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Monthly Archives: October 2013

4 reasons why Crank is the best action movie of the 2000s

Bourne is too shaky, Avatar is gorgeous but narratively familiar, the Fast franchise can never quite shake its street racing roots, Minority Report is meh, most of the superhero movies all blend together, and Drive, while one hell of a film, is way too restrained for me to truly think of it as an action movie.

No, the real king of the 2000s is a film that rarely gets the full recognition it deserves: Crank. It’s written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, and stars Jason Statham as hitman Chev Chelios who after ruffling some feathers in the criminal underworld of L.A. gets injected with a lethal poison that will kill him if he doesn’t keep his adrenaline levels high. Essentially, it’s Statham in the role of the bus from Speed. The movie is a crazy ride that never takes itself seriously. It’s loud, mindless (not to be confused with stupid), preposterous, occasionally outrageous, and, above all else, pure fun. It’s a movie that fully accomplishes everything it sets out to do, and does so in style.

While there have been a fair share of truly great action movies so far this millennium – Inception, The Dark Knight, The Raid, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, to name a few – Crank is the best of them all. Here’s why.

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1. It actually delivers non-stop action.

So many movies are described as non-stop action, but few actually are. There are always lulls and breaks, dialogue-sections to enhance the plots of flesh out relationships between characters, or a myriad of other non-actiony things. Take Shoot ‘Em Up, for instance, a movie I tend to describe as “good, but why would I ever watch it when I could watch Crank instead?” It’s another mindless action flick with plenty of cool and outrageous amounts of gunplay going on, and yet it’s bogged down by stretches of plot that feel like padding. Shoot ‘Em Up has a humdrum story that adds nothing to the film and takes away from what you want to see, I.E. Clive Owen running, leaping and sliding around guns akimbo. Crank, however, is a different beast. Due to the premise of the poison being kept in check by adrenaline, there is an in-story need for the action to just keep rolling. Sure, there are some scenes focusing on dialogue here too, but they will generally be interrupted or interpunctuated by action, even if it’s just something minor like Chelios shoving his hand into a waffle iron to keep his heart going.

Of course, I’m not saying that story and dialogue are bad things. You get more invested when you care about what’s going on with the characters in a film, so they most certainly serve a purpose. Pacing is also a factor. As an example of this done right, there’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It has that long desert section in the middle that acts like a cooldown before the high-octane final act, and the film is better for it. But Crank’s non-stop approach works too, because it serves the particular story being told. And it makes no bones about it. When a film can’t even have establishing exposition without setting it during a high-speed car chase through a shopping mall, you know you’re in for something out of the ordinary.

Also: bonus points for Statham doing all of his own stunts.

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2. It has interesting dynamic between protagonist and antagonist.

Another unique thing about Crank is that it’s made clear from the first scene that the villain has essentially already won. Ricky Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo in a great turn) has injected Chelios with poison that will kill him. There is no cure. Chelios will die. It becomes a matter of just whether he can keep himself alive long enough to kill Verona before he goes down himself.

This opens up possibilities that the film takes full advantage of. In most action movie, you need to build up the bad guy as threat throughout the movie, to make you feel like the protagonist is in danger and might not make it. The antagonist has to be kept strong. He needs to always be one step ahead of the hero, whether in terms of brains, brawn, wit, or what have you.

In Crank, there is no such need, as the villain has already accomplished his goal. So Verona becomes an atypical action antagonist. Never during Crank is he seen as truly in command of the situation. He’s cocky and arrogant, but it’s clear that he’s just trying to overcompensate; in truth, he’s a small snivelling sycophant – more middle management than an actual crime lord – who has to rely on his stronger brother and his numerous henchmen to get anything done. He calls up Chelios on his cell phone just to taunt him, but all his threatening and gloating just gets brushed off by the snarky hero in hilarious fashion, causing Verona much frustration. He’s like an ineffective schoolyard bully who throws tantrums whenever he doesn’t get his way. Yet even this serves the movie, because even if we don’t perceive him as a continuous threat – the poison is the real danger in Crank, not Verona – he’s still such an annoying jerk that we can’t wait for Chelios to get his hands on him.

