Wednesday, July 29, 2015

TMNT Books, Sesame Street, Applause toys,

Welcome back! I've been lazy, I'll admit. Completely slacking off. I don't usually let the blog rest this long, especially with Halloween less than 100 days away now, and so MANY posts still cluttering up my reservoirs. So without further ado, let's take a look at a load of stuff I brought back from a trip to Goodwill awhile back. 

Here's the obligatory group shot, but say it with me kids: Let's take a closer look, shall we? 

First up, here are a couple of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles books, both based on the 1990 movie. "The First Battle" is interesting because it tells the first third of the movie with the cartoon-versions of the turtles. This is an obvious move to bridge the gap for younger viewers/readers. And of course there's the young readers novelization of the film. Some year I'm going to go on a novelization-reading BINGE and just rot my brains out with books based on awesome old movies. My friend Biran over at Pop Pop! It's Trash Culture has been talking about starting some sort of book club... maybe it's time to roll that out. 

One Little Golden Book, and one of the Mickey Mouse Club books that desperately emulated them. "Ernie's Work of Art" is one I never had as a kid, but would have loved. "Bongo" looks like fun too, although I'm not familiar with the character, I know I've seen him before.  

I was pretty happy to add a couple of fun looking Halloween books to the shelf... "Ghost Train" and "Trick or Treat" will both probably get a second look as we get into the Halloween countdown this October. 

"Big Bird Joins the Carnival" is from 1985 and is based on the "Follow that Bird" film. This tells the story of how he meets the Sleaze Brothers and gets painted blue. It's... not as much fun as you'd think honestly. 

The E.T. the Extraterrestrial Storybook. I honestly don't have a ton to say about this. I have a love/hate relationship with E.T. It simultaneously scared the ever-loving s**t out of me as a kid, and I also LOVED it. So... now I own the storybook... 

I also found an issue of Marvel Comics Presents, featuring the Daughters of the Dragon, Wolverine, Union Jack, and best of all: Wonder Man! I can't remember if I've even mentioned this comic before, but I loved MCP as a kid. It was such a weird, disjointed introduction to several corners of the Marvel Universe all at once, especially considering that many of the stories were serialized, and so you might pick up an issue to see Wolverine, but then realize that you were actually in the middle of an 8-part story starring him, and then you'd move on to the 7th part of a 13 part Black Panther Story, the 6th part of a 7 part story starring the Master of Kung Fu, and then there would be some weird one-and-done story starring Spitfire or Longshot or some other random c-lister. It was kind of confusing but it really did make the Marvel Universe that much bigger and more magical for it. Plus for around a buck you 4-5 times the action and adventure, even if you didn't get the whole story. 

Now! Onto the grab-bag. All of the loose toys you see in the intro picture above were in one great big grab-bag for 2 dollars. There was a lot of detritus to be cast off, but there was so much great stuff included that it pretty much outweighs the junk. Here you can see a Smurf figurine, a Goomba toy from the 1990 Happy Meal toy line featuring Super Mario Brothers 3, and a Fisher Price Jumbo Little People Bear from the Poppity Pop Car set. But by far (to me) the greatest treasure here is the pink dragon in the front, marked "Applause 1987". Google has turned up only one other possible toy in this series, and I am tempted to say this was some sort of random junk-toy series they put together for bookstores, gift shops, etc. The detail they put into these guys were of the level usually reserved for licensed properties (which Applause was the KING of back in the 80's. They were the Funko of movie licensed products back then. PVC figurines out the rear...) this guy looks so familiar to me that I suspect I had one from the set, or spent a lot of time begging for one.

Here is a set of little vintage decorative figures for... whatever those were used for back then. Cake toppers maybe? Cupcake toppers? Either way, they are charming. And they've been saved to send off to a new home already, as I have a friend who eats this stuff UP.

