17 years later: The Fast and Furious franchise engine remains strong

A mixture of casting, locations, identity recognition, and stunt heaven.

When it comes to sequels and legit cinematic franchises, the name of the game is domestic and international gross. Worldwide figures, ladies and gentlemen. Over its first weekend, The Fate of the Furious-the eighth film in the movie franchise-broke the record for the largest global opening at 532 million. After four days, the film has doubled its massive budget, and is well on its way to a billion dollar gross.

How is it  still doing this after eight films? Casting, directing, stunts, and knowing what your identity and key audience is. In other words, you keep replacing the engine and wheels, and assemble body work on the car. Let me break it down further.

Back in 2007, the Fast and Furious franchise was on fumes. Vin Diesel, the star of the original, had bolted after the first film, and the second and third film were trash and didn’t make great money at the box office. Luckily, Diesel was brought in for a cameo at the end of Tokyo Drift that signified his return to the franchise as star and producer. The team was back together, and the magic relaunched. Continue reading “17 years later: The Fast and Furious franchise engine remains strong”

Kingdom on Audience recap: Living Down

On Episode 209 of Kingdom, the sweet and the bitter met and made love.

The sweet isn’t as sweet without the bitter my fellow Kingdom on Audience addicts. In order to taste the top, you have to know what dirt on your nostrils feels like. In the second to last hour of this furiously entertaining and poignant season of the Direct TV series, fights are won lives change and are lost. This episode was about great acting. Underrated acting. You won’t hear about it at the awards ceremony because it’s MMA, but it needs to be appreciated.

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If you haven’t watched it yet, stop reading now. The rest of you, wrap your hands and follow me into the steamer.

The episode opens with Alvey Kulina rubbing and cocking his weapons. The same guns he bought in “New Money” back on October 14th now look to be going back. Is he trying to make a way for Lisa to come home? You bet. He is undoing all the suck in his life that has added up in Season 2. Did it work? Of course..not.

LISA IS MOVING TO SF

After a tense breakfast with Alvey(Frank Grillo), Lisa(the lovely and glowing Kiele Sanchez) is taking the unborn son of the man to San Francisco for the birth and for perhaps longer. This has been felt for several episodes. A woman trying to raise another kid around the maniac arena of MMA, drugs, drama, and constant pressure. Maybe getting away to SF is for the best. The aftershock of this decision make any optimistic twist in these final two hours a mere tease of happiness.

Lisa’s scene with Jay in the locker room is so well played by Sanchez and Tucker. She tries to make it okay in her mind that leaving won’t hurt him and as he shreds the pounds for a title fight, he insists that the little Kulina is top priority right now. Of all the men on this show right now, Jay is looking out the most for Lisa’s needs. The look Sanchez gives Jay spells out the pain she feels. Tucker, as charismatic as a wrecking ball with eyes, is excellent here. He’s a gifted dude.

ALICIA GETS A CAR AND SHAME

Remember that sweet and bitter thing? It’s best not to celebrate a new car from an energy drink company after winning an exhibition fight. Alicia gets the keys to a brand new Mustang and freaks out like it’s her sweet 16. Granted, she nearly got mugged in her sleep three hours ago, but still, on a cut day it’s best to smile, fist pump and go back inside. Mendez is so up and down it’s hard to know where her story is going. Nate(Nick Jonas) has to talk her down and tell her to respect the house. Lisa tells her to give the car back so she can actually get paid. Sweet. Bitter. Hand in hand.

CHRISTINA CLEANING UP OR GOING DOWN?

A week after watching Jay inject himself with heroin and seeing her world come crashing down, Christina needs her own place. An apartment looks great but with the competitive market(1700 per month for that!!) and her history, the chances of her getting the place are remote. So she tries to play the sexy and beauty part, only to be rebuffed by the realtor, who is an ugly despicable type but isn’t being rude with his requirements. Christina is an ex-junkie without much work stability. Escort service doesn’t look good on a past work slot even in 2015. When she goes to Alvey to co-sign, he turns her down. Without being able to look at Jay and getting denied, things are looking down for her. Way down.

RYAN SEEKS PEACE/DOESN’T GET IT

It’s cut day for Wheeler and he’s a bottle of nerves with a bent cap. Matt Lauria allows his expressions to do the heavy lifting in this episode. Pretty much every episode. Whether it’s him on a bike in the sauna trying to cut six pounds or talking to his dad about his latest condition or begging Keith to be quiet on fight day, Lauria needs the least amount of words to dominate a scene. When Lisa tells him she is leaving, what viewers thought was gone this season(his feelings for her) reawaken after they embrace. Lauria, clenching his face and neck like a sniper would pull on the hammer of his rifle, is the epitome of intensity. These actors know the only way to become these characters is to suck it ALL in. So good and well trained.

