Friday, 28 November 2014

There Are No Matrix Sequels

Did you know that The Matrix was my favourite movie for the longest time? Of course, you do. You must do. I mean I must have mentioned it before. I haven't? No way. Really? Weird. I thought I did. Well, it was. I love The Matrix. And when I first saw it as a kid, it totally took my mind for such a ride, I'm still bitter it didn't buy me dinner first.

"You could say that I jacked in, and then jacked off. YEEAAAHHH!"

Now the thing about The Matrix, the thing that really elevates to the realm of, not only important sci-fi films, but important pieces of culture, is not the kung fu or ground breaking special effects. While those are indeed amazing and have been imitated to death by dozens, perhaps hundreds of subsequent films, that followed in its wake.

Bullet time was so severely copied, mimicked, parodied, and reused in the next couple of years that it now heavily dates any movie that has a character dodge a bullet in slow motion as the camera tracks 180 degrees that I don't know if there is any other special effect that more screams the early 2000s. Maybe excessive use of wire work kung fu... oh wait, that was in The Matrix too?

There are strings attached.

And that's kinda the problem. Everyone was too busy copying the look and the special effects of The Matrix that they forgot to actually explore the underlining story the movie tells, as in the narrative which is really what makes it one of the most important pieces of culture of the past 20 years or whatever. Because those special effects, as cool as they are, are just the icing on the window, the cake dressing that gets people hooked and going oooh.

The thing that always made The Matrix one of my favourite movies was the feeling I got after watching it. That lingering sense that perhaps reality is false and nothing is real but merely simulated. That I was in fact in the Matrix and my whole life was nothing but a computer program, a series of ones and zeros sending stimuli to my brain tricking it into seeing a world that didn't really exist.

After watching it, I actually questioned the nature of the reality I saw before me, doubted its validity, and worried whether it was really real. This is because the movie so effectively executes that conceit making that idea seem almost palpable and undeniable.

Ever get the feeling your life is computer generated?

And that's a powerful thing for a film to make you severely questioned the reality of world you see before you, to suggest that, "Hey, perhaps this isn't real". And that's something the first Matrix movie managed to capture. Something which its sequels, which I've already mentioned don't exist, and the numerous imitators who followed in its wake failed to recapture or even realise, instead deciding to focus on the special effects because bullet time be bitchin'.

From here on end, I'm gonna to be building quite liberally on Cracked.com's David Wong's views on why The Matrix should be considered the most important story of recent times. Wong talks quite a bit about the hero's journey narrative, as in that narrative we see in the vast majority of our stories. The Arthurian narrative, it's seen in Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and a whole host of other films and stories.

It's the story we see time and time again: a young protagonist finds out that he (nearly always a guy) is essentially the most important person in the world/galaxy/universe and only he can save the world/galaxy/universe from the bad guys. Now the young protagonist is nearly always from humble or simple beginnings, typically a farm boy (Luke Skywalker) or rootsy folk (Frodo Baggins) and they have to defeat bad guys who are essentially the Machine, a large, highly uniform and technologically centred force.

Just space cogs in the machine.

And that's the standard hero's journey, protagonist goes out and kills enough bad guys until evil is vanquish and peace is restored to the world/galaxy/universe. Now on the surface that seems to be what Neo does in The Matrix (remember the sequels don't exist): Neo finds out he is the most important person in the world/galaxy/universe, the chosen one, and has to go out to defeat the big bad, Agent Smith. And he does, with some pretty awesome kung fu and one with the Force-ness.

But what The Matrix does is tell a different twist on that standard hero's journey. In so many of those narratives, a rag tag team of underdogs are up against this seemingly unstoppable army and save the day by killing a whole heap of them on the way to killing the emperor/king/leader, job done, gets the girl. There the big bad is out in the open and the the rebellion is known.

That's not the case in The Matrix. In this movie, not only has the battle already been fought, but we lost and we didn't even know there was a battle to lose. The only thing that makes us think that something happened is a nagging sense that this isn't exactly how life should be, that somehow there is something missing, that there should be more.

Like looking cool as hell in leather while carrying guns and wearing sunglasses inside just because.

We are already plugged into the Matrix from birth, so we don't even realise there could another option, another way to live, maybe a better way. We are so absorbed into the system we can't even recognise that there is a system since that's just the way it is.

