Saturday, August 5, 2017

Punch Drunk

Been a while and I have little to report so I'll just say I'm decades late to the show on this.  But, it makes me smile.  Sutherland at least made it to the show!

Now I'll just go back to my NES and play some Mike Tyson's Punch Out!

Friday, December 25, 2015


The one constant of my blog (and it’s not timely entries) is that every year I visit the movies I paid to see at the movie theatre.  There were numerous movies in 2015 that I waited to see on VOD or DVD but the list below are the ones that got my butt to a seat in the theatre (usually with a large Slurpee and a pretzel too...boy that adds up).

SAW THAT - so let’s take a look at the 2015 Movies I saw (in order) at the Cineplex.  Some of these movies I saw multiple times as is noted in the parenthesis.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Furious 7

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2 IMAX)

Mad Max: Fury Road (5, 1 IMAX)


Jurassic World (2 IMAX)

Ted 2

Ant-Man (IMAX)

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (1, 1 IMAX)

The Green Inferno

The Walk (IMAX)

The Martian

James Bond: Spectre (IMAX)

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2


Star Wars: The Force Awakens (IMAX)

The Hateful Eight (70mm Limited Road-show)

Total = 17 different movies

Total = 25 different showings

With only seventeen different movies in the running, choosing a Top 10 was a bit challenging.  Truly there are only sixteen movies since Poltergeist was more like forced duty since my nieces begged me to see it.  I’m not the market audience for Poltergeist as I don’t need a reboot of this series, and even with all that the movie lived down to my lowly expectations.  It was generic, bad, and instantly forgettable.

The only movie I had a lot of anticipation for was Mad Max: Fury Road and this one blew me away.  The first time I saw it I was heavily medicated due to an allergy situation and my brain had a struggle processing the pure assault I was under.  Repeated viewings made me appreciate this movie more and more and shockingly on my last viewing I dragged my wife to see it and even she had to admit being entertained.  “Witness!” is now a much enjoyed phrase around the house.  With a 97% approval rating and buzz about a possible Best Picture nomination for the Academy Awards, I couldn’t be happier.

That said let’s take a spoiler free look at my Top 10 favorites for this calendar year.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

This movie is a sheet assault on our senses.  If you haven’t seen it then do so instantly.  I am in sheer awe of the vision of George Miller and the world he created with a budget behind him.  Would the movie have been better with Mel Gibson as Mad Max...possibly?  I did like what Tom Hardy did with the limited role, but this franchise has always been about the world and Max drifting from one scenario to another.  This movie can, and should, be embraced by all moviegoers because of the pure levels of creativity and imagination on display.

2. Jurassic World

Wow, dinosaurs run amok and it was entertaining as hell!  When I heard that this movie was going to center around a fully functional dinosaur theme park and that Chris Pratt was going to train raptors, my initial thought was “This movie will suck!”  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  By definition Jurassic World is: Pure bubble gum entertainment!

 3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The haters are hating on this one and some people are so wrong that they’re resorting to the weakest of comparisons.  Is The Force Awakens a classic?  No.  Star Wars has produced two classics A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back (thank you Gary Kurtz).  If we’re honest this series will never achieve that level of greatness, in fact it’s impossible.  However Return of the Jedi is decent, and somewhere between greatness and decent lies this new entry.  I was entertained throughout and I’m aware that the magic of 1977 and 1980 will never be recaptured...but this new entry has me curious to see what will follow...and I think Kylo Ren (not Rey) is the strongest original character delivered to this franchise in decades.

4. The Hateful Eight
Christmas morning I went to see this at the limited 70mm road-show engagement.  It was worth it!  I’m a Tarantino fan through-and-through!  Hateful Eight is purely a character-piece that essentially takes place in one setting.  It’d be a stellar play.  The dialogue was strong and the characters, and surprises, were handled perfectly.  When the bloodbath starts (and it does) I was legitimately shocked because what I thought was going to happen did not happen.  Go into this one spoiler free.

5. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Tom Cruise hanging outside of an airplane!  Yep, this is an exciting movie!  Cruise’s energy and enthusiasm are a marvel to behold and I hope he doesn’t seriously injure himself at some point in the hope of keeping audiences entertained.  There are some great action pieces in this movie and a thrilling break-in sequence.  I’ve never been unhappy with any entry in this franchise and can safely say, “I am a Mission Impossible fan!”

 6. Avengers: Age of Ultron

More Hawkeye!  We all win with Renner!  I loved the original Avengers and this movie is a decent sequel.  The biggest problem with this film is that it gives us more of the same but doesn’t strive to give us something different.  There’s a thrill to seeing this entire team working and interacting with each other but the climax felt like the finale of the first movie (replace alien army with robot army).  I was hoping for more but glad that the wheels didn’t even come close to falling off the wagon.

