Associate Professor of English
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out of **** stars
What's great about this movie is the affection the director feels for his main characters. So often in teenage movies, the main character is the subject of ridicule, either by his peers, the audience, or the director himself. Max often is defeated, in love or in school, but never in spirit. Wes Anderson has created a virtual world, its artificiality heightened by the stage curtain transitions from scene to scene, in which a fifteen-year-old boy can take bold chances--falling in love with a teacher, getting expelled from prep school, staging a production of Apocalypse Now in a high school gym--and avoid the tragedies of the typical teenage film, indeed, of life. That's not to say the movie is devoid of pain, but it is a pain borne of deeply-felt passion, Max's, Anderson's, and the audience's.
What's great about this movie is that while David Cronenburg doesn't abandon his fascination with squishy body parts and viscous bodily fluids, here he puts them in place to support a cerebral tale about millennial angst and the limits of the imagination. Set in the context of virtual reality, the movie blurs the distinction between the game and life; asked if one has free will in the game, Allegra Gellar, (how refreshing to see Jennifer Jason Leigh acting without her annoying Katherine Hepburn snarl), answers "only enough to make it interesting, the same as in life." Players of the game are able to take risks, acting on sexual fantasies or homicidal impulses, but only within the parameters of their characters. The game, like life, is limited by the imaginations of its players.
What's great about this movie is that in the midst of flashy special effects (characters' movements, for example, are not limited by laws of gravity or physics), is an attempt to tell a fairly brainy story about perception and reality. Like The Truman Show, the Matrix portrays characters trapped a virtual world designed to keep its inhabitants from questioning the true nature of reality. The main characters of those movies, Truman and Neo, risk routine and life to break free of their prescribed realities, even if the alternative, "true," reality is unknown or malevolent. As William Blake wrote, "I must create a world or be enslaved by another man's." Keanu Reeves, who would have made a great silent screen star, gives his typically wooden performance. It's aided, however, by an apparent clause in his contract that insisted everyone else in the movie deliver lines in a more stilted fashion than he.
Star Wars Episode One: Phantom Menace (** 1/2)
What's great about this movie is the sheer beauty of the vision. So often in science fiction movies, the future is envisioned as a place without combs, showers, or a decent tailor. Characters deliver their lines through the strands of greasy hair that hang in their unwashed face, as they scamper over piles of abandoned cars and steaming garbage. Not so in Lucas' worlds, where window boxes adorn mosque-like buildings, queens wear elaborate gowns, and Jedi knights sport braided tails from their spiky haircuts. Even the villains are attentive to color coordination and proper grooming. This movie passed the "gasp" criteria: my seven-year-old son gasped at each new screen (it's worth the price of admission for that).