Writer/director Marc Lawrence is something of an invisible auteur, making a series of popular rom-coms with the likes of Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock which generally do well, yet his name is unnoticed. The Rewrite is one of his best, pitting Grant’s jaded screenwriter Keith Michaels into the academic snake-pit of an East Coast college. Despite his slovenly manner and non-existent teaching methods, Michaels becomes a hit with his class, and gets to strike romantic sparks with Marisa Tomei. While some of the details of the class are unpersuasive, the atmosphere of the classroom is warm and enjoyable, and as the rain-drops fall on the windows outside, Grant’s wayward teacher is good company in this undemanding comedy with few laughs but more than a little heart.
David Cronenberg takes an agonized dump on his own doorstep with Maps To The Stars, a scabrous portrait of Hollywood vanity that pulls no punches. Julianne Moore plays Havana Segrand, an empty-headed but vicious actress who takes on an ambitious intern Agatha (Mia Wasikowska). Other plotlines given an equal balance involve Robert Pattinson as a limo-driver and Evan Bird as Benjie Weiss, a child-star with increasingly anti-social tendencies. Cronenberg doesn’t spare a detail of Bruce Wagner’s abrasive script, from a tense scene of children playing with a loaded gun to the vivid sight of Moore on the toilet. John Cusack and Olivia Williams also get some meaty drama as a self-help novelist and his wife. Maps to the Stars features some supernatural elements, but the real horror is very much in keeping with Cronenberg’s analytical view of the world as a diseased place. Carrie Fisher is among those contributing memorable vignettes, and Bird has an unnerving presence that’s right on point with the film’s otherworldly feel.
There’s not much in director Michael Schroeder’s CV to suggest he was capable of pulling off an off-beat valentine to the movies like The Man in The Chair; the director of Cyborg 2 pulled off a career high when he pulled together an accomplished cast including Christopher Plummer, Robert Wagner and M Emmet Walsh as a group of Hollywood veterans who get together to help young aspiring LA film-maker Cameron (Michael Angarano) realise his dream. Schroeder over-eggs the flashy style of the direction, but coaxes strong performances from his cast, particularly Walsh who has a nice scene in which he discovers the value of the internet in a public library. Wagner also has a strong turn as a mogul who funds the enterprise, but Plummer takes centre-stage; his performance here as Flash is arguably better than his Oscar-winning turn in Beginners.
Ron Howard brings a strong visual sensibility to this adaptation of Peter Morgan’s play, which details the off-camera chess-match that went on behind the scenes of David Frost’s interviews with disgraced US president Richard Nixon. Played with genuine gravity by Frank Langella, Nixon is portrayed as boorish and belligerent, seeking to rehabilitate his image and seemingly unaware of the weight of public disappointment that Frost seeks to unleash. With the recent death of David Frost, it’s now clear that these interviews are probably the biggest achievements of Frost’s life, and Michael Sheen does a good job of conveying both the smarminess but also the inner grit that kept Frost at the top of the broadcast pile for decades. Toby Jones has an amusing cameo as agent Swifty Lazar in this colourful slice of behind-the-scenes drama.
Peter O’Toole enjoyed something of a late career renaissance; his brief appearance in films like Troy added a touch of class. With Roger Michell directing from a script by Hanif Kureishi, O’Toole did some of his best work with Leslie Finlay as Maurice and Ian, two aging actors who find their fading zest for life re-invigorated when Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) comes to stay in London; Maurice has a strong interest in the girl, not least because of her nude modelling, but their friendship transcends the sexual; Venus is a superb film about how culture can be a transformative force in the role of young and old alike, and O’Toole and Whittaker rise to the challenge in tandem, despite being at the opposite ends of their respective careers.
Joe Spinell was a tough looking NYC resident who turned up in films like The Godfather Part II and Taxi Driver. He clearly had ambition to spare, starring in The Last Horror Film, as well as using his own apartment and mother to create a deeply personal film. Spinell plays Vinny, a cab driver with aspirations to direct; he heads to the Cannes film festival where he stalks star Jana Bates (Caroline Munro). But when Jana’s workmates start getting murdered in grisly ways, suspicion falls on Vinny. The Last Horror film has a positively Warholian twist on the slasher genre, with numerous film-within-a film switches. It also makes full use of the festival; illicitly filed, David Winters’ film provides a fascinating picture of Cannes in 1981.
Quentin Tarantino’s spec script was an ideal vessel for the late Tony Scott to bring his cinematic style to; it’s something of a mystery why True Romance flopped. It’s a love-story against a drug-war setting in Hollywood; Clarence(Christian Slater) meets Alabama (Patricia Arquette) in Detroit, and the two of them take off with a suitcase of stolen money belonging to Drexl (Gary Oldman). On their way to a hotel-room shoot-out, they encounter a gallery of colourful characters, from Dennis Hopper , unexpectedly wholesome as Clarence’s dad, to Brad Bitt and an addled stoner, with Clarence receiving constant advice from the ghost of Elvis (Val Kilmer). Tarantino’s dialogue crackles, the showdown between Hopper and Christopher Walken is one of the tensest in cinema history, and there’s a poetry and bonhomie that somehow sits nicely with the spiky violence. Tony Scott was sometimes accused of style over substance; True Romance plays its defiantly romantic hand out beautifully.