A Movie A Day #341: Hot Pursuit (1987, directed by Steven Lisberger)


When high school student Dan Bartlett (John Cusack) is late arriving at the airport, he finds himself watching as the plane taking his girlfriend (Wendy Gazelle) and her parents (Monte Markham and Shelley Fabares) to the Caribbean takes off without him.  Dan catches the next available flight and tries to track down his girlfriend and her family.  Helping him out is a Ganja-smoking islander (Keith David) and a crusty sea captain (Robert Loggia).  Complicating matters is that Dan’s girlfriend has been kidnapped by pirates (Jerry Stiller and his son, Ben)!

John Cusack got his start appearing in dopey 80s teen comedies and Hot Pursuit shows why he eventually declared that he would never appear in another one.  Hot Pursuit relies on the idiot plot.  If everyone in the movie didn’t act like an idiot, there wouldn’t be much of a movie.  Cusack seems bored in his role, only waking up towards the end of the movie when he gets to pick up a machine gun and blow away the pirates’ hideout.  (Cusack even gets to do a Rambo-style yell while riddling the building with bullets.)  This was Ben Stiller’s film debut and he has a few funny scenes.  The movie probably would have worked better if Stiller and Cusack had switched roles.

One final note; Hot Pursuit was produced by Pierre David, who also produced several of David Cronenberg’s early films.  It’s probably not a coincidence that Wendy Gazzelle’s character is named Lori Cronenberg.

Insomnia File #31: Arsenal (dir by Steve C. Miller)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep last night around midnight, you could have turned over to Showtime and watched Arsenal, a film that had a brief theatrical run in January and which has now made its way to cable.

Arsenal tells the story of two brothers.  When we first meet them, they’re kids and they’re living with their uncle.  But then their uncle kills himself and the two brothers find themselves going down very different paths.  JP (who is played, as an adult, by Adrian Grenier) turns a part-time job mowing lawns into a full-time job as the owner of a construction company.  Meanwhile, Mikey (played, as an adult, by Jonathon Schaech) stumbles across gangster Eddie King (Nicolas Cage) while Eddie is busy killing a man.  JP heads for a life of respectability.  Mikey heads for a life of crime.  Much like the Bulger brothers, they remain close despite their differing lifestyles.

But who cares about the brothers?  Adrian Grenier and Jonathon Schaech both do the best that they can with these two underwritten parts but ultimately, neither JP nor Mikey is that interesting.  If anything, they’re like the guys who you keep around as backups in case the guy you really like never works up the courage to talk to you.  Instead, let’s discuss about Eddie King.

As I said before, Eddie King is played by Nicolas Cage.  As you can probably guess, Cage does not exactly show anything resembling restraint when he plays King.  That may not be surprising but what is surprising that, after twenty years or going totally overboard in almost every role that he’s played, Cage can still surprise audiences by just how far he’s willing to go.  Every time that you think Cage’s performances can’t get any more bizarre, something like Arsenal comes out and proves you wrong.

There is so much to love about Cage’s batshit crazy performance as Eddie King.  For one thing, it makes absolutely no sense.  If you look at real-life mobsters, one thing that becomes clear very quickly is that the best ones may have been sadistic but they were usually smart enough to know when to lay low.  Eddie, on the other hand, never lays low.  He’s so crazy that he might as well be wearing a shirt that reads, “I kill people and then laugh about it.”  So, not only do you have Cage giving one of his most over-the-top performances but, for some reason, he’s also wearing this extremely fake nose and the movie doesn’t really make much of an effort to disguise the fact that it’s a fake nose.  I mean, you can literally see the glue that’s holding the fake nose over the old nose.  And then there’s Cage’s haircut, which would appear to suggest that Eddie King shares a barber with every pervy humorist who has ever had a job working for Minnesota public radio.  When we first see Eddie, he’s gruesomely killing a man and Cage gets so into it and there’s so much blood flying that I was half-expecting Eddie to then turn into Pennywise the clown.  Eddie gets another scene where he writes a letter to his dead brother.  Cage acted the Hell out of that scene.  It’s as if he was saying, “You thought my Left Behind performance was strange?  CHECK THIS OUT, DAMN YOU!”

