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Great In ’88 – A Few Memories Of The Year’s Top Pop Hits

August 23, 2015

I’m wrapping up this week looking back at 1988 with a few videos from that year that I have fond memories of. This was several years before I really got into music, but I was still of the world and hearing the pop hits of the day. I didn’t watch MTV back then, but I think there was a video show on Nickelodeon or maybe USA that catered to kid-friendly pop. I intended to write about an album from this year that I came to later in life like Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking or Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, but I’m not sure if I’ve absorbed either album enough to really write about them.

Back when I was 5, I didn’t know who George Harrison was. Heck, I probably didn’t even know who The Beatles were, but I knew that I liked “Got My Mind Set On You.” From doing the tiniest bit of research possible, I’ve discovered something else I didn’t know, this song was a cover. Harrison recorded in for his 1987 album Cloud Nine, but it wound up being the third most popular song on the Billboard Hot 100 the following year. I also had no idea that there were two versions of the video, the one above set in an arcade and the one below which finds everything coming alive in Harrison’s study like a far more lighthearted version of Evil Dead. It’s the latter I remember from being a kid.

The 45-year-old Harrison became an MTV star years after being in the biggest band the world has ever seen, which is pretty impressive. I specifically remember seeing this video while out visiting people with my Grandma in Cleveland. I’m sure I’d seen the video before or at least heard the song, but we were in a place that my memory tells me was like a huge log cabin house, but people lived there, people with teenaged children, so MTV was on. This was one of the videos playing…

And, as it happens, George Michael’s “Faith” was one of the others. That song was the number one most popular song that year, which makes sense ’cause it’s super catchy. The single helped Michael push Wham even further in the rear-view mirror and  transformed him into the “bad boy” sex symbol he would be know as for a decade or so.

When it came to the late 80s pop war between Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, my allegiances firmly lied with the latter. “I Think We’re Alone Now” is just impossible to beat. But that jam came out in ’87 and Tiff’s big hit of this year was “Could’ve Been” which is okay, but not as fun as Debbie’s “Shake Your Love.” The Billboard charts don’t agree with me, though, as Tiffany’s track clocked in at the 8 spot for the year while Gibson’s was at 22. Unlike the other videos on the list, I don’t remember this one was well, but that song was EVERYWHERE.

Finally, you can’t talk about the late 80s without talking about Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” off of Appetite For Destruction from the previous year. I eventually picked this record up at a used CD store in the late 90s, but even a decade later it hadn’t lost it’s punch and power. I try not to play “What if?” too often, but I can’t help wondering what this band could have evolved into had they kept the wheels on the bus (and their sanity) to make a prolonged go at it.

Listening to these songs and watching the videos was a huge trip down memory lane. Some of the things I wrote about in this week’s review of 1988 were familiar to me then like the Transformers toy commercial and playing Mario 2, but most were things I came to much later like Animal Man, Green Arrow, Not Of This Earth and Bloodsport. It’s kind of nice to end with some tunes like this that I remember so vividly from that year.

Where Are All The Mushrooms?! – Revisiting Super Mario Bros. 2

August 22, 2015

super mario bros 2 start screen

When I think of the late 80s, I think of Nintendo. The home video game system was everywhere and I even have distinct memories of unwrapping mine on Christmas sometime toward the end of the decade while my aunt, uncle and cousins were visiting. The star of the show, of course, was Mario thanks in part to his inclusion in every system they sold. But, the oddly named plumber continued past those early roots to amass one of the greatest game franchises of all time, not bad for a guy who first appeared in Donkey Kong.

super mario bros 2 game boxSince I’m focusing on 1988 this week, it seemed only natural to look at that year’s second entry in the Mario Bros. series. While I remember waiting in line to buy Mario 3 at Toys R Us when it came out, I don’t actually recall how I came into owning this one. I do remember playing the heck out of it and enjoying it even though it seemed so different than the previous entry (thanks to the fact that it started out as a completely different game). While the other one had Goombas and Fire Flowers, this one had radishes, Birdos and mysterious night-bringing bottles of potion.

Everyone had their preferred character for different reasons. Mario was a solid all-around player, Luigi could jump the highest, Toad could dig the fastest and the Princess could hover-jump. I always played as the Princess. That ability to just coast over enemies and danger was my bag, though it can easily get you into trouble when dealing with flying enemies.

