Category Archives: Movies

Cyberpunk Matrix Movies and Films

Blame! (2017) Movie review

For a more in-depth movie review, I highly recommend Neon Dystopia’s excellent Blame! review, but in my opinion this review is best read after watching the movie, since it describes all the acts of the movie and contains a bit of broad spoilers. For a spoiler-free review with the impressions from yours truly, please read on!

Blame! is set in a dystopian future where nature is a thing of the past, and the world is now consumed by an endless stretch of metal city, going on as far as the eye can see. A small human village is the last visible remains of humanity, scouring for food and trying to survive the attacks of the city’s robotic safeguard, who see the humans as illegal residents.

In comes the character Killy, who is looking for something and decides to briefly help the humans as he continues on his quest. The rest of the movie involves the humans working with Killy and another character, Cibo, in surviving the robot world and figuring out what happened to make the world the way it is.

In the first few minutes of the movie, I was immediately reminded of scenes from the Matrix and Animatrix. The vast open industrial fields, devoid of any plant life or non-artificial life, were very similar although different. Also, the watchtowers that the humans had to hide from, felt very similar to hiding from the watchful eye of the Squids in the Matrix, and the exterminators also felt similar even though they were not airborne.

The soundtrack to this movie does little to add or enhance the movie, which seems content on delivering the story and scenes by themselves. I should also add that the soundtrack is appropriately Japanese in sound, with the dramatic vocals and Asian-sounding stringed instruments.

Where Blame! truly shines, however, are in the action scenes and the visuals of the setting. The plot runs at a steady pace with the right amount of suspense, as the viewer is constantly scared that this last vestige of humanity might be wiped out or seen by the deadly machines chasing them. It also masterfully keeps the viewer in the dark, and very little is formally explained to the viewer as they try to discover, along with the main characters of the story, how the world came to be the way it is.

The action scenes contain a bit of CGI, but are masterfully interwoven with the anime in true action-packed anime form.

I only had a couple issues with this great movie. The first, was that the dialogue felt very basic and at times outright painful with its simplicity. Killy is a master at silence, brooding, and looking cool while not caring what others think of him. The humans seem to be very simple in their thought process, and take a while to come to conclusions that the viewer may have already realized from scene to scene. This, however, is a complaint that I already have with most anime, so maybe it’s just me.

The other issue I have with the movie is that although the pacing is great in general, sometimes the movie trips on itself in situations where they are running away from a pursuing enemy in one scene, and then all of a sudden stop to have a chat in the middle of what should be a fast-paced escape. This could have been remedied by having them talk while moving, or just limiting the at times asinine dialogues they have with each other completely.

Aside from these two minor things, however, the movie is a delight for those who enjoy seeing a rich dystopian world, fast paced action, and a quick plot rich in suspense and mystery. Overall I would give it a solid 9/10.

 

Review: The Matrix Trilogy

The ones that started it all. My love and obsession for Cyberpunk began with the incredible Matrix Trilogy. But why was it so good? How did it have so much of an impact? I will be going in depth to explain my complete adoration for this trilogy, (specifically, the first two) but I am keeping all three together in this review, with an obvious 10/10. I will try to be objective, but here’s my completely biased review of The Matrix Trilogy.

The less you know about the Matrix, the better it is when you watch it, but for the sake of this review I’ll have to spoil a little. I definitely recommend watching them in order, however, as I watched Matrix Reloaded (the 2nd one) before the original Matrix and was very confused. Even watching it in order can get pretty confusing at times.

The Matrix is set in two different times: The first, which you are introduced to, is set in New York in the year 1999. The Second, which you are shown later, is set in the future in 2149. The story follows the journey of a Mr. Thomas Anderson, a software company employee by day and a black-market hacker by night. He wants to find out what The Matrix is, and soon enough he meets someone named Morpheus who is willing to give him the answer, even if it’s more than he ever expected.

Read on for spoilers of the next two movies. The next line you see will be a general review of the themes and elements of all 3 movies, without spoilers.

 

 


 

The reason why I am taking extra measures to provide a limit to the spoilers you read here is because of just how good it is for you to discover what the matrix is in the way that the movie delivers the answers. This is one of the reasons why I like this trilogy so much, especially the first and second one: they take their time in providing you the answers, and you can’t help getting pulled into the story and wanting to know what the matrix is as well, along with the main character. The story pulls you in for an incredible ride.

Mr. Anderson discovers that the Matrix is a virtual reality system that almost all humans are a part of, unwittingly, which was built by machines as a system of control so that the machines can grow and harvest humans like cattle in order to live off of their bioelectrical energy. The machines decided humans would be the best source of energy, but to keep them alive, they need to be complacent, and this is why they are all connected via wires into the Matrix, where they can live a dream world and dream life.

In this movie, Thomas Anderson, AKA Neo, must follow a preordained path of the One, which Morpheus has been told through the help of someone called the Oracle. If you’re getting lots of religious undertones here, that’s quite intentional. Most of the first movie involves Neo discovering what The Matrix is, and trying to come to terms with being The One who has to save all mankind from their slavery in the hands of the machines.

In the second movie, Neo has accepted his role as the one, and the majority of the film revolves around him getting to “the source” in order to save the last human city of Zion and complete the prophecy as foretold by the Oracle.

In the final movie, Zion is under attack by the machines, and Neo is caught in the Matrix. He must first leave the matrix, and then attempt one last effort to reach through to the machines to again save Zion from the machines. This also involves facing his arch-nemesis Smith.

 


 

 

Alright, spoilers are done! Now to talk about some of the elements that make these movies so great.

The Matrix movies are great because they appeal to a wide audience. They have a lot of action, including car chase scenes, shootouts, sword fighting, and Kung-Fu (legendary Martial Arts Choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping was hired for the action scenes. If you watch Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, or Kung-Fu Hustle, you’ll recognize his fun wire-action style). It involves a bit of romance, although the romance present in the movies are pretty limited. It involves mystery, suspense, and a lot of thriller elements regarding the almost all-powerful machines and their counterpart agents in The Matrix. But finally, there is a lot of mysticism and Philosophy interwoven in the Matrix. And this last point is ultimately why I think The Matrix stands above most other movies. If you don’t like movies that make you think and ask questions about your reality, then perhaps a brain-dead movie of gratuitous action like The Expendables might be better for you. But if you want a movie that will free and blow your mind at the same time, then the Matrix is perfect.

There are many different themes that the movies play with. Here are some of the major ones.

  1. The nature of reality.

“What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” –Morpheus

Due to what the Matrix is, a big part of the movie revolves around what counts as reality. Some consider the Matrix as one big lie, a dream that can’t be woken up from, infringing on our basic rights of choice and free will. Others think that the Matrix is better than actual reality, and therefore that ignorance is bliss, and the Matrix is a better reality than the alternative.

Whatever you decide, it’s a fun question to ask.

2.  Fate vs. Free will.

Morpheus: Do you believe in Fate, Neo?

Neo: No.

Morpheus: Why not?

Neo: Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.

Are we in control of our lives, or have the decisions all been decided for us already? Because of the reliance on the Oracle to tell the humans what to do next, including the prophecy and fulfilling it, fate vs. free will has a big role in these movies. Morpheus, Neo, Agent Smith, The Oracle, The Architect, the Merovingian, these are all big characters in the movies that have their own thoughts on the subject, which they beautifully articulate in well-written dialogue pieces throughout the trilogy.

In addition to these two big themes is a lot of symbolism. You’ll notice already the heavy-laden meaning behind names such as Neo (new), the One (Anagram of Neo, relating to a messiah from multiple religious texts, in particular Christianity), and Morpheus (interpreter of dreams for the gods in Greek mythology). There’s also the crew’s ship, the Nebuchadnezzar, (the old biblical king), as well as Trinity, referring to the holy trinity and Neo’s love interest.

Another interesting thing to note is the preparation the actors had to do before even reading the script. Apparently, actors like Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne had to read three lofty texts: Evolutionary Psychology, Simulation and Simulacra (Modern French Philosophy on the nature of reality), and Out of Control, a predictive text on machines and control looking to the future as a cautionary tale.

