Tag Archives: Keanu Reeves

Ready To Feel Ancient? The Matrix Is Twenty Years Old

Originally released on the 31st of March way back in the space year of 1999. The Matrix was the brainchild of Andy and Larry Wachowski the then Wachowski brothers… that’s a whole other article in itself. The Matrix changed cinema for years with it’s groundbreaking effects work. But it was not a film that was all looks an no substance, The Matrix is a flick that can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Just watch it as a kick-ass action romp and enjoy it on that level – or delve into its more philosophical elements and how it questions reality and existence.

I still remember the day I went to the cinema to watch the film. You have to bear in mind that we are talking about a film made by relatively unknowns. This was only the Wachowski brothers (yes I know, but at the time they were brothers) second film after the taught and incredibly sexy and stylish thriller Bound from 1996. Bound was very much an underground hit. It had it’s fans (I’m one) but it was hardly Hollywood blockbuster material – so expectations were low for The Matrix. Then there were the stars like Laurence Fishburne who now is instantly recognisable, but back in 1999? He was known as that guy from the Tina Turner biopic or Max from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Carrie-Anne Moss, aside from some bit-parts in T.V. shows, she was unknown and The Matrix was her big breakthrough. Hugo Weaving was perhaps even more unknown than anyone else in the main cast unless you were Australian. Joe Pantoliano had already had a steady acting carer by the time 1999 came around mainly playing bit-parts and character roles. He starred in the previously mentioned Bound… and that’s about all he would’ve been known for back then unless you were a die hard Goonies fan.

Plus it was a time when the internet was still till in its infancy, we didn’t have super-fast fibre optic broadband to watch trailers with, no social networks to spread the word, no smartphones to catch up on movie news on the go… it was a very different time.

The Matrix Cast

Oh and there was some guy by the name of Keanu Reeves. Yeah a household name now but not back in 1999, he was really only known for comedy rolls like the Bill & Ted films and small indie films. I guess the action flick Speed could be seen as his foot in the door of action cinema but he was still hardly known as an action film star afterwards in the same way he is today. It’s not as if Speed was to Keanu what Die Hard was to Bruce Willis. So really with The Matrix you had writer/directors not really know for anything with a cast of actors no one really cared about. It was not an easy film to see any merit in.

So yeah, quite honestly I had zero interest in the film. My brother called me up and asked if I wanted to go to the cinema – I had nothing going on so said yes. Didn’t see any trailers, paid no attention to who was in the film or who made it. Had no idea what I was going to watch just went along because I was bored and had nothing else to do. I went into the film 100% blind. But when I came out of that cinema? The first thought that went though my head was that must have been what it was like to have seen Star Wars at the cinema for the first time back in 1977. I felt that The Matrix was a game changer as if cinema had just taken several jumps forward not just in terms of effects work but also storytelling. I just knew then and there that The Matrix was something special, that people would still be talking about it decades later… twenty years later and here I am.

The Matrix Pills

But the big question is, two decades later, does The Matrix hold up? We live in an age where films date quickly. I’ve certainly seen films in the last decade or so that feel old only months after release. Yet some films are timeless no matter when they were made – The Matrix is one of them. Aside from some of the questionable technobabble and dated references/technology (remember when everyone wanted one of those Nokia flick phones?). The effects are still impressive, bullet time may not hold the impact it did when you first saw it, but it still looks good and just as satisfying as ever. The fight sequences are as exciting as they were back in 1999. Shoot outs are heart-pumping, that lobby scene is still one of the best shoot outs ever caught on film. As an action picture, The Matrix delivers. But it’s not just the impressive action sequences and still amazing effects work that hold up after twenty years. It’s the writing, the storytelling. It’s when you really get into the deeper aspects of The Matrix when the film comes to life.

