This installment of Netflix Notes has absolutely nothing to do with good ol’ Sly and that big hunka’ cheese he served hungry fans salivating for cinematic arm-wrestling at long last. Still, I couldn’t resist running with the pic (in the same manner that I kicked off my 28 Days Later posts with a pic of sweet Sandy Bullock.
But the title makes absolute sense for two of the flicks that appear on this list. Buried within are two absolutely insane action movies that defy all sense of physics, logic and good taste and yet end up remarkably compelling – if you’re into their sort of thing.
1. Burn After Reading
The thing I love about the Coen Brother is the same thing that infuriates the professional critics. They refuse to grow up. Or, more to the point, they refuse to abandon their tendency to flip from searing dark comedy to goofball farce – seemingly from movie to movie.
Back in the mid-90’s, the Coens reaped mass acclaim for Fargo. While that film had it’s comedic moments, it also told a tragic tale of stupid people doing dumber things leading to many unnecessary deaths. And then the Coens did the unthinkable. They followed Fargo with the goofball bowling comedy, The Big Lebowski, and the critics started screaming their same tired refrain – “All Style. No Substance.” Personally, The Big Lebowski is a favorite of mine and I think it’s comedic power has only grown over the years.
So, we flash forward 10 years and the Coens take to the big stage to accept the award for their Best Picture, No Country for Old Men – a dark, apocalyptic tale without a funny bone in its lean, mean body. The critics rejoice. Their boys are finally all grown up.
And then the Coens did the unthinkable. They followed No Country with the goofball CIA comedy, Burn After Reading, and the critics reach for their musty lyric sheet – “All Style. No Substance.”
Well, they’ve got them all wrong and they’ve got these boys pegged incorrectly. The Coens, at heart, are born storytellers. Sometimes their stories chill us to the bone. Sometimes they make us laugh out loud. And if there’s one thing that tethers their disparate tales together – it’s the notion of stupid people doing dumb things.
Burn After Reading is wall-to-wall with idiocy and I love it. This is one of those films that you enjoy all the way through and yet when it ends, you think, “Is that it?” In fact, one of the characters near the end, ponders the proceedings and asks incredulously “What did we learn here?” The reply – “Nothing.” And I think that’s part of the joke.
At the same time, while the boys may be sending up the espionage thriller, they also explore the notion of loneliness. There’s real poignancy in Francis McDormand’s character – as well as George Clooney’s. You have to dig a bit deeper with Clooney, as he comes off as another of his Coen-branded idiots, but it’s there. His Harry is a likeable guy who does the things he does simply because he has a deep, innate loneliness clawing away at him. For a film that feels light as air, there are some resonant themes that sink in.
I laughed a lot while watching the film and then when it ended, I asked “Is that it?” And then days later, it returned to me and I started to see the genius of the flick. This is another great Coen tale and we’re all the better for it.
Crank is either the worst movie I have ever seen or something approaching genius. This is one of those movies that is so over the top, I’m not sure there was ever a bottom. All I know is, as I was watching it, I kept scratching my head wondering why I kept watching it. And then after each improbable action sequence, I would feel a great big grin spread across my face. This film was made by madmen and I love it.
That said, two weeks after watching Crank, I saw another film with similar ideals that actually went one better. I’ll get to that in my next piece. Until then, Crank is a work of mad genius.
Things to note before deciding if you should throw this in your queue. Do you like action flicks? If so, throw it in. And you should also be a videogame fan. Because that’s exactly what this is. The best movie based on a videogame that never actually existed. Seriously, that’s what this is. It’s the cinematic distillation of those sequences in Grand Theft Auto where you go off book and just start tearing around town causing mayhem. The director tips his cap to virtual inspiration from the very first image – as a pixilated heart throbs to the beat of Quiet Riot. And then the movie is off and running, with Jason Statham’s burned hit man scouring the city for the perps who set him up and injected him with a toxin that will kill him in one hour. In order to add more time the counter (again with the videogame allusion), he has to get his adrenaline pumping – which lends to a number of improbable and innovative action sequences.
It’s a crazy, Wile E. Coyote of a rollercoaster ride but if you are a fan of B-movies and your mind is in the right place (checked at the door), then this one is fun.
3. Shoot ‘Em Up
But this is the better movie.
Shoot ‘Em Up and Crank are kissing cousins. They are both over-exaggerated, stylized love letters to the action classics of yore. Flicks like Schwarzenegger’s Commando, where one man can level an island nation with a big gun and a strategically placed tool shed.
Shoot ‘Em Up winks at the audience from the very first frame – with Clive Owens’ mysterious stranger shot in close-up, a la Eastwood’s Man With No name. As the camera pulls back and a woman runs in front of Owen’s eyeline, chased by goons with guns, he crunches a carrot and reluctantly gives chase. Within moments, he’s dispatched a small army of mercs with their borrowed weaponry and has used that carrot to perform a prefrontal lobotomy. All before we roll the opening titles.
Like Crank, this feels like a live-action cartoon for grown-ups. The action scenes defy conventional logic but do subscribe to cartoon logic which gives the flick a kinetic charge. This is the type of action we haven’t seen since the masters Woo and Raimi went mainstream. In Shoot ‘Em Up, director Michael Davis (a former direct-to-video auteur), stages one inventive action sequence after the next. Eventually, his well of inspiration begins to run dry but for a solid 50 minutes or so, Davis delivers a more-addictive Crank.
4. Eagle Eye
Eagle Eye is one of those movies that really sucks you in as your watching it and then completely unravels the more you think about it later. I’m going to hit a major spoiler in a moment so if you want to see the flick, do so and then come back and read this piece and let me know if you agree with my major issue with the film.
Before I hit the spoiler, I’ll give you the high level view. Eagle Eye was concocted by Steven Spielberg, who shares story credit, and stars his current flavor-of-the-month Shia LeBeouf as a twenty-something slacker Jerry who comes home one day to find his bank account swelled and his apartment stuffed with ammonium nitrate, high tech weaponry, government building plans and other ingredients needed to bake a domestic terrorist.
He receives a mysterious phone call urging him to leave the building before the FBI arrive. He ignores the voice and within moments is caught and incarcerated. While awaiting interrogation, he gets another call telling him to duck moments before a crane crashes into FBI headquarters, allowing him to escape. From that point on, he is on the run, guided across the country with a single Mom (Michelle Monaghan) in the same predicament, following the orders of this mysterious voice. Eventually, they discover they are pawns in a global conspiracy.
That’s the set-up and I have avoided discussing the end game. And through the flick, I was really digging the set-up and where the flick was going. But, here comes the spoiler and my major issue with the flick.
Around the midpoint, we learn that housed far below the Pentagon is a massive super computer named ARIA (nice) which has gone Skynet on us. So, essentially Jerry is taking orders from WOPR. Yes, this feels like a contemporary WarGames – which is cool. Now, ARIA has an agenda and needs Jerry (and only Jerry) to accomplish that. Which is why, that cool set-up at the beginning makes no damned sense. Had ARIA not stockpiled Jerry’s apartment with all that illicit paraphernalia, the feds never would have been tipped to him, and she could have gotten Jerry from Point A to Point B with much less fuss. Of course, we wouldn’t have a movie – or at least one with as many action scenes and car chases. And usually I’ll suspend disbelief but this one if just too glaring. This unbelievably intelligent supercomputer made a big-time boner in getting Jerry hunted by every law enforcement agency in the land especially when she needs him to ideally, sneak into one of the most secure places on the planet without much trouble.
Pretty dumb for a supercomputer.