Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Attend the Tale of Sweeney Todd

Let me start by saying that the stage play Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is one of my all time favorites; dark, macabre, twisted, and filled with gallows humor -- my kind of play. Plus, the music is amazing. So it was with great anticipation and trepidation that I awaited the release of the motion picture version. On the encouraging side, Tim Burton is one of the few directors out there with a sensibility dark enough to capture the spirit of Sweeney; on the worrisome side, as much as I respect Johnny Depp as an actor, his lack of vocal training and relative youth made it difficult for me to picture him as the deep voiced, mature Sweeney epitomized by George Hearn. But at the same time, I knew that Stephen Sondheim, the mastermind behind the play itself, had signed off on all casting decisions, so I struggled to give the film the benefit of the doubt.

I was surprised to find that the movie would be playing at the Hickory Creek Rave, which is about 15 minutes outside of Denton, and quickly made plans with Li'L Random, my fellow dark and twisty movie lover, to go see it. We got to the theater a little early, and had to wait for the earlier showing to let out. I had joked to Li'l Random that we should eavesdrop on the people leaving to see what they thought of it, but I'm afraid such a plan would have been totally in vain, as almost every single person exiting the theater did so in a state of morose, shell-shocked silence; after the third or fourth couple passed by us with stoic faces of grim determination it was all Li'l Brother and I could do to stifle our laughter. By the time the theater had emptied out, we had not seen a single person bearing a smile, which was odd, and had not heard a single person remarking on the film in one way or another, which was even odder. I remarked that it was too bad we were going to the last showing of the night, otherwise we could agree that, regardless of how we felt towards the film, we could leave it jumping up and down, high-fiving, chanting "Sweeney rules! Sweeney rules!" or the like. Why oh why did we have to choose the 9:45 showing? *sigh*

The showing before us had been pretty sparesely populated, so I was expecting a pretty empty theater for us as well; this was not to be the case, as the theater filled up rather quickly. The guy who sat down right next to me was quite vocal during the trailers, making me wonder if I could use my bag of M&Ms as a gag if his oh-so-witty commentary of such high caliber remarks as "Dude, that looks gay" and the like continued once the film started. As the film itself started up, I leaned over to Li'l Random and said "Okay, start the stopwatch to see how long before someone yells out 'Wait, is this a musical'?" Sure enough, there had barely been a full verse of the introductory song sung before the vocal guy next to me proclaimed "Is the whole thing going to be like this?" I must admit, I enjoyed the tone of discomfort in his voice, even as I was silently mouthing along with the lyrics -- almost as much as I enjoyed his discomfort as he cried out in disgust and squirmed violently in his seat every time Sweeney dispatched someone, sending Kill Bill worthy torrents of fake blood cascading across the screen.

Let this be a lesson to one and all: do a bit of research before you go to the movies, folks, it can save you some mental anguish.

As I mentioned on Monday, both Li'l Random and I enjoyed the film quite a bit, he as a newcomer to the world of Sweeney and I as an old hand. And, as an old hand, it's hard for me to be objective on the film without drawing comparisons to its source material; no matter how many times people have defended the film by saying "it's a movie based on the play, not a movie of the play," the fact remains that any adaptation must be able to not only stand on its own two feet, but also withstand the expectations and comparisons that are sure to arise in regards to the original.

Luckily for me, I had read enough reviews by other Sweeney fans beforehand to know two very importants facts: first of all, that while the movie still incorporated enough music to maintain the feel of an operetta, the score had been made a bit more "pop" in its orchestrations; and, second of all, the play's ubiquitious Ballad of Sweeney Todd was excised. It was this second fact which bothered me the most; while the music of The Ballad was kept in as part of the score, every time it would swell up I couldn't help wishing that we got to hear the following at least once during the film

In the play, "The Ballad" serves as a bit of a Greek chorus, commenting on the action of the play periodically. I understand why it was cut from the film overall; meta-textual pieces like this generally work better on the stage than on the screen, and with the nearly claustrophobic, personal atmosphere Burton cultivated having other characters swing in to comment on the action instead of allowing the action to unfold naturally most likely would have proven distracting. In fact, I noticed that all of the instances in the play where the crowd joins in on the song have had the crowd's participation removed; it was quite strange to hear "God That's Good" done without the title ever being uttered.

As for the tinkering with the orchestrations, well, just take a listen to the difference between George Hearn's version of "Epiphany"

versus Depp's version in the film*

I have to admit it was hard at times for me to accept Depp's less, shall we say, robust vocal stylings; there were numerous times in the film where a certain lyric or phrase would lose some of its punch for me due to the more pop-friendly interpretation, but it's difficult to say how I would have reacted to it I hadn't listened to the Broadway version countless times since I first saw the show over 10 years ago.

