4. Speed Racer (2008)
“Speed Racer” is the Wachowskis at their most fun, playful, and audacious. A complete assault on the senses that adapts the classic animated manga series but keeps it firmly in its cartoon world. It’s totally psychedelic, bro!
Emile Hirsch plays the titular hero, who’s born into a family business of racing. Following in his late brother’s footsteps, Speed is offered sponsorship by Roger Allam’s scene-chewing, corrupt CEO, Arnold Royalton. When he turns him down, Royalton makes his life difficult and Speed bands with a mysterious racer to take down corruption in racing business.
Instead of trying to ground the adaptation in reality like many adaptations of the time, the Wachowskis embrace the Japanese manga’s influence in a trippy-virtual universe that we’re never meant to take seriously. From the dialogue and setting, “Speed Racer” is a living, breathing, racing, Saturday morning cartoon and it’s all the better for it.
The cast is regulated to the supporting act to the eye-popping visuals that are jam packed to the brim with colorful candy. You can sense everyone having fun and it’s no clearer than with the actors. Hirsch has always been an underrated actor who’s given some powerful performance throughout his career. With “Speed Racer”, he plays against type with his boyish looks, giving the 18-year-old racer more depth than the script glances over.
John Goodman (always a joy in these types of movies), Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox and Christina Ricci are adequately cast, with Allam stealing the show. These actors and performances shouldn’t work as well as they do. The only part the cast falters in is with Chim Chim and Spritle who aren’t given much to do other than appeal to the younger generation.
The film is 30 minutes too long but it’s never a chore to sit through, even when things get dull. When you make a film like this that’s centered on the racing industry, you better deliver on the races and boy do they ever. The same logic-defying races and cars from the show are present in video game-like race courses.
This film isn’t for everyone, but if you don’t mind your films with “style over substance” (and those types of films certainly have their place) then “Speed Racer” is an absolute hoot that warrants multiple viewings. You’ll definitely be scratching your head the first time round. Ironically, it does have something to say about corporations and greed, so perhaps not that much “style over substance.”
It’s a completely unique viewing experience unlike anything we’ve ever seen or will likely see again (which explains its disappointing box office taking and bad reviews upon release). But like a lot of the Wachowskis’ films, it’s rightfully found its place as a cult classic and we won’t stop there; it’s a masterpiece, bro!
3. Bound (1996)
“Bound” is different type of Wachowski film, one that’s more grounded in reality than their subsequent works. It announced the arrival of exciting filmmakers with their talents and uniqueness fully formed.
“Bride of Chucky” actress Jennifer Tilly stars as Violet, a woman who starts an affair with Gina Gershon’s ex-con Corky. The two hatch up a scheme to steal $2 million from Violet’s Mafioso boss boyfriend, played by Joe Pantoliano.
This neo-noir crime thriller is dripping with sexual energy from the two leads’ lesbian relationship that would’ve become a punchline in lesser hands. Straight from its opening moments, the film grips the viewer with its noir-inspired cinematography and raw style. The same erotic seduction that trembles with danger at the start of forbidden love end up trembling with the same type of danger with crime and a risky scheme.
The Wachowskis reveled in their small budget and bled it dry in every aspect. There’s a lot more to the picture than the steamy sex scenes; the script is filled with back-stabbings, double dealings, and twists and turns you never see coming. Unlike a lot of films of this nature, these twists feel natural and uncontrived for plot sake. It sucks you in from its beginning, tightening the grip and releasing pressure only when it means to.
Everything fires on all cylinders and the three leads give amazing performances. The chemistry between Tilly and Gershon is palpable; while they’re opposites, they’re cut from the same cloth. Tilly is the softer of the two while Gershon is the tough ex-con. They fit their roles to perfection. Rounding them off is Pantoliano, who’s every bit as dangerous and unpredictable as he’s written to be. He instills a certain tension whenever he’s on screen and is a lot smarter than what we used to with this type of character.
Whether or not you’re a fan of the Wachowskis, “Bound” is a film to that deserves to be seen and with their recent misfortunes in blockbuster filmmaking, maybe they’ll return to smaller films of this caliber soon.
2. Cloud Atlas (2012)
Another box office flop that looked like it would elevate the duo into critical darlings before it came crashing down due to mis-promotion, misunderstandings, and a general lack of people not giving it a chance. So basically, all in a day’s work for the Wachowskis.
Co-written, co-produced and co-directed by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, “Cloud Atlas” follows multiple stories from six different eras that are all interconnected, featuring a whole cast of actors playing multiple characters across themes of good vs. evil, destiny vs. choice, in the past, present and future.
Based on David Mitchell’s international bestseller that got Lana’s curiosity when she saw Natalie Portman engrossed in its pages on the set of “V for Vendetta”, “Cloud Atlas” is the Wachowskis and Tykwer’s most ambitious film to date, and they definitely deliver in bringing the once-considered un-filmable book to the big screen.
It features an ensemble cast led by Tom Hanks and Halle Berry that also includes Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Zhou Xun, Keith David, Susan Sarandon, David Gyasi and Hugh Grant. They all stretch their acting muscles, playing different characters in different eras. Broadbent, however, is the only one who kills it in every single role he plays. Weaving plays similar characters where evil just keeps coming back through the ages. Hanks fares just as well; even if his Irish boxer-turned-author isn’t as convincing, it’s still a fun portrayal. Who knew that Hugh Grant would make for such an effective villain?
Expertly crafted and put together, the script utilizes a structure that keeps things moving along, pointing out some of the connections while others are there to be discovered on your own. The Wachowskis and Tykwer split directing duties right down the middle and keep the same tone and style throughout, each mirroring each other.
Tykwer’s presence also ensured a beautiful score with his usual collaborators Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil. The theme song is every bit as engrossing and beautiful as we’re told. Cinematographers John Toll and Frank Griebe give each era its own distinctive look while making them fit perfectly with the overall film. And lastly, editor Alexander Berner makes sure there’s never a dull moment throughout the entire 171-minute runtime.
Among other unsung heroes from other departments, “Cloud Atlas” is a film that by all rights shouldn’t have worked, but it does. It’s not perfect, with some of the actors being unable to fully embody all their different characters, and some of the makeup in certain scenes is not up to par. Also, the language Hanks and Berry speak in the 2321 sequence sounds like utter gibberish.
Lana stated that she feels that “Cloud Atlas” is the film they’ll be remembered for, which is true, although “The Matrix” will always be the one. In a different world, “Cloud Atlas” would be number one…
1. The Matrix (1999)
What else could it be than the cultural juggernaut that influenced many and spawned just as many imitators? The bullet time sequence that was used to death in the early 2000s may lessen its impact (especially when the sequels are concerned), but “The Matrix” will always be the definition of what Hollywood means when it says “something new”, which in turns means more of the same, but different.
Keanu Reeves plays the legendary Neo, a computer programmer who moonlights as a hacker, who is shown the truth about what he perceives to be a reality. He’s soon drawn into a rebellion that’s pitted against secret agents as he learns the truth about his destiny.
“The Matrix” showed that Keanu Reeves is a gifted actor if paired with the right material that compliments his sensibilities as an actor. It introduced us to the leather-tight Carrie-Anne Moss (the dream girl of many men), and showed us that Hugo Weaving can kick ass and look dashing in a sunglasses and suit and tie. It showed us that if you need someone to deliver exposition without it feeling like a science lecture, then Laurence Fishburne is your man.
There isn’t much to say about “The Matrix” that hasn’t been said before. It really is a flawless film that influenced many filmmakers today and shows the Wachowskis operating at the height of all their powers. For better or worse, this is the film that granted them the type of big-budget freedom that filmmakers can only dream of, the film they’ll always be remembered for, the film their subsequent works is always going to be compared, to and when all its all said and done, there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Author Bio: Allan Khumalo is a lover of all things cinema. That is all.