I like all kinds of movies. Dramas, comedies, action flicks, horror movies. All of them.
Didn't start out that way. Started out pretty much only watching the blockbusters or whatever movie had the biggest, loudest, slickest trailer. You know, the low hanging fruit.
Becoming a movie critic broadened my horizons, to borrow the cliché. Don't get me wrong, I liked a lot of different kinds of movies, but my standards were much lower and I didn't go out of my way to see the latest drama from say, Lasse Halstrom or Kevin MacDonald. I didn't even see The Shawshank Redemption in theater.
Now I look forward to just about everything. Documentaries, independent films, art house films, foreign films, action flicks... whatever. I like them all.
But some weekends, I sort of revert to form.
Last weekend, for instance, I needed to watch Gomorrah, which opens this weekend at The Circle. It's about the mafia in modern day Italy, and from all accounts, it's a very difficult film to stomach. Not that it's not good. From what I understand, you're not allowed to feel much empathy for the characters. It's a movie about crime, and the film's crime is allegedly depicted realistically.
Again, I haven't seen it. That's just what I've read about it.
And last week when I was planning my weekend reviews, I just didn't feel like taking that particular trip. I wanted something more, well, Hollywood.
So, I watched Crank: High Voltage and State of Play and not Gommorah. Sorry Circle guys. If it's any consolation, I wore my Circle Cinema hat all weekend.
I had a major problem with State of Play. I didn't believe it.
We've seen tons of those movies where the intrepid newspaper reporter breaks the big story and brings down the corrupt company/cop/politician. All the President's Men, Fletch, The Pelican Brief, Good Night and Good Luck.
I just don't believe that can happen in today's newsrooms. I don't buy it.
I went to journalism school. I know those kinds of stories aren't beyond the realm of plausibility, but I just can't buy it. I know they didn't train us to be private investigators in journalism school.
In the movies, the journalist is always in mortal danger. Someone wants to keep the story suppressed. That someone is in extreme fear of the written word. That the unveiling of those words upon an unsuspecting public would result in a domino effect of events--investigations, arrests, law suits.
Color me jaded, but I just don't believe much in the power of journalism anymore. In a world where one in four adults is functionally illiterate, how much power does the written word really have?
That was pretty much my only problem with State of Play, which is otherwise a pretty good flick.
The film opens with this kid running from someone whom you don't see. He barrels down the sidewalk, out into the street where he gets hit by a car, then through a sidewalk mall, out into the alleys where he ends up hiding in some trashcans under an overpass.
He waits until he thinks it's safe and then comes out of hiding. A man with a silenced gun comes out of the shadows, shoots him twice. As the shooter gets ready to leave the scene, a guy on a bike with a pizza box rides by. The gunner shoots the pizza guy, too, and then flees the scene.
The next day, Sonia Baker dies on a DC subway platform. She is the research assistant of Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), and her death leads to questions.
Was Congressman Collins having an affair with Sonia?
Meanwhile, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is the ace writer at the Washington Post. His story of the moment is the murder and attempted murder, but he has an interest in the apparent suicide of Sonia Baker as his college roommate was Congressman Collins.
Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) writes a blog for the Post. She makes a visit to McAffrey's desk in an effort to get him to provide insight on the Baker/Collins story, especially now that it seems Collins was having an affair with Baker.
What spools out from there is an elaborate tale of connections between the murders, Sonia Baker, Stephen Collins and a Haliburton-like company called PointCorp.
What the film does right is put realistic characters up on the screen. McAffrey is a slob. He's selfish. He's slavishly devoted to his job. He's also had an affair with his friend's wife. You like him, but part of that's because of Crowe, who's always good, and part of that is the script. There's a lot of good writing to be found in the film.
There are also a lot of stereotypical scenes for these types of movies. There's the parking garage chase and the anonymous informants, then the tidy but emotional ending. Things like that keep the film from being something greater than it is. But there's a lot here to like.
I didn't love it like my wife did. When we were leaving the film, she informed me these types of movies are her second favorite type. You can be together for a decade and still not know things about your spouse.
So, Steph loved it. Or liked it a lot anyway, whereas I merely enjoyed it (albeit with the concession that I think this kind of journalism doesn't really exist in the way it used to).
Crank It Up
I never saw Crank.
It looked like another mindless Jason Statham action flick. I like the guy, but he's made some craptacular movies: In the Name of the King, The Transporter (I, II & III), Ghosts of Mars, War. But he's also done some good stuff, like The Italian Job and Snatch.
I can't say that I blame him for taking pretty much whatever anyone throws at him. Being a movie star in Hollywood is pretty much like winning the lottery, and even for most of the "stars" in Hollywood, they don't get to stay in the game very long. Most, not all.
I expected Crank to be another one of his crappy movies, so I skipped it. But then a funny thing happened. I kept reading that it was good. Oh, sure, not good in the Oscar sense of the word, but good for what it was--an over-the-top action/comedy.
Rather than watch Gommorah or 17 Again (cmon, how many times has that movie been made already?), I opted for the action flick. I wanted some old fashioned mindless entertainment.
What I got was the most outrageous
This is the movie Shoot 'em Up and Smokin' Aces wanted to be. I could write a review on Crank: High Voltage as a parody of the mindless violence of video games and action films. It's intended to be that. But that kind of thinking would elevate the film into something worth having discourse about, and I'm not sure it warrants that.
Crank: High Voltage revels in being as tasteless and audacious as it possibly can. It is nothing but gratuitous violence and nudity.
Yeah, okay, it's also stupid as hell.
Hitman Chev Chelios (Statham) wakes up after falling from a helicopter and having his heart removed and replaced with an artificial one. He has a battery pack hanging off his belt and unless he can find some way to recharge it, he has just one hour to live.
Chev, being a practical sort of guy, decides he's going to find his heart and have it put back in. So he goes on a rampage of death and destruction in the underworld of whatever the hell generic looking city he's in. He also tracks down his girlfriend, Eve (Amy Smart), who thinks he's been dead for three months. Apparently, in her desperation, she turned to life as a stripper and adopted the stage name, Lemon.
While on his rampage, he's getting health advice from his friend, Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam). Doc tells Chev he has to do whatever he can to keep the battery in the artificial heart charged. Those things include: clipping jumper cables to his nipples, stun-gunning himself, cattle-prodding himself, sticking his hands in boxes marked with High Voltage signs, etc.
Oh, yeah, he still has to find his heart.
Again, stupid. Ultra violent, ultra bloody and corny. You can't hear all this and forget about the comedy element.
As a whole, this is like someone sat down and watched a 13-year-old kid play Grand Theft Auto for about three hours, and then tried to figure out how best to translate that to the big screen.
If you look at Crank: High Voltage, it's just a series of random ass encounters with its protagonist running amok and doing whatever amoral thing he can think of to keep himself alive. Oh, apart from the artificial heart, Chev is nigh indestructible. Getting a charge is like recharging his life-meter in game.
I'm not stretching to make the video game connection. The opening credits are done like an 8-bit video game. Funny, but I don't notice the over-the-top violence in a video game. It's just a silly game, after all, no matter what the video-game-violence-is-ruining-society pundits say.
But this? This is almost pornographic. It's so far over the top that I kind of liked it. In fact, I came home and rented the first one on Xbox Live and played it in the background while writing this review (I think I enjoyed the sequel better). You should know that this is the kind of movie people walk out of. I saw two couples leave the theater. I wonder if they asked for their money back?
Anyway. If you feel strangely compelled to see Crank: High Voltage, tell your friends you watched it for research purposes, and that the subtext of the film is one of thinly-veiled commentary on the decline of quality filmmaking in Hollywood, or perhaps on the inability of the American moviegoer to differentiate good films from bad. As you can make a case for Crank: High Voltage being both of those things, you wouldn't be lying.
As for me, I just enjoyed the spectacle. Sometimes, that's enough. But don't tell anyone I said it was any good. You won't get that outta me.
See you next week.
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