A smattering of things missing from the film caught my notice, primarily the reduced role of the beggar woman (in particular the removal of all of her bawdy solicitation attempts) and the removal of "Kiss Me," a song which would have helped to flesh out the anemic Anthony/Johanna relationship.

Of course, there were some changes from the stage to screen that were, if not improvements over the original, then at least interesting variations that added to my enjoyment.

First there was the younger cast; by having a younger Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett, it required a downward shift in the ages of other characters as well. The sailor Anthony, often portrayed as a strapping, dashing young man, is here instead portrayed as a willowy, long-haired youth who looks like he could still be waiting on puberty to hit, which has the interesting effect of having his sudden infatuation with Johanna and subsequent romantic idealism more understandable. Meanwhile Toby, usually played as a lame teenager who's a bit slow in the head, is here played as a precocious little kid, which adds a certain poignancy to his ballad "Not While I'm Around," as well as making his final fate in the film more chilling.

Although some songs suffered a bit in the transition -- most notably "A Little Priest," which had much of its vaudevillian charm and structure removed, hamstringing its humorous effects -- I must admit that one of my least favorite songs of the play became one of my favorite numbers in the film. "By the Sea," a bright, cheery number that highlights how deluded Mrs. Lovett really is, never really gelled for me in the play, but in the movie Burton is able to use the power of cinema to transport us into Lovett's mind, giving us a tour of the picaresque vignettes she has shoehorned Sweeney, Toby, and herself into, to great comedic effect. True, it's a bit odd to have "By the Sea" garner more laughs from the audience than "A Little Priest," but for me, making "By the Sea" something I enjoyed more than tolerated was worthy of admiration, and has actually given me a bit more appreciation for the number. Fancy that.

Despite the numerous changes mentioned above, I have to say that, on the whole, the movie is incredibly faithful to the play. Yes, many songs were removed, and most of the ones which remained had lines chopped from them, but the intent of the songs remained intact. And, while there was a bit of juggling of scenes here and there, I had very few qualms with them because they served to strengthen the flow of the story; by moving Sweeney's version of "Johanna" before "God That's Good," the film organically shows the rise of Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett's new enterprise, a rise that happens off-stage during intermission in the play, a sweeping change that's easy to accept in a play but difficult to pull off in a film without clumsy "three months later" style captions. Some people might feel that the watering down of the Anthony/Johanna love story weakens the film, but to be honest, despite providing some memorable songs, their romance was always more of a distraction from the central idea of the show to me than anything else. And what is that central idea? An exploration of the dark road that a desire for revenge leads a man down; for me, all other themes (class struggle, abuse of power, hypocrisy, etc.) pale before that one.

*Yes, that's a Lego version of the number; sue me, it's the best I could find.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Movie Mon. - Spider-Pig, Spider-Pig, Does Whatever a Spider-Pig Does

The Simpsons Movie: Feature length film version of the incredibly long-running TV show whose plot revolves around a mishap on Homer's part (surprise, surprise) causing the town of Springfield to be quarantined from the rest of the world. If you're a fan of the show, then you'll probably enjoy the movie although, to be honest, outside of slightly higher production values, slightly stronger language, and one brief flash of animated naughty bits, I don't know if there was really enough here to warrant a big-screen treatment. Fun fact: the choral version of the Spider-Pig theme that plays over the end credits actually made the pop charts in the U.K.

Day Watch:
This sequel to the highly enjoyable Russian film Night Watch* follows the characters from the first film as they deal with the consequences of their choices in the battle of good versus evil. Have to admit, this one was a bit of a disappointment to me, and not just because it lacked the animated subtitles; it felt overlong, the character relationships were forced, and the plot was all over the place. There were some saving graces; the gender switching sequence, while pointless plot wise, provided some entertaining sequences, and there are some spectacular special effects scenes. But, in the end, I greatly preferred the first film.

Fun fantasy film about a young lad whose vow to retrieve a fallen star to win the heart of beautiful girl leads him into a magical land where the fallen star has taken the form of a young woman (Claire Danes) who is being hunted by a trio of witches who wish to cut out the star's heart for its mystical powers. Enjoyed this one a lot; funny and engaging, I'd recommend this fairy tale to just about anyone.

