Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

Fifty Shades Darker
Directed by James Foley
Written by Niall Leonard, based on the novel by E.L. James

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The sequel heard around the world is finally coming to theaters, Fifty Shades Darker, seemingly from the title anticipates the story going deeper (no pun intended) than the last and pushing back the layers around the characters that are Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and the formidable Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). The director of the first one bailed Sam Taylor-Johnson and has now been replaced by director James Foley. Whereas the first one served to push the envelope a bit and introduce audiences to the characters and the world of S&M, the second one felt like a clichéd version of what audiences would expect.

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Corny one liners and a banal storyline, I felt like I was watching a cheesy Hallmark movie with some sex scenes sprinkled into it. So much of it felt predictable and any suspense that was built up was instantly solved in a few minutes.

The sequel is about Anastasia and Christian coming back together because he simply cannot live without her. Except this time around she renegotiates her terms with him and wants to have just a real, normal relationship. The problem is can Christian handle, as she says a vanilla relationship? Meaning one without the constant badgering to play dom and sub in the bedroom and one where boyfriends don’t dictate your relationship like a legal arrangement. Christian is used to being in control, it’s what excites him, it’s what gets him off in every area of his life, but this time around he agrees to try this type of relationship out with her because she is worth it in every sense of the word.

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Anastasia is trying to lead a normal life, she finally got the job of her dreams, a position at a publishing house and wants so eagerly to impress her boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). He is as equally enticing and sexy as Christian, but in a different way. He’s smart, he likes books as much as Anastasia and appears to be much more laid back. Immediately Christian cannot handle the fact that she has a boss and starts to try to manage her life, even trying to stop her from going on a work trip to New York City.

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What envelops from here is a story so ridiculous that I wasn’t sure whether to roll my eyes or laugh. In the sequel, we find out more about Christian’s tortured past and meet the elusive Elena, who first showed him the ropes of the S&M world when he was young. I loved that Kim Basinger played the character, in a way as an homage to her original bad ass character from 9 ½ Weeks, who unleashed her sexuality in the days before every movie had gratuitous sex scenes in it. What wasn’t great was the fact that she was underused in the film. I would have loved to have seen her do something interesting or mind grabbing with Christian, instead she remains as a foreground character, fourth to all the other nonsensical characters in the film.

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I found the sex scenes in Darker, to push the envelope a bit more, which was what I expected. Ben Wa balls and an adjustable leg spreader bar and cuffs (curious minds should look both those up), take the scenes up a notch. As she tells Christian at one point, “I was being romantic and then you go and distract me with your kinky f—kery.” What’s different this time around is that Anastasia is much more willing to explore her kinky side in the bedroom. Whereas before she may have turned away or felt scared, this time she is curious and wants to play.

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The movie is filled with leg grinding, lace panties, and sexy heels, and Dornan’s beautiful body. Director Foley gave audiences just what they wanted in that arena. As far as the storyline goes, it was simply lacking and unfocused. Many of the lines felt sterile and banal, but I guess this movie really isn’t going for Oscar worthy screenwriting. Although it could be nominated for a Razzie award. If you are a fan of the first one, then my guess is that curiosity will lead you to the theaters. The film could be fun to see with friends, have a good laugh, and see Dornan’s abs (it’s worth it just for that alone), but that’s about it. If none of that peaks your interest, then I would suggest saving your hard-earned dollars and waiting to see this one until it comes out on video.

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(Insert gratuitous pic of Dornan… DONE)

}}Melissa

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Manchester By The Sea (2016)

Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Written and Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

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Grief is a feeling that everyone faces differently. There is no guidebook for how one should feel when they lose someone important to them. It is those subtle nuances of how a person copes with death that are explored in the film Manchester by the Sea. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, he creates a film that shows the realities of dealing with grief and heartbreak, from the decisions one faces when laying someone to rest to the pervasive memories of the past with that person. Life is never easy and we rarely know when life is throwing us a curveball or a perfect set of aces, these matters are out of our hands as human beings, but it is how we deal with what life hands us that shapes us as people. Lonergan explores these nuances of life and death and masterfully shapes them, paired with the tremendous acting performances in this film, it is guaranteed to be an Oscar contender.

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Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a lowly, quiet janitor living in Boston, his life is simple and monotonous, yet he doesn’t seem hampered by it at all. When his older brother passes away, Joe (Kyle Chandler) he rushes back to his hometown of Manchester, where he soon finds out that his brother has granted him to be the sole guardian of his teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Lee is dumbfounded, confused, and doesn’t really understand why he was left to oversee him. Patrick’s mother Elise (Gretchen Mol) is nowhere to be found and Lee is all Patrick has left as a parental figure.

Throughout the film, we are given flashback into their lives together as brothers, and it is clear that Lee and Patrick had a strong bond. Joe would take them out on his fishing trawler and the three of them would head out into the sea, where they would catch fish, talk about life, and laugh together. Through these memories, we can gather that Lee was not only close to his brother, but had a cohesive, almost brother-like bond with his nephew. Joe leaves the boat to his son, and he is adamant besides the motor not working that he keeps the boat running, in a way, it is his way of reconnecting with his father and he is afraid to lose it. Lee wants to get rid of it, but never fully can act on it, because his most distinct memories were shaped on his brother’s boat.

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Not only must Lee face raising a teenage boy, of which he knows nothing about doing, he allows him to have girls over and doesn’t provide many restrictions, but he must also deal with the fact that his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) also lives in that town. From his flashbacks, we see that they had a loving life together, filled with some disarray, but nothing out of the ordinary and in the present time that no longer exists. He can barely look at her and doesn’t know what to say around her. With all the misfortunes that Lee has faced, the town of Manchester brings him many bad memories and constant reminders of the life he used to lead.

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Affleck carried the film from beginning to end, and delivered a performance like no other he has given before. It was subtle, yet filled with such intensity, that one could feel every ounce of his depth without him saying anything. The unknowing of what life had in store for him could be read on his face. Lee appears broken and detached from all that is and has been his life. Affleck seemed to understand that and took all those distinct emotions and placed them into his character. I am sure that he will garner awards and accolades for his performance, this could be the one that sets him apart from other contenders.

Newcomer Hedges was astonishing as Patrick, not only do we feel moments of sadness for him, but we also get a sense of annoyance as he is just a teenage boy doing teenager-like things. He doesn’t completely grasp everything that is going on around him and we rarely see him break down and shrill for his father, instead we see that he is just trying to get on with his life. Hedges holds his own against Affleck and at times stole many of the scenes. The two played off each other perfectly and it worked.

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The film not only makes you feel moments of sadness and sorrow, but I found myself laughing through a lot of it. As a viewer, I felt like I was on a rollercoaster of emotions, crying one minute and wiping away my tears and laughing the next. There are so few films, that can pull such emotions out of the viewer. Life isn’t always sad, nor is it always funny, but Lonergan is able to weave the dynamics of both and create a film that is thought-provoking and unique. I have my own inner meter of how I know a film is good in my eyes, and it is when days go by and I cannot stop thinking about it, and that’s how I felt with this film. The director along with the entire ensemble cast make this movie work and it is one that should not be missed.

}}Melissa