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Posts Tagged ‘David Carradine’

(How’s About This For Unfinished Business Dept.: No word of a lie – while getting ready for the current odyssey I unearthed from a dark corner of my luggage two sheets of aged, crinkled paper. They turned out to be a review actually written in Kyrgyzstan at some point in the spring of 2009, which I never got around to typing up and submitting to h2g2 (many possible reasons for this, none of which I care to dwell on). So here we are, better late than never – and it’s oddly reassuring to see that the core focus of my film criticism has remained unchanged in the last nine years…)

Hello again, everyone, and welcome to another edition of the film review column which proves that the words ‘unmissable release’ have become sadly devalued. As with our previous instalment, caveat lector – I’m talking about a movie I saw in a language I only have an elementary grasp of. That said…

In terms of being a tough movie to get a sequel out of, I suspect Beneath the Planet of the Apes still leads the field, concluding as it does with said planet vaporised along with every single character (or so it appears). I would have put 2006’s Crank somewhere on the same list, though, due to the ending featuring the fatally-poisoned main character falling two miles out of a helicopter into the centre of Los Angeles (thoughtfully phoning up his girlfriend to apologise on the way down).

There were of course three further sequels to Beneath the Planet of the Apes, along with two TV series and various other ephemera. The prospect of Crank becoming a similar multi-media institution strikes me as rather unlikely (not to mention deeply disturbing), but a sequel has duly appeared in the form of Crank: High Voltage, directed as before by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.

Crank 2

Straight after hitting the ground, crazed psychotic Chev Chelios (perennial favourite hereabouts and Greatest Living Englishman candidate Lord Jason of Statham) is scraped off the pavement and slung in the back of a van by some Chinese gangsters. Impressed by his resistance to the adrenaline poison (the plot device driving the first film), they have decided to harvest his organs. Upon learning this, Chev responds in typically forthright style, but it’s too late: his heart has already been extracted for transplant into an ageing crime lord (David Carradine) and replaced with a battery-powered artificial one. The battery is wont to run low at the most inopportune moments, which only makes Chev’s quest to retrieve his heart even trickier…

By any even moderately civilised standards, the Crank movies are jaw-droppingly horrible – not actually badly made, just amoral, obscene, hugely violent, tasteless, profane, and thoroughly offensive. Crank: High Voltage is very much in the same vein as the original in that it is largely one headlong display of carnage and depravity on the streets of Los Angeles.

Any hopes of increased maturity this time round were dispelled by an early sequence in which Chev interrogates a somewhat-obese bad guy by inserting a lubricated shotgun barrel where the sun don’t shine. I am on record in these pages as disliking the Kill Bill films, in particular, for exactly this sort of thing, which makes my (guilty) enjoyment of Crank rather embarrassing.

So, how to defend it? Well, in addition to all the things previously mentioned, Crank: High Voltage is frenetic, ludicrous and bizarre (it’s even got Geri Halliwell in it), but it’s also frequently very funny (the great man shows signs of a comic touch that could probably be rewardingly utilised in the right role) and never, ever pretentious or under the illusion it’s anything other than junk entertainment. It’s consistently inventive and surprising in its storytelling, which is never confused (I particularly enjoyed the sequence in which Jason Statham turns into Godzilla. Honestly).

The directors deftly handle what turns into a fairly complicated story – the main thread concerns Chev and the increasingly improbable methods he uses to keep his heart going, but whirling around it like demented satellites are subplots featuring Chev’s girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart) who’s now a pole dancer, a rather excitable Chinese prostitute who’s also in love with him (Bai Ling), the twin of Chev’s original sidekick, who is also transsexual but, additionally, suffers from whole-body Tourette’s syndrome (Efren Ramirez)… you get the general idea.

As you may have surmised, this isn’t really a venue for nuanced acting, but everyone seems to do what’s required of them (well, I have my doubts about Ginger Spice, but that’s a matter of principle) and the great man does a nice job of making Chev distinct from his other franchise character, Frank Martin. (Though an in-joke where an old woman complains that she’s been molested by someone who looks like the guy from The Transporter had me rolling my eyes a bit.)

