Hollywood loves pointing the camera on itself but not since The Player has the selfie provided such a wonderfully sadistic portrait of Tinsel Town. At the centre of David Cronenberg’s film is a Hollywood family — played by John Cusack, Olivia Williams and Evan Bird. Orbiting them are a former big name actress (Julianne Moore) and a burn victim (Mia Wasikowska), whose presence threatens to expose closely guarded secrets. The terrific performances and decidedly un-Hollywood feel of this, the most Hollywood of Cronenberg’s films, make Maps a compelling psychological thriller.
Hollywood — self-obsessed child that it is — enjoys turning the camera on itself, but with Maps to the Stars, director David Cronenberg uses the city as a palette to paint a picture of the stupid, venal and stratospherically self-involved behaviour that goes on behind the scenes in Beverly Hills’s gated communities and back lots.
At the centre of the film are the Weisses, a Hollywood family (John Cusack, Olivia Williams and Evan Bird) with more secrets than TMZ’s too-hot-to-handle file, Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), a former big name actress who is now as messed up as she is washed up and Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a burn victim with schizophrenia whose presence threatens to expose closely guarded secrets.
This may be the most sun-dappled film Cronenberg has ever made, but don’t let the light fool you; it’s also one of his darkest. I say one of his darkest because the 71-year-old director has frequently visited what Victor Hugo called “night within us,” provoking Village Voice to call him, “the most audacious and challenging narrative director in the English-speaking world.”
Spider, a trip into the mind of a severely mentally disturbed man starring Ralph Fiennes, is a case in point. Called “Cronenberg’s most depressingly bleak film,” by critic Ken Hanke, the 2002 film sees Fiennes deliver a virtually dialogue-free performance as the title character. But it is Miranda Richardson as several characters — all the women in Spider’s life — who really steals the show. It’s a spooky, cerebral thriller.
The Brood is probably Cronenberg’s most traditional horror film. Featuring murderous psychoplasmic kids, experimental psychotherapist Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar as a fetus-licking mother, it is the very stuff that nightmares are made of. It’s lesser seen than The Fly or Dead Zone and way more down-and-dirty, but for sheer scares it’s hard to beat.
A Dangerous Mind, the tautly told story of two psychoanalysts you’ve heard of, Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), plus one you’ve probably never heard of, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), sees Cronenberg combine a love story and birth of modern analysis.
The almost total lack of physical action means the focus is on the words. Some will see a film rich with dialogue, others will see it as verbose. But that’s the kind of duality the movie explores.
Finally, in Cosmopolis, Cronenberg takes us along for an existential road trip through the breakdown of modern society. Based on a novel by Don DeLillo and starring Robert Pattinson as a controlling and self-destructive billionaire money manager, the movie covers the gamut of human experience, from haircuts, money and infidelity to asymmetrical prostates and mortality.
When David Cronenberg wrote the Cosmopolis script he transcribed much of the dialogue directly from Don DeLillo’s densely written novel. Those pages of complicated, lyrical conversation attracted the film’s star, Robert Pattinson.
“I liked the poetry of this script when I first read it,” he said. “My only idea was that it was really different to anything I had ever done and I thought I couldn’t do it. That stuck to me afterwards and I thought that should be the way to choose projects, or which projects to go after — the ones you don’t understand, or the ones you are scared of. That generally means you’ll end up being better afterwards.”
The script was so finely tuned that barely a word was changed during the shoot. The 26-year-old Twilight star says he is used to script changes on other movies, but a modification to a line about a gun on the Cosmopolis set jarred his pacing.
“I remember the line was about the attachment above the trigger guard,” he says. “But there was no attachment above the trigger guard (on the prop gun).
I was so used to the rhythms of everything and suddenly it changed the rhythm of the entire scene. We were doing page-and-a-half long sequences and it was so in my head that to suddenly change it on the day threw me.”
He’s been winning praise for his strange, otherworldly performance as billionaire money manager Eric Packer, but don’t suggest he delved deep into his own psyche to create the man we see on screen.
