Maps to the Stars


Mia Wasikowska communes with the grime.

Mia Wasikowska communes with the grime.

(2015) Thriller (Focus) Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams, Sarah Gadon, Klara Glasco, Dawn Greenhaigh, Jonathan Watton, Jennifer Gibson, Gord Rand, Justin Kelly, Niamh Wilson, Clara Pasieka, Emilia McCarthy, Allegra Fulton, Dominic Ricci, Jayne Heitmeier, Carrie Fisher, Amanda Brugel. Directed by David Cronenberg

Hollywood is a seductive cocktail. You can hear it whispering “Drink me” in a throaty voice, promising fame, wealth, glamour and the opportunity to be beloved by minions. What you don’t hear it whisper is that it rarely bestows those things on anyone and when it does, the cost is unbearably high.

On a bus to Hollywood there is a young woman named Agatha (Wasikowska). She is, we find out later, hideously burned, wearing gloves and a body stocking to hide them, as well as long bangs to hide those on her face. She is coming at the behest of Carrie Fisher (whom she met on Twitter), she says (and it turns out to be true) to help her co-author a novel or maybe a project for HBO. She also has a bit of an obsession for the actress Clarice Taggart (Gadon), a beautiful and troubled soul who died tragically young in a house fire.

As it turns out, Clarice was the mother of Havana Segrand (Moore) who has had a lengthy career as an actress. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the good fortune to die young and beautiful in a fire and as she is getting older she is getting more and more invisible to casting agents. She is desperate to get a role in the remake of her mother’s most famous movie, Strange Waters  – and not just any role but the role her mother played. Alas, it seems destined for a younger actress named Azita Wachtel (Heitmeier). Nevertheless, Havana needs a new assistant and her close friend Carrie Fisher is happy to recommend the newcomer Agatha for the job.

Havana sees pop culture psychotherapist and self-help guru Dr. Stanford Weiss (Cusack) to help her deal with her mommy issues, which are severe. Havana has claimed to have been abused physically and sexually by her mom, a charge her mom vehemently denies – or rather the ghost of her mom who haunts Havana.

Dr. Weiss has issues of his own. His young son Benjie (Bird) is a child star whose career took a tumble when he went to rehab. Now clean and sober, he’s making a sequel to his best-known role, Bad News Babysitter with another young actor who seems to be stealing all the scenes, which irritates Benjie no end. Of course, everything irritates Benjie no end and he is bringing cruelty and all-around dickishness to a new art form. His mother Christina (Williams) is wrapped around his little finger but she’s been through a lot; a fire caused by Benjie’s sister took the life of a younger brother and caused the sister to be locked away in a mental institution.

As events begin to shift and roil, with Agatha striking up a relationship with a limo driver (Pattinson) who yearns to be an actor/writer and tragic circumstances awarding the coveted role to Havana, the tenuous connections between all these characters become much clearer and darker as things begin to move towards a horrifying conclusion. But then again, this is Hollywood, baby.

Cronenberg has had a career that is iconoclastic. While his output has been uneven, his films are generally interesting even if they haven’t always succeeded in resonating with audiences. This particular movie is as dark as they come with a cast of characters that is unlikable from top to bottom; from the self-centered therapist to the narcissistic child actor to the troubled assistant to the egotistic actress, this is the nightmare Hollywood in which self-serving lies are a kind of currency and kindness a mark of weakness – unless done very visibly in order to garner favorable publicity.

Moore, who recently was awarded the Oscar for her work in Still Alice is definitely on a role; she could easily have been nominated for this performance as well and may well have had the studio elected to release this last year. It may well be too early in the year for Academy voters to remember her work come the fall when ballots are mailed out but she deserves to have her name written down on at least a few of them.

Most of the rest of the cast does solid work as well, although special note should be made of Bird who is not well-known yet but may well be after his performance here. He makes Draco Malfoy look like a sweetheart, and made the character’s nastiness so palpable that Da Queen wanted to kick him in the genitals several times. My lovely wife doesn’t like spoiled brats overly much, particularly of the Hollywood sort.

There are a good number of insider references and those who are fascinated by that kind of thing will be in hog heaven here. However, this isn’t a movie that is going to have mass appeal; things get more and more twisted and perverse as the movie goes on with a dog getting shot (usually a deal killer for me) and even worse as things spiral towards their conclusion.

Cronenberg has always worked outside the Hollywood system which is a little bit easier when you’re Canadian (this movie marks the first time he’s even shot in the United States in a career approaching 50 years and that only for essentially a week) and this isn’t likely to get him any new invitations to parties, not that he would accept any. I will say that as bleak a characterization of Hollywood life as this is (and there is some truth to it), the reality is not quite so extreme as reality often is. There are plenty of people in Hollywood who are genuine and kind but that kind of thing is less interesting; we’d rather see the rich and famous be absolute bastards because it makes us feel better about ourselves, as in “they got rich and famous but they had to sell their souls to get it which I’m not willing to do, hence the reason I’m not rich and famous.”

This isn’t for everyone, nor should it be. There are plenty who will be put off by the pervasive self-worship and the skewed outlook on life by those who live the Hollywood dream. There’s nothing wholesome about it. However, I will point out that the trailers imply that this is something of a horror movie; yes there are apparitions and horrible things happen but this isn’t a horror movie per se, so be aware of that going in.

