Some movies stay with me for awhile after I've seen them, their images lighting up the darkened theater of my mind. David Cronenberg's new film, "Maps to the Stars," is one of these kinds of films. I couldn't quite shake off some of its images when I left the movie theater.
The film, directed by Cronenberg and written by Bruce Wagner, is a masterful, powerful work that attacks vanity, self-absorption, and modern Hollywood. A young woman, Agatha Weiss, has taken a bus from her home in Florida to Los Angeles. In LA, she reconnects with family, including a hugely-popular New Age therapist named Stafford Weiss. Along the way, she becomes a personal assistant to a struggling, mid-career movie star named Havana Segrand.
The pace of the movie is polished and steady, especially during its first half.
What happens in the second half is this: Cronenberg and Wagner and their excellent cast and crew use the medium of film to make powerful statements about the sins of much of today's society. They don't preach at their audience. They do what the best filmmakers have always done: They tell a damned good story.
Among a solid cast, Julianne Moore, as the troubled actress, is, in some ways, the glue holding this film together. In her unabashed portrayal of Segrand as an empty, childish woman, we see the bold strokes that the director and screenwriter are using to drive their themes home.
Moore, who just won an Academy Award for "Still Alice," won the Best Actress award at Cannes in 2014 for "Maps to the Stars."
As Agatha Weiss, Australian actress Mia Wasikowska looks lost throughout much of the film, with a vapid, searching expression on her face -- the exact right portrayal for her character.
As the ill-mannered child star Benjie Weiss, young Canadian Evan Bird tosses off lines of cruelty and conceit with naturalism and venom. He's the devil in a tiny package.
"Maps to the Stars" was released in the U.S. on Feb. 27. The film is rated R. In Chicago, the film is currently playing at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave. (Phone: 773-871-6604; Website: musicboxtheatre.com.) Ticket prices are $10.
And in another sign of the changing media landscape, "Maps to the Stars" is also available for streaming online. Through outlets like Google Play, iTunes, and VUDU, you can watch this new movie from the convenience of your home -- or from anywhere -- for $6.99.
The times they are a' changin'.
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