THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS (2021)

December 21, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. One could view being number four in a trilogy as similar to being the ‘third wheel’ on a date. Or one could view it as a new beginning, with a familiar foundation. Your way of viewing will likely depend on whether you choose the red pill or the blue one. This time out, it’s only writer-director Lana Wachowski, without her sister Lilly. Their groundbreaking first film in the series hit screens in 1999, and it’s been 18 years since the last. Lana co-wrote this script with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon.

There is a stunning opening action sequence that is so well done, most will feel like it alone is worth the price of a ticket. But it’s another of the early scenes that really caught my attention and had me laugh out loud and applaud the audacity. Keanu Reeves stars (again) as Thomas Anderson, a renowned game developer best known for his award-winning games (actually a trilogy) ‘The Matrix’ from 20 years ago. His work on a new game called ‘Binary’ is interrupted when he’s summoned to the office of his boss played by Jonathan Groff. Anderson is informed that Warner Brothers, their corporate owner, is not interested in his new game, but instead demands another game in ‘The Matrix’ series. This is either self-parody or Lana’s passive-aggressive revenge, either of which is a bit humorous.

Anderson regularly battles the blurring lines of reality and sees a psychiatrist (Neil Patrick Harris) who prescribes blue (of course) pills to help the patient deal with daily life. There is no way I’m going into the story lines that are tossed around here, but there will be fans who are happy and fans who aren’t. In fact, this one teases with so many elements that are left hanging, we aren’t sure whether Lana is setting the stage for more to come or merely having fun stirring the pot.

What does matter is that Neo and Trinity get the shot at a legitimate relationship/romance. The return of Carrie-Ann Moss is treated with all due respect. She shows off her acting skills, which, let’s face it, are far superior to the lead actor here. Together they make an interesting couple and we pull for things to work out. Jada Pinkett Smith returns as Niobe, and some new characters are introduced as well. In addition to Jonathan Groff and Neil Patrick Harris, the most intriguing of these is Jessica Henwick as Bugs (like Bunny). The newly imagined Morpheus is played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Priyanka Chopra Jonas scores a couple of scenes as Sati. Oh, and the answer is a definitive yes – we do miss Hugo Weaving and Laurence Fishburne (despite some of Lana’s creativity).

Neo and Trinity and special effects are the real draw for the series, and though this one is littered with self-parody, one of the most disappointing elements comes in the fight scenes which fall short of expectations. While I enjoyed the multiple story lines, even the partial bits, it’s the big finale action sequence that had me convinced the shark had officially been jumped. It’s drawn out far too long and repetitive at times, and with the 2 and a half hour run time, you have earned the right to question “The One”.

Opening in theaters and on HBO Max on December 22, 2021

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THE WHITE TIGER (2021, India)

April 26, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Writer-director Ramin Bahrani (the excellent 99 HOMES, 2014) adapted Aravind Adiga’s 2008 novel, and for his efforts, he was awarded an Oscar nomination for adapted screenplay. The honor is justified thanks to the complexity of the story, though we are never sure if this is satire of, or insight and enlightenment into India’s caste system. Either way, it hooks us early and never lets go.

Adarsh Gourav stars as Balram, and the story is structured via his narration of his own life story as outlined in a letter he drafts to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao prior to his official visit to India in 2010. The timeline stretches from Balram’s youth to the time of the letter, when he describes himself as a Bangalore entrepreneur who rose from poverty to being a self-made man. We are there when Balram overhears the local powerbroker known as The Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar) mention that the family needs a second driver. The ambitious Balram borrows money from Granny (Kamlesh Gill) for driving lessons, and soon he’s at the gate talking his way into the job.

Balram is hired as the driver for The Stork’s son, Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) who has returned from his time in the U.S. with an American woman, Pinky (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) by his side. It’s bizarre to see Balram’s eager-to-please ways contrast with the western approach Ashok and Pinky apply. Whereas servants are usually treated poorly, mixed messages are received by Balram, who ends up sleeping in a parking garage storage room while his masters luxuriate in a Delhi penthouse.

A tragic event occurs leaving Balram betrayed by the family to which he’s displayed nothing but loyalty. The film even takes a wicked shot at the Oscar winning SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008), although the films do share some common themes. This film follows the plight of a servant, and takes a particularly close look at the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. Just how far can one be pushed before standing up or fighting back. Since the film starts where the story ends, we are prepared for the path, though the actual steps are stunning.

Filmmaker Bahrani floats dark comedic undertones, though it’s never really funny – in fact, most of the story is quite serious. Mr. Gourav excels in the lead role as he explains India’s social structure through big belly vs small belly. His journey takes him through multiple personality shifts – the poor villager busting rocks, the eager to impress new servant, the insightful young man who learns a harsh lesson, and finally, the “self-made” man, confident in his abilities and able to overlook his own actions that got him there.

available on Netflix

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