Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Picture This!

Just a warning, this may be my most obscure edition of "Picture This!" yet. So, the other night I was hanging out at my friend Matt's house. At one point the topic of discussion turned to vintage shareware games from the 90's and eventually we started looking up videos of them on youtube (well, how did you spend your Tuesday night, big shot?). I found it beyond disturbing that there was space in my brain devoted to remembering and quickly recalling the handful of times I played a profoundly shitty game like "Nitemare 3D" or the hyper esoteric "Heavy Water Jogger" on some cheap 1,001 shareware game CD in 1994 (yet after a week I still cannot retain the name of the guy in the cubicle next to me...priorities I suppose).

While a majority of the games I recalled had more nostalgia value than play value, there were still a few quality games that I remembered based on merit (motherfuckin' "Raptor: Call of the Shadows" represent). One standout game for the period was the vastly underrated 2D platformer "Bio Menace". It was basically a more adult knockoff of the classic "Commander Keen" games, but whole presentation was solid and game play was surprisingly fun if not wholly original.

I also noticed that the protagonist, the derivatively named, Snake Logan (he's the guy on the right if you're not sure) appeared to be the digitized doppelganger of....

The late great WWE wrestling legend, "Ravishing" Rick Rude (of course if it really was based on Rick Rude the programmers wouldn't have denied the ladies the "Sexiest Man Alive" by hiding that bod under a green shirt)

I know, another old school wrestling reference. With the recent passing of the Macho Man, I guess I've just been an old school wrestling sort of mind. Also I wanted to note that while looking for a suitable picture of the Ravishing one, I came across this sweet Rick Rude t-shirt (only 11 more months until my birthday!). Since I was completely surprised last week when somebody actually gave me the custom made Arnold Shirt that I flippantly mentioned as a possible birthday gift (a million thanks again, Desi!), I've come to the conclusion that the internet is a random wish granting machine and that I should be constantly making requests on it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Feel the Sadness...Oh Yeah!

It's an unyielding, universal truth that many of us often times have great difficulty remembering: there are no guaranteed tomorrows. In our bounded rationality we just assume that at least more new day waits for us all. Every so often though we are given a sobering reminder at just how tenuous and illusory life can be. When I heard the news over the phone from a friend that "Macho Man" Randy Savage had suddenly died in a car accident, I never would have expected that my post about him from Tuesday to be a sad preemptive eulogy for him Friday (and if it turned out that heart attack was due to damage from years of cocaine abuses, it will just get beyond eerie). With this depressing news and the end of the world scheduled for tomorrow, this is all just turning out to be the worst day.

Well, what else can I say about the Macho Man that I haven't already said. He was endlessly entertaining, charismatic, larger than life, an excellent wrestler (something Hogan can never claim), and the true definition of an iconoclast. In short he was an absolute legend that, as it sadly seems to be the case with a disturbing amount of former members of this rough business, left as far too soon. If I actually recognized the WWE Hall of Fame as a legitimate institution I would consider the fact that the Macho Man never lived to see himself be enshrined to be a complete and utter travesty (I mean really, what's Pete Rose and William "Refrigerator" Perry doing in there? You know they just inducted Drew Carey this year? Seriously!). In reality though the Macho Man doesn't need that empty title to prove he was an all time great. Anyone who ever saw his historic match with Ricky Steamboat in Wrestlemania III, or cheered as he carried Miss Elizabeth off on his shoulders after a victory, or was enthralled by one of his out of his mind promos, or lost their shit when he teamed up Hulk to form the Mega Powers, or listened to his ringside commentaries with JR, or was even inspired to snap into a Slim Jim from his ads, knew his greatness.

I don't know what everyone else is doing, but tonight I think I'm going to have a myself a few drinks in his honor, maybe get myself a twin pack of Slim Jims and see if the bartender will play anything from "Be A Man".

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Now That's What I Call Armageddon! Vol. 1

If you haven't heard already, apparently the world is going to end Saturday. I guess that's kind of a bummer (this is really going to bite into the opening weekend box office numbers for the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie). All things considered though, there are some positives to take away from this: I won't have to pay off the rest of my student loans, no more worrying about the world ending on 2012, and "Chuck" will finally be put off the air. Also, I think it's a bit comforting to know that everyone would be going at the same time. For people who fear dying alone, this is really a best case scenario.

