Family Plot: skilfully made comedy thriller that deconstructs familiar Hitchcock motifs and themes for laughs

Alfred Hitchcock, “Family Plot” (1976)

Considering that the famous British director was in bad health when he made this film, I find “Family Plot” to be a light-hearted and entertaining comedy thriller about two con-artist couples engaged in deception of one form or another – and trying to outwit each other. An elderly lady (Cathleen Nesbitt), remorseful over the way she treated her unmarried sister and the sister’s baby son years ago, consults phony psychic Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) to find out what happened to the nephew. Blanche scents that a huge sum of money may be in the balance and she and her cab-driver boyfriend George Lumley (Bruce Dern) try to figure out a way to get it; they find themselves on the trail of one Edward Shoebridge who may or may not be dead. They find out during the course of the film that he certainly is NOT dead; what takes them most of the film’s running time to discover is that Shoebridge is also Arthur Adamson (William Devane), a jeweller who is also a thief, a kidnapper and extortionist, and who with his girlfriend Fran (Karen Black) and partner-in-crime Joe Maloney (Ed Lauter) is trying to shake off Blanche and George who are determined to investigate exactly what happened to Shoebridge. Hilariously, Shoebridge / Adamson turns out to be the nephew of the elderly lady.

The film is very much character-driven though the casting seems rather uneven: Harris and Dern as the amateur detectives totally out of their depth in a danger-filled investigation are hilarious (though Harris looks old-fashioned in her Doris Day get-up and is required to overdo the slapstick) while Black and Devane seem miscast and mismatched as partners in both crime and romance. Black is too nice to be a villainous vixen and Devane, very 1970s clean-cut and all flashing white teeth, looks a caricatured oleaginous and smarmy snake-oil dealer for a role that calls for him to be amoral and brutal (his back-story among other things includes his having locked his parents up in their bedroom and then burning the house down). Everything revolves around these couples so it’s just as well that in spite of their clean-cut looks, the actors acquit themselves adequately to well in a vehicle that combines light comedy and slapstick with quite dark and sinister themes in a highly improbable plot. For all his stereotyped moustachioed look, Devane pulls off a difficult role of appearing suave and sophisticated while being really malevolent without a redeeming bone in his body.

Admittedly the film looks dated – it looks more late 1960s than late 1970s in spite of the fashions the actors wear – due to the filming techniques used and the curious mix of dramatic orchestral music that was typical of 1960s Hollywood flicks and the harpsichord-toned soundtrack of the sort that became popular in the 1970s. (The music is the work of the famous Hollywood music composer John Williams.) The pace is slow to begin with but after the first half-hour, it starts to move more briskly and becomes enjoyable. Hitch is not averse to throwing in scenes that might remind viewers of “Vertigo”, “North by Northwest” and “To Catch a Thief”: for heaven’s sake there’s even a silly and over-long runaway car scene reminiscent of the car chases of “North …” and ” To Catch a Thief”. Indeed, Hitch seems keen on deconstructing beloved motifs of his: the cool blonde lady in the first 20 minutes is really only wearing a wig; Blanche and George emerge from their wrecked car looking clean and tidy; the idea of opposed twins, represented this time by the scheming couples, bumbling amateurs pitted against intelligent professionals, is played for laughs; and the rocky path to romance, usually strewn with danger, death and the odd psycho killer, is more wacky than spine-chilling.

Hitch knew that he’d been left behind by a new generation of film directors, represented by Martin Scorsese and Stephen Spielberg, and that he himself didn’t have much time left in the world so it’s rather fitting that he revisits familiar themes, plot ideas and motifs in a light-hearted deconstructive way that allows him to say goodbye to over fifty years of directing films. “Family Plot” may not rank among his best films but it is competent in execution and for all its aged looks and the miscasting, it has a zest that’s a bit slow to get going … but once it does, it makes the film fun to watch.

 

 

 

 

 

Prometheus: a mess of clichés with sick jokes, wooden characters, bad plotting and B-grade sci-fi tentacle bondage

Ridley Scott, “Prometheus” (2012)

Originally conceived as a predecessor to “Alien” and its successor films, “Prometheus” is Ridley Scott’s attempt to answer questions left by his original slasher-in-space flick and ignored by James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet; questions such as who or what the space jockey in the crashed space-ship found on Acheron was and whether the message that ship sent that was intercepted by the cargo ship Nostromo really was an SOS message or a warning. In making the film Scott attempts to explore the nature of human existence, why we have been created and what is our purpose in the universe, and for good measure throws in messages about scientific and intellectual hubris and free will, and yet another stab at portraying a dysfunctional family with an Oedipal complex of the sort seen in “Blade Runner” and “Gladiator”.

Although beautiful to watch, the film is a mess of clichés from “Alien”, “Blade Runner”, even some of the successor “Alien” films and a bit of James Cameron’s “Avatar”.  Archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover prehistoric paintings in a cave on Skye in Scotland; comparing their discovery with previous finds made by  other scientists, they realise that people in different places and time-periods had the same star-maps as detailed in their art and religious worship and must have worshipped the same or similar deities. Years later, inspired by their research, eccentric zillionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation funds  a space expedition headed by Shaw and Holloway to a far distant moon around a planet in an exo-solar system identified from the various star-maps. (You can hear Cameron shouting, “Where’s my cut?!”) While the crew of seventeen slumber in the Land of Nod aboard the Prometheus vessel, android assistant David (Michael Fassbender) monitors the voyage and in his spare time studies enough linguistics to earn several doctorates ten times over, watches the entire Earth’s output of old celluloid movies and reads the US Federal, State and county taxation guides during the boring bits of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: a Space Odyssey”. The ship arrives on the moon, the crew is woken up by David and mission director Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), and subjected to a lecture as to what they are all supposed to do.

Dutifully they trek out to what looks like an artificial landscape feature and explore the labyrinth within. A couple of scientists, Fifield and Milburn, get fed up and try to go back to the ship (and get lost). The rest of the crew find several stone cylinders, a giant humanoid stone head (which Shaw and Holloway assume represent the appearance of those ancient deities, whom they call Engineers) and the corpse of a giant alien. They take the alien’s head and David picks up one of the cylinders. An approaching storm forces the crew to leave the landscape feature and return to the Prometheus, leaving Fifield and Milburn lost in the labyrinth. Back at the ranch, David discovers some icky ichor stuff in one of the cylinders and drops a bit of it in Holloway’s drink. Holloway and Shaw later have sex together. In the meantime, Fifield and Milburn, stumbling around in circles (geez, you’d think their helmets might feature in-built GPS systems), chance upon the cylinders which are now leaking the ichor. A slimy amphibian critter kills Milburn and its blood corrodes Fifield’s helmet, exposing the man to the black liquid.

