Friday, February 15, 2013

Film Friday: Speed Racer (2008)

You may, or may not, have heard of a little bomb called Speed Racer. Directed by the Wachowski “brothers,” this film is a live version of the 1960’s Japanese cartoon of the same name. This film lost $27 million of its $120 million investment and it was widely panned by critics. But I’m gonna tell you, I like this film. What the critics hated about the film is that they couldn’t relate to it. Why couldn’t they relate to it? Because it’s an un-cynical film aimed at young boys.

** spoiler alert **
Plot
Speed Racer follows Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), a teenage Formula One racer. Speed drives the Mach 5, a white Formula One car with some special features. The car is owned by Racer Motors, which is an independent racing company owned by Speed’s parents Pops (John Goodman) and Mom (Susan Sarandon). Speed has a girlfriend named Trixie (Christina Ricci) and a little brother named Spritle, who happens to have a monkey. Speed is also possibly the best racer ever, but he’s not quite there yet because he still lives in the shadow of his older brother, Rex Racer, who died after standing up to race fixers. . . his name was smeared in the process too.
The plot of this one is simple. Speed is an excellent driver. He’s so good that he’s caught the eye of E.P. Arnold Royalton, owner of Royalton Industries, an evil conglomerate which dominates the racing world. Royalton sees racing as being only about money, whereas Speed sees it as being about glory and challenging yourself. When Speed rejects an offer to sell out to Royalton, Royalton sets out to destroy Speed. He even tries to have speed killed in the Casa Cristo 5000, a notoriously violent off-road race. Helping Speed is a mysterious figure called Racer X (Matthew Fox), who appeared right after Rex died and who drives exactly like Rex used to. wink wink

Over the course of a few races and the attempt by Royalton to get Speed to sell his soul, the story revolves around questions of honor, integrity, money versus sportsmanship, race fixing, cheating, and the importance of families. Naturally, the movie comes down to a final race between Speed and a childhood hero who is exposed as rotten, with Royalton’s company, Racer Motors, Rex’s reputation, and Speed’s life all on the line.
Just Kick Back And Enjoy It
Oh, where to begin. . . let me start by saying that in a technical sense, this movie is positively brilliant and it achieves its purpose perfectly. The idea is to take a rather stylized cartoon and turn it into a live action film without losing the spirit of the cartoon, but simultaneously creating a movie worth watching. The film does that perfectly. In fact, this is easily one of the best adaptations of a cartoon on film. Not only does this movie capture the heart and soul of the original, but it manages to bring the cartoon’s stylized ways to real life actors. This is the movie Dick Tracy wished it had been.
The film also wants to pull you into a totally unreal world and make it real for you. The film achieves that too. Indeed, this film is a virtual assault of color and sound and action. It’s so overpowering to your rational mind that it literally forces you to accept its reality. Its scenery is beautiful too, as are the sets. These are the kinds of locations you wish could be real so that you could live there. Additionally, the action is just stylized enough to feel real, yet unreal enough that your mind never doubts the physics of what you see because you know the physics are only suggestive. This allows the races to be exciting rather than boring because the cars achieve all kinds of interesting stunts that would never work in real life, but which you can accept because you understand this isn’t meant to be real.

Sounds great, right? So what’s the problem?

Well, that depends on who you ask. According to the liberal critics, the problem with this film is that it has “nothing of interest to anyone over the age of 10.” They also described the film as having an “undreamed of level of narrative incoherence.” In other words, they didn’t get it. Conservative critics attacked the film for being anti-capitalist. This is all wrong.

What’s going on here is that the critics couldn’t relate to the movie. They are cynics, and they are politicized to boot. Thus, a film that is entirely lacking in cynicism offends them. They cannot relate to a world where the good guy wears a white helmet and stands for loyalty, family and sportsmanship. They need corruption and anguish, which they mistake for drama. To them, the idea that a hero would have no flaws is just anathema.
Moreover, let’s be honest, most film critics are not really nice people. They make a living off of trying to be “bitchy.” So the idea of a feel-good film offends them – think of the last feel-good film they didn’t pan. Even worse, center that feel-good film around traditional male values, which are disdained in the media culture, and you have a film which is easy for these bitchy-boys to hate. To them, Speed Racer is the family friendly version of 300, a film which Roger Ebert dismissed because all the actors had muscles and they were “fascists.” They don’t like Hollywood putting out films with these kinds of messages where people are loyal, where young men are unapologetic heroes, and where sports and competition are seen as a worthy pursuits in and of themselves. Their world is the world of Friday Night Lights, where abusive coaches milk athletes for all they are worth for cynical reasons as the young heroes struggle against a fate that has doomed them to a life of despair... or the world of The Devil Wears Prada where vile hags snipe at each other as Roger Ebert touches himself.

