Showing posts with label Fifty Shades. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fifty Shades. Show all posts

Friday, February 9, 2018

'Fifty Shades Freed' Is The Ultimate In Anti-Climax

With this butt plug, I thee wed.

The Fifty Shades trilogy comes to its end (oh, please let this be the end!) with Fifty Shades Freed, and it has me wondering more than ever just who these movies are for.

Clearly, the Fifty Shades books were beloved by millions of women who discovered you can read dirty books on the subway without anyone knowing, as long as it's on a Kindle. I could only get through the first one (barely) but I could understand the appeal to the same kinds of readers who enjoy romance novels, but want the sex a bit dirtier and rougher. Those women weren't afraid of dicks.

But apparently, the creators of the film adaptations--two male directors, and a male screenwriter (E.L. James's husband, Niall Leonard)--are. The posters promise you won't want to miss the climax, but that climax does not feature even a peek at Christian Grey's ultimate weapon, and that's some serious bullshit.

Three films without any full frontal male nudity isn't an accident. That's a conscious decision, and a clear indication the filmmakers do not fully appreciate the dirtiness of the books. Or perhaps Jamie Dornan has something to be ashamed of, and had a no-dick clause in his contract. To that I say, then hire someone else, because it's not like his performance couldn't be easily replaced. He's been a leaden presence (and not the good kind) through the end, further proving how much Dakota Johnson has had to carry the franchise.

Indeed, Johnson's Anastasia has been the series's only saving grace, while also being completely frustrating. She gives Anastasia a knowing sense of humor, never taking any of Christian's sex games too seriously and being snarky when it's required. She's one of the film's only sources of comedy, surrounded by plotlines and performances that are completely lacking in it.

The frustration comes in her Anastasia accepting the narcissistic asshole that is Christian Grey. It's obvious Dakota Johnson is smarter than the character she is playing, and she can only push through that stupidity so far before plot dictates she do something dumb, like marrying Christian Grey, which is how the film opens, with the wedding vows taking place over the opening credits, and Christian and Anastasia knowingly pronounced "man and wife," and not the more acceptably modern "husband and wife."

A honeymoon in Paris and Nice follows, with make-out sessions overlooked by the Eiffel Tower, and Ana's beachside toplessness frowned upon by Christian. It isn't long before their romantic interlude is cut short by the needs of the film's ridiculous thriller plot.

Fifty Shades Darker ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, with Ana's former boss Jack Hyde (HYDE!) stalking her and seeking revenge for his firing after he attacked her at work. Hyde is played by Eric Johnson, who was good on Showtime's The Knick, but is utterly terrible here, playing a perpetually red-eyed and unshaven character who began as a book editor, but has somehow turned into a master criminal who can easily sabotage helicopters, break into secure office buildings, and perform acts of cyber theft and arson. Of course!

Fifty Shades Freed's aim at the sexual thriller genre is as subtle as a Lifetime movie, and clearly filler; something to give the audience in between Ana and Christian's arguing over Christian's jealousy, and the sex, which, after three films, is no longer shocking in any way, even if Ana still manages to react to things like handcuffs like she's never seen anything like them before.

The Ana of Fifty Shades Freed is supposed to be stronger and assertive, insisting she have things like a career, and friends, and an equal say in her marriage. But she gets none of that without consistent pouting and push back from Christian. She never truly challenges the notion that while domination may be fun in the "playroom," it will get very old very quickly in every day life. And a marriage centered on sex and arguing with a domineering man about his constant needs can not be saved by babies and butt plugs.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Wooden And Laughable 'Fifty Shades Darker' Is More Cautionary Tale Than Romance

This review originally appeared on

In hindsight, the ending of the first Fifty Shades movie, in which our once naive heroine finally recognizes the inherent cruelty in her lover's sexual proclivities and decides to walk away from him forever, was the only satisfying ending this story could have had. End it there, and it becomes a cautionary tale about how entering a relationship with the goal of changing a person to fit your preferences will only end in heartbreak.

Of course, it didn't end there, and now, two years later, we are cursed with Fifty Shades Darker, in which our heroine appears to have learned something, but really hasn't learned a thing.

As the film begins, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is about to start a new job as assistant to the fiction editor of a Seattle publisher. She gets a bouquet of flowers congratulating her on her new gig, reads the card, and promptly tries to throw them away. Ah, but they're too big for the trash, and gosh, they're so pretty....


