Tag Archives: The Matrix

What in the name of ‘Jupiter’ is going on with the Wachowskis?

The duo who created "The Matrix" thought elf ears and rocket boots were a good idea.

The duo who created “The Matrix” thought elf ears and rocket boots were a good idea.

My thoughts on Jupiter Ascending can be summed up in the three words: What the fuck?

Channing Tatum with elf ears and rocket boots, then wings to replace his boots. Spaceships that physically reconfigure as they fly, acting like Transformers that can’t quite transform. A cast of aliens that look like they were kicked out of the Mos Eisley cantina because they couldn’t hold their own with true ruffians. Eddie Redmayne acting like a constipated Darth Vader who is seeking revenge against the universe for that one time that one kid broke the kung-fu grip on one of his G.I. Joes. A movie that has no suspense, uninteresting action sequences and a wicked sense of humor that far too rarely shows its face. A film that acts like it wants to confront corporate greed and the moral failings of the universe’s 1%, but only skates the surface, refusing to make the leap and sink into the perversity. And so on.

Sex, gangsters, money, the corruption of a patriarchal society and more make "Bound" one of the Wachowskis most interesting flicks.

Sex, gangsters, money, the corruption of a patriarchal society and more make “Bound” one of the Wachowskis’ most interesting flicks.

I remember watching Bound, the first film from Lana (then Larry) and Andy Wachowski. The noir crime flick is taut and suspenseful, a swirl of uncertain loyalties and sexual intensity. It’s the only low-budget flick the duo have ever created, and it might be their finest. They made the most of the limitations of their budget, leaning heavily on story, a moody atmosphere and fine performances by Gina Gershon, Jennifer Tilly and Joe Pantoliano.

Then, of course, came The Matrix, the movie that took sci-fi and action cinema and ripped it to shreds. I think now, in part because of the problematic Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions, the original gets taken for granted. And when The Matrix does get props, it’s too often for the technological aspects. The Wachowskis managed to mix futuristic technology, kung fu flicks, LGBT+ subculture, noir cinema and some deep philosophical thought into a movie that could be enjoyed as a straight shoot-em-up flick as well as high art.

But since then … Matrix Reloaded was just awful. After the initial time I saw it in the theater, I’ve never been able to get through it again. Revolutions really did a nice job of getting the whole Matrix mess back on track, but it was still unsatisfying. Speed Racer is dour and dull, a movie that wants to be serious and important thematically while visually being little more than a somewhat intense and significantly less-fun version of Mario Kart. V for Vendetta wasn’t bad, but the Wachowskis didn’t direct that one, and if you’ve read the graphic novel the movie was based on like I have, you’re probably less impressed with the film than the average viewer. I haven’t seen Cloud Atlas, mostly because I loved the book and find it hard to believe that author David Mitchell’s sprawling tome could be done justice in a few hours of screen time, although I might get around to it at some point.

Which brings us back to Jupiter Ascending. When it was announced, I thought this might be it, the Wachowskis getting back on track, making movies that are must-see. The first trailer popped that balloon, and what we got was a final product that was a bloated, boring, tonally uneven mess that wasted the talents of actors like Tatum, Mila Kunis and Sean Bean.

Am I done with the Wachowskis? That might be overstating it. But the writer-directing duo’s next project, whatever that may be, won’t be must-see as far as I’m concerned. And it makes me a little sad to write that.

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What to make of Godard’s New Wave sci-fi classic ‘Alphaville’

Journalist Ivan Johnson aka secret agent Lemmy Caution "hides" and watches a fellow agent make love to a seductress third class.

Journalist Ivan Johnson – aka secret agent Lemmy Caution – “hides” and watches a fellow agent make love to a seductress third class.

Alphaville is a strange flick. On the one hand, writer/director Jean-Luc Godard plumbs the depths of questions about individuality, spirituality, love and the struggle between humanity and technology in a rapidly evolving world. On the other hand, there are times the film is so awkward that it’s almost difficult to watch (although, to be fair, Godard made three movies that year and four the previous year, so time and budget were likely the culprits behind troublesome moments, rather than his ability as a visual storyteller).

