The Matrix Revolutions

The Matrix Revolutions (2003) movie poster

(2003) dir. Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
viewed: 11/23/03 at Loews Theatre at the Metreon, SF, CA

These Matrix films are so condescendingly pompous in their arch-coolness, so much so that it really belies this facade of humanism and love that is so roundly posed as the soul of the films. The multiracial cast is utterly lacking in true personality, espousing virtues and “deep thoughts” and faux-philosophy while really only existing as trite caricatures, sketched out by their fashionable wardrobe and trite dialogue.

The dialogue. It’s really so bad at times, that it’s laugh-out-loud funny. When one of the characters, who is supposed to be “a program” says something like, “Did you not know that programs can love too?”, I knew, only minutes into this feature, that it would really give the second film a run for its money in terms of pure badness.

I seriously think that these films will become cult classics more for their pretention than for their qualities. Or at least that they should be.

That said, some of the action sequences were fairly fun…or at least dialogue-free…maybe that’s why they seemed less obtrusively embarrising.

Though the Wachowskis leave the door open for further installments with their ending, let’s hope this is truly the last of this series. For whatever worth the original The Matrix (1999) still has, its impact has certainly been lessened by these films, proving that whatever mystery there was behind the initial film was simply hollow, empty nothingness.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) movie poster

dir. Jonathan Mostow
viewed: 11/19/03

Lowered expectations can sometimes really benefit the viewing of a mediocre film.

I can’t say that I expected much from this third installment of the Terminator films. Most notably, James Cameron bowed out as director/producer, and while I have mixed-to-bad feelings for Cameron, he was a big part of what made the original two films. And Schwarzenegger, our new governor, has really devolved as a caricature of a caricature as an “action hero” actor. His body is still freakishly muscular, but his face has the weathered, plasticine look of much make-up and potentially a facelift or two. His delivery is more stiff than ever, even for a robot.

Actually, I we bemused by the thought of Schwarzenegger’s Terminator as sort of a new Godzilla. One of those film monsters/villains that is so popular with the public that he is brought back as The Hero. The most hilariously bad scene in the film is when Schwarzenegger has been reprogrammed by the evil female Terminator to be bad again and he is conflicted and is forced to shut himself down. It’s pretty damn funny, really.

That some of the action and dialogue are lame, unimaginitive Hollywood explosions and claptrap, who is really surprised? That there is little originality left in the narrative, who thought that there would be something new here?

But, you know, I found it fairly enjoyable. I felt the pleasure of not having to really concentrate to follow the entire thing through and was pretty near entertained the whole time. The big chase sequence with the construction crane tearing up the city streets and flipping cars was as satisfying an action sequence that I had seen in a while. Some of the humor, bad and tired as it was, even amused me. For once, I was really in the mood to see something like this, I guess.

Hey, it’s not a classic, but if you drop your expectations, it can be pretty fun.

The Changeling

The Changeling (1980) movie poster

(1980) dir. Peter Medak
viewed: 10/31/03

I had seen this film as a kid on some late night horror show and recognized it as a more classic ghost story. I have read since then that it is one of those films that has been considered to stand the test of time fairly well. A traditional approach to narrative and building tension through atmosphere rather than cheap surprises and gore.

This time around I was terribly sleepy while watching it and didn’t really make it all the way through it with total consciousness. Though, I was certain that I didn’t drift off to sleep for very long intervals…moments really. Still, I didn’t have an absolutely coherent viewing of it, it must be said.

What I did note about the film, though was its echoes of other contemporary horror films, namely The Shining and The Omen. I kept noticing the camera work in the haunted house, unsure if it was indeed steadicam work as in the Kubrick film. I believe the camera tracked through the house at a high angle, tied in with the looming music on the soundtrack. It reminded me of what I consider to be The Shining‘s key factor, which is just that the weird low angle steadicam movement throughout the building, something so distinct in and of itself that it stands out almost as much as the film or the images therein. It is an otherworldly view, unlike a perspective that we are unfamiliar with.

Peter Medak’s The Changeling stands up fairly well. Next time, I will hopefully be more awake for it.

Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo (2003) movie poster

(2003) dir. Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
viewed: 11/09/03

We watched Finding Nemo with our 2 year old son. This is the first feature film that we had ever attempted to watch with him, though I had showed a fair amount of Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro (1988) to him once.

Watching a film like this with a child that young certainly puts a different spin on it. You don’t realize how frightening and intense the emotions and moments are to a child until you are really tuned into these considerations for one in your care (though many people probably still don’t stop to think at that point). This film was far more intense than any other show that he had seen thusfar. He kept telling us how it was scary, and there were a lot of moments at which I can see that. It is funny how desensitized adults are to intense emotions like this in this film because I had any number of people tell me that it was not too scary for a little kid. Probably a couple of years ago, I might have had a similar reaction.

For my money, though, Finding Nemo was easily the most visually beautiful Pixar film thusfar. The underwater and above water universe that the film depicts is lush and detailed and fantastic. Pixar is miles ahead of other digital feature animation houses in their ability to craft such amazing characterization and backgrounds. And, on the whole, I would add storytelling to that list as well. That said, I thought that this story was a little more tear-jerky and Disneyified than their other films to date.

This is one film that I wish that I had seen on the big screen. It still retained a lot of its beauty in its transfer to DVD, but it was clearly something to be enjoyed in a larger format.

In the end, the film made a strong impression on my son. I don’t know whether he liked it or was just scared by it.

The Crazies

The Crazies (1973) movie poster

(1973) dir. George A. Romero
viewed: 11/12/03

For Halloween, I always like to watch at least one horror film. It’s hardly a rigorous ritual, but I tried to stock myself up with a couple alternatives. I ended up watching The Changeling on Halloween and so I had George A. Romero’s The Crazies to watch a little later the next week.

For those of you that don’t know, I think that Romero is one of the great auteurs of American cinema. While that is not a reach by any means for many fans of cult cinema (in fact maybe he’s a little too mainstream for some of them), it may be a little surprising to others. I haven’t seen all of his films. This one I had never seen before, for example. But after having viewed his zombie trilogy and his vampire film Martin (1978), I was convinced that he’s one of my personal favorite directors.

The Crazies sounded quite relevant as well. A bio-chemical leak in a small town infects people with a virus that drives them insane and the world becomes apocalyptically violent as a result. Not actually a whole lot unlike Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, which I saw in the theater this year. And also, this theme seems not unlike the mysterious origins of the zombie trilogy narratives, sometimes explicit, sometimes covert paranoia of the government and society. The social criticism is foregrounded significantly.

The Crazies wasn’t among Romero’s masterworks, though I would definitely include it as interesting from an auteur perspective for reasons mentioned above. It’s an earnest film, with some cheap exploitation violence and some excellent low budget production. It clearly shoots higher than it can achieve comfortably. The film has the anti-government paranoia, but a sustained humanism toward the military leaders (middlemanagement). It also bears the marks of the Vietnam era as well. Perhaps, maybe even more than his other films, it shows a sense of its period.

Not a great film, but not uninteresting.

Early Spring

Early Spring (1956) movie poster

(1956) dir. Yasujiro Ozu
viewed: 11/18/03 at Castro Theater, SF, CA

When I saw that the Castro Theater was running a week’s worth of Yasujiro Ozu double features, I felt compelled to go see as many as I could. In the end, all I could muster from my time was one evening, and then in the end, I could only sit through one 2 1/2 hour feature. A second one would have been fun, but my leisure time and endurance ain’t what it used to be.

I have only seen one Ozu film, Tokyo Story (1953), and then only on television. His films are not widely available on DVD, and so, this was a good opportunity to catch up on seeing some films from one of the big names in cinema.

Ozu’s films, for those of you who do not know, tended to be family dramas. In this case, the story was about a young couple who had lost a child who were in a malaise in their marriage; the husband, an office worker in Tokyo, has an affair. His films have a slowish pace and do not tend to be overly dramatic. There has been no violent conflict to highlight either of the two Ozu films that I have seen, so I don’t know how this plays out in others of his films.

