Tag Archives: nudity

Movie Review: Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

fifty_shades_of_grey_ver5

I knew it was not going to be good. Having put myself through the novel, my motivation for seeing Fifty Shades of Grey stemmed largely from my curiosity over how much a quality Hollywood production headed by director Sam Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass’s real-life wife) could salvage an adaptation of the third worst book I’ve ever read.

The answer? A decent amount, but nowhere near enough. You can’t deep fry a turd coated in 11 secret herbs and spices and expect it to suddenly be finger-licking good.

Fifty Shades of Grey is probably the first adaptation of a best-selling novel where the dominant expectation is that it will suck because of the source material. Originating as a piece of Twilght fan fiction, the novel has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide despite universal scathing reviews. All the blessings in the world to author EL James for her remarkable success, but how this poorly written amateur effort — which was initially released by an independent Aussie virtual publisher — became a global phenomenon will surely go down in history as one of the greatest literary mysteries of all time.

By now you should know that the “erotic romantic drama” is about young, beautiful, virginal Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson — the offspring of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson), who meets and falls for the rich, mysterious and “impossibly handsome” Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). She likes biting her lower lip and he’s a sex maniac who enjoys flogging women and contractual negotiations.

The problems with the story and the characters have been, like Anastasia’s ass, flogged to death. People who have read the book would have anticipated this, but audiences fresh to this tale will be introduced to a whole new world of painfully awkward conversations, unrealistic human reactions and WTF moments of the purest kind. It’s one unintentionally hilarious moment after another, each gradually propelling the film towards “so bad it’s good” territory, but without actually getting there. I can honestly say that my wife, who never read the books, laughed louder and harder in this movie than any comedy we’ve seen in the last few years.

The film’s other drawcard, the eroticism, was surprisingly flaccid. I knew they had to pare things back to squeeze the film into an R-rating under America’s classification system, but I didn’t believe they could make the sex scenes even duller than what they were in the book. We’re talking soft-soft core; 9 1/2 Weeks and Wild Orchid it definitely is not. And I say this with an unblemished record of staunch heterosexuality (not that there’s anything wrong with that): there was not enough man-junk for a movie whose target market is young to middle-aged women. In fact, while Johnson showed off everything, Dornan’s johnson doesn’t even make a fleeting, or even accidental appearance. By the way, the S&M scenes were just horrible. Maybe you need to be into that sort of stuff to appreciate it.

So when you take out the moronic characters, a paper-thin plot and tame eroticism, all that’s left is a dull experience littered with trite dialogue, cringeworthy set pieces and tacky efforts at developing “romance” between the two leads, which is evidently difficult when the guy can only think about torturing the girl and the girl can only think about…nothing at all.

Still, you can tell they tried. The biggest issue with the movie is that the filmmakers were restricted in what they could change without angering the faithful fans of the novel — and the woman who wrote it. Apparently, James clashed constantly with Taylor-Johnson during the creative process and in the editing room. The author wanted the film to remain loyal to the source material, while the director wanted the film to be less shit. I’ve also read that screenwriter Kelly Marcel initially rehauled the embarrassing dialogue, but James vetoed her and a second writer was brought in to rewrite the original shit back in. The mess has been described as a “falling out.”

I think it’s safe to say neither Taylor-Johnson nor Marcel will be back in future entries, though they must still be credited for doing all they can to repair the damage. Taylor-Johnson does a solid job of infusing the film with a blue-grey colour scheme that’s pretty to look at, while also moulding an atmosphere that suits the tone of the narrative. Marcel’s biggest contribution is ensuring that the story is not narrated by Ana, so there’s none of that “inner goddess” garbage or her annoying soliloquies. Some of the more ridiculous facts about her from the book — such as that she’s never kissed anyone or had a boyfriend — are thankfully trimmed out. They even tried to scrape back the amount of pointless emailing and texting between Ana and Christian and all the excruciating back and forth about the contract details.

As for the performances, Johnson is actually pretty good as the mentally challenged naive Ana, the beautiful girl who has no idea men are even remotely attracted to her. Though she’s close to Ana’s age in real life — Johnson’s 25, Ana’s supposed to be 21 — I found Johnson a little old-looking for the part, but kudos to her anyway as she at least channels the book version of the character well.

Jamie Dornan is by all accounts a great actor who will go one to bigger and better things after this, but you can tell from his performance that he couldn’t believe he was in this shit, playing a piece of shit. To borrow from Arrested Development’s Bluth family, Dornan’s singular expression throughout the film said it all.

Jamie Dornan

The rest of the cast sleepwalk through their way for their paychecks. Eloise Mumford, whom I’ve never seen before, plays Ana’s best friend and roommate Kate, while veterans Jennifer Ehle and Marcia Gay Harden play Ana and Christian’s mothers, respectively. True Blood‘s Luke Grimes plays Christian’s brother Elliot and British singer Rita Ora plays their sister Mia, with the familiar face of Max Martini stepping in as Taylor, Christian’s answer to Bruce Wayne’s Alfred. Everyone involved seems to acknowledge that they’re just in it for the money and the CV-boosting publicity.

