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In Which We Chemically Enhance Bradley Cooper

Because He Got High



dir. Neil Burger

105 minutes

For whatever reason someone is trying to make Bradley Cooper a leading man. Okay, not for "whatever reason", specifically for his Crafted by Pilates (TM) abdominal area and that cocky facial expression of his that says "Gurl, I know where you hid those Girl Scout cookies." The problem is a star needs a starring vehicle that can go places, like to mainstream multiplexes. Limitless is not that vehicle. It’s more of a recalled Toyota that explodes into flames on the highway leaving the driver paraplegic.

B Coops plays Eddie, a newly single, science fiction writer who looks like 1998's Eddie Vedder. He has a serious case of writer’s block and an apartment reminiscent of the aftermath of an open Jumanji board. Eddie runs into his ex-girlfriend’s druggie brother on the street and ends up accepting an $800 black market trial drug, called NZT, that renders everything mentally “clear.” The pill enables him to finish his book in an hour. He earns millions on the stock market. He cleans his apartment real good. (And isn’t that is the problem with Adderall? You always swallow it with great intentions and 15 minutes later you’re on your knees, scrubbing the bathroom tiles with a toothbrush, Israeli-army style.)

When he’s on the drug, Eddie inexplicably sees his surroundings through a fisheye lens, and struts down the street to a set list seemingly plagiarized from a “Rock of the Ages”-type radio station in Nebraska. It’s probably how Charlie Sheen experiences the world.

The tragedy of the movie is there may not be a worse person upon which to bestow the planet's last few super intelligence tablets. Watching Bradley Cooper gulp them down and proceed to waste his high transforming himself into a Brooks Brothers model feels somewhat unjust, like watching a goldfish eat a Peter Luger steak. Shouldn’t someone be crushing those up and spooning it into Stephen Hawking's mouth instead?

The most disappointing moment is when you realize Eddie’s voiceover narration pre-pill-popping wasn’t deliberately hackneyed - even with a four digit IQ he still says things like, "A fight? I don’t know how to fight. OR DO I?"

with costar abbie cornish

Of course the whole Better Living Through Chemistry imperative isn't without a few roadblocks. Eddie begins to get headaches. He starts forgetting how he spent huge blocks of time (we see one such period in a fast hazy montage — it involves gambling, drinking, effing models, and a fat bearded man. I assume it was a paid promotion for The Hangover 2.) Mysterious people attempt to kill him. The girlfriend whom he quickly wins back by ordering her sushi in fluent Japanese (women are so easy!) dumps him again, and this big focking CEO (played by De Niro, who apparently ordered Fredo to off his agent at some point in the last decade) tries to blackmail him.

But don’t think Limitless is anti-pharmaceutical. Bradley Cooper is just too beautiful to die, like the other plebes who get addicted to NZT do. This pat solution is very satisfyingly explained near the end when he taunts De Niro, "You actually thought that I wouldn’t learn how to overcome the side effects?" Um, yes? At least I did. Maybe the trick is you need to watch Limitless on brain-enhancing drugs for it to make sense, otherwise it's like looking at a hologram without 3D glasses. On that note: if anyone wants to send me some Adderall, I promise I will rewatch this movie and report back. Right after I finish exfoliating the grout on my bathroom floor.

Lauren Bans is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. You can find her website here. She twitters here.

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In Which Never Before Was There So Much For So Few

January 4, 1954

The following actually appeared in the first 1954 issue of Life magazine.

The morning traffic and parking problem became so critical at the Carlsbad, N. Mex. high school that school authorities in 1953 were finally forced to a solution: they set aside a special parking area for students only. In Carlsbad, as everywhere else, teenagers are not only driving new cars to school but in many cases are buying them out of their own earnings. These are the children who at birth were called "Depression babies." They have grown up to become, materially at least, America's luckiest generation.

Young people 16 to 20 are the beneficiaries of the very economic collapse that brought chaos almost a generation ago. The Depression tumbled the nation's birth rate to an all-time low in 1933, and today's teen age group is proportionately a smaller part of the total population than in more than 70 years.

