November 28, 2007

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Ozma of Oz: The Movies

After reading the first three stories of the Oz series, I decided to go back and revisit the films that were spawned by them. The first is a film you all probably watched at least once... most likely against your will when you were younger. The Wizard of Oz is Metro-Goldwyn-Myer's musical classic full of quotes and scenes parodied in other works for years. "I'll get you my pretty!" "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" "I don't think we're in ______ anymore!" Yup, they all came from here. The reason why so many lines are spoofed even today is because everyone will recognize them.

I'm a big fan of how the three farmhands, Miss Gulch, and the phony psychic returned as characters in Dorothy's dream as Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, Wicked Witch, and the Wizard. Amusing is the overenthusiastic actings of the characters and their weird little quirks. The Scarecrow is always stumbling because he is an inexperienced walker, Dorothy seems to show more concern over the well being of Toto than herself, The Cowardly Lion's over-effeminate mannerisms, and The Tin Man rusting up. Jeez, those knot-heads most certainly would have gotten on my nerves. Especially that lion. But I do have to give credit to Dorothy's three traveling companions when they went on a witch hunt. The Lion had a bug net, Tin Man had insect spray... and the Scarecrow had a fucking gun. He was going to bust a cap in the witch's ass!

The Wizard himself... that is, the man behind the curtain... is probably the best character in the movie with his zingers and absentmindedness. When the Scarecrow asks the Wizard how he can repay him for the diploma, he quickly replies "you can't". Frank Morgan was the highlight of the film for me. He played the Wizard, the men who guarded the doors to the Emerald City and the Wizard's chamber, the "horse of a different color" chariot driver, and Professor Marvel at the beginning of the movie. Although there was one line he said to the Tin Man after giving him his "heart" that depressed me: "A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others." Rub it in, you hum bug.

I did pay special attention to the scene where the enduring rumor of a stagehand who hung himself in the background plays host. Although it was debunked already and the dead man was proven to be one of the several large birds let loose on the movie set, upon viewing the figure myself, I can't understand how anyone could have confused the emu or ostrich or whatever with a hanging corpse in the first place.

The Wizard of Oz is so far removed from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that you don't even think of the originator when you're watching it, which successfully makes itself its own entity that can be held in a separate regard from the book. That is also the case with the quasi-sequel Return to Oz, somewhat based on The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz, although mostly on the latter.

Auntie Em, looking much younger here than in the first movie, is fed up with Dorothy's claims that she really went to a land of Oz with all its ludicrous inhabitants. Knowing nothing is worse than a young child with an active imagination, she takes her niece to a doctor who has an electric gizmo that can eliminate your dreams. Before this can happen, a storm knocks out the power, and while the doctor and nurse go to check on the power and patients, another young girl comes to lead Dorothy out of the hospital. It turns out that the pained screams coming from the basement are from people whose brains have been damaged by the doctor's "treatments". Unfortunately for the girls, they slip on the muddy bank of a river and fall in. Dorothy manages to find solace in a floating chicken coop, while the fate of her savior is unknown. When Dorothy comes to, she finds herself stranded in a desert, and oddly enough, she is accompanied by Billina, one of the hens from her Kansas farm. Even strangers, she can talk now. Dorothy realizes she is back in Oz, and sets out towards the Emerald City. But Oz has changed for the worst since she was gone. Trees have sprouted everywhere, but yellow brick road is in shambles, and even worse, the Emerald City is in ruins. She is then pursued by an angry pack of Wheelers, people who have wheels at the end of their limbs as opposed to feet and hands. She is lucky to stumble upon a secret passage containing a highly advanced robot named Tik-Tok. Dorothy reactivates him, and Tik-Tok dispatches of the Wheelers and guides her to the decimated Emerald City. In the royal palace, they meet Princess Mombi, who locks Dorothy and Billina in a tower so she may take Dorothy's head when she comes of age. Tik-Tok's functions run down and is unable to aid her. Also in the tower is Jack Pumpkinhead, a man made of a pumpkin and branches. He uses his long arms to reach through and unlock the door. Dorothy rewinds Tik-Tok and steals Mombi's Powder of Life, which has the ability to animate lifeless objects. The group assembles a flying creature by tying together a pair of sofas, utilizing large leaves for wings and mounting the head of an antlered creature called a gump in the front. The magical powder brings the thing to life, and Dorothy, Jack, Billina and Tik-Tok ride it out of the window of the tower. They fly towards the mountain of The Nome King to save the Scarecrow and return the Land of Oz back to its former glory.

The friends Dorothy makes in this movie are more interesting and won't make you roll your eyes with their goofy mannerisms. The Gump has biting wit. Billina has a big attitude for a small chicken. Tik-Tok is brave and noble. And Jack is innocent and light-hearted. And best of all, nobody sings or dances.

Like the first movie, the land of Oz exists only in Dorothy's head. Which means many of the new characters are derived from people and things she sees before falling unconscious.
-The mean head nurse becomes the wicked Mombi.
-Dr. Worley becomes The Nome King, both of whom want to erase Dorothy's memory of Oz.
-Worley's machine becomes Tik-Tok.
-A jack o' lantern becomes Jack Pumpkinhead.
-A medic pushing a squeaky cot becomes a Wheeler.
-The young girl who helps Dorothy escape the hospital becomes Ozma.
-Dorothy's favorite hen from the farm Billina shows up with her, but now with the ability to talk.

Return to Oz introduces Fairuza Balk as the perfect Dorothy Gale, and she has also gone on to star in other notable films such as The Craft and The Waterboy. She did a lot more, those are just the other roles I've seen her in. Yeah, I don't watch too many movies. She is also Wiccan and single, the latter giving me another goal to shoot for in life.

And that's just the way it is.

The Mall of Rhode Island

Anyone who's ever lived in The Ocean State for at least fifteen years is probably very familiar with the Rhode Island Mall. Or at least, its heyday. One of the smallest state's biggest landmarks is now an empty shell of its former glory. At one time, it was bookended by Sears and Filene's. Now it's bookended by Sears and a blank wall.

When I was a tyke, I always used to go there practically every Saturday with my mother. I liked this mall because it was right next to a Toys 'R Us. But there were many great places within to explore as well. Here's a run down of some of the stores that made up the mall at various times of its existence. These are only the ones I remember, and is far from a complete listing.

Stores that are closed

Tape World- just your standard seller of CDs, games and VHS tapes.
Walden Books- I bought the second Jurassic Park novel, The Lost World, there. Also some compilations of the Calvin and Hobbes comic.
Greenhouse Cafe- Food court comprised of Dunkin Donuts, sbarro, Kobe, and some others I can't remember. Early morning shoppers would usually wait here for the other stores to open.
A pet store- Don't recall the name. I purchased my first pet, a small gray mouse, there. Probably even some tropical fish. No trip to this mall was complete without a visit here.
Some kitchen accessories store- Don't remember a name for it, but I think you can figure out what they sold based on my vague description.
Camping store- Unknown name, but can you guess what they offered?
Newport Creamery- A few years ago, this New England staple of restaurants started closing locations everywhere, and this was one of the victims. Too bad, because no Saturday morning trip to the mall was complete without having their Belgian waffles for breakfast.
Filene's- This was eventually shut down after the nearby Warwick Mall expanded their own Filene's.
Foot Locker- Sold athletic footwear.
Athlete's Foot- Sold athletic footwear, and right next to Foot Locker. But I wouldn't want to buy anything there with a name like that.
Aladdin's Castle- Arcade. I think I still have tokens from there.
Saturday Matinee- Bought many Godzilla movies from here. When this store disappeared, the lot was used to showcase a huge selection of comic books. I was lucky to find a rare one I needed there.
Hallmark- Has a way.
Spencer's Gifts- One of the coolest gift stores ever.
Auntie Ann's
- Freshly rolled pretzels of many varieties, I would get a small discount for being a AAA member. Please note the extra "A", for I am not a recovering alcoholic.
Fredrick's of Hollywood- Victoria's Secret's sluttier cousin, and I don't mean that in a bad way. I used to sit on a bench near this store during break and watch the men that passed by it for their reactions. Would they avert their faces? Shift only their eyes towards it? Turn their heads for a second to give a quick look? Or just flat out gawk at it?
Kid watching service- There was a place where parents could drop off their children so they could be free to shop in peace. It was full of colorful furniture and TVs playing mindless kid drivel.
Kay Bee Toys- Where a kid could be a kid.
Claire's- Girl stuff.
Western Union- The fastest way to send money worldwide.

Stores still open as of this writing

Sears- Where I worked for four and a half years. I have many a tale to tell about this place, so stay tuned.
Gamestop, formerly Electronics Boutique- I purchased numerous games there throughout the years, and still do.
Tazi's Gifts- This guy sells really gaudy items, some that you can even have personalized/engraved for that special someone you don't like very much. A few people go in to browse, but no one comes out with anything. Everyone at Sears knew Mr. Tazi himself, as he was always stopping in to check out the clearance priced items and still try to bargain for a lower price. And as the guy who was responsible for marking down everything in Electronics/Home Appliances, it pissed me off. I guess I can't blame the guy. He probably makes nothing from his store.
Bellow's Leather- Open only seasonally. When I first entered my Dark Spirit phase, I went here to try on some leather pants to see if they would suit my new attitude. I determined they were not my style. But the very persuasive store owner did convince me to buy a leather vest.
Mr. B's Coffee Cafe- A small coffee/latte/cappuccino/frappuccino/snack bar. I would stop by here pretty much every afternoon for an ice coffee during my half-hour break. I was such a regular that I didn't have to state my order anymore, as soon as Diane saw me, she grabbed a cup and went to work.
Department of Motor Vehicles- The happiest place on Earth.
The Toy Vault
- I found many great treasures here, and still stop in to buy new comic books. They sell toys that you probably played with as a kid. Now you can buy them again at about five times the price just to keep it in the package with false hopes that it'll be worth big bucks some day.
Silver Dragon- Sells really neat jewelry, statues, and medieval weapons that nobody ever buys. I purchased a ring that has a coffin on it that opens to reveal A CORPSE. Funny thing is, it doesn't fit me, so I have to find a silversmith to make it fit. And I bought it YEARS ago.
Caren Charles- a woman's clothing store that has the misfortune of being at the far end of the mall. Does anyone even know it's there?
U.S.S. Saratoga Museum- Everything you wanted to know about a battleship named after a county in New York.
First Place Sports- Sells some sporting equipment, but mostly shoes, hats, and jerseys.
The Dollar Tree- Supplied Sears employees with snacks that they ate behind the checkout counter.

Why is the Rhode Island Mall still standing? It was actually purchased by Stop & Shop in an effort to prevent the bordering Wal-Mart from converting into a Super Wal-Mart. There was a brief rumor that another arcade was going to open close to Mr. B's, but that never materialized. But the wide open spaces are still used occasionally. The Easter Bunny and Santa Claus still stop by every year. The boy scouts have some annual event where they race tiny homemade cars. One year, there was some kind of talent show with participants singing and/or dancing. (No Paul, I don't think that babe dancing on stage in that slinky red dress was eyeing me as we walked by.) And then there was a fashion show which I declared to anyone that would listen that I would try to model in. Didn't make it. The mall's fountain is still there, but the water spouts very low nowadays. The escalators are always breaking down. The floor tiles are always popping up so they have to be replaced. Powerwalkers stop in every day to walk off their weight and avoid the horrible, horrible outdoors. Hmmm... the few years I worked there, they've always been around with no visible difference in their shapes.

When asked why existing stores don't pack up and go to another location, the owners reply that the rent at the Rhode Island Mall is cheaper. And every holiday season, Sears would rent out some of the empty lots and use them to store excess merchandise and store supplies. I remember helping set up one vacated lot with a TV, speakers, tables, and chairs to be used as a meeting room for the visiting suits and ties of Sears Holdings.

I always believed that new life could be breathed into the RI Mall before half of it was torn down to make way for Wal-Mart and Kohl's, but it would have required a ton of money that I don't think anyone would have been willing to invest. It's already in a great location and a couple of minutes from the Warwick Mall, which already gets fantastic crowds. If they offered a selection of stores that the other didn't have, revamped the look of the mall's interior, and launched a massive advertising campaign, they might have bounced back. And Sears still does a fair enough business for a store that everyone who has worked there recently knows is on its last legs, so that would be a decent amount of customers to venture out into the mall again. They in turn could spread the word. But that's all in the past now. The lighting is dark, its look is dated, and all the empty lots give it a somber mood. All the remaining businesses will probably disappear before any new one would open. Even if completely emptied, the mall will remain just to ensure that Sam Walton's evil empire doesn't expand to drive every other store in Warwick into the gutter. Sure, it's nice that the mall will stand as a piece of history, but it'll be a pathetic and useless hall of abandoned retail caves.

If there's one thing you can still give the mall credit for, it's that it's very clean and secure. There's usually at least one member of mall security that makes rounds in what must be the most mind-numbingly boring beat in the city. The best they do is keep idiot children from trying to run the opposite way on the escalators... when they're operational, of course. Then there is the maintenance staff. At least two of them patrol the mall at any given time to sweep up the one or two pieces of dropped trash a day, mop the floor that no one has walked upon in weeks, and wipe down tables immediately after someone has finished eating at it. Of course, the maintenance crew was noticeably absent during that time when all the illegal immigrants went on a nationwide strike...

For more info on the history of the Rhode Island Mall, check out and do a search on "Rhode Island".
And I'll be damned, it has its own WIKIPEDIA PAGE!

And that's just the way it is.

November 23, 2007

The Y2G Problem

With the year 2000 looming close, man has one fear: the end of civilization. However, it won't be caused by crashing computers, but by massive meteors and killer kaiju. Godzilla 2000 is the second novel in Marc Cerasini's Godzilla series. Don't judge this book by its title, as it is not a novelization of the movie of the same name. This book came out in 1997, while the film was released in 1999. I'm sure you all remember that, as the century came to a close, tacking the number "2000" on everything was in style. This book is notable for being Godzilla's first major foray into the United States. I don't count the brief scene in Destroy All Monsters where Godzilla attacked New York merely by wading next to the city and blowing his breath on a single building. It's also worth pointing out that the TRUE Godzilla took Manhattan one year before the impostor Zilla did in theaters. This book is much longer than the first one, which is appropriate because there's so much more material to work with.

While Godzilla Returns was a single monster affair... I just wish I could remember which one it was... the sequel has the tagline of "The age of monsters has begun..." so we've got some of the Big G's famous co-stars tagging along for some action this time:
Godzilla- the indestructible nuclear monster rises up from the depths of the Mariana Trench and cuts a path of destruction through the United States. What could he be doing so far away from his native Japan?
King Ghidorah- a three-headed gold dragon from space who threatens to annihilate all life on Earth. Capable of spewing gravity beams that can vaporize an army vehicle in an instant.
Mothra- a massive moth who does its best to ensure peace for the Earth. She's equipped with a prism beam fired from her antennae and a pair of twin fairies who communicate with humans on her behalf.
Varan- a dinosaur that has evolved the ability to glide. Tears up real estate in search of his steady diet of humans.
Rodan- a Pteranadon that can fly at supersonic speeds. Can fire a super-heated uranium beam from his beak.
Kamacuras- gigantic mantises with an appetite to match.

