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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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Woes of organizing movies

There is no fully satisfactory way to organize a film collection. No system ever works without compromises, exceptions, workarounds, and/or annoying logic gaps.

Alphabetical? Sure, it makes sense in theory, but drawbacks quickly become apparent when you think about it. Does it really make sense to put Batman Begins and The Dark Knight far away from one another on the shelf? Surely they belong together. What about foreign films? Take The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, for instance. That’s its translated English title, and the name I mostly know it as. In its original French, it’s called Le scaphandre et le papillon, which could be said to be its real name. On the Swedish DVD case I have, it’s titled Fjärilen i glaskupan. So do I put it under D, S, or F?

In the past, I’ve toyed with the idea of organizing my collection according to my numerical ratings. The films I love would be showcased up front and center on my shelves, with unfavored films hidden away down at floor-level. This is another idea that sounds good organization-wise, as I tend to instinctively remember what scores I’ve given to various films. Unfortunately, this too has the undesirable side effect of splitting up franchises. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is for my money among the very best action films ever made. While I do think that Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines gets way more hate than it deserves, it’s certainly not on the same level as T2. But they still ought to stand side by side in my collection. Box sets further complicates the system. I can’t split up the Alien Quadrilogy box even if I wanted to.

Chronological order? Nah. What with me mostly having films from this side of the millenium border, it’s not all that useful. Besides, do I go with US, international, or Swedish release dates? Plus, you still have the franchise-splitting problem.

The system I’ve used for the past few years is based on genres. My shelf space is divided into sections that are assigned different types of film: Action, comedy, dramedy/black comedy, drama, romance, horror, thriller, documentary. Everything has its spot. The benefits of this system are plentifold. Franchises can be kept together – for the most part. I can say “Hmm, I’m in an action mood today” and go to the action section to pick out something suitable. I can micromanage to my liking within the subsets as well, such as bunching together musicals in the comedy section, J-horror in the horror section, Jason Statham in the action section, and so on.

Even this is not perfect, though. The aforementioned Alien Quadrilogy rears its xenomorph head again, for instance, with Alien arguably being horror while Aliens is more action-y. Where do I put my Coens set consisting of Blood Simple (thriller), The Big Lebowski (comedy) and Barton Fink (what the hell is Barton Fink anyway?) Exceptions also have to be made due to my sorting tendencies. I want to keep Kevin Smith‘s View Askew films together, for instance, but while Chasing Amy is more of a dramedy or off-beat romantic comedy, Clerks II is more straight-up comedy in my mind.

Plus, you have the often troublesome task of determining genres of individual films. Is Ghostbusters primarily an action movie or a comedy? Is Let the Right One In horror, thriller, or romance? Is Man on the Moon a comedy or a dramedy, or simply a drama that’s funny by proxy due to the subject matter? What genre is Rashomon? What genre is Inglourious Basterds?

Oragnizing is tricky indeed. Maybe John Cusack in High Fidelity has the right idea:

How do you organize your movie collection?

 
18 Comments

Posted by on 15 November, 2012 in Discussions, Misc.

 

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The actors I see but don’t know: A tribute to “That Guy”

In some corners of the web, people speak of That Guy actors. These are the thespians you never think about and perhaps don’t know by name, but every time they pop up, you recognize them and go “Hey, it’s that guy!” This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re actors you love or even like, but you definitely recognize their faces. Odds are they tend to stick to supporting parts rather than being allowed to take center stage.

(Do note that That Guy-ness is not gender-specific. Female actors can be That Guy too, which leads me to think a new nomenclature might be required at some point.)

This post is about these actors, but others too. The ones I may not know the name of, nor do I even recognize their faces when I see them on screen. And yet I have seen them plenty of times. The main tool I use to keep track of films I’ve seen is Swedish site Filmtipset. One of the features on there is the ability to get statistics on which actors I’ve seen in the most films. As I look through this list, I spot names I don’t recognize despite having seen them in ten different films or so. For some of them, even looking up a picture of them fails to ring a bell. They’re technically not That Guy, but the principle remains: actors I keep seeing but never think about.

So since I keep watching these people yet never give them any attention, I’d like to take this post to celebrate the workhorse actors who rarely get enough attention. What follows is a list of these kinds of actors who I have seen a minimum of 9 movies with (number arbitrarily chosen). These are all males, but not by design. It just so happens that I’m more aware of who the actresses I’ve seen a lot of movies with are.

