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.

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.

Film Review: Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004)

Release Date: January 30th, 2004 (Canada)
Directed by: Brett Sullivan
Written by: Megan Martin
Based on: characters by Karen Walton, John Fawcett
Music by: Kurt Swinghammer
Cast: Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle, Tatiana Maslany, Eric Johnson, Janet Kidder, Brendan Fletcher

Copperheart Entertainment, Lionsgate, 94 Minutes

Review:

“So this is home, huh, Ghost?… Kind of has the Manson family charm.” – Tyler

I guess this isn’t as beloved as the original film but I actually enjoy this one more.

It’s not bogged down by puberty issues or teen drama, it’s just a straight up horror movie with a really good, dark twist to the story.

The main stars from the first film return but this is focused on Emily Perkins’ Bridgette, as Katharine Isabelle’s Ginger is still dead and just haunts Bridgette as her conscience in the form of a ghost. The rest of the cast is made up of people that work in or are patients of an asylum.

When this story starts, Bridgette is still infected with werewolf blood as the cure from the first movie doesn’t really work. So Bridgette is basically an addict, taking the faulty cure in an effort to prevent the werewolf blood from fully taking over her. But as time goes on, her body becomes more and more immune to her medicine. In the asylum, her “drugs” are taken away from her, so its only a matter of time before she becomes a monster.

I like the setting and vibe of this film more than the original. It felt raw, grittier and it exists to scare its audience, as opposed to using the horror film medium as an analogy for girl’s getting their period.

Plus, I thought that the effects here were better and the film obscured the monster for the most part, as opposed to a big reveal that didn’t payoff due to the cheapness of the budget.

Additionally, I liked the concept of turning Bridgette into a junkie, still possessed by her sister’s overbearing spirit while also throwing in another werewolf and another type of monster altogether.

Ginger Snaps 2 is not a great film but it’s a better horror movie than the first one and it doesn’t beat around the bush. It gives you horror violence from the outset and you actually feel organic danger in this chapter of the trilogy.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Ginger Snaps movies.

Film Review: Contamination (1980)

Also known as: Contamination – Alien arriva sulla Terra (Italy), Alien Contamination (US cut version title), Toxic Spawn (US video title)
Release Date: August 2nd, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Luigi Cozzi
Written by: Luigi Cozzi
Music by: Goblin
Cast: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Mase, Siegfried Rauch, Gisela Hahn

Alex Cinematografica, Barthonia Film, Lisa-Film, Cannon Films, 95 Minutes, 84 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“Help! Let me out! There’s an egg!” – Colonel Stella Holmes

In Italy, at least back in the ’70s and ’80s, filmmakers didn’t give a crap about copyrights. So this was made as a “sequel” to Ridley Scott’s Alien, even though the only similarity it shares with that film is aliens. But these aliens are pretty much just slimy pods that look like inside out kiwis.

Overall, this isn’t a very good movie but for a 1980 horror picture from Italy, it fits that style and is actually better than a lot of the similar riffraff.

Luigi Cozzi wrote and directed this and it is one of his better films. I thought that the story was decent and I was at least engaged by it. There weren’t many dull moments and even if the aliens were bizarre and hokey, the film had an atmosphere that worked and made them haunting.

I think a lot of what makes this film work is the soundtrack by Goblin. I believe the band had a different lineup than when they worked on the Suspiria soundtrack but they still provide surrealist noise that sometimes has a melody but mostly just sets the tone, generating a sort of uneasiness in the viewer.

My favorite thing about this movie is the special effects. They’re practical, they’re cheap but when bodies start bursting from exposure to alien pods, it all comes off really damn good and it has stood the test of time. That opening scene where the scientists in hazmat suits are exploding all over the place is still effective.

Contamination is Italian horror schlock but it’s entertaining Italian horror schlock with a good amount of fun, explosive gore; the type of gore I like most because it’s not there to gross you out, it’s just there to shock you and catch you by surprise.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Luigi Cozzi horror films, as well as movies by Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava.

Documentary Review: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

Release Date: January 25th, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Written by: Alex Gibney
Based on: Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
Music by: Will Bates
Cast: Alex Gibney (narrator), Lawrence Wright, Mark Rathburn, Mike Rinder, Jason Beghe, Paul Haggis

HBO Documentary Films, Jigsaw Productions, Sky Atlantic, 119 Minutes

Review:

After recently watching the first season of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, I wanted to see something that delved more into Scientology in regards to their actual beliefs, their attraction to celebrities and all the other factors that I felt weren’t touched on enough in Leah’s show, as it focuses mainly on the personal stories of former Scientologists.

This documentary put out by HBO really provided me with the material that I was looking for. Also, this predates Leah’s show by a year or so, so maybe that’s why she didn’t rehash a lot of this stuff.

While this, like all documentaries, has an agenda, this doesn’t feel like it is trying to hammer you in the face with its condemnation of Scientology. Sure, it exposes it, reveals its twisted inner workings and allows those who were involved in it to speak out, but it’s presented in a good and clear way that sort of just lets the facts speak for themselves.

I found this to be informative and pretty engaging. It’s an entertaining film with a lot to absorb but it’s important with documentaries to not take everything at face value. But the more I look into Scientology, the more I find common threads and consistency within all its the criticism.

This was well produced, well organized and definitely worth a watch for anyone interested in the subject matter.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath