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Movie Reviews

Fifty Shades Freed



Released: 9th February 2018

Directed By: James Foley

Starring: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson

Reviewed By: Van Connor

Perhaps it’s fitting that – given its source material’s origins – the now-complete cinematic adaptation of the Fifty Shades saga can best be compared to the Twilight series of films. Putting aside their interchangeable lead characters and certain behavioural ticks, where they best stack up is in having a first instalment with just enough cinematic heft behind the camera to make a go of it, only to instead settle for churning out cinema’s answer to The CW when it came time for the sequels. Only one of these two, however, can lay the blame for that squarely on the shadow of its own creator’s control. And it ain’t Twilight.

Exercising her directorial oversight and retaining the flavourless eye of once-Glengarry director James Foley, E.L. James’ trilogy closer again utilises the witless foible that is husband Niall Leonard’s feeble pass at screenwriting. This time, though, there’s an added sting in the process – with James’ increasingly trashy and sensationalist plot finding itself smashing headfirst into her screenwriter’s complete void of anything close to self-awareness. The result might want to the new Sliver or something Mickey Rourke would have headlined in the eighties, but it closes out feeling more like an M&S advert with a couple of nip-slips and all the charisma to match.

Dornan continues to sleep-walk his way through playing what he seems increasingly aware is a murder-free Patrick Bateman striken with anhedonia, standing in almost hysterical contrast to the clearly giving-it-her-all Dakota Johnson, whose third go-around as audience proxy-turned-Stockholm-syndrome poster child Ana Steele delivers more of the kind of lip-quivering whisper turn we’ve come to expect three movies in. Former Smallville-paperweight Eric Johnson appears here and there as a salivating psycho – whose own actions somehow pale in comparison to Gray’s – whilst the remainder of the supporting cast largely sit this one out. Most intriguingly of all, and – despite the fanfare surrounding her initial casting last time around – there’s nary a shot of Kim Basinger’s Mrs. Robinson figure to be found. The literal focus of at least one key dramatic sequence, Basinger’s strange omission screams of a relegation to the cutting room floor, only begging the further question of why the three bodies behind the edit on this one couldn’t have done us a favour and cut some of the rest of it out too.

Fans will see – and love – Fifty Shades Freed regardless of what any review has to say on the subject, and rightly so – it’s their franchise after all. For anybody seeing Freed on any kind of narrative, cinematic, or even franchise level, however, the results are hard to defend on any level of real examination. Fifty Shades draws its silver screen incarnation to a close with literally no ambition more than it’s ever had before – for instance, taking the suggestion of BDSM to get the punters in, and then packaging that into what can formulaically be described as two static shots of gold and silver sex toys, followed by some missionary. This, we’re led to believe, is the height of the mainstream erotic thriller – a status quo that could well reduce James Spader to tears if only he cared.

On not only its own level though, Fifty Shades Freed fails to serve on even a required narrative one – with a central “origin mystery” that couldn’t be more glaringly obvious were its end result the actual movie poster, characters who can whittle across entire cities in the blink of an eye, and the sustained repetition whereby a twenty something woman acts independently, gets scolded for it, stands her ground, and is then distracted by something shiny before repeating the process. That’s antagonising, to say the least, but it’s worse that it’s all so boring, that its eroticism is so mass-manufactured in a way that suggest nobody involved in its inception has ever actually experienced an orgasm, and that it’s so eye-rollingly bad on even it’s best moment that you won’t even notice Danny Elfman’s there in the background giving the whole show it’s damned score.

The best way to step back from it all, though, is to take merciful solace in that it’s all over. Sam Johnson and Kelly Marcel got out intact, Dakota and Jamie can take on supporting roles in some emerging action or spy franchise in time for Cannes, and E.L. James – having shot her creative load – might finally go away, her foray into feature films complete and her addition to the pantheon of western cultural narrative having finally been wiped away.

