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Monthly Report: December 2013

One last Monthly Report to fill out the last bit of 2013. A solid group of movies of different types, with both some strong showings and some disappointments. As usual.

I’m hoping to get my annual year end awards post up within the next few days, so if you’re waiting for that one, just hold on for a little bit longer.

Happy new year, by the way!

Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012)
Few people can make movies that are as great to just listen to as Baumbach does. Frances Ha is no exception. More grounded and “real” than his usual collections of strange characters, this is a fun look into the life of a woman struggling to fit into her own idea of life. Greta Gerwig is great in the lead, while the script is smart and oddly touching.
4/5

One Last Thing (Alex Steyermark, 2005)
A teenager with cancer tries to get a date with a supermodel he fancies before he dies. This is a frustrating movie. The tone set by the awful poster is not indicative of what the film tries to be. The beginning is promising, as I found myself thinking “Oh, this is one of those movies that’ll be smarter than what it looks like at first glance.” It isn’t, though it certainly tries to be. It’s just kind of poorly put together. The actors do decent enough work – I particularly enjoyed Cynthia Nixon‘s turn as the mother – but there’s not enough time for the characters to get fleshed out enough for what the story tries to pull off with them. The film takes narrative shortcuts, skipping scenes that, while not crucial to understand what’s going on, are necessary from an emotional standpoint. There’s too much half-baked focus on religion and spirituality, and the climax just felt messed up to me. I wanted to like this film, but there’s too much getting in the way.
2/5

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Trust (David Schwimmer, 2010)
I wonder why this didn’t garner more Oscar attention for its actors, as it’s exactly the kind of “big” acting AMPAS usually loves. Just the wrong time and place, I suppose. The main trio (Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, and Liana Liberato) are all great, and the film has its emotional priorities straight. An interesting look at both how a young girl copes with sexual assault, and how her parents react. Strong movie.
4/5

Miss Representation (Jennifer Siebel Newsom & Kimberlee Acquaro, 2011)
This is a documentary everyone ought to watch. It’s not perfect by any means – tons of talking heads, some repetition, more of a light-shiner than a solution-finder – but the subject of female representation in media is a vital one that more people need to get into. And this is a good movie, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been thinking and reading about things like this for a while now, and this film still had a good deal of new insight in store for me.
4/5

Ghostbusters II (Ivan Reitman, 1989)
Strictly speaking not a new watch, as I have seen it one a great many years ago. I didn’t remember much of anything about it though, so whatever. It’s easy to come down hard on this one due to the existance of the original Ghostbusters. The first one is indeed superior in every imaginable way, mostly thanks to sharper dialogue and that whole “originality” thing. The sequel doesn’t bring much new stuff to the table, but it does have its moments, and Bill Murray as Peter Venkman remains a very fun character. It makes the passing grade – if not by a huge margin – but there’s no reason to watch it when you could be watching the 1984 movie.
3/5

(A)sexual (Angela Tucker, 2011)
Solid doc on asexuality, a subject which I knew very little about before seeing this film, learned a lot about through seeing it, but was left with a lot of questions afterwards. The movie is short, clocking in at 75 minutes, and I feel like they could have gone deeper without sacrificing pacing. Some of the stuff that was included felt a bit fuzzy too, like the whole “multiple quasi-romantic relationships” thing. Still, a movie that lets me learn new stuff, and does so in a well put-together manner, deserves credit.
3/5

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His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
The rapid fire dialogue took some getting used to, but this turned out to be a really funny movie with a bit of an edge to it. I wouldn’t mind watching more stuff like this.
4/5

Our Idiot Brother (Jesse Peretz, 2011)
Obvious but harmless.
3/5

Inseparable (Dayyan Eng, 2011)
Chinese movie in which a guy attempts suicide, only to get interrupted by a strange dude (played by Kevin Spacey, intriguingly enough) who tries to get his life back on track. Naturally, this involves becoming a superhero. There’s a bit more to this story that what first meets the eye, but while it’s all handled fairly well, there’s little here that hasn’t been done before in films like Defendor, Special and Kick-Ass. The addition of Spacey to the otherwise largely Chinese cast is ultimately more of a distraction than anything, even though he of course puts in a fine performance.
3/5

Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, 2012)
Wheatley’s follow-up to the intriguingly baffling Kill List offers a similar sense of bizarre and Britishness, but blends it with some down-to-earth comedy. The thick mood is still present too, offering a sense of things just being really off. It’s the stand-out quality of the film, but the acting is nothing to scoff at either. Wheatley makes films like few others.
4/5

Paradise: Love (Ulrich Seidl, 2012)
Middle age woman goes on vacation to Kenya hoping to find a man, at least for a night or two. The subject matter is of course uncomfortable, so this is not what you’d call an enjoyabe viewing experience. The film does get its points across though, and the acting is solid. Very European.
3/5

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Upstream Color (Shane Carruth, 2013)
The man who brought Primer to the world returns with an equally confusing but far less entertaining film. I have no idea what this one was even about, and I couldn’t wait for the credits to start rolling. The sound was good though, I’ll give it that.
1/5

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Peter Jackson, 2013)
It looks good, and there are enough cool action scenes to bring the score up to a passing grade. You pretty much know what you’re getting yourself into with a film like this. But man, this trilogy is really starting to run out of steam. Stretching out the relatively modest-length novel to three movies was worrisome enough, but then they have to stretch out each individual installment too just to make it “epic”, and it’s beginning to show some tearing. There is quite a bit of padding, many scenes just run way too long, and the flow of the story is bumpy indeed. At this rate, I’m not even sure I’ll be going to see the closing chapter next year. Also, fuck Legolas.
3/5

Total # of new films seen: 13
Average score: 3.2 / 5
Best film of the month: Frances Ha
Worst film of the month: Upstream Color

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Posted by on 2 January, 2014 in Monthly Report

 

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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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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2004

Where my 2006 list featured lots of comedies and my 2005 one had a disproportionately high number of documentaries, this one doesn’t really feature any remarkable trends. Indeed, as great as all the films on this list are, perhaps the most noteworthy thing about these ten is what a homogeneous collection it is. All of them are fictional movies, and they could all be said to be American (though three are by directors from other countries, and a fourth takes place solely in Europe). As I’ve said before, I make no concious effort to either infuse or stamp out variety in these lists of mine. It just so happens that my favorite films of 2004 just happen to be these ones. And there is at least genre diversity within the specific subgroup here, with drama, comedy, action, animation and romance all getting their time in the spotlight.

As usual, this is 2004 strictly as listed on IMDB (which is the reason why there can be two Best Picture Oscar winners on here). And it’s merely a list of my favorite films, and nothing more than that.

10 – THE INCREDIBLES (Brad Bird)

” ‘Greater good’? I am your wife! I’m the greatest good you are ever gonna get!”

This is my favorite Pixar film, and a large part of it is due to its relatable characters. Sure, the family of superheroes all have their superpowers, but their problems are all human and recognizable, from Mr. Incredible’s longing for his old glory days in the spotlight to his shy daughter Violet’s feelings of inadequacy. Having a bunch of cool action sequences helps too, of course.

9 – CRASH (Paul Haggis)

“That’s good. A little anger. It’s a bit late, but it’s nice to see.”

Some love it, some hate it. I’m among the former. Crash‘s strength doesn’t lie in what it has to say about racism (someone in my Twitter feed once suggested that’s it’s actually less about that than about grace). Rather, what I appreciate in this film is the power of its individual scenes, helped along by strong performances by Michael Peña, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton and others.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 6 December, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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