Maybe There Was a Spoon After All

Rethinking my opinion on The Matrix, long after my opinion on The Matrix is relevant to anyone

This week, the guys on the Mr Sunday Movies channel made a video about The Matrix, as the start of a series about each of the movies in the series. Their frequent editor, Ben Chinapen, also made a video earlier this month about a scene he particularly liked with Agent Smith.

Watching these videos — made by two guys younger than me, and one guy much younger than me, with a significantly different taste than I have and a different frame of reference for everything, but still pedantic enough to correctly use “infer,” which is something I respect considerably — made me realize that my opinion of the whole Matrix phenomenon was set back when I saw it in 1999, and I haven’t done much to reconsider it since then.

Even though so much has happened in the years since then. The movie went from hit, to blockbuster hit, through endless parodies, through backlash, to become a cultural touchstone of the turn of the millennium. In case that seems overblown, remember that The Black-eyed Peas are also a cultural touchstone of the turn of the millennium. It turns out Y2K did bring about the downfall of society after all, but it had nothing to do with dates.

Something else significant happened over those years: I stopped being the target demographic for movies like The Matrix. Two times over! Which admittedly is only significant to me, and even then only because it’s forced me to think of it as something that wasn’t necessarily for me. And I’m starting to suspect that when I saw it back in 1999, I was so dismissive that I was completely missing the point of it.

I can assure you that I did not leave the theater awestruck. I vividly remember sitting uncomfortably in my seat as the movie ended, and when Rage Against the Machine started yelling “Wake Up” over the ending credits, I said, “Oh come ON.” More than anything else, I spent the movie getting increasingly irritated at its clumsy, ham-fisted symbolism; self-important presentations of watered-down philosophy; and insultingly on-the-nose allusions to Alice in Wonderland. But the bullet-time effect was already familiar enough by that point that it felt gimmicky. Most of the novelty of the martial arts sequences was undercut by the fact that Chinese martial arts movies were getting more widely available in the US. The CG felt like a sampler of Terminator 2 and trends in CGI of the previous 5 years. And the rest of the design and art direction felt like Dark City with the gamma turned up a few notches.

Looking back on it now, I don’t think I’d be nearly as hypercritical of the bulk of The Matrix if I hadn’t been so turned off by its embarrassingly vapid attempts to be profound. In fact, my secret shame was that I liked the second movie better than the first one, mostly because I just ignored every second they spent talking and paid attention only to the spectacle, and at least at the time, Laurence Fishburne slicing up an SUV with a katana seemed dope as hell. I still wouldn’t be able to tell the two sequels apart from each other, and I don’t remember anything else in the movies apart from an interminably long rave sequence and a room full of TVs and an old man talking for what felt like hours. But I was happier, because I’d been freed from having to spend any effort trying to parse it as if it had something interesting to say. I guess you could say I’d taken the blue pill, and could go back to just watching the action sequences.

Now that it’s been over 20 years, the movie’s not just freed from its obligation to say something profound, but also freed from all the hype surrounding it. And I was in my late 20s in 1999, at or near the peak of my snobbery; how did it play to people who were teenagers at the time? Or who didn’t see it until long after it had been established as A Cultural Touchstone Of The Early 21st Century That’s Not Super-Relevant Anymore If We’re Being Honest?

Pretty good, as it turns out. There are lots of little details I never really appreciated that much — the color grading distinguishing the Matrix from the real world, the deliberate timelessness of the design, the weird things they do with focus and artificial reflections, the commitment to diversity in the cast from the start, and how much it managed to establish itself as iconic. I’ve still only ever seen the movie once in its entirety, but the scenes and the overall design are overwhelmingly familiar. Like it or not, it’s shoved its way into the collective consciousness and is here to stay, ham-fisted metaphors and all. And what’s surprised me is that I’m not mad about it. I like the rotary phones, the douchey sunglasses, the trenchcoats, the mish-mash of imagery.

The Caravan of Garbage video makes a point of asking how much of the movie was “stolen” from other sources, which surprised me because it seemed to be completely irrelevant. I can’t believe that even the Wachowskis’ most fervent fans would suggest that its strength was its originality. I thought it was apparent that the entire reason for the movie to exist was to be a pastiche celebrating all the stuff in anime, film, comics, and science fiction that they thought was cool. Like Pulp Fiction and especially Kill Bill were for Quentin Tarantino. Faulting them for not being original would be missing the point entirely.

And with that in mind, I started wondering if my getting annoyed by the vapid philosophy was missing the point as well. Maybe it wasn’t trying to blow anybody’s mind? Maybe it was just trying to provide enough of a thematic through-line for its action sequences so that it would be resonant to as wide an audience as possible? What if the Wachowskis were more interested in making an accessible action movie instead of being really invested in a message?

On the other hand: Ben Chinapen’s video was the first I’d ever heard describing The Matrix as being at least partly an allegory of being transgender. What if the Wachowskis were interested in making an extremely meaningful movie, but its metaphors weren’t impactful for me since I didn’t have the same experience for context? What if I’d spent all this time judging it as a “you’re a very special boy!” movie, when in fact it had a (slightly) more subtle message about the importance of diversity and self-determination?

So either the movie wasn’t earnest at all, or else it was very earnest about a topic that isn’t all about me. Either alternative makes me appreciate the movie a little more.

My favorite of the Wachowskis’ movies is still Speed Racer. It’s not really what I’d call a good movie, and in fact I have a hard time calling it interesting, considering that there’s sensory overload in every single frame and yet it still manages to be boring. But what I like is that it feels undeniably, unapologetically, relentlessly sincere. It is a movie that has no reason to exist, but they just willed it into existence, simply because they wanted to see it. There’s no ambiguity to it, no question of what they were trying to say, apart from “Here is a movie about a weird Japanese children’s cartoon called Speed Racer.”

Everything in 1999 and 2000 felt like it had some significance attached to it just because of an arbitrary date change. It’s entirely possible that The Matrix‘s cultural cachet really comes down to good timing, plus a savvy marketing team able to build up an aura that it was a watershed moment in filmmaking. Even though I’m softening on the movie, I still don’t buy all the hype around it. But I do think there’s enough strong imagery that’s made it stick as a symbol of its generation, even as all the other dingy, aggressively color-graded movies of the same time period have been mostly forgotten.

And now that I’ve passed my own arbitrary date change, and I’m finally finding myself outside of any coveted marketing demographic, I’m developing a better appreciation for things that weren’t made specifically for me. I think I’ve finally fully appreciated that The Matrix probably wasn’t for me, and that’s made me like it a little more.

Movie List Monday: My 10 Favorites (For Now)

One of the things I miss the most as I gradually ween myself from social media: all the fun and pointless list-making! When I deleted my old Instagram account, I was in the middle of a month-long thing where you’d post a screenshot from a movie in a particular category each day. Because I got fed up with Facebook’s constant interference with my favorite platform, the internet was deprived of knowing what I chose as “My Favorite Remake” (John Carpenter’s The Thing), or “A Movie With the Best Soundtrack” (Finding Nemo).

That, plus the fact that I restarted my Letterboxd account after a long period of no interest, plus the fact that I’m tired of looking for music every week for “Semi-New Song Sunday,” make me think it’s a good idea to start weekly movie lists!

To start with, I’ll set the base line with the obvious first list, my 10 favorite movies as of right this second. The only rules for this list: no more than one movie from the same director (aka The Coen Brothers Handicap); and no matter how much or how long I’ve loved it in the past, I’m only including the ones that I haven’t over-watched and I’d still be excited to watch if they were on right now (aka The Monty Python and the Holy Grail Exclusion).

  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  3. Big Trouble in Little China
  4. The Big Lebowski
  5. Rear Window
  6. Top Secret!
  7. The Cabin in the Woods
  8. Mad Max: Fury Road
  9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  10. Pom Poko

One Thing I Like About The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad feels like a faithful adaptation of a Vertigo comic series that doesn’t exist

One reliably amusing thing is to see pompous blowhards online complaining about “superhero movies” and how they’re effectively destroying originality in Western culture. It’s amusing only because it’s the exact same uninspired snobbery against “comic book movies” that we’ve been seeing for decades, but forced to be more specific about precisely what kinds of comic books are and aren’t appropriate. It’s kind of fun to imagine how snobbery will evolve into ever-increasingly-specific genres of disdain.