Having said all this, Fifty Shades of Grey is not one of the worst films I’ve seen by a long shot. It’s better than the book, which doesn’t say much but must count for something. By all means, watch it to satisfy your curiosity or so you can crack jokes at it with your friends.

The film leaves audiences hanging like the novel, and judging from its box office success — smashing several opening weekend and R-rated film records — it appears at least two sequels (they’ll probably split the last book into two films) are headed our way. That’s not good, because the only two books I’ve read worse than Fifty Shades of Grey are — you guessed it — Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.

1.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

sin-city-a-dame-to-kill-for-review

It’s hard to believe, but Sin City, the mini masterpiece based on Frank Miller’s graphic novels, was released back in 2005. It was stylistic, brutal, violent, lurid, sexual, and unlike anything we had seen before. It was obvious that a sequel was forthcoming, though no one expected that it would be another nine years before Sin City: A Dame to Kill For would take hit the big screen.

A lot has happened over the last nine years, including the release of several comparable movies, most of which have not been very memorable. As a result, much of the anticipation that would have come from a Sin City sequel had it been made immediately after the original has dissipated. Without the advantages of surprise, novelty and unique visuals, Sin City 2 never really had a chance to live up to its predecessor. The fact that it was a box office flop confirmed my suspicions.

That said, I still had quite a good time with this one. I only remember bits and pieces of the original, and I am glad to say it did not matter all that much. Again, it’s more about the style than the substance, the titillation than the emotion. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Sin City 2 brings back some old faces and introduces some new ones in essentially two separate stories of revenge. The first one revolves around Josh Brolin’s character Dwight,  a tough guy still smitten with the woman who broke his heart. The woman, Ava, is played by the smoking Eva Green, who does an excellent job of making audiences believe that she is indeed a dame who can make a man kill for her. Other characters in this story are played by Rosario Dawson, Jamie King, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Dennis Haysbert (President David Palmer from 24!) and Jamie Chung.

The second story focuses on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a cocky young gambler who seems to always have luck on his side — that is until he runs into ruthless crime boss Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), the father of the Yellow Bastard from the first film. Bruce Willis returns in what is essentially a cameo, and Jessica Alba does slightly more this time than just dance without stripping, though not much more.

Both stories are interesting in their own way, but they don’t have much of a connection other than Mickey Rourke’s character Marv, who appears throughout as a bridge between the different acts. I think that the scattered narrative was also the approach in the original, but for some reason I remember it to be darker, more violent and more captivating.

The sequel’s still a very stylish film that emulates a lot of what made the original successful, including visuals featuring animation, black and white spliced with an eye-catching primary colour, and loads of bone-crunching violence to go with the squishy sound effects. The characters are comic book caricatures, but they’re very intriguing caricatures played by great actors. Despite possessing so many of the same elements as its predecessor, however, the impact this time around is just not the same.

To be honest I think the film would have worked much better had it be turned into a late-night TV series, with each act representing one 30-minute episode. As a 102-minute feature it just felt like they were forcing several unrelated stories into an uncomfortable package that doesn’t even try to live up the the hype and anticipation built up over the last nine years. Still, as someone who really enjoyed the original I must say I didn’t mind the sequel at all, as un-epic as it was. All style and very little substance rarely works, but in the case of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For it’s about as good as it can get.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Canyons (2013)

canyons_ver2_xlg

Let’s be honest here. The names attached to The Canyons and the process of how this mini-budget “erotic thriller” got made in the first place is far more interesting than the film itself. In fact, I’m fairly certain that a documentary or a movie based on the making of this film would be totally awesome.

Made on a shoestring budget of just US$250,000, The Canyons is written by famed American Psycho author Brett Easton Ellis and directed by Paul Schrader, the legendary co-writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and the director of American Gigolo, Affliction and Auto Focus. It stars the actress no production company would take on because she is uninsurable, Lindsay Lohan, and the most popular male porno actor of his generation, James Deen. It’s a wild and wacky team that drew a lot of attention over its troubled production — mostly involving Lindsay Lohan meltdown stories — and its sexual overtones — also, of course, involving Lohan.

(If you’re interested — and I guarantee, it’s very interesting — I’d recommend reading this amazing New York Times piece, “Here is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie.” By the way, the film totally bombed, failed to be selected for a bunch of film festivals, and Lohan refused to support the film, which has been branded a new “career-low”.)

