The Neon Demon

Is The Neon Demon the latest in couture horror? Or is it SO last-season?

This fashion-centric horror starts out with an eerie John Carpenter-esque score, before treating us to some pink and purple Argento hues…

So far so good.

But for a flick that takes itself oh so seriously, and is as visually arresting and, it should be said, fashion forward, The Neon Demon has a pretty straight-ahead narrative: a blank-eyed starlet lands in Los Angeles to pursue her modeling dreams and is exploited along the way.

Elle Fanning is miscast as the lead as young Jesse she’s not high fashion enough to believably wow industry types (which includes a fun turn by Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks as an agent who suggests that Jesse lie about her age and be perennially 19). She’s befriended by makeup artist Ruby, pursued by suitor Dean, and offered no-tell motel accommodations by skuzzy Hank (a surprisingly grizzled Keanu Reeves).

The narrative absolutely crawls along, as Fanning’s Jesse has little to do but look startled. The fashion shoots aren’t nearly as visually stylin’ as the rest of the film either.

Dean predictably proffers (unheeded) advice about how debased and exploitative the industry is, and Jesse slides into the fashion world that’s dog-eat-dog (if you’ll forgive the eating expression, when not much is being eaten but salad)

Ultimately though, The Neon Demon is stuck in no man’s land: not sleazy enough to count as exploitation, and not over-the-top chic enough to accurately depict a newly-minted model’s milieu.

Critic Chris Alexander asked director Nicolas Winding Refn about Jess Franco’s influence (NWF claims to have “never been exposed to a lot of Franco’’s work”) but this viewer couldn’t help but wonder what Dario Argento might’ve done with this material. After all, no director is as Milan runway as DA.

Wonderful ambition, with a couple of bona fide scares, so one can’t find total fault with it. The Neon Demon is a look, even if it’s ultimately unsatisfying.

*** (out of 5)

The Disaster Artist

“You had to be there,” is a desperate phrase to save a dying anecdote.

The Disaster Artist is that in spades, a retelling of the very funny joke that is The Room, told badly.

The Room’s backstory is incredible: a botched cinematic vanity project by a Lizard King Eastern European with money, yet no talent, to burn. The finished project, though budgeted at $6 million, looks more like $6,000, a laughable melange of mixed up set-pieces, hallucinatory exposition and green screens. And auteur Tommy Wiseau was a complete ass on the set, an angry hack perfectionist Stanley Kubrick who lives and breathes Stanley Kowalksi.

So, a movie about the world’s worst movie seems like fertile ground for storytelling.

The Disaster Artist stumbles out of the gate, with a montage of talking heads yammering on about the lasting impact of The Room, a pointless cover-your-bases bone to throw those who’ve yet to see it, not to mention stylistically, grossly out of place.

Star/director* James Franco wisely smooths over some of the real Tommy Wiseau’s rough edges, trying to establish Wiseau’s friendship with collaborator Greg Sestero (It’s not hard to see how the twosome hit it off, after all, they were both star-seekers and one had a bottomless well of cash to draw from).

However, the bulk of The Disaster Artist is a Tommy antigen followed by reaction after reaction. This is the case whether it’s Greg, Greg’s mom, the cast, the crew, the public. (some of these are effective, like Wiseau’s ostentious line rehearsals to the captive audience of a diner). Pretty soon though, Tommy reactions grow tedious, and faces of random incredulity blend together.

Sure, the details of Wiseau’s personal life are shrouded in mystery, but even coffee shop cranks have a backstory that’s more interesting than merely a means of eliciting reaction.

What we’re left with is all external, and no internal reflection.

The Disaster Artist combines Walk the Line’s mimicry with Scary Movie’s point-and-recognize humor. 

There is a mildly entertaining rehash of what made The Room great, the infamous “I did not hit her” umpteenth take, and of course, the out-of-the-stratosphere cancer diagnosis exposition. But it doesn’t live up to (or is it down to?) the weirdly lovable and hopelessly stupid source material.

** (out of 5)