JAY GETS HIS SHOT

The colorful yet reckless Kulina has been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. He’s watched his brother Nate get three fights and Ryan Wheeler carry a belt after leaving jail. He’s the guy at the party holding the keg for others to fill with beer. Now it’s his turn to get a taste. The man picked most likely to screw it all up is chomping at the bit and after finally cutting the weight and making 145, he climbs into the ring an angry man. Who cares who he is facing but there is a belt at stake and a shot at redemption for a man as reckless as he is talented. Seeing Tucker whisk through a warmup to the underrated whiskey drunk sounds of Spottiswoode’s “Blaze of Glory” is so well done and taunt. Instead of leveling the audience with hard rock or metal, Creator Byron Balasco has the confidence to toss an acoustic misery track into the pre-fight mix reel. Bless you, o’bearded one.

What happens? After nearly tapping out in the first round, Jay takes Alvey’s advice and knocks his challenger out with a cold knee to the jaw. He’s a champion. Finally. The emotion between Frank Grillo and Jonathan Tucker in this scene is so genuine you forget there are cameras around. Kingdom has a way of pulling you in so close that the stink, sweat and grit from these characters rubs off on you. It doesn’t fake a thing. Alvey told him he would fail and Jay proved him wrong. The entire time, the joker grin on Tucker’s face tells the entire story and Alvey just eats it. His son is a champion. Alvey is shellshocked that it’s Jay and not Nate. How life deals your cards is only half the battle friendos. Gotta take em and fight.

Sweet and the bitter. While Jay was warming up before the fight, Christina, at the end of her rope, was prepping to a dose of heroin. A big dose. A song played in my head. Sweet Child O’Mine. Any TV fan knew what was coming. She was going to OD while Jay fought for the title. The sweet isn’t as sweet without the bitter. The devil is a block behind happiness at all times. Jay tries to call his mom after the win and gets nothing. Back at home, the camera pans to a lifeless Christina right before the end credits roll.

Ladies and gentlemen, prepare for the boat to be rocked. Jay will most likely blame Alvey for not helping his mom but as the old lion said, she does this to herself. It’s a cycle for addicts. They fall into bad habits, rely on easy shortcuts and eventually slam into a brick wall of adversity. They are a stinky pair of underwear to society. None of this matters to Jay. She’s his mother. He won the belt but lost his mother. All in one hour. That’s life. As Rocky Balboa urged his kid, nobody hits harder than life.

Extra Rounds:

~Adored the rambling about cold vacations, good food and big boobs between Ryan and Jay in the sauna. Comic relief.

~Poor Keith doesn’t understand sports. You can’t talk to a pitcher on his day to throw. Same for fighters.

~MVP this season goes to Kiele Sanchez. She is REALLY pregnant and handling all these kids. Did I mention she is gorgeous? Wow. Remember when she fought Milla Jovavich in The Perfect Getaway? She was Timothy Olyphant’s girlfriend in that film. Olyphant would go on to play Raylan Givens in Justified and have a showdown with Tucker’s Boon in the season finale. Sanchez also starred in Purge: Anarchy with Grillo. World just shrunk a bit. Love you Kiele.

~Thank you Joanna Going for being a force of nature as Christina. You were a storm cloud, pocket of light and loose cannon all in one. What a performance.

~What happens in Wheeler’s fight? He has to win because a title fight with Jay would be the driving force behind Season 3. Right? We shall see.

Unwrap your hands, take a lap and see you next week for the Kingdom Season 2 finale.

Batman v Superman trailer teases greatness

“Maybe Gotham and I share the same opinion. We have a bad history with freaks who dress like clowns.”

The tense face-off between Bruce Wayne(Ben Affleck) and Clark Kent(Henry Cavill) is the best part of this new slice of footage from 2016’s mega blockbuster, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This is the big swing from DC in its response to Marvel, who has taken over the superhero movie scene the past few years. If David S. Goyer’s script has the juice of this verbal face-off, not even the erratic inconsistent filmmaking style of Zach Snyder can mess it up.

