Speed Racer [Blu-ray]
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Start your engines and fasten your seatbelts for the high-octane adventure Speed Racer, combining heartfelt family humor and groundbreaking visual effects. Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is a natural behind the wheel of his thunderous Mach 5. With support from Pops and Mom Racer (John Goodman and Susan Sarandon), girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci), younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt) and the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox), Speed takes on fierce competitors to save his familys business and protect the sport he loves. When Speed steps onto the track, its not just a race. Its an adrenaline-fueled, high-speed charge to the finish. Go, Speed Racer, go!!
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Top Customer Reviews
Seriously, give this movie a shot -- or a second shot, if you wrote it off the first time you saw it. Although this movie may best appeal to those of us who remember and liked (or loved) the original cartoon series, if you watch with an open mind, you'll find it a rewarding movie viewing experience. And if you must view it with little kids, they'll probably love it, too.
At this point, many live-action movies have adapted comic books and graphic novels (300; Sin City; the numerous DC and Marvel adaptations); and some have adapted cartoons, but badly. Speed Racer manages to stay true to the spirit and of the original Speed Racer cartoon show, and the visual possibilities of comic books/manga and cartoons, while using up-to-date big budget film-making technology and special effects to bring it into the 21st century -- yet still honoring the source.
This movie can be appropriately viewed by both young and old*. Except for like 2 swear words, this could easily be rated G; there is no sex whatsoever, the violence is bloodless and cartoon-ish, and even the race car crashes are appropriately futuristically safe courtesy of the Kwik Save bubbles that save the drivers (unlike, say, my memories of 1970s F1 car races *shudder*).
But underneath all the flashy special effects and CGI, the heart of the Wachowskis' Speed Racer is about brotherhood, coming of age, leaving home, separation from parents/family of origin, loss, the love/warmth/support of family, and the eternal battle of naive idealism and passion against cynicism and corruption.
The thread of loss is stronger than one might think because Goodman, Sarandon, Hirsch, and Elia/Fox play their roles earnestly. The core plot, outlandish as it seems on paper, is done dramatically (but not melodramatically) and taken seriously. That's how Speed Racer really hits you in the heart -- because, from the very beginning, Speed is competing with the memories of his race-car driver brother who left home in disgrace.
But the movie is also very uplifting and (perhaps naively) optimistic about family love, about doing the right thing even when you don't know what to do, about the ability of just one person (not to mention a team) to make a difference and helping good triumph over evil -- and those are some of this movie's many charms.
If that sounds too ridiculous and lofty, most of the action consists of fantasy race car driving sequences that are like Top Gun, Death Race 2000, Mad Max (both of them), Formula 1, demolition derby, street racing, and stunt car driving were combined with bright neon LEDs and a neo-noir aesthetic to create a cyberpunk-scifi future style of car racing. The driving sequences are exhilarating -- it's like you ARE a (futuristic) Matchbox car on a i(futuristic) track, and it comes off every bit as awesome as you would think. (Plus the Wachowski's throw several psychedelic hints in with the visuals just to let you know the soft spot they have for their stoner fans -- but you don't have to be high to appreciate it, because it is AMAZING as it is.)
This is NOT one of those remakes that knowingly satirizes and makes fun of its source. This version, and everyone in it, takes its (silly) source material as seriously as the source took itself. Ironically, that seriousness which everyone embraces gives Speed Racer a likeable (if somewhat kooky) charm you don't expect. As with superhero movies, it helps when movies like these take themselves seriously, no matter how absurd plot, characters, &/or setting may seem -- if they don't take themselves seriously, you have trouble suspending disbelief.
Campy, satirical, nudge-nudge-wink-wink adaptations have their place -- but Speed Racer is not one of them, and I am so glad the Wachowski's didn't go that route. I'm also glad that all the actors were able/willing to commit and take the roles seriously -- that can't have been easy, given how much was clearly filmed in front of green screens.
Though I bought the DVD, this movie *begs* to be seen on a big screen in a theater. Even the biggest home theater TV can not do it justice; the action and special FX are simply too big for small screens.
Speed Racer is really like a live-action cartoon. To judge it any other way is to misjudge, misunderstand, and underestimate it. Although it is a live action film, too much of it is CGI/special FX to be compared to live action films. And although it is not a cartoon, the composition of scenes and camera angles (such as deep focus shots with part of someone's face in one section of the frame, and the scene behind them taking up the rest of the frame) is much more of a cartoon/animation and comic-book-like aesthetic than it is live-action.
If you liked (or *loved*) the original series, you will probably like this movie. Among the good points: The principal players in this movie were *really* well cast. Of *course* John Goodman is Pops! Of *course* Trixie is played by Christina Ricci! Susan Sarandon is perfect as Mrs. Racer, though she doesn't get to do much (but that's pretty faithful to the series too). The Wachowski's remind us that, yeah, Trixie *did* fly helicopters and planes in the original series, and in her way, she was like an anime version of Mrs. Peel (Diana Rigg) on the British TV show The Avengers.
