A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 314 – The Matrix

The Matrix – January 8th, 2011

This is a movie that got massively overhyped to me when it came out. People literally told me it would be a religious experience for me (and I’ll get back to the amusement value that statement holds later) and, well, that turns me right off. I never saw it in theaters and it took me months to get around to seeing it when it came out for rental. And then I did see it, and while it wasn’t the sort of religious experience I’d been told it would be, it was indeed impressive. Full of little holes and promising more than its sequels could deliver, but impressive nonetheless.

In a way, I already wrote a review of this movie. I wrote it back in college when I was taking a class on allegory. We read some of the classic allegorical stories like Pilgrim’s Promise, which bored me to tears, I admit, and then when we were done with those our professor told us to pick an allegorical work to write a paper and give a presentation on. Most people stuck to the classics. I went with sci-fi. And in doing so I believe I ruined the movie for several of my classmates, who weren’t huge fans of it to begin with but who claimed they’d never be able to watch it again without thinking of the allegorical possibilities.

I got a good mark on the presentation and the paper and I amused myself in the process. I call that an all-around win. Alas, a good amount of the specifics of my analysis have been lost to time and updated technology. It’s entirely likely that my paper and presentation notes exist in some form, perhaps on a CD backup of Andy’s old computer. But I’m not really interested in digging for them just to recover how I explained the link between Morpheus and the name Nebuchadnezzar. The fact of the matter is that the movie is a pretty clear messiah plot with plenty of symbolic names and phrases dropped in to boost the idea that there’s more going on than meets the eye.

I don’t really think I need to go into specifics for the plot. Hell, wasn’t this movie handed out with DVD players when they were new tech? The story follows Thomas Anderson, a young programmer who uses the handle Neo and who has been searching for the answer to vague and unsettling questions he has about the nature of the world. And he finds them, or rather they find him. It turns out that the world isn’t real. It’s all an elaborate virtual construct, in place to keep humans complacent and mentally functional so that in the real world the machines that have taken over can use them as a power source. Neo is disconnected from the network by the mysterious Morpheus and his crew of rebels. They have a sort of hover submarine they use to float around the sewers of Earth and on board is a complex rig that allows them to plug themselves back into the virtual world. Morpheus believes that Neo is the prophecied One who will be able to destroy the machines once and for all and free humanity from their enslavement. And so the movie goes, with Neo trying to come to grips not only with the revelations but with his supposed role in it all.

It’s a fun plot, but it’s nothing revolutionary when you look at the bones of it. But the movie sets it in this fantastic dystopia, with menacing enemy programs who whip through the virtual world by taking control of body after body. They’re the men in black, always appearing to take control of a situation and threatening our heroes. They’re inhuman, which is the whole point. The concept of it is great and the movie executes it beautifully. The visuals are gorgeous, with the real world’s bleak and grimy surroundings and the greenish computer screen cast over everything in the Matrix itself. The heroes all look impossibly cool in the Matrix, with their billowing coats and vinyl pants, yet in the real world they’re all dirty and wearing tattered sweaters and scraps. The machines are the slick and smooth ones in the real world, as dangerous as their Agent counterparts inside the Matrix.

And oh, oh the special effects. I probably need to describe those as little as I needed to describe the plot. This movie has the iconic “bullet time” shots where the camera pans around a slowed down or stilled moment. The rig for this is absolutely fantastic and I remember watching the making of materials for the first time and being blown away by it. The fight scenes would have been great stuff even without that particular trick, but that trick elevates them to something truly amazing. And they’re not just effects for the sake of effects. The whole bullet time thing really does play into the development of Neo as a messianic figure. He can do things the bad guys can do. That’s a big moment. Nicely played, Wachowskis, nicely played indeed.

There are some great performances in this movie. Not Academy Award material, but really fun for the movie. Keanu Reeves does a nice job, really, playing a slightly confused but then determined Neo. I loved Carrie Ann Moss as Trinity (who starts the movie with a kickass fight scene, which I’m all for – more movies should start with a kickass woman in an action sequence) from the moment I saw her. Laurence Fishburne is fantastic as Morpheus and Hugo Weaving is incredibly sinister as the evil Agent Smith. And then there’s Joe Pantoliano as the movie’s Judas, Cypher (look up the meanings of that word some day – I got a lot of mileage out of it in my allegory presentation). It’s a great cast and they come together nicely to present the world of the movie just enough to satisfy while still leaving questions. Alas, the sequels we’ll be watching tomorrow and Monday, well, we’ll get to their lack of answers then.

