Trust me, I won’t be the first one who claims that Limitless is surprisingly good. Coming kind of out of nowhere, with a star who’s still very much in-the-making (Bradley Cooper, best known for being the handsome one in The Hangover), a director with little name recognition (Neil Burger, The Illusionist) and a concept that doesn’t really allow itself to be shaped into the conventions of the modern Hollywood trailer, Limitless elicited a lot of “Huh? What’s this?” when its advertising campaign began. This is a good thing, as, for once, the trailer has managed not to give away all the twists and turns of the plot; even better than that, the plot is so different from cookie-cutter Hollywood fare that the whole thing is very refreshing. So what, exactly, is it? A thriller, definitely (although even this was not necessarily spelled out in the trailer); but also fantasy (even wish-fulfilment fantasy), drug flic, modern economic drama, a bit of a romance and a very black black comedy. Eddie (Cooper), a very lazy “writer”, is given a small pill by his ex-brother-in-law that allows him access to one hundred percent, rather than twenty percent, of his brain. No more of the plot should be revealed. Tonally, it reminded me most strongly of David Fincher’s Fight Club, but there are also elements of The Firm and definite influence from The Cohen Brothers and Darron Aronofsky. Burger is happy to use stylistic elements, bending and warping the film’s use of sound, colour, image and temporal perspective to allow us at least some visual and sonic sense of the amazing things happening inside Eddie’s brain when he’s on the drug (named AZT in the film and really unconnected to any true drug yet available on the legal market or the streets). Abbie Cornish, as Eddie’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Lindy, is given much more of an interesting role than you might reasonably expect given the kind of things on-again, off-again girlfriends are normally allowed to do in Hollywood movies; she is also costumed, made-up, hair-done and shot so as to be properly revealed as a true, classic screen beauty; I have no doubt that Limitless (rather than Sucker Punch) will be remembered as the film that launched her into the real Hollywood A List. Robert De Niro plays a very Robert De Niro-style role with Robert De Niro-style professionalism and the film is populated with all sorts of strange-looking baddies and miscreants who are all very effective (Andrew Howard in particular). As for Cooper, I found him an extremely engaging and jovial screen presence; he’s in basically every scene of the movie, and he carries it with panache; I’m sure his Hollywood future is solid. Burger is an intriguing, original director, and Limitless is – yes! – a surprisingly good, and just plain surprising, hybrid of a movie, and always entertaining. I’d like a sequel!
What an odd little film is Kaboom. I’ve never seen a film by Gregg Araki, now 51, but this is his tenth, and some of his previous work is extremely highly regarded, such as 2005’s Mysterious Skin and his “trio” of disaffected-youth flics The Living End, Totally F***ed Up and The Doom Generation. What I’ve always heard and read about Araki is that his style almost defines what is now referred to as “Queer Cinema”, and I’m glad that there is therefore a genre I can apply to Kaboom, because none other fits. It edges a weeny bit towards romantic comedy with multiple protagonists, but this would be a stretch, as no-one in the film is falling in love, or seems to want to particularly; it also plays with notions of horror and science-fiction, but these elements are neither scary, horrific nor smart enough to be taken as either (the sci-fi elements, in particular, are just dumb). Set on a college campus amongst a world of young people who are happily fluid in their sexuality, I guess it could best be described as a not-particularly funny “sex comedy”. Sex is certainly Araki’s favourite thing to film here, and there’s a lot of it, usually followed by campy discussion of it the next day with other enlightened bisexual (and beautiful) students. One thing leads to another, and soon enough everyone’s back in bed with each other, in all sorts of combinations. While not a gut-buster by any means, the whole thing is strangely amiable; it’s almost enough just to enjoy, for 86 minutes, such gorgeous people having such a fabulous time.