Leaving The Matrix Behind – AKA Taking the Red Pill

By Michael W. Harris

In 1999 the Wachowskis burst into the cultural zeitgeist with the anime inspired The Matrix—a “heady, post-modern, what is real, how do we know we are alive or just simulations, bullet time fight, genre defying, how the hell did two relative unknowns do THAT” kind of film.

It was kind of popular.

They followed that up with two sequels that doubled down on the philosophy, fight choreography, and green tint aesthetic, yet also failed to connect with audiences in the same way, though still made truckloads of money for Warner Bros. The Wachowskis have yet to have a true hit film since then, but have directed, written, and produced a string of films (and TV) that while all finding a small, niche audience, have failed to match that earlier success for some reason. In this post want to look at a mighty handful of these and hopefully make the case for at least some of them finding a broader audience.

Note: I am leaving Cloud Atlas out for right now as I will be taking a deeper dive into it as part of my hauntology series, however know that I believe Cloud Atlas to be worth your time.

So with all of that out of the way, let us plug back into the world of the Wachowskis, with all of their philosophy, wire-fu fights, and stylization within an inch of their life production design. Continue reading “Leaving The Matrix Behind – AKA Taking the Red Pill”

Not The Films We Need, But the Films We Deserve: Safe vs. Daring Yet Flawed Films

By Michael W. Harris

I really wanted to love Pacific Rim. Like, unabashedly, giggling like a little kid at a silly joke, deliriously love it. And the trailers set me up for such a love! I mean, the plot was something that two eight-year-olds playing with their toys would dream up on a weekend: giant robots fighting giant monsters. It was a live action anime. It was every nerdy “what if” conversation you would have as an undergrad when you finally found “your people.” And that line from the trailer was perfectly hammy yet earnest: “WE ARE CANCELLING THE APOCALYPSE!”

So what happened? Why didn’t I have that complete rush of joy when I left the theatre? I liked it, sure. I even enjoyed it. But the giddiness I felt at the first trailer didn’t materialize. And the “apocalypse” speech fell flat. It was too short and didn’t earn its tag line, like “TODAY IS OUR INDEPENDENCE DAY!” did during the summer of 1996. And I think that is a good point of comparison, as I view both films similarly as to what I wanted: a fun, goofy, science fiction romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously. That is what Independence Day is and what I thought Pacific Rim was going to be. So where did PacRim go wrong where ID4 went right? Well, the latter went for broke with the goofy one-liners and tongue in cheek remarks, whereas the former played it too safe and didn’t lean into its silly, kids playing with toys premise. Continue reading “Not The Films We Need, But the Films We Deserve: Safe vs. Daring Yet Flawed Films”

There and Back Again: A New Viewing Order for The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Films

How do you solve a problem like viewing order?
How do you solve a problem like viewing order?

By Michael W. Harris

Well, I finally did it. I watched all six Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films back to back to back to back to back to back, and all in their Extended Editions (the only way to watch the films, as will be assumed throughout this post). That’s almost 21 hours of movie, to say nothing of breaks for cooking food, taking periodic walks, let alone sleep and other necessities. But throughout my viewing, the question lingered: what is the right viewing order of these six films? A film series I hereby dub the Tolkien Hexalogy, for lack of a better term.

Back when the final Hobbit film was released, an article on Medium.com was published that gave a number of possible viewing orders outside of the obvious options of story chronology option (Hobbit followed by Lord of the Rings), which is the how I watched them over two days this past week, or the release order (Rings followed by Hobbit). But none of the orders in the Medium article really resonated with me, and I mused if there was a viewing order that solved some of the viewing issues with the Hobbit films (somewhat bloated storyline, spoilers and foreshadowing for Lord of the Rings that might not make sense without seeing those films, etc.) the way that the rightfully famous Machete Order makes the Star Wars prequels watchable.

