Apr 30, 2023

Chase Or Be Chased

Keystone Kapers and Dolphin
Atari 2600 (1983)
Two of my favorite games from my early days of gaming have turned 40 years old this month.

Toy Chest advertisement - St. Louis Post Dispatch  (June 5, 1983)

Keystone Kapers was designed by Garry Kitchen.  He's the same programmer who was responsible for three of my other all-time favorites on the Atari 2600: Pressure Cooker, Space Jockey, and the 2600 port of Donkey Kong, and he was the co-designer of the NES classic A Boy And His Blob.

The concept of the game is very simple.  You play the role of a police officer who is chasing a crook through a department store.  The crook has a head start, so you have to run to catch up with him, but there's a ton of merchandise in the way that slow you down.  As you run through the store, you'll have to jump over radios and shopping carts while ducking under toy airplanes and beach balls, because hitting any of these items will take time off of the clock.  If the clock reaches zero before you've caught the crook, he will get away and the game is over.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution  (April 23, 1983)

This is the Garry Kitchen game that I've played the most when I was a kid, and it's the one that I have come back to the most as an adult.  It has a perfect combination of having a simple concept with easy controls, or as easy as an Atari 2600 joystick can be.  It also gradually increases in difficulty, which keeps the game from getting dull and makes you want to keep playing to top your previous high score.

Like most Activision games of this era, gamers could earn a free patch.  All you had to do was score 35,000 points, take a photo of the screen, and send it in to the company.  For as difficult as it may have been to hit the scoring goal, taking a photo of the screen was an even bigger challenge.  It may sound silly today because we all have smart phones and can take a photo of the television screen that comes out crystal clear every time, but back in the 80's, I was working with a CRT television with a glass screen and a 110 film camera, and you wouldn't find out if the picture you took was good enough until about a week later when your pictures came back after you got the film developed.  When I was a kid, I tried many times to take a photo of a high score from an Atari or Nintendo game, and not a single one ever came back from the photo lab where you could see what was on the screen.

Fort Worth Star Telegram - Fort Worth, TX  (September 1, 1983)

I don't play Dolphin quite as often as Keystone Kapers these days, but I did play it quite a bit when I was a kid and it was a lot of fun.  You play the role of a dolphin swimming through the ocean to escape a giant squid.  There are seahorses that you have to navigate through to prevent them from slowing you down, and currents that can either make you swim faster or push you back towards the squid.  A seagull will occasionally fly overhead, and it acts as the Pac Man power pellet in this game.  If you jump out of the water and catch the seagull, you will be able to swim directly at the squid to scare it away.
The Arizona Republic - Phoenix, AZ  (January 15, 1983)

There were two different patches that you could win by playing Dolphin.  The first is the Friends Of Dolphins patch, which could be won by sending a photo of your television showing that you scored 80,000 points.  However, if you managed to score over 300,000 points, you would receive the Secret Society Of Dolphins patch.

Keystone Kapers and Dolphin are included in many of the Atari 2600 and Activision compilations that have been released over the years.  Both games are among the 15 titles in Activision's Atari 2600 Action Pack: Volume 2, which was released for Windows 95.  They were also included on the 1998 release for the original Playstation that was called A Collection Of Activision Classic Games For The Atari 2600.  Four years later, they were included in one of my favorite retro collections, Activision Anthology, which was ported to Playstation 2PSPGame Boy AdvanceWindows XP and Macintosh.

These games can also be found on some, but not all, of the later Atari Flashback plug-and-play consoles, although it seems as if Keystone Kapers is included on more of them than Dolphin is.  There have been quite a few different models of these that have come out since the first one was released in 2004, so be sure to check the game list before buying, but if you're looking for one that has both Keystone Kapers and Dolphin, you'll want to pick up either the Flashback 8 Gold Activision Edition from 2017 or the Atari Flashback 50th Anniversary Edition from 2022.

Apr 28, 2023

We're Home

It's been a long winter, but the 2023 season at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater officially kicked off last night with the first in-person Patreon screening of the season.

