Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Wachowski's Cinematic Legacy

The Wachowski cinematic legacy for me began in 1999 with their eponymous worldwide hit "The Matrix" which is another film in my burgeoning cannon of both favourite films and films that blow me away every time I see it. 

This is my appreciation and catalogue of their six directorial collaborations. I hope you enjoy!

First the clarification for anyone new to The Wachowski's. Writing and directing partners, Larry and Andy were formerly known as The Wachowski Brothers, however Larry has been transitioning to be a female since the late 2000's and is now known as Lana Wachowski, with The Wachowski Brothers simply retitled for their work as The Wachowskis.

Although famous for their trilogy of Matrix films (plus the three additional films listed here as one or both directed), they have also written every film they have directed and are also credited screenplay writers for the wonderful cultural icon that is "V for Vendetta" directed by James McTeigue.

As a partnership they have also written numerous short stories that have been adapted for the screen and numerous Matrix spin off computer games. As well as being credited Producers of all their six directed films, as well as V for Vendetta, they are also credited as Producers for 2009's "Ninja Assassin" also directed by James McTeigue.

The Matrix trilogy, V for Vendetta and now Cloud Atlas will surely go down as cultural cinematic icons in the future for each one is a tour de force of film making, writing and direction. All are lovingly created with an attention to detail that astonishes on every re-watch of their magnificent creations. 

It is not my intention to provide huge spoilers for the coming six films, which are catalogued in chronological order of release date. Rather, my purpose is to give a flavour for the film as I do not want to spoil these great films for you in any way. Moreover, this blog is an appreciation of the film's crafted by two wonderful Writer/Directors and a thorough recommendation to suspend your disbelief and enjoy their creations.

I've also tried to write these reviews/appraisals in a fresh, different way, by specialising on a particular scene or character or theme of the film, thereby negating the need for spoilers or a detailed narrative account of the film. I love some of these films, have written them from a fan's perspective and hope you enjoy my "take" on them.

Bound (1996)

"I'm just here to get laid"

As the above quotation and tag line if you will, for the film suggests, this opening film written and directed by The Wachowski's is high on sexual tension from the very beginning. As such, I've dissected the first 8 minutes of the film below and there follows a brief resume' of the film's three main characters.

The film opens with dark, imposing opening titles accompanied by a similarly dark musical score from Don Davis. The camera pans slowly around a strictly confined box (a definite metaphor for the film as a whole) against an opening narration of "choices" and of "being a part of me" which slowly fades to an image of a woman, tightly bound and gagged. The opening scene commences inside a tight, small elevator and introduces us to the three main characters of the film: "Corky" (Gina Gershon), "Violet" (Jennifer Tilly) and "Caesar" (Joe Pantoliano). The opening scene also introduces us to the sexual tension already apparent between Corky and Violet who both share admiring glances in silence whilst Caesar stands oblivious and stares straight ahead. With no words spoken, Violet and Caesar depart the elevator, however the camera pans in slow motion from Corky watching Violet walk along the corridor, her black stockings and high heels evident. Neighbours in a high rise apartment block, the ladies both share a brief glance as each enter their respective apartments.

With a zoom focus on the garish, dated wallpaper of her apartment, Corky has a brief smirk/smile as she hears the loud moans of sexual pleasure coming from the apartment next door and there follows another theme of the film as the Directors continually focus on inanimate objects, Tarantino style, such as keys or work tools, or the start of the following scene, two coffee cups. Violet, making an excuse to visit her neighbour offers Corky her coffee "straight black" and commences to slowly and not so subtly seduce her neighbour with little glances, touches and playful innuendo. Corky, admiring and playful remains impassive throughout.

The final brief scene of the opening 8 minutes is all within "The Watering Hole", a pub she clearly used to frequent. Here purely to cruise for sex, the camera pans slowly through the regulars until settling on a black leather clad lady, sitting alone. Corky joins her and they share a brief smile before the lady's Partner returns to the table, flashing her Police badge to warn off Corky. She departs with another admiring glance at the leather clad lady and a barbed "when you're tired of Cagney and Lacey, come find me".

Corky (Gina Gershon) Straight talking self confessed "dyke" making a living anyway she can in the avoidance of a real "J O B". With her straight faced pout matching her style of talking, a no nonsense style brilliant performance from Gershon.
Violet (Jennifer Tilly) brings Violet to life brilliantly as the archetypal gangster's moll and hinted at call girl. A Femme' Fatale with a desperate need for escape, excess and a beautifully sexy husky voice!

Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) Quick talking Mafia Boss who's slow degeneration is expertly played by one of my favourite character actor's. His revenge on "Johnnie" (Christopher Meloni) is the film's stand out scene and Pantoliano on star form.

All three main characters share a desperation for escape from their lives and the boxes their lives reside in. A clear theme of the film it has also been variously described as a noir thriller and whilst there are aspects to this, I don't entirely agree. Well written by The Wachowski's, the additional characters such as "Micky" (John P Ryan), "Johnnie" (Christopher Meloni) and "Gino" (Richard C Sarafian) add very little to the film and the film is twenty minutes too long, with the third Act elongated way beyond it's ideal running time. The acting, dare I say it, passes but is no more than that, and I even include Joe Pantoliano there as well. Sixteen years since it's initial release, the film has certainly aged but it retains some very good and very intriguing positives.