At its core, Speed Racer is a true feel good story. Every time someone good is challenged, they overcome that challenge with the strength of their character and the help of their friends. These people are struggling to make a better world, a less cynical world free of rigged races, where races are raced for the thrill of the challenge to prove your own skill and mettle, not to make a quick buck or to try to live up to the abusive demands of failed parents. And Speed’s family is loving to the point of being downright corny. And you know what? It’s great to see that. These people are all capable, decent people without the slightest hint of an evil side, and that makes them easy to like. . . unless you’re a jaded media-type.
What about the complaint that the film is anti-capitalism? Give me a break. The villain is Royalton Industries, a conglomerate and a monopolist. Monopolies are not capitalism in action, they are the same thing as government power. Moreover, like most monopolists, this one got there by rigging races, cheating investors, and sabotaging competitors. They use connections with the government and threats of frivolous legal action and flat-out cheating to maintain their power against the nimble small business Racer Motors, which cleans their monopolist clocks. Royalton represents anti-competition, and his defeat is more an ode to free markets and competition than anything anti-business.

So here’s the bottom line. This film is not Citizen Cane. It’s not deep. It’s not nuanced. It’s not complex. It’s not Star Wars and won’t spark an entirely new genre. But this film deserves a second chance. Turn out the lights, put it on the biggest screen in your house, put all your cynicism aside, and just enjoy this film for what it is – it’s a film about a young man in an amazingly frenetic and flashy world who wants to make the world a better place. That make him a real hero.

52 comments:

Anthony said...

Andrew said:

What the critics hated about the film is that they couldn’t relate to it. Why couldn’t they relate to it? Because it’s an un-cynical film aimed at young boys.
------
I strongly disagree with you on this one. Critics have many faults and are justly considered unreliable by fans of raunchy comedies, unapologetic action movies and gory horror movies, but crtics and audiences tend to be on the same page with kid's movies.

Critics are more likely to beat up a kid's movie for the presence of cynicism (see Alvin and the Chipmunks) rather than its absence (Winnie the Pooh and Ponyo spring to mind). Indeed, critics are tougher on cynicism than kids tend to be because kids sometimes don't recognize cynical manipulation.

Its also worth noting that kids have more of an appetite for edginess in their films than many critics and some parents would like to acknowledge. Along the same lines, kids tend to 'play up' (meaning that younger kids play stuff for older kids because they want to be like their older siblings). So a perfect main character in a candy colored world not being a big draw to kids is no surprise, especially given that it wasn't a cartoon.

While there are a handful of successful cartoonesque movies which aren't actually cartoons (Home Alone, Babe) in modern times most of them fail (why watch an imitation cartoon when you can watch an actual cartoon?).

I confess I never saw the Speed Racer movie, but the trailer looked like an incoherent mess and after the abominations that were the last two Matrix movies (though being completely unfamiliar with the graphic novel, I did like V for Vendetta), I recognize that the Warchowskis are as capable of producing a crap movie as a great one.

Also, if one wants to base a movie on a property actual kids don't care about, one should target it at the people who did care (which was the way Bay handled the Transformers) and hope they drag their kids along with them.

Of course, the height of Speed Racer's popularity was so long ago (my father has clearer memories of it than I do) that it would probably need to be grandparents taking their grandkids to see it.

*Shrugs* All that being said, I haven't seen the movie and maybe it is good.

tryanmax said...

This has been on my watch list for a while, but never quite made it to the top. I'll give it a spin over the weekend and check back with you. Thanks for giving me an excuse to elevate it!

Tennessee Jed said...

I guess I couldn't fault a critic who claimed he could not relate to a film aimed at young boys. That is precisely why It blew right over my radar screen. And don't get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against young boys; it's just it has been so long since I've had kids or grandkids around. I do remember one thing about the original cartoon: Whoever did the voiceover for Speed had a great "gasp!"

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I may be wrong but I get the feeling that, if you hated the movie, you'd be complaining about the same things you're praising. (Just imagine if you liked the SW prequels.)

Re: complaints that the film is anti-capitalist, this is one of those distinctions (capitalism vs. monopoly, etc.) that many right-leaning critics seem to forget when faced with a negative portrayal of anything business-related. (Also see Wall-E.)

Re: the lack of cynicism - I can see how some critics might complain about the lack of edginess* but I also agree with Anthony - critics complain about kids movies all the time, sometimes because they go too far, other times because they don't go far enough, and most of the time because kid-friendly movies are unbearable for adults to sit through!

*I recall critics complaining about a recent Disney movie called Prom because it was all PG-rated innocence and didn't portray the "true" prom experience. (i.e: sex, drugs, rock and roll.)

