MAPS TO THE STARS (David Cronenberg, 2014)
Opens Friday, February 27
Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg and American novelist and screenwriter Bruce Wagner, a match made in Hollywood Babylon, paint a savage portrait of celebrity culture in the absolutely incendiary and off-the-charts satire Maps to the Stars. The darkly funny comic drama centers on Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman who returns to Hollywood after having been put away for a long time for a dangerous deed, her face and body marked by burns. Befriending limo driver Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson), who is an aspiring actor and writer, Agatha gets a job working for disgruntled actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), who is desperate to star in the remake of Stolen Moments, playing the role that made her mother, Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon), famous, but Havana fears that according to Hollywood she is much too old. Havana undergoes regular intense physical and psychological therapy to deal with her mommy issues with television healer Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), Agatha’s father, who has banished his daughter from ever contacting the family again. Meanwhile, Agatha’s younger brother, thirteen-year-old child star Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), is a Bieberesque character fresh out of rehab who is negotiating the sequel to his massive hit, Bad Babysitter, with his very serious stage mom, Cristina (Olivia Williams). Slowly but surely, everyone’s lives intersect in a riot of fame and misfortune, drugs and guns, ghosts and incest.
Cronenberg, who has made such previous cult favorites as Scanners, The Fly, Naked Lunch, and A History of Violence, and the L.A.-based Wagner, author of such stinging novels as I’ll Let You Go, Still Holding, The Empty Chair, and I’m Losing You, which he also turned into a film, leave nothing and no one unscathed in this thoroughly brutal depiction of Hollywood as a haunted La La Land of dreams and nightmares, both literally and figuratively. Rising star Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, In Treatment, Jane Eyre) is superb as Agatha, her inner and outer scars revealing more and more of themselves as she reinserts herself into the life of her crazy family, with Cusack channeling a bit of Nicolas Cage as the overprotective patriarch, a self-help guru who could use a little help himself. Moore was named Best Actress at Cannes for her harrowing portrayal of an actress teetering on the edge of reality. Shooting for the first time ever in the United States, Cronenberg captures the sights and smells of Los Angeles and its environs; most of the film was shot in Canada, however, but Cronenberg kept Wagner, a former Hollywood limo driver himself, close by, trying to attain as much authenticity as possible. Twilight hunk Pattinson, who spent all of Cronenberg’s previous movie, Cosmopolis, in the back of a limo, gets in the driver’s seat here, playing an alternate, reimagined version of Wagner. The severely screwed-up Weiss family serves as a microcosm for Hollywood’s own severely screwed-up dysfunction, as Cronenberg melds the ridiculous with the sublime, the tragic with the comic, the bizarre with the, well, more bizarre, creating a modern-day fairy-tale mashup of Shakespeare and Williams, Sunset Boulevard and Less than Zero, a caustic, cautionary tale of the price you pay for getting what you wish for.
EASTERN BOYS (Robin Campillo, 2013)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Howard Gilman Theater, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center
144 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
February 27 - March 5
Robin Campillo takes a genuinely compassionate look at immigration, home invasion, and sexual obsession in the compelling, always surprising Eastern Boys. Seeking out companionship, middle-aged Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) spots young Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) and cruises him at the Gare du Nord station in Paris. They set up a paid rendezvous at Daniel’s apartment for the next day, but Marek’s arrival is preceded by that of his primarily male friends from Eastern Europe, illegal immigrants who begin taking things from Daniel’s place as they dance and drink; it’s a heartbreaking party scene, with Daniel not knowing how to react, an implicit if not overt threat to his physical well-being hovering over the thick atmosphere. But when Marek eventually does show up, Daniel is desperate for his attention, still determined to be alone with him, an attraction that has dangerous consequences.
Employing a cinéma vérité style, writer, director, and editor Campillo, whose previous, debut feature was 2004’s Les Revenants and has written several films with Laurent Cantet, including The Class and Heading South, tells the intimate story of Daniel and Marek’s complicated relationship with grace and subtlety as they both balance fear with desire, knowing that the unpredictable and violent Boss (Danil Vorobyev), the leader of the gang, is lurking around them. The opening scene has a documentary, neo-Realist quality, but it’s all fiction, the characters portrayed by actors. Campillo divides the film into four chapters based on location and thematic elements, with the home invasion set in his own apartment so he could feel like he himself was being invaded while making it. Nominated for three César Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, and Emelyanov as Most Promising Actor) Eastern Boys goes from a dark romance to a gripping thriller in the final section, but Campillo never reverts to purely good and evil characters, and he provides no straightforward answers, especially in the open-ended finale, while raising important questions about society. It’s a deeply affecting film, one that seeps into your system, an often uncomfortable experience that mirrors Daniel’s fascination with Marek; you’ll squirm in your seat, but you won’t be able to turn away.
Who: Directors Billy Wilder, Woody Allen, Martin Ritt, Otto Preminger, Fred Zinnemann, Robert Wise, Samuel Fuller, and others
What: “Black & White ’Scope: American Cinema”
Where: BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas, 30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St., 718-636-4100
When: February 27 - March 19
Why: BAMcinématek is presenting twenty-one CinemaScope films shot in glorious black-and-white by such master cinematographers as Gordon Willis, James Wong Howe, Eugen Schüfftan, and Conrad Hall, from such classics as The Apartment, Manhattan, The Hustler, In Cold Blood, The Elephant Man, The Longest Day, and The Three Faces of Eve to such lesser-known fare as The Victors, Forty Guns, China Gate, No Down Payment — featuring Tony Randall as a used car salesman — and the unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) Rashomom remake The Outrage, starring Paul Newman, Laurence Harvey, Claire Bloom, Edward G. Robinson, and William Shatner.
Winner of the 2007 ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award and the 2006 Will Glickman Award, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Hunter Gatherers is a savage black comedy about a dinner party that begins with an animal sacrifice — and then things really start to get crazy. The hundred-minute show is making its New York City debut March 3-28 in a production by, appropriately enough, the Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company in the East Village. Hunter Gatherers stars Emily Dahlke, Megan O’Leary, Joseph W. Rodriquez, and John Russell and is directed by Eric Tucker, who was named 2014 Director of the Year by the Wall Street Journal for helming Bedlam’s Sense and Sensibility and The Seagull and the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. The San Francisco-based Nachtrieb, who has also penned such works as boom, BOB, and The Totalitarians, says about Hunter Gatherers, “‘What should I be doing with my life’ is a question that consumes everyone in this play with a ferocity. Eventually, they look to their guts for an answer and it’s their primal instincts that ultimately save or destroy them.”
TICKET GIVEAWAY: Hunter Gatherers begins previews March 3 prior to a March 7 opening, and twi-ny has three pairs of tickets to give away for free. Just send your name, daytime phone number, and favorite play or movie about a dinner party to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, February 27, at 5:00 to be eligible. All entrants must be twenty-one years of age or older; three winners will be selected at random.
“I have always been fascinated about the idea of Qi — the subtle energy that permeates everything in life and links all its elements together. This idea constantly makes me curious about how human beings and the material world are universally related and bonded to each other,” Hunan-born, New York-based multidisciplinary artist Shen Wei says about his latest photography exhibit, “Invisible Atlas,” continuing at Flowers Gallery in Chelsea through February 28. Shen Wei is curious indeed; since his founding of Shen Wei Dance Arts in 2000, he has guided his troupe in performances in such unusual locations as the Park Avenue Armory (in and around Ernesto Neto’s “Anthropodino” installation), the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Charles Engelhard Court, the Prospect Park Bandshell, and the Guggenheim Rotunda. On March 3, Shen Wei will be at the New-York Historical Society in conjunction with the exhibition “Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion,” beginning his company’s fifteenth anniversary season by participating in a discussion with dance critic and historian Suzanne Carbonneau; the two also spoke this past November as part of Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance festival, which includes Shen Wei’s Rite of Spring and comes to Lincoln Center later in March. The talk at the New-York Historical Society will feature video clips, selections of the MacArthur Genius’s photography, and live performances of excerpts from Folding, Rite of Spring, and the new Untitled 12-1 as the guest of honor recounts stories from his life and career.
