Tag Archives: e.l. james

Fifty shades of disappointed

Curious? The posters for Fifty Shades of Grey coyly ask.

Whether or not you’re one of the 100 million who bought, and presumably read, E L James’ kinky book, the buzz alone surrounding this Twilight fan fiction turned international phenomenon is enough to pique the interest of a rock. Fifty Shades of Grey is inherently spectacle.

With all that irresistible anticipation, how could a movie about BDSM be so run of the mill? The short answer: fear and money. It’s one thing to read about the bondage-enabled sexual awakening of a virgin. It’s quite another to see it depicted on screen.

Director Sam Taylor-Johnson had an impossible mission on her hands to meld the tawdry with the conventional. It’s like trying to mash up the sensibilities of Lars von Trier with Nancy Meyers to create an end product that will be appealing on a mass scale. In trying to please everyone, though, Fifty Shades of Grey has stripped away the fun and settled on palatable. There have been perfume commercials with more depth and story arc.

For the uninitiated, Fifty Shades of Grey is about lit student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and her torrid affair with 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). They meet on a lark, when her aspiring journalist roommate gets ill and Anastasia agrees to help out by subbing in to interview the handsome mogul.

The two are made to look as mismatched as possible. She’s a clumsy innocent with a childish ponytail in tights and a cardigan, he looks like he’s just stepped out of an ad for bespoke suits and new money pretention. We’re supposed to believe that sparks fly immediately, but this first meeting conjures up the dynamic of a predator and a scared feral animal more than anything else.

Still, something snaps in Christian and he decides he must have her as his own. He starts popping up everywhere, from the hardware store where she works to the college bar where she’s had a bit too much to drink to save her from a handsy friend.

Soon he’s whisking Ana (Ms. Steele as he calls her) away on his helicopter to a garish bachelor’s pad/penthouse apartment, wooing her with white wine (but not too much, as he constantly reminds her), domineering gazes, and antiquated formalities. Laughable sexual innuendo peppers all their conversations.

But instead of the will-they-won’t-they tension that even the silliest sitcom can pull off effectively, the unfortunate consequence is that the nearly 40 minutes that it takes for Christian and Ana to go under the sheets almost seem more gratuitous than anything that happens in the Red Room of Pain. Also, after the sex starts, so do the exhaustive and dull contract negotiations.

The chemistry between Johnson and Dornan is decent, even if they do seem to be acting in different movies. Dornan’s Christian is a humorless caricature, while Johnson’s Ana is actually quite likable, funny and strong-willed. In a film full of flaws, Johnson is an undeniable bright spot.

A lot has been made about what the popularity of James’s book says about American women and their sexual fantasies. On screen, that conversation makes even less sense. Fans hungering for less conventional depictions of sex haven’t been looking hard enough — non-pornographic sex is not unchartered territory in cinema, or even television for that matter. There is more scintillating material in a premium HBO show than in this version of E L James’s book.

Fifty Shades of Grey, had an opportunity here to do something different — to give a mass audience something worthy of all the hype.

We may have all been curious going in, but by the time the credits roll, there’s another question that springs to mind: Is that all there is?

On screen

Fifty Shades of Grey, a Universal Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America “for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language.” Running time: 125 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

‘Fifty Shades’ dominates fall publishing

Booksellers and publishers expect at least a dozen novels to benefit from E L James’ multimillion-selling erotic trilogy, a list-topper since early spring, and new ones continue to be acquired.

Releases likely to catch on include Sylvain Reynard’s “Gabriel’s Inferno” and “Gabriel’s Rapture,” Sylvia Day’s “Reflected in You” and a compilation of Harlequin novellas unsubtly titled, “12 Shades of Surrender.”

In recent weeks, St. Martin’s Press took on Sara Fawkes’ self-published hit “Anything He Wants (Dominated by the Billionaire),” and Gallery Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint, signed up Jennifer Probst’s “The Marriage Bargain.” Open Road Integrated Media, a digital publisher, announced it would release the popular “Eighty Days” trilogy, written by a “well-known publishing insider” and a “familiar figure in London’s fetish scene” collectively known as Vina Jackson.

Cindy Hwang, executive editor at Berkley Books and Sylvia Day’s publisher, says that thanks to “50 Shades” the door between erotica and mainstream fiction has been “kicked down completely.” The market, “this fascination with the uber-rich,” demands more masters of the universe, at least fictional ones.


New novels are coming from James Patterson, Mitch Albom, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell. J.K. Rowling will find out how many of her adult “Harry Potter” fans are game for a book without wizards with “The Casual Vacancy.” Justin Cronin follows his bestselling “The Passage” with “The Twelve,” the second of a planned trilogy.

Ken Follett has a pair of projects: A TV miniseries of his epic medieval saga “World Without End” is scheduled to air on Reelz Channel starting in October. And his new novel “Winter of the World” is the second of his “Century” trilogy on war. The author explained during a recent interview that “Winter of the World,” a World War II story running nearly 1,000 pages, was an education for him.

“Before I started (it), I didn’t know that the Nazis had killed thousands of handicapped people,” he says. “World War II has been done so many times before that I needed to find something new.”

Tom Wolfe, who helped define 1980s New York in “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” has set his 650-page crime story “Back to Blood” in the contemporary “melting pot” of Miami, a sprawling canvas “full of hard cases who just won’t melt.” Michael Chabon keeps it close to home with “Telegraph Avenue,” named for the famous stretch of his longtime residence, Berkeley, Calif. Zadie Smith’s “NW” is another local story, set in northwest London, where the author grew up.

