Monthly Archives: February 2015

Maps to the Stars Review: David Cronenberg Burns Hollywood

Upon hearing that David Cronenberg was tackling Bruce Wagner’s screenplay for Maps to the Stars as his next project, the excitement level for the film skyrocketed. We’ve appreciated Cronenberg’s unique cinematic style of storytelling for decades and to think he was going to point his jaded lens at Hollywood, well… where do we sign up?

Maps to the Stars Julianne Moore Photo

Then we saw it. It’s a Cronenberg movie — that is for sure. And yet, it is still very much a Hollywood-centric movie that has more shades of The Player and other mainstream fare than anything Cronenberg’s done since A History of Violence.

Sure, Maps to the Stars reunites the director with his Cosmopolis star Robert Pattinson. But this film is the Julianne Moore show.

Moore plays Havana Segrand, an actress who has had a pretty solid career, but has fallen on tough times and is finding it impossible to escape her famous actress mother’s shadow. What better way to run right into that issue than by starring in the remake of the movie that made her mom a household name?

If it sounds twisted, it is… and that is pure Cronenberg.

Making matters even more meta-interesting is the arrival of Mia Wasikowska’s Agatha. She somehow connected with Carrie Fisher (the Star Wars: The Force Awakens star plays herself) over Twitter and Fisher gets her a job as Segrand’s assistant. Agatha and Havana’s mother actually (quite oddly) share something in common. They were both burned by fire. Agatha survived her inferno and that horror is what took Segrand’s mum.

Maps to the Stars Mia Wasikowska

There are layers of Hollywood insider dramatic drive that will still resonate for those audiences who don’t live here in La-La land. Maps to the Stars is like an off the rails Sunset Boulevard, which already was a bit on the cuckoo side!

John Cusack plays a guru/massage/life therapist to the stars who coaches Segrand in life issues and he’s pretty solid. Also quite good in the most charming of ways is Pattinson as the limo driver who strikes up a relationship with Agatha that will drive Segrand right up to and against the edge of sanity.

Moore astounds (again). She finds new levels of power in this portrayal that could easily have her considered for next year’s Oscar. It’s about as complicated a characterization as she’s done, and yes, that is saying something.

Why Cronenberg is so perfect for this tale is that as mad as the world appears that we the viewer are occupying for two hours, it all seems completely normal in a film of his! And that is just one reason why we truly recommend this piece. Maps to the Stars is not for everyone, but if you enjoy the director’s work, then his latest will certainly entertain and have you looking at Tinseltown much differently than before.

Maps to the Stars John Cusack Photo

What is also so fascinating, our Maps to the Stars review has to point out, is that it’s a story about Hollywood and movie-making that honestly just circles the drain on that world, and never really goes in.

That is exactly where all of these characters should be found.

The Lazarus Effect Review: Undead Again And Loving It

When it comes to horror movies, finding something original to say is one of the more difficult tasks a filmmaking team can face, just ask horror producer extraordinaire Jason Blum. Sure, his The Lazarus Effect has shades of Flatliners, but it’s been decades since that film, and this bringing back the dead horror story delves deeper and will surely have people talking about the subject matter when the credits close.

Olivia Wilde The Lazarus Effect Photo Still

Mark Duplass stars as Frank, and he and his fiance Zoe (Olivia Wilde) work together in a university lab where they are pushing the boundaries of science (and maybe ethics). Their serum, called Lazarus, could potentially give doctors additional minutes when treating someone who is close to death. They have the most noble of intentions, but the experiments suddenly take a much more sinister turn.

As teased in The Lazarus Effect trailer, the team (which includes Donald Glover and Evan Peters, Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past) has some initial success in resuscitating a dog. Completely undeterred by the canine’s bizarre behavior, they proceed with a second experiment, only Zoe gets electrocuted and perishes. Frank swings into action and gives her the serum… and she wakes up.

Yeah, she’s not the same.

Director David Gelb makes a smashing debut with his first narrative feature and it’s easy to see that the man knows how to build the scares from his years cutting trailers. He pulls the most emotionally powerful aspects out of Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater’s script and, more importantly, he gets the most out of his actors. That fact is so important in a film like this. Gelb also triumphs by avoiding cliches and gives us a totally creepy, riveting and original scare-fest.

Mark Duplass Olivia Wilde The Lazarus Effect

What else stands out is this slickly produced horror vehicle manages to raise some questions about life and death and life after death. Both Frank and Zoe sit on different sides of the fence on the issue and it’s fascinating to see a discussion (clearly before she “dies”) where a person of science (Zoe) can say that she believes there’s more to the afterlife than simply ceasing to exist.

Her partner does not see such things — perhaps that’s why it is so shocking that he takes such drastic measures to bring her back to life. He says he was not ready to let go yet, but maybe the great beyond was not somewhere Frank was ready to let Zoe visit?

Duplass and Wilde make quite a pair, but it is the latter that truly brings the haunting to this terrifying tale. She digs deep and delivers an original and riveting performance. What Wilde shows us as Zoe from the great beyond, is not very pretty. 

Our The Lazarus Effect review believes the film as a whole takes the Flatliners premise and goes the distance.

