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

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.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

Seems silly, doesn't it? A wedding. Given everything that's going on.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (2010)
(SPOILERS) What’s good in the first part of the dubiously split (of course it was done for the art) final instalment in the Harry Potter saga is very good, let down somewhat by decisions to include material that would otherwise have been rightly excised and the sometimes-meandering travelogue. Even there, aspects of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I can be quite rewarding, taking on the tone of an apocalyptic ‘70s aftermath movie or episode of Survivors (the original version), as our teenage heroes (some now twentysomethings) sleep rough, squabble, and try to salvage a plan. The main problem is that the frequently strong material requires a robust structure to get the best from it.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his…

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

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.