Rewind Review- Trucker (2008)

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Trucker is a film that knows that dialogue is precious and never wastes it. It is not afraid to leave the subtext as just that- subtext. Too many films feel the need to say what you’re already thinking, what you already know and fill in that blank for you when it’s not really necessary at all.

Written and directed by James Mottern it tells the tale of Diane (Michelle Monaghan) a woman who, as the title suggests, makes a living by driving a big rig. The curveball that comes into her life is that her ex-husband is dying and his wife Jenny (Joey Lauren Adams) can’t watch Diane’s estranged son (Jimmy Bennett) because her father is sick.

OK, so at this point you want to say “Stop, I’ve heard this one before” and you would be correct but the success of this film, like that of many films, is not necessarily in its originality because original concepts and stories are in short supply but in their execution. This story is executed quite well indeed.

The strength of this film, like any film which is about real people and real situations, should be in it its ensemble. Michelle Monaghan believed a lot in this project and wanted to flex her acting muscles which can be assumed by the fact that she signed on as a producer of this film. While always maintaining a consistent and true characterization she hit several different notes and her evolution from unwilling babysitter to mother was perfect, unspoken and like most things in reality not a steady upward climb as there are several missteps along the way. She has the looks and the ability to be an A-List leading lady.

When there is a mother-child team it needs to be a harmonious and comfortable fit for the actors engaged in the story or we as an audience will check out emotionally, even if intellectually we understand the plight; the connection needs to be made. For that connection to occur both actors need to be on equal footing and Jimmy Bennett is certainly that. Although this film has been in the can for a while this adds to a long and impressive string of performances that Jimmy Bennett has been putting together from projects as disparate as Asia Argento’s The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, one of the most psychologically effective and haunting movies of the decade to a blockbuster bit part like in Star Trek. His anger and rebellion at the beginning never feels petulant and whiny which shows that he was well-directed and at a young age has a good deal of natural talent.

The supporting cast is also worth mentioning: Joey Lauren Adams, who is best known for being Amy from Chasing Amy, who is very convincing as the woman stuck in the middle of all this family drama. Why she never had a career akin to Renee Zellweger’s is beyond me. Then there is Benjamin Bratt who played the sick father who is better than I’ve ever seen him in anything in this film. Him and his son share a very emotional scene which is the epitome of restraint on the part of both actors and it was great to watch. Nathan Fillion plays Runner the confidant and new father figure for Peter and was also very well-played and also a developed character of his own.

The film ends at the right time on a beautifully framed and orchestrated pull out, the pace is spot on and it never drags. It is always seeking to move forward and it never seeks answers but resolutions because that’s what we typically get in life: moving on, forgiveness, unspoken apologies and if you’re lucky a second chance.

8/10

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Review- Alabama Moon

Uriah Shelton, Jimmy Bennett and Gabriel Basso in Alabama Moon (Faulkner-McLean Entertainment)

Alabama Moon is a film whose road to distribution was a long and winding one. In fact, it’s eventual home video release (which is how I ended up seeing it) was delayed because it finally got a limited regional release in the Gulf states, mainly Alabama (naturally). It’s worth noting that this model is not unusual. The straight-to-video release isn’t as profitable as it once was, and for some reason just as maligned even in this Streaming Age, so limited releases will act as a springboard for DVD sales.

Alabama Moon tells the tale of young Moon Blake, a boy who is raised in the woods by an eccentric father who is wary of both modernity and the government. Very early on, and rendered rather dramatically, Moon loses his father and much of the film will deal with how Moon tries to cope on his own, while trying to avoid authorities like a bumbling quasi-humorous cop played by Clint Howard or the clutches of a reformatory.

The standout of the film is the performance of Jimmy Bennett, who plays Moon Blake. He was most recently JJ on No Ordinary Family but is perhaps known for playing young James T. Kirk in the Star Trek reboot. While Bennett has played in much grittier, darker and dramatic vehicles before such as Trucker and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things this may just be his best performance to date. This role demands a lot of him not just in terms of highly-charged emotional scenes but also some comedic timing is required and he needs to be a grounded normal-seeming character in the film’s goofier moments. As I tweeted immediately after watching it he basically makes it worth watching on his own and is “crazy good.”

There are other performances of note as well. Those deserving first mention are Moon’s friends played by Gabriel Basso and Uriah Shelton respectively. They play very different kinds of characters but are equally good foils because it never seems unnatural that Moon would befriend either because they both seem to reflect disparate aspects of his personality both a fighter and a quiet, solitary type.

The adult casting offers more mixed results. John Goodman’s character thankfully plays a more crucial role later in the film than it seems he will early on and is very well played. Then we come to the last key figure which is the police officer played by Clint Howard. Now merely casting Clint Howard, or that you can cast him in the part, is already an indication of how you intend to play a part. Howard can play a creepy menacing type but more often than not he’s goofy and here he’s like a mean-spirited Barney Fife only less competent.

It’s in that writing and casting decision where the die is cast that the tone of the film will be a balancing act between very serious drama in a coming-of-age vein and lighthearted borderline screwball comedy that must counterbalance one another. It is to this film’s credit that it manages to keep them both in check and make the film both light viewing and emotionally engaging at the same time and also some of that credit once again goes to the cast.

The film manages to deal with quite a few themes in a subtler than expected manner despite the variegated tone. One of the main ones being individuation from parents specifically that one can accept their parents’s faults, love them for who they are and learn from them but must eventually learn to see the the world, and interact with it, in their own way.

It may be easy to read this review and see why this film has fallen through the cracks as it’s not exactly the easiest to pigeonhole, however, I hope that in reading this review you have also found it is worth your time.

I was rather pleasantly surprised by this film and I’m very glad I tracked it down.

8/10

Review- Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan in Source Code (Summit Entertainment)

It’s not the easiest thing in the world to assess my feelings about Source Code and most of the reason why is that a lot of those feelings lie most definitely in an ambivalent place. There is surely plenty to like about it and some things to dislike and they are usually on very different ends of the spectrum such that the overall opinion lies somewhere in the middle with the elements of disparate quality pulling at you trying to make you lean one way or another. The bottom line is that this is a good film but there are a few concerns that keep it from getting any better than it is.

What deserves to be complimented first and foremost is the cast of the film. In particular the three main players: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga. The first of which is the most pleasant surprise of the film. Gyllenhaal, in my estimation, had been a member of a group of young leads around his age who in mind were/are infinitely vanilla. Not great, and not terrible but also not bringing anything to the table. There aren’t too many dynamic young actors that bring something new to the table every time out but here he breaks free from those shackles and really shows a lot, which is made even more impressive based on observations I will make later.

Michelle Monaghan, who I had previously became familiar with through, and honored her for, Trucker, is absolutely perfect in this part. When an actress is given the confine of having to play a character that you could fall in love with over and over again and you only have eight minutes in which to do it in, that’s a formidable task and she accomplishes it easily.

Last but not least is Vera Farmiga, who manages to pull out a very good performance despite the fact that her scenes and dialogue are often redundant, which speaks a little to the screenwriting issues found herein. She all too frequently has to battle Colter (Gyllenhaal) and tell him his questions are irrelevant. She needs to have a very thin facade which breaks down over several conversations, in certain regards she has a bigger hill to climb than Monaghan. However, she’s not even afforded the same flexibility of scenario that Monaghan gets.

One of the other major issues of the film is the handling of the Sci-Fi element itself. Science Fiction seems to break off into two distinct groups there is an assumptive brand wherein futuristic or improbable things are occurring naturally and unquestioned, like in Inception for example where the dream-sharing and serums are given or the didactic wherein in a simulacrum of the world we inhabit in the present day is shown to us and a curtain is pulled back to reveal a secret that is explained to the audience. This film chooses the latter path, which in my mind requires a bit more explanation.

This film waits to grant us answers, which is fine because it allows us to identify easily with the protagonist but when we learn about the Source Code program, what it is and how it functions there are still questions that come to mind.

The idea is original and intriguing but it leaves you wanting for a bit too much which in this case is a double-edged sword. Similarly there’s the Maguffin. Now, it’s not necessary that you know its a Maguffin going in, however, I got a little ahead of this film in this regard. Once you realize finding the bomber is not the point of the story it takes too long for the narrative to catch up and after so many episodes it becomes a slightly tiresome exercise. It’s as if the film gets foisted by its own petard because the sequences are too frequent and short to keep the suspense of the whodunit alive.

A good Maguffin is one that is enthralling though perhaps never resolved. The best example is in Psycho. I care about Marion Crane’s early decisions: Stay or go? Take the money or not? I’m also rapt by her trying to elude the authorities. In the end it doesn’t really matter but it’s riveting. Here it gets tired and you’re left waiting for the bigger story to take over.

This is all said to illustrate that this is a good film that could’ve been made much better. With how the film ends, in terms of narrative not handling, it is most definitely a good film. It is just one that mishandled a few key elements that would’ve made it great.

I do have an appreciation of what was accomplished and intended I just wish it could’ve been greater and that was within reach.

7/10