So once again we have survived.

Ninja Assassin

tn_ninjaassassinI’ve finally seen NINJA ASSASSIN, produced by the Wachowskis, directed by James McTeigue, their second unit director and the director of V FOR VENDETTA. The bad news is it’s not the instant classic or genre reviver I figured it would be when I first heard they were making it, the good news is it’s not the unwatchable trash most of the reviews have told me it was. The Scott Adkins movie NINJA could top it (I just ordered a Thai DVD of it) but that’s okay, I still had a fun time at the movies. Here is the ticket stub:

ninja_ass

Get it? Ass.

I don't know why but whenever I look at this poster I think it's Nicolas Cage
I don’t know why but whenever I look at this poster I think it’s Nicolas Cage

Rain (SPEED RACER) plays Raizo, a ninja in present day Berlin. (Should this be called A KOREAN NINJA IN BERLIN?) Due to our prejudices against ninjas we first assume he’s up to no good, but flashbacks spread throughout the movie slowly unfold his story, how he was an orphan cruelly raised by the great Sho Kosugi to give his life for a ninja clan, and why he decided to rebel against that. Meanwhile Naomie Harris who plays the witch in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN sequels (I didn’t even recognize her because her American accent is so good) plays a lowly forensic analyst for Europol who uncovers proof that ninja clans exist and still carry out assassinations. Of course, trying to prove the existence of ninjas is like taking a bite out of a hornet’s nest, so when the ninjas come after her Raizo comes to protect her.

So no, NINJA ASSASSIN is not really a redundant title, because he actually is assassinating ninjas. And NINJA ASSASSIN sounds better than ASSASSINATOR OF NINJAS.

It’s the most violent movie I’ve seen since PUNISHER WAR ZONE, but unfortunately the gore is all digital. It’s still kind of funny, and I didn’t mind the onslaught of CGI ninja stars and flailing chain blades and what not, but for some reason a guy getting the entire top of his head sliced off is not nearly as gratifying when it’s a computer graphic as when it’s a rubber creation. I really couldn’t tell you why, but if they’d built dummies for those shots it would’ve been thrilling. When it’s clearly just pixels it’s kind of amusing but it doesn’t have much of a punch.

But there are plenty of cool ideas and stagings for ninja action. There are lots of visual tricks for ninjas to be nearly invisible in the shadows or to literally just be shadows climbing through windows. There’s a ninja-on-ninja fight in Harris’s dark apartment where she’s shining a flashlight around trying to watch the whole thing. There’s ninja vs. SWAT team battles with helmets exploding. My favorite bit of action is the ninjas fighting through traffic, jumping over cars, between them, and getting run over. And then later on there’s a quick, hilarious shot of Harris’s car parked at a hotel with about 50 ninja stars stuck all over the front of it. I guess I’d leave em too, it would make me feel pretty cool. “What are you staring at? Oh, the ninja stars? Yeah, I had a little run-in earlier. No big deal.” Plus if you need them later, like you’re pulled over changing a tire and you need a ninja star for some reason, you can pull one out.

Not used as far as I remember: arrows, smoke bombs, blowdarts, grappling hooks. Come on, ninjas, what the fuck? You should be proud of your ninja tools and use them all constantly.

The powers of the ninja are so built up that they seem almost supernatural, like vampires or something. Europol knows that when you capture a ninja what you do is you shine bright lights on him, so he has no chance of hiding in a shadow. In the movie you hear stories about how the power goes out and then a ninja gets you, and then later the power goes out, so you know what’s gonna happen.

Like Batman or Blade, Raizo can always see through any bullshit and nobody can trick him. So when a ninja tries to approach him as an ordinary stranger he asks her, “What clan are you from? Why are you in Berlin?” When he goes to meet someone and they’re about to spring a trap he says, “Why are you doing this? People will be killed.”

The Wachowskis are the producers, but they didn’t write it. So you miss out on whatever cool touches they would’ve come up with, but you’re also spared the philosophical speeches. The script was originally by a guy called Matthew Sand, but I just read that the Wachowskis weren’t happy with it so at the last minute they hired J. Michael Straczynski (Eastwood’s CHANGELING, various nerd TV shows) and he wrote a new script in 53 hours.

I’m surprised to learn that though. Unless you’re expecting some bold reinvention of the ninja movie it’s not bad. The best thing it does is create good build ups to the ninja attacks. People forget that if it’s just 90 minutes straight of ninjas it would get boring. They’re smart enough to leave them circling out of sight for a while but with their presence always felt, like the shark in JAWS. The opening scene has Han from TOKYO DRIFT as a brash gangster suddenly receiving a letter full of black sand while in the middle of getting a new tattoo. The old tattoo artist is terrified, and tells him basically a ghost story about the time years ago when he saw one of those, and how everyone there except him was killed by a ninja. I was hoping this character would stick around, because he could be the Dr. Loomis of NINJA ASSASSIN. Of course his story leads up to a massacre of everyone in the room, and the gimmick is that you just hear sounds and see weapons and gore but you never see any attackers until it’s all over and one ninja slowly steps out of the shadows. It’s a great opening and in retrospect it makes you realize that at the end a certain character has the same fate as the tattoo artist, living to tell the story of the ninjas until one day, hopefully in a sequel, he or she will face them again.

The one moment that made me think of the Wachowskis and their usual themes (SPOILER) is when young Raizo’s friend conscientiously objects from one of her ninja tasks and gets put in a small cage. Raizo sneaks water to her and asks her “Why?” and she asks, “Why am I in here, or why are you out there?” She teaches him about freedom. The ninja clan is like the matrix, it makes them do cool shit but it enslaves them. And actually it’s meaner than the matrix because the matrix doesn’t slash your feet for making the floorboards creak during your ninja stealth test. I can’t remember if any of the ’80s ninja movies preached a strong moral objective to not be a ninja, but this one does. So Raizo gets to have his cake and eat it too, being a ninja who kills ninjas. He’s like Blade!

Unfortunately, having Sho Kosugi play the mentor to Rain in a ninja movie is a good symbol for the current state of action cinema. The old generation is represented by a guy who was All Japan Karate Champion at the age of 18, competed in hundreds of martial arts tournaments and demonstrations, won the L.A. Open in ’72, ’73 and ’74, and became the biggest star of ninja movies. And he’s passing the torch to Rain, a Korean pop singer and star of TV dramas who trained with a stunt team for 6 months to look like a fighter in the movie.

I mean it’s fine – Rain did a fantastic job. He’s absolutely ripped, he does the fights convincingly and he’s charismatic in his purposely limited characterization. I liked him and would never have guessed there’d be pictures of him on the web wearing one of those Britney Spears headset microphones. (Although there is a joke in the movie about him looking like he’d be in a boy band.) But still, it shows you where we’re at now. You don’t have action stars, you coach people to seem like them.

In the movie Rain’s character also represents a new generation that breaks away from the abusive thousand year old traditions of his ninja clan, but I think James McTeigue could stand to be a little more Sho Kosugi and follow some old traditions. I know he’s got great fighting going on (I’ve seen the stunt teams training videos on Youtube) but he sure could stand to pull the camera back a little and show it off more. That alone could’ve taken the whole movie up one (1) notch.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Saturday, December 5th, 2009 at 8:39 pm and is filed under Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

124 Responses to “Ninja Assassin”

  1. Ironically, JMS (as us nerds like to call him) has written at least 3 comics that get delayed forever. Picking up one of his books is always a risk because you never know if he’ll bother to finish it. We’re talking-year long delays between issues. The bastard.

  2. Agreed. The Poster is very Bangkok Dangerous. Vern, your review is helpful with so much but not too much info. Humour is always good in a Ninja film and draws me in. (I”m still in massive awe of the stunt teams – Constant Interminable practice). And even though only learning it rather than being a *lifelong practitioner*, well that still is overwhelmingly difficult having to keep up with his teammates, I think. Sounds lke a pretty good film.

  3. The real question is: Do I see NINJA ASSASSIN or ARMORED tomorrow?

  4. Between Armored and Ninja Assassin I saw Brothers. It was good.

  5. Vern,

    The whole CGI vs. make-up effects issue, which you eloquently discuss here, is a troublesome one. I too share your bias for practical effects, but I honestly can find few solid justifications for feeling this way. Both kinds of specials effects are, well, effects. They are fake. Why should it matter to me which type of fake violence they use?

    Of course, there is the argument that practical effects are tangible, actually being filmed whereas CGI effects are essentially animations being added in after the fact. But technology is improving every day, more and more it becomes harder for me to spot CG effects in movies.

    My guess is it’s ultimately going to be a generational thing. 50 years from now, not only will CGI be so sophisticated that audiences can’t tell the difference between it and reality, but old make-up and practical effects will look out-dated and corny. And there will probably be a few holdouts amongst us left, bemoaning the forgotten good old days of FRIDAY THE 13TH or EVIL DEAD 2 or whatever the fuck, but we’ll just be old fuddy-duddies who don’t understand modern cinema.

  6. Yeah, the old CGI Vs. Practical debate. Let’s just say bad practical effects can ruin a scene (or a whole movie) as much as bad CGI effects.
    And people always complain about CGI looking fake, because the good CGI effects are invisible. So all they see are the bad effects.