In the morning, the crew return to the hidden labyrinth and find Milburn’s corpse. David ventures alone and discovers the aliens’ navigation control room (thus proving the artificial landscape feature is a spaceship overgrown with vegetation), an Engineer in suspended animation and a star-map showing Earth as the Engineers’ preferred holiday destination. Holloway sickens and the crew must hurriedly return to the ship with him. Vickers sensibly won’t allow Holloway back on board and to show she means business, blasts him away with a portable flame-thrower; he’s begging to be killed anyway so at least her conscience is clear. Shaw faints at Holloway’s death; later, when she revives, David helpfully informs her that she is three months pregnant in spite of Shaw being unable to have children.

After performing a hilariously bonkers DIY emergency Caesarean section in a machine not cut out for the job (it was made only for surgery on men!), Shaw discovers that Peter Weyland has been on board the Prometheus all along; the old guy explains that he wants to meet the Engineers in person so that he can ask them how he can avoid dying. Meanwhile Fifield, hideously transformed, returns to the ship and starts attacking everyone before being killed by Janek (Idris Elba) in a scene reminiscent of the one in Cameron’s “Aliens” in which Ripley drives a tank over an overgrown bug. Janek later theorises to Shaw that the labyrinth they have visited is in fact a military base in which the Engineers were engaged in a nefarious genetic experiment and produced a dangerous bio-weapon in the ichor.

Weyland, David, Shaw and a couple of others revisit the labyrinth and wake up the Engineer who repays them for their kindness by decapitating David and killing everyone else except Shaw. Shaw escapes with her life; the Engineer promptly sets his controls for the heart of the sun … I mean, Earth actually, so Shaw radioes back to Janek to stop the alien craft. Janek figures the only way he can do that is to ram the Prometheus into the alien ship, which he does so, killing himself and his crew but not before Vickers ejects to safety. Not that this helps Vickers much: no sooner does she land than the alien ship conveniently falls on top of her. Shaw finds Vickers’s life-boat (where she had her operation earlier) and discovers the abandoned baby now grown to adult size. At the same, the Engineer shows up, justifiably upset at his sabotaged voyage and ready to pound hell out of Shaw …

Perhaps in order to justify the hype and the expensive visuals and effects, the script-writers and Scott try to wring out so much sensationalism from the thin plot that plot-holes, inconsistencies and assumptions that defy logic and assume telepathy and foresight in humans abound. Most parts of the plot stretch logic to wormhole credibility levels and even plain old common sense is absent. One would think that a DIY surgery table costing zillions would have been made for both men and women but in the interests of Hollywood sensationalism it has to be men-only, forcing Shaw to do her C-section manually for extra tension, gore and laughs; afterwards, she’s called upon to perform incredible physical acts like jumping huge gaps and abseiling despite having cut abdominal muscles that should have put her in bed for a couple of days at least. Several questions arise in this viewer’s mind: how does Janek know what really went on in that hidden labyrinth? how does David deduce that the Engineers wanted to go to Earth of all places? why do the Engineers look like they’ve stepped out of a 3-D printer? why does Scott love holographic projections so much?

Character development and motivation are so bad that the actors should be forgiven for woodenness. As scientists, Shaw and company break every rule in the book: their curiosity and stupidity override scientific method to the extent that they endanger themselves and others. Guess that supposedly passes for scientific and intellectual arrogance overriding common sense and intuition and causing destruction; the film is called “Prometheus” after all in reference to the Greek myth. Theron as Vickers is wasted as the film’s token Ice Maiden; there is a later twist in the plot that reveals her relationship to Peter Weyland and David and explains her jealousy and suspicion of the replicant … er, android, but fortunately there are no head-busting / strangulation scenes. Rapace tries hard as the wannabe Ripley but there’s too much she’s forced to do in the film – and the actress lacks Sigourney Weaver’s height and presence as well – for her to carry off the plagiarism with personality to spare. Only Fassbender impresses as the icy Roy … um, David (sheesh, I must remember I’m reviewing “Prometheus”), as the plot forces him to obey one master and then another. Poor David has to learn the hard way what the difference between being human and repli … oops, android, really means and it’s not flesh-and-blood versus metal-and-milky-stuff: it’s about overcoming your early conditioning and questioning the things, people and relationships you’ve always taken for granted and deciding to be your own person and discovering your own values. Having partly learned his lesson, David literally becomes a round object shoved into a three-dimensional square in the form of a carry-bag as he and Shaw ride off into the sunset to – guess what? – find more Engineers! Don’t they ever learn from experience?! 

Meanwhile the Engineer in Vickers’s life-boat is left to soothe a very abandoned and angry child … which leads to yet another sick joke from Scott in a movie full of sick jokes, one no doubt aimed at James Cameron who imagined the original aliens as over-sized ants and their ancestors now re-imagined by Scott as over-sized calamari wrestlers. The mind boggles at Scott’s conception of the relationship between hexapods and molluscs and I daresay more than a few flatworms, earthworms and tapeworms will complain that once again in the universe of science fiction monsters they were overlooked but hey, as acid blood, a hive mind that communicates telepathically to both pure-blood aliens and alien-human hybrids, and giant over-breeding queen hymenopterans have been done to death, it’s time for a bit of naughty tentacle rape and bondage squeeze!

“Prometheus” is a mega-disappointment which doesn’t surprise me, given that since “Alien”, “Blade Runner” and a couple of others, Scott has turned out to be just another hack Hollywood director in need of  proper script-writers and fresh vision and direction. There are some stabs at existential inquiry and the question of free will but they are so faint that viewers will miss them. I thought Cameron’s “Avatar” was silly enough but “Prometheus”, for all its visual spectacle, makes that movie look intelligent. Now all we need do is wait for Scott’s “director’s cut” version showing Shaw is also some kinda repli … android thing which would explain all those post-natal leaps and bounds.