This is the group photo of the whole gang of Drive Insiders who were in attendance for the screening, courtesy of Ellarian Photography.  My wife and I are wearing our custom t-shirts to commemorate the Jaws-inspired Bollywood classic that we watched at the most recent virtual screening.

That big old dork in the red hoodie is me.  If you ever see me on the lot, I promise that despite my appearance, I am a friendly guy.  I'm socially awkward as hell and I've apparently forgotten how to smile for a photo, but if you can get past my general weirdness, come over and say hi.

Our special desert for the night from Val was her Butter-n-Bling cookies.  They weighed about a half pound, and they were absolutely delicious!

Artwork by Roger Bonet Martinez - Gnarly Magazine (2023)

We have to keep the name of the movies shown during the on-site Patreon nights a secret, so in lieu of showing the poster for the film in question, here is some drive-in artwork by artist Roger Bonet Martinez.  We got to see a 35mm print of a psychological thriller from 1983.  It was a weird flick that isn't necessarily for everybody, but I thought it was very good.  I'll have to see if I can find a copy on Blu-ray for an affordable price.

There are a lot of awesome nights coming up at the Mahoning after the traditional opening weekend double feature of The Wizard Of Oz and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.  We'll be going to a lot of them, so much like the past two years, this blog is going to resemble a Mahoning Drive-In Theater fan page from now through the end of October, so if you're a regular visitor to my humble little corner of the web, be prepared for a lot of gushing about how incredible this place is.

Apr 27, 2023

Post-Tragedy Debate Script Sold Separately

Thoughts & Prayers
Death By Toys (2023)
If we're going to do nothing at all to solve the problems that we face, the least we can do is find a reason to laugh.

Apr 26, 2023

Dollar Dog Night

Tuesday, April 25, 2023
Results: Mariners defeated Phillies, 5-3

It occurred to me when we were picking out our games at the start of the season that there were eight MLB teams that I had never been in attendance to see.  Two of these teams are in the NL West: the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.  The other six are American League clubs: the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners.  This realization, combined with the fact that interleague has expanded this season so that every team is scheduled to play at least one series against every team in baseball, inspired a personal goal of going to see every team in baseball at a live game at least once in my lifetime.

Last night's game wasn't originally one of the ones that we picked, but the Phillies had a flash sale on Saint Patrick's Day that was too good to pass up.  Tickets for a limited number of games were being offered at a pretty good discount, including a game against a team that I hadn't seen before that also fell on a Hatfield Dollar Dog Night.

Hatfield Dollar Dog Night has been a Philadelphia tradition for many years.  As you have no doubt guessed from the name of this promotions, all hot dogs at all food stands are on sale for one dollar, and you can fix them any way you like at the toppings bar.  The "limit 4 per person" sign is really more of a suggestion than a rule.  At the start of the game, you are limited to four hot dogs at a time to keep the line moving and to ensure that everybody gets their food, but you can go through the lines as many times as you like, and the purchase limits tend to fade away as the game progresses.

A festive atmosphere has popped up around Dollar Dog Nights, including fans coming to the ballpark in hot dog costumes, impromptu hot dog eating contests, fans buying loads of hot dogs and giving them away to total strangers, and the occasional food fights and hot dog flying onto the field.

The last Dollar Dog Night took place two weeks ago on Tuesday, April 11th in a game against the Marlins, and it turned into a fiasco when a "food fight" broke out in the stands.  The worst thing that could have happened as a result of this was the fact that it went viral, especially in a city where being ejected from a ballgame is sometimes worn as a badge of honor.

