Posts posted by NickMazzuca
A strident yes!
First off, Cameron Esposito brought a wonderfully-informed queer reading to The Matrix that made this episode one of my favorites. This one is getting saved to the permanent archive on my iPod.
Why The Matrix? Amy (as well as other posters) voice the criticism that The Matrix is kickstarted plenty of bad Late 90’s/Early 2000’s tropes and repackaged the hero mythos into a pop mess… like Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back. Like those two films it may have been ripped off by every wannabe, but upon a rewatch it retains the same verve back in 1999. The editing remains as lean and effective as ever, and the Wachowski’s sure handle on tone is always apparent. They never go overboard. Those signature effects sequences you remember? They're used sparingly. Those playful moments (like the DING!) never intrusively wink at you, and every moment when the film starts to get overly portentous a character lets a little bit of the hot air out. This could have been a self-indulgent slog rather than one of the best sci/fi action movies of all time.
If you want to see goofy, watch Sense8. A pivotal chase seen involves a subcompact car and a bike. 4 Non-Blondes’ “What’s Up?” is used as an anthem of unity and togetherness. The Real Meaning of Christmas has “Hallelujah” as its backing track.
And it’s glorious.
One major reason why I think that this absolutely needs to be in the canon is the fact that The Matrix (as Esposito stated) is the most successful work from our most-successful trans filmmakers. Sure, The Matrix could be mistaken for another “Mediocre White Man Saves the World by Realizing How Awesome He Is” narrative, but the fact that two trans filmmakers heavily coded so much subversiveness into a summer action action movie, added as much diversity as they could, and managed execute it as briskly as they did? Bonkers. Almost unreal.
I’m convinced that the reason why The Matrix works so well (compared to its sequels) is because The Wachowski’s knew that this was their one shot at making the Big Queer Cyberpunk Superhero movie they always wanted to make, and they stuffed as much in as possible before anyone found out. Seriously, if you expect it to be any more explicit, you have to remember that this got greenlit in the mid-to-late 90’s. Matthew Shepard was murdered for being gay in 1998. Hedwig didn’t become a movie until 2001. Brokeback didn’t come out until 2006. There's no way you were going to get someone to give you $63 million for an action sci fi movie without the word "Star" in it's title in the late 90's if you pitched it as "Gay Cyberpunk Kung Fu Superheroes Win The Internet."
Also, personally, it tracks. I grew up in the Midwest. I was one of those black-trench art goths who worshipped technology, and the notion that my reality was slightly off and that something was different and wrong with how the world saw me. I thought it was because I was an awkward nerd. And I was. And still am. But ever since I embraced my own gender reality all of the beats of the Matrix fall right into place. You spend a lot of time and energy struggling against prescribed definitions until you finally accept that you are the person you are, not the person someone else (or society) judged you to be. It takes a lot of mental work, and everyone falls the first time.
But eventually you do fly.
Amy mentioned how the Wachowskis’ contemporary trans filmmaker narrative doesn’t jive with the ‘nerdy DND-playing construction worker brothers who make movies’ narrative put forth during the initial publicity. Me? I’m pretty glad that two nerd brothers in Chicago grew up to become a pair of fabulous women who changed the course of a male-coded genre and went on to make big, gay action-packed love stories.
And, seriously, watch Sense8.
An aside about the Even/Odd Quality split:
Three has a lot of tonal shifts that undercut the impact of the end, and if Amy complained about simplistic, unmotivated camera work, then she'd best stay away from Nimoy's first Trek film. TMP works as a meditative SF film under the loving hand of Robert Wise - a bit stately, some of the characters haven't quite settled in, but if it were, say, a Russian deconstruction of a hippie dippie wagon train to the stars, yeah, it would work. Decker kinda doesn't work, both a result of the character and Collin's acting.
Three needed a slightly bigger budget, better pacing and tone, and a more dynamic visual eye.
I'm disappointed that the Jabramsverse folks didn't try the long bomb and reboot Final Frontier. Think about it: Chris Pine is lousy at portraying deep-seat regret at how he's hurt people and ruined lives. Khan has no history with him, and he's still just a punk in a gold smock. What he is, however, is a back-talking, petulant brat who would mouth off to the "supreme being" and demand to see ID.
Chris Pine would totally demand to know why the supreme being needs his starship.
I have to vote “Yes” for a number of reasons.
First, there’s the cultural impact – not that of Trek, per se, but how much this film has become infused in the DNA of nerd movies. Amy made the cutting crack previous episode about how Into Darkness tried to ape this to a ‘T,’ but Into Darkness isn’t even the first Star Trek that tried to catch this lighting in a bottle again. As much as we credit Empire for the Downer Ending Second Film pattern, most every nerd film vying for character-based depth and stakes tries to copy Wrath of Khan’s beats in one form or another. That sounds like faint praise, but there is something to be said about the original remaining fresh and vital long after it’s been shamelessly copied.
It’s also the single best adaptation of Moby Dick ever put onscreen. No. Seriously. Re-read the final battle of Moby Dick. The ships’ turns even match Melville’s description!
I found it odd that Amy dinged it for ‘cheap, tv-like’ production values. For a film that was made on a shoestring, written in two weeks, and rushed through production it hides its flaws well and makes each element count. Yes, some of the costumes are dated, but the important stuff all clicks – and because the aesthetic is cohesive it does much of the legwork for the world building and informs the characters.
James Horner’s score is a masterpiece, and hearing it in the theatre is spirited, soaring, and absolutely joyful. There’s a reason why the opening credits is set to the overture. With nothing more than titles and a star field Horner gives us all of the tonal cues for how to approach the movie. It will be jaunty, somber, and thrilling in turns so that with the reveal of “In the 23rd Century” we know everything we need… and then, just when we expect Jim Kirk to burst onscreen… it’s this young woman in an officer’s uniform. As much as Devin leans on authorial intent (and Amy dismisses it) there is much to be made from how it embraces and challenges expectations throughout. It’s always engaging you with its characters.
I also have to hand it to each of the cast (and Meyer’s script). Wrath of Khan is not frenetically paced, but it is economical and propulsive with its beats. Shatner gets the bulk of the character time for Kirk, but each of the crew gets individual moments that allow them to assert who they are. Watch the framing when Kirk enters the bridge for the first time. Takei’s smile pops into focus to greet him. With only his face he tells us that, yes, the family is back together, doing the thing they’re best at. It’s little touches like that where Meyer uses each element of filmmaking to show us rather than tell us. He doesn’t use a lot of flashy camera work, but the choices he and his team made all served to draw us in without calling attention to themselves. It’s spare, simple, effective filmmaking.
While Amy thinks that Spock is barely in the movie, I have to disagree. Every one of his scenes are about his relationship to Kirk and the crew. His death is set up from the beginning (no, not the fake-out) when he and Kirk are in his cabin. Spock out-and-out states that his ideals of logic and service are greater than himself. Every time he makes a choice, he either honors those ideals clearly or is challenged about them (see Saavik’s “You lied.”). This is why Spock’s death resonates. Note that when Kirk says “warp speed or we’re all dead” the camera stays fixed on Nimoy, and Meyer holds the shot – not lazily, but long enough to allow us to see Spock weigh the options, consider the cost, and make the choice. It’s a gutsy shot because the entire film’s catharsis weighs on… an actor portraying an emotionless character thinking onscreen. Nimoy sells it, and it works because most of the film’s acting has centered on Shatner and Montalban’s bombastic performances. That simple, quiet moment signals to us that this problem will not be solved with phaser fire but instead by a character making a personal choice to fulfill their ideals.
Amy said that she found the jaunty music incongruous with the emotional cost of Spock’s death, thereby undercutting the impact. To the contrary, that sequence more or less serves as the core of the Star Trek ethos. A lesser movie (like, say… Into Darkness) would view Spock’s death as a tragedy when, indeed, it’s his personal triumph. Star Trek has always been a vision of humanist ideals. Both Kirk’s best friend and greatest enemy are men of principle, and that scene literally features a ticking clock where Khan clings to his selfishness and vengeance while Spock maintains his dedication to logic and his companions. Khan’s music is the dark, menacing scary music of impending death. Spock’s music is that of man going to work and embodying his highest ideals. That’s why the music swells in victory. Spock may have traded his life for his friends’, but his death was not a life cut short. It was his chance to perform to the best of his abilities in the service of his friends.
That is Star Trek in a nutshell. Even though there’s a grand space battle, the problem is not solved by killing Khan. It is solved by good people acting intelligently and performing to the best of their abilities. The thesis of Star Trek is that we will overcome our challenges by being our best selves. The moment of sadness comes not when Spock dies. It is when Kirk realizes that he cannot embrace his friend as he passes – that he cannot have a fully human moment.
That’s why this is a hard yes for me. With a single sequence Nick Meyer was able to distill not just a franchise but an entire philosophy. On top of that, he gave us a richly enjoyable piece of popular art. It is, as FimCritHulk would say, an inherently functional movie of that earns our empathy, indulges our sense of adventure, and challenges us to see the world a bit better.
I just saw it last night on the big screen.
Most of the individual elements are great. The production design is fantastic, but the tone is all over the place, the cinematography is uneven, and the effects look highly dated on the big screen. They looked great on 80's CRT televisions, but on the big screen there's some dreadful stuff.
Also, Jennifer Connelly... took a while to grow into her acting chops. The film is anchored to a very weak performance.
That Goblin masquerade and the Escher dungeon sequence are brilliant, though.
My guess is that Amy is going to go soft-yes for ambition and it's odd intersection of genres. Devin's going to go soft-no for how poorly it holds up compared to other, better genre films.
Everyone is going hard-yes for Bowie.
Just a handy tip for everyone in the greater Philadelphia area: Labyrinth is playing at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute on Thursday, 8/25/16 at 7:15.
So, yeah, if you feel like doing your homework for next week's episode in the best possible manner, then go watch this on the big screen.
Episode 121 - The Matrix (w/ Cameron Esposito)
in The Canon
Part of the problem is that most versions of Batman view the persona as a functional response to Bruce Wayne's mental illness and lean on one-note characterizations of a depression that is best remedied by becoming Batman.
The tragedy of Bruce Wayne is the fact that as the richest man on earth if he truly wanted to get better he could get some excellent therapy and take as much time as he needs to being a functional person. Instead he papers over it with jets and gadgets and beating up criminals to feel like he's making the world a better place - all while his loved ones enable him to do so.
But then you'd be pulling the fig leaf off the indulgent aspects of the mythos, and rarely do people want to see their fantasies stripped away and laid bare. Logan managed it, but then again, Logan was a one-off affair.