Tuesday, March 27, 2018

On Netflix: PARADOX (2018)

(US - 2018)

Written and directed by Daryl Hannah. Cast: Neil Young, Lukas Nelson, Micah Nelson, Corey McCormick, Anthony LoGerfo, Tato, Willie Nelson, Elliot Roberts, Dave Snowbear Toms, Charris Ford, Robert Schmoo Schmid, Tim Gooch Lougee. (Unrated, 73 mins)

Neil Young's most ill-advised contribution to pop culture since his LAST WALTZ coke booger, the Netflix Original film PARADOX is an insufferably self-indulgent, borderline unwatchable home movie from Young and significant other Daryl Hannah. Hannah makes her feature film writing and directing debut, though she's credited with "auteur," which should tell you all you need to know about whether you can make it all the way through. Shot during some downtime when Young and his current backing band Promise of the Real arrived in Colorado for a show that was three days away, PARADOX looks and feels every bit like an improvised project thrown together in 72 hours. It ostensibly deals with a group of outlaws apparently on the lam in a vaguely phantasmagorical frontier realm, either running from a robbery or planning one, as they sit around their makeshift camp cooking, eating marmot stew, playing cards, philosophizing, and listening to their leader The Man in the Black Hat (Young) strum an acoustic guitar. When one of the gang, Cowboy Elliot (Elliot Roberts, Young's longtime manager) says "That's the Man in the Black Hat...I heard he can be kinda shakey," you'll already be groaning if you know of Young's occasional pseudonym "Bernard Shakey." The rest of the gang is played mostly by members of Promise of the Real, a band led by Lukas and Micah Nelson, the youngest sons of Willie Nelson. Lukas plays "Jailtime" and Micah "The Particle Kid," and the latter's big scene involves sharing a two-seated outhouse with Happy (Anthony LoGerfo) and dropping this deuce of wisdom: "Life is like a fart. If ya gotta force it, it's probably shit." Or a Netflix Original called PARADOX.

After more pseudo-insightful musings ("Sometimes things gotta go south before they can go north"), the gang wanders through the woods and encounters a tent with present-day instruments and Young's sound crew as the film pauses so the band can do a run-through of the recent Young song "Peace Trail." Then Hannah cuts to about 20 minutes of live footage from Young and Promise of the Real's appearance at the 2016 Desert Trip in California. After that, they wander around some more, look for treasure, quote Nietzsche and talk about how music is "a preacher and a teacher" before the musicians' wives, girlfriends, and kids spend some time playing in a field and Young's tour bus makes a cameo, ending with Young laughing and strumming a ukulele with a rope tied around his waist, dragging a floating Daryl Hannah behind him. Like his legendary contemporary Bob Dylan, whose own films like 1978's four-hour RENALDO AND CLARA and 2003's MASKED AND ANONYMOUS are hallmarks of testing the endurance of apologist superfans, Young has dabbled in experimental, weirdo cinema before, most notably co-directing (as "Bernard Shakey") 1982's barely-released "nuclear comedy" HUMAN HIGHWAY with Dean Stockwell, the two heading a cast that also included Dennis Hopper, Russ Tamblyn, Sally Kirkland, and Devo. PARADOX is Young's first cinematic vanity project since 2003's GREENDALE, a feature-length music video intended to accompany his album of the same name, a collaboration with his best-known backing band, Crazy Horse. Like GREENDALE, PARADOX is more or less a musical collage (or, in Hannah's words, a "loud poem") with seemingly random selections of Young songs old and new, but it's a tedious, pretentious chore to sit through even at 73 minutes. To give you an idea of just how smug and self-satisfied PARADOX is, there's meaningless chapter titles ("II: Time To Feed the Good Wolf"), and at the end, the screen actually fades to black, followed by a "Fin." In 2018.

These days, Hannah's main concern seems to be her political and environmental activism. Her career hasn't exactly been on fire in recent years. Other than appearing in the Wachowskis' Netflix series SENSE8, she hasn't been in anything noteworthy since Quentin Tarantino's KILL BILL and John Sayles' SILVER CITY back in 2004. She's made at least a dozen DTV actioners with Michael Madsen in the ensuing years, including the Italian post-nuke throwback DEATH SQUAD, aka 2047: SIGHTS OF DEATH. Thanks to BLADE RUNNER, SPLASH, and KILL BILL, her place in film history is secure, but her directing style makes you long for the commercial accessibility of James Franco's American lit adaptations. Hannah, Young, and Promise of the Real are having a good time, and Willie Nelson briefly shows up to help The Man in the Black Hat rob a bank, but the only thing saving PARADOX from complete ruin is the music, especially the kickass Desert Trip jam randomly thrown in the middle of the film. Everything else around it serves as further proof that Netflix just needs to stay away from acquiring anything with the word "paradox" in the title.

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