Wednesday Round-Up: Why I’m Fascinated by “The Canyons,” But Afraid to Watch It

canyons

Full disclosure: I have not yet seen “The Canyons,” the Lindsay Lohan/James Deen-starring film from Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis. I have heard horrible things. The reviews are mostly terrible. Yet I cannot wait to see it.

Perhaps it is a perverse desire to find something special in a roundly criticized project — see also, “Only God Forgives” — or maybe I just find something fascinating about the film’s messy production, its trailers, and its clearly icy aesthetic, but to me, it feels like a must-see.

And I will, soon. But I’m afraid.

Why? Because I desperately want to love it. I don’t want to be one of the many critics calling it an embarrassment, or making “less than zero stars” cracks. In other words, I want to be part of that slim minority that finds the film a smart, intoxicating look at, as Film Comment puts it, “sex, career, money, and power in contemporary Hollywood.”

What a treat, for a film causing this much frothing-at-the-mouth to be released in the summer months! I love it … at least until I watch it.

This week, our round-up is focused entirely on “The Canyons,” and just some of the many articles and reviews about the film, as well as Paul Schrader. Will these prove more entertaining than “The Canyons” itself? Time will tell.

“Canyons”-mania:

  • The Hollywood Reporter looks at the film’s VOD release; IFC’s president calls it “must-see VOD.”
  • Schrader participated in a Reddit Q-and-A this week.
  • Film Comment cover story: “When they rejected the film, South by Southwest said: ‘There’s a cold deadness to it.’”
  • Meanwhile, Schrader himself penned an appreciation of Lohan for Film Comment: “From a selfish point of view, from a director’s point of view, that is, from my point of view, it was a treat to work with Lindsay. All the drama, the mishegas, all the stress—that means little. A director can shoot around misbehavior. He can’t shoot around lack of charisma. I just wish it was easier for Lindsay.”
  • Calum Marsh, who is fast becoming a favorite of mine, agrees “The Canyons” is ugly, lifeless, and cheap … But so what? Marsh: “Terms like ‘lethargic,’ ‘insipid,’ and ‘lifeless’ are not criticisms in and of themselves—these are aesthetic decisions, configured for a reason, and to reject them means doing more than simply observing their presence. It would be like castigating a Bresson film on the basis that its performances are not expressive. … Nothing is being acknowledged here that cannot be discerned by two working eyes. Kohn and Lumenick are not wrong: ‘The Canyons’ was inexpensively made and looks harsh and ugly. But they have not addressed an obvious follow-up question: So what?”
  • The Playlist looks at the long varied career of Paul Schrader, while The Film Stage explores Schrader’s Los Angeles.
  • Variety’s Justin Chang says watching at home might be ideal for this film, one that is perversely unpleasurable: “[D]espite its flat, airless style and sometimes less-than-adroit acting, its occasional full-frontal nudity and the prominent casting of adult-film star James Deen, ‘The Canyons’ is decidedly not pornography. Its restraint in that department — or its timidity, depending on your taste — may well be its most perverse stroke, for this is a film that deliberately short-circuits the viewer’s pleasure in every way imaginable. Our entertainment, to say nothing of our edification, could scarcely be more beside the point.”
  • Pointing to the film’s infamous New York Times making-of piece, Ryan Lattanzio says “‘The Canyons’ never had a chance.”
  • Molly Lambert for Grantland; a very insightful piece: “Right off the bat, no, ‘The Canyons’ is not a very good movie. But it has some great moments that make it worth watching, and it looks mostly gorgeous for a movie costing $250,000.”
  • Bret Easton Ellis, to the AV Club: “I really don’t care what people think of the movie. There, I said it. I don’t really care what anyone says about any movie or book I write. On a certain dopey level, you hope people like stuff, I guess. You don’t want people to dislike it. I think the movie is well done enough that if you don’t like it, it’s just not your cup of tea. I just don’t think that watching the movie and knowing how this movie was made, that you can really slam it. I’m kind of confident on that level. But, you never know. It could come out August 2nd and be a disaster.”
  • Kanye West remixed the film’s trailer, of course.
  • Last, but not least, Vulture collects the many faces of Lindsay Lohan. Of course.

Photo courtesy of IFC Films; from Indiewire

Rent It: Matteo Garrone’s “Reality” is a Fresh, Moving Look at Reality TV Culture

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Here is what Matteo Garrone’s “Reality” is NOT: Yet another dull study of reality television, only this time set in Italy. No, “Reality” is something far more fresh, and infinitely more incisive. It is a film about reality culture from the outside looking in, and it is one of the most involving, moving, darkly funny films I’ve seen all year. (It’s a 3/12- or 4-star movie for me.)

When “Reality” premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, it garnered a respectful, if subdued reaction from critics. But the jury, led by Nanni Moretti, awarded the film the Grand Prix, essentially the runner-up to the Palme d’Or (Haneke’s mighty “Amour”).