For all the people who hated Man of Steel’s over the top finale, where Sup and General Zod’s fight leveled a city, that is the exact definition of the thorn stuck in Wayne/Batman’s side as this movie opens up. The carnage in MOS’finale also leveled a Wayne Enterprises building, killing several of Wayne’s employees and friends. This makes Wayne question the new alien in town, someone who has the power to destroy it as much as nurture and protect it.

The new footage also introduces in depth other key players like Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor as well as a new villain, Doomsday. Any Superman comic book collector knows what the presence of this beast signifies. In the comics, he killed DC’s hero. His place in the movie seems to eventually align Bat and Sup each other instead of against each other.

It should be fun watching the human Wayne take on the otherworldly Superman. At the heart of these films is the ideals of each hero and how the heroism can lead to more death. It begs the question that is hammered down so well in the Captain America films. Are they heroes or vigilantes?

Wild theory time. Here’s something I’d love to see happen. Morgan Freeman makes an uncredited cameo as Lucius Fox at the beginning of this film and in a scene that evokes 9/11, is talking to Wayne when the Wayne Tower is struck by Superman and Zod. Fox is killed in the wreckage and that personally spikes Wayne’s anger. Just an idea that Snyder and Goyer could be hiding up their sleeve. Or Lois Lane(Amy Adams) being killed in wreckage by Doomsday and Wayne making a quip towards Superman, saying “now you know how it feels to lose someone you love to another’s madness”. Something sets Kent off into a mad descent of anger. The possibilities in this DC film universe shaping flick spring out in a number of directions.

I can’t get enough of Affleck’s Wayne/Bat. He is the perfect guy at this particular age to play this character in this story. An older, wearier and angrier hero who doesn’t trust what this new alien brings to the table.

This movie could be incredibly good or overstuffed. It’s hard to not think about Spider Man when you see all these characters at once. Then again, Joss Whedon pulled it off with Avengers so it’s not impossible.

Are you pumped for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice?

Watch the trailer for yourself.

Man Vs. Woman: Guilty Pleasures

What are your guilty pleasures?

It’s once again time for Kristen Ashly and Dan Buffa to go head to head in popular topics. One man. One woman. One topic. This week, it’s guilty pleasures. What do you watch and kind of feel bad about afterwards? What do you eat and wish you hadn’t done so? Is it something else? Do you like plaid shirts or turtlenecks or that polka dot dress or shirt? What is it?

Buffa- 1980’s and early 1990’s action films.

Little dialogue, little logic and lots of one liners, muscles and bad special effects powered action. Fist crackling fun. I am talking Robocop. Commando. Lock up. Cobra. Double Impact. Lionheart. Out for Justice. Showdown in Little Tokyo. Soak it up ladies and gents. They don’t make them like they used to, and for the most part that’s a good thing.

Remember Out for Justice. Sure you don’t. The bar scene where Steven Seagal walks in, covered in black and rocking a pony tail, looking for William Forsyth’s Richie. Clean shaven (facial hair was petrified to grow on that face) and moving like a jungle cat, Seagal stalks the place before kicking the shit out of everybody in sight. Check it out.

I don’t know what it is about these films, but I eat them up like skittles. As Seagal says in the clip, maybe it’s my need to impose my will on my fantasies. How one man can walk into a room, talk tough, and back it up with an ass whopping few men can handle. He didn’t need bulging muscles either. Just a well-known mastery of many martial arts. Did I mention the man wore all black? Fear and common sense are the only things that could stop Seagal and even they failed miserably.

Commando. Arnold in his heyday. A one man army looking for his daughter and stopping at nothing until he got his girl back. It’s 85 minutes that seems like 25 because all Arnold (who also doesn’t need a beard to be tough) does is find people, beat them up and collect guns and one liners along the way. “Let off some steam, Bennett!” So good.

What was better than Jean Claude Van Damme back in the day? Two Van Dammes! Try out Double Impact, where twin brothers from Belgium with knots on their foreheads dish out leg kicks like pizza at a parlor on Friday night.

Cobra. Under-appreciated Stallone classics. Sly’s cop in Cobra didn’t utter more than 10 words but he had a cool pistol with a…guess what…cobra on it and he wore an incredibly heavy trench coat and rocked a little stubble. What else did a man need in 1986?

They don’t make them that hot anymore. Special effects, box office needs, superheroes and the need for remakes have drowned out the glorious days of a movie simply about “one man, one job and one line required in the alphabet”. It’s a dead ship that must be revisited from time to time. Watch one of these movies and make a cheap Jack’s frozen pizza while you do it. Drink a six-pack of cheap beer too, like Stag or Steel Reserve.

