Tag Archives: Niall Leonard

You Can’t Punish in Here. This is the Red Room of Pain!

Fifty Shades Freed

by Matt Weiner

Boiling down the Fifty Shades movies into a capsule summary has always felt a bit like playing Mad Libs with a head injury, and Fifty Shades Freed gleefully continues the trend.

Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey (Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, each blinking out Morse code to their agents throughout the franchise) are now married. Christian’s dominant side causes fresh problems for Ana at work, but not as much as her ex-boss (Eric Johnson) returning to stalk the entire Grey family for reasons both mysterious and incredibly obvious.

Having watched the entire series, it’s hard not to feel like additional complaining is punching down, so here are some nice things about Fifty Shades Freed:

• This is the first film in the franchise that earns intentional laughs, an incredible improvement all on its own.
• All the shots, while filmed so perfunctorily that you forget what you’ve just seen nearly in real-time, are in focus.
• There is what amounts to a five-minute Audi commercial, which is helpful if you are considering buying or leasing a new Audi.
• According to the credits, Marcia Gay Harden and Danny Elfman received paychecks from this, and although you can hardly feel their presence on screen or in the score, I cherish them both and I hope they buy nice houses from this because they deserve it.

But the other major improvement in the franchise can’t be separated from the movie’s biggest flaw. The good news: with Ana and Christian having settled into betrothed BDSM bliss, the film (written by Niall Leonard and directed by James Foley) devotes less time to their tepid romance and more time allowing the characters to simply be themselves as they get caught up in a sordid thriller.

Here’s the bad news. Allowing these characters to be themselves suffers from one crucial flaw: every single character in the series is boring to an extent that’s almost an achievement in its own right.

And just like in the first two films, the sexual chemistry between Ana and Christian never clicks on screen. Although since Freed revolves more around the couple’s marital gamesmanship than their “erotic” courtship, the tension occasionally works this time. And even produces some real laughs.

While the movie wraps things up neatly for Ana and Christian—albeit in a comically abrupt way I guess is a clever callback to the bizarre pacing of the previous films—it doesn’t answer the question of exactly who this movie is for.

There’s plenty of nudity, but it’s clinically divorced from any recognizable human emotion. Such short shrift is given to character development that I can’t imagine fans of the lengthy books have been satisfied. There’s a mystery plot, sort of, but nothing you couldn’t get from a made-for-TV movie and save the cash.

But if you’ve made it this far through the series, Fifty Shades Freed is the most competent of the bunch. And at least this one can be watched with a clear conscience knowing that the actors are as freed from contractual obligations as their characters are rid of emotional baggage.



Sloppy Seconds

Fifty Shades Darker

by Matt Weiner

The latest installment in the Fifty Shades trilogy, to its credit, could very well be an ingenious meta-joke on the audience regarding punishment and masochism.

And that’s the kindest thing to be said about Fifty Shades Darker, the follow-up to 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey (based on the wildly popular book series by E. L. James—insert joke about how it was wise to use a pen name, except with those book sales the joke is on all of us).

The sequel has a new director (James Foley) and new hastily sketched roadblocks—er, characters—on the path to bound-up bliss, but in nearly every other way the film doubles down on everything torturous about the first one.

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are back as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. They brought some new toys this time around (pro tip: don’t Google “spreader” at work), but there is no amount of light bondage that can distract from the obvious lack of chemistry between the two leads.

Johnson makes the best of a bad situation, and at times her portrayal of Ana flirts with acknowledging how absurd the entire enterprise is. Dornan, however, is impenetrable. Although in his defense, Grey only has three modes to choose from: having sex, being tortured by a mysterious past or impersonating a brick.

A boring relationship between the two leads of an erotic romance series should be a glaring red flag, but just in case the movie also outdoes the original when it comes to mind-blowingly bizarre plotting and pacing.

The film kicks off as a creepy thriller, and tries to wind things up the same way, save the 90 minutes in between that have nothing to do with the main story. Instead the film props up supporting characters as a teaser for the final movie. (Kim Basinger could be a great femme fatale as Elena, Grey’s mentor and original seductress. But if the pattern holds, it’ll be hard for anyone to rise above the source material.)

The script was written by Niall Leonard, who is E. L. James’s husband. This helps the film only insofar as it means Christian and Ana no longer deserve to be the most loathed couple involved in the production.

The LEGO Batman Movie also opens this weekend. It’s a movie full of computer-generated plastic people. Go see that instead: you won’t feel guilty laughing at the dialogue, and the characters do a better job at impersonating humans.