Nov 30, 2023

Streaming On A Budget

OverDrive Inc (2023)
It's entirely likely that this service is common knowledge and that I'm late to the party as usual, but there is a streaming service called Kanopy that has an impressive catalog of movies available to watch.  The best thing about it is that it's absolutely free.  All you need is a library card.

Here's how it works:  you sign up for an account using your card from a participating public library, which thankfully the Luzerne County Library System is.  When you sign up, you get 15 tickets which you can redeem to watch one of the movies, shows, or documentaries on the platform, each of which cost a certain number of tickets.  Your tickets replenish on the first of every month, but unused tickets do not roll over.  There is also a section called Kanopy Kids with children's programming, but you have unlimited access to all of this content without needing to redeem a ticket.

The Kanopy app is available on Roku and many other devices, and all of the video that I've watched so far has been fast, in high definition, and commercial free.

This month, I got to see We're All Going To The World's Fair, The Belko Experiment, It Comes At Night, The Girl With All The Gifts, and the Alex Winter documentary The YouTube Effect, and I still have tickets left over.  This was my first time seeing each of them, and I especially recommend The Girl With All The Gifts.  It's one of the best "zombie" movies I've watched in a very long time.

Between Kanopy, Tubi, Pluto, and Plex, and the deals that we got on Hulu, Disney+ and Peacock, we now have access to far more entertainment than either of us could ever have enough time to watch, all for less than $60.  I don't mean per month or per service... I mean $60 total cost for all of them for the next twelve months combined.  Truth be told, I'd probably be perfectly satisfied with just the free services, but the deals they were offering for Black Friday were too good to pass up.

Nov 29, 2023

An Instant Holiday Horror Classic

It's A Wonderful Knife
RLJE Films (2023)
The newest Christmas themed slasher flick had a short run at our local Regal Theater.  It was screened on October 23rd as one of the Mystery Movie Monday films, and again on November 16th which is when we got to see it.  We had originally planned to see Thanksgiving that day and then go see It's A Wonderful Knife a little closer to Christmas, but it wasn't on the schedule for November 17th.  The day we got to see it very well might have been the only day that it was showing in town.

I was skeptical about this movie going in because of its title.  The name of this movie makes it sound like its going to be a parody, but this is more of a Shaun Of The Dead situation.  It's a horror flick with comedic elements, but it's not a spoof of It's A Wonderful Life that's built on cheap references and bad puns.  It shares the plot device of a character wishing they had never been born and that person getting to live out that reality.  However, this character stopped a madman on the first day of his killing spree, so in a world in which they were never born, the madman was free to become a serial killer who is still terrorizing the town.

I'm shocked at how much I enjoyed this movie.  It's an excellent holiday slasher with solid performances from everyone in the cast; particularly Jane Widdop (Winnie), Jess McLeod (Bernie), and Justin Long (Henry Waters), the latter of whom is way over-the-top in all the right ways.  This might be my second favorite performance of his, coming in second only to Brandon St. Randy in Zack and Miri.

The only moment that I'm not a huge fan of takes place toward the end of the movie; specifically the way that the townspeople behave when Winnie confronts the killer.  I don't want to say too much more than that at the risk of spoiling it, but you'll know it when you see it.  It's not bad enough to ruin the movie or anything.  It just kind of made me say "uggh, I wish they hadn't made that choice".

My only regret here is that we didn't get to see Thanksgiving and It's A Wonderful Knife on the same night.  That would have been one hell of a holiday horror double feature!

Nov 28, 2023

It's A Good Time For The Great Taste

Matt from Dinosaur Dracula shared this photo of a McDonald's restaurant that was taken at some point during the 80's when it was decorated for Christmas.  I have no idea where this was taken, but I could swear that I remember the one outside of the Laurel Mall in Hazleton looking exactly like this.  A lot of them probably did.

Nov 27, 2023

The Gaia Wind Tape

Ominous Whispers
Illusion Of Gaia (1993)
I found this VHS tape while sorting through old boxes in the garage and it brought back a lot of memories.  It's a piece of music from a video game that's approximately three minutes long.  This is a loop of that song that takes up the entire runtime of the tape.