All things considered — the budget struggles, the troubled production, and most of all, Lohan — The Canyons is not as awful as it could have been. Sure, it’s bad, and depending on your point of view, arguably embarrassing, but Brett Easton Ellis is too good of a writer and Paul Schrader is too good of a director to churn out a product that doesn’t at least have positive attributes.

The premise of The Canyons is not far from porno/amateur film/student project territory — when Christian (James Deen), a wealthy trust fund douche with Hollywood ties suspects his girlfriend Tara (Lindsay Lohan) could be cheating on him, he spirals into obsession and starts doing crazy things. There’s a little more to that, such as the fact that Christian likes inviting random people to watch him and Tara get it on, or get it on with Tara while he watches. And the guy Tara might be involved with, Ryan (played by Glee’s Nolan Gerard Funk), is a struggling actor (with a girlfriend) who may have to resort to opportunistic gay stuff to make ends meet. Typical stuff, really.

The whole look and feel of the film reflects its measly budget and can’t seem to escape that Melrose Place soapy melodrama tone, though on the other hand there is that soft-core porn aspect of the film many people have been curious about. Yes, LiLo does get her puppies out, and no, it does not improve the film in any way.

The one saving grace of the film is the surprisingly good performance by James Deen. I haven’t seen his porn work (he proves in one dangly scene that he definitely belongs in porn), but the dude has screen presence and can deliver a line with charisma and conviction. He steals the scenes he’s in and overshadows Lindsay’s performance, which I suppose is not bad given that she appeared to be hung over most of the time. In that sense Lohan’s Golden Raspberry nomination for worst actress is probably undeserved, but to be honest I couldn’t really focus on Lindsay’s acting because I couldn’t stop looking at how bad and old she looked — and she’s just 27! She just looked terrible, and I sincerely hope she gets some help because she needs it.

As bad as The Canyons is, at least it does not come with any misleading expectations of it being good. More importantly, it’s not a boring film. I managed to remain focused for most of the 99-minute running time, wondering whether the film might be heading towards something better. It didn’t, of course, but it kept me watching.

There are actually some parallels to be drawn between The Canyons and Tommy Wisseau’s legendary masterpiece, The Room, the so-called “Citizen Kane of bad movies.” Both look like trite amateur flicks with bad sex scenes and are about an obsessive wealthy guy who goes crazy when he suspects that his girlfriend might be cheating on him. However, while The Room is so unintentionally and laughably bad that it has become a cult classic and is loved around the world, The Canyons is just “normal bad,” and that in my opinion makes it a worse film.

1.5 stars out of 5

the-canyons-james-deen
“You’re tearing me apart, Lindsay!” — James Deen in The Canyons

Movie Review: Spring Breakers (2013)

spring-breakers-poster-1

I thought Project X, that sorry excuse for a film about three losers who decide to throw a massive house party, was the worst movie of 2012. Spring Breakers is more attractive visually and has much bigger names attached to it, but it’s pretty much the Project X of 2013, except more pretentious.

Written and directed by Harmony Korine (Gummo), Spring Breakers is about four college girls – Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens and Rachel Korine (the director’s wife) – who head to a spring break party full of drunken rowdiness and intoxicated/drugged up debauchery in skimpy outfits. After a brief brush with the law, they meet Alien, a local gangster played by a corn-rolled James Franco, causing their world to spiral out of control.

That doesn’t make it sound too bad, except that it is. Spring Breakers was made with the intention to shock and disgust audiences with the despicable behaviour of college students on spring break. This means there’s lots of raunchy dancing, drug use, alcohol abuse and nudity and swearing, which is not necessarily bad if done in the right way.

But Korine’s approach feels gratuitous and contrived, with a really lame narrative structure that jumps around and repeats pointlessly behind an even more irritating Terrence Malick-style voiceover that only accentuates how unattractive and unlikable the protagonists are. Most of all, despite decent performances from all four of them, they don’t feel real. Stupid and obnoxious, yes, but not genuine people.

James Franco’s acting is actually fairly strong in this, but his character is a laughable parody. He’s hilarious (unintentionally), actually, but only because he is so pathetic. In fact, there are several moments in this movie that fall between unintentionally funny and cringeworthy, and none of them are intended. The film’s Wikipedia page calls it a “comedy drama” but it’s really an “unintentionally comedic drama.”

Spring Breakers would have still been salvageable had the story been interesting or compelling, but there wasn’t really much of a story to speak of either. And the ending was just flat out horrible. A ridiculous and fitting end to a loathsome movie.

0.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Shame (2011)

Writer-director Steve McQueen’s sex-addict movie, Shame, has been the talk of the town lately because of Hollywood’s biggest new star, lead actor Michael Fassbender’s…um…”assbender”.