  7. I’ve been waiting a long time for this ! Man , for me NINJA will be the the best all around movie , but this is a good start.
    I’ve skipped the spoiler parts of the review , but I want to know if the hero , even if only at the end , goes full ninja with a dressing up scene like in all the classics .I know Scott Adkins does it in NINJA because I’ve seen the trailer , but I’m not sure with this one . If there’s no ninja costume for the hero , I’m afraid , dear Ninja Assassin , you’re ninja in name only . Like the American Godzilla . Come on ! Your master is Kosugi himself , don’t be a pussy , respect your ancestors , and put the fucking ninja suit on !

  8. Scott Adkins character in NINJA is no good. Scott does his job well, but the dude he plays is written so bad, it almost took the whole movie down.
    The bad guy on the other hand, is great. He goes full techno Ninja and uses all sorts of cool gadgets. He’s the 006 of evil Ninjas.
    You guys just need to lower your expectations about 80%.
    and the movie looks really cheap. sad.
    Ninja Asssassin is the superior movie.

  9. 10:40 AM? Jesus Vern, you’re up early…

  10. The ticket stub made me laugh out loud. Thankfully, doesn’t sound like the movie quite deserved to be called “Ninja Ass.” This one’s going into my “possibly rent later on” pile.

    The trouble is, years of bad movies with ninjas in them have put me off movies with ninjas in them. I’ve never seen “American Ninja” but I have seen “The Last Samurai” and “Batman Begins” – the first ok, the second excellent, but the promised ninja fights never really got off the ground – and of course “Ninja Cheerleaders”, but I don’t think I’d necessarily recommend that either. Hopefully this one turns out to be both a decent movie AND with a good ninja-to-rest-of-movie ratio.

  11. That made me think actually… you know what the problem with making ninjas the subject of your movie is? To do it right, you’d have to never see ’em.

    (Heck, by that benchmark, “Lost In Translation” might be the best ninja movie ever. You can imagine the critical discussions: “That scene where Johansson and Murray do karaoke? Swarming with ninjas, didn’t you see ’em?”)

  12. “Was that a Ninja?” “More like a Nonja.”

  13. Yeah, that poster definitely is BDish: http://coolaggregator.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/bangkok_dangerous.jpg

    “If there’s no ninja costume for the hero , I’m afraid , dear Ninja Assassin , you’re ninja in name only . Like the American Godzilla . Come on ! Your master is Kosugi himself , don’t be a pussy , respect your ancestors , and put the fucking ninja suit on !”-but if he manages to be the best ninja without the suit, doesn’t that make him pure Ninja? Kinda like White Ninja in ENTER THE NINJA.

    Wouldn’t a grapple hook be pretty redundant for the modern parkour/wallrunning Ninja? As for them seeming supernatural, Vern, that’s probably taking influence from how Ninjas are portrayed in modern Anime and Japanese Video Games. Well I say Modern, despite Magic being used as far back as the 8-bit Shinobi games.

    What if someone make a REALISTIC ninja movie though? Would people go to see that? Set in feudal japan, and about dark clad killers who basically just assassinate guys and don’t use martial arts that much or smoke bombs and stuff?

  14. Actually Stu I think real ninjas did use pyrotechnics and other such tools. I’m not certain though because naturally nobody’s ever seen a real one.

  15. I wouldn’t get your hopes up about Ninja too much. I’ve no doubt you’ll enjoy it, but it’s nowhere near the quality of Blood and Bone. And more like a fairly standard DTV effort (plot holes and inadvertently funny moments abound) with better quality choreography/action direction.

    Adkins’ character is painfully bland and his acting in it is pretty terrible. Perhaps it’s just the poor writing, I thought he was pretty good in Undisputed, but in Ninja he’s flat and looks confused when meant to be upset.

    The bad guy is pretty awesome though and gets the best badass moments, plus he can act.

    The action is great too and there’s lots of cool ninja stuff going on. Plus the high tech ninja vs. old skool ninja idea is awesome. Though the director includes a lot of odd techniques that I think are to give the impression of a scene being one continues take when it’s not. The camera kind of crash zooms forward then cuts to another shot that’s about the same point it zoomed to. Then it zooms out and does the same. With slow mo thrown in for good measure. It’s kind of interesting and cool, but after a while it gets overly distracting.

    Remember to keep an eye out for the fashion conscious bad guy lackeys Vern. All the basic bad guy soldiers work where the same outfit that includes red braces…braces that they just have hanging down around their pants. You know like all the cool trendy kids do.

    There’s also a thing with a coffee shop owner that gave me flashbacks to Above the law’s bar owner.

    (minor spoiler ahead!!)

    There’s an old, chubby, coffee shop owner, who sees adkins and his girl and goes to, I first assumed, call the police (they’re wanted for murder at this point in the film). But then the bad guys turn up in their car to get Adkins. I was a bit confused till later on we discover the coffee shop owner was in league with the bad guys! He called them, not the police. Adkins hunts him down and gets him to give him info. It’s just completely bizarre why or how was this guy in league with the evil oil baron and his martial arts soldiers? Why was he working at a coffee shop? Was that his day job when not working for the bad guys? Or is that his bad guy task? Work in a coffee shop and hope the good guys turn up?

  16. Yeah, I was hoping for “instant classic,” but instead I got “decent with scattered bits of awesome.” The first scene was incredible, but the movie never topped it, which is always a structural error, in my opinion. I don’t know if it was the digital blood, the choppy camerawork, or the unbelievably sappy ending, but something kept me from liking this movie as much as I should have. It’s far from a bad action flick (and it really is extraordinarily violent) but it just didn’t fire on all cylinders for me. A bummer, for sure, but I’ll give it another shot on DVD.

  17. Vern, just how bad is the CGI blood? Because bad digital blood can absolutely ruin a movie for me, like Blood: The Last Vampire. That movie could have been ok, but I turned it off a little over halfway in because I could NOT get past the horrible sprays of red videogame blood flying everywhere but touching nothing and disappearing before it hit the ground.

    I’d like to see Ninja Assassin, but man I’m not going through that again.

  18. It’s pretty good as far as digital blood goes (the movie is cut too fast and close to see if it hits the ground or not) but you’ll never mistake it for actual liquid. They kind of stylized it, I think, so it’s bright, bright red, like the blood in the credits sequence of Sweeney Todd. The movie’s so dark that it’s the only way you’d see it in a lot of scenes.

  19. MM – Sho gets to go all badass? That guy needs more genre respect, and not just from geeks. He was the best thing about Blind Fury and that shitty Lee Van Cleef series the Master (Vern – if you’re gonna kick off a TV section with Lawman, can you cover that one? For some reason I kind of remember it as the bastard child of BJ and the Bear and Pray for Death).

    It is our eternal shame that we allowed Kosugi-san to be killed by Franco Nero. Vern was actually pretty bang on his review of Enter the Ninja. It was just awesome when the bad guy calls for his henchmen and only about 6 come out.

  20. Kermit – good question. I should’ve addressed this. Actually since he is a ninja assassin he has turned his back on the ninja clan. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of people in full ninja outfits, but not the hero.

    Mathias – I knew somebody would tease me about that. I’m not a morning person at all but I had heard bad things so I wanted to get it over with early in my day off in case I hated it. Plus that chain actually does a matinee price for shows before noon on Friday and Saturday. Of course, sometimes they don’t have any shows until 12:05. (Remember matinees used to be every movie, every day, ever show before 5 or 6?)

    Jsixfingers: The blood is another thing I should’ve discussed in the review. Actually they use different types of blood, some is digital, some is actual red colored liquid. I enjoyed the DAWN OF THE DEAD style bright red blood in some scenes. In some parts they have digital blood show up bright red in the dark, that was a cool stylized touch I thought, but one that might annoy you.

  21. Stu and Vern : Yeah , yeah ,yeah , I get it , the movie is called Ninja Assassin , he’s supposed to kill ninjas , not dress like one . You know what ? That’s bullshit , that’s an hook for the European and American market . “We’re going to make a kick-ass ninja movie , but first get rid of that stupid ninja costume , it’s too goofy and too Japanese. Replace it with …..uhm…a black leather jacket like Terminator ,The Wild One or every action-rebel stereotype really. Oh and another thing , action fans love Rambo , so make sure the hero goes shirtless for a while. But KEEP the stupid costume for the ninja enemies , so our Western-Market-Oriented ninja popstar can slice them up. If someone is pissed off by this revolutionary approach , go to the casting department and get on board some old , respected and kick-ass ninja actor , like that Kussuggi guy. I’m pissing in my pants in terror just to think about him.” This thing stinks of marketing department, it’s like that squid thing from the Watchmen that pissed off the fans of the comics , but this time is about race and culture . I’m glad I know this , I will see this with a different mindset.

  22. Stu : There’s a series of historical ninja movies called Shinobi no mono , all Japanese . The first is from 1962-1963 and is black and white , like the classic Kurosawa movies.

    http://images.nipponcinema.com/releases/shinobi_no_mono_animeigo.jpg

    As you can see the guy is in full leather jacket mode.

    And , speaking of videogames , the most realistic ninja game ( for the time ) was the first Tenchu game , a stealth based assassination game. You play as a ninja , and the voice work for the hero was made by Sho Kosugi himself .

