REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Nolan's back to finish off his Bat trilogy, but does the threequel live up to its predecessors?

REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Spidey's back, with Marc Webb's controversial reboot finally swinging into cinemas. Can he justify it?

REVIEW: Rock of Ages (2012)

So, as it turns out, yes, Tom Cruise *can* sing. What more do you want?

REVIEW: Prometheus (2012)

Ridley Scott marks his return to sci-fi with this sort-of-an-Alien-prequel. But does it live up to the hype?

REVIEW: Casa de mi Padre (2012)

Yep. It's all in Spanish. And it's all batshit crazy.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Cowboys and Aliens [Review]

If you watch any science-fiction film from the first half of the 20th Century, you’re most likely to find a world populated with small, green aliens, usually labelled ‘Martians’ (for serious want of a better name), maybe sporting an extra eye or ear or something. For the first generation of science-fiction films, this was the typical extra-terrestrial, exemplified perhaps in Looney TunesMarvin the Martian (okay, so maybe he wasn't green, but his helmet was!).

How times change. Nowadays, it seems the prerequisite for any alien is a gritty, dirt-tinted skin tone, a body larger than any man’s with arms longer than legs (and possibly multiple arms), and some kind of bulbous eyes. Cloverfield, Super 8 - modern monster movies now seem as uninspired in their character design as that constant barrage of little green men must have done sixty years ago. Cowboys and Aliens, it disappoints me to write, diverts little from this modern stereotype.

But a word of warning: while it will not surprise in character design, Cowboys and Aliens will certainly surprise in its tone and content. And, sadly, I don’t mean that in a positive way. Director Jon Favreau’s most recent works are the Iron Man films - action, action and more action, with a little bit of character. While the first was lauded as one of the greatest Marvel films to date, the second received far more negative reviews, and consequently Favreau has parted ways for the upcoming threequel. If Cowboys and Aliens is any indication (and Iron Man 2 certainly is), this can only be a good thing.

The premise is simple (or simply daft); a small village of homesteaders in 1873 Arizona find themselves under attack from alien craft, not long after a mysterious, unnamed stranger with an even stranger bracelet bequeaths himself upon them. That man is Daniel Craig - gritty, brutal and hard as nails in the finest performance the two hours runtime has to offer - as Jake Lonergan, outlaw and wanted criminal. Opposite him is Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde, one of Jake’s victims, played by a tired Harrison Ford. That’s not to say Ford’s acting is terrible; it’s just nowhere near on par with his past work, a theme that runs ever more apparent in his recent films.

During the aforementioned attack, however, several prominent townsfolk are abducted, and the posse band together - Dolarhyde and Lonergan shoulder-to-shoulder - to retrieve their captured brethren. In this way, the first half of Cowboys and Aliens plays out like a Western mystery film - following trails, flashbacks, etc. However, such use of flashbacks to explore Lonergan’s past seems out of place, even in such a mesh of genres as this. The visual effects during these piecemeal memories are an unwanted distraction, and show flaws in Favreau’s work.

The surprises of the film come in its nature: an inane concept, but one that is taken with far too much seriousness - Cowboys and Aliens is harsh, brutal and smeared in blood and sweat. Prisoners incinerated; children using knives to save the day; it’s not exactly laugh-a-minute stuff, and definitely not what you’d expect from the suggestive title.

Meanwhile, the film’s barely existent plot is more of an afterthought than anything else, and Ford’s remark to the excuse - sorry, reason - the aliens are attacking (for gold, apparently) speaks for itself: “that’s ridiculous. What are they gonna do with it? Buy things?” For the most part, the mismatch of genre styles seems like nothing more than an excuse for Favreau to have some men in Stetsons beat up CGI blobs. Similarly, loose morals are crammed in last minute, with cheesy, clichéd redemptions undercooked and unnecessary. In a film where knives are the shining beacon of justice, handed out by father of hope Colonel Dolarhyde, was it so crucial that all the elements that made the characters interesting be taken away, in favour of yet another happy ending (where everyone’s no doubt learnt their lesson; slap on the wrist and off you go)? I think not.

