Sunday, March 1, 2015

Three Things I Will Remember Leonard Nimoy For...

…and “Star Trek” isn’t any of them. 

If you every wondered whether or not nerd culture has become the true 21st century zeitgeist, we all got executive clarification when President Barack Hussein Obama released an official statement on the death of Leonard Nimoy.

Think about that shit for a minute. The same day a prominent, freedom of expression champion from the States got macheted to death by Moslem extremists in Bangladesh, the leader of the motherfuckin’ free world chose to take time out of his schedule to pen a few flowery thoughts on the life and times of a C-grade actor whose only claim to fame is speaking in a monotone voice and wearing pointy ears on TV. That tells you everything you need to know about contemporary American society and its values; if you literally sacrifice your life in overseas battle or defending the public in crime-ravaged streets, nobody cares, but if you just so happened to portray a make-believe space elf on god-awful children’s cinema, you might just find yourself a future recipient of the congressional medal of honor.

I suppose I can at least grasp the parasocial connection some folks had with the Spock character. Of course, none of the geek mourners across the globe are bemoaning the loss of an actual human being, either. To the horn-rimmed, acne-speckled masses, the death of Leonard Nimoy is more of a symbolic loss, the metaphorical demise of a part of their fantastical, abstract-alternate reality that means more to them than god, country or family combined.

I’ve never watched a single episode of “Star Trek,” or seen any of the movies. I did rent that one game on the NES, though, even though it pretty much sucked and I should have rented “Tecmo Super Bowl” for the three-millionth time instead. So yeah, I can’t really speak for any of the super-fan clinical-undiagnosed-psychopaths out there who are shedding tears for a person they never actually met nor ever knew they ever existed as individual human beings. I mean, shit, for all we know, Nimoy could have been a really terrible human being behind closed doors who beat up his wife like John Lennon or had gang-rape parties like Jimmy Page or had obscene trysts with his relatives like Gandhi -- frankly, these people have no clue what they’re ACTUALLY celebrating, which terrifies the ever-loving shit out of me.

Alas, as a pop-culture weaned parasite, I suppose it’s difficult to deny that Mr. Nimoy has had at least some tangential impact on my life, albeit in really reduced domains of my entertainment selections. While everybody else mourns the passing of Mr. Spock, here are the three things I will personally recollect about Leonard Nimoy …

“In Search Of…!”

In the late 1970s, there was this show called “In Search Of…” It was basically “Sightings” a good fifteen years in advance, a weekly slog through all sorts of supernatural and paranormal bullshit. It was originally hosted by Rod Serling, but he unceremoniously died halfway through the series, so they had to replace him with a different narrator. And who did the producers select to fill the void created by the passing of the “Twilight Zone” curator? Why, none other than Leonard Nimoy himself!

The same way we will no doubt endlessly mourn Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones a few years from now, it’s kind of come to my attention that the only thing Nimoy really had to offer as an actor was his booming voice. I mean, goddamn, with an intonation like that, he could sell snow to an Eskimo. While the show itself was pretty routine, Nimoy’s tar-slicked, chimney-throated inflection made even the stupidest excursions into mumbo jumbo about Sasquatch and Egpytian curses at least a smidge respectable.

According to the Wikipedia, Nimoy had a hand and in writing at least one or two episodes of the show, which fantastically, somehow led to a series of semi-nonfiction books, all of which featured preambles penned by Spock hisself.  Watching the series on a second-run on A&E back in the day, I really don’t recall the episodes themselves all that well, but you better believe I remember the sound of Nimoy’s narration, as he mused such direly important topics as reincarnation and the mysterious death of Glenn Miller. Man, the early ‘80s were a lot more fucked up than I remember.

“The Y2K Family Survival Guide!”

Picture it: the year of our Lord, 1999. We were a culture knee deep in “The Matrix” and Columbine, a nation slowly coming to grips with the reality of hard-on-pills for the elderly, the World Wide Web, and president who really enjoyed blowjobs from chunky chicks. Aye, they were roaring times indeed, although a sinister cloud hung overhead all year-round: the dark, deathly auger of Y2K.

All you coddled and overprotected Millennial twerps don’t know nothing about no Y2K, do you? For the Poke-Generation that’s never known of an existence sans Wi-Fi and totalitarian systematic decrees against even the subtlest forms of bullying, the Y2K bug was this mathematical glitch inside EACH AND EVERY FUCKING COMPUTER SYSTEM IN THE WORLD that was going to send us hurdling ass-backwards into the Paleolithic era. Bank accounts would vanish, planes were going to fall out of the sky and toasters were probably going to become sentient and start strangling us like in “Maximum Overdrive.” Indeed, such was the Mayan 2012 Apocalypse frenzy of its day, only intensified a million percent because this was before Wikipedia and we really couldn’t fact-check a damn thing on our own.

To be forthright, I never actually watched the “Y2K Family Survival Guide” VHS cassette, although the thing is available in its entirety on the ‘Tube and I should probably review it for this here blog at some point. That said, I vividly recall that warm orange and yellow box-art screaming at me, with Leonard Nimoy’s stern-but-believable-face staring at me like some sort of Nostradamus for the “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” generation. Of course, after humanity safely rolled over to 2-0-0-0 without the slightest of hiccups, this video became instant discount bin fodder; needless to say, for whatever indiscernible reason, that image is still the first thing that comes to mind whenever I hear Lenny’s name get dropped.

“Seaman” on the Sega Dreamcast!

Although I run a website dedicated primarily to stupid nostalgic pop culture bullshit from the Clinton years, I really don’t have an actual longing for most of the stuff I cover. I mean, yeah, it was cool and all that I had a Muckman action figure and an LCD handheld version of “Altered Beast” when I was a kid, but as a 30-year-old man, I really can’t say I have any strong emotions about losing them fifteen or twenty-some-odd years ago.

Now, my personal copy of “Seaman” on the Sega Dreamcast, however, is something altogether different. For those not in the know, “Seaman” was really out-there video game that came with a little microphone attachment for your controller. If you ever played “Hey You, Pikachu!” on the N64, it’s pretty much the same gimmick. However, Sega decided to go way above and beyond the call of duty with their game, creating an absolutely unparalleled psychological-gaming experience where you raised, nurtured and had existential discussions with fish people with Japanese faces. The term “indescribable” gets tossed around way too frequently, but if there was ever a video game worthy of such an oxymoronic label, surely, “Seaman” was it.