This was, remember, the year that saw Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors” shut out. I would have ranked “Motors” above “Reality,” but after finally seeing Garrone’s film, I can certainly understand its allure for the jurors.

Still, not all were satisfied, including The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw:

“Matteo Garrone’s ‘Reality’ won the Grand Prix, which really had me scratching my head. This is an amiable, but essentially sentimental and predictable satire about an ordinary guy from Naples who becomes obsessed with getting on to the Italian version of ‘Big Brother’ and becoming a big star. This film wasn’t anywhere near as good as his earlier ‘Gomorrah’: a more defensible choice, it seems to me, would have been for the jury to have given ‘Reality’ the best actor prize, for its lead, Aniello Arena, who gave a very good performance. However, as Arena is in fact a convicted criminal who is serving 20 years in prison — he was allowed out on day-release to shoot the picture, but not permitted to come to the festival – this might have created some diplomatic problems.”

Bradshaw’s point is legitimate — perhaps best actor would have made more sense, so believable is Arena. (The actor’s backstory, as indicated by Bradshaw, is almost unbelievable, yet true.)

I cannot disagree that the Grand Prix was a surprise, but, then again, Garrone said the same: “It’s a surprise. This award is more important than what I could have imagined before the ceremony. This Grand Prix will help the film to find a bigger audience.”

Oscilloscope picked up “Reality” for American distribution, and I’m thrilled they did. (It is being released on DVD and Blu-ray on August 13.) It is a subtle film, one that starts with a flourish — a stunningly garish horse-driven coach rides through Italy in one long shot — and utter confusion. But slowly, its story, of a good-natured fishmonger obsessed with the idea of appearing on “Big Brother,” comes into focus.

Various scenes here are as memorable as any in recent cinema, specifically a gorgeous sequence in which a previous “Big Brother” star, the beloved Enzo, flies above a club crowd, just out of reach. Arena’s Luciano watches him with wonder.

On paper, “Reality” is not dissimilar to films like “The King of Comedy,” yet it has a humanity, and a level of emotion, all its own. Bret Easton Ellis may have Tweeted it best: “Matteo Garrone’s ‘Reality’ is the funniest and most visually stunning film I’ve seen so far in 2013. A problem movie but also ravishing …” (The “American Psycho” author included it on his recent list of 2013 faves, along with Best of 2013 so far: “Before Midnight,” “Frances Ha,” “Fast & Furious 6,” “Room 237,” “Like Someone In Love,” and “56 Up.”)

Garrone’s previous film, “Gomorrah,” was a somber blast of 21st-century gangster cinema. I reviewed it for the Buffalo News on March 27, 2009; my 4-star review was headlined “Street life Two young toughs run afoul of the mob and pay the price.”

As you read this, Italian journalist Roberto Salviano is likely in hiding. Since the 2006 publication of nonfiction masterpiece “Gomorrah,” a passionate, cry-in-the-night about the corrosive Mafia-like Naples organization known as Camorra, Salviano has received death threats, resulting in armed guards, hiding and a well-deserved reputation as a national hero.

Matteo Garrone’s film of “Gomorrah” is Salviano’s revenge, a grim intertwining of mob middlemen, couriers, upstarts and victims. It’s the finest street-level crime drama since “City of God,” another saga of the violent and disenfranchised. Yet “Gomorrah” packs an even stronger punch.

There has never been an organized-crime epic quite like this, a masterpiece that takes to heart the hollow core behind “Scarface’s” prophecy of selfish consumption: “The world is yours.” This line has spawned a thousand cocky wannabes, kids who seem to forget that Tony Montana was shot down in a hail of gunfire — kids like Marco and Ciro.

Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) could be any age between 15 and 25, but mentally are a couple guys intent on shooting guns, robbing arcades for cash and playing too tough with strippers. The undynamic duo — who feature in the film’s most oddly affecting scene, shooting machine guns in a dingy lake in their underwear and sneakers — see Al Pacino’s Montana as their hero.

Yet, they evidence their youth by trying to steal from the all-powerful Camorra, and they pay the price. So does Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo, in the film’s best performance), a sweet-natured haute couture tailor who secretly brings his designs to a Chinese factory, under Camorra’s nose.

We also meet Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese), a young grocery delivery boy in a Beckham jersey, who is recruited by drug dealers. There is the aging Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato), a somber money-carrier. These are all sad, defeated people, and all are in Camorra’s web in one way or another.

Salviano and Garrone’s boldest step is in not only focusing on the guns and drug-running of organized crime, but also on its foothold in “legitimate” industries — fashion, shipping and waste management. How can an organization be brought down when its influence runs so deep? (The film’s ending tells us that Camorra is involved in funding the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site.)

“Gomorrah” is not a gangster epic like “The Godfather” or, especially, “Scarface” — I hesitate to even recommend it to fans of “mob movies.” There is no one to root for, and no one can be called a lead character.