Cowboys and Aliens looked set to be one of the great blockbusters of summer 2011, but without even a hint of irony in its tone, coupled with a lacklustre plot, the film fails to live up to expectations. It’s not much fun, ridiculously hard-hitting, and there’s no point to it. All I can say for it is that the action sequences are at least mildly entertaining, helped by a lack of blurry 3D, and that it’s still, somehow, watchable. Maybe it’s the actually engaging ‘mystery’ trail across the desert in the film’s first half, or the too-few gags that appear every now and then, or the [barely] adequate cast. But even still, Cowboys and Aliens could have been so much better.


See also: War of the Worlds (2005), District 9 (2009)

Dir: Jon Favreau
Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde
Universal Pictures, 119 mins, 17/08/11

Synopsis: A stranger with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. Soon, with the help of a strange mechanical wristband, he's helping lead the fight against swarms of alien spacecraft, all the while trying to piece together his past...

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Coming Soon: Eurogamer Expo 2011

So, this year I shall, for the second time in my life, be attending the Eurogamer Expo. The last time this happened was in 2009, when for one year, and one year only, the convention was brought to Leeds. Apparently, the North was rendered futile, as it hasn't returned since. Luckily, I'm moving down South in a month, just a week before the expo. Good timing, no?

Regardless, with the vast amounts of playable content there - including huge titles such as Batman: Arkham City, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception and Mario Kart 7 - I'll soon be creating a tab dedicated purely to the expo, where you'll be able to find previews on everything I can get my hands on during my eight hours there.

For now, I'll leave you with a link to what's on at the expo, and thus what you can expect to be reading about in just over a month.

Stay tuned.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Pixar announce 2 new projects

A convention at the weekend saw Pixar announce two new films, in addition to new footage and art from already announced Brave and Monsters University. Neither of the new announcements have titles yet, but the premise of each sounds equally intriguing.

First up, there's the untitled project arriving on November 27, 2013. All that's been said so far is that it's about dinosaurs. Or more specifically, what life might be like if "dinosaurs never went extinct." Some brief concept art was shown of a child riding a dinosaur's head, but nothing more was let slip by veteran Pixar director Bob Peterson.

The second, even further away (currently holding a May 2014 release date), will be helmed by Monsters Inc/Up director Pete Docter. This one was even more mysterious, simply described as a "comic look at how ideas come together and the inner workings of our brains." The Numskulls on screen?

Both projects sound exciting, but it's a fair while to wait. Pixar's films generally seem to hit us once a year, though a 2013 release date for the dinosaur-themed title might hopefully spark a bi-annual release schedule, with Monsters University arriving July 19th the same year.


The Devil's Double [Review]

Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq from 1979-2003, was widely condemned for the brutality of his dictatorship in an international sense; in particular, the events in Kuwait and the Gulf War in the early 1990s gave considerable wake to such cries. But this is a familiar tale to tell: much less is known of Saddam’s family and personal life. In comes The Devil’s Double, an exposé of the tyrannical ruler’s eldest and, for a time, favourite of his offspring, Uday.

I say ‘for a time’, because, as The Devil’s Double shows, Uday was not the sanest of men. Erratic, intolerant, feuding and paranoid, Saddam’s firstborn frequently fell out of favour with his father, and thus the backbone of the film’s plot: the life of Uday Hussein, and all the horrors in which it was entwined - and hence the titular label of ‘Devil’. The double is Latif Yahia, with both characters played by an exquisite Dominic Cooper - playing against himself, in two fundamentally oppositional roles, Cooper excels in convincing as both the reserved, moral Yahia and the deranged, childish Uday.

The film essentially tells Yahia’s story; handpicked and forced to become a ‘fiday’ (body double or political decoy) for Uday, Latif soon realises his doppelganger’s sadistic, power-hungry tendencies and seeks a way out. The tale is frantic, but never feels rushed.

