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One half of the filmmaking duo known as The Wachowskis, Lana Wachowski and and her younger sister Lilly were the creative minds behind the "Matrix" trilogy, one of the most imaginative and influential film series in Hollywood history. Conceived from a childhood steeped in fantasy novels and comic books, the "Matrix" films combined martial arts action with literary and cinematic references and a wide array of world religious and philosophical tenets. The result was a massively popular trio of films that largely redefined the action genre and CGI effects as a whole for a new generation of moviegoers. The siblings continued to release big-screen epics in its wake, scripting the comic adaptation "V for Vendetta" (2005) and directing the box office disappointment "Speed Racer" (2008), ambitious epic fantasy "Cloud Atlas" (2012), science fiction action-adventure "Jupiter Ascending" (2015) and futuristic TV thriller "Sense8" (Netflix 2015-17), maintaining their status as two of Hollywood's most imaginative and inventive writer-directors. (Prior to 2012, Lana Wachowski was known as Larry Wachowski; Lilly Wachowski was known as Andy Wachowski prior to 2016.)
Born June 21, 1965 in Chicago, IL, Laurence Wachowski was the eldest of two sons by Ron Wachowski, a businessman, and his wife, Lynne, a nurse and painter; brother Andrew arrived two years later in 1967. Both boys followed introspective paths marked by an interest in fantasy and performance. While students at Whitney Young High School, both Larry and Andy were behind-the-scenes fixtures in the TV and theater programs. After hours, they consumed a steady diet of fantasy novels (particularly those of J.R.R. Tolkien), role-playing games and comic books. Larry attended Bard College, but dropped out prior to graduation and returned to Chicago, where he ran a carpentry business with his brother while writing for Marvel Comics' Razorline imprint, primarily on a series created by horror writer-director Clive Barker called Ectokid. The series concerned a teenager whose father is a ghost who gives him the ability to see into another dimension that co-existed with present-day Earth, a conceit that would be echoed later in the "Matrix" trilogy.
The brothers decided to break into show business after reading How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, the autobiography of independent film legend Roger Corman. Inspired by his tales of churning out features on a shoestring budget, the Wachowskis penned a horror script, "Carnivorous," which gained interest from Hollywood executives. Producer Joel Silver paid them $1 million for an action script about a hired killer titled "Assassins." However, after director Richard Donner was brought to the project, he required a page-one rewrite that toned down the violence and softened the lead character, played by Sylvester Stallone. Both brothers attempted to have their names removed from the script, but were required to settle for a co-writing credit with new scribe Brian Helgeland. The film eventually flopped at the box office. Though disillusioned with the experience, the Wachowskis offered Silver their magnum opus: a sprawling science fiction epic titled "The Matrix," which they wanted to also direct. Having felt badly about what happened to "Assassins," Silver gave the brothers a test project, a low-budget indie called "Bound," about a romance between a female ex-con (Gina Gershon) and a Mafia moll (Jennifer Tilly). Given free rein to conceive the film as they pleased by executive producer Dino De Laurentiis, the siblings created a violent, sexy noir that also addressed issues of identity as defined by sexuality. Praised by critics and the LGBT community, "Bound" was a minor hit that gave Silver the confidence to green light "The Matrix."
"The Matrix" (2000) was an ambitious and visually arresting blend of action, science fiction and philosophy that swirled around a young computer programmer (Keanu Reeves) who discovers that the world around him is a fabrication created by machines from the future in their war against humanity. The script, which pulled together such disparate influences as Alice in Wonderland, Japanese anime, world religions and cyber culture, was as impressive as their action sequences, which recruited world class fight choreographers from Hong Kong as well as top CGI technicians to create its signature effect, "bullet time," which allowed the viewer to examine an explosive sequence from an orbiting angle while the individuals involved were slowed down. A massive hit upon its release, "The Matrix" earned over $440 million at the box office worldwide, and won four Academy Awards, making the Wachowskis major players in the film industry. Its impact upon popular culture, most notably in the way action sequences were constructed, was unmistakable, almost to the same extent that "Star Wars" (1977) revolutionized special effects two decades earlier.
The Wachowskis had conceived "The Matrix" as a serial, and in 2003, they released the second and third installments of the trilogy, "The Matrix: Reloaded" and "The Matrix: Revolutions." Both were box office successes, but critics began to question the siblings' grip on the sprawling universe they had created onscreen. Audiences, too, found the plots difficult to follow, with the result being that many who fell in love with the first "Matrix" film were less than enthused by its final installments. Fans also picked up "Enter the Matrix," a Playstation video game written by the brothers, and "The Animatrix" (2003), a collection of short animated features that took place in the Matrix universe. Comic books were a natural extension for the Matrix series, and the brothers created Burlyman Entertainment to release their offshoots as well as several original titles.
While the Wachowskis' films were defining the path of action movies in Hollywood, Larry Wachowski was slowly withdrawing from public life, due in part to the collapse of his marriage to childhood sweetheart Thea Bloom. Reports began to surface that Wachowski was undergoing gender reassignment to fully transition into a woman. The Wachowskis next wrote and produced "V for Vendetta" (2006), an ambitious fantasy drama about a masked figure who attempts to wreak havoc in a future England wracked by political corruption and totalitarianism. Longtime fans of the source material, a graphic novel by cult hero Alan Moore, flocked to theaters thanks to its complex script which touched on all manner of social, literary and political themes, but was roundly criticized by the notoriously cantankerous Moore for deviating from his original text. Less popular was the brothers' attempt to bring the popular Japanese cartoon "Speed Racer" (syndicated, 1967-68) to the big screen. After gestating with various producers for over a decade, Silver brought the Wachowskis on board in 2006 to write and direct the film, which would bring the 1960s-era favorite up to 21st century standards by using their team of special effects wizards, including visual effects designer John Gaeta, who had won an Oscar for "The Matrix." The result was a visually sumptuous and highly caffeinated affair that displayed a keen understanding and appreciation for digital effects, but the cartoonish performances and frenzied direction became difficult to endure over its two-hour-plus running time. Budgeted at over $120 million, its final gross - $93 million worldwide - was something of a defeat for the Wachowskis.
In 2009, the Wachowskis reunited with "V for Vendetta" director James McTeigue to produce "Ninja Assassin," a blood-soaked martial arts film starring South Korean pop singer Rain. In the meantime, the siblings began work on their most ambitious film to date, an adaptation of British author David Mitchell's post-modern novel "Cloud Atlas" (2012) co-directed by German writer-director Tom Twyker. Telling a series of elaborately interconnected stories that span across centuries, the lengthy and visually sumptuous film's release was partially overshadowed by the public introduction of the fully transitioned Lana Wachowski in its promotional materials. The siblings returned three years later with the more modestly-scoped "Jupiter Ascending" (2015), a thriller about a young woman (Mila Kunis) who becomes aware of her true identity as an alien warrior princess who must save the people of Earth. That same year, the Wachowskis ventured to television for the first time with the telepathy-based science fiction thriller "Sense8" (Netflix 2015-17). Between the first and second seasons of the series, Lana's younger sister Lilly Wachowski revealed her own transgender status in March 2016, reportedly after a reporter for a British tabloid threatened to out the reclusive filmmaker against her will.
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