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Movie Review Monday: Limitless

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Mike Finkelstein decided one day that he wanted to be smart.  Instead of reading, learning, or trying a craft, he figured he’d do what Bradley Cooper did (because, you know…that could happen…).  Maintenant, il parle français.  Here is his review of “Limitless”.

PLOT: A struggling writer (Bradley Cooper) discovers a drug that lets him access 100 percent of his brain power.  His new abilities lead to power, wealth, women, and a whole lot of trouble in the form of a shady businessman (Robert DeNiro), a Russian mobster (Andrew Howard) and unexplained blackouts.

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW: You know how they say we can only access 20% of our brain…? This lets you access all of it.”

What an awesome idea for a movie.  Who hasn’t thought about what they could do if they had full access to their brain?  All the money…all the power…all the women.  The possibilities are limitless (Hah! Get it?? Because that’s the title of the movie! …… *cough* back to the review…).  So when you have an idea that could go in literally any direction with any number of conflicts and oppositions, you better have a heck of a story to back it up, right?

Okay, let’s start with the good things.  Everything starts on a hell of a high note.  Bradley Cooper’s Eddie Morra is standing on the edge of his high-rise apartment about to jump.  He looks completely messed up, and someone is trying to break into his Panic Room-esq penthouse apartment.  We’re locked in immediately.

We flash back to see how we got to this point: Eddie is a messed up writer whose life is falling apart.  He can’t even write one page of his new book, his landlord is on his back for the rent, and his girlfriend just left him.   We learn all this (and everything else that happens throughout the movie) through Cooper’s inner monologue and narration.  It’s sarcastic, funny and charming, and a great device to push the story along.

Then, we get the first taste of the drug NZT-48.  Suddenly, the whole film transitions from its cold, dull blues to warm, crisp oranges.  Eddie is seeing everything clearer.  He gets style, learns culture and languages, becomes a stock and mathematical genius, and can charm any woman in seconds.  And we get to go on the ride with him.  We’re still all in.

And then Eddie runs out of the drug for the first time…and it all goes boom…

The biggest issue with LIMITLESS is that with such extraordinary powers, you could showcase the awesomeness for a while, but then you have to have a conflict or a rival worthy enough to hit back, and hard.  This never happens.  We constantly have hints of a huge challenge: the consequences are lethal if Eddie goes off NZT-48, but every time he runs out, there’s a ridiculous way to get more.    What about a villain?  For a Superman, you need your Lex Luthor.  Here, we have Bobby DeNiro’s corporate Carl Van Loon and Andrew Howard’s Russian gangster, Gennady.  Anything they throw Eddie’s way is given an ‘uh-oh’ moment, and then Eddie conveniently figures out the situation.  Hell, even when Eddie’s girlfriend (played by Abbie Cornish) is running from a pill-popping super henchman, she has time to pop her own pill and ends up using a five-year-old’s ice skate as a deadly weapon.  (All I kept thinking was that little girl is going to be in therapy for a very, very long time…)  The real conflict and/or rival never seems to actually materialize anywhere, and the movie weakens drastically because of it.

I’m sad to say it almost felt like the writers scared themselves with their potential and kept backing away to safety.  This is a script that could have built complexity on top of complexity to make an amazingly deep, smart movie.  But no…one huge subplot that seemed to be the only real threat to Eddie, involving lapses in memory and murder,  disappears like it was never there.  Another with Eddie’s ex-wife showing how the drug could affect a person just comes off borderline comedic.  And as for the ending, let’s just say there was a hint of danger that was dismissed in about the same time it took you to swallow that handful of popcorn you just put in your mouth.

All of this is so sad, because all the other elements are there.  Besides a vertigo-type effect around New York that made me a bit nauseous, director Neil Burger gives us some beautiful scenery and special effects (including the aforementioned color temperature technique).  Bradley Cooper shows that he could play a charismatic leading man, Abbie Cornish is a respectable girlfriend, and Andrew Howard comes across well as a lowlife gangster.  And yes, I know DeNiro has been phoning it in for years, and that has definitely not changed here, but it’s DeNiro, and his angry face could still make me piss my pants in fear.

