Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Day at the Movies, Part II (Holy motion sickness, Batman!)

You know, for a movie called Speed Racer, it was actually fairly slow, with not as much racing as you would expect from a movie with "racer" in the title. Strong start, strong finish, but the movie sorta falls apart in the middle. But hey, at least the Brothers Wachowski were kind enough to leave out the painfully obvious Christ metaphors this trip.

Now, don't get me wrong; the racing that is there is incredible. The massive rally race that opens the final third of the movie is a great feat; Phantom Menace's podrace has nothing on Speed Racer. However, in this entire film, there are only four races. The first, we catch only the final lap of, and it's chock full of exposition as well as a ton of over-used transitions that, sadly, don't disappear from the movie ever. (If you enjoy seeing peoples' heads used as fucking wipes to a flashback, sure, you'll love this effect. I, however, am not a retard, so I got frustrated really quick.) The second race, we only see a minute or two of, and that's entirely to illustrate how the evil villain, Royalton, is an evil villain. As if his disgustingly stained teeth and threatening demeanor weren't enough, right? (Yes, we get it, he's bad. Did we really need to have the fat kid and his goddamn monkey figure it out in their own scene? Christ.)

The third race, the cross-country rally, goes on and on, and is wholly worth the price of admission, hilarious plot holes and all. When Korean popstar Rain, playing Japanese racer Togokhan, gets poisoned after the first day by ninja clad in iridescent sneaking suits, Speed and Rex Racer Racer X devise a sneaky, sneaky plot, wherein Speed's longtime girlfriend will pretend to be Togokhan for the next day of racing. Togokhan, as it turns out, isn't badly poisoned, he's just in bad shape enough to not be able to drive in the morning. Or something. It isn't explained well, if at all.

Anyway. Trixie dresses like Togokhan. Togokhan's sister takes Trixie's place in the spotterchopper, and Togokhan dresses up like his sister and leaves on another helicopter-thing. Trixie isn't that bad a driver, frankly, and she kicks a ton of ass on the road, while Speed sits there bitching about how you can't trust something that bleeds for four days every month and doesn't die. I guess? I mean, I can't figure out exactly what Speed was complaining about. I guess they spun the wheel of "Who Will Speed Dislike This Scene?" and it landed on Trixie.

After a bunch of driving, wherein Team Togokhan presumably kills a dozen other drivers by blowing their cars up, they enter a valley to swap everyone back to their places. What follows is an exercise in terrible editing and overreliance on special effects, with mobsters randomly appearing, armed to the teeth, and getting their asses kicked by a morbidly obese John Goodman, a boy and his monkey, a popstar who's allegedly recovering from poisoning, and a handful of girls led by Emily Emeril Emile Hirsch. Racer X was somewhere in there, too, but he's an incredibly deadly man, and thus not worth showing much, apparently. After beating up and arresting all the mobsters, the racers get going again, having to regain their positions after spending not only a ton of time beating up criminals, but also a ton of time just standing around jerking off before and after the fight. Seriously, just fucking GO. This movie is called Speed Racer, not Painfully Tedious Dialogue Racer, after all. And again, Speed murders a man at the climax of the race. Team Togokhan wins, and everybody's happy!

Well, until the soulless Korean sensation doublecrosses not just Speed, but apparently Interpol as well. Then nobody's happy. Speed is mad, so he goes driving. An understandable reaction. Togokhan used Speed purely to drive up his company's stock, and Speed angry! So he goes driving. Racer X shows up in the Xmobile, and the "Who Does Speed Hate?" spinner lands on Racer X, who is promptly run off the road by our noble hero. They talk, Speed accuses X of being his long-thought-dead elder brother, Rex Racer. X reveals himself, in a pleasant plot twist, to be someone else incredibly boring. Yes, it's Jack from Lost! Proving himself incapable of having any charisma at all, Matthew Fox forces out a grating speech, designed to inspire Speed and torture us. (After all this, however, we find out that X actually is Rex, but with plastic surgery, the miracle medical procedure that can make you look like an entirely different person with different bone structure, eye color, voice, and everything! So much for a cool plot twist.) But, it could have been worse. Apparently the part of Racer X originally went to Keanu Reeves, proving the Wachowskis have no idea that real actors are people, not cardboard cutouts.

After this, Togokhan's Japanese sister, played by Chinese actress Yu Nan, gives Speed a way into the Grand Prix, the most fixedest race that was ever decided ahead of time. I'm sure you know what happens here. Every single racer is out to kill Speed, and in the end, Speed duels with a character briefly introduced much earlier in the movie and never seen again until now. (This is what's called an emotional climax by bad writers.) Speed wins, setting new records, winning a ton of money, and showing that If You Have Enough Heart, You Can Change The World or some impossibly naive bullshit like that. Royalton goes to jail, Speed's family troubles are miraculously solved, and we get to watch the credits while our stomachs settle from the nauseating final sequence of the race.

Despite the above bashing, I liked this movie. Not enough, I think to ever own it or watch it again, but it was decent. Sure, it exists entirely in a fucking greenscreen stage, which drove me absolutely batty because it was poorly composited, but the graphics were incredible. The races were top notch, and since I was there to see sweet races, I was happy. I would have been happier with tighter editing, better writing, and more interesting acting, but whatever. It's a Wachowski film. If you expect it to be anything other than a graphically-superior, poorly acted, overly verbose psuedo-art house melange, you entered the wrong cinema, my friend.

So, I suppose all this is to say... if you're going to see Speed Racer, see it now. Don't wait, just go. It'll probably suck on video, anyway.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Day at the Movies, Part I

Some people say Iron Man follows the "formula for the superhero movie." I think those people are deeply stupid. Let's compare Iron Man (which I saw last night) to Spider-Man (which I saw seven years ago), shall we?

In Iron Man, our protagonist is Tony Stark. He's wealthy, he's successful, he's charming, and he totally bangs a ton of hot babes. In the first ten minutes of the movie, he meets a woman who dislikes him and reduces her to a ravening, cock-thirsty slut. Everything is turning up Tony, so to speak. Unfortunately, or not, he gets captured by terrorists. (The movie sort've belabours the idea that these terrorists aren't Arabs by having them all speak different languages, so half the guards can't communicate with Yinsen and Tony. Brilliant move on their part.) Tony's injured, and to save his life, a magnet is implanted in his chest. He builds a better one shortly and uses this device to power his escape vehicle, the Mark I. In all this, he also finds out that the weapons his company produces are winding up in terrorist hands. After destroying all the weapons at that camp, he makes good his escape and finds his way back to America where he embarks upon a crusade to keep the weaponry he designed out of the hands of the bad guys. He builds a new, more powerful suit, and becomes the invincible Iron Man.

In Spider-Man, our protagonist is Peter Parker. He's a dork, he's broke, the girl he loves barely knows he exists. In the first ten minutes of the movie, he not only misses his bus, but when he gets on, not even the other fucking losers will sit with him. Nobody likes Peter, and his life is going precisely nowhere, fast. Sure, he's smart, but it's high school; nobody gives a shit. On a field trip, Peter's bitten by a radioactive spider, and he gets incredible powers, such as being strong, being fast, and shooting webs. You can still kill him with a bullet, but that's ok, he's Spider-Man! He accidently gets his uncle killed, and that makes him realize that With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility, a theme we will have explicitly crammed down our throats with each passing sequel. His powers don't increase, and by the end of the movie, nothing has really changed all that much for Peter. He's killed his Uncle Ben, and his best friends father, but he's still poor, he still doesn't have the girl, and is life is still pretty much headed nowhere. He just sticks to walls now and has to deal with an incredible amount of personal guilt, which gets piled on higher and higher until it becomes kinda funny.

