A Movie A Day #121: Frank Nitti: The Enforcer (1988, directed by Michael Switzer)


Everyone knows who Al Capone was but few people remember Frank Nitti.  Nicknamed “The Enforcer,” Nitti was Capone’s right-hand man.  When Big Al was sent to federal prison for not paying his taxes, Nitti was the one who kept things going in Chicago.  While Al was losing his mind in Florida, Nitti was the one who moved the Chicago Outfit away from prostitution and into the labor racket.  Today, if anyone remembers Frank Nitti, it is probably because of the scene in Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables where Eliot Ness tosses him off of a building.  In real life, Nitti survived the Untouchable era just to become one of the few crime bosses to die by his own hand.  In 1943, With the feds closing in on him, Nitti shot himself in a Chicago rail yard.

Frank Nitti: The Enforcer was a made-for-TV movie that told the story of Nitti’s life.  Broadcast a year after The Untouchables, Nitti is, in many ways, a direct refutation of DePalma’s film.  Eliot Ness never appears in the movie and is dismissed, by special prosecutor Hugh Kelly (Michael Moriarty), as being a publicity seeker.  Al Capone (Vincent Guastaferro) is ruthless and resents being called Scarface but he never hits anyone with a baseball bat.  In this movie, the only real villains are the Irish cops who harass Nitti (played by Anthony LaPaglia, in his American film debut) and Chicago’s ambitious mayor, Anton Cermak (Bruce Kirby).  Cermak orders a corrupt cop (Mike Starr) to shoot Nitti and the film implies that Cermak’s subsequent assassination was payback.

Though it sometimes tries too hard to portray its title character as just being a salt of the Earth family man who also happened to be the biggest mob boss in the country, Nitti is a good gangster film.  Michael Moriarty’s performance is a forerunner to his work on Law & Order and Trini Alvarado is lovely as Nitti’s wife.  Anthony LaPaglia gives a good performance in the lead role, with the film’s portrayal of Nitti as a ruthless but reluctant mob boss predating The Sopranos by a decade.

Back to School Part II #19: Girls Just Want To Have Fun (dir by Alan Metter)


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For our next film in this series of Back to School reviews, we take a look at 1985’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun!

And you know what?

It’s true — we do just want to have fun!

The fun in Girls Just Want To Have Fun is pretty much defined by dancing, which is okay with me because I love to dance.  However, Girls Just Want To Have Fun had the misfortune to be made in the mid-80s.  I have lost track of many 80s films that I’ve watched but I’m still always shocked at how undanceable most 80s music truly was.  This film, of course, does contain a cover version of the famous song by Cyndi Lauper and that’s actually a pretty good 80s song.  However, the rest of the music (and, by that, I mean the music that everyone in the movie is actually dancing to) is incredibly bland in the way that only music from the decade of We Built This City could be.

As for the film itself, it takes place in Chicago.  Janey Glenn (Sarah Jessica Parker) is the newest student at the local Catholic girls school.  Janey’s overprotective father (Ed Lauter) is in the army and Janey has lived all over the world.  Despite that, Janey is not at all worldly.  In fact, when she tries to introduce herself to her classmates, all she can get out is that she’s a gymnast and she loves to dance. (When we actually see Janey dancing or doing any sort of gymnastics, Sarah Jessica Parker’s hair always seems to fall in her face, which is certainly one way to hide a stunt double.)

Janey makes one friend at the school.  Lynn (Helen Hunt, looking like a teenager but already sounding like a hung over 40 year-old) is about as wild as a girl can be in 1980s PG-rated film.  That’s to say, she wears a leather skirt when she’s not in school and, when she babysits, she orders pizza and then allows the baby to sit on it.  (Ewwwwwww!  There’s a reason why babies wear diapers….)  Lynne and Janey are automatically BFFs because they both love Dance TV!

That’s right — it’s DTV!  I wonder what that’s supposed to be based on…

It turns out that DTV is having a contest to pick two new dancers!  Disobeying her strict father, Janey sneaks out of the house and joins Lynn in auditioning!  Lynn’s partner turns out to be so spastic that Lynn doesn’t make the semi-finals.  Later, Lynn discovers that her partner was bribed by rich bitch Natalie Sands (Holly Gagnier).  I’m not sure why Natalie felt the need to do that since Lynn wasn’t that impressive to begin with.  She’s about as good a dancer as you would expect Helen Hunt to be.