As the credits rolled on LIMITLESS, my friend and I both sat there, trying to figure out if we liked the movie or not.  And then we figured out what it was: The concept was so damn good that we almost didn’t want to believe that we were so badly let down.  LIMITLESS never really figured out what it wanted to be…a drama, thriller, action/adventure, comedy, wet dream?  It was all over the place, and yet nowhere at the same time.  When you have a movie that you know in your gut could have been so much more, that’s carries more disappointment than any other definitively bad movie you’ll ever see.

GRADE: B-

Mike’s LIKES:

1) BRADLEY COOPER: Charming and badass.  You really can’t go wrong with the guy from THE HANGOVER

2) THE CONCEPT: The idea and concept for this film had endless possibilities.  Using 100% of your brain…what you could possibly do…and with that, I lead into the DISLIKE list….

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) WASTED POTENTIAL: Like I said…endless possibilities, and they really did nothing with it.  It seemed like the ideas were juvenile when they could have been so much more.  Very disappointing when you take the time to think about it.

2) ROBERT DENIRO: I think we all agree that DeNiro has been on a downward spiral lately.  Besides EVERYBODY’S FINE, he’s been on autopilot, and this is just another example of something he could have milked and made his own instead turning into a phone-it-in supporting role.

3) NO VILLAIN: Every hero has to have a villain.  Who was the villain here?  DeNiro?  No.  The Russian?  Nah.  Losing pills/death?  All too easy.  Give the superhero a challenge worthy of his superpowers!

4) VERTIGO SHOTS: I’m sorry, but these just kept bothering me.  The first time it was cool, but after a while, I had to look down  because I was getting nauseous.

5) ENTIRE SUBPLOTS GONE: When you have that big of a subplot/incident and it’s just pushed to the side and forgotten about, you know there’s an issue.  They didn’t even take the time to throw in a one-liner that would have taken care of it.  It was literally gone like Richie’s older brother in “Happy Days”

EXTRA FACTS:

1) Shia LaBeouf was originally signed on for the lead role, but had to drop out due to an arm injury after a car accident.

Entertainment

REVIEW: “Sing Street” Will Put a Song in Your Heart… and Your iPod

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“I have just seen an instant classic.”

That’s what I said to myself as I left the theater, with the music and adrenaline of “Sing Street” still coursing through my veins.

It’s the kind of movie you want to turn around and see again, immediately. Right after you download the soundtrack. Yes, it’s that good.

Haven’t heard anything about it? I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t have known about this film either, except that my Regal Crown Club card finally paid off in the form of free tickets to an advanced screening. (Never mind the $25 popcorn.) Anyway, let’s watch!

Hooked yet? You will be.

Irish writer/director John Carney (“Once,” “Begin Again”) has conjured a nearly perfect coming-of-age tale set in 1980s Dublin. Think “The Commitments meets “Sixteen Candles meets “Footloose,” but all in one glorious package that manages to be both fresh and nostalgic at the same time. Drawing from his own teenage years at the real Synge Street school, Carney avoids the trap of creating a pure fluff piece by infusing the story with real heart.

A large part of that is due to the breakout talent and hero of Sing Street,” 16-year-old Ferdia Walsh-Peelo. As “Connor Lalor” navigates the tricky currents of a new school, family drama, and first love, Walsh-Peelo is heartbreakingly earnest, predictably awkward, and unexpectedly optimistic. Everything about his performance rings true. No small feat, considering that this is his acting debut.

Thanks to Carney’s non-actor, open casting approach, Walsh-Peelo is also joined by some equally promising new faces. Lucy Boynton is luminous as his love interest, “Raphina,” and Mark McKenna is quietly compelling as Conor’s songwriting partner, “Eamon.”

One of the most satisfying pairings, though, is anchored by the more experienced Jack Reynor (“Transformers:Age of Extinction”).  He shines as Conor’s older brother, “Brendan.”  Dealing with the angst of his own stalled dreams, Brendan tackles his brotherly mentoring role with gusto. Conor soaks up the advice like a ruddy-cheeked sponge, then begins to find his own way as his confidence grows.  Rarely do we see the underlying affection between two brothers played so simply and honestly,  so the relationship between Conor and Brendan is a lovely surprise.

The other undeniable star of “Sing Street” is the music.  While the story could have easily been told with the band only performing covers of ’80s hits,  Carney had a bigger vision for the film.  He collaborated with Scottish songwriter Gary Clark to craft 8 original tunes that not only add layers of light and shade to the storyline, but could be stand-alone chart toppers today.  From the gleefully retro “The Riddle of the Model,” to the Cure-tastic “Beautiful Sea,”  to the EMO ballad “To Find You,”  there’s something for everyone. Welcome to your summer soundtrack, people.

There are few darker notes to the plot, and the ending feels slightly of place, but in general “Sing Street” will leave you feeling as light and fizzy as a packet of Pop Rocks.

The movie poster reads: “Boy Meets Girl. Girl Unimpressed. Boy Starts Band.”  That’s it in a nutshell, of course, but happily, this film is so much more.

SING STREET opens in New York April 15th, and is in theaters nationwide on April 29th.

 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrate The Fourth With Our Picks For Great American Movies!

What makes a film distinctly American? Sometimes it recollects the spirit of our patriotism, and other times it is so iconic and popular that it defines an entire generation of our culture. Here are our picks for some great American movies! Why not celebrate your Independence Day holiday by popping up some popcorn and enjoying one?

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What makes a film distinctly American? Sometimes it recollects the spirit of our patriotism, and other times it is so iconic and popular that it defines an entire generation of our culture. Here are our picks for some great American movies! Why not celebrate your Independence Day holiday by popping up some popcorn and enjoying one?

It’s impossible to list them all… this is just a handfull! Scroll down and tell us what your favorites are!!!

Let’s start at the beginning!

Do you have what it takes to watch a black and white classic? (Don’t break my heart by replying if the answer is no.) Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 classic starring James Cagney – telling the story of the great entertainer George M Cohan. He’s the man behind the songs “The Yankee Doodle Boy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”  A true classic with distinctly American music and showmanship. Watch the trailer!

There’s something about the fifties and sixties that still plucks at the nostalgic heartstrings of America. And yet, two of the most iconic movies about that period were actually shot decades later, with a heartfelt look back at those times.

Both American Graffiti and Grease come to mind. While American Graffiti can take bragging rights for bringing us more breakout stars, (and being written and directed by George Lucas), Grease seems to enjoy more clout as a family friendly favorite.

1986 was a  good year for Tom Cruise, and a good year for movies. Top Gun starred Tom Cruise stars as a student at Top Gun Naval Academy. It sparked a sense of patriotism, and the continued ascent of Cruise’s career. (If you’re watching with your kids, you might wanna skip ahead once you start hearing the song “Take My Breath Away.” Love scene ahead! Still, some might argue it’s pretty tame by today’s standards.)

Forrest Gump (1994) proved not only to be an excellent movie, but also an impromptu history lesson.
The story follows an unlikely hero (played by Tom Hanks) as he journeys through life, finding himself witnessing (and sometimes even influencing) a series of historic events, but is largely unaware of their significance. A true classic.

Before the luster of Mel Gibson had worn off, he portrayed Benjamin Martin, a man who becomes embroiled in the Revolutionary War. The late Heath Ledger plays his son, who fights in the Continental Army.

The most recent of patriotic classics is 2012’s Lincoln. Daniel Day Lewis delivers a flawless performance as our 16th President under the directorial brilliance of Steven Spielberg. A new classic for the ages.

SHARE YOU PICKS BELOW! AND TWEET YOUR FAVORITES TOO!

For more movies updates, follow @BrianBalthazar on twitter!

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Movie Reviews

MOVIE REVIEW- WORLD WAR Z Is a Messy, Relentless Zombie Horror Flick That Really Works

Check Out Steven’s review for one of the biggest surprises of 2013, the epic zombie flick WORLD WAR Z.

