Dec 31, 2021

A Sad End To 2021

Betty White
1922 - 2021
Just 17 days before her 100th birthday, the world has lost a true legend and a wonderful human being.  Thank you, Ms. Betty White, for a lifetime of laughs and entertainment. You were truly one of a kind.

Happy New Year From LBJ

This artwork was given to my dad by the librarian at the high school where he taught before his retirement.  About twenty years ago, the school was clearing out some clutter, and my pop liked the artwork, so they let him take it home and it's been hanging up in his kitchen ever since.  It was only after he got home that he noticed that the bottom right hand corner of the painting was signed by the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson.

I'm not sure if this was given by the President and the First Lady to the school directly, or if it was given to someone else and was later donated to the school.  The bottom right hand corner is dated Christmas 1966 and LBJ was still president at the time.

After doing a some research, I learned that this is a lithograph print of a watercolor painting by Robert Laessig.  His artwork was used on the official White House Christmas cards that were sent out by the President throughout the 1960s, including this painting which was used on the 1966 White House Christmas card.  It shows the Elm tree that was planted by President Woodrow Wilson shading the North Portico.  Mr. Laessig went on to work as the director of the American Greetings Corporation.  He died in 2010 at the age of 97.

Dec 30, 2021

Crab Monster

Monster Roll
Mirakuya - Hazleton, PA
The Monster Roll at Mirakuya is made from deep fried soft shell crab and avocado on the inside, with spicy scallops, caviar and eel sauce on top.  Very tasty!

Their Teriyaki Beef is pretty darn good too!

Dec 29, 2021

Dreaming Of Horses

Happy birthday, Margie.  I miss you.

Another Horsedreamer's Blues
Counting Crows (1996)

Marjorie dreaming of the middle of the day
Tiyuri to win
Perfect Dozen to place
Money is the matter that's been on her mind
Time ticks by her one race at a time

She's tryin' to be a good girl
And give 'em what they want
But Marjorie dreaming of horses

Lookin' at a green sky
Sun like a red eye
Bright blue horses are the fortune she lives by
She's tired and lonely
Scared and depressed
Her visions of one day go racing the next

She's trying to be a good girl
And give 'em what they want
But Marjorie dreaming of horses

Margie doesn't say anything all the way home
So afraid she'll awake to find she's all alone

Marjorie wingspan's all feathers and coke cans, and
TV dinners and letters she won't send, and
Every race night is shot through with sunlight
Trying to hit the big one one last time tonight for...

Drunken fathers and stupid mothers and
Boys who can't tell one girl from another
So she takes her pills
Careful and round
One of these days she's gonna throw the whole bottle down

But she's trying to be a good girl
And give 'em what they want
But Marjorie dreaming of...

Trying to be a good girl
And give 'em what they want
But Marjorie dreaming of horses

Dec 28, 2021

Resurrecting A Dead Horse

The Matrix Resurrections
Warner Bros Pictures (2021)
A few days ago, I wrote a glowing review of Ghostbusters: Afterlife in which I referred to it as being as close to perfect of a rebirth of an old franchise that I think is possible.  I'm disappointed to say that the fourth Matrix movie is its exact opposite.  It is the perfect example of Hollywood's obsession with using a successful property from the past to make a soulless cash grab in the present.  Whereas Ghostbusters: Afterlife did everything right, The Matrix Resurrections did everything wrong.

You see that dork with the peach fuzz beard and The Matrix poster on his bedroom wall?  That's me about twenty years ago, give or take a couple of months.  There are two things that about the nerd in that photo that are still true with the nerd who's typing this today: I'm still trying like hell to rock the thick black glasses, and I'm still a huge fan of The Matrix.

I didn't see the first film in the series when it was still in theaters.  It was one of those situations where the hype for the movie made me sick of hearing about it, so I had no interest in seeing it by the time it was released.  Despite all of the coverage that it got on television and in magazines, the only thing I knew about the movie is that there was a scene in which Keanu Reeves arched his back to dodge bullets while the camera spun all around him.  I knew that because they played it about 10,000 times.  You could not turn on a television in 1999 without seeing that shot, or a behind-the-scenes clip where they showed you the camera technology that allowed it to be filmed.  If you talked to me when this was in theaters, I would have thought that the entire movie was just Keanu Reeves in sunglasses and a black trench coat doing the limbo in a gunfight because that's all they ever seemed to show... over and over and over again.  I could only imagine how obnoxious it would have been if this film was released in the age of memes and social media.

