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Royals Rumblings - News for January 21, 2022

MLB Owners Lockout: Day 50*

Baltimore Orioles v Kansas City Royals
I looked up “Royals” and “sunglasses” and this was one of my pics. It’s Salvy so it’s bound to be good.
Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

Boy am I glad for Craig, or else we probably wouldn’t have a lead story today. Though... I do have a bone to pick with him and it’s about that asterisk on the subtitle. This was from yesterday:

Today is the 48th day of the lockout.

So that would make today the 49th day. Only, I was at 51 by my count. So I had to go and look where we were off. I went to wikipedia to get the official date of the lockout. I had it as December 1st as the previous CBA was set to expire at 11:59pm on that date. However, technically, it didn’t start until 12:01am on December 2nd. Can you imagine the madness and anarchy that went on from 11:59-12:01? If Carlos Correa had signed for $300M at that exact moment, would the Yankees have had to pay luxury tax on it?

So, I see where I was off by a day. That would have made it Day 50... not day 49. Ah, so here’s where he’s getting it:

(I wouldn’t be aware of the exact length of this, except for the hero on Reddit who is offering a drawing of Mike Trout every day until the lockout is over.)

If you check out reddit, u/DidItForTheStory’s daily art has been making the front page just about every day for the last month. It’s good stuff. Everything from fine art to movie references to music to, sigh, this. However, it appears he did not do a post for the first day of the lockout. His first post was actually on December 4th. So, c’mon, Craig, fix this. Everyone’s going to have the date wrong because we all know they’re going to trust your numbers more than mine, as well they should.

In yesterday’s newsletter, he wrote about the lockout, prospect rankings, and public HOF ballots. But I think this is the real takeaway:

Finally, this week the newsletter turns a year old. I had no clue what I was starting last January, but it’s been incredibly fulfilling. It’s good to have my own corner of the internet once again where I can write exclusively about the Royals. Thank you for the subscriptions, the likes, the comments and the emails. And most of all, thank you for your continued support.

Congrats and continued success, Craig!

(now go fix that date)

This may be a day old, but Alec Lewis wrote about the Royals adding Roy Clark:

Want to hear some MJ Melendez?

Over at Kings of Kauffman, Batoul Hammoud talks about some Royals superstitions:

According to the Associated Press via ESPN, Escobar once put perfume on Perez, who proceeded to have a 4-hit game, prompting KC’s catcher to keep using it. His sweet smell was noticed by others, such as when Miguel Cabrera of the Tiger asked where he could obtain Perez’s perfume.

...and that’s all the new Royals stories for today.

Quite a bit of MLB news to chew on, though.

On Monday, the MLBPA is expected to counter MLB’s (lackluster) proposal from last week.

The players’ association asked Major League Baseball on Thursday to schedule the negotiating session, which is to take place in-person, sources said. This would be the second meeting between the sides since MLB locked out players on Dec. 2. The meeting would come 11 days after clubs gave the union a proposal.

Still not a lot of optimism:

Meanwhile, MLB was busy with other things yesterday. Robot umps are in AAA for 2022. Hopefully they will come to MLB soon. Though I have to suspect MLB owners want to square away this labor fight before getting into one with the umpire union.

Robot umpires have been given a promotion and will be just one step from the major leagues this season. Major League Baseball is expanding its automated strike zone experiment to Triple-A, the highest level of the minor leagues.

MLB’s website posted a hiring notice seeking seasonal employees to operate the Automated Ball and Strike system. MLB said it is recruiting employees to operate the system for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Charlotte Knights, El Paso Chihuahuas, Las Vegas Aviators, Oklahoma City Dodgers, Reno Aces, Round Rock Express, Sacramento River Cats, Salt Lake Bees, Sugar Land Skeeters and Tacoma Rainiers.

Remember that Tampa/Montreal plan that’s been floating around for a couple of years? Basically, Rays ownership wanted to play half their games in Montreal and half in Tampa. We all had a good laugh about it but they just kept plugging along. Well, yesterday, MLB “blindsided” them and told them to knock it off. As I commented yesterday in Rumblings: “It was always a transparently stupid plan to try and bilk either market out of more stadium money. What I don’t get is why Manfred put the kibosh on it.” I’m sure there’s a story behind a story here and we’ll read about it in some long form story from whatever is the metaverse equivalent of The Athletic in 2050.

Time for some more movie reviews. We’ll keep this one simple - hitting up the Matrix franchise as we re-watched them prior to watching Matrix:Resurrections on HBO Max (FYI: today is the last day to stream it before it leaves HBO Max as part of their streaming agreement with Warner Brothers). As it just came out, I’m trying to avoid spoilers from Resurrections (except for one minor part that’s obviously marked), but if you haven’t seen the other three by now, well, that’s on you.

The Matrix (1999)

The original is a classic and I’m not sure what else I can add but I’ll try. It’s one of the best science fiction movies of all time and won 4 Oscars. The idea that we are not living in reality is as old as the “Allegory of the Cave” but it brought the modern version of living inside a computer simulation to the masses. It even mixes in some Philosophy 101. The characters are archetype creating: Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, Smith. You see those names and you have a picture in your head. They also all have good onscreen chemistry together.

The plot is original yet contains many classic elements from Neo’s path of the hero spread out across 3 acts to religious allegory to hardcore science fiction. Its action sequences are some of the best ever put to film, including the first blockbuster with “bullet time” special effects. I particularly loved the deliberate wire-fu choreography from these movies - the film slowed down so you could see the beautiful action. It was so much better than the chaotic, ugly herky-jerky style the would follow, later in the decade. It’s also a sensory treat for the ears as two of the Oscars are for Best Sound and Best Sound Editing. Don Davis’s score is memorable.

Every time I hear the familiar opening sting and see the green filter on the WB logo, it precedes a tremendous movie watching experience. It’s a truly great movie.

The Animatrix (2003)

For those who don’t remember, this was a set of nine animated shorts released just prior to the sequels. The idea was to do some world building and hype building for the upcoming sequels. It’s a mixed bag but there are positives from all of them. For instance, the first, Final Flight of the Osiris is a beautifully rendered CGI movie from Square and the events are referenced both in Reloaded and Enter the Matrix. The Second Renaissance (Parts I and II) tell the history of the Matrix world from the dawn of AI to the creation of the first Matrix. Others contain the backstory of the Kid, a noir mystery, an athlete whose extreme burst of athleticism wakes him from his pod, and an Aeon Flux-styled story from Aeon Flux creator Peter Chung. But for me, my favorite is an innocuous little one called Beyond. A teenage girl loses her cat and follows some young boys to a “haunted” house. Only, of course, true to franchise lore, it’s not haunted but a glitch in the Matrix. There, she and the boys play with zero gravity, fake shadows, random wind, things that break backwards, and more. In a way that only children can, they find wonderment and magic in that which would be scary to adults (at least until the Agents come and fix the glitch). On the whole, there’s more good than bad and it’s worth a watch between The Matrix and Reloaded.

Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Now we get to the much maligned sequels. Nothing was going to live up to the hype proceeding these movies but I think Reloaded gets a bit more of a bad rap than it should. While I readily acknowledge the first is the best, this is actually my favorite. The freeway chase is still one of the greatest action sequence of all time - it’s a beautiful, brilliant, crecendo’ing adrenaline ride. Whenever I get a new TV or optical disc player (which, admittedly, isn’t that often) - this is my go to test to make sure everything is working. The Burly Brawl, before it gets a little silly, is a brilliant fight scene from Smith’s monologuing (re-)introduction to the great slow motion melee to Neo’s harrowing escape, never mind the shock of Smith trying to take over Neo to the dawning realization that Smith is taking over the Matrix. Even the fight in the Merovingian’s chateau could pass for a climactic action sequence in many movies, but here it’s a distant third.

I think what is most suffers from is the quick turnaround time, which meant not as much time in front of an editor and pacing issues. There are also some really odd missteps like, say, the awful green screening of Morpheus in the temple followed by the dance scene going on way too long followed by Neo’s ponderous scene with Hamann in the machine level. It’s not that they’re bad scenes, but they’re overlong and shouldn’t be bunched together as they kill the momentum built in the first 15 minutes of the movie. And then there’s the Architect scene, which has been litigated over and over in movie review and pop culture circles. Honestly, I like it now but I remember it being jarring, at first. Also, I think some viewers were looking for a 200-level Philosophy course to build off of the last movie and I think that’s unrealistic in a major blockbuster with more story to tell.

When Matrix: Reloaded is at its best, which is about 2/3rds of the movie, it’s as strong as the first and a worthy sequel. It builds the universe the way a sequel is supposed to, adding the Merovingian and Persephone, the Twins, Niobe, Lock, the Keymaker, Seraph, Zion, the Architect, the Source, and more. The stakes are raised and our two main characters develop further, though not as much in the original. But there are other times that the pacing is off, the feel is off, and it just feels a little unwieldy.

As an aside, I remember watching this one with friends in the big AMC in Olathe on opening night. As we drove back to Lawrence, a couple of us talked about how we expected to see agents take over the other drivers - it was an immersive experience that captured the imagination nearly as much as the first.

Matrix Revolutions (2003)

To say Revolutions is a bit more maligned is probably an understatement. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movies rate 88, 73, and 35. I think that’s overly harsh for Revolutions but there’s clearly a bigger drop between the second and third movie (FYI: Resurrections is 62). I really appreciate the ambition of filming both sequels back to back. And, at best, it’s an ending that finishes off most of the plots left from the previous two movies, albeit imperfectly. At worst, it’s a letdown, even beyond expectation gap issues.

If Reloaded is injured from the fast turnaround time and lack of editing, Revolutions may be fatally wounded by it. There is little new philosophy that wasn’t explored in the first two movies. It’s a slave to the plot, at the expense of the characters, but a plot that plods along. The first act is mostly pointless, if you think too long about it, and Neo in a coma and his abilities outside the Matrix are never adequately explained*. A lot of the fun is just drained out as the stakes rise. Gone are the beautiful action sequences in the Matrix, replaced by the drabness of Zion and the “real world”. The Zion battle scenes look fine, at first, but then they drag. It’s bloated with scenes about a number of supporting characters that we’re supposed to care about, but they weren’t given adequate screen time previously for the audience to really care about them.

That’s not to say it’s not without its charms. The Machine City is awe-inspiring, the scene above the clouds is nice even if it ends stupidly (Trinity’s awful death scene), and Neodammerung rocks. Smith building his power until he’s taking over the entire Matrix is suitably suspenseful and the scene with him, Seraph, Sati, and the Oracle is chilling. The climactic fight scene between Neo and Oracle Smith is what a live action Dragon Ball Z should look like.

Even with the most positive reading, it’s more of a mixed bag that the previous two entries and that’s unfortunate. It’s did end the plot, but in a more unsatisfying than we could have hoped for.

*to the point where there are still a couple of major prevailing theories about it to this day: touching the source gave Neo powers in the real world vs it’s still all a simulation

Matrix Resurrections (2021)

I think the origin of this movie is interesting and plays into what we see on screen. Per wiki: “As explained by Lana Wachowski during the Berlin International Literature Festival 2021, Warner Bros. constantly approached the Wachowskis every year to make another Matrix sequel, but the Wachowskis always declined the offers out of a lack of interest and because of their feelings that the trilogy’s story had concluded. However, in 2019, Ron and Lynne Wachowski, the Wachowskis’ parents, passed away alongside a close friend of Lana’s, with her father passing away first, her friend second and her mother third. After not being able to process that kind of grief, Lana suddenly conceived the story of The Matrix Resurrections one sleepless night. In her words, Wachowski felt that while she could not have her parents back, she then could have Neo and Trinity back, feeling very comforted to see them alive again.”

My first impression as the credits rolled was that I was sad it wasn’t the start of a new trilogy. It does a nice job of bringing you back into the universe in a way that’s consistent in the world, if you buy the basic conceit, which I did. I’m not sure where they would have gone for 2 more movies, but I would have been curious to find out. I’m going to start with the bad and work my way back to the good. It’s going to look like there’s more bad than good but I just can’t speak to a lot of the good without spoiling things.

It suffered from a couple of modern movie conventions. First, it was too quick to lay down a light MCU-style joke at a time the script wasn’t calling for it. The whole programmer brainstorming session, while filled with biting satire of creative industries and probably quite cathartic to those who work in the industry, just drags the plot. Second, it was big on laying out a few too many Chekhov guns on the screen and having you try to guess which one was going to go off. That style was really popularized by Lost (among others) and fits a number of franchises. However, the Matrix franchise was really straightforward, going from point A to point B, plot-wise, even if you didn’t know exactly where B was going to be. It was not a series that trafficked in red herrings and false leads (Neo outside the Matrix at the end of Reloaded, aside). Because of this shell game, some of the plot felt a little cute and a little cheap, at times.

Also, the movie lacks some of the experts it had in the original trilogy. They missed Yuen Woo-ping (retired) as fight choreographer, Bill Pope as cinematographer (he’s now doing MCU), and Don Davis as composer (couldn’t find online why he wasn’t back). These items are all a bit disappointing, which is a shame considering the series is known for its great visuals and music. In movie terms, $190M now is a lot less than $150M in 2003, but the effects looked worse than any other movie in the trilogy. It reminded me a bit of the similarly budgeted Aquaman where some effects looked great while others looked like they ran out of money and farmed it out to a cheap company that’s not very good. Lastly, I wonder what was lost with only having Lana working on this as Lilly was busy with other projects.

That said, I think the wiki noted I started with above explains why there’s a heart and earnestness that pervades the whole movie. Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss still have their onscreen chemistry, even as they are apart for much of the film. The movie really wants to be real and make magic. There were a ton of wonderful homages they felt original in presentation, both creative comfort food but also unique in their own way.

There’s just enough exposition but not enough to slow the movie down much. (minor spoiler) Just to give a sample, Reeves starts the movie as Thomas Anderson and you think “we’ve already seen this before”. However, now he’s a video game designer, famous for having made The Matrix video game and viewers are caught back up to speed with clips of the previous movies. These layers of metafiction gets you questioning what is real and what is not, unsure of how it is going to play out. The new Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is good, the new Smith (Jonathan Groff) is less so, and Neil Patrick Harris is perfect for his role. (/end spoiler) It lacks the philosophical heft of its predecessors but replaces that with scathing satire about people not believing what is real in the modern world, which, unfortunately, is both timely and relevant.

It feels like The Force Awakens, if Disney hadn’t taken over Star Wars, bringing their full resources to bear on things like best in class sound and effects (which seems strange given the pedigree of the series). Despite that, you get familiar, beloved characters refreshing their old story while putting a new twist on it. Also, it’s just, generally, fun. I kept waiting for the shoe to drop, for the movie to make some big misstep to justify some of the dislike I’d seen online for it and it never did, for me. It’s rough around the edges, but it’s closer to Reloaded than Revolutions, provided you can get past the fact that it’s a franchise that hasn’t had a new movie in 20 years and your memories of the old aren’t calcified so as to not accept anything new.

For the third week in a row, we’re looking back at the sixth generation. Anyone ever play Enter the Matrix?

I’m pretty sure I have a copy upstairs but I never played it. It sold well but had pretty bad reviews, especially for how much it sold and the budget it had. I appreciated the idea of integrating your franchise across media in the way that the Wachowski’s did, both with the Animatrix and with a AAA video game. It felt more artistic, a way to expand the world, rather than just a pure money grab. From wiki:

Enter the Matrix was designed, like the 2003 animated film The Animatrix, to be an integral part of the Matrix milieu. The game includes one hour of live action 35 mm film footage written and directed specifically for the game by The Wachowskis. The martial arts moves and game engine cutscenes feature actions motion captured directly from the films’ actors and stunt doubles to recreate their unique fighting style, and were created under the supervision of the series’ fight scene choreographer Yuen Woo-ping.

The player learns that Neo is not the only target of Persephone’s predilection for trading kisses for esoteric information; Niobe and Ghost are both put into positions where they must submit to her whims in order to gain critical information. Significant also to the continuity of the Matrix universe is the first appearance of actress Mary Alice in the role of the Oracle. Gloria Foster, the original actress, had died of complications related to diabetes early in the production of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. She had filmed her scenes for Reloaded, but was yet to complete her work on Revolutions. The game includes a sequence specifically explaining her change of appearance, as a result of an attack on her by the Merovingian. The Merovingian’s attack was facilitated by a sacrificial trade with the compassionate program Rama-Kandra. The Merovingian acquired the deletion codes for the Oracle’s external “shell”, and in exchange, he gave Rama-Kandra’s daughter, Sati, her freedom, despite her lack of purpose in the machine world. The Oracle foretells, however, that Sati will play an important role in both the Matrix and the real world.

Below is a longplay that took 6 hours and change to complete. The cutscenes look good with scenes mixed in from Reloaded and, as mentioned above, there’s a lot of backstory. The gameplay, well, I understand some of the review scores. There are parts of the game that look and feel on par with Goldeneye, a game 6 years and a generation prior. I think you’re meant to act out the movie and the game is more of an afterthought. That was a popular video game “problem” that started around that time, as technology allowed, and still continues into today.