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.

Rewatched with Katy on Criterion Channel. I guess we’d last seen it before I started the blog, and there’s a particular reason we had to rewatch it now, but since I’m not going to elucidate, and since I didn’t get any screenshots from streaming, I’ll just link to Eric Hynes’s great writeup.

Maria flees her town and moves into a house in the woods along with two pigs that she transforms into children and names Pedro and Ana. I think they’re hiding from a wolf outside, and after they almost die in a house fire Pedro drinks honey and turns white, and Ana swallows a songbird and gets a golden voice, then Maria is rescued after they try eating her… I dunno, I was too busy marveling at the look of this thing.

Smeary, drippy painting inside a real (model?) house, with doorways and props. But painted scenes will overwhelm doors and props as if they weren’t there, then form free-standing stop-motion models within the room, 2D artworks interacting with 3D objects, the wall art constantly shifting and the models always making and unmaking themselves, styles of the characters changing. Rustling and rubbing sounds accompany all the visual shifting, wires and cellophane hold the models in place, and I think it’s all fluid transitions with no traditional editing.

I’d forgotten about the brief TV-footage framing story, but did wonder why Maria sometimes spoke German. Apparently this is a fairy-tale reference to a notorious German-led cult and Pinochet torture compound, active in Chile for decades.

Cartoon Brew:

During the research process, the filmmakers discovered that the German members of the community used to call their Chilean neighbors ‘schweine’. This led them to conceive of the two children in the story as piglets, and depict their progressive transformation into Aryan humans as an ironic joke aping the community’s racial ideology.

Walker has an interview with the directors, including some amazing production details, and their self-set rules for animation and sound design:

We had a literary script, with the dialogues of the film, a really simple storyboard, basically with one image per scene … Our day-to-day work was to find a way to connect one image with the other … The specific actions of each scene were improvised.

Silent newsreel footage played at a handful of frames per second, beginning with Il Duce’s death. Unfortunately I am not someone well-versed in history who says “ah it’s that famous footage I know so well of the notorious event at the end of Il Duce’s life,” but rather I am someone who has to wikipedia who Il Duce was… ah, it’s Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy for twenty years. The movie then flashes back to footage from early in his reign and carries on forward.

It’s silent for the first ten minutes, then gentle glimmering drone music kicks in as Duce stands at some kind of parade or rally, looking like the fourth Stooge. Closeups of the Great Man get intensely slowed down, while crowd shots of darker-skinned people run at almost full speed.

Segment 3 in Tripoli features a Florence Foster Jenkins song about modern Europe letting refugees die. 100,000 Libyans were shot in the 1920’s? Italy carried out a North African genocide by raining poison gas from planes? Someone needs to look into this. The movie is doing some sort of Ken Jacobs thing, hypnotizing the viewer with archive footage (I fell asleep at least once and had to rewind). “Barbaric Land” was a phrase used about Ethiopia when Italy was colonizing.

The evil dictator… the fascist system… the normal people who carried out orders to exterminate thousands, photos of them smiling casually next to their planes loaded with poison gas, and period pictures of Africans representing the victims… a photo slideshow, the pictures handheld by gloved fingers, trembling in front of the camera.

A fairly minor Johnnie To movie compared to the last two I saw, building up suspense in a hospital between a doctor (Wei Zhao of Shaolin Soccer and Red Cliff), a cop (Louis Koo, the Paperman of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart) and a criminal (Wallace Chung of Drug War). Adding some Life Without Principle flair, each of our leads is compromised in some way: Dr. Tong keeps botching surgeries and is tricked into helping the criminals, Chief Inspector Ken plants evidence, and jewel thief Shun, well, he’s an overconfident supervillain full of nasty tricks and secret plans, with no qualms about gunning down all the civilians in the emergency room in a climactic shootout. Shun has also memorized quotes from literature and the entire Hippocratic Oath, dispersing his knowledge to make doctors and cops feel bad about themselves. Oh, and there’s policeman Fatty, Suet Lam (Fatso in Mad Detective, Fat in Exiled). Anyway, the actors are fun and the camerawork is on point.

The Three:

Either I didn’t pay enough attention to story or my subtitles were funky, because the plot description on letterboxd is confusing. “A thug shoots himself to force the cops to cease fire,” that scene’s not in the movie and I thought one of Inspector Ken’s men shot the thug – there’s even a subplot about Shun putting out a hit on the shooter. “The detective in charge sees through his scheme but decides to play along so as to capture his whole gang,” I’m not so sure about that one either, but it’s possible. Anyway, lots of people die then Dr. Tong goes back to killing and crippling patients and Inspector Ken resigns.

Fatty in climactic super-slow-mo shootout:

Typical To composition of people dramatically standing around:

Mesmerising footage using slow-motion and time-lapse to make ordinary things (clouds, a night drive, video games, stock exchange) look wonderous.

Glass:

Several generations have grown up looking at those images, but in ’78 they were extremely startling and it was like looking at the world for the first time.

Reggio: “It’s not for lack of love of the language that these films have no words. It’s because, from my point of view, our language is in a state of vast humiliation. It no longer describes the world in which we live.”

Rebaixes!

I knew what Reggio was going for with the images, but was pondering how, until the final title cards (defining the title as life in turmoil / disintegrating / out of balance), it’d be possible to see most of the movie as a positive celebration of technological progress. Reggio apparently meant it to be ambiguous in this way.

Set to a rightly celebrated Philip Glass score (reminded me at times of the latest Tortoise album), shot by Ron Fricke (Baraka, Chronos), played in competition in Berlin (with La Belle Captive and Pauline at the Beach). But most importantly, someone at IMDB has figured out how many frames of this film contain topless footage of Marilyn Chambers (four).

Pruitt-Igoe:

From the extras it looks like the movie could’ve become a hippie happening, with staged art events and an Allen Ginsberg spoken-word response soundtrack, before the concept was reworked. Reggio was inspired to filmmaking by Los Olvidados and there’s a good segment on his ACLU-sponsored anti-surveillance campaign.

My preparatory viewings of various Crime and Punishment adaptations didn’t end up preparing me at all for Whispering Pages, which uses none of the main events from the novel, instead taking minor scenes and mashing them up with other novels, creating a general tone of miserablist 19th century Russian literature without bothering itself with a story.

Extreme Slow Cinema here, but Sokurov keeps it short, under 80 minutes. He seems to love paintings and long takes. Motion shots turn to stills. The color temperature of shots changes. The picture sometimes looks blurred or stretched or warped, but given the stills I’ve seen of Mother and Son, this is probably intentional. Film grain and rolling mist are more main characters than our lead actor A. Cherednik, who speaks with a breathy Peter Lorre voice and seems to have killed someone offscreen.

Overall I wasn’t a fan, but it does have some mesmerising moments. There’s the main dialogue scene with E. Koroleva, in which he tells her that he’s killed someone and they debate him turning himself in and the existence of God, and she reacts like this:

There’s an obscure bureaucracy scene with this weirdo:

And there’s an inexplicable (dream sequence?) where everyone around our hero is leaping in slow-motion into unknown depths. Stills can’t do that shot justice, so instead here is some mist.