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Review: Running Scared

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What would you do if I told you a Paul Walker vehicle might actually blow your mind? Yeah, I laughed, too. But Wayne Kramer’s crazed action thriller Running Scared might be the first real surprise of the year — whether it’s a great one or a nasty one will depend on the individual viewer. Either way, it’s a frantic, furiously violent melodrama that takes as much glee in flying brain matter as it does in loopy plot points: A small-time hood (Walker) gets handed a gun used in a brutal police killing; the weapon somehow lands in the hands of his ten-year-old son’s best friend and next-door neighbor, who uses it to plug his zonked-out, abusive meth addict of a stepdad. Turns out this victim is related to a Russian mob boss who is a business associate of our hero’s gangland overlord. If the cops find the gun, it could bring everyone down. Now Walker has to find the kid and get his weapon back. But not before the body count multiplies, of course. Oh yes, to quote another cult flick, there will be blood.
    So, how does one justify such a shocking rollercoaster of gore and grit? With some difficulty, actually. No doubt many viewers will simply be appalled: Kramer’s film has none of the precision of the similarly twisty Pulp Fiction, or the grace of Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog, of which it seems to be partly a remake. Heck, it doesn’t even have the confident pyrotechnics of one of Tony Scott’s better flicks, like Enemy of the State or . . . well, Enemy of the State. But it does possess a certain breathless conviction, which has its own charm. Running Scared is less an action movie than a blood-soaked fairy tale — at one point, you’ll swear you saw monsters — and Kramer, who won lots of praise for the blandly glossy The Cooler, breaks the knob on the style-meter here. The result is a movie that embraces the rollicking surrealism of its cracked-out storyline. Just leave the squeamish at home. — Bilge Ebiri

Review: Trudell
Is a documentary so wide-eyed and adoring of its subject really a documentary? And more importantly, does it really matter? Heather Rae’s Trudell is no doubt a labor of love; the director reportedly spent a dozen years documenting the life of the notable and controversial Native American activist, poet, musician, and actor. The hard work shows: Trudell himself, seen both in archival footage and contemporary interviews, makes for an engaging guide, and the sensitivity with which the film portrays his life — right down to the suspicious 1979 fire that claimed his family — is commendable. Even the obligatory psychedelic montages (mountains, clouds, changing film stock, etc.) feel more thought-out than they usually do in films of this sort. For anyone unfamiliar with Trudell’s work, it’s hard not to recommend this film.
    But where does one draw the line between biography and hagiography? One could argue that activists like Trudell have been demonized so much that it’s pointless to give voice to their opposition — after all, the other side has the mainstream media and the government doing its work for them. But Trudell is hardly a cuddly figure: He first gained notoriety during the tribal occupation of Alcatraz in 1969, and his opinions on everything from the U.S. government to Christopher Columbus are still controversial. As a result, Rae’s film, on some level, does a disservice to Trudell himself: A figure so outspoken and astute needs real opponents, not phantoms and straw men. — Bilge Ebiri
Date DVD : Weather Man
This weekend, you could rent Domino, but you’d have a better time slicing the DVD into slivers and pushing each one into your eyes. Tony Scott’s terrible film about a fashion-model bounty hunter is one of those disasters that justifies all that talk about Hollywood execs being inept, soulless monsters. Instead, check out Weather Man, which is not an extraordinary Hollywood film but at least isn’t that damn awful. Nicolas Cage plays the title character, a Chicago blue-screen master who dreams of a gig on national television. His family is falling apart even as his career is taking off, and strangers keep throwing chicken nuggets and slushies at him. These silly little sequences — and a subplot in which Cage develops an obsession with archery — are a bit gimmicky, but they sweeten some otherwise grim and provocative commentary on American men. Director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) self-consciously develops Cage as a kind of empty everyman: a guy who gets paid obscene amounts of money to read a few words off a teleprompter and point at a map for a few minutes each day. Verbinski tosses out some overdone symbolism and some questions he never gets around to answering, but he succeeds by taking that classic line about men leading quiet lives of desperation and applying it to a guy who lives in the B-list limelight. It’s as if Al Roker were starring in a film by Arthur Miller — and an unusually thoughtful movie like this can give you some hope for life after Domino. — Logan Hill

   

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