Since there are fewer of them, each – in the most prosperous time in U.S. history – gets a bigger piece of the nation's economic pie than any previous generation ever got. This means they can almost have their pick of the jobs that abound.

They place in dance orchestras, and work at other jobs or go into business for themselves. To them working has a double attraction: the pay is good and, since their parents are earning more, too, they are often able to keep the money for themselves.

The teenagers here all live in Carlsbad, but the account of youth's opulent opportunities is not restricted to any one community. A young fellow like Sonny Thayer can earn $100 a week in the potash mines near Carlsbad and buy himself a pick up truck, hunting mule and all the equipment he wants to indulge his hobby as an outdoorsman. A Milwaukee high school senior like David Lenske can pick up enough money in odd jobs to buy stocks, all his own clothes and a 1946 Plymouth as well. In city after city merchants freely extend credit to teenagers.

One father, fearing that easy times may not be enough of a character builder, remarked, "They're lucky. But do they know it?" Mostly they seem to know it, even though they live with a worry they can never fully escape – the two years or more of military service for the boys and the constant talk of war that hovers over them all. A judge who handles delinquency matters voices concern over the fortunate teenagers: "I don't know if having all those cars is such a wonderful thing. Some kids make more money than their probation officers with master's degrees." But a filling station operator who hires high school boys declares simply, "They are hard working and well behaved."

Thoughtfully a Milwaukee girl remarks, "We have more independence and education than other generations have had. We are going to be able to take care of ourselves and of our world." This confidence and reasoning reflects in a generation which, having been brought up in and having worked in good and constantly improving times, will in the future expect – and work for – equally good times or better.

It is presumptuous to characterize a whole generation; yet each generation feels obliged to try it as soon as its successor heaves in sight, and the editors of Life are no exception. Our Time-Life correspondents recently made a survey of the mood and opinions of young people all over the country. That survey confirmed Steichen's hunch; this is in many respects the oldest younger generation in living memory. It is sobersided, unromantic, "mature." Since it was raised in a depression to fight one war and is now threatened by another, it could hardly be expected to be a carefree generation. But that is not the whole story.

In our survey one Texas college professor described his undergraduates thus: "They are a generation without responses - apathetic, laconic, no great loves, no profound hates and pitifully few enthusiasms. They are a wordless generation. If they have ideas they don't seem to like to rub them against other people's ideas."

"Unimaginative, yes," reported another teacher, "but they are very realistic. Security is uppermost in their minds." Millions of them seem to share the modest ambitions of a young Seattle engineer: "I'd just like to net $600 a month, and then my family would always be okay. You start earning any more than about that, and it's taxed away from you, so what the hell."

Youth's theme song seems to be, "I don't want to set the world on fire." Rather than take chances on their own, most college boys (there are of course exceptions) would rather work for a large corporation, making their way discreetly and securely up a prefabricated ladder. They seem to be most comfortable in groups and even tend to make dates by fours and sixes.

They show no strong urge either to glorify or to rebel against their surroundings. They are without public heroes or villains. They are reported to be not so wild as their parents, nor so hard working. They gripe less and hope less. They are willing homemakers and fall quickly into monogamy, more from imitation than from any moral or economic imperative. They are refreshingly free of bigotry or race prejudice; and they believe, if in anything, in democracy and the brotherhood of man. Yet they seem skeptical and incurious about the machinery and safeguards of democracy.

One co-ed says defiantly, "Who knows exactly what politics is, anyhow?" Says an Oregon college president, "They live like happy animals. I guess the Great Enlightenment of the last century has finally run its course."

A Generation of Aesthetes? appeared in a 1951 issue of Life.

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In Which This Is The Business Al Pacino Has Chosen

Brooding & Pop-Eyed


At the start of the 70s, Al Pacino had exactly one role in a major motion picture under his belt. The movie, Me, Natalie, was small, the role minuscule: in forty-six seconds, the twenty-nine-year-old actor approaches, appraises, and spurns the Natalie of the title on a dance-floor. Taking her in his arms without looking at her, Pacino is all hips and come-ons and cocksureness, too hopped up on the possibilities of the night to ask Natalie’s name, let alone sweet-talk her. "You’ve got a nice body, you know that?" he offers. When she tries to respond, he interrupts her: "Do you put out?" But she doesn't and he is off, eyes flaring, to seek his kicks among broads of broader mind.

