Back in the analog days, seeing a movie used to be so simple: you decide what you want to see, find out where it’s playing, and go see it. Choices were limited, but with a little detective work you might find something worth watching. Not all theatres played the same films at the same time.
Now with new technologies abounding, options are jumping at us from all corners of the media. Even watching movies on a three-inch iPhone or a ten-inch iPad doesn’t seem quite so hateful when you’re stuck in an airport with nothing better to do.
But the best alternative to a megaplex is still a really good flat screen HD television with good sound in the comfort of your own home. Before the up tick in technology, films that went directly to television, cable or home video were usually low, low budget no-name affairs that had no chance of seeing a theatrical release of any kind. And now that all the plexes are playing the same twelve movies every week, the smaller films, other than art house releases, are harder and harder to find. Some name talent is starting to recognize the shift. Spike Lee has a Kickstarter page set up to raise money for his next film, and it’s likely that others may follow that route.
Last weekend, a film titled The Canyons opened in one theatre in New York to decent business. In the rest of the country it opened via On Demand services from most cable and satellite systems. The Canyons was directed by Paul Schrader, who made his mark in Hollywood as the screenwriter of such legendary films as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ. He also directed James Coburn in his 1997 Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor in Affliction. Bret Easton Ellis, best known for his novels Less Than Zero and American Psycho, wrote the screenplay for The Canyons. The stars are Lindsay Lohan and James Deen… that’s d-e-e-n…who’s the latest and youngest heartthrob in hard-core porno films. Not only is this cast and crew a mixed bag, but rumor has it that The Canyons was made for a mere $250 thousand dollars, which wouldn’t even cover a couple of lunches for the crew on a mega-blockbuster. Given the numbers, it also stands a chance to make a decent profit, which is more that you can say for The Lone Ranger. But the big question is…is The Canyons any good.
Well, yes and no. It’s a well-done, professional looking production so that you would never think that it was shot on video. Schrader, while more erratic a director than a screenwriter, is still a good talent who’s making every effort to stay viable in a medium that’s changing at warp speed. Lindsay Lohan has a couple of scenes that show the spark of talent she displayed in her early Disney films, as well as Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion. Unfortunately, after all her misadventures in and out of court, jail, and rehab, she’s 27 and looks 40. James Deen is a better actor than you might think, since very few come from porn to real movies because they can’t handle dialogue. Bret Easton Ellis is continuing to emulate F. Scott Fitzgerald by chronicling his own “lost generation.” And that is the big problem with The Canyons. The people are vain, shallow, and downright nasty. You wouldn’t want to be seen with them in a mosh pit, let alone a family reunion. But the film does have its points of interest, and by accessing it in your living room for seven bucks, you can check it out for yourself without feeling guilty if you really hate it and turn it off.
While nothing can totally replicate the movie-going experience, the On Demand service can function as a way for film fans to explore something different… and hopefully, on occasion, really good. It’s a journey I’m prepared to take again sometime in the near future. I hear Brian DePalma’s latest will be distributed the same way later this month. Who knows who will be next in line.
The unrated The Canyons is available just a remote click away via the On Demand service from your cable or satellite provider.