Kristen- Taylor Swift

Yeah, I can hear you grumbling. I don’t care.

Taylor, born in Wyomissing, PA, moved to Nashville at the young age of 14 to pursue a career in country music. She did just that. She became the youngest songwriter ever hired by the Sony/ATV Music publishing house. The release of Swift’s self-titled debut album in 2006 shot her to the top of stardom. Her third single, “Our Song,” made her the youngest person to single-handedly write and perform a number one song on the Hot Country Songs chart.

Her second album, Fearless, became the best-selling album of 2009 in the United States. The album won four Grammy Awards, making Swift the youngest ever Album of the Year winner. Swift’s third and fourth albums, 2010’s Speak Now and 2012’s Red, both sold more than one million copies within the first week of their U.S release.

As a songwriter, she has been honored by the Nashville Songwriters Association and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Swift’s other achievements include seven Grammy Awards, 22 Billboard Music Awards, 11 Country Music Association Awards, eight Academy of Country Music Awards, and one Brit Award. She is one of the best-selling artists of all time, having sold more than 40 million albums—including 27.1 million in the U.S.—and 130 million single downloads.

The facts speak for themselves. Sure, most of her record sales were due to her ever growing crowd of tween fans, but that crowd is arguably the biggest track buying group, anyways.

Personally, her music speaks to me. She’s a few years younger than me, but I went through similar trials and tribulations. Every girl in her teens and early 20s likely will. Her music is classic, timeless, and ever evolving. Yet, her message never changes: women and girls have needs and wants, and you should listen to them. Her style is also classic and timeless. She’s tall, blonde, lovely, and rocks red lips like no other. She always reminds me of the movie starlets from the early years, with no regret. Just look:

Her personal life is pretty public, and critics and haters often bash her for that reason. But really, who hasn’t had a roller coaster of a love life? Who hasn’t made dumb decisions they later regretted, especially at such a young age? Throw the first stone.

I’m not the only one who thinks she’s talented, and her songs catchy. Artists like Bill Withers, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Jon Bon Jovi, and Lindsey Buckingham have all sung her praises, stating she’s sure to stick around for a long time. How can you argue with any of them? You can’t. Just try. No, really.

If you ever get the pleasure of seeing me cruise around town, just watch for the song I’m singing at the top of my lungs: guarantee it’s a Swift.

Kristen Ashly contributes to Up All Night News. Follow on Twitter @KristenAshly.

Civil War: Ranking the MCU Movies

Ranking the Marvel movies.

You’ve heard about them, like it or not. The Marvel film franchise. MCU. With Captain America: Civil War serving up its first teaser, I wanted to present my ranking of the Marvel flicks up to date.

With that being said, it’s time to rank the other Marvel Cinematic Universe film series. I am not talking about the Spider Man films or the old Hulk film. I am swinging via the Thor hammer at the recent batch of films that started with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man back in 2008 and most recently produced Guardians of the Galaxy last August. So let’s see which films are awesome, which are great, good, okay or as Thor himself would said, “tiny”.

12.) Thor: A Dark World

I wasn’t impressed with this second solo act with Hemsworth’s tortured demi god mission. To me, he is the weakest Avenger and this sequel proved that he needs the group to make a true impact. You basically have him and Loki teaming up(that won’t last) and going up against another powerful baddie that will get extinguished. What was so fresh about the first Thor(fish out of water hero tale on Earth) gets forgotten here and a regular action superhero mashup takes place. Thor is the least interesting Avenger and this film showed it. It wasn’t a bad film but it was kind of tiny compared to the other films.

 

11.) The Incredible Hulk

Sure, Norton did a lot better of a job as Banner than Eric Bana(rough get up from the start) and the movie captured a tiny more of the idea of the monster’s origin, but once Mark Ruffalo blew our minds in Avengers it’s quite silly to think of anyone else as The Hulk. It may have served more juice to the idea that this character is much better in smaller doses. While it had good action, a solid pace, a decent end fight and wrap up Stark tease at the end, this Hulk is nothing compared to the one and only Ruff-Hulk. Again, it’s hard to find a bad film in this set, but this one vanishes from my memory quick when it’s mentioned.