Elias Koteas – This one is actually somewhat of a borderline case. Having seen and reviewed Crash (1996) not too long ago, I definitely know and regognize the name. Koteas earns his spot here due to the high number of films (12) I’ve seen him in without ever having bothered to find out his name and file it away in the old memory bank. This Canadian actor was a staple in Atom Egoyan‘s earlier movies and now splits his time between film and television. Odds are I’ll always think of him as that creepy car crash fetishist in Crash. Or as that guy who looks like a cross between Stanley Tucci and David Paymer – the latter himself surely a That Guy to many film fans.
Films you might have seen him in: Zodiac, Shutter Island, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Christopher McDonald – Or Shooter McGavin to most people. Happy Gilmore might be the film he’s most closely associated with, but he has been working since the early 80s, appearing in a wide variety of movies, often as an antagonist. Like Koteas, I’ve seen this guy in 12 films without ever paying him much attention. Also one of the unfortunate individuals to have appeared in multiple post-Wedding American Pie films.
Films you might have seen him in: Happy Gilmore, Requiem for a Dream, Thelma & Louise

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 6 February, 2012 in Lists

 

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How I ended up loving movies

How did you become a movie fan?

Maybe you always have been. Perhaps your family would watch plenty of films when you were a kid, thus setting you on a path that has continued through your teens and into adulthood to this day. You might not remember a time when you weren’t into movies. It has always been there.

Or maybe you were a casual watcher for a long time, until you saw that one awesome film that really opened your eyes. One movie to fall in love with that left you wanting more, and so you set out to discover other films hoping to find something to evoke similar feelings. That one great film was the starting point for you.

Neither of these scenarios fit me.

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I’m not a life-long movie fan. That said, I certainly watched films when I was a kid. My family went to the cinema every now and then, but most of the movies I saw when growing up, I did on TV or VHS. I could watch the Police Academy films over and over. Same with the Wayne’s World movies, and The Lion King, and Home Alone. But film was never my main interest. I was always more into playing video games, reading boks and comics, and watching pro wrestling. Those were the things I would call my hobbies. Watching movies was just something I did ocassionally.

This casual level of interest continued into my teens. I would watch films at times, but never to any huge degree. When I was around 15 years of age in the late 90s came the boom of the internet, and now I had another thing to occupy my time with in addition to video games and fantasy novels. Even happening upon American Beauty in 2000 or 2001- a movie I fell in love with and which instantly became my new all-time favorite – was not enough to spark any big film interest in me.

More the opposite, in fact. My watching of movies went from casual to barely alive. Perhaps it was a combination of things. Subconsciously, I might have felt that nothing could ever compare to American Beauty. My interest in pro wrestling was also picking up again after a few years worth of sabbatical. More important I believe was the fact that my life was changing, though. In 2002 I graduated from gymnasiet – roughly the Swedish equivalent of high school in the US. Old friends drifted away, leaving less opportunity for random spur-of-the-moment films. And now I also had to worry about what to do with my life. I had some vague plans of going to university, but I wanted to take some time to work and make money first. Job hunting proved harder than I thought, and in the midst of all this, I spent more and more time online. Eventually I went to university for a few fruitless years and felt kind of… lost.

Then came World of Warcraft, and the less said about that the better.

I didn’t notice it at the time, but during this part of my life I hardly watched movies at all. I would spot a trailer at times that looked interesting, but didn’t see the film. Someone might mention how they just saw a great movie, and I’d just shrug and move on. An example: When a friend told me had bought Batman Begins on DVD, it was the first time I ever heard of the film. I just didn’t care about the world of movies. I had other things to spend my free time on.

Things changed in early 2008. I had gotten Transformers on DVD from my brother for Christmas (we both loved the toys when we were kids), and found myself with some other unseen movies lying around for some reason. World of Warcraft was starting to lose its grip on me at that point, so one weekend where I had nothing better to do, I sat down to do some movie watching. I saw 5 movies: Transformers, The Terminal, Hostel, The Butterfly Effect, and Captivity. In a typical story, you might expect me to have had an eye-opening experience with one or more of these. But I didn’t. True, I remain very fond of both The Terminal and The Butterfly Effect to this day, but they’re not amazing or anything. No, the noteworthy thing about these films isn’t the films themselves, but what they led me to do.

On that Sunday, February 10 2008, I went on an off-topic forum at a video game website I frequented and started a new thread, where I offered a few lines of summary on how I felt about these films. This wasn’t something I had any habit of doing, but random threads about whatever were commonplace on that message board. I didn’t put any thought into it. It was just something to talk about with people online. At first, nothing much came of it. Someone chimed in saying they hated Transformers, someone else expressed joy at my liking of The Butterfly Effect.

Then someone said “You should do Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind next!”

Huh? Eternal Sunshine of the what now? I’d never heard of it before but figured that Jim Carrey was usually good for a laugh or two, so I decided to check it out. I wrote a bit about it, and someone told me to watch Death Proof. The suggestions and recommendations kept pouring in. I found myself watching lots of movies. More than at any other point in my life. I had a lot of catching up to do. Not even counting all the films I hadn’t seen from before the millenium shift, I still had pretty much the entire past decade of films that had passed me by. There was so many great movies to take in. The mind-blowing Memento, the heart-melting Amélie, the blood-pumping Crank, and the eye-opening Adaptation, to name but a few. Sure, I saw plenty of underwhelming films as well, but they all helped me refine my tastes. And I went back further in time too, seeing some beloved films for the first time like The Princess Bride and One Flew Over Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and found they lived up to the hype.

