Fruitvale Station - the biographical drama covering the last 24 hours of the life of Oscar Grant, an unarmed African-American man who was shot dead by police on New Years Eve at the eponymous station- is hard to discuss without drawing parallels with the recent events in Ferguson. The film was released in UK cinemas this June, and by August of the same year, the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by policeman Darren Wilson had not just become national news highlighting the racism within America’s police force, but global news. What particularly links Oscar Grant’s story with Micheal Brown’s is the response of the public who would not let the truth lie- to date protests in Ferguson against the police and National Guard still continue. Similarly, the film opens with real footage taken of the shooting by members of the public with camera phones, which was then posted on the internet and viewed millions of times, with protests and riots of outraged residents of the Bay area ensuing. This footage is raw and a punch in the gut; out of the poor quality images of suspects sat on the floor with police stood up in front of them the shot fired rings through. It gives blatant truth to the phrase ‘based on a true story’ that filmmakers often play fast and loose with. Director Ryan Coogler said that he eventually chose to include this footage as “Being from the Bay Area, I knew that footage like the back of my hand, but more people from around the world had no idea about this story. It made sense for them to see that footage and see what happened to Oscar, and I think it was a responsibility that we had to put that out there”.
It also clearly juxtaposes the rest of the film; here you have been told that Oscar Grant will be shot, it’s inevitable, it’s even true and it’s already happened. Yet, the middle of the film fills you with a cruel hope that it won’t end that way. As we follow Oscar on December 31st, we see him working towards what supposedly are his new year’s resolutions: to be a better partner, father and son. In the early hours of December 31st, Oscar promises to be a better partner to his girlfriend Sophina and their young daughter Tatiana joins them in bed. He goes to the supermarket where he used to buy food for his Mother’s birthday party that night and pleads with his manager to get his job back. He also meets a customer Kate, and goes out of the way to call his grandma and advise her what fish to buy. He chucks away his stash of weed to turn over a new leaf. He sees a dog get hit by a car and cradles it until it dies, a fantastic foreshadowing of Oscar’s own death. The atmosphere and sense of change in the air is heavily present throughout these scenes as he plans his New Year’s Evening with his family and friends, before the fateful dispute on the train platform.
The film does not portray Oscar as a saint, however. There are hints from his girlfriend Sophina that he has cheated on her in the past, which he is trying to make up for. He has also hidden the fact that he has lost his job from his friends and his family. There is a particularly compelling flashback to Oscar’s time in prison with a visit from his Mother, which shows his quick temper. But like all good protagonists, this just gives him a more balanced and realistic character that is expertly played by Michael B. Jordan. The stand-out performance, in my opinion, is that of Octavia Spencer of The Help fame who plays Oscar’s mother Wanda. As the first feature length film from Ryan Coogler, it is deeply moving and well thought out in terms of plot progression and letting the speak for itself.
Fruitvale Station is deeply empathetic, and I sobbed for the final half hour or so, and many responses on Twitter concerning the film are of a similar nature. I know, the tears of a white girl for a racism and injustice that she doesn’t really understand and will never experience. And this review has been entirely written from a white perspective, which I acknowledge makes me the wrong candidate as a reviewer. Although it is hard to extract this film from recent events in Ferguson, I am aware that it is not my place to give any interpretation of this. But I am a film reviewer and I have to review films, and I can’t shy away from this. This film is blatantly and unapologetically about race and racism, and therefore it is the kind of film that we see made every blue moon. You can call it a ‘human story’ and try and eliminate the issue of race, and say that the way the audience responds to it is based on human empathy, but that is a massive injustice and quite offensive. Outside of the zeitgeist of this film or Ferguson, the fact remains that in the US between 2005 and 2012 a white officer used deadly force against a black person almost two times a week. And much like those facts and Ferguson, a white audience can only ever empathise with this film, whereas a black, specifically an African American, audience can sympathise. But if Fruitvale Station shows anything, it’s the power that film still has to raise issues and awareness, whether that be through telling someone’s story or on the mobile phone video camera of a member of the public.
