When it rains, it pours and this last week (much like the Seattle weather) held very little rain. A casual week at the theater held a screening of the tragically misunderstood Chappie as well as gripping British war film ’71 (review later this week.) At home, I consumed some new Cronenberg in the form of Maps to the Stars and a fledgling William Friedkin crime drama – The French Connection. Capping off my run at the Seattle Cinerama’s Fists and Fury Festival, I caught Bruce Lee‘s “final” unfinished film Game of Death. Web screenings have been flooding my inbox in preparation for SXSW so I’ve also had to dive head first into those, but more on that later. For all you who follow from here, there be Weekly Review.
MAPS TO THE STARS (2014)
With Maps to the Stars, Canadian experimentalist maestro David Cronenberg extends his middle digit to the Hollywood lifestyle and its fuddy-duddy inhabitants without much nuance, or style for that matter. The film deals in stark shades of excess, featuring a cadre of Hollywood cliches – the burnouts, the up-and-comers, the desperate wannabe stars – stumbling into or out of fame. Cronenberg’s characters are about as deep as those supporting figures in Bret Easton Ellis’ Glamorama’s stock and just as poisonous. The whole Hollywood’s a cesspool commentary is nothing new with Bruce Wagner’s faltering script feeling at least two decades out of date. Solid performances from the likes of Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Evan Bird and Olivia Williams help to keep Maps afloat, as does Cronenberg’s knack for dark excess, but it’s too little too late in a film that is as fundamentally confused about its identity as an aspiring Hollywood starlet on her knees at some producer’s house and is, in many instances, just about as desperate. (C-)
THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)
Armed with a snub-nosed revolver and a bowler cap, Gene Hackman‘s Jimmy Doyle is a nigh misanthropic narc cop who roughs and tumbles in the darkened back alleys of NYC with partner Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) in tow. Doyle is a dick of a previous era – a shoot first, sneer later lawman – and Hackman is near iconic in the role. The Exorcist‘s William Friedkin directs with steady panache, including a pulse-pounding subway chase sequence that is framed just perfectly. Composer Don Ellis though brings the whole thing home with his absolutely sinister score, pulsating and scraping like it itself is possessed. The conceit – Doyle and Russo stumble upon a smuggling ring associated with New York-based French foreign nationals – isn’t anything all that new or special but Friedkin’s inverted take on the crime drama gives the material more intrigue. (B)
GAME OF DEATH (1978)
To call Game of Death Bruce Lee‘s final movie isn’t entirely true, considering that he only completed 12 minutes of usable footage before he died. The remainder – stitched together from other unused Lee material, additional material filmed with not one but two separate stand ins and a truly despicable scene that actually takes place at Lee’s actual funeral – is a wholly laughable, arguably meta kung fu flub-up. Released five years after Lee’s death, Game of Death tells the story of a martial-artist-cum-actor whose success has him sought after by a shady organization. Said organization is quick to unleash henchmen upon Lee (or rather, his body doubles) in scenes that are so comically senseless and gravity-defying that you can’t stop the flow of giggles. It’s a true shame because the final three-level battle features some of Lee’s finest high-flying action yet, particularly in a whip-cracking nun chucks scene. (C-)