And as for me, I saw this film... meh. Of course, I never saw the original cartoon so I had no loyalty to the material and after the Matrix sequels, I had no loyalty to the Wachowski, uh, siblings. The film was beautiful to look at but didn't leave a lasting impression.

I am open to seeing it again one day. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Just take the movie in for what it is. It's just pure entertainment.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, This movie was very much aimed at families with young boys. I doubt that many other people will be interested in it. This film is very much what you would get if you asked a group of 10 year old boys what they would like to see and how they saw the world and then you tried to give it to them.

That said, there are some very clever film techniques and things used and the story telling style is actually rather sophisticated, but it comes across as really simple and really easy for kids to enjoy.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I think this film failed for two reasons. 1. The property is too old, too obscure and doesn't relate to modern kids -- especially the idea of Formula One cars. That's a Euro thing these days and Americans don't think about it... they think about NASCAR. Also, by doing "Speed Racer" they really sent the signal that unless you knew the cartoon, you shouldn't see this. That's the danger with remakes. They would have been smarter to create a new property.

2. The film is too long for kids to enjoy. In truth, this film is not aimed so much at kids as it is aimed at adults who wants to feel like kids again.

On the critics, I disagree entirely. Outside of a few "family friendly critics," most critics are uber-cynical elitist leftists. They only accept certain values as allowable and they only accept certain presentations as real. If you present middle America or traditional western values in a positive light, then they attack you. And ironically, they attack your lack of cynicism as being "cynical." This is exactly what critics like Ebert said about The Blind Side, Battle Los Angeles, and this film -- they called it "cynical" without ever giving a reason.

Moreover, as for liking "boys stories," show me the last story aimed at boys they liked? They love feminized stories and stories about girl heroes, but they despise simply, male-aimed action stories. It's inconsistent with their media culture beliefs which sees "boy values" as misogynist and unfair.

In terms of the flawless hero, the fact he doesn't have flaws does not in any way mean there isn't drama. It just means the drama needs to come from the story and the choices the hero is given rather than some phony internal struggle. This hero, for example, is constantly put in the position of choosing between his values and helping his family or even having his family hurt, and he fights to achieve both goals. That's a pretty noble story, yet the critics decried it as being without interest because it lacked the kind of self-doubt they want to see.

BIG MO said...

As nutso as my sons are over Speed Racer (like my bro and I were over the fantastic original), I actually haven't seen the movie other than snips here and there and cut scenes on the Wii game. But Pops Racer always struck me as a pretty good example of capitalism in action: He's an inventor who designed a terrific product his company didn't want, so he built it himself. His son Speed uses that product to win race after race, brings the dough home to re-invest in team Racer and sometimes donates it where it can do some good.

Perhaps that's an over-simplification, but Pops was -- and is -- a great, moral, uplifting character with a heck of a right-cross when angered. I’ll have to watch the movie now, because I forgot John Goodman was in it, and I bet he makes a good show as Pops.

My boys watch the insipid Speed Racer: The Next Generation cartoon, where the son of the original Speed is a student at Spritle's racing academy, and Speed and his schoolmates build the Mach 6, a race car that doesn't run on gas/oil. Naturally, the main villain does everything he can to capture or destroy the Mach 6 so he can keep his evil oil profits. Sigh.

One thing about the original cartoon: Japan’s Mach GoGoGo was transplanted to America as Speed Racer in the late 1960s pretty much intact, well before TV programmers decided that no kid should ever see a cartoon bad guy get killed. Bad guys often paid the ultimate price in Speed Racer, unlike, say, the 1980s icon GI Joe, where thousands of bullets, missiles and shells fly around and no one is killed or even hurt, ever.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott,

I may be wrong but I get the feeling that, if you hated the movie, you'd be complaining about the same things you're praising. (Just imagine if you liked the SW prequels.)

I don't understand this comment at all. I don't change my views of what works and what doesn't in a film based on how much I like the film. If they include something that doesn't fit the movie, I could say that, but I can't see me criticizing anything I am praising here just because I didn't like the movie overall? I would still tell you that the hero was noble, the visuals were great, the villain was fine, but for ___ reason, I didn't like it... and here's how I would have fixed it.

I assume your mention of SW means you are saying that there are similar elements in the SW prequels that I criticized but am praising here? I don't see that though. The visuals in Menace are good, I like those -- they aren't this intense though. The visuals in the next two are lifeless and unreal, but acceptable -- though they never present you with a world you would want to see in person, unlike this one. The characters in the SW Prequels are a mess. They lack consistent values and you couldn't really describe what any of them believe at their cores. This film is the opposite, you understand them all completely. The theme here is a young boy who wants to make the world better. The theme is SW is a snotty teen who hates everyone and is just going through the motions. There's really no comparison and even if somehow I liked SW, there would be no way for me to flip those things around and praise them, just as I can't imagine I would be upset by the things in this movie if I didn't like the film.

