Movie Review ~ Fifty Shades Freed


The Facts
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Synopsis: Anastasia and Christian get married, but Jack Hyde continues to threaten their relationship.

Stars: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini, Callum Keith Rennie, Bruce Altman, Arielle Kebbel, Robinne Lee, Brant Daugherty, Kim Basinger, Marcia Gay Harden

Director: James Foley

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: For movies like Fifty Shades Freed, I find it best to take a Roger Ebert approach when developing a critique of the film. Ebert was great at, among other things, taking each movie he saw for the experience it was and offering a review that spoke to how that particular film and that particular encounter made him feel. That led to him liking some movies other critics hated and hating ones that are now considered classics.

While this one will never be measured a classic in any stretch of the imagination, the good news is that Fifty Shades Freed is probably the best of the trilogy. It’s also the shortest. Like the two previous films in the Fifty Shades franchise, Freed is cheerfully plotless, little more than an excuse for audiences to get some vanilla kink on. There’s something for everyone that plops down some cash for this, whether it be to drool over the lavish life led by the two main characters or delight in their frequent couplings.

If you’ve avoided the films until now, be warned that some spoilers are present for the rest of this review.

Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson, A Bigger Splash) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) have survived some roadblocks in their relationship that began in Fifty Shades of Grey. There was Anastasia’s initial shock at Christian’s S&M leanings and her adjustment into his pleasure and pain lifestyle. Christian had to acclimate to the headstrong Anastasia who proved to be a worthy equal to him only to nearly lose her to her sexual predator boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). Then there was that whole helicopter in a volcano business from Fifty Shades Darker but the less said about that the better. By the end of the second chapter, Christian has distanced himself from the mysterious Elena (Kim Basinger, who I swear I saw in promotional ads for this but doesn’t appear at all) and proposed marriage to Anastasia.

As Fifty Shades Freed opens, the wedding of Steele and Grey has commenced and the newlyweds are off on their honeymoon. She wants to sunbathe topless like the locals but he doesn’t like other men laying their eyes on his new bride. She doffs her top anyway, leading to a disciplinary bedroom session administered with handcuffs and a lot of heavy breathing. When their honeymoon is interrupted by a vandal at Christian’s company, the two return to Seattle and settle into married life.

And they lived happily ever after…well, not quite.

Adapting his wife’s third novel, Niall Leonard has a real knack for tin-earned dialogue. There’s enough dopey repartee between the actors that the film veers dangerously close to lampooning itself. Leonard has fashioned a hopelessly quaint series of events (especially in this day and age of #MeToo and #TimesUp) that play like a Cliffs Notes version of a longer film. There seems to be a need to speed through everything, rushing through major events like marriages, pregnancies, adultery, and home remodeling to get to one more of the awkwardly enthusiastic sex scenes. Director James Foley (Fear) doesn’t offer much in terms of style, just gentle teases and lots and lots and lots of shots of Johnson topless. The double standard of the series continues here…Johnson is naked often while Dornan can’t muster more than pulling his pants down halfway over his bum.

Speaking of our leads, what began as questionable chemistry has blossomed into a cozy kind of familiarity. Both actors give it their all in their steamy moments but then seem like they are embarrassed to be acting opposite each other when they have their clothes on. Johnson fares better than Dornan for most of the film but both succumb to looking board when the movie becomes a soapy romance thriller in its final act. There’s a lot of people from the other movies listed in the opening credits but don’t expect to see them much, most are just seen at the wedding and then disappear forever. Only Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden (Magic in the Moonlight) gets a second scene late in the film and she doesn’t have much to do in the way of acting.

Yet I’m giving the movie a semi high rating. That’s strange, right? I can’t disagree that this is overall pretty lousy but I must admit to enjoying myself more than I had for the first and second films. There’s something appealing in a movie you know is bad and wasn’t made to cater to your interests that frees one to not be stuffy and just go with it. There are a few honest laughs to be had but more than a few unintentional funny moments that unfortunately happen during scenes that are supposed to be seriously sexy. By the time Dornan hops behind a piano and attempts a hysterically soulful rendition of “Maybe I’m Amazed” while others look on in awe the wheels are definitely off the bus and you just have to enjoy what you’ve gotten yourself into.

They say all good things must come to an end and that’s also true for bad trilogies. The final chapter of the tale of Anastasia and Christian manages to entertain more than what’s come before but the bar has been set pretty low. If you’ve trekked out to see the first two you kinda owe it to yourself to finish what you started.

The Silver Bullet ~ Fifty Shades Darker

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Synopsis: While Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Anastasia must confront the anger and envy of the women who came before her.

Release Date: February 10, 2017

Thoughts: Though 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey was a sizable (if controversial) hit for Universal, even its most ardent supporters agreed there was something amiss in the big screen adaptation of the first book in author E.L. James’s trilogy. Perhaps it was the well-documented disagreements between James and director Sam Taylor-Johnson that left the the movie having no real voice.  Or maybe it was the rumored mutual hatred stars Jamie Dornan (The 9th Life of Louis Drax) and Dakota Johnson (Need for Speed) had for eachother, leading to questionable chemistry and giving Dornan pause to reconsider coming back for the final two entries.  The paycheck (or perhaps lawyers) prevailed and Dornan returns along with Johnson for Fifty Shades Darker which looks just as inscrutable and sudsy as its predecessor.  Adding Kim Basinger (Final Analysis), Hugh Dancy, Tyler Hoechlin (Everybody Wants Some!), and Bella Heathcote (The Neon Demon) and bringing in James Foley to relieve Taylor-Johnson of her directing duties, it will be interesting to see if this sequel can win back its target audience.  With the final movie almost completed, there’s no stopping this machine even if we wanted to.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Nice Guys

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Synopsis: A private eye investigates the apparent suicide of a fading porn star in 1970s Los Angeles and uncovers a conspiracy.

