Tag Archives: Nicolas Winding Refn

Bleeder (1999) Review

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Bleeder

Time: 97 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1]
Cast:
Kim Bodnia as Leo
Mads Mikkelsen as Lenny
Rikke Louise Andersson as Louise
Levino Jensen as Louis
Liv Corfixen as Lea
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Hard-drinking Leo (Kim Bodnia) likes to hit the bars and watch gory films with his introverted pal, Lenny (Mads Mikkelsen). His girlfriend, Louise (Rikke Louise Andersson), tends to stay in at the couple’s Copenhagen apartment. Despite their differences, Leo and Louise have maintained a relationship for a long time; however, when Louise tells Leo that she’s pregnant, he senses that his lifestyle will have to change, and his long-hidden hatred of his girlfriend violently erupts.

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Bleeder was the last film by Nicolas Winding Refn I had left to catch up on, it was particularly hard to find but I got access to a copy eventually. I didn’t know anything about the movie except its one of the directors earliest films and had the main trio of actors from his first film Pusher. While I wouldn’t call it one of Refn’s best by any means, I thought it was a solid early film from him.

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Bleeder is a dark and raw drama, that really focuses more on the drama than crime compared to Refn’s last film Pusher. The plot consist of two storylines, each of them following two people who are friends. One of them is of Leo, a soon to be father. The other is Lenny, an awkward film nerd who works at a video store and struggles with women. Leo’s story is the dramatic aspect of the film. It’s dark, filled with tension, and uncomfortable to watch. Essentially this storyline is a domestic drama between Leo, his wife Louise, and her brother Louis. It’s basically a character study of a man afraid of his impending fatherhood. Strangely I wanted to see more of Lenny’s story. Even though it didn’t seem to be moving towards anything, it is fun to watch his story play out, and at the very least it’s a nice break from the intensity of the Leo story. The stories are connected by the two lead characters being friends but tonally they’re very different. It’s a weird mix that I still enjoyed. The are some great comedic moments (mainly with Lenny), and the atmosphere is still bleak, ugly and there’s a feeling of hopelessness which only increases as the film progresses. The last 30 minutes are particularly sad, violent and intense. The movie is definitely slowly paced and doesn’t seem to have a drive to it, but it didn’t bother me too much.

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The acting is one of the best parts of the movies, it’s great. As I said it has the main cast of the Pusher trilogy (and the main actors of each of the Pusher movies) with Kim Bodnia, Mads Mikkelsen and Zlatko Buric, all of them are really good in their parts. The best performance in the movie is probably from Kim Bodnia. He was great in Pusher, but he is even stronger here. His character starts off relatively calm but goes down a dark path over the course of the film as we see and learn more about him. The other main character is Lenny played by Mads Mikkelsen, a relatively quiet man who talks about movies and directors a lot, who’s clearly a representation of Nicolas Winding Refn himself. There’s even a joke in his first scene where he lists of a long list of directors which establishes his character very well. Mikkelsen is effortlessly watchable and likable in his part.

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Nicolas Winding Refn directs Bleeder very well, and it is stylistically comparable to the Pusher trilogy. The use of handheld camerawork is effective, the visuals are dark and gritty but more polished than the first Pusher. The sound design was great too, when gunshots happen you really hear it, and the ambient soundtrack is hypnotic.

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Bleeder is a bit of an odd movie with some of the writing decisions made, especially with how it mixes the two storylines together. However it is good on the whole, I was invested in the stories, the performances were good, and I liked Nicolas Winding Refn’s work as a director here. I’m very much aware that it’s very difficult to access the movie, but if you like Refn’s other movies, I do think it is worth checking out at the very least.

Pusher III: I’m the Angel of Death (2005) Review

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Pusher 3

Time: 108 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1]
Cast:
Zlatko Burić as Milo
Marinela Dekić as Milena
Ilyas Agac as Muhammed
Slavko Labović as Radovan
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Milo (Zlatko Buric) is a drug dealer and recovering addict who’s slowly coming unraveled. While trying to prepare for his daughter Milena’s (Marinela Dekic) birthday party, he discovers the shipment of heroin he was expecting is actually Ecstasy. Milo gives the pills to small-fry dealer Mohammed (Ilyas Agac) and, as the party begins, starts using narcotics again. Things go from bad to worse when Mohammad doesn’t return, and Milo’s Albanian connection demands payment for the Ecstasy.