I saw more fan ejections last night than I've ever witnessed at a single game before.  Some of these seemed to be over-reactions, like a fan who bought a bunch of hot dogs and was tossing them to other fans in the stands.  It wasn't a food fight.  He basically just had a huge box filled with dollar dogs, came back to his seat, shouted "who wants a hot dog", and tossed a free dog to whoever said they wanted one until he ran out.  It was completely harmless, but I guess they had to enact a no-tolerance policy for flying food after the reported food fights at the previous Dollar Dog Night.  A pretty loud chant of "let him stay" erupted when security confronted the wiener-tossing fan.  I lost track of what happened from there, but I hope that security could read the room and realize that this guy wasn't being a nuisance to anybody.

Unfortunately, there are always a few jackasses who ruin a good time for the rest of us.  Just before the last out of the game in the bottom of the 9th, the home plate umpire had to call time out for the grounds crew to pick up hot dogs that were thrown by fans and landed in the outfield grass and on the warning track.  I'm laughing in this video mostly because I was sitting around a good group of fans in Section 415 who were making everybody laugh throughout the entire game, but I'm pretty disgusted by this behavior.  I'm not at all cool with people who waste food or throw things onto the field, and if this sort of thing keeps happening, it's going to probably lead to the end of a fun tradition of Dollar Dog Nights at Citizens Bank Park.

On a more positive note about Dollar Dog Night, the promotion isn't limited to carnivores.  There's a vegetarian stand in Section 125 called Greens & Grains that sells Veggie Dogs, and they were included in the promotion.  I had two of them and they were very tasty.  I couldn't tell the difference between these and a regular hot dog.  This makes me very happy, especially since my wife and I had come to a decision earlier this week to gradually cut meat out of our diet, but that's a story for another time.

Before I stop eating meat entirely (which I don't expect will happen for at least a few months), I wanted to try the newest cheesesteak at the ballpark.  Uncle Charlie's Steaks is in Section 109 at Citizens Bank Park.  They're named after our second and most recent manager to lead the Phillies to a World Series Championship, Charlie Manuel, and it may be the most flavorful cheesesteak that I've had at the ballpark.  It's served on a Liscio's seeded role and offered with either American cheese or Whiz.  I had mine with American, but unlike most steaks I've had in Philly, this was a liquid cheese sauce as opposed to sliced American cheese.  If not for the orange sauce sitting next to the white American cheese sauce, I would have thought they used the wrong cheese, but it definitely tasted like American cheese.  It was topped with onions and I got some cherry peppers and jalapenos on the side, and some crab fries from Chickie's & Pete's.

We got to see an old friend return to Philly in the Mariners lineup.  Shortstop J.P. Crawford was the Phillies first round draft pick in 2013 and was one of our top prospects ten years ago.  The Phillies traded him to Seattle in the winter before the 2019 season in the deal that brought Jean Segura to Philadelphia, and while I think that the trade was definitely the right move, I was still a little sad to see this dude go.  He's an excellent defensive shortstop with a solid bat.

With one out in the top of the 5th, Mariners left fielder Jarred Kelenic hit a solo home run to deep center field to put Seattle on the board.  The Mariners tacked on another run before the inning was over when José Caballero singled, stole second base, advanced to third on a throwing error, and scored on a J.P. Crawford RBI single.  The Phillies cut the lead in half in the bottom of the 5th when Edmundo Sosa hit a solo shot to left field to make the score 2-1.

The Mariners continued to tag Bailey Falter in the 6th inning.  After striking out Ty France, he gave up a double to Eugenio Suárez, followed by a two run homer off the bat of Teoscar Hernández to give the Mariners a 4-1 lead.
The Phillies had their best chance to put together a rally and get back into the game in the bottom of the 6th.  Trea Turner struck out to lead off the inning, but Kyle Schwarber was hit by a pitch and Nick Castellanos and J.T. Realmuto both singled to lead the bases with one out.  This brought Alec Bohm to the plate, who hit a grounder on the first pitch that I thought was going to turn into an inning-ending double play, but the Mariners only managed to get the forceout at second base.  This scored Schwarber from third and put runners on the corners with two outs and Sosa up to bat.  He homered in his previous at bat so I was feeling pretty good about the Phillies chances here, but Matt Brash struck him out to end the inning with Seattle still leading by a score of 4-2.

Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh led off the top of the 7th with a triple off of Connor Brogdon.  He scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of José Caballero to increase Seattle's lead to 5-2.

The Phillies once again looked like they were putting together a rally in the bottom of the 9th.  Alec Bohm led off with a double, and he advanced to 3B on an Edmundo Sosa groundout.  Brandon Marsh struck out, which brought up Cristian Pache's spot in the lineup.  Pache had a good night overall, going 2-3 and making some pretty excellent plays in left field, but he grounded into a double play in his previous at bat.  The Phillies brought in Jake Cave to pinch hit for him against Seattle's right handed closer, Paul Sewald.  It turned out to be the right move because Cave hit an RBI single to cut the Mariners lead to 5-3, but unfortunately Bryson Stott couldn't keep the rally going.  After a short break to clean up some hot dogs that found their way to the outfield, Sewald struck him out to end the game and pick up his 7th save of the season.

I'm not sure if these were the final totals or just the amount that they sold up to the 8th inning, but this graphic on Phantavision showed that they sold an average of 473 Dollar Dogs per minute at last night's game, and a total of 59,866 sold, with 19,188 of them sold before the first pitch.  Let these numbers sink in.  That's almost sixty thousand hot dogs sold in approximately four hours.

The game was considered a sellout with an attendance of 42,323.  The last time that I've been to a weekday game that sold out was during 2007-2011 run of five consecutive NL East Championship seasons.

And that's a wrap on our first ballgame of the season.  I've got tickets to three more - one with my wife and two with my dad.  Right now, the Phillies are sitting on a record of 11-13 which is good enough for fourth place in the division and five games behind the division leading Atlanta Braves.  Hopefully they'll be able to get on the right track before the next game on our calendar, but I can't lie... I'm getting a lot of 1994 vibes from the way that this season has played out so far.

Apr 25, 2023

Some Things Should Stay Hidden

Hidden Valley Ranch ice cream
Van Leeuwen (2023)
You may be thinking that ranch salad dressing wouldn't make a very good ice cream flavor... and you would be right.  This stuff is terrible.

Apr 24, 2023

Saturday Of The Dead

The Pope's Exorcist and Evil Dead Rise
Regal Cinema - Hazleton, PA
A theater chain in Belgium called Pathé Cinémas are having a Horror Night with back-to-back screenings of The Pope's Exorcist and Evil Dead Rise.  It's not something that our local Regal Cinema is promoting as a double feature, but they are showing both films on the same day, so we went ahead and had our own Saturday Of The Dead double feature, with an hour long intermission in between to have some Italian food at the mall.

The Pope's Exorcist is based on the allegedly true stores written by Father Gabriele Amorth, who claimed to have performed over 160,000 for the Roman Catholic Church before his death in 2016.  I don't believe for a second that there is any truth to what he has to say, but it does make for a hell of a good story and a pretty damn good movie.  With the exception of the 1973 classic, I can't think of an exorcism-related movie that I enjoyed more than this.

Russell Crowe and Daniel Zovatto both do an excellent job, and without giving away too much of the story, the end of the movie makes it seem like the goal of this film was to start a new supernatural action franchise that blends elements of The Exorcist, National Treasure, and The Da Vinci Code.  It's something that I'd be interested in seeing, but whether or not that happens depends on how successful this film is at the box office.  I hope that it does well.

I've been looking forward to Evil Dead Rise since the first time I saw the trailer, but I was concerned that this was one of those times where all of the good parts are in the trailer.  Thankfully, that is not the case.  In fact, the trailer does a fantastic job of selling what this movie is all about while not giving any of the story away.

Before I say what I want to say about this movie, it's only fair that you have a little background on where I'm coming from with this franchise.  I have loved horror movies since I was six years old, but I wouldn't classify myself as a superfan of Bruce Campbell, The Evil Dead, or Evil Dead II.  I like them very much, but I don't put them on the same pedestal as the rest of the community of horror fans.  Army Of Darkness is my favorite movie of the original Evil Dead trilogy and I enjoyed Evil Dead: The Musical more than any of them.  I still haven't watched the 2013 reboot, but I did the beginning of the Ash vs The Evil Dead series on Netflix, which I enjoyed at first, but I lost interest in it after a few episodes.