The basic of good vs evil, human vs machine is nothing special I admit and yes the whole fulfilling a prophecy, being ‘the One’ shtick got tiresome. The love thing between Neo and Trinity was trite. Yet it’s the questioning reality, self-existence and everything that comes with it where the story excels. The multi-layered and textured story telling is fascinating and I love getting lost in the questioning of reality, the two worlds shown in the film – the simulation that is The Matrix and the real world of a desolate future where humans are dying out compliment each other perfectly. When Joe Pantoliano’s Cypher wants out of the real world by betraying his crew mates and when he is offered to be reinserted into The Matrix with a whole new life. The line “ignorance is bliss” he says speaks volumes. Seriously, given the choice of living in on a dead planet being hunted by machines, fighting a war that seemingly has no end or living in ignorance inside The Matrix is a tough call. I can’t be the only person who has often wondered if there is something better out there, something other than the life we believe is all we have?

The Matrix Gun

I’m going off on bit of a tangent here, but I quite honestly could write lengthy articles just on how deep The Matrix goes.  I don’t mean to get into questioning one’s own existence but just to look back at The Matrix after two decades and see if it still holds up. It does, very much so. Having just re-watched the film for the first time in a good few years – I still found it thoroughly entertaining. As I said earlier, it’s a film you can watch on so many levels. Yes it’s a great action flick, but it also asks and addresses much deeper themes and ideas if you really look beyond what is shown on the screen.

I’m not a fan of DVD commentaries, I find it’s usually full of nothing but overpaid people inflating their own egos by making themselves sound like cinematic geniuses. But the commentary for The Matrix is very different and highly unique. Instead of having the Wachowskis harp on about how creative and insightful they are, they decided not to do the commentary themselves. Instead what you get are two commentary tracks. One is from two film critics that didn’t like the film, while the other is from two philosophers who did. The two commentary tracks are amazingly interesting and show how one can perceive the film from two very different standpoints. The critics are negative but bring up several interesting flaws (some stupid ones too). While the philosophers, understandably get deeper into the subtleties of the story. Their polar opposite views really are interesting to hear and yet they really work together. Well worth checking out. I came out with a very different view of The Matrix after listening to the two commentary tracks.

The Matrix Kung Fu.gif

The Matrix is my generation’s Star Wars. Even two decades since it’s release, there just hasn’t been anything like it… plenty of imitators that have tired to delve into the depth The Matrix offers, countless flicks doing similar/same effects work – and yet none of them have managed to capture what made The Matrix so special, not even it’s own sequels and spin-offs.

It’s a film that is still talked about twenty years after it’s release and will probably still be talked about in another twenty, and still relevant in today’s cinema. Even films coming out soon like to throw in a The Matrix reference now and then, it seems even Keanu Reeves himself can’t escape them…

 

“Unfortunately, no one can be told what The Matrix is. You’ll have to see it for yourself.”

 

– Morpheus

Advertisements

Not Another John Wick 2 Review (Seriously – Its Not)

So I just got back from watching John Wick Chapter 2. Yeah I know I’m a little late on this one, but I prefer to wait a few days for the crowds and hype to die down before I watch a new movie. Nothing better than walking into the cinema screen and finding only 6 other people there and your free choice of plenty of seats.

I wanted to write something about this flick but really didn’t feel like doing yet another review as there are plenty of those already around… Okay, I’ll do a very quick review; John Wick Chapter 2 is awesome and so many people get shot in the head. That’s my review right there.

It was while watching this film when something hit me that I thought I’d like to share and this little bit on information is; John Wick Chapter 2 is a great action flick you can actually watch. Now I know what you are thinking, you can watch any action film right? Here lies the crux of my article…

Modern action films tend to suffer from one of three major problems that make them unwatchable – sometimes they suffer from more then one of the three. Here are the trio of things I really, really dislike about modern action movies.

  • Lens flare
  • Close up shots
  • Shaky cam

That’s the trifecta of bad directing right there. I mean, what is the point in making a film that you can’t actually watch? Please allow me to give you a few examples of what I mean.

Lens Flare

I call the the stand Mr J.J. Abrams and his Star Trek reboot from 2009.