I don't see much similarity. There is some, but as research has shown, all stories are essentially the same story. So there's no reason to suspect Iron Man of shitty writing for this. In fact, I think the writing was pretty damn good. Many comic movies follow the "superhero formula" to the letter, and that framework is fairly solid, however. It's what you hang on that frame that makes the movie good. If you hang repetitive plot points on it, with flat actors (Tobey Mcguire) and tedious dialogue, your movie will suck. If you put interesting elements on it, though, you get a brilliant movie. The Punisher, Ang Lee's Hulk, and Iron Man are all good examples of this brilliance. (Why people objected to a movie like Hulk, I don't know. The Hulk is a very psychologically-driven character, so why wouldn't a movie about him be psychologically-driven, as well? This new one coming out with Ed Norton looks like Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, which is actually a pretty fun video game, but will just be a worthlessly banal popcorn flick making crude japes at the mental issues surrounding the Hulk without exploring them in earnest. Just lots of smashy-fighty!)

Tony Stark is an odd choice for a hero. He's a womanizing, arrogant drunk. Well, he's not a drunk in this movie, but perhaps the next. Regardless, Tony is not a "good" person. He's a real bastard, and he understandably makes a lot of people violently dislike him within the movie. This makes his transformation into Iron Man that much more potent, because it's a real shift. He doesn't go from "dorky kid" to "dorky kid with superpowers"; it's a complete paradigm reversal from "arrogant, blithe merchant of death" to "socially concerned, determined man with superpowers." It's a more real storyline. More honest. I wish we had more honest superhero movies. In the past few years, we've gotten precious few. Spider-Man 1 & 2, Hulk, Punisher, Batman Begins, and Iron Man. (Persumably The Dark Knight will fall in here, too, but I'll wait until I see it to pass judgement.) Instead, we get crap like Superman Returns, X-Men: The Last Stand, Elektra, Spider-Man 3, and Blade: Trinity. Seriously, writing good movies isn't that hard. Just take some time, and wait for a good story to come along, don't crank the movie out because you can.

I'm gonna go take a Valium, and when I come back, I'll talk to you about the other movie I saw recently, the Wachowski Brothers' childhood fanwank, Speed Racer.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Unity

I tend to avoid computer games. I don't know why; I've enjoyed them in the past. I loved Starcraft, as I've mentioned before, and Diablo I & II were awesome games. I take another crack at slaying the Lord of Terror every now and then, for old times' sake. Age of Empires was good fun, too. Back in the days when everyone had a dial-up modem, I would dial my friend up, he'd turn on the modem, and we'd play a huge bout. Awesome use of a PA day.

But those games have something in common. They're mouse-based, almost entirely. There's some keystrokes here and there, but you can get by with hardly ever touching the thing. I find keyboards awkward to wield when playing something. FPS's are really awkward for me, usually because my hand twists into a malformed claw within an hour or so. I have the same problem with Metroid Prime 3, truth be told. The whole strafe thing always confuses me. I suck at that style of game, I admit. (The GC Prime games, though, I'm fine with. Strafe is an option, not mandatorily mapped to the joystick. I have a much easier time of it.)

Those ZBoards tempt me, however. I would outfit a powerful rig just for the sheer geeky joy of having a ZBoard with a couple of keysets. Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures is my largest succubus looming on the horizon. Damn you, epic sword-and-sorcery storylines! Damn you, any-Conan-merchandise-ever-created! (Except for Robert Jordan's miserable fucking excuse for Conan novels. Conan is not a nimble thief modeled after Fabio. He does not crush nubile young princesses to his manly bosom, ravishing them repeatedly in a romantic way. Conan is a slayer of men. He trods the thrones of men beneath his jeweled sandals, grinding the bones of his foes into powder. Goddamn you to hell, Robert Jordan. You son. Of. A bitch.)

So imagine my glee this past weekend. I discover the old RPG milestone of Fallout is entirely mouse-based. I torrent the shit out of it, and have some fun killing radscorpions. I clear out a raider camp (to absolutely no gain, I should add. Shady Sands is a cheapass motherfuckin' town, I tell you what.), and realize I have just under two months left to save my Vault from an uncomfortable thirst. So I follow up on the clues I have, discover Vault-12 is buried beneath Zombie Town, aaaaand I've apparently skipped almost half the goddamn game.

What the fuck, man? What kind of asshole builds into the game the ability for the player, at level 3, to bypass the main quest completely and wind up knee deep in the final quest? Jesus. Thank God I have old save files.