The cinematography from Bill Pope is superb throughout, as are the use of extreme close ups which heightens the sexual chemistry and tension. The sex itself is well depicted, choreographed and well shot and occasionally, though only occasionally, graphic. The real triumph here is that whilst the air of sexual tension is brilliantly portrayed it never becomes gratuitous. The bloody violence is fleeting but occasionally graphic, with again, an impending air of violence and malcontent. The editing from Zach Staenberg is brilliantly done, especially when encompassing the occasional flashback into the narrative but the real triumphs of this first film from the Wachowski's are the quirky shots, the zooms and fades into apparent inanimate objects and the slow motion camera work evident throughout. The greatest example of which is the twisting, slow motion camera as it winds it's way following a telephone line, a portent for their coming masterpiece, as is the use of a twisting, metallic sound effect, now so synonymous with that masterpiece, The Matrix.

Rather than a noir thriller, it has the feel of a stage play for me which is not a criticism and is in fact a compliment, as with a reduced running time and more focus on the three main characters, this could've been a fantastic film. Instead, it's a good film yet a missed opportunity. 

The Matrix (1999)

"You are the one, Neo"

What follows are my three favourite scenes from each film of The Matrix Trilogy briefly dissected each a little differently each time, each hopefully pleasing The Matrix purists out there and even more hopefully, confusing those of you who haven't yet seen these majestic films! Each one is majestic in it's own way, the first and original film is damn near perfection in every scene. A firm personal favourite that captures my imagination every time I watch and never grows tiresome or older with time. A timeless classic if you will. The second film (The Matrix Reloaded) in the trilogy falls somewhat short of it's predecessor, with exposition heavy character development and a some might say deliberate, style of story telling that can confuse and disengage an audience. It remains a brilliant follow up for some virtuoso performances and action sequences that still remain fresh and joyous ten years after release. The third instalment (The Matrix Revolutions) comes and goes in a blur of CGI excess that even for The Matrix is overblown and often absurd!

I love the original (and best) Matrix film to almost obsessive levels. It resonates with me on theological and philosophical levels of the nature of our lives, our reality as we perceive it, the nature of dreams and indeed the way all of these and many more aspects are manipulated in our daily lives. Hang with me here! Conspiracy theories abound on how our lives are shaped by others, by television, film and mass media and this film explores those so called theories thoroughly and majestically so at times. I personally swallowed the red pill a long time ago however, as with the vast majority of the population I too am constantly distracted by that woman in the red dress! "Free you mind" is a mantra from the first film, a constant action demanding you to look at things, objects, events and realities in a different way. But very importantly for me, it also challenges you to look at these same differing aspects with your heart. For The Matrix series of films themselves are a love story at heart, of unbounded love between Trinity and Neo. It's not a motif for the film, more a theme than runs through the series, more of which later. On a purely theological point before we continue, "The One" is a huge theme throughout the trilogy and rightly so. However it leaves me a little uncomfortable as, on a theological level, there is an argument to be made that this representation of a God or Deity allows us to relinquish power and control over our lives to one person and to their control. The argument again could be made that this contradicts the constant theme of breaking out from this regimented control in life that the trilogy advocates. Whilst it leaves me uncomfortable, I'll leave the theological discussion for erstwhile people far more qualified than I. Where was I? Oh yes, The Matrix!

Whilst the original film is an undoubted all time classic, the second a little behind and the third limps across the finish line with far too much CGI, the trilogy draws on a wealth of acting talent that have either cemented a place in acting folklore or been catapulted into cinema history due to their impact in the trilogy. Keanu Reeves as "Neo", Carrie-Anne Moss as "Trinity" and Laurence Fishburne as "Morpheus" are the marquee names that carry the trilogy, however they are ably assisted by superb performances from Joe Pantoliano as "Cypher", Gloria Foster as "The Oracle" (plus Mary Alice as The Oracle in Matrix Revolutions), Hugo Weaving as "Agent Smith", Monica Bellucci as "Persephone", Collin Chou as "Seraph", Jada Pinkett Smith as "Niobe" and Lambert Wilson as "Merovingian". These are but the stand out performers amongst a huge cast across the trilogy on the screen, but behind the scenes and indeed screen, The Wachowski's called upon regular collaborators Bill Pope (Director of Photography), Zach Staenberg (Editing), Don Davis (original music), Owen Paterson (Production Designer) and Kym Barrett (Costume Designer) amongst many many others.

The films themselves are eminently quotable and I've included more quotes in the nine dissected scenes than I normally do in my other film appraisals purely to reflect this and also give a flavour for the scene itself and it's often bizarre, contradictory nature. I found the films as a whole a voyage of self discovery in many ways, but that's probably the film geek/idealist in me speaking, but from a Director(s) perspective, they did indeed discover new ways of working, producing and directing these films, with some saying (OK, me!) they reinvented many aspects of cinema. Bullet time cameras for example are taken as a given today in 2013, but were revolutionary and revelatory in 1999. The camera moves and edits between the ferocious combat scenes again revolutionised cinema to a degree, as did their story telling. Becoming more clumsy and drawn out as the trilogy progresses is an argument, however the actual original premise and story itself urges it's audiences to keep up, pay attention, think and reflect, as well as enjoying a spectacular ride!

The trilogy of Matrix films have spawned computer game spin offs (oh the irony!), spoof send ups and a host of other related cinematic nods, but it's the branching out from cinema and into the mainstream of thought, of consciousness and awareness that seals my personal approval. There is a definite act of defiance running through the series (as it does through all Wachowski films) of not settling for the reality we are presented with, of challenging the status quo and questioning what is reality and more importantly of asking you to follow your heart, make your own decisions even if they are contrary to so called popular belief. 