 

10.) Thor

You may see that I am not the biggest solo Thor movie fan here and I stand by it. While better than the sequel and having some good moments between Thor and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and some unexpected humor in the beginning, I don’t think on this film and remember any game changing moments. It’s just a standard character introduction piece(let’s get Hemsworth into the mix and make a movie around it). Granted, Hemsworth is great here and is a better actor than given credit for, but the story around him(compared to the other heroes here) is kind of trite. The whole “I am a god thing and can swing a very heavy hammer and look amazing doing it” gets old quick. The fish out of water parts of the film are great and it’s never a waste of time to see Natalie Portman.

 

9.) Iron Man 2

I was a bigger fan of the sequel than most were because I thought it was a cool old school action film and I loved Mickey Rourke’s bad guy so much that he made me forget about Sam Rockwell’s character. Yes, the reshoots and stress from director Jon Favreau does show in the film but I dug it. Having a three year old who is tearing into Marvel’s movie also helps because I’ve recently watched this movie at least ten times. I love the opening reel of Stark’s speech playing as Rourke’s Ivan makes his suit. I love the race car track showdown and the introduction of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Don Cheadle’s entrance as Rhodes didn’t make me feel any better about Terrence Howard’s departure, but he grew on me a bit as the film proceeded. My favorite scene was Howard Stark(the classy John Slattery playing the role here) sending that private message to Tony and that made him create the element that saved him. Iron Man 2 was flawed(too many baddies and subplot) but it was a thoroughly enjoyable and rewatchable flick. Also, the interrogation scene between Downey Jr. and Rourke was a lighter faster version of The Joker and Batman. The coolness of this flick does survive on the easy going charm and rock star talents of RDJ though. The man is a genius.

8.) Avengers: Age of Ultron

The more I thought about this film, the more it rubbed the wrong way. Maybe it was James Spader’s dull and ineffective Ultron. Maybe it was the overlong action sequences or the need to duplicate or top Avengers. The story was imbalanced and weighty at the end of the running time. For all the hype it got leading up to May, the end result was tiring. It is watchable, entertaining but after a few viewings, just decent. That’s it.

 

7.) Guardians of the Galaxy

Everybody else went nuts on this film, but all I saw was a light cool funny Marvel film that had a great soundtrack at first viewing. After a few replays, I liked it more and more. The wise crack touch of  Chris Pratt was good and Vin Diesel did more with one line than most could do with 20. Danny Bautista’s beast Drax with his eccentric vocabulary and deadly touch worked. The whole idea of this movie being wicked great never struck me but it had a perfect tone. I didn’t finish it and feel the need to write a 3,000 word essay on it(I did that with Pacino and DeNiro’s Heat). I thought the bad guy was terrible. The whole time he can take out our heroes but doesn’t and Bautista’s character CAN’T beat him in a fight and keeps trying.  Bradley Cooper’s Rocket was hilarious and in the end, I didn’t just want to be Groot…I wanted more Groot.

 

6.) Captain America: First Avenger

While I wasn’t as crazy about Red Skull as a villain, I loved the way Hugo Weaving played him and Chris Evans did some truly good work here as Steve Rogers before he came magnificent. It was the scenes before he became Captain that really allowed me to love his character later. “I’m just a kid from New Jersey” never got old and by the end, when he throws himself, the cube and the jet into the ocean only to wake up decades later without the love of his life, you feel his pain because Evans created that in the first hour. Real breakthrough for Evans. The film is a little long but brilliantly realized. Rodgers is the red, white and blue hero but Evans always gives him an uncertain edge. It started here.

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5.) Ant-Man

I admit. The mere mention of this film at first wasn’t exciting but Paul Rudd knocked this shit out of the park. Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Corey Stoll, and Bobby Cannvale rounded out a perfect cast. Director Peyton Reed delivered a similar dose of Marvel versatility that the first Iron Man and GOTG were. Easy going yet potent fun. Rudd’s interaction with Anthony Mackie’s Falcon couldn’t have teased Civil War better. Give me more. You’ll never look at an ant the same way again.

 

4.) Iron Man 3

People hated the card shark switch that director Shane Black did with the Mandarin here, but I loved the changeup. Tell me you expected that to happen when Ben Kingsley’s hapless drunk actor turned terrorist spewing bad guy came out of the bathroom. Black’s light touch mirrored Favreau’s original film method of madness, and I liked Guy Pearce and James Badge Dale’s bad guy combo and the coming out badass femme fatale party of Gwyneth Paltrow enjoyed at the end. This film carried such an effortless cool pace that I didn’t want the film to end but it wrapped up the last solo journey of Stark quite well and sets up Avengers 2 in the process. The greatest strength of Kevin Feige and Marvel is connecting all these films seamlessly and mixing in the stories without overstepping. It’s confidence. I am glad they supported Black’s idea to throw a change at the fans. Iron Man 3 was strong.

