Friday, 29 November 2013

THE CANYONS **** Blu-Ray/DVD review by Greg Klymkiw - Now available from Mongrel Media, the Triple Threat of Director Paul Schrader, Writer Bret Easton Ellis and Star Lindsay Lohan results in terrific noir-tinged tale of sex, drugs and deception in Hollywood and a film that holds up magnificently to repeated viewings and, in fact, yields ever-deepening layers of complexity amidst its world of utter emptiness.

I still can't bother reading the reviews of The Canyons which I know are mostly all negative, but I'm delighted to report that the picture is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD via Mongrel Media and I sincerely hope it finds its way to more appreciative, discriminating and deserving audiences. The movie not only held up well for me on subsequent viewings, but became an even richer experience. The film opens with a title credit sequence that includes several gorgeously composed shots of movie theatres - all closed down and rotting. This seems like a fitting way to enter a world where a non-actor gets a role in an awful movie directed by his talentless, but earnest girlfriend which, is only being made so the "producer's" filthy-rich family doesn't stop dispensing an endless flow of dough into his worthless pockets. Indeed, everything revolves around the dregs of a film industry that are utterly bereft of anything resembling passion. There is, however sex, drugs, more sex, deception, even more sex and, eventually, violence. Oh, and there's also sex. The Canyons is a terrific picture. Read on.

The Canyons (2013) *****
Dir. Paul Schrader

Lindsay Lohan, James Deen,
Nolan Funk, Amanda Brooks,
Tenille Houston, Gus Van Sant

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A movie bubbling over with scumbags is almost, on that basis alone, reason enough to see it. "Almost" is the operative word here, however, for when said movie is also obsessive and mightily endowed with a sharp eye for both the dregs of humanity and the utter emptiness of its milieu, I'm compelled to assert we're getting somewhere.

Finally and furthermore, when the decomposing world such a film focuses its beady eyes on is imbued with a tone of despair that's equalled only by the degrees of decay wafting from within its mucilaginous vessel, then I'm delighted to recognize we're in the much-needed presence of a real filmmaker.

At the very least, we're accosted by a snake-oil purveyor (director Paul Schrader) and his spuriously, though convincingly ailing beard (screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis) who both oblige us with something - ANYTHING - to fill the void normally compelling us to otherwise view the constant barrage of machine-tooled work outside their ambitious purview; an entire year of product that's essentially been cobbled together by committees of business school dunces aimed squarely at masses of unwashed and taste-bereft miscreants, so battered with crap, it's all they expect - nay, demand.

Oh, I know what you're thinking here: "The lady, methinks, doth protest too much."

Methinks you'd be wrong.

The Canyons is, if anything, not full of fake angst from costumed avengers, driving upsized comic books of super-heroic attempts at saving the world. Even better, it's not engorged with the fake indie tropes of feel-goodery. It is, without question, populated with fakes (and fakery) of the most realistically reprehensible kind and as such, we can be secure in the realization that there really isn't anything worth saving - especially in a world wherein every second movie protagonist is imbued with superhuman powers (and feels bad about it) or worse, movies wherein budding geeks find loser mentors they can really relate to (way, way back in the boonies, 'natch) or even more horrendously, bloated, dully directed history lessons about butlers, freedom-bereft slaves and brave old men taking long walks home. Movies are becoming so boring, it's a thrill to experience one that celebrates the emptiness surrounding the very thing that creates so many dreadful motion pictures. The Canyons is the depiction of a "world of shit", as phrased so pointedly in Full Metal Jacket and director Paul Schrader seems only too eager (in cahoots with Ellis, the American Psycho/Less Than Zero scribe himself) to force-feed us even more faecal matter than we'd ever have imagined ingesting. This is a film that is pure, unexpurgated desolation - so much so that it's even book-ended with no mere ennui of perversion in the singular, but two - count 'em - TWO items reflecting equal levels of hollowness to support the chasm in between.