The climactic battle is underwhelming when you consider that whenever a kaiju movie features several monsters in its lineup, they usually come together for a colossal brawl. Even Godzilla's old sparring partner Rodan had no part in the final outcome. His entire contribution to the story, in a nutshell (or eggshell), is flying from Alaska to South Dakota, laying an egg which immediately hatches, and then flying back home with his brood. The majority of this time is spent describing how the Special Defense Force goes about trying to stop him. But there is a nice build-up to his appearance, with an old village's shaman talking about how he's having visions of a giant Thunderbird, who was "coming to the places of man, for he may soon be needed". We needed Rodan to destroy a train and lay an egg? I feel safer already. Then there was the rare appearance of Varan, one of Toho's first monsters. He played the part of "wild monster on the loose", terrorizing the populace by feeding on them and toppling various structures. He also landed on a large ship to bask in the sun, much to the chagrin of the ship's crew. Mothra, though barely seen, played a role throughout the whole story by trying to convince a member of G-Force that Godzilla isn't the threat that he is assumed to be. It turns out Mothra was actually leading G to New York to have a showdown with King Ghidorah. As for Ghidorah, we knew he was coming since the beginning, being encased in a meteor that threatened to eliminate all life. But he didn't actually touch down on Earth until the last few chapters, trashing Paris before heading directly to New York and his eventual downfall. And if there's one thing Cerasini should get credit for, it's that he managed to do what no mortal writer has ever managed to do before: he made Kamacuras, the giant praying mantis, a credible threat. A large swarm of them ripped through America's midwest, eating all plant and animal life and laying waste to whatever wasn't edible. It must have been a terrifying time to be in the same region those mutated mantids, knowing nothing would be spared from their rampage.

Cerasini violated a cardinal rule of the Godzilla universe: never have the Special Defense Force victorious against kaiju unless they are utilizing a robot monster themselves. Kamacuras is exterminated, Varan is bombarded with firepower to an inch of his life, Godzilla is put down temporarily and the obscenely powerful Ghidorah has his middle neck blown off by a simple bomb. I can forgive the Kamacuras, merely house-sized insects, being taken down, and will even allow the idea that Godzilla's weaker cousin Varan can be fended off by the military like he was in his own movie, but King Godzilla and King Ghidorah are supposed to be indestructible to all of Earth's conventional weapons... yes, even American made ones, if you can believe that. The Japanese Special Defense Force is portrayed as being ineffective against their home grown threats, but the almighty American made G-Force goes on a kaiju killing spree. The purpose of the army, navy, and air force in kaiju movies isn't to win, it's to fail in a way that satisfies our desire for destruction. Even when the monster threat is evil, we still want them to crush those trying to save us. When a cast of characters we don't care about dispatch the kaiju we came to see/read about, it annoys us.

Waaaaaay too much time is spent describing the personal histories of people whose sole purpose in life is to be squashed. We don't care how an off-duty police man has concocted an elaborate plan to meet a pretty jogger at the beach, and we don't want to read about it for four pages only to have him die on the fifth. The worst is at the end, where Cerasini devotes a few pages to the humans that we forgot about as soon as their scene ended and the next kaiju one took place. Also seen in the book is Nick Gordon, a barely tolerable main character from the prequel. He is unmercifully dropped in press conferences, newscasts, and even as a witness to the final battle. The human cast in the previous book was better because there were less of them and more time was spent developing them. Here, Godzilla, Rodan, Varan, the Kamacuras, and King Ghidorah have their own plot points devoted to them, as well as their own small cast of human characters to react to them. Instead of reporters and NASA scientists, more time should have been devoted to G-Force, the people whose lives revolve around those this book exists for.

Much like how he described the horrific experience of being incinerated by Godzilla's nuclear breath in Godzilla Returns, Cerasini now tells us how it must feel to be splattered with G's radioactive blood and skin tissue. We seldom think about how every explosion that tears Godzilla's flesh must spray a considerable amount of gore all around the battlefield. One especially unlucky person ended up being showered with the stuff. He became violently ill, throwing up and feeling convulsions in his stomach, until just falling unconscious. We also were treated to a bonus fight where one natural disaster took on another: Godzilla vs. Tornado!

An awesome cover by Bob Eggleton depicts the kaiju apocalypse, with Godzilla rearing his head over a beam-spitting King Ghidorah as Rodan soars through the background. Although it would have been more appropriate to include Mothra in Rodan's place as the insect monster was the one who played a role in the final battle.

There's also a reference to that atrocious Blue Oyster Cult song Godzilla. That's right, I said it. I'm a Godzilla fan who hates that song.

And that's just the way it is.

November 9, 2007

Return to Oz: The Book

Kids couldn't get enough of Oz. They pestered Frank Baum for further Oz adventures and wanted to hear more about Dorothy in particular. LFB was only happy to oblige, and set to write the greatest Oz epic yet. Ozma of Oz follows the further adventures of the new princess and her allies. Although a little shorter than the previous two stories, this one pits our friends against their greatest challenge ever.

