Skip to main content

I enjoy various physical pursuits.

Fifty Shades of Grey
(2015)

I had no avid desire to see Sam Taylor Johnson’s adaptation of E L Gray’s novel, but I was curious about it – in the same way I am any big hit such as a Transformers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There’s no point pretending to have an opinion on something you haven’t seen. I haven’t read the novel, nor likely will I, but more power to Gray for getting her Twilight fanfic repurposed as erotic fiction; seriously, I don’t get the naysaying there (her prose may be a different matter, but as I say, I haven’t read it). Fifty Shades of Grey the movie? Well, its handsomely made, but it’s exceptionally dull.


I don’t think I’m probably that different to Fifty Shades devotees on that score; it seems to have been greeted generally with an “It was okay, but…” from those I know who have read the novels. My impression generally was of a wish-fulfilment fantasy a la Pretty Woman but with added (very coy) S&M. Well-performed with lip biting zeal by Dakota Johnson (appealing, but I could only observe how much hotter her mum Jennifer Ehle is) but only sociopathic impenetrability by Jamie Dornan (he’s more diverting dogging Gillian Anderson’s every move in The Fall, but one can only imagine how much worse it would have been with Charlie Hunman).


Johnson’s Ana Steele is clearly gagging for it from the first moment we see her, very difficult to countenance as virginal despite her protests (conversely, Julia Roberts was very difficult to countenance as a hooker in Pretty Woman), and rather tepid in her objections to poor Christian and his desire to dominate (he was turned to such malarkey as an impressionable adolescent, it seems). 


The problem is, the movie is dramatically inert. A usual arc in a standard romance would be to have a whirlwind affair (such as Prince Charming piloting Cinders to to Seattle by helicopter, a glider jaunt, having her meeting the parents, etc.) followed by a breakup followed by a final reel reuniting. This merely gets to the point where Ana has had enough submitting (which she didn’t seem to do very submissively anyway) and flouncing off because she can’t change her man.


Even in its longer form, this is a very prudish S&M movie, never going so far as to show nasty bits and pieces, drawing the line at fringe pudenda. The sight of Callum Keith Rennie as Ana’s dad is a reminder of how sexual matters can be broached in mainstream Hollywood if given a sense of fun and competent storytelling (Californication), but this just plods along, attempting to create a luxuriant canopy of taste from the first scene, to the sound of ‘50s crooning.


There’s the occasional spark of interest; one wonders about Christian employing his brother as a means to decoy his conquest’s best friends. And the scene where the duo go through their non-disclosure agreement is quite funny, with its strikes for anal and vaginal fisting and innocent inquiries regarding buttplugs, but the Johnson’s very respectful approach makes much of this unintentionally funny. If he hadn’t passed on, you’d expect Leslie Nielsen to accidentally blunder into one of their whipping sessions.


Fifty Shades of Grey is too lacking in any kind of bite to denounce it as other than a tepid affair that could probably only have been salvaged had someone with Paul Verhoeven’s unreconstituted revelry in matters sexual been unleashed on it. One wonders how a picture with such sweeping bad notices (but still more than half a billion box office) goes the (three?) sequels route. Maybe James Foley will be able to turn the next one into something beyond a book on the bedside table, and shitty movies didn’t stop Twilight breaking the bank, of course (in contrast, the Divergent series is lighting no one’s fire). Which is to say, Fifty Shades might seem like a no-brainer, but one wonders how much this kind of material can ever make a passable movie (for other “erotic” snoozers, see Indecent Proposal and 9½ Weeks).


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

It’s like an angry white man’s basement in here.

Bad Boys for Life (2020)
(SPOILERS) The reviews for Bad Boys for Life have, perhaps surprisingly, skewed positive, given that it seemed exactly the kind of beleaguered sequel to get slaughtered by critics. Particularly so since, while it’s a pleasure to see Will Smith and Martin Lawrence back together as Mike and Marcus, the attempts to validate this third outing as a more mature, reflective take on their buddy cops is somewhat overstated. Indeed, those moments of reflection or taking stock arguably tend to make the movie as a whole that much glibber, swiftly succeeded as they are by lashings of gleeful ultra-violence or humorous shtick. Under Michael Bay, who didn’t know the definition of a lull, these pictures scorned any opportunity to pause long enough to assess the damage, and were healthier, so to speak, for that. Without him, Bad Boys for Life’s beats often skew closer to standard 90s action fare.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

So the moral of the story is, better Red Riding Hood than dead Riding Hood. You read me?

The Fortune Cookie (1966)
(SPOILERS) Despite its pedigree – director and writer Billy Wilder reteaming with Jack Lemmon, the first teaming of Lemmon and Walter Matthau, a clutch of Oscar nominations – The Fortune Cookie isn’t up there with the best of Wilder’s Lemmon collaborations. Which were, at this point, in the past.

Welcome to the future. Life is good. But it can be better.

20 to See in 2020
Not all of these movies may find a release date in 2020, given Hollywood’s propensity for shunting around in the schedules along with the vagaries of post-production. Of my 21 to See in 2019, there’s still Fonzo, Benedetta, You Should Have Left, Boss Level and the scared-from-its-alloted-date The Hunt yet to see the light of day. I’ve re-included The French Dispatch here, however. I've yet to see Serenity and The Dead Don’t Die. Of the rest, none were wholly rewarding. Netflix gave us some disappointments, both low profile (Velvet Buzzsaw, In the Shadow of the Moon) and high (The Irishman), and a number of blockbusters underwhelmed to a greater or lesser extent (Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Terminator: Dark Fate, Gemini Man, Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker). Others (Knives Out, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) were interesting but flawed. Even the more potentially out there (Joker, Us, Glass, Rocketman) couldn…

Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998)
An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar.

Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins, and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whether the audience was on …

You’re a slut with a snake in your mouth. Die!

Mickey One (1965)
(SPOILERS) Apparently this early – as in, two years before the one that made them both highly sought-after trailblazers of “New Hollywood” – teaming between Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn has undergone a re-evaluation since its initial commercial and critical drubbing. I’m not sure about all that. Mickey One still seems fatally half-cocked to me, with Penn making a meal of imitating the stylistic qualities that came relatively naturally – or at least, Gallically – to the New Wave.