Saturday, May 4, 2019

Halfway To Halloween 2019


That's right, May 1st (or April 30th, depending on how you look at it) marked the halfway mark between Halloween 2018 and Halloween 2019, so all of us horror junkies are starting to get that spooky feeling!

I wasn't really sure how to best mark the occasion this year, so I started to think of some fun things to do to drag Halloween kicking and screaming into the cool Spring breeze.

Here are my findings!

A Scary Halloween Movie



There's no reason you have to wait until Halloween to enjoy some of your favourite freaky flicks. If you're a horror hound, like myself, then you've likely been watching horror movies all year anyway, but the focus here needs to be on the upcoming season. So while taking in your 57th viewing of A Nightmare on Elm Street might seem like a good idea (and on any other day it is, good on you) maybe try something more autumnal? Night of the Demons, perhaps? It's tied to the season, but not so much as, say, Trick 'r Treat or Halloween 1 and 2, which are probably best left for September or October.

I typically find myself mostly interested in classic movie monsters during the Halloween season, so I think to get me into that festive mood I'll be taking in Dracula or The Mummy this weekend.


The big thing here is to make sure you do you. Whatever movies make you wish you were stuffing your face with fun size candy bars and washing it down with a pumpkin spice latte are key, even if it's Hocus Pocus.

Video Games Featuring Classic Monsters



I'll admit this one is a little more personal, but I've definitely noticed a correlation between horror movies fans and video gamers. I think it's a timing thing. If you can name a kid that didn't have a Nintendo or Sega hooked up to their TV at the same time they were pushing scary movies into their VCRs, I think they're in the minority.

For me, horror-themed video games are an essential piece to the Halloween puzzle. September and October are usually the months that I take in my yearly playthrough of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or Resident Evil, for instance.

These days horror games abound, but much like those classic creature flicks I crave around Halloween, I find myself thirsting (see what I did there?) for old chilling NES games during Halfway to Halloween. I think this year I'll play some Monster Party. It is chock-full of awesome little horror tidbits and crazy monster designs. I mean look at the cover art. It absolutely screams Halloween! That would be my kinda party!


Spooky Snacks



It's kind of tough to get your hands on Halloween candy in May, unless your local pharmacy is just exceedingly bad and clearing off their holiday shelves, but you don't need bite size Mars bars to get that Halloween spirit.

Pumpkin spice may still be lying in wait for Autumn, but for me anything green, orange, or black can set the scene. Maybe some black tortilla chips and guac with orange soda? Too much? NEVER.

Heck, all it takes for me is breaking out the finest Halloween dinnerware and firing those everyday chips into a big orange bowl. Sometimes it's the little things, guys!


Halloween Decorations



This one is a little out there, but bear with me. One great way to get in the Halloween mood is the simplest: dig up (I kill me) some of your favourite decs!

Now, don't go too overboard here. Maybe just one of your spookiest and simplest pieces will do the trick. For me, I almost always have a little skull candle-holder on my desk, so that can do the trick (or treat), but I might break out a light-up jack-o-lantern, just for the night. If you over-do it you'll find yourself getting sick of Halloween and no one wants that (if it's even really possibly, I have my doubts).


So that's it! If you're celebrating Halfway to Halloween this weekend, let me know in the comments or on Twitter how you're marking the occasion!

Happy (Halfway to) Halloween!
R

p.s. I noticed the typo, too, but I don't have my laptop with Photoshop handy, so it stands... for now. Consider it an Easter egg!

p.p.s Nothing to see here. Move along...

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Marvel Universe Trading Cards - Series 2 (1991) Revisited

Much like my post last week, today we're revisiting my collection of Marvel Universe Trading Cards Series 2! Here's the video from the old post. I'll say again, this is a long vid of me going through each and every card, so make sure you've got your popcorn ready.


Series 2 has always been one of my favourites. I loved the vibrant colours of the borders, which were a big level up from Series 1 and their white borders around the cards artwork. It has a very 80s vibe to it, which make sense since the hangover of the 80s lasted well into the 90s.


The biggest improvement in this series were the Power Ratings, which picked six different attributes and ranked all of the character cards accordingly. There was Strength, Speed, Agility, Stamina, Durability, and Intelligence. This rating system would continue after Series 2 and became my favourite thing about collecting these cards.


Ever argue with your buddy about who would win in a fight: Spider-Man versus Daredevil? Well just compare the Power Ratings! My friends and I would pore over these cards and ratings and practically memorize all of them, so we could throw them out on the fly whenever one of these arguments reared its ugly head.

We also used to often "play Marvel", which meant we'd each pick a character and we'd act out our own scenes. So if we were playing and Ultron was facing up against Wolverine, knowing these Power Ratings and special abilities could mean life or death to an 8 year old.


As I mentioned with Series 1, there were different subsets in each series. In Series 2 we had Weapons, Legends, and Arch-Enemies. Arch-Enemies is really just a re-brand of Famous Battles,  Legends would essentially feature old and (at the time) dead characters within the Marvel U, and Weapons would give you the low-down on the different "tools of the trade", like Wolverine's claws or the Infinity Gauntlet.


There were five holograms in this set, as well. I managed to snag two this time: Doctor Doom and Fanastic Four vs. Mole Man. The foil on these cards actually went all the way to the border, as well, which makes them look even more impressive when you manage to snag one.

I hope these old trading cards are getting you amped up for the upcoming release of Avengers: Endgame. I know they're having that affect on me! Stay tuned for more! Next up we'll finally get caught up with Series 3, which I affectionately call "the cosmic set".


Excelsior!
R

Friday, April 12, 2019

Marvel Universe Trading Cards - Series 1 (1990) Revisited

Waaaaay back in 2014, around when I first launched Retro-Def, I figured a great feature for the site would be a look back at my Marvel Universe trading card collection. I ended up making two videos fairly quickly and then getting busy and forgetting to continue on with the series.

That's a real shame, because not only were these cards incredibly important to 7-year old me, but I think they're a really cool slice of the Marvel Universe in the 90s. With the recent passing of Stan Lee I've found myself flipping through my old card binders and I felt the need to share!

Let's start by revisiting Marvel Universe Trading Cards Series 1. The video I made in 2014 still stands, and some of the reminiscing you'll find here is in the video, but I'd say only the most hardcore fan would be interested in watching the whole thing. It clocks in at around 25 minutes and I go through each and every card.

Excuse the old website branding!

The Marvel Universe Trading Card series was launched by Impel in 1990. You might not remember the name Impel, especially if you weren't into trading cards in the 90s, but you may recall SkyBox, which was a re-brand of Impel in 1992.

The base set was 162 cards. The subsets included Super Heroes, Super Villains, Rookies, Famous Battles, Team Pictures, Most Valuable Comics, and Spider-Man Presents.

Wolverine as "Patch"

Most of these are self-explanatory, except for Spider-Man Presents. This particular subset featured Spider-Man attempting to interview some of the heavy-hitters in the Marvel U. They were like little mini-comics and I thought they were hysterical. I remember thinking the Spider-Man Presents: Wolverine card was one of the funniest things I'd ever read.

Each of the super hero and villain cards would feature a drawing of the character on the front with a unique backdrop like it had been pulled right from the pages of a comic. On the back you'd find all kinds of cool information about the character, like their aliases, how many battles they'd had, their win/loss ratio, some information about the character, and finally some trivia.

I have no idea who "Roughhouse" is...

One neat thing that was only featured in this particular set was that certain characters could appear multiple times, like Wolverine, who appeared in the super hero subset three times; once in his brown and tan costume, again in his blue and gold costume, and finally as "Patch", his secret alter-ego.

Features of this set that didn't carry forward are the Spider-Man Presents cards and the Most Valuable Comics. Each set would feature something unique from the others, but you could always expect to see super heroes, super villains, special teams, and cards that somehow featured big events and battles from Marvel's storied history.


See, it's hilarious!

This was my first foray into trading card collecting and I was only 7, so some of the cards in my set are a little roughed up on the corners, but they hold so much nostalgia and importance to me, it's hard to state. This was my gateway vehicle into comic books and super heroes. Growing up on an island, it wasn't difficult to get comics, but it certainly wasn't easy to get them all in order each and every month. Also, without any sort of archive of Marvel Comics, this was the only way to really dig into the historical events in the Universe and learn all the backstory for the characters.

I started buying these cards in a corner store in the summer of 1990, but eventually had to start going to a hobby store as I worked at getting the whole set. Every red cent of my allowance went into these cards. Each pack would contain 12 cards, so over time you'd amass a stack of what we called "traders". The hobby store would keep a box of their own traders so you could swap out your extra cards for a card you still hadn't found in a pack. They'd usually do a 2:1 trade to keep their stock high and some cards, which were harder to come by, would require more traders or you'd just have to buy them outright.

Danny Ketch Ghost Rider's rookie card - one of the rougher cards in my set

As I mentioned, there were 162 cards in the base set, but there were also five hologram cards, which were the holy grails. There was only one hologram per box, as far as I know, so they were hard to come by. I never did collect all the holograms for each set. I managed to get a few here and there, but buying them at the card store was usually highway robbery and not something my parents were interested in funding, so I would shoot for the base set and hope to get a few holograms along the way.

