SPEED RACER (2008)

SPEED RACER (2008)

Doran Gaston
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Joined: Nov 2 2004, 06:30 PM

May 11 2008, 10:25 PM #1

I haven't seen the Wachowski's new movie yet, but I'm somewhat interested in it. Most of the reviews haven't been too good, but it has received a few positive ones (including one from Mark Kermode, which I wasn't expecting: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/fiv ... 9-1723.mp3).

I was somewhat intrigued by one writer (I forget who) comparing its "pop art" aesthetic favorably to The Fifth Element, a movie I have a little bit a soft spot for (How can you not love anything that has a scientist who talks about "slightly greasy solar atoms?").
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Joined: Oct 18 2004, 03:49 PM

May 12 2008, 12:52 AM #2

Looks like a bomb. But I still want to see it with my ten year old son.
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Bob Cashill
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Bob Cashill
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May 12 2008, 01:02 AM #3

Me. Eh. It'll look good on Blu-Ray--soon.

Not to rub salt on the wound, but it also bombed abroad, too. "Cume" here and overseas stands at $33 million. WB isn't even trying to put its game face on. Quoth Variety, “It’s just one of those moments in our business where the results don’t seem to justify our hopes, and we’ll move on,” said WB domestic distribution topper Dan Fellman, who noted that responses were mostly positive from those who attended."

POSEIDON looks good in comparison.
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Joined: Oct 17 2004, 10:22 PM

May 12 2008, 01:47 AM #4

Bob Cashill @ May 11 2008, 09:02 PM wrote: WB isn't even trying to put its game face on. Quoth Variety, “It’s just one of those moments in our business where the results don’t seem to justify our hopes, and we’ll move on,” said WB domestic distribution topper Dan Fellman...
Ouch.

I thought it was ok, but pretty exhausting. Not only is it long, but it's so aggressive visually it just wears you out. All that said, I think it works better, moment to moment, than it has any right to, and the performances are all rather nicely pitched.

Visually, it does have its moments, but it's not exactly a model of blissful harmonic design. It kinda hurts.
- Jeff
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Joined: Oct 20 2004, 04:26 PM

May 12 2008, 04:55 AM #5

Bob Cashill @ May 11 2008, 08:02 PM wrote:POSEIDON looks good in comparison.
What? The remake or the bloated sinking ship in it?
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Tom Kessler
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May 12 2008, 05:47 PM #6

William D'Annucci @ May 12 2008, 04:55 AM wrote: What? The remake or the bloated sinking ship in it?
I was almost certain that he was referring to the trident-wielding god of the sea. :ph43r:

Admit it. You'd rather see him in person than SPEED RACER. Am I right?
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Bob Cashill
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Bob Cashill
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May 12 2008, 07:51 PM #7

That would be the cable-perennial remake of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, another WB dud. The original title was rejected as too long and complicated for today's ADD audience. :)
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Tom Kessler
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May 12 2008, 09:08 PM #8

I actually plan to see this and IRON MAN some time throughout this work week and because my priorities are screwed up, I'm more perversely amped for SPEED RACER. It looks like a nice big bottle of Wild Turkey (I think you know what I mean) mixed with a nice big bowl of 'shroom punch (that doesn't mean anything.....really). In other words, it looks like a potent, freaky bottled turkey that will likely make you throw up and feel dizzy and convince yourself that you had a good time.

I'm so there!

Be that as it may, isn't it about time for The Wachowskis to have their blank check and absolute creative control revoked? How is it that two guys with one freak megahit have the same kind of freedom that Warner Bros. previously granted only to Stanley Kubrick and Clint Eastwood?

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a fan and I have been since I blindly bought BOUND on laserdisc during the flurry of pre-release hype surrounding THE MATRIX. Both of those films were the work of guys who were too cool for school, but had enough cheeky style to burn. They used to be the b-movie equivalent of The Coen Brothers. And now they're like George Lucas on ecstasy with sprawling, undisciplined scripts, zero talent for (or interest in?) working with actors and absolutely no sense of pacing.

Compare the MATRIX sequels to KILL BILL. Tarantino took so much flak for the latter, because he was so reluctant to cut any of his precious set pieces. But consider how much infectuous fun KILL BILL really is from beginning to end and how gracefully Tarantino lands his white elephant on a dramatically satisfying note. Compare that to the lurching beast that compromises the last five hours of THE MATRIX. Not only could most of us come up with our own 2 - 3 hour alternative, but we'd probably also enjoy gutting that thing and watching superfluous dead weight fall away.

Of course, I'd have to keep the rave scene in RELOADED, because that Fluke track really shreds. B)

And don't get me wrong. I really like the MATRIX sequels. It's just that I do so with the awareness that they represent a meandering creative meltdown. Something went awry between the first and second MATRIX films and I'll leave it to the gossipers to speculate as to why (thus pretending I don't have a perverse interest and a string of juicy theories). Of course, certain key auteuristic skills eluded the Wachowskis even before they found themselves reloaded. Their script for V FOR VENDETTA allegedly dates back before THE MATRIX (and BOUND?) and while I applaud them for using their influence to get that project made, the script is easily the worst thing about it. And thanks to their absolutely control, no one was allowed to touch their precious, tin-eared hack job. Bollocks, I say!

So, okay. Fortunately, they kept their word processors off of WATCHMEN and left that to a supierior writer (you know, the 300 guy), but why SPEED RACER? Did they want to flame out in style? And who, why, huh....HOW in the hell did this thing get a premium May release? Were they like Stanely Kubrick when he insisted that his Christmas-decorated story of chilly sexual jealousy get a July release? It's all well and good that the Wachowskis were allowed to turn in their 135 minute SPEED RACER flick which is reloaded, I hear tell, with needlessly convoluted plotting and a lot of windy speeches full of ripe dialogue. But who was it that thought this thing shouldn't have been plunked down in February or March where there simply would not have been any competition? Theater attendance was so low in the early months of this year than a later winter release could have yielded a win-win situation for the box-office and this film's business.

But, no. Here it is rubbing shoulders with IRON MAN and PRINCE CASPIAN. I'd add INDIANA JONES, but SPEED RACER will be hastily ushered out of theaters by then to make room for the old guard at the multiplex.

So, what's next? Is Joel Silver going to keep conning Warner Brothers into writing blank checks so that the Wachowskis can keep making expensive "event" movies that no one really likes? Oh, sure, there are people like me who love a good trainwreck and, in a weird way, I feel a lot of affection for their self indulgent camp. But those $100+ million budgets sure are a lot of dough to blow on cult films for bad movie fans.

And you know? THE MATRIX is so 10 years ago.

Ah, well. I'm sure that there are certain levels of survival that the Wachowskis are prepared to accept. It might be nice to see them bound to a smaller budget and a need to prove themselves once more.
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Joined: Oct 17 2004, 10:22 PM

May 12 2008, 11:21 PM #9

Tom Kessler @ May 12 2008, 05:08 PM wrote: zero talent for (or interest in?) working with actors...
I really thought the performances worked in SPEED RACER. And it can't be easy to modulate these things effectively in front of a greenscreen. Ask George Lucas.
- Jeff
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Neil Sarver
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May 13 2008, 12:50 AM #10

JEFFREY ALLEN RYDELL @ May 12 2008, 05:21 PM wrote: I really thought the performances worked in SPEED RACER. And it can't be easy to modulate these things effectively in front of a greenscreen. Ask George Lucas.
I've always found this rather absurd. I'm not saying there's no challenge in it, but I must say that if actors have been performing "Our Town" or "Waiting For Godot" for decades, it's reasonable to expect they should be able to do it in front of a green screen.

I think the complaints say much more about the specific directors who have chosen this kind of material and, in many cases, the specific actors involved than about the technique itself.
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Joined: Oct 17 2004, 10:22 PM

May 13 2008, 01:30 AM #11

Neil Sarver @ May 12 2008, 08:50 PM wrote: I've always found this rather absurd. I'm not saying there's no challenge in it, but I must say that if actors have been performing "Our Town" or "Waiting For Godot" for decades, it's reasonable to expect they should be able to do it in front of a green screen.

