I love when no-prestige 1990’s studio flicks appear on Criterion Channel – here in a revisionist black-and-white version. Much better than I first thought, made by an ambitious artist who got caught in the Hollywood crap machine. The new coloring and the passage of time help you see “the movie that was in the movie.”

JW kills some guys in desert, incl The Elder. Whitebeard Harbinger Clancy “Mr. Krabs” Brown tells McShane the hotel has been condemned, then the Marquis kills Cedric Daniels, blows the place up, and sends blind swordsman Caine after JW. Every scene dramatically drawn out – you get the sense that everyone is playing their assigned role according to fate, except for this fuckin’ Marquis guy, who is annoying and evil.

The Osaka hotel goes down next, Hiroyuki Sanada in charge and his daughter Rina Sawayama in the Cedric concierge role, while a dog-loving bounty hunter called Nobody sits back, waiting for the bounty to get high enough to go after JW. Deals are made: Marquis fucks up Nobody’s hand (why would you do this to a hired assassin) and gets him after Wick, and JW agrees to take on a big metal-teethed dude named Killa to get back into his Russian family’s graces so he can duel the baddie. RIP the big baddie and also Wick – happily, this movie was much better than part 3.

As the Marquis, Bill is the campy SkarsgÃ¥rd, who gets murdered in Barbarian before the even campier Justin Long appears. Blind Donnie Yen was in the Ip Man series and some stuff I’ve seen but don’t remember (Iron Monkey is due a rewatch). As “Nobody” (a Ghost Dog reference), Shamier Anderson, who has been in unrelated movies named Bruised and Bruiser. The guy with the metal teeth, that’s Scott Adkins, the dude you all love so much? Y’all really want me to sit through a Jean-Claude Van Damme sequel to see more of this guy?

“Why use old code to do something new?”
“Maybe this isn’t the story we think it is.”

Extremely self-referential sequel in which Neo is a game developer whose history of reality breakdowns resurfaces when he’s asked to revisit his most famous property, The Matrix. “Our beloved parent company Warner Bros has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy – they’re gonna do it with or without us.”

Lots of reality fakeouts and good in-jokes (psychiatrist Neil Patrick Harris’s cat is named Deja Vu). There’s bullet-time action and Inception space-bending, but also a bleary slow-mo effect in the action scenes, which is sorta not as cool. I miss the 35mm grain, but this has a curious look – a hyperreal digital cleanness I’ve never seen on this scale, like if Michael Mann made an Avengers movie. An explicitly nonbinary story (Dev Neo’s cancelled game was to be called BINARY) – the future is against the “red pill” choices of one thing or another, and more into blends. It’s also more generous in spirit, not only literally resurrecting the two lead characters, but refusing to kill off good guys, while previous movies would introduce a new crew then slaughter them all.

The straight world sees Neo as an eyepatched dude (played by Carrie-Anne Moss’s husband):

Agent Smith is sorta Neo’s boss and sorta also Morpheus, I dunno, I was having too much fun to sweat all the details. The Franco-looking boss is actually Jonathan Groff (the king in Hamilton), New Morpheus is Yahya Abdul-Mateen (New Candyman), New Punk Hacker Girl is Jessica Henwick (final survivor of Underwater). Ancient Jada Pinkett is in charge of humanity, and Junkyard Lambert Wilson has become a raving Gilliam vagrant.

Tying this up before part four comes out. Neo’s in limbo, aptly represented as a train station, having passed out using his matrix-powers in the real world. Morpheus and Trinity and the Oracle’s protector Seraph (Collin Chou with WKW glasses) visit Lambert for some interminable dialogue, cutting a deal to rescue him. But the dummies should’ve known not to trust a character named Bane, who gets reverse-matrixed, possessed by Agent Smith, and blinds Neo with a power cable (he can still see).

Movie is about 60% boring, and keeps trying to make us care about new characters, particularly the enthusiastic young Clayton Watson, a Neo fan who steps up during the climactic battle. But the Wachowskis are also good at creating touching human moments on the flimsiest of background and evidence. Carrie-Anne dies in a crash, and Neo gets the central AI to agree to reset the world if Neo can defeat the now thousands of Agent Smiths, which he does by simply absorbing them then exploding.

In 2003 we watched this, wanting it to rule, but it kinda sucked. In 2021, I am a serious auteurist cinephile who understands the unique artistry of the Wachowskis, rewatching with a corrected mindset, wanting it to rule, but it kinda sucks. The action certainly moves like a twice-as-big upgrade to the original, but the digital effects and music picks say otherwise.

Keanu dreams an extreme-bullet-time moto-leather-splosion intro, then he’s back with Larry, who always uses three words when one would suffice. Jada Pinkett Smith is a bigwig in a red coat. Humans live in caves, led by Harry Lennix, and worship Neo and Morpheus. Neo has hot sex with Trinity, then has to battle Oracle’s agent Serif before he’s allowed to visit her – those two are said to be programs, not human. At this point, Neo battles a playground full of Agent Smiths, who have been duplicating themselves.

