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The Canyons
★☆☆☆☆
First run Screening room

The Canyons is a  neo-noir movie set in LA, from the writer of American Psycho and the director of American Gigolo.  It stars America’s most notorious former child star and America’s most popular adult film star. That summary sounds more like a pitch for an intriguing project than a promise of an interesting story, and indeed, The Canyons is one of those movies that seems to be more about its production than anything else. If the film had any substance (apart from making an inept statement about the current state of filmmaking) or any style worth discussing, then maybe there would be something to review other than how it was made. The headline-seeking, stunt-casting of former-Disney-kid-turned-tabloid-train-wreck Lindsay Lohan opposite James Deen, one of the few porno actors to a have a rabid following amongst teen-age girls, does not infuse any interest in Bret Easton Ellis’s vapid and misanthropic characters. At least some of Ellis’s previous films, like Less Than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, and American Psycho, were about something. They weren’t good movies, but they at least had a point. All The Canyons seems to say is that young people in Hollywood are shallow. 

Director Paul Schrader’s past work ranges from his brilliant screenplay for Martin Scorsese's masterpiece Taxi Driver (1976) and his own sublime direction of  Affliction (1997) to nearly unwatchable dreck, like Martin Scorsese's low point, Bringing Out the Dead (1999) and his own heavy-handed Bob Crane docudrama Auto Focus. The Canyons belongs with the latter group. Schrader populates this ugly, cheap-looking digital picture with random shots of abandoned, boarded-up movie theaters. These images have little to do with the film’s themes, but make a clear statement that Schrader, like so many older filmmakers who have lost their ability to get their films made, hates what his industry has become. Clearly, he, Ellis, and producer Braxton Pope are hoping to create a new model of filmmaking and initiate a dialogue about how movies are created and consumed. Too bad they’re about a decade too late, as young filmmakers have already created this new approach and, more importantly, they occasionally make films via this style of production that actually have something to say other than “look at me, look at me! I made a film on my own, without a studio!”  If The Canyons’ main thesis was correct, and young Hollywood was completely bereft of substance, then we wouldn’t be in the midst of the current wave of exciting, fresh, challenging, and powerful low-budget and micro-budget pictures that are finding audiences every year.  We’d just have pretentious, cynical, and shoddy pictures like this one. 

Directed by Paul Schrader
Produced by Braxton Pope

Written by Bret Easton Ellis

With: Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Gerard Funk, Amanda Brooks, Tenille Houston, and Gus Van Sant

Cinematography: John DeFazio
Editing: Tim Silano
Music: Brendan Canning

Runtime: 99 min
Release Date: 14 November 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1
Color