Screening Room: ‘Master Gardener’

After making the festival rounds, Paul Schrader’s Master Gardener opens next week in limited release.

I reviewed for PopMatters:

Everything in Paul Schrader’s Master Gardener exists at roughly a forty-five-degree angle to reality. The film has one foot planted in a mostly recognizable world but the other in a dreamland of the writer/director’s invention. It makes for a schizoid presentation that delivers moments of gutsy idiosyncrasy but few characters whose problems and reactions feel connected to familiar human emotions…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘First Reformed’

Ethan Hawke in ‘First Reformed’ (A24)

In Paul Schrader’s latest, First Reformed, a minister finds more to believe in an eco-activist’s radicalism than his own pulpit.

My review is at PopMatters:

Ethan Hawke at his most pained plays the Reverend Toller. Minister for a tiny museum of a church in upstate New York that’s about to celebrate its 250th anniversary, he’s at the tail-end of a years-long spiritual crisis. By the time the movie catches up to this nearly cadaverous penitent, Toller has already lost his son to the Iraq War, his wife to divorce not long after that. He writes in a journal each night, bottle of whiskey at his side…

Now Playing: ‘The Canyons’

Lindsay Lohan and James Deen (yes, that's a stage name) confront an exhausted, post-film landscape in 'The Canyons'.
Lindsay Lohan and James Deen (yes, that’s a stage name) confront an exhausted, post-film landscape in ‘The Canyons’.

thecanyons-posterA couple of enfant terribles (Lindsay Lohan and writer Bret Easton Ellis), a director with a good grasp of the lengths people will go to in destroying themselves (Paul Schrader), a clutch of blank-faced performers, abandoned movie theater ruin-porn photography, and a bed-hopping Hollywood melodrama make up the cracked camp quasi-classic that is The Canyons.

My review’s at PopMatters; here’s part:

Everyone is exhausted in The Canyons. But even as Paul Schrader’s and Brett Easton Ellis’ wickedly unnerving satire offers the usual Southern California power games, it also shows how soul-sapping this constant contesting can be. Everyone knows the machinery is lubricated by tainted money, but this is all that anybody seems to know. Even the allure of Hollywood fame seems to have disappeared, leaving nothing in its wake. Terrified of standing still, the characters just keep pushing back the night. The frightening thing is, soon all they can see is more night…

The Canyons is playing now in very limited release, and is also available on VOD, where Schrader and company think most people will end up seeing it. The hope is that their micro-budgeted indie will get some free publicity out of Lohan’s still-considerable tabloid profile. Given that big-budget movies have crashed and burned with regularity all summer, and anything that’s not big budget can barely get released, The Canyons could serve as a harbinger for a new kind of movie future. One with a lot fewer theaters to overpay for popcorn at.

One of the many stills of closed movie theater facades that Paul Schrader scatters throughout 'The Canyons'.
One of the many stills of closed movie theater facades that Paul Schrader scatters throughout ‘The Canyons’.