The X-Games Is Awesome

Yesterday I was looking on my TV’s guide channel, looking for something to watch when I saw a familiar event that made me smile: The X-Games. Of course, I had to tune in. If you’re unfamiliar, the X-Games is essentially the Olympics of what used to be called extreme sports. We’re talking skateboarding, BMX bike riding, motocross and formerly rollerblading. Seventeen years ago, I was 11 and somewhat obsessed with extreme sports. Airborne was–and still is–one of my favorite movies. I was always impressed with how people could do such amazing tricks on bikes, boards and blades. So, when I first heard about the X-Games, I was stoked to use the parlance of the day.

As taken as I was with the thrilling exploits, I never really tried them myself for one simple reason: my desire to not get physically hurt outweighs pretty much any other one in my head. I’m not a thrill seeker or much of a risk taker. I still kinda sorta tried to be extreme in my own way, though. I got a pair of rollerblades that had a space for rail grinds. I rarely left the ground, though I still have those skates. I also owned a BMX bike which I saved up for. I think it was a Diamondback. It was important for me to get one with a Gyro (a piece that allowed you to spin the body of the bike around the handle area without twisting up your brake lines) and also some pegs. I was a little more fearless when it came to the bike. I’d ride through the woods near my house and even hit a few jumps. I was also pretty adept at wheelies for prolonged periods of time, but without access to any really courses or whatever, my interest soon moved to driving a car and the bike has sat in my parents’ shed ever since (actually, they might have given it away to someone now that I think about it). I would actually consider picking the bike back up, but don’t really live in an area conducive to such things.

See, that was always one of the problems I had with the extreme sports. I wanted to experiment (or thought I did) but didn’t really have the freedom or the access to test myself. A lot of that might have been self imposed. I also was scared of the law. In high school I hung out with a dude who was really into skateboarding. He’d tell me all kinds of stories about going downtown and finding places to skate. It sounded amazing, but not something that I felt I could or really wanted to do.

Speaking of skating, it never seemed like an option for one simple reason: I can’t make the damn board go. I’ve got pretty good balance and all that, but I’ve just absolutely never been able to get my coordination down to stand on a skateboard and push myself forward. It’s ridiculous. I don’t get it.

I think my personal inability (and fear) is what really attracted me to the X-Games in the first place. Dudes flying through the air doing all these insane tricks and seemingly having a great time with it. That’s where it’s at. I have a lot of the same admiration watching it today, 17 years later (yes, that makes me feel OOOOOOLD). My older, possibly keener eye also notices just how amazing some of these tricks are. I’m watching the skateboarding vert ramp heats right now and am just amazed at the skill level involved (it was the same way with the street course yesterday). The ability to rocket yourself up and down a cert ramp while also rolling on a board while also keeping track of where you’re taking off and landing while also doing tricks that sometimes involve spinning the board with a flick of your toe and catching it with your hand while not breaking your neck is AMAZING. Even if you’re not into the sport, you’ve at least got to give it to these guys for being dedicated, putting their bodies on the line and recreating some seriously intricate tricks.

Because I’ve never done any of this stuff myself and I haven’t really read up on it since I was in high school–and that was mostly BMX stuff when figuring out which bike to get–I don’t really have much of a gauge for what’s impressive and what’s not. I’ve watched a few of these heats and every time I’m just like “Holy crap, he did that and didn’t die, give him a million points!” But that’s not really how it goes. That’s okay though, it’s fun to watch. Now, when are they bringing back the rollerblading competitions? Maybe I can dust the ol’ blades off…

Thrashin’ (1986) Is Awesome

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Thrashin‘s basically a genetically designed movie to be liked by yours truly considering I love Airborne, Lords of Dogtown, Dogtown and Z-Boys, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and ridiculous 80s movies. This skating flick stars Josh Brolin as a young, skating dude who meets a girl who is the sister of the rival skating gang called The Daggers. As you might expect, this causes quite a bit of tension between Brolin’s gang (filled with dudes who are named Radley and look a lot like Jason Segel) and the Daggers. My favorite ridiculous moments from the movie include the crazy skating party which includes dudes dancing on their boards and also the Red Hot Chili Peppers (one of my favorite bands of all time) and a joust between Brolin and the main bad guy where they’re skating a half pipe of sorts and trying to hit each other with, what looks like, pillows on the end of chains, kind of like a mace.