The Suicide Squad is kind of a superhero movie, but it is absolutely — almost fetishistically — a comic book movie. That’s the one thing I like best about it. The specific thing I like best about it is the above scene, with Peacemaker and Bloodsport casually murdering an encampment full of soldiers, and I don’t think anything else in the movie ever achieves that level of over-the-top nasty fun as effectively as that scene.

But it’s more consistent in its overall attitude, which is recreating a specific feel: a Vertigo comic from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

I don’t think the Suicide Squad comics ever actually got the Vertigo treatment, and from what I’ve seen of them, they didn’t have the same types of stylistic flourishes as books like The Sandman, Hellblazer, or Swamp Thing. But The Suicide Squad feels like a faithful adaptation from an alternate universe, in which a “For Mature Readers Only” re-imagined version of the comic series was coming out right alongside Preacher and the Grant Morrison version of Doom Patrol.

For better and for worse.

Continue reading “One Thing I Like About The Suicide Squad”

One Thing I Love About Black Widow

I mean, it’s Florence Pugh, 100%. But also, the tone.

I admit I was skeptical about Black Widow, and I’d been assuming that it’d be the first MCU entry (apart from The Incredible Hulk, which has never seemed like it really counted) that I didn’t see in its theatrical release. But the combination of mostly positive reviews, and the chance to see a movie in a theater for the first time in over a year and a half, made me change my mind.

Good call on my part, as it turns out, since the movie is fantastic. I might still be in a post-action-movie high, and I’ll change my mind as time passes, but right now it’s one of my favorite entries in the entire series.

The reason I was skeptical was probably common to anyone who’d pre-judged it based on the trailers: Marvel spectacle inflation. This looked like a spy-themed, entirely Earth-based action movie. The MCU is pretty good at those, but it’s hard to get super-enthused after they’ve had super-powers, aliens, Norse gods, space travel, and wiped out half the population of the universe.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has been a favorite of mine for the way it integrated a Marvel super-hero movie with the feel of a paranoid 1970s spy thriller, but I still have to admit that it only really picked up for me when they had super-villains embedded in old computers. Natasha is allowed to be an absolute bad-ass in that one, but it still feels as if she’s supporting the super-heroes.

That’s one of the things Black Widow makes fun of, the idea that Natasha is one of the “lesser” Avengers. The character who’s keeping her in her place — which includes mocking her well-known three-point landing as “posing” — is Yelena Belova, played by Florence Pugh in a performance that threatens to steal the whole movie.

She’s sardonic without ever completely giving in to bitterness, tough without seeming invulnerable, irreverent without seeming glib. All with an accent that is probably accurate but still feels like it’s from a cornier spy movie, but still somehow true to the character. She makes it an outstanding hero origin story, because she so thoroughly inhabits a comic book character without letting it veer too far into realism or too far into camp.

That perfect balance of tone is carried throughout the movie. This has some of the darkest material of any of the MCU installments I’ve seen, with ever-present reminders that this is a story about betrayal, paranoia, abandonment, abuse, and human trafficking. But it treats everything with what I think is an appropriate level of gravity, without letting it become completely bleak and somber.

From the trailers, I’d been worried that it would be just another wise-cracking action movie. The scene of Natasha’s family getting back together was highlighted in the trailers as a bit of comic relief at Alexi’s (David Harbour) expense. That turns out to have been a bit of a bait-and-switch, since in the movie, it’s an extremely sinister moment with an extremely sad undertone.

The Breakfast All Day review mentioned one moment that I think illustrates the balance in tone perfectly: in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Natasha explains that she was sterilized as part of the Widow program, in a scene that’s played for maximum emotional impact. In Black Widow, Yelena describes her hysterectomy a lot more bluntly and matter-of-factly. As Alonso Duralde points out, not only is it less about equating a woman’s worth with her capacity to bear children, it’s truer to the characters and the way they would think about what’s been done to them.

