Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New "Merlin" Is an Abomination

As some of you may or may not know (and to which I do not often claim), I really like the character Merlin from Arthurian legend. I wrote my college thesis on Merlin; yes, you read that correctly. So, imagine my initial excitement and the look of joy on my face when I heard there was going to be a new "Merlin" TV series. One of my favorite made-for-TV mini-series is "Merlin" starring Sam Neill back in 1998 (and then they made the horrible decision of filming a sequel called "Merlin's Apprentice" but I digress). I thought this show would follow in that same vein. I was wrong. So very, very wrong. Think of this show as the equivalent of how Smallville absolutely wrecked the idea of Clark Kent as a youth. http://www.hulu.com/watch/78885/merlin-the-dragons-call

Three minutes into episode 1 of this new Merlin and I am pissed off. Merlin is a teenage, brown-haired boy who straggles into a fully built Camelot just as Uther Pendragon is getting ready to execute some poor sap for trying to practice magic, which, everyone should know, is punishable by death. Oh, and a totally hot young Morgana (Uther's ward) looks on from an upper window. Uther dives into some super-obvious exposition about how, when he came to the land 20 years ago, magic was everywhere and he happily drove it out with an iron fist. Seriously, this guy hates magic like Republican senators hate homosexuals because they're personally bicurious. The recently executed dude's ugly mom openly curses Uther and then disappears in a cloud of dust before the guards can seize her for practicing magic.

Merlin cautiously makes his way to the headquarters of the "Court Physician," Gaius. Security is pretty lax because the two guards just nod their head and let him pass. Inside, Merlin scopes out the tables full of weird concoctions, books, tools and beakers full of substances. As he calls out to the Gaius, who is reaching oh-so-dangerously for something on a high shelf, Gaius starts to fall. We get a close-up of Merlin's eyes as they flash with some sort of fiery effect and he slows down time; next, he does the eye-flashy thing again and Gaius falls harmlessly onto his bed that has quickly moved across the room. We're then treated to a painfully written dialogue sequence in which Gaius claims he knows Merlin used magic and wants to know from whom he learned. Merlin stutters and replies that he was just born that way and shows Gaius a letter from his mother.

So far, the majority of this young Merlin's screentime has been spent with him looking dopily at the green screen around him. I won't relate the rest of the crappy episode, but I feel this person's script parody is pretty spot-on: Parody

The reason the show pisses me off so much at first viewing is the obvious lack of historical credibility and the lengths to which they ignore so much canonical information regarding Merlin and the world in which he lived. The most obvious wince-inducing mistake is that Uther Pendragon did not build Camelot, Arthur did. However, Merlin was very young when he first met Uther. Magic was not a simple black-and-white topic in those days; everyone was very superstitious and very much polytheistic.

OK, a lot more gripes as the episode continues but I have to limit it since this list could go on forever:
  • Merlin runs into Arthur who is bullying some poor kid by making the kid wear a target while Arthur throws daggers at him. In most accounts, Arthur and Uther never meet and Uther was certainly never a father figure to him. Arthur was raised by Sir Ector and was naturally meek and humble--he wasn't a bully. Also, he certainly wasn't the same age as Merlin. Oh, and Gwenivere was not half African-American.
Writers, producers & directors of this new TV series: you suck. I boycott you and your ignorance.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Tale of Two Halves

The US men's soccer team competed in their very first FIFA tournament final yesterday against perennial powerhouse Brazil and lost 2-3. Earlier in the Confederations Cup tournament, US lost to Brazil 0-3. Ouch--worst loss in their past 28 international matches. The final was a hard-fought game but the 3-2 score doesn't tell the whole story.

It's pretty much a miracle that the US was in this final at all. Not to diminish the play of the US team, but they were in a group with Brazil and Italy (defending World Cup champs) and their semifinal match was against the #1-ranked team in the world. The US was at the bottom of its group and it needed some improbable events in order to advance to the semifinals: the US had to beat Egypt by a margin of 3 goals or more and they needed Brazil to beat Italy by a margin of 3 goals or more. In a sport that rarely sees that sort of scoring consistently, it was a huge surprise when US beat Egypt 3-0 and Brazil beat Italy 3-0. So, the US advanced to the semifinals against FIFA's #1-ranked team: the always dangerous Spain. 2-0 US due mostly to lucky goals but also some much more confident play; after all, no one expected them to win, so there was nothing to lose.

On to the final against Brazil. The US was riding a wave of luck, enthusiasm and determination; Brazil was in a comfortable and familiar position. Perhaps the Brazilians were a little too relaxed because they found themselves down 0-2 by halftime. The US play was quick and controlled and they found themselves with several counterattacking opportunities by doing what they do best: spreading the ball out wide and whipping it in. Tim Howard was called upon time and time again to come up big and he delivered.
  • US Goal #1: It's a pattern that has worked very well in the tournament: get the ball out wide to Spector and let him pick someone out. This person just happened to be Dempsey again and his scorer's touch didn't fail. Dempsey knew where the goal was and his little flick to help the ball along was aimed well at the far post. The ball continued its path right over the fingertips of the outstretched Julio Cesar. Almost a carbon copy goal of the one Dempsey scored against Egypt (again, assisted by a Spector cross). Dempsey is a fiend in the air; he is your main goal scorer. Rely on him, make him work for the crosses and expect some magic for him. Keep this pattern going as long as it keeps producing goals.
  • US Goal #2: A beautiful counterattack that was eerily similar to the one Brazil had against the US in their June 18 game. The US seizes upon an errant pass, pushes it immediately up-field and it's off to the races. It literally takes 11 seconds from the US interception to the ball in the back of the net. Clark sees the Brazil pass missing the mark, steps up, and slots the ball to Donovan at about the halfway line. Donovan sees Davies streaking up the left side of the field and hits him on the run. Davies sees Donovan now running up the center of the pitch and, while falling down, sends a centering pass that Donovan settles at the top of the 18. With a defender now between him and the goal and Cesar sneaking off his line, Donovan calmly cuts back to the middle of the goal and, with his left foot, places the ball hard and low in the right corner. In my opinion, a sloppy but lucky pass by Davies but a brilliant and confident finish by Donovan. Who knew he could still score if it wasn't a PK? :-P
And then everything went to hell. As other people have said so poignantly, "Brazil put on a clinic." Brazil stayed patient: they held the ball, they pushed hard offensively, and they were much more aggressive defensively. US hardly had any true offensive opportunities in the entire second half and looked tired. Within the first minute of the second half, they let Brazil get on the board and then the entire game changed. Brazil had the leisure of pressing more for the equalizer instead of biding its time to wait for a chance to strike. Whatever advantage the US had at that point completely vanished and the floodgates opened for Brazil.
  • Brazil Goal #1: Maicon, a consumate veteran who plays for Italy's Serie A club Inter, sees Fabiano in a 1-on-1 matchup, posting up against Demerit at the top of the 18. Fabiano receives the ball and Demerit--inexplicably giving the tournament's leading goal scorer a yard of free space--doesn't stay close enough to him to deny the turn and the shot. Fabiano's blast five-holes Demerit and Howard, partially screened by Demerit and probably not expecting such a quick shot, is caught off-guard.
  • "Brazil Goal #2": 15 minutes later, Kaka streaks into the far post unmarked as a cross comes his way. He heads the ball down so that it bounces high and Howard, who is scrambling from the near post parries the shot away...after the ball has already crossed the line. It happens so quickly and the refs were obviously in bad positions to make the call--they deem it a save and the US is temporarily saved some heartache. Bocanegra is at fault here for not even noticing one of the world's best players sneaking in to the back post; instead, he shifts over to mark someone who Onyewu clearly has already covered. A bad lapse from the US captain that should have cost the team dearly. Video footage of that "non-goal" will make for a good argument for instant replay like they have in the NHL...
  • Actual Brazil Goal #2: Kaka speeds by Spector to the touch line and the cross on the ground finds it way to Robinho at the far post. (With that many US defenders back, how exactly does the ball reach Robinho?!) Bocanegra misses marking his man again and Robinho's first-time shot glances off the bottom of the crossbar and back down at the other corner of the goal. Onyewu is caught flat-footed and has unsuspectingly let Fabiano in behind him. The ball falls like a gift from heaven to Fabiano and he heads it home. 5th goal for Fabiano in the tourney.
  • Brazil Goal #3: I can't decide what's worse--that this goal comes in the 87th minute or that it comes off yet another set piece that the US conceded. A well-placed corner to the far post and Lucio elevates to nod it perfectly: the ball hits the inside of the far post and goes in. Howard did his best to dive for it but there's no one in the world who could have stopped it. Dempsey, probably pretty tired from having to play defensively for an entire half, didn't quite get close enough to the taller Lucio to deny such a clean look at the ball.
Let's hope the US continues this streak of better play as the World Cup nears. The team has some good memories from the tournament but also many lessons to learn.
  • Most of the subs were ineffectual (especially Kljestan) and this might be due to nervousness and inexperience. After all, Bradley doesn't really vary too much from his starting lineup and uses the same subs over and over.
  • I didn't see much from Altidore besides being a tackling dummy as the target forward to line up free kicks--I miss the crazier Jozy from his NY Red Bulls days who would run at a couple defenders from the wings.
  • Be more patient and possess the ball--knock it back if you have to in order to slow the game down. There were too many games in this tournament where the US had to play frenzied defense for an entire half and it obviously tired a lot of the players.
  • Do not give some of the best players in the world too much time to think and/or space to create plays. Close them down without giving away free kicks in your defensive third. Be vocal in the back to help each other recognize weaknesses. See someone lagging on an offside trap? Wake them up and tell them to shift faster. See someone's mark with too much space? Point it out.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