And the real message of The Matrix is not that some chosen one will come to kill the bad guy. That's not what Neo does. I mean, he does kill Agent Smith (sorta kinda not really but the sequels don't exist) but that's not the pivot scene of the film. It's the phone call in the last scene of the movie where he says that he will show people a world where anything is possible. And then he flies.



He flies. And that is so important it cannot be understated. He's not gonna lead a resistance to destroy all the machines. He's just gonna show people what is possible and that the rules that govern our lives and what we think is real are all arbitrary and just a figment of the system. That we can and should be more. That we can break free of the blinders that the system has put on us and accomplish more than we dreamed possible.

Which might be one of the most important and powerful ideas possible. I dunno, I'm just saying.


References:

The Matrix Wikipedia page

The Wachowskis Wikipedia page

Dumb Movies That Will Be Studied By History


Friday, 21 November 2014

Daredevil - The Movie With No Fear

With all the excitement and hullabaloo about the upcoming Daredevil television series, I think it would be best to revisit the hero's last excursion into a live action adaption, that is, his first cinematic outing, Daredevil.

Yes, I am seriously going to revisit the reviled 2003 film starring Ben Affleck as the titular blind superhero and Jennifer Garner supposedly as Elektra, who got her own turdtastic spin off movie but the less said about that the better.

'Nuff said. No, literally. No more needs to be said.
(In unrelated news, Days of Future Past was amazing, right? Sitting there with 92% and shit.)

Just to clarify, I'm not actually reviewing the original theatrical release but the Extended Director's Cut for reasons that will be elaborated on below, most prominent being the fact that is the DVD I've got. Also, the Director's Cut is generally reckoned to be the superior film, again for reasons I'll elaborate on below (wow, I'm really setting up a lot of stuff to deliver on below, aren't I?).

Now, before we get into the nitty gritty of the Daredevil movie, and it is gritty, oh so very gritty, it might be a good idea to go into the comics since they're the source material and whatnot. Like all superheroes created in the 1960s, Daredevil's origin story revolves around radioactive material, because if there is one thing we all know, it is that radioactive exposure causes super powers always and cancer never.

While saving an old blind man's life (oh, the dramatic irony) from an oncoming truck, Matt Murdock has radioactive waste spilled in his eyes, which instead of killing him, renders him blind but heightens his other senses to superhuman abilities because radioactive. He can now 'see' by a sort of sonar due to his heighten hearing and has a superhuman sense of balance, because again, radioactive.

Daredevil actually started as a swashbuckling dashing superhero rather than the brooding anti-hero we know and love. Rather than being gritty realistic tales of urban life and criminal underworlds, the early Daredevil adventures were bright colourful affairs.

Colourful indeed.

Before deciding that red is the new black, Daredevil sported a mostly yellow costume that loudly announced his presence to ever criminal in a three block radius, which made stake out missions a bit trickier than they needed to be.

And don't say try to give the man a pass by saying he's blind because, like everyone knows, Daredevil may be blind but luckily the radioactive waste that caused his blindness also heightened his other senses, including heightening his sense of touch so much that he can 'feel' colour.

Yes, one of Daredevil's powers is to feel colour. By which I mean he can tell just by touching something what colour it is by the heat that colors give off, since colours are well known for giving off heat. Though to be fair, a black shirt does retain heat more than a plain white T, so I guess there might be some scientific basis for this power. Possibly. 


It doesn't quite explain his bitchin' master of disguise skills, though.

The darker and more badass Daredevil we now recognise as the definite Daredevil was ushered into being by Frank "I'm the Goddamn Batman" Miller. I've already spoken about how Hollywood loves milking Miller's version of Batman for all he is worth (and he is worth all the money) but before he started grittying up the Dark Knight, making him realistic and stuff, Miller got his first big break grittying up the Man With No Fear, essentially writing crime stories with a superhero in them.

And that is where Daredevil excels. His power set isn't really impressive enough to face up against the uber powered big bads that the Avengers regularly go up against but is perfectly suited to smaller, more direct, but no less impactful, crime narratives featuring mob syndicates and kingpins. As a blind superhero, his world is all darkness and a cacophony of sound, which makes him uniquely suited for stories about the dark seedy underbelly of urban life.


As evidenced here.

I don't want to dwell on Miller's run of the character since much has already been said about his run of the character elsewhere. However, I will mention how Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's partnership writing and drawing Daredevil, respectively, is one of the greatest partnerships on a superhero ever. Easy. Why that sounds like high praise, the fact is that they totally understand the character and what makes him unique among his super-powered peers.