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I have been gradually getting through Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy. The first movie was a solid standalone crime thriller, with the other two films being unintended sequels which only came as a result of Refn’s Fear X flopping. It’s strange then that both sequels manage to be overall stronger films than the first movie. Pusher III is another distinct entry for the trilogy, dark, compelling and visually stunning, it’s truly great.

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Pusher III acts as a finale to the trilogy with the protagonist role this time being filled by Milo, who was in a major supporting role as a known drug lord, appearing in Pusher I in a major supporting role, and appearing in Pusher II in a cameo part. The film is set over one day and focuses on Milo as he tries to juggle his business with his daughter’s birthday party. He is constantly busy trying to keep his business alive while also having to be there for his family. First of all, I really like how the film explores this character and made him compelling. At the start we see him trying to better himself considering his circumstances and work, but over time we see his surroundings pull himself back to his old self again. Also we see how tough the criminal underworld really is, in the previous two movies we see Milo the drug lord being so calm and in control, but in the third movie it really shows that he’s constantly struggling to stay alive. The film does retain the style of the previous two Pusher movies but also moves at a slower pace, with more of a focus on the lead character over the general sleaze. The youthful angst and energy of the first two movies are gone, and its just about one night of chaos, stress, anxiety, and an undercurrent of sadness. Despite how the movie is for the first half, Pusher III overall is the most depressing and bleakest movie in the trilogy. It gets to some particularly grim parts, mostly towards the end.

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The acting is good from everyone, but the main player here is Zlatko Buric as lead character Milo. Much is riding on Buric, as his character is key to the whole movie working and he more than delivers. His performance is complex, and he adds more depth to the character, who was already the most intriguing character from the first film. Refn and Buric do well to make Milo a somewhat likable character all things considering. In contrast to the previous two Pusher protagonists, he’s older, wiser, more rational, and has a more stable life. Zlatko was very compelling to watch as he was portraying everything that Milo goes through over the course of this one night. It is mostly the Zlakto Buric show in terms of acting, but if there was a supporting actor that is a highlight, it is Slavko Labovic, who appears in the last act and is great in his screentime.

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Nicolas Winding Refn’s direction was as fantastic as I expected it to be. It might not reach the stylistic heights of Pusher II, but the more realistic and subdued look works better for the character of Milo. There’s some great cinematography with some fantastic use of colour, and the sound design and score really fitted the film. Despite it being less of an overt thriller compared to the first two Pusher movies, Refn still does a good job at building up tension in an effective way. For the most part Pusher III isn’t as violent as Refn’s other movies including the previous two movies… until it gets to the climax, which has by far the most gruesome and graphic scenes that he’s directed. There is a lot of blood and gore at the end, however it works for the tone of the movie.

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It is interesting to see the second and third Pusher movies end up being better than the first one, despite it being an unintended trilogy. While I still think that Pusher II is the best of the trilogy, I think Pusher III is still truly great. A dark and bleak character focused crime drama, that’s fantastically directed and led by an excellent performance from Zlatko Buric. If you watched the previous Pusher movies or even just other Refn movies, I highly recommend checking it out.

Fear X (2003) Review

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Fear X

Time: 91 Minutes
Cast:
John Turturro as Harry
Deborah Kara Unger as Kate
Stephen McIntyre as Phil
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Harry Caine (John Turturro) is a mild-mannered mall cop whose pregnant wife is killed in the underground parking lot where he works. It seems it may have been a contract killing, and Harry becomes obsessed with finding out the details. His investigation eventually takes him to a Montana town, where reality becomes unhinged for him, and he remains disturbingly unfazed by the wintry conditions and eccentric characters. In the end, he’s not looking for revenge, just for the reason behind it all.

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I knew some things about Fear X going into it. First of all, it was the first English language movie from Drive, Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon director Nicolas Winding Refn, and its an experimental crime thriller starring John Turturro which flopped, causing Refn to direct two sequels to his debut film Pusher. I’ve also noticed it’s been referred to as Refn’s worst movie, so I went in cautiously optimistic. While I think it is quite possibly his worst movie, I still liked it.

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Fear X is a psychological thriller which initially appears to have a simple plot. It does have a conventional premise about someone looking for the person who killed his wife, however it is definitely not a mainstream movie. Refn takes this premise and applies his own storytelling style to it, subverting the tropes of the revenge thriller. In some ways, you could say that this is a revenge story without the revenge. I like this concept, you get a typical noir film which happens to mix surrealism and murder mystery together, and it is eerie and strange the way it is presented. In fact, many scenes of dialogue and style choices can be compared to David Lynch’s work. It is riveting, tense and unsettling throughout. The film is definitely slow and takes its time, and this will definitely turn some people off from the movie. The atmosphere isn’t strong enough to make this approach work as well as some of Refn’s other slow burners, but I liked the build up over the course of the movie. The other reason a lot of people won’t like this movie is the ambiguity, and in fact it might be too ambiguous for its own good. This is especially in the case of the ending, which really isn’t much of an ending. It leaves you feeling empty and lacks a conventional conclusion. I do admire the decision and it is bold to deliberately leave things without closure and the audience with more questions than before. I also get that it’s deliberately leaving itself to be heavily interpreted. However, I don’t think it quite sticks the landing, and I get people not liking the movie because of the ending.

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The acting from everyone is pretty good but really the highlight out of all of them is John Turturro in the lead role of the mall cop who’s trying to find his wife’s killer. Turturro is pretty much a perfect fit in the lead role. He and everyone else don’t have a whole lot to say, much of the acting comes from facial expressions and emoting. However, Turturro gives a really nuanced performance and was a solid casting choice for what Refn was going for.

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This is another film from Nicolas Winding Refn, and as expected his work on a technical level is great. I expect amazing visuals from his movies and Fear X is no exception. The use of colour is striking, the cinematography is immaculate and it’s shot with a style which would be more prominent in his later movies, especially when it comes to hallway scenes. The sound design is also amazing, complimenting the mood perfectly, helped by the haunting score from Brian Eno. All these elements come together to create an eerie and foreboding atmosphere throughout the entirety of the film.

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I do get why Fear X bombed to a degree, it was a departure from Nicolas Winding Refn’s previous movies, and it is one of his stranger films (which is saying a lot). However it does have some strengths, I liked Refn’s different take on a revenge thriller with all its ambiguity, John Turturro gave a great performance, and it is directed and shot beautifully. At the very least, it did help Refn figure out his filmmaking voice and style. I do think it is worth watching if you liked some of NWR’s other work, but it’s probably best you do so with a good idea of what kind of movie you’re in for.

Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands (2004) Review

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Pusher 2

Time: 100 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1]
Cast:
Mads Mikkelsen as Tonny
Leif Sylvester as Smeden
Zlatko Burić as Milo
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Trouble follows an ex-convict (Mads Mikkelsen) as he tries to gain his father’s favor.

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Pusher was the debut film of director Nicolas Winding Refn, released back in 1996. While it’s a bit rough for sure, it was a solid movie, and hinted at the potential he would deliver on with his later movies. 8 years later, he returned to the world he created in his first movie, and directed two follows up movies, being each of them being lead by supporting characters from the first movie. The second Pusher film titled With Blood on His Hands, is a noticeable improvement over the first movie in every way, and is quite great.

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Like with the first movie, Pusher 2 feels grounded, from the dialogue, to the world itself. The classic gangster genre cliches seen in most fiction are made realistic and unglamourised in these movies. Refn makes the characters feel genuine and real, and doesn’t shy away from portraying the darker and ugly sides of them. While it carries over many of the great elements from the first Pusher, With Blood on My Hands is also a very different movie. For one, I found the story to be more interesting and compelling. The first Pusher was largely about the protagonist having to try to obtain money in a brief amount of time, pretty standard crime setup and was relatively focused on that. The plot in Pusher 2 is a little more loose and open, at its core it is a character study following our new protagonist Tonny. It does take its time, but overall is a better human drama with a much more sympathetic protagonist. It doesn’t have the intensity of the first movie, where even though you don’t care at all about the main character, you feel really anxious when he keeps getting caught in some dangerous situations. However, Pusher 2 does have this heavy atmosphere of impending doom. Additionally, it is a pretty mesmerising character study of someone who continues to make bad decisions. A large part of why it so works is because of the lead actor, which I’ll get into in a bit. As for the connections to the first movie, it just features two characters from that movie, and there are some brief references. Otherwise it is very standalone. Pusher 2 also has an ambiguous ending, and it was a perfect note to end on.

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The acting from everyone in this movie is good, but it all comes down to one actor really, Mads Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen was good in his supporting role as Tonny from the first Pusher, however in that movie he was just a sidekick to the main character and was only in the first act of that movie. With Pusher 2, Mikkelsen gets a lot more to do, and he’s actually fantastic here. Mikkelsen’s performance is very dynamic and nuanced, and he portrays Tonny as being very human, and even sympathetic at times. He carries an implied menace and physicality, but also an intense vulnerability below the surface. You can clearly tell the character not a good person by any means, and he constantly makes bad decisions and mistakes for himself. Despite this, you are constantly wanting him to succeed, and Mikkelsen’s acting is a large reason for that.