Focus Review: Will Smith Explores the Art of the Con

Will Smith is back in Focus, not that he ever really went anywhere. One bad movie (After Earth) and people seemed to have written the movie star off.

Focus Will Smith Margot Robbie Poster

In Focus, Smith utters lines that feel like they are Aaron Sorkin-esque in their speed, delivery and power, and it reminds us why we truly enjoy watching this guy on the big screen in the first place (what are our favorite Will Smith movie quotes?).

Smith is Nicky, a long-time con man with a team of specialists who appear — from what we see — to be the best in the biz. One night he is picked up by Jess (Margot Robbie) in a hotel bar and when she tries to swindle him in her hotel room under the guise of sex, he sees it coming a mile away. He then proceeds to tell her he followed her upstairs out of “professional curiosity.”

And so begins Nicky and Jess’ are-they-or-aren’t-they romance and his tutelage of her in the art of the con. He sees something in her and it’s a mutual admiration of mastering the illusion that moves money and belongings from other people’s pockets to theirs.

From the streets of a Super Bowl-hosting New Orleans to Buenos Aires, Argentina and a Formula 1 racing king (played expertly by the always awesome Rodrigo Santoro), Nicky and Jess do their best to always make their mark and exploit it to the fullest. Con artist movies are a tricky endeavor. We as the audience have to pull for these people to do something that as a society we widely do not condone.

Yet, with stars as magnetic as Smith and Robbie, we want these two to go all the way. And what else is a treat is that they are not always on the same team. In fact, when they are at each other’s throats and dueling for the same prize, that is when Focus is at its most focused. Sometimes, the film does lose that and it gets muddled in the personality of the con artist, instead of delivering a deeper view of the people that are behind this life of swindling.

Will Smith Margot Robbie Focus Still Photo

As we said, Smith is back and has a vehicle with Focus that is slick, charming, visually stunning and allows him to push buttons that he could hit home runs with all day long. That Super Bowl scene, for instance, is out of this world. If this film becomes a hit, which we think it will, that Super Bowl luxury suite moment will be its benchmark. It is stunning and will leave you breathless.

Robbie is a star. There was a reason that Martin Scorsese found her and gave her the shot of the lifetime to appear in The Wolf of Wall Street as Leonardo DiCaprio’s long-suffering wife. What she first teased in terms of brilliance in the Scorsese flick, she sends into the stratosphere in a much richer part in Focus. If she picks correctly, we think this Australian can have a long and successful Hollywood career.

Another reason why Focus works is that amongst the car chases and thrilling mind games, this is a love story. That “Will Jess and Nicky make it work?” mystery is as intriguing as any one of the cons that they pull on unsuspecting saps.

The reason for this element of storytelling is clear when you learn who is giving us Focus. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s last film they wrote and directed? It was Crazy, Stupid, Love. These two know their way around making rich characters that audiences pull for, and where in their last flick it was purely romance and comedy, our Focus review finds that their latest adds layers of thrills, intrigue and just all around coolness.

Avatar Theme Park: Watch James Cameron Tour Mind-Blowing Landscape!

When it was first announced that Disney’s Animal Kingdom was going to have an Avatar theme park, although the idea is pretty awesome, we wondered just how it would look.

In a newly released video, Avatar creator James Cameron got to tour what developers have come up with so far. And yes, it is supremely impressive. 

“I think one of the things that people loved about the movie is that they felt as if they had visited Pandora, now, thanks to Disney’s amazing Imagineers, people are going to truly experience Pandora firsthand,” Cameron said. “From the details in the plants to the production and design, extraordinary thought and care has gone into this entire world. The teams have really created something special, and it’s not going to be like anything else.”

The video below arrived courtesy of the Disney Parks Blog and it shows what construction teams have been up to at Disney’s Animal Kingdom since construction commenced early in 2014.

Even though it will not be ready for the public until 2017, we’d say that Pandora is truly starting to take shape.

Watch Avatar online and get ready to experience it in real life and at this rate, the park will open before Cameron gets done with Avatar 2!

Star Trek Star Leonard Nimoy Dead at 83: Spock Has Passed

Leonard Nimoy, star of Star Trek and known for so many, many other things, has passed away. The legendary actor, poet, photographer and television host (Remember In Search Of…?!) died at the age of 83 after experiencing chest pains and being taken to the hospital several days ago.

Old Spock

We could not be more thrilled that the actor got to reprise the role that he was most famous for later in his life with his roles as the “older” Spock in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness.

Nimoy took what could have been a cardboard cut-out of the human alien hybrid role of Spock and gave it layers of life that made it one of the most indelible characters in television and movie history. 

The superstar was working as an acting teacher at his own school when he was cast in the Star Trek series and although the show would only run for three seasons, it would reach cult status when it went into syndication. He would also appear on Mission: Impossible and we think there has to be a video out there somewhere of him killing it as Tevye on Broadway in Fiddler on the Roof

Nimoy even got the chance to direct the franchise that made him famous when he helmed Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

More on this story as it arrives. He will be missed.

See Nimoy at work and watch Star Trek online and watch Star Trek Into Darkness online

We leave you with Nimoy’s final tweet, which he left on February 22…

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”