In the high-concept mould of Speed and Unstoppable, Michael Bay’s Ambulance gives us an ambulance, hijacked by bank robbers, that isn’t allowed to stop moving. It’s a real throwback to the era of genuine stunts, cars flipping over on fire, helicopters flying under bridges, and charismatic villains – with much less charm than you’d like, insultingly mechanical use of archetypes to manipulate your feelings, and low expectations of its audience. We discuss how well or badly it balances its actors, tells its story, uses its milieu to offer a portrait of the society in which it’s set, and more.
After eighteen years away and vast changes in the blockbuster landscape in which it once broke incredible new ground, the Matrix series is back with a fourth film, The Matrix Resurrections. Keanu Reeves’ Neo is once again plugged into the Matrix as Thomas Anderson, but having trouble separating reality from dreams of events that happened twenty years ago… if dreams are what they are.
We discuss Resurrections‘ endless self-reflexivity, how it uses motifs and themes of the previous films, updating them where necessary and bringing more out of them (Mike is glad of the much improved use of mirrors). We also consider the film’s inclusivity, which is key to the Wachowskis’ work, and an uncomplicated joy here – it’s not difficult for people from a range of ethnic backgrounds and situated in different places along sexual and gender spectra to coexist in a blockbuster with no particular importance placed upon their identities, as Resurrections proves. You just have to want to do it, and the world that results is beautiful. And, at heart, it’s a middle-aged romance – for which José swoons!
Resurrections isn’t without its issues, and we consider those too – Mike asks whether the sense of wonder associated with the special effects of the original films is simply gone forever in a world in which literally anything can be done, and is, with all-powerful CGI, and we agree that the action is a Bourne-inflected disappointment, especially so in a series that itself spawned so many imitators of its own action scenes two decades ago.
But seen in its entirety, The Matrix Resurrections is an imaginative and interesting continuation of the story begun twenty years ago, and a holistic triumph of well-intentioned, positive and effortless representation. Whoever thought we’d get a fourth Matrix? And that it would be this different, and this good?
At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, riots erupted when thousands of anti-Vietnam War protestors clashed with police. Seeking to crush the energetic counterculture, the US government put on trial a group of eight defendants, some political organisers, some cultural radicals, some with hardly any influence, a pacifist, and a Black Panther, hoping to convict them for conspiracy to incite the riots. Aaron Sorkin’s writing is a good fit for this story, the disparate group of defendants arguing amongst themselves sharply, and many scenes flowing beautifully towards their own internal climaxes; the same cannot be said of his direction, the film lacking much visual flair and instinct for expressive imagery.
We revisit our common theme of British actors playing Americans, José finding more fault with it here than Mike does – we can, at least, agree that Sacha Baron Cohen’s accent is atrocious, his Abbie Hoffman a weak point. Mike expounds upon how much he hates himself for how much he likes Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom, comfort food for the American left, which he sees echoes of here.
We find flaw upon flaw with The Trial of the Chicago 7, but despite every one of them, it’s an immensely watchable film with a terrific ensemble cast and entertaining dialogue. With an awareness of its limitations and economy with the truth, we recommend it.
DC’s search for a cinematic tone continues to lurch between monochrome gravity and Technicolor frivolity, James Wan’s Aquaman firmly occupying the latter end of the spectrum. Although Mike has long been amused at how feeble is the concept of a superhero whose power is fish telepathy, the film has a good sense of humour about itself (even if some of the specific jokes are a little clunky) and hugely enjoyable freedom in its design, the giant seahorses a particular charm.
We discuss what’s to like and dislike about the film’s visual design and action, its message that violence is the least good solution to any problem, the welcome wisdom and calmness brought by Willem Dafoe and Dolph Lundgren (yes, really), and its adaptation of Arthurian legend and how it fits into a recent spate of films and television programmes fascinated with monarchy, bloodlines, divine rights and so on.
Jose is overall more reserved than Mike but still announces that he enjoyed himself, and the golden rule holds true: the key to happiness is low expectations.
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