Category Archives: 1.5 stars

Man of Steel (2013)

With a poster this cold and distant, it doesn't bode well for the planet's adopted son.

With a poster this cold and distant, it doesn’t bode well for the planet’s adopted son.

1.5 stars out of 4.

Are truth, justice and the American way still relevant in 2013? This is the central question behind Man of Steel that of the singular most iconic superhero’s worth in this post-modern world. Can the inherent Kryptonian Boy Scout make a difference anymore? In this Christopher Nolan produced vision it comes at the cost of the character.

The film is an exasperatingly frustrating thing to sit through. Sure the story elements are upfront, but in fact they may be too upfront at the cost of seeming redundant. Superman (Henry Cavill) comes across as more of a reactionary figure being prodded along by the plot than Earth’s lone protector. Inherent are many problems which recall those of Watchmen, a film dedicated entirely to replicating a graphic novel to the point of inducing sleep in its audiences because the presentation was so completely overdone and lacked the story’s impact.

Whoever decided Zack Snyder was the appropriate choice to direct a Superman film should have their head examined. Watchmen was a film so far away from Superman in energy, tone, characterization, plotting, length and presentation that you couldn’t have done worse if you tried. The relative backlash against the ill-fated Superman Returns (Though it made nearly $400 million for the studio, it was deemed a failure) as a quasi-sequel to Superman I and II has led to an extremely dull and relatively witless sci-fi post-modern actioner.

And this is truly a dull picture. The film opens with Kal-el’s birth, supposedly the first live Kryptonian birth in centuries because Krypton is now suddenly a dystopic sci-fi nightmare. The opening shots of this new Superman film are extremely lingering close-ups of Lara in childbirth. Yes, because this is how we need to open a Superman film after seven years. To make a longer story short (and this runs somewhere around twenty minutes or so, presumably to cram in a few more action set pieces and give Russell Crowe time in action.) Krypton is about to implode due to over harvesting of resources, nobody ever believes Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and General Zod (Michael Shannon, in a low-key role is a poor substitute for Terrence Stamp) comes on his bid for conquest, now under the guise of attempting to save the planet (which gets very tired very quickly) whilst in actuality placing himself as sole ruler. Jor-el manages to escape and places the infant Kal in a space pod, but only after spending time in another action sequence to steal a codex containing Kryptonian genetics to send with Kal in order to preserve Krypton or somehow or perhaps to serve the plot later….

In short, Kal is finally sent off into space, Zod and his insurrection are sent to the Phantom Zone  but not before Zod declaring his vengeance against Kal-el (Does this really make any sense?) and finally if not mercifully Krypton explodes.

The pod lands on Earth, and instead of receiving any sort of conventional origin story either detailed or abbreviated, we are told in brief flashbacks whilst the young Clark Kent is drifting around the world in search of himself. (In one of many obvious and unnecessary elements stolen directly from Batman Begins, which in turn lifted from Batman: Year One.) For some reason the current trend of revealing a character’s childhood backstory in multiple short flashbacks throughout the course of the main narrative is continually re-used despite being absolutely disjointing and extremely ineffective.  (Think of the abomination that was Speed Racer.) This sets up Clark’s childhood in Smallville, living as the child of Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, both horribly underused) and struggling to come to terms with his strange differences from everyone else.

After several sequences of his trying and dull nomadic episodes and their eventual payoff by revealing his superhuman abilities, Clark infiltrates a government expedition where we first meet Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and finds an abandoned Kryptonian scout ship. After rescuing Lois form the ship’s defenses, we are greeted by the obligatory scene in these films of the dead-father-hologram-explaining-who-Clark-Kent-really-is-and-what-he-is-supposed-to-do.

Lois recovers and sets out to track down this mystery man who she firmly believes is an alien. After a few days research, she actually manages to do this and arrives at the Kent farm, where Clark recounts his adoptive father’s death. Jonathan Kent’s death is another moment in Man of Steel that throws a monkey wrench into the proceedings in that it sets up a situation that is extremely contrived and also very easy for Clark to overcome while not revealing himself. Originally Kent dies of a heart attack and it is Clark’s inability to prevent his death that torments him with a sense of guilt and greater responsibility that forms a central touchstone of the character’s identity.