 7. The Walk

It’s a travesty that this movie was overlooked by audiences.  It was a great caper movie with an incredible third act and the IMAX experience had me up on that wire with the main character.  Televisions will never be able to capture the magic of what IMAX delivered but I’m sure everyone reading this missed this movie at the theatre so go see it immediately.

8. Creed

Can we all just agree that Sylvester Stallone deserves a Best Supporting Actor Award for his performance as Rocky Balboa?  This is a great movie.  I’m a Rocky fan and this film follows that blueprint perfectly while also giving us a strong bond between mentor (Rocky) and mentee (Adonis Creed).  The homage’s to the franchise are handled perfectly and there is a strong emotional level to this film that had me misty-eyed at several points.  Of all the entries in my Top 10 this year, I bet upon revisiting this movie its ranking will climb in the future.

9. James Bond: Spectre

I’m a James Bond fan.  I even like the weaker entries (A View to a Kill, Diamonds are Forever, and anything from Timothy Dalton).  Spectre was a solid entry.  It’s not as fast paced as Casino Royale or as exciting as Skyfall but there’s plenty of fun to be had and you can't go wrong with Christoph Waltz chewing up the scenery (heck I love that guy's work in those new Clash of Clans commercials), inspired casting!

 10. Kingsmen: The Secret Service

I know there are people who don’t like this movie.  It’s not good enough or bad enough to feel strongly either way (thanks Don, I borrowed that bit of perspective from you).  I went into this movie expecting nothing and, again, managed to be completely entertained from beginning to end.  There are occasional touches of Mark Millar’s sophomoric humor but for the most part this is a James Bond homage and it plays that role perfectly.


And the rest...

Furious we’re back to a year where a Fast & the Furious movie doesn’t make the Top 10.  I have a lot of love for this franchise and the male bonding that takes place between Vin Diesel and Paul Walker.  This movie was sad to me because of the tragic passing of Paul Walker.  That said, they managed to patch together an entertaining entry and they did his character justice.  My preference in the franchise though is still Parts 4 and 5 which work stellar as bookends. was good but not quite enough to beat out Furious 7.  I enjoyed the fact that not every movie in the Marvel Universe needs to revolve around a plot that leaves the planet in peril.  Smaller hero, smaller scope, but its’ heart is in the right place.

The Martian...the book was better.  Not sure what I expected but overall the movie left me with an overall vibe of “average”.  It’ll probably be worth a revisit at some point.  For anyone interested in seeing this I’d recommend reading Andy Weir’s superior book instead.

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2...this franchise isn’t marketed for me but I’ve enjoyed each entry.  Catching Fire was easily the high point (which is hard for a sequel to do) but the darkness of this universe is something I appreciate.  The entire saga and the wrap-up were done well.

Ted 2...sequel comedies are usually the hardest sell.  I wasn’t shocked to see the general level of indifference audiences had.  I went to the movie hoping for a ninety minute escape and it succeeded on that level.  I also laughed enough to leave the theatre happy.  I’m not much of a Seth MacFarlane fan but both Ted movies are films that make me smile.

The Green Inferno...I'm a horror fan and an Eli Roth fan (I could listen to his interviews for hours on an endless loop because I am in awe of his rapid-fire love and respect for movies) but I'm not necessarily a fan of cannibal movies.  Needless to say, I did like this movie even though it had me grimacing.  The film's heart and ironic message are handled perfectly.  It'll definitely get a second viewing from me at some point...just not at dinner time.

Poltergeist...weak story and a pale comparison to the Tobe Hooper / Steven Spielberg original.  Some massive plot holes and idiotic character moments of implausibility.  Still, my nieces enjoyed it so I’m wise enough to know this movie was not made for people my age.

I’m hoping that 2016 delivers a wider range of movies that have me excited to get out to the theatre (especially the IMAX which is possibly the greatest addition to the movie going experience of all time).  I know Batman v. Superman is coming and my prediction is that it will be an overcrowded mess because I don’t think Warner Brothers understand how to build a franchise like Marvel did.  Captain America: Civil War looks super although it also looks like it might also be overpopulated with characters.  As for the rest of the upcoming movies...let’s wait and see...

For those interested in previous years Top 10 movies

Monday, July 20, 2015

"Where ya been, Man?!?!"