I think the complaints say much more about the specific directors who have chosen this kind of material and, in many cases, the specific actors involved than about the technique itself.
My point was that it's a bigger challenge for directors, mostly, who are entrusted with the modulation of what the actors are giving them in a vacuum. I'm not sure that minimalist theater is the best comparison (yet - motion capture is changing that). Onstage there's at least a sense of a continuance of space, of mood. A chance to 'get into the zone'.

Filming in a traditionally segmented way in front of greenscreens has got to be more disorientating for all concerned (especially in action-intensive sequences) but the director's the one who really needs to be on his/her toes. I see what I perceive as a lack of trust in the director when I watch the actors in the latter-day STAR WARS movies.
- Jeff
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Joined: Oct 19 2004, 03:38 AM

May 13 2008, 02:24 PM #12

Saw it this weekend. In general I agree with the criticisms of the film, too long, etc... Flawed as it was, I think it managed to capture the spirit of the original anime. In fact, maybe part of the problem a lot of people are having with it is that it may be a little too faithful to the source.

Funny, for all the violence, no one dies. Even the ninja assassins, were really, as Pops puts it, 'nonjas' (interested in disabling rather than killing). The body count in the anime, just from the races, was stratospheric.
<A HREF="http://www.jinxtheblackcat.com"><IMG SRC="http://www.prismnet.com/~mrcoyote/image ... L-BODY.GIF" BORDER="0" ALT="Jinx"></A>
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Brian Camp
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May 14 2008, 11:02 AM #13

Neil Sarver @ May 12 2008, 06:50 PM wrote:I've always found this rather absurd.  I'm not saying there's no challenge in it, but I must say that if actors have been performing "Our Town" or "Waiting For Godot" for decades, it's reasonable to expect they should be able to do it in front of a green screen.
Best example of acting in front of a green screen that I've ever seen:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EwXHVKf_o4

All right, so it's not Samuel Beckett, although I'd pay to see these two in "Waiting for Godot." :lol:
(Hey, they already starred in a stage musical based on CHUSHINGURA.)

[P.S. Look for the John Glenn cameo in the video.]
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Tom Kessler
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Joined: Mar 20 2005, 10:35 PM

May 14 2008, 02:12 PM #14

Go, Speed Racer, go!!

Okay, I went....and I saw....and I'm very pleased with this film. It's like a mash-up of SPY KIDS, PHANTOM MENACE, KILL BILL VOL. 1, MOULIN ROUGE and THE BRADY BUNCH movies.

In some ways, it was everything I expected and yet it exceeded my expectations by a light year or two. You'll notice that I didn't say that it was "so much more" than I expected. That's because I'm not going to deny that this film is vapid and fiercely stupid. Be that as it may, it's not without substance either. It's just that the substance often lies within its style.

First off, I do want to give props to the actors. SPEED RACER has some of the best acting I've seen in a Wachowski film since BOUND. This isn't to diminish the work of Larry Fishburn, Gloria Foster or the mighty Hugo Weaving (who truly is the Hal 9000 of THE MATRIX), but in terms of infusing their unlikely characters with just the right dollop of humanity Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Matthew Fox and, yes, even Keanu Hirsch deserve a gold star for rising to the occasion.

As for the Wachowskis? Wow!! They really surprised me here. I don't think that they QUITE succeeded at what they were going for, but the effort they made in putting together something this creatively unhinged is impressive. See, I've always seen them as fiercely controlling auteurs who micromanage their projects so tightly that they almost always result in stiff, chilly exercises in stilted style. While this is probably still true to a large extent, it's exhilerating to see them loosen up and try for a Robert Rodriguez type of style.

Indeed, Rodriguez seems to be the biggest influence on this film. Those have compared it to SPY KIDS are right on the money although anyone who finds that promising should be warned that it most resembles SPY KIDS 3-D. Much like the third and least successful of the Rodriguez trilogy, SPEED RACER often seems shackled by its own technique. While the film is rich with inspired visuals it too often descends into visual chaos with the action that must have looked great in storyboards and pre-viz animatics flying at us way too fast to comprehend. Oh, sure, you can actually squint and focus hard enough to follow chunks of it, but it may not quite be worth the effort.