The film's have certainly had an influence on The Wachowski's other films (see V for Vendetta above and Cloud Atlas below), plus their ideas and beliefs have influenced the likes of Duncan Jones (Source Code) and Christopher Nolan (Inception). There are numerous constant themes throughout the films, ideological, theological and philosophical viewpoints can all be made, but many are personal and personal taste too. There's no doubting on a purely base level that the films are a love story, of compassion and a better way for human beings to interact with each other and to break out of regulated thought and patterns of thought. On a much deeper level, it challenges you to reflect on what is real, what can be real and tangible when in fact these "real" objects are made of ions or atoms that have no solidity and so can't actually be real. To paraphrase Morpheus, of a world played out before you to blind from the real truth, thus preventing you from seeking this truth, of a better, more enlightened world of human beings.

These films intrigue me almost like no other, which you may have gathered by now! Within the following nine dissected scenes I've probably (conservatively) provided only 5-10% of the entire six plus hours of the trilogy, so I hope I haven't spoilt this any further than that. I've split the dissections per film and only intend these as a taster for the films themselves, which suffice to say I heartily and highly recommend whether you've seen them already or not. On with the show! 

Amidst what you will soon be familiar with as Matrix Code, of scrolling green text and numbers scrolling down a computer screen we cut to another computer screen, of different text, and a dial tone. The narrated conversation between two unseen characters that follows is fractured, yet tender at times, but the tenderness and concern is broken with a dismissive "We're gonna kill him, you understand that?" from the unseen male voice. "Morpheus believes he is the One" comes the straight forward unemotional reply from the still unseen female voice. "You sure this line is clean?" and a worried "I better go" are this unseen female's final words as we zoom fade through yet more Matrix code and brilliantly twisting through a torchlight into a pitch black room, only lit by the torchlights of several police officers making their way towards Room 303.

You will also soon become familiar with the twisting, metallic sound effect that has become so synonymous with this trilogy of films, as we wind our way through The Matrix repeatedly. Often accompanying the "jump" if you will, but certainly accompanying the Matrix shift as often depicted as per the picture opposite.
Anyway, back to Room 303. Still in pitch black darkness, the police officers kick the door down to apprehend "Trinity" (Carrie-Ann Moss), their torch lights now illuminating a sparse room. With a slow fade and camera move to face Trinity, she slowly raises her hands to surrender. Quick cutting sees the arrival of "Agent Smith" (Hugo Weaving), smartly dressed, eager of tone and deliberate, purposeful pronouncements introduce us to the first of many stunning acting scenes from Weaving. With his deliberate, robotic style of speaking he dismisses the local police of their assertion that Trinity's arrest is imminent with a portentous "No Lieutenant. Your men are already dead" and strides into the building.

Back inside the building, we cut to Trinity, hands now on head, facing the wall. Interesting (key?) to note her shadow cast on the wall beside her which is followed by a genius of a camera angle, cutting as we do to between her raised arm (which captures the approaching police officer) and just one of her eyes, fixed and awaiting the advance. What follows is breathtaking and the first use of what became known as "bullet time" motion captured action. Frozen time/dead time/time slice/flow motion are all describing the same unique camera motion and capture: Bullet Time. With a spinning high Kung Fu kick in Bullet Time a prelude to running up an adjoining wall to avoid the officer's bullets, all officers are dead in quite literally bullet time.

Traced and tracked by Agents assisting Agent Smith what follows is a breathless scene using bullet time techniques and traditional moving, spinning cameras as Trinity is pursued across the city's rooftops. Sprinting and jumping to avoid capture, The Matrix itself is further evidenced as only Trinity and the pursuing Agent can leap the death defying longer leaps necessary across huge chasms in the city landscape than the also pursuing police officers. "That's Impossible!" Now with just the one Agent in pursuit but nowhere seemingly to escape, Trinity spots a tiny window and sprints headlong toward to it. Captured brilliantly by moving cameras, slow motion cameras and involving an obscured camera shot too (which seem on reflection to me to be a metaphor for The Matrix itself), the corkscrew leap through the window is brilliantly captured also, through the tumbling fall down the staircase and the guns drawn focussed on the window finale'.

Still needing an escape, her only hope is a nearby telephone booth which will transport Trinity out of The Matrix. Barring her way is Agent Smith who has tracked and anticipated her next move and approaches fast inside a large truck. The booth destroyed but no body evident, Agent Smith is joined by two of his fellow Agents who confirm the name of their next target, "The name is Neo". Brilliantly shot again as we twist between the rubble and through the remaining telephone, and amidst the twisting metallic musical theme and Matrix computer code we arrive at another computer screen, beeping and "Searching".

