Friday, June 10, 2016

J.K. Rowling is Better than Shakespeare

Where the Red Fern Grows (cover)Tell me if you’ve ever read these stories before:

– A young male sociopath disapproves of everyone and everything around him, including any of his romantic interests. He changes nothing, learns nothing, and leaves.

– It’s the olden days, and terrible things are happening to good people. Terrible things continue to happen for 200 – 400 pages. Despite all this tragedy, there is little to no story, and no character development. Everyone is either 100% good or 100% bad, from start to finish. In the end, things either get marginally better, or they don’t.

– Wow, what a great dog! Whoops, he’s dead. (Or every character besides the dog is dead.)

– A metaphor commits a metaphor to another metaphor. Everyone is sad.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you? If you went to high school in America, I bet the answer is a big yes. In fact, I bet these few plots encompass around 90% of everything you and I were both forced to read in English class while growing up.


The Great Gatsby (cover) 


I loved reading, but I merely tolerated the classics. What I really loved were fantasy and sci-fi stories.  Not just the newer variety either. I remember reading Beowulf before I was in my teens, and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld completely took over my life during my early to mid-20s. I won’t lie, fantasy and sci-fi is definitely hit or miss, just like any genre. However, even in the worst cases, I almost always loved the characters. They grew, they learned, and they had…well, character.

This really matters to me, because I just re-read The Great Gatsby, which I remember slightly enjoying during my teens. Know what I found? Some admittedly good writing, coupled with ridiculously ham-fisted symbolism (really? the huge pair of eyes on the billboard represent God looking at us? are you sure that’s SUBTLE enough?!), and absolutely NO character depth or growth whatsoever. Not even from our main character, who remains morally indignant from start to finish.

“I constantly disapprove of everything you people stand for, but I’ll still hang out with you all, eat your food, drink your booze, generally mooch off you in every way, and date within the group!”

Just repeat the above until Gatsby’s dead.

Listen, I’m all for supporting good literature, but it’s not the wordiness or length of these “classics” that put people off. It’s their DULL, unlikeable characters. Wordiness and length didn’t keep kids from reading Harry Potter, did it?

The Fellowship of the Ring (cover) 

We really need to expand our horizons and incorporate some more fantasy and sci-fi into our kids’ reading. Not only does it expand their imaginations, and introduce memorable characters and journeys, but so many of them are well written too. Here are some humble suggestions:

– Instead of The Great Gatsby or Of Mice and Men, why not The Lord of the Rings for your tale of corruption, greed, and pride?

– Instead of Charles Dickens, why not try Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett for your incredibly entertaining and well written English authors?

– Political satire that’s no longer relevant, because the government they’re making fun of no longer exists? How about Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series instead? I recently re-read it, and it still blows me away. Forget lampooning specific countries, this series suggests that ALL governments inevitably collapse (or completely transform) every hundred years or so. Top that, Orwell!

– A young person grows up during the 1800s-early 1900s? Unless they wind up in Oz, Narnia, or Wonderland, I really don’t care.

Old Man in the Sea? Give that sailor a Nautilus!


20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (cover)


Lord of the Flies? Instead, why not read…actually, I liked that one. I remember reading it in high school and thinking: Yup, that’s how it’d go down. “Hello, my name is Max, and I have the Conch…” THUD! SPLAT!
 
And finally, yes, J. K. Rowling is better than Shakespeare. Sure, the bard had a hell of a way with words, but he had no idea how to develop characters. Unless they go insane or die prematurely, you can be sure every character in his plays are going to stay exactly the same from start to finish, with nothing all that unexpected in the middle.


The only Bard I want to read about, uses a bow and arrow to kill a dragon.


(See the article here, on Fantasy-Faction.com: article)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

We Don't Care that "Die Hard" is Your Favorite Christmas Movie



We Don't Care that Die Hard is Your Favorite Christmas Movie


Sorry geeks, the joke's gotten old.  Yes, Gremlins and Lethal Weapon take place on Christmas too, and we don't care.

Sorry.


Not 'Sorry as Santa should be for ostracizing Rudolph', but sorry nonetheless


What we need are a new group of anti-holiday movies.  Not ones that seek to destroy the holiday spirit, mind you, as it is my favorite holiday...




That song now in your head? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARq6uYSsUq0


Anyway, we need movies tangentially connected to the holidays in some way, but are nonetheless NOT holiday movies at all. 

I was watching the Home Alone series with my niece when a couple thoughts came to me:

1. Kevin McCallister is a stone cold sociopath.



Just look at Kevin's expression.  His dead-eyed euphoria....


