Fifty Shades Darker: Movie Man Jackson

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She’s just a sucker for pain. When the world last saw Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), she had had enough of billionaire Christian Grey’s (Jamie Dornan) penchant for pain during intercourse. Ana has left Christian behind, and started to focus on herself, acquiring a job as a secretary for one of Seattle’s biggest publishers, SIP.

Christian isn’t ready to leave Ana behind, though, and reappears in her life offering to change. No contracts, or nothing she isn’t comfortable with. As the two attempt to navigate a more “vanilla” relationship, Christian’s complicated past makes this endeavor difficult.

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Call me an idiot or just too nice, but I was one of the people who didn’t believe that Fifty Shades of Gray was the worst thing modern cinema ever created. That’ s not certainly not to say it was a good or even passable movie, but it was watchable enough in stretches to go into the sequel, Fifty Shades Darker, with a relatively open mind. That didn’t last long. Working with a bigger budget, Fifty Shades Darker ends up being a much smaller and flaccid movie package.

One thing the first Fifty Shades of Grey possessed was fairly good cinematography and direction from Sam Taylor-Johnson, and a decent score and solid original music tracks. The actual production wasn’t that bad. But this go-around, “FSD,” directed by James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross), doesn’t stand out much from the average ABC Family or Oxygen film, minus the subject matter. It’s a very lifeless looking production that does nothing to titillate or stimulate, and the music chosen to accompany these “sexy” scenes ranges from corny to cringey. It’s bad the first time, by the 6th time, you’ll feel violated.

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The two lovebirds in Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan return, with passable chemistry, but not the white hot chemistry this movie needs to be effective. As in the previous movie, Dakota Johnson is by far and away the braver of the two stars once again, putting her entire body out to bare in embarrassing situations. If only her character was as strong as Dakota claims her to be, Fifty Shades Darker may have something.

Dornan bares a little more this go-around, and is a tad better than before with some more character meat. Unfortunately, his American accent slips pretty noticeably here and there, to the point where that’s all I was looking for. With that said (for better or worse), they are the best things about this sequel. Everyone else looks bored to be there (Bella Heathcote, Kim Basinger), or a little over-the-top (Eric Johhson). His role into the story is seen from a mile away; not sure if it is supposed to be.

One can get on the stars and the cast for lackluster acting, but the realization is, these aren’t talentless thespians. Two films deep now, probably not much of a stretch to say that the source material for the Fifty Shades novels is extremely shoddy. Some stories are better left in the book. The dialogue is almost always agonizing to listen to. I simply don’t believe there’s someone out there to make this sound even average, but couldn’t someone else be allowed to take a stab at the screenplay who wasn’t the author’s husband? One thing to exercise artistic control, another to not want to take any suggestions from other, possibly more experienced, people.

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As yours truly pressed on through Fifty Shades Darker, there was one thought that went through the mind: The emotional and physical pain that Ana experiences from Christian’s unconventional desires are nowhere near the levels of pain I experienced watching it unfold.

D-

Photo credits go to variety.com, eonline.com, and yahoo.com.

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How to be Single: Movie Man Jackson

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Did Hollywood really need to make a movie about How to Be Single? They could have just came to me! In modern day New York City, finding companionship is hard. After four years of being in a college relationship, Alice (Dakota Johnson) feels the need to break up with her boyfriend, Josh (Nicholas Braun) upon graduation—temporarily. Her reason, being, that she needs to figure out some things in the Big Apple. Her paralegal job introduces her to a new friend named Robin (Rebel Wilson), who has no problems being a single lady.

Alice’s older sister Meg (Leslie Mann), also single, is all about her career as a doctor, having no desire to conform to society’s idea of having offspring at a certain age. But, she does begin to get an itch to have a baby after a routine patient delivery. And even Lucy (Alison Brie), a person who makes dating apps, has issues with finding a companion. Being single can be tough, but it also can be very eye-opening.

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Yours truly probably isn’t in the target demographic that How to Be Single, a film based off of a novel with the same name, is aiming to hit. It kind of feels like a prolonged episode of Sex in the City. Its release comes at a good time, with it being Valentine’s Day weekend, drawing in people that might latch on to it who are single simply because of its title. It’s an average ensemble piece rom-com that has similar issues to most rom-coms, with the occasional solid positive here and there.

Let’s start with some of the positives. It really isn’t saying much, but How to Be Single does feature a little more substance than many other ensemble romance-comedies. A high-brow analysis this isn’t, but it is a fairly interesting look at being single featuring a whole cast of characters who are single, instead of just the one story thread that often appears in these types of movies amid others. Although featuring many characters, the story connector is the same and makes it easy to follow along. Also, though an African-American male and not a Caucasian female (last time checked at least), still being currently single and around the general age of the lead characters, I can connect somewhat to what the main characters experience. Very possible that point alone plays into the fact of me finding some enjoyment in this.

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Directing-wise, this isn’t too bad either.  Christian Ditter brings some energy and some mild flair behind the camera with some nice lighting and solid song choices that match the story. Generally, he’s able to keep the movie moving at a solid pace, though at times, his reliance to jump ahead in time for a few months comes at the expense of character and true relationship development.

And honestly, it is the characters that How to Be Single gets mostly wrong. For a movie whose story seems to be pretty focused on reality and finding love in the 21st century, it’s odd as to why the characters could not be written with more layers. The obvious person that comes to mind first is Rebel Wilson, basically being Rebel Wilson throughout. If you find her funny, HtBS is going to be a riot. If not (like yours truly), this can be a chore sometimes as the comedy with her at the forefront never really lands.

Dakota Johnson is a fine actress, but it is hard to really feel anything for her Alice as she repeatedly makes the same mistakes. I understand that that is sort of the point, but her eventual awakening feels more predetermined, rather than earned. It sort of works, but it doesn’t hit emotionally as intended. The women aren’t the only ones who can feel fake. The lead male, Tom, played by Anders Holm, is just way too cartoonish to take seriously.

There’s a missed opportunity for Alison Brie, who appears in the marketing substantially but is clearly the fourth wheel after things get going. She’s off her kilter a tad too much and not exactly grounded, but kind of representative of some people finding love online nowadays. Leslie Mann’s character storyline is probably the most fulfilling, though her character can be a bit much with her “freneticness” and such.

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Credit where credit’s due. How to Be Single gets a rose or two for not being completely predictable, having a semi-interesting story about the difficulties of love, and subverting a few rom-com staples. However, it falls short of getting a full bouquet due to a majority of the cast of of characters showing why they deserve to be single.

Grade: C

Photo credits go to moviefone.com, YouTube.com, and aroundmovies.com.

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Black Mass: Movie Man Jackson

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“If nobody sees it, it didn’t happen.”

Wise words from a notorious criminal. It’s the 1970’s, and the city of Boston, Massachusetts has become rife with criminal activity. Many gangs run the streets, like the Winter Hill Gang, led by Boston native James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp), brother of state senator William Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch).

As much as the FBI would love to shut down all criminal organizations in the area, sometimes a one-or-the-other choice has to be made. In a land of big wolves, the biggest is the Italian Mafia, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf. Knowing this, an old childhood friend of Bulger’s, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), approaches Bulger with a deal: Become an informant, giving intel of other local empires, in exchange for the bureau turning a relative blind eye to Whitey’s operation. Originally believed to be the lesser of all evils, the FBI soon finds that Bulger is the biggest one.

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Director Scott Cooper’s (Out of the Furnace) Black Mass asks one real question: Does it mean anything to take down the house if a stronger one is built on the side? The clear answer is no. Aside from that, though, Black Mass isn’t a new spin on biographies or gangster flicks. But, it is engrossing once it gets going, and benefits from a strong cast, spearheaded by a guy who the world has been begging of to sink his teeth into something other than a pirate, a vampire, or an art-dealing buffoon.

Yes, Johnny Depp, delivers here. Instead of the makeup and the accompanying appearances making, or in some cases, marring, his more recent roles, Depp’s appearance here, though still with makeup, is minimal enough to allow Depp the actor to shine through. His Bulger, make no mistake, is very evil, so if looking for a truly dynamic lead character, it may be best to look elsewhere. But, from the first scene Depp appears in, it never feels like he’s has to “warm up” to be evil; he’s ready from the jump. The performance is high quality throughout, featuring many scenes packed with tension as to just what Whitey will do. Sometimes he does something, and other times he doesn’t, but the unease and unpredictability are always present.

