THE BAD BATCH is Ana Lily Amirpour's spiritual vision of American society: where it is now, where it's headed, all in a metaphorical landscape.
The Matrix. 1999. Directed & Written by Lana and Lilly Wachowski.
Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Gloria Foster, Joe Pantoliano, Marcus Chong, Julian Arahanga, Matt Doran, Belinda McClory, Anthony Ray Parker, Paul Goddard, Robert Taylor, David Aston, & Marc Aden Gray. Warner Bros./Village Roadshow Pictures/Groucho II Film Partnership.
Rated 14A. 136 minutes.
An interest of mine, as well as the minor in my Honours degree, has always been Philosophy. Even the times when I can’t grasp a concept the entire school as a whole is intriguing. There are so many different philosophies, ranging the gamut of Eastern and Western Philosophy, many great thinkers since time immemorial. So what happens when you take the ideas of many philosophies, create an interesting, modern story, then wrap the whole innovative package inside an action film?
Then, you have The Matrix.
Lana and Lilly Wachowski (formerly known as Larry and Andy) wrote one of the most unique, original science fiction-action adventures in cinematic history, let alone of the 1990s. Their ideas concerning various philosophies translated into something which captivated the minds of those willing to think outside the box. No more did a science fiction-actioner flick need to be about a renegade ass kicker taking on bad guys, villainous henchman, terrorists, and so forth. Nor did it have to involve space, as was often the case before this came along. After The Matrix, this changed. Writers became more willing to take chances, at least until remake and sequel fever got too serious. For a while, though, we coasted on the high of the Wachowski genius. No matter how you feel about the sequels, this first film broke new ground, daring to go where no one had ventured, at least not in any significant capacity. The story, the action, every last bit is equal to the portion before it. And not many movies can make their stories so amazing while also doing amazing stunts and action sequences overall. That’s where this movie gains its traction.
The Oracle is one of the best parts. Her dialogue does so much. She questions cause and effect. Above her kitchen door is KNOW THYSELF in Latin (Temet Nosce), which was supposedly inscribed in The Temple of Apollo at Delphi; this connects to the Delphic Oracle, the Pythia. In relation to Delphi, this iteration of the Oracle follows suit with the fact the Pythia, the one through whom Apollo spoke, needed to be an older woman “of blameless life” it is said.
One of the most obvious allusions in the screenplay as whole is the concept of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, narrated as usual by that bad motherfucker named Socrates, or as he was known in his break dance circles Socra-deez-nuts.
If you’ve never actually heard of this allegorical story, jump over here, then come back.
So Neo (Keanu Reeves) is essentially one of those people down in the cave. Chained to his life, this imposed reality, he’s left staring at the blank wall. Only here the blank wall is a falsified reality, one that looks and feels alive, real, genuine. But underneath, outside of the cave, is an actual life. One where things have deteriorated. Now, in Plato’s allegory there’s none of the post-apocalyptic storytelling. Only that the truth is beyond the cave, it is out in the light, beyond darkness. So Neo sits watching the fire in the cave, his supposed life and reality and believing the shadows it casts upon the wall are his only truth. Then in comes Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). He brings the truth. All of a sudden, Neo is in the light. At first, it isn’t easy. Like Plato’s narrating Socrates relays, the people exit the cave, they see the light, and initially the light burns their eyes. Likewise, Neo is served the truth so quickly, so cold, his body reacts physically. This is a great adaptation of Plato into a recognizable, yet smart package.
Who better to play the blank slate, the tabula rasa that is Neo than Keanu? Honestly, though. I personally love the guy as an actor, he can be compelling at times. But really, his sort of disaffected attitude works in the beginning. He’s able to feel like this almost teenage-like character, one whose adult life hasn’t fully kicked in. Then as the hits keep coming he begins to feel more real, an emotional man that opens up to the truth of the world. Added to that, Reeves can do the action bit. He’s attuned to this kind of role. Best of all in terms of his casting is that he doesn’t even need to do a whole lot of intense dialogue. Not that he can’t, he certainly can. Rather, the Wachowskis needed someone able to convey the innocent qualities of the character then carry the action star part as the plot progressed. They got what they needed.
Then there’s Laurence fucking Fishburne. A treasure, unheralded. Yes, he gets lot of roles. I just don’t think people appreciate his range. He’s done everything from play in a Coppola classic to portray a wild gangster to give us the best performance as Thomas Harris’ Jack Crawford character on screen. Here, he gives us the perfect Morpheus. Nobody else could have done it this way. He has an iconic voice anyway, though it’s all in his presence, the delivery of his lines. It’s in the fact Fishburne makes Morpheus truly feel like this all-knowing, ever knowledgeable, almost ancient-type figure. This is a star role as is, but Fishburne gives it the extra boost needed to lift his dialogue off the page and make it live.
There’s an equal balance of philosophical musing and action in this film. The innovative bits aren’t solely in the enjoyable screenplay. One massive portion of that is due to the unique action sequences. The Wachowskis single-handedly coined the term Bullet Time, which of course comes out in the iconic sequence where Neo finally discovers what Morpheus meant earlier when implying he wouldn’t have to dodge any bullets, someday, at some point. A solid moment. Before that we’re given a wonderfully bullet laden sequence as Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) enter the building on their way to locate and free a confined Morpheus. This entire series of scenes is amazing, as they go right up to the top of the building. That’s where Neo first dodges bullets, almost all succesfully. It’s not until later in a hallway facing the agents that Neo realizes he can literally stop bullets with just his hands. Both of those moments are well executed and intense, particularly the latter as its effectively the climax of the movie, after The One discovers his full potential. But any action fan in their right mind will love this movie for its wild fun. Hundreds of bullets literally drop from the sky when Neo and Trinity go for Morpheus, the agents are tough to beat, and this makes for exciting scenes. Love when Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) comes up against Neo, they’re riveting to watch, and the fight choreography is stellar (as were the scenes where Neo trains alongside Morpheus fighting). Instead of watching the typical sort of action, the Wachowskis give us gorgeous stunts, a bit of the odd elements that come along with the agents and The Matrix’s physics, even Neo himself. You can’t be bored watching any of this stuff, bottom line.
