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Posts Tagged ‘Kim Basinger’

Well, Valentine’s Day and the global corporate attempt to make people who are not single by choice feel worse about themselves than they already do are almost upon us as I write, and one could reasonably expect the onset of a spate of films all extolling the modern ideal of romance at its most epically glutinous. But wait, what’s this? A rather odd film about a slightly alarming dysfunctional relationship and someone with ball bearings up their wazoo?

Ah, it must be time for Fifty Shades Darker, directed by James Foley, the peculiar sequel to 2015’s peculiar Fifty Shades of Grey. Well, as before I felt it behoved me to check out such a significant piece of pop culture action, and thankfully my faithful companion when it comes to this sort of thing, Protective Camouflage, was also up for it. ‘Two tickets for Sex Dungeon 2, please,’ we proudly said, then (moving past a group of possibly underage cinema-goers arguing with the manager over whether they were allowed to watch the film) took our seats. With the first film, we practically had the place to ourselves (that’s what you get for watching soft-core porn at the art house, I guess), but this time around we found ourselves in the midst of a riotous, febrile atmosphere, with a brittle sense of people pretending not to take it all too seriously but secretly really, really excited about the prospect of seeing naked flesh and simulated whoa-ho-ho.

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All very much at odds with the actual film, of course, which as before is primarily concerned with the doings of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), who has just started a new job in publishing, her kinky entanglement with the inexplicably attractive young, handsome, ripped billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) definitely a thing of the past. For the first ten minutes anyway, for then Mr Grey reappears, declares he can’t live without her, and so on, and so on.

The plot beyond this point is a little difficult to describe… it’s not quite as if nothing actually happens, because obviously things do, and I don’t just mean visits to the sex dungeon. It turns out that Mr Grey, despite being more than a bit stalkerish and controlling himself, has got a couple of stalkers of his own, one of whom is played by none other than Kim Basinger. (This reminded me of Basinger’s role in the 1989 Batman movie, which also concerned a handsome, athletic young billionaire with an obsessive interest in punishment. But I digress.) Anastasia Steele attracts another weirdo (Eric Johnson), who is not a non-threatening billionaire and thus not dreamy boyfriend material. Mr Grey is in a helicopter crash with a female colleague, but this does not appear to bother him overmuch, no doubt because he has gone down with a lady many times in the past. Most excitingly, we finally get to meet Mr Grey’s housekeeper, who is presumably the one who keeps everything in the sex dungeon so well-oiled and shiny, but she is sadly only a very minor character.

But all of this feels very incidental to the main storyline (the helicopter crash bit in particular feels bizarrely throwaway), which concerns the, um, unexpectedly conventional relationship between Miss Steele and Mr Grey – she’s worried that he has something of a history with other ladies, struggles to get him to open up emotionally, and is bowled over when he asks her to move in. Radical stuff this really isn’t – this is a romance very much done by the numbers, as a quiet Everygirl discovers she has almost effortlessly won the heart of the handsome prince (it’s just that on this occasion the handsome prince has an extensive selection of recreational aids, even if he seems unsure of where to stick them). There’s something so blandly aspirational about the whole thing, with its tasteful interior decor, designer clothing, and endless product placement.

The advertising for this film is once again built around how blisteringly steamy and boldly transgressive it all is. Well, what floats your boat is a personal matter, I suppose, but even for an 18-rated film this is hardly very explicit (the only time Mr Grey gets his chopper out is when he’s preparing a salad) nor is it especially daring. Early on there’s a spanking sequence which is unintentionally funny rather than erotic (the fact the soundtrack at this point actually features the lyric ‘bum-diddy-bum-bum’ may be partly responsible, I suspect), and the whole ball-bearings-up-the-wazoo bit had Protective Camouflage and I sniggering up our sleeves. Your mileage may vary, naturally: we were practically the last people to leave the theatre, but as we did so there was one couple near the back apparently intent on sucking each others’ faces off, so it clearly did the trick for them.

Of course, this movie has already made an enormous pile of money, so (short of the total collapse of western civilisation, which admittedly feels like more of a genuine possibility than was the case a few months ago) I foresee little that can fend off the release of Sex Dungeon 3 next year, not least because it was filmed back to back with this one, by the same director. Not much chance of the last film redeeming the series, then, and every chance of more of the same.

