The BBFC whipped Fifty Shades Of Grey with an 18 certificate. The official reasoning? “The film contains strong sex and nudity, along with the portrayal of erotic role play based on domination, submission and sado-masochistic practices. There are also strong verbal references to such practices and the instruments used.”
By my reckoning, Fifty Shades Of Grey will be the first mainstream erotic thriller (let’s be honest - both of those words together are misnomers) since Basic Instinct 2 in 2006. And let’s see how that panned out: a box office bomb and a critical stinker; its director Michael Caton-Jones hasn’t released a film since despite an otherwise very credible filmography; and it somehow found a role for ex-footballer, pundit and non-actor Stan Collymore.
Erotic thrillers stood to attention in the 80s and early 90s as audiences flocked to check the flashed flesh of some of the era’s biggest names as they indulged in some soft focus, jazz-scored lovin’ in the likes of Fatal Attraction, 9½ Weeks and Sliver. By the release of Basic Instinct 2, the entire genre had been rendered flaccid by an 18 certificate being close to commercial suicide and the online availability of racier footage which got straight to the penetration point without being encumbered by a mostly peripheral plot.
And yet unlike Basic Instinct 2 which came about a decade too late, Fifty Shades Of Grey seems too big and too in vogue to fail, and reports of strong advance ticket sales seem to back that up. Its first review also promises great things, with Kim Kardashian West’s Tweet: “OMG, it’s sooooo good!!!” Frankly, I have as much faith in her opinion as I do in my ability to solve Schanuel’s conjecture over the course of the weekend.
The Big Film: Selma
Director Ava DuVernay doesn’t flinch away from the depiction of racially motivated violence in her Oscar nominated film Selma. Early on we witness four young girls idly chattering about nothing in particular as they descend the stairs in their local church. In the blink of an eye, an explosion rips through the church and claims four innocent lives.
It’s a scene which bluntly demonstrates why Martin Luther King (played by David Oyelowo) was willing to face a foreboding opposition of prejudice, violence and intimidation as he leads marches from Selma to Montgomery in pursuit of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It’s just one of numerous shocking scenes of violence which demonstrate the scale of the institutionalised racism that the campaigners faced. This isn’t a film that big on subtlety, but that’s more than understandable given the reality of the subject matter.
Oyelowo is Selma’s searing centrepoint with a nuanced performance that captures the spectrum of King’s motivations and dilemmas. His speeches boom with the dynamic delivery of a master orator, and his control of the media and influence over his opposition flows like a pacifist’s Jedi mind trick. Perhaps best of all is his moments of doubt: dimly-lit moments of soul searching in which this grandest of public speakers is reduced to mumbles of soul-searching introspection.
Selma isn’t a film that free of imperfections. Tim Roth’s portrayal of governor George Wallace teeters on the edge of becoming a comic book villain, and it has also been criticised for its historical inaccuracies. In pure dramatic terms, however, it’s a powerhouse of emotion and tension.
Also out: Jupiter Ascending
Almost two years in the making, Jupiter Ascending has had a bumpy ride to the big screen, with big studio bucks banking on The Wachowskis find the same inspiration that saw them change cinema with The Matrix.
Their latest is space opera Jupiter Ascending, starring Mila Kunis as a janitor who discovers (quite abruptly) that not only is the Earth just a small part of a huge universe of inhabited planets, but that she is royalty. Whisked away to a far off realm by protector Caine (Channing Tatum), she must save herself from power mad aristocrat Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne) and prevent the Earth from being ‘harvested’ for the profit of other planets.
If that all sounds rather far-fetched, it’s because plot is not exactly Jupiter Ascending’s primary concern. The director siblings are still masterful visual filmmakers, but amid the (admittedly impressive) space chases and elaborate sets the story is a clichéd mash of tired sci-fi narratives that doesn’t match the scope or ambition the film clearly has. While little touches such as Terry Gilliam’s cameo are fun, the moment Sean Bean (playing Tatum’s mentor) starts talking about the ‘loyalty of bees’ you know the film has reached beyond its grasp.
Mila Kunis is very well cast and adds some charisma to the lead, but both her and Tatum (whose character is so underdeveloped he spends much of the film simply brooding) end up playing second fiddle to their surroundings. On their tail is Redmayne, adopting a raspy voice and a penchant for dramatics. It’s hard to take him very seriously as a villain, and one senses this is perhaps a performance the Oscar nominee would rather not be released during awards season.
With echoes of Disney disaster John Carter, Jupiter Ascending is unlikely to be the worst film of the year, but it’s certainly one of the most muddled. It’s as pretty as you would expect, but far less memorable than you would have hoped. Words: James Luxford
Also out: The Interview
With its dramatic beginnings embroiled in a potentially flammable hacking scandal, expectations were high for a film that quite literally screamed in your face for attention. It was set to join the ranks of Team America: World Police in purposefully causing as much controversy as it could fit into its two hour time slot. Whereas the aforementioned at least had a bit of originality, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan’s The Interview less begs the question ‘does it go too far?’ and more makes you wonder why it was ever commissioned in the first place.
James Franco and Seth Rogan are presenter and producer of TV chat show Skylark Tonight, an exaggerated parody of exposé American talk shows. After finding out the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a big fan, the twosome set out to get the ultimate interview, to propel them into the ‘serious’ realm of news journalism. In enter the CIA with a unbelievable plan to assassinate the leader right under his country’s nose.
The unbelievable then becomes the ridiculous. Succumbing to crotch orientated jokes and bizarre references to Lord of the Rings, along with a farcical assassination sequence, both plot and character development are lost in a sea of misjudgement by the dual directors. Flickers of hope appear on occasion, such as the clever use of an explosive Katy Perry song, but these are few and far between.
Neither funny enough to be deemed a straight up comedy or clever enough to be heralded as a purposeful satire on American journalistic standards, this interview fails to live up to its own hype. Words: Anna Pintus
Sometimes a newly discovered event from the past is powerful enough to tarnish someone’s reputation for evermore. This week it was revealed that Nancy Reagan refused to help 60s acting icon Rock Hudson obtain experimental treatment for AIDs months before his death in 1985.
Disney’s Big Hero 6 overpowered ironic spy caper Kingsman: The Secret Service to the top of last weekend’s UK box office by a whisper. If you count approximately £50,000 as a whisper. Which you surely do given that the two films grossed a combined £9.5 million. Inherent Vice, meanwhile, debuted at #9.
Some shameless self-promotion: if you’re a fan of Kidulthood, Eden Lake or Attack The Block, why not read my brief history of the hoodie in British film?
Finally, Keira Knightley recreated Meg Ryan’s most famous moment from When Harry Met Sally in a British Invasion video to promote Vanity Fair’s Hollywood Portfolio. Did we ever establish what “she was having”?
Words: Ben Hopkins, except where indicated