Film Review: The Matrix (1999)

Release Date: March 24th, 1999 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: The Wachowskis
Written by: The Wachowskis
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano

Groucho II Film Partnership, Silver Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 136 Minutes

Review:

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” – Morpheus

I enjoyed The Matrix films back when they were coming out but I was never an immense fan of them, despite their cultural influence and how they were heavily ripped off for other action and sci-fi films from the early ’00s.

It’s actually been a long time since I’ve seen these, so most of the details have been lost to time and even though I remembered the gist of the story, I felt like I went into this with mostly fresh eyes.

This is the best film in the series or at least, it’s considered to be when looking at the critical and public opinion on this series. From my memory, I always liked this one the best and I’m assuming that the other two will still fall somewhere beneath this one when I revisit them over the next few weeks.

Overall, this film is pretty good in most aspects. However, there are some style choices that I don’t like, which actually bothered me back in the day too.

For starters, I’ve never been keen on the “bullet time” thing. I understand why certain moments were presented like this on screen but I always thought it was hokey looking in execution. Twenty years later, it looks dated and even more hokey. It’s also cliche but that’s really not this film’s fault as it was what brought that technique into the mainstream.

Also, I don’t like the movement during gunfights. The flipping off of walls with all limbs extended out is just going to make you a bigger target and for those who understand the physics of combat, it’s baffling and it shows off this film’s biggest weakness: style over substance (or practicality).

Plus, I don’t like how hard the film is trying to convince you that it is cool. Sure, it was cool in 1999 but the way coolness is achieved doesn’t quite work the same way in 2019. I’m not saying that the filmmakers should have predicted that because no one is an actual psychic but it dates the film.

I don’t like the use of filters in the movie either. The real world is shown in bluish hues while the Matrix itself is presented in a greenish tone. I understand the use of color to differentiate between the two spaces but it feels like the Wachowskis are trying to channel David Fincher and even though Fincher is a better director, I don’t like his overuse of color filters either.

In regards to the story, I have issues with that as well.

I guess my biggest gripe about it was the plot device where the Oracle told characters specific information about prophecies and whatnot and then later you find out she lied and it’s just brushed off with the line, “She told you what you needed to hear.” And why does this film have prophecies anyway? And where is the Oracle getting her info? And why does there need to be a “One”? It’s all kind of derivative, even by 1999.

Also, why does Agent Smith so badly want out of the Matrix? Why does he have emotions? He’s just a computer program, right? He should just follow programming without philosophizing about it. And can’t the Matrix fix his programming if it’s broken? Why does he care that the world within the Matrix is gross? How did he develop feelings and a personality? Why does he have such a grudge? Is all of this explained later because I don’t remember? Either way, it’s sloppy storytelling.

But all this criticism aside, I still like this movie. It’s hard to quantify why with all this baggage I just dumped on the floor but I think a lot of it has to do with the cast, their chemistry and how their performances propel the film forward. Also, if you don’t overthink it and just watch it as mindless entertainment, it is still a fun film with a lot of action and cool moments.

Some of the CGI looks bad in 2019 but this is still full of some incredible shots. That exploding helicopter scene still looks f’n fantastic.

It’s also best to ignore the limitations of technology for the time when this came out. Considering that everything in this film had to be done over hard wires, makes me wonder why this advanced artificial intelligence that wants to enslave humans weren’t using Wi-Fi. I mean, humans were using it pretty regularly less than a decade later. So in the year 2199 (or thereabouts) the evil robots hadn’t yet found a way to work around the hard wire problem? But again, the Wachowskis aren’t psychics.

Anyway, just ignore all the crap I just said in the previous 873 words and go into this film mindless with the intent of just enjoying some solid escapism from your own personal Matrix.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequels, as well as the slew of films from the early ’00s that ripped it off.

Film Review: Missing In Action (1984)

Also known as: Braddock: Super Comando (Brazil), Desaparecido en acción (Argentina)
Release Date: November 16th, 1984
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Written by: James Bruner, John Crowther, Lance Hool
Music by: Jay Chattaway
Cast: Chuck Norris, M. Emmet Walsh, Lenore Kasdorf, James Hong, David Tress

Golan-Globus Productions, The Cannon Group, 101 Minutes

Review:

“You leave tomorrow, or you not leave at all!” – Vinh

Missing In Action was the first movie that Chuck Norris did for The Cannon Group. However, it would spawn a film series, as well as open the door for the Delta Force film series and other Norris action pictures from the studio.

This film bombed with critics but it was a huge hit for Cannon. Additionally, the sequel to this movie was supposed to come out first, as they were filmed back-to-back, but Cannon changed their minds and rushed this one out. So the second film is actually a prequel because of that.

Another strange factoid is that this was rushed into theaters to avoid a lawsuit in regards to it being a ripoff of Rambo: First Blood Part II. The story for this film was “inspired” by a story treatment that James Cameron wrote for Rambo II.

Anyway, all that drama aside, this was one of Chuck Norris’ best movies. It is also a product of its time and fits the Cannon style and might be the second most perfect Cannon film after American Ninja. That one gets the edge because it features ninjas.

But this one doesn’t just feature Chuck, it also features M. Emmet Walsh and James Hong, two guys I love in just about everything they do.

Now this picture is a heavy handed, pro-America, patriot film. That’s not a bad thing though, as it was the ’80s and our action movies didn’t have time for pesky communists and people’s wimpy fefes.

Chuck is a one man wrecking ball that goes behind enemy lines into Vietnam to rescue some P.O.W.s and while he’s at it, he’s going to make the bad guys pay for the hell they put him through during the Vietnam War a decade earlier.

The action is intense, Chuck’s bravado is infectious and this just hits all the right notes for fans of this genre from this time period.

I love Missing In Action. This is a quintessential ’80s action flick with high octane, lots of explosions and enough ammo to make every 2nd Amendment hater run for the hills out of fear. This represents a time when men were still men and they didn’t have a clue what the fuck a soy latte was.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Missing In Action movies, as well as the Delta Force film series and pretty much anything by Cannon Films.

Video Game Review: Rush’n Attack (NES)

I have fond memories of this game. As a kid, a friend at school let me borrow it for the whole summer. I played the shit out of it because I knew that eventually I’d have to give it back.

Revisiting it all these years later, it doesn’t hold up to my memories of it but I still liked giving it a playthrough.

The game is a simple side scroller where you just mostly have a combat knife that you use to go all stabby on the enemy soldiers running at you. There isn’t a lot of strategy in this game, just stab, stab, stab and jump over those landmines.

It is actually more difficult than it needs to be though, as it’s one of those games where one hit kills you. You can get through it all with enough practice though and it’s even easier if you’re playing it on an emulator that allows you to save your progress.

For the time though, the game has a cool visual style and I like the music.

It plays off of the Cold War fears in the ’80s and I’ve often wondered if Rush’n Attack‘s title was a tongue and cheek way of saying “Russian Attack”.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling action games for the classic Nintendo, which narrows it down to about 8 dozen games.

Comic Review: The Flash, Vol. 3: Rogues Reloaded

Published: August 1st, 2017
Written by: Joshua Williamson
Art by: Carmine Di Giandomenico, Jesus Merino

DC Comics, 163 Pages

Review:

I know I’ve said it before but I’m not a huge fan of Flash comics. I like the character and loved the TV show from 1990 but when it seems like he’s wrapped up in stories with a dozen other characters with the same powers, it’s boring. This is why I quit watching the modern TV show on the CW.

However, I have always enjoyed Flash’s Rogues because they present different types of challenges other than whether or not the fast guy can catch the other fast guy.

That being said, I picked this story arc up, leapfrogging over the first two volumes because it focuses on the Rogues.

Overall, I was really happy with this story. It was entertaining, fun and had a good plot with a nice twist worked in.

Now the Rogues story only covers about the first half of this collection but the followup story was also good.

Maybe I will give Joshua Williamson’s other arcs a read.

