Film Review: Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Also known as: The Burly Man (fake working title), The Matrix 3 (working title)
Release Date: October 27th, 2003 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: The Wachowskis
Written by: The Wachowskis
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Harold Perrineau, Collin Chou, Gina Torres, Anthony Zerbe, Cornel West, Mary Alice, Bruce Spence

NPV Entertainment, Silver Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 129 Minutes

Review:

“Can you feel it Mr. Anderson? Closing in on you? Oh I can, I really should thank you after all. It was, after all, it was your life that taught me the purpose of all life. The purpose of life is to end.” – Agent Smith

*Sigh*

Well, I got to the end. But I’m glad this journey of revisiting The Matrix film series is now behind me.

Reason being, I didn’t really enjoy these films because of how dated and horribly cliche and goofy they are. Plus, each installment in this trilogy got worse. I thought that this one might play better than the second but this film is such a massive misfire that it didn’t even come close to hitting the target it was aiming at.

My memories remembered this as a big two hour action sequence. But it’s not. There is a lot of action but it doesn’t really come until the last hour of the movie. Everything before that is really unnecessary. I mean, fuck, Neo was stuck in a subway station for a fucking half hour while his squad tried to save him from his limbo. Great way to use your time wisely in a final installment. The first act of this picture felt like episode 15 of a season of a TV show where they needed filler bullshit to pad out the season to 22 episodes.

Once the action does get going, the film gets better but we’re also thrown into action sequences with characters we just met or barely know and there’s no real reason for us to feel connected to many of them. So when some of them die, it doesn’t hit you in any emotional way. Maybe the first act of this film could have developed these disposable and empty characters.

Anyway, Neo is blinded in the most ridiculous way ever and he has to fight a swarm of Sentinels using his “electro-psychic vision” or whatever the hell his blind Daredevil sense is called. But that fight is mainly just Trinity flying a ship, dodging Sentinels that Neo doesn’t explode with the Force because at this point, Neo is a blind Jedi master over technology or something.

Trinity dies, which makes all the “No Trinity don’t die!” bullshit of the previous film seem like a massive waste of time and bad storytelling.

Now the big battle between Neo and Mr. Smith within the Matrix is pretty awesome and the only real highlight of the film. Tech-Jedi Neo becomes ’90s Goth Club Superman and he and Mr. Smith both swing for the fences in an over the top CGI bonanza. This sequence works for me and it accomplishes what it set out to do tremendously well. However, it doesn’t excuse the other 90 percent of the film that made me want to stick my head into a wood chipper.

But hey, I survived. I’m not sure if Neo did, as it seemed unclear when Doctor Octopus arms carried him away like a half dead messiah.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Matrix films, as well as the slew of films from the early ’00s that ripped it off.

Film Review: The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Also known as: The Burly Man (fake working title), The Matrix 2 (working title)
Release Date: May 7th, 2003 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: The Wachowskis
Written by: The Wachowskis
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Harold Perrineau, Collin Chou, Gina Torres, Anthony Zerbe, Roy Jones Jr., Cornel West

NPV Entertainment, Silver Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 138 Minutes

Review:

“Choice is an illusion created between those with power and those without.” – Merovingian

From memory, the Matrix sequels weren’t as good as the first film. Having seen this one again, a decade and a half later, I’d say that this holds true.

Still, this wasn’t a bad experience. This one does stand out simply for the fact that it has the best action sequence out of the series. Granted, my mind might change after I revisit the third film next week.

The scene that I’m talking about is the Interstate chase which is actually more than a simple car chase. It is an insane bonanza of flying bullets, flying bodies and vehicular carnage. Although, I have some issues with it too.

To start, I want to point out the positives. It was a lengthy section in the film but none of it was dull and it was high octane and over the top in an entertaining and gratifying way. I loved how things shifted throughout the sequence between switching roads, driving in opposite directions and the human vehicle jumping. The dynamic of the Ghost Twins also works well to spice things up, even if I thought that the characters were kind of lame attempts at trying too hard to be cool but then again, that’s just about everything in these films.

However, the sequence is far from perfect and it actually looks cheap considering that the entire strip of highway over this long, drawn out, violent jamboree takes place within highway walls. The geography of the location is the opposite of dynamic, it’s just a simple highway, lots of cars and concrete walls as far as the eye can see. Sure, there are some building far off in the distance and some powerlines sprinkles in but it lacks detail, depth and the appearance that anyone cared about anything other than the action and CGI effects.