Also, so you know, I didn't like this film the first time through. It felt awkward to me. But it grew on my after I stopped looking for deeper meaning and just took it in the spirit in which it was offered, which is a movie aimed at people who want to feel like kids again for a couple hours.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott,

(continued)

critics complain about kids movies all the time, sometimes because they go too far, other times because they don't go far enough, and most of the time because kid-friendly movies are unbearable for adults to sit through!

I think you are mistaking complaining for consistency here. You need to look at what the critics are complaining about. Yes, some complain because some "kids" films are steeped in violence and adult issues, but those films tend to be way over the top. Others complain that kids films are too simplistic for adults to like. But that's not the issue here.

The issue here is that the critics complained unfairly. They described the film as incoherent, when it's not. They called it cynical, when it's the opposite. These are the same way they dismiss other films with value they don't like -- "Battle Los Angeles" and "The Blind Side" are the best examples of this. The problem is that these films present a set of values which the critics do not share. These films show positive portrayals of average Americans. The critics don't like that. Their world is the world of bitchy people who snipe at each other and they see average people hypocritical perverts who are haunted by their own misdeeds.

And you point about "Prom" fits with this. These critics do not want to see a film that touches upon something like sport or teenage years without seeing the ugly side "exposed." That's cynical to think that the only way a story needs to be told is if the ugly side is presented and made the focus.

AndrewPrice said...

Big Mo, I think Goodman is fantastic as Pops. He is absolutely the capitalist ideal. He's smart, courageous and self-reliant. He works because he loves it, and he doesn't believe in taking short cuts. And in the process, he manages to compete with these industries that have thousands of employees and billions of dollars in facilities.

What's more, he's a great father figure. He guides his son but lets him make up his own mind and he's there for him when he needs it. And he does have a heck of a right cross. There's a great line after he beats up a ninja about "Ninja? More like a non-ja!" :)

When the conservative critics called this film anti-capitalist, I thought they were crazy. They really missed the point that the bad guy was a rotten monopolist who got to where he is by cheating in races, rigging races, cheating investors, and using every dirty trick like frivolous legal action to try to stop smaller companies from taking him out. That is not an anti-capitalism message, it's a pro-free market competition message.

If you watch this, as I've said above, don't expect anything sophisticated, just expect a fun ride and take it for what it is -- purely an escape.

rlaWTX said...

This was on the other night, and I started to watch it - but it came on at 1am and I was really supposed to already be asleep, so I was a good girl and turned it off. However, based on the first 20 minutes or so, it certainly was visually interesting. What I saw was just the "background" portions via flashbacks while Speed was racing... I'd try it again if it came back on at a decent time...

K said...

Going to have to disagree with you here Andrew.

I rented SR since the visuals looked awesome. Unfortunately, they weren't just awesome, they were so awesomely awesome that they exceeded my limits for awesomeness. IOWs, they sucked.

The final straw was the amateur graphic design move of the mother's disembodied head window slowly floating across the screen during a conversation. Words fail and a sure sign that the awesomeness had traveled full circle into mega-lame territory.

Add to that the action being so fast and detail so dense that it was difficult to see what was going on - which works fine for 3 year olds since they'll watch anything with lots of bright and shiny things moving about on the screen. Which puts SR on the level of a putting the kid in front of the washing machine for the afternoon.

There is no comparison of SR to any of the Dr. Seuss films which are aimed at the same audience. Dr. Seuss appeals to both young kids for their comic and creative visuals while also being so clever in dialog and message that they also appeal to adults. Something which SR doesn't IMO.

The movie was written and directed by Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski (who used to be known as the Wachowski brothers) and who also wrote and directed the Matrix movies - and the rather nasty political abomination "V for Vendetta".

What I saw on the screen during SR was the result of two film auteurs who had taken their success as cutting edge film makers a little too seriously and pushed the envelope well beyond it's bounds. SR is the best example of hubris by film makers I've seen in a long time. Even Lucas didn't approach the level of the Wachowskis.

As a final note, I didn't mind the bad guy being the corporate greedy guy, but I always take one point off for every kids movie that uses corporate greedy guys. I do this since, in their effort to be sure kinds know that corporations are run by evil greedy guys, it's become a horrible cliche.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, not to back up Scott or anything, but when I saw this was today's film, I'd have bet dollars to donuts you were going to say it was awful.

