Issue #59: Camp and Circumstance 💊
The Matrix Resurrections + House of Gucci
We made it to 2022! The disruptions of December, unfortunately, pre-empted our publication schedule last year. But now, on the other side of the new year, we’re back and better than ever. And we’ve even got a couple of changes in store. Just to shake things up and keep them interesting.
Moving forward, our issue cadence will be slightly different — namely biweekly (the “every other week” variety) with more room for dispatches. We’ll also be bringing you coverage from the Sundance Film Festival (and any other that will have us) which will mean our first foray into capsule reviews and (if we’re lucky) more interviews. We want to write more about the movies you’re excited about and be a place where you can talk about how they made you feel. Which means, this year we’ll also be opening up our first threads. We want this newsletter to a hub for discussion instead of a one-way conversation. Don’t worry, if you hate them, we’ll stop. So no pressure.
This year we’re also jumping headfirst into awards season as voting members, and we can’t wait to cover as many of the most buzzed-about films as we can. We’re always open to suggestions for what we should turn our eyes to next.
So, we’re starting the year on a high note — two (fairly) recent releases that each gives us a little taste of the state of mid-pandemic filmmaking. First up, Cate on the resurrection at the heart of The Matrix Resurrections. Then, Zosha on the missing piece of House of Gucci. Welcome to 2022 lovelies! Here’s hoping for a better year than the last. Happy movie yelling!
Cate on The Matrix Resurrections
It’s hard to have low expectations for a franchise you’ve never cared about. The Matrix premiered at the turn of the century and portended a future in which our growing fascination with machines — and more specifically the internet — led to the ultimate ruination of the human race. Its two sequels, though less impactful, completed a trilogy that not only shaped the way we think about the internet but forever changed the movie business. Its technological advancements spawned so many copycats that it’s genuinely delightful to discover that the original still feels fresh and incredible to contemporary eyes 22 years later. Now, with The Matrix Resurrections, Lana Wachowski takes the reins for a new story set in the same universe. And this time she’s tasked with shepherding a story that both acknowledges its past and pushes forward to the future.
For this latest iteration of the story, Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) are… resurrected. Though both characters died at the end of the third film, we learn after a dazzling first act that their bodies were recovered and rebuilt by The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) in order to continue powering the matrix. In the course of doing so, he discovers that it’s not just Neo’s designation as The One that keeps the wheels of the matrix turning, but his connection with Trinity as the one he loves. Their yearning for each other — always close, but out of reach — provides even more energy for the machines than ever before. This film follows Neo’s reawakening and his quest to get back to his one true love.
With little to no attachment to the franchise as it existed, it was easy to become immersed in this new iteration of the story. Here, Thomas Anderson is a celebrated creator of the video game The Matrix, and its plotline closely follows the events of the first film. As a tool of the machines, this new existence is a way to give Neo’s brain a way to puzzle through the things that happened to him in the original trilogy. They weren’t his life — they were the critically acclaimed events of his story. The Analyst, positioning himself as Neo’s therapist prescribing him blue pills, adds to the fiction. But truth will out, and Neo’s own code springs to life in the form of his simulated Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to free him once again, from his prison of the mind.
Wachowski’s reluctance to make this film is written into its very DNA, and the result is a meta-commentary about the limits of nostalgia, the value of art and the need to keep looking toward the future. Gone is the heavy green tint of the original trilogy. Now, the matrix is warm and bright, emblazoned with yellows and oranges — rich colours and tones that reflect the new sophistication of this updated simulation. And things outside the matrix have changed too. Zion, the last human stronghold, has fallen. In its place is Io, led by Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith).
It was fascinating to watch the ways that Lana has further built out this world. Not only has Neo’s sacrifice at the end of the last film changed things outside the matrix, but it has also made another world possible. Now, it’s not just humans who want to divest from the simulated world. Even the machines who are dependent on them for energy are seeking new ways to exist. Io is now a world built by humans with machines. The old assumption that their dual existence is mutually exclusive is gone. Instead, the film makes the argument for coexistence. Man and machine working together in a new kind of shared personhood.
But the story really shines the more it focuses on the bond between Neo and Trinity. Drawn together over and over again in the matrix like the remnant vestiges of orphan code, they fight to reach each other — to save each other. Their love story, a little thin in the original trilogy, powers not only the story but this world. And the result is a sincere look at the value of earnest sentiment. The Matrix was such an influential part of culture that parts of it have been co-opted by unsavory actors for their own aims. But here, Lana Wachowski takes them back and reshapes them to represent the opposite of everything they’ve come to mean. It’s an effective magic trick, and it makes The Matrix Resurrections sing.
Resurrections is a film that argues against its own existence while bringing new weight to a universe that has captivated audiences for two decades. It is a crowning achievement to revisit older work and make it better, stronger and more in line with the vision that was always intended. Reboots and retreads might be the bane of Hollywood at the moment, but it’s nice to know that some creatives are actively wrestling with what the means, and how it can or should shape their approach to their work.
