- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2003

‘Matrix’ misfire

‘The Matrix Reloaded’ is a disappointment. It’s entertaining in spots and, as disappointments go, it doesn’t begin to compare to ‘The Phantom Menace.’ But as I sat in the theater on opening day, I found myself looking at my watch — something that I never thought to do when I saw the first film four years ago. …

“While the first film’s speculation about the nature of reality, what constitutes knowledge, and the possibility of human freedom, etc., were … ultimately incoherent, they were fun and served the story by offering an explanation for what it was we were seeing. This time around, these musings — that’s the most charitable characterization I could come up with — aren’t in service of the story; they are the story. And that’s where ‘Reloaded’ really misfires. So much so that I’m reminded of [an] epigram, one attributed to movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn: if you want to send a message, call Western Union. Or, in this case, if you want to understand the meaning of life, read books and go to church, not the movies. …

“If it seems that I’m landing hard on what, after all, is only a movie, it was the filmmakers who raised the stakes.”

Roberto Rivera y Carlo, writing on “Hollow Matrix,” Thursday in Boundless at www.boundless.org

You’ve got spam

“Spam is ready to become a prime-time political issue. …

“Cultural pollution is pouring into our homes, and we need, as Bill Clinton (or was it Dick Morris?) said, ‘tools’ to protect our families. Spam seems a much more severe threat than raunchy rock lyrics or violence on television, or even Bill Bennett’s gambling. …

“Sen. John McCain held a splashy hearing about the scourge. … ‘E-mail messaging has fundamentally changed the way we communicate,’ he said. ‘The growing affliction of spam, however, may threaten all of this.’ … Spam has ushered in a golden age of consumer fraud. A Federal Trade Commission study concluded that two-thirds of all marketing e-mails are at least partially fraudulent. …

“I admit the spam issue may seem a bit pedestrian compared to terrorism or unemployment. There probably won’t be many single issue anti-spam voters. And candidates would certainly need to be careful not to overstate its importance. (Example: ‘Dick Gephardt will destroy al-Qaida — and spam. You can count on it.’)”

Steven Waldman, writing on “From Soccer Moms to Spam Dads,” Thursday in Slate at www.slate.com

Thug revival

“Over the past five years, hip-hop has lived large: You heard it in the songs, which toasted … material culture; in the press, which detailed every last necklace, fur coat and 22-inch rim; and in the videos shot in tricked-out playgrounds more fantastical than any rock ‘n’ roll immoderation before it.

“Then someone yelled ‘Cut!’ Suddenly, the excess seemed fatuous and empty. In an instant, it devolved into parody understood by everyone but the performers themselves…. Even the white-suited P. Diddy has watched his musical stock drop frightfully, and outfits like New Orleans’s Cash Money crew, who came to prominence through their commitment to ghetto ostentation, crumbled like a day-old beignet. The days of waving Rolexes side to side and racing model-filled speedboats around the islands now seem like distant memories, snapshots from a long, wild vactation.

“What’s left in their wake is strikingly similar to what was there before: the thug. Mean-mugged and uncompromisingly hard, he is loyal to no one but himself. Trafficking in the lurid, the morbid and the profane, these are the artists who simultaneously repulse and attract mainstream America. …

“50 Cent has been described as ‘a thuggish rapper for thuggish times.’ … The new thugs don’t traffic in optimism. Death — their own and others’ — hangs around them, much as it did around [slain rappers] Biggie and Tupac six years ago.”

Jon Caramanica, writing on “Can I Get a Thug?” in the June issue of GQ

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