The thing is, I want to like the Flash but in modern times, the comic has the same issues that the television show does. But this story reminded me of Flash comics from the ’80s when I first checked out the character. Back when he’d fight Captain Cold, the Trickster, the Mirror Master and Gorilla Grodd a lot.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: I’m assuming, Joshua Williamson’s other Flash stories.

Film Review: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Release Date: January 19th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour
Written by: Ana Lily Amirpour
Music by: Bei Ru
Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Mozhan Marno, Marshall Manesh, Dominic Rains, Rome Shadanloo

Say Ahh Productions, SpectreVision, Logan Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me alone.” – Arash

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a unique film.

First of all, it takes place in Iran but was filmed in the United States with all the actors speaking in Persian. Additionally, it considers itself to be the first Persian vampire western, which is an odd description.

In fact, I don’t know where the western genre comes into play other than one specific scene where the film’s composer is clearly borrowing from the style of Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores.

Anyway, as bizarre as this thing is, it’s a really solid film. While it is full of immense darkness, it is also full of sweetness.

It’s also one of the coolest films of the last decade.

I think a lot of that has to do with some of the deliberate style choices in regards to the genre melding, the cinematography, the use of music and the personalities of the cast. But how many films have a skateboarding vampire?

At points, this is a slow moving picture but everything is presented in a way that lures you in. You don’t mind the slow build because the actors are able to convey a lot of emotion with pretty understated performances. But I also think that a lot of that credit has to go to the director, Ana Lily Amirpour, who employs a great understanding of mise-en-scène that it enhances the actors’ abilities. Amirpour crafted an impressive stylistic framework that brings everything together quite nicely, especially with the movie being carried by performance.

I love the cinematography, which is done in black and white and takes its chiaroscuro cues from classic film-noir and German Expressionism.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an enchanting film and with that, is beautiful to look at. It delivers a sort of cinematic intimacy that most filmmakers, over the last decade, aren’t able to achieve. It feels like something from another era, even if it has things within the film that date it as modern.

However, like other vampire films, it has that one plot point that always bothers me with the genre. What I’m referring to is how a being that has existed for a few hundred years can fall in love with someone in their early twenties. It’s a plot device in vampire fiction that as all too common. I get the part about being attracted to youth and innocence but I’m now 40 years-old and I can’t go on a date with a 25 year-old and find anything to talk about. I can’t imagine how that date would go if I ever make it to 200. But at the same time, it’s a trope of vampire stories and I’m not going to come down on this picture too hard for it.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other arthouse vampire movies: Only Lovers Left Alive, Let the Right One In, Shadow of a Vampire, Near Dark and The Hunger.

Film Review: Madhouse (1990)

Release Date: February 16th, 1990
Directed by: Tom Ropelewski
Written by: Tom Ropelewski
Music by: David Newman
Cast: John Larroquette, Kirstie Alley, Alison La Placa, John Diehl, Jessica Lundy, Bradley Gregg, Dennis Miller, Robert Ginty, Wayne Tippit

Boy of the Year, Orion Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t worry about me having dinner, I’ll just lick the crumbs off my filthy sheets!” – Beatrice

This isn’t one of the best comedies of its time period but I enjoyed the hell out of it as a kid and even now, in 2019, I still found the movie to be pretty endearing and charming. But I also know that my opinion is unique, in that most people have forgot about Madhouse and those who haven’t don’t have fond memories of it.

For me, this film works on the strength of its leads: John Larroquette and Kirstie Alley. The two of them had incredible chemistry, felt absolutely believable as a couple and they committed to the absurdity of the film with tremendous gusto.

The comedy style here is pretty typical of the time. It throws two normal people into a very abnormal situation while littering the proceedings with mostly crude and simple humor. But it works because of the charisma of the main cast and most of the supporting players.

I really enjoyed John Diehl, whose murder on Miami Vice still upsets me, and his overbearing wife played by Jessica Lundy. Alison La Placa was also great and we get Dennis Miller in a very minor (and his first) role.

