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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Movie Man Jackson looks at: 2015 Music in Movies (Part 1)

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(Clockwise from left: Jason Moran (Selma), Common and John Legend (Selma), Hans Zimmer (Chappie), Henry Jackman (Kingsman: The Secret Service))

Another end of year brings another installment done by yours truly in Movie Man Jackson. For those unaware of what this end of year feature is all about, think of it as a spotlight on some of the best musical pieces I found in films that I viewed during the year that were, save for a few, released in 2015.

Don’t consider this a ranking, but again, just a series to give some attention to some musical work I found to be compelling, catchy, mesmerizing, etc. in said films. Don’t consider this a comprehensive list, either. I try to see everything I can, but of course, a big film (or two or three) with a killer score may not always be found here, not because I don’t like its music, but because I simply didn’t watch the film. In my opinion,  I cannot honestly blurb about what I liked/felt about the song chosen without watching the actual film—kind of like watching a film! Context is important! Feel free to let me know in the comments sections as to what I need to listen to and what, if anything, I got right!

A few short notes:

  • Again, for the most part, the songs I’ve selected appear in movies that were released in the 2015 calendar year save for 1-2 movies.
  • All of the songs I’ve selected appear in their respected movie. Some movies will have the official motion picture soundtrack as well as the official motion picture score. The score will (almost) always appear in the movie, whereas the soundtrack may appear here and there.
  • Generally, the songs I have selected are from the respective scores. But, there are a few selections I’ve chosen from the soundtrack, because said song adds to the movie immensely.
  • Not always, but some tracks from the score directly reference specific points in the movie. So, there may be slight spoilers!
  • I will link to every musical piece, but I don’t control if and when the piece gets taken down from YouTube 😦
  • I’m no musical whiz, nor know every exact instrument (though I do still play the trumpet from time to time :)), I just try to highlight what I really enjoy about the featured selection/selections, sometimes grouped and looked at more collectively than individually.
  • I’ve tried to start at the beginning of the year and work through it, though there may be the occasional film OST that I finally got around to listening to that makes its appearance later in the series.

Make sense? Let’s get it started!

Selma

Bloody Sunday

Composed by Jason Moran, this track, starting with the piano for a good solid minute and then introducing the strings, paints the picture and sets up the horror of the task that Dr. King and the SCLC have to go through in order to be heard. It is very somber piece, but a determined one as well, as the bass drum reflects the grit and the resilience of those in the march.

Glory

Of course, no series would be complete without the song that won the Oscar for Best Original Song last year. John Legend and Common takes a look at the events that the film is portraying, but just as important, connecting them to the troubles with race in present day. The lyrics are simple: We are not there, but we’re working to it, and the hope is once we achieve it, it will be glorious. The perfect song to end Selma on.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Love Me Like You Do

That sound you hear is all of my street cred going out of the door after posting this track. But seriously, Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t a great movie, but its soundtrack, overall, is a positive. In my original post, I said that while I liked the soundtrack, it felt a little too bubbly to me, considering the subject matter of the story. Now, upon further review, I don’t have as much of a problem with it, maybe because I finally understand that FSOG, despite its heavy subject matter, is really just a teen love story (I didn’t read the book) seen from the perspective of Ana, like this song by Ellie Goulding is written from. Of course she’s going to be enamored with a super rich and suave guy, even if he’s a little singular in his tastes.

 Kingsman: The Secret Service 

Manners Maketh Man

Skydiving

Calculated Infiltration

Every spy franchise needs a notable theme, and if Kingsman becomes a franchise (looks like it will), this motif will be the one that people equate with the franchise. The tracks, making heavy use of brass, are equal parts regal, but chaotic as well. Henry Jackman, also the mastermind behind scores from Big Hero 6, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Kick Ass, appears to be very comfortable scoring action films.

Focus

Sofa Rockers (Richard Dorfmeister Remix)

Sympathy for the Devil

Focus may become redundant with its twist on twist, “con-ception” game by the end of its runtime, but it is hard to deny that is just so smooth, stylish, and effortless in doing so, and the soundtrack really sets that up. The song by the Sofa Rockers is played when Nicky (Will Smith) is teaching Jess how to be a great con. The other song by The Rolling Stones puts a period on what is one of the best gambling scenes of recent memory in movies. They, like many other tracks in the soundtrack, doesn’t pop out, but it is reflective of its main characters in that the less attention drawn to themselves, the better. But, they get under your skin.

Chappie

The Only Way Out of This

A Machine That Thinks and Feels

Mayhem Downtown

Hans Zimmer has described his work on Neill Blomkamp’s latest as “The Chappie Elektrik Synthphonia.” That should tell you everything you need to know about the score, which is nothing organic. Like Chappie himself, the sounds are synthetic, and kind of grimy like the slums in Johannesburg, especially the hard-hitting numbers that reflect the more violent parts of the movie. But, there are also subdued moments that aren’t so breakneck like in A Machine That Thinks and Feels and Firmware Update, designed to replicate the childlike wonder that Chappie experiences. This Zimmer score is not like most of his other, more traditional, scores. The pulsating sounds could sound like a mess to some. But, I think it is another strong entry into Zimmer’s discography.

Furious 7 

Vow for Revenge

Brian Tyler wastes no time in establishing from the get-go that Furious 7 is going to be a tale of vengeance. This track feels like a cold dish of revenge, establishing Statham’s Deckard quickly as a badass. If that doesn’t do it, it segues nicely into Juicy J’s Payback. From here, we’re on a collision course between Dom’s crew and Deckard.

 

Paratroopers

Furious 7 (theme)

Though Fast Five is the high point of the series, take a look at Fast & Furious 2009 and the groundwork for what it is now can be seen, evolving from a small scope into a full-blown global one. The score changes with the transition in the series as well, big and robust with a ton of edge still. Though a small observation, I think it is no coincidence that in most of the best movies of the franchise (F5, F7, some actually love TD), almost all have been scored by Brian Tyler (3, 4, 5, 7), who has a knack for blending electric sounds with classical instruments.

Farewell

See You Again (movie version)

And now, the one-two combo that left more than a few eyes misty at the end. The piano just sets things up beautifully—you know it’s coming—leading up to the collaboration and emotionally resonant ending performed by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth. I opted with the film version, not that the real version isn’t amazing, but there’s something perfect about the lyrics in the film version that the radio version almost has, but doesn’t quite have. It truly is For Paul.

Photo credits come from vibe.com, allmusic.com, disney.wikia.com, and uaudio.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.

dakota

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.

kissing

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

Follow the MovieMan @MovieManJackson.