Saturday, September 18, 2021

FCP Week 4: The Matrix Resurrections trailer discussion

 


Welcome back to another week of avoiding football. How is that going for you? Are you watching less? Thinking about other things more? Here are my thoughts for this weekend, to divert and intrigue you. And as you can likely guess, I'm choosing to focus on the Matrix: Resurrections trailer that came out a week and a half ago. 

So I guess it is a good thing no one reads this blog or stakes any decisions on what I do--except on whether or not they watch football.

I realize that this movie  ISN'T Marvel content (which appears to be the theme of this year's Football Counter-Programming). But even so, it IS heavily based on nostalgia. Much of the discussion so far on Spider-Man: No Way Home--which has been a strong current of FCP--is definitely nostalgia. And well, let's be honest here--in order to convince people to go and watch this new Matrix movie, it's going to have to address and fixing the sins of the past. And I think that was a dominant theme of last week's movie focus--Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. 

So, I feel that it works.

PLUS, you guys . . . you just don't know (except for some of my oldest most loyal listeners) how much the Matrix movies meant to me in the early 00s. As much as I spent time debating Tobey Maguire at lunch, I also spend much time crafting intricate emails to convince people to go see the Matrix movies with me. 

I read philosophical texts. 

I was INTO. IT.

So as much as I truly enjoyed watching this trailer and was strongly moved by the choice of "White Rabbit" as the music cue . . . fool me twice (or in a near future thrice) and well . . . definitely shame on me.

The trailer certainly looks promising. I’ll grant that. But is it any good? Am I willing to risk it? 

As I’ve said, I've been burned by the sequels. And as I’ve gotten older I am less willing to give something a try when logic and reason tell me I should stay away. 

Heck, I watched the Animatrix. I tried to understand! And then the movies just disappointed. And confused. Did the Architect.s speech make any sense at all? Will this movie make sense? 

It’ll definitely have style. And it might be worth going to see purely on style and visual skill alone. Is that enough? 

Do you go to a football game (not that I’m here to encourage you to think about football right now--except that I clearly am right now.). But let's continue down this inadvisable path.

Do you go to a football game because you like the style of the uniforms? You are there to see your team win. In sports, winning is the equivalent of a movie making sense. You can all sit in the stadium and enjoy a pleasant afternoon and see colorful guys dressed up in uniforms doing their thing. And making nice formations. (Yes, it does sound like I’m describing marching band right now.) 

But if the team loses--or if the marching band's music makes no sense--then is it really what you’re there for? 

So if the Matrix: Resurrections is only going to be stylistic, then I shouldn’t give them upwards of 45 of my dollars for me and members of my family to go see it. Right? 

What is the point of movies anyway? They’re incredibly visual, because that is the inherent nature of the medium. But there are other types of stories. That’s the core of Martin Scorsese‘s hatred of the Marvel movies. He thinks that style and visuals have overwhelmed story to such a degree that you’re going to see fireworks and nothing else. (See how I slipped Marvel into this week's post even though you thought I was going to forget about it?) Are movies better than a play because of their strongly visual capability? Or are movies better than reading a short story? 

If story is really why you seek out entertainment, then you should be going for what speaks to you. Not what looks good to you. 

And in case you’re wondering, yeah . . . I love Marvel movies, as you clearly know. But I love them in part because of the story. I like how it all connects together and how everything influences everything else. It is an act of storytelling. That story may not be to your particular liking, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a story.

So, I'm hoping that the Matrix sequel is good. 

And I hope that you don't watch football this weekend. 

Because drum major's sometimes fall down. And sometimes it gets caught on video. And the game goes on anyway.

So, watching the game won't help. Just find something else to do.

Until next week!

Saturday, September 11, 2021

FCP Week 3--Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

 It's Saturday and I'm sitting down to write this while a great many people in the Ohio area are most certainly watching football. Does this discourage me? No. It only makes my conviction stronger. My crusade to put something else in your weekend social networks feed beside football is still going. And I won't stop.

This week, it's a continuation of the Marvel theme that I started a few week ago. This time it's a movie review for the newest entry in the MCU--Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.


