The Muse

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

The latest film by writer/director/actor Albert Brooks has him portraying Steven Phillips, a Hollywood screenwriter who is let go by the studio when a young, arrogant executive tells him he has lost his “edge.” On the advice of a friend, he seeks inspiration from a muse (Sharon Stone), the daughter of Zeus, who now lives in Los Angeles under the name “Sarah.”

Sarah does indeed work miracles for Steven, inspiring him to write a successful script. But Sarah is demanding. She insists on lavish gifts and constant attention. And she is frustrating. Steven wants her full- time dedication, but she is busy inspiring his wife to start a cookie business and “Titanic” writer/director James Cameron to make something other than a sequel.

The satire and Hollywood in-jokes will have little appeal to kids, but Stone’s performance as the ravishing, maddening, and truly inspiring muse is wildly funny and can lead to family discussions about art and about relationships. Kids may also want to look up the mythological muses and talk about the costs and benefits of being inspired. Parents should note that there is some suggestion that Sarah is mentally ill, but this is intentionally left vague enough so that each viewer can decide if she really is a muse after all.

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The Matrix

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

In “A Star is Born,” Kris Kristofferson sings a song that begins, “Are you a figment of my imagination or am I a figment of yours?” This is the theme of “Matrix,” heavy on special effects, striking visuals, and brooding paranoia, but light on plot, dialogue, character and even coherence. In other words, it is the ideal movie for the kind of teenager who wishes that video games could come to life.

Though rated R for violence (zillions of guns and explosions and some some pretty gross moments, including an icky bug that enters the hero’s body through his belly button) and language, most teens 14 and up who are begging to see it should be able to handle it without a problem.

Keanu Reeves plays a computer programmer with a sideline as a hacker who gets mysterious messages that lead him to Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), leader of a rag-tag group that lives aboard a rocket-style craft. It turns out that it is not 1999 but somewhere around a hundred years into the future. All of humanity has been turned into a source of energy to keep machines “alive” by what Morpheus describes as “a computer generated dream world built to keep us under control.” The Matrix is a massive computer program that has the humans believing that they are still living in a world that has been destroyed. Morpheus believes that Neo is “the one” who can retake the world for the humans. Special agents, led by Smith (Hugo Weaving) seek out Morpheus and his followers, to destroy them.

This movie became a pheneomenon and a cultural touchstone because of its then-revolutionary special effects, especially the “bullet time” effect that quickly became an icon and then a subject for parody (the best example is in “Shrek”). But just as important in the success of the movie is the way it addresses the nagging feeling everyone (but especially adolescents) have about whether we are truly aware of the “real” reality. It also addresses the question of destiny vs. choice. The visuals are stunning and the action sequences are electrifying, but for me the most intriguing and intelligent scene in the movie is Neo’s quiet conversation about fate with a woman who is taking some cookies out of the oven.

The movie can lead to some interesting discussions about the relationship between humans and machines, and why Smith says that the first Matrix program, creating the perception of a utopia-like society, was unacceptable to the humans. Their attempt to keep the humans compliant through happiness did not work, so they had to try again with the past “reality” of a stress-filled world. There are also issues of destiny versus free will and loyalty versus self-interest. What did Morpheus mean when he said, “Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony?” Is it possible that humans could create machines that would “decide” to take over? What do the names “Morpheus,” “Trinity,” and “Neo” signify? Most important, would you choose the red pill or the blue pill, and how do we make that choice in our “real” lives? Parents should think about raising the issue of violence in movies, and the impact it has on viewers, especially impressionable or disaffected ones, as well.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy both “Terminator” movies and “Blade Runner.”

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