Here is the cast this time around:
Dorothy Gale of Kansas- Traveling with Uncle Henry to Australia via ship, Dorothy falls overboard and uses a lost chicken coop to survive the storm-swept waters.
Billina- a yellow hen who also survived being lost overboard with Dorothy. She has the ability to talk, and is a proud bird who doesn't take guff from man nor nome.
Tik-Tok- a mechanical man made of copper. His brain, movement, and speech require winding up with a key to work for a twenty-four hour period and is a loyal friend.
Princess Langwidere- the only member of the Royal Family of Ev left to rule the Land of Ev. She hates her position and wishes to be absolved of her responsibility. She also owns a large array of heads of beautiful women, which she is able to switch with her own as her mood sees fit.
Princess Ozma- the courageous Princess of Oz who sets out with her army to free the Royal Family of Ev from imprisonment in Nome King's palace.
The Scarecrow-Joins Ozma on her mission.
Tin Woodman- Commands the Army of Oz on behalf of Ozma.
The Cowardly Lion- Helps pull Ozma's chariot along, and also is ridden by those slower than he is.
The Hungry Tiger- Friend of the Lion who hardly ever eats because he knows he'll only get hungry again. He refuses to eat living things because of his strong conscience.
The Sawhorse- Resumes his role as a transport, mainly for the Scarecrow. Since his last adventure, he has been plated with gold.
The Army of Oz- Comprised of twenty-seven soldiers: eight Generals, six Colonels, seven Majors, five Captains, and one private. Each rank commands the one below it, until it's up to the lone private to carry out the orders. Fortunately, that private is braver than his officers.
The Nome King- the ruler of the underworld, this deceitful king only wishes to expand his collection of ornaments by enchanting living things into them. He commands magic with a belt of jewels.

The majority of this story doesn't even take place in the Land of Oz, but is set in fairy lands that border it called the Land of Ev and the Dominion of the Nome King. After being cast overboard when the ship taking them to Australia is struck by a powerful storm, Dorothy and Billina are washed up on the shore of Ev. After they are menaced by Wheelers, a race of humanoids with wheels instead of hands or feet, they discover the copper man named Tik-Tok, who formerly belonged to Evoldo, the King of Ev. Evoldo committed suicide over the guilt of selling his wife and ten children to the Nome King. Tik-Tok easily dispatches of the Wheelers and takes Dorothy to the castle of Ev, ruled by the vain niece of the King and Queen. Named Langwidere, she owned a collection of thirty female heads of extraordinary beauty which she could interchange with her own noggin whenever she wanted. It just so happened that she was wearing one of her more bad-tempered craniums when she met Dorothy and her allies. When Dorothy refused to exchange her own pretty head for one in Langwidere's collection, the princess locked her in a tower. Fortunately for little Miss Gale, Ozma and her Emerald City entourage just so happened to be on their way for a visit with Langwidere about setting the Royal Family of Ev free from The Nome King. Dorothy is released, and she joins her friends from Oz along with Tik-Tok and Billina in order to liberate the Queen of Ev and the five princes and five princesses from the Nome King's underworld.

My favorite character in this story is Tik-Tok, a strong and smart robot who knows he is not alive and seems to be proud of that fact. It's at this point that both the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman start to become full of themselves just because of the "gifts" the Wizard gave them. They claim to be better than Tik-Tok just because they're alive, and tell him they are smarter and more caring than he is. The Lion is more humble because he knows that the Wizard really did nothing more than hand them knick-knacks to symbolize the traits that they desired, as he claims he is still a coward. Tik-Tok does a lot more with the qualities he is programmed with than Scarecrow and the Woodman and doesn't brag about it, even going as far as to congratulate them on their so-called advantages. We saw their attitudes coming in the previous book too, with both Scarecrow and Woodman treating Jack Pumpkinhead poorly, who also made due with what he had better than those guys.

In 1985, the greatest year in the history of time, Return to Oz was released by Walt Disney Pictures. It stars a very young Fairuza Balk, who resembles a Dorothy much closer to the stories than the sixteen-year-old Judy Garland did in The Wizard of Oz. The framework of the movie is based on Ozma of Oz, although it contains certain characters, elements, and storylines from The Marvelous Land of Oz. I guess you could say they took ingredients from two different recipes, mixed it up with a few original spices and came up with a damn good cake. Using another food analogy, if The Wizard of Oz was chocolate, Return to Oz is dark chocolate. This definitely was not a musical, and the setting was far gloomier than the shiny happiness in the first movie. Younger audiences may have been frightened by the cruel Mombi, screeching Wheelers and the hideous nomes. But I was a fan when I first saw it, and still am today. If you're the kind of person who may turn their head to Return to Oz and the entire Oz book library because of the bright cheeriness that was the first movie, keep in mind that it's that first film that was a major departure in mood to the source material. As much as I recommend the Oz stories, I also say you should check out Return to Oz if you enjoy the fantasy genre. Like I said for The Wizard of Oz, I believe the Disney sequel is different enough from its source material to avoid having "book better than the movie or vice-versa" arguments.

Differences between Ozma of Oz and Return to Oz:
-No magical slippers this time, those artifacts are replaced with the bejeweled belt.
-Jack Pumpkinhead, The Gump, The Powder of Life, and the storyline about the missing Ozma are carried over from The Marvelous Land of Oz.
-The Scarecrow, The Tin Woodman, and The Cowardly Lion didn't have as big of roles in the movie, the latter two's appearances could probably be called cameos.
-The Emerald City and the yellow brick road are shown torn asunder from chaos in the film, but they are unaffected in the book and only seen at the conclusion.
-I understand there are references to later Oz books in the movie, but I have yet to get that far in the series to call attention to them.

And that's just the way it is.

November 8, 2007

Journey Back to the Marvelous Land of Oz

The children spoke and L. Frank Baum listened. His acclaimed book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz soon had its first of many sequels. Titled The Marvelous Land of Oz, we rejoin old friends and meet many bizarre new ones. Whilst the movie version of the first Oz story was a loose adaptation, the second story didn't fare so well in its transition to film. Elements of it were borrowed to create the animated Journey Back to Oz in 1974. No Dorothy this time around, a boy named Tippetarius (Tip for short) is the lead character.

Meet the main characters of the book:
Tip- A young man who tirelessly does chores for Old Mombi.
Old Mombi- Tip's guardian who buys many spells and potions in an effort to become a witch.
Jack Pumpkinhead- a scarecrow of sorts Tip built from tree parts, old clothes, and topped off with a pumpkin. Dimwitted, but occasionally has a good idea. Constantly worries about his head spoiling.
Sawhorse- an abandoned wooden sawhorse that Tip brings to life. Ridden by Jack Pumpkinhead so his shoddy limbs won't wear out.
General Jinjur- a young girl who has built an army of women who want to storm the Emerald City and rule the Land of Oz themselves.
His Majesty The Scarecrow- After being appointed King of Oz at the end of the first story, The Scarecrow finds his rule challenged by Jinjur's troops.
Nick Chopper The Tin Woodman- Now with a new name, the Emperor of Winkie Country rejoins his old friend Scarecrow to help him regain control of Oz.
Mr. Highly Magnified Woggle-Bug, Thoroughly Educated (H.M. Woggle-Bug, T.E.)- A large insect with great intellect, he helps come up with good ideas to aid Tip, Jack, Scarecrow, and Tin Woodman in their bid to reclaim the Emerald City.
The Gump- Brought back to life by the Powder of Life, the disembodied head of an elk-like creature is attached to a pair of sofas and given large leaves for wings. He is the main mode of transport for the group.
Ozma- The missing and true descendant for the rulership of Oz. In order to restore order to the land, Tip's party must locate her.

The story begins in the north section of Oz known as Gillikin Country. A young man named Tip makes a break for freedom from his cruel guardian Mombi. He brings along his creation Jack Pumpkinhead, who was brought to life by the Powder of Life, which is magic he stole from Mombi. Along the way, he also uses the powder on an abadoned sawhorse to act as Jack's steed. When Tip learns that an army wishes to seize control of the Emerald City and the whole Land of Oz in the process, he and Jack head to the city to warn its king, the Scarecrow. With the danger imminent, the king escapes with his new friends to join up with The Tin Woodman to lend a hand in restoring order. They also team with a large and genius Woggle-Bug who offers his great knowledge. The party decides the wise and powerful Good Witch of the South Glinda may have a plan to liberate the Emerald City from its captors. Glinda declares the only one who can rightfully rule Oz is the daughter of the King who was in power before The Wizard blew into town. So the mission is on to find the missing princess and finally restore Oz to its rightful ruler.

Much like the first story, the adventure takes place all over Oz, and there's no shortage of curiosities to behold. My favorite character in this installment is Jack Pumpkinhead for his amusing banter with the Scarecrow. As Jack is constantly worried about his fruit head being destroyed, Scarecrow always looks on the bright side by suggesting that he could make a good pie or his seeds could be used to produce more pumpkins. None of these things reassure Jack in the least. The story concludes with a twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan envious. So with an Oz-wide journey, cool new characters, light humor, and a clever ending, I highly recommend this story as I did for the previous installment.

In another example of "signs of the times", this story contains yet another word that meant one thing in the early 1900s, but has taken on a completely new meaning in the late 2000's. And it was a difference I wasn't even aware of. Apparently... ejaculate was another word for "shouting in an excited manner". Here's a sentence I could get away with a century ago but wouldn't dare say aloud now: "I may be a bit queer, but I'm gay about it! And I'll ejaculate it to anyone who has a problem with that!"

And... um... that's just the way it is.

The Lion King of the World

I haven't been a fan of pro-wrestling since 2003, but I'll always dive into the biographies of wrestling personalities I've been familiar with during my fandom. One of my favorites is Chris Irvine, who has had many nicknames throughout his career. But they've always revolved around his most well known alias: Chris Jericho. A Lion's Tale: Around the World in Spandex is the tome encasing a majority of Jericho's life that you have and haven't seen on television.

From his beginnings as the son of hockey legend Ted Irvine to becoming a legend in his own right, Chris Jericho's life is a success story where he set his goal to become a World Wrestling Federation superstar, and accomplished that and so much more along the way. He went on a world-wide tour through countries like Canada, Mexico, Germany, Japan, and various locations within the United States to build experience and reputation. And a lot of crazy stuff went down wherever he went, which Jericho is only too happy to recount for you.

Chris began training in the Hart Brothers Pro Wrestling Camp, despite the fact there was hardly a single Hart present. Even though it wasn't quite the infamous Hart Dungeon of legend, he did eventually find himself down there, too. He graduated the school along with another standout named Lance Storm and the two traveled to many shows around Canada together, usually paired as a tag team. The future Paragon of Virtue eventually found his way to Mexico where he adopted his Lion Heart moniker. It wasn't long before his face was plastered in magazines and TV... oh, and in the hearts of fans of course. He also went to Germany to participate in a tournament that was poorly organized. He spent some time in the now defunct US promotion Smoky Mountain Wrestling. Then it was off to the pro-wrestling paradise of Japan, competing in the WAR promotion. He participated in prestigious tournaments and even joined the heel (bad guy) group that inspired the nWo.

Feeling he was finally ready to make it big in America, Chris Jericho entered the original incarnation of Extreme Championship Wrestling and spends a brief time speaking of the chaotic atmosphere, provided by the fans and head honcho Paul Heyman. He lasted there for half a year before signing with the number two, although soon to be number one, wrestling company in the States, World Championship Wrestling. While there, Jericho was not only a conspiracy victim in a storyline, but real life as well. No matter how great his matches were or the fan reaction he was raising, the powers that be in WCW just did not want to get behind him, instead sticking with their guns and keeping Hogan and the New World Order in the spotlight. Much like most wrestlers who spent considerable time in Dubya Say Dubya, Jericho isn't too kind towards former boss Eric Bischoff.

Besides his wrestling career, Jericho takes time to discuss family and friend tragedies, meeting the love of his life, and his numerous forays into the music world. The latter cultivated when he joined the band Fozzy Osbourne, now shortened to just FOZZY. Originally, they only did covers, but now they create original pieces.

A Lion's Tale is a great and lengthy read, odd considering he hardly touches base with his World Wrestling Entertainment career. It's where he attained supreme stardom. Could this possibly mean a book chronicling Y2J's rise from the savior of the World Wrestling Federation to the King of World Wrestling Entertainment? After all, at the time of this writing (blogging) he is ready to set back in the squared circle with the WWE.

Chew on this for a while: Jericho has worked for Jim Cornette, Paul Heyman, Eric Bischoff, and Vince McMahon. How's that for a mind-fuck? If you had put those guys in the same room together in the late 90's, you'd have what's known in wrestling as a "shoot" fight. That means theatrics go out the window and the fists fly for real.

The book is loaded with Jericho's attitude, told in his own words. And I do mean own words, as he uses plenty that he's made up himself. As a writer who does that himself, I applaud him. Chris Jericho became a larger than life superstar and a greater rock and roll wrestler than Hulk Hogan. Everything Terry Bollea can do, Chris Irvine can do better. Hell, this book is worth reading just to find out what Hogan asked Jericho at the end of Owen Hart's funeral.

After turning the last page in this story, I gained a whole new outlook on the professional wrestling scene outside my own country. It also gave credibility to a phrase birthed after the boom period of wrestling's popularity ended. "Wrestling: In Canada, it's a tradition. In Japan, it's a sport. In Mexico, it's a religion. In America, it's a joke."

And that's just the way it is.

Miles Edgeworth: Star Prosecutor

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is the first in a series of court simulation games for Nintendo's dual screen hand held. Originally developed for Gameboy Advance in Japan, Capcom took a gamble and had them ported to the highly successful DS platform for an American release. They shipped out a very limited quantity as they were unsure if Westerners would go for this new take on the point and click genre. I guess since the rest of the series was quickly localized for our side of the ocean that it was received very well.

The instruction manual reminds the gamer that "All characters, laws, and legal matters in this game are works of fiction." Pay particular attention to the last two. The setting of this game is a few years in the future where the proceedings for court cases are a bit different. Trials for crimes are held pretty much the day after they are committed. Cases last for a maximum of three days, so both lawyers and prosecutors must dig up as much info on defendants and witnesses as they can to prepare for trials.

There's a colorful cast of characters, many whom have supporting roles in most of the cases featured in this game. You play the part of Nick "Phoenix" Wright, rookie attorney. He's smarter than you are, which can make playing difficult since you have to choose his actions. Then there's your arch-rival Miles Edgeworth, the headstrong star prosecutor who is rumored to go to any lengths to ensure a guilty verdict. Mia Fey is your boss and mentor, and her little sister Maya is a psychic-in-training who becomes your assistant. Another regular face you'll see is Dick Gumshoe, a slightly dimwitted but reliable detective who will give you valuable info on your cases.