  23. Well, I guess it’s time to list our favorite movies with the word “ninja” in the title. Mine is 9 Deaths of the Ninja, starring Head Ninja In Charge Sho Kosugi as a guy who isn’t really a ninja because he never graduated from Ninja Academy (which is a movie that I hope someone else will nominate) and who doesn’t even die once, let alone nine times. I like it because the villain is a gay nazi in a wheelchair who stole Madonna’s fingerless gloves from the Lucky Star video. He meets his match by being run over by a bunch of polo horses. He died how he lived: at random.

  24. I’m just happy that Sho Kosugi is in another movie.

    Now someone needs to pull Dudikoff out of retirement and all will be right with the world. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’m not the only one but Dudikoff and Kosugi needs to be in a ninja movie together. (Enter The Ninja doesn’t count since Michael Dudikoff was in an uncredited extra type role…or so I’ve heard.)

  25. Majestyk – 9 Deaths of The Ninja has BY FAR!!! the best title sequence EVER!!! (Note the use of capital letters and exclamation point to note my stance on this issue.)

  26. Behold. Greatness.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVQbzklABpM

    I think my favorite would have to be Revenge of The Ninja or Rage of Honor. I will note that I still have a copy of Full Metal Ninja and Zombie vs. Ninja on VHS that I have yet to watch. I still haven’t gotten a VCR. Maybe I should get on that.

    The ninja Turtles movies are cool (Except the Turtles in Time one) and I liked the Three Ninjas movies when they came out, but I doubt I would still dig the Three Ninja movies today.

    Beverly Hills Ninja is also enjoyable only because everything Chris Farley has ever done made me laugh, but again, I don’t know if that counts as a “ninja movie”.

    Since we ARE talking about ninjas and all I think it would be a good opportunity to bring up Stu’s idea for a ninja vs. Nazi movie again. Seriously. That needs to happen.

  27. Well I saw ARMORED. Wasn’t too bad.

  28. In my humble opinion , the best intro ever to a movie with “NINJA” in the title is Ninja in the Dragons Den :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ker8Lb5qkcs&feature=related

    I’m speechless.

  29. That was pretty sweet. I still like the 9 Deaths intro better but…That was pretty fucking sweet.

  30. “And there will probably be a few holdouts amongst us left, bemoaning the forgotten good old days of FRIDAY THE 13TH or EVIL DEAD 2 or whatever the fuck, but we’ll just be old fuddy-duddies who don’t understand modern cinema.”

    I think those days are already here, Dan. When I complain about digital gore (or cartoony digital effects in general) to guys under a certain age, they just stare at me blankly. I suspect that an entire generation thinks the world actually looks that way as a result of playing video games. Or at least they’re used to seeing it depicted that way in movies.

    I don’t know why they can’t use practical effects abetted by digital cleanup techniques, like erasing the blood hoses or hiding the edit between the actor and mannequin just before his head flies off. (I know, sometimes they do. The French film Inside did this very effectively — watching the making-of doc was a revelation.) Then you don’t have to worry about the blood catching the light wrong, or not hitting surfaces believably — because it’s actual liquid in an actual setting.

    I’m pretty sure that even Scorsese resorted to digital splatter in The Departed. Could be wrong, but it sure looked like it to me. I guess it’s often done for reasons of time and budget rather than realism — it’s a lot easier to do a second take when the actor doesn’t have to take a shower followed by a wardrobe change and an hour in the makeup chair having a new appliance glued on while the set is being hosed down.

  31. I love that intro. Is silly , yes , but I like that in a ninja movie . Plus I like the bass line and all the training montage , you really get the feeling that , man , being a ninja is fucking hard work . Notice the second ninja flipping over the wall : he came very , very close to breaking his neck . Then the ending is pure gold : they dig holes for hours ( there’s still sun when they start ) , then they spend the night sleeping in the holes breathing with bamboo sticks. This is ninja training school , assholes , welcome to hell !

  32. Personally, as far as it comes to digital vs “real” effects, I don’t care as long as the film is giving me SOMETHING to take away from it. If “Transformers” or “Superman Returns” or The Three Films I’m Not Even Going To Name because I’ve spent waaaay too much time complaining about them on this forum had given me anything to take away from them bar just spectacle, I wouldn’t have cared. The trouble is that for me, those films were just empty – they had no likeable characters, no story, no suspense, nothing that I could care about.

    Put it this way – there are older films like “The Terminator”. There is NO WAY that scene of the Terminator approaching the factory door just before Reese and Connor slam it closed could be anything but fake, and yes, it’s slightly distracting. But I think most people including myself would agree that “The Terminator” is a fantastic tense thriller that takes an age-old concept and puts a terrifyingly plausible sci-fi spin on it, and the part of it with the most CGI is also the culmination of the whole thing. It doesn’t matter to me that the special effects are a bit ropey at that point. It’s when a film has nothing to offer BUT special effects that I’ll notice / care about the flaws.

    Heck, if we’re going into special effects that ruin a movie, what about all those black and white films, guys? Film-makers couldn’t even get the shades of skin / clothing right, what idiots!

    The two things that really really cause a film to “lose” me are basically a bad or badly-fitting soundtrack, and bad dialogue. This is why I think people really hated “The Village” – a lot of people cite the direction and the “twist” as the reasons for their dislike, but I quite liked it, and what stopped me from loving it was two things: the way the characters spoke (which didn’t make sense no matter what time you’re talking about) and the soundtrack – Hillary Hahn’s overdramatic rising score at moments that were clearly meant to be comedic. This is also why I’ve never been able to watch “E.T” all the way through, John Williams’ score might be great on its own but it doesn’t fit the film at all and just ruins it for me. I’d also cite a LOT of films that were made before Bernard Hermann came along and showed the big boys how to do it. “The Big Sleep”, the original Kevin McCarthy version of “Bodysnatchers” and the original “Thing” for example – whenever the “love interest” comes onscreen you have a sickeningly sweet overdone orchestral score that has no place in a crime noir / horror movie and just ruins the mood for me. These are all very good films, some of them acknowledged classics, but they have one specific flaw that I can’t quite get past.

  33. “But I think most people including myself would agree that “The Terminator” is a fantastic tense thriller that takes an age-old concept and puts a terrifyingly plausible sci-fi spin on it, and the part of it with the most CGI is also the culmination of the whole thing.”

    Am I the only one who doesn’t get this sentence? You’re not suggesting there’s CGI in The Terminator?

  34. wait a minute, couldn’t get all the way through E.T.? What kind of a crowd of reprobates am I attracting here?

  35. Favorite ninja movies eh?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYW97UvTFbI

    nuff’ said

  36. warning: theres a 12 dpm(dudes per minute) average in that clip

  37. 1. On a scale of 1-5, 5 being Jason Bourne and 1 being Jackie Chan vs Benny Urqudez, how shaky and hard to watch were the fights?

    2. I thought Matrix 2 & 3 proved that the Waschowski’s are hacks that only made one good movie because they stole a much better writer’s scipt for Matrix 1? That would probably explain why they’ve never made a good movie aside from Matrix 1.

  38. Digital vs. Practical: In theory I guess I could support digital blood if it looked good and got the job done, but that’s only in theory at this point. Of the films I’ve seen, there hasn’t ever been a moment with digital blood that’s packed anywhere close to the punch of something like Sofie Fatale’s arm getting chopped off or Boss Tanaka’s decapitation. With digital blood, it’s just not very memorable, because unlike those moments I mentioned and others like them, there’s no magic trick or special rig to try and figure out. Half the fun of my favorite gore gags is saying to myself “How the hell did they DO that?” When it’s digital that’s not there. I can’t even think of a movie that had majority digital blood and gore that I really liked. 300, maybe? I don’t even mind it when they supplement practical with digital ala Hot Fuzz (Splat the rat! Splat the rat!) but when people lean entirely on pixels to get the job done, that’s a turn off.

    To the guy who was talking about music: Well I can’t speak for your thoughts on E.T. that’s one the perfect marriages of music and image to me. But I get where you’re coming from. The other day I was re-watching The Frightners, and it occured to me that Danny Elfman’s score was essentially him recycling his Edward Scissorhands score. I guess it’s better then the other half of his movies where he just recycles his Batman score, but still, come on Danny. I actually started to get annoyed with it, when a really dark moment would happen and I’d hear that children’s choir he uses in every frigging movie and it would yank me out of the scene. But it was the Frightners so I got over it.

  39. At the risk of sounding like a total crank, I have to back Paul on this one: I think E.T. is one of the most painful, cloying exhibits of unrestrained sentimentality that I’ve ever seen. I can sit through it because it’s expertly made, but I can’t say I enjoy it.

    Even as a kid with no critical facilities whatsoever I preferred outright junk like THE BLACK HOLE to E.T.; at least THE BLACK HOLE had a killer robot from hell.

  40. “With digital blood, it’s just not very memorable, because unlike those moments I mentioned and others like them, there’s no magic trick or special rig to try and figure out. Half the fun of my favorite gore gags is saying to myself “How the hell did they DO that?” When it’s digital that’s not there.”
    Doesn’t that mean that Digital Blood doesn’t take you out of the movie more since you’re not focussing on the effect so much and just accepting it?
    Call Me Kermit: Hey, I’m not against Ninja Costumes. I was just saying it’s not a deal breaker for me if the Ninja Assassin doesn’t wear one. It’s already a great act of goodwill for me that an american made ninja movie stars an ASIAN. As for those historical films, I just meant that REAL ninjas probably didn’t do as many somersaults and karate, and were more close range stabby/throat slit guys or long range bow and arrowers, and who used Ninjitsu and fancy devices if they only needed to.