The cast is unknown on these shores. The settings are grungy, and the film quality is grainy. In its focus on the tense dreariness of criminal life, it could be called a very distant cousin of Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” (Scorsese himself is “presenting” the film to American audiences), but even this is misleading. There are no real laughs or nostalgic soundtrack, or even hints of happiness — some will likely find it boring and hard to follow.

But its strength lies in its complexities. The same is true of Salviano’s stunning book. How many of the goods we own have passed through the bloody Naples docks? It’s a good question — and an answer we’d rather not hear.

Salviano co-wrote the screenplay with Garrone, and I imagine its international success is a stunning victory for him, a sign that perhaps the world is beginning to pay attention to the world he put under the microscope. He has helped develop a new style of crime epic, one in which the admittedly intoxicating milieu of “Scarface” is bludgeoned back into reality.

As “Gomorrah” aptly demonstrates, the world is not yours. In Naples, at least, it’s theirs. Everyone else is just in the way.

 

Photo: Aniello Arena and Giuseppina Cervizzi in “REALITY.” Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Wednesday Round-Up: Defending “Marie Antoinette,” Debating “Man of Steel,” and Keeping Up With Patrick Bateman

Marie Antoinette

The middle of the week means it is time for my usual round-up of some of the articles I’ve been digging this week, including a handy list of “movies to see” at the mid-point of 2013. I’ve seen my share, but I have plenty of catching up to do …

First: I’m not sure what it is about Sofia Coppola’s films that seems to garner such strong reactions. I’ve met few folks who are in the middle about her work — it’s a love/hate thing, it seems. Her latest, “The Bling Ring,” starring Emma Watson, appears to open Friday in Buffalo (there is some confusion, but it is listed on Fandango), and it seems to be as glossy and surface-oriented as the rest of her films. But I have actually liked that about them. “Marie Antoinette” seems to be the most love-it-or-hate-it of the Coppola filmography, and on the occasion of “Bling”‘s release, New York Magazine’s Vulture website is mounting a spirited defense.

As author Amanda Dobbins puts it:

To be fair, not everyone hated Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette.” New York’s David Edelstein called it “one of the most immediate, personal costume dramas ever made”; 55 percent of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes sided with him, to varying degrees. But seven years later, “Marie Antoinette,” loosely based on the best-selling Antonia Fraser biography, is probably Coppola’s least-loved film. It’s the one that got booed at Cannes (though of course it did, Cannes is in France); it is the one that didn’t live up to “Lost in Translation.” And if you are anti-Sofia, then it is probably the most obvious example of her worst tendencies: style over substance, minimal plot, overprivileged young women who refuse to speak in full sentences or really at all.

But I think I’m with Ms. Dobbins here: “I happen to love ‘Marie Antoinette’; it’s probably my second favorite of Coppola’s films, right behind ‘Lost in Translation.’ And while I understand some of the criticisms (specifically the part about no one using words, ever), most of its so-called weaknesses — even that famous pair of Chuck Taylors — are the reasons I enjoy it. For all its historical trappings, ‘Marie Antoinette’ is just a painfully hip period film about how annoying and fun and terrifying it is to be a teenage girl. It is a high-school movie transplanted to Versailles.”

And the rest:

  • Speaking of Sofia Coppola, Movie City News has posted her debut short from 1998, “Lick the Star.”
  • Bret Easton Ellis himself said “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” “star” Scott Disick would be an ideal Patrick Bateman in an “American Psycho” remake, but it took Kanye West to make it so.
  • I finally saw “Man of Steel” last night, and I’ll share some thoughts soon. (Let’s say I enjoyed it, with reservations.) The Playlist offers a solid breakdown of the best and worst of Zack Snyder’s Superman epic, and there are lots of good points here.
  • Roger Ebert’s birthday was yesterday, and his website offered up a nice list of films for which his review “made the difference,” including “Hoop Dreams” and “Dark Skies.”
  • Pitchfork’s new movie website, The Dissolve, has not launched yet, but its Tumblr site has, and the great Scott Tobias has posted the aforementioned “movies to see” so far in 2013 list, along with DVD and Blu-ray release dates for some.
  • Now the Rob Ford scandal is impacting the Toronto International Film Festival.
  • Will Brad Pitt’s “World War Z” flop? This writer seems to think so, and offers some convincing reasons why.
  • Yet another trailer for Nicholas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives,” starring Ryan Gosling.
  • Interestingly, after a mixed — well, mostly negative — response at Cannes, the filmmanaged to beat “Stories We Tell” and “The Act of Killing” for top honors at the Sydney Film Festival.
  • Lastly, Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing” is finally set to open in Buffalo this weekend. Here is a nice Guardian interview about that film, “The Avengers,” his career, and more.

 

Photo Credit: Sofia Coppola
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