Bradley Cooper is a golden boy on a drug that makes him more perceptive, more creative and just plain more
See an MSN exclusive featurette from the DVD/Blu-ray release below
Which is just what happens when would-be novelist Eddie (Bradley Cooper) takes a sample of an experimental drug from a freelance pharmaceutical rep (think high-concept pusher) and (quite literally) cleans up his act before knocking out a good chunk of that novel he's been putting off for months.
Bradley Cooper developed the property (based on a novel by Alan Glynn) as a vehicle to show off his leading man chops and he's perfect in the role of the slacker in a creative funk and motivational spiral who takes a hit of NZT and taps into all of his unused potential. His entire look, demeanor, body language changes when he's on, a man suddenly in charge of himself and his world, and director Neil Burger offers a slick shorthand for the rush of perception with a few simple tricks, enough to kick the film into overdrive for Eddie's flights of uber-cognition. He's confident, magnetic, engaged, and his eyes glow an incandescent blue that recalls the spice-laced Fremen of "Dune." At one point he channels the Kennedys, a golden boy ready to take on the world with a smile. And when he comes down he crashes, becoming sloppy and stupid and depressed, which is a bad place to be when there are killers looking for this wonder drug that he's managed to stash away.
It starts off as an addiction metaphor—the first dose is free and the addiction is both a matter of chasing the high of an experience junkie and of physical survival (withdrawal is a killer)—but also taps into dreams lost in the long haul of life and youthful ambition and energy stirred back to life. And it shifts into a quasi-Philip K. Dick future-shock of corporate control through science with the drug coming at a price.
The biggest price appears to be selling out for the basest of power grabs, though even that is a means to an end. It's the endgame that's a little vague. Well, a few things are vague, from basic story points to technical details, but it doesn't unduly harm this head trip. It's not the science that's important, it's the momentum, the conceptual journey, the dynamism of the head games and chemically-enhanced battle of wits, and the laser-sharp performance by Cooper. Robert De Niro and Abbie Cornish co-star.
"Neil Burger ("The Illusionist") deploys this genre mishmash with all the aplomb of a director on speed, while Bradley Cooper puts pedal to the metal in a performance that fast-forwards from schlub to über-Gordon Gekko to Bruce Lee action hero to Teflon politico," aggress MSN film critic Kat Murphy. "Yes, you wish "Limitless" was smarter and sharper about its tantalizing premise (drawn from Alan Glynn's 2001 novel "The Dark Fields"), but… "Limitless" delivers some pleasurable punch -- and rarely makes you feel small."
The film arrives on video in both the original theatrical cut and an unrated extended cut, accompanied by the featurettes "A Man Without Limits" and "Taking it to the Limit: The Making of Limitless" and an alternate ending. The Blu-ray also features a bonus digital copy.
'Limitless' Exclusive Featurette: "A Man Without Limits"
This exclusive featurette showcases the changes of Eddie (Bradley Cooper) after taking the top-secret pill, NZT. 'Limitless' is out on Blu-ray/DVD, July 19.
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week.
Bradley Cooper is a golden boy on a drug that makes him more perceptive, more creative, and just plain more in "Limitless" (Fox), a cerebral thriller with science fiction elements and the irresistible premise that genius and awareness is the ultimate high. The story isn't always clear but Cooper's performance is sharp and savvy and the film is a rush. Videodrone's review is here.
"Take Me Home Tonight" (Fox) goes for nostalgia with Topher Grace and friends saying goodbye to their days of being wild (and to the 1980s) with an all-night party in what MSN critic Glenn Kenny describes as "an amiable enough pastiche." Renée Zellweger and Forest Whitaker star in "My Own Love Song" (Inception), the English-language debut of French director Olivier Dahan ("La Vie en Rose") and Eva Green and Juno Temple headline the boarding school psychodrama "Cracks" (IFC).
Sleeper of the week is "Small Town Murder Songs" (Monterey Video), an indie drama about a small town sheriff (Peter Stormare) struggling with the ghosts of his own past while investigating a murder. And Catherine Deneuve stars in François Ozon’s seventies satire "Potiche" (Music Box).