It was a crazy summer when I first found these cards and little did I know that I would spend at least the next four or five years collecting the different sets of Marvel Universe Trading Cards. I have some of my fondest memories buying, trading, and most importantly, poring over these cards and gleaning as much information as I could about the amazing characters and stories they represented. My friends and I would commit so much of the information on the cards to memory and have classic conversations about who would defeat who in a fight or who the most powerful bad guy was.

My lone hologram from Series 1: Cosmic Spider-Man

Well, that's it for Series 1. Next time we'll revisit Series 2 and then hopefully I won't forget and we can finally take a look back at Series 3 and onward!

I hope you enjoy this trek down memory lane as much as I did.

Make Mine Marvel,
R

Friday, April 5, 2019

Memory, Blog: The Unsolved Mysteries Book Cover



Since I know you've been waiting on baited breath for this, let's get nuts and dig even deeper into my sleep-shattering fear of those junky alien TV shows from yesteryear. This next one is a doozy (do the kids still say doozy?).

I don't know where I got the gumption (do the kids still say gumption? damnit...) but one night I decided it was a great idea to try and watch an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. I had an idea of what I was getting into - everyone was talking about the show - but I had no clue just how much of an effect it would have on me personally to this day.

Perhaps you can solve a mystery...

I'm still not sure how I made it through Robert Stack's introduction or the theme music (likely judicious use of hiding under the blankets), but I can still remember the content of the episode like it was yesterday. Much like with E.T. several years before, I think my pulse dropped to zero, like I was in some kind of TV-induced hibernation. I stared at the set in rapt fear.

Although I was initially creeped out, it wasn't until Robert Stack presented the story of Bob Matthews that things really went south. Matthews was in the United States Air Force and in 1966, while en route to a posting in Massachusetts, was dropped off at a local market at night. He called the base for someone to come pick him up when he realized he was in the middle of nowhere. It's at this time that he claims he saw a strange ship flying through the night sky. When his ride came to get him he was totally AWOL, before calling back hours later asking where his ride was. Matthews claims that he experienced missing time and later, through hypnosis, recalled that the ship he saw in the night sky touched down outside the market and that he was abducted by the beings inside.

Trrrrrraumatized!

This story on its own was enough to raise my hackles, but it was during this clip that I was disturbed even further than seeing Elliot's squat little alien buddy with the glowy fingers (I'm not gonna drop it, ET's still creepy). As Matthews recounted his story, he spoke about finding a paperback book at a supermarket aisle by author Budd Hopkins called Missing Time. In the clip on Unsolved Mysteries the book he actually picks up is entitled Intruders. Here's a close-up:


From the moment I saw this clip my greatest fears had a new visage. Whatever creature this was on the cover of this book would haunt me for years and years to come, but also drive me to face those fears and watch any and all paranormal films and TV programs I could lock my eyeballs onto.

What's interesting is that I always considered Unsolved Mysteries to be a show about the paranormal, but as I've been re-watching it recently on Amazon Prime (I've recently discovered it's on YouTube, as well) I've realized that it rarely featured segments about the topics of aliens or UFOs, and usually with a few derisive words from Robert Stack, who seemingly didn't want to report on it at all. The show was mostly about true crime and helping people find their long-lost loved ones, with a smattering of ghost stories or aliens here and there for us weirdos.

All it took was this one episode, however, and I was forever changed. The thing is, I was bound to see the image of the "grey" alien at some point. It's ubiquitous in our culture now, much like the Bela Lugosi-inspired vampire or a bed sheet ghost. I kind of believe that no matter where I first saw it that those huge black eyes and enormous great skull would have the same affect, but it certainly didn't hurt that I saw it while watching Unsolved Mysteries in my parent's basement with no lights on that sealed the deal.

As an adult, I want to say that I'm mostly over it, but if I'm being honest grey aliens still give me the heebie-jeebies (do the kids... ah, nevermind) I remember when the found footage film The Fourth Kind came out back in 2009 I was immediately engaged and wanted to see the movie, but the only way I could bring myself to watch it alone in my apartment was in the middle of the day with all the lights on. As it turns out, it wasn't so bad, but those scenes with the owl eyes? Uuuuugh.

I'll try and summon up the courage to write another one of these soon, but from now on I don't think this will be a chronological account. I'll just jump back and forth to different shows and films on the subject. Ya know, for the whole one of you that actually reads this stuff! (Thank you by the way, you're the best!)


Cheers,
R

Friday, March 29, 2019

VHyesterdayS Trailers: The Films That Time Forgot



A while back I decided to kick off the VHyesterdayS series with a tape that kept calling my name, Communion. I had fun watching the movie again, even if I was petrified, but do you know what really stuck with me? The trailers at the start of the tape! I'm a guy that watches and is aware of a lot of films, but I hadn't heard of a single one of the movies featured in these trailers!

