A bunch of movies from the last 3 weeks:
The Matrix (1999)
One of those movies that could be considered a "game changer for cinema" with its "bullet time" special effects, reality bending story and the resurrection of Keanu Reeves' career. The execution is original even if the basic premise ("what if our reality is fake and there is something 'bigger' going on?") is not. All of the players commit to the material and the nearly 20 year old special effects still hold up today.
As an aside, I watched this off of a DVD copy on an "upscaling Blu-Ray player" and I thought that a lot of the interior movie scenes and close-ups had a video-like "soap opera" feel which was somewhat distracting, but I think that may have been a product of the hardware (player and screen.) Need to run on my native DVD player and TV for comparison.
All in all though, The Matrix is well paced and the story unfolds to a satisfying conclusion, albeit with plenty of openness for sequels. 3.5 / 4.0
The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
What the Wachowski's did with "economy of story" in the 1999 outing is thrown out the window in the sequel. Rather than expand on ideas from the original and continue the story in an organic way, they instead opt to blow open the narrative on every front. The Matrix world gets expanded with 8 or 9 different new "classes" of citizens who all appear to be different types of "programs" who either help or hinder the human resistance (or each other), yet display human characteristics such as loyalty, lust, greed, arrogance, and envy. What we think we know about the Matrix and who/what Neo is is redefined and re-cast.
In the "real world", we are introduced to Zion, the city of humans free of the Matrix. It has thousands of citizens, an organized militia (of which Morpheus is just another one of its members) and a ruling political class. Oh...and they know how to throw an awesome rave dance party and orgy.
Once again the special effects and martial arts sequences inside The Matrix are fun and well executed, though after a while I began to wonder why people engaged in hand-to-hand combat at all since it NEVER led to a resolution or a triumph over the opponent....the only fight resolutions that had any finality came at the end of the barrel of a gun.
Squandered opportunity of continuing a compelling story. 2.0 / 4.0
The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
Might as well just ditto the review of "Reloaded" since this flick followed the previous one by just 6 months. Although in this one more of the action happens in "the real world" as the machines prepare an all out assault on the human city of Zion. There are still more Matrix programs/characters introduced and the roles of how everything fits together is hinted at through cryptic conversations, but never really explained with any degree of satisfaction. Neo's story is resolved, but as to the over all fate of humans vs machines, there is no definitive end to that story. Always leave the door open for movies, books and video games.
2.0 / 4.0
The Princess Bride (1987)
Rob Reiner's story within a story finds a boy (Fred Savage) home with an illness who is content to sit in bed and play video games. When his grandfather (Peter Falk) appears, he has a book in tow. A special fairy tale that was read to him when he was a child, and that he read to the boy's father, and that he will now read to his Grandson.
It tells the story of Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Westley (Cary Elwes), young peasants in the land of Florian who come to fall deeply in love. When Westley leaves to find his fortune and is killed by pirates, Buttercup is commanded to marry Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). Humperdinck is not really interested in marrying Buttercup, but hires a trio of mercenaries (Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, and Andre the Giant) to kidnap his fiancee and kill her so that he can blame a neighboring kingdom as justification to go to war.
The characters are all distinct and memorable and the humor spread throughout keeps things lively. The narrative does drag a bit towards the end; the first and second thirds of the movie are the strongest parts. Overall, though, the movie is very quotable and the story it tells is timeless. 3.5 / 4.0
The Ten Commandments (1956)
Cecil B. Demille's bombastic telling of the story of Moses is a classic for many reasons. I noticed that ABC showed in on primetime TV last Saturday, but I watched the Blu Ray the previous week (with intro by Demille, the overture and intermission and all that). The epic set pieces, the cast of thousands, the elaborate sets in service of telling the story of a man who is born a slave, becomes a prince of Egypt, is banished and left for dead, and rises to become a messenger of God and deliverer of his people.
At nearly 4 hours long, the story does get a little soapy in parts, and the final 15 minutes feel like they belong in another movie entirely, but there's no denying that Demille knew how to put an engaging epic on the big screen. 3.5 / 4.0