MEEK AT THE MOVIES —- Lovelace ( 2.5 STARS )

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^ Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace in “Lovelace”

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Well I remember back in college (and no, I was not in college when “Deep Throat” was released in 1972) my dorm neighbor having a poster on his door of an old man with a shit-eating grin on his face and a T shirt saying “I choked Linda Lovelace to death.” At the time — pre-Viagra time — I found the image devilish and perverse, now I find the notion sad, ironic and somewhat misogynistic, sentiments reinforced by the new bio-pic “Lovelace,” which details the infamous porn star’s story from the POV of her controversial 1980 memoir, “Ordeal.”

For those not in the know, Linda Lovelace (born Linda Boreman) was the first adult performer to become a household name and a regular punchline for Johnny Carson and other late night talk show hosts as the free-love ’60s melted into the commercialism of the ’70s. Part of that was because she was simply the star of one of the first adult films with high quality production values and a (ahem) plot—one where Lovelace’s ingénue can’t find her clitoris because it’s in the back of her throat. The film caught fire (it would make 600 million, all Lovelace got was $1,250). Hugh Hefner (played with avuncular smarm by James Franco) was a fan, Lovelace got the red carpet treatment and some even embraced the film as an anthem of female sexual liberation, but behind closes doors, was a different story — one of abuse at the hands of her husband, Chuck Traynor.

As Lovelace, Amanda Seyfried (Les Misérables) smoothly carries off the tricky dichotomy of sex kitten and battered spouse, and not just as a victim or shooting star, but as one caught up and swept away by something momentous and out of her control. Peter Sarsgaard, taking on the thankless role of Traynor, adds some adroit and menacing flourishes, but the role’s a one-note and one of the many minor flaws that addle this film.

Over the years many have doubted Lovelace’s spin, so much so—and it’s depicted in the film—that the publishers made her take a lie detector before printing “Ordeal.” Filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman, who collaborated on “The Life and Times of Harvey Milk” and “The Celluloid Closet,” play the bio-pic straight up and pedantic, much like they did with “Howl,” though in telling Linda’s story, they piquantly delve into the business side of the industry, which oddly enough, is not as sleazy as you’d think. All the sleaze that there is in the film, is heaped on Traynor who shills out his wife out for quickies and worse. (Traynor, who it seems was addicted to porn stars, would later go onto marry Marilyn Chambers).

Lovelace herself only made a handful of adult movies and later joined with Gloria Steinem to speak out against the porn industry. She never hid from what she did and in that, Epstein and Friedman capture the soul of a woman caught between two extremes and unable to escape her past, yet able to come to terms with it as a mother, wife and daughter (of very conservative parents). It’s an intriguing and touching portrait that owes much to Seyfried. Like Lovelace, who died tragically in a 2002 car accident, she proves she’s more than just a pretty face and capable of so much more.

The eclectic array of pop-up cameos include Chloë Sevigny and Sharon Stone, two women also known for pushing sexual boundaries in film : Stone for her panty-less leg cross in “Basic Instinct” and Sevigny for performing full on fellatio in “Brown Bunny,” the same act that made Lovelace a worldwide sensation.

—– Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies

MEEK AT THE MOVIES : THIS IS THE END (rating : 3 ***)

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“This is the End” may be the most meta-vanity project ever to come out of Hollywood, where things meta usually don’t fly unless Charlie Kaufman is involved. The film co-written and co-directed by Seth Rogen has Rogen playing Seth Rogen — the asshole extrapolation of himself.  James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride all do the same. Baruchel is the one out of towner visiting Rogen in Los Angeles. Baruchel despises LA and just wants to hangout and smoke weed and watch 3D TV, but Rogen pries him off the couch and drags him to a house party at Franco’s manse.
Pot humor and pop up party guests like Rihanna keep the slow moving premise (Baruchel also hates Hill and is a bit of whining wet noodle to boot) alive, though there are nuggets of WTF humor that snap you out of the stupor : for example,  Michael Cera (yup, the anemic sweet wimp from “Juno”) doing blow and getting a rim job in the bathroom while sipping an effete cocktail that he seemingly relishes more than the sex act.
If that’s not an apocalyptic vision, the real apocalypse does arrive. A la the Rapture and Judgment Day, ‘good’ people are sucked up in blue tractor beams; the middlers and miscreants are left on Earth to perish in the building inferno. No one at Franco’s party gets beamed up to say the least, and, as the hills of Hollywood burn, it takes a while before the revelation sets in, and when it does, the sink hole from hell (literally) opens up and takes all but the main lads.
Most everything on view is aflame, and the six performers bunker up in Franco’s art-deco fortress, smoke more weed, divvy up supplies and jockey for masturbation rights to the lone porn mag in the house. McBride, so funny and unshakable in “Pineapple Express,” turns out to be the loose cannon, depleting the supplies in a matter of minutes; and Emma Watson shows up to provide a sexual distraction, not to mention dissension and Potter jokes.
This film, ostensibly birthed by the 2007 short film “Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse,” gets teeth from its self-deprecating nature. When wondering if they’ll be saved, one the insightful lot remarks, “They always save actors and famous people first.” One of the film’s wittier turns has Franco breaking out the video-camera from “127 Hours” and the boys making a cheeky, low-fi sequel to “Pineapple Express.” Things that don’t work so well are the heavily peddled spoof of “The Exorcist.” It’s dull, uninspired flatness will leave your head spinning.
Outside creatures that look like the minions of the Gatekeeper in “Ghostbusters” or some rubber costume baddie in a Scooby Doo episode tear up the turf. Eventually the posse must venture out; and when they do, the scale of special FX won’t wow you so much as make you wonder how such a hokey skit idea stretched into a feature length film got such big dollars.
“This is the End,” won’t get you any deeper into the personas on display or change your perception of them, no matter how you feel about them, but it will make you laugh — and test your patience a bit too.
—- Tom Meek  / “Meek at the Movies”