 

Hollywood between Paranoia and Science Fiction: lightweight look at American phobias and anxieties through science fiction films

Clara and Julia Kuperberg, “Hollywood between Paranoia and Science Fiction” (2011)

An entertaining and lightweight look at famous Hollywood science fiction films made since the early 1950s and how they reflect the anxieties and fears of American society, this is Clara and Julia Kuperberg’s documentary “Hollywood between Paranoia and Science Fiction”. The film flits between various well-known directors such as Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas, Roland Emmerich and James Cameron, all of them distinguished by having made influential science fiction movies, a couple of screen-writers and an academic commenting on the films on one hand and on the other snippets of famous sci-fi flicks beginning with B-grade sci-fi films made for teenagers and short educational films about the dangers of atomic radiation.

The film is held together by a chronological account of the films spotlighted by the film-makers as influential, starting from 1950 and steadily working through the decades to the present day. Curiously, famous films made in the 1960s like Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” are not referenced and even the period from 1970 to 1976 is poorly represented by “Soylent Green” which starred Charlton Heston. Numerous cinematic elephants and chest-beating gorillas like the Planet of the Apes series of films are passed over. The documentary remembers to pick up George Lucas’s “Star Wars”, Ridley Scott’s “Alien” and “Blade Runner”, George Miller’s “Mad Max” and James Cameron’s “The Terminator” and continues through the 1990s and the early 2000s with Paul Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers”, “Michael Bay’s “Armageddon” and Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”.

James Cameron reminisces about his childhood and his experience of atomic bomb scares and school drills that included watching the educational short “Duck for Cover”; other directors draw connections between the fear of radiation and how it can cause mutations, and the popularity of films about giant tarantulas and mutated lizards that grow to giant size, breathe death rays and terrorise people in Tokyo. Especially noteworthy is the connection made between mind control and the famous film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers while the fear of Communist invasion is reflected in the film “The Day the Earth stood Still”. The directors also talk about how their particular fears (in James Cameron’s case, his fear of nuclear bombs might have been encouraged by watching educational films warning of atomic bombs and radiation) influenced them to make films that have become pop culture favourites; Cameron’s own nuclear bomb bug-bear became the inspiration for “The Terminator”.

Without a voice-over narrator guiding viewers through an often interesting landscape of shifting attitudes, fears and hang-ups and the films that reflect those anxieties, the film lacks direction and becomes a series of talks by a small group of directors who are made to look as if they’re trying to justify the importance of their work by attaching it to whatever fear was trendy at the time they made their movies. It does seem quite contrived at times. No great psychological insights are uncovered and all the viewer comes away with is either the feeling that the documentary is making a mountain out of molehill or that Americans have a lot of hang-ups about atomic bombs, Communists, genetic manipulation, runaway science, resources depletion, mind control, identity theft, terrorism and humongous natural disasters like giant tsunamis caused by anthropogenic climate change.

It might have been much more interesting if a narrator had been on board and commented on the directors’ responses to the (out of range) questions put to them and whether the directors hit a raw collective nerve with their films and found it terribly exposed. There could have been some discussion about what the various fears the movies address say about American society and the American character, and why Americans always have to be on the alert for an enemy or something sinister. How this constant vigilance arose and the historical / cultural context this guardedness arose in, how it has shaped the American character and society for better and for worse, how politicians and corporations manipulate this fear for their benefit, and how the fear and its manipulation have led the US into invading countries around the globe since the end of the American Civil War in 1865 and impoverished the US economically and morally as a result are never touched on. One thing for sure though is that as long as there is something for Americans to be afraid of, there will always be science fiction films seizing on that topic in some way and reflecting the fear back at their audiences.

The Birds (dir. Alfred Hitchcock): psychological study of sexual / cultural repression

Alfred Hitchcock, “The Birds” (1963)

Based on a 1952 short story by English writer Daphne du Maurier – one of Hitchcock’s favourite sources for film plots as he also filmed du Maurier’s “Rebecca” decades earlier – “The Birds” initially looks like a suspense / horror flick about a small seaside resort attacked by vicious hordes of birds. It actually ends up a character study that investigates, among other things, relationships within a family that has lost its male leader and tries to replace him with his son and the strains that arise when the son falls in love with a young woman who is not only alien to the family but to the insular community where the family lives. Familiar Hitchcockian themes such as relationships between domineering mothers and weak(ish) sons; the uncertainty of romance, especially for women; the vulnerability of women, especially women without partners, in a society in which men dominate women and women depend on them for identity and validation; and birds as indicators of freedom / repression appear. There is also a wonderfully ironic comment on the relationship of humans to nature – and perhaps by implication the relationship of humans to their sexuality or society – in the narrative’s contrast between caged birds and birds that are free and how the humans deal with both.

Rich socialite girl Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is “working” in a bird shop when lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) appears and pretends to mistake her for a salesgirl; he asks her for a pair of lovebirds for his baby sister’s 11th birthday. Infuriated by his teasing, Daniels buys the birds herself and hunts down Brenner to Bodega Bay, a seaside holiday place in California. She delivers the birds with a note at his farmhouse but not before she’s attacked by a seagull. The incident introduces Melanie to Mitch properly and to his dependent mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy), Mitch’s sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) and his ex-girlfriend, school-teacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette). Melanie ends up thoroughly nested in the Brenner family’s affairs; at the same time, a series of bird attacks, each more vicious than the last, starts harassing the little town, first at Cathy’s birthday party, then at her school and then at the town restaurant. Melanie takes refuge with the Brenners in their farmhouse, helping them to board up the windows; but during the night, when all are fast asleep, Melanie wakes and hears a noise upstairs so she goes to investigate …

The first forty minutes pass fairly slowly as a straight romantic drama, establishing the major characters and their foibles and vulnerabilities. Melanie is revealed as a spoilt rich kid who is tiring of her party-girl reputation and wants purpose and direction to her life but isn’t sure (or is restricted by her reputation and past history, and perhaps social expectations of her) about how she should achieve what she desires. Brenner seems happy commuting between Bodega Bay, devoted to his mother and young sister, and San Francisco, devoted to his law career; but one senses he’s just as lacking in direction and purpose as Melanie. Lydia Brenner and Annie Hayworth are trapped in their own half-lives. The birds are a device to bring Melanie and Mitch together and thus change everyone’s lives, for better or for worse; how people fare in the film and whether they might survive the birds’ attacks depends on a combination of luck and on how willingly they embrace change and break out of old patterns of thinking and behaving. The film’s conclusion comes as a surprise: Melanie, willing to change her past behaviour, becomes trapped and Lydia, whom viewers will think least likely to want to change, does so; but the conclusion is so ambiguous that an argument can be presented that Lydia maintains her position as matriarch and accepts Melanie as another “child” she can dominate – so no-one changes after all and the seaside resort will eventually resume its customary life. The birds may be assumed to fade away, having neutralised outsider Melanie and what she represents to the townspeople.

The film is beautifully shot: each scene is carefully set up for the camera to take in exactly what Hitchcock intended the audience to see and each little technical detail seen is symbolic of aspects of the film’s themes or narrative. In an early scene where Melanie is driving to Bodega Bay, the swaying of the little birds in the cage in her coupe symbolises the ups and downs of romantic relationships. In a later scene, Lydia picks up broken china in her home – this is a precursor to the scene when she visits a farmer and sees broken china in his house. The whole movie looks staged (and the actors right down to minor actors playing the local drunk or the pessimist yelling “The end is nigh!” are either well-dressed or at least well-scrubbed) but then the plot – a bunch of birds hounds a small, idyllic tourist town for no reason at all – is really hokey when you think about it. No less than a slightly surreal, dreamy and staged look is appropriate for trying to bulk out the thin plot into a study of small-town and isolated family attitudes towards outsiders and pulling the whole thing off.

Acting is not very remarkable: appearing in nearly every scene save for one scene where the film adopts Lydia’s point of view, Hedren is competent as Melanie but ill at ease in displaying emotion. As a result Melanie’s romance with Mitch seems forced for the purpose of the plot. Melanie’s character would have suited Grace Kelly had she been able to make a film comeback (and indeed Kelly had been Hitch’s first choice for the role but husband Prince Rainier denied her this): beneath the rich-little-girl exterior, Melanie is smart, resourceful and determined with potential to be a heroine. In a period when women were supposed to be content with marriage and motherhood, she wants something more out of life. However, Hollywood movie conventions being what they were in the early 1960s, Melanie has to be put into her place by the birds and this is the film’s real horror: Bodega Bay should be a place of freedom away from big city life and “civilisation” but instead is a compressed metaphor of the way society beats down individual men and women, forcing them to live in stereotyped twilight roles and relationships.

The Dictator: comedy savages Western self-righteousness, ignorance and hypocrisy

Larry Charles, “The Dictator” (2012)

I confess I saw this latest Sacha Baron Cohen film to see how offensive and tasteless it is. Truly dictatorial “The Dictator” is, in dredging up every known Western stereotype about Middle Eastern / North African countries and peoples, and tin-pot dictators around the world, and throwing it all hard and brutally back in our faces. At once LOL idiotic, puerile and revolting, SBC’s latest comedy vehicle hides a subversive and biting satire on Western ignorance of other peoples, cultures and religions, the West’s cynical support for freedom and democracy in Third World countries which masks corporate greed for those countries’ natural resources, and how easily so-called progressive and idealistic causes can be corrupted by contact with rapacious capitalism and political oppression.

The movie is at once a romantic comedy and a “fish out of water” adventure. Admiral Shabaz Aladeen (SBC) of the oil-rich desert nation Wadiya, located where Eritrea would normally sit (and thereby potentially antagonising real Eritrean people), is compelled to visit New York City to address the United Nations Security Council when that august body threatens to invade his country for stubbornly forging ahead with  a nuclear weapons production program. Little does the feckless Aladeen know that his wicked uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) plans to usurp him and take his place as Supreme Leader so he can “democratise” Wadiya and open up the country’s resources to Western oil companies. Soon enough, Tamir’s hired hitman kidnaps Aladeen but the dictator escapes and finds refuge with Zoe (Anna Faris), an eco-activist who manages a food co-op with the help of Third World refugees. It so happens that the co-op supplies food to the Lancaster Hotel where Aladeen’s entourage is staying so with the help of Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), the exiled former head of the Wadiya nuclear weapons development program, Aladeen attempts to infiltrate the hotel and get rid of his simple-minded double who is being manipulated by Tamir.

Along the way, Aladeen learns about co-operating with people of different origins and cultures, running a business based on lofty idealistic principles, falls in love with Zoe, discovers the extent to which Muslims and Arabs are detested in the West and finally recognises the worth of democracy – or maybe not in all cases.

The film is chaotic and messy (though not as meandering as SBC’s earlier “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation Kazakhstan”) with skits raggedly put together and then wrung and squeezed to their utmost for bad-taste comedy. A scene in which a woman gives birth in Zoe’s store can be excruciating to watch for layering several tasteless vulgarities to the nth degree and the punch-line Aladeen utters when the baby (inevitably) is a girl can be predicted ten parsecs away. The funniest bits are quite subtle and easy to miss, and not for the first time (nor for the last) did I find myself the only person in the cinema – I admit that there were not very many people watching the film with me and we could all be counted on the fingers of two hands – laughing out too loudly at idiotic jokes like the Fallujah Firebomb during the torture scene, the equation of Dick Cheney with Saddam Hussein and Colonel Muammar Gadhafi during the would-be suicide scene and the UN Assembly scene in which Tamir requests Exxon not to use BP oil-rigs in its share of Wadiya’s territorial waters.

Director Charles and SBC pay attention to visual details that lampoon the media and the profligacy of wealthy political elites: two talking heads for a TV news program dissect the performance of Aladeen’s double at a conference and wildly misinterpret his bumbling behaviour as having momentous import for viewers, some of whom might be policy-makers and other government lackeys; and it’s not only Aladeen who is misogynist and has flamboyantly bad taste in furnishings, recreational pursuits and clothing – diplomats from other, better-behaved countries are also portrayed as vulgar twats. The music, chosen by SBC, loudly and merrily runs the gamut from lovey-dovey schmaltzy to trash disco and faux Middle Eastern techno.

The film makes its biggest Laugh-Out Loud impact in the climax in which Aladeen tears up Tamir’s “democratic” constitution and expounds at length on how tyrannies should exercise social and political control over populations: his speech ends up a condemnation of the US (and by implication the entire First World), the global financial industry, the global media (News Corporation and the Murdoch family being singled out in particular) and the way in which a tiny elite – the “one percent” – controls everyone else through debt / global finance and culture.

