Jun 24, 2021

A Space For Spaceballs

Spaceballs billboard
997 Eglinton Avenue West - Toronto, ON
A few years ago, they peeled several layers of vinyl advertisements off of the side of the Shu Yue Health Center building in Toronto.  This revealed a billboard that hasn't been seen since 1987 for the Mel Brooks classic Spaceballs, which debuted in theaters 34 years ago today.

May the Schwartz be with you!

Jun 23, 2021

And If A Double Decker Bus Crashes Into Us...

The Queen Is Dead
The Smiths (1986)
Few records have had the impact of the third studio album from The SmithsThe Queen Is Dead was released in the UK on June 16th, 1986 and made its way to the US one week later, which was 35 years ago today.  In 2013, it was named by NME as the greatest album of all time, with the magazine remarking that it's better than anything The Beatles ever did.

Every song on this album is a work of art, but my favorite is There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.  It was co-written by Morrissey and Johnny Marr, and it's one of the most beautifully dark and honest love songs I've ever heard.  It wasn't released as a single until five years after The Smiths broke up, and it stands today as an anthem of the genre and for a generation that grew up in the 80's and 90's that may be understood a little better in 2021, but who weren't understood at all when it really mattered.

Jun 22, 2021

The Dawn Of The 16-Bit Era

Sonic The Hedgehog
Sega Genesis (1991)
Although I'm sure some might disagree with this opinion, I feel that Sonic The Hedgehog is the game that launched the 16-bit era of gaming in the United States.  The Sega Genesis was available in stores for nearly two years before Sonic was introduced on June 23, 1991.  However, prior to Sonic, I didn't know a single kid who owned a Genesis.  We had all heard about it from game magazines and from their "Genesis Does What Ninten-don't" commercials, but it wasn't a topic of conversation on the playground.  The Super Famicom had been available in Japan for about half a year at this point, but for kids in America, the only exposure we had to Super NES at the time was pictures in Nintendo PowerNintendo's 16-bit console didn't make it to the United States until two months after Sonic debuted.  The era of 16-bit gaming just wasn't on our radar too much in 1990 and the first half of 1991.  We were all still obsessed with Super Mario Bros 3 and rediscovering our NES library with all of the new features we could unlock using the Game GenieSonic The Hedgehog single-handedly changed all of that.

In the summer of 1991, Sega made the bold decision to replace Altered Beast with Sonic The Hedgehog as the pack-in title with new Genesis consoles.  When I learned about this, I decided that baseball cards were going to be put on hold for a little while.  I began saving every penny I could get my hands on to buy a Genesis.  Whether it was a few bucks in a birthday card, or the loose change that I was allowed to keep if I ran to the store to pick something up for my family, or even if I found a quarter on the ground, it went into a white envelope that sat on a bookshelf in my bedroom.  Christmas cards from aunts and uncles with a few bucks tucked inside got me pretty close, and the following Spring, I had finally reached my goal and was able to buy a Sega Genesis.  I was eleven years old and it was the first time I ever used my own money to buy a video game console.  It may have been the most satisfying experience in my life up to that point.

My dad, stepmom, stepsister and I had just moved to our new house in Boynton Beach a couple of months earlier.  Dad bought me a white and black shelving unit for my bedroom.  It had two pieces, and they fit together like two L-shaped Tetris blocks.  I remember spending forever trying to rearrange things to make room for the Genesis in the days before Dad and I went to the store to pick it up.  I couldn't find a photo of this setup after I had the Genesis, but I remember I decided to stick it on top of the VCR so that the controller wire could stretch out and reach the bed. 

From the second I turned it on and heard the game sing out the word "Seee-gaaaaa", my mind was absolutely blown.  No game I had ever played before was this bright, this colorful and this fast.  I suppose it's hard to appreciate the difference between 8-bit and 16-bit graphics unless you grew up with one and transitioned to the other, but to the sixth grade me, it was a massive change.

In the years that followed, my library of Genesis games grew.  Some of my best memories of living in Florida are of my dad and I playing Sportstalk Baseball and NBA Jam on the weekend, but I always came back to play the original Sonic The Hedgehog time and time again.  I still play it to this day, and it never fails to put a smile on my face.

Jun 21, 2021

Falling Into Van Gogh's Bedroom

Welcome Home
Seward Johnson (2003)
In 1888 and 1889, Vincent Van Gogh finished a series of three paintings that he called The Bedroom.  It shows the artists room at 2 Place Lamartine in Arles, France, which is better known as The Yellow House.

This is the second of the three paintings.  It was completed in September 1889 and was the inspiration for a three dimensional, full room sculpture created by Seward Johnson.  It's called Welcome Home.  It's made out of painted wood and plaster, and it makes you feel like you've fallen into the canvas and into the world created in the painting.

This is so freakin' awesome!

Were You Invited?

Were You Invited?
Seward Johnson (2001)
This is one of the most impressive art displays I have ever seen.  The sculptor has brought to life elements of the 1881 Renoir painting Luncheon Of The Boating Party and displayed it beside a lake.  The use of color on everything, from the characters to the furniture to the food and drinks on the tables is amazing.  It really feels like you're walking through a painting.

I'm lousy at taking panoramic photos, but I did my best to try to capture the full display from several different angles.

This work isn't an exact replica of the painting.  For example, the sculptor who created this piece (Seward Johnson) added himself to one of the tables.  Here he is, holding one hand up and clenching his fist.

The detail is extraordinary, isn't it?  It's as if the painting and its characters came to life and froze in position.  Each of the people represented in both the painting and the sculpture are based on real people.  Here is a guide to who each of them were.

I know that I say this a lot, but the photos really don't do this place justice.  An adult ticket to enter Grounds For Sculpture is only $18 bucks, and it is more than worth both your time and money to experience such a beautiful place.

The Best Rats In New Jersey

Rat's Restaurant
Hamilton, NJ
While we were exploring Grounds For Sculpture, we accidentally stumbled into the back entrance of a beautiful restaurant called Rat's.  We were both pretty hungry, and everything looked and smelled delicious.  However, when we asked one of the servers where to go to check in and be seated, we were told that you can only get a table if you have a reservation.  She did say that we could check at the front desk to see if there was anything they could do.

Would you have given this fuzzy hippie a table?

If I'm being completely honest, I didn't expect that they would accommodate us.  Everyone was dressed smart casual or better, and here I am - an unshaven long haired goofball in a tie dye Fangoria t-shirt and ripped jeans wandering through the outdoor patio of a well-respected French restaurant asking if I could get a table.  But, I figured "what the hell".  We were here, and the worst they could say is no, so I swallowed my anxiety and headed for the front desk.  I explained that I didn't know there was a restaurant on the grounds, so I didn't make a reservation, and I asked if it was possible to have lunch there.

Much to my surprise, they didn't dismiss me right out of hand.  In fact, they were incredibly nice and checked their reservation schedule against the available tables in the restaurant and called for a host to show us to our table, where we had a wonderful meal.  My wife had steak, which she enjoyed very much, and I had the Rat's Burger, which I assure you was all beef and bacon.  Everything was delicious, and everyone who we spoke to was incredibly kind.

The restaurant and its surroundings were designed by Seward Johnson to feel like something out of Claude Monet impressionist painting.  The style is also heavily inspired by The Wind In The Willows, which was one of Johnson's favorite books.  The restaurant is named after Ratty, and the entrance to the building looks like Toad's caravan.

Our table had a very cool and peaceful vibe.  It was inside the building, as close to the patio by the lake that you could get without being outside.

If you're reading this and you do decide to pay a visit to Grounds For Sculpture (which you really should), make lunch reservation at Rat's.  The food is outstanding, the atmosphere is beautiful, the staff are genuinely kind and wonderful people, and even the prices are very reasonable for what you're getting.  I know I will definitely be back.

Forty Two Acres Of Pure Beauty

Grounds For Sculpture
Hamilton, NJ
One of my new friends that I've met on Twitter during The Last Drive-In works at this incredible sculpture park, so I decided to pay it a visit.  As usual, I did the bare minimum of research into the place before heading down there.  This isn't due to laziness or a lack of interest.  It's for the same reason that I avoid movie trailers or reviews - I like to go into new experiences with no expectations and absorb as much of it as I can in person.  I love art, and my godfather is a sculptor, but my knowledge of sculpting and art in general could easily fit on an index card with lots of room to spare, so I had no idea of what to expect before we arrived.  Now, I know I've praised plenty of places and things on this blog to high heaven, but I truly cannot say enough good things about Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton Township, New Jersey.

We visited yesterday, and you seriously couldn't have asked for a better day; a sunny 82 degrees without a drop of rain.  It's a 2 hour and 10 minute drive from my house, but we decided to take the scenic route and save a few bucks on tolls, so we made it in about 2:30.  As beautiful as the drive was, it paled in comparison to the plants and artwork on display on the grounds.

I am not at all qualified as a writer, photographer or art lover to do justice to this place, but I will say that if you like these photos even a little bit and you live within driving distance, you really should check this place out.  It's an absolute steal at $18 bucks to get in.  Quite frankly, they could charge double and it would still be a bargain.  You could easily spend hours getting lost in the twists and turns and having your mind blown repeatedly by your surroundings.

This is a very small sampling of some of my favorite parts of the grounds.

Seward Johnson (2016)
This one reminded me of the Trimaxion Drone Ship in Flight Of The Navigator.
Isaac Witkin (1994)

The grounds are filled with cool pathways through trees and other plantlife like this one.  There are about a thousand places that would be perfect to lay down with a book or relax with a cup of coffee and just melt into the atmosphere.
This was one of my favorite pieces on the grounds for several reasons.  First, just look at it.  It's bad ass!  Second, there were pipes that shot mists of water to make it look like smoke was rising from the cauldron.  Not only did this look awesome, but it was very cooling on a hot day.  Last, but not least, you have to love what Mr. Johnson named this work.

I may have spent a little too much time here and annoyed the trio of demons, and... well... um... I may have lost my head for a moment.

Thankfully, the demons weren't in the mood for Italian, so they released me from the stew pot. ☺
This one reminded me of the Arwing spaceship that you pilot in Starfox and Starfox 64.  It was sitting in the middle of a body of water in an especially beautiful part of the grounds, so I took a few extra photos of this one.

Even the ducks were in awe of Dorion.

I know that the Great Depression was a serious issue, but I couldn't resist...

Say there, buddy, can you tell me what kind of bread they've got in there?  Seven grain?  Pumpernickel?  I could really go for some pumpernickel right about now; know what I mean?
Carlos Dorrien (1990-97)

Helena Lukasova (1999) 

This pathway was one of my favorite parts of the grounds.  It leads to the gazebo, the warming hut, and a clearing where The Oligarchs are on display.
Michelle Post (2014) 

I'm sorry, I don't remember the name of this piece or its artist.  I tried to find it on the website, but no luck so far.

Two Face Telescope
Elizabeth Strong-Cuevas (1990) 

Die Fussballer                                                                        Two Figure Composition
Petro Hul (1997)                                                                        Paul Muick (1999)

Mood Stone
This was one of my favorite sculptures.  It was at the end of a narrow path and was surrounded by plants.  The way everything is arranged, you don't see that there's a child sitting and reading a book until you've walked up to it.
Seward Johnson (2017)
I thought this was Mary and Joseph at first, until I saw the massive pile of gold coins in the boat. 

This is another one of my favorite works on display.  Each artist is working on a painting of one of the other artists, and an unaccompanied easel has a completed work of all of the artists who are hard at work.  This series of sculptures was completed the year before Mr. Johnson passed away.

There are many plaques of poetry to be found among the plant life and sculptures on the grounds.  They definitely add to the peaceful and serene atmosphere. 

This sculpture display was completed by Seward Johnson in 2001.  It pays tribute to the 19th century Renoir painting - Luncheon Of The Boating PartyClick here to see more.
This is another one of my favorites.  I absolutely love the shades of blue that make this feel like a painting has come to life.  The dude laying back in the t-shirt holding a cigarette reminds me very much of my dad.

This display is absolutely brilliant!  It's hidden away down a side path that is surrounded by trees and plants, so you don't see the woman as you're approaching.  You can hear her though, because this is a real shower with running water hitting the stone floor.  Also, there is a radio playing the love song "I Only Have Eyes For You", and a second recording of a lone female voice singing along with the radio.  I swear, for a split second when I walked up to this sculpture, I thought I had accidentally stumbled across a woman singing in the shower.  This, of course, is exactly what you're meant to feel when you discover her.
This sculpture is across the lake from the restaurant where we had lunch.  The top photo is the view of it from the outdoor seating patio.  It reminded me a little bit of the head of the sphinx where the Morlock lure in the Eloi in the original film adaptation of HG Wells' The Time Machine.

To the best of my knowledge, this is not an art display.  It's just a little seating area with a table, but I think it's beautiful.  I would love to be able to relax here with coffee and play chess with my grandfather. 

Dana Stewart (1987) 
This was another one of my favorites!  In fact, if I was allowed to pick any one sculpture to bring home and display in my back yard, it would be this little guy.

I didn't catch the name of this, and it might not actually be an art display, but it's awesome.  I love the random doors that you stumble upon throughout the grounds.  They remind me of Jake Chambers trying to find his way back to Roland in The Dark Tower III

This reminded me of Burgess Meredith the end of the Twilight Zone episode Time Enough At Last.  As much as I love that episode, the real story behind this sculpture might be even more incredible.  It is definitely more heartbreaking and immediately brings you back to a moment in history that will never be forgotten.

Damn.  Just... damn.

The display inside this room is called Welcome Home, and there's too much to see here to try to squeeze it into this post.  Click here for more.

Seward Johnson (early 1970s)
The information on the walls near this sculpture say that this is the only sculpture that Seward Johnson won an award for.  I'm not sure what Mr. Johnson had in mind when he created it, but it gave me a very sad and helpless feeling, and it reminded me of all of the victims of sexual violence throughout our world.

These pictures don't even begin to cover the beauty and the sheer volume of artwork on display at the grounds.  For every one piece you see here, I saw at least twenty others that I didn't take a photo of, and I'm sure there are things that we didn't see.  I'll definitely be coming back to explore again.  In fact, this may end up becoming a yearly tradition.

Seriously, even if art and sculptures really aren't your thing, you really should check this place out if you can.  It is a truly peaceful and beautiful experience and I'm sure you will be glad that you got to experience it.