Friday, April 24, 2009

Crank: High Voltage

Not every movie is for every audience. That's a pretty well understood fact. Probably no other film in recent memory exemplifies that fact better than Crank: High Voltage, a film that takes every wacky excess of the original Crank, dials it up to eleven, and then sets the whole thing on fire just for kicks.

So if you've seen the poster, you pretty much know the story. Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) died. But then he got better. After falling from a helicopter at the end of the first film and bouncing off a car, Chev is scraped off the pavement by the Asian mafia. He wakes up a couple months later in a crappy operating room with an artificial heart and his own in a cooler halfway across town. The movie then follows Chev as he rampages across Los Angeles, searching for the man who stole his heart and attempting to keep his body charged any and every way possible.

The first thing to note about Crank 2 is that everybody from the original is back. And I DO mean everybody. There are cameos out the wazoo; even Efren Ramirez is back playing the psychotic twin brother of his character from the first film (and just because his character was apparently not crazy enough, they decided to give him "full body Tourette's"). The movie is full of bizarre callbacks to the first film. There are more crazy 'juicing up' sequences; there's another weird public sex scene; ridiculous escapes and shootouts; it's all here. Crank: High Voltage is pretty much everything one might expect from a sequel to a movie like Crank.

But is it a better film? Not really. Sure, it's loads more fun, it's crazier, and a hell of a lot funnier. But it doesn't really build on the foundation of the original, just continues it's mad descent into lunacy. For me, the climactic fight scene felt like a bit of a letdown. Then again, when your first film ends with the hero and villian falling out of a helicopter, you're gonna be hard pressed to top that. But damn, if they don't try. Depending on your taste for over the top, cartoony action, the final shot of the film will either leave you disgusted or laughing your ass off. I fell into the latter.

There's so much about Crank: High Voltage that I want to talk about, but I feel like mentioning any of it might spoil it for anyone else. Suffice it to say, the trailers only show a fraction of the strange things you'll encounter in this film. With an equally twisted musical score composed by Mike Patton, Crank: High Voltage moves and spazzes out like a speed freak in a candy store, and if you enjoyed the first film at all, you'll definitely get a kick outta this one. Is it great filmmaking? No. But writer/directors Neveldine and Taylor and Jason Statham know exactly what they're doing, and it's one of the most fun, aggressive, and wacked out action films ever made.

Four stars (****) out of five.

And just for fun, here's a bit of Mike Patton's score:

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Observe and Report

If Judd Apatow is the proprietor of today's "Idiot manchildren growing up" comedies, NC native Jody Hill is making a name for himself with a series of "Idiot manchildren being reinforced" comedies.  Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) feels like he could be the equally disturbed younger brother of The Foot Fist Way's Fred Simmons.  But whereas Fred seemed to at least learn something from his ordeal, Ronnie's creepy worldview is not only vindicated, but frighteningly encouraged.

Ronnie is the head of security at a New Mexico shopping mall.  He spends his days pining for the use of a six-shooter while on duty, as well as Brandi (Anna Faris), the girl who works the cosmetics counter.  When a flasher starts terrorizing the mall (and the audience) with his dangly member, Ronnie takes it upon himself and his team to hunt the flasher down and protect Brandi.

What follows is Ronnie taking advantage of the situation to go on one ridiculous ego trip after another and to woo Brandi (seemingly by force).  The film is more of a disturbed character study than a plot-driven comedy.  It does bear a lot in common with The Foot Fist Way, especially in watching our hero's well-being continuously put to the test, often with violent results.  It's a film that almost forces you to root for Ronnie, because in the real world we'd probably hate this guy.

Ultimately, it's this aspect of the film that will either make or break it for you.  If you're willing to forgive some of Ronnie's more violent excesses and impulses, you'll probably have a fun afternoon at the movies.  On the other hand, you may find yourself aghast at Ronnie's behavior, especially once the real detective (Ray Liotta) arrives onto the scene, much to Ronnie's chagrin.  It's a credit to Seth Rogen that the central character's performance is as strong as it is, because the film that he finds himself in is really pretty flimsy.  

Just like with his previous film, Jody Hill seems far more interested in character than he is in plot.  The film ultimately suffers from having almost nothing to do, leaving Rogen to invent shenanigans for Ronnie to get into (the increasingly quiet shouting match with a fellow mall employee: priceless).  There are some great laughs along the way, but the film can't overcome its lack of structure to be anything other than a curiosity.  Which is a shame, because Ronnie's character arc is surprisingly strong.  It's fun seeing Seth Rogen actually play a character other than himself for once, but the film surrounding him is largely unimpressive.  Observe and Report is certainly funny, but a strong central performance does not a good film make.  

Three stars (***) out of five.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Back from the Past!

