Posts Tagged ‘Canada’

Maps_to_the_Stars_poster

Director: David Cronenberg

Writer: Bruce Wagner

Country: Canada / USA / Germany / France

Runtime: 111 mins

“Bad Babysitter” reads the lettering on Agatha Weiss’s (Mia Wasikowska) sweatshirt, as she lies asleep in a coach driving through the night towards Hollywood. These words turn out to carry a heavy weight of significance in this dark, Gothic nightmare from writer Bruce Wagner and director David Cronenberg. Wagner’s script draws upon his own experiences as a former Hollywood limousine driver who would often give fake tours to visitors. According to Wagner, Maps to the Stars “doesn’t have a satirical bone in its elegiac, messy, hysterical body. I’ve given you the lay of the land as I see it, saw it, and lived it”.

Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattison) is the first person that Agatha encounters when she arrives in Hollywood. He is a wannabe script writer working as a hire driver. As they motor in the sunshine past the palm trees, Fontana points out the homes of the stars. When he mentions Juliet Lewis Agatha remarks that she is a scientologist, to which Fontana responds “I was thinking of converting – as a career move”. This level of self-absorbed ambition is characteristic of almost everyone we meet during the course of the film.

Agatha, who is badly scarred from a fire, gets a job working for actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), who has reached that age when the parts start to dry up for women in an industry obsessed by female youth and beauty. Segrand is desperate for a role in an upcoming movie remake, a role that was played by her mother in the original. But she is also troubled by the memories (possibly false) of sexual abuse that she suffered at the hands of her mother. These memories were recovered with the assistance of a bogus therapist, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), who claims that life traumas reside in the body (“I’m gonna press on a personal history point – it’s stored in the thighs”). Dr. Weiss is married to Christina (Olivia Williams), who is the pushy mother/agent of troubled teenage TV star Benjie (Evan Bird), whose career is just getting back on track after a period in rehab.

None of these people are happy. They are all weighed down by unsatisfied ambitions, dark secrets, or ghosts. In fact, the story really starts to take off when Havana Segrand literally sees a ghost (or is it all in her mind?). Benjie then also starts to see apparitions. But it is the arrival of Agatha that provides the catalyst for people’s lives to unravel. The film ends as it began, with a journey into darkness.

By the very nature of its subject matter, Maps to the Stars doesn’t have any characters that we can easily empathise with from the outset, which might account for its rather mixed critical reception. However, the performances are uniformly well-delivered, there are some fine flashes of dark humour, and my own attention was easily held by the gradual revelations leading eventually to the uncovering of the thread that connects all the characters.

This is a fine addition to David Cronenberg’s oeuvre, perhaps closest in mood to Dead Ringers, except where that movie followed in the director’s early tradition of body horror the darkness at the heart of Maps to the Stars is purely psychological.

Rating: 10/10

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Bunker 6 (1)

Bunker 6 is a brilliant Canadian low-budget (about £70,000) movie set in an alternate future. Shot in an actual nuclear fallout shelter in Nova Scotia, it tells the story of a small group of people living below ground after a nuclear strike in 1962 (the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the cold war threatened to go hot). Although billed as science fiction, in many ways it is closer to a gothic horror where the nuclear bunker substitutes for the country house.

The central character is Grace (Andrea Lee Norwood), who – in 1962 – is still a young girl living with her parents. Her father is a senior military figure, so when the bomb goes off they are all piling into the shelter. However, Grace’s parents get caught in the blast before they can get through the entrance door. Several years later, Grace survives below ground with two men and two women, led by ruthless young Alice (Molly Dunsworth). Communications with the outside world and other bunkers have been lost. However, noone can leave until the red light above the strong metal door turns green. Grace regularly monitors the colour of this light. She also has engineering responsibilities, ensuring the the power keeps running in their subterranean prison.

But the problems of engineering are nothing compared to the challenge of simply staying sane, and we learn that an earlier inhabitant went crazy, killing his wife and then himself. Then, when one of their number is found dead the struggle for survival becomes even more intense. Should they remain in the bunker or should they risk going back into the outside world? However, if the external environment is still deadly then opening the blast doors will kill all of them, and so Alice will not allow anybody to leave.

There are assured performances from all concerned, especially Andrea Lee Norwood. I thought the initial set-up – Grace as a child and the beginning of war – was a little rushed, but beyond this Greg Jackson’s script and direction builds the tension effectively. The use of a real nuclear bunker gives the whole thing a genuinely claustrophobic atmosphere.

Shown at the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival

Rating: 8/10

tom-at-the-farm (1)

Canada / France 2013

Director: Xavier Dolan

Screenplay: Xavier Dolan / Michel Marc Bouchard. Based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard.

 

Written and directed by Xavier Dolan, who also plays the lead role, this is a psychological thriller of a superior kind. Tom, who lives in Montreal, is distraught over the death of his boyfriend, Guillaume. He drives out to the countryside to stay with Guillaume’s mother, Agathe (Lise Roy), prior to attending the funeral. Agathe doesn’t realise that Tom was more than just a friend of Guillaume’s and is expecting a girlfriend to turn up. Whilst at the house, and later at the funeral, Tom is bullied by Guillaume’s brother Francis (Pierre Yves-Cardinal), who tells him to make up a story in front of Agathe about a girl called Sarah, who was a co-worker of Guillaume. Tom is to pretend that Sarah was Guillaume’s girlfriend, and is to pass on a message from Sarah to Agathe.

On the way back from the funeral Tom tries to make his escape, driving away from the farmhouse whilst cursing Guillaume’s “redneck” brother. But a way down the road he stops and then turns back. We think perhaps he is concerned about Agathe or needs his luggage, but in fact he is drawn to the dark and dangerous figure of Francis. Before long Tom is working on the farm, but increasingly bruised from the attentions of the sociopathic loner Francis, who has secrets of his own (Francis’s outsider status is emphasised at one point by his wearing a jacket with the American flag and “USA” depicted on it – something that no Canadian I have ever known would ever do).

To some degree Tom at the Farm has a thematic similarity to Stranger by the Lake, released in the same year. That film was described by some critics as Hitchcockian, a comparison that I must confess escaped me entirely. It was also notable for its fairly explicit depiction of gay male sexual activity. There are no such displays of sexuality in Tom at the Farm, which is closer to being a thriller that just happens to have a gay man as its lead character (although his sexuality is not irrelevant to the story). Moreover, this is a film that I think can justifiably be called Hitchcockian, what with its farmhouse setting, a chase scene in a cornfield, its dark secrets and motivations, and even a couple of flashes of black humour. From a four-time director who was just 24 when Tom at the Farm was released, this is a major achievement.

Rating: 10/10