DVD review: Maps to the Stars

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In the film industry, when you make it, you generally go to Hollywood, and the famous hills have become synonymous with the silver screen stars. With fame and fortunes comes power which can bring out the very worst in those who absorb themselves in the glamorous entertainment business. Swinging a brutal bat at this world and those who inhabit it with a satirical study is daring director David Cronenberg. With a powerful cast including Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska, ‘Maps to the Stars’ is a shocking piece of cinema that sinks its teeth into celeb culture and refuses to let go.
   This jagged filmmaking takes the darkness of Bret Easton Ellis’ brat attack Less Than Zero into the 21st century in a way that Coppola’s Bling Ring couldn’t, every scene coated in a thick artificial gloss along with Bruce Wagner’s biting script that rips into the fragility of stardom. Failing actress Havana Segrand (Moore) represents the has-beens of Hollywood as she yearns for the opportunity to play her iconic dead mother on-screen, in a desperate attempt to use her family name to her benefit. A mess of a human being, her crazed lifestyle is disturbing but vital. She hires young Agatha Weiss (Wasikowska) as her personal assistant, a girl who has been quite literally scarred by her showbiz upbringing, with serious burns on her face, neck and arms. The other key player is Agatha’s brother Benjie (Evan Bird), a Bieber-esque rich kid whose moral compass is non-existent due to the material world he has been raised in. These horribly fascinating characters cross paths in an increasingly interesting narrative that joins dots into a warped image of celebrity.
  There is very little innocence amongst the tortured souls portrayed, perhaps only Wasikowska’s character showing slight signs of having principles despite her unpredictably dangerous tendencies. She gives a note-perfect performance and every twisted layer of it is impactful. Equally as impressive is Julianne Moore as we’ve never seen her before. She is maniacal, lost in a bubble of Freudian trauma. Slightly underused is Robert Pattinson, who plays a wannabe screenwriter who chauffeurs the wealthy around in a stretch limousine. He is subdued but quietly effective, befriending Agatha and talking passionately about their aspirations. The supporting cast is made up of John Cusack and Olivia Williams who play Agatha and Benjie’s controlling parents, so absorbed in their glamorous careers that they’re more concerned with their tabloid reputations than their children or each other.
  This is the first film of Canadian filmmaker’s that has been made in America, and down to the subject matter it couldn’t have really been filmed anywhere else. Cronenberg is a vicious vulture, preying on pop culture with oily streaks of jet-black humour. I imagine that after this deadly assault, it’ll be a while before he thinks about spreading his wings in Hollywood again, if ever. ‘Maps to the Stars’ can be a difficult watch, but it is engrossing and involving, shining the unflattering satirical spotlight directly above the unglamorous, turning the so-called American Dream into a self-obsessed nightmare.
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Top 5 Tim Burton characters that aren’t played by his wife or Johnny Depp…

It’s common knowledge that hair-brained director Tim Burton loves to cast his wife Helena Bonham Carter and his pal Johnny Depp in almost ALL of his films. As The Cult Den celebrate the iconic filmmaker and his collection of work, Cinema Perspective picks his five greatest characters that weren’t played by the aforementioned pair!
5. Bela Lugosi (Ed Wood)
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Ed Wood is known as one of Hollywood’s worst directors with a cross-dressing habit and in 1994, Tim Burton endeavored to direct a biopic of his life. Martin Landau starred alongside Johnny Depp and played the part of actor Bela Lugosi who was an idol of Wood’s.
4. The Oompa-Loompas (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
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In a modern interpretation of Roald Dahl’s classic novel, the Indian actor Deep Roy appeared as all of Willy Wonka’s helpers. A distinct change from the orange-faced versions in the original film version, the choreographed dance sequences were described by one critic as ‘Busby Berkeley on crack’.
3. Adolfo Pirelli (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)
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In 2007, Burton turned his hand to adapting another famous story, this time re-telling the Victorian musical tale of barber turned serial killer Sweeney Todd. Comedy actor Sacha Baron Cohen co-starred as Todd’s wicked adversary Adolfo Pirelli.
2. Alice Kingsleigh (Alice in Wonderland)
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In another modern adaptation of a classic (there’s a pattern here), Tim Burton’s version of Lewis Carrol’s fantasy fairytale Alice in Wonderland was met with a mixed response. One of the highlights though was Mia Wasikowska’s performance as Alice, bringing the suitable Burton-esque darkness to the role.
1. The Joker (Batman)
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Finally there’s an entry in the list that doesn’t star Johnny Depp! Tim Burton’s trip to Gotham brought the comic book to the big screen in a way that few other filmmakers could pull off. Stealing the show from the caped crusader himself was The Joker, played by the great Jack Nicholson. Let’s face it, the baddies are always more fun anyway!

DVD review: Stoker

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Even from the title, there is an obvious gothic reference and these continue throughout South Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s first move in English speaking cinema with ‘Stoker’, a coming-of-age psychological thriller. Starring Mia Wasikowska as India Stoker, a misfit teenager, coming to terms with losing her father, whilst struggling to connect with her manipulative mother, immaculately played by Nicole Kidman. Once the mysterious uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode) arrives on the scene at his brother’s funeral, and then moves into the family home, the family dynamic gradually falls apart, descending to darkness.
  ‘Stoker’ is a film laced in style, from the weaving typography in the opening titles to the inverted closing credits, it is always visually exciting, not afraid of showing it’s roots and influences, mostly notably crossing it’s Asian symbolism with Hitchcock cinematography. Every frame is so sweet and sickly, looking as though as it’s been dipped in black treacle, yet maintaining class; pushing the boundaries without overdoing it. The script is strangely penned by Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller, the dialogue unfortunately doesn’t compliment the visuals as well as it should, the delivery often more interesting than the language, this being one of the few flaws. The plot ticks along like a teasing ghost train, slowly alluring in the beginning before a few haunting twists and eerie turns, with a splatter of fake blood at the end, leaving passengers immediately wanting a second ride.
   Mia Wasikowska proves her worth in a lead role and Nicole Kidman is equally compelling in their messed up mother-daughter relationship, which plays like a warped Tim Burton version of The Gilmore Girls, replacing the bouncy conversation with sexual frustration, their communication stilted until one horrifically captivating scene. Matthew Goode is creepily flawless as the villain, giving a chilling performance leaving him tipped to take on the controlling role of Mr Grey in the film adaptation of the 50 Shades trilogy. The only setback in casting being Jacki Weaver, who is terribly underused. After playing evil so brilliantly in Australian gangland flick Animal Kingdom, I was glad to see her name in the supporting cast but she is so anonymous, sadly not allowed the screen time she deserved.
   This perverse fairy-tale is very ambitious, so unique that it’s difficult to categorise it’s genre, it stands alone as a creative masterpiece with performances to boot. Criticised with ‘style over substance’ claims, I feel the concept, despite lacking in originality, is nearly strong enough to fight it out with the overpowering imagery. The aesthetic presence admittedly outweighs the narrative in the end, but it does it so beautifully, with scenes that will stay with you long after leaving the cinema that I could very happily watch over and over again.

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