Tag Archives: Nicolas Winding Refn

The Neon Demon (2016)

24 Jul

In the world of modern auteurs, few have made a name for themselves quite like Nicolas Winding Refn. Aesthetically engaging at his best and pretentiously dull at his worse, he is man whose distinctive flavor of violence and storytelling has its fair share of both fans and detractors. His latest work, The Neon Demon fits nicely enough into his filmography but still offers up something new.

The film follows Jesse (Elle fanning), a 17-year-old who is looking to break into LA’s infamous fashion industry. She arrives, innocent and puppy-eyed, though not without ambition or a constant drive to be successful. Completely naive, she is obviously out of her element and desperate for some chance to show her seemingly natural capacity for modeling. She soon crosses paths with Ruby (Jenna Malone), a makeup artist who becomes sexually infatuated with Jesse and who also acts as a mentor of sorts. It’s through Ruby that Jesse finds her entry into the ultra-competitive industry, and the two form a bond with each other in order to survive the ruthless and narcissistic competition who become dangerously involved with Jesse’s quick rise to fame.

There is no doubt about it – The Neon Demon is a thing of beauty. The film perfectly captures the cattiness and falsity of the industry and more importantly – those who make a living selling their image. Featuring bold cinematography, Refn’s DP Natasha Braier (The Rover) creates a daring world of stark color and shadow through her lens. The result is a colorful candy store on overdrive. In almost every frame, Braier extracts and magnifies notions of plastic-ness and vanity from the industry’s glitzy and glamorous reputation. Refn just doesn’t just simply exploit this idea of a sexy falseness towards to fashion – he revels in it to an extreme, self-indulgent degree.

Never a fan of subtlety, things get pretty extreme in Refn’s surreal and dark universe (especially during the film’s bizarre WTF-did-I-just-see final act) but it takes its time getting there and viewers with little patience will be turned off within the first 20 minutes. Still, the film is stylistically unique enough to be redeeming, and the way Neon Demon’s visuals are used to tell the narrative becomes intensely mesmerizing over time.

There is a lot of underlying ideas Refn is trying to say here, but there is even more Refn wants you to think he trying to say; most attempts at any underlying themes often turn up empty handed. Like Refn’s view of the industry itself, there is little meaning to be found beneath the film’s polished external shell. But yet, Neon Demon is perplexingly impossible to look away from.

Bottom Line: It might be an excessive work of placing style over substance, but with a little patience the self-indulgent Neon Demon can also become a deeply hypnotic and tantalizingly fun experience.

 

Rating: 7/10

Film Recipe: Only God Forgives + Black Swan + Upstream Color + lots of synths

 

 

Lost River (2015)

19 Apr

Heartthrob/meme generator Ryan Gosling makes his first debut into the world of directing with Lost River.  Starring Christina Hendricks, Iain De Caestecker, Saoirse Ronan, Ben Mendelsohn, Eva Mendes and Matt SmithLost River tells a story of a poverty-stricken family trying to scrounge up enough dough to keep mortgage on the family home alive in an increasingly destructive city.

A mirror to modern day Detroit (where the film was actually shot), the once prosperous city of Lost River has turned into a surreal wasteland due to economic collapse. Desperate to keep her family from leaving, Billy (Christina Hendricks) takes a job offer from the mysterious Dave (Ben Mendelsohn), while her son Bones (Iain De Caestecker) hunts for copper and other abandoned items of value in the desolated neighborhood. Meanwhile, Bully (Matt Smith), the self-proclaimed “King of Lost River” becomes rattled at the thought of Bones taking what now belongs to him, and the two forces start a violent fight for control of the area.

Stylistically, Lost River takes its influences from a variety of sources. It’s obvious that Gosling has seen his share of David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Nicholas Winding Refn and Harmony Korine, and he is trying hard to emulate them all at once here. Mostly it works on the surface, but beneath the slow-moving (and beautifully shot) images of a decaying suburb lies a film that somehow feels thematically hollow. Lost River is a hodgepodge of ideas and emotions, none of which get fully developed, making the film a classic exercise in style over substance.  However, Gosling seems to know what he is doing, and technically the film is a marvel considering it’s his first array into the directors chair.

Bottom Line: While most viewers will find Lost River either too pretentious or too diluted, I thought there was just enough visually brooding sophistication to keep me happy. That and Ben Mendelsohn’s dancing.

Screenshot 2015-04-18 22.53.46

 

Rating 6/10 

Film Recipe: Every single Nicholas Winding Refn movie ever + Every single David Lynch movie ever + Cosmopolis (2012) + The Warriors (1979) 

Only God Forgives (2013)

8 Aug

After the surprising success of 2011’s stylish neo-noir Drive, director Nicholas Winding Refn had a lot of expectations to live up to.  When it was announced that heartthrob actor Ryan Gosling would again pair up with Refn to star in his next film Only God Forgives, fans were ecstatic, and creating something with more style and substance found in Drive would be no easy task.

While it is nowhere near from becoming a sort of “Drive 2”, Only God Forgives is a remarkable, and greatly under-appreciated film rich with subtleties.  The story follows a boxing gym owner/drug dealer named Julian (Ryan Gosling), whose brother is brutally murdered after the rape and killing of a 14 year old. Violence ensues as a vendetta between Julian’s family and the vengeful local law enforcement.

Visually, Refn is at the top of his game.  The scenes in Only God Forgives are stylishly shot with pin-point precision and detail. Refn has never been one to shy away from violence, but the blood in this film feels so raw and powerful, and the gore gives off such a shock when contrasted with the beauty and elegance found in the rest of the film.

The warbling, synth-ridden soundtrack by Cliff Martinez also helps gives the film a unique, darkening tone which culminates during the film’s standoff between Julian and the leading cop Chang. Kristen Scott-Thomas makes for a chilling mother, and gives the film an added depth of Freudian speculation.

While the plot doesn’t have the amount of complexity fans loved in Drive, Only God Forgives is still a brutal and dark film that grows on you the more you think about it.

Rating 7/10

Similar to: Drive, The Master, Stoker