Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Speed Racer

One day, while scrolling rather hopeless through new features on some website or another I paused at the picture of a rather charming fellow who sported on one arm a tattoo that read "Comic Sans" and on the other arm a tattoo that read "Helvetica" and while I'm fairly sure both these tattoos were in Arial font (a point of contention) it mattered not, because I spent a good five minutes laughing before I sent a message, which turned into an exchange of messages, which may have devolved into a conversation about how to torture graphic designers with bad kerning.

And so, a friendship was engaged with Calembour. Among the many benefits of this particular entanglement include learning about good cocktail bars in the city, far to many puns, understanding how twitter works, and exploring alternative facets of popular culture, literature, comics, games, and movies. During one conversation of films we had engaged in a bit of a round about concerning the film Speed Racer which I have never seen. 

"It is a beautiful film."

"It's Speed Racer the movie."

"You have to watch it."

I let that sit for awhile until somehow on a random late night trawl through the etherwebs I stumbled across a top ten list that included, among other things, Speed Racer. For some reason, it was enough to make me cave. 

"Can we watch Speed Racer when I get back?"

"We can make time for this fine film."

Considering the amount of travel and the number of shows I had scheduled for the week, you would think I'd leave this off for another time, however life and movies wait for know one so I squeezed in movie watching on Thursday night before Tori on Friday and the Femmes on Saturday. 

Thursday was a round of good drinks, a lovely home cooked meal, and the movie Speed Racer. 

A thing I had possibly known and forgotten, though it's just as possible that I had not known, is that this is a Wachowski movie. Sadly, a pair of directors that can be very hit (Bound, Matrix, Sense8) or very miss (what in the actual fuck was Jupiter Ascending?). 

This film comes somewhere in between for me and, for no readily apparent reason which I am almost certain will warm the cockles of Calembour's heart, I will most likely need to watch the film again. It was interesting to see something so visually disarming especially after having seen Loving Vincent only a few days earlier; the effects work in an entirely different way, and yet are perfect for the story as intended. 

It was an odd thing. I only vaguely remember Speed Racer from my youth (thinking it was the 90s corrected that it was in fact the 80s, recalling that I did in fact exist so far back in time) as anime that was interesting but not something I was overly fussed on. I fell into Saturday morning book reading and hiding from el Diablo Madre at some time between 86 and 88. Aside from Thundercats and Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea*, and the collected Loony Toons, I only have vague interactions with many of the cartoons people recall as being important. Reading was really that big a thing. 

However, I know the theme song, was familiar with the general characters and had at least a sense of what Speed racer was so as to not be entirely out of the loop when sitting down on a couch to watch the film. 

The overall sense is, truly, it is a visual spectacle. However, it is not overdone, but somehow manages to work with the overall aesthetic of trying to be a live action anime. The colors are designed to be poppy and vibrant and work to maintain a cartoonish sense while still being somewhat mature. The story line makes sense and works with the overall plot, the acting is on point. 

It actually works very well as a film, though there are two key elements that really keep it from being a great film. First, it's over-scored. Can someone just put down the need to play some sort of orchestral tidbit over every second of every frame? Sometimes silence is a beautiful thing (see: Eyes Wide Shut, The Shining) and music can work if you manage to get it just right but don't overdo it (see: 2001, Clockwork Orange). 

The second thing, and honestly I think this is probably why as a film it was not as popular as it could have been as there is aesthetically very little to complain about, is that it's not a car race movie. The entire point of Speed Racer is, you know, the car races. Car races and car race movies are super popular (see: Fast and Furious 1-1000). 

This is not a car race movie. In fact, this is almost the antithesis of a car race movie. The Wachowski's really play up the story arc, the human element, the dark (but not to dark) features of Japanese Anime, with just the right amount of silly in the form of little brother, monkeys, and candy humor. It works perfectly as an archetypal coming of age story where they younger brother must not only emerge from the shadow of his brother, but more, salvage the family legacy from a legacy on the cusp of ruin. These things Speed Racer does very well. Car racing, really it's just a the background of the human drama. There is no linger over the perfect car, no musing on the hum of the engine or the human/car bond that becomes the car as an anthropomorphic character. Speed Racer is about the family of Speed, the trials of challenging expectations, and the potential to overcome. The car race, not so much. 

Like Loving Vincent, it is a visual feast, but differs in that the story is much stronger and the discuss of that becomes more important than how pretty it was. And this made it fascinating for me in many ways which is why I was struck at the end that I was most likely going to have to sit down at some point and watch it again. Which, for me, has always been one of the hallmarks of a quality film. 

*I was a really weird child and 4:30 a.m. had some very strange television. 

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