The Sleepless Movie Review
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Odds are good Amazon isn't carrying this one. ;)


Written and directed by Carlos Batts
104 Minutes

Some of you might be asking yourselves why I'd be reviewing what's basically pornography on this site, thus far ostensibly a "movie review" site as a "porno review" site. It may surprise you to know that porno movies are actually movies too - it's even right there in the name! My interests here are to...shall we say...assess the state of affairs in the even smaller independent adult film market. I live in California, in the bay area where sex positivity and progressive attitudes are mercifully somewhat prevalent, and being right next to San Francisco gets me within sniffing distance of the scene. This director, Carlos Batts, was recommended to me on good authority to check out what's going on with smaller, more independent porn.

Part of the essential problem with modern mainstream porn is that when you get to the action proper, they all pretty much fall in line. There's a very set, specific way it's always handled, so consistent that it boggles the mind why the output of the porn industry is so vast when it really is all basically the same shit. They'll change the "wraparound" a little bit (assuming they don't just eschew it altogether as in gonzo videos), but when the fucking starts it's all the same stuff. What's the point of a costume and a change in scenery when it's all more or less discarded during the sex scenes? I watched the AVN awards a couple years ago and made notes about what films I wanted to see for - ahem - "personal interest," but the instant I saw screencaps they were all the exact same amateur gynecology bullshit I'm already tired of. I've seen the parodies of The Office and Seinfeld, and it's the same shit. Wraparound changes, but the nitty gritty is fundamentally the same.

Sex is kind of a repetitive, silly-looking act to begin with if you want to be frank. Appealing to the reptile brain of the heterosexual male the way 99% of this stuff is made is too easy; I still get excited whenever I see a pair of tits, and I'm 27. I've seen my share. But so it does, and it all acts out the same way, and that's why I was interested to see if some new blood in the industry was shaking things up, making things more interesting, adding some art and flair to the proceedings. Instead I got Carlos Batts.

Let me be clear. Batts is, God bless him, at least fucking trying to mix things up a little. He plays with color, editing...there's some fundamental technical stuff that he's toying with and (unfortunately quite clearly) experimenting with that most directors wouldn't even bother with, and the way he chooses to finish Young Hollywood is pretty daring: the last fifteen or twenty minutes don't feature any sex, but instead a very fascinating and fetishized fire dance that doesn't look entirely out of place against what precedes it.

The final important difference is in his casting. Batts smartly dodges the plasticine blow-up dolls of modern mainstream porn in favor of more natural looking, attractive women. Well, I hesitate to call Mandy Morbid natural...I'm reasonably certain all of her parts are factory-direct, but you'll look at her body and wonder how she won the genetic lottery like she did. If you're at least a little into punkish/gothy-looking girls, she's worth keeping an eye on. But by and large his casting is a refreshing change of pace: these are the girls next door that Playboy used to give a shit about. The naughty, naughty girls next door that will do all kinds of shit on camera.

But that turns into a major problem. Batts doesn't seem to have much skill (or even interest) in tying the sex scenes in with his wraparound narrative, and the narrative itself seems inventive at first until you realize it's more or less a scene film played out largely by spoiled white (or whiteish) people in the LA area. If you're like me and you've grown weary of the "Cult of the Individual" so pervasive in modern popular culture, this is going to seem like a lot of horseshit. Let's be honest, armchair philosopher: your perceptions of life, partying, and so on are probably more than just a little colored by one of California's most popular homegrown flora.

The setup for the first (and best, in my opinion) sex scene more or less typifies the issues stemming from his theme and the underlying lack of originality or paradigm-shifting. "Do you have what it takes to be in a Danzig video?" Cue titties and lesbian scene. Followed by a scene full of film school-caliber name-dropping of bands, events, etc. The attempts at verisimilitude feel facile and transparent, and this is where most of the invention of the film is before it descends into traditional porno doldrums in the second act, redeeming itself only with the daring fire dance third act.

But you don't give a shit about plot. Sure, I watched the whole thing front-to-back, but you're probably just going to skip to the sex scenes, rub one out, and call it a night. Well, here's a ticket to Disappointmentville, but you'll be stopping at Sameoldbullshittown on your way. Because you see the problem is, the sex scenes are shot the exact same God damn way every other fucking porno film shoots them. Oh sure, he does a little more handheld camera work, and dicks around with filters in Final Cut Pro, but the angles are roughly the same, and the action feels largely performative. This is business as usual, Porno 101, today's topic: Amateur Gynecology. For all the progress the rest of the film tries to make, the sex scenes remain in that dreary realm of "serviceable," content to do very little to change the status quo.

Every so often something changes a little. An actor may actually smile in a non-suggestive manner, as though they're actually enjoying themselves. One of my favorite shots to love and hate is at the end of a boy/girl scene where the actress, looking directly into the camera and covered in more protein than a GNC outlet, says, "Is this art?" Cute question, let me raincheck on that.

The essential problem remains, though: Batts has tweaked the formula, but only just enough to initially seem fresh and original. I want to say he has potential, but right now he's really just serving the would-be-individual descendants of the same brown raincoat crowd porn has been serving for forty years. The most important sex organ in the human body is the brain, and when the movie gets down to business, the brain is left by the wayside. Bummer.

- Dustin Sklavos

All written content and colored rating system copyright Dustin Sklavos 2009. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.