Saturday, April 12, 2008


Born: 2 September 1964
Where: Beirut, Lebanon
Awards: No Major Awards
Height: 6' 1"

Few film stars, and very few who earn $15 million per movie, have suffered as many critical batterings as Keanu Reeves. They've usually been fierce, too, contending that Reeves is so wooden, so expressionless that he must rank amongst the worst actors in Hollywood. It seems so unfair. After all, he first broke through playing a succession of alienated teenagers, culminating with the arch dumbo Ted "Theodore" Logan in Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure. You have to think that the opinions of Reeves' critics are based more on his characters than his performances. They think he's some blockheaded Valley Boy who struck gold - in fact, he's not even American.

Add to this the rest of his CV. Reeves has worked with many of cinema's finest directors - Bertolucci, Coppola, Kenneth Branagh, Gus Van Sant, Lawrence Kasdan, Ron Howard, Stephen Frears, not to mention action greats like Kathryn Bigelow, Andrew Davis and Jan De Bont. He's acted alongside Al Pacino, Cate Blanchett, Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington, Anthony Hopkins, William Hurt, John Malkovich, Glenn Close, Dianne Wiest. If he was as bad as some say, how could he ever have built up a list like this? And if your answer to that question is "Well, he's good-looking, isn't he?" you clearly haven't been watching his progress. The guy works hard, he's taken risks right from the start, and he's delivered some startling performances along the way. Read on, and judge for yourself.

He was born Keanu Charles Reeves on the 2nd of September, 1964, in Beirut. His father Samuel Nowlin Reeves, a part-Chinese part-Hawaiian geologist had married English showgirl Patricia Taylor there, the couple having met after he'd seen her performing at a nightclub. His name, Keanu, is Hawaiian for "cool breeze over the mountains". Well, literally-speaking it means "the coolness", but the fancy extension is forgivable. We all need a little more poetry in our lives, don't we?

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Matrix

So you thought Star Wars was going to be the biggest sci-fi movie of the year, right? Time to re-evaluate.

Because this ground-breaking picture not only proves that the Wachowski Brothers (the writer-director team previously responsible for Bound, a film noir mafia thriller with a certain, erm, female bent) know their business inside out, but also flourishes a weighty gauntlet in the face of Lucasfilm might.

And it's gone down an absolute storm in the States.

Here's the science fiction bit: concentrate. After some pretty hairy flight early on, computer hacker Thomas Neo' Anderson (Keanu Reeves) with Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), a near mythical rebel leader whose revelations yank the rug of the reality from beneath Anderson wholesale.

Reality, in fact, is not real. Rather a comprehensively sophisticated virtual reality. The year is actually more like 2199, and the world is run by machines that have achieved Artificial Intelligence.

They're only need for mankind is as an electro-magnetic power source. So human beings are born into pods of pink goo, and tapped as batteries. Living out the hugely complex, late 90s simulation is what keeps our brains pulsing, and the power flowing.

But Morpheus and co have escaped, and exist outside the Matrix, hacking back in to effect high-risk rescues. And they've rescued Neo because they believe he has the potential to take the fight back to the machines. The potential to win, and to free us all.

It's difficult to convey all this film has to offer. The story is fab, tapping internet paranoia as well as the current fascination with virtual reality computer games, while offering a dark, Blade Runner-style future vision.

Within this, the action is terrific: the principal cast training for four months pre-shoot to sell breakneck martial arts sequences using Hong Kong wire techniques (allowing for seriously high kicking), and a barrage of weaponry that would make even Face/Off director John Woo blush.

The cast, however, deftly manage acting amongst the action, as Fishburne adds heavy presence and makes the burden of plot advancement seem effortless; newcomer Carrie-Anne Moss (as his deputy Trinity) does slick and sexy; and the character of Neo plays directly to Reeves' strengths: ie looking very cool despite sense of vague bewilderment.

Indeed, the movie is positively drenched with cool, from flapping three-quarter length leather coats, to an array of designer shades (Fishburne's don't even have arms) and slo-mo scenes all over the shop. Andy and Larry Wachowski's pacing is superb, there's no room for boredom here, there's barely enough time to breathe.