It got me thinking about all the films that were direct-to-video or had a very short life span in the theatre and have been left to rot, considered too weak to eke even the smallest profit. These movies may have had a limited VHS release and aren't likely to hit DVD, Blu-ray, or even a streaming service.

So here are three of those "lost films" and because I'm so lazy, it's actually the exact three that were featured on my M.C.E.G./Virgin release of Communion from 1989!

Limit Up




Limit Up is a comedy film starring Nancy Allen, Dean Stockwell, Danitra Vance, and Ray Charles. It was written (co-written with Luana Anders) and directed by Richard Martini. From what I can tell the film had a premiere in Chicago - where it is prominently set - in 1989 before being released direct-to-video in 1990.

The film follows Nancy Allen's character, Casey Falls, as she makes a deal with the Devil (portrayed by Danitra Vance of SNL fame) in order to make it big in soybean stocks. INB4 all those non-fat soy lattes!

Does it look like a by-the-numbers 80s comedy movie? Yes. Is that a problem. Absolutely not!

As is the case with all of the films I'll be featuring today I have not seen Limit Up, so I can't speak to it. A VHS copy would only cost around $6 CAD, but to have it shipped to My-Neck-of-the-Woods, Canada would be an additional $25 or so, so I haven't made the purchase. A quick search showed me that some individuals actually got their hands on a DVD copy of the film from Amazon, but my best deduction is that these were VHS ripped copies that were illegally distributed through the platform and are no longer available. I can't find any information that the film saw anything outside of its original VHS release.

That said, it appears that Limit Up is available on Amazon Prime Video in the US! It means I can't watch it in my region, but hopefully someday it'll be available in the Great White North and I'll be able to give this movie a watch. It looks like a fun little comedy/fantasy that I'd definitely like to check out.

Trust Me




Next up is Trust Me, starring Adam Ant, David Packer, and Talia Balsam. It was written and directed by Robert Houston, who is probably best known for this role of Bobby in The Hills Have Eyes

It's a crime movie in which Adam Ant's character, James Callendar, may or may not kill off Sam Brown (David Packer) in order to make his art more salable in the cutthroat art market. It could be a fun comedy romp based on the music and visual cues of the trailer or it could be a straight-forward drama. The trailer is so bad I can't even tell. I somehow gleaned as much as I did amidst the sea of shoulder-padded blazers and neon colours.

This is certainly not a movie I'd like to see, but you can score a VHS copy of the film from $7 to $10 CAD, plus shipping and handling. I couldn't find any streaming services that carry Trust Me, but I did find the entire film uploaded to YouTube, if you're so inclined!

Queen of Hearts




Queen of Hearts is a feel-good drama directed by Jon Amiel, starring Vittorio Duse, Joseph Long, and Anita Zagaria.

It was the first film directed by Jon Amiel, who worked in TV for the BBC for several years prior. He would go on to have a solid career in Hollywood with films like Sombersby, The Man Who Knew Too Little, Entrapment, and The Core, as well as successful TV shows like The Borgias.

This is more of a teaser than a trailer, with a run-time of about a minute, so it's difficult to get more than the feel of the movie from it, but it is about a family of Italians who live a whimsical life running a café in London.

Look at that title card! It stands out like a sore thumb. It looks like it was created by a local TV station or something. I sure hope it didn't make it into the final cut of the film.

Queen of Hearts is another movie I won't seek out personally, but not for the same reasons as Trust Me. The teaser coupled with the accolades of the director speak to the film being just fine, but it doesn't look like my cup o' tea. That said, you can find a VHS copy of the film at auction for around $13 CAD plus, I'm sure, some hefty shipping and handling on top.

Or just skip that and get the DVD! That's right, MGM owns distribution rights of the film and a DVD can be purchased through Turner Classic Movies for around $30 CAD. Sorry, from what I can tell, there are no streaming options available.

So that's it! I have to say, I was surprised to find that Limit Up was available for streaming and that Queen of Hearts actually landed a limited and expensive DVD release. For that reason it's hard to call them "lost", but I think they still remain films you likely never even heard of regardless of their availability.

I hope you enjoyed this (probably) boring trip through the films that time forgot and if you actually read the whole thing... I have nothing for you, but regret!

Cheers,
R

Friday, March 22, 2019

Memory, Blog: Those Creepy Alien Shows



For one reason or another throughout my life I've found myself drawn to TV shows and films about the paranormal and I'm not talking about those reality shows, like Ghost Hunters. Specifically, for me, it is anything to do with aliens and UFOs. It's a contributing reason for my obsession with The X-Files, but it goes much deeper than that.