Before the introduction of the film and indeed the trilogy of films star, it's very interesting to note the first website or notification shown on the searching computer screen, as the camera slowly fades to reveal a quickly scrolling "Morpheus eludes police at Heathrow Airport" before the introduction of "Neo" or "Thomas Anderson" as we should be calling him at this stage of the film. All will become clear very shortly into the film, however as he's "The One" I'll refer to him immediately as "Neo". Played brilliantly (though not as flawlessly as some would have you believe, or as poorly as others have sneered) Keanu Reeves infuses Neo immediately with a mix of tiredness, awake but not truly, or even asleep but never sure if they're actually dreaming of being awake. Insomnia is hinted at, as is his compulsion to talk online as an active member of the still embryonic Internet, and his passing interest in computer hacking! Following an overhead shot of a slumped at his desk Neo and his messy, litter strewn apartment, this cuts to a close up of Neo, still asleep, yet his computer screen implores him to:

Struggling to focus and wake up properly, Neo is also urged to "Follow the White Rabbit" before a tension breaking "Knock Knock, Neo" demonstrates both Neo's hacking credentials and his ability to earn extra money from his illegal activities. Invited to a party and to join the buyers of his hacked discs Neo is hesitant, tired and aware he has to rise early for work, until he spots a tattoo of a white rabbit. Immediately his persona changes, from one of hesitancy to one of eagerness and wanting to join in. "Sure. I'll go".

Those opening nine minutes introduce the audience to both Trinity and Neo, the undoubted stars of the Trilogy of films as a whole. The next scene noted introduces us to The Matrix's star performer and the key to unlocking minds, Morpheus.

Before the introduction however, The Wachowski's excel in the build up to the scene, with a brilliant overhead shot of teaming rain pouring down the side of a darkened building, the sky illuminated by lightening amidst the rain shower, and a slowly moving camera shot of Trinity and Neo as they ascend a spiral staircase to their required floor. Interesting to note both the tiled floors (black and white chessboard design) and the saturated yellow but predominantly green colour and texture to the inside of the building. Deliberately drained in colour, it's striking both in the contrast to the green computer code of The Matrix and perhaps also another perceived metaphor for life, drained and saturated of colour compared to The Matrix itself.

Neo is greeted by "Morpheus" (Laurence Fishburne) a still performance of calm, assuredness and damn near perfection. Fishburne is brilliant throughout the Trilogy but here his Morpheus character dominates the screen. Almost a narrator if you will, of the past, present and future worlds before Neo, his matter of fact interpretation of situations is evident immediately, as is his determination that his life/their lives are very real, very tangible, yet not in the way Neo believes. A simple scene ensues, often with only two cameras in a talking heads style with cutaways occasionally to let the scene breath. Yet this brief scene establishes both The Matrix itself and the dominant themes running throughout the film, of Alice in Wonderland, the nature of dreams, fate and the problems experienced within the "real" world, and of the starting of a performance from Fishburne that is near flawless. "It is an honour to meet you" offers Neo, to which Morpheus smiles in reply "No. The honour is mine". Sitting in red leather chairs opposite each other, the short talking heads scene encompasses a bemused Neo, struggling to comprehend the world painted by Morpheus, who is sitting comfortably, twirling a silver case, his iconic sunglasses masking his eyes but definitely not his warm smile. Morpheus confirms:

"The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out of your window. Or when you turn on the television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.....That you are a slave Neo. Like everyone else you have been born into bondage, born into a prison you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison. For your mind".

To experience The Matrix, Neo has a simple choice which is brilliantly captured and directed by The Wachowski's. Cutting between a simple shot of a Blue and Red Pill we cut repeatedly to the picture above, a close up of Morpheus offering the pill(s), Neo reflected  in his iconic sunglasses. Metaphor's abound here, but I'll let you decide for yourselves on this one. Taking the blue pill will result in Neo waking and returning to his normal world whereby the red pill will enable his full integration to The Matrix. "Take the Red Pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes".

Brief introductions follow, to "Cypher" (Joe Pantiliano), "Apoc" (Julian Arahanga) and "Switch" (Belinda McCrory) as Neo slowly transitions to The Matrix through twisting telephone lines and various machines all plugged into a central converting chair. Again, the Directors excel here, as Neo transitions we see melting mirrors and a slow twisting metallic skin covering Neo before he finally jumps into the matrix, accompanied by the now familiar twisting metallic Matrix sound effects.

The third and final scene to be dissected from the first film is the quintessential Matrix scene that made the original film. Our two heroes Neo and Trinity coming to the rescue of Morpheus, now under the spell of Agent Smith who is trying to break his mind and de-programme Morpheus in the upper floors of the building now entered by Neo and Trinity. This scene also showcased brilliantly the Director's use of unbelievable slow motion captured action and of the director's Bullet Time technology. Often imitated since, but never better than shown here. The scene commences with a slow motion shot of Neo's booted feet and trench coat as he enters the building through a revolving door. He is seemingly alone and enters through the metal detectors and to the astonishment of the first Security Guard, displays a huge cache' of hidden guns whereby the first use of bullet time is used and Neo disables this security guard. There follows a mix of bullet time, slow motion and overhead camera shots as Neo eliminates the majority of the guards on duty before being joined by Trinity who eliminates the last remaining guard as he calls for "back up".

The arrival of the said back up guards also heralds the arrival of a change in music, as the haunting, melancholic beat is replaced with a thumping, iconic Matrix up tempo score. It also heralds the arrival of more astonishing bullet time and slow motion captured action, with Trinity again running up walls and both her and Neo performing gymnastic handstands through a hail of bullets all whilst shooting themselves and all captured brilliantly by The Wachowski's. Heavily outnumbered, the multiple camera use, plus slow motion and bullet time angles display the graphic carnage as Neo and Trinity defeat their adversaries amidst a constant hail of bullets and crumbling brickwork all around them. Whilst only a short scene, this is the archetypal Matrix scene from the original film, of bullet time, slow motion captured action, a fantasy world mixed with reality and of performing feats simply unheralded before. The climax of the scene perfectly encapsulates this as, with the majority of the back up guards now dead, one remains until with a bullet time captured Kung Fu high kick, Neo eliminates him and rejoins Trinity to search for Morpheus.

