Friday, September 20, 2013

The Canyons

THE CANYONS        C-                   
USA  (99 mi)  2013  d:  Paul Schrader 

Something of a navel-gazing flick, a film infatuated with Los Angeles and voyeuristic window gazing at the supposed good looking people that comprise the latest edition of overindulgent Hollywood youth culture.  With a title that suggests a B-movie television series melodrama of luridly interconnected sexual affairs by vacuous, coke snorting, paranoid driven twentysomethings who all want to be in the sex business, who 24 hours a day believe they are part of the beautiful people that comprise the decadent, high-society world of Los Angeles, filling stylishly modern but sterile apartments that appear to be sets for magazine pieces, where what the characters that inhabit this world have in common is wretchedly horrible acting performances, where like a bad make-up job, they all seem to be intruding into this picture from far more inferior movies.  While Schrader will forever be known as the screenwriter for Scorsese’s monumental 70’s film Taxi Driver (1976), he’s always been suspect as a director, where his choice of screenwriting material from Bret Easton Ellis, the brilliant writer of American Psycho (2000), reads like sleazy and sensationalist TV, where it’s hard to take any of this seriously.  But if the point is to make something so awful that it actually becomes a parody of the sleazy world that it portrays, well, it’s still D-grade material, where people will only laugh at the damage done to Lindsay Lohan’s once promising career, and how at 26, she is now channeling the aged, over-the-hill Gloria Swanson in SUNSET BLVD. (1950), where you can just hear her say to herself,  “I *am* big.  It's the *pictures* that got small,” telling director Schrader “All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.”  In that same picture, William Holden narrates “Sometimes it's interesting to see just how bad bad writing can be.  This promised to go the limit.”  Who knew that the future would hold new challenges in this regard? 

The best things to say about the film are the exquisite Hollywood locations, luxurious homes in the hills, and interior production design that couldn’t be more exact, like the perfect look of a Kubrick film, and there are some interesting camera shots by John DeFazio.  But overall the film plays out like a campy television series that accentuates good looks and gossip, where people are in over their heads on a conceptual project that simply never comes together.  While there are noirish tendencies, this might have played better as a Black and White film noir, as it opens and closes on still photos of old abandoned moviehouses that sit alone in a state of decay, something of an eyesore on a desolate landscape, which may as well be the future of each one of these beautiful people who hope to use their good looks and sexual prowess to guide them to fame and stardom.  While Lohan as the supposedly sexually uninhibited Tara is not the real surprise, as her train wreck celebrity history as a nonstop party girl in and out of rehab centers leaves one with low expectations going in, the real surprise is that the awkward script is so cringeworthy and that these actors take themselves so seriously, as there’s not an ounce of intended humor anywhere to be seen, yet one can’t help but laugh *at* what we are seeing, as it’s basically just a story about people talking endlessly about themselves, where that’s all that matters in the world, nothing else, where they’re constantly worried what others think of them, always on a high state of alert in their paranoia about their relationships, yet they spend they’re lives “acting,” playing nonchalant, pretending that none of this matters, where they try to convince one another that everything’s cool even as they’re unraveling emotionally and freaking out. 

It’s not even appropriate to identify this as the world of sleaze, as it doesn’t do justice to the picturesque meaning of the word, as one thinks of sleaze with a certain old Hollywood charm or Russ Meyer lowgrade style, cheap films often shot in shadowy, Black and White film noir, where it’s a mix of lurid sex, booze, crime, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, and rampant immorality, often peppered with unintended humor, where characters are perceived as over the edge, or certainly willing to cross any moral line.  What’s so startling about this film is just how uninteresting everybody is, as there are only a few characters that appear onscreen, and they are completely forgettable, even as we are watching them, as there’s no hint of personality or screen chemistry anywhere.  Perhaps most memorable is James Deen as Christian, in real life something of a porn superstar making the crossover into legitimate films, playing Tara’s overcontrolling boyfriend, a trust fund movie mogul living on his father’s wealth, whose idea of fun is constantly trolling the Internet with his iPhone in his hand, searching for interested sex partners for himself and Tara, which he then films.  He’s a completely condescending, overstylized, and artificial character that continually mocks anyone that so much as hints of having any emotion, where at times he appears to be a younger apprentice version of Christian Bale in American Psycho.  While he’s obviously just an obnoxious, self-centered creep, Tara has left her real love interest, Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk) and his floundering career as a Hollywood bartender, to live a lavish lifestyle in one of the most beautiful homes in the Hollywood hills.  An while feigning love, the two are about as openly suspicious of one another as deathly enemies, resorting to nefarious surveillance tactics to keep each under their watchful eye.  If any of this mattered, or if there was a spark of life anywhere on the set, there might be a movie, but it’s all lost in a superficial glaze of Hollywood sleepwalking.  By the way, where was Nicholas Cage during the shoot?  He might have provided some well-needed, unhinged energy that is sorely missing.

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