After more unnecessary exposition Zod announces his bid for world destruction unless Kal hands himself over. After some debate, Clark hands himself over to the military in the Superman guise, and we are finally told the plot that we already knew was coming thirty minutes in. It is now a Mano- e-Mano battle between Superman and Zod’s army, bent on the destruction of Earth in order to create a new Kryptonian world to rule.

Things blow up. Buildings crumble, a city becomes a veritable wasteland of debris, all while the human race watches dumbfounded. After a few minutes you cease to care as the images are so disjointed and monotonous that the audience is immediately distanced from the story once more. This is a film where the actors are clearly giving it their all, but are continually dragged down by the unyielding mass of junk around them. It is virtually impossible to tread water in this for longer than an hour. The film lasts nearly two and a half hours.

The most problematic element besides the cliff notes script is the camerawork that should have never been deemed releasable. There are incessant artificial snap zooms in and out of the frame that are so completely disorienting that you simply want to leave the auditorium. The action is so constant and dull that I found myself disconnected from the movie frequently, and struck more by things like the film grain visible. (The film was mercifully shot on 35mm, and the grain visible in the DI is very pleasant.) In contrast, the camerawork in the dialogue scenes is marred often by some truly horrid shakycam that absolutely wrecks the scenes in question.

The bland visuals do not help either. This film, like its modern brethren are shot in a very cold harsh light, and timed in the edit suite to be extremely harsh, devoid of any real color. It is an unpleasant film to look at. As for the sound mix, it was rather dull and all over the place. The Dolby 7.1 surround is too loud in the action at the expense of detail and too soft in the quiet moments, as was Dark Knight Rises.

Man of Steel is a picture that is no fun. I was interested in the characters, in what was going on with them and how they reacted to one another. The actors are really trying with what material they have, but are continually dragged down by the surrounding movie.

We all get it. The studio wanted a Dark Knight Superman. Supposedly, Superman is so out of place in 2013 that he isn’t allowed to exist anymore as he has since 1938, and must be heavily modified to suit modern tastes. Man of Steel is a film that stars Superman, but at the cost of mild-mannered Clark Kent. There is none of the Superman we have come to know and respect after 75 years. And yes, I know that this is supposedly an origin story. It is as lacking of the titular hero’s character as the Nolan Bat-films which feature so little of Batman’s identity that they can hardly be considered Batman films any longer.

And top all of this off by simply reusing the already tread plot elements of Superman I and II but dumbed down for a “best-of” condensation. Man of Steel had multitudes of paths to travel down, and yet for some reason it was decided to return to the same ground already tread by Richard Donner in the 1978 and 1980 films. It isn’t as if there aren’t decades of Superman stories to pull from.

What I missed most from Man of Steel was the humanity. There’s no life in the picture. There’s no spark, no vitality, no energy to really pull us into the story. Comics are all about imagination. Superman was the product of the Depression, a dream figure to inspire minds to escape their daily horrors. Despite having their flaws the reason why the the Donner films, in particular the first film, are still genuinely moving is because they have both spirit and properly motivated drama. Along with Batman (1989), Superman: The Movie began and created the pathway that all superhero films must tread. Man of Steel goes in the opposite direction. Ultimately the film is a frustrating experience along the lines of Superman Returns. It just happens to be for many of the opposite reasons.

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Filed under 1.5 stars, Film Review, Superman

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

1.5 stars out of 4. Hints at narrative focus and cohesion are casually disregarded. A messy narrative with false conclusion that has nothing to do with Batman.

The Dark Knight Rises liberally borrows from its comic book sources, freely adapting structure and elements from the grand story arcs of Knightfall, No Man’s Land and the groundbreaking piece of literature and film-they-should-have-made-years-ago-with-the-animated-series-cast The Dark Knight Returns. For a movie with such deep mines to well from, the bucket surprisingly always comes up empty. It’s all tossed together in one giant melting pot and severely underdeveloped just like the Michael Mann movies that inspired it. (Heat or Public Enemies anyone?)

