Posts Tagged Alistair Martin

The Matrix (1999)

  • Directors: Andy Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers) , Lana Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers)
  • Writers: Andy Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers) , Lana Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers)
  • Stars: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss

I revisited The Matrix rather recently (after having already seen it 3 times before) so that I could give it a review while it’s still fresh in my mind. I thought I knew it well. That was until I was in a place that had it playing on a big screen and the guy behind the counter was saying word for word whatever dialogue was about to be spoken next. Either he had an incredible memory or he had seen it more times than I have.

You have probably seen The Matrix, as it is a classic; not a cult classic, but an actual classic. It came out in 1999, and now over 15 years on, some people say it hasn’t aged well. I disagree, especially as it’s available on HD DVD and Bluray with the same if not better definition than it had in its original cinema release. I mention the HD DVD and Bluray because when it first came out on DVD it was slightly grainy as it hadn’t yet had the high definition transfer that came about years later in 2007.

With its box office success and record breaking number of DVD sales it introduced the simulation hypothesis to masses of people. Instead of posing the question, ‘are we living in a simulation?’ amusingly, many people started to ask, ‘are we living in The Matrix?’

In the film, Thomas Anderson who goes by the alias of Neo, is played by Keanu Reeves (who aptly is a computer programmer). As the story unfolds we find out that he has been living in an artificial world created by machines and that it is not 1999 but in fact closer to 2199. Some people criticise the artificial world for being ‘very 90s’ but I would point out that it literally is supposed to be 1999 and so it really should look the way it does, with its clunky cellphones and computers.

Through Trinity (played by Carrie-Anne Moss) Neo is introduced to the incredibly philosophical and fanatical Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne. What follows is the iconic scene where Morpheus presents Neo with a blue pill and a red pill. Neo has to choose whether to wake up in bed and believe whatever he wants to believe (the blue pill), or stay in wonderland and see how deep the rabbit hole goes (the red pill). He chooses the red pill and what follows is incredibly disturbing. Reality begins to warp and distort and then just in time, before presumably something terrible is going to happen to him, he wakes up in the real world and is unplugged from The Matrix. It shows that he is in some sort of pod in a liquid with rods plugged into him. He is flushed from the pod, then rescued and brought aboard Morpheus’s ship.

There are numerous philosophical, religious, and political references. Some even speculate that the red pill depicted in the film is actually a metaphor for the drug DMT. It’s claimed by many that no one experiences reality the same way again after a DMT trip (whether that is a good or bad idea depends on your perspective).

It’s small wonder then that this film sparked a lot of angst in some people. I’ve often heard the film referenced in conspiracy theories, with one person telling me on one occasion, ‘it is truth wrapped up in fiction.’

To simply summarize the main idea: if it is possible for us, somehow with technology, to create an artificial world as real as this one, then perhaps we ourselves are already living in an artificial world that was created by beings more advanced than us. They would effectively be our Gods. I don’t mean that in the supernatural sense. If it were true, it would be scientific and based just on very advanced technology.

Oxford philosopher, Nick Bostrom, has said he places the chance that were are actually living in a simulation at a 20% probability. That surely won’t comfort people that have really been adversely affected by seeing The Matrix!

When I saw it for the first time, in 1999, I was in my early teens and I didn’t understand the main idea of it and so I just enjoyed the action scenes and the martial arts. Speaking of which, the film boasts choreography by none other than Yuen Woo-ping, who did a fantastic job.

The film is a fairly even combination of both visual effects and profound ideas. That’s something I would like to see more of. I think a great many films focus on the visual effects and action; neglecting the importance of ideas.

A similar but much more low-key film was released in the same year as The Matrix; it’s called The Thirteenth Floor, and I liked that as well although it is nowhere near as well known.