Also, the physics are really bad despite all of this existing within the Matrix. But that’s an issue I have with the whole film series. But it is kind of intriguing that this all goes down and the star of the film was far away from it until that final moment where he literally swoops in to save two of the heroes from exploding semi trucks.

Like the first film, I thought the writing was pretty weak and too many things were way too convenient. This had a lot of fate and destiny mumbo jumbo surrounding its characters and their special roles with the Matrix system that I was still pretty annoyed by it all. Why is there an Oracle? Why is there the key maker guy? What the hell is a Merovingian? Why is Agent Smith going rogue? Why is there still a One? I don’t know? But most importantly, why did I waste ten minutes of my life sitting through the Architect’s villainous monologue, which just made things more confusing?

I know, I know… this is supposed to be mindless escapism but the problems I had with the film in 2003, seem worse to me in 2019.

But hey, explosions, fights, CGI fuckery and cave raves! What’s not to love?

In the end, this was worth revisiting and I certainly wasn’t bored watching it. Well, except the first hour was a little too slow, but this does a good job of evolving beyond the first film and setting up the third and final act, which if I remember correctly, is pretty much just a two hour action sequence.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Matrix films, as well as the slew of films from the early ’00s that ripped it off.

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: John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Release Date: January 30th, 2017 (Arclight Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Claudia Gerini, Lance Reddick, Bridget Moynahan, David Patrick Kelly, Franco Nero, Peter Serafinowicz

Thunder Road Pictures, 87Eleven, Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate, 122 Minutes

Review:

“John Wick, you’re not very good at retiring.” – Bowery King, “I’m working on it.” – John Wick

Having finally watched the first John Wick, I figured that I would check out the sequel, as it is available on HBO but is soon expiring.

This film is longer than its predecessor and it is also packed with a lot more action and I thought that those sequences were orchestrated really well. Although, I didn’t like this film’s story as much and it seemed forced in parts and disjointed in others.

Still, this was enjoyable and a good followup to the first chapter.

Here, John Wick is pulled back into his life as an assassin. He is called upon by an old acquaintance that he owes a favor to. Wick refuses, has his home destroyed and finally decides to do the favor. However, like a typical film-noir, the plot has a lot of swerves, surprises and is hard to predict. While this approach worked well in the first film, I found this one a bit harder to follow. Plus, they introduce new characters left and right and the amount of people in the film is a bit overwhelming and bogs down the flow of the narrative. But I guess when a film needs to get by on murdering the crap out of everyone and everything, you’ve got to throw characters at John Wick in order to keep piling up the bodies.

Also, the dog isn’t murdered in this movie, which is a plus.

While the first film did well and got the sequel treatment, this film, I don’t know if I have much interest in watching more of these. I like Keanu, I like the action but there isn’t much else to sink my teeth into that satisfies my palate.

Yes, this is well made from a visual, action and stunt standpoint. But I need more than that from a film. I don’t know, I admire what I see in these pictures but I just don’t feel connected to them. What John Wick goes through to setup these films is horrible but it is just backstory without any sort of real emotional context. Maybe it’s because you never really get to spend time with Wick and his wife, other than a quick sort of montage in the first film. I’m not saying that this needs to be The Notebook but I feel like they needed to show a their deep connection to really give Wick’s loss some weight. And by the time you get to this second film, the loss of his wife and dog are mentioned but the gravity of the situation is lost.

I would still probably check out the eventual John Wick 3 but I’ll go into it without any expectations other than anticipating solid action sequences and nice cinematography. Which is fine. I just feel like these movies had the opportunity to be so much better.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: John Wick, as well as Atomic BlondePunisher: War Zone and Death Wish 3, which still has the best balls out grand finale in motion picture history. For some old school pictures with similar themes and visual flair: Tokyo Drifter and Le Samouraï.

Film Review: John Wick (2014)

Release Date: September 19th, 2014 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch (uncredited)
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe, David Patrick Kelly, Clarke Peters, Kevin Nash, Lance Reddick

Thunder Road Pictures, 87Eleven, MJW Films, DefyNite Films, Summit Entertainment, 101 Minutes

Review:

“When Helen died, I lost everything. Until that dog arrived on my doorstep… a final gift from my wife. In that moment, I received some semblance of hope… an opportunity to grieve unalone. And your son… took that from me.” – John Wick, “Oh, God.” – Viggo Tarasov, “Stole that from me… killed that from me! People keep asking if I’m back and I haven’t really had an answer. But now, yeah, I’m thinkin’ I’m back. So you can either hand over your son or you can die screaming alongside him!” – John Wick

Well, I finally got around to seeing John Wick after putting it off for four years. Why did I put it off? Well, people hyped it up so damn much that I knew that if I went in with said hype, I’d probably walk away disappointed. I needed some time for that to cool down and to separate myself from it. I actually intended to watch this before John Wick 2 hit theaters, last year, but I was incredibly busy around that time.