The Batman has been gone for eight years after taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s death and crimes against society. (Why this is done to protect the people is still head scratchingly stupid. Especially when one sees how this is discarded.) Gotham is essentially crimeless, and Bruce Wayne remains hidden Howard Hughes-like among the shadows of Wayne Manor.

The pace is very slow building at first, in fact almost non-moving at all. We are treated to a multitude of new characters with as always in these films very little to go on. These people talk, walk, fight and scheme all the while leaving us in the dark as to what exactly is going on. These events build up to the horribly overdone climax where one plot point increasingly piles on top of another until there is a whirlwind of nonsensical thoughts that are tied up into one all too neat little package that just refuses to go down my throat however shoved it may be.

Among the introduced are Catwoman and industrialist Miranda Tate. They provide the ubiquitous love interests for Bruce, as there can never be a Batman film without one. There is a young cop, John Blake, who for some unknown reason does most of the legwork for everyone. (Hmm, I wonder…) Lucius Fox and Alfred return once more to be again underutilized and steal every scene they are in.

A private army begins to infiltrate Gotham via the corporate scheming of John Daggett (Roland on vacation or something?) under the leadership of the mysterious Bane. Bane of course is an unstoppable force and quickly asserts his own control and sets forth a seizure of the city claiming to carry forth the legacy of Ra’s Al Ghul and The League of Shadows.

All of this and more provoke the Batman to return, no matter what the cost.

There are attempts at drama that are absolutely welcome, but these are always sabotaged by the lack of story development and background as was with The Dark Knight. What makes this even more painful is having such a larger scope to work within. This creates such a shallow central core that there is no hope of ever…rising from it.

Bane is a different and grand villain, just as he always was in the comics. Sadly his backstory was changed but even then there is plenty of potential for a great…oh wait this is TDKR I’m talking about-there’s no room for meaning here. Move along. Here is an actor giving wonderful dialogue that can be simply absorbed on its charm and again we are left with a villain given nothing to actually do other than cause chaos. What’s his plan you may ask? Answer: Is there even one?

There are far too many plot twists and conclusions in the second half of the film, so much so that each one undoes the one that came before finally leaving the audience in enough confusion for the big coincidental, cliched,  gift-wrapped and all tied up with a big pink bow ending to not ring so horribly false. The final villain denouement is also unnecessary and absolutely wasted.

One key thing that stands out is the idea that the Batman can end. Sure Bruce will age; become slower, clumsy, and unable to keep up with his adversaries yet this does not ever mean the end of the Bat. Batman is the man; the crusade fueled by vengeance became the life of Wayne far too long ago for anything to change this. It is an indisputable fact that Batman is the sole purpose of Bruce Wayne breathing, and yet we are presented with the notion that Bruce can merely stop his crusade, and effectively “win” over human weaknesses?

No. This is not so, and can never be because the heroic quality that has always surrounded our winged avenger is due to his unobtainable goal. Batman can never achieve his victory. His battle is his curse, it is a self-appointed Sisyphean task that will last forever and is the one constant in all of the character’s incarnations for the past 73 years.

There is no win or lose, because one man can never possibly hope to make any sort of difference in the world. That is his curse, the curse he himself assigned to carry in his childhood torment. When examined the meaning of Batman is insignificant which is what makes his sacrifice all the more interesting. He is the shadowy figure of the night, a damaged shell of a man barely holding in a obsessive repressed tragic figure who dedicates his existence to detecting and stopping injustice.

This is not Batman. I said this about The Dark Knight and feel this way again, just as I initially had concerns with Begins. I don’t say this because Batman is supposed to have a sense of fun. I like my Batman dark. I like serious stories and would likely if ever given the chance make a Batman film with an unbelievably hard R rating. But as with all modern reboots of franchises, the decision is made to strip away essential parts of the character in order to present a supposedly more modern “realized” version that is “psychologically complex” because of being emptier. In Rises there are many references to Bruce’s soul, which I found confounding because in these films he has no soul. There is no Batman in the Nolan universe, as evidenced by his extremely limited screentime in the longest of the films.

