Cronenberg’s new Film “Maps To The Stars” is a Poison Pen Letter to Hollywood.

Maps To The Stars.

Maps To The Stars.

David Cronenberg’s new film Maps To The Stars arrives here from this year’s Cannes Film Festival where it was screened in May. Most of the famous satires on Hollywood are secretly in awe of the place. The Player, The Bad and the Beautiful, even Sunset Boulevard (all reviewed earlier here) have an underlying warmth and exhibit a shy love love view of Hollywood. Not this one.

Julianne Moore plays an actress who’s seen better days and has never really come to terms with the death of the mother who brought her up so disastrously. She takes on Mia Wasikowska as her personal assistant. Her estranged mother and father are a famous power couple overseeing the meteoric career of her 13 year old brother.

James Spader in Crash.

James Spader in Crash.

There’s a strong sense of impending doom and Greek tragedy to the film, suggesting the Oresteia. And the air of nemesis, hubris and inevitable retribution hang heavy throughout. All the cast are excellent, and it’s easy to see how Moore won the Best Actress Award at Cannes. But it’s equally easy to see why the film failed to win any of the main prizes.

Robert Pattinson and Sarah Gadon return from Cosmopolis for Cronenberg's new film.

Robert Pattinson and Sarah Gadon return from Cosmopolis for Cronenberg’s new film.

Yes it’s extraordinarily caustic, and unremittingly bleak (and often very funny) about the sorts of lives that those who inhabit Hollywood live. And, it has to be said, all too believably so. But more than that, there’s a clinical coldness to the film’s final quarter. Unlike Crash, which gives an equally dystopian overview of the modern world, Maps To The Stars sinks to its conclusion instead of rising to an emotional crescendo. Its spirit is Apollonian rather than Dionysian, and it ends up being a film that you greatly admire instead of being one that you’re devastated by.

Nonetheless, together with the recent Cosmopolis (reviewed earlier here) it’s another impressive addition to Cronenberg’s august back catalogue. And he continues to be one the very few serious film makers around. You can see the trailer to Maps To The Stars here.

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The Genuinely Enigmatic film “Upstream Color”.

Shane Carruth and Amy in "Upstream Color".

Shane Carruth and Amy Seinmetz in “Upstream Color”.

When talking about his 1987 film Wings Of Desire, Wim Wenders said there are two types of films. Those that say this is what I am, be it a thriller, a love story, or a romantic comedy. And then there are those that ask you, what am I?

Few films fit quite so comfortably into that second category as Shane Carruth’s latest feature, Upstream Color. This is the follow up to his 2004 debut Primer, which was interesting, but very much a first film calling-card. This is a significantly more substantial affair. So what is it?

Amy Steinmetz in Upstream Color.

Amy Steinmetz in Upstream Color.

Well, it’s clearly some class of a love story. But the two leads, played by Carruth himself and the impressive Amy Seinmetz seem to inhabit some sort of a contemporary dystopia, where nefarious individuals are harvesting mutant maggots.

Against which though, there seems to be some sort of benign individual shadowing the victims to administer a cure, in much the same way that the angels glide through the aforementioned Wings Of Desire offering succour.

Bruno Ganz in Wenders' "Wings Of Desire".

Bruno Ganz in Wenders’ “Wings Of Desire”.

But Carruth is clearly at least as interested in visual and sonic juxtapositions and the connections and moods they produce, as he is in narrative coherence or intellectual clarity. Remarkably, and very unusually, this doesn’t detract– at least as yet – from the experience of watching his films.

Steven Soderbergh has said of him that,

“I view David as the illegitimate offspring of David Lynch and James Cameron.”

But the loudest cinematic echoes evoke David Cronenberg (whose under-rated Cosmopolis I review earlier here). If Cronenberg had taken acid and had somehow managed to make an entire feature film that night, this is what it would look and feel like.

Cold, unquestionably, at times creepy, and at others somewhat anaemic. But constantly interesting and endlessly fascinating. This is that rare thing, a genuinely enigmatic film. And Carrruth is one of the very few serious film makers working today.

See the trailer to Upstream Color here.

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Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis” Unfairly Overlooked.

cosmopolis.limosceneLast year’s David Cronenberg film, Cosmopolis, seems to have passed most people by. Which is a shame, because it’s got an awful lot going for it.

Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel, on which it is based, certainly seems in retrospect to have been remarkably prescient. It follows an obscenely rich and impossibly young trader, played by Twilight heart-throb Robert Pattinson, who spends a day in his limo as the financial world around him implodes and his fortune evaporates into thin air.

All the time, and all around him, hordes of anti-capitalist Occupy-type ne’er-do-wells stalk the streets. But far from panic, or even react to any of this, Pattinson drifts aimlessly from hour to hour in a state of existential ennui.

The novel came out in 2003. And although DeLillo had actually already written the bulk of it before September 11th and the dot com crash of 2001, it certainly feels like it’s a reaction to the impending sense of doom and Armageddon that came in the aftermath. Given what happened to the financial world in the decade that followed, it all looks remarkably relevant and feels surprisingly fresh.

CrashAll of this of course is classic Cronenberg terrain. Since calming down from his earlier blood and gore fixations, Cronenberg has developed into one of the most consistently interesting and thought-provoking film makers working today.

Films like eXistenZ (1999), Spider (2002) and even the apparently conventional Freud and Jung biopic A Dangerous Method (2011) all explore questions of our place in the world, and examine notions of appearance versus reality.

But it’s the superb and criminally overlooked Crash (1996) that Cosmopolis most closely mirrors. It falls midway between that and Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, as our hero descends on a Stygian journey into urban alienation and existential angst. Where everything is surface, and life has lost all meaning.

robert-pattinson-as-eric-packer-in-cosmopolis_sarah_gadenPattinson is impressive now that he’s been given something grown-up to do. And his American accent is considerably better than to ought to be, if the attempts of any of this compatriots are anything to go by. Apart of course from  Hugh Laurie’s, which is obviously a deliciously wicked joke at the expense of all of his American viewers.

The supporting cast of Paul Giamatti, Juliet Binoche and the porcelain Sarah Gadon as his even more diffident wife are all flawless. And all look palpably relieved to find themselves in something made for people of a double digit age and with a triple digit IQ.

You can see the trailer for it here.

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