27th Sep2014

Maps to the Stars – Film

by timbaros

images-261Maps to the Stars can be described as a take off on Hollywood and celebrity and the people who inhabit this world, and boy what a world it is.

It’s a world created by David Cronenberg, who also directed. He’s the man who last brought us 2012’s Cosmopolis but he is more well known for the much better received A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. Maps to the Stars is not a normal movie, in other words, it’s not what it says on the tin. It’s surreal, dark, black, and intense. It’s a movie that is desperately trying to show us the inhabitants of Hollywood, and their dreams, and their need for fame and validation.

There are several lead characters in the film, but it mostly belongs to Julianne Moore. She plays ageing actress Havana Segrand. While she’s not that old, she can’t get the parts she used to get, but one part that she really wants is to play a part her late mother once played. Segrand seems to live in the shadow of her more legendary mother, who died in a mysterious fire. And Segrand is not a stable woman – though she lives in a huge house that befits a famous film star. And even though Segrand is surrounded by people all the time, including her agent, her personal assistant Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikoska), and her visits to self help guru Dr. Sanford Weiss (John Cusack), she sees the ghost of he mother as a young girl around the house, and she doesn’t know why. And Segrand is just one of the many strange characters in the film.

There’s also the already-mentioned Agatha Weiss. Her story is even more bizarre. She’s been kept in a psychiatric asylum in Jupiter, Florida since she was a young girl after a horrible fire that left her with scars on her hand (she wears gloves) and face. It was a fire that appears to be one that she started, as she has been ostracized and totally rejected by her family. And this includes her father,who happens to be Dr. Sanford Weiss. And she’s obsessed with trying to re-enter the family circle, which she does. And on top of all this, there’s something really strange about her.

Dr. Sanford Weiss is a famous television psychologist who offers New Age advice to his followers, as well as performing intimate bodywork on his celebrity clients, the rich and famous. He stars in his own television program that is constantly on in his household; he’s a strange egotistical man. He is also the author of best-selling self-help books with analysis for the troubled, which doesn’t help his 13-year old teenage son, Benjie Weiss (a very good Evan Bird).

Benjie Weiss is a teen sensation, a Beiberesque movie star who is making way to much money. He’s spoiled and screwed up (just like Justin Beiber?). He’s a teen heartthrob (having starred in the big hit ‘Bad Babysitter’ and fresh from rehab – at the tender age of 13. He visits a sick girl in a hospital to boost his reputation and told by his agent that this girl in dying of AIDS, but actually she tells him that she’s got Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He’s pissed off and tells his agent off for providing him the wrong information. The girl eventually dies and Benjie is haunted by her ghost – a ghost that he sees almost everywhere he goes. It’s a metaphor for his stardom, an attempt to bring him back down to earth perhaps? But it doesn’t, it makes him a lunatic to the point where he thinks he’s strangling her but he actually strangles the co-star of a new film that’s he’s doing, and he’s jealous that this co-star is stealing scenes from him. The strangulation is a chilling scene, and all to surreal by the reaction of his mother, Cristina Weiss (Olivia Williams). She’s not your typical celebrity mother; she’s a bit spastic and emotionally unstable, paranoid if you will, who is more concerned about her son’s ability to make more money than for his personal well-being. The Weiss family is one screwed up family.

Robert Pattison shows up as perhaps the only sane person in the movie. He’s Jerome, a limo driver who happens to pick up Agatha when she arrives in Los Angeles. He’s not just a limo driver, he’s also a part-time actor. And he falls for Agatha, but also gets seduced by Havana. After their sexual romp all hell breaks lose and Agatha goes on a rampage.

Maps to the Stars is an exaggerated take off on Hollywood and it’s denizens. It’s a film that is a distorted view on celebrity culture, but to the extreme, with highs and the very lows, with ghosts from their past thrown in for scary effect. And it’s a film where the characters are all very unlikeable, so unlikeable that you sort of wish they would all kill themselves. Maps to the Stars uses Los Angeles and Hollywood as the backdrop, with parts of the film shot on the Hollywood walk of fame and under the famous Hollywood sign, to give it a realistic look. Most people say that Hollywood is fake and artificial, and it’s a bit like this film, it’s fake, dark, make believe, artificial and over the top, with celebrities swallowed up by their obsessions with success, celebrity and money, and perhaps this is what Hollywood is all about?

27th Sep2014

Human Capital – Film

by timbaros

images-239A cyclist gets mowed down by a car on an empty country road and it’s a mystery as to who did it. In the new film Human Capital, we are left guessing until the very end.

Human Capital (Il capitale umano) is a smartly directed and acted film that is cleverly told in four parts, with the first three parts named after three of the film’s characters. These parts are constructed in a way that tells the story form three different perspectives – until part 4 of the film when it is revealed who hit the cyclist. It’s a film with a very strong cast – Italian actors and actresses who are at the top of their game, and in addition to a very good script, it makes it worth seeing.

Dino Ossola (Frabrizio Bentivoglio) is a man who feels like he’s not where he wants to be in life. He’s an older man, with his own real estate company, operating out of a very small office in the center of town. He recently downsized his company but still wants to climb the social ladder. So he plans on using his daughter Serena (Matilde Gioli) as a stepping stone because she’s dating the son of very wealthy financial investor Giovanni Bernaschi (Fabrizio Gifuni). Dino decides to invest 700,000 EUR in Giovanni’s fund where he’s promised spectacular returns. But the opposite happens, and within days Dino has lost 90% of his investment. He’s desperate not only to recoup the money as most of it was borrowed, but he needs the money because his pyschologist wife Roberta (Valeria Golino) has announced that she is pregnant. Meanwhile, Giovanni’s wife Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) has nothing better to do all day then to spend her husbands’ money and by having him fund a theatre company for her. She’s excited about the prospect of doing something with her life, instead of shopping all day, and hires a board of directors for the theatre company. Meanwhile, Giovanni needs to take a sudden overnight business trip as it appears there’s problems with his investment company.

Serena, even though she is dating Massimiliano, meets goodlooking Luca (Giovanni Anzaldo) at Roberta’s office. They strike up a conversation and decide to meet up later, and soon enough they fall for each other. But there is a racuous alcohol-fueled party that Massimiliano has gone to, and Serena receives a phone call from one of the partygoers to come and pick him up because he is too drunk to drive. She’s at Luca’s apartment when she receives the phone call, and they both go together. But it’s the mystery of who was actually driving Massimiano’s car which drives the plot for Human Capital. It’s Massimialiano’s car that is identified by a witness of being the car that hit the cyclist, but he says he doesn’t know how he got home the previous night. So who actually hit the cyclist? Who’s to blame?

Human Capital is a mystery whodunnit without it ever being a detective story. It’s brilliantly told from all angles and from all the characters who have some sort of involvement in each other’s lives. It’s a different way of storytelling, and Director Paolo Virzi pulls it off. He’s made several films over the past decade but this film will make his name, and work, better known. He’s said of this film – “it’s tells the story of how money – the angst of multiplying it, the anxiety of losing it – determines the relationships, the fates, and the worth of the people it touches.” The film has won many awards, not just in Italy but in America as well. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi was just recently named Best Actress at the Tribeca Film Festival for her work in this film. It’s a film not to be missed.