The Canyons / Passion
Sexting at 24 fps
by Glenn Lovell
Say what you will about the Old Guard auteur, when told he’s out of touch and out of favor, he doesn’t take the news sitting down; he leaps into action and finds alternative means of getting his projects made. Two current cases in point are Paul Schrader and Brian De Palma, both of whom, not coincidentally, have always had one foot in mainstream Hollywood, the other in indie cinema.
Schrader, 67, and De Palma, 72, are back with a pair of sexy low-budget thrillers that aren’t up to their best work (Schrader in “American Gigolo” and “Affliction”; De Palma in “Carrie” and “Casualties of War”) but still worth seeing. “The Canyons” is Schrader’s L.A.-set collaboration with Bret Easton Ellis; “Passion” is De Palma’s deliriously over-the-top reimagining of Alain Corneau’s 2010 import “Crime d’amour.” Both films are currently available on PPV.
“The Canyons” was pulled together for a song when another Schrader-Ellis project (“Bait”) fell apart because of lack of financing. The zero-budget ($250,000) replacement is, appropriately, about Hollywood fringe dwellers, the sort of blank-faced denizens you meet in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita.” They’re bored, paranoid, debauched. When they aren’t screwing, they’re playing dangerous mind-games ‒ games that could lead to murder.
In what has to be the summer’s typecasting coups, Lindsay Lohan plays the burnt-out Tara and real-life porn star James Deen plays her noxious, can’t-be-bothered boyfriend, Christian. They take up space in a glass-and-chrome citadel overlooking Malibu. It’s every bit as cold as their sham relationship, which is equal parts verbal abuse and group grouping. Christian is now financing a low-budget horror film, which will star Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk), who, unbeknown to Christian, shares history with Tara. To satisfy his suspicions, Christian has his assistant (Amanda Brooks) spy on Tara and his producer (Jim Boevan) seduce Ryan. Smartphones, of course, are indispensable in keeping tabs on your loathed ones.
As we’ve come to expect in Ellis’s chronicles of the rich and fatuous (see “Less Than Zero,” “American Psycho”), everyone here is good-looking and vacuous. Lohan, whose caked-on, tear-streaked mascara brings to mind Divine, is the very personification of the lost soul. Her “Do you really like movies?” moment especially resonates. It may be early to talk comeback, but this is easily her best work in years. In his legit debut, Deen exudes disdain; his trust baby player has contempt for everything in La-La Land that walks, crawls or slithers. Each new breath seems to make him wince. Christian to one of his many lovers: “Don’t kiss me! This is just … this!”
Make note of Schrader’s chapter breaks ‒ photos of shuttered movie houses. It’s his comment on an industry that’s changing, and not for the better; one in which films are self-financed, shot on the fly, and have their gala premieres in the living rooms.
Though it’ll probably become a guilty pleasure, I wasn’t as impressed by “Passion,” De Palma’s first film in five years. This French-German co-production had its debut at last year’s New York Film Festival and, since then, has played throughout Europe and Scandinavia. Taken from Corneau and Natalie Carter’s wonderfully tricky thriller about a corporate boardroom schemer and her malleable assistant, this slant is as melodramatic and obvious as the original was meticulously plotted and surprising. Rachel McAdams is miscast as the unscrupulous company exec, a role played to devilish perfection by Kristin Scott Thomas in the original; Noomi Rapace fares better as the initially naïve assistant who soon surpasses her boss’s backstabbing wiles.
De Palma being De Palma, “Passion” is awash in self-referential tropes, including a subplot involving twins (think “Sisters”), signature tracking shots (think “Dressed to Kill”) and split screen compositions (think “Blow Out”), kinky S&M sex and shower scene (think “Scarface” and “Body Double”), and a couple of did-I-dream-it-or-was-it-real false endings (think “Carrie”).
Oh, yes, and De Palma has changed the assistant’s ever-vigilant gofer to a female, which reinforces the male perpetuated stereotype of catfights in the workplace and adds another layer of misogyny.
THE CANYON ✮✮1/2 With Lindsay Lohan, James Deen. Directed by Paul Schrader; scripted by Bret Easton Ellis. 98 min. Unrated (could be R for full-frontal nudity, mild violence, more graphic than usual sex)
PASSION ✮1/2 With Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams. Directed, scripted by Brian De Palma from script by Alain Corneau, Natalie Carter. 105 min. Rated R (for violence, kinky sex, profanity)