Saturday, October 31, 2020

Netflix Disk in Quarantine: The Animatrix part 2

7. Beyond, written and directed by Kōji Morimoto. 

While looking for her cat, Yoko follows a group of children to an abandoned warehouse where several glitches in the matrix make for very interesting play. Yoko finds her cat, and experiences some of the amazing features of these glitches, but is disappointed to return the next day to find the warehouse gone.

This was a very light-hearted, almost wholesome story. I worried a lot about the cat being hurt or killed (needlessly, it's fine), and some of the stunts the kids have learned within the glitches---bottles breaking and reassembling, falling from heights, and so on---could have easily gone wrong, but the overall story was a good one with a full, if slightly awwww, resolution. The bigger picture here is that we get a look at the day-to-day headaches in running the matrix for the machines, but also the strangeness and confusion that results for the people plugged into it. Where we got only a few explanations of glitches or changes happening in the films---the repeated black cat, Neo's displacement from Merovingian's mansion to a mountain castle, or agents' abilities to just take over random bodies---this examines how such events are experienced by oblivious humans, unaware that they're in a computer program but somehow in touch with how things don't exactly make sense. I liked it a lot.

8. A Detective Story, written and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe.  

In this noir-inspired story, influenced (as Neo was) by elements from Alice in Wonderland, Ash seeks a hacker known as "Trinity." 

This was short, sweet, and enjoyable. The style is a very well-done noir: black and white, voice-over narration by protagonist Ash, with the strong feel of a gritty graphic novel come to life. Not to say Ash is uninteresting or unimportant, but really the excitement and anticipation of Trinity (will we get to see her? will Carrie-Anne Moss reprise her voice? Yes and Yes) drove this story. The agents were somewhat slow and sluggish here, as with Kid's Story, and this seemed a little unrealistic when compared with how they were portrayed in the film, but whatever. If you're a fan of film noir or graphic novels in the style of Sin City, you'll likely enjoy this story.

9. Matriculated, written and directed by Peter Chung.

A group of rebels operating in the real world lure machines into their version of the matrix in order to reprogram them. 

I loved this story. I loved everything about it. I almost don't want to say anything more because seeing it without any advance knowledge is, I think, the best way to experience it. I'll just say that the colors are lovely, the idea is beautiful, and it's a fantastic way to end the series of stories because of what it leaves us with, as both an audience and problem-solving humans capable of empathy. It's not too late. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Season 2, Episode 10, The Twenty-Third Psalm

On-Island Events: Claire introduces Aaron to Eko, who speaks to her about Moses and his brother. When Claire inadvertently discloses that Charlie has been carrying a Virgin Mary statue around with him on the island and shows Eko, Eko breaks open the statue, revealing the heroin inside. Eko finds Charlie and demands he show him where he found the statue.

Michael shows interest in weapons; Locke takes him into the jungle for target practice. Later, Michael offers to take Kate's shift in the hatch and she agrees. 

On their way to the site where the Beechcraft airplane crashed, Eko sees the black smoke flicker through the jungle but pass them by. Charlie tries to explain his experiences with addiction to Eko, but for naught. They find a parachute and the skeleton of a priest in the jungle, whom Eko says he knows. Later, as Charlie climbs a tree to get a better view, the smoke monster creeps right up to Eko, hovers there, clicking and snapping, then flickers away back into the jungle. Charlie demands to know why Eko didn't run from the smoke; Eko states he was not afraid of it and continues on his way to the airplane.

In the hatch, Michael is again contacted by Walt on the computer. Walt assures Michael he's okay, he's alone, and that he can't talk for long as "they" were coming back soon. Jack interrupts the chat and offers Michael his sympathy, but soon leaves. 

Eko finds Yemi's body inside the Beechcraft and weeps for his brother. As the plane burns, Charlie asks Eko, "Are you a priest, or aren't you?" Eko answers he is, and recites The Lord's Prayer (Psalm 23), which Charlie joins.

