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Hollywood loves pointing the camera on itself but not since The Player has the selfie provided such a wonderfully sadistic portrait of Tinsel Town. At the centre of David Cronenberg’s film is a Hollywood family — played by John Cusack, Olivia Williams and Evan Bird. Orbiting them are a former big name actress (Julianne Moore) and a burn victim (Mia Wasikowska), whose presence threatens to expose closely guarded secrets. The terrific performances and decidedly un-Hollywood feel of this, the most Hollywood of Cronenberg’s films, make Maps a compelling psychological thriller.
Hollywood — self-obsessed child that it is — enjoys turning the camera on itself, but with Maps to the Stars, director David Cronenberg uses the city as a palette to paint a picture of the stupid, venal and stratospherically self-involved behaviour that goes on behind the scenes in Beverly Hills’s gated communities and back lots.
At the centre of the film are the Weisses, a Hollywood family (John Cusack, Olivia Williams and Evan Bird) with more secrets than TMZ’s too-hot-to-handle file, Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), a former big name actress who is now as messed up as she is washed up and Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a burn victim with schizophrenia whose presence threatens to expose closely guarded secrets.
This may be the most sun-dappled film Cronenberg has ever made, but don’t let the light fool you; it’s also one of his darkest. I say one of his darkest because the 71-year-old director has frequently visited what Victor Hugo called “night within us,” provoking Village Voice to call him, “the most audacious and challenging narrative director in the English-speaking world.”
Spider, a trip into the mind of a severely mentally disturbed man starring Ralph Fiennes, is a case in point. Called “Cronenberg’s most depressingly bleak film,” by critic Ken Hanke, the 2002 film sees Fiennes deliver a virtually dialogue-free performance as the title character. But it is Miranda Richardson as several characters — all the women in Spider’s life — who really steals the show. It’s a spooky, cerebral thriller.
The Brood is probably Cronenberg’s most traditional horror film. Featuring murderous psychoplasmic kids, experimental psychotherapist Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar as a fetus-licking mother, it is the very stuff that nightmares are made of. It’s lesser seen than The Fly or Dead Zone and way more down-and-dirty, but for sheer scares it’s hard to beat.
A Dangerous Mind, the tautly told story of two psychoanalysts you’ve heard of, Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), plus one you’ve probably never heard of, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), sees Cronenberg combine a love story and birth of modern analysis.
The almost total lack of physical action means the focus is on the words. Some will see a film rich with dialogue, others will see it as verbose. But that’s the kind of duality the movie explores.
Finally, in Cosmopolis, Cronenberg takes us along for an existential road trip through the breakdown of modern society. Based on a novel by Don DeLillo and starring Robert Pattinson as a controlling and self-destructive billionaire money manager, the movie covers the gamut of human experience, from haircuts, money and infidelity to asymmetrical prostates and mortality.
David Cronenberg has spent his entire career working on the fringes of Hollywood. An auteur with a singular vision, his big hits and art house flicks all live outside the The Entertainment Capital of the World. With the release of “Maps to the Stars,” the first film he ever shot in Los Angeles, he almost ensures he’ll never do business in that town again.
Hollywood enjoys turning the camera on itself, but not since Robert Altman’s “The Player” has the selfie provided such a wonderfully sadistic portrait of Tinsel Town and its citizens. Cronenberg takes a bite out of Hollywood and finds a cookie full of arsenic.
At the center of Bruce Wagner’s script are the Weiss’s, a Hollywood family with more secrets than TMZ’s too-hot-to-handle file. Father Stafford (John Cusack) is a self-help guru who uses new age jargon— “If we name it, we can tame it.”— and massage to heal his wealthy clients. One of his regulars is Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), a former big name actress who is now as messed up as she is washed up. Stafford’s wife Cristina (Olivia Williams) is the momager of Benjie (Evan Bird) a teen superstar fresh out of rehab. Into this toxic mix comes Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a burn victim with schizophrenia whose presence threatens to expose closely guarded secrets.
This may be the most sun-dappled film Cronenberg has ever made, but don’t let the light fool you, it’s also one of his darkest. The glee Havana feels when she wins a coveted role in a movie because the original actress’s son has died is a nastier indictment of Hollywood than anything in “Sunset Boulevard.” Ditto Benjie’s disappointment when he learns that the young girl he visits in the hospital has non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “I mean non-Hodgkin’s, what’s that?” he says. “Either you are or you aren’t.”
Cronenberg uses the notion of Hollywood mythology as a palette to paint a picture of the stupid, venal and stratospherically self-involved behavior that goes on behind the scenes in Beverly Hills’s gated communities.
