Monday, March 28, 2011


When I go to the movies, I'm looking for a different experience, something I've never seen before. The movie has to make sense, that's one parameter I insist on. And I have to be immersed in the experience.

Limitless took me there. It's a different movie about a totally different experience. There are many surprises along the way, but it's all set up by the one premise: What would you do, what would happen to you, if you could make more use of your brain rather than the 10-20% we currently use?

Eddie is a down-and-out writer living in the city, slowly losing his grip on everything close to him. His girlfriend just quit on him, but wouldn't you after getting one look at him? Wearing ragged clothes in a dump of an apartment in a lousy part of town, half-grown beard but not intentionally, shaggy hair. Unable to focus. Unable to write. A writer who can't write - how pathetic.

Until by chance he meets the brother of his ex-wife on the street. The brother used to deal drugs, but says he doesn't any more. But he seems to have a bunch of these new handy-dandy pills, pills that bring clarity rather than the usual druggedness. Eddie has nothing to lose, so he takes one. And then his life changes.

There are several scenes where I feel I'm seeing -- flying, really -- into the cab 100 feet in front of me, and then plummeting past that through several more cars, a feeling one supposes Eddie is feeling under the influence. It's dizzying, not pleasant. But then the camera does something really perceptive: it shows me choices when Eddie is in trouble (and, boy, he's in trouble a lot). Would I pick that one, that escape hatch, that weapon? Would I notice things about the person that could be to my advantage? All this and more the camera shows me, shows me a glimpse of what life could possibly be like if I could use everything I've ever read and ever seen, put it in order, use it.

Bradley Cooper has really found a character that uses his gifts for acting. This guy is going up and up and up. And Limitless has an extraordinary guest star, Robert DeNiro, in a character who tries to put things into a business perspective for us.

"Limitless" means several things. Limitless is the brain if it's opened. Limitless are the possibilities. Limitless is the situation Eddie would like his pill stash to be. And limitless seems to be the amount of corruption the human species is capable of.

Thumb's up.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sucker Punch

Zach Snyder has never failed to astonish in his last two movies, 300 and The Watchmen, so I was completely onboard when his new movie, Sucker Punch, was released. The difference is that Sucker Punch is from new material co-written by Zach himself, while the other two were adapted from graphic novels. And, it seems, the difference is that two of these movies had well-written and thought-out stories, while the latter does not.

Sucker Punch is quite difficult to encapsulate. Even the beginning, brilliantly shot without dialogue in gray and blue-slate coloring, is hard to summarize. But picture a young woman, nicknamed Baby Doll, escaping from a difficult situation but being committed to a mental institution by a corrupt system run by thoroughly corrupt men.

It's a world within a world within a world, as Baby Doll conjures up two realities, apparently (it's not terribly clear) to deal with the first. In the second world, she's in a house of prostitution, where Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino, the anchor to the story) takes care of all the young women and teaches them dance routines which are used to entice well-paying customers.

And when Baby Doll starts to dance, she enters her third world, where she and eventually the other women fight off zombie Nazis in a crazy, violent world, where they're capable of great physical feats and have command of many weapons.

The movie is brilliantly shot, there's no doubt about that. And I definitely felt an emotional jolt, particularly at the end, as I got to know all these young women with the ultra-cool names: Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Jamie Chung (Amber). And some of the shots have a certain amazing punctuation point, a definitive way of communicating situation and feeling.

But there's no awestruck factor, the same wow! thing I had at the end of 300 and again with The Watchmen. The Watchmen certainly evoked a kind of "What did I just see?" feeling that Sucker Punch did, but I had the certainty with the former that I was watching brilliant material that went into epic scope. Sucker Punch, maybe because of the purposeless Nazi fighting, did not lead me down that same path.

I have to honestly say, however, that I kept being distracted by the Baby Doll factor, the fact that these young women are dressed to allure, even when they're fighting Nazis. They're young manbait, and even though they exhibit strength and determination, they never stop being such in Snyder's dream. Very disturbing.

I would like to see it again because it's so visually compelling. Perhaps the problem is with the brilliance of Zack's other products: there's no comparison. I actually believe it's because of the holes in the screenplay. Still, it's worth watching.