2. I wondered: "What else was playing at the theaters when this came out?"

Although the second Home Alone didn't do much besides move to New York City and double the torture, the first is a holiday staple, and the number 1 movie of the year. 

So what went up against it?  Of all those movies, which of them is the 'least' in the spirit of the holidays, but one that you can proudly claim as a 'holiday movie', having come out in the season, the same year as this holiday classic?  In the case of Home Alone 1, the answer is....





It's the far future (I'm going to assume it's also Christmas), and war has been replaced with giant robot fights between opposing nations.



There is NOTHING in that last sentence that doesn't make me aroused.


And then you discover the special effects are TERRIBLE.  It's not that they cheaped out or anything, as the movie cost $10 million, and that's 1990 dollars, but good lord is the action goofy...









Did I mention they were serious?  That's right, this isn't a dumb kids movie or brainless action flick, no this movie tackles heavy issues like geopolitics, treason, the dangers of a nuclear arms race, and illiteracy.

Yes, you read that last word right.

What makes this U.S. vs Soviet superpower plot even more awkward, as some of you history conscious readers out there probably noticed, is that this movie came out the year after the Berlin Wall fell, meaning they made it with the intention of hooking onto the 'Rocky 4' spirit, when suddenly the real life villain disappeared, and the movie suddenly feels more like an AU story.

Still, it ends on a positive note, with our hero and opponent reaching a peaceful ending, giving us Science Fiction's first recorded fist-bump.




So how does this stand up as holiday movie?  Well, definitely more peacefully than Kevin McCallister's reign of terror.

On one hand we have 'the importance of home and family', and on the other hand we have 'WE ARE ROBOT JOX! WE CAN LIVE!'.

Yeah, gonna call this one a tie.

...



Now, Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my all time favorite holiday movies, and possibly my favorite versions of the Christmas Carol overall.



What of it, Alastair?  What you gonna do about it?


I've ranted on it before, but Gonzo/Rizzo together is comedy gold.



And adorable together, if you ask me.


This, coupled with Muppet insanity and a surprisingly serious (and amazing) performance from Michael Caine.  Overall, it's one of my favorite movies.



WATCH THE EXTENDED EDITION.  Theatrical edition cuts out this song (and thus has no soul)



But if you're not in the mood for the Muppets, you could instead take your family to see the holiday season classic that played in theaters at the same time....





Okay, now things get a little awkward.  

In all seriousness, I don't have too much to say, because it is a very good movie.  Granted, the plot's a little thin, but the performances are amazing!

It's just that people tend to remember only it's 'secret'...



SPOILER: "That frog's f*cked."


...and not that 2/3 of it is actually about the IRA, the kidnapping of an English soldier, and our hero been forced into an assassination plot of a judge.



And a cautionary tale regarding the dangers of picking up Hitch-hikers.


Still, not 'exactly' a holiday film.  So how does it measure up as a holiday movie?

Gotta go with Muppets on this one.



They're the cuter couple.


Besides, I can't help but choose the Muppets movie.  Want to know why?




I'm a frog.  It's just in my nature.

...

(More anti-holiday movies to come!)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Very Well....I know who did it. (Clue, 1985)



I bet you're wondering why I gathered you all here, into the study. It is to reveal...the murderer!

But first, a bit of backstory:


In the year 1985, my favorite movie of all time “Clue” came out in theaters, and bombed.  


Not only were elegant comedy-mysteries out of fashion, but audiences weren’t quite sure what to make of a movie with multiple, random endings.  




They were 23 years too early...



Coincidentally, it came out on video back when VHS tapes were usually very expensive, but since it bombed, they released Clue at a relatively low cost.  It was one of the first movies released on VHS at a bargain price, so everyone bought a copy, most were pleasantly surprised, and Clue became VHS’s first cult movie.




Resulting in awesome cosplay.



From the moment I first saw it, I adored the zany slapstick and witty banter, and as I got older I enjoyed more and  more of the intelligent, dark humor that all went over my head as a child.




Also, Yvette got more interesting after I reached puberty.



My tastes and favorite movies have wildly fluxuated over time, with only two exceptions: Batman (in general), and the movie Clue (specifically).




Okay, and Star Wars.






AND fighting Robots. FINE.




Of course I’m not alone in loving Clue, as the movie has nothing short of a ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ level of fan obsession surrounding it (Tim Curry strikes again), and yet despite all the love for the movie online, there really isn’t much disagreement over the continuity or plausibility of the events of the film, or any online noteworthy articles written about the movie.


So this is where I step in.  