 

3.) Iron Man

The original stake in the sand by Marvel is still a cool ride seven years later. Favreau’s plea to bring in Downey Jr. being looked on with risky stress but now looking like a stroke of genius. All of it still plays well today, especially Stark’s transformation in the desert when he sees up close and personal the destruction his weapons can do. The way Stark became this guy who wanted to better himself by burning up his past and starting something new was so well done. Downey Jr. is at the heart of the greatness, putting exactly the right amount of cynical charm and bravado in the role that people debated for so many years. Howard’s work as Rhodes is bittersweet because he was good effortless and had great rapport with RDJ. Jeff Bridges Obadiah was well rendered, as was Paltrow’s first piece of work as Potts. There’s something nostalgic about Iron Man. It was the beginning and always will carry a certain juicy flow with its experience. Before the Avengers Assemble could happen, Tony Stark had to light the match.

 

2.) Captain America: Winter Soldier

Talk about combining real life world weary issues and mixing in the Marvel madness. Every time I watched Winter Soldier, it got better. The transformation of Bucky into the Winter Soldier that changes our titular hero was the key ingredient in this madness. Sebastian Stan’s work is astounding and he does it with barely any dialogue. Just looks, action and moves. Frank Grillo’s Brock Rumlow also got a much needed tease here before his deadly Crossbones heats up Civil War.  Anthony Mackie’s Falcon was also a nice light touch to the proceedings, as were Scarlett and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury(who always gets just the right amount of screen time per appearance). The scenes near the end between Stan and Evans, as two best friends facing off, is heartbreaking and thrilling. Winter Soldier may go down as the most complete Marvel film. Maybe.

 

1.) Avengers

That’s right. The moment where the Avengers Assemble kicked off.  Joss Whedon’s ability to take all these misfit toys, toss them together and spin them into this kickass, poignant and thrilling combo of heroic danger was such a miraculous feat. I don’t think any other director could have blended the personalities and actions of these heroes as well as he did. He got the best of Thor and brought out the Hulk we all knew was there in Ruffalo’s rendition. There isn’t one part of this movie that feels flat and it can be consumed and savored well today with the right amount of surround sound. It plays like a greatest hit and it’s only three years old. The shot towards the end during the huge NYC battle where the camera whips around to all our Avengers fighting is still a piece of art. Avengers is going to be money decades from now and that makes the expectations for this week’s Age of Ultron fly through the roof with ease.

That’s my list. What is yours. Civil War may end up being #1 in the end.

Fifty Shades of Shitty

At last, I watched Fifty Shades of Grey.

I know what you are thinking. How did I actually end up watching Fifty Shades of Grey? Over a candlelight dinner with a cup of coffee and I eyeing one another like two long lost, no, I’m fucking with you. It didn’t happen in a theater. I didn’t pick it up at Redbox. It was on HBO, otherwise known as my not so secret lover. It premiered a short while back and it came on and I decided to stick with it. Having already made an indent on the sofa and not wanting to move or watch Taken 3’s ending again, I decided to partake in this sexy fantasy novel turned cinematic experience. What a waste of time.

Sam Taylor-Johnson tried to direct E.L. James first novel in a series of three. She really did. The book she was working from with screenwriter Kelly Marcel was crap. No mainstream Hollywood film was going to take the sexual leaps that the book did. I mean, come on. Jamie Dornan spanking Dakota Johnson with a whip or bending her over a piano isn’t what those two got down to in the book. It had to something steamier. I didn’t want to ask my wife about it. The script was elementary, pulling all the sharp edges from previous bad boy romance novels. It was bad bad. Dialogue came out of the teeth and slammed to the floor. Cringe worthy. Dornan and Johnson aren’t good enough actors or interesting enough people to make it up on the run or fool people into the idea that the movie isn’t really bad. She had been in bit roles and Dornan had been in very little. Sure, it doesn’t take Oscar worthy peeps but something more than this.

When the best part of the movie is a conversation between two fully clothed people about what butt plugs are, the film missed out. I found myself wanting more from this or expecting some far more erotic. Once again, Hollywood isn’t going to release a mainstream equivalent of Real Sex. Not happening. It was always going to be soft. I didn’t expect it to be this boring, soft and stupid.