How has it been six months since my last blog entry?  Wow, as Dr. Ian Malcolm was found of saying, "Life finds a way."  In this case life finds a way of getting in the way and preventing me from updating my blog.  Needless to say, I am still around doing what I do (e.g. working, podcasting, writing, and playing Donkey Kong).

Let's address something that came up in a conversation I had with some friend.  I am not an author.  I am not even sure I would call myself a writer.  Even though I have written several screenplays, two collections, of short stories, and one collection of movie reviews, writing is not even close to a career path for me.  It's a hobby that I enjoy.  So as an independent person who writes, some months I make enough money to go out to a dinner at Red Lobster...and some months I go to a dinner at Subway.  Not exactly a rags to riches story, but there's enough money that the IRS is always happy to come checking for their portion.  Note to newbie writers, authors, and people who write: Royalty payments never have taxes taken out in advance, so be ready at tax time to pay the fiddler.

I have been actively writing.  My second volume of There Goes Tokyo! reviews will be completed by the end of summer (then it's editing and formatting time) and if all goes well should be available for purchase by the conclusion of 2015.  This collection covers the Heisei Series, Millennium Series, and more.  There's over thirty reviews total and I made sure that this summer's Jurassic World made it into the book.  Nothing like sitting in a dark theatre frantically taking notes while eating a pretzel and attempting to enjoy an Icee.   I know at one point a man in the row behind me looked over my shoulder with a, "What the hell is this guy taking notes for?  Is there going to be a test?"-expression on his face.

Aside from TGT2, I have also been working on my first novella.  This one will clock in around 150-pages and, trust me, it's a bloody affair.  It'll be under my Late Night Horrors collection and should be available also before the end of calendar year 2015.  I can't share much about it other than the title - A TALE OF TWO MONSTERS.  I know there's a full-length novel in me, but I'm baby-stepping my way toward it.  Writing this novella as certainly taught me plenty since the concept was originally going to be a short story but as ballooned into a much larger work that I think is a real grabber for fan's who like scares, violence, vampires, and...did I mention blood?

Lastly before I end this entry and return to my writing I want to address something.  Wiser writers than me have often said it is a fool's errand to engage with critics.  Sadly, I guess I don't listen.  When people take the time to buy my work on various sites and post reviews, I like to respond and thank them for their time.  If the review isn't positive, I do my best to explain my point as well.  But, wow, there are some angry people out there.  I'm not sure if this is because an exchange of money has taken place or not but I find it interesting that when someone does not like something I wrote their review inevitably either offers me strong advice on what I should have done ("Go be a blogger ya bum!") or has such a powerful opinion that cannot in any sense me wrong, "I hate this book.  If you read it and like it you are wrong.  Nothing positive will ever come from purchasing and reading this book.").   My all time favorite was one from a year ago where the reviewer claimed my book (There Goes Tokyo!) was horribly edited with hundreds of factual and grammatical errors.  When I tried making some responses inquiring this reviewer to give me one example he responded with, "Well, I'm really busy but I'll be in touch."  A year later and I'm still waiting for that ONE EXAMPLE.  So I get suckered into a debate, have a negative review posted about my work, and naturally none of what the review wrote was true.  But, because I didn't follow that timeless advice of, "Don't engage with critics" I'm the one who ends up wasting his time trying to defend my work while some angry man with a keyboard simply wants to knock it down because apparently it threatens some part of their happy existence.  Weird.

But I guess there's caveat emptor and there's the law of being a critic which is if you pay your money you can say whatever you want whenever you want critiquing someone else's work whether it is the truth or not.  Seriously, the ire in some reviewers has caught me off guard, sometimes I think it may be jealousy that other people have accomplished a task like writing one (or several) books, and seen them through to completion where the buying public can read and enjoy them, which sets some people into a sour mood so strongly that instead of politely making a point they lie, name call, or just do what they can to sling mud over another person's efforts.

That said, years ago I read Susanna Clarke's book Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.  The book received high praise from people and I was excited to delve into the world of English Magic.  Needless to say, I did not like the book.  I wrote a review and explained my position.  I never said her writing was bad, that the effort was better served as being published on a blog for free, or that anyone who liked the book was an idiot.  Simply put, I did not like the book.

In retrospect I may have been wrong.  This summer BBC America has been airing the seven-part mini-series on Clarke's novel and it's a hoot.  I am enjoying the story, the pacing, and the world that is being presented on my television.  I'm liking it so much that I may have to go back and revisit the novel since perhaps my review was too critical.  Nevertheless, I showed class in explaining my opinion and what worked and what didn't work and made sure I didn't explain to Ms. Clarke that her work was a waste of time for the planet and we'd all be better off for it.  That said, I'm no Susanna Clarke and I'm sure she's smart enough to have learned the lesson about never engaging critics.  I'm a fan of Kevin Smith and in his book Tough Sh!t he made a point of explaining that if you have creative energy get out there and share it with the world and let those sour naysayers be damned.  And that's why I'm still writing, because I have tales that need to be told.

But...there's always time for BBQ!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2014!

Happy 2015!  As I’ve tried to do every year since 2000ish, I reflect back on the movies that I went out to see in the theatre this year.  This year was a light year for me with only 16 total movies being seen (makes picking a Top 10 easier) and only a total of 22 visits to the movies (because I watched a few films more than once…or 5 times for one entry).

All of my Top 10 choices are worth watching.  I’ll keep my summary to a tight one sentence with a fast point or two for each movie and why they made the cut this year.

TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2015!

A ragtag group of cosmic misfits bands together to battle the forces of evil – in space!  I loved this movie, the music, and how it made me feel.  Guardians came out at a tough point for me personally this year and going to see this movie (five times) took me back to a simpler time where movies could simply be fun bubble gum entertainment.  The fact that Marvel broke away from their superhero movie blueprint and took a risk on something different, and it paid off so well, awesome for Marvel Studios!  Keep them coming as I’m geeked for this July’s Ant-Man and May’s Avengers: Age of Ultron!

Captain America is working for S.H.I.E.L.D. against the sinister forces of HYDRA.  I love this movie!  Depending on the day it may even switch places with the #1 movie.  However, the deciding factor was that Guardians brought me back five times to see it do to the overall level of fun.  CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is a great movie but it is also very much a drama.  Much like Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT, this is the sort of superhero movie that transcends the drama and even people who do not enjoy superhero movies will find themselves being swept up in the sheet excitement of what is on display in this movie.  I loved CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, and I feel it’s underappreciated.  Thankfully audiences and fans embraced this movie because for a superhero movie this is one of the greatest ever made.

S.W.A.T. officer Rama survived the first movie but now has to go undercover for years in both a prison and then as a mob enforcer.  Any movie that has two villains named BASEBALL BAT MAN and HAMMER GIRL is going to be awesome!  That is a rule.  Now, the original RAID: REDEMPTION caught me off guard with its assault of pure martial arts mayhem.  I thought that there would be no possible way to recreate that adrenaline rush.  WRONG!  WRONG!  The RAID 2 delivers massive martial arts battles along with one of the best car chase-battle sequences I have ever seen and all of this encircles a solid mafia movie as well.  But then when Rama does get to the final battle and we find out there’s going to be more than one marquee fight…wow!  Action lovers are required to see this movie!  It’s a credit to my #1 and #2 movies on this list that they were able to surpass this movie because RAID 2 is a movie I love!

A giant prehistoric monster rises from the ocean...but is he friend of foe?  I love this movie for several reasons.  First, because it helps wipe away the horrific memories of the 1998 Tri-Star movie.  Second, this is the first movie in my life that I was able to watch in private with my wife at an actual movie theatre (as I was allowed to take notes for my upcoming book THERE GOES TOKYO 2: KAIJU BOOGALOO).  Finally, this movie’s hype swept me up and got me to see a movie on opening night at the IMAX, something I avoid – crowds, and it was a rewarding experience.  I know there are critics and haters of this movie, and you’re allowed your opinions.  I loved this film.

Bilbo Baggins helps his dwarf buddies deal with a massive dragon and then an even larger army of orcs all hell bent on swiping a mountain's worth of treasure.  This is a testament to the talent of Peter Jackson.  I was a huge fan of THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.  However, I did not particularly enjoy the first two Hobbit movies.  I felt they were needlessly long, overly impressed with their own visual effects, and lacking in any form of interesting characters beyond Bilbo and Gandalf.  Begrudgingly I went to the movies to see the finale to the Hobbit series.  I am glad I did.  This was a rewarding movie that had a great pace and some wonderful action sequences and finally some strong characterization.

#6 – BIG HERO 6

A lonely boy genius loses a brother but gains a robotic friend who helps him become a superhero.  It’s rare for a cartoony movie to win me over.  I was a huge fan of THE INCREDIBLES and the TOY STORY movies but the rest I watch more to appease my wife than because I’m excited to watch them.  Here’s the rare example of a “kid’s movie” that had a strong plot and good characters and took me on a journey that I knew nothing about.  Bay-Max was a likeable hero and the villain and third act battle genuinely deliver some surprises that I was not prepared for.  There’s an emotional heft to this movie that is also rewarding.  Plus, any movie with Stan Lee and a stinger-scene immediately qualifies as one of the best films of the year.