We seem to have a disagreement....



(If you haven’t watched the movie Clue, go do so now.  Tim Curry alone makes it well worth your time.  And as a bonus, if you’re into gorgeous, elegant women showing cleavage, it’s an embarrassment of riches.)

As a Clue fanatic, I feel I am one of the most qualified people on the web to make 2 bold statements:

  1. I find every actress in this movie VERY attractive.



WOW


YES


INDEED


YUP



 Surprisingly, yes.  She's so cute!



I have a thing for weak/small chins.



  1. MORE IMPORTANTLY: It is implausible for either Mr. Green or Col. Mustard to have committed any of the murders.  



I told you I didn't do it!

A bold statement if I may say so, as it makes the 3rd ending (supposedly what ‘really happened’) impossible.


If we take the murders one by one, you’ll find that they neither of these suspects had the means or motive to kill anyone:


Victim:
Mr. Green
Col. Mustard
Cook
No opportunity/motive
No opportunity/motive
Mr. Body
No opportunity
No opportunity
Motorist
No opportunity
No opportunity*
Yvette
No motive
No motive
Cop
No motive
No motive
Singing Telegram Girl
No motive
No motive


By now you might be disagreeing with me, loudly retorting that Mustard had the opportunity to kill the motorist, and that every suspect had the motive to kill Mr. Body’s network of spies, but in response I present to you:


  1. I forgot to include ‘numbered lists’, ‘charts’, and ‘excessive apologies’ to the list of things I’ve never grown out of.  Sorry.
  1. If Mustard pickpocketed the key to the weapon cupboard, then he could’ve pickpocketed the key to the Lounge instead.  Taking that key and just using a random weapon found in the house (plenty of blunt and sharp objects around) makes infinitely more sense.
  2.  
  1. EVEN IF for some unfathomable reason he DID pickpocket the key to the weapons as the 3rd ending suggests, it doesn’t explain how he did all of the following in about 2 minutes (3 minutes tops): gather and destroy all the evidence, acquire the wrench, correctly guess that a secret passage to the Lounge existed (even though there was nothing suggest there was one), search the entire ground floor, find the secret passageway in the conservatory, murder the motorist, and make it back before Scarlett suspected anything.  All this, while being noticed by absolutely no one, BEFORE the lights went out. It’s simply not plausible.




Pretty sure he'd die of a heart attack 1/2 of the way through that list.



So who could’ve known about the secret passage, and thus committed the murder?


The only people who could’ve known or guessed about the secret passageway are someone who either had advance knowledge of the house (Wadsworth, Yvette, or Scarlett in ending #1), OR whoever killed the Cook.


Whoever killed the cook could’ve easily accidentally stumbled upon the secret passage to the study when they put the cook’s body in the freezer.  Since it was a diagonal cut across the house, it’s reasonable that the killer could’ve guessed that a symmetric passageway led from the Conservatory to the Lounge, and found it fairly easily.  They couldn’t have known for certain, but it would’ve certainly been worth looking.


So who could’ve killed the cook?




Suspect
Murder: Cook
Ms. White
No opportunity
Mrs. Peacock
Yes
Ms. Scarlet
No opportunity
Professor Plum
Yes
Wadsworth
Not quite enough time
Yvette
Yes
Mr. Body
Yes, but unlikely



Mr. Body, however, is very unlikely to be the murderer.  Yes, he could've darted through the passageway to kill the cook, and yes, if he wanted to eliminate his spy network, he had motive.  The problem is: why wouldn't he pick up the gun?  

As long as he stayed on the floor motionless, he might have assumed that one of the suspects still had the gun, but if he stood up to kill the cook, there's no way he wouldn't have picked up that gun.


In fact, it seems quite odd that he didn't look for the gun as soon as the others left the room.  Hell, after getting the gun, he could've walked right out the door.  Which leads to my side theory: Mr. Body passed out when the bullet grazed his ear.  Being unconscious until someone came to murder him makes a lot more sense.  Speaking of which...
 



He's attacking her!




Suspect
Murder: Mr. Body in Hall
Ms. White
No opportunity
Mrs. Peacock
Yes
Miss Scarlet
No opportunity
Professor Plum
Yes
Wadsworth
Not quite enough time
Yvette
Yes


Although Wadsworth wasn’t immediately in the Kitchen with the others when they found the cook murdered, he didn’t have enough time to kill Mr. Body AND stuff him in the bathroom, so he’s out.



