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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

Fifty Shades of Grey
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Lifestyles of the Rich and Perverse might be a more fitting title for the unusually explicit bedroom drama Fifty Shades of Grey (Universal).

Director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s adaptation of the first volume in a trilogy of novels by E.L. James — which features a modern-day Marquis de Sade as its male protagonist — has a pornographically narrow focus and a potentially dangerous message.

James, whose real name is Erika Mitchell, has apparently captured the imaginations of bored housewives everywhere by tracing the unlikely romance between socially awkward college student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and intimidating business tycoon Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan).

The popularity — and notoriety — of James’ fiction is such that moviegoers know from the outset that the stumbling block tripping these two up, as they attempt to tango, will be Christian’s fondness for whips and chains. Thus the duo’s first interaction — which comes about when Ana agrees to fill in for her ailing roommate Kate (Eloise Mumford), a journalism major, by interviewing Christian for the campus newspaper — is loaded down with dramatic irony.

All Ana knows is that Christian has been tapped to deliver the commencement address at her pending graduation. But we’re on to this dungeon-loving Bruce Wayne’s real identity. So his sly double entendres are ever so much fun.

In between the zingers, Ana and Christian fall for each other. Yet, as Ana tries to bond with her aloof new beau, she’s perplexed by his total lack of hearts-and-flowers romanticism. Until, that is, she discovers that he’s an obsessive sadist with an elaborately equipped “playroom” full of pain-inducing gadgets and restraints.

Christian enlightens Ana about all this shortly after relieving her of her virginity in a more conventional interaction. When she first shamefacedly admits to her still-unravished status, he demands wonderingly: “Where have you been?” And the next morning, sure enough, best pal Kate remarks on Ana’s glow.

Though it’s framed in the familiar context of a good girl’s crusade to redeem a naughty boy, Ana’s eventual co-operation with Christian’s perversion — arrived at after much hesitation and the negotiation of a written contract, no less — risks conveying the idea that all women are potentially willing victims of physical abuse and humiliation. We’re also left to wonder what role Christian’s helicopter and fancy penthouse pad play in rendering Ana so tractable.

The fact that the aberrant consequences of her consent are mostly toned down only aggravates the damage this armchair flirtation with the darker aspects of human nature has the ability to inflict.

While responsible viewers might sympathize with Christian’s troubled background, both in childhood and beyond, as well as with his passing acknowledgement of the harmful nature of his proclivities, the intent to stir audiences by teasing a supposed taboo is unmistakable.

Additionally, for those grounded in faith, Ana and Christian’s relationship presents a disturbing case study in the resolute frustration of God’s purpose in endowing human beings with the gift of sexuality: spiritual union is displaced for the sake of a disordered exchange of possession and surrender.

The film contains excessive sexual content, including graphic deviant behaviour and non-marital sexual activity with much nudity, a benign view of casual sex, several uses of rough language and at least one crude term. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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Kingsman: The Secret Service
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Iconic spy James Bond gets younger, hipper competition via Kingsman: The Secret Service (Fox).

This suave but excessively violent adaptation of Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ 2012 comic book series The Secret Service is directed and co-written — with Jane Goldman — by Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class).

Terribly British to its core, the film is, at one level, an amusing sendup of classic espionage movies, with agents wearing bespoke suits and displaying impeccable manners even as they kill bad guys with a dazzling array of cool gadgets.

Unfortunately, Kingsman is too pseudo-sophisticated for its own good, and goes off the rails with unbridled mayhem and vulgarity. Some of the action sequences, including one of a congregation massacred inside a church, display a profound lack of taste, not to mention cinematic judgment.

That’s a pity, as the film offers a positive message for wayward youth on achieving reform by learning to look out for others.

Colin Firth stars as Harry Hart, code-named “Galahad.” Hart’s moniker reflects the fact that the members of the top-secret Kingsmen organization, to which he belongs, consider themselves a new breed of knights in shining armour (or at least pinstripes).

This “independent international intelligence agency,” overseen by Arthur (Michael Caine), is headquartered behind a tailor’s shop on London’s Savile Row.

The Kingsmen are commanded to find new, more youthful recruits. Galahad seeks out Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a troubled hooligan unaware that his late father was a Kingsman who died saving Galahad’s life.

Galahad pledges to redeem this sacrifice by helping the young man. “If you’re prepared to adapt, and learn, you can transform,” he tells Eggsy.

“You mean like My Fair Lady?” the lad responds.

Indeed, under Galahad’s tutelage Eggsy gets the ultimate makeover. The initiation rituals, supervised by Merlin (Mark Strong), resemble the feats of strength and wit seen in a number of teen-empowerment pictures lately.

There’s no time to lose, as the world is at risk (naturally) from a megalomaniac named Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Convinced that climate change is caused by overpopulation, Valentine — perversely inspired by the story of Noah and the great flood — decides the best remedy for environmental woes is to cull the human race.

So he hands out free cellphones (how modern!) embedded with a computerized booby-trap designed to wreak mayhem.

Kingsman carries this ridiculous premise to queasy extremes. However tongue-in-cheek their presentation, the gruesome proceedings become so awash in blood that even many adults will likely be repelled.

The film contains strong gory violence, brief partial female nudity, some sexual innuendo and frequent profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Copyright (c) 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops