Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Neon Demon

I see far fewer new movies in the theater than I used to. Career focus, readjusted life priorities – but mostly, I can call the shots of damn near every new movie I see. And as I get older, that notion alone makes buying a movie ticket less alluring. I know people take comfort in the boy getting the girl, the superheroes winning the day, the social justice warriors implanting their message, but for $18 a ticket, it’s simply not for me anymore. And yeah okay, nothing new – the movie freak bitching about the current piss poor state of film. But here’s my point: though I do feel the general quality of most movies is digressing, good films are made every year, and The Neon Demon is chief among them this year.

The initial (and ultimately lasting) intrigue of The Neon Demon is that I had no idea where it was going. Scene-by-scene, shot-by-shot, word-by-word – not a fucking clue. And that, for better or worse, excites me. I love that The Neon Demon kept me guessing. I love that, during the film’s climax, some people walked out and others screamed aloud. Hell, the dude sitting directly in front of me almost puked into the aisle. No kidding, dry heaves and everything. The Neon Demon isn’t a film designed to appeal to mass audiences. It is challenging and relentless; an insane, beautiful, macabre mindfuck of a film.
Shortly after a young, innocent model named Jesse (Elle Fanning, her best work) moves to Los Angeles, she discovers how seedy (or dangerous, or sordid, or grotesque) the modeling industry is, and how ruthless the people who fill it truly are. Along Jesse’s journey, she’s studied by mysterious make-up artist, Ruby (Jena Malone, perfect), and two “aging” models (Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee, both showing immaculate disdain). She meets a boy who fancies her (Karl Glusman, from Gaspar Noé’s Love), a motel manager who terrifies her (Keanu Reeves, chewing it up), and countless photographers, designers, and models.

Plot outlines for the film are best left thin, because The Neon Demon is a fresh and daring experience you should discover for yourself. The main draw of the film is that it is directed and co-written by neon-tech style-funk bad-boy, Nicolas Winding Refn. If you’ve seen a Refn film (like Bronson, Valhalla Rising, Drive or Only God Forgives), you understand that Refn lends next to none of his creative process to mass marketability. He tells challenging tales exactly the way he wants to tell them, consistently garnering polarizing results.
For my money, The Neon Demon is Refn’s most accomplished film yet. Shot on a budget of just $7 million (Refn always keeps his costs extremely low), The Neon Demon looks better than most movies (of any budget) made today. Natasha Braier’s cinematography is, in no uncertain terms, some of the finest work I have seen committed to a film camera in quite some time. The neon-infused palette, the gorgeous compositions, the patient framing – it’s next-level work, a miraculous achievement. As is Cliff Martinez’s electronic score. After drumming for The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Martinez moved to films, scoring some of Steven Soderbergh’s best work (The Limey, Traffic, Solaris, The Knick), as well as Spring Breakers, Drive, Only God Forgives, and much more. His work for The Neon Demon rivals the best score Martinez has delivered yet. Many sequences in The Neon Demon are executed with no live sound, which forces the cinematography and score to act as their own characters. I can’t say enough about the technical achievements of this film.

But, again, to be clear, nothing about The Neon Demon is easy. It’s an LA-based film made with a wholly European sentiment. Excruciatingly patient, uncommonly weird, darkly sexual, and nauseatingly violent. I won’t dare promise that you’ll love or even enjoy the film, but I can promise that you’ve never seen anything quite like it. And, if you’re like me, that alone is enough. It’s a film I could see 10 more times and still have fun unpacking. Which, believe me, I will. A

34 comments:

  1. Yay finally a new post! Looking forward to seeing this- now get on that Embrace of the Serpent man!

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    1. I know, I know! Gotta see Serpent! Thanks for checking out this review.

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  2. I really want to fucking see this but unfortunately, the theater nearest to where I live which is 15-20 minutes from where I live are pulling it out of the theater tomorrow. Unless I can find a way to go see it 30 minutes from where I live at the Landmark Theatre at Midtown Atlanta. It's not likely I'll see it in the theaters.

    It's a shame because not because I'm a fan of NWR, Elle, and Jena but also for the fact that it's gotten a reaction that has polarized audiences. Films that do get that kind of reputation are likely to become classics. Not everyone liked L'Avventura, Last Year at Marienbad, or Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia when they came out yet they're considered classics. Terrence Malick and Stanley Kubrick made films that weren't initially liked by some but now they're beloved. Maybe NWR knows something that audiences aren't prepared for and I love that in a filmmaker.

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    1. I cannot WAIT to hear your thoughts on this. Your woman Jena is so, so good hear. Ranks among her best work. Also, I got to see this movie at its premiere in Hollywood, and when Jena walked past me, I immediately thought of you!

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    2. I would've died if that happened. You got to have her walk past by you. Motherfucker.

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    3. I was nervous to tell you, because I didn't want it to sound like I was boasting. Trust me man, the second I saw her, I wished you and I could've traded places for 5 minutes.

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    4. Yeah I think Steven seeing Jena is as good of an idea as me seeing Hardy. If we wanna stay out of jail, this better never happens.

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  3. There are things that I really liked about this film. I think Elle Fanning was terrific along with Jena Malone, Abbey Lee, and Bella Heathcote. The score by Cliff Martinez is the best I've heard all year and the cinematography by Natasha Braier was absolutely superb.

    But the rest of the film...just doesn't work. The first two thirds worked well as a dramatic demonstration of the vain nature of the modeling industry yet the final act just turned into a piece of sadistic torture porn. Also, some scenes like the cougar in the motel didn't really make any sense. I thought it was a mixed bag.

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    1. What the hell WAS that mountain lion?! Why the hell would Keanu's character hint at doing something so awful then do it!?

      I'm with you man, I get what you're saying. I did not think the plot and story were perfect, but I thought the overall atmosphere of the film and the emotion it elicited was. In terms of a compelling piece of challenging visual film, I pretty much adored it.

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  4. Hahaha...f--k yeah, man. I always dig your reviews, especially when you can so easily tell how much you f--king loved the movie at hand. It's the best.

    I 100% agree with you in that I'll happily devour any film that keeps me guessing, but man, sometimes, Hell, often, NWR is entirely too abstract for my simple little mind. Like, I want to it to be weird as f--k, and gorgeous, but I also want it to be...at least somewhat...coherent. I have a strong feeling that's not going to happen (for me) with The Neon Demon.

    All that said, I'm still going to see it. I just hope to dig it half as much as you did. Good post, man.

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    1. Thanks man!! I hear what you're saying, but trust me, The Neon Demon isn't nearly as abstract as Only God Forgives (few films are, heh). There are abstract elements to it, but I've found those are the basis for fun discussion points with people who have also seen it. Still, to be clear, movie is fucked up as all hell.

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  5. You're right that it's surprising, I also had no clue where it was going. Rarely does a film stay with me for days afterwards, and this one has. I'm pretty sure will still be in my top 10 at the end of the year.

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    1. Totally agree. Glad you feel the same way. It's such an unforgiving film.

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  6. I'm so happy to see a new review from you this morning! I feel like opinions on this film are all over the place, and I really want to see it, but my theater already pulled it. They had it for 6 days. I'm really disappointed.

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    1. Thanks! That's such a bummer that it isn't sticking around in theaters longer. Maybe people are still too turned off by Only God Forgives. I hope you have a chance to see it soon.

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  7. I don't think a review has ever made me want to watch a movie so badly as yours! I'm absolutely sold, and now I need to find out if and when this is being released in the UK. Thank you!
    - Allie

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    1. Awww thanks so much, Allie! That's so nice of you to say. I hope you have a chance to see it soon too.

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  8. You know, most critics' best reviews are generally when they write about how passionately they hate a bad film, and yet, you're reviews are best when you write how passionately you love a great film. Great post, Alex.

