The Neon Demon

July 15, 2016

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Nicolas Winding Refn begins his latest, The Neon Demon, by stamping his initials on the background of the opening credits.  Not just for a moment, but through virtually the whole thing.  His supreme sense of authorship could evoke a great sense of pride in his work or a high level of pretension to his own abilities.  I’m not against the notion, per se, though it does strike me as a little gauche to do underscore every other credit by making sure nobody forgets this is your baby, but to do so puts the audience in an almost combative sense of expectation.  “This better be some high art, dude, because your lack of humility is jarring.”  There’s no doubt Refn has a sense of style, even if he’s a little reliant on Kubrickian camera moves to evoke his states of dreamlike dread.  His larger problem is his lack of self control, something he wears as proudly as Lars Von Trier (another filmmaker I run very hot and cold on), though lacking the latter’s occasional sense of cutting introspection.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Only God Forgives

July 23, 2013

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Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival only to be greeted by a chorus of boos is not unusual, nor is it necessarily any real indicator of quality.  Still, the reviews from the less throaty audience members – in this case, critics – have tended to be pretty savage ever since May.  Now that it has been released properly, this has eased a little bit, with a small corner of defenders and a healthy number of “s’alright” shrugs.  Savage outcries about ultra-gory pomposity are understandable, and I imagine on a different day and in a different mood, I’d be somewhere closer to them.  As it stands, I think Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives is just successful enough in certain areas to overcome its many shortfalls.  So help me, I really enjoyed watching it.

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Supposedly free of the trappings of Hollywood Romantic Dramas and all the fantasy that they entail, Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy is a standard indie romance that owes a lot more to those Hollywood versions than it cares to admit.  It was a hit at Sundance, winning a Grand Jury Prize, and if ever there was a giant red flag, that must be it.  Still, there’s always hope that something in the film might elevate it above its genre trappings – and believe you me, indie romances are about as tied to those trappings as any Jennifer Aniston rom-com.  Read the rest of this entry »

Lars von Trier’s Melancholia begins with a series of tableaux that, like the opening of his previous film Antichrist, could be a demented perfume ad.  This time around, however, he’s putting his cards on the table at the very start.  The images reflect both the mental state of its two main characters and a portent for things to come. A bride is being ensnared by limbs and roots, a woman runs frantically across the 19th green of a golf course clutching a child, the bride is peacefully sinking into water like Millais’ Ophelia, and so on and so on.  Never one to hold back theatrical bombast, this is all set to a piece from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.  It ends with nothing less than the destruction of earth as a significantly larger heavenly sphere smashes through it.  This prologue is both beautiful and almost laughably overblown, but it is also turns out to be an incredibly useful mood-setter for events to come.  Read the rest of this entry »

The American

September 2, 2010

The “assassin’s last job” film, which is a slightly broader term than my previous favourite, the “assassins slowly crumbling” film, has in its time established a certain set of genre tropes.  They always involve the solo hitman, an emotionally closed off, consummate professional who, like any good loner, sticks to a rigorous routine to reinforce the self-discipline that makes him so damn good at his job.  Something comes up to throw the anti-hero of course, usually a woman but sometimes a child or even an unlikely partner that creates an emotional connection that causes him to get sloppy or call into question his line of work altogether.  It’s a well-worn concept, and was even sent up by Jim Jarmusch in The Limits of Control, where his stoic, meticulous hitman was met by a series of bizarre contacts that felt the need to talk about old films or science or existential crises to the totally unresponsive man.  Still, it’s a remarkably robust set up, yielding an amusing comedy (Grosse Point Blanke), a trashy actioner (Hitman), a decent actioner (Leon), an unexpectedly deep character study (Collateral) and even an outright masterpiece (Melville’s Le Samourai).  Like a jazz standard, it all comes down to the variations of the theme, or as Collateral’s Vincent put it, “behind the notes.” Read the rest of this entry »