06/17/15 10:00am
06/17/2015 10:00 AM |


The Catalogue (2004)
Directed by Chris Oakley
The Magic Lantern Cinema series program “Masses and Swarms” contains eleven short, crowd-themed film and video works. Oakley’s video piece is set in a shopping mall where surveillance systems scan and classify visitors according to color-coded consumer profiles. “I wanted the piece to operate as a mild science fiction, a screen recording of an as-yet-unrealized system,” Oakley writes by e-mail. “I’d been interested in surveillance for more than a decade before RFID (radio-frequency identification) tagging became a reality. I initially hoped to use real CCTV images from malls, but after finding them impossible to obtain I decided to shoot my own at the Bull Ring development in Birmingham, which was then Britain’s newest and largest urban shopping center. The screen overlays, suggesting a system in which tracking of individuals has converged with a database, were created and composited over a subsequent three-month period. I had always seen the relationship between retailers and customers as essentially hunter/prey, and at that time felt it had gained an even more sinister edge. Interest in The Catalogue never seems to have waned, even as our relationship with privacy has changed immensely.” Aaron Cutler (June 19, 7:30pm at UnionDocs as part of the program “Magic Lantern Presents: Masses and Swarms”)

02/25/15 9:31am
02/25/2015 9:31 AM |
photo courtesy of Focus World

Maps to the Stars
Directed by David Cronenberg
Opens February 27

A rigorously sleazy Hollywood ghost story, David Cronenberg’s latest feature is his first to be entirely shot on American soil. Maybe Cronenberg felt he needed to feel the ground beneath his feet for his portrayal of Hollywood as everlasting site of perpetual desecration—from the cash-in remake that Aging Actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) wants to star in as an homage to her career/mother, to the Greek-grade mythology and Jacobean bloodshed of the Weiss family (vile child star Benjie, manipulative estranged sister Agatha, dad the celebrity therapist, and stage mom), to the bodies treated as punching bags or enjoyed for vindictive sexual pleasures. We access Hollywood, in other words, through the poison-pen hyperbole of novelist Bruce Wagner (Dead Stars) and a Canadian auteur channeling spirits through new flesh.

The scatologically candid, kind of whiny Havana is angling for a new role, pulling every favor and sleeve she can to get back in the mix, and her stars cross with the Weisses when she takes on Agatha (Mia Wasikowska, in long black protective gloves like a dark parody of elegance) as a personal assistant. Agatha in turn is pathologically working her way back to her parents and Benjie (now shooting a new film with an upstaging sidekick); she’s returned from some form of recovery center for severe mental disturbances, not to mention burns from arson. Robert Pattinson—maybe a role or two late for this to have quite the same effect as his isolation-chamber turn in Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis—plays a limo driver and aspiring actor-screenwriter who is another connection between Havana and Agatha (and is very good at playing the bystander amused by the self-absorbed).

Maps to the Stars has not garnered a broad critical following since its premiere at Cannes last spring, apparently leaving longtime cynics about Hollywood’s Babylon unimpressed. It’s true that the race to depict the entertainment capital’s diseased soul began long ago, and coincidentally many movies tapping into its demonic mystique came from directors working from an outsider status in one form or another: David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire, Robert Altman’s The Player, all the way back to Robert Aldrich’s The Legend of Lylah Clare and beyond. Cronenberg’s vision of the comeback as haunted revenge tragedy may not be entirely novel, but, as with Cosmopolis, he sustains a queasy mood that slowly permeates the vulnerable physicality of his characters, whilst an undercurrent of dread builds. Ringing out over the proceedings is a clutch of devotional lines, recited and heard repeatedly, an emo prayer before dying.

The helpless tragic momentum and black-mass obscurity of Cronenberg and Wagner’s mythology carry the film through to its promised end, studded with some serviceably twisted barbs. The vaguely dated timelessness of Cronenberg’s sleek look and feel (Twitter plot device notwithstanding) suits that schema, much as it did with Cosmopolis and eXistenZ. And far from being a satirical funhouse mirror to Hollywood’s own funhouse mirror, the filmmaker ends not with horror at destruction, but very nearly a sense of atavistic wonder.

01/21/15 11:00am
01/21/2015 11:00 AM |


eXistenZ (1999)
Directed by David Cronenberg
Staging an interdisciplinary war between the Realists and the gamers, Cronenberg is at his finest here since Videodrome, coalescing the hypersexual, the grotesque, and the visceral. Jennifer Jason Leigh is Allegra Gellar, a designer-on-the-run, and Jude Law is Ted Pikul, her cagey bodyguard—who just happens to be one of the few people without a MetaFlesh Game Pod, which hooks directly into your nervous system. Ted gives in, plugs in, and is empirically thrust into the game—an amniotic sac pulsating with absurdist hyperreality. Cronenberg’s characters are aware of their own characterhoods; it’s a collaborative reality. The game-urges and the effect of virtual life on our real lives are so cleverly simulated and boundlessly relevant nearly two decades later. Samantha Vacca (Jan 23, 24, midnight at IFC Center’s Cronenberg series)

12/17/14 12:00pm
12/17/2014 12:00 PM |


Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick’s swan song is one of those films that, when watched under the right circumstances, gives one the distinct impression of still being in its world after it has ended. Accordingly, this tale of troubled marriage and creepy sex cults is being shown as part of a lineup of holiday films. To watch it is to revel in its uncanny, blue-tinged, intentionally faux New York atmosphere. Combine that with the excellent performances from Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman—whose celebrity statuses only heighten the onscreen stakes as they embody a chilly, patrician couple—and when you step out of the theater, the holiday lights in the streets are sure to look a little more mysterious.
Abbey Bender (Dec 17, 18, 9:40pm at IFC Center’s “Rated XMas”, on 35mm)