Skip to main content

I don't know whether to worship at your feet, or spank you.

Fifty Shades Darker
(2017)

(SPOILERS) I suspect you could throw any director at this material and still end up with results akin to watching erotic paint dry. As such, Fifty Shades Darker’s woes cannot fairly be laid at the door of James Foley (responsible for Glengarry Glen Ross, but also Who’s That Girl). You spend most of the running time hoping for a murder to brighten things up, or for Paul Verhoeven take over the reins and inject some crazy Dutch angles.


Fifty Shades may have started out as Twilight fanfic, but they stand as equals in offering audiences inert cinematic versions. For every repetitive dialogue exchange in Darker, there’s a cumulatively amorphous soundtrack interlude accompanying a montage of sexy business between the S&M-lite lovers. Or, in the absence of sexy business, just a cumulatively amorphous soundtrack interlude accompanying a montage of whatever it may be (shopping, having dinner, take your pick). The only relief comes from the inadvertent silliness of the plotting and… actually, no, that’s about it.


Dakota Johnson was the highlight (I know, it’s relative) of the first movie, but here, her sub-Melanie Griffith – appropriate, given that’s Mumsie – submissively-reactive squeak quickly becomes tiresome. As for Jamie Dornan, who seems to spend about 70% of the movie undoing his trousers, he flourishes all the personality of a dried haddock, but at least the more amusing moments revolve around him.


To encourage us into feeling some empathy for this extremely messed-up multimillionaire, rather than leaping to the conclusion that Christian’s a deranged sociopath leading poor Anastasia down a path of ruin, we’re invited to engage with some of his backstory, explaining his quirky fixations and fetishes. None of which really gives the greenlight to his penchant for depravity (I know, consenting adults, or one consenting adult and another pressurised into acts she wouldn’t otherwise entertain), but we do learn mom was a crack whore (I don’t think that’s exactly the term used, but you get the idea) and that Kimmy Basinger tutored him in the ways of unrighteousness (cashing in on her dubious cachet from another tedious softcore romp, back in the mists of time when Mickey Rourke could be sold on the basis of his face). There’s also an “exciting” helicopter crash sequence where Christian goes all Harrison Ford at the controls – albeit, he doesn’t look stoned – leading to an earnest “He has to be okay” vigil.


Perhaps if Anastasia was “just a mousy little thing after his money”, or Christian looked like Harvey Weinstein, there’d be more to be invested in here, but the proceedings are so inoffensively titillation-free, it’s easy to zone out completely. There’s a sub-Eyes Wide Shut mask ball (as in, no hookers or illuminati present), Christian’s sex dungeon (more of a boudoir; “Those are nipple clamps”) and a fingering in a lift scene that’s only worth remarking upon for mining zero of its comic potential.


Anastasia has a truly nasty boss called, wait for it, Mr Hyde (Eric Johnson), involved in a subplot that inches uneasily towards drama, designed as it is to throw Christian’s smoothly manipulative, controlling demeanour into sharp relief, but is ultimately so ham-fisted that it comes across as merely inane. Another features Bella Heathcote as one of Christian’s former submissives, which actually threatens to become interesting in one scene, but then Ana is asked to leave and we’re obliged to too.


These Fifty Shades only rarely reach the level of actively bad, but that’s rather to their detriment, as at least so-bad-it’s-good passes the time. They’re movies seemingly designed for that tea break where you know you won’t miss anything important, even if you’re out of the room for the majority of the running time.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

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…

Everyone wants a happy ending and everyone wants closure but that's not the way life works out.

It Chapter Two (2019)
(SPOILERS) An exercise in stultifying repetitiveness, It Chapter Two does its very best to undo all the goodwill engendered by the previous instalment. It may simply be that adopting a linear approach to the novel’s interweaving timelines has scuppered the sequel’s chances of doing anything the first film hasn’t. Oh, except getting rid of Pennywise for good, which you’d be hard-pressed to discern as substantially different to the CGI-infused confrontation in the first part, Native American ritual aside.

Check it out. I wonder if BJ brought the Bear with him.

Death Proof (2007)
(SPOILERS) In a way, I’m slightly surprised Tarantino didn’t take the opportunity to disown Death Proof, to claim that, as part of Grindhouse, it was no more one of his ten-official-films-and-out than his Four Rooms segment. But that would be to spurn the exploitation genre affectation that has informed everything he’s put his name to since Kill Bill, to a greater or less extent, and also require him to admit that he was wrong, and you won’t find him doing that for anything bar My Best Friend’s Birthday.

That woman, deserves her revenge and… we deserve to die. But then again, so does she.

Kill Bill: Vol. 2  (2004)
(SPOILERS) I’m not sure I can really conclude whether one Kill Bill is better than the other, since I’m essentially with Quentin in his assertion that they’re one film, just cut into two for the purposes of a selling point. I do think Kill Bill: Vol. 2 has the movie’s one actually interesting character, though, and I’m not talking David Carradine’s title role.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
(SPOILERS) It sometimes seems as if Quentin Tarantino – in terms of his actual movies, rather than nearly getting Uma killed in an auto stunt – is the last bastion of can-do-no-wrong on the Internet. Or at very least has the preponderance of its vocal weight behind him. Back when his first two movies proper were coming out, so before online was really a thing, I’d likely have agreed, but by about the time the Kill Bills arrived, I’d have admitted I was having serious pause about him being all he was cracked up to be. Because the Kill Bills aren’t very good, and they’ve rather characterised his hermetically sealed wallowing in obscure media trash and genre cul-de-sacs approach to his art ever since. Sometimes to entertaining effect, sometimes less so, but always ever more entrenching his furrow; as Neil Norman note in his Evening Standard review, “Tarantino has attempted (and largely succeeded) in making a movie whose only reality is that of celluloid”. Extend t…

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994)
(SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump. And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.