Talking Movies

October 17, 2014

Northern Soul

Northern-Soul-5_LARGE

Acclaimed photographer Elaine Constantine makes an assured cinematic debut with a tale of two teenagers in the Northern Soul scene.

John (Elliot James Langridge) is a shy teenager in a dismal Lancashire town in economically depressed and culturally depressing 1974. He’s happy writing poetry, and spending time with his beloved Grandad (Ricky Tomlinson), but his mother (Lisa Stansfield!) is insistent that he should get out more. Dad (Christian McKay) doesn’t really want to get drawn into any strife… John unwillingly goes to the local youth club, only to be dazzled by the dance moves that Matt (Josh Whitehouse) performs to the unusual soundtrack of Edwin Starr’s Time. Impulsively saving Matt from a beating John pretends he knows what Northern Soul is to spend more time with this charismatic outsider. Pretty soon John knows Northern Soul inside out, is going to amphetamine-fuelled Wigan Casino dances, and plotting a trip to America with Matt to ransack obscure vinyl for their DJ gigs.

Northern Soul is a familiar type of story told against an unusual backdrop. Matt is the dazzlingly charismatic hero who brings the diffident observer John out of his shell to the point that he stands up to abrasive teacher Mr Banks (Steve Coogan), winks at his crush Angela (Antonia Thomas) on the bus instead of pining away, and thinks nothing of popping the endless supply of pills that cockney Sean (Jack Gordon) thinks necessary for their Wigan nights. But the backdrop is something we’ve not seen before. Ray Henderson (James Lance) the Wigan DJ has enormous street-cred for his ‘cover-up’; a stonking tune that he refuses to reveal the identity of to his listeners; and the quest to unmask the cover-up fuels the rise of John as a DJ. Indeed he’s obviously a better DJ than the foul-mouthed graceless Matt.

Writer/director Elaine Constantine makes Northern Soul look fantastic for its budget, especially the long sweep over the dancers when we see the Wigan Casino bacchanalia for the first time. She also makes excellent use of a limited amount of classic Northern Soul music by playing out the songs in full over lengthy montages. At the same time she draws excellent performances from the actors. Gordon is on fire as the rambunctious Sean, Whitehouse is instantly attractive as rebellious Matt, and Langridge makes John’s transformation completely believable. Ultimately Northern Soul becomes a bromance, as Angela isn’t nearly as important, or worth a grand rom-com gesture, as Matt. Henderson pushes John away from Matt by insisting that Matt holds him back as a DJ, and Sean blames Matt’s big mouth for unwanted narc attention, leading to some unexpected suspense before the finale.

The story is just a bit familiar, but it’s told with such avowed sincerity that Northern Soul might just be a very belated Quadrophenia for the Northern Soul set.

3.5/5

October 15, 2014

’71 – 7 Dispatches

8510367_orig

1. Holmes

Belfast native David Holmes has composed the grooving soundtrack for a lot of good films with an eye for suspense and action, being Steven Soderbergh’s go-to-guy. But I don’t think he’s done 1970s synth menace before, and when he unleashes it in the third act to long takes and tracking shots of people stalking the endless concourses in The Divis block of flats it ratchets up the tension.

2. Scott

I love it when actors play the extremes of their range in a single year, and Killian Scott does it here. Scott had the funniest scenes in Calvary as misfit Milo, convinced that being homicidal would be a plus for the army – ‘like an engineering degree’. As the ruthless emerging IRA leader Quinn in ’71 he seems older, tougher, and even almost taller so complete is the transformation.

3. Dredd/Dread

’71 is so unpredictable that you don’t expect Chekhov’s rifles. And yet one pops up. “You can use the Divis as an orientation point, but don’t go inside the flats. It’s an IRA stronghold” the soldiers are told at their briefing. So of course Gary wakes up to find himself on one the top floors of The Divis, with the IRA coming up, and guarding all possible exits…

4. In-Country

“You know where Belfast is, right? Northern Ireland. United Kingdom. Same country. You’re not leaving the country” the deploying soldiers are informed. Well… they kind of are. Gary’s complete bafflement at the sectarian madness that greets him in Belfast almost satirises Thatcher’s infamous contention that Northern Ireland was just as British as Finchley. This isn’t so much not leaving the country, as going in-country in the Vietnam sense…

5. Football/Religion

One of the funny moments of the film comes when Jack O’Connell’s protagonist has his named parsed: Gary Hook, obviously Protestant. Just to confirm he’s not a Taig, he’s asked by his foul-mouthed child protector if he is a Protestant. “Uh, I dunno.” “You don’t know?! Now I’ve heard everything.” Later he demurs any possible Nottingham connection, “Darbyshire and Nottingham don’t really get on.” “Why?” “Don’t know really.”

