Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Wachowski Bros. film, Speed Racer (2008)

If you happen to know any 9 year-old stoners, the Wachowski Bros.' 2008 flick, Speed Racer, is just the thing for them. That’s about the size of it, with this weird, weird film. It’s target audience must have been kids in grades 1 thru 4. I’m tempted to say younger, but this thing is over 2 hours long, and in the beginning, especially, there is some odd, confusing time-shifting in the script.  Speed Racer is based on a late 1960s Japanese television cartoon series, which itself was based on a manga from a decade before that. It wasn’t what we think of when we think of manga today--it looked more like Scooby-doo, for instance.

The Wachowski Bros. (of Matrix fame) came late to the project, although it had floundered so much, they still had a lot to do with it, getting full writing and directing credit. I have to admit, I kind of liked the movie, even though, when it wasn’t dazzling with some virtually unprecedented, colorful CGI, it was following in the cheesy Disney footsteps of flicks like Herbie the Love Bug or any number of other Disney kids flicks that I considered too corny to watch even when I was a kid. More charitably, it also reminded me of Willy Wonka, especially the Johnny Depp remake. (BTW,  Depp was originally cast in the lead here, but happily for all concerned, bowed out, replaced by Emile Hirsch, who did quite a good job with it. And in fact, it was a good cast, including Christina Ricci, Susan Sarandon, John Goodman, Matthew Fox, and Roger Allum (who weirdly kept reminding me, a LOT, of Christopher Hitchins). They did their best with what they had.

The trailer

Many critics were put off by the fact that there were three lengthy car race segments which they considered rather redundant. These were often really quite a lot like watching someone play a Nintendo game, and I’m sure this was quite consciously done. I imagine they had hopes of turning this into a  successful computer game. There have been Speed Racer computer games, but as far as I’ve discovered, they have been based on the original.

This clip shows a little bit of the cartoon, followed by the computer game:

There’s no denying, cinematically, this movie is head and shoulders above the original, which was rather crude in terms of its animation. The racing in the Wachowski version is not simply ordinary Grand Prix, but futuristic, deadly action on an impossible, rollercoaster sort of track. I was once a fan of Indy cars, and I kind of got into the races here. (Come to think of it, I was actually into the Grand Prix cars around the time this was a Japanese television show. I even made a model of the Chapparal. So... )

I see Speed Racer as a knowing homage to several very familiar entertainments for little boys. There are two lengthy and highly stylized fight sequences that are sort of Three Stooges gone ninja. John Goodman, suddenly revealed as a former wrestler, spins a ninja around over his head, and you half-expect to hear him go “Woop woop woop” like Curly, and his son executes the famous two fingers in the eyes attack. The Wachowskis were born in the late ‘60s, and this slapstick stuff was still on tv. So they’re framing the Japanese cartoon in a retro American context. If I were given the task of filming Speed Racer, I’m not sure what I would have done differently.

There is, however, a pretty limited audience for this. Some of it requires an older child’s understanding, but a lot of it is more on the kindergarten level. As far as adults go, it’s clearly not for all tastes. It cost $120 million to make and closed in US theaters with a fraction of that in box office. It’s probably about breaking even at this point.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Blippin' Jazz


Listening to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. Miles was working on it exactly 40 years ago. Some may disagree, but it’s my favorite Miles album, and that certainly is saying something.


Great Mati Klarwein jacket, too. I put it up on my new jazztrain profile on blip.fm



But here ya go, should you be interested:

A funky, spacey sound.

I think this jazz profile pretty much completes things for me on blip.fm. Maybe someday I might get back in a country / folk sort of mood, but it’s been many years now since I really have been into that. Every now and then I’ll listen to a song or even a CD, but I can’t say I’ve gotten into a particular phase in a long time.

While you can search within blip.fm for music--and sometimes it’s necessary, because YouTube doesn’t have everything--yet--YouTube really is, as you probably already know, just an amazing treasury of clips. Mostly I’ve been exploring classical, rock/pop, blues, and now jazz, in that order.

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but one of the nice features of blip.fm is you can link each profile to a Twitter account, which I have, and that enables you to meet some interesting folks. For instance, my first follower on my jazztrain Twitter was TheDaveHolland.


It seems that sometimes that’s updated by his people and sometimes by him.

I was followed by Paul Winter after I mentioned on my classical Twitter


(linked to my blip.fm that I wasn’t in the mood for classical, but was instead listening to world music, like Kitaro and Paul Winter. This piece, Anabela, is beautiful with Brazilian guitarist/vocallist Renato Braz
and Winter sweetly playing sax. I used to apply the now rather musty label, “New Age,” to him, but “World Music” fits well now, because Winter has often incorporated Third World and Native American music, not to mention many nature sounds at times.

