World-famous rock star Marianne (Tilda Swinton) is recovering from throat surgery on a small Italian island with her lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) when onto the island and into their lives bursts her former producer and beau Harry (Ralph Fiennes) with his recently discovered daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Trapped together in a luxurious villa the scene is set for jealousy, sex, and resentment as tensions of all kinds brew between a quartet of troubled characters; a ticking time bomb of hormones simmering in the heat.
Swinton is a chameleon as an actor and it is always a surprise to see what kind of character she will be playing. In A Bigger Splash Swinton plays it incredibly low-key as she tackles the role of a mostly mute singer who quietly oozes cool and sexuality. Swinton playing a more reserved character allows for Ralph Fiennes to go large as her bombastic ex. Rather than be cool and subtly sexual Fiennes is giving it his all, shouting from the rooftops and blasting sexual energy towards anyone foolish enough to cross his path. Before Fiennes arrives everything is serene but once he enters the film all is noise and energy. Fiennes is pure dad dancing, pelvis grinding, obnoxious energy and has never been better. He blasts into the calm poolside living with an unsettling jolt last seen produced by Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. What a great double bill those films would make.
Completing the quartet are Dakota Johnson as Harry’s daughter and Matthias Schoenaerts as Marianne’s partner and Harry’s former bestie. Both are more difficult to read that their counterparts as they observe the actions of others and quietly plot away in their heads. Johnson gives an infinitely more complex performance that Fifty Shades allowed and a sexier one too. I realise I’ve mentioned sex in every other sentence in this review but it runs at the heart of the film. While the actual sex in the film is minimal it is sex that drives every character’s motivations. It is what they are pursuing, resenting, or trying to avoid.
Luca Guadagnino’s direction gives us a film that is positively humming with energy. To watch the film is to have your pace racing. His camera moves around with great inventiveness and the music is at times playful and others timeless. Most importantly he has made a film that is a complete joy to watch. He has dialled up Fiennes to 11 and it is this performance that makes or break the film. Watching A Bigger Splash was pure enjoyment and admiration; a fine two hours spent in the dark of the cinema.
A Bigger Splash is a big, bold, brash, funny and shocking drama.
A Bigger Splash is in cinemas now.
Black Mass tells of the career in crime of Boston’s James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp), FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) whom he corrupts, and various other individuals who help him out or get in his way. The cast is filled with names and those names are all fully bewigged and giving their best Boston accent. Performances are generally good, the period detail is on point, and events unfold as the events unfolded.
I did not enjoy it.
Watching Black Mass was a relatively empty experience. Over the course of two hours so much happened and yet so little seemed to matter. Numerous characters were introduced only to be killed after a scene or simply forgotten about. The criminal elements were constantly discussing details of crimes or people that needing killing in a way that had no impact on the plot and so were not remotely interesting. In fact I don’t think there really was a plot. Whitey was a bad man and that’s about it.
The good guys are mostly in the background despite being portrayed by the likes of Kevin Bacon and Adam Scott. Black Mass took no great interest in the mechanics of their investigation preferring to simply get across the fact that they were vaguely interested in arresting Whitey and leaving it at that. Without anyone to root for I was just left resenting most of the people onscreen and eventually the screen itself.
And the women? What women? I counted at best three female actors in what could be considered major parts; Juno Temple, Dakota Johnson, and Julianne Nicholson. Of these three, two are forgotten about and never given an actual ending while the third is added to the body count after just two scenes.
Black Mass is a continuous cycle of murder, money, talking, murder, money, and talking with a sprinkling of Benedict Cumberbatch as Whitey’s brother sticking out like a sore thumb. The events of the film may well be true but they are not presented in a remotely interesting way. Violence and crime without context are can be incredibly dull.
Expect some buzz around the performances but don’t believe the hype. There is nothing new to see here and your time could be better spent elsewhere.
Black Mass screens at the festival on the 11th, 12th and 16th October and a few tickets can still be found online.
For those of you whose Dom doesn’t permit you to keep up to date with popular culture allow me to introduce you to a literary adaption that has caused more fuss than it has any right to. Fifty Shades of Grey is an aspiring erotic romantic drama in which the virginal student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and handsome young billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) meet, fall madly in love, and negotiate a contract which would make Anastasia the Submissive to Christian’s Dominant. All Anastasia wants is to fall madly in love but Christian would rather just buy her nice gifts in exchange for tying her up and rubbing her down. So to speak.
