Mar 13

“Maps to the Stars”: A Wacky Therapist and More Dysfunction

Most critics agree: fans of Julianne Moore will like her performance as actress Havana Segrand in the new film Maps to the Stars, directed by David Cronenberg.

Other tidbits about Maps that have gotten my attention? In addition to loads of family dysfunctional issues, there’s also John Cusack as a wacky therapist. From Focus Features:

Meet the Weiss family, who are making their way in Hollywood rife with money, fame, envy, and relentless hauntings. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) is a famed TV self-help therapist with an A-list celebrity clientele. Meanwhile, Cristina Weiss (Olivia Williams) has her work cut out managing the career of their disaffected child-star son, Benjie (Evan Bird), a fresh graduate of rehab at age 13. Yet unbeknownst to them, another member of the Weiss family has arrived in town – mysteriously scarred and tormented Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), just released from a psych ward and ready to start again. She soon works her way into a friendship with a limo driver (Robert Pattinson) and becomes personal assistant to unraveling actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), who is beset by the ghost of her legendary mother, Clarice (Sarah Gadon). But Agatha is on a quest for redemption – and even in this realm of the artificial, and the unearthly, she’s determined to find it, no matter what it takes.

And, a critic’s view from Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian:

“…a macabre ensemble comedy of cruelty, insecurity and self-hate…a satire of contemporary Hollywood, with echoes of Sunset Boulevard and Postcards from the Edge, depicting a communal nervous breakdown in a town so enclosed and incestuous that everyone is part of the same symbolic sibling-hood of fear. This is one, big, unhappy dysfunctional family, in which guilty souls are afraid of failure and haunted by the return of the repressed. Every surface has a sickly sheen of anxiety; every face is a mask of suppressed pain.

You can see the trailer below:

Havana Segrand and Her “Therapy”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: Described both as “…an actress perpetually on the verge of coming apart” and “a Santa Ana wind of need, neurosis and solipsism,” Havana uses several types of therapy: “a combination of massage, est and California Freudianism — with Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a self-help guru who happens to be Benjie and Agatha’s father.”

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: “Taking her self-esteem to a new low, she is auditioning for a remake of a 50s melodrama starring her late movie-star mother Clarice – whom she now believes abused her, thanks to sessions with creepy new-age therapist Stafford…”

Matt Zoller Seitz, rogerebert.com: “Havana’s regular therapist/masseuse/TV psychologist…presents himself as selfless and caring, but seems determined to crack open repressed minds mainly so he can root around and provoke extreme reactions. (When Stafford manipulates Havana’s body on a yoga mat, Cronenberg’s staging suggests sex, sometimes rape.)”

Various Themes

Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice: “…clearly intended as a sharp satire of Hollywood ambition, vanity, avarice, and emptiness…”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “…[Bruce] Wagner’s script is content to go after easy targets: child actors, Scientology, revolving-door rehab programs, New Age-y pseudo-spiritualism. With all due respect to the fine work they do, acting is a line of work that tends to attract broken people: those who thrive under false identities, forever seeking public reinforcement.”

(The Mixed) Overall Reviews

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “With its muddled plot twists, ridiculous dialogue (by Bruce Wagner), easy targets (Scientology is always good) and preposterous view of La La Land, Maps to the Stars is part satire, part soap opera, part ghost story, and totally moronic.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “…Part showbiz sendup, part ghost story, part dysfunctional-family drama, the movie instead comes across as so much jaded mumbo-jumbo.”

Dave Calhoun, Time Out: “Some of this creepy portrait of Beverly Hills screw-ups is deeply silly – here’s looking at you, John Cusack as a self-help guru with a nasty past – but it has just enough venomous bite to leave you feeling poisoned simply from being in the company of these gargoyles for two hours.”

Jon Frosch, The Atlantic: “…Maps to the Stars is so crisply directed, furiously paced and gleefully performed, that you go along for the ride.”

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “‘Maps to the Stars’ is a strange, sometimes intoxicating mix of satire, ghost story and family melodrama, with a plot and point that remain hazy to the end.”

Oct 27

“Tracks” and “Wild”: Which of These Similar Films Will You See?

In all of the much-deserved shouting already out there about Reese Witherspoon in Wild (to be released later this year), a little film like Tracks could easily get lost. It’s a less audience-friendly film because while the two physical journeys are similar, the psychological journeys are much different. Marshall Fine, The Huffington Post

Two new one-word-titled films are just begging to be compared. Which of these upcoming true-memoir adaptations will you see? IMDB descriptions:

Tracks: A young woman goes on a 1,700-mile trek across the deserts of West Australia with four camels and her faithful dog.

Wild: A chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe.

Tracks is set in the 1970’s, Wild in the 1990’s. Watch both trailers below:

The Real-Life Main Characters: Robyn Davidson in Tracks

“As depicted in the film, Davidson is not much of a people person. But she has a way with animals, and plans to make the trek with three adult camels, a cute baby camel named Goliath, and her dog Diggity.” (Peter Keough, Boston Globe)

“…a mix of maniacal idealism and childish stubbornness that makes it seem her chin is perpetually stuck out at the world. It’s hard to judge who’s more cantankerous, her or the four feral camels she trains to haul supplies for her and her beloved black dog, Diggity.” (Kristin Tillotson, Star Tribune)

The Real-Life Characters: Cheryl Strayed in Wild

“Witherspoon doesn’t shy away from showing the dark sides of Cheryl’s character — her surrender to sexual excesses and drug addiction, including heroin. Her battle for survival began a long time before she hit the wilderness trail, so her journey illuminates a whole series of internal as well as external struggles.” (Stephen Farber, Hollywood Reporter)

The Performances of the Leads: Mia Wasikowska (Tracks)

“After witnessing Wasikowska’s tour de force, its hard to imagine that even Oscar-winner Witherspoon can top it.” (Kriston Tillotson, Star Tribune)

The Performances of the Leads: Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

“…transforms herself both physically and emotionally into this hardened yet needy young woman seeking to reinvent herself after a series of personal tragedies.” (Stephen Farber, Hollywood Reporter)

Why the Journey? Tracks

“Hints at why come in flashbacks to her childhood — her father’s walkabouts, her mother’s suicide. But they feel like a distraction. As you watch the film unfold, the why quickly becomes less important than the how.” (Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times)

Why the Journey? Wild

“The painful disintegration of Cheryl’s marriage, accelerated by her frightening if not entirely convincing transformation into a heroin-shooting nymphomaniac, is presented as a direct result of Bobbi’s death, at which point ‘Wild’ reveals itself to be, among other things, a mother-daughter love story.” (Justin Chang, Variety)

Those Met Along the Way (Tracks)

As a sunburned Robyn begins to learn about camels from a ruthless taskmaster named Kurt (Rainer Bock), the rough world of those who live on the desert’s edge takes hold…

Though Kurt is a cheating brute, more often Robyn is met by the kindness of strangers. Three become instrumental in her journey: the Afghan camel wrangler Sallay (John Flaus), the Aborigine elder Mr. Eddy (Rolley Mintuma) and Rick (Adam Driver), the photographer who starts as an irritant and becomes a friend.  (Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times)

Flashbacks of Other Folks (Wild)

…[mom] Bobbi, an inspiring life force who is stricken with a devastating medical diagnosis. We learn of the closeness of their bond only gradually…

Gaby Hoffmann as Cheryl’s supportive but skeptical friend and Thomas Sadoski as her conflicted husband make the most of their scenes, but it’s really Dern who tears at our emotions during her scenes with Witherspoon. (Stephen Farber, Hollywood Reporter)