After the visually impressive -but weirdly half-baked -Only God Forgives back in 2013, Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn returns to form with The Neon Demon (Icon).
16-year-old aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning, Malificent) moves to Los Angeles to pursue her dream. Signed by a prestigious agency, Jesse quickly finds herself working with some of the city’s top designers and photographers. Make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone, Sucker Punch) takes Jesse under her wing, but Jesse’s innocence and youth make her a target of her fellow models Gigi (Bella Heathcote, The Man In The High Castle) and Sarah (Abbey Lee, Mad Max: Fury Road), who are willing to go to extreme lengths to possess Jesse’s fresh, young allure -and take revenge on her for stealing their limelight.
The Neon Demon is Winding Refn’s strangest, most provocative picture yet, and also his most stylish. After the underwhelming Only God Forgives, he is surely aware that he is leaving himself open to accusations of style over substance, and he flaunts this with a brilliantly macabre deconstruction of the fashion industry. The movie gets freakier and more transgressive as it unfolds, and the final third is ridiculously depraved!
Drive (2011) and Bronson (2008) are still my personal favourites in his back catalogue, but The Neon Demon is a startling, visually sumptuous treat. For better or for worse, I’m already excited to see how Winding Refn plans to top this.
Known in the US as Shangri-La Suite, Kill The King (Universal) is the story of Karen Bird (Emily Browning, Legend) and Jack Blueblood (Luke Grimes, American Sniper), who meet in the Second Chances mental facility. The two fall madly in love and embark on a mission, to kill a bloated late-period Elvis Presley (Ron Livingston, Swingers) who is in Los Angeles with wife Priscilla Presley (Ashley Greene, The Twilight Saga). After breaking out of what Jack terms ‘the loony bin’, the love-struck pair head across the country to assassinate Elvis, wreaking havoc en route. Kill The King is an arresting calling card from first-time director Eddie O’Keefe, who also co-wrote the script. The fact that the film wears its would-be cult status on its sleeve from the outset is less of a problem than it might be, as the filmmakers’ trashy vision is pretty self-assured. The film may fall well short of the likes of True Romance and Wild at Heart, but if you are a fan of quirky, hyper-stylised indie dramas it definitely warrants further investigation.
Kill The King is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download on 14th November, courtesy of UPHE Content Group.
The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll also figures in Elvis & Nixon (eOne), a lightweight but enjoyable interpretation of the bizarre turn of events that saw Elvis granted an audience with President Richard Nixon, as part of his bid to be sworn in as an undercover Federal Agent at Large. The film plays fast and loose with the verifiable facts, and its sense of playfulness gives it an affable, freewheeling quality. Kevin Spacey -who has had his feet under the desk in the Oval Office for some time as Frank Underwood in House of Cards -has fun with the role of Nixon, while Michael Shannon offers a striking riff on late-period Elvis. The two men’s improbable bonding session is pretty goofy, but suits the tone of the film well enough not to raise too many eyebrows. Good, quirky fun.
Inspired by the experiences of ex-FBI agent Michael German, Imperium (Signature) follows Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe), an idealistic, mild-mannered young FBI agent who is selected to go undercover amongst a group of white supremacists, suspected of initiating a terror plot. Immersed in a hate-filled world, Nate must fight to maintain his principles whilst working to identify the threat and keeping his true identity under wraps. Radcliffe’s willingness to go to such extreme lengths to distance himself from the role of Harry Potter is admirable, but Imperium is an unfortunately sluggish thriller. The neo-Nazi backdrop is appropriately chilling, but the by-numbers narrative lacks surprises. A scene-stealing Toni Collette -playing Nate Foster’s handler -lights up the screen every time she appears, and only serves to highlight how dour the rest of the material is. Solid, but unremarkable.
In Darling (Soda), an unnamed young woman (Lauren Ashley Carter, The Woman) takes a job as the caretaker of a large mansion in New York that has a dark history. Bored, and left to her own devices for extended periods of time, she starts to experience hallucinatory visions and slowly goes insane. Filmed in black and white, Darling is a vivid, distinctive piece of work from director Mickey Keating (Carnage Park, Psychopaths). The debt to Roman Polanski looms large, but Darling impresses nevertheless, and the vibe is hypnotic and unsettling throughout. Intriguing stuff.
Last, but certainly not least: Better Call Saul -Season Two (Sony). As the second series of Vince Gilligan’s award-winning Breaking Bad companion piece/prequel unfolds, it continues to lay the groundwork for Jimmy McGill’s metamorphosis from small-time, hustling attorney into feared criminal lawyer Saul Goodman. Keen to leave behind the unethical ‘Slippin’ Jimmy’ persona for good and consolidate his relationship with Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), Season Two sees the temptation to get involved in nefarious activities prove too much for him…
While Better Call Saul initially lacked the immediacy and bleak energy of Breaking Bad, it has proven itself to be a worthy successor to the saga of Walter White, and the writing and plotting is every bit as smart as it was on the earlier show. Whereas Saul was often used as light relief in Breaking Bad, given centre stage, Bob Odenkirk’s lead character is far more fully rounded, and his hidden depths are enjoyable to discover. Better Call Saul is an excellent show -with a third series on the way, it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.