Film reviews: Limitless | Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D | The Insatiable Moon | A Turtle's Tale: Sammy's Adventures | Faster
Our film critic reviews the best and worst of this week's new releases...
Directed by: Neil Burger
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Anna Friel
The chief pleasures of this slick, trashy, weightless thriller lie in the self-improvement fantasy inherent in watching Bradley Cooper's failing writer Eddie pop a designer drug and transform into the kind of brilliantly accomplished person everyone secretly thinks they could be if only they could get their life in order. With Eddie able to access every suppressed memory and process every piece of information with lightning-quick speed, he's the embodiment of unlocked potential and he proves it by cleaning up his grotty apartment, writing a novel in four days, getting rich on the stock market and getting a fabulous haircut. That the film's makers don't appear to have done much more than access their own suppressed memories of Fight Club and Good Will Hunting seems almost irrelevant: Cooper's strutting movie star confidence and the odd sight of Robert De Niro in a new film that's actually halfway watchable feels like compensation enough.
As depressing a comment on modern movie-making as that is, however, there's also something admirably nutty about Limitless. Despite some illogical plot turns it's a Hollywood film that for once refuses to get moralistic about its vacuous premise, favouring instead the guilt-free fantasy that mind-expanding drugs and an awesome haircut really can improve your life.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D (U)***
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Given Werner Herzog's willingness to go to the ends of the earth in pursuit of what he calls the "ecstatic truth" – a truth that lies beyond the facts – it's probably no surprise that he'd want to avail himself of any new technology that would allow him to capture reality in a different way. Here he embraces 3D, and once he gets beyond messing around with migraine-inducing hand-held shots, he puts the technology to decent use by taking us on a tour of the Chauvet Caves in Southern France and using it to convey the sheer strangeness of the perfectly preserved Palaeolithic artwork held within. What stops this from being as enjoyably eccentric as other recent Herzog documentaries, though, is the barmy Bavarian's failure to get the team of experts accompanying him to open up about their own lives. When one confesses to once working in a circus, he resists any follow-up questions, a little wary, perhaps, of being immortalised as one of Herzog's loveable loons. To compensate, Herzog locates some albino crocodiles nearby and attempts to connect them to the cave paintings. It's not quite clear what bearing they have, but maybe that's the ecstatic truth – or merely Herzog being Herzog.
The Insatiable Moon (15)**
Directed by: Rosemary Riddell
Starring: Rawiri Paratene, Sara Wiseman, Bruce Phillips
There's an amateurish, community theatre vibe to this well-intentioned but simplistic, nave, occasionally dubious New Zealand comedy-drama about faith, God and mental illness. Set in Auckland, it stars Whale Rider's Rawiri Paratene as Arthur, a Maori psychiatric patient who thinks he's the second Son of God. Spending his days wandering the local neighbourhood performing what he believes are miracles to sceptical locals, he's presented as the kind of sympathetic savant that only seems to exist in that will-zapping brand of national cinema that tries to blend light-hearted comedy with hard-hitting social issue drama.
Here, all the familiar look-how-meaningful-we're-being social ills – including paedophilia, suicide, homelessness and failing healthcare – are casually used to back up the film's woolly message about forgiveness and loving thy neighbour.
That those sentiments aren't extended to the one-note property developers and miserable, spiritually deficient, coffee-slurping suburbanites the film identifies as the real villains of the modern world is something director Rosemary Riddell seems unwilling to confront as she serves up a feeble plot about the boarding house for mentally disturbed social outcasts coming under threat of closure. The film also does itself no favours by including a sentimental romantic subplot that's more than a little creepy.
A Turtle's Tale: Sammy's Adventures (U)*
Directed by: Ben Stassen
Voices: John Hurt, Dominic Cooper, Gemma Arterton
This preachy, po-faced, Belgian-produced CG animation film charts five decades or so in the life of a turtle called Sammy (voiced by John Hurt and Dominic Cooper) as he circumnavigates the globe and gives the film's sure-to-be-bored target audience a civics lesson about pollution and the destructive ways of humans. Here, director and co-writer Ben Stassen shows as much contempt for characterisation as he did with his previous feeble effort, the offensively banal insect adventure Fly Me to the Moon.
Thus while Pixar films and box-office challengers such as the recent Rango and How to Train Your Dragon favour developing a character's personality based on their function or physiology, this film merely transplants irrelevant human attributes onto its protagonists, ensuring our hero's plight is never particularly engrossing. A few vertiginous sight gags are included for those still willingly enabling the movie industry to ratchet up their profits by getting audiences to shell out for rubbish 3D, but really there's not much to hold the interest, a fact reinforced by the lethargic vocal performances from the British cast (which also includes Gemma Arterton) brought in to re-dub the voices.
Faster (15) **
Directed by: George Tillman Jr
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Faster should be a straightforward run-and-gun revenge movie. Instead it's a slow, turgid thriller featuring pointless and poorly executed car chases, chasm-like logic gaps, dreary characters and phoned-in performances. The first of these comes from Dwayne Johnson. Returning to the action fold after striking out as a staple of failing family movies (Tooth Fairy anyone?), he plays a driver newly released from prison after a ten-year stretch for armed robbery. Having been betrayed by a rival crew who left him for dead after slashing his brother's throat, he's got a muscle car, a big gun, and a list of culprits whose brains he's determined to spray across the walls of whatever comfortable life they've since managed to build for themselves. On his tail are a yoga-practicing contract killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and an about-to-retire junkie cop (Billy Bob Thornton), the former apparently auditioning for a yet-to-be-written comic book movie and the latter one step away from crossing the days off his calendar. A trashy exploitation premise such as this demands pared-to-the-bone efficiency or irony-drenched outrageousness, but director George Tillman Jr ignores the implicit advice of the film's title in favour of slow motion. Lots of slow motion.
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