However, Janey does make it to the semi-finals, where she’s partnered with Jeff.  Jeff is tough and blue-collar and, at first, it doesn’t seem like he and Janey will get along.  So, of course, they end up falling in love and, of course, Natalie’s father tries to force Jeff out of the contest by threatening to put his father out of work.  Jeff, incidentally, is played by Lee Montgomery.  Years before appearing in Girls Just Want To Have Fun, Montgomery played the little kid who gets crushed by a chimney at the end of Burnt Offerings.  Burnt Offerings is a really crappy film but I watch it every time that it comes on TCM just so I can see that chimney crush Lee Montgomery.  That said, Montgomery actually does a pretty good job of Jeff.  You never quite buy him as a rebel without a cause but he still seems like an authentic and likable teenager.  Jeff and Janey are a cute couple and that’s all that really matters.

Just as Janey has a best friend, Jeff also has a best friend.  Drew Boreman (Jonathan Silverman) talks too much, tries to sell t-shirts from the trunk of his car, and there’s also a scene were he grabs a random girl’s breasts and makes a comment about using her nipples to tune a radio.  Drew is annoying and, once you get over the fact that she’s being played by a young Helen Hunt, so is Lynn.  Watching the movie, you kind of want to tell both of them to just calm down for a few minutes.

But you know who is not annoying?  Jeff’s younger sister, Maggie, who is played by none other than a very young Shannen Doherty.  Maggie was my favorite character because she alone seemed to understand how stupid everyone else in the film was.  And she was willing to call them out on it.

ANYWAY — Girls Just Want To Have Fun is one of those movies where next to nothing actually happens.  There is an extended sequence where our heroes destroy Natalie’s snooty party with the help of a bunch of punks and female body builders but otherwise, it’s remarkable how little actually happens.  That said, some of the dancing is good (even if most of the music is totally bland in the way that only 80s music can be) and it’s interesting to see Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt when they were young.  Sarah Jessica Parker actually gives a surprisingly likable performance here, even if it is often way too obvious that a body double is doing the majority of her dancing.  That said, you really can’t get any further away from Carrie Bradshaw than Janey Glenn.

Girls Just Want To Have Fun is a time capsule of the decade in which it was made and that is definitely the main reason to watch it.  Until time machines are a reality and we can experience the past firsthand, we’ll just have to keep getting our information from movies like this one.

Insomnia File No. 19: Great Expectations (dir by Alfonso Cuaron)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were awake at 2 in the morning last night, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the 1998 film, Great Expectations.

Great Expectations is an adaptation of the famous novel by Charles Dickens, the one about the orphan who helps a fugitive, is mentored by a bitter rich woman who lives in a decaying mansion, falls in love with the beautiful but cold-hearted Estella, and then later is helped out by a mysterious benefactor.  The thing that sets this adaptation apart from other version of the novel is that the 1998 Great Expectations is set in modern-day America, as opposed to Victorian-era Great Britain.

Actually, beyond retaining certain aspects of the plot, it’s interesting how little this version of Great Expectations has to do with the original novel.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  While Charles Dickens deserves to be remembered as one of the fathers of modern literature, he could also be a terribly pedantic writer.  This adaptation only touches on the novel’s overriding concerns about class and wealth in the most simplistic of ways.  It also abandons most of the novel’s subplots and instead concentrates on the love story between Estella (Gwynneth Paltrow) and Finn (Ethan Hawke).

Oh yeah, did I mention that?  The hero of this version of Great Expectations is not named Phillip Pirrip and we never have to listen to him explain that, as a child, he was nicknamed Pip because he apparently could not speak.  Instead, Pip has been renamed Finn, short for Finnegan.  If you believe the trivia section of the imdb, Finn was apparently the name of Ethan Hawke’s dog.  And again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  One of the main reasons why so many readers automatically dislike the narrator of Great Expectations is that he is named Pip.

Anyway, in this version, Pip Finn grows up in Florida, an orphan who is raised by his blue-collar brother-in-law, Joe Gargery (Chris Cooper, giving a very Chris Cooperish performance).  The escaped convict is played by Robert De Niro and, towards the end of the film, there’s a hilarious scene where Finn and the convict meet for a second time and Finn somehow does not recognize him, despite the fact that he still pretty much looks the same and still acts exactly like Robert De Niro.  The eccentric woman who mentors the young Finn, Mrs. Havisham Dinsmoor, is played by Anne Bancroft and Bancroft, made up to look like Bette Davis in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, gives a performance of almost transcendent weirdness.  And, of course, Estella — who has been raised to seduce and then destroy men — is played by Gwynneth Paltrow and, as usual, Paltrow is a lot more believable when Estella is remote and self-centered than when she has to soften up towards the end of the film.

It’s an odd film, to be honest.  This is one of those films that you watch and you try to be cynical but it’s all so lushly shot and deliriously (and manipulatively) romantic that you can’t help but occasionally get wrapped up in its spell.  Hawke and Paltrow, both of whom are incredibly young in this movie, may not have much chemistry but they’re both so achingly beautiful that it almost doesn’t matter.

Great Expectations was the second film to be directed by Alfonso Cuaron and it’s just as visually stylish as his later films.  It’s a frequently shallow and somewhat silly film but oh my God, is it ever pretty to look at.

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Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong

44 Days of Paranoia #41: Shattered Glass (dir by Billy Ray)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at one of the best films of the first decade of the 21st Century, 2003’s Shattered Glass.

Shattered Glass tells the true story of Stephen Glass (played, in a surprisingly brilliant way, by Hayden Christensen), a smart and charming journalist who, through a combination of showmanship and carefully calculated moments of vulnerability, has established himself as one of the top reporters at one of the top political magazines in America, The New Republic.  As the film begins, we find Glass at his old high school, giving advice to a classroom of adoring student journalists.  As the self-assured Glass talks about his career, we see scenes of him investigating, pitching, and writing his stores at the New Republic.  It’s here that we see the other side of Glass — not only is he a good writer but he’s a good salesman.  While the rest of his coworkers struggle to pitch dry-sounding stories about Congress, Glass puts on a show as he vividly describes articles about everything from offering his services as a boxing expert to witnessing drug-fueled hijinks at a Young Republican meeting.

However, as the film progresses, we see yet another side to Stephen Glass.  Not only is he a talented writer and an enthusiastic showman but he’s also a pathological liar.  When the head of the Young Republicans challenges Stephen’s article, New Republican editor Mike Kelly (Hank Azaria) investigates and, despite being initially suspicious, is eventually won over by Stephen’s apparent earnestness.

Later, after Kelly has left the magazine and been replaced by new editor Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), Stephen turns in an article entitled “Hacker Heaven.”  In the article, Stephen writes about witnessing a 12 year-old computer hacker being given a million dollar contract from a company known as Jukt Micronics.  The only problem is that a reporter at Forbes (Steve Zahn) checks the facts in Stephen’s articles and can find no evidence of a company called Jukt Micronics ever existing.

As Lane starts to look into Stephen’s reporting, it starts to become obvious to him that Stephen not only made up the events of “Hacker Heaven” but that he may have falsified several other stories as well.  Already struggling to fill the shoes of the popular Kelly, Lane now finds himself having to investigate one of his most popular reporters.

Shattered Glass is one of those fascinating and unusually intelligent films that I always make a point of watching whenever it shows up on cable.  Not only does it tell a genuinely interesting story but it also features excellent performances from Sarsgaard, Azaria, Chloe Sevigny, and especially Melanie Lynesky.

Even more importantly, it features a revelatory lead performance from Hayden Christensen.  Fairly or not, Christensen is always going to be associated with Star Wars.  In Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Christensen didn’t seem like he was a very good actor but then again, did anyone comes out of those films looking better than before they went in?  As bad as Christensen may have been in those two films, he’s absolutely brilliant in Shattered Glass.  He plays Stephen Glass with a puppy dog eagerness to please that is deceptively charming and likable.  It’s only as the film progresses that the audience realizes that there’s nothing behind that affable facade.  Instead, it becomes apparent that he’s a sociopath who lies to hide the fact that his existence is ultimately an empty one.  It’s an amazing performance and one that will make you think twice before blindly accepting the analysis of any of the journalistic “experts” who are regularly trotted out on any of the news shows.

Shattered Glass is also a film that should be seen just so viewers can appreciate the brilliant way that Peter Sarsgaard delivers the line, “This doesn’t seem like a real business card to me.”

Shattered Glass needs to be seen.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge
  33. The Stepford Wives
  34. Saboteur
  35. A Dark Truth
  36. The Fugitive
  37. The Day of Jackal
  38. Z
  39. The Fury
  40. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

 

44 Days of Paranoia #13: Quiz Show (dir by Robert Redford)


For today’s entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, I want to take a look at a film that I recently caught on cable — 1994’s Quiz Show.

Directed by Robert Redford and based on a true story, Quiz Show was nominated for the Academy Award for best picture but lost to Forrest Gump.  Among those of us who obsess over Oscar history, Quiz Show is often overshadowed by not only Forrest Gump but two of the other nominees as well, Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption.  When compared to Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show certainly feels old-fashioned.  At the same time, it’s not quite as much of a sentimental crowd-pleaser as Gump or Shawshank.  Perhaps for those reasons, Quiz Show never gets quite as much attention as some other films that have been nominated for best picture.  However, taking all of that into consideration, Quiz Show is still one of the best films of the 90s.

Quiz Show takes us back to the 1950s.  The most popular show on television is 21, a game show in which two contestants answer questions, win money, and try to be the first to score 21 points.  The American public believes that all of the questions asked on 21 are locked away in a bank vault until it’s time for the show.  What they don’t know is that the show’s producers have instead been rigging the show, giving the answers to contestants who they feel will be good for ratings.

When Quiz Show begins, nerdy Herbie Stempel (John Turturro) has been the champion for several weeks.  However, both the show’s producers and sponsors feel that the untelegenic Herbie has peaked.  Hence, the handsome and charismatic Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) is brought on the show and Herbie is ordered to lose to him.  Reluctantly, Herbie does so.

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Charles is initially reluctant to cheat but, as he continues to win, he finds himself becoming addicted to the fame.  Charles is the son of the prominent academic Mark Van Doren (Paul Scofield) and his success on television finally gives him a chance to escape from his father’s shadow.  Indeed, the film’s subtle and nuanced portrait of Charles and Mark’s loving but competetive relationship is one of the film’s greatest strengths.

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Herbie, however, is bitter over having to lose and has subsequently gambled away all of his winnings.  When 21′s producer (David Paymer) refuses to help Herbie get on another TV show, Herbie reacts by going to the New York County district attorney and publicly charging 21 as being fixed.  Though the grand jury dismisses Herbie as being obviously mentally unbalanced, his charges come to the attention of a congressional investigator, Richard Goodwin (Rob Morrow).

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Goodwin launches his own investigation into 21 and discovers that the show is fixed.  (As the ambitious Goodwin puts it, he wants to “put television on trial.”)  Along the way, he also meets and befriends Charles Van Doren and finds himself torn between his desire to expose the show and to protect Charles from the bad publicity.  Again, the film is to be applauded for the subtle way that it uses Goodwin’s investigation of both Charles and Herbie as a way to explore issues of both class resentment and class envy.  Goodwin may have come from the same ethnic background of Herbie but it quickly becomes obvious that Goodwin has more sympathy for the genteel (and very WASPy) world that produced Charles Van Doren.  When Goodwin tries to justify protecting Charles, his wife (played by Mira Sorvino) responds by calling him “the Uncle Tom of the Jews” and it’s hard not to feel that she has a point.

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While I greatly enjoyed Quiz Show, I do have to say that, on one major point, the film fails.  Try as he might, director Redford never convinces us that a rigged game show is really as big of a crime as he seems to be believe it to be.  Perhaps in the 1950s, people were still innocent enough to be shocked at the idea of television reality being fake but for cynical contemporary viewers, it’s hard not to feel that the “scandal” was more about Richard Goodwin’s ambition and less about any sort of ethical or legal issue.  Towards the end of the film, one character suggests that television will never be truly honest unless the government steps in to regulate it.  “What?” I yelled back at the TV.

Seriously, it seemed like a bit of an overreaction.

As I watched Quiz Show, I found it hard not to think about the reality shows that I love.  For instance, I know that The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are largely staged.  I know that the previous season of Big Brother was largely set up so that Amanda could win.  (And, believe me, if Amanda hadn’t sabotaged her chances by turning out to be a mentally unstable racist bully, she would have won and she would probably would have been invited back for the next all-stars season.)  I know that shows like Storage Wars and Dance Moms are “unscripted” in name only.  I know that reality shows aren’t real but my attitude can basically be summed up in two words: “who cares?”  Perhaps I would be more outraged if I lived in the 50s which, to judge from both Quiz Show and a host of other movies, was apparently a much more innocent time.