It doesn't take fifteen minutes before her ex, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) shows up at her friend's photography show, buys up all the giant portraits of her ("I don't like the idea of other people looking at you," ugh), takes her to dinner, woos her back, and hands her an iPhone and laptop all preprogrammed and undoubtedly filled with the latest tracking technology.

Fifty Shades Stalker!

Ah, but Anastasia has changed, you see! She tells Christian his contracts, separate beds, and cruelty are all out the window if he wants to be with her, and he's like, cool, as long as you don't touch the front of my chest, we should be good.


Christian has boundaries, and I'm not talking figurative; I'm talking literal. So literal that he draws a circle in red lipstick around his torso, to help illustrate the issue. (After drawing this little map on his chest, he leaves it there. All night. Under his tuxedo. You know, just in case.)

Christian's issues are brought to further light this time, with flashbacks and nightmares about a mean man, and the death of his crackhead mother when he was four. ("Why didn't you tell me about that?" asks Anastasia. "I did. But you were asleep at the time," is his honest and unintentionally hilarious reply.) He even freely admits that when it comes to the bondage and sex play, he's not really a "dominant." He's actually a sadist who gets off on hurting women who look like his mother.

Oh, he's a keeper all right.

I tried so, so hard to root for Anastasia. She's given the glimmer of a backbone, insisting she isn't going to take Christian's shit anymore. But she does. She takes his shit. And when she's not taking his shit, she's talking about how she's not sure she'll be able to take his shit, and then she takes it some more.

All Christian and Ana talk about is their relationship, although when they're talking about their relationship, they're really just talking about Christian and his issues. And when they aren't talking about Christian, they're talking about Ben wa balls and nipple clamps. Anastasia, a supposed bookworm, also wants a career in publishing, but Christian doesn't have a single book in his penthouse. What are they going to talk about when the sex gets boring? And trust me, it WILL get boring, because it was certainly boring as hell to watch.

I'll give Fifty Shades Darker this: The sex is at least less clinical this time around. Sure, there's still a lot of blindfolding, and the attaching of various "spreaders," but the characters are at least a little more spontaneous about it all. (Although all those toys are put into use for about 10 seconds before they just get down to your basic banging. Again and again. Man, who knew watching people have sex could be so dreadfully dull?)

Both Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson are fine actors, doing the best they can with the ridiculous dialogue they are required to speak. They've also worked on their screen chemistry a bit since last time, and no longer seem like they'd rather be anywhere else. Dornan's also bulked up a bit, and is given a five minute workout montage to show off his bod, although there is STILL no glimpse of Christian's ultimate play toy, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Johnson also manages to make half of the sex talk she's required to speak not completely laughable, or she at least makes it feel like we're in on the joke with her. ("You're NOT gonna put that in my butt!" is one choice example.)

The movie also has two genuinely inspired things. One is when Johnson, who is Melanie Griffith's daughter, uses a line of dialog straight out of Working Girl. And the other is the casting of Kim Basinger in a "Mrs. Robinson" type role. Her character could very well be the same one who crawled on all fours at the feet of Mickey Rourke (John Grey!) in 9 1/2 Weeks, and then left him and moved on to seduce a young Christian Grey, teaching him the ways of R-rated bondage.

Unfortunately, that's all the cleverness director James Foley is allowed to exhibit, and while the film is beautifully shot, with its subjects and its Seattle setting all looking luscious, all the prettiness in the world can't make up for the overabundance of musical montages, the wooden dialog, and the preposterous addition of "thriller" elements shoved into the plot.

It's bad enough that the film's villains are pure cartoons, both obsessed with Anastasia Steele (because apparently no one is immune to her), because the fact is, Fifty Shades doesn't need a villain; it already has one. Ladies, the villain is Christian Grey, and every narcissistic, damaged, possessive man like him you'll ever meet in life. So when you do meet him, try to be the girl at the end of the first movie, and not the girl in the sequels.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Suckers For Punishment: Fifty Shades of Grey

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Let's be honest. It doesn't matter what any critic has to say about Fifty Shades of Grey, women are going to flock to it. It's not like the book was met with rave reviews, and still, millions read it! And yeah, I read the book too. The first one. Barely. I found it such a boring slog that towards the end, it was a chore just having to turn the pages. Clearly, I don't get its appeal. There are way hotter books out there, with heroines who don't forget to eat, say things much more emotive than "Oh my!" and "ARRGH!" during sex, and, most importantly, don't surrender themselves to abusive stalkers.

