Archive for category James Foley

50 Shades Darker

50 Shades

Beware. Supernova.

I think I know what you are thinking. After all, I thought it once too. I saw the trailers for “50 Shades Darker.” I saw the Rotten Tomatoes score. Without watching the film, I could have written the reviews. I would have bet that you could too. I imagine you expect comments like: “This film is acted by disinterested people who don’t like each other and seem embarrassed to be in the movie,” or “The story is so excruciating, shoddy, and ill-informed about sex that it seems like it was written by a 13-year-old on Adderall right after watching some BDSM videos on YouPorn” or “The only justification for this film being produced is that it is a bizarre experimental attempt to make the least titillating movie with filmed sex in it of all-time.” Comments like those.  You won’t find any comments like those in this review. If my review does nothing else, I hope it dispels you of the assumption that this is a boring, listless, and almost unwatchable dreary film not worth anyone’s time, as that could not be more wrong. “50 Shades Darker” is the best film of the 21st, and possibly of any, century.

Despite the effusiveness of that last statement, I cannot recommend this film. Like staring directly into the sun, there are dire consequences for watching this film. Once the rash of spontaneous orgasms had ceased and the pain in my testicles had subsided (days after watching the film, mind you,) I realized that I no longer saw reality the same way. Yet this being Year One, ACGAS (After Christian Grey/Anastasia Steele,) I can’t say I am enjoying it. My nerve endings seemingly seared off, I am stuck enduring with the knowledge that I will never again have an experience as visceral and profound as the film I watched. How could I? Seeing the impossibly sweltering romance of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele let me vicariously experience an emotional and erotic connection that I previously could not have conceived of. What experience can match that?

The film begins innocuously enough. Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) have broken up and are living apart. This was supposedly sad, but I confess that I didn’t see what the big deal was at the time. The sex they were having couldn’t have been “that” good. Little did I know that I was just watching the wick burn down on a stick of sexual dynamite. In little more than five minutes, that dynamite went off and I was consumed by the torrid mushroom cloud of the magical splendor of their togetherness. After an art show in which Anastasia is the chief subject, Christian shows up and buys all of her portraits, convinces her to go to dinner with him. They never make it to dinner 😉 and my life would never be the same.

Here is where I kind of lost the thread, so enthralled with their romance that I couldn’t follow the plot. It was like a sexy atom bomb went off inside my brain. I could not see anything other than their shockingly real connection to each other. Honestly, with a love this blistering, who can bother to pay attention to a rapey book publisher or a jealous ex-girlfriend? Anything or anyone attempting to impede their love is incinerated by the flames of their desires. Getting to spend some time in the corona in this nuclear-fusion star of a relationship is a greater gift than one should ever expect from the cinema. When Kim Basinger, Eric Johnson, and Bella Heathcoate and some other people showed-up and vomited out some dialogue, I only paid them enough heed to resent that the actors had the privilege of being in the white-hot ground-zero of Dakota and Jamie’s explosive chemistry when it was filmed.

So electric and sincere is the passion which these characters seem to have for each other that I was shocked to find out that Dakota and Jamie are not together off-screen. I did not think such a ferocious love could be faked, but there you have it. I also want to praise them for the nuance and subtlety with which they imbued these characters, despite seeming to be subsumed by an unimaginable lust for each other. For example, it would be easy to assume that Anastasia’s interest in Christian was primarily to do with his good-looks, the billions he makes from his nebulous business venture, and her desire to cure a man of his mental hang-ups via her love. Perhaps we might have thought that Christian’s attraction to Anastasia was merely the product of some weird Oedipal attraction.  Instead, we see that none of that stuff matters even slightly. It is solely true love which fuels their attraction. Nothing else.

As I conclude this review, I find myself full of lament.  It is an experience which I will treasure and resent for the rest of my life. I wish I could recommend this experience, but I can’t. I just want to give you the facts. “50 Shades Darker” is MDMA for your soul. So brightly does the love of Christian and Anastasia burn that when you come down from the film, reality looks muted. You are stuck with the knowledge that you will never experience a love that wondrous and beautiful. Whatever else you take away from this review and whether you watch this film, just know that it isn’t some of the longest 131 minutes you can spend watching a movie. That wouldn’t be accurate at all.


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Glengarry Glen Ross

While Mamet’s profanity-laden dialogue snaps, sizzles, races, drips, and oozes out of the film’s star-studded cast, the camera twitches, twirls, and paces like a hyper eight-year-old, bored during the sermon at church. While I’m sure the film’s director, James Foley, wanted to transform Mamet’s Pulitzer prize-winning play into something more cinematic, the material would have been better served with a more subtle, and less distracting, approach to the cinematography.