I would talk with friends about flms I had seen as though they were fresh new discoveries when they were really old hat to them – I vividly remember a bemused look I got from a friend when I, in 2008, started talking about this unknown gem of a comedy called Anchorman. I would often go to my best friend’s place and bring a bunch of DVDs with me, both to revisit films I loved and to show them to him because by God, he just had to see this Sideways film!

There was no need for me to go to the cinema much, as there was so much to see on DVD whether bought, rented or borrowed. But every now and then I’d head to the theater with friends to see films like The Dark Knight (awesome) and Max Payne (terrible).

Maggie Gyllenhaal

I learned which people online liked the same films as me and prioritized their recommendations. But just following their suggestions wasn’t enough. When I discovered a new actor I really enjoyed, like a Jason Statham or a Maggie Gyllenhaal, I would look for more films starring them. I started paying attention to the people behind the camera too. After falling madly in love with Amélie, I had to see what else Jean-Pierre Jeunet was capable of. And whoa, wait; Seven, The Game and Fight Club are all directed by the same guy? Some dude named David Fincher? What else has he done?

I started reading blogs to further expand my horizons, and began keeping up with film news. I discovered the wonderful writing of Roger Ebert, James Berardinelli and other critics, reading them more to find new perspectives than to find out whether a movie was good or bad. I read books on film – Louis Giannetti‘s “Understanding Movies” had a big effect on my viewing experiences. I would use websites like Flickchart, Filmtipset, and ICheckMovies to keep track of the films I had seen. I started a blog of my own – the first of several – where I would talk at length about movies I watched. Twitter also became a great way to find new people with interesting opinions.

A peculiar thing is the divide that has sprung up between films I saw before and after my cinematic awakening. Films I adored back then still remain among my favorites: American Beauty, The Blues Brothers, Groundhog Day, Terminator 2 and more. Others I might be able to find faults in now, but they still live strong thanks to nostalgia; Interview with the Vampire for example is really pretty corny, but I can’t help but love it. I find it hard to compare movies from opposite sides of the divide, however. Even when they’re kind of similar, like Forrest Gump (seen before my awakening) and The Shawshank Redemption (seen after). I know I have different perspectives on these films, so comparisons feel unfair. Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between two great films and can love both equally.

Now, almost four years after that one weekend in February 2008, film is my biggest interest. My viewing pace might have slowed down a bit and fluctuates more, but I do tend to watch a couple of movies every week. And I still find time for my old interests as well. I play video games when I have something fun to play, I keep up with the world of pro wrestling, and I read books every evening – sometimes ones that have had good film adaptations. But movies is where my heart lies.

Considering the short time I’ve been a film fanatic, I sometimes feel inexperienced in the field. Many of you readers have been into the art form for much longer than my four years. The same goes for plenty of bloggers I read and people I follow on Twitter. I’ve also never studied film at college or anything. So I’m not the most well-versed or knowledgeable movie lover in the world, but there’s not much I can do to change that in the present. All I can do is to look towards the future and try to broaden my views in time. I’m still learning, still catching up, still hungry. My rental queue at Lovefilm currently consists of 863 films, and that’s not counting the prebooked ones that haven’t been released on DVD yet, or the ones they don’t have in their database which I keep track of at a different site. The total amount of films I know of that I want to see rises well over 1000. I’ve put up goals to pursue. I want to see films from more countries I’ve never seen films from before, until I’ve tagged every country in the world. I want to explore older movies more so I can find them less threatening. I want to see every movie that Jason Statham or Shannyn Sossamon have ever been in. I want to find that one Woody Allen movie that I’ll love and am sure is out there somewhere. I want to get around to watching highly acclaimed films I haven’t seen yet, like Goodfellas and Jaws (coincidentally, Roy Scheider died on the day my film interest took off.) I want to be a good Swede and finally see my first Ingmar Bergman movie. Most of all, I want to see more great films, whether they’re ones that live up to hype or unexpected surprises. I want to find movies to love as much as I love American Beauty, Amélie, and my current favorite Lost in Translation.

This is how I became a movie lover. The why still eludes me. The way it happened seems so random to me. Was that starting ground of a weekend really just a case of me not having anything better to do? Perhaps there’s more to it. If there is, it’s buried in either my subconsciousness or in the realm of forgotten memories. “It just happened” doesn’t make for much of a story to tell – although I suppose that didn’t stop me from writing these 2000+ words on it.

I still post on that forum where it all started. I make a comment on every movie I see, and have done so for the past four years. People don’t recommend films to me as often. Instead, they share their own thoughts on movies they’ve watched. At times, some even ask me for recommendations. I’ve become “that movie guy” over there. There are worse things one could be.

So how did you become a movie fan?

 
23 Comments

Posted by on 20 January, 2012 in Misc.

 

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