Every time you booted up the game, you were greeted by Leonard Nimoy, who proceeded to give you an update on the state of your fish people. With his matter-of-factly presentation, he may have been short on memorable lines, but he at least brought an air of sophistication to the title. It takes a real pro, after all, to discuss the mating habits of smart-aleck chimeras, and clearly, Nimoy was among the best in the biz when it came to giving such performances.

Yeah, I could probably say some shit about his appearances on “The Simpsons,” as well, but I figure that’s one of those things that really doesn’t bare much mentioning. I mean, every Gen X and Gen Y kid on planet Earth knows about the Monorail episode, but I’m guessing a considerably smaller proportion of humanity recalls his stints as hysterical computer crash propaganda narrator, or voiceover artist for abstract bestiality video games and TV shows about the Loch Ness monster.

To most folks, he will always be Spock, but to me, he’s that one guy that did a lot of really out-there weird shit that only about 12 or so people on the planet recall. And on the day Sir William Shatner gets called to that great jubilee in the sky, rest assured that I will pen another heartfelt memorial, recalling his immortal performances as “TJ Hooker” and the host of “Rescue 9/11.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Who Should C.M. Punk Fight First?

Evaluating 12  possible opponents for the UFC newcomer...

When Phil "C.M. Punk" Brooks announced he had signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship late last year, it sent the MMA world into a tizzy. Sure, pro wrestling-to-MMA transplants are nothing new, but this Punk kid is no Saku or Brock Lesnar -- indeed, the very first time he steps into the cage will be his first actual fight, pro or amateur. 

Whether the decision to sign Punk is or is not beneath the company and or damaging to the sport is yet to be seen. Heck, for all we know, he could wind up being a surprisingly decent fighter, a'la Herschel Walker and make all of  us look like assholes for doubting him in the first place. That said, inking a dude who has literally never fought before definitely lends a few challenges to the UFC booking committee. Obviously, you want to make a fight as competitive as you can, but at the same time, you also want to throw in an opponent who isn't just some tomato-can out of a suspect gym somewhere.

Pretty much everybody has been named as a possible opponent at this point, ranging from the somewhat plausible to the absolute ri-goddamn-diculous. As a quasi-respectable MMA prognosticator, I decided I might as well play armchair booker and evaluate a few names that have been dropped across media outlets and social networking chatter as potential  foes for one Phillip Brooks. Which adversaries would lend themselves to pseudo-competitive match-ups, and which fighters would just pancake Punk into oblivion? Don't even bother reaching out to the Sherdog forums, fight fans ... this list below will tell you everything you needs to know. 

Jason David Frank

Yes, I fully understand that it sounds like a train-wreck, "Celebrity Boxing" match-up that's beneath the UFC. Then again, this is the same organization that let James Toney's Pootie-Tang-sounding ass crawl into the Octagon, and to be honest, both PRIDE and DREAM green lit even more horrific freak show fights than this one. Frank, who played the green and white Power Ranger, is a legitimate MMA fighter with a semi-respectable W-L record, and it's not like Zuffa would have to sign up to a 3-year, 10-fight contact or anything. This bout may not do much to advance the respectability of the sport, but it would no doubt garner a lot of eyes from folks who normally wouldn't have the remotest interest in mixed martial arts, and quite frankly I'd much, MUCH rather see this fight take place than just about any flyweight championship bout. Hell, maybe the winner can fight Shondo Blades in a follow-up match, no?

Alan Belcher

"The Talon" is a top 20 middleweight fighter who is really, really good but lacks a distinct personality. In fact, pretty much the only thing anybody knows about him is that he lost to Yoshihiro Akiyama that one time and he has a tattoo of Johnny Cash on his bicep. If Belcher greets Punk to the cage, I see it playing out not unlike the first Frank Mir / Brock Lesnar bout -- Belcher would be over HUGE with the UFC core if he knocks off the pro wrestling import, and who knows? Maybe it leads to some sort of flukey, Robbie Lawler and Anthony Johnsons-esque career resurgence for him. Alas, Belcher is probably a bit too much for the neophyte Punk ... which, for all we know, could be what the UFC wants in the first place. 

Michael Bisping

He's definitely the biggest British MMA star of all-time, and he can talk serious trash. The thing is, Bisping has some real KO power (as well as the ability to get KTFO himself), and odds are, he would flatline Punk in under a minute. This is a bout you would book, if and only if, Zuffa management wants Mr.  Brooks leaving the arena with a hefty facial reconstruction surgery bill.

Josh Koscheck 

Now this could be interesting. Five years ago, the Kos would have easily slain Punk, but today's Koscheck most certainly isn't the same fighter we saw back in 2007, or even 2011, for that matter. Josh can no doubt make a 185-pound weigh-in, and he definitely has name appeal AND can talk major bullshit like nobody's business. Plus, he, much like Punk, certainly knows how to make things theatrical ... remember that Oscar-caliber acting job he did with Paul Daley's phantom knee strike? As with Belcher, it's a win-win situation; if Punk wins, oh well, fuck it, it was a dude on his way down, anyway. But if Kos wins, it could lead to a possible career turnaround, and the MMA faithful would no doubt throw their support behind him, 100 percent, heading into the match-up.

Takanori Gomi

I don't know why, but as soon as it was announced CM Punk had signed with the UFC, my initial thought was "wow, wouldn't it be awesome to see him fight the Fireball Kid?" Granted, it's a seemingly random match-up, but I think it could lend itself to something fairly competitive. The 30 pound jump up in weight class would at least give Punk some equal footing against the veteran, and as we all know, Gomi can still hit dudes really, really hard. Of course, if things get horizontal, Punk is likely staring down a torn ligament or a few bones yanked out of their sockets, but the standing possibilities here, I suppose, could be very, very interesting. 

Roger Zapata

UFC newcomer Zapata is 4-1 in pro fights. The welterweight has two KO victories, and his relative greenness, so it seems, would seem to tilt the playing field just a bit for Mr. Brooks. Allegedly, Punk has been working like crazy on his submission game, so if this thing makes it to the mat, he might actually have a chance ... or at least, as much of a chance as Zapata has to knock his head off his shoulders in the first minute of the fight.

Rich Franklin

Franklin, despite being a Hall of Famer, is just a shell of his former self. There are a lot of old-timers the UFC could possibly trot out for this match, but I think Franklin probably deserves the victory send-off more than, oh say, a Matt Serra or even a Dan Henderson. The odds would most certainly favor Rich, but his age and recent performances at least gives an auger of a chance to Punk. And man, just imagine the roar of the crowd if Franklin is able to land a knockout blow against the "Straight Edge Superstar?" 

James Te-Huna

Te-Huna could kick just about everybody's ass reading this right now, but in the cage, it seems like there's a good fifty-fifty chance he'll get flatlined no matter who he faces. Currently riding a three fight losing streak, Te-Huna is a dude who can definitely lose both the striking and ground game, and the weight cut to 185 would most certainly give Punk something of a advantage heading into the fight. Still, Te-Huna would have to be the favorite here, and honestly, I'm not quite sure the UFC would want to hand over the easy kill to a dude who ISN'T a big-name player in need of a career rebound. Still, it would be an interesting little match-up ... for a few moments, at least. 

Andy Enz

"Tank Mode" is a 23-year-old submission fighter on a three-fight losing streak, having last been KTFO by, of all people, Thiago Santos at UFC 183. While Enz does indeed have knockout potential, his less-than-sterling standing game would at least give Punk a chance vertically, and a submission ground battle between the two could be quite interesting. And if Enz makes his opponent tap to the Anaconda Vice, it would be even funnier than that time Cro-Cop got his head kicked off by Gabriel freaking Gonzaga. 

Ron Stallings

Stallings, a 31-year-old middleweight, has the least intimidating nickname of all-time -- "The Choirboy." An ardent atheist, that makes the CM Punk match-up at least a teensy bit more interesting, on a philosophical level. Last seen getting beat up on by Uriah Hall, Stallings is a mid-carder with a lot to prove, and his lack of striking power bodes well for Punk. Granted, it would take a hell of a PR job to make Stallings the type of character you would want to root for, but his stock would nonetheless rise substantially if he became the dragon slayer in this scenario. 

Bubba Bush

The 29-year-old middleweight, nicknamed "The Fightin' Texas Aggie," is 8-2, and he can both knock dudes out and submit them. He hasn't had a fight in well over a year, though, and as we all know, ring rust (or is it cage rust?) can be a huge game-changer. Now, nine times out of 10, Bush would probably smash Punk into oblivion, but on that one fight? Well, actually, he'd probably smash him anyway, but you never know and shit. 

Garreth McLellan

Since there's no way in hell I could possibly know what's happening in the South African MMA circuit, I had not heard of the recent UFC signee until recently. As soon as I saw the dude, I just KNEW he was a top-tier opponent for Punk -- if you're looking to make a star off of some dude throttling another would-be star, this Bushwackcer-looking motherfucker definitely presents one of those once-in-a-blue-moon opportunities.With a 12-2 record, "Soldier Boy" is known for his submission game, which gives Punk both a prayer in the stand-up game ad possibly a fighting chance on the canvas. By throwing Punk to the wolves in his first bout, the UFC is definitely pissing away money, but at the same time? You know, sometimes, you can make an even bigger star by killing another one ... ain't that right, Big Nog?

(Dis)honorable mentions:

  • Art Jimmerson -- although if they let him use two gloves, I'm not sure Punk can take him.
  • Jon Hess -- because if Punk can't overcome the world's premiere SAFTA expert, there's no way he's got a shot against anybody else on the current roster. 
  • Fred Ettish -- laugh all you want, he still has a better professional record than Punk does. 
  • Ruan Potts -- he's a bit oversized for Punk, but considering he has the gas tank of a motor scooter with a hole in it, this bout actually bodes pretty well for the pro wrassler. 
  • Tank Abbott -- it's the dream WCW vs. ROH match we had no idea we wanted to witness!
  • Kimbo Slice -- just for the possibility that Punk may attempt a Go-to-Sleep at some point in the first round. 
  • Kurt Angle -- because frankly, we all need more Kurt Angle in our lives. And if he's half as good in the cage as he was in "Warrior," he'd slay the entire middleweight division. 
  • Samoa Joe -- the dude is a free agent, after all, and who wouldn't want to see "Joe vs. Punk III?"
  • Alberto Del Rio -- not only do they have history in the scripted pro wrestling world, del Rio himself is a former PRIDE punching-bag superstar!
  • Big Van Vader -- with or without Frankie Stechino in his corner, naturally. 
  • Kimo Leopold -- presuming it doesn't end with Kimo getting disqualified for whacking him with a cross, of course. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Are the Atlanta Hawks for Real?

It's the best squad the ATL has seen in ages, but it's still premature to crown them as NBA Champions.

The magic in Atlanta was unmistakable. With a new coach in town, the luckless Hawks were flying high, with a starting five that was shooting the lights out every game ... and they played just as well on the defensive side of the ball.

They locked up their division, and more or less coasted to the top-seed in the Eastern Conference (even if they did end up tying with the Knicks for best overall conference record.) With mile-high expectations, the Hawks pounded their way through the eighth-seeded Heat, and then ... they got bounced out in the second round by the Pacers.

The fate of the 1993-94 Hawks seems to have been forgotten by most Atlanta sports fans. While the 2014-15 team is unquestionably the best one to take the court in Atlanta in almost 20 years, the insane amount of  homer optimism/bandwagonism that's taken middle Georgia by storm -- some are already declaring them favorites to take home the gold hardware at season's end -- is likely to come crashing down much sooner than later.

That's not to say the current squad isn't talented. Kyle Korver is on track to have a statistic-shattering season, DeMarre Carroll is an absolute beast and the golden triangle of Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Al Hofford is certainly one of -- if not the -- best triple threats in the league. And that's not to leave out a talented bench that includes the likes of Elton Brand and John Jenkins.

The thing is, the '93-'94 Hawks roster was just as loaded, even after Dominique Wilkins was traded at the midpoint of the season. Augmon, Blaylock (who, as fate would have it, is now staring down some serious pokey time for vehicular homicide) Manning, Ehlo ... those dudes could definitely put some points on the board. As are the highly-touted '14-'15 Hawks, theirs was a team sans that one breakout player, instead focusing on defensive fundamentals and spreading the ball around.

