Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cooper has no Limitations

      Bradley Cooper takes a bunch of narcotics and does some crazy things in this 2011 film. No, I'm not talking about his reprising role in the latest Hangover sequel. This performance is actually worth watching.
     Cooper stars in Limitless as Eddie Morra, a down-on-his-luck author with some serious writer's block, hoping to write the novel that will catch him his big break. Eddie looks tired, jaded, even homeless--at one point he points out how only people with a drug or alcohol problem look like him. Eddie's girlfriend Lindy, played by Abbie Cornish (Bright Star) takes notice and breaks up with him in a diner. But Eddie's destined trajectory soon changes, when he runs into his ex-brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth) on the street and a couple of mid-afternoon drinks later, Eddie walks home with a small, clear pill in his pocket.
     He knows it's probably not a good idea, but what the hell, he has nothing to loose anymore. Thirty seconds is all he needs for it to kick in and the affects are eminent once they do. Everything starts to look bright, clear and focused. Even Eddie's demeanor changes, he no longer wears a facade of pretending to be something he's not, he owns his new-found confidence and wears it well.
     The pill, according to Vernon, allows the person who takes it to access receptors in the brain and use it to it's full potential. And this is evident from Eddie's experience. He teaches himself to play piano in three days, learns to speak fluent languages by listening to tape-recordings, makes some pocket-money by investing in stocks, wins back Lindy, even finishes that book in a few days.
     But not everything looks bright for Eddie's future. When Vernon is murdered in his apartment, Eddie makes off with his stash of pills (the effects only last for a day), which sustains him for most of the movie. I say most, because he eventually runs out. But that's the entertaining aspect of the film, seeing how Cooper's character will outsmart his way out of every situation. Add a few taxi-chases, angry drug-dealers, and one power-hungry boss (Robert DeNiro) and you have a cocktail that's sure to be a good time.
     Neil Burger (The Illusionist) directs this action-packed, adrenaline-rush of a movie with full force on the pedal and a clear direction of where he wanted to go. And it goes pretty far, pretty fast. Burger teamed up with Leslie Dixon, who wrote the screenplay, based on Alan Glynn's novel "The Dark Fields." Dixon's screenplay is smart, considering it's genre and adds a bit of an edge with some witty dialogue towards the end. Jo Willems creates visual pleasure with his cinematography throughout the film. The dark hues and unsaturated visual style in the film is punctuated by incandescent colors when Eddie takes the pill, symbolizing his clear and bright mind. Willems draws attention to every detail, every tone, every color, every pigment of blue in Cooper's baby blues (*cough, cough* I'm just saying).
     It's not the greatest action movie you've ever seen, but it's also not your average action movie you see nowadays. It's smart, a bit stylish and fun to watch. And honestly, what more can you ask? Cooper maneuvers well in this fast-paced, action-thriller and manages playing both the average-Joe and business-man with too much bravado quite well. It's never pretentious or exhaustive to watch. In fact it's almost charming and you see glimpses of Cooper's true leading man quality come out in every scene. This is one action-movie that had everything planned out well.

Rating: B+

Monday, September 19, 2011

Psycho is a mess of a slasher

     He's rich, sophisticated, has an ivy-league education, exquisite taste in music and occasionally will blow off steam by committing voluntary manslaughter, all before his 6:30 dinner reservations, of course. That's the joke behind American Psycho: murderers lurk all around us, sometimes concealed in an upper-class, yuppie guise.

     The film is based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name and is set in the 1980s. Our protagonist here is Patrick Bateman (the name even sounds vanilla), played by Christian Bale (Batman movies). Patrick wakes up every morning, showers, and proceeds with his rigorous routine of moisturizing and man-pampering his chiseled, smooth face. He walks out of his pricey New York apartment, fresh-faced, clean cut and you might even say dressed to kill. On the outside he's a composed banking executive with a hot girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon); he's surrounded by shallow friends, who share his interest in the tangible and temporal; and enjoys listening to Phil Collins with a glass of wine. Some might say he has it together, but we all know that's his sly plan. Who would suspect a N.Y. businessman, obsessed with perfecting the font on his business card, of murder in the third degree?

     The film, directed by Mary Harron, starts off with potential. We're introduced to Bateman's character and how his life is structured around his routines, encounters with co-workers, his job and you quickly see how his shallow and repetitive life-style can invoke an alter-ego. But the process in which this two-dimensional character switches from normal New Yorker walking the streets during the day to malicious assassin during the night is just that: night and day.

      His first victim in the film is a homeless man on the street. Why was he the target? He was just there, apparently. We're given no background on Bateman, no formal motive, no clue as to why he commits these acts, we're just left to assume he was probably a disturbed youth who started out killing puppies and eventually switched to people. Not to mention, he's messy. You would think someone as orderly as Bateman would consider the mess he's about to spill on his expensive furniture, before he slaughters his victims on his couch. (Maybe Dexter can give him a lesson in murder 101?) At one point, he tries taking his bloody sheets to the cleaners and wonders why the stain won't come out.

      Bateman balances his two lives pretty well, until an investigator (Willem Dafoe) shows up in his office one day, asking where his friend Paul (Jared Letto) is. Paul came over to Bateman's apartment one evening and asked too many questions about his girlfriend and well, I'm sure you can figure out the rest. This is one of the few times his lethal actions are ever validated. The film is a mix of gory and disturbing slayings, intertwined with Bateman's equally disturbing sexcapades, one of which involves a three-some, a camera and reconstructive-surgery.

     As much as Bale is clearly committed to the role (and he certainly seems crazy), Psycho fails to connect the two worlds the film illustrates together and ultimately is more of a comedy than a drama. Right before he murders one of his victims, he seduces them, with spiked wine and shares his knowledge of Whitney Houston's greatest work. There's just nothing serious to take out of this adaptation and probably would have fared better if Harron had a clearer image. You're best off, reading the book.

Rating: D

Friday, September 16, 2011

You won't want this Drive to end

     This is my first attempt at a review, so here goes: I went to the first showing of Drive earlier today after weeks of hearing nothing but positive adoration from sites like IndieWire, Deadline, THR and countless others and am delighted to say this indie-standout is not a let-down. From the first car chase that opens the film, we are left with a feeling of pure adrenaline that entices us and sustains us throughout its entirety.
     Ryan Gosling (Stupid, Crazy, Love), only known as the Driver, leads a double life, working as a stuntman for the movies during the day and moon-lighting as a getaway driver for criminals during the night. The stoic, yet shy Gosling eventually befriends his neighbor Irene, played by Carey Mulligan (An Education) and son Benicio and a quiet romance soon develops between the two. Things quickly get complicated when Irene's husband is released from prison and returns home to make amends for the sins of his past. The plot further thickens when Irene's husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is unable to pay back money he owed from prison and finds himself unable to find a solution when his family is threatened. That's where our Driver comes in; he agrees to be the getaway driver for Standard in a pawn-shop robbery that goes horribly and gruesomely wrong. From that dark turning point, Gosling's character tries desperately to make things right, get himself out of the situation and make sure Irene and Benicio are safe, all while driving like a bad-ass the entire time.
     Director Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising) directs with impressionable style. The car chases are action-packed, yet stylish and edited with an organized precision that won't give you a headache (perhaps Michael Bay would like to take note on this). Different camera angles of the chases, juxtaposed with a camera view behind the wheel leaves one with the floaty feeling of actually being in the Driver's seat. The film is full of these action-on-steroid sequences, but have no doubt it's a well-paced drama with a surreal style, not far from reminiscent of an 80's vibe. And I"m not talking about Miami Vice 80's; Winding Refn's film is definitely an art-house picture with a style of its own. Stunning cinematography and a dreamlike soundtrack add to this style.
     Gosling, however, leads this power-house of a film with a poignant performance, acting with silent emotion (he has few lines in the film) and pulls his own weight against solid performances from an incredible supporting cast, which include: Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Albert Brooks (Defending Your Life--I see an oscar nomination in the coming months), Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) and Christina Hendricks (Mad Men).
     It's visually a beautiful and stunningly crafted film with memorable characters, lines and even clothing (I expect outlets to start selling the Driver's trademark scorpion jacket soon) that will not disappoint.  Ultimately, Drive is like....well, just that-- an adrenaline-filled drive you never want to end and will want to hop back in the seat as soon as it's over for the second ride.
Rating: A