April 29, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. It seems to this casual observer that once a person makes the career decision to become a hitman (or hitwoman or hitperson), their life expectancy drops significantly, as does their willingness to trust any person they meet, or at least it should. After all, the industry of killing is all about death … it’s simply a matter of whether (this time) you are the one doing the killing, or the one being killed. This neo-noir comes courtesy of writer-director Nick Stagliano (his first feature film in 10 years) and co-writer James C Wolf.

Anson Mount (so good in the “Hell on Wheels” TV series) is the titular Virtuoso. In typical noir fashion, he’s also our narrator, and serves up a detailed explanation of his approach to the profession. He’s methodical and meticulous in his precision and planning, and goes about his business in a professional manner, while maintaining a low profile and adhering to his own code. He even practices his facial expressions in the mirror preparing for the rare social interaction (it’s funnier than it sounds). He does jobs for The Mentor (newly crowned Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins), a former military friend of his dad. Their minimal communication usually involves a name on a scrap of paper. The first job we witness is a “rush” job and collateral damage leaves Virtuoso burdened with guilt – something that is not an asset in this line of work.

It’s the second job that takes up most of the run time. The Mentor provides only “White Rivers” as a hint to the identity of the target, and instructs him to be at the only diner in a place that barely exists as a town. Walking in, he sizes up those in the diner: The Waitress (Abbie Cornish, excellent as Fanny Brawne in BRIGHT STAR, 2009), The Loner (Eddie Marsan, “Ray Donovan”), Handsome Johnnie (Richard Brake), and Johnnie’s Girl (Diora Baird). A bit later, the local Deputy (David Morse) is added to the list of possible targets.

The set-up is fun, and meant to keep us striving to stay one step ahead. Chris Perfetti adds a touch of humor in his two quick scenes as the motel desk clerk, and much of the tete a tete comes courtesy of the Virtuoso and The Waitress. Of course as with most noirs, we viewers figure out what’s going on long before the hero, as the distractions are many. The budding romance offers up some seedy motel lovemaking, and the Virtuoso has an unusual living arrangement in his cabin in the woods. In other words, there are some excellent elements in play here, and it’s difficult to pinpoint why the film doesn’t play a bit better than it does. Mostly it just lacks the suspense delivered by the best in the genre.

Streaming on Digital, On Demand

& Limited Theatrical Release on April30th in Dallas



November 15, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. Once out of our teen years (though some take a bit longer), the vast majority of us accept the obvious truth to the adage “life is not fair”. Despite this, we never outgrow our desire for justice when we feel wronged. Uber-talented playwright/screenwriter/director Martin McDonagh delivers a superb drama blended with a type of dark comedy that allows us to deal with some pretty heavy, and often unpleasant small town happenings.

Oscar winner Frances McDormand plays Mildred, a grieving mother whose daughter was abducted and violently murdered. With the case having gone cold, Mildred is beyond frustrated and now desperate to prevent her daughter from being forgotten. To light the proverbial fire and motivate the local police department to show some urgency in solving her daughter’s case, Mildred uses the titular billboards to make her point and target the Police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).

The billboards cause quite the ruckus as the media brings extra attention, which in turn creates conflict between Mildred and the police department, the town citizens, and even her own son (Lucas Hedges). The film could have been titled ‘The Wrath of Mildred’ if not for so many other facets to the story and characters with their own layers. Her anger is certainly understandable, though some of her actions are impossible to defend. Things can never again be square in the life of a parent who has lost a child, yet vengeance is itself a lost cause.

Mr. McDonagh’s exceptional script utilizes twisted comedy to deal with the full spectrum of dark human emotions: managing the deepest grief, anger, guilt, and need for revenge. As in his Oscar winning script for the contemporary classic IN BRUGES (2008), his dialogue plays as a strange type of poetry, delivering some of the most harsh and profane lines in melodic fashion. In addition to his nonpareil wordsmithing, Mr. McDonagh and casting director Sarah Finn have done a remarkable job at matching many talented performers with the characters – both large roles and small.

Following up her Emmy winning performance in “Olive Kitteridge”, Ms. McDormand is yet again a force of nature on screen. She would likely have dominated the film if not for the effectively understated portrayal by Mr. Harrelson, and especially the best supporting performance of the year courtesy of Sam Rockwell. His Officer Dixon is a racist with out-of-control anger issues who still lives with his mom (a brilliant Sandy Martin, who was also the grandma in NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE). Caleb Landry Jones once again shows his uncanny ability to turn a minor role into a character we can’t take our eyes off (you’ll remember his screen debut as one of the bike riding boys near the end of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN). Here he plays Red, the owner of the billboards with an inner desire to carry some clout. Rounding out the absurdly deep cast are Zeljko Ivanek, Kerry Condon, Lucas Hedges (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA), Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Abbie Cornish, and Clarke Peters (the epitome of a new Sheriff in town). Every actor has at least one moment (and monologue) to shine, and one of the best scenes (of the year) involves Nick Searcy as a Priest getting schooled on “culpability” by Mildred.

Cinematographer Ben Davis has a nice blend of “big” movies (AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON) and small (TAMARA DREWE) in his career, and here he really captures the feel of the small town and interactions of the characters. Also adding to the film’s excellence is the folksy, western score (with a touch of dueling gunfighters) by Carter Burwell. And keeping the streak alive … it’s yet another worth-watching film featuring a Townes Van Zandt song.

Not many films dare tackle the list of topics and issues that are touched on here: church arrogance, police violence, racism, cancer, domestic violence, questioning the existence of God, parental grief with a desire for revenge, the weight of a guilty conscience, and the influence of parents in a rural setting. The film is superbly directed by Mr. McDonagh, who now has delivered two true classics in less than a decade. It’s the uncomfortable laughs that make life in Ebbing tolerable, but it’s the pain and emotions that stick with us long after the credits roll. Sometimes we need a reminder that fairness in the world should not be expected, and likely does not exist. If that’s true, what do we do with our anger? McDonagh offers no easy answers, because there are none. But he does want us to carefully consider our responses.

watch the trailer:



ROBOCOP (2014)

February 14, 2014

robocop Greetings again from the darkness. The expected cringes and groans never fully surfaced as the modernized re-boot of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 classic unfolded on the screen. Sure, I wish Peter Weller made even a cameo appearance, and yes, I missed the charm, humor and satire that has allowed the original to remain relevant; but, director Jose Padilha reimagines the story, sticks to PG-13 action, and incorporates the video game look favored by today’s filmgoers.  The result is an adequate action movie with a Dr Frankenstein twist, a dash of questionable technological morality, topped with the always evil corporate conglomerate.

The opening sequence takes place in Tehran and is extremely well done, setting the stage for incisive commentary on today’s foreign policies and drone usage. Unfortunately, THAT movie never materializes, but we do get the over-the-top conservative news host … played colorfully by Samuel L Jackson, who does manage to work in his iconic catchphrase (yes even a PG-13 movie is allowed one MF). His holographic studio reminds of Minority Report, and has the futuristic look required to distract us from any real message.

Joel Kinnaman (TV’s “The Killing“) adequately fills the part man/ part robot role (good guy and good cop Alex Murphy), but the script really lets him down when it comes to his wife (Abbie Cornish) and kid, his crime-fighting instincts, and the overlapping criminal elements – some poorly cast generic arms dealer and the ultimate villain known as mega corporation OmniCorp run by the great Michael Keaton. The movie’s best scenes involve the interaction between Keaton and the always terrific Gary Oldman, playing a conflicted doctor/robotics genius with a conscience (most of the time).

The supporting cast is stellar and features a nasty Jackie-Earle Haley, a properly proper Jennifer Ehle, a relatively straight-laced Jay Baruchel, a two-faced police captain played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Murphy’s partner Michael K Williams, and Oldman’s loyal assistant played by Aimee Garcia (“Dexter“). The biggest missed opportunities involve the cop partnership with Mr. Williams … such an integral part of the first movie (Nancy Allen), but here it seems most of this story was inexplicably left on the editing floor.  The story, the viewers and Mr. Williams deserved much better.

A bit too much shakycam in the first shootout left me disappointed, as did most of the action sequences. However, the effects for the robotic suit and Murphy’s “body” are fantastic.  Especially effective is the scene with Murphy first becomes aware of what remains of him and how much is robotic suit.  This is very much a tale of moralistic choices, and it could have been interesting to see Murphy go a bit deeper in his existential questioning of Man or Machine. Mostly, I was simply relieved it wasn’t terrible and didn’t tarnish the legacy.

**NOTE: the city of Detroit is the base, but the movie never really touches on the problems within the actual city.  In fact, very little crime solving is shown – but we do have the stats relayed to us.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you wonder what Iron Man would be like with an evil billionaire calling the shots rather than a  brilliant billionaire wearing the suit OR you never miss the rare (these days) chance to see Michael Keaton on screen.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are perfectly content to allow the 1987 film version to maintain its spot as THE Robocop movie.

watch the trailer:


May 21, 2013

LRFF In a manner quite typical of our history, my college buddy Lawrence and I avoided an actual plan for attending the Little Rock Film Festival (LRFF) until just a couple of weeks prior to its start date.  He made the drive from Norman, Oklahoma where he pursues his lifelong profession of higher-education for future teachers.  My Southwest Airlines flight arrived from Dallas in time for us to jump right in to the festival schedule midway through Day 2.  Neither of us are the Opening Night “gala” types, but we are sorry to have missed the festival opening film Short Term 12 on Wednesday evening.  Our 3 days were spent juggling start times and venues throughout downtown Little Rock, so as to maximize our movie watching.

The key components of a Film Festival are: the selection of films (obviously), the venues, the crowds, transportation, special guests (writers, directors, actors, etc), the festival volunteers, the local flavor, and any perks (the always awkward abbreviation for perquisites) for attendees.  Here is my breakdown of each of these categories:

  1. SELECTION OF FILMS LRFF categories include: Narratives (traditional features with scripts and actors), Spotlight (usually with a special guest or discussion), Documentaries, Made in Arkansas, and World Shorts. There were also special categories such as Youth Films for young aspiring filmmakers, and Film Talks (seminars).  With much of the audience being local types, the emphasis on “Made in Arkansas” films made sense.  Providing screening for these productions brings attention to the state’s film industry and talent base.  Since neither Lawrence nor I have ties to Arkansas (insert punchline here), we focused our time on Narratives and Documentaries. We never once used our “safety net” of World Shorts.  This speaks highly of the quality and variety offered during all time slots.
  2. VENUES.  While the program lists 15 different event locations, which includes special discussions, parties and other non-movie screening spots, our movie viewings took place in 5 different venues of widely varying quality and comfort.  One of these was a modern lecture hall in the beautiful new (and highly green) Heritage Center, while another was simply unoccupied retail space with a black curtain marking the screening area. You can imagine the corresponding picture and sound quality.  A community stage theater had a wonderful look, but offered leg room seemingly designed for the Munchkins from the Land of Oz.  Its balcony offered little improvement. The soon to be completed Arcade Theater will serve as the main venue and central hub for LRFF 2014. This will allow for more continuity and a true gathering spot for festival attendees.
  3. THE CROWDS. In a pleasant contrast to many festivals, the crowds were minimal and easily spread out among the various venues. Made in Arkansas films were shown to audiences comprised of friends and family, while the Narratives and Documentaries had mostly sparse crowds made up of the few out-of-towners (like us). Since the festival overlaps with the world famous Cannes Film Festival, there is a noticeable absence of big-name filmmakers, highly-anticipated movies, and snooty Frenchmen. Cinephiles find much joy in “discovering” quality work in an entertaining or informative movie that offered little more than an upfront 2-3 sentence synopsis. LRFF is that type of opportunity, while Cannes offers a chance to stand in line for hours hoping for admission and to see Johnny Depp or Cameron Diaz posing for paparazzi. To each his own.
  4. TRANSPORTATION. The venues were spread out all over downtown Little Rock.  If you have never been there, the Arkansas River divides the city, and we spent time on both sides. A car was a basic necessity to navigate the schedule and various venues. Maybe next year’s opening of The Arcade will minimize the need to drive so often. Luckily, cheap parking was readily available.
  5. SPECIAL GUESTS. A high percentage of the films had writers, directors, producers and/or actors in attendance. Post-screening Q&A’s can be very enlightening, but the staggered screening schedule usually had us rushing off to catch “the next one”, rather than learning more about the last one.  When we did have time, we certainly enjoyed the filmmakers’ insight into their work. This was especially true for Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer director Maxim Pozdorovkin, and Marc Menchaca, writer/director/actor for This is Where We Live.  I would have liked to have spent some time with Dawn Porter, who directed TWO of the better documentaries we saw: Gideon’s Army and Spies of Mississippi.  Film Producer and famous Bill Clinton friend Harry Thomason was there filling in for his wife, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who directed the award-winning Bridegroom (which we did not see).
  6. FESTIVAL VOLUNTEERS. There was certainly no shortage of volunteers working the festival. The presence of these people allows for a smooth-running operation and prevents mis-communication in regards to delays, etc. Larger crowds might have impacted the effectiveness, but there were no issues during our visit.
  7. LOCAL FLAVOR.  This category delivered the biggest surprises. Downtown Little Rock is clean and offers city parks and many pleasant views of the Arkansas River.  There are numerous locally owned mom-and-pop diners, cafes, pubs, etc. The service people were extremely friendly and the food was all tasty and reasonably priced. Friday evening’s LRFF party was held on the Junction Bridge … a walking bridge that crosses the river. That was an unusual experience and a creative party place.
  8. PERKS FOR FESTIVAL ATTENDEES. This is one area where the LRFF could take lessons from others. The price of a pass bought you a program and … umm … well … oh yeah … a pass.  No gift bag. No swag. No special offers or details on sponsors. One of the venues offered a community cheese and grapes tray that was quickly picked over.  Our Silver passes did allow us the privilege of paying a $10 entry fee for the bridge party, along with the opportunity to purchase beer or wine … our wine pour was approximately 2 oz.  The reason to attend a festival is to take in the movies, but some sort of appreciation shown to sponsors and attendees is not without merit and precedence.

LRFF2 On a personal note, I enjoyed meeting Stuart Margolin at one of the screenings.  Over the years, Mr. Margolin has been a favorite character actor. He is probably best known for his time as Angel, James Garner’s frustrating co-hort in “The Rockford Files”.

There were of course a few movies that really made an impression.  The most entertaining documentary for me was titled Muscle Shoals. Despite my love of music from the 1960’s, I was oblivious to the real impact that FAME Studios owner and record producer Rick Hall had on the era.  This was incredible fun and filled a gap in my music knowledge.  Gideon’s Army provided insight into the absurdly difficult work environment of public defenders.  Spies of Mississippi showed us rare photos and video footage, and took an unusual angle on the Civil Rights movement … espionage from the Mississippi government.  Our Nixon showed us archival footage from the Watergate period and provided specifics on Nixon, Dean, Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Chapin.  Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer took us inside the Russian judicial system, while The LRFF4Kill Team detailed the Military judicial system as it relates to Army infantry soldiers who went too far in killing Afghan civilians. We Always Lie to Strangers gave us a peek behind the curtain of the secondary performers in Branson, Missouri while breaking down the façade of the Branson bible-belt image.

The documentary that really kicked me in the gut was called 12 O’Clock Boys, and showed us the stunning images of illegal dirt bike riders wreaking havoc in west Baltimore. These inner-city riders create dangerous situations on the roads while knowing that the police have an anti-chase policy (for public safety).   All of that is difficult enough to watch, but the truly stunning moments come courtesy of young Pug and his mother. I have no words to describe these people … especially the mother. To give you some insight, she showed up for the screening and promptly sat front row and recorded the movie on her smart phone. I did not have the nerve (or stomach) to stick around for that Q&A.

The staggered start times and multiple venues and small crowds allowed us to skip out early if a particular movie was not capturing our interest in the first half hour. We only did this a few times, but in each case, it led to a more fulfilling cinema experience. While LRFF5the abundance of quality documentaries would have made the festival worthwhile, there were also three Narratives that caught our eyes. The Discoverers is a dysfunctional family dramedy featuring one of Griffin Dunne’s best ever performances, as well as strong supporting work from Madeleine Martin (“Californication”), Carla Buono (“Mad Men”), Dreama Walker (“Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23”), Ann Dowd, John C McGinley and Stuart Margolin.  It has some funny, cryptic dialogue as well as a message about the bonds of family.  Written and directed by Texas born Menchaca, This is Where We Live introduces us to a rural family that just can’t seem to catch a break … other than heart-break. It has strong performances from CK McFarland, Tobias Segal, Ron Hayden, Frances Shaw and the great Barry Corbin.  Finally, we saw an interesting little film called The Girl, which features Abbie Cornish and Will Patton. This is a tough story of a struggling single mom, only we get the rare script that doesn’t make her overly likeable for the audience.

Should you ever have an interest in taking part in a film festival, I would not hesitate to recommend Little Rock Film Festival.  You better love documentaries and independents, and be able to maximize your time over a few days. Of course, if your budget and personality and love of all things French allows … there’s always Cannes!


October 14, 2012

Greetings again from the darkness. When a writer/director sets a standard with a film like In Bruges, the anticipation for the follow-up is palpable, especially from those of us with the demented sense of humor necessary to watch that film over and over. Martin McDonagh is a writer firs (shorts, features and plays), and a self-taught filmmaker second. He again shows his talent for interesting characters in unusual situations, and an extraordinary blend of black comedy, violence and personal struggles with morality.

This film is a smart (but dark) comedy about characters who aren’t nearly as smart as they see themselves. It’s quite self-referential and at its best is a self-parody. Colin Farrell plays a writer who is blocked after creating the perfect title … “Seven Psychopaths”. Sam Rockwell plays his best friend who runs a crafty little dog-napping business and feeds Farrell possible story lines. He even goes as far as to run an ad asking real life psychopaths to come tell their story. Yep, this plan is just running smoothly until Rockwell kidnaps the dog of a local gangster played by Woody Harrelson.

What we quickly figure out is that we are watching Farrell’s writing process unfold on screen. The bigger challenge is trying to figure out which parts are really happening and which parts are fantasy or part of the creative process. The writing and acting are very skillful. Christopher Walken plays Rockwell’s partner and delivers what may be his best performance in years. It’s very offbeat and irregular … in other words, typical Walken.  Though there are many excellent scenes, the best ones involve Walken.

The script pokes fun at the weak female characters – Abbie Cornish as Farrell’s girlfriend, and former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko as Harrelson’s less-than-loyal girlfriend. The film also features some of my favorite character actors. In addition to Walken, we get the great Tom Waits as a bunny loving psychopath, Harry Dean Stanton as a Quaker, Zeljko Ivanek as a henchman, and an opening scene with “Boardwalk Empire” alums Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg.

 As wonderful a writer as McDonagh is, we can’t help notice the influences of Quentin Tarantino and the spaghetti westerns – especially The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. His comedic tendencies wrapped in violent sequences really challenge us as viewers. Trying to find the good in those who aren’t necessarily so good adds an element and complexity as the film throws violence in our face as the characters are confronting their deeper feelings on morality. Since Farrell’s character is a writer named Martin, we are probably safe in assuming that McDonagh is working through some of these same issues himself (especially the unnecessary violence and weak women characters).  McDonagh proves again to be one of the most intriguing and talented filmmakers working, and even though this one is a tick below his last one, I anxiously await his next.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you saw In Bruges and appreciated the dark comedy and philosophical nature OR you don’t want to miss a classic Christopher Walken performance

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer your comedy to be light-hearted in nature OR you can’t appreciate the character who brings a flare gun to the final shootout in the desert

watch the trailer:




February 25, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. The true story of Edward abdicating the British crown for the love of his life transcends romance or history. It is even more interesting than the story of his brother’s reign in his place … as documented by Oscar winner The King’s Speech. To think this man surrendered the power that comes with being King, lost his family, and was outcast from his beloved country, all because he chose this woman … well that’s what dreams are made of.

This particular presentation is brought to us by director Madonna, who also co-wrote the script with Alek Keshishiam (the director of Madonna: Truth or Dare, 1991). An attempt is made to correlate a modern story featuring a Wallis-and-Edward-obsessed Abbie Cornish, and a Russian security guard played by Oscar Isaac. This feeble story line intertwines with the original story of Wallis Simpson and Edward. Guess which story is WAY more interesting than the other? Despite that, much screen time is wasted on Cornish and Isaac.

 Andrea Roseborough is outstanding as Wallis, the American twice-divorced spirited woman that Edward (James D’Arcy) falls so hard for. The only issue I had was that her speech pattern and tone reminded me of Rosalind Russell every time she spouted off another tart line of dialogue. Still, the sparks were evident between between these two, despite the sometimes horrendous camera work. Which leads me to the biggest problem … this is a horrendously made film and it doesn’t come close to doing justice to such an intriguing true life story.

On the bright side, I found both the film score and the costumes to be spot on, and of the highest quality.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are mentally strong enough to overlook the modern day story that muddies the water of the far more interesting historical romance.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you bet the odds that Madonna would become a first rate movie director.

watch the trailer:



March 29, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I am actually a fan of director Zack Snyder‘s two most recent films: 300 and Watchmen. Because of those films, I was really looking forward to what he would do with his first original piece. Two things are now very clear. First, Mr. Snyder is a visual virtuoso with film. Secondly, he is not much of a writer.