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It may be too early to say, but Depp should almost certainly in the nominee pool for Best Actor. His character’s counterpart of John Connolly, played by Joel Edgerton, should almost certainly be in the nominee pool for Best Supporting Actor. Seeing Edgerton’s character devolve from an agent who wants to do the right thing by aligning with a lesser evil to bring down a bigger evil, to desperately trying to convince himself he’s still doing the right thing is equal parts fascinating, sad, and even funny at times.

The relationship between Connolly and Whitey is more brother-like than Whitey and his own brother, played by Benedict Cumberbatch in a good but “I still see this actor/actress” performance. In defense of Benedict, he’s not really on screen enough to build any momentum. In smaller roles, Dakota Johnson, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, and Peter Sarsgaard all fit nicely and contribute as key pieces all revolving around Whitey and John.

Filming around the same areas where so much of Bulger’s criminal empire occurred is a great (and probably necessary) choice that gives more authenticity to the movie. Cooper lends some solid camerawork to the story’s events, nothing spectacular as this is an intentionally drab visual palate, but technically sound it certainly is. It’s the story itself, however, that works well enough to get into, but, based on what appear to be a mostly true telling of events, doesn’t ascend to classic mobster and crime movies. As a whole, it just sort of lacks that emotional hold that similar movies in the genre possess.

Additionally, Black Mass suffers somewhat from a slow start as the result of an iffy effort to flesh out Bulger beyond being only a bad guy. It doesn’t truly get going until about 25-30 minutes in. And, while the events are told in a very straightforward manner, gaps exist and seem to be evidenced by fade-to-black timelime jumps that possibly could have given the movie opportunity to explore more relationships and key characters if additional runtime was given.

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The term Black Mass has a religious origin, literally defined as the darker inverse of the traditional Catholic mass, bordering on parody and obvious blasphemy. As for the film Black Mass, the story isn’t a parody, or treated glamorously, but brings, what feels like at to yours truly at least, a true-to-real-life history lesson presented on the silver screen of a guy who I only knew of through America’a Most Wanted.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to liveforfilms.com, blogs.indiewire.com, and boston.cbslocal.com.

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Fifty Shades of Grey: Movie Man Jackson

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“You’re here because I’m incapable of leaving you alone.”

Fifty shades of one man’s psyche may exist, but they all revolve around one desire in Fifty Shades of Grey: Submission. Soon-to-be a graduate of Washington State University, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is thrust into conducting an interview one day when her roommate Kate is unable to do so. This isn’t just an interview with some mom & pop shop owner. This interview is with 27 year-old Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), a powerful billionaire magnate residing in Seattle.

In 10 short minutes, Ana realizes that there is much more to this man than a handsome face. Despite her uneasy feelings, she is clearly attracted to his cool & controlled personality, and as fate would have it, Christian is drawn to her innocent and gentle persona. Naturally, the two spend more time together, which is almost always prefaced by Grey stating that romance isn’t something he’s interested in. He is a f**ker, not a lover. While Ana wants something more traditional, Christian’s tastes are more singular, darker, and fueled by a need to never lose dominance.

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Akin to its lead male character’s upbringing, Fifty Shades of Gray has come from humble beginnings to get to the silver screen. The origins are simply the result of a fan known under the pen name “Snowqueen’s Icedragon” writing stories and creating a fan fiction that spawned off of the insanely popular Twilight series. Of course, Snowqueen Icedragon is none other than author E.L. James, and the rudimentary fan fiction eventually became a full-blown trilogy capturing much of the world’s attention starting in 2011. And this attention was captured whether people read the novels or not due to the BDSM content, so naturally a movie had to be made, controversy be dammed. But does the movie adaptation assert its dominance?

Yours truly has never read the books, and have little interest to do so. Like most adaptations from print to movie, I am sure that there are a few things left out. But the critical consensus of the 50 Shades series seems to be that the adult, risque content serves as a concealer, or even protection (if you will) for a lack of a truly interesting and well-written story. To be fair with the film, the early portions are fairly interesting, and overall there is some nice looking cinematography especially in the way of lighting to encompass the mood. The early moments carry enough momentum to care enough as to where things go, even if it is abundantly clear to readers and non-readers as to where the ride ends.

