Thursday, May 29, 2008

Prince - Batman 1989 - The Future

UPDATE 7/27/07: The 'Tube wrote me up for using a Prince song, yet let the Batman clips of the video remain. Go fig.

Today, I capitalize on the current wave of Batmania with a fan made music video!

From one of the GOOD Batman movies, tho

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Speed Racer, or The Death of Fun

There isn't much to say about this two hour and fifteen minute snoozefest, much like the Wachowski's last two Matrix sequels, except that they're way too long and cannot hold your interest despite their attempt at nonstop visual stimulation.

The films of the Wachowskis are better analyzed as simulations of films, as though state-of-the-art computer programs were designed to "make a movie for humans" and reached the following mathematical conclusions:

1) More run time = more value
2) Humans either cannot tell the difference between CGI and reality, or they don't care.

That said, the casting is actually really good. It makes me wish the film had been made by human beings and not tech geeks with Rage Against the Machine posters in the filthy workspaces of the mansions they bought by capturing the filthy tech geek zeitgest in 1999. They haven't exactly had to undergo emotional growth since then.

One of the most annoying arguments I continue to have with film fans is what constitutes "mindless fun." I posit that truly "mindless fun" is actually a misnomer since anything that's actually fun takes a combination of intelligence and skill which transcends simple material into something universally appealing and timeless. Things like Looney Tunes and Star Wars are not intellectually challenging but couldn't have been great without a lot of thought put into them.

By the same token, mindless fun and fun of any kind cannot be fun without some innate humanity that transcends culture and time and connects with the hearts and minds of young and old.

That's why Speed Racer convinced me the Wachowskis have no souls and no love for humanity and not a single shred of joy in their hearts. They are hollow shells.

There are about twenty two minutes in Speed Racer when the Wachowskis actually deliver on the promise of uninterrupted sugar rush thrills...a blissful stream of cartoon consciousness...a euphoric ADD high. There are moments, miraculously, which are finally framed in the animation storyboard / comic strip panel style:

Hey, they got it right for one shot! Whoops, there it goes!

And they're about two in the entire movie. I had given the Wachowskis waaaaay more benefit of the doubt than they deserved as to what kind of visual tricks they'd have up their sleeves. Again, the lack of invention wouldn't be so hard to ignore if it didn't go on for so damn long.

The rest of the now-common gratuitously mammoth running time is wasted on ponderous, ponderous "plot" which is all standard hypocritical suburban faux-Marxism.

Why did they cast a professional Christopher Hitchens impersonator as the world's most effeminate purple-clad evil Mr Burns capitalist villain? Seemingly half the dialogue is the film's ponderous and condescending attempt at Raging™ Against The Corporate Machine.

Imagine this guy dressed like the Joker, and sliding his hand across Speed's lithe muscular shoulders.

He's barely even featured in any of the advertising. They just spring him on you and give him as much screen time as anyone else to speechify your ears off about his diabolical conglomerate.

It says so much about the self-hating capitalist mentality of Hollywood that charged with the task of plotting a Speed Racer feature, the Wachowskis thought it was most appropriate to reinvent the Racer family as an independent company who somehow afford to make their own cars and are somehow allowed to compete in various races without belonging to any leagues.

That's their idea of getting you to care about these characters hopes and dreams. Apparently they don't even care about winning races (!!!) We also have no idea why Speed and Trixie are into each other. Their romance could've made a fine emotional center if the Wachowskis were actual human beings with human wants and needs.

There were no shots in the film like this, because that would have been sexist.

So the capitalist who actually produces things is of course the scum of the Earth who secretly rigs all the races, and Racer X's mysteriously faked death and secret identity were created in order that he could "fight the system." Meantime, Speed tells Mr Burns that sponsors are "the devil" in his household and Pops Racer monotonously bemoans that Speed's victories are ignored because the big conglomerates "control the media."

OHHHH! Kind of like how Time Warner AOL, the conglomerate who owns Speed Racer™, is able to advertise incessantly in every channel of media on behalf of the Wachowskis, while smaller independent films don't even have a chance?

These two idiots want you to WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If they believed in practicing a word of what they preached, the Wachowskis would be independent filmmakers who raised their own funds and presumably made their own film equipment without all that evil big business sponsorship, just like the Racer family.

