The Neon Demon Review

The first half of this post will be a spoiler-free review, however the second half of it will be me deconstructing and analyzing some of the fine points of the film.

Nicholas Winding Refn’s latest film, The Neon Demon, is a smorgasbord of decadence, narcissism, and morbidity. Refn channels into his own antagonistic personality to give us this delicious spectacle that leaves it rattling in your head for hours after viewing.

The Neon Demon follows the story of Jesse (Elle Fanning) and her time starting out in the glitzy high end modelling industry in Los Angeles. Other models however envy her and lust and crave over her natural beauty. The Neon Demon is as outlandish as it sounds, but it’s critique of the industry and vanity/narcissism itself makes it another subversive classic by the Danish filmmaker.

This film is very much like an acid trip; it can go either two ways, really well or really badly. I found myself completely on board with the film and because of that I absolutely adore The Neon Demon. It is certainly a film that you cannot get out of your head.

Elle Fanning, Abbey Lee, and Jena Malone were all fantastic as the models they portrayed; there was a great balance of subtle and exaggeration from the cast and it assisted the film’s alien and other-wordly feel. Fanning as the lead of Jesse is obviously the highlight of the film as she dominates both the innocent little girl and the vain, egotistical power woman roles.

Of course with a Refn film you are always expecting the visuals and score to be bold and wonderful. However, The Neon Demon is by far Refn’s most aesthetic film to date. If you loved the striking images from any of his previous ventures you’ll be sure to have a feast with all the crystalline cinematography that certainly makes this film stand out from anything else that touches the cinema screens for a good while. Cliff Martinez delivers his greatest score yet, too. With slight touches of his scores from Drive and Only God Forgives, Martinez creates a mesmerizing and trip inducing soundtrack.

Although the imagery in The Neon Demon is arguably simpler to grasp than those in Only God Forgives, you are at times left wanting more. The structure of the plot is rather thin and there doesn’t seem to be a cohesive path for the narrative. However, once you begin breaking down the images and themes presented in the film, you then discover that maybe a strong point was to not have a conventional plot structure – or any at all.

For those who do not like Only God Forgives, other Refn films, or surreal art pieces (there are touches of Argento and Lynch peppered throughout the film) then I highly doubt you will enjoy this. But I would thoroughly recommend this film to everyone else, it’s one of those films you can really dig your teeth into.

I’m now going to discuss some of the finer points of the film and break it down a bit more, so here is a spoiler warning as I’m going all out.

At a Q&A, Refn was asked about the alien feel of the film, to which the director responded by saying that people will soon think of The Neon Demon as a science fiction film. This to me is a massive point to consider when thinking about the film. From the start we are constantly reminded what type of world we have entered and that this one is not ours. Lines like “beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” and how beauty is currency, perfectly explain to us what this world is all about.

Our “hero”, Jesse at first appears like she does not belong to this world, she is sweet and innocent and natural. But as we progress through the film we discover that maybe this is not true. Jesse, just like the other models, is part of this world (either she was always part of it or it corrupted her is debatable). The runway scene with the triforce is for me the moment that Jesse unveils her true self. She is confident, powerful, arrogant, and vain. She basks in her natural beauty and prides herself upon it, similarly like the other models but the difference is that it is built up to be true that yes, Jesse is the most beautiful. However, in the end Jesse is (literally) pushed aside, a reminder that in this world woman are tools, objects for the satisfaction of ego. I very much see The Neon Demon as a criticism of vanity.

Mirrors are constantly used in this film, yet never once is there the cliched “fractured face and fractured mirror means fractured personality” even though a mirror is smashed at one point. I noted this as quite significant. If we return back to the otherworldly feel of the film, we must think of the significance of mirrors in this world. Whenever a character is reflected in a mirror we see someone different. In the world the models seem completely vain, heartless, and completely inhuman; however we see their insecurities whenever they are reflected in a mirror. We see someone who looks trapped, consumed and possessed by this world that is devoid of all humility and humanity.

