LIMITLESS: The Film Babble Blog Review

LIMITLESS (Dir. Neil Burger, 2011)

“Obviously, I’ve miscalculated a few things” says Bradley Cooper starring and narrating (as well as co-executive producing) this shiny new thriller that is #1 at the U.S. box office right now.

The film itself miscalculates more than a few things in its haste, but for a considerable chunk of its running time there’s some inventive camera work, and a plethora of intriguing possibilities.

Cooper, despite having a book deal, is a down and out writer living in a crappy New York apartment unable to write a single word. It doesn’t help matters that his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) dumps him, and he’s behind in paying his rent, so when he runs into the slimy Johnny Whitworth, as his ex-brother-in-law, he doesn’t turn down a new drug called NZT that Whitworth says allows him 100% access to his brain.

NZT completely changes Cooper and almost immediately he finishes his book, learns every language, becomes a financial wizard, gets his girlfriend back, etc. He calls himself “enhanced Eddie.” Unfortunately Whitworth is mysteriously murdered, and there’s a strange man (Tomas Arana billed only as “Man in Tan Coat”) who appears to be following Cooper menacingly.

You don’t have to have read “Flowers For Algernon” or its film adaptation CHARLY to know that Cooper is going to crash and that his world could completely crumble around him. Robert De Niro enters the scene as an intimidating Wall Street mogul who wants to employ Cooper in presumably the film’s bid for a bit of gruff gravitas. A bit of De Niro’s patented indifference is what we get instead.

Some of the movie’s mis-steps after its strong set-up involve a Russian loan shark (Andrew Howard) who gets addicted to the drug himself, a merger in jeopardy with an ailing Richard Bekins who obviously is a victim of the drug as well, and the murder of a woman Cooper slept with during a crazy night he can’t remember.

Cooper, taking a break from his usual roles as an arrogant douche, is an effective leading man and his performance is note perfect even as the material falters. He is destined for much better things, and I’m not talking about THE HANGOVER PART 2.

You’ll root for Cooper even in the boring set piece fight finale with Howard’s thugs from central casting – one of the many generic elements that sink this overblown cinematic ship.

There are just too many strands here that don’t add up. Anna Friel as Cooper’s sickly ex-wife shows up for a scene of exposition then is never mentioned again, and the film also forgets Cornish for long stretches.

For all its stylish flourishes (I can definitely say it’s a cool looking movie), the film sure doesn’t use 100% of its brain.

More later…

BRIGHT STAR: The Film Babble Blog Review

BRIGHT STAR (Dir. Jan Campion, 2009)

A poem isn’t something to “work out”, John Keats (Ben Whishaw) tells Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). It’s something to “luxuriate in” he explains. Keats scorns the craft of poetry believing that it must come as naturally to a poet as the leaves comes to the trees. Brawne is quite taken with Keats with a fascination that quickly becomes infatuation, but is it for him or for his words? The film seems to be in the same boat; Keats is a poor man who could never fully provide for Brawne, yet as history later confirms, he is rich in romantic poetry and that is all she cares about.

In her first film since IN THE CUT (2003), Jane Campion returns to the picturesque period piece palette of her breakthrough THE PIANO (1993). She gives us the last 3 years of John Keats’ life rendered un-romantically but beautifully nevertheless. He spends his days lounging around his Hamstead house with his dear friend and writing partner Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider) seemingly waiting for inspiration to arise. Scene stealer Schneider portrays Brown as a boorish lout who is over-protective of Keats. However as Keats suffers a severe bout of tuberculosis, Brown’s stance becomes more and more valid.

Brawne falls for the doomed poet and bathes in his words whether they come from the printed page or a folded letter, but knows that her mother and society in general would not approve. We, of course, are aware that there is no happy ending here but even if one has no knowledge of any biographical information the tale is told with such an engaging emphasis on the fragility of love that its pathos is no less powerful.

With no showy tricks or stylish staging, Campion provides a sad splendor to what in someone else’s hands might amount to just another costume drama. Whishaw, who has portrayed other notable tortured artists such as Bob Dylan (I’M NOT THERE) and Keith Richards (STONED), brings a quiet passion to the part of Keats which can be summoned simply in his suggestive smirk. It’s Cornish’s movie though and her performance is as much a work of beauty as the film surrounding her. As Whishaw’s recitation of Keat’s famous lines serenaded the end credits it was hard for me to leave my seat. For BRIGHT STAR isn’t just a fine film to take in and then exit, it’s one to luxuriate in.

More later…