The Neon Demon Review

Yes, back to films that’s I’m actually looking forward to. After his hits Bronson, Drive and Only God Forgives (the latter one being in my top 5 favourite films), I was thrilled to find out that Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn was bringing out a new film this year. Would it face up to his previous success, or get lost in all the Refn nonsense?

The Neon Demon stars Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee and Keanu Reeves and is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. The film follows Jesse (Fanning) who heads to L.A. to become a model. The film follows her monumental rise to the top, which is resented by other models she works with.

With a Refn film you know you’re going to get two things, excellent cinematography and a beautiful musical score. The Neon Demon doesn’t disappoint on those two fronts. Cinematographer Natasha Braier captures several outstanding shots, many of which will stay with you long after you finish the film. Her use of neon light creates some brilliant contrasts between light and shadow and is pretty integral to understanding a lot of the visual metaphors that expand the narrative.

The score by frequent Refn collaborator Cliff Martinez is on a par with the rest of his work and helps create this odd sense of beauty and foreboding. Twinned with Braier’s cinematography, it makes just looking and watching The Neon Demon a joy. Sia also makes an appearance on the soundtrack, playing over the end credits of the film. Her song, Waving Goodbye is a good addition to the film and ends it perfectly.

The film, like the rest of Refn’s most recent work is an 18. I don’t want to spoil it here but…stuff happens. Like, really messed up stuff. Bone Tomahawk made me squirm a bit due to the graphic things it was depicting on screen, The Neon Demon had my jaw open during the final act. It’s a film that obviously is going for the shock factor and doesn’t pull any punches. Refn is on record as having a violence fetish and this definitely has his stamp of over-the-top exploitation all over it.

The weirdness is throughout the film, but is most evident in the acting. The acting can feel a bit stilted, but I think that’s what the film is going for. English isn’t Refn’s first language and the majority of the speaking cast are actually models, but the off kilter dialogue and long pauses add this deceptive layer to the story. Everyone has an agenda, everyone has something to hide and something they want and it all spills over during the second half of an orgy of excess and debauchery.

While Elle Fanning might be the head star, the film is stolen by Jena Malone as her friend and make-up stylist Ruby. Her bubbly charm makes her one of the only trustworthy characters in the whole of the story and she commands the screen in two of the most provoking scenes in the entire film. Keanu Reeves does his thing as a seedy motel owner that Jesse stays at and Fanning does well as the innocent schoolgirl with big dreams, but Malone tops them all as the reason to go watch The Neon Demon.

To really enjoy The Neon Demon, you need to just go with it. It’s a film that you have to put a little bit of effort into. Paying attention to certain points and visual cues means you will get a lot more enjoyment out of the end experience. It’s a Sleeping Beauty/Cinderella fairytale wrapped up in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles with a moral about beauty and fame. Be warned, if you want an enjoyable film, this might not be it. It is though one of the most exhilarating.

Score: 8/10 Easily the best-looking film of the year.

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie Review

I have seen several episodes of Absolutely Fabulous, and while I was never a “fan”, there were enjoyable. But I remember seeing the trailer for the Ab Fab movie and cringing at the fawning over celebrities and models and already wondering if it was going to jump the shark like many TV to film adaptations. Let’s find out.

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie stars Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha and June Whitfield and is directed by Mandie Fletcher. The film follows the ever alcoholic, drug-abusing narcissists Edina (Saunders) and Patsy (Lumley) who have to flee to the south of France after Edina accidently kills Kate Moss.

We’ll start with what works, Joanna Lumley. She is by far the best thing in the film, whether she’s showing off for the paparazzi, getting caught up in a fashion runway or just walking down the road with a bottle of champagne in her hand, Lumley commands the screen every time she is on and plays Patsy as a wonderfully vain and pampered waste. Kathy Burke too, despite having only a few short minutes in the film as a ball-busting, loudmouth reporter has some great lines. And that’s really it. Sure there were some good lines here and there that made me laugh, but apart from Lumley and Burke, it’s really quite dreary.

Since Edina is a PR agent, celebrities would obviously be involved in some way with the production. The film takes a leaf out of Zoolander 2‘s book and floods the screen with as many famous faces as it can. When asked had he seen Jaws 4, Michael Caine famously said, “No, but I’ve seen the house it bought.” That’s what Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie feels like, people like Jon Hamm, Stella McCartney, Emma Bunton and Lulu are just turning up to be flattered by the main stars and then pick up a cheque. It’s not just fashion designers and models that turn up either. The film is full of actual actors like Robert Webb, Rebel Wilson and Martin Gatiss, and most are terrible in this. Webb and Gatiss are both funny people but are sadly given nothing to use.

The script, while it starts funny loses its mark around the half hour point. As always, there are some great one liners, but after that mark it descends into a weird sort of slapstick. The script also takes another note from Zoolander 2 by having several jokes aimed at transgender characters. It’s demeaning and ends up just becoming examples of “you’re transgender, that’s different from the rest of us so let’s laugh at you for a bit”. The off-colour jokes end up making the majority of the script about part way through and definitely in my screening there were moments when one of those jokes would come up and the whole cinema was silent.

Despite being only 91 minutes long, there are moments when the film feels a bit baggy. There are subplots about Eddie’s book deal and several dream sequences where Eddie and Patsy imagine that they are partying away the rest of their days surrounded by fashion celebrities. The film sets up the massive “on-the-run” type story but is simply resolved in the last two minutes of the film so that we can have a big happy ending.

In the end, this might be one for the super-fans of Ab Fab. If all you’re wanting to see is Eddie and Patsy together again, getting drunk and going on crazy adventures that you’ll have fun. For the rest, it might be one to check the trailer first before you decide whether to watch it.

Score: 5/10 Absolutely medicore.

Zoolander 2 Review

The first Zoolander film came out all the way back in 2001 and has subsequently become a cult comedy hit, highlighting the careers of its stars. Now, fifteen years later, a sequel comes to theatres. Does Zoolander 2 recapture the comedy glory of the first film, or has it been too long for the really, really, ridiculously, good-looking male model?

Zoolander 2 stars Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Penelope Cruz and is directed by Ben Stiller. The film follows male model Derek Zoolander (Stiller) who comes out of retirement to find his long-lost son Derek Jr. and stop a evil fashion-based cabal from killing him.

I remember hearing that Zoolander was getting a sequel and since I’m an optimist when it comes to films, I was hopeful that we would get another instantly quotable and often funny film. Sadly, I was disappointed, as it seems that in those subsequent fifteen years, no new jokes have arisen.

The majority of the jokes seem to be call-backs to the previous film, such as Will Ferrell’s Mugatu asking for his latte, or a sequence near the end where Zoolander must perfect “Blue Steel” again, this time to stop a bomb instead of a throwing star. There are a handful of jokes that are new, but most of them are hit and miss. A lot of the new material could be considered offensive or just plain unfunny, such as an extended joke by Zoolander and Hansel about how fat people are gross and untrustworthy, or another moment where the duo debate androgynous model All’s (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) gender, asking whether All has a “hot dog” or a “bun”. I wouldn’t even class it as a joke, I can’t see a punch-line anywhere in the scene.

The first film had a couple of cameo appearance by celebrities, such as Paris Hilton and a spectacular couple of minutes by David Bowie, but in Zoolander 2, the film is packed with famous people, some without any connection with the fashion industry. While Zoolander 2 has fashion creators such as Tommy Hilfiger, Anna Wintour and Alexander Wang, others are ridiculous. Susan Boyle, Kiefer Sutherland (who does a really out of place joke about miscarriages), Ariana Grande, even Neil DeGrasse Tyson pops up at one bit to say a string a swear words while describing the universe. The film even tries to redo the David Bowie scene but with Sting instead, which pales in comparison to first film. It just screams a certain type of pandering, where the actors just asked their famous friends if they wanted to do a two-second wave to the camera for a few dollars.

The first film was an over-the-top story about male model being brainwashed to be highly-trained killers. It was a story that was silly but knew it was silly, so it made the film funnier. The story in Zoolander 2 stars out pretty simple, but over the run time, more plot points and characters get piled on top of each other until it’s a mess of a story. The last ten minutes are mangled, as the film tries to ret-con the entirety of the plot up until that point, before spinning around again and saying “Oh no, we were right the first time.” Unfortunately, I was already bored by the lack of engagement on-screen, that I didn’t even care about the double twist.

I will admit though, it was nice to see the characters that we all loved back in 2001 back in Zoolander 2. Just Zoolander and Hansel standing next to each other was enough to elicit a smile from me. But the rest of the characters aren’t really that charming or entertaining. Kristen Wiig, who plays Alexanya Atoz, the head of fashion a label, is putting on a really thick accent, which makes her dialogue really hard to understand. It almost sounds like the reversed dialogue from Twin Peaks. Will Ferrell does nothing as Mugatu, just screaming and shouting instead of anything more varied. It’s all just wasted talent.

In the end I say, who asked for this film? I didn’t think there would be millions of people craving another Zoolander film and unfortunately, it’s really quite terrible. If you’re wanting a comedy to see in the cinema, just go watch Deadpool.

Score: 5/10 Just stick to the first one.