GRAM PONANTE: Joanne and I disagreed — finally — about a movie. Or at least she saw potential in "The Make Up" when I saw a swing and a miss.
JOANNE CACHAPERO: One of the good things about the glut of low-quality porn on the market is that it seems to have inspired a whole crop of ambitious directors to make innovative movies that don't suck, with what I think is some surprisingly fun stuff coming from fledgling filmmakers like Spencer Benedict, aka Jason Green, co-owner of Paradise Visuals.
GP: Yes, Jo Jo, but I am a Buddhist, as you well know, and it is important to remember that something is not necessarily good just because it was produced as a reaction to something that is bad. Not that that was the case with "The Make Up," but if you're going to make a sweet porn comedy that relies on acting and nuance rather than a porn hammer, you'd better get the acting and nuance right.
JC: OK, now that you've explained the ying-yang of porn, all I'm wondering is do we have to expect adult cinema to always be trying to achieve something higher — isn't it OK to just make a wacky porn flick? "The Make Up" piqued my interest because I knew Benedict worked for a while at legendary B-movie studio Troma, which turned out such cult classics as "The Toxic Avenger" and "Surf Nazis Must Die." But was he capable of turning out a commercially viable porno? And was he also capable of playing the male lead in the film without ever dropping his pants, in a comedic, non-sex role?
GP: The answer is a solid "sort of." While "The Make Up" is a light and airy comedy in the vein of what Stormy Daniels also is attempting, and director/writer/star Benedict, when he gets comfortable in the role, pulls off a nebbishy character reminiscent of Woody Allen. His acting is not assured enough to sustain the movie. And, as this is a porn movie, to have the main role be a non-sex one requires ample compensation in other areas — and that just doesn't happen.
JC: For me, the schmaltzy dialogue and campy acting works because this movie is not trying to be anything more than what it is — a funny sex film, reminiscent of the story-driven porn of the '70s. When Spence and his leading lady, the lovely Felix Vicious (in her final hardcore role), set up the story while the couple is arguing and Vicious is brushing her teeth. As the scene progresses; simultaneously, Spence ask Vicious to marry him — and she says that she thinks they ought to break up. To prove her point, Vicious says, "What about the time you called me a 'cunt' at Disneyland? In front of Mickey Mouse?" "It was a bad day," Spence replies. Light, funny bits of dialogue like that, throughout the movie leads to story and character development that's more intelligent than in your average adult video.
GP: I agree. That's why we want more. Spence seeks advice from his dad (played by Bill Margold), and the latter suggests a private island resort. What Dad doesn't say is that the resort is a swingers club. Mandy reluctantly agrees to go, and the couple is shocked — shocked! — to find out that sex is going on there.
JC: There's a really good scene between Sunny Lane (a girl that I think doesn't get enough credit as a performer) and John Strong that is hot and funny. Lane is a hooker and Strong her john, and for every different position and act, Lane keeps increasing her price. Strong plays the anxious customer to a tee and then turns out to have an empty wallet. There's a sex scene with Hailey Young and Jack Venice that I think would have been better if Spence could have cast a couple of classic stars, like Randy West and Christy Canyon, maybe? In my experience with swing clubs, you're more likely to see mature couples having sex by the pool, than young porn stars.
GP: That's because you book your swing clubs on Travelocity, Joanne.
JC: Actually, I use Travel Worm, but in any case, Bill Margold as Spencer's dad brings a retro feel to the movie with his grandiose acting style — many of the films Margold appeared in during the Golden Age were nothing more than frivolous set-ups for getting to the sex scenes, which is basically what this video is. Maybe the best, most twisted sex scene is one where Spence is sitting on a couch and Leah Luv and Nick Manning decide they're going to have sex while Spence watches. Manning, who is a vocal performer in any case, starts grunting like a caveman and growling sweet, sentimental love talk, like "Suck my cock, you dirty fucking whore…" and "Dropping loads…" The expressions on Spence's face are the same as the ones I make at home, whenever I watch Manning perform. Yikes!
GP: The scenes work most effectively when the coverage does not result in the actors repeating themselves, which happens a few times in the movie. Sometimes it's hard watching something that is so well intended fall in the same traps other porn movies do. We expect so little of porn movies that when one comes along that tries a little harder but still succumbs to the same narrative or editing inadequacies as its peers, we're more disappointed.
JC: Well, it's a glass half-full/half-empty scenario, Grammy — you're disappointed, while I choose to look at any innovation as progress. And, I have to admit, Manning is a turn-on in a weird, animalistic way.
GP: Accept these things about yourself, Joanne.
JC: There are some things that are a little rough — the last scene with Kimberly Kane and Vicious is a stretch. And, at times, you feel like Spencer's dialogue is contrived, when it doesn't need to be.
GP: That Vicious goes through the movie playing a (justifiably) frigid and reluctant girlfriend, it is not credible that a few nice words from Spence turn her. She jumps into a girl/girl scene with Kane abruptly. As you'd predict, the couple makes amends, but by then everything just seems sloppy. The priest is drunk, the final dialogue between Mandy and Spencer is uninspiring and, against all odds, Margold is still in the movie. Then he jumps in the pool and everyone laughs. Where is the Toxic Avenger when you need him?
JC: There were a couple of other films in 2007 that followed this same, basic idea — Justin Kane's "Spunk'd: The Movie" and Michael Lucas' "The Intern," both with good response. Somebody ought to throw a real budget at Spencer Benedict/Jason Green because I know he could make a bigger, smarter sex video, under well-funded circumstances.
GP: I agree that this is a guy who, like me, would benefit from money being thrown at him.