TV on DVD:
"Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series" (BBC) boxes up all 31 episodes of the BBC episodes of the "Doctor Who" spin-off just as Captain Jack Harkness heads stateside for a new American incarnation of the show. It's an entertaining show with clever twists but it really comes into its own in the final episodes of its British run. Videodrone's review is here.
And speaking of The Doctor, "Doctor Who: Season Six, Part One" (BBC) features seven episodes of the most recent season starring Matt Smith and produced by Steven Moffat. And it features an episode written by Neil Gaiman. Cool! The season concludes on BBC America later this summer. More on Videodrone here.
"Hey Dude: Season One" (Shout! Factory) is the nostalgia release of the week: Nickelodeon's first live-action sitcom debuts on DVD. Which is not a recommendation, merely a heads up to all you Christine Taylor fans.
Cool, Classic and Cult:
Satyajit Ray arrived on the international film scene with a pair of powerful dramas in the poetic realist vein. "The Music Room" (Criterion), his fourth feature, struck out in a new direction. Graceful, melancholy, directed with a reserved elegance, it observes the old-world feudal life of the 1920s fading into irrelevance with both sympathy and disparagement. That balance, as well as Ray's more confident mastery of cinematic expression, makes this one of his masterpieces, and the Criterion release (on DVD and Blu-ray) features a rich collection of supplements. Videodrone's review is here.
Otto Preminger's "Skidoo" (Olive) is a truly strange time capsule of Hollywood in 1968 trying to bring social satire and counterculture hipness to garish comedy: career criminals and fun-loving hippies colliding in a comedy of flower power, slapstick, psychedelia and Groucho Marx as an absurdist Godfather. I can't say it's good butt it surely is unique. More on Videodrone here.
The CinemaScope pre-Biblical epic "The Egyptian" debuts on DVD and Blu-ray (see more on Videodrone here). "Tekken" (Anchor Bay), a live-action film based on the popular videogame, is an America/Japanese co-production with low-rent actors and fighting superstars, and "Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill A Mockingbird" (First Run) is a documentary about the influential novel and its author.
Blu-ray Debuts:One the most loved films of all time and the most eerily beautiful fairy tale ever brought to life on film, Jean Cocteau’s "Beauty and the Beast" (1946) (Criterion) is the quintessential fairy tale for grown-ups. It's been remastered for Blu-ray and is packed with marvelous supplements. Videodrone's review is here.
John Singleton became the youngest director ever nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award in his accomplished debut feature "Boyz 'N The Hood" (Sony). And it's a double feature of French delights with "Amélie" (Lionsgate) and "Chocolat" (Lionsgate).
Build Your Library Essential of the Week:
Jean Cocteau’s "Beauty and the Beast" (1946) (Criterion). The Beast is truly a beautiful creation, the B&W photography by Henri Alekan shimmers, and the eerie imagery of the living statuary and animated objects of the castle creates a texture of visual poetry and cinema magic never been equaled in the years of fairy tale cinema since. And there is nothing like black-and-white on Blu-ray.
The complete calendar of releases this week is after the jump:
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Your guide to our coverage of the new DVD/Blu-ray releases
Here's what's new on DVD and Blu-ray this week as featured on Videodrone
"Rango" – A Lizard in the Old West
The New Release Rack: "The Lincoln Lawyer" defends "Uncle Boonmee," plus "Arthur," "Miral" and "Insidious"
TV on DVD:
"Damages: The Complete Third Season" – Patty Hewes takes on Bernie Madoff
TV on DVD Channel Guide: More from "MI-5," "Entourage" and "Robot Chicken," plus more from the BBC
The Cool and the Collectible:
Buster Keaton Begins: "Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection (1920-1923)"
Cult Watch: "Battle Beyond the Stars"
Cool, Classic and Collectible: Keaton and Corman and Shameless Exploitation
Blu-ray Debuts:Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" and Mike Leigh's "Naked"
Buster Keaton Begins: "Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection (1920-1923)"
Cult Watch: "Battle Beyond the Stars"
Samuel Fuller's "Park Row"
Coming up next week:
"Take Me Home Tonight" (Fox)
"Potiche" (Music Box)
"The Music Room" (Criterion)
"Doctor Who: Season Six, Part One" (Warner)
"Young Justice: Season 1 Volume 1" (Warner)
"Beauty and the Beast" (Blu-ray) (Criterion)
"Boyz N The Hood" (Blu-ray) (Sony)
"Amélie" (Blu-ray) (Lionsgate)
"Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series" (Blu-ray) (BBC)
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A Two-Fisted salute to the Birth of the American Press
Free press and free enterprise are uniquely intertwined in "Park Row" (MGM Limited), Samuel Fuller's tribute to the pioneers of the modern American press in 19th century New York City. Gene Evans—Fuller's burly alter ego in "The Steel Helmet" and "Fixed Bayonets!"—plays Phineas Mitchell, a newsman with big ambitions who goes rogue as the editor of his own paper, launched with a skeleton staff, second-hand equipment, butcher paper in place of newsprint and more circulation-boosting ideas than all his competitors put together.
The line between responsible journalism and bald-faced stunt isn't blurred here, it's non-existent. He builds his paper on manufactured controversy and populist positioning, but Phineas draws the line at outright lies and violence, something his nemesis Charity Hackett (Mary Welch), isn't all that squeamish about such niceties. She's a society lady who demands a façade of dignity for her paper but doesn't mind hardball tactics behind the scenes. Phineas, for all his hucksterism as a wizard for front page headlines and circulation gimmicks, is still a journalist at heart with a fierce competitive streak and an entrepreneurial idealism.
"Park Row" is driven by Fuller's love of old-school journalism ideals and newspaper wars. It’s filled with journalism lore, historical landmarks (the birth of linotype!), the day-to-day details of physically printing a broadsheet and the philosophy and business of managing a daily paper. Fuller plays the whole thing out in a half-scale reproduction of the Park Row of old, the street of newspapers from the 19th century, and his camera constantly tracks back and forth along the avenue, creating energy simply out of the kinetic activity. But this is still the two-fisted Fuller behind the camera and Phineas, while not one to start a brawl, is not shy about finishing one. When he finds a thug who attacked one of his men, he drags him out to Park Row and give him a lesson in American history by hammering the man's noggin against the plaque on the base of Benjamin Franklin's stature, as if trying to beat his words of wisdom directly into his skull.
"Park Row" isn't Fuller's best film by far—it's talky and melodramatic and, for all his ingenuity, very B-movie looking, with its cramped sets and underfunded settings. His pulp dialogue and brash energy enlivens the film without quite defining it and his bizarre love story is a contrivance that seems to arrive from another movie all together. But Fuller made it with passion and commitment and you can't help but appreciate that quirky spark that drives the film.
Available by order only from the MGM Limited Collection, from Amazon and other web retailers.
MOD stands for "Manufacture on Demand" and represents a recent development in the DVD market, where slipping sales have slowed the release of classic, special interest and catalogue releases. These are DVD-R releases, no-frills discs from studio masters, ordered online and "burned" individually with every order. You can read a general introduction to the format and the model on my profile of the Warner Archive Collection on Parallax View here
Not the definitive version of Terry Gilliam's absurdist nightmare
"Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection (1920-1923)" (Kino), "Battle Beyond the Stars 30th Anniversary Special Edition" (Shout! Factory) and "Damnation Alley" (Shout! Factory) all debut on Blu-ray this week. Click on the titles to see the Videodrone reviews.
Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" (Universal), a dark, dense science fiction fantasy, is like “1984” rewritten by Monty Python, an absurdist nightmare of Kafka-esque dimensions. Jonathan Pryce is the dreamer trapped as a worker bee in the bureaucratic maze as deadly as it is indifferent, until he falls in love with a woman he thinks may belong to the terrorist underground. Fittingly the film took its own circuitous route to release. Universal stalled the release and even reedited the film, until Gilliam screened the film himself for the Los Angeles film critics, who championed the film and lavished it with end of the year awards. It been released on home video in multiple versions and now debuts on Blu-ray in the 132 minute theatrical cut but with no supplements. Which is too bad, as this is one film that deserves the Criterion treatment and Gilliam's preferred 142-minute director's cut, which Criterion released on DVD years ago.