Although this is a different world, we are subtly reminded that this one does actually inhibit our own (or is connected to it). The seedy motel and owner (played by Keanu Reeves) shows that the decrepit nature of this world has overflown into our own. A world full of sexual exploitation and narcissism.

This is where Refn, the crazy antagonistic Danish bastard who loves pissing people off, shines. I’ve already seen this film dubbed as sexist, misogynistic exploitation trash and I’m sure Refn knew that too. Refn fills these shocking and absurd scenes with a clear argument against these said things by exaggerating and making them as explicit as possible. It’s almost like a satire how he criticizes these things by exaggerating them and showing them for what they are.

I would argue that this is a feminist film that makes some very strong arguments about female sexual exploitation and body shaming. This world is built on the foundation of these things and it has created a poisonous world riddled with narcissism and vanity. Refn presents a black mirror to our own world to show us the world of The Neon Demon, and how the nature – no matter how exaggerated it is – has spilled into our own. It may be alien, but it’s not far away.

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Why not to Trust your Friends with Online Polls

Back in December I was tasked with creating an online poll, record the answers given, and then create an article around the data. Safe to say that things did not at all go to plan – other than the point that this article is at least 6 months late.

At time of this poll being created, there was a massive petition in the UK to ban the then Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump from the UK. The petition reached massive heights. I decided to work my poll around this and get feedback from people on whether they think he should be banned and if any action against Mr Trump should be taken. Naturally, things did not go the way I hoped they would.

I linked the survey on Facebook, so that my kind friends would assist me in getting data. This was my first mistake. Rule number one of having friends: don’t trust them. Instead of actually answering these questions genuinely, they instead decided to mess with my whole operation.

Things started off rather decently. It may be extreme to ban a person from an entire country based on what they say (free speech innit), however it is Donald Trump we’re on about.

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Majority of people however agree that some form of official punishment must be made against Trump for his questionable comments about Muslims, Mexicans, and basically anyone who isn’t Donald Trump.

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Continuing on from the last question, most people considered Trump’s comment as hate speech. Remember that this was only back from December, what would you think most people’s thoughts would be now after he won the GOP nomination?

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When I finally asked people to write in their thoughts that’s when things started going south. I asked what people’s thoughts were on Trumps comments about banning Muslims from America. There were the expected answers such as “deplorable”, “ignorant”, and “it’s racist, plain and simple”. However, then came the satirists – at least I hope they were joking –  of the world to turn what should’ve been a routine poll.

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At this point I considered scrapping the poll, I couldn’t use many of these answers. Plus things just got worse.

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However, I decided to keep the poll and work on a whole new angle. This is proof why you should never trust Facebook friends for assistance on a project, cause all you’ll get is pain and anguish. Hell, stay away from the internet in general, it is a dark and dangerous place where only the fools go to get genuine opinion.

 

 

The Gub: Kieran and Ryan’s Movies of 2015

THE GUB PODCAST: BEST MOVIES OF 2015

Kieran and Ryan of The Gub share their favourite films of 2015. Due to UK releases being different to the US, this list is of films released in the UK in the year 2015, so the likes of The Hateful 8, The Revenant, The Big Short, Spotlight and Room are excluded.

Can’t be bothered listening to the podcast? No worries, here are their top three films (explanations reserved to the podcast, if you want to know why they like these films give the podcast a wee listen!)

KIERAN’S TOP 3

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RYAN’S TOP 3

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Gorlitz: The Home of The Grand Budapest Hotel

The German town of Gorlitz was one of the primary film locations of Wes Anderson’s THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. It is here where the interior of the Grand Budapest itself was filmed.

Back in the summer of 2015 I journeyed to the Gorlitz, situated to the south of Dresden and right on the Germany-Poland border. Wes Anderson filmed his magnificent comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel in this charming little town.

The town itself is beautiful and you get a real sense that you are back in the 1910s. The cobbled roads, the preserved medieval churches and buildings, and the unique architecture of the town makes it feel otherworldly.