Of course, Cage isn’t the only good actor acting weird in Arsenal.  John Cusack plays a cop.  He always wears sunglasses and a cap and he also keeps his shoulder slouched.  Was it a character thing or was Cusack sincerely hoping no one would recognize him in the movie?  I’m not really sure but it’s still fun to try to figure out.

Anyway, Arsenal is your typical low-budget gangster film, where there’s a lot of yelling and people getting shot and tortured and all the rest of the usual crap.  There are thousands of these films and they tend to blend together into one tedious mass of pointless mass of sadism.  One of the brothers gets kidnapped.  The other one has to shoot a lot of people.  Bleh.  Boring.  Outside of the people who need something to watch while at the Russian mafia sleepover, who cares?  WAKE ME WHEN THE BULLETS HAVE STOPPED FLYING AND IT’S ALL OVER!  But at least Cage and Cusack are around to keep things kind of interesting.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night

 

Cleaning Out The DVR #29: Broadcast News (dir by James L. Brooks)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by the end of this Friday.  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

220px-Broadcast_News

I’ll give you three chances to guess what the 1987 film Broadcast News is about.

Broadcast News takes place at the Washington bureau of a major network news operation.  (You can tell this film was made in the 80s in that nobody’s working for a blog and there’s no mention of Fox, MSNBC, or CNN.)  This is where a group of hard-working men and women do their best to make the national news anchor, Bill Rorish, look good.

Bill Rorish is played by Jack Nicholson and, even though he only has about five minutes of screen time (out of a 133 minute movie), he pretty much dominates the entire film.  Some of that is because he’s Jack Nicholson and he kicks ass.  All Jack has to do to dominate a scene is show up and arch an eyebrow.  But, beyond that, everyone in the movie is obsessed with impressing Bill Rorish.  Whenever a reporter and his producer get a story on the air, they obsessively watch to see if Bill smiles afterward.  Bill Rorish is the God they all hope to please and the film (as well as Nicholson’s performance) suggests that he barely even knows that they’re alive.  It’s telling that the only time Bill shows up in person (as opposed to appearing on a TV screen), it’s because a huge number of people at the Washington bureau are being laid off.

When Bill says that it’s a shame that budget cuts are leading to so many good newspeople being laid off, someone suggests that maybe Bill could help by taking a cut in his million-dollar salary.  Needless to say, Bill Rorish is not amused.

Broadcast News centers on three of the characters who work at the Washington Bureau.  First off, there’s Jane Craig (Holly Hunter), a producer.  Jane is a true believer in the mission and the importance of journalism.  Her ethics and her belief in what constitutes proper journalism are everything to her and, at times, she can get more than a little self-righteous about it.  (If Broadcast News were made today, Jane would spend the entire movie whining about how new media is destroying the country.)  At the same time, Jane is completely neurotic, a self-described “basket case” who, at one point, ends up sobbing in a hotel room as she prepares to go to sleep by herself.

Jane’s best friend is Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), a reporter who wants to someday be an anchor.  Aaron is smart and funny (and he better be, seeing as how he’s being played by Albert Brooks) but he’s not telegenic and he’s almost as neurotic as Jane.  Like Jane, Aaron is all about journalistic ethics but there’s a defensiveness to Aaron.  Whenever Aaron complains about vapid news anchors, it’s obvious that he’s more jealous than outraged.

And then there’s Tom Grunick (William Hurt), who represents everything that Jane and Aaron claim to be against.  He’s handsome, he’s smooth, he’s charismatic, and he’s definitely not an intellectual.  He knows little about the specifics of current events.  However, he has great instincts.  He knows how to sell a story and he knows how to present himself on camera.  He’s also a surprisingly nice and sincere guy, which makes it all the more difficult for Aaron to justify his belief that “Tom is the devil.”

From the minute that Tom arrives at the Washington bureau, there’s a strong attraction between Tom and Jane.  (Jane even sends another reporter to Alaska after she finds out that Tom slept with her.)  Tom wants to be a better reporter.  Jane wants to be happy but fears compromising her ethics.  And Aaron … well, Aaron wants Jane.

Not surprisingly, considering that the film was made 29 years ago, there were some parts of Broadcast News that felt extremely dated.  A scene where Aaron complains about a story that Tom did on date rape feels especially uncomfortable when viewed today and both Jane and Aaron occasionally came across as being a bit too self-righteous.  In today’s media world, Tom’s sins really didn’t seem like that big of a deal.