Having now seen it, it doesn’t live up to the hype but it is still a balls to the wall, unapologetic motion picture and I love seeing Keanu as a complete and total badass murdering the crap out of scumbags in such an amazing and calculated way that he makes the Punisher look like Richard Simmons.

It is quite obvious that John Wick takes some cues, in style and narrative, from the the Hong Kong gangster pictures of the ’80s and ’90s, especially those directed by John Woo. It also has very strong film-noir tones, whether it knows that or not. There’s crime, plot twists, deception, a femme fatale character and a visual style that borrows heavily from classic noir as well as neo-noirs from the ’60s through the ’80s. I see a lot of visual similarities to the neo-noir work of Wim Wenders, most notably The American Friend, as well as notes of Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.

As far as the story goes, John Wick is pretty much the greatest assassin in the world. Just after his wife dies, a crew of shitheads break into Wick’s home, kill his dog and steal his car. The shitheads have ties to the Russian mob boss that Wick used to work for. Wick goes on a one-man killing spree for revenge and doesn’t care who crosses his path: his old boss, his old rivals and his old allies. With Wick reentering the world that he left years earlier, he is once again in the thick of it and won’t be able to just walk away when the dust settles. Of course, this was established to setup all the future sequels, which I have a feeling, Keanu Reeves will do until his body won’t let him anymore.

And speaking of Keanu’s body, he trained like a madman for this role and continues to do so now that this has become a franchise. He does all the driving, all the fighting and has become a legit badass in the real world because he wanted to play John Wick as realistically as possible. Seriously, if you want to be impressed, go watch some of Keanu’s training videos for these movies.

This is in no way a perfect film but if you are a guy that wants his action raw and soaked in diesel fuel next to an open fire, then you will enjoy this. It reminds me of the spirit of those ’80s Cannon Films except with much better cinematography and more capable talent in front of and behind the camera.

I was surprised to see so many actors I love pop up in this. I guess I never paid close attention to the cast details other than knowing that this had Keanu Reeves and John Leguizamo in it. But anything with Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane in it, automatically gets a hefty helping of gargantuan gravitas piled on to whatever is already there. Plus, you’ve got small roles for David Patrick Kelly, Clarke Peters and “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash. I also have to point out the good performance by Adrianne Palicki, who always seems to play the same character, but definitely came with a harder edge in this movie.

John Wick is solid. Damn solid. It doesn’t need to be a perfect film and it doesn’t want to be. It’s fun and manlier than an Everclear drinking lumberjack piledriving a bear through the hood of a Hummer.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: John Wick 2, I’d have to assume. As well as, Atomic BlondePunisher: War Zone and Death Wish 3, which still has the best balls out grand finale in motion picture history. For some old school pictures with similar themes and visual flair: Tokyo Drifter and Le Samouraï.

Film Review: The ‘Bill & Ted’ Film Series (1989-1991)

The Bill & Ted series was pretty enjoyable when I was a preteen. I’ve owned the box set for several years, since it first came out on DVD. I rewatch through the two films every couple of years or so and hope that the rumors of a third film, which has supposedly been written, are more fact than fiction.

In the meantime, I wanted to revisit this series again, in an effort to review them and because they are still enjoyable popcorn movies to kill some time over a weekend.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989):

Release Date: February 17th, 1989
Directed by: Stephen Herek
Written by: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Terry Camilleri, Dan Shor, Tony Steedman, Rod Loomis, Al Leong, Jane Wiedlin, Robert V. Barron, Clifford David, Hal Landon Jr., Bernie Casey, Amy Stock-Poynton, J. Patrick McNamara, Frazier Bain, John Karlsen, Diane Franklin, Kimberley LaBelle

Interscope Communications, Nelson Entertainment, Orion Pictures, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K.” – Ted

The first film in the series follows Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves), as they have to ace a history report in order to not flunk out of school. If they flunk out, Ted gets shipped off to military school in Alaska and their band The Wyld Stallyns will never exist and bring peace and harmony to the universe. In order to make sure that they fulfill their destiny, Rufus (played by comic legend George Carlin) shows up in a time traveling phone booth – sending them off on their journey.

Taking a few pages from Doctor Who and Back to the Future, both big franchises at the time, these films add in some good old school rock and roll and two dimwitted heroes who are lovable characters with big hearts and a thirst for fun and adventure.