Coach Bud has no doubt turned the Hawks into the San Antonio Spurs lite and the results speak for themselves. The problem -- and this is what I think really hampers the team heading into the playoffs -- is that they lack that one explosive, marquee player who can turn a game around and start raining buckets. The Hawks today don't have an MJ or a Kobe, that instant game-changer who can just drain threes and twos left-and-right and get the team up by double digits over the course of two minutes.

After that stellar 19-game win streak, the Hawks have since gone sub .500, with their first game after the all-star break being a 20-point pummeling at the hands of the Raptors, an offensive-heavy team that, earlier this season, it seemed like the Hawks had figured out. While it's probably a bit early to start thinking about a mid-season collapse, it's definitely indicative of the team's big weakness -- as good as the defense is, what happens when the rebounds and steals just aren't happening and the team falls behind by double digits?

While the 14-15 Hawks have had their share of close losses, a staggering number of their defeats have been rather surprising blowouts. And even in the games they win, the team has a tendency to let their opponents crawl back in despite sometimes leading by 20-plus points. Although the Hawks may have scored a huge victory at home over them, do not mistake this team for Stephen Curry's Warriors, whose points per game vs. points allowed per game differential is nearly twice that of the Hawks. The team may be a well-oiled one,but I am afraid the Highlight Factory isn't exactly manufacturing the soundest offensive product in the league.

Regular season streaks really don't mean anything. In 2008, the Rockets won 22 in a row and didn't even make it to the second round of the playoffs. Being a great 82-game team is one thing, but being a great postseason team requires something else entirely. Defensive fundamentals may have worked for the late 1980s Pistons and the 2003 Spurs, but more times than not, it's the team with the most dynamic, lights-out explosive offensive production that winds up with the rings. Lest we forget, while the Spurs may have bested Lebron and the Heat last year, Miami was able to outpace both the Spurs and the Thunder the two years prior. On top of that, how could we forget the three-point bonanza Mavs outscoring the all-star Heat in 2011? The old football maxim is inverted for pro basketball; defense wins games, but offense wins championships.

As far as the ultimate fate of this year's team, I think the Hawks will still wind up with the best record in the Eastern Conference ... failing any major injuries to the big five, obviously. First round upsets almost never happen in the NBA, so I see the Hawks easily besting the lukewarm Heat or the Bobcats or whatever bullshit team comes in as an eighth-seed. Assuming the Bulls, Wizards or Raptors wind up as a third seed -- which means a team like the Bucks or Nets would be their first round opponent -- I also see the Hawks getting by, albeit perhaps in a six or maybe even seven game series.

Alas, I just don't see the Hawks getting past the Eastern finals, and the team that will almost certainly be their last in-conference opponent  -- the Cavs. Yes, Lebron and company may be off to a slower-than-expected start, but they're arguably the most dangerous offensive threat in the conference. The Hawks can feasibly steal a game or two away from them, but when Cleveland gets off and running (don't forget, Irving and Love are  pretty bad mofos themselves) and the Hawks defense slips, I just see them falling into a funk they can't escape from. Pending they do somehow punch a ticket to the championship series, I think their chances are even worse ... I don't think ANY team is going to wrest four games away from the Warriors, and other contenders like Memphis, the Clippers and even the Spurs have defensive cores that would give Atlanta fits.

That's not to say the team doesn't have championship capabilities, though. Although I've never really been a huge Hawks fan (or a fan of any Atlanta-area team, for that matter), I'd probably hop on the bandwagon and cheer my lungs out heading down the stretch regardless. Win or lose, a seven game series against Lebron would be a sight to behold, and if it does come down to an Atlanta vs. Oakland or Atlanta vs. Memphis finals, I would be positively glued to my TV screen for two weeks. Or hey, what about the Hawks and the Clippers going toe-to-toe in the conference finals? I, for one, would be plum thrilled with the first ever "Racial Sensitivity Series."

Even if the Hawks do not win a championship this year, I still think they are a sound team destined for great things. I would certainly think the management would keep the core unit together -- Korver, Millsap, Teague and Horford -- but I think the upper brass will likely try to ship out DeMarre, and possibly Elton Brand, in the offseason for that one missing piece that could net them a championship in 2016. Having an Anthony Davis or DeMarcus Cousins-type impact player could certainly make Atlanta a bona-fide title threat overnight, and even a Damiam Lillard or Jimmy Butler could shake things up enough to give the team a true, championship-caliber offense.

Just keep your fingers crossed that the Hawks won't be celebrating that inevitable championship in the Pacific northwest, Atlanta sports fans...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Five Most Disturbing TMNT Figures!

The Plastic Playthings that Traumatized all of our Childhoods ... in the Most Tubular Way Possible!

As were most children of the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was totally swept up in the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" frenzy. The license was pretty much inescapable -- the show played on syndicated television non-stop, there were multitudes of comics coming out every month, and between the NES and Game Boy, there were  close to a dozen or so side scrolling beat 'em ups to play in your living room and on car rides.

Looking back on it, the original animated series -- and especially the trilogy of live-action movies -- really haven't aged all that well. The plots are contrived, the dialogue is corny and frankly, most of the characters are one-dimensional -- clearly, this isn't "Batman: The Animated Series" quality stuff we're talking here.

That said, I don't think any one who grew up as consumer-minded youngsters in the early 1990s have ever truly forgotten the toys. Indeed, the line of Playmates action figures are some of the most beloved of the era, with exquisite craftsmanship that, to this day, remains pretty darned impressive.

Beyond the myriad stock character variations (did anybody else have the giant Krang action figure, or the soccer playing Raphael that really kicked the shit out of things via a wind-up gimmick?) and outlandish playsets and vehicles, there were also some weird one-off figures that, in hindsight, were quite gruesome and ghoulish. Today, I would like to look back at five of the most royally messed up TMNT action figures to ever go through the mass production process -- play time, I assure you, is about to get a whole lot more unnerving.


Just look at this thing ... it's like the Toxic Avenger stepped inside the teleportation pod from Cronenberg's "The Fly" with the Incredible Hulk! Coincidentally, Playmates would go on to manufacture "Toxic Crusaders" toys, too, but nothing in that line-up came close to matching the grotesque beauty of this figure. Think about that, for a minute ... "Muckman" alone is more messed up then anything that came out of a franchise based on fucking TROMA movies. 

As you could probably tell, Muckman's gimmick is that he's a living, breathing mountain of trash.Contextually, his backstory is that he's a garbageman who got mutated, which makes the figure even more unnerving. I mean, at least most mutations turn into some awesome chimera, like a manta ray or an elephant man. This dude had to work a low-paying job, face the scorn of other city employees and then, bam, he gets turned into a walking pile of rubbish. Needless to say, that's a lot to leave on the plates of six-year-olds, ain't it?

Obviously, the attention to detail here is just awe-inspiring ... the soda bottles and tin cans mutated into its skin, the sewer lid foot, and of course, the banana peel hairpiece. Why some publicly funded street artist hasn't turned this thing into a ten foot tall installation is simply beyond me. In terms of accessories, Muckman came with his own miniature pal, Joe Eyeball, and a garbage can, which I assume he used as an ECW-style pummeling weapon on foes. Really, the coolest/sickest thing about Muckman was that you could actually yank off the top of his skull and pour slime into his head, which proceeded to gush out of his mouth like a barfing co-ed. And if that wasn't enough, you could even squeeze goop through a perforation in his abdomen. And as we all know: what has more appeal to the kids than torso wounds and toxic waste vomit?

Mutagen Man!

Most TMNT villains were your basic "Island of Dr. Moreau" castoffs -- your bull-people, your groundhog-people, etc. Mutagen Man, on the other hand, is a gigantic, sentient fish tank filled with vital organs. Clearly, this needs some explication. 

According to the back of the toy packaging, Mutagen Man was some poor soul  -- ironically enough, named "Seymour Gutz" -- who was abducted by Shredder and vivisected(!) as part of some Mengele-esque science experiment. So, yeah, "Mutagen" Man is more or less Kane from "Robocop 2," except twenty times more fucked up and aimed directly at a child consumer audience. 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I'm pretty sure most of those words used to describe "Mutagen Man" would be some sort of permutation of "messed up." As you have probably guessed, the appeal of the figure -- outside of the fact that it's more or less a sci-fi Auschwitz monster in plastic -- is that you can pour water inside the tank torso and watch the organs flutter around like snow globe particles. The character also came with a banana-colored slime gun, but really, why bring in firearms when you're already a walking exposed endocrine system? 

Pizza Face!

Pizza Face, at first glance, appears to be a fairly mundane figure -- at least by TMNT standards. I mean, shit, how many of those toys actually resembled something that looked liked a baseline human being? However, as you delve deeper into this Pizza Face character, you realize he's actually one of the more disturbing figures in the entire Turtles pantheon. 

According to his backcard, Pizza Face was a big, fat, Iron Sheik looking chef, who decided to bake himself inside a mutagen-coated oven to give him super powers or some shit. Apparently, the Turtles showed up and "rescued him," which pissed him off to high-heavens -- primarily, because it resulted in him becoming a half Italian, half pepperoni amalgam. Naturally, he would go on to align himself with Shredder to seek retribution. 

With a tomato and cheese encrusted apron (not at all subterfuge blood and pus, of course) and a pizza box/pizza cutter peg leg, good old Pizza Face is definitely one of the more disturbing figures released by Playmates. He also came equipped with a huge honking butcher knife and a blood red pizza throwing disc, which I assume worked in a fashion similar to the Gary Busey-halving death disc in "Predator 2." And for extra creepy points? As long as you can overlook his cardboard box left leg, he pretty much doubles as an unofficial John Wayne Gacy action figure, too!


Continuing our recurring theme of low-income workers being ironically transformed into hell beasts somehow tied into their former professions, we have Scumbug, a former exterminator turned cockroach monster. 

I really like how the insect fuses with human flesh on this figure. Yeah, the head is a bit too much (sorry, the giant lemon eyes and mile-way grin screams "misunderstood" more than "menacing"), but how about the bulging triceps mutating into icky purple bug exoskeleton? Shit, that really makes me want to ask some hard hitting questions about whoever it was that designed these damn toys. 

Accessory-wise, the figure is a bit on the disappointing side. Yeah, the exterminator pack is a little funny, but beyond that, there's not much to monkey around with. Even worse, you can't even fill it with water or ooze and spray other figures, which is a huge missed opportunity. Still, there's no denying Scumbug is a fairly fucked up idea for a figure -- which, considering his cohorts, is saying quite a bit. 


...and we encounter yet ANOTHER garbage-man-turned-monster figure. Were the guys at Playmates trying to make some sort of sociopolitical, quasi-Marxist statement with these toys or something? 

Well just slightly less unnerving than Muckman, Wyrm remains a similar semi-tragic figure -- although noticeably less slimy. A proud member of the "Unsanitation Department" (yuk-yuk!), Wyrm is just a pastel-colored mess, sporting a wardrobe so garish "Macho Man" Randy Savage probably would have considered it tacky. And the more I stare at this motherfucker, the more it becomes apparent that the toy was probably based on a sketch of Little Richard as a Blue Meanie. 

The figure came out right when the TMNT hype train was starting to go downhill, and Wyrm is sort of indicative of that epoch. Yeah, he looks cool and messed up and all, but he was nowhere near as creative as some of the earlier figures. The accessories, though, were pretty neat, at least -- I mean, the dude came equipped with both a mallet and a switchblade made entirely out of meal worms! 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Platoon" on the NES!

Remember that movie whose tagline was literally "war is hell?" Apparently, somebody thought that was the perfect source material for a Nintendo game. 

'I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves, and the enemy was in us. The war is over for me now, but it will always be there, the rest of my days."

--  Chris Taylor, "Platoon" (1986)

"War as a video game ... what better way to raise the ultimate soldier?"

-- Solid Snake, "Metal Gear Solid 2" (2001)

Needless to say, there were a lot of weird licensed games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. There were games based on antiquated TV shows like "Gilligan's Island," fast food mascots like the Domino's Pizza "Noid" and a metric ton of cartridges based on hyper-obscure cartoons and comics like "Widget" and "Zen: The Intergalactic Ninja."

...and that's precisely the kind of hippie-dippie, liberal
nonsense that cost us the war!
While most of the games focused on kid-friendly properties, there were more than a few NES offerings based on more adult fare, such as "Die Hard," "Dirty Harry," and "Friday the 13th." Even with that in mind, however, the mere existence of "Platoon" on the Nintendo Entertainment System remains downright mystifying. 

