Friday, March 29, 2013

YO! MTV Raps. The Cards.

The set of random trading cards I bought recently off eBay was purchased mostly because it contained four packs of UNOPENED YO! MTV Raps cards.  I would like to pretend it was because it had Goonies  cards or Gremlins cards, and those definitely sweetened the pot.  But I grew up listening to hip-hop in the early 90s, and four unopened decks…….with TWENTY CARDS APIECE in them.  Well, that’s a bit hard to pass up, don’t you think?  Who knows what gems I would find in EIGHTY cards from a 1991 pack of Topps rap cards.

After opening the first pack, I was a little bit disappointed by something I should have fully been expecting.  Four acts in particular were a bit overrepresented.  MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, LL Cool J and…..Public Enemy?

 My favorite, of course, is the one on the right, with the entire group.  Professor Griff and the S1Ws, Flav, Terminator X and, of course, frontman Chuck, holding his boombox like a gun (“Can I tell them that I really never had a gun? But it’s the wax that the Terminator X spun”).  Great pic.  And is that Chuck in a Cincy hat?  I always remember him in that Raiders hat, probably because it’s the same one he is sporting on the cover of “It Take a Nation of Millions…," my personal favorite PE album.

The last one….I put it in because it’s kind of weird.  Chuck sporting Flav’s iconic clock, wearing a track suit with a rooster very near the armpit, at a terrible angle where it looks like something glowing is sprouting from his snout.  If I’ve learned one thing from two decades of listening to hip-hop, it’s all this must mean Chuck is a member of the Illuminati.  Take that Jay-Z!

I mean, I understand PE was big back then, but I hardly expected them to match card-for-card with the crossover appeal of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice.  In the end, after opening all packs, I had 7 LL Cool J cards, 8 MC Hammers, 11 Public Enemies and, the “winner,” if one was to gauge winning by the amount of times your likeness appears on 20 year-old cardboard, Vanilla Ice with 12.  So, in my pack of eighty cards, nearly half of them were represented by these four acts.  Bummer.

But there was a silver lining.  Look at these pics!  Hammer in a million sequins, Hammer with no shirt, Hammer looking smoothed out (is that a bow-tie crocheted on his vest?  Ahead of his time.  Take that Bruce Bowen!), Hammer, I dunno, ducking the torts from legitimate hip-hop artists whilst in front of an American flag? (“What you say Hammer? ‘Proper,’ rap’s not pop if you call it that than stop”).

 I can’t decide if these references are too vague or not.  Hopefully it’s what you might expect reading a piece about really old “rap” cards.

The Vanilla Ice were simultaneously the most disappointing and also the best cards in the sets I received.  Here’s a set of three that are all “different.”

I mean…..really?  The bottom two are damn near identical.  Most of Ice’s cards look like they were taken in one night at the same concert during about 10 minutes out of the set.  Probably all the photographer could take before abandoning the show.  Look, we all really liked Ice, Ice, Baby, but that’s because it’s a really great David Bowie song we didn’t know about when we were 11.  I dare say, if pressed, not a single person could name one other Vanilla Ice song and, personally, I would like to keep it that way.

This card?  Probably my favorite in the deck.  Why?  Because it’s Vanilla Ice WEARING A VANILLA ICE SHIRT!  That is…totally something.  I’m not sure “self-absorbed” covers it, so I’ll let you peruse through the thesaurus at your leisure.

 There were also a couple Bell Biv Devoe cards included.  You may argue whether or not they were really “rap,” (they weren’t), but that’s what made their inclusion all the better.  And this particular card exemplifies New Jack hip-hop smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel appeal to it.  If you didn’t know what that meant before, you do now.  In short, orange trousers.

I want to wrap this up with the weirdest cards in the deck and my favorite cards in the deck, but first I want to mention that I did receive a couple really nice cards.  Most of the BBD cards are fantastic, reflecting perfectly the styles from that era.  Eric B and Rakim had a few cards in the deck, as did Slick Rick and De La Soul although, somewhat mysteriously, no Tribe Called Quest.  Also a couple sweet poses from 3rd Bass, KRS-One and EPMD, all of whom I liked back in the day.  They even slipped in a single Paris card.  Astonishingly underrepresented was RUN DMC.  I received one card in my four packs.  Enough of the good stuff though.  How about this gem:

 This is probably the weirdest card.  The floating head of Ted Demme.  I know, right?  Who in the hell is Ted Demme?  He is decidedly un-90s hip-hop.  Turns out, according to the back of the card, he was the producer of the show.  So, yeah, I got this guy, but an Ice Cube or Naughty by Nature card?  Meh.

I also received cards of Dre and Ed Lover (warranted) and one of Fab 5 Freddy.  And, I mean, I guess he was a VJ on the show but, really, who cares?  We all watched for Dre and Ed Lover’s shenanigans, let’s be real.  The thing worth mentioning about Fab 5 Freddy’s card is on the back, out of the myriad of shots they probably had to choose from, they slapped a picture of him FISHING with MC Serch of 3rd Bass.  Fishing.  I’m not sure what stereotype to skewer here, because there’s plenty to choose from.  I’d certainly love to see that episode.

My fave cards to wrap it up.  Anybody who knows me is aware I choose digital underground in the early 90s as my favorite group, and this is a great group shot.  And Kool Moe Dee?  Probably the late 80s/early 90s most underappreciated hip-hop artist.  “I Go To Work” is masterful.  In every way.  Well.  Maybe not the video.  But still, production, flow, lyrics, masterful, even today.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I Never Met a Trading Card I Didn't Like

Ever since I read this article on Dinosaur Dracula, I’ve wanted a pack of the Fright Flicks trading cards.

I love horror movies.  Not only did I grow up watching them, but in my late teens I became even more obsessed.  My friend, Kris Riley, and I used to wander in to the independently owned rental store down the street from us and rent the worst horror movies we could imagine.  You know, something, like, say this:

I remember that one in particular, because it had a button on the cover that turned on a green, blinking light in the eyes. Pretty sweet.  For 1990.  If I had any idea how to make an animated gift, I probably still wouldn’t, because I’m real lazy. 

So why in the hell wouldn’t I want a bunch of horror movie trading cards?  Especially horror movie trading cards with completely random one-liners written in.  But, while looking for Fright Flicks on EBAY I stumbled across something….well….maybe not better, but just as amazing.  Goonies trading cards!  And while looking to find the person who would give me the most Goonies trading cards for the lowest price, I found something definitely better.  A guy selling a mixed bag of Goonies, Batman Returns, Gremlins and some YO! MTV Raps cards.

When I got the cards, there was a surprise inside.  Maybe I overlooked it in the description, blinded with excitement as I was with the other cards.  Also included were a good 8-10 Baby: Secret of the Lost Legends cards, a 1985 flick about The Greatest American Hero stumbling upon some still living dinosaurs.  Not on a deserted island, but just hanging out in Africa.  And one of them is a baby.  Thus the name.  Apparently, in the 80s and 90s, they would make a trading card out of anything.

I just went to EBAY and typed in Freejack trading cards and nothing came up.  Still, it did give me a list of items I may be interested in based on the search and, while the complete randomness of the recommendations make it quite obvious it had no idea what to recommend based on that particular string of words, it did manage to recommend a full set of Seaquest DSV cards.  Based on this evidence I’ll let you decide whether or not the above statement about making a trading card out of “anything” is too strong or not.

I barely know where to begin with these cards, so I’ll start by saying the Gremlin cards are the clear winners, with cards that not only help tell the story of the film, but also depict scenes from the whereby it appears somebody painstakingly took the time to find stills from the film that would actually look presentable once placed on card stock.

Gizmo Surprised!  Rand Peltzer, dejected!  Crazy old lady, getting ready to get shot out of the side of her house like a cannonball!  Judge Reinhold, incarcerated!  Those four cards alone made the purchase price worth every penny.

The Batman Returns cards, on the other hand, oh dear.  Quite the opposite.  Looks like somebody just took every, say, 5 minutes? of film and, regardless of what was on screen, made it in to a card.  It has been a loooooong time since I have seen this film, but even in my small sample size I seem to have an inordinate amount of cards where penguin is wearing only long underwear.  And standing near a giant rubber duck.

I was a little disappointed there were only 10 Goonies cards which, I assume, was probably only one pack.  There was a close-up shot of the skeletal piano player and one of Chunk brandishing a sword.  A few more fairly generic offerings.  However, two of them were pure gold.  A pretty fair percentage considering I only got 10 cards, I think.

The first was a card featuring an action sequence of the octopus scene which wasn’t even in the final cut of the film.  I know this scene exists, but I have yet to see it.  I love the idea of a trading card with a scene from the film not even in the film.  Boy howdy, back in the heyday of trading cards, this one must have fetched upwards of $1.00!  The movie card equivalent of Bill Ripken’s 1989 Fleer baseball card.  Well, for some of us anyway…

 The next card is a cast shot.  I liked the shot, it frames everybody pretty well.  Except for Josh Brolin.  But, you know, what else did he ever do anyway? God knows he could never boast of having used the film to springboard himself to as successful a career as a Jeff Cohen or Martha Plimpton.

 The thing is, it's titled “The Goonie Pledge,” which automatically makes me think of the scene where they find the coins in the well and Mikey gives his speech (“The next time you see sky, it'll be over another town. The next time you take a test, it'll be in some other school. Our parents, they want the bestest stuff for us. But right now they gotta do what's right for them, 'cause it's their time. Their time, up there. Down here it's our time. It's our time down here. That's all over the second we ride up Troy's bucket.” *Insert heartfelt nostalgia here*).  The shot on the card, however, is clearly not from that scene.  So, my curiosity piqued, I turned the card over to see what they were talking about.  And oh, my, was there a surprise waiting for me there.

“I will never betray my goon dock friends, we will stick together until the whole world ends.  Through heaven and hell, and nuclear, war.  Good pals like us will stick like tar.  In the city or the country, or the forest, or boonies.  I am proudly declared, one of the Goonies!”

An actual pledge, written and, assumedly, recited, to display one’s loyalty to the Goonies! 

I have never heard of such a beast.  I know for damn sure it’s not in the film and 1985 was well before we could ever start thinking about DVD extras.  So where did it come from?    I just can’t get the picture out of my head of a bunch of Topps employees sitting around a stereotypical oval meeting room table, brainstorming ideas for card captions.

“We should just use the speech from the well scene”
“Hell no, we’re gonna leave our mark on card #85.  It’s gonna be an honest to God pledge.  In rhyming couplets.  We’re gonna incorporate nuclear war and tar.  And damn the naysayers!”

I would love to find the guy(s) who wrote this particular card and see what they’re up too nowadays.  I’d like to think they own a small restaurant which sells nothing but hot dogs, and they are all named after characters from the film.  “The Chunk” comes with a little bit of everything on it, “The Mikey” is your all-American dog, with just ketchup and mustard, maybe onion could be optional, and “The Sloth” is prepared with nuts, caramel and chocolate.  But no nougat, because that’s just plain disgusting. 

I also received 4 UNOPENED packs of YO! MTV Raps cards, with TWENTY cards apiece in them.  Mighty impressive.  I grew up loving rap, but I’m not completely sure it jibes with the rest of this piece, so I am going to make it a separate blog sometime in the future.

However, I will leave you with a couple of the Baby: Secret of the Lost Legends cards.  I don’t have a whole lot to say about them.  I’ve seen the movie, but not in three decades, and had mostly forgotten about it until I opened my package.  I sure in the hell didn’t know the lead was Williiam Katt.  And the cards?  Well, they’re pretty much garbage.   About 50% of them just featured a close up of the dinosaur's neck and head.  Like he was just some big sock puppet.  Blech.  Dinosaur special effect in the 80s.  Just think, a mere 10 years later, an absolutely classic film about dinosaurs hit the silver screen, becoming one of the most popular films ever, redefining the way we looked at special effects, and spawning two sequels.  Of course I'm talking about Carnosaur, a modern day classic.  CLICK HERE FOR THE TRAILER!  

Friday, March 8, 2013

Mutant Turtles are Dead, Long Live the Aliens!

I’ve started to write this blog entry before, when the original announcement was made that a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was going to be made.  At that time, a deafening roar of scorn was thrown up from every male age 25-35, so loud and indignant it reverberated off every mountain top and every grassy hillock from the Appalachians to the Cascades. 

“No, not the Turtles!  No not Michael Bay!  No, not aliens from another planet!  This must be stopped!”

As the rumors floated in, I gathered up all the contempt and vitriol I could muster, focused it not unlike Daniel Rand focusing his Chi to his hand, and with one, all-powerful, infinitely relatable gesture, I shrugged my mighty shoulders.

“Meh.  Who cares?”

Really?  Who cares?  What “serious” director wants to helm a NINJA TURTLES film?  Aronofsky?  Spielberg?  Nolan?  Maybe that’s how Scorsese would like to wrap up his career.  The reason the keys to the car have been handed over to Bay is because he has made three Transformers film and despite the pervasive bellyaching that none of them are worth watching, somebody is sure in the hell going to see them, as they have made a TON of money.  Hard though it may be to believe, the movie biz is usually about making money.

I’m not going to say some folks don’t do it for the art, they obviously do.  Another conversation for another time.  But, if somewhere in the deep reaches of your mind, you think for ONE SECOND any film based on a toy was made for any reason besides cashing in…well…you’re addled.

I always have trouble writing blogs like this, and the reason why is because I have problems compartmentalizing my ideas.  I need to get in to the original Turtles, the (bastardized?) cartoons, the movies, the actors, Sam Rockwell, the lucre; the filthy, filthy lucre.  Although this was a rant I wanted to save until the end of the piece, I think it’s crying out to be mentioned now.  Megan Fox as April O’Neil.

When this casting choice was made, the voices, lulled in to complacency by a notable lack of activity on the subject, swiftly rose up to voice their disdain yet again.  I saw no less than a half dozen Facebook posts, no less than a hundred disgruntled fanboys making their discontents known on comment sections of various entertainment websites.  And, once again, with all the vigor I could manage, I gave an indifferent, “Who cares?”

Why NOT Megan Fox?  Is there really some female actress everybody is so intoxicated with that, had they hired her to play the part, everybody would have given a collective sigh of relief?  Like, “Oh, well, they cast Amanda Seyfried as April O’Neil, NOW I’m going to see it.”  What, you’ve sat down and watched so many Megan Fox films you just can’t stand her anymore?

“Oh, man, I just sat through Friends with Kids, Megan Fox is soooo terrible, so miscast.”

You were predisposed to hating the film.  It doesn’t matter WHO they would have cast, you would have attacked every social media outlet with the “bad” news.  On top of all that, if there’s one thing I’ve learned since Al Gore invented it, DON’T BELIEVE ANYTHING YOU READ ON THE INTERNET.

Hey, you remember just six months ago when all the online media reported this film wasn’t even going to happen?  Wait a second……..but………

In an age where all we do is read a snippet from a totally untrustworthy website who attributes an anonymous source “close to the project,” and then regurgitate it ad nauseum like it’s fact, I can’t help but be a little skeptical about everything I read.  What I’m saying is, don’t be surprised if Megan Fox “leaves” the project six months from now due to “creative differences.”  And by “leaves” I mean she was never really associated with the project and by “creative differences” I mean she was never really associated with the project.  Not saying it’s GOING to happen, just saying it COULD, and I would be nonplussed.

On a side note, I would TOTALLY cast Amber Tamblyn as April O’Neil.  Dear Hollywood, please contact me from now on when you need pure casting genius.  Thanks.

Assumedly, from what I can gather, Bay is getting ready to “destroy” the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Here’s the problem.  As adults we are somehow unable to come to grips with a simple fact.  All the stuff we watched when we were kids?  It’s garbage.  It’s totally disposable.  It was marketed by capitalist giants to our younger, naive selves -- like Nino Brown waving crack rocks at Pookie. 

I was never really a HUGE Turtles fan growing up.  Well, the Turtles as most people know them anyway.  My next door neighbor when I was growing up, Evan Camp, was a few years older than me and he introduced me to the Turtles at a young age.  The original Turtles.  Black and white, violent, and foul-mouthed.  You could, really, if you wanted to be a purist about it, make the argument that Playmates ruined the Turtles in the first place, bastardizing Eastman and Laird’s dark, brooding mutants and creating colorful, kid-friendly, surfer dudes.  I’m not really here to do that, but it could be argued.

This isn’t to say I didn’t have a few action figures, or play the NES game, or the arcade game.  Yeah, I saw at least the first movie, and maybe the second, in the theatre.  But I wasn’t much in to the cartoon or the toys, really.  Looking back it feels like they were a little on the periphery of my childhood.  I was born in the late 70s.  I had a glut of He-man and GI Joe, and even though they didn’t quite have the same aggressive output volume-wise, I also loved the Thundercats.  And Ducktales.  But who didn’t?

Don’t worry, I’m getting to the point here.

You know what I have in my possession?  The Best of He-Man.  Volume 1.  You know what’s almost impossible to sit through?  A SINGLE episode of He-Man.  You know why?  Because it’s rubbish.  And because I’m not five anymore.

Eschewing a bunch of the points I have forgotten by now, this is the crux of the TMNT conundrum.  If anybody, ANYBODY, who is all up in arms about Michael Bay (who, by the way, according to “reports” isn’t even directing the film anyway) or Megan Fox being involved in this project  could name the actress who played April O’Nei l in the first film and ALSO who directed it, I would literally (read: figuratively) fall over dead.

Never happen.  You know why?  Because they were NOBODIES!  Hacks, paid to spend some screen time with MEN DRESSED IN FULL SIZED TURTLE SUITS in order to fleece children’s parents of their money.  Although to be fair the director, who I won’t name just in case it’s right on the tip of your tongue (slathered with sarcasm), did direct a slew of music videos.  Oh, and also one other really good movie.  “Coneheads.”  I’ll let you decide for yourself whether or not that’s sarcasm.

Herein lies the problem.  Nostalgia is such a weird thing.  When I think about how easy it was to make me happy when I was six it gives me a warm fuzzy, and we all want to be able to recapture the feeling.  In a futile attempt some months back, my friends and I attempted to watch 24 hours of movies based on comic books.  In general, it t urns out I’m too old for that shit.  But, more relevant, one of the films was the original TMNT film.  I had to leave the room.  Couldn’t sit through it.  Absolutely terrible.  Maybe some people can resurrect a warm, ebbing glow by watching the original TMNT movie, or some old cartoon.  I’m not one of those people and, in this case, I believe I’m probably in the majority.

This is a still from GI Joe.  No, really.
I watched the first Bay directed Transformers movie and I hated it.  I also hate the He-Man movie and the attempt to resurrect the cartoon a few years back.  I won’t even consider watching the GI Joe movie made in 2009.

It was a marketing ploy then, and it’s a marketing ploy now.  Michael Bay isn’t “ruining” the Turtles, he’s trying to take an old idea and reintroduce it to today’s youth in order to make money.  If you’re 35 years old and yelling you don’t want to see the Turtles as aliens from another planet, it’s all good.  Just means you’re not the target market.  And if today’s youth likes it, and the Turtles are resurrected, albeit somewhat differently, good on him!  And if not…who cares? 

Because, you know what?  All of those movies, all poorly made, in my opinion, have absolutely no bearing on how I remember my childhood.  As a matter of fact, my favorite recollections are opening up new action figures on Christmas and then sitting around and playing with them all day with my brother until it was time for bed.  When I reminisce, never once does Shia LeBouf jumping in to a Bumblebee Camaro ever sully my memories and I find it hard to believe I will forsake any memories I have of the Turtles based on a movie I’m too old to see anyway.