The odd but somewhat appropriate pairing of new cinematic options for you in Maps to the Stars and Focus, with analysis contained in my most recent detailed reviews, presents us with stories that take place behind the standard facades of normality, whether that “normality” is the exaggerated, meta-media world of Hollywood filmmaking or the sites of high-profile sporting events where the average attendee has no idea of the hustles going on in the shadows. In Maps …, directed by acclaimed Canadian auteur David Cronenberg, we venture to Southern California for this filmmaker’s first foray into production within the U.S. as he brings his characteristically-morbid viewpoint to a script that probes into the lies, egos, and often-manic actions that go on in the homes, studio trailers, and meeting rooms of the American entertainment empire, exploring the lives of several lost souls played by well-known-names in the actual Hollywood scene: a (seemingly) just-arrived-novice (Mia Wasikowska) to this constructed world who keeps most of her body covered up to hide some ugly scars and secrets; an archetypally-dysfunctional family, consisting of a spoiled-brat-yet-noted-TV-star-13-year-old son (Evan Bird), his eternally-devoted-yet-enabling-mother (Olivia Williams), and his TV-star-therapist-to-the-stars-father (John Cusack); a well-known-but-fading-film-star (very recent Best Actress Oscar-winner Julianne Moore, one of Cusack’s clients, in fact) desperate to play the part of her long-dead-actress-mother in a remake of one of Mom’s hit movies; and, the most stable of this sorry lot, a wannabe-actor-writer, currently building his resume as a limo driver (Robert Pattinson). Both the obnoxious kid and the falling star also have to deal with disturbing ghosts, but that’s part of the slowly-emerging interconnections among all of these mostly-attractive-but-not-in-an-emotional/spiritual manner-folks who give you plenty of reason to shelve your celebrity dreams and keep plugging away at your day job, even if it’s just being that toilet-cleaning maid in Jupiter Ascending (which hasn’t really ascended very far, with only about a $45 million domestic take after 5 weeks in release, despite being a project of other famous filmmakers, the Wachowski siblings, but if you want to read my review of it anyway, please go here).
No one in the lead roles in Focus even has a day job, though, unless you consider stealing other people’s bling or navigating sophisticated cons to be a career, which is exactly how Will Smith’s and Margot Robbie’s characters see themselves—as master craftspeople who think the world owes them a luxurious living simply because they’re smart enough to figure out how to separate a wide variety of fools from their money. There’s not much else I can tell you about Focus, however, unless you’ll willing to delve into my spoiler-filled review noted above, because much of the limited appeal of this movie has to do with whether you, as an audience member, are also being conned by what you see on screen, so you just have to go along for the ride if you’re willing to suspend some serious disbelief about a lot of these plot points, determining for yourself along the way what constitutes coincidence vs. carefully-structured events that require the precision-timing of excellent Swiss watches. Nevertheless, I found Focus quite watchable despite its many manipulations, never quite knowing what to believe of what I was seeing until some hurried attempts at the end to wrap it all up at least explained most of what I’d encountered over the last couple of hours.
Comments on any of this are welcome here, at my blog review site, at LinkedIn’s Movie Addicts and World Cinema Critics discussions, or sent directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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