Fifty Shades of Grey  (2015)    27/100

Rating :   27/100                                                                     125 Min        18

I was slightly looking forward to this, I had no idea what it was really about and rather assumed it would be lame pseudo erotica aimed at middle aged bored women who would never contemplate typing ‘porn’ into Google in case they went straight to hell, and wouldn’t work out out how to turn off the safe search even if they did, and for that reason I figured it might be quite amusing. Wrong. What this is, is a deeply disturbing and cynical attempt to make its creators rich and nothing more. Christian Grey seduces the young and virginal Anastasia Steele, except he wants to control her and requests she sign a contract that will allow him to keep her as his willing and obedient slave, all amidst the familiar romantic trope of ‘the pretty girl will melt the bitter male’s heart and he will not make her his slave, but will be saved by love and have a normal relationship’. As with a lot of such fare, like ‘Pretty Woman’ (90) or myriad concepts of Prince Charming, the male character is abundantly rich, meaning that not only will the girl have all the material pleasures and comforts her heart desires, but that he is also able to effectively spend every waking second making her the centre of his rather unreal universe.

Criminally, this is all pasted together with an over abundance of pop songs, trying as much as possible to make it appear like a traditional Hollywood romantic outing for the leads Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson. In reality, there are extremely serious issues at play here and they are glossed over to the max – Grey has obviously been the victim of abuse in his early life, and it’s probable his domination of women has more to do with trying to deal with being physically unable to defend himself in the past, it has absolutely nothing to do with romance and not even all that much to do with sex, and for once all the people complaining about this before its release are actually bang on the money – it does endorse rape culture and it absolutely sends out a hideous and contorted message to women young enough to be receptive to its media pop culture sheen.

This is acutely summed up when Grey impatiently writes to Anastasia asking her if she’s made up her mind about the contract yet – to which she writes back ‘It was nice knowing you’. A pretty definite thumbs down. His response to this? To break into her flat and show her what he intends to bind her with, which has her eagerly nod her approval and she is promptly tied to the bed and fucked. She doesn’t even bat an eyelid when he appears, nor does she really give assent as her nod is referencing their last experience where her hands were bound together, but she wasn’t herself tied down. We are essentially witnessing a rape but it’s being sold to us as the correct response for a male who’s just been refused by a female.

Even before this, she calls him to leave a drunken message and he flips out at her for being inebriated (loss of control you see) and then he is mysteriously able to find her immediately (they are not together at this point), making it painfully obvious he has made sure he can track her at all times. It doesn’t click with her, of course, because she’s a moron, and in fact the only way author E. L. James could even attempt this story was to make Anastasia a virgin, and so during her abusive treatment she inevitably questions her own self belief and with no positive or normal experience to counterbalance Grey’s attentions her abuser is thus able to exert his full influence. Another hopeless moment is when she asks him to do the absolute worst to her that he can – queue six or so smacks on the ass with an implement, which is an absolutely farcical watering down for the audience of what the worst could really be (if you’ve ever seen Lars von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’ from 2013 the most memorable moment is when we see a chunk of flesh come off the behind of a woman being whipped, it’s pretty gross – here I’m not sure there’s even a red mark on Johnson’s unblemished alabaster rump). Anastasia is seen weeping afterward and tells Grey ‘You’ll never do that to me again’, her immediate next line, ‘I love you’. FUCK OFF.

It’s as if the filmmakers are trying to subvert the vulnerable in the audience themselves. If we look at the current IMDB ratings for the film as voted for by the public, we can see a massive polarisation between male and female voters, and what is really interesting is that the older the female voters get, the lower the rating they give. This feeds into the whole sick nature of the film trying to appeal to a demographic of young women in an effort to make money from them, they don’t seem to care if they are also teaching them to put up with abuse and even help create abusive environments (and although E. L. James began writing the story as Twilight fan fiction, I don’t think that’s the reason the IMDB currently recommends all the Twilight films for users who enjoyed this one).

You could very well be looking at the destruction of several careers here, and perhaps deservedly so. The actors have essentially done their job, they don’t have a great deal of chemistry but they are themselves by no means poor in the film. However, watching Johnson on the Oscars red carpet getting upset that her mother, Melanie Griffith, hasn’t seen the film yet suggests very strongly she has no idea what it is even about herself, the perfect victim to sell the film to others – indeed, the previously largely unknown Johnson was even invited to present at the ceremony, which in itself speaks volumes. Dornan has no excuse, and he and most of the others involved with the film were only in it FOR THE MONEY, so, frankly, they deserve to suffer afterward for it. The film has been received so poorly that one can only hope they do not adapt parts two and three of the series as well.

