The Neon Demon (2016) Review

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The neon soaked, synth heavy The Neon Demon is a true return to form for Nicholas Winding Refn after the confusing misstep and excuse to buy toys in Thailand that was Only God Forgives. This so far one of the best films of the year.

The Neon Demon follows the beautiful and aspiring model, Jessie (Elle Fanning) as she makes new friends (and enemies) in this hyper-competitive industry, coming face to face with the superficiality and bitchiness of other models. As far as basic narrative goes, it’s one that is a straightforward premise, with characters that are well realised, even if they play a small role, like the creepy, rude and aggressive motel manager (Keanu Reeves) or the modelling agency interviewer (Christina Hendricks). The film was intelligent and while perhaps open to multiple interpretations, never confusing

As always, the lighting and cinematography here are impeccable. Neon reds and blues, greens, spotlights, shadow, everything looks perfect and Cliff Martinez’s synth heavy score complements this perfectly.

Dialogue in the film is in true NWR fashion as being fairly sparse, but wasn’t as sparse as I expected, which allowed the characters to be fleshed out well. There are moments of the film, particularly in the first half that are very funny, such as Jessie innocently deflating the bragging of one model with her plastic surgery, a fashion designer whose fiddling with some fabric while assessing potential models for his show or the way in which a signature is forged. I’m not sure how intentional the humour in these moments are, but intentional or not, they add, rather than detract from the film, which contrast sharply from the depraved, thrilling madness of the second act going into the third; a structure which reminded me a little of Mulholland Drive.

One criticism I have with the film is that the motion of the film seems inconsistent, with most of the film seeming like normal 24fps but a few moments, which are not slow motion, here and there appearing as though they’re a much higher frame rate, which felt somewhat jarring. I’m not sure if it was actual high fps or the motion blur was done differently to most films, but it was something I noticed which was a bit odd. Regardless, it still looks good and such things aren’t a deal breaker here.

This film, with it’s hyper stylised depictions and of beauty, jealousy and the modelling industry shows what women really think of each other and how they treat each other because of it. The film was intelligent and while perhaps open to multiple interpretations, never confusing, but sometimes shocking, sometimes creepy, sometimes funny and thrilling and consistently absorbing. This film has been getting mixed reviews and has been called “reppellantly  misogynistic” by one reviewer. But don’t listen to them. Listen to me. The Neon Demon is great and you should go see it.

8/10

 

Leading Lady (2014) Review

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Desperate for things to watch in downtime whilst in Durban, seeing as SABC is absolute garbage with nothing but soap operas of various levels of production value and news in different languages occupying the prime time slots, we managed to borrow some movies. One of them was Leading Lady.

Leading Lady follows drama teacher and aspiring  British actress Jodi Rutherford (Katie McGrath) who wants to be the lead actress in a romance film set during the Boer War. This leads her off to rural South Africa in the Free State province in order to prepare for her role. Along the way, she gets a lift from a black taxi, which is used twice in the film to great humorous effect. In the small town, she meets an Afrikaaner farmer, Kobus (Bok van Blerk) who is very stubborn and beset by drought and the possibility of having to sell his farm. They are opposites in all regards. The relationship between these two, which parallels the story of the film-within-a-film, except with the nationalities reversed, forms the crux of the film. This story, while predictable, is light hearted romance supported by an upbeat country style soundtrack. There is also a nice and clear, but not on the nose patriotic theme to the film which I found to be an appropriate touch that might be missed by some viewers.

The performances are mixed, with van Blerk,while the line delivery is fine, he is not that expressive, but the more experienced McGrath and van Rensburg delivered a more consistent and lively performance. The rest of the supporting cast give a solid performance. Visually, the film is fantastic when it’s in the rural South Africa portions of the film and expressive, if artificial seeming, which is perhaps the point, in the London segments.

Is Leading Lady the most original of romantic comedies? No. Is it the best romantic comedy? No. But it is a a nice, decently made and light hearted film that feels genuine and that has some sort of soul. I didn’t love it but it did make decent viewing, especially with nothing else to watch or do. Oh and parts of it are in Afrikaans so make sure the subtitles are working despite the fact that the film says it’s just in english.

6/10