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  Maps to the Stars Celebrity Skinned
Year: 2014
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams, Robert Pattinson, Kiara Glasco, Sarah Gadon, Dawn Greenhalgh, Jonathan Watton, Jennifer Gibson, Gord Rand, Justin Kelly, Niamh Wilson, Clara Pasieka, Emilia McCarthy, Carrie Fisher
Genre: Horror, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) takes the cross country overnight bus from Florida to Los Angeles because she has a plan in mind - she's going to make it big in Hollywood, even if she doesn't quite have her schemes all figured out yet. On arrival in the morning, she has what she hoped was a limousine awaiting her, but it doesn't quite work out that way, though she does have a car waiting driven by a chauffeur, Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson). Meanwhile, child star Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird) has recently emerged from rehab, and is coming up for ninety days sober which is the cue for the producers of his Bad Babysitter movies to sniff around again to see if he's available to rejoin the franchise. The Weiss family have significance in Hollywood, you see...

But they're about to become a whole lot more significant in one of director David Cronenberg's divisive late period movies, which some regarded as a satire, and a failed one at that. Here he was adapting a screenplay by frequent, scathing Hollywood commentator Bruce Wagner, a man who knew his way around some pretty out there personalities, but neither man claimed to be sending up the community of the business they call show in Los Angeles. What they were doing was something more akin to the wallows in the price of fame and success that became popular as subject matter, if not at the box office, during the nineteen-sixties, works like Valley of the Dolls or The Oscar, which supposedly offered an insight into the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

When it was really as prurient as it was able to get, a salaciousness when it came to the downside of celebrity that was constantly undercut by Cronenberg's calm, bugs under the microscope approach to his material. For many this was stilted and unreal, but perhaps that was precisely the point as the incestuously intertwined, at times literally, relationships proved more of a case study of maladjustment and psychosis as their craft is bastardised than the ripsnorting ride that Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls had been, yet they ended up at pretty much the same point: mania and murder and utter destruction of the self. What this was not was camp, not that there were no casual attempts to shock nervous giggles out of the audience, but you couldn't describe it as out and out comedic, unintentionally or otherwise.

It was the Weiss family who proved the fulcrum for the mayhem, corrupting a society that is already morally corroded to the extent that any creative impulse is perverted into miserable failure, or meddling by the hopelessly imaginatively bankrupt, leaving the real dreamers as vile and dangerous entities who if they don't resort to physical violence, the emotional kind will do just as well. What they share is a common sense of unawareness of their deep flaws, blaming others for their weaknesses until they are so damning they cannot be ignored, and thus that severe mental aberration is the result. Although the cast were not playing real people, the namedropping script - which went as far as dropping an actual Carrie Fisher into the plot, if briefly - made it apparent we were intended to regard this as the Hollywood mindset they'd rather gloss over.

This led many to observe, hey, we know these showbiz types are messed up by the pressure of fame to some degree or another, tell us something we don't know, which seemed to be missing the point as that was where the plot started, then clinically saw how far it could take such a thread. Julianne Moore as Havana should have been the most delusional as she tries to recreate her long dead mother's breakthrough role in a remake, but here she's simply part of the tapestry of crazy, not that Moore did anything but set about the part with teeth savagely bared. When we find out what Agatha is really doing there, the constricting bonds of the situation indicated Cronenberg was doing what his fans from before had wanted him to do for years: return to horror. This wasn't a blatant chiller until the very last act, but the structure of a psychological stomach churner was in place from the first, and the trail of bodies we were left with could only have been delivered by a talent well aware of the power of a sick jolt, such as Cronenberg was all too adept at. Music by Howard Shore.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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David Cronenberg  (1943 - )

Highly regarded Canadian writer/director who frequently combines intellectual concerns with genre subjects. Began directing in the late-70s with a series of gruesome but socially aware horror thrillers, such as Shivers, Rabid and The Brood. 1981's Scanners was Cronenberg's commercial breakthrough, and if the hallucinatory Videodrome was box office flop, it remains one of the finest films of his career. The sombre Stephen King adaptation The Dead Zone and the hugely successful remake of The Fly followed.

The disturbing Dead Ringers (1988) was a watershed film, based for the first time entirely in reality and featuring a career-best performance from Jeremy Irons. The 1990s saw Cronenberg in uncompromising form, adapting a pair of "unfilmable" modern classics - Burrough's Naked Lunch and Ballard's Crash - in typically idiosyncratic style. M. Butterfly was something of a misfire, but eXistenZ surprised many by being fast-moving and funny, while 2002's powerful Spider saw Cronenberg at his most art-house.

His later films were the acclaimed, bloody comic book adaptation A History of Violence, London-set thriller Eastern Promises, an examination of the sources of psychotherapy in A Dangerous Method, drama in a day Cosmopolis and Tinseltown takedown Maps to the Stars. Never one to bow to critical or popular demands, Cronenberg remains one of modern cinema's finest filmmakers.

 
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