Maps to the Stars (2014)

Where’s it on? BBC2, Friday, 11.20pm

David Cronenberg turned 78 this week, and here comes BBC2 with a chance to catch up with his most recent feature. There’s been silence from Camp Cronenberg in the time since Maps to the Stars came out in 2014. Some say he’s been having trouble financing further projects. If true, that’s a sad state of affairs. But if this poisoned pen letter to Hollywood is to be his swansong, it’s a suitably caustic one – the kind of film that burns through surfaces. Starring Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowski and John Cusack as an assortment of dysfunctional la-la-landers, Maps to the Stars is a vicious satire on contemporary Los Angeles, continuing the illustrious tradition of backstabbing Hollywood-on-Hollywood movies, from Sunset Blvd. (1950) to Inland Empire (2006). 

Viy (1967)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

Viy is said to be the first and only horror film to come out of Russia during the Soviet era. Perhaps its basis in a literary short story by Nikolai Gogol is what got it past the state censors. In rural Ukraine in the 19th century, a young priest is commanded to watch over the body of a supposed witch for three spooky nights in a village church. There, as gilded religious icons stare down at him from the walls, he has only his faith to protect him as he is besieged by supernatural terrors. Created using Ray Harryhausen-style practical effects, these are rather like the diabolical temptations that Hammer conjured for The Devil Rides Out (1968). Perhaps even scarier. Eureka’s very welcome new Blu-ray is also available in a limited edition, which contains the bonus of a Serbian version of the story from 1990.

The Dose (2020)

Where’s it on? BFI Flare

BFI Flare, our annual celebration of queer cinema, is now in full swing online. I can’t resist a medical thriller – as if the past year hasn’t been one long one – so I made a beeline for The Dose. This Argentinian movie comes on something like the Michael Crichton-directed Coma (1978), the one with Geneviève Bujold as a doctor who discovers that an unusual number of patients are having ‘complications’ during routine surgery. The Dose hinges on the homoerotic attraction and rivalry between two male hospital nurses, both of whom have a secret habit of administering lethal injections to deteriorating patients. One does it out of pity, the other for kicks. Martín Kraut’s drama exerts an insidious grip as it wades into the ethical murk.

Love & Mercy (2014)

Where’s it on? BBC2, Saturday, 11.20pm

There’s nothing wrong with recommending two John Cusack movies in one week. While Maps to the Stars sees Cusack as a controlling and exploitative quack psychologist, the same year’s Love & Mercy sees him on the other side of the same coin. As ageing, psychologically fracturing Beach Boy Brian Wilson, Cusack is controlled and exploited by Paul Giamatti’s quack celebrity doctor. These 1980s-set scenes form part of a two-era biopic. The sunnier remainder joins the band in their 1960s heyday, with Paul Dano playing the younger Brian. The most purely delightful moments in Love & Mercy are documentary-like sequences in the recording studio. These put us as close to being present at the recording of Pet Sounds as you could dream of being.

Demonlover (2002)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

Demonlover (2002)

Demonlover is that rare beast: a millennial tech-thriller that you can watch 20 years later without cringing. Far from it, in fact. With its Sonic Youth-heavy soundtrack, ‘It girl’ Chloë Sevigny in the cast, and a plot that tackles the dark web, internet pornography, corporate espionage and our over-exposure and desensitisation to violence, it feels both of its time and on the edge. There’s a whiff of real danger in its story about corporations grappling for rights over the 3D manga porn coming out of a Japanese studio. Demonlover’s director is Olivier Assayas, who has made similar glosses on the indie film world (Irma Vep, 1996) and the publishing industry (Non-Fiction, 2018). Here he’s working in a Cronenbergian register, launching himself into the moral chasms opened up in our move to the internet.