Purposefully amusing horror tale about a group of tourists who find themselves stranded in a Louisiana swamp being hunted by a misshapen creature with an insatiable bloodlust. This one is not for the squeamish; lots o' gore here. But for horror fans, I'd definitely recommend this thanks to its sense of humor (my dad and I were dying laughing through most of the film at the one-liners) and entertaining cast, which include Mercedes Mcnabb doing what I would have sworn was impossible before: playing a character which makes her former role as Harmony on Buffy/Angel seem like a MENSA member.

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street:
Musical (yes, that's right, it's a musical, I know the trailers weren't explicit about that) about a wrongfully imprisoned barber who escapes from the penal colony and returns to London to seek his (very bloody) revenge. I want to do a separate post about this that is spoiler-heavy and deals with the actual movie-going experience itself, as well as my feelings on the way they adapted one of my favorite stage plays. But since I promised a couple of people I'd post about it today, I'll just say that I, a huge fan of the play, enjoyed it quite a bit, as did Li'l Random, who had never seen the play before. Be warned; it is pretty bloody, but in an over-the-top, Kill Bill sort of way.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Meany Todd, The Demon Blogger Of B. Street

Yeah, the blog title has nothing to do with much of anything below; just feeling random today.

Woke up in a bit of a funk this morning, one of those days where all of my thoughts immediately leaned towards the negative end of the spectrum. And while I've perked up considerably since then -- especially since finding out that Sweeney Todd will be coming to a nearby theater tomorrow so I won't have to wait until after New Years to see it -- my mood is of the type which can only be described as "weird." Kind of restless, filled with a feeling that there's something that I want to do, but I have no clue what that thing is. Hate it when I get like this.

I have officially decided to unofficially adopt Li'l Random as my official unofficial Li'l Brother*. This means that I am overly protective of him while simultaneously tormenting him relentlessly. That's what big brothers are for, right?

Right now it's looking like I probably won't head back to Miamuh until Sunday, due to the forecast of much wintery weather in Oklahoma on Saturday; as much as I want to see the family, I don't really want to mess with crappy weather to do so if I can avoid it.

Speaking of crappy weather in Oklahoma, it apparently wasn't quite as crappy as originally thought, nor was there as much damage as originally feared, which means that Cap'n Shack-Fu's deployment will end tomorrow afternoon, which means that he will actually get to go be with his family on Christmas.

Earlier this week I re-read In a Cabin in the Woods for the first time in a looooooong time. Surprisingly enough, I'm still pretty happy with it overall. Oh, sure, I desperately need to flesh out the first two stories, and clarify some stuff in the last two, but all-in-all, I didn't have the overwhelming "what was I thinking?" feeling that I often get when reviewing my work. Am seriously considering doing some revisions now, but we'll see how long that feeling lasts before I get distracted again.

Blondie Blaarrrgghhh has sorta-kinda relented on her girly naming of Shack-Fu's vehicle, and has now bestowed a more masculine name and acronym: BART, the Bad-Ass Rescue Truck. Not surprisingly, Shack-Fu approves.

And finally, a quick congrats to Zinger for passing his Professional Engineers exam.

*I think of Shack-Fu and PigPen as brothers as well, but neither one really falls into the Li'l Brother mold; The Lovable PigPen, of course, is the pesky little brother that makes you almost wish you were an only child again.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Weathering the Storms

Guess hanging out with Li'l Random on Saturday and Sunday has rubbed off on me, as I'm feeling a bit random myself today:

It's that time of year again, when my allergies decide to stage a full-blown attack, manifesting in rotating symptoms; it started with the sore throat phase and then moved into the horrible, hacking cough phase. Late last week, one of my coughing fits caused several co-workers to gather around to make sure I wasn't about to keel over; according to my boss, I sounded "quite deathlike." The coughing has died down quite a bit in both frequency and intensity, and now the symptoms have moved to stopping up my nose and ears, with a hint of itchiness around the eyes. Joy!

My warmest thoughts go out to all of the blog monkeys who have been made powerless and dispossessed by ice storms; so far I know Bubblegum Tate, Redneck Diva, and my parents were all affected, and I'm sure there are some others out there as well. Most of them have had power restored by now; here's hoping the next round of storms doesn't knock them out again.

As we should have come to expect, bad weather in OK means that my best bud Cap'n Shack-Fu is on the road again; apparently, the boy is too darn good at his job, and so now he gets asked for by name. We keep trying to tell him if he slacks off more he might get to stay home, but I guess it's just not in his nature. Some people, huh? Anyway, he had only been back from his last deployment for a little over a month, so we're all hoping that this will be a much shorter time away.