In case you aren't big MCU fans--or in case you just haven't been following entertainment news in the last months, a brief explanation.

Shang-Chi . . . is the 25'th MCU movie. But it is the first one with a majority (almost entire?) Asian cast. As the MCU moves into Phase 4 of it's decades-plus project, it continues widening its scope in character, setting, culture. Most definitely this expansion in representation is a very long time coming. But this story put a spotlight on that effort and raised the stakes in the movie's success.

Shang-Chi has a comics history. As I have learned in recent weeks of podcasts and blog post readings, his comics story originated in the 1970s when Marvel chose to capitalize on the kung-fu craze that the United States was experiencing thanks to Bruce Lee and Enter The Dragon. (Along with David Carradine's "Kung Fu" TV show.) In my own life, I remember these kung fu movies playing on Saturday afternoons when I was a kid. Such things were not my favorite types of entertainment, but over the years I've watched bits and pieces of these movies. In the 1980s, I loved the Snake Eyes G.I. Joe character. I'm certainly familiar with the stereotypes and the tropes that have defined and surrounded some of the Asian portrayals that have happened in my lifetime.

For a very illumination look at more of this history of Asian stereotyping and a in-depth intro (?) into the culture of it--and how it specifically relates to Shang-Chi, I recommend this Ringer post. It helps explain what hurdles the newly rebooted Shang-Chi comics and this movie in particular fought against.


So, how did I enjoy the movie itself? I really, really enjoyed it. After the movie, we discussed it and updated the MCU Rankings to reflect its score. As you can see, it ranked very high--into our top five.

What did I like about the movie? I really liked the characters! Shang-Chi was interesting and certainly his father (the villain--sort of) of the movie was also interesting and engaging and I felt more involved with his story than most MCU villains.

The cinematography of the movie was truly outstanding. Some of the scenes and the special effects employed was quite amazing and beautiful to look at. The music was good, if not the best MCU soundtrack that I've ever heard. And the movie was funny when it should be and serious when it needed to be. The story was engaging.

Even though it sounds bad of my to say this, I thought that the bus fight in the first thirty minutes of the movie was a stand out moment. Fundamentally, this movie is an origin story to introduce you to who Shang-Chi is and why his story is important. But it isn't a character drama. Its an action movie. And that bus fight scene was the most impressive action sequence of the whole movie. I have always liked the Lumerian Star ship fight scene at the start of Captain America: The Winter Soldier as my favorite action sequence in the MCU. But this Shang-Chi bus scene was much more impressive.

Some of the best choices made in the movie were also the most surprising. Including the return of Trevor Slattery--the MCU character played by Ben Kingsley in one of my favorite MCU movies, Iron Man 3. Kingsley's Slattery "portrays" the famous comics villain The Mandarin. And his version of that character is played for laughs and definitely opened up some interesting questions when the plot of this movie was first announced. But the return of Slattery provided Marvel a chance to apologize in a way for their whitewashing of the character. I thought Slattery's return was appropriate and interesting.

What I didn't like about the movie? That said . . . I thought that Slattery's involvement in the movie was longer than it needed to be. And I really didn't need more and more of Morris the magical cat/dog/bird thing that was Slattery's sidekick. Morris himself represented the third act shift of the movie plot that spun it from a street-level movie about a martial artist and the crime syndicate that he knew too much about. 

Instead it abruptly shifted into a magic, mystical, otherworldly story that has clearly become the focal point of MCU Phase 4. And if you didn't need too much of that, then your opinion of this movie likely dropped from that point forward. I didn't mind it, exactly. But it was the least interesting and least developed part of the plot.

I hope that you take some time to go and see this film in a safe and thoughtful way. If you like Marvel movies, I think that you will like this one. And if you don't like it . . . well, there is always football to take up your time. 

But I really hope you don't choose that route.

The MCU Ranked: An Ongoing List

Grace and I are big fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It's almost fifteen years in the making and 25 films deep. I'm updating on WWYG?! the MCU rankings that Grace and I put together as we have watched the movies together.