A Most Wanted Man serves as both the third adaptation of a John Le Carre novel in the last decade - after 2005’s The Constant Gardner and 2008’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - and the last completed film of Philip Seymour Hoffman before his death earlier this year, the swan song of probably the greatest actor of his generation. Because of that latter point, one might be tempted to canonise the film as an important work or an instant classic. Unfortunately, the film as a whole doesn’t quite reach the heights of the previous works of its major players, but it is a worthy full stop on the sentence of Hoffman’s career.
Directed by famed rock band photographer Anton Corbijn (everyone is familiar with his images of U2 in the Californian desert or Ian Curtis in the Mancunian snow), A Most Wanted Man is a grim, bleak critique on the war on terror, which finds a Muslim immigrant from Chechnya by the name Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) arriving in in Hamburg by less-than-formal means, soon becoming a pawn in a power struggle between intelligence agencies and counter-terrorism units from both sides of the Atlantic. Hoffman plays Gunter Bachmann, an embittered, hardened, untucked-shirt of a man, all greasy hair, stubble and eyes like pissholes in the snow, a spy with past failures hanging around his neck like so many albatrosses. Bachmann and his team (featuring the excellent Nina Hoss and a criminally underused Daniel Bruhl) are on the hunt for Karpov, believing him to be a jihadist and the start of a trail to capturing bigger fish, namely local Muslim philanthropist Dr. Faisal Abdullah who is believed to be funnelling funds to terrorist activities. Sniffing around both these cases are the suspicious German government official Mohr, who wants Issa in custody as soon as possible, and trigger-happy CIA agent Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), whilst Issa’s lawyer Annabel is pulled between serving her client and obeying the government, and the ever reptilian Willem Dafoe holds the key to Bachmann’s success as a slithery banker.
The most striking thing about A Most Wanted Man - other than Hoffman’s excellent and restrained performance - is just how beautifully composed its visuals are throughout. Although Corbijn’s insistence on handheld cameras leaves the frame irritatingly shaky, his photographer’s eye is working overtime, capturing the architectural beauty of Hamburg’s high-rises and the noirish shadows of German urban nighttime. Whilst this is clearly Hoffman’s film, and he anchors it much in the way Gary Oldman did in Tinker Tailor, the supporting cast are all rather strong (apart from Wright who seems to just be rehashing her House Of Cards character), although not quite at the astonishing level of those surrounding Oldman, and almost all of zem seem to have zer beste fake German accent at hand. It’s just unfortunate that, despite being in an adaptation of the work of a masterful writer, the cast aren’t afforded a tight script. In fact, the film barely qualifies as a thriller, moving at a pace much more befitting the drama genre, and taking its time even then. Whilst absorbing and gripping, it feels almost as if there’s an ingredient missing; quite what it might be escapes me.
The equivalent of an eleventh album from a band two decades into their career (basically, the Manics’ Futurology from earlier this year); A Most Wanted Man doesn’t really bring anything really new to the spy game, but it’s an enjoyable, solid offering and a must-see for anyone remotely fond of the work of Hoffman.
Director Adam Wingard has made a name for himself in the world of indie horror over the past number of years with his flicks A Horrible Way to Die, segments in V/H/S and V/H/S 2 and probably his most fully realized work of the lot, last year’s meta slasher You’re Next. The Guest veers away from these more traditional horror genres and tackles the psychological thriller genre. Or at least, that’s if you simply have to put a tag on it; what The Guest actually is, is a bit of everything. Thriller, action, drama, horror, comedy; you name it. The film doesn’t adhere to any particular set of genre rules. Instead Wingard creates his own and the cast and crew happily obey, and the resulting film is something roaringly entertaining.
