Tag Archives: CGI

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SPEED RACER (2008)

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DIRECTED BY: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers)

FEATURING: Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Christina Ricci, Roger Allam

PLOT: He’s Speed Racer, and he drives real fast; the corporate goons at Royalton Enterprises fail to hire him, and so try to sabotage his family and career.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Made up of equal parts technical prowess, tremendous passion, and mind-boggling stupidity, the Wachowski siblings poured all their knowledge, soul, and their massive bag of Matrix-era goodwill into this videogame-cum-technicolor-comedy-melodrama that, while obviously the movie they had in mind, raises the question of whether or not it actually should have been assembled at all.

COMMENTS: Our weekly to-do list of new and re-released opportunities was sparse, so I instead pondered the Venn diagram of “reader suggested movies” and “movies I have access to.” Three titles presented themselves, and it was Speed Racer that managed to zip to the top of that last. (This may have been, in part, because its alphabetical position meant it was the closest to my Blu-ray player.) I hadn’t seen this movie since before I began working with 366, and it was just a hazy memory of bright colors, flying sparks, and a strange pathos provided by John Goodman and Susan Sarandon. My memory did not disappoint me.

As a facsimile of a racing computer game, Speed Racer has just enough plot to justify the on-screen zip-bang-light-up race shots. Speed Racer (née “Speed Racer”, played by Emile Hirsch at his charmingly blandest) lives up to his name and follows in the Racer Family tradition of racing race-cars. (His older brother, Rex Racer, disgraced the family and died in a horrible explosion during a sketchy rally race.) Purple-clad corporate bad guy E.P. Arnold Royalton, Esq. (played with effete glee by Roger Allam) tries to woo Speed to work for Royalton, Inc.—but Speed has none of it. Not used to being snubbed, Royalton uses his considerable resources to destroy the Racer family, not knowing that in the end, “the truth will out.”

I’m admittedly a sucker for a well-told story, no matter how stupid the underlying material. This movie brings stupid into overdrive with countless “just because” elements. There are Cockney gangsters who act as fixers and enforcers; there is, among other themed teams, a Viking racing crew obsessed with animal fur; and then there’s the thread that boldly attempts to hold this movie together, the “Inspector Detector” character investigating corruption in the racing leagues. (The less said about the recurring deus-ex-Spritle/Chimp-machina, the better.) The Wachowskis then painted all this with halogen colors that would have sent more cynical members of our staff into a tailspin of bitter, whiskey-fueled reproaches.

I am not that sort. I can appreciate the fact this extravaganza had an estimated $120,000,000 poured into it. I can also believe that it did not recoup the outlay. But that’s why it falls so firmly into our orbit. To see two of the best technical film-makers of their day so wholeheartedly stake their years-built reputation with something as confounding as Speed Racer gives me, at least, hope. (What gem might, say, Michael Bay concoct if told he could really do anything?) The Wachowskis did the world a disservice with the whole Matrix nonsense. They made up for it with Speed Racer: a movie that had me rooting for the good guy even as my eyes melted and my brain tried to shout down the cacophony of electro-Singh-visuals, “Lifetime Channel” monologues, and top-tier talent somehow grounding this eye-candy-fluorescence. The stars are likely to never be so aligned again.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This toxic admixture of computer-generated frenzy and live-action torpor succeeds in being, almost simultaneously, genuinely painful — the esthetic equivalent of needles in eyeballs — and weirdly benumbing, like eye candy laced with lidocaine.”–Joe Morgenstren, The Wall Street Journal (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: IMMORTAL (AD VITAM) (2004)

DIRECTED BY: Enki Bilal

FEATURING: Linda Hardy, Thomas Kretschmann, Thomas M. Pollard (voice),

PLOT: The Egyptian god Horus shows up in a pyramid floating above Manhattan in 2095 and

Still from Immortal (Ad Vitam) (2004)

possesses the thawed body of a cryogenically frozen political prisoner to search for a blue haired woman.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It might make the List for the outrageous premise mixing Egyptian mythology and futurist fiction, for the bizarre mingling of live actors with CG characters, and for the confusing storyline which makes the entire film seem like it might be a pagan god’s bad dream after having eaten a tainted planet for a midnight snack.

COMMENTS: The visual ambition of Immortal sometimes surpasses its budget, but it’s always beautifully designed; take the vision of a blue haired pixie women balancing on a girder as she ambles through a cityscape of gray steel art deco skyscrapers.  Immortal‘s Manhattan is a wondrously vertical place of soaring buildings, flying cars, and floating billboards.  No matter how attractive the digital backdrops, though, the watcher is likely to be taken aback by the fact that almost everyone on the screen looks like an animated avatar from the “Final Fantasy” video game series.  You might expect to see computer generated figures portraying the aliens, mutants and ancient Egyptian gods that populate Immortal‘s world, but most of the major human players are completely animated, while the occasional disposable extra of no importance is played by a real live actor.  ‘s meddling doctor (with a hairdo made from melted black plastic) is no more important to the tale than a police inspector searching for what he believes to be a serial killer, but one is animated and the other isn’t; it’s disconcerting when they perform scenes opposite each other.  The limited emoting ability of computer-generated images makes them fairly creepy when they’re among their own kind; putting them next to real people highlights their uncanny plastic imperfections.  The seemingly arbitrary decision to animate Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: IMMORTAL (AD VITAM) (2004)

GUEST REVIEW: AVATAR (2009)

James Cameron’s Avatar is his first film since 1997’s Titanic, and Avatar looks like it’s actually going to top that monster ship as far as revenue goes.  Reportedly, with PR expenses, Avatar costs somewhere between 250 and 500 million dollars and one would think with that kind of investment, Cameron and corporation would have come up with a better script and a more substantial film.  Avatar is riddled with the same level of asinine dialogue that sunk Cameron’s cruise ship, a plot that blatantly echoes Dances with Wolves, hopelessly two-dimensional, stereotyped cardboard villains, and a mixed bag of CGI visuals which often look like Gil Kane comic characters turned into blue rubber toys amidst a computer game version of a Franz Marc rain forest.

Still from Avatar (2009)
Avatar
opens in the distant future on the planet Pandora.  A paraplegic named Jake (Sam Worthington, the latest wooden hunk) is a volunteer on Pandora’s Earthling military base.  The native Pandorans justifiably mistrust the “Sky People” who want to strip-mine their lush world to save a dying Earth.  So, the Sky People have an ingenious plot to infiltrate the Pandorans by linking human consciousness into a Pandoran avatar.  All-American swell guy Jake seems the perfect volunteer, as he is promised his lost legs back.  So, Jake gets turned into a twelve foot blue native.  The problem is that the Sky People need pesky “green” scientists to help them and, naturally those lovers of the land are going to throw a monkey wrench into Operation Pandora.

Predictably, once Jake interacts with the natives, he bonds with them and even falls in love with their princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, playing Pocahontas, in all but name.  She Continue reading GUEST REVIEW: AVATAR (2009)