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.

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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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

A Discussion about Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

David Lynch’s spin off film of his exquisite show TWIN PEAKS has garnered many divisive opinions. Masterpiece or nonsense? True to the show or does it bastardise it? Here’s my take.

An excerpt from an upcoming podcast in which Paul (aka me) discusses David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

https://soundcloud.com/thegub/a-discussion-about-twin-peaks-fire-walk-with-me

How to Make an Art-House Masterpiece

Arthouse movies are usually hit or miss. Only a few select individuals actually know how to create a masterful piece of cinema. However, is it really that hard to do it?

Art-house. What does it mean? It’s not a house full of art, but an explosive mental experience that only a select few human beings can comprehend. Simply put – since your Neanderthal brains are so dense – art-house is the highest form of visual entertainment and you should feel bad for not grasping its cultural significance. This article will not only educate you on what art-house cinema is, but also how to become an auteur like Alejandro Jodowrosky, David Lynch, Andrei Tarkovsky, Uwe Ball and Terrence Mallick. So strap in, concentrate and for once in your life use your brain. This; is how to make an art-house masterpiece.

First off, forget the script. Cinema is all about the visuals. Dialogue? Please, unless you want to seem like another bog standard idiot who runs about Hollywood chasing wads of cash and being hated by everyone, including your own family, you’ll scrap any notion of including any spoken lines. Don’t restrict yourself to a strict structure, let the camera tell the story and allow the visuals to flow.

One notable example is Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (try saying that after a few pints). It’s a masterful film that explains how much of a destructive imbecile you really are, but not by telling you through mere words, but by holding a mirror up to your face and jabbing it into your eyes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PirH8PADDgQ

Lighting is key for any film to appear artistic. If nothing of any interest is actually going on, just have a two hour slow moving montage of a bunch of locations which have a pretty light in them. Red lighting specifically as you can basically say the red represents sex, anger or death. The perfect recipe for any first date.

Legendary auteur Ryan Gosling showcased how well he can utilize lighting to make a scene powerful, memorable and downright arousing. Take this scene from Lost River, where Ben Mendelson serenades the audience with a lovely jingle.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1lWdZtf9Pw

When you’re finally putting it all together, add some highbrow moral message about how pandas are the greatest living beings to have never lived or about how being single is the equivalent of being a racist, mass murdering psychopath who throws up before eating their victims. If people don’t get it, then they’re idiots, not you.

Birdman, for example, is a perfect example. Alejandro González Iñárritu basically mocks the audience, critics and basically everybody else in the world as he knows, like me, that everyone is a moron who only likes watching explosions, clichés and porn – they’re all basically the same thing aren’t they?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4d5KovCbU8w

And there you have it; if you have followed this guide then I don’t expect to see you at the Oscars as that’s for Oscar baiting hack frauds that thrive on nothing but money. But at least you’ll develop a cult following who will defend your film to the death. Now fuck off.

SICARIO Review: A Masterclass in Suspense Filmmaking

SICARIO released to wide acclaim and no wonder. This tense, hard hitting thriller is one of the best action thrillers of the year and is right up there with the best. 

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve once again shows us how underrated he truly is. After the likes of Incendies, Prisoners, and Enemy, he may have just outdone himself with Sicario. It’s an outstanding display of how to make a truly memorable thriller.

Sicario is set on the US-Mexican border and it follows the story of FBI Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) who joins Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), an elite government task force official, and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a suspicious ‘consultant’ to Graver, on a mission to eliminate the head of a Mexican cartel network.

From the get-go the film tosses you into a pit of energetic tension and thrilling set pieces that linger on in your head long after the credits finishing rolling. Villeneuve’s ability to create and sustain palpitating suspense throughout the entirety of the film is a testament to his genius behind the camera. Simply put, Sicario more than delivers as a crime thriller. It surpasses any thriller that has come out in the past three years (at the least).

Just as was expected of Villeneuve, Sicario is marvellously shot. The striking beauty he can find in the grim, barren, and basically war torn Border landscape makes this a feast for the eyes and every shot again assists to prolong the sense of dread and keep the audience weary of what awaits them. However, this film never lies to you.

Instead it is brutally honest. You find yourself catapulted into the harsh reality of gangland Juarez and all you can do is push onwards. Every set piece is its own contained suspense building experiment that feels just as tense as any Hitchcock movie. Combined with Jóhann Jóhannsson’s thumping soundtrack, all you can do is sit forward and be swept up by the sea of suspense.

Finally, the stars of Sicario do not fail to deliver performances that shadow their previous roles. Benicio Del Toro portrays the hitman Alejandro with such presence and power that every scene with him you know something is going to go down.

Emily Blunt however steals the show. She plays as one of the realest female protagonists that I’ve ever seen in a long time. Her ability to portray a female character so well written – which is truly refreshing at this time – and so life like is a strong reason why she may be one of the best female actresses around. Blunt’s character is by no means an every-woman, but the character feels so real and so human that she blows every other glamourized female protagonists in past films away. Finally, a female character not defined by her gender and one who does not fall under overused tropes.

Believe the hype around Sicario. It is a spectacle to behold and this will not be forgotten anytime soon. If you’ve been craving for a film that grabs you by the balls and pulls you in so fiercely and engrosses you in non-stop thrilling action, then look no further than Sicario. What a thrill!