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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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Fifty Wishes

John LaRue over at TDYLF recently wrote a fun blog post called Fifty Wishes, which was just that: fifty things he wished for when it came to movies. I really like the idea, so I decided to steal swipe borrow it for a post of my own. Make sure to head over to John’s blog and read the original post as well, though; he’s a great writer.

There may be some mild spoilers for certain movies in this list, but I’ve done my best to limit it to things that are either fairly common knowledge or what can be reasonably expected. Still, if you don’t want to know how Rocky ends, proceed at own peril.

(I’d like to apologize preemptively for any grammar mistakes. I pride myself on having a good grasp of the English language for someone who doesn’t have it as his primary tongue. However, “wish” is a tricky thing grammatically, and while I have tried to look up what verb forms to use, I’ve probably messed up here and there anyway.)

1. I wish Shannyn Sossamon were a major star.

2. I wish David Fincher will find better use for his considerable talent than directing the sequels to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

3. I wish to someday get the chance to see the unreleased Glitterati.

4. I wish I had gotten interested in movies earlier.

5. I wish all films ever made were available through digital distribution all over the world.

6. I wish there were a wider range of theaters around where I live.

7. I wish the story in Nine were as good as some of the song numbers.

8. I wish more screenwriters had the level of imagination that Charlie Kaufman has.

9. I wish I “got” war movies and westerns.

10. I wish Julie Delpy‘s plans to stop acting don’t come into effect before there’s a sequel to Before Sunset.

11. I wish Amélie lives happily ever after.

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Posted by on 23 April, 2012 in Lists, Memes

 

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Which films of the 2000s will be remembered?

Which films of the last eleven years or so are the ones people will still talk about 20-30 years from now? I don’t just mean hardcore film buffs, because hardcore film buffs will take any excuse to talk about any movie. No, I mean the public at large. Which movies will be remembered and pop up in conversations even in the 2030s? Which films will be referenced? Which films will be the ones people know of even when they haven’t seen them?

This question is trickier than what it might seem at first glance. Any of us can rattle of a bunch of great films that have received critical approval and made good money at the box office. But consider movies of the 70s and 80s. How many are still talked about or remembered today? Not just by you and your circle of friends and acquintances, but the films that you could mention the title of to any random person on the street and they’d be able to tell you something about them. It’s probably not that many. I can think of a few. Jaws. Star Wars. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Karate Kid. Carrie. The Godfather. Back to the Future. The Terminator. The Exorcist. Nightmare on Elm Street. Rocky, though more the sequels than the original, probably. These are movies that have in one way or another entered the public consciousness.

Everyone knows what this is.

This question occurred to me during the last awards season, when I was looking up nominees for the acting Oscars through the years. What struck me was that while the name of the actors and actresses were familiar, the films they were nominated for didn’t ring any bells. And this wasn’t movies from ancient times or anything; just looking through the Best Actress nominations of the 1990s was enough to leave me confused. The End of the Affair? One True Thing? Afterglow? Marvin’s Room? Lorenzo’s Oil? What were all these films I’ve never heard of? In their respective years, there must have been lots of talk about and critical acclaim for them. But they haven’t stuck in people’s minds to any real degree. This caused me to realize that a similar fate would befall lots of the movies everyone was buzzing about at the time. As great as they are, who’s going to remember Winter’s Bone, 127 Hours or The Fighter 20 years from now?

So the question I ask is this: What films from 2000 to today do you think people at large will still mention or know of 25 years from now?

To me, the most obvious pick would be The Lord of the Rings. A massive undertaking that gave use three epic movies that will live on for a long time in people’s memories. Being based on well-known novels doesn’t hurt either as the films are far removed from them and doesn’t fall under their shadow. Compare this to Harry Potter. The films will live on, yes, but they arrived so close to the books that they won’t be standing on their own. The fact that the films haven’t had universal acclaim hurts their chances too.

But scoring big at the box office always helps. If the film made tons of money, it means lots of people went to see it. Avatar won’t be soon forgotten. It bested Titanic‘s money record (even if that’s likely to be toppled again as inflation continues) and also brought on the latest trend of 3D movies. We’re still feeling the effect that movie has had on the cinematic landscape. The Dark Knight is another big success story, though I think the love for it will morph into more of general adoration for Christopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy as a whole once The Dark Knight Rises arrives. And probably Pirates of the Caribbean too, largely thanks to Johnny Depp‘s memorable Captain Jack Sparrow. Characters like that don’t come around too often.

Pixar’s animated films will of course all be remembered. The kids who see them today will keep them with them and probably show them to their own kids in the future. Which ones will be the stand-outs? Hard to say, but I think Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3 will be the big ones. Will any animated films from other studios stick with us? I can’t see any that really will. Maybe How to Train Your Dragon or Kung Fu Panda, but even those seem iffy. How many non-Disney animated films from the 70s and 80s do people talk about today?

Comedies can have an easier time then other genres. As long as they manage one or two gags that become really memetic, they can be set for eternity. More than any other from this past decade, Borat will probably live on for a long time. Everyone was quoting it for a long time, it’s an unforgettable character and the film’s semi-documentary approach also helps to make it stand out. The films Judd Apatow has been involved in have dominated mainstream comedy during the brunt of the past years, and of these, I see Superbad being the one to stand the test of time. If mostly for McLovin.

Love it or hate it, the Saw franchise will live on too. A high concentration of movies (seven in as many years) that kicked off the whole “torture porn” genre, and yet they still have managed to remain uneclipsed and even unequalled by any of its followers in terms of mass appeal. And just because there wasn’t a new movie this year doesn’t mean there won’t be any attempted revivals somewhere down the line. Teens of the 00s will hold on to Saw the way teens of years past did to Friday the 13th and other slasher films.

What about Best Picture winners at the Oscars? They all enter the history books, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll be remembered for anything other than their victories. Mention some of the 80s winners like Ordinary People or Out of Africa to someone today and you might well be met with a blank stare. Of the winners during the aughts, it’s slim pickings. Gladiator seems the most likely one since it was such a big box office hit and spawned a short-lived resurgence of historical epics (Alexander, Troy et all). Apart from that and the aforementioned Return of the King, none of the others seem like they will really stick. Maybe The Departed? One non-winning nominee definitely will, though: Brokeback Mountain. People will always remember “that gay cowboy movie”.

Now it’s your turn. Which films from the 2000s (so far) do you think will be remembered?

 
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Posted by on 28 November, 2011 in Discussions

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2009

When I made my Top 10 of 2010 list a few weeks ago, there was a good reason for it. I had just watched Scott Pilgrim vs The World, which was the last of my major must-see films for the year. At that point, I felt confident in making a list I could get behind to an acceptable degree. So even though it came more than 8 months after 2010 ended, it felt warranted.

Justifying a Top Ten of 2009 list when we’re fast approaching 2012 is trickier. In fact, there’s always a certain degree of guilt involved in making any list. They’re “easy”, both to write and to digest. The blogging world is swamped by them. They’re not worthwhile content. Why rank movies at all? And so on and so forth. The reason for me doing this is that I think yearly top ten lists are a good way to get a feel for what a person’s taste in film looks like. When I come across a blog that’s been active for a few years, I often check to see if they have any lists of this sort. I enjoy seeing what people have picked, and sometimes I’ll get alerted to films I haven’t heard of before, or am pursuaded by someone’s enthusiasm to check out a movie I might have dismissed earlier. For me, reading them serves a purpose. And thus, me writing them might provide some of you similar benefits.

Since this blog isn’t very old, there hasn’t been time to provide any yearly lists like this. So I’m doing them retroactively, one year at a time, moving back through the years. I don’t intend to drown you in them, mind you. Maybe one every couple of weeks or so, when I feel like updates have been a bit slow and I can’t come up with anything more interesting to write about. Regardless, I hope you’ll enjoy them in one way or another.

So. 2009. Not my favorite year in terms of movies. Plenty of films “very good” but not “great”, a whole bunch of let-downs and a couple of real stinkers (supreme bore-fest 2012 and painfully unfunny Year One chiefs among them). The real highlights were scarce compared to other recent years. Nonetheless, the ten films listed below all endeared themselves to me in one way or another. I can look at this list and really like what I see.

This is 2009 strictly as listed on IMDB, by the way. And please do keep in mind that these are my favorite movies of the year and nothing more.

10 – THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE (Steven Soderbergh)

“If they wanted you to be yourself, they wouldn’t be paying you.”

This one I wrote about in my post on overlooked films of the 2000s. While it didn’t quite hold up to my first impressions when I rewatched it, it still remains a fascinating look at the life of an upscale call girl (played by porn star Sasha Grey) during the financial crisis of the late aughts. Steven Soderbergh, never one to settle for a defined personal style, here opts for a bare-bone realistic tone, with long static distant shots as if the camera is spying on the proceedings. Perhaps a bit too sterile for some, but I found The Girlfriend Experience very captivating. It’s one of my favorite Soderberghs. Bonus: Watch it with friends and giggle when one of them goes “Who is that actress? What else has she been in? I know I reognize her from somewhere!”

9 – AN EDUCATION (Lone Scherfig)

“It’s funny though, isn’t it? All that poetry and all those songs, about something that lasts no time at all.”

Every year, there seems to be one bright new young starlet who arrives on the scene from out of nowhere. In 2009, that actress was Carey Mulligan. She’s thoroughly convincing in the touching coming-of-age drama An Education, playing 16 year-old Jenny in 1960’s England, a girl tired of the world she’s in who finds herself whisked away to a life of romance and glamor by a charming stranger (Peter Sarsgaard). Not the most unique of stories, but one told exceedingly well. Also features a great supporting turn by Alfred Molina as Jenny’s father.

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Posted by on 28 September, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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