The Peterson family are getting over the loss of their son Caleb in Afghanistan and when they get a surprise visit in the form of Caleb’s old army buddy David, the family begins to feel a bit more whole again. The Petersons really know little-to-nothing about this chap, but to them, he’s almost like a replacement son, someone to fill the gap missing in their lives, and so it’s understandable why they are more than happy to have him stay with them. David is eager to help out with the various problems in each of the Petersons’ lives, from doing chores with the mother, Laura (Sheila Kelly), to drinking beer with father Spencer (Leland Orser). He wins over the family’s teenage son Luke (Brendan Meyer) almost too easily by beating up some bullies for him, and from then on, the two are besties. Twenty year old Anna (Maika Monroe) is the hardest family member to impress, but David’s dark and mysterious charm (think Ryan Gosling in Drive) eventually proves too much for her to deny.
Things seem to be going well for the Petersons having David around, until they aren’t. A series of events provokes Anna to question David’s identity and from here on out, the film takes a deliciously nasty and unexpected turn. None of it would have really worked if it wasn’t for the wickedly charming performance from Dan Stevens, a familiar face only if you’ve watched Downton Abbey. His “I don’t need to try to be charming” attitude works unbelievably well, making him a great choice to lead the film. In the first act or so, there is a real sense of something building. Even in the most seemingly normal of scenes, Wingard’s editing, both sound and video hints at something bigger and badder lurking around the corner. Having these almost Evil Dead-esque angles and jolting score numbers lets us know that Wingard hasn’t left his forte for horror completely out of this flick. And the horror elements become more and more prominent as the film begins to unravel into absolute madness. As you think it’s going right, the film takes a sharp left, and there are a heap of these quick change of directions as things heat up.
The Guest feels so old school on the one hand, with the incredibly genius selection of synthy tunes for the soundtrack (mostly stuff you probably wouldn’t heard of unless you’re really know your stuff), knowingly cheesy lines and often trippy use of lights (think Suspiria). But on the other hand, it feels really new school. Not many filmmakers are making these genre-defying indie flicks. It’s not the kind of film that should do particularly great in the box office, but those are generally the films that cult cinema fans end up loving, and maybe it’s too premature to say, but it could well end up being a film that holds up well with movie collectors 20 or 30 years from now.
If theres’s one thing The Script do well, it’s… erm… hang on, I had something a minute ago. Nope, it’s gone. There’s nothing.
There’s a quote from the old Labour firebrand (and personal hero of mine) Aneurin Bevan that goes “We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down”. Alas, that rule really doesn’t apply to music in the slightest as we all know the easiest way of rocketing to the top of multiple charts around the world and subsequent major mainstream success is being as safe and bland as humanly possible. The Script are standard bearers of this, taking over the position as their predecessors and countrymen U2 increasingly fade from relevance. But even compared to the rest of the artists who produce this middle-aged parent demographic pap, The Script’s latest album is the nadir of safe.
Each of the eleven tracks contained on No Sound Without Silence is like some unholy, insidious mulch of the stadium bands of years gone by, but without any of the verve, originality or craft they had. Take “No Good In Goodbye” which rips off The Edge’s guitar style wholesale and applies it to sub-Coldplay anthemics, and features some of the worst lyrics you’re likely to see this decade: “Where’s the good in goodbye?/Where’s the nice in nice try?/Where’s the us in trust gone?/Where’s the soul in soldier on?/Now I’m the low in lonely… I can’t take the ache from heartbreak”. How the hell does a professional pop act get away with such crimes in this day and age? It made me gag to type that out. In fact, the entire record is filled with such glib, eighth-rate writing and horribly earnest sentiments from its title, to the track names - “It’s Not Right For You”, “Never Seen Anything ‘Quite Like You’”, “Superheroes”, “Man On A Wire” - to the rest of the lyrics. It doesn’t help that the production and melodies are equally as uninspired, presumably to keep everything within the boundaries of the radio airplay sweet spot.
It’s damning of the music-buying and listening public that we’ve allowed this to carry on for six years and four albums, and didn’t shut this shit down sooner. We were so preoccupied with whether or not we could make a band this shitty successful that we didn’t stop to think if they should.
