Cannes 2014 Review: Cronenberg's MAPS TO THE STARS Gets Lost Along The Way

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Cannes 2014 Review: Cronenberg's MAPS TO THE STARS Gets Lost Along The Way
This doesn't bode well.

For the second film in a row, David Cronenberg has made a stinker. Yes, there were some bits in Cosmopolis that didn't suck, but it was hardly vintage DC. As I mentioned in my review for that other Robert Pattinson-in-a-limo movie, my biggest disappointment of late isn't that Cronenberg is trying new things (applause!), stepping outside for the last decade or so from his bread-and-butter genre flicks. But I am really not along for the ride with his latest foray into somber, clinical and dreary character pieces.

I could go on and on about how Crash's captivating and nihilistic ennui has been replaced of late with a glossy and laconic moping that seems characteristic of this latest phase. As before, I can't even point to any truly repellent performances -- the casting seems on par with his great works, and the actors are doing exactly what the film calls for.

I'll continue to decry, however, Peter Sushinksy's digital photography. The man shot The Empire Strikes Back, and I'm saddened to see that with these last Cronenberg flicks (and the truly appalling-looking After Earth) that this master of line and tonality is making films that look like video-game cut scenes.

Story-wise, this is a meager offering, an uneven tale about a child actor and his commanding parents, a young girl who comes to New York and befriends a limo driver, and a needy and resentful actress past her prime. How these stories connect is the core plot of the film, but this is hardly the stuff of a compelling who-dunnit.

Save for one scene that's as jarring as it is (finally) effective, the whole film feels like it shuffles along.

Cronenberg famously shoots most of his films in his native Toronto, and here, with augmentation by CGI, the city does an almost passable job of playing Los Angeles. That said, between the chilliness of the performers and the sterility of the lensing, this is the least Californian representation of L.A. that's been captured in some time. Sure, we can convince ourselves that this is a different Hollywood, but even when the few location shots are intercut, it all feels a bit stretched.

If we start nitpicking the actors' choices, it's clear that John Cusack simply lacks the charisma and zeal in order to be a cultish leader. One need only look at Tom Cruise in Magnolia, or even Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, to see how different choices result in far more captivating experiences.

Julianne Moore's raw power is on display, but the Blanche DuBois act feels equally wrought. Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson are perfectly fine. Newcomer Evan Bird can spout "Jew cunt" as written on the page and come across as douchey when called for, but his venom comes across more as school-bully than truly demonic child actor.

Finally, a chunk of the film rests on a trope that's so tired and ridiculous that it almost plays as a comedy, a plot device more deserving of a M. Night Shyamalan script than one by Mr. Cronenberg. Again, as in Cosmopolis, I think a huge portion of the blame can be laid on the plotting of the script (it was eventually turned into a novel when the project was delayed). After a while, we just don't care about these miserable people, and no matter how stylized or shocking something's meant to be, it just feels more laborious than intense.

I can hope for new and better things from the filmmaker, and as above am always glad to confront whatever he has in store. Cronenberg is now in a phase that simply no longer speaks to me, a cold and dreary cinema that's as dull as it is forgettable. The director remains one of the great artists of the medium, so I can only hope that his next project falls more in line with my own appetites. Hopefully he'll also encourage his long time collaborator Sushinksy to stretch the medium of digital video into new and pleasing ways, rather than crafting another in what's now a line of shitty looking, lousy-to-watch flicks.

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David CronenbergJohn CusackJulianne MooreMia WasikowskaRobert PattinsonBruce WagnerEvan BirdComedyDrama

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KjseoMay 18, 2014 4:44 PM

I'm immensely curious about how I'll react to this movie when I see it. I have to say I thought Cosmopolis actually convinced me that digital filmmaking could almost be on par with shooting on film stock. Even in the beginning, when Pattinson is conversing with Jay Baruchel, the blue screen work looked bad, but also cool in a futuristic-y way. It's definitely not as bad as the CGI in the steamer boat scene in A Dangerous Method (which is, I think, SUPER under-appreciated) though.

Greg dinskiskMay 18, 2014 7:08 PM

The thing with the bluescreen there in COSMOPOLIS (my favorite film of the decade, so far), is that it's supposed to look fake.. As the film moves along, it looks progressively more real, as Packer enters reality more and more... I dunno, that's how I took it.

Hoping I like this film like I have some of Cronenberg's. LOVE a lot of his.

KjseoMay 18, 2014 9:51 PM

That's interesting insight. I just figured it was easier to blue screen the background instead of closing down streets and shooting it that way.

Greg dinskiskMay 18, 2014 10:56 PM

I mean, it probably is, but there's a noticeable difference in the quality of the blue-screen job over the course of the film... In practically all films, the quality (or lack there of) is the same throughout the film, unless there's some sort of intention behind it.

MichaelMay 19, 2014 2:51 PM

Can directors consistently produce quality films or does the aging process hinder their output? The older we get the more cognitive functions slow down and we get tired more easily. (I assume it's not just me.) Something as intensive as filmmaking might require a younger brain for best results. I'm thinking of George Romero, George Lucas, Dario Argento, perhaps Cronenberg. A tiny list and perhaps a longer one could be made of successful directors who are older (Scorsese) but it might be a young man's game. Continuing to make films when your output declines and your best days are behind you can only be driven by ego.

Gabi CordlessMay 20, 2014 4:21 PM

Looking at Scorseses WoW ,all I have left to say is, that it was directed from a DIRTY old man, while Cosmopolis was like a play and very good , the book was deLillo's worst but Cronenberg made it watchable. Looking at RT and seeing that most of the super Hero Movies getting 80 and 90 makes me wonder if Critics are even able to have a subjective mind for anything what is presented to them .I feel that they are like so many opinions today, they put their mouth were they think the mighty $$$$ is, you are on the same sheet

justmeMay 20, 2014 11:37 PM

probably David Cronenberg will shed a tear over his true fan Jason loss... maybe... maybe not.

SowsyaliteMay 25, 2014 11:20 AM

This is funny. Seemed like the critic expected something from Cronenberg and did not get it. He did not even bother dissecting the movie and decided to just call out its "flaws".

Jason GorberMay 25, 2014 1:49 PM

funny "ha ha"?