I want to preface this by saying that I don't believe in aliens. I don't think there's some grand conspiracy that a group of intergalactic beings from another planet/dimension/reality/whatever are visiting earth in ships, abducting people for experimentation, and screwing around with livestock.

I think my fascination with the subject is three-fold.

One reason is that I'm captivated with the idea that there are people out there that whole-heartedly believe in it all. And I don't mean this as a condescension, like, "How could someone believe in this crap!?" It's more akin to wanting to understand why they believe what they believe. It's probably like a secular philosopher trying to better understand religion.

The second reason is that I find alien and UFO stories to be like the ghost stories of our generation. We live in a world driven by science, so of course our fireside stories are that of science fiction. It kind of just makes sense.

The third and most major reason is that the idea of aliens scares the ever-loving shit out of me.

I have zero context to offer you as to why, but when I was really little I had nightmares that the Martians from Sesame Street were going to take me from my bed at night. I had to be the only kid on the planet petrified of Muppets.

They're still creepy.

This fear was exacerbated one fateful day by my unwitting mother who picked up a new video for me to watch: E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. And why woudn't she? It was an international family-friendly hit! As soon as I saw E.T. for the first time, plodding around the forest with his freaky glowing heart, I was instantly traumatized. I can't recall so much as breathing throughout the rest of the viewing, but I somehow survived it. I had a new face for my fear and it was the dough-eyed alien that every other kid at school had on their bed sheets.

See, it's petrifying!

Considering I was so afraid of the subject I have no idea why, but I would try and watch anything that featured aliens, which in the late-80s and early-90s was no problem. The paranormal was a hot topic and one could simply flip to any channel on a Friday night and find a program featuring unexplained phenomena.

The result was a fascination with those hokey paranormal TV shows that used to cover the pages of the TV Guide. For me, it all started in the early 90s when A&E began airing re-runs of In Search Of..., which was one of my favourite TV shows ever. The ideas and topics were so interesting and they would often feature the crazy stories of aliens or UFOs that I was craving, but presented in a way that wasn't all that scary.


Okay, that's BS, I was still scared to death, but I could make it through an episode, so long as all the lights were on. I think this is why I found the courage one night to watch a relatively new show called Unsolved Mysteries, which although it wasn't strictly a paranormal show had the occasional alien/UFO-related topics. In fact, it was an episode of Unsolved Mysteries that spurred on my fear in a big way, but we'll feature that story another time.

There were all sorts of paranormal shows that cropped up in the wake of Unsolved Mysteries, like Sightings and Encounters, both of which tried to employ the trappings of a real news magazine show to make the topics at hand seem that much more credible. And lets not forget the myriad of one-off specials, like Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction or Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County.


My obsession continues to this day, so this is just the beginning for this topic on the site. I already have some related posts in the works, but I thought it made sense that I outline my fear and fascination with aliens and UFOs in films and television before we really begin to scan these starry skis... I mean skies.


Cheers,
R

Friday, March 15, 2019

Theatrical Cut - Captain Marvel

Have you had enough of all the controversy surrounding the release of Marvel's latest film, Captain Marvel? Well, Cole and I took in a viewing and here we are talking about the film without any of the BS!


I feel a little remiss not saying anything regarding the controversy surrounding the film, so what I'll say is that this is a really fun action, comic book film. If you've been reading Marvel Comics as long as I have, you might even find Captain Marvel to be the most "comic-y" (I'll call Encyclopedia Britannica and have the word added, post-haste) of the MCU films to date.

There's all sorts of anti-feminist vitriol and conspiracy regarding Rotten Tomatoes review scores and the belief that Disney has been pushing this film a little bit extra, because it's bad and they secretly want to trick you into seeing it.

This is an MCU film; they sell on name alone. They make bonkers money, no matter what. The Disney Stonecutters don't need some wild agenda to get you into the theatre to see Captain Marvel. It's a good movie that stands on its own two legs just fine and it is worth your time to see it, especially if you're going to see Avengers: Endgame in a few weeks.

Disney has been brokering deals with theatres for a long time when they are releasing their films. They have the hot movies and they know it, so they can "ask" certain things of theatres that want to screen them, like early "VIP" showings the night before release or a certain proportion of screens dedicated to their films, and get away with it. They did the same thing with Star Wars: The Last Jedi in 2017, which caused a big media buzz, as well. This isn't something special they've cooked up for Captain Marvel out of some crazy feminist conspiracy.

If you're looking for a fun two hours, turn your brain off, log off of social media, and settle into Captain Marvel. Cole and I found it really enjoyable and there's setup there for Avengers: Endgame hitting the silver screen on April 26th!

Make Mine Marvel,
R

Friday, March 8, 2019

VHyesterdayS - Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Here's some more VHS love to spice up your Friday!

