Map to the Stars – Hollyweird
Quick story about David Cronenberg; My earliest memory of his work is actually not even a film he directed, it’s a film that he appeared in. As a kid I remember watching “Nightbreed” and being scared out of my mind. Sure there are plenty of monsters and mutants in the film, but the one thing that stood out to me was a guy in a mask with a zipper and buttons for eyes. Only later would I find out that man behind the mask was David Cronenberg, the same guy behind classics like “The Fly” and “Scanners.” In the past decade or so, Cronenberg has taken a departure form the “body horror” that had made him famous, and has concentrated on more intimate character pieces like “Eastern Promises” and “Cosmopolis.” Now, in what I might call his most interesting work in quite some time, Cronenberg takes on Hollyweird and all of it’s kookiness in “Map to the Stars,” starring Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack, and Mia Wasikowska.
The skinny on “Map” is this; young Agatha (Wasikowska) arrives in town and is greeted by limo driver, Jerome (Pattinson). Agatha has just gotten into town via Jupiter, Florida and is looking for Benji Weiss, the young star of the “Bad Babysitter” series of films. Meanwhile, we meet Havana (Moore) the daughter of movie star who died in a fire who is receiving counseling from Dr. Stafford Weiss (Cusack). Havana gets word from her agent that a film is being produced about her mother’s life and naturally Havana feels she is best actress for the role. The film plays out where we learn more about all of the major characters in the film and how weird do things get? Well, this is a Cronenberg film after all……
Based on reviews that I’ve been reading about “Map” this is really a love it or hate it flick. I’ve read that some people are disgusted about the insinuated and pretty much apparent incest connotations, as well as the casual nudity and dark subject matter. This is where I say “grow up!” Sure, some of the content is a little over-the-top, but you’d be a fool to not think things like this happen in Hollywood.
The interwoven plot is interesting and the film is a Chuck Palahniuk, David Lynch, and Bret Easton Ellis mash-up of insane and maniacal proportions. At first I thought this film was actually written by someone of Ellis’ ilk, but upon further inspection the writing duties went to Bruce Wagner, who is best known for writing “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors.” It’s odd for Cronenberg to go with a writer that has so few credits to his name, but the writing is actually very well done, visceral, and perfect for the film.
Now, a lot of people were in love with Julianne Moore’s performance in “Still Alice,” but I would go as far as saying that her turn in “Map” was vastly superior in it’s weirdness and fearlessness. We all know that Moore is a great actress that has been overlooked for awards for years, but wouldn’t it have been nice if she was rewarded for a role that required more than just having an ailment and having to overcome it? I’d say yes, but I’m sure a lot of people would go against me. Outside of Moore, the supporting cast is solid, and it’s good to see that John Cusack is still getting work that matters and not falling into the same trap that has confounded Nicholas Cage for the better part of a decade. I don’t know what it is, but Cage and Cusack to me are almost one in the same. “Map” also shows me more of the talent that I know is residing inside of Robert Pattinson. He had a great turn in “Cosmopolis” and showed me more in last year’s under-appreciated “The Rover” and albeit a small role, he is still good in this film and his scenes with Mia Wasikowska are small, but tragic.
All in all, “Map to the Stars” is an interesting and dark take on celebrity and the toll it can take on those with weak constitutions. While this film does seem more in the wheelhouse of someone like Lynch, it’s great to see David Cronenberg’s take on Hollywood since he is mostly a director who is always on the outside looking in, on his own accord of course. And while I do like that he is taking more chances on projects like “Cosmopolis” and “A Dangerous Method” I would like to see him get back to his older, body horror work one day.
Fun Fact: Hollywood was established in 1853 with a single adobe hut just outside of Los Angeles, California.
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Hooray for Hollywood? Naw, it’s time to skewer Hollywood and rip them and new one, of course while picking the winner’s of this year’s Academy Awards.
The boys go over all the essential categories from Best Score all the way to the grand-daddy of them all; “the award where they could have had 10 nominations, but they decided to go with eight.”
Will “Boyhood” be this year’s big winner? Will “Birdman” fly above the competition? Why was “Gone Girl” only nominated for one award? Why is the Academy in love with films that feature people with disabling diseases? Is it a fetish that they secretly have that we don’t know about?
All this and much more as the Simplistic Reviews Crew gives Hollywood the old “what-for.”
Hugh Jackman Hopping At Tony Awards
If you’re not interested in our ramblings, just check out our picks below:
Friday Night Movie Night!
