Long-winded and neither as smart, surprising, or sassy as it thinks, Bad Times at the El Royale is a stylish snow-globe of sixties subcultures clown-car piled into an overdrawn neo-noir. Bursting at the seams with metaphorical material and cultural commentary but featherlight on plot and deep-dive character development, this strangers-at-a-hotel mystery has a lot of guff and bluster but little actual punch. It’s not exactly bad times but the times decidedly aren’t so grand either. Read More
Black Mass is a stage upon which Johnny Depp has revived his career, and little more. As the film’s malevolent heavy and famed criminal overlord “Whitey” Bulger, Deep is borderline excellent, brooding and prowling around the screen like a silverback gorilla. On the streets, he’s equally guerrilla, taking down his enemies as well as former-confidantes-turned-rat in maelstroms of cold-shelled slugs. And though Deeps is admirable as the callous and cold Jimmy Bulger, the film itself overwhelmingly replicates its star’s unenviable personality traits in its cinematic aura, resulting in a film that’s even more callous and cold than the iconic gangster at its center. Read More
When I’m in the mood to do the pant’s dance, you won’t find me reaching for airport smut the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey. Rather, I prefer my sex with a little, uh, sex. I have been told the crop of humans that find this lewd drivel titillating are mostly repressed housewives and jittery virgins. Even then I find it hard to believe that the virginal palette is whetted by domestic abuse dressed up as BDSM and that housewives crave the kind of punishment on display in Fifty Shades of Grey. I imagine the more apt female fantasy involves turning the table and gaining the whip rather than submitting to an older, powerful, pain-obsessed billionaire. I’m willing to admit that maybe I just don’t get it but I have an inclination that I’m standing on the right side with this one.
Fifty Shades of Grey is fifty shades of shady. It’s porn for people who don’t watch porn – filled with nudity (you even snag a glimpse of shaft-top), playroom tools (Mr. Grey keeps his own personal, in-house red light district stocked to the brim but never gets around to using any of his actual instruments. When he does finally turn to his tool box of BDSM trinkets, he uses an ordinary belt? Really? But you have a wall STOCKED with sick canes?!), and waiting – but the film is improbably light on actual sex. And, more importantly, sex appeal. For a movie that’s two hours of contrived tension and nothing in the way of plot, the payoffs suffer creative erectile dysfunction en masse and fail to tick the arousal dial even slightly clockwise.
It’s no surprise to learn that the concept from Fifty Shades was explicitly born from “Twilight” fan fiction. Doing my best to know as little as possible about these kinds of things, I had no idea this was the case when I turned to my girlfriend during the screening and said, “This is just Twilight without the vampires”. After over two hours of Fifty Shades though, I was begging for Twilight. That should give you a sense of just how putrid a product Sam Taylor-Johnson‘s adaptation of E.L. James‘ bestselling romance novel truly is. At least Twilight had a story.
Starring two nobodies that no-one cares about – Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan – Fifty Shades of Grey purports the telling of a peculiar love story but to call what unfolds a story is unfittingly generous. A story involves characters being forced to make choices and subsequently developing because of those choices, their relationships thickening as various circumstances swirl around them, pushing them hither and thither. Fifty Shades revolves around one choice – whether Ana will submit to the dominant Mr. Grey – and only by curtain time has our character made her choice. It’s 125-minutes of will-they-or-won’t-they BDSM-lite cinematic garbage and to spent any more time discussing the “plot” is a waste of resources, yours and mine both.
Perhaps what is most off-putting about the whole affair is (my admittedly personal) perception that the sexual acts that take place are in no way, shape or form sexy. Their bumping uglies is either as awkward as losing your V-card or as painful to watch as sitting through Blue is the Warmest Color with your parents, and Taylor-Johnson has little to offer in terms of variety to spice things up. Surely she was handed a pile of narrative yuck so it’s hard to put the blame on her for trying to dress that yuck up as pretty as she could. In the midst of the second act, the movie appears as if it might switch gears and turn its engines to full steam ahead but just piddles out shortly thereafter and gets back to the will-they-won’t-they grind.
Not having read the source material, I genuinely wonder if this kind of novella smut could have ever made a good movie. The plain truth of the matter is Fifty Shades of Grey just isn’t a story. There’s no three act structure. There’s hardly characters so much as denuded cardboard cut-outs sticking themselves into each other, brewing with overt undertones of sexual violence.
Damian Grey’s misunderstanding of consensual sexual congress comes cloaked in contracts, a fact that should be an immediate red-flag for any self-respecting female. “Oh, I need to sign my rights away in order to bone you? Sounds legit!” When asked what she gets out of the deal, Grey purrs, “Me”. Fucking spare me.
When Mr. Grey does let his demons out of the closet and sparks the engines on his lingering dungeon tools, his coital playbook is closer in form to The Rapes of Wrath and Ho-piercer than the soft femininity of Nicholas Spark’s The Throatbook. Even then – in the midst of an aggressive buttocks bludgeoning – I had trouble feeling anything towards the lip-biter on the receiving end because she asked for it AND had a carefully-outlined safe word prepared. If only there had been a safe word to make this movie stop.
Those sexually-repressed tittering housewives looking to get their jollies off in the biggest budget, softest soft-core porno ever, will find their faces fully flushed, hooting and hollering as the hot bodies on screen run their whips across bared flesh and eventually insert themselves in one another. Those who’ve gotten lost in a Borders to find themselves surrounded by self-same covers of disposable romantic novels – those with the bare-chested hunks and the impossibly helpless damsels dangling from them – and have run screaming, those poor few ought prepare for the absolute overdose of senseless smut that is Fifty Shades of Grey.
At the screening I attended, they distributed Fifty Shades fashioned blindfolds before the showing. You wouldn’t be worse off wearing it during the film.