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Fifty Shades of Grey and Duke of Burgundy, both all about kinky sex

Also a Colin Firth action flick and fun with vampires in New Zealand

Two films the same week exploring domination and masochism. How did that happen? Mind you, in terms of quality they are for distinctly different people. We’ve also got Colin Firth making like an action star and as a real treat, a spoof documentary about vampires from New Zealand.

Here’s the list:

Fifty Shades of Grey:  2 ½ stars

The Duke of Burgundy:  4

What We Do in the Shadows:  3 ½

Kingsman: The Secret Service:  3

Beyond the Lights:  3

Mountain Film Festival: -- 

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY: There’s got to be a sociological change happening here, first with the phenomenal sales of the three books and now the huge ticket sales for this movie of the first one. Porn is not just everywhere but mainstream acceptable. But does that extend to this kinky tale about female submissiveness? How does that jibe with the gains of the women’s movement? All valid questions although I suspect not many of the young women rushing to see it will be pondering them. They’ll be fluttery with the glossy fairy tale that’s been wrapped around the bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism. They’ll probably find it awfully tame.   

At heart this is another story of an inexperienced young woman feeling drawn to a dangerous man. Like Beauty and the Beast, Wuthering Heights, and Bella and Edward, whose Twilight story and the spontaneous fan-writing that followed led to this one. It’s porn but delivered in high style and much softened from the book. (No genitalia but a lot of T&A.) The author, screenwriter and the director (Sam, as in Samantha, Taylor-Johnson) are all women. Their film is bright but very shallow.

Anastasia Steele of Vancouver, Wash., interviews Seattle billionaire-bachelor Christian Grey for her school paper and charms him enough that he pursues her, takes her flying in his personal helicopter and a glider and brings her to his expansive post-modern home. Who wouldn’t be thrilled? They end up in bed but he really wants her to come willingly into his “playroom.” “Is that where you keep your Xbox and things?” she asks. It’s where his whips and belts and handcuffs and other devices are but he won’t touch her until he has her written consent and they spend a good part of the film negotiating a contract. (“No genital clamps.”) The film is a long tease towards that room. It gets silly as it goes on but the gloss stays intact and both lead actors are beautiful. Jamie Dornan plays formal well, tormented not as much. Dakota Johnson (daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson) is endearing as the innocent on her arc of discovery. And Vancouver plays both cities, plus Portland, Ore. The film was made here. (The Park, Dunbar, Scotiabank and many suburban theaters) 2 ½ out of 5 

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY: Here’s a lesbian version of the same set of themes that Fifty Shades of Grey toys with. Submissiveness. Domination. Abuse. Punishment. Psychosexual bonding. They’re all here but far more fully (and artfully) explored and, surprisingly, with not only less but no nudity at all. Things do happen. They’re kinkier and get more gross than over there but they’re off screen. We hear more than we see.

 

Somewhere in Europe, in a garden-set country house, Cynthia and Evelyn have a dominant-submissive relationship. Evelyn, played by London-based actress Chiara D'Anna arrives by bike to work as maid to Cynthia (Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen) and takes verbal abuse and cold imperiousness from her. Inevitably she misses one pair of panties when she does the laundry and must be punished. She’s locked into a cedar chest or worse, Cynthis sits on her face. The sequence plays out several times and we see it’s not clear who is the dominant of the two. The relationship seems to be in flux. As a counterpoint to their changes, there are scenes of insects (21 different types according to the credits including the Duke of Burgundy butterfly and the scourge of Vancouver lawns chafer beetle). The women study insects and attend conferences about them. That adds one more layer of exotica in Peter Strickland’s film that, incidentally, doesn’t have a single man in it, proves to be visually gorgeous and hypnotically mysterious. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5  

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS: This is the easiest film to recommend this week because it is so darn funny. Even just reviewing my notes brings on giggles because the humor is absolutely deadpan and eternally imaginative. In the spirit of Christopher Guest but made by New Zealand’s Flight of the Conchords crowd, this is a fake documentary about modern vampires. 

More in New Movies

A new and creepy It, perky Reese in Home Again and a contrary view of those volatile Paris suburbs

Also a fun trip with an elephant named Pop-Aye and bizarre doings in the Canadian film Blood Honey

News and notes from the VIFF look-ahead press conference

Wonderstruck, from a YA novel, is the VIFF closing film this year.
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