Phew! So far we’ve covered the setting and basic premises of the movies, and the symbolism, philosophy, and genre-bending aspects of the movies. Now it’s time to talk about the special effects, the direction, and the soundtrack.

The special effects in 1999 were groundbreaking in and of itself. Something called “bullet time” became a household word, due to the scene where Neo is able to dodge bullets. In order to pull this off (again, this had never been done in this way before at the time), the special effects team set up a series of cameras surrounding the subject set up based on a simulation in order to take pictures in succession of something still or moving, in order to have a freeze-time or slow-motion effect while moving around the object around the same time.

Bullettime rig.jpg

This began a new method of film-making that affected TV commercials, movies, TV series, and video-games, all adopting the popular special effect. Adding onto the incredible scenes from the original Matrix movie, Matrix Reloaded added an element of fluid CGI movements in addition to the live-action actors and special effects, most notably in the scene called Burly Brawl that almost seems ripped out of an anime movie or a modern-day video game.

The incredible direction of the Wachowskis was crucial as well. Apparently they were very inspired by the bio-punk cyberpunk anime movie Akira (1988), and in fact used the anime as a way to explain their vision to Warner Brothers as a way to pitch their movie. They also hired people to draw storyboards of the scenes they had envisioned in their head, also very rich in special effects inspired from Akira or the Ghost in the Shell series. Usually a writer or director simply explains an idea with words, or maybe a few pictures. The Wachowskis had an entire comic made as a storyboard to show what they envisioned. That’s saying a lot.

Trinity Storyboard.jpg

The Warner Brothers took a gamble in funding this high-cost film, but it obviously paid off big time. The Wachowskis never thought they’d be able to make a sequel, but when they were told the producers wanted a trilogy, they decided to make Reloaded (#2) and Revolutions (#3) at the same time, both released the same year in 2003. With a budget of $63 million for the first Matrix, it raked in $463 million at the box office. The subsequent movies, Reloaded and Revolutions, cost $150 million and $110 million, and took in $742 million and $427 million, respectively.

Finally, we arrive at the soundtrack. I personally fell in love with most of the artists that collaborated on this phenomenal soundtrack, the main one being Don Davis. Davis focused on an orchestral score, classical in nature but grand as the movie deserved, for the first film. This was paired with music from other artists, such as The Prodigy, Rob Dougan, Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, and Rage Against the Machine.

The second movie, Reloaded, was able to fuse more electronic artists into the style, and less of the hard rock and punk rock artists. Don Davis also collaborated with Juno Reactor and Rob Dougan to create some great musical pieces. Another noteworthy mention is Fluke, whose song Zion (which is the last human city Neo is trying to protect) is played while the entire human collective rocks out in one last dance party the night before their battle with the machines.

There are just so many things that came together right in these movies, too many things to mention, but the incredible vision that the Wachowski brothers (now sisters) had is just mind-boggling, and I personally love the green-tinted virtual reality where anything can happen, as well as the nightmarish dystopian blue-tinted reality of Machines controlling the world and enslaving humanity. These films are simply very rich with all kinds of things.

So if you like Cyberpunk, Kung-Fu, Virtual Reality, Questioning Reality, Symbolism, Philosophy, Car chases and slow motion and Blade fights and fast-paced orchestral music with drums beating and electronic symphonies, then these films are for you. 🙂

Favorite trilogy ever. 10+/10.

Upgrade (2018): Movie Review

Upgrade was a movie that immediately piqued my interest when it first came out, but that I figured would be a typical action revenge slug-fest where the main character, through the help of an AI enhancement chip, would give him something akin to Kung Fu moves as it took over and helped him unleash all kind of badassery.

Thus I was very pleasantly surprised by the range and scope of this movie. Although still a self-contained revenge story, there were a lot of surprises that I didn’t expect, and a lot of artistic choices that I found made this movie rise up as much more than a simple revenge action flick.

Grey Trace is a mechanic whose wife is suddenly and tragically murdered, and he is left quadriplegic for reasons unknown.

MOVIE REVIEW UPGRADE

After attempting to recreate the semblance of a life after his injury, he is offered an AI chip called STEM that promises to give him full mobility of his body back, billed as a ‘second brain’ of sorts. Once implanted, Grey goes on a quest to find out why he and his wife were attacked, through the help of STEM.

One of the things that really makes this film work is the chemistry between the AI, called STEM, and the main character, Grey Trace. STEM is voiced by Simon Maiden, whom I hadn’t heard of before, but his voicing is excellent. Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus) also gives an excellent performance, with both a wide range of emotion, action, and his ability to move his body in a highly wooden fashion as if STEM were controlling it. The way he moves his head, arms, and complete body as if it were a robot controlling parts of a whole, helped reinforce the illusion that STEM truly was in control. Another cool effect was how I experienced hearing STEM for the first time. Not only does it take you by surprise when he does speak, but only the speakers in the back of the theater projected his voice, whereas all speakers projected Grey’s voice, further creating the illusion that STEM was inside all of our heads.

The second thing that I loved about this movie was the pacing. Too many action films, in my view, rush all of their action sequences and don’t take their time, either via multiple scenes or too many shots. Not so with this movie. They take ample time to introduce characters and build up the relationship between Grey and his wife Asha.

Upgrade romance2

I noticed that after about 30 minutes, the catalyst of his wife being murdered still hadn’t happened yet. Considering the movie’s run time of 95 minutes, this was clearly a choice the director made and couldn’t have decided lightly.

Finally, the third surprising element of the film is how it delivers the right dose of humor between all the action. Many movies have been able to be successful in this endeavor, injecting the right dose of humor to lighten up the gravity of the action, usually through quirky and witty banter from the main characters (ahem Marvel), but this movie doesn’t do that. Rather, the humor is shown through Grey’s reactions to everything that is happening to him. He reacts to the AI sentience of the chip much like any one of us might react: with surprise, alarm, incredulity, and then a slow begrudging level of trust due to the abilities and polite nature of the AI. As a result, when the AI does things that are perhaps logical but also inhuman and unpredictable to the rest of us, Grey serves as a vessel of the audience in sharing that mutual reaction of “WTF is happening right now???” In this way the movie’s humor works really well.

Adding to these three elements are simply a lot of little things that work well. Technology is advanced, but not ubiquitous, as is well represented in the dichotomy of Grey’s love for mechanical diesel engines and the simplicity of a tech-free life, in juxtaposition with his wife’s big embrace of everything advanced, electronic, and technological. So when he chooses (without much of a choice) to be implanted with STEM, it makes his situation that much more ironic, but not unfamiliar for cyberpunk fans who might have seen similar situations play out in movies such as RoboCop.

As I left the theater, I found that I was struck by the question does this count as cyberpunk? There are low life elements, and high tech elements, although it’s not chock-full as Blade Runner or The Matrix is. However, the technology that is ever present is a lot more biopunk than cyberpunk.

Like, for instance, what I like to call “Hand-Guns”.

Upgrade hand-gun

 

Although there was a bit of cyberpunk, such as incidental shots of people in VR and a few VR scenes, these didn’t contribute that much to the story and therefore I’d call it Biopunk with some Cyberpunk elements.

Upgrade VR

This scene, with people randomly ambling about in the back using VR but not relevant to the story, is as close to VR as the movie gets. Although there are some drones, the most advanced tech again is implanted in bodies, thus I stand by my statement that it’s Biopunk with some cyberpunk elements. Although we do get some fun bits of dialogue such as when Grey asks “why would people want to be in VR for so long?” to which a hacker replies “maybe because for some people reality is more painful”.

Overall, I would give this movie a 9 or 9.5 out of 10. Although it’s not deep or profound like my favorite movie of all time, The Matrix, it does so much more than your average Revenge Action flick set in a quasi-cyberpunk setting. The score is good, and there are some truly beautiful scenes as well. Also, their use of camera angles to accentuate their action scenes was so much fun.

I’d highly recommend seeing it in theaters if you still can!

Check out the trailer that made me think it was nothing more than an action-revenge flick here:

Ready Player One (2018): Movie Review

Ever since I read Ernest Cline’s excellent book by the same name, I had been so excited to see this movie ever since I saw its first trailer in the movie theaters. Ready Player One was the kind of book that I finished in a couple weeks, couldn’t put down, and found myself saying “Man, this would be an amazing movie!” as I read it.