Tagline: Survival the ultimate test…
The year is 1987. Motorcycle ninjas tighten their grip on Florida’s narcotics trade, viciously annihilating anyone who dares move in on their turf. Multi-national martial arts rock band Dragon Sound have had enough, and embark on a roundhouse wreck-wave of crime-crushing justice. When not chasing beach bunnies or performing their hit song “Against the Ninja,” Mark (taekwondo master/inspirational speaker Y.K. Kim) and the boys are kicking and chopping at the drug world’s smelliest underbelly. It’ll take every ounce of their blood and courage, but Dragon Sound can’t stop until they’ve completely destroyed the dealers, the drunk bikers, the kill-crazy ninjas, the middle-aged thugs, the “stupid cocaine”
…and the entire MIAMI CONNECTION!!!
The House of the Devil – Fun
Like I mentioned in my review of “The Guest,” I love the 1980s, especially 80s horror, but one genre always kind of eluded me; the devil-worshiping/possession genre. I simply don’t find those types of films very scary or unnerving. This goes double for, get ready for it, “The Exorcist.” I simply don’t get the appeal of what so many people call “the scariest film ever made.” I also think the market has been flooded with these possession/evil house/devil worshiping found footage type films, and while they are low budget, and make a ton of money because we have enough sheep who go to the theater to waste their money with lackluster fare like that. But, every once in a while I’ll take the advice of a friend, or in this case a blog (thanks Slaughter Film) and go out on a limb and watch something I normally wouldn’t, and than I wonder to myself why it took so long to finally get around to this movie. That movie is 2009’s “The House of the Devil.” Directed by Ti West, who has also worked on the anthology series “V/H/S” and directed “The Sacrament” brings to glory of late 1970s and early 80s Gothic horror to life by recreating a film that is suspenseful and a crap ton of fun.
“House” is the tale of Samantha, a struggling college student looking to move out of her dorm room that is constantly being used by her over-sexed roommate. Desperate for money after finding the house of her dreams, Sam calls about a babysitting job the night of a lunar eclipse. After losing hope on the job, she receives a call from Mr. Ulman, the man who placed the babysitting ad. Dragging her friend Megan along, Sam accepts the job and heads to the Ulman residence. Upon arrival, as the viewer, you already have the sense that something isn’t quite right about Mr. Ulman, who is played to creepy perfection by consummate creeper, Tom Noonan. Creeped out, Sam is about to leave, but now desperate, Ulman tells Sam to name her price. She’s seizes the moment knowing that her new house is on the line. The film progresses with Sam exploring the house, hearing noises, and finally learning the secret the Ulmans have been hiding all along. To spoil the third act would be a disservice.
What works so well in “House” is the look of the film. The opening credits are something right out of a Wes Craven film, mixed with Hammer Horror, and a dash of Italian giallo. The hair styles are to the era, the score is reminiscent of something Ric Ocasek. However, even with all of these 80s elements, the film is still very contemporary and can fit into any era.
The one gripe I see that people could have is the pacing of the “House.” There isn’t a whole lot of “action” until about an hour into the film, but just like the films of yore, the build-up is part of the fun of this film. However, in this day and age of instant gratification, jump scares, and found-footage dredge (which is ironic since I actually enjoyed “V/H/S”) it’s refreshing to see a movie like “House” but I”m sure that’s the reason why this film hasn’t gotten much traction outside of die-hard horror fans who have been watching the genre for decades.
Overall, “The House of the Devil” is great and it pains me to think that it took me so long to finally get around to this film. The production design is strong, the acting is believable and likable, and the villains are creepy. It’s everything that you would want in a suspenseful horror film. New school kids beware, this IS your Daddy’s horror film.
Fun Fact: The Church of Satan was founded by Anton LaVey in 1966
|FLAT – but not flat chested|
Awaken – Muddled
I love it when we receive screeners to review, it’s a lot of fun. It shows that people trust us enough to make a fair assessment of their film. However, here is the sticking point. There is a fine line when you are reviewing a film where you feel a duty of both congratulating a film for it’s merits, while at the same time giving it constructive criticism. This is the crux that I have with 2014’s “Awaken” a small independent film directed by Mark Atkins and starring Natalie Burn. While I do appreciate the production design and some of the performances, “Awaken” is a muddled picture where you have to take the good with the bad.
We begin the film on a mysterious island where we find Billy (Burn) waking up on a beach. Venturing into the jungle, we find out that she isn’t alone. Instantly on the run, Billy meets Nick and Todd who tell her that she needs to meet Quentin, played by Robert Davi, who tells Billy the island isn’t what it seems. Moving to another part of the island, we meet Rich (Jason London) and Kat (Christa Campbell) who are dabbling in organ trafficking and are awaiting the arrival of the mysterious “Mao.” As the film progresses we find out more about Billy’s history and how she made her way to the island as well as who “Mao” is and why she is heading to the island. I’ll leave you in suspense.
