Saturday, August 10, 2013

Country for Old Men

Bret Easton Ellis is my favorite living author. My second is James Ellroy. I'm trying to write film criticism here, so I must admit no one gives a shit who anyone's favorites are. However, I include this information because here on Reviewiera I get to document a record of my personal take on the review outside of objective criticism.

My favorite of Ellis' novels are Glamorama (1998), The Rules of Attraction (1987), American Psycho (1991) and the short story collection, The Informers (1994). The latter three have been adapted into movies. I think the less I say about them the better.

One of my favorite moments from Ellis' books is the revelation in The Informers that there are vampires living in L. A. Not metaphorical vampires, but full on Lost Boys or Anne Rice realized classic monsters. The vampires are mentioned earlier in the book to establish a foreboding thread to be used later.

I have become sick of the ad nauseum syndicated drivel that regurgitates the same lazy adjectives to describe Ellis' characters: shallow, homosexual, paranoid and homicidal, for example. Nowadays who in filmed entertainment isn't? Paul Schrader describes Ellis' style as, "rich people doing bad things in very nice rooms." I think Ellis characters are a combination of the rich and poor; the na├»ve and the sociopathic; the sexually obsessed and the sexually exploited; and the thin and beautiful and the thin and beautiful. His satire is targeted at the heads of the entertainment industry and all of the mouths that feed at the teet of Hollywood.

Tied for the best screenplay of 2013 along with Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen) is a movie directed by a 67 year old man from a vital 49 year old author.


The story goes something like: Schrader asks Ellis if he'd like to rework some of his characters into a script to shoot on a microbudget, and it should work because the film would consist of mostly interior dialogue scenes. The project gets launched on Kickstarter with $30,000 from Schrader, $30,000 from Braxton Pope, and $180,000 from Kickstarter. Schrader casts Lindsay Lohan and Ellis fights for James Deen (who is apparently Ellis' idealized manifestation of his essential male lead character) and succeed because no studios are involved--the insurance would supposedly be too risky.

The Canyons (2013, Schrader) was shot on the Alexa and filmed in L. A. locations. It looks like film. The pacing is slow, but brooding--layered with ambient electronic suspense cues.

It's a Bret Easton Ellis movie.

Ellis' lead characters are the three involved in the classic love triangle. Christian (James Deen) stands out as the sneering, lip-pouting walking tool of alpha masculinity. He is a constant: a trust fund kid with daddy issues and a libertine taste for kinky sex. Ryan (Nolan Funk) and Tara (Lindsay Lohan) are defined ultimately through the changes Christian causes them to undergo.

Christian is practically one of the vampires from The Informers or, more accurately, etched out of the same mold as Sean and Patrick Bateman or Bobby Hughes. Ellis specializes in this type of character--depraved monsters whom no one suspects of the atrocities they are capable of until it's too late.

Christian makes a comment about producing the movie Ryan is cast in that describes his motivations as, "I said whatever money the Mexicans came up with I'd match." And furthermore adds that he only got involved in producing so his dad can approve of his career. The world of The Canyons is literary because L. A. used to be the capital Tinseltown, yet it's replaced here with a porn actor named James Deen (if Ellis is saying this kid is today's James Dean, and I think he is, then one begins to appreciate the satirical fantasy and its aim), Lohan acting as a lazy sexessory, and a bunch of rough trade who get cast because they let someone fuck them. Oh yeah, and Ryan drives a white Bronco (yeah, one of those white Broncos).

That scene where Tara switches off the classic Hollywood movie she's watching to use texTV says a lot.

Tara represents the real life 2010s celebrity. She's a mess. She does nothing but smoke, drink, and screw. But she looks kind of sexy.

In a world where anything goes, it is Ellis' focus on Christian's wants (sex and Tara) that make this tale indelible. Since I saw this the same day as Blue Jasmine I noticed that The Canyons also features a man with wealth who abuses women and an opponent without money who tries to compete in the romantic world of the upper class and learns that he is outmatched.

All Christian cares about is sex.

All L. A. cares about is sex, in this film. And I guess this is where the final layers of self-reference are noticeable. The Canyons is a sex movie in the sense that all of the power these characters are battling over is sexual, essentially. All of the characters are basically sleeping with someone and that defines their existence. Only incidentally do they happen to all work in movies.

Is the point that if all of the movie industry types in L. A. are as vapid as a porno flick, then one should assume that Hollywood movies will become as dull and pointless? Maybe. But Ellis and Schrader have crafted a story of substance and new ideas about the plasticity of showbiz.

I commend Deen's performance. He's got that rich asshole good looking guy quality. But his performance obviously isn't for everyone's tastes because I heard quite a few people gasp-giggling at his delivery.

The Canyons also has Ellis' signature gallows humor that pops up out of nowhere you'd expect. Some of the laughs are intentional.

Lindsay Lohan walking around stripping into her bra and panties, with her white bruised thighs, freckled shoulders, smoking cigarettes and holding a wine glass through most of this movie coalesced into something insightful. Namely that this looks like what goes on in the real life of someone like her.

Sometimes the film feels low budget because of the heights the melodrama attempts to attain. But the story as a whole is crafted wonderfully. Ryan is equally as important as Christian by the end. And the way the story all takes place in 4 days makes it a wholly accessible little valentine to Hollywood in the electronic social media age.

And it is okay to laugh at Deen, even I'll admit.

--Dregs

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