(Video on Demand, September 2013) The story of Linda Lovelace, first-ever porn star thanks to a starring role in the wildly popular Deep Throat, is a classic case of she-said-she-then-said: Lovelace (co-)wrote four autobiographies, and their content varied with time: The first two are very much pro-pornography at a time where she was riding Deep Throat’s popularity, the last two very much against it at a time when she was campaigning against obscenity and free to speak against her abusive then-husband. Lovelace unusually tries to grapple with this complex portrait by presenting Lovelace’s life twice: first as a success story, and then as the darker, more abusive version of it. It may not completely work (the scenes become sketches rather than flow harmoniously from one another, and the simplification of Linda-the-victim is unfortunate given the complexity of her life after porn and after being used by feminist activism), but it’s an interesting attempt that brings an unusual twist to the usual bio-drama genre. What is undeniable, though, is Amanda Seyfried’s performance in what may be the first truly adult role she’s played so far –far away from the post-teenage ingénues that fill her filmography. As for the rest of the film, well, it convincingly re-creates the seventies, features a darkly amusing cameo by James Franco as Hugh Hefner and has a nearly-unrecognizable Sharon Stone in a maternal role (!) alongside a gruff Robert Patrick. Lovelace may not be the complete story of Linda Boreman, but it goes further than could have been expected in presenting both sides of it.
(On DVD, June 2011) At a time where the video rental business is crumbling, the Direct-to-Video market is undergoing a curious rehabilitation, even when it comes to cheap action movies. Helped along with polyvalent digital cameras and cheaper post-production processes, DTV films now look better than ever, and manage to sport scripts, actors and direction that are well above the mediocrity we’ve gotten used to in movies that never played in theaters. S.W.A.T.: Firefight looks like a perfect example of the form: Sequel-in-name-only to a better-known theatrical action film solely for marketing purposes (there’s practically no story link to the original), it’s a reasonably entertaining way to spend an hour and a half. Part of the appeal is due to square-jawed Gabriel Macht in the lead role, as a Los Angeles SWAT leader sent to Detroit in order to train the local team. Refreshingly, the first half of the film adopts a convincingly realistic attitude in portraying a competent SWAT team with minimal dysfunction: S.W.A.T.: Firefight is never as interesting as when it’s showing off the team training, bonding and working together in showcase sequences. The choice to set the film in the ruins of Detroit is intriguing. Shannon Kane makes a good impression as a tough new recruit. Unfortunately, the second half of the film gets farther away from the SWAT rationale the longer it focuses on another improbably all-powerful antagonist who takes a personal dislike to the hero. It’s not as it Robert Patrick isn’t good, but that the film becomes a lot more predictable once the plot is sketched, and far less interesting as a result. (It also ends a bit too quickly.) At least the film moves with energy; director Benny Boom uses his limited budget effectively, even though touches like a gun fastened to a camera give an unpleasant video-game jolt out of the film’s experience. While the picture quality can’t escape a certain video softness, S.W.A.T.: Firefight looks good, goes by pleasantly, scores a few good scenes and exceeds the low expectation associated with a DTV film.
(In theaters, October 2006) For once, the trailers weren’t lying: If you thought that dumb action movies starring bodybuilders went out of vogue with the end of the eighties, take heart in this renaissance. The Marine is exactly the type of movie where stuff blows up real good, allowing the hero to escape with only nanoseconds to spare. The plot is as simplistic as it can be (robbers kidnap hero’s wife; chase ensues) and the action never attains a superior level of interest, but the film proves to be relatively enjoyable on its own terms. The car chase is particularly fun, and the dozens of explosions never get old. What helps is the film’s self-awareness: It’s stuffed with small inconsequential scenes that almost act as self-parody, from a car-shop discussion on the inappropriateness of minivans to the villain flirting with the heroine in the middle of a chase. Small nonsense touches such as an Iraqi “Al Quaeda compound” with tanks and the South Carolina Highway patrol force using a high-performance sports car as a cruiser (!) add to the fun. Two of the film’s best gags come from a mirror glance and a small musical cue, both meant as references to classic films. Robert Patrick chews scenery like he’s enjoying the raw taste of it, while John Cena doesn’t have to do much but look stoic. Still, what keeps The Marine from being considered a classic guilty pleasure is that despite the potential of its elements, it keeps holding back on its own insanity. Worse: it’s never entirely tonally consistent, goofing up by (for instance) making a bad guy somewhat sympathetic before killing him thirty seconds later. Oops. Action fans craving some old-school payback action will find a lot to like here, but I suspect that the film will have no cross-over appeal for anyone else.