I’ve been reading an advance review copy of Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont’s pop culture flashback-fueling book The Totally Sweet 90s: From Clear Cola to Furby, and Grunge to “Whatever”, the Toys, Tastes, and Trends That Defined a Decade (review coming closer to the book’s June 4 release date). It’s funny how the 90s feel like a very set thing in my brain and yet I went from being 7 to 16 in that decade and have several different stages of pop culture development both in general and for me personally. Anyway, one of the subjects in the book kicked off a very distinct memory in my brain: Gak.
If you’re not familiar, Gak was a slime-like substance created by Nickelodeon that was kind of like Flubber, but instead of making you bounce around, does allow you to make pretty convincing fart sounds. I don’t think I had any Gak myself, though I do remember playing with it at my friends’ houses. My parents probably appreciated that is it seemed like a pretty messy toy. As a dad now, the idea of my kid playing with Gak gives me a bit of a headache. I remember it smelling funny and leaving your hands kind of greasy.
This commercial is pretty great and remind me of my childhood. This was the early 90s, so it was still okay to market a toy to children as something cool that adults would not approve of. This was also the hay day of gross toys which included everything from Trash Bag Bunch to Dr. Dreadful, so it was perfect timing. Man, good times.
Walter Hill is a fascinating director to me. I discovered The Warriors in high school and it changed my brain. It felt like someone who loved comic books, taking some of the crazy, garish characters and putting them into the real world and still making it feel really real and believable even when tinged with healthy doses of melodrama. Even with as influential as that film was to me, though, I haven’t really actively sought out his other films. Sure, I’ve seen the 48 Hours movies and Last Man Standing, but that was before I realized he made those films. When I saw his 1984 film Streets Of Fire on Netflix Instant, I was super excited to give it a watch. When the titles started popping up and one of them said I was about to watch “A rock and roll fable” I got even more excited.
The film follows gun-for-hire Tom Cody (Michael Pare) as he gets hired by Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) to save rock singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) from a gang of thugs lead by Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe). Tom brings along new acquaintance McCoy (Amy Madigan) to help out. The structure of this film is actually very similar to that of The Warriors but in a slightly different order. The hero has a mission, he gets a girl, he and his crew do their best to get back to safety and then at the end there’s a showdown behind the good guy and bad guy while a small army of armed people stand around and watch. Hell, there’s even a scene where the subway trains aren’t working because someone set fire to them! As if all that wasn’t enough, some of the Warriors cast members pop up in this film like Deborah Van Valkenburgh (Mercy) as Tom’s sister and even Lynne Thigpen who played the DJ in the previous movie popped up as a cop (interestingly enough telling the leads about the train fire). The beginning of the two films are also really similar from an editing standpoint. Heck, McCoy even kind of looks like Swan.
The story itself is set in a weird world that seems sort of 50s, but created through the prism of the 80s. You’ll understand what I mean by watching just about any scene set in a club. It feels like you’re just as likely to see some guy doing his best Johnny Cash impression or his best Stray Cats impression up on stage and that’s pretty much what you get. Every music number also has that feel too which kind of makes me wonder if Hill wanted to get into the music video game.
Anyway, even with as silly and affected as the film might feel, there’s still some real issues going on here. McCoy has to deal with all kinds of gender nonsense and does her best, but we can see her cracks. She just wants acceptance and friends (who doesn’t?). Meanwhile, our hero Tom is a total tough guy who’s clearly in love with Ellen, but he just doesn’t know how to tell her AND he doesn’t know how to do the obvious which is get the hell out of his crappy live and just move somewhere else. So there’s some stuff going on, but you’ve got to get through some of the veneer to get there, again, much like The Warriors.
I hate to keep comparing Hill movies here, but I do want to point one more thing out. The climax of the film involves the aforementioned showdown between Tom and Raven on the streets surrounded by allies on both sides. But, instead of fighting with fists or knives, they start going at it with crazy prospecting hammers but without the super pointy end. It’s a pretty bonkers scene, but it instantly reminded me of the trailers I’ve seen from Hill’s last movie Bullet To The Head where Sylvester Stallone has a freaking axe fight with Jason Momoa. Now, I haven’t seen that movie yet, but it’s interesting that Hill went back to that well. It makes me want to watch the rest of his movies to see what other elements he uses over and over again or if I’ve seen them all at this point. Still, Streets of Fire is a unique, offbeat little movie that does a lot of the same things Warriors does in both theme and content. I’d probably have fallen in love with it had I also seen it in high school, but the adult version of me saw a lot of the affectedness going on and couldn’t fully commit.
When I was in high school my buddy Eric Toth talked a lot about a movie called Monster Squad. He said it was like Goonies, but full of monsters and that I, being a horror fan, would love it. At that time, I think it was really hard to find on video and I wasn’t really the type to go out of my way to search out a movie, especially when there was still so much at my beloved Family Video that I hadn’t seen yet. Fast forward a few years and I’m at Wizard working with a ton of rad folks including Rickey Purdin who, if memory serves, found one of the creators of the movie selling his own copies or something along those lines. Soon enough he got his hands on a copy and I watched it with him, but I think that’s the only time I’ve actually watched it before last night.
The other night I felt like giving it another watch, added the Bluray to the top of my Netflix queue and was happy to give it a watch last night. Man, I love this movie. Toth and Rickey and all the other people who love this movie are dead-on right, it’s great. I’m not sure how, in a world where Goonies seemed to be on television every weekend I never saw this movie as a kid, but that’s how it went down. The premise follows a group of kids who have their own monster club. They basically sit around and talk about horror movies and how you kill various monsters. Then one day, the monsters come to town and they’re the only ones paying attention so they take it upon themselves to save the day. Said monsters are basically the Universal ones including Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, a mummy a werewolf and a creature from a colorful lagoon of some sort.
A lot of movies like this that people my age remember from childhood can be a real let down if you’ve never seen them and watch them for the first time as an adult. For instance, I liked Lost Boys when I saw it for the first time five years ago, but it didn’t make its way into my list of all time faves. While watching Monster Squad again, though, I was actually really impressed with it and not just because I’m a fan of any movie featuring kids dealing with something crazy (Goonies, The Gate, The Pit, E.T., the Troll movies, even the ball-of-weirdness that is Mac and Me) but also because it’s a beautifully shot (the Bluray looks fantastic, you guys), well thought out flick with lots of extra goodness from ridicuslouly quotable lines (“Wolfman’s got nards!” “I’m in the goddamn club, aren’t I?”) to really fantastic creatures and special effects (big ups to Stan Winston!). It helps that the film was co-written by Shane Black (Die Hard, Iron Man 3) and Fred Dekker (Night Of The Creeps, RoboCop 3) who both took the material seriously when putting this thing together.
But, the best part about this movie is the fact that the filmmaker never forgets who its heroes are. These are kids. Somewhat goofy, naive kids who never stop thinking like kids. When the wolfman attacks, their leader commands “Fat Kid” to kick him in the nards. Yes! That’s exactly what I would have thought when confronted by a monster as a 10 year old (or whatever age they are). You know, if I wasn’t in the fetal position crying and being eaten already. That’s another thing I love about this movie, these kids are brave and strong even in the face of craziness, which is something I probably wouldn’t have been in their shoes.
I noted on Twitter last night that I could be happy writing these kinds of stories for the rest of my life and I do think that is the case. I don’t want to say that kids today have no idea how good they could have had it, but do they even really do these kinds of movies outside of Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids movies? I’d actually love to do a project watching these movies with modern day kids and seeing what they think of them. I’d also be interested in watching them with a child psychologist and talk about what good and bad messages they might offer to kids. Anyone interested in that? Drop me a comment.
