Movie Review: “Maps to the Stars”

Starring
Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird, Sarah Gadon
Director
David Cronenberg

Less than a week after Hollywood celebrated itself at the Oscars in a televised circus of fashions, overlong acceptance speeches and underrepresented diversity, Canadian director David Cronenberg reminds us why even Hollywood excesses should have a limit in the weirdly satirical hybrid “Maps to the Stars.” The director best known for such classics as “The Fly,” “Scanners” and “A History of Violence” breaks new ground by filming in the States. It’s just too bad that he wasted the trip on such a manic, dated project filled with cynicism, incest and runaway egos.

Just off the bus is the fresh-faced but hideously scarred Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a burn victim who seems to take things way too much in stride. Introducing herself as being from Jupiter (the city, not the planet), Agatha instantly attaches herself to her limo driver, Jerome (Robert Pattison). Of course, what would a limo driver be in this town without acting and/or writing aspirations? Jerome is all too quick to write her off as just another weird client who happens to be a really good tipper, but Agatha grows on him as she does with many people in the film. Thanks to social media and Carrie Fisher, who stars as herself, Agatha manages to quickly find a job as a personal assistant, or “chore whore,” to aging C-lister Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore). When Havana isn’t grasping to any last chance at stardom, she’s having fierce arguments with her dead mother (Sarah Gadon), who has no problems telling her what a disappointment she is.

Dysfunctional family time and visits from the beyond aren’t exclusive to the Segrand household, as we bounce back and forth between there and the Weiss compound. Agatha’s kid brother Benjie (Evan Bird) is 13 going on 40. He’s facing his own need for a ghostbuster with all the uncut crassness of a thousand Bieber clones rolled into one. Benjie’s the star of the “Bad Babysitter” franchise, which was so lucrative that stage mom Cristina (Olivia Williams) takes pride in squeezing out a multimillion dollar payday as if she were the real star. His dad, Stafford (John Cusack), is a self-help guru who rarely smiles, talks as though he’s three steps ahead of everyone, and administers a near-sadistic type of scream therapy to Havana.

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Movie Review: “Non-Stop”

Starring
Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, Scoot McNairy, Anson Mount, Lupita Nyong’o
Director
Jaume Collet-Serra

Because of Liam Neeson’s presence, some have described “Non-Stop” as “’Taken on a Plane,” but a more apt description would be “Speed on a Red Eye,” as in the underrated 2005 Wes Craven thriller “Red Eye.” There is a ticking clock that (conveniently) resets several times, a villain hiding in plain sight, and post-9/11 paranoia by the truckload. The beats and twists may be familiar, but it’s well executed, and director Jaume Collet-Serra wisely resists the urge to go turbo, as it were, resulting in a film that is not the action-packed thriller that its trailers suggest, and all the better because of it.

Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is an air marshal boarding a plane leaving New York for London. A few hours into the flight, Bill receives a text on his secure server notifying him that a passenger on the plane intends to kill someone every 20 minutes until his demands are met (read: a wheelbarrow full of cash). Bill enlists flight attendant Nancy (Michelle Dockery) and seatmate Jen (Julianne Moore) to help him isolate potential suspects, but quickly has reasons to suspect that either of them might be in on the plot. While this is playing out on the plane, the media on the ground is running with the story that Bill is in fact the hijacker, and once the world hears of Bill’s flaws (divorced, temper issues, drinking problem), he not only loses the trust of the public and gives the news networks a sexy (if completely backwards) narrative, he also loses the trust of people on the plane, the pilots, and the co-workers on the ground assigned to assist him. Worse, he still doesn’t know who is taunting him or what their end game is.

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