The skating is super fun and quite different than you might expect if you watch the X-Games nowadays. Speaking of which, Tony Hawk’s in this flick, though I wasn’t able to easily grab a screencap of him, so is Christian Hosoi who was the subject of the Rising Son doc I watched and really dug who I also didn’t get a cap of. Also, check out the brown haired girl in the fifth pic, that’s Sherilyn Fenn of Twin Peaks fame playing Velvet, the Daggers’ resident Betty.

I had a great time watching this movie because it’s a nice relic from its time. Plus, I’m a sucker for anything with skateboards, rollerskates, roller blades or BMX bikes (I kind of want to watch Airborne and Rad again after this, or possibly BMX Bandits). If you’re a fan of anything I mentioned in the past few paragraphs, do yourself a favor and check the movie out. It’s currently available to watch on Instant Netflix!

Rocking Out: The T.A.M.I. Show (1964)

My rental of The T.A.M.I. (Teenage Awards Music International) Show is a testament to whatever cybermagic controls Netflix’s suggestions. After rating hundreds, possibly thousands of movies, it’s gotten really good at recommended things I want to see and this concert footage from 1964 with performances by The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, Chuck Berry, James Brown and the Flames, Marvin Gaye, the Rolling Stones and plenty of others was a lot of fun. For a better explanation of the whole thing, please jump over to TrailersFromHell and listen to John Landis’ explanation of the show, which he actually attended.

Surf rockers Jan and Dean act as hosts, introducing most of the acts. The bands and groups play on a set with frenetic go-go dancers and a live, screaming audience cheering the bands on. It kicks off with Chuck Berry and Garry And The Pacemakers trading off songs. I’m not sure why they decided to do this as it’s not something that goes on throughout the rest of the performances. There are some cool moments with the talent coming together, like a bunch of them getting behind Lesley Gore (I didn’t recognize her name, but she sings “You Don’t Own Me” and “It’s My Party”) and clapping and then at the very end coming out to dance during the Stones’ last song. The Stones had it pretty rough playing after a crazy-good James Brown set, but I think they did pretty good, and I’m not really a Stones fan.

Here’s one of James Brown’s performances, pretty great, right? He and the Flames gave , by far, the best performance of the film. Like I said, the Stones did well and I really liked Gore’s performance (her material seemed really progressive for the time). I also dug the performances by the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean as I’m a big fan of surf music. For some reason I always have a picture of Jan & Dean being older, but they’re just two dudes having a good time, riding skateboards while singing. Good stuff. Bands that I had never heard of like The Barbarians and Billy J. Kramer And The Dakotas were all right as were the pre-Diana Ross Supremes. The major let down of the show had to be Smokey Robinson And The Miracles. Smokey’s voice was super-sharp and sounded pretty painful at times.

I highly recommend checking out The T.A.M.I. Show if you’re a fan of the early days of rock and roll and R&B. For the most part the performances are really solid, with more good than bad. Plus, it’s fun to see the good old days when it didn’t take flouncy vampires and werewolves to get people screaming their faces off (I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about anything as every single person in that auditorium was about seeing those groups). Oh, also, I recommend the flick if you’re a fan of ladies wearing early 60s style and dancing their asses off. The dancers in this thing–which apparently include Teri Garr and Toni Basil–might not look the coolest to modern audiences, but you’ve got to appreciate their enthusiasm and there’s no doubt that there’s some cute ladies shaking their thangs. Well worth the watch all the way around!

Random Double Feature: Enemy Mine (1985) & Rising Son (2006)

I spend most of my days now sitting on my couch with my laptop in front of me and the TV on. I’m usually catching up on the crappy TV shows I missed throughout the week or watching movies I’ve decided to randomly watch. Today is one of those movie days as nothing was on TV this morning. I started off with the sci-fi flick Enemy Mine which I knew nothing about aside from the fact that Dennis Quaid was in it. I figured it would be a big crazy sci-fi movie on a fairly low budget. And it was, it just wasn’t anything like what I thought it would be in the specifics.

