Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Matrix Reloaded


Things have been slow here at Chateau Maine the last few days. I've caught up on my beauty sleep, checked in with the administrative staff who handle my fashion and cosmetics empires, and sent off a lovely condolence bouquet to Martha Stewart. I know all too well the challenges of being a successful female business person and role model and how the system just wants to tear you down. In a lovely hand fabricated card, covered with decoupage recycled from old Allure magazines, I reminded her that the only thing the American public loves more than tearing down an idol, is rehabilitating them after their lives have been irrevocably damaged. 

I had a little time this morning to look over the show biz offers that have come pouring in during my absence. I have a script for something called Six Feet Under in which they would like me to play a guest corpse. I informed Joseph, my manager, that I would be happy to do it as long as I have at least one dramatic monologue and an extended tap solo. The producers of the new musical version of Peter Straub's Ghost Story, A Little Wight Music, have also been after me to commit to a leading role. I'm just not sure and will have to see whom they engage as the leading man before making a final decision. There's also an offer to take over for Bernadette Peters as Mama Rose in Gypsy on Broadway but, at my always youthful thirty-nine, I'm obviously much too young for the part. 

Wracked with indecision about the future and the nature of my own reality, I decided to lose myself in a matinee and so off I headed to Westwood where I caught the three o'clock showing of The Matrix Reloaded, the sequel to the 1999 blockbuster, The Matrix. The original film was a sleeper success. It opened during the spring doldrums to little advance buzz, but became a phenomenon by word of mouth as news of the mind boggling special effects, fascinating plot and unique world view spread. The film won Oscars for its sound, sound effects, visual effects and editing and it became an instant classic with an incredible influence on action films. Phrases such as 'bullet time' entered the lexicon and its unique blend of kung-fu, Japanese anime, hyper-reality, hard driving music, and state of the art special effects was often aped and never equaled. 

Creators Larry and Andy Wachowski, best known at that point for their lesbian noir Bound, were the toast of Hollywood and, when given carte-blanche for their next project, decided to create two sequels simultaneously. (The Matrix: Revolutions is due this winter.) They stated that they had always conceived of the project as a trilogy and that they had much in terms of ethos and philosophy that they wished to explore in the ensuing films. The Matrix Reloaded is therefore perhaps the most anticipated and most hyped film of the summer season. I wish I could say that it lived up to its promise. 

In the first film, we met Neo (Keanu Reeves), a hacker with a dull cubicle job. He is recruited by the mysterious Morpheus (Larry Fishburne) and his beauteous assistant Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss)and is seduced into learning about the secrets they conceal. What he learns is that the reality he knows is actually an enormous computer construct (the matrix) and that he, and most other humans, are hardwired into that existence by machines who are using human body heat and metabolism as a power source. True reality is a grim dystopian future where the surviving humans are warring against the machines. Neo is believed to be a messiah like figure who will be able to use the matrix to his advantage, and, at that film's conclusion, he sees the matrix for the digital construct that it is and is able to manipulate it to defeat even death. 

The current film opens some months after the conclusion of the original. Neo and Trinity are now a romantic couple (big surprise), still traveling with Morpheus. The machines are readying a major attack on the last human city, Zion, and Morpheus is trying to get some information from the Oracle (Gloria Foster), a predictive program that takes housing project grandma form in the matrix, in order to best prepare a defense and use Neo and his abilities to maximum advantage. There's a quick side trip to Zion where we develop a prefunctory romantic triangle for Morpheus with Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), another captain, and their boss Commander Lock (Harry Lennix). Zion is a complex of caverns deep within the earth where various elders spout verses from Blue Mountain Arts cards and the hoi polloi engage in some sort of state religion sanctioned circuit party. 

Back in the matrix, Neo meets up with the Oracle, battles an ever multiplying nemesis, agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), and has to go about rescuing a mysterious key maker (Randall Duk Kim) from the unctuous Merovingian (Lambert Wilson). This latter lives in some sort of hoity-toity New York restaurant cum Alpine chateau and has a bevy of hangers on including dread locked albino twins (Adrian and Neil Rayment) and a treacherous wife (Monica Belluci). There are a bunch of fights, some really bad driving on the interstate and lots of things blow up. There's some sort of resolution on the end but the whole thing makes about as much sense as this brief plot summary. 

The original film was tightly constructed. The cast of characters was lean. All the major figures had time to establish themselves as people and personality types. The rules of the matrix were established and it was clear what was real and what was not real. This film is all over the place. The rules of the matrix are violated about every thirty seconds. There are hordes of secondary characters who get minimal screen time and no development and I was completely unsure whether the characters were in the matrix or not half the time. By the time we got to Neo whooshing through the sky in a Lord Byron trenchcoat, looking like Superman after he lost a battle with an ink squirting octopus, I ceased to know what was going on or care. 

The whole enterprise is horribly derailed by a number of interminable sequences in which everything stops and characters pontificate for five minutes on the philosophy of reality. The Merovingian is by far the worst offender. His speeches in the restaurant take warmed over ideas from Descartes, Rousseau and Sartre and put them in a blender on puree. I do believe the French have a word for this kind of philosophical opining - merde. The Wachowski brothers, or their representatives as they are notoriously press shy, have been going on and on about the deep underpinnings of ideas on which the film is based. Frankly, they remind me of late night dorm bull sessions fueled by too much beer and not enough sleep. Fortunately, most of us do not have a chance to inflict our personal sophomoric musings on an unsuspecting public. Unfortunately, the Wachowskis were given tens of millions of dollars to ostensibly entertain us with theirs. 

The special effects and the fight sequences are up to the standards set in the first film. It's too bad that a number of them subscribe to the 'more is better' school of sequel making. If a fight between Neo and Agent Smith was cool, a fight between Neo and a hundred Agent Smiths must be a hundred times cooler. It's not; it's a hundred times more confusing and, as there's no character development this time around, why should we care. The freeway sequence is full of eye-popping stunts. There's so many of them, however, that we start to go on over load and tune it out before the last eighteen wheeler crumples. 

The performances are basically those of actors being told where to move against the green screen so the effects shots will work properly. No one is given enough time or emotion to establish anything of any import. The only performer who succeeds in creating any sort of moment is Gloria Foster in her brief role as the Oracle. There aren't any special effects in her scenes. All she has to do is act. She's marvelous. Unfortunately, she died during filming and can't be in the third installment. 

Ultimately, the film is Shakespeare's tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. 

Exploding guard shack. Exploding cars. Exploding power plant. Exploding plaster statues. Exploding pig pile. Exploding loins. Gratuitous Keanu Reeves bottom. Special dessert. Waterfall urinal. Gratuitous mythological character names. Kiss of life. Door of light. Pigeons in the park. 

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