This isn’t Cronenberg’s best film, nor is it his most typical but this is a very good piece of filmmaking indeed. I was really drawn in, wondering what was going to happen next and that’s all you can ask of any movie. It may not have been a pleasant experience (and those looking for one can always go see McFarland) but it was an edifying one and that gets points in my book.

REASONS TO GO: Searing performances by Moore and Bird. Lots of Hollywood insider goodness. Some moments of genuine pathos and genuine hilarity.
REASONS TO STAY: Dark, dark, dark. Intrinsically shallow with characters you’re not going to like very much.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some unsettling violence and bloody images, graphic nudity, sexuality, foul language and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Moore and Wasikowska previously appeared together in The Kids Are All Right in which they played mother-daughter.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/5/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Day of the Locust
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Leviathan

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I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell


I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

Tucker Max has a laugh, probably at someone else's expense.

(Freestyle Releasing) Matt Czuchry, Jesse Bradford, Geoff Stults, Keri Lynn Pratt, Meagen Fay, Traci Lords, Marika Dominczyk. Directed by Bob Gosse

There is a rumor going around that men are pigs. I know, scandalous isn’t it? I mean, we’re just cute and cuddly and misunderstood. Really. Cross my heart and hope to die.

Oh crap. Along comes I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and man-blogger Tucker Max to feed into the image. Adapted from the bestselling book which is itself a collection of blogs that are purportedly actual incidents from Tucker’s life, the movie follows Tucker (Czuchry) as he shepherds his best pal Dan (Stults) through the bachelor party for Dan’s impending wedding. Dan’s fiancée Kristy (Pratt) doesn’t want her husband-to-be to go to the strip club 40 miles away on the eve of the wedding; there’s too much to be done. However, Tucker with the oily smoothness of a used car salesman, convinces Kristy that they plan to stay local.

Of course, he’s lying through his teeth, much to the shock of Dan (you think he’d know his friend by now, wouldn’t you). Along for the ride is Drew (Bradford), a perpetually pissed off sort whose girlfriend split on him (actually, he caught her giving oral sex to a rapper, but same difference no?) and whose chip takes up not only his shoulder but most of the backseat in the car.

The night takes on a surreal turn of drinking, debauchery and diarrhea. The guys hook up in a bar with a bachelorette party whom Tucker does his best to insult with every slut-whore-skank-type name in the book. Against all odds, Drew hooks up with a sweet but strong stripper named Lara (Dominczyk) and Tucker bails on the both of them (as we find out later, he had ulterior motives all along) leaving Dan to get beat up, arrested and potentially divorced before he even gets married.

Those who thought The Hangover was guy-centric and crude are going to think that film looks like a Disney movie next to this. Needless to say, the movie has been ripped apart by the critics, some calling it the worst movie of 2009, a few even going so far as to call it the worst movie ever made.

I will be forced to agree that the acting in the movie is generally unremarkable, but this is no worse than those all-men-suck movies like Sleeping With the Enemy or plays like “The Vagina Monologues.” I can understand where the feelings come from, because as a guy I hear endless streams of invective about how we’re all dogs and pigs and whatever low form of life women can use to describe us; we lie, we cheat, we’re lazy, we wouldn’t be anywhere without women who can get along quite nicely without us.

It’s tiresome, really. Yes, there are guys who are pigs, but there are women who are pigs as well. It takes all kinds. Women who complain about guys all the time are generally choosing the same kind of guy to go out with time after time, with predictable results. There are reasons for that kind of behavior I know and this isn’t meant to be a war between the sexes, I’m just saying that as a guy I get tired of hearing it.

Non-sequiturs aside, I found some of the humor funny and some of the situations did ring true. Guy talk can be raunchy, and we generally among ourselves speak pretty much non-stop about sex, getting sex, what kind of sex we’ve had, what kind of sex we want to have, and which girls are most likely to provide it (and which ones we wouldn’t have sex with if you put a gun to our one-track minds).

The ending was a bit unconvincing – I found it hard to believe that Tucker has an epiphany due to a violent case of the runs – but hell, he wrote the script so I suppose there must be something to it. Plainly Tucker is a jerk, not just to women but to his friends as well, a fact the movie takes great pains to point out.

To be honest, not everyone is going to like this movie. As a matter of fact, there is going to be a fairly serious percentage of people who are absolutely going to loathe this movie and everything it stands for. Some of them simply don’t get the sense of humor involved while others might well have a stick crammed up their poop chute in a most uncomfortable way.

Having heard how desperately bad and misogynistic this movie was, I was fully prepared to hate it and I actually wound up enjoying it, much to my surprise. This is most certainly an acquired taste, but if you think Howard Stern doesn’t go far enough, this is probably the movie for you.

WHY RENT THIS: The ultimate guy movie for guys who think Jackass is a hoot.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Simply put, this movie isn’t for everybody. Those offended by male toilet humor, misogyny and don’t get guys at all should stay away.

FAMILY VALUES: Where do you begin? Plenty of nudity and sex, lots of crude sexual humor, foul language of every sort, a guy poops his pants in a hotel lobby in living color, and there’s some violence. If you want to scar your kid for life, here’s the movie to take them to.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real Tucker Max puts in a cameo appearance as the best man at Dan’s wedding, ironically enough.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: All About Steve