Fifty Shades of Wut?!

Now that E. L. James has published Grey, which tells the events of Fifty Shades of Grey from Christian’s perspective (without any shades, it seems), it might be time for you to catch up to the film version in case you missed it.

People often complain that movies don’t live up to the books they’re made from.  But let me assure you, Fifty Shades of Grey is very faithful to the original material. It’s a stone dud, too.  I finally caught up with the movie myself recently and can tell you that the first ten minutes perfectly set the stage.  There’s a piss-poor, logy version of the classic “You Put a Spell on Me” on the sound track that sounds as if Annie Lennox were embarrassed to have her name associated with the project.  But hey, it must have been a hefty paycheck.

Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-soundtrackThat stinker sets the mood perfectly for Dakota Johnson, who’s the embodiment of the novel’s unreal nebbishy Anastasia.  It’s totally unbelievable that she’d dress like a schlump for a big-deal interview, that she hasn’t read through the questions beforehand, and that she stumbles when she opens a door into Grey’s office.  Just as his attraction to her defies belief.  All of which makes the book idiotic from the get-go and the movie a good clone.

dakota_johnson_3Once those ten achingly long minutes of the film are past, a desert of inanity stretches ahead of you. You lose the novel’s atrocious prose, but in its place there’s atrocious acting which is a reasonable substitute.  And since there’s no real erotic chemistry in the book, the fact that the leads seem to be sleepwalking through the film even when their clothes are off totally fits. What’s strangest of all is that Jamie Dornan seemed much sexier playing opposite Gillian Anderson in The Fall.  He was a psycho in that series.  Go figure.  Maybe the beard helped.

TV STILL -- DO NOT PURGE -- Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dorman from "The Fall" season 2. Photo courtesy of NetflixIn the film, he comes across as a pretty accessory like the ties, cufflinks, and watches in his dressing room we see at the beginning of the movie.  That was a highlight, cinematically speaking, if you’re into luxury goods at least.

Best moment of the movie, though: the trashy Victorian porn peacock feather.  My spouse hadn’t read the book and muttered sarcastically when it came out, “Oh, dear.”

That pretty much sums it all up.

What I’d like to see is RuPaul’s version: Throwing Fifty Shades of Grey.  Now that could be fun.

Lev Raphael is an avid movie goer, having been raised on classic films of the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties.  You can find his 25 books on Amazon.




What The Hell Happened to “Sherlock”?

There’s a great conversation in Soapdish, which stars Sally Fields and Whoopi Goldberg, where Goldberg, the chief writer for a soap opera, is arguing about bringing back a character who died.  Her complaint?  “The guy was decapitated….He doesn’t have a head!  How am I supposed to write for a guy who doesn’t have a head?”  The producer promises to figure it out, suggesting that maybe his head was frozen and re-attached in “a two-day operation.”

That’s bizarre and funny, but appropriately so, since Soapdish is a wild comedy.   How the writers of Sherlock brought him back from the dead in Season Three was ridiculous, but the show isn’t meant to be a farce.  Unfortunately.  So we can expect the return of Moriarity (no, he didn’t really blow his brains out) to be just as cavalierly worked out.

What’s happened to this show?  It started out as fiendishly clever in the first season, everything you’d expect from a new take on Watson and Holmes, even playing with the homoerotic nature of their bromance–at least as seen by outsiders like their landlady.

But the special effects that were so diverting in that season have taken over the show and become a distraction.  There’s much less actual story than there used to, and I’ve been wondering why that could be so.

Then I saw the writers on PBS jauntily, even defiantly saying that Sherlock was not going to be about him “solving a crime ever week.”  What’s the point, then?  Why try breathing new life into a character with many lives in books and in film and then totally subverting what he is and does?  Holmes is a brilliant detective.  With a level of insight that’s almost superhuman, he observes, deduces, and detects, either in the field or just sitting in his armchair.  But the writers are apparently bored by all that, and prefer playing with toys instead.  Their attitude shows contempt for the genre they’re in.

Elementary with Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu fields an even bolder take on Holmes, not just making him a recovering addict but turning Watson into a woman and his “sober companion” when the show debuted.  There’s no flashy camera work or FX to the show, but plenty of substance, and crimes are solved, not ignored.  It’s the real deal.  A smart, engaging, contemporary update of Holmes, it never loses sight of who Sherlock is and why he’s held our imagination for over a century.


The Novel Vanishes

Years ago my dark family novel The German Money was optioned for film.  After my initial excitement, I read successive drafts of the screenplay with a sense of loss.  My novel was disappearing page by page.

In the end, the production deal fell apart and I was relieved: If the screenplay had been made, it would not have been my book that I was watching.

I thought of that reading the reviews of the new PBS film The Lady Vanishes.  Many compared it invidiously to the 1938 movie of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock based on The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White.

Though widely admired, his film completely subverted the book’s tone and undercut its raw emotional power.  I find it painful to watch, almost amateurishly silly, one of Hitchcock’s weakest films.

However, the novel haunts me.  Iris Carr is a spoiled socialite, alone in the world though she’s surrounded by so-called friends and suitors.  She seems shallow, but she’s aware that the life she’s living is empty and that she’s been far too lucky in life.  All that changes when she gets terribly lost on her Balkan vacation and realizes how isolated she is, and how vulnerable.

Those feelings intensify on her train ride across the Balkans to Trieste when her English seat mate disappears, Iris claims a conspiracy, and passengers call her everything from a mere nuisance to hysterical.

The new movie is splendid and frightening, and very true to the novel. But I doubt the critics who disliked it bothered to read the novel or they wouldn’t be calling this new version a “remake” of Hitchcock’s film when it’s not.  Watching The Lady Vanishes, I wished the writer adapting The German Money book had been even half as interested in capturing the essence of my book.