FIFTY SHADES FREED: 1 STAR
The “Fifty Shades” franchise once lived at the very center of popular culture as a publishing phenomenon then as a blockbuster movie. Interest in the shenanigans of slap ‘n tickle enthusiasts Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey waned for the second film instalment. Now we’re at the third and final movie, “Fifty Shades Freed,” and it feels like breaking up with someone you know you’ll never see again. You feel relief that it is over mixed with regret that you wasted all that time in the first place.
Things get underway when Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Ana (Dakota Johnson) tie the knot; on an altar this time, not in the bedroom. Their glamorous French honeymoon is disturbed when Ana wants to go topless on the beach while Christian, that blushing flower, wants her covered up, for his eyes only. “Do you want to be ogled by every guy on the beach?” he whines.
That speed bump aside, things are mostly status quo for the newlyweds. I said mostly. This is a “Fifty Shades” movie, so it’s not all happily ever after. Bedroom bondage soon leads to a pregnancy that leaves Christian upset. (The least I think he’s upset. It’s hard to tell with Dornan). “You’re going to take her from me aren’t you?” he whispers to her pregnant belly. Looks like he’s not ready to turn the Red Room of Pain into a nursery just yet.
Sparks fly as she tries to assert herself.
Meanwhile Ana’s former-boss-turned-stalker Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) ups his game as Christian discovers a dark secret from his past.
There’s more, but nobody really goes to the “Fifty Shades” movies for the plot so let’s move on.
The sexiest thing about “Fifty Shades Freed” is the way Ana handles the Audi in a high-ish speed chase through the streets of Seattle. Sure clothes are doffed and handcuffed snapped shut but there is so little fusion between these two allegedly steamy lovers it’s as though they have never met in real life and are acting to green screen versions of each other.
The hour-and-forty-five-minute running time is padded out with music montages—including one interlude where Christian plays piano and sings “Maybe I’m Amazed” to less than amazing effect—and time wasters like a flirty architect subplot. It’s part erotic adventure, part revenge story and part “Lifestyles of the Rich and Kinky.” It’s all of those things and yet, somehow, less than the sum of its well-toned parts.
The occasional moment of camp fun—“We don’t have any restraints,” says a security guard while manhandling a suspect. “We do,” offers Anna.—are buffered by elegantly shot but empty moments that fill the time between sex scenes.
“Fifty Shades Freed” comes at an interesting time. The story of a rich, powerful man who tries to control every situation with only minor pushback from the woman in his life seems like yesterday’s tale in the post-Harvey Weinstein era. The movies, I think, are meant to be sexy romps and a bit of fun, but at the end, the series has proven itself to be ten pounds of sex toys in a five pound bag.
PERMISSION: 2 ½ STARS
Recently CNN reported on a study that claimed cuckolding can be positive for some couples. Their reporting of it was roundly mocked online, with one Twitter user dubbing CNN the “Cuckolding News Network” while another called it, “a brilliant idea for strengthening your relationship in time for Valentine's Day!” Validity of the study aside, “Permission,” a new movie starring Rebecca Hall, explores the same territory.
Will (Dan Stevens) and Anna (Hall) have been sweethearts since high school. Now, on the cusp of her thirtieth birthday he’s about to pop the question. First though she drunkenly proposes they sleep around a bit. Not break up, but get some life experience before they settle down. At first they encourage one another in a bit of harmless fun but as their polyamorous relationships start to deepen uncomfortable realities are revealed.
Director-writer Brian Crano takes a thoughtful and mature approach to the material but his delivery of it feels scattershot. The first hour has an effervescence to it that disappears as the various story threads wrap up. In the beginning, it feels sexy and dangerous but as Anna’s relationship with musician Dane (Francois Arnaud) and Will’s fling with divorcée Lydia (Gina Gershon) heat up, questions arise. How far can you stray even with permission?
The final third contains the film’s most essential truths. In a dramatic shift in tone from the first hour, the harsh realisms of this arrangement appear. Also effective is a subplot about Anna’s brother Hale (David Joseph Craig), his boyfriend Reece (Morgan Spector) and their desire (or not) to have a baby. It is heartfelt and could definitely been given more screen time.
“Permission” is easily more interesting than CNN’s treatment of the same material. Although uneven it is an interesting look at the responsibilities that come with adult relationships.
ENTANGLEMENT: 2 STARS
“Entanglement” stars “Silicon Valley’s” Thomas Middleditch as a man who almost finds fulfillment with a woman who was almost his sister.
When we first meet Benjamin Layten he is at his lowest point. Recently divorced from a woman he still loves, he attempts suicide, only to be rescued by a courier and his neighbour Tabby (Diana Bang). Dour and darkly funny—“Do you like yourself?” he’s asked. “As a friend?” he replies. “Or as a friend with benefits?”—he is adrift, unhappy and looking for answers.
To get to the bottom of his gloomy mood, he maps out all the bad things that have happened to him—i.e. “Dropped on my head at mom’s pool party.”—in an elaborate attempt to pinpoint where he went wrong in life. It’s not until he discovers his parents adopted a baby girl and then gave her back that he sees some light in the darkness. “We’re going to find out who this girl is,” he tells Tabby, “and see if she can fix my life.”
Thinking that having a sister would have made him feel less awkward—“She would have taught me how to talk to girls and how to dance,” he begins his quest and almost immediately tracks her down. Hannah (Jess Weixler) is an adrenaline junkie who shoplifts, can pick any lock on any door and lives just a few blocks away. They meet, they hit it off and soon become romantically involved. (SPOILER ALERT!!!) But is she the girl of his dreams or a girl in his dreams?
“Entanglement” is a neurotic rom com that starts off promisingly as a dark comedy but then falls too in love with its premise. Striking visuals and nice performances from Middleditch and Weixler—he’s a sad sack, she’s a sparkplug—can’t cover up a script that leans to heavily on the idea of Quantum Entanglement—particles that are apart yet connected (romantic, right?)—and not enough on allowing the characters to behave like real people. The quirk factor is dialled up rather high as though this was an unproduced script left over from the Manic Pixie Dream Girl heyday of the late 1990s.
The moments of “Entanglement” that work seem to really work, teasing the promise of a better movie. As it is, the scant 85-minute running time is padded with too many musical montages that leaves us simultaneously wanting more and less.
FAKE BLOOD: 3 STARS
“Fake Blood,” a new film from Vancouver director Rob Grant, blurs the line between fact and fiction.
Grant and his filmmaking partner Mike Kovac play themselves as, well, Rob and Mike, two guys who have made a number of low-budget horror films. Their movies “Yesterday” and “Mon Ami” are gruesome little slices of splatter that found success and a few fans on the festival circuit.
When one of those “fans” sends them a disturbing video that re-enacts one of the scenes in “Mon Ami”—the grainy video details the real-life tools they would need to dispose of a body—they decide to examine their relationship with the violence they portray on screen. They discuss the difference between shooting guns in real life vs. on film and how a fistfight generally lasts only about eight seconds in reality. As they document their findings they decide to up the game and contact someone who has a history of violence. Their journey takes a perilous turn when they push too hard, go too deep and actually find their lives in danger.
Down ‘n dirty, “Fake Blood” gradually morphs from social commentary documentary—albeit a mock doc—to thriller. It is not always 100% convincing—some of the performances are slightly stilted—but there is an undeniable sense of tension that grows as the film nears the final credits. It’s a twisted B-movie that makes a smart u-turn, turning the story inside out as the movie flips from asking questions to basking in danger.