Director Lee Tamahori’s most famous credit might perhaps be James Bond film Die Another Day (2002), though he might not wish it to be. One of the less well received Bond films, the last of Pierce Brosnan’s 007 outings was criticised for its lack of plot, relying instead on ‘gadgets and special effects’. For a director whose next film was the sequel to xXx, this might hardly be considered surprising. But The Devil’s Double is something of a coming-of-age film for the New Zealander: a more sensitive and hard-hitting subject, a more plot- and character-driven piece, and an altogether more removed picture from the brazen, loaded guns of Hollywood. Intense direction and cinematography - with an atmospheric and insightful depiction of early 90s Iraq - here combine to exemplify some of Tamahori’s best work.

The screenplay and scriptwriting show greater strengths still; the depiction of Uday as the childish persona that he never left behind - from his excitement at forcing two of his female ‘companions’ to kiss, to cowering in his chair when being reprimanded by his father - is remarkable, yet suitably apt, and at all times persevered with fine results. All that can be expressed for Uday is sheer loathing; while in such a sense being slightly one-dimensional - there’s no remorseful depth to the character - the representation helps to fortify the struggle of the story’s central character Latif.

If I were to fault The Devil’s Double, however, it would be on its over-reliance on shock imagery; while this might be considered necessary to expose the full terrors that Uday Hussein committed in his life, the filmmakers simply seem intent on topping each brutal act of criminality with a yet more horrific one moments later. The result is that by the credits we’re left so emotionally drained it’s difficult to appreciate just what we’re being shown - and oftentimes we’ll forget that the story is actually supposed to be focused on Yahia.

But, of course, what we are being shown is a real-life horror story; the murderous, victimising and bullying tirades of a man engrossed in his inner-child, a man so engaged within his own small world that he knows no social implications of his actions. At times, The Devil’s Double feels like it’s only concentrating on Satan himself, but what we’re really witnessing is the exposure of such horrors to not just our consciousness, but to the consciousness of the people Uday ruled - not least of which is the man forced to do his bidding, and in essence become him.

The Devil’s Double is a tale of turmoil in Iraq, and a harrowing one at that. Not for the faint-hearted, nor the faint-minded, but still a finely directed piece of cinema that does its job, if with a little too much vulgarity.


See also: Lord of War (2005) 

Dir: Lee Tamahori
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Philip Quast, Ludivine Sagnier
Corsan/Staccato Films, 109 mins, 10/08/11

Synopsis: Latif Yahia (Cooper) is forced to become a body double for Uday (also Cooper), son of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (Quast). In a world of corruption, lies and greed, who to trust becomes a matter of life and death for Latif, as he seeks a way out of his lifeless, immoral existence... 

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Some Films I Like

Here's some films I like! Yay me!
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1983) 

Iconic. That’s the only word fit to describe the first Star Wars sequel, directed by the late, great Irvin Kershner. Perhaps telling that Lucas had less involvement with this one that it’s considered the greatest, but regardless of that fact, Empire is without a doubt one of sci-fi’s greatest gamechangers. From the opening Imperial victory on the snowy battlegrounds of Hoth to that duel above Bespin, Empire was always remembered as the one where the bad guys win.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

So the dialogue is still terrible, the acting equally dire and the plot slightly contrived. Revenge of the Sith isn’t a great film by any such standards, but nevertheless it remains one of my favourite. It ties up the saga, slotting nicely between Attack of the Clones and A New Hope, and is bursting with some pretty damn good action scenes (including the intensely climactic Anakin vs. Obi-Wan duel; the longest of its time). To be honest, this one’s more of a childhood memory thing, but it’s still not as bad as The Phantom Menace.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) 

And of course, there had to be a Harry Potter film here somewhere. But which to choose? Certainly, Deathly Hallows would have been next; Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix wouldn’t be too low down on the list either. But Azkaban prevails purely for its rebooting of the series, from ditching the uniforms to werewolves and Sirius Black. Yes, this was the one where everything started getting darker, but it worked. The script was the best of the lot too, injecting a fine balance of humour and intensity. And, for once, the kids’ acting wasn’t that abysmal.