This past Christmas, my folks got me a Hyperkin Retron 3, that’s a system that plays old NES, Sega and Super Nintendo cartridges on modern TVs. Sure, I’ve got the NES and Sega hanging out in the garage, but one system that works all the time easily trumps those finicky relics of days gone by. So, with this week’s theme in mind, I dug out Mario 2 and gave it a few run-throughs on the Retron to see how my skills stacked up.

super-mario-bros-2-04The first play-through, I used Princess all the way and eventually got to the sixth level before biting it big time. Thanks to memories I was able to dust off, I even remembered where the warp pipes/pots were in a few different levels, though my ability to recall where the life-increasing mushrooms were failed me more often         fcbthan not. 6-1 was a real killer in every sense of the word with the Cobrats shooting me in the face, the Pokeys cactusing me and the Panser’s relentless fireballs.

The second time around I decided to play through as far as I could without warping which wound up not exactly being the case as I stumbled upon a tube to World 5 by accident. I didn’t feel too bad about that given the fact that I was dying at an alarming rate. I realized while playing that this game is a lot more about timing than the others. Since you can’t run somewhat safely behind a group of bouncing fireballs that’ll take out your enemies, you’ve got to time all of those jumps just right to avoid the Shy Guys, Snifits and Tweeters (oh my). The same goes for grabbing Birdo’s eggs (which I still rock at) and throwing Mouser’s own bombs back at him (which I don’t). Not having that timing down is what really got me into trouble. As a kid, I was an expert, but a lot of water has passed under that bridge in the meantime.

super mario 2 retronI was also reminded of how damn frustrating games were back then and how they’re probably even more so today. I’m so used to re-spawning right where I was or being able to save and come back, that I’d almost forgotten about the days of leaving a game paused all Saturday so you could get back to it that night or the crushing defeat of losing that last life on the final board before beating the game. I didn’t even realize I was just one world away from the end when I died on 6-1, but even if I was playing better than I was, it would take me the same amount of time to get to that place with hopefully a few less deaths along the way to give it a shot. However, it was that constant replaying of these levels and games that ingrained them so deeply in our memories. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I dropped that vial of red stuff near the tube on 1-3 and skipped around to World 4. I have no idea where I even learned that trick (I wasn’t much of a trial and error gamer as a kid, so I’m guessing it was from a friend with a subscription to Nintendo Power) but it’s still lodged in my brain somewhere.

I intend to use that knowledge, plus these amazing MarioUniverse.com maps of the levels if need be, to beat this game in the relatively near future. I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually defeated this game, so if I have to look outside of my own realm of knowledge (in other words, cheat) then I’ll do that.

Friday Fisticuffs: Bloodsport (1988)

August 21, 2015

Bloodsport jcvd vs bolo

I could have sworn that I’d seen Bloodsport before, but actually sitting down and watching the movie on Netflix felt like a new experience, so who knows? This movie, which was said to be based on a true story that turned out to be BS, is about a guy named Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who traveled to Hong Kong to compete in a secret underground fighting tournament called the Kumite. He’s there to honor his teacher, a man who started training him after he broke into his house as a kid (who was NOT a good actor BTW). Along the way, he makes friends with another competitor, Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb) and gets with reporter Janice Kent (Leah Ayres) who wants to find out what this whole Kumite thing is all about. There’s also the requisite, over-the-top bad guy champ Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) who is basically Roger Rabbit with giant pecs and the ability to destroy dudes in the ring. Oh, there’s also a subplot about Frank ditching the US military so he can compete which results in two agents — one of which is Forrest Whitaker! — pointlessly chasing after him.

bloodsport art posterI can’t really say that this is a great movie, but it has good parts. The pacing and structure are super weird. The movie, directed by Newt Arnold, starts with a multi-person training montage that visually introduces many of the competitors and their fightingh styles before shifting over Frank breaking away from wherever he’s stationed (his bosses don’t want him to get killed, thus making the government’s investment in his training pointless) and then a prolonged flashback of him as a kid, his teacher and then him training as an adult as well. It takes FOREVER. And then he’s traveling and meeting Ogre from Revenge Of The Nerds and the pretty reporter lady and his mulleted guide.

Eventually we actually get to the fights and they’re pretty cool, but by this point I’m a little tired and these fights don’t hold up to the ones you see today. Hell, Arrow has faster, more intense scenes in many cases. I can contextualize all that given that this is still a pretty early example of a western fight film, so it went through so many of the conventions we’re used to (many of which are also in Kickboxer which I watched last week and will write about soon).

bloodsport-posterBloodsport does greatly benefit from Bolo Yeung’s presence. This dude fought Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon and certainly has the chops, which is rad, but he also gives better crazy face and infant-like ring dance moves than anyone I’ve ever seen. His pecs are also insane. You could serve dinner off of them. Speaking of the cast, I really enjoyed Gibb as well, which is surprising considering I have a longstanding dislike of him from his Revenge Of The Nerd days (though he did win me over with his turn in the sequel). Even JCVD is pretty entertaining. He’s wooden at times, which is to be expected, but these were the days when he was actually super expressive and had softer features even than he had in movies like Hard Target or The Quest. In other words, dude might not act like a movie star, but he sure looked like one.

In addition to the fights, there are some interesting moments that made me smile. Frank makes strong bonds with relative strangers VERY quickly. He’s besties with Ray after playing a karate video game and falls hard in love with Janice almost immediately and would face a crazed killer for them in a heartbeat. He also gets into some ridiculous antics with the officers, like leading them on a wild goose chase through the city that looks like something out of a cheesy 80s comedy (and trust me, I’ve seen plenty of them). Still, if you can forgive the slow-ish-by-today’s-standards action scenes and some of the cornier elements, it’s a pretty fun martial arts movie from the 80s that helped launch JCVD’s career. Here are some of my favorite moments from the film.

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As is the case with Kickboxer, there’s also a remake in the works, which is a pretty good call. We don’t have enough martial arts tournament films these days and the advancements in film making will allow for faster moves to be captured more fluidly. Here’s hoping, though, that they carry over some of the bonkers nature of this final fight into the new one!

Halloween Scene: Not Of This Earth (1988)

August 20, 2015

note of this earth 1988 eyes

Not Of This Earth wasn’t exactly my first choice for horror movies to watch from 1988, but as it turns out, I’ve already reviewed or didn’t have access to some of the bigger ones. So many of the big franchises debuted sequels that year — Halloween 4, Nightmare 4, Friday 8, Poltergeist 3, Phantasm 2, Hellraiser 2, Fright Night 2, Return Of The Living Dead 2 and Sleepaway Camp 2 — but I had reviewed those, couldn’t get to them on short-ish notice or just didn’t feel like it (sorry, Pinhead).

Other notable releases include Scarecrows (so boring), Serpent And The Rainbow,Waxwork, Pumpkinhead, Night of the Demons, Monkeyshines, Maniac Cop, Killer Klowns (which deserves a more in-depth review), Dead Heat, Child’s Play, The Blob remake (which I thought I reviewed) and Black Roses. I couldn’t believe how many of the biggies from that year that I’d seen and reviewed and then I stumbled upon a good one: Jim Wynorski’s remake of Roger Corman’s Not Of This Earth starring Traci Lords and Arthur Roberts. What made it the right movie? Well, I had it on hand thanks to Shout Factory’s Corman Classics line of DVDs from a few years back! I’ve also got the original, but that might have to wait until 1957 week.

not of this earth corman classicsNot Of This Earth is about a race of aliens scouting out Earth to see if they can feed off of its blood. They send a representative — Mr. Johnson (Roberts) — who immediately visits a blood bank to make a withdrawal only to find out that’s not really how they work. Using his mind powers, Johnson gets the doc to assign Nurse Nadine Story (Lords) to be his in-house aid along with his valet Jeremy. When the whole blood bank thing doesn’t work out for Johnson, he starts sucking the life out of people who theoretically won’t be missed like hookers and strippers. Another of his race also comes over, goes nuts and becomes a slasher for no apparent reason (other than they already had that footage from Hollywood Boulevard). Speaking of which, this movie has the most bonkers credits scene of all time because it basically consists of insane monster shots from previous Corman movies that have NOTHING to do with this one.

not of this earth boxAnyway, since this is a Corman picture, there’s a fun story behind it. Apparently, Wynorksi bet the producer that he could make this movie in 12 days. Part of it was a challenge because Corman directed the original, but Wynorski walked away the winner completing it in 11.5 days! I was actually surprised because I thought this was a pretty well put together movie that didn’t feel rushed. In fact, it’s got a lot going for it. Lords’ casting was obviously a stunt as this was her first non-porn part, but she did a great job as did everyone else. The only times it gets overly campy is when the hookers and strippers are on the scene. Oh, there’s also the crazy lady on the bench and the long-haired, bearded alien who looks like a hung over DJ, but they’re not overly distracting.

Wynorksi, who also made films like Chopping Mall, Return Of Swamp Thing, Munchie and Ghoulies IV, is known for mixing T&A with genre flavors resulting in some pretty fun 80s and 90s films before segueing almost completely into the soft core zone. I love Chopping Mall and owe it a full review, but I think this is the best of his movies that I’ve seen. In a way it feels similar to Phantasm in that the mysterious older man is trying to send humans back to another planet that get all shrunk down, but the horror-humor tone is much different. I also appreciate how Not Of This Earth takes old school sci-fi and horror tropes, views them through a modern lens, mixes in some 80s slasher conventions and comes up with something new and different that’s pretty enjoyable even if it was shot very quickly and reuses footage from other Corman movies.

After the generally dark nature of Green Arrow: Hunters Moon and tomorrow’s Friday Fisticuffs offering it was nice to experience the lighter side of 1988!

Trade Post: Green Arrow Volume 1 – Hunters Moon

August 19, 2015

green arrow volume 1 hunter's moonGreen Arrow Vol. 1: Hunters Moon (DC)
Written by Mike Grell, drawn by Ed Hannigan & Dick Giordano
Collects Green Arrow #1-6

Back in college, I decided to collect all 139 issues of the long-running Green Arrow series. Why? I don’t quite remember. Probably because I liked Kevin Smith’s resurrection of the character with Quiver. I quickly took to eBay and spent some of my disposable income on lots of issues. I’ve got between 50 and 75% of the issues sitting in my garage, mostly unread, but still wanted to get my hands on the trades collecting the series kicked off by Mike Grell, Ed Hannigan and Dick Giordano in 1988. What can I say? I just love the trade format. Wanting to read this volume actually inspired this week’s focus on that year when it comes to posts. Read more…

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Transformers Seacons, Sparkabots & Firecons

August 18, 2015

When I took to YouTube in search of “1988 toy commercial” I assumed I’d find a good deal of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and G.I. Joe spots to choose from, but it was this Transformers one that caught my attention. Seacons, Sparkabots and Firecons are exactly the kind of names that sucked so many of us into the adventures of the Autobots and Decepticons way back when.

Unlike most of the other posts associated with this year, this is one that I actually remember interacting with at the time, though I had to head over  to the incredibly detailed Transformers Wiki to get the finer details.  The Seacons consisted of Snaptrap (a turtle), Overbite (shark), Nautilator (lobster), Seawing (manta ray), Scalor (coelacanth) and Tentakil (squid). They joined forces to create Piranacon, a Combiner (which I love). You can read more about them here. Meanwhile, the Sparkabots and Firecons were toys that featured “cold” sparks produced by rolling the wheels back and forth on a hard surface. The good guys included Fizzle, Guzzle and Sizzle while the bad ones were dubbed Cindersaur, Flamefeather and Sparkstalker.

While I never had any of the Seacons (and don’t actually remember them to be honest) it does turn out that I have the Sizzle Sparkabot which has been hanging out in my garage for about a year. I dug him out for the purposes of this post and here he is:

Ol’ Sizzle is much tinier than I remember, but he’s still got that spark!

 

Ad It Up: Animal Man (1988)

August 17, 2015

animal man ad cops 1 1988

Alright, let’s kick off this week celebrating 1988 with an ad for one of the all-time best comic books around: Animal Man! Shot from the first issue of DC Comics’ C.O.P.S. comic, this ad drawn by the amazing Brian Bolland let the world know that Buddy Baker was back in business under the watchful eye of some guy named Grant Morrison. As you can see, this is a differently colored version of the cover for the first issue that also features a few animal changes and a different background, but the same tag line and title treatment.

Now, I was five years old in 1988 so I didn’t experience this book at the time, but as I mentioned when I reviewed all three volumes of Morrison’s run, this is the kind of comic that every comic fan should read because it shows you exactly how to do a mind-bending story with an established hero that both celebrates the good and pokes a bit of fun at the bad. When I went into this week thinking of cool things from 1988 to write and post about, I didn’t actually realize that Animal Man debuted then, but quickly found the ad and knew it was a theme that would work well!

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