REVIEW: Maps to the Stars

28 02 2015

MapsI have spent extended periods of time in Hollywood, and I really wish I had David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars” by my side then to confirm all my suspicions and misgivings.  Director David Cronenberg and writer Bruce Wagner do not merely depict the shallowness and the narcissism dominant in the local culture so much as they diagnose it.  The film pinpoints a number of endemic ills in a town built on deception with the accuracy of a pathologist.

This saga of shameless self-promoters caught in a tangled web of ego bashing may not quite cohere in its explosive third act, yet it hardly detracts from the pleasure of simply watching them exist for an hour or so.  Cronenberg gets his cast to deliver performances tuned to the perfect channel: exaggeratedly hilarious without ever veering sharply into parodic or burlesquing territory.

Nowhere does this approach find better expression than in Julianne Moore’s brilliantly demented Havana Segrand, which – all due respect to “Still Alice” –  is the kind of work that should have netted the actress her first Oscar.  Nonetheless, she has the statue now, and we have this performance to relish forever.

Havana is Moore’s Norma Desmond, the fading and aging screen icon vividly realized by Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard.”  In an obvious attempt to jumpstart her career again, Havana tries desperately to land a coveted part in a remake of a movie that originally starred her late mother.  To settle her neuroses and ease her pain in the meantime, she hires a new “chore whore” at the suggestion of Carrie Fisher (playing herself, in a brilliantly ironic insertion by Wagner) – the mysterious burn victim Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) who recently arrived in town.

Read the rest of this entry »

REVIEW: Cosmopolis

16 08 2012

Woah, woah, woah, slow down, there! What on earth did you just say? What could that possibly mean? Why should I care at all?

Such are the questions that will inevitably be invoked by anyone watching David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis.”  While a billionaire driving around the streets of New York in a limousine amidst massive social upheaval certainly packs a timely, relevant thematic punch, you can’t puzzle over the film’s deeper meaning because it’s so difficult to get past the first layer: the dialogue!  I’ve even read another book by Don DeLillo, author of the novel “Cosmopolis” from which the film was adapted, and I found the way the characters talked to be absolutely infuriating.

Everyone speaks in non-sequiturs, and no one ever seems to say exactly what they mean or have any sense of urgency.  At times, the dialogue even seems to delve into absurdism – where nothing relates to anything.  The film’s structure, in addition, jumps from conversation to conversation with very little explanation.  One second, Robert Pattinson’s Eric Packer is discussing the intricacies of global currency with Shiner (Jay Baruchel) … and then a quick cut to the next scene where he’s having sex with his art dealer (Juliette Binoche) – all in the limousine!

Read the rest of this entry »

REVIEW: A Dangerous Method

5 01 2012

If I were sitting in a test screening or reviewing the script of “A Dangerous Method,” I could sum up all my reactions in a lyric from an Elvis Presley song: a little less conversation, a little more action please.  There’s plenty of interesting psychoanalytic banter between the three main characters, but from the beginning it  is evident that screenwriter Christopher Hampton is much like the long-winded priest of your childhood who is perfectly content to listen to himself talk all day.  While it can be intellectually stimulating at times (although its appeal might be limited to those with prior knowledge in the field of psychology), director David Cronenberg makes little case for why this should be a movie and not a textbook or an educational play at the Museum of Natural History.

That’s not to say that the feud between the psychoanalytic master Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and his thoughtful analytic practitioner Jung (Michael Fassbender) doesn’t have its moments of compelling drama, nor does it mean that the taut sexual tension in the doctor-patient relationship between Jung and the crazy/crazily intelligent Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) isn’t an interesting study of sexual desires and repressions.  But Cronenberg’s movie, largely due to Hampton’s script, is at war with itself, unable to decide what it is and how it wants to address its internal contradictions.  The balancing act is made especially difficult by the fact that the battle of the minds is a rather understated conflict while the battle of the sexes is garishly over the top due to Knightley’s performance.  Is it a movie of ideas or a movie about Jung’s self-examination through those ideas?

Read the rest of this entry »

F.I.L.M. of the Week (September 11, 2009)

11 09 2009

The “F.I.L.M. of the Week” is “A History of Violence.”  I watched it this weekend and was absolutely blown away by it.  The movie tells the story of Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), a small-town diner owner who is thrust into the spotlight after killing two robbers in self-defense.  However, the attention brings several mobsters into the town, confronting Tom about a past he claims never to have lived.  This threatens to rip Tom’s family apart at the seams, leading to some shocking revelations and startling actions.

Although Tom’s story arc is the most prevalent and important, I was extremely taken by the subplot of his son, Jack, and the effect of his father’s actions on his own as he strikes back against his intimidators.  The movie presents an unwaveringly honest portrait of high school, and I admired the commitment to realism.

There is a lot to interpret in “A History of Violence,” and it is one of those great movies that lingers in your mind for days on end.  Director David Cronenberg packs a great punch with only 90 minutes, quite a remarkable feat.  The movie centers around the concept of violence (if you couldn’t deduce as much), and by neither abhorring it nor glorifying it, he leaves it up to the viewer to decide what they think about it.  I do recommend this with a disclaimer though: squeamish should stay away.  The movie features some unsettling scenes of sexuality in addition to the graphic and gory violence.

If you watch this movie because of reading about it here or have seen it already, why not comment?  Even if you don’t agree with me, I still want to hear what you think.