Cloverfield (2008) 

The first JJ Abrams-related film I saw was Cloverfield. Release day, I was there, eagerly awaiting the much-hyped handicam monster movie. My response? Well, let’s just say I went to see it again the day after. I couldn’t get enough - the style; the mystery; the frantic fright of the unknown leads as they struggled their way through a devastated New York. I could honestly watch this film day in, day out for weeks and never become bored with it. A risky masterpiece, Cloverfield is an acquired taste, but it’s one I’ll never grow sick of.

Public Enemies (2009) 

What I like about Johnny Depp is his ability to play such a varied range of characters (even if they are all slight variants of himself). From the nervous, secluded Edward Scissorhands to the eccentric swashbuckler Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, Depp never disappoints. The same is true here, where he plays iconic bank robber John Dillinger. Another stunner from Michael Mann, the cinematography and soundtrack in particular delight, and the climax is unforgettable. A modern great.

127 Hours (2011) 

A film that deserves one hundred and twenty seven stars, James Franco delivers the performance of his career in a superbly directed piece by Danny Boyle. Somehow it all works; it’s just one guy trapped in a canyon, but everything - even the dreaded amputation scene - slides together blissfully. Boyle manages to pull off a film where the main antagonist is a rock, so naturally, it's yet another modern masterpiece from the acclaimed director.

In hindsight, this list appears exceedingly mainstream. I think it’s high time I altered my viewing habits…

But nevertheless, I'd still give four or five stars to all of these. The only exception might be Revenge of the Sith; with my critical head on, it would probably only merit three. The nostalgia warrants its place here, but that's the problem with this list. It's films *I* like. People will inevitably disagree, because while a film might be a cherished memory, it might also be crap.

Though aside from a couple of love-it-hate-it entries (Cloverfield anyone?), the majority of this list has gained pretty favourable reviews.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Mike Myers for Austin Powers 4?

Entertainment website HitFix confirmed last week that Mike Myers will return in another Austin Powers film, the fourth in the series.

Not since 2002 has the promiscuous (and quintessentially British) Powers starred on the silver screen, in the third and final film of the original trilogy, Goldmember.

Now, almost a decade later, Myers has reportedly signed a deal to return for a fourth instalment of the hit franchise. There’s no word thus far on who’ll be directing, a storyline (did the other three have that?) or other cast members, but I’ll be sure to post news as I find it.

All that's confirmed for now is the film, and that Myers will do it. I haven't seen confirmation of this news on any other websites, so don't take it for gospel. But if it's true, I’ll wager an estimate that it’ll be out by late 2013.

Watch this space.

Billy Crystal talks Monsters Inc. 2

It’s been ten years since the last Monsters Inc. film, but production is well underway at Pixar Studios of the 2013 prequel, Monsters University.

Billy Crystal, voice of half of Monsters Inc.’s valiant dual leads (the small, green half), spoke about returning for the prequel at the American Cinematheque Event for a 20th anniversary screening of ‘City Slickers’.

Returning with John Goodman as the voice of James P. Sullivan, Crystal confirmed Pixar hasn’t lost it’s touch after the recent slating of Cars 2. “It’s really a great script, it’s really funny.”

A marathon recording session preceded the event, where Crystal “spent five-and-a-half hours for [their] fourth session on Monsters Inc. 2.” The film, set long before the original, details how Sullivan and Crystal’s character Michael Wazowski met in college.

“It’s how they met, it’s how Michael and Sully meet, and plan to become scarers at Monsters Inc.,” Crystal told an audience last Friday. “So this movie ends where the other one starts.”

Pixar’s record with sequels is temperamental - the Toy Story trilogy is testament to how well they can work, while Cars 2 might argue otherwise - but prequels are new territory for the animation specialists.

But expectations will undoubtedly be great from such a high calibre studio. And with material such as this, it’s no surprise: Crystal, 63, elaborated that “it’s college pranks with monsters. And I wear a retainer. Mike has a retainer.”

Driver: San Francisco [Preview]

The Driver series originally surfaced back in the days of the original PlayStation, with the emphasis firmly on the driving side of things. You couldn’t get out of your car, wander round and start shooting people; back then, this wasn’t just another Grand Theft Auto clone (and rightly so, considering the first two games were actually released whilst GTA was still in aerial view mode). Since 1999, however, the series has fluctuated wildly (the less said about Driv3r, the better).

