★★ / ★★★★
Before bearing the stage name Linda Lovelace and starring in Gerard Damiano’s pornographic picture called “Deep Throat,” twenty-one-year-old and somewhat of a prude Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfriend) meets Chuck (Peter Sarsgaard) outside a roller skating rink and she is quickly won over by his charm. Soon enough, Linda decides to move out of her parents’ house and gets married to Chuck. When money becomes a problem eventually, Linda’s well-connected husband convinces Damiano to allow her to star in an adult film that will eventually gross over half a billion dollars.
Though “Lovelace,” directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friendman, is wise to avoid a hyperbolic route in telling Linda’s tragic story, it is limited by an unimpressive screenplay by Andy Bellin. It employs an unnecessarily confusing non-linear approach disguised as so-called complexity, but just about anyone with a discerning eye is likely able to see right through the fog. Why not just tell the story straight?
The first half is not especially strong but it is somewhat engaging because Seyfried’s saucer-like eyes embody a vulnerable, girl-next-door innocence. It is critical what we believe that the lead character is just like any other girl living in suburbia so we feel some sort of impact once we see her thrusted into a world of unblinking cameras and men who think with something else other than their brain. There are times when I wanted to protect and nurture Linda as if she were a wounded bird.
But the pacing is unforgivingly fast in that it fails to allow us to absorb small but important moments. It races to the making of the infamous pornographic movie and slows down significantly. Not allowing us to spend enough time with the important people in Linda’s life before her superstardom is a problem because we have but a tiny understanding, mostly based on assumptions, as to why people are acting the way they do. As a result, for the most part, Linda’s father (Robert Patrick) appears largely absent while her mother (Sharon Stone) comes off vindictive and controlling. Patrick and Stone have one or two good scenes but there is only a thin dimension to their characters as a whole.
It switches gears halfway through by going back to the beginning of Linda and Chuck’s marriage in order to provide an alternative view when it comes to the dynamics of their relationship. This is a miscalculation because there are more than enough clues—some very obvious—that point to an unhappy union. Explaining every detail disrupts the rhythm of the story being told and I found myself questioning when it would eventually move forward.
I wanted to see more interactions between Seyfried and Juno Temple, the latter playing Linda’s best friend named Patsy. I suspected a lot of their scenes did not make it through the editing room because some of the scenes that did make it onto the final cut hint at a possible arc. For instance, in the first half, Patsy is almost reckless in pushing Linda try to new things. In the latter half, she actually hopes that her friend will take the time and consider her options.
It is most unfortunate that the material’s priorities are, for the most part, misplaced. A person’s story is best told through subtleties so that the audience can appreciate what makes his or her trials special enough to warrant being put into celluloid. Though “Lovelace” has good performances all around, the screenplay is simply not ready to dig through hidden depths.
Total Recall (1990)
★★★ / ★★★★
Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) had a recurring nightmare about being with a brunette (Rachel Ticotin) in Mars. Feeling like he needed a break from his job, he decided to get an operation done in which scientists would upload memories of him going on a vacation onto his brain. The operation failed (with disastrous results) because, as it turned out, the current memory Douglas perceived to be his real life was simply artificial. Douglas decided to go to Mars and face a corporate leader (Ronny Cox) who was behind the charade. However, before he left, he had to face his wife (Sharon Stone) who felt strongly against his course of action. The first few minutes of the film did not give me a good impression. I thought the acting was laughable, especially from the lead, and I wasn’t quite sure if the campiness was intentional. But as it went on, I became more impressed with its creativity in terms of the questions it brought up regarding which reality was real, the technologies that defined the future, and the intense action sequences. I had fun with its many product placements which were popular back in the late 80s but lost selling power after twenty years. Furthermore, for a science fiction film, I did not expect it to have so much blood. There were times when I felt like I was watching a horror film. The picture constantly changed gears. It wasn’t just about Douglas’ quest to find his true identity. There was a subplot about humans and mutants in Mars who decided to join forces and rebel against the greedy corporate leader. Cox’ character was determined to keep the element that could ultimately create atmosphere in Mars for himself for the sake of cash flow. Slow death of dozens of lives due to a lack of oxygen meant absolutely nothing to him. In a nutshell, I was convinced that he was a villain worth experiencing a painful demise. “Total Recall,” based on a short story by Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” and directed by Paul Verhoeven, was a very entertaining film because it had a plethora of ideas that shaped and defined its underlying themes. Impressive special and visual effects were abound which helped to elevate our perception of the futuristic world. After the main character’s discovery that his life was a simply a fabrication, every scene that followed was thrilling action scene. But there was a question that lingered up until the final scene: Was everything we saw reality or was it the “perfect” fantasy vacation that Douglas asked for?