The game is question is Illusion Of Gaia.  It was released on the Super Famicom thirty years ago today and came over to the United States on September 1st of the following year.  It has a nice balance of action, puzzle, and RPG elements with rich 16-bit sprites and an immersive and fun story that can get pretty dark and even a little deep at times.  It's one of my favorite games on the Super NES.

One of the things that drew me into this game was the music, and there's one song in particular that plays midway through the game when you reach the Incan Gold Ship.

When this game was released in the United States, I was 14 years old and living with my grandparents in West Hazleton.  One of the reasons that it caught my eye at the store was that it came with a free t-shirt that came packaged with the game.  I bought it, brought it home, and had just gotten to the Incan Gold Ship in the game when I started to get tired.  The music in this part of the game was so relaxing that I just left the game on and laid back in my chair to take a nap.  A few hours later, I woke up to that music still playing and continued on in the game.  It would not be the last time that I'd fall asleep listening to this part in the game.  Something about that song just stuck with me.

Five years later, I downloaded a handful of Illusion Of Gaia songs on Napster and found that the song from the Incan Gold Ship was one of them.  The file was labeled as "Gaia Wind", but I learned much later on that it's called Ominous Whispers.  I burned it onto a CD-R which I sometimes listened to when I was going to sleep.  One day, I got the bright idea to pop the disc in my Playstation so that I could listen to it with the visual effects on screen.  The vertical one looked especially cool to me with this song playing, especially with all of the lights except my blacklight turned on, so I recorded six hours of this on my VCR to play whenever I wanted to lay back and relax for a little while.

So, to recap, this is a song from a Super Nintendo game that was downloaded from Napster, then burned onto a CD-R and played through the original Sony Playstation from which it was recorded onto a VHS tape.  How's that for 90's nerd culture?

Nov 26, 2023

Beans For Thanksgiving

Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
Sega Genesis (1993)
Sega's answer to Tetris and Dr. Mario was released in the United States thirty years ago today.  Although it wasn't common knowledge to American gamers at the time, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine is a version of the Japanese puzzle game Puyo Puyo with a story and characters from Sonic The Hedgehog used in place of what was used in the original game.

Like most great puzzle games, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine is easy to learn but challenging to master.  The object is to clear the beans away without letting them build up to the top of the screen.  If you get four of the same color beans to touch, they will disappear, but if you want to defeat your opponent, you'll need to set up chain reactions so that many different color beans clear off of your screen with a single move.  It's an addictive game that still holds up three decades later.

Nov 25, 2023

Dinosaurs In Wilkes-Barre

Jurassic World Live
Mohegan Sun Arena - Wilkes Barre, PA
My wife is a huge fan of the Jurassic Park/World universe, so we got tickets to see the Jurassic World Live Tour for their first performance earlier today.

It's appropriate that this show took place on Saturday morning because the experience reminded me of the cartoons based on popular movies that aired on Saturday mornings throughout the 80's and 90's.  Animated shows like The Real Ghostbusters, Ewoks, Beetlejuice, and Rambo took elements from the movies that they were based on and presented them in a kid-friendly package, and that's exactly what Jurassic World Live did.  The story takes place between the events of Jurassic World and Fallen Kingdom.  It's a simple and fun story with dinosaurs, fight scenes, pyrotechnics, and over the top dialogue that makes you feel like you're watching a live action cartoon.  If you have children who like Jurassic Park, or you're an adult who still enjoys cartoons once in a while, you'll have a good time for sure.

There was only one thing about the show that I didn't enjoy, and it was this...

This little toy at the merchandise table may look innocent (other than the price tag which I believe was $30), but it a pretty aggravating little piece of plastic when you happen to sit next to a child whose parents have purchased it for them before the start of the show.

Don't believe me?  Have a look...

See how long you can stare at this image without getting a wicked headache.  Now, imagine it waiving around to your left hand side, about a foot and a half away from your face for about an hour and a half, and you'll have some idea of my experience at Jurassic World Live.