It’s also truer to the tone of the movie overall: this is a movie about characters surviving and fighting against the trauma they’ve gone through, not using it to manufacture pathos. It’s tempting to join the dogpile on Joss Whedon for setting up powerful women characters just to put them through torture, especially since WandaVision showed how her character could’ve been handled so much less clumsily. But really, it’s a problem throughout a series that has never been quite sure how to handle characters who aren’t super-powered.

The trailer including that scene at the dinner table, with Alexi stuffing himself into his Red Guardian suit, is also a bait-and-switch because it implies a break in the action. But the action in Black Widow never completely lets up. It’s relentless without being exhausting. People complain about the dominance of the MCU, but one of the advantages is that it can include one of the most exciting car chases I’ve ever seen — which would’ve used up the entire budget of a normal movie — and it’s still just getting started. “I could do this all day.”

Again, that car chase isn’t a shift in tone into action mode. It’s establishing Yelena’s character and her relationship with Natasha. Black Widow manages to do what few action movies can pull off, which is combine character development and plot momentum with action scenes, never at the expense of either. There’s a sense that chase scenes, daring heists, shoot-outs, and exposition-filled mission debriefs are the only way these characters can really communicate with each other.

Early in the movie, Natasha is shown watching Moonraker on a laptop, in a scene that foreshadows the level of spectacle that’s yet to come. It’s a neat inclusion because it establishes Moonraker as fantasy; this movie will soon be hitting (and then exceeding) the scale of that spy adventure, but without all of its camp.

By the time Black Widow reaches its climax, piling spectacle on top of spectacle and stunt on top of stunt, I was a little taken aback. Up to that point, the movie had been smart and thrilling, but relatively grounded compared to the rest of the MCU. But then I remembered: not only is this still the MCU, it’s Natasha’s long-overdue showcase as one of the Avengers. Not just a supporting character. Earlier, Yelena had called her a “super-hero,” but in context, it seemed mocking. By the end, it’s clear that there was no mockery at all. Natasha may not have had super powers, but she was still every bit a super-hero.

Even before the pandemic delayed it over a year, I had been thinking that Black Widow was coming far too late to have any relevance. No matter how much I liked the character, her story was over. While the rest of the universe was mourning Tony Stark and speculating on the fate of Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff had simply closed out her story as a self-sacrificing hero. A prequel would add nothing.

I was mistaken. I said that Florence Pugh “threatens to” steal the movie (along with Rachel Weisz, who was perfectly creepy, and who incidentally seems to also be stealing Paul Rudd’s anti-aging serum), because as much as Black Widow sets up her character to be a great addition to the next phase of the MCU, it’s also a fantastic conclusion for Natasha’s character. It takes near-throwaway bits of her backstory and makes them not just trauma she has to overcome, but a cause to fight for. It calls back to her most standout moments in The Avengers, The Winter Soldier, and Civil War, and shows why she wasn’t just Captain America’s or Nick Fury’s assistant, but a key member of the Avengers, and more than just a poser.

I’m sure future installments will be full of action, drama, intrigue, comedy, magic, spectacle, science fiction, lasers, robots, mad scientists, and anything else that can fit into a comic book movie. But they’ll have a hard time keeping all of it in as perfect balance as Black Widow does.

One Thing I Like About Werewolves Within

Werewolves Within is based on a social deduction game and wins on its casting and its ambition

The promotions for Werewolves Within keep comparing it to Knives Out, and let’s be honest, that’s an extremely generous comparison. It’s absolutely not a bad movie, and it’s got a lot of clever ideas. Plus it has an assertiveness that’s nice to see — it clearly knows what messages it wants to deliver — and is especially rare in any adaptation, video game or otherwise. But I spent most of it with the feeling that its reach exceeded its grasp, and it was ultimately carried by some great casting.

