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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Proof That Multiculturalism Should Come with a Surgeon General's Warning.

"Has been proven to cause brain rot in bi-coastal types."

It takes much education and even more practice to sound as dumb as Andrea Lewis does in this review of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Her charge? "Racism," of course. It's the same kind of "analysis" that wonders in the voice of an angry schoolmarm why black olives are locked away in a steel can while the green ones are kept in glass jars for the whole world to see?*

She goes downhill from the title:

A 'Return' of the White Patriarchy?

You mean it went away? Gosh, and no one let me know either.

Those white devils are nothing if not clever.

The "Lord of the Rings" and "Matrix" trilogies have defined early 21st century cinema more than any other big-screen flicks.

Fair enough. For those of you keeping track at home, this is the analytical high point of the article.

But as critical acclaim has increased with each new hobbit-filled "Rings" installment, the "Matrix" films have fallen from favor.

Maybe because the latter films started to suck like a next generation Hoover, and the former didn't?

Nah, too easy. Has to be a scheme of Dr. Yacub's test-tube babies.

"Return of the King" is hailed as "glorious," "a triumph," and "masterful," while "Matrix Revolutions" is ridiculed as "dismal," "pompous" and "underwhelming."

About right, from what I can tell. Consider the following review of ROTK by noted ofay critic Elvis Mitchell of the NY Times:

"'King' is a meticulous and prodigious vision made by a director who was not hamstrung by heavy use of computer special-effects imagery. A sequence in which a number of signal fires are lighted on a stretch of mountain ranges simultaneously is a towering moment; it has the majesty that every studio's opening logo shot sprains itself striving to achieve.

Mr. Jackson does take his time, but he's not sloughing off here. Rather he is building toward a more than solid conclusion. The grandiloquence that sustained the second installment, "The Two Towers," with its pounding and operatic martial fury--a movie that actually created a state of siege and left audiences hanging--can be found here.

Yet by its end "King" glides to the gentle bonhomie that opened the "Rings" movies, with an epilogue that is tinged with regret. It's been a long time since a commercially oriented film with the scale of "King" ended with such an enduring and heartbreaking coda: "You can't go back. Some wounds don't heal." It's an epic about the price of triumph, a subversive victory itself in a large-scale pop action film."

Here's the same critic on The Matrix Reloaded, who, while sharing the same multi-culti enthusiasm, saw problems:

The directors pay their audiences the unlikely compliment of taking them seriously. Unfortunately they take themselves too seriously. What the first ''Matrix'' had going for it was surprise, a freshness that would be impossible to match. The hot-blooded tumble of energy and concepts wrestling for primacy was viscerally and intellectually arousing; everybody had something to take home.

''Reloaded'' seeks to increase the emotional stakes -- which it doesn't quite accomplish -- while leaving enough of a cliffhanger that audiences will be bedeviled enough to flock back into the tents for the last portion. Hilariously, the directors make their points about the corrupting power of images in an idealized context of movie action heroes so beautifully that designers are aping the sleek, tailored frock coats and dusters that the heroes don to combat evil in what is essentially a dream world. In the human world they live in disintegrating attire that wouldn't look out of place on Phish roadies. The dream merchants are missing the philosophical point of the picture, which takes on added significance with some of the cameos.

Where was I? Oh, yes, back to Ms. Lewis.

Like most, I was entertained and awed by the artistry and technical achievements of "The Return of the King," but by the end of the film's 3.5 hours I thought the final chapter should have been dubbed "The Return of the Patriarchy."

Jackson and Co. actually had that as a working title, but apparently the Tolkien estate started quibbling.

The "Rings" films are like promotional ads for those tired old race and gender paradigms that were all the rage back in author J.R.R. Tolkien's day.

Pot. Kettle. Bla--er, Kitchen Receptacle of Color. But let's allow Ms. Lewis to get to her point [present a more obvious target] before loosing the cannonade.

Almost all of the heroes of the series are manly men

The first horror--not inclusive of girly men, mama's boys and pantywaists! How did this monocultural monstrosity get funded, anyway?!

More importantly, the criticism is not fair: interestingly enough, Harvey Fierstein was actually Jackson's first choice to play Aragorn, but he was already committed to another project.

[Note for the satirically challenged: {Cue sound of chain being yanked}.]

who are whiter than white.

Almost albinic. Kinda like the dude in the Dan Brown book. And the twins in the Matrix. 99 and 44/100% pure--just like Ivory Soap and the stupidity quotient of the Lewis review.

They are frequently framed in halos of blinding bright light and exude a heavenly aura

As Hunter Thompson always says: "Mescaline and movie reviewing don't mix."

of all that is Eurocentric and good.

Whereas those educated in the Bay Area can tell you that being Caucasoid is cause for the accursed sufferers of melanin deficiency to shout "Unclean! Unclean!" as they lurch through the aisles of the local World Market.

Who but these courageous Anglo-Saxon souls can save Middle Earth from the dark and evil forces of the world?

Why, this looks like a job for none other than--[trumpet fanfare]--POLITICALLY CORRECT PERSON!

On the good side, even the mighty wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) is sanitized and transformed from the weed-smoking,

"Duuuude, I'm tellin' ya--'Dalf was keepin' Maui Wowee in his staff, man. That's what had the Balrog all cheesed off--'Dalf wouldn't share his stash from way back. Trust me--it goes back to the first book: The Silvermelon."

rather dingy figure we first meet in the "The Fellowship of the Ring," into Gandalf the White, who, by the time of "Return of the King," has become a powerful military leader complete with pure white hair and an Eisenhower attitude.

