The Matrix Resurrections review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Lana Wachowski
Cast : Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Christina Ricci
Genre: Sci-fi/Action/Adventure
Run Time : 148 min
Opens : 22 December 2021
Rating : PG13

In 1999, already a watershed year for Hollywood cinema, The Matrix changed the game. The film’s directors, the Wachowskis, vastly expanded the world of the Matrix with two theatrically released sequels in 2003, alongside an anthology of anime short films, a video game and various other media. While the two sequels received a far less enthusiastic reception than the first film, it was clear that the appetite for more Matrix was there. 18 years after Neo and Trinity were last seen on the big screen, we’re plugging back in.

Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a video game designer living in San Francisco. Coping with mental health issues, he sees a therapist known as the Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris), who prescribes him pills. At a coffee shop called Simulatte, Thomas sees a woman named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss), whom he finds oddly familiar. It turns out that the world Thomas and Tiffany live in is a simulation called the Matrix, and that Thomas’ true identity is that of Neo. Bugs (Jessica Henwick), who bears a tattoo of a white rabbit, attempts to break Thomas out of the Matrix. At the end of The Matrix Revolutions, both Neo and Trinity – the true form of Tiffany – apparently died, but it seems like they are still alive. Now travelling with a new crew captained by Bugs, Neo must make sense of his reality as he seeks to rescue Trinity, as powerful forces stand in the way.

For anyone who feared The Matrix Resurrections would be a by-the-numbers retread or just a lazy nostalgia-fest (we’ve gotten several of those to varying degrees of laziness this past year), fear not: it’s weird. It’s the kind of weird which another film without the brand name association wouldn’t be able to pull off. While Lilly Wachowski opted not to co-direct this film because of personal issues and general exhaustion, Lana takes audiences back into the labyrinthian mythology of the series. It’s a joy to see Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss return, and to parse why some things remain the same and why others are different. There are several entertaining action sequences, even if nothing quite matches the inventiveness of the first film, and there was obviously a lot of thought put into how the franchise would continue, even if it doesn’t come together cohesively. It is ultimately rewarding especially for audiences who re-evaluated the Matrix sequels and came around on them.

When we say it doesn’t come together cohesively, we mean it. It’s fun to rewatch the original Matrix and realise how quaint, straightforward and easy to follow the narrative is compared to in the sequels. The Matrix Resurrections is confusing in such a way that some audiences will be intrigued and invested, and others will opt to tap out. At 148 minutes long, the movie is relatively light on action. There still is action, but there’s just much more exposition and world-building than there are set-pieces. The action is also shot and edited poorly and is often difficult to follow. Most of the movie unfolds in close-ups, so there aren’t quite enough opportunities to take a step back and take everything in. The new characters, apart from the possible exception of Bugs, receive little characterisation and mostly function to ferry Neo from place to place. Both the Smith and Morpheus characters return in some fashion, but are portrayed by different actors, thus sacrificing some of what made those characters so iconic. There’s probably a version of this that makes perfect sense, but it is not the version that made it to the screen.

One thing that’s fun is that this is a movie about the nature of franchise continuations. Thomas Anderson is forced to develop a new game in a series, after he thought that he had finished telling the story he had wanted to tell. Perhaps this reflects how Lilly referred to a potential Matrix sequel as “a particularly repelling idea in these times” during a 2015 interview. The Wachowskis’ work has always been marked by a certain earnestness and dorkiness, which Resurrections still has plenty of. However, there is at least a twinge of cynicism here. One line about the game studio’s parent company elicited especially raucous laughter. There is a post-credits scene, but a completely inconsequential one that almost feels like commentary on the trend of post-credits scenes. Resurrections is the most fun when it gets meta, but audiences will differ on whether this feels like astute commentary or if it takes one out of it.