This is the "Gotcha Gusher Squirter" from the 1992 Nickelodeon Happy Meal toy series from McDonald's. This is actually my second toy from this series. I lock only the blimp game and the loud mouth mic now. I love this thing for being exactly what it is: A piece of Nickelodeon history from the days when they were hitting it big and becoming a brand unto themselves. Yes I would have been 13 or 14 around that time, but Nickelodeon still monopolized a lot of my viewing time 

And finally, here are the vehicles from the bag. Bugs, Knuckles, Wakko (from Animaniacs), and Ratchett (from Tail Spin) are all fun, but it's the Batman Returns and Ernie (also produced by Applause!) toys that really made my day!

Well that's it for tonight kids! I still hope that you enjoy seeing and reading the junk I find at Goodwill nearly as much I do finding it! I'll be back soon with more Geeky Goodwill Goodies! Until then, Happy Hunting!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Recent Viewings: Ping Pong Summer & A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

So it's been awhile since I just talked movies here on the blog. Used to be I would just post whatever came to mind whenever I wanted, and then I kind of got back-logged on posting about stuff I've picked up at Goodwill and everything else has sort of dropped off again. So... since I've seen a bunch of interesting films just recently, I thought I'd take a minute to talk about a couple of them to kind of get back in the habit of doing that again. 

In the past few months I've seen some summer blockbusters like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World, and while they were pretty fun what I really want to focus on with this post is a pair of smaller, quieter films that I watched on streaming that have very honestly been some of the best movies I've seen this year so far. Let's start with the first one, a throwback-to-the-80's flick called:

Ping Pong Summer has been on my radar for a little while now. I'm a fan of the Cult Film Club podcast, and noticed they had put together an episode based on this movie. I'd never heard of it at the time, and assumed it was some old 80's flick that I had just never heard of. I put off listening to the episode on the off-chance that I would track this down and see it soon (still haven't listened to the podcast, but plan to soon). It was the blog Flashlights Are Something to Eat run by Tim Lybarger that really got me to seek out the movie however... Why you may ask? Because he revealed that it was streaming for FREE on Amazon Prime. (And if Lybarger likes it, odds are the WORLD will like it.) 

The family Summer vacation. A (sometimes painful) rite of passage.

Written and directed by Michael Tully, the movie is actually from 2014 but is set in 1985. It's a retro endeavor in the same vein as movies like "Adventureland" and "Take Me Home Tonight". But I'm not really sure the similarities to those films extend much further past that detail. Where those two films felt like they were trying to BE 80's movies or semi-faithful recreations thereof, I would argue that "Ping Pong Summer" takes advantage of it's 80's setting to the MAX but tells its story through a very self-aware, very current-day filter. If I had to compare this film to any others, it would be some sort of bizarre mish-mash of "Napoleon Dynamite" and "The Way Way Back," neither of which were definitively 80's set-films, but felt like they could have been. Like "The Way Way Back" this is a movie that seems to be about a boy floundering for acceptance in a temporary summer community, and like "Napoleon Dynamite", it revels in the absurdity and bizarreness of the excessively mundane world we find ourselves living in day-to-day.

According to Teddy Fryy, one can never have too many spoon straws.

"Ping Pong Summer" obviously has some DNA donated to it from 80's films in general, with elements of "National Lampoon's Vacation", "Better Off Dead", and "Karate Kid" liberally sprinkled throughout, but it's interesting how much it doesn't lean too far in any particular direction. It's a movie that in equal measures can't seem to decide if it's a spoof/parody, a commentary on 80's culture, a genuine coming-of-age story, a kids' film, or a "remember when" nostalgia piece. It feels a little muddled at times because of this, and as a viewer you may be tempted to try and latch onto one definition or another... but trust me. Don't. It's way more fun if you just smile and enjoy the trip to Ocean City.

Leathery relatives. Genuine beach people.

The movie stars Radford "Rad" Miracle, who goes to Ocean City with his family every summer. This year, Rad brings with him a burning love of Ping-Pong and parachute pants. His goth sister hates his guts, his parents are kind of lame, and Rad just can't seem to fit in with the locals. UNTIL he meets Teddy Fryy and gets brought to the "Fun Hub" which is basically a rec room with some arcade games and a snack bar... but it becomes Rad's oasis of cool. That is, until he's challenged by Lyle, the local rich kid who seems to take insane pride in his own ping-pong skills.