As for Chelios himself, well… He certainly doesn’t fit into the Bruce Willis Die Hard “vulnerable everyman hero” mold. Not at all. In fact, he’s quite unstoppable. If not for the poison, he’d be the archetypical invincible action man. Appearance-wise, he’s no Schwarzenegger-ish übermensch, but the attitude is certainly there. How much of it is based on desperation, though? He works successfully as a hitman, a job that would require a modicum of finesse and patience – qualities rarely on display from him in Crank. What we do see is him robbing a convenience store for copious amounts of energy drinks, riding a motorcycle while standing on it with no hands, and fleeing from a hospital in nothing but a patient’s gown. Is this desperation on display? Determination? The acts of a man with nothing left to lose? What would a prequel to Crank look like, with no threatening poison? This may be more pondering than what a movie like this should ever warrant.

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3. The presentation matches the content.

Crank is a highly stylized movie. While it has some aspects of action movies of days gone by that I dig, you’d never mistake it for anything but a product of the 2000s due to its visual style. When the plot of the film has the hero scrambling to keep his adrenaline running, the directing and editing becomes key. This is where Neveldine, Taylor, and editor Brian Berdan shine. Through liberal use of montages, quick-cuts, fast-forwarding, cut-aways, color filters and other tricks, we’re constantly in the same mind-state as the protagonist: that of a frantic pursuit. Thankfully, despite this, Crank never descends into shaky-cam hell. I loathe when you can’t make out what is actually happening on-screen in movies, and it’s something a great many post-Bourne action films falls prey to. But Crank knows that it’s an action movie, and it knows that the viewers want to see the action. So when shit goes down, it keeps things clear and in focus.

The soundtrack is also worthy of mention, as it adds a lot of variety to a film that could easily be seen as one-note. There are songs by Quiet Riot, The Crowd, Harry Nilsson, Jefferson Starship, NOFX and more on display here, all adding unique flavors to various parts of the movie.

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4. It’s really funny.

Chelios’ mildly annoyed look when an entire room of gangsters point their guns at him. Verona’s Seinfeldian telephone-slamming freakouts. Ditzy love interest Eve (Amy Smart) imploring Chelios to help her adjust the timer on her microwave oven. There’s a lot of humor crammed into Crank, and pretty much all of it works and suits the overall tone of the film. Statham in particular really has a lot of fun with his character, playing the sarcastic British badass to perfection. The sequel, Crank: High Voltage, did the slight mistake of upping the ridiculous comedy, which made for a movie that felt like it tried too hard to be silly. The original is more measured.

It’s all nicely integrated into the rest of the movie, too. Crank doesn’t have comic relief per se, because everything in the movie is equally ridiculous, so there’s nothing for it to relieve. It makes for a smooth viewing experience. Or at least as smooth as a high-strung film like this could ever be.

What do you think of Crank? And what is the best action movie of the 2000s? Comment below!

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Posted by on 22 October, 2013 in Misc.

 

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Flickcharting #2 – Rocking my Top 100

Time for more Flickcharting! For those still unfamiliar with the website Flickchart, here’s the gist of it: You’re presented with two random movies. Pick the one you like the most. Repeat until the end of time.

Last time I did this, I had Flickchart pick movies out of all the films I’ve seen. This time, I’m restricting the selections to the films currently in my top 100 on Flickchart – based on all my previous rankings. This should lead to harder decisions, as these 10 match-ups will all be between movies that I love.

Take it away, Flickchart!

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Black Swan vs Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia always deserves more love than it currently has. Always. It may be my favorite movie about childhood, and watching it is a wonderful experience. It’s so much better than what the misleading marketing made it seem. So it’s with heavy heart that I can’t give it the win here. Black Swan is such an intense film, and a terrific production in all regards, from the cinematography to the acting. The final scene always leaves me breathless.
Winner: Black Swan

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Best Worst Movie vs Take Shelter

There are plenty of things that I like about Best Worst Movie, the documentary on the notoriously bad Troll 2 and its cult following, but one part that really stood out to me was when they visited Margo Prey, who played the mother in Troll 2. At first, I just laughed at how out there she was, but gradually, that gave way to thoughts of “Wow, she’s really in a bad state.” It’s quite the shift from the generally humorous tone of the rest of the documentary. And then you have the scene at the convention, where both the Troll 2 people and the viewers come out of the bubble and are reminded that cult following is not the same thing as wide-spread fame. Two great documentary moments. Now, Take Shelter is a nuanced and engaging movie with a powerhouse performance by Michael Shannon, but I had fonder reactions to BWM.
Winner: Best Worst Movie

