The Neon Demon (2016) Review

neon1THE NEON DEMON (Dir- Nicolas Winding Refn, FRANCE/USA/DENMARK, 2016)

Starring- Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Karl Glusman

UK Cinema Release July 8th

After making a big impression with his 2011 ultra stylish violent crime thriller DRIVE (which also ushered in a resurgence of electronic synthesised film scores now pretty common in soundtracks) Nicolas Winding Refn could have probably had the pick of doing some bigger budget, probably more mainstream studio orientated films. But instead he hit Cannes two years after DRIVE with the ultra stylish and even more ultra violent surreal crime drama ONLY GOD FORGIVES. It would be amusing to think that anyone who went into this film expecting DRIVE mark 2 would be instead hit with something that contained brutal torture, a neon drenched Bangkok hell populated by ruthless drug dealers and even more ruthless Karaoke singing police captains. It divided audiences entirely and even had some booing at Cannes, a concept I find ridiculous. Booing a film? Its not WWE or pantomime, its a film! Again crowds at the French festival booed his latest flick THE NEON DEMON after its screening though there were some who praised it as well.

neon2But like his previous film, its going to be a dividing experience. Its interesting to note that in the screening I attended at HOME cinema in Manchester recently with Refn doing a Q and A he mentioned that he makes films that he likes and this might go some way to explain how he at once derives or frustrates expectations yet at the same time produces cinema that can be singularly interesting and original designed to confront and shock and with a nod to genre exploitation as well.

Set in the fashion world of Los Angeles, the film follows young hopeful Jesse (Fanning) who is desperate to enter the industry. She is on the lowest rung when we first see her, trying to find an agent and living in a scuzzy motel, ran by a lecherous manager (Reeves). She meets and flirts with aspiring photographer Dean (Glusman) who offers the only respite from her time in the city. At one shoot she also encounters professional make up artist Ruby (Malone) who brings her into a clique with two other supermodels Gigi (Heathcote) and Sarah (Lee) who offer bitchy remarks about the new member of the group. A meeting with an agent (Hendricks) who tells her to lie about her age and say that she’s 19, as 18 is a “bit too on the nose” (even though Jesse is actually 16) lands her a photo shoot. This soon leads to more jobs including a fashion show that eventually sets her on the course for fame in the industry. Yet her clique of friends have other ideas and slowly their true intentions and jealously starts to manifest itself in much more darker ways as they realise Jesse is on the up and up and they slowly start to fade away.

neon4This is the first time Refn has a film where his main characters are primarily women. However, despite their gender they are pitched as being just as ruthless and vicious as the male characters in his previous films. The supermodel clique are a bitchy trio who eye up Jesse and even the steely eyed Sarah comments that “Who wants sour milk when you can get fresh meat.” A statement that is both ironic in its intentions in the latter part of the movie and in the first part where the group look at Jesse and that its not just her youth that is attractive but something deeper and someone they more than crave to be or to take.

It’s only Ruby who seems to be the only sympathetic, big sister type member of the group who comforts and emphasises with her, yet this even hides her own sinister intentions. Jesse also transforms throughout the film with her naivety at the start slowly succumbing to be a more aggressive and confident character. The scene where she starts to enter a more adult predatory waters that sticks out is in a fashion shoot, where a sleazy almost threatening photographer propositions her to strip naked and cover her in body paint. She seems un-phased with the proposition despite the photographers elusive almost misogynistic male gaze and control over his subjects.

neon5But its her confidence and naivety that strike her further and further into this world and leads her into more darker regions where those in the industry figuratively and literally feed off her. Refn places the male characters in the background and for the few that do appear they seem almost predatory, such as the previously mentioned fashion photographer and Hank, the sleazy motel owner (an excellent against type turn from Reeves). Its only Jesse’s one time on/off fiancé, Dean, who seems to be the only decent almost sympathetic male in the film, yet even he seems almost weak and too innocent compared to the nature of the fashion industry and is eventually disowned by her in one scene which marks Jesse’s arrogance and eventual transformation.