Begins at least presented the idea that it dealt with the fundamentals of Batman, and that eventually the fully fledged Dark Knight would emerge into this new Gotham after much fine tuning and toughening up. THIS NEVER HAPPENED!

The fleeting moments of life in TDKR  were obviously with supporting characters, as they are made to shoulder the bulk of the film’s universe seeming believable in any sense. The characterization of Catwoman is simple, and it is this simplicity that makes the character interesting. We can understand Selina Kyle’s fears and desires, thus forming an emotional bond as we are supposed to do with the major characters. This also manifests itself with the cop, Blake, and when we feel more interest and emotion in scenes with a mere beat cop than the Batman himself, there is seriously something gone wrong. Sadly, it was not decided to resurrect Liam Neeson’s immortal Ra’s Al Ghul, who was a great adversary to Bruce and Batman both. Instead we are treated to an agonizingly brief “what might have been” in a prison not unlike the opening of Begins. I must also add that Cillian Murphy’s cameo as Jonathan Crane was easily my favorite part of the film and the only moment that could have been ripped straight from a comic book panel.

TDKR looks and feels as if it had a greatly increased budget. The scope is far vaster, yet the execution does not quite match the setup. The film demands the IMAX screen, as this time over an hour was shot in the format. The only way to experience the film is in one of the select theaters that received a full 15 perf/70mm IMAX film print which I attended a packed screening of. The film seamlessly alternates between the immersive IMAX sequences and letterboxed 2.35 Panavision remnants, but the switch is quite distracting. The IMAX scenes are blurred on the edges due to the curvature of the screen, viewing angle, and odd 1.44:1 ratio. This is a format never intended for feature film exhibition and it clearly shows despite the grand visuals of the full image. One needs a more conventional viewing experience in order to take in everything, as in IMAX one is left with the perception of peering through a foggy peephole and a very sore neck attempting to keep everything in sight line. The blurriness runs around the image almost creating the effect of a camera iris, and the viewing angle is so forced that eventually one must simply ignore the top and other edges of the screen.  The print itself was stunning, with very very fine tight grain and finally some color in these far too drably shot settings. The 35mm Panavision scenes exhibited some occasional shimmering and even some artifacting here and there as if the blowup process was not fully completed. The brief flashbacks to the two previous films were all far less in quality. The sound mix was overly loud in the highs with extremely amplified low end and overdone LFE. When things quieted down there was disappointingly little to no immersion and allowed me to focus on the stars of the film: Mr. Projector hum and Miss Dirty screen. They were quite wonderful, I assure you.

I applaud all of Christopher Nolan’s efforts in preserving the usage of film and his tireless efforts to produce a quality in filmmaking. I love to read his interviews, finding it extremely refreshing to hear a major industry player saying many of the things I’ve been laughed at for years. Yet, why is it that I intensely dislike nearly all of his films? They are well made and certainly have lots of thought behind them, but always come up short in the human department. They feel like the inner workings of a grand machine, perfectly balanced probes into the human psyche that are scientifically removed from emotion. The fundamentals approach utilized in Batman Begins is built up throughout this “trilogy” to create a hollow shell of a man. This is a man who founds his life on an idea of vengeance but ultimately is little more than a quasi-industrialist with mercenary skills, toys and body armor.

Is a watered down Batman still Batman? The Dark Knight convinced me that it wasn’t, and its sequel only drove the stake further into the heart. It took me about three quarters of TDK to realize that I no longer cared about anything happening onscreen. With TDKR, I stopped in the first act.

Note: “Hey, look! No hockey pads this time!” The terrible over-processed joke of a voice is much better, but Batman is still very much in need of a lifetime supply of Halls and a very good ENT.

For those who find this story compelling, originally Bane broke Batman across his knee, leaving Bruce completely paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Silly new guy, you got off easy. Everybody, read Knightfall or Dark Knight Returns.

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Filed under 1.5 stars, Batman, Film Review

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Whoa, I know how to write a screenplay now.

1.5 stars out of 4. Extremely Disappointing Godawful Mess That In Effect Gives Us The Finger.

