Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
You know that statistic about how humans only use a small percentage of our brains? Limitless tries to show what it would be like if we were firing on all cylinders all the time. (By the way, if you want to look into some facts of the small percentage claim, check out this article.) What ends up on the screen is an often entertaining, though ultimately dumb movie.
Limitless is about Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), an aspiring writer who has hit a wall in his life. Eddie can’t even write the first word of his novel, he is often drunk by mid-afternoon, and his girlfriend has dumped him. Things start to change when a chance encounter leaves him with a prototype pill that allows him to use 100% of his brain. So Eddie decides the most important thing to do with his newfound genius-level intelligence is make as much money as possible and where else do you go to do that other than Wall Street? In fact, the simplest way to describe this movie (and I hate these comparisons, but I can’t help it) is Wall Street meets Charly/Flowers for Algernon.
The concept, that a drug can make you super-smart but leave you addicted, is interesting from a filmmaking perspective. The film only feels convoluted and messy when the withdrawal kicks in. It is streamlined and entertaining when Eddie is on the drug. This doesn’t excuse the problems of the film, but it makes you look at them a bit differently and that’s something.
Limitless starts to show some visual flair in the segments that are meant to convey what it’s like to be on the miracle drug. Director Neil Burger employs plenty of lengthy zooms that go through endless landscapes. The scenes are a little disorienting, but they are interesting to look at. Some of the images end up making the “clarity” of a fully functioning brain seem more confusing than eye-opening. But some images work, like the multiple Eddies, which show that taking the pill is basically like having copies of yourself to get all of your work done.
This is where Limitless gets a bit strange; it’s a drug movie, but it doesn’t seem to have a message. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you stop and think about what this film is saying, you may end up scratching your head a bit. This isn’t meant to be a message film, though. The film doesn’t get deadly serious very often, and that’s a good thing. Limitless is mainly here to entertain.
Limitless is a fun watch. The montages loosen the film up nicely as we see Eddie just winning (to quote Wall Street star Charlie Sheen) at life. Getting ladies, jetting around the world, spending all his newfound cash; these scenes are clichéd (the suit buying scenes and stuff like that has a definite Wall Street montage feel to it) but amusing. Much of that is thanks to Bradley Cooper.
Cooper holds the film together. He’s in his wheelhouse with this one. Cooper gets to play his Hangover character when he’s in withdrawal and he gets to be Face from The A-Team when he’s rocking and rolling. Obviously it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but the guy has charisma on the screen and while his voiceover felt forced and largely pointless, it’s forgivable because of his presence.
The other part of the cast that draws the most attention is the inclusion of Robert De Niro as a Gordon Gekko type during the Wall Street portion of the film. He doesn’t have much to do here except give Eddie warnings that go unheeded. He does a good job of looking upset and condescending, but that doesn’t make a character very interesting.
The Wall Street character wasn’t very interesting and that segment of the film in general drags a bit. There are all of those entertaining montages when Eddie first starts out only to lead to him…analyzing stock market trends. It’s during a segment like that when you start to question the movie and Limitless doesn’t hold up too well under a microscope. I’ll avoid spoilers (definitely check the spoiler section at the end if you’ve seen the movie), but just know that Limitless does answer most questions, it’s just that those answers are either too easy and/or kind of silly.
Once again, though, Limitless isn’t trying to be a profound experience. It’s mostly fun, a little dumb at times, but it’s mostly interesting. The concept, along with the star, keeps the film going. The film isn’t likely to have a lasting effect on anyone, but it is decent as passing entertainment and sometimes that’s good enough for the price of a ticket.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
How could this guy possibly end up in major politics? The knife in the Russian mobster’s stomach had to have had his prints all over it. How does the revelation that the previous owner was an arms dealer clear that problem up? The movie just asks you to assume a bit too much at times.
Completely random, but I have to point out the stupidity and awesomeness of a couple things. First, watching Bradley Cooper slurp up drug-laced blood like a meth-addled vampire was ridiculous and hilarious. Second, I love how a drug that makes you smart makes you realize that the best way to attack someone in a park is by brandishing a little girl in ice skates as a weapon. How was that a better idea than a baseball bat or any of the other possibilities shown? So dumb…but kind of great, too.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Bring on the aliens, the Evil Kurgan shall smite them all!
When aliens show up on Earth, it is rarely peaceful. There’s a reason for that, of course: peaceful aliens are lame (sorry, E.T.). It also makes sense that aliens would be hostile towards us. Isn’t the entire point of NASA these days to find a planet that can sustain human life? What would we do if we went there and it was occupied by (compared to our species) strange creatures? Something tells me we wouldn’t wave a white flag if we needed that planet to survive. Maybe I’m wrong, but regardless, it does make more sense for an alien race to be hostile towards humanity…and the latest, albeit unoriginal, film version of that scenario is Battle: Los Angeles.
