DID YOU READ

Jason Statham, Working Class (Action) Hero

Jason Statham, Working Class (Action) Hero (photo)

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Jason Statham is a worker. He’s released three films in 2008 alone (“Transporter 3” hits theaters today), and his characters are defined by labor, whether he’s playing a driver, a thief or an assassin. They have names evocative of union workers and hockey players: Frank Martin, Terry Leather, Chev Chelios. These are single-minded anti-heroes out to complete a mission. Nothing concerns them but the job, whether it’s a “Bank Job,” an “Italian Job” or a “Transporter” gig. The thrills in a successful Statham film come from this focus — the hurtling narratives rarely pause for backstory, concerned only with bridging the gap between a plan and its execution.

Statham’s route to tough guy stardom was circuitous. For a decade, he toured the world as a member of Britain’s national diving squad, finishing 12th on the platform at the ’92 World Championships, but amateur sports weren’t paying the bills. So he’d set up shop outside of Harrods, and, as he told IGN, “I used to put money in my pocket while working on the street corners, selling perfume and jewelry, and other goods that were supposedly expensive.”

Then he scored a modeling gig and caught the attention of Guy Ritchie, who was intrigued by his black-market experience. Roles in “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998) and “Snatch” (2000) followed, and this ex-diver/hustler/model would soon be shirtless on the big screen for years to come. “Lock, Stock” played on his working-class shyster past (Statham admits he plays a version of himself in the film), and that determined poor Cockney criminal has informed his performances since, from ruthless killers to small-time operators.

11262008_cellular.jpgThe plots in his best work abound with questions of geography, how to get from here to there. “The Transporter,” “Cellular” and “Crank” are all premised on a race against time, whether he’s tasked with breaking up a human trafficking ring, handling a kidnapping or finding a cure for an exotic poison. The action in all three is based on navigating urban spaces and improvising ways to keep moving at all costs. Such improvisation leads to some of the most imaginative action scenes in recent years — think of the oil slick brawl in the first “Transporter,” where Frank Martin douses himself in crude to slide away from his pursuers, or the mall chase in “Crank,” where Chelios wedges his car into an escalator and surfs it to the next floor. Statham isn’t the protagonist in “Cellular,” but he still manages to wheel through Santa Monica, snatching kids along the way. When asked how he’d describe “Crank,” Statham said, “”Run, run, fucking run. I do not stop. Well, that’s what the movie’s about.” It’s also a concise description of his entire output.

These ingenious set pieces were conceived by different directors, but the characters’ improvisatory spirit is similar. Whether it’s the balletic, over-the-top combat of fight choreographer/director Cory Yuen (“The Transporter”), or the straight-ahead brawling lensed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (“Crank”), Statham is great at conveying a fighter’s thought process. In “The Transporter,” Frank is a calm surveyor, so Statham plays him ramrod straight and narrow-eyed, exhibiting mulish determination in the most absurd of fight scenes, turning coconuts into boxing gloves and deploying a fire hose as a kick to the crotch. He walks with a tightly wound spring in his step, every sinew straining to be provoked. Obsessed with order and the principles of his job, his gestures are precise, his fights mathematical problems to be solved.

11262008_crank.jpg“Crank”‘s Chelios is Frank’s inverse: a frantic, dissolute jokester assassin, his face plastered with a dour smirk. Injected with a poisonous “Beijing cocktail,” the only thing that can delay its deadly business is a constant flow of adrenaline, an ingenious bit of self-reflexive plotting where action is an end in itself — the perfect expression of the Statham persona. In a cannonball of a performance, he blasts through Los Angeles, snorting nasal spray, injecting epinephrine and slamming his hand in a waffle iron, always on the edge of cracking up.

It’s a brilliant piece of slapstick, epitomized when he asks his cabbie to jack up the radio when “Achy Breaky Heart” hits the airwaves, and fruitlessly shudders to the music, trying to mosh in the backseat to release those precious endorphins. Whimpering the lyrics to stay alive, he cuts a pathetic figure, and along with exhibiting his sly, self-deprecating sense of humor, Statham introduces an unexpected note of melancholy. In the midst of a madcap hospital break-in, his face ashes upon entering an aged man’s deathbed, recognizing the decay in himself, echoed later in the exquisitely surreal final shot, calling his girlfriend one last time as he falls, incredibly slowly, to his death (although he’ll revive in time for the sequel, due next year).

With this year’s “The Bank Job” and “Death Race,” Statham continues to explore the melancholic and anti-heroic contours of his persona. He’s a blue-collar guy in both films (shady car dealer and factory worker), inadvertently roped into a criminal conspiracy that he must stubbornly unravel, through heists and (of course) murderous demolition derbies. His Terry Leather in “The Bank Job” is a low-life striver who engages in a subtle minuet of longing and retreat with the local femme fatale, consisting of a few passing glances in the midst of the post-heist intrigues. It’s a resourceful, solid turn, and another example of the remarkable continuity and elasticity of Statham’s performances, which are slowly testing his typecast boundaries by introducing mortal thoughts and flickers of romance into his overarching professional obsessions.

[Photos: “Cellular,” New Line Cinema, 2004; “Crank,” Lionsgate, 2006]

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.