That said, the end product is undeniably alluring. Godard’s Alphaville is a place without laughter or love, virtually no music, no passion beyond base sexual needs, a world where constantly redacted dictionaries are bibles and E-mc² is liturgy. In one scene, those who violate the tight, emotional bonds – by laughing, crying, even just caring – are forced to “walk the plank,” up to the edge of diving board, and then shot as they scream their last words in defense of their acts of humanity. As the lifeless bodies hit the water, beautiful young women in matching swimming attire dive in and perform synchronized swimming moves as they retrieve the dead bodies. Crowds watch and cheer as the swimmers perform. It is simultaneously absurd and prescient, a mocking of those who cry out for death and cheer as the blood begins to flow. Humanity is constantly denigrated and tamped down, all for the betterment of the logical society of Alphaville.

What I found most interesting was just how much the science fiction that followed Alphaville mimicked so much of its dystopian future. For example:

* The Matrix – In Alphaville, the supercomputer Alpha 60 controls all. It monitors all communications, calls forth its own “agents” to suppress any who would break out of the rigid system it provides. The world we see is the mask; the real action happens behind the scenes with Alpha 60 and its programmers.

* Blade Runner – Rick Dekard and secret agent Lemmy Caution are cut from the same film noir cloth. Neither understands what they’ve stepped into; both are determined to finish the job.

* Brave New World – Alphaville is a land of sex without love, pills that keep you content. Both Aldous Huxely’s and Godard’s worlds deny any true love or passion, making sex as rote and necessary as having lunch or dropping a deuce.

* 2001: A Space Odyssey – Alpha 60 is HAL. Both understand that the body counts don’t matter, it is the end result, the desired goal, that is most important.

* Divergent – You don’t fit into the pre-determined roles set up by society? In the Divergent series, you are cast out. In Alphaville, you’re lured to a theater and gassed as you enjoy the show.

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‘Raid 2’ ranks with greatest sequels of all times

"The Raid 2" will make you re-think riding on public transportation.

“The Raid 2” doubles as an informative documentary about the dangers of public transportation.

There’s a scene in Matrix Revolutions where Morpheus, Trinity and Seraph go to meet with the Merovingian in an attempt to free Neo. They go up an elevator in the club, the door opens and all hell breaks loose … in a scene that looks and plays a lot like the scene from the original Matrix where Neo and Trinity go in an attempt to free Morpheus, enter the lobby of an office building and all hell breaks loose. It was bizarrely redundant, maybe an attempt by the Wachowskis to comment on the repetitive nature of life, that when you continue the same violent patterns, you get the same results. If so, it was unnecessary, particularly in a film trilogy so laden with symbolism and depth of story-telling that it could have used a little more lightness, if anything.

To me, that’s what The Raid felt like: A well-made action film packed with bizarrely redundant fight scenes. After the initial assault on a drug lord’s bunker-like apartment building goes haywire, the SWAT team and none of the dealers seem to have guns or ammo. So on the one hand, you end up with this bad-ass trudge up story after story as our hero cop, Rama, whips one hardcore gang fighter after another, hoping to finish the job and return safely to his family. On the other hand, you have this incredibly redundant set of hand-to-hand fight scenes limited by the setting. It’s not that some battles don’t stand out, but by-and-large it just seems to be a lot of the same moves over and over, something more akin to video games than film. It doesn’t hurt the movie much, mostly because the fight scenes are so well choreographed and because Raid: Redemption moves quickly, not giving the viewer much time to dwell on it. But after watching it once, I felt no compulsion to see it again.

Flash forward to my viewing of The Raid 2.

Oh. My. God.

The scene linked above is amazing. It’s key to the plot, as Rama is now undercover, trying to insinuate himself into the inner circle of Uco, the only child of a gang chief. He has to keep Uco alive in prison, which is hard to do because Uco’s pretty high-profile and very much an asshat. And Rama has to keep himself alive, as he’s already dealing with a target on his own back. The fight itself is amazing, the choreography, the mud and the fact that the bulk of the scene is long, uncut, single-shot action. Director Gareth Evans and cinematographers Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono show off in the least showy way possible, making the story and action the focus, not drawing attention to the fancy stuff they can do with a camera even as they do it.

And that scene may be the third of fourth best action/fight scene in the film. Let that sink in.

Edwards, who also wrote the script, is freed here. It’s pretty obvious that the success of Raid: Redemption gave the filmmaker and muse/fight choreographer Iko Uwais, who plays Rama, the cheddar to get crazier on the second one. The car chase fight is worth the price of admission, something you can do with the kind of money and time Edwards and Co. likely didn’t have with the original. It’s nice to see a director who gets an opportunity and doesn’t just add more violence, more gunfights and more explosions, but better violence, better gunfights and better explosions.