Taking a natural, yet dark, noir tone, Bendis and Maleev craft a stunning narrative arc where Daredevil's secret identity is leaked to a newspaper and made public. However, the newspaper that ran the leak is a well-known tabloid with little credibility so initially the claims aren't entirely validated but they draw seriously unwanted media attention to Matt Murdoch.

And while all that is going on, the Kingpin is disposed from the head of the crime syndicate in Hell's Kitchen by a young upstart wiseguy and is presumed dead after he is stabbed about infinity times. And it was the young upstart wiseguy who spilt the beans on Daredevil's secret identity since he was a bit of a douche.

The newspapers scattered in the wind around Daredevil represent the scatter pieces of his life in the wake of the leak.
That, or Hell's Kitchen has a serious litter problem. 

Basically, the comic is split between two fronts, the courts where Matt Murdoch is suing the newspapers for libel for saying that he is Daredevil, and in the streets due to the power vacuum with the Kingpin's absence. Needless to say, but it all leads up to a thrilling conclusion that I won't spoil here. Read it, it's good.

Daredevil was subsequently written by Ed Brubaker and then Mark Waid which are also amazing because holy hell, Brubaker followed by Waid! If you don't know who those people are but like comics, drop whatever you're holding, whether it is a book, cup of coffee, or a baby, and go read some of their stuff (I mean, that baby isn't even yours).

Now, this is all buildup for talking about the Director's Cut of Daredevil and why it is a superior movie than the original theatrical release. Firstly, it is important to note the both the director, Mark Steven Johnson, and Ben Affleck are huge Daredevil fans and wanted to do right by the character. Numerous shots in the movie are taken direct from panels in the comics and the movie is definitely made with respect for the source material. The problem with the film is that execution often doesn't match the intent.

"Do tell."

For the Director's Cut is superior to the theatrical release in pretty much every way. There is a less focus on the romance between Matt Murdoch and Elektra, which felt rather forced in the theatric release. Daredevil doesn't actually get the girl, not even for the sex scene in the theatrical release, since to the director that underscores his unlucky in life/love character, where life never really goes his way but he perseveres regardless.

Matt Murdoch's relationship with his father is elaborated on and expanded so we can see the father-son bond that would shape his life as well as his conflict with his Catholic upbringing. On a similar note, Murdoch and Daredevil are giving equal time in the film, with a whole subplot featuring Coolio as a ganster Murdoch is defending in court is inserted into this version of the film. And this is great as it showcases his expert lawyer skills, which are a key component of who Matt Murdoch/Daredevil is. Thus, we see our hero straddle two very different views of justice, vigilantism and the legal judicial process, and this duality is at the core of the character.

The Director's Cut is rated R with harder violence and curse words, which fits the dark urban nature of Daredevil. Young Matt even says shit! That rapscallion. This is a vast improvement over the original version since there were a number of moments in that version where the tone of the movie and the way the scenes were shot suggested as though they were going to show the violence but then didn' due to the PG13 rating that kinda of neuters the original version. But the Director's Cut doesn't pull any punches and it shows.

With violence! And fire! Violent fire! Fiery violence!

However, despite these improvements, the film still has its flaws. The music is too mired in nu metal/post grunge songs of the early 2000s which were already kinda dated when the movie came out, and that does make elements of the film's aesthetic seem inauthentic with forced angst, in a similar way to how the industrial techno music in Blade 2 dated that movie terribly.

Furthermore, while the film comes together a bit better than the theatrical release, the script is a little haphazard and doesn't have a real consistent narrative arc but rather is punctuated by notable scenes that don't often flow intuitively into each other.

And the way the film depicts Daredevil's radar sense is rather clever and looks real cool. Like bullet-time made out of sound. It actually makes sense in the way different sounds emit a different 'pulse' depending on how loud they are or what type of sound they are, and how they interact so Daredevil can see.

In other news, while Colin Farrell is delightfully over-the-top and absolutely hamming it up as the psychotic assassin Bullseye, his performance doesn't quite fit the at times overly serious and dramatic mood of the film.

On that note, while he occasionally verges on being over-the-top, Michael Duncan Clarke is near perfect as Kingpin. He genuinely comes across as imposing and a real threat. You can see him working his way up the ranks, doing what was necessary, and killing whomever was in the way, to get to where he is.

