Friday, November 19, 2010

Awesome Historical Figures You've Never Heard Of: Joe Mulliner

Put the words "New Jersey" and "outlaw" together and most people today will think of The Sopranos or possible whoever is currently governor, but back in 1779 the most famous outlaw in Jersey was a man named Joe Mulliner.
Mulliner remained loyal to the British crown during the revolution. Because his political views carried the threat of arrest or worse, he left his farm, which overlooked the Mullica River near modern-day Pleasant Mills, and took to the woods, in the hopes that his wife would be able to live unmolested if he was not around.
He set up camp on an island about half a mile down the river from his home, and gradually attracted a following of other outlaws.
What ensured Mulliner's status as a local celebrity was that, in spite of his large stature, he was a rather nonviolent, and even friendly, robber. In the three years he was active, Mulliners gang of "Refugees" never killed or seriously injured any of their victims, and he was even known to entertain his victims with jokes and stories while his men rifled through their belongings. He was also reputed to have only robbed those who could afford it, leaving poorer travelers to go about their business. One story also has him leaving an anonymous bag of cash for a woman whose house was destroyed by his overenthusiastic henchmen, by way of apology for their actions.
His main weakness, which would cost him his life in the end, was his love of a good party. He would crash local celebrations, dancing with all the prettiest girls, and slip back into the night. His flamboyance attracted a number of Robin-Hood like legends, including that he once rescued a young woman from an unwanted marriage.
In the summer of 1781, however, the famous party-crasher was captured in Nesco after cutting in on the wrong couple. The irate beau rushed to get the local militia captain and Mulliner was arrested. He was taken to Burlington and hung for high treason on August 8. His body was returned to his wife and buried at the family farm.
For years after, travelers through that area would report hearing Mulliner's laughter or see a tall man walking by the river. Nowadays, that part of New Jersey has been largely reclaimed by the forest, and Mulliners ghost, if it's still there, walks by itself in the pines.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Family Movies: Megamind

We went to see the latest Dreamworks film, Megamind, the other day. I wasn't expecting much, the super hero genre seems to have gotten surprisingly hard to parody of late, or to provide much of a new take on (although Pixar's "The Incredibles" did a fantastic job of just that) but was pleasantly surprised. While it didn't particularly cover any new ground, it did provide a few genuine laughs, and was worth the cost of admission.
Will Ferrell voices the title character, an evil alien genius bent on ruling Metro City. Well, kind of evil anyway, in about the same way that Stephen Colbert is Conservative. Brad Pitt, Tina Fey and Jonah Hill help round out the celebrity end of the cast.
Things get interesting for Megamind when he finally succeeds in defeating his arch rival, Metro Man, the Superman knockoff who protects Metro City. Having reached his only actual goal in life, ennui sets in, and then he decides he needs a replacement archenemy. Things don't go quite as well as he planned and the expected hilarity ensues.
There's some unexpectedly insightful stuff to be found in Megamind on the effects of bullying and isolation, the pursuit of goals, good and evil and Man's quest for happiness, as well as a number of zingers that hit right on target. Megamind's supervillain is one who understands the game, and treats the fight for the city as a high-tech match of pro wrestling. "Do you know the difference between a villain and a supervillain?" he asks at one point, "presentation!" (cue lasers, smoke and Guns n' Roses music from on high).
Much of the violence is pretty cartoony, but at some point it gets a bit more serious, and probably a little less comfortable for young kids (my ten-year-old was fine, but things do suddenly get a bit darker as the new villain on the scene refuses to play by the rules and actually starts trying to kill people. It never gets bloody, but it can be a bit intense for sensitive young'uns). There is surprisingly little sexual innuendo for a movie involving Will Ferrell and Jonah Hill, overall it tends more towards goofy than crude.
I didn't get to see it in 3-D, so I can't speak for that format, but the animation quality is high, and the action scenes contain a lot of fun mass destruction. It doesn't achieve the level of How to Train Your Dragon's amazing flight sequences, but it'll do. I'd give it a "three out of five" as a movie that, while probably not destined to be a timeless classic, is a fun way to pass a rainy afternoon.