The Interview  (2014)    67/100

Rating :   67/100                                                                     112 Min        15

Surprisingly, Seth Rogen (who joins Evan Goldberg on directing duties here – the pair of them working with screenwriter Dan Sterling on the story) and James Franco have managed to pull this one off, a satirical comedy about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un which has now become one of the most infamous films of all time after a group which may, or may not, have been linked to North Korea hacked production company Sony in revenge for the film’s content, and even managed to halt its general release for a time. If Sony had read my review of ‘Red Dawn‘ they could have saved themselves the trouble…

Franco plays populist and successful TV chat show host Dave Skylark, who works happily alongside his producer and best friend Aaron Rapaport (Rogen) until their showbiz bubble is burst when Aaron realises his peers mock him for the lowbrow entertainment he produces and the idea is hit upon to conduct a much coveted interview with none other than Kim Jong-un himself. The CIA decide, however, to throw a substantial spanner in the works by appropriating their outing and requesting they assassinate the North Korean supreme leader instead. Reluctantly deciding they should do as they are told for the good of humanity they are then, as Skylark begins to bond with their would be target, forced to consider whether he is such a bad guy after all …

With noteworthy support from Diana Bang and a great scene with Eminem the film takes a while to get anywhere, but once it does the balance between the unfolding plot and the comedy is very well judged and it successfully entertains right through to the finale – thanks in no small measure to a winning performance from Randall Park (‘The Five Year Engagement‘) as Kim Jong-un. You do wonder if it wouldn’t have been wiser to make it a fictional country and leader but one with obvious connections, but they have dealt with the material really well in the end. Imagine, though, if the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, had been the target – the film would never have been made, simple as that, and yet what he and his party have done, starving thousands of people up and down the country and forcing them to use food banks (places where food is donated by the public and where people can collect it for free) and forcing those out of a job to work for private companies for free is arguably far, far more pernicious and evil as democratically not-elected (they did not get a majority in Parliament) representatives of one of the richest nations on Earth, one that in theory, but not in practise, looks after its citizen’s human rights, than the actions of one single solitary autocrat who inherited a legacy already mired in human rights abuse from his father.

Jupiter Ascending  (2015)    55/100

Rating :   55/100                                                                      127 Min       12A

Hmm. If you have seen the Wachowski brother’s (sorry, that should be sibling’s – one of them has had a sex change) last outing ‘Cloud Atlas‘ then whatever you felt watching that is almost certainly going to be replicated by this over the top sci-fi blunder/extravaganza, which this time around is both written and directed by them. It often looks quite impressive, and there is action galore, but it encapsulates the very definition of ‘popcorn entertainment’ and there’s a bountiful smorgasbord of cheese dripping and then exploding from start to finish. The opening section is easily the worst, with poor performances and a bad delivery of what’s already a ropey premise – that one Earth woman, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is the reincarnation of the mother of the Abrasax triumvirate, the Princess and Princes who rule our section of the universe, and as such she is hot property to be contested for by all, queue lots of men fighting over the pretty girl and rubbish wedding attempts and the inevitable falling for the rugged bounty hunter with a heart who’s the first to reach her – Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) who is also part canine. Yes. It must have taken them a while to think of the character name.

With the added element that the Abrasax family process human beings into chemical compounds that produce a life extending elixir, the story appears to be a simple splicing of ‘Flash Gordon’ (80) and ‘Dune’ (84) and it rarely proves interesting, though things do start to pick up once Sean Bean enters the fray (as ‘Stinger’, he is part honeybee), a past master at making rubbish plots sound feasible. With support from Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton. If you are just in the mood for watching something flashy that doesn’t engage your mind in any way at all then this does tick a lot of the right boxes, but if we compare this to Marvel’s similar space adventure mash-up ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ it becomes clear that the Wachowskis have yet to really learn from their multitudinous and oft times glaring mistakes of the past.

