The Most 2009 Movie of 2009

January 18, 2010

The movie released last year that felt most like last year was Crank 2: High Voltage. I’m serious.

If Up in the Air is an example of what we want a movie that speaks to the current moment to look like, Crank 2 is what such a movie would actually look like.

Yes, Crank 2 is the appallingly violent story of a tough guy who, moments after falling out of a helicopter (at the end of the Crank 1), is peeled off the pavement by a Chinese gangsters who remove his heart and replace it with a shoddy mechanical one. (They need to put in the mechanical heart to keep his other organs viable for harvesting, particularly his penis. Still not kidding.)

And yes, the tough guy’s malfunctioning artificial heart requires him to periodically electrocute himself to keep it running while he’s kicking ass through a bunch of racially specific gangs in search of his original heart. That’s not to mention his Tourette Syndrome afflicted sidekick or stripper girlfriend.

It’s all wildly offensive and racist, but so broad in both that it feel like it’s commenting on crazy action movie violence and stereotypes. Which is a nice way of saying that some audiences will laugh with the jokes while others will laugh at them, and both groups will feel mostly fine about themselves afterwards.

Crank 2 is like a period specific update of Caligula that’s replaced the sex with violence, and the violence with more ridiculous violence. Despite featuring a bushel of porn stars and a herd of boobs, it’s not a bit sexy. That it easily qualified as mainstream entertainment says nearly as much as its story.

The right way to watch Crank 2, copyright-aside, would be on a bootleg DVD, complete with the guy holding the camcorder occasionally talking back to the screen and getting the shakes. It feels practically designed for it. (And it’s basically how the movie was filmed in the first place.)

We live in a Wile E. Coyote world at the moment. We’re constantly being (metaphorically) beaten up and have the nagging suspicion that, though we hope the worst is over, we’re about to find out that there’s only air under our feet. Crank 2 captures that.


How Jay Leno Might Cause your local Weatherman to Stop Taking his Medication

January 15, 2010

The lesson we learn from the Conan/Leno late night imbroglio might have more to do with the power of mainstreaming conflict than anything involving NBC, late night television, or comedy.

It’s harder than ever to get people to care about entertainment institutions, and if the current late night late conflict has shown us anything, it’s that conflict sells. (Well, it’s also taught us that NBC seems to have standards for executive performance that would make them right at home on Wall Street, but that’s a story for a different day.)

One of the key moments in the ratings battle between the Conan’s nascent Tonight Show and David Letterman’s Late Show was Letterman’s involvement an extra-martial affair related extortion plot. With real life drama supplementing Stupid Pet Tricks, what active late night viewer wasn’t going to watch?

Naturally, since NBC’s stupid human trick put Conan on the spot, his ratings have been rising every night. Hell, the conflict even got me to watch Leno once. (On the wrong night, unfortunately, as I missed Jimmy Kimmel’s unreal appearance last night.)

So, while NBC’s brand is taking a hilarious beating, when it comes to the numbers that they really care about, ratings that will later be used to determine advertising rates, their ham-fisted handling of the Tonight Show has solved the very problem they were trying to address.

I’m wondering, why stop there? If real world conflict translates to advertising dollars, why shouldn’t a local newscaster, say, announce that they were going off their meds and didn’t know for sure what might happen? (Come to think of it, I just described Glenn Beck’s show…)

We’re living in a society that’s just about post-dignity and post-seriousness. Success, even in something as ultimately meaningless as television ratings, provides a patina of respect. It took American Idol, after its premiere, about two months to turn from a carnival sideshow exploiting damaged youth by exploiting their hopes for fame into a chronicle of the triumph of the human spirit. And Mr. Beck’s nuttiness has certainly worked out well for him.

So, I wonder if the lasting legacy of this very public conflict between millionaire comedians won’t be a sizable increase in the use of real world conflict to generate interest in cultural properties.


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