Now, I could have been a jerk and said something to the kid or made a snide remark to their parents, but my philosophy is that when something unpleasant happens, the best thing you can do is to limit the damage.  The best case scenario if I would have complained is that the parents would tell the kid to put it away, at which point I've traded an annoying flashing light for an awkward and uncomfortable time sitting next to this family.  Worst case scenario is that it turns into a shouting match with angry parents, or a crying child, or any number of other possibilities that are worse than a bright flashing light.

I don't blame the kid.  Hell, she couldn't have been more than six years old and she was happily playing with her new toy at the dinosaur show.  I don't even blame the parents.  While it's true that they could have been a little more aware of their surroundings and that a strobe light to the face isn't the most courteous way to treat your seat neighbor at a show, the reality is that these people don't owe me anything - especially at an event that was clearly geared towards children and families.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that my wife and I were the only childless couple in the whole arena.  I do, however, blame whoever signed off on this toy being produced and sold at the show in the first place.  Out of all of the dollar-store quality crap that they could have come up with to con parents out of more money than they spent on the ticket to the show itself, they settled on a brightly flashing disco ball on a stick.  Whoever you are, I hope that your kids get the loudest and most annoying toy in the world as a Christmas present from their aunt this year, and I hope they use it to ensure that you don't get a moment's peace for the rest of their winter break from school.

On our way out of the arena, we were each given a free sample of a Green Giant Dino Veggie Tot and a coupon for a free bag of them.  They're pretty tasty and a welcome surprise at the end of the show.

Nov 23, 2023

Happy Thanksgiving From 1987

Hazleton Community Bulletin
Service Electric Cable TV (1987)
If you grew up in or around the Hazleton area in the 80's or 90's, there's a good chance that you're familiar with this channel.  This was the Community Bulletin channel for Service Electric Cable TV customers as it was in 1987.  If you were hosting a community event, like a church bingo or a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at the fire hall, you'd send the details in to the cable company, and they would add it to the rotation of announcements on this channel that was broadcast on television (on channel 13 if I remember correctly).  There would also be some messages from the cable company to let you know where you could pay your bill, or if there were any pay-per-view events coming up.  You can see an ad in this video for the first WWF Survivor Series event.

They usually broadcast a local radio station on the Community Bulletin channel.  The one that is playing in this recording is from WWSH - Wish 98.  It was a local easy listening station that was found at 97.9 on the FM dial.  They switched formats when I was in junior high school to become our local rock station, first known as The Mountain, and then The Bear.  The radio station that they used for the audio on the Community Bulletin may have changed over the years, but the channel itself didn't.  It looked exactly like this from my earliest memories of it in the mid 1980's straight through to the mid 2000's.  I think it finally updated it's look sometime in 2007 or 2008.

This was on a VHS tape that I recorded on Thanksgiving when I was seven years old.  I actually remember recording this.  We were at my grandparents house, and we typically ate Thanksgiving dinner pretty early in those days; like at around noon or just after.  Then we'd all sit around the table eating pumpkin pie and talking until folks would eventually start to meander toward the living room.  This was usually started by my dad and my grandpa, who had both eaten too much and retired to their respective recliners to take a nap.  My grandfather had just gotten a VCR about a year ago, and he bought me some blank tapes that I could use to record movies, or cartoons, or shows on Nickelodeon, or whatever else I wanted to watch later.  One of those tapes was in the machine, and for some reason, I hit record on the Community Bulletin channel, and I taped it for a few minutes while my family was snoring around me.  Somehow I've managed to save that tape for all these years.  I get sentimental over the silliest things sometimes, but what can I say... that's who I am.

So from my family to yours, from the past and present, have a happy Thanksgiving!

Nov 22, 2023

The Amish Tradition Continues

Raymond The Amish Comic
Cinema & Drafthouse - West Hazleton, PA
Raymond's show in West Hazleton has become a pre-Thanksgiving tradition for us.  We've gone to see him on the night before Thanksgiving in 20192021, and 2022 (there was no show in 2020 due to the Covid-19 lockdown).

For anyone who's interested in attending next year's show, you should probably know that although the theater's advertisements all say that the doors open at 7:30 and the show begins at 8:00, the doors really open well in advance of 7:30.  We got there at around 7:15 and the place was already about a quarter full and reservation cards had been placed on quite a few of the tables.  If you want to get a decent seat and have time to order food that will get to your table before the start of the show, I'd recommend that you plan to get to the theater at 7:00.

