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Valentine’s Weekend Movies

Hope Madden Hope Madden Valentine’s Weekend MoviesPhoto still from Fifty Shades Freed via IMDb.
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Valentine’s Day approaches, which means another Fifty Shades movie, for shit’s sake. If you want even less sexual chemistry or emotional enjoyment, the brilliant Michael Haneke offers something to slowly corrupt your soul. And if that isn’t your bag, a genuinely charming family film hops through Columbus, plus you can watch every single Oscar nominated short film this weekend at Gateway.

50 Shades Freed

Boiling down the Fifty Shades movies into a capsule summary has always felt a bit like playing Mad Libs with a head injury, and Fifty Shades Freed gleefully continues the trend.

Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey (Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, each blinking out Morse code to their agents throughout the franchise) are now married. Christian’s dominant side causes fresh problems for Ana at work, but not as much as her ex-boss (Eric Johnson) returning to stalk the entire Grey family for reasons both mysterious and incredibly obvious.

The major improvement in the franchise can’t be separated from the movie’s biggest flaw. The good news: with Ana and Christian having settled into betrothed BDSM bliss, the film (written by Niall Leonard and directed by James Foley) devotes less time to their tepid romance and more time allowing the characters to simply be themselves as they get caught up in a sordid thriller.

Here’s the bad news. Allowing these characters to be themselves suffers from one crucial flaw: every single character in the series is boring to an extent that’s almost an achievement in its own right.

While the movie wraps things up neatly for Ana and Christian—albeit in a comically abrupt way I guess is a clever callback to the bizarre pacing of the previous films—it doesn’t answer the question of exactly who this movie is for.

There’s plenty of nudity, but it’s clinically divorced from any recognizable human emotion. Such short shrift is given to character development that I can’t imagine fans of the lengthy books have been satisfied. There’s a mystery plot, sort of, but nothing you couldn’t get from a made-for-TV movie and save the cash.

But, if you’ve made it this far through the series, Fifty Shades Freed is the most competent of the bunch. And at least this one can be watched with a clear conscience knowing that the actors are as freed from contractual obligations as their characters are rid of emotional baggage.

Grade: D-

Happy End

Happy End is as perceptive as it is dispassionate—and this, as every choice filmmaker Michael Haneke makes—is intentional.

Channeling themes from across his career, pulling most noticeably from both his 1992 horror Benny’s Video and his 2012 masterpiece Amour, Haneke slowly, deliberately unveils a tale of distance.

His subjects are the well-off Laurent family: a doddering patriarch (Amour’s brilliant Jean-Louis Trintignant), the daughter who runs the company (Isabelle Huppert), her surgeon brother (Mathieu Kassovitz), her disappointing son (Franz Rogowski), and the surgeon’s 13-year-old daughter, Eve (Fantine Harduin).

The filmmaker braids together the stories and points of view of several main participants, keeping his focus at arm’s length until we’ve become apprehensive about every move. Why is Georges (Trintignant) wandering the median in a wheelchair and talking to strangers? What struggles could cause Pierre (Rogowski) to behave—and dance—like that?

Why would anyone leave a baby alone with Eve?

Patient viewers will recognize Haneke’s deliberate and chilly storytelling, but Happy End really requires your patience. Still, don’t let your eye wander, because too many frames contain a startling image, and this filmmaker won’t insist that you notice.

Grade: B+

Peter Rabbit

Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, some gatecrashing, a tense dude named McGregor, and a pervasive lack of pants. But Will Gluck’s Peter Rabbit is a bit of a departure from Beatrix Potter’s twee kids’ books.

And you might think, ugh, not another attempt to lengthen and embellish a piece of classic literature beyond all reason (looking at you, Peter Jackson). But hold on. This (cotton) tale, takes place somewhat after the events in Ms. Potter’s books. Both Peter’s (James Corden) parents are dead and there’s a new McGregor in town, Domhnall Gleeson.

Gleeson’s McGregor is an acutely type A city slicker who longs to get back to London until he meets the animal lover/bunny portraitist Bea (Rose Byrne) who lives next door.

This gets Peter’s invisible knickers in a twist.

The conflicts escalate in cartoon violence that’s kinda Home Alone by way of the Odd Couple.

If you want to get all highbrow about it, the entire movie can be read as a metaphor for a kid’s struggle to accept a new romance in the life of a primary caregiver.

But Gleeson and a game supporting cast are a delight, and there’s enough beautiful animation, fun 90s and early 00s songs, and Easter-egg jokes for parents in case the kids decide they really like this movie and you have to watch it 400 times.

Grade: A-

Also opening in Columbus:
The 15:17 to Paris (PG-13)
The Insult (R)
Oscar Nominated Short Films: Documentary (NR)
Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animation (NR)
Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action (NR)
Vazante (NR)

Reviews with help from Christie Robb and Matt Weiner.

Read more from Hope at MADDWOLF and listen to her weekly film podcast THE SCREENING ROOM.

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