Thursday, December 05, 2013

Weighed and Judged

The Canyons (2013)
directed by Paul Schrader
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

The Brotherhood of Satan (1971)
directed by Bernard McEveety
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

I dislike Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis, but there are one or two things worth saying about The Canyons. Lilo's decision to handle her own makeup isn't interesting because it looks bad (it doesn't) but because it's obvious that she was only thinking about how to make up her face. In her scenes of near undress, her body has visible bruises and lines. More than some self-referential statement on Lohan's career specifically, the impression is that this is the figure of a woman more than a movie star. Movie stars get body doubles and fake genitalia. Without makeup and in natural light, Lilo looks like any 26-year old who doesn't get nearly enough sleep and pushes herself too hard. In other words, not someone you'd usually see in a movie.

That's a joke, too, and I admit there isn't anything interesting about Lohan's biography anymore. But is she the reason I don't want to dismiss The Canyons out of hand? The acting is uniformly terrible. So is the script. Schrader was a bully in that New York Times article last winter. The shallow editorial he makes with shots of abandoned movie theaters throughout The Canyons reinforces the ways that the movie was funded, released, and watched. But some part of the loneliness behind it all is real.

I'm glad that Bernard McEveety opted to avoid that particular sentiment in The Brotherhood of Satan. His old-age Satanic mendicants aren't isolated geriatrics, but selfish devil worshipers in eager need of young bodies for their thousand-year-old souls. I watched this because it was filmed, at least in part, in Albuquerque, and because it stars both Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones. Can you imagine Martin dressed like Dracula reprimanding a mother for baptizing her baby in a Christian church and not on a blood-soaked alter?

"Not your baby. Our baby! Satan's baby!"

I could! I thought the movie would be full of scenes like that, or of Jones, as the beleaguered small-town cop who can't figure out why no one has been able to leave the city limits in 48 hours, pulling gunbelt after gunbelt off of a hat rack at the station with his long, thin arms. Martin even doubles as the bumbling local doctor (who is privy to the investigation into the cult he secretly leads), but as with L.Q. (and ABQ), McEveety doesn't take advantage of the full potential of his cast and location, abandoning all three for long stretches with a put-upon family just "traveling through."

The director does commit to a pessimistic outcome and gives the devil his due with regards to his unholy powers. The cult stays well ahead of the good guys, and the last shot at least implies doom for everyone who would rather be eating at Padilla's instead of starting a new life as a Satanist in kids corduroys. Post-transfer, Martin's body and voice must be sadly left behind, but surely His Satanic Majesty could grant his most fervent follower one last boon. The Brotherhood of Satan II: The Search for Strother's Mug!