The Pershing Square Signature Center
The Irene Diamond Stage
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 15, $25
The night we went to see the new production of Charles Mee’s 2000 play, Big Love, at the Signature, technical difficulties delayed the start of the show, but it didn’t bother us one bit. Instead, we enjoyed extra time to take in the glorious beauty of Brett J. Banakis’s breathtaking set. The Irene Diamond theater is dazzlingly bright, mainly white and aglow in shimmering colors, with Austin Switser’s projection of a calm blue ocean at the back of the stage and smaller projections of hummingbirds, flowers, and other heartwarming scenes popping up at various places on the walls and floor. Above, dozens and dozens of flower arrangements hang from the ceiling, a heavenly garden in the sky. Meanwhile, romantic music plays, as gentle as the waves lapping gently out at sea. Onstage is a white claw-foot tub and a white door. Eventually the show got under way, as Lydia (Rebecca Naomi Jones) enters, removes her dirty wedding dress, and settles into the bath. She is interrupted by Giuliano (Preston Sadleir), a young man who is somewhat surprised to find a naked woman in the bathroom. Lydia explains that she is part of a contingent of women who have escaped their native Greece, where their fathers had signed a deal to marry them off to their cousins, and they are now seeking asylum in Italy as refugees. Lydia is joined by Olympia (Libby Winters) and Thyona (Stacey Sargeant), while first Giuliano’s grandmother, Bella (Lynn Cohen), shares some thoughts about husbands and sons with the young women, followed by the arrival of Giuliano’s uncle Piero (Christopher Innvar), a wealthy, slick-talking Mediterranean man who is not so sure he wants all of the women staying at his expansive villa; he finally relents, letting them stay for dinner. The three women are very different; Lydia is the most realistic, Olympia is an immature dreamer, and Thyona is the tough one, ready to take on the world if she has to. “The male is a biological accident, an incomplete female,” she says, “the product of a damaged gene, trapped in a twilight zone somewhere between apes and humans, always looking obsessively for some woman.” Lydia responds, “That’s maybe a little bit extreme,” to which Thyona argues, “Any woman, because he thinks if he can make some connection with a woman that will make him a whole human being! But it won’t. It never will.” Just as she is completing her rant, the women’s prospective husbands, Constantine (Ryan-James Hatanaka), Nikos (Bobby Steggert), and Oed (Emmanuel Brown), show up looking for their brides, and all hell is about to break loose.
Big Love is a contemporary restructuring of Aeschylus’s The Suppliant Maidens, one of the oldest known plays and the only existing section of the Danaid Tetralogy by the Father of Tragedy. Mee, whose other classicist works include Iphigenia 2.0, Trojan Women 2.0, and Orestes 2.0 and who has cited German dance-theater guru Pina Bausch as a major influence, throws just about everything he possibly can at this tale of fifty brides-to-be being chased by fifty determined cousins, from cake and tomatoes to Tiffany boxes and the heads of Ken and Barbie dolls. The potentially kissing cousins serve as their own Greek chorus, occasionally breaking out into song, a conceit that works best the first time around, when Lydia, Olympia, and Thyona suddenly grab microphones and, under hot spotlights, deliver a rousing rendition of the recently deceased Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.” The play is directed with a controlled abandon by frequent Mee collaborator Tina Landau (A Civil War Christmas, Old Hats), who holds nothing back in this kitchen-sink production where anything can happen. The uniformly solid cast, sporting Anita Yavich’s delightful costumes, also includes Piero’s house guests Eleanor (Ellen Harvey) and Leo (Nathaniel Stampley), who are excited by all the festivities, but it’s Jones, Winters, and Sargeant who clearly command the center of attention. Big Love, which is part of Signature’s Legacy Program — Mee was the theater’s 2007-8 playwright-in-residence — doesn’t always hit its ambitious targets, but it’s an awful lot of fun, taking advantage of every little detail it can, from the way Oed, Constantine, and Nikos enter in helicopters to the absurdist use of a movable door to the appearance of a trampoline for no apparent reason. But what, no cake for the audience?