Now we’re twelve years down the line, and less than a month away from Driver’s latest offering, San Francisco. You can’t get out of your car anymore, a feature introduced way back in 2000 with Driver 2. But you can get out of your body.

New gimmick/mechanic/USP ‘shifting’ allows the player to, well, shift between cars. Returning protagonist Tanner has been left in a coma (though developer Reflections assures us it’s “not the Bobby Ewing moment in Dallas - it’s crucial to the story”), and within his coma-induced state of mind, he’s led to believe he can transport his consciousness remotely to other cars with a quick tap of a face button. Or rather, that’s the bit we’ll be doing.

But it really is just as easy as that; a press of 'X' (or the Xbox equivalent) and you’re floating above the streets of San Fran, as everything runs in slow motion below you while you find another car to zip into. Sounds nuts, right?

It's lucky for Reflections, then, that their chimerical mechanic has so many potential applications. Take the race level I played; a father-daughter team need to finish in both first and second to be victorious, winning a trophy or their pride or something. Tanner, good guy that he is, decides to ‘help out’. Over the course of two laps, it’s your job to make sure both cars finish in the desired position by constantly switching between them, bringing both up to speed. It definitely makes for a more intense and interesting experience than your standard racing fare.

And there’s plenty more intriguing gameplay where that came from. It’s not just about winning races or escaping from cops; there’s a strategic element to shifting, which quickly becomes obvious. Where’s the sense in endlessly chasing villains when you can shift into a bus, creating an instant roadblock just a few feet ahead?

If things are starting to sound a bit daft, that’s probably because they are. San Francisco takes itself far less seriously than previous Driver instalments; particularly the last console iteration Parallel Lines, the first (and only) game of the series to be rated 18. It’s evident from the off, not least in the humourous scripting and banter between the two leads (Tanner is joined by his partner, Jones). The changes and indeed the shift mechanic have apparently come about as a desire to "[avoid] trying to duplicate anything that is being done in other open world action driving games."

Of course, with the renewed focus on driving (the game is called Driver, after all), it’s important that the cars play their part. Licensed cars are new to the series, and each one feels like a character in itself - the personality each vehicle has will resonate instantly as you get to grips with it; whether fragile and classy or packing a serious punch, you’ll soon have a few favourites you won’t be able to help yourself from shifting into the second you see them (I claim the Delorean!).

Reflections’ new gimmick might seem like a step backward - removing the ability to leave your car - and slightly silly, but the seamless execution shows promising signs of a series reformed. Driver's trying to be unique again - something that can only be commended - and while it's a risk, it's one that looks to have paid off.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger [Review]

The summer blockbuster season has been renowned for its superhero spectaculars over the past decade, following the success of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. 2011 has been no different, with no less than three different Marvel comic books (and one DC hero) adapted to film - two of which stand in preparation for next year’s Avengers film (stick around after Captain America’s credits for a trailer), where the likes of Thor, The Hulk, Iron Man, and the Captain himself unite to undertake the decimation of evil and other such superbly heroic activities.

Captain America is appropriately subtitled, therefore, The First Avenger. Whilst being the last of them to have his own film, he’s arguably the ‘oldest’ - with the film set in 1942 era New York, it’s a good seventy years before the rest of the superhero squad are introduced within the Marvel Cinematic Universe; a universe in which the aforementioned four Avengers’ individual films occur alongside each other.

The final preparation for the collision of superheroes next year, then, is this: Captain America, an experiment turned propaganda tool turned super-soldier. Man-behind-the-mask Steve Rogers (Evans) spends the 124 minutes runtime attempting to defeat radical Nazi officer Johann Schmidt (Weaving) and his legions of futuristic soldiers in order to - you guessed it - save the world. This of course comes after the inevitable origin story of the character; Rogers, a skinny, ill youngster unfit for national service is handpicked by German scientist Abraham Erskine (Tucci) for a ‘super-soldier’ experiment, giving him superhuman strength. Meanwhile, Schmidt lays his hands on an inexplicably powerful ‘tesseract’ (basically a cube) in a somewhat underdeveloped plot device, and must be stopped before his ambitious plans to take over the Third Reich and, ultimately, the world, come to fruition. It’s standard superhero fare, but the twist isn’t in the plot.