He says the perception is that actors have “to be psychoanalysts,” but that’s just from the ’50s. Before that actors only thought about their face, and their voice and their movement.
“I think that’s one of the things I have come away from this movie with, in terms of acting in general. You don’t need to analyze things that much. You don’t need to understand it.”
It’s a complicated film, bursting with ideas and one very much open to interpretation and debate, but Pattinson would prefer to leave the psychological heavy lifting to the
audience. “I’m not a post modernist scholar,” he says. Instead he remembers what drew him to the project in the first place — the dialogue.
“I like saying it,” he says. “When I see clips I want to say the lines again. It’s like eating.”
Last year Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti and homegrown stars Emily Hampshire, Sarah Gadon and Kevin Durand gathered in Toronto to shoot Cosmopolis, a dark drama for director David Cronenberg.
On Monday the cast reunited with their director for a press conference I hosted at a downtown Toronto hotel in advance of the movie opening in theatres on Friday.
The tone of the conference was light, and the camaraderie of the cast obvious. Here are some of the highlights:
“I don’t know what I was more excited about,” said Hampshire, “having David bend over me and show Robert how to get a prostate exam, or Rob bending over me and getting one.”
“You don’t have to choose,” quipped Cronenberg.
Cronenberg also offered up some tongue-in-cheek advice for filmmakers. “I use a little Apple program called iDirector. A little green light goes on if it is OK, or a red light if you need to do another take. It’s pretty straightforward. You can all use it.”
Later the director commented on why he wanted his actors to speak the lines of the script exactly as written. “I don’t want the actors to be screenwriters,” he said, “they’re not designed for that.”
“There were no rewrites,” Pattinson chimes in.
“Normally that is the first thing you think about as an actor. And you are so used to just changing it the whole time, on every single movie, that with this, once you suddenly got to the idea that you are not changing anything, the script is fine, it’s you that are the problem, at least you knew one thing.”
Pattinson has a tour-de-force scene at the end of the film, a 22-page two-hander opposite Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti. The Sideways star took a quick break from shooting Rock of Ages in Miami to appear in Cosmopolis.
“Fortunately the other movie wasn’t terribly demanding on me,” Giamatti joked. “It was a musical that I was doing and I didn’t have to sing or dance. I just had to show up and crack jokes.”
“I was panicked about it,” he says of his quick turnaround in Toronto.
“This thing was intimidating. The length and the language. So I bothered everyone on the other movie to read this thing with me. Fortunately Malin Ackerman made a great Rob Pattinson.
“She was fantastic. I was very disappointed when actually I got here and it was Rob.”
In “Cosmopolis” director David Cronenberg takes us along for an existential road trip through the breakdown of modern society. Based on a novel by Don DeLillo the movie covers the gamut of human experience, from haircuts, money and infidelity to asymmetrical prostates and mortality.
“Twilight” heartthrob Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a twenty-eight-year old billionaire money manager. Powerful, controlling and self-destructive, he rules his company from the back of a tricked-out stretch limousine. “People eat and sleep in the shadow of what we do,” he says. The glow of computer screens illuminates conversations with advisors, an invasive medical procedure and sex. What they don’t shed light on is Packer’s ennui.
Money has not brought happiness to Packer. Blank-faced, he ruminates on life and business while his car fights traffic—through a funeral procession for a dead rap star, an Occupy-style riot and a presidential visit to the city—to take him to his old Manhattan neighborhood for a haircut. He’s bleeding money—his investment in the Chinese yuan is tanking—world markets are collapsing and there’s even a credible death threat against his life, but the chaos and end-of-days strife happening outside his car brings with it an ever-increasing sense of calm.
“Cosmopolis” is old fashioned in the sense that it values language and ideas over action and flash but it is forward thinking in that those ideas are literally ripped from the headlines of the very near future. It’s a capitalist horror movie about the real value of money and the people who control it. “Nobody hates the rich,” Packer says in a moment of naiveté, “everybody thinks they’re ten seconds away from being rich.”