Fanning is fantastic in the lead role and as is at the centre for most of the film going for broke in her performance that highlights her characters vulnerability, arrogance and naivety. The same can be said for Malone who is excellent as Ruby and appears in some scenes that certainly are eye opening and in casting the two models, Sarah and Gigi, Refn manages to elicit two very good support performances from Heathcote and Lee (who have been models themselves) as the couple of jealous cold as ice villains of the piece.

neon7Visually the film is beautiful, acting almost like a fashion shoot or commercial in parts, heavily focusing on models beauty and figure to an almost visually leering gaze. Combined with a hypnotic, viscerally neon drenched look that is both surreal in its execution to the point of making Los Angeles look almost unworldly. Refn loves to shoot strong visuals, highly stylised apartments with kooky designs that add to a distinctive European way of looking at the city of angels, maybe even a sly dig or attack on the City’s artificiality and the fashion industry itself? There are even visual moments of surreal horror, splendour and irony throughout most notably in a scene where a mountain lion sneaks into Jesse’s motel room, which acts as a slight reference to Jacques Tourner’s CAT PEOPLE both in its execution and in an ironic nod to that particular films story of jealous predatory females.

While its art house aesthetic is visually on show, thematically the film has a certain surreal horror quality that whilst not being entirely a straightforward genre film still contains tips of the hat to Giallo cinema, such as SUSPIRIA and other entry’s into genre and exploitation cinema and even some of the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky (who Refn dedicated ONLY GOD FORGIVES to). Even body horror could be cited as an influence if not directly but in the films critique of the obsession of the body and characters willing to devour beauty, gaze at it and objectify it for its own dark intentions.

neon3However it still comes out as being remarkably a Refn film in that he strikes beautiful visuals along with a surreal hypnotic quality throughout with a dash of some remarkably violent scenes and deliberately shocking scenes (lesbian necrophilia anyone?) to throw off and appal viewers sensibility’s and that certainly highlights the almost exploitation showman attitude that he displays. It wont appeal to many and most likely will frustrate many as well, and admittedly I will be seeing this again at some point as even after one viewing I came away still feeling like there is much on display here that might become clearer on a repeat viewing.

Yet at the same time as a piece of cinema THE NEON DEMON is both remarkable and original and confirms Refn as a director who most likely enjoys the noise and hype that develops around his films, but would not care what people think of them because as the man said, he makes films he likes.

9/10

THE NEON DEMON is out in cinemas on July 8th.

Bad Land: Road To Fury (2014) DVD Review

badlandBAD LAND – ROAD TO FURY (2014)

In Cinemas May 1st 2015

On DVD & Digital HD May 4th 2015 from Signature Entertainment

Director – Jake Paltrow

Cast – Michael Shannon, Nicholas Holt, Elle Fanning, Kodi Smit- McPhee, Robert Hobbs, Aimee Mullins.

Set in the future, America’s water resources have all but disappeared, with global warming leading to droughts and punishing high temperatures. With the general population, hiding away in cities, farmer Ernest (Michael Shannon) remains secluded and defiantly believing that his dirt is fertile enough to produce food once he can procure and maintain a good water supply. Wife Katherine (Aimee Mullins) is paralysed and in a local rehab centre near by so Ernest is left to look after daughter Mary ( Elle Fanning) who is at an age where she is madly in love with Flem (Nicholas Hoult) and wants to run away to a bigger and better life.

Son Flem (Kodi Smit – McPhee) is quite and unassuming and ready to follow in his fathers footsteps in locating water and making a better life for his small family. Struggling through the punishing conditions, Ernest hopes to bribe local water pipe workers to circumvent precious water to his land, therefore avoiding foreclosure on his land and getting the bountiful crop he so very much needs. However, Flem and his family were previously tainted by Ernest’s fair business practises in the past and is seeking revenge for damages caused, and worms his way into the families affairs, becoming husband to Mary and a much needed father figure to Jerome, who becomes immediately unsettled by the intruder, especially when he sees unhelpful behaviour from the interloper.

badland1Bad Land – Road to Fury establishes a gritty setting, visiting a well portrayed Western setting and landscape,providing an unconventional and workable home for Ernest and his dust encrusted family. A government of sorts exists in the world trying to placate the masses with water and food distribution, food being essentially foil packed goop. Ernest, having made some bad decisions and having made a mess of his life, is determined to prove everybody wrong and show that his land can produce crops and even alcohol which he distributes to the local community.