Pictures: the fiery, blazing awkwardness of your teenaged crush.
And your regrets for not "going through with it" when it comes to that kiss...

It could be argued that in some ways the trashy souvenir store opulence that IS Ocean City is a sort of character in the film itself, as is the 80's time period. They both definitely lend a voice to the proceedings. As for the others, Rad is awkward, unsure of himself, but desperately wants to fit in and be one of the cool kids. He just wants to feel comfortable in his own parachute pants. Teddy Fryy is a walking 80's cartoon character with some of the most incredibly earnest but awkward dialogue in the film. His rap skills are stilted and his jheri curl is on point.

Try not to stare into the eyes (or denim vest) of pure evil.

The love interest for Rad, Stacy Summers, has what is rumored to be at worst a cocaine habit, and at the very least a serious sugar problem. She is fickle throughout, equal parts aloof and encouraging until she get's off the "Funky Punch" and get's her head straight. The villains of the piece, Lyle and Dale chew the scenery in the scenes they're in, being unbelievably evil for a couple of ping-pong loving teens. Dale on his own has some of the most disturbingly quotable lines in the movie, such as: "Inseminate him!" and he wears his hero worship (or is it more?) for Lyle on his sleeve. Lyle meanwhile is your typical well-to-do bully. You've met him before. He could have fit smoothly into the Cobra Kai. Rad's parents, played by Lea Thompson and John Hannah are loving and supportive, if a bit confused by their children, and play the typical 80's parents to a tee. And of course there is Rad's goth sister, who exists simply to be the annoyed sister.

Randy Jammer: Fish wielding neighborhood vigilante and Ping-Pong aficionado.

And then there's Randy Jammer, played by Susan Sarandon. Rad meets Randy as his neighbor first, and then through a series of encounters, Rad discovers Randy is a ping-pong pro. He begs Randy to coach him and Sarandon does her best Mrs-Miyagi-with-a-beer-glass-as-big-as-her-head impression (that beer mug was one of the few things to draw a legit bark of laughter from me, as the humor in this film is usually kind of subtle) as she guides him through an afternoon of "making contact" and "recovery routines".

Our heroes reconnoiter. 

Rad struggles to win the girl, and beat the bad guy at ping-ponging, to prove his own self-worth and win the respect and admiration of his family, his temporary summer friends, and Susan Sarandon. This could literally have been a Saved By the Bell-esque Saturday morning live action tween show in mini-series form and no one would have batted an eye. You might read that like it's an insult, but I don't mean it as one. It's this kind of middle-of-the-road quirkiness that gives the film charm. What it lacks in weight it makes up for in fun 80's-style fluff or awkward situations that catapult you back to your own childhood (in the 80's or otherwise).

Over all, Ping Pong Summer is a fun ride. I recommend it to nostalgia fans and fans of weird, awkward humor. I watched it on Amazon Prime, and for all I know it's still on there, so if you're a subscriber, check it out. Now on to something a little different than a week at Ocean City playing ping-pong...

I don't remember when I first heard about "A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night" but I know that when I noticed it was available to stream on Netflix that I'd already heard good buzz about it. I could simply describe it as an Iranian vampire movie... but to leave it at that would be a HUGE disservice (especially considering it is NOT in fact an Iranian film! It was filmed in California!). Much like "Ping Pong Summer" above, "A Girl..." (as I will call it from now on) dances across several blurred lines for genres, influences, and themes. 

He totally stole that cat. (It's the director's cat)

Bad City is... well it's a bad city. And in Bad City, there lives an assortment of rumpled, depressed, broken people who go through their routines as a mode of survival. Arash, played by Arash Marandi,  is a young man caring for his heroin addicted father. You get the idea that Arash is perhaps at his core, a romantic, but one who is also kind of morally grey. In fact, "A Girl..." at it's heart is much less a horror film and much more a noir film. It's probably very much for this reason that the movie is filmed in black and white. Arash is not so much a hero as he is a damaged young man trying to find his way. He wants money, he wants love, he wants the good life but is floundering as to how to get any of those things, when there are obvious monsters (not the vampire) who have already achieved these things for themselves all around him. 

Trading a cape for a chador and the wings of a bat for a skateboard.

And then there is the vampire, referred to only as "the Girl". We don't know what to make of her at first, as she stalks and kills one particularly prominent character early on in the film. This is the most violent and "gory" moment in the movie. In fact, as far as vampires go the girl is a fairly tame one, only making a couple more kills in the entire movie. But that's because this film is not about her being a killer necessarily. It is about life being drained away in various forms, whether literally at the fangs of a vampire, or the life and culture gulped up the greedy oil derricks pumping away in several scenes of the movie, or life sucked away by time and missed opportunities, or drugs, or vanity... or whatever else there is in life that can take from you or be taken from you. The girl is listless and powerful, and you get the idea that she is lonely and bored in her existence. We actually see her toying with people in Bad City more than killing them.

The song "Dancing Girls" by Farrah has been obsessively replaying on my iPod ever since I saw this scene.

That she has a morbid sense of humor and a deep love of music are obvious. The girl dances to records in her apartment when she isn't out mimicking old men on the street to creep them out, or stealing skateboards from children. But the girl as a character by no means feels simple or silly, instead she seems all the more sad for these antics. The way actor Sheila Vand plays the girl, she feels endless and powerful like the dark and deadly blade of a knife in the dark. To see such a creature desperately trying to feel something is bleak indeed.

Don't do ecstasy and dress up as Dracula. #truth

I wasn't sure what to make of "A Girl..." during the first 30 minutes or so. There is struggle as we establish the characters, and a death by exsanguination, and honestly I almost considered turning it off because I had no idea where all of this was going. But then... Arash meets the Girl and things start to change (Actually, there are some incredible scenes just before this event that caught my interest as well, but this meeting is the major turning point). The scene in which the two meet and interact for the first time is the best in the entire movie. You see the change in the Girl almost immediately, and while you aren't sure what her intentions are at first, this first encounter between the two is so satisfying I almost teared up a little. 

The cat always manages to come between them.

I found the end of the movie shocking in its simplicity and satisfying in the way that everything in the story feels resolved yet nothing in the story truly is resolved. It's that beautiful ambiguity that makes you wonder what the future holds for the characters. This movie was INCREDIBLE. It is moody and visually beautiful. It plays with the tropes of vampire films, Iranian culture, and uses the techniques of filming in black and white to their utmost potential here. The use of a chador in the place of a traditional vampire's cape is genius, and looks beautiful in many of the shots, as it is often the darkest, blackest thing on screen, even in the darkest scenes, and you wonder if there is some double-edged commentary here, using a symbol of female modesty as the dual symbol of the vampire.

Overall, I would describe "A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night" as a noir fairy tale, but not in any kind of ironic or sarcastic way. The director describes it as a "vampire spaghetti western." There are genuine elements of all those kinds of storytelling and it is an incredibly well-put-together film for it.

So there you have it folks! A couple of movies I've watched recently on streaming service that really made an impression on me. I'll be back soon enough with some Geeky Goodwill Goodies, so keep your eyes peeled for that and in the meantime, Happy Hunting!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Goodwill Finds: April O'Neil, Snorks, and Freaky Chipmunks

Oh! I'm editing this to add: A of July 17th, 2015 my blog is officially 3 years old! I'm still toddling along, and occasionally pooping myself, but I'm starting to get the hang of this, and as long as I don't pick up some tiny item from the floor and get it lodged in my esophagus, you might all see me turn this thing into something worthwhile... at some point. I'll keep you posted. 

ALSO: this is my 403rd blog entry, which means I breezed past the 400 mark a few posts ago and just never noticed! So yay me! 

- And now back to the regularly scheduled blog!

Here's a fun little pile a' stuff from a trip I took to Goodwill awhile back! A handful of REALLY great retro finds here from the days of my youth! 