In the future, humans are trying to explore the galaxy, but they run into an alien race called Dracs. There’s fighting and all that. Quaid gets shipwrecked on a planet with a Drac and no one else. They start off as enemies, but eventually become friends and learn each others’ languages and culture. I’ll give a SPOILER WARNING now in case you don’t want things ruined for you. Eventually, the Drac (played by Louis Gossett Jr.) tells Quaid he’s with child (they spontaneously become pregnant, but carry their children like a mammal). After giving birth, the Drac dies and Quaid takes care of the little guy only for some scavengers to come, nearly kill him and take the baby Drac away to work in their mines. Once he gets better, Quaid goes and gets his adopted nephew back.

I give the writers and director Wolfgang Petersen tons of credit for going all over the place with this story. It could have been just a man vs. alien story or a man learning to get along with an alien story, but they got the extra few miles with the kid and the relationship and Quaid’s eventual revenge on the scavengers. There’s even a scene at the end with Quaid being honored by the Dracs on their homeworld. I like how, at the end of the movie, it’s not like everything between the two races has been solved and put aside just because two people got to know each other, but it does offer hope that maybe if he can tell his people about the Dracs, they can work something out. I also really liked the sets of the alien world. They didn’t go the Star Wars route and just choose one season/type of climate and just stick to that. It’s a very rich environment that’s fun to watch. Good stuff, highly recommended!

I’ve been on a mini-skateboard movie kick lately. Well, if a “kick” can be described as watching three movies on a subject in 8 months. Anyway, it started off with Lords of Dogtown and then I watched the documentary that was based on called Dogtown And Z-Boys, which I really should have posted about. And now, I just got done with Rising Son: The Legends Of Skateboarder Christian Hosoi, which focused on one skateboarded. Rising Son is the perfect compliment to Dogtown And Z-Boys because Hosoi started skating with those dudes when he was just a kid, but eventually he became one of the greatest skaters in the game only to fall from site thanks to a drug addiction and eventual time in jail. It even has a few of the original Z-Boys in the form of Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Shogo Kubo which was pretty rad. The doc also has some big time skaters like Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist and a slew of others talking about how influential Hosoi was. Heck, even skateboarder-turned-actor Jason Lee and David Arquette are interviewed (though I think Arquette’s only on screen once). There’s even a contestant from Launch My Line, Louanna Rawls (Lou’s daughter), interviewed because she used to date Hosoi.

So, why is this dude such a big deal? Well, when he was coming up he just started doing all these sick tricks that no one else was doing and really brought skateboarding back into the mainstream after it died off with the Z-Boys crew a few years earlier. He had a swagger that made him a rock star and the talent to back it all up. To be honest, I had never heard of the dude, but then again, I don’t really know much about the history of skateboarding, just what I’ve been learning in these movies. I found the film really fascinating though and it does have something of a happy ending as Hosoi got out of jail, off drugs and is now going around talking to people about his experiences with drugs, skating and God.

One thing I’ve discovered after watching so many documentaries on Netflix is how freaking interesting life can be. On the surface, this story is just another story about a kid who made it big and then crashed, but the interest, along with the devil, is in the details. I think I’d like to try my hand at making a documentary about something, I just need to figure out what it is. Any thoughts?

Wintuk: Where The X-Games Meet Ice Monsters

I’m going to try something a little different for this review and that’s a rating system. I figured I would break the theater going experience down into ten categories, then assign 1-10 points for each category and give this brand new blog category a score out of 100. Maybe that will be helpful for other folks and hopefully it will be fun to write.

So, we decided to head to Cirque du Soleil’s winter-themed show Wintuk at Madison Square Garden as I mentioned yesterday. Thanks to the fact that Broadway shows apparently don’t run on Thursdays, we hasically had to decide between seeing this and the Rockettes and Cirque won out. I had never seen a Cirque show before, but I watched that behind-the-scenes show they did a while back and thought it looked pretty rad with all those flips and whatnot. This particular performance was…odd.

STORY 2/10
Wintuk’s story is total bullshit. I just need to say that right off the bat. There’s some kind of witch who is from Wintuk (it’s a winter place), a kid who wants winter, a girl he chases around, a bunch of extreme sports-loving people, a few robbers, some dogs and then a trip to Wintuk with giant ice monsters, huge storks and some natives. There’s no real point to the whole thing except for there to be snow at the end. All the going-to-Wintuk stuff happens after intermission and, at the intermission break, we all kind of looked at each other confusedly and no one really had any clue what was happening. The general consensus both then and after the show was that the story wasn’t important, just the flips and whatnot. However, being a story-driven person, I can’t accept that. If you’re going to have a story, have one that isn’t mind-numbingly confusing (and mostly in other languages, possibly made-up ones) or just get rid of it all together and just do crazy stuff.

