Author Archives: Shawn Robare

Goodbye Mr. Williams…

So, it’s been a bit since I sat down to write anything for Branded. Life has been…hectic…as it tends to be for most of us, and this site has been comfortably warming on the back burner. That being said, I wanted to take a moment and mention the passing of Robin Williams. To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to write anything, I mean aside from adding my voice to the cacophony of those who are mourning him there’s not a whole lot I can really say beyond the simple fact that Mr. Williams had an impact on my life. He’s always been there for me, from his pop culture breakthrough in Mork & Mindy when I was just a child up to his short bit in an amazing season three episode of Louie. And you know what? I took that for granted and more often than I’d really like to admit I felt kind of weary of seeing him pop up in films. I hate saying that, but it’s true and it made the whole thing sting that much more. My friend Dave Roman mentioned something similar (something that I’m sure a lot of us have found ourselves thinking over the years), that he felt a bit guilty about being “tired” of Williams. Hearing him echo what I had been thinking pushed me to remember that when it comes to celebrity and the pop culture zeitgeist there is a distinct separation between a person and their persona.

Garp

I was struggling with this and was curious. Over the course of the last 8 years while writing about my nostalgic recollections what did I write about Mr. Williams, and was I honest or filtering my thoughts through rose-tinted glasses? Back in 2007, in a piece on the 1978 Mork & Mindy Topps sticker cards I wrote:

“Williams has always been a really weird guy and I’m never quite sure how I feel about him. On the one hand there’s Mork & Mindy, The Fisher King, and some of his more subdued performances like in the World According to Garp, Awakenings and Good Will Hunting. Then there’s his annoying manic insanity in flicks like Mrs. Doubtfire and Jack, not to mention his Stand-Up, which is equal parts hilarious and repetitive. He seems to take delight in flipping from “can’t contain him” zany comedies to parts that are so somber that it seems like he’s sleeping with his eyes open on film. Watching his Inside the Actor’s studio episode gave me a headache even, yet I still love it when he’s on. What’s kind of funny to me is that he’s sort of blazed a trail for this style of personality in Hollywood, I mean between Jim Carey and Adam Sandler it’s hard to tell the three apart, performance-wise.”

Mork and Mindy

Again, that stings. And again, I wasn’t sure there was anything I could contribute to the discussion.

With that in mind and feeling a little guilty, I wanted to reconnect with some of Mr. Williams’ work that I hadn’t seen in years, stuff that had an impact on me at a point in my life. I decided to watch The Fisher King because I had only seen it a couple of times back in the 90s and because it’s been sitting on my DVD shelves for over a decade still wrapped in the original cellophane. There was a part of me that was afraid. Afraid that I wouldn’t react the way I did when I first saw it 20 odd years ago. So I stuck the disc in the player and hit play. 20 minutes in, after barely seeing Williams on screen for about a minute I had to turn off the film. It was too hard to watch. I felt raw and gut-punched by that mere 60 seconds, and that wasn’t even close to touching how amazing his performance becomes over the course of the story. Two days later I stuck the disc back in. I made it 10 minutes further before shutting it off. The last week I’ve been watching The Fisher King in these tiny snapshots, no more than 10 minutes at a time. I still haven’t brought myself to finish it.

Fisher King

So we feel guilty, we remember and we mourn. It doesn’t matter how he left this world, or whether or not we focused on the persona, only that for brief moments in darkened theaters and while sitting in our collective living rooms this talented, gentle performer made us laugh. He made us cry. He made us think deeper about the life we live. He made us smile. This one amazing individual interconnects millions of people on the planet with this shared experience of profound jubilance, art and melancholy. That loss, that feeling that was sadly too easy to take for granted, will be felt for generations to come.

