Halloween Scene: Old School Round-Up

bride-of-frankensteinAs I mentioned yesterday, I got to an early start when it came to watching horror movies this fall. So, I’ve got a lot to talk about! First, if you haven’t already, check out a pair of lists I wrote for CBR. One’s about movies and shows to follow Stranger Things up with while the other focused on the best classic horror movies to stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime!

Continue reading Halloween Scene: Old School Round-Up

Trade Pile: Tokyo Ghost, Sonic/Mega Man & Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Tokyo Ghost Vol 1So many trades, so little time so let’s jump right in! A friend of mine suggested I check out Tokyo Ghost, which didn’t take too much pushing because I love Sean Murphy’s artwork in books like The Wake, Punk Rock Jesus and Joe the Barbarian and I’ve always thought that Rick Remender’s stories work better in worlds that he fully creates and that’s exactly what you get with Ghost. Continue reading Trade Pile: Tokyo Ghost, Sonic/Mega Man & Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

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

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.

Kickin’ It Old School: 1988

kickin it old school logoWhen I first started blogging back in 2008, it was for the now-defunct Wizard website. Up to that point I wasn’t particularly interested in the format, but seeing some of the other staffers get into it made me think about what I could offer (if anything). I remember heading down to New York Comic Con with a bunch of the writers and editors and asked then-web guru Jim Gibbons about starting my own and he stopped me dead in my tracks with a simple question: what would it be about? I told him I’d think about it and before long I had my angle: Kicking It Old School, a series of posts about older comics, movies, TV shows and the like and why they’re still great. It’s a pretty common type of blog on the ol’ Internets, but Wizard wasn’t doing one at the time so I got the thumb’s up and started at it. When I realized the end was coming for me at the company — and wanted to break out and do my own thing blogging-wise — I copied all those old posts and they can now be read under the KIOS category here on UM.

In a lot of ways, I’ve continued that theme over the years with UM, but I figured it would be fun to jump back into those waters for a full week here on the site by focusing every post this week on media that came out in a particular year. This time around it’s 1988 and I’ve got a lot of fun posts planned that fall into the usual headings of Ad It Up, Toy Commercial Tuesday, Trade Post, Halloween Scene, Friday Fisticuffs and maybe a few others.

Here’s a little photo hodge podge of images to give you an idea of what’s to come!

Why go to all this trouble? First off, I love a good theme. Second, I find that something like this helps focus me when it comes to reading and watching. It’s also fun to start with one particular piece (in this case the first volume of Mike Grell’s Green Arrow ongoing) and then figure out what else I can write about from that same year. It’s also interesting seeing different themes that cross over from comics to movies to music in a particular year. I won’t be doing this all the time, but I hope you guys enjoy the week of posts which begins later today with the return of Ad It Up and one of the greatest comics of all time, which just so happens to have been released in ’88.

80s Odyssey: Cloak & Dagger (1984)

cloak_and_dagger Over the years, I’ve come to realize just how much I love movies about kids dealing with insane situations. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering how much I loved Goonies and E.T. as a kid. I guess the real surprise is how much I still connect to those kinds of movies, even ones that I’ve come to more as an adult like Troll, The Gate, Explorers and Monster Squad. There’s just something so cool about taking pre-teens, putting them in these wild scenarios and seeing what they can do given their not-yet-adult ways of viewing the world.

I recently discovered a movie that perfectly fits this mold on Netflix Instant called Cloak & Dagger starring E.T.‘s Henry Thomas and Dabney Coleman. Thomas plays a geeky kid named Davey who has constructed an imaginary friend based on a secret agent from a table top-turned-video game who looks exactly like his dad (both played by Coleman) in the wake of his mom’s death. In his free time, he hangs out at the local video game store with his friend Kim or creates elaborate spy missions for them to act out in their hometown of San Antonio, Texas. While playing spy, Davey winds up with a copy of a video game called Cloak & Dagger that contains hidden government secrets. Of course, no adults believe him, so he has to go on the run as a series of incredibly serious people try any means necessary, including murder, to get it back. Davey’s imaginary friends appears throughout the film to help him avoid death and figure out his next move until, eventually, he realizes he doesn’t need him anymore.