If you've ever been to Universal Studios-Orlando (pre-2007), you probably know the geeky fun of going on the Back to the Future ride. It sat along the northeastern edge of the park, housed in a huge building dubbed the Institute of Future Technology. Outside, you could get your picture taken with Doc Brown's DeLorean and um... Time...Train...thing. You know, the train from the end of Part III. I know I got my picture taken with the DeLorean when I was a kid, but I'm afraid that picture's been lost to time.

Anyway, the ride closed two years ago this week (March 30, 2007) to make way for, of all things, a ride based on The Simpsons. Of all the things that could possibly replace the Back to the Future ride, this was far from the worst, but still somewhat heartbreaking. The Simpsons isn't even a Universal property, what business do they have replacing Back to the freaking Future??

Well, what's done is done, and not you, nor I, nor anyone else will get to chase Biff through the past, the future, and elsewhere ever again. But the ride is not completely gone. Apparently all of the ride footage can be found on the newest edition of the Back to the Future DVD (still waiting on a blu-ray...). That's pretty cool. I'm sure if you thrashed yourself around on your couch like an idiot, you could replicate the feel of the ride...

But the entire point of this post is that I just discovered this on YouTube. Apparently, while standing in line for the Simpsons ride, you can see one of the video screens directly reference the fact that a Back to the Future ride once stood there:

How cool is that? And yes, that's Christopher Lloyd, still voicing Doc Brown at the age of 70. Wow, is he really that old?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Flea Market Finds #1

Oh, the countless wonderful things you can find at a flea market. I've fallen into the habit of heading out to the NC State Fairgrounds every Saturday afternoon to sift through the mass of junk and whatnots to see what I can find. In particular, I keep an eye out for derelict video games and their respective consoles. Two weeks ago I came away with a fully functional Super NES.

Today, I poked through one particular booth, when I came across some older Super NES carts. All of them sports titles, not worth the plastic they're made out of. Underneath the table, though I saw a box. Poking out of the box was the top of an NES joystick.

"I'll give you a dollar for this joystick," I said to the owner of the booth.
"Hell," he said, "I'll give you the whole box for a dollar."

So I came home with my prize. Not entirely sure what it was I'd just paid for. All I knew was that I'd scored an NES QuickShot for a dollar. Good enough for me. Once I got home, I unloaded the box and found the following:

This. I paid one dollar, one hunderd pennies, for this. Let's take a closer look.

Near as I can figure it, there's two PC joysticks, two Super NES sticks, two Atari 2600 sticks, a PSX fishing rod, and an NES QuickShot. Now, I really have no use for half of these, but I'm sure I can hawk these elsewhere and make a profit (I mean, geez, I paid a dollar for all these). The PC joysticks might be dumpster fodder, though.

Ah, this. I'd have paid several dollars for one of these guys. What's best is, this looks to be in nearly perfect condition. Now I can play Game Boy games on my Super NES on my flatscreen TV! This is all more or less what I was most interested in. But wait! There's more...

I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a cutting board or not. Doesn't really matter, because I fully intend on using it as such. Underneath it is some kind of poster of Franklin College (beats me) of unknown age.

Hmm. There's a picture inside of George Burns posing with no less than ten Las Vegas showgirls. This might actually be worth a read.

Hah! See what they've done there? They've taken all the 'Joy' out of the Joy of Cooking and replaced it with 'Soy'! Ho ho! ...ugh.

Um...hmm. These appear to be candles, and I'd wager they both are liquor scented, though I sincerely hope not. Not that I really have any intention of burning them. Then there's the tin, which I'm not sure what to make of. Is it an old tobacco tin? An old shaving cream tin? What? Beats me.

Also in the box was an ancient dashboard cassette player, a CD titled "Yellowman Sings the Blues", yet another game controller whose origin and use is completely unknown to me, and an apron. Now, I have no idea what I'm going to do with all this other stuff. The books and the CD I can probably hawk at a second hand store or just donate to Goodwill or something. Otherwise, I'm sure the guy was just glad somebody paid him so they could throw his junk away from him.

Oh well. I wonder what I'll find next week...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

North Carolina: The Bucket State

This morning, I heard one of the most depressing, disturbing and all together strangest radio ads I've ever heard in my life.

It begins with these two vaguely familiar voices discussing all the things they want to do before they die. It then becomes apparent that these two voices are middling impersonations of Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, and that whatever they're pitching is pitched under the guise of a reference to The Bucket List.

So they're listing off all these things that are on their bucket lists, then all of a sudden a third, unrelated voice says something along the lines of "You can experience all these things, and everything else on your bucket list, right here in North Carolina."


If you're trying to advertise this state and all the great things one might do here, why on Earth would you want to associate it with a film -- not even a particularly good one -- all about death and dying? Why not make your slogan something like: "Make North Carolina your final destination?" Or maybe: "Take a Bucket Trip to Tarheel country!" Or better yet...