I think one of the best things in The Matrix is the formidable quality of what are known as ‘Agents.’ They are sentient programs depicted as beings that fight both with guns and hand-to-hand combat; enforcing the rules of the matrix and killing people that are awake and infiltrating it from the real world by jacking into it. They remind me of the T1000 played by Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. The main Agent (Agent Smith) is played by Hugo Weaving marvellously.

The Matrix has two sequels that were not as well received but they are still good in my opinion and they elaborate even further on the ideas of the first.

Reviewed by Alistair Martin

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Fifty Shades of Grey

Rating: 18
Runtime: 125 min
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

I decided to go and see Fifty Shades of Grey, mainly out of respect for and interest in it as a cultural phenomenon. It’s based on the novel of the same name, written by British author E. L. James.

It should be obvious to anyone that it’s geared towards a female audience. As I watched the film I became immersed in what felt like female psychology. The theatre was packed, almost entirely with women. I counted just one other guy in there other than me. I could hear reactions to key moments in various scenes but I just couldn’t fully fathom what all the fuss was about. Clearly, E. L. James and the makers of the film know what they’re doing! I was impressed. Fifty Shades stars Jamie Dornan as the male lead, Christian Grey. Jamie used to be a model 10 years ago and previously his main claim to fame was having dated Keira Knightley as, a then, unknown. He has since then gone into acting and will now surely become a household name. Dakota Johnson plays the female lead, Anastasia Steele. Up until now, I hadn’t heard of her, and when I first saw her on screen, I wasn’t sure she was the right woman for the part, as she looked quite plain. It wasn’t long before I could see why she was chosen for the role. She was able to display her passionate feelings for Christian Grey right down to the subtlest of nuances in expression. She’s an emoting force to be reckoned with. The film has a sexual theme with some heated scenes but it’s all done as tastefully as possible. As Christian Grey is into domination and sadism, we are introduced to his special ‘play room’ full of items he uses on the women he manages to lure into his sexual fantasies he likes to play out. I braced myself for some disturbing scenes but there weren’t any. It was all done very softcore, much like The Red Shoe Diaries, a TV show I used to see come on late at night in the 90s, starring David Duchovny (the actor that played Fox Mulder in The X-Files and Hank in Californication). Rita Ora makes a very brief appearance. I was actually looking forward to seeing her but was left a bit disappointed as she played such a minimal part. It looks like Hollywood is testing the water with her. I believe she is theatre trained and therefore is a good bet as an actress as well as a pop singer. She’s very well known in the UK music scene and has had some big hits. Fifty Shades has a special soundtrack that features Beyonce singing a new rendition of her hit song, ‘Crazy In Love‘. The film is visually stunning without over-stating the fact. Being adapted from the first part of a trilogy, we can expect two more sequels to come.

Reviewed by Alistair Martin

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My Booky Wook by Russell Brand

 

Click on image to buy this book!

I first became aware of Russell Brand when he was presenting Big Brother’s Big Mouth. I picked up on his impressive improvisation skills, persona, and well delivered catchphrases. I had a gut feeling that he would become a big star. Years later, I find myself reviewing his big-selling autobiography: My Booky Wook.

It turns out that before gaining all that exposure presenting Big Brother’s Big Mouth, he had worked as a presenter for MTV and even made a show for an obscure satellite TV channel that no longer exists, among other media related work as well as stand up gigs and small comedy shows above a pub.

I learned a hell of a lot from My Booky Wook and am very glad I read it. It charts Russell’s rise to success and bestows nuggets of wisdom that Russell specifically acquired from that experience and being a drug addict, a sex addict, and a manic depressive. I want to make clear, though, Russell doesn’t pathologise his manic depression. He takes no medication for the disorder, and instead sees it as a source of creativity, albeit one that comes with highs and lows.

One intriguing insight is when Russell explains how while performing he accesses a realm of intense creativity that enables him to find the right words to say. This is important because being eloquent and mind enchantingly articulate is one of his trademarks. He touches upon this aspect of his talent only briefly a couple of times. In one instance he talks about the power of finding the exact combination of words that will get him what he wants in situations requiring the art of persuasion. He is boldly open about how he has used this skill to bed a number of women.

