Julianne Moore

Freeheld

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Summit | PG-13 | Peter Sollett
Pictured:
A couple who just want to be treated like anyone else.

5(Note: The following review was originally published at Consequence of Sound.)

Freeheld is a film with grand intentions and little to no idea what to do with them beyond the point of having them. It’s based on a true story, following Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) and her partner Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), as they struggled against the system for the right to have Laurel transfer her pension and benefits to Stacie when her lung cancer eventually got the better of her. Intermittently it is also a treatise on tolerance, a melancholic romance, an aggressively pointed political satire, and a maudlin melodrama, all concluding in an inspirational Miley Cyrus track. It is a film that means to display the ways in which discrimination is still fundamentally built into law and government procedure to this day, and this is admirable, but Freeheld also makes the crucial decision to dole out its various lessons with a bludgeon. (more…)

Maps To The Stars

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Focus Features | R | David Cronenberg
Pictured: She doesn’t carry a gun. She doesn’t join in. She drives.

4Scandalous headline: did you know that entitled, overprivileged actors in Hollywood are sometimes vapid, vain, shallow, and even nihilistic? Now, before you crush your pearls in a clutched fury, be assured that David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars will duly reprimand the many wicked creatures in its universe, throughout the film, on a regular basis. Like an extended episode of Extra by way of…well, David Cronenberg, the film takes a gatling gun to minnows in a bucket in order to make occasionally effective but mostly rote observations about the cancerous long-term effects of fame. For a filmmaker whose films are frequently unlike anything viewers have ever watched before, for better or worse, here is one that’s going to seem far, far too familiar.

Maps’ window into the lifestyles of the beautiful and bored is Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a semi-disfigured young woman who moves to California in hopes of being nearer the brightest stars. There’s something off about Agatha, but nobody can seem to place it, and other than the arm-length black satin gloves she perpetually wears, she seems like the model assistant. Before long, she’s become the personal assistant for long-tenured starlet Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), an emotional wreck who’s attempting to jump-start her career by starring in a “re-imagining” of a film her mother (Sarah Gadon) starred in years ago. The fact that her mother died young, not long after that film was made, only motivates Havana to capture something that her mother couldn’t.

Through Havana, Agatha finds her way into the upper crust of Hollywood, and from there Maps to the Stars unspools its many Cronenbergian perversions and eccentricities. These are found not just with Havana and Agatha, but with the Weiss family, particularly Benjie (Evan Bird), an obnoxious teen star who’s struggling to remain sober as his domineering but concerned mother (Olivia Williams) and high-profiting “spiritual coach” father (John Cusack) milk his fame and fortune. Until the film reveals its larger implications, ones that feel appropriately outré for the characters at hand but unfold to diminishing returns, Maps to the Stars becomes the kind of movie where “It was made for Best Supporting” is expected to earn chortles of recognition and the ghosts of past indiscretions are literal ghosts.

While Maps is probably Cronenberg’s most immediately accessible film since A History of Violence, it’s also unusually simplistic for him. Moore, in particular, gets miles out of a role that’s more caricature than anything; Havana is a true wreck, the kind of woman who dances over news of a rival starlet’s dead child and talks mainly in references to other people she knows. While the film does allow her to lapse into histrionics at points, it’s the most she can do with a character who’s basically a walking neon outline loudly declaring “ACTORS ARE JERKS” in rotating colors. Likewise, Wasikowska brings a vulnerability to Agatha that offsets her usual steely countenance, but gets lost in the shuffle. Cusack, for his part, gives a latter-day Nicolas Cage performance. This is not really a compliment.

Maps talks in constant, deliberately grating references and plays no shortage of inside baseball, but it hardly adds any insights to the condition of the modern millionaire. It aims for satire but lacks a cogent point, wants to achieve high melodrama without the commitment to its own premise, and by its end starts to romanticize the destruction of the entire industry order in a way that plays at radicalism but turns genuinely unpleasant in its fetishization of punishment. It’s fine to fill a movie’s universe with deeply unlikable people; this can be a powerful way to examine the world’s worst traits. But ultimately, Maps to the Stars starts to recall that one kid in high school who talked about wanting dumb celebrities to die because they’re dumb: all bluster, little insight.

Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Seventh Son

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Universal, Legendary | PG-13 | Sergey Bodrov
Pictured: 5 -time Academy Award nominee Julianne Moore being attacked be some sort of bird.

(Note: The following review was originally published at Consequence of Sound.)

4It feels a little patronizing that the first and most immediate thought which comes to mind when considering Seventh Son is that “it’s not as bad as it could have been.” But it’s really not, and this is meant in the most positive way possible. For a film given the red-headed stepchild treatment by more than one studio, finally getting released over two years after its initially announced date, Seventh Son is a perfectly cromulent bit of spectacle fantasy filmmaking. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about it, either, and it’s unlikely that the film will spawn the franchise it clearly seems to be setting up at times, but it’s hardly the worst movie you could see in theaters right now. Again, this may all sound like lukewarm praise, and perhaps that’s appropriate, but it’s really all that bad. (more…)

Still Alice

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Sony Picture Classics | PG-13 | Wash Westmoreland & Rich Glatzer
Pictured: “Is your refrigerator running?”

(Note: The following review was originally published at Consequence of Sound.)

4To put it simply, Julianne Moore can do no wrong. She’s good in everything; from her exquisitely mundane awards-pulling performances in Far from Heaven and The Hours to her paycheck parties like Evolution or the Carrie remake. You feel like Moore gives the same amount of substantial effort to everything. She’s a wonderful actress, one of the finest and most understated actresses of modern cinema, and she puts in standard, appreciable work on Still Alice. Not to sound like a prognosticator, but someday she’ll get an Oscar, and she’ll deserve it.

But Still Alice isn’t quite that day. (more…)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

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Lionsgate | PG-13 | Francis Lawrence
Pictured: The end is near here.

8When the announcement was first made about Suzanne Collins’ 390-page novel Mockingjay being split into two films to conclude the Hunger Games trilogy (or quadrilogy, now), it was met with no shortage of skepticism. It was a cash-grab, a means of extending a hot property in the vein of Twilight. And while it is, to be certain, the cumbersomely titled The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 also makes for a perfect directional shift in the series, one that was essential for an escapist series of blockbusters about government-sanctioned child murder for entertainment, sport, and population control. For the first time, Mockingjay truly gets to the black heart of Panem, and like the film’s truest corollary, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Mockingjay benefits in a significant way from being able to breathe and explore, rather than being tethered to a series of necessary story beats. (more…)