I’ll start with the bad news. I was stunned at how lousy the story and script were. Some of the dialogue is so bad it comes across as purposefully dumbed down. If that is the intention, then I must ask WHY? It’s clearly not a movie for little kids, so most over aged 13 are quite capable of following a story. Therein lies the biggest problem. There isn’t even a story! The ending makes absolutely no sense and the road to that ending just makes you happy it’s over … no matter the dumb ending.

 The good news is that Mr. Snyder’s visual effects do not disappoint. There are some terrific battle scenes and one of the coolest on screen dragons you’ll ever see. The film is very dark and muted in colors (think Sin City) but that works for the dream sequences and the asylum interiors. Very little color is present other than just before the dance sequences. Speaking of, what’s with the dance sequences? If Baby Doll’s dancing is the key to the film, shouldn’t we get more than just a head-bob?

 The premise is that Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is cast away to an asylum by her step-father. She has five days to escape or she faces a lobotomy. Yes, really. She quickly discovers that her dancing has a mesmerizing effect on all those watching and she can escape into her fantasy world. While there, she meets a Wise Man played by Scott Glenn in a role that would have been perfect for the late David Carradine. The Wise Man tells her what to do to gain her freedom and she quickly enlists the help of some other inmates: Sweat Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens)and Amber (Jamie Chung).

The asylum has an even darker side as run by Blue (Oscar Isaac). He forces Dr Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) to teach the girls to dance so as to entertain “high rollers” who pay big bucks to Blue to spend time with the girls. Gugino plays her character like a rip-off of Natasha Fatale from the old Bullwinkle cartoons. Blue is just a weaselly bad guy who brings nothing to the film … and this film needed a top notch bad guy.

The actresses all seem like they really are into their roles and enjoy the physicality required for the fighting and action scenes. Cornish especially comes off well. Browning in the lead as Baby Doll brings no real baggage to the role as most won’t recognize her. Jena Malone has been an indie film favorite for years and Ms. Hudgens is trying to find a new audience after the High School Musical films.

 This movie was pitched as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns”. I believe that is a slap to the face of Lewis Carroll. Watching this movie is like watching someone else play a video game … or a two hour music video of a terrible song. So if you must see it, enjoy the visual effects and don’t think too much about what the characters say or why they do what they do. And let’s all hope that Mr. Snyder’s visuals payoff for next year’s Superman movie … and be glad that Christopher Nolan is working on that script!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you live for special effects and video games on the big screen OR you want to see a really cool dragon fly around for about 3 minutes.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: non-sensical dialogue and a junior high script cause you to scream obsenities (it’s not worth getting arrested)


March 21, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I absolutely love this premise. The idea that, by taking a pill, we can simultaneously access all parts of our brain and process information at hyper-speed is fascinating, and a terrific idea for a movie. As it turns out, that terrific premise loses much luster when the center of action is a egomaniacal, smirking doofus played by a strutting Bradley Cooper and the story lines fall miles short of accessing a portion of the possibilities.

The set-up portion of the film is fairly interesting. Cooper plays a stone-walled loser  of a writer whose career-minded girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) wisely dumps him as he offers up very little in self-defense. A seemingly random street meet of his ex-brother-in-law leads Cooper to a whole new world brought on by the magic of NZT. He quickly realizes he can recall every detail he has ever seen or read and he process information quickly and clearly. He finishes his book in a flash and learns multiple languages, plays the piano, etc etc.

The film takes a wrong turn when he realizes his ability comes in handy in the stock market, as well as blackjack. But obviously if YOU were in this situation, the first thing you would do is contact a Russian loan shark and take out a giant loan … and then forget to pay it back. What? You wouldn’t? Well then, don’t expect to have a movie made about your life.

Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) brings a wonderful visual touch to Cooper’s mind and an awesome telescoping zoom rush through the streets of NYC. That was actually my favorite part of the film (once over the opening credits and again during the film).

 The film misses quite a few opportunities to be as smart as Cooper’s character is supposed to be. Either the Russian loan shark or the ultra-rich businessman played by Robert DeNiro could have led to Faustian themes that would have provided endless opportunities. Instead, we don’t even get a satisfying battle of wits between the parties. Quite a disappointment.

Overall, the film is entertaining enough, but a letdown over what should have been. Watching Cooper strut and DeNiro sleepwalk are not enough for me as a movie goer.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy mentally re-writing a film as you watch it (there are plenty of opportunities here)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you believe a move about the infinite possibilites of the brain should be somewhat mentally stimulating