Thursday, July 15, 2010

Trucker (2008)

Trucker opens with the sounds of sex.  The camera eventually reveals the sex to be between Diane (Michelle Monaghan)  and Joey Lawrence's brother.  The sex is taking place in a seedy hotel room.  It was possibly pre-arranged, maybe even paid for.  Diane certainly wants to keep it anonymous.  As soon as it's over she splashes some water on her face and leaves the room after rebuking the kid's request to stay in touch via email.  The camera follows her as she crosses a parking lot. She then gets into a big rig and hauls it out of there.  Whoaaaa (as Joey might say), this broads a trucker.  Pretty hot.  The title now makes sense.

is one of those indie dramas that I don't review (or watch) that often.  It's a simple story about a woman truck driver who is reunited with her estranged son who she hasn't seen since he was a baby (he's now 11).   The boy's father (Benjamin Bratt) is in the hospital with colon cancer and the stepmother (Joey Lauren Adams) has to attend to her own ailing father.  Diane's their last option.  Reluctantly, she takes the kid.  The kid ain't too happy about it either.

You see, Diane is one of those independent type women.  This kid's gonna cramp her style.  All she wants to do in life is drive her rig (which she proudly owns) and get drunk with her good buddy Runner (Nathan Fillion).  There's no room in there for a kid.  Meanwhile, the kid just wants to be back with his daddy who is a pretty great daddy in the opinion of the kid.  He takes care of him, pays attention to him, plays games with him, and puts food on the table for him.  Diane isn't really willing to do any of those things.  Will she come to love the little guy?  Will he love her back? 

Basically, what we got here is a story not unlike more popular shit like The Wrestler or Crazy/Heart only the central character is just a regular Joe (or Joan) and not some former celebrity trying to reclaim past glory.  Diane's a truck driver.  That's pretty much all she wants to do.  In that regard I guess it makes sense that they got the blue collar Michelle Monaghan to play the part.  Although, if Charlize Theron or Sandra Bullock had taken it they'd probably have another Oscar on their mantle.  Monaghan just doesn't come with the same name recognition which is a shame since she does great work here.  The script is a little on the predictable side.  She and her kid don't get along.  Then all of a sudden they do get along just in time for the reveal that they're going to have to spend a lot more time together than originally planned.  Commence the tugging of heart strings.

My favorite part of the picture was when Diane has to take the kid on the road with her.  She gets tired and pulls off to the side of the road.  Kid is like "what the fuck are you doing?"  She tells him to get in the back of the cab, shut up, and go to sleep.  Kid's like "I don't think so....we're going to a hotel".  Cut to them walking into a hotel room.  Later, the kid gets pushed down by a couple of punks while trying to buy a toothbrush.  Diane runs out in a skimpy tee shirt and panties and kicks their asses.  There's more bonding like this throughout the movie as the two come to realize just how alike they are.  They play baseball together, kid hits some guy with a bat that may have been thinking about assaulting Diane, breakfast burritos with Fillion, etc.

Overall, I give this a plus rating.  Sometimes I just want to watch a little of the ol' slice of life type shit.  The supporting cast is good.  Nathan Fillion plays a guy whose wife is apparently cheating on him with some asshole but that's ok cause he's in love with Diane anyway.  Fillion's acting range lies somewhere between puppy dog nice and slightly older dog nice, but he's great within that range.  Bratt is good in his limited screentime, another nice guy.  And whoever played the kid isn't bad either.  Not too annoying.  Anyway, this is one of the better trucker type movies out there.  It could have used an orangutan but that's a nitpick.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Predators (2010)

Predators is to Aliens as is Predator is to Alien.  Did I get that right?  It's been a long time since I've had to worry about analogies.  Predators pretends that the other Predator sequels (Predator 2, and especially Alien versus Predator I & II) never existed.  This is the first picture in the series that feels like the first Predator.  Actually, if you take away the alien (or predator, if you're confused) setting (which greatly resembles the Guatemalen jungles anyway), it's pretty much the same damned movie.  Throw that analogy above right the fuck out.  Still, plenty of good fun to be had here.