The planet Earth is a barren frozen wasteland, and the sole survivors of mankind live a class system onboard a gigantic train that never stops moving.  Is it as good as all the summer time Internet hype?  Nope.  Is it a good science fiction movie with an original premise and a nice social commentary/satire.  Absolutely.  I love when movies take me on a journey where I have no clue of the destination or the reveals along the way.  Snowpiercer succeeded on every level.

Wolverine must travel from a dystopian future back into the past to correct an ill advised assassination on a world leader, good time ensue.  I am not much of a Brian Singer fan.  I think he’s overrated and don’t think he has much of an eye for how to deliver a solid action sequence.  None of his earlier X-Men movies really hit me in the right manner.  Then, when Matthew Vaughn took over the franchise with X-MEN: FIRST CLASS I was fully onboard and loving every aspect from the casting of characters to the action (yes action!).  Then Singer came back.  Ug!  But, surprise, I did enjoy this movie…just not as much as First Class.  It’s a solid time travel movie with original ideas and makes great use of the talented cast.  The action though is a bit flat and thus shows that Singer needs to hand over action filming to a back-up director because it is clearly not his strong point.

A former astronaut learns of a NASA plan to search for habitable life in another galaxy and decides the fate of humankind is worth more than spending time with his daughter.  Christopher Nolan wanted to make his version of 2001 and he did manage to make a thought provoking and visually entertaining movie.  I’m not sure if it will have the shelf life of Kubrick’s masterpiece, but much like my #7 movie this movie was over and days later I was still reflecting on it and it is a movie that definitely needs a repeat viewing.
I’m still not certain if I understand the final third of this movie, but it’s kept me thinking.

#10 – TUSK

A funny podcaster goes looking for a goofy story and meets a not-so-goofy man who is looking to turn a human into a walrus, hilarity does not ensue.  Good for you Kevin Smith.  I’m a fan, but a critical one, and you’ve made mistakes along the way but this movie is not one of them.  The goal was to make a 1970s-era horror movie and TUSK is 100% that.  The movie has a small audience appeal but it’s a great horror movie and one that wisely avoids the happy ending (as the best offerings of the 70s always did).  #WALRUSYES   #WALRUSFOREVER

Who didn’t make the Top 10 cut…?

THE LEGO MOVIE – Overall not my type of movie.  My life loved it, and it was enjoyable, especially since they incorporated a nice father-son bonding plotline.

MALEFICENT – I’m not an Angelina Jolie fan but the movie was decent and she delivered a good performance.  I like the twist ending as well.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – I’m not the hugest Planet of the Apes fan but I’ve seen all the movies.  This one was good, not great, and it didn’t stay with me, or surprise me, to the level that RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES did.

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR – This movie was released ten years too late.  It was good and Eva Green as the femme fatale is dynamite.  Still, very awkward for me to be sitting in a movie theatre all alone on opening day.  If you liked the first one, you’ll like this one and I am a fan of a sequel that feels like a perfect follow-up to the original.

BIRDMAN – A good movie with some neat editing and camera work, but frankly I’m amazed this has gotten all the critical acclaim that this movie has earned.  I must have missed something because I did not feel it was as genre-bending as most people rave.

ROBOCOP – The original Robocop movie is one of my all time favorite movies.  This one had no chance from the PG-13 rating to the wasted screen time of Samuel Jackson, to the muted action and storyline.  It was better than it had any right to be, but Hollywood needs to focus on making original ideas and not remaking films that got things perfect on their first outing.  Honestly, this is the closest movie in 2014 that I did not like, but that’s probably too harsh.  This movie was just dull and generic.

Hopefully 2016 as some solid offerings that draw me back to the movies more.  I’m also looking to continue finding retro showings which are always my favorites and sadly I missed the chance to see any of these in 2015.

Sunday, December 21, 2014



I just finished watching the documentary VIDEO GAMES: THE MOVIE on Netflix.  Overall a fun 90-minute doc that made for a fun trip down memory lane.  While not in depth enough to fully inform any newbies of the history of the video gaming industry, it does touch upon numerous main moments (and pitfalls) along with some fun look back at ads and commercials while intertwining interviews with several industry professionals like Atari’s Nolan Bushnell and celebrities who are also rapid gamers like Wil Wheaton.

