Thursday, March 05, 2015

cronenberg's brilliant mash-up...

credit: moveorama magazine

At the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards, where she won the Best Actress award for her performance in "Still Alice," Julianne Moore referenced some of the unorthodox films she's made in her acceptance/thank-you speech.

"I also wish to thank my professional partners  - the people who have supported every weird choice I’ve ever made,” she smiled.

The audience laughed, thinking she was joking.  After all, at first glance, Moore seems to have exhibited unstinting good taste in her choice of roles, films and directors. But that's not entirely true.  And she wasn't kidding.

Moore has made quite a few curious career decisions, appearing in titles that one would not readily associate with her but that, from where I sit, have made her a stronger, more interesting, more complete actress.

I'll detail some of these choices in a bit, but first, her latest curiosity commands too much attention to be kept waiting: David Cronenberg's brilliant (but difficult-to-recommend) "Maps to the Stars," a delirious mash-up of "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" and "All About Eve" in its delineation of show business in general and moviemaking in particular.

Coming on the heels of "Still Alice" (one of those inspirational art-house films lacquered in good taste but essentially "trivial," as The New Yorker's Richard Brody nailed it), "Maps to the Stars" diabolically creates a shot of culture shock and calls on Moore to give her bravest performance.

Cronenberg is in full enfant terrible mode here, with his game star doing a delicious variation on Bette Davis' Baby Jane Hudson as Havana Segrand, a desperate, washed-up film actress whose frustration with her moribund career has left her a bit more than unhinged and without any boundaries.

While Robert Aldrich's Jane Hudson, a forgotten film star (by way of the Orpheum circuit) built up a competitive resentment of her more successful sister, Blanche, Havana is obsessed with her iconic mother, Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon, in flashbacks) - and with starring in a sort of remake of one of the mother's beloved classics.

Both Jane and Havana have tired of living in the shadow of a more talented relative. In Havana's case, the "remake" is actually a movie about the making of her mother's hit - with Havana playing her mother.

 credit: focus world

"Maps to the Stars" veers into "All About Eve" territory when Havana decides she needs a "chore whore" and hires the weirdly innocent Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), who gets the job after "meeting" Carrie Fisher on Twitter.  Weiss' Eve Harrington ultimately unleashes Havana's vindictive Margo Channing personality, prompting bad behavior that Moore plays to the hilt. Moore is nothing less than complicit with Cronenberg's deranged vision here and plays one particularly memorable sequence atop a toilet where Havana is battling constipation (replete with the usual rude sounds) as she barks a list of needs (including a laxative) to Agatha.

The scene ends with Moore, fanning the air: "It smells in here!"
As if this much toxicity isn't enough, Cronenberg ups the ante by introducing Agatha's estranged - and very strange - family.  There's her younger brother, Benjie (Evan Bird), the beastly 13-year-old star of the franchised “Bad Babysitter” sensation; their father, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack, extraordinarily creepy), a self-help healer/quack, and his sister-wife, Christina (Olivia Williams).  Yes, Stafford and Christina are indeed siblings.  This gruesome twosome, along with Havana's long-gone mother who sexually abused her as a child, symbolize the insidious incestuousness, in its many forms, that permeates the movie biz.

The representatives of show business that loiter in "Maps to the Stars" are decidedly not as lovable as the flawed denizens of Alejandro González Iñárritu's "Birdman" - and it's become rather apparent that neither movie people nor movie critics are ready to accept Cronenberg's film, which was designed to provoke discomfort, as easily as they embraced Iñárritu's. 

Much like Paul Thomas Anderson's willfully quirky "Inherent Vice" of last year, "Maps to the Stars" is not for the middlebrow, meaning the majority of moviegoers and movie critics among us.  But who cares about the majority?  These are two of the most exciting and vital movies in ages.
credit: nicole rivelli/cinedigm © 2013

Now, back to the singular Julianne Moore and those "weird" choices she referenced at the SAG awards. Starting with the most recent, they are...
  • "Seventh Son" - Nonsense about a line of seven sons whose fate is to protect their hamlet from evil spirits.  It reunited Moore with her "Big Lebowski" co-star, Jeff Bridges
  • "The Hungar Games: Mockingjay (Part One) -  In which Moore plays the President.  Part two is imminent.
  • "Non-Stop" - One of Liam Neeson's old-guy avenger flicks.
  • "Carrie" - Kimberly Pierce's bizarrely bad remake of the Brian DePalma classic.  With Moore and Chloë Grace Moretz in the leads, it seemed perfect - on paper.
  • "The English Teacher" - A fine, if minor, little film about Moore's educator in an uneasy relationship with a former student, a failed playwright. The ace supporting cast includes reliable Greg Kinnear (above with Moore), Nathan Lane, Jessica Hecht, John Hodgman and Norbert Leo Butz.
  • "6 Souls" - Moore as a psychologist tending to a patient with multiple personalities, some of whom have been murder victims. Directed by Mårlind & Stein.
  • "Next"- A Nicolas Cage vehicle with the star as a Las Vegas magician-physic who teams with the FBI to prevent a terrorist attack.
  • "Freedomland" - An actioner that teams Moore with Samuel L. Jackson.
  • "Hannibal" - A "class" horror film, given its pedigree (star Anthony Hopkins, director Ridley Scott, writers David Mamet and Steve Zallian), that made barely a blip.
  • "Assassins" - In which director Richard Donner wedged Moore between Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas.
  • "Nine Months" - A John Hughes remake (directed by Chris Colombus) of a French comedy which pairs Moore with Hugh Grant.
  • "Roommates" - With an aged Peter Falk as an irascible old coot.
  • "The Ladies Man." A Tim Meadows comedy.
  • "Body of Evidence" - The Madonna film.
Weird choices?  Perhaps.  But no one can accuse Julianne Moore of being an elitist. And then there are those estimable titles which, for whatever reason, don't bring Julianne Moore to mind -"Don Jon,"  "The Fugitive," "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee," "I'm Not There," "Laws of Attraction," "Surviving Picasso" and "An Ideal Husband."

The films that we do associate with Moore - and there are dozens - far outweigh those that the star herself describes as "weird."

Weird?  No, the word to use is "adventurous." 


Hilary D said...

saw it, loved it, can't stop thinking about it

Sheila said...

You forgot to mention Moore in "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle"!

joe baltake said...

Sheila. Glad you mentioned it. That's one of my guilty pleasures - largely because of Moore's witty performance in it. She steals every scene. But it's one of her first films, before she became JULIANNE MOORE. It may not be a particularly estimable film but it's not a weird choice either. She was starting out in film - it was an important stepping stone in her movie career.

Alex said...

One of Julianne's lesser-known films is a wonderful called "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio." It's not weird, but it is obscure, unfairly so.

Brian Lucas said...

"Safe"! Great film. Todd Haynes made it early in his career and it's a real showcase for Moore. Is it "weird"? Yes. But also very special.

Janice said...

I love Julianne Moore and yet I always forget that she was in "The Hours." I associate that film with Nicole Kidman first and then Meryl Streep.

kiki said...

Nice! I hope J Moore sees this. When I was in Paris, there was an American/UK movie channel on and NON STOP with Liam Neesom and Julianne Moore (which I had never heard of) came on . . . and I couldn't stop watching because it was so terrible. Then, next morning I was in a Metro and saw a big poster with a NEW Liam Neesom film advertised "by the makers of NON STOP!" where he plays another old geezer like he also did in the one where he loses his identity. Oh, poor guy! Oh, on the same channel another night was a Geoffrey Rush movie called At Any Price(?) which was so terrible, I couldn't watch it. Oh, poor guy! At least aging actor Russell Crowe has his rugby league. kiki.

Jimbo said...

The first time I noticed Julianne Moore was in Robert Altman's 1993 Short Cuts. The movie itself was rather interminable. Moore though, in an early major role, had the courage to do an extended scene with complete full frontal nudity from the waist down. The raw nakedness came as a shock to me. I had never seen such physical and emotional exposure in a mainstream movie before. It was an unconventional career choice for sure, but one that cemented her in my mind as an actress with courage and a talent to be reckoned with.