Cinema: Fifty Shades of Grey and best of the rest
So this is what is really meant by the idea of er.. different strokes. Yes, the ties that bind are likely to be bound a little tighter with the release of this eagerly anticipated S&M spectacular.
That it is released on Valentine's weekend tells you much about the demographic targeted by this mascara- deep melodrama starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson. A character asks at one point, "whatever happened to flowers and chocolates?" Good question. Say it with flowers? Among the implications suggested by this extended kinkathon is that wannabe Romeos are liable to be rendered redundant unless they find a way to say it with ropes.
The narrative focuses on the relationship that develops between two swoon-friendly twentysomethings. The pectacular Christian Grey (Dornan) is the "world's most eligible billionaire bachelor" while Ana (Johnson) is a virginal English Lit student.
Their paths cross, and faster that you can say grey is the new blue, they've embarked on a steamy sadomasochistic relationship. The extremely graphic if ultimately tedious sex-scenes might suggest we're in the company of a modern day Marquis de Sade, but we soon learn that the troubled Christian is much more a Marquis de Sad.
Glossy production values ensure those hungry for soft-porn-fuelled fantasy escapism will find what they're looking for. Deep issues are touched upon but the absence of credible characterisation ensures they're washed away in the froth. This is Freud's Id as imagined by Dr Phil.
Sometimes a confluence of new talent results in great things. Pelo Malo, which means 'bad hair' in Spanish, is what nine-year-old Junior (Samuel Lange Zambrano, pictured) believes to be a serious problem. His curly hair is an unwelcome legacy from his dead father, and for his school ID photo he dreams of having it blow-dried straight, like someone from a boyband. That is as soon as his mother can get the money together for that photo. But this seemingly simple desire becomes a sort of symbol of the conflict between Junior's mother, Marta (Samantha Castillo) and his paternal grandmother (Nelly Ramos).
Marta, her life an endless joyless struggle to make ends meet to pay for the childcare and so on, is terrified that life will be hard for the son who she desperately does not want to accept might be gay. Clearly enamoured with her baby son, she struggles to love Junior and is a little unnerved by him. Poorly educated and superstitious, Marta's attempts to force her elder son to conform to their macho society are often brutal and cruel. And ironic, given that the portrait painted of the men Junior would presumably ideally be, is far from flattering. The grandmother will take the boy off her hands to replace her own dead son, a choice she attempts to push on Junior with hair styling, and on Marta with money.
In her first full-length feature, writer and director Mariana Rondon has created a short and searing picture of life in Caracas: the grinding poverty in which the family lives, the lack of education, people reacting hysterically to news of Hugo Chavez's illness, noise and traffic and extreme violence, young children so familiar with shooting and rape that they form part of their daily games.
Both main actors are newcomers, and both turn in fantastic performances, Castillo angry and confused and concerned and frustrated, her ethereally beautiful boy a victim in power struggles, one close to him and one much broader. A portrait of a society, it is also a deeply personal story of maternal love under pressure. Moving but not sentimental, it achieves a lot in its short time and small spaces.
Now at the IFI
The Wedding Ringer Cert 15A
One of the more unacknowledged laws of contemporary comedy dictates that if funny is to be morphed into money, an intimate relationship with the bottom of the barrel needs to developed. It's a formula that is seen to good effect in Jeremy Garelick's big-budget US comedy, The Wedding Ringer. So how low do they go in this hit and-miss affair starring Josh Gad and Kevin Hart?
Popular US comic Hart stars as the silver-tongued Jimmy Callahan, CEO of Best Man, Inc, a company that specialises in providing fake friends for the friendless. Enter Doug Harris (Gad) as a likeable Billy-no-Mates whose impending nuptials to the babe of his dreams fills him with dread, as he fears the extent of his social isolation is about to be rumbled.
Callahan suggests the fabled "golden tux," a deluxe service which covers all the bases in terms of providing a fake history and fake groomsmen. Doug signs on the dotted line and a variety of bozo-meets- bimbo-style comedy set-ups are set in motion.
The Wedding Ringer has its moments but they are too few and far between to make it easy to recommend. Hart and Gad enjoy good chemistry but consistent recourse to lowest common denominator comedy results in an experience that is disposable to the point of being biodegradable.
Showing from Friday
Cake Cert 15A
This is the role that saw Jennifer Aniston join the list of famous Oscar snubs. Although undoubtedly hurtful and annoying to Aniston, it has piqued interest in the film - was our famous Friend wronged? Or did the Academy make a fair call?
Cake opens with Claire (Aniston), sitting in a chronic pain therapy circle led by Annette (Felicity Huffman), giving an apparently typically angry reaction to the suicide of one of their members. Dowdy and with serious facial scarring, Claire arrives home, horizontal in the back of a cab, popping pills and cranky, and to the news that she has been fired from her therapy group. Her Mexican housekeeper (Adriana Barraza) is apparently the only person left in Claire's life, there's an ex-husband (Chris Messina), a former career, and some reason she has boxes of toys. But all we see for a while is a woman who has armed herself against emotion with drink, drugs, chronic physical pain and anger.
Claire begins to hallucinate encounters with Nina (Anna Kendrick) the therapy colleague who killed herself, and sets off on a macabre pilgrimage along the death route of a woman she barely knew.
In Nina's bereaved husband (Sam Worthington) Claire finds, if not a kindred spirit, then an equally angry and baffled one. Her story eventually emerges, and we come to understand why she is the way she is, scarred outside and in.
Daniel Barnz directs what is an interesting idea in a not-great screenplay. Although the dialogue is sharp and sometimes funny, the plot links are contrived and unnatural. Aniston, however, is great. Her performance carries the film - is substantially better than the film, in fact - and her innate charm lifts Claire. The ending is predictable, this is a Hollywood movie after all, and a relief.
Showing from Friday