No Sex Change for 'Matrix' Director Larry Wachowski

Thursday , September 06, 2007

By Roger Friedman



Larry Wachowski | Beatles Movie | 'Romance'; Halle Berry | Luciano Pavarotti

'Matrix' Director: No Sex Change, Thanks

Larry Wachowski is still a man.

The co-director of the "Matrix" movies was rumored to have had a sex-change operation recently. Internet sites started buzzing recently that Larry was now called Lana. Someone even edited his Wikipedia entry to that effect. The Wachowski Brothers, they said, were about to become the Donny and Marie of filmmaking.

I must say, returning from a two week trip to Africa, I found this news rather startling.

Of course, Larry Wachowski — who’s reportedly into a lot of wild, tough stuff — has encouraged this kind of speculation among his fans and the press. He dates a dominatrix and publicizes it.

He let his wife’s vague angry language in their divorce filing make it seem as though as he was on the verge of a huge announcement. Either he was becoming a woman or turning into a pygmy.

Either way, Larry Wachowski’s purported sex change is right up there with "Paul Is Dead" and the "Beaver Died in Vietnam."

And it’s not true.

On Wednesday, I had lovely chats with people at the sound studio in Germany where the Wachowskis have been making the live action version of the Japanese cartoon "Speed Racer." The folks I spoke to got quite a kick out of the whole thing.

I asked one man in building operations, "Have you seen Larry lately? Does he have breasts now, as rumored? Is he wearing a dress, wondering if it’s making him look fat?"

Laughter. “He looked like a man to me,” was the response.

And what about this Lana business? Said one woman who worked in the "Speed Racer" office: “On the call sheets, it still says Larry. There’s no Lana.” She laughed too.

Rats! Where is the gossip when you need it? An assistant to one of the producers got on the phone.

“None of it is true,” he said. We spent several minutes rehashing all the stories that were floating around out there.

Finally, I did speak with Joel Silver, who executive produces the W Brothers' movies.

“It’s all untrue,” he reconfirmed for me. “They just don’t do interviews, so people make things up.”

Disappointed? I know. I am too.

But I think Larry, er Lana, has gotten the last laugh, at least for now.

Beatles for Sale: All You Need Is Imagination

I admire director Julie Taymor and composer Elliot Goldenthal so much that I come to you with news of “Across the Universe” with a heavy heart. They’ve made a kaleidoscope in which too many ideas collide.

Brilliant to look at, with plenty of talented people from actors to makeup artists, costume designers and scenarists, this film with around 30 Beatles songs woven into an artificial story is an absolute bewilderment.

Never boring to watch, “Across the Universe” — which I saw last night at a big cast and crew screening at the Ziegfeld — is like a carnival on acid.

But the real tip-off that something is wrong, I think, comes with this news: The film does not contain the title song. That’s right. All those famous Beatles songs and “Across the Universe.” Huh?

Taymor — creator of “The Lion King” on stage, the incandescent film “Frida” and the ambitious, fascinating “Titus” — goes so far in “Universe” that she almost doesn’t come back. It’s as if she’s made 30 amazing music videos, all little works of art and genius.

Of course, she features her trademark papier-mâché puppets. They dance and menace alongside the actors, often with dazzling effect.

But at some point she starts to get slowly diminishing returns. Think of each presentation as one sumptuous dessert after another.

The culprit here is the script, by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, the veteran and usually much more inventive British duo. The writers have concocted a mostly incoherent story built around the Beatles’ songs.

Characters are named for those familiar Beatle pals: Lucy (in the Sky), (Hey) Jude, (Sexy) Sadie, JoJo (Get Back), (Dear) Prudence. All they’re missing are Eleanor Rigby, Billy Shears and Vera, Chuck and Dave (the trio of grandchildren on the knee from “When I’m 64”).

And so the story goes that Jude comes to America from Liverpool in the mid 1960s to find his biological father. That plot point is quickly achieved, and Jude stays on.

He meets American brother and sister, Lucy and Max (as in "Maxwell’s Silver Hammer," also not performed), and they all get embroiled in hippie, anti-war activities. None of it makes any sense.