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Looking between the first Pusher and this movie, Nicolas Winding Refn had definitely developed as a filmmaker during that period. The direction in Pusher 2 doesn’t lose its gritty and real feeling from the first movie, but the directing is undeniably more confident and clear, and much more stylish. The camerawork and cinematography are the most prominent aspect, with very strong colours and lighting, and even the overly shaky handheld shots are gone. The amount of violence in this movie is less than the violence in the first movie, but yet again Refn makes sure that its gritty and unpleasant, and isn’t stylised or glamourised, very much in line with the tone of the story. Another solid aspect that was brought over from the first movie was the good use of music (both the score and the song choices), as well as the lack of music in some scenes.

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Pusher 2: With Blood on My Hands improves on every level over the first movie, it’s a well written and compelling character study, directed greatly by Nicolas Winding Refn, and is carried by a fantastic leading performance from Mads Mikkelsen. If you liked the first Pusher then check this out, but again, it’s separate enough from the first movie that you don’t need to have seen it beforehand, you can jump right into it.

Bronson (2009) Review

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Bronson

Time: 92 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1]
Cast:
Tom Hardy as Michael Gordon Peterson/Charles Bronson
Matt King as Paul Daniels
James Lance as Phil Danielson
Amanda Burton as Charlie’s mother
Kelly Adams as Irene Peterson
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

In this drama based on a true story, there’s no one tougher or more brutal in the English penal system than prisoner Michael Peterson, aka Charles Bronson (Tom Hardy). First incarcerated after robbing a jewellery store, the married Bronson is sentenced to seven years. But his incorrigible, savage behaviour quickly gets him in trouble with guards, fellow inmates and even a dog. The only place where Bronson can’t do any harm is in solitary confinement, where he spends most of his time.

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I remember when I was going to watch Bronson for the first time. I liked director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, and I really liked Tom Hardy as an actor, and it runs out I liked Bronson too. It is for sure one of Refn’s more ‘accessible’ movies (at least when compared to the likes of some of his other movies like Only God Forgives). Having seen it for a second time, I probably like it even more now, a truly bizarre movie in the best possible way, directed greatly and with one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen at the front and centre of this film.

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Bronson is quite the unconventional biopic, its subject is Michael Peterson, also known as Charles Bronson, who is often called the most violent prisoner in Britain. However, Refn’s take on the story isn’t straightforward or what you’d initially expect. First of all, it doesn’t even remotely attempt to paint a sympathetic picture of the character/person, and much of the storytelling is from Bronson’s perspective. In the first 5-10 minutes you pretty early on get a sense as to what kind of movie it is. There are some moments where we get to see Bronson’s more vulnerable side, mainly in the second act. At the same time however, it doesn’t try to explain Charles Bronson, rather letting the audience make up their own answers for him. Bronson is greatly written too, quite entertaining, and even has a fair share of dark comedy in there too. Much of the movie reminds me of A Clockwork Orange, from the style to some of the way certain scenes were handled. As far as issues go, there are some pacing issues towards the second act. Without giving too much away, it’s not quite as outrageous or filled with violence as the first act, but in general you really feel it slow down suddenly, and even some of the energy died down noticeably. Now I still liked the second act and there’s a good reason why the pacing was that slow considering that part of the story, but it’s worth pointing out nonetheless. Bronson is about an hour and 30 minutes long, and that was about the right length for this movie.

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This movie surrounds the character/real life person of Charles Bronson (the criminal, not the actor of course), and so much of the film heavily relies on the actor playing the titular role. Tom Hardy (who wasn’t such a big name just yet back in 2008) did such a fantastic job in the role. This could very well be Hardy’s career best performance, and knowing much of the work he’s done, that’s saying a lot. He’s full of energy, he has the physicality, he’s charismatic, he’s scary, and has such a powerful screen presence that carries much of the movie. He’s incredibly electric and a force of nature in this, you definitely don’t see Hardy at all in this role, moustache aside. Surprisingly, he also portrays Bronson’s emotional side very convincingly too, painting a picture of a man that’s a little more than just violent and insane (even if it’s not neatly laid out what kind of person he is). He really does capture this real life person incredibly well. The rest of the actors in the supporting cast do play their part well, but it is the Tom Hardy show.

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Nicolas Winding Refn’s direction is nothing short of exceptional, much of how he told the story is why this movie works so well. It’s an absolutely stunning looking movie from beginning to end, and unsurprising considering this is Refn, especially when it came to the use of colour. It’s not just the cinematography aspect of the direction that’s great, a conventional biopic it is not. The mix of narration and fourth wall breaks from Hardy’s Bronson works perfectly. In much of the movie he’s talking and performing to a stage audience (mostly shown in the first act). That sort of dies down a bit after the first act, but it nonetheless makes quite the impression. The music choices worked very well for the movie too.

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Bronson is an entertaining and unconventional ‘biopic’, wonderfully directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, but its backbone is Tom Hardy as the titular character, who is absolutely tremendous in the role. I’m not sure that it is for everyone, but I thought it was great. Hardy’s performance alone makes it a must see.

The Neon Demon (2016) Review

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Time: 118 minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Violence, Horror, Sexual Material and Necrophilia
Cast:
Elle Fanning as Jesse
Karl Glusman as Dean
Jena Malone as Ruby
Bella Heathcote as Gigi
Abbey Lee as Sarah
Desmond Harrington as Jack McCarther
Christina Hendricks as Roberta Hoffman
Keanu Reeves as Hank
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles just after her 16th birthday to launch a career as a model. The head of her agency tells the innocent teen that she has the qualities to become a top star. Jesse soon faces the wrath of ruthless vixens who despise her fresh-faced beauty. On top of that, she must contend with a seedy motel manager and a creepy photographer. As Jesse starts to take the fashion world by storm, her personality changes in ways that could help her against her cutthroat rivals.

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The Neon Demon was one of my most anticipated films of 2016, this is the second film from Nicolas Winding Refn I’ve seen, after Drive. Drive was an absolutely fantastic film, I loved it, so naturally I was excited to see his upcoming film. After seeing this film, I have to say, I absolutely loved The Neon Demon. Visually stunning, excellently performed, everything here was great. Understandably, not everyone will like this movie, due to it not having a straightforward story and some of its weirdness will alienate some. I’m just glad I’m one of the people who loved it.28fc5711b37fcb526c803cf78b40972f[1]

There are a few things that you have to know before going in. This film is slowly paced quite a bit, part of that is due to the fact that The Neon Demon is also very artistic, with many visual sequences showing symbolism and metaphors. This really isn’t surprising as Refn is known for being more of a visual director. Although this film sort of has a plot, it doesn’t have a very straightforward story, there are many different ways to interpret this movie. This may turn off and come across as pretentious for some viewers, but I personally loved the story that Refn told. The last act is completely nuts, having a complete change in tone, turning into straight up horror. While that change was a little jarring, I loved the last act, even though at times it could get ridiculously over the top at times. I’ve also heard from many that this is Refn’s most disturbing movie yet, I’ve not seen Only God Forgives or many of his other films aside from Drive but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case. I won’t say what happens in this movie to avoid spoilers (as I found many of them out before watching the movie), but let’s just say I can understand why this movie turned a lot of people off…

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The performances from everyone was excellent. Elle Fanning was really good in the role of the main character, she goes through a form of transformation in the film, and along with the visuals of the film from Refn, she conveys that expertly. All the supporting cast did great jobs as well. Jena Malone was a standout for me, there are certain stand out scenes that she’s involved with which (I won’t spoil) I have to say are very daring, she’s fantastic. Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee were really great as two of models who become jealous of Elle’s character. Keanu Reeves also plays a small part in the movie as the seedy hotel manager, he’s only in a few scenes but he still manages to leave an impression, it was a very different character for him to play.

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This film quite possibly has the best cinematography all year, which really isn’t surprising as it’s directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. I can’t really comment on whether its Refn’s best looking film yet (as I haven’t seen any of his films aside from Drive) but it looks so gorgeous. The use of colour also makes the film absolutely beautiful, visually this film is perfect. Also the soundtrack by Cliff Martinez is absolutely europhoric, memorable, it really added a lot of the movie.

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This movie really isn’t for everyone however, whether that be the lurid content, the slow pacing or the visual storytelling. If you want a more straightforward plot, this isn’t your film. For me though, The Neon Demon is one of my favourite films of the year. This film is a reminder that I really need to see more of Nicolas Winding Refn’s films, with this film and Drive, he’s already becoming one of my favourite directors.