Ana Lucia and Libby are greeted warmly by the beach camp; Claire kicks Charlie out of her tent. Charlie retreats to an area in the jungle where he has hidden several Virgin Mary statues of heroin.

Flashbacks: Opening the episode, a group of Nigerian boys play soccer near a village marketplace. When a truck of armed men pulls up and begins pulling children out of the group, a little boy clings to an older one. The leader of the armed men seizes the boy, puts a gun in his hand, and implores him to shoot an older gentleman. When the little boy refuses, the boy he earlier clung to, which turns out to be Eko, intervenes, shoots the man himself, and is taken by the truck of armed men. 

When Eko returns to the village as an adult, he oversees a drug deal with some men who speak in Arabic, one of which who tells Eko he has no soul. Eko ends up killing the men but spares the life of a child who witnesses the act. 

Eko returns to the village again and visits his brother Yemi, the boy who was left when Eko was taken. Yemi has become a priest, and Eko asks to use the church's protection to move the drugs out of Nigeria by plane; Yemi stresses that while he still loves Eko, he cannot be involved in drug-running. Eko comes back again, demanding that Yemi help, this time suggesting he sign papers ordaining Eko and his friend as priests so they can fly the drugs out of Nigeria. Yemi refuses at first, but then agrees when Eko threatens to burn down the church. 

As Eko and his crew load the Beechcraft, Yemi pleads with his brother to abandon the drug deal and to confess. Eko refuses, the military shows up, and Yemi is killed by their gunfire. Eko's partner takes Yemi's body into the plane, kicks Eko out of it, and departs. 

Greater Meaning: The easy connection to make in this episode is that Eko and Charlie's journeys are related through heroin, which is true. Both have been involved in drugs, Eko trafficking, Charlie using, and both have experienced severe and abrupt life changes due at least in part to the events that shaped or resulted from these involvements. Eko's life changed in two ways: he was made into a criminal when he was taken from his village, and he fashioned himself into a proper priest after Yemi's death (more on this in The Cost of Living, season 3). Charlie was forced into a sudden detoxification soon after crashing on the island and since then has been devoted to Claire and Aaron as a sort of father figure. Both men are religious, each in his own way, but where Eko seems to be heading toward salvation, Charlie, after this episode, seems to be heading in the opposite direction. Had Charlie been able to resist heroin, both off and on the island, things may well have gone very differently for him. 

Similarly, brotherhood factors strongly into Eko's and Charlie's actions; both tried to "save" a brother and failed (Yemi was killed; Liam continued to use heroin) but Eko, in his guilt, turned to God's work whereas Charlie simply joined Liam in his pain. Eko was shown to have been a ruthless warlord, but on the island is seen as a strong ally to Ana Lucia (a former cop!), a man of God, and a sort of silent leader. Charlie does not yet possess this kind of strength, but in their joint recitation of The Lord's Prayer, the two men are seen if not as equals, then at least kindred spirits. Perhaps Eko senses what lies ahead for Charlie or has some appreciation for the struggles he might be facing. 

Further Questions: 

1. Will Charlie start using heroin again?

2. What is Michael planning to do about Walt?

3. Will Ana Lucia be accepted by the rest of the group?

4. Where is Walt? Who has him?

5. Will Claire forgive Charlie?

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Netflix Disk in Quarantine: The Animatrix, part one

Back in 2003, I was a film student at the University of Minnesota. During a May-term American Studies class I made friends with another younger student who noticed a Matrix book I was carrying with me; we had many conversations about the film trilogy and she told me about this animated series, The Animatrix. I had not seen any anime before, renting this disk (probably at Hollywood on Hennepin Ave) was my first experience with it. I definitely enjoyed some of the following shorts more than others at the time, but I have never forgotten two very specific scenes from the first and second parts of The Second Renaissance. My two older kids were watching with me this time around; they were both equally disturbed by the seriousness of what they saw in these episodes, too. I think the order of the sequences is a good one; I had forgotten about what goes down in Matriculated, but after seeing it again, agree with its placement as the last story. It's not outwardly hopeful, exactly, but the idea it explores plants a pretty important problem-solving seed in terms of humanity fixing its destructive choices. I wish this didn't seem as timely or as relevant as it currently does, but here we are. 