Video gaming has been an important part of my life since my father brought home our family’s first Atari 2600 system in 1978.  I was a lot like Ralphie in A Christmas Story as I stared at the faux wood paneling on the front of the system and stroked the luscious gaming mecha like an electrified leg of glowing sexuality.  That first day we had two games Combat and Air-Sea Battle but in short time the family began stockpiling quite a collection of cartridges and even upgraded to the more graphic friendly Colecovision which included an adapter pack for the Atari 2600 thus allowing us to move our Atari 2600 to the basement TV while we had the option to play Colecovision in the living room.  This probably explains why in a house with two adults I currently need five TVs, five cable boxes, and multiple computers and gaming systems…because video gaming options was introduced to me at a very young age.

That wood is the mark of a quality product.  Bust out your Pledge!
The majority of games we bought for that treasured Atari 2600 were fun and offered a solid level of replay value for the time.  Luckily my family managed to miss most of the dud games (looking right at you E.T….although I did manage to borrow and win this game years later just so I could proudly state to people that, “Yes!  I won the worst video game ever produced.”)  Speaking of lousy games, I also remember drinking a shitload of Kool Aid one summer so we could send away points for the Atari 2600 Kool Aid Man game.  The game was actually kind of fun…and the animation of the big red guy smashing through the screen with an “Oh Yeah!” was sort of amusing.  But, I also remember tucking this game away when friends would visit as if owning such a game would hurt my street-cred as a serious gamer.  The biggest dud cartridge our family purchased was the opening day release of Pac-Man…wow, talk about sucking all the fun out of the arcade model with this monochrome nightmare with the worst sound effects in history (that would later be used in Superman III thus combining a hated video game with a hated movie).  The Atari 2600 version of Donkey Kong was also a major disappointment with lame graphics and only two different stages.  Luckily in the not too distant future we bought the Donkey Kong version for Colecovision which offered spot-on graphics and at least three of the four stages (but I still wish the Conveyor level had been included).

I have fond memories of bonding with friends while playing games on that original Atari system.  Having them bring over cartridges that I did not own (Activision greats like Barnstorming or Keystone Kapers, any of the Xonox cartridges, and the ever enjoyable The Adventures of Tron and Yar’s Revenge) always allowed for a long fun afternoon of gaming.  It was an exciting time to experience playing a video game that told a story and actually delivered an ending.  Winning the puzzle game Raiders of the Lost Ark and borrowing from my friend Shawn the under-rated platformer Pitfall II were high points in my early gaming career as I learned the tricks needed to complete a game and be able to shut off my system knowing that I had indeed reached a definitive conclusion in where I, the gamer, WON THE GAME!

In our home, the Top 10 most played cartridges that we owned were:

1.  RIVER RAID – This was the game!  Amazing that the same
Yellow Plane, Yellow Plane, why do you fly so low?
Yellow Plane, Yellow Plane, it's not your fault.
Christmas we were gifted our treasured request of Pitfall the next present opened was River Raid which my father bought on a whim.  Within a few days River Raid would surpass all of our other games for overall re-playability.  I love this game so much that decades later I managed to download it for my Xbox 360 and played it far too much while my wife would sit and watch and laugh going, “Really, in 2013 this is the best game you can find to play?”  A true classic and for my money the best game my family ever owned in our living room arcade.  River Raid was simplistic in that you flew a yellow plane on a mission to bomb the ships and planes stationed in the tight canals of an enemy nation.  It was a very 2D environment with weak graphics and lame sound effects.  But it was fun as hell.  And, this may speak to my gaming skill, no matter how long I played I could never get the game to actually loop and start at the beginning of the canals.  I always wondered how far the programming would actually allow for new levels to appear.  I never found out, but I had so many years of entertainment from this simple game that I don’t really mind.  Later when we owned our Colecovision system, a game called Zaxxon also came along.  This was a more 3D and sci-fi version of River Raid.  I didn’t enjoy it as much.  The 3D was trickier to navigate and at times there is a fine balance between level of simplicity and level of fun.  River Raid successfully found the perfect formula to balance both.

That vine sure made circumventing the crocodiles easier!
2.  PITFALL – I loved this game as a kid so much that I had my photo taken next to my television with my high score so I could send away for a free gift from Activision.  In fact, now that I think about it…not sure they ever sent the item.  It was either a poster or a t-shirt, but free prize or not this game was a blast and I loved exploring the underground tunnels to determine the best way to work my way to a high score within the twenty minute time limit.  As a kid, Pitfall programmer David Crane was a celebrity in my home and I made sure to buy other games that he was the lead programmer on like Grand Prix, Freeway (get the chicken across the road), and even Fishing Derby.  Indiana Jones was won of my favorite movie characters so it wasn’t too big of a leap to see that Pitfall Harry and his vine swinging antics would be a close second.  I become skilled at Pitfall to the point that I could always easily complete the twenty-minute session.  I won some bets with friends on who could manage the most points in that time frame as well.  Still, there was always the momentary panic anytime you would cross onto a new screen and see the dreaded three alligators sitting in their swamp and knowing that you had to slow down and time your jumps precisely lest you would fall into the water or down a gator’s gullet.

