Posted in Television and Film

Too Many Sequels, Too Little Time

As of this year’s release of Ant-Man and the Wasp, there will be 20 mainstream Marvel movies.

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And that’s not even counting the two extra Spiderman series or any of the X-Men movies. Or Deadpool.

Marvel’s not the only powerhouse in the cinemas. Star Wars just hit its tenth movie, with an eleventh on its way. DC has been trying to ride on Marvel’s coattails for a few years now, and while their movies may be turning up sub par at the box office, their set of series on the CW have virtually taken over the entire channel.

Which means that anybody who wants to dive into these fandoms without any prior experience has a lot of catching up to do. So, in the spirit of science, I decided to share with you the ultimate list of hits, skips, and hope you didn’t miss.

Marvel Cinematic Universe

When the Marvel movies first started coming out, I remember feeling excited. MORE content? YEARS of scheduled storytelling? Sign me up!

But as the years have dragged on(and on), some of the quality of these movies have dipped. And I’m sorry, Marvel executives, but there are quite a few movies that the average watcher could skip and have absolutely no problem watching one of the Avengers.

So, without further ado, here are my official recommendations if you’re someone who’s looking to cash in, catch up, or just relive Marvel’s glory days.

Hits

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Avengers (2012) – I think this movie was one of the first times the entire audience realized how fun these movies could be. All of the jokes were intricately placed within the narrative, instead of tossed around left and right. It was also the first time we really felt the crossover effect of the franchise, and with our limited number of characters, it actually felt worth it.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – I might be a little biased since Cap is my favorite Avenger, but to me, this film was a total game changer. MORE NAZIS? It felt like the perfect turning point for the franchise, where everything we knew about SHIELD and the good guys turns upside-down.

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – With the exception of the Thor movies, this movie features the most out-of-this-world settings. Plus, this film is so good, it could stand alone without any connection to the Marvel franchise. And the soundtrack; don’t forget the soundtrack.

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Black Panther (2018) – Again, you know what made this movie a success? Another new and interesting setting. We’ve never seen a place like Wakanda on the big screen before, not in Marvel, at least. Add compelling characters and cultural undertones and boom! You’ve got a box office baby.

Skips

Iron Man 3 (2013) – In my opinion, there really was no need for a third Iron Man movie. All of Tony’s major personal storylines tied themselves up at the end of the second movie. Not that there aren’t a few interesting plot points(namely, Tony’s struggle with PTSD), but overall, audiences receive the same basic elements as Pixar’s The Incredibles, without the magic of the childlike film.

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Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Most of this movie could just be summarized in a voice-over: “Steve and Tony had a falling-out after the Age of Ultron.” That’s it, that’s really all the audience needs. The only reason to watch this movie is to catch a little of Spider-Man’s and Black Panther’s backstory, plus a little interaction between Vision and Scarlet Witch. Otherwise, it’s just a bit of an overdramatic waste.

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Doctor Strange (2016) – I have no words for this one. Still haven’t seen it. Literally has left zero plot holes in my life.

Hope You Didn’t Miss

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Ant-Man (2015) – An honest delight from beginning to end. Does it connect to the Marvel universe in the grand scheme of things? Not a chance, he’s not even a real Avenger. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Paul Rudd alone makes this movie worth watching, and with the sequel hitting theatres this summer, I highly recommend you watch(or rewatch) the first one.

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Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – This is one that people either love or hate(I obviously fall in the former category). True to some people’s criticisms, there might be a few laughs too many packed into this film, but I still think that this is what the Thor franchise should have looked like the beginning. Plus, I think that the character work in this movie could stand on its own as one of the strongest in the MCU.

Star Wars

I don’t really think that Star Wars has a sequel problem yet, but I can understand those who may say so. Especially if you count the Rebels and Clone Wars series. Which I do, I just choose to blind myself to all of Star War’s potential faults.

Hits

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The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – Face it, we all know this is a masterpiece. The settings, the characters, the big reveals – it’s the perfect recipe for a Star Wars film. AND this one did it first. Also, first film appearance of my boy Yoda.

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The Force Awakens (2015) – I don’t care if it’s exactly like A New Hope, I think this film was a perfect bridge between the new franchise and the original trilogy. Even the scene transitions are nostalgic! I love every character regardless of their story line; that makes it a win for me.

Skips

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The Phantom Menace (1999) – Listen. I love Qui-Gon Jinn. I love clean-shaven Ewan McGregor. But there really is no reason for this movie. Audiences could just as easily start watching at Attack of the Clones and lose none of the proper context for the prequel trilogy. Plus, think of how much less we’d have to deal with Jar-Jar!

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The Last Jedi (2017) – It’s not that I didn’t enjoy this movie. I did. My biggest problem with the film, however, is that for the majority of the story, it doesn’t feel like Star Wars. To me, it deviates too far from the audience’s invested interest in the central trio, though to be fair, I don’t think we can judge too harshly until the last film comes out. In the meantime, maybe just watch Episode V on repeat.

Hope You Didn’t Miss

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Attack of the Clones (2002) – This is not me saying that this a good movie. But, I think it’s an extremely important movie for understanding the way that the Star Wars universe used to work. We learn way more about the Senate and the Jedi Temple and the Clone Troopers in this movie; it gives backstory in an interesting and colorful way. The writing is horrible, but the costumes and the settings are fabulous.

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Rogue One (2016) – Not everyone loved this movie, but I certainly did. Every character felt alive to me. I enjoyed every Easter egg, but also appreciated how those inside jokes didn’t push the boundaries too far. I even loved the inevitability of it all – Star Wars is such an interesting franchise because the audience jumps around in its timeline almost constantly, but it still tells a whole story. This film is an excellent snapshot of one moment in time.

DC Television(CW Style)

I have to be honest: I’ve fallen behind on my DC television, mostly due to disappointment. Some of these early seasons were truly great, only to lose their shine at the midway point. Will any show ever compare to Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman? The world may never know.

Hits

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The Flash (2014) – I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. This show shoots every other CW reboot out of the water. It’s interesting, because I actually started with watching all of Smallville, then the first few seasons of Arrow, before I dived into this show, which was my end goal all along. As with every good show, the heart of it lies with its characters. But the tone of the show is what enchanted me in the first place – gone are the customary DC gritty overtones of noir fiction. It’s bright and shiny sci-fi, which is just my thing.

Skips

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Arrow (2012) – This series has never been my favorite for one reason alone: Oliver Queen should not be Batman. In the Cw predecessor Smallville, Oliver Queen is a goofy, lovable playboy, known for his charm and womanizing ways. Arrow plays up this image in the first season a little bit, and in its flashbacks, but by and large it’s an Oliver Queen we almost never see. I miss him. He would never stand for the dark and gritty undertones of the set around him; he’d put on some club music and get to work!

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Legends of Tomorrow (2016) – Too many characters, not enough plot. Next.

Hope You Didn’t Miss

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Supergirl(2015) – Really, I’m only talking about Season 1 here, which is technically cheating, because that was when it aired on Fox. But their writing formula far outshines the ones of the later seasons: I felt like every character received their own episode to create depth, rather than keeping up the predictable pattern of a villain-a-week the way the other CW series do. Also, my boy Jeremy Jordan is in it, which means it’s worth a watch.

In other words, don’t feel bad about skipping out on something you used to love. I’m someone who loves the feeling of completing projects, and that includes what I watch! But in retrospect, sometimes the quality really is more important than the quantity.

Don’t even get me started on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

 

Posted in Music

A Year in the Life, Pt. 1

About a year ago, I graduated from college.

One stereotypical grad pic down, 10,000 to go.

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And if you told me that day where I would be today, I think I would have believed you, but I would have zero comprehension of what it took to get me here.

So I don’t mind if you join me in taking a look back at the last year of my life, for old(alright, still pretty new) times’ sake.

I knew as soon as early as the previous December that I would not be staying in Grand Rapids after graduation. It was not an “easy” decision(and that’s a whole other story), but by the time I’d made up my mind, I knew I had made the right choice. So, a few hours after I walked with my classmates, I packed up everything I’d crammed into my tiny apartment and moved back into my parents’ house in Midland.

Here’s the thing about living with my parents: it’s really not as terrible as everyone would think it is. Again, I wouldn’t call it “easy” after being virtually independent for a few years, but my parents are incredibly supportive and two of my best friends in the world. They always give me great advice(even if I don’t always follow it). Plus, with my brother still living at home as well, some days it’s practically the same as having three roommates again(who just happen to be related to me).

I’d made a deal with myself that I would take the entire month of May to apply for jobs, and that if I didn’t find anything by June, I would start looking at retail again.

Needless to say, by June 1, things were looking grim.

So I did what any normal person would do, and broke my promise to myself. I would take one more month to figure out what to do.

I had a few interviews, neither bad nor good. I remember coming home from one of them and telling my mom I wasn’t going to get it. “If I was just five years older, it’d be so much easier,” I said. “I just don’t have enough life experience.”

But then I got the job.

I started working weekends at my local women and children’s shelter as part of a ministry team. By the end of the summer, I had transitioned from part-time weekend nights to full-time days. On the one hand, everything was falling into place.

On the other hand, it’s very easy to romanticize working in a ministry setting. Helping those in need is not a Disney Princess task – it’s rolling up your sleeves and putting on the armor of God. It’s learning about people who come from vastly different backgrounds even in the same community. Quite frankly, you spend most of your time reaching out to people who want nothing to do with you personally.

Every day was a new challenge. As someone who likes to solve problems, that can be both incredibly fulfilling and unbelievably frustrating.

At the beginning of December, one of my bosses approached me to start writing morning devotions for our clients using the New City Catechism as a guide. Obviously, they knew I had a degree in journalism and had already used my skills for some press releases and other small projects earlier that year.

But this was a monumental project in comparison, and I felt the pressure. Some people didn’t think we should try synchronized devotions between the men and women’s children; though no one said anything to me personally, I attached myself to a sudden onslaught of imposter syndrome.

But after a few weeks stalling out of petrifying fear, I finally bit the bullet and did the project. I specifically wanted to share this part of my year because I think it’s really easy to miss the behind-the-scenes effort in people’s lives. I’m someone who typically does not like to show insecurity or weakness, but to shy away from those things isn’t fair, either.

I ended up taking a vacation with my parents at the end of February that also helped me gain some perspective. I love traveling, but in the past it has given me a lot of issues with my stress and anxiety levels. The irony is, those levels were already so blown out by my day job that by the time I went on vacation, everything else in comparison seemed pretty chill.

When I came back to work, my energy renewed, I threw myself back into my daily life. Life was not predictable, but it was normal, and sometimes that’s the best that a girl can ask for.

And yet.

If I have learned anything this year, it’s that God can fill your cup until it runs over. A few months ago, my boss approached me because she had been fielding me various projects throughout the year, intentionally trying to overload me to see how I would do with my workload. Based on my performance, I was the perfect candidate for a promotion that they wanted to fill in-house.

So now I’m working in the main offices, using my actual degree for a ministry I love full-time. Obviously, not every person has this sort of experience their first year after graduating college, which makes me value it even more. God has blessed me beyond measure this year, and I wanted to finally share that publicly with all of you.

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I’ve come a long way in the past year, and one of my favorite ways to look back at my life is to listen to the music that I listened to in the past. So, with that being said, if you want to dive a little deeper into my psyche, I invite you to check out the playlist below.

Musical highlights of my year: listening to “Jesus music” at work, rediscovering old favorites, and lots and LOTS of 80s music.

Posted in Pop Culture

The Long and Short of It, Starring Vine

Six seconds is all it takes to reach the pinnacle of comedic genius.

There seems to have been a resurgence in the past year or so regarding this decade’s most cherished and underappreciated art forms.

That’s right, I’m talking about vines.

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It’s not that Vine wasn’t popular before Twitter announced the discontinuation of the app in October 2016; it was, to a certain finite point. But thanks to the addition and creation of vine compilations on platforms like YouTube, it’s now easier than ever to waste three or four hours on a weeknight purely devoted to six-second videos.

What a way to go, though.

And now, with last December’s announcement of a probable Vine 2.0, there’s more incentive than ever to “get down with the kids” and watch something that really “butters your eggroll.”

I am sorry in advance.

Like I said, this isn’t really a new development. I think it’s mostly been on my mind because I’ve realized over the past few months that this isn’t one of my weirdo obsessions like watching foreign TV shows or framing memes within the context of art history.

This short-form and vine renaissance is actually pretty normalized.

Now, there is no shortage of content when it comes to the dissection of short-form entertainment. Most people are familiar with Ernest Hemingway’s famous six-word story:

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

Never mind that there are dozens of ways to interpret it, because every version still tells a story. And that’s the point! Telling stories! In unique ways!

When I was taking classes for my journalism degree, it was common for the first sentence of an article(aka the lede) to be less than twenty words, often less than ten. It saved time, saved space, and helped develop my concept of “tight writing,” for whatever that’s worth. The goal is simple: give your audience what they need to know so they can read as little as possible.

Of course, this isn’t limited just to writing. Saturday Night Live has cornered the television circuit of quick comedy for decades with their pop culture vignettes. Other shows like millennial favorite Portlandia built on this platform(there’s a reason it stars SNL alums) have shared in its success.

YouTube elevated the idea of short-form comedy even further with the birth of the viral video. Short, snappy, and infinitely shareable: the telltale hallmarks of an instant hit.

Which, of course, leads us back to Vine.

One of the worst(and possibly least #relatable) feelings of the modern world begins with showing a close friend an entertaining video. You spend the first thirty seconds waiting for the content to REALLY start. Then you spend the next thirty staring at your friend’s face, waiting for them to laugh. By the time that the video is halfway over, you’ve lost all hope of their respect for your sense of humor.

Or at least, that’s what your anxiety is telling you.

One of my favorite things about vines is how it whisks most of their insecurities away. It’s only six seconds! A tenth of a minute! Virtually no time is wasted(unless you get on a roll, in which case, revisit scenario outlined about 500 words above).

Take, for example, one of my all-time favorite vines from Drew Gooden:

Please tell me you laughed.

Like most jokes, there are several layers as to why I, at least, find this funny. First, the fact that it’s infinitely relatable and repeatable. As a Michigan resident, I am quite familiar with road construction season, and I see these signs everywhere. Second, the ignorant indignation of the character speaking never fails to make me smile. Even the weird camera angle(which was probably more accidental than anything), suggests that this driver is missing the point.

And here’s the place in the conversation where usually somebody(probably from an older generation) who points out that entertainment today is all about instant gratification. There’s no wait, no build-up, no payoff. People want to laugh, and people want it now. Where’s the expectation in something like that?

To which I shrug and say: meh. There’s nothing particular noble in longer artforms like the 27 hours of Gone with the Wind; just because you’re patient doesn’t mean you’re longsuffering. I will say there is a certain elegance to that style of storytelling, but that as in the era of the Iliad and the Odyssey, those elements are tried and true. Short-form storytelling is where the innovation is occurring, at least for right now.

So as for Vine 2.0, who knows what to expect? There’s no guarantee it will live up to the legacy of its predecessor, whether in name or in deed. What is certain?

I’m gonna go watch some more Vine compilations. Like this one. And this one.

You’re welcome.