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

"But we well know that the reason most of us are here, is because of our affinity with disobedience" 

The first of the three key scenes dissected in this, the second of The Matrix trilogy of films contains everything both good and bad within the trilogy itself. As you will see, bullet time cameras depict two brilliantly choreographed fight scenes, the exposition of the story is heavy with confusing dialogue, but first, it's key to note the overt religious iconography as Neo is transported back into The Matrix to meet with "The Oracle".

Walking through a busy suburban street, it's interesting to note the use of this religious iconography as soon as Neo re-enters The Matrix, from the pictures of Jesus, God and Buddha's on a market stall table through to the picture opposite, Neo's Matrix breakdown of "Seraph" (Collin Chou) and his first meeting with this, the highest of Angels and protector of The Oracle. Introducing himself to Neo, he then calmly announces "first I must apologise" as he launches an attack on Neo and a brilliantly choreographed Kung Fu fight ensues, combining the three staple camera angles and techniques notably used by The Wachowski's in these scenes, bullet time, slow motion and overhead shots, all of which produce a stunning, quickly edited, Kung Fu fight. No weapons are used but it's clearly evident this isn't a fight for Neo whereby he's defending his life, moreover this is a test of wills, experience and of his determination to prove he is indeed "The One". Seraph concludes the fight stating "The Oracle has many enemies. I had to be sure", sadly the scene doesn't end there as it would've been a complete and perfect scene, but the scene is set, if you will, for this and the following film as Neo states a lame gag as the scene itself sadly peters out.

Following a brief exposition segment "back doors" (picture opposite) whereby Seraph confirms his purpose within The Matrix, we meet "The Oracle". However, it's interesting to note that within a few short segments of a scene and only a few brief minutes of screen time we as an audience have passed through a busy market area, bustling with people, to an eerily quiet room with just Seraph, now through another quiet, surreal looking, glistening white corridor and now through a door into the "outside" of a quiet park and our first meeting with "The Oracle". Throughout The Matrix, this change of settings in quickly edited bursts of exposition is key, always unsettling you as to where you are, even why you're here, for what purpose? Is this still The Matrix? Is this another part of the construct or in fact a return to Neo's older, "real life" life?

"The Oracle" (Gloria Foster) is a Matriarch figure who's character blossoms within the Trilogy. Here, and in the original, played by Foster, who exudes a calm exterior, a grand mother warmth and smile and self assuredness similar to Morpheus. The joint scene here is simple, all overlooked by her guardian, Seraph.
With a minimum of camera angles, this exposition heavy scene is both awkward in a clunky dialogue sense for the film (not the trilogy's high point) but also awkward in terms of Neo's understanding of why he's here and for what purpose. Nervous and unsettled, Neo struggles with the concepts provided to him from an ever smiling and happy Oracle. Knowing Neo's thoughts even before he knows them himself, The Oracle dominates the brief scene, which encapsulates her purpose, her programming, of a hacking within The Matrix itself and of a defining moment for Neo. He is indeed "The One" and although currently unaware of the significance of this, the fate of many lives rest on his shoulders. It's also key to note that, as The Oracle explains far more eloquently than I could, Neo has made his choice, he now has to understand why, and to what ends. As demonstrated below:

"Because you didn't come here to make the choice. You've already made it.

"You're here to try to understand why you made it".

There follows the second of the fight scenes within this small segment of the film, commencing with the iconic shot of "Agent Smith" (Hugo Weaving) entering the courtyard through a flock of blackbirds and yet another meeting with his nemesis, Neo. The hack as described by The Oracle is aptly demonstrated by Agent Smith who, after a telling verbal joust and exchange with Neo "I killed you Mr Anderson. I watched you die. With a certain satisfaction I might add" regenerates and multiplies from all angles, numerous identical Agent Smith's all surround Neo, the hack it seems has given Agent Smith the ability to assimilate with his enemies, now free to attack Neo and his team on their terms within The Matrix.
The fight scene that ensues is equal parts brilliant and absurd. The masterly camera angles and use of bullet time, slow motion and overhead cameras from the Directors is magnificent here, moreover the "inside" camera angles are more impressive, we as the audience are right in the middle of a chaotic battle with Neo far outnumbered by a constantly increasing number of Agent Smith's joining the fray. It's masterful yet a little absurd (even for this Trilogy!) as Neo fights off a hundred or more Agent Smith's single handed before a (now trademark) Superman style leap to safety and a return to the mother ship. There are fleeting cuts to the ship before and during the chaotic battle, focussing on a worried Trinity and Morpheus, however it's Hugo Weaving again who excels as the deliberate, pronounced talking Agent Smith, impeccably dressed and smug smile of satisfaction always present, pointedly referencing his control now, within The Matrix itself, and his destiny to destroy Neo once and for all.

My second choice of key scenes both develops (or purposefully confuses) our understanding and perceptions of what The Matrix is. It is a short scene compared to the above and indeed my third and final choice below, is heavy on exposition, includes some poor acting but is redeemed by a sublime virtuoso performance from Lambert Wilson as "Merovingian".

