The Canyons (2013)

The Canyons (2013) movie poster

director Paul Schraeder
viewed: 01/23/2014

The Canyons is a movie that is nowhere as interesting as the scuttlebutt of the making of the movie, captured brilliantly in Stephen Rodrick’s article for the New York Times “Here is What You Get When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie”.  Sad, but true.

Still, you’ve got director Paul Schraeder, writer Bret Easton Ellis, and producer Braxton Pope going off the studio reservation to make a movie without intervention, on the cheap, even Kickstarter-ed.  And they cast tabloid queen Lindsay Lohan fresh out of rehab and porn star James Deen in a film about sex and death and Hollywood.  And movies.

You may say to yourself that it sounds like it couldn’t turn out well.  And it doesn’t.  It’s not an abysmal failure, but it’s pretty bad.  Lohan and Deen actually are part of the film’s qualities, though frankly Lohan is not anything special as an actress.  If not for her childhood film career and public partying and problems, she would be pretty lacking in notability.

Schraeder is one of those directors of whose films I can’t say I’ve really liked any particularly.  He’s drawn to interesting material often, written some good scripts for Martin Scorsese, but his career has been petering out toward fizzle for some time.  Again, the Times article is a good read.

The film’s subtext is perhaps more notable than its main text.  This story about these rich, attractive, amoral Hollywood types and their controlling, convoluted relationships isn’t overly fascinating.  They all vacuously obsess with their phones and their hollow endings are almost predestined.

But the film opens with shots of abandoned movie houses, cinemas, theaters, throughout Los Angeles.  And this is the film’s primary subtext, the death of the movies.  In the film, there is a movie being made, in which a young actor, Ryan (Nolan Gerald Funk), is ostensibly struggling to get a lead role in.  It’s produced in part by Deen and Lohan, but nobody believes in the movie, no one really cares or wants to go to where its going to be made.  Ultimately it’s not even made.  Deen’s character shoots his own movies, sex movies, on his phone.  That’s all he needs.  Lohan’s character asks the question, “When is the last time you went to the theater and saw something that you really cared about?”

It’s a bit of sour grapes, though there are some pointed aspects as well.  This is Hollywood where they are filming.  Everyone just wants sex or power or something.  They are all pretty hollow beings.  Ironically, really, Hollywood has always been about power and producers, sex, control.  It may well be that the caliber of the filmmaker has fallen into the hands of people who absolutely don’t really care about movies anymore.  Other than their own sexcapades recorded on their cell phones.

It’s funny because this film could have been a real freeing process for Schraeder and crew.  Some have truly embraced the low cost technologies and production to make films on the cheap, either in the style of Mumblecore or just more guerrilla-style filmmaking.  Instead, it’s just been a course in further cynicism, burnout, failure, certainly not made better by Lohan’s off-screen antics and failures around the film.

Machete

Machete (2010) movie poster

(2010) directors Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez
viewed: 02/08/11

Evolved from a fake trailer that was released with the Grindhouse (2007) double feature, Machete is comically over-the-top from top to bottom.  Planet Terror (2007), Robert Rodriguez’s portion of the Grindhouse entity, the film concept is a throwback to the 1970’s-1980’s action/exploitation films.  Machete‘s take on the genre is an action film with a rough and tumble Mexican hero, not exactly a Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris type, but the immensely rugged Danny Trejo, whose weathered face and rock-solid build are an antithesis to the concept of a dashing, handsome lead.  Trejo may be no Brad Pitt, but he’s a compelling actor, and his pissed-as-hell glare and growl of a voice do indeed create a new and interesting figure as a movie hero.

But Machete traces back more to Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003) and Desperado (1995) as well as El Mariachi (1992).  These films are all action films with a strong Nationalist and cultural pride of both Mexico and Mexican-American identity.  It’s an odd mixture of strongly themed political statements (the film deals heavily with illegal immigration and the issues surrounding it) and humor (among the united Latinos in the film’s finale, there are many bouncing low riders and even a guy pushing an ice cream cart).  While Rodriguez shared directorial credit on this film with Ethan Maniquis, he co-wrote and co-produced the film as well, and it bears all the marks of his style.

Also part of the film’s self-awareness is the way that the villains are populated by a number of B-movie action stars of the 1980’s and 1990’s including most prominently Steven Seagal, but also Jeff Fahey and Don Johnson.  As well as Robert De Niro.  The inclusion of Seagal in particular seems to summon the spirit of the straight-up B-movie action film, to which Machete insistently attaches its roots.  But it’s only the opening sequence that channels the Grindhouse “distressed” film stock and jump-cuts to suggest an old beat-up reel that’s played in many a drive-in theater.  The rest of the film forgoes that relatively cheap gag/aesthetic.  Oddly enough, though the digitally “distressed” look annoyed me, the jump-cuts in the opening sequence seemed to have some real verve.

Really, the film is at its best when it’s going to furthest over the top.  Like the scene in which Machete uses a man’s intestines to swing out of a window in a fight in a hospital.  It’s ridiculous and inventive and sort of just the right tone.  At its weakest, well, there’s Jessica Alba playing a cop (she’s a very bad actress…though very cute) and there’s Lindsay Lohan (also a very bad actress) playing the druggy, slutty daughter of Fahey’s character who winds up in a nun’s habit by the end.  It’s kind of funny but when Michelle Rodriguez is the best of three female actresses in the film, you know you’ve got something.   I don’t know what.  Something.

For my money, the film rarely sustained its flashes of brilliance.  There are plenty for a trailer’s worth, but over a range of an hour and forty five minutes or so, the level’s of wit, excitement, and fun dropped quite a bit.  But I think that’s it, that there are flashes of wit and coolness, and Trejo is great really, but the film isn’t as cleverly written, as inventive and outrageous, consistently to be a good time.

And one final complaint: digital blood-letting.  Especially in a throw-back kind of action movie.  I know it’s way cheaper and easier.  But it utterly lacks impact.  It often denudes a gory moment of its gruesomeness.  And I think that a lot of the scenes would have been better off with some old school FX rather than the digital ones.

I Know Who Killed Me

I Know Who Killed Me (2007) movie poster

(2007) dir. Chris Sivertson
viewed: 12/06/07

This is the last Lindsay Lohan movie that I will watch for a while.  You know, never say never.

She is really a pretty rotten actress and not an overly compelling screen presence.  One of the things that I’ve been noting about her in the previous films that I’ve watched is that she is typically a petulant, annoying, precocious teen whose likeability is meant to come across despite her self-centered selfishness.  It’s odd, but it’s almost like she is playing out her own personality and development in these films.

In this case, she takes the next step in this direction, playing a dual role of the “good girl”, the “talented” pianist/writer Aubrey, but also her alternate, Dakota, the stripper, the “bad girl”.  In this case, bad girls say “fuck” a lot and also like to fuck, the other, while not virginal, is still more so.  She’s selfish and unfriendly, but we are meant to sympathize with her because she’s had a rough life.  Both characters believe that they are two parts of a missing whole.  And in the end, which I am about to give away here, they turn out to be twins separated at birth.

This actually makes for the film’s few quality elements.  Aubrey is abducted by a serial killer and has her right arm and right leg cut off near the central joint.  It turns out that Dakota, being Aubrey’s twin, suffers the same fate via a twin-related stigmata.  The film’s nicest, cheesy shot shows Dakota’s hand slipping down the strippers pole, leaving long streaks of blood running down it.  And actually, the way that Dakota suffers the sudden bizarre loss of her fingers and limbs could have been quite compelling.  It’s bizarre and gruesome, but it’s contextualized in a flashback and loses its mystery and power that it could have had.

This situation also leads to the other really camp, bizarre thing about this movie.  Lohan runs around most of the movie as a double amputee.  She even has amputee sex with her boyfriend.  This weirdness actually doesn’t come across as bizarre and shocking as it could.  I found myself wishing that Robert Rodriguez had shot this movie.  It would have worked great with his Planet Terror from earlier this year.  This could have been the year of the amputee.

For all of this film’s potential (I liked the title — it had some noirish bent), it’s terribly executed.  The direction and writing are awful.  And the (I’m giving away the big ending here now) fact that the serial killer is a spurned piano teacher…well, that lacks a lot of satisfaction.  And the weird obsession with blue, which is emphasized throughout in inconsistent and incomprehensible ways, makes you realize that the director was trying to do something.  Which is perhaps even more pathetic.

A Prairie Home Companion

A Prairie Home Companion (2006) movie poster

(2006) dir. Robert Altman
viewed: 07/30/07

Part two of my Lindsay Lohan arrest double feature actually took me nearly a week to get around to seeing.  This film isn’t so much a “Lindsay Lohan” flick as it is a typical Robert Altman ensemble cast in which screen time is pretty equally distributed.  This is, of course, Altman’s swan song, the last film he completed before passing away last November.  While Altman certainly had a number of excellent films to his credit, including Thieves Like Us (1974) & McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), A Prairie Home Companion, a strange narrative set against the pretended final performance of the long-running radio show, is almost criminally boring, clunky, and, while not devoid of charm or moments, feels like a pretty big waste of time and effort.

No real discredit to Garrison Keillor or any of his strange, laconic amusing creations, which I have never been particularly partial to myself, but can appreciate from afar, but the biggest problem is probably the rambling, boring script, featuring the most tepid of narratives about the show and theater getting bought by some bloodless Texas firm simply to shut it down contrasted against the charm and talents of the performers and the traditions that they have carried on and parodied throughout the years.

The most oddball part of it, the ghost/”Dangerous Woman”/Azrael character played by Virginia Madsen doesn’t really make a lot of sense.  Again, this is maybe due to the weakness of the script.  The film is largely about death.  Madsen comes as the angel of death to take away an aging singer, there is the death of the show, the death of tradition, Lohan’s feebly suicide-obsessed poetry…  There is an aura of death, for sure.  But frankly, I don’t know what the whole point is.  It’s not really a meditation or anything clear, and the film keeps cutting back and forth between performances and the back-stage story so much that it’s hard to figure out what’s supposed to be important.

Kevin Kline is amusing in his delivery and slap-stick moments, but it seems like he is supposed to be in some other film.  No one else acts like him in it.

Lohan, as Lola, a character so named by Keillor after the great song “Whatever Lola Wants” since apparently Lohan got herself into the film when there wasn’t even a role for her, is barely different from anything else she’s been in.  Less flat-out comical, I guess, but still just a teenager.  Whatever.  I still want to see I Know Who Killed Me (2007), especially because of the bad reviews.

And as for Altman, this is not an embarrassment, just lame.  He’ll be remembered for a lot of things, a lot of films, but hopefully not this one.

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004) movie poster

(2004) dir. Sara Sugarman
viewed: 07/25/07

Ah, Lindsay Lohan.  But only two years ago, I’d only heard her name, knew naught of her.  I saw Mean Girls (2004).  And somewhere along the way, I have become a celebrity news junky.  So, now I’m more up on things that I just shouldn’t know and really don’t care about, but anyways…  So, this will seem amusing now, this very moment, but in the future, this notable fact will seem silly and trite and seriously out of date, but in honor of her second DUI and drug arrest, just two weeks out of rehab, wearing an alcohol-monitoring anklet…it seemed like a good time for a Lindsay double feature.  Sadly, her new movie I Know Who Killed Me (2007) is due out in a couple days and actually looks more interesting than anything else that she’s been in.  It didn’t make the cut.  I chose this film for the title.

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen is a bad teen film.  Interestingly, it isn’t one that makes her look particularly likeable.  The story is about Lola, a self-involved teenager who is moved to the New Jersey suburbs with her mother from New York City, her striving for popularity, celebrity, and coolness.  With the snarky voiceover, the audience is intended to be amused by her cleverness and her individuality, funkiness, in contrast with the staid and middling suburban high school scene and the pretty, bitchy counterpart, played as the “mean girl”.

Of course, Lola is as self-involved and selfish as her nemesis, to a point that one might think that their characters are interchangeable.  Lola’s buddy, the mousy, clean-cut Ella, on the other hand, is likable, but too boring to hold the spotlight, I guess.

They have a crazy adventure, going to New York City for a concert and to meet their much adored favorite rock stars.  It’s charmless, mostly.

But the point of great irony here is when she confronts her idol, the rock star, and tells him that he’s just “a drunk”, which according to the templates of these shallow pop confections of movies convinces him to get help and become sober.  He enters treatment.  Ah, Lindsay, you need to have that effect on yourself, apparently.

As far as these types of movies go, this isn’t a particularly good one.  Mean Girls is better.  I don’t know what will become of her or her career, small or lots more drama, cleaned up or with lots more mess, but she really is a lot more famous for being famous because her filmic history is pretty lame so far.  Maybe the next one will be better.

Mean Girls

Mean Girls (2004) movie poster

(2004) dir. Mark Waters
viewed: 07/12/2005

It’s a sign of age, you know, when you hear Hollywood gossip stuff and have no idea who certain teen icons are or for why they are supposed to be famous. I mean, Lindsay Lohan, who is she and why is she so popular? Okay, well, now I know who she is and I can say that I have seen one of her films. This film, though, piqued my interest due to some critical buzz over the script, written by Tina Fey of Saturday Night Live (another thing that I am well-out-of-touch with.)

Mean Girls isn’t really anything overly special, but it is occasionally funny. That is saying something, coming from me, because I know that I have seen a lot of comedies that I thought were completely unfunny start to finish.

Lohan is fine throughout, though not particularly special.

The teen film, I suppose, would be the genre. The story, focusing on an outsider’s approach to overly typecast social cliques is not utterly unlike Heathers (1989), in a sense. An infiltration of the popular group by individuals opposed to their ways. The teen film is a genre that would be fun to look at, especially over time. This film might well fall into such an analysis, but I can’t really elaborate presently, as detached as I have been with the genre in general.

Now, I just need to see a Hilary Duff flick.