Film Brief: Maps to the Stars [updated]

Maps to the Stars - poster

Sometimes when watching a movie, I get the feeling that I am seeing a series of scenes strung together with little or no cohesion binding them together.  I’ll often throw out the word “disjointed” to describe such a film.  It’s another Maps to the Stars - text blockway of saying the film lacks a strong narrative thrust; the first two-thirds or so of Maps to the Stars suffered in this way.

It’s a sort of heartless, anti-Grand Canyon, or perhaps a weak cross of The UninvitedMulholland Dr. and The Player.  Inherent Vice kept running through my mind as well.  I found Maps to the Stars driving me, but ultimately it’s a broken picture that can’t put a spark to the kindling it has assembled.  Very much on the fence with this one, because there was a lot I did like.  A marginal thumbs-down; 5/10.

Note: I saw this film in-theater, but it is also available via VOD.

Updated 3/9/15: upgraded to 6/10

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To Question eXistenZ

eXistenZ - poster

BACK WHEN IFC AND SUNDANCE channels were commercial-free and hence worth tuning into now and then, I caught bits of a lot of different movies that I noted for future follow-up.  Alas, television sure has changed a lot in the last ten years.  Add IFC and Sundance to the ever-growing heap of corrupted, once-great channels — Bravo having suffered the greatest fall since being purchased by NBC.

So on one of these movie channels, an intense scene with Willem Dafoe made me take note of eXistenZ (1999), and I finally got round to seeing it.  Willem Dafoe does not disappoint — his gleeful exuberance is a blast.  Only problem is he’s not in the film long enough.  The movie, I learned at the outset, is a David Cronenberg production, so it is full of his characteristically grotesque props and visual effects, familiar to anyone who’s seen Videodrome, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch etc.

Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh

Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh

The problem with eXistenZ is that despite the sci-fi parameters, the movie is fundamentally a very basic story of a couple on the run from a world out to get them — one of the most ubiquitous themes in cinema.  Nothing wrong with that, but to me the movie felt a little like it was running in slo-mo, especially in the first half.  That is to say, I was a little bored with eXistenZ, despite its fantastical physical manifestations.  Also, though there were lots of twists toward the end, with the ‘game’ and reality spilling into each-other, it was all a bit ho-hum.

But eXistenZ delivered enough fun weirdness, and good performances from the stars, that on balance I was entertained.  A marginal recommendation; naturally make sure the trailer appeals to you.  6/10

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Comparison Notes: Recommended: John Dies at the EndSynecdoche, New York; Not Recommended:  Hunger Games, Looper, Inception, Shutter Island