This is a tough one. How do you judge the acting of a bunch of people who don’t really have much of a script? I gave them a 6 because they seemed to do well with what they were given, but, again, these aren’t particularly complex characters. Plus, there was a lot of range in performances. There was the guy who, for some reason, wore a garbage can for half the show. I have no idea what he was doing or why, so he wasn’t very good. The main kid was alright and so was the winter witch. My personal favorites were the people in the dog suits. They really nailed the animal-like movements. So, I guess overall they get an above average rating because I’m feeling a little generous.

MUSIC 7/10
For the purposes of this review, music covers both the instrumental stuff and the songs themselves, while the actors’ performance of those songs will be covered in the singing category. I actually dug the music a lot. It mixed between rock, your basic instrumental theater stuff and that fun thing they do in cartoons when the music interacts with the actions of the people on stage. Instead of having a traditional pit with an orchestra, the theater had some small, fairly visible rooms running along the top of both sides of the room so you could see what they were doing. From what I can remember, there were drums, a guitar, a violin and maybe a few other instruments. It was fun to watch them rock out a little bit at times. Overall the songs themselves were confusing because they were often in another language and made little sense as a result.

Again, the songs were mostly incomprehensible. When that happens, you usually rely on the singer to relay the emotions of the song and the weather witch didn’t really do such a good job of that. I think she was the only one to actually sing. She didn’t sing poorly, just not very effectively.

As you might expect, the moves were sick. I mentioned the extreme sports characters earlier, that’s because the first half of the show involves people on bikes, skateboards and skates rolling around and doing all kinds of cool tricks off of the set, which had a high ramp leading from offstage onto the stage, a ramp leading offstage on the other side and an arch-like ramp in the middle. You also got a few traditional circus acts that kind of reminded me of my trip to the country fair earlier this year like tightrope walkers and juggling. The first act ended with a rad sequence with several robbers being chased and the floor spreading out to reveal a long strip of trampoline floor. It was very cool. Then, once they made the trip to Wintuk you got some of the crazier stuff you expect from Cirque with hoolahooping, that rope dancing thing and this wild thing where two guys held two long poles and bounced their brother up and down on it. I wish I knew what these things were called, but I don’t even know how to Google it, but it was all crazy. Considering the show is basically one big carnival and all the stunts looked spectacular (and dangerous) Wintuk definitely earned a 10 in this field.

I had never been to Madison Square Garden before and I guess technically, I still haven’t as this show was in the smaller Washington Mutual Theater. It wasn’t a very big place, and according to the Wiki page for MSG, the stage ceiling is only 20 feet tall, which is probably why I felt nervous any time someone was launched into space. I did get the feeling that the show could have been a lot bigger given a larger stage, so that made it feel a bit cramped. However, I did appreciate how they tried to give the whole event more of a carnival feel. Not only could you get cotton candy and popcorn, but also snowcones, which we did and I regretted as I got a killer freeze chest pain right before the show started and felt like I was going to explode. But, hey, that’s my bad, not theirs. The seats themselves were very comfortable though, which is good because we were there for a while.

SET 5/10
I described the set above with all the ramps and whatnot. It didn’t really change much with the exception of some smaller items like trash cans and clotheslines for tricks. If it wasn’t for the cool aspects of the show, like the ramps and the floor that moved away to reveal the trampoline, the set would be pretty bland and boring. I can’t tell if I like the simplicity of it or if it just felt kind of lazy. I know, I know, common thought will say that the set doesn’t matter as much, but, again, I disagree.

Oh, the costumes. Remember those extreme sports kids I keep mentioning? They look like they stepped out of a Saturday morning teen drama from NBC with all kinds of crazy neon stuff. The cops sport uncomfortably tight unitards that look like something out of Idiocracy. The main kid and the girl who is pretty much just an object of affection and serves no real purpose both wear okay costumes. The costumes only get really interesting later in the second half when they’re on Wintuk.