Here is an sci-fi action film for the senses and not the mind. Unfortunately it isn’t really for the senses either. The Matrix pulled a Die Hard-like feat in making a smaller action film with no real fanfare become a worldwide phenomenon. This eagerly awaited sequel was filmed back to back with the third sequel, which was released six months later. What occurred over the four year gap between films is that the drive of the story evaporated.

I’ve found that the only way to accurately get across some of my extreme issues with this sequel is to go through the film chronologically, so that some of the frustration, confusion and sheer rising anger encountered can be adequately expressed. It shouldn’t be a bad film. The production value is high, and enough of a story is present in order to keep some semblance of a coherent narrative. However it is the indifference to this bare minimum necessary to maintain an audience’s attention span and other elements that makes Reloaded fail completely as both a movie to be enjoyed  and as a sequel to the first film. Instead of being along for the ride and a part of the action, we are left on the sidelines and told that we humans are just to stupid to understand the great events going on before our very mortal eyes.

Reloaded opens with the human resistance in deeper struggle with the machines. a secret meeting is held between crews inside the Matrix where it is revealed that a machine army is digging towards Zion, the last human city. The machines mean to end the war in one fell swoop and will reach the city in 72 hours. The crews must return to Zion, but Morpheus asks for one crew to stay behind so that they may have news of the Oracle. Neo, “The One” who was supposed to end the war and save humanity, still has no idea of what he is supposed to do. (How would anyone know?) One crew remains and the meeting is broken up by agents. Curiously this is preceded by Agent Smith giving Neo his earpiece and thanking him for setting Smith free. Wait, didn’t Smith get destroyed last time round?

The others return to Zion (giving no thought to the reappearance of Smith), giving us our first glimpse of the last human city in existence. A place that was only referred to briefly in the original film, the Zion that was built up in our imaginations of course does not exist. What we are presented is essentially just a giant cave with rooms connected to other caves. Oh, and there are some people around wearing rags and robes. At their home, everybody tries to get a little R&R, especially Neo & Trinity who seem to never be able to have their umm..conjugal visitations. This is because Neo is seen as a Christ-like figure who is besieged with request to bless and aid others in need.

Everyone continues talking about the impending machine attack and what the people should be told. This goes on for several scenes and no agreement is reached on whether to lie, water down the truth, or admit that an army is coming. We then focus on the secondary character of the new computer operator, Link, and his wife who is angry with him serving in the ship that killed her brothers and being in danger. Ooookay, was that really necessary to explore?

That night, a meeting is held to explain what is going to happen to Zion. Neo and Trinity sneak off to have that visit. Without any hesitation, Morpheus stands before everyone and brazenly shouts that the machines are coming to kill them all (in a highly but unintentionally funny over the top performance), and that things look bleak, but that they will make a lot of noise. Oh, I mean something more like: “WE ARE ALL GOING TO PROBABLY DIE, SO INSTEAD OF PREPARING OR GETTING READY FOR THE FINAL BATTLE OF OUR LIVES, LET’S HAVE A MASSIVE SLOW-MOTION RAVE AND GROPE EACH OTHER TO TECHNO!!!” This terrible and completely stupid scene lasts for a good four minutes and is inter-cut with Neo and Trinity’s lovemaking. After you’ve winced for this entire sequence, as we all did in the theater, the movie decides to finally continue with those still in the Matrix trying to get word back to Morpheus that the Oracle wants to meet. Unfortunately the last man is captured by Smith who uses his new-found power to copy himself so that Smith is then extracted into the real world via the telephone. Wait, how does that work?

Neo finds and has to fight the Oracle’s bodyguard, Seraph. Then he is led to his meeting with the Oracle, who engages in a completely nonsensical dialogue with Neo for about five minutes before finally relaying Neo’s new objective. He must retrieve the Keymaker from the Merovingian in order to reach the Source where the path of the One ends. (“Are you the keymaster?“) And of course this makes little to no sense, but at least it’s something for us to go on. The Oracle then leaves and Smith appears. He explains that when Neo destroyed him that he was supposed to go off to be destroyed like other dead programs. But he simply didn’t want to. Okay, if that’s true then why isn’t there a fail-safe in the Matrix to prevent this, and how does this make Smith seemingly invulnerable and able to copy himself? Smith essentially says has no purpose and tries to copy Neo. This does not work, and a fight ensues. It starts well, and continues. Starting to get a bit stale, more Smith clones appear. Getting more stale, more clones appear. Finally a small army of Smith clones appear, and Neo flies away. Throughout this fight, things turn into complete computer animation which absolutely destroys any and all sense of this being a real conflict. The addition of a computer animated Neo simply does not work and undoes the fight entirely. Not that it wasn’t getting stale anyway. (Oh, and isn’t it funny how some of the Smith clones have a different face in the longer shots?)