Chris Brown is increasingly becoming one of those artistic (in the loosest sense of the word) figures who’s work and personality are hard to separate. But the thing is, whilst most artists with criminal records or celebrities with tarnished reputations (Woody Allen, Michael Jackson, John Lennon, R Kelly, Roman Polanski et al) have some talent to begin with and have created great works (which, of course, doesn’t erase their various crimes), but Chris Brown doesn’t have anything remotely good to his name. Even when taking his now infamous assault of Rihanna out of the equation, Brown is generally quite a petulant tool of a manchild, and it’s hard not to take that into account when trying to review his music.
Alas, it doesn’t help that Brown’s output is consistently garbage, a streak which has continued on his sixth album, X. Like, it’s always lowest common denominator dance-influenced pop R&B, with hip-hop pretensions but with none of the power or swagger to back it up. Perhaps the occasional syrupy ballad, which has absolutely no emotion behind it and is hollow to the core. The entire enterprise is autotuned beyond the point of no return, with the kind of production and beats which have to be collated from the presets to bargain basement keyboards because no producer is going to break a sweat coming up with original or interesting ideas for this when basic shit will sell like hotcakes. It’s trashy one-note pap, mass-produced sludge that is the aural equivalent of chewing gum; no redeeming features, and the taste is gone in a matter of minutes.
Speaking of minutes, this thing lasts 60 of them. A whole hour - that’s 17 tracks - worth of musical diarrhoea, and that’s before you add on the deluxe edition material. It’s an hour of my life which I will never get back. I could’ve done so much with that hour, but I wasted it in order to subject myself to the low-rent work of a woman beater. How anyone would willingly do this is beyond the comprehension of my mind, and how any of the dozen guest artist can look themselves in the eye after appearing on X is similarly baffling. Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj Tyga, Usher, Rick Ross, Kendrick Lamar, R Kelly, Trey Songz, Ariana Grande Akon, Brandy and Jhene Aiko ain’t desperate for the cash or the exposure, so I can only put it down to moral bankruptcy or a momentous lapse in judgement.
Basically, there’s enough terrible music and enough terrible people in the world without Chris Brown adding to both tallies. No one with any taste should enjoy this.
I’ll be honest, I thought The Kooks, those perennial mid-carders of the mid ‘00s indie boom, had split up long ago. Their last album apparently came out in 2011 and reached Number 10 in the charts, but I have absolutely no memory of it or any of its singles whatsoever. Hell, even 2008’s despicably bad Konk is but a faint memory of smug pop-rock and the admittedly good-if-saccharine “Shine On”, leaving debut Inside In/Inside Out as their only memorable and worthwhile record
Alas, this latest album seems destined to follow in the footsteps of its two immediate predecessors. Listen has to be commended for being a brave new direction for the band, as the fourth album isn’t usually where a lot of artists would take big risks, instead preferring to consolidate and stick to what’s safe, but it’s just unfortunate that even in expanding their palette, The Kooks remain as dull and uninspired as they did six years ago. The addition of funk, gospel, jazz, and soul, along with hip hop producer Inflo, to the band’s regular indie pop makes for a messy pastiche of ever more passionate, interesting and powerful music.
It’s clear in the three years since Junk Of The Heart, they’ve attempted to galvanise themselves and storm back into the spotlight with all guns blazing, but the entirety of the record feels desperate to be liked and be relevant, as the brick-fisted, cloth-eared attempt at social commentary on “It Was London” - sample lyrics “It was in Tottenham / Man got shot by a police man / A young girl went to test them / Went up against the system / Oh oh, I don’t know” and “On the television / Of course they blame the youth for disruption / ‘Cause they took Fortnum & Mason / And nothing said about the shooting / Just the looting”. There’s a bitter irony in naming an album Listen and then serving up something this unappealing.
The Leftovers is a show of moments, metaphors and symbolism. It may regularly dodges consistent logic and narrative satisfaction, but its first season has contained some wonderful iconography and a handful of truly jaw-dropping scenes - scenes which in a show of consistent quality output would make it one of the finest of this current Golden Age Of TV™. But once again Damon Lindelof, as is now his trademark, like Kubrick and bathrooms, Rowling and spiders, or Whedon and super-powered women, provides roughly a shit-ton of questions with a relatively paltry amount of answers. It happened with Lost, it happened with Prometheus, it happened in a lesser degree with the Abrams Stark Trek films, and it’s happened again with The Leftovers.
Talk on the internet has already bubbled up between those wanting answers or at least some forward momentum in the show, and those happy to go along with the human drama and interactions between characters. The latter group often seem to see the show as less about a central mystery needing to be solved, and more a study of how people deal with loss in different ways, or even a giant allegory for how depression can affect people. Whilst those readings are absolutely valid and are great as something under the surface to pick up on, I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to stay on board with The Leftovers if that’s all it amounts to. Audiences have enough shit in their own lives before tuning into ten hours of fictional people grieving with few glimmers oh hope on the horizon (although the closing scenes of the finale did offer two transparent hooks for next season which in turn were the most positive moments so far). It would be fine to shift focus from an all-encompassing mystery and the search for answers to the characters’ individual struggles if they were compelling characters, but few are, no matter how good the actors behind them are.
A big stumbling block in my road to wholly enjoying the show is how dull the concept becomes when dropped onto white middle-class suburban America. The unexplainable loss of 2% of the world’s entire population with no rhyme or reason in those who disappeared - “I get the Pope. But Gary fuckin’ Busey? How does he make the cut?” - could find so many more interesting contexts and subtexts in nearly any other place on Earth than an affluent white-picket fence town in New York. As such, the majority of the season felt like some reworking of American Beauty, right down to Jill & Aimee mirroring Thora Birch and Mena Suvari’s characters.
Thankfully the acting side is far more balanced than the rest of the show. It’s nice to see Justin Theroux back in something of note after years of cameos and screenwriting (although I wish he’d put on some goddamn pants when filming - you’re making the rest of us look bad, Jus) and he does a fine job of making Kevin Garvey an utter asshole with some redemption and reform possible. In her first regular TV role, Carrie Coon has knocked it out of the park as Nora Durst, arguably rivalling Fargo’s Allison Tolman for the year’s biggest acting find. One imagines, after this season and a supporting role in David Fincher’s upcoming Gone Girl, she’ll be in far greater demand; her performances in “The Prodigal Son…” and spotlight episode “Guest” are genuinely Emmy-worthy. Despite giving us the worst American accent since Ray Winstone’s in The Departed, it was a joy to have Christopher Eccleston back on screen as one of the show’s more intriguing characters in Matt Jamison, the former reverend - and brother of Nora - without a church or flock.
Special mention has to go out to Amy Brenneman and Ann Dowd as the central characters of the show’s de facto antagonists The Guilty Remnant, who are excellent despite only being able to speak in a handful of episodes (one particular instance in the finale is made all the more chilling because of this). It’s unfortunate that the same can’t be said of Liv Tyler who’s newcomer to the Guilty Remnant isn’t afforded much characterisation, although there have been hints of her rising to power within the cult in the coming seasons, which would obviously afford her a role befitting of her talent and stature. Similarly, the always excellent Paterson Joseph went disappointingly underused before going out the Elvis way in the finale, without so much as a Peep Show reference. The Holy Wayne was certainly one of the most interesting elements of The Leftovers, with a cloud of ambiguity over whether he actually had spiritual powers or was just “another nut who believed he was God”, and to take him out at this stage of the game feels like a mistake.
