Saturday, August 17, 2013

Movie Reviews-Lovelace, The Conspiracy, Bullet to the Head

directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
It's tricky making a Hollywood movie about adult entertainment. The producer and/or director must decide if the adult performer is a victim/survivor to be pitied and helped or a low life scumbag who's responsible for their own decisions. Lovelace goes for the first interpretation. Linda Lovelace was an adult actress whose performance in the seminal film Deep Throat and skill at a certain sex act made her a household name in the early seventies. This movie kicked off an acceptance of a certain bluntness and crudity about sex, a penetration of mainstream culture by porn that is ongoing until this day. Strange as it seems now, Deep Throat was a pop culture phenomenon. Late night comedians riffed on it. The film uses actual news footage from that era. The New York Times ran ads for it!!! Roger Ebert reviewed it. Couples attended it together. Not being Travis Bickle I can't imagine taking a date to an adult movie but the mating habits of the early seventies species Citizenus Americanus were odd indeed. 

Lovelace is based on Linda Lovelace's (Boreman) autobiography, Ordeal. Linda denounced her past actions and claimed her husband coerced her into everything. She said her scenes were nothing more than forcible rape. Some people disputed those allegations. But Linda did pass a lie detector test regarding some statements in her book. Good luck trying to sort those claims out. Linda became a crusader against the adult industry who nonetheless later claimed feminists had used her as a tool for their own interests just like adult industry producers.

Unsurprisingly the film is sympathetic to Linda. Somewhat strangely though the film also (inadvertently?) softens Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), Linda's abusive husband. Domestic abuse is an ugly frightening thing. But in this movie there is maybe only one scene that reaches the viewer with the emotional power of films like Things Behind the SunWhat's Love Got to Do With It, or Once Were Warriors. So even though the viewer will definitely hate Chuck I don't think that the directors succeeded in getting us to have the white hot searing level of visceral disdain, rage and contempt that we had for the male villains in the three other films mentioned. I'm not saying that you will feel sympathy for Chuck. You won't. But Chuck is a cipher. 

Why would Linda would be with him? His intelligence, swagger and ambition seemed very low. This film has toplessness, brief nudity and some violence.  I think this film might have played well on Lifetime or OWN. This was neither Wonderland, a frightening look at the scummier side of that industry via a brutal murder/robbery that adult actor John Holmes allegedly helped arrange, nor was it Boogie Nights, an overarching morality tale about the death of idealism, lost youth, family break up and the brutal imperatives of capitalism and misogyny.

In what seems like a hackneyed intro Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) is a guileless girl who is already viewed with disappointment by her uptight distant judgmental mother (Sharon Stone). Her somewhat uninvolved father (Robert Patrick) is a WW2 vet and former cop. A chance encounter with a laid back Chuck Traynor at a roller rink leads to dates and rather outrageously Traynor pleasuring Linda in her parents' kitchen during dinner. Shortly after that they're married. Traynor owns a restaurant and club but he's obviously a pimp. The movie never explicitly spells this out but if you, like 99% of the viewing audience are smarter than Linda is depicted, you'll pick up on this quickly enough. After Linda bails Traynor out of jail because some of his employees were turning tricks in the parking lot, (completely without his knowledge of course) he tells her that they have no money left. Needless to say he has an idea. Linda Boreman becomes Linda Lovelace. He's been grooming her for just this sort of thing.

This film didn't emotionally engage me. I'm not a woman. But I've been around enough women to know that, generally speaking, a new bride would probably not look kindly upon her husband's suggestion, really more order, that she have sex with other people on film for money. Linda was initially ok with this. The film can't tell us why but it suggests that the ugly relationship Linda has with her mother might have been responsible. The first time we see the mother she's yelling at Linda. 

I wouldn't necessarily say her mother wore the pants in the family but apparently she was the one who disciplined Linda. The movie should have gone deeper into the complex family dynamics that made Linda ripe for exploitation by Traynor. Do people flee from one domineering relationship to another because that's all they know? Maybe. The film wasn't ultimately satisfying. It just lurches from scene to scene. Lovelace faithfully recreates the early seventies feeling of wide lapels, wah-wah pedals, poodle cuts, Cooper Black and Harlow fonts and anything goes sexuality. Seyfried does an ok job. She shows Linda's vulnerability. 

Lovelace brings in some big names in backing roles but you never forget that they're acting, except for Bobby Cannavale as a mobbed up film producer. Other actors/actresses include Hank Azaria (from The Simpsons but unfortunately he does not do the Chief Wiggums voice), James Franco, Chris Noth, Debi Mazar, Chloe Sevigny, Wes Bentley, Adam Brody, and Eric Roberts. Noth oozes understated menace as the paternalistic mafioso handling movie distribution. To an extent, he tries to look out for Linda. He's not fond of Chuck. This is okay viewing if you aren't expecting a masterpiece.

The Conspiracy
directed by Christopher MacBride
I think I mentioned before that I have a soft spot for conspiracy theories and therefore a soft spot for movies about conspiracy theories. So I watched this film. This movie is a faux-documentary complete with lost footage a la The Blair Witch Project. It tells the supposedly true tales of two young filmmakers, Aaron (Aaron Poole) and Jim (James Gilbert) who decide to film a documentary on conspiracy theories and the people who promulgate them. They come to focus on the charismatic, honest, good hearted and quite possibly loony Terrance G (Alan Peterson), an evangelical conspiracy theorist who combines incredible and occasionally offsetting intensity with a rueful sense of humor. Terrance G is looking for the Unified Field of Conspiracy theories, something that will tie in 9/11 with the World Wars with the Kennedy Assassination and so on. He thinks there's a secret group behind these events.