Predators opens abruptly.  With Adrien Brody being jolted awake by the fact that he is plumetting from the sky towards a jungle landscape thousands of feet below.  He lands with a thud, seconds after his shoot finally opens.  He has no idea where he is or how he got where he is.   A few feet away, lands Danny Trejo with a couple of uzis at his disposal.  Brody's got a rifle.  Some crazy Russian bastard who landed a bit further away starts shooting at them with the same gun Jesse Ventura used in the first picture, you know, the "big fucking gun" (to quote The Rock in Doom).  Brody, obviously some sort of skilled survivalist type, easily flanks the Russian and gets him to calm down.  Others fall from the sky:  We got a female sniper (and potential love interest for Brody), a guy that fought in the Sierra Leone, that guy that was in "The Shield" as a death row inmate/rapist/comic relief, a Samurai Yakuza, and Topher Grace, from "That 70s show" as a doctor who seemingly doesn't belong in this situation.

If this had been the first picture in the series I might have been intrigued by the opening in an "Outer Limits" sort of way.   Why are they here?  Who, or what, brought them here?  What do they all have in common?  The characters even have some fun with their plight wondering in a Lost-ian sort of way if, perhaps, they're all dead.  Too bad we know from the trailers and also the title that they were brought here by a bunch of predators for the simple joy of being hunted and killed in horrible ways.  Also, Brody calls it a "gaming preserve" in the trailer, which doesn't make much sense since there ain't much preserving of game in this thing.  Point is, lots of spoilage before I even saw the damned thing.

So, the characters spend a lot of time walking around a jungle.  The sniper, who I mentioned is a broad, analyzes the terrain, and the topography, and has no idea what jungle they're in.  It's not Africa, or Asia,  "I guess it could be the Amazon", but she doesn't sound convinced.  Then they wander onto a cliff and notice the giant moon and also the fact that there are multiple giant moons.  If this doesn't convince them they're fucked maybe the alien dogs with large protruding spikes on their faces will.

Other than the dogs, another alien that runs on two feet, Laurence Fishburne as a guy who has lived through "ten seasons", and the fact that they are being hunted by three predators instead of one, this is practically the same picture as the first one.  Brody makes a serviceable action hero.  He's bulked up considerably but remains wire-y in contrast to Arnold's bulkiness.  He's a highly intelligent bad ass.  One other difference is that he doesn't smoke cigars like Arnold did.  I'm sure there were others.  The girl sniper reminds us of the girl from the first one.  I thought she was her daughter or something but they didn't go there so ignore this sentence.  The guy from Sierra Leone looks like a nicer version of Bill Duke's character from the first one and is also the first to notice the predator looking down at them from the treetops and to be seen in predator-vision (just like Dukes).  Topher Grace is the seemingly weak, yet slightly smarter, version of the Shane Black character.  Slightly smarter until the part where he wanders off from the group and gets someone killed.  I guess that makes the Russian this picture's version of Jesse "I ain't got time to bleed" Ventura.  They're nothing alike except that they carry the same type of gun.  The Yakuza would be this picture's version of Sonny Landham.  They're both quiet, spiritual, and with a strict honor code that doesn't allow them to flee during a key moment.  I can't remember if Landham walked around the jungle barefoot or not.

I guess there is no Carl Weather's character in this one unless we want to say the rapist character would be his stand-in but I'm not gonna do that to Carl Weathers even if his Dillon was an asshole.

So, these characters wander around, set up defensive perimeters, and fight a predator, just like the first one.  Ok, they fight three predators, hence the title.  And, a forth predator even factors into this one but they don't fight him. Lots of predator-vision which had higher resolution than the predator-vision in the first one.  Not as pixellated, so good for the predators.  They've advanced.  Anyway, over the course of the picture they find cages which had also parachuted down to the planet.  What was in the cages?  Other prey, perhaps.