And I haven't seen it. I remember seeing the previews for it and thinking it was full of dumb, and that's about it.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, The visual are really great. I think the movie is a good one too, but don't expect anything sophisticated. You just have to kind of sit back and enjoy it for what it is.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I do enjoy all kinds of films, even dumb films. I wouldn't be reviewing films if I didn't.... me no film snob.

That said, I just enjoyed this one. I didn't the first time through because I think I expected something more twisted, given that the Wachowskis had just done the Matrix and Bound, but when I realized I was looking for too much and I just watched the movie for what it was, I found it to be solid, creative and very entertaining. It's essentially a sports movie with all the usual cliches, but they're well disguised and everything is wrapped up in a truly stunning visual world that really matches childhood imaginations quite nicely.

It's a nice bit of escapism.

AndrewPrice said...

K, I normally grade off for corporate villains too, but in this case, this wasn't some environmentalist or advocate for poor people who was opposed to a generic corporation that proves evil. This was a small business fighting a corrupt conglomerate. I think the message is actually pro-competition and that's rare.

On the visuals, I suppose that's a matter of taste, but I think that anything less spectacular would have been a problem. It would have pulled out the fantasy element of this film and that would have meant nothing else would have worked. Indeed, the visuals here are very much like you find in the better videogames these days -- they remind me of the Final Fantasy series actually.

On the stylized moments, the critics did complain a lot about that, but remember that the directors were trying to take a very stylized cartoon and bring it to life. This wasn't Bugs Bunny, this was anime which has lots of different tricks to present its story. Again, if it's not your taste, then it's not, but I thought it was very effective in giving the story the feel of a comic book brought to life.

On the action, I didn't have a problem following but, but also, the action scenes weren't about the races themselves -- that's why most were done in montages. The action scenes were about how the characters relate to each other and the race itself was secondary.

djskit said...

When I was 10, I was a HUGE Speed Racer fan. (Car Acrobatic Team anyone? Snake Oiler!)

But I'll have to echo earlier comments. I saw the trailer in theaters and after the 2 Matrix sequals, it looked like a bad acid trip that would probably be a confusing mess.

I'll give it another shot.

AndrewPrice said...

djskit, Snake Oiler is in this one and I like the character a lot.

Give it a try. This film won't set the world on fire, but honestly, it's a pleasant escape to a very different world where the good guys are good and where right is right.

BIG MO said...

Djskit - Nothing, but nothing, beats the Mach 5 vs. the Mammoth Car, though the Car Acrobat Team comes darn close.

AndrewPrice said...

Big Mo, One of the truly fun aspects of this film -- which totally feels like it comes straight from the kinds of daydreams young boys have growing up -- are the different types of cars and how they can all jump around and do acrobatics at various stages. This is the kind of film where you can almost hear the 10 year old inside you saying, "coool, and then this guy would jump up over this guy and slide down the hill to get in front of everybody... and wouldn't it be cool if his car had like a giant hammer on it...." The races are like that.

PikeBishop said...

Line from my favorite bad review of this film: "It's like someone melted Skittles on my eyeballs."

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, LOL! That is pretty funny. I have to say though, the colors really worked for me. It made this world really vibrant and exciting. I'd love to see anywhere that's really like this.

T-Rav said...

Off topic, sources say that Harrison Ford will be reprising his role as Han Solo in the next Star Wars movie.


.....

In reaction, I can only say this.

Outlaw13 said...

Every time I see or hear about Speed Racer I think about this SONG. I heard it in a nightclub in Austin, TX in the '90s and it made me look at Speed Racer in a different light. N Particularly SFW :)

By the way Friday Night Lights wasn't about some cynical coach abusing his players. That WAS however, the plot of that abysmal film, Varsity Blues. Get your Texas high school football movies straight. :)

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Let me second that No.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, I've never heard that version of the song. LOL! :)

Varsity Blues, definitely, but I get the sense from FNL that the coach knew Miles couldn't run but let him in anyway because he felt pressure to win? Either way though, FNL was a very cynical look at high school football in Texas in my opinion -- especially the way they showed the families being obsessed with it and forcing the kids to play.

Mr_Severus_Snape said...

I should be checking this out soon. I'll see any movie that leftist critics call "fascist"! I wouldn't be a good "fascist" if I didn't! lol

The overuse of CGI in the movie is a bit of a turn-off, though.

I'm also not a huge fan of the Wachowski bros or whatever they are...

I agree not every movie has to be Citizen Kane or a feel bad depressing movie! A corny movie free from cynicism can also be good, if those critics just get their heads out of their asses.

AndrewPrice said...

Snape, He didn't call this film "fascist," he called 300 fascist.

I think that's a good description -- corny movie free from cynicism. This movie won't change your life, but I found it to be excellent escapism.

Outlaw13 said...