Sure, sure, "Terminator 2" and "Predator" were both R-rated motion pictures, but at the same time, they were R-rated motion pictures clearly steeped in fantasy. Hell, one could argue that "Contra," one of the most iconic 8-bit games of all-time, is really nothing more than an unauthorized adaptation of "Commando," with a healthy bit of "Aliens" tossed in. That said, "Platoon" was an entirely different kind of movie, with an entirely different kind of message. 

For the uninitiated, "Platoon" was a movie about the Vietnam War directed by Oliver Stone. The winner of the 1986 Best Picture Oscar, the film painted a bleak, critical view of the U.S. occupation -- indeed, one of the film's taglines was the rather cheery banner, "the first casualty of war is innocence."

As such, the mere idea of turning "Platoon" into a video game completely contradicts the film's inherent moral -- that there's nothing heroic, noble and especially FUN about military combat. Granted, it's not as reprehensible as making a micro-management "Schindler's List" sim or a "12 Years a Slave" endless runner, but thematically, it's cutting it quite close, indeed. 

The Nintendo Entertainment System offering is actually a port of a Data East developed game, which was released for every single computer system ever in 1987. Ocean decided to re-release the game (which, based on an eye-test, is fairly similar to the previous iterations) on the NES in 1988, with Sunsoft taking over porting duties. 

Pulse-pounding action, the likes of which you've never
experienced on your NES console before!
The shocking thing is, outside of the questionable usage of the "Platoon" license, it's actually a pretty decent game. Not great, mind you, but certainly passable, and maybe even worthy of a squandered Saturday afternoon if you've never experienced it before. 

Not unlike the aforementioned "Friday the 13th" and "Gilligan's Island" NES games, the first part of "Platoon" has you traversing a huge labyrinth, with a jungle motif background that makes finding your way around very, very tricky. Charlie comes at you from both sides (with some even falling out of the trees on top of you,) so you'll always have to have your finger on the trigger -- be careful, though, because you get points off for gunning down innocent civilians. Oh, and your ammunition is also limited, so you'll have to be selective about which V.C. troops you plug with hot lead. 

Periodically, you will run into some booby traps, namely, landmines and trip wires. These are pretty easy to detect and even easier to avoid ... you just hop over them, Super Mario style. In perhaps the game's only real nod to the '86 movie, instead of a life bar, you have a "morale bar." If it dips too low, you fall into an existential morass and keel over dead, which contextually, means you're playing a super soldier who can absorb endless explosions and bullet wounds, only to ultimately succumb to doubt. Man, that shit is deep, with a capital "D." 

"Platoon" is a very mission-centric game. Your first task is to locate a satchel of explosives -- conveniently enough, located out in the middle of the wilderness -- so you can then blow up a bridge. In a nice touch, your avatar (who I believe is supposed to be a sprite of Charlie Sheen) actually falls down as soon as the bridge implodes. Realism matters, you know. 

The next objective has your army man traveling to a village, complete with thatched roofs. Unlike in the movie, though, you're not ordered to torch everything to the ground while smoking weed, as you have been tasked with rummaging through people's belongings in order to locate an underground tunnel. In this phase, the screen kind of goes infra-red every time you enter a hut, as you scan around for items -- meaning, this game basically was "Metroid Prime" a good 15 years before "Metroid Prime." 

You know, some people would call this lazy game design.
And I am one of them. 
After finding a torch and the secret entryway, the game completely changes mechanics, going from a side-scrolling action game to a first person dungeon crawler. Down in the waterways, the Viet Cong will leap up at you with Russian-made weapons and slinging sickles a'la "Lethal Enforcers," as you endlessly search around nooks for ammo, provisions and "rubbish" -- don't you just love it when the Brits forget to totally localize their games for the North American market? 

After escaping the tunnel system, the game switches up formats yet again, this time turning into an "Operation Wolf" style 2D shooter. Hey, remember that part in the movie where that one guy falls asleep at the post, and Charlie Sheen has to scramble to wake everybody up before the V.C. swarms in on them? Well, the next part of the game is pretty much a recreation of the scene, only this time, you have enough machine gun artillery to blow away half of south Vietnam. Aesthetically, it ain't much -- basically, it's just you running your reticle over blue bushes, waiting for black figures to emerge -- but hey, at least it ties into the movie a little bit. 

Following a "well done" message for gunning down roughly 100 people, the game takes us to its fourth and final section, which is pretty much "Ikari Warriors," only with way more bullets and enemies who move like they are on super-methamphetamine. The final boss battle is against a sniper inside a brick fortress; while admittedly difficult to bring down, he really shouldn't be that much of a challenge if you've kept enough hand grenades in your arsenal. Or you use a Game Genie. Really, either way works, I suppose.

And for your efforts, you are rewarded with a really anticlimactic cutscene -- a dude waves his guns at you while you're airlifted out of the war zone in a helicopter. Then, the credits doth scroll.

As I was saying earlier, "Platoon" really isn't a bad game, it's just that it feels so ... shameless. I'm still trying to figure out how and why Oliver Stone let the thing be licensed as a video game, but since he apparently had a pretty big coke habit back in the day, perhaps that tells us everything we need to know.

Structurally, the game has its pros and its cons. As for the biggest positives, the music -- as was the case with most Sunsoft games -- is great, and I actually liked the constantly changing gameplay mechanics. As for the biggest downsides, the graphics are fairly mediocre and the labyrinthine level design is probably enough to drive most new school gamers bonkers. Ultimately, the biggest problem with "Platoon" is that, despite its overall difficulty, its' just way too short. If you know what you're doing and where the items are located, you can probably finish this thing in half an hour, with a couple of start-over kills factored in. 

Strangely enough, another version of "Platoon" was released on PCs in 2002, this time as a slightly less offensive real-time strategy offering. For the most part, "Platoon" on the NES, however, remains a largely forgotten relic, a game that's recollected as neither good or terrible -- yet another 8-bit cartridge saddled by that most miserable of ailments, being just average. 

Still, if for just the sheer novelty of it, you should probably find an old cartridge and give this one a play sometime. It's not really good, but at least it's somewhat different -- and unless some garage developer decides to give us a two-player "Men at Work" beat-em-up, this is probably our only chance to play as Charlie Sheen on the Nintendo. 