But, for the most part, I enjoyed Broadcast News.  It was an intelligent film, one the featured people having actual conversations about actual ideas and, listening to them, I realized how rare, in both movies and real life, that actually is.  It’s a witty film, full of good performances.  While I hope I never become as self-righteous as Jane, I could still relate to her in her more neurotic moments.  And who wouldn’t want a best friend like Aaron?

And, for that matter, who wouldn’t want a lover like Tom?

(That’s something I never expected to write about a character played by William Hurt.)

And, of course, there’s this scene.  Poor Aaron!

Broadcast News was nominated for best picture of 1987.  However, it lost to The Last Emperor.

 

What If Lisa Had All The Power And Picked The Oscar Nominees: 2015 Edition


oscar trailer kitties

With the Oscar nominations due to be announced tomorrow, now is the time that the Shattered Lens indulges in a little something called, “What if Lisa had all the power.” Listed below are my personal Oscar nominations. Please note that these are not the films that I necessarily think will be nominated. The fact of the matter is that the many of them will not. Instead, these are the films that would be nominated if I was solely responsible for deciding the nominees this year. Winners are starred and listed in bold.

(You’ll also note that I’ve added four categories, all of which I believe the Academy should adopt — Best Voice-Over Performance, Best Casting, Best Stunt Work, and Best Overall Use Of Music In A Film.)

(Click on the links to see my nominations for 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010!)

best picture

Best Picture
Brooklyn
*Carol*
Clouds of Sils Maria
Ex Machina
The Final Girls
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
Room
Sicario
Straight Outta Compton

George Miller

Best Director
John Crowley for Brooklyn
Alex Garland for Ex Machina
F. Gary Gray for Straight Outta Compton
Todd Haynes for Carol
*George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road*
Denis Villeneuve for Sicario

Jacob Tremblay

Best Actor
John Cusack in Love & Mercy
Gerard Depardieu in Welcome To New York
Johnny Depp in Black Mass
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
Michael B. Jordan in Creed
*Jacob Tremblay in Room*

alicia vikander

Best Actress
Katharine Isabelle in 88
Brie Larson in Room
Rooney Mara in Carol
Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn
Amy Schumer in Trainwreck
*Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina*

Del Toro

Best Supporting Actor
Michael Angarano in The Stanford Prison Experiment
Paul Dano in Love & Mercy
*Benicio Del Toro in Sicario*
Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Maggie
Sylvester Stallone in Creed

MA

Best Supporting Actress
*Malin Akerman in The Final Girls*
Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy
Cate Blanchett in Carol
Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak
Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight
Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria

amyp

Best Voice Over Performance
Jon Hamm in Minions
Richard Kind in Inside Out
Jason Mantzoukas in The Regular Show Movie
*Amy Poehler in Inside Out*
James Spader in Avengers: The Age Of Ultron
Steve Zahn in The Good Dinosaur

EM

Best Original Screenplay
Clouds of Sils Maria
*Ex Machina*
The Final Girls
Inside Out
Sicario
Trainwreck

mara_blanchett_carol

Best Adapted Screenplay
Brooklyn
*Carol*
The End of the Tour
Love & Mercy
Room
The Walk

Inside_Out_(2015_film)_poster

Best Animated Film
*Inside Out*
The Good Dinosaur
Minions
The Peanuts Movie
The Regular Show Movie
Shaun The Sheep

Amy_Movie_Poster

Best Documentary Feature:
3 ½ Minutes 10 Bullets
*Amy*
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau
Prophet’s Prey
The Wolfpack

The_Tribe_poster

Best Foreign Language Film
The Connection
Gloria
The Mafia Only Kills In Summer
Misunderstood
A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Contemplating Existence
*The Tribe*

Brooklyn

Best Casting
*Brooklyn*
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
Sicario
Straight Outta Compton
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sicario

Best Cinematography
Carol
Clouds of Sils Maria
The Green Inferno
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
*Sicario*

carol3

Best Costume Design
Brooklyn
*Carol*
Cinderella
Ex Machina
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Suffragette

MMedit

Best Editing
Carol
Ex Machina
*Mad Max: Fury Road*
Room
Sicario
Straight Outta Compton

Arnold-Schwarzenegger-in-Maggie

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Black Mass
Brooklyn
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
*Maggie*
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

bl

Best Original Score
*Carol*
The Hateful Eight
It Follows
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Spy2015_TeaserPoster

Best Original Song
“Love Me Like You Do” from Fifty Shades of Grey
“See You Again” from Furious 7
“Better When I’m Dancing” from The Peanuts Movie
“Flashlight” from Pitch Perfect 2
“Feels Like Summer” from Shaun the Sheep
*“Who Can You Trust” from Spy*

Compton 2

Best Overall Use Of Music
Furious 7
The Hateful Eight
Joy
Love & Mercy
The Martian
*Straight Outta Compton*

cp

Best Production Design
*Crimson Peak*
Ex Machina
The Final Girls
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Unfriended

sicario-emily-blunt-trailer

Best Sound Editing
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Furious 7
The Revenant
*Sicario*
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Straight Outta Compton

Compton

Best Sound Mixing
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Furious 7
The Revenant
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
*Straight Outta Compton*

MM Stunt

Best Stunt Work
Furious 7
Kingsman: The Secret Service
*Mad Max: Fury Road*
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Spy
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

star-wars-force-awakens-official-poster

Best Visual Effects
Ant-Man
Avengers: The Age of Ultron
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
*Star Wars: The Force Awakens*
The Walk

Films By Number of Nominations:
11 Nominations – Carol
10 Nominations – Mad Max: Fury Road
9 Nominations – Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
8 Nominations – Ex Machina
7 Nominations – Brooklyn, Straight Outta Compton
5 Nominations – Furious 7, Inside Out, Love & Mercy, The Revenant, Room
4 Nominations – Avengers: The Age of Ultron, Clouds of Sils MariaThe Final Girls
3 Nominations – The Hateful Eight
2 Nominations – Black Mass, Creed, Crimson Peak, The Good Dinosaur, Maggie, Minions, The Peanuts Movie, The Regular Show Movie, Shaun the SheepSpy, Trainwreck, The Walk
1 Nomination – 3 ½ Minutes 10 Bullets, 50 Shades of Grey, 88, Amy, Ant-Man, Beasts of No Nation, Cinderella, The Connection, The End of The Tour, Gloria, Going Clear, The Green Inferno, It Follows, Joy, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Mafia Only Kills in Summer, The Martian, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Misunderstood, A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence, Pitch Perfect 2, Prophet’s Prey, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Suffragette, The Tribe, UnfriendedWelcome to New York, The Wolfpack

Films By Number of Oscars Won:
4 Oscars – Carol
3 Oscars – Mad Max: Fury Road, Sicario
2 Oscars – Ex Machina, Inside Out, Straight Outta Compton
1 Oscar – Amy, Brooklyn, Crimson Peak, The Final Girls, Maggie, Room, Spy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Tribe

Will the Academy be smart enough to agree with me on these picks?  We will find out on Thursday!

Lisa and Evelyn at the Oscars

Lisa and Evelyn at the Oscars

Playing Catch-Up: The End of the Tour (dir by James Ponsoldt) and Love & Mercy (dir by Bill Pohland)


Two of the best films released last year dealt with troubled artists.

The_End_of_the_Tour

The End of the Tour opens in 2008, with a writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) getting a call that the famous and acclaimed author, David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), has committed suicide.  After learning of the tragedy, Lipsky remembers a few days that he spent interviewing Wallace 12 years earlier.  Wallace had just published his best known work, Infinite Jest.  At the time, Lipsky himself was a struggling writer and he approached Wallace with a combination of admiration and professional envy.  Lipsky hoped that, by interviewing Wallace, he could somehow discover the intangible quality that separates a great writer from a merely good one.

Almost the entire film is made up of Lipsky’s conversations with Wallace.  We watch as both the somewhat reclusive Wallace (who seems both bemused and, at times, annoyed with his sudden fame) warms up to Lipsky and as Lipsky forces himself to admit that Wallace might actually be a genius.  There are a few conflicts, mostly coming from the contrast between the withdrawn Wallace and the much more verbose Lipsky.  Lipsky’s editor (Ron Livingston) continually pressures him to ask Wallace about rumors that Wallace was once a drug addict.  But, for the most part, it’s a rather low-key film, one that’s more interested in exploring ideas than melodrama.  It’s also a perfect example of what can be accomplished by a great director and two actors who are totally committed to their roles.  Jason Segel, especially, gives the performance of his career so far.