As promised, in this edition of VHyesterdayS we'll be chatting about what I'm pretty sure is a 1992 release of Terminator 2 by Carolco and Live Entertainment.


I mention a Subway commercial that appears at the start of the tape, in lieu of any teasers for other films. I said in the video that it was a franchisee commercial, but I just got my thoughts jumbled. It's a regular old Subway ad from the early 90s. I wrote my notes over a month ago, wrote down that the actor looked like a franchisee, got it all mixed up when I was recording, and since this is my second time in the last few weeks re-doing this video, I'm not fixing it!

Welcome to the wonderful world of un-professional, just doing it for the kicks, content creation, folks!

Here's the ad:


As always, I hope you get something out of my obsession with old VHS tapes!

Cheers,
R

Friday, March 1, 2019

VHyesterdayS - The Terminator

Here we are once again as I dig through my personal treasure trove of VHS tapes and pull out some of the gems.

I can still recall when I first saw Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but I can't really recall my first viewing of The Terminator. I've always felt that T2 was the better movie - and that still stands - but I must say that over the years the original Terminator film has grown on me significantly.

In this episode of VHyesterdayS we examine a late VHS release - the 2000 Alliance Atlantis Canadian copy of The Terminator - and have a brief chat about some of the releases that preceded it.


I hope you enjoy!
R

Friday, February 22, 2019

Memory, Blog - The Sunday Night Ritual


I've found myself turning more inward lately and my obsession with nostalgia has hit an all-time high. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older or... no, you know what? I'm not old, you're old! Whatever!

Ahem, excuse me.

Anyway, I find myself more interested with watching films on VHS than on Blu-ray, with playing the Nintendo Entertainment System than the Nintendo Switch, and eating kid's cereals over a nice steak dinner.

Okay, that last one might be a bit extreme... maybe.

I thought it might be fun to start writing about some of this nostalgia as a way of bottling it, so here goes!

In 1993 my favourite TV show aired for the first time on Friday, September 10th. You guessed it, it's The X-Files. I haven't hidden my love for this show, have I? It dominated the air waves on Friday nights for three years, but in 1996 Fox made the bold move to air it on Sundays and man, did it work!

You see, the 9 o'clock timeslot (10PM for me in Atlantic Canada) was previously known for the Sunday Night Movie on other networks, like CBS, ABC, and NBC. This is when many TV stations would fight for a hot "new to TV" film to air, so viewers could wind down their weekend and just veg in front of the TV. The ABC Sunday Night Movie actually aired from 1962 until 1998.

Viewership began to wain, however, and this is when you started to see a lot of big made-for-TV movie events, like NBC's The Beast, which aired in two parts on Sundays in April 1996, or ABC's Storm of the Century, which was broken into three installments starting on Sunday, February 14th, 1999.

NBC promo for Peter Benchley's The Beast from April 28th, 1996 courtesy of Dinosaur Dracula

Fox decided to waste no time in finding a viable alternative to steal your attention during those precious couch potato hours before the school/work week began anew, so they moved their most popular drama into that timeslot, where it lived until its (not so) final episode in 2002.

At the time, even series creator Chris Carter didn't like the move. Fox executives were putting a lot of stock in Carter's next big thing, Millenium, which took the coveted Friday night space from The X-Files, but with a feature film in the works and more and more accolades rolling in, The X-Files was no worse for the wear.

Promo for The X-Files move to Sundays, circa October 1996 (sorry for the suggestive thumbnail)

Now, Fox already had my attention on Sunday nights with The Simpsons. What a great foothold to launch The X-Files new timeslot on? You already had millions of viewers watching the station anyway, so if you slap TVs hottest show after it, you've got people locked for hours.

The only thing that Fox varied was the meat in this delicious TV sandwich. The 8:30 ET slot had a variety of content over the years and there were several delicious fillers, but for one reason or another none of the shows stayed on the menu (I'll stop now with the sandwich puns). There was King of the Hill, Futurama, and even Family Guy, all of which used this slot as a launching pad before moving to another day and time, but the show that finally stuck was the unlikely Malcolm in the Middle, which I believe (and don't quote me on this) stayed on Sunday nights even after the glory years were well and done with, in 2006.

Sunday nights were a very bittersweet time. It sounds crazy, because I didn't dislike school or anything like that. In fact I liked it for the most part. I just looked forward to and enjoyed my weekend so much, that I started lamenting their end starting on Saturday night, while I typically watched whatever late night movie aired on TV (which we'll talk about in the future, I'm sure). By the time Sunday night came,  I was in full despair!