By 1980 Pacino was among the most laurelled film actors in the land, a forty-year-old man up to his neck in his own mythology. Though he hadn't yet won an Oscar (that would come later, for his turn as a blind debauchee in The Scent of a Woman), Pacino had been nominated, already, for five.

Lesser honors abounded. The decade brought him two BAFTA awards and a Golden Globe. It also inaugurated the ever-flavorful tradition of Pacino homage. In Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta's Tony Manero, clad only in briefs and Scientological self-assurance, sashays down the stairs chanting Attica, drawing a shriek from his shrunken grandmother. (In Dog Day Afternoon, Pacino’s Sonny Wortzik electrifies a crowd by chanting this.) Tony Manero keeps a Serpico poster on his wall.

on the set of the godfather with Francis Ford CoppolaFilm Forum spent a week revisiting Pacino’s golden decade in a retrospective called, straightforwardly, Pacino's 70s. The movies, which vary in quality from the indelibility of the Godfathers to the idle melodrama of ...And Justice for All, are vivid reminders both of Pacino's consistency and of his range.

As a rule, Pacino's roles are divided between the neurotically anxious and the neurotically cool, the nervous and the numb. Stress, however, torments them all. Like suavity for Cary Grant or bathos for Marlon Brando, stress is Pacino’s medium, the idiosyncratic element in which his characters come alive. He is a technician of the twitch, the eye-bulge, the temple-rub. He is also a technician of the blank stare. It reminds you why New York City, something like the kingdom of chronic stress, has always treated Pacino as royalty.

with gene hackman in 'Scarecrow'Michael Corleone, the frozen-hearted heir to his father’s empire, is neurotically cool. Frank Serpico also. "Well, am I invited to the wedding?" Serpico asks when the woman he has been dating, fed up with his delays, threatens to marry another man. Lionel, on the other hand, the vulnerable drifter at the center of Scarecrow, is all nerves and nervous suffering, as are Arthur Kirkland of Justice and Sonny of Dog Day. Bobby, the protagonist of The Panic in Needle Park, is a composite, as scheming as he is pathetic.

Yet these characters who begin as orderly types end by disarraying them. If the heart, for the Pacino of this era, has always gone too hard or too soft, by the end of each movie it is strangely difficult to say which. Late in The Godfather: Part II, Michael Corleone realizes that his older brother, Fredo, has betrayed him. It is New Year’s Eve, 1958 and they are in Cuba. The country is Castro-stalked, coup-poised, decadent. The Corleones are watching a troupe of exotic dancers when Michael catches Fredo, who does not know his brother overhears him, in a lie.

Standing in an amphitheater, the two actors face the same direction, Pacino above and behind John Cazale; the camera faces them. As Fredo natters on to his pals, Michael staggers. He must choose between his brother and the family business. His eyes bulge, brim moistly, then go blank. It is a scene of exquisite contrasts — the nude dancers, off-camera but reflected in the lusting eyes of the audience; Fredo, fluent in his duties as party-host, oblivious of his fatal error; and Michael, never more in love with his brother than against the backdrop of the need to bump him off. For the knowledgeable viewer, the moment is additionally fraught with the imminent failure of the Batista government. "It's my favorite moment," Pacino told an interviewer, "but it's subtle."

on the set of The Godfather Part IIConfronted, Fredo bolts. He is not gone for good. Michael may be unmerciful, but he is not impatient, and eventually he tempts Fredo home with a promise of forgiveness. Forgiveness is fleeting. When Fredo goes fishing one evening, Michael has him murdered. As the fatal gunshot dwindles to silence in the blue-black void of the Nevada twilight, we see Michael brooding, slumped in the semi-dark, enthroned and alone.

When the movie came out Newsweek called it "arguably cinema’s greatest portrait ever of the hardening of a heart." But this is imprecise. Has the trauma of life really hardened Michael’s heart, or has it broken it down, pulped it? A harder heart — a greater gangster — would have dispatched the feckless Fredo without remorse; a softer heart — a greater man — would have spared him. Which shortcoming Michael regrets in himself is the mystery of the film.

ScarecrowSomething similar happens in Scarecrow, when Lionel’s estranged wife tells him she had a miscarriage after he left her (this is not true, a lie prompted by spite brought on by abandonment). Lionel receives this information in a phone booth, his eyes widening as if to accommodate the size of the bad news. Yet Lionel's gaping look of feeling will shortly become the mask of its absence. Soon after the conversation, Lionel goes into catatonic shock, where he stays for the rest of the film. Lionel’s expression — pop-eyed, blown apart with suffering — doesn't change.

Dog Day Afternoon

In Dog Day Afternoon, Sonny involves his friend Sal in a bank robbery to finance a sex-change operation for Sonny’s gay lover, Leon. The robbery immediately goes awry and the two robbers are trapped in the bank, obliged to take its employees hostage as insurance against the police massing outside. Sal is played, again, by John Cazale. (Pacino: "All I wanted to do was work with John for the rest of my life. He was my acting partner.") He is a sympathetic character, a nervous sweet fool hiding out behind a wafer-thin front of thuggishness. The smarter, more calculating Sonny is sympathetic in a different way. Yet Sonny is also irresolute, and as the standoff stretches on he may betray Sal to the FBI.

Sidney Lumet, the director, keeps it unclear; it is not even certain that Sonny himself knows what has happened. At the end, after Sal has been shot and Sonny arrested, Pacino’s face alternates looks of vacancy with looks of anguish. Sonny is a man of great, even spastic emotion, yet it is impossible to tell whether he is in the grip of remorse or resigned indifference.

Is an audience that reacts to tragedies of emotional confusion with confused emotions of its own also tragic? By the time John Cazale got shot, the woman beside me had nodded off. She may have been snoring; it may have been somebody else. I turned in my seat, disturbed but also restless, checking an impulse to check the time. Pacino did his brooding, pop-eyed, twitchy thing. When John Cazale got shot in Dog Day Afternoon, the woman beside me laughed. Others wept. Pacino did his thing again. Again, I turned in my seat. These are long movies.

The Godfather Part IIIt is not surprising that city-dwellers will be too stressed-out to absorb the moral of a movie, or movies, when this moral is that they are too stressed-out to absorb the moral of anything. Indeed, it is an unconscious tribute to the star of these films. At his best, Pacino embodies the inability of the way we feel to keep pace with the way we live, of the heart to bear up under the hassle of modern urban life.

with kitty winn in 'Panic' In The Panic in Needle Park, Pacino’s first major film, he plays Bobby, a raffish heroin addict who falls in love with Helen, a young artist. The two are as headlong in love as getting high, and the movie unfolds as both a scruffy romance and an ordeal of deepening addiction. (The panic of the title refers to a heroin drought.) First catching Helen’s eye in the hospital ward where she is recovering from an abortion (!), Bobby proceeds to seduce her, bed her, introduce her to heroin, and compel her into habit-sustaining prostitution. Unfathomably (and perhaps unfortunately), their love survives it all, even when Helen betrays Bobby to the fuzz and he goes to prison.

In the final scene of the movie, Helen waits for Bobby outside the prison where he has been incarcerated. Bobby is due for release, and when he emerges, cigarette in mouth, he is dumbfounded by Helen’s presence and stalks off angrily. But eventually — inexorably — he slows down, waiting for her. When Helen hesitates, Bobby snorts: "Well!"

Of course he is impatient. We, too, are impatient. The logic of the heart is beside the point when you have a city to get back to and a panic to beat, when you’re rushed and stressed. As Pacino himself has said, remembering Brecht, "People are strange, stinking animals."

James Camp is a contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in New York. This is his first appearance in these pages.

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