Two crews volunteer to aid Morpheus’s crew in the hopes of proving the prophecy of the One while the rest prepare for the machines’ assault. Morpheus, trinity and Neo then enter into the film’s only truly interesting scene where they meet with the Merovingian. The Frenchman is a dealer in information, an older program who lords over his power and underlings like a classic-era Warner Bros. villain. Here is a fully realized character who draws out every last syllable as if it were a fine wine. His actions are all meticulously plotted, even a tryst with an attractive woman is wonderfully overdone with a cleverly disguised dessert that triggers an overpowering orgasm.

He of course refuses to give them the Keymaker, and adds that they have nothing to give him in return. They are then led to the Keymaker by his frustrated wife who does this service in exchange for a kiss from Neo-a kiss that must be performed as if he were kissing Trinity. Ah, actual interest and development in a scene arises! She gives them the Keymaker, which royally pisses off her husband. (Hey look, Brides of Dracula! A much better movie!) He sends his goons to retrieve the Keymaker and Neo fends them off. He stops them after a fight that goes on far too long with an obvious conclusion, and the Merovingian escapes to sadly never again appear in this series, save for a essentially pointless cameo.

Trinity and Morpheus are pursued by the Merovingian’s twin ghost boys who are seemingly invulnerable. They are forced to take the only available exit. It happens to be located on the freeway. This is built up as a very bad idea, and thus we have an example of that almost obligatory part of an action film: the car chase.

This is the one section of the film people point to to explain away the film’s problems. As long as there’s a big long action sequence, it must be good right? The slow motion bullet time is used frequently which immediately ruins any and all of the tension that has been built up in the chase thus far. Agents join in the chase to further complicate matters. But for some odd reason “the exile is our primary target“. What? Why do they care about an old program? Shouldn’t they be going after the human resistance? Why does this make sense? Why do I keep asking all of these rhetorical questions? I’m never going to be answered by the movie.

This scene progresses as if the filmmakers had gone to the John Woo school of directing, but Woo’s deep connection to the emotional subtext and character is sorely lacking. You continually come to realization that this entire sequence is designed around a single idea: “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” Cool. Cool is not a word with which one should design a film or storyline. Cool can be used in coming up with a situation or snake pit for action films. Cool should be used in conjunction with imagination in order to further enhance the impact of the story. The car chase fails miserably in maintaining story and tension. It becomes a lifeless video game level instead of a hair raising car chase where we are worried about these characters or what happens to the Keymaker. At this point, we still don’t even know who this little guy is!

Neo flies in to grab everyone and they adjourn to find out just what they need to do. The Keymaker tells them of a secret floor in a building that will give them access to Source entrance. They will need to shut down the power at two different locations in order to start a five minute window to get through the door to the Source. Neo must go alone into the unknown. One team goes in and completes their objective, with the other team’s ship destroyed by machines before their station can be destroyed. Thus, Trinity unbeknownst to Neo (who asked her to stay out of the Matrix because he has continual nightmares of her death) goes into destroy the station so that Neo can complete his mission. An Agent appears and they do battle.

