Tag Archives: Nicolas Winding Refn

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!

Verdict-2-5-Stars

Countdown: Best Underseen Films of 2013

Today we pay tribute to the most fabulous movies that no one saw in 2013. If you, too, missed them, don’t be too hard on yourself. Some were hard to find, some had such short runs that if you blinked, you missed them in theaters. But here’s your chance to make amends. Seek these out as part of your new year’s resolution to watch something awesome. They are sometimes bloody, sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, always intriguing, fresh and memorable. We give you the most tragically underseen films of 2013.

5. Only God Forgives

Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow up to Drive offers a nightmarish, polarizing vision of the revenge thriller. The near-silent Ryan Gosling leads a cast of misfits and miscreants (and worse) through a bloody piece of nastiness in Bangkok. It’s a visual, aural feat of wonder creating a dreamlike hellscape. The one-dimensional characters and lurid story guarantee you will either love it or hate it, but you will not forget it easily.

4. Much Ado about Nothing

Joss Whedon proves he can do basically anything as he spins the Bard’s classic comedy. Giving Shakespeare a modern-day treatment trips up many great filmmakers, but Whedon takes it in stride, employing a game cast to create a playful, satisfying romp.

3. Mud

The forever underseen filmmaker of extraordinary talent Jeff Nichols follows up his bewilderingly wonderful Take Shelter with this Huck Finn style tale. Matthew McConaughey excels as the man-child fugitive befriending a couple river rats interested in adventure. The result is a lovely journey of lost innocence and a vanishing American lifestyle.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pv30J05U2nI

2. Fruitvale Station

Ryan Coogler’s impressive feature debut offers a powerful and superbly acted account of the tragic death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. Michael B. Jordan’s revelatory lead performance deserves to be in the Oscar conversation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMrAH_rO_fM

1. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

No one saw this movie, which is a tragedy given all the film has to offer. The aching romantic drama boasts exceptional performances from Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster as well as understated writing and exquisite photography. It’s an overlooked gem of rare beauty – one worth finding.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjR3DLatrFg

Nightmare in Red

Only God Forgives

by Hope Madden

Welcome to Hell.

Writer/director/Dane Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow up to the magnificent Drive drops viewers in a Bangkok straight out of Dante’s imagination for a revenge thriller like few others. It’s Only God Forgives, and love it or hate it, you will be amazed.

Julian (Ryan Gosling) finds himself obliged to avenge his brother’s murder. Problem is, his brother was a very nasty man. But Julian’s mom wants vengeance, and Julian’s mom (Kristin Scott Thomas, as you have never seen her) is much, much worse.

It’s a slight premise. What’s more, the characters are profoundly one-dimensional, the dialogue is borderline nonexistent, and what verbiage there is will hardly stick with you. Plus, Winding Refn’s pacing makes the slow boil of Drive look like a madcap romp – all of which feeds into the trancelike quality that makes the film so unusual.

Only God Forgives is a nightmare in red. The tale unspools as if you are inside a dream, saturated in colors and patterns and flowing into ever darker and more awful areas of Julian’s mind.

The filmmaker channels Lynch and Kubrick, but crafts something undeniably his own. Few directors are so bold with color, and he’s an absolute madman with score. For this, his ninth film, he strips away the more traditional elements of storytelling to rely on the image to affect us. Given the vulgar themes and percussive violence, it may not be an image you want, but it is never less than mesmerizing to look at – every shot a brutally gorgeous image.

Gosling’s strong, silent smolder is on high in this one, but it’s the always formidable Kristin Scott Thomas and her unsavory cruelty who steals the picture. It’s unlike anything she’s done in the past, perhaps because it’s unlike any other part out there. And a bad mom will fuck you up, I’ll tell you what.

These are bad people, all of them, with nasty business to attend to.  Awash in righteous indignation, defilement and spoiled masculinity, the film is little more than a dream sequence of death. The battle is not good versus evil, though, because Officer Chang’s (Vithaya Pansringarm) tidy, tight-lipped sadism shows no moral justification.

Only God Forgives is not a film for the squeamish, the impatient, or the sleepy – as the deep and hearty snores from the seats behind me attest. Too bad, because they missed one wallop of a movie.

Verdict-3-5-Stars