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world-war-z-posterWORLD WAR Z

Paramount Pictures

Director- Marc Forster

Starring-Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale. Abigail Hargrove, Sterling Jerins, David Morse, David Andrews.

Steven’s Quick Review- Yes its production was messy, but WORLD WAR Z might be the biggest surprise of the summer movies in 2013. Thanks to relentless action, a number of good scares, and an on-target performance from Brad Pitt, WORLD WAR Z is an excellent zombie film. Even though it is barely based on its source material, Damon Lindelof’s rewritten third act will keep audiences guessing and add some scares to your summer movie slate.

Steven’s Review- Brad Pitt has become the kind of actor who now only does movies he truly wants to do, and only takes roles that challenge him. So when Pitt and his Plan B studios initially won the rights to Max Brooks bestselling novel WORLD WAR Z the options were endless. Yet from the start of production the movie had issues, between the initial script lacking invention, a director in Marc Forster (QUANTUM OF SOLACE) who was found it difficult to make important decisions and the very public spat between Pitt and Forster that nearly sidelined the film indefinitely.  There were also the on-set issues, besides the arguments between the actor and director, there were problems on set in Hungary when government officials stormed the set and removed live weapons. Also, forced re-shoots that moved WWZ from a winter release to a summer tentpole. It’s easy to assume WORLD WAR Z was doomed from the start. But something happened along the way, something that shocked plenty during our screening of the film in May. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Pitt, Forster, and crew actually made a darn good zombie flick. With help from Damon Lindelof (“Lost”, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS) who came to the rescue and reworked an ending  after the studio deemed the initial conclusion was not good enough for release.  Following Lindelof’s changes and a massive marketing campaign Brad Pitt’s newest pet project was ready to show the world.

WORLD WAR Z the book takes place in a post zombie war setting, when a journalist and U.N investigator goes all over the globe talking to survivors and getting their stories.  The film adaptation written by Drew Goddard (CABIN IN THE WOODS), Matthew Michael Carnahan (STATE OF PLAY), J. Michael Straczynski (THOR) and Damon Lindelof  has little to nothing to do with Brooks acclaimed novel. We begin meeting Gerry Lane(Pitt) , a former UN investigator who lives with his family somewhere outside Philadelphia.  Within 5 minutes of the opening credits, we are thrown into a full on zombie invasion, with riots in super markets and speedy zombies chasing people down. WWZ Starts off with a bang. Gerry’s wife Karin(“The Killings” Mireille Enos), and his daughters Constance(Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) desperately leave the city and head towards New York, finding themselves in the streets of  Newark, New Jersey where they pick up supplies and await a helicopter pick-up thanks to Gerry’s old friends at the United Nations.

WORLD WAR Z is in no way a perfect movie; every now and then it finds itself deep into horror cliché, only to drag itself out with one big sequence after another. Pitt carries the film as he finds himself in worse situations every moment, but without being totally indestructible (meaning as an audience you never quite know whether Gerry Lane will make it out alive). Pitt’s performance feels dressed in reality, while he searches the globe for reasons why this zombie apocalypse is happening, worries for his safety and hopes to return to his family.

WORLD WAR Z is a suspenseful zombie flick that contains a few scares, but has the advantage of almost never slowing down.  The filmmakers found a way to protray a lot of violence and still receive a PG-13 rating – they show you enough death and destruction without maimed bodies and severed limbs. I enjoyed the fast paced nature of WWZ and the fact it never drags, it allows characters to develop and story to move forward without forsaking the zombie action fan in all of us.

As far as adaptations go, WORLD WAR Z could be considered one of the worst, it barely contains any connection to Max Brooks brilliant novel, other than a few characters names and one or two plot points. As far as summer surprises, WORLD WAR Z is a welcome break from comedies and super hero flicks that take up most of our time. But the pressure is on: it needs to bring in $500 million dollars to turn a profit for everyone involved. I enjoyed WORLD WAR Z and hope they can find a way to make some cash, so we can get more zombie action just like it.

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