I really like Milana Vayntrub (I’m mostly a fan from @midnight), which isn’t all that surprising, since being intensely charming and like-able is kind of her whole thing. That like-ability is used perfectly in a movie like this.

I’m also a fan of Michaela Watkins, who’s appropriately over-the-top; and Harvey Guillén, who’s disappointingly over-the-top. I appreciate his not just repeating the understated Guillermo from What We Do In The Shadows (which is the only other thing I’ve seen him in), but he and Cheyenne Jackson play a shrieking, stereotypically bitchy and self-obsessed gay couple that’s not really offensive so much as completely uninspired. The rest of the cast seems like they’re doing everything they can with the material they’ve been given. Sometimes it works.

But the standout is Sam Richardson as Finn Wheeler. This is the first thing I’ve seen him in — and remembered, anyway; apparently he was in Drunk History and the 2016 Ghostbusters — and he’s great in it. He starts the movie as a guy who’s just too nice for his own good, which is a character flaw that goes off in a direction I didn’t expect. His character is the core of the movie not just because he’s the protagonist, but because his character development is key to what the movie’s trying to say.

Considering that this was a movie loosely based on a VR social deduction game loosely based on a party card game, the fact that it was trying to say anything at all was appreciated. From what little I know of the game, the movie isn’t a direct adaptation, because that would’ve been a mistake. Instead, it goes for the fun suspicion and paranoia that makes a social deduction game.

I’d been hoping that this might capture the feel of The Beast Must Die, which is in retrospect a social deduction movie and which I love beyond any rational measure. Werewolves Within didn’t manage that, and it didn’t even seem that that was what it was going for. It was more than anything going for comedy, and so much of what makes mystery stories, horror stories, or werewolf stories was only obliquely hinted at if mentioned at all. (For horror cowards like myself: it’s really not scary or gory, and I think all of the R rating was for language).

Instead, you just get to spend an hour and a half with some good actors and a frequently clever script. You could do a lot worse!

Jungle Cruise, or, The Wonderful World of Corny

The Jungle Cruise movie has already won me over before I’ve even seen it.

To be clear: I’m fully prepared for Jungle Cruise to be more the disappointment of The Haunted Mansion than the thoroughly pleasant surprise of Pirates of the Caribbean. Obviously, I hope it’s as much the goofy spectacle that the trailers promise; we are long overdue for another The Mummy. But I’m not going to be shocked or crushed if it turns out to be empty nonsense.

But as far as I’m concerned, they’ve already won just by virtue of the marketing campaign. The ongoing gag is Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson bickering with each other for attention, most brilliantly illustrated by the teaser posters, with the Rock peeking over Blunt’s shoulder, or her face mostly obscured by a torch.

Two new trailers continue the gag, and they’re a little bit more corny and obvious than the posters, but I mean, this is a movie based on the Jungle Cruise. Corny and obvious should be the go-to. This is still obviously a Disney take on The African Queen, but I was happy to see so many references to the ride in the Rock’s trailer.

I was even happier to see Paul Giamatti chewing up the scenery. One thing Giamatti and Johnson have in common is that they always understand exactly what they’re making. It’s definitely not always good, but when it’s bad, it’s never because they didn’t get the tone right.

This isn’t an easy tone to get right. The combination of corniness, self-awareness, and CGI-heavy spectacle can be completely insufferable — or worse, forgettable — if any of it’s out of balance. But no matter how the movie’s turned out, I’ve already enjoyed the hell out of the version that’s playing out in my imagination, based on the promotional material.

One Thing I Like About Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 is better than Blade Runner at doing the things that Blade Runner does best.

It feels like a scandalous confession to say that I never really liked Blade Runner that much. Obviously, it’s an absolute masterpiece of production design, it’s forever changed our collective idea of the future, and it’s got some images — in particular, any scene with Joanna Cassidy or Daryl Hannah — that are unforgettable.

But as a movie, it’s always left me cold. It’s dour, literally humorless, and for having such a straightforward plot, still seemed to favor style over substance. Its ambiguity is its greatest strength; I think it implies a depth and complexity that’s not actually there. Or at least, a complexity that’s delivered entirely via Roy Batty’s final monologue — and in some versions, Deckard’s final voice-over — without being supported by the rest of the movie to that point.