This is why the heart of Western Faux-Marxism is hypocrisy, and the pinnacle of it's design is the Che Guevera t-shirt for $19.99.

Why do we expose children to this kind of drivel? Why should they be sermonized to about corporate greed when their parents have just shelled out money for them to enjoy corporate entertainment? It's no coincidence that corporate entertainment which fails miserably at entertainment also has no confidence in it's own raison d'être.

By the same turn, how the hell can so many Marxist "Film Studies" professors claim that Hollywood movies exist solely to promote capitalism and the military-industrial complex these days when capitalists are the only villains left in mainstream Hollywood movies? Even fucking IRON MAN denounces the military industrial complex!

About the lack of humor: if Batman suffers from ennobling the insanity behind the psychodrama, please try to imagine how badly a kitsch cartoon suffers from being "dramatized" when the Wachowski-bots best approximation of real human drama was all the aforementioned posturing.

The promised sensory feast didn't just fail due to lack of visual invention. It failed by taking itself too seriously. By staunchly refusing to acknowledge the pop culture gravitas of the material.

Even the couple leaving were riffing on Speed Racer's iconic fast dubbing - not their own riff, mind you, but Family Guy's - even these normals had an inkling of what could've been. Like, for instance, speeding up the dialogue soundtrack in post. That would be a start. It might have saved some fucking time.

The Wachowskis' M.O. is all too indicative of the larger trend in Hollywood: no one knows how to be purely entertaining, or they don't want to try. Instead we must WAIT through filler and "moral" lessons to get to what little good stuff there hopefully is, and we're not allowed to question such priorities.

And the cast, the cast! Christina Ricci has naturally big anime eyes, the guy who plays Speed has a perfectly comic book jawline and permanent hair coif, Racer X looked and sounded perfect, John Goodman made a great Pops Racer and the little kid who plays Sprittle defies all laws of child actor probability to emerge as a genuinely funny spastic little comic relief foil.

Such a waste. The casting was actually so good, I don't think the villain's resemblance to Chris Hitchens was an accident anymore.

In final rebuttal to this piece of shit, here is a brilliant Dexter's Laboratory cartoon that is 10 years old but paid extreme attention to detail in the joys of Speed Racer's hyper stylized cheesy fun. They also do a legitimate imitation of the weird dubbing cadences, unlike Family Guy.

What might a perfect live action recreation of these techniques have been? T'would have been astonishing. For all the CGI bells and whistles of Speed Racer the movie, it astonishes no one.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Donna Darko

I don't toot my own horn often, but seeing as the Donnie Darko sequel has been announced and the premise is essentially "what if the same thing his SISTER?"- I'd like to submit that they stole the idea from this video I made in high school:

Also, given how batshit crazy Southland Tales was, I was surprised to read Richard Kelly was NOT behind this.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Near Future" : Mad Max

Near-Future movies are a cool subgenre which Aussie director George Miller helped create with helped create with Mad Mad in 1979 and essentially killed with The Road Warrior in 1981. In fact, there are only three Near-Future movies I can categorize. That's how small a blip they were, despite their enduring popularity: Mad Max and The Warriors in '79 and Escape From New York in '81. The Road Warrior killed it, which makes this definition very Mad Max-centric...but I will get around to illustrating Near-Future's echoes in stuff in more overtly futurist stuff like Robocop.

Like Music Movies" this is not so much a subgenre as a genre between two others. If Music-Movies are the split difference between rock concert films and musicals, Near-Future nestles between the oft-assumed dystopia of the future (Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World) and films set in the present during times of lawlessness.

This effectively removes the technology from futurism and imagines a future opened up by anarchy. The details of futurism are more subtle. Note especially the costumes of the Main Force Patrol...

Essentially, in this type of science fiction the police or lack thereof are the main futuristic feature.

The fact that the only police in a future "A FEW YEARS FROM NOW..." are saddled with an old school Fascist handle like the MAIN FORCE PATROL and the fact they ride around in solid Black leather invokes a lot of imagination towards how things have changed. No laser guns required. Only the inevitable loss of one essential service of government.

