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

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

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…

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

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…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

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.

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.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…