The story follows a yuppie couple who get surprise house guests that are a total pain in the ass. However, as the film progresses, they get more and more house guests and no one will leave. Eventually, their new home has turned into a community of almost a dozen weirdos that push the couple to their breaking point.

What I love about this film is how we see Larroquette and Alley slowly break down and slip into madness. I thought the pacing of the film, in this regard, was perfect.

Also, there is a cat subplot that is a parody of Pet Sematary, which came out a year earlier. It sees the cat die, again and again, but it always comes back to create more chaos. You even get to see the cat die from a cocaine overdose.

This is a simple, fun comedy. But that’s what I like about it.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other outrageous late ’80s/early ’90s comedies.

Retro Relapse: In Defense of Sarcasm

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Written in 2014.

I’ve read a few things recently online and in books that have spoke about sarcasm in a negative light. It has been painted as mean-spirited and a low brow form of humor – a quick attempt at a humorous response more often than not used in an effort to shield an emotional blow or to indirectly or passive aggressively pick fun at someone. While I get and understand the point these authors are trying to make, I don’t necessarily agree with it.

One of the books I read is about the subject of “manliness”. It’s author feels that a “man” shouldn’t use this sort of comedic device. Well, I think sarcasm is fine when there is a proper need for it and if it isn’t the only humor discipline that a manly wordsmith employs.

You see, the problem with sarcasm is that it has evolved – poorly. Sarcasm was once a witty and often times intellectually vast form of humor. Only some really smart and clever motherfuckers could use its power and get their audiences’ panties to drop. Anyone could say something funny but it took a lot of thought for someone to drop some really sarcastic pipe bomb.

It wasn’t as common back in the day and that is probably why it has become a comedic discipline that was almost an art form.

I think that the oldest form of sarcasm that I have experienced was expressed from many of the old badass comedic legends of yesteryear. Watching a lot of the old greats with my granmum throughout my childhood gave me a pretty solid understanding of their form, their timing and their delivery – not to mention pure wit.

Two things that really come to mind are the old Dean Martin roasts, which were a thousand times more classy and intelligent than the roasts today, and the old school game shows that always had funny celebrity contestants. One celeb contestant that immediately comes to mind is Charles Nelson Reilly.

Throughout the years however, as can be seen in the evolution of ludeness, crassness and dick jokes galore in modern celebrity roasts and just general mainstream comedy, the utter genius and hilarity of thought provoking comedy gold is pretty much non-existent. And not just through sarcasm but all comedic fronts; being mean and nasty in general is thunderously applauded.

There is still intelligent comedy but even shows like ‘Parks & Recreation’, ‘Party Down’ and ‘Arrested Development’ fall victim to the overabundance of the dense and obtuse witless vulgarness of our modern culture. Comedy in general now is just atrocious and sad. And unfortunately this just bleeds over into the masses. The class clown today is usually just a bully with a laugh track comprised of thirty other students.

You see, it’s a problem when the key to what we find funniest is poking fun at others or just laughing about penises and ass noises. Have we really become that dumb and unrefined? I’m guilty of this too – most of us are and in ways those things can be funny but in our superfast intellectually lethargic culture, they have been put on a pedestal. It’s like we don’t want to think too hard anymore in this Google and Wikipedia-filled world and so we cheer a cheap pop over real genius. We don’t have time to mentally decipher real genius apparently. As a culture, that is what I find frightening.

So no, I don’t see sarcasm as a thing men shouldn’t practice, I just see a form of comedy that has been bastardized by our overwhelming acceptance of low brow culture in general. Luckily there are still a few good comics out there practicing their craft. I mean, there is a reason I watch Dylan Moran over that shitbird shill who calls himself “Carlos Mencia”. There is also a reason why I generally gravitate towards British television over American. The question really is, what are we missing in America that these other countries aren’t? Why does Britain not overwhelmingly accept intellectually void entertainment but we do? Shit to think about, I guess.

As my cousin Cameron once stated, “Sarcasm, it is a tool of ingeniousy!” He was brilliant at 12 years-old.. before the accident (puberty).