Anyway, since Mr. Green and Col. Mustard couldn’t have killed any of the first three victims, then those two couldn’t have killed anyone at all, because only the person who killed the Motorist AND burned the evidence (we know it’s the same person because otherwise the two people would’ve seen each other) could’ve known that all of the last three victims were spies.  


Of course, some of the characters didn’t need to see the evidence to want to kill those victims (White, Scarlett, Plum), but none of those people were Mr. Green or Col. Mustard, therefore neither of them could’ve killed anyone, which brings us to the conclusion:

The third ending, labeled in the movie as ‘what really happened’, is not plausible.






But are either of the first two endings possible/plausible?


Victim:
1st: Scarlett/Yvette
2nd: Mrs. Peacock
Cook
Possible, but Unlikely
Yes
Mr. Body
Yes
Possible, but Unlikely
Motorist
Yes
Yes
Yvette
Possible, but Unlikely
Yes
Cop
Yes
Yes
Singing Telegram Girl
Yes
Yes


For the record, both the first and second endings are ‘plausible’.  Neither ending, however, is perfect. 

For example, why would Yvette kill the cook so early in the 1st ending?  Miss Scarlett would’ve had to have given Yvette the ‘kill order’ before they even began revealing everyone’s secrets in the Study.  


In order for THAT to make sense, Scarlett must’ve planned to kill Mr. Body and all the accomplices from the start, but in order for her to know the accomplices were all coming, Wadsworth would’ve had to have told Yvette everything that was going to happen that night, and why would he do that?


Also, if Scarlett was that gung-ho to kill everyone, why didn’t she bring thugs with guns along, and kill EVERYONE after Mr. Body arrived?  Or at the very least, why not bring a gun of her own?  


Another problem with that same murder: why would Yvette risk being seen just to get the knife?  It was right at the door, but she didn’t have a way of knowing that before entering.  She could’ve just used one of the many knives in the kitchen.


Another strange thing with the 1st ending is Yvette’s cry of ‘it’s you’ right before she’s murdered. Who else could it have been?  She knew Scarlett was killing people.  Hell, she helped!  Yvette had every reason to be surprised at the betrayal, of course, but the exclamation ‘it’s you’ makes no sense.


There is of course one possible explanation: Ms. White could’ve been the one who killed Yvette in the 1st ending.  




It’s certainly in White’s murderous character, it explains Yvette’s surprise (expecting Scarlett and instead finding “the wrath of a woman scorned”), and there’s be no point in Scarlett protesting her innocence when she’d been caught for all the other murders.  Also, a rope is a real vicious and ‘personal’ way to kill someone, compared to a blow to the head, or gunshot.

[EDIT]

My cousins Alex and Tony Wanschura, in response to this article, pointed out that you can hear Miss White screaming as Yvette's walking down the stairs. Although this doesn't make it impossible for her to murder Yvette in any ending, it does mean that Yvette has to take her time getting to the billiard room, and not just go straight there.

Also, it's yet another strike against the third ending, because in that one, Miss White is supposedly the one to come down and switch off the power, but she's definitely upstairs screaming when Yvette's walking down the stairs in the dark. That doesn't make any sense at all.



Peacock’s ending, by comparison, is a lot cleaner.  She figures out the cook at the mansion is her old cook, murders her, accidentally finds the secret passage way, guesses that there’s another passage for the opposite side of the house, murders Mr. Body, examines and destroys the evidence, and then proceeds to kill the rest of Mr. Body’s informants.


While she’d definitely have to be VERY spry and full of energy in order to perform all these killings, there’s only one problem:


HOW the hell did she chase down and murder Mr. Body, a man half her age?  And WHY would he run? Why not grab a weapon and fight back against the 50-60ish year old woman?  Was she really that intimidating?! 




Move over Jason Voorhees....



Once again, there is an explanation, which would also explain ‘why a senator’s wife would need all that bribe money?’: a massive cocaine habit.


Suddenly her ridiculous outbursts, paranoia, unlimited energy, frequent trips away from the group, and ability to run down and murder a man half her age all make sense!






So which ending should be canon?  Either the 1st or 2nd works fine, but if you want my opinion, Mrs. Peacock’s ending has fewer plot holes/unanswered questions.  



Besides, I love 'evil' Mrs. Peacock.


Of course, Scarlett’s ending’s by far the funniest, so choose what you will.  




One plus two....


Just be warned:if you claim the 3rd ending is the real one, you better be ready to explain how Col. Mustard suddenly gained at least 2 of Superman’s powers.



What?  You want a definitive answer?  You demand to know, once and for all, exactly WHO did it?

Fine, it was Steve Wanschura, of Ewing NJ.


Never did trust that evil goatee...