Criterion, meanwhile, offers their HD upgrade of Mike Leigh's 1993 "Naked" (Criterion), perhaps the director's most controversial film. David Thewlis stars as a charming, eloquent, and relentlessly vicious drifter in London in Mike Leigh’s corrosive portrait of his nocturnal odyssey through the city. It’s "a brilliant somersault of a movie that lands this fine English director in dark new cinematic territory," wrote New York Times critic Vincent Canby. ""Naked" is as corrosive and sometimes as funny as anything Mr. Leigh has done to date. It's loaded with wild flights of absurd rhetoric and encounters with characters so eccentric that they seem to have come directly from life. Nobody would dare imagine them." The Blu-ray includes all the supplements from the earlier DVD release: commentary by director Mike Leigh and stars David Thewlis and Katrin Cartlidge, an archival interview with Leigh conducted by author Will Self for the program "The Art Zone," a video interview by filmmaker Neil LaBute, Leigh’s 1987 short comedy "The Short and Curlies" starring Thewlis (with optional commentary by Leigh), the trailer, and a booklet featuring essays by film critics Derek Malcolm and Amy Taubin.
Science fiction, horror and shameless exploitation dominate the vintage releases this week
Not just one of the greatest and most inventive slapstick comics of all time, Keaton was an artist and a filmmaker could warp gags and spin situations until they left the plane of reality, taking audiences with him in a blast of laughter. "Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection (1920-1923)" (Kino) collects them all 19 of his solo short comedies in a single set in superb editions. Videodrone's review is here.
"Battle Beyond the Stars 30th Anniversary Special Edition" (Shout! Factory), which launched Richard "John Boy" Thomas into a space-age "The Seven Samurai," was Roger Corman's budget-minded answer to "Star Wars." But this knock-off also sports a screenplay by John Sayles and inventive art direction from an ambitious young filmmaker named Jim "James" Cameron. See Videodrone here.
Also from Shout! Factory is the seventies post-apocalyptic thriller "Damnation Alley" (Shout! Factory) with Jan-Michael Vincent, Dominque Sanda, Paul Winfield and George Peppard. It's adapted from the novel by Robert Zelazny, though not with much fidelity or concern for scientific accuracy. With commentary by producer Paul Maslansky and featuring
The late David Carradine made one of his final screen appearances as a genetic scientist mucking with mother nature in the SyFy Channel creature feature "Dinocroc Vs. Supergator" (Anchor Bay), from producer Roger Corman and B-movie legend Jim Wynorski (directing under the name Jay Andrews). Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker proclaimed it "impeccable Saturday-night junk entertainment" in his TV blog. "Scoff if you want, but there are gradations of junk, and I’d rather watch a TV-movie like this than "CSI: Miami" or "America’s Got Talent" any night." Features commentary by Corman and Wynorski.
For pure, unadulterated exploitation, there is the "Women In Prison Triple Feature" (Panik House), which features the "Mr. Skin" seal of approval. The notorious "Chained Heat" (1983), starring Linda Blair, Sybil Danning, Stella Stevens and John Vernon as the sadistic warden, leads off the collection, which has been remastered for this release. Linda Blair and Sylvia Kristel get dropped in a prison behind the iron curtain in "Red Heat" (1985) and Sybil Danning is grabbed by South American drug lord in "Jungle Warriors" (1984).
"The Sweet Life" (Synapse) is a 2003 indie of comedy fraternal one-upmanship between two brothers in New York City, where they find themselves competing for the affections of the same girl. Features commentary by director Rocco Simonelli and stars James Lorinz and Barbara Sicuranza, a making-of featurette, deleted and extended scenes and outtakes.
Intervision continues its archeology of video-generation horror with two unearthed artifacts. "The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer" (Intervision) is a low-budget 1993 shocker starring Carl Crew as the infamous sex offender, serial killer and cannibal. (For an interesting perspective on the film, check out Arbogast on Film.) "Things" (Intervision), starring adult film veterans Barry J. Gillis and Amber Lynn, is a "canuxploitation" cheapie shot in 8mm for the video market. Both feature commentary, and "Things" also includes new interviews and featurettes.