Truthfully, I'm still not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, though. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ten Stupid Songs That Make Me Emotional

A Tribute to the Tunes that ... Much to My Dismay ... Still Warm the Cockles of My Heart

The emotional pull of some songs is impossible to deny. Who among us doesn't feel pangs of bittersweet nostalgia whenever "Boys of Summer" plays on the radio, or a sense of dreary lovesickness at the mere mention of Juice Newton's "Angel of the Morning?"

Alas, not every song that resonates with us is respectable fare by the likes of Bruce Springsteen or Peter Gabriel. Sometimes, the songs that move us ... for whatever reason ... stem from musicians, works or predicaments that, frankly, are just embarrassing.

Rather than shy away from the miscellaneous songs that we all hum along to when we make sure nobody is within a ten mile radius of us, I decided it was worth our collective whiles to pay homage to the cheesy, corny and flatout crappy tunes that, inexplicably or not, hit us right *here* in the feels. Grab a box of tissues and a lighter to wave in the air, folks ... this shit might just make you a little emotional.

"Real American" by Rick Derringer

I am pretty sure this was the first piece of music I ever really liked. To all but the most ignorant of souls, this song is instantly recognizable as the theme music for Hulk Hogan, 1980s pro wrestling mega-star. While that pop cultural connection definitely stands out as a reason why I dig the track, the frank reality is that, after years of listening to it, a good goddamn, is this thing expertly arranged. I'm only being slightly hyperbolic when I say this thing is as good as, if not better, than anything Haydn or Wagner composed. Seriously. Sort of. 

First, there's that intro, with the soulful humming and Mr. Derringer's "I am a real American" echo. This naturally segues to one of the absolute greatest guitar riffs ever laid to tape, an absolute ass-kicker that in a just world, would be recognized and hailed as widely as "Smoke on the Water." The bridge, a patriotic ode to the USA so grandiloquent it would make Toby Keith blush, transitions to a quick but memorable pre-chorus before launching out into the super-iconic main chorus, which itself is backed by an entirely separate chorus from an actual choir. And then, there's that solo, which in my opinion, is one of the ten greatest ever recorded. 

While my initial love of this song was born out of an adulation for the Hulkster, over time, I've come to appreciate it for being just an incredibly composed song in and of itself. This song is so stupidly powerful that it causes anarchist punks to wave around Ol' Glory like Hacksaw Jim Duggan used to -- more than just a nostalgic throwback, this thing is just exquisitely crafted guilty pleasure art, all the way around. 

The "Green Hill Zone" music from the first "Sonic the Hedgehog" game

Honestly, I could probably fill up an entire CD with "Sonic the Hedgehog" tracks that get me a wee bit misty-eyed. The ultra relaxing "Sky Chase" music from "Sonic 2," the haunting "Ice Cap" zone theme from the third Genesis game and even "Escape the City" from "Sonic Adventures 2" -- all tracks that indubitably fill me with fuzzy feelings of yesteryear.

That said, no video game music makes turns me into a wishy-washy, nostalgic sod quite like the opening level music from the first "Sonic the Hedgehog" game. It's easily the cheeriest tune in the annals of video game history, and a track that always takes me back to the heyday of Yikes! pencils and Dr. Dreadful. It's a ditty that basically jams a six-button Sega Genesis control pad into your soul, and for that, this glorious 16-bit chiptune music constitutes all that is right in this world.

Yeah, it's a track that reminds me of my childhood and the demise of Sega, but even without those antecedents, I still think the deliriously upbeat song would make me smile an almost teary smile. Now, explaining why a "Sonic the Hedgehog" song makes you cry a little to your girlfriend, however ... well, folks, I just cannot help you there, I am afraid. 

"Hysteria" by Def Leppard

Def Lep had quite a few decent ballads. "Photograph" is probably their most famous one, although "Bringing  on the Heartbreak" gets a lot of radio play, too. That said, I've always thought the title track off "Hysteria" was the band's proudest moment -- despite the fact the lyrics are just preposterously bland, even for an era that gave us such artificial cheese-fests as Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home" and Aerosmith's "Angel."

I first heard this song on the local classic rock on literally the last day of my freshman year in high school. At the time, I was kinda' sorta' courting this one girl who had just moved into the neighborhood, and because I was a little biggity-bitch, I immediately equated the lovelorn ballad with my post-pubescent, lukewarm liking of the latest set of XX chromosomes on the block. 

This being a pre 9/11 society, we used to chat with each other on AOL Instant Messenger every evening. To pysch myself up, I would play this stupid song ten minutes before our mutually agreed upon online meet-up time. When what's his name cooed "I've got to know tonight," I felt the shivers travel up and down my spine -- if there was ever a song that embodied what I was going through, surely, this "Hysteria" was it in five-minute or so audio form. Strangely enough, me and the girl down the street never so much as kissed, or even went out on a date. That said, nearly 15 years down the road, every time this damn tune starts playing, I instantly revert back to my proud, naive, 15-year-old self ... and for some reason, that always makes me want to play Playstation 1 games. 

"Love Song" by Tesla

The woefully generic title alone is enough to make this one a guilty pleasure. I mean, shit, that's the best name you could come up with? Did the band record a really fast track called "Heavy Song," as well?

While "Love Song" most certainly will not win any points for creativity, it's undeniably one of the best hair metal puss-out ballads ever recorded. With its acoustic throwback sound, most folks would probably mistake this one for a mid 1970s track, and that's a compliment -- this is undoubtedly the best song Peter Frampton never recorded. 

The power of the song, in my humblest of opinions, resides in its build-up. It starts off with this really slow melody, with the lead singer (you can look up his name on Wikipedia yourself, slackers) letting a few pangs of emotion creep in -- most notably, with the oddly resounding way he chirps "outside your doooooor" before the chorus. So basically, it's just acoustic syrup for three minutes, and then, BAM! This song goes full nuclear at the end, with it's goose-pimple inducing "love will find a way" outro. Sure, sure, it doesn't hit you with the raw, respectable emotional power of "Darkness on the Edge of Town" or "Purple Rain," but if you're not ready to have sex with something before this track fades out, you're probably deaf or something. 

