Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Matrix


Norman and I are enjoying a lazy long weekend here at Chateau Maine, our fabulous spread high in the Hollywood Hills. He begins shooting his new project, an adaptation of The School for Scandal on location tomorrow at the Pot O' Gold trailer park outside of Chatsworth. He has the cutest little set of bib overalls and NASCAR t-shirt to wear. I'll have to take some photographs for the scrapbook. Troma studios, the producers, have sent me some additional pages on their new Regina Giddens project; a sequel to The Little Foxes, now entitled Toxy Foxy . I am to play Regina some years later, living the high life in Chicago, as the proud owner of the local toxic waste dump. There's a great ballad by moonlight as I sit on the balcony overlooking my little kingdom, a rousing tap number in the lobby of the Palmer House Hotel, and a soft shoe duet with a new character called 'The Toxic Avenger'. It has possibilities.

I have nothing new to report on my new VickiWear line of high fashion at low prices. Mr. Carducci seems to be busy hiring seamstresses from Indonesia to man the manufacturing plant. Plans are for the first shipments to be ready by the middle of next month. The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization were completely won over by the high concept sketches Bob Mackie and I submitted. They've opened their entire catalog to us. We're working on some grass skirt and khaki chiffon designs inspired by South Pacific . As a marketing gimmick, we're going to toss in a free bottle of coconut oil shampoo.

With things so calm and complacent, I decided a little sound and fury were called for. So, for my home theater viewing this weekend, I popped the DVD of the Wachowskis The Matrix into the system and settled back for a sensual assault. The Matrix is an attempt to bring the Japanese anime form to live action Hollywood and it succeeds brilliantly at this goal. Sequence after sequence resembles live action cartoon without betraying the animation origins and there is a consistency of visual and audio tone that led to multiple well-deserved Oscars in sound, visual effects, and editing.

The film starts as a mystery. A woman (Carrie-Ann Moss), dressed in Catwoman's castoff vinyls from Batman Returns , races through the night performing impossible physical feats. Who is she? How does she do this? We then meet a computer nerd/hacker named Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) who goes by his hacker name Neo. (The symbolism of the name is a bit obvious and it's also an anagram, which is even more obvious). Neo is wondering about a mysterious entity mentioned in the hacker community, the Matrix. We learn the woman is another hacker named Trinity and she offers an introduction to a hacker god, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) (more dopey symbolism in the names here). Morpheus offers to reveal to Neo the truth; Neo accepts and we learn that our reality is the Matrix, a massive computer construct that imprisons our consciousness, while the real world is a biomechanical nightmare of imprisonment and slavery with only a few surviving humans. Neo joins this small band of survivors, and from them, learns how to slip in and out of the Matrix and manipulate its rules.

The ability to alter reality and the laws of physics while in the Matrix leads to lots of stunning set pieces. People can actually move faster than speeding bullets. Backgrounds can change in the blink of an eye. It's possible to leap off of tall buildings without injury. The CGI and visual tricks used to accomplish these effects are amazing and appear absolutely real. Even after seeing how it was done, the results are breathtaking. The illusion is made more complete in that the principal actors themselves do the majority of the stunts. They trained for months with legendary Hong Kong stunt choreographer, Wo Ping, and the results show.

If one were to sit back and analyze the script, one would find lots of borrows. The idea of alternate reality has been around in literature and film for more than a century and the cyberpunk environment owes a large debt to the novels of William Gibson. There's plot elements lifted from sources as disparate as Jules Verne, Alice in Wonderland, the Alien films, the passion of Christ, and Sleeping Beauty. It's put together with enough style, however, that you tend not to mind too much. Much of that is due to the consistency of visual style, borrowed from the world of Japanese anime, most notably The Ghost in the Shell . The entire film is bathed in the sickly green glow of an early Tektronix computer monitor and there are lots of visual tricks, especially shots involving reflections, which are straight out of the comic-book form. The costuming, which is a sort of Interview with the Vampire meets Dark City look, also bolsters this retro-future look. The horrific scenes of the actual world owe a great deal to the Swiss artist H.E. Geiger who was instrumental in developing our modern concepts of dystopian biomechanics.

The physical performances are all first rate. The principal actors are up to their stunt challenges and turn cartwheels off walls and fly through the air with the greatest of ease. Keanu Reeves, especially, that most physical of actors, is completely believable as Neo and his physical transformations within and without the world of the Matrix are astonishing. Reeves is always at his best with a minimum of dialog and the script is constructed so that he acts rather than explains. The explaining is left to Laurence Fishburne's Morpheus and he has the necessary gravitas to clue the audience in without us getting the giggles. Most of the supporting cast are types rather than characters but Joe Pantoliano as 'Cipher' and Gloria Foster as 'Oracle' have their moments. (There's that dopey symbolism again.)

The DVD is a first rate wide screen transfer with terrific surround sound. In addition to the film, there is a commentary track (with Carrie-Ann Moss, the editor and the visual effects supervisor) that's not bad. There is also a music only track with the composer. This shows that the film, with a few title cards, might almost have worked as a silent and is, in some ways, reminiscent of Fritz Lang's great Metropolis . There is the obligatory HBO 'Making of' documentary and some 'hidden' mini documentaries on the visual effects that can be accessed by following red pills and white rabbits. (Plot devices that I shall not divulge here.)

Window washers. S&M nightclub. Baby farms. Kung Fu in Dojo. Cookie baking. Cool sunglasses. Mechanical squid. Gratuitous lady in red. Kung Fu in abandoned bathroom. Acupuncture needles. Love's first kiss. Exploding helicopter. Kung Fu in Subway Station.

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