The Merovingian or self proclaimed "trafficker of information" holds court surrounded on one side by his beautiful wife "Persephone" (Monica Bellucci) and his bodyguards "Twin Number 1" (Neil Rayment) and "Twin Number 2" (Adrian Rayment). A true virtuoso performance from Lambert Wilson as yet another Matrix character oozing self assuredness, a calm exterior and seeming inner peace with himself, his position and indeed even his rank within The Matrix itself. With a deeply pronounced and methodical style of speaking and similar linguistic manner of an Agent Smith, the Merovingian takes centre stage, especially when The Wachowski's adopt a simple, close in camera angle. Here, Wilson is superb and dominates proceedings with a sublime matter of fact air and although numerous other camera angles are used for a simple talking heads scene, this is the key angle. Morpheus, Trinity and Neo are resplendent in their iconic black dressed style of the original, however their performances are weak here and definitely overshadowed by The Merovingian. Their counter balance to The Merovingian's air of certainty is used to good effect, thus highlighting his "might is right" and his assuredness that "causality" is the way of The Matrix.

On Floor 101 of a high rise office complex, amidst a busy restaurant full of diners, the top table is assured for The Merovingian as he decrees again that causality, contrivances, language and time itself are for The Matrix. Not fate, choice or love, but causality and importantly, programming. The illusion of power and huge metaphors for the film(s) themselves are highlighted, of cause and effect, changes to systems and programs and, importantly again, the ability within The Matrix, to alter perceptions. A veiled threat to Neo, he counters personal choice with altered perceptions, choice and free will with "causality", ending the scene brilliantly with a program he wrote specifically for The Matrix.

Demonstrating a Matrix computer code or "program" in the form of a chocolate desert he's written, The Merovingian delights in playing to his audience as he teases yet subjects a "bourgeois and boring" female to an orgasm! Brilliantly shot by The Wachowski's, mixing simple close ups of The Merovingian deeply enjoying the sensation and torment this brings the unnamed female diner with the diner herself and the important green computer code of The Matrix itself, it's a superb short segment of an otherwise brilliant exposition scene.

The third key scene dissected here has virtually everything that is brilliant from the trilogy of films as a whole, plus a clunking, ludicrous ending to the scene which I won't divulge! Apart from that, it has everything, numerous uses of the bullet time cameras, immense slow motion captured action, combat and fighting, characters "morphing" between vehicles/into vehicles/out of vehicles during numerous breathless chase sequences and some of the very best camera work (edited brilliantly) seen on a cinematic big screen.

Escaping with "The Key Maker" (Randall Duk Kim), Morpheus and Trinity are seeking an exit from The Matrix and are being remotely guided by "Link" (Harold Perrineau), an Operator outside The Matrix watching the action unfold through the green matrix computer code on board the space ship. His job is simple, follow Morpheus' orders, secure an exit and guide them there. For maybe the first time in this film, the Operator's guidance role is fully utilised as we cut back and forth from Link's instructions, worries and fascination for the unfolding drama as he watches the scrolling green screen of code. Sensing his friends are in desperate trouble and taking a call from "Niobe" (Jada Pinkett Smith) he sends her the co-ordinates. Meanwhile, utilising every trick in their camera book, The Wachowski's propel the first of the chase sequences along breathlessly, as the bullet riddled car containing Morpheus, Trinity and The Key Maker is being chased both by Agents, the Merovingian's guards (Twin Number 1 and Twin Number 2) and numerous police cars. The action never ceases as with every tumbling, crashing car on the free way the frenetic action is cut to another piece of drama, one of the Twin guards morphing into our hero's vehicle to kill the Key Maker and holding a hand to hand Kung Fu combat battle with Morpheus, Agents morphing into passing trucks to continue chase and other Agents leaping (bullet camera captured) from one vehicle to another in pursuit.

The mid way point of the chase is as per picture opposite, with Trinity and The Key Maker making their escape now on a motorcycle, Morpheus stays behind to brilliantly defeat the pursuing Twins (note the Samurai Sword - that will become more evident later in the scene!) and the chase resumes, with Trinity and The Key Maker on the motor cycle and two Agents in hot pursuit. What follows is another breathless chase sequence, the Key Maker's escape back to Morpheus and a rolling, brilliantly captured in every sense fight scene between Morpheus and an Agent atop a moving trailer truck. Again, the camera work and capture of the scene is magnificent as a desperate fight ensues, a Kung Fu battle with swords and knives on a moving trailer that has everything as the scene reaches it's dramatic climax. Morpheus' leap (similar to The Agents themselves) from a moving car to the top of the moving trailer is a joy, captured in bullet camera "time" it perfectly encapsulates both the tremendous vigour of this scene, a motif for the film and a brilliant showcase for The Wachowski's and the advances they pioneered throughout the trilogy.

The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

"Mr Anderson. Welcome back. We missed you".