"I Remember You" by Skid Row

Skid Row is one of those hair metal bands that I like, but don't really, really like. While I consider Twisted Sister to be one of the absolute best bands of the 1980s, I'd have a hard time lumping Skid Row into a top 250 list, even if they did have some, admittedly, kick-ass songs here and there. Even now, every time I hear "18 and Life," I want to play with a switchblade and/or rob a gas station. 

"I Remember You," ultimately, is just a sonic tour de force. I don't know what compelled Sebastian Bach to pen this song, but his raw emotion on the track is just awe-inspiring, as if he forced a 20-year career's worth of effort into this one five minute ditty (a thesis more or less confirmed by the band's follow-up album, I contest.) 

The lyrics are by-the-book, as is the acoustic-to-electric composition. As stated previously, though, it's Bach's ear-splitting shrieks that absolutely make this one work -- when he yelps "through all the sleepless nights" you just feel a certain amount of mad sincerity, and it never fails to get my blood pumping. And as it turns out, there seems to be something about titling a track "I Remember You" that really speaks to me on an emotional level...

"I Remember You" by The Ramones

Technically, I could make a list 20 or 30 items long of just Ramones songs that make me a bit heartsick. "I Want You Around," "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," "She Loves Me So" -- all tracks that, in fluctuating degrees,brings out the bittersweet by the truckload. 

What makes "I Remember You" so unusual is just how simple it is. I mean, the entire song is literally just four lines, with Joey Ramon spitting out "I Remember You" over and over while a low-pitched shit riff chugs underneath him. It's so absurdly unspecific, but for some reason, it STILL connects with me. 

The Ramones are one of my all-time favorite bands, and while I still think this borders on being a legitimately great song, it's still a weird one to develop any kind of emotional investment around. Still, it could be weirder, I suppose -- at least I don't get assailed by nostalgic longings whenever I hear "The KKK Took My Baby Away," no?

"The Freshman" by The Verve Pipe

The thing about 1990s alt-rock love ballads is that, most times, outside of the simple nostalgia that they come from the "Mortal Kombat" era, there's rarely that much to the songs themselves. Go ahead, try listening to the Primitive Radio Gods or Candlebox sometime, and TELL me you actually feel something genuine resonating through your speakerbox. 

As such, "The Freshman" occupies this weird territory where, while it's still mostly groan-inducing, antiquated Bill Clinton music, it also has something that kind of resembles genuine sentiment attached to it. Nobody's going to mistake it for "Because the Night," but I also think it's self-evident this is something a bit more meaningful than say, "Push" by Matchbox 20.

The lyrics are a little frustrating. Is the lead singer talking about a drug overdose, or a suicide, or an abortion, or what? Frankly, the context here doesn't matter, as the lead singer's hoarse voice really pushes this one over the top. The part where he goes "yeah-eh-yeah-eh-yeah" is so pained and powerful, even if it literally means nothing in terms of human language...which, in a way, kind of summarizes the emotional appeal of MOST 1990s alt-rock ballads, now that I think about it. 

"Here's to the Night" by Eve 6 

Eve 6 was one of approximately 9,457 indistinguishable alternative post grunge pop rock bands to get heavy MTV rotation in the late 1990s. I always kind of thought they were a middle of the road act myself -- markedly better than, say, Chumbawamba or the Squirrel Nut Zippers, but certainly a few rungs beneath Third Eye Blind and Semisonic. 

While their big hit was "Inside Out," I've always thought their other single -- "Here's to the Night" -- was a vastly superior track. This song is so incomparably late 1990s, I'm surprised the video itself doesn't have a watermark from the WB on it. 

It's really hard to state for sure what it is that makes this song "work," per se. Is it the way the lead singer drones through the song with that elevated-then-not-elevated delivery, or the soft guitar licks before the chorus or that final post-chorus bridge, complete with one of the most endearing wussified solos of all time? Really, it's all of the above that makes "Here's to the Night" stand out from the likes of the Flies and Harvey Danger ... and damn, does it make me want to go out and rent "Can't Hardly Wait" and "Urban Legends" all of a sudden. 

"Why Can't I?" by Liz Phair

"Exile on Guyville" is one of my all-time favorite albums, and certainly one of the best overall records of the 1990s. Really, everything Liz did in the decade was pretty damn great, which makes her 2003 self-titled album all the more perplexing. 

Now personally, I didn't think it was all that terrible, but it was pretty much crucified by Rolling Stone and Spin for being too mainstream. Not that their criticism was entirely unfounded, mind you -- all you have to do is take a listen to 30 seconds of "Extraordinary" and you'll realize this stuff is a far, far cry from the guitar-driven indie rock sound that made Liz a flannel era icon to begin with.

That said, "Why Can't I?" is just a remarkable little pop song, that still manages to convey Phair's trademark sexual bluntness. Looking back on it, I am kind of wondering why the elitist rock magazines of the time found this song so offensive -- I mean, she manages to drop the word "fuck" in her mainstream, teeny-bopper courting debut single, no? Blasting this song at full volume while cruising down the highway may not win over your music nazi pals, but if you're looking for a deliciously subversive bubble gum earworm -- well folks, I reckon you just found one. 

"Maps" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

While this song may not exactly be "embarrassing," per se, the thing that made me fall in love with the track certainly is.

The song first came out in 2003, when a lot of corporate-alt-rock bands like AFI and the All-American Rejects were just starting to make it big. "Maps" stood out from the pack, not only because it was a song belted by a woman, but because of its slower, smokier flavor. This was just a depressing, desperate sounding song, at a time when motherfucking "Stacy's Mom" was considered genre norm. It impacted me some way back when, but fast forward five or so years, and this track took on a totally different resonance for me.

My first year in college, I was going through a nasty, bitter break-up. At the time, I would periodically drop by some of my friends' houses to play Xbox, and one of the most popular titles at the time was "Rock Band." No stranger to the "Guitar Hero" series (really, the entire soundtrack from the third game could have been included on this countdown), I immediately took a liking to the game, with "Maps" becoming a track I was downright OBSESSED with conquering on expert mode. On more than one occasion, I recall literally crying like the biggest widdle bitch of all-time, strumming my make-believe bass guitar while Karen O screamed "they don't love you like I love you" through a plasma screen TV set. Oh, I still feel the twinges of yesteryear's emotions when this song comes on the radio ... and I assure you, some equally sizable dollops of embarrassment, too.