Andrew, I would say the part about families being obsessed with it and forcing kids to play isn't cynical, it's true. My 2 cents as a Texan.

I will have to take a look at this film. The previews turned me off, but I did watch the show from time to time as a kid.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, I'm not surprised it's true. I've seen some crazy things about high school football in Texas and a couple other places.

I hope you enjoy the film. Just remember this is pure escapism. It's nothing more. So go in with that mindset.

BevfromNYC said...

Okay, would I be revealing too much in saying that I had a crush on Speed Racer when I was a child? Don't judge me...

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, LOL! I'm sure he liked you too. :)

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

It just seems like this movie indulges in a lot of things we normally complain about in other movies. On the other hand, I'm usually the first one to excuse such things if the movie itself is good. I guess that's why the overpowering visuals work here yet may not work elsewhere.

I wasn't making a direct comparison between Speed Racer and the SW prequels - apples and oranges! (Very bad oranges, that is.)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm just curious what things you see that we normally criticize?

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

Indeed, this film is a virtual assault of color and sound and action. It’s so overpowering to your rational mind that it literally forces you to accept its reality.

Again, I think that if you didn't like this movie, something like the excerpt above could just as easily be used against it.

But, hey, it's just me. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think there's a difference between what I'm saying and what you're thinking. Let me explain.

In a movie like, Transformers Gimme Money, I would agree that the visual effects are basically an assault meant to numb you into submission. Things are thrown at you so fast and so constantly that all you see are blurs and the hope is that your mind just shuts down and you accept what you are seeing. Essentially, it's the CGI version of the shaky-cam, where they create action by just shaking things enough that you get too sick to verify that nothing is really happening.

That's not the case here. In this instance, the entire world is vibrant and colorful in ways that our world is not. And that color isn't just from CGI, it's their clothes, the way the sets are painted, the way everything glows. These color and the lights aren't meant to make you look away, they are meant to pull you in and immerse you in this world. The idea here is to make this world feel like that moment you first walk into a toy store or a candy store and you see unlimited possibilities before you start to recognize everything that's there.

In other words, the color here is meant to create a fantasy world you want to drink in... whereas, The CGI in Transformers is meant to distract you and confuse you in the hopes of tricking you into thinking there is more going on than you think.

One is meant to make you want to look, the other is meant to makes you close your eyes.

I think that's a huge difference and that's why I would absolutely praise the visuals in this film even if I didn't like the movie.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

Okay, that works for me. :-)

By the way, as its resident defender, go easy on Dick Tracy! Considering they were still using old-school techniques back then, I'd say Warren Beatty and Co. accomplished what they set out to do.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I almost reviewed Dick Tracy the other day. Visually, that's a great film. It's definitely the pre-CGI equivalent of this film. BUT... making it a musical was a mistake, especially making it such a weak musical. Also, despite the cool chances they took with the costumes, the makeup and the sets, they took no chances at all with the direction and it feels disconnected to me -- like it was designed by some pretty visionary people who all left, so the producers hired some hack to direct it using what was already set up.

ScottDS said...

Interesting. I can't say I'm too familiar with Warren Beatty's other work so I have no idea where this falls in his overall filmography.

I will admit it ends a little too neatly, with all the henchmen getting killed off in seemingly one 30-second montage.

Not to go too off-topic...

...it looks like I'll be waiting for Blu-Ray to check out the latest Die Hard movie. I've read comparisons to both Batman & Robin and Beverly Hills Cop 3 and it seems to feature all the worst aspects of modern-day action filmmaking... all wrapped up in only 90 minutes. The other films were 2+ hours and I'm pretty sure we can expect an extended cut later.

I'll happily review it later in the year. :-)

Also, I just watched Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Interesting story, great cast... but I felt it meandered a bit too much. This was a case where I might've liked it had it been directed differently. (I've never read the book.)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I suspect bad things about the new Die Hard film. So I'm happy to wait.

I saw TTSS over X-mas and honestly didn't like it at all. I thought the plot was good, even if it was something I'd seen too much already in spy films, but I hated the direction... absolutely hated it. Honestly, I would have fired the director and started over if I was the producer.

shawn said...

I found Dick Tracy quite enjoyable and think it holds up pretty well considering it was supposed to an homage to the old school 3 color comics.

Speed Racer was some great eye candy. Not for everybody, but really enjoyed it too.

Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy was a real struggle to finish. Dull, dull, dull,at least in my opinion. What a waste of some really great talent.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I like Dick Tracy, I just wish they had made some different choices that I think would have helped a lot. The musical aspect really didn't work for me.

I agree about Speed Racer, it's not for everybody, but is very enjoyable if you're that somebody.

Totally agree about TTSS, it was deathly dull and a waste of talent.

Commander Max said...

