Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Dakota Johnson”

Fifty Shades Darker

2 long, 2 dumb, 2 stars

I missed a social occasion to go watch the latest Fifty Shades movie, only to find out afterwards I didn’t need to officially review it. Of course, by then it was too late – already so full of aghastness and outrage, I feel compelled to purge myself of my predictably negative reaction, in the hope that either a) the producers will accidentally trip across this review on the internet and heed my comments for the inevitable third film, or b) I’ll at least be able to now forget I even saw it.

It’s easy to be derisory about the Fifty Shades series, not just because the books are (reportedly – I admit/am proud not to have read one) the worst written bestsellers since Dan Brown, but because the word “try-hard” keeps ringing in my ears whenever I think about the trilogy which shook up the publishing world by bringing risqué sex to a mainstream, largely female, audience.

The films have taken a similar bent; although a friend described it as “Mummy porn” (as in mother, not as in lie-there-and-play dead), there’s really nothing pornographic about Fifty Shades of Grey or Darker at all – at least, not in the sense that you might feel a frisson of erotic response while watching them. This is not only disappointing (because there is nowadays so much sex in films and particularly on telly that you’re hard-pressed not to see something titillating when you tune in) but surprising, given Fifty Shades tries so desperately to portray the tortured emotional relationship of two attractive young people whose main (if not only) connection revolves around carnal knowledge and ankle-cuffs.

Where are we at, story-wise? Ah yes. Christian Grey the trillionaire (Jamie Dornan) and Ana(stasia) Steele (Dakota Johnson) broke up in the last movie, when she figured out he was of dodgy mind and not going to be able to meet her emotional needs. Cue: Darker, Scene 1: He reappears out of the ether and buys all the portraits of her at an art exhibition because: “I don’t like strangers gawking at you.” Fair enough.

From then on, the game is afoot. Scene 2: “My mother was a crack addict. You fill in the blanks,” Christian says. Fair enough. Actually wait, no, not fair enough – I’m pretty sure they employ a script writer for this bit. But nevermind – that’s enough “opening up” for one day, and Ana lets them get back together.

Oh, but hold on – Scene 3: Let’s take it slow.

Scene 4: OK yeah, nah, let’s not.

And the sex is on. The talky opening up stuff takes a little longer, but eventually Christian grabs a lipstick and invites her to help him draw his “boundaries”, quite literally, by tracing a rectangle across his torso (helpfully excluding his nether regions, which are, of course, completely within bounds). But wait, she says: Are those cigarette burns? What happened to you?? Which is a completely ridiculous question given a) they starred in a movie this time last year and she would have noticed them then, and b) what do you think happened??

This relationship is clearly not about a meeting of intellectual minds.

So we still have a possessive guy, who doesn’t even bother to couch things in less creepy terms than “I want you here all the time” when he asks her to move in with him, and we still have a supposedly empowered woman who is a mere PA to some dickhead of a fiction editor at a swanky firm. Hmmm, I wonder if the dickhead (Eric Johnson, a man even less charismatic than Jamie Dornan) will try to hit on her?

No time to worry about that, though! Christian wants them to get married, but first he has to fly a helicopter and survive a crash so badly acted I was convinced it was a dream sequence about him feeling trapped in his relationship (which would have been a really clever metaphor, come on!). Unfortunately it turned out to be an actual crash, which happened in about 58 seconds of screen-time and served as nothing more than a catalyst for Ana to realise she did want to marry him and for Grey’s excruciating family (Marcia Gay Harden, Rita Ora et al) to extend a bit of their acting range (distress, shock, relief, etc).

The galling thing about Fifty Shades Darker (and its predecessor) is there is nothing subtle, clever or illuminating about a poor little damaged boy growing into a man who admits to his fiancée that he’s a sadist who enjoys causing women pain (textbook!). The bigger crime is that the impressionable young women who watch these movies are still being fed notions of wealth, skinniness and beauty as paramount (the camera spends more time “gawking” at Dakota Johnson’s corseted body than Dornan’s pleasure trail), and that consensual S&M is OK, years before they have the maturity to develop a relationship which can handle this philosophy safely. It also reinforces that age-old chestnut that women can change men through love, even if he “doesn’t want to talk about it”.