Hey spoiler warning, but the whole show is built around snow, so it should come as no surprise that you get paper snowflakes blasted at you at the very end. This was spoiled a little bit when I sat down and saw some already in my chair, but overall they did a helluva job cleaning up a metric butt ton of paper snow. Aside from that, there aren’t a ton of special effects. The ice monsters and storks both tower over everyone and look great and they project a face on the curtain in the very beginning but that’s about it. The 5/10 doesn’t mean it wasn’t good, just that there wasn’t a whole lot of it, but what was there was good for the most part.

VALUE 4/10
With tickets ranging from $55-$220, the cost/benefit will be different for everyone depending on both their available income and their enjoyment of the show (of course). Our tickets were in the $75 dollar range which granted us great seats along the far side. The only downside of those seats were that we couldn’t see the orchestra members playing above us. I’m not sure what standard Cirque tickets cost, but I walked away more disapointed than thrilled after the show. It just didn’t live up to what I had expected in my head, and the whole not making sense thing just didn’t sit well with me. There were plenty of fun moments, but I wouldn’t go back. I would however check out another Cirque show, though probably not at the WaMu mini theater. For that amount of money you could probably score tickets at the TKTS booth and check out a real life Broadway show with a star or two in it and some songs you can understand.

Well, if you’ve read this whole review, it should come as no surprise that the overall score is so low. While I enjoyed a lot of parts of this experience and even got somewhat emotionally involved when I was worried that some of the performers would injure themselves, my overall enjoyment was pretty low. At times in the first act I dozed off for short periods of time because there was nothing to keep my interest. I’ve seen a dude juggle on a tightrope and it was in a shitty circus at a county fair, which made it more impressive to me. So, if you can handle a lot of stunts with no story (honestly, it had less than any stunt show you’ll see at Disney World) and some outdated costumes, Wintuk is for you. I don’t regret going, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to many people without giving them a list of my problems with it. But, if it sounds like something you’d dig, the show’s playing in NYC through January 4th and you can check out information and tickets here.

Casting Internets

This metal cover of the castle theme to Super Mario Bros. is RAD! (via /Gamer)

Also rad is the news that Agents of Atlas will be throwing down with the Avengers. AoA is one of the best comics out there and I’m just happy to see it continue on in any form, whether it be back-ups, mini-series or online comics. Keep that Jeff Parker goodness going Marvel!

In TV news, two actors from two of my favorite movies from high school have gotten new roles. First up, Jason Lee (Mallrats, Chasing Amy) apparently has two new gigs. The first is a live-action Adult Swim show about skateboarding and the second is a live action TNT show called Delta Blues where he’ll be playing a character who’s a cop by day and an Elvis impersonator by night. I loved My Name Is Earl and can’t wait to check him out in this show. (via THR)

The other actor getting a new gig is Ethan Embry (Empire Records, Can’t Hardly Wait) on a USA show called Facing Kate. The show description doesn’t sound all that interesting to me (check it out on THR), but I’ll check it out in passing or in reruns most likely.

And finally, I’m psyched to read Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon’s upcoming Vertigo book called Daytripping. My buddy Steve Sunu interviewed the hell outta those dudes over on CBR.

Ad It Up: Kid Chameleon

I loved Kid Chameleon for the Sega Genesis. I remember stumbling upon it at my local video store, thinking the box looked cool (it is a kid hero with sunglasses and a ton of helmets) and renting it. I went on to rent it probably more than any other Sega game. I even remember trying to buy it used after the first Funcoland opened in Toledo and never came across one. Just look at how rad this ad is though. You’ve got an illustrated Corey Feldman-type in a leather jacket and the aforementioned sunglasses PLUS he’s on a skateboard. All these things might seem passe now, but if I was reading comics back in 1992 when this ad was published in Brave And The Bold Green Arrow, The Questions & The Butcher #6, I would have been sold (like I was when I saw the much smaller game box). What made the game itself awesome was the myriad of helmets and hats you would come across that would give you special abilities and turn you into different characters (I remember a guy with a metal head–sort of like Ram Man– and a samurai). With another favorite game of mine A Boy And His Blob recently getting a reboot, I have high (though unfounded) hopes that Kid Chameleon will join the ranks. With an imaginative design team and enough time to put out a killer product, a new KC game could offer up all kinds of play fun skewing into all kinds of different genres. Let me know if you need help with the story!