And yes . . . you'll notice that we decided to include Deadpool and Deadpool 2 plus Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse . . . and even Shazam! in our rankings. I regret nothing about this.

(This list is always being updated, as new movies come out.)

1. Spider-Man: Homecoming
2. Iron Man 3

3. Spider-Man: Far From Home

4. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

5. Avengers Infinity War

[n/r] Spider-Man Into the Spiderverse

6. Black Panther
7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
8. Guardians of the Galaxy
(n/r) Deadpool

9. Captain America: The First Avenger

10. Thor Ragnarok


11. Black Widow

12. Avengers Endgame

13. Ant-Man


14. Ant-Man and the Wasp

15. Captain America: Civil War

16. Iron Man

(n/r) Deadpool 2

17. Thor

18.  Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

19. The Avengers

(n/r) Shazam!

20. Captain Marvel

21. Iron Man 2

22. Avengers: Age of Ultron

23. Doctor Strange

24. Thor: The Dark World

25. The Incredible Hulk (Ed Norton edition)

Don't like our rankings? That's fine. I know there are others out there that will suit you better. Here is another web writers thoughts on the MCU phenomenon.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

Football Counter-Programming 2021: Week 2


It's a new weekend and that means it is time for your favorite returning WWYG?! feature--Football Counter-Programming. In which I spend my precious blogging time trying my hardest to get you to eschew your football watching practices for something else. And in this case, the something else are my musings about whatever strikes my fancy when I sit down at the computer. And I'll be trying my hardest like Minnesota tries its hardest to win a game every against Ohio State.

But enough football content . . . let's get into the theme of the season--which for right now is All Spider-Man All the Time.

***

The rumors are swirling about the new Spider-Man movie. 

Will the three Spider-Men actually show up in the film, even though they did not appear in the first trailer? Will Tom Holland's Peter spend most of his time skipping through alternate universes? Will we get any connection to Miles Morales and the Ultimate Spider-Man? Will Tom Holland ever get to be his own character without needing a mentor to guide his way through the movie that is supposed to be about him?

My favorite rumor is centered around trying to understand why Dr. Strange is so willing to bend space and time to indulge the whims of a teenager who just doesn't want to go through the trouble of getting his girlfriend to like him again. (And if Peter thinks what he is facing is hard, then he should talk to my main man Chuck Bartowski about loved ones and memory loss.)

Why would Strange use his cosmic powers just in order to keep a teenager happy? 

Maybe it's because . . . he's NOT Dr. Stephen Strange? Maybe he's . . .

MEPHISTO!

***

Oh that's right! Our favorite rumor target is back again. And maybe this time its real! Maybe all that we learned from our weeks of WandaVision rumoring and study is going to pan out this time! Maybe the Devil really made him do it?!

But is it truly likely?

Is Disney willing to spend millions of dollars to center one of the most popular superhero characters in opposition to Satan? Does that fit with Disney's family brand?

My thoughts are . . . no. Mephisto is a fun thing to talk about and to generate Internet buzz. (And that is one of the key aims of a movie trailer.) And it is also true that movie trailers often explicitly create red herrings and diversions in its imagery to mislead. So even though you've seen it, that doesn't mean you will see it when the movie is in front of your eyeballs.

So, do you have a favorite rumor? What are your hopes and dreams for this movie? Who do you think is the best Peter Parker? Do you have an explanation for why Dr. Strange is acting so . . . well, strange?

While you think about those questions ponder this . . . which is more likely--Dr. Strange being a fake representation of the Biblical Personification of Evil or your second-string kicker managing a 50 yard field goal when the game is on the line?

See you next week! 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Football Counter-Programming 2021: Week 1


It is hotter outside than it has been all summer long. But that won't stop me from telling you the inevitable fact that college football is popping up on your Saturday television screens. 

And so, even though it doesn't at all give off the traditional vibes of crisp autumn weekends, raccoon coats and tiny triangular pennants, or seasonal leaves . . . it IS college football season. And so, I must fulfill my duty of presenting you with some Football Counter-Programming.

I simply MUST do it, you see? It is a key defining feature of Why Won't You Grow?! (Especially since I let the coronavirus trip me up last year and I failed to post a Fall TV Preview post--which I had faithfully done . . . in some capacity . . . since 2004.

But that's okay. Time and change and water under the bridge and all that.

And, truthfully, I shouldn't let COVID be the sole blame for why I didn't post a Fall TV Preview post last year. If I'm truly being reflective and honest about myself, there just isn't much happening on Fall TV worth talking about anymore. I spend most of my TV time on premium cable channels and streaming services anymore. And mainstream televised entertainment is really not living up to it right now. Maybe it'll find its way back. And my focus in the past was to make as much fun of what was bad about TV as what might have been good. So maybe I can also find my way back to that blogging tradition. 

But right now, I'm here to counter-program. So counter-program I shall.

And you might be able to guess from opening GIF what I'm going to talk about?


Oh BOY! How do you like THEM apples, eh?

You surely can't be surprised that I am excited about a Spider-Man movie. If you have known my in my life since 2002, you know that I have a long history of loving Spider-Man movies. I once spend weeks of office lunches defending my beloved Tobey Maguire against any and all comers (especially that punk Jake Gyllenhaal). And while Tobey's time in the red-and-blue suit came and went, I still do believe--even after ranking so many Marvel movies--that his Spider-Man 2 is one of the best comic book movies ever made.

And you may have heard rumors about this movie that we could get a multi-versal convergence of Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland all together at once. None of that is obvious in the trailer above. But we are certainly getting villain teases from the previous Spider-verses. And speaking of those "verses," you also should know how deeply I love Spider-Man: Enter the Spiderverse, which was not only technologically amazing animation but a well thought out story and an engaging entry into multiple Peter Parkers and all of that particular chaos that the MCU is building Phase 4 around.

So--the stars are absolutely aligning. And let me be on the record here to say that I absolutely enjoyed Andrew Garfield's time in the suit. I don't understand why his version of Peter was as maligned as people seem to see it. I truly hope that he joins the madness of No Way Home. And if Tobey Maguire is also not in it somehow, I will be sorely disappointed.

But not INCREDIBLY disappointed. Because, to me, even a bad Spider-Man movie is a better time than many other good movies.

Because I AM the guy that said he would willingly take on the risk of amputating my arm is getting radioactive spider venom injected into me might result in spidey powers. And I stand by that commitment even today.

So . . . don't spend your time today watching college football. If it is too hot to go outside, just sit down and watch that trailer on a loop for a few hours. Or even better, put on your own Spider-Man movie marathon. You can't be a wall crawler or a web head. But you can't throw a football 40 yards either.

Until next week true believers!

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Movie Review: Black Widow

 

The family reentered movie theaters this past week to celebrate the newest edition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe--the long delayed and long awaited Black Widow backstory for Scarlett Johansson's Avenger.

The TL;DR review of the movie? 

I really enjoyed it. I thought it was equally fun, engaging, funny, and spectacle. 

It is perhaps not surprising to you to learn that the MCU is expert at generating this stuff after a decade + of cranking out these films. And so I was not objective and I fully expected to enjoy myself. And well, I did.

As usual, we ranked the film according to our basic criteria that Grace and I created to evaluate each MCU entry: 1 point each for Plot, Hero, Villain, Music, Cinematography, and End Scene. The only areas that got less than a point were villain and music. 

Those results were of no particular surprise, because the MCU has a long history of not knowing how to handle villains well. And the music for Black Widow was only standard MCU symphonic fair (with the exception of the weird cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that was included just to remind you that this movie scrambled the chronology of the films. 

I think you can see that our highest ranked movies benefit from having a strong villain character and having strong music. That is a reason that the Spiderman movies do so well in our rankings. (Along side the undeniable fact that I am an unrepentant Spiderman fanboy.) 

Slight aside #1--Apparently, based on some post watch reviews that I've listened to, the MCU version of Taskmaster is quite different in Black Widow than is true in the comics canon. But as I have no frame of reference for that, I'll only say that everything about the Taskmaster--with the slight exception of the reveal of who is under the helmet--gave off strong Winter Soldier vibes. And I will ALSO say that every time someone threw around that circular shield, I felt a pang of sadness inside.

