DNF

High-school girl’s metaverse (in the facebook sense, not the spider-verse sense) avatar Belle is an instant-hit pop star, but the real girl is bitter and withdrawn, determined to use her internet fame to doxx other users. Belle runs into an infamous dragon-thing who is probably also a damaged high-schooler, maybe even someone she knows in real life. I don’t know because we put off watching the second half for so long that now neither of us feels like finishing it. Practically a sequel to Hosoda’s cool Summer Wars, but just too… high school.

“Lousy choices, that’s your whole story, lousy movies,” someone says to Robin Wright, playing “herself.” This one’s not exactly great, but better than lousy – at least we get interesting topics and some fun animation. Getting around to watching this due to one of those topics – the idea of movie studios scanning actors then using their digital images indefinitely is back in the news.

Harvey Keitel as her agent gets a good monologue during the scan procedure, then Robin takes her money (they never say how much) and goes home with her hard-of-hearing kite-obsessed son Kodi Smit-McPhee. Twenty years later she enters the “animation zone” to attend a contract renegotiation party. The company which has successfully controlled and redefined her image for so long (one of her future sci-fi films is named RRR) stupidly puts Actual Robin in front of a live mic. There’s a revolution, real or imagined, and Robin is stuck in animated form so they freeze her body for future scientists to deal with. This is where Paul Giamatti comes in – he specializes in explaining insane situations to people in movies.

“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.

Fun to interview people as their online avatars about the idea that we’re living in a simulation, and promising to structure around Philip K. Dick’s visions. A change since Room 237 is inviting skeptics into the room – Chris Ware has a more reasonable outlook than the gamer kidz, and one woman says their ideas are “school shooter mentality,” which would make PKD a School Shooter Jesus. Pretty early I started thinking these guys all have protagonist syndrome, and this plays out in the end, when a Matrix-obsessed trenchcoat kid kills his parents, the movie ruined for me as it lets him monologue about his cool murders. Music by the Clipping guy, anyway.

I took no notes on this one, and am starting to forget it, but I take exception to the stills and description playing up the connection to recycled Bollywood film reels, incorporated into the toys produced by the village where this film is set, and into the film itself in quick colorful segments, since this accounts for about a minute of the runtime. Besides producing toys, they prepare for an eclipse, and make a sort of viewing tower. Lovely to sit in Big Ragtag again, beer in hand, happy flashbacks to The Grand Bizarre and Distant Constellation. James Tillman opened, on keyboard, guitar, and dying laptop.

Denoise (2017, Giorgio Ferrero & Federico Biasin)

After the feature, we finally visited the VR-cade, dodged the Kevin Lee thing about terrorist propaganda, and slipped into the dark room where I got randomly assigned this experience, a 360+ degree but position-locked, fixed-duration selection of scenes about industrial work. My first-ever VR experience – I was impressed by the overall feel, but not by the resolution of the goggles, which felt not at all like real life, but like a video, sitting too close to the screen. Impressive sensations: after a scene cut, a man on a catwalk talking to me, and I wondered “if he’s on the catwalk where am I,” so I look straight down and I’m hovering in space. Our physical selves are standing in the dark room at retro arcade consoles – I’ve got a steering wheel to orient myself in the real world, and at one point I look down at my hands, expecting to see them grasping a steering wheel, but visually, my hands don’t exist.

Katy says the challenges in the book are all about solving complex puzzles, and it sounds like the whole 1980’s obsession is explained better, but we’re at the movies now, so some quick backstory narration and a killer car race will do just fine. Our dude Parzival (Tye Sheridan of Joe and Mud, young Cyclops in the last X-Men) figures out how to cheat at the racecar event and win the first of three keys in a massive contest to gain control over the virtual-reality universe that all the poor suckers on the dying planet of the future spend all their time in, meanwhile falling for Artemis, a hot red avatar his own age who turns out to be an actual hot girl his own age (Olivia Cooke of Thoroughbreds). Parzival’s badass tough-dude engineer buddy H turns out to be Lena Waithe (Master of None) and his ninja friend Sho is actually 11 years old – they’re all kinda okay kids, but I don’t know if it’s a happy ending when they’re handed the keys to the global economy at the end, and besides shuttering the evil company run by lame Ben Mendelsohn, they close the internet for a couple days per week so kids have time to make out.

Alison Willmore calls it an accidental horror movie:

A lot of the pop culture references in the adaptation have been updated, improved, added to, or made more cinematic, including a sequence in which The Shining gets turned into a survival horror experience in a way that’s both blasphemous and easily the most memorable part of the movie. But onscreen, even though familiar characters (Duke Nukem! Gundam! Chucky!) fill the frame, franchises cross, and the legal fees to clear everything must have been astronomical, Ready Player One doesn’t really feel like it’s about nostalgia. Instead, it seems more concerned with escapism, and how much its characters use pop culture as a womb to shelter them from the ugly realities they’ve accepted from the world outside. It’s not about looking back so much as looking away.