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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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Monthly Report: July 2012

As I warned in my last blog post, my blogging is currently kept at a low pace. I spent last week in sunny Bulgaria, relaxing and having a good time, and now I’m currently in the middle of moving to my new apartment. I hardly find time to watch any movies, let alone write about them. Hell, I haven’t even found the time to check out The Dark Knight Rises yet. Sad face.

Still, I did get to satisfy my cinematic hunger earlier in July. The yearly local fair was in town, and that’s always a good place to pick up cheap DVDs. The selection isn’t excellent and is mostly comprised of newer releases, which is a large part of why I only watched two films the past month that were made earlier than 2009. So much for expanding my horizons. The two older films were among the best I saw this past, funnily enough.

Limitless (Neil Burger, 2011)
An appealing what-if scenario: what if you had a pill that makes you super-smart, highly focused, and gives you flawless memory? The mind spins with thoughts of what one could accomplish with such a thing. Limitless has Bradley Cooper get his hands on a pill like this, and then tells a story that may not be all that clever, but which is certainly not boring. I could have done with less stupidity exhibited by the supposedly hyper-intelligent protagonist, and the narration rears its ugly head a bit too often, but this is a flashy and fun thriller nonetheless. I was entertained.
3/5

Out of Sight (Steven Soderbergh, 1998)
This is my kind of crime movie. Smart, funny, fresh, and peppered with actual characters rather than plot chess pieces. Hell of a cast too, with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez threatening to immolate the movie with their mad chemistry. Possibly my favorite Soderbergh.
5/5

Welcome to the Rileys (Jake Scott, 2010)
A well-acted grief drama with the occasional funny bits. The main drawback here is a story that, while told well, isn’t particularly interesting. Parents have lost their child, then the guy happens upon a surrogate, and… that’s kind of it. It’s an enjoyable watch, but not very memorable.
3/5

The Hangover Part II (Todd Phillips, 2011)
I will give some credit here for showing that the characters have learned something from their ordeals in the first movie, but this also presents a problem that shows that a sequel to The Hangover is a pretty bad idea. In the first one, the three heroes were trying to find their missing friend. The friend is essentially a MacGuffin, but there’s also a definite fascination present with finding out just what the hell happened during the night, and the hows and the whys. In this second film, however, it’s as though they don’t care to the same extent. “Yeah, crazy shit went down, but whatever. Been there, done that. Let’s just find our buddy.” The film becomes all about the MacGuffin, and most of the plot ends up an irrelevant tangent. Other issues include a way too similar structure to the first one, and the fact that the majority of the jokes fall flat. This is a very lazy sequel to a really funny film.
2/5

Devil (John Erick Dowdle, 2010)
If judged as a horror movie by the amount of scares and atmosphere it provides, this one falls short. As a whodunnit mystery, however, it works well enough. Not that the payoff is necessarily satisfying, but the ride towards it is fun, with enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. Sometimes the chase is better than the catch, after all. Decent film overall.
3/5

Let Me In (Matt Reeves, 2010)
A very cool vampire movie that blends its supernatural horror effectively with a coming-of-age story. Suitably creepy, with some good acting to boot, particularly from young Chloe Moretz. And yet despite all this, it’s hard for me to call this movie worthwhile in a world where the Swedish film Let the Right One In, which is based on the same novel, exists. Mostly everything that Let Me In does well, Let the Right One In does a bit better, and there’s not enough real difference between the two to make Reeves’ film an interesting alternate take on the story. This one gets a good grade, but I’d still recommend you stick to the Swedish movie.
4/5

The Time Traveler’s Wife (Robert Schwentke, 2009)
One thing among many that I liked about this time travel romance was how it plays things different from most time travel flicks. For me, the appeal of many movies in the genre is to discover the cool solutions the film-makers have come up with to deal with the obstacles in the story. In The Time Traveler’s Wife, the really intriguing thing is how much effort have been spent to think of the obstacles themselves, and then resolve them according to the rules of the plot and in as logical a fashion as possible. It’s hard to explain properly, but it makes for a different and fascinating experience. I wish the film would have been a little slower, though. Some breathers here and there to mull over the implications of everything would have been welcome. Still, this is a clever and touching film, and certainly a better time travel romance than, say, Kate & Leopold.
4/5

Gamer (Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor, 2009)
No movie that has as much stuff going on as this one should be this damn boring. Dumb plot, and the worst of quick-cut shaky-cam action. Massively disappointing, considering how much I adore Crank from the same directing duo. To hell with this film.
1/5

Get the Gringo (Adrian Grunberg, 2012)
I like the idea of a Mexican prison that’s more like a mall for bums than a correctional facility. The story starts out well enough, but it loses steam early on thanks to predictable plot elements and uninteresting characters. Mel Gibson tries his hardest to salvage things with the kind of Gibson-y performance one might expect from him – think Payback with worse material – but it’s just not enough.
2/5

Lockout (James Mather & Stephen St. Leger, 2012)
The opening scene of Lockout has Guy Pearce‘s character being interrogated. He keeps mouthing off smartass comments, earning himself repeated punches to the face. This is fun, but it’s all downhill once you realize that he’ll keep spewing “wise”cracks the whole film through. Like, every single time he opens his mouth. It gets old really fast. The rest of the characters are equally annoying, the sci-fi prison story is a confoundingly dumb one and takes forever to get going, the action is sparse and lackluster, and the ending is an exercise in contrivance. It’s one thing for an action film to be stupid and insubstantial, but this one is also really dull. Avoid!
1/5

Kill List (Ben Wheatley, 2011)
A harrowing and visceral experience, genuinely unsettling and quite mystefying. Compelling from start to weird ending. I can’t even begin to explain the film, but I certainly found it fascinating. Give this one a go. You might not like it, but it’s worth that risk.
4/5

The Raven (James McTeigue, 2012)
First of all: I know this is John Cusack‘s flesh and blood on the screen, but the whole performance is so Nicolas Cage, in everything from the random shouting to the hair. Now then, the movie. Without looking anything up, I’m going to assume that a certain degree of liberties were taken with the life of Edgar Allen Poe for this one. Maybe he really was some kind of sleuth towards the end of his life and had to deal with the kidnapping of his girlfriend and a serial killer who patterned his murders after Poe’s stories, though I doubt it. This film is a pretty solid yarn. Not great, but it satisfies for the moment.
3/5

Rites of Spring (Padraig Reynolds, 2011)
Weak horror of the slasher variety. The acting is uneven, and the reliance on Dutch tilts gets quite annoying. These problems are especially prominent in the films early goings where the focus is on the dual storyline of an abduction and a kidnapping. I was ready to call this movie terrible at this point, but it does pick up a bit after the halfway mark or so, when the proverbial shit hits the fan and the action ramps up. It doesn’t become great or even particularly good, but it shows a certain focus by the people involved, and it’s clear that they know what they want to do. I still wouldn’t recommend this film, but credit where credit is due.
2/5

Made (Jon Favreau, 2001)
A spiritual sequel to Doug Liman‘s superb Swingers. Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn once again play a set of best buddies, though the dynamic here is different with Favreau in serious taking-care-of-business mode and Vaughn as an obnoxious fuck-up. The realistic tone from Swingers is kept intact, though the plot here is of the crime variety. The true strength of the movie is Vaughn, who so convincingly plays the kind of character you just want to slap in the face to try to lessen the stupidity that flows forth from within him. The story itself doesn’t matter as much as the ways his character messes it up, and it makes for a fresh take on the genre. Made is also worth seeing for Peter Falk‘s teriffic supporting turn as a low-rung gangster boss.
4/5

Detention (Joseph Kahn, 2011)
While not a complete success on all fronts, this rapid-paced parodic blend of both high school films and slasher flicks definitely can’t be faulted for not having its own identity. The jargon employed by the characters get a bit too much at times, and the ridiculous plot contrivances toward the climax serve little purpose, but I applaud the effort of trying to do something different. Kahn’s past experience with making music videos is apparent throughout, but this still feels like a confident piece of filmmaking. Enjoyable.
3/5

Total # of new films seen: 15
Average score: 2.9 / 5
Best film of the month: Out of Sight
Worst film of the month: Lockout

 
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Posted by on 2 August, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2006

When I start putting one of these lists together, I first check which movies I’ve given high scores to during the years to get a general selection of likely candidates. Then I pick my favorites. No attempt is made to add variety to the list just for the sake of variety. I simply try to determine which ten films I liked the most from that year.

This 2006 list is very heavy on comedy. I count five clear-cut comedies and three more where humor plays a substantial part. That 2006 was a great year for this genre of film isn’t something I have reflected upon before, but there it is. It’s no secret that I’m very fond of films that make me laugh and smile, so one of these years were bound to pop up sooner or later in this series. The way things look at the moment, the eventual 2005 list will feature an unusually high amount of films of a different genre. Again, not a concious decision.

This doesn’t mean that 2006 was a weak year for more serious film. Plenty of great stuff from a variety of genres was released upon the world. The multitude of comedies on here is not due to a lack of competition. It’s just that I happen to love these funny movies so much.

As usual, this is 2006 as listed on IMDB. Also note that this is a list of my favorite films of the year, and nothing more.

10 – LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN (Paul McGuigan)

“You mean this isn’t the first time a crime lord asked you to kill the gay son of a rival gangster to pay off a debt that belongs to a friend whose place you’re staying in as a result of losing your job, your apartment, and finding your girlfriend in bed with another guy?”

A smart crime thriller in which a young man (Josh Hartnett) finds himself caught in a war between two crime lords due to a case of mistaken identity. The main draws here are the funny dialogue that has its own unique rhythm to it, and the contrived but delightful plot. And Lucy Liu, whose role as hyperactive neighbor Lindsey surprisingly steals the show despite her being in the presence of some of the all-time greats in Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Bruce WIllis and others.

9 – TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY (Adam McKay)

“Hakuna matata, bitches!”

Sitting down to watch a Will Ferrell comedy is a bit of a gamble, as he has about as many misses as hits on his resume. This one is hilarious though, as his standard idiotic man-child character meets the world of NASCAR. A lot of credit needs to go to the supporting cast, especially John C. Reilly as his held-back team mate and Sacha Baron Cohen as the stereotypically French antagonist. Holds up surprisingly well on a rewatch, too.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 8 November, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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