One of the themes of Bad Land – Road to Fury is failure,watching Ernest play out his life day after day, with the reality of the mistakes he has made in the past. His pride is important to him and he wants to prove to himself that the impossible can be done. The shadow of Ernest’s alcoholism is never too far from his thoughts as he tries to maintain a sense of his community leadership. This brings the movie into focus as you hope Paltrow doesn’t copy too many dystopian tropes and his focus lies in character and more intimate discussions.

A good addition to the flow of the movie is the ‘chapters’ of each section, seen from a different characters point of view, detailing each characters motivations and understandings. The idea is interesting and commendable, but it does feel a little unearned. Supporting characters don’t hang about when the screenplay might well have been stronger if their presence had been felt for longer. After a strong opening, the film stumbles, watching the director pay more attention to aspects of filmmaking mostly unnoticed by the casual viewer, the editing too strong and transitions too jarring for a narrative flow to be cohesive.

badland2A strength of the movie with a film this size is its visual aesthetic. While not overall ingrained in the film the touches of technology in the film are interesting. For example, on Ernest’s farm they use an walking aid called a ‘Simulit’ essentially a metal cow with a basket instead of a body, so items can be carried long distances, its an oddity within the film but a nice touch. Also, scenes involving a character who washes plates with ‘clean’ dirt is a novelty and a nice touch.

Other strengths include intentional or not, its homages to western genre tropes, like Paltrow’s tendency to show close ups on eyes and music ala Ennio Morriconne. With a small budget and a well known cast, Paltrow uses his script and characters very well.

7/10

Signature Entertainment Presents Bad Land: Road to Fury – May 4th 2015

badlandrtfSignature Entertainment Presents Bad Land: Road to Fury – May 4th 2015

Pray for rain! Signature Entertainment proudly presents ‘BAD LAND’ (aka ‘Young Ones;), an intoxicating thriller starring Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning that critics are calling “A masterpiece of a film” (Huffington Post).

Synopsis:

In a post-apocalyptic eternal drought, people kill for water. Where it is scarce and desperately needed, a farmer (Michael Shannon) defends his land from threat, and hopes to rejuvenate his parched soil in the hope of a better life for his family. However, his daughter’s boyfriend (Nicholas Hoult) wants the land for himself, and will go to any length to get it.

Signature Entertainment Presents Bad Land: Road to Fury in Cinemas 1st May and DVD & Digital HD on Monday 4th May #BadlandMovie

 

Twixt (2011) DVD Review

TWIXT-001TWIXT (2011)
Dir. Francis Ford Coppola         85 mins
Metrodome
UK Release: 28th October 2013

Many people regard Francis Ford Coppola’s prime as the period from The Godfather through to Rumble Fish, and think of the majority of films that have followed as predominantly misfires. This assertion is open to opinion, but it can be said that the three films Coppola has made since the turn of the century have been low budget (for Coppola at least) curios well worth checking out – Youth Without Youth, Tetro and now Twixt.

The main character in the film is Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer), an author fallen on hard times dragging his latest novel through tin pot American towns and attending book signings in hardware stores where the clientele are more concerned with buying polyfilla. Whilst in the town of Swann Valley however he meets a fan in the shape of the town sheriff, Bobby La Grange (Bruce Dern) who immediately attempts to get Baltimore down to the morgue to check out a body. After all, perhaps a crime writer may be able to help the sheriff solve a local mystery?

Baltimore seems quite taken with this small town, more so when he discovers that Edgar Allen Poe once stayed there. At night he finds himself having frequent conversations with a girl named Virginia (Elle Fanning) who appears strikingly white with jolting red eye make-up. Her voice too carries an echo each time she speaks – is she a figment of Baltimore’s imagination or a ghostly apparition that haunts this surreal town?