Just about every weekend I spend a few minutes sitting in front of the twin to-read longboxes of trades I have sitting in my closet and pull out a small pile to read. I rarely get through all of them, but I tend to do pretty well. As such, I wind up reading a lot more books than I can get to when reviewing doing one, sometimes two, Trade Posts a week. So, I’m going to run through a quartet of Marvel books I’ve read in the past few months.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, drawn by Oliver Coipel with Michael Lark, Lucio Parrillo & Jim Cheung
Collects Siege #1-4, Siege: The Cabal & FCBD 2009 (Avengers) #1
First up you’ve got Siege. This was the big Marvel event that came out in the beginning of 2010. If memory serves, this was the big header to the massive, ongoing story that started off with Civil War, marking a pretty dark time in the lives of that universe’s superheroes. At this point, Norman Osborn was leading H.A.M.M.E.R. which used to be S.H.I.E.L.D. after supposedly saving the world from the Skrulls at the end of Secret Invasion. Jeez, that’s a lot of continuity to remember.
The story itself revolves around Osborn — who’s bug nutty crazy, by the way — attacking the floating city of Asgard which hovers above a town in Oklahoma. This attack draws all the heroes together — both registered and unregistered, harkening back to Civil War — to help defend Asgard against Osborn’s army of Dark Avengers and villains.
At the time, I was excited to see an event comic coming in at only four issues and to see how this would lead into the more positive, less dark Heroic Age at the company. As a story, it involves all the things you’ve come to expect from comic events these days: big group shots, copious amounts of dialog from newscasters, wildly violent moments to let you know things are serious, deaths and splash-page worthy moments returning important characters to their status quos. Maybe it’s because we’re so far removed from this era of Marvel comics — which I wasn’t a huge fan of in the first place — or maybe it’s because this feels like a lot of familiar elements being perpetrated by different people, but the story didn’t do a whole lot for me. It’s beautifully composed by Coipel who’s a top notch talent. He does as well drawing Captain America talking to people as dozens of superpowered folks battling at the same time.
Basically, this book served its purpose by making the good guys good and the bad guys bad again and it’s definitely necessary if you want to know what happened between roughly 2006 and 2010 in Marvel’s books, but it doesn’t really stand out as the kind of book that needs to be revisited.
I’ve written about this here and there, but I am a huge fan of Reginald Hudlin’s Black Panther series. I think it was an amazing mixture of action and drama that did a great job of cherry picking fun characters from the Marvel sandbox to play with. Because of that run, I’ve become a fan of the character and done a bit of checking in on what he’s been up to here and there.
Doomwar finds Wakanda under attack by the likes of Dr. Doom. With Storm framed for treason, the X-Men come in to help T’Challa and his sister — the then-current Black Panther — clear her name and save the country. As the story — which feels like an event, but was contained in just these six issues — progresses, the scope gets bigger and brings in more characters. I like when comic stories do this, combining an epic feel without making me buy or read a huge stack of comics.
I also like that this story works as both a continuation of the Black Panther story, but also works well as a Marvel Universe story. Doom is such a classic villain that it only makes sense to throw as many heroes at him as possible while keeping his machinations HUGE. And huge they are. I won’t spoil his end game, but it actually works and winds up changing a chunk of the Marvel U. Of course, this is comics, so that may or may not last (or might have already been changed for all I know). I also really dug Eaton’s artwork which has a dark boldness that works on everything from giant monsters to armor-covered heroes. I’ll definitely be keeping this one around.
Hey look, another Black Panther comic! This one also stars Captain America, a character who I have grown to love thanks to Ed Brubaker’s run on that book and teams him up with T’Challa’s dad during WWII as the pair face off against Baron Strucker, Red Skull and their band of evil Nazi supervillains. Just like his run on the regular series, Hudlin does this great thing where he grabsgreat characters — like Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos, Master Man, Tiger-Man and Warrior Woman — and just has fun with the story. These four issues basically fully tell a story more briefly mentioned in Hudlin’s early days on Black Panther.
On one hand, Flags Of Our Fathers works as a cool team-up story pitting heroic good guys against dastardly bad guys, but there’s also some really great dramatic and personal moments going on here. I really enjoyed seeing Howling Commando Gabriel Jones interacting with Captain America as well as T’Chaka and his people. There’s a really great dynamic there where Gabe is mentally balancing a love for his own country even while a large part of which fears and hates him. He’s even offered Wakandan citizenship, which gives him an interesting problem to mull over coming to a conclusion that isn’t super surprising, but felt natural and earned.
Cowan’s an artist whose style doesn’t always hit with me. I really enjoyed him on The Question because he let his get syper sketchy which really fit the tone of that book and I really like him on this mini series too because he reigns that sketchiness in a little bit while still retaining his style. As with Doomwar, I’ll be adding this one to my collection as fun stories featuring two of my favorite characters.
The Peter Milligan/Mike Allred run on X-Force which quickly turned into X-Statix is one of those comics I’ve heard great things about for years, but just never got around to checking out until a few months ago when I got the Good Omens book from a Sequential Swap trade. I had forgotten that this concept actually kicked off in the pages of X-Force and wrongly assumed that this would be the beginning of the story.
The big thing about this team at the time was that they weren’t afraid to put their names out there, let the world know they were mutants and grab their share of the spotlight. This arc follows the darker side of that as a reality-warping mutant named Artie whose an obsessed superfan of the recently deceased U-Go Girl causes trouble for them while at the same time, there’s also a rival super team that offers the team more competition for the spotlight than they’ve previously known.
I should note that this is not really the best place to start reading these characters. As I mentioned, the story really started in X-Force and ran for 14 issues. Huge, huge portions of the Good Omens storylines are based on what went before it. However, even though I wasn’t completely caught up on what was going on, I never felt completely lost. In fact, I was still so interested in these characters and events that I’m trying to figure out the best way to read the whole thing. There’s an out of print omnibus that has everything, but there’s also a hardcover and two softcovers that collects the X-Force stuff as well as the four volumes of X-Statix. I guess I’m on the hunt for a few more books now!
When I saw Skatopia: 88 Acres Of Anarchy pop up on Netflix, I was intrigued. I’ve watched plenty of movies about skateboarding, both fictional and documentary, so when I saw this thing about a dude whose been building a huge skatepark on his property for years, I figured it was worth a look. I had no idea the rollercoaster of emotions I’d feel while watching, though.
First, the basics. Brewce Martin is a skater who tried for years to build a place where he could skate and enjoy himself, but kept finding static until he moved to a southeastern part of Ohio (my home state) where he bought the titular 88 acres and started building. Far from being wealthy, or great at paying his bills, Martin has made the creation of Skatopia a group effort, allowing people to stay on his property in everything from old trailers to lean-tos. The concept is pretty simple, they do work and they get to not only stay there but also skate the place. It’s become a kind of Mecca for skaters as one of the many transients says during the film. To help keep things rolling, Brewce holds a few annual parties to help bolster income which he then puts back into the park. One of the main points of interest and conflict comes from the 60 day prison term Martin winds up serving to take care of an assault and battery charge that he says was actually an attack on himself where he was simply defending himself.
From watching the film I feel like I got a pretty good sense of who Brewce is as a person, partially because he lays a lot of things out on the table, but also from watching him interact with people. He just wants to live his life how he wants to live it which mostly includes skating, partying and fooling around, none of which is bad on its own. But, he’s got a toddler daughter with his girlfriend and that’s one of the main sources of discomfort and worry for me as a viewer throughout this film, but I’ll get back to that in a bit. He freely admits to having problems with fidelity, authority and rage, all of which are hinted at or overtly shown in the film. But he’s also a control freak, which is interesting considering he doesn’t want anyone telling him what to do. The subtitle of the film — 88 Acres Of Anarchy — is actually bullshit. Skatopia is a dictatorship, run by Brewce. He’s got a solid set of rules that might have a lot of bend to them and space for individuality, but if you cross him, he will come down on you, either with violence or expelling you from the kingdom.
