Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Critical Week: Bump in the night

Back into screening mode after returning to London, my first was to finally catch up with Personal Shopper, which reunites a superb Kristen Stewart with French filmmaker Olivier Assayas. It's an endlessly fascinating mix of personal drama and ghostly horror that leaves the audience wondering. Kong: Skull Island is a big, enjoyably 1970s-style take on the monster movie that's entertaining and very cool, even if the characters are rather thin. My comments on two British comedies are embargoed until closer to the release dates: Roger Allam, Matthew Modine and Fiona Shaw in The Hippopotamus, and Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson and Lesley Manville in Hampstead.

There were two micro-budget underwater thrillers: The Dark Below is a wordless cat-and-mouse chase on a frozen-over lake, while The Chamber is a claustrophobic stranded-sub adventure. Both have solid production values but little in the way of story or characters. Fair Haven is a sensitive American indie drama that grapples with issues of expectations and sexuality with warmth and honesty. And from Argentina, Bromance is a provocative drama that raises some big themes and almost deals with them. I also caught up with this gem...

Fifty Shades Darker
dir James Foley
scr Niall Leonard

with Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Marcia Gay Harden, Kim Basinger, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes 17/Can *.
This sequel, based on the second novel in EL James' trilogy, is noticeably dumbed down from the first movie, with empty slick direction (by safe pair of hands Foley) and an embarrassingly simplistic script (by James' husband Leonard). But the biggest problem is that it abandons the premise, as billionaire Christian (a sleepy Dornan) goes all mushy in the presence of his young lover Ana (a feisty Johnson) this time. Instead of punishing her as before, he gives her pleasure and begs her to move in and then marry him. This never remotely rings true, as there is only a slight spark of chemistry between them and no sign of love at all. Conflict arises simplistically from outside in the form of two of Christians exes (glowering Basinger and psycho Heathcote), plus a near rape and a random helicopter crash that both like a pointless asides. But then, there is nothing about this movie that even remotely grabs hold. Every scene feels rushed and superficial, with dialog that's painfully cheesy, completely missing the central themes of control and dominance. So by the time Basinger takes a drink and slap to the face, the audience reaction is laughter. Badly in need of a sense of humour about itself, as well as an awareness of its own misogyny (Dakota is often naked while Dornan takes off his shirt a few times), the film is hardly whetting appetites for next year's sequel.

As for films this coming week, I have the Disney revamp of Beauty and the Beast, the indie drama Bwoy, the British drama The Levelling, the Korean thriller The Age of Shadows, the award-winning Brazilian drama Aquarius, the Finnish comedy-drama The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki and the Oscar-nominated doc I Am Not Your Negro. There's also a film festival starting next week, the 31st edition of BFI Flare - expect my usual coverage....

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