‘Matrix’ and ‘Licorice Pizza’ worth a look, but skip ‘West Side Story’ remake

‘Matrix’ and ‘Licorice Pizza’ worth a look, but skip ‘West Side Story’ remake
This month’s reviews cover The Matrix 4, Licorice Pizza, and West Side Story.

I went to the theater as many times in December as in the prior three months combined.

The theaters were mostly empty, yet it felt good to spend time in the glow of the big screen. None of this week’s movies demand viewing away from home, but it may be a while before they are available on streaming platforms.

“Matrix Resurrections”

The Matrix films challenge many of our beliefs about reality. One of the meta-textual ones is that Keanu Reeves does not age. In the fourth entry in the series, “Matrix Resurrections,” there are many clips from the original trilogy showing a much younger Reeves. In fact, his character Neo is one of the few original characters that ages the exact amount of time since the third film.

The Wachowski sisters set out to make the fourth film almost solely to spite the people who pressured them into doing it. They include a heap of meta-references not only to the original trilogy, but to the real-world pressure the sisters felt to make the fourth entry.

Neo has reverted to his previous, unaware self. Now in middle age, as Thomas Anderson, he has created a video game called “The Matrix” and included many characters he interacted with as Neo. In a bit of “black cat deja vu,” a group of disconnected people discover Neo and attempt to convince him to leave the Matrix.

Although the plot isn’t confusing, it’s too dense to supply any more information. If you are a fan of the franchise, you will highly enjoy this one. A-

“Licorice Pizza”

Recent Paul Thomas Anderson movies fall into two categories. One features a deeply disturbed and narcissistic main character. “There Will Be Blood,” “Phantom Thread” and “The Master” are in this category. In “Boogie Nights,” “Inherent Vice” and his latest, “Licorice Pizza,” he lovingly creates an ode to a bygone era.

Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, stars as 15-year-old Gary. As a young, business-savvy romantic in the early 1970s, Gary develops a crush on 25-year-old Alana (Alana Haim of the band Haim).

She rebuffs his feelings while developing a mutually beneficial friendship. She gets her foot in the door of Hollywood due to Gary’s acting contacts, while he gets the assistance he needs in setting up his various entrepreneurial exploits.

Anderson absolutely loves quirky secondary characters. In “Licorice Pizza,” Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper show up to nearly steal the show. Newcomers Haim and Hoffman do more than keep up, they make me wish Anderson had not spent quite as much time with the seasoned vets.

“Licorice Pizza” is a lovingly written, expertly acted story of two people trying to figure out the world of adults in the crazy 1970s. Well worth seeking out. A-

“West Side Story”

I am not a fan of musicals. They better be at “La La Land” level for me to be blown away. Stephen Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story” comes nowhere close. Irritating characters, boring melodrama and underwhelming gravitas condemn this to the “unnecessary remake” pile. C-

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Jeff Mellinger

Jeff Mellinger is a screen writer and film buff. He holds a BA in Film Studies and an MFA in film production. He lives in Concord.