The Animatrix, 2003. 

"The Animatrix is a 2003 American–Japanese animated science fiction anthology film produced by the Wachowskis. It is a compilation of nine animated short films based on The Matrix trilogy, which was written and produced by the Wachowskis. Four of the shorts were also written by the Wachowskis. The film details the backstory of The Matrix series, including the original war between humankind and machines which led to the creation of the titular Matrix." (Wikipedia)

1. Final Flight of the Osirus, written by The Wachowskis, directed by Andy Jones.

Beginning with a sexually-tense spar on the Osirus hovercraft, Thaddeus and his first mate, Jue, (inside the contructs of The Matrix) must unplug quickly when sentinals show up. After a chase, the crew of the Osirus soon discover more sentinels directly above Zion with drilling equipment poised to dig straight down. While the Osirus and its crew is ultimately destroyed, a message sent by Jue to warn Zion is successful (and is referenced verbally by Niobe in The Matrix Reloaded). 

A sweet, short little tale about love among soldiers in battle. Good use of color in the opening spar scene; characters very attractive. If you've seen The Matrix trilogy, which chances are, you will have if you're watching these, or even if you're just paying close attention, it's clear pretty early on (and considering the title) this will not end well. Unfortunate, but it's to-the-point and full of action.

2. The Second Renaissance part 1, based on material written by The Wachowskis, directed by Mahiro Maeda.

How did The Matrix become? Better yet, what events led to its creation? This story and its follow-up (below) explain. To summarize, mankind's greed, vanity, and corruption led to the creation of a race of computers to serve as domestic slaves and general lower working class. Made in man's image, these machines saw themselves as equals to human beings, or "real." When a domestic machine, BI66-ER (in a reference to Native Son's Bigger Thomas) was threatened with destruction by its human master, BI66-ER commits murder. This act and the subsequent lawsuit and ruling inspires the mass destruction of the machines, who resist and beg for mercy. Human beings, unwilling to acknowledge the machines' "realness" or right to exist among them, banish the remaining machines to an area in the Middle East, where they create their own civilization named 0-1. In contrast to humankind, the machines prosper well together. 

There are some very disturbing scenes in this piece together with its second part (the photo I used below is actually from one of the end scenes of this story but I felt it set the stage well for what was to come in part two). The bottom line in both stories is an upsetting one, one that I see unfolding today in 2020 American culture: the greed, vanity, and corruption that everyone wrote off as "individualism" or "the free market at work" has created a culture of hateful people who have no capacity for empathy. Now, someone might rightly accuse me of taking a bleeding heart liberal approach in trying to tie this into a fictional story about ROBOTS of all things, but I'll stand firm. You have to be a certain kind of person to abuse an animal just like you have to be a certain kind of person to see another human (or in this case, humanoid-looking being) as a thing, a mean to your own selfish end. Dehumanization of the enemy was used as a tactic in more than one war, after all, but unfortunately for us, it didn't stop there. Groups of people dehumanize each other every day.

While the animation and storyboards used here are quite skillful (think Metropolis with more color and violence) I think this story overall is a very cerebral one. It showcases the dehumanization concept in multiple ways, but most clearly in the scene (pictured above) that shows the gleeful kicking, bludgeoning, and ripping of clothes from a humanoid (done by a group of men to a female-featured machine) as the victim pleads with her assailants to stop, crying out, "I'm real!" This is very upsetting, I know, but the point here is to show us behaviors and assumptions that hurt because these things matter and because we, as humans, sometimes need a mirror held up to our own shittiness. Empathy, whether it's toward human beings, animals, or any other sentient or non-sentient elements, matters. Clearly (looking around and gesturing vaguely at everything happening) it's an idea that needs more emphasis.