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That said, I really enjoyed Quiz Show.  A lot of that is because I’m a history nerd and, therefore, I have a weakness for obsessively detailed period pieces.  But even beyond that, Quiz Show is a well-made, entertaining film that features three excellent lead performances and several strong supporting turns.  If you love to watch great actors playing great roles then Quiz Show is the film for you.  Rob Morrow lays his Boston accent on a bit thick but otherwise, he does a good job of suggesting both Goodwin’s ambition and the insecurities that lead him to desire Charles’s friendship even as he tries to expose him as a fraud.  John Turturro brings an odd — if manic — dignity to Herbie Stempel while Johann Carlo is well-cast as his wife.  Best of all, Ralph Fiennes makes Charles Van Doren into a sad, frustrating, and ultimately sympathetic character while Paul Scofield is the epitome of both paternal disappointment and love as his father.  The film is full of great supporting turns as well, with David Paymer and Hank Azaria perfectly cast as the show’s producers and Christopher McDonald playing the show’s host with the same smarmy charm that he brought to a similar role in the far different Requiem For A Dream.  Perhaps best of all, Martin Scorsese shows up as the owner of Geritol and gets to bark, “Queens is not New York!”

Even if Robert Redford doesn’t quite convince us that the quiz show scandal was as big a deal as he obviously believes it to be, Quiz Show is still an uncommonly intelligent film and one that deserves to rediscovered.

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Other entries in the 44 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading

Film Review: Lovelace (dir by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman)


About halfway through the new biopic Lovelace, there’s a scene where former porno actress Linda Lovelace (played by Amanda Seyfried) is hooked up to a lie detector.  The polygraph examiner explains that he’s going to ask Linda a few test questions to get a reading.

“Is your name Linda Lovelace?” he asks.

Visibly nervous, Linda replies, “Can you ask something simpler?”

It’s a great scene because it establishes the central mystery of both the film and the title character.

Just who exactly was Linda Lovelace?

A girl whose main talent was apparently giving head, Lovelace became a star in the 70s when she starred in Deep Throat, the first (and perhaps only) hardcore film to become a legitimate mainstream hit.  For a brief while, Lovelace was the face of the American sex industry.  However, her attempts to have a mainstream film career failed and Lovelace retreated into obscurity.

Several years later, she wrote a book called Ordeal.  In Ordeal, Lovelace claimed that she was forced, by her abusive husband, to perform in Deep Throat.  Whereas Lovelace, during her brief stardom, originally claimed to simply be a sexual adventurer who performed on camera because it was liberating, the post-stardom Lovelace presented herself as being a brainwashed victim.  Or, as Lovelace herself put it, “When you watch Deep Throat, you’re watching me getting raped.”  While several people disputed the authenticity of Ordeal, Lovelace herself passed a polygraph examination.  Lovelace then became an anti-pornography activist before, once again, descending into obscurity and eventually dying in an automotive accident in 2002.

Lovelace deals with the issue of figuring out just who Linda Lovelace was by basically telling her story twice.

During the first 45 minutes of the film, we see how young Linda Boreman first meets Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard).  Everything about Chuck — from his mustache to his perm to his flashy clothes — practically screams sleaze but, since he’s played by Peter Sarsgaard, he also has an undeniable charm.  (With this film and An Education, Sarsgaard has proven himself to be the definitive older man who your parents warned you about.)  Chuck and Linda eventually marry and, when they need money, Linda turns to “acting” in order to pay the bills.

Under the watchful eye of producers Bobby Cannavale and Chris Noth, director Hank Azaria, and co-star Adam Brody, Linda stars in Deep Throat and becomes the face of the sexual revolution.  While there are occasional hints that things might not be perfect (bruises are often visible on Linda’s arms and legs), Linda seems to truly love the spotlight.  Even Hugh Hefner (played by James Franco, who is way too hot to only have a cameo) says she’s going to be a huge star.

And then, rather abruptly, we jump forward six years.  Linda is now writing Ordeal and we once again see how she first married Chuck Traynor, starred in Deep Throat, and came to be a star..  However, we now see the story through her eyes.  We see that Chuck wasn’t just controlling but that he was also an abusive psychopath who would hold a gun to her head in order to get a performance out of her.  We see that, during the shooting of Deep Throat, she was regularly beaten by her husband.  We see Linda attempting to reconnect with her strict and tradition parents (played by Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick).  We see the ugliness that was hidden underneath the glamour.

Considering the subject matter and the talent involved, Lovelace should have been one of the most interesting films of 2013 but, unfortunately, the two separate halves of the film just don’t come together.  While the first half of the film does a good job of capturing the absurdity of sudden fame, the second half of the film falls apart.

Oddly enough, Chuck Traynor and Linda Lovelace only come across as real human beings during the superficial first half of the film.  During the second half of the film, both Chuck and Linda come across as one-dimensional ciphers.  Linda becomes such a total victim and Chuck becomes such a melodramatic villain that neither one of them is all that compelling as a character.  Instead of being disturbing and revealing, the second half of the film just feels like another generic film about the price of fame.