Neo, Morpheus and the Keymaker are confronted by Smith in front of the door to the Source. (How did he get there?) he attacks with his clones and Neo manages to get the others into the doorway, but the Keymaker is fatally shot. He tells Neo which door to go through and tells Morpheus which door will lead him out of the Matrix. (So Morpheus was here for no reason. Good.) Neo goes through the doorway and gets to the point in the film and franchise where it all started to go completely downhill…

Neo meets a man sitting in an office chair in an empty room amidst dozens of TV screens plastered with his face. This is the Architect. The designer of the Matrix begins to spill the beans to Neo as to what is going on and what The One’s true objective is. There is much too much mumbo jumbo surrounding the few nuggets of truth, so the audience must again spend this time trying to slough through the crap to get to the meaning of what is being discussed. And the Architect begins by saying that Neo (and in reference, us as well) will only understand some of what is being said. That’s a great way to get us all off your backs, just say that we won’t understand what is going on!!!

Finally the Architect relays to Neo that the path of the One is really just another machine setup. It was found a necessary evil in order to keep all of the humans peaceable inside the Matrix and in subservience.  The One must put his special code inside the machine source and reset things. Zion will be destroyed along with all of its inhabitants, and the One will start a new Zion with a selected small group of humans. (Dr. Strangelove’s mine shaft anyone?) Neo is the sixth “One” thus far and Zion has already been destroyed five times. Neo is now presented with a “choice”. If he returns to the Matrix, then all those plugged into he Matrix will be killed and Zion destroyed.  If he goes to the source as directed, humanity will be saved from complete annihilation. Not much of a choice there is it?

The One is programmed with a deep connection to other humans and thus is supposed to be inclined towards performing his tasked duty. But Neo is primarily connected to Trinity, who is being killed by an Agent just as in his nightmares. So, Neo goes after her and dooms all humanity to destruction. A climax is quickly forced, where Trinity dies, Neo revives her, Neo only partially reveals the plot to the others, the ship is attacked and destroyed by Sentinels, they barely get away, and Neo suddenly realizes he has become awesome outside of the Matrix. He stops several Sentinels with his mind and promptly falls unconscious. The crew is picked up by another ship who has a crewman in the sickbay in a coma like Neo. Of course the crewman is the same one who was infected by Smith.

TO BE CONTINUED

Seriously, who ends a film with a silly “to be continued” card? This is not a TV episode or a cliffhanger of a serial. It’s a silly cliffhanger simply meant to bring people back in six months later. And the sequel is really the same film going on for 129 minutes longer. But with all of the really bad parts.

The ending of Reloaded makes little to no real sense. Neo has killed everyone already, so what is the use of Trinity surviving? Oh wait, the killing of everyone connected to the Matrix is never mentioned again, and absolutely no one is ever informed of what the Architect told Neo. So basically this has all become just a setup for the final assault on Zion. So much for leverage.

They had to bring things to a quick climax so how would you write the crew getting away on foot from the Sentinels? Oh yeah, Neo now has his magic powers in the real world! Wait, that makes ABSOLUTELY NO FREAKING SENSE IN ANY CONTEXT! (Sighs.) I still cannot tell if this is just lazy writing or if we were meant to take this seriously. Why would Neo be powerful outside the Matrix? The entire premise of this series was that the humans only could gain a partial semi-advantage via hacking into the system of the Matrix. To have him just as powerful outside ruins any dramatic context previously established and guts the film of any tension or interest that could possibly be left.

And then to have Neo in the same ship as the Smith-man, who just happens to also be in a coma is beyond coincidence. He’s not going to do something bad now is he?

The problem I have with this film, and its much inferior sequel is that all of the spunk present in the first film is completely gone. With the increased budget and success came a lifelessness to the Matrix universe. That spark that said, “screw it, let’s end the movie with Rage Against the Machine and Neo flying into the camera” is nowhere to be found. In addition the characters become one dimensional and over the course of Reloaded we cease to care a damn bit about them. Some fans of Star Wars have claimed that as soon as the sequels arrived the magic of a vast unknown universe was somewhat dissipated. That may be debatable, but it is absolutely true as far as the Matrix franchise is concerned. With each proceeding minute of this 4 1/2  hour snoozefest (both sequels put together) you feel all of the enjoyment and love you had for the first film get put through the wringer. If you have any love left for the franchise after sitting through both sequels, then hats off to you. I thought I didn’t and stayed away ever since the theatrical release.