6. Collusion

’71 initially surprises by using the Troubles almost as an incidental backdrop for an urban survival thriller. But then it really surprises in its acknowledgement of the North’s Dirty War. British military intelligence officers are depicted both training loyalists in bomb-making, and talking to leaders of the IRA. ’71 just takes it for granted that this is what happened, something which would outrage Daily Mail blowhard Peter Hitchens.

7. Reed

Black Watch playwright Gregory Burke and TV director Yann Demange (Dead Set, Criminal Justice) make an arresting cinematic debut with this movie – tense, sharply scripted, and directed with disorienting and dazzling flair. And praise doesn’t come much higher than saying it reminded me of another film about a wounded man in Belfast falling in with people with agendas of their own – Carol Reed’s 1947 classic Odd Man Out.

October 8, 2014

Spinning

SPINNING-DTFestival

Karl Shiels, Fiona Bell, Caitriona Ennis and Janet Moran are the weighty cast in Fishamble’s contribution to the Dublin Theatre Festival; a meditation on grief.

Conor (Shiels) arrives unannounced in an unnamed small town and heads for the seaside cafe run by Susan (Bell), who nearly collapses from shock – as he is the man responsible for the death of her teenage daughter Annie (Caitriona Ennis) some years before. Conor has just been released from prison for his role in her death, and has come to return Annie’s locket; and to try and explain what happened. Flashbacks that disrupt their confrontation help the audience piece together the closeness of Susan and Annie, and the courtship, marriage and divorce of Conor and Jen (Janet Moran). As more and more pieces of the puzzle are thrown at us the imminence and inevitability of tragedy weighs down on us; leading to a merciful lie and perhaps a suicide after that redemptive gesture – perhaps not; the crashing waves are ambiguous.

Sabine Dargent’s set impressionistically creates a seaside cafe with table and chairs on a raised platform; but for all other scenes the audience has to do the heavy lifting. Jim Culleton’s direction focuses attention on the great actors, but they’re not miracle workers. Deirdre Kinahan has crafted an intelligent structure, but unlike Our Few and Evil Days she hasn’t filled the structure with any surprising content. Susan and Annie’s close relationship is uncomfortably akin to Gilmore Girls, down to the decent absent father having proposed marriage and been rejected before fleeing; in this case to Melbourne. Annie is a less adorable and smart version of Rory Gilmore; and her plea that they should move to Melbourne because “Our life here is totally crap!” is unintentionally funny; even though Ennis essays a spirited teenager and Bell adeptly alternates tender with traumatised.

Spinning is so rife with cliché that it doesn’t reprise Kramer Vs Kramer or Blue Valentine so much as it descends to the level of soap opera. Moran is awful because she’s given a shrill social-climbing cipher to play. The pantomime ‘oooh!’ reaction of the audience to Conor’s “I let you go back to work” was particularly depressing. Jen insists they pay for a crèche rather than let Conor’s mother babysit, she volubly disparages his family business before happily snaffling up money and house derived from it, and full custody of daughter Kate to boot (odd that people still seriously talk about patriarchy when such sexism is legally enshrined by the courts daily isn’t it?). But all this was seemingly outweighed in the audience’s estimation by Conor’s line, even though she went back to work late hours with her ex-boyfriend.

Spinning is only 75 minutes long, yet I found myself almost checking a phantom wristwatch from its first scene; it was that quickly obvious that this wasn’t top drawer.

1/5

Spinning continues its run at Smock Alley until the 12th of October.

October 7, 2014

Bailegangaire

bailegangaire

DruidMurphy returns to the Dublin Theatre Festival with an enthralling revival of Tom Murphy’s 1985 play of storytelling and crisis.

The ailing elderly Mommo (Marie Mullen) lies propped up against the pillows in her bed, which is in the middle of the kitchen of a small house. She is nursed by her granddaughter Mary (Catherine Walsh), who gets little thanks for her ministrations; Mommo does not recognise her, and treats her as a servant. Mommo’s mind is instead in the past, telling the same story every night, a story she never finishes; about how the town of Bochtan became known as Bailegangaire, and why no one there over the age of reason ever laughs. Mary is driven to distraction by this, and when her abrasive sister Dolly (Aisling O’Sullivan) arrives on her motorbike, they fight over Mary’s responsibilities towards Mommo, and Dolly’s abusive husband Stephen, until Dolly becomes oddly determined to make Mommo finally tell her story to its conclusion.

I wasn’t familiar with Bailegangaire, and so found the first act rather disorienting. Mommo’s continually interrupted story about Bochtan’s finest laugher and the challenge of a stranger at the fair that he had a better laugh was exceedingly hard to keep track of, but in the second act as Mommo is driven by Mary to finish the story and as Rick Fisher’s lights single in on Mommo it becomes quite mesmerising as the laughing competition is relayed; with its outcome told before its conduct in a charmingly perverse move. Bailegangaire is also quite scabrous. Mommo uses a bedpan at length, Dolly roars off on her motorbike for a quickie with her lover, and Murphy gifts Dolly, Mary, and Mommo a fair quota of earthy insults. Mullen alternates nicely between demanding requests, shy requests, and malicious moments in her challenging role.

But despite the monologist storytelling by Mommo, this is very much a three-hander. Walsh makes viscerally evident Mary’s despair; she needs to escape but she can’t escape because the conditions which create the need also prevent its execution – her crippling familial duty to care for the oblivious Mommo. O’Sullivan is on fine form as the swaggering but damaged Dolly, but her accent overplayed hoarse Whesth of Ireland. Francis O’Connor’s impeccably realist set disappears into darkness at roof level, and Gregory Clarke’s sound design renders passing cars practically just past its wall, but director Garry Hynes is focused on the performances. Murphy’s play has a Beckettian quality, with its narration that has to be continually forlornly attempted, but it’s rooted firmly in the 1980s; yet its zeitgeist undercurrents of new technology and crises with multinationals seem to collapse that thirty-year gap.

My fellow academics Graham Price and Tom Walker, both previously mentioned in dispatches here, dubbed Bailegangaire Happy Days as Irish kitchen sink drama’. I’m not about to disagree, Murphy’s unexpectedly redemptive storytelling is towering.

4/5

October 6, 2014

Our Few and Evil Days

unnamed

Ciaran Hinds and Sinead Cusack, so successful in Juno and the Paycock back in 2011, reunite as a more contemporary but equally troubled married couple; whose headstrong daughter brings home an equally superficially attractive paramour.

Michael (Hinds) and Margaret (Cusack) are a loving couple in a Dublin suburb who no longer share a bedroom. The wordless opening of both acts sees Michael come downstairs to wake her up, and then put away mattress and pillows and switch the pull-out bed back to a sofa while she dresses upstairs. Yet their obvious devotion to each other is noticed and commented on by unexpected visitor Dennis (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), who has been placed in the awkward position of meeting the parents solo by Adele (Charlie Murphy) running off to help her friend Belinda thru yet another crisis. Dennis inevitably makes a faux pas, about Adele’s absent brother, Jonathan; something teased out, along with Belinda’s crises, when Adele arrives for a very late dinner. But when Adele leaves again Dennis is convinced to stay over by Michael, and so when Dennis gets up for a drink of water he falls over Margaret; and their conversation about Jonathan becomes… disturbing.

Our Few and Evil Days is hard to review without ruining the effect of Mark O’Rowe’s mischievous structure. My lead-in was mischievous in mentioning O’Casey, because this is clearly in the vein of two other playwrights. The interrupting and sharply back and forth dialogue owes a debt to David Mamet, and the stellar cast, once they’ve warmed up to it (almost), embrace its rhythms with gusto. Meanwhile Harold Pinter’s comedy of menace rumbles under the attempts of naively nice guy Dennis to make a good impression. As director O’Rowe is also mischievous, casting Ian-Lloyd Anderson against type as Belinda’s abusive boyfriend Gary, by muting the physical menace he displayed in Major Barbara and instead playing up epic self-pity. This is a solidly middle-class setting courtesy of Paul Wills’ fully functioning set; with stairs behind the glass doors from the sitting room to the hall, a laundry area behind the kitchen, and a working sink (the final pre-Irish Water set design?).

