Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Neon Demon, My Love Don't Cross That River, Les Cowboys

The Neon Demon
My Love, Don't Cross That River

Les Cowboys

Capsules on the rest of a mostly great week at the movies:

For eighty minutes, Nicolas Winding Refn's modeling-industry parable "The Neon Demon" is as hypnotically beautiful as any cinematic spectacle this year. Refn's work is always fraught with contradiction; his instincts tend toward the tasteless, but he art-directs them with exquisite taste. What little story he provides involves new-to-L.A. Jesse (Elle Fanning), who spends no time in the "aspiring model" category; her beauty is such that, from her first audition, all the other girls fall by the wayside. Her two primary rivals (Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee) are out for her blood - literally - as is, to her surprise, the makeup artist who takes a friendly interest in her (Jena Malone). Christina Hendricks has a funny part as a model agent ("Always tell them you're 19. 18 is too on-the-nose"), while Keanu Reeves is almost unrecognizable as a Pasadena motel owner only too happy to accommodate (and rape) the steady stream of underage girls hoping to make the bigtime in town. Refn loses control of his impulses in the lurid last half-hour, when languor becomes longueur. Still, "The Neon Demon," with its half-dozen quotable lines and an evocative score by Cliff Martinez (Refn's electronic Euterpe), lingers in the visual memory. Along with "Drive" and "Only God Forgives," it establishes Refn as an important director with a strong point of view and firm command of technique.

Jin Mo-Young's documentary "My Love, Don't Cross That River" - the highest-grossing independent film of all time in its native Korea - is one of the simplest films I've ever seen, and I mean that as high praise. Its subjects are the nonagenarian couple Gye-yeul Kang and Byong-man Jo, married seventy-five years, who share a small, semi-secluded home with their two dogs, walk into town to shop, get into snowball fights, throw water on each other like kids in a pool, bemoan the chores that used to be so easy and relish those they can still complete. The first thing you need to know is that they're so cute you just want to eat them. (Photo at That's also the second, third and fourth things you need to know. The 86 minutes of "My Love, Don't Cross that River" are filled to brimming with life, laughter, and tears, as when one of their children apologizes to him for not being a better son, or when she picks out long johns for the six (out of twelve) children they lost in their youth. There are essentially Korean elements to this story, but mostly there are universal truths about love, family and the importance of getting up to occasional mischief. One or two instances of playing to the camera and a final shot held a moment too long are the only detractions from a funny, sad and deeply moving movie experience.

Thomas Bidegain wrote the brilliant screenplays to Jacques Audiard's "A Prophet" (2010) and "Rust and Bone" (2012), but hasn't served himself as well in his directing debut, "Les Cowboys." In the immortal words of Anne Robinson, this week you ARE the weakest link - goodbye! A father (Fran├žois Damiens in a performance lacking shading) spends years searching for the daughter who, seemingly out of nowhere, ran away with her Muslim boyfriend at sixteen, leaving only a letter asking not to be looked for. When the father dies, her tight-lipped brother (inscrutable Finnegan Oldfield) takes over the search, in the course of which he commits a criminal act that seems to me wholly out of keeping with his character. Bidegain's pacing is logy and repetitive, his women lack dimension (a shame after writing such a powerful part for Marion Cotillard in "Rust and Bone"), and his ending's a huge letdown - the worst of all worlds.

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