CHIPs: It’s a remake, a comedy and an action film and yet it doesn’t quite measure up to any of those descriptors. It’s a remake in the sense that writer-director-star Dax Shepard has lifted the title, character names and general situation from the classic TV show but they are simply pegs to hang his crude jokes on.
The Circle: While it is a pleasure to see Bill Paxton in his last big screen performance, “The Circle” often feels like an Exposition-A-Thon, a message in search of a story.
The Fate of the Furious: Preposterous is not a word most filmmakers would like to have applied to their work but in the case of the “Fast and Furious” franchise I think it is what they are going for. Somewhere along the way the down-‘n’-dirty car chase flicks veered from sublimely silly to simply silly. “The Fate of the Furious” is fast, furious but it’s not much fun. It’s an unholy mash-up of James Bond and the Marvel Universe, a movie bogged down by outrageous stunts and too many characters. Someone really should tell Vin Diesel and Company that more is not always more.
Fifty Shades Darker: Depending on your point of view “Fifty Shades of Grey” either made you want to gag or want to wear a gag. It’s a softcore look at hardcore BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) that spanked the competition on its opening weekend in 2015. Question is, will audiences still care about Grey’s proclivities and Ana’s misgivings or is it time to use our collective safeword? “Fifty Shades Darker” is a cold shower of a movie. “It’s all wrong,” Ana says at one point. “All of this is wrong.” Truer words have never been spoken.
The Mountain Between Us: Mountain survival movies usually end up with someone eating someone else to stay alive. “The Mountain Between Us” features the usual mountain survival tropes—there’s a plane crash, a showdown with a cougar and broken bones—but luckily for fans of stars Idris Elba and Kate Winslet cannibalism is not on the menu. Days pass and then weeks pass and soon they begin their trek to safety. “Where are we going?” she asks. “We’re alive,” he says. “That’s where were going.” There will be no spoilers here but I will say the crash and story of survival changes them in ways that couldn’t imagine… but ways the audience will see coming 100 miles away. It’s all a bit silly—three weeks in and unwashed they still are a fetching couple—but at least there’s no cannibalism and no, they don’t eat the dog.
The Mummy: As a horror film it’s a meh action film. As an action film it’s little more than a formulaic excuse to trot out some brand names in the kind of film Hollywood mistakenly thinks is a crowd pleaser.
The Shack: Bad things in life may be God’s will but I lay the blame for this bad movie directly on the shoulders of director Stuart Hazeldine who infuses this story with all the depth and insight of a “Davey and Goliath” cartoon.
The Snowman: We’ve seen this Nordic Noir before and better. Mix a curious lack of Oslo accents—the real mystery here is why these Norwegians speak as though they just graduated RADA—Val Kilmer in a Razzie worthy performance and you’re left with a movie that left me as cold as the snowman‘s grin.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: Movies like the high gloss crime thriller “La Femme Nikita,” the assassin mentor flick “Léon: The Professional” and outré sci fi opera “The Fifth Element” have come to define director Luc Besson’s outrageous style. Kinetic blasts of energy, his films are turbo charged fantasies that make eyeballs dance even if they don’t always engage the brain. His latest, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” not only has one of the longest titles of the year but is also one of the most over-the-top, retina-frying movies of the year. Your eyes will beg for mercy.
Wonder Wheel: At the beginning of the film Mickey (Justin Timberlake) warns us that what we are about to see will be filtered through his playwright’s point of view. Keeping that promise, writer, director Woody Allen uses every amount of artifice at his disposal—including cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s admittedly sumptuous photography—to create a film that is not only unreal but also unpleasant. “Oh God,” Ginny (Kate Winslet) cries out at one point. “Spare me the bad drama.” Amen to that.
Song to Song: I think it’s time Terrence Malick and I called it quits. I used to look forward to his infrequent visits. Sure, sometimes he was a little obtuse and over stayed his welcome, but more often than not he was alluringly enigmatic. Then he started coming around more often and, well, maybe the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt is true. In “Song to Song” there’s a quick shot of a tattoo that sums up my feelings toward my relationship with Malick. Written in flowery script, the words “Empty Promises” fill the screen, reminding us of the promise of the director’s early work and amplifying the disappointment we feel today. This is the straw that broke the camel’s back, the Terrence Malick movie that put me off Terrence Malick movies. I’ll be nice though and say, it’s not him, it’s me.
