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Saturday, November 9, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: LOVELACE (2013); SYRUP (2013); and INAPPROPRIATE COMEDY (2013)

LOVELACE
(US - 2013)

A biopic of 1970s XXX icon Linda Lovelace that plays as if the entire script was just a bullet-pointed outline, LOVELACE is so shallow, glossed-over, and obvious that it makes her Wikipedia page look like a model of diligent, Pulitzer-worthy research.  Judging from the amount of recognizable names who have blink-and-you'll-miss-them cameos (Chloe Sevigny's name is prominently displayed on the poster, but she has literally one second of screen time as a journalist--I timed it), it's possible that a longer, more BOOGIE NIGHTS-styled screenplay was written and filmed.  As it is at 90 minutes, it feels like a film that was gutted in the editing stage.  Every character is a caricature and most of the actors aren't onscreen long enough to make any impression, though Amanda Seyfried tries her best to make it work.  The film opens in 1970, with 21-year-old Linda Boreman (Seyfried) living with her parents--security guard John (Robert Patrick) and control-freak Dorothy (Sharon Stone)--in Davie, FL.  Linda meets charming bar owner Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) and she quickly runs off and marries him.  Chuck has a coke-fueled dark side, always strapped for cash, abusing Linda and goading her into mob-funded porn after schooling her in the intricacies of fellatio.  This leads to the 1972's DEEP THROAT and a subsequent media frenzy over the controversial, groundbreaking adult film .  Of course, Linda gets all the attention--from fans, from the producers (Chris Noth and Bobby Cannavale), and from Hugh Hefner (James Franco)--which drives Chuck to more violent and abusive acts, including pimping Linda out to traveling businessmen, doctors at conventions, and anyone willing to pay.  He even allows a group of men to gang-rape her in a hotel room while he waits in the hallway.


Gerard Damiano (played here by Hank Azaria), the director of DEEP THROAT, died in 2008, but his son Gerard Jr denounced LOVELACE shortly after the film's limited release ($356,000 on 118 screens), saying it doesn't paint an accurate picture of his father or the making of DEEP THROAT.  A few potent examples of horrifically antiquated attitudes pop up in the ensuing wreckage:  Linda asking her mother for help and being told to go home and obey her husband; and some cops driving up on Traynor and a bruised, bloodied Linda fighting in the street, seeing that she's who she is and blaming the victim, telling Traynor "Sir, take her home and clean her up" as one asks for her autograph.  But otherwise, the entire film is so hurried and cut so fast (and not in a "last third of GOODFELLAS" kind-of way), that it plays like you're watching a long "Previously on..." recap before the latest episode of a series called LOVELACE.  Screenwriter Andy Bellin (who wrote the excellent and unseen 2011 film TRUST), and directors Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman (who previously collaborated on acclaimed documentaries like 1989's COMMON THREADS: STORIES FROM THE QUILT and 1995's THE CELLULOID CLOSET, and Epstein directed 1984's THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK) are in such a mad rush to tell this story that none of these characters have a chance to get established.  It plays fast and loose with facts, completely disregarding Lovelace's post-DEEP THROAT drug addiction because they're afraid she might look bad (her two children are credited as technical advisors).  This LOVELACE is only interested in being an R-rated Lifetime movie about a battered wife.  Granted, that's a major part of the story, but shouldn't this go--pardon the pun--deeper? Seyfried sinks her teeth into the role, probably thinking she'd be in a more honest and courageous film instead of the resulting one that gets bogged down with distracting cameos: in addition to Sevigny in perhaps the most frivolous role a past Oscar nominee has ever been given, Wes Bentley has one scene as a photographer; Eric Roberts shows up for maybe 25 seconds because he was in the similar STAR 80, and there's also small roles for Juno Temple, Debi Mazar, and Adam Brody as Harry Reems.  Sarah Jessica Parker's performance as Gloria Steinem was cut out entirely. Stone and Patrick do some nice work with what they're given (Patrick is heartbreaking in one very good scene where he answers an early-morning phone call from Linda and tears well in his eyes as he quietly, sadly tells her "I saw your movie...did we do something wrong?"), and the production design is strong (perhaps Cannon cover band Millennium Films used the same '70s scenery on THE ICEMAN), but there's some really sloppy period detail elsewhere.  As the film opens in 1970, Chuck is talking about THE FRENCH CONNECTION (released in 1971) and listening to Elvin Bishop's "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," which wasn't recorded until 1975 and became a hit in 1976.  Those are the least of LOVELACE's problems, but they're just two small indicators of its paper-thin carelessness, but to somewhat defend the filmmakers, there's a lot of red flags signaling that this thing was just massacred in post-production, so it's a legitimate possibility that this mess isn't entirely their fault. (R, 93 mins)


SYRUP
(US - 2013)

Despite cult novelist Max Barry co-writing this adaptation of his 1999 debut, SYRUP the movie ends up fairly neutered and toothless.  It eliminates several characters and, for obvious reasons, the centrality of Coca-Cola to the plot, but it also loses much of its sharpness and bite.  On the page, Barry is a master satirist with a keen eye on global corporatization, advertising, and the shallow importance of image (his 2003 corporate dystopia novel Jennifer Government, optioned by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney but thus far never made into a film, is probably his masterpiece).  On the screen, however, SYRUP only occasionally displays its source's cleverness and razor-sharp wit, instead devoting far too much time to a dull romantic subplot that never leads anywhere.  In a not-too-far-from-reality NYC where image and branding are everything, aspiring marketing wiz Scat (Shiloh Fernandez) pitches a sure thing to an icy Addy Cola executive named 6 (Amber Heard):  a new energy drink called Fukk.  6 takes on Scat as a partner but cuts him out of the deal, bringing Scat's silent, wears-shades-24/7 roommate Sneaky Pete (Kellan Lutz) onboard instead.  6 feels guilty, even though it's "just business," and when Sneaky Pete becomes a media sensation, she finds her star dimming with Addy execs and brings Scat back on for a new marketing campaign that presents people trying to steal cans of Fukk and having a Fukk vending machine fall on them.  When a dumb teenager is killed imitating what he saw in the ad, 6 and Scat are thrown under the bus and team up with rival cola company to create Kok, which Scat pitches as a celebrity beverage that the average person can't attain, thereby driving up its value.  In one of the film's few moments that accurately reflects the tone of the book, Scat explains to the CEO that "the success of this product depends on people being shallow, superficial, self-absorbed, greedy, and desperate for attention."


It's too bad Barry and director/co-writer Aram Rappaport spend so much time on the Will They or Won't They? romance between Scat and 6.  It's not interesting and Heard and Fernandez have no chemistry.   It's hard to tell who the intended audience for this is, but the film works best when it's making scathing digs at celebrity and image (when pitching Fukk to 6, Scat says the taste doesn't matter, people will convince themselves that they like it, and that "it's like drinking irony"), but those bits, so prevalent in the book, are few and far between here.  Instead, Barry and Rappaport go for cheap and easy wordplay along the lines of "Why have a Fukk when you can down a Kok?" and a TV ad with Kirstie Alley exclaiming "Everybody wants a Fukk!"  It's mostly a misfire, but as far as satirical looks at the advertising world go, it's a classic compared to something like BRANDED, but that's not exactly an endorsement.  Boasting a $2.5 million budget, SYRUP was released on just one screen after two years on the shelf, grossing $663. It's too bad that, in adapting his book about a dumbed-down culture, Barry had to dumb it down himself.  Sounds like a good subject for his next novel. (R, 90 mins)


INAPPROPRIATE COMEDY
(US - 2013)

If you've ever wondered what it would take to make MOVIE 43 look good, then behold the thoroughly excruciating INAPPROPRIATE COMEDY, a sketch comedy home movie directed by annoying ShamWow and Slap Chop pitchman Vince Offer.  Before becoming an infomercial star, Offer tried his hand at KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE knockoffs with something called THE UNDERGROUND COMEDY MOVIE (1999), which boasted appearances by people like Karen Black, Slash, Michael Clarke Duncan, Gena Lee Nolin, and Joey Buttafuoco.  Having failed to get the message that Hollywood wants nothing to do with him, Offer is back with this atrocity, which presents a series of unrelated and recurring skits that are seen as apps on Offer's tablet.  We start with a topical 127 HOURS parody ("I've been down here for one hundred twentysomething hours...") before going to "Flirty Harry," a DIRTY HARRY spoof with Adrien Brody (yes, that Adrien Brody) as a gay cop in pink capris spouting tough-guy one-liners like "Go ahead, make me gay" and "Go ahead, blow me."   Offer keeps up the winning streak with "Blackass," a thug parody of JACKASS, which basically involves white people being scared by gangstas.  This is followed by "The Amazing Racist," where Ari Shaffir insults various races and ethnicities under the guise of a hidden camera show, taking potshots at Asian drivers by offering driving classes "for the round-eye impaired," then going to a Jewish market with a petition to get Jews to apologize for killing Jesus and offering a coupon for 50% off on rhinoplasties, and finally, confronting black people on a beach and offering them watermelon, fried chicken, basketballs, and a free, one-way boat trip back to Africa.  There's also "Porno Review," where Rob Schneider and Michelle Rodriguez (yes, that Michelle Rodriguez) review porn flicks like SUSHI MAMA and SPERM LAKE while a guy in the row behind them jerks off into a tub of popcorn.  The film is bookended by footage that Offer shot with Lindsay Lohan in 2010, imitating Marilyn Monroe's THE SEVEN-YEAR ITCH, standing over a subway grate as wind from a passing train blows her skirt up, and then opening fire on some invasive paparazzi.


This is bad.  Like, Friedberg/Seltzer, DATE MOVIE/MEET THE SPARTANS bad.  Shelved for two years and sloppily-assembled (Lohan's scenes were shot for a different Offer project that was never finished, and some footage is even borrowed from the 14-year-old UNDERGROUND COMEDY MOVIE) in what seems like Offer's bid to position himself as the Al Adamson of unwatchable sketch comedies, INAPPROPRIATE COMEDY actually manages to go its entire miserable duration without a single laugh.  How do you spoof comedy reality shows?  You can't spoof JACKASS because it's already funny.  Offer and the writers (Brody among them!) think being offensive and "shocking" is the joke, much like Friedberg & Seltzer think making a reference is all that's required for something to be instantly hilarious.  But beyond that, what the fuck is Adrien Brody doing in this and willingly accepting a writing credit?  He's OK with this but tried to halt the US release of Dario Argento's GIALLO?  You know who the only winner is with INAPPROPRIATE COMEDY?  Cuba Gooding, Jr.  Thanks to Brody's humiliating participation in this, Gooding's post-JERRY MAGUIRE slide is no longer the most embarrassing career immolation for an Academy Award winner.  All is forgiven, Mr. Gooding.  But Brody?  What the hell?  You've worked with the revered likes of Argento, Roman Polanski, Spike Lee, Peter Jackson, Terrence Malick, Wes Anderson, and Woody Allen. You like hanging out with Vince Offer?  Fine.  Do it on your own time.  I expect to find Rob Schneider and Lindsay Lohan in something like this.  But you have a reputation to uphold.  Well, you had one.  (R, 84 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

2 comments:

  1. Excellent, well-thought out and well-written analyses. You succeed in making me look forward to... well, none of them. I've seen Syrup and agree it misses, though Amber Heard takes the pain out of anything she's in. Especially good butchery here.

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  2. Sigh, LOVELACE.... Among the other factual errors during the shoot of DEEP THROAT: the nurse is played by a busty brunette, not a toothy blonde like original star Carol Connors; the cinematographer is a long-haired hippy dippy type, not the swarthy Brazilian Joao Fernandes; Lovelace's car is the wrong color; the Chris Noth mobster character is a fictitious creation, and none of the Mob were heroes to Linda Lovelace, nor were they on the set of DEEP THROAT. They were back in New York waiting for their quickie movie to be delivered. Adam Brody is a terrible Harry Reems, too, and Debi Mazar is frankly too attractive to play Dolly Sharp (I never thought I'd say that). In fact, Hank Azaria is one of the few who emerges from this train wreck alive, and thankfully the reputation of auteur Gerard Damiano won't be damaged after his character is basically ignored after two scenes.

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