The old Beatles cartoon on TV had better character development. But the story is set in motion. Songs will be sung.

On the positive side, Taymor has chosen an unusually talented group of young people for her cast. Jim Sturgess (Jude) and Joe Anderson (Max) are standouts. Sturgess can really sing and looks enough like Paul McCartney to make it work for him. Anderson — British but a Kurt Cobain look-alike — may be the find of the film.

Evan Rachel Wood, who wowed audiences in the movie “Thirteen,” is very good as Lucy, even though her physical appearance has changed a lot. She is a powerhouse of an actress, which helps when the material is skimpy.

Taymor is smart to stay mostly with unknown actors. At the same time, she throws in a couple of nutty star cameos to keep us busy. Salma Hayek appears as a multiplicity of nurses in one sequence. Bono, in a cowboy hat, gets to sing “I Am the Walrus” — Elvis-style.

More successful is a cool moment of inspiration with Joe Cocker on “Come Together.” Even Harry Lennix (from “Titus”) breezes through a scene. Eddie Izzard is fanciful as Mr. Kite, as in “Being for the Benefit of …”.

There’s so much going on, however, the sugar overload from all that dessert made me feel like Willy Wonka at the Sony/ATV board of directors meeting. (You see, Sony made the movie, and they own the songs with our friend, Michael Jackson. This was their marketing idea.)

The imposition of the script doesn’t help. One reason Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” show in Las Vegas succeeds on its own terms is because they let the Beatles speak for themselves. Here too much is imposed on them.

Nevertheless, it’s Taymor’s movie. All the guys in Max’s college dorm performing a rousing “With a Little Help From My Friends” is infectious fun. Anderson’s rendering of “I Want You” is off the hook, too, as imagined by Taymor.

And she also tries to recreate some subtle Beatle moments, like the rooftop “Let It Be” concert (good) and the famed photo of naked, entangled John and Yoko (bad idea). I’m surprised she didn’t attempt the cover of Sgt. Pepper.

In the end, “Across the Universe” is not at all like the Robert Stigwood/BeeGees/Peter Frampton horror show of “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” from the late 1970s. Taymor is far too sophisticated and important to be left with that rubric.

But somehow she’s rendered the usually resilient Beatles gestalt tedious while striving for genius. Instead of “Come Together,” she got “Helter Skelter.”

'Romance' to Come; All Hail Halle

On Wednesday, I told you about the interesting but flawed “Romance & Cigarettes.” It opens Friday at Film Forum in New York City, and then in coming weeks at art houses around the country.

That’s why, sayeth its publicist, the Times hasn’t reviewed it yet. I jumped the gun.

It was curious that Sony wouldn’t release “R&C,” but now I see why: “Across the Universe,” which is similar in nature, was already fixed to their schedule because of their ownership in the Beatles.

There couldn’t be two movies with people bursting out in song. …

Congrats to Halle Berry, who announced Wednesday that she’s pregnant at age 41.

After a few bad marriages, Halle is smart not to marry her boyfriend, model Gabriel Aubry. But she’s a great girl, and there’s no doubt she’ll be a terrific mom. Good for her. …

Pavarotti: Stories to Tell

Luciano Pavarotti was incredibly talented. But he was also one of the great divas of all time. I will never forget the night he was supposed to perform “Nessun Dorma” at the Grammy Awards with Aretha Franklin.

I was standing in the production truck with the show’s legendary producer Pierre Cossette when word came down in Radio City Music Hall that Pavarotti simply refused to perform. This was midway through the show.

Cossette ran to Franklin, who had never sung the Italian part of the duet before in her life. He convinced her to do it. The rest is history.

Sting came on stage and said Pavarotti was ill at home. Indeed, he was upstairs in a rehearsal room. Franklin took the spotlight, and made “Nessun Dorma” her song in both Italian and English. It was brilliant.

As for Pavarotti, his place is secure as modern opera’s mythic figure. But I can’t wait for the book, and the movie. Prego!