Moore presents Havana as a bundle of exposed ego and neurosis. Cusack is a career-minded Zen master, a cruel man whose world is starting to unwind while his son Benjie is a foul-mouthed child with a squeaky clean image. Rona Barrett would have had a heyday with this bunch.
Wasikowska is the outsider, the fly in the ointment that connects and tears apart each of the characters. She’s a strange, ghostly character, almost as ghostly as the poltergeists that haunt Benjie and Havana. In a world where flickering images are often more potent than the people who make them, the appearance of specters isn’t otherworldly, it’s an expected offshoot for a world that believes in the make-believe.
“Maps to the Stars” will divide people. Some will find its sadomasochistic glee in the travails of its characters unsettling; others will revel in the terrific performances and the decidedly un-Hollywood feel of this, the most Hollywood of Cronenberg’s films.
The old maxim “If it bleeds it leads” has been heard at least once in every newsroom the world over. The more sensational the story, the better placement it will receive in the newspaper or on the nightly news. “Nightcrawler,” a new movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal, takes it one step further.
The news director of KWLA, Los Angeles’s lowest rated morning news show wants more than just blood. What leads on her broadcast? “A screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”
Gyllenhaal is Lou Bloom, a slick talking drifter who falls into the freelance news gathering business after he overhears a stringer negotiate a fee for some ENG footage. He has the chutzpa and talent to get lurid footage of crashes, fires or murders no one else can…. or will. He violates crime scenes to get “first look” footage and isn’t above sabotaging the competition. “If you’re seeing me,” he says, “you’re having the worst day of your life.”
His sole client is Nina (Rene Russo), news director of the “vampire shift” at KWLA. His sensational footage is giving the station a much needed ratings bump, but soon Lou is revealed to be a compulsive manipulator who will not let anyone or anything get in the way of his success.
The name “Nightcrawler” and the October 31 release date suggests that this is a horror movie, conjuring up images of vampires and other nocturnal creeps, but this isn’t a traditional horror film. Instead it’s about the horror of a greedy sociopath and the ripple effects of his behavior.
Lou is a ruthless predator, a high school dropout who speaks in platitudes—“A friend is a gift you buy yourself.”—but isn’t above using violence to get what he wants. He’s bent on success at any price and regards one bloody car crash victim not as a person, but as “a sale.” Gyllenhaal dives in with both feet, delivering a terrific performance that fills the space vacated by Gyllenhaal’s vanity with tension, menace and charisma. When he says, “What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them?” he proves to be remarkably self aware, embracing his bad behavior and being well rewarded for it by Nina.
Russo, as the news director who buys into Lou’s methodology, is a cautionary tale of exploitative media and Riz Ahmed hands in a star making turn as Lou’s naïve intern Rick.
“Nightcrawler” paints an ugly picture of the news business, but it’s not simply a satire or condemnation. It’s frequently funny and there are some very tense action scenes, but at the end it is Gyllenhaal’s bold performance that stands out.
“Before I Go to Sleep,” the new Nicole Kidman movie, has a lot in common with the recent hit “Gone Girl.” Both star Academy Award winners, each feature a tall icy blonde actress in the lead role and are martial stories with an edge. The big difference between them? ”Gone Girl” is a hair-raising thriller and “Before I Go To Sleep” is not.
Based on the best-selling novel by S.J. Watson, it’s the story of Christine (Nicole Kidman), a traumatized woman who wakes up everyday with no memory. As she sleeps her mind erases itself, wiping away any new information. Her husband Ben (Colin Firth) has arranged their house as a tribute to their relationship—wedding pictures and mementoes from their life together decorate the walls—to help give her a sense of time, place and security. A neuropsychologist (Mark Strong) is secretly working with her to reassemble the shards of her memory, but as her synapsis start firing she begins to question everything about her life.
The thing that is supposed to keep us on the edge of our seats for the first hour or so of “Before I Go To Sleep” is the not knowing. Like Christine we’re never sure what is true and what is false. Of what we see how much of it is confabulation—Christine imagining the missing bits of her memory—and how much is real?
It’s the stuff of a solid thriller. “Memento,” “The Bourne Identity” and “Spellbound” have all masterfully mined similar material with more success. Director Rowan Joffe has made a stylish looking movie but allows it to get bogged down by repetition and too-tame performances. It’s a shame because the twist—and you know there has to be a twist—works well enough and there are a few tense moments in the climax but the preposterous denouement wipes away any good will the film’s exciting-ish apogee offered.