EXTRA! EXTRRA! MOST COUNFOUNDING
mother!: Your interest in seeing “mother!,” the psychological thriller from “Black Swan” director Darren Aronofsky, may be judged on your keenness to watch American sweetheart Jenifer Lawrence flush a beating heart down a toilet. Aronofsky’s story of uninvited guests disrupting the serene lives of a poet and his wife refuses to cater to audience expectations. “mother!” is an uncomfortable watch, an off-kilter experience that revels in its own madness. As the weight of the weirdness and religious symbolism begins to feel crushing, you may wonder what the hell is going on. Are these people guilty of being the worst houseguests ever or is there something bigger, something biblical going on?
Aronofsky is generous with the biblical allusions—the house is a paradise, the stranger’s sons are clearly echoes of Cain and Abel, and there is a long sequence that can only be described as the Home-style Revelation—and builds toward a crescendo of wild action that has to be seen to be believed, but his characters are ciphers. Charismatic and appealing to a member, they feel like puppets in the director’s apocalyptic roadshow rather than characters we care about. Visually and thematically he doesn’t push button so much as he pokes the audience daring them to take the trip with him, it’s just too bad we didn’t have better company for the journey.
“mother!” is a deliberately opaque movie. Like looking into a self-reflective mirror you will take away whatever you put into it. The only thing sure about it is that it is most confounding studio movie of the year.
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia McMillan to have a look at the big weekend movies, including the slap-and-tickle-a-palooza “Fifty Shades Darker,” the Lego-tastic “The Lego Batman Movie,” the gun-jitsu of “John Wick: Chapter 2,” and the wondrous “Paterson.”
The last time we saw Anastasia “Ana” Steele (Dakota Johnson) she was done with the whips, chains and all the other trappings of her relationship with slap and tickle devotee Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Her romantic expectations spoiled, it looked like that was the end of the story. But this weekend, just in advance of Valentine’s Day, the two are back together, this time playing (mostly) by her rules.
Depending on your point of view “Fifty Shades of Grey” either made you want to gag or want to wear a gag. It’s a softcore look at hardcore BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) that spanked the competition on its opening weekend in 2015. Question is, will audiences still care about Grey’s proclivities and Ana’s misgivings or is it time to use our collective safeword?
The nighttime soap opera-esque “Fifty Shades Darker” begins shortly after Ana walks out on Christian but this isn’t “Titanic” where class issues and an iceberg keep the lovers apart or “Brokeback Mountain” where out-dated social mores conspired against the characters. This is “Fifty Shades Darker” and there is no story unless Ana and Christian are in the same frame. So boom, they’re back together. They “meet creepy” at a photo exhibit where Ana’s friend has displayed bigger-than-life portraits of her. Christian buys them all and convinces her to have dinner. “I’ll have dinner with you,” she says, “but only because I’m hungry.”
Over expensive entrees and wine they discuss moving forward. “I want you back,” he says. “I’d like to renegotiate the terms. What happened last time won’t happen again.” That means no collars or flogging. Ana says she wants a “vanilla relationship,” and he agrees but before you can say “ballgag” she’s asking for various kinky acts to be performed upon her naughty bits.
Soon he asks her to move into his ultra-modern bachelor pad. She breathily says yes but unfortunately other women—his sexual mentor Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger) and Leila Williams (Bella Heathcote), a former submissive—cast a shadow over their relationship. “Do you think you’re the first woman who has tried to save him?” asks Elena.
There’s more, but who really cares about these two? Johnson and Dornan share so little chemistry they couldn’t smoulder if you lit their underwear on fire. To be fair they are cut adrift in a sea of kinky sex, mommy porn, dime store psychology and bad dialogue most of which only serves to move the film along from one spanking montage to the next. Stymied by plotting that makes most Harlequins seem like Dostoyevsky, the actors frequently shed their clothes, most likely in an attempt to distract from the truly awful things that happen when they are clothed.
Johnson is still a charming presence and Dornan slightly less wooden than last time out, but Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart couldn’t bring exchanges like this to life: “Why didn’t you tell me that?” she asks after a big revelation. “I did but you were asleep at the time.” “A big part of a relationship is that both parties have to be conscious.”
“Fifty Shades Darker” is a cold shower of a movie. “It’s all wrong,” Ana says at one point. “All of this is wrong.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Jennifer Lawrence once showed me a cell phone snap of herself dressed in a fierce black leather outfit.
She was hot off the success of her Oscar nominated work in Winter’s Bone and used the photo as part of her audition for a role that every actress of a certain age in Hollywood clamoured for in 2010.
She didn’t get the part of Lisbeth Salander, the pierced and inked computer hacker star of David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—the producers thought she was too tall—Rooney Mara did, but not before auditioning five times and beating out better known hopefuls like Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson and Anne Hathaway.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was 2011’s big literary adaptation, ripe with star making possibilities and lucrative franchise potential. It didn’t pan out that way but Hollywood hasn’t given up on bringing bestsellers to the screen.
