Last Action Hero is both ahead of its time and perfectly positioned *within* the era it was made, such is the paradox of a forgotten curiosity of 1990’s action cinema and the stratospheric career of Arnold Schwartzenegger.
Here’s my story and why I’m writing about Last Action Hero some twenty five years on from its release. I was 11 years old when Last Action Hero was released in cinemas, in the US one week after Steven Spielberg’s decade-defining Jurassic Park. In theory, I was the perfect age to consume a film which is entirely about the youthful obsession of a similarly-aged child, Austin O’Brien’s Danny Madigan, with action adventure cinema. Jurassic Park I badgered my parents to take me to see three times yet I didn’t go anywhere near Last Action Hero. It didn’t even register with me. It has taken me until age 36 to actually sit down and watch it, and this is after spending at least the last twenty years being an enormous fan of Schwarzenegger’s movies and career. Last Action Hero was always the Arnie film I missed.
The Neon Demon is about the deadliness of artifice, the predatory nature of corporate industry built on facades, on what lies without rather than within, and in a literal, horrific sense, what such artifice can do to you. Yet the message, ultimately, is defiantly obtuse.
Nicolas Winding Refn remains a director distant to me, having not seen any of his back catalogue before watching The Neon Demon, but his reputation for slick style has divided plenty of people over multiple films. Are his movies visually striking and profound or is there no substance behind the colourful, vibrant thrills? That question definitely remains open by the end of The Neon Demon, perhaps more than films such as Bronson or Drive on which he built his name, and growing reputation as an auteur. This is a picture capable of providing as much revulsion as appreciation.
For me, the feeling was fascination. The Neon Demon comes across as very self-referential and self-aware, even while being deliberately enigmatic and metaphorical. In a way, the very construct and context of the film parallels the lead character, Jesse (played with knowing, entrancing guile by Elle Fanning). She begins as a fresh-faced, orphaned, quiet upstart in the fashion industry of Los Angeles and ends up a vampish, abused, self-destroyed victim plunged into an arthouse horror picture by the conclusion. Refn’s film takes the same path: it knows how beautiful it is but increasingly becomes consumed by the horror lurking behind the mirror.