In our house Sundays were for family. My folks and I would pilgrimage to both of my parents' sides to see relatives for dinner; one in the afternoon and the other in the evening. I didn't see much of my friends and there wasn't any time to play my video games, but it was always good to eat great food and see my cousins.

When the evening came, it was "me time" and I took full advantage of it.

I would rustle up a snack - provided I was still hungry after all the food we had that day - and cozy into my bed with all the lights off, save for the glow of the fuzzy old TV screen, complete with tin-foil encrusted rabbit ears to catch the over-the-air signal.

And there I'd stay until 11 o'clock. The opening acts of The Simpsons and whatever second comedy show that followed it were a nice way to relax before the creepfest of The X-Files hit the screen, but also not the best way to close out and get a good night's rest!

This time period was The Simpsons apex for me. The show was coming off the highs of the Conan O'Brien years (1991 to 1993), which is when I was cemented as a fan. Around 1998, however, my interest started to slip. I did continue to watch until 2002, but if I missed it for whatever reason, it wasn't the end of the world. For as many times as I've watched The X-Files, I've never really gone out of my way to revisit The Simpsons chronologically from this era (I have caught lots of classic episodes in syndication). If only that Simpsons World service would launch here in Canada!

I kept my little Sunday night tradition up starting in junior high right until my first year of university, which is crazy to think of looking back now. I remember I wasn't as into it after I left high school. The X-Files without Mulder and Scully didn't interest me as much and (as I mentioned) I wasn't getting the same laughs from The Simpsons anymore, but I can still recall how I felt watching the finale to The X-Files to this day. It was a somber moment - an end of an era - and I knew it.

Fox promo for The X-Files series finale from May 2002

I still reminisce about those Sunday nights (clearly). In my hectic lifestyle these days I almost never get a quiet relaxing two hours to myself and I have no real "rituals" that I can always bank on each week. And that's fine! I love my time with my wife and kids and things may be nuts right now, but I know I'll be looking back on these very days in 10 years wishing I could have them back, as well. Possibly I'll be reminiscing while I'm kicking back and watching some primetime television on a Sunday night... you know, if that sort of thing even exists anymore.

Hope you enjoyed,
R

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Super Mario Odyssey (2017) - Nintendo Switch

So, where to begin? First off, it's difficult to even write something like this, because the Super Mario series - as a whole - has transcended the concept of review, in a way. I mean, when was the last time you played a bad Super Mario game? Hotel Mario and Mario is Missing aside. Really, all we can do here is talk about how good Super Mario Odyssey is, but I do have some weird feelings about the game, so hopefully there's something of interest here.

To begin, let's talk about how long I've waited for a game like Super Mario Odyssey. Back in 1996, Nintendo published Super Mario 64 on their then flagship system, the Nintendo 64. It was a wild departure from the constant of the series, featuring 3D platforming and navigated with Nintendo's all-new (crazy) controller. Instead of the usual "run to the end of the stage" gameplay everyone had grown to love, the player was given an open world and told to play however they wanted to find secret hidden stars in each of the varying stages found within Peach's Castle.

A new beginning for Mario - Only For Nintendo 64!

This new open gameplay was very refreshing for me and Super Mario 64 stands as one of my favourite Mario games of all time. Nintendo followed the success of Super Mario 64 with Super Mario Sunshine on the Gamecube, which was met with mixed reviews. It continued the newly minted open Mario playstyle, but featured the gimmicky F.L.U.D.D. pack, which resulted in some seriously buggy 3D platforming.

After Sunshine, there were the Super Mario Galaxy games on the Wii, which although they feature the same play of Super Mario 64 - or at least the DNA is there - there is a lot of linearity and the fun of exploration isn't present. This was the same with Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS and Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U. Both are great games, don't get me wrong, and the 3D platforming is on point. It's that exploration and open world experience that's missing here, as these games go back to the "run to the end of the stage" gameplay I mentioned before.

Super Mario 3D Land is one of my favourite 3DS games

So finally after all this time - 21 years to be exact - Nintendo has finally made a Super Mario title with that open world exploration I loved about Super Mario 64 in Super Mario Odyssey. As it has been 20+ years, everything about this game is bigger and better than any Super Mario title before it.

Just look-a how-a happy he is when you-a save-a your game!

The game features an entire world, loaded with completely new lands for Mario to explore, chock-full of all new baddies and power-ups that the player has never experienced.

For power-ups, much like in Super Mario 64, it's all about Mario's hat. In this game, the hat is actually a being from another world on a quest to find his friend, kidnapped by Bowser. The Princess has once again been kidnapped, as well, so Mario and Cappy - the aforementioned hat - set out to stop the villainous King Koopa once again.

This time around, however, there's almost no limit to the power-ups Mario can acquire, as Cappy can turn Mario into anything the plumber throws him at. Want to be a Goomba? Throw your hat at one! A giant T. Rex? No problem! A zipper? Kinda weird, but sure thing!

