Here is a link to my second contribution to the LAMB project for this Oscar period. Click and enjoy.
Movie blogging is an act of self disclosure. You tell the world what your thoughts are, what your feelings might be and you make yourself subject to all types of evaluation by anyone who chooses to read your work. This post will probably reveal more about me than is prudent. I basically spent the afternoon watching two pieces of pornography. They each have a different canvas that they are painting on, but both are designed to get you off in a way that you would probably not be proud discussing with your mother.
First of all, each of these movies in a second installment of a recent “franchise”. “Fifty Shades Darker” is the visualization on the mommy porn phenomena that seemed to sweep the country three or four years ago. The books have been widely criticized as poorly written fan fiction. I can’t remember if I read the first book or not, which tells you a bit about how impressive it was. I can say that although the first film was no piece of art, it is not nearly the travesty of cinema that many make it out to be. “Fifty Shades of Grey” supposedly left us with a cliffhanger ending, but the new film dispenses with the conflict that was so meant to be traumatic at the conclusion of the first movie. Anastasia and Christian get over their tiff within minutes, and she is one more anxious to be his plaything.
The second chapter of “John Wick” starts off with an immediate action sequence that is meant to be a continuation to some degree of the revenge plot in the first movie. Just as with the Sex based romance, the initial story end abruptly and a new story begins. This time Wick, or “The Boogeyman” as he is known in the underworld, gets dragged back to his former profession, unwillingly, to make good on a personal debt. The code of ethics in this fantasy criminal world excuses all sorts of unpleasant behavior, but one of the two rules that they live by is that a marker must be made good. [We’ll discuss the other rule a bit later.] So Keanu Reeves is back in action, set to kill out of professional obligation this time rather than revenge [at least immediately]
Both of these movies live in a fantasy world where wealth and privilege are taken for granted. Christian’s red room full of BDSM equipment is neatly shelved and apparently dusted by a chipper housekeeper who knows what a pervert he really is. John has his basement floor vault, while buried under a messy concrete pile, it is contained in a trunk with a neat slot for every gun, passport, and gold coin of his profession. Both of them also have dog collars but they use them very differently thank goodness. As part of the foreplay in both of these pieces of pornography, there are long sections devoted to dressing the participants correctly. Anastasia gets a corset, garter belt, stockings and a ball gown. John has two custom suits made which have lightweight armor between the lining and the cut of the suit. He has one made for day wear and one for the evenings.
The sex toys in “Fifty Shades Darker” are shown to us first. We are treated to a brief expository discussion of ben wa balls and nipple clamps. Since this is a theatrically released film we a spared a close up of the balls being inserted and later removed, although it is acted out for us in both cases. A leg yoke is introduced and then visually demonstrated for us so we do get a money shot with that. With John Wick, we see him select, fetishize and dress himself with a number of weapons. Much like might happen with food porn, we are lead through this process by an expert. Referred to as the “sommelier “, he describes each weapon in detail and highlights the characteristics that make it special. In the action films of the 80s, Arnold or Sly might spend two minutes of montage getting ready for action by arming themselves. John Wick is a connoisseur of violence so his prep time takes almost four times as long. Ultimately, both films are trying to build our anticipation for the use of the selected devices. In Fifty Shades, those sequences are relatively brief and only slightly erotic. In Chapter Two of John Wick, the payoff is long, varied and intensely satisfying. [Do you see what I mean by these posts being so revealing about the author?]
Apparently another fantasy of these two different porn worlds is “the Party”. When you are a billionaire sadist with very rich parents, it’s possible to have a masked charity ball one night, and then a few days later throw a birthday party for your boy with a couple hundred of your closest friends attending. In the criminal underground fantasy, crime families meet at a coronation of sorts that is designed to officially crown the heir to a criminal nation. Such an event would include a pretentious rock act caterwauling while overdressed stereotypes dance to the music. A second coronation must be held in a museum filled with renaissance versions of Greek figures in one room and a fun house of mirrors disguised as an art exhibit at the end of the hall. The trappings of both the elite rich and the criminal rich are not that far apart, except that their tastes differ slightly.
So having set up the fact that the movies are both about titillation, one concerning sex and the other violence, the question remains, do they achieve their objectives?
“Fifty Shades Darker” is more bold in it’s confrontation of the sex hangups of the title character than it’s predecessor was. The implied use of the tools of the trade is more frequently explicit , and the foreplay was the better part of the sex. The disrobing part of the movie is usually where things turn a little dull. The two leads are attractive enough but the simulated sex rarely feels passionate in spite of all the writhing and moaning. When the conflicts between the two are so rapidly dispensed with so that another scene featuring them rolling around naked on sheets with incredibly high thread counts, the movie just feels like a slog through a series of sex dioramas.
At least John Wick gets it right, and from the very beginning. If you are an action fan and muscle cars turn you on, the opening of Chapter Two is great. We don’t really see that it is John Wick driving the Chevelle SS that is being used like a pair of nun-chucks on some bad guys, but we know it is him. When he recovers his beloved Mustang, it too becomes a weapon against an overwhelming number of foes in cars, on motorcycles and on the ground. The payoff is satisfying and makes you yearn for another evening with your mystery date. Wick kills more people in this movie than died in that battle scene in “Hacksaw Ridge”. It is done so stylishly as well. There are multiple martial arts killings, plenty of stabbing and slashing, and of course for an action movie, the plain vanilla sex of gun shots, repeated incessantly. I thought it was a very nice touch in the penultimate climax of the film, all of the henchmen lined up to be killed by Wick were in nice matching white dinner jackets. The better to see the spaltter as each money shot is delivered.
I don’t think it gives anything away to note that both series have third films planned. There is a hoe hum denouement, as two side characters appear to be set up for complex machinations in the final chapter of the Mommy porn. Maybe if you were interested in these films for the plot, you should stick to the books. There is just not much energy here. John Wick Chapter Two’s conclusion, sets up a clear story to anticipate with a promise of even more violence than we have had in the first two films [as hard as that is to believe]. There is a slow burn energy as the film ends creating a desire to watch what comes next. I know that “Fifty Shades Freed” is due a year from now, I hope that “John Wick Chapter Three” is not far behind it. Another hybrid review would be fun to write, and maybe next time I can say it was the sex rather than the violence that did it for me. This Valentine’s week, I’m afraid I enjoyed the fifty shades of red splattered on the screen much more than the heaving bosom of Christian Grey. See, I’ve said too much.