3. The Second Renaissance part 2, based on material written by The Wachowskis, directed by Mahiro Maeda. 

Human beings unfortunately do not learn anything from the aforementioned unwillingness to coexist peacefully with the machines, despite the machines' desire (pictured left) to join the United Nations and to teach humans better, stronger methods in technology and economic advances. A war between the two sides begins, and Operation Dark Sky explains in detail what Morpheus meant back when he told Neo in The Matrix that the humans had "scorched the sky." The machines outwit the humans by creating the matrix and by using fields of people, not the sun's energy, as their power sources.

Everything being explored in part one is just as present here, but with the added bonus of a resolution: These are the illustrated failures of diplomacy as spurred by human ignorance and lack of empathy. How relevant. The two Renaissance pieces are in my opinion, the very best in this collection.

4. Kid's Story, based on material written by The Wachowskis, directed by Shinichiro Watanabe.

Story of "Kid," the eager would-be soldier from The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, who despite crediting Neo with his salvation from the matrix, actually saved himself.

This story reads a lot differently now that it did, initially. Teenagers on computers, depressed and alone, are a lot more common now than twenty years ago. My heart aches for them, then and now. Skateboarding scenes a little overblown, but tension well done among Kid, the teacher bucky about the ringing cell phone, and eventually, the agents (who like in A Detective Story, which I'll write up in a second installment), seem way slower and much more dense than in the films). Leaving us with a positive message on the computer screen---"You are not alone,"---was a balm to my soul. I feel like even then, we (as in Americans) should have been taking better care of the kids . . . 

5. Program, written and directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri.

Cis, a highly skilled swordswoman battles her mentor (and lover?) Duo inside a construct program of the matrix but after learning Duo is no longer interested in "red pill honesty" must choose whether to join him in leaving the real world or fight to the death in the artificial one.

This story is pretty short and to the point, but the style and aesthetic is pretty breathtaking throughout. If you've seen The Twilight Zone you'll appreciate the ending, very "Where is Everybody?", but with a successful resolution and a badass female protagonist. Another short and effective little story that captivates with its images.

6. World Record, written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, directed by Takeshi Koike.

After having his Olympic gold medal revoked due to drug use, world record-holding track star Dan Davis attempts to return to competition. The intensity of the race causes Davis to rupture muscles in his legs, drawing the attention of three agents within the stadium, but Davis continues his frantic pace, coming in just under his previous world record. During the race, a sentinel in the real world senses irregularities in the pod where Davis is plugged into the matrix. When Davis returns to consciousness he is confined to a wheelchair but despite the machines' best efforts, still manages to surpass expectations.  

A very visceral story; the running, the exertion, the bursting muscles (colors, illustration, sound) . . . all were quite tense. The introductory narration spoke of truly exceptional people having the ability to become aware of the confines of the matrix; this is a great story that describes such exceptionalism in a sort of unexpected way. I don't typically flock to stories about sport or sports people, but I did enjoy this as it was a unique insight. 

This got very long-winded, sorry for that, so the final three stories I'll write up in a separate post. Stay tuned! 

Friday, October 23, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Season 2, Episode 9, What Kate Did

On-island events: Jin and Sun wake up happily reunited; Sayid digs a grave for Shannon. In the hatch, Sawyer asks Jack about Kate and then mumbles twice that he loves her. Kate sees a black horse in the jungle. The group has a service for Shannon on the beach; Sayid says an emotional goodbye. As Kate watches over Sawyer in the hatch, he wakes up suddenly, grabs her, and asks, "Why did you kill me?" Jack and Locke return to the hatch to find the countdown alarm blaring, Sawyer on the ground, and Kate missing.

Locke cuts off Jin's handcuffs; Michael notices the hatch's blast doors. Jack confronts Kate for leaving the hatch, she becomes defensive but then kisses him and walks off. Locke shows Michael and Eko the Dharma Initiative film explaining the hatch; Michael asks about the missing filmstrip segments but Eko abruptly leaves the hatch without comment. Eko returns to the hatch with a book, which he said he found in the hatch on the other side of the island. Inside the book is the missing section of the filmstrip from the Dharma film. 

Kate speaks to Sawyer as if he was Wayne, and after explaining why she hates him, admits she sees him in Sawyer. After he wakes from his fever, Kate helps him out of the hatch. In the jungle, they both see the dark horse. After Locke and Eko reassemble the film, they watch it again and learn the section that had been cut out consisted of a strict warning not to use the computer for any purpose other than entering the code. As Michael examines the equipment, the computer beeps twice, drawing him closer. On the screen is the word, "hello?" Michael, who has not seen the reassembled Dharma footage, types "hello?" back. After revealing who he was on the screen when asked, the word, "DAD?" appears back.

Flashbacks: After flicking a lighter open and closed as she waits on a step, Kate helps a drunken man into bed. As she takes off on a motorcycle, the house explodes in flames. Later, at a diner, Kate speaks to Diane, her mother, hands her an insurance policy for the house, and leaves. 

Later, in a bus station, Kate is arrested for murder by the agent who originally accompanied her on Oceanic Flight 815. As he puts handcuffs on her, the agent informs Kate that her mother gave her up. As he drives her back for her arraignment, the agent asks Kate what motivated her to kill Wayne, her mother's husband. Before she can answer, a light-colored horse darts out in front of the vehicle, causing it to crash into a pole. Kate shoves the agent out of the car and attempts to drive off, but sees a dark-colored horse on the side of the road, staring at her. 

Kate visits her father, who has been informed about her crime. Kate demands to know why he never told her he wasn't really her father; he answers that he knew she would kill Wayne once she found out the truth. He agrees to give Kate one hour before reporting her to the police and she leaves. 

Greater Meaning: As we are directed by the title to focus on what Kate did, we are led to acknowledge a few things about Kate. 1., She loved her mother (and resented Wayne) enough to kill her father, 2., She suffers trust and abandonment issues due to her mother's reaction to her choice, 3. Kate's self-esteem is poor, due to her lineage and what she did, and 4., Jack and Sawyer exacerbate these feelings in Kate on the island. When Jack confronts Kate's irresponsibility over leaving Sawyer unattended and not pushing the button in the hatch, Kate becomes hostile, stating she knows she is not as good as Jack, then kisses him. Is she trying to direct her affection to Jack because it's honest or because doing so might elevate her to Jack (and not Sawyer's) level? Kate fights her feelings for Sawyer, as she explains, because she sees Wayne in him. On the island, Kate seems to be good enough in every regard; she delivered Claire's baby, kept Sun's secrets, and is now, helping nurse Sawyer back to health. The issue doesn't seem to be guilt over her having murdered her father (she seems to have justified it to herself well enough to let it lie) but rather the fact that Kate herself was damaged by the time spent with Wayne, her link to his "badness," and secondarily, her mother's repeated rejection of her as a result. 

If Kate is seeking redemption from Wayne's (symbolic) mark on her, what will deliver it?

Further Questions: 

1. Is Kate in love with Sawyer?

2. Is Kate trying to be in love with Jack?

3. Was the dark horse real or a hallucination?

4. Does Eko's story of Josiah rebuilding the temple relate to John Locke personally?

5. Is Walt really sending messages to Michael through the computer (or is it a trick?)?

6. Is Walt alive? Where is he?

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Season 2, Episode 8, Collision

On-Island Events: The survivors' experiences during Ana Lucia's shooting of Shannon are replayed. Sayid attempts to charge Ana Lucia but Eko intervenes and stops him. Ana Lucia threatens the group; the survivors are confused by her overreaction. After she demands Sayid be tied to the tree, she agrees to let him go if Michael brings her ammunition and other supplies from the beach camp. Eko defies Ana Lucia and insists on returning Sawyer to the group on the beach.