I have absolutely no desire to be a salesperson, and Glengarry Glen Ross evinces every reason why. Covering two days in the lives of four real estate salesman, the cast is filled to the brim with major acting talents, including Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and the legendary Jack Lemmon. In a fiery and venomous speech delivered by Alec Baldwin which is intended to motivate them out of stagnation, the salesmen are told that only the top two sellers will be allowed to keep their jobs at the end of the month and be given access to the precious Glengarry leads. This sets off a series of volatile exchanges between the salesmen, ranging from a smug acceptance of the dog eat dog nature of the business, backroom scheming and power plays, and desperate pleading for better leads, all while deceiving people in slimy attempts to get potential customers to part ways with large amounts of money.

At the top of the pecking order is Ricky Roma (Pacino), who has little problem with the way things work. He has the best sales numbers in the office. At the height of his powers, we witness Roma work his magic on an unsuspecting schlub in a bar. Dave Moss (Harris) demands respect, but his employer only cares about results. Fed up with all the mistreatment, Moss makes plans to steal the precious Glengarry leads and sell them to a rival business. To do this, he tries to enlist the help of dimwitted George Aaronow (Alan Arkin), who always seems to be several steps behind everyone else. Last in sales is Shelley “The Machine” Levene. On a terrible cold streak in which he cannot make a sale, his situation becomes more and more dire. He has a sick daughter in the hospital and needs money very badly. He begs nebbish office manager John Williamson (Kevin Spacey) for the Glengarry leads, and even offers him a bribe to obtain some.

Mamet’s script understands these characters and how they relate to their jobs, and the actors all give performances fitting their talents. Lemmon is especially gut-wrenching and brilliant as the pathetic but endearing Levene. Watching these acting titans verbally gnaw at each other with these great Mamut lines as they frantically try to survive in an increasingly hostile work environment is compelling. Yet despite the film’s efforts to the contrary, this feels more like actors acting on a stage then characters in a film, which is not in and of itself a bad thing.

Using film to capture or re-create the essence of a stage play is one its oldest functions. It requires a subtle touch to use the property of film to enhance the drama and tension of a stage play, and without it. Yet distract is precisely what the camera does in Glengarry Glen Ross. A film as verbose as this needs a more nuanced and less conspicuous approach, yet the camera is there, insisting on its presence much of the time. Just when we are admiring Lemmon’s ability to bend his face into an impossibly wide grin, or Pacino’s ability to spew curse words unlike anybody else, there is an unnecessary pan, zoom out, or other embellishment which asserts itself into the scene, disrupting the rhythm of the drama and tension that has been steadily building or pulsating through the scene.

For all these criticisms, there are worst crimes then overdoing camerawork in an attempt to make a script more cinematic, and the fact is that the script and cast are so good, it would nigh impossible to do any serious harm to the film. Still, I am left wondering how much better the film might have been if only the camera had been more of an asset.


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After Dark, My Sweet

Kevin, “Kid” Collins (Jason Patric) is either brilliant, stupid, or insane, and what happens in the film largely depends on just what one thinks of him. Narrating the film in a noir style, Kid Collins stumbles through a series of important decisions that will have a serious impact on the lives of several others.

The film begins with Kid Collins walking down a road cutting through the desert, with his voice-over narration telling us, among other things, that he used to be a boxer and that he wandered out of a mental institution. Collins continues his wandering into a bar, where his chattiness irritates the patrons and the bartender tries to kick him out, but instead receives a haymaker to the face. Collins quickly leaves, but is followed by Fay (Rachael Ward), a woman who, as in most noirs, means trouble. Fay wants Collins to help her and a man named “Uncle Bud” in kidnapping the son of a wealthy family for ransom. Fay tells Collins to leave, and he does. Collins runs into a kind doctor who offers him a job and some help, but it just isn’t for Collins, who goes back to Fay and gets wrapped up in their ransom scheme. What happens next is a mixture of speculation and paranoia.

Collins does not trust the other two, and he accuses them of various forms of treachery. Is he right? The film is not really clear, but Collins seems to have a good point. The other two are far from honest, but Collins does not have the best judgment either. The doctor, allegedly acting out of an ethical obligation, tells Fay about Collins mental health, who had previously requested the information be kept secret. While emotions are stirred, this does not deter the trio from proceeding with the kidnapping. They get the kid, but tensions continue to rise as the go about trying to get the money.

Patric’s portrayal of Collins, is effective and crucial to the film. His constantly disheveled and subdued look masks what may be a piercing mind underneath. In another vital performance for the film, George Dickerson playing Doctor Goldman as man whose interest in Collins does not appear to be purely professional. The film leaves Uncle Bud and Fay’s relationship, like so many other things, ambiguous. Are they lovers? Friends? How and why did they decide to commit this crime?

The film is an interesting spin on the noir genre, with many of the standard fare (oppressive scenery, desperate people, voice-over narration, criminal plots and a femme fatale), but changes things in the subtlety of Patric’s performance and in keeping all the double crosses only in his mind. Instead of Collins being overwhelmed by the forces around him, he overwhelms the forces around him, who, in a twist on the noir genre, are the weak ones.


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