As Borat Would Say: "Great Success!"

So, after about a month of phone calls, face-to-face interviews and submitting writing samples, I've landed a sweet "Social Media Content Writer" position with Corinthian Colleges, the second-largest for-profit, post-secondary education company in the USA! (A small insight into their size: they have 100 campuses throughout the country, they did $980 million in business last year and they're publicly traded as COCO on the NYSE)

In addition to the obvious benefits of working for a large, established company, the position itself is pretty sweet and right up my alley. I'll have a couple different roles, most notably acting as an official brand representative on third-party platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. This will also, naturally, include some Online Reputation Management tasks such as monitoring any sort of buzz and responding. Last but not least, there will be quite a bit of writing involved--anything from blog posts and updating micro-site content to updating style guides/fact sheets and engaging potential students. A little bit of everything but that's nothing new to moi.

The people I've met so far have been great; they've all been at the company for years and are really happy with it. The benefits are pretty incredible and it's a 10-minute drive from where I live. And, since the company stands behind their mission of education, I'll get to (eventually) attend industry-related workshops and conferences! Hooray for me! I start in a couple weeks.

Corinthian Colleges website: http://www.cci.edu

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The De-Evolution of Facebook

I'm sorry to say it but Facebook is quickly becoming the next MySpace and should, within the next couple years, become yet another social media platform I abandon. Back in 2004, Facebook started as an exclusive social network whose functionality was pretty pure and straightforward: connect with people and keep in touch. That's why I originally joined it my sophomore year of college.

Now, Facebook caters to the ADD generation with an endless stream of useless "Applications" and bells and whistles. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate all applications--I basically started my current relationship by flirting through Scrabulous--I just don't find them at all consistent with Facebook's original intention.

There's also the little voice in the back of my head trying to offer a counterargument: "Jon, are you sure you're not just mad that Facebook has become so mainstream that your parents and aunts and uncles are now using it? Are you that kid who stopped liking an indie band as soon as they became 'mainstream' because you realized you were no longer one of the hipsters who knew them 'before they got big' and called everyone else posers and accused them of just jumping on the bandwagon cuz they're sheep and that you were special because you appreciated the three-man band back when they were playing at your college and back when they were writing songs like "Mothra vs. We Are Scientists" before their songs started getting featured on TV shows and feature films?"

So, maybe it's because Facebook is too mainstream and people only see it as "something cool" and were turned onto it because someone else they know recommended it for some silly reason. But I think a lot of people would agree that the majority of Facebook usage nowadays is pretty pointless. I'm tired of seeing a full stream of activity dedicated to stupid quizzes like "What type of hat are you?" and how well people know High School Musical trivia.

This is madness. This is Facebook.