"Pure white hair." Imagine the shrieks of self-loathing horror as Ms. Lewis ages.

Say what you will about the convoluted storyline of the "Matrix" trilogy

How about: "after the first one, it sucked like a next generation Hoover"?

--at least those films give women and people of color some characters they can relate to.

Read: "Characters I and the other members of the Sowing Circle of the Perpetually Unappeased can relate to."

From its earliest scenes, "The Matrix" flips mainstream Hollywood's minority representation manual on its head.

Somebody missed Dances With Wolves, apparently.

A multi-culti group of hackers dressed in black leather and sporting funky hairdos are our heroes; Secret Service-type "agents" in suits and ties are the bad guys.

All the Agents were white. Wow. White bad guys. Never seen that one [Lethal Weapon 2] before.

Neo, the trilogy's central figure, is played by mixed-race actor Keanu Reeves.

For those of you who don't know, Reeves is part native Hawaiian. So you crackers don't have to keep taking the sole blame for his utter inability to act.

His savior and mentor is Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), a powerful leader who also happens to be a black man.

Actually, if you were paying attention during the first film, Morpheus ultimately regards Neo as the savior, but who's keeping track?

The wisest figure in "The Matrix" is the Oracle, a warm and witty African American woman.

Gloria Foster: Fine actress, her death from cancer was a terrible loss.

The films also are infused with a strong sense of Asian style and culture, exemplified by the character Seraph (Collin Chou), the Oracle's protector, who is both a martial arts expert and Buddhist meditation practitioner.

Physically powerful female characters also rock and rule in "The Matrix," led by the high-kicking Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), an Emma Peel for the 21st century; daring pilot Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith); and military-wife-turned-fighter Zee, (played Nona Gaye, daughter of Marvin).

I'm going to pass on this one for the most part, as it is largely unobjectionable, if glaringly incomplete and superficial. Still, I imagine the "Emma Peel" reference still has much of Lewis' audience scratching their heads. That, and she completely blips over the obvious Christian symbolism found in the films (especially the first).

But you could hardly have expected anything else, now, could you?

Most of the really bad guys in "The Matrix" are Euro, including the very snobby Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) with his French accent; the dread-locked, very British albino twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment); and the Oracle's evil counterpart, the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis), a rather stuffy and pompous white guy with white beard and white suit who reeks of imperialism.

Repeat after me: "Dread-locked, very British albino twins."

How does one "reek of imperialism"? I want to know because if it comes in a roll-on, I'd like to get some. Sounds pretty sweet to me.

By comparison in "The Lord of the Rings," three women play minor roles: the powerful elf Galadriel (Cate Blanchett); the selfless Arwen (Liv Tyler), who is willing to give up immortality for the man she loves; and Eowyn (Miranda Otto), the niece of the king who must disguise herself as a man to go into battle.

Must beat up on the old (also very British, but admittedly never dread-locked) misogynist bigot Tolkien. Even if I have to concede that his women characters were depicted as powerful, selfless and courageous.

They just lack that certain something.

Like pigment.

Beyond this threesome, the rest of the women of Middle Earth are largely an unwashed,

Like most honkies in the sticks, don'cha know?

helpless mass who, in the face of a virtually hopeless battle against overwhelming enemy forces in "The Two Towers," can do little more than look anxious and cower with their children in fear.

Kinda like the masses in Zion, eh? Except, of course, for Eowyn, who slays the heretofore invincible Witch King.

[Speaking of which: Hey! A very white phallocentrist takes it right between the eyes! Why isn't she celebrating this?]

Plenty of critics got lost in the complex post-modern philosophy of "The Matrix,"

And some manage to miss entirely the Christian references, but what's a little philosophical cluelessness between amateurish movie critics with axes to grind?

But a few noted its more important message. As The New York Times said of the second Matrix installment:

"'Reloaded' has one of the most excitingly subversive and radical points of view ever seen in a major motion picture - a postmodern purview that accords philosophical ideals from people of color equal weight."

Strange, but as noted before, I do recall Kevin Costner dedonka-ing around for about three plus hours in DWW.

Some of us also recall Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon--far superior to most of the Matrix, too, BTW. Nothing particularly revolutionary about it at all, if you've spent significant time in the past decade with your head out of your small intestine.

"The Return of the King" is a fantastic finish to a memorable film trilogy,

Where did that come from?

but on a personal level, I was much more satisfied with the conclusion of "The Matrix" series.

That makes one of us.

For once, the major female characters in an action film aren't whimpering and waiting to be rescued by some steroid-laden Schwarzenegger-type.

Strangely, I don't recall Eowyn whimpering for Aragorn or Eomer as she rammed about two feet of tempered steel into the Nazgul's cranium.

And did you check out some of the muscles on the Matrix crew? I'd avoid playing the 'roid card on that one.

For once, all of the major characters of color aren't lying in a heap of corpses as the credits start to roll.

Like in Lethal Weapon, DWW....

To my African American female eyes, the biggest difference between "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Matrix" isn't swords vs. automatic weapons, or low-tech vs. high-tech. It's the patriarchy of the past versus the Rainbow Coalition of the future.

Maybe if you didn't come into films with a laundry list of grievances and the worst case of cultural short term memory I've seen in ages, you'd see things more clearly.

But I fear that's probably too much to ask.

[Thanks to Mark for the review link.]

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