Apr 12, 2024

Unapologetically Lame

City Connect Jerseys
Philadelphia Phillies (2024)
The Phillies City Connect jerseys were revealed last week.  If their goal was to bring the people of Philadelphia together, mission accomplished.  Fans in Philadelphia, and the rest of the baseball world, seem to be unanimous in their hatred of a uniform that looks like something a well-meaning grandmother might have ordered from a discount website for her grandkids soccer team.

The blue and yellow was chosen based on the colors of the city flag.  Let me ask you a question.  Did you know Philadelphia had its own flag?  Have you ever seen this before?  If someone showed you this, along with four other fake city flags, would you be able to pick out which one is correct?  If you answered "yes" to that last question, you are either an employee of the city, a middle school child who is currently working on a report about the history of Philadelphia, or a liar.

The black pants and the gradient jersey is pretty cool, I'll give them that, but nobody gives a damn about the city flag.  They should have gone with red.  Also, what the hell is going on with that font?  It looks like something out of a bootleg Batman comic.  This whole thing is exercise in trying to be different for the sake of being different.  They could have put in the effort to create something that the fans might actually enjoy, but they chose not to.

The Phillies will be wearing these for every Friday night home game of the 2024 season starting with tonight's game against the Pirates.  I'm interested to see how many fans at the ballpark show up in one of these shirts.  I can't imagine any fan over the age of 12 wearing this instead of traditional Phillies gear unless they lost a bet.  If for some reason you did want a t-shirt or a hat, maybe as a gag gift or something, my advice would be to wait until the end of the season clearance sale.  They're going to have a hell of a lot of these things to unload so the discounts should be pretty steep.

Apr 11, 2024

It Can't Happen Here, Right?

Civil War
A24 (2024)
The trailer for this movie played before most of the movies that I've seen in the theater over the past few weeks.  For the most part, the footage used in the trailer is limited to a single scene in which Jesse Plemons holds a group of people at gunpoint and demanding to know what kind of Americans they are.  It's a less-is-more approach that I wish more trailers followed.

I expected this to play out like a more realistic version of The Purge with a totalitarian government and a resistance group waging war against them.  That's not quite what happens here.  The only history we get about the executive branch of this world is that the President is serving his third term, he has ordered the bombing of American civilians, and he has disbanded the FBI.  He's definitely not a good guy, but the movie does an incredible job of dancing around the details.  There is absolutely no hint of the political affiliation of the Presidents or the "Western Forces" that oppose him, or any details about how the country fell into a civil war.  It just drops you in the middle of it, and then takes you on a road trip to see how different people and towns are dealing with the situation.

Kirsten Dunst delivers a strong performance as a veteran photojournalist.  Cailee SpaneyWagner Moura, and Stephen McKinley Henderson round out her group of traveling companions on their way from New York City to Washington DC.  There's a little too much foreshadowing going on in their conversations with each other which spoils some of the story, but it's a movie worth watching.

Apr 10, 2024

Second To Nun

The First Omen
20th Century Studios (2024)
Nunsploitation horror flicks seem to be all the rage this Spring.  We saw Immaculate two weeks ago and The First Omen two days ago.  These two movies have a lot in common.  The lead actress in both movies are novices (basically a nun-in-training) who travel from their home in the United States to Italy to work with a Roman Catholic order where they expect that they will soon take their vows.  Both women befriend a fellow young novice in their new home, but they quickly learn that the order isn't all that it seems to be.  Everything else that I want to say would spoil the plot, but the similarities continue to the point where I'd call these films two sides of the same coin.

Immaculate premiered in theaters across the country on March 22nd, and The First Omen followed two weeks later on April 5th.  I'd strongly recommend Immaculate if you're only interested in seeing one of them.  It's a better film with a stronger story and a much better ending.  However if you're not opposed to spending a few hours in the dark with a bunch of creepy nuns, the these two movies would make one hell of a double feature.

As the name suggests, The First Omen is a prequel to the 1976 horror classic The Omen.  It tells the story of how baby Damian came to exist, but reframes the story of his birth in a few ways that I wasn't too crazy about.  The ending felt like it was tacked on to set up a sequel to the prequel.  It seems like the ultimate goal of this film is to kick off a series of new Omen movies that run parallel to the events that take place in the original three films in the series.  I hope that I'm wrong.  This would have been a stronger movie if it had no connection to The Omen series at all.  It's enjoyable as a stand-alone horror movie, but I don't think it works as part of the Damien Thorn story.

