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Elvenblade does an Esther Williams in the sugary goodness that is SPEED RACER!!!

Hey folks, Harry here... I'm getting so excited. Summer is almost here. It's almost time to be transported by impossible universes that only can be found in a crazed summer - and SPEED RACER is one of the films I'm most looking forward to this summer. This review - and Moriarty's chat room orgasms - have me fired up to see this all the more. Here's Elvenblade with an early look...

Hey Harry, Moriarty, Quint, everyone… First off, gotta say I love the site to pieces. I sent in another article a long, long time ago about the Steamboy event that Mori hosted over at the Egyptian Theatre – that was one fan-fucking-tastic screening. Today, however, I feel cinematically obliged to speak on a little film I saw last night called Speed Racer. A little history: I'm a pretty huge fan of the anime, having watched it a lot as a kid. As for the Wachowskis, I loved Bound, loved the first two Matrix films, but I thought the third one was uneven. As a result, I was pretty skeptical of Speed Racer – even with such a great cast and their obvious love for anime, I wasn't sure that the brothers would be able to capture everything that made the show so great – the family dynamics, the insane action sequences, the wrongs on the racetrack that needed writing, and finally, the cheese. Well, I was pretty sure after seeing the trailer that they were on track to getting the cheese right. The rest, though? It could have gone either way. Warner Bros. was awesome enough to host this screening and I was lucky enough to know a kid with lots of friends and an extra pass. We were some of the first in line and after a lot of bitching decided to get seats near the back of the theatre. After the screening they had us go to a different house so we could see the first reel again in IMAX. Again, my friends wanted to sit in the way back, so I can't say what the film would be like for someone seeing the film down by the front of the theater, but I can try to put into words my reactions on the experience as a whole. Speed Racer is orgasmic. I will try not to reveal too many spoilers until the end of the review, instead using the first 15 minutes to explain why this film is one of the very best reinventions of a classic series to come out in a long time (that is, it kicks Transformers' ass several times over) as well as a great film in its own right that works on just about every level. It surprises me that Warner isn't marketing this heavier as this could be one of the biggest films of the summer. There's something here for the all-American crowd, for anime fans, for racing fans, for kids and adults, even for your girlfriend (I'm taking mine on opening day). And the cheese is – surprisingly - kept to a minimum. Or at least it felt that way. In any case I was too absorbed in the story (I won't say 'plot' because that word sounds too conventional, and this film is anything but) to notice. The intro to the film is simple enough and takes a cue from the checkered-flag intro of the original series, which is really sweet. From the very first scene, showing young Speed in the classroom making a flipbook of a car crash in his test booklet and imagining an animated fantasy race, we can already sense the giddy exuberance with which the Wachowskis have approached the material. Trixie just smiles at him as he sits there, eyes closed in the middle of an exam, making car noises. The film is jam-packed with adorable little touches like these. Anyway, it was clear that this film was going to be something different, something honest and pure. But I wasn't quite sold at this point yet, as there were so many things that could have gone wrong. But believe me, everything just keeps getting better and better. If I were a kid watching this first classroom scene, I would instantaneously have identified with Speed – I mean, show me a little boy who doesn't secretly harbor fantasies of driving futuristic racecars. Anyway, as soon as the bell rings, Speed races out of the classroom to see his brother Rex, a pro driver, and convinces him to take him with him in the Mach 5 on the racetrack to practice. The first time we hear Speed talk to Rex with lightning-fast eloquence is completely different from any other spoken dialogue in the film, but it's a great little throwback to the dubbed voices of the original show. Anyway, as they race around the impossibly stadium-like track, Rex explains to Speed that a car is a living, breathing entity, and we can see little Speed eating it all up. The film then flashes forward in time, showing us Rex's fate, which begins with a bomb threat, which leads to him leaving the house and racing on his own, and ends with an explosion and an untimely death. Flash-forward again to the present, where Speed is leading the pack in a race on the same stadium track, and racing against Rex's ghost (both figuratively and literally, as the ghost for the best track time runs side-by-side with Speed, a la Mario Kart). There's a lot of back-and-forth between timelines, between Speed's racing, Mom, Pop, Spritle, Chim-chim and Trixie watching from the stands, Sparky giving him advice from the box and the talking heads (many of them International) supplying us with Important Plot Information, but it all goes down smoothly and is all but necessary to prepare us for future time-jumps. The only hitch, really, is that the extreme stylization may be too much, too fast, for some audiences. Personally, I loved it. I ate the whole damn thing up. If you've seen the trailer, well, pretty much the whole film looks like that. It weaves in and out of numerous styles, and just when you think it's pushed the envelope completely with regards to digital compositing, the Wachowskis pull off another ridiculous effect that just takes your breath away completely. A large part of why the film breezed by so quickly for me was that everything was so fresh and new – the amazing production design that makes everything look so much brighter, scenes layered on top of scenes, transitions effortlessly overlapping, timelines switching back and forth with very little allowance for a breather… it's pretty much balls-to-the-wall sugary action goodness. The racing scenes vary in style, but they are some of the wildest ever put to film (and this is coming from a film nut). The first race is the most straightforward, with Speed defying convention, speeding through dangerous corners in order to challenge Rex's record. There are three more races, two of them being major ones. The cross-country race is beautiful and reminded me the most of the original series. It's got elements from some of the best James Bond car chase chases as well as Episode I's podrace mixed in with a lot of wicked car jumping, and it trumps them all in terms of sheer effect and the fun that comes with a sense of teamwork. And the Grand Prix… is just heart-pounding, show-stopping bliss. Rest assured the intensity of the racing scenes are only amplified by the Wachowskis' completely original style. The performances are fantastic, especially considering how much of the film was shot over green screen. Like the Lord of the Rings cast, there's not a bad apple in the whole production. Of course, every Speed Racer fan knows that the core family just has to "click", and I'm happy to report that they got it right. So fucking right. John Goodman and Susan Sarandon make the best pair of parents in the world - you just want them to adopt you. Pop is firm but caring, and Mom is beautiful, unconditionally loving and supportive. And she makes futuristic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sparky is great but inexplicably British. He's a great source of comic relief without being overdone and he shares a moment with Speed near the end that is just classic. Rex is perfect. And Speed… Oh God, Speed… I thought Emile Hirsch was robbed of an Oscar nomination for his spectacular work in Into the Wild (I can't argue against any of the other nominees, and Daniel-Day Lewis deserved to win, but they should have had a sixth nomination just for him this year, seriously), so I thought he'd be a perfect fit for Speed. I didn't know just how perfect. He has this aura about him that can be so many things – spunky and heroically naïve, romantic and honest, burdened with the weight of responsibility over his family's future, desperately chasing his older brother, worried that everything he loves about racing (his life) is a lie… I thought this was going to be a thankless role, but the Wachowskis give Emile the screen time and range that he needs to create a genuinely lovable character stuck in a world where the odds are stacked so highly against him and the choices are so few that you don't just want to see him succeed, you NEED him to… because you identify with him so much… and Emile delivers, 100%. I do think that if Christina Ricci wasn't so ridiculously beautiful as Trixie, I might have had a man-crush on Emile. Trixie is super hot. Ricci and Emile share brief scenes together in the Mach 5 (no, not those kinds of scenes) where they speak honestly about their feelings and the future – these scenes really flesh out their characters. Every couple has their romantic fantasy, and when these two talk about theirs… it kind of has to make you smile. Matthew Fox is great, an imposing force even when most of his screen time is spent behind a mask. He has a great scene with Speed as well. Roger Allam is dastardly evil as Mr. Royalton, channeling a lifetime of theatrical experience into this despicable character. You might recognize him as Lewis Prothero in V For Vendetta or Adrian from Tristram Shandy. Korean recording artist Rain does a good job as Taejo, though it's a pretty straightforward role and kind of annoying to an Asian such as myself that his character is supposed to be Japanese when he's one of the most famous Koreans in the world. And he looks distinctly Korean as well. Eh, it's not really that big a deal the more I think about it, but it's still kind of weird. As for the kids in this movie, they are all perfectly cast, with Spritle being the best. Paulie Litt is instantly likable in a part that so easily could have been annoying or overdone. The chimps they got for Chim-chim are great, if I could judge chimpanzee acting. As for the writing, it's not apparent at first just how great the script of the film is. I thought it started out a bit rough but just got better and better after the first act, but after seeing the first reel again in IMAX I realized just how tight and brilliant the set-up really is for building up to the rest of the film. Every main character has at least one strong scene with Speed, which is touching, human and extremely important to the story the brothers are trying to tell, as it's clear that family is what keeps him going. Unfortunately Snake Oiler, that dastardly villain from the show, doesn't get much screen time outside of his car. But yeah, there are tons of nods to the original show, with Spritle and Chim-chim popping out of the Mach 5's trunk more than once, Trixie spotting for Speed from her helicopter, there is a scene where the Mach 5 is outfitted with all the sweet gadgets it's famous for, etc… What can I say about the script other than it gets the characterizations just perfectly right and crafts an intricate yet simple story of one boy's dream? While it's idealistic as hell at times, it's got a lot of maturity for a kid's movie, dealing with the difficult and uncompromising nature of business versus art (yes, Speed's Mom calls his racing art more than once, I think, and I did wonder if Royalton was made to represent not only corporate greed, but the greed of Hollywood), and hardly wasting a second of screen time to repeat itself or to preach to kids. Just when it starts to get too serious, it lightens up. Just when it gets too light, we get some delicious action. There is a wicked fight sequence in this snowy valley that… oh, hell. I don't want to spoil it for you, just watch the damn thing when it comes out already. The soundtrack is amazing and makes perfect use of the original Speed Racer theme, but it's up on AICN already so you all knew that. The music can be bombastic at times, but maybe it'd be more noticeable if it weren't, given the epic nature of the images on-screen. The end credits feature a remix of the original theme over some shots of Chim-Chim going crazy, followed by another rearrangement of the original theme that wouldn't be out of place at a rave. Speed Racer goes by ridiculously fast and smooth, and it's the most entertaining film I've seen all year. In terms of artistic liberty, it goes far and beyond what most green-screen-fests (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Sin City, 300, etc) have done before. That's not a knock on those films, all of which I love, but praise for the masterful use of cinematic technique that went into the production of Speed Racer. The special effects blend in effortlessly with the world on-screen. Not once was there a scene where I stopped and thought to myself "Okay, I've just been taken out of the film. None of that is actually there, they totally shot this in a tiny studio in Vermont or something". That's more than I can say for either of those three films, as great as they may be. The world in this film exists. This is some of ILM's best work ever, and including Revenge of the Sith and Transformers, that's saying a lot. It takes digital filmmaking to an entirely new level, a world populated by rich, vibrant colors and textures and dominated by an idealized and perfected version of automobile racing. In short, the Wachowskis have reclaimed their former glory. Maybe I'm just a raving lunatic nerd, but this is not just a small summer film! This is a noteworthy fucking achievement for cinema! I just hope that it gets a ton of support at the box office, because quite frankly, it deserves it. If you use this, call me elvenblade.
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