The Canyons ★★★

Phil Coldiron, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and Scott Foundas all cite Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring as thematically related visions of what Coldiron sums up as "circular reports from America that start and end more or less where they begin, drawing characters through situations shaped by the realities of class and consumerism and fame culture." So we know that a) there's a lack of non-shitty/auteur movies on these topics b) apparently that's a problem. (This is where my Luddite streak kicks in: I don't want to be reminded of the gratingly banal mass-media-saturation reality I'm doing my damnedest to ignore. This bias may be germane to my reaction, I really can't say.)

Lindsay Lohan's Tara is characterized as someone who got involved in film production because she needed something to focus on besides "shopping and fucking," which are two of the internet's most constant income generators. She and James Deen's Christian are smartphone monsters, the kind of people whose ability to look up from their small screen for more than 30 seconds at a time for any purpose but shopping and fucking is nearly nil. Which I guess "says something" about the hollowness and sexual anomie of rote fucking enabled by technology (a hookup service called "Amour" oh the irony hahaha my sides).

Coldiron, Nick Pinkerton and others who are all for this film have gotten rather scold-y with those who'd dismiss it for the robotic performances, rote nihilism, visually perceptible budgetary inadequacies, etc. The idea, I presume, is that Paul Schrader has more than earned the benefit of the doubt, so shortcomings should be taken as deliberate choices (or at least interestingly expressive and rhyming with/enriching previous work) and the movie evaluated accordingly. Between my relative lack of familiarity with Schrader (I've only seen Blue Collar and The Walker) and my total lack of interest with the culture of being totally plugged-in, I'm handicapped when engaging with a movie that (as many have noted) seems to want to fail. Ellis is interested in a "post Empire" world, as he says about 35 times a month on Twitter; the dialogue here is as tiresomely repetitive as his feed, and similarly fails to gain resonance or nuance from redundant overstatement. Schrader's been heavily pushing the idea of a "post-theatrical" film non-culture. Combined, their powers make for a movie that seems to actively insult the viewers/readers they don't have. ("You won't give us a real budget? Here's the movie you deserve then, fuck you.") I can't help but note that some viewers after the screening complained that the movie didn't have as many "haha" moments as they wanted, that it wasn't actively Bad enough, and I have to say that someone willing to pay $13 for an evening of schadenfreude and chuckles deserves what they get, so maybe Schrader and Ellis have a point. (Or...they do, but this still isn't worth it.)

There's a stunt quality to a movie whose success is heavily dependent on viewers bringing outside knowledge in: that Lohan's eminently desirable Tara is only that on paper, while on-screen we can only gawk at what an uncontrolled mess she is; that Deen's a porn star, so when he confesses to his shrink that he can't handle being "objectified" in a sex scene This Is Irony. I didn't exactly have a bad time watching this: I enjoyed the chintzy faux-'80s score (it was like the 15 minutes I saw of American Gigolo, only without Giorgio Moroder's actual talent), the endless sardonically depicted vapidity, the many rather elaborate tracking shots that favor continuous motion either for their own fluid sake or to save time on coverage. I chuckled at James Deen's "wait 'til you see my dick" strut while waiting for Ellis to assert himself, which inevitably requires that Deen (who looks like Ian Somerhalder in Rules of Attraction) stop merely acting like a moneyed psychopath and get down to the concrete business of doing terrible shit.

Look: there's a scene where Deen gives a monologue to Nolan Funk (who can't fucking act) and it's all second-person stuff about how "you" came to Los Angeles and you modeled and etc. etc. And then we get to the part about how his career just came to a blind halt, and there's a shot of Deen sitting at a red light. Is that sarcasm? What am I supposed to do with that? I want to be an enlightened, nuanced and sympathetic viewer, but that's just where I have to stop and limit my potential engagement. What's worse than a self-pitying Angeleno? A self-pitying Angeleno who's a graduate of Bennington writing in middle-school thesis soundbites. "Nobody has a private life anymore"? Direct around that.

Oh. And it looks good.