Let’s get the facts out of the way. There’s a brief cock shot and a few glimpses of Johnson’s vagina crop, but that is it. She gets naked a lot(neither of their asses are noteworthy) but he remains clothed, much to the chagrin of the ladies. It’s not sexist to expect more from a novel series that extended millions of marriages across the world and replaced chocolate ice cream pints and big blankets for a week or two. If there isn’t acting going on, there better be some hot stinky horny sexy time happening. In the end, it was lame. Neither actor is good looking enough either. Johnson isn’t ugly but she isn’t hot either. Sorry.

There’s as much here for men as there is for women. Story steers its gears towards both sexes. Anastasia Steele is an innocent young woman looking for adventure and finds more than she bargained for in the rich wealthy and handsome bad boy prince Christian Grey. A contract is presented, some spanking happens, some sex, pancakes are made, more sex, a ride in a plane and some million mile stares. The funny thing is, Ana leads him on. He tells her early on that all he wants to do is strap, load, spank and reload, but she tries to change him. This could have been over the minute he showed her the red room, but no she said keep going. She gets spanked, teased and fucked but only when he really whips her does she figure out that this is how he gets off. It takes two hours for her to realize this. Really?

I also hate movies where a guy is so fucking rich yet we never see him do any actual business. There’s the loud phone call where a deal seems to go bad. There’s lots of paper signing. Lots of suits. Lots of end of days. No deals. When Richard Gere’s hot shot played the rich card in Pretty Woman, we got to see him work. And work with Jason Alexander no less Here, it’s just expensive suits, nice cars and leaving the office. Bullshit.

There will be more. Fifty Shades Darker and Freed come in the next three years. Dornan is excited. Johnson probably isn’t. I am not. Leave these things to the books. Let the women who read this horseshit fill in the blanks and details. They will make money. For the same reason Adam Sandler films still make money. People like trash of all kinds. After a long day at the office or wrestling with kids or co-workers, watching Ana get wooed by Christian into a lovely nut of asshole fisting and teasing nipple clamps has its rewards I guess.

Fifty Shades of Grey made 166 million(94 opening weekend) on a 40 million dollar budget. All they needed were hot cars, three suits, a penthouse, mansion and some aerial shots. The biggest action sequence was Johnson’s ass jiggling from the whip. There will be more and they will make lots of money.

Save me the argument that these movies exploit violent sex crimes. Please. Ladies and gents, the women who read these novels are doing worse things to themselves after they put the book down or their husband Harry is. Ana isn’t a victim. She likes it all until she doesn’t. It’s all voluntary. The only thing worse than this flick are the people hating it for the wrong reasons.

Hate it because it’s a terrible excuse for 125 minutes of your time. They should have just let Cinemax really step into it and do all the dirty scenes in depth. Hollywood took a half swing and foul tipped it into the catcher’s mitt. Weak. That’s all it is.

It’s better to just think of it as Batman romancing poor young Ana….

Michael Clayton: George Clooney’s best film

Clooney’s finest hour came in a Tony Gilory film.

George Clooney is a classic movie star that occasionally acts his ass off. He’s charming, affable and loves to dish and dice up his bad decisions(Batman and Robin) and offer cool behind the scenes stories about Hollywood. He’s also a fine actor, and an Oscar winner(for the hard boiled drama, Syriana). However, that isn’t his greatest performance. Granted, Clooney is also an acclaimed writer/director/producer who recently won for Argo and has directed quiet gems like Goodnight, Good Luck but his finest hour came in the underrated Tony Gilroy thriller, Michael Clayton.

In the film, Clooney plays the title character, a “fixer” for a prestigious law firm who specializes in dirty cover ups and soulless work. He’s also a flawed parent and degenerate gambler who wanted to open a restaurant and failed. In the film’s central plot, Clayton is brought in to remedy a situation where one of the law firm’s best lawyers comes undone while he is hammering a nail into a chemical company he knows is guilty in a billion dollar class action law suit.

Gilroy’s method of madness here is putting this seemingly familiar pot of goods on the burner and slowly turning the heat on the characters. The film starts out with Clayton running from a burning car and flashes back to one of his easy fixes(which involves the brilliant actor Denis O’Hare). Gilroy establishes that Clayton is a man slowly losing touch with who he is and that the work he is doing is beginning to eat into his soul. A man who has the connections to fix everybody’s problems except for his own. The film is a marvel of work due to Gilroy’s script and his direction, but also from the performance of Clooney. The man is in nearly every single scene of this film and if we don’t buy into his remorse and feel some contempt for his character, the movie doesn’t work.