Joking apart, this is simply quite a dull film, the characters are flat and not performed with any real energy, the plot is meandering and under-powered, and once again there’s a disconcerting lack of anything actually approaching an, um, climax – when it comes to the plot, anyway. It just resembles a very long advert for designer goods with some fairly tame soft-core sex scenes incongruously inserted. I expect that Protective Camouflage and I will check out number three as well, not least because we both enjoy a good laugh, but on the whole I would say that while the makers of Fifty Shades Darker have indeed come up with a film which will appeal to masochists, this is not quite in the way they probably intended.

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It’s a funny old world in the movies, where people can end up with CVs that at first glance look very odd. For example, that of writer-director-actor Shane Black, possibly not the most famous guy in the business but still someone worth keeping track of. Possibly best known as the writer of the first couple of Lethal Weapon movies, as well as various other overblown Hollywood action films, he also pops up as an actor in Predator, The Hunt for Red October, and RoboCop 3. He also has a respectable career as a director, with his name on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3, one of the most financially successful movies of all time.

However, the world being as it is, Black apparently finds it necessary to apologise for some of his creative choices on Iron Man 3, even though the film came out years ago: such is the frothing outrage of some of the comic book fans he offended and (one presumes) the importance the studios attach to keeping this section of the audience onside. It must be particularly galling, given that Black’s latest round of media appearances is, in theory at least, to promote his new film The Nice Guys. As I believe I mentioned, it’s a funny old world sometimes.

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The Nice Guys is set in late-70s Los Angeles. Russell Crowe plays Jack Healey, a philosophically-inclined professional leg-breaker with a soft spot he tries very hard to ignore. Healey is hired by a young runaway named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) to warn off Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a morally-bankrupt private detective who is looking for her. However, after making his point to March somewhat forcefully, Healey comes to realise that Amelia may be in more danger than she realises, and promptly decides to hire March himself in order to start looking for her again. March himself is understandably not keen on this arrangement, but his teenage daughter (Angourie Rice), who is in many ways the brains of the outfit, persuades him to take it on.

What follows is a convoluted, drolly preposterous story concerned with the Los Angeles smog, the adult movie industry, the Department of Justice, and many other elements which don’t obviously go together. There is a sense in which this is another pastiche of the classic Raymond Chandler private eye story, albeit heavily updated – the story initially seems a bit baffling, and I’m still not entirely sure how all of the bits connect up. However, by the final act everything has sorted itself out, more or less. That said, Black’s pedigree as a creator of first-rate action movies is also on display, and the film is punctuated by a number of superbly orchestrated fight scenes and chase sequences – there’s a fight between Crowe and Keith David which is as good as anything I can remember seeing on screen in recent years.

Even these moments are flavoured by a vein of humour, frequently very dark, sometimes quite broad. Black combines the elements of thriller, action, and comedy with great dexterity. The script on this occasion is co-written with Anthony Bagarozzi, but tonally this feels very similar to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Perhaps this time the film is a little deeper and more complex – there’s an element of historical irony going on, while you could probably have a pretty good post-film discussion over whether its ending is happy or actually rather downbeat.

There’s a level of complexity to the characters, too, rather more than what you’d expect from this kind of film, and perhaps shows the difference that hiring star actors can make to what might otherwise be quite a generic piece of work. The counterweight to The Nice Guys’ absurd comedy is the depth of characterisation provided by Crowe and Gosling – I’ve never been a huge fan of Crowe in the past, but he is enormously charismatic and likeable here, making his character’s ethical struggle quite clear without ever indulging in histrionics. Gosling gives a slightly more comedic performance, but not by much, while Angourie Rice can expect to be offered all kinds of dodgy projects on the strength of her performance here. But all the performances are good: perhaps the most noteworthy being a rare appearance by Kim Basinger.

The subject matter of this film may mean it’s not for everyone – in particular, the level of violence is definitely at the top end of a 15, and may be more than some people will be comfortable with (I expect I’m just desensitised myself). But this aside, I enjoyed The Nice Guys enormously, because it is a smart, funny, extremely confident film made by a director who knows how to do this sort of thing as well as anyone else in the business. Well worth checking out.

 

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