My intention in saying all of this is not to rip on the Evil Dead franchise, but to give some context to my thoughts on Evil Dead Rise, which I believe is the best true horror film in the franchise by a wide margin.  The acting performances are better, the writing is better, and there's a lot more character development.  It traps the main characters in a way that isn't obvious as it's happening, so the audience learns just how truly screwed they all are at the same time that the characters are learning it themselves.  The movie is genuinely scary, which is not something I can say about any other Evil Dead movie that I've seen.  In the other films, the gore and the kills are campy or played for laughs.  In Evil Dead Rise, it's done to scare you, and it's done effectively.

In short, Evil Dead Rise slams the door on horror/comedy and runs headfirst into absolute terror.  Obviously I don't speak for the horror community, but I couldn't be happier.

Apr 23, 2023

There's The Beef

McDonald's Quarter Pounder Billboard
Veteran Ave and Santa Monica Blvd - Los Angeles, CA (1973)
This photograph was taken by Robin Dunitz and has been archived at the USC Digital Library.  Have you ever seen a McDonald's hamburger look as good as the one in that billboard?

Apr 22, 2023

The Shark Usurped My Peter

Prem Lalwani & Desh Mukherjee (1996)
The Mahoning Drive-In Theater stays engaged with fans over the winter through their Patreon.  One part of this that I especially look forward to is their monthly streaming of a rare and obscure film from the American Genre Film Archive.  The movie that we watched on Thursday was Aatank, which is an Indian Sharksploitation flick that was filmed over 10+ years, and it's bizarre to the point of defying description.

This is what the AGFA website has to say about this cinematic adventure:

I'm not sure if I'd go as far as to call this movie "The Bollywood Jaws" because the shark doesn't appear until at least the halfway point.  The first half of its runtime doesn't even mention sharks or shark attacks.  In fact, the closest it gets to the ocean at all is when a fishing community have to defend their catch from a local gang led by the evil and powerful crime boss, Alphonso.  This is just one of several stories that are happening at the same time.  Some of these plots end up going somewhere, and some don't, but there's plenty of singing, dancing, and other wackiness throughout.

When the shark finally does show up, it really shows up.  A newlywed bride who plays the Chrissie Watkins of this film is performing a song and dance to tease her new husband into chasing after her.  This chase takes the young woman into the ocean where she becomes the shark's first victim.

The shark goes on to devour other members of the community, including a young man named Peter who is like a brother to the hero of our story, Jesu.  Upon learning of Peter's death, Jesu's anguish led to one of the greatest subtitles that I have ever seen.

I hate it when that happens.

We're coming up on the Opening Weekend for the Mahoning Drive-In Theater.  This coming Thursday, they're hosting a private screening on the lot for Patreon members, followed by their traditional double feature on Friday and Saturday of The Wizard Of Oz and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory to kick off the 2023 season.  Opening Weekend wraps up on Sunday with a bizarre 1993 Alex Winter movie that I've wanted to see for many years: Freaked.

It's already shaping up to be a hell of a good season!

Apr 21, 2023

McGriddle In A Cup

Cup Noodles Breakfast
Nissin Foods (2023)
A couple of years ago, Nissin experimented with a Cup Noodle dessert with their limited edition Pumpkin Spice instant ramen noodles.  This spring, they're getting creative once again with a new twist on an old favorite with a maple syrup, pancake, sausage and egg flavored product called Cup Noodles Breakfast.