So I was curious but not exactly eager to see Blade Runner 2049, which is why I’m only seeing it now, 4 years after its release. The high point is certainly the astounding cinematography, but it’s kind of repeating the obvious to say that Roger Deakins is one of the best cinematographers in history. It’s also got great, understated performances from Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, and Dave Bautista, each giving a different take on the movie’s core idea of what it means to be human. Almost all of the CG1I hate those tiny flying probe devices in Wallace’s headquarters seems to have been used not to bypass practical effects, but for maximum impact: the scene in which Joi is trying to “sync” with a prostitute is especially fascinating.

And I think it’s better structured. It’s still dour, humorless, and far far too long, with way too many ponderous, drawn-out conversations, especially after Deckard shows up. But at least up until the final act, it’s plotted more like an actual mystery than the first film, which felt more like a series of mini-boss battles leading up to a final boss fight. Overall, it seems like a more focused, more conventional Hollywood movie that’s been over-inflated to twice as long as it needs to be. And I think most of the scenes at least supported its main idea, instead of simply feeling like tangential world-building.

So the best detail that I want to call out is how the character of Luv involuntarily cries when she kills someone.

Or is it involuntary? There’s an ambiguity there. It doesn’t seem like ambiguity is in short supply in either Blade Runner movies, with their lengthy silences, and characters staring off into the middle distance while talking across each other. But this is an ambiguity I don’t have a good answer for, and I actually care about the answer in terms of character development.

As opposed to, say, Is Deckard a replicant or what? which I still don’t think has been answered definitively, but which has no real impact on either movie’s story. In fact, I think K is a more interesting protagonist because it’s established from the start that he is a replicant. His entire personality — or because it’s a Blade Runner movie, lack of personality — is built around the acceptance that he doesn’t believe he has a soul, instead of being a somewhat generic sci-fi take on the grizzled, disillusioned film noir detective.

Luv, on the other hand, spends the bulk of the movie as a fairly two-dimensional villain, before shedding that extra dimension and going completely over the top by the movie’s final act. So why is she crying? She doesn’t cry when she kills other character, human or replicant. She shows a flinch of sympathy/discomfort during the (unnecessary) scene in which Wallace inspects a new replicant model, but otherwise, she’d seem to have all the depth and complexity of fellow evil henchmen like Odd Job or Jaws. Is she acting against her will? Is there something innate that her “programming” is betraying? Is she expressing guilt for her role in keeping replicants oppressed? It’s never made explicit.

The movie makes it explicit, multiple times, that the replicants are slaves, but also shows K, Luv, and Joi having different takes on being subservient. Especially with Joi, she sees her choice to make K happy as the thing that gives her agency, which brings her closer to being alive.

K is shown to be at some kind of peace — if not happiness — with the discrimination and his role as even more of a machine than a slave. He’s comfortably at “baseline” until he starts to suspect that he’s special, which throws him into tumult. There’s the suggestion that he didn’t see his existence as oppression, but as giving him a purpose in life.

And then there’s Luv’s final declaration, “I’m the best one!” It’s not just that she does whatever her boss/master commands; she takes pride in it, and she’s even made it a part of her identity. The question of “what does it mean to be alive?” is obviously at the core to these movies, but I think Blade Runner 2049 is better at illustrating why the question is relevant to us in the audience: it suggests that the things that make us alive aren’t assigned to us, but the ways we choose to find meaning.

Most of the movie makes these ideas explicit. There’s just the one scene that’s left ambiguous, and that’s where the intrigue is.

My Dragons Are More Sophisticated Than Your Super-Heroes

Responding to dumb ideas that refuse to die, and how it all relates to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

I’ve only seen one complete episode of Game of Thrones, but that was enough. Seeing a beautiful young woman pushed into an arranged marriage that was essentially slavery and then violently raped, and then an incestuous couple pushing a child to his death for witnessing them having sex, convinced me that this wasn’t the HBO prestige series for me.