Mario and Cappy have a long way to travel to find and defeat Bowser this time around, so they need a ride, which comes in the form of an old, battered airship, The Odyssey. With this they can land in each and every world Bowser ransacks in his ultimate goal of marrying Princess Peach and becoming the King of the Mushroom Kingdom!

Mario as a Fire Bro!

As I said, each stage is all-new. They may feature some tried-and-true gameplay, but there are totally fresh enemies intermixed with some of your favourites, like the Hammer Bros. or Bullet Bill. The variety here is astounding. When you think about how much work the programmers had to put into the game, considering Mario can become pretty much any enemy he sees, it blows your mind.

And for all that's new, there's so much fan-favouring and nostalgia here. Occasionally you'll find these fun little challenges where you actually go into an HD 2D form of the original Super Mario Bros. They are all-too brief, however. Every time I discovered a 2D section I found myself wishing they'd make a whole new Super Mario Bros.-style HD game. It was so much fun.

In a way, Super Mario Odyssey is the penultimate Mario game. It's a love letter to fans of the series, while still delivering something fresh and wonderful.

I did have some issues with the game, however. To be honest, I'm completely torn. I want to love Odyssey. I really do. And some of the time I spent with it was borderline whimsical. My major problem with the game is a hang-up of my own, really, which is why I made sure to make this counterpoint very carefully.

This game is a collect-a-thon. Much more than any Mario game before. In Super Mario 64, each new world would feature seven Power Stars. The player didn't need to collect them all, just as many as they needed to continue through the game. Only 70 of the stars were needed to face Bowser, but 120 were available to collect in total. Some of these required you to collect 8 red coins in each stage, or 100 regular coins. So, Super Mario 64 definitely had a collect-a-thon aspect to it.

In Super Mario Odyssey, this has been turned up to 11.

To power the Odyssey on their adventure, Mario and Cappy need to collect more and more Power Moons from each new world. You only need so many to power the Odyssey and move on, but in some of the stages you can have up to 70 or 80+ moons to collect and there are a whopping 999 in total. Now, the collect-a-thon hound might see this as a great thing. There's so much game here!

For the crazy completionist, like myself, this was painful and daunting. I usually would force myself to complete all the available moons in a level before moving on to the next, but it was taking forever and I found myself sick of playing the same stage for so long trying to find them all. I literally don't think I could play the Wooded Kingdom if I tried right now.

Hmm, what's this?

Cool, a puzzle for another hidden Power Moon!

I eventually had to overcome my own hangups and just play through the game organically. Sometimes I'd try and collect lots and lots of Power Moons, while other times I'd just get enough to move on. This made the overall experience more enjoyable, but also simultaneously annoyed me.

In Super Mario 64, you were given a general hint to find the next star and you would have to route it out. It made for plenty of exploration, but not too much. In Super Mario Odyssey, some of the Power Moons are right in front of your face and easy to find, but some are hidden diabolically. Couple that with the sheer number and you can find yourself, like myself, completely bored and tired with a level.

Now, with that negativity aside, I still came out enjoying Super Mario Odyssey. Once I decided to just move through the game and worry about the collecting later I had a blast.

The whole experience was amplified by the fact that I played through the game with my son. He was three at the time and this was his first real Super Mario experience. I've played some of the older titles with him, but he kind of lost interest. This game, however, was such a grand adventure he was completely riveted. I actually played the majority of the game with one Joy-Con, because he wanted to hold the other and "play along". It was a bit of a handicap, but completely worth it.

The ending of the game might be one of my favourite gaming moments of all time. I won't spoil what happens, but my son and my wife were both staring in rapt attention, shouting and yelling in excitement as I navigated the final throes of the game. It was legitimately exhilarating and so much fun.

In the end I really enjoyed Super Mario Odyssey, but I wanted to love it. I wanted to feel the way I felt about Super Mario 64 and even though this game has it all on paper, I still find myself enjoying its predecessor more.

I need to spend some more time with Super Mario Odyssey now that the "pressure is off" and I've completed the storyline. There's a whack of end-game content to complete on top of getting all the 999 Power Moons and I know there's a lot of fun there. Altogether I put about 25 hours into the game and I'm certain there's another 45+ waiting for me.

At the end of the day, Super Mario Odyssey is, without a doubt, the most ambitious Mario game to date. It's a true love letter to the fans and a reason, in my opinion, to own a Nintendo Switch. If you're a fan of the series, you owe it to yourself to play it. Just don't be crazy like myself and try to enjoy the experience, instead of grinding your gears worrying about all those Power Moons.

As always, I hope you enjoyed,
R