He has plenty of fine company to dine with here, including Sydney Pollack’s last complete work, Tom Wilkinson’s Oscar nominated turn, and Tilda Swinton’s Oscar Winning work. For my money, Clooney is the best of the bunch and that’s because he shows us a slow transformation in Clayton that takes place over the two hour running time. This isn’t easy work because this movie was made in 2007, which was the height of Clooney’s reign. He was doing the Ocean films, popping up in other notable movies and beginning to unwind as a filmmaker. He is in the public eye constantly and that means as an actor, he has to work so much harder to produce a signature performance. This isn’t feeling sorry for a rich man, but explaining the difficulty in Clooney’s drive to be taken seriously.

He has been great elsewhere and the list isn’t short. Syriana. Oceans Eleven. My Brother Where Art Thou. Up In The Air. Three Kings. There are more but in Clayton, Clooney digs deep and doesn’t wear an ounce of makeup or use an accent to hide who we see him as. He’s a wounded warrior trying to find a way home in the most dangerous cutthroat world, the corporate empire.

For the first half of the film, Clooney does a fine job as Clayton. He works a few facial expressions and builds the seeds beneath which will make this character sing later on in the film. We buy into his plight and his proposed flight. At the halfway mark, Clooney delivers a speech to son, played by Austin Williams. He tells his son about the harrowing world they live in and how looking up to people like himself or the boy’s uncle isn’t the right way to go about it. It’s an out of nowhere knockdown moment that Clooney deftly plays without getting too sentimental. It is also the kickoff of knock down, drag out Clayton that fuels the rest of the film which involves exploding cars, killer showdowns between cast members and a climax that will make you fist bump everyone in close proximity. The final lingering camera shot on Clooney as he rides around in a taxi is so confident, perfect and allows the viewer to wonder if this constant man of sorrow is ever going to realize happiness or just think of as a state of mind.

Gilroy is a master of high stakes thrills and drama. He wrote the Matt Damon Bourne films and wrote and directed the Jeremy Renner vehicle(another underrated gem), The Bourne Legacy. He is constantly raising the bar set by his previous characters and stories, and Michael Clayton is his jewel because it doesn’t have the action but it has all the power of his work.

Michael Clayton can be enjoyed even if you don’t like Clooney, because he isn’t playing the flashy loving talker but a man who goes to great lengths to suddenly retrieve his soul inside a dirty world. As good as his role in Syriana was(his diner faceoff with Christopher Plummer is all time great there), Clayton gives Clooney his own venue to establish his premium talents as a performer. The film suits him and relies on him coming through, which he does in a big way.

If you haven’t seen it, find it, digest it and watch it again. The movie grows on you if it’s too cold or diabolical at first and it gets better if it hits you the first time. Whenever it lingers too long in the realm of suits and misery, it immediately exits and enters a world of family and finding peace. As I mentioned before, the pot gets hot when Clayton decides to clean up his own mess instead of the firms and it all starts in that car with his son.

Other moments that sting and surge inside a viewer’s system.

*A moment with Wilkinson’s character in Times Square and a scene back at his loft reverberate because we all have that aha moment in our life where it all clicks.

*Clayton has a moment after the car explosion where he encounters horses that could went over someone’s head but instead lands right in your chest. It’s quick and fleeting but if you allow yourself to ride with the tempo of the story, it’ll hit you…hard.

*Scenes between Clayton and his brother(Sean Cullen) are so good that you instantly see the past these two characters share. Honest and brutal.

*James Newton Howard’s is subtle and carries certain scenes that are dialogue driven. Howard doesn’t overpower the story, instead spraying lubricant on the tracks of the plot.

*Robert Elswit’s cinematography is shrouded in black and dark gray, echoing the mood of the story and the characters and where their heads are at.

*Swinton is brilliant here as an attorney who prides herself on repetition yet is slowly undone by this case and Clooney’s character. Her faceoff with Clooney towards the end is a polar opposite of their first encounter and serves as a highlight that had to leave Gilroy singing himself to sleep that night after the shoot.

Look, George Clooney’s career speaks for itself and doesn’t require this uninformed opinion to give it any extra airtime. However, whenever I see pics from the movie or think about some of the scenes, I get filled with movie lover ambition and demand a date with my couch and a pot of coffee to relive it again. Michael Clayton is as powerful as it gets and its a beautiful slow burn of a story. It’s greatest virtue is Clooney’s go for broke performance.

Watch it…like right now.