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The Wrestler vs Little Miss Sunshine

I’ve gone back and forth a bit on Darren Aronofsky‘s The Wrestler since its release. I loved it when I first saw it, but on a subsequent rewatch, I felt the story was a wee bit too familiar, and I docked it a point in my review of it. Since then, my appreciation for it has risen again, largely due to how cleverly it uses its pro wrestling subject matter to create a different vibe from most sports dramas. “Sports”-wise, it’s not about a guy proving that he’s better than others; it’s about a guy willingly putting his health at risk because it’s all he knows how to do. It’s a unique beast, that film. That said, there is nothing in the movie quite as great as the rollercoaster of emotions that is Little Miss Sunshine’s climax, and while Mickey Rourke‘s performance in The Wrestler is worthy of all the praise it has gotten, there is a lot of fun to be had in the many ways the members of Little Miss Sunshine’s ensemble cast interact with each other. Plus, I’m a sucker for comedies.
Winner: Little Miss Sunshine

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Hero vs Stranger Than Fiction

This is a case of where I appreciate the two films for very different things: Hero for its jaw dropping visuals and twisty Rashomon-esque storytelling, Stranger Than Fiction for its performances and quirky plot. Hero wins though, because it’s pretty much the most gorgeous-looking movie ever.
Winner: Hero

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Life of Pi vs Groundhog Day

Life of Pi was the first movie I ever paid to see more than once in theaters. Like Hero above, it’s a stunning achievement in visual splendor, and the story it tells is one I adore for many reasons. It is, however, sadly lacking in Bill Murray at his best and snarkiest. Groundhog Day also has quite the nostalgia factor for me, which proves to be too much for Life of Pi to overcome.
Winner: Groundhog Day

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The Rules of Attraction vs Requiem for a Dream

Flickchart is in an Aronofsky kind of mood today, it seems. Three films in six match-ups so far. Funny, that. Roger Avary’s The Rules of Attraction is a film I enjoy championing, because it rarely gets the credit it deserves – especially next to that other Bret Easton Ellis adaptation American Psycho. It’s great, wickedly funny, kind of alcoholic, and has some real teeth to it. If you haven’t seen it, you’d do well to check it out. Not that it’s better than Requiem for a Dream or anything, however. I saw Requiem early in my cinematic awakening, and it was a real eye-opener to me in terms of what was possible to achieve with directing and editing, not to ention the story that had me totally reeling. As an aside, it’s fun to note that the Victor segment of The Rules of Attraction owes a lot to Requiem’s hip hop montage editing style.
Winner: Requiem for a Dream

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The 40-Year-Old Virgin vs Lost in Translation

One of my Flickchart philosophies is that there should be no “automatic” wins. Just because I call Lost in Translation my favorite movie doesn’t mean that the match-up shouldn’t warrant full consideration (in fact, I never would have realized that it was my favorite movie if not for this philosophy, as described here.) So let’s look at the opposition here. The 40-Year-Old Virgin is pretty much the cream of the crop of the Judd Apatow brand of comedy. It’s hilarious, the cast is hitting on all cylinders, and there’s real affection for the main character and his plight. I’d call it one of the finest laugh-out-loud comedies of the 2000s. There. Case made. Lost in Translation is still better. Its meditative nature and profound tale still strikes all the right chords for me, and it keeps growing all the more relevant to me for every year as I traverse the age gap between Charlotte and Bob.
Winner: Lost in Translation

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High Fidelity vs The Ice Storm

Two movies about relationships here. Well, kind of. High Fidelity very much is, whereas The Ice Storm focuses more on a specific time and place (70s American suburbia) and the way people and families operated during this era. The Ice Storm is arguably the deeper of the two, and its approach to its themes is impressive considering that it’s directed by non-American Ang Lee. Even so, High Fidelity is a movie I find more relatable, and its blend of outright comedy and introspection is handled wonderfully. Having read Nick Hornby‘s source novel, I’m also in awe of what a skillful adaptation it is. Oh, and it has Jack Black‘s best performance ever.
Winner: High Fidelity