Eventually, the picture goes on a slightly weird tangent when they encounter Laurence Fishburne who has managed to survive a long time.  He even killed a few predators, and stole some cloaking armor.  He takes them back to an old crusty grounded spaceship where he's been hiding.  He's also a schizophrenic which makes you wonder how he could possibly have lasted this long.  He doesn't last much longer.

The picture's not unique but it manages to move itself along well enough.  The rapist has a funny speech about what he's gonna do if he ever makes it home (hint:  The Accused) and Topher has an equally funny reaction to that speech.  There's some gore in this thing.  One guy has his spine ripped out from the base with his head still attached.  One guy is blown up by one of those predator tracking energy beam things which doesn't exactly mesh with what happens when you get shot by one of those predator tracking energy beam things in the first one.  Then again, these predators are constantly advancing.  Their advancement might be the point of this whole hunting exercise, you might say.

The terrain of this world makes little sense.  Start in the jungle, walk a mile and you're on rocky terrain.  Walk another mile and you're in a field that might be a great place for a Samurai duel (spoiler).  The director is the superbly named Nimrod Antal who also made the adequately entertaining Armored (also with Laurence Fishburne).  The score contains plenty of notes from the original, not quite iconic, score. 

The finale involves a betrayal, an unexpected alliance, paralyzing neurotoxins, a blown up predator space ship, redeeming shots from a sniper rifle, serial killer shenanigans, beheadings, and etc.  Also, we got a mud covered Adrien Brody going man-o y predator-o with a predator.  I have to wonder though.  Do these predators know we are calling them predators?  What would they prefer to be called?  I mean, we are lumping them in with Lions, bears, snakes, and such.  Not very original.  And one more thought.  If they let the pianist manhandle them too badly should we even be calling them predators in the first place?  Despite these questions (and a few more) this was an enjoyable romp through a world of predators and others that may or may not beat them up.

Two Minute Warning (1976)

I couldn't figure out if Two Minute Warning was attempting to be an important film about the randomness of violence or if it was trying to be a fun, big budgeted 70s disaster type movie.  You know, like The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, or The Poseidon Adventure.  In the end, I sided with the latter perspective and just embraced the picture for it's non politically correct values as well as it's...well...random acts of violence.

What we got here is a picture about an all star cast converging at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Super Bowl where they are targeted (or not targeted with the violence being random and all) by some crazy guy with a sniper's rifle who has dug in at the top of a tower right above the scoreboard.  We know what this guy is capable of since as the picture opens we see his point of view (through a sniper's scope) as he blows away an innocent bike rider from his hotel window.  The guy quickly packs up his things, disassembling his rifle and putting its various parts in varying compartments in his jacket, and leaves, not forgetting to check out.  We never see his face.  In fact, we don't see the guy's face until the very end but we are constantly treated to his perspective.  This guy is like the giant wave, or the earthquake, or the meteor from all those other 70s movies I referenced earlier.  Or, like the swarm of killer bees.  It doesn't matter what his motive is.  He  probably doesn't have one.  He exists and he's gonna cause a massive panic and probably take some lives in the process.  The only difference being he's human (he might as well not be) so we infer he's stoppable.

Just like every other big disaster movie from the 70s this picture features an all star cast.  We got Charlton Heston and Martin Balsam as a couple of detectives.  We got John Cassavetes as the leader of the SWAT team.  We got a very young and, relatively thin, Beau Bridges as a father that beats his kid.  Jack Klugman (Quincy M.D.) plays a degenerate gambler.  David Jannsen (the fugitive) and Gena Rowlands play a bickering married couple.  Walter Pidgeon is a pickpocket.  Some guy plays a catholic priest, there's another young couple, a guy in charge of maintenance at the stadium, etc.  Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford, and Dick Enberg appear as themselves.  The president (I believe it was an actor, not the real thing) appears in his motorcade on the way to the game.  There's footage of a real football game but it was just a college game so it's not easy for us to buy them as genuine professionals.  Ah, who am I kidding?  I bought it.

