Thursday, August 22, 2013
The Canyons 
Film.com (M. Patches) review
NPR (I. Buckwalder) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RE.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review
The Canyons  (directed by Paul Schrader, screenplay by Bret Easton Ellis) is an intentionally edgy unrated (would be R less probably NC-17 rated but Parents do take note.) offering that a number of critics (see above) really didn't know what to do with (Others some young, others venerable/respected "stepped up" and IMHO understood). The film played recently at Facets Multimedia in Chicago.
So why the hoopla or confusion? Well, among the film's headliners is a porn star, who goes by the name James Deen, who has some 1000 credits to his name, most unrepeatable on most film blogs (including, honestly mine ;-), and another is Lyndsay Lohan whose in-and-out of rehab / in-and-out of jail life has been catnip for the tabloids for years. And yet the casting results in a remarkable even searingly honest "hardboiled film" IMHO completely in the "film noir" tradition about Hollywood's "fallenness" / "brokenness" TODAY (an era awash in Porn, often enough produced "in the Valley" just to Hollywood's north and west).
So the film begins with two young couples having "cocktails and dinner" at some presumptuous, though not overly so (still B-league) restaurant probably "in the (San Fernando) Valley." Why characterize the establishment as "B-league"? Because none of the four drinking their drinks, eating their food, not even rich kid (25 or so, living off of his multimillionaire dad's trust fund) Christian (played by above mentioned James Deen) is anywhere near "A-team." But they can hope, and, especially Christian, they can "pretend ..."
The above-mentioned pretentious Christian, who lives alone with his current girl friend Tera (played by above mentioned Lyndsay Lohan) in a fabulous Pacific Ocean facing mansion (with both a drop-dead awesome view and a large luxurious pool) in the mountains outside of Malibu given/left to him by his super-rich father, "dabbles" in producing movies. They're not exactly serious movies, mostly mad-slasher/horror films. But then, he doesn't have to be serious ...
The other couple seated with Christian and Tera at their raised table (they're all sitting on bar-stools) at the somewhat pretentious but still B-league restaurant "in the Valley" are Christian's sweet (and largely clueless) administrative assistant Gina (played by Amanda Brooks) and her boyfriend Ryan (played by Nolan Funk) a young hunkish struggling actor that Gina and we soon find out Tera had convinced Christian to cast as a lead in an upcoming horror/slasher film slated to be shot some weeks hence out in Mexico.
Now why would Ryan and Tera know each other? Well, they were boy-friend/girl-friend when they first arrived in L.A. some three years past. (They met actually in L.A.). At the time, both were struggling and at some point Tera dumped him for more verdant pastures. Not necessarily evil, she tells Ryan when they meet again sometime after that dinner that nice guy though he is (and creep though Christian is...), that she's simply not going to back to eating "ramen noodles" forever. (She's a gold-digger, but then ... put that way, one does sorta understand, especially when one thinks of a 20-something year old who believes she "has options").
For his part, Ryan's found his 3 years in Los Angeles something of a nightmare. Perhaps a good actor, perhaps not, he was certainly a looker and he's found himself repeatedly forced to "put-out" in homosexual trysts with superiors (producers, potential producers, club owners, etc). And one gets the sense that he'd probably prefer to be straight. After all, at the start of the film, he's with one girlfriend Gina, we soon find out that he had another girlfriend, Tera, some years back. There's even a third young woman who enters the mix named Cynthia (played by Tanille Houston). Yet, when he needs a job, he's asked/coerced repeatedly to "put-out" for powerful men.
The story plays out from there. It's somewhat predictable. But then what hard-boiled "b-film," "Film Noir" films are not "somewhat predictable"? Yes, given both the casting and point of the film, there is also a fair amount of nudity present (but definitely not overwhelming). Is that nudity strictly necessary? No. Similarly sultry films have been made without it. Yet, neither is the nudity simply gratuitous. The scenes where it is present do make sense. Finally, strip away the nudity, is there still a story? Definitely. So this film is an intelligent piece of work. (And I would add that both Lyndsay Lohan's and even James Deen's acting was quite good. I'm not sure if this film was particularly healthy for Lyndsay Lohan to have made. However, throughout the film there's a courage/honesty that needs to be acknowledged).
In a good "Noir" film, there's generally some "unspeakable secret" on which the disorder present in the story hinges. The obvious secret "revealed" in this film is that (b-league) Hollywood films often depend on the caprices of "psycho rich kids with money" like Christian. But perhaps the more interesting and arguably even more subversive "secret" is that the reason why Hollywood has become so "gay friendly" over the years is that a fair portion of its male actors, whether initially straight or not, have had to follow Ryan's rather humiliating trajectory to "make it in the business," that is, that the "casting couch" is for everybody these days.
That may be disturbing. But then, disturbing/inconvenient truths are what good "Film Noir" is generally about ...
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