Saturday, May 10, 2008

Speed Racer

A lot of movies, particularly in the last 10 years or so, have tried to blend the qualities of animation and traditional filmmaking, to create a kind of "live-action cartoon." As with most genre experiments, these films usually don't work. You tend to get stuff like Shoot 'Em Up that, in trying to mix and match the best elements of cartoons and live-action, wind up with a confused muddle that gets neither form right.

The Wachowski Brothers' Speed Racer is something else entirely. I'm not sure if this was even meant to be a live-action cartoon or not. It's impossible for me to tell you what Larry and Andy were going for. Unless the goal was to punish the cruel world that shunned their Matrix sequels, a sort of delayed cinematic revenge, I'm pretty sure they didn't get there.

The word "debacle" gets thrown around a lot these days. The Bush Administration. New Orleans Reconstruction. The Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis. But Speed Racer gives the word an entirely new meaning. This is not just one of the least pleasant and most inane movies I have seen, but also among the most confounding. Why make this movie? And for whom? And why do it like this? Just to prove that you can?

The story is labored and needlessly complex, involving corporate espionage, double-crosses, arcane racing rules and a whole shitload of backstory about dead brothers and vintage auto races. It sucks, and it makes the movie 140 minutes long, which is just entirely, insanely too long no matter how you slice it. Even if it were really good, that would be too long.

The basics are these: Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch, getting about as far from Into the Wild as possible) must compete in a variety of races to save his father's (John Goodman) racing company and defeat the insidious plot of corporate mogul Royalton (Roger Allam), who controls the world of professional racing and uses it for financial gain. He's helped by his girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci), his loyal and attentive mother (Susan Sarandon) and the mysterious and shadowy Racer X (Matthew Fox).

The Wachowskis created the "world" of the film using the same kind of technology that made Sin City and Sky Captain possible - shooting their actors in "green screen" sets and then plunking them down into an entirely computer-generated universe. In fairness, Speed Racer looks nothing like those movies. It looks as those movies may have looked if you had rubbed your eyes for two hours before watching them, then done a few bracing shots of absinthe.

I know that makes it sound good, and for a few quick seconds, during some of the racing scenes, it almost comes together into something. Every rare once in a while, I could feel the movie start to look less like a video game and almost maybe kind of get cinematic for a moment, before flipping around and turning back into an indecipherable jumble of brain-meltingly lame jokes and bright bursts of primary colors.

What I'm saying is, this movie doesn't look like any other movies, but perhaps that's because it looks like the stupidest piece of fucking trash I have ever seen. There's a reason no other director has used this technology to turn the movie screen into a coloring book that's been attacked by 8 ADHD-infected toddlers armed with a garbage bag full of magic markers and crystal meth. Because it's a bad idea.

In still shots, like the one above, Speed Racer looks almost beautiful, or at least pleasingly candy-colored and imaginative. But the movie is edited at such breakneck speed, and so constantly over-saturated with light and color and busyness, it just becomes an eyesore after about five seconds, and even turned kind of nauseating by the conclusion. The Wachowskis prove that actual showmanship and directorial prowess has nothing to do with technology or budgets or ambition or a willingness to go-for-broke.

Actually being a director is about having a keen eye, some basic visual sense for framing and composition and the confidence in your own ability to not show the audience everything you could possibly show them. Filmmaking is largely about making decisions about what to show and what to leave out. The Wachowskis want to leave nothing out, they will spin a camera at top speed for 140 minutes to show you every inch of the dazzling world they've created, and that's why they keep proving themselves to be sub-standard filmmakers. Again and again.

Take the sequence set at the elaborate, massive car factory. We spend about 10 minutes zooming down a long hallway taking in row after row after endless row of machinery, employees, car parts, equipment, and on and on and on, and in the end, it all becomes an indistinguishable blur, like a forgettable PlayStation cut scene. A movie like Monsters Inc. or even the Tim Burton Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (of which I was not a huge fan) does so much more with so much less - a hint at the size and mystery of the factory is more tantalizing than a constantly moving, buzzy but ultimately senseless 10 minute sequence. And because the activity going on is not itself interesting - it's essentially a tour of a car factory, albeit a fantastically large and, of course, candy-colored car factory - the entire purpose is lost, and the audience naturally stops paying close attention to what they are seeing.

Those are just the visuals. We haven't even discussed quite possibly the lamest, most obnoxious, poorly conceived script of the year. The dialogue, as in every script yet written by Larry and Andy, is tone-deaf and atrocious. Some basic elements of screenwriting, like foreshadowing, are so clunky and awkward here, it's genuinely embarrassing for veteran filmmakers.

(I mean, the scene where Trixie tells Speed Racer that, one day, she hopes he'll win the Grand Prix and they'll kiss in front of all the screaming fans? The 8 year old behind me could tell that was going to come back around, even though he had fallen asleep by the time it actually happened).

Surely I can't be the only one who has noticed that these two have zero sense of humor whatsoever. Bound is actually kind of a cool, funny movie, but it's really just because Joe Pantoliano figured out how ludicrous it was and decided to have some fun with the material. The entire Matrix trilogy is, essentially, joke-free.

Here, they've been given the task of adapting a silly children's cartoon that features a monkey as a main character. So you know that's not going to go too well. But still, the comedy in the film is absolutely gobsmackingly hideous.

It gives me no pleasure to bash a child actor, particularly because it's surely not his fault, but Paulie Litt as Spritle gives perhaps the worst child performance I've ever seen - he mugs uncontrollably, and his line readings are clearly coached. They might as well have just hired a stage mother to come on camera and perform the part as she hopes her child might.

This sounds mean, but I'll say again...This isn't the fault of young Paulie Litt. This is why you have directors. They're supposed to be there to try and get an actual performance out of this kid, rather than just having him jump around and generally be as irritating as any one human being could possibly make themselves. If he's not up to the kind of performance their movie requires, they're supposed to hire someone else. I harbor no ill will towards young Master Litt, but I wanted to punch him in the face at several points during tonight's screening.

I could keep going, but what's the point? Nothing at all works about Speed Racer. It's painful from start to finish. I actually found it a grueling experience, difficult to sit through and intensely annoying. Oh, and did I mention it's 140 goddamn minutes long? WTF? It's fucking Speed Racer! That's like every episode of the show placed back-to-back!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Los Angeles Systems Engineer

Mahalo is searching for a truly badass Los Angeles Systems Engineer. Details can be found at CEO Jason's blog.

Does this sound like you? If so, let us know. If not, why are you still reading this? Here's the basics:

Systems Engineer, Los Angeles, Inc. is a new human-powered social search service backed by Sequoia Capital (the world's #1 venture firm), Newscorp, CBS, Elon Musk (Paypal founder), and others. This kind of opportunity is extremely rare in LA: these high-profile rewards are usually found only in Silicon Valley.

We're looking for a seasoned Systems Engineer. You should be expert in massively scalable architectures, how MySQL and Linux interact, how MySQL and memcache interact, sharding, replication (including multiple
master replication) and how to tune MySQL based on various schemas for maximum performance and availability. You are a HANDS ON implementor, a get-it-done kind of developer. The right person is a self starter
with the "general get it factor". You work well with a team of like-minded engineers, and have a genuine desire for excellence.

You should be expert with:
Applications: PHP 5.x, MySQL 5.x, memcache 1.2.x
Protocols: HTTP, HTTPS, Unicast and Multicast socket programming
Scripting languages: Unix shell scripting
Other languages: Applicants with C, Java, and Objective-C experience preferred
Bonus: Hadoop / HBase, Lucene, Nutch, Spread

Well rounded candidates such as release engineers with a background in both large corporate environments and small startups have an edge.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

It's Whiter...It Stays White Later...

I seriously can't believe Hillary Clinton said this to anyone, let alone a reporter:

And I quote:

"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."

"There's a pattern emerging here," she said.

Are we to understand that Hillary is now actively and openly courting the support of white bigots?

"Hey, Rufus! Wanna spend a few bucks less on gas for a month? Scared of browns? Then git on down to the votin' store and support Hillary Clinton!"

I mean, there is a primary coming up in West Virginia ("The Bigot State"), so I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad strategy...but it's pretty goddamn brazen all the same. And from a Democrat no less.


The Mothers of Implosion

This is an actual commercial intended to make you LIKE John McCain. It's like McCain and Romney had a "Who's More Visibly Awkward" contest, and McCain clearly won but insists on rubbing it in now. What a dick.

But seriously, Christopher Guest directing Larry David in a Ricky Gervais-penned remake of Welcome to the Dollhouse would not be this cringe-worthy.

He approved this message? What's the message? I can't even tell what the hell she's talking about. When he was born, people gave them lots of booze? John, John, when people said they "wanted to have a beer with George Bush," they didn't mean that literally he had to buy every American beer. It's just a metaphor. The guy with the most liquor doesn't actually just get to be President.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Mahalo VLOG Idol is now...THE BACHELON!

Man...a shirt unbuttoned to my navel and a tuxedo T-shirt in the same episode...Will I ever be able to top this?


Don't get me wrong...I'm glad my candidate will win. But I would have voted for either of them gladly against John McCain. I'm just happy this excruciating primary is finally going to end.

But will I ever be able to watch 20 minutes of TV without seeing ludicrous footage of Jeremiah Wright? Only time will tell...

Monday, May 05, 2008


As a filmmaker, David Mamet's having kind of a rough decade. 2000's State and Main was a diverting enough Hollywood satire, I suppose, though it's pretty toothless. (How far can you really go with jokes about neurotic leading ladies and nebbishy screenwriters? It's been done to death). Heist in 2001 has a lot of nice little moments, and I particularly enjoy the script's use of "lame" as a noun ("what are you, some kind of lame?") but it has about eight twists too many and doesn't add up to much. 2004's Spartan is a complete debacle that totally falls apart in the second half.

And now we have Redbelt, without a doubt the weakest film Mamet has yet produced and the sort of thing that just makes me question his judgment. It's not like Redbelt was some ambitious misfire. It's maybe one-third of a movie, stretched out to feature length by unfolding its overly-complex but ultimately uninteresting plot at a snail's pace. It's genuinely hard for me to believe that this script was written by one of America's most famous and beloved dramatic writers. It's lacking on a basic, conceptual level.

It seems to me that Mamet simply wanted to make a martial arts film, but felt the unnecessary urge to "Mamet-ize" the story, adding in a bunch of extraneous "twists" and misdirection to sort of make the genre his own. I sense the narrative would have worked better if Mamet had stuck to the more standard kung fu movie structure, but it's still not really a story that's worth telling on its own merits.

The only thing that really kept me going through the slog that is Redbelt was the performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Jiu-Jitsu instructor Mike Terry. Ejiofor's probably one of the most compelling actors in film today, and there are many wordless close-ups of his face in the film that are far more interesting than all the mechanics of the film's grandiose set-up. (A few Mamet regulars pop up - Joe Mantegna, Ed O'Neil, his wife Rebecca Pidgeon - but only Ricky Jay makes any kind of impact, in his usual small and extremely deadpan role. He gets every single one of the film's best lines.)

Terry's studio, Southside Jiu-Jitsu, has hit hard times. So when he comes to the aid of a movie star (Tim Allen) in a bar fight, and the star then asks him to come aboard his film project as a fight coordinator and adviser, the offer's too good to pass up. Around this same time, there's a strange incident in Terry's dojo, where a disoriented woman (Emily Mortimer) wanders in off the street and accidentally shoots at an off-duty cop (Max Martini).

These two incidents don't seem connected at first, but that would be okay as long as they seemed important. Unfortunately, neither story has any kind of intensity or stakes. Terry might lose his dojo, but it's hard to feel emotionally invested in this place. It's usually empty, and we don't really get much of a feel for what it's like in there. And the cop might get in trouble for not reporting the incident to his superiors, but he's entirely bland and barely even in the film.

For about the film's first hour, we're just kind of wandering around in Terry's world, adrift. Mamet has written a lot of speeches and information about jiu-jitsu and the theories behind it, and I guess the notion of a completely defensive martial arts strategy, about using your opponents attacks against her, is interesting in some ways. But it's not a replacement for actual storytelling, and it really doesn't tie in to the things Terry is going through in the movie until the very end.

The whole thing ends up, as these movies often do, with Terry agreeing to fight as an undercard to a big mixed martial-arts fight, featuring his own brother-in-law. It's the sort of sequence that, in a normal kung fu film, would provide a big, crowd-pleasing conclusion in which the hero wins the day. Mamet's movie doesn't quite get there for a variety of reasons:

(1) He's clueless as to how to shoot the fighting.

These fight scenes are just ugly, chopped up and blurred and impossible to follow. There was not a single move or moment - a punch landed or a skilled reversal - with any visceral impact whatsoever. It's just lines on a screen.

(2) He hasn't done a good enough job of establishing who his fighters are and what's at stake.

The main antagonist of the whole movie is introduced with about 10 minutes of screen time remaining. I don't care who you are, that's just bad. First-time screenwriters know better than that.

Also, because of the nature of this last fight, the win or loss itself will be meaningless. There is nothing to be won. I'm not even sure why these two need to be fighting.

(3) The actual blocking and dynamics of the sequence don't make any sense.

Without giving too much away, the final fight in this movie would just be impossible. It wouldn't happen that way, at all, and if it did, no one would react as they do. It would be like Rocky ending with Apollo Creed challenging the Italian Stallion to a hot air balloon race around the world. They just wouldn't do's wrong...

In fact, much of the premise of Redbelt just feels dubious to me. Like, it just wouldn't happen. The strange rules for the competition. The incident with the gun in the dojo. The whole Tim Allen barfight...It's just feels wrong.

Sometimes, with my own scripts, I'll look back on something I wrote and realize that I had some idea in my head of what I wanted to do, and I was just forcing it into the script, even when it didn't exactly fit. That's the first sign I need to throw that stuff away and start again. Redbelt feels like Mamet forcing these ideas to work, even though they clearly don't. He should have just put it aside and done something else, or started over.