(I miss you Steve. I celebrate Sam Wilson and his role as new Cap. But, I miss Steve Rogers. Or maybe I miss Chris Evans? Or maybe the recent July 4th holiday has me thinking about America's Ass again?)

Slight aside #2--My kids recently got me interested in the British show "Taskmaster." It is a reality type of game show where celebrities and comedians in the UK compete in bizarre tasks and get points for how inventively and how creatively and how successfully they accomplish the tasks. It is a fun show that contrasts the different approaches of the different contestants. 

Having watched it, I struggled to keep the correct frame of reference for this MCU villain.

Back to the review--I very much enjoyed David Harbour's character. But I also would have appreciated more space to learn about the Red Guardian. Harbour also gave off strong Hopper vibes from "Stranger Things" in the fact that he was playing patriarch to a found family of wayward ladies. 

(I'd like to know how Eleven might mix it up with Natasha and Yelena in a family reunion. Since Hopper was last ween in Russia during the end scene of Stranger Things season 3, don't rule anything out just yet.)

Florence Pugh was great as Yelena Belova. I haven't seen much other acting work by her. But my kids were big fans of Midsommer and they also liked the recent remake of Little Women. And Pugh is currently dating Zach Braff--who I have liked in past work. No complaints from me. She had a believable little sister vibe. And I too like a versatile vest with pockets.

I was also very pleased to learn that the "Romanoffs" were from Ohio. I now imagine that Black Widow unwound on the weekend by catching up on DVR'ed Buckeye football games. (I'll see if I can work this into my next season's Football Counter-Programming thought process.) And while I agree with reviewers who say that Natasha deserved a national monument for saving the universe, a nondescript grave in somewhere Ohio is a nice choice. 

My thoughts on the End Scene? How dare you slander Hawkeye? The Countess is definitely not showing herself to be a good guy--despite the charming ways of Julia Louis Dreyfuss. I am curious about the cut-rate Avengers team that  the Countess is trying to assemble.

Slight aside #3--Was this movie conceived only to pay off all of the Hawkeye/Black Widow references of who remembers Budapest better?

Slight aside #4--Research tells me that there is something called the Thunderbolts . . . or maybe the Dark Avengers. (Seriously!) This could represent what the Countess is doing with John Walker, aka U.S. Agent and Yelena Belova. But I only know that from reading the Internet. Will this be another Disney+ show in a few years?

In the end, I think this was a good showcase for Scarlett Johansson--even if the nature of her character turned her into Florence Pugh and David Harbour's straight (wo)man. It might have been different if a Black Widow movie had been made five or six years ago. And it probably would only have diminished something mostly non-essential like Ant Man and the Wasp. Johansson should have received more prominence in the MCU. And it should have come before Captain Marvel.

But as we have learned during this summer of Disney+, time is malleable and choices matter. There are infinite possibilities in the multiverse. And even the greatest Avengers can be replaced when a suitable candidate comes along.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

COV366D-19--Year Two

 I gave up trying to blog frequently during the pandemic.

I had some moments in the beginning.

And I got some tongue-in-cheek inspiration for last year's Hat of Summer videos.

But it has been 365 days since I started staying home. And today is the start of Year number 2.

Things are very much the same in all of the tedious, superficial ways. I've stayed in my house so much, for so long. But all of the significant things are stable. The job is there. The family is there. We've managed to make our way through it so far. Even though it isn't over.

***

Speaking of doing the same things for a long time . . . I enjoyed Hank Green's Vlogbrother's video from yesterday. In it he responds to John's Tuesday video about "rebranding". And in the process, he also talked about how the art of YouTubery is performance--which indirectly supported John's previous video about what happens "outside the frame" of the video camera.

I encourage you to watch all three videos. It is only about thirteen minutes in total and will make you think more interesting thoughts that I can offer this morning.

[In chronological order]



I hope you are well and staying sane and sharing some hope. We are all still in this together, as we said so many days ago when this started.

May we all come out of it together soon.