Monday, August 10, 2009

24 Hours of Air Traffic (Animated Map)

Fascinating 24-hour view of global air traffic. At first glimpse, I thought, wow, Europe is the center of the traffic. But I quickly realized that, of course, the concentration of flights follows the sunlight. People would rather avoid landing somewhere at 3 a.m., if they can help it.

Alan Moore on faces of different eras

In the first text part of Watchmen, "Under the Hood," Alan Moore writes:

"Moe Vernon was a man around fifty-five or so, and he had one of those old New York faces you don’t see anymore.

1950s group of men

"It’s funny, but certain faces seem to go in and out of style. You look at old photographs and everybody has a certain look to them, almost as if they’re related.

1980s photos

"Look at pictures from ten years later and you can see there’s a new kind of face starting to predominate, and that the old faces are fading away and vanishing, never to be seen again."

athletic group

It's something that probably we all think at some point. I'm not sure. Is it the hair? The clothes? Or even the cameras, etc? Actually, one of the guys in the first photo (from the 1950s) looks something like one of the guys in the second photo, which is from the 1980s.

1950s photo licensed through Creative Commons from freeparking’s photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/freeparking/468956377/

1980s photo licensed through Creative Commons from
foundphotoslj’s photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/foundphotoslj/334767030/

athletic photo licensed through Creative Commons from lululemon athletica's photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/lululemonathletica/3491309891/

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Keith Olbermann attacks Congressmen owned by the healthcare industry

I didn't know anyone actually said things like this on TV. An extraordinary attack on GOP and Dem Congressmen who have been bought and sold by the healthcare industry. Please watch this video venom from MSNBC's Keith Olbermann


Monday, August 3, 2009

John Sinclair

Back in 1972, John Lennon & Yoko came out with a politically radical album, Sometime in New York City, that Rolling Stone called “artistic suicide.”

I was pretty much at my radical peak at that time, so I had no problem with it at all. Just about all the songs espoused radical causes, from Angela Davis to Belfast, feminism to legalizing drugs. On that subject, there was “John Sinclair”:

Manager of Detroit’s punkish MC5 band, Sinclair was also heavily involved with the White Panthers, a radical group that backed the Black Panthers. Wikipedia does a good job of filling in the rest:

After a series of convictions for possession of marijuana, Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1969 after giving two joints of marijuana to an undercover narcotics officer.[2] This sentence sparked the landmark "Free John Now Rally" at Ann Arbor's Crisler Arena in December 1971. The event brought together a who's-who of left-wing luminaries, including pop musicians John Lennon (who recorded the song, "John Sinclair" on his Some Time in New York City album), Yoko Ono, David Peel, Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs and Bob Seger, jazz artists Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd, and speakers Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale.[3] Three days after the rally, Sinclair was released from prison when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the state's marijuana statutes were unconstitutional. These events inspired the creation of Ann Arbor’s annual pro-legalization Hash Bash rally, which continues to be held as of 2009, and contributed to the drive for decriminalization of marijuana under the Ann Arbor city charter (see Marijuana laws in Ann Arbor, Michigan).

Well, here’s Sinclair, doing some poetry with jazz accompaniment:

Oh, and, as you can see, MC5 was a pretty exciting act:

Monday, July 27, 2009

A few words about the movie, 12 Monkeys (1996)

Generally a pretty good movie! My main problems with it were:

a) Willis’ character was a major nutcase, violent, and not too bright, either. He’s supposed to travel back in time, not to prevent a biomedical event that kills most of humanity, but to seek information about the virus that would help those in the future deal with it better. Why on earth would you send him, of all people, back to the past on such an important mission?

b) A few of Terry Gilliam’s art direction choices, especially the lab in the future, were absurd and detracted from the believability. He did the same thing, in spades, in Brazil. That can work in the sort of flicks Tim Burton usually does, but it’s just a silly diversion with something like this.


But I’ve always liked Willis, and Madeleine Stowe was very good.... Brad PItt is a bit over the top here. The fact that he was nominated for Best Supporting for this says a whole lot about how stupid and unfair the Oscars are....

This was “inspired by” the famous French short, La Jetée, which we watched in junior year honors English. (Our teacher was media-oriented, and we watched quite a few important (and cool) shorts in class.) Anyway, “inspired by” is a good way of putting it. The movie uses the basic paradoxical time -traveling ideas of the La Jetée storyline, but of course, adds a whole lot to it in the way of plot and characters.

I had actually written a little short story for 8th grade English class that was pretty similar (though a whole lot shorter). In that, the character travels back in time to prevent a nuclear war and ends up being the one who starts it.

No doubt, somehow my subconscious traveled two years into the future to draw inspiration from my viewing of La Jetée....