and often violent.

This dark, meandering and cliche-ridden bummer starring a trying-hard Jennifer Lawrence tries to reach for a cool and stylish look at contemporary spycraft but often falls victim to cartoon violence and a muddled story. The creators may call it erotic but it’s as erotic as a visit to the dentist.

Francis Lawrence, the director of the last three “Hunger Games” films, reunites with Lawrence for more adult fare but one likely to be remembered more for the outdoor junket photos of Lawrence in a thigh-slit dress in chilly London while her male co-creators wore coats.

Based on a book by former CIA agent Jason Matthews, “Red Sparrow” stars Lawrence as Dominika, a Moscow ballerina who has to rethink her career after a devastating injury. With the advice of her high ranking spy uncle, she goes to a “sparrow” school where the students are taught to use seduction as their main weapon.

“Every human is a puzzle of need,” the stern headmistress played by Charlotte Rampling tells her recruits. “You must become the missing piece and they will tell you everything.”

Dominika isn’t buying it and later complains to her uncle, “You sent me to whore school.” But she’s going to do it — forced to perform sex acts in front of the class — to pay for her sick mother’s care, so that gets her conveniently off the hook morally.

Our heroine is soon unleashed onto the world, a little like Luc Besson’s “La Femme Nikita” but without that film’s visual coherence or empathy. (Lawrence does sport awesome bangs, so there’s that).

Lawrence as an actress gives her all here, from learning ballet — daily, three-hour rehearsals for three months — to adopting a Russian accent that seems swiped from Natasha from “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” (“I haf to ko avay vor a vile,” she tells her mom).

But what really drives Dominika is never very clear, how she goes from a tea-drinking dancer to someone perfectly happy caving in someone’s head with a cane. That’s partly so viewers don’t know where her loyalties lie and will stay intrigued, but she gets lost in what could be a double-cross or triple-cross — or, if you’re in withdrawal from the Olympics — the infamous quad-cross.

Soon you just don’t care. “We can’t trust a word that comes out of her mouth,” one character says of Dominika and he’s right. No trust, no care. She’s like a reflection of the film itself, getting flatter and more boring by the minute. As a sign of how lost the filmmakers get, a scene about whether or not a false drawer will open becomes the most thrilling element for a good 30 minutes.

In addition to Rampling, there are fine turns from Jeremy Irons, Douglas Hodge and Mary-Louise Parker (who nevertheless seems to be in a different film altogether.) On the other side, one of the worst casting decisions was making Joel Edgerton Dominika’s love interest. He’s a puppy dog next to her tiger and there are simply no sparks between them.

“Red Sparrow” takes place in the languid, rich air of old European capitals and it gains no energy from the mostly — and curiously empty — high-end restaurants, hospitals and swimming pools. There are gorgeous exteriors of Vienna, Budapest, London and lush hotel interiors. The soundtrack is Tchaikovsky and Mozart. It’s like an extended ad for Chanel, except for all the gore.

Gore? Oh yes. There are two … scenes, several instances of torture — one with a hospital-grade skin peeler — public and … degradations, a gross garroting, a dead body in a tub with its head in a plastic bag, and more than a hint of incest. The bloodiness in juxtaposition with the bloodless high-end luxury is jarring — but not in a good way.


RIYADH: Saudi Arabia began issuing licences Thursday to operate cinemas in the kingdom ahead of their reopening after a decades-long ban was lifted as part of a far-reaching liberalisation drive.

The move is another step towards opening the Saudi market to regional and international theatre chains, which have long eyed the kingdom as the Middle East’s last untapped mass market.

The culture and information ministry said it had “finalised the terms of licencing to restore cinema in Saudi Arabia”.

“Licencing commences immediately,” the ministry added in a statement.

The news comes as Dubai-based VOX Cinemas, the leading operator in the Middle East, launches its first public screening in Saudi Arabia, which runs through Saturday and aims to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease.

The screening in Riyadh will feature content from local producers including Myrkott Production and Telfaz Company, VOX said.


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