Just as hilarious and creepy is Aladeen’s management of Zoe’s food co-op, using the violent and unorthodox methods he used as the Wadiya kahuna in turning around the fortunes of the store and winning back the contract to supply food to the Lancaster Hotel. This suggests that progressive causes more often than not end up in bed with the very politically and socially reactionary forces they claim to be fighting, especially when the issue involves identity politics, as in Western feminists supporting NATO intervention in Afghanistan or Jewish activists supporting the elimination of racial discrimination and forms of apartheid in all countries except Israel.  

Another outstanding skit finds Aladeen in the emigre district of Little Wadiya where everyone he meets turns out to be someone he condemned to death years ago but who was spirited away to the US by the Wadiya state executioner; this scene is a commentary on the travails of refugees when they reach what they imagine are countries offering friendship and security but which spurn and consign them to lowly neighbourhoods where they eke out an existence running restaurants catering to their own community. A fourth very funny skit is the helicopter scene in which Nadal and Aladeen chat excitedly in Wadiyan about visiting the New York City sights while two American passengers opposite them grow alarmed at what they think is a discussion of plans to bomb the Statue of Liberty and Yankee Stadium.

The film narrowly escapes charges of being racist and discriminating against Muslims and Arabs by taking on a range of targets and skewering each and every one of them in crude and savage ways: the laugh is on us Western audiences and our smug self-righteousness, hypocrisy and ignorance about peoples and cultures we continue to care less about. Still, I have a niggling feeling that SBC does pull punches when issues of his identity as a Jew and his support for Israel and Zionism come under the spotlight.

Antichrist: inquiry into misogyny and battle between rationality and Nature

Lars von Trier, “Antichrist” (2009)

Highly controversial for its depiction of sexual violence and mutilation, “Antichrist” was made when von Trier was suffering depression and the lack of hope and the despair that follow that condition clearly show in the film. Symbolism is rife throughout and can be interpreted on several levels: at a very basic level, it’s about a couple grieving the loss of a child and the strain their grief places on their marriage and sanity; on another level, it’s about the arrogance of humans in believing that reason and human ingenuity alone can solve all problems afflicting humankind; and on yet another, it posits Nature as a sinister force against humanity and how the natural world plays people off against one another through gender warfare.

The couple known only as He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are plunged into grief and She becomes depressed and feels guilt after their toddler son falls from a window to his death. He, a therapist, takes his wife in hand and tries to treat her with psychotherapy; all his attempts fail so he takes her to a woodland area where she had spent time writing her thesis on gynocide. The thesis is supposed to be critical of the acts and deaths performed over the centuries by men on often innocent women and girls but over the course of the film He finds to his horror on reading various thesis extracts that She believes in the concepts wholeheartedly to the extent that She regards him (He) as her mortal enemy.

The cinematography must be the outstanding feature in “Antichrist”: often shot like a nature documentary, the film features lush green backgrounds and dark haunted forests through which a cool stream flows. The handling of images and some of the weirdly wacky and wackily weird critters that appear suggest cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle might need to fine-tune his technique a little but generally the work is of a very high standard and has great atmosphere and poetry. Train scenes seem to have an unnatural life and vitality and other scenes set in the woodlands can appear both benign and malevolent. The acting from Dafoe and Chainsbourg is incredible despite their having to go through some very harrowing and emotionally painful scenes!

Von Trier has been accused of misogyny in several of his films including “Antichrist” but I did not find any overt evidence of gratuitous female-bashing other than what’s required in the film. Misogyny where it presents is explored through She’s struggles with He as he tries to treat her illness and the movie makes clear that He’s efforts are doomed to failure against a greater force that he cannot understand. Nature is portrayed as a malevolent beast that mobilises plant life and the weather against the couple and eventually insinuates itself into the couple’s lives by seemingly taking over She’s mind and spirit. The unconscious and irrational self through She bests He’s rational and well-meaning attempts to cure his wife. Thus Nature flummoxes He by causing an oak tree to rain acorns on the couple’s cabin, hitting him with ticks and presenting a deer, a fox and a crow at critical points in the movie to him. One notes that She never sees these animals and doesn’t need to. The message seems to be that women through their connection to Nature (because they can give birth) have access to a terrifying power denied men and which they will never comprehend or overcome. Hope and the wish for a better world are useless in this context. Sex is no longer an expression of mutual love but a weapon with which parties try to dominate each other (and there is plenty of that in “Antichrist”!) and Nature punishes humans for their intellectual pride.

The break-up of the film into four chapters bookended by a prologue and epilogue gives it a symmetry: at the beginning and the end, the major characters, or one of them anyway, have contact with other people; in the middle of the film, the main characters He and She cut themselves off from the world and pay a heavy price for their isolation.

Pace is leisurely and slow and moments here and there throughout the film could have had their fat trimmed off and the action made a little more efficient without jeopardising the main thrust of the film’s message. The Antichrist turns out to be She in full witches’ fury during Chapters 3 and 4, attacking He and crushing his testicles. Although He is able to subdue She, he is forced to do by acknowledging his own irrational side and so makes himself vulnerable to psychological and spiritual attack in the film’s epilogue when hundreds of blank-faced women rise from the ground and walk towards him.

The supposed misogyny turns out to be a warning that humans are possessed of (and by) an irrational nature that is only thinly suppressed by intellect and rationality. Upholding only reason and all that it understands while denying and suppressing our “Antichrist” side will ultimately lead to disaster as our dark side ends up being channelled into a sinister force that explodes sooner or later to our detriment and affect others around us. The universe will not help us because the universe itself is a magnification of that sinister force.

Starship Troopers: a hilarious send-up of US-style fascism and conduct of war

Paul Verhoeven, “Starship Troopers” (1997)

Loosely adapted from the Robert Heinlein novel of the same name, this film can be read as a caricature on several fronts: a send-up of the American cultural obsession with war on whatever US politicians declare war on; a satire on emergent US-styled fascism with its fetish for military technology, media sound-bites, slogans and appeals to patriotism; and a laugh at Hollywood action and war genre movies, Hollywood movie conventions and Hollywood’s own love affair with the military. Cunningly disguised as a brain-dead B-grade sci-fi “Alien” rip-off with a squeaky-clean cast of wooden though handsome actors, heavy slapstick symbolism and a meandering stitched-together plot that wanders through scenes of excessive gore, “Starship Troopers” cleverly combines action, romance and even high school hi-jinx through the eyes of its two main characters Johnny Rico (Caspar van Dien) and Carmen (Denise Richards) as they sally through their cartoon adventures in space and on an alien planet in service to the Federation, dedicating their lives to fighting bloodthirsty hordes of giant Arachnids and their arthropod allies.

The film divides into three parts: the first part is familiar all-American high school romance drama as Rico is torn between Carmen and Dizzy (Dina Meyer), Carmen is torn between Rico and Balcarow (Patrick Muldoon), and Rico is in friendly competition with Carl (Neil Patrick Harris); the second part sees Rico in boot camp training under various sociopathic instructors (Clancy Brown and Michael Ironside knowingly playing their parts straight-faced for laughs) to enter an elite mobile infantry unit while Carmen and Balcarow undertake pilot training and become close; and the third part throws our old high school crowd into the thick of fighting against the Arachnid armies, scathingly referred to as “bugs”. Interspersed into the film at intervals are propaganda shorts and news reels shaped as advertisements appealing for more youth to join the Federation armies and fight the “bugs”. Constant repetition of slogans like “I’m doing my part!” and “Would you like to know more?” – in a context where people don’t have a choice to say “No, I DON’T want to know more!” – cleverly and subtly inveigles both characters and viewers into supporting an ongoing war conducted by a future society that cynically throws hundreds of thousands of young people into a war like so many disposable cheap robots with inadequate gunpower. At one point in the film, a character breaks the fourth wall (that is, knowingly faces viewers) while hyping up soldiers to charge forth into battle against the bugs.

Many serious issues are addressed in the film in a light-hearted way: the preparation of young people through contact sports like football for military life; the glorification of violence through televised executions and the deliberate gore pornography; a culture brainwashing its young people to choose a military career and forcing them to die if they wish to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship; the incredulity of armchair experts and commentators that the bugs might have feelings and emotions and deserve to be treated with respect; and the government’s exploitation of fear, both human and bug, for military purposes and to control citizens and civilians (those who eschew the military life and so can’t be citizens but must be treated as hoi polloi consumers) alike. The futility of war and the cynicism of a society that uses war to control people are expressed in scenes in which soldiers are thrown straight into action after a few months of brutal boot-camp training armed with rifles that waste kah-zillions of bullets to no effect against the bugs even though better weapons like shoulder-held nuclear-powered rocket-launchers are available. After all, if you really want to get rid of the bugs rather than waste the humans which I suspect is the fascist society’s way of coping with over-population on Earth, why not just use a fleet of combat fighter jets to spray entire valleys and cave systems with chemicals that ignite on contact with living things and fry-y-y everything? It’s not as if the Federation cares about the bug planet’s environment and ecosystems.

The film itself is made in a style reminiscent of classic Hollywood action or drama films with lovingly filmed open spaces and swelling heroic orchestral music. The main characters are young, beautiful and buff with square jaws and clear eyes, and they’re clean-cut all-American Aryans though they play characters from Buenos Aires in Argentina (where Adolf Hitler is rumoured to have found sanctuary after WW2 instead of committing suicide): obviously this is a future BA that’s long succumbed to the seductions of whatever passes for future American or British culture – any differences between two sets of lowest common cultural denominators being hardly moot – and the English language. Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares and Carlos Gardel are spinning in their graves. Hollywood conventions are sent up in hilarious fashion: the film lovingly feasts viewers’ eyes on scenes of gore and gratuitous bloodshed but coyly blacks out scenes that might suggest sexual intercourse. The film apparently borrows many elements from Leni Riefenstahl’s famous Nazi propaganda documentary “Triumph of the Will”, a film I have yet to see in full. The grey uniforms and black leather coats worn in “Starship Troopers” look as though they were borrowed straight from a war museum housing Nazi German memorabilia. Special effects and scenes of space flight are often astonishingly well-done and even beautiful for a purported B-grade sci-fi flick; there are also of course schlocky scenes in which soldiers revel in pounding the bugs and getting sprayed with lime-green or day-glo orange bug blood as though they were merely playing paintball.

The film does drag during the long third section of the movie set on the bug planet as the plot bounces from one comedy skit to another. Viewers are cleverly set up for the climactic moment when the bugs obtain information about humans by drinking someone’s brain through a proboscis straw – at least some characters here know their manners! A refreshing change from most schmaltzy endings typical of Hollywood films is that once the dust has settled and the humans begin the job of obtaining information from a captured smart bug through torture, Rico and Carmen grimly continue their chosen vocations rather than sink into each other’s arms and this conclusion in itself is a comment on how fascist societies that constantly mine fear, suspicion and war to control people end up dehumanising them.

Surprisingly the film has become more relevant since the plane attacks on the World Trade Centers in 2001, with the bugs standing in for Iraqis, Afghans and Libyans. As long as the United States and its allies rampage all over the planet trying to kill more “bugs”, leaving destruction, pollution and DU radiation in their wake, we will need more eye candy satire like “Starship Troopers”.

 

Tabloid: entertaining portrait of an eccentric obsessive doesn’t delve deeply into media culture and social values

Errol Morris, “Tabloid” (2010)

Errol Morris’s documentaries fall into two camps: a serious one (“Fog of War”) and one of portraits of eccentric individuals dominated by their obsessions who often don’t realise they’ve transgressed the invisible boundaries of what constitutes acceptable behaviour. The focus of Morris’s scrutiny is Joyce McKinney, a former beauty queen who in 1977 became obsessed with a young man she met in Utah; the man, Kirk Anderson, began training as a missionary with the Church of Latter-Day Saints of Jesus Christ aka Mormons to escape her attentions and the Church sent him to England. McKinney pursued and kidnapped Anderson with the help of two men and imprisoned him in a cottage in southwestern England. The incident aroused (ahem) much interest throughout the UK with its combination of conservative religion and its strict morality as regards sexual relations, kidnapping and sexual bondage. McKinney was arrested and charged but managed to jump bail and escape back to the US. Although she and one of her accomplices were later arrested by the FBI, the English courts did not request her extradition and sentenced her in absentia to jail for a year. Two tabloid UK newspapers competed for sales with opposed views of McKinney’s antics and background based on information and material obtained in often shady ways.

McKinney is an entertaining and garrulous interviewee, bright and open to a fault. Her apparently guileless manner may well hide a calculating and shrewd mind intent on getting what she wants no matter what it takes or what obstacles are in her way. Morris’ Interrotron technique of interviewing subjects, in which McKinney looks into the camera which projects her face’s image onto a two-way mirror positioned in front of the lens of the camera facing Morris, and vice versa for Morris (he looks into his camera that projects his image to the mirror positioned in front of McKinney’s camera), ensures that viewers are hit with the full force of McKinney’s bubbling and sometimes overpowering personality but it also means that Morris himself ends up too close to his subject to be able to show a more objective view of her personality and character and the wider meaning of the 1977 kidnapping and the UK tabloid press’s involvement. At times Morris appears willing to be swept along by McKinney’s version of what happened and her insistence that Anderson was being brainwashed by a cult but the veteran interviewer never presses or challenges her opinion and prejudices.

Morris also interviews a former Mormon missionary who perhaps is the most objective and sane person in the whole film, and two journalists from the rival tabloids that salivated over McKinney and Anderson, each recounting the newspapers’ wildly differing versions of the incident and of McKinney’s character and defending their stories and research. Viewers see some of the conflicting opinions and views of two people in the British media towards the story: one is amused and nonplussed, the other is cynical and predatory. Unfortunately the two most significant male characters in the whole saga, Kirk Anderson and Keith Joseph May, are absent from the documentary: Anderson refused to be interviewed and May had already died, so any pretence at “balance” is precluded.

The film’s presentation milks the whole incident for laughs with insertions of tabloid-style title cards that introduce the interviewees and give something of the flavour of the news coverage of the time. Cartoons and cartoon montages help give a light-hearted and racy feel to the film. Towards the end, after the abduction and its consequences become history, the film slows down with the coverage of an unrelated incident that also attracted news attention: in 2008, when her pet dog died, McKinney had it cloned into a litter of puppies by researchers in South Korea.

Though the film is entertaining and sympathetic towards its subject, it missed an opportunity to examine McKinney’s upbringing in some detail, in particular the expectations and stereotypes she grew up with and absorbed which fed her beliefs about romantic love and marriage and encouraged her obsession with Anderson. In the end, these notions undid McKinney and derailed her life: she resolved never to love another man and became reclusive. That an obviously intelligent and resourceful woman with great drive and energy who lived for romance, marriage and a brood of many children gave up her dream completely is a tragedy that the film glosses over. Morris’s attempt at investigating the media hysteria and celebrity worship surrounding McKinney’s abduction of Anderson amounts to very little and says nothing about the kind of media culture that existed in the UK then and the social values that supported it. Perhaps Morris isn’t the best person to examine and appreciate the kind of society the UK was at the time. The best that “Tabloid” does is to show that the truth about the incident remains elusive and that people’s memories of it can be wildly different for many reasons, of which self-preservation is the primary one.

 

Birds of a feather, let’s flock together: four film shorts about birds illustrate something universal about human behaviour and social life

Pierre Coffin, “Pings” (2 shorts, 1997)
Ralph Eggleston, “For the Birds” (2000)
Dony Permedi, “Kiwi!” (2006)

All four films are about birds obviously but they’re also about some universal aspect of the human condition and can be understood by all except the very young due to their short, simple plots and duration (less than 4 minutes for each). French animator Coffin made two short films under the “Pings” which feature cute baby penguins dying horribly if deservedly for their silly behaviour. In one film, some chicks follow and bounce a green blob about and share their plaything with a polar bear. The polar bear sits on the green blob and squashes it. One of the babies offers itself as a replacement blob. Wooh, instant candidate for an avian Darwin award! In the other, an adult penguin patiently babysits three yelping youngsters who annoy him so much that he pops one chick into the ocean. The other chicks fall silent as a killer whale homes in on the unexpected dinner. Do the chicks learn their lesson about annoying Dad?

These are thin little pieces that make their point quickly and exit just as fast. The plots rely on surprise and black humour and make the most impact the first time you watch them; as a result, they don’t bear repeated viewings. Compared to Coffin’s later work, the CGI animation looks simple and parts look hand-drawn. The interesting thing about the little stories is that in the world of the Pings every chick is on its own and all are equally dumb and dispensable. No need to feel sorry for any of the little buggers as there are probably plenty more where they came from! And we must admit … we did really enjoy those little shorts for their deliciously sly humour.

The next two animation shorts are more sympathetic to their subjects and have deeper messages. “For the Birds”, in which a flock of little tweeters sitting on an overhead telephone line are joined by a gawky critter of a different species who upsets their little party, brings us a moral about discrimination. The goofy gatecrasher has the last laugh when, forced to drop off the line, he sees it zing up catapult-like causing his tormentors deep humiliation. Actions and behaviour are shown to have important consequences for both perpetrators and recipient. Made for Pixar, the animation is typical of the company’s style in featuring highly individual and comic characters and very bright colours.

“Kwi!”, made as a student project by Permedi, is a touching story about a kiwi with ambitions to fly. He spends Herculean effort and time in dragging and hammering large trees to the side of a tall cliff. Our little friend becomes quite adept at roping conifers into place and hammering them hard into the granite with just his two feet grasping the hammers and nails. At the top, he puts on his aviator’s cap and glasses and jumps off to simulate the effect of flying. The film rotates sideways to show him in full flight over the trees, flapping his feeble wings. He passes into the distance and disappears into the mist. Admittedly the story is simple to the point of banality – we all know what happens at the end – but what stands out is the kiwi’s stubborn and determined nature in achieving his lifetime goal. Doubtless his relatives and friends have called him a fool and told him to get a life and be happy staying on the ground, pecking and rooting away like everyone else. Yet the dream is not only near-impossible, but when achieved, it brings only short-lived happiness. As the kiwi flashes past us, a tear falls from his eye and the mix of emotions is obvious: he’s proved the impossible really is possible, he’s having the most exhilarating flight of his life, he never knew flying could be so much fun, he’s lost for words … but sudden, violent death will claim him all too soon.

The CGI animation is nowhere near as detailed as for “For the Birds” but its simplicity is actually a bonus as viewers have their work cut out reading the kiwi’s face and the emotions it might be feeling. Changing perspective by rotating the film’s focus creates an epic feeling during the flying scenes and plunges viewers deeply into the kiwi’s world so that we experience what he feels and experiences; it also deftly takes us out of the kiwi’s world as he flies on ahead to spare us the agony of what awaits him down below. Of the films under review here, this short features no simulated bird vocals; the other films have twittering birds or chicks. In all four films, some human emotion or behaviour is highlighted for comic effect; “Kiwi!” uses emotion to structure and pace the film from puzzlement (on the viewers’ part) to wonder, anticipation, expectation and finally joy and ecstasy edged with sadness.

