Toy Commercial Tuesday: McDonald’s Changeables

My family and I just got back from a nice vacation at my parents’ lake house in Michigan. While there, I went through a lot of my things that were packed up from our old house that I hadn’t seen in around a decade. I came back with a backpack full of great material for future blog posts, but also spotted an old favorite that I wanted to include here on TCT: McDonald’s Changeables. These were little robot-like toys that came in Happy Meals that took a page or ten from the Transformers playbook.

I’ve got to say, while I don’t remember the actual commercial above, it’s pretty darn impressive. They fully went for the T-Formers vibe and would have easily tricked Young Me into thinking that these were actually part of the Robots In Disguise’ Universe. This spot was more in line with what I remember from those days. Less animated, but still fun.

As it happens, one of my favorite pop culture blogs Dinosaur Dracula just did a post about the three sets of toys that you should definitely go check out if the above commercial gave you all kinds of flashbacks. I had no idea they did three different waves, but do have a few still hanging around including the Big Breakfast and Styrofoam container burger guy. The fry guy has a prominent place on my desk when my daughter doesn’t make off with him.

mcdonalds changeables fry robot

E-Book Triple Feature: The Devil In The Kitchen, Red Rain & Off My Rocker

the devil in the kitchen I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. Part of the reason is that I’m a slow reader, part is that I love reading comics and part is that, thanks to having a pair of kiddos, I don’t have the time or attention span to devote to the hobby as I once did. However, I have discovered that my three-year-old daughter’s bedtime is a good time to get some reading done. After I read her books, I lay next to her bed in the dark until she doses off. So, as long as I have a solid book on my phone, I’m pretty good to go.

The first of the bunch in recent memory was Marco Pierre White’s The Devil in the Kitchen. I knew absolutely nothing about White going into this book, but it looked like a British version of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, so I bit for a couple bucks (like most of my e-books, I got it on the cheap) and really enjoyed the experience.

White’s story begins as a child (as most do) and ventures on up through his development as a chef, to the leader of his own kitchen and ultimately a world-renowned figure in the world of food. He gave jobs to people like Gordon Ramsey and Curtis Stone  while creating award-winning, lavish restaurants in the 80s and beyond. While their stories are different in many ways, if you like Bourdain’s books, you’ll like this one.

Book Review Red RainRed Rain by R.L. Stine is one of the few fiction novels I’ve read all the way through on my phone. This was another discounted book that I grabbed. From the title and the cover, I assumed this was a vampire story, but was way off base. This one follows a woman who goes to a small island for her travel blog but after a devastating hurricane, seems changed to the point where she adopts a pair of creepy twin boys and brings them to live with her husband, daughter and son in New York.

This was an interesting story that never quite grabbed me. For some reason I was never able to zero in on what these kids look like which was a major barrier given plot points I don’t want to spoil. I also had a really hard time sympathizing with the mother character. The father becomes the punching bag, but while he’s getting dumped on, it felt like I was supposed to wonder more about the wife, but instead, I found her far too easy to write off and ignore. Because of that, I also found her to be a wildly annoying character to the point where I almost stopped reading.

But, I did wind up enjoying the end of the book which finally revealed what the kids were up to. I liked how all that played out, so while I didn’t necessarily enjoy all of this book, it ended in a way that I appreciated which is nice because I used to read Fear Street and Goosebumps books constantly as a kid. I don’t say this often, but after I was done, I felt like Red Rain would have made a better movie than a book.

off my rockerOff My Rocker: One Man’s Tasty, Twisted, Star-Studded Quest for Everlasting Music by Kenny Weissberg was another random purchase for a few bucks (the equivalent of the going through the Barnes & Noble discount table). I knew nothing about Weissberg or his deal, but when I read that he was a DJ, music writer and concert promoter, I was easily sold.

Right off the bat, this book reminded me of three others I’ve read since starting this blog. It’s got a little of The Real Animal House mixed with Sonic Boom and some of George Hamilton’s autobiography Don’t Mind If I Do in that it’s one man’s (mostly) fond remembrance of an important time in music, told from the inside. Like Hamilton, he used his confidence and skills to move from one part of life to another, often taking chances and risks that paid off.

To get into a bit more detail, Weissberg grew up a huge music fan on the East Coast and eventually wound up becoming one of the biggest freeform DJs in Colorado. Talking about music lead to interviewing musicians on the air and a career in concert and record reviews in print. When that work dried up, he fronted a band before moving to California to promote concerts, a gig that lasted him 20-something years. Along the way he met a variety of music professionals who he doesn’t mind writing about. Weissberg tells his stories with a good nature that brings you into the tales instead of feeling like you’re on the outside and also lets you in on previously unknown details without ever getting mean.

In addition to enjoying stories about people who make their own way in life, no matter how improbably, I also appreciated how Weissberg took this thing he loved and turned it into a series of careers that lasted several decades. That’s something I hope I can say down the line, though I just realized I’ve been doing what I do for about 10, so I guess I’m doing alright.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Burger King Simpsons Toys

I was a big Simpsons fan as a kid. Even before I started really watching the show, I was sold on the concept, even though, at that time, the idea of being a Bart Simpson-style rule breaker was a little terrifying. Still, I had a Simpsons backpack, pencil case (which I still have) and a bunch of the original Mattel action figures, including the couch with built-in launch pad. I wish I still had those because they’re cool and also sell for pretty big bucks if I’m not mistaken. I got rid of mine for a few bucks at a garage sale which is interesting because it would be conservative to say I kept 99% of my action figures.

Anyway, we started watching Simpsons reruns again and my daughter got a pretty rad Lisa doll at the flea market a few weeks back, so they’ve been on my mind. I looked around on YouTube to see if there were any spots for the Mattel toys, but came up empty handed. Instead, here’s a clip for a Burger King toys that captures the spirit of those early, awesome episodes a lot more than I would have expected.

Bryan Lee O’Malley Trade Post: Lost At Sea & Seconds

lost at sea Lost at Sea (Oni Press)
Written & drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Two weekends back I decided to re-read my copies of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim books. Since I’ve already reviewed them back in 2010 after watching and loving the movie when it came out, I won’t be reviewing them again. I will say that, I really enjoyed myself this time around, probably more than I have any other time I’ve read those books. The “ums” and “whatevers” still drove me nuts, but since I was already familiar with the aspects that I didn’t quite like previously, I was already in. I also noticed more elements and details this time around making this a series that works more and more for me with each reading.

After having such a good time, I went to my library’s website and put O’Malley’s first and most recent graphic novels on hold. I knew the older of the two, Lost At Sea, had come in when we went to the library over the weekend, but was surprised to also find Seconds waiting for me because it just came out in the past few weeks. So, for the second weekend in a row, I spent a good chunk of my reading time with words and pictures by O’Malley.

Lost At Sea, finds an 18 year old named Raleigh on a trip from California to Canada with some classmates who thinks a cat might have swiped her soul. Why else would she feel soulless? While on the trip, Raleigh warms up to Dave, Ian and Steph and eventually comes to terms with a few of the things she’s processing.

She’s dealing with huge questions like why is she here, what is a soul, does she have one, what is her relationship with her mom, what is she going to do about this new love that lead her to Cali and that everlasting classic, what’s she going to do with her life? There are other questions that come up that I’d love to know the answer to like, did she really have sisters, was that picture really of her and why did she spend so much time talking about a best friend who doesn’t really have anything to do with the book?

Some of those questions might have actually been answered, but Raleigh is one of those characters who talks in a wildly noncommittal fashion. Whole statements will be followed by “or whatever.” Is that supposed to be the truth or is it whatever? I think this is just the way a certain portion of the population talk(ed) that I have difficulty tapping into because it’s like a snake eating its own tale. Also, if you barely care what you’re saying, why should I?

While I thought this book was generally really well done and a fine first outing for a cartoonist, it wasn’t really for me. I can remember those wildly complicated says when I was 18 wondering what I was going to do, but to a 31 year old guy with two kids, so much of that seems juvenile to me now. Reading Lost At Sea was like watching a really well done, emotional indie movie, but one I just wasn’t plugging into on that important emotional level. I see and understand how good it is and how intensely personal it must have been, but I just wasn’t as emotionally invested, partially because the characters don’t seem connected to much of anything, including each other.

secondsSeconds (Ballantine Books)
Written & drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley

I was far more on-board when it came to Seconds, which I think is O’Malley’s best offering to date. This is a 323 page graphic novel (his first work after finishing up Scott Pilgrim in 2010) with additional art by Jason Fischer, letters by Dustin Harbin and brilliant colors by Nathan Fairbairn. I went into this book knowing absolutely nothing, which was kind of a nice treat.

But, if you want some information, Seconds is about an almost-30 chef named Katie who helped open a restaurant that the story takes its title from. But, since she didn’t have any money to invest the first time around, she’s looking forward to the opening of the one she does own with her business partner, but the process is slow going. One night while hanging out in her apartment, which is above Seconds, she finds a book and a mushroom in her dresser drawer with basic instructions: write down a mistake, eat the mushroom, go to sleep and “wake anew.”

So those are the basics, I’ll label this paragraph SPOILER TERRITORY because it’ll get into a few more details. Katie starts using the magic mushrooms and talking to one of her employees named Hazel who introduces her to the idea of house spirits which play a huge part in the book. The one living in Seconds is called Lis and she’s not a big fan of how Katie winds up abusing the mushroom power, mixing things up and tampering with reality.

Alright, no more spoilers. I got a Neil Gaiman vibe while reading Seconds because it does that thing he does so well where very modern characters and put them up against very old supernatural elements and seeing what happens. Fantasy’s pretty far from my realm of expertise outside of comics and Gaiman’s books, but Seconds seems like a solid modern fantasy project that didn’t feel like a rehash of previously existing fairy tales, but instead something new inspired by a classic idea (though a classic I’m not familiar with, which puts it into Hellboy territory). I also appreciate that this graphic novel felt more researched instead of plucked from the author’s life. I’ve got nothing against pouring your soul onto the page with a variety of your longitme influences, but the clear research into restaurant life and food is also impressive.

I also really enjoyed the look of this book along with the feel. O’Malley and Fischer work so well together that you can’t tell that the former’s using a drawing assistant. The drawings of food in this book are actually mouthwatering. I wanted to eat these pages, but didn’t think the library would appreciate that very much. I was also blown away by Fairbairn’s colors. Lately, people have been doing a lot of talking about the credit colorists deserve on covers and whatnot. I’ll be honest and say it’s not the kind of thing I’ve thought of throughout much of my comic-reading career, but Fairbairn really brought it. He also did the colored Scott Pilgrim books, which makes me want to go back and pick up those versions! Hell, this also made me wonder if I could try my hand at coloring. I think I’ll look into that.

Anyway, after reading O’Malley’s full body of graphic novels in two weeks, I found myself picking up a few interesting themes throughout. Most of the main characters feel clueless and empty in some way. They also have a really hard time letting go of a finished relationship (though I’m not sure where Raleigh’s relationship really was). Numbers are also pretty important. Though Lost At Sea didn’t have one I noticed, Scott Pilgrim is set around seven evil exes and Seconds features 12 magic mushrooms. Oh, cats also feature prominently, though less so in Seconds.

Casting Internets

You might have noticed a lack of Casting Internets posts lately. That’s less because I kept forgetting to do them and more because I haven’t been going through my Pocket app for ,well, most of this year. Anyway, here’s a bunch of stories from the past few months that tickled my fancy. manziel browns draft

I’m pretty excited about Johnny Manziel heading to the Browns. They’re not my main team, but I have a special place in my heart for them because my mom’s from there and my grandma was a fan her whole life. (via ESPN)

Rivers Cuomo called Rolling Stone to talk about his love of Nirvana and how the band changed his brain. Fun read for Weezer fans, especially the ones who’ve been hearing for years that he converted Kurt Cobain’s songs into an equation and then wrote his own songs with that formula.

I’m not much of a Buzz Feed fan, but I really dug Kate Aurthur’s interview with Real World San Francisco‘s Rachel about her time on the show.

08-MosEisley

I don’t know if I’ll ever have time to go through this entire post of on StarWars.com about Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars art, but maybe you will!schleprock america's dirty little secret

My buddy Jesse sent me this link to Jason Heller’s AV Club piece on punk in the 90s because he talks about that band Schleprock I reviewed a while back. Even without that, it’s a really solid read on a subgenera of music I still love.

Esquire‘s Jennifer M. Wood talked to director Walter Hill about his classic The Warriors. As you might expect, this is a thing I love.

I’m a big fan of Michael Ruhlman and Anthony Bourdain, so when the former interviewed the latter about modern chefs on his blog, I was interested. Personally, I like how conflicted Bourdain is about things like authenticity. It points to the fact that these issues are trickier than some might otherwise present.

Jimmy Page told Rolling Stone that he’s going to start working on his second-ever solo album. Also, I fully support the idea of a Jimmy Page/Jeff Beck tour. Yardbirds Revisited?

Halloween Scene: Shaun Of The Dead (2004)

shaun of the dead poster

It’s funny. With a lot of movies, especially big-deal horror movies from the past decade like Shaun Of The Dead, I usually have a solid memory of the first time I saw it. In this case, I’ve got nothing. I was in college in 2004 when the film came out and was probably hearing things about it. I remember watching it at some point and loving the ending and then checking it out on DVD later on with my wife who was into it aside from the ultra gore (which I’d forgotten about for the most part). I do remember that my pal Rickey Purdin passed me the DVD copy I watched last week because he had an extra, but that’s about it.

With Edgar Wright’s latest film The World’s End hitting theaters, I figured it’d be fun to go back and watch Wright’s other movies Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, all of which happen to reside in my DVD collection. You guys, this is such a good movie, I can hardly stand it. It’s so good, I actively disliked myself for about half of it for not watching it more often. Yes, you’ve got the high quality gore effects that tend to get left behind in horror comedies and you’ve got the fantastic comedic elements, but there’s a huge, gigantic beating heart to Shaun that really drew me in this time around.

First off, you’ve got the friendship between Shaun (Simon Pegg) and Ed (Nick Frost). On the surface it seems like any other dude friendship in movies, just two adult children hanging out, drinking and playing video games. But you also get that element of two friends who have been friends for ages that might be growing apart, where the friendship might actually be inhibiting one or both of the parties from evolving as individuals.

Then you’ve also got Shaun’s relationship with his mom Barbara (Penelope Winton). He loves her, but doesn’t love all of the decisions she’s made, specifically when choosing a mate. That’s a deep connection that really tugs at the heart strings when Shaun has that last moment with his stepdad Philip (Bill Nighy). I know I’m a much bigger softie these days now that I’m a parent, but that was a really amazing emotional beat in the middle of zombie movie. So good.

Finally, you’ve got Shaun’s relationship with Liz (Kate Ashfield) which is kind of a synthesis of the ones he has with Ed and his mom. They’ve been together so long that she’s starting to think he might be holding her back while at the same time, there’s a deep, emotional almost assume connection between them. Watching the movie this time around, I got a bit of a Madame Bovary vibe from Shaun. Because he’s seen so many movies and TV shows, he thinks things are going to turn out a certain way, but the real world isn’t fictional (even this one packed with undead monsters). Shaun winds up stepping up and proving that he’s the hero he always imagined himself to be, which winds up solidifying his relationship with Liz.

The beauty of this film is that it balances all of those relationships — plus more, I didn’t even get into all the stuff with Ed and Diane — with all that great humor and gore. It really is just a wonderful movie and I didn’t even talk about how well constructed the movie is. The way Wright shot Shaun’s daily routine at three different stages in the story was so great to watch, I remembered it was coming and got really excited as it unfolded. I’m sure there’s a lot more in that department that I’m missing, but I’m still kind of in a euphoric state after enjoying the film so much.