The writer-director also doesn’t just limit improvements to the look and action of the film. The cast is broad and the story is more intricate than its predecessor, mixing clean and dirty cops, Idonesian and Japanese gangsters. All of this revolves around the simplicity that guided the first film. Rama is a man who worships God, loves his family and believes fiercely in justice. That is all that drives him in the first film, and all that drives him in the second. He has no politics, no desires, is incorruptible. From that simplicity springs a story that is part The Godfather, part The Departed, and quite possibly results in a film than is better than either.

I know, that last part sounds like heresy. But The Raid 2 is that good, up there with the Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather 2 and Aliens as a sequel that (arguably) surpasses its original. I think, had this been an English-language film made by an American studio, this is the kind of film that could have been in the conversation during awards season.

It will be interesting to see where Edwards and Uwais go next, if they maybe take it to a foreign locale so they can go with an English-speaking cast. My guess is no, since Tony Jaa has been rumored to make an appearance in the third go-round. On the one hand, that will limit its American exposure, which I find disappointing. On the other hand, I don’t mind being one of the few in this particular cult.

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Why ’47 Ronin’ is worth it

Let's get weird, shall we?

Let’s get weird, shall we?

I hate it when Hollywood chickens out on the ending.

Yes, Steven Spielberg, I’m looking at you. When I watched War of the Worlds for the first time, I was thrilled. It was the most fun I had watching a Spielberg flick since Jurassic Park. Yeah, it dragged a bit in crazy Tim Robbins’ basement, but still, it was mostly Tom Cruise, action sci-fi magic.

Until the end. You know, when the dead son magically reappeared for the big, warm, huggy family reunion. Because despite the evidence showing that all human life that was on the wrong side of the ridge when the aliens lit them up was incinerated to dust, Tom Cruise’s boy survived. Yippee.

I was miffed at best. I’ve pretty much refused to watch Spielberg since. It was just so galling, to undercut the tragedy of that moment and the degree to which it fueled Cruise’s character to work that much harder to save his daughter and himself.

(Spoilers ahead. You were warned.)

I thought that’s what director Carl Rinsch was pulling in 47 Ronin, as well. For acting against orders, the shogun demands the ritual suicides of the ronin. As they begin the ceremony and are about to disembowel themselves, the shogun halts the proceedings.

“Oh great. They’re going to $#@!& this up.”

But Rinsch didn’t. The shogun refused to end the bloodline of the chief ronin, allowing his son to be spared. Then, the ceremony resumed and the remaining ronin kill themselves.

Yes, it’s a tragic ending. But it’s true to the story. The ronin knew if they survived the attempt to free their lord’s daughter and avenge his death that their reward would be execution. That was the hill they had to climb. And they did so willingly and with honor.

If you’re looking for an Oscar winner, you’re in the wrong place. This movie has lots of genre-bending, supernatural, ass-kicking fun. It also has its faults. 47 Ronin attempts to do a little bit too much, there are some pacing issues and it’s probably too long. That said, it’s the best Keanu Reeves performance since The Matrix, and the movie as a whole stays enjoyably true to the kung fu and samurai film traditions from the far east.

And the ending brings it full circle, rewarding and, perhaps more importantly, respecting its viewers.

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Hollywood, please don’t make ‘Neuromancer’ into a movie

A wise man and one helluva writer.

A wise man and one helluva writer.

A friend of the family has a son who, at a younger age, was a huge fan of the Percy Jackson book series. So when the first movie hit theaters, he was one excited kid. Until he saw the movie. About 2/3 of the way through, he leaned over and said to his mom, “I don’t think the people who made this ever read the book.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

I thought about this as I re-read William Gibson’s Neuromancer. It’s a book that is almost aching for a big-screen adaptation. Gibson’s book is one part heist film, one part psychedelic punk anarchy and one part hacker manifesto. Neuromancer‘s action cuts quickly, giving it a very cinematic feel.

And Gibson’s prose is vividly descriptive without bogging down Neuromancer‘s action. Such as …

Cold steel odor. Ice caressed his spine. Lost, so small amid that dark, hands grown cold, body image fading down corridors of television sky. Voices. Then black fire found the branching tributaries of the nerves, pain beyond anything to which the name of pain is given …

Or how about this?

