Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a few more reviews from AICN friend Marco Cerritos who has been trudging through the snow to catch us up on some Sundance flicks. He's got a Holy Trinity comprised of Amanda Seyfried pornstar (Lovelace), dancing Sam Rockwell (The Way, Way Back) and sneaky Disneyland drama (Escape From Tomorrow). All of these films I'm interested in for one reason or another, be it my childhood love of Disneyland, coming of age dramadies or naked Amanda Seyfried (okay, you got me. That one doesn't go back to my childhood).
Marco lets you know what he liked and didn't about these three films, which were amongst some of the more buzzed about movies at the fest this year. I'll let the man speak himself.
“Lovelace” is the biopic of infamous porn star Linda Lovelace, who is mostly remembered as the headliner of the X-rated classic “Deep Throat” and for her other special sexual talents. Amanda Seyfried stars as Lovelace and while that casting choice is inspired, the film as a whole is limp and lifeless.
The film’s directors are Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (“Howl,” “The Celluloid Closet”) and while they have plenty of experience behind the camera, “Lovelace” falls victim to the biggest blunder a biopic can make, formula. The story starts the way any other biopic would, setting up our lead character’s world (in this case it’s 1970’s uptight parents and a sense of boredom) and then throwing in a monkey wrench of conflict.
This conflict comes in the form of Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), her soon-to-be husband responsible for getting her into the porn business in the first place. Sarsgaard plays him with an extra level of sleaze and the fact that he always looks sleepy onscreen appropriately adds to the squirm factor. He eyes Linda as his prey in such a creepy way that it’s hard to know whether to laugh at his vulgarity or his ugly 1970’s clothes.
Wardrobe and music are two things that “Lovelace” also gets wrong. Not wrong in the sense that the clothes and music aren’t from the era but from the fact that they are so intrusive and obvious it becomes painful to endure after a while. I understand you have to set the tone of the period but when the music and fashion in your movie become as subtle as a sledgehammer there is a serious problem.
There are things to enjoy in “Lovelace” and they come in subtle casting touches. James Franco (who also starred in the directing duo’s last film “Howl”) makes a brief appearance as a young Hugh Hefner. He doesn’t go for the big, obvious flash that most actors would bring to a young Hefner but instead he plays him smaller and introverted. Robert Patrick and Sharon Stone also co-star as Linda’s closed-minded parents who refuse to acknowledge their daughter’s descent into chaos.
“Lovelace” is an interesting misfire that never gets off the ground. It’s very straight forward storytelling from screenwriter Andy Bellin that doesn’t go as deep as it should (no pun intended). Seyfried tries her best and is even game for the film’s copious amounts of nudity (this is a movie about the porn industry after all) but even that’s not enough. In the end, “Lovelace” is essentially “Boogie Nights” lite resulting in a very flaccid movie (pun intended).
The biggest sale at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was “The Way, Way Back,” a coming-of-age story that was proclaimed ahead of its world premiere as the next “Little Miss Sunshine.” The only thing both films have in common is their Sundance debut, Fox Searchlight as a distributor and Steve Carell playing against type. In other words, “The Way, Way Back” is far, far from sunny.
This isn’t to suggest “The Way, Way Back” is a bad film, far from it. But it is a safe and indifferent one, mostly collecting pieces from far superior films dealing with the same material. “Adventureland” is the most recent example of this as both movies deal with an awkward teenage boy with a hard family life coming-of-age one magical summer as he bonds with fellow introverts at an amusement park.
Unfortunately, “The Way, Way Back” doesn’t have anything new or unique to say so for most of its running time it remains in a weird limbo of detachment. Young actor Liam James is the awkward teen in question in this movie and we know every story beat he’s going to hit before he does. This wouldn’t be so bad if the material had some spark to it but writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (ironically, both won Oscars last year for writing “The Descendants”) play it safe and the movie suffers as a result.
One of the few things “The Way, Way Back” gets right is creating a talented ensemble to sustain the weightless screenplay. Good actors can only do so much but the combination of Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Amanda Peet, Toni Collette, Allison Janney and Maya Rudolph among others is enough to sustain moderate interest. Rockwell in particular seems to be having the most fun of all, playing the free-spirited role model our young protagonist will come to look up to and idolize (basically the Ryan Reynolds role in “Adventureland”). For anyone who might be curious, Rockwell does indeed dance at one point in “The Way, Way Back” and it’s one of the film’s highlights.
“The Way, Way Back” is a crowd-pleasing formula film and there’s nothing wrong with that. Formula films can be entertaining too but in this case the material is handled so carelessly that it’s hard to connect on anything more than a basic level.
The new film “Escape From Tomorrow” has created quite a controversy since premiering last week at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s the story of a family man’s paranoid unraveling after losing his job. The twist is his mental breakdown takes place at Disney World and even worse still, most of the film was filmed at the actual theme park without the corporation’s permission.
The fact that “Escape From Tomorrow” was shot and assembled in such guerilla fashion is impressive and dangerous at the same time. The fact that the film isn’t shy about decimating the Disney name by making its theme parks look like death traps is a legal quandary I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. And yet that’s where the buzz has been building for most of the festival. The “will they” or “won’t they” release strategy is interesting to think about but ultimately means nothing if the film isn’t any good. As of this writing, nobody has stepped forward and bought “Escape From Tomorrow” for theatrical, VOD, or any other kind of distribution. It might happen and it might not. It could be picked up and quietly released the way IFC has handled “Room 237” (another paranoid fantasy) or its fate could be to premiere on YouTube the way “The Sweatbox” (another Disney interpretation) has.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s focus on the actual film. “Escape From Tomorrow” is terrible.
This is a film that is all buzz and no substance. I was duped along with many of my colleagues into thinking “Escape From Tomorrow” might be more than a fancy magic trick but instead found a hollow delusional fantasy with nothing to offer. Roy Abramsohn and Elena Schuber play Jim and Emily, a middle-class couple who are on vacation with the kids. Their destination is Disney World but before the family can arrive at the magic kingdom Jim is fired from his job. Not trying to spoil their vacation, he keeps it a secret and they go to Mickey’s playhouse anyway. Once they arrive at the park things slowly start to get ominous. At first Jim starts hearing voices, then he starts seeing ghostly faces and shapes where they don’t belong. In the middle of all this he finds the time to put his kids in jeopardy by creepily following two underage French girls throughout the park like a horny cliché.
Formula dictates that little by little Jim’s mental world unravel for all to see but the payoff is such a ridiculous letdown that I kept rolling my eyes every few minutes. This is a film that has its central character suffer a savage breakdown during one of the theme park’s signature rides and also believe Disney’s rollercoasters are made for decapitation. This is a film that blatantly takes other Disney headliners and brands them as sex slaves. In other words, this is a film that is begging for attention, even if that attention comes from Disney’s lawyers.
“Escape From Tomorrow” is shot in black and white but that doesn’t make much of a difference in this sea of nonsense. The film has no shame in showing Mickey Mouse and Disney as a whole in a negative light but to what end? It’s a rambling mess with no real purpose. Critics have jokingly suggested that Disney buy the film and bury it so nobody can see it. I’m not advocating censorship but if “Escape From Tomorrow” were forever tangled in legal red tape, you wouldn’t miss much.
Follow Marco on Twitter @BigDumbMale