Zosha on House of Gucci
There’s something wrong with House of Gucci. I’m not talking about the fact that Patrizia (Lady Gaga) is out to kill her ex(?)-husband Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). And I’m not even talking (yet) about Jared Leto’s Italian-accent-by-way-of-a-Super-Mario-game shot through a funhouse mirror. I’m talking about how for a movie about the seductive trappings of wealth, so alluring they can pull Maurizio into a life of carefree callousness and Patrizia into a life of crime, it is surprisingly staid and lifeless.
The movie’s runtime does it no favors — at two hours and 37 minutes, a film really has to have something extra going for it, be it camp, drama, intrigue, comedy, or just incredibly solid performances. And Gucci manages to wear down the viewer in almost all those categories. Across its runtime, Gucci becomes so tonally confused that the film seems uncertain of exactly what it is setting out to be at all.
On the one hand, we have Patrizia’s arc: as someone who has always coveted wealth and the finer things, she comes in fighting for Maurizio’s love (through some light stalking and gentle subterfuge; classic rom-com meet-cute). Once in the Gucci family, she pushes her husband to get more and more involved, demanding more and more power all while accumulating never enough wealth. And for a pop singer-turned-actress, Gaga’s performance is finely tuned to her story. In her hands, Patrizia is ferocious and clever, as conniving as she is transparent with her devotion. Gaga crafts Patrizia as someone built for greatness and intent on showing it, only to claw for every scrap she possibly can.
Then you have the auxiliary arcs of Gucci: Your Paolo (Leto, ugh); your Aldo (Al Pacino, Italian flavor); Rodolfo (Jeremy Iron, bringing a cold front into every room). These are men born into privilege, and who wouldn’t have it any other way. They each seek to do right by their name, to secure their place in the pantheon, to flex their taste — something so individual the movie routinely calls into question if any of them have any at all.
Coiled within them is Maurizio, who wants nothing more than to be a simple lawyer, possibly beyond the reach of his family name entirely. Patrizia provides the spark (and the next and the next, until it works) for him to get back in the business. And, of course, it’s far too hard to resist. Maurizio’s arc is one of a victim, but also a culprit, guilty of benefitting from Patrizia’s machinations and then leaving her behind. And yet, Driver’s performance carries little of Maurizio’s journey as a throughline. Unlike Leto, Driver plays his internal drive so demurely as to let it disappear entirely. And unlike Gaga, he never finds a solid ground between growth and stagnancy, opting instead for the latter. And so, much of the movie feels to simply bloom around him, and he merely reacts: one scene he resists his uncle’s asks to get in the company; the next Patrizia has him at dinner again; then he’s being welcomed into his office, before soon conniving to take over. Throughout it all, he is strong and steely but never steering, and Maurizio’s arc wilts underneath the weight required of it.
It doesn’t help that Gucci has no real sense of time baked into it. Years seemingly collapse before our eyes, and whether true to life or not (Maurizio’s father dies 10 years after a scene that immediately precedes his death in the film) House of Gucci feels too unmoored to make even the brand feel tangible. While the idea of it is the heart of the film, there are so few glimpses we get into what it actually looks like. Patrizia’s psychic encourages her to wear red and green for protection (which, fans will note, are Gucci staples) and a few Gaga dress-up scenes; Tom Ford eventually shows up and makes a now-iconic collection. But the film provides no real sense of how the brand changed during that time, even as an idea outside the family, why so many sought fakes or kitschy airport items. We spend more time with Paolo’s much-maligned collection than we do with any real understanding of how the Gucci name actually moves throughout the years. This is a shame, not only because it shows a movie that could be soapy and fun. Rather, because without a sense of what Patrizia is fighting for, what Maurizio falls into the orbit of, or even what Paolo seems to transgress, it’s yet another signifier cast aside in favor of weak performances and shaggy writing.
It seemed impossible on first viewing of the initial photos and the trailer — “I don’t think of myself as an ethical person *spoon shake* but I am fair” — that a movie like House of Gucci could be bad. But it’s really worse than that; ultimately, the film is just on the worse side of “fine.” Most tragic of all, it’s just boring. And it just seems like there’s something terribly wrong with that.
Assorted Internet Detritus
CATE: An oral history of Scream: the best meta-horror ever made, the meaning of Insecure and its central treasured friendship, how to go about course-correcting on West Side Story, looking at Licorice Pizza, everything that made Golden Girls gay (RIP Betty White), a traditional way to step into the new year, is Die Hard a Christmas movie?, making sense of Don’t Look Up, my favourite critic on The Matrix Resurrections, a dispatch from the Queen of Christmas, and I rejoin NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour to look at Issa Rae’s legacy.
ZOSHA: Why you can’t understand a fucking thing in movies anymore. Being single alone. This absolutely beautiful piece about how much is misunderstood about living with/diagnosing/comprehending OCD. A brush with puzzle brain. This great chat I had about Riverdale I’m still riding high on, and hey you should all be watching Yellowjackets for real though! Oh and I wrote about how a good show had its best episode.
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Happy movie yelling!