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The OnDemand Experiment

BOY MEETS GIRL: Peter Sarsgaard and Amanda Seyfried star in the biopic of porn star Linda Lovelace in ‘Lovelace.’ Courtesy photo

BOY MEETS GIRL: Peter Sarsgaard and Amanda Seyfried star in the biopic of porn star Linda Lovelace in ‘Lovelace.’ Courtesy photo

It’s an interesting time for the film business. Paradigms are shifting. Cineplexes are overcrowded with big-budget blockbusters, and leave a remarkably small amount of room for anything other than the most enormous epics and films with marquee talent above their titles. The smaller films are still around, but they are moving to other non-theatrical mediums.

Many independent films are seeking an audience via the Internet and video-on-demand services through local cable providers. The good news: There’s something for everybody out there with a broadband cable connection. The bad news: Audiences now have a ridiculous amount of content coming at them in an endless stream of programming, so it makes it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Last week I took a break from the movie theater to see the offerings “OnDemand.” Mainly, I wanted to know if the movie theater has any real competition.

“The Canyons” examines the very idea of the deterioration of the movie-theater experience. A sordid tale of lust and lasciviousness in Los Angeles, revolving around two couples with film-industry aspirations, the film’s penman, Bret Easton Ellis (“American Psycho”), offers familiar trappings. There’s a charming sociopath (James Deen) with impulse-control problems and the femme fatale (Lindsay Lohan); both dabble in sex games and torrid affairs. Set across the neon-soaked streets of the Sunset Strip, “The Canyons” attempts to be dark and perverse, running on sex and obsession. Still, it comes across like a slightly grittier version of a CW soap opera—like “Gossip Girl” if Blake Lively walked around topless.

James Deen is a porn star looking to break into legitimate cinema. The phrase “breaking in” feels apt because it’s a crime that someone cast him as the lead in a movie. At this point, watching Lohan, with her weathered voice warbling out lines, resembles the kind of used-up souls the film desperately tries to portray. Reality is far more sobering than this poor man’s morality play presented by Director Paul Schrader (“Affliction,” “The Walker”).

Speaking of porn stars, another new film OnDemand is the festival-darling “Lovelace,” staring Amanda Seyfried. It tells the story of the original porn icon Linda Lovelace (Seyfried), who starred in the legendary skin flick “Deep Throat,” which made her a pop-culture phenomenon. The biopic may be the laziest form of filmmaking—a “behind the curtain” movie that attempts to humanize somebody famous and dive into the dark corners of their life. Linda Lovelace’s story doesn’t feel particularly novel. She’s basically a good kid from an oppressive family and makes some questionable choices that lead her into the world of 1970’s pornography. So much of Lovelace feels like it was borrowed from other films. I kept harkening back to Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece “Boogie Nights.” “Lovelace” wants to be that kind of movie: heartbreaking and humorous, and asking the audience to sympathize the coquettish star. To cartoonish proportions, the rest of the cast is villianized for profiting from her particular skill set.

Peter Sarsgaard is the closest believable actor as the mega-intense, abusive boyfriend who ushers her into exploitation. The other “characters” (a word I use mildly) are little more than stock caricatures. Character actors like Bobby Cannavale and Hank Azaria ham it up well past the point of incredulity. “Lovelace” is so predictable and it covers no new territory. Lovelace may have been pornography’s biggest icon, but her journey is cinematically pedestrian. Apparently pinning dreams to a shady boyfriend and getting into pornography isn’t the recipe for happiness.

To be fair, both “The Canyons” and “Lovelace” were films I probably would have enjoyed when I was 13 and sneaking into the living room to watch blurry, late-night cable. And by “enjoyed” I mean “masturbated heavily to.”

“Bad Milo!” is another film I would have eagerly watched when I was a teenager. A crass comedy, it centers around an epically stressed-out businessman (Ken Marino) who has something a little more disturbing than a polyp in his colon. It seems there’s a monster that exits his rectum and wreaks havoc on his life, giving new meaning to the phrase “inner demon.” “Bad Milo!” is the kind of weird comedy that once would have been discovered on the shelf of a video store. The whole thing feels very much tethered to the 1980s, when movies weren’t afraid to be ridiculous and premise ruled over purpose.

The basic idea of “Bad Milo!” feels like something dreamed up by a 10-year-old: “What if there was a monster living in your colon?” It’s an utterly ridiculous and sometimes disturbing romp brought to life by a very game cast of familiar faces. Marino (“The State”) is a fantastic fall guy. “Bad Milo!” looks like a cinematic labor of love with a pornography-size budget. It’s a little funny, a little disturbing, but ultimately a pretty passive affair.

While my OnDemand experiment was interesting, it didn’t exactly sour me on the theatrical experience. If anything, it made me wish the films in theaters took a few more risks and the films in OnDemand had a little more polish.

DETAILS:
The Canyons

stars
Starring Lindsay Lohan and
James Deen

Lovelace
stars
Starring Amanda Seyfried and
Peter Sarsgaard

Bad Milo!
stars
Starring Ken Marino and
Patrick Warburton

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