We're introduced to the cast in separate stories as they make their way to the game.  Their stories, for the most part, don't intersect although the gambler and the priest end up sitting next to each other at the game.  A few of the stories are actually somewhat compelling if entirely generic.  The gamber, as played by Klugman, is a nastily funny man who is shown being dangled from his ankles outside of a high rise building due to his inability to make good on his excessive gambling debts.  He's got one chance to make it to tomorrow alive.  Hint:  that one chance involves the Super Bowl and more gambling.  The priest is shown checking his watch as he gives his sermon.  Beau Bridges is shown smacking his kid at the ticket booth.  There are other characters in here as well (see my list above) doing stuff before they get to the big game.

Then there's the sniper who puts on his rifle concealing jacket, buys a ticket (same day since the Super Bowl must not of been popular in those days), walks into the stadium, up some stairs, picks a lock, feeds a couple guard dogs some steak, and climbs up to the top of the tower so he can wait for the perfect moment to strike.  The early parts of the picture were treated not unlike a slasher movie where we see things from the killer's perspective never even catching a glimpse of his identity.  The closest we get is when we see him climbing the tower ladder from a distance.

I won't spoil what happens except to say that not much happens (outside of the game) for most of the picture.  It's a bit of a slow burn although I can't say it ever got boring.  It's very 70s in that it meanders a bit, plods along, takes its time, etc.  Hell, the sniper is spotted during halftime but the cops don't do anything about it for fear of causing a panic.  The maintenance guy attempts to take the law into his own hands and get's butted in the head with a rifle and pushed off the tower to his death for his troubles.  At one point, we see the sniper time his shot to match up with the shot from a referees pistol but we never see if he shot anyone or not.  Also, don't think referees use pistols anymore precisely for the reason that some insane sniper might be waiting to time his killshot to match the referee's shot.  Anyway, the last twenty to twenty five minutes of this thing are gloriously glorious mayhem.

Roger Ebert reviewed this picture back when it came out and gave it one star claiming:

"The movie tells us nothing at all about the gunman. But it takes great pains to establish other characters who are in the movie for a dreadfully simple reason: One by one, they will be shot. The clue is in the decision to keep the gunman anonymous. The movie's totally uninterested in the reasons behind his action; he's necessary only as an agent of violence, so we can be entertained by his victims. I found that disturbing."

I don't entirely disagree.  At the same time, lighten up young Ebert!  Had this been a low budget schlocker with a no-name cast I wonder what his reaction would have been?  Well, I'm sure it would have been the same because Roger Ebert seems like a man of principle.  He tends to stick to his guns and I respect that about him.  Hell, maybe it is reprehensible that they would make a fun movie about an anonymous sniper picking off people at the Super Bowl.  It's almost too prescient.  A bombed out blimp flying into the superdome is one thing but a sniper (think Charles Whitman or later, John Allan Muhammad) hits a little bit close to home.  Basically, what he got here is a slasher movie with a giant cast and a large budget.  Ultimately, when the slasher is gunned down, we get no real satisfaction since the guy was just a device.  He was the meteor, the earthquake, the raging inferno, the big wave.  He wasn't a person.  He doesn't necessarily need a motive, but he needs a face, a personality.   It's almost like remaking Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer as something fun.  The filmmakers attempt to tack on some deeper meaning to the preceedings when Balsam and Heston, standing over the dead killer try to make sense of it all saying something along the lines of "we have no idea who he is, but in the next few days we'll learn a whole hell of a lot" (commenting on the media or some shit).  Whatever.

Shit man, I lost my train of thought.  I didn't mean to make it sound like I didn't enjoy this thing because I did.  I enjoyed the hell out of it.  The shit involving whether or not to evacuate the coliseum or sending in the SWAT team was some good shit.  When the shooting starts, this shit gets visceral.  I'll close by saying that Two Minute Warning may or may not be morally reprehensible but in the end it's a gamer and lots of gamers have loose morals.