As this continues though, there is little drama to remain semi-hooked, and the sex scenes do little to nothing to reinvigorate interest. In a way, it feels like Taylor-Johnson and the producers expected the BDSM moments to carry all of the intrigue, but after the first, what is really there aside from whips and chains and penetration? The drama is supposed to come from whether Ana will or won’t sign the consent contract, and this is basically the rest of the movie. It is actually rendered pretty useless in honesty however, because it isn’t like the two stop all contact or sexual explorations, in fact they continue on with progressively more intensity and sado-masochistic elements. At one point, Christian even makes a point about the contract being redundant. If this was a self-referential jab at itself, nice. Didn’t come off that way though.

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There’s a feeling when watching this that the producers and director want to have their cake and eat it too. The highly mature and dark nature of the content gives the tone one expects, but just as quickly, the movie appears to try hard to be this not-exactly-bubbly but undeniably romantic flick. Even the score, which is solid in some scenes but incongruent with others, reflects this. Again, maybe it comes together more seamlessly in the novel, but it is odd to see something that resembles a teen romance in places.

Two people matter in this and everyone knows who they are. Dakota Johnson’s work here is probably the best aspect of Fifty Shades. It is easy to think that what she is asked to do isn’t a ton, but having to be so open and willing to bare oneself to a national audience requires a lot of confidence. But her nudity isn’t all her role comprises. Her performance feels very natural as it pertains to her character, curious yet fearful, “strong-ish” but weak. There is no debate to be had that she isn’t fully invested in the role.

The same can’t really be said for Jamie Dornan. Playing an American, his natural Irish accents drifts in more than it should, to the point that less attention is focused upon what he is saying and more upon how he is saying it. On the aspect of chemistry between the pair, it is mediocre at best and nonexistent at worst, but yours truly feels like the problem lies more with Dornan. I can’t shake the belief that he could have done more, gone a little further. To talk about anyone else here is wasting space, not because they are terrible, but because they really don’t matter.

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To bring up the question again, does Fifty Shades of Grey assert its dominance as a compelling and sexy film? Not at all, but it isn’t a completely painful viewing. Just exercise caution if submitting to the 125 minute runtime.

Grade: D+

Photo credits go to Variety.com, beautyworldnews.com, and etonline.com

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Fifty Shades of Grey (trailer): Movie Man Jackson Analysis

Whether you’re a preteen or well into adulthood, chances are you have heard of Fifty Shades of Gray, the controversial novel that has sparked tons of debate for its graphic descriptions of not-exactly-vanilla sex acts and practices. With its popularity, a film adaptation could be seen from a mile away, and the trailer has finally arrived to the world, seen earlier today on The Today Show.

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I’ve never read the book, have no desire to, and this movie doesn’t make me want to change that. But I will say that while this new trailer doesn’t excite me, it does sort of intrigue me, if only for the interest of how the more explicit acts will be shown. With what the book is famous for, there is almost no way this could be PG-13 right? The second half of the reveal hints at what we can be expected. It will be fun seeing this officially rated and described on filmratings.com once more information is known.

From what can be observed, the film looks fairly cool  from a visual standpoint. Blue, greys, and whites really blend in to create an cold and mysterious tone. It establishes a mood quickly, one that will probably be evident for most of the runtime.  This could surprise aesthetic-wise, as it looks like it has a lot of potential to look really good.

I don’t know much about the leads in Dakota Johnson & Jamie Dornan, but they look solid enough as a couple, which ultimately may be what the success of the movie boils down to. Crazy as it sounds,  how the score/soundtrack is something I am highly engrossed with. The perfect balance has to be found; go too far one way during certain scenes and this could come off as unintentionally hilarious.

Fifty Shades of Gray has done what an effective trailer is supposed to do: Get people talking, regardless of the fact if they are versed in the “lore” or not. The months leading to the essentially Valentine’s Day 2015 release should be interesting. Whether the film is good or not, it will certainly bring buzz to a period of the moviegoing year often known as “Dumpuary.”

Photo credits goes to eonline.com.

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