However, I’m not sure how much of the success of the show in bringing out emotion can be attributed to the frequent appearances of the work of Max Richter. Richter is one of the finest contemporary classical composers and the use of his compositions “The Twins: Prague” and “November” have served as remarkably effective reoccurring motifs throughout the ten episodes of The Leftovers… but to be quite honest, I’m listening to Richter right this second as I sit here writing this, and it makes me feel as though I’m typing out a great piece of art or an important treatise, or that just something monumental is happening. I’m fairly certain a slow motion shot of someone picking their nose and eating it, backed by those compositions, would seem like one of the most powerful, moving pieces of cinema ever recorded. Admittedly, the music choices on the show have often been sublime - season finale “The Prodigal Son Returns” deserves specific praise for the use of Nina Simone’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” and Apocalyptica’s superb orchestral cover of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” - in a similar vein as its timeslot predecessor True Detective, you can often expect to rediscover a classic tune you’d forgotten or an oldie you’d never heard of before.
But despite wonderful musical direction and those stunning moments dotted throughout - the final twenty minutes of the finale, the in-utero loss, the car of creepy old women seemingly predicting the departure, the stoning of Gladys, the shooting of the dogs, Nora’s “shooting”, the deer rampage, the reveal of the mannequins, the general look of The Guilty Remnant - I really cannot completely give myself over to the show. It seems so assured and proud of its profundity and sincerity, like it’s making a vital comment on the human condition, for merely broaching the topics of grief and loss. There’s little nuance in its shallow waters, and its “new beginning” of a ending - whilst making for an intriguing second season (the source novel has now been exhausted leaving Lindelof with no road map for future plotting) - feels almost insulting as a statement that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel of depression, when that is in no way a certainty.
I honestly feel baffled that I kept coming back for more of The Leftovers week after week for almost three months. Such dedication to a show with so many glaring flaws isn’t uncommon, but when it happens, it’s frustrating. Tuning in for each episode with no guarantee that there’ll be enough content to enjoy to validate your ongoing fandom (the major examples I can think of are latter-day Simpsons, Doctor Who and the output of the WWE) is a tiresome business, and breeds contempt towards the show and its creators. But I know in my heart of hearts I’ll be back in the same seat watching when season two debuts.
In a move which goes entirely against the grain of contemporary dance music, Simian Mobile Disco ditched their computers for minimal analogue equipment (two modular synths and two sequencers) and recorded their new album Whorl at a show in a saloon in Pioneertown, California, a town just a few miles from the Joshua Tree National Park. The resulting record - mixed together from the show itself, an extended desert jam from the previous day, and a rehearsal from their London studio - is imbedded with the warmth and touches psychedelia so often associated with the surrounding desert lands, as well as the ebb and flow of live performances.
You have to applaud the duo’s bravery. Very few major dance acts would ever dream of taking even just the standard live album route, let alone approach it in such a challenging way. It’s just… on the trip to California, they must have left the big box of melodies, hooks and beats behind in London. Nearly ten minutes and two tracks (“Redshift”, “Dandelion Spheres”) pass by before a single beat is heard, and whilst such ambience is all fine and dandy, here it feels kind of dull, leaving the album as slow off the mark as a teenager on a Monday morning. The album’s highlights act more as tentpoles keeping the rest standing, rather than jewels in a glittering crown; “Calyx” is a wonderful sun-kissed seven minutes, and the bubbling bass and whirling synths of “Sun Dogs” genuinely verge on hypnotic.
It’s just a shame then that almost everything else hangs in mid-air, not really doing much of anything to rouse a response, positive or otherwise. I mean, it sounds nice, with the pleasing warmth and reverb that comes with the use of analogue machines, and it’s technically proficient, but ultimately Whorl is all surface and no feeling.
Even though it was roughly a million miles away from the oeuvre of her band, the Oscar-nominated “The Moon Song” wasn’t Karen O’s first and only foray into the world of the acoustic love song. Recorded around 2006 and 2007, Crush Songs is a baker’s dozen of lo-fi lullabies, described by O as “the soundtrack to what was an ever-continuing love crusade”.
Barely qualifying as a studio album, Crush Songs’ budget production values and sparse arrangements make it feel like a more purposeful cousin of Michael Cera’s surprise album from earlier in the summer. But whereas True That felt kind of indulgent, this feels a lot more necessary, with Karen O working through her lovesickness, crushes and loneliness with six strings and a mic. It certainly helps that she’s able to capture and articulate universal feelings and raw emotion with aplomb. “Rapt”, in particular, sums up so much in a simple couplet: “Do I really need another habit like you?/I really need, do you need me too?”
