If you ever wondered what would happen if Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret went out for a night on the town, and got into all kinds of comical trouble, then you’ll want to check out the latest film by director Julian Jarrold. A Royal Night Out follows the young Queen and her sister as they get a one night leave from Buckingham Palace to celebrate with the common folk in London.
Dracula Untold is one of those misfires that’s not even memorably or enjoyably poor, just a monotonous distraction for an admittedly brisk hour and a half. The revisionist Maleficient-like interpretation of Dr. Acula as a heroic figure just doesn’t work with material like this that’s so miserably solemn and lacking in any stirring entertainment value. Only in one brief part of the final act does the film gain some goofy spark, and it’s fittingly when the film actually embraces its horror roots as a fully vampire Vlad turns a bunch of his people and they all go sharp-toothed upon the Turk forces. Of course, that’s all for naught as Gary Shore’s feature debut goes back to neutering Dracula’s bite in making him the lone ‘good guy’ among his suddenly all evil people, and concluding with a likely far too optimistic franchise tease: ending a film with “Let the games begin” almost feels like mockery when there’s been so little incentive offered to come back and play.
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.
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.
Ah, period piece films. It’s kind of a silly term if you think about it, since any historical time ever is technically a period, the film itself being the artistic piece of the equation. These films don’t really constitute a genre on their own, and they’re most commonly referring to something in the far past, though certainly not exclusively. Some people hear of a film referred to as a “period piece,” and the first things that come to mind are nobility and dogmatic rulers, oppressed women, and way-paving.