Battle: LA is truly a movie about a battle taking place in Los Angeles. The film actually scales back from the usual alien attack movie by placing the majority of the action away from the major destruction. The focus is on a small group of Marines on a civilian extraction mission. It’s not about fighter jets taking on mother ships or anything like that. Battle: LA does contain its grander moments, sure, but the majority of the film takes place in side streets with intense urban warfare.
The small group of soldiers is led by Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) a staff sergeant near retirement who is dealing with the losses of his last deployment. He is accompanied by a typical group of soldiers. No one really stands out in the group because character development isn’t exactly priority number one in a movie like this. But enough information is given about the characters that it is easy to get on their side, but that might just be because they are fighting a group of disgusting aliens.
The alien design is definitely a highlight of Battle: Los Angeles and, if anything, the film didn’t show off the creatures enough. The lack of gruesome close-ups or showy sequences adds to the mystery of the aliens, but a little more information would have been nice.
Battle: LA isn’t a creature feature, though, it is an action film. For the most part, the action is entertaining. Everything is good and loud, just like a war movie should be. The effects look fine and there are a few brutal moments to keep the action junkies sated. Some may take issue with the “shaky-cam” stuff, though. This isn’t one of those fake documentary movies or anything, but the camera is handheld and it does get chaotic at times. It works as a tool to show a hectic battle, but it isn’t really necessary for a conversation, yet it is used for both, which is unfortunate.
If Battle: LA has any faults, they occur when there is even a remote attempt at emotion. Everything is clichéd. The young soldier with the pregnant wife at home; the soldier struggling with the death of a loved one; and there’s even a little kid thrown into the mix who gets to salute like a good “little Marine.” There’s nothing really wrong with it, but it just came off as forced and a bit cheesy.
All of that is forgiven thanks to some steely military resolve. Most of that praise belongs to Aaron Eckhart. He doesn’t have much to do in this except look very determined, and he has the glare and strong jaw line to do just that. He represents the ultimate determined soldier who will never give up. That is the saving grace of this movie. A movie like this is about survival, not just of the main characters, but of the human race. These soldiers are all the audience gets to see of the human race and they will not quit for anything. They don’t need rest or food, just more ammo and more aliens to kill, which is awesome.
Battle: Los Angeles may seem like a video game to some (I was reminded of the “Resistance” series on PS3), but that is not necessarily a bad thing. That really just means the film is entertaining, but maybe a bit shallow. It’s an alien invasion movie, though, and all it needs is good action and characters that you don’t hate. Battle: LA has that and then some. There’s nothing really new here, but it is fun and it is certainly worth a watch.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
The alien design was interesting, what with the tentacle and faceless quality of the critters. I wished there was more attention paid to the weird, hovering creatures.
This movie seemed realistic…if that makes sense. The aliens weren't ridiculous in their power and there wasn't some miracle solution that saved the day in the end. In the end, it was good old American fortitude that won through. (Cue Team America theme.)
The focus on water was interesting because that is exactly what NASA is all about these days. We're always looking for water and that is what these aliens are here for...allegory?
Speaking of allegory, what about the drones? That seemed like such a pivotal moment in the film. Eckhart gets his hero scene only to find an unmanned drone...which is exactly what our military uses today. If this film were a bit deeper I would think that the whole film is a commentary on American warfare, but it isn't because it completely celebrates America at every turn. Anyway, there might be something there, but it's still just some fun action for the most part.
Improvised alien autopsy…I like it! If there is a scene that makes the movie for me, it is the autopsy scene. I wish there was more of this in the movie. Such a crazy scene as Eckhart and Moynahan sift through the gore to try and figure out what exactly kills the aliens.
Finally, I wish the last act would have been Eckhart on his own…partially because I hate Michelle Rodriguez so much. She definitely is a toned down version of here usual bad-ass self, but she still gets on my nerves. Anyway, how bad-ass would it have been if the last twenty minutes was Eckhart on a suicide mission to take out the control center? I think I might have flat out loved this movie if it had ended like that. As it stands, I dug it, but it didn't blow me away or anything.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
The Adjustment Bureau is entertaining and compelling but, more importantly, it raises some interesting questions.
The Adjustment Bureau looked like an interesting film when the trailers debuted…then the film was delayed for quite some time, which is never a good sign. Delays don’t always equal disaster and, fortunately, The Adjustment Bureau is an example that a delayed film can be a decent film. It helps that it is also an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story. To be honest, that can be good or bad as well, but it turns out to be one of the better ones. It’s no Blade Runner, but it’s certainly no Paycheck either.
The film is about David Norris (Matt Damon), an aspiring politician who meets his dream girl, Elise (Emily Blunt). The problem is that he was only supposed to meet her one time. When he runs into her again, it gets the attention of the titular Bureau. Everything in the world of this film is set to a plan written by a creator-type figure known as the Chairman. When the plan isn’t followed, adjusters are brought in. They have the ability to freeze time, travel through a subspace network, and mess with the physics of the regular world. Think of them as the destiny police. Despite these adjusters, David is determined to be with Elise.
This makes The Adjustment Bureau a kind of romantic sci-fi film, which is an interesting label, to say the least. The film works on each level, though. The chemistry between the two leads is palpable and the characters are likable and sympathetic. Simply put, you want things to work out for these two. On the sci-fi end, there is enough visual flair to keep things interesting and the whole idea of the Bureau is left open enough to lead to some of that deep conversation that all sci-fi films aspire to.
Hard core sci-fi fans may be let down by the film’s toned down style, though. The Adjustment Bureau is not a flashy film at all. The closest bit of style it attempts comes by way of the subspace travel the adjusters use. They can open a door in one location and travel to a completely different area. This aspect leads to some impressive sequences and individual shots, especially when the doors are left open for a bit. But the film doesn’t dwell on these visuals very often; they are just part of the story.
The film also stays away from going too deep into the story behind the Bureau. There are hints here and there, but the bulk of the mystery is left up to the viewer. That may mean the film doesn’t create much of a world behind the “real world,” but that is not a bad thing. It’s refreshing to see a sci-fi film that tries to take place in a real world. To be clear, though, there are definitely things happening in this film that are in no way realistic or even backed up by science.
The Adjustment Bureau, based on the descriptions above and especially from the trailers, may seem like a deadly serious film. It is, in fact, surprisingly light-hearted at times. John Slattery (“Mad Men”) looks like a menacing agent in the previews, but in reality he serves as a bit of comic relief for the film. It turns out that these adjusters not only look like white collar workers from the 1950s, they also act like them. Slattery complains about waiting for the case of a career and worries about exceeding his “ripple quota.” This light tone makes the film much easier to accept and makes it quite enjoyable as well.
Lighthearted as The Adjustment Bureau is at times there are still heavy questions asked. There aren’t really any answers to those questions and that is actually the way it should be. Do people actually enjoy films that end with a man in a chair explaining the world to the main characters and/or the audience (I’m looking at you, sequel to groundbreaking sci-fi film)? Films like that insult the audience’s intelligence. Scratch that, they insult the imagination of the audience. The Adjustment Bureau is interesting and entertaining because, in the end, the film is up to you. Some might actually call that lazy screenwriting, and sometimes it is, but when the questions you’re left with at the end are interesting, then that means the filmmakers (in this case writer/director George Nolfi) have accomplished something.
This is a film that is much more about ideas than it is about acting, but the leads are very good here. Damon can carry a movie in his sleep these days, but he livens this one up with his charismatic work…it’s easy to believe he is a politician. Emily Blunt does a fine job opposite Damon. She has to handle the more emotional scenes and she is very believable. Slattery, as mentioned above, gives a fun performance. And Anthony Mackie and Terence Stamp add sympathy and a bit of menace, respectively.
The Adjustment Bureau isn’t a sci-fi classic, but it will go down as one of the good Philip K. Dick adaptations, and that’s saying quite a bit. As for the moment, it’s exceedingly rare to see a movie in a multiplex that is willing to ask deep questions that you get to answer for yourself. Take advantage of that and check this one out.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
I dug the whole politician aspect of the story, especially the speech Damon gives when he decides to quit playing a politician and speak the truth to an audience.
The idea of someone having a ripple quota is amusing. It makes you wonder how much is too much. Slattery messed with a lot of lives while he was chasing Damon. I loved that Damon even commented on the fact that he was causing an insane amount of ripples by diverting so many taxis. I guess it all just confirms the idea that some humans are simply much more important than others and it doesn't matter what happens to most of us in the "plan."
I also liked the fact that the Bureau was not all controlling and, in some cases, they were just plain inept. Interesting to see a secret society that controls the world that doesn't have total control.
The hats... I was wondering why Damon was rocking the old hat in the previews and posters and whatnot. It made the film look like it took place sixty years ago and it surprised me when that wasn't the case. Glad that there was a reason for the hat. But it does sound kind of stupid when you have to put it in words: a magic hat allows you to travel through subspace.