Speaking of food, we had the Preview Sampler, which includes chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, Bavarian soft pretzels, pierogies, and freshly made potato chips which are served with an assortment of dipping sauces.  The chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks and soft pretzels were especially delicious.

I think I'm going to try the Parmesan Chicken Tender Sub next time.

Raymond was hysterically funny as always.  I think this is my favorite out of the four shows that we got to see him.  If he's performing anywhere in your area, I highly recommend that you check out his show.

Nov 21, 2023

The Fixx Is In

The Fixx
Keswick Theatre - Glenside, PA
There are a lot of bands from the 80's that still tour in 2023, but this band is one of the very few that are still touring with the same members of the band who took the stage back then.  Cy Curnin (vocals), Jamie West-Oram (guitar), Rupert Greenall (keyboards) and Adam Woods (drums) have each been members of The Fixx since 1980, and Dan K. Brown has played bass in the band since 1983 when they recorded Reach The Beach.

I've listened to The Fixx on the radio since I was a kid, and I became a big fan of theirs five years ago when I found a recording of the KROQ Top 106 Of 1983 that was uploaded to the Internet Archive.  The fifth song in the recording is Red Skies.  I'm not sure if this countdown was the first time that I ever heard it, but it's definitely the moment when I fell in love with the song.  The DJ must have also been a big fan of The Fixx because he played Shuttered Room next, even though that song wasn't officially part of the countdown.  Hearing these two songs back to back in this recording inspired me to dig into their history.  The Fixx has released 11 studio albums over the past 41 years and I can't think of any song that I didn't enjoy.

I'm more torn about my feelings about the venue where The Fixx performed last night.  The Keswick Theatre opened its doors on Christmas 1928.  It's a beautiful and historic building in the suburbs of Philadelphia with free parking and incredible acoustics.  The only other time that I've been here was last September when Kevin Smith hosted a screening of Clerks 3.  They've had a lot of events here that I've been tempted to get tickets to since that screening, but I decided not to because there's one thing about this place that's a dealbreaker, and that is the seating.

I realize that I'm kind of a big guy, but I've been to a lot of different venues (including old and historic ones), and none of them have seats that are as small and uncomfortable as the ones at the Keswick Theatre.  It feels to me like squeezing into a chair that's meant for children in an elementary school auditorium.  If they removed the seats to make this place a standing room only venue like the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, I think that this would be one of my favorite places to see a concert, but the seats at the Keswick are so uncomfortable that it overshadows everything else that's great about the place.  Unless they do some major remodeling, this is going to be my last time coming here.

There's a cute little ice cream parlor called The Weldon next door to the theater.  It was too cold out for ice cream, but we stopped here before the show for hot cocoa and pumpkin cupcakes.

The opening act was a man named Kasim Sulton.   He was bassist and vocalist for Utopia, Joan Jett & The Black Hearts, and The New Cars.  He also was the bass guitarist for Scandal from 2004 to 2006 and for Blue Öyster Cult from 2012 to 2017.  He's gone on tour with many other bands and singers and has worked in the studio with many others.  His resume is so long and impressive that it would take pages to list everything he has done.  This guy played bass and sang backup vocals for Meat Loaf in the recording of Bat Out Of Hell and Bat Out Of Hell II for crying out loud!

When I learned about the work he has done before the show, I thought that we were really in for something special, but... well... let's just say that his live solo performance isn't my cup of tea.  I did enjoy his rendition of Drive and Across The Universe, the latter of which began with a sad revelation.

Mars Williams with The Psychedelic Furs (10/28/2018)
Mars Williams with The Psychedelic Furs (10/28/2018)
Mars Williams with The Psychedelic Furs (10/28/2018)
Mars Williams with The Psychedelic Furs (10/28/2018)
Mars Williams with The Psychedelic Furs (7/13/2019)
Mars Williams with The Psychedelic Furs (7/13/2019)

Kasim Sulton dedicated the last song of his set (Across The Universe) to Psychedelic Furs saxophonist Mars Williams who passed away earlier in the day.  He was 68 years old.  I got to see him perform twice with the Furs, and he was absolutely incredible and added to both nights being two of my favorite experiences at a concert.

