“I’m not a dom, I’m a sadist,” Christian Grey says before he falls to his knees and almost weeps. “Holy shit, it’s self-aware,” I excitedly whispered to my friend as the film passively addresses its problematic nature.. All hail the heightened silliness of Fifty Shades Darker; a perfectly warm and mindless antidote to the cold, clinical approach of the first, even if it’s still saddled with the burden of adapting ridiculous and messy source material.
The shift between Sam Taylor-Johnson’s clinical approach and James Foley’s warmth is instantly notable. There’s a levity to the scenes between Dakota Johnson’s Anastasia Steele and Jamie Dornan’s Christian Grey, not quite to the point where it feels as though two people are connecting, but enough where anyone watching can get something out of it. For some, it’s the softcore thrills from all the bump-n-grind to pop hits, though the male gaze seems ever present here, with abundant female nudity and little time spent on Dornan’s physique. For others, it’s the camp value of watching ridiculous plot points appear out of nowhere to deliver some semblance of plot to what amounts to a Cinemax film with less fucking.
Claims of self-awareness vary greatly as the poorly-handled inclusion of suicide, drug addiction, sexual assault, stalking, and near-death experiences (all from the source material) take away from all the jokes and the potential for a sincere and vapid love story to hold the porn together. But it’s hard not to enjoy a film that features knowing performances from its leading lady–who seems game for anything at this point–and supporting cast members like Marcia Gay Harden & Kim Basinger, all of whom are prone to drink-throwing, slapping, and nearly orgasming in an elevator full of people all for the sake of entertaining the masses.
Directed by James Foley; written by Niall Leonard; based on the novel by E.L. James; starring Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Marcia Gay Harden, Kim Basinger & Rita Ora; 118 minutes.
The Lego Batman Movie
A Batman film should be a Batman film, through and through. The Lego Batman Movie is a Batman film, down to the cowl, but it’s packed with a wink, a nod, and five-hundred nudges in the viewer’s side, wondering if you got the joke. As much as the feature trades in grit for laughs, there’s a moody emotional through-line still present: Batman (Will Arnett) is incapable of having a relationship with anyone. He refuses to acknowledge the role Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) plays as a surrogate father; he lusts after Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), now commissioner of Gotham City after her father’s retirement, but can’t commit to working with her; he won’t see Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) as anything other than a disposable orphan sidekick; and he is unable to call Joker (Zach Galifianakis) his greatest foe and say the words, “I hate you.”
Seth Grahame-Smith and his co-writers (there’s four credited: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Whittington) don’t make this Batman a clueless one. As a montage early on showcases, this Batman has been through every phase his predecessors on screen have: dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, and the weird one in the 60s. But self-awareness can get grating and the humor shifts between entertaining and annoying (particularly the insistence to otherize queerness: two dads, Robin’s flamboyant ways, etc). Smith doesn’t have the knack that Chris Miller and Phil Lord have for barrelling through jokes without missing a beat, and it becomes perfectly clear when the narrative starts relying on villains from non-DC properties to propel the action.
Chris McKay does contribute the most important thing to this film: a reminder that Batman, above all else, doesn’t have to be shot the same way as every other film of the Peak Grit era. With a palette that rivals Guardians of the Galaxy’s dedication to being colorful and fun, McKay beautifully uses the visual humor that comes from utilizing Lego bricks in the strangest ways (like sticking a full lobster thermador into a microwave). This, and with a voice cast that breathes both giddiness and genuine emotion into the way the Bat Family comes together, is what makes The Lego Batman Movie more of a delight than it has any right to be.
Directed by Chris McKay; written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, & John Whittington; starring Will Arnett, Ralph Fiennes, Rosario Dawson, Michael Cera & Zach Galifianakis; 104 minutes.