Apr 9, 2024

Solar Eclipse

This was the best picture that I could get of the full solar eclipse yesterday.  It was taken at 2:41 in the afternoon, about a half hour before totality.  The sky was very cloudy so we'd only get an occasional peek at the sun with the moon moving in at the bottom right.

I was hoping that the sky would clear up a bit by the time it reached full totality, but it got worse.  We weren't able to see even a hint of the sun behind the clouds.

Our friends Susan and Anthony from Lancaster sent us these two photos.  Susan took the one on top, and one of their friends took the one on the bottom.
The Sunday Journal - Lorain County, OH  (March 8, 1970)

Dwayne Cameron shared a photo of this newspaper that was published after the last time that the path of totality for a solar eclipse passed over the northeast part of the country.  It was just over ten years before I was born.  The headline referred to the fact that the next show would take place in 2024.  The next time we'll get to see a full solar eclipse in this part of the county is September 14th, 2099.  I've got a hunch that I won't be around to bitch about the cloud coverage for that one.

Apr 8, 2024

Professional Wrestling Is Back

Wrestlemania XL
Lincoln Financial Field - Philadelphia, PA
This is the most fun that I've had watching Wrestlemania since I was in elementary school.

There were rumors that Sylvester Stallone was going to be involved, presumably with a Rocky themed introduction to the show or something along those lines.  That didn't end up happening, but there was plenty of Philadelphia injected into the past two nights, both in the ring and from the fans.  From Meek Mill, to the Eagles Luchadores of Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson, to many epic fan signs, this definitely felt like a Philly Wrestlemania.

This sign sums up my thoughts on WWE right now.  I've watched this company's product off and on since I was five years old.  The one consistent thing in all of that time is that whether it was called the World Wrestling Federation or World Wrestling Entertainment, this was a company that couldn't get out of its own way.  No matter how talented the men and women on screen were, the writing was so ridiculous that it stripped the fun out of it.  They create many cool moments, but it usually wasn't long before they'd screw it up with asinine dialogue, or lame attempts at humor, or booking decisions that seem as if they were done deliberately to piss off the audience... and I'm not talking about a heel getting heat.

I'm not going to go into any further detail here because it's a topic that could fill a book and I need to get some sleep.  Suffice to say that enough people who have worked for the company have spoken out, and they paint a pretty clear picture of what was going on.  The company was under the control of an asshole, and that asshole has now been removed from the equation.

All of the matches were enjoyable in different ways, but the things they all had in common is that the stories that were being told made sense.  The commentating sounded fresh and interesting, free from all of the buzz words and typical scripting that used to make every character sound like they were one person speaking in different voices.  The wrestlers seemed to be given more creative freedom with their characters, whether they were on camera during the show or speaking at the press conference at the end of both nights.  If this is the road that this company is going to ride, I'll be riding it with them

Apr 7, 2024

Juuuust A Bit Outside

Major League
Paramount Pictures (1989)
This is my favorite baseball movie of all time.  It features the Cleveland Indians as a basement-dwelling team that haven't had a World Series Championship season since 1948.  This was true in real life as well, and is still true to this day.  The team has since changed its name to the Cleveland Guardians and while the team isn't the train wreck that they were back in the 80's, they're considered a longshot to make the post-season in 2024.

The story of Major League is that the Indians owner has deliberately sabotaged her team to drive down attendance so that she can move the club out of Cleveland and to Miami.  Essentially, it's not too much different from what John Fisher is doing with the Oakland Athletics right now, except it's a lot funnier in fiction than it is in real life.

Pottsville Republican - Pottsville, PA  (April 14, 1989)
Times Leader - Wilkes Barre, PA  (April 28, 1989)

Major League premiered in theaters 35 years ago today.  I didn't catch it on the big screen back then, but I more than made up for it in the years that followed.  My dad owned it on VHS when we lived in South Florida, and it's no exaggeration to say that I watched that tape at least a hundred times.  It's my favorite baseball movie of all time, and one of the funniest comedy flicks of the 80's with a seemingly endless list of quotable lines that you'll still hear at ballparks around the country to this day.

Major League didn't have a video game presence in the United States, but there was a game that was loosely based on the film that was released for Famicom in Japan in the same year that the film was released.  There hasn't been a ton of other merchandise released based on the movie in the years since, but Topps released a pretty cool subset ten years ago that featured Tom BerengerCharlie Sheen, Corbin BernsenChelcie RossMargaret Whitton (along with Pedro Cerrano's friend Jobu) as the characters that they played in the film.

Apr 6, 2024

Paul E. Dangerously

Paul Heyman
WWE Hall Of Fame (2024)
Congratulations to a dude who has done it all in professional wrestling, and very likely has a lot more to go.

Apr 5, 2024

Only God Can Forgive You Now

Monkey Man
Universal Pictures (2024)
This is one of the few times where I thought that the trailer looked better than the final product.  Monkey Man is a very good movie that could have been great, but it didn't quite get there for me.

On the positive side, some of the shots are gorgeous, the fight scenes are great, and Dev Patel delivers an incredible performance.  My main issue was the overuse of shakeycam and flashback scenes.  The backstory of the title character and his mother is told as a slow drip throughout the movie through flashbacks and hallucinations that seem to take place every five minutes.  I get that this is supposed to give me sympathy for the character, but all it did was take me out of the world that the movie had built.  It would have flowed much more effectively if they just told the story of the boy and his mother in its entirety at the start of the film (maybe as a dream after the first Monkey Man fight) and then let his vengeance tale play out uninterrupted.

Monkey Man is a very good movie overall that I'd recommend to anyone who enjoyed John Wick and The Beekeeper, but I think it could have been much better.

Apr 4, 2024

There Is No Spoon

The Matrix
Warner Bros Pictures (1999)
Regal Cinema had a 25th anniversary screening of The Matrix last night, and seeing it again on the big screen reminded me of just how great the original really is.  This is a sci-fi masterpiece.

A good movie makes you forget that the outside world exists while you're watching it.   A great movie bleeds into the outside world after the credits have rolled.  When I walked out of the theater to my car, I had an eerie feeling that reminded me of what it feels like for the first few minutes after waking up from an especially vivid dream.  It's the same feeling I had after watching it for the first time twenty five years ago.

Apr 3, 2024

You Put The Lime In The Coconut And Pour It In The Pepper

Coffee-mate Coconut Lime
Nestle (2024)
My first job after college was with Nestle.  I started off as a customer service representative handling consumer phone calls and emails before first moving on to work with the social media team, then as a "consumer engagement specialist", which is a fancy way of saying that I monitored other people's work, and then finally as a trainer.  For most of my six and a half years, I worked for the Nestle CBI team which handled confections, baking, and ice cream products.  However there was a shakeup shortly after I was promoted to trainer.  The baking products were taken off of my team and assigned to the new "Nestle East" team while the beverage and foreign import products were assigned to my team, which would now be called "Nestle West".  Coffee-mate was one of the beverage products that now handled by our team.

The marketing team for Coffee-mate had a knack for making things interesting, from creating a line of Star Wars packaging for their liquid creamer, to holding a special dinner for a woman who was responsible for 1,519 phone calls, 2,337 Facebook posts, 1,868 emails, and 17 letters asking for the company to bring back the discontinued Amaretto flavor.  This consumer was surprised with a bottle of Coffee-mate Amaretto and told that it was being brought back for a limited time.  It has since been discontinued again, which caused this consumer to go right back on her campaign that is apparently still active to this day.

My favorite Coffee-mate marketing stunt from my time with Nestle was when they opened a pop-up coffee house called the All Natural Bliss Cafe.  This coffee house was operated by baristas who worked in the nude (well, in body paint) to promote the fact that the new Coffee-mate Natural Bliss creamer was made with all natural ingredients.  It wasn't quite Clerks 2, but hey... we were handing questions, comments, and concerns about coffee creamer... we'd take whatever excitement around the office that we could get.

As bizarre of a campaign as that was, it pales in comparison to their current product promotion.

Coffee-mate Coconut Lime was created to be mixed with Dr. Pepper soda, and while I'm sure that this may sound pretty gross on the surface, the combination is surprisingly tasty.

I couldn't find any instructions for the proper Coffee-mate to Dr. Pepper ratio, so I just poured some soda in a cup, then poured a few tablespoons of the creamer on top, then added more soda and stirred it up.  The results are hard to describe.  It tastes a bit like the last few sips of a Coke Float after most of the ice cream has melted, but with the added combination of coconut, lime, and whatever ingredients make up the Dr. Pepper flavor.

I guess you could just use the creamer in your coffee, but where's the fun in that?  Come on... give it a shot.  You know you want to try it.  Wouldn't you like to be a pepper too?

Apr 2, 2024

Coney Island... In Color

Coney Island Restaurant
North Wyoming Street - Hazleton, PA
This photo was shared by Tom Zipovsky on a Facebook group dedicated to photos of the Hazleton area over the years.  I'm not sure what the original source is, but it's the first color picture of the old Coney Island Restaurant on Wyoming Street that I've been able to find in a long time.

The full photo shows a bit more of the surrounding area, including the Standard Speaker building and various businesses leading up to Broad Street.  Across the street at the far right hand size of this photo is the old People's First National Bank building.

Apr 1, 2024

Don't Eat The Dynamite

Atari 2600 (1984)
Release dates for video games that were developed in the 70's and 80's can be a bit challenging to pin down.  The Wikipedia profile for the game reports that it was released in North America sometime in 1983, but I think they're making that assumption based on its copyright date.

Orlando Sentinel  (April 15, 1984)

The earliest evidence that I was able to find for this game being available to purchase in stores is a Zayre Easter Sale circular that was published in Sunday newspapers across the country on April 15th, 1984.  This combined with the publication dates of an unfavorable review from Michael Blanchet that refers to Taz as "Atari's latest game" have led me to believe that the game received a Spring 1984 release, which means that it's turning 40 years old.

The game is centered around Taz the Tasmanian Devil.  It's easy to understand why a game would have been created for the iconic cartoon.  He was familiar to both children and adults who grew up watching Looney Tunes, and licensing the character would have cost Atari nothing because the company was owned by Warner Communications at the time, and they held the character's trademark.

Taz is a simple to understand, but brutally difficult to play.  You play as the Tasmanian Devil, who is represented on screen as a small brown tornado.  You can move the character up, down, left, and right across a playing field made up of eight rows separated by blue lines.  Various foods and beverages fly horizontally across the playing field along with sticks of dynamite.  The object is to move Taz around to eat the food without allowing him to eat any of the dynamite.

The edible items come at you one at a time.  The game begins with hamburgers, which are fairly large and easy to distinguish from dynamite.  They also move at a pretty slow pace, which makes it easy for players to get the hang of how the game works.  Once you achieve a score milestone, the speed will increase and the food item will change to root beer.  Next up is ice cream cones, followed by Fudgesicles, which are especially hard because they're size and shape makes them more difficult to pick out from the dynamite.

After you beat the Fudgesicles level, you move on to the Crazed Wave.  The good news is that the apple cores that you eat during the first part of the Crazed Wave are a lot easier to tell apart from the dynamite compared to the Fudgesicles.  The bad news is that this is where the speed of the objects kicks into another gear.

If you manage to make it past the apple cores, your next food is turnips, followed by tomatoes, and an ice cream sundae.  If you get past the ice cream sundaes, the game cycles back to hamburgers, but at a speed that will make your introduction to the Crazed Wave seem slow in comparison.

The instruction manual teases you with a surprise food item that you'll only get to see once you have cleared each of the food items three times.  Frankly, if you're playing this game on original hardware with no cheat devices, I think that this is impossible.  You start the game with three lives, and while you can earn extra lives throughout the game based on your score, you only have to touch the dynamite once to lose a life.  The farthest that I ever remember getting in my first 20 years of playing this game was the tomatoes.  By that point, things are moving across the screen so quickly that it is impossible to avoid the dynamite, especially if you're using a clunky Atari 2600 joystick.

Even if you play Taz on an emulator using keyboard controls and save states, it is insanely difficult to clear all eight food items three times each.  It took me about an hour to do it, constantly saving my game and restarting from the save point to finally get to see the surprise food at the end... and wow, is it ever disappointing.  I guess it's supposed to be a coconut cream pie, but as you can see from the picture above, it's just the ice cream cone with the top two and bottom two rows of sprites removed.  Seeing this for the first time made me feel like Ralphie from A Christmas Story when he uses his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring to decode the secret message.  A crummy sprite hack?  Son of a bitch!

Despite it's savage difficulty and disappointing payoff at the end, it's still a hell of a fun game.  This was my family's favorite game for the Atari 2600 when I was growing up, and I still nerd out a little bit at the fact that its programmer, Steve Woita, responded to one of my Facebook posts in response to a fan group question about what our favorite games for the console were.

Unfortunately, the game has not been released on any of the Atari plug-and-play consoles, and it's not included in any of the compilations that have been released over the years.  However, if you want to give it a try, you can play it through your web browser on AtariOnline.org.  Click on the link, then click on the screen and press the space bar to start the game.  After that, all you'll need is the up, down, left, and right keys to move Taz around the screen (the joystick button didn't do anything but start the game).  The World Record according to Twin Galaxies is held by Andrew Fellman with a score of 338,500.  As insanely impressive as that is, that's still over 200,000 points short of what is needed to get to the surprise food at the end, which reinforces my belief that seeing the coconut cream pie in the game without cheating is impossible.  But hey, I've been wrong before.  See if you can beat Mr. Fellman's world record and unlock the surprise food with nothing but a console, a cartridge, and a joystick.  Good luck!

Mar 31, 2024

Marcie, You've Made Egg Soup

It's The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown
CBS (1974)
My favorite springtime television special is celebrating its 50th holiday season this weekend.  It's The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown premiered on CBS on April 9th, 1974, which was five days before Easter that year.  It aired for free on broadcast television every year from 1974 until 2021 when the tradition came to an end.  This is because Apple obtained rights to the Peanuts cartoon library for its Apple TV+ streaming service.  This is the perfect example of why it's best to own a physical copy of your favorite shows, movies, and music.

Happy Easter, everybody, and if you plan on dying some eggs today, I wouldn't recommend taking any tips from Marcie.

Mar 30, 2024

Not A Great Start

The Phillies seem to be picking up where they left off in 2023 with dominant starting pitching, a bullpen that can't throw strikes and gives up the lead, an offense who can't seem to put together a rally and only scores on the longball, and Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos seemingly holding a world's ugliest swing contest.

On the plus side, Alec Bohm's defense continues to improve, and Zack Wheeler is solidifying his reputation as arguably the greatest pitcher that the Phillies have ever brought into the organization as a free agent.  Still, with the improvements made by the Braves, DodgersDiamondbacks, and Giants over the winter, a third consecutive trip to the post-season is far from a sure thing for the Fightins.

Mar 29, 2024

Joe Bob's Spreading It Out

The Last Drive In
Shudder (2024)
Joe Bob Briggs reached out to fans on Instagram earlier this week to clarify how the sixth season of The Last Drive-In is going to play out.

Here's how it's going to work: episodes of The Last Drive In going forward will not automatically be double features.  There will be a few specials that will have two movies, but most episodes are going to be a single feature.  They're also going to broadcast on Shudder every other week instead of every week.  On the plus side, the season is going to continue throughout the year, and we'll end up with six more movies overall compared to the previous seasons.

I'm a fan of the new format.  I have to wake up early for work on Friday, so I usually end up falling asleep part of the way through the second half of a double feature.

Mar 28, 2024

You Can't Eat The Venetian Blinds

Paramount Pictures (1974)
The Regal Cinema chain have been screening classic films on Wednesday night for the past few months.  I was able to catch a 50th anniversary screening of The Godfather: Part II in February.  Last night's screening was one of the movies that it beat at the 1974 Academy Awards for Best Picture, the Roman Polanski neo-noir mystery: Chinatown.

This has been on my watchlist for a long time, but I never saw it until last night... not even a trailer or any scenes from it.  I'm glad that my first time seeing it was in a theater and not on a streaming service where I'd probably be too distracted to give it the attention it deserves.  This is a movie that really pulls you into its world and then punches you in the gut with the ending.

Mar 27, 2024

Sweet Baby Jesus!

Black Bear Pictures (2024)
I've watched a lot of horror movies, but I can't think of too many that had my jaw on the floor like the last five minutes of this film.  This film makes The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby look like a Mickey Mouse cartoon.

Mar 26, 2024

Intergalactic Spider Invades Brooklyn

The Regal Cinema chain has increased their Mystery Movie Monday screenings from once a month to once a week.  I haven't been to one in a while, but I made sure not to miss it last night after they announced that the March 25th screening would be a horror film.

The movie that we saw is called Sting, and it's like watching Arachnophobia on crack.  The story is set in a small apartment building in New York City.  A small meteor carrying a spider crashes through the window of the apartment that is occupied by the owner of the building.  Her 12 year old daughter discovers the spider and raises it as her pet... but things go horribly wrong.

The meteor crash happens in the first few seconds of the movie, so I'm not spoiling anything here.  I don't want to say anything else about the plot, especially since it's still a few weeks before the film's official release date, but I will say that it's a hell of an entertaining horror flick.  Alyla Browne is especially impressive and delivers a realistic performance of an angsty 12 year old, and practically every scene from Jermaine Fowler is a laugh out loud moment.  If you like horror and suspense flicks and you're not overly squeamish about bugs, don't miss this movie.