Before I met my wife, my longest relationship lasted a …
In the end, our bodies betray us. Most aren’t fortunate enough to go out on their own terms, but some are dealt a crueler fate than others. While most films treat Alzheimer’s disease with overwrought melodrama and naïveté, Still Alice stares unflinchingly into the abyss. Bolstered by a haunting performance from Julianne Moore and the focused storytelling of filmmakers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, this film has the raw power to simultaneously crush and rejuvenate your spirit. Painful, required viewing for life’s brutal training ground.
The splitting of the conclusions of recent fantasy or sci-fi franchises into two parts (or more – looking at you, Peter Jackson) has been financially successful for Hollywood studios, but less so creatively. Only arguable trendsetter Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I proved a satisfying film in its own right by being so rich in character interplay and having an actual sense of progression. Mockingjay – Part I is heavy on character beats, but they are repetitive ones due to its limited scope through withholding all the big stuff until Part 2.
Based on a popular novel by Lisa Genova, Still Alice is a weepy portrait of a linguistic professor, Dr. Alice Howland, battling early onset alzheimers shortly after turning 50 years old. Boasting a cast that includes Alec Baldwin, Kirsten Stewart, Kate Bosworth and the always electric Julianne Moore, above all else this is a film that leans on strong performances. This is not a film about script, ideas or even direction, it is about the intimacy of faces and the passion of performers.
There’s something theatrical about this new version of Cronenberg. Not in the way we think of Stratford or Shaw. More like pseudo-artistic interpretive theatre that happens during one’s experimental phase in University. Maps to the Stars is a colossal disappointment, offering stilted performances, a disjointed and predominantly ineffectual script, and bewilderingly bad sound design. What appears on the surface to be an interesting dialogue on child stars, the vapid, all-consuming and destructive nature of celebrity, and the superficial nature of Los Angeles very quickly reveals itself to be something else altogether – the tired, lazy half-measures of an auteur riding on his own coattails.
Hollywood could easily be the perfect fantasy world of Cronenberg’s obsessions. The themes associated with body horror, from the fascination with decay to the battle between body and mind, are staples of the torrid extremes of Tinsel Town. In 2012, David Cronenberg’s son, Brandon, tackled these ideas with his feature debut Antiviral. That film explores a dystopian future in which the obsession with celebrity is taken to extremes of consumption. In Antiviral, the masses purchase meat grown from their favourite celebrity’s cells and head to a special clinic in order to be infected with the same venereal strain as their Hollywood Idol. The film externalizes the growing cultural obsession with fame, and concentrates that obsession through corporeality and sex.
What is sure to be one of the year’s biggest films, Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I, has its first trailer. Luckily this film appears to be doing something other than having a second half of the film be another round of the Hunger Games, as Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes the face of a rebellion against Donald Sutherland’s President Snow.
Los Angeles, the city that homes the superstars and studios responsible for mainstream cinema culture, has consistently received its due criticism from those who either reject it or work within it. Look no further than Thom Andersen’s nearly comprehensive Los Angeles Plays Itself to see the town utilized as an easy space for shooting, a battleground for the melodrama of the privileged, and home field for telling stories about the storytellers. The business-driven artistic culture that pervades the town has been satirized in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Player, and Barton Fink to the point that a simple update of finger-pointing to the 21st century may be seen as a rehashing. Bruce Wagner’s crazy script for David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars instead paints the town as a machine capable of rehashing through its own ghostly presence of the-machine-that-once-was: a cycle so foreboding that it must be spoken of through horror tropes.