Emile Hirsch I was iffy about, until I saw the movie. Though his hair is obviously dyed black, he really does capture the look of Speed and the innocence and earnestness of the character. His disillusionment and yearning really come through.
And Matthew Fox as Racer X -- well, aside from his vaguely threatening and intentionally enigmatic demeanor (not to mention the mask and the head-to-toe leather...), in a short but powerful montage of Racer X's history at the end of the film, Fox will break your heart without saying a word.
Roger Allam and Ben Miles return from the Wachowskis' V for Vendetta and Allam is every bit as villainous as before. The secondary and foreign casting and bit players are outstanding -- and diverse. The Wachowski's could have gone typical Hollywood and cast all white actors with a token person of color here and there, but they really didn't here. I mean, Shaft/Richard Roundtree as Ben Burns? That's inspired. Cosma Shiva Hagen (yes, Nina Hagen's daughter) as a non-evil Royalton minion Gennie is lovely (though she almost has no lines). I'm not familiar with Rain's music, but he's great as Taejo Togokahn, as is Nan Yu as Taejo's sister Haruko.
I absolutely love Nayo Wallace as Minx; she's badass because she's a brainiac. Benno Fuhrmann is a convincing and serious Inspector Detector. Hiroyuki Sanada and Togo Igawa are good as Mr. Musha and Mr. Togokahn, though, like Susan Sarandon, they don't get much to do. Although, who knows -- with lesser caliber actors and lesser commitment from them, this movie might not be as good as it is.
The costuming, props, CGI, and set designs, in addition to the actors' commitment to even the small roles, really add to the hyperreal live action cartoon aspects. All the villainous race car drivers and their fixers play their roles with gusto. They are creepy, hilarious, and threatening by turns. John Benfield is fantastic as Cruncher Block and Waldemar Kobus is hilarious as one of his henchmen (I don't know the other henchman actor's name, but he's equally good).
Christian Oliver is alternately wonderfully sleazy and whiningly petulant as Snake Oiler. The Hydra drivers are hilarious, and The Flying Foxes (don't know the actresses' names) are scary-sexy and malicious. The Thorazine drivers are throwback-freaky and the actors play them to the hilt. Julie T Wallace is memorable as Cruncher Block's semi-truck driver, trying desperately to save their truck (wherein they're beating Taejo for refusing to lose races like he's been paid to) from Racer X's car mounted machine guns and insane driving. She's styled and costumed so much like one of Alex's droogs from Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, that I wasn't sure if she was transgender. I had to look her up (after multiple viewings) to figure out whether she was an actor or actress.
The bad points: just as the original cartoon was over-the-top slapstick silly and Spritle and Chim-chim were similarly annoying, they're here in all their obnoxiousness. If you didn't like Spritle and Chim-chim in the 67-68 cartoon, you won't like them any better here (although they do give young kids the most obvious characters to relate to). But the way they're portrayed is, again, utterly faithful to the cartoon series.
The Wachowski's have, as usual, slavishly paid attention to every detail in this film -- and it really shows. If you pay close attention (or watch it multiple times), Speed inherits Rex's bedroom, down to the wall-paper/paint job and race car driver posters (but of course he would, hero-worshiping his brother as he does). They thoughtfully embellish their love of the cartoon with a fully fleshed out but faithful world that is unlike anything I've ever seen -- it isn't live action, it isn't cartoon. It doesn't look like Sin City, it doesn't look like Waking Life -- it is its own thing, and it works perfectly to bring Speed Racer to life in a feature film.
*(However, for adults of a certain bent -- and like the Matrix flicks -- there are some fetishistic aspects to the costume design that may jump out at you.)
If you've ever had the feeling while watching a movie adaptation where you felt that the directors or writers didn't really understand the source material and you feel like Hollywood never makes good movies that are true to the source material, then you need look no further than Speed Racer to find out why. It's a fantastic adaptation of the original cartoon, made with love and respect, and yet audiences and critics railed on it mercilessly at its release. The mass public doesn't want creative movies that are true to the source material. And we've proved it over and over again. However, if you are like me and you want a movie like that, despite what critics and general audiences say, then this is a perfect fit for you. It improves on it exponentially in every way, and it makes for a fun, heartwarming, action packed movie that is overflowing with love for the source material.
There are so many details that the Wachowskis put in their movie to call back to the original cartoon, and while I was watching it I couldn't help but feel that passion shine through. The story isn't winning any originality, but it's the way that they present the story that makes it original. Some might find the transitions and exposition scenes a bit jarring, because it isn't just people sitting around talking. Instead the movie mixes action and exposition moving back and forth through the present, past, and future, and it just gets you so invested in what's going on.
This film also deserves to be seen on Blu-Ray. The CGI looks a bit dated sometimes, but most of the time the stylized look just looks amazing, and even better in 1080p HD Blu-ray.
If you haven't seen it and you value originality and passion in filmmaking and are looking for a movie that can both pump you up and tug at your heart strings, then do yourself a huge favor and check out this highly underrated dare I say... classic!
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