This movie wasn’t a religious revelation for me really, despite the massive amounts of religion-themed allegorical material. There’s the messiah storyline and references to a wide variety of faiths and beliefs. But really, for me, it’s a cinematic revelation. It was such an amazing feat of special effects and wardrobe and cast and writing (plot holes and all – I tend to ignore them) that I found it truly awesome in that it inspired awe in me.

January 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Matrix

January 8, 2011

The Matrix

So we’ve already reviewed one laughably bad sci-fi movie about computer hacking starring Keanu Reeves. Today it is my great pleasure to review the polar opposite. This movie is beautiful, clever, intricately layered, fun to watch and, for me at least, revelatory. It’s not a flawless movie, but it is something that doesn’t come along very often: a smart action movie.

There are so many ways to view this movie. You can, of course just enjoy it as a rip-roaring sci-fi action movie. You can just watch the story of mild mannered computer programmer Thomas A. Anderson who has a second life as a computer hacker using the handle of Neo. Neo has been searching the ‘net for a person calling himself Morpheus because he believes that Morpheus knows… something. Something that he needs to understand. Little does he know that Morpheus is also seeking him out, and when they finally do meet Neo discovers that his world, our world, is a construct. Everything he’s ever known has just been a computer simulation in which he and almost all of humanity is trapped. Morpheus, and his small cadre of freedom fighters, are some of the only humans who are “awake” any more, and he’s seeking a savior he calls “The One.” The One will, Morpheus believes, be able to save humanity from their enslavement by the intelligent machines and programs that constructed the Matrix and trapped all of humankind inside it.

Or you could enjoy the presentation. Siblings Andy and Lana Wachowski (Larry at the time) have masterfully filled every frame of the movie with a slick style that is distinctive and impressive. Of course everybody is familiar with the infamous “bullet time” that they used – a trick using multiple cameras to do slow-motion moves that were at the time impossible. It would just be done with computers nowadays but this was the late nineties and at the time it looked like nothing that anybody had seen before. They also appropriate all kinds of imagery and visuals from other action genres that American audiences might not have been as familiar with at the time. In the making-of and commentary materials they talk a lot about the inspiration they drew from anime. And of course there are the kung-fu wire work fights choreographed by Chinese kung-fu legend Yuen Wo Ping. The art design of both the “waking” world and the Matrix is fantastic and this was one of the first movies I saw that used extensive digital color timing to heighten the other-worldly look. There are so many iconic action scenes in this movie such as the fight in the virtual dojo or the classic firefight in the government building entry corridor – scenes that alone would make for a great movie even had nothing else worked.

Or you could view the movie as allegory with its clear Christ imagery and tale of the resurrection. There are hints and allusions to Neo being a messiah throughout the movie. “You’re my savior, man,” says one character at the very start of the movie “My own personal Jesus Christ.” Of course the allegorical layer is only one of myriad references heavily dolloped onto the sci-fi premise. Sometimes the movie is clever with its script, such as with the brilliant scene when Neo meets the Oracle. She tells him “You’re waiting for something. Maybe your next life.” Then there are parts that are heavy handed but still enjoyable, such as all the references to Alice in Wonderland (and Alice through the Looking Glass since the two are interchangeable for some people.) Sometimes the movie tries to be more clever than it actually is (Neo being the One – Trinity being his love interest) but that doesn’t make it any less impressive that a summer action film should have so many layers of meaning packed inside it.

Or you could enjoy the great cast. Everybody here, and I’m including Keanu Reeves in this, is perfect for the role they’re cast in. Keanu is fantastic as Neo, his sort of blandness being just the thing for an average guy caught up in a world beyond his understanding. He does a lot of looking confused and bewildered here, and it works for him. Then there’s Larry Fishburne as Morpheus, absolutely oozing panache and style our of every pore. Carrie-Anne Moss is the badassed hacker turned freedom fighter Trinity. Not only does she get the first big action sequence of the movie but she repeatedly saves Neo’s bacon throughout the film. I love a chick that can take care of herself and look great doing it. For badguys we have the sinister looking Joe Pantoleano (who also worked with the Wachowskis on their movie Bound) and Hugo Weaving who replaces his Australian accent with a clopped and precise but slightly alien diction as Agent Smith – one of the programs tasked with policing the Matrix.

This movie completely rocked my world, I have to admit. From the very opening scene when Agent Smith ominously declares “No, Lieutenant, your men are already dead” to Rage Against the Machine screaming “wake up!” over the closing credits this is an action movie that fills the screen with amazing imagery and fills my mind with subversive thoughts about the nature of reality. It’s a rare almost impossible to replicate gem of a movie. There was virtually no way that any sequel could possibly be as good – but we’ll get to that tomorrow.

January 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment