Movie Reviews

Reviewed By Ryan Bogan

Any aspiring writer -- or artist, or filmmaker -- knows what it's like to sit there at the computer and stare at a blank page. Self doubt fueled by rejection after rejection, failed and half-finished projects, credit card bills that have piled up, a girlfriend who wants you to get a real job… Eventually, the question cannot be ignored: Do I really have what it takes to do this?

That's the dilemma that Limitless Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is facing. He's a down-on-his luck author, or would-be author, whose life seems to be passing him by. Squirreled away on the outskirts of Manhattan -- well, the Lower East Side anyway -- he's one of those guys we've all encountered before. Youth and ambition have slowly morphed into desperation and desolation. And then he discovers NZT.
It's a drug that allows the user to expand his or her mind, to use 100% of their brain power as opposed to the mere 10% or 20% or whatever that is typically accessed by a human being. When Eddie drops his first hit of NZT, he is immediately transformed, as is director Neil Burger's depiction of Eddie's world. From the humdrum, washed-out and grungy palette of Lesser Eddie is born a new bright and vibrant and intense visual world for Better Eddie. Suddenly able to access every bit of information he's ever seen or heard or smelled, memories he doesn't even know he has, books he glimpsed years earlier, and so on, the NZT-ified Eddie becomes, in essence, the smartest man in the world. 

So naturally he decides to make some money, and is soon singlehandedly conquering the stock market. But this is where Limitless starts to, ahem, show its limits. Whereas the film proves to be engaging and visually dynamic -- including some amazing effects scenes that show off Eddie's heightened state -- the viewer can't help but wonder how well NZT really works. His dabbling in stock market day-trading, for example, sounds to even a relative layman to be overly simplified, and some of his decisions as he moves forward don't exactly come across as Ozymandias-like either.

Soon he's hooked up with Robert De Niro's Wall Street tycoon Carl Van Loon, who's not actually all that looney but does have a great speech about how Eddie hasn't had to climb the ladder to get to where he is (or endured "that first marriage" to the girl with the right dad -- ouch!). But largely De Niro is just kind of there, as he's playing second fiddle to Cooper. Luckily, the younger actor is actually pretty great as the schizo Eddie, who swings from burnt-out, drug-addled loser to Renaissance Marlboro Man the way some of us flip on a switch.

The film sets up some very interesting questions but it doesn't answer too many of them as it becomes more of a standard thriller in its final act, as Eddie is accused of murder (which he may or may not have committed -- even he isn't sure), is pursued by a Russian mobster who has also developed a taste for NZT, and must work out the fine details of a big corporate merger for Van Loon. Oh, and NZT turns out to be highly dangerous: If you stop taking it, you die, basically.  

Sorely underserved is Abbie Cornish as Eddie's girlfriend, who kind of shows up here and there to remind us how screwed-up Eddie is, and then how much he's cleaned up his act. She does, however, get to play a fairly ridiculous scene involving a deadly pursuer, a little girl and a pair of ice skates. You need to see it to believe it.

And yet, Limitless remains largely entertaining even as it becomes outlandish. So what if Eddie doesn't put his brain power to brokering peace in the Middle East, or solving the problem of world hunger? He's more interested in making cash and bagging chicks. Perhaps that's one of the points of the film: with great power comes great responsibility… to yourself. Eddie may be the smartest man in the world, but he's still, after all, just a man. 

THE BLACK SWAN - A Lyrical Vision of Madness
Reviewed By Mariusz Popieluch

In this stark and surreal creation Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz through their screenplay weave an intricate analysis of a obsessive compulsive disorder evolving into a fully fledged psychosis, as Darren Aronofsky masterfully gives the viewer the uneasy privilege of experiencing this evolution though the very eyes of the protagonist who is undergoing it.

In her late twenties, frigid, gentle, soft spoken, shy yet ambitious Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), knows only too well that getting the main role of playing both sisters - The White Swan, and her evil twin The Black Swan - in the new adaptation of the Swan Lake choreographed by the renowned Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) may be her last chance at stardom. Thomas eventually, but reluctantly picks Nina. Despite immediately judging her rendition of the White Swan as perfect - which reflects Nina's virgin like nature and personality – his reluctance lingers due to her inability to convincingly portray the evil seductress - The Black Swan. Finally a hint of visceral and wild determination dormant within Nina, convinces Thomas to give her the role with the hope that the "evil" spark will develop into a flame of desire allowing Nina to convincingly portray the evil twin. He doesn't take a passive role in this transformation, and aids Nina with all the possible ways a professional French maestro could offer. He also fails to predict that this flame will grow out of control and eventually engulf entirely the pure spirit of the young dancer.

Witnessing her transformation the viewer may experience frustration and confusion since the boundary between what is a psychotic and delusional vision and what is real slowly dissolves, as Nina progressively develops the required alter ego. Those feelings of cognitive discomfort should be seen as hallmarks of Aronofsky's skill in giving the viewer a glimpse into Nina's world, since undoubtedly confusion and frustration is in the least what she experiences. It eventually becomes apparent that the only way this subtle and gentle young woman can successfully and absolutely embody the Black Swan is through equally absolute madness - effectively splitting her own personality by allowing the alien, dominating and destructive Black Swan alter ego emerge and eventually engulf her.

The technique of offering a subjective vision of a delusional protagonist is not entirely original However here, strongly intertwined with Tchaikovsky’s powerful musical theme (adopted by Clint Mansell) and suggestive dance sequences the film can be interpreted as an original postmodern rendition of the ballet.

Reviewed by Ryan Bogan

Sanctum 3D, from executive producer James Cameron, is a harrowing survival tale inspired by an incident in the life of writer-producer Andrew Wight. It follows a group of underwater cave divers as they struggle to survive after a storm traps them inside a vast, treacherous and nearly inaccessible cave system.

Filthy rich financier Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd) bankrolls the expedition to explore the South Pacific's Esa-ala caves. Leading the team is master cave diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh), a grizzled veteran whose troubled relationship with his teenage son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) is the heart of the film.

After a flash flood traps Frank, Josh, Carl, his fiancee Victoria (Alice Parkinson), and Frank's colleague Crazy George (Dan Wyllie) underground, they must find a way out of the labyrinthine cave system. Panic and horror -- in 3D! -- ensue.

Sanctum is a harrowing survival yarn whose stock characters and formulaic plot are alleviated by sequences of agonizing claustrophobia. Featuring a cast of archetypes plucked straight out of any given Cameron film -- the hardass pro, the corporate weasel, the tough chick, the young buck, the old pal -- only Roxburgh and to a lesser degree Wakefield manage to breathe some life into their otherwise cliche roles.

Gruffudd is woeful as the rich patron, while Parkinson is so-so until she gets the film's most memorable scene and Wyllie generates a few chuckles and some heart as Frank's right-hand-man. But it's Roxburgh who gives the movie its soul and helps the audience get past the story's weak points and tin ear dialogue.

The film doesn't really click until about halfway through after some characters are killed off in true horror movie fashion. It's then that the movie's key relationship takes hold and the viewer truly gets emotionally invested in the film beyond just the visceral thrills, sequences which director Alister Grierson and Co. ably stage for maximum claustrophobic effect.

Sanctum 3D is in many ways a generic horror movie, but it's done with enough talent to help the viewer overlook its shortcomings. As a 3D experience, there are just a handful of sequences that truly stand out; otherwise, it'd probably be just as effective in 2D. Certainly, being in 3D didn't make the dopey dialogue or hammier performances seem any better. 

Reviewed By Ryan Bogan

An Americanized remake of Pour Elle, The Next Three Days chronicles one man's increasingly desperate attempts to liberate his wife from prison for a crime she says she didn't commit. John Brennan (Russell Crowe) is not some ex-Navy seal or badass cop; he's an English lit professor at a community college in Pittsburgh, hardly anyone's idea of a tough guy or jailbreak expert.
His wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) has been convicted and incarcerated for the brutal murder of her boss. But with her legal options at an end, it now appears that she will spend the rest of her life in prison. John, who has been raising their young son alone, has other plans. He's hellbent on busting her out of jail. Problem is that he hasn't the foggiest idea of how to do it.

Thus begins his long, often painful learning curve as he progresses (or is that degenerates?) from suburban everyman into a desperate criminal out to risk his very life for the woman he loves. His quest makes him cross paths with an ex-con (Liam Neeson, vainly trying to hide his Irish accent) and drug dealers (RZA and Kevin Corrigan), and also gains the attention of the police (Walking Dead's Lennie James and Aisha Hinds). The cast also includes Olivia Wilde as a local single mom whom Brennan befriends, Brian Dennehy as Brennan's laconic father, and Daniel Stern as Lara's exasperated attorney.  

Writer-director Paul Haggis does a solid job of crafting both a gripping character study and a crackerjack thriller. The movie had plenty of chances to go wrong or devolve into melodrama and hoary cliches. While there are certainly elements of both here, Haggis manages to rise above them and deliver a moving, exciting film that also just so happens to be a veritable how-to guide for breaking out of prison (at least from the county slammer).

Haggis has cast a fine ensemble here, but it's really Crowe's central performance that makes the movie click. Even though he's played tough guys before, the fact that he's gotten older and, well, fat helps us believe him as an everyman who wouldn't even know how to load a gun. But it's really more the moral slippery slope that his character's on that drives the plot forward rather than his acquisition of badass skills. Crowe sells the humanity of the character, and that's what keeps the movie grounded and the viewer invested in it as the story gets crazier. 

Elizabeth Banks has a few moments here, but she's somewhat out of her depth. There's one key scene where her character's innocence isn't quite clear and Banks does a good job of playing that gray area. James and Hinds play standard issue movie cops in a few sequences that owe a bit too much to The Fugitive, while Neeson makes the most of his one scene. Dennehy doesn't utter his first line until almost three-quarters of the way through the movie, but his gruff, burly presence does more than dialogue could to convince us this is a man who intimidates Crowe.

While the film boasts several exciting action scenes, it's the simpler moments such as Brennan's attempt to break into a locked room or his dealings with the lowlifes who provide him with know-how and materials that creates the most tension and prove the most memorable. Overall, The Next Three Days successfully busts out the drama and thrills in equal and intense measure.


Reviewed By Ryan Bogan

Michel Gondry directs The Green Hornet, the long-gestating superhero action-comedy based on the classic pulp, TV and radio hero. Seth Rogen plays the title role of dissolute media heir Britt Reid, who finds his true calling after his stern father, Daily Sentinel publisher James Reid (Tom Wilkinson), dies. Partnering with a former employee of his family's estate, the enigmatic and multi-talented Kato (pop star Jay Chou), Britt and Kato don masks to fight crime as The Green Hornet and ... Kato. (His lack of a superhero sobriquet is a running joke in the movie.) 

What makes Green Hornet and Kato different from other superheroes is that they pose as villains in order to get closer to the criminals they're out to bust. But what starts as a prank snowballs into something much more dangerous when they take on the city's underworld boss, Benjamin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), a gangster having a midlife crisis who is determined to, well, squash the Hornet and his partner.

There's been such a dark cloud over this film for so long and the buzz has generally been so negative that The Green Hornet really had nowhere to go but up. As it turns out, The Green Hornet is actually pretty damn good fun. Rogen, who co-wrote the movie with Evan Goldberg, explores and pokes fun at the conventions of the superhero-sidekick dynamic, much as Without a Clue presented a partnership where Dr. Watson was actually better at crime-fighting than Sherlock Holmes was. Britt Reid and Kato live in the 'real world," a contemporary Los Angeles where everybody is aware of superhero comics and movies and just sort of inherently understands all their tropes.

The heart of the film, as it is with all buddy flicks, is the relationship between the partner-protagonists. Rogen and Chou have great chemistry together, and the film's flattest moments are when the two aren't onscreen together. Britt is an a-hole who is almost oblivious to just how much of an a-hole he is, while Kato is so damn cool that he's damn near superhuman (Britt calls him a human Swiss Army knife). Kato can build cars, weaponry, drive like a bandit, fight like hell, and make a great cup of coffee.

Kato's the real superhero here, but is destined to be the unsung second banana. In some ways, it's as if the writers split Tony Stark into two characters, with Britt being the glib, hard-drinking playboy to Kato's mechanical genius and badass. Rogen might consistently get the biggest laughs in the film, but it's Chou and Waltz who steal the show.

Unfortunately, Cameron Diaz is just sort of there (apparently merely for star power) as Lenore Case, Britt's new secretary who unwittingly becomes the brains of Green Hornet and Kato's crimefighting operation. The overly serious Edward James Olmos is not very effective as Mike Axford, the day-to-day boss of the Sentinel. It's as if he doesn't realize what type of film he's in.  

Gondry's made his most commercially accessible film to date, but that doesn't mean he hasn't put his own distinctly visceral spin on things, with Kato Vision -- the video game-meets-Predator style of target acquisition Kato employs in fights -- being the biggest visual standout. The 3D is only truly effective in the Kato Vision scenes and the end credits. Otherwise, seeing it in 2D is fine.

Gondry delivers several fun action set-pieces, the most noteworthy being the first time we see Kato Vision, a hilarious brotherly brawl between the two heroes, and the entire last act battle royale at The Daily Sentinel that tops the Kryptonian invasion of The Daily Planet in Superman II. The heroes' tricked-out car, The Black Beauty, is another source of action-packed fun, the ultimate boy toy that would make Batman and 007, ahem, green with envy.

While it may not ultimately prove memorable enough to launch a new film franchise, The Green Hornet is still a fun action-comedy and clever superhero satire that's about as close to a cool summer movie as you're going to get in the dead of winter.