Matrix reloads cinema excitement

WASHINGTON and Paris may have their differences over Iraq but the Hollywood stars of The Matrix Reloaded had no argument with France yesterday.

On the day the film opened worldwide to mixed reactions, the stars flew into the Cannes Film Festival to launch the eagerly awaited blockbuster and the message from Keanu Reeves was: "I am really glad to be here."

Asked if he felt any of the tension between the United States and France that had surfaced over the war in Iraq, he said: "Personally I haven't.

"The whole aspect of cinema and film festivals should be a moment to come together and celebrate art and humanity. It would be a shame if there was such a divide," he told reporters after a special screening of the science fiction spectacular.

The first Matrix movie became a cult classic, grossing almost $460 million worldwide and landing four Oscars. The producers knew that would be a tough act to follow.

Reviews in Cannes were decidedly mixed.

The influential trade paper Variety concluded: "It's all superbly staged and eye-popping to watch but no matter how stupendous the action becomes, there is nothing anyone can do about the fact it's no longer quite so fresh or surprising as it was the first time around."

Screen International asked: "Does it hit the spot? Will Matrix junkies be satisfied? Probably. Just."

The brothers Andy and Larry Wachowksi, who wrote and directed the Matrix movies, were the most striking absentees from the star line-up at the Cannes Film Festival.

Producer Joel Silver was quick to make excuses and explain that the reclusive pair were racing against time to complete work on the final part of the Matrix trilogy.

"They are buried in finishing the next picture. We just hope they get it done in time as it opens worldwide on November 5," he said.

The second movie ends with a cliffhanger and Silver felt fans would want to see the conclusion as quickly as possible.

Italian star Monica Bellucci said working on the film was about more than cutting edge special effects.

"Those actors worked so hard," she said.

"It wasn't just about blue screens and special effects. It was a great experience to be in this movie."

Australian actor Hugh Weaving, whose sinister Agent Smith character is cloned 100 times over, agreed.

"Every scene had wonderful sets and we were always with other actors," he said.

Reeves had to devote at least seven hours a day to training for the spectacular kung fu fighting scenes. "The more I could do, the more they pushed me," he has said.

Reeves, who sometimes sat in a bathtub of ice during his punishing training, said he enjoyed making the movie.

"It was all very good fun but very hard work as well.

"And painful ice is your friend," the film star added.

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