Wednesday, January 22, 2014
The Curious Case of The Canyons
The KickStarter phenomenon is an interesting one. While I'm sure it does good work in getting artists to share their vision with the help of the donations, there's also the other side to it. That side is taken up by the film The Canyons, a film which introduced me to the KickStarter scheme, Bret Easton Ellis' Twitter feed and porn star James Deen. Oh, and then I actually saw the film.
Wow, that was pretty terrible.
Now I hear there's all sorts of sides to the story that equate to why this was a massive failure. The way Bret Easton Ellis would wax poetic about his screenplay adaptation back in its early days made it seem like the movie would be the next American Psycho, the next game-changing definition of our generation in the gritty noir setting of LA. Granted, the film didn't have talent like Christian Bale, Reese Witherspoon, Jared Leto etc to headline the film. Instead, we had Ellis' 'pet project' James Deen, and everyone's favourite tabloid superstar Lindsay Lohan.
Then the film came out, directed by Paul Schrader, who once wrote Taxi Driver. Apparently, Ellis wasn't too impressed. Steven Soderbergh offered to edit the film in a few days so it wouldn't lag so much. Schrader wasn't having any of that, and what we as an audience (albeit a small audience) got in the end was a movie of just over 90 minutes, that is the longest 90 minutes anyone ever spent after Only God Forgives: a soulless, particularly unthrilling, laughable, pandering attempt at an honest portrayal of our generation.
Oh, and did I also mention that this is also about the death of cinema? Well, apparently it is supposed to be.
I'm not sure whether this was Ellis' decision, or Schrader's decision. However, throughout the movie, our 'establishing shots' are of broken down, derelict cinemas. Serious props to the location scouts and the photographer who found them, because that would make one hell of a photography essay. But in The Canyons, a film which is about a jealous trust fund kid who has serious issues with the world, maybe not the right time to unveil those photos?
That's not to say that this film doesn't deal, in some way, with the film industry. Part of the plot centres around Christian (James Deen) - the jealous trust fund kid - helping his sister finance some random film that she's making. While he makes his own strange movies through his iPhone. I don't know - is that what Paul Schrader is trying to say? That film is dying because we can make films on our iPhones? That films can now be funded via the internet? And then one of the last scenes is in a video shop, of all places. I don't know, maybe if this film were studied in English classes, I'd be able to find some metaphoric meaning in all of this. Instead, we have a movie trying to be Hugo and Casino all at the same time. Alas, despite writing Taxi Driver, Paul Schrader is definitely not Martin Scorsese.
The Canyons is unbelievably boring, saving its 'thrills' for the last minute. It seems more concerned with making sure it pushes its censorship rating, with plenty of sex, swearing and then even domestic violence, without any real point and definitely no class to pull it off. Just take a second to think of everything The Wolf of Wall Street has that makes it work. Now imagine if you took all of that away. What you have is The Canyons.
It's hard to say who's fault this is. Imagine if Mary Harron had been given the chance to make American Psycho 2.0, and she could have made the deep, dark and sinister strain to Ellis' screenplay work. Or was Ellis' screenplay trying to be way more than it actually was? (if it was aiming for softcore porn with a lurid American Dream of murder, it certainly achieved it) Was it the actors? James Deen can't carry a film. Lindsay Lohan, for all her personal life problems, was actually pretty good. Not enough to give her the comeback she desperately needs, but there were a few scenes that proved yet again why she deserves screen time. And then there's Nolan Funk, who is pretty much dead throughout the entire film. Would it have worked if there were different, more bankable stars? Perhaps. But I do think that the majority of the film's problems lie with Paul Schrader. If there was anything that would make the film work, it would be someone who had their finger on the pulse of the generation it's trying to portray. Schrader doesn't. It's like he's desperate to make a 70's B-grade thriller, but Ellis' material really doesn't benefit from that aesthetic or treatment. Someone with a bit more drive and control could have made a mainstream star out of James Deen and given us back the Lindsay Lohan we once had. But from the very beginning, where we have an awkward, stilted conversation between four people which throws the camera around at each person while they're not talking. It seems as if it could be inspired, artistic filmmaking, but it is cheap and off-putting. Not to mention that there's a scene where Tara is talking about how she doesn't like movies and the camera is literally waving from side to side. I don't like to throw this word into the ring, but it is pretty incompetent filmmaking.
At the end of the day, the movie is only really about a misogynistic, controlling trust fund kid. We never learn why he is that way. But we've seen this done so many times that if you're gonna keep beating it to death, at least give us some answers. Don't just give us a disgustingly boring film that throws in a murder to give the screenplay some sort of weight. It doesn't work that way.
But yes, wonderful photographs of derelict cinemas. Kind of fitting, when this film is the embodiment of cinema at its most lifeless.