This week there are high hopes for Fifty Shades of Grey. Calling the story of college graduate Anastasia Steele and BDSM enthusiast Christian Grey a “literary” adaptation might be a stretch, but with 100 million books sold (including parts two and three) there are great expectations.
So, actors should be crawling over one another to star in the film, right? Think again. Unlike Dragon Tattoo, young Hollywood has not exactly been whipping themselves into a frenzy over Fifty Shades. Shailene Woodley apparently had no qualms about performing the film’s explicit bondage scenes, but was already tied up making the Divergent movies.
Emma Watson did have qualms. “Who here actually thinks I would do Fifty Shades of Grey as a movie?” she wrote on twitter.
In the end Dakota Johnson, better known as the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith than for her work on the cancelled sitcom Ben and Kate, won the role and while it might make her a star there are dangers involved with a project like this. Just ask Elizabeth Berkley.
Berkley was a wholesome teen model and star of the sit com Saved by the Bell when a role in Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 sexploitation flick Showgirls left her career in tatters. As the untested star who bared her soul and body in a big budget film she took the hit for the film’s failure.
Almost twenty-years later she was still emotional about the backlash she suffered. After a performing an erotic dance on Dancing with the Stars she tearfully said, “it reconnected me to when I was just a young woman and took a risk creatively and did Showgirls. With that came a lot of doors being slammed in my face.”
Will Johnson be the next Berkley? According to ticket-selling site Fandango Fifty Shades of Grey is the fastest selling R-rated title ever, so Dakota may yet be spared a tearful breakdown in Dancing with the Stars in 2035.
Remember when Valentine’s Day was about fancy chocolates, dozens of long stemmed roses and Cupid targeting lover’s hearts with his trusty bow and arrow? With the release of the soft-core-porn soon-to-be-blockbuster, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” this year Cupid’s arrow isn’t aimed at the heart.
Based on the erotic thriller by E. L. James, the movie stars Irish actor Jamie Dornan as handsome C.E.O. and slap-and-tickle enthusiast Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson, the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, as Ana Steele, a literature student sent to interview Grey, only to find herself under the spell of the businessman’s exotic proclivities.
According to the young, impressionable woman he is “polite, smart and really intimidating.” Showered with gifts like a first edition of “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” she submits to his charms—he’s wealthy, good looking—allowing him to go all a-type on her, in and out of the bedroom.
“I exercise control on all things Miss Steele,” he says, a character trait he expresses through BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism). “I don’t do romance. My tastes are very singular.”
I’ll cut to the chase. There are sex scenes, there is nudity and yes, Virginia, there are whips and chains but don’t expect the smutty stuff from the books. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson has whipped the material into mainstream theatre shape, shaving the rough edges off the novel’s explicit kinky sex scenes.
The randy pair spend more time talking about their sexual liaisons than actually getting horizontal… or suspended… or anything else. They blabber and negotiate—“I’m not going to touch you,” he says. “Not till I have your written consent.”—yammering on about submission, domination and safe words till even the Marquis de Sade would nod off from boredom. But for all the talk, we never learn anything about why Grey is disposed to liberally mixing his pleasure with pain. “It’s the way I am,” he says. He doesn’t go to dinner or movies; he simply wants her to earn his devotion by being his submissive.
This is communicated simply, with a combination of “sweet” talk –“If you were mine you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week.”—and predatory behaviour that, if not for his billions, would land him in jail for stalking or worse. The psychological introspection on display here makes Dr. Phil seem like Friedrich Nietzsche.
Of the two leads Dakota Johnson seems ripped from the pages of the book. Her gamine innocence and girlish giggle convey the emotional rawness necessary for the character to work. She is naked, emotionally and physically—unlike her co-star who, for all we know, is as anatomically correct as a Ken doll—with a propensity for drunk dialling and permanently dewy look about her that betrays the confusion and attraction Ana feels toward Grey.
Dornan has the thankless role. His grim-faced Christian Grey is an unemotional cipher, a bubbling cauldron of unexplored trauma and Dornan plays him straight faced which much have been tough while delivering unintentionally hilarious lines—call it a domination comedy or dom com—like, “Roll your eyes at me again and I will take you across my knee.” His delivery is just as sexy as that time your cranky old grandfather said it to you when you were ten. His burning passion is conveyed by his intense gaze, which often looks clinical, as if he’s examining her naked body for irregular moles.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” feels like an elegantly made—the cinematography and score are top notch—night time soap opera. It’s a cliff-hanger—expect the inevitable sequel to pick up EXACTLY where this film leaves off—and the kind of R-rated movie that feels more like a cold shower than a hot romance.