Nothing. Gray void. No matrix, no grid. No cyberspace. The deck was gone. His fingers were … And on the far rim of consciousness, a scurrying, fleeting impression of something rushing toward him, across leagues of black mirror. He tried to scream.

But would it work on the big screen? When I ask myself this, I keep returning to two films: 1995’s Hackers and The Matrix. Hacker‘s cyberspace scenes are ridiculous and cheesy, much like the entire film itself. Low-grade special effects, quick cuts to people typing, Fisher Stevens going apeshit as Angelina Jolie and a bunch of other young, B-list stars attempt to undo his all-knowing, all-commanding software. Yes, it was 1995, but Hackers and its backers lacked both vision and the budget necessary to make it work. When Gibson describes large walls of data and the viral assault on the Tessier-Ashpool mainframe, it’s both menacing and frightening. In the hands of the wrong director, it’s Hackers.

The Matrix, of course, is a classic, one that ripped its title from Neuromancer‘s very pages. And there are moments, such as when Case talks to the virtual Finn who represents the artificial intelligence known as Wintermute, that I can see Neuromancer done in the manner of Wachowski’s trilogy. Which seems odd: A movie based on a book that looks like another movie inspired by the book. Plus, knowing how too many moviegoers are brainless buttheads, most are going to think Neuromancer ripped off The Matrix. Much like the morons who think the Avett Brothers are just riding in the wake of Mumford & Sons, that happening would drive me out of my damn mind.

In the end, I’m not sure how any combination of writers and directors would do justice to Neuromancer on the big screen. I fear some sort of Michael Bay-Garrett Hedlund disaster that would probably barely break even and have the overall quality of a Spy Kids movie.

So ignore me, Hollywood. Forget I ever brought up Neuromancer. There is nothing to see here. Move along. Anyway, I’m sure Stephenie Meyer or Stephen King has something new for you to crap out, anyway. That would be better for all parties involved, especially since – in the end – a Neuromancer movie would probably be made by people who had never bothered to read the book.

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Why ‘Elysium’ falls short

Matt Damon is good in 'Elysium' ... but then again, when isn't he?

Matt Damon is good in ‘Elysium’ … but then again, when isn’t he?

In the fall of 2009, a buddy and I went to see District 9. I’m a big movie fan who pretty much refuses to read reviews or watch trailers much beyond the basic info for fear of dreaded spoilers, and my friend was and is an occasional movie watcher who had read about District 9 and was intrigued.

When we left the theater, I commented that seeing District 9 was like watching The Matrix for the first time. You had these interesting, layered works of art dominated by theme – in The Matrix it’s the influence of technology and lack of distinction between the real and virtual worlds, in District 9 apartheid and racism in general – and taking place in unique visual worlds.

My friend laughed. He responded that he was thinking the same thing, only about the original Star Wars. He felt like he’d just been blown away, completely unprepared for what he had witnessed on screen. For him, there was even a child-like joy to the discovery.

That, ladies and gentleman, is a badass movie. When you rock two educated filmgoers who have seen it all before, you’ve more than done your job.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is also why Elysium was such a disappointment. Because it does nothing of the sort.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll watch anything writer/director Neill Blomkamp throws up on screen. Visually, Elysium is stimulating, and, at times, gorgeous. Matt Damon’s the lead, and you can rarely go wrong with him, while Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley deliver riveting supporting performances.

But it all comes back to the story. And the story of Elysium is the story of many, many sci-fi books, shows and movies. The powerful people have the good stuff, they aren’t allowing the masses anywhere near it and there’s tension. Whereas District 9 is drenched in apartheid, with no way to separate or distinguish the plot, theme, visuals and characterizations outside of the rigorous caste system the movie establishes, Elysium is really an action movie where the battle between the powerful and the powerless is just the set-up.

Does that make Elysium a bad movie? No, not at all. It’s a perfect serviceable sci-fi/action flick with some nice moments. And it would have made a great first movie for Blomkamp, with District 9 as his powerful, career-making follow-up (not to get too Wachowski-heavy, but their career path started with the intense, completely non-techy indy flick Bound before they Matrix-ed the planet).

Elysium just feels like a let-down, a “what could have been” in the wake of the “holy f*&%ing s&*%” that District 9 was. A missed opportunity.

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