Summary: The cultural footprint of the Matrix means that there’s a lot to play with, and there are far worse ways to revisit the franchise than The Matrix Resurrections. The movie’s relationship with its predecessors is fascinating, coming from both a place of deep affection for the series and a profound frustration with the state of Hollywood franchise filmmaking. This is far from wholly satisfying, but it’s weird and wild enough to justify its existence.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Brain on Fire

For F*** Magazine

BRAIN ON FIRE 

Director : Gerard Barrett
Cast :  Chloe Grace Moretz, Jenny Slate, Thomas Mann, Carrie-Anne Moss, Richard Armitage, Tyler Perry
Genre : Biography/Drama
Run Time : 1h 30min
Opens : 4 May 2017
Rating : PG13

In this biopic/medical drama, Chloë Grace Moretz finds her life spinning out of control, and she doesn’t know what’s causing it. Moretz plays Susannah Cahalan, a 21-year-old reporter for the New York Post. Susannah befriends her colleague Margo (Slate), and her stern but fair boss Richard (Perry) views her as a rising star in the bullpen. She’s dating a sweet aspiring musician named Steven (Mann), and all seems to be going well. Suddenly, with no prior history of mental illness, Susannah suffers a breakdown, starts hallucinating and having seizures. Her divorced parents Tom (Armitage) and Rhona (Moss) are understandably worried for her, as various diagnoses come back inconclusive. With not just her job but her life threatened by this mysterious condition, only neurologist Dr. Souhel Najjar (Navid Negahban) might be able to get to the bottom of Susannah’s circumstance.

Brain on Fire is based on the memoir of the same name by the real-life Susannah Cahalan. Charlize Theron optioned the film rights and dropped out of a supporting role, but remained onboard as a producer. Any film that deals with a rare illness, particularly one which affects the mind, is in danger of being manipulative. Writer-director Gerard Barrett succumbs to the tropes one often sees in movies or TV shows in which characters suffer mental breakdowns. However, he strikes a fine balance of making the audience uncomfortable by depicting the harrowing effects of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, while refraining from making things exploitative. Brain on Fire often feels like the ‘Hollywood version’ of Susannah’s experience, but it’s engaging and sufficiently credible even as it feels a little overwrought.

One of the themes that drives the story is the feeling of powerlessness that a young person can have when stepping into the adult world. Susannah is fresh out of college, and initially attributes her symptoms to simply being overwhelmed. Irish writer-director Barrett is himself young and successful – this is the 29-year-old’s third feature film. Upon finding out Barrett’s age, a sense of ennui washed over this reviewer. The story takes place in New York City, arguably one of the worst places in the world to suffer from a sudden mental breakdown. Unfortunately, Vancouver doesn’t do the best job of doubling for the Big Apple in this case, especially because Brain on Fire doesn’t quite convey the overwhelming sensory stimulus of New York City.

Dakota Fanning was originally cast in the role of Susannah, with scheduling conflicts leading to Moretz replacing her. Moretz’s bubbly demeanour makes Susannah a pleasant protagonist to begin with, which means it’s easier with the audience to stick with her as she experiences the crushing lows and unsettling delirium that she does. It’s a fine performance, but as one would expect, also a showy one. It’s easy to overplay struggling with an affliction physical or mental, with the unfortunate implication over the years being that if actors want to win awards, they’ll play characters who are stricken with grave illnesses. What helps mitigate this cynicism is the knowledge that Susannah Cahalan is a real person, who had to sign off on this portrayal of her. Even if Moretz’s acting borders on over-the-top, she keeps Susannah feeling like an actual person as she rides the frightening roller coaster that is anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis.

The supporting cast is fine, but each character falls to neatly into boxes labelled with their archetypes. Mann’s Steven is the dopey, devoted boyfriend – he seems a better fit for the role than the initially-cast Will Poulter. Slate’s Margo is the upbeat friend from work, while Perry’s Richard is more or less Laurence Fishburne as Perry White in the DC Extended Universe movies. It’s not a huge role, but Perry gets to show that he has decent acting chops when he’s not in anything he writes or directs. As the concerned parents, Armitage and Moss don’t get too much to do, and Armitage wrestling with his accent is more than a little distracting.

While it is heart-rending to watch Susannah go through hell as her loved ones are rendered helpless, the parts of the film that deal with the medical theory are somewhat more interesting. Barrett is conscious that too much jargon might bore audiences. As such, Negahban’s warmth and quiet intelligence is greatly welcome. The film highlights how much harm misdiagnoses can be – it’s estimated that only 10% of people who have anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis were properly diagnosed at the time.

As heartless as it sounds, Susannah Cahalan’s ordeal is far from the most dramatic or extreme true story to be brought to the big screen. However, this movie is important in its own way. While the specifics feel embellished slightly, with the romantic and workplace comedy elements of the film too obvious, Moretz’s performance holds one’s attention.

Summary: While there’s the niggling vibe of an illness-of-the-week Lifetime TV movie here, Brain on Fire is mostly moving and the right amount of unsettling.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong