Category Archives: Branded in the 80s

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”.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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…

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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.)

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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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I’m having a nostalgic ReAction to these toys!

If the 80s was all about an insane amount of merchandising and toy branding, there was one small place where we were all sort of collectively let down by this blitz and that’s movie-themed toy lines.  Sure, we had a ton of Kenner Star Wars figures, there were a handful of Raiders of the Lost Ark toys, and we even got four Legend of the Lone Ranger figures from Gabriel, but there were so many hugely popular flicks that never had lines released.  I’m looking at you Ghostbusters.  Most of the toy lines were tied into either cartoons, or cartoon spin-offs of movies (okay, we did have Real Ghostbusters toys, but it’s just not the same.)  It really wasn’t until the 90s when we started to see movies regularly getting their own short run toy lines (the Shadow, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, and Dick Tracy all spring to mind.)  So for years us 80s kids had to really concentrate, evoke the theme song of the Muppet Babies, and use our imagination (said with all the extra syllables baby Piggy added in the cartoon.)  I distinctly remember using my G.I. Joe and Star Wars figures to play V or the Last Starfighter (the B-Wing pilot from RoTJ made a good stand in for Alex from the Last Starfighter, and if you turned his head around he makes a nice Shocktrooper from  V.)

In the past couple of decades a lot of toy companies have done some fun work addressing the lack of 80s movie toys, but the figures are usually in the 6-8″ scale and are sculpted in such a way where they tend to only work as one-pose plastic statues.  Again, fun, but it they never really hit that “action figure” nostalgia I have for Star Wars and G.I. Joe figures.  Well, last year a couple of companies teamed up (Funko and Super7) to release vintage Kenner-style figures based on original molds for the movie Alien.  These were a huge hit with really fun retro inspired cardbacks and limited articulation and detail in the sculpts.  Sure, it’s a little gimmicky and it evokes a false sense of nostalgia, but who cares, these figures are a lot of fun!  Based on the success of that line Funko and Super7 have launched a much larger line of these ReAction figures that will start hitting stores this month.  Most of these toys feature characters from movies which either never had toys or never had complete lines, but there are also a few sets of TV Show figures thrown in as well.  There’s a lot of great stuff in the line including stuff from the Terminator, Predator, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Hellraiser, Halloween, The Crow, Escape From New York, Pulp Fiction and the Rocketeer, but the two lines that have really grabbed my attention are a series of Goonies and Back to the Future figures!

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I can’t even express how long I’ve wanted to have vintage style Goonies figures.  In this first wave there are five figures including Sloth and the kids (Mikey, Mouth, Chunk and Data), and I hope they sell well enough that we can get a second wave featuring at least Stef, Andy and Brand, but I’d love a set of Fratelli’s for sure.

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Mouth

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I know a lot of folks have been bummed that the sculpting and paint apps are super simple, but I actually like that.  It reminds me a lot of the original Star Wars figures and honestly these toys aren’t about photo-realistic accuracy, they’re about having fun toys to have further make believe Goonies adventures with.  Besides, if you’re like me then you’ll want two sets, one I can open (and have fun with) and one to hang on the wall of Branded HQ.  The card art alone is worth it for me on these.

I’m not quite as jazzed about the BTTF figures, though mostly this is because the design team at Funko/Super7 chose to use one standard image for the card art (and in doing so chose NOT to license/use the bitchin’ Drew Struzan poster art.)

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It’s not a huge deal, but because of the repetitive card art these won’t look as good on the wall, so I’ll probably just end up opening a single set…

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George

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Again, I hope these sell well enough for a second wave because I’d really like to have a Loraine, as well as a Marty in the radioactivity suit as Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan!  As it is, at least I can re-enact George punching Biff in the parking lot of the Enchantment Under the Sea dance…

The Goonies figures are slated to be released in October while the Back to the Future figures should be hitting pegs in June.  They’re all up and available for pre-order at Amazon right now!

Awesome 80s Bedrooms: Labyrinth Edition

So I recently had the chance to catch Jim Henson’s Labyrinth on the big screen and I made sure to use that opportunity to get a really good look at all the cool stuff in Sarah’s bedroom.  I’ve know for awhile that there are a lot of neat items hidden in the room, specifically there are versions of most of the main characters she meets while trapped in the labyrinth laying about her room in one form or another, but I was surprised at how many of them there are.  So for this new Awesome Bedrooms piece I wanted to focus not just on some of the cool real world toys, but these character specific pieces as well…

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I want to preface this by admitting that I know I’m gonna miss some stuff as there seems to be a lot of interesting things in Sarah’s room that I just couldn’t get a good enough look at (specifically some board games and books on her shelves), so if anyone has spotted anything else, please let me know in the comments.  Alright, let’s dive into the bedroom…

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1). Slashing Machine Record (reference to the Cleaners)

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2). Songbird Mini-Market Sweet Shop play set

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3). Ludo plush doll

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4). Montgomery Moose plush doll from the Get Along Gang

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5). M.C. Escher Relativity print (reference to the inside of Jareth’s castle)

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6). Porcelain Hand Sculpture (reference to the Helping Hands)

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7). Evita Poster

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8). King Kong Manhattan Bank toy

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So, I never noticed the Slashing Machine album on Sarah’s shelf (my friend Kevin pointed it out after we saw the flick in the theater.)  Though it’s not a real band (sadly!), I think the album cover is supposed to be in the vein of some of the early Journey or Boston album covers and it’s a reference to the scene with the Cleaners that chase Sarah and Hoggle through one of the labyrinth’s tunnels.  In the above screen capture you also get to see references to Ludo, the layout of the Goblin King’s castle (via the M.C. Escher print), and what I assume is a reference to the Helping Hands (considering the amount of items that reference stuff in the film, I have to assume that hand sculpture was intended.)  I also wanted to point to the Evita poster since Sarah is a theater buff (as her real mother is a theater actress as seen in clippings around her room.)

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9). Where the Wild Things Are book

10). Sir Didymus plush doll

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11). Labyrinth marble game (reference is hopefully pretty obvious ;) )

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In the end credits of the film Henson tips his hat to the works of Maurice Sendak and how much they inspired him, so it’s cool to see a copy of Where the Wild Things Are on Sarah’s desk (and there’s a much more specifically influential book seen later.)  WtWTA certainly points to the idea of a human child transported into a fantasy world, which is the main conceit of Labyrinth.  Speaking of books and fantasy inspiration featuring characters transported to another world…

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12). Classic fairy tale/fantasy story books

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13). Hoggle statue/bookend

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A way more influential Sendak book can be seen on Sarah’s desk than WtWTA which is Outside Over There, which tells the story of a girl who has to rescue her baby sister from Goblins.  This is placed next to other classic works which also feature characters who transverse into the realm of fantasy such as Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz books.  There is also some of the Grim’s & H.C. Andersen’s fairy tales there as well as a copy of Disney’s version of Snow White (which the amnesia peach is most likely a reference.)

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14). Jareth the Goblin King statue

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15). Firey plush doll

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16). CATS poster (more broadway ephemera)

17). Music box (reference to the amnesia ball sequence)

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18). Dungeons and Dragons Expert Level box set

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I was so happy to scope that D&D box on Sarah’s shelf during the sequence where the hoarding goblins were trying to trap her in a variation of her room after she ate from the poisoned peach.  For one it’s neat to spot some role paying stuff in a bedroom finally, and two it’s really cool to see it in a girl’s room.  Maybe when Toby gets a little older Sarah will introduce him to the world of RPGs…

The last thing I wanted to point out was that there are a lot of hidden images of David Bowie’s profile throughout the movie.  Finding these is a game in and of itself, but I’ll point to the most obvious one that is a series of rocks in a portion of the labyrinth that when viewed from the right angle form everyone’s favorite androgynous glam star…

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Speaking of Bowie, one of his unintentional contributions to the film is his, um, wealth of crotch real estate (yeah, that’s subtle enough right?)  Let me just say that seeing this on the big screen for the first time, well, Bowie’s well-endowed stature is very, very hard to avoid.  Do not make direct eye contact, it just angers his crotch…

Other Awesome 80s Bedrooms I’ve covered…

Sara’s Room from Adventures in Babysitting

Eugene’s Room from The Monster Squad

Mikey’s room from the Goonies

David’s room from Flight of the Navigator

Robbie’s room from Poltergeist

Ben’s room from The Explorers

Pee Wee’s room from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Elliott’s room from E.T. Part 1 Elliott’s room Part 2

Fred Savage’s room from The Princess Bride

Josh’s room from Big

I’m obsessed with the LoEB’s return!

6883501769_16f5716f51_oThe League of Extraordinary Bloggers has been on hiatus for a while as Brian over at Cool & Collected has been “extraordinarily” busy with his C&C print magazine project, but it’s finally back this week with a new topic. To kick things off again Brian asks what our current obsessions are, and this just happens to coincide with a slight shift in my personal 80s collecting habits of late. Outside of a few sets of Garbage Pail Kids, I really didn’t start buying up stuff from my in and around childhood until I started work on this site. Then for the first 7 years or so of running Branded I focused most of my efforts on acquiring all sorts of ephemera, be it stickers, old magazines, or trading card wax pack wrappers that spanned all sorts of pop culture subjects from cartoons to food. I love talking about the 80s, specifically the marketing and “branding”, and I wanted to touch on all sorts of stuff from Sizzlean to amazing Return of the Jedi Jungle Gyms. Needless to say, digging up all of this stuff wasn’t cheap, so finding content to talk about on the site sort of dominated my collecting. The majority of the stuff I was hoarding storing in my flat-file, while awesome, didn’t necessarily always reflect the stuff I personally had as a kid.

Over the last year though I’ve decided to concentrate on rebuilding a small collection of things that I actually had as a kid.  Whether it’s the reproduction Masters of the Universe figures Mattel put out just after the millennium…

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…or picking up the occasional mint on card vintage toy like the super cool Transformers Afterburner I recently found.

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I think this all started just over a year ago when I managed to get a hold of my original childhood Atari 2600 system.  Reconnecting with that faux wood-paneled beauty really got me thinking about where I really wanted to spend my money when it came to my collecting habits.

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Lately this turn towards reacquiring treasures from when I was a kid has morphed into some more obscure purchases.  Instead of trying to get all the actual toys I had I’ve been cherry-picking specific pieces I owned from various toy lines, stuff that when put out on a shelf illustrates my childhood experience.  This has led to some more obscure toy hunting leading up to snagging stuff like a Demon from Blackstarr, Warduke from the D&D line, and Tonto from the Gabriel Legend of the Lone Ranger line

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I’ve also started following this urge to round out my collection with more offbeat stuff by picking up some weirder childhood reading material.  For instance, I was just recently reminded by my mom during one of our weekly phone calls about a cookbook she gave me when I was eight, the Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls (a version published in 1985 by Golden.)  I immediately flashed upon the iconic cover and felt an insane desire to pick it up and hold it again.  So I logged on to eBay immediately after the call an proceeded to track down and buy a copy…

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I must have stared at those disturbing cheeseburger people a million times as a kid.  Even though this isn’t my original copy (which is probably no longer in existence or mostly disintegrated in a landfill in Florida somewhere), mine was as beat-up and well read as this copy I now have on my shelf.  Clocking in at just under 100 pages, this cookbook was my go-to tome when learning the basics of recipe-reading and trying my hand at some culinary concoctions that were always just this side of edible.  Though I learned a lot from watching my mom in the kitchen, I always took pride in exploring on my own and trying to make lunches or breakfasts on the weekends, and a lot of that inspiration came form the dishes in this book.  Speaking of, the recipes range from the ridiculous yet fun arrangement of canned fruit on a lettuce leaf like this Friendly Dog Salad below…

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…to the surprisingly difficult to master (as a kid) Eggs in Bologna Cups.  Mine never tasted right.  In fact they were pretty noxious if I remember (probably due to over-use of the paprika which I practically caked on top of each cup…)

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The book is filled with glorious 70s/80s era design, from the style and color of the cookware depicted in the recipes to the bodacious font choices.  I actually kind of love it to death and am curious about seeking out some other more standard 80s era cookbooks for my kitchen…

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Reading back through it I was surprised at the level of complexity in some of the recipes (like a giant baked ham loaf that required grinding up smoked ham steaks), and some of it actually looks like stuff I’d love to try today as a way more accomplished home cook.  In fact I’m toying with the idea of trying to replicate all 120 or so dishes in the book at some point.  I mean a lot of this stuff is pretty simple, but I remember it being sort of like comfort food.  It might be easy to turn one’s nose up at it as an adult, but stuff like this Polka Dot Pizza (aka Hot Dog Pizza) looks like the perfect comfort food for a lazy Saturday afternoon…

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If you enjoyed reading about my currently 80s collecting obsession, why not take a moment to check out some of the other League participants to see what they’re focusing on like…

Brian at Cool & Collected who is currently binge watching Band of Brothers and True Detective

Lee & Linz at Pop Rewind who are obsession over McDonald’s Orange Drink

Derek at Really Rather Random Guy who is having a an existential obsession crisis

Victoria at Vikki Verka who is glad she found the sci-fi series Charlie Jade

Tim at Flashlights Are Something to Eat is listening to the Scorchers, watching Breaking Bad, and buying some Atari games!

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Apparently 8 is the magic number…

So, in just a couple of weeks Branded in the 80s will turn 8 years old.  Though it’s kind of arbitrary, we tend to focus on the “big” anniversaries in the five-year increment territory, but I had a couple of milestones I really wanted to hit when I started this project.  The first was making it to the seven year mark because I have a special fondness for that particular digit.  The second is marking the 8th birthday of the site because again, it has a special meaning to me.  I first dreamed of having my own little spot on the internet back around 1998.  I’d been farting around the interwebs via AOL and Compuserve and I really wanted to stake out a small piece of the digital landscape to do something.  My best friend, who was in the midst of getting his computer science degree at the time, had just recently built a website for a class project and he promised me he’d help me build one of my own.  It never materialized, though a lot of that had to do with my not knowing exactly what it was that I wanted to do with a website.  Regardless, that marks the beginning of what would eventually become Branded, and it took me eight long years of brainstorming and procrastinating before I eventually settled on what I wanted to do.  So in the back of my brain I’ve always hoped that I’d be able to keep this thing going at least as long as it took me to get it off the ground.  Well, mission accomplished I guess.  As for my next milestone, well, I don’t really have one I guess.  I’m kind of curious to see what will happen at the eleven year mark considering that will mean that I would have spent slightly more time talking about the 80s than the decade itself lasted.

Anyway, when I look back at where the site started and where it really took off for me the one aspect that kind of changed everything was when I started investing in a pretty stupidly large collection of 80s stickers to scan and share.  Part of this came out of wanting to acquire a bunch of the stickers I had as a kid, but another was that there was a distinct lack of sticker scans floating around on the internet and I felt like it was an opportunity to contribute a small portion to the digital nostalgic pop culture zeitgeist.  One of the aspects I love about the nostalgia-minded community is the eagerness to share the cool junk that we love.  So it was pretty neat timing that while I was thinking back on all of this I was approached by the cool lady behind the rad RainbowBrite.co.uk website with to help share some fun stuff.

cologo01She obviously runs a pretty neat Rainbow Brite fan site, so she acquired a bunch of info and ephemera to post up there.  But in her research and collecting she’s amassed a bunch of other cool non-RB stuff that she felt needed to get out there.  So she graciously offered to send me some scans of a pretty neat 1985 Mattel Events Guide to share here at Branded.  Tying this in a bit more into my silly milestone is that I just happened to turn eight the year this Event guide was published (seriously, there has to be something to this, numerology-wise…)

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These event guides were sent out to retailers as a way for Mattel to bolster excitement for their product lines and I’m sure to secure a larger market share of the retail market by encouraging stores to increase orders and devote more shelf and peg space to Mattel stuff.  They did this by helping to host local in-store meet and greet events with some of Mattel’s most popular brands and characters.  So if you were lucky enough to shake hands with Skeletor at a Toys R Us back int he day, most likely this was one of the guides that the store had to help them schedule and promote the event…

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It’s really cool to get a glimpse into this aspect of the marketing and promotion of some of our favorite toys from back in the 80s.  Not only is it cool to see some rad artwork that only exists to promote these in-store events (like the neat illustration of the Hot Wheels play area that was shipped to the store), but it’s also awesome to see and read about some of the swag for the event that was either given away (like the Hot Wheels kid’s drivers licenses) or became a “free item with purchase” like the super cool Hot Wheels combination watch/wallet below!

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1985 was also a great year for Mattel toys because they were hip deep in the Marvel Secret Wars toy line…

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What really struck me about this Secret Wars event is that it wasn’t just geared towards boys.  Mattel makes it clear that “boys AND girls” will received a free water color poster.  That kind of inclusion back in the 80s seems pretty rare, but then again, Mattel worked on some pretty progressive toy lines like these two favorites, Princess of Power and Masters of the Universe!  I mean I know most of the boys who were into He-Man were also secretly into She-Ra…

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Man, I feel like I missed out so much on these in-store events.  I never managed to attend one and after reading through this guide I feel like I missed out on some amazing experiences and swag.  So, I wonder if a little boy could have been initiated into the Legion of Good receiving a free golden power ring and poster?  I sure as hell hope so.  Also, holy crap, a 15 foot high replica of the Crystal Castle?!?  How awesome would that have been to see?  I wonder if the stores had to ship them back or of they were ordered to destroy them.  I have to imagine that one of these must have made it into a private collection.  Hell, at that size it would practically be big enough for kids to play in as a fort.  The mid boggles at the possibilities…

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Apparently for ’85 Mattel introduced new full body costumes for He-Man and Skeletor.  I’ve seen photos of buff guys in the He-Man duds before, but never a full body costume like this complete with toy-accurate mask and all.  I like that they even managed to replicate the spiny fin on Skeletor’s wrists (like on the toy…)  Sadly there was no 15 foot Castle Greyskull or Snake Mountain, but there were some pretty rad glow in the dark posters!

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A lot of this stuff has to be pretty rare.  I searched for awhile and couldn’t find and example of the glow in the dark Masters of the Universe poster (not even on He-Man.org!)  So it;s cool at least to get a glimpse into this promotional world to know that this stuff exists.  FYI, there’s a bit more to this Event Guide, specifically the Rainbow Brite section, but if you want to see that head on over to the cool RainbowBrite.co.uk to find out what was in that in-store event.  Thanks again to them for sharing this rad piece of 80s toy ephemera and helping to make the nostalgia community that much richer!

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Reconsidering Billy Francis Kopeke…

This past week I dove back into my Awesome 80s Bedrooms dissections by taking a look at Josh Baskin’s childhood room in the 1988 Penny Marshall film Big.  After posting that article a reader (The Navigator) pointed out the fact that there is an Extended Edition of the flick on DVD with some extra sequences in Josh’s room, so at the next opportunity I got I ran out to my local used DVD shop and picked up a copy.  After watching through the longer version of the film I was sort of taken aback by a slight shift in the tone.  Though the movie has a nice balance of slapstick, heart and sadness that has elevated it past its 80s zany comedy roots into a true cinema classic, most of the excised footage that was added back into film plays to the more somber notes of the story and in particular adds a whole new depth to the character of Baskin’s BFF (or BFK), Billy Francis Kopeke.  About 10 minutes of these restored deleted scenes feature Jared Rushton’s Billy, and a sizable chunk of these are solo scenes focusing on the character’s home life, his interaction with Josh’s Mom and his mission to track down the errant Zoltar machine that will save his friend from a particularly nasty case of early onset adulthood.  This footage gave me a new appreciation for Billy and it forced me to look at the movie with a whole new perspective.  It alters the light-hearted comedic tone for me, as well as sort of switching the focus of the story from appreciating one’s own childhood to a sobering fight to save a friendship.

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Before I dig into my new appreciation for Billy, I wanted to take a second and note that I love Jared Rushton’s performance in the flick.  Rushton brought a realism to Billy that is lacking in so many of the other kid characters from 80s flicks that I adore.  Don’t get me wrong, as much as I love movies like The Monster Squad, Explorers or the Goonies, a lot of the kids in these flicks were very obviously “acting”, lacking that natural, authenticity that made the characters feel, well, real.  They tend to be caricatures of kids, which is great for what it is and for serving those stories, but it tends to hold these films back from feeling like true “classics”.  A good comparison might be the difference between Stand By Me and say the Goonies.  Both top favorites of mine, but no matter how much I praise and love Mikey, Data, Mouth and Chunk they don’t have that effortless relate-ability.  They’re too “loud”, character-wise.  For me, Rushton brought a much more nuanced take on Billy even for his scripted excitement over the Truck-a-Piller, or his overreacting tears when Hanks as Josh first approaches him in the school gym equipment room.

As for the character of Billy, while watching back through to film to try and spot a bunch of pop culture fun I noticed a couple things about Kopeke I hadn’t really processed before.  For instance there’s the fact that he’s apparently a huge fan of monsters.  He’s constantly sporting monster shirts throughout the flick, from the high contrast Wolfman image he’s wearing in the shot above, to the shirts featuring Frankenstein’s monster, the Creature, and even a Forbidden Planet tee in the shots below…

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This also becomes a little more apparent when I took a closer look at Billy’s bedroom in the couple of scenes at the beginning of the film before Josh gets “Big”.  You can see some Frankenstein and Mummy figures on the floor and in a toy crate…

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Nothing Earth-shattering, but it was kind of a cool thing to notice personally since I’ve become such a monster kid over the last couple of decades.  Anyway, getting back to the more developed version of Billy Kopeke, one of the first re-inserted scenes in the extended edition of Big follows Billy as he and Josh split up after coming home from their stick-ball game and massive session of “need it, got it, need it, need it, got it”.  In the original version the sequences cuts to Josh and Billy in their PJs discussing whether or not Josh has a shot with Cynthia, the blonde from the credits sequence that he has a crush on.  In the extended cut Josh gets a little whiny with his parents for insisting they moving his toddler sister into his room.  What I found fascinating is that this is inter-cut with Billy going home to his family (who we see on screen for the first time, well at least we now know that they’re his family), and having to basically play the dual role of the invisible child/housekeeper.

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The sequence shows him making dinner and setting the table as his rather large family bickers and zones out around the dinner table.  No one thanks him as he pulls a roast from the oven and sets it down, or butters the potatoes and brings them to the table.  There’s just a constant set of shrill complaints from his overbearing mother (uncredited but portrayed by the striking Francis Fisher) who ironically is lambasting her family for not lifting a finger to help her (as Billy does all the work.)  He then proceeds to fix himself a plate and goes up alone to his room to eat and then talk with Josh, reassuring, encouraging and supporting his best friend through his girl-crush crisis.

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Again, it’s not like this scene is so pivotal that it necessarily changes the course of the film perse, but it adds a depth to Billy really setting him up as the rock that so many people depend on and take for granted.  The fact that he never complains, is always quick with an answer or joke, and is generally upbeat says a lot about his inner strength which Rushton exudes with ease.  Since so much of the focus of the film rests on Tom Hanks’ shoulders, it’s easy to relegate Kopeke/Rushton to the friend who is there for the silly string puke fight and the confidant that agrees that Baskin needs to get his check changed into three dimes, a single hundred dollar bill, and eighty seven ones.

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When you combine this sequence with the one at the school on the morning when Josh mystically ages up it gets slightly deeper.  Alone in gym class, Billy is the awkward kid who shows a brave face and tries to participate (even if he thinks it’s dumb), only to be ridiculed and mocked by the rest of the class and blamed for a mess he didn’t create by the coach.  Without Josh by his side Billy is utterly alone, both with no other apparent friends and no one in his family that even pays attention to him unless he’s on the phone (and then only to yell at him to get off.)

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When you consider that Josh is off on an adventure in New York for six or seven weeks and then think about how much it must mean to billy to steal into the city and spend some quality time catching up, going out to a Yankees game or dancing on the back of a delivery truck, it makes the betrayal of Josh brushing off the search for the Zoltar machine sting all that much more.  That brings up an interesting point between the two character’s differences too.  When Josh is first freaking out about his predicament, Billy is there at every step of the way with an solution to the problem.  He snags his father’s “emergency” fund risking who knows what kind of punishment from his folks.  He takes Josh to the city and finds the hotel.  He brings him clothes, suggests he get a job, helps him look, and even comes up with the social security number solution (even if it was three digits off, “oh-one-two.”)  He’s also the only one really working to find the Zoltar.  In some additional deleted sequences the film shows him calling through the list of companies and license holders that are on the list they ordered from the city.

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Billy really is the more capable of the two, and when it comes right down to it he’s the only one who is fighting to keep their friendship alive.  If it were up to Josh, he’d so easily move on.  So at the end of the film, when Billy makes his last stand and storm into Josh’s office and throwing down the gauntlet of their friendship, after all the new material cut into the flick it really does make this scene more emotional.  Again, it sort of changes the overall message of the film for me too.  It’s not so much about Josh’s personal journey anymore, but coming back to his senses and ultimately coming back to his steadfast friend Billy Francis Kopeke (which is then underlined by book-ending the film with the two of them walking down the street after another game of stick-ball.)  We should all have a BFF like Billy, or more accurately, a BFK.