To make this trip even more spectacular, I was lucky enough to enter the disused department store that would serve as the lobby of the prestigious Grand Budapest.

“It was an enchanting old ruin. But I never managed to see it again”, the final lines of The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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Bloodborne Review: Dark Souls with H.P. Lovecraft – but better

FromSoftware’s latest venture is a fantastic evolution of an already great series. If anything, this is one massive reason to choose the PlayStation 4 over the Xbox One.

Created by the good ol’ folks who made Demons Souls and Dark Souls, FromSoftware, and Hidetaka Miyazaki, Bloodborne could be described as being the spiritual successor of Dark Souls, just as Dark Souls was to Demons Souls. The same mechanics and trends are there, but given nice little twists that make this game unique form the others. Just as it was with the Souls games, so too is Bloodborne deviously difficult and challenging, absurdly beautiful, and subtle in its approach to telling a story. Bloodborne can only be described as a modern classic.

Just as it is with the Souls games, Bloodborne delivers its story and world through cryptic jigsaw pieces, it tasks the player to put these pieces together and come up with their own interpretation and fill the blanks. It is a method of storytelling that thrives in the video game format as it encourages exploration and use of imagination – there’s none of this “here have a ton of exposition through a 30 second cut scene rubbish. Once again FromSoftware have succeeded in creating a fascinating and wonderfully disturbing story and world just as they did with their previous games.

Bloodborne is as close as you’ll come to ever getting a HP Lovecraft styled videogame. This is all very well known as the world and story delves into the minds of madness, insanity, and cosmological nightmares. Bloodborne’s story is disturbing, surreal, completely mental, but fascinating and imaginative.

In terms of gameplay, Bloddborne took and already amazing formula and somehow made it better. I’ve found Bloodborne to be far harder than Dark Souls, but also more entertaining. Every encounter is tense, as you can be killed relatively quickly, and passivity just invites more death, it’s like walking on a tightrope as one slip up could easily cost you. The combat, compared to Dark Souls, is both faster but also meatier. You have to commit to attacks as any misjudgement means that you will be inviting enemies to pounce. Enemies hit hard and bosses hit harder.

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Bloodborne’s locations are vivid, imaginative, and beautifully terrifying labyrinths that dazzle and amaze.

Speaking of bosses, the designers and animators have out done themselves. By the looks of it every boss has 1000 different attack animations; reading their attacks, predicting what that attack is, and choosing when to make your own attack make each and every fight an intense and adrenaline pumping display. Plus there is no greater feeling in a video game than beating a boss you’ve been struggling with, it’s like climbing a mountain and the reward itself is the fact that you’ve done it.

Bloodborne creates an atmosphere of horror without ever being really scary, and it is that atmosphere that has been created that makes this one of the best games from the last decade.

For my full 800 word review, go here: Bloodborne review – original PDF

Ten Great Movie Soundtracks

Although it may not seem like it, soundtracks in films can define your opinion on the film. This list will showcase ten soundtracks that are not only great on their own, but also within the film to make it a truly memorable experience.

It’s impossible to sit down and actually decide what are the best film scores of all time. There are so many that are absolutely amazing and as soon as someone does say “this is objectively the best” there will be a horde of people telling them they’re wrong. So instead of saying that these are the best, here are ten great film soundtracks that I wholeheartedly recommend.

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Mulholland Drive

Angelo Badalamenti always knows how to make a wonderfully terrifying score. Mulholland Drive is certainly one of his greats and the partnership that Lynch and Badalamenti had made all of Lynch’s films even better than they already were.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NegfnPsvEMU

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Interstellar

Even if you’re sick of hearing Hans Zimmer in nearly every single movie nowadays, it’s hard to deny that his work on Christopher Nolan’s space epic Interstellar was mayhaps one of his best ever scores. At points reminiscent of another score that will feature in this list, yet Zimmer even redefines his own style in this powerful score.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdComTp7KsA

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It Follows

It Follows came out this year and surprised most audience members as it was a bold and unique throwback to classic 80’s horror. This was certainly assisted by the very John Carpenter-esque soundtrack that was prominent throughout the movie. As a personal fan of 80’s aesthetic, It Follows was an instant hit for me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxfQEZXRPNQ&list=PLbRpHkuMazSLFsP80IeevRHNMrH6noa7-&index=2

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Blade Runner

In my opinion, no list about film score would be complete without Vangelis’ memerizing score for – again, my opinion – one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time. It’s a classic, and it’s soundtrack is equally great.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRUD2Daz5q8&index=5&list=PL3ABE2FBA2900C03E

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The Social Network

Another splendid partnership that works brilliantly – or is it trio? David Fincher, Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose have created great films/soundtracks together with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl but still The Social Network stays the most memorable.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SBNCYkSceU

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

The soundtrack for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel certainly deserved to win the Oscar for best motion picture soundtrack – even ahead of Interstellar. Just like the film it is charming and fabulously exquisite. If there was any music that felt like it captured the wonder of Stefan Zweig’s work; Alexandre Desplat certainly achieved that.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voX15vG2gOk

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Only God Forgives

Arguably one of the most divisive films of the past decade, even those who hated Nicolas Winding Refn’s thriller, Only God Forgives, have said that Cliff Martinez’s score is great. Just like he did in Refn’s previous film, Drive, Martinez managed to beef up the visuals by delivering again with a stellar score.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKTXWeM7c1A

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Fire Walk With Me

Is it cheating to include another Lynch film? Another divisive film, but I’ll defend it to the death. Badalamenti has a host of fantastic score credits under his belt but his score for Fire Walk With Me is my personal favourite of his.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hOERnIuvbg

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Star Wars

What better way to get yourself hyped up for the new Star Wars film that to listen back to John Williams original masterpieces. One of the most iconic film soundtracks to date, Williams’ sound is instantly recognizable.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqOBU34aVrc

Bruges: The F***ing Winter Wonderland

The Belgian town of Bruges is a famous cultural hotspot in Central Europe. However, one of the most memorable things about it was the black comedy that was filmed there, IN BRUGES. So how does this film reflect the medieval town?

In 2008, British director Martin McDonagh released the hit black comedy In Bruges starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes. Not only was it a fantastically crafted and an all round great film, but it was also the greatest advert for the small Belgium town of Bruges.

It may not seem like it at first, Colin Farrell’s character struts around the old cobbled streets declaring that the well-preserved medieval town is a “shithole”, but In Bruges shows off all the beautiful and intricate architecture that lines every street and canal.

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Dubbed as the “Venice of the North”, Bruges may not be as technically and culturally impressive as the Italian city, but you’ll be surprised to know that it’s a far greater experience. This experience is enhancded further if you go during winter, when the snow begins to fall and the snow makes the cobble streets sparkle at night. You then have the swans in the canals to make it truly like a fairytale experience.

Its main draw is that, unlike Venice, it’s not as busy and commercialised. As Ralph Fiennes put it: “It’s just a shame it’s on in Belgium, really. But then, you think, if it wasn’t in Belgium, if it was somewhere good, there’d be too many people coming to see it, it’d spoil the whole thing.”

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Just as the film highlights, churches and art galleries are certainly places that every tourist in Bruges has to go see. Whether it’s the Basilica of the Holy Blood (where the holy relic of Jesus Christ’s blood is on display) or the Groeningmuseum (where works of art by the likes of Jan van Eyck, Gerard David and Hieronymus Bosch’s The Last Judgement are on display) the town is rich in history and culture.

The town of Bruges is well worth a visit. Even if you’re not a fan of the film it’s still a wonder to walk about the well preserved streets at day and night. Plus, with the local area filled with distilleries, it’s a great place to go beer tasting (aka totally pissed) with many shops showcasing the grand selection of beer that Belgium has to offer. Plus there’s swans, which is nice.