In between the chaos, however, are moments that really do capture the essence of what the Wachowskis were obviously going for and what would have most likely appealed to inner children in the audience. My favorite is a moment where Speed goes off of an icy cliff and then manages to catch himself with cleat-style tires and then drive vertically back up to the race. This is quickly followed by a moment where he drives off an upper cliffside road and lands on the one below. I'm sure I'm not speaking only for myself here when I say that the exhilerating defiance of physics in that sequence mirrors the type of playtime I used to enjoy at home and outside with my own toys. I can certainly tell you that my G.I. Joe tanks and vehicles were also able to drive up vertical surfaces. Not as a matter of convenience, but because my drivers were just bad ass enough to pull it off. And it was a vicarious thing on my part since I still can not get on roller coasters or similar rides to this day.

But let's get to the thick of it. How deep is the implied fetishism and possible parallels to the alleged lifestyle of Larry Wachowski? Well,...

From the first minute Christina Ricci's Trixie was on screen, I saw her as Larry Wachowski's thinly veiled alter ego. And not for nothing, but she looks really great. But does she really look like a transgendered male's desired look for himself? Oh, you bet! Heck, I wouldn't mind looking like that myself. The alchemy between the brothers and the wardrobe department really comes through here.

Of course, what really makes Trixie such a compelling character is the actress inhabiting it. Ricci really seems to understand her role in the film and makes the most of it. Her romantic scene with Hirsch in his car is genuinely involving....and kind of hot. How come the chemistry between Neo and Trinity was never this hot? And while there's subtext and double meanings aplenty ("I thought you were no longer interested in....this."), it's so well done that it can be enjoyed on the most surface level. In fact, the brothers have such great luck with Trixie that I would have almost rather watched an entire film about her. Alas, no chance of a spin-off I guess.

And how about Matthew Fox in his leather fetish gear? He looks like a mash-up of Morpheus from THE MATRIX, Ben Affleck's Daredevil and The Gimp from PULP FICTION. The scene in which he saunters into the Racers' suburban home wrapped in his tight-looking, head-to-toe leather is especially amusing. Oh, I know, he's Racer X and he's supposed to look like that! But, seriously, it's not as though he needs to hide his identity. We learn late in the film that he's taken much more radical steps to do that and we see that they clearly work. So, he has no reason to dress up like that....unless, of course, he just likes wearing the outfit.

And nearly as hot as the Speed/Trixie scene (except totally not) is the moment when Speed tries to use The Force to "listen" to his car. As fetish guru, Racer X, teaches Speed, his car is a woman and he must listen to her to know what she wants. This leads to a scene of Speed whispering to his car while running his leather-clad hand over the leather-covered upholstery. Oh, my!

While the film is most certainly the "sensory overload" that it has been accused of being, if you can slow down your overload at any given moment, you can usually find something compelling to chew on. For instance, by the time that the ninja/nonja fight rolls around, you're probably so overwhelmed and numb that you more or less expect anything. But if you slow down enough to think about what you're seeing, then you realize that you're watching a MATRIX parody.....directed by The Wachowski Brothers!!

Oh, I know that no one really cares about THE MATRIX anymore except for those few broken, bruised thirty-somethings who are nostalgic for the '90s (like Richard Kelly!), but since I'm one of those people, it warms my heart to see the Wachowskis put that much effort into the self-parody that I didn't realize I was waiting for. And speaking of self-parody, the Wachowskis' wordy, ripe writing style really serves them well here. Well, it serves their vision well. I'm sure that more than a couple of folks out there in the viewing audience would have preferred for SPEED RACER not to have been written and directed by a couple of guys who have a yen for windy, ripe dialogue.

So, yeah. It's a laugh, it's a lark and it's a goof....and well over two hours long! It's self-indulgence on a grand scale and you may as well enjoy it because you probably won't see its like again (at least until Robert Rodriguez shoots another script that one of his kids wrote).