And, to a certain extent, he has to be like that. He’s dealing with a group of individuals who have basically shrugged off the regular working world. They just want to skate. Some of them are jazzed about actually being a part of building up Skatopia, which is fantastic, but others look like they’re just there to drink a lot of Pabst Blue Ribbon and possibly partake in various illegal narcotics (nothing’s overtly shown, but if there aren’t at least a half dozen meth heads in this film, I’m one of the Z-Boys). When he’s locked up, things just don’t get done. Partially because his minions don’t want to work, partially because their king isn’t pushing them to get things done and partially because he is the wheeling, dealing brains behind the entire operation. Still, he gets out in time to finish enough of something to throw a party that seems like a success.
So that’s all well and good. I’m not the type that wants to tell adults how to live their lives (though I’m fairly certain some of the Skatopia inhabitants were under age). My only real problems with this guy revolve around his young daughter. My kid’s about as old as she is in the film and I just can’t help but feel sorry for her. It’s great that her dad is a free thinker, but he also throws a party that involves drinking, drugs, fire, fireworks, explosions and all manner of other craziness. Where’s she in all that? Who’s looking out for her? There’s a scene where her mom brings her to visit her dad in prison that broke my heart. That’s where I think I turned on Brewce as a character. For me, a person’s number one priority should be protecting their children and I worry that she’s in an unsafe environment without much supervision. There’s also the seemingly looming threat of all the things Brewce has specifically told us viewers about himself that keep gnawing in my brain when it comes to his daughter: he’s violent, irresponsible, bad with money, all things that tick in the negative when it comes to fatherhood.
And yet, I find myself agreeing with a lot of what Brewce has to say. He pulled his older son — who’s 20 in the film — out of traditional schools because he doesn’t like how they indoctrinate people. I can relate to that. He thinks that all people need a balance in their lives between the negative and positive, searching for that thing that makes them feel good. Yeah, I’m on board with that too. However, while I agree with him on many things, I personally wouldn’t let those ideas supersede my role as a father, which I think is where there’s a disconnect for me when it comes to the man.
It doesn’t help that this is a strange, meandering documentary with characters coming and going without notice or follow-up. You see Brewce, his minions and their exploits for an extended period of time to get an idea of what life at Skatopia is like, but it feels like there might have been some kind of director- or editor-driven message behind the whole thing that isn’t quite clear. For instance, there’s an entire scene where Brewce and the boys invite some strippers over to the place to hang out the night before he goes to court. There’s absolutely no point to this scene and yet it goes on for quite a while and really skeeved me out when it came to Brewce and his people. I’m not sure if that was the filmmakers’ intent or not, but I kind of think it might be. Otherwise, why not show other footage of more interesting things happening? You could have used that time to give a little bit more context to what the heck was happening during the party, which could probably have its own doc all to itself.
I did a little looking around after watching this movie and came to understand that Brewce was actually pretty drastically injured in a 2010 explosion at a tire factory that put him in a coma for a while. There’s not a ton of information on Wikipidea about what’s happened since then (Brewce himself doesn’t have a page, but the park does), but I get the idea he’s doing alright and Skatopia is still going strong.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure if I’d recommend this movie. On one hand, it certainly immerses you in a lifestyle you may or may not be familiar with. On the other, it’s oddly put together and features people who range from soft and cuddly to worrisome and troubling which might turn you off. I say give it a shot and see what’s going on in a place that some consider heaven and others would avoid like hell.
This post took longer to put together than just about any other in TCT history. First off, I wrote a whole thing about how I stumbled upon a WWF toy commercial after watching Rowdy Roddy Piper in They Live which made for a great theme this week. Then I did a UnitedMonkee search only to discover that I not only already posted this commercial (back in 2010!), but also wrote a very similar write-up. With that scrapped, I figured I’d look around for one about the pillow pal WWF guys which are actually called WWF Wrestling Buddies.
If you don’t remember, these were Tonka plush toys based on popular wrestlers of the day. This might seem like a strange mix, but actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. The whole idea of wrestling is performing crazy moves on your opponent, so what better way to let kids get in on the action than by giving them garish stuffed opponents to body slam all over their bedrooms?
And that’s exactly how these toys were played with if memory serves. Even though I wasn’t into the WWF two of my good friends in the neighborhood were and they had plenty of merchandise. Remember this was the late 80s/early 90s so you had lots to chose from. We would perform whole Royal Rumbles with these guys and it was a lot of fun. The commercial really captures that, though I don’t think we ever made his parents walls quiver and shake quite that bad.
Guys, I’m embarrassed to tell you that I’m fairly certain last night was the very first time I watched all of John Carpenter’s 1988 classic They Live in one sitting. I can’t imagine never renting it back in my heavy VHS rental days at Family Video, but I was notorious for putting a movie on in the living room and then getting on the computer and AIMing with folks for hours only turning around and checking out what was going on in the film every once in a while (when sitting at the computer, your back was to the TV as the room was set up). I’ve seen huge chunks of the movie, though, but that whole first bit where Roddy Piper’s unnamed-in-the-film hero is walking around Rambo style, looking for a job and digging with his shirt off seemed brand new to me. I have no real excuse, so I’m just going to embrace whatever ridicule you might feel the need to foist upon me.
Okay, we all good? After spending a week in Disney World and really enjoying myself, I figured I’d watch something kind of action-y and horror-y to get back into my usual mindset. I was perusing my DVD rack which is piled with unwatched discs and was shocked to discover that I had a copy of Scream Factory’s recently released They Live DVD (I requested it from the fabulous folks at Shout Factory mere weeks before finally getting a Blu-ray player). So not only was I excited to give the film a full watch, but also to dig into the special features which, as you might expect, are fantastic.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, They Live follows Piper’s character — who’s only referred to as Nada in the closing credits — as he strolls into town looking for work. At first it seems like you’re just looking at a crummy part of town, but soon enough you begin to understand that something’s going on with this world. The middle and lower classes are being kept down by what appears to be television brainwashing, though a few people seem wise to the plot and are trying to do their best to enlighten the disinterested populace. Nada stumbles upon their main way of showing people what’s going on: sunglasses. These shades allow the wearer to see what’s really going on and it’s not pretty. The world is actually packed with subliminal messages bestowing the virtues of all things 80s (worship money, settle down and breed, etc.) AND zombie-looking aliens. As it turns out the aliens have teamed up with the rich to sell out the lower classes so the aliens can abuse the Earth’s resources while the main populace is none the wiser. Nada teams up with Frank (Keith David) to try and take care of the problem.
While the most iconic and well-remembered part of the movie, is probably the epic five minute fist fight between Piper and David (which I wrote about in a fun Topless Robot list called The 10 Longest And Awesomest Movie Fight Scenes of All Time), I’ve got to say that the themes of the movie really hit me and actually got under my skin a bit. That whole idea of evil living among us and not having any idea has always been a very effective one on me. Plus, you’ve got the general idea of brainwashing the lower masses while the rich take over and do whatever they want with the world. It’s an obvious metaphor for the 80s, but you can also see how those themes still carry over to this day. There’s a “How can we fight such a massive foe?” quality to it that can lead to either hopelessness or a unique trust in change and goodness. So, even while some of the effects or shots might look a little corny, there’s still a message going on here that’s the clear mark of quality in science fiction.
If you get the Scream Factory version of this movie, you can actually see and hear John Carpenter talk about his intentions going into the film, which basically revolve around rebelling against the establishment. It’s a really neat interview, especially if you’re like me and don’t know a ton about the genesis of this flick. I didn’t get through all the special features — there’s a commentary with Piper and Carpenter that I’m really excited to listen — but I did watch the featurette about the sights, sounds and special effects of of the film as well as an interview with Keith David about the film. As with just about every Shout Factory disc where they go the special features route, this one has all kinds of extra rad stuff to absorb for fans. The disc actually came out last November (where does the time go?) so if you’re a They Live fan, you probably already have it, but if you’re like me and increasingly out of touch with what’s going on, do yourself a favor and pick this one up!