First up there was a grab-bag. Here are the contents:

With the exception of the Moshi Monster happy meal toy (sorry if you're a fan, but I am not), there weren't any real duds in here! LEt's take a more in depth look.

First up we have a Toonsylvania Burger King Kids' Club toy. This is from an Animaniacs-esque monster-themed cartoon from the very late 90's. Toonsylvania has appeared here on the blog before, although I had never heard of this show before that, and am unfortunately still no more familiar with it than I was, past the fact that I obviously know there are fast food premiums (and a wikipedia page!) based on the property.

Arguably the biggest win in this grab-bag is this lady right here. An April O'Neil from the original TMNT action figure line! If I'm not mistaken I believe this is the figure that became my "default" April because the one I had before was not in this good of a condition. I may have mentioned this before on the blog, but if not... here goes: My April O'Neil had Dazzler's powers when I was a kid because I was obsessed with the X-Men. (She's aiming a photon blast right at your face now)

Next up is this Goofy PVC. I'm not a huge Disney fan myself, in that I don't really care all that much about Mickey or the gang, but occasionally I come across a fun toy that catches my eye and represents one of the iconic characters well. This is a pretty nice figure. I think I may have sent this guy off to someone else in a trade or something, but I'm pretty sure I don't own him any more in any case.

Here's a really fun find! This is a Snork pvc figurine of Allstar from 1983! While I HATED most of the Smurfs-style shows that followed the lives of some strange tribe of creatures living somewhere in an adorable community (Biskits, Paw-Paws, Mon-Chi-Chis, the actual Smurfs) the Snorks got a pass for some reason.

This was one of the best finds in the bag as well, even though I have no idea what it's actually supposed to be. It looks like it might be some sort of cheap, hollow dinosaur, but it gives off way more of a "kaiju" vibe than a dinosaur one. Adversely, it looks more like some sort of tub toy or baby toy than anything else. So... anyone recognize this as anything that's actually something? Or are we looking at a dollar store reject here?

In the cassettes department we have the Danny Elfman score to the '89 Batman film. Back in the days of having to own EVERYTHING Batman because the film was so popular, I did in fact own both the score and the Prince soundtrack, so this find was a real trip down memory lane for me.

What was especially delightful to me was rediscovering the liner photos. I had forgotten these were even in there, although back when I owned this as a kid I pored over these to the point that they started falling apart.

Next up we have this bizarre looking Golden Book from the 1950's. It's bizarre to see them before the more standardized versions of the characters showed up.

Instead of steadfast Dave as the leader of the song, we have the wise Mr. Owl keeping the Chipmunks on track... which is kind of weird if you consider the fact that he'd actually be a natural predator for them.

I almost didn't pick up this Dick Tracy graphic novel. To be honest, the most interesting thing to me about Dick Tracy has always been the freakish villains (mostly in ation figure form), and the movie didn't really age all that well, IMO. BUT I flipped through the artwork in this thing and found:

INSANELY cool Kyle Baker artwork!!! So I snapped it up after all. This thing is just freaking GORGEOUS. I mean look at Flattop! Look at Pruneface! Lips Mannis is insane here! Steve the Tramp looks like a nightmare monster from the black lagoon! I hope I stumble across the other two volumes at some point!

And finally, I thought I'd end on some classic Sesame Street. Can't remember now (without going and finding this book which, let's all fact facts: I'm too lazy to do) but I'm wondering if this was some sort of "Follow That Bird" tie-in? Anyway, Big Bird returns from SOMEWHERE a bit earlier than expected, and instead of finding everyone on Sesame Street moping around ready to slit their wrists over missing him, Big Bird is dismayed to find out no one really cares... and in fact all his friends seem to be celebrating something. If you've already figured out what they're preparing for, then you're smarter than the big yellow bird in this book.

What I especially liked about this one is the fact that Forgetful Jones plays a semi-prominent role. He's the one who has the idea of throwing a party for uh... whoever it is. He's so goldurn forgetful! I don't distinctly remember Jones being portrayed as an actual resident of the Street back when I watched the show. I thought he was always in puppet saloons or out on the range with Buster or Clementine. 