Trash  (2014)    56/100

Rating :   56/100                                                                     114 Min        15

Mainly in Portuguese with English subtitles and slightly living up to its name, this is directed by Stephen Daldry (‘Billy Elliot’ 2000, ‘The Hours’ 02, ‘The Reader’ 08) who oddly appears to very much be trying to mimic the style of Danny Boyle with the editing, choices of colour scheme and the high tempo music used to tie the threads of the story together. Written by Richard Curtis (whose last effort was ‘About Time‘), and based on the 2010 novel by Andy Mulligan, the plot follows the exploits of three young boys in the slums of Rio de Janeiro who stumble upon a wallet in the city trash one day, a wallet that holds the vital clue to the location of a huge stash of money. Corrupt city police are also hot on the trail and soon find themselves chasing after the streetwise youngsters in a sort of ‘Slumdog Goonies’ escapade, although it doesn’t ever feel very realistic, nor tense, and indeed the ability of the three central characters to make us feel for them varies as much as the acting between them does. The corrupt officers are so bad as to make them pantomime villains, and it all culminates in a scene that will leave you thinking ‘you seriously didn’t just do that. I’m so annoyed right now’. Martin Sheen plays the priest trying to look after the shantytown district the boys live in, and rather strangely Rooney Mara plays the Westerner doing a spot of travel and teaching English but her part is so, well, pointless that you have to wonder why Curtis bothered with it in the first place, unless he just figured a pretty white girl was needed in there somewhere …

Kingsman : The Secret Service  (2014)    67/100

Rating :   67/100                                                                     129 Min        15

From director Matthew Vaughn and featuring the same sort of vibrancy that was evident in his ‘Kick-Ass’ (10) although also the same slight lack of cohesion – the gap between its moments of fanciful entertainment and more serious drama being just big enough to fall through at times. Based on ‘The Secret Service’ comic by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, Kingsman are a secret British spy organisation who recruit and train the best and brightest in order to keep the world safe – at this particular moment in time from evil technology giant Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). ‘Eggsy’ (Taron Egerton) is the unlikely working class hero battling local neds and hoodlums, and whose connection by birth to Kingsman will see him brought into the fold by veteran agent Galahad (Colin Firth), but will he make it through the gruelling and highly competitive training regime?

The camera is all over the place for a number of the action scenes and, especially in the beginning, it is really distracting. The film settles somewhat as it goes on but then it just starts to drag – all until one absolutely fantastic scene which inaugurates the final third, you’ll know it when you see it, and leads to an entertaining finale, again a very similar progression to ‘Kick-Ass’. The music sounds rather like a cross between a Bond score and that from 2012’s ‘Avengers Assemble’ (unusually it was composed by two people, Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson), Michael Caine plays the head of Kingsman and Mark Strong appears as one of the senior operatives (Merlin) and also sports a Scottish accent – which initially will have you thinking, ‘is he trying to do a Scottish accent? No, it can’t be, wait – what on earth is that?’ but eventually he gets it down pretty well. Also with Sophie Cookson and Mark Hamill, it’s an enjoyable action adventure film even if it does leave you with a slightly uncertain feeling overall.

The Gambler  (2014)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     111 Min        15

Mark Wahlberg gives one of the finest performances of his career so far in this remake of Karel Reisz and James Toback’s 1974 classic. He plays university lecturer Jim Bennett, whose demonic gambling addiction eats away at every sinew in his body and mind until it defines everything about him, although he is adamant that he isn’t in fact a gambler, to the point that even the audience question why he is so determined to pursue his singular course of obliteration. Perhaps, as is suggested when he gives a wonderful monologue to his entire class that only one person present has the talent to ever be a writer and the rest are deluding themselves, he is simply spiralling through a depression, questioning his own validity and that of everything around him and becoming obsessed with questions of fate, luck and grand design. Whatever the reason, the film successfully captures the decidedly uncomfortable nature of watching someone endlessly self destruct.

From director Rupert Wyatt (‘The Escapist’ 08, ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ 11) and writer William Monahan (‘The Departed’ 06, ‘London Boulevard’ 10) there’s very strong, if fairly brief, support from John Goodman and Jessica Lange, and Brie Larson provides both sex appeal and the suggestion of redemption for Bennett, but it’s really Wahlberg that convincingly and intriguingly holds our attention throughout. I may be wrong, but I could also swear the dealer in the opening casino scene actually wins a hand and then plays another card anyway …