Friday, May 30, 2003

A Mighty Wind

This is cute, softball satire from director Chris Guest. The ten people in America who dig folk music will spot various correspondences. (Oh! They're the New Christy Minstrels!) Harry Shirer, Michael McKean, Eugene Levy, Catharine O'Hara and various other Second City refugees get to do funny, character-based improv. It's funny enough. I wanted to like it. But satirically, it's weak. As film-making, it's just plain lazy. Here's why ...

Pseudo satire
If you satirize something, satirize it. If you do a caricature of Jimmy Durante, draw a big nose for Christ's sake. In terms of American folk music, anti-war anthems and leftwing politics are the pinko elephants in the room. Chris Guest chooses to ignore those elephants. He satirizes a parallel world folk movement in which Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger never existed. That's not satire. It's gutless nostalgia disguised as satire.

Lazy film-making
Like a good forgery, a good "mockumentary" works when you can't distinguish it from the real thing. Rob Reiner's This is Spinal Tap succeeded because he took its premise seriously. He did his best to pretend that a real documentary filmmaker was following a real heavy metal band around. Reiner gave you the camera angles, editing and interaction between director, film crew and band that would have actually happened in real life. Reiner told his joke with a straight face, and that's what made it funny.

To Guest, the pseudo-documentary nature of "A Mighty Wind" is an inside joke with his audience. He's going through the motions, but doesn't take the premise seriously or bother to make it realistic. My most-hated scene? The Folksmen have a conversation in a car; there's no hint that the cameraman is actually sitting in the car with them. My second most-hated scene? The Eugene Levy character goes nuts and wanders onto Times Square. The camera follows him, but who's holding the camera? Everybody inside the auditorium is frantically looking for Levy's character -- who's supposed to go on stage for a big number with his ex-wife. The phantom cameraman doesn't bother to explain, "Hey guys, he's out here." To make matters worse, Guest intercuts the objective shots with Levy's first-person, subjective POV. Evidently, the documentary filmmaker had cameras inside his eyeballs.

Some funny songs. Some touching character moments. Yeah.

But it could've been better.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Morpheus speech - rewrite

Morpheus: Zion! Hear me! It is true, what many of you have heard. The machines have gathered an army, and as I speak that army is drawing nearer to our home. Believe me when I say we have a difficult time ahead of us. But if we are to be prepared for it, we must first shed our fear of it! I stand here before you now, truthfully unafraid. Why? Because I believe something you do not? No! I stand here without ear because I remember. I remember that I am here not because of the path that lies before me, but because of the path that lies behind me! I remember that for 100 years we have fought these machines. I remember that for 100 years they have send their armies to destroy us. And after a century of war, I remember that which matters most. We are still here! Tonight let us send a message to that army. Tonight let us shake this cave! Tonight let us tremble these halls of earth, steel, and stone! Let us be heard from red core to black sky. Tonight, let us make them remember. This is Zion! And we are not afraid!


Morpheus: Zion!

The dancing people give him their attention.

Morpheus: I'll get right to the point. You've probably heard the rumor. The machines are coming for us. The final fight is days away. It's not a secret anymore. The rumor is true. You people already know that. But you're still dancing. At a time like this? If the machines could see you now ... This is completely illogical! (shouts) You people must be out of your minds! I am, too. (laughs)

The crowd shares his laugh.

Morpheus: The machines will never understand. That's what makes us different. That's why we fight. That's why we'll win. Keep dancing!

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Matrix Rebloated

OK. The Matrix Reloaded. Close, but no cigar. This is to be expected. Aside from violating the second law of thermodynamics, the original Matrix was a near perfect SF movie. Smart, Phildickian ideas. Kickass pacing. Inspired visuals.

The first movie ended with revolution's promise. Neo stands at an outdoor payphone. He phones the Agents and informa them he was going to start waking people up and show them what was possible. And spread the DNA of his revolution. We pan up from the payphone. Neo flies up into the sky like Superman to the tune of Rage Against the Machine. Cool.

What's even cooler -- the ending of the first Matrix implies that Neo will start a revolution in the next sequel: a system-wide awakening of humans throughout the Matrix. I would've liked to have seen that movie.

This is not that movie.

Hey, I'm not saying it's a bad movie. Just not the near-perfect, groundbreaking triumph the first one was.

Instead of an awakening an uprising, we get an Antagonist with a capital A. Agent Smith. He's back, baby. Smith, after being ripped to snotgreen cybershreds, is resurrected as a "free" Agent. (Hey, that's a good one.) No earjack. He's Agent Smith, unplugged. (OK, that's fucking enough.) But Smith turns to the dark side and -- by imposing his code on other beings within the Matrix -- starts spreading himself like a virus.

OK, so the big story structure is Agent Smith vs. Neo. Let's get ready to rumble! Aside from that, there's lots of complicated kudzu. Hey, it's interesting kudzu. It's exciting kudzu. There's more kickass fighting that's fun to watch but moves the story like a fucking millimeter forward.

Remember Neo's fight with Morpheus in the virtual dojo in the first movie? That had a point. He was learning the cartoon warrior possibilities of freeing your mind. In this installment, there's a long, drawn-out battle on top of semi trucks. It had something to do with the fucking Keymaster. This tiny oriental guy who grinds keys that open doors. A, uh, literal Keymaster. Evidently, the Doormaster was busy.

Kudzu, red herrings, more kudzu. Where the plot of #1 is as clean as the flight of a Zen arrow, this is as convoluted as a bad lie. There's Merovingians, scary, twin, albino ghosts with whiteboy dreadlocks, a love story and a clip of George Bush on the Architect's TV. (Evidently, the AI IT guy.) Oh, yeah. And one really bad, long, boring speech that Morpheus gives at a rave in Zion. Morpheus is the god of sleep, of course. He lives up to his fucking name.

In the end, the big reveal is that Agent Neo is a Jesus/Judas Goat who gets generated every few years or so to lead a bunch of merry meatbags to Zion so the machines can kill all the other humans plugged into the system -- then reboot it to 1999. The machines then plug all the merry souls back into the new Matrix. They form the basis of the rebooted society until it's time to hit the reset button again.

It's an interesting idea. It's an idea that throws the original Matrix on its head. "The One" isn't really the savior -- he's part of the machine's control system. Didn't see that coming. I kinda like it. I was never comfy with the notion of Neo as Jesus with sunglasses.

At the same time, it's too much of a switcheroo. Sequels seem to have two big pitfalls. Either slavishly repeating the original and turning it into a formula. Or subverting what was good about the original by changing the recipe too much. I think the brothers Wachowski did the latter. They turned a gnostic parable of liberation into an overblown, CG-heavy, cyberpunk action flick stuffed with sophomoric philosophy. Not to mention Cornell West. And the fucking Keymaster.

But there's still a way to save it in the third sequel. Let's say this is all misdirection. Zion is another level of the Matrix. A different system where the machines let the human malcontents escape to. All this horseshit where they're trying to wipe the humans out is just a game the machines like to play. Neo, Morpheus and friends still haven't awakened yet. They real revolution hasn't even started.

And now you've got the basis of a Matrix 3 that would truly kick ass.

While we're at it, we could explain that the humans really aren't batteries. That's a joke the machines are playing on us. They're really using the humans as a networked system to run their software -- because the connections in our organic brains exceed the possibilities of silicon. The Matrix, in other words, is running in us. Humanity isn't the power source. We're the hardware.

But I'm probably not going to see that movie either.