    Ninjas vs. Nazis: Port of Call New Orleans?

  41. Lawrence,

    I don’t want to start any shit about THE MATRIX here, because it seems like many of the fine folks who post on these boards are big fans, even of the sequels. But in my opinion, the Wachowskis have made only one excellent movie, and it’s not THE MATRIX. It’s BOUND, one of the most entertaining, most stylish (and most sexy) crime movies of the 90’s, and it’s all been downhill for the Wachowskis ever since.

  42. brendan – takeshi kitano’s version of ZATOICHI which came out about 5 years ago uses only CGI blood, i think (and quite a fair amount of it). i read in an interview that he purposely made the blood over-the-top and overly bright red because he wanted to make the violence stylized and cartoony. he said something realistic violence being not to his taste for this movie. i guess what he meant was that over-the-top violence portrayed realistically would be at cross-purposes with the “fun” tone of the movie (if you look at his other movies, you’ll see that while he is no stranger to violence, most of it happens offscreen, and when it does happen on-screen, it is usually fast and brutal, but not fun). so, even though i pretty much always favor practical, and the cartoonishness of the blood did take me out of the movie at times, i can definitely see kitano’s point, and it basically works. anyway, great movie.

    lawrence – i think you have come to the wrong place to call the wachowski’s hacks. not only is the term “hack” severely overused, and many people who use it seem to not know what it actually means (basically, it means talentless, bland, and derivative, but functional), but if i am not mistaken vern had a pretty positive opinion of SPEED RACER, a movie which i thought was fantastic. i know that’s not the popular opinion, but there are i’m sure a few nerds here who’ll agree with me. and in all of their movies that they wrote or directed, they are at least trying interesting and/or innovative things. even in the matrices 2 and 3, which i hated. and V FOR VENDETTA, while flawed in my opinion, was still pretty bold for a mainstream hollywood movie. can’t speak about the sylvester stallone and julianne moore movie who’s name escapes me as i haven’t seen it (since everyone says it’s atrocious). incidentally, i just watched the original THE MATRIX yesterday for the first time in a few years, cuz my special lady friend had never seen it (she hasn’t seen much). it’s actually better than i remembered it if that’s possible. it’s hard to believe it came out ten years ago; it still really holds up and looks like it could have come out yesterday. and man, is it fucking satisfying and fun. and because the sequels have largely faded from my memory, it was easier to pretend they didn’t exist.

    i wish i had something to say about NINJA ASSASSIN but it isn’t out here yet. but i, too, second lawrence’s request that you go into more detail on the shakiness/murkiness/crappiness of the action photography, as it seems that was a big deal breaker in other reviews i read, and i know that is a pet cause of yours, vern.

  43. …he said something *LIKE* realistic violence…

  44. dan – i like BOUND a lot, but if you don’t think THE MATRIX is excellent, then i just don’t know what to say to you.

    also, i think one of the things that’s so amazing about ET is that something so unbelievably over-the-top and sentimental (both the music and the movie itself) actually works so damn well. of course, i was four the summer it came out and saw it three times in the theater that year and have since seen it probably 50ish times, and i cry every damn time i watch it, and it is one of my favorite all-time movies, though normally i am not into excessive sentimentality. go figure. (although, funnily enough, ET is a good example for the practical vs. CGI debate, since the special edition came out a few years ago, and in it spielberg added all those HORRIBLE CGI touch-ups. it’s hard to believe, but e.t. doing the CGI jar-jar shuffle through the forest looks even worse than when he was clearly a doll on a track. and don’t get me started on CGI walkie-talkies).

  45. Stu-Not really man. As someone who compulsively watches and rewatches genre movies, figuring out the “How” is a big part of my method of internalizing these movies, going through sequences over and over trying to see where the filmmakers sleight-of-hand is showing. Digital actually does pull me out more because I am immediately conscious that an effect has taken place. Does that make sense? When Lionel shreds zombies with a lawnmower, I know that it’s not real, that it defies reality, but within the reality of Dead Alive it fits, so I accept it. It is in re-watching that sequence over and over that I start to try and figure out hwo they did it, and that adds another layer of appreciation. I love the movie because of the story it tells and the characters it presents, AND I love it because of the technical accomplishment of having a dude accidently jam a spoon through the back of his throat. Like I said, with digital, there’s nothing that really stands out about the effects or events, there’s an element of samey-ness. Like District 9, I fucking love that movie, but every big kill is the same thing over and over. Big, splattery explosion. Hope this is clear enough.

  46. I personally found Ninja Assassin to be wanting. It almost appeared that McTeigue suffered from my theory of the sophomore slump. You know that promising young director that makes a very badass first movie because they don’t have a gazillion dollars to spend on it, so they are creative, focus on the story and use the action beats to great effect. Then they get some street cred and a budget and everything goes to hell in a handbasket. Their next movie is all spectacle and no testicles.

    For example, even though I know it was not his first movie, it was his first studio movie with honest to goodness stars, but specifically I am thinking of Jonathan Mostow and Breakdown, and how nothing he has done since has been more than watchable. And how about Stuart Baird, fantastic editor who makes Executive Decision, then US Marshalls and one of the Star Trek movies before Abrams took over the reigns. Holy shit I just realized that maybe this curse is less about first movies and more about first movies with Kurt Russell. We should be greatful John Carpenter got Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween and High Rise out of his way before Elvis, but I digress.

    Anyway, back to Ninja Assassin, I too loved the opening, then found myself wondering what the next thirty minutes had to do with anything approaching the narrative spine of the movie. No hook, no suspense, no tension. Just filler. The action lacked the clarity of vision of the handful of action scenes McTeique shot for Vendetta. More importantly, the action scenes seemed to exist solely for the sake of kinetic energy, with no actual beats built into the action. My favorite action movies are those movies that you feel building momentum toward some badass conclusion. Even the fight scenes have a certain poetic ebb and flow that make you truly absorb the action. Ninja Assassin had none of those qualities for me.

    That being said, I liked some of the ideas like their almost supernatural, or possibly preternatural qualities exhibited by the ninjas and I enjoyed Rain’s zen like approach to everything that happens in the movie.

    And I will give James McTeigue another shot, but I hope he makes a better movie than this with The Raven. Or better yet, if we’re talking about a Poe movie, I wish Stallone would finally just make his Yo, Poe movie.

  47. I like The Matrix, although not as much as I did, but Matrix 2 was so awful that I never even bothered with Part 3. Then I saw some of Speed Racer and that was stupid. I understand that some posters and vern like these but why am I not allowed to have a dissenting opinion? Ok, didn’t think so.

  48. Up to now, the standard I’ve been using to evaluate CGI has been the baby in ERASERHEAD. I consider that a high-water mark for practical effects. And I don’t think much money was thrown at that little guy.

    For integrating digital touch ups into a more “real” world context, I think AMELIE shows that it can be done quite convincingly. Of course, there isn’t any blood spatter in AMELIE, so I don’t feel the technology was put to the ultimat test.

    Way to take the easy way out, Jean-Pierre Jeneut.

  49. oh dude, you are more than welcome to your opinion, and i have no problem with you disliking SPEED RACER or any other movie. i just think the label of “hack” is not really accurate for the wachowskis and is a label that won’t stick. in any case, probably many more people agree with you about SR than with me. it’s cool. ;)

  50. jareth – wasn’t the baby in ERASERHEAD an actual, live lamb foetus or something like that, or am i hopped up on goofballs? was there a puppet or something involved as well?

  51. Gary,

    I have read similar such rumors about the ERASERHEAD baby, although I don’t believe it’s a confirmed fact. More of a movie urban legend.

  52. Gary: Lynch has sworn that he’ll take the secret of the ERASERHEAD baby with him to the grave.

    The rumour about the lamb foetus might have some credibilty; it’s well known that Lynch acquired the corpse of at least one cat from an animal hospital, then subject it to his experiments, the result of which can be seen in a cut scene from ERASERHEAD.

    I consider the baby a practical effect because, even if it is a lamb foetus or a dead baby lamb, I never doubted for a moment that that thing was a living, breathing, shrieking premature baby.

    As for the Wachowski’s being “hacks” – I’d suggest the opposite: they’re often way too ambitious and beholden to their personal style.

  53. To be fair, hack wasn’t really correct term I was attempting to use in my controversial statement.

    However, they’re not very good writers, imo.

  54. The Matrix Trilogy is great. Speed Racer is a fantastic kids movie with amazing visuals. Bound is really great too.
    So, the Brothers made five great movies.
    But everybody has the right to say/think what he likes/dislikes.
    I even know people who think Equilibrium is a masterpiece.

  55. Lawrence & Virgin Gary – I’d say the fight scenes are around THE DARK KNIGHT level of close-up shakiness. Maybe slightly better. Not as bad as BATMAN BEGINS. But not as good as THE MATRIX or even THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM. I can’t compare it to any Hong Kong films because I’d feel bad, since Hollywood is sort of the Special Olympics when it comes to martial arts filmmaking. It’s just great they are even trying, bless their little hearts.

