A Private War

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander
Directed by: Matthew Heineman (“Cartel Land”)
Written by: Arash Amel (“Grace of Monaco”)

In most instances, the horrors of war are depicted in film form from a male military standpoint. Recently, feature narratives including Oscar-nominees like “Dunkirk,” “Hacksaw Ridge” and “American Sniper” have placed audiences in the trenches of war — wars that span the globe and encompass an extensive timeline.

A lot can be understood, too, when a war story is taken from the perspective of someone whose job isn’t to actually fight, but, instead, to observe and report. These men and women are appropriately hailed as heroes in their own right — journalists who risk their lives to seek the truth and convey to the world what they have witnessed.

No one is quite as deserving of that distinction than late war correspondent Marie Colvin, who in 1986 began her career writing from the frontlines of every major conflict in the Middle East. In “A Private War,” first-time feature filmmaker and Oscar-nominated documentarian Matthew Heineman (“Cartel Land”) and screenwriter Arash Amel (“Grace of Monaco”) capture the grit, fearlessness and obsession for her work that shaped who Colvin was when she was embedded on the battlefield. (Colvin died in Syria in 2012 while covering the country’s civil war).

Portraying Colvin is Oscar-nominated British actress Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”), a role that has to be one of the most physically demanding in her last 20 years. Narrating Colvin’s thoughts throughout the film, Pike gives moviegoers a glimpse of her tenacity for her profession and strength needed in battle, even after she loses her eye in a grenade attack in Sri Lanka in 2001. “Make that suffering part of the record,” she says as if physical pain was always a component of her job description.

Throwing herself in the dirt to dodge bullets, however, wasn’t the only suffering Colvin had to endure. Heineman and Amel explore Colvin’s alcoholism and PTSD, both of which resulted from the war-zone nightmares she was consistently haunted by. “You’ve seen more than most soldiers,” a colleague tells her at one point in the film. Pike’s confident performance maximizes these mentally draining scenes, and the script manages to help with some of the heavy lifting.

All the same, in “A Private War,” Pike is perfectly capable of carrying the film on her own. Whether she sits down to interview a heartless dictator face to face or watches the unearthing of a mass grave holding the remains of Saddam Hussein victims, Pike’s intense passion and genuine humanity shine through.

At a time when journalists are being labeled “the enemy of the people” from the highest levels of our own government, “A Private War” is here to remind everyone that they’re really not.

Fifty Shades Freed

February 12, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson
Directed by: James Foley (“Fifty Shades Darker”)
Written by: Niall Leonard (“Fifty Shades Darker”)

The shackles (or fuzzy handcuffs – who knows what you people are into) finally come off viewers who have tortured themselves senseless by watching the first two installments of the “Fifty Shades” franchise with “Fifty Shades Freed,” the last chapter of the titillating, trashy trilogy adapted from the bestselling softcore erotica series by author E.L. James. Much like the prior two films, “Freed” is only as good as the script allows, which doesn’t say much for screenwriter Niall Leonard (“Fifty Shades Darker”) or James and her writing prowess. With stagnant dialogue, uncreative sex scenes and a plot fit for an episode of “Days of Our Lives,” “Freed” is another unmemorable romp between the sheets.

Picking up where “Darker” left off with Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) getting engaged, the kinky lovers start the film by tying the knot (“You may now flog the bride,” would’ve been a welcomed line during the ceremony) and beginning their new lives together as creepy husband and doting wife. Once again, Christian’s unlikeable character continues to be a major problem in the series as he controls every aspect of Anastasia’s life without much pushback from his submissive new spouse.

Since literally tripping into Christian’s life in the original film as a shy journalist writing a profile piece on the billionaire, Anastasia has grown somewhat of a backbone and isn’t quite as naïve as she once was. Still, she is portrayed as the pawn in the couple’s relationship. Christian is placed on a pedestal like a king. Everything he says goes and everything Anastasia does that he doesn’t like is quickly dealt with by “punishing” her sexually. In “Freed,” there’s even a scene where she rolls her eyes at Christian and ends up chained by her wrists and ankles.

Forget the sadomasochistic sex, which seems to be the only thing the two share an interest in, if a male character in a blockbuster franchise can get a pass for creating a toxic marriage just because he has washboard abs and his own airplane, then romance truly is dead – at least in the movies.

That’s probably not the case, fortunately. Christian is simply a sorry excuse for a leading man. It doesn’t help that Dornan doesn’t seem to be having much fun with the bland and narcissistic role. The script takes all the nonsensical drama too seriously and doesn’t leave any room for any lighthearted moments or even a little self-parody, something the franchise should’ve taken under consideration since the prior two films were universally panned.

Nevertheless, director James Foley (“Fifty Shades Darker”) and screenwriter Leonard don’t seem to be in the mood for more than the usual soap opera-worthy narrative, which features a second-rate villain returning for revenge and Anastasia pathetically attempting to retain her identity before she’s relegated to just another sex object in Christian’s playroom. Sadly, Johnson doesn’t get to break character or explore any ideas outside of dropping her panties.

In a time where audiences are looking for more women to take on female-empowered roles – whether it’s Daisy Ridley’s Rey or Wonder Woman or Lady Bird – it’s not enough to claim sexual freedom and call it a day. Anastasia might have a safe word to stop the pain, but “Freed” doesn’t give audiences the same luxury.

Fifty Shades of Grey

February 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eloise Mumford
Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson (“Nowhere Boy”)
Written by: Kelly Marcel (“Saving Mr. Banks”)

It’s no secret E.L. James’ best-selling book-of-smut, now adapted into what will inevitably be a major blockbuster, has about as much intellectually-stimulating substance as the Kama Sutra (or Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham). It’s one of those shameful fads in the entertainment industry that 10 years from now people will look back on with the same contempt as sharknados or William Hung. With that said, the movie version of “Fifty Shades of Grey” isn’t the trainwreck it should’ve been, especially since it’s based on some incredibly mindless original text. In fact, screenwriter Kelly Marcel (“Saving Mr. Banks”), at least for the first hour or so, manages to create a cinematic environment that is flirty and intentionally funny. Apparently, this ends up being a chore for Marcel and director Sam Taylor-Johnson (“Nowhere Boy”) to keep up with since the tone in the second half of the film devolves into something that resembles tedious, melodramatic daytime TV where whining and fawning and swooning take precedent over everything else (including the sex, which promised to be racy, but barely even registers).

Providing every ounce of personality in “Fifty Shades of Grey” is actress Dakota Johnson (“21 Jump Street”) in the role of porn name-worthy Anastasia Steele, a subdued English literature major who steps in for a sick roommate to conduct an interview for the school paper with wealthy businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan; more like dormant). When Anastasia asks Christian if he has “any interests outside of work,” she has no idea his extracurricular activities consist of the practice of sadomasochism – a world Christian will introduce her to soon enough, but not before he takes her on a helicopter ride (double entendre!), sweeps her off her feet, and opens up his cold, black heart to her like he’s never done for anyone before. Groan.

Try to ignore annoyances like Anastasia constantly biting and pursing her lips and Christian dully delivering every line of dialogue. What you can’t overlook, however, is Johnson’s natural charm, which surfaces from her meek character with just enough humor and silliness to almost make anyone forget she’s about to get spanked in the ass with a leather-tipped riding crop. Still, once Christian decides to have his way with her in his “playroom,” it’s a disappointment. We weren’t expecting Lars von Trier-level deviance here, but “Fifty Shades of Grey” is so tame, Anastasia’s punishment in the film’s anticlimactic finale is something one might get for stealing an Oreo from the cookie jar before dinner.

During the most amusing scene in the movie, Anastasia negotiates with Christian about the finer points of a contract specifically drawn up so women are aware of his sexual fetishes (thanks LegalZoom!). She asks him to scratch out “anal fisting” and he obliges. Scoff. And they say romance is dead.