29 January 2015

Blu-ray Review - Maps to the Stars (2014)

Drama, Dark Humour
Entertainment One Uk
David Cronenberg
Mia Wasikowska, Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Evan Bird
Buy:Maps To The Stars [Blu-ray] [2014]

Maps to the Stars is the latest film by Canadian maestro David Cronenberg and it happens to be one of the finest films of his long and illustrious career. It is a much more accessible film after the brilliant, but deliberately alienating and experimental Cosmopolis. It’s also the latest in a line of great statements on the Hollywood experience made by outsiders, and happens to be the first film he has made partly shot in the US.

Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in LA by bus and hires wannabe actor-turned-limo-driver Jerome, (Robert Pattinson) and together they go to the old house of child star Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird). Benjie’s father is the TV faith  healer Stafford (John Cusack) who is treating the ageing screen actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore). Havana is the daughter of an old film starlet who died under mysterious circumstances, and she wants to star in a remake of one of her mother’s old films. Everyone is connected and incest is involved in more ways than one.

Bruce Wagner, who is best known for his absolutely savage depictions of Hollywood (and this is no exception) has written the script. There are more great lines in the film’s 111 minute running time than a number of films that came out in 2014 combined. It has an air of pure savagery - that is so rare in not only Hollywood cinema, but also the independent realm - which is very refreshing, and just perfectly stabs a much deserved dagger right into the heart of Hollywood. It’s no wonder Wagner also wrote the savage, romantic satire on Scientology, mini-series Wild Palms, again set in LA.

The stand out performance everyone is talking about is Julianne Moore’s as Havana Segrand and deservingly so. She has rarely been better, and certainly not this wild and twisted. She perfectly captures the vanity of Hollywood, but also she has this pain, and nobody can quite get to the levels of screaming that she does in this. Despite all the screen chewing (in a good way), she grounds it with just enough humanity to make her character sympathetic at times. She got a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination, but shamefully got snubbed at the Oscars, however she did win the Best Actress at Cannes, so it just goes to show that the Oscars aren't the be all and end all. Her victory lap singing Bananarama’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” has to be seen to believed.

Despite Julianne Moore’s towering performance, much should be said for the other performances from the main cast. John Cusack hasn't been this good in a long time, and hopefully with this and the upcoming Brian Wilson biopic, we might have a Cusackaissance after lots of work in direct to DVD films. Mia Wasikowska has a slightly skewed quality that perfectly fits her role. She has a had an impressive year with this, The Double, and the much celebrated Tracks, and again proves she is one of the most impressive young actresses around. Robert Pattinson proves again, like in Cosmopolis, that he is much more than just the guy from Twilight. Olivia Williams plays Cusack’s wife Cristina, and is just as wicked and twisted as everyone else. Carrie Fisher also shows up as herself.

Cronenberg, despite being old enough to be my grandfather, is one of the most exciting and unexpected directors on the planet. He has never made a film as long as 2 hours (despite coming close many times), and is in a career in it’s 6th decade. He may have moved on from the body horror of his early films, but the horror has now become internal. The cinematography by frequent collaborator Peter Suschitzky is as gorgeous and graceful as expected from him.

Maps to the Stars is practically a flawless satire on the Hollywood Dream and the death of it. The only flaw comes at the end with some dodgy CGI fire, but everything else is done so perfectly executed an excuse can’t be made in this case. Not since David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive has there been a film that nails Hollywood so perfectly. If you don’t trust my opinion, John Waters named it as his film of 2014.


Ian Schultz

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