1993 – The Nightmare Before Christmas

It’s that time of year… when you get together with family and friends and watch films you love. You know what I love? The Nightmare Before Christmas. I have it on VHS, DVD, BluRay, digital, I have the soundtrack, and I have a few little collectables from the movie.

Most everyone knows the story, but the quick outline is that, in this universe, the world is divided by Holidays. Each holiday lives in their own town. In this one, the biggest celebrity in Halloween Town gets bored doing his job, finds Christmas Town, and tries to do Christmas in Santa’s place. It’s a bit strange being explained, but everybody knows that The Nightmare Before Christmas really pulls it off. They got it right, they tell a great story, with lovable characters and memorable music.

The stop-frame Claymation movie took a lot of work, but the new hi-def BluRay release is beautiful. The shimmering snow in the backdrops and so many little details are beautiful. There are a few things that show up in the BluRay version, for example wires here and there that were used to hold up flying objects things afloat. I’ve said enough, you know what this is, go watch it already!

1994 – My Neighbor Totoro

I don’t know what’s taken me so long to write about this one, maybe it’s just the sentimental time of year that got me on this. But one of my all time favorite movies is the early English dub of My Neighbor Totoro. That’s right, the 1994 20th Century Fox version of the Miyazaki original. In 2010, a re-dub was released starring some bigger name celebrities – but it’s the amature, yet perfect acting of the 1994 release that I connect with so well.

In this anime children’s film, two young girls and their father move out to the country to prepare a new home. Their mother is in the hospital with an un-named illness, but when she is well enough to return home, she will still need the peace and quiet of the countryside to rest. The young girls have a hard time coping with their mother in the hospital, and turn to the mystical spirits of the forest to watch over them while she is away. Enter characters like Totoro, Catbus, and Dust Bunnies / Soot.

When I was growing up, my sister and I went to the video store on a Saturday night and rented this on VHS. Upon our first watching, my sister commented on how the main Totoro character was similar to a friend of mine who was also somewhat tall and quiet. We laughed every time the Totoro would open his mouth and let out a roar. But apart from our own in-jokes, the movie really had a great balance of moments that made you smile and others that made you really feel for those characters. A year later I would own it on VHS, and now on DVD. Other Miyazaki films are memorable and enjoyable, but there’s something special about Totoro.

I haven’t brought myself to watch the Disney Presents version of the film, because the annoying yet bold voices of the 1994 English dub just seem too perfect. I never want them to change. When young Mei is crying her eyes out with her face stuffed in to her sisters dress, I never want to hear another upset child. It’s acted so perfectly, I don’t want to hear another performance! I absolutely love My Neighbor Totoro, but only one version, so far.

1994 – Evolver

In 1994, electronics, gadgets, toy, and games were my entire world. I was 10. I remember stumbling on to a movie on the Sci-Fi channel around the same time (ya’know, SyFy now?). Evolver. Evolver is a B-Movie about a kid who wins a prize by getting a high score in an arcade game contest. Kind of. Anyway, he gets the prize robot, and then the robot starts killing people.

Alright, so it’s pretty straight forward and B-Movie style. But there were some stars in there! Ethan Embry was the main character, and William H. Macy was the voice of the Evolver robot. Evolver is the name of the film and the murderous robot because of how, every time you “beat” it in a game, it “evolves” and learns from the environment and experiences. It’s a basic plot with a little thriller horror and not very many unexpected twists. But man is it fun. It takes place in the same universe as the movie Arcade and has a few recurring characters, but you do not need anything at all from the others to sit down and enjoy Evolver.

2010 – Alien Anthology

During their “Black Friday deals week” deals, Amazon had the BluRay Alien Anthology on sale. I couldn’t resist.

I haven’t sat down and watched an Alien movie since I was much younger. In fact, most of the time, I saw them on TV, and don’t know if I ever saw the full version. Now I have all four movies, directors cuts, audio commentaries, deleted scenes… just so many options, all packaged in an attractive book of DVDs. The quality of the BluRay videos is excellent. The designs that made Alien bridge the gap between cult-classic and cinematic masterpiece stand out in this beautiful hi-definition collection.

I kept eyeballing the “Alien Quadrilogy” when it first came out – but I’m glad I found this glorious Anthology collection. Each movie has one BluRay disc which contains the original, and a director’s edition, as well as BD-Live features and deleted scenes. Then there are two additional discs, one is a making of the anthology, and one is basically a media archive – fan service to the highest degree. Pictures, pieces of scripts, history, backstory, set design, sketches… just a true collection of everything that makes the Alien saga great. Whether you’re a huge fan, or just someone who wants to see all of the movies, the value of the Alien Anthology is hard to ignore.

2008 – Rehab – Graffiti the World

No, we’re not talking about physical therapy with the Wii, we’re talking about Rehab, the band. Many people know the band from their single, SittinÂ’’ At A Bar, but if you want music that’ll put you in a good mood, you need to listen to Graffiti The World.

Tracks like Bump literally paint a beautiful picture of “black trees / silhouetted against an orange sky” as you drive down the road with your music blasting. Every time I hear it in the car I go a little bit faster. Other songs like Bottles and Cans tell an interesting story about the cost of being the life of the party. Other songs like Red Water and Walk Away slow the album down and make you take a deeper look at your life, whether it’s from the perspective of someone who appears to have it all, or someone about to lose their marriage. There are several more good songs on the album, and this is one of those rare few I really enjoy beginning to end. This Town is a fantastic song about life in a small town, which always reminds me of where I grew up in Pennsylvania. I would, without a second of hesitation, tell anybody to listen to Graffiti The World.

Even if you’re opposed to the language on the album, you can’t come away from it without understanding that these guys have been there – or they know someone who has. Dealing with everything from suicide, to drug addiction, to struggling with their career in music, and even religion, on an alternate pressing of this album (a song was cut from this release, entiled “This I Know” which puts a modern spin on the children’s Sunday School song “Jesus Loves Me, this I know…”). I’m really a big fan of Rehab and enjoy most of their stuff, but this album finds its way in to my rotation over and over again!

1989 – The Super Mario Brothers Super Show

Hey, Pisano’s, it’s the Super Mario Bros. Super Show!” I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I must’ve shouted those words along with Captain Lou Albano in my living room growing up. Adventures of Nintendo’s famous Mario and Luigi, in cartoon form, swept me away to the Mushroom Kingdom and I never wanted to come back. But the show made us come back to reality, by beginning and ending every episode with live action featuring actors that your parents knew, and a lot of celebrity cameos.

The Super Mario Bros. Super Show would take you through the various environments of the first two games, and featured music and sound effects from the games themselves. It was handled with the care that few other shows based on games would ever get. While others tried hard to change the lore of the games to fit television, the Super Show did its part to keep you immersed in Miyamoto’s world. I loved this show growing up, the live action segments taking place in their basement-apartment in Brooklyn New York, were some of my favorite moments in childhood history. Imagine being an 8 year old in the early 1990’s, when suddenly the wreslter Sergeant Slaughter shows up to talk to the Mario brothers. Wrestling, Video games, and even a little GI Joe, all rolled in to one mind-blowing moment.

After the first two seasons, consisting of 24 episodes each, were the episodes that stand out the mnost in my memories. When I bought many of the boxed-sets on DVD, certain dreams were dashed. Beginning with Super Mario Brothers 3, I was excited to see the new special items and power ups featured in the show, but dropping the live actors hurt the show big time. To fill the remaining time, nearly every episode had a rediculous chase scene coupled with a song that would repeat so many times I literally couldn’t even finish watching the DVDs. I can only imagine what I put my parents through. I didn’t even bother to buy the later Super Mario World episodes – although I distinctly remember watching those shows as well, introducing Yoshi and continuing the saga of the Koopa Kids.

Although it appears as though the DVDs are going to increase in rarity, the show is finally available digitally and can be streamed on Netflix and Amazon’s Instant Video. Enjoy them!

1944 – Murder, My Sweet

The perfect introduction to the Film Noir genre. For most people my age, the entire genre is a mystery in itself – we never had films like these. When the Max Payne games made their original debut in the 2001, it was our first “Noir” experience. The stoic narration, the flashbacks, the constant “blacking out” and starting over – none of it made much sense, it was just a fun journey to play through. Then I saw Murder, My Sweet.

The movie introduces you to an array of characters, including Moose, who you immediately develop a soft spot for. But as the movie carries on, the plot starts out as a simple bit of detective work and becomes gradually more nefarious. The movie is a spin on The Maltese Falcon, which if my movie history memory serves me correctly, had been made in to about 4 different movies in the span of just one decade… but this one really nails it for me. Everything from lights and camera work, to how shadows cascade across a room – every detail was well thought out in Murder, My Sweet. There is even a scene where our protagonist, Detective Marlowe, gets drugged, and has a fever dream, filled with paranoid dellusions – much as one might remember from the Max Payne games (now re-released on mobile devices!).

Yes, it’s a 1944 black and white detective film. But I go back to this classic over and over, and enjoy the thrill ride every time.

1996 – Beavis and Butt-Head Do America

About once a year, or once every 18 months, I go back to a special gem in my movie collection. Say what you will about the 1993 (and coming back) TV Series Beavis and Butt-Head, but their one-shot, feature length movie actually has a lot going for it.

Beavis and Butt-Head was the funniest show you weren’t allowed to watch as a kid. A late night MTV production, it pressed a lot of boundries of television content and even language. MTV backed it by airing music videos during the show that the characters would make fun of via parody or discussion, while a side story that is relatively plotless introduces you to a cavalcade of crazy characters.

While you’ll be spared the pain of music videos when watching Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, what you do get is an all-star sound track only MTV in their heyday could have assembled. The animation techniques used were consistent with the show, but they occasional mixed in some CGI here and there, along with some other modern and classic animation methods to make this movie an instant classic.

But where the film shines is the plot. Beavis and Butt-Head Do America takes you on a cross-country journey to various landmarks on a mission that includes everything from toilet humor to an international chemical weapons plot. The All-Star cast included Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Cloris Leachman, and Robert Stack. When that many big names are willing to get behind something as silly as Beavis and Butt-Head, you know the script had to be something special. Don’t be in a rush to judge this one without watching it, I go back to it for a reason. Your preconceived notions may just be worth changing – give it an honest shot and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Space Above and Beyond – the sci-fi series you DIDN'T watch

As you probably noticed from some recent gaming posts, I was a big fan of Wing Commander growing up. But the Wing Commander movie was boring at best, and the Wing Commander animated series was busy rewriting backstories of characters I already knew and loved.

For the sci-fi geek in me, the best “space fighter-pilot jock” action for my dollar always came from Space Above and Beyond. This TV series constantly gave you the intensity of being in the cockpit, while developing characters and backstories you come to know intimately: the members of the 58th Squadron. Although planned for five seasons, only the first ever aired and the show was prematurely canceled, just like everything else we Sci-Fi fans enjoy. But those 24 episodes are some of my favorite stories ever told, and you can tell they had some higher hopes planned for the series.

I would highly suggest anyone looking to fill that “Wing Commander” shaped whole in their life while waiting for Squadron 42 should take a look at Space Above and Beyond – The Complete Series. It’s not a game, but it is immersive.