Category Archives: Buried in DVDs

Back to the Future: The Other Marty McFly Theorem

November 10th, 1990, a red-letter date in my personal fandom of the Back to the Future franchise. Yes!  Of course!  November 10th, 1990!  That was the day I discovered my first time travel loophole in the Back to the Future movie trilogy continuity.  I remember it vividly.  I was sitting on the edge of my toilet reading a copy of Starlog, there was an entry in the letters column complaining about BTTF 3, I freaked out as my dad came into the bathroom, yelled at him to knock first, and when I went back to flipping through the magazine I had a revelation!  A vision!  A picture in my head!  A picture of two DeLoreans existing in 1885 simultaneously!  This is what makes time travel movies implausible: loopholes!  In all seriousness, the events described previously actually happened, I was in the bathroom reading the letters column in an issue of Starlog when I had a moment of clarity and realized that there are actually two DeLoreans in BTTF 3 at a point in the story when they desperately need another time machine.  Stop me if you’ve heard this.  So at the end of BTTF 2 Doc and the time machine get struck y lightning and sent back to 1885.  Doc hides the DeLorean in a cave for Marty to find while he’s stuck in 1955 (he gets that nifty telegram delivered moments after Doc is whisked away to alert him of this.)  So Marty find the 1950′s Doc, they uncover the DeLorean and fix it up (because of the years worth of dry rot to the tires, etc.)  Marty then takes this one back to 1885.  So here’s the thing.  The one that doc hid in the cave?  It’s obviously still there (it would have to be for Marty to find it in 1955.)  Thus two DeLoreans and no need to make some time traveling train.  My 13 year-old mind was blown.

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Over the years I’ve realized that this isn’t a huge revelation, if only because I’ve become more jaded as I age and would be the first person to point out that with all the twists and turns of the 2nd and third BTTF films there were bound to be plot-holes.  Time Travel is a fickle story element that is nearly impossible to “get right”.  Hell, just consider the two DeLoreans.  Just using the basic logic of time travel, though the two can co-exist in the same time, there are special rules for say using parts of one to fix the other.  If you took a part off the one Doc hid in the cave to fix the one Marty brought back, it wouldn’t work.  As soon as you removed the part, it wouldn’t be there in 1955 for Marty to find intact right?  But, the opposite isn’t true.  Take a part off of the version Marty brought back to fix the one Doc hid and you don’t get into this displacement effect.  Maybe this is why it’s not brought up in the film, maybe Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale realized this and decided to sidestep trying to explain it (the franchise was pretty confusing at it was at this point.)

All of this aside, I’ve always considered the first film in the franchise to be pretty tight and free of these pesky time travel loopholes.  In fact, after a hundred nerdy conversations with friends and family I was pretty certain that there was nothing new to ever discover in that first film.  Well, that was until I poked my nose in another issue of Starlog a few weeks ago and found an article discussing the two variations of Marty McFly in the first movie.  Though this revelation wasn’t reached on my own, thus sidestepping that Doc Brown toilet bonk Eureka moment, it still blew my mind none-the-less.  The article was titled “The Other Marty McFly”, was written by Bruce Gordon, and appeared in issue 108 from July of 1986…

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Marty Alpha

The gist of the article is that there are two Marty McFlys (which they label as one and two, but I’d rather call them Marty Alpha and Marty Beta), the main one that the movie follows back to 1955 and beyond (Alpha), and a slightly more mysterious second one that is seen towards the end of the film repeating the events from the beginning as Marty Alpha returns to 1985 a few minutes early in the hopes of saving Doc Brown from the Libyans (Beta.)  But aren’t these just the same Marty at two places?  Well yes.  And no.  Consider the ultimate end of the film after Marty finds out that Doc did indeed read the warning letter he gave him back in 1955.  Doc survives thanks to a handy bullet proof vest and Marty goes home.  But is it the same home?  Obviously not!  The McFly family that Marty Alpha grew up with are for all intents and purposes kinda losers…

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His mom has a drinking problem, his dad is a beaten down pushover, his brother is a foul-mouthed slacker who works at Burger King, and his sister, well his sister hates taking messages for Marty.  But in the 1985 that Marty Alpha returns to his family is completely different…

Beta Family

His dad is a wealthy published writer, his mom is fit as a fiddle, his brother always wears a suit to the office and his sister, well, his sister has slightly better hair, less frumpy clothes, and doesn’t seem to mind taking messages quite as much.  Not only is his family more well off, but Marty is too.  His room might be identical, but this Marty has that sweet black 4×4 he always dreamed about!

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The point here is that the Marty that grew up in this environment, with more successful siblings and parents, with a totally different world view, is in fact a different Marty that we get to know throughout the film.  Thus, Marty Beta.

Marty Beta

(for the sake of ease I thought it would be fun to have Marty Beta represented by the Eric Stoltz version of the character…)

The two are similar, but not the same.  They had vastly different experiences growing up and thus, who knows what happens when Marty Beta gets that DeLorean up to 88mph and blacks back to the past.  Similarly, the Doc Brown that Marty Alpha encounters in 1955 and then eventually goes on to become the slightly different Doc Brown in 1985, the one that is prepared for the Libyans with a bullet-proof vest and got a chance to “know” Marty before he was even born, would he have informed Marty Beta about the adventure he was going to go on that fateful night?  This is getting a little convoluted, but it’s just the beginning!

Bruce Gordon goes on to point out something about the opening of the BTTF film that I had never noticed before.  Though we plainly get a chance to see that there are two Martys at the end of the film, what if I said for a split second there are also two at the beginning?!  That’s right, there’s a hidden Marty during the original sequence at Twin Pines mall that can be seen in silhouette for a split second of screen time.  That’s right, go grab your DVDs or cue up this clip on youtube. Now, pause the footage right as the Libyans corner Doc, right before Doc throws his gun away.

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You see that lit storefront between Doc and his big white van?  Pay attention to that little lit area and Marty Beta runs across that area…

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Now in the interest of complete transparency I will be the first to admit that what we’re seeing is way more likely a mistake, a crew member scuttling across set in front of shooting by accident perhaps.  But just for a second, imagine that that IS another Marty.  Think about that placement for a second.  You see how the Libyan’s VW Microbus is on the left and Doc is on the right?  Now consider that when Marty Alpha comes back to 1985 at the end of the film and he runs up to the (now) Lone Pine Mall and he stops at the sign, spatially, where is he in reference to the Libyans and Doc?  That’s right!  In that same area!

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But why would Marty Beta be skulking around in the background at the beginning of the film?  Well, it gets back to the differences between the two of them, and the differences in the two Doc Browns.  In Marty Beta’s world, the Doc that he hung out with knew he was going to eventually build a time machine, knew it would be made out of a Delorean, knew that he was going to get shot and that Marty was going to travel back in time, etc., etc.  That Doc knew that when Marty came back he altered the timeline by changing the outcome of his parents meeting and falling in love.  That Doc knew things he possibly didn’t want to know.  So maybe that Doc decided to read the letter that Marty left him, and then was extra prepared for that fateful night.

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What if that Doc had a plan to set the timeline straight by tweaking the events just a bit, by say pre-loading the DeLorean with the extra plutonium he had on hand, knowing Marty would take it back to 1955.  Maybe he even gave Marty instructions to come right back without messing with the time line at all (as Bruce Gordon suggests in the Starlog article.)  That way everything would right itself to the true (Alpha) timeline.  If you remember, during the original mall sequence he has a realization to grab the extra plutonium right before the Libyans show up.  It was all in a yellow containment suitcase right beside the truck…

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Well guess what is no longer on the ground beside the truck during the end sequence of the film?  That’s right!  The plutonium isn’t there!

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Now I know what you’re potentially thinking, it just wasn’t in the shot by accident (the set dresser forgot to put it out, it was moved, etc.)  Again, you’re probably right.  But consider the fact that there are a lot of subtle details strewn throughout the film that illustrate that there are two different versions of Hill Valley in 1985.  There’s the obvious differences in Biff and Marty’s family, but there’s also some changes to the backgrounds in the sets!  The most glaring is the differences in the Twin Pines Mall (which becomes the Lone Pone Mall), but also the change in the clock tower.  At the beginning of the film when Marty is with Jennifer and the woman comes up declaring that they have to save the clock tower you can clearly see that the only thing wrong with the clock tower is the fact that it stopped working because of the bolt of lightning that struck it in 1955…

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But during the events of the night when 1955-era Doc Brown is trying to get Marty back home he totally destroys a chunk of the ledge underneath the clock while attempting to connect the wires needed to harness the lightning…

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Right as Marty returns to 1985 the first thing we see is that same clock tower, only now a chunk of the ledge is missing (there’s a modern helicopter in the below screen shot so you know it’s ’85)…

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If Zemeckis and crew went so far as to include details like this, is it possible that he also intentionally removed the plutonium at the end, and possibly had a Marty Beta running across the background of the opening mall scene to illustrate the dual Marty time loops that are in the story?  Who knows for sure, but damn if it isn’t fun to think about!  If nothing else, Bruce Gordon’s article in issue 108 of Starlog afforded me the rare opportunity to find a new experience in a film that I thought held no more surprises for me, and that is pretty freaking awesome. I never considered Marty Beta and what his life was like, how different it most likely was…

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Interview with Monster Squad poster artist Craig Nelson!

10710926_10152738966882328_5146327273773526587_nSo I had the opportunity and pleasure to sit down and have a chat with the really cool and gracious artist who painted the original Monster Squad US poster, Mr. Craig Nelson.  Craig has work has been inspiring me for the past three decades and it was a real treat to get a chance to pick his brain about working in the commercial art field as well as listening to him reminisce about his Monster Squad memories.  He has a really wonderful eye for light and shadow and has a very unique perspective on fine art.  Check out his website to see a ton of examples of his work, and hit him up on facebook and tell him Branded sent ya!  You can also see his work at the Ella Richardson Gallery, the Garden Gallery, and my personal favorite exhibition at the Waterhouse Gallery where you can see his works detailing vineyard workers that we discuss in the interview.

Craig Nelson Interview art

You can either click on the picture above, or click here to stream (or right click and select download to listen at your leisure.)

Now for today’s trading card!

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Today’s card is #13, The Monster Squad!

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Monster Squad: Dead Media Library!

10710926_10152738966882328_5146327273773526587_nOn February 10, 1988 The Monster Squad was released for the first time on home video, a mere five months after it was released in theaters.  There were two types of films that were released this fast back in the 80s, humongous blockbusters like Batman and those flicks that, lets just say “didn’t quite meet performance expectations”.  Obviously MS wasn’t a blockbuster, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great film, and over the course of the next year it would be widely seen on home video globally.  Today I thought it would be fun to take a look at a bunch of these releases over three separate formats, VHS, Beta, and Laser Disc.

Of course we have my favorite release, the US VHS…

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This is very close in appearance to the US Betamax release as well…

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There were a couple of UK releases, this first was by Woldvision in 1988 and is very much in line with the UK ad campaign in design complete with Craig Nelson poster artwork embellishments (which I’ll talk about more next week) and the rad alternate logo…

VHS UK Worldvision Release 1988

There was also a re-release almost a decade later in 1997 by Force Video right at the tail end of VHS’s reign…

VHS UK Force Video Release 1997

Going back to the 80s we have the 1988 German VHS release by VPS…

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Again, this one features the German poster artwork (that I’ll take a closer look at next week.)

Over in the Netherlands CNR’s 1988 release borrowed the US Nelson poster artwork…

VHS Netherlands CNR Video Release 1988

In the same-ish region is this release from Denmark where the film title translates more roughly to The Monster Club (Monster Klubben…)  This copy looks like it wasn’t released there until almost 2000 based on the “From the Producers of U.S. Marshalls…” line at the bottom of the VHS box.

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Brazil’s 1988 Trans Video release made strong use of the various Promo images from the official press kit…

VHS Brazil Trans Video Release 1988

The last VHS release that I have an example of is the 1988 Hearld Videogram release from Japan…

VHS Japan Hearld Videogram Release 1988

I love that the back cover features an out take from the montage sequence with Phoebe and the Monster before she’s dressed him up in the pretty lady clothes.  Again, proof that there’s way more footage out there besides the deleted scenes on the DVDs and the extended sequences that made their way into the 2004 TNT broadcast cut of the film.

**UPDATE**  Super cool reader Emilio D. from Spain scanned in his personal copy of the Pal format VHS released by Record Pictures in 1988!

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So awesome!

The last format I wanted to cover tonight are the two laser disc releases.  Now, it has to be stated that all of the above releases were in the standard pan and scan 4:3 aspect ratio.  That would change with one of the laser discs below…

First, the US release…

Laser Disc US Vestron Video Release 1989

This US release is a pain the butt to try and get a hold of.  Just by the nature of the format it’s much rarer than the VHS, and so many collectors hang on to laser discs because the cover art is easy to frame and display.  From what I understand though, this release is also in the pan and scan format, and even though the transfer is so much nicer than the VHS, it was never widely used for bootleg DVDs before the film was officially released on that format in 2007.  Nope, up until 2007 the bootleg market sought out the Japanese laser disc because it was the first release of the film since its theatrical run that was available in the original widescreen aspect ratio…

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That plus the even nicer cover artwork makes the one of the most valuable and rare Monster Squad home video releases…

As a little bit of a bonus, here are some other home video Monster Squad artifacts that were released directly to video stores in 1988.  To help get folks to rent the film, some shops received these pinback buttons…

There were also tiny cardboard die-cut standees that were meant to be placed on the counter near the checkout…

US Home Video Release Mini Standee

Next up, today’s Monster Squad trading card!

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Today’s card is #6, Eugene & Pete!

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Wait, there are four Ghostbusters?!?

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Poor Winston Zeddmore and Ernie Hudson, it seems like outside of the Real Ghostbusters cartoon and the various comic book series Winston/Hudson is always getting the shaft.  Whether it’s being dropped from 95% of the merchandising of the first film not appearing on the posters or on some of the home video releases over the years, the fact that Hudson is snubbed for most of the film’s original trailer (there’s even a montage of everyone who is starring in the film and when it gets to Hudson, the footage is there but only silence from the announcer), or the fact that Hudson was even passed over when he auditioned to reprise the character in the cartoon for crying out loud.  Both the character and the actor can not catch a break.  I’m surprised they didn’t put William Atherton on the poster just to rub it in a little more…

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Well, I’ve been aware of these slights for awhile, but I never realized just how deep this snubbing went.  Last week I found that copy of Starlog (issue 98 from September of 1985) and while flipping through it there was a spotlight on Ernie Hudson, specifically in reference to his recent stint as one of the Ghostbusters.  At first I was just skimming the article because I thought it was probably a fluff piece, but the more I read the more I realized that even though he was overjoyed to work on the film and is happy with the final result, the Ghostbusters he helped make was not the one he signed on to star in.  In fact, if the version of the script that swayed Hudson to sign on had been filmed things would be a lot different!

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Sigh, Hudson doesn’t even get a blurb on the cover…

First of all, the way Hudson frames it in this article the character of Winston was in the film longer, originally hired at the outset with Janene when the trio of Stanz, Spengler, and Venkman open the business.  But aside from that there was originally a much richer back story for the character including the fact that he was ex-military, and not just some random guy off the street looking for a job.  He always felt like the odd man out in the films since he wasn’t a scientist like the other three (well Venkman is debatable.)  On top of those slights, some of his bits from the original script were dished out to other characters during filming.  For instance Winston was originally the character that was to be cornered by Slimer in the hotel hallway, which of course went to Bill Murray.  Then later in the film it was Zeddmore that had the Stay Pufy brain fart that brings the Destroyer in the form of a giant marshmallow man!  Well, at least he still gets the “big Twinkie” line…

You can read the article for yourself below…

So, what do you think, has Winston been getting the shaft?

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!

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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

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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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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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

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.