As Hurley, Charlie, and Kate play golf on the beach, Jack joins in the game and offers advice. Later, as Jack and Kate search for Jack's ball in the jungle they come across Eko carrying Sawyer. In the hatch, Jack tends to Sawyer while Locke and Eko get to know each other.

Jack determines that Sawyer's infection has spread to his bloodstream; Kate helps administer antibiotics. The rest of the tail section admits to Ana Lucia they no longer trust her judgement and leave her with Sayid as they continue to the beach. Michael eventually makes it back to the hatch and explains to Locke and Jack what has happened. Eko intervenes and offers to take Jack to Ana Lucia, whose name Jack instantly recognizes. 

While waiting in the jungle, Ana Lucia confesses to Sayid that she was shot while serving as a police officer before the plane crashed on the island. Sayid appears interested and asks questions but Ana Lucia refuses to discuss anything further and decides instead to release him. Jin leads the tail section to the beach camp where he reunites with Sun and Bernard reunites with Rose. Eko leads Jack to the jungle where he finds Ana Lucia and appears to be sympathetic.

Flashbacks: Ana Lucia speaks with a therapist who reinstates her as a police officer. When she returns, her captain who is also her mother, assigns her to an evidence position behind a desk but relents when Ana Lucia demands a vehicle assignment. After responding to a domestic abuse call with her partner, Ana Lucia overreacts and threatens the suspect with her firearm. 

Later, Ana Lucia's mother asks her to identify a man in custody who the team believes is the man who shot her; she refuses. Instead, Ana Lucia tracks the man to a bar where she follows him to his car and shoots him after announcing, "I was pregnant."

Greater Meaning: There's something familiar yet troubling about Ana Lucia and the way she goes about problem-solving, both on and off the island. Early in the episode when Libby and Bernard are asking her about her plan, Sayid (from the tree) explains that she has no plan, only her guilt. After demanding that Michael provide her with survival gear, Libby argues with Ana Lucia, insisting that she can't just live in the jungle, all alone. Ana Lucia replies, "I'm already alone." 

After being shot, Ana Lucia is alone in her grief over losing her baby (Danny, the boyfriend has since split), she chooses to seek revenge, alone, and is presumably repeating the process in the aftermath of her accidental shooting of Shannon despite having the support of the people she's been leading on the island. She expects Sayid to be unable to forgive her, as she herself would be unable to forgive in a similar situation. In a lot of ways, Ana Lucia seems to be using the shooting to rid herself of the support and sense of community she had with Eko, Bernard, and Libby just as she shunned the support of her fellow police officers and mother after she was shot and lost her baby. Was being a leader too much for her? Or did the issues from her past finally become too much, spurred by an accidental act of violence that came from a place of desire to protect the vulnerable (just like the overreaction with the woman/baby/domestic abuser on the first police call after her reinstatement)?

Who else has experienced a combination of guilt and stubborn solitude in a leadership role? Jack still carries the guilt of Christian Shephard's death, which has presented sometimes as sadness, other times as obsessive-compulsive anger, and he often rejects the support of the group when dealing with his own issues. For these reasons, Jack's acceptance of Ana Lucia suggests at most, a desire to help someone similar to himself (symbolically helping himself or "fathering" Ana Lucia in a way he needed to be fathered by Christian) and at the very least, the acknowledgement that he agrees that he and Ana Lucia are similar or perhaps kindred spirits on the island.

Further Questions:

1. Will Jack allow Ana Lucia to join the beach camp?
2. Will Sayid ever forgive Ana Lucia?
3. Will Michael find Walt?
4. Will Sawyer be okay?