That's it for tonight kids! I'll be back soon with more Geeky Goodwill Goodies! Until then, Happy Hunting!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Liberace, The Frighteners, and Ice Age, Ice Age, ICE AGE

Not a huge one tonight kids, but some fun finds nonetheless. Only one major toy find, and the rest is all cassettes and books. But let's take a look and see what we shall see, shall we? 

Here's the pile of loot that I brought home. A few details may jump out to begin with, but let us take a closer look.

First up, the cassettes. We'll probably take a closer look at the Halloween Songs and Sounds from Walt Disney Records when October hits. Likewise, I'l probably wait until December to dissect Liberace: A Christmas Medley. So that leaves the one in the middle: the "Working Girl" soundtrack. It's really most significant for Carly Simon's "Let the River Run" which is a pretty great song if I'm being honest. Chris de Burgh's "The Lady In Red" is on here too, which I absolutely adore. I really need to go watch Working Girl again sometime.

Speaking of movies I want to revisit soon, I found this novelization of Peter Jackson's "The Frighteners" I think I may add this movie to my Halloween watch-pile for this year, since it's been years since I've seen it.

Or maybe I should just add this novelization to the ever-growing Halloween read-pile? I dunno. I always felt like this movie was a bit of an underrated gem. Seeing some great horror/genre vets like John Astin and Jeffrey Combs hamming it up always does my hear good. "I like it when they lay still like that..." and "My body is a road-map of pain!" are lines I quote to my wife on a regular basis to this day. Classic.

I feel like I overpaid slightly for this Ray Bradbury collection of short stories, by Goodwill standards anyway. I would have paid waaay more in a used book store I guess, so thanks for small favors. I buy Bradbury books as "collectible" now without hesitation.

The grab-bag you saw above is really what had me most interested honestly. It was packed with a huge variety of Ice Age Burger King Kids Meal toys from 2002, based off the first movie in the franchise. I'm a complete nut for the first film, and don't really care for the others in the series AT ALL as  I may have mentioned in a post on another blog, a long.. long... time ago.

What's funny is that if you read that post from my other (now defunct) blog, at the very end you'll see me struggle with trying to remember what is is that the tiny Sid the Sloth toy was originally encased in at one point. This find answered that question! It was one of the ice-block toys you can see on the bottom left of the picture above.

This picture, by the way, shows that the grab-bag contained almost 15 whole sets of toys from that series of Burger King Toys. Funny thing is these are all duplicates of 5 toys out of a set of 10 different ones. So even though I have 15 sets here, I still only have half the set!!! It's kind of interesting looking back at the toys they were putting out 13 years ago compared the toys they do nowadays.These things are elaborate in and of themselves:

I won't go into great detail about every single toy, but I will take a moment to say how excited I was to finally track down a "Pinky" toy (the human baby, who is technically named "Roshan") to go with my other Ice Age Toys.

Each set has several pieces to put together and features a character from the movie, doing something from the movie. It's pretty awesome. If I had room to set these up somewhere all the time, I totally would.

But here's the REALLY excellent part: They connect together! I know this is nothing new but back in 2002 it was still a kind-of/sort-of relatively new concept in Happy Meal toys. The Inspector Gadget set from 1999 really kind of revolutionized the idea of collectible/connectable sets, and they were still refining the concept with this one. 

So not only do each of the toys have a cause-and-effect pay-off, you can connect them all in one glorious chain of chaos. It works with mixed results, but for the most part I got this thing to trigger off flawlessly 3 out of 5 times. I dabbled with the idea of taking a video of the whole Rube Goldberg affair... but it was too unpredictable and quick moving to even attempt it. Again, keep in mind, this is only half of the Ice Age set BK was offering that year. So if I had all 10 can you imagine!?

Well that' it for tonight kids! I'll be back soon with more Geeky Goodwill Goodies! Until then, Happy Hunting!
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