Saturday, May 24, 2003

May 24

The Matrix: Re-Bloated

I think this is the first time in my brief blog history that I've ever titled an entry. However, I think this one merits it, and as it suggests, it doesn't bode well.

I had the opportunity to see the year's most anticipated movie (or at least the first half, anyways) tonight at a sneak preview in Roppongi Hills with a few friends (the sequel doesn't start officially in Japan until June 7). And what did I get?

Well, I'd like to preface my review with an analogy. Imagine a budding French chef getting platitudes from a customer over a nicely made salad one day. The chef, then thoroughly smitten, proceeds to whip up an entire 5-course meal based on the energy of that positive review by the next evening. In the same way, Matrix: Reloaded is a victim of its own success. And perhaps, though unfair, that famed Wachowski reticence to grant interviews may now look a bit pretentious to the public.

Special effects do not a movie make. No, this is not a Yoda statement but an unoffiicial warning to directors of blockbusters. In 1999, the original Matrix had some eye-popping visuals, the now-ubiquitious "bullet time", paired with a relatively simple story of one man destined to defeat a great foe. Plot sound familiar? It also describes the original Star Wars and its success.

Though the SFX in the second movie are still impressive, and in a couple of sequences are truly jaw-dropping, the initial buzz of excitement of "bullet time" is now gone, thanks to multiple "homages" in other movies and the Matrix's own DVD sales. We are now accustomed to the 360-degree wraparound; we are now all too used to wirework under the tutelage of Chinese masters. The story should have been first and foremost, and delivered clean and crisp.

Instead, we were saddled with an overly long exposition at the beginning (although it was nice to see veteran actor Anthony Zerbe in a rare good-guy role), too many characters doing too many irrelevent things, a very bulky conversation between Neo and the Architect, and finally, a muddled cliffhanger ending. My feeling was that the Warchowskis tried to stuff a story arc equivalent in length to the first 6 years of the X-Files into one motion picture. Even in the you-can-do-anything world of the Matrix, certain laws of movie physics must still apply, and you just can't cram that much mythos without thoroughly confusing and frustrating the majority of the viewing public. Basically, the story was gasping to catch up with the effects, and the audience was trailing a distant third.

Certain scenes were absolutely unnecessary: Zion's tribute to Studio 54, Neo's so-called test battle with the Oracle's bodyguard (if Neo could just walk through a bunch of kids to see Gloria Foster bake cookies in the first movie, why is this battle needed?), the enitre Merovingian/Persephone sequence, and the Agent Smith hallway battle scene. My opinion is that if a movie is going to be over 2 hours, there had better be a good reason; the above scenes don't justify the length.

Again, my problem with the movie is in story not acting. Keanu Reaves is a poor actor but he fits his role as Neo, the quiet, action type. The other performers such as Carrie-Anne Moss and Laurence Fishburne also carry off their roles competently. I was never expecting any Oscar awards for this movie outside of SFX

As I left the theatre tonight, most of my colleagues (only one of the group of six gave a thumbs-up) were very unimpressed, and I heard mutterings of "terrible" from other viewers. I'd heard that Laurence Fishburne flipped and flipped the bird at the premiere last week when reporters told him of the very mixed reviews. Sorry, Larry...but I think this time, the media may have a point. Keanu Reaves came down to Tokyo yesterday to promote the flick, and I had thought that perhaps he would come down and make an appearance at the sneak preview. He didn't, but in retrospect, I think it was a good thing. He probably would've become the pitiful victim of that classic show of faint praise: polite applause.

Y'know, leaving Matrix: Reloaded tonight reminded me of that time after I had seen The Phantom Menace almost 4 years ago. We saw it and left it trying to gamely justify all the good points of the movie. I couldn't speak for my companions on that night, but I knew that there was a stone of dissatisfaction in the pit of my stomach. However, The Phantom Menace still got a lot of good applause over the end credits and we did try to defend its merits. Tonight, the Matrix sequel couldn't even muster a mother's love from the audience.

Now I look forward to Matrix: Revolutions (or Matrix Resignation) with a sense of some foreboding.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

May 22

I've finished another week of part-timing; still doing OK. In fact, I've gotten a couple of tips for potential students, one of which could be quite lucrative. But it looks like I will have to put on the dog-and-pony show for the parents before I get accepted.

Tomorrow I meet up with an old buddy from home for lunch and then I meet up with some former students for dinner. Not a bad way to spend the weekend.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

May 20

It's raining several breeds of cats and dogs right now, so I'm very fortunate that I didn't decide to put out the laundry. I had the umbrella but it didn't do my feet and shoes too good. I had to wade through a rather huge pool of water on a stair landing heading for the train station.

On the flip side, I was quite flattered to get a former colleague-turned-singer/songwriter's debut CD. Me and another former teacher managed to get our names on the credits. Now, if the guy can get a million-seller out of his project, perhaps I can think of royalty payments.

Haven't heard from that lady about whether she'll take me on. Looks like it will be a no-go. Fair enough...I'm not into chintziness.

Monday, May 19, 2003

May 19

It was a nice weekend. Met up with some friends last night for dinner in Ginza, one-third of which was pregnant. One guy and I felt a bit left out as the two other couples were swapping child-rearing techniques. The Italian food was quite good although the atmosphere would've been better served if the conversation hadn't swerved into the various uses of dried placentae.

Went on a spending binge yesterday as well. Perhaps it wasn't the wisest move considering that I had just received my final paycheck as a full-timer last week but hey: 1) I've managed to save quite a bit over the last few months, and 2) I don't think I'll have this opportunity again for a long time. I ended up buying some CDs including the Chicago soundtrack, plus a couple of DVDs: Ocean's 11 and the Bond movie, From Russia With Love. I just find the writing in Ocean's 11 so super slick.

Had my first class as a part-timer this afternoon at my student's place. All I can say is that I hope the rest of my classes are as cordial as this one was (fat chance!). In any case, I'm looking at one potential opportunity going down the tubes because she wants me to lower my fee. Look, the lady lives with her parents and she probably gets bonuses at her other words, she shouldn't be suffering too much by paying me what I'm worth.