Tag Archives: Bronson

California Dreaming

The Neon Demon

by Hope Madden

“Beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

So says an uncredited Alessandro Nivola, a fashion designer waxing philosophic in Nicolas Winding Refn’s (Bronson, Drive) nightmarish new film The Neon Demon.

The line, of course, is borrowed. Refn tweaks the familiar idea to suit his fluid, perfectly framed, cynical vision.

Jesse (Elle Fanning) is an underaged modeling hopeful recently relocated to a sketchy motel in Pasadena. Will she be swallowed whole by the darker, more monstrous elements of Hollywood?

Refn is as assured a director as you’ll find. Each of his films has its own peculiar and magnificent look and sound that sets it apart and marks the helmsman as someone with a unique vision to share. The Neon Demon looks and sounds great, but it doesn’t look or sound unique. The entire aesthetic, from the shots to the palette to the score, feels like a mash up of Stanley Kubrick and Dario Argento. Interestingly – or boringly, depending on your perspective – the story swims such familiar waters that this borrowed aesthetic feels simultaneously intentional and derivative.

Hollywood is a soulless machine that crushes people. The world objectifies women, a toxic reality that poisons everyone it touches. Small town girl gets in trouble following her dreams in Tinseltown. There’s nothing new here. To manufacture something, it’s as though Refn replaces fresh ideas with bizarre imagery.

It’s tough to make a film about the dehumanizing effect of objectification without objectifying, and even the deeply talented Refn can’t seem to do it.

The film is not without its charms. The Neon Demon is the closest thing to a horror film as anything Refn has delivered, even if it takes 100 minutes or so to get there. Like Only God Forgives, the longer you wander through this nightmarish landscape, the more outlandish the dream becomes. But for all its detractors and laborious weirdness, Only God Forgives felt like a breakneck action thriller compared to the languid, even leaden pace of Neon Demon.

But you know what? Keanu Reeves isn’t bad. Huh!


Tom Hardy 2-fer For Your Queue

This week offers several excellent options for your queue, but the best among them is Locke. So let’s all get geeked for the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road  by taking in a couple of flicks from one of this generation’s most explosive, most talented actors, Tom Hardy.

A masterpiece of utter simplicity, Locke tags along on a solo road trip, the film’s entirety showcasing just one actor (the incomparable Hardy), alone in a car, handling three different crises on his mobile while driving toward his destiny. It may sound dull, and it certainly can be challenging, but it may just restore your faith in independent filmmaking.

While you’re queuing up, look for the film that best encapsulates the ferocious talent that is Tom Hardy, Bronson. Director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) chose a path of blatant, often absurd theatricality to tell the tale of Britain’s most violent, most expensive inmate. In Hardy’s bruised and bloodied hands, Bronson can be terrifying and endearing inside the same moment. Hardy finds a way to explore the character’s single minded violence, pinpointing the rare moments of true ugliness. The rest is just a guy beating his chest against his own limitations. But when this guy beats his chest, it’s usually with the bloodied stump of what was once a security guard or four.