Fassbender’s appendage, which is on full display in the film, has been the subject of a slew of jokes, including from George Clooney, who asked during his Golden Globes acceptance speech if Fassbender had ever played golf with his hands tied behind his back (other jokes include “Fassbender puts pornstars to Shame“, “Fassbender has nothing to he aShamed of”, “Fassbender puts Vincent Gallo to Shame”, “Fassbender is going to be starring in Boogie Nights 2: No Prosthetics Needed“, etc). (Okay, I made pretty much all of them up.)

Oh, yes, what’s the film about?  Fassbender plays Brandon Sullivan, a successful New Yorker who just can’t keep it in his pants.  The guy just needs it all the time, wherever, whoever, you name it.  And he’s not even the master of his domain, if you know what I mean.  It’s actually quite debilitating and not as exciting as it seems.  His sister Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan, shows up out of nowhere and turns Brandon’s life upside down.  Sissy has some serious issues of her own, and it’s obvious they are both trying to forget their troubled past, which is hinted but never revealed.

You would think that a film about a sex addict would be a comedy, but Shame is extremely dark and depressing, pretty much all the way through.   Like most addictions, Brandon’s issues are deeply rooted (pun intended), and McQueen does not glamorise it at all, making his best efforts to convey the condition in a realistic manner.  It’s portrayed not a whole lot differently to any type of serious addiction, be it drugs or alcohol — though I wouldn’t say the film is as harrowing as say Requiem for a Dream.

Despite the film being centred around sex, it’s not gratuitous — though there is a fair bit of it, there’s not nearly as much sex and nudity as one would expect.  Credit to McQueen for showing enough to convey what’s necessary but not to the point where it becomes exploitative.

I haven’t seen all of the Oscar best actor nominees, so I can’t make a definitive statement — but it’s a minor travesty that Fassbender, who also starred in McQueen’s acclaimed debut, Hunger,  was not given the nod this year for his daring, brilliant, controlled performance.  Without him, I’m not sure how this film would have turned out.  Also very impressive is Carey Mulligan, who hadn’t jumped out at me before in previous roles but was particularly effective here as the needy, disruptive Sissy.  The singing scene was a little cringeworthy but everything else was solid.

Shame is very much an indie drama film, so it’s not going to be for everyone.  There are long, lingering shots and plenty of conversation and silence.  But at the end of the day, everything is there for a reason and as a result the film works as a piece of compelling cinema.  It’s a an effective and disturbing portrayal of an addiction that robs the afflicted of their ability to make an emotional connection with other people.  I was riveted from start to finish.

4 stars out of 5

 

Movie Review: The Change-Up (2011)

20110920-054905.jpg

Body-swap movies have been done plenty of times before, and they all seem to follow a similar trajectory — but it doesn’t mean they can’t be funny, especially if done right. The Change-Up, yet another Jason Bateman movie, was much better an expected, and probably the best of his recent batch of films (being Couples Retreat, The Switch, Paul and Horrible Bosses — though some may enjoy the latter two more).

Bateman plays Dave, a corporate lawyer on the verge of partnership. He has a beautiful and loving wife (Leslie Mann) and three young children, but he hardly has any time for them. His unlikely best friend Mitch is played by Ryan Reynolds. Mitch is an immature, struggling actor who spends most of his time on drugs and sex. On a wild boys night out a drunken wish is turned into reality, and before things can be rectified, Dave must now live as Mitch and vice versa.

Of course, you probably already knew this. The selling point of The Change-Up is not the predictable premise, but the laughs spawned from watching Bateman and Reynolds play each other. And there are quite a few decent laughs (which I won’t spoil except to say they are not all revealed in the trailer like the majority of comedies these days) because we are so used to seeing Bateman as the straight man (which he is in just about everything — Smoking Aces is the only exception I can think of) and Reynolds as the cocky, charming hotshot/slacker.

The unfortunate thing about The Change-Up is that it often resorts to crude jokes and gross-out shock tactics. Some of them work; some of them don’t. Honestly, I don’t get what is wrong with so many comedies nowadays, which seem to confuse outraging audiences with amusing them using genuine wit and comedic timing.

Some might also feel that the main female characters don’t get a fair shake in the movie. Mann is your typically supportive but emotional housewife, while Olivia Wilde’s ‘hot law associate’ is perhaps more of a plot device than a realistic character. And before you boys spray your shorts, nudity from both these actresses are done through body doubles and digital effects.

A further problem audiences might pick up is the gaping plot holes. But trying to figure out how a bum with no college education can not only work as a senior associate for days without anyone getting suspicious but also stuff up mega deals without repercussions will only dampen your enjoyment of the movie — so it’s best just to go with the flow and forget about them.

Flaws notwithstanding, The Change-Up is still funnier and more engaging than I had expected. Part of it is due to the fantastic chemistry between Bateman and Reynolds, but what surprised me was that the film actually had some heart at its core. Sure it was the exact same message that all body-swap movies have, but I somehow found myself caring much more than I should have in the end.

3.25 stars out of 5!