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New release movie reviews

Posted by: Jim Schembri | 29 September, 2013 - 3:24 PM
Visually, one of Lovelace's major treats is its loving, detailed recreation of the period.

LOVELACE ***1/2 (93 minutes) MA

As the doe-eyed suburban waif who falls into the murky world of 1970s porn, Amanda Seyfried is a moving study of vulnerability as Linda Lovelace, the porn starlet immortalised for her work in the epochal Deep Throat.

Opposite an Oscar-worthy turn by Peter Sarsgaard as her conniving manager/husband Chuck Traynor, Seyfried brings the mythologised Lovelace to life as an impressionable, deluded, easily manipulated woman whose malleable character isn't strong enough to break free of her abusive beau.

Based largely on the book Ordeal written by Lovelace, directors Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein have done a terrific job. They have great form dealing with real-life narratives, having made HOWL (2010) with James Franco as Allen Ginsberg, and Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989), for which they won an Oscar. Epstein also won an Oscar for The Times of Harvey Milk (1984).

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Here, they shed light and imbue a lot of humanity into the shady world of pornographers, mobsters and financiers. It's not a whitewash by any means but given how susceptible to stereotypes the adult industry is, the portrayal of the 1970s porn milieu Lovelace got caught up in is far more sympathetic and nuanced than one might expect.

Grounded by the realities of making blue movies on expensive film stock, the pornographers (including Christ Noth, Hank Azaria and Bobby Canavale) come across as generally likeable goombahs who are fuelled by money, good business and a growing concern for how Traynor is mistreating his wife. They might be low-lifes, but they have a code and a good sense of lighting.

On the homefront, Linda's religious parents - portrayed by a barely recognisable Robert Patrick (forever the T-1000 from Terminator 2) and an unrecognisable Sharon Stone - frame Linda's thorny journey from porn debutante to brand name. Stone is particularly effective as the shrill moral beacon who provides
Linda with bearings when things go bad.    

Visually, one of the film's major treats is its loving, detailed recreation of the period. Thankfully free of cheap gags about flares, big hair and hot pants, the film's subdued widescreen cinematography by Eric Alan Edwards (The Break Up; Knocked Up; Couples Retreat) often makes the film feel like it was shot in the 1970s.

Lovelace's famous turning against porn caps the story, but while her association with Gloria Steinem was filmed (with Sarah Jessica Parker stepping in to play the iconic feminist), it was cut from the final version, which seems a pity. Hopefully it'll turn up on disk. 

Unfortunately Lovelace, made for a scant $10 million (the average non-action studio flick costs around $80 million), has not found an audience. Please don't let that put you off a surprisingly touching, extraordinary biopic. It certainly stands with Boogie Nights (1997) and Hardcore (1979) as one of the few good feature films about porn.

THE TURNING ** (180 minutes) MA

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In a year defined by disappointing Australian films comes the most disappointing one of all.

Billed as a "unique cinematic event", this unquestionably audacious, daring, sprawling three-hour adaptation of the Tim Winton book is a clear case of a film aimed squarely at those intimate with its source.

Hence, if you're into the book in a big way it's a pretty fair bet The Turning will reap many rich rewards.

If, however, you go in cold, you will likely find its mosaic of 18 short, cryptically inter-connected stories - each sporting a different director - a very hit-and-miss affair. Further, it's strongly recommended you read the booklet you get with your ticket purchase so you'll twig to all the obtuse character connections.

To the uninitiated - and this reviewer is one - this film could turn out to be a singularly frustrating experience, where moments of tenderness and transformation are offset by grand stretches of art-movie portentousness.

The results are disjointed and unsatisfying. While some stories soar - the titular vignette is stirring and beautiful - too many others fall flat or get lost in the search for profundity as characters spend an inordinate amount of time staring into the middle distance.

Presided over by the formidably talented local producer/director Robert Connolly (Balibo; Three Dollars; The Bank), The Turning is unquestionably ambitious.

The film's chief shortcoming - to the eyes of someone coming in cold, it must again be stressed - is that it is not ambitious enough.

Rather than voguing as an "event" film catering to fans of the novel, The Turning could have - should have - been fashioned into an easily accessible three-hour multiplex film designed to be enjoyed and appreciated by anybody, regardless of their familiarity with Winton's words.

One thinks of Robert Altman's Short Cuts (1993) or Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999) for models of what The Turning might have been.

But rather than having many different parts fitting into a cohesive, immersive whole, what we essentially get with The Turning is an erratic cobbling together of stories the quality of which vary too much for it to be seen as anything other than an elaborate cinematic experiment that will best work for those who have done their homework.

And doing homework should never be a pre-requisite for enjoying and appreciating a film - where ever its source comes from.

RUNNER RUNNER *** (91 minutes) MA

Don't mind so much if you can't quite follow every twist and turn in the scribble of plotlines running through Runner Runner. What matters is that it's a nifty, fast-talking, energetic film that dares turn the virtual - and virtually unfilmable - world of on-line gambling into a high-stakes thriller full of fights, gringos, hungry crocodiles and a perpetually pouting, glammed-up Gemma Arterton. (That's not a complaint).

Justin Timberlake plays a gifted ex-Wall Street player cheated out of his fortune who falls in with Ben Affleck's gambling kingpin in Costa Rica. At first Justin is there to register a complaint about being cyber-duped out of money and ends up becoming a partner in Ben's murky operation.

There's plenty of who's-shafting-who guesswork going on in a way over-cooked story, and director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) is overly-keen on recapping the goings on. Still, he elicits convincing, sweaty performances from his leads.

As with most good movies about gambling - did anybody see the 2007 Eric Bana gem Lucky You? Sigh - the film nails that central paradox of gamblers having a thick veneer of confidence covering up the crippling compulsion to risk everything for a shot at doubling what they have.

GROWN UPS 2 **1/2 (98 minutes) PG

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Adam Sandler's follow-up to one of the most improbable blockbuster comedy hits in film history - Grown Ups took $270m in 2010 - is a similarly plotless, reasonably pleasant, rough-edged comic ramble.

Again starring Chris Rock, David Spade and Kevin James, with new guy Nick Swardson (from Reno 911) replacing Rob Schneider, there are fewer laughs as the crew go through a slew of generation-gap gags - Twilight's Taylor Lautner is a real surprise as a comic foil - but there's enough to keep fans happy.

And as with Sandler's best films (Zohan; Click; Chuck & Larry; Mr Deeds), he has an uncanny knack of doling out a well-aimed emotional punch at just the right moment, ably delivered by Sandler house director Dennis Dugan.

Fans put off by Adam Sandler's cross-dressing misadventure Jack & Jill and the gross incest comedy That's My Boy will find the domestic warmth of Grown Ups 2 something of a relief. It's already taken $230m, so it seems Sandler's huge fanbase remains in tact.

STORIES WE TELL ***1/2 (109 minutes) M

Canadian actress/director Sarah Polley (Away from Her; Take This Waltz) presents an absorbing family history that is so ingeniously mounted it doubles as a wry commentary on the documentary form, examining our willingness to believe what we see.

Speaking to friends and family members in a film that is anything but a talking heads recitation, Polley slowly draws focus on the key issue of her parentage, a secret that was somehow kept sealed despite the press knowing about it.

The film certainly confirms her as one of the brightest young cinematic talents around - although we already sensed that when she showed off her scream queen credentials in Zack Snyder's 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.

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