While Dornan is possibly the most earnestly banal actor in all of Hollywood, Johnson is actually pretty good, through genes (Melanie Griffith & Don Johnson) rather than any help from the script, which sounds like it was written by a dialogue-generating computer programme.

But perhaps the biggest outrage is how definitively unsexy the whole film is. And the fact that Fifty Shades Freed (no, really? Do you promise?) is already on the slate. I’ll definitely be washing my hair that night.


A Bigger Splash

This review first published in the Sunday Star-Times, 6th March 2016

A remake of the 1969 French film La Piscine, four storming performances lie at the heart of what makes A Bigger Splash a riot of a summer art-house movie.

Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive, Michael Clayton) is as effortless as ever in her portrayal of Marianne, a famed rockstar recovering from debilitating throat surgery whose Italian holiday is disrupted by the arrival of her erstwhile lover Harry (an utterly intoxicating Ralph Fiennes, loosened up like you’ve never seen him before) and his newly found daughter. As Marianne’s current young paramour, the hunky Matthias Schoenaerts, strives to retain his favoured position (Harry’s needling of the grown man he calls “the Kid” is sharply played), the tension is neatly ratcheted up as a battle for devotion and attention ensues. But as with many films boasting a French provenance, events rapidly turn even darker than anticipated.

As he did with I Am Love (also starring Swinton), Italian director Luca Guadagnino allows the audience to live vicariously in the world of the rich and famous, where lounging beside tiled swimming pools and dining al fresco is taken for granted by the four beautiful people whose emotional inner-wrangling delivers all of the narrative drama. He underscores their bourgeois malaise with a brilliant soundtrack (both orchestral and pop-cultural) and keeps the narrative mosing apace.

Expertly acted, the nuances in character development are superb – although Fiennes talks a mile a minute and prances around in the altogether (one central scene in which he takes centre stage is worth the ticket price alone), his drug-addled record producer also manages to provoke our sympathy. As the pouty daughter Harry has only just discovered, 50 Shades of Grey’s Dakota Johnson shows enormous promise, and Schoenaerts wears his character’s wounded past with admirable restraint.

Where I Am Love descended into melodrama at the end, A Bigger Splash just about manages to keep its head above water. It’s not remotely subtle but it certainly is a heap of debauched fun.


Fifty Shades of Grey

I did not read this best-selling novel, which started life as fan-fiction for the Twilight series and instead rapidly made its way to the top of many women’s night table reading piles. Received wisdom was that the sex scenes were OK but that people couldn’t get past how badly written it was. If you want proper erotica, we advised each other, read Nancy Friday.

But someone clearly liked Fifty Shades of Grey, and so here we have the first of (no doubt) three movies, given Hollywood’s ongoing obsession with book adaptations and extendable trilogies at that.

Steven Soderbergh was one of several directors originally slated to helm the project, and one can only dream what it might have been had the maker of Magic Mike been at the reins. But instead the dubious honour fell to British artist Sam Taylor-Johnson (whose debut feature Nowhere Boy was a splendid rendition of the early life of John Lennon).

Here Taylor-Johnson has produced a serviceable movie with mostly passable performances whose highlight is actually its production design, while the story itself completely lacks emotional or sensual frisson. A bit of a problem for a book which centres around the sexual and sadomasochistic relationship of an impressionable, mousy young student, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and the rich, handsome businessman who hides darker proclivities behind a locked door (Jamie Dornan, who might look at home in The Tudors but is miscast here).

The sexual politics aren’t completely repellent, since feisty Anastasia gives Grey a run for his money as he pursues her in a typically Twilight game of push-me, pull-you. But the script is risible, excruciating from a precipitously early audacious enquiry into Grey’s cold heart and damaged childhood, through all the tortured “I’m not the man for you” moments that reduce our “heroine” (ahem) to tears. And despite his sad eyes and manipulative caresses, Grey is basically just a drug-dealer, getting Ana hooked on him like catnip before moving her onto the hard stuff.

Normally, films try to avoid the R18 rating which will eviscerate their potential box office take. But Fifty Shades proudly sports its shock factor, despite the fact that it is shockingly unerotic and for the most part rather tedious.

For titillation of a superior kind, you’re better off visiting the shop of Lars von Trier and watching four hours of Nymphomaniac.

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