The first assails us with the aforementioned sad images of abandoned movie theatres and the second involves scenes of chi-chi dinner dates in trendily overpriced and vapidly upscale L.A. bistros. For me, these both seem - especially in their role as bookends to nothingness, more-than-adequate indicators of Western Civilization's collapse and in so doing, represent more-than-valid backdrops for drama (and in particular, this drama).

Tara (Lindsay Lohan) and Christian (James Deen) are a handsome young couple living the high life in Lotus Land. HE is a typical little rich boy who placates his family by being a movie producer so they actually think he does something more than, well, uh, nothing - save for endlessly schwance-dipping, ingesting booze and drugs, partying, clubbing, dining and holding swingers' mini-orgies in his mansion. SHE is his compliant partner in all things hedonistic - ready and willing to spread 'em when the delightfully-named Christian brings a variety of attractive Backpage Ad singles and couples to dive into the sack with them (whilst recording the trysts on his smart phone).

Ah, the banality of the rich and aimless.

Gina (Amanda Brooks) is an insufferably earnest filmmaker receiving financing for her pathetic straight-to-VOD movie from producer Christian. She's even bamboozled her sex-obsessed money-bags into agreeing that her marginally talented would-be actor boyfriend Ryan (Nolan Funk) can take the forgettable lead role in her forgettable movie.

Here's the rub (and tug): Tara used to boink Ryan - they were young and in love, but they were also poor. Tara dumped Ryan and promised her undying subservience to Christian. Ryan, a loser, did what losers do best. He hooked up with the marginally successful filmmaker Gina.

Christian is generally satisfied with Tara's acquiescence to his every banal sexual demand, but he does keep a bit on the side, a normally compliant vixen by the name of Cynthia (Tenille Houston) who is, unfortunately, getting a bit too demanding. I mean, Jesus! When she lets Christian bone her (and let's not forget that actor James Deen is an extremely well-endowed cocksman of the highest order - a genuine porn star stud), she gets all uppity and downright high and mighty that Christian will hide his salami in her vagina, but refuse to kiss her.

It doesn't take long for all the above to be dinking and getting dinked by each other, the dink-happy daisy chain being unbeknownst to each other. The spanner in the works - as we find out during Christian's analysis sessions with psychiatrist Gus Van Sant - is that he's not only power-hungry, jealous and banal, but a bonafide psychopath. He is also the real puppet master. Christian knows all too well what's going on sexually amongst those around him. Shit, as it were, is definitely going to hit the fan and believe you me, it's gonna stink to High Heaven.

What I enjoyed most about this movie is that the screenplay is chockfull of melodramatic elements that are brazenly lifted from other periods of film history (50s noir and 70s existential angst grindhouse fare the clear inspirations), but none of it is played in an annoyingly cloying post-modernist fashion with tongue planted firmly in cheek. The picture is played straight-up in a contemporary setting.

If anything creeps in of a vaguely post-modern nature, The Canyons comes closest in its look to a kind of grimy throwback to Schrader's own American Gigolo (basically an extended 80s music video with lots of sex as if directed by Robert Bresson on lithium).

Lindsay Lohan is, at her core, a very fine actress. Her child star days betrayed a talent and screen presence that not only delighted millions of little girls (including my own daughter), but seemed to suggest that her best work was yet to come. Sadly, this did not happen. Hers became the typical child star life of one error in bad judgement after another - including being mismanaged into one awful movie (Labor Pains, anyone?) after another, an occasional terrific performance in movies well below her gifts (I Know Who Killed Me being a perfect example) as well as a real-life judicial witch hunt which kept landing her in hot water with the law. She shone in A Prairie Home Companion in ways that suggested things would work out for her, but was mostly and sadly relegated to small and big screen supporting roles exploiting her "freak value". (I do love Machete, but it's a coin toss as to whether she's genuinely playing a real character or exploited into playing a shadow of herself).

Recently, I actually kind of enjoyed her performance as Elizabeth Taylor in the inexplicably reviled TV movie Liz and Dick. I stress inexplicable since what few TV movies I bother to watch are, more often than not, pretty godawful anyway. This one was kind of fun in that cheesy Hollywood biopic fashion that reminded me of the equally reviled 70s Gable and Lombard (which, yeah, was a piece of crap, but a supremely entertaining one).