Instead of the dried vegetables and meat that you'll find in one of their lunch flavors, Cup Noodles Breakfast has pieces of dried sausage and egg, along with a powder that I'm pretty sure contains the pancake and maple syrup flavoring.  It may seem like a weird idea to mix these things with instant noodles, but it's very good.  It's not just better than you're expecting it to be, or pretty good for a weird limited edition flavor... I mean it's actually quite delicious!  It reminds me a lot of a McGriddle breakfast sandwich from McDonald's.

These are being sold exclusively at Wal-Mart.  They're no more expensive than any other Cup Noodles product if you find them in the store, but they're being sold online for ridiculous as much as ten times the retail cost on the secondary market.  I wouldn't recommend paying those crazy prices, but if you see them on the shelf, I'd highly recommend giving them a shot.

Apr 20, 2023

Refusing To Die

Regal Cinema - Hazleton, PA
Our third Mystery Movie was by far my favorite one yet.  No disrespect intended to Paint or Mafia Mamma, but Sisu is on another level.  What I'm about to say is an oversimplification of the story that's being told here, but if I had to sum up this movie in 30 seconds or less, I'd say the following:  Sisu is what you'd get if you wanted to turn Rambo into a World War II film with The Undertaker character in Stallone's role.

I'm expecting that a lot of reviews for this film are going to compare it to Inglourious Basterds, but aside from the fact that it involves brutally killing Nazi's during the second World War, the two films share almost nothing in common.  The action scenes are something that I'm sure Tarantino would appreciate, but the dialogue is very different from his style.  In fact, there's very little dialogue at all, and the vast majority of it comes from the Nazi's who are all speaking English throughout the film.  I think that was the right choice.  It's not that I mind subtitles, but they do draw your eyes away from the scene, which is not something you want for a movie like this.  It's much easier to just suspend disbelief for a little while instead of presenting the entire film in German.  At the risk of spoiling part of the movie, I appreciate the way that the dog was used to connect the audience to the main character, and to keep them feeling anxious about the dog's safety throughout the story.

This movie isn't for everyone, but it most definitely is for me.

Apr 19, 2023

People Were Always Rotten, But The World Was Beautiful

Soylent Green
MGM (1973)
The sci-fi classic that shows the future of human civilization in the far off year of 2022 is turning 50 years old today.  Soylent Green is one of my favorite movies of all time, and while the future that it envisioned didn't come to pass last year, I still believe that this is the most accurate that any work of fiction has ever come to predicting the destiny of the human race.

Apr 18, 2023

You Can't Just Say Perchance

The recent release of The Super Mario Bros Movie has inspired Phil Jamesson's paper from last February to once again go viral.  It may not have gotten a passing grade, but I have a hunch that my philosophy professor still would have referred to this as a "good stick".

Here is the original Tweet from February 18th of last year.

Apr 17, 2023

Brother Seamus... Like An Irish Monk?

The Big Lebowski
Cinemark - Moosic, PA
Two months ago, we saw a Fathom Events screening of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.  Last night, they screened another one of my top four on Letterboxd in celebration of its 25th anniversary.  It's my favorite comedy flick of all time, and its gone on to become a cult classic in the years since it was released and even spawned its own religion.

I got to see The Big Lebowski last summer during Tunnel Vision Tuesday at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater.  Would I go see it on the big screen again less than a year later?  Does the pope shit in the woods?

Prior to the start of the film, they showed a series of facts and trivia questions about the movie.  There was also a filmed introduction by Leonard Maltin, who admitted that he wasn't a huge fan of The Big Lebowski the first time that he saw it, but it's the kind of movie that practically begs you for repeated viewings, and it just pulls you in deeper and deeper every time that you see it.  He's not wrong.  Even if you don't really get what makes this movie special on your first viewing, you will in time, and if you loved it the very first time you saw it, you'll love it even more each time afterward.  I can't explain why this is true, but it is.

I'll go see The Big Lebowski every time that its screening within a reasonable distance.  It's a movie that I will absolutely never get sick of.  Hell, if anybody ever reads this after I drop dead, just go ahead and put my cremated ashes in a Folgers can and bring me to see it one last time.  Just be sure not to open the can in a heavy wind.