While we're on the bad weather topic -- a week ago I got a call from PigPen asking if I could come pick him and Squiggly's sis up. "Car problems?" I asked. "You could say that," he replied. Turns out that while traveling down to Dallas to cheer on Cap'n Peanut at the White Rock Half Marathon*, the heavy rain caused PigPen's Mountaineer to hydroplane, and despite his best efforts it crashed head first into the concrete guardrail, deploying the airbags and pretty much demolishing the front end of the vehicle. Both of them escaped with minimal injuries, thank the heavens, but that kind of put a dent in PigPen's plans to sell the thing.

Last Tuesday while having lunch with Cap'n Shack-Fu and Li'l Random I was lamenting the fact that with PigPen's new work schedule (2-11 PM) and Shack's deployment I'm effectively losing both of my regular sparring partners. "Oh, well," said I, "guess I'll just have to start beating up on Li'l Random as a substitute." Li'l Random declared dramatically, "You better be careful, because maybe the partner will suddenly become -- the spar! Why don't you chew on that for a while!" Hard to argue with logic like that . . .

*The good Cap'n finished the 13 mile run in 1 hour 40 minutes, averaging under 8 minutes a mile and finishing ahead of 93% of the runners; way to go, Peanut!


Monday, December 17, 2007

Movie Mon. - Legend!

Driftwood: Low budget horror flick about a troubled teen shipped off to a rehabilitation camp where he finds himself haunted by the ghost of a former resident. Not a bad little film; a bit over the top at times, but the tone of the film overall is off-kilter enough that it rarely bothered me. The ghost makeup, however, left much to be desired, since it mainly made the dead kid look more like he was auditioning for a role in Dead Presidents than trying to haunt the joint. Pro Wrestler Diamond Dallas Page did a good job as the sadistic head of the camp.

The Invisible: Supernatural thriller about a teen undergoing an out of body experience after he's assaulted and left for dead in the woods. Not quite what I was expecting from the trailers, particularly the connection between the astral projecting boy and the one person who can sense him. I enjoyed the film overall, although I felt that it started to fall apart in its final act.

The Reaping: Horror movie about a formerly devout debunker of religious phenomenon who is called in to solve an outbreak of biblical plagues in a small Louisiana town -- plagues which the locals are blaming on God's wrath being visited a little girl who supposedly murdered her brother. Entertaining, if mildly predictable, film. Worth a rental.

I Am Legend: Loosely based on Richard Matheson's novel about the sole survivor of a plague that mimics vampirism. Although fans of the book might be off-put by the changes to the plot -- for example, the reason why he is legend in the movie is totally opposite why he is legend in the book -- taken by itself, the film is rather enjoyable. Will Smith does his thing and is able to carry the bulk of the movie by himself. The ending felt a bit rushed, and a tad anticlimactic, but overall, worth the money to see on the big screen.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ghosts of Christmas Past: Domo Arigato All You Robotos

One thing that would make a toy stand out to young Cap'n Neurotic more than anything else was this: versatility. A spaceship was cool, but a spaceship that could also turn into a host of other toys?


Yes, the Micronauts Battle Cruiser (click here for more detail) was yet another cherished toy from my childhood. LovedlovedLOVED this thing; think nine times out of ten I pretended it was the spaceship Phoenix from the cartoon Battle of the Planets, which was one of my favorite (although seldom viewed) cartoons as a youth. Although the only other official Micronaut toy I owned was the previously mentioned Hornetroid, I would later purchase the total Baron Karza knockoff Count Magno and steed, which also had the bonus of possessing interchangeable parts for customized playtime.

My other big interchangeable toys were the Starriors, which was another line of toys I had completely forgotten about until I started this stroll down memory lane. Which is strange, because I loved this things with their removable (and movable) limbs. I owned three of them:


and Sawtooth,
although in my mind Sawtooth was renamed "Purple Rain," which should give you a pretty good idea of about what year I first got these. The most commeon configuration was for me to mount their legs on their shoulder pegs like wings and put their arms on their leg pegs since they resembled bird legs with talons. The other cool thing about the Starriors line was that they came with mini-comic books; if I weren't already broke, I'd probably waste a ton of money trying to track them down. So, yay for having no money!