I liked this one as well, when the film first started out it looked like it was going to be typical. But as the film progressed it kept getting better. I was quite surprised.

We used to have a film critic in Phoenix. That was notorious for not seeing the films he was critiquing. It was very funny when he would get nailed in the editorial section. With people often stating, Mr Soinso's critique was not the film I saw.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, It took me a second viewing before I liked this one. I agree with you though, this film gets better as it moves forward and as you get more accustomed to their word and the story just takes over. The beginning involves a lot of narration which is needed, but it's as fun to watch as later scenes.

That's hilarious about the film critic. I've caught some journalists at times talking about things they didn't actually witness or don't actually know anything about, but nothing so obvious as reviewing a film they clearly didn't see. LOL! It does make me wonder, however, how many reviews are written based just on "assumed content" rather than actual content.

tryanmax said...

As promised, I moved Speed Racer to the top of my viewing list so I could intelligently engage this thread.

I happen to think Andrew is selling this one short by downplaying its level of sophistication. Not that it is terribly sophisticated, but it certainly is more so that it's coming off at this point. As such, I happen to think that this film exposes the laziness of most critics. For all the in-your-face action and effects, some elements of the story are surprisingly subtle. I disagree that this film lacks a conflicted hero, and in fact, I find two.

Speed Racer feels overshadowed by his deceased older brother, yet carries the utmost respect for him at the same time. So much so that he throws besting his brother's record at the beginning of the film. Yet he goes on to combat race fixing. This conflict may seem to get glossed over because we don't get any gushing monologue from Speed on the subject, but it is in fact dealt with in the subtext of the narrative as Speed clinging to the belief that Racer X is his brother gives him a reason not to hold back. Resolution is found when X reveals his face to Speed, and it is not the face of Rex. But Speed decides that the best way to honor his brother is to not hold back, but perform at his utmost.

We also have Racer X, who is ultimately revealed to be Rex, but only to the audience. His secret is kept from Speed and the Racer family. This thinly-veiled double-twist is only exposed in the closing scene of the film, but it casts everything that precedes it in a different light, ending the film on a bittersweet note and robbing the elation from the moment prior. The entire conflict is dealt with in a few short lines, but that doesn't make it any less impactful to the story.

The reason the critics missed both of these, I think, is because they weren't brooded over overtly and expositionally, but were rather handled more fluidly through dialogue and action--the foundational elements of drama. I also believe their dislike of the film was purely visceral. I wouldn't expect them to enjoy the film any better if they were able to find these themes, because they still represent a worldview which they clearly resist. But since it wasn't spoon-fed to them, they could only react instinctively, which is why they haphazardly toss about words like "cynical" to describe a story which is anything but.

You might think I was impressed by this film, and you'd be right. I have much more I could say about it, but I have to get my kiddos to a haircut appointment. I'll check back later.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Excellent! I'm always happy to expose good films to people! :)

On your thoughts, I concur 100%. I can wait to hear more of your thoughts.

First, I think the use of the word "cynical" is the tip off here. There is nothing cynical about this film and the fact the critics dismissed it as such is proof, as you say, that this film "represents a worldview which they clearly resist." In fact, that says it perfectly -- they didn't like the world this film stands for, so they were going to attack it one way or another. And the best way to attack it is to project their own worst quality on it -- cynicism, because this film stands for the polar opposite of the cynical world they would create if they wrote a film.

Secondly, you are 100% correct about the problem of exposition. I've run into this with my own books... people either love them or hate them, there's very little middle ground. And the people who hate them tend to say things like, "we don't know anything about the characters' motivations." When I first heard this, it perplexed me a lot. The books are crawling with motivation... they are, in fact, about the characters' motivations. So where was this coming from?

Well, it turned out that some people expect to be spoon-fed everything they need to know through exposition. If the narrator doesn't say, "He was happy," then these people apparently have no way to know that the character is happy. So to them, a book that that doesn't dumb it down and tell them everything they need to know in exposition is a book that doesn't contain that information at all. That was a stunning discovery, but it seems to be true.

I think the same thing is going on here. Despite claiming to be sophisticated, I've found that most film critics are shallow thinkers. They need everything spelled out for them very clearly. Speed Racer doesn't do that. Even the descriptions of the race outcomes (often done through montages) are subtle in how they are presented -- leading to the claims of "narrative incoherence."

And when it comes to the deeper moments, like the relationship between Speed and Rex or the way Pops cares for both, this film is very subtle in how it handles those. My guess is that these critics missed all of it because no one turned to the camera and said, "Pops is in a lot of pain because Rex died" or "Speed is tormented by his brother's shadow." To them, it simply didn't happen... hence, they saw "nothing that would interest anyone over the age do 10." Basically, since there are no speeches making these things obvious, they don't exist.

(continued)

AndrewPrice said...

As for the relationship, I agree completely. That's where the heart is in this movie. I think that Speed's character is amazingly well written. When he pulls up so he doesn't break his brother's record, you get a real sense of how he's struggling to hold onto his brother's memory. And then the way he attached himself to Racer X in the hopes of finding his "dead" brother is very touching. And then to not have Racer X reveal himself is really very sad.

John Goodman does an equally amazing job of showing you the underlying pain within Pops at the loss of Rex and how he struggles to deal with the harsh words he spoke to his son before he died.

You have to read all of this into the film, but it's there, it's obvious, it's meant to be taken from the film, and it's very emotional. And that really elevates this film way above what it appears to be at first glance.

In terms of "conflicted," I agree that Speed is conflicted in a way... in the sense that he's struggling to deal with his feelings. BUT he's not conflicted in his values, which was my point in the article. I guess I should have been more clear. The critics wanted a character who suffers from a dark side and who is an anti-hero. Speed is not that. He's a hero through and through, and what conflicts him is personal -- his feelings for his dead brother. At no point does he ever consider selling out or doing the wrong thing, he just worried about being letting go of his brother's memory.

tryanmax said...

Ah, yes, I did misunderstand what you meant by "conflicted" and I concur, the critics do seem to want to see flawed heroes struggling with their dark sides. And in that department, this film is severely lacking.

This film has really left me jazzed. I did not expect so much, and I frankly feel like your review doesn't do it justice. Speed Racer does not commit the sins that we frequently complain about. The heroes are uniquely qualified to confront their problems rather than being props in their own narrative. The villains are not 2-dimensional evil puppy kickers. The CGI is not employed for its own sake, but is a real world-building device (even as outlandish as this particular world is). The comic relief is woven into the story rather than being a "joke break." Likewise, the action also drives the narrative rather than breaking it. Even the romantic angle, scant as it is, doesn't feel like an "oh yeah, we need a girl, too" thing; Trixie feels like a character that belongs in Speed's circle. Plus, it's just nice to see a hero who isn't a cocky prick for a change.

Frankly, I think Speed Racer is a brilliant film now that I've seen it. I was already enjoying the complex aesthetic from the very beginning--something that admittedly few would probably appreciate. But the moment I fell in love with the movie was this:

Pops: You think you can drive a car and change the world? It doesn't work like that!
Speed: Maybe not, but it's the only thing I know how to do and I gotta do something.


What amazes me most is that the movie contains a lot to think about, but you don't have to think about it. You can just sit back and enjoy the ride, too. Genius. I really hope this one gains cult status.

tryanmax said...

BTW, I'm frankly disgusted that any conservatives would find this film to be anti-capitalist. It just goes to show that too many self-described conservatives don't know what they are talking about. It's the same reaction I have to people who respond to Apple as a jewel of the free market. Personally, I see them as a cult that happens to sell electronics to fund their perpetual lawsuit machine.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That makes me genuinely happy! I'm glad you really liked this film. I do too. I see so much in it and I wish more people would as well. I too hope this film develops a cult following.

In terms of the review, I guess in hindsight I did downplay this one too much. I really do highly recommend this one, but I also do expect that most people probably won't like it because it's kind of a niche film in that regard -- it reminds me of Scott Pilgrim in that your expectations really matter and if you go in understanding how the film is to be taken, then it's brilliant... otherwise it's not.

I think the film includes a ton of story that isn't evident from just listening to the plot, I think the characters are all deep and rich and three dimensional. I agree with each of your statements about this being an effective use of CGI, about the love story and the comedy flowing from the story, and about the villain being a deep characters and not just cardboard. I love how each character has their own motivation and they all come together at the right times.

Even the villains have their own separate motivations -- Snake Oiler has a massive ego and inferiority complex, the Gray Ghost hates being a henchman and knows he was more but then learns that maybe he never was more than just a cheater, and Royalton who fought his way up from poverty and is now addicted to money and control -- both of which will vanish if he ever loses. These are all super character. Few films have a single villain this complex, this film has half a dozen.

Finally, that is a great line from Pops and Speed. I think the film is full of those.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I agree. I see this film as an ode to the noble small businessman who takes out the corrupt international conglomerate. This is a pro-competition film in every way -- in sports and in business. This film is not anti-business or anti-capitalist. Unfortunately, conservatives have forgotten how to tell the difference. They now equate "rich" with success with capitalism and it never dawns on them anymore that we should not be supporting companies who abuse the system or use the power of government to get to where they are because they aren't capitalist.

As for Apple, they definitely sue a lot of people, don't they? They've gotten very good at forum shopping too to find the right judges to help them.

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