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Man on the Moon vs Forrest Gump

Oh, this is a tough one. My gut reaction is to go with Forrest Gump due to its emotional and touching story, but the more I think about it, the more I lean towards the Andy Kaufman biopic. It’s the one movie where I can actually forget that I’m watching Jim Carrey, as he does a great job of inhabiting the Kaufman character. Compare this to Forrest Gump, which is more a case of “Tom Hanks is sure acting the hell out of this movie.”
Winner: Man on the Moon

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The Woodsman vs American Beauty

Remember how I said that Lost in Translation is the movie I tend to call my favorite? Well, that used to be American Beauty, which to this day holds a special place in my heart. The Woodsman, on the other hand, is the film that made me a certified Kevin Bacon fan through his stunning performance as Walter. Both movies deal with the touchy subject matter of adult men lusting after younger girls, with The Woodsman fully focused on this whereas American Beauty has this as just one aspect of main character Lester’s mid-life crisis – and said crisis is still just one part of everything 1999’s Best Picture winner deals with. This thematic multitasking is part of what I like so much about it. The Woodsman is a more harrowing film, and certainly the more fearless one, but superior to American Beauty it is not.
Winner: American Beauty

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

 
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Posted by on 4 October, 2013 in Flickcharting, Misc.

 

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Monthly Report: August + September 2013

August was a busy month with work, so there was little time for movies, hence the lack of an August report. Here’s another double-monther to compensate.

Trance (Danny Boyle, 2013)
Cool and twisty thriller, presented with all the flash and flair we’ve come to expect from Mr. Boyle. In fact, this might be my favorite film of his since Trainspotting. Maybe. Okay, probably not. But it’s up there with Sunshine.
4/5

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (Julien Nitzberg, 2009)
A freak show kind of documentary with little intent other than to show off one train wreck of a redneck family. It’s lazy, mean, and a bit too long for its own good, but I won’t deny that it’s reasonably amusing for the most part.
3/5

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World War Z (Marc Forster, 2013)
Started out as a War of the Worlds-ish family survival action movie, only to settle into more familiar zombie flick territory as it went along. Most of it works just fine; there’s nothing extraordinary about anything going on, but nothing offensively bad either. I’m not sure the film needed both the Korea and Israel sections, as it felt like they were just trying to cram as much of the world into the film as possible. The characters just went along from one location to the next without much flow to the story. Overall though, I was fairly entertained.
3/5

Butter (Jim Field Smith, 2011)
Clunky story that tries to meld feel-good comedy with an underscore of political satire to limited success. Hugh Jackman earns a few snickers, but other than that, there’s not a whole lot of laughter on offer in this one.
2/5

Flirting with Disaster (David O. Russell, 1996)
The rare comedy where all the characters are funny in their own ways. Plenty of laughs to be had here.
4/5

Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols, 2007)
So restrained it becomes nothing at all. The ending was handled nicely, but for the most part, this was quite the yawner, and very much a disappointment when compared to Take Shelter.
2/5

Lifes-What-Ifs

Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013)
To say that I have been looking forward to this one would be an understatement. My initial reaction is that it’s a very good film, but the shift in tone from Before Sunrise and Before Sunset threw me for a loop, and I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, the new more bitter taste feels like a realistic evolution of the relationship between Jesse and Celine. On the other hand, I’m not sure that’s what I would have really wanted to see – though since when has “it should be more feel-good” been valid criticism? A film is what it is, and should probably be judged as such. I could see myself coming around to this one after some more time to process it. It does have the same qualities as the two previous films in the series, in that the fine writing and the wonderful acting from Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke makes it a joy to listen to these characters talk for 100-ish minutes.
4/5

Nick of Time (John Badham, 1995)
Sometimes, you look at the cast list of a film and are immediately intrigued. Johnny Depp and Christopher Walken is one such combination of actors that easily sparks my interest. Unfortunately, Sleepy Hollow this ain’t. As great actors as the two are, they can’t lift this one above the level of run-of-the-mill thriller.
2/5

Total # of new films seen: 8
Average score: 3.0 / 5
Best film of the months: Trance
Worst film of the months: Shotgun Stories

 
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Posted by on 3 October, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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