So, “Awaken.” I will say that much of the camerawork is fairly well done, including many of the flyover shots that highlight the island and the crystal clear water. The editing is pretty tight and the action scenes are shot fairly well, including the special effects of bones snapping and bullet hits. The acting is decent, and I especially enjoy seeing Vinnie Jones, who plays the tough-as-nails Sarge, and Daz Crawford who plays Stitch, a soldier that has already spent 44 days on the island, evading his captors. Burn also plays the role of the tough female protagonist quite well. While her character might be a little cliché, at least there is some fleshing out of the character. I’ll also mention Jason London’s performance as both goofy, but at the same time something right out of a 1980s film. It’s hammy, but at least it’s entertaining.
One of the biggest issues I have with “Awaken” is the way characters appear in the film, and are never heard from again. I understand that some of the characters are pretty extraneous, but the plot holes are a little hard ignore, especially Quentin’s arc who is working with Rich and decides he is going to leave the island, and I guess he does, because after a conversation with Billy, Nick, and Stitch, he is never heard from again. I even stuck around after the end credits and I got nothing. The other plot line that ended abruptly was that of Daryl Hannah’s Mao character. Similar to Quentin, Mao leaves at a moment of truth and is never heard from again. While I understand how story lines end and a character’s arc can end, it’s odd that it would happen without any explanation.
Overall, “Awaken” is a brisk watch that can be muddled at times, but there are also some memorable performances by Burn, Crawford, and London which will keep you interested. Atkins has a knack for framing and composes some really nice shots as well, but overall, “Awaken” is a pretty run-of-the-mill tale in the vein of TV’s “Lost” and “Turistas.”
Martyrs – Sad
As I continue my masochistic voyage to find films that are so-called “taboo” this brings me to another film that I’ve seen bits and know the ultimate ending, but never took the time to watch it from beginning to end. That film is 2008’s “Martyrs.” While you could easily write the film off as a rip-off of Eli Roth’s “Hostel” unlike “Hostel” which dealt with douche-bag American tourists caught up in a clandestine human torture-for-pay ring, “Martyrs” examines deeper issues like child abuse, the fallout, and exploration into whether there is a life after death, however, this is done in a very disturbing and sad way.
This tale begins with a young girl running away from an undisclosed location seemingly injured. Cut to the same girl, named Lucie, who is living in an orphanage. Lucie eventually meets Anna, and the two become close friends. Cut to 15 years later and the home of a father, mother, and two children, the perfect family. Comes a knock on the door and boom, a shotgun blast to the chest ends the father’s life. Waiting in another location, Anna, is waiting in a car and receives a call from Lucie. As the story progresses we learn more about Lucie and Anna and their sordid histories. There are also hidden passageways, women with weird metal blindfolds, and of course a notorious third act that kind of flips the whole film on it’s head, and oh yeah, torture of the highest degree.
Now, I could just spoil the ending of “Martyrs” and spare you watching the film, but I really feel that would be an injustice. Despite the harrowing story and bleak ending, this film is rather interesting in the manner of subject it’s tackling. At it’s core, “Martyrs” is quite philosophical albeit very hard to watch some of the tougher scenes in the film.
The performances by both Morjana Alaoui (Anna) and Mylène Jampanoï (Lucie) are both strong and very believable. There is a lot of subtext to their relationship and while you might feel worse for Lucy, it’s really nothing compared to what Anna endures the third act of the film, but even that is unfair to saying since both women endure unmentionable horrors.
The final aspect of this film that really gets me is the ending. Now this might be slightly spoiler-y, it needs to be said. The fact that the main villains are old people is extremely disconcerting, not to mention they seem to be rich, well-off, old people. The fact that younger people continue to play victims to an older generation who think they have a right to knowledge that no one else has gained yet feel the need to discover this through the anguish of others, is a major concern, and rightfully so. The main villain of “Mademoiselle” is demonically evil, but at the same time lays out her plan and concerns in a way that both makes sense and is interesting. I’m not saying it’s right, but the idea of creating a “martyr” to obtain knowledge from another realm of existence is an interesting, and terrifying, idea.
At the end of the day, “Martyrs” is a thought-provoking film that could be mistaken for a “Hostel” rip-off, but there is a lot more going on in this film. It shows not only the horror of abuse, but the lengths that some will go in order to obtain, and protect, knowledge. It’s a difficult sit for those adverse to, dare I say it, “torture-porn,” but it’s a film worth your attention and time.
Fun Fact: As this review is being written, Hollywood has decided it’s time for a remake. The Goetz Brothers and “wonderful” Blumhouse Pictures will be helming the remake that will hopefully be released…..never.