Release Date: May 20, 2016

Thoughts: Nearly twenty years since they appeared together in the Los Angeles set noir classic, L.A. Confidential, Russell Crowe and Kim Basinger (who nabbed an Oscar for her work) are back on screen for another mystery set in the famed city.  Looking like a wise-ass mix of L.A. Confidential and (gulp) 2014’s Inherent Vice, The Nice Guys might be the shot of adrenaline Crowe needs after a string of badly reviewed performances/movies (his singing in Les Miserables, Winter’s Tale, Noah, and my worst film of 2015, The Water Diviner).  Teamed with the always interesting Ryan Gosling (The Big Short), Crowe looks pretty perfect for the gruff tough guy tasked with finding Basinger’s daughter whose disappearance might be related to a murder private-eye Gosling is investigating.  From Shane Black (Iron Man 3), I’m pulling for this early summer release to be dark fun in the California sun.

Bond-ed for Life (Bonus!) ~ Never Say Never Again

The Facts:

Synopsis: A SPECTRE agent has stolen two American nuclear warheads, and James Bond must find their targets before they are detonated.

Stars: Sean Connery, Kim Basinger, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Barbara Carrera, Max von Sydow

Director: Irvin Kershner

Rated: PG

Running Length: 134 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  Before the release (and boffo success) of Skyfall, I took the time to go through the previous 22 James Bond films that had come before it.  What I didn’t do in my initial marathon was look at two of the ‘rogue’ Bond films that exist outside of the production company responsible for the 007 films over the last 50 years.  1967’s Casino Royale was a spoof of spy films in general albeit one that featured James Bond and took its title from an Ian Fleming novel.  The second outlier Bond adventure is 1983’s Never Say Never Again and its storied history and journey to the big screen are interesting Hollywood tidbits.

A script was fashioned with writers Kevin McClory, Ian Fleming, and Jack Whittingham that would have laid the basis for Bond’s first adventure.  It eventually was scrapped but Fleming went on to use large parts of it to create the novel of Thunderball.  While the movie of Thunderball was closer to the book, original writer McClory took Fleming to court over his contributions used without his permission and eventually  was granted the remake rights to his script.

As the producers of the MGM Bond films were gearing up to film the 13th Bond film Octopussy  in 1983, they had a big shock when they found out not only would McClory’s script be produced as a big budget summer film from Warner Brothers, but that Warner Brothers had lured none other than original Bond Connery to come back to the role.  The media had a field day with this and while both movies were released four months apart and did respectable business, Never Say Never Again could never fully get out from under the shadow of the big daddy franchise.

It doesn’t help that the movie isn’t that great to begin with.  Even with Connery on board and Moore on unsteady ground in his Bond tenure, Never Say Never Again comes off as a jokey excuse for a James Bond film.   Legally, Warner Brothers couldn’t have many of the Bond trademarks so what’s left is a second rate spy film with several above average action sequences, extremely dated technology,  and a heckuva lot of farcical moments that leave a real bad aftertaste.

Right from the beginning, director Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) doesn’t do Connery any favors by showing the actor goofily going through the motions of a rescue attempt in some unnamed jungle climate.  Connery looks tentative and, while still a trim gent, seems a bit out of sorts.  Like in Diamonds are Forever, it takes Connery a fair amount of time to find his inner Bond and even then it’s a pale imitation of what it used to be. 

Casting for the film is iffy to say the least.  As Domino, Basinger makes for a dull main squeeze of Mr. Bond and is burdened with two dance routines (one in aerobic gear and one all dolled up with Connery) that are laughably awkward.  Brandauer and von Sydow may have been nice villains in the established Bond franchise but here they are saddled with feelings of déjà vu thanks to more memorable actors that have played bad guys Largo and Blofeld in previous films.  Only Carrera as wicked Fatima Blush seems to understand that she’s in a farce and plays it as an early precursor to Grace Jones in A View to a Kill and Famke Janssen in GoldenEye.  Her final scenes are pretty ridiculous but up until that point she’s over-the-top enough to keep your eyes locked on her.

Special mention needs to go to Edward Fox and Rowan Atkinson as M and Nigel Small-Fawcett, respectively.  With accents that would make Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins look like the epitome of diction, they are absolutely awful and capsize every scene they’re in.  How Kershner and Connery allowed these performances to happen are beyond me.

What Never Say Never Again has to recommend it are several exciting action sequences…thankfully all of them are underwater so you are spared the eye-rolling dialogue.  I’m not sure how the filmmakers created an underwater chase with Bond being pursued by sharks (from what I can tell there weren’t extensive uses of animatronics) but this scene creates the few nifty thrills the film has to offer.

For Bond fans, this is one that may be of interest to you…especially if you are familiar with Thunderball you’ll get a kick out of how similar the movie is but how different it diverges at the same time.  Thunderball wasn’t my favorite Bond film but had it had some of the more exciting moments (and Fatima Blush) from Never Say Never Again, it may have been up there with the more fun Bond flicks.