TWIXT-002As the film progresses, things get increasingly more bizarre including the dream-like sequence (or is it?) where Baltimore meets Edgar Allen Poe when attempting to find his way home. “Edgar Poe? Show me the way” mutters Kilmer’s character as if he’s stumbled across a member of the local tourist board. All this intrigue sends Baltimore straight to the local library where after carrying out some research he begins to feel that the town of Swann Valley may harbour some secrets that could well dissipate his creative malaise.

It’s hard to give a definitive analysis of Twixt because there are elements of it that cause some conflict. The essential question though as always is “is it a good film?”. Without hesitation I can say no, but it IS a film that somehow manages to lure you in and keep you both intrigued and gripped at the same time. Whether this, like a car crash is purely a symptom of morbid curiosity I’m still undecided. There are things to like in this film, the way its shot is excellent, and the film contains scenes which look absolutely stunning. The dream sequences with their almost monochrome appearance peppered with vibrant reds are lush.

TWIXT-003My main gripe with it though was its near ADHD tendency to skip across the genres of gothic drama, hokey comedy and gruesome horror with some aspects even generating that TV movie sensibility. By not embracing any of these, the film felt very unsettled and failed to build any tension and suspense – two things you genuinely feel it was trying to achieve. With the casting of great actors like Bruce Dern, Ben Chaplin and Joanne Whalley, you can’t help think that even the switch from Val Kilmer to someone better suited to the role may have had some impact on the film’s success. Overall though, despite its creator being cinematic legend, it would be wrong to file this under anything other than ‘misjudged misfire’.

4 out of 10

Extras:
•        None

Twixt (2011) Review

 

Twixt (2011)

Dir. Francis Ford Coppola – 88 minutes

Francis Ford Coppola really needs no introduction , a writer , director , producer . He is also a successful businessman and vintner as well being a septuagenarian .

So why I wonder did he decide to return to directing with the 2011 film Twixt ? I know he hasn’t *been away* but I wonder why go through the whole writing/producing/directing process at that age and why anyone didn’t say STOP , STOP THIS NOW!

Well apparently the whole influence for the film was he had a vivid alcohol induced dream and upon awakening this was conceived .

Anyhow – onto the film .

Failed author and alcoholic Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) arrives in a small town to do a book signing in a hardware store . While there he gets talking to the sheriff (Bruce Dern) who tells Hall about a mass murder many years ago and also explains he has a fresh corpse back in the morgue that has died in suspicious circumstances .

He decides to stay on in town and try to write his next book . Help comes in the form of alcohol induced dreams (sound familiar?) that feature the ghost of a girl named V (Elle Fanning) and some great advice from Edgar Allan Poe who acts almost like a spirit guide . He is also being haunted by the memory of his dead daughter and harassed by a wife after money .

Then we also have the puzzle of the seven faced clock tower and how about all them kids across the lake with their leader Flamingo

The positive in this film is that it looks fantastic , the colours are beautiful . The dream sequences are very reminiscent of Twin Peaks and using very deep reds and bright whites whilst everything else is monotone really works well . Also the performances of Fanning and Dern are above average .

Now Val Kilmer . Where do you start with him ??
How does this man still get work? He is appalling in the role of Hall and it seems to be just another payday for him . He delivers lines with the fervour and zeal of a dead squirrel , he plays the drunk parts straight and the emotional parts drunk . Can he act or could he ever ? He honestly looked like he couldn’t be arsed with anything throughout the film .

In the UK we have a chocolate bar named Twix – and for 88 minutes I would have much rather have sat eating a Twix than watching Twixt . And I imagine looking at Kilmer’s ever increasing bulk that he is partial to a Twix or fourteen .

Now when Coppola dreamt this he didn’t know how this would end , and it seems he just winged it because the ending is as bad if not worse than the rest of the film .

A huge disappointment , because this had promise . Hugely disjointed and when its over you have more questions than answers . And when you have someone with the talent of FFC behind it , then you wonder just what went wrong .

A poor 3/10