SOMETHING is amiss, though it took a sequel to retroactively offer an explanation. Here in the original, nothing.

The MFP officers do not wear uniforms as such, but instead wear black leather suitable for motorcycle riders. The leather imparts a harshness to the officers, who display a callousness toward their target. In this world the officers appear far more menacing than their off screen counterparts; they seem uninhibited by such details as Miranda codes, but seem to focus only on getting the bad guy. They do not stop to ensure that citizens whom they happen to punt off the highway are uninjured, and do not seem to follow any standard procedure for high speed pursuits...They are a product of a harsh version of our reality, when law is declining despite all attempts to save it."

- From an excellent disseration on the Near Future subtleties of MM by Mr Chris Crockett

To paraphrase Back to the Future: in the near-future there are roads, but you won't want to use them.

Obviously the low-rent futurism was inspired by the limitations of budget. George Miller filmed the first Max for about $400,000. Was setting the film "A FEW YEARS FROM NOW..." a necessity? Was the level of increased lawlessness Miller wanted only plausible in the near-future?

Given that The Road Warrior takes another quantum leap forward in depicting a destroyed and re-primitivized world, I'd venture that it was. Road Warrior created the full on "Post-Apocalypse" as it exists in pop culture, leaving Near-Future behind in the dust. There's no subtlety about declined conditions when the people driving around are dressed like Atilla the Hun, but we'll get to that later.

And yet Mad Max before it was already etching out the trend, in the quasi-warrior garb and manner of the primary villain, The Toecutter...note the stylized of the gang member to the right.

The funny thing about Near-Future as Mad Max invented was that the film's American distributor, the great American International Pictures (AIP) really didn't get it. First of all, they redubbed the entire film from Australian English to American English. Nothing to do with futurism, but a hilarious reminder that Australia hadn't yet captured American pop culture's imagination as it would throughout the 80s, softening our ears to their guttural dialect.

The futurist thing they didn't get was that this thing wasn't post-Star Wars hyper-futuristic. Hence this radical but inaccurate AIP poster:

Fuck yeah, he's the maximum force of the FUTURE! He looks like he's walking around fucking MARS and wearing a special mask just to BREATHE! (Obviously modified from the Toecutter gang and tweaked) Check out that badass metallic cyber-car!

Compare that to this more understated and truly near-futuristic French poster.

And this Aussie poster, which gets the point across just as well about the lawlessness.

The Australian trailer adds primitive synthesizer score, the type that would become ubiquitous with action films in general during the 80s, which isn't in the actual film but does it's part to convey the inferrence of the future...

The world only needs so little modification to imply a plausible, timeless representation of an alternate world. Science fiction, after all, is a parallel shift into another world, like our own but transformed. What if that shift is almost in the present tense?

The absence of technology and law creates the breakdown of society in the form of the under-funded MFP and their loss of order to the gangs of the near future. And that's just Mad Max.

Master of horror John Carpenter and Master of thrills Walter Hill were about to make their marks before George Miller brought the concept full circle and beyond with Road Warrior.

Next installment: The Warriors

Friday, May 2, 2008

In The Spirit of Rehashing

No sooner was I done noticing Speed Racer (ie, anywhere there are billboards in Los Angeles) then did the teaser posters for the next great live action cartoon reality retro trip sprout around: Frank Miller's adaptation of Will Eisner's The Spirit.

First off, Frank Miller is coming from all directions these days. Essentially he's been riding the name recognition of The Dark Knight Returns during the mainstream media attention given to Batman up to and including the 1989 movie, with mixed results.

Hollywood came calling for a Robocop 2 script, which got majorly watered down in the final film so much that Miller had it remade into a comic book years later. Then he remained in comic fans' good graces by drawing Sin City and 300 and some new, increasingly whacked out Batman comics.

Man, I really want to read that thing sometime.

A Batman vs Al-Queda project, reported but now seemingly on the permanent back burner, may yet accomodate Miller's new gonzo take on Bats with his latent awakening to Western Civilization's existential challenge. We'll see...but not if he stays as preoccupied with the goddamned motion picture business as he seems to be.