While Micronauts may have been my intro to interchangable toys, GoBots were my introduction to the whole transforming robots phenomenon. My very first one was the incredibly rudimentary Loco
followed by the slightly more complex Scooter

I would soon graduate to the much larger and intricate Transformers, but would pick up the occaisional cool looking GoBot from time to time. My two favorites: Water Walk

and Scorp

And then there were my few Transformer purchases, such as Trailbreaker

and Prowl

I find it worth noting that, a lot of the time, I modified the backstories of the figures so that they weren't really transforming robots, but actually super-high-tech action vehicles with multiple attack formations which could be derived by placing the figures in various states of transformation. Thus, the toys which most easily lent themselves to such reimaginings (Trailbreaker, Water Walk, Scorp) were the ones most played with.

And finally, we will wrap up our tour down memory lane's toy aisle with a look at some robotic toys that didn't really fulfill my need for versatility: RoboForce

And yet, they had suction cups on the bottom, and somehow that made them cool. Go figure.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ghosts of Christmas Past - Memory Lane

Going through the old Sears Wishbooks brought up lots o' memories for me, as seeing one toy pictured would remind me of two or three that weren't. So, let's take a quick rummage around the toy chest of my mind, shall we?

When I saw the Wishbook ad for the Fischer Price yacht, the first thing it made me think of was my other playset which often served as an expansion for the Fisher Price figures: the Sesame Street Clubhouse.

Loved that little playset, with its hand cranked conveyor belt that you can see is pushing Big Bird over to the red slide in the picture; and then there's that white rectangle next to Grover, which is actually a trap door -- I loved me some trap doors when I was a kid.

Couple of other early favorites were my Superman Big Wheel

and my Sit and Spin
which I covered in the Six Million Dollar Man stickers which didn't wind up plastered all over my bedroom wall.

As I may have mentioned before, my toy collection was pretty scattershot; I never picked one toy line to focus on above all others, but instead dabbled in a wide variety. Of course, my earliest action figures were those which any self-respecting child of the late 70s had: Star Wars. And while I mentioned a few of the figures I used to own in some of the Wishbook posts, there is one seminal piece of Star Wars paraphernalia which was not pictured: the Death Star Space Station playset.

Which, in addition to a neat cannon and elevator (not to mention a trap door) also had the nifty trash compactor toy complete with trash compactor monster which, I have learned while doing image Goolges, is technically known as a dianoga.

I had this funky looking thing for many years longer than the actual playset lasted. My other beloved Star Wars toy was my Tauntaun.

As mentioned previously, I had my fair share of Masters of the Universe toys. In addition to Orko, Buzz-off, and Ram-Man, I was also in possession of Teela

and the unfortunately named Fisto.

Seriously, Fisto? And someone got paid to come up with that? Sheesh.

I liked the concept of Webstor, with his grappling hook back pack which served as a zip line, but in practice the line was constantly getting tangled and it wasn't long before it was totally useless.

As for Teela, well, my biggest memory with her was taking her to school and having one of the older kids swipe her and scratch off paint around her chest to reveal the flesh colored paint underneath, making her suddenly, if not an R-rated toy, at least PG-13. And, sadly by that point I had already lost the snake-shaped helmet/breastplate which would have effectively covered her shame.

Although the following were definitely birthday presents* and not Christmas presents, I figure we may as well ride the nostalgia train for as long as we can.

I remember coming up with some scenario in which Pegasus was wounded, and I decided to use red crayon for the effect, not realizing that the red streaks would be pretty much permanent.

There are a few toys that I have fond memories off that have so far eluded my attempts to find photographic proof of online, such as the Spider-Baby doll or the strange looking drag racer figure whose car looked like it was more suited for underwater travel or outer-space use than land activities, and so that's precisely what he became. That was a common theme of my play time as a kid, creating new worlds, powers, and back-stories for my action figures; seldom if ever were my imagining straight-forward interpretations. This was true of my Star Wars figures, my Masters of the Universe figures, my G.I. Joe figures, and, of course, the vast array of robotic figures which I'll be discussing in my next post**.

*Have a very clear recollection of getting these at my McDonalds birthday party in 80 or 81, for some reason
**Hey, gotta milk this for all that it's worth!


Monday, December 10, 2007

Ghost of Christmas Wishbooks Past - 1986

We now reach the end of our trip down Sears Wishbook memory lane with the joys of 1986, which was a veritable explosion of TV show related action figure goodness. Of course, by this point in time, while my interest in the toys was great, my drive to own them had waned, whether due to lack of funds or a decision that 6th grade was a good enough time to move away from toys as any. So, most of the following will be more "ooo, I always thought that was cool" rather than "oooo, I loved having that one!"