So what I will present in this post is my Machete inspired Tolkien Hexalogy viewing order, but just as Rod Hilton starts off his Machete Order post with some disclaimers, I feel like I must first tackle the elephant in the room… Continue reading “There and Back Again: A New Viewing Order for The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Films”

A Good Trailer Is Hard to Find: Thoughts on Music and Trailers

By Michael W. Harris

I have written about trailers and music more than once on this blog, though it has been quite a while since last I thought about it. For the most part, trailers are quite unremarkable and meant to be little more than hype reels to sell a film, but that is really missing a golden opportunity to make an audience really excited for a film and drive interest (see the first Force Awakens trailer).

As I wrote in two very (VERY) early posts on this website (so please excuse the weirdness of my earlier writings), part of what can really sell a trailer is a good music choice. Rather than using canned, generic trailer music or reusing tracks from an earlier film (unless it part of a franchise), one of the best decisions can be to find the right pop song that somehow conveys something about the tone or story of the film. Continue reading “A Good Trailer Is Hard to Find: Thoughts on Music and Trailers”

Getting Loaded at The World’s End: Compiled Soundtrack in The World’s End

By Michael W. Harris

One of the great things about using a song, or numerous songs, in a film is that they can immediately evoke a time or a place.  Think of George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973) which gets so much of its power from its amazing use of music (and DJ banter) to recreate the ‘50s era, along with some great set and costume design.  Continue reading “Getting Loaded at The World’s End: Compiled Soundtrack in The World’s End”

Look, up in the sky, it’s the 1%!!: Ryan Amon and Elysium

By Michael W. Harris

It is a fact that bears repeating: Elysium is Ryan Amon’s FIRST film score.  Not like first as in he did some student projects in college, or he did some low-budget straight to DVD films, no FIRST feature film score…ever.  Continue reading “Look, up in the sky, it’s the 1%!!: Ryan Amon and Elysium”

What’s Eating Jay Gatsby?: Music and Spectacle in a Jazz Age

By Michael W. Harris

I feel the need to begin this review with a disclaimer: I have not read The Great Gatsby in fourteen years.  I know this figure so precisely because the first and only time I ever read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel was in the summer of 1999, the summer after I graduated from high school.  Continue reading “What’s Eating Jay Gatsby?: Music and Spectacle in a Jazz Age”

Pacific Rim and the Art of Life

By Michael Harris

So last Friday, with the words from my overly long post on modern music still ringing in my ears, I went and saw Pacific Rim with a good friend, Andy Lee, whose recordings of lesser known minimalist composers you should really check out.  Anyway, I started to think, while watching giant robots fight giant monsters, how I might discuss this film in context of what I had just written.  Would this film be an example of recycled Hollywood schlock, opiate for the masses, art of death?  (Which on the surface it would seem to be.)  Or is it life affirming, truly creative, and something that helps to contribute to the on-going dialogue amongst creators; the art of life?  For me, it is quite assuredly in the latter category, and I’ll explain why shortly.  First, though, a brief review. Continue reading “Pacific Rim and the Art of Life”

Much Ado About Scoring: Joss Whedon’s Score to Much Ado About Nothing

By Michael Harris

In my previous post (here) I detailed some of the creation behind Joss Whedon’s new film, Much Ado About Nothing and also why he decided to score it himself—namely that everything about this film was done on the cheap, so Joss decided to tackle the music himself.  The question of if he was successful I was leaving open until I saw the film.[1]  I have now viewed Whedon’s masterful Shakespeare adaptation, and am pleased to say that the score is a total success. Continue reading “Much Ado About Scoring: Joss Whedon’s Score to Much Ado About Nothing”

A Few More Thoughts about Man of Steel

By Michael Harris

Having now seen Man of Steel in theatres, I though a few words on the film itself, and its music, appropriate.  Put simply, this is by far the best Superman film since the 1978 original, and honestly I think it is the best interpretation of the character to ever make it to screen.  (Warning: Spoilers follow).  Continue reading “A Few More Thoughts about Man of Steel”