Keeper of Lola M. Bear. Film critic for Movie Marker, TalkRADIO, and others. Producer of podcasts. Skechers enthusiast and blazer aficionado. All opinions my own.

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Colette

Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.



Director: Wash Westmoreland

Stars: Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Released: London Film Festival 2018

Born in 19th century France, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette wrote more than 80 volumes depicting her childhood, her life, her pains and pleasures. Her writings were sensual, vivid and all published under her husband name, “Willy”.

No stranger to female-centric stories, Wash Westmoreland follows up on “Still Alice” and “Echo Park, L.A.” with this dazzling period biopic starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West.

The film starts, the young country girl, Colette (Knightley), marries writer and critic Henri Gauthier-Villars (“Willy”) who introduces her to Parisian salons. Willy soon finds himself in debts and is desperate enough to seek his wife’s help. She will write. Colette writes what she knows and her first novella, “Claudine à l’école” (Claudine at school) is a success. Willy forces her to write the next ones, locked in a golden cage, to ensure his fame and success.

The settings are sumptuous and we gladly follow the camera through the stunning but confined Parisian apartments where the outside light only comes through when she feels inspired. Costumes evolve, as Colette, from heavy and restricted dresses to wild and daring clothing as if Mademoiselle Chanel had designed them herself.

Colette finally loosens from her husband and experiments with woman, society and dancing, feeding her inspiration. Forced and uncredited, Colette cannot enjoy writing and runs off to perform in the music-hall in her own name. In like most biopics, we go from one key event to another, regrettably quickly and often without knowing how we got there. Willy’s sudden appointment of his wife is left as unexplained as the abrupt ending that could have potentially seen Colette, a happy writer.

In the second part of the film Westmoreland seems more interested in looking at the awakening of a young woman rather than at the birth of an author whereas Keira Knightley shines in the lead role. Often known for playing the innocent and rebellious youth, Knightley still pulls off the young Colette in the first part of the film but is at her best when she evolves into a mature woman, aware of own desires. The best scenes of the film come when Colette is free and herself, usually in the company of other woman, particularly the terribly charming Missy (Denise Gough). Westmoreland multiplies two shots and close ups and creates impactful intimate scenes but regrettably gives up on them too fast.

It is a change to see a character such as “Willy” that is both ridiculous and loving. This duality creates, perhaps, a more truthful relationship between the two. No one is born an artist and behind every writer there is an intuitive editor (and in 20th century France, who else could it be than a man?). For Westmoreland if there is no Claudine without Colette, there would have been no Colette without Willy.

With its lavish setting and jumping plot, Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – If Beale Street Could Talk



Beale Street Movie Marker

Released: 8th February 2019

Directed By: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

In his entrancing and eventual Best Picture Oscar winner ‘Moonlight’, it was the longing to be authentic. To be accepted in an often volatile environment that powered its narrative.

Clearly in this pitch-perfect adaptation of the James Baldwin novel, director Barry Jenkins is consumed with longing of a different kind that is just as potent. Justice. An eradication of the infuriating systemic abuse of law and power against black people in America, that sees this luminous love story in 1970’s Harlem, strike modern-day parallels with our own divided, morally skewed society.

An incandescent portrayal of young romance. The tenderness, respect and sheer revolve that underpins the relationship between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) will leave you spellbound from the outset, as their lives are soon mired in despair. The rapturous joy of new life as Tish falls pregnant, backed up by the triple threat of mom Sharon (Regina King), dad Joseph (Colman Domingo) and sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris). Quickly cancelled out by the malice of Fonny’s staunchly religious family and a false yet potentially devastating rape allegation made against him, as they scramble to prove his innocence.

Punctuated by Kiki Layne’s wholesome narration and an overwhelmingly beautiful Nicholas Brittell score that i would be content listening to for days on end. Jenkins exchanges the melancholic blues of his previous effort for a broader but no less lush visual palette, with its exquisite interiors and classy costume design almost serving as a rainbow for the tears that have streamed down their faces through such hardship, but their spirit and love continues to illuminate their gritty surroundings. Whether it be lingering close-ups of sweet embrace or deep sorrow. Its director doesn’t flinch for a second in conveying the simmering emotions on display and in doing so, leaves you completely transfixed by his tactful approach to the source material.

There is a raw resilient energy that permeates throughout its central romance. Kiki Layne’s Tish serves as the remarkably understated, calming influence to Stephan James’ broken-hearted prisoner, a slave to a corrupt system with a searing monologue by Fonny’s dear friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry) reinforcing the pain inflicted. Through it all, their hopeful adoring looks and stifling intimacy simply captivate. In Regina King’s marvellous mother figure, she peppers the film with considerable candour, armed with dialogue that pierces your soul. Whilst Jenkins leaves enough room for inspired cameos that are best left a secret, which gorgeously represent a sense of community and a progression in attitude, that defies the period.

A steady panning shot as Fonny smokes may seem throwaway. In this case, it is awfully fitting to articulate the finesse of its director. Lose yourself in the mesmeric haze of ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’.

A lyrical experience that reminds you of the poetic power cinema can truly possess. His love for the art form brought him here. On this form. Trust Barry Jenkins to go all the way.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Stan & Ollie



Stan and Ollie Rating Movie Marker

Released: 11th January 2019

Directed By: Jon S Baird

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C.Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

Products of classic Hollywood whose superior slapstick routines triggered endless laughter from their legion of fans, propelling them to legendary status. The sheer physicality and comedic prowess displayed by the English/American duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, still puts many modern-day efforts to shame.

But like so many comedians, there is a tragic element to their careers that contradicts their profession. Through this solid biopic by Filth director Jon S. Baird, it looks to give us a poignant insight into the duo’s grueling twilight years.

Their popularity slowly dwindling. Their bones creaking. Whether on the big screen or the stage, Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C.Reilly) are suddenly not the hottest ticket in town in the early 1950’s. Lumbered with Rufus Jones’ Bernard Delfont, a wisecracking promoter who seems more invested in the likes of Norman Wisdom, they look to reignite interest with a lengthy theatre tour and a long-gestating film project. Yet with audiences middling, contract negotiations stalling and the workload far beyond what was expected, it puts a significant strain on the health and friendship of these two towering talents.

Inevitably with its story, you would expect ‘Stan & Ollie’ to be assured in its abilities to make you laugh. However much of the first half feels surprisingly stilted as Coogan and C.Reilly throw themselves into the pair’s much-beloved routines, with regular cutbacks to their adoring audiences. For the uninitiated, it may initially make you wonder what the fuss was about. Thankfully as the film’s supporting players are introduced to spar with our central characters, it finds a more consistent comedic rhythm, neatly intertwining with the film’s simmering emotion.

Whilst it’s undoubtedly a few visual flourishes away from being a formulaic BBC Christmas special. The admiration of S.Baird for Laurel & Hardy certainly shines through in its refined production, beginning with an exquisite tracking shot on a studio lot as he works his way through the duo’s masterful mischief with fondness.

The rapport between John C.Reilly and Steve Coogan anchors proceedings wonderfully, skilfully capturing the mannerisms and effectively articulating how dependent they are of each other, despite their ongoing disputes. In C.Reilly’s Ollie, his fully-fleshed turn pierces through the fat suit he wears, whose willingness to perform despite failing health is soul-stirring. Whilst the relentless nature of Coogan’s Stan, as he looks to churn out the material strong enough to breathe new life into their double act, makes for compelling viewing. The real danger posed however, is that the film’s main attraction are nearly upstaged by their witty wives, with Shirley Henderson’s Lucille and Nina Arianda’s Ida threatening to steal every scene they grace.

Entertaining enough to gently applaud. Yet perhaps not an act that quite raises the roof. ‘Stan and Ollie’ coasts by on its endearing nostalgic charm and committed performances.

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