As Terrance explains to his skeptical chroniclers, it's no good if only he knows the truth or if he's the only one searching. He thinks it's critical to share what he knows with other people so that maybe tomorrow one other person is convinced , a week later maybe two people are listening, a month after that maybe four people are listening seriously and so on. To that end he puts on his sandwich board, pulls out his trusty megaphone and trolls the streets for converts. This generally doesn't work. The film depicts this in a pretty sensitive, almost heroic, manner. It reminded me of the Jehovah's Witnesses who continue to show up on your doorstep with an earnest smile despite being rejected and/or insulted almost everywhere they go. Heck it brought to mind some hardcore socialists in my own circle of friends and family who are convinced despite all available evidence that the Revolution is at hand. Even though Terrance knows he will be mocked, spat at, harassed, insulted and possibly assaulted, he continues on.

One day, while conversing with Aaron and Jim, Terrance notices a man on a bicycle who he's convinced has been following him for weeks. He calls the man out. Of course Aaron and Jim think Terrance has lost it. But soon after that incident Terrance disappears. And his apartment has been ransacked. The police don't appear to be all that interested. Aaron and Jim retrieve some left over information and news clippings from Terrance's apartment. They start to look more seriously into what Terrance was doing. As is later explained in the documentary that was probably a bad idea. It's on the level of greasing yourself up with seal fat, cutting open an artery and going swimming with great white sharks during mating season sort of bad idea.

The film heightens the sense of paranoia by shooting closeup with handheld cameras and not introducing that many more characters. Names and faces of some characters are blacked out or redacted. Unfortunately the film's final third is utterly predictable but nonetheless it does share with us quite a few tense moments. It was somewhere between Eyes Wide Shut, They Live and Kill List. This was a low budget movie. It does combine some real life uncomfortable questions with flights of fancy. This was a passable film, not outrageously good but not bad. If you are open to the idea that there are secrets being discussed and elites with interests that aren't necessarily in line with your concerns you may enjoy this movie. Also if you have ever jumped both feet into doing something only to get a sick sense later on that things are going drastically wrong, you're in way over your head and you can't find your way home you may feel some empathy with some people here.

Bullet To The Head
directed by Walter Hill
Sylvester Stallone mumbles and grumbles through another action movie. Would that the story were as impressive as his physique. Of course I don't necessarily look for great stories in action movies so there's that. Walter Hill needs no introduction of course. The man directed 48 Hrs, The Warriors, Red Heat, Last Man Standing, Trespass, Undisputed, and The Getaway. He produced Prometheus and Alien among other films. So he's a heavy hitter. This movie was in its way both a Western and a buddy movie. My issue with the film was something that was hard to initially put my finger on but became more and more obvious as the film continued to progress.
Stallone's character takes almost ALL of the good lines. He's shown as much more competent than his partner. He always has the last word in arguments with his partner. And he won't stop dropping snide little asides about his partner's race. This I guess is supposed to be ethnic banter showing their comfort level and how close they are but his Asian partner doesn't really give very much back. The co-star was supposed to be the (Caucasian) actor Thomas Jane but the producers wanted to have a non-white in the role to hopefully reach a larger (presumably overseas) market. So over the objections of both Stallone and Hill, Jane was dropped and Sung Kang was inserted. So I can't help but wonder if the decidedly secondary role and the racial stuff are deliberate digs not only at the actor but at the producer. Either way it didn't work. I think that if Jane had remained in the role the movie would have depicted more of a battle of equals. 
Anyway, Stallone is a well dressed New Orleans hitman named Jimmy Bobo. He works with his partner and surrogate son Louis Blanchard (Jon Seda). They've been together for about six years. On a hit assignment in a hotel room they take out a corrupt cop named Hank Greeley. Shortly afterwards they adjourn to a bar where they're supposed to get paid. While Bobo is in the can, Keegan (Jason Momoa, Khal Drogo from A Game of Thrones) who has been watching the duo decides to make his move. 

Showing great dexterity, he moves through the crowded bar and quickly kills Louis. He then follows Bobo into the bathroom and tries to kill him too. But Bobo doesn't like other men walking up to him while he's relieving himself and is on guard. A short brutal fight breaks out. Keegan escapes. Washington D.C. police officer Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) arrives in town. Evidently Greeley was also former D.C. police who was known to be shady. In short time Kwon has sussed out Greeley's connection to Bobo and Blanchard and tracked down Bobo. He offers a partnership to Bobo which is eventually grudgingly accepted. The two men try to figure out who wanted Greeley dead and who is Keegan working for. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Adebisi from Oz) has a meaty role as the Big Bad and Sarah Shahi has a predictable but delectable role as the babe who must be saved. 

She is Bobo's daughter and Kwon's love interest. Hello! Christian Slater is suitably slimy. The man just looks greasy. If you think of someone who is likely to stab you in the back Slater's face always comes to mind. There is a fair amount of nudity and lots of violence. However the violence is almost cartoonish. I don't mean in how it's handled. I mean the visuals don't quite look real. I did like how although both Keegan and Bobo are bad guys they also have a code. Each of them will get very angry when this code is broken. Momoa in particular seemed to be having fun with this. He's a pretty evil guy but he does have a sense of humor. However this wasn't a movie to see in theaters. It's definitely a free rental or a what the hell I'm bored type of film.
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