Unfortunately such an impressive deeply layered set necessitates the removal of the first four rows of seats, so row E gets pasted up against the stage; and during Dennis and Margaret’s pivotal scene sitting at the kitchen table you are listening to a table emote because you can’t see Margaret’s face at all… O’Rowe’s play comprises three scenes either side of the interval; but where uncomfortable comedy dominates the first act, Freudian nightmares, shouting matches, and pop-analysis dominate the second. This gives the impression by the end that some characters have merely acted as plot devices to push the most important characters into dramatic screaming matches, and that much of the comedy has been a red herring. This doesn’t really matter though when actors of the calibre of Hinds, Cusack, Murphy and Vaughan-Lawlor are giving it their all. Vaughan-Lawlor clearly relishes playing against ‘Nidge’, Cusack is endearingly earthy, Hinds is sympathetically conflicted, and Murphy impressively alternates between wounded and wounding.

O’Rowe’s script has a fearful symmetry, great comedy, and touches on true darkness, but is perhaps a bit too full of misdirection. It’s possible to see future productions simply fall apart with lesser actors.

4/5

Our Few and Evil Days continues its run at the Abbey until the 25th of October.

October 2, 2014

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn streamlines her twisting novel for David Fincher who turns into a 2 ½ hour thriller so utterly absorbing that it simply flies by.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) owns a bar in Carthage, Missouri with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon). Except, he doesn’t really own it – it’s in his wife’s name. In fact pretty much everything is in the name of trust-fund Amy (Rosamund Pike). So when Amy goes missing on their 5th wedding anniversary, Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) find it hard not to suspect Nick of murdering her. Nick maintains that NYC girl Amy had no friends in his hometown, seemingly unaware that shrill Noelle (Casey Wilson) was BFFs with Amy; and has photos to prove it. Nick seems distant with Amy’s peculiar writer parents Rand (David Clennon) and Marybeth (Lisa Banes), and his affair with the much younger Andie (Emily Ratajkowski) only copper-fastens his guilt; as proclaimed by cable anchor Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle).

Gone Girl is like those Ira Levin novels Stephen King praised where there wasn’t a twist at the end, more a pivot in the middle, which made it hard to discuss without ruining. Flynn’s screenplay simplifies her novel without losing its punch, indeed her streamlining improves on its latter meandering. Fincher, particularly in staging parallel reactions to a crucial TV interview, brings out black comedy that isn’t as readily apparent in the book; making this a satire on trial by media. When Amy’s traditional anniversary treasure hunt leads to incriminating evidence Nick as much as confirms his guilt by hiring legendary defence counsel, Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry). And comedian Perry’s stunt casting pays off in spades as he brings a warmth to the part not present in the book. Meanwhile Neil Patrick Harris, as Amy’s obsessive ex Desi, leaves his comfort zone for a suggestion of true creepiness. Pike showcases iciness and intelligence, while Affleck is fantastic as the hapless everyman; who we root for despite his flaws. Fincher is the kind of director who, with his endless takes, wrings great performances from actors like Affleck too often content to coast; and this should quash sceptical mutterings about Affleck’s Batman.

Affleck is helped by being half of a great double act. Margo was always going to be a great part, and Coon breaks out from theatre with her glorious turn as the spiky voice of reason. Amazingly, this is the first Fincher movie I’ve ever reviewed, and it’s a prime cut. His regular cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth stages two fever dream scenes of arresting beauty, in a sugar storm and a snow storm, while a pull-out shot at a truck stop is made strangely gorgeous. Otherwise we’re in that under-lit threatening world of The Social Network and Fight Club’s abrasive social commentary. Fincher’s customary editor Kirk Baxter and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross all join him in whooping it up in a grand guignol scene that keeps fading out and returning, again and again, as the music screeches as much as the more squeamish members of the audience. The squeamish are also treated to two other scenes, including some business with a hammer, which are that peculiar Hitchcock-plus of Fincher dark comedy. Reznor and Atticus’s score is dominated by intrusive melancholy piano, and then the electronic clicks and screeches we’ve come to expect – and that perfectly fit Fincher’s unsettling universe.