He divulges vast amounts of information about his sexual conquests throughout the years starting from his early failures and successes and building up all the way to when he is bedding women so frequently that his associates decide that he needs professional help for sex addiction. In My Booky Wook, he documents his treatment in America for his sex addiction and he also documents in incredible detail his years of drug use as well as eventual recovery from this, most notably heroin.

While Russell succeeds in abstaining from the use of hard drugs with remarkable success where so many others fail, he does concede that he still has sex, and who can blame him?

Russell is a professional funnyman and he certainly managed to make me laugh out loud several times throughout the book. However, there were some very sad, even depressing moments in the book and he showed the respect the subject matters at hand deserved, showing a maturity that many people, I think, overlook. There are hints at his interest in politics at certain points and that indicates that his recent forays into political activism didn’t just come about on a whim.

Booky Wook is a must read for any aspiring performer, especially aspiring comedians, as Russell explains his own journey through the process of learning stand-up. He briefly mentions little bits of insight into learning acting, having studied at and been thrown out of stage school, and drama school, and those are fascinating, but he goes into far more detail about comedy and cites his main inspirations as well as the amount of effort he put into learning stand-up as his greatest craft.

Russell mentions many people by name which is a testament to how personable he is and has always been, giving props to every little good deed that contributed to his eventual success. Of course, due to his fragile state, and excessive drug use, he does rub a great many people up the wrong way in the formative years of his rise to fame and he shares a great deal of those sorts of escapades which at one point involves him getting his jaw knocked out of alignment by a bouncer!

Booky Wook is a powerful piece of literature that is a treasure trove of wisdom both directly and perhaps unintentionally.

Reviewed by Alistair Martin

 

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Under the Skin (2013)

undertheskin

Click on image to buy DVD!

Certificate: 15 Runtime: 1h48m

I am a long time fan of Scarlet Johansson which is one reason I decided to watch Under The Skin. She plays the lead character in it and it’s not long into the film that you find out that she is an alien. There are hints of a spacecraft and alien technology but the film explains little. You just have to guess and use your imagination as to how it all works. Scarlett’s character, which as far as I know, has no name, is working as a sexual lure, presumably for a specific purpose. It was very interesting to try to figure it all out from what the film gives you (which is not enough in my opinion!). Some people think they understand it deeply and they speak of its ‘symbols’ and that’s great. I would have liked more insight into the alien technology among other things. There are scenes where Scarlett’s character talks to men through the window of a van and this is so realistic that I felt at times as if the men she was talking to were not acting and were genuine victims. It turns out that some of the men actually were being secretly filmed and were not actors. They were told after.

What I find most fantastic about that is one gets to see how Scarlett Johansson would talk to a man in an alluring way in real life. It was very subtle but I think she was a super lure. This didn’t make much sense because the alien she plays doesn’t have a back story that explains how she would have gained the social skills needed to talk to people in the warm, relaxed, and seductive way that she does. This is inconsistent as there are other scenes that clearly show that the alien doesn’t understand human life to much of a degree. The most impressive thing about the film is the atmosphere it created due to the truly alien technology you do get to see. There is a special floor that while Scarlett’s character walks on it, remains hard but as the men walk on it they slowly become submerged in it as it turns into a thick liquid. You get to see specifically what happens to them in the end as a result of that and it’s quite disturbing. It helped me to imagine why being abducted by aliens might be so terrible as something like what happens in Under The Skin could be what would come of that. Those who imagine being abducted by aliens talk about being put on an operating table under some bright lights and experimented on – a modified version of what it’s like to go to the dentist! Under The Skin provides your imagination with a much more alien vision of what could happen.

Reviewed by Alistair Martin

This is our second review of Under the Skin! You can find the first one by Pat Harrington here.

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