Saturday, February 10, 2007

By the same token

Good ol' Wil Wheaton discusses video arcades, and if you are close to my age, you'll probably be awash in memories of plunking down quarter after quarter into your favorite video games.

Due mostly to matters of location and age, my video gaming wasn't so much in actual dedicated video arcades, but Chuck E. Cheese, which I guess you could qualify as a video arcade that just happened to sell pizza.

Man, you'd parcel the tokens you got with the pizza very carefully. Was it worth it to drop 2 tokens to play Star Wars in a cockpit instead of playing the upright version for a single token? (Totally.) And what about waiting in line to spend God-only-knows-how-much on Dragon's Lair, where 2 tokens lasted roughly twice as many seconds?

While Ye Olde Pizza Time Theatre may have not been a bona fide arcade, it definitely had the social aspect that Wil talks about. I've never been remotely close to being social, but I played against total strangers without much thought. That's how you learned. Well, you could stand around watching, too, but that wasn't as much fun.

My friend Chris Myers showed me how you could skip ahead on "Crystal Castles" on the first level by going behind the castle and jumping. I'd never have figured that out on my own. That was what we had instead of the Internet: Word of mouth.

My family moved to Tracy in 1985, only a few months after I turned 10. At the time, Tracy was a very small place. The newspaper came out three times a week, which I didn't even know was allowed. We got channels 2 through 13 and Showtime. No MTV. Not for a year or so, anyway. The only bright spot was that Tracy had a Chuck E. Cheese, and it was just down the street.

And when there was a school event, birthday party or Friday night hangout place, you could bet that you'd end up at Chuck E. Cheese. For the first few years I lived there, it was the de facto community center.

The Tracy Chuck E. Cheese is still my favorite. It wasn't the biggest, it didn't have many of the newest games, and the last few years before it closed, it was pretty terrible, but I still smile when I think about it.

I have a vague memory of going there for some school event, maybe fifth-grade graduation or something. We got there when they were opening; they hadn't turned on the video games yet. We were in the arcade area when they did, and it's a sound I'll never forget. Silence, then a giant KA-THUNK, and then the cacophony of all the games cycling through their self-tests and coming to life. Just underneath all that, there was the distinctly metal clinking sound of a token being returned.

I checked the coin return of the machine closest to me and found that it had indeed ejected a token. I was struck by two thoughts:

Did every machine discharge a token? (Darn near, as I recall)


Even arcade games liked to drop a deuce first thing in the morning. They were just like people.

Every Friday night, the game room of Chuck E. Cheese was packed with junior high school students, and the drama that they could produce in massive quantities. Relationships were forged and broken in that game room, whether it was winning something for a girl thanks to your Skee-Ball prowess, or as many seemed to do, sharing a kiss or a discrete smoke in the hidey-hole cutout room designed for the preschool set.

I was, not surprisingly, excluded from that whole phenomenon. But I heard about a lot of it Monday morning in Math Lab.

The fun ended when they blocked the entrance to the secret room.

Later in middle school, QuikStop was our after-school stop of choice for a few months. We spent the GNP of Papua New Guinea on "The Real Ghostbusters" game. I usually had the least amount of change, so I'd bow out relatively quickly, but my friends hung in there for a good minute or so longer.

I stopped checking out arcades when all the Mortal Kombat stuff came out. It's not that I didn't like the violence; I just didn't give a crap about mashing buttons to do special moves. Plus, you know, with the home systems doing pretty well, it just didn't seem to make sense.

I still check out the local arcade at the mall, but it's mostly for my son, who loves the bowling games and stuff like that. I think I'd drop dead if I played Dance Dance Revolution, either from embarrassment over my mad dance skillz or a myocardial infarction.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

You say "shill" like it's a bad thing...

You may notice if you scroll all the way to the bottom of the movie reviews that there are now links to in case you want to buy the movies and see if they are as I described them.

Theoretically, if someone buys a whole bunch of DVDs, I get a gift certificate for a candy bar or something.

I tried to make them as inobtrusive as possible. If they get really annoying, let me know. I may add other links as I see appropriate, but I promise I won't blog about something solely to put up a link to something insanely expensive (though if you are a video-game freak, check out the link at the bottom).

In the coming weeks, there will be other additions to the old blog. In fact, there's a good chance that you'll be able to get your own official Siftin' swag, because, let's be honest, it's never too early for Christmas shopping.

My son Brody is pitching in. He already came up with a great slogan (I'm totally not kidding; he actually said this): "Choosy mothers choose Jeff."

My little marketer.

Bad Movies From A to Z: When monkey die, everybody cry

King Kong Lives

Sometimes it's not enough to make a remake that no one asked for. Sometimes you have to make a sequel that no one asked for to a remake that no one asked for. Hence, theater screens everywhere were treated to one of the best movies to feature a giant gorilla blood transfusion, "King Kong Lives."

The movie in a nutshell: Kong meets Lady Kong.

The story: We open with a flashback from the 1976 Kong remake where Kong climbs one of the Twin Towers. A trio of copters shoot Kong, and he falls to the ground below. We were to assume that he died.

Atlantic Institute, Georgia, ten years later...

It looks like old Kong is being kept alive by a giant artificial heart. Dr. Amy Franklin (Linda Hamilton) tells a group of people that the project isn't working. The heart, she is reminded, cost 7 million dollars, but it took too long to create. He's been comatose too long. If they cut him open now, he'll die. He needs a transfusion.

Meanwhile, in Borneo, Hank Mitchell finds another Kong -- a female. He calls the Atlanta Institute, but when Franklin finds out that it's a lady Kong, she doesn't want it. She doesn't want anything that could upset him during the recuperation. Against Franklin's recommendation, they make a deal with Mitchell.

They bring Lady Kong to the states, and after a brief press conference, they've got her set up to give blood for Kong's operation. Franklin and her team are ready to implant the artificial heart into Kong.

At this point, the DVD refused to play any further, thus sparing me from having to watch the rest of the movie. I slipped it back in its envelope and sent it back to Netflix.

Afterthoughts: I saw this in the theater when it came out, so I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything. In fact, I felt a little relieved that I didn't have to sit through it.

Thus endeth the shortest review so far.

To the moon!

I forgot about the Super Bowl until just after halftime, and the only reason I remembered at all was because I wanted to check out this year's crop of ads.

Some of them I'd seen before (one of the Coke ads, I saw in the theater before "Clerks 2" months ago), and most of the others didn't impress me very much.

I checked out the rest of the ads later on the Intarwebs, and when I saw the FedEx spot, the first thing I thought of was, "Oh man, I have to check Bad Astronomy for this one."

Phil Plait does not disappoint. Check it out. Feel free to read more while you're there. Lots of good stuff. Here's the commercial if you missed it.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Fine, have it your way

I tend to dwell on McDonald's commercials when I wax nostalgic, but I am reminded that Burger King had commercials, too. Whereas McDonald's relies mostly on Ronald McDonald and friends, Burger King uses, well, just about anything they can think of.

Here's the old-school Burger King. I saw him on the side of my local BK a few months ago, and I was quite surprised, given that they seem taken with the creepy Burger King head guy these days. Note the "make me a shake" gag was also used in one of the "Time for Timer" spots ("Could you make me a banana?" "OK, you're a banana.")

The next big push was The Marvelous Magical Burger King, who may look a little familiar these days. This is the Burger King I remember. The kids' meals tended to have magic tricks that I royally sucked at. The MMBK had his own Burger Kingdom, which I suppose was like McDonaldland in its own way. The one that always bugged me was Burger Thing, a burgery face on a wall that talked. I think this is why Thomas the Tank Engine still creeps me out when my son watches it. You be the judge.

Not only was he magical, he was cool. Would you believe (Holy The Search for Animal Chin, Batman!) skateboarding? Oh, believe it.

One thing you could count on in Burger King commercials was seeing lots of familiar faces. A lot of them you saw before they were familiar, but still...

Here are Andrew McCarthy and Elisabeth Shue in a spot that tells the world that Burger King was now selling Pepsi.

As my dad is a staunch Pepsi drinker, we ended up going to Burger King an awful lot once they switched to Pepsi. And I think he was bummed out when they switched back to Coke.

I could tell the story of the time we were in a Burger King parking lot and he took a drink of his Pepsi, tried to suppress a carbonation-induced sneeze and ended up making a very loud "HHHHNNNNNNNNHHHH!" noise, but that would be embarrassing and not very sporting of me.

I could also talk about the time we got to the drive-through and saw that someone had strategically placed a dog turd around the top of the speaker, but that would be gross.

Here are some other famous faces:

Mr. T

Christine Taylor

Sarah Michelle Gellar (if memory serves, McDonald's sued over this spot)

Emmanuel Lewis

And then they had Herb. Herb was supposedly the last person in America who hadn't tried a Whopper, which as David Hofstede points out in his excellent book, What Were They Thinking: The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History, must have come as a shock to vegetarians.

So the search was on for Herb. If you found him, you could win money. The problem was that initially, no one knew what he looked like. Hilarity ensued. Finally, they showed Herb during a special commercial during the Super Bowl, and he was a stereotypical nerdy looking guy.

In fact, when a classmate drew a scathing Mad Magazine-style parody of our class, I was drawn with a button that read, "Not Herb." It was the only positive thing about my likeness.

By 1992, there was Dan Cortese and BKTeeVee, which looks an awful lot like the stuff being parodied in "Reality Bites."

Of late, Burger King commercials are often just plain odd. This isn't necessarily bad, but it doesn't really make me want to buy Burger King.

The so-called "Creepy Burger King" has gotten a lot of grief. I think he's growing on me, though. Not so much that I wanted to buy the Halloween mask, but he doesn't bug me.

This makes me want to go to Burger King even though it's not a real commercial. How about you? (Mildly NSFW; there are birds a-flyin')