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Non-Review Review: The Neon Demon

Is it possible for a film set in the world of high fashion to be too superficial?

That is very much the crux around which Neon Demon pivots. Nicolas Winding Refn is a glorious stylish director with a strong visual sense and a provocative attitude. Thematically, his films tend to touch upon broad ideas like the correlation that exists between masculine identity and violence. It is familiar ground for anybody who has ever watched a film, followed a television show, read a book or even browsed a newspaper. Refn doesn’t necessarily do anything novel or compelling when it comes to his subject matter.

A cut throat industry...

A cut throat industry…

Instead, Refn offers a striking aesthetic that is lush and overwhelming. It is too much to suggest that Refn’s films would work just as well (or even better) with the volume turned down low. After all, Cliff Martinez’s scores are a key part of the appeal of Drive and Only God Forgives. More than that, the blunt metaphorical “nobody in the history of the world has ever talked like this” dialogue is very much part of the appeal. Characters in Neon Demon converse around one another, talking in abstracts and affectations. It is a pure pulpy delight.

At the same time, Neon Demon brushes up against its own limitations. When Refn draws on archetypal female characters, he seems to fall back on shallow sexist caricatures. “Are you food or are you sex?” one character asks young model Jesse early in the film. The movie suggests its own alternative (and sadly all too conventional) dichotomy. Refn’s female characters are reductive and crudely formed; just like his male characters. However, the reduction of the female characters in Neon Demon is much more problematic than that of his male characters.

This business can murder.

This business can murder.

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My 12 for ’13: Only God Forgives & Neon Nightmares…

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 7…

Few films this year have stayed with me as vividly as the rich and disturbing visual and aural landscape of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives. It’s a decent into a neon hell, a world half-inhabited by the damned and stalked by demons. With Cliff Martinez’s pounding score still echoing through my head long after my last viewing, Only God Forgives is a haunting piece of cinema, a nightmare captured on digital.

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Non-Review Review: Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives is a journey into hell. It’s an unpleasant, uncomfortable, terrifying, surreal, macabre, haunting, eerie and beautiful exploration of brutality and violence. Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film isn’t anywhere near as accessible as Drive. It isn’t just bereft of sympathetic characters, it doesn’t even feature any characters who lend themselves to empathy or recognisability. Ryan Gosling’s Julian is so introverted and withdrawn that it’s often difficult to determine the difference between reality and his surreal dream sequences.

Then again, given Refn suggests the man is living in his own private hell, perhaps there’s not too much difference any way.

Wanna fight?

Wanna fight?

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Watch! Only God Forgives UK Trailer!

Only God Forgives is just about my most anticipated movie of the year. Drive was my favourite film of 2011, so the re-teaming of director Nicholas Winding Refn and lead Ryan Gosling immediately piques my interest. Coupled with the power of the premise and the beauty of the clips we’ve seen so far, it’s very hard not to get too excited about the film. Luckily, it’s only a month away from release in the UK and Ireland. That’s not too long, and to tide us over, here’s the latest beautiful-looking UK trailer.

 

Watch! New Only God Forgives Trailer!

Only God Forgives is probably my most anticipated movie of the year, even ranking ahead of various other geeky pleasures I look forward to savouring. Nicolas Winding Refn made quite an impression with Drive, and his follow-up looks just as rich and unsettling and stunningly produced. It really looks amazing, and I adore Refn’s neon aesthetic. It’s probably the best spiritual successor to the look that Michael Mann crafted for Miami Vice back in the eighties. Check out the latest trailer below.

February 2013 (Jameson Dublin International Film Festival) In Review

Man. That was exhausting. 29 events spread across 11 days, including classic films. It was a hell of a festival, with quite an impressive programme put together. In fact, by any measure, it was actually a stronger festival than last year’s, even if I didn’t catch a film that was quite as good as The Raid this time around. Using the 4-point audience award scale, the numbers stack in this year’s favour. Indeed, I gave one more “4” than last year and – most impressively – I actually managed to avoid giving out the lowest grade at all, the dreaded “1.” Maybe I’m getting a bit softer as I get older, but I think that’s an indication that I had a pretty good Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

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My Best of 2011: Drive & Neon Noir…

It’s that time of the year. To celebrate 2011, and the countdown to 2012, I’m going to count down my own twelve favourite films of the year, one a day until New Year’s Eve. I’m also going to talk a bit about how or why I chose them, and perhaps what makes this list “my” best of 2011, rather than any list claiming to be objective.

Drive is number one. Check out my original review here.

If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window, anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours no matter what. I don’t sit in while you’re running it down; I don’t carry a gun… I drive.

Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive isn’t a revolutionary film. It isn’t bold or original or highly inventive. Instead, it’s just a wonderfully effective neo-noir with its vibrant colours and synth soundtrack calling back to crime films of the eighties, featuring a confident performance from Ryan Gosling as the archetypical male crime lead. Gosling is strong, stoic, silent, yet strangely sensitive as the eponymous stunt driver, who moonlights with various illegal extra curricular activities. Here, Refn manages to out-Mann Michael Mann, producing a film that seems more like the spiritual successor to Miami Vice than Mann’s own film of the same name. It’s a brutal, brilliant and stunning film. And, while it faced stiff competition from the second and third films on this list, it’s with some confidence that I recommend it as my favourite film of the past year.

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