Thursday, August 1, 2013

Schrader & Ellis' THE CANYONS: Finally, a movie to make you feel good about yourself


Yes, I know advance word about THE CANYONS might not lead you to believe that this film will make you feel grateful that you're you. Trust me: It will. Unless of course you are one of those Hollywood "types" pictured in the movie: underlings surviving as best they can on the largess of the monied and powerful, or overlings wielding that power for greater access to sex and... uh, sex. Come on, surely these people have something more on their tiny little minds? Nope and nope again.

Well, one of them is interested in his career, such as it is (not much). Another teaches, I think, yoga, though we never see her doing any such thing -- just gossiping and fucking and then -- wait: we shall allow no spoilers here. Another, played by the infamous Lindsay Lohan (reclining above), just wants to be loved. Is that so wrong? (Christ -- I'm quoting Harvey Fierstein; this movie has weakened my mental muscles.)

There are supposedly intelligent people out there claiming that The Canyons is about something. Because it is directed by Paul Schrader (shown at left), a writer and filmmaker I have long admired even through some pretty foggy movies, I gave it the benefit of the doubt, and for as long as possible. But because the screenplay is by Bret Easton Ellis, whom I generally think of as a talentless poseur, there is a battle going on, and I am afraid that Ellis wins it hands down.

The movie begins with a series of fascinating, unsettling shots of dead movie theaters, a comment no doubt on where we are and where we're headed, among maybe some other ideas, too. Then we're at dinner and/or drinks with a quartet of lovelies including Christian (James Deenabove, left), a nasty Trust-Fund baby who invests in the occasional movie and is also into videoing his girlfriend having sex with others; that gf, Tara (played by Ms Lohan, above, right; Ryan (Nolan Funk), a young actor who has managed to land a role in Christian's latest slasher film; and his girlfriend, Gina (Amanda Brooks), who is also working on said film.

The conversation in this scene is serviceable and sets the plot, such as it is, in motion, but it hardly sparkles. Yet, writing-wise, it's the best the movie has to offer, as we learn who these people are and a bit about what they may want. After that, it's mostly all sex-related power trips. Trust is brought up early on as a driving force -- as though anyone here had the smallest notion of what that word might mean. Which is, I guess, the point. Think of it as Les Liaisons Dangereuses with only a single (male) conniver and without a lick of class (except, perhaps, in the clothes).

As the overlord, Mr Deen, who evidently came to fame as a porn star, looks good, with a body that is noticeably and rather nicely un-buffed. He's relatively thin and wiry -- rather like John Holmes in his heyday, less long-haired hippy, but with equally impressive sexual equipment, of which we get one nice view. He can act, at least well enough not to embarrass himself or the film, but I thought I detected a slight lisp in his voice now and then, though that may have been a faulty soundtrack.

Ms Lohan looks and acts initially stern and then changes to vulnerable and sad throughout. She's pretty good at this, but as the screenplay gives her so little character to work with, so what? Mr. Funk remains in one, as both character and actor, and Ms Brooks is sweetly put-upon as the movie's "good girl." In the supporting cast, the choicest  turn comes from Gus Van Sant as Christian's therapist, who clearly understands who is buttering his, and his client's, bread.

Technical credits are fine, especially for a low-budget endeavor, though L.A. does seem, as in the recent mini-budget Maniac, woefully under-populated. As a director Schrader (shown above, right) is working well, giving us his usual brush with moral choice. Toward the finale, it looks as if he might give us a little De Palma, too, but no, he turns away from getting too graphic.

The Canyons, I suppose, is something to see so you can say you saw it. Otherwise, there's little to be gained here. The film, from IFC and running around 95 minutes, opens tomorrow is New York City at the IFC Center, and is simultaneously making its VOD and digital platform debut.

2 comments:

David Demarest said...

I just watched this movie on demand. I'm glad I didn't pay anything for it lol, the characters were just empty, the acting and writing was bad, I agree that Deen was probably the lone light in it because everyone else, including Lohan was dull. If there was any way I could get this hour and forty back that'd be super. The most overhyped Indie film i've ever seen.

James van Maanen said...

Thank you, David (and your review is a pretty good one, too!). And, yes -- imagine if we could all get back the hours we've wasted on bad movies. We wouldn't be rich, maybe -- but we'd have oodles of extra time on our hands!