Mia Wasikowska

Crimson Peak

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Universal | R | Guillermo Del Toro
Pictured:
 The fog of fear and mystery.

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

It’s established within the first few words spoken aloud in Crimson Peak that hauntings aren’t just for the metaphors within the manuscript that Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is working on. “Ghosts are real. That much I know.” While Edith is working on the kind of story in which ghosts represent all the past and present sins of the currently living, Crimson Peak sees specters as not only everything that Edith understands them to be, but also as tangible, physical things. Things that haunt you even when the  rational mind dictates that they’re just apparitions. Things that can touch you, and in turn, touch back. Things that follow you no matter how far you might try to go to elude them. (more…)

Madame Bovary

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Alchemy | R | Sophie Barthes
Pictured: 
Cold, selfless, and composed.

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

6There must be at least 10 film and television adaptations of Gustave Flaubert’s 1857 book about French affairs and crippling depression. What’s new here? What makes this adaptation special? Why make a Madame Bovary film now, in this style? Maybe these are the wrong questions.

The delicate Mia Wasikowska plays famed literary calamity Emma Bovary, who, in 2015, is still well dressed and still depressed. For those who weren’t assigned the novel in English class, Emma Bovary just married a widowed country doctor in provincial France. She’s a farmer’s daughter, and, for all intents and purposes, Bovary marries up and immediately regrets it. Or rather, the Madame grows immediately bored of her plain, modest husband, and she’s deeply unhappy. Romantic candle-lit dinners with talk of leeches and blood-letting? Not Bovary’s bag. She wants romance, good feelings, anything but the comatose wife stuff. (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

Tracks

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The Weinstein Company | PG-13 | John Curran
Pictured: Straight chillin’.

5Tracks begins with a lengthy investigation of Australia’s feral camel population, so at least by the end of this sentence you may already know whether or not this is a film in which you might want to invest your time. It’s conducted by Robyn (Mia Wasikowska) in voiceover, as her journey begins. Disillusioned with the trappings of modern life and struggling with her own share of troubles, Robyn steps out for a 1,700-mile stretch of western Australia that’s virtually nothing but desert until she reaches the coast. It’s unclear at the start why she’s doing this, and only partially illuminated by the end, but Robyn has her dog and her solitude and four camels, and it’s all she needs. (more…)