Paul McGuire Grimes, creator of Paul’s Trip to the Movies, chatted with the stars of The Matrix Resurrections, Licorice Pizza, and Swan Song and he gives us his thoughts on the movies.
THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS (in theaters, HBO Max)
It’s been over twenty years since The Matrix changed Hollywood. Like so many beloved films and heroes, we’re asked once again to choose between the red pill and the blue pill and plug back in for in The Matrix Resurrections. Visionary director Lana Wachowski returns to the world she created, but like all things, time and space are not what they once were. In the thrilling opening, the character Bugs notes, “This is where it all began. This is where he began.” Bugs is referring to Keanu Reeves’ Neo or Thomas Anderson as he’s known in the real world. Bugs is on a dangerous mission to find Neo, but Thomas Anderson is a living a different life. He’s created a series of popular Matrix games, and now Warner Brothers wants him to create a fourth cashing on this reboot trend. The line between fiction and reality starts to blur when he meets a single mom of three named Tiffany. She has no recollection of her past as Trinity. The appearance of former friends and foes becomes all too much for Thomas Anderson, and he must choose which path to go down if he wants to find Trinity.
Wachowski has written this to be a very meta film name dropping Warner Bros and stating a need for “new names, new faces” as this film has new actors playing versions of our beloved characters. I say versions only to imply that there’s more going on here than a straightforward continuation of the original trilogy.
Despite the different realities and memories, it still feels within the world and look of the Matrix. While the first half felt fairly straight forward in its storytelling, you’ll go down that deep mental rabbit hole in the second half. I almost think it’s best to try not to make sense of it but to experience it, grab a hold of what resonates within the deep layers of the Matrix.
There’s love, identity, and acceptance in the non-binary world Lana Wachowski is calling us to. Like the original trilogy, the special effects and action sequences are breathtaking and out of this world as they play with the time and space continuum.
The Matrix Resurrections will take a few viewings to really settle in, but that’s not a bad thing. Lana Wachowski is a risky filmmaker who’s never afraid to try something new and make it her style every step of the way.
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
LICORICE PIZZA (in theaters)
Cooper Hoffman makes his film debut here as Gary, a child actor who sees himself much older and wiser than he actually is at the age of 15. He’s smitten upon meeting Alana during school picture day. Alana’s 25 or 28 as she says and is running around working for the photographer. She, on the other hand, is not nearly as responsible as she should be for her age. Despite their age difference, Gary tries to woo Alana with his acting resume and pension for business ideas. Their newfound friendship and working relationship are a wild ride in the summer of 1973 in San Fernando Valley.
Anderson’s story is comprised of fictional characters based on people he knows and some real-life Hollywood figures that pop up in the adventures of Gary and Alana. Sean Penn plays Jack Holden, a drunken Hollywood actor based on William Holden and Bradley Cooper has a memorable scene as film producer Jon Peters. The whole sequence involving Bradley Cooper features a tense semi that’s run out of gas on the winding roads of the California hills and lets Cooper be completely unhinged and nutty.
It’s a coming of age, falling in love story for two socially awkward lead characters, and like many of Anderson’s work, it’s certainly divisive with its voice and characters.
This is a slice of life narrative, and I enjoyed the fact that I had no idea where the story was going or what shenanigans these two would end up in. It had this zany quality to it.
I wouldn’t call any character in this film truly authentic as they’re all wearing some sort of façade playing into a societal role to get what they want. That doesn’t make them all unlikeable as you’re still rooting for Gary and Alana thanks to the very natural presence Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim bring to their performances. Both are making their film debut but are familiar with Anderson’s world and sensibilities as a director given Hoffman is the son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman who starred in many of Anderson’s films and Anderson has directed music videos for Alana Haim’s band Haim.
Licorice Pizza is a strange title but it’s the name of a record store from back in the day. If you’re familiar with it, it gives the film that nostalgic and youthful feel Anderson is going for. It’s a film like none other this year and one that only Paul Thomas Anderson could get away with making.
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
SWAN SONG (AppleTV+)
If you knew your time on Earth was limited, how would you spend your days and how would you protect your family? Those are the struggles Mahershala Ali is facing as Cameron. He’s been diagnosed with a terminal cancer, but he doesn’t want his illness and death to be burden for his family. He’s a doting husband who’s expecting his second child with wife Poppy. It’s set in the near future at a time when the science behind cloning is reaching human experimentation. There’s a secret facility tucked away in the middle of the woods where Cameron meets with Dr. Jo Scott. She informs him that he could be cloned. There would be a complete and clean swap from one body to the next so his family would never have to know what truly happened to Cameron.
Has a contemplative-thought provoking quality as the execution feels more cerebral and quieter than your typical action-driven or drama-filled story. This mirrors the way Cameron lives life. Cleary wants you to think about your own mortality with a “would what you do” if you were in Cameron’s position.
As Cameron continues to move forward with the procedure, Cleary and Mahershala Ali keep the journey as subtle and straight forward as possible with the clone who’s referred to as Jack. Ali keeps Jack fairly close to Cameron. This is not the kind of clone who goes on a killing rampage or comes with a psychotic bent to him. Even the costuming is kept similar between the two so there’s no sense of Jack being a completely different person from Cameron.
Cleary allows the audience to experience and determine Cameron’s fate in the moment without telling us how we’re supposed to feel or what the right decision is for Cameron and his family.
Swan Song is a thought-provoking and emotional journey regarding our mortality. Mahershala Ali is captivating never pushing too hard. This film reminds us that as science and technology advance, the human emotional connection cannot be replicated.
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS