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.

Computer Movies: Evolver (1995)

evolver I usually start these more obscure film reviews off by saying how I came to watch the movie in question. With Evolver, it’s a pretty simple (boring) story. I saw this goofy poster on Netflix, looked a bit closer, realized it was from 1995 and starred Ethan Embry. That’s pretty much all it took. A killer video game/robot movie starring one of my favorite young actors of the era — I love Empire Records and Can’t Hardly Wait — is a particularly precise brand of movie catnip that works on me every time.

Embry stars as Kyle a kid who’s really good at a virtual reality (remember when that was a thing?) arcade game to the point where the company gives him the home version. Basically Evolver’s a three foot tall robot that plays Laser Tag with you. You’ve got guns and aim for those circles on his chest while he shoots NERF bullets at you and keeps score. But this being a movie, the fun doesn’t last as Evolver starts trying to really murder his opponents.

In the past few weeks I’ve watched two movies that give machines a LOT of human characteristics. Between Evolver and Chopping Mall, it’s pretty hilarious how evil and mean screenwriters in this era thought machines could or would be. Both films include machines designed to kill or hurt at the very least and they not only have crappy aim (which I’m pretty sure wouldn’t happen) but also take their time in hunting down and murdering human beings.

It would be one thing if, say, Evolver was programmed to play the game, but his creators switched out his safe ammo for deadly items, but in this case, there’s a vindictive nature inherent in the robot that leads him to go out of his way to kill these people. Hell, he doesn’t even just use his own weapons, but picks items he finds out in the field to make the process even more painful. He loads steak knives into his cannon! Mind you, he doesn’t really need to do any of this because his hand is also a high powered taser. As an added bonus, he learns how to insult and demean people before trying to kill them. This isn’t a bad robot, it’s a psychopath!

Problems with computer programming aside, I actually really enjoyed this movie. It takes the Embry I know and love and puts him in a video game/geek/horror setting that’s a lot of fun, while also mixing in elements of another favorite subgenre: E.T. take-offs. Before he goes nuts, Evolver wanders around with his human companions and learns things from then, just like the beloved alien or Johnny 5 (I really need to rewatch Short Circuit).

The more I think about it, the more I’m confused by the overall story of the film though. It’s revealed that Evolver’s creator Russell Bennett (John de Lancie) originally built the bot to infiltrate and destroy enemy camps. How he got the bot away from the government, brought it to a toy company and then turned it into not just a home game, but also a video game. Also, I get that Bennett falls into the mad scientist realm of craziness, but to knowingly send this robot that he knows can and will murder people into a home with two kids is pretty reprehensible.

Even though it might have its problems, I think there’s actually a lot of good fun to be had in Evolver. Actually, it’s closer to bad fun, but what do you expect from a robot that will swear at you before wielding a buzz saw blade with lethal intent?

HDTGM Triple Feature: Jingle All The Way (1996), Street Fighter (1994) & Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992)

jingle all the way poster One of the highlights of my podcast-listening week is seeing a new episode of How Did This Get Made pop up. I’m a huge fan of this show about wacky movies hosted by Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas. Sometimes I watch the movie before the episode goes live, sometimes I’m pretty familiar with them already and other times, I just go along for the ride and check it out later. In the past few weeks, I’ve actually watched a trio of films inspired by the podcast and figured I’d group them all together. I also just realized that these three movies feature three of my favorite action stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Sylvester Stallone in some of their most bonkers movies ever.

The gang covered the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sinbad holiday comedy Jingle All The Way on their first Christmas episode back in 2011. I watched this one a few weeks back, but thankfully took notes to help jog my memory. The movie finds workaholic dad Schwarzenegger going crazy trying to find an action figure for his son, played by future Anakin Skywalker Jake Lloyd. Sinbad moves in an out of the movie doing the same thing. Meanwhile, it seems like Phil Hartmann is moving in on Arnie’s wife Rita Wilson and this is all leading towards a huge holiday parade in what’s supposed to be a snow-covered town, but is clearly a side street in LA in the spring.

I thought I had this movie figured out for the first 20 minutes or so. That part is basically a movie for kids with over-the-top, cartoony style gags. Heck, there’s all kinds of talk in the first 10 minutes that set up the entire film (toy, parade, snow, etc.). Cool, I got it, let’s roll. And then things start getting weird and dark. The whole Hartman thing was pretty crazy, plus Sinbad is a nutso postal worker (remember when that was a thing?) who actually hands a cop a bomb that explodes! Luckily, he’s okay because he’s apparently facing off against the Road Runner. The whole thing culminates in a big parade where Arnie dresses up as the action figure hero and has a pretty epic fight with Sinbad. I feel like I could use the word “bonkers” to describe roughly everything in this movie. I wound up watching the end with my kid and I’m pretty sure she didn’t pick up on any of the insanity, so maybe you can get away with this one with a tyke if you have one. Maybe just cover their eyes when Arnie punches a reindeer in the face. That might be damaging.

Before moving on, if you’re looking for any kind of message, don’t. The obvious and seemingly intended point is that commercialism is not the point of Christmas, but that being with people is. And yet, the ENTIRE MOVIE is actually about commercialism, getting things, taking them away from other people and keeping them. You can’t just tack on a nice moment from Lloyd at the end and flip the whole script, you know? Ah well, moving on…

street-fighter-the-movie-poster This spring, HDTGM covered one of the greatest bad video game movies around when they did Street Fighter starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia, Ming-Na Wen (who’s as wooden here as she is on S.H.I.E.L.D., zing!), Kylie Minogue and Miguel A. Núñez Jr. who was in both Return Of The Living Dead AND Friday The 13th: A New Beginning. I’ve probably only played a Street Fighter game for about an hour in my whole life and know next to nothing about the franchise, but it’s still clear from watching this movie that the writers didn’t really care about any of that as far as plot goes and instead decided to just shoehorn in nods to the games.

Basically, Julia plays a guy who wants to not so much rule the world, but his own country. JCVD isn’t down with that, especially after Julia captures one of his pals. Thankfully, JCVD leads some kind of UN-type military group that wears bright blue camouflage for no reason. I honestly can’t remember many of the details beyond that because every single character in this movie is lying about what they want or why they’re there. So many of them switch sides that you practically need a score card. Actually, that’s an overstatement as the good guys are clearly good and the bad guys, well, usually wear masks, hats or have crazy blades on their hands.

The funny thing about this movie is that, I was pretty sure I’d seen this back in my high school days or maybe when I lived with my buddy Rickey and we watched a ton of JCVD movies. When I went to Netflix to give it watch, I laughed because it asked if I wanted to watch again and the screen capture was of the end credits. Guys, I can’t stay away from a good-bad JCVD movie and this is one of the best-worst. If you do watch this movie, please do yourself a favor and listen to the episode. They point out so many awesome bits of craziness that I kind of want to listen to it again right now.

stop or my mom will shoot I realized yesterday that Netflix Instant is about to cut a ton of titles on January 1st. Turns out there are 25 of those soon-to-be-gone flicks in my queue so I figured I’d watch a few when I can. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot popped out from the batch because of one thing: How Did This Get Made (episode 61 to be exact). Since Lu had laid claim to the big TV, I actually broke out the Kindle Fire and watched that way which worked pretty well.

Sylvester Stallone plays a supercop in this one whose mom — Estelle Getty — comes for a visit only to witness a murder that she teams up with her son to solve. This movie is so all-over-the-place that it’s really hard to get a handle on. It starts off with a solid action scene which eventually leads into an airport scene where a group of stewardesses comment on his physique based on pictures — many of them baby pics — that Estelle showed them. One of them even says something about him being attractive in a diaper which is just so weird and gross that it’s hard to handle. In fact, there’s a lot of awkward sex jokes that leave you off balance.

Keeping you further off balance is a scene where Estelle — who is super annoying in that way that moms of this time were on TV and film — actually washes his gun with soap and water in the sink. Up to that point she was just overbearing, but at this point she’s dumb verging on insane. That gets compounded by the fact that she brought an entire suitcase of canned pineapple as well as another one with cleaning products. That’s obviously pre-intense airline security, but I’m fairly certain you can make something terrible with at least one of those cases.

Oh, I forgot to mention that his house is kind of crazy too. He’s got a ton of random stuff all over the place from a ceramic pumpkin and a rubber ducky to a bunch of board games and a tiny red gumball machine. And there’s a dream sequence where Stallone’s in a diaper. And Estelle Getty shoots a guy. And there’s a henchman thrown out a window. And, and, and. None of this is actually about story so much as the crazytown things thrown in to launch an admittedly silly plot over-the-top into bonkersville.

Again, do yourself the service of listening to this episode if you decided to watch the movie (or even if you don’t, it’s that good). They point out a lot of the elements I noticed but also so many more. And remember, while you’re watching this one, remind yourself that Stallone has an Oscar for writing.

Casting Internets

I haven’t done this in a while, but I think you should check out something I wrote. I did a list for Topless Robot called Ten More Marvel Shows We Want To See Besides Agents of SHIELD!

Two guys dressed up like Mario and Luigi to do parkour. Apparently, I’m a big fan of themed parkour videos because this is awesome. (via Topless Robot)eboy ATM-Atlanta-Coca-Colonization-15t

eBoy art really draws me in. It’s like a Where’s Waldo detail-wise, but you’re just enjoying all the scenery instead of looking for a stripe-loving goofball. I could lose myself in this Coke piece of his for days, if I wasn’t careful.dead weather

The Dead Weather is the Jack White project I’m least familiar with, but I’m glad to hear he’s recording more music with them through his own Third Man label. More bluesy, dirty rock can never be a bad thing. (via Rolling Stone)shivers poster

Just the other day I was thinking to myself, “Boy, I sure would like to watch Cornenberg’s Shivers.” Little did I know that sites like TheWrap would be reporting a remake in the works the next day.

I haven’t seen the un-aired Locke & Key pilot written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, but I heard good things. It’s exciting to hear about them moving forward with the project as a series of movies, as Kurtzman told Collider.

Bob Burnquist is awesome. Want proof? Watch this video about the skateboarding tricks he does on his big air ramp that include a HELICOPTER.

Alec Baldwin did a great interview with Chris Columbus on Baldwin’s podcast Here’s The Thing spanning the writer and director’s career. Man, that guy’s helped created some of the greatest films around.happy-endings-abc-tv-show-4

Like a lot of Happy Endings fans, I was sad to see that show go away, but it’s cool that Damon Wayans Jr. will return to New Girl and Adam Pally’s becoming a regular on The Mindy Project. I can’t find my links to these stories, so you’ll just have to trust me.

This New York Times article about the world of 20-somethings in the professional world is impressive because it shows how hard kids are working, but also sad because it seems excessive. Maybe I’m just lazy.nirvana in utero

I’ve been trying not to spend much money lately, but I feel drawn to the 20th anniversary release of Nirvana’s In Utero. Speaking of which, Pat Smear talked to Rolling Stone about the last years of the band.

As a big fan of both The League and the How Did This Get Made podcast, I’m really excited to hear from Deadline that Paul Scheer’s got a show in the works at ABC according to Deadline.EC_Tales-DigitalPostcardFinal

I actually gasped with delighted exasperation when I saw that Mondo is doing a Tales From The Crypt art show. That show shaped me as a kid and the comics are some of the most beautiful looking around. So awesome.