At the center of every scene, hell, pretty much every frame of “Cosmopolis” is Pattinson. He delivers a strange performance that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Nicolas Roeg film from 1976. He plays Packer as, simultaneously, the ultimate insider and consummate outsider. Think “The Man Who Fell to Earth’s” Thomas Jerome Newton, a wealthy but world-weary alien played by David Bowie (who would have made a great Packer had this movie been made in the early-1970s).
It’s a mannered, nihilistic performance that holds up very well under David Cronenberg’s invasive camera. The claustrophobic feel of the movie places a great deal of emphasis on Pattinson and he takes advantage of the up-close-and-personal cinematography to deliver a tricky performance that uses stillness to mask the boiling rage that exists beneath his stony veneer. His real feelings are as hermetically sealed as the bulletproof limo where he spends most of his time.
Swirling around Packer are a cadre of advisors, sex partners and security guards, nicely played by Emily Hampshire, Sarah Gadon, Kevin Durand, Jay Baruchel, Juliette Binoche (in a particularly lusty and unhinged performance) and Samantha Morton, Mathieu Almaric and Paul Giamatti (who makes “mutton” a funny word). They revolve in and out of his orbit, mouthing the complex dialogue, almost daring the viewer to keep up.
It’s a dense with ideas and dialogue. Cronenberg has never been afraid of ideas, but here he slathers them on thick. Characters ask questions, answers hang in the air and much is demanded of the viewer. The characters barely engage one another, let alone the audience, but their questions are meant to stir conversation if not between them, then among audience members.
“Cosmopolis” is a film that exists on the macro and the micro, a complex character study of one man’s battle to be relevant and alive and a look at the world that is rapidly changing around him.
For most people Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart will always be the undead Romeo and Juliet of the Twilight series. This weekend’s The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is their final bow as Bella and Edward, the last time we’ll have to enjoy them complete with fangs and dreams of eternal love in the horror Harlequin series.
While the vampire movies contain their best-known roles, both have worked to establish themselves outside the Twilight universe.
Robert Pattinson struggled before beating out 3,000 others to land the role of ninety-year-old vampire Edward Cullen. Labeled “the next Jude Law,” he had small roles in several films, including Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but a movie planned as his big breakout was a disappointment.
Cast as Reese Witherspoon’s son in the 2004 drama Vanity Fair, his part was cut from the film for theatrical release. Not surprisingly it was reinserted on the DVD once he became a household name. What is surprising is seven years later he played Witherspoon’s lover in Water for Elephants.
Movies like the 9/11 drama Remember Me and the period piece Bel Ami haven’t yet erased memories of his “fantastically beautiful, sparkly vampire,” but he has five films lined up, including the thriller Hold on to Me opposite Oscar nominee Carey Muilligan, that he hopes will do the trick.
Best Post-Fang-Banger Role: Eric Packer, a twenty-eight-year old billionaire money manager in Cosmopolis. The claustrophobic feel of the movie places a great deal of emphasis on Pattinson and he takes advantage of the up-close-and-personal cinematography to deliver a tricky performance that uses stillness to mask the boiling rage that exists beneath his stony veneer.
Kristen Stewart came to Twilight with a resume. An actor since age eight, she had appeared in seventeen films before perfecting Bella Swan’s ennui-ridden eye roll. Despite saying, “I never wanted to be the center of attention,” she graduated from playing the “ring toss girl” in The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas to substantial parts in Panic Room, opposite Jodie Foster, the Sean Penn-directed Into the Wild and headlining blockbusters like Snow White and the Huntsman.
Best Post Teen Angst Role: She brought her brooding Brando best to the role of Joan Jett in The Runaways, the true, tawdry tale of an underage all girl rock band—they billed themselves as “Genuine Jailbait”—spawned from the Sunset Strip’s late 1970s seedy underbelly.