This isn’t even going into the fact that the plot has no tension or definite meaning. Heck, there isn’t even a point to the mess. Reloadedis big, sprawling and unsteady. It’s as if this is a big lumbering ship lost at sea with no one at the helm to control the madness. For all those who claim this to be a decent movie, I challenge you: When was the last time you actually sat down and watched this mess? Especially right  after the first film, which is a first class operatic masterwork in every way compared to this junk. The first film has passion, energy, characters with definite motivations, a fully realized opposing force with impressive agents in its service, pacing, and an actual screenplay that combines all of these elements into a highly entertaining and more simply put it: a great movie.

I found myself becoming increasingly angry at Reloaded while reviewing the DVD after all this time. It must be constructed in a way as to provide the maximum amount of confusion and frustration to the viewer. Not only does the film contradict itself numerous times, but it does so in such a mindbogglingly uninteresting way that you cease to really care at all.

EDITIONS: The DVD issue was and still is quite impressive. 16:9 anamorphic 2.35:1 image that looks spotless for the format and age, involving 5.1 Dolby mix that resembles the theatrical presentation, and a bevy of extras on a second disc. This was pretty much reissued untouched for the Ultimate boxset, and a the HD master struck for that DVD box was rolled over to  HD-DVD with a Dolby True-HD 5.1 soundmix. This was simply ported over to Blu-ray. (All of this much like Warner’s practices, akin to their treatment of the Batman series on video.)

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Filed under 1.5 stars, Film Review, The Matrix, Uncategorized

The Mummy’s Tomb (1942)

1.5 stars out of 4.

This is the beginning of the dull and monotonous Mummy sequels. Lon Chaney Jr. takes over as Kharis the undead Egyptian and seems to never have any desire to be in the film.

We open with the surviving lead from the previous film back home in New England 30 years after the events of The Mummy’s Hand. (This begins the increasingly odd and silly timeframe of these sequels: Hand is in 1940, Tomb is set thus in  1970, Ghost is set in 1974 and Curse is set in 1999. What hack writer came up with that brilliant idea?) The next high priest of Karnak is selected and somehow this is done by the villain from the previous film who had been shot point blank in the face and fallen down stairs. The new priest is assigned to take Kharis to New England and kill all those who desecrated the tomb of Princess Ananka. Then they are to return home with the Princess. The 1959 Hammer film is largely lifted from this film’s plotline along with elements of The Mummy’s Hand.

So all of the atmosphere of Egypt is eschewed for the standard small-town America back lot sets. A lumbering bandaged figure staggers around and kills some people who stand unmoving in dark corners. Some people see some mysterious “shadows” and call police. There’s some really pissed off Egyptians.  What joy. The only interest really comes from the entire remaining cast of the previous film meeting their demise at the hands of the thing they had destroyed already. Their mounting horror is fully realized when they see that it is Kharis who has come for them, and that the curse they so foolishly invoked has come for them at last. Otherwise this is standard B-grade schlock.

Once the first victim is claimed, his old friend arrives by train and identifies it as the work of a living mummy. The death by strangulation and odd imprint of dark mold on the throat is the exact way Kharis kills people. Of course, no one listens to this and the man is dispatched a short time later.

The Egyptian controlling Kharis for some odd reason falls for the fiancee of the first victim’s son. He has Kharis abduct her (in the scene where he orders Kharis to do this, Chaney initially refuses his Master giving the only real emotion from the Mummy in any of these B-quickies.) and then reveals his plan to make her and himself immortal using the tana leaves that give Kharis life. This is exactly what the other priest did randomly at the end of Hand, and here again it feels added only to pad the runtime to just over an hour. This goes without mentioning that this tacked on subplot makes no feasible sense.

Everyone goes after the girl of course, and the Mummy is then trapped in a burning house. The house is burned to the ground and everyone lives happily ever after. Even though killing it with fire didn’t work last time! Some idiots never learn.

Available in The Mummy Legacy Collection along with the masterpiece 1932 film, the acceptable first sequel, the terrible Mummy’s Ghost and the putrid Mummy’s Curse. The DVD is 1.33:1 with standard Dolby 2.0 mono. Taken from a relatively clean print source.

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Filed under 1.5 stars, Film, Universal Horror