★★★★ / ★★★★
Based on a book by Nicholas Pileggi, “Casino” was about a casino owner (Robert De Niro) and his childhood friend who worked for the Mafia (Joe Pesci) whose bonds were tested on three fronts: their personal relationship, their businesses and a prostitute (Sharon Stone) with a penchant for money and power. But that’s only the surface of this deeply layered film expertly directed by Martin Scorsese. It was a strange feeling because although I found the film to be really complex in terms of how connected everyone was and how malleable their loyalties were, there were times when I thought it did not have a story. I felt like I was dropped into these characters’ lives and I was forced to watch their lives unfold from the 1970s until the 1980’s. The acting here was top-notch: De Niro had this suave swagger going on, Pesci was dangerous but there was something about him that I could not help but like and Stone was the kind of character who one could not help but hate. The way the three collided was very fun to watch because there were times when, like in Scorsese’s “Cape Fear,” everything was so exaggerated to the point where it was borderline amusing. I was absolutely in love with the script because, through narration, the characters were able to provide insight about their work and the decisions they made despite the fact that they knew they were going to regret it in the long run. I felt like the characters were actual people instead of just cardboard caricatures. Almost everything about this film was big: the ideas, the dark undertones, the dynamics of marriage and friendship. But I loved about it most was that it was able to analyze Las Vegas as one of the most glamorous places in the world but at the same time one of the ugliest places in the world. The way Scorsese played with that duality was fascinating to me because not only did he apply it as a metaphor for the characters, I think he pointed the finger at us–how out brilliant ideations do not always coincide with the grimy actualities. I also enjoyed how Scorsese viewed corruption as an almost necessary survival instinct for one to thrive in Las Vegas. Its three-hour running time was definitely a challenge (I took a break somewhere in the middle) but once I was hooked, I could not help but absorb it all. Some argue that picture was way too long and got bogged down by the marriage drama that pervaded the second half. I couldn’t disagree more because De Niro’s character deeply valued trust. I thought the second half made the movie that much richer because I understood him a bit more, given that we got to see him outside of the casino. That second half also gave us a chance to see De Niro and Pesci collide outside of the business world onto a more personal arena. Fans of Scorsese definitely should not miss this project because I think it’s one of his best. I only wish I had seen it sooner.
Broken Flowers (2005)
★★ / ★★★★
It all started with a pink letter from an old flame with a message written in red that Don Johnston (Bill Murray) is a father of a nineteen-year-old boy. Don, having been dumped by his most recent girlfriend (Julie Delpy), is serious about finding the mother of his son so he makes a list of his former lovers and visits them across America. I liked the premise of the film but the execution was a bit weak for me. I thought the set-up of the story went for too long: the scenes with Jeffrey Wright as Don’s friend who’s enthusiastic about everything may be amusing once in a while but most of their scenes together did not really contribute to the big picture. When Murray finally met the various women in his life (Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton), the picture only spent about five minutes for the characters to interact. Five minutes would have worked with a more efficient director or writing but this film needed an extra ten or fifteen minutes with each women. It simply wasn’t enough and was somewhat unforgivable because I thought that the movie was supposed to be about a man who realized how much he missed out on these women and why he was now a lonely aging guy with no wife and child. Those intermissions after he met each women which consisted of driving around and sleeping could have instead been used to explore his former relationships and why some of them were very unhappy when they saw him. It was such a shame because the actresses featured are very talented and they really could’ve elevated this film to a new level. Instead, I felt that it was ashamed to explore the underlying emotions and would rather take the route of dry comedy with too many coincidences and potential explanations. Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, if it weren’t for Murray’s performance, I would’ve been more critical of this film because it was borderline pretentious about the journey of a lonely man. Those little character quirks such as the lead character’s desperation to find anything pink that might give him a clue to who was the one who sent him the letter took me out of the experience. A similar storyline reminded me of Adam Brooks’ “Definitely, Maybe” only that picture was a lot more fun to watch because it had small payoffs throughout even though it was a more typical Hollywood fare. I say see it for Murray because he really does nail characters who says a thousand words with silence and glances. If only the material was able to match his talent.