I couldn’t honestly recommend either of the Crank movies to anyone I didn’t know very well, but I hope I’ve given you some idea of what to expect should you decide to take the plunge. It will almost certainly exceed your expectations, though probably not in a good way. I wait with some trepidation the next sequel, which I note the film-makers’ have made much easier to arrange, though quite how they can sustain the concept for another full movie I shudder to think.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published April 29th 2004: 

…onto new business and the second volume of Quentin Tarantino’s epic revenge melodrama Kill Bill. Attentive masochists may recall that I was less than taken with the first installment for all manner of reasons, and so I must confess to turning up for the second half with expectations that were less than stellar – to be honest, I was expecting to hate it. Well, I didn’t: but I’m not really sure how much of this is down to the quality of the film and how much is the result of my possibly figuring how Tarantino wants his film to be approached.

There’s a sense in which the plot of the Kill Bill movies is the least important element of the whole enterprise, but it’s as good a place to start as any. Uma Thurman once again plays a revenge-obsessed assassin known only as the Bride, and the film opens with her two-fifths of the way through her hit list of former colleagues (those who massacred her wedding party, for anyone who’s forgotten). Next up is redneck slimeball Budd (Michael Madsen), followed by the cyclopean Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) – and, finally, Bill (David Carradine) himself…

I say that Kill Bill‘s plot is the least important element of the film – and what I mean by this is that this isn’t a conventional film one should turn up to expecting to be drawn into a consistent and believable narrative with three-dimensional characters and so on. Kill Bill isn’t consistent and it isn’t believable, and it makes no attempt to be: it changes wildly in tone and style throughout the different ‘chapters’ that comprise it, and is by turns naturalistic, operatic, OTT, fantastical, repulsive, comedic, and theatrical (actors play multiple roles). In places it is also variously slow and wordy, and also rather pretentious. The bedrock of Tarantino’s career is his ability as a pasticheur, and that gets its fullest expression here, as multiple genres are reproduced one after the other. The key to enjoying this film is not to worry about the larger narrative and just appreciate what each segment has to offer.

Of course this has its downside too: the film is so upfront about its own artificiality that when it eventually attempts to be genuinely moving and emotional, it has a much harder job to do. It can’t be so cool and ironic for most of its length and then suddenly expect the audience to care about the characters as much as it would like. That it generates any kind of emotive punch at all is mainly down to Thurman’s performance, and particularly that of Carradine (displaying a reptilian charisma throughout).

And I’m still not wild about the offhand, faintly comic tone of the violence (much of it misogynistic) that punctuates the film. Tarantino’s fan-club will probably say that it’s only a film and that there’s nothing wrong with being entertained by or even laughing at this sort of thing – which presumably means it would be perfectly okay for the great man’s next offering to be a screwball comedy about paedophilia, assuming it was sufficiently stylish and witty (and contained enough obscure references to world cinema).

Anyway, while I’m still not entirely won over I am much more cheerily disposed to the project than I was. The action choreography is particularly spiffy, and fingers crossed Daryl Hannah will get a career bump off the back of this. The same goes for Michael Madsen, who gives a remarkable performance – somehow managing to be simultaneously worthless and repellent, but also weirdly sympathetic.

In the end the Kill Bill movies aren’t much more than the cinematic equivalent of a particularly eclectic and well-put-together set of compilation mix tapes – for every bit you can’t stand there’ll be another you’ll be delighted by, always assuming music’s your thing. They are, probably inevitably, less than the sum of their parts, and it’s still up for debate as to whether Tarantino’s decision to essentially invent his own new style of cinema is a mark of genius or just a way of avoiding being held to the same critical standards as everyone else – but he remains a film-maker of note. Kill Bill is a virtuoso display of his style – its limitations as well as its possibilities.

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