David Fincher is one of the most distinctive directors working in cinema, and this knockout punch is, with Dallas Buyers Club and Boyhood, one of the movies of 2014.

5/5

October 1, 2014

Life After Beth

life-after-beth-beth-and-zach

Dane DeHaan had never made a comedy before this film. I’m not sure he still hasn’t made a comedy after starring in Life After Beth.

Zach Orfman (DeHaan) is inconsolable with grief after his girlfriend Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza) dies from a snakebite while on a solo hike in the hills. Despite the best efforts of his abrasive security guard brother Kyle (Matthew Gray Gubler), and his helicopter parents Judy (Cheryl Hines) and Noah (Paul Reiser), nothing can shake him out of his gloom. Instead he spends his time with Beth’s parents, playing chess and smoking weed with Maury (John C Reilly), and going thru Beth’s clothes with Geenie (Molly Shannon). So far so Moonlight Mile. But when the Slocums’ Haitian maid Pearline (Eva La Dare) flees town, it’s not long before a horde of zombies appears, heralded by a returned Beth – who has no memory of dying, and is now super-strong, insanely jealous of Zach’s reappeared childhood friend Erica (Anna Kendrick), and increasingly hungry…

Warm Bodies approached the conundrum of how you make a romantic comedy with zombies by making the zombies not zombies. Life After Beth keeps the zombies as zombies and instead ditches the romantic comedy aspect. Which can’t be intentional, can it? There are so many good actors onboard that you feel something has gone disastrously wrong. Reiser is more likeable than I’ve ever seen him, and Gubler is fantastically obnoxious. But the lead performances don’t match them. Plaza presumably signed on for eating people and blowing up a lifeguard post, but, while she has fun with the physical shtick, the role mutes her comedic grouchiness. DeHaan’s everyman is ill-served by the puzzling script. What should be deadpan just turns out blank. Reacting blankly to absurd situations does not by itself provide comedy, there does need to be jokes in addition.

Writer/director Jeff Baena co-wrote I Heart Huckabees which makes it all the more baffling what the hell went wrong because he’s not a man short of comedic invention. Technically everyone is at the top of their game. Jay Hunter, who was the DP for Joss Whedon’s crisply monochrome Much Ado About Nothing, bathes this gated community in a sunlight wonderfully inapt for a zombie horror; again displaying flair on a shoestring. Kudos must also go to the casting directors (Nicole Daniels and Courtney Sheinin) who realised that with the right haircut DeHaan and Gubler are perfect as brothers. But technical competence and solid acting can only get you so far. By the end when a gratuitously naked female zombie appears you’re not sure if it’s a ham-fisted nod to Re-Animator, or a stunt to arouse the audience from its slumber.

Life After Beth is a zom-rom-com that’s played so straight that it ends up a romantic drama about a bad break-up and an unstable ex-girlfriend; now with added zombies.

1/5

September 25, 2014

Graham Greene Festival 2014

titleLarge2014

It’s the end of September again, so it’s time to head to Berkhamsted for the annual Graham Greene Festival. Highlights include a screening of The Quiet American, Stephen Woolley and Quentin Falk discussing Greene’s cinema, and the launch of Creina Mansfield’s book The Quiet Soldier; a Wide Sargasso Sea to the Jane Eyre of Greene’s The Quiet American.

Thursday 25 September

Evening Session

The Town Hall

A visual exhibition of Greene’s Berkhamsted, by Jenny Sherwood and Bill Willett (displayed throughout the Festival)

5:15 Film supper in the Great Hall, preceded by drinks

5:15 Festival gathering: at pay bar in the Town Hall

This is a very happy social occasion when old friends meet, and new ones are introduced to our Festival good cheer. It is a chance to meet up with some of those at the centre of the Greene world. All are most welcome.

6:00 Supper (waitress-served, with wine): beef bourguignon with new potatoes and green beans; crème brulee; coffee and mints. Gluten-free vegan option: Mediterranean vegetable stack served with a tomato and basil sauce, followed by fruit salad.