Louie

Before I end this I’d like to point to the 2010 Williams interview that Marc Maron did on his podcast.  It’s an eye-opening, laugh out loud, and amazingly somber talk with a man who was known for his mania.  It’s also gut-wrenching…

Maron Interview

 

So, something pretty damn RAD happened…

I’ve been in full on Rad mode lately, I know, so bear with me for one more piece of excitement I’d like to share.  After recording the latest episode of the Cult Film Club about the flick, Pax, Jaime and I got a chance to interview the one and only Cru Jones himself, Mr. Bill Allen!  I mean, HOLY CRAP! This is the first time I reached out to one of my childhood heroes and for a month I was chewing off my nails.  I was pretty damn worried the interview was going to devolve into the Chris Farley show.  But I pulled myself together, put on an appropriate shirt and this past Tuesday night I sat down and talked with Mr. Allen for about an hour…

Co-Host Shawn Rad

If you want to listen to us talk about the movie Rad, Bill’s penchant for extreme hobbies, his music career, and what it’s like to be associated with a cult classic film and to have inspired countless athletes and filmmakers, then head on over to the Cult Film Club and download episode 17!  We also dig into his new memoir, My Rad Career, which highlights his 30 years spent in front of and behind the cameras. It was an honor and an amazing pleasure to chat with one of our film heroes and we hope you enjoy the conversation. So without further to do, queue up Send Me An Angel, put on your sequined shirts, and jump on your bike as we talk to a supremely Rad dude!  You can also listen to it by clicking, or right-clicking & downloading it here!

Lastly, I woke up this morning to find my review of Bill’s memoir featured on his website!  Too cool.  If you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go reenact the BMX dance sequence from Rad to celebrate…

Branded on Bill Allens Site

Alright Dudes! Let’s walk this sucker!

This month it was my turn to pick the movie that the Cult Film Club covered and I decided it was high time that Paxton, Jaime and I dug into one of my favorite 80s flicks the 1986 BMX classic RAD!

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Starring Bill Allen, Talia Shire, Lori Loughlin, Bart Connors, Jack Weston and Ray Walston, the film was directed by the legendary Hal Needham (Smokey & The Bandit, Cannonball Run, and Megaforce.) For those who haven’t seen it (correct this NOW) the movie centers on BMX junkie Cru Jones who only wants to get radical on his bike with friends Becky & Luke, challenge the local cop to races in a lumber yard, and get his morning paper route finished by 7:15am. All his mom wants is for him to go to take his SATs and get into college. But when Duke Best, head of the Mongoose bicycle company, partners with the local businesses to bring a professional BMX track called Helltrack to Cochrane, Cru sees and opportunity to do what he does best, which is riding his bike. But before he can race, Cru has to prove that he can qualify, which is easier said than done when Best, along with his stuck up hot shot riders Bart Taylor and Rod & Rex, the Reynolds Twins, keep putting up barriers he has to hurdle. Along the way he learns who his true friends are, as well as winning the heart of beautiful BMX champion Christian, but does he have enough thunder in his heart to beat Helltrack?

We talk about our favorite scenes, amazeballs dance sequences, the awesome soundtrack, and what makes this film still work after almost 30 years.  So if you’re curious to hear me and my friends talk about this awesome flick, break out a bowl of Kix and head on over to the Cult Film Club and listen to episode 16.  You can also listen to the discussion by clicking, or right clicking and saving here!

CFC FB Cover Photo

Also, I just want to remind folks again that the star of Rad, Mr. Bill Allen, has just released his memoir detailing his 30 years in Hollywood in his book My RAD Career which you can purchase directly from him in both paperback and special signed editions.  If you pick up a copy it helps both Mr. Allen and will help keep the lights on here at Branded.  Also, tell him Shawn from Branded sent ya!

Bill Allen Memoir

This book is, well, RAD!

4461391534_02cce86892_oIn 1986 my family had yet to own a VCR and every weekend we’d trek out to the little mom & pop video rental store next to the Goodings on Red Bud road in Castleberry Florida and we’d rent a machine and each pick out a title to take home. Invariably I would always end up with the same two VHS tapes, one in either hand, trying to decide what flick I was going to re-watch for the hundredth time. In my left hand was Red Dawn, a film I could endlessly watch for C. Thomas Howell alone, and in my right was always Rad. 4 out of 5 times I would walk out of the store with the copy of Rad. I can’t explain exactly why I was drawn to the film so much, but at 10 years-old Rad spoke to me like no other film. I mean the box art alone was always enough to get me excited with the crazy paint-splash font on the logo, to the wild mix of purples, reds, and hot pink that was impossible for the eye to pass up when scanning the video shelves.

RAD VHSI’d usually wait until Saturday morning to watch the flick, right after the cartoon blocks and I’d consumed my weight in Capt’n Crunch. Then I slip it in the hulking rented VCR with the top-loading eject door and wait for those familiar opening keyboard notes and guitar strums from John Farnham’s “Break the Ice” to start up. Then it was and hour and a half of BMX bliss, after which I’d frantically run out of the house, grab my bike and attempt to recreate the freestyle bike tricks in the opening and closing credits (which was a lot harder than it looked not only because I was clumsy, but because I didn’t have a true BMX bike at the time so my handlebars and front wheel could only rotate so far without getting tangled in the handbrake cords.) I imagined I was Cru Jones as I tooled around the neighborhood on my red and white Huffy, racing imaginary cops on motorcycles and speeding down the huge hill in my subdivision as if it was my last shot to qualify for Helltrack.

Fast forward 28 years and I’m still enraptured with the movie Rad, still constantly stick it in the DVD player (I have a cherished bootleg copy that literally stopped playing a couple months back to my shock and horror), and I still want to be Cru Jones on some level. Is Rad the best movie of the 80s? No. Is it one of my personal favorites regardless of the visible goofs and some questionable acting (I’m looking at you Bart Connor – just kidding, well, kind of)? Yeah, yeah it is. One of the things I’ve tried to do since I got online in the late 90s/early 2000s was to check in on the cast members, in particular Bill Allen who played Christopher “Cru-sier” Jones in the flick. At some point about 6-7 years ago I stumbled upon his personal website, which at the time was the one place besides all the bootleggers on ebay that was keeping the flame of Rad lit. So imagine my surprise this past month when I saw that he was getting ready to release his memoir titled My Rad Career. Floored doesn’t begin to describe how excited that bit of news made me, and I was (or imagine I was) one of the first in line to order a copy in mid-May.

Bill Allen MemoirAs soon as I got it in the mail I began to devour it.  It’s a quick and dirty recounting of Mr. Allen’s 30 year career in and outside of Hollywood.  It touches on everything from his time spent guesting on TV from sitcoms like Family Ties to series like Amazing Stories, to the films he’s worked on or starred in like his first role in And They’re Off (where he met a young George Clooney also doing his first film.)  The book features some interesting and hilarious anecdotes about Hollywood’s behind the scenes, including Clooney’s penchant for practical jokes, what Brad Pitt was like when he was first starting out, and the grueling and life-threatening truth behind the whirlwind military training the actors received when preparing for the film Born on the Fourth of July.  The chapters about his friendship with Brandon Lee leading up to Lee’s accidental death on the set of The Crow are especially touching and had me in tears.

My favorite aspects of the memoir center on his time spent filming Rad.  I’ve read a lot about the flick over the years but there were aspects of the film that I never realized like the fact that Bart Connor was in pretty bad shape and in such pain after his gold medal winning Olympic outings that he could barely walk let alone dance very well.  It speaks to why he tended to be shot from the waist up in the film or sitting.  Little details like this really enhance the viewing experience for me as it puts the movie in a whole new context and almost lets me view it with fresh eyes.  So if you were ever curious what it was like to make out with Lori Loughlin, the down side of ass-sliding, or what it was like working with Hal Needham and a bunch of world class BMX riders (like Eddie Fiola, Jose Yanez. and Martin Aparijo), this book is a must read.

Allen’s writing style is very conversational which makes the book a very easy and satisfying experience, and makes it feel like he’s sitting in a recliner across from you sharing his time in the spotlight.  For a life-long fan of Rad like myself, I was very grateful to get a chance to read about Bill Allen and his adventures from the man himself.

You can order your copy of My Rad Career directly from Mr. Allen at his site.

Knights of the Holographic Light!

