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.

02/06/15 9:00am
02/06/2015 9:00 AM |
No, we meant two *different* silly movies with this year's Oscar nominees. The L regrets the error.

It’s boondoggle wars at the multiplex this weekend, with not one but two much-delayed mega-budget fantasies scrapping it out for near-identical audiences. I’m not sure whether Warner Brothers opening Jupiter Ascending on the same day as Universal’s Seventh Son counts as spectacular self-sabotage or naked aggression—and, if so, on whose side. Seventh Son was once property of Warner Brothers; it went (or was foisted upon) Universal during WB’s split with Legendary Pictures, and now here it is, ready to fight for scraps. Jupiter at least has the Wachowski advantage for nerd auteurists; Seventh Son is directed by Sergei Bodrov, a Russian director mostly unknown in this country apart from his little-seen Genghis Khan movie Mongol [hahahaha “apart from” -Ed.]. He’s the latest director unproven in the U.S. studio system given big money on his first attempt in that arena; I’d say studios are forever hoping one of these guys becomes the next Wachowskis, but at this point studios are forever hoping the Wachowskis become the next Wachowskis, instead of the brilliant oddballs who made the phantasmagorical Speed Racer and the wildly ambitious Cloud Atlas.


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)

01/16/15 11:45am
01/16/2015 11:45 AM |
The L Magazine can exclusively reveal that, when Julianne Moore wins an Oscar for playing an average woman destroyed by a rare and mysterious illness, she plans to deliver her acceptance speech in the Carol White voice.

Good leading roles for women in movies, especially movies high-profile enough to get Oscar attention, have been hard to come by for years, maybe even decades at this point. But the problem has reached a particular nadir around this year’s Best Actress campaigning. Two of the biggest contenders, including a supposed frontrunner, feel less like actual movies than elaborate shell games built around famous faces. Both Still Alice, with Julianne Moore, and Cake, with Jennifer Aniston, are 2014 releases in name only, festival pick-ups that received minimum qualifying theatrical runs in 2014 (Alice even snuck into Manhattan for a week) before treating back into their hiding spots with dubious awards buzz in their wake. They’ve re-emerged in January (Still Alice out this weekend, Cake next), ready for their close-up, which Alice has received in the form of an Oscar nomination for Moore; Cake was not so lucky. Moreover, though: Who, a month ago, had actually seen Still Alice or Cake? I’m not just talking about the general public, but even film critics and other assorted media snobs. More have seen both movies now, though anecdotal evidence suggests the films, particularly Cake (which hasn’t even screened for the press in some cities), are not particularly easy to come by, considering how many awards movies bend over backwards to get seen by mid-December. They come off more like rumors of films: awards buzz that have taken on the ghostly shape of movies.