I could only manage to watch around 20 minutes of Star Trek before I had to turn it off because of the excessive use of lens flare. Really, what is the point? The ad campaign for the movie didn’t state that you need to wear sunglasses to watch it. Lens flare is a nice effect when used in moderation, it can set a tone and feel for the film and make some shots look beautiful. But when it is overused like this, its distracting and really annoying.

Do you know how many lens flare effects are in Star Trek? 721 – that’s 721 lens flare effects in just one movie. J.J. Abrams take on Star Trek created a whole internet movement due to the overuse of lens flare. There are memes, You Tube videos making fun, fan made posters of other J.J. Abrams movies with ‘ added lens flare’ and so on. But that didn’t warn off other films from doing the same thing.

Lens flare used to be a thing directors wanted to avoid – why? because they want the viewers to actually be able see the film.

Close Up Shots

Now is the turn of Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot… yeah I’m going there.

I remember being so damn excited to watch Batman Begins back in 2005. I love me some Batman and I so much wanted to see a harder edged take on The Dark Knight on the big screen. I read up on this film before its release and one article really got me interested where Nolan was talking about this form of martial arts called Keysi. Apparently the new Batman, Christian Bale had been training really hard and they were going to showcase this impressive martial art in the new movie… except that didn’t. I left the cinema thinking to myself – WTF did I just watch?

Batman Begins has pretty much become infamous for its beyond terrible fight scenes, and well, all action scenes really. This is mainly due to the fact that Nolan decided to film everything in extreme close up so you couldn’t actually see anything. During fight scenes, you never got to see any actual fighting. What you did get was close up shots of elbows and feet flying all over the screen You couldn’t tell who was hitting who. It was such a waste. Nolan’s excuse was that he wanted Batman to be almost stealth like and you were not supposed to see him. Yeah, that reasoning works for the characters in the film but not the people trying to watch a movie. Batman Begins is one of the worst examples of this… but not the only one.

Shaky cam

I detest shaky cam. The Bourne action film franchise is my main culprit here.

Why, why would you direct a film that makes people feel seasick? Seriously, shaky cam has since gone on to be called ‘queasy cam’ and is the one major piece of camera work that is being vastly overused by pretty much any and everyone directing action films today. Its horrible, it makes the screen blurry and difficult to watch, action scenes become nauseating.

Here is a genuine warning put up at an AMC cinema during a screening of Cloverfield.

I really don’t think I have anything more to add here. A filming technique that makes people physically sick.

Those are the big 3 things I dislike about modern action films and do you know what… none of them are in John Wick Chapter 2. This flick offers action scenes you can actually watch. There is no lens flare – or at least none that I remember feeling intrusive. The fight scenes are well framed and you can clearly make out who is hitting who. There is zero shaky cam, there is a little wobble as some of the film is shot hand-held but nothing that makes you feel sick.

There is an impressive shootout in this flick that takes place in the catacombs under Rome. Its dark down there and this shootout features dozens up on dozens of people getting shot… in the head… a lot. Yet despite it being dark and the mass amount of bullets flying, you can see everything. Every shot, every bullet hit and every dead body. You can also make out who is shooting who, where from and with what guns. Its all well choreographed, framed and directed. All the action scenes in this movie are like this – the car chases (and crashes), the shootouts and the fights.

Another action scene takes place on a tube train. Its a very close quarters fight in a very confined area. No lens flare, no close up shots so you can’t see anything and no shaky cam. A fierce and action packed fight that you can watch.

Every action scene is shot so you can actually watch them and make out exactly what was happening. I know right, an action film where you can watch the action. Unbelievable.

This is what made John Wick Chapter 2 so watchable, because you can actually watch it. To director Chad Stahelski, thank you. Thank you for directing an action film in which you can see the action – for making a film that didn’t require me wearing sunglasses or have me feeling seasick by the end credits. I just hope more directors follow suit and begin filming movies that are watchable.