“Reel Talk” – with Chris Reed and Chris Kaltenbach – on “Finding Dory,” “The BFG” and “The Neon Demon”

Christopher Llewellyn Reed, “Reel Talk” host, w/ Chris Kaltenbach, Arts and Entertainment reporter for "The Baltimore Sun"

Christopher Llewellyn Reed, “Reel Talk” host, w/ Chris Kaltenbach, arts and entertainment reporter for “The Baltimore Sun”

Welcome to the sixth (and final) episode of the 2015-2016 season of Dragon Digital Media‘s Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed . My guest this time was Chris Kaltenbach, arts and entertainment reporter for The Baltimore Sun. We reviewed three films: Finding Dory, The BFG and The Neon Demon. In Howard County, Maryland, you can watch the show on Channel 41 (if you’re a Verizon customer) or Channel 96 (if you’re a Comcast customer), and you can watch it online from anywhere. You can also still catch the first episodesecond episodethird episodefourth episode and fifth episode of this season, as well.

Reel Talk Communicator Award

As always, the amazing Dragon Digital Media team did a fantastic job putting this together, especially producer Karen Vadnais and director Danielle Maloney, thanks to whom our show just received, yet again, another “Communicator Award of Distinction.” We’ll be back in September with a whole new season, so stay tuned. Until then, if you want to watch more of our work, you can check out last year’s episodes in full – Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5Episode 6 – or watch the various segments from each episode on our YouTube channel. Enjoy! And we’ll see you at the movies!

“The Neon Demon” is Beautiful, Bloody and Utterly Vacuous

Neon Demon

The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016)

O beauty! O torpor! O glory! O pain! Has the world ever seen such an example of positive qualities co-existing with their opposite? Is pulchritude but an illusion that decays upon inspection? More importantly, can an aesthetic designed to replicate the sins of the milieu it portrays be any more than a superficial treatment of that milieu?

Pardon the hyperbole, but in The Neon Demon, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) seems to beg for such overweening attention. An over-designed objet d’art par excellence, the film is graceful and lovely in every frame, even as the blood flows freely, but ultimately as empty as its thinly drawn characters. If it has a takeaway message (and, unfortunately, it does), it is that beauty – currency of the realm – is only skin deep, yet we are prepared to consume ourselves (and others) to attain it. Women, in particular – those poor, helpless creatures – turn killers when you threaten their status in the beauty chain. Call it Refn’s new aesthetic of misogynistic empowerment, if you will.

The problem here – beyond the fact that this is hardly a fresh topic – is that the film is as listless as the models at its center. Gorgeous? Yes. Meaningful? No. Elle Fanning (Maleficent), a young actress of substance who is the best part of this experience, plays Jesse, a waif of a 16-year-old who comes to Los Angeles with big dreams. Think David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., only without the   quirky intelligence. A fresh face, she soon finds herself both desired and hated, often by the same people. It all points to something awful, and those markers lead us exactly where we think they will.

Despite the utter vacuity on display, there are some fine performances. Jena Malone (The Rusted), as the makeup artist who takes young Jesse under her wing, manages to make the combination of passion and lethargy feel compelling. Keanu Reeves (John Wick), in an uncharacteristically villainous role as the owner of the squalid motel where Jesse lives, is deeply repellant as a man without virtue, and very watchable. But other than these few standouts, The Neon Demon is nothing more than an exercise in production design, where everything is as it seems. Style is substance, in other words, and what you see is what you get, and nothing more.