However, apart from the whistles and giggles of final track “Singalong”, nothing quite matches the fragile beauty and wistfulness of “The Moon Song”. For one thing, that was fully fleshed-out and crafted, whilst the majority of Crush Songs fades out almost as soon as it strummed into life. Of its fifteen tracks, only four stretch past two minutes, and only one of those makes it past three. When some extra instrumentation is afforded, such as the ghostly backing vocals on “Indian Summer”, “Visits”’ drum machine or subtle strings on “Sunset”, it adds a little life and verve to the proceedings
But whilst most of the album is warm, sweet and earnest, it still amounts to a collection of rough sketches of songs, a step above demos, a few ideas and snippets with potential, but never really fulfilling. Rather like crushes themselves in fact.
Throw an ex-child star who’s career has been on a downward trajectory for some time, the world’s most famous male porn star with zero real dramatic acting experience, a writer with one big hit and a string of controversies, and a director who just happened to write two of the most influential classics of modern American cinema. What do you get? The Canyons, which would be one of the most laughably bad films to gain a cinema release if only it were able to be laughed at.
Such considerable disasters often results in something that is still enjoyable on some level - often for reasons unintended by the filmmakers - like The Room and Birdemic, or more mainstream, big-budget fare like Pompeii, but there’s little if any point for The Canyons to even exist. Funded from their own pockets as well as money from Kickstarter, I feel Bret Easton Ellis and Paul Schrader owe each of those backers a refund for swindling them out of cash in order to make this tedious, trashy satire of rich assholes that’s as empty as a discarded bottle of off-brand Coke and equally as plastic, and wouldn’t make it past a second draft of a third-rate Grand Theft Auto knockoff.
Likeable characters aren’t a necessity in cinema, but they at least need to be understandable beings, beings we can empathise with and root for. Instead we’re given a vapid pair of Tinseltown corpses, a married couple who can barely contain their seething hatred for each other, seemingly fuck everything in sight and are of little worth to anyone. The “wealthy couple who hate each other” trope worked in, say, American Beauty when both characters were recognisable as humans with human emotions and feelings and thoughts, who are interesting and compelling. But here, Lindsay Lohan and James Deen are given short shrift in having to bring life to a pair of empty conduits for Ellis & Schrader’s bitterness at a Hollywood that has moved on from their kind. Schrader’s constant shots of closed-down movie theatres rams this home as bluntly as possible, and Ellis in particular falls back on lazily regurgitating his key elements; upper class guys stricken with ennui, barely-sketched out women, backstabbing, the occasional splash of violence… it’s just all so very dull and rote at this point in time, 23 years after American Psycho caused a furore in polite society, and 14 years after Mary Harron managed to craft a good film out Ellis’ writing. Selling something as an erotic thriller doesn’t work if you don’t deliver any worthwhile thrills or eroticism whatsoever.
I feel as if it’d be overly harsh to truly criticise Lohan or Deen; after all you can only make good lemonade if you’re given good lemons, and Ellis’ script is a yellow lemon-shaped rock. The two leads’ performances don’t manage to share an area code with good, but it’s probably LiLo’s best gig in some time, and Deen could have some kind of future in B-movie lead roles if he fancies wearing clothes in front of cameras for a living. Alas, The Canyons doesn’t even have the good grace to be well made, with cinematography so poor, it might as well have been filmed on a Nokia from 2002; even with a $250k budget, a director of Schrader’s calibre should be capable of making something approaching cinematic. There are film students who’s budget barely covers travel to their school, making films which outstrip this in every department. Even the technical elements of Deen’s work in porn is superior in pretty much every way. Perhaps shooting on film or video instead of digital might have lent the film’s vacuous machinations a smidgen of gravitas, but if anything it’d be more akin to slapping an Instagram filter on a turd.