His critical eye was on Japanese society and the family, which in post-war Japan has interesting parallels the the melodramas of Hollywood, to some extent. The melodramas of such directors as Minnelli and Sirk, though really are much more lurid and overdone compared to the quiet pacing and unique perspective of Ozu’s camera.

Early Spring is elegant and simple in its presentation, but surprisingly good and engaging (I only say surprising in that describing Ozu’s films, they either sound so “quiet” or contemplative that they don’t sound all that exciting to see.) The film was excellent and made me wish very much that I had the time and ability to have sat through several more.

City of God

City of God (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Kátia Lund, Fernando Meirelles
viewed: 11/04/03 at Embarcadero Center Cinema, SF, CA

A ambitious, sprawling epic of a film about the unbelievably tough lives of the youth in the slums of Rio. Violent and harsh, but speckled with aspects of melodrama, City of God certainly had its moments. At its best points, it sketched out the lives of its vast cast of characters, moving quickly through a period of 10-15 years through the 1970’s into the early 1980’s, telling numerous specific little stories in the grand sweep of the entire period. All in all, a good film.

The Backyard

The Backyard (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Paul Hough
viewed: 11/10/03 at The Red Vic Movie House, SF, CA

Ah, the Monday Night Movie Club, always pursuing the highest qualities of the cinema. This week a highbrow documentary about people who more or less bleed for a living.

This was a rather bloody affair,…which is not surprising. I can honestly say that all I had previously known of backyard wrestling came from commercials for video games that were based on it. What I didn’t realize was that the level of “reality” in it was supposedly comparable to Professional Wrestling. The only thing is that these kids bleed a lot. Lots of real blood. Which got a little hard to watch at points.

As far as documentaries go, this was hardly top notch. The film wasn’t overly insightful and felt a little cobbled together. The film had a sense of voyueristic condescention about it. The whole thing is pretty white trash, and the audience we watched it with were laughing at a lot of the events and people, squirming occasionally. It was a pretty lowbrow thing, this film.

That said, despite it all, I can recognize the level of boredom and creativity that stems from these rural and suburban worlds. These teenagers (which most of them were) are not utterly outside of a recognizable world.

The Eye

The Eye (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang
viewed: 10/24/03

Gotta love a guy named “Oxide Pang,” as the one of the co-directors of this film has himself known. As for this film, which seems to largely be in Cantonese with some Thai, The Eye has a good deal of The Sixth Sense (1999) about it, minus the twists.

Mun is a young woman who was blinded as a child but is now being given an eye transplant which will bring her vision back. When her vision is returned, she comes to realize that she can also see people who are dying being transported away by shadowy figures and can see the ghosts of those who are yet untransported.

This film is pretty neat, with some clever visual designs and some moderately spooky sequences. It’s ultimately not so transfixing, though overall I thought it was a pretty good rental.

Intolerable Cruelty

Intolerable Cruelty (2003) movie poster

(2003) dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
viewed: 10/27/03 at Loews Theatre at the Metreon, SF, CA

Intolerable Cruelty doesn’t look or feel like a Coen brothers’ film at first blush. The only point in the trailer in which you realize that it is their work is when their names appear on the screen as directors and co-writers. I must say that I don’t know definitively the background behind the film, but from what I have gleaned the film was something that they either inherited or re-inherited and turned it out as something with less characteristic mark than any of their other films.

By most standards, it’s a decent mainstream romantic comedy that takes its strengths and character more from comedies of a more classic Hollywood, like Howard Hawks or Ernst Lubitsch. Which, for today’s Hollywood, is a breath of less stale air, downright funny, and something so tasteful you could probably take your grandmother to see it.

By Coen brothers standards, it’s nothing too amazing. It lacks even their signiture camera style throughout most of it, and it has times when you could easily forget that it’s their film at all. It is, however, a more successful attempt to capture this classic Hollywood style of comedy than The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) which attempted to recreate the mood even further by steeping it in the period of those films, the 1940’s.

George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones are actually a large portion of why this film works. They have that big screen appeal and charm that feels quite classic Hollywood.

This is a good film, though not a great one. Still better no doubt than any like type of romantic comedy that will get produced in Hollywood this year or next.