Book by Thursday 18th September at the latest.

7:15 for 7:30 Film: Loser Takes All, 1956
Directed by Ken Annakin, and starring Glynis Johns, Rossano Brazzi and Robert Morley. Introduced by Mike Hill.

Supper and film: £28

Film only: £10
Friday 26 September

All the day’s events are in the Town Hall, Berkhamsted

Morning Session

9.45 Book launch: Creina Mansfield’s The Quiet Soldier, launched by Prof. Joyce Stavick

10:15 Graham Greene and Film Noir, by Prof. Brian McDonnell

Break for tea and coffee

11:30 Graham Greene in Mexico: A Hint of an Explanation, by Rubén Moheno

Morning session: £14

Break for lunch. Please make your own arrangements

Afternoon Session

2.15 Merriment or Make-Believe? Reflections on the Congo Journal, Missionaries, and a Home Video Showing Graham Greene in the Belgian Congo, by Prof. Michael Meeuwis

3:15 Journeys to the Border: W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, and Graham Greene, by Prof. Andrew Biswell

Break for tea and coffee

4:30 Divided Selves: Graham Greene and Psychoanalysis in Interwar Britain, by Dr Tracey Loughran

5:30 Creative Writing Awards. Presented by Prof. Richard Greene

Afternoon session: £14

 Evening Session at The Civic Centre

7:30 Film: The Quiet American, 2002. Directed by Phillip Noyce, and starring Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser and Do Thi Hai Yen. Introduced by Quentin Falk.

Evening film: £10

 

Saturday 27 September

Dean’s Hall, Berkhamsted School

An exhibition of Greene’s Berkhamsted will be on show

Morning Session

10:00 The Unseen Greene: Researching Graham Greene in the UK and USA – A Work in Progress by Dr Jonathan Wise

Break for tea and coffee

11:30 Book Launch: Travels in Greeneland: The Cinema of Graham Greene (revised and updated 4th edition) by Quentin Falk, in conversation with prolific British filmmaker Stephen Woolley, producer of The End of the Affair (1999).

12:30 Sandwich lunch in the Kings Arms Hotel with optional book club
Selected books Monsignor Quixote, A Burnt-Out Case, Stamboul Train. Those who wish to join the book club conversation may read one or all books. Lunch by courtesy of the Management of the Kings Arms Hotel.

Morning session: £16

Mid Afternoon Session

2:30 Spying on Writers: Graham Greene’s Interviews, by Dr Rebecca Roach

Break for tea and coffee

3:45 The Company of Others: On Graham Greene and Endo Shusaku, by Prof. Darren Middleton

Mid afternoon session: £16

Late Afternoon Session

4:45 The Birthday Toast to Graham Greene, by Prof. Judith Adamson

5:00 Reflections, by Prof. Judith Adamson

Toast and Judith Adamson Talk: £12

7.30 DinnerDinner: Old Hall, The School

Four courses with wine: seared salmon on a bed of leaves; roast rump of lamb with a redcurrant and mint coulis OR sweet potato, red pepper and asparagus risotto (vegan and gluten-free); garlic and rosemary roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables; chocolate and vanilla cheese cake and Baileys Cream; cheese board; coffee and mints.
Book by Thursday 18th September at the latest.

Dinner: £35

 

Sunday 28 September

Morning Session

VIth Form Centre, Berkhamsted School, Castle Street – upstairs from Old Hall

10:15 The Invisible Japanese Gentlemen: Graham Greene’s Literary Influence in Japan, by Dr Motonori Sato

Break for tea and coffee

11:30 ‘The worst potboiler I ever perpetrated’ (Graham Greene), The Confidential Agent: the novel and the film considered, by Mike Hill

Morning session: £16

1.00 The Farewell Lunch Old Hall

Buffet with wine. A selection of cold cuts of gammon ham, beef, poached salmon, vegetable quiche (vegan), prawns, mixed leaves, tomato, red onion and basil, coleslaw, new potatoes, crusty bread, dressings, fresh fruit salad, cream, coffee and mints.

Book by Thursday 18th September at the latest.