Newer is "George A. Romero Presents Deadtime Stories Volume 1" (Millennium) is an anthology of three short films, though none are actually directed by presenter Romero. Jeff Monahan, Michael Fischa and Matt Walsh direct the half-hour horrors written by Monahan.
Roger Corman's "Star Wars" knock-off gets a new edition
"Battle Beyond the Stars 30th Anniversary Special Edition" (Shout! Factory), which launched Richard "John Boy" Thomas into a space-age "The Seven Samurai," was Roger Corman's budget-minded answer to "Star Wars."
It's a knock-off, plain and simple. Thomas' farm boy in the stars really is Luke Skywalker by way of "The Waltons" and the film co-stars John Saxon as the film's answer to Darth Vader, Robert Vaughn reprising the role he played in "The Magnificent Seven" and George Peppard as a character named (I kid you not) Space Cowboy.
Yet it has it charms. It sports a screenplay by John Sayles, who manages to work some offbeat science-fiction ideas around the edges of an otherwise derivative plot and he even pays homage to the film's inspiration by naming the home planet Akir and its inhabitants Akira. And there is some entertaining the model work and production design, the latter courtesy of an ambitious and inventive art director and set designer named Jim "James" Cameron, and a superb score by another future star, young composer James Horner.
The film awkwardly stumbles through its paces (director Jimmy T. Murakami was an animator by trade and never made another live action film) and never transcends its second-hand trappings, but in moments it is quite fun. Can you name another film that has a space ship with breasts?
The DVD and Blu-ray feature a nice collection of supplements too, including commentary by Roger Corman and John Sayles and a new featurette on the production challenges and disasters faced by the model makers, set designers and effects guys. I reviewed the DVD/Blu-ray for Turner Classic Movies here.
The birth of a comedy genius in 19 short comedies
Buster Keaton was arguably the cinema’s first modernist: an old fashioned romantic with a 20th century mind behind the deadpan visage. His films brim with some of the most breathtaking stunts and ingenious gags ever put on film, all perfectly engineered to look effortless. And it all began with his first solo flights: 19 short films that he made between 1920 and 1923. Though he did not take director credit for these films (or, for that matter, many of his feature), he was the creative artist behind every aspect of the production, including the direction. This amazing run is, along with Charlie Chaplin's Mutual comedies, the peak of creativity, ingenuity and comic grace in American silent comedy shorts.
Keaton was raised in vaudeville doing pratfalls and physical comedy and apprenticed in the movies under Fatty Arbuckle, an unsung genius of silent film comedy, but he developed his own identity and sensibility when he started making his own two-reel comedies. He first displayed a knack for becoming one with mechanical world with his third solo short "The Scarecrow" (1920), where he transforms a one room bachelor pad into an automatic house via a Rube Goldberg tangle of ropes, pulleys, toy trains and trap doors, and he topped the slapstick mayhem of the Keystone Kops with his own "Cops" (1922), which ends with Keaton chased by a veritable army of uniformed policemen.
But he also pushed comedy into the realm of the surreal in such shorts as "The Frozen North" (1922), where he spoofs frontier adventure fiction clichés with a modern sensibility, and "The Playhouse" (1921), a masterpiece of silent comedy that begins with Keaton playing every role (including the audience) in a vaudeville act and proceeds to dismantle our sense of reality at every turn. It is an ingenious film, as hilarious as it is constantly surprising, and it also features Keaton breaking out of the stone face persona to play a chimpanzee: with simple make-up, rubber-faced gestures and a make-over created entirely from body language, he offers the greatest impression of a simian that a mere human has ever put to film. But then, of course, Keaton is no mere human.
These shorts have all been available as supplements to various Keaton DVD releases but this new edition (on both DVD and Blu-ray) marks the first time they have been gathered into a single collection. Both present the shorts in chronological order on three discs and include with short visual essays (illustrated with still and film clips) for 15 of the films, four visual essays on locations, alternate and deleted shots and two bonus shorts featuring Keaton cameos among the supplements. Each short is accompanied by an organ score.