With more original movies being streamed, downloaded and made available on demand, The Post’s critics will try to help readers navigate the new offerings with weekly reviews. Watch this space every Tuesday for tips on what’s good, what may be worth a try and what to avoid.
A leitmotif runs through “The Canyons,” a folie-a-trois involving writer Bret Easton Ellis, director Paul Schrader and actress Lindsay Lohan, having to do with the end of cinema. The shoestring-budget movie opens with a bleak, de-saturated montage of decrepit movie theaters, images that reappear with every chapter heading throughout the story about a group of young bottom feeders trolling the outer margins of Hollywood’s indie film industry.
“The Canyons,” which was notoriously rejected by festivals and distributors only to end up available on video on demand this week, doesn’t nearly live up to its elegiac imagery. Nor does it reward the hype surrounding Lohan’s co-star, the porn actor James Deen, Schrader’s strenuous attempt to gin up interest by filming an orgy scene in the nude, and other intimations of material much too naughty for polite company. The far duller truth is that “The Canyons” presages not the end of cinema but its soft, white underbelly: Bad movies will always get made, it assures us, as long as there are people with dumb money, an eye for stunt casting and gift for ballyhoo at its most cynically Barnum-esque.
Lohan plays Tara, whom we meet idly thumbing her iPhone while her boyfriend, a movie financier named Christian (Deen), brags about their sex life to a wholesome looking couple. [Read the rest of Ann Hornaday's review here.]
Unrated. Contains profanity, violence, drug material, smoking, nudity and graphic sexuality. 95 minutes. Available on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Xbox, Playstation and on-demand cable starting Aug. 2.
ROBERT WILLIAMS: MR. BITCHIN'
If you’ve seen even one of Robert Williams’s paintings, his art is not easy to forget. A swirling blend of such disparate influences as underground comics, Salvador Dali-esque surrealism, the tawdry eroticism of vintage burlesque, pulp fiction book covers and psychedelic poster art, his canvases mesmerize the eye even as they tickle the intellect, with references to everything from history, science and philosophy to hot-rod culture. Widely considered the godfather of today’s lowbrow art movement, the California-based painter renders subject matter worthy of a Sunset Strip tattoo parlor with all the meticulous skill and technique seen in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
That’s not just my assessment.
In the documentary “Robert Williams: Mr. Bitchin’,” Coagula Art Journal critic Mat Gleason appears on camera to make just such a comparison, singing Williams’s praises along with such celebrity fans and collectors as Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the late Big Band leader Artie Shaw. When you look at Williams’s work, which is featured in lavish detail in “Mr. Bitchin’,” the analogy doesn’t seem that far-fetched.
But Williams provides the film’s most provocative commentary, referring to the sensation that he tries to create in viewers of his art as “like someone slipping an ice cube up your [derriere].”
Such observations make for one blunt-spoke, hilarious and surprisingly erudite guided tour through his career, which includes an early stint in the mid-1960s working for the legendary artist and custom car designer Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, the creator of the iconic Rat Fink character. The influence of Roth’s leering, bloodshot-eyed rodent can be seen in many of Williams’s trippy, narrative paintings, which lurch from sleaze to ruminations on fifth-dimensional quantum physics. Part of the film looks at the controversy surrounding Williams’s illustration for the 1987 Guns ‘n’ Roses album “Appetite for Destruction,” which some called a glorification of rape.
If you’re already a fan of this artist’s work, “Mr. Bitchin’ ” is a fascinating overview, dense with biographical tidbits, humor and artistic insight. If you’ve never heard of Williams, it’s a great introduction.
I might add: If you’ve never heard of him, where the heck have you been? The 70-year-old painter has been playing the art-world outsider for so long that he’s now an insider, having been honored by inclusion in the prestigious 2010 Whitney Biennial.
True to form, Williams didn’t attend the opening, choosing instead to attend a smaller gallery show in California, home to the rebels and freaks who made him what he is today — and who eat up his eye-popping art of transgression with a spoon. -- M.O.
Unrated. Contains obscenity and painted imagery that violates the boundaries of decorum. Available on Amazon Instant and Hulu. 90 minutes.