    Virgin Gary, I agree with you on SPEED RACER. I really like that one. However, I disagree with your definition of hack. It’s my understanding that the actual definition of a hack is a person who is in it for the money, often someone who only does mediocre work. Though I do agree it is an overused term (on the internet, anyway. I can’t recall hearing any real people use it.). And I’d also agree that The Wachowskis don’t really seem to fit the definition.

  56. I was tooling around the internet looking for candidates for Hackiest Director of All Time when I found the title of a movie that is currently in production:

    THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN WHO KNOCKED UP SARAH MARSHALL AND FELT SUPERBAD ABOUT IT.

    It’s not by the EPIC MOVIE guys. It’s somehow worse.

    It’s entirely possible that the word “hack” is no longer sufficient to describe the depths we’ve sunk to. “Hack” seems almost quaint.

    I also saw that the remake of THE BIRDS is back in production with the director from the LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT remake.

  57. Isn’t a hack simply a writer/filmmaker who takes assignments/jobs for money regardless of the material or the expected quality of the finished product? Brett Ratner, for example?

    I’ll stick up for Lawrence here, I think the Matrix movies are pretty lousy. Even the first one. Revolutionary action scenes, a few big ideas kicking around, but ultimately it feels undercooked to me. Why? Well for starters, humans seem like they’d make for pretty inefficient batteries. Then there’s the whole virtual reality conceit. Why would the machines bother to placate us when they have total physical and psychological dominance over us? And why the hell do we want to live in a raver dungeon when we can live in an expertly designed fantasy land? (They explore this with Joe Pantoliano’s character, but I don’t think it adequately excuses it) Then there are the details of the world. It all feels very arbitrary: you need to use a phone to get out of the Matrix? Huh? By the time it gets around to the third one and they’re explaining magical train conductors and keyholders it seems like a story told by a five year old that will keep going perpetually, as long as the teller is still capable of saying “and then…” Also some of the dialogue is really cheesy.

    As for Ninja Assassin I thought it was terrible. The story was completely asinine. I respect Vern’s take on it though. I saw it with my Dad and he enjoyed the hell out of it too, citing Joe Bob Briggs as his reasoning: “No story to get in the way of the plot”.

  58. Lawrence, who is the better writer you’re saying The Matrix was ripped off from? Or was that just a way of saying they were bad writers? I’m curious because I’ve heard claims of them being plagiarists and every time it’s a different person they supposedly ripped off. First it was japanese cartoons, then it was british comics, and my favorite of all time is the crazy lady who tried to sue both WB and Fox because both the Matrix and the Terminator were stolen from an unpublished comic book treatment she made in the ’80s.

    Although I enjoy most or all of the Wachowski stuff I do agree that The Matrix and Bound are the most solid. My feeling on them is that they put most of their passion and thought into the one Matrix movie (even Bound was a demo to get the job of directing The Matrix) and that was so successful that they have trouble reining themselves in and being disciplined on anything they do now. But that’s kind of one of their idiosyncrasies I like though, the way even their fuckin Speed Racer movie has their heady messages in it.

  59. About the action: it’s not shakycam and I don’t think the cuts are that bad, but the camera tends to be closer than necessary and many of the scenes (because it’s about ninjas) are darkly lit. So I think it’s above average for modern american action but below the standard I’d prefer.

    MDM has a good point about the ebb and/or flow. Alot of it is just explosions of frantic action, ten thousand ninjas stars flying everywhere and 30 ninjas hopping around… more of a riot than a choreographed dance. The one one one fights are better though.

    It’s no Ong Bak 2. But I’m a sucker for these type of stories I guess.

  60. Vern: I think the Wachowskis are generally accused of being rip-off artists because most of the ideas in The Matrix are lifted from a hodge-podge of sources. There is no one direct source, but like Tarantino they seemed to weave a whole bunch of influences into something with their distinctive voice.

  61. From Wikipedia, under the entry “Influences and interpretations of the Matrix”

    The Matrix makes numerous references to recent films and literature, and to historical myths and philosophy including Messianism, Buddhism, Gnosticism, Existentialism, Nihilism, Vedanta, Advaita Hinduism, Yoga Vashishta Hinduism and Sikhism. The film’s premise resembles Plato’s Allegory of the cave, René Descartes’s evil daemon, Kant’s reflections on the Phenomenon versus the Ding an sich, and the brain in a vat thought experiment, while Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation is featured in the film. There are similarities to cyberpunk works such as Neuromancer by William Gibson.[2]

    Neo is an anagram of “One”, significant because of the main character’s journey and eventual realization of self.

    Japanese director Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell was a strong influence. Producer Joel Silver has stated that the Wachowski brothers first described their intentions for The Matrix by showing him that anime and saying, “We wanna do that for real”.[3][4] Mitsuhisa Ishikawa of Production I.G, which produced Ghost in the Shell, noted that the anime’s high-quality visuals were a strong source of inspiration for the Wachowski brothers. He also commented, “… cyberpunk films are very difficult to describe to a third person. I’d imagine that The Matrix is the kind of film that was very difficult to draw up a written proposal for to take to film studios.” He stated that since Ghost in the Shell had gained recognition in America, the Wachowski brothers used it as a “promotional tool”.[5] Besides Ghost in the Shell, another Japanese anime which influenced The Matrix was the 1985 film Megazone 23, directed by Noboru Ishiguro and Shinji Aramaki.[6] An American adaptation of Megazone 23 was released in 1986 as Robotech: The Movie. There are also several more Japanese anime and manga that can be found as sources of influence.[7]

    Reviewers have commented on similarities between The Matrix and other late-1990s films such as Strange Days, Dark City, and The Truman Show.[8][9][10] Comparisons have also been made to Grant Morrison’s comic series The Invisibles; Morrison believes that the Wachowski brothers essentially plagiarized his work to create the film.[11] In addition, the similarity of the film’s central concept to a device in the long running series Doctor Who has also been noted. As in the film, the Matrix of that series (introduced in the 1976 serial The Deadly Assassin) is a massive computer system which one enters using a device connecting to the head, allowing users to see representations of the real world and change its laws of physics; but if killed there, they will die in reality.[12] There is also a similar “Matrix” used by the Travellers in Paul Cornell’s 1992 Doctor Who spin-off novel Love and War, in which a socket at the top of the spine is used to plug into the Matrix.

  62. That was just the intro to the article actually, the full thing names a few more influences. That said it’s hard to write any sci-fi story without bumping into someone’s corpse, and I’m not passing judgment here on this specific topic. Just a little FYI and whatnot

  63. Oh yeah, speaking of the ninja stars, I loved the machine gun like staccato in the opening scene when the guys get torn to shreds by them. So that is one element I truly liked about the action.

    Also, on the whole fake blood versus real, one movie I supremely enjoyed that employed the fake blood was Beat Kitano’s version of Zatoichi. His arterial sprays were fantastic. But most of the time, I prefer the real fake stuff.

  64. Also love the digital blood in Zatoichi. Love Zatoichi period. I lean towards practical in the case of most effects, but practical blood that looks like day-glo paint is just as bad as digital blood that never hits the ground in my opinion.

  65. The plagiarism charges sound pretty trumped up to me. It’s more a matter that THE MATRIX had numerous influences that mainstream America wasn’t necessarily familiar with. Most of its sci-fi story concepts had been used before… but so what? What mainstream movie DOESN’T take influence from a variety of sources?

  66. Gwai Lo: I think it’s perfectly justifiable to poke holes in the plot or the “world” of THE MATRIX, and I can totally see the film succeeding or failing based on that kind of scrutiny. The sequels in particular really suffer if you scrutinize the scripts. Likewise, the first two TERMINATOR movies could easily be picked apart in a similar manner.

    Personally, I’ll forgive the original MATRIX any script flaws because I think it betters the accomplishments of the classic Cameron school of action, which is no small feat; I think the set pieces were flawless and incredibly well-integrated into the plot. In the best Cameron tradition, the action serves to develop the characters, not just show off their awesomeness, which I’m always in favor of.

    Regardless of the mechanics of the “world” in the MATRIX, I think the whole idea of the world not being what we think it is resonated with a lot of people, and I’d say Reeves did a good job embodying the transition from the mundane to the fantastic.

    But I know people who think the film is too self-consciously cool, too meticulously choreographed, that the romance isn’t developed beyond deus ex machina. It’s hard to argue with those points.

    Also, I think that a key defining feature of a hack is that s/he has no discernable style whatsoever.

  67. In case of any confusion, in my limited vocabulary, I associate practical with real and cgi with fake. I realize my earlier post could invite the response of it is all fake, but for whomever reads it, now there is no ambiguity.

  68. Something I’ve always wondered about ninjas: do they have apprentices or interns who go around after a fight and collect all those ninja stars?

  69. Jareth: Don’t get me wrong, I agree with your points and completely understand why The Matrix is hailed as one of the finest action movies around. I DO think that the idea of having the wool pulled from your eyes is one that resonates. And I definitely look past similar logical gaps in MY personal favorites, including the first two Terminator movies. I think the time travel aspect in that series creates such glaring continuity headaches that the viewer’s only real choice is to just completely ignore them. Maybe it does come down to that other complaint you mentioned, the self-conscious cool. For a film made in 1999 it feels really dated to me, and some of its “cooler” elements make me roll my eyes. All the fashion-conscious stylistas with their slicked back hair and sunglasses and trenchcoats just seem a bit silly when compared to Kyle Reese, wearing a bum’s pants.

  70. Jareth and Gwai,

    Of course, you can make a case against THE MATRIX without simply nitpicking the screenplay. I find the film to be entertaining (even the sequels have their moments, if only fitfully), push comes to shove I think I even kinda like it, but I also have a number of serious issues with it that prevent me from embracing it the way many others have. I’ve mentioned my problems with the exposition/dialogue in the films before. Let us discuss some other issues.

    One is the style of the action, which provides a definite amount of visual pleasure but, for me, little emotional resonance or excitement. It exists only as style. I spend the action scenes grinning at the slow-mo and the elegance of some of the camera work and the absurd kung-fu, but there is no sense of adrenaline, no sense of danger and, since they can defy the laws of reality, no tangible quality to any of it. This ties in with the whole “too meticulously choreographed” element that was mentioned.

    (On the other hand, Jareth makes a good point that the film works hard to illustrate character and develop the story through action sequences. At least in the first film.)

    Another issue I have is the subtext of terrorism in the film… I kind of admire the Wachowskis for deliberately sticking a subversive idea into a mainstream film. It becomes pretty clear by the end, when the heroes are gunning down innocent security guards and such in the name of the greater good, that if viewed from another prism, the heroes that we are meant to identify with could be seen as terrorists.

    I’m not a moralist, I’m not offended that the Wachowskis have structured their film in such a way that a group of extremists with arguably dubious goals are presented as a bunch of awesome badasses. But the more I think about what the heroes are fighting for, and what they are willing to do for their cause, the harder it is for me to identify with them. Now, like I said, these details are deliberate, but I feel like the Wachowskis don’t do enough to draw attention to these ideas. It just seems like you are supposed to follow the rebels unquestioningly.

    (Some of this is arguably rectified in the sequels.)

    I could list other complaints, but I am curious as to what you guys think of these.

  71. My favorite Ninja clip comes with a bit of personal back story.

    When I was fresh out of high school I had the best job ever. I worked at a mom and pop video store with all my best friends and a bunch of pretty girls. the place was big, had a great selection and, because there were no major chain video stores in town, surprisingly successful. Because the store was doing so well the owners never bothered us and were very rarely around. Imagine being 18 years old, essentially having no boss (the manager was one of us, and probably screwed around more than anyone else) and getting paid to fuck around and watch movies. The place was wild. We had parties, lit off fire works, there were fights, people got laid in the store, we bought juicers and had juicing competitions, spent two full days trying to capture a rabbit that got loose, people standing on the counters playing guitars, dance competitions. The customers, amazingly, loved the atmosphere and, not as amazingly, liked that most of us really, really loved movies and were actually knowledgable on the subject.

    Anyway, I’m rambling here, waxing nostalgic. One day while organizing the back room the manager and I came across a treasure trove. Boxes upon boxes of old vhs tapes, mostly moratorium copies of 80s action and teen sex comedies. We put some of them out on the floor, but just liberated most of them for ourselves, knowing that at least 90% of them would never be rented. One of our finds was Ninja 3: Domination. The opening sequence to this movie is probably the most fun I have ever had watching anything. Unfortunately the rest of the movie doesn’t even come close to living up to the promise of the first 8 minutes, but holy shit those 8 minutes took us by surprise. Maybe it was the circumstances, and the people I was with, but I still maintain that this thing is cinematic gold. I hope those of you who haven’t seen it will enjoy it at least a fraction of the amount that I did.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdQldhv_KK4

  72. Interesting points, Dan. I always balk a bit at those security guards getting gunned down as well. They’re not agents, they’re just poor saps stuck in the Matrix like everyone else, living their Matrixy lives and going home to their Matrixy wives and children at night. And Keanu is killing them so he can get more people into the sweaty Zion rave in part 2, which hardly seems worth it to me.

  73. What I wanna know is how come seemingly 90% of the Zionite Hacker people are thin/athletic, good looking minorities of both genders? Shouldn’t there be at least SOME overweight, eyesight-deficient white guy Hackers? Even the less cool elements of the ship crews (the operators) seem reasonably in good shape and appearance.

  74. I like that the cops and security guards are just regular people doing their jobs. They could have easily made them “security drones” or “anti-virus programs” or something to make them easier to kill than Agents but not worth grieving over, but they made it clear that this is a war and war has casualties. You don’t lead a revolution without some blowback. They don’t spend too much time stressing out about it, though, because, to them, being in the Matrix is no kind of life. You’re better off dead than feeding the machines. So yeah, they’re fanatics, but isn’t that a subversive notion to slip into an action movie?

    I always wondered if Neo was ever conflicted. After all, he was the one with the most to lose. If he’d lived and the Matrix went offline, would he ever wake up in his damp apartment in Zion, flex his aching joints, and mourn the days when he could fly?

  75. Majestyk,

    I said in my post that I admired the subversive element of it. My critique is that is hinders my ability to identify with the heroes.

    Also, the Wachowskis raise the issue and then don’t deal with it, instead opting to gloss over it in the action-packed, highly stylized final act of the film.

  76. Fair enough. You know, this makes me think of my infamous dislike of The Dark Knight. I recognize that there’s all this good stuff going on in there, but I don’t like the package it comes in, so who gives a shit? I think this is similar to the way a lot of you guys feel about the Matrix. I suppose it points out how important so-called “superficial” elements can be. You can’t appreciate the stuff lurking beneath the surface of a work if you don’t like the surface to begin with. Looks aren’t everything, but can you really get it up for a girl simply because she has a nice personality? There’s got to be something that makes you want to get to know her in the first place.

  77. Stu: let’s take this logical train a step further. Wouldn’t everyone be out of shape, simply because their real physical bodies are being used as batteries and aren’t getting any exercise? Or conversely, if the machines are providing simulated exercise to prevent physical deterioration, wouldn’t fat hacker weaklings wake up svelt? Maybe that’s what happened, actually.

  78. Isn’t there a part where they have to stick all those wires into Neo to rebuild atrophied muscles?

  79. I have no problems with the Matrix guys killing security guards. The people in the Matrix world have no value in the context of the story. The real/scifi world explored in the sequals bother me more. There you have elaborate killing machines who are not very efficient in killing. It’s the same thing that bothered me in Gran Torino (sorry, I know everybody likes that movie); when the baddies are not very good at what they do it takes away from achievements of the heroes.
    I like Matrix 1, but I see why some people don’t connect with it. What is the fun in overcoming security guys trapped in 3 dimensions when you can move in 4? It’s like playing a shoot out game in cheat mode.
    I may be a bit old fashioned though. The standard for shoot outs for me is still Sam Peckinpah as in Bring Me The Head… and The Getaway. The blood is messy. reservoir dogs and pulp fiction also had it right.
    Zaitochi had a good reason for going for CGI blood. I’m not sure the contemporary standards are all that convincing though.

  80. Gwai Lo: But within the Matrix, we never see any resistance guys who are overweight, despite Morpheus mentioning in the first film that people reconnected visualise themselves how they were before they were unplugged. So were there just no fat people who made the cut, or what?

  81. My guess is there reason there are no fat Zionists in THE MATRIX is because casting the film with a bunch of fat nerds would

    A) Be a bad business strategy for a multi-million dollar action movie.

    B) Go against the film’s sleek, stylish aesthetic of “cool.”

  82. Well we already know how obsessed these Matrix fuckers are with their personal appearance. Who knows, there were probably all sorts of hackers that could have been The One, they just had too much acne to cut the mustard.

  83. Naomie Harris is an underrated actress. She was also excellent in 28 Days Later and absolutely killed in Tristam Shandy. Too bad she gets a lot of minor roles.

  84. Dan Prestwich: Hey, maybe that last speech Neo gives at the end of the original MATRIX is directed at YOU. Check your phone messages: there might be one waiting from 1999.

    “… a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.”

    Seriously, though, I think you are asking very perceptive questions, and the film certainly asks the audience to ponder the legitimacy of the characters’ actions. I know people who insist that Agent Smith’s “virus” speech is the most tenable position that is argued in the movie. Even if you don’t agree with Smith, it’s nice that all sides of the argument are presented in a complex way by charismatic characters.

    I’m a bit surprised, though, to read that you were left unmoved by Morpheus’ capture and interrogation. I can see all the action film posturing between Neo and Trinity failing to reach you (“Nobody has ever done this before.” “That’s why it’s going to work.”), and it was only on the second viewing that I could tell the difference between all those guys who died at once thanks to Joey Pants. But I found that Fishburne’s and Weaving’s performances, coupled with the knowledge that Neo could very well be wrong in how he interpreted the Oracle’s message, made for a very compelling emotional investment.

    Part of this distance that you describe has to be the result of the Matrix itself: we see all the heroes die when Joey Pants unplugs them, but we never see the average folk die when hit by a stray bullet; we just vaguely know that they’re out there in their cocoon somewhere. Likewise, the Wachowski’s get to have their Agents take over the body of the humans whenever they want, thus blurring the distinction between some hapless dude living in the Matrix and the Agents who can adopt a new body.

    Basically, I agree with Majestyk: Morpheus himself, during one of his tutorials, explains how the entire Matrix environment is hostile. The word “war” is mentioned throughout.

    I actually have more objections to films like 2012 that indiscriminately wipe out an entire city with unquestioned glee.

