Tara (Lindsay Lohan) lives with a her boyfriend, Christian (James Deen), a film producer, in a mansion in Malibu, California. She manages to persuade him to hire Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk) as an actor in low budget horror film that he is currently producing. Ryan, after all, has a girlfriend, Gina (Amanda Brook), who also works as Christian's assistant and has befriended Tara. Christian, a trust-fund baby, invites people he meets online to join him and Tara for threesomes. Little does he know, though, that Tara has been seeing Ryan behind his back until he uses the services of a hacker. He invades Tara's privacy by getting a hold of her text messages thereby discovering her affair with Ryan. How does he react to this new information? That's when The Canyons starts veering into thriller territory with twists that won't be spoiled here. Gus Van Sant briefly shows up as Christian's therapist.
Director Paul Schrader and screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis have woven a dark drama that serves as harsh yet honest commentary about our current society and culture. Its characters come across as selfish, whiny, weak, narcissistic, shallow, bore and insecure in various degrees. You don't learn much about their thoughts and feelings because neither of them is particularly articulate or expressive. While watching The Canyons you can't help but to ask yourself a very uncomfortable question: Technology is advancing, but is mankind advancing concurrently? The answer to that question is simply complex, although, for the most part, Schrader and Ellis don't offer much hope for the status quo of our society and culture--specifically our film culture where stupid, shallow films with hollow characters can be often be found in multiplexes. Therapy doesn't seem to be helping Christian. His problems might be more deeply-rooted. Perhaps he and the other characters had parents with poor parenting skills. Ellis leaves that up to your imagination because you don't get to meet anyone's parents here.
The performances throughout The Canyons are not terrible: they're effectively emotionless and cold with the exception of one particular ephemeral moment when Tara lets tears stream down her face---she expresses herself briefly via sadness; Christian expresses himself via anger, although it's shown off-camera. On a purely aesthetic note, The Canyons has exquisite set and lighting designs and a well-chosen musical score that gives the film some stylishness. A well-shot sex scene plays around with lighting, music and colors as Tara, Christian and another man engage in a threesome. In a way, you could argue that its style becomes part of its substance or makes up for its deficiency of substance. You could argue that its style becomes part of its substance or makes up for its deficiency of substance.
When Comedy Was King, co-directed by Ron Frank and Melvut Akkaya, is a doc that deals with a very uplifting subject matter: the history of Jewish comedy and how it blossomed into popularity in the famous Borscht Belt resorts located in the Catskills Mountains. Comedians such as Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, Jerry Stiller and Jackie Mason, among many others, honed their comedic skills there and their careers skyrocketed. The interviews and archival footage give you a reader's digest version of how Jewish comedy evolved from Yiddish theater to the Borscht Belt and how it waned afterwards. When Comedy Was King has its fair share of amusing moments, but it's too shallow, slight and not particularly surprising or insightful enough to leave you truly enlightened. At least it doesn't leave you feeling bored at a running time of just 1 hour and 16 minutes. International Film Circuit opens the doc at the IFC Center. It opens at IndieScreen in Brooklyn and Landmark Kendall Square on Sept. 20th, 2013.