Here, Lohan has a decent role and is working with a fine director. Her performance is replete with femme-fatale-gone-ass-backwards qualities (intentionally so) and she expresses the kind of pain and vulnerabilities the character would in both life and within the context of this film and Ellis's writing. It is, in fact, a very moving performance. Many of us - especially in the entertainment industry - know sad figures like Tara. Most will dismiss these exploited, messed-up boy toys as being unworthy of even empathy, but those who do are - well, they're assholes.

Lohan invests the role with genuine emotion - it might not always jive with the emotions of blankness that audiences and, of course, pseuds (mostly the raft of know-nothings who are accepted as genuine film critics) are unused to giving credit to when its due, but she's very brave here and my heart went out - not to the Lohan who might well know or feel elements of Tara within herself and/or those she's encountered in the industry's assembly line of hangers-on, but in fact, to the character.

I also loved the rest of the cast. James Deen is perfect as someone so bereft of humanity that he is, indeed, all too human. He's kind of a Schraderian Ulrich Seidl figure. Funk, Brooks and Houston all acquit themselves perfectly within the milieu Ellis writes and that Schrader renders with his almost trademark stylish and stylized rigidity. The only cast member who feels like a bad in-joke gone worse is the weirdly phoned-in thesping of director Gus Vsn Sant. This approach might well have been intentional, but kind of sticks out like a sore thumb - swollen, so to speak as it's jammed up the proverbial bum. Of course, I've yet to read any reviews (as is my wont before actually seeing movies and writing about them). I do know that most film "critics" hated The Canyons. I know enough about this because of what is, in this day an age, the misplaced lazy barrage of movie marketing that foists out far too much magic-sucking information. Even more egregious, at least for my money, is knowing that a number of typically pretentious cultural gatekeepers of cinema on the film festival film programming circuit chose to reject it from inclusion within their pristine events - due, purportedly, to creative issues.

Knowing what pieces of crap many of them chose to play instead of The Canyons, allows me to sit high atop my perch of disdain for these tasteless, talentless boneheads who sickeningly see themselves as - ahem - curators.

Without even reading the notices, I can already predict the dull whiners kvetching about how the movie has no characters they like or can, in some fashion, relate to. When they do that, it just betrays what pathetically insular lives they've led and how dull and unimaginative and lacking in anything resembling the critical acumen necessary to look beyond the surface of "unpleasant" characters to discover, as the film does, the humanity pulsating beneath that which appears to be empty. Not that she was a critic, but I still bristle when I recall the words of a cultural bureaucrat who moronically asserted that the central character of EVERY film had to be someone she wanted to have dinner with. All I could think of when I heard this is that I'd certainly enjoy having dinner with HER, but only if I could belch, regurgitate and fart all the way through our pleasant time together (and, for good measure, offer her a bowl of my regurgitate with a spoon).

I doubt many WOULD want to dine with the characters in The Canyons, but frankly, it would be their loss.

The Canyons is a picture that will obviously not be to the taste of many, but I suspect it will attract its deserved fair share of admiration from an exclusive club of those who aren't full of shit and actually know a good picture when they see it. We're the lucky ones. All the rest are the desperate, sad-eyed craps rollers who lose bigtime as they endlessly toss their dice upon a street corner sidewalk, not unlike an inebriate who might toss the bile-filled cookies emanating from an empty gullet as they hug the scum encrusted toilet bowl of a water closet situated in the sleaziest dive imaginable.

It is, I believe, called the dry heaves. They can keep 'em, thanks. I prefer my vomit to be full-bodied.

"The Canyons" is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD via Mongrel Media. Its superb compositions and odd mix of sun-dappled-through-L.A.-smog-exteriors and garishly lit interiors look especially good on Blu-Ray. Sadly, the extras are utterly pathetic - a dreadful montage of behind-the-scenes footage set to score and not even cutting it as a glorified EPK. I'd have died and gone to Heaven if the package included separate commentary tracks from Schrader, Ellis and Lohan. Alas, I can only harbour this as some kind of movie geek's wet dream.