After I started reacquiring some of my childhood toys recently, specifically picking up a number of the more obscure figures from the less popular lines, there have been a few figures that have rocketed up to the top of my to-find list.  Taking a break from the more well-known properties like G.I. Joe, Transformers, Masters of the Universe & M.A.S.K. and focusing on the lesser known stuff has been kind of liberating as my personal shopping list has become way more manageable and compartmentalized.  Instead of trying to track down affordable bulk lots or prioritizing my favorites from one of the larger lines I can focus on a single figure from a specific series since I tended to only have one or two figures from each of the weirder properties.  Happening upon a carded Gabriel Tonto figure, a Blackstar  demon, or a Dungeons & Dragons Warduke has been a really fulfilling experience, so when I went on the hunt for the next childhood treasure I had my sights set on a very specific action figure, Witterquick from the Visionaries!

Witterquick Filecard 2

Released by Hasbro in 1987, the Visionaries were sort of like a mystical, fantasy version of G.I. Joe.  In fact, not only were the toys manufactured by the same company, with similar designs (similar articulation and size), but the accompanying animated series was also produced by Sunbow with a number of the same voice actors and writers and had very similar animation.  Though not as popular, the toy line only had one wave of figures and the animated series had just a single 13-episode season that aired on Saturday mornings.  Though I have very fond memories of plopping in front of the TV and watching the cartoon, I only managed to acquire one action figure, the scarlet speedster who calls upon the power of his totem deity Light Speed by proclaiming “Sheathe these feet in the driving gale, make swift these legs, o’er land I sail!”

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One of the main conceptual draws of this toy line was the inclusion of holograms both in each character’s armor and in a totem staff.  There were two opposing forces, the Spectral Knights (with a unicorn as their group totem) and the Darkling Lords (who have a dragon totem.)  Holograms were pretty darn popular in the 80s and early 90s (as seen in these amazing Lazer Blazers stickers), and as far as I know this was the main toy line that incorporated the technology into the figures.  Though it could easily have come across as super gimmicky, I really love the way they’re used as the holographic images are a great stand in for the magical energy that the characters exhibited in the cartoon series…

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Not only were the holograms pretty darn awesome, but all of the characters had cool removable helmets, which was always a plus in my book.

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I feel pretty lucky that I managed to not only find a complete Witterquick (so many of these figures on the secondary market are missing their chest plate holograms and helmets), but the guy I bought the figure from kept him in very good condition and even had the original filecard clipping!

Witterquick Filecard

I’m glad the I got that as well because it has a some of the original packaging artwork intact.  Like the other Hasbro 80s offerings, the Visionaries boasted some amazing airbrushed artwork.  I also felt pretty lucky as I found this figure at a very reasonable price.  These tend to sell for pretty ludicrously inflated rates, between $50-$120 carded, and even upwards of $30-$40 loose and complete.

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Now that Witterquick has joined my collection, there is only one main obscure action figure left that I need to kind of complete my vintage toy collection, Quicksilver from the Silverhawks.  The hunt is on…

G.I. Joe, a Real French-Canadian Hero!

6883501769_16f5716f51_oI thought I’d take a crack at this week’s League topic (simply: Yo Joe!) since it’s both something I’m interested in (G.I. Joe obviously) and it just so happens that I have something new in my collection that fits in perfectly with the subject.  Not that long ago I was happy that I could provide a friend (the ultra rad Sarah Szefer) with a much-needed toy accessory that she’d been missing for awhile, and as an unexpected “thank you” she sent a small care package.  Since she lives up in Canada, specifically in Quebec, she thought it would be awesome to gift me some cool 80s era French-Canadian ephemera.  One of the bits that caught my eye was this awesome comic book advertisement from 1984-85…

French Canadian G.I. Joe Ad 1985

I’ve never personally seen an English version of this ad, so I’m not sure if it was strictly used in foreign markets or if I just missed it.  Either way this is a really neat ad that is way more in line with all those cool diorama set-ups you’d see in the old Sears Wishbooks.  I always loved the creativity in those since they tended to utilize natural materials mixed with art for the setting like the sand and rocks above.  I love the addition of the fake aquarium vegetation and the awesome impressionist forest fire depicted in the background painting.  Too cool.  I think I also love these types of play set-ups because I spent the majority of my G.I. Joe playtime as a kid setting up battles like this and then never actually acting them out.  It was all about setting the stage for me, and these sorts of advertisements (or the wishbook spreads) were sort of like toy porn in my eyes.

So thanks a million for sending me this Sarah, it totally made my week!  If you like what you saw here and would like to see more League posts about G.I. Joe, check out these other great sites…

Stacey, Geeky Vixen, is waxing nostalgic about old friends and discovering badass Ladies in G.I. Joe!

Michael, Retromash, takes a look at Joes from the UK perspective with Action Force!

Jathaniel shares some artistic Joe pictures from his instagram account!

Derek, Goodwill Hunting 4 Geeks, shares some awesome G.I. Joe kid’s picture books (Earl Norem Art!)

Erik Johnson talks about Joe Gibken from Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger!

Brian, Cool & Collected, talks about his Joe team, those 82-85 characters!

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Bonkers will be bonking you out again soon!

5741481453_25e5050515_oSo, the scuttlebutt in the independent candy world is that Bonkers are set to make a triumphant return to the market sometime this year.  On the heels of their relaunch of the Astro Pop, the reformed Leaf candy company has been hard at work to follow up that re-issue with the long lusted-after chewy fruit candy with the patented “Extra Flavor Boosted Center”.

Strawberry

There’s been rumors of the confections return for the past three or so years, but after launching a Bonkers Facebook page this past January it seemed like the this time it might be for real.  After teasing with some rough shots of Photoshopped packaging, they finally revealed a first look at the candy this morning…

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It’s been roughly seven years since I last waxed nostalgic for my all time favorite extinct candy here at Branded, and it’s probably been about 25 years since i last had the opportunity to enjoy them.  At some point, no matter how alluring the memories are, no matter how fond one was for some treasure lost, you have to move on and let what’s past lay in the rear view mirror growing fainter with ever year.  I should know, being a self confessed nostalgia junkie, the tighter you try to hold onto things long gone the harder they are to get a true grasp on.  The past is like a wisp of smoke, pretty, out of focus and lingering, but as soon as you reach out for it, it breaks ups.  Dissipates.  In my mind there is a pantry of lost edibles, branded, packaged, preprocessed food stuffs that no longer exist and haunt my taste buds.  Sour Cream & Onion Quackers crackers, Thunder Jets Fruit Snacks, Hi-C Ecto-Cooler, and Bonkers candy.  I’ve tried to find replacements (Annie’s Sour Cream & Onion Bunny crackers don’t hold a candle to Quackers for the record), but it’s the closest thing to “chasing the dragon” I’ve experienced nostalgia-wise.  I will say that I had a lot of fun trying to recreate Hi-C Ecto-Cooler that one time though.

Grape

But wait a second, didn’t I kick this article off by announcing to the return of Bonkers candy?  Yes, yes I did, and I’m certainly not trying to put a damper on that news.  Trust me, when it comes to this news I’m probably one of the most excited folks I know.  But as intensely curious as I am to get my hands on this fruity Lazarus, I can’t help but realize that as hard as I might try, I can’t really remember what these tasted like.  Sure, the general idea is there.  I remember they were softer than Starburst, and even more so than Now and Laters.  They weren’t as sour as L&L’s, and taste much more natural than Laffy Taffy.  But at the end of the day I have to be honest, I just don’t remember.  So no matter how excited I am, I kind of have to temper it with the thought that I won’t be reliving my Bonkers eating past much as buying the brand.

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The main thing that sparked this thought is that Leaf is having a contest to send some pre-release samples out to fans to taste-test.  I’d love to be picked, but it made me think about the fact that when all is said and done I wouldn’t be able to give a particularly objective opinion on how authentic the new recipe is.

Orange

That aside, I’m curious about the pictures above because there’s a mystery flavor mixed in that bunch.  I see the Strawberry, Orange, Grape and Watermelon varieties, but I’m not sure what the yellow and green fruit chew is.  Is it a lemon/lime?  Banana/Kiwi?  It’s certainly not chocolate, the other announced flavor…

chocolate

So, anyone out there with a photographic memory or an intensely detailed journal of their tastes experiences from the 80s that has a confident idea of what these used to taste like?

Who’s the baddest Mofo Low Down in this Town?

I recently sat down with my Cult Film Club co-hosts and recorded a new 80s-centric episode of the podcast all about the amazing martial arts musical Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon!

CFCEpisode14

We all collectively kneel down and kiss some Converse as we discuss our favorite scenes, the amazing Motown soundtrack, and the outrageous soul glow in the film.  Whether it’s break-dancing out of bondage or kicking an albino Mr. T’s ass, this film has everything that fans of 80s cult flicks love.  So put on your venetian blind sunglasses, zip up your banana yellow Game of Death tracksuit and get ready to catch some bullets with your teeth!  You can find the episode at the Cult Film Club, or you can simply right click and save it here.

During the conversation we bring up the pint-sized kung fu master Ernie Reyes Jr. which of course led me to reminisce on some Kickin’ Jeans/Action Pants ads that he featured in.

Ernie Reyes Jr Kickin Jeans 2

I’m pretty sure of the Reyes Jr.  from 1981 in the ad above time traveled to today he could still totally kick my butt (and not rip his jeans in the process, classy.)

So, anyone have any favorite songs from the soundtrack?  Favorite scenes?  Favorite quotes?  For my money I could listen to Faith Prince singing Dirty Books while Sho’Nuff’s lady gang tries to peel Bruce Leeroy like a banana!

the-last-dragon

I collect spores, molds, fungus, and glow in the dark vinyl…

About a month ago my good friend Tim over at Flashlights Are Something to Eat and the Neighborhood Archive tipped me off to the special Record Store Day vinyl re-release of Ray Parker Jr.’s titular hit from the 1984 Ghostbusters soundtrack.  Not only is it special in that it’s part of the 30th anniversary celebration this year, but the 10″ single would also be issued in a “slimed” edition (aka glow in the dark vinyl.)  I’m typically not an avid collector of albums on vinyl since I don’t own a turntable and have pretty much all my favorite music at my fingertips digitally, but the allure of a glow in the dark Ghostbusters album that would look pretty darn rad up on the wall of Branded HQ was a bit too much for me to pass up!

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Though I was vaguely aware of the annual Record Store Day events, I’ve never turned out for one and as the weekend of the release approached I was getting a little apprehensive.  I’d started hearing horror stories about folks waiting in lines and in some places even camping out over night.  “Seriously?!?” I wondered aloud to my empty office last night at work while looking up my local participating stores.  I mean it seems like vinyl enthusiasts are a niche group as it is, and I just can’t imagine that there are enough (in the per-store ratio sense) to necessitate forgoing showers and the comfort of sleeping in on a Saturday just to snag some limited edition records.  I thought it was weird enough when people were lining up for Episode I all those years ago, let alone copies of the Pink Panther soundtrack on pink vinyl or the Nirvana singles collection.  I started wondering if it was even worth trying as the forecast Saturday was calling for rain and temperatures in the 40s.  So I called ahead and made sure there was a store near me that actually had this Ghostbusters release in stock, and luckily there was.  Except they only had two copies.  In fact, I was hearing that the entire release was limited to 1000 copies nationwide.  Now my head was filling with images of having to stand out in the cold rain in a tug of war battle with a couple other aging nostalgia nuts fighting over who got to take one of these home.

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When I arrived at the store (the CD Warehouse in Duluth, GA) 30 minutes before opening there was a small line of record lovers waiting patiently for the place to open.  I didn’t see anyone decked out in full Ghostbusters overalls with proton packs, so I started to feel my chances were pretty decent.  All my worries dissipated when one of the employees came out and made a list of everyone’s name and one record that they wanted to call dibs on.  I was the only one with a wide smile, proudly stating “Put me down for one Ray Parker Jr. please!”

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Three minutes later (and $17 poorer) I had my hands on this beautiful new piece for my Ghostbusters collection.  I didn’t have to elbow anyone in the face or threaten to shut down a containment unit either.  When I got home, being the nerd I am, I immediately help the record up to my overhead kitchen light and charged the vinyl so that I could see it glow in all its spooktacular glory…

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I can’t quite put my finger on why, but there’s something I find amazingly alluring about that pale minty green color of glow in the dark products.  I think it might even be giving hot pink a run for its money as my favorite color…

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Though billed as a 10″ single, this album actually features four tracks.  Side A has the original hit by Parker Jr. as well as an instrumental version, while side B features a DJ remix of Ghostbusters and an extended 6-minute version as well.  So it’s almost like an EP I guess.  I actually stumbled upon one of this compilation’s producers, Michael Duquette, on instagram yesterday when I posted a picture of the record while announcing my intention to hunt one of them down.  I just want to say that he and Jeff James (the other listed producer) did an amazing job on this record.  I love the design, especially how the GB logo backing shows through the translucent vinyl, and the simple clean logo center sticker on the album.  There’s also a nice version of the original trio from the movie poster on the back of the insert…

stuff

Checking online as I left the store I started feeling pretty lucky that I managed to snag a copy of this album.  Seems like a lot of folks who were hunting for a copy were leaving stores empty-handed.  Again, a lot of the news articles online pegged the pressing at 1k copies, as did Duquette when I asked.  The Record Store Day website lists the album as a “RSD First Release” though, which seems to point to the fact that it will possibly be released more widely down the road a bit.  My copy was also numbered 5103, while a friend in another state had one stamped 2340, so I’m not sure how accurate the 1000 pressings figure is.  Maybe there are only 1000 in glow in the dark vinyl?  Either way, I hear they’re going for stupidly high amounts on ebay (man I hate scalpers), so if you’re looking to pick one of these up I’d suggest waiting a bit for a wider release.

So, there were also some other pretty neat albums re-released in limited runs today including the original Muppet Movie soundtrack.  Anyone out there brave the crowds and score some fun vinyl?

The Repo Man has entered The Grid!

Lots of little personal projects going on this month behind the scenes at Branded, but of all the stuff I’m working on the thing I’m probably the most excited for is the launch of Season Two of the Cult Film Club!  It’s been just over a year since I helped launch the CFC Podcast with my bitchin’ co-hosts Paxton Holly (of the aptly named Cavalcade of Awesome & the Nerd Lunch Podcast) and Jaime Hood (who runs my favorite blog on the interwebs Shezcrafti.com.)

CFC Cover Photo

We do our best to get together about once a month to talk about all the cult movies that we love to death.  Outside of 80s era kids junk (and the branding that goes with it) my other main passion/hobby is watching movies and deconstructing them with friends.  So the Cult Film Club has been a great outlet for me to help start the conversation on some of my favorite flicks.  Now we’re not limiting ourselves to just the 80s, but readers of this site will surely be interested in a good chunk of the movies we’ve tackled so far as a lot of them have fallen square in the domain of what I’d normally cover here at Branded like Miami Connection, Better Off Dead, Karate Kid III, Zapped, Beastmaster, Troll 2 and The Wraith.  We just kicked off our new season with an episode dedicated to the late Mr. Harold Ramis (where we cover a trio of his films, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.)  So for anyone who might enjoy hearing me blather on about 80s stuff in a podcasting format and who hasn’t checked out the show, you might enjoy it.

In honor of the CFC gearing back up, I wanted to take a moment and talk about a segment of an film I just caught last night that is the sort of stuff the Cult Film Club was built to discuss, which also just happens to fall directly into the middle section of the CFC/Branded Venn diagram.  There’s a horror flick from the early 80s that I’ve been meaning to watch forever called Nightmares (released in 1983.)  I first stumbled upon this flick years ago when I was hunting for some of those elusive foil prism horror vending stickers that I had when I was a kid.  I ended up winning a lot on eBay and included in with the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th Part 6, and Vamp stickers was one with a couple of hands, a pair of eyes and the text Nightmares.  I thought it was just some sort of generic horror sticker the seller threw in, but it turns out that it was for this obscure anthology movie starring Richard Mauser (the dad from License to Drive), Lance Henriksen (Aliens and Near Dark), Billy Jacoby (Just One of the Guys), and an early performance by Emilio Estevez.

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It’s been on my radar to watch for years as I love horror anthology flicks (all those wonderful Amicus films from the 70s and stuff like Creepshow, Tales From the Darkside or The Monster Club.)  Well I saw that the full film was on youtube last night so I threw some pizza rolls in the oven, popped the top of a Red Rock grape soda, and finally caught up with this movie.

