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Entries in ethan peterson (63)

Monday
Feb122018

In Which We Could Not Be This Married If We Tried

Our Home in Aspen

by ETHAN PETERSON

Fifty Shades Freed
dir. James Foley
105 minutes

Sex during the honeymoon. At the beginning of Fifty Shades Freed, Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Ana (Dakota Johnson) are married in a lovely ceremony. The resulting honeymoon is incredibly tame. At one point, Christian chains Ana's arms to her legs, but he never really goes anywhere after he secures her. He just performs cunnilingus for a bit and I guess she can't move, but why would she have to or want to? Later, Ana is punished by her husband for disobeying her, and she is angry that he brought their dispute into the bedroom. She does not scream, "Never go to bed angry!" but it might as well be the subtitle of this inoffensive film.

Previously, Christian Grey was something of a maniac who acted extremely rashly and would use the excuse of a troubled childhood to explain the various trials he put Ana and others such as his brother Eliot (Luke Grimes) through. As a married man, Christian has mellowed. He is very protective of his new wife, and she feels much the same. When a lively blonde architect (Arielle Kebbel) flirts with him, Ana attacks like a mealy-mouthed tiger. She is so brave we forgive the fact that her teeth look horrendous.

Methods of birth control. Although Ana tells Christian that she is taking the depo-provera shot to prevent his demon spawn from incubating within her, she actually "forgets" to take her shot. She never admits to this passive-aggressive dereliction of duty, but perhaps she can think of no other way to convince her husband to bear her the children she feels she deserves. The Depo shot is about 99 percent effective; that is, one out of every hundred times a baby will be born who is unexpected and possibly even unwanted.

Later - much later - we see Ana and Christian's daughter. Both parents are happy in the glow of their child. The implication is that even though the conception of the child was a mistake, the result is a happy one. I try to apply this basic philosophy to all the unintended consequences in my life, but it does not tell us what is probably more important - how to react to the things we chose for ourselves.

A marriage's rules. Ana's friend Kate (Eloise Mumford) is in an unhappy relationship with Christian's brother. When he proposes to her, she happily accepts, except it escapes no one's notice that he is doing such a thing in an Aspen nightclub. Onlookers don't know whether to applaud or cry. Christian's Aspen home is configured much like his other living spaces, featuring large open rooms complemented by small kitchens. He does not prize the excess of a large kitchen because in all his time spent learning how to control women, he never figured out how to manage a stove.

When Ana goes out to a bar and has a few drinks with Kate, Christian is incensed. "Keep the martinis coming," Kate tells their server, and Ana explains that "Christian will be so mad" and "I'm going to get in so much trouble." Kate never responds by saying, "Do you think this is maybe an unhealthy marriage if you can't go out for one night without having the fetish of the month (were those butt plugs?) foisted upon you?" Ana just sips her martini and returns home an hour later, where she is almost killed by one of Christian's disgruntled employees.

Cooking a marital stew. Christian senses that Ana is uncomfortable in this apartment where she was almost murdered. Fortunately, he has begun making plans for a home where they can both be completely comfortable. It looks something like a haunted house, so understandably Christian hires an architect to tear the entire thing down. Ana is grief-stricken at this thought - you see, she likes authentic things that retain their own charm as ages pass. In other words, she is attracted to someone who is not like her.

Instead of differentiating herself from her husband, the newly-named Ana Grey seeks to become more like him - mysterious, at times even beguilingly aggressive, but with a warm and chewy center. As the most phenomenal soundtrack plays, including an ironic song by Sia, the two fight over whether or not she should use his name in her professional life. Even though she works as a fiction editor at her husband's publishing company, Ana's friends and coworkers keep emphasizing that she has attained her position entirely through merit. 

Like most caricatures, Christian and Ana Grey never do anything wrong, or contemplate something we would not do ourselves. In one scene, Ana finds a loaded gun her husband has left in a drawer. (The drawer was evidently not child-proofed.) She walks into the next room and asks him why he has it. I was stunned by this, since if I found a loaded gun in my husband's drawer I would never tell a soul. But he just calmly tells her to get rid of it. 

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

Wednesday
Jan102018

In Which We Recognize Ryan Gosling For A Reason

Gestalt

by ETHAN PETERSON

Blade Runner 2049
dir. Denis Villeneuve
161 minutes

Blade Runner 2049 begins when K (Ryan Gosling) kills a robot on the robot’s farm, which is owned by Wallace (Jared Leto) who invents robots for a living and is probably a robot himself. (K is also a robot, the most handsome robot imaginable.) If you just take as a given that everyone is a robot in Blade Runner 2049, you will be fully correct most of the time, since the film has taken the step of eliminating the distinction between humans and automatons with their own consciousness, if there ever existed one in the first place.

Gosling reports back to his boss at the LAPD, Madam, who is played by Robin Wright Penn. All of Wright Penn’s recent roles have involved an unfeelingness, so I guess this is why Villeneuve cast her in this familiar part. This is a general problem across Blade Runner 2049 – when actors are too readily identified with their roles, we substitute our knowledge of their characteristics for ones that may be present in the drama.

Villeneuve leans on this heavily, since there is not a lot here in the way of character development in general. In Blade Runner 2049, a crooked businessman is a crooked businessman, a fixer and forger is a decent and hearty sort, and a prostitute sells her body for a reason.

At the site of the killing, Gosling finds the remains of Rachael, a robot from the first movie. The skeleton indicates she was pregnant. Wright Penn’s character wants to find and destroy the child for the implications a pregnant machine would bring, whereas Wallace wants to find a way to breed robots since it is too expensive to construct them on the interplanetary scale he requires. The implication is that neither solution is definitively correct, since both approaches involve the underlying assumption that an articially constructed person is not a person. “You got along just fine without one,” Penn tells Gosling. He responds, “Without what?” “A soul.”

