Reviews: Red Sparrow, Tomb Raider, Unsane, Game Night, A Wrinkle in Time

By | April 12, 2018

By using five random reviews I’m able to properly explore how Rotten Tomatoes rewards mediocrity. Although they usually evaluate great films correctly—which a blind pig could do, honestly—most movies don’t live in the space of “greatness” or “terrible.” The vast majority of movies are between a C- and B+ grade and Rotten Tomatoes routinely gives decent or better-than-average films (like “Wrinkle” and especially “Red Sparrow”) rotten grades, while vastly over-valuing the Tomb Raiders and Game Nights of the world–to say nothing of Marvel films…

A Wrinkle in Time…I’ll admit this film is hindered by being more-than-slightly cheesy and some questionable acting choices, but perhaps you’ll be ready to embrace a wide-open, humanistic tale after sitting through so many cynical adult offerings (like pretty much anything else in theaters including the rest of this list). And how can anyone truly hate a film with a cast this electic: Gugu Mbathe-Raw, Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, the great Mindy Kaling, Zach Galifanakis, and Chris Pine? And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a breath of fresh air to see a positive portrayal of an interracial family in any movie, let alone a big budget mainstream release. [Looks like the rare category where Disney is trumping indies.] Grade: B

Game Night…A classic example of Rotten Tomatoes-wrong-headedness as this film is actually the most positively reviewed of the lot. [Timely thrillers about Russian spies? Nah…Haphazard comedy junk? More please!] Although there’s a few chuckles supplied almost entirely by Jesse Plemons’s creepy cop, this is a 90’s script in that it works a little too hard to string the jokes together with a contrived plot hinging on all the classic cliches: mistaken identity, mix-ups, guns that characters don’t know are loaded, villains that let characters go unscathed for no real reason, and constant “just-in-time” saves. It also didn’t help that I truly didn’t like 5/6ths of the main characters, and only “Catastrophe”‘s Sharon Horgan manages to avoid becoming unintentionally unlikable. Grade: C-

UnSane…Steven Soderbergh nibbled around the edges of the mental-health-industrial-complex in his underrated thriller “Side Effects,” but here he’s diving in with a thrillingly nasty, back-to-basics literal psychological horror film. In it, Claire Foy is tricked into a psych ward (they just want her until her insurance runs out, and then she’ll be magically “cured”) after visiting a shady mental health worker who tries a little too hard to get her to admit she has suicidal tendencies. Problem is, her stalker begins working at this poorly regulated pill farm soon after she’s checked in. Soderbergh shoots the film with the flourescent bleach of ultra-realism, and that makes the proceedings even more unsettling and grimly matter-of-fact (as if a Vice reporter decided to make an exploitation film). And Josh Leonard is the most disturbing film villain I’ve seen in ages–Soderbergh makes the right decision to shoot him slightly blurry and out-of-focus for the first two-thirds, like the shark from “Jaws” that you know is there even if nobody but Foy can truly see him for what he is–a misunderstood “nice guy” who’s really a psychopath. Grade: B

Tomb Raider…So many critics have been bending over backwards to defend Alicia Vikander, that they’ve barely questioned if this movie is worth defending. Spoiler: it’s junk, so why work so hard? Even if you take Vikander out of the equation, we’re essentially watching a by-the-numbers origin story; a sub-“Indiana Jones” rip-off that isn’t half as much fun as Jolie’s winky, teasing take on the same material (and those films were junk too, but had better set pieces). And why are they so personally invested in her unrealistic action stardom? Why would it be such an ultimate defeat to admit a 5’3, 90 pound uber-European (who downright shrieks during a couple of intense moments), may not be the heir apparent to Angelina Jolie or Charlize Theron? I get the studio’s cynical calculation: “Hey, Angelina was a tan, vaguely exotic white woman who’d just won Best Supporting Actress, let’s replicate that with literally anyone!” But it’s no great crime for a reviewer to admit Vikander isn’t right for this part, and the same studio would’ve made a “better” movie by casting a worse actress like Gal Gadot, who is perfect for Lara Croft. It’s not just Vikander’s physicality—Emily Blunt has roughly the same dimensions, but was completely believable as an action bad-ass in “Sicario” or “Edge of Tomorrow”—but her entire vibe that doesn’t quite gel for this particular role. Ultimately, this is a film that shouldn’t exist: neither original, relevant, nor even particularly entertaining. Grade: D+

Red Sparrow…Yet “Tomb Raider” is now sitting a few percentage points higher on the old RT than this far-superior gem which is relevant, at least somewhat original, and definitely more entertaining, yet critics seemed to disagree by erroneously labeling this film as dreary. At this point, it’s such a pleasure to watch Jennifer Lawrence do her thing, I’d probably watch her in anything–I’ve found she’s the first A-list actor since Russell Crowe’s late 90’s/early 00’s run to be driven almost solely by artistic challenges. How else to explain “Silver Linings Playbook,” “American Hustle,” “Joy,” “Mother!” and now “Red Sparrow” in only a few short years? [Only “Passengers” felt designed to advance her stardom, and since that flopped anyway, she appears freed to make whatever with whoever.] Needless to say, the Kentucky native is shockingly convincing as a reluctant Russian spy specializing in seduction and manipulation. And it’s no small feat that the plot managed to find a new way for a spy thriller to explore the classic mole hunt storyline. Grade: B+

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