Rather, the wartime milieu of the film allows for a variant on the usual Marvel clichés much in the way the Cuban Missile Crisis and 60s setting did for X-Men: First Class. Doused in warm sepia tones and high waistlines, director Joe Johnston has admirably captured the atmosphere of the period; from a ‘world of tomorrow’ exhibition (replete with hovercars) celebrating the rapid advancement of new technologies to less optimistic World War 2 signifiers - think searchlights and sirens - the film allows its audience a sense of nostalgia, whilst colliding 21st Century technology with historical themes in its characters.

Take antagonist Schmidt, a radical more radical than Hitler; in a more historically accurate twist, a Nazi officer who would wish to aspire to the Fuhrer to the point where he might surpass him. Schmidt’s armies appear in contrast; almost robotic, with steampunk and cyber influences apparent, the weapon technology harnessed by the tesseract is more sci-fi than war film. But the fact that it works so well is testament to the vision of the original comics, and the film’s producers and directorial style.

Johnston’s flaws are marked, however, by his use of action. Limited here compared to other Marvel blockbusters, the director arguably gives his characters chance to flourish - something that must be commended, no doubt. But when it’s at the expense of the majority of the action, in what can only be lauded as an action film - it’s a summer superhero blockbuster, after all - Johnston’s priorities are questionable. Much of the action comprises of montages that might have been more suited to wartime America itself, not a modern-day audience - think slo-mo; heroic running, gunning and diving; low-angle shots and so on. Basically, cheese of the mouldiest variety. It’s reminiscent of the era, but unnecessary, given the strengths of the mise-en-scene of the piece already.

This isn’t Chris Evans’ first Marvel role, of course, though it’s certainly a ‘cooler’ one (forgive the terrible pun). Starring in both Fantastic Four films as The Human Torch, Evans here attests his range, playing seemingly the opposite of his previous character - where the Torch was cocky, confident and flamboyant, Rogers is modest, selfless and of a pure spirit. Enthusiastic and engaging, Evans plays the character amicably. A stellar supporting cast from Weaving to Tommy Lee Jones, and an unprecedented turn from down-to-earth (and classically British) Hayley Atwell also help to sustain the character-driven feel to the film, albeit at the aforementioned expense of more elegant or sustainable action scenes.

Yet to quote another famous superhero film, maybe Captain America is the film Marvel deserves, but not the one it needs right now. At times it feels like it’s purely a setup for The Avengers, mired in getting Rogers to the present day so he can team up with the rest of them, but all the while trying fervently to best its counterparts. Taking itself more seriously than the likes of Thor - montages aside - Captain America is full of ambition. Sadly, however, most of it is fruitless. Johnston fails to do anything significant with his characters, instead burying them under one of the weakest stories seen in a Marvel film to date.

Plot holes are numerous and frequent (be prepared to see this film in dubious amounts on a future BBC Three ‘movie mistakes’ filler show). The pace is hurried, and flits from scene to scene - at times, it’s hard to get a handle on what exactly is going on. One scene in particular springs to mind; a zip wire down to a moving train on a snowy mountainside - a landscape that juxtaposes much of the rest of the film - ends inexplicably, jumping to a detention centre where one of Weaving’s henchmen has been captured, without any indication as to how. It’s all quite disjointed and jarring - not least unexpected, after such admirable character development and atmospheric settings.

But there’s still plenty to like in this middle-of-the-road yarn; Johnston’s adaptation is bursting with soul, character, and even the odd explosion. It’s not particularly complex or deep; there are no clever messages or insinuated political commentary, and the plot is wafer thin, but Captain America’s heart will win you over in a myriad of soulless superhero blockbusters, past and present.