This kind of hamfisted obviousness was missing from Ridley Scott’s original, as was the concept of an automaton as a kind of depressed person who believes or she is missing something because they are not fully human. The date of birth of the robot reminds Gosling of an implanted memory he has – in short, he is running from other boys at an orphanage, and he has to hide a wooden horse from them. On the bottom of the wooden horse is the same date as the one on the birthed robot.

Gosling perhaps reasonably assumes that he is the birthed robot, who was given over to an orphanage. In order to be sure, he visits the creator of the memory to see if it is a real memory or a fake one. When she looks at it, she says it is real. But she is lying to him, because she is actually the first and only robot baby, and she is in hiding. Her father is Deckard (Harrison Ford), and for some reason he is living in a decimated Las Vegas, where some kind of electromagnetic bomb went off.

Gosling is usually a treat to watch. He has great facial expressions, and an engagingly repressed enthusiasm for life. In casting him as a robot, Villenueve goes to great lengths to preserve these strengths, even though the natural limitations of the role are at odds with them. We don’t realize how much Gosling seems to strain at these restrictions until we meet Deckard inhabiting an empty casino where videos of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra cycle from before the blackout.

Mr. Ford is not much of a pilot, but he is tailor made for this role. Even his expressions of what, on the surface, appear to be genuine human emotion contain an innate reserve that we often call dignity. In contrast, Gosling’s anguish is of a more base, helpless variety. There is something powerful in the contrast of the two performances, but it is only natural that we gravitate as viewers to the one that places our species in the most positive light.

Villeneuve is a slick director with a gift for composition and a handle on what is required in successful art direction. There are lots of neat touches and update to the genre defining look that Blade Runner introduced when it bombed at theaters in 1982. Even some of the same locations get a makeover, although for the most part the grittiness and verite of the original is missing here, replaced by the emptying aftereffects of climate change.

You could probably make an infinite number of Blade Runner movies on roughly the same themes — how technology has the potential to continue the objectification of women, pets, and racial minorities, how replacing humans with AIs makes no tangible difference to life as it is generally constructed, how every living thing demands to be treated with a certain amount of respect no matter who or what it came from. All these messages are timeless, but in Blade Runner 2049, they start to feel a bit closed off to us. Should the future be so concrete?

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

Tuesday
Jan022018

In Which We Exercise A Spiritual And Moral Preference

Always the Bridesmaid

by ETHAN PETERSON

Bright
dir. David Ayer
118 minutes

I recently received an e-mail from a concerned reader, a member of the guild. He asked me why we put the only name of the director on a movie review when the writer of a film is often just as important to the final product. As an example, he cited The Princess Bride, which required almost no input from Rob Reiner at all, and was possibly made substantially worse by the director’s presence. Well, this concerned reader had a point, and I will take it under advisement. But today is not the time, since the writer of Bright is dogshit, and whether the changes director David Ayer made to the script are good or bad, it is spiritually and morally preferable to pretend that Bright was more like an immaculate conception.

Pretending only goes so far, however. Bright still features the awful, patterned, unfunny dialogue of He Who Shall Not Be Named, and listening to it is something of a chore. On the plus side of the ledger is the presence of two likable and disciplined actors: as a police officer in Los Angeles, Will Smith, who is finally beginning to look seriously old, and Joel Edgerton as his partner, an orc. The former is somewhat traditional casting, but the latter is inspired. Edgerton’s chameleonic face is intrinsically unmemorable. Slathering it in blue makeup gives him the distinctiveness required to slip into a particular role.

For the amount of adjectives I have used so far in this essai, I should probably try to get my name removed from this review. Sometimes such words are required to say what you mean. (I will try to be more plainspoken from now on; like if Raymond Carver had a child with the guy who wrote The Trumpet of the Swan.) Bright has its own vocabulary/lore, although it is pretty shitty/dumb. Urban fantasy is new to Max Landis, since the only book he has ever read is the Model Penal Code. This Los Angeles is filled with different races: orcs, elves, centaurs (I didn’t see any, but I think it says this in the wikipedia). OK actually there are not that many races.

Envisioning Bright as the first effort in a series of films, Ayer never has the Dark Lord of the Elves make an appearance in Bright, but we are told that a thousand years ago he was fought off by orcs and elves and humans. Since the Los Angeles depicted in Bright features rampant police abuse (“Everybody hates cops,” Smith’s daughter tells him before never appearing in Bright again), racism, sexism (Noomi Rapace has all of four lines), anti-Semitism, poverty, gang violence and prostitution, drug use and slavery, it is unclear that the Dark Lord did not, in fact, win a significant victory.

Smith and Edgerton spend the entire movie trying to protect a magic wand from its rightful owner, a powerful elf played by Ms. Rapace. The majority of the running time consists of running between two locations, as it was clear Netflix was intent on paying most of Bright’s $90m production budget to Will Smith. I can’t attack the wisdom of this move, since no other actor clicks so completely with the streaming service’s core audience, and Smith’s recent choices at the actual box-office have been wretched. Ayer does enough to make Bright feel like his other cop stories (End of Watch, Training Day). He is knowledgeable, at least, about how cops feel and think, and several scenes reflect this experience.

Like many of Ayer’s films, he tries to convince us of a variety of plot twists that only make sense in his mind. Unfortunately, this is also the execrable trend of the writer behind this project, and the pairing leads to a messy, unemotional final project, which is probably one of two reasons why Bright received some seriously harsh reviews from critics. As bad as Bright was, there is something redeemable about the project that could probably be salvaged by another writer. Then again, you could say that about anything that does not involve Colin Trevorrow.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.