Of course there are a few skeptics out there who suspect that there might be a slight chance Mr. Camping's Biblical number crunching may not be adding up to the end of days. It would appear that some of them are even planning end of the world events of their own; although I do think that exploiting the minority view of one small group to mock organized religion as a whole is as obnoxious as those people who go out of their way to celebrate anti-Valentines Day. Either way it looks like there will be some serious partying on both sides of the fence and things are shaping up to be an interesting weekend.

Regardless of where you think you'll end up on Sunday morning, I think we call all agree that this is a good time for a sweet themed mix. Here are my top ten end of the world themed tracks (specifically no R.E.M., too obvious) plus a special bonus track if you make it to the end (assuming 8 tracks didn't screw up my ordering) for your weekend playlist, guaranteed to keep you in rapture:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Feel The Madness...Oh Yeah!

"Macho Man" Randy Savage has got to be the most unique and idiosyncratic character in the history of professional wresting. There's really no one else like him and he defies all attempts at labeling or categorization. In a "sport" where everybody is identified by a preconceived gimmick, one has a difficult time trying to figure out what exactly the Macho Man was all about. He gave insane, borderline incoherent interviews in that distinct, raspy, screaming voice. He was a writhing muscular mass of bizarre ticks and personal mannerisms, all clad in an ever changing, endless wardrobe of hyper-flamboyant ring costumes that were somewhere between a neon cowboy, rejected member of Parliament Funkadelic, and an 80s hair metal front man (then there was his "Macho King" era where he added a crown and scepter). He casually walked the line between despised heel and heroic face, never really settling himself as either. Even his ring music "Pomp and Circumstance" seemed completely incongruous but still felt oddly appropriate.

So if you had to get down to it, what really was the Macho Man? Given all I've seen, I think the Macho Man's gimmick seemed to be just well...being the Macho Man, which encompassed everything above and then some; a singularly wonderful entity that was extremely fun and entertaining to watch in and out of the ring.

However if you don't find that characterization to be all that satisfying, the gimmick of the Macho Man also starts to make a lot more sense under another theory: that his character is someone with an out of control cocaine problem.

Reading the Macho Man as a degenerate coke fiend gives a lot of interesting context to his behavior: the alertness, feelings of well-being and euphoria, boundless energy, exaggerated self confidence, and the enhanced athletic performance. You also have the anxiety, unpredictable behavior, wild mood swings, restlessness, excessive sweating, and tremors. I'm not an addictions counselor but just viewing a small sampling of his many manic interviews and intense promos on youtube (not to mention his Slim Jim commercial canon), I would be more inclined to say that this man at the very least may not be in the right frame of mind. In addition there are also straight up clips of the Macho Man on youtube unambiguously titled "macho man on coke" ("180 DEGREES! THEN ANOTHER 360!") and "macho man randy savage on cocaine" ("CUP OF COFFEE IN THE BIG TIME, YEAH!"). Coincidence?

Now I'm not saying that Randy Savage had a problem with cocaine (although with basically any wrestler coming out of the 80s the odds are high), but that he may have played a character whose implied gimmick may have been a guy who did a lot of coke (which if you think about it would probably make him more representative of the 1980s than even the Million Dollar Man). I personally, am not taking the cynical route, and believe it's just Macho being Macho. However I'm just saying some things make a lot more sense if you see if read between the white lines.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Brand New Brand New Key

The other day I found myself listening to "Brand New Key" by Melanie in the car. While Melanie's quirky, novelty number one hit has managed to endure in the pop consciousness for the four decades since its release, from "Boogie Nights" (oh Heather Graham how you still roller skate around in my dreams) to that recent HP commercial with the baby on the highway, it became quite apparent while listening that the overall roller skate/roller skate key analogy behind the song had become completely outdated. The overall theme of a girl trying to attract the attention of a boy is timeless and the cheeky sexual innuendo of finding a key for her lock, was controversial and subtly progressive then and is just as relevant now, but I figured there had to be a better way to convey that without using roller skates as the example.

Even for a roller skating reference it is woefully ancient. Assuming there are kids out there still riding roller skates (and judging by the diminishing number of skating rinks across the country I assume there aren't too many who still do), they would probably be using roller blades (or maybe those stupid Heelys that were kind of popular a few years ago) over the old quad variety. Even if there are some anachronistic kids out there somewhere with the old quad skates, they would have to be using quad skates that are so outmoded that they still required skate keys. To this day I have never seen such skates and am still not quite sure why roller skates would even require keys when you can just put them on like regular shoes or even ice skates. The entire sum of my knowledge of roller skates with keys consists of, aside from "Brand New Key", an old episode of "Muppet Babies" where Fozzie loses his skate key and the whole gang goes on an adventure to find it.

Given how antiquated the analogy was, I tried to think of a more updated comparison. In being faithful to the original song it had to relate to a seemingly innocent children's toy or activity but could possibly also be construed to be about sex. This actually proved to be far more difficult then I had originally imagined. In fact, I couldn't even think of a single good relevant replacement. I've got a brand new...pack of Silly Bandz? Bakugan figurine? Nintendo 3DS game? Maybe something about getting new smartphones so they can sext each other? There really weren't any better options (although if they did a reboot of the song in the 90's I think it should be about POGs and slammers).

So I guess the lesson here may be not to mess with a classic. Any better suggestions out there?

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Discreet Charm of Jason Bourgeois

Part II of my continuing season long series spotlighting speedy, yet marginal, replacement National League outfielders that I acquired off the waiver wire for my injury consumed, offensively challenged, fantasy baseball team shines the spotlight today on Houston Astros OF Jason Bourgeois.

Since picking him up off the waiver wire last week, Bourgeois has, in his past seven starts, hit a blistering 14 of 27 and stole seven bases. As it stands he is currently hitting .407 and is tied for second in the majors (behind teammate Michael Bourn) in steals with 12 despite his limited appearances. Suffice to say the batting average boost and the infusion of hot, cheap, speed has been most appreciated.

If Bourgeois can maintain a decent fraction of his currently unsustainable hitting and continue to rack up the steals, the lowly Astros will at least have an impressive one-two top of the order with the speedy duo of Bourn and Bourgeois. I also faintly hope that if Bourgeois continues his hot play he will not only help my team but become enough of a fan favorite in Houston that a ramdom motivated Astros fan/foreign film enthusiast will create some variation of a poster referencing Luis Buñuel's 1972 Best Foreign Language Oscar winning film "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie". While there is obviously no connection between the journeyman outfielder and this classic French surrealist film and admittedly the tenses don't even match up; when will one ever have another opportunity like this to make such an esoteric reference in connection with a baseball player? Given the odds, I think you have to strike at the first chance.

A crude artist's rendering

*Update: In news that should be of absolutely no surprise to me I just found out that Bourgeois has been placed on the DL with a strained left oblique and appears likely to be out for the rest of the month. However, I also learned that Roger "The Shark" Bernadina has just recently been brought back up by the Nationals to replace the injured Rick Ankiel, proving the old adage that when God injures a light hitting outfielder he brings up another one.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Power Rankings!: Twilight Zone Episodes Featuring Star Trek Actors

I believe I've made it pretty clear over the years that I am a huge"Twilight Zone" fan. Aside from the writing, acting, filmmaking, etc. one of the great supplemental joys of watching the show is all the interesting guest stars you get to see. Since the show was a strict anthology series with every episode featuring a completely different story and set of characters, the large list of actors who found themselves in the zone range from young future icons (Robert Redford, Carol Burnett, Burt Reynolds), old Hollywood stars (Buster Keaton, Joseph Schildkraut), BURGESS MOTHER FUCKING MEREDITH, and every quality contemporary character actor in-between.

Of the varied group of actors to have appeared on the show I've always found it interesting to see future main cast members of another highly influential 1960's science fiction series, "Star Trek", finding themselves crossing over into the Twilight Zone. While Shatner's two appearances on the show are by far the most well known, future Enterprise crew members Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, and James Doohan have been part of some (mostly) choice episodes. How would I rank all five of these episodes based on my personal opinion as a fan?

Well, I'm glad you asked:

5. "A Quality of Mercy"
I said that not all the Star Trek cast featuring episodes would be home runs and this is one is the unfortunate odd man out. The story takes place during the waining days of World War II in the Pacific where a platoon of war weary American soldiers are laying siege to a cave of starved Japanese soldiers. The hawkish, newly promoted, asshole Lieutenant (played by Dean Stockwell) wants to show no mercy to the enemy and orders a full assault on the cave much to the anger of the platoon. Before the assault is carried out, the Lieutenant suddenly finds himself as a Japanese soldier in 1942 in an exact reverse of the previous situation (OMG!), laying siege to a cave of starving Americans, which gives him a new perspective.