The shadow of Wallace’s suicide hangs over the entire film.  Throughout their conversation, Wallace drops hints about his own history with depression.  Much as Lipsky must have done after Wallace’s suicide, we find ourselves looking for clues to explain his death.  But ultimately, Wallace remains a fascinating enigma in both life and death.

Love_&_Mercy_(poster)

Love & Mercy (dir by Bill Pohland)

Love & Mercy opens with Cadillac saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) selling a car to a polite but nervous man (John Cusack).  The man sits in the car with her and rambles for a bit, mentioning that his brother has recently died.  Soon, the man’s doctor, Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), shows up and Melinda learns that the man is Brian Wilson, a musician and songwriter who is famous for co-founding The Beach Boys.  After having a nervous breakdown decades before, Brian is now a recluse.  He and Melinda start a tentative relationship and Melinda quickly discovers that Brian is literally being held prisoner by the manipulative Dr. Landy.

Throughout the film, we are presented with flashbacks to the 1960s and we watch as a young Brian (Paul Dano) deals with both the pressures of fame and his own relationship with his tyrannical father (who, in an interesting parallel to Brian’s later relationship with Landy, is also Brian’s manager).  As Brian struggles to maintain his grip on reality, he obsesses on creating “the greatest album ever.”

Love & Mercy is an enormously affecting story about both the isolation of genius and the redeeming power of love.  Whether he’s played by Cusack or Dano, Brian Wilson remains a fascinating and tragic figure.  It’s hard to say whether Cusack or Dano gives the better performance.  Indeed, they both seem to be so perfectly in sync with each other that you never doubt that the character played by Paul Dano will eventually grow up to become the character played by John Cusack.  Both of them do some of the best work of their careers in Love & Mercy.

Lisa’s Early Oscar Predictions for July!


Sicario

It’s shaping up to be a strange Oscar race.  Here we are halfway through the year and, yet, there are no front-runners.  Some very acclaimed films have been released this year and yet, few of them seem to be getting the type of buzz that usually accompanies a surprise Oscar nomination.  Last year at this time, there was cautious buzz for Grand Budapest Hotel while almost everyone felt pretty safe assuming that Sundance favorites like Boyhood and Whiplash would be players in the Oscar race and many of us were highly anticipating the release of films like Birdman and The Imitation Game.  (For that matter, a lot of people were also still convinced that Unbroken would win best picture.  The buzz is not always correct but still, the buzz was still there.)

This year, some people are hoping that Mad Max: Fury Road will somehow break through the Academy’s aversion to “genre” filmmaking.  (And seriously, the Doof Warrior deserves some sort of award, don’t you think?)  Quite a few are hoping that Ex Machina will not be forgotten.  Personally, I have high hopes for Inside Out.  The buzz around Bridge of Spies is respectful, largely because it seems like the type of film that usually would be be nominated.  (That said, this film also seems like it could bring out the worst impulses of both Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, leading to a movie that will have more in common with The Terminal than with War Horse.)  Carol was beloved at Cannes.

So there are definitely possibilities out there.  When I made my Oscar predictions for this month, I didn’t quite have to blindly guess as much as I did way back in January.  But still, it cannot be denied that — as of right now — this race is wide open and there’s a lot of room for surprise.

Below, you’ll find my Oscar predictions for July.  You can also check out my previous Oscar predictions for January, February, March, April, May, and June!

Best Picture

Black Mass

Brooklyn

Carol

I Saw The Light

In The Heart of the Sea

Inside Out

Sicario

Suffragette

The Walk

Youth

Best Actor

Michael Caine in Youth

Johnny Depp in Black Mass

Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs

Tom Hiddleston in I Saw The Light

Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Carol

Marion Cotillard in MacBeth

Sally Field in Hello, My Name Is Doris

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Lily Tomlin in Grandma

Best Supporting Actor

Albert Brooks in Concussion

John Cusack in Love & Mercy

Benicio Del Toro in Sicario

Harvey Keitel in Youth

Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight

Best Supporting Actress

Joan Allen in Room

Helena Bonham Carter in Suffragette

Jane Fonda in Youth

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara in Carol

Best Director

John Crowley for Brooklyn

Todd Haynes for Carol

Ron Howard for In The Heart of the Sea

Denis Villenueve for Sicario

Robert Zemeckis for The Walk

tom-hiddleston-hank-3

 

Embracing the Melodrama #124: Maps to the Stars (dir by David Cronenberg)


Maps_to_the_Stars_posterI have to admit that, for the most petty of reasons, I was dreading the 2014 release of David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars.  

This was despite the fact that I happen to be a big fan of just about everyone in the cast and David Cronenberg as a director.  (I still say that Cosmopolis is one of the best films of the decade and I don’t care who disagrees.)

My initial issue with Maps to the Stars — and again, I admit this is really petty — was that Sasha Stone, over the Awards Daily web site, was so damn fanatical about singing the film’s praises.  I have a theory that Sasha tends to overpraise certain films specifically so she can have an excuse to get angry and go off on a rant when they don’t receive any Oscar nominations.  Ever since Sasha went batshit crazy over The King’s Speech beating The Social Network, Awards Daily has pretty much gone from being a site about the Oscars to being a site about Sasha screaming in the wilderness like a biblical prophet (and not one of the interesting biblical prophets, like Elijah.  We’re talking about Haggai here.)  From what I had read about Maps To The Stars and judging from the response that it got at Cannes (where, despite mixed reviews, it did win an award when Julianne Moore was named best actress), this film seemed like the epitome of another deliberate lost cause.

Fortunately, the release date of Maps To The Stars was moved to 2015 and civilization was spared from having to deal with a thousand “If Cronenberg doesn’t get an Oscar, society is doomed!” rants.  Instead, we had to deal with a thousand “If Hillary Swank doesn’t win for The Homesman, society is doomed!” rants.

“Okay,” you’re saying, “that’s great Lisa.  Thank you for whatever all that was.  But what about the movie itself!?  Is it any good?”

Eh … I guess.

I mean, Maps to The Stars isn’t a bad movie.  It’s not bad at all.  It’s just maddeningly uneven.

One of my favorite up-and-coming stars, Mia Wasikowska, has a great role in it.  She plays a schizophrenic, named Agatha, who comes to Hollywood.  Agatha’s arms and the back of her neck are covered with burn scars and she is always taking pills.  She is also obsessed with a vile teen star named Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird).  There’s more to her obsession than you might originally think.

Benjie, meanwhile, has just gotten out of rehab and he is literally one of the worst characters ever.  The film does try to build up some sympathy for him by revealing just how fucked up his home life is.  His fragile mother (Olivia Williams) always seems to be on the verge of collapse.  His father (John Cusack) is a glib and shallow psychologist.  Benjie serves as a stand-in for every child star who has been destroyed by Hollywood.  Unfortunately, the film devotes so much time to Benjie being a monster that it never really allows us to see why Benjie’s a star in the first place.  Evan Bird gives such a boring, uninteresting, and flat performance that you never really buy the idea of Benjie could be a success.  (Say what you will about Justin Bieber, he does at least have a cute smile.  Evan Bird can’t even claim that.)

Agatha meets a lot of people in Hollywood, including a limo driver (Robert Pattinson) who is an aspiring screenwriter.  She eventually gets a job working for actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore).  Havana, herself the daughter of a legendary and self-destructive actress, is a monster but — unlike, Benjie — she’s a sympathetic monster.  She’s a talented actress who grew up in Hollywood and now, because she’s no longer in her 20s, is being discarded by Hollywood.  Havana is as much a victim as a victimizer.

Anyway, the film kinda wanders about.  Along with all the other stuff going on, the characters are regularly visited by ghosts.  Secrets are revealed.  Hearts are broken.  Lives are lost.  And yes, relevant points about Hollywood are made but … well, so what?   There’s nothing in Maps to the Stars that you couldn’t learn from rewatching Sunset Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard is a lot less pretentious.  Plus, William Holden was a much better actor than Evan Bird.

As for Cronenberg’s direction — well, Maps to the Stars is definitely David Cronenberg on autopilot.  It’s filled with identifiable Cronenberg touches.  The emphasis placed on Agatha’s scars, for instance, is trademark Cronenberg.  But still, Cronenberg’s direction often just seems to be going through the motions.  Unlike his work in the far more interesting and challenging Cosmopolis (not to mention Eastern Promises), Cronenberg doesn’t really seem to care that much about the story that he’s telling.

Maps to the Stars is worth watching for the performances of Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska.  Otherwise, it’s just another well-made but only occasionally interesting Hollywood melodrama.