  • I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to any of my family members who spent any money on any of the items listed on this page; I was the stereotypical boy who cries "Wow, it would so cool to have a microscope/chemistry set/insert-science-based-hobby-here" only to briefly look at the kit a couple of times and then stick it away on the shelf to gather dust.
  • Ah yes; Photon is to Lazer Tag as Betamax was to VHS, I believe. Of course, I never had either of them.
  • I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I have never owned a video game system of my own; all of my video game experience comes courtesy of arcades, game consoles of friends and roomies, and the occasional bit of software that gets installed on my computer. Still, I look at this page and just have to wonder: how many people out there actually bought Item #3?
  • Two pages of Rambo inspired toys. Two. Pages. Meanwhile, the force of nature that is Chuck Norris only gets a quarter of a page. Wow, this is just mind bottling*.
  • This page gets included just for my current roomies, who were both fans of the show/toys; afraid it never aired on any of the stations we got.
  • Back down to just one page; Masters of the Universe were slipping, eh? Oh, and look, I actually own one of the figures pictured, Buzz-Off . . . not that it's actually offered for sale anywhere on the page, mind you.
  • Oh, look: Over the Top official arm wrestling toys! I bet those were a hit that Christmas huh? Can you imagine the joy and wonder the children felt as they opened up their gi . . . BWAH-HA-HA-HA! Sorry, tried to keep a straight face, but couldn't hold it in.
  • And in addition to all of the above, we also had pages for cartoon inspired toys like Thundercats, M.A.S.K., Inhumanoids, Transformers, Defenders of the Earth, etc. Got to play with some of the stuff thanks to Ol' Vick, who I was still friends with at the time, but seeing them all laid out like that makes me realize that by 1986, I had started to move away from action figures and onto . . . well, books. Lots and lots of books.

Well, that may wrap up Sears Wishbook posts, but it has really just opened up a cornucopia of nostalgia that's sure to result in a flood of related posts . . . and by "a flood," I of course mean "one or two, if I get around to it."

*You know; like your mind is trapped in a bottle.


Movie Mon. - Werewolves at War

I had such nice plans for getting all caught up on movie and TV watching this weekend but alas and alack they came to naught as I actually wound up hanging out with Cap'ns Peanut and Shack-Fu most of Saturday, and had some extenuating circumstances intrude on Sunday. So, here's my one movie review for the week.

Skinwalkers: So-so werewolf flick about two rival factions of werewolves fighting over a young human/werewolf half-breed who is prophesied to contain the power to destroy the curse of lycanthropy. The acting was pretty good, and the plot line was decent with a nice twist here and there -- I wish they would have done more with the Native American angle -- but I wasn't a big fan of the overall werewolf design, and some of the CGI was spotty. Held my interest and I wasn't sorry I saw it, but not one I'm going to rush out and recommend to all of my friends.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ghost of Christmas Wishbooks Past - 1985

Well, it looks like our faithful scanner of Sears Wishbooks has not been able to get the 1984 catalog scanned in, which is a shame, since that was the year that Transformers and GoBots and the like really took off; curious to see what might have caught my eye from then. But, for now, let's just take a look at 1985.

  • No, I never had any of these, but I always wanted one, especially the giant version of Maxx Steele from RoboForce.
  • Poor GoBots; never quite got the following of some other series of transforming robots. I had a few, but the only GoBot toy from the catalog was Item #13. Man, was that a funky looking playset or what?
  • And here are the winners of the transforming toy robot war: on this page you'll see my favorite Dinobot Swoop, which was, not coincidentally, the only Dinobot I owned.
  • I present this page not for the rest of the Transformers toys, but for item #24, which I had completely forgotten about until I saw it here; what a hassle to keep track of that was.
  • By this year, Masters of the Universe had graduated to a full 2-page spread, not to mention the She-Ra page later on. On the first page we get to see one of my favorite toys, Item #3, Orko, which would spin around like crazy when you pulled a ripcord; way too much fun with that one. There's also the Battle Armor He-Man which had a rotating plate on the chest that would record "damage," and the funky little Dragon Walker which looked oh so cool on the commercials, but was painfully slow and uninteresting in person. On the second page is another of my favorite toys, #24: Modulok. Or, as anyone who remember the toy commercial might hear in their head: Mod! U! Lok! Modulok, Modulok, Modulok!

    A better look at the joy which was Modulok can be found here., which includes the package art and instructions as well as a look at all of Modulok's modular parts. Had way too much fun playing combinatorics with this one.
  • Again we have entrants into the "toys I never had but always wanted" category: M.A.S.K.
  • And here we have something which you know could not help but catch young Cap'n Neurotic's comic geek eye: lucky Item #13, a random grab-bag of 30 Marvel comic books. This one became a Christmas staple for several years; yes, I always wound up with duplicates of books I already owned, but surprisingly very few. Probably the biggest benefit for me was that one of the random issues later inspired me to track down the full series of Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja, which was so far removed from what the title implies you would not believe it.


Friday, December 07, 2007

I Just Got Elfed!

Courtesy of Cap'n Cluck, clearly abusing her position as Foundations of Fellowship class photographer: Li'l Random, Cap'n Peanut, Squiggly and myself got elfed.

Right now I'm highly tempted to see what HyperTwin Elves would look like . . .


Ghost of Christmas Wishbooks Past - 1983

The 1983 Sears Wishbook is a tad disappointing compared to the previous two I've discussed, since there are only two pages with anything that jumped out and caught my nostalgic eye. Makes me wonder if some of the stuff in the 1982 catalog didn't make it my way until 83, or if I got a large number of items from the Penny's catalog that year; sadly, nobody seems to have much in the way of Pennys catalogs online as of yet.

  • Masters of the Universe toys were obviously increasing in popularity since the previous year, with them now taking over half a page instead of just a third. Of course, out of the figures shown here, i only owned one: Ram-Man.
  • While I do have a soft-spot for several of the games shown here -- especially Hungry Hungry Hippos -- the one that jumped out at me was Bargain Hunter, which I remember because it had this "credit card machine" which would spin and tell you if your card was accepted or not; for some reason, running the fake card through the fake machine and listening to the little drum inside roll around was slightly hypnotic to me.


Ghost of Christmas Wishbooks Past - 1979

Turns out that the 1982 Sears Christmas Wishbook is not the only volume to be scanned and provided online, so today we'll continue our trip down memory lane be going back a few years see what nostalgia comes welling up from 1979, when a 4-year old Cap'n Neurotic was enjoying his first few blissful years of consumerism.

  • Item #10 was one of my favorite toys as a kid; have no idea what happened to all of the firefighter figures, but that treehouse would work its way into many a imaginary scenario over the years; I think the collapsible top played into my youthful obsession with secret passages and hidden doorways and the like.
  • Wow, did the memories come back thanks to this page: the Fisher-Price Houseboat is familiar, but not as much as the Fisher-Price figures on it. I also have strong memories of parts of Item #4, particularly the helicopter and the black chains you can barely see on the front of the small blue boat; the designs of the chain made it look like a face with two dangly, hooked limbs hanging off, causing it to become some sort of creepy alien creature in my imagination. And then of course there's Item #6, the faux doctor equipment; again, parts of this would outlive others, and be put to uses other than what they were intended -- the thermometer, which had a little twist knob that turned it's center line from white to red, became some sort of laser pen or tricorder or whatever I wanted it to be at the time. Did I mention I spent a lot of time playing alone as a child?
  • More familiar items on this page: Items 8 and 10 are familiar, but may have belonged to our church's nursery rather than to me, but I know #13 was mine because I remember using the silo to transport other toys around with me. I also remember how the barn doors would make a mooing sound every time they were opened; bet my parents loved that.
  • Item #4: the Hornetroid. LovedlovedLOVED my Hornetroid. I mean, look at it; how could I not?
  • Star Wars! Had quite a few of these figures: Snaggletooth and Walrus Man, Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper*, a Jawa and a Sand Person, and the Patrol Dewback as well. Oh, and Boba Fett, but I don't think I got him until after Empire came out.
  • One of my other favorite toys: The Millenium Falcon. I also wanted the Tie Fighter and X-Wing, but the Falcon last me a good long while. Oh, and I once knew someone who had that Shogun Warrior figure which is crammed into the bottom corner.
  • Item #2: Skedoodle. Had totally forgotten about Skedoodle. Many hours of mindless entertainment with this obscure drawing toy.**
  • And finally, while I never owned anything from this page, I had to share because the kids' poses crack me up.
*Both of which wound up becoming part of my legless legion as I mentioned in my post about weird things about me as a kid.
**While it wasn't the exact same set as Item #3, my childhood best friend Ol' Vick had a similar mix-and-match super-hero creating toy which occupied many hours of my youth.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ghost of Christmas Wishbooks Past - 1982

Zinger forwarded a link to me earlier today, and suggested I do a quick blog post about it. I, being lazy and hard up for blogging topics at the moment, acquiesced. What was the link? A Flickr album of scanned pages from the 1982 Sears Wishbook Catalog. Dox knows how many countless hours I spent pouring over the Sears and JC Penny's catalogs as a kid around Christmas time. A few thoughts that came to mind while browsing the pages:

  • I had items #2, 7, 8, and 9. . . and had completely forgotten about all of them until I saw this page
  • It amuses me greatly that back in 82 "Masters of the Universe" Toys were smooshed into the bottom third of a page with a bunch of generic "themed" toys. Oh, and the Battle Ram Mobile Launcher (item #15) is another toy I used to have which had fallen into the mists of memory until this page brought it all back.
  • At a certain point in my life, I would have conceivably killed to have items #11 and 14
  • I didn't own any of these, but my uncle did
  • Another in a long list of things I always wanted as a kid: #14
  • Gotta love the hyperbolic advertising. "It's amazing! It's unbelievable! It's a product that will soon become obsolete because a competitor will become the industry standard!"
  • Don't know what's odder: that there was a point in time when there were 5 pages of catalog devoted exclusively to Smurf memorabilia, or that that even more pages were given over to Little Orphan Annie merchandise.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"What I Watched" Wednesday - Movie Time

Okay, not enough TV watching worth talking about right now, so I'll just do a quick three-movie-roundup.

Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party
: Entertaining kinda-sorta-documentary which follows prolific actor Stephen Tobolowsky (currently playing Bob on Heroes, although he will always be Groundhog Day's Ned Ryerson to me) on his birthday as he relates numerous stories about his life. Tobolowsky is an incredibly charismatic and engaging storyteller, and his energy and humor make this film fly by; there are times you might want to question how factual his stories might be, but in the end it's more about the hoy derived from hearing the stories than the truth of the stories themselves . If you do happen to rent this one and enjoy it, I would highly recommend watching the deleted scenes, which are, on the whole, equally as entertaining as any scene in the film itself. One odd note is that Tobolowsky's general storytelling style, right down to speech cadence and inflection, is spookily reminiscent of that of our church's associate pastor who is currently in charge of the Singles. Anyway, that's really neither here nor there; bottom line is, I liked this movie a lot.

Waitress: Quirky Indie film about a small town waitress (Keri Russell) whose plans to escape from her rotten husband (Jeremy Sisto) are derailed by an unexpected preganancy. I liked this one a lot; made me laugh out loud several times. Andy Griffith's turn as the cranky diner owner with a penchant for speaking his mind was a definite highlight, and it was interesting to see Nathan Fillion playing such a nervous character . Sadly, writer/director/co-star Adrienne Shelley, who showed so much promise as a filmmaker with this outing which she wrote while pregnant with her daughter Sophie (who plays Russell's daughter at the end of the film), was murdered shortly before the film's release.

No Country For Old Men: The latest outing from The Coen Brothers (Raising Arizona, O Brother Where Art Thou, Fargo, Big Lebowski to name a few) is a deliberately paced drama about a mule-headed Texan who stumbles upon a satchel of over $2 million of drug money, and then has to avoid the sociopathic killer tasked with recovering the loot. Before I go any further, let me just say this: after we saw this on Saturday, Cap'ns Shack-Fu and Peanut ranked the movie 2-3 out of ten, while Li'l Random and I ranked it 7-8 out of ten. So, yeah, a bit of a divide there; considering that Li'l Random and I are The Odd Squodd, then you can probably bet that most people's opinions might lean towards those of Shack and Peanut. So, there's your disclaimer so none of you blog monkeys can complain to me if you don't love it even though I said it was a great movie. Which is not to say that I left the theater totally satisfied; there were at least two instances in the film where the usual painstaking, methodical approach to storytelling was tossed asunder. leaving me vaguely nonplussed, discomfited and disappointed due to their abruptly anticlimactic nature. Both of these instances were cited by Shack and Peanut as reasons for their dislike of the film. I suspect that upon subsequent viewings I won't be as bothered by the items in question as I was on my initial viewing, especially upon reflection that these shifts were more than likely intended to generate such a feeling. The dangers of thwarting audience expectations, I suppose. Anyway, the movie made me laugh, made me cringe, and made me think; not bad for a couple hours worth of entertainment, in my opinion. One I would recommend few, and then only with the caveat that anyone expecting a typical Hollywood resolution is going to be disappointed.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Feast or Famine

I was on a bit of a blogging roll the last few weeks, but circumstances are conspiring to reduce my output, and by "circumstances" I mean "allergies, lack of sleep, over-booking of social life, and overall writer's block." I'll probably get my weekly movie/TV reviews up by tomorrow, and I hope to receive some sort of inspiration for additional blogging soon