Quick Takes: Maps to the Stars, Consumed

Maps_to_the_StarsMaps to the Stars (2014)
twohalfstar

Starring Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams, Robert Pattinson, Kiara Glasco, Sarah Gadon
Directed by David Cronenberg

Maps to the Stars is definitely a better film than the disastrously bleak and boring Cosmopolis, but it’s still nowhere near as great or intriguing as most of Cronenberg’s other works. I must admit to generally disliking most films about Hollywood, though, so this one had more working against it than the average film, Cronenberg or otherwise. Mia Wasikowska delivers a great, subtle performance as our odd and mysterious lead, but in terms of story the “big reveal” and the conclusion aren’t as engaging as the character deserves. Julianne Moore stands out as well, but by this point in her career, that’s to be expected. Originally the film was to star Viggo Mortensen (in the John Cusack role) and Rachel Weisz in Moore’s place; with this knowledge, I would’ve instead loved to see Viggo and Julianne together, as I’m not much of a Cusack fan and I don’t see Weisz as being especially suited to this role. In any case, Maps to the Stars is a weird, disappointing movie, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. A few weeks ago, I read about Cronenberg having challenges funding his films these days, and honestly after the one-two punch of Cosmopolis and Maps to the Stars, I can kind of understand why the money men are hesitant. But whatever, he’s David Cronenberg! He should be allowed to make whatever he wants, y’know?

consumedConsumed (2014)
by David Cronenberg

fourstar

After recently going through all his films, I had to read Cronenberg’s debut novel. It’s a brilliant piece of work, as good as his best films, without question. A welcome return to body horror that consistently made me uncomfortable (in a good way) and had me squirming and wincing in empathetic pain. To achieve that with a film is impressive, but to do so without a single image is something else entirely! Consumed is a testament to the power of Cronenberg’s craft as a writer and a storyteller, and it in no way feels like a debut novel. It’s the work of a seasoned, visionary artist, and anyone who loves his films should check it out. Consumed is easily my favorite Cronenberg project since eXistenZ. His last couple of films weren’t great, but make no mistake: Cronenberg has definitely still got it! If you’re intrigued by a book that brings together body horror, journalism, 3D printing and cannibalism, then Consumed is for you!

Stoker (2013)

stoker_1Starring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, David Alford, Matthew Goode, Peg Allen, Lauren E. Roman, Phyllis Somerville, Harmony Korine, Lucas Till, Alden Ehrenreich, Dominick ‘Dino’ Howard, Jacki Weaver, Dermot Mulroney

Directed by Park Chan-Wook

Expectations: High. Really looking forward to this despite knowing almost nothing about it.

twohalfstar


Sometimes waiting to see a movie makes for a better experience. If I had seen Stoker when it was released in theaters, I would have liked it but I would have been missing a key component to understanding it. Fortuitously and completely unbeknownst to me, Stoker is something of a re-imagined Shadow of a Doubt, so it was quite interesting to see this one after finally seeing that film for the first time just a couple of weeks ago.

The initial premise of Stoker is similar to that of the classic Hitchcock film, but it kind of flips everything on its head. Stoker begins with the funeral of Richard Stoker, father to India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) and husband to Evelyn Stoker (Nicole Kidman). Out of the blue, Richard’s long-lost brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) returns from traveling Europe and stays with the girls to help them in their time of mourning. India has no idea that she even had an uncle, so the event is one that raises her suspicions and interest in the mysterious and fetching Uncle Charlie.

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Lawless (2012)

lawless_1Starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan, Chris McGarry, Tim Tolin, Gary Oldman, Lew Temple, Marcus Hester

Directed by John Hillcoat

Expectations: Low.

onestar


There is such a thing as “too star-studded.” I’m sure on paper Lawless looked like a sure-fire winner. With a cast like this how could it fail? Apparently, it can fail in numerous ways! It’s a shame because a lot of the production design is well-realized, and the locations look great. Director John Hillcoat’s camera often finds a nice image to linger on, the only problem is that the majority of these images aren’t artistically deep or resonant to the overall film, they’re the wide establishing shots. Lawless is the cinematic equivalent to one of my friend’s favorite Raymond Chandler lines (from the novel The High Window), “From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.”

The story that Lawless tells is apparently based on the true story of three outlaw, moonshinin’ brothers in Franklin County, Virginia. Like all outlaw stories, they start small and their business gets increasingly bigger over the course of the film. Of course, there’s a detective gunning for the brothers’ business (played by Guy Pearce), but Pearce’s guide for the character must have been Jeffrey Combs in The Frighteners because this dude is like a goddamn comic book villain. Anyway, they go back and forth throughout, and every once in a while Gary Oldman comes in to look badass.

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Mini-Review: The Kids Are All Right (2010)

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta, Eddie Hassell, Zosia Mamet, Kunal Sharma

Directed by Lisa Cholodenko

Expectations: None. This is one of those movies I’m curious about only because of hype.


The kids may be all right, but the parents need some help. When the curious kids of two lesbian mothers (Annette Bening & Julianne Moore) contact their sperm donor father, it widens the simmering rift between Bening and Moore and causes everyone involved to reevaluate. Some other stuff happens along the way too, but that’s basically it. Thankfully, The Kids Are All Right features some great, witty dialogue that livens up the entire process. The frank depictions and conversations surrounding sexuality were especially enjoyable, but your mileage may vary depending on your sensitivity to that kind of stuff.

The film is adequately filmed, but could have benefited from more two or three-person shots instead of featuring one person per shot (for no good reason) in a four-person conversation and then editing between them constantly. It wasn’t enough to completely throw me over the edge, but it did annoy. The performances from the entire cast are good, with special notices given to Mia Wasikowska, Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo. I enjoyed The Kids Are All Right but I find the heaps of praise to be somewhat unwarranted. While it’s a good, competent movie, it’s nothing overly special that is deserving of all the Best Picture awards and nominations. I think a lot of people will find the film lacking the punch required to live up to that kind of hype, and that’s really a shame, because I think the film plays well without any expectations.

Overall, The Kids Are All Right is an enjoyable film that left me satisfied, even if the ending was a bit weak. The tone stays relatively light throughout, allowing the comedy and the drama to coexist well, making for a unique film that is sure to please many.

Mini-Review: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas

Directed by Tim Burton

Expectations: Extremely low.


I normally would have avoided this but for some unexplained reason I decided to give it a go. I’m a fan of the original Alice story and I was curious to see how Tim Burton would film it, but the ridiculous amount of CG told me to steer clear. Burton’s later work for me has been fairly hit or miss, so I didn’t go into this with any expectations that I would enjoy this at any meaningful level. Like many things that your intuition tells you to avoid, Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is definitely one to go into treading lightly.

I was intrigued quite a bit by the opening 40 minutes or so. It was paced well and it was interesting to see how the older Alice reacted to the various things in Wonderland. The CG work is actually pretty good and lends the film an animated quality. That’s not to say that it isn’t excessive though. Virtually everything in the film is CG, including the horses that characters ride upon. Surprisingly the computer imagery is not my main beef with the film though. It’s Burton’s complete lack of emotion or energy with this film. If there’s ever been a guy that needs to take a few years off and reconnect with his passion, it’s Burton and this should be Exhibit A. It’s lifeless and the plethora of CG doesn’t help. No thanks.

Oh, and it has what is probably Danny Elfman’s most tired, boring, passionless score as well. Maybe they were going for passionless as a motif?

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