SPEED RACER (2008) (***1/2)

8 05 2008
Check Out the Trailer
Check Out the Trailer

I was expecting eye candy going into this film and that’s what I was served, but by the time the final course was uncovered I had gobbled up Andy and Larry Wachowski’s neon-glowing confection. No one who has ever seen the original series would confuse it with good animation. Nonetheless it had a charm that was undeniable. The Wachowskis capture that charm, frosting their entire production with it. They are not interested in “improving” the original material with an overdose of extra hip wink winks — the same ingredient that has destroyed so many other animation-to-live-action adaptations. They’re interested in bringing the good flavors to the forefront and minimizing the cheesy aftertaste.

Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch, INTO THE WILD) is from a family of racers, who thinks about nothing but racing. He looks up to his older brother Rex (Scott Porter, TV’s FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS), a champion driver. But something happens to pull apart Rex and his dad Pops (John Goodman, BARTON FINK), spurring Rex to leave home and later parish in a racing accident. When Speed grows up, he is courted by all the major sponsors, especially Royalton (Roger Allam, V FOR VENDETTA), a shady corporate tycoon. Soon enough, Speed learns painful lessons about the way the racing world is really run and is approached by the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox, TV’s LOST) to join him and blow the lid off the evil corporate conspiracy to fix races.

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LA BAMBA (1987) (***1/2)

8 05 2008
Check Out the Trailer
Check Out the Trailer

As a child of the video age, there is a collection of films that have been ingrained in my memory for having watched them over and over again. LA BAMBA, the story of Ritchie Valens, is one of those films. Before I knew that I was watching something special, I responded to this musical biopic’s portrayal of the supporting characters in the life of the central star. No other film that deals with the rise of famous people deals so honestly with how fame affects those in the star’s life that stay anonymous folk.

Before Ritchie Valens rose to fame, he was migrant worker Ritchie Valenzuela (Lou Diamond Phillips, YOUNG GUNS). A young man obsessed with rock ‘n roll, he never goes anywhere without his secondhand guitar. One day his leather jacket-wearing brother Bob (Esai Morales, FAST FOOD NATION) rides into camp on his motorcycle. He’s made enough money to move his hardworking mother Connie (Rosanna DeSoto, STAND AND DELIVER) and his three younger siblings to Los Angeles. He’s so cool he sweeps Ritchie’s crush Rosie (Elizabeth Pena, LONE STAR) off her feet and onto the back of his bike on his way down the road too. In L.A., Ritchie joins a local band where he is relegated to the background, but moves himself to the front and center via his passion. Along the way, he charms the white daughter of a car dealer named Donna (Danielle von Zerneck, LIVING IN OBLIVION), a later inspiration for a song when her dad doesn’t like her hanging with a homie. Ritchie also attracts the attention of smalltime record producer Bob Keene (Joe Pantoliano, THE MATRIX), who creates Ritchie Valens, a teenager who quickly has three hit singles and tours with rock icons like Buddy Holly.

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