Living in Fantasyland by Josh Trudell

“Zack (*^%ing Grienke!!”

The big man’s forehead reddened, then purpled. “&^(&, Steve*, you do this to me every year! $&*@!”

As we roared in laughter, he paced around the room, crumpling pieces of paper and throwing them in different directions, fuming. Empty Styrofoam cups and plastic bags went flying, before he finally calmed down.

Ah, the raging torrents of emotion, wrought to the surface by fantasy baseball.

It’s one of the touchstones of spring, for me - flowers start to bloom, the air conditioning starts to run constantly, and I get together with a small group of friends to hash out our fantasy baseball auction.

Without delving too deeply into the nerdity, it’s a group of eight guys – one brought his girlfriend one year, and hasn’t lived it down since – sitting around bidding on their favorite American League baseball players. This is New England, after all - none of that National League crap goes here.

This has been my first fantasy league, and the only one that’s ever stuck. The group’s core is made of people I worked with at my first real job – a reporter and editor at a small newspaper in southern New Hampshire.

One of the clichés about newspapers is the camaraderie – long hours, low pay and high stress forge a deeper working relationship than other jobs. These guys are my proof that it exists, and it’s why I fly 1,500 miles to hang out with them for a few hours.

Distance makes it harder now – I’ve only made it one of the last three years, and I can’t remember the last time I saw Steve (the guy who seems to win it EVERY YEAR).

I’m not a charter member of the league – there are a couple of those left – but I’ve been part of it long enough to see most notepads give way to laptops. During the most recent auction, held just a couple of days ago, we retired an old easel and huge sketch pad in favor of a high-definition TV and Google Docs to keep track of who chose which player.

Red Sox players are always expensive – it is New England, after all – but it’s the only time Yankees players might be valued just as highly. Old jokes are revived about Nomaaaaaah, new stories told about the latest indignities of the newspaper business, and the bids go round in circles.

Ironically, the process gets more competitive later in the game – the outburst above was during the last stage of the auction, when a promising pitcher was taken before the outburster’s next pick.

It’s become part of the history of this group, rolled out any time someone gets too excited about losing a bidding war.

After a rousing third-place finish last season, I’m hopeful about this year’s team – since, hope, like baseball, springs eternal.

*Names changed to protect the outburster and bursted-upon.

John Who? by Josh Trudell

Sweeping sci-fi action movie. Oscar-winning director, coming off a game-changing film. Huge powerhouse studio sinking tons of money into it.

Sounds like the kind of movie that rakes in more money that most third-world countries produce in a year, doesn’t it?

Instead, it’s the “monument to excess”  (and it took one glimpse of the price tag for critics to dust that phrase off) called John Carter.

Now, I admit - this kind of film is my raison d’etre when it comes to summer movies, so I’m inclined to like it if at all possible. The Superwife and I both chew up the epic blockbusters like Girl Scout cookies. We’re right in the heart of the nerdcore that this movie should have been aimed at.

The problem I saw was – well, who WAS this movie aimed at? Or was it aimed at all?

The natural comparison for John Carter is Avatar, the 2009 James Cameron-directed epic. They had many of the same ingredients going in.

When Avatar came out, we were swimming in ads for months, in all forms of media. The marketing campaign was thorough, to say the least. It became an can’t-miss event – the guy who directed Terminator and Titanic is coming out with a big movie! Holy crap, I’ve got to see this!

Do you know the name of the director of John Carter? Do you know what he’s done? Did you hear about it anywhere?

For the record – his name is Andrew Stanton, and he directed Wall-E and Finding Nemo. He’s been a Pixar guy since the beginning.

That might have been good to know, considering the reputation Pixar has crafted.

Disney is Pixar’s parent company now – but based on the storytelling Disney did with the marketing for this movie, Stanton may want to stick with animation.

The story is an old one – based on Edgar Rice Burrough’s novels, the first of which was published in 1912.  So it was the inspiration behind a lot of the minds that came up with films such as Star Wars, and yes, Avatar.

Another point to hammer home, perhaps?

At this point, though, the novels are not widely known. A marketing approach helping people understand what they are in for might have been a good idea. I knew what a Na’vi was for months before one showed up on the big screen – but Jeddaks were a whole new concept.

In short: You’re introducing me to this new world – a new language, new beings, new social structure. In my opinion, it might have been a good approach to give people a Rosetta Stone course before dumping them into this epic tale.

Critics rightfully gave John Carter some lumps, in my mind – it’s a little long, and occasionally a little muddled.

The critics who enjoyed it seemed to have a common theme, though: Embrace it for its innocence. It doesn’t carry most of the heavy messages of Cameron’s Dances with Smurfs – but it’s fun. That’s something that makes it worthwhile all by itself.

I give it three stars out of five for excellent action, a fun storyline and decent chemistry between Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins. For more thoughts about the movie's issues and values, I recommend these thoughts from Mr. Beaks at Ain't it Cool News.