Can they make it work? Is Christian emotionally stable? Is Anastasia making good life choices? The film answers very little of these questions as the film circles its quite basic plot. For all the fuss created about E.L. James’ original novel and this adaptation not much actually goes on. After their initial meeting Steele and Grey have sex a few times in between trying to convince each other to pursue wildly different relationships and then the film just ends.
From a romantic point of view the film failed to give any reason why I should want the lead pair to get together. Were either of them a friend I would advise them to move on and find someone new. Anastasia’s personality begins and ends with liking books and wanting to make love while Christian likes playing piano topless and, look away now sensitive folks, fisting. Their interactions outside of the bedroom/red-room-of-pain don’t demonstrate enough chemistry to convince that they are actually in love, lust, or even in the same book group.
When it comes to the erotic element of the film it is a bit hit and miss. Some of the sex scenes do succeed in actually being sexy but then the film suddenly descends into sweeping camera moves and slow fade transitions that leave the sex, after all that fuss, a little pedestrian. Considering the raunchy nature of what we see on TV and online (I’m talking Netflix not actual porn) week in week out Fifty Shades of Grey actually felt a little tame which was not what I was expecting.
We all know the film is the result of infighting between E. L. James and director Sam Taylor-Johnson. That lack of creative freedom and singular coherent vision has resulted in a film that isn’t really anything in particular. The film didn’t feel particularly romantic, erotic, nor dramatic. It wasn’t even a total disaster so isn’t worth hate-watching. Overall Fifty Shades of Grey is boring and bland; a sanitised story of love and lust that fails to excite.
For anyone seeking a romantic erotic story of a woman embracing a sadomasochistic relationship please watch Secretary, and to see a damaged man overindulge in sex let me recommend Shame. Both will show you what Fifty Shades of Grey could have been if it had the ambition.
Fifty Shades of Grey is out on DVD and Blu-ray should you need to see it for yourself. (So are Secretary and Shame.)
NOTE: The DVD I was sent included the “Unseen” version of the film with roughly three minutes extra footage. Sadly no special features were available for reviewing but the various sets do have extra footage/documentaries should you need more content when you’re done.
As a recent expert on the casting of the Fifty Shades of Grey film (pause for laughter) I thought it was only fitting that I bring you the news (a day late) about the actors who have actually been hired to show you their genitals in what is sure to be a sensitive and artistically valid feature film adaptation of the book series that has been titillating readers for only two years now.
Author of the books and all round smut-peddler E L James revealed the on Twitter that the role of Christian Grey will be played by Charlie Hunnam and Anastasia Steele is to be portrayed by Dakota Johnson. But who are this sexy pair? Looking at the image above we can see that they are an attractive pair but what else?
Charlie Hunnam is a male man (not a mail man) from England who has been in a variety of things I have failed to see including Queer as Folk, Undeclared, Sons of Anarchy, and Pacific Rim. He also played the title role in a 2002 version of Nicholas Nickleby which for some reason also starred Anne Hathaway. From what I can tell Hunnam is a good egg, can actually act, AND has the all important buff bod we need here.
Dakota Johnson is a female woman from America. She is made from the combination of Melanie Griffith’s egg and Don Johnson’s sperm and has Antonio Banderas as a step-dad and Tippi Hedron as a grandmother. The only acting I have seen her do is during a brief cameo of the final episode of the American version of The Office but hopefully some of her relatives’ talents have rubbed off on her*. She was also Kate in the sitcom Ben and Kate but I have no proof that show ever existed. A Google image search reveals her to be blonde, slim, and attractive** so no one will object too much to seeing her trussed up and naked.
Ultimately you have to ask yourself “do I care who is in this film?” and “surely it’s for the best that Felicity Jones stays far away”. The answers are likely to be “no” and “you’re right, she’s better than this”. The fact that they seem to be casting proper actors with greater assets than those they keep in their underwear, combined with choosing a proper director in the form of Sam Taylor-Wood seems to suggest that they are trying to make a decent film out of a book that sounds like dirge***. Whether they can or not remains to be seen.
Do it right and they could make Shame, do it wrong and they’ve made Shameless Boytoys. Either the way people will watch either out of love for the source material, morbid curiosity, or simply to get themselves off.
* Before Charlie Hunnam does (snigger)
** A triple threat known as “trouble”
***Having not read the books I cannot wholeheartedly condemn or promote them