  85. Trivia: Shoguns / samurai used to build their castles so they had only one entrance, and they would intentionally make the floor of said entrance squeaky so that nobody could sneak in at night without being heard. These were called “nightingale floors”. Maybe they call it by name in the movie and I’m behind the curve as usual.

    I probably won’t see this movie simply because of the bad CGI in all the commercials and trailers. Not the blood CGI, the weapon CGI, especially the knife on a chain thingy. Imagine if Tarantino had made Go-go’s meteor hammer entirely with CGI – it would have sucked. Instead we got real life metal smashing through balsa wood with chips flying everywhere, the way God intended.

  86. rainman: I agree with your point but not your example. Go-go’s yo-yo ball looked really fake to me, as did that whole fight scene, but it’s okay: Tarantino invested enough knowing absurdity into the KILL BILL movies that the characters could have been having pillow fights and it still would have been enjoyable.

    Actually, the world would be a better place if there was a Chiaki Kuriyama pillow fight movie in it.

  87. This is an odd change of pace…

    A Wachowskis talkback (or one that turns into one) that isn’t a “The Matrix sequels suck!” people vs the “You’re too stoopid to understand them!” people. Instead a talk about the merits of the original film instead.

    Anywho as a Wachowskis fan/apologist I was a tad disapointed this one wasn’t more “Wachowski-ish”. Yes I realize they didn’t direct it, but I think V For Vendetta has their fingerprints all over it so I just assumed this one would follow suite.

    So now I feel like an asshole that the director is moving out from his boss’ shadow and showing the world more of his style instead of aping their’s and I came away a bit disappointed he did that.

  88. RE: What I got from the Matrix.

    So the real world is…

    Self-important leather-clad dicks with messiah complexes.

    The implication being that now that I no longer attend Wednesday Night is Goth Night! at the local gay bar, in favor of doing a crossword puzzle while my wife watches some Food Network nonsense, I have abandoned truth and chosen the (whateverfuckcolor) pill?

    (I’ll cop to it–I got overhyped. I was told by everyfuckingbody in film school that it would be the fastest, craziest three hours of my life, and whaddidiget? Reaaaaaaaaaaalllly slow kung-fu, mushmouthed dialogue–dialogue that would in fact occasionally offer an interesting if not terribly original thought then reword and reiterate same thought to an insulting degree–and regurgitated sci-fi tropes. And a neato shootout. And the realization that if these goofballs ever show up in my life and start fucking up my delightfully benign middle class existence with their war against the machines, I will do my best to mess their revolution up. Fuck do I care my body’s in a tank somewhere feeding aliens or whatever? I’m not gonna miss Christmas with my friends and my grandmother’s goddamn birthday party because some scowling prick in sunglasses wants me to dodge bullets! And how in tarnation do I know that the Leather-clad dicks aren’t the real illusion?! Did Keaneo really not have a single goddamn person in his life that made the supposed dream that is reality seem like a worthwhile figment? That’s some of that messed up alienated-nerd wish fulfillment shit. Like the dipshit in Wanted. Or that Nintendo movie with the Fred Savage kid where he gets the PowerGlove then slaughters all his rivals and eats their flesh to gain their powers…)

  89. And did anybody else notice some of Kermit’s posts up there occasionally slipped into standard punctuation?

    Blip in the matrix.

    Something’s watching us.

  90. Best ninja movie ever made? Batman Begins.

  91. Jareth,

    I guess that’s my point. The rebels see their cause as something of a holy war, and are willing to sacrifice innocent lives in the process.

    I mean, from my point of view, they don’t have the right to decide who lives and who dies for their cause. Killing those security guards kind of jeopardizes their status as heroes, in my mind.

  92. Dan Prestwich: In the end, I was satisfied that THE MATRIX depicted the ethical dilemma of the protagonists as sufficiently complex, at least compared to other action movies. It fares better as a smart action movie than it does a nuanced science fiction movie. I think we can agree that science fiction is more willing to explore complex ideas than action films usually allow. THE MARTIX is not as nuanced or committed to its themes as BLADE RUNNER, for example, but it’s more sophisticated than TOTAL RECALL.

    Which is not to suggest that the Wachowskis necessarily problematize the elements of terrorism that are evident in so many action movies. I think the film very elaborately lets the viewer off the hook any time the actions of the protagonists seems questionable. Really, the goodwill we may have for them hinges on our appreciation of outsiders and rebels. Columbine and 9/11 made it more difficult to see rebellious figures in the same way we did in 1999.

    But unlike, say COMMANDO, I think we can agree that it is refreshing to see a film acknowledge this issue, rather than just settle for straightforward heroism.

    Alphnse G.: The “self-important leather-clad dicks with messiah complexes” aren’t the “real world”: that’s the Matirx world. The “real world” is populated with grungy refugees from Cameron’s ALIENS who bicker in platitudes and stick hardware into the backs of their skulls. And have messiah complexes.

  93. Jareth,

    Well said. I don’t quite agree that the ethical dilemma of the protagonists is complex, or ever explored much. Like I said before, the kind of throw some subversive elements into the film but then gloss over it with high style, which as you put it “let’s the viewer off the hook.” It doesn’t help that the only opposing viewpoints in the film are expressed by the two most over the top villains (Smith’s virus speech and Joey Pants talking about not caring about the matrix just being an illusion). Maybe they both have points, but they are too mustache-twirlingly sinister for the audience to consider their positions.

    Still, these elements are all there, it’s clear that the Wachowskis were putting thought into all this. I understand why people respect it.

    Now, not to start any shit here, but as for TOTAL RECALL… I’m not sure that making references to religion and ALICE IN WONDERLAND makes MATRIX any more sophisticated. But even if you’re right about it being more sophisticated, you will never convince me that it’s a better sci-fi movie (or action movie, or all around movie) than TOTAL RECALL.

  94. Dan, I’m not such a sick bastard that I’m going to ask you to re-watch all of the speeches from the MATRIX sequels, but if you had a strong enough stomach, you could piece together a relatively complex spectrum of positions on “the war,” many of which are articulated by the various talking heads on the Zion Chamber of Commerce, or whoever those dudes were who hung out with Corwall West. The old guy who talks to Neo about “needing the machines” in particular outlines some interesing nuances. Well, interesting in comparison to RUNNING MAN. And within the Agent glee club, Smith is seen as something of a hard ass, even before he starts reproducing like Octomom. To the credit of the film-makers, Smith’s deviance is communicated in the concerned facial expressions of his more dronelike peers, not in a high-minded speech.

    You’re right about the moustache-twirling villians. In the third film, when Neo tells the big machine boss that he wants “peace,” it’s hard not to chuckle because his alternatives are either the villains you mentioned or the bloated speeches of Morpheus.

    I like the idea that was mentioned in an earlier thread: that Morpheus had been wrong about “The One” before and it resulted in the death of his candidate. That would have been a neat thread to explore.

    And I agree with you completely about all the gloss. I’d have liked the sequels to dig a bit into why the characters find it necessary to wear so much hair product when they visit the Matrix. They could have gone all Cindy Sherman with it, exploring the identity issues inherent in how we value ourselves.

    I don’t mean to rip on TOTAL RECALL. But it has to be said: THE MATRIX has something resembling a conscience, where most action/sci fi is happy to have the protagonist throw one-liners as the carnage unfolds. The Oracle is probably the most coherent site of conscience in the films.

  95. Jareth,

    I was mainly talking about the original in my posts, but I am very willing to believe that some of these ideas are better explored during the course of the series. For instance, I seem to recall the 3rd film finally (FINALLY!) addressing the fact that the majority of humans would probably willingly opt to stay in the matrix, and should be given that option.

    That said, I have zero interest in going back and watching the series again, especially when I find the first one to be only superficially entertaining, and the sequels fitfully engaging but mostly kinda bad. I even saw RELOADED a second time before the third one came out to see if I liked it any more (I didn’t.) I’m content to mainly put the series to bed, except in instances like this when a thoughtful individual such as yourself wants to engage in discussion.

  96. One thing I can say for sure, it got really tiring listening to all the hype in the early to mid 2000s about how THE MATRIX was the future of cinema. If anything, I think the film is a culmination of action techniques and Big Spectacle Cinema pioneered in the previous two decades. Thematically, it’s kind of the Idiot’s Guide to the cyber punk stuff done 30 years earlier by William Burroughs through to William Gibson. Personally, I’d look elsewhere for “the future of cinema.”

    Not to mention all the imitations and parodies that cluttered up the last ten years really tarnished the modest accomplishments of the original.

    Which isn’t to suggest that I’d be wary of THE MATRIX: MUPPETS. Muppets can do anything. But I’d rather see MUPPET SALO.

  97. MUPPET BOOGIE NIGHTS. Kermit IS Dirk Diggler. His nephew Robin IS Dirk Diggler’s penis.

  98. Would they do the “I’m a star”speech in unison?

  99. Of course not. They’d SING it in unison.

  100. My vote for Diggler would go to Beaker. I have no idea why.

  101. Stu – Ninjas vs Nazis – look for “Dead Snow” (cult Danish film). It has both! Also it’s fantastic.

    Frankbooth – regarding CGI in “The Terminator”, I’m not sure what you call the obvious green-screen effects at the end… obvious green-screen effects maybe? Anyway, it’s very very clearly a shot from somewhere not in the corridor we’re supposed to be seeing the Terminator come down. My point is, it’s still a pretty damn awesome film despite some ropey effects.

