Sunday, September 20, 2015

This Is a Post About Undo Dog

Warning: This post is a fairly deep drill-down on a minor footnote in video game culture. If obscure Nintendo lore is not your thing, kindly move along and wait for a less niche post.

One of the most insignificant video game characters ever has recently returned to my life: Undo Dog. He’s technically a Mario character, though only in the loosest sense of the expanded Marioverse. He first appeared in 1992’s Mario Paint, a sort of Nintendo approximate of Photoshop that came packed with the Super NES Mouse and allowed players to draw and paint images and create crude animations that couldn’t be uploaded or transferred off the game pack in any way. Mario-branded but not really all that Mario-specific, the game came out when I was only ten, and I loved it. And one of the things I loved most about it was Undo Dog, the game’s equivalent of CTRL+Z.

Clicking him undoes whatever disastrous aesthetic decision you made, and he makes a crude bark noise when you click. If you let the mouse sit idle, he also dances about in the tool tray in the bottom of the screen, and if you opted to create your sixteen-bit masterpiece without background music, he’d occasionally sneeze. (He was allergic to silence, we gathered.)

Here, watch and listen.

Even at ten years old, I was a sucker for anything canine, and the fact that Nintendo chose to imbue one of the most functional aspects of Mario Paint with a dog personality is a great example of why I am a lifelong Nintendo loyalist. And the fact that the icon border around Undo Dog’s face was revealed in his “dancing in the tool tray” animations to be a weird, square collar? I was in love — with the character design but also with whatever clever person who implemented it.

I felt catered to — and that rarely happened when I was younger.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ten Things I Can Tell You About Los Angeles

As of this week, I have been living in L.A. for five years. I have learned next to nothing about the city and therefore have no business offering opinions about it one way or the other. Go ask someone else for practical advice. However, while this more knowledgable person is thinking, read these ten bits of non-advice and non-entertainment that don’t matter toward anything or anything else.

One: If you see Reese Witherspoon in a coffee shop, don’t make eye contact with her. She will slap you to the ground without hesitation and then force you to give her the names and address of your parents, whereupon she will threaten to find them and slap them to the ground should you ever dare to make eye contact with her again. Yes, this really happened. No, I am not joking. Witherspoon’s iron talons control this city. We must rise up.

Two: Sally Field, meanwhile, is a tiny little bird who shops for produce in a methodical, precise manner that only makes sense to her. You will conclude this exact thing when you see her in the produce aisle — and yes, this will eventually happen to you because it happens to all L.A. residents. The Sally Field Bird is your aunt, you will suspect, against all reason. You will grasp her hand tenderly as she picks through a stack of bananas, and without speaking a single word you gaze into her eyes and know that you should take her home, toss an afghan on her and bring her a piping hot mug of Constant Comment, at which point she will regale you with stories from the set of Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. Yes, this also really happened. It happens every time I go grocery shopping. Grocery shopping here is weird.

Three: There exists a series of “secret stairways” that connect much of residential Los Angeles. A holdover from the city's bygone streetcar transportation system, these stairways today allow residents in the know the opportunity to see a homeless man take a dump and then act like you’re the rude one for intruding on his personal space.

Four: The air quality is, in general, poor, but it’s at its worst at a Los Feliz brunch, where it will be just dripping with asshole. You will sit there, desperate for food and too hungry to speak, and eventually the conversations of nearby tables will ring in your ears — one woman with pendulous chandelier-earrings telling a story that has no beginning or end. It’s just the middle of a story that will be interrupted by another middle of a story told by another chandelier-earring. “Can you believe it? It was Kelly, and she was wearing a yellow hat,” says one, in reference to nothing. But then says another: “And then the door opened and I was like ‘I’m not sure you’re even really Persian.’” Says a third: “Pineapple preserves. Spackle. Grackle. Hinge joint.” Your brunch never actually comes and you die on the spot.

Five: People ask where I live, and when I tell them, some respond with “Atwater? I’ve never even heard of that.” This is the best possible hint that this person and I will probably not have much to talk about.

Six: The quickest way to elicit sympathy from your fellow Angelenos is to say, “I actually walked here.” They will immediately assume some sort of financial or legal calamity has rendered you a pedestrian, and nothing you can say to the contrary will relieve them of this suspicion. They may ask if you need a place to crash. This sort of misunderstanding is how I imagine the majority of the city’s guesthouses and poolhouses have come to be occupied.

Seven: The west side is a myth — a foggy limbo where the once-living shuffle about aimlessly in the service of malevolent entities known as children. They say it’s great, but their accounts are unverifiable: No one who’s been sent to investigate has actually gone and returned, and come on — if they live there, can we actually trust them? Affirmations about the west side from someone who lives there is like an eight-year-old who only eats bologna sandwiches saying that bologna sandwiches are the best food. You shouldn’t be questioning the taste of the bologna kid. You should be asking yourself why the hell you’re discussing food with someone who only east bologna.

Eight: Wherever you end up in the city, you will have arrived too late. Before you got there, the neighborhood was better — had nicer restaurants or cooler bars or attracted a different sort of person or offered more for less or had houses that could be bought more cheaply or had this awesome house with this big front yard that the owner filled with these, I guess, totem pole-like wooden carvings that everyone loved, but a few months ago one of the carvings toppled over and hit a pregnant lady and now they’ve all been taken down and really, the neighborhood lost a piece of its soul when that happened. Yeah, the sculpture should have been secured or something, but there are a lot of theories about what the fuck that pregnant lady was doing there in the first place, and it’s still a loss for the community. I think you can see some photos of it on Google Street View, but it still wouldn’t be the same, you know?

Nine: You will happen across houses and other buildings that you recognize from the movies you love. You will get excited about it. You will tell your friends about it. Even if they’re not half as impressed as you are, you never want that enthusiastically nerdy little kid inside you to go away, because how is it possible that you have come to live in the place that made all the stories that you loved so much?

Ten: You will happen across the Mulholland Drive house and face a moment of introspection over whether you've become a Betty or a Diane.

Full disclosure: Some of the stories described may not have played out precisely as I have written them here. However, each grew from a kernel of truth, and when those kernels generated corn plants, I took them and synthesized high-fructose corn syrup.

Here’s to another five years of ignorance and uselessness.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

The Bollywood Nightmare on Elm Street (Abbreviated)

When Wes Craven died, my first thoughts were of Scream and how much that movie had shaped my understanding of pop culture. However, the only piece I wrote about Craven this week focused on the outlier in his filmography: Music of the Heart, Craven’s single non-horror feature and the movie he made in the break between Scream 2 and Scream 3.

And now, along similar lines, another one of Craven’s most unusual legacies: 1993’s Mahakaal, also known as the Bollywood Nightmare on Elm Street.

I actually watched this a few nights ago. It’s something I’d only recommend for hardcore Bollywood fanatics and diehard Freddy Krueger fans. (These groups must share some overlap, and I’d guess that Mahakaal is a godsend for these people.) For me, the film was interesting when it chose to cleave especially close to the source material and when it chose to diverge drastically from it.

Mahakaal runs nearly two and a half hours long, and a lot of this time has the characters singing and dancing for no reason, even after they realized they’re being stalked by the monster. Bollywood movie rules trump slasher movie rules, I guess. As a result of the lengthy run time and the long, long spans when nothing particularly interesting happens, I did a quick and dirty recut of the film, in case you also are mildly curious what a Bollywood Nightmare on Elm Street might be like but don’t have two and a half hours to spend watching Indian youth sing about how great it is to be in love.

Here, then, is a eleven-minute version of the Bollywood Nightmare on Elm Street.

In making this, I tried to highlight the scenes that were most directly inspired by the original as well as the weirder additions — like the unsettling Michael Jackson impersonator, who may or may not be speaking English.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Best Entree-Ordering in a Lead Role

Early in the series run of Tiny Toons, there was an episode that took place in Hollywood. Just like the old Looney Tunes shorts once did, this episode features caricatures of the real-life celebrities. Also just like with the old Looney Tunes cameos, most of the references went over my head. I was eight. What can I say?

However, I came across one of them just recently, and it’s worth noting that it’s one of the few jokes in the episode that is not dated. Meryl Streep orders dinner in a restaurant, then promptly receives an award for ordering dinner in a restaurant. She yawns through a “thank you” and then stuffs the statuette into her purse, which is already full of awards.

I’m fairly certain that this would have been my introduction to Meryl Streep’s reputation as an award magnet. It may have been the first time I’d heard of her at all, really. (She-Devil came out in 1989, but I can’t remember if I saw it in theaters or not.)

The joke is that Meryl Streep is such a good actress that it’s nigh impossible for her not to collect awards left and right. When the episode aired in 1990, Meryl Streep was the best. Twenty-five years later, she still is. Yes, I heard you muttering about your Julianne Moores and your Cates Blanchett, but Meryl is just one Oscar away from tying Katharine Hepburn’s record for the most ever won by a single actor, and she’s already the most-nominated actor ever. Every other actress of a certain age starring in a somber film about people coming to terms with things is just lucky that Meryl is not springboarding off their corpses, squashed-Goomba-in-Super Mario Bros.-style, to reach even greater heights of success.


There’s no big take-away here, just a quick observation that in an industry defined by change and in which women especially cycle in and out of fashion with alarming speed, Meryl Streep is a constant.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Saved by the Bell: The Expanded Bayside Universe

If you know diddlypoop about Saved by the Bell, this image should strike you as very strange. Do you know why?

One of the more popular posts on my blog concerns Saved by the Bell and the Tori Paradox — the idea explained in Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs about how final season of the show seemingly takes place in two realities. In one, Zach, Slater, Screech and Lisa are friends with Kelly and Jessie. In the second, the first four are friends with Tori, but Kelly and Jessie don’t exist and maybe never existed.

Of course, there’s a reason for those random final season episodes that feature Leanna Creel but not Tiffani Thiessen or Elizabeth Berkley — it’s all in the original post, if you haven’t had it explained for you — and Klosterman posits that this odd split is actually one of the more realistic things about Saved by the Bell: In his high school experience and mine is well, there were certain people who simply never overlapped. When I went to my ten-year reunion, I met a number of people for the first time. We’d graduated in the same class and had mutual friends but had simply made it through the end of senior year without having met each other. To this day I’ll have conversations with the four or five people from high school whom I still talk to where they’ll insist that I must have known one person or another and I’ll have to convince them that no, their fancy-ass friend simply never crossed into the circles that constituted my high school experience.

Today, my blog is now the No. 1 Google hit for “tori paradox,” and I get a considerable number of hits each month from people who want to know why the hell the last season played out the way it did. I also get hits from people trying to find the image I included in the post and the thing that made be write about it in the first place: a DVD boxed set for the fifth season of the show that seems to include all seven Bayside students — including Kelly, Jessie and Tori — in the cover art.

saved by the bell season 5 dvd cover tori paradox

Since posting it, I’ve gotten comments and emails from people telling me that the image is at least Photoshopped if not from a bootleg version of the boxed set, and that Leanna Creel would have never been in the same promo photo as Thiessen and Berkley.

Today, I stumbled upon what appears to be one of those promo photos.

That is most definitely Tori, with her curly hair and leather jacket, her hand being cupped in a creepy fashion by Mr. Belding’s.

For all I know, I might have scanned right over this image before and not noticed why it was unusual, but yeah — apparently Tori did meet Jessie and Kelly, at least offscreen. According to Google Image Search, this photo is attached to this Time story about the Saved by the Bell cast, but it doesn’t actually appear in the article itself.

I don’t think that DVD box art was faked. I mean, what are the odds that the entire cast was present for a group photo and then someone would digitally insert Leanna Creel into the one shot where everyone is positioned in almost the same arrangement, wearing the exact clothes? I just wonder how this shoot was proposed to Thiessen and Berkley: “Yeah, you’re not on the show anymore, but we need to take this photo so ten-year-old Drew Mackie will be able to rest his mind that the final half of the final season taking place in an alternate dimension where you never existed.”

That’s how I want it to have