Brogen Hayes reviews The Neon Demon and The Legend of Tarzan
Brogen Hayes joins Sean Moncrieff to review the new Margot Robbie vehicle The Legend of Tarzan and Nicolas Winding Refn's expose of the supermodel industry, The Neon Demon...
The Neon Demon
Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to LA to chase her dream of being a model. On her first shoot she meets Ruby (Jena Malone) and the two become fast friends. When Jesse’s star starts to rise however, she attracts the ire of older models who are being overlooked.
‘The Neon Demon’ marks director Nicolas Winding Refn’s return to Cannes, after his previous film ‘Only God Forgives’ also competed for the Palme D’Or at the festival. As divisive as the film that went before, ‘The Neon Demon’ tries to be a beautiful examination of jealousy and desire, but while it succeeds in being beautiful, it is as vapid, superficial and uninteresting as its subject matter.
Elle Fanning leads the cast here as Jesse, the target of all the desire and envy in the film, andthis is an interesting role for the actress to take now that she is 18. Easily playing a 16 year old aspiring model, Fanning seems to revel in the superficiality of the movie, making Jesse ethereally beautiful; but the actress also hints at something darker lurking just below the surface, making this an assured performance from the young actress. It’s just a shame that Fanning, and the rest of the cast – which includes Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, Jena Malone, Abbey Lee, Bella Heathcote and Desmond Harrington – are let down by a vacuous film that focuses so much on style at substance is forgotten, and what few metaphors are to be had are hammered home with a sledgehammer.
In terms of script, it seems that Nicolas Winding Refn simply opened a copy of Vogue – or any other fashion magazine you care to mention – and decided to make a film about that. Additional writing was done for the film by Mary Laws and Polly Stenham, but it is hard to pinpoint just what these women brought to a film that is so misogynistic, sexist and graphic. The film focuses heavily on the visual, which is admittedly beautifully shot by Natasha Braier, but once it becomes clear that there is little more going on here, ‘The Neon Demon’ goes from exhilarating to exhausting. The film is filled with comments on the fashion industry, such as “I’m pretty; I can make money from that” and “I would never say you’re fat, doesn’t mean someone else won’t” – the latter delivered by Christina Hendricks – that seem meaningful but end up just being superficial and underline the horrible real world cliché that women hate other women. As well as this, the screenplay seems determined to shock for the sake of shocking, with scenes of attempted rape between two women and necrophilia thrown in as well.
As director, Winding Refn gets a strong performance from Elle Fanning, but the camera is so obsessed with her face that it begins to feel rather pornographic and exploitative, rather than a celebration of this young woman’s beauty. The pacing of the film is a mess, with the story being so paper thin that in order to reach the 2 hour running time, unsurprising slo-mo scenes with thumping electronica pervade the film. This is nothing new; we have seen this from Windin Refn before, and the director seems to be regressing as an artist, rather than moving forward.
In all, ‘The Neon Demon’ tries to make comments on the nature of female relationships, but through laboured metaphor, drawn out pacing and a paper thin story, the film doesn’t really say much of anything at all. Elle Fanning is strong in her understated role, and the heightened and stylised world of the film looks absolutely stunning on screen, but ‘The Neon Demon’ is misogynistic, exploitative and ultimately boring.
The Legend of Tarzan
It has been many years since Tarzan, now known as John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgård), left Africa to be with his one true love Jane Porter (Margot Robbie), but they are drawn back to the land where they met by a plot by the Emissary of the Belgian King Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz). Ostensibly, Tarzan is in Africa to investigate claims of slavery by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), but when Jane is kidnapped by Rom and his mercenaries, Tarzan knows that there is a lot more going on in this land that he loves.
The last live-action story with Tarzan at its heart was 1998’s Tarzan and the Lost City, and Tarzan last appeared on the big screen in the ill-fated mo-cap mess Tarzan 3D with Kellan Lutz in the lead role. There has always been a fascination with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most famous character, and this new outing sees the Lord of the Jungle return home to save the natives from the white man.
Alexander Skarsgård leads the cast as the lord of the jungle, and does fine in the role, backed up by Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz and Djimon Hounsou. The trouble is that Skarsgård, like the rest of the cast, is up against some pretty tough obstacles in making the characters feel rounded and real. Christoph Waltz sadly never gets a chance to be anything other than the charming villain we have seen him play a million times, and while he does this well, it feels very repetitive and familiar. Margot Robbie does OK as Jane Porter; the actress tries her best not to make the character a damsel in distress, but is fighting against a script that keeps putting her in situations where she needs to be rescued. Samuel L. Jackson brings some levity to proceedings, but these attempts often feel out of place and don’t always work. Djimon Hounsou fares the best out of the central cast, making Chief Mbonga graceful and intimidating.
Screenwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer picked up where Burroughs left off, placing a Westernised Tarzan back in the world he grew up in. There are issues with this from the start, but the most glaring is the fact that the African natives need a white man to save them from the Westerners. This is more than a little problematic, patronising and awkward, and sets the tone for much of the film. The dialogue for the film is uninspired but gets the job done, and there are times when the film jumps through time with no warning, leaving the audience wondering just what the heck is going on.
The Legend of Tarzan is director David Yates’ first big screen outing since the final Harry Potter film five years ago, and although there are moments where the film works, it is clear that the film struggles with the copious use of – often shoddy – CGI, and trying to make the characters feel fresh and new when they are so well known to audiences. The action sequences – CGI aside – are fine, although many of them feel disjointed and don’t make a huge amount of sense.
In all, perhaps ignoring the plot and enjoying Skarsgård shirtless is the way to go for The Legend of Tarzan, as the dialogue is thin, the plot is jumpy, the CGI is often laughably bad and the jokes – such as they are – don’t land.