Robert Rodriguez's Frank Miller's Sin City. I never read the comics, but there were two unreality hooks that required viewing. Number one: almost shot-for-shot comic book adaption. Rodriguez made it known in nearly every publicity interview that as many actual panels as possible would be replicated in their original sequences, almost as though Frank Miller were directing. The dialogue would also carry over verbatim.

Numero two-oh: The near monochrome color would stay. This was a riskier move and a technical feat to boot, as nearly the whole movie was shot in front of green screens. Total CG immersion for the heightened reality effect. Speed Racer is essentially the psychedelic technicolor version of this aesthetic.

Ditto for Spirit.

The panels-in-sequence venture was a well-intentioned awkward misstep, a concession to the same nerd lobby that mandated a "serious" Batman. I don't need to read the original comic book material to tell that the sequence of images in a comic book does not translate fluidly to live action: panels of art can be lingered upon for the duration of the reader's choosing, movie shots move irrevocably forward. Sin City feels like a 2 hour montage for well-versed acolytes of the source material rather than a movie audience, much like Batman Begins. At least the script is retarded on purpose.

So far as the green screen cartoon aesthetic, the content of Miller's Sin City stories are so farcically violent and fetishistic that their imagery is often well replicated via CG trickery.

The thing that sticks in my craw is that like Speed Racer, the meticulous re-creation of animation and comic book aesthetics through post-production comes off as:

a) A hungry cry for the dead and rotting corpse of American animation, and -

b) An abandonment of in-camera action aesthetics, the best of which have achieved the kinetic thrill of the "comic book" aesthetic through old school analogue techniques like direction, production design, casting and screenwriting - Mad Max, Max Headroom, Escape From New York, the original Robocop and even Batman 1989 - a lot of these belong to the "near future" subgenre of sci-fi which deserves it's own definition article soon, and obviously peaked in the 1980s.

Heavens, the only 1980s film to attempt a literal comic book panel aesthetic was George Romero's Creepshow, which hasn't aged quite as well as I'd thought.

Comic book purity was such a selling point for Sin City that Rodriguez even brought in Frank Miller on set for consultation with actors regarding their characters. When he pushed for Miller's inclusion in directorial credit and the Director's Guild of America denied the honor, Rodriguez actually resigned so that Miller's name could be paired with his!

Then, in the interim between that and The Spirit, Zach Snyder adapts 300 into a mainstream hit using panels as storyboards. My knowledge to what extent and of how much success is nil since I haven't seen the movie or read the comic, but given Snyder's sole directing credit I suspect there's a bit less of the insta-panel-to-film stiltedness. Also allowing more breathing room is the inclusion of more COLOR.

Now given all this, is there any wonder Miller wants try his hand at sole directorial credit? His credentials basically guarantee warm nerd reception as long as he keeps things artificial.

As you'll read in a zillion fluff pieces, Will Eisner's 1940s comic book The Spirit was an unique blend of noir and superhero elements which through brilliant stories, deft humor and amazing art helped solidify Eisner's reputation as one of the masters of the medium. There is a good measure of egotism in Miller's appropriating this beloved material for himself, rather like Peter Jackson's dream project of remaking his all-time favorite film King Kong and we know how that turned out (badly.)

I've only read a couple Spirit stories but Eisner's art and storytelling are simply unforgettable. It's underwhelming that Miller should put it through the technical wringer and emerge with something resembling, well, more Sin City-esque tomfoolery. Either he was offered the property or the guy just has a raging hard-on for black and white noir cartoons populated by archetypes in goofy costumes. Or both.

How lousy does it look when he hops from building to building like fucking The Tick? It doesn't look real OR fake in a cool way.

Compared to any smattering of original Eisner art, the two mediums once again show their greatest strengths in their initial conceptions. Films may benefit from consideration of their aesthetics, but as with Speed Racer the reliance upon blurring the line between live action and animation (computer or otherwise) merely calls attention to the dearth of current excellence in either.

Progress, John Kricfalusi reminds us, was once taken for granted in our culture. Today our mainstream entertainment runs mainly on the fumes of what our ancestors managed to create before political correctness slowly began retarding our imaginations and post-modern relativism began eroding standards of hierarchical artistic competence.

Between adaptations and remakes, as The Onion put it, we may soon be running out of past.