This is a man who will do whatever necessary to get what he wants.

Now, I've already mentioned how I don't want to talk about Elekta, and Jennifer Garner isn't bad per se as Daredevil's sai wielding love interest but she isn't good either. In fact, there is one moment during their fight scene on the roof top where he is trying to explain that he didn't kill her father, and she says "Liar!" in the most ridiculous way. It's just a sharp reply but the inflection she puts on the word just makes me laugh everytime, which kinda kills the serious mood of the scene.

And now the Affleck. Contrary what some may believe, Affleck actually puts in a memorable performance as the Man With No Fear, presenting a believable depiction of a blind man, partly because the contacts he wore to give his eyes a milky hue actually blinded him a little.

Also, as Daredevil, he definitely has the chin acting chops for the scenes when he is in costume. No, really, have you seen that chin? It's a thing of beauty. No wonder he was cast as Batman. With a chin like that, criminals really would be a cowardly lot.

And all the geeks and fans will look up and shout "Aff-cleft!"... and I'll look down and whisper, "No".

So, I guess I'm trying to say that if you dismissed Daredevil when you first saw it the cinemas or are thinking of rewatching it, make sure you watch the Director's Cut. It won't be perfect and part will still sit awkwardly, but it is a much better adaptation of one of Marvel's greatest characters.


References:

Daredevil (Marvel Comics character) Wikipedia page

Daredevil (film) Wikipedia page

Daredevil Comics2Film - Comic Book Resourses

Ben Affleck Daredevil Interview MTV

Ben Affleck "Dares to Dream Daredevil" MTV Interview

Daredevil (TV series) Wikipedia page

Frank Miller Wikipedia page

The 5 Dumbest Powers Ever Given To Famous Superheroes

Giving the Devil His Due: Why Daredevil is Marvel's Most Underrated Character

Friday, 14 November 2014

Imagine If The Flash Was Called The Streak

The Flash has always been one of my favourite superheroes. I've mentioned before how I love Wally West's Flash more than any other. Which is why I'm gonna talk about Barry Allen. Obviously.

It might seem like I'm hating on Barry Allen, but I'm really not. Barry is a great. A real hero's hero. A man with a serious dedication to his principles and what is right, often at the expense of his own social life or well-being. A police officer's sense of justice with a scientist's mind. The man Batman wishes he could have been. And when Batman wishes he could be you, you're pretty much all the awesome possible.

I just always had a real soft spot in my heart for Wally West. That's as much because he was the Flash I grew up with (since Barry was too busy being dead during my informative to leave as much of an impact on me), as it is because I've always liked wise-crackling heroes like Spider-Man, and Wally cracks with the wise, especially in the animated Justice League series.

What can I say?

I like Barry just fine, although his policeman demeanor didn't leave as much of an impression on me. However, I did appreciate his dry sense of humour and the innovative ways he used his powers, which often turned 'man who can run fast' into such a simplistic description of his power set as to be laughable.

Now, you may or may not know (I don't want to make assumptions either way because if I assume you know, I'm being presumptuous, and if I assume you don't, I'm being elitist, so I'm gonna assume you may be vaguely aware it is a thing that exist but still tell you about it because being presumptuously elitist is the way to go) but there is a new Flash television show. With real people even. You know, those type of shows that aren't animated or a cartoon... um, like with real life actors- life action.

Life action!

Now, before we look at the new millennial Flash TV show, we need to discuss the early 1990s Flash TV show, and by we, I mean me. Now, the 1990s Flash was awesome despite itself. I say that because it shouldn't have worked. No, really. It just shouldn't have worked. Like at all.

The atmosphere of the show is definitely trying to ride the Bat-tails of the immensely popular Tim Burton Batman movies, with a sort-of gothic aesthetic for the Gotham-inspired grungy Central City. And that Bat-influence is all over the opening theme too, which is just Danny Elfman's Batman theme without the melancholy opening because the Flash hasn't got time for that. I suppose that Elfman just felt like copy-and-pasting since a pay cheque is a pay cheque.

Also, the show was quite camp at times, well a lot of the time. The villains often chewed scenery with ridiculous motivations and grandiose over-acted posturing deserving of prime-time soap opera. This campiness allowed for one of the most memorable villain performances in television history because did I mention that Mark Hamill played the Trickster? Because "Holy Joker-lite Batman!" he did.

"I was Luke Skywalker, you know."

Hamill is perfect as the crazed James Jesse, putting in a manic performance as the Trickster that you just know helped fuel his amazing voice-work as the Joker for the next couple of decades. His voice whirls and crackles, giggles and hackles, bellows and shackles from one extreme to another. It's a gloriously over-the-top performance that is just a wonder to behold.

On the other hand, although the show handled its source material with respect and gravitas, it at times felt like a soap opera, not least due to the interpersonal drama between Barry and Tina. And like a soap opera, the acting could occasionally be stiff, especially Amanda Pays as Tina. Yet, despite seemingly remembering her lines as she says them, Pays is incredibly likable as Tina and really grows as strong foil for Barry over the course of the season.

John Wesley Shipp actually was a soap opera actor before he donned the red suit but he is great as Barry Allen. Self-effacing yet warm, with a gentle charm but disciplined disposition. At times filled with doubt but with an unwavering conviction, he's a genuine hero but a man who feels the weight of the responsibility he has taken upon himself as Central City's protector. And Shipp manages to endue Barry with all these qualities despite his somewhat limited range due to the sheer warmth and personality he puts into the character. The fact he also makes the suit work despite the padded muscles should be taken into consideration too.

Pulling. It. Off.

And that's the thing, the individual elements that make up the show should have counted against it, culminating in a barely watchable endeavor best forgotten. But instead it is a incredibly agreeable show and a decent watch, not anything that breaks the mold, but a real enjoyable superhero show with more going for it than against it.

After having watched the first couple episodes of The Flash 2014 TV series, it seems that being more than the sum of its parts is par for the course for life action Flash TV shows. It's a CW show, so like Smallville, Arrow, and Beauty and the 'Beast' before it, it features a number of really specific type of beautiful people with sharp jawlines and thin frames doing beautiful people things. Yet despite that, the actors are all really dedicated with some compelling performances. Like, for example, John Wesley "I was the Flash motherchuckers" Shipp as Barry Allen's father, Henry.

I had the biggest nerdgasm ever when this happened.
I didn't even know that I felt so strongly about the 1990 Flash show but apparently I did.

It's a masterstroke of casting. A loving nod to fans of the 1990 series but it's not just a hand out to Shipp, capitulising on his past time in the titular role. If anything, over the intervening years Shipp seems to seriously have developed as an actor. He is quite emotive as Barry's compassionate yet constrained father, wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of wife (Spoilers, I guess). Compellingly conveying the regret of a man who has had his life and son taken away from him but the tenderness of his love for his son despite the harshness of his environment.

And Grant Gustin as Barry is a good fit, playing him a bit more dorky than Shipp but highlighting his keen scientific mind and passion for knowledge, while still showcasing his caring nature and sense of justice. He is also a little bit more of a wisecracker than Shipp's Bary with a deft gift for a quick quip but Gustin pulls off the darker aspects of the character quite well, countering his bright side with a real sense of tragedy due to his mother's death.

He also pulls off his costume despite not having padded muscles.

The special effects are decent, nothing spectacular but impressive for a CW network show and the designs are solid but what really makes this show work are the characters and tight writing. Which makes sense since one of the main writers for the show is Geoff Johns, aka. the best Flash comic book writer ever. Little nods to the future of the character are thrown in here and there, while the story definitely seems to be developing a natural arc, based on one of the best Flash stories in comics.

Johns intense familiarity with the character and mythos of the Flash means that the show has a sense of identity and confidence that the 1990 Flash did lack. With a purposely light tone, the show hits on the appeal of the character, he's not a brooding Dark Knight or benevolent protector Man of Steel, he's a speedster and speedsters need light to see where they're going.

Even though he's dubbed the Streak by the news channels in the fictional universe of the show, this feels very much like the Flash. Long may he run.


References:

The Flash (2014 TV series) Wikipedia page

The Flash (1990 TV series) Wikipedia page

The Flash (Barry Allen)

About Me

My photo

This introduction is supposed to let you know that you have found the correct Caleb. 

I am here to tell that your search is over. I am indeed the correct Caleb for any given situation. Parties, hunter-gatherings, long walks on the beach, shindigs, guest appearances, and so much more. I am an multi-purpose Caleb guaranteed to impress friends and influence your uncle.

I also write stuff online.