Let's get the plot, as thin as it is, out of the way. Anastasia Steele is a naive, virginal college student about to graduate with a degree in English literature. She helps out her journalism major roommate, who has the flu, by agreeing to fill in and interview rich, hot, single business sensation Christian Grey for a school newspaper article. (What's his line of business? "Telecommunications." Oh, and also feeding the entire continent of Africa, apparently).

Anastasia's introduction to Grey begins with her literally stumbling in the door and falling to the floor. See? Just like the innocent newborn fawn she is! Of course, this moment of humiliation is no doubt what immediately sets Mr. Grey's loins a-stirring.

So, he wants her because she's innocent, and...well, that's kind of the main thing. And she wants him because he's hot, rich, mysterious, and powerful. But what they both want most of all is to change each other, getting rid of the things that they are most drawn to in the process. Doomed romance!

And oh yeah, Christian Grey is a "dominant" who can't get off unless he's with a submissive woman whom he can shackle, spank, whip, and occasionally tickle with peacock feathers. Why is he like this? It's just the way he is, OK?!?!...Also, he was seduced by an older woman at age 15, and his birth mother was a crack whore. (The scene where he confesses the latter to a sleeping Ana reminded me so much of this scene from The Jerk, I couldn't help but laugh.)

The most that can be said about the casting here is they aren't terrible. Dakota Johnson, (daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, and once you know that, you can't unsee it), is suitably innocent, and provides some wry line deliveries that help sell dialogue that would otherwise be ridiculous. And Jamie Dornan is just a solidly good actor; he's proven that with his work on the British series "The Fall." (I hope all the fans who come away from the movie seeking out his other work enjoy seeing the logical extension of where someone like Christian Grey would end up.)

And, yes, they both look good naked. She perhaps more than him, since his naked chest is marred by scars that remain a mystery. (Gotta save some things for the sequels!) Of course, you also get to see more of her than you do of him. There is no appearance by Jamie's Dornan herein, which just doesn't make any sense to me. I'm pretty sure the majority of the audience would prefer to see some penis than another look at Johnson's (or her body double's) naked breasts.

As for the sex scenes themselves, whatever. Beyonce is usually the soundtrack. There's lots of tying of knots, close-ups of whips and floggers, visions of Ana in ecstasy, and very little that hasn't been seen before on Cinemax or better movies. (A lot is owed to 9 1/2 Weeks, both the book and the movie. You've got a mysterious rich guy in a suit who's into domination and role playing, and a woman who's at first turned on by it, but then questions it. The big difference is the woman in 9 1/2 Weeks has an actual life and career, and when she walks away at the end, she doesn't come back for more.)

If women are able to watch this movie, and then go home and have terrific sex because they'd never even thought about being tied up before, that's not a bad thing. Rock on with your sexy self. But the MAIN thing I hope women come away with is this: If a guy tells you up front he's an asshole, believe him. Don't waste your time on a "project" that will, 99 PERCENT OF THE TIME, not turn out the way you hope it will. There are plenty of guys out there who are into sexy fun times, but aren't damaged narcissists you will have to center your life around.

And another thing. Guys? Just because you tell someone up front you're an asshole, it doesn't suddenly make being an asshole OK. The behavior is still wrong. You can't get away with murder just because you warned someone ahead of time that you're a murderer.

Throughout the movie Ana questions Christian. "Why are you like this? Why won't you sleep in the same bed as me? Why can't we have a real relationship? Why do like like to see me in pain?" His answers to almost all of her questions is usually, "It's just who I am," which, let's face it, just translates to, "Because I'm an asshole." (Ironically, the only question she asks that probably wouldn't have that answer is, "What's a butt plug?," a question she never does, ahem, get to the bottom of.)

Of course some kind of autonomy has to be given to Ana, or there would be no one to root for. So, spoiler alert, she does seem to ultimately leave Christian, in an abrupt ending that had half of the audience laughing, and the other half groaning. But we all know she, and the rest of the movie's fan base, are suckers for punishment. They'll be back for more.

And maybe then they'll all get an answer to that butt plug question.