The Fixx took the stage next and performed an incredible 15 song main set with a 3 song encore that was everything that I hoped it would be.  The set kicked off with The Fool from their 1982 debut album Shuttered Room.  They played two other songs from this album during the set which are two of my favorite songs from the decade: Stand Or Fall, and the song that made me a fan of the band, Red Skies.  They also played both of their big hits from their 1983 album Reach The Beach: One Thing Leads To Another and the show closer, Saved By Zero, and two songs from their 1984 album Phantoms: Are We Ourselves and Less Cities, More Moving People.  They played one other song from 1984 called Deeper And Deeper that the band recorded for the Streets Of Fire soundtrack.  I still haven't watched that film.  We had the opportunity to see it at the Mahoning this past season, but we didn't make it out that night.  I realize that we can't possibly be there for every movie, but I regret missing out on that one.

The band also performed two songs from their 1986 album Walkabout: Built For The Future, and one of my favorite love songs ever recorded, Secret Separation.  They also performed one song each from their 1989 album Calm Animals (Driven Out) and their 1991 album Ink (Shut It Out), and two songs off of their 1997 EP Happy Landings that were included on their 1998 album ElementalHappy Landings and Two Different Views.  The other four songs that they played were ones that I was less familiar with, but they fit perfectly with the rest of the set, including Just Before Dawn and Something Ahead Of You from their 2012 album Beautiful Friction, as well as Closer and Wake Up from their 2022 album Every Five Seconds.

It was an incredible show and I feel very thankful for having had the opportunity to see The Fixx live in concert.

Here are the setlists for both Kasim Sulton and The Fixx from last night's show.

Nov 20, 2023

Seven More Years

Aaron Nola
Philadelphia Phillies
It was announced yesterday that Aaron Nola will be staying in Philadelphia.  The right hander signed a seven year $172 million contract that will keep him in Phillies pinstripes through his age 37 season.  I honestly did not expect that this would happen at all, let alone that a deal would be worked out before Thanksgiving, so it is very welcome news that the Phillies rotation for 2024 is all set.

Nov 19, 2023

This Time, There Will Be No Leftovers

TriStar Pictures (2023)
The story of how this movie came into existence started over 16 years ago when directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino collaborated to create a theatrical double feature that was collectively known as Grindhouse.  The first half of the double feature was an action/horror flick called Planet Terror and the second half was a road thriller called Death Proof.  The idea behind Grindhouse was to recreate the feeling of seeing a double feature at a small indy theater in the 70's that specializes in exploitation films that most major theater chains wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.  The films were given an aged and scuffed up look, and reels were deliberately missing from the final theatrical version of the movie to recreate the 70's grindhouse theater experience.

Another thing that was added to the theatrical experience of Grindhouse was trailers for movies that didn't least they didn't exist back then.  In the years that followed, many of these fake trailers have been turned into full-length feature films, including Machete and Hobo With A Shotgun.  The fake trailer that Eli Roth contributed to Grindhouse is the latest of these to become a real movie: Thanksgiving.

There isn't nearly as much entertainment that are based on the Thanksgiving holiday as there are for Halloween and Christmas, but there are a few that I make it a point to watch every year.  These include movies like Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Son In Law, and cartoons like A Charlie Brown ThanksgivingBugs Bunny's Thanksgiving Diet, and The Simpsons episode Bart vs. ThanksgivingEli Roth's Thanksgiving is definitely going to be added to this list of annual traditions for me.

Thanksgiving feels like the 80's slasher flicks that I loved to rent on the weekends and stay up all night to watch.  The gore is so over the top that I couldn't help but to laugh at some of the kill scenes.  Thankfully, there were plenty of other folks in the theater who were laughing just as hard as I was, so I didn't feel quite as much like a weirdo with a twisted sense of humor as I did when I would watch these alone in my bedroom.    If you love horror movies, this is a movie that you absolutely cannot miss.