The game is rated T for Teen for the following reasons:
-Suggestive Themes: Slight sexual innuendo from one witness in the second case, but nothing that will turn any youngins that play this into sexual deviants.
-Language: Damn and Hell. But never in the same sentence if that counts for anything.
-Blood: Each and every single case in this game is a murder charge. You'll see blood-stained evidence and cut scenes that show the murder as it happens. Nothing visceral, though.
-Violence: Goes hand in hand with murder, doesn't it?

There are five cases in all, but don't think you'll blow through this game in a day. Each takes a progressively longer time to complete. The first case is a tutorial of sorts, beginning and ending in one courtroom session. The following four cases take two to three days for a satisfying verdict to be reached. The usual process of a case is that you find a client convicted of a crime they claim they didn't commit. After interviewing him or her, you go to the scene of the crime, talk to people involved with the case and investigate the area. When you believe you have enough information to form a good defense in court, you enter the courtroom phase of the scenario and listen to witness testimonies. You try to look for holes in what they say and present gathered evidence to contradict them. If the judge feels there isn't a satisfying conclusion reached by the defense and the prosecutor, he will extend the case for another day. Based on the events that occurred in court, you get to go back into the world to question more people and snoop around more locations for evidence. This cycle continues until the maximum three days is reached, when a verdict must be rendered based on the finds of the defense and the prosecution.

It may sound boring by the way I explain it, but that's just an outline of how the game plays out. The characters are humorous and the courtroom proceedings are dramatic, and you'll oftentimes think that there's no way you can find your client not guilty and may even believe they are in fact cold-blooded killers. But soon you submit that one piece of substantial evidence that will break down an entire witness' case and you'll see your client in a whole different light.

Three words describe the gameplay of this game card: Reading, searching, and thinking. It's especially wordy during the court sessions, so it would be wise to save your game when you get to a point where you have to present evidence. You see, the only way to get a game over in Phoenix Wright is if you incorrectly try to contradict a witness' testimony five times. If that happens, you start over at the beginning of that day's court proceedings. That may not seem like a big deal, but due to all the text you have to go through, plus remembering which parts of a testimony to either press on or present evidence on, it can be a lengthy and tedious process to return to where you were before you last lost. But when you save with a few tries left, and end up losing them all, you can go back to the case at the exact moment you last saved, hopefully a bit wiser than you were before.

I personally loved this game, but if you prefer a lot of action to reading and thinking, you may have a different experience. Since this game is long out of print, you should be able to pick it up at a bargain price at a used games outlet. If this review is enough to pique your interest, then playing the actual game will demand your attention until the last case is solved. And guess what? At the time of this writing, there are two other Phoenix Wright titles available now, with another on the horizon. I also hear there's a Phoenix Wright manga that is being imported from Japan, localized in English, and sold on our shores sometime soon. You may hate lawyers, but you'll love Phoenix Wright.

The only one you'll hate at the end of it all is that fucking judge.

And that's just the way it is.

November 4, 2007

The Wizard of Oz: The Book

Like many great Hollywood films of this year, yesteryear, and probably next year, beloved classic The Wizard of Oz was adapted from a book. Written by L. Frank Baum in 1900, when queer meant strange and gay meant happy, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was meant to be a modern fairytale devoid of all the depressing endings of Grimm's classics. They weren't called "Grimm" for nothing. If you only know this tale by the similarly titled movie, you'd probably be surprised to know that it's only the first of FOURTEEN stories that took place in the fantastic world of Oz. The only known sequels to the The Wizard of Oz film are the animated Journey Back to Oz and Return to Oz, the latter being one of my favorite movies. Walt Disney Studios, who produced Return to Oz, never took advantage of the cash cow the Oz series could have been. I'm not sure who holds the film rights to the books now, but I feel if they could get their act together they could produce a movie franchise of Lord of the Rings proportions.

There is always a debate about whether or not the book a movie is derived from is the superior version, but I feel The Wizard of Oz is different enough to stand on its own. While the movie is a whimsical musical, the original work is a darker tale full of unknown danger and amazing discoveries. Let's examine some of the unique qualities of the book:
-More oddball lands to explore and the citizens who reside in them.
-The Wicked Witch of the West isn't the "be all to end all" evil here.
-The Cowardly Lion is a real lion, and still talks.
-Glinda is the witch of the south, not the north, and only plays a part in the end.
-The slippers are silver rather than ruby.
-Descriptive origins of Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and the Lion, as well as what they do with their lives at the conclusion.
-The Land of Oz is real as opposed to a dream.
-The story is far from over after the Wizard takes off in the balloon. If Metro Goldwyn Myer wanted to faithfully adapt the pages to celluloid, the movie would have been at least four hours as opposed to 103 minutes. And it's not even wordy padding either, there's a lot more to the adventure than you've ever seen.

There are countless more differences between the two versions to make the book worth checking out for fans of the movie. I also wholly recommend the book to people who are fans of the fantasy genre itself. Personally, I'm not that big a fan of the movie, but the book it's based on I can't suggest for you to check out enough. Even though it was written at the start of the twentieth century, it doesn't contain any old-time words that have fallen into disuse. It's easy enough for today's children to understand, but a great read for all ages.

And that's just the way it is.