Never judge the fun of a game by how small the maze is.
3.  WIZARD OF WOR – This was the most popular game for my brother and me to play together.  It was a game where you controlled humanoid warriors in a small labyrinth maze (this format will sound familiar) that was swarming with monsters (some invisible) and then you would have to eventually work your way toward a fight with the eponymous Wizard.  During the course of the battle both players could choose to work as a team or kill each other (often switching for no reason during the game).  Not many games for the Atari 2600 offered this sort of simultaneous co-op play excitement.  This game was one of the last “new game” purchases my family made for our Atari 2600 but my brother and I played it so much in our basement that it was worth every penny.

4.  VIDEO PINBALL – This was a visually unspectacular game but it 
So bland to look at, but once the ball starts
bouncing around there was a good deal of fun.
was fast paced and fairly addictive.  I enjoyed playing Video Pinball the most because my father (who was not a gamer) would sit and play this game with me and it was the rare game where he was better than me.  I have fond memories of these father-son moments sitting on the living room carpet and playing this game for hours.  Years later in college, I borrowed someone’s Atari 2600 system for the weekend and flipped the score on Pinball and on the bumpers.  I was happy with the score and retired from any return visits although I am still a sucker to play any real life pinball games that I spot in visits to arcades.

5.  Q*BERT – During my formative years as a gamer my favorite game at
The "Donkey Kong" of my living room.
the arcade was Donkey Kong, thus at home DK received less attention.  Q*Bert filled the void by offering a fun and fast paced game with patterns that must be figured out all while under immense pressure to avoid a myriad of enemies.  The tension playing this game was pretty high and reminded me exactly of how I felt standing in an arcade facing the barrels of Donkey Kong.  Burger Time (for Colecovision) also comes in a close 2nd for this very same reason.  The arcade game was rarely visited when I had the opportunity to play Donkey Kong instead.  However at home I enjoyed the adventures of Peter Pepper although the pace and the difficulty of Burger Time often left me overly frustrated, thus I stayed with Q*Bert.  My game play with Q*Bert was solid enough that I could stretch out a single game to go for close to an hour.  Not too shabby.  On a side note, my grandmother saw me play Q*Bert so much one holiday season that she bought me a plastic coin bank of the character.  I remember stock piling coins until it was filled and eagerly opening up the booty to find I had enough money to buy a home computer (more on this in an upcoming entry).

6.  MISSILE COMMAND – There’s three games that could fall into
The tension to save those six cities was intense!
this #6 spot since they all offered the endless assault of a futuristic setting.  Asteroids and Space Invaders were the other two but I always found myself drawn back to Missile Command.  Probably because the difficulty was so damn hard and the pace so nightmarish that I never seemed to survive for more than a few minutes.  I also loved that explosion sound any time one of the six main cities would go up in a mushroom cloud.  I was never a fan of the arcade version because I struggled even more so with the track ball.  However, in the later years of this system when many games had lost their luster, I did often find myself sparing some time for a few quick rounds of Missile Command.  Still, as a youth I wished that some of these games would offer the possibility of actually winning.  The Atari 2600 would provide numerous sub options for gameplay on Missile Command and I often thought a version with a definite number of levels might allow for a more rewarding experience.  Imagine counting down from Level 100 to Level 1 and trying to keep your cities alive the entire time.  Then there is a solid goal to strive for instead of merely prolonging the inevitable nuclear destruction at the hands of alien invaders.

