g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
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Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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Wednesday, May 14, 2008
06:31 - What passes for a ninja these days

(top)
I don't care how bad everyone says it is. I thought Speed Racer was frickin' fantastic.

I mean, sure, yeah, it's loud and garish and obnoxious. Sure, the characters are wooden and stereotypical and typecast and the premise centering on Evil Capitalist Power Politics has had subtler treatments in Michael Moore films. Sure, the comic relief is teeth-grinding, the gratuitous action sequences are attached to the plot with Fun-Tak, and the physics of the actual cars and the racing are so overblown as to beggar adjectives. And sure, Jim Emerson is well within his rights to scathingly note that "Nor is it some kind of subversive commodity, unless the outré strategy of pandering to a low-brow, retro-nostalgic crowd can be considered anything but business as usual in 2008".

To be sure, irony is in no short supply in this day and age, and self-referential, tongue-in-cheek remakes of beloved old properties from the childhoods of the people who now pull the levers in Hollywood are no longer the province of the subculture—the sensibility behind Adult Swim is now the mainstream. And in that sense, Speed Racer is breaking no new ground.

And yet... and yet I thought it was far, far more watchable than either of the latter two Matrix movies. Because dagnabbit, it's fun.

And not just that—to focus on the things about it that mark it as a product of its time, or to peel apart the myriad implausibilities of the plot or the universe, is to willfully miss out on the wacky, bizarre sense of fun that made the cartoon appealing in the first place. I wasn't among the generation that grew up with it, but I can certainly relate to it—when I was eight, Superfriends plots that always managed to find something useful for Aquaman to do were something I found to be a stretch even then, and I forgave them, just as Speed Racer's fans forgave each week's ludicrous story that somehow managed to jimmy a diamond heist or a banana-republic rebellion into a tale of a racecar driver. Yes, it's a cartoon. Yes, it's ridiculous. That's the point.

The corporate power players are scenery-chewers struck from old, worn proofs—but that's exactly what we want them to be. The cars and their atomic future-of-the-past engines and the way they smash and careen their way through elevated bobsled-like tracks, spinning in all directions and yet never losing control or pinpoint momentum, are not even remotely believable, but at the same time that's the only thing that would have worked. Spritle and Chim-Chim are irritating, distracting adjuncts who serve little point but to get in trouble for the sake of nudging along the plot, but that's what they always were. And while a reviewer hardly risks his laurels nowadays by referring to a live-action movie as a "cartoon", this one fits into that by-now venerable genre better than most of its predecessors—it has all the innovativeness of The Mask and all the style and appeal of The Fifth Element, and yet feels more honest than either of them in its sheer reality-ignoring zaniness.

What interests me, in fact, is the creative process that must have gone into this. The brainstorming sessions that would have led to the development of this kind of far-out world, a world where every suburban family drives a car that looks like a cross between a Mako Shark Corvette and a Bugatti Atlantic, and background set pieces sidle up against the viewer's peripheral vision like the world is one giant fisheye lens. I think this Popular Mechanics article (via JMH) is fascinating in that it observes that some of the shots in this movie—gasp!—are actually real places. As in, photographs—not CG! Astounding! This movie may mark the first occasion where it is thought of as the norm to construct the entire backing universe in a two-hour, $100 million computer simulation, rather than using CG to punch up a traditionally shot movie, or (as in the case of game but unconvincing attempts like Beowulf) to replace even the live actors with CG models. This is the first time, I think, that it's all been so over-the-top as to really work.

No, it's not without its faults; but I happen to think the bulk of them are there on purpose, engineered with as much precision and confidence as any of the cars barreling down those tracks or flipping with pinpoint accuracy at the touch of a steering-wheel button sideways through the air to knock each other off into the abyss with nary a scratch or a wheel scuff or a worry about whether the other driver managed to eject in a parachute before his car exploded in an orange fireball. Only someone who knows precisely what he's doing would invoke hoary old Bond-villain clichés like the poison-down-the-thread technique, only to reveal a moment later that the ninja doing it is wearing heart-spotted underwear. And only someone who knows precisely what he's doing would cheekily render the Togokhan logo as a dead ringer for the Ferrari logo. Only someone who knows precisely what he's doing would put a line like "Inspector Detector suspected foul play" into the screenplay, to be delivered deadpan. And only someone who knows precisely what he's doing would tell a story so riddled with flashbacks and flash-forwards, in a weirdly unfocused and barely linear timeline, and make it ultimately as rewarding for having put up with it as Pulp Fiction.

Most of the reviewers are using words like "wearying", "confounding", and "toxic"; with noses in air, they're interested primarily in figuring out what forces have conspired to make this kind of film a regrettable inevitability. But as for me, damn the critics—I think it's one of the most relentlessly unique movies I've seen in a very long time. And I mean that in the best possible way.

UPDATE: Apparently the audiences don't agree.

Via Cartoon Brew, which seems a bit ambivalent about how it hoped this would turn out.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008
08:02 - Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?
http://www.autoblog.com/2008/05/13/new-ferrari-california-exposed/

(top)
It's a whole new Ferrari, the California:



Looks pretty sweet, if a bit audacious and not so much "beautiful" as "striking", what with those weird side creases. Also:

This car of firsts also debuts the production application of a dual clutch gearbox from Ferrari. The 7-speed unit is mounted in a rear transaxle configuration and should provide smoother shifting and even better performance than the existing hydraulically-actuated units that Ferrari currently uses.

So no manual option, even? Maybe we should be talking about the previous models as "cars of lasts"...


Monday, May 12, 2008
21:37 - It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad State

(top)
Hey, look where I got lost today!



And while driving in formation, too, communicating by two-way.

"Let's pull over somewhere to get gas," he says.

Honestly, this place...


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© Brian Tiemann