See also: Thor (2011), Iron Man (2008)

Dir: Joe Johnston
Cast: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci
Marvel Studios, 124 mins, 29/07/11

Synopsis: Marvel's final Avenger comes to the silver screen. Steve Rogers, a meek would-be soldier, is injected with an experimental serum that gives him superhuman strength and agility.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Limitless [Review]

Before you read this review, take a moment to consider the collective intellect of the human race: a race that fights wars with itself. Now imagine a world where the human race harnessed the full potential of their brainpower, as opposed to the twenty or so percent that we use now (a statistic that surely decreases every generation). What is the more likely outcome? That we might learn to exist with ourselves peacefully; that weapons might be abolished, and all violence might end? Or that we’d simply find bigger and better ways of blowing ourselves to kingdom come?

Limitless attempts to answer that question through a singular entity, in the form of struggling writer Edward Morra (portrayed here by a surprisingly well-cast Bradley Cooper). Recently split from his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) after spending months without having written a word towards his book contract, Morra is the epitome of a typical down-and-out soul. So when an opportunity comes knocking, it’s little surprise he takes it - even if that opportunity is in the form of a brain-enhancing drug he knows next to nothing about.

It’s clear where things are heading. Soon, dark side-effects emerge as Morra becomes hooked on the small, clear pill, and attempts to go cold-turkey prove almost fatal. But it’s not the medical consequences of the drug which prove most interesting: it’s how the character harnesses those consequences for his own gains. Fortune, inevitably, comes first - abandoning his career as a writer, Eddie turns to the stock market and quickly amasses a rather large amount of money (think seven figures). In comes the film’s other big name, Robert De Niro, as high-flying businessman Carl Van Loon, seeking to exploit Morra’s success for his own corporate merger. De Niro and Cooper work well together, but undoubtedly it’s Cooper who steals the show - boasting his range in a film that zips between murky grunge and high-flying suavity in seconds. Things turn awry, however, as it emerges that the drug is in wider circulation than first thought, and a number of people surrounding Morra’s newfound life have also been subjected to its effects.

A genuinely intriguing and inviting plot is gifted to Limitless, then, and its title is certainly befitting of the protagonist’s capabilities while ‘under the influence’. But whilst the film’s first hour offers so much potential; so many avenues that director Neil Burger could have taken, surrounding the complex nature of a sudden and unexpected rise to power - and the risks such gains carry to those unprepared to deal with the nature of them - none of them are followed. Instead, we’re left feeling hollow and unfulfilled - probably the opposite of the filmmaker’s intentions, given the tacked on ‘twelve months later’ ending to a plot that can’t decide where to head (and so inevitably heads nowhere). Bouncing back and forth between high and low, there’s an apparently limitless supply of the drug too, despite its only dealer being murdered fifteen minutes in. Limitless promises much, but gives far less.

But while the plot might have its misgivings in the final act, the directorial style is notable all the way through. A monotonous narration by Cooper suits alarmingly well, if at times feeling a little contrived, whilst the CGI is subtle yet convincing in exemplifying the enhancing consequences of the drug. Similarly, the contrasting mise-en-scenes of the different-states-of-Eddie are a delightful change of pace, again emphasising the drug’s effects - from moody, murky greens and browns to bright colours and sharp details. The directive flair is marvellous, and in this way, Burger almost manages to overcome the lacklustre finale. His next project is the film adaptation of videogame Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune - an undertaking first associated with David O. Russell. If Limitless is anything to go by, be thankful of the change.

Limitless is a rare beast; a spark of originality in a dense, dark amalgam of sequels and clones - but one that falls short of true brilliance, failing to pursue its ambitious setup in favour of riding out a predictable and clichéd climax. Yet whilst it might disappoint many in its promise of a deep, psychological thriller, it still retains some of its premise, with an intriguing and complex first act. Its attempts to cater to such a large audience might perhaps be its downfall, but Limitless still remains enjoyable for the most part, if ending up a little unsatisfying in its execution.

See also: Pi (1998), Total Recall (1990)

Dir: Neil Burger
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro
Relativity Media, 105 mins, 23/03/11

Synopsis: Down on his luck writer Edward Morra (Cooper) becomes hooked on a drug that vastly increases his intelligence. But with great [brain]power comes great responsibility...