Ratchet & Clank (2016)

ratchetandclankThe way critics savaged “Ratchet & Clank” in 2016, you’d swear we were given an animated move in the same league of “Norm of the North” or “Doogal.” Instead, we get a funny and entertaining science fiction adventure that doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but manages to be a fun animated movie nevertheless. I have never played the video games “Ratchet & Clank” is based on, but I know enough to understand the basic concept and premise. “Ratchet & Clank” is a eye catching and very good action film that touches on all bases and delivers one very interesting underdog tale about a potential hero trying to prove his worth. Director Kevin Munroe stages a prequel to the games that widens the universe of Ratchet and Clank and genuinely attempts to add another dimension to the titular duo for the sake of their fans.

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Speed Racer: Widscreen Edition (2008) (DVD)

speedracerI’m probably one of the five people in America who thought that “Speed Racer” just got a bad rap by critics and audiences. I mean, really, what were you expecting from this flick? When all is said and done, I don’t think it’s that bad a movie at all. In fact I’m more than willing to admit its bevy of flaws but am still able to enjoy it in spite of the evident caveats. “Speed Racer” is too cool to just dismiss. I mean for a two hour and fifteen minute movie (seriously, Wachowskis?) it’s actually easy to sit through with a very unique take on Speed Racer. I hate to play apologist to the Wachowskis and their big budget effort, but I have to appreciate the pulp neo-noir take on “Speed Racer” with a vision that doesn’t talk down to kids.

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Speed Racer (2008)

Speed-RacerThe Wachowskis aspire for something unusual and awfully contradictory with “Speed Racer.” They want an intentionally animated live action film, but a film that also looks as realistic as possible. They want a family film, but this is a film that may not be appealing to all children, and they want a story that simple but also quite complicated. Just when you think you’ve seen all of Spritle and his monkey, there’s an unusual tale about corporate corruption. Maybe it’s because of all the contradictions and hapless surrealism that I responded to “Speed Racer” with such enthusiasm. I know it won’t be for everyone, and it definitely has its own flaws present, but speaking as someone willing to meet the Wachowskis halfway, everything involving Speed and Racer X made for some interesting drama.

The first few minutes of “Speed Racer” are pretty much an indicator of what’s to come and who this is aimed toward. Speed sits on a bench preparing for a race and is bobbing his leg rapidly, which then immediately cuts to a young Speed (we need to see him as a kid, apparently), who is also bobbing his leg very quickly. ADD addled children, this movie is for you, says the subtle imagery. And boy howdy, is that ever correct. For many the imagery here will prove to be quite mind boggling and the Wachowski’s aim to flash the moving character/still imagery element to their film, and do it until it’s absolutely jarring. As for the narrative, it’s simply everywhere with incessant flashback after flashback, sub-plots that meander back and forth from our villain, to Racer X, to Speed, to Pops, and so on and so forth, to the point where not even the Wachowski’s are sure who the main character in this action tale is.

That said, not only do Matthew Fox and Emile Hirsch ace the chemistry as brothers, but the casting is competent. You have to appreciate the Wachowskis taking an awful franchise with a wholly uninteresting character turning it into a cheesy but fun pulp flick. Even if its sole intent is to appeal to children, the smell of pulp was so thick I found their effort quite endearing, and this is speaking as someone who never liked Speed Racer. I’ve suffered through many versions, given it many chances, and I’ve never been able to enjoy this series. But “Speed Racer” works on a level that wobbles back and forth from family entertainment to exclusive pulp cult classic. I may be proven wrong years from now, but I’m willing to watch this again and give it a fair shot. Some of the racing scenes are so chaotic and wonky that my head was spinning, but at the same time I sat on edge rooting for Speed and wondering if Racer X would admit he was Rex.

One of the staples of the franchise is the obvious twist in Racer X, and the Wachowskis accomplish that tension with the help of Fox’s strong performance. There’s also the great performance from Goodman who is perfect as Pops, and Ricci adds her own brand of charisma to Trixie. Hirsch adds a sense of humility and Skywalker-esque courage that makes him a great choice for Speed. As for Paulie Litt, I’m sure he tried his hardest in this role, but Spritle and Chim Chim are without a doubt two of the most obnoxious film characters I’ve seen since Jar Jar Binks. Not only do the Wachowskis spend too much time on them, assuming this would qualify as an appeal to a young audience, but most of their riffs are inane and blank white noise without a single purpose to add to the story. Had the film been cut by twenty minutes, including the material with the Spritle and his chimp, “Speed Racer” would have excelled.

The characters are often grating, and I often wondered if we were really supposed to see a movie about Spritle. I thought Speed was the main character here, but what do I know? I didn’t figure in spending two hours watching a kid and a monkey get into hijinks while the directors piss on “Freedbird” in one instance. You just don’t mess with “Freedbird.” The Wachowskis want to strive for a movie beyond simple family fare, and they succeed. Some of the scenes are bafflingly weird, but at the same time, quite exciting. It’s not perfect, but it’s entertaining enough to warrant a pleased smile from moi. The Wachowskis attempt an adult’s kids movie, and don’t always succeed. With a mixture of kitschy surrealism, over the top visuals, and an obscene running time, I don’t know who this movie is for, but it’s not for adults, and it certainly won’t appeal too much to kids. All I know is that I didn’t hate it, and that was enough for me.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

“The Big Lebowski” is probably my favorite Coen brothers film so far, even above “Fargo” in terms of sheer brilliance. “The Big Lebowski” is sort of a celebration of being a man, or in other terms, it’s a celebration of being a dude. Or The Dude. Or duder. Or El Duderino. But the pure fact remains that Bridges is a pure bad ass in anything he’s in and he shows it by being simply “The Dude”. Don’t ever call him Jeff Lebowski, though, it’s the dude. And that’s just the way he likes it. The Dude who lives at the bowling alley, hangs out with his psychotic friends, experiences rivalries with other bowlers, and just has fun finds himself in a humongous crime plot one night after returning home. Upon his return he discovers someone pissing on his carpet and is beaten up in his apartment. It so happens The Dude has been confused with another dude by the name of Jeff Lebowski, a millionaire whose daughter has been kidnapped.

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The Emperor's New Groove (2000)

This is a surprising change for Disney who holds such classic movies like “Beauty and the Beast”, “Cinderella”, and “Snow White” to their roster. “The Emperor’s New Groove” changes the frequently predictable and rather formulaic plotlines from the recent Disney epics and breaks the mold. It starts off telling the story of a very spoiled Mesopotamian prince by the name of Kuzco (David Spade) who is going to tear down a village for a summer home he is building, but unfortunately Pacha (John Goodman), the leader of the village can do nothing about it. Yzma (Eartha Kitt, Kuzco’s advisor is trying to take over the throne while Kuzco is away on business, Kuzco discovers this and fires Yzma, who then attempts to poison him and claim the throne once more with the help of her assistant, the dumb Kronk.

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