    I've been looking forward to this film since forever. Unfortunately, it may be a while before this one, as it is playing in few theaters near me at the moment. I know I keep saying I live in the Bay Area, but now I feel I should take some time to stress that I'm in a suburb in the East Bay, far from the fun stuff, unfortunately; I mean, it's all over the place in San Francisco, but that's like a two hour BART ride. Also, my mom's taking me off of horror films for a while, due to a rather... let's just say bizarre experience I had last night, partially brought on by scary movies, partially brought on by the fact that something or things were whispering into my ear. Probably just my imagination, though.

    So far, the only Refn films I've seen are Drive and Valhalla Rising, and I loved both. VR was pretty abstract, is it on par with this movie? Also, have you heard any word on I Walk With the Dead? Or is this I Walk With the Dead? I'm genuinely curious on this one.

    Totally get what your first paragraph is saying. Funny how after 2014 was such a strong year for film, 2015 and 2016 are sadly disappointing. However, I am curious about your thoughts on the films The Lobster and High-Rise, if you saw them. I really wanted to, but couldn't get around to it. High-Rise especially, as Ben Wheatley is one of my favorite directors working today.

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    1. Thanks Nickolas, that's so kind of you. It's a bummer that The Neon Demon got such a shitty release. It came and went so fast! I actually didn't think it was abstract at all. It's fuckin' bizzare, and some things are hard to explain, but I wouldn't classify it as abstract, like VR and Only God Forgives.

      I haven't heard of I Walk With the Dead!! Reading about it now. Sounds interesting.

      Posting my Top 10 of 2016 (so far) in a few days. The Lobster will be 2 or 3. I did enjoy High-Rise quite a bit, but I don't think it'll make the cut. Good flick though.

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    2. Okay, so I've done some research, and The Neon Demon is, in fact, I Walk With the Dead.

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    3. Bahaha that's hilarious. As I was reading about it (in news posts from 2014), I was like, "Wait, isn't this Neon Demon?"

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  9. Being a serious NWR fan, I went to see it on opening night and I absolutely loved it. It's actually pretty much my favorite film of the year so far, along with The Witch and Green Room.

    It's nice reading from you again, keep it up!

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    1. Thanks Mathieu! And I'm so glad you liked this one as much as I did. It's definitely in my Top 3 of the year so far.

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  10. I was just going to ask you when will you review films again! Missed that feature here so much. As for the movie it opens here this month and hopefully I'll get to see it. I read the original script and I'm kinda sad that they changed stuff around, from what I heard, because while not the best the original script sounds better. But with Refn's script is usually the least impressive part of the movie. I'm looking forward to seeing Lee again after her awesome work in Fury Road again. I hope she does more movies, she is very talented.

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    1. I still love to review movies - I just don't have much time for the blog lately. But thanks so much for saying that!

      I talked to someone who read the script and saw the movie, they said the final film was very different, for better or worse. Lee is incredible in the film, she can maintain a look of jealous detachment that is the work of a serious pro. I hope she's in more too.

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  11. I love your perspective on films! I am torn if I want to see this, I'll probably just wait til it comes to DVD. Though I dislike some of Refn's films, you can't deny his films are unique.

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    1. Thanks Rachel! Yep, exactly, even, if you don't like his work, you can't deny that they are wholly different.

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  12. Great review. This has been one of my most anticipated movies for a while now and you just made me want to see it even more. I love most of Nicolas Winding Refn's previous movies. Drive is probably in my top 10 of all time. I just hope they show it in a theatre near me or in Norway at all.We usually don't get small movies like this here so i will probably have to wait for the blu-ray.

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    1. Thanks buddy. I really hope you have a chance to see this in the theater. It is so big and beautiful looking, it would benefit greatly from the largest screen possible. Let me know what you think when you see it!

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  13. I guess I need to give this a look. I tend to shy away from Refn films. He has never clicked for me. But the positive takes on this film really have me intrigued.

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    1. The film is definitely out there. Not too sure if non-Refn fans will like it, but I highly recommend it either way!

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  14. okay I was going to watch this movie just because it looked good but then you said same director as Bronson, now i must watch it!

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    1. Awesome! Let me know what you think!

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