    I hated the first “Matrix” sequel, quite liked the second one. But I agree neither is a patch on the original. I could write a huge analysis on why this is, but you guys have done such a good job already, I’m sure I don’t mind. :) Also, given the choice between “Total Recall” and “The Matrix”, I’m afraid Arnie would narrowly get my vote over Keanu. The weird thing that both those films have in common is that the characters that raise the films and make them great are the traitors – Cypher in “The Matrix”, Arnie’s former self (and also his wife) in “Total Recall”. Cypher is the real antagonist in “The Matrix” – he’s a reminder that it’s humans who created this whole machine, and that some of them are still irrevocably tied to it. And as great as Hugo Weaving is in that film, Joe Pantoliano just does it for me. He’s so deliciously pervy. (You’ve always gotta have a pervy villain.)

    As for the moral issues raised – does it bother me that nobody questions the mission that Morpheus and ilk have dedicated their lives to except the obviously gloriously evil (Cypher, Smith)? Not particularly, although I can see why that might bother some people. I guess it’s questioning the idea that existence is entirely composed of your own perceptions. So what might be an act of incredible evil to one person might be a glorious sacrifice to another. It’s arguing for moral absolutes, not the perception of such. If you can accept that, or just don’t think about it too much, then the film wouldn’t bother you; otherwise it might.

    As for “Total Recall”, I love how scheming Hauser turns out to be, and his influence is really felt throughout the film; and Sharon Stone gives one of the all-time great “evil b-tch” performances in action movies because she will quite literally do anything, no matter how painful or deceptive. (As is aptly demonstrated when she kicks Arnie in the bollards – would anybody else ever dare to do that? Has anybody in any of the movies he’s been in? I think Jamie Lee Curtis gave him a few good shots in “True Lies”, but I don’t think she ever went for the golden balls.) Heck, half the FILM is composed of traitors – Benny the cab driver, Michael Ironside, even the big bad himself are to some extent trecherous characters. Apart from being incredibly gory and violent, it’s an interesting if unsubtle study of the idea of paranoia – the inability to trust yourself, your memories, your friends, your family, even your nearest and dearest. (One might say especially your nearest and dearest… remember, bollards.)

    Also I LOVE “The Running Man”, despite acknowledging that by any standards other than pure storytelling it’s not a great film by any means.

    As for the muppets, I would have Animal as Diggler. Who else?

    I’d have to say though that the best Muppets film ever would be “Deliverance”. I guess the “rape” scene would be so much funnier if “Squeal, piggy, squeal” was actually a deformed Kermit talking to Miss Piggy… Yeah, I’m disgusted by myself as well. :(

  102. I don’t think Kermit would be Dirk Diggler. He seems more like the William H. Macy character who blows his brains out when he sees Animal banging Miss Piggy on New Year’s Eve.

    Dirk is more of an affable dumbass; I’m thinking more a Fozzie Bear type.

  103. No, William H. Macy is Fozzy. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is Gopher. And Don Cheadle is Rolf. Because I’m racist.

    So who’s Burt Reynolds? I can’t think of anyone that would fit, so can he actually be Burt Reynolds? After all, The Muppet Show always had a human host. I’m actually surprised that Burt was never a guest star. Seems like the kind of thing he would have had a ball doing. Can’t you just see Miss Piggy fawning all over him and getting upset that Kermit wasn’t jealous?

  104. “Frankbooth – regarding CGI in “The Terminator”, I’m not sure what you call the obvious green-screen effects at the end…”

    You’re young, aren’t you?

    I’m not making fun of you – I only mentioned it in the first place because I’ve noticed this type of comment before. “That Alien queen in ALIENS was pretty good CGI for those days!” That sort of thing. I suspect that “CGI” is becoming synonymous with “special effects” to a certain generation. They just assume that’s how it’s done, because they grew up post T2 and post JURASSIC PARK and don’t remember reading articles in Cinefex or Cinefantastique about all the different inventive ways that planets and creatures and spaceships were realized in the primitive analog days. I’ve noticed that Cinefex in particular has gotten really boring and even incomprehensible unless you’re into reading about texture mapping and polygon meshes and things like that. It’s just not as much fun as stories about how the shark in JAWS kept sinking, or the tiny, microscopic beads they had to use for sand in DUNE and how they had to wear masks to keep from breathing them in.

    (For the record, a small, jointed Terminator skeleton was filmed in stop-motion and then projected onto a screen behind the actors as they were filmed together. That’s why it looks kinda washed-out and not-there. No computers were involved — unless they had motion-control cameras.

  105. Burt Reynolds as Burt Reynolds makes sense, but who the hell is Gopher?

    We’re also going to need a John C. Reilly.

  106. I’d say that John C. Reilly would be Fozzie since their voices kind of sound the same anyways.

    That one muppet chick with the closed eyes and big lips (I think she plays the bass or saxophone) can play the coked up chick that ODs in the bedroom.

    Gonzo would be Rahad Jackson, Rizzo The Rat as Cozmo and Jack (That big scary looking muppet that’s actually a guy in a muppet costume) as the big black guy in the back room counting money. I don’t know who you guys are going to agree on for Dirk but good luck finding a suitable Todd Parker. Maybe Dr. Teeth?

    I do think that Kermit is the logical choice for Dirk though since Kermit is generally the starring character.

  107. Frankbooth – “I may not know much about art, but I know what I like.”

    And FTR I was about the same age as Edward Furlong’s character when “T2” came out, and two years old when Carpenter’s “The Thing” did.

  108. Also, two hundred Internets to anybody who can come up with another film in which Arnie gets punched / kicked / shot / otherwise struck directly in the testes.

  109. 2 years old? I hope you didn’t see it then. That could warp a person for life.

  110. I think Paul must be my doppelganger or something. I was also Edward Furlong’s age and saw T2 as soon as it came out on video, and I also saw The Thing when I was about 5, and again at age 8, when I screened it for my 3 year old brother. Warped for life indeed, but in a good way, I insist.

  111. Frank – there are many, many things in my life that have “warped” me, but “The Thing” is not one of them. Actually I could stomach the “blood test” scene easily when I was a young’un. I don’t find it so easy to watch now.

    Gwai, “T2” was something I didn’t see until much more recently. So don’t worry, I’m not your secret identity!

  112. I liked Rain and I liked Sho, but the Europol stuff was boring. And you’re right about the action. McTeigue isn’t a big fan of wide shots, but I can deal with that. What was really annoying is that the biggest action scene takes place in almost complete darkness. I know Ninjas operate in darkness, but come on. Get creative with the lighting and let people actually see the action scenes that you spent months choreographing.

    Adkins’ NINJA is better. Adkins plays the most boring man alive, but the action is very good and there are two menacing video game villains.

  113. Ah man, I have to say, I came dangerously close to really liking this movie. Its oddly classy in its own meatheaded way, taking time to build suspense, character, and momentum and coming up with some fun ideas when it clearly could have just tried to crush us with nonstop fighting. I found myself getting kind of honestly excited during the scene where Raizo is chained up — what the fuck is gonna happen? When its a great, extended action sequence which follows, I kind of thought “holy shit, this is the real deal – a genuine great 80-style earnestly well crafted hack action film,” you know, like Peter Hyams might have made. But then it just seems like a whole act is missing! It goes right from really taking off to the big finale.

    Sadly I ended up feeling like 53 hours is too short a time to write a script like this. It has all the elements set up right, but just as them converge it cuts to the end. I seriously think with even a half hour more material with Raizo and the Europol agent together on the run, you might have had a genuinely great one here. Yes, the camera doesnt let the action come across as well as I’d like, but it does better than I feared and the action looks cool. Rain is cool and charming, and even the knucklehead who plays Naomie Harris’ boss has a great sense of confused cheesball acting to him. There’s plenty of material for genuinely greatness here, but the digital blood is a good metaphor for how the whole thing ends up feeling — almost great, but maybe a little too easy to have much punch. Glad I ended up seeing it, though. I’d actually love to watch a sequel which put Raizo into the plot a little more.

  114. Ninja Assasin is cheey in my opinion, the action sequence could have been much better ‘

  115. I actually agree with the spambot

  116. I agree with your agreeance. The other spambots could learn a lot from this one. It is clearly a more advanced model.

  117. Bedding Collections · is my favorite spambot, my sister says hes the best spambot shes ever seen ;) ::

  118. Oh no! They got Gwai Lo!

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!

  119. They find the most random posts to latch on to. Having said that I really need and like their thoughts on blankets and pillows.

  120. The scary thing is I don’t even have a sister ;) ::

  121. I saw this movie a couple months ago, honestly didn’t seam to be such a good movie. I mean doesn’t compare to Tokyo Sonata, who is f…. awesome!

  122. I personally thought this flick was bad fucking ass. Yes, it’s a bit too dark, the fights could stand to have some distance with the camera, but the CGI blood didn’t bother me as much as most – mostly because there were roughly 158 gallons of it flying around.

    Violent as all hell, a decent enough story and told well, Rain kicked much ass (in my opinion) and was very charismatic, Naomie Harris is pretty hot and wasn’t that annoying, and a good hour and a half of carnage all around. Had I been 15 when I first watched it, it would have made my top 25 of all time, easy.

    I had a good time watching this and will enjoy it every subsequent time I check it out.

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