Even if it wasn’t for me, though, I’m not interested in trying to put it down or anything. It had a lot of talent behind it, and I know a lot of smart people who got really into it. Plus, it inspired a lot of creative people to try their own hand at fantasy world-building themselves.

For instance: in an opinion column in The Washington Post, Alyssa Rosenberg constructed a fantastic, elaborate, alternate reality in which Game of Thrones was a dramatized extrapolation of the War of the Roses designed to engender thoughtful, mature discussions about trauma, parentage, the foundations of a just government… and which also, occasionally, happened to show titties and people being beheaded or getting their eyes gouged out.

I’m not suggesting that the depth and nuance Rosenberg describes wasn’t actually present in the series, but I am absolutely 100% saying it’s comically disingenuous for her to act as if Game of Thrones‘s popularity was due to its mature and thought-provoking ideas, and that its TV-MA content and promise of dragons and zombies was just a happy accident. I have to call foul when TV critics claim not to understand how prestige TV works.

As Rosenberg describes the state of popular media as toothless and “flaccid,” while lamenting that Watchmen and Promising Young Woman weren’t more popular, it’s clear that this just boils down to the familiar refrain: the stuff I like is complex and sophisticated; this other stuff that’s popular is trite and simplistic. The part that I can’t get over is how weird this version is.

Continue reading “My Dragons Are More Sophisticated Than Your Super-Heroes”

One Thing I Like About Godzilla vs Kong

Godzilla vs Kong seems perfectly happy to be spectacular, beautiful nonsense

Title Image: Kong vs Godzilla in Hong Kong in Godzilla vs Kong

I liked Kong: Skull Island quite a bit, although apparently that didn’t come through clearly enough in my post about it. A few years ago, I was applying for a job on a licensed video game that I would’ve hated working on, so I’m very fortunate I wasn’t offered the job. At the interview, though, the interviewer mentioned reading that post and seemed skeptical I’d be happy working on a project that was part of a major franchise subject to scrutiny from tons of invested parties.

I was reminded of that while watching Godzilla vs Kong, because it’s very much the culmination of a movie franchise. But it also doesn’t betray a hint of pretense that it’s anything else, or that there’s anything wrong with being the culmination of a movie franchise.

And I really enjoyed the hell out of it. It was big, gleefully dumb fun, on a scale that I don’t think I’ve seen since The Mummy. The aspect of it I love the most is that it knows exactly what it wants to do, and exactly what people want to see when they watch a movie titled Godzilla vs Kong. Which is perfectly illustrated by this scene:

(The rest of this post has spoilers, which I really suggest you avoid reading because there are some fun surprises in the movie, even if you, as I did, go in thinking you’d already been spoiled for all of it).

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Is… THIS your identity? (One Thing I Like About In And Of Itself)

Doing my part to add to the hype around Derek DelGaudio’s emotional magic show

I was hyped for the Hulu broadcast of Derek DelGaudio’s In and Of Itself before it premiered, because people on Twitter — not just “people,” but artists I really respect — were breathlessly describing it as a monumental, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The consensus was that it was breathtaking, and that you should watch it knowing nothing about it going in.

I’d agree with the first part, but I’d actually recommend knowing at least enough about it to keep expectations in check. My take is that it’s very good; I was openly sobbing through much of it, and that’s only about 25% because I’m extremely prone to sympathetic crying. The rest is because it’s a genuinely impressive production.

Still, I feel like it would’ve resonated with me even more if my expectations hadn’t been raised so impossibly high by the buzz around it. So I’d actually recommend going in with a reductionist idea of what it is: an ingenious combination of one-man play and stage magic show.

The one aspect I’m most impressed with is how it’s presented, so that it’s practically impossible to be too cynical to appreciate it. It’s a series of feats of stage magic that are telling you, in every moment of the show, including the title of the show, that the “tricks” aren’t the point.

To explain why would definitely be a spoiler, though, so please don’t read the rest of this post until after you’ve seen it.

Continue reading “Is… THIS your identity? (One Thing I Like About In And Of Itself)”