I’ve got to say, I was surprised by how much intensity went into this Richard Franklin (Psycho II, F/X 2) kids movie. Not only is Davey continually hunted by predatory adults in this movie, but his video game store employee friend gets murdered, he realizes he doesn’t need his imaginary friend anymore and he straight up kills a guy. There’s no way this kid’s going to be okay with all this in the future. And it’s not handled in a wacky, cartoony way, so you get to see Thomas really going through some of this stuff on screen, or actively avoiding it so he can keep moving and live to see another day. I must also admit that it easily played on one of my biggest fears: people not believing you when something terrible’s happening because it sounds crazy. Since he’s just a kid who routintely talked about his made-up exploits, everyone thinks he’s full of it when he tries to tell them this crazy story about video games and spies and whatnot.

I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but you really don’t see movies like this made anymore. These days, when kids encounter craziness, if at all, they’re usually in high school or beyond and a lot of the innocence is taken out of the picture. But, there have been a few films like the Spy Kids movies, Super 8 and even the upcoming Earth To Echo which all seem to take some of their inspiration from the movies of my youth.

If you’re interested in checking out Cloak & Dagger — which I highly recommend — look for it on Netflix Instant. If you’re looking to add it to your DVD collection (far as I can tell, it’s not on Blu-ray), there’s the basic version, a double feature with The Wizard which is another favorite from that era and as part of a 10 movie pack that also includes The Wizard, King Ralph, Matinee and a few others. I’m thinking about grabbing that last one because, of all the options, it’s currently the cheapest at $5 and I love a good deal!

Computer Movies: Arcade (1993)

arcade poster After watching Cyborg again fairly recently, I fell down the rabbit hole that is director Albert Pyun’s filmography. While poking around, I spied a film called Arcade that sounded like something I wanted to check out. I actually had this disc from Netflix on hand when I watched Evolver last week, but the disc was cracked and I couldn’t watch it until they sent me a new one.

Before getting into the plot of this movie, I’ve got to talk about it’s pedigree a bit. Not only is Arcade directed by 90s straight-to-video maestro Pyun who did a lot with not much all the time back then, but also features a script penned by David S. Goyer and Charles Band who also acted as producer. You’ll recognize Goyer’s name from little films like Batman Begins and Man Of Steel. And then you’ve got the cast which includes Megan Ward (Dark SkiesEncino Man), Seth Green (Buffy, Dads), Peter Billingsley (Christmas Story) and even Don Stark (That 70s Show). Needless to say, I got more and more excited as the credits rolled on this film I knew almost nothing about.

Plotwise, this film follows Alex (Ward) and Nick (Billingsley) as they try to figure out what’s going on as the terribly named new virtual reality arcade game Arcade and it’s console cousin seem to be absorbing or destroying their friends. Much like Evolver, the kids wind up heading to the game company — good thing they live in California, I guess — and then using that knowledge to confront the game and save their friends and family.

It would be pretty easy to write this movie off as another Charles Band cash grab, but I’ve got to say, I found it pretty absorbing. I liked how the main kids all seemed like they could be in high school and were outsiders, but not complete degenerates. Even though you don’t see them together a ton, you get the feeling that there’s a lot of history in their crew. I also thought the plot itself was solid and included some pretty heavy elements. The movie opens with Alex remembering when she found her mom post-suicide and we eventually learn that the video game company used the brain cells of a murdered boy to help create the game’s villain. Plus, how great is it to see one of these kids-against-something-crazy movies with a female lead?

As it turns out, Band and Pyun weren’t happy with the first batch of CGI special effects and had everything redone. Those results can be seen in the trailer posted above while the original graphics can be seen below.

All in all, even though the CGI is pretty distracting for the modern audience, I had a really good time with this imaginative, sometimes scary adventure story revolving around the rad world of video games. I’ve also got to admit that I was relieved by the plot of this film because I’ve been kicking around an arcade-based story idea that is not similar to this at all. It’s always relieving to find out your not accidentally treading old ground.