The whole thing comes off about as simplistic and preachy as it sounds. The performances and production are still pretty good (although the "Japanese" makeup job on Stockwell is pretty flimsy) but there are no real surprises here. As for Leonard Nimoy, he's in it for like 30 seconds as one of the American soldiers and has about one line of dialog; also quite weak. Additionally, aside from being an average episode at best, it's also indirectly responsible for the deaths of Vic Morrow and two child actors since they were killed filming a remake of the episode for the ill-fated "Twilight Zone: The Movie" in 1983.

4. "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"
I already gave my two cents on this classic "Twilight Zone" episode in a blog post few years ago.
"What more can I say about this episode that most already don't know. If you somehow have no idea what this episode is about, by all means watch it before someone ruins the entire story for you. A sharp looking William Shatner plays the mentally fragile airplane passenger desperately trying to stop a mysterious monster from downing the plane while struggling to find someone who believes him. This episode might be better known to you many as that Simpson's Treehouse of Horror segment "Terror at 5 1/2 Feet". While it has lost some of its power, the tense, claustrophobic directing of a young Richard Donner and Shatner's going mental performance still make it a keeper."
The Shat may have plenty of criticisms about his idiosyncratic acting style, but he is one of the all time masters of playing crazy.

3. "Valley of the Shadow"
I have also visited the "Valley of the Shadow" in a previous post.
"A young man accidentally stumbles across a town where its inhabitants possess scientific knowledge that is light years headed of our own time. This is one of the few hour long Twilight Zone episodes I like. This is not a real famous episode or anything and the main plot itself is fairly flat, but I just dug the soliloquies the town leaders give about how screwed up modern civilization is. The Twilight Zone was always good at waving its finger at modern times, in an entertaining way."
I didn't bother to mention James Doohan's role in the episode back then because well, I didn't even notice him. He plays some random guy in the town that does some exposition and we never see again. I probably watched this episode three or four times before I even noticed that he was in it. As a fan of mainly the "Star Trek" movies, I've grown up with lovable fat, white haired, mustachioed Scotty as opposed to the younger version.

2. "The Encounter"
The setup of the "The Encounter" involves a bigoted World War II veteran and a young assimilated Japanese-American hired to help him clean his attic finding themselves trapped there by some mysterious force. Forced together in this tense, hot, cramped space surrounded by the veteran's old WWII items (including a samurai sword that he took from a dead solider) the two start to go crazy, not unlike that Simpsons episode where Homer and Mr. Burns got stuck in a mountain cabin, leading to a pretty shocking conclusion.

It would ostensibly appear by the premise that the episode would touch upon similar themes of compassion and empathy as "A Quality of Mercy", but it really gets more interesting and complicated then that. The theme of the episode is really an exploration of guilt and the inability to escape the ghosts of the past, figuratively and (since this is the "Twilight Zone") somewhat literally, with both sides coming off as never completely being good or bad. It's a really well made bottle episode carried by the excellent, increasingly sweaty performances of George Takei and Neville Brand (who was a real life war hero). I can't imagine there were too many opportunities for an Asian actor to have such a featured role on a major prime time program in 1964. In an unfortunately note, it is almost impossible to find this episode rerun on syndication since it has received complaints in the past about the racial epithets and characterizations in the story (sort of like how it's difficult to catch the infamous "Puerto Rican Day" episode of "Seinfeld")

1. "Nick of Time"
"Nick of Time" has slowly grown on my over the years to become one of my all time top 10 episodes. One of the things I like about it, is it's a well known episode but isn't doesn't have quite have the level of fame (and number of parodies) as episodes like "Time Enough At Last" or "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", which kind of makes it feel more "mine" like an great album track from your favorite band. If you don't know, the story is a simple one about a young couple on their honeymoon who stop at a random town dinner while their car is being fixed. The husband eventually discovers that the novelty fortune telling machine at their table can magically answer all their questions (in yes or no, maybe later, 8 ball form). However he becomes obsessed with the machine's ability and finds himself unable to leave the dinner and continue his life without its guidance.

As someone who is always anxious about the future, this show really does hit close to home. It is a timeless, life affirming, message of living for today and not being paralyzed by the future told in the Zone's uniquely dark manner. It also has one of the more surprisingly satisfying and positive (well, sort of positive) endings of the series. As for Shatner, it is similar to his other performance as he is an anxious man that's gradually being driven mad, but this is a more subtle and subdued type of madness for him. I also have to give props to the "mystic seer" machine itself which was a really well designed prop piece and gave off a creeping malevolence that made the story work (and is available as a replica bobblehead on Amazon if anyone is looking for a present for my birthday this weekend).