Most of what I know about Linda Lovelace and Chuck Traynor comes from two sources — the 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat and Legs McNiel’s and Jennifer Osborne’s book The Other Hollywood.  In both the book and the documentary, Lovelace comes across as being a rather pathetic figure who was exploited by both the adult film industry and the anti-pornography activists who used her as a symbol.  Both the industry and the activists abandoned Linda once her novelty was gone.  Ironically, even though both the documentary and the book are rather critical of her, it is there that she comes across as a far more interesting, sympathetic, and ultimately tragic figure than she does in this biopic.

With all that in mind, Lovelace is not necessarily a failure as a film.  The 70s are convincingly recreated and there’s a few scenes that hint at the type of film that this could have been if the filmmakers had been willing to take a few more risks.

The film is also full of excellent performances.  Seyfried is sympathetic and believable as Linda and, up until the second half of the film requires him to abandon all shades of ambiguity, Sarsgaard perfectly captures the sleazy charm that someone like Chuck Traynor would need to survive.  As Linda’s strict mother, Sharon Stone  is surprisingly strong.  Just watch the scene where Linda’s mom explains to her that she has to go back to abusive husband because that’s what marriage is all about and you’ll see an example of great acting.  Even better is Robert Patrick, who brings a poignant sadness to the role of Linda’s father.  The scene where he tells Linda that he saw her on film is heartbreaking.

Lovelace is a film of hits and misses.  Sadly, it misses the big picture but a few individual parts and performances are strong enough to justify sacrificing spending 93 minutes to watch it.

Quickie Review: Dodgeball – A True Underdog Story (dir. by Rawson Marshall Thurber)


What is there to say about Dodgeball – A True Underdog Story other than it’s a no-brainer of a hilarious movie that doesn’t aspire to lofty heights. What it does do is come out firing with some of the funniest physical comedy and one-liners since The Farrelly Brothers’ Something About Mary. First time director Rawson Marshall Thurber does a good enough job to keep the laughs coming one right after the another to keep Dodgeball from becoming too repetitive.

The movie is a riff from the stock underdog sports genre with a Peter La Fleur (played by Vince Vaughn with his usual sardonic wit) having to find a way to save his Average Joe’s Gym from being foreclosed by his bank and turned by a rival hi-tech gym next door into a parking lot. Who else would be the perfect foil for Vince Vaughn’s Peter La Fleur but none other than Ben Stiller as the former-fatty turned workout fitness Nazi, White Goodman. Goodman’s Globo Gym is a state-of-the art, sterile and BALCO-like gym where insults and making its members feel ugly, fat and useless is the way to clean health and the perfect bod.

Already, within the first fifteen minutes, we know who to root for and who to boo. In one corner we have the Average Joe’s guys played with comedic timing by Justin Long, Stephen Root, Chris Williams, Alan Tudyk and Joel Moore. Stiller’s Goodman and his consigliere Me’Shell (Jamal Duff channeling Barry White) with a hand-picked ringer of a dodgeball team he calls the Purple Cobras. With the two sides set the dodgeball carnage begins as Average Joe’s must win the Las Vegas Dodgeball Invitational to earn the $50,000 needed to save the gym. To round out the Average Joe’s team will be the bank accountant who ends up sympathizing with the Joe’s, Kate Veatch (played by Stiller’s real-life wife, Christine Taylor) and Patches O’Houlihan (Rip Torn in a scene-stealing role).

Rip Torn is hilarious as the acerbic and insane former dodgeball great Patches O’Houlihan. He pretty much gets all the best one-liners in the movie the moment he appears on the screen. He coaches the Average Joe’s team by browbeating them, insulting them and, failing that, throwing wrenches at them to help them in learning the 5 D’s of dodgeball: Dodge, duck, dip, dive, dodge. In fact, I would say that if it wasn’t for Rip Torn’s character dominating the middle part of the movie, I think Dodgeball‘s constant ball to the groin shots would’ve gotten old. Instead Patches O’Houlihan constantly gave people watching a reason to laugh out loud.

Dodgeball – A True Underdog Story is a movie that the Academy voters will not go about showering with praises and awards, but I’m sure most of them will be watching it and laughing out loud like the rest of the general public. Dodgeball is one hilarious, one-liner after one-liner ball to the nuts funny and it doesn’t aspire to be anything else but that. This movie will never get old with each viewing and will continue to make people laugh out loud.