Farewell lunch: £24

September 24, 2014

Maps to the Stars

 

download

David Cronenberg features his Cosmopolis star Robert Pattinson in another tale of the rich and shameless, this time skewering Hollywood.

Wide-eyed teenager Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives off the bus in LA, and hires limo driver Jerome (Pattinson) to show her the former Weiss residence. Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a self-help guru, has been supplanted in the fame game by his monstrous son Benjie (Evan Bird), star of Bad Babysitter, who is managed by his mother Cristina (Olivia Williams), who takes her teenager’s drug use in stride. Stafford is treating faded actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), whose comeback rests not only on auditioning for director Damian (Gord Rand), agreeing to threesomes with producer Sterl (Jonathan Watton), and taking her mother Clarice’s part in a remake of mom’s cult classic, but also on ignoring ghostly Clarice (Sarah Gadon) denigrating her acting abilities. When Havana’s friend Carrie Fisher (Carrie Fisher!) recommends her Twitter pal Agatha as a PA, things get really weird…

Amazingly this is the first movie Cronenberg has ever shot in America, and he’s brought his regular crew with him south of the 49th parallel: cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, production designer Carol Spier, editor Ron Sanders, and composer Howard Shore. Everything is set for success, except the script. You feel Cronenberg might have been attracted to Maps to the Stars because it combined very dark Hollywood comedy with three sets of deranged sibling or parent relationships, and he did deranged siblings very well in Dead Ringers. But neither element really works. The disorienting boardroom grilling of Benji by nervous execs gives a hint why with its lack of establishing shots. Cronenberg, despite an eye-wateringly explicit threesome, is too icy a director to pull off lurid black comedy, and when he tackles incest here that iciness produces neither drama nor creeping horror.

Maps to the Stars features a lot of good actors, but not a lot of good parts, and feels unfocused despite such compensatory flourishes as the repeated reciting of Paul Eluard’s poem ‘Liberty’. Bird wrings some laughs from his foul-mouthed child star, while Moore tries to with a too obvious ‘shockingly callous’ reaction. Cronenberg, incidentally, is noticeably merciless in showing age has withered Moore and Cusack. Ultimately Hollywood satirises Cronenberg. Pattison’s glorified cameo has been misleadingly played up in trailers, for obvious reasons. A major character’s fiery death is head-explodingly inept, featuring CGI fire worse than The Blacklist’s shoddy standard, almost Asylum Studios bad; simply because it’ll do…  And then there’s the bit with the dog. A person is brutally bludgeoned to death, but David (Scanners’ exploding head y’all) Cronenberg is too squeamish to show the Dulux dog get whacked.

Screenwriter Bruce Wagner intended this as a satire with deep dramatic elements; but it doesn’t really work as either, and poor Cronenberg ends up becoming as ridiculous as what he’s satirising in the process.

1.5/5

September 18, 2014

Smoke gets in your eyes, Delaney gets under your skin

macbethandthemurderers

INT.EDINBURGH OFFICE-DAY

DELANEY, not Mark Pellegrino’s legendary agent but a minor agent to non-entities in Scotland who by an amazing coincidence shares his name, sits at his desk lovingly dropping feed into a fishbowl while HAMISH McBITPARTH, paces around the office restlessly, waves his arms passionately, and complains volubly…

 

McBITPARTH: I naarrryy part *&**&**& %%%£$ (&*(& aye.

DELANEY: What’s that now?

McBITPARTH: And whutevya &*&( hag? ^*&%()*%^&)% noo?

DELANEY: Hey?

McBITPARTH: Pay you shills &*&( R$$$^ &(*&(* hoor

DELANEY: Come again?

McBITPARTH: Are ye deaf orr *&^*^ %(^(*&*& ^^%%$%$9 mon?

 

Delaney leans back in his chair, baffled and exasperated, looks idly at the fishbowl, looks intently at the fishbowl, and smacks himself in the forehead.

 

McBITPARTH: Now whut &*&* ^*&^(* at all?

DELANEY: Wait! I forgot to put my Babelfish in.

 

Delaney gently scoops the fish out of the bowl and sticks it in his ear. He sits down.