So here’s my SPOILER-FREE review of the movie, and some thoughts about how it was different from the book.

First off, let me say that I really enjoyed the movie. Perhaps part of the reason why I really liked it is because it’s different enough from the book, that watching the movie felt like a different piece of entertainment altogether. Sure, the story was still basically the same, but a lot of the action sequences were completely different, leaving me to guess and experience the same surprise and thrill as the rest of the crowd.

A little about the story, in case you have no idea what it’s about. The basic premise is that this movie is about a young man who’s searching for a hidden “easter egg” (read: treasure) within a virtual reality world that serves as place of commerce and entertainment for the majority of human civilization in the future. Although it takes place in a dystopian future, there isn’t much in the movie that addresses that, neither was there in the book. The virtual world, conveniently called the OASIS, is a place to escape the real world and both works leave it at that. The real story comes in the chase for the treasure, as both forces of good and evil race against time to get the hidden egg before the other. In the movie Steven Spielberg masterfully crafts his characters, although they do feel a bit simplistic at times, as if the target audience is primarily young adults.

Which makes sense. After all, the book also felt like a fun bubble-gum kind of story, with little suffering or grit or real violence. This is also mirrored in Cline’s irreverent, lackadaisical writing style.

The other thing that is quick to notice, and the media will also be quick to point out, is how chock-full the movie is in references. From Jurassic Park to Back to the Future, the movie adds to the 80s references with more modern, often video game, references like Halo or Overwatch.

It was definitely fun to see these references pulled out in the movie, sometimes literally from thin air (such as a weapon from one of your favorite video games you’ve spent hours using and picking up suddenly appear on-screen in the main character’s hands). I also thought the direction was very well done, with the camera swiveling to catch fluid actions and angles of the action, especially in the virtual world’s action scenes.

The transitions from virtual to real also felt very fluid, and overall the pacing was excellent as well. There were a few scenes that I felt needed a bit more gravitas, but this didn’t stop me from enjoying the movie.

Overall it was a very fun movie, highly enjoyable if you don’t take it too seriously, and an excellent adaptation. My final verdict: 9/10.

Ready Player One and its Utopian Educational World

ready_player_one cover

A captivating read

In case you’re unfamiliar, Ready Player One is a novel that was written by Ernest Cline and is being adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg. The story follows Wade Watts in his pursuit of finding a hidden treasure in a worldwide online virtual world called the OASIS. The OASIS is where people play games, escape their reality,  do their business transactions, and learn in school. It’s also a huge ode to video gamers and is chock full of pop culture references.

This book was so much fun for me that I read it twice (which never happens) and it’s a very fast read, too.  Quite the page turner. I remember thinking how exciting and interesting a film adaptation would be, which is why I could hardly contain my excitement when I saw the trailer for this movie for the first time in theaters.

Beyond describing the love videogamers have of completing a game and all of its fun referencing, there’s a lot that can be gleaned out of this book as thought pieces, even if the book itself never takes the time to consider the ideas.

Ready-Player-One-Oasis

A Beautiful Education System

I remember the first time I read the book, I was amazed by the educational world described in the book. In the OASIS, the government has online virtual classes where a program monitors student language and behavior, allowing the teacher to simply teach and nothing more. This means that bullying becomes a thing of the past, and enables teachers to do much more than they traditionally are able to do.

As a teacher, a virtual world free of bullying, fully immersive and with the ability to engage and inspire students in such novel ways is like a dream come true. But here’s the thing:

This could actually happen.

Why not? We’ve already seen students use ipads more and more in classrooms, and now the VR setting on anyone’s smartphone simply requires a headset to view it with, and we’ve already got visual VR which can connect to headphones to become audiovisual VR.

Imagine if teachers could use this VR system in their classrooms to take students to the surface of Mars. Or take them inside a cell to observe a mitochondria. Or take them back in time to witness the rise and fall of Ancient Rome. Imagine if teachers didn’t need to act as counselors, or disciplinarians, and could simply teach the content they love!

What are your thoughts? Do you think this will be the future of education, or is it unlikely to become a reality?