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'Maps to the Stars' an incendiary tour of Hollywood hell, reviews say

In the new film "Maps to the Stars," director David Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner chart a course through a Hollywood hellscape populated by damaged and dysfunctional people.

If that doesn't sound like the most pleasant journey, critics agree it isn't. And yet they say the satire starring Julianne Moore -- fresh off her Oscar best actress win for "Still Alice" -- Mia Wasikowska and John Cusack also has its virtues.

In a review for The Times, Gary Goldstein calls "Maps" a "train-wreck watchable melodrama" and an "unflinching, in-your-face, decidedly unpleasant journey that dares viewers to hop on a rather nightmarish tour bus." Wagner's script provides an "aggressively soulless cautionary tale," and Moore brings "game conviction" to her performance.

Goldstein adds, "Although the physical and emotional brutality on display is tough to take, it's hard to dismiss the film's pitch dark ironies, painful truths and incendiary metaphors. For better or worse (OK, emphasis on the...

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Richard Linklater: A slow-cook director eyes the microwave

The news this week that Richard Linklater could be tackling Maria Semple's bestselling "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" was greeted, among those who follow such things, with unbridled happiness. Here was one of the most ‎well-regarded novels -- and, more important, one of the most unconventional -- of recent years being taken on by a director who himself was the patron saint of the uncommon.

By telling her story via such fragments as FBI reports and hospital bills, Semple had taken an unwieldy concept and made it look easy. Linklater, coming off a massively complicated 12-year shoot that produced an unassumingly uncomplicated movie, pretty much epitomized the quality. It was a project hatched in development heaven.

It might seem like the "Bernadette" announcement was the result of a director with new muscle figuring out what he might want to do next after the massive success, Oscar voters notwithstanding, of his recent opus "Boyhood."

But Linklater had already figured that out. In...

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Leonard Nimoy dies: Remembering his non-'Star Trek' movies

Leonard Nimoy will always be linked to his best known role, but his career and life demonstrate that he was never just Spock.

In addition to portraying the iconic, pointy-eared "Star Trek" character, Nimoy, who died at age 83 on Friday, was a man of diverse interests and talents — an actor, filmmaker, poet, photographer and singer. Here's a look back at some of his non-"Star Trek" movies:

Nimoy began his big-screen career in 1951, landing small roles in "Queen for a Day" and "Rhubarb." The next year he played a Martian in "Zombies of the Stratosphere" and scored his first title role in "Kid Monk Baroni."

Unfortunately, "Baroni" — about a street thug turned professional boxer — flopped at the box office. Nimoy is said to have described it as the type of movie that "made unknowns out of celebrities."

Before he landed his big "Star Trek" gig in 1966, he appeared in the B-movies "Them!" (1954) and "The Brain Eaters" (1958) and mostly toiled as a journeyman TV actor.

In the 1960s, he...

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Leonard Nimoy, Spock, and the mixed blessing of an iconic role

In 1966, when Leonard Nimoy was cast on a new science-fiction TV series called “Star Trek,” he was already 15 years deep into an acting career that had often appeared to be boldly going nowhere in particular. 

For more than a decade he’d been relegated to mainly bit parts in B-movies such as  “Them!” and “Zombies of the Stratosphere” and TV series like “Gunsmoke” and “Wagon Train,” at one point getting a job delivering newspapers to try to make ends meet.

Taking the role on “Star Trek” of Spock, a coldly logical half-human, half-Vulcan, Nimoy didn't expect much. He was just glad to have a steady gig for once. 

“For the first time I had a job that lasted longer than two weeks and a dressing room with my name painted on the door and not chalked on,” he recalled years later.

Though “Star Trek” was canceled after just three low-rated seasons, Spock captured the audience’s imagination to a degree beyond anything Nimoy could ever have predicted – and would endure as the actor’s defining role...

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Leonard Nimoy dies: Ranking his 'Star Trek' films

The passing of Leonard Nimoy at the age of 83 recalls, for us and so many others, fond memories of watching “Star Trek” and Nimoy’s Spock character on both screens large and small.

Of course, not all “Star Trek” episodes or films are created equal. So we decided to get in touch with our inner logician and come up with a list. Which films are the best and which make as much sense as a drunk Romulan? Here’s the (totally objective and ironclad) list of rankings of the eight films Nimoy starred in — the six original movies between 1979 and 1991, and the two J.J. Abrams reboots of recent years.

Make your opinions known in the comments section, or via Vulcan mind-meld.

Eighth best

“Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”

The worst of the lot. William Shatner directed, but you couldn’t name the price it would take to get us to watch it again. Summarizing the plot is pointless and will only make us mad, so we’ll just say it's technically about a renegade Vulcan and stop there. The best that can be...

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'Focus' could be sharper, but Smith and Robbie bring heat, reviews say

The con is on in "Focus," the new caper starring Will Smith as a veteran swindler and Margot Robbie as his disarming protege.

That means, of course, that co-writers and directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa ("Crazy, Stupid, Love.") are out to take audiences for a ride — but is it an enjoyable one? According to movie critics, "Focus" benefits from a sharp Smith and Robbie, though not all of its scheming succeeds.

The Times' Betsy Sharkey says "Focus" comes as "an irresistible reminder of all the reasons we first fell for the Fresh Prince so many years ago." Smith is "more vulnerable than we've seen the actor since he played the poverty-bound single father in 'The Pursuit of Happyness,'" while costar Robbie more than holds her own. "Their chemistry is so combustible the only question is: What took Hollywood so long?"

Thanks to Ficarra and Requa's light touch, Sharkey adds, "Even on those occasions when the plot threatens to unravel, the game … is so much fun it is worth the gamble."

The...

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