For me, The Matrix is an outright masterpiece of modern cinema. Again, it taught people that action, specifically that with a science fiction angle, needn’t always be the same tired formula. Philosophy and action can mix. Brain and brawn find middle ground, a territory where each co-exist in the minds of bold filmmakers. There are a couple solid performances, a plethora of action sequences to boggle your brains, and a satisfying finale that’s ripe to lead into other stories, yet can easily be taken as one standalone film if you want to see it that way. No matter how you cut it The Matrix blew things wide open. A movie right before the turn of the 21st century that I’ll never, ever find far from my mind. It comes along with exciting memories of being 14, hanging with best friends, eating chips and drinking Pepsi, watching movies late into the night and having fun. And that’s part of what movies are all about, good or bad. Fortunately, this is better than good. It is perfect.
John Wick. 2014. Directed by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch. Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, and Ian McShane. Thunder Road Pictures. Rated 14A. 101 minutes. Action/Thriller
I, for one, have been a Keanu Reeves fan for a long while now. When he played Bill for the second time I was only about 6 years old, but it was also only a couple years later, at an early age, I started to see a lot of movies I probably shouldn’t have been watching – Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, House , and more. Not that I’m a prude about when kids should be allowed to see graphic material in films. Though, I’m sure a lot of people would say 8 years old probably shouldn’t watch too much. Anyways, I’d seen both Bill & Ted films around that time, too. I thought Reeves was cool because those surfer types were the kind of characters I latched onto first. Probably one of the reasons I later enjoyed Point Break, albeit for different reasons. Then, of course, when I was getting closer to the end of high school The Matrix just destroyed all my concepts of action moviemaking, in a good way, and also pushed me towards what I would later start studying in university – philosophy. Once again, Reeves reaffirmed to me he was one cool, bad ass dude.
Now there’s John Wick. While a lot of people hyped this movie up as some sort of revelation in the ‘hitman coming out of retirement’ sub-genre of action films, I reserved judgement until I actually had the chance to see it for myself; something I try to always do, but with some movies it’s difficult because of the level of hype. However, I went into this one with a very open mind. I really do love action films, and there are always a few here or there which really subvert my expectations. That being said, John Wick is not particularly one of these movies. I did enjoy it, it’s decent enough to put on when you’re looking for a nice fix of a solitary man killing dozens of people relentlessly, but it’s nothing overtly special in any way, shape, or form.
I won’t recount much of the plot because there isn’t one. John Wick [Keanu Reeves] is a supposedly dangerous man who once worked as a hitman for other similarly dangerous people. His wife dies, but has also given John a dog, so as to make sure he isn’t all alone after she is gone. One day, some men invade his home, kill his dog, and take his car. This prompts John to revert back to his old self and search out those who did this to him.
I’m not saying any one plot for this type of film is better than another. A lot of these movies work on a very similar principle. Ever since Liam Neeson absolutely knocked it out of the park in the Luc Besson-scripted Taken, the ‘aging hitman’ sub-genre has become one of the hot tickets in Hollywood. No doubt one of the reasons John Wick originally got greenlit. I just really think the plot of this film is incredibly weak. The story is so frail. I mean, we’re not even given any sort of time to really care about Wick’s personal life before – BAM – you’re in the middle of the action. I don’t need 50-minutes of a build up or anything, I think it’s just ridiculous to try and make this movie into something it’s not – there’s nothing grand here, there is no emotional weight. So when Reeves barks out terrible lines like “Yeah – I guess I’m back” or one of the few dozen dead bodies drop to the floor, one after another, there is nothing to prop up such moments and make them any better. Not that this script is a killer piece of writing; it’s not. Regardless, you can shine a turd into a diamond with enough effort. Reeves is not a bad actor, contrary to what some may have you believe, but him plus a bad script is just a mixture for trouble.
There’s a lot of wasted acting talent in this film overall. I’m a fan of Reeves, yes, however – I’m a much bigger fan of both Willem Dafoe and Michael Nyqvist. I even love Dean Winters and John Leguizamo. You can’t forget about Ian McShane – incredible actor. For all the names I’ve just listed, the many projects these guys have been involved with that I really dig, there is just nothing going on here to justify having them all in here. There isn’t enough to hold up such an ensemble cast. Plus, even the guys like Dafoe and Nyqvist who are onscreen plenty throughout the runtime just don’t get much to work with ultimately, and it shows. The film tries to make up for lack of emotional depth by using tons of music in attempt to cover all the gaping areas where the absence of character development is really felt most.
I’ll give this about 2 out of 5 stars. It is not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and it isn’t my least favourite action movie, but there is nothing at all new here. Even the way it’s filmed – they make John Wick out to be some sort of ‘better than average’ action flick, and yet there are maybe one or two scenes, hell, maybe only a couple shots, where I actually thought “Okay this is fun or interesting” or whatever other description you might come up with to describe a better movie. Outside of these moments there is nothing else to make this movie worth raving over. I really don’t understand all the love this got, and this is coming from a guy who often has a pretty unpopular opinion about movies now and then – I like a lot of stuff others seem to not care about. John Wick is, simply put, a load of unused talent in a sub-par action film with a bad script, and offering no real innovation in terms of action, stuns, or anything similar. I didn’t totally hate it. Yet I can guarantee this is not a Keanu movie I will buy, nor one I will ever watch again unless it’s playing next time I fly somewhere.