After the hype died down a little bit, I rented The Matrix on VHS and fell in love with it instantly.  It's a brilliant story, and is right up there with Blade Runner as one of my favorite science fiction movies of all time.  The bullet dodging scene isn't even remotely the most interesting thing about it.  Truth be told, they could have probably cut it out of the film entirely without it impacting the plot too much.

In the years that followed, I bought it on DVD and watched it about a hundred times and anxiously waited for the sequel.  The second and third movies of The Matrix Trilogy were both released in 2003, and I saw both of them in theaters.  They were alright.  They weren't bad, but they weren't great either.  The action scenes were top notch, but the story got convoluted and, in some parts, just plain ridiculous, like at the end of Reloaded when Neo suddenly has special powers in the real world.  They both try to tell a deep and meaningful story, but it just comes across as a sloppy mess.  I know I bought them on DVD, but unlike the first film, I think I might have watched them once or twice right after I bought it, just so I could listen to the directors commentary track.  I don't think I've had the desire to watch either of the sequels at all over the past 15 years.

Despite the disappointment of Reloaded and Revolutions, I was excited to see where the story would go with Resurrections.  Yeah... I'm kind of dumb like that.

So, there I was on opening night, back in the same theater that I saw the second and third Matrix movies 18 years ago, hoping to see something that captures the feeling that I got when I saw the original film... and for about the first half hour, it did.  I could have done without the opening scene, which seemed like pointless nostalgia pandering, but the story after the opening credits started off great.  Keanu Reeves was back to being plain old Thomas Anderson; a middle-aged software designer who created a blockbuster series of video games called The Matrix, and who has been suffering from delusions and hallucinations ever since, as his mind struggles to separate fact from fiction.  He sees a therapist, and he takes prescription drugs to get through the day, while the audience is left to wonder if Mr. Anderson really was just a dude who had a nervous breakdown and the "real world" really is the mundane existence that surrounds him... and us.

If the story had expanded on that concept from the first 20 minutes and structured itself as a psychological thriller about a man who is struggling to separate the real world from fantasy, it could have been an amazing movie.  They could have even ended it with a cliffhanger in which Neo jumps off of the building and then the screen fades to black and the closing credits.  It would have left us all debating about hidden clues throughout the movie to determine if Mr. Anderson was a savior of humanity who had just escaped The Matrix, or if he really was just a guy who's suffering from mental illness and who committed suicide by jumping off of a building, and we'd all likely be chomping at the bit for a Part 5.

Instead, we got a sloppy mess that tried to tell the same story that was already told in the first film, but without any of the things that made it special the first time around.  We got a half-hearted backstory about how 60 years have passed, and how the machines resurrected Neo and Trinity to act as some kind of super battery.  We got an endless supply of references to the original film, and even full clips from the original film, that serve no purpose other than to elbow the viewer in the gut and say "remember this... you liked this".  We got group of lame mini-bosses whose only purpose seems to be to troll the audience.  The story is lousy.  The script is lousy.  The action scenes are forgettable.  There is literally nothing to see here.  The folks who are behind this movie didn't have a story to tell - they had a product to sell, and it's a product that isn't worth buying.

If the box office is any indication, The Matrix Resurrection is a cash grab that's failing to grab cash.  I usually don't care too much about how much money a movie makes or what awards it wins or fails to win, but I'm glad to see that this is turning into a bomb that stands to make only a fraction of its budget.  Hopefully, it persuades movie studios to invest in new and original ideas instead of bankrolling a sequel, reboot or remake of every successful property that existed over the past 20 to 50 years.

Do yourself a favor.  If you loved the original, save yourself some money and two hours of frustration and just go back and watch the first film again.  I offer the same advice to anyone who has never seen a Matrix movie before.  Just go back and watch the first film and pretend that the others don't exist.

Dec 27, 2021

Tell Me A Story, Idgie

Fried Green Tomatoes
Universal Pictures (1991)
This wonderful movie debuted in theaters 30 years ago today, but I didn't see it until many years after it was released.  A very special person from my past watched it with me in her living room, and it's stuck with me ever since.

Two lines from this movie echo in my mind from that time in my life: "a heart can be broken, but it keeps on beatin' just the same." and "she's the best friend I've ever had and I love her."  In a lifetime that has been filled with some pretty tough choices, walking away was one of the hardest decision I ever had to make, but everything happens for a reason, and things worked out the way that they had to for both of us.

Dec 26, 2021

Boxing Day: American Style

Wal-Mart Supercenter
Airport Road - Hazleton, PA (1996)
Throughout my life, my grandparents would tell me that time goes by faster the older that you get.  When I was younger, I rolled my eyes at illogical sentiments like this.  After all, time is time, and the age at which you experience it shouldn't matter a bit.  Well, I'm here to tell you now as a man in his early 40's that it's no bullshit.  When I was in high school, we would get four report cards per year.  Each marking period between report cards was nine weeks long, which felt like to me like nine months.  A full school year felt like an eternity.  We're now entering the final week of 2021, and it feels like this year has gone by in the blink of an eye.

These thoughts started rolling around my mind this morning when I was considering the differences between the day after Christmas in the UK and the United States.  Across the pond, December 26th is called Boxing Day.  I won't pretend to be an expert on the holiday, but when I was in London over the holidays a few years ago, it reminded me a lot of Black Friday here in the States.  It's a shopping holiday in which stores advertise big sales that attract massive crowds.  Stores here in the US also tend to get busy on December 26th, but we don't really have many store sales except maybe for unsold Christmas candy and decorations that they've put on clearance.  The reason for the increased store traffic over here tends to be for returns.

I've worked retail for a few different places over the holiday season, but the one that sticks in my mind the most happened 25 years ago, on December 26th, 1996.  This isn't one of those times that "feels like only yesterday", but it damn sure doesn't feel like it was a quarter century ago.  I was 16 years old and working for the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Hazleton, PA.  I had just started working there in the fall, with most of my time being split between the front end registers, the customer service desk, and the Lawn & Garden department, which also served as the Christmas decoration department during the holiday season.

On the day after Christmas, just about everybody who was register trained was working on the front end doing returns.  We had all 30 registers open and at least a third of them were set up exclusively for returns, and that's where I was assigned for my shift.  Wal-Mart had a very forgiving return policy back then, so we took back just about everything for a refund of either cash or store credit whether they had a receipt or not.  I had a line of people who were returning items for eight hours nonstop, and we took back a ton of merchandise, including some things that I knew for a fact that we didn't sell.  I'm pretty sure one guy just took a VHS tape that he had for years off of his shelf and brought it into the store for a full refund, but it fulfilled the policy requirements, so the dude walked away with a gift card for about $15 bucks.

With the increase in online shopping and the Omicron variant, they probably aren't nearly as busy with returns today as they were twenty five years ago, but it's one of the busiest days I've ever worked in my life.

A Perfect End To The Christmas Season

8-Bit Christmas
HBO Max (2021)
It wasn't easy, but I held back on watching 8-Bit Christmas until just a few hours ago.  I started watching it at around 10 pm on Christmas night and finished up just after midnight.  It's not often that a Christmas movie touches my heart this much, but this did the job, and it's going to be right up there with Scrooged, A Christmas Story and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation as an annual tradition from this point forward.

I did my best to avoid spoilers, reviews, previews, or anything else about this movie.  From the title, it's obvious that it's a story told in the late 80's about a kid who wants a NES for Christmas, which is as close to a story about a chapter in my life that I have ever heard of.  Aside from that, there was only one small piece of information that I had about this film.  Someone on Twitter mentioned that the end of the movie is going to make me cry.  Thankfully, I have a really lousy memory, so I had forgotten about that right up until I saw the end for myself.  I can't remember who said it, but they were right.  In the words of Buster Poindexter from Scrooged: "Niagara Falls Frankie Angel".

There are plenty of movies that are set in the 80's, but most of them tell their story from the perspective of someone who was a young adult in the decade, such as The Wedding Singer and AdventurelandStranger Things and The Goldbergs are stories told from the perspective of kids who grew up in the 80's, but both take a lot of creative liberties with the decade and have plot elements that weren't a part of my childhood.  That isn't the case with 8-Bit Christmas.  The character of Jake Doyle and the adventure that he goes on is as close to my childhood as anything I've ever seen on screen, right down to the parents who wanted me to go outside and get fresh air instead of sitting inside and playing Nintendo.

I don't want to spoil anything about the plot, but if you're a young Gen Xer who grew up in the 80's, you're going to love this movie.  It's got a lot of fun memories, a lot of laughs, and exactly the right mix of realism in the touching moments to make it a truly special movie.  And yes, if you have a heart, the end is probably going to make you cry.

If you're not played out on Christmas just yet and you have room to squeeze in one more film before you pack away the tree for another year, I highly recommend 8-Bit Christmas.

Dec 25, 2021

Merry Christmas

Jingle Bells on an IBM computer
Arlington State College (1965)
This clip of Jingle Bells being played on a computer was shared by Humanoid History on YouTube and Twitter.

Dec 24, 2021

Rocketship to Christmas

Christmas Eve In Space (1958)
Merry Christmas to you and your family and friends.  Thank you for visiting my blog.

Dec 23, 2021

Pac Man's Christmas

Pac Man's Christmas comic
Woman's Day Magazine (December 13, 1983)
A four page comic book sequel to Christmas Comes To Pac-Land was published in an issue of Woman's Day Magazine 38 years ago.  It was scanned and shared by Tanooki Joe of Video Game Art & Tidbits on Twitter.  Click the images below to enlarge the pages.

Dec 22, 2021

Christmas Kisses

Assorted Christmas Hershey's Kisses
Hershey (2021)
I fully realize that I say this every December, but I'm going to start watching what I eat in the new year.  That's probably why I went a little overboard on the seasonal snacks this Christmas.  There are a bunch of different varieties of Hershey's Kisses for the holiday season that I wanted to try before I start cutting back on the sugar.  This isn't even all of them, but it's the ones that I picked up to fill the candy bowls in my house.

The Hot Cocoa Kisses have a milk chocolate shell and a marshmallow flavored cream inside.  They're not terrible, but they're my least favorite of the four.  They didn't really taste to me like cocoa or marshmallow. It sort of just tasted like chocolate with a sweet aftertaste that reminded me a little bit of children's cough syrup.  I wouldn't get these again.

The Sugar Cookie Kisses were a lot better than the Hot Cocoa ones, but the flavor didn't remind me of a sugar cookie.  They could release these in different wrappers at any time of year and call them Crispy White Chocolate Kisses, because that's exactly what they taste like.  They're pretty good, but I'd like to see them reformulated with minced almonds - kind of like the old Nestle Alpine White bar.

I'm not gonna lie, the regular milk chocolate ones are my favorite ones, and that's exactly what you get with the Santa Hat Kisses.  The only difference between those and the ones that you can buy any time of year is that the foil wrappers look like a Santa hat.  They're not fancy, but they're very tasty and they look good in the candy dish.

Like the Santa Hat Kisses, these new How The Grinch Stole Hershey's Kisses are the same milk chocolate ones you can get anytime, but in festive wrappers.  At first glance, they look a lot like the Santa Hat ones, but if you flip 'em upside down, you'll see the face of The Grinch on each wrapper.

Peanut Brittle Cups

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups: Peanut Brittle
Hershey (2021)
These are pretty great, but the flavor is pretty hard to describe.  The center is simple enough - it's a crunchy peanut butter cream, but the outer shell has a smoked vanilla caramel flavor.  They don't really remind me of peanut brittle, but they're very tasty.

I was only able to find them in a miniatures bag, but this is the kind of product that could sell year round if they came up with a non-seasonal way to market them.  If you don't mind the fact that they're not made of chocolate and you find a bag while your out Christmas shopping, give them a try.  Just don't go into it expecting anything that resembles peanut brittle.

Dec 21, 2021

You Have A Drink Named Steve?

Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Sony Pictures (2021)
This was my second time seeing the third movie in what has become the Ghostbusters trilogy (that nonsense film from 2016 doesn't count... for anything).  We originally saw it shortly after it was released last month, and we went to the theater on Sunday afternoon to see the new Spider-Man flick, but we got there too late and decided to put Spider-Man off until tomorrow and to take the opportunity to see this wonderful film in theaters one last time.  It occurred to me that I didn't write anything about it the first time I saw it, and it seemed wrong to not include something about a movie that has brought back one of my favorite things from my childhood into the forefront of pop culture over 35 years later.

First, I should say that I was highly skeptical of this movie being any good.  I loved the original Ghostbusters movie from the first time I saw it as a child, and The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series was a staple of my Saturday mornings growing up in the 80's.  I had the toys.  I had the Ray Parker Jr. song on a 45 record.  I was all about Ghostbusters, but my thoughts on Ghostbusters 2 aren't so easy to sum up.  

Ghostbusters 2 was one of the "big three" movies that I was hyped to see in the summer of 1989, along with Batman and Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade.  I saw it in theaters with my grandfather, and I enjoyed it.  What nine year old boy wouldn't love to see his favorite heroes drench the Statue Of Liberty in slime and use a NES Advantage controller to make it walk through New York City to battle evil?

As I got to be a teenager, I looked back on the second Ghostbusters movie with annoyance.  It's not that I disliked it, but all of the changes just reeked to me of studio meddling.  When I watch it, I can almost hear the asshole studio executives sitting around a table pitching their stupid ideas that changed the characters from the original film in ways that make no sense whatsoever.  Dana Barrett is a world class cellist who plays in the New York Philharmonic, but what if she was an artist who restored old painting at The Metropolitan Museum Of Art?  Louis Tully is an quirky accountant, but what if he was a lawyer who could step in and defend the Ghostbusters in court?  Janine Melnitz is a smart and sarcastic New York receptionist, but what if she was a complete flake?  Pete and Dana are clearly involved at the end of the first Ghostbusters film, but what if we had them break up, have Dana marry somebody else (who is never named or shown on camera), then have that guy disappear completely while Dana raises their infant son?  It's such a convoluted backstory, and it serves no purpose to the plot.  If they had just kept Pete and Dana together, with Oscar as their child, it would have changed literally nothing about the story told in Ghostbusters 2, other than to eliminate some pointless, awkward dialogue to explain a back story that didn't need to exist in the first place.

In recent years, I've come full circle and now appreciate Ghostbusters 2 in spite of its flaws.  I still won't say that it's a good movie, but it's an enjoyable bad movie.  Hearing just a couple of seconds of Bobby Brown's On Our Own is enough to bring me back to a time when a nine year old me spent the summer excited to see what the 90's would bring as I counted down the final months of the only decade I had ever lived through up to that point.  However, despite my warm, nostalgic feelings for Ghostbusters 2, I didn't want to see a third movie.  It had been rumored to be in the works since I was in middle school, with stories popping up from time to time about a new script that was in development, and how Bill Murray was holding things up because he wouldn't agree to be in the film.  Hearing that just made me appreciate Mr. Murray even more.  I wanted Hollywood to leave Ghostbusters alone and go create new, original concepts and stories that light the world on fire just as much as Ghostbusters did back in 1984.

In the months leading up to Ghostbusters: Afterlife, I decided that it would be best if I avoided it as much as possible.  I had every intention of going to see the movie, but I wanted no parts of the marketing campaign that lead up to its release.  I didn't watch the teaser trailers online.  I didn't read any of the rumors.  I avoided Ghostbusters like the plague because few things annoy me in this world more than hype, and I wanted to give this movie a fair chance by going in as fresh as possible, with no expectations of what I was about to see.

Despite my best efforts, one piece of the hype busted through to my awareness - the baby Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and it was like all of my fears were coming true.  As soon as I laid eyes on this cute little bastard, all I could think of is that some studio executive saw "Baby Yoda" from The Mandalorian and thought "hey, we could do that with Stay Puft" and sell a million little fluffy toys and other crap.  It's moments like this that make me realize that I really am turning into my grandfather more and more with each passing year.  But, I decided I would push the negativity aside... or at least that I'd close my eyes, plug my ears with my fingers and shout "la, la, la, la, la" at the top of my lungs until the Baby Stay Puft stuff went away or until I got to see the new movie, whichever came first.

I saw Ghostbusters: Afterlife on opening weekend and enjoyed it a lot.  Now that I've had the opportunity to see it a second time and have had a little time to roll it over in my mind, I can say that Ghostbusters: Afterlife is as perfect of a rebirth of an old franchise that I think is possible.  It's warm, but funny.  It has an original story, but one that incorporates the story told in the first film.  It has new characters that bring as much to the table as their predecessors, particularly Mckenna Grace, who absolutely knocks it out of the park with her performance as Phoebe Spengler, and it brings back the original characters in a way that is both respectful and fun, but not in a way that overshadows the younger cast.  Even the damn Baby Stay Pufts, while clearly inserted into the film as a marketing gimmick to sell toys, was introduced in a way that was enjoyable and not overbearing.  Most importantly of all, it is a fitting and heartfelt tribute to one of the most talented men of his generation, and my favorite Ghostbuster, Mr. Harold Ramis.

There's nothing I would have wanted to see done differently in this movie.  It is everything that it should be, and I hope it is the gateway to introduce a whole new generation to the fictional world that inspired a little boy from Hazleton to stick a shoebox on his back and creep down the upstairs hallway hunting for ghosts.

Dec 20, 2021

You Can't Buy Memories, But Money Can Help You Feel Them

I Wanna Go Back
Eddie Money (1986)
This is one of those songs that I used to bop my head to when I was a kid without really even thinking about the lyrics.  Three years ago, I got to see Eddie Money perform at the Bloomsburg Fair and this was one of the songs that he sang.  The lyrics hit me like a ton of bricks.

The Bloomsburg Fair is like a bubble in time for me.  It looks and feels very much the same now than it did when I was a little boy running around with my grandparents in the 80's, and when I was a teenager going with friends in the 90's, and when I was a young man who still had all of his family in the 2000's.  When I'm at The Fair, it feels like it could be any one of those years... like I could step off of the Fairgrounds and into the parking lot and find myself back in 1986, or 1996, or 2006.  I remember back around 2014 that I was driving home from The Fair in the dark and I swear I thought I was driving to my grandparents house for a few minutes, and that I had to make sure to get to bed early enough to wake up in time for my first class at Wilkes.

Seeing Eddie Money sing this song at that time and place, with the lights of the carnival rides from the Fair off in the distance is one of those moments that I'll never forget.  It unlocked a tidal wave of memories that washed over me.  He died one year after that night.  I wish I could have met him after the concert and thanked him for an incredible show, and for creating such a special moment.

I Wanna Go Back hit the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time 35 years ago today.  If you've never heard it before, give it a listen.  If it doesn't make you feel something today, I'm confident that it will one day.  It's just one of those songs that sneaks into your head with a poppy, feel good vibe, and then lingers with you until the reality sets in.  We all have people, and places, and times that we want to go back to, even if it's just for a moment, but listening to songs like this are as close as we're going to get.

I was listening to the radio
I heard a song, reminded me of long ago
Back then, I thought that things were never gonna change 
It used to be that I never had to feel the pain
I know that things will never be the same now

I want to go back
And do it all over
But I can't go back I know 
I want to go back
Cause I'm feeling so much older
But I can't go back I know

I recall hanging out on Friday night
The first slow dance
Hoping that I'll get it right
Back then I thought I'd never ever stand alone
It used to be that a lonely heart was never shown
I know that things will never be the same

I want to go back 
And do it all over
But I can't go back I know 
I want to go back 
Cause I'm feeling so much older
But I can't go back I know

Dec 19, 2021

75 Years Of Christmas Lights

Christmas Boulevard
Berwick, PA (2021)
The mile long stretch of Christmas lights and decorations on Market Street in Berwick have been on display every December for the past 75 years, and this is our 16th year in a row visiting them during the holiday season.

Some of the decorations on display at Christmas Boulevard date back to the 1950's, while others are new displays that are set to fit one of the themes they've decided to use for the year.  This year, the theme seemed to be movies, with displays that called back to It's A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, as well as a few displays for The Berwick Theater.