7.  SUPERMAN – As a kid who loved comic books, when I heard that
Loved that box image. 
The game also holds a fond place in my heart being the
first time I controlled a video game superhero.
there was an Atari game based on Superman, I momentarily lost my mind.  Then when I saw the game box with the artwork of the red-and-blue caped superhero I absolutely lost my mind!  The game played out like a pixilated comic book which made up for the pixilated graphics as Superman needed to change into costume, capture criminals and a flying Lex Luthor, avoid Kryptonite bombs, and rebuild a bridge before returning to the Daily Planet to report the story.  The game looked ridiculous but it was certainly fun.  In the 1970s the idea of playing a video game as a comic book character was such a rare treat that this game felt like owning the Ark of the Covenant.  Superman had an end point which also made it feel rewarding to play.  As the superhero you could literally save the day!  Even at a young age I played this game repeatedly trying to memorize the city screen patterns and finish as quickly as possible.  My fastest time was 57 seconds.  Yes – seconds!  Now that truly has to be some form of record.  What makes that score even more special is the fact that my father had just come home with pizza and my mother was busy yelling at me to shut off the game and yet under all of this duress I managed to achieve a spectacular score and save the citizens of Metropolis and then reward myself with a warm slice of pepperoni pizza.
     Later on Parker Brothers released an Atari game based on Spider-Man.  Naturally this had me thrilled to no end as I was praying for a similar open world experience.  Sadly that game was limited to climbing buildings while your web fluid inexplicably drained.  I have never had patience for “beat the clock” style games, especially when their very logic defeats the point of common sense (i.e. Spider-Man is capable of climbing walls!  Thus if his web fluid is empty, he does NOT fall to his death!)

That dot with the key...that's you!  YOU ARE THE DOT!
8.  ADVENTURE – You were a “dot” with a sword that battled dragons to save a kingdom with a chalice.  Sounds lame and it looked lame but Adventure was the first game I ever experienced that offered free roaming.  You could travel anywhere you wanted and determine ways to make the game as difficult as needed.  There were mazes, three dragons of varying speeds, a flying bat, and even the now famous “Easter Egg” dot that would reveal the name of the programmer when delivered to a specific spot in the game.  I remember winning Adventure the first day we bought it and thinking, “I wonder if I’ll ever play this game again?”  I did, later that day and for weeks, months, and years to come.  It was always a fun game to return to and wander from screen to screen on a fond trip down memory lane.  Colecovision had a game called Venutre (based off the arcade game) which I also enjoyed although that game offered less free roaming and more intense and sometimes painfully fast deaths.

9.  BERZERK – I loved playing Berzerk in the arcade and the home
version did not disappoint.  This game also has the distinction of being the first video game that I can remember saving up my own money to buy.  I did a lot of chores around the house to save up the $40 (could it have been that much) to buy this cartridge.  The second game that earned my allowance was Haunted House, but for some reason that game never clicked with my imagination as much as Berzerk.  Back in the day I was a sucker for any game that involved a humanoid character (see a pattern forming in Haunted House you played as merely two glowing eyes roaming in the dark) and Berzerk’s offering of a man with a gun running through an endless labyrinth maze filled with angry robots was a classic scenario.  Essentially it was a one player version of Wizard of Wor.  The never ending dialogue of “Stop the humanoid!” always made me smile in arcades and I wished more dialogue found its way into the home version.  The shockingly swift pursuit of the smiling ball Evil Otto who was hot on your heels made this a fun game that kept you on your toes.  As a fan of the movie TRON, I felt like Berzerk was a similar offering as to what the world of video arcade gladiatorial combat might actually be like.

10.  ACTIVISION TENNIS – Tennis!  Tennis?  I can see people
The #1 sport in my family (1978-1982)
screaming now.  Keep in mind I’m talking about games that got the most play in my household growing up.  I did not come from a home where baseball and football were popular.  My parents both loved watching and playing tennis (so much so that it often prevented me from playing video games because if I wasn’t watching John McEnroe beat Jimmy Connors then I found myself sitting at the park babysitting my brother while my parents played on the city courts for a few hours).  My father bought the game and because he knew the sport it was the kind of game that the whole family could gather around the small TV and enjoy together.  Later on I found hours of enjoyment simply playing games against the computer (who seemed to always be able to run down my shots).  Decades later the reason I bought the Top Spin games for my Xbox systems was mostly because of my fond memories of playing Activision Tennis with my parents during my youth.


I no longer own an Atari 2600.  I know there are plenty available on eBay or there are offerings of MAME or other simulator programs.  However, for this level of gaming I do believe in the “You Can’t Go Home Again” motto.  I would rather have fond memories of plugging in a cartridge on a snowy afternoon and spending a few hours with my brother and friends than I would owning this same system today.  An Atari 2600 would more than likely sit on a shelf and rarely even make it to a television to be plugged in.  I have my memories and they are great memories of a period in my life where the Atari 2600 brought a great deal of fun into my life.

Before we move into 1983 and beyond, it is worth noting that during the same time period that I was playing the Atari 2600 at home I was also regularly visiting video arcades.  In my next entry on my history of video gaming (which may not fall sequentially with my blog entries), I will discuss some of my memories of plucking down quarters in these public establishments and which games drew my attention, imagination, and money the most.
The awesome Colecovision with the Atari 2600 adaptor!  Best Christmas present ever!

GAME OVER...for Part 1.