April 27, 2011

For Those in Hogwarts Withdrawal

I just finished reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman, and wanted to share my thoughts. The book's plot draws on both Harry Potter and the Narnia series, but thrusts these recognizable memes into a far more gritty and unforgiving environment. 

Quentin, a Brooklyn high schooler, is on his way to an interview that he hopes will help him get into an Ivy League school. Things don't go as planned, as instead, Quentin discovers a dead body waiting for him. Quicker than you can say Gryffindor, he is magically transported to Brakebills, a college that he never even knew existed. 

However, although this school teaches that magic is definitely not PG-13 -- and the extra-curricular activities that go on when class in not in session would make most people turn a shade of red brighter than a Weasley's head of hair -- as time goes by, Quentin and his schoolmates learn that though magic can do many things, it cannot provide happiness or a purpose in life. 

Searching for some sort of "quest" to occupy their time, they make another shocking discovery -- that the mythical land of Fillory, which most of them read about in books as children, is in fact a real place. However, their eventual journey there once again shows that the sugar-coated stories told to children often gloss over some deeper, darker, painful truths. 

This is not a fantasy novel full of precocious children, benevolent elderly wizards and cute, cuddly talking animals. While there are moments of humor throughout the novel, at its core, this is a harsh and sometimes depressing spin on what it means to leave childhood behind -- and the overwhelming cost of trying to hang on to that innocence when it comes your time to finally grow up.

Some people may not like how this book -- the first part of a planned trilogy -- ends, but if you're willing to rid yourself of those "everybody lives happily ever after" endings you were constantly exposed to as a kid, you may find the journey through its pages are more than worth the effort. 

April 26, 2011

How Can I Spoil Something That's Already Bad?

Who killed Scream 4? It was Kruger!
Let me preface this by saying I am a big fan of the original movie Scream. Coming at time when nobody else had thought to write a horror movie script where the characters had actually ever seen a horror movie themselves, the screenplay was clever, refreshing and exciting. 

Not only that, but adding the icing on the cake was the fact that the killer was not a mindless killing automaton whose only rationale for slicing and dicing the cast was explained away as "pure evil" as was the norm at the time. In Scream, the killer was quite human and could be killed himself -- actually, themselves. Yes, the savory cherry on top was the twist that there were two killers working together, and not two. Again, at the time, that had rarely, if at all, been done before.

Now, I just saw Scream 4, and it was a huge disappointment -- not because it failed to recapture the magic of the original, but that it came so close to doing so before falling woefully short. Spoilers ahead, so if you don't want to know, stop reading.

There were really only two possible ways for this new movie to have lived up to the original's audacity, in my humble opinion. One would have been to have the three surviving cast members from the original films die. The other, to have one (or more of them) be the killers. Sadly, neither of these options happened -- although it appears that fault may not lie with screenwriter Kevin Williamson. 

I don't know what his original script looked like, but I do know that they brought in Ehren Kruger -- the auteur who penned the weakest member of the original trilogy, Scream 3 -- to do extensive rewrites, most notably to "fix" the ending. After seeing the result, it's clear to me that this turned the plot into a incomprehensible nightmare.

Actually, I look more like the younger Salinger sister...
The film clearly wanted to end with Sydney's death at the hand of her cousin, Jill. That final tableau had been foreshadowed throughout the movie and when it finally happened, it seemed  "right" to end that way. Now, having the killer actually survive the movie would be a huge twist -- and a divergence from the end of all three previous films -- plus, using the media's reaction to Jill's survival, calling her a "hero" with zero actual investigative reporting or fact-checking, would have been a perfect commentary on today's society.  

Unfortunately, that's not how it ends. No, instead we are treated to an implausible, hack job of an ending where Jill attacks Sydney -- who miraculously survived the stabbings -- in a somehow completely vacant wing of the local hospital. Jill subdues Dewey with a *sigh* bedpan, and holds Gayle at gunpoint until the killer is finally defeated by our eternal hero, Sydney -- just as Neve Campbell's character did in each of the first three movies.

Not only is this a preposterous scene, seemingly written just so Syd can fire off the clever bon mot, "Don't &%#$ with the original" but it also completely renders moot the social commentary that preceded it. 

Hold on, folks. I'm just an actor... I didn't write this crap.
I would have been willing to overlook the stupidity of some of the characters who died in this film, like the agent who gets out of her car in a failed effort to reach the stairwell to freedom in the deserted parking garage even though she has a working cell phone and could easily have dialed 9-1-1 from the safety of her locked vehicle. 

I would have excused the pathetic decision to have Anthony Anderson's cop character get stabbed in the head, piercing his brain, which should have caused him to die instantly, instead resulting in his slowly getting out of his car, blindly throwing punches at the air and ultimately firing off an unfunny one-liner before dropping dead. 

Whatever this film could have been it clearly changed once Kruger got his knife-like talons into the re-writing process, and that's a shame because even though Sydney survived in this version of the script, the franchise -- at least as far as I am concerned -- no longer has a pulse. 

April 20, 2011

Entertaining Enough

Tough Enough has always been one of my favorite reality shows, and the "new and improved" version is even better than ever. Even if you have no interest in professional wrestling, the show rises well above the standard reality fare out there.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, at the simplest level, it's merely American Idol for aspiring professional wrestlers. A bunch of wannabes try to show that they have the talent and personality necessary to be a WWE Superstar, enduring weekly challenges and trying their best to avoid elimination. 

There's nothing new here in theory, but the difference (apart from the fact that Idol contestants rarely face the possibility of getting crushed by an angry 300-pound Bill DeMott if they mess up) is the fact that the mentors and judges actually care about who wins in a way that no other reality show's decision-makers do. 

Whoever wins this show's top prize will be their newest co-worker. If they choose the wrong person, forget about their "reputation" as a talent evaluator being tarnished -- their own earning potential may be hurt.  

What? No, Donald... YOU'RE fired!!! 
Whereas Donald Trump questions potential "apprenti" from across a boardroom table, and seems to eliminate someone on the merest whim, when Stone Cold Steve Austin does it, he clearly spells out what each individual's mistakes have been, and should they not show the appropriate remorse or give the slightest indication that they aren't taking this whole affair as seriously as he does -- because it's not a "show" to him, it's his passion and his way of life -- then they are toast, potential be damned. 

Plus, as Austin paces back and forth in a wrestling ring in front of his three potential victims, there's a sense that at any moment the wrong answer to a question will cause him to physically lash out -- and the contestants feel it too. That brings a level of reality to the affair that no other show can match.

April 15, 2011

America Is Not Wrong, Dawg!

It wasn't your best for you for me, yo yo yo!
Here's where I am fed up with American Idol...

It's not the constant praise that the judges heap on the incredible lack of talent that takes their stage weekly and forever ruins some otherwise enjoyable songs. 

Nor is it the hypocrisy of their getting so worked up about the "shocking elimination" of Pia that they threaten to commit hari-kiri on the spot, then follow it up by barely registering interest the next week when Paul, who they've been equally complimentary of, gets the boot.

No, what steams me is the finger of blame pointed at the audience: "America, you got it wrong!" "This is who you voted to be in your bottom three, America."

I could care less who wins or loses this show, but I do take umbrage at the lack of "up-front-iness" about the process. Nobody ever gets voted off the show. America never chooses who goes home. That's not how the show's voting process works. 

People call in and cast a vote FOR their favorite contestant. While some people might spread those votes amongst several candidates, the vast majority are simply going to call in and call often for their No. 1 choice to win. 

It is quite possible that, if asked, everyone who voted the week Pia was eliminated thought she was second or third-best overall. They might all have thought that Stefano or Paul or Jacob was the absolute worst. But those guys also each had their own core of fans voting to keep them safe. 

So it really shouldn't be that surprising when someone that everyone watching thinks should finish no worse than fourth or fifth suddenly goes home in ninth because nobody wants them to win the whole thing. In fact, I'd be shocked if we had a season where that didn't happen.

And yes, the reason the process won't change is because the controversial bootings are good for ratings and generating a buzz for the show. I just wish that when they inevitably take place, the show's judges didn't start pointing the finger at viewers, because that starts people thinking there are conspiracies and hidden agendas at work. 

America can't conspire to vote anyone out of this competition. The process won't let them. So, no Ryan, this is not the "bottom three we voted for" but rather, those five singers sitting safely on the couch are the "top five we like best." There is a big difference.

Pray for education, J-Lo

April 14, 2011

And Then There Were Two...

We're losing another choice today from the hunt for the true identity of Marty the Fishboy. Sadly, for those of you who selected the option -- The lead singer of an indie pop band from Texas -- you are wrong.

Eric Michener is the lead singer of the band, Fishboy, from Denton, Texas. Along with his buddies Sweatpants, Sixlets and Medicine Ball, the group has developed a bit of a cult following. However, no Marty is in sight on the program when this band hits the stage.

When will we know if Marty is actually a kid's show sidekick or if I simply made the whole thing up? Soon, dear readers, soon.

April 12, 2011

Time to Winnow Down

Our quest to discover the true identity of Marty the Fishboy takes another step forward today, as we eliminate one more of our multiple choice options... He is NOT a genetically mutated parasite who was born in the aftermath of Chernobyl. That would be this fine fellow:

Run for it, Marty!
This is the Flukeman, a "monster of the week" from a 1994 episode of The X-Files who was created from Russian radioactive sewage and ends up terrorizing the citizens of Newark, New Jersey after taking up residence in the city's sewer system. 

He kind of looks like a combo mummy-worm beast, and in the end, although he is ultimately sliced in two by Fox Mulder, regeneration allows him to live on past the closing credits. However, as a possible answer to our question? That ship has sailed.

The truth is still out there folks... and all will soon be revealed. Stay tuned...

April 6, 2011

This Guess Was a Double-Fault

That's M-A-R-D-Y.
Who is Marty the Fishboy?

Did you select A: a professional tennis player about to break into the Top 10? 

If so, I'm sorry to tell you that you are incorrect! 

Although American Mardy (with a D) Fish has an Olympic silver medal and is sometimes called "The Fishmonger" or "The Fisherman" -- "The Fishboy" is not one of his usual appellations. In the latest world rankings, Fish has risen to No. 11. 

Of course, men's tennis has lost a bit of its luster from the days of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors -- the biggest controversy, it seems, with Mardy Fish is that he recently started wearing longer socks... the horror! -- so Fish is hardly a household name. 

In fact, you've probably seen more of his wife on your TV screen, as she was the keeper of "Suitcase No. 2" on Deal or No Deal.

One choice down... still no deal! 

More to come...

April 4, 2011

Multiple Choice

Who is Marty the Fishboy? All will be explained soon. But until then, why not take a stab at it? 

Marty the Fishboy is:
  • A) A professional tennis player about to break into the Top 10.
  • B) A costumed sidekick on a low-budget local-television kid's show.
  • C) The lead singer of an indie pop band from Texas.
  • D) A genetically mutated parasite who was born in the aftermath of Chernobyl.
  • E) You aren't fooling me, AJ -- it's none of the above.
Feel free to scroll down and vote in the survey below if you'd care to put your guess on record. 

All will be eventually be revealed...