Thumb's up for a disappointing third movie from a brilliant director.


The title "Killers" does not refer to Ashton Kutcher's character, a young man who has a license to kill and the resume to prove it. Killers refers to all the professionals and amateurs who are enchanted by a $20,000 bounty fee if they kill him.

We start by introducing Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl in a meet-cute situation in Nice, where he's almost naked and she's been dumped by her ex-boyfriend. Her accompanying parents -- Tom Selleck and the wonderful Catherine O'Hara -- complicate matters, but we fast-forward to idyllic life between the two young marrieds, a simple life since he's decided to give up on his killing lifestyle. However, some lifestyles are just hard to quit.

The movie doesn't offer a great deal of anything new -- until the end, that is, where everything I thought was happening really was but with odd twists. That and the beautiful French scenery -- plus the beauty of these young stars -- almost make up for the fact that it's a pretty boring, pretty predictable movie in the middle hour-and-a-half. Almost.

Part of the film's problem is that it's a comedy wrapped up in action-suspense clothing. It can't really decide which way to turn. Go with the comedy bent, though. It's much easier even though some of the action scenes are quite well done.

It's a great way to spend a mindless afternoon if you choose. You'll be amused by the ending, hopefully not enough to curse this reviewer for two hours you'll never get back.

Thumb's Up for the actors and the screenwriting surprises.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Nowhere Boy

We first meet teenager John Lennon when he's in his early teens. It's quite obvious that he's a troublemaker around school, has no stomach for it, and whiles away the time looking at semi-porn magazines, hanging around with his mates smoking, and drawing doodles while the teacher talks.

Sam Taylor-Wood's Nowhere Boy is biographical in the sense that we know certain things about Lennon's life. His mother gave him up to her sister to raise when he was only 5. His uncle, to whom he was quite attached, died suddenly. He had a love-hate relationship with Aunt Mimi, who always stuck by him. And when John was in his later teens, he went to visit his mother, who reappeared into his life now and again until she was suddenly struck by a car and died.

But it's non-biographical in the sense that almost all dialogue is imagined, fictionalized, because we weren't there. And John isn't talking any more.

While the acting is very good, especially from award-winner Kristin Scott Thomas as the stoic Mimi, it's a slow movie, and those of us who hunger for more of a sense of how the Beatles got started won't get it here. But we do get a sense of how traumatic John's life was as he was growing up, how hard it was for him to find a stable anchor. While it would be easy to see how John went off the rail tracks many times as he aged, conclusions about such causes drawn from his childhood would be simplistic.

Still, it's a fascinating look at what became a driven, fascinating character determined to find his way in the arts.

Thumb's up.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The 3 Best Films of 2010

So much has been written about these films. I just want to say a few things about each of them. Each was deserving of Best Film of 2010:

The King's Speech: Absolutely brilliant screenplay, made even more brilliant by the top three actors, Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter. Each gave nuance where no nuance was probably indicated. And lovingly directed. It's just a joy to watch the story of a true friendship, a rare thing, between a royal and a commoner.

Black Swan: Brilliantly acted and shot, and very hard to watch. If flesh being ripped from bones doesn't upset you, then sit down to watch almost a documentary on what it takes to be a world-class ballerina. The acting is amazing, from Natalie Portman to Mila Kunis (how far she's come from That Seventies Show!), her new friend in this ballet world, to Vincent Cassel, the director who forces his ballerina to reach for her dark side in Swan Lake. The music is haunting, appropriately so, and will sift into your dreams ever after.

The Social Network: I was just stunned by this fictionalized tale of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. The argument throughout the movie is that Zuckerberg wasn't the only one with this idea, but had to pay off those who had something to do with the concept. It's more a story of modern times, of kids without moral compass. It's a story of how Zuckerberg shafts his friends and fellow college students to be on top. One of the best pieces in laying this foundation of duplicity is his friendship with Sean Parker, who founded a website, Napster, that ripped off music companies and their artists. This is amazing filmmaking by David Fincher. The only thing that may disturb you is that we don't know how much of this story is true, how much we see of Zuckerberg -- a sociopath with no friends -- is true. Oh, and the fact that these guys are taking over the world. That's truly frightening.