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For the most part the flick is a snooze fest, but the second chapter titled The Bishop of Battle was amazing!  Where do I begin?  First off, this segment stars Jacoby and Estevez as a couple of arcade junkies.  Estevez plays J.J. Cooney, a cross between Newman’s The Hustler and Doug Masters from Iron Eagle.  The segment opens with Jacoby and Estevez hopping a bus from their suburban neighborhood in the Valley to Venice Beach so that they can hustle the local gangs that hang out in the arcades.  Estevez’s Cooney is an game wiz, the best in California, and he needs some quick cash that he owes to the mysterious Bishop.

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Cooney finds his mark playing a Pleiades machine and he goes in for the kill setting him up with a spiel from Jacoby’s character about how Cooney is always blowing his money on arcade challenges.  Before you know it Conney is down $6 and decides to go for broke and up the ante with one final game for a whopping $25.  The gang member has to go check with his boss, but gets cleared for the dough and the two battle it out in one final game which of course Cooney wins.

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So aside from the fact that it’s kind of ridiculous how “serious” it becomes when $25 is at stake, I love this sequence because Estevez’s Cooney gets into “game mode” by slipping on his Walkman headphones and blasts some rad early 80s punk.  This is way before similar sequences in Iron Eagle that I also love, and a full year before Estevez would play punk Otto in Repo Man.  In fact this whole segment is set to the music of Black Flag, X, and Fear which is amazing.

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The gang is onto Cooney unfortunately and they end up chasing the two out of the arcade into the streets where Estevez and Jacoby narrowly jump another bus to the safety of the Valley.  The two make their way to the local mall and after an argument about going to see the Bishop, Cooney leaves Jacoby behind and continues on into the local arcade.  Can I just say how sad it is that there aren’t arcades in malls anymore?  You’d think with the amount of teens that still hang out in local malls these wonderlands of video games would still manage to be profitable.  I mean I know that gaming has evolved past what a lot of these machines were capable of and most kids get their fix with apps on their phones, but still there’s something magical about the noise and lights and standing at a cabinet that I miss so much.

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Anyway, we quickly learn that the “Bishop” isn’t a person, but rather a game called The Bishop of Battle, a game that Cooney has yet to beat and is his sole focus.  In fact at one point he tells his parents that after he beats the Bishop he’s going to retire from gaming and concentrate on school again.  No more late nights and missed classes.  No more stealing quarters and hustling Latino street gangs for bread to feed the Bishop.  Cooney decides that today is the day he will finally get to the 13th level and take down his rival.

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The game is very much like Beserk or Nightstalker with a maze-like grid and wandering aliens you have to blast with a laser gun.  As the game opens you hear: “Greetings Earthling.  I am the Bishop of Battle, master of all I survey.  I have 13 progressively harder levels. Try me… if you dare!”  Cooney pumps up the volume on some punk and then proceeds to the 12th level where he’s promptly taken down by the Bishop.  The crowd that gathered dissipates as the arcade closes and the owner literally has to pry Cooney off the machine.

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This is where the film takes a turn for the speculative and horrific.  Later that night after having a huge blowout with his parents, Cooney sneaks back to the mall and breaks into the arcade so that he can have his final showdown with the Bishop.  He’s hot and ends up finally beating the 12th level at which point the arcade cabinet freaks out, overloads, and literally crumbles to pieces…

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Cooney thinks he’s finally beaten the Bishop, but it turns out that the 13th level was way more than he bargained for as he has inadvertently freed the Bishop who sends his pixelated minions to do battle with Cooney in the real world.

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Looking down, Cooney sees he still has the laser gun from the cabinet in his fist so he instinctively starts zapping the flying enemies in the middle of the arcade, destroying arcade games left and right.  It’s sort of like the opposite of Tron and is kind of freaking awesome!

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I can’t believe I went 36 years without catching up with this 25 minutes of pure awesome cinema.  Estevez is at his best, cockily grinning up a storm and is really into the role no matter how cheesy some of the dialogue is.  The effects in the live action arcade sequences are pretty top notch as well and totally hold up 31 years later.  Between the Tron homages, Estevez and the rad punk soundtrack, Nightmares: The Bishop of Battle is well worth seeking out.  Just be careful you don’t buy it on the 13th level because the consequences are much worse than the game being over!

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