The bureaucracy was almost like something out of The Hudsucker Proxy what with the way the adjusters talked about kicking problems "upstairs." It just added to the whole comedic element of the film.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
“So I won’t have that beer, Webster, unless I’m drinking it from Jonah King’s skull.” That's kind of a paraphrase, but you get the point. Lines like that make me kind of love this movie.
Nicolas Cage is a tornado of crazy these days so it should come as no surprise that he would star in a film called Drive Angry 3-D. To be fair, Cage doesn’t go full Wicker Man in this one (unfortunately), but he does get to do some crazy things. Drive Angry is perfect for Cage because it doesn’t take itself seriously. It is pure fun from start to finish.
Drive Angry is this strange film that is filled with religious themes. For instance, Cage’s character is called Milton (as in the “Paradise Lost” Milton) and the movie lets on very quickly that this film takes place in world in which Hell definitely exists. There are run-ins with a cult and a mysterious man, known only as The Accountant (William Fichtner), is certainly not a number cruncher. The film doesn’t get too deep into religious philosophies, though, and that’s a good thing. This isn’t a deep movie and shouldn’t be looked at too closely anyway. A film like Drive Angry is meant to be enjoyed with a smile not a contemplative furrowed brow.
The movie is about the mysterious Milton who is on a mission to retrieve his infant granddaughter from a cult. The cult murdered his daughter and plans on sacrificing the baby to open a portal to Hell. On top of that, the even more mysterious Accountant is mixing things up, seemingly playing both sides. A young lady, Piper (Amber Heard), is taken along for the ride. Absolute craziness and just plain weird stuff ensues.
This is the type of film that Cage has perfected as of late. Cage doesn’t get to scream like a maniac, though. His performance is that of a reserved psycho. He is still a lot of fun. (Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want a single crazy detail about Cage spoiled.) Cage gets to deliver some killer lines like, “Let the girl go, give me the child, or I’ll blow all your heads off.” At one point, he gets beaten with the femur bone of his daughter for what seems like five minutes. Oh, and he drinks beer from a human skull. I’ll type that again: Nicolas Cage drinks beer from a human skull. If that doesn’t pique your interest for this film then nothing will.
Nicolas Cage isn’t alone in the insanity in this one. William Fichtner is absolutely hilarious as the Accountant. He delivers his lines with such dead pan hilarity you can’t help but laugh. He plays the role with equal parts menace and child-like wonder. It makes for a very amusing performance. Billy Burke has a few great moments as cult leader Jonah King as well. And David Morse classes the joint up a bit with his scenes near the end.
Drive Angry isn’t just a crazy fest, though. It is primarily an action film…in 3-D. The action is decent for the most part, with a few standout moments. The CG is atrocious at times, but forgivable since some of the stunts are ambitious and brutal. The 3-D elements are just right for this type of film, though they aren’t vital to the overall experience. Director Patrick Lussier (the underrated Dracula 2000) knows how to use gimmicky 3-D. He also made the fun My Bloody Valentine remake a couple years ago and that film utilized 3-D in a very entertaining way.
This movie is basically made for men. It has plenty of classic muscle cars and a few entertaining driving sequences to go with them. There are plenty of beautiful ladies throughout. There’s even a sex scene during a shootout, which may make some cry foul because of its similarities to the scene from Shoot ‘Em Up, but I found it to be a more entertaining scene so it’s okay with me. And there is plenty of brutal action throughout the film. Add Nicolas Cage and a plot about Hell and cults and whatnot and you end up with a (screw it, pun intended) hell of a good time.
Drive Angry was criminally underseen last weekend, which is upsetting because it is such a fun film. Maybe Cage isn’t as entertaining to general public as he is to this critic. Maybe the 3-D is element has burned audiences out. Who knows? But if you just wrote this one off after you saw Cage’s name and “3-D” in the title, you should reconsider and give it a chance. Though at this point, it’s most likely the film is disappearing from theatres at a rapid rate. So, give this a try on video because it is quite literally crazy fun.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
What was with the dude in the church with the terrible wig? The guy is even credited on IMDb as "Man in Wig." I was expecting a joke to come up about it, but it never did. It was just odd...which is okay.
They made a big point to declare that this was "Shot in 3-D." I'm a fan of this and I hope other movies do this in the future. If I'm spending an extra $3 for a movie in 3-D I'd rather the film was shot in 3-D. But since this film made almost nothing, it's not likely to influence future marketing campaigns...
The femur bone stuff cracked me up. Jonah King is a harsh bastard. Killing the girl is not enough, he has to fashion a cane handle out of her femur bone then beat her father with it. Wow.