Memoirs and essays

Salman Rushdie’s “Joseph Anton” is a memoir that uses as a title the author’s alias when he was in hiding after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini called for his death due to the alleged blasphemy of ‘The Satanic Verses.” Chinua Achebe’s “There Was a Country” is a long-awaited memoir about the 1960s civil war in his native Nigeria.

Rushdie’s ally Christopher Hitchens died of cancer last December, but his name will appear on a handful of books. Hitchens’ essays about his fatal illness will be published as “Mortality.” Martin Amis has dedicated “Lionel Asbo,” a dark farce set in London, to his close friend, as did Ian McEwan for his novel “Sweet Tooth.” Meanwhile, two books will feature the late David Foster Wallace: Wallace’s essay collection “Both Flesh and Not” and D.T. Max’s biography “Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story.”

Patricia Bostelman, Barnes & Noble Inc.’s vice president of marketing, notes a wave of Kennedy books, including David Nasaw’s in-depth biography of patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy. White House tapes of John F. Kennedy with daughter Caroline Kennedy provide an introduction. Bill O’Reilly looks into the darkest days with “Killing Kennedy,” a follow-up to his million-selling “Killing Lincoln.” More on the Kennedys may come from an estranged in-law, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his memoir “Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story.”


Bob Woodward’s “The Price of Politics” will test the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s skill for scoops; Woodward promises a close, inside account of President Barack Obama’s economic policies, a subject in recent years of Ron Suskind’s “Confidence Men,” Noam Scheiber’s “The Escape Artists” and other books. Former FDIC chair Sheila Bair will give her version of the financial crisis in “Bull by the Horns.”

The May 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden is remembered firsthand in “No Easy Day” by Mark Owen, a pseudonym for former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette who was part of the historic raid in Pakistan. Bin Laden’s death has been a highlight of Obama’s term, but The New York Times’ “FiveThirty Eight” pollster Nate Silver doubts the book – or any others, Woodward’s included – will have an impact on the election, even if it’s critical of the president.

“Political books don’t usually have much effect in the short term. They seep into the culture and can affect things in ways that are hard to perceive,” says Silver, whose book on predictions, “The Signal and the Noise,” comes out in September.

Jeffrey Toobin’s “The Oath” is a review of the current Supreme Court, right through Chief Justice John Roberts’ startling decision in June to uphold much of Obama’s health care legislation. Jon Meacham, the Random House editor and Pulitzer winner for his Andrew Jackson biography, has written “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.” The book, which includes blurbs from such top historians as Gordon Wood and Doris Kearns Goodwin, was conceived in 2008, the year of Obama’s election.

“The appeal of the Jefferson book was in part of the emergence of a tall, cool, cerebral president who affected a dislike for politics, but was awfully good at it,” says Meacham, a former Newsweek editor.

Music to the eyes

A handful of works prove there is no age limit for the writing profession. Critic and anthologist M.H. Abrams, who turned 100 this summer, has a book of essays, “The Fourth Dimension of a Poem.” Herman Wouk, 97, and author of “The Caine Mutiny” and “The Winds of War” has a new and comic novel, “The Lawgiver.” Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 92, has a new book of verse, “Time of Useful Consciousness,” an expansive personal and social history that honors his beloved San Francisco.

Two of the season’s most notable music books come from another San Francisco institution – McSweeney’s, the publisher founded by Dave Eggers. Talking Heads leader David Byrne tracks the influence of his primary art form in “How Music Works.” Beck’s “Song Reader” is, in fact, a new album issued exclusively as sheet music. “Song Reader” is “an alternative,” McSweeney’s advises, “that enlists the listener in the tone of every track, and that’s as visually absorbing as a dozen gatefold LPs put together.”

Most rock stars will stick to the memoir: Neil Young, Rod Stewart, Pete Townshend, Courtney Love, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart. Stewart, whose memoir is called “Rod: The Autobiography,” said during a recent telephone interview that he enjoyed the work – talking into a microphone, jotting down notes, a bottle of wine at his side.

“Me and Keith (Richards, author of the million-selling ‘Life’) and Pete – we’ve done it all. We’ve been there and seen it and we have a lot of stories to tell,” says Stewart, who calls “Rod” an “uplifting book. It’s not like Keith’s book, which is very dark.”

Or so he’s heard: “I’m not a great reader,” he says with a raspy laugh.


Humor books include the complete “Calvin & Hobbes” and the latest Calvin Trillin verse, “Dogfight: An Occasionally Interrupted Narrative Poem About the Presidential Campaign.” But the main event is a clash of titans, and titles: Stephen Colbert’s “America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t” vs. The Onion’s “Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information.”

A promise from Colbert: “‘America Again’ will single-bookedly pull this country back from the brink. It features everything from chapters, to page numbers, to fonts.”

Sexed-up classics published

Now we know how Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson really felt about each other.

British e-publisher Clandestine Classics is releasing sexed-up editions of Sherlock Holmes, “Pride and Prejudice” and other classics, with erotic passages woven into the traditional texts.

That means Mr. Darcy “buried inside the depths” of Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice” and Dr. Watson declaring his “joy of knowing other men.”

Clandestine managing director Claire Siemaszkiewicz says she has always been drawn to “the underlying sexual tension” in older novels.

The new editions were started before the “Fifty Shades” phenomenon, but the release date was moved up to July 30 in hopes of attracting fans of E.L. James’ erotic trilogy.