In this, the final instalment of the trilogy, three very different scenes are dissected, each giving a slightly different slant to the story, and first we start with Seraph, Trinity and Morpheus trying to break into a nightclub for yet another showdown meeting with the Merovingian:

Eerily reminiscent of the original film's iconic shoot out scene in the foyer of an apartment building, here the action takes place first in a basement whereby four guards are quickly dispatched. One of the guards challenges Seraph with gaining entry "only way you're getting through this door is over my big, dead ass" and very quickly, and with clever cuts between the four individual demises, that prophecy has indeed come true (in joke there for Matrix fans). Taking the elevator to their destination and a nightclub housing their target, the Merovingian, Seraph confirms to his friends that either they'll meet a simple coat checking woman or "many men". As the shoot out that ensues exemplifies, they do indeed tackle many men. The action is immediately shot in bullet time captured motion, amidst the crumbling debris and bullet ridden entrance similar to the original's iconic scene, however the twist here are the Guards who immediately reside on the ceiling. Amidst the hail of bullets, slow motion and bullet time captured camera angles, Seraph, Morpheus and Trinity hunt down the guards one by one, gymnastic, running up walls, leaping in slow motion, all brilliantly edited and shot. One camera angle in particular is evident, jarring but adds to the scene brilliantly, that of an upside down angle. Every other Wachowski technique is used, but the use here of that particular angle, although not unique, certainly adds to the flavour already provided by bullet time/slow motion cameras. Two key issues are striking from this brief but excellent scene. Firstly the finale'. Trinity, getting the better of her exchanges with her assailant is shocked when he elevates from the floor to the ceiling in an apparent attempt to escape. Trinity's brief look of admiration is key, before she too elevates herself and dispatches him through a wall, with a flying Kung Fu style kick. More importantly though is the second key, and that of the dark green tinge to the scene. When used, it's very evident that we are in The Matrix, of the green computer coded reality, and it's brilliantly used again here.

The second dissected scene is a very short but equally very key scene in Neo's Quarters aboard the ship after announcing to the crew that he has to "go to the Machine City". Not because of providence or orders or even advice from The Oracle, but a gut instinct and by following his heart, he knows instinctively where he must go and how he can best help his crew and the city of Zion.

One of the rare sweet and tender scenes within the trilogy, Trinity visits Neo in his Quarters both as support and to confirm she's coming with him. Neo, stumbling over his words as he tries to outline his reasoning for having to go is tenderly cut short by Trinity and before they kiss and embrace to end the scene, Trinity shows her unbounded love for Neo:

"I knew it the moment you said you had to leave. I could see it in your face. Just like you knew the moment you looked at me.....that I was coming with you"
"Six hours ago, I told the Merovingian I was ready to give anything and everything for you. Do you know what's changed in the last six hours?. Nothing".

The third and final dissected scene is the final climatic battle scene with Agent Smith, but being the great Editor that I am, I've edited the ending. That would be a spoiler too many. However, with a heavy green tinge again particularly evident, amidst pouring rain, thunder and lightening and surrounded by hundreds of onlooking Agent Smith's, Neo calmly and slowly walks before them until one Agent Smith breaks from the pack to stand before and confront him.

Agent Smith: "Mr Anderson. Welcome back. We've missed you. You like what I've done with the place?"

Neo: "It ends tonight".

Agent Smith: "I know it does. I've seen it. That's why the rest of me is just to going to enjoy the show because we already know that I'm the one that beats you"

Neo, in trademark long black trenchcoat and sunglasses. Agent Smith similarly in trademark black suit, tie and sunglasses approach each other via slow motion cameras, amidst again the thunder and lightening, the pouring rain, the heavy green tinge of The Matrix and the signature tune of The Matrix itself, the long twisting metallic effect, sound effect. All trademarks themselves by now. Also added to the mix and tension now is a fantastic, doom laden orchestral score from Don Davis (whose music within the trilogy is often cruelly overlooked) and a swift cut ensues to a sublime overhead shot of the protagonists as they engage in the first of a series of frenetic Kung Fu style combat duels.

I will add no more but suffice to say the trilogy, though weak in it's final chapter is an astonishing overall project from The Wachowski's. Ground breaking, revolutionising cinema, challenging audiences, an inspiration even to future film makers. A monumental achievement. If only they'd toned down the CGI in the last instalment. Alas!

Speed Racer (2008)

"You think you can drive a car and change the world? It doesn't work like that!"

The weakest for me of the six films within their cinematic cannon but by no means a failure or indeed a bad film. Firstly it has severe competition! But more importantly I am not the demographic intended for this spectacular racing film and the demographic (my 9 year old son) is very enthusiastic and highly recommends this film to his age group! A very brief premise: "Speed" (Emile Hirsch) is desperately following in his brother's footsteps as a Speed Racer in intense circuit car racing. Driven on by his memories and with the support of his family he takes on all comers in some wonderfully depicted (cliche alert!) high octane, frenetic races.

The numerous race scenes are indeed frenetic and brilliantly brought to life by The Wachowski's and ably assisted by their regular collaborators, especially in the eye catching production design from Owen Paterson and edited brilliantly again by Zach Staenberg (with Roger Barton)

Hirsch as Speed certainly stands out, as do family performances from John Goodman as "Pops", Susan Sarandon as "Mom" and Nicholas Elia as "Young Speed". Buy my personal favourites and a huge hit with the demographic was Paulie Litt as "Spritle" and his pet chimpanzee "Chim Chim". Just a real joy every time the two are on screen and often hilarious!

Away from the racing family are great performances from Christina Ricci as "Trixie" and an especially brilliant over the top performance from Roger Allam as "Arnold Royalton", the bad guy if you will.
Based on the 1960's Japanese anime' series Speed Racer, it is bizarrely brilliant at times, flat at others but always with a smile on it's face and a little tongue squarely in it's cheek. The above scenes with Chim Chim are a delight, however it's not a favourite Wachowski selection for me, however their most recent addition to their fantastic cinematic cannon certainly is. In fact it's bloody brilliant!