Excellent Adventure is far from a perfect film. It has its flaws and most of my fondness for it is out of nostalgia but it is still entertaining and funny.

As Bill and Ted traverse through time and abduct several noteworthy historical figures, the adventure unfolds and seeing these figures interact with one another, as well as the heroes, is pretty hilarious.

The special effects are good for the time, the plot doesn’t really matter other than creating a cool scenario and despite its wackiness and complete implausibility, the film just works.

Additionally, the sequence where the historical figures discover the mall is one of the best moments in film from the 1980s. Napoleon taking over the water park is also a classic moment that still plays great today.

The end of the film is their over the top history report and it is pretty friggin’ bad ass. It plays more like a rock concert than a report and helps build the mythos of these two characters becoming rock and roll legends.

Ultimately, this film is exciting, it encompasses many of the things that were awesome about entertainment in the 80s and it has George Carlin in it.

And who doesn’t want to replay the scene where Genghis Khan trashes Oshman’s Sporting Goods again and again?

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991):

Release Date: July 19th, 1989
Directed by: Pete Hewitt
Written by: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, William Sadler, Joss Ackland, Pam Grier, Annette Azcuy, Sarah Trigger, Hal Landon Jr., Amy Stock-Poynton

Interscope Communications, Nelson Entertainment, Orion Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“A hit. You have sank my battleship!” – Grim Reaper

Bogus Journey picks up a few years after Excellent Adventure. At this point, Bill and Ted haven’t yet fulfilled their destiny of bringing peace and harmony to the universe.

This film also introduces a villain in De Nomolos and his evil Bill and Ted robots who are sent to kill the real Bill and Ted. The robots succeed and Bill and Ted’s “Bogus Journey” is their trip through Hell and then Heaven, as they are essentially resurrected and gain allies in the Grim Reaper (William Sadler) and a pair of great alien scientists called “Station”.

This film is even more over the top than its predecessor and that works fine but overall, the film isn’t as good. It is still enjoyable and adds more to the building tale of these two future legends but it is missing some of the magic that made the first film work as well as it did.

It is a much darker film and maybe the tone distracts from the lighthearted heroes. Bill and Ted are still Bill and Ted and the Grim Reaper is a fantastic character but the film just feels off.

There just isn’t anything as memorable as what was in the first film. Granted, the sequence where Bill and Ted play the Grim Reaper in several board games in an effort to escape Hell is pretty damned good.

The film ends positively and it shows Bill and Ted on the cusp of greatness. But it leaves you wanting more, as you want to see the next step in their progression. Still, twenty-six years later, we haven’t gotten a sequel.

Well, according to Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, it is finally on its way.

Documentary Review: Side by Side (2012)

Release Date: February 15th, 2012
Directed by: Christopher Kenneally
Music by: Brendan Ryan, Billy Ryan

Company Films, Tribeca Film. Axiom Films, 98 Minutes

Review:

I just watched the documentary Side By Side, which looked at both photochemical and the newer digital style of film creation. It was produced and narrated by Keanu Reeves, who also conducted the interviews with all the people in the film. The most notable interviewees were George Lucas, James Cameron, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh, Martin Scorsese, Robert Rodriguez and Joel Schumacher. There were a lot of others who also gave their insight to both film creation methods.

The film was well put together and wonderfully executed. It was easy to grasp for the hardcore film buff, as well as the novice.

Side By Side didn’t make an argument in favor of one method or the other, it just allowed each person to state their feelings, opinions and experience with these two mediums. Keanu did a good job interviewing the subjects and asked a lot of really good questions. The subjects also held nothing back, unafraid of who they might offend on one side of the argument or another. It was enlightening and informative to listen to all sides of the debate. Both styles have their pros and cons and both are useful.

In the views of some of the subjects in the documentary, it almost felt as if this were somewhat of a swan song to photochemical film. Camera manufacturers are no longer building film cameras and have gone 100 percent digital. While that seems like a nail in the coffin of an artistic discipline that has existed for over a century, this documentary provides some stark insight as to why that isn’t the case.

The film also allows digital filmmaking pioneers like George Lucas and James Cameron to defend themselves from all the naysayers who years ago accused both men of destroying the film industry. Side By Side also serves up a lot of counterarguments to points made throughout the film. The editing style of overlapping interviews in this film was well done and just added extra points to the discussion while previous points were still fresh.

I enjoyed this film a lot and it is one of the best documentaries involving the filmmaking process. It focuses on just one topic in filmmaking but Side By Side handles the subject great and fleshes it out into something more thought-provoking than initially anticipated.