Book Review: The Totally Sweet ’90s By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper & Brian Bellmont (2013)

the totally sweet 90s by gael fashingbauer cooper & brian bellmont When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I became incredibly nostalgic for my 80s childhood. I don’t know what it was, but all I wanted to do was watch He-Man and Transformers cartoons, which I was able to find at a nearby Blockbuster in a big for-sale box. This was before the days where everything was readily available on DVD or even streaming, so it wound up being a huge find. I also dug out my parents’ Betamax which allowed me to watch old home movies as well as TV shows we taped (I love watching old tapes like that not just because of the cartoon content, but the commercials too!).

But, the truth is that, as much as I feel like a child of the 80s, I’m equally a product of the 90s. That decade took me from 6 to 16 and helped introduce me to some of the most influential things in my life from movies and music to the job I would have for the next five years, the end of grade school and the beginning of high school and crazy-future-tech like cell phones, home computers and the internet. So, when I got a PR email asking if I’d be interested in reviewing Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont’s The Totally Sweet 90s: From Clear Cola to Furby, and Grunge to “Whatever”, the Toys, Tastes, and Trends That Defined a Decade, I jumped at the chance.

In addition to having a strong connection to that decade, I also realized that I hadn’t really read or looked into 90s nostalgia. Fashingbauer Cooper and Bellmont’s book does exactly that by running down a list of alphabetically ordered topics, talking about them for a few paragraphs and offering an update as well as a fun fact about each. The book kicks off with “Adam Sandler Songs On Saturday Night Live” and ends with “Zubaz” to give you an idea of what you’ll be dealing with.

It was a lot of fun taking this trip down memory lane which combined with my own experience, but also moved into topics I was unfamiliar with like the short-lived MTV series Austin Stories and Coke’s attempt to get Generation X bucks with OK Soda. The short-and-sweet format of the book kept me moving from section to section with a quickness I wish I could harness when reading fiction.

It might seem like the subject matter is light and somewhat inconsequential (how important can Orbitz, Scrunchies and Pogs be?), but the intro made a really interesting point that I hadn’t thought about: many of the elements of modern life we take for granted began life in the 90s. I’m a firm believer that you can’t really appreciate today without having a fairly good working knowledge of yesterday. The Totally Sweet 90s might not get into in-depth analysis of the decade, but it does start the process by presenting a sample of the things that were popular to the young people of that generation.

My only complaint about the book is that there aren’t enough pictures. I know from being a research assistant for so many years, though, that including a lot of photos of copyrighted materials can be difficult and, worse, pricey. The ones that are included in the book are usually of toys or products which are cool to shoot and print. On a somewhat related note, I haven’t seen the Kindle or digital version of this book, but I can imagine that it would make for a really cool experience, especially if links to various images and/or videos were included. I have no idea what the feasibility of something like that is, but it’d be rad.

Finally, I just want to throw in another way this book made me nostalgic, but for a much more recent time. While reading The Totally Sweet 90s, I had all kinds of flashbacks to my days working for Wizard and ToyFare. This book is basically one giant list and list features were always interesting to work on. I helped with everything from the coolest single issue comic stories and best villains to coolest toy action features and best movie fights, plus many more. Instead of imagining Fashingbauer Cooper and Bellmont sitting around a room trying to figure out their list, I went right back to the old Wizard conference room where we’d first hash out exactly what the list was supposed to be about (an important step some outlets tend to gloss over, resulting in a poor list) and then coming up with every possible entry. From there you start crossing off. Once you’ve witled your kitchen sink list to the number you’re going for (10, 50, 100, whatever), then you get to have the fun talks about what makes one entry better than another which results in the final order. It was a long process, sometimes taking several meetings a week, but I loved taking part when I could.

So, for being a fun time capsule of a very important time in my life and reminding me of some fun professional memories that I’d lost touch with, I give The Totally Sweet ’90s a thumbs up. If you’re interested in checking the book out, follow the above link. The book will be out tomorrow.