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On 9/11, more people died of AIDS than died of violence.” That’s just one of the startling revelations in Nobelity, a documentary written and directed by Turk Pipkin. Pipkin, a former Night Court scribe, begins the movie talking about his daughters and about how a parent’s job is to protect them during the day and reassure them at night. “But is everything going to be OK?” he asks himself in voice-over. “Are we going to leave a better world for future generations, or is this going to be the time when it all started to unravel?”
According to the rather alarming Nobelity, the latter is more likely to be true. Pipkin spent a year seeking out the inconvenient truth from nine Nobel Prize winners about subjects such as the environment, nuclear weapons, hunger, poverty, and the general divisiveness that pits global citizens against one another. The most popular conclusion that is drawn is one that most of us probably already suspect: that the blame lies in “institutional resistance”—i.e., politics. As Steven Weinberg, who was awarded the 1979 Nobel Prize in physics, points out, governments, for the most part, don’t care about people who don’t vote. Leaving an inhabitable planet for current voters’ grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Not on the agenda. And Harold Varmus, 1989 prize winner in medicine, asserts that the United States’ foreign aid is spurred not by altruism but by a self-interested desire to help our “friends.” These are perhaps obvious observations in these increasingly cynical times, but it doesn’t hurt the population to be reminded.
Pipken travels all over the world not only to interview his eloquent, amiable subjects but also to check out conditions for himself. The country that leaves the biggest impression is India, whose more than 1 billion citizens teem the streets and work for, on average, a dollar a day yet are frequently found smiling. “I’m wondering if Americans are forgetting how to smile,” Pipkin says in voice-over. Yes, it’s a bit corny, as are dramatic segments that the director uses to serve as segues between the fascinating interviews: He scowls and holds his head in his hands as he edits his footage, adds slow-mos of his daughters, writes key words that serve as chapter titles (“Reason,” “Persistence,” “Love,” etc.) on a board.
But you’d have to be a heartless bastard not to forgive these bits in light of the package Pipken has neatly assembled to give us ordinary schlubs access to the world’s greatest minds. All are compelling, but the laureates who may haunt you the most are the 96-year-old Joseph Rotblat, who was a nuclear scientist and then turned his efforts instead to ban the weapons he helped create. When questioned about how many nukes exist today, Rotblat responds, “There aren’t enough targets in the world for all these weapons.” His most chilling statement is simply, “We are really, really in danger.” Then there’s Wangari Maathai, an environmentalist whose simple idea for helping Africa is to teach its most impoverished citizens to plant trees to reverse the devastating effects of deforestation, with an underlying motive of education and empowerment.
Pipken also speaks with South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose sweetness and palpable love of mankind is concurrent with his message that we need to start regarding everyone across the globe as our family, just as God has no enemies, regardless of whether one is, for example, gay or straight, Bush or bin Laden. Tutu’s belief that one person can affect the world is echoed by fellow peace activist Jody Williams, who puts it in layman’s terms: “There is nothing magical about change. It is getting off up your ass and caring enough to take the first step.”
A movie that takes exception to the idea of one happy, global family is Crank. Co-written and -directed by first-timers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, Crank is mindless entertainment of the most gleeful kind. It’s full of sex (in the middle of a Chinatown market), drugs (“medicinal” coke), and rock ’n’ roll (“Metal Health” and, uh, “Achy Breaky Heart”). It stars perhaps the coolest new leading man on the planet, the Transporter franchise’s Jason Statham. And like the films that brought Statham fame, Crank makes you laugh at its knowing absurdity and over-the-top action, which, like the bus in that Keanu movie, can literally never stop.
Statham plays Chev, a Los Angeles hit man who crossed the wrong people and learns via a DVD labeled “Fuck you” that he’s been poisoned with the “Beijing cocktail” in his sleep. The drug makes him woozy, and the message makes him mad, so Chev destroys his television and off he goes to get revenge. Speeding along in his classic car, he’s fine. Sitting at red lights, he’s not. (In case we don’t see the torpor overcoming him, there are graphics of his heart to show its state.) Chev figures out a little too quickly that he needs adrenaline to stay alive, but he calls his doctor (Dwight Yoakam) anyway—“What are you doing?” Doc asks. “Driving through mall. Cops chasing me,” Chev nonchalantly answers—who confirms his suspicion and tells him to get some epinephrine stat.
At first, Crank threatens to be another Domino. Neveldine and Taylor hyperstylize the beginning to the point of unwatchability, with the camera whirling and jumping and even still shots flashing too quickly to give your stomach a break. The credits and street grid that show Chev’s location make the movie look like a video game, and random bits of dialogue are written in subtitles. Thankfully, though, the filmmakers somehow make the latter concept funny, and the overall visual frenzy is mostly limited to the endless tactics Chev takes to keep himself going—which themselves are endlessly inventive, including not just violence and fast driving but using nasal spray and rocking out to a cover of the Mulleted One’s classic as if it were death metal.
Obviously, Neveldine and Taylor have a sense of humor, and Statham’s deadpan presence is the perfect complement. (“Hang on,” Chev tells his doctor while he’s driving through the mall. The next shot? His car wedged in an escalator.) Chev’s ditzy girlfriend, played by a perfectly annoying Amy Smart, further complicates his time’s-running-out dilemma as he tries to shield her from his brutal reality for as long as possible by, say, dumping out the contents of her purse while he goes off to punch a few people. It’s all played, unsurprisingly, more for the sake of maximum action than of sense. But isn’t it better to find entertaining illogic in movies than depressing irrationality in the real world?CP