Special effects wise, it is simply stunning, and jolts the top-end benchmark onto the next eye-popping plane. Crucially though, these effects always have people at the centre, which - for all the vaunted advances in computerised trickery - is more tangibly impressive than pure digital image alone.

And this, though I hesitate to suggest it, is where - for the older generation at least - The Matrix may have the edge over The Phantom Menace.

Having said all of the above, the most succinct summary comes from Morpheus alone: "No-one can explain The Matrix to you - you have to see it for yourself."

And these are just about the wisest words going.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Matrix Reloaded

There are a few basic rules that all sequels should follow, particularly those in the action genre. A terrific opening sequence for a start, followed by a gentle reminder of the plot from the first film alongside some self-deprecating humour to put the audience at ease and know we are back on familiar ground. But enough of X-Men 2. The Matrix Reloaded dispenses with all of the above and is a film that takes itself very, very seriously indeed, so much so that a better film to compare it to might be The Phantom Menace.

The first major action sequence of The Matrix Reloaded sees Neo (Reeves) battling his nemesis Agent Smith once again. It's impressive stuff, and one of three hugely expensive set-pieces in the film, but it doesn't arrive until an hour of screen time has elapsed. Prior to this we have an hour set mostly on Zion, the last bastion of humanity and one which is under imminent attack from the machines. Unfortunately the great part of this hour is taken up with leaden dialogue largely concerning the political structure of Zion. Council meetings figure strongly (as well as a somewhat bizarre sweaty rave sequence) and the resulting opening makes an eager audience palpably shift in its seats.

This disappointing first hour also fails to tell us little that we didn't know or expect already. In order to avert the attack, the humans are going to have to send out an emissary (Neo and his ship), re-enter The Matrix, and follow some cod pseudo-intellectual rules laid down by The Oracle (Gloria Foster). Thus we are prepared for a final hour in which Neo runs from place to place (while being haunted by dreams of the death of his beloved Trinity) piecing together clues in order to avert the end of humanity.

Admittedly some of these scenes do hit the mark, notably when Neo discovers the luminous Persephone (Monica Belucci) and gives her prissy French boyfriend a timely come-uppance. There is also a spectacular highway chase scene (although worryingly the CGI effects are noticeable at several points).

But these rare highs fail to make up for the fact that this is a ponderous and often slow film weighed down by its own sense of self-importance. Like The Phantom Menace, the film will have a critic-proof audience destined to make it one of the biggest earners of all time, but in the long term it will be seen as a rather weak bridging film before the third part in the trilogy Matrix Revolutions opens in six months' time.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Helpfull info

What is "The Matrix"? A slam-bang sci-fi spectacular that shouldn't work, but somehow does. Exceptionally well.
matrix info

The Wachowski brothers, who made a splash a couple of years back with their debut effort "Bound", certainly have a knack for making high-octane films that are never short of atmosphere, style, or thrills. With art direction reminiscent of last year's under-appreciated "Dark City" and Hong Kong-style action choreography, "The Matrix" provides science fiction the much-needed infusion of new blood, which has suffered in recent months from a spate of average-to-mediocre offerings, such as "Star Trek: Insurrection" and "Wing Commander". Furthermore, in a theatrical market that will be soon overcrowded with two more films of the 'virtual reality' genre, namely David Cronenberg's "eXistenZ" and Centropolis' "The Thirteenth Floor", these qualities will help make "The Matrix" the film that most audiences will remember.

Carrie-Anne Moss and Keanu Reeves

When Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves of "Speed") isn't working as a computer programmer at a major software development firm, he is busily hacking into protected systems and committing computer crimes for hire as his alter-ego, Neo. While working at home late one night, he receives a puzzling and interactive message on his computer screen, ordering him to 'follow the white rabbit'. A short time after this strange occurrence, Neo receives an invitation to an underground rave from one of his 'customers'. At first, Neo rejects the offer, but when he notices that one of the women heading to the rave has a white rabbit tattoo on her arm, he becomes intrigued and decides to go.

Are you telling me that I can dodge bullets?

No... what I'm telling you Neo, is that when you're ready, you won't have to.

It is at the rave that Neo comes into contact with a mysterious woman named Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), who works for a man named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), a hacker of legendary stature that Neo has long-aspired to contact. However, it is revealed that Morpheus has actually been searching for Neo for a number of years, convinced that Neo is 'The One' who will liberate humanity from 'the Matrix', a vast virtual reality system which up until now, Neo had thought was 'the real world'.

The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

It seems that in the future, mankind has been enslaved by intelligent machines which use humans as a power source. In order to keep the humans unaware of their enslavement, the Machines have constructed the Matrix, a computer representation of Earth in the twilight years of the twentieth century. Neo was supposedly born with some special powers that would allow him to manipulate the Matrix and help defeat the Machines, and so Morpheus immediately begins his training to use those special powers to their fullest. Meanwhile, the Machines are also aware of Neo's existence, and they dispatch a number of sentient agents (men in black) to capture him, under the leadership of Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving).

I know what you're thinking, 'cause I'm thinking the exact same thing. Actually, I've been thinking it since I got here: why didn't I take the blue pill?

At first glance, you would think that "The Matrix" would be a bad movie. There is no denying that "The Matrix" shamelessly plunders the sci-fi archives, filching plot elements from old "Twilight Zone" episodes, "The Terminator", the books of William Gibson, among others. Furthermore, the Wachowski brothers have also thrown in some overused Christian motifs, Lewis Carroll references, and bits of existentialist philosophy for good measure. Furthermore, they cast Keanu Reeves in the lead, not known for his great thespian skills and who hasn't been in a good movie in the past few years since "Speed". All in all, it looked like "Johnny Mnemonic" all over again.

You're going to help us Mr. Anderson... whether you like it or not.

However, "The Matrix" manages to defy expectations. Despite the seemingly-cliché plot, the Wachowskis have combined the story's elements into a serpentine narrative rife with intrigue and a surprising amount of intelligence. And while the film requires a lot of exposition to keep the audience up to speed, the attention paid to the story's pacing helps to keep things moving along without putting the audience to sleep.

So what do you need, besides a miracle?

Guns... lots of guns.

The visual splendor that the Wachowskis invested in "Bound" is also apparent here. The textured scenes are painted with a pallet of light and shadow, and brought to life through a number of cinematic techniques that call to mind the films of John Woo ("Face/Off"). The world of "The Matrix" is a bleak cyberpunk interpretation of our modern-day world in which ominous silhouettes and claustrophobic paranoia are around every corner. And when it comes to the action sequences, including the film's unforgettable clip-burning shoot-out in a marble foyer, the Wachowskis are masters at combining the old standards of American action films, the acrobatic grace of Hong Kong action cinema, and the visual flourishes of Japanese anime to create a series of very slick and sexy skirmishes, whether they be with automatic weapons or mano-a-mano.

Furthermore, the use of computer technology in the special effects is quite prominent, especially the use of 'bullet-time photography'. In bullet-time photography, a series of cameras, each running at a thousand frames per second, are placed around the object of interest, which then allows for computer manipulation of the speed and trajectories of the objects that comprise the shot. Although this technique has been used before in a number of films (including "Lost in Space", "Wing Commander", and commercials by The Gap), "The Matrix" is the first time that this has been used so extensively and to such great effect.

Never send a human to do a machine's job.

The film is also surprisingly well cast, especially with Reeves as the lead. Reeves is really only suited for roles in which the acting demands are light, not requiring too much emoting or finesse, and the role of Neo is perfect for him. As Neo, Reeves only has to look puzzled, act cool and handle a gun, all of which he does without difficulty. Fishburne has quite a commanding presence in the role of Morpheus, and Weaving is exceptional as Agent Smith, using his perfect enunciation and dry demeanor effectively to create a menacing villain that audiences will love to hate. And while the demands on the rest of the cast are light amidst all the intrigue and action, they all fulfill their responsibilities pretty well and manage to look good at the same time.

With its penchant for creating juicy pieces of cinematic eye candy, labyrinthine plot machinations, bona fide 'gee-whiz' moments, and terrific action sequences, "The Matrix" is the perfect remedy for those jaded moviegoers who think that they've already seen everything when it comes to action movies and sci-fi cinema. The Wachowski brothers have outdone themselves once again, and I can't wait to see what they come up with next.