These are not very profound films though some viewers will become very attached to the hero of “Kiwi!” and wish beyond hope that he has actually passed onto a better plane of existence where he is accepted for wanting to be more than his ratite heritage gave him and can fly freely with his tiny little flappers. It’s likely that as more people watch “Kiwi!”, it will become a beloved little cult classic and acquire more layers of meaning that include the desire for and intangibility of freedom from a restrictive headstart in life.

The Matrix: film trapped in formula Hollywood action-thriller matrix of convoluted plot, trite message and flat characters

Larry and Andy Wachowski, “The Matrix” (1999)

Strip “The Matrix” of its sci-fi trimmings, its computer FX and choreographed martial arts and gunfight scenes and what do we have left? We have a bare film that conforms to the Hollywood matrix of convoluted plot and plot twists, most of which come near the film’s end, a bit of romance here, some philosophical mumbo-jumbo there in parts, undeveloped character stereotypes and a banal message about being your own person, making your own rules, living your own life and having the freedom to do that without restrictions imposed on you by society. Computer programmer / corporate wage slave Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) who moonlights as hacker Neo has long been puzzled by messages about “The Matrix” appearing on his PC. He visits a club and meets a fellow hacker Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) who can introduce him to Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) who in turn can reveal what The Matrix refers to. Sinister agents led by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) turn up to prevent Neo from meeting Morpheus. After a few upsets caused by these guys, Neo meets Morpheus who encourages him of his own free will to know more about the world he lives in before he, Morpheus, can reveal what The Matrix really is.

Not surprisingly the revelation about Neo’s real world is very disheartening and he agrees to help Morpheus and Trinity change their universe. Of course, being a newcomer, Neo must undergo training and discover what abilities he has before he can be thrown into the deep business end of saving humanity from its oppressors. As the story progresses, the film’s pace quickens and its atmosphere changes from grungy noir to bright and colourful. No wonder the good guys and bad guys alike insist on wearing boring black shades and clothes for most of the film – all that sudden light and colour must hurt their eyes and fashion sense.

While watching Neo beating the crap out of Weaving’s Smith and his myrmidons is fun and the computer animation is slick and smooth, I did find the film very empty of substance in both plotting and characterisation. Of course with an action film featuring a winding plot, character development tends to take secondary priority – there’s too much plot for viewers to follow to pay any attention to how actors interpret and portray their characters – and the demands that Hollywood studios make of films these days to turn over loads of quick bucks don’t favour slow-burn character development. As a result the quality of acting is neither here nor there as all that’s needed from the actors is to go from A to Z and the whole cast does that smoothly. At least Fishburne does passingly well doing nothing in a late scene where he is tied up with electrodes attached to his head. The early oppressive noir atmosphere drops away once Neo re-enters The Matrix as a rebel and the film slips into pow-pow-pow action mode with kung fu fights and shooting sprees breathlessly piling on one after the other with no let-up in pace. As for tension, there’s no tension at all: the Wachowski brothers have no idea how to meld music and editing techniques to the story and action and the film’s characters are so blank that they invite no viewer sympathy for their sufferings and travails.

The premise behind “The Matrix” at least poses some interesting thoughts about the nature of reality and the role of religion and philosophy in everyday life. “Reality” for most humans turns out to be a computer construct created by machines which itself calls into question the nature of the relationship between humans and technology. Neo discovers his role in life is to enlighten his fellow humans about their “reality” and their role in it. Morpheus and Trinity believe without hesitation that Neo may be a messiah prophesied by a mysterious woman called the Oracle (Gloria Forster) and this plot development in itself throws up a paradox: Morpheus and Trinity have fought to get out of The Matrix only to willingly enter into another “matrix” which, like The Matrix, limits their thinking and behaviour. Neo also falls into this new “matrix” and experiences some inner struggle to get out of it in order to save Morpheus’s life. Reeves portrays little of the angst Neo goes through to convince himself and Trinity that they should be thinking for themselves and not simply follow what Morpheus or the Oracle says; Reeves’s blankness throughout the film may be a deliberate decision on the Wachowskis’ part to show how Neo, saviour or not he may be, is still close in psychology to the machine world he grew up and was nurtured in. The film could have delved more into Morpheus and Trinity’s belief about Neo and Neo’s discomfort with the trust they place in him and turned the threesome’s differences into an underlying conflict and investigation about religious faith and how some if not all individuals seem to need religion or belief in an external power to give meaning and motivation to their lives. A minor character, Cypher (Joe Pantoliano), serves as a counter-balance to Neo, Morpheus and Trinity in that though freed from The Matrix, he actually desires to return there, seeing it as more real than the depressive reality that he endures rather than lives, and throws in his lot with Agent Smith to betray the other rebels.

As it is, all “The Matrix” can say is that people shouldn’t allow themselves to be bound up by rules they don’t understand or care much for. Problem is, if you’re traipsing along and a fence appears in front of you and you want to leap over it or tear it down, at least you want to find out why it’s there before you jump over it … and land straight on top of a buried landmine that blows your legs off. With freedom, there come consequences and responsibility to yourself and to others … and the ways that Neo, Morpheus and Trinity deal with their freedom are treated too lightly by the Wachowskis compared to the attention the directors have given to the look of the film, its technical aspects and its adherence to the action thriller formula. Needless to say, Neo and his friends and enemies alike, having escaped one Matrix, are trapped in another Matrix they have no hope of escaping from … the Hollywood Matrix that forces them to slave  in a tired plot stereotype peddling an overdone and trite message for big bucks.

One useful lesson viewers can take away from “The Matrix” is that the world we live in and take for granted itself may be as much of an artificial construct based on lies and propaganda designed to keep a small elite in power while the rest of us slave away and fill our lives with cheap pleasures, as is Neo’s world. As more people question the actions and motivations of politicians, corporations, the global banking and finance industry and other “leaders” in social, cultural, political and economic forums, it becomes clearer that we are indeed living in The Matrix where concepts of democracy, freedom, security and equality among others are exploited to keep us as ignorant and infantile slaves.