 

DELANEY: Good God, I really had forgotten just how unintelligible you were without it. If I hadn’t taken it as a memento from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy set nine years ago I don’t know how I would ever have managed up here. Honestly, if you people vote next year to the leave the Union… Without any restraining English influence on you the entire country will be incomprehensible within five years.

McBITPARTH: Aw shove it, Delaney. Go back to London then.

DELANEY: London remains a bit dicey. Sam Rockwell still has eyes and ears there…

McBITPARTH: Were you listening to me?

DELANEY: Yes! That is to say, no. That is to say, I was listening but not hearing, or hearing but not listening; whichever of those Sherlock Holmes said and would therefore make me sound witty is what I was doing. But in any case if you were griping, which is what it sounded like, then not to worry. I’ve got you a part.

McBITPARTH: Is it a good part?

DELANEY: It’s a juicy part.

McBITPARTH: That’s what you said about Taggart!

DELANEY: I was being descriptive about the corpse you’d be playing. This time I’m being… expansive, metaphorical.

McBITPARTH: You know that Taggart has ended, nigh on three years ago?

DELANEY: You’re obsessed with Taggart!

McBITPARTH: You’re obsessed with Taggart! After the corpse you got me another part in it, a bigger part you said.

DELANEY: It was a bigger part!

McBITPARTH: I died in flashback and then appeared as a corpse!

DELANEY: That was double the screen-time!

McBITPARTH: And then there was that Macbeth fiasco…

DELANEY: YOU WOULD HAVE TO BRING THAT UP WOULDN’T YOU?!!

McBITPARTH: SOMETIMES I THINK THAT WHEN YOU FLED HERE FROM THE SOUTH ALL YOU KNEW OF SCOTLAND WAS TAGGART AND MACBETH – AND MACBETH WAS WRITTEN BY A SASSENACH!

DELANEY: You wanted to do some good work, I got you a part in a Shakespeare play. And to be hauled over the coals about it year after bloody year. Shakespeare! The Bard of Avon! The poet of the nation.

McBITPARTH: Your nation.

DELANEY: Ohhh!!! (pained pause) Just because you didn’t have any lines.

McBITPARTH: I was playing the FOURTH murderer in a play famous for having a redundant THIRD murderer! I’ve never been so embarrassed…

DELANEY: Still better than just being a corpse.

McBITPARTH: (sighs) So what’s this part you’ve got me?

DELANEY: It’s in some weird film. I couldn’t understand anything they said about it, and they were all English so it’s not a problem with dialect.

McBITPARTH: What’s the part?

DELANEY: You have a sex scene with Scarlett Johansson.

McBITPARTH: **** off.

DELANEY: (massaging his ear) My Babelfish appears to have come loose.

McBITPARTH: No, I was swearing.

DELANEY: How dashed odd! Why did it censor you?

McBITPARTH: You lifted it from the set of a PG-13 movie you dobber.

DELANEY: Ah! But seriously, you have a sex scene with Scarlett Johansson.

McBITPARTH: No.

DELANEY: Yes.

McBITPARTH: No.

DELANEY: Yes.

McBITPARTH: Yes?

DELANEY: Yes.

McBITPARTH: No!

DELANEY: Yes!

McBITPARTH: Yes??

DELANEY: YES!

McBITPARTH: YES!! YES!! Will she be naked?

DELANEY: Yes.

McBITPARTH: YES!! This is why I became an actor!!

 

McBitparth jumps up, does an impromptu dance of joy. Delaney mistakes it for a Highland fling and grimaces at it, an expression of exquisitely Tory contempt.

 

McBITPARTH: Is this a wind-up?

DELANEY: No, it’s totally legitimate.

McBITPARTH: Scar-Jo will be naked in a scene with me?

DELANEY: Yes, but you’ll be wearing a sock.

McBITPARTH: I’ll bloody need to be wearing a sock…

DELANEY: Don’t…

McBITPARTH: Why me? Why did they want me?

DELANEY: Well, a friend of mine in London put them in touch with me.

McBITPARTH: Looking for Scottish actors then?

DELANEY: I think he said they were looking for non-professional actors.

 

They both look at the floor.

 

McBITPARTH: Naked Scar-Jo! YES!!!

DELANEY: That’s all I bloody hear these days…

Next Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 29 other followers