Cloud Atlas (2012)

"On behalf of my Ministry, and the future of unanimity, I would like to thank you for this final interview"

Where do you start with Cloud Atlas without giving away huge spoilers? My first sincere recommendation would be not to watch any trailers or read any reviews (except this excellent one obviously) because the less you know beforehand, the more your cinematic and viewing pleasure will be enhanced. I knew exactly zero before I watched for the first time and am now writing this immediately after watching for a second time and I remain completely astonished at what an epic piece of cinema has been created.

A very brief premise would be: Six alternating timelines and narratives that interweave around a central belief in human beings and the human spirit of past and present lives that share a connectivity that whilst apparent on the surface have a much deeper meaning that surfaces as the film progresses. Any more than that would spoil a fantastic plot!.

Joined by Tom Tykwer on both Directing and writing duties, both Andy and Lana Wachowski are credited as both Directors and Writers of Cloud Atlas. A real collaborative effort, both Directors of Photography (Frank Griebe and John Toll) also deserve huge immediate credit for this monumental achievement in direction as every scene is crystal clear, sharp, focussed and brilliantly lit throughout. Seemingly whatever the situation or setting, the picture is pinpoint, a real joy and one of my first reactions on seeing this film was the sharp, bright resolution. Film editor Alexander Berner also deserves immediate credit as the editing between timelines is crucial to propelling the story. At nearly three hours in length this is a prerequisite and Berner has excelled magnificently here, seamlessly interweaving the contrasting timelines perfectly, as well as sharp, incisive cuts throughout the individual scenes. The film contains numerous flashbacks/forwards and dream sequences that are again seamlessly interwoven into the narrative, which on second viewing is even more impressive as our characters lives are juxtaposed against each other. This never feels forced or clumsy and is a real highlight of the film. On second viewing you also appreciate the nuances you missed in this regard on first viewing, especially the cutting between timelines and often the characters themselves, that despite being in totally different narratives are cut between each sharing similar experiences and feelings.

Based on the original novel of the same name by David Mitchell, the screenplay is utterly brilliant, as is the clever use of narration from multiple characters and the film is accompanied by a brilliant original musical score. This is also a collaboration, between Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer.

As the pictures perfectly depict, the timelines are varied to say the least. Six narrative strands and timelines, 1849, 1936, 1973, 2012, 2144 and a stone age narrative interweave brilliantly throughout the film though all seem very "present day" as you watch. The opening five minutes of the film alone depicts a number of these narrative strands and hints are made as to their connectivity.

Differing from my other film blogs and indeed the five films already appraised, I will not list the character names here for one simple reason and that is plot spoiler avoidance. Suffice to say, as the film quickly progresses through the first Act you will understand why this is the case and again I have no wish to spoil your enjoyment by giving away too many insights into the film. However, there is a stellar, all time cast on display and everyone seemingly bought into the love and affection shown this film as they portray their respective character(s) brilliantly.

Tom Hanks takes star billing alongside Halle Berry, with the brilliant Jim Broadbent again on excellent form. It is to he we look for the comedic relief in the film and there is a multitude of that when Broadbent has screen time, with some of his scenes simply charming, often charmingly funny. Hugo Weaving again returns to a Wachowski film on star form and both Jim Sturgess and Ben Whishaw are stand out performers. Keith David and James D'Arcy are superb, as are veterans Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant. Taking the top acting honours though is Doona Bae with a sublime performance throughout her character(s). As you will note from the above films and hopefully my other film blogs (hint hint!) I usually breakdown both the character and the actor's performance when reviewing a film, however here I feel I need to keep this absent and vague to reduce spoilers to a minimum. My earlier comment still stands, that being everyone involved on this film clearly gave their all with each and every performance. It simply shines from the screen from everyone.

Whilst there is violence, some of which is bloody, graphically portrayed and shocking, and a timeline that always disorientates you and never gives you a firm footing for "present day", the film continues to resonate with me on a number of levels. There are easy comparisons to be made with distinct parts of this film with The Matrix and even Blade Runner, however a comparison can also be made on many levels with Christopher Nolan's "Inception". Whereas that cinematic masterpiece dealt with the reality of dreams, it can be argued that Cloud Atlas is similar but dealing with actual lives, past lives and how they resonate through to future lives as well. It can also be argued that both these films share a real sharp projection, a brightness that catches the eye immediately and is always present. The Matrix and Blade Runner comparisons are more stark but again, to go into detail here would simply spoil the plot but the nods and homages are there. 

Simply put, it's a brilliant film about our inter connectedness across lives, a soul that carries on through other lives, an indomitable human spirit that we all possess but often disregard. Our footprint, and how our actions can cause equal and opposite reactions in lives and indeed realms unseen, and of a spirit in a world or galaxy far beyond our comprehension. A film about love and compassion for others, there's also a high level of spirituality and religion hinted at. But as with The Matrix and indeed Blade Runner there are also hints at a darker side to humanity and of forces beyond our control. There are images of an automated future, machine driven, and of a compassion vacuum so set against our human moral values. There are also numerous references to historical figures and of events to come that will shape the world we inhabit. Of historical events that have become perceived wisdom through repetition and not through the exploration of the heart. That indeed maybe the true heart of the film. Not acceptance of the "way life is" but rather the empowerment to change those perceived wisdoms, through our spirit and our human traits of compassion and love. Or maybe I've just loved this film a little too much. Decide for yourselves. It's simply astonishing.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

No comments:

Post a Comment