And, yes, there's no doubting the sense of loyalty to the source material although this seems like the type of loyalty which takes root in young adults who would watch the cartoon while smoking pot. Perhaps the best description of the Wachowskis' SPEED RACER is that it feels like you're watching the cartoon....while stoned. Take that for what its worth.
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Joined: Oct 17 2004, 10:22 PM

May 14 2008, 03:54 PM #15

Tom Kessler @ May 14 2008, 10:12 AM wrote: ...yes, even Keanu Hirsch deserve a gold star for rising to the occasion.
See INTO THE WILD by any chance?
- Jeff
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Tim Lucas
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May 14 2008, 04:57 PM #16

Someday, long after we are all gone (maybe sooner), all the digital mapping done of actors like Christina Ricci to achieve scenes in movies like this will be reused to create super-realistic fetish videos in three-dimensional, interactive, holographic PalpaVision. No plot, just light and shadow and synthetic flesh. It's inevitable, given the ways of devolution, that the trend of remakes will eventually devolve to three-dimensional re-imaginings and re-explorations of individual scenes and shots. Movies like SPEED RACER* are a training ground to get us there.


* which I enjoyed (especially Chim Chim and the Peter Fernandez cameo) except for the stuff that goes by too fast and blurrily for the eye to convey to the brain
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Tom Kessler
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May 14 2008, 05:48 PM #17

JEFFREY ALLEN RYDELL @ May 14 2008, 03:54 PM wrote: See INTO THE WILD by any chance?
I have not, but I'm aware that Emile Hirsch has a reputation as a capable actor. I wasn't necessarily accusing him of being a bad actor so much as responding to reviews I've read which all seem to agree that his Speed looks tired, bored or annoyed to be in the film. He seems to inhabit the "Neo" role and it would seem that he gives a suitably Neo-like performance. Be that as it may, I disagree with those who've criticized him. I do think that he could've been a bit more charismatic, but he actually does bring a fair amount of warmth and likability to his mannequin prettyboy role. I almost wonder if the Wachowskis aren't terribly sure how to write or direct conventional male leads. Even if that's the case, The Emile Hirsch Method seems to work out pretty well especially in the long monologue where he talks to the villain (and the audience and himself) about his brother's death his father's renewed enthusiasm for racing after watching a classic race. Hirsch lays into that moment with complete professionalism and the Wachowskis do a decent job of capturing it on camera (even if they chop it into a dozen horizontal wipe transitions).

Also, when I compare someone to Keanu Reeves, it's not necessarily intended as some kind of jab. I actually like Keanu and think that he's been getting better with age.
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Shawn Garrett
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May 15 2008, 03:43 AM #18

That was goofy fun, enjoyable if approached as a movie that's going to pummel you with cotton candy fists into accepting its "I'm trapped in a pinball machine" world . If people still dropped acid and went to movies...

About 6/8ths of the way through they actually sold me, for a few minutes, on they idea that racing in the future could look like this. Weird and seemingly impossible but there you go!

In a way, it's kind of good that it...tanked...because that means no disappointing, needless sequel to clog up the works. And what's left anyway, the acrobatic car team? the Mammoth Car?

Was that fight scene in the mountain pass not only a tribute to cheap anime fight scenes but also some kind of strange homage to the Adam West BATMAN?

Will this do well in Japan? Anyone?

Awww, bring on the MARINE BOY movie ("he is a boy, a very special boy...") for all of the Wachowski Brothers latex and rubber friends.
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Craig Blamer
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May 15 2008, 03:50 AM #19

Shawn Garrett @ May 14 2008, 08:43 PM wrote: Will this do well in Japan? Anyone?
Damned if I know... but it didn't help PR any by having the Japanese racing team betray Speed Racer.
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Doran Gaston
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May 16 2008, 12:07 AM #20

I just got back from seeing this. I enjoyed it, but I don't have much to add other than that I second most of what everyone else here has said, both pro and con. I did think that it was probably one of the more fun Big Dumb Summer Blockbusters to come along in a while. I haven't seen Iron Man yet, so this is the first one I've seen this year, and on that level, I enjoyed it a lot. It's nonsense all right, but it's triumphant, delirious nonsense (Do you think the studio would've put that quote on the poster?).

I particularly enjoyed John Goodman's performance in this. His "nonja" line made me laugh. There were a few places where I almost expected him to use some kind of PG variant of his "This is what happens when you f**k a stranger in the ass!" line from The Big Lebowski.
(Maybe it could've been the "This is what happens when you have fun with a stranger in the alps!" version of the line from the tv/airline version of The Big Lebowski.) :P

It was also fun to see Hiroyuki "Henry" Sanada show up for a bit part, but it was a little disappointing that he never really did much of anything.
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