There are too many new characters, and it’s very talky, but somehow Lambert Wilson and his wife Monica Bellucci are important – she opens a secret door behind a bookcase and shoots a guard with a silver bullet, then the albino twins turn into medusa-haired ghosts. The crazy car chase with the twins is just as crazy as I remember it, and Neo isn’t even there. This is all a quest to save the Keymaster, who all but admits he’s an NPC. Keymaster leads Neo to The Architect, who is of course a genteel bearded white man (c’mon Wachowskis). GW Bush appears when he says the phrase “varying grotesqueries.” “It was all another system of control” is very Adam Curtis. There’s talk of performing a full system reset, saving a few people after Zion is destroyed, but we’re distracted by the death and resurrection of Trinity. Chad Stahelski and Leigh Whannel both in the credits.

My WFH setup:

What I do at work:

Think I like this more now than I did when it came out. It was Phantom Menace Spring, and I wasn’t sure I enjoyed big-budget sci-fi spectacle anymore. Now I’m older and stupider, with fewer pretensions and hang-ups, and prefer a good flashy story over nonsense like this.

Opening noir scene is great. The Matrix 4 trailer is pounding white rabbit references into our heads, and I see those were present from the beginning. Neo’s side gig is selling $2k minidiscs to cyberpunks, and in straight life he’s Thomas Anderson… Thom Andersen… is that anything? It’s a verbose movie, and there’s a religious feel to the dialogue after he meets Trinity at a White Zombie nightclub. Forgot that it’s AI tech using humans as batteries, not aliens. The reflections in this are so good – in glasses, doorknobs, etc.

We know the five leads (Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, Agent Smith, and turncoat Joe Pantoliano), who else was on the team? The main guy in the ship is Tank: Marcus “son of Tommy” Chong, of a Mario Van Peebles movie. His brother Dozer (killed with a cheesy energy weapon) is Anthony Ray Parker, of Dead Air, a movie about a radio DJ on the air during a zombie invasion, from the year after Pontypool. Very blonde badass Switch was Belinda McClory. Apoc, I dunno who he is, I’m just upset it wasn’t spelled Epoch. Matt “Mouse” Doran died almost immediately but has the most impressive filmography, in a Lucas and a Malick, also a gangster Macbeth. The Oracle was Gloria Foster, who did respectable work throughout the 60’s. And Keanu’s stunt double went on to direct John Wick.

Been a long time since we rocked with this movie, and I can’t trust my teenaged thoughts so I had no idea if it’d be good. It’s very good, Coppola inspired by the birth of cinema in his 1897-set story, drenching his delirious movie in dramatic shadowplay and stylish crossfades. Gary Oldman wins the day, appearing in six or eight different forms, and as in The Book of Eli, evil Oldman’s henchman is played by Tom Waits. But Tom’s Renfield seems less pivotal here than I’d hoped – he’s in a few scenes but doesn’t even leave his asylum cell. At least after playing calmly menacing in one movie and a cool gearhead in another, I get to witness him screaming mad in this one.

Waits #1:

Reeves vs. Oldman vs. Oldman’s shadow:

The other actors are hit or miss. You can plunk Winona Ryder into any costume and time period and she’ll thrive, but who had the idea to have Keanu Reeves play a Brit and Anthony Hopkins play a German? Ryder gets a little fan club of diehard dudes in the second half: Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes and cowboy Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer himself, a year prior), which leads to some good chase and adventure at the end. Monica Bellucci was a nobody back then, playing one of D’s nameless hissing vampire brides.

Waits #2 with Richard E. Grant:

Train #1:

Train #3:

Guess I should’ve watched the show instead of the movie, because the antagonistic interviews with celebrities are very fun, but I didn’t need the framing story of Zach G and his crew road-tripping to conduct a certain number of interviews in a week for boss Will Ferrell. After binging On Cinema episodes, maybe it was bad timing to watch another show about a deluded low-rent awkward talk-show host.

“In case you’re wondering I’m essentially an infinite me.”

They finally did it. I haven’t rewatched the originals since their premieres, but all essential backstory is dutifully repeated here. I love that in all their possible messed-up futures, Bill and Ted are still together – it’s never even dreamed that they wouldn’t be together. Their daughters Billie and Thea, traveling through time collecting famous musicians like in the first movie, are clearly being set up as the actual chosen-ones who will play the song that heals all of time and space – so clearly that the actual reveal is less of a “whoa” and more of a “yeah finally” – but maybe this was designed to distract us from the movie’s real twist, that the perfect song Bill & Ted spend all movie (and half their lives) looking for doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter what they play, as long as they all play it together. This… should not have made me cry… and I’m not saying it did… but it’s been a heavy year, huh?

From the original writers and the director of Galaxy Quest. Thea is from Three Billboards, Billie from Action Point, Kristen Schaal replacing Rufus (who appears briefly as a hologram), and they’ve got the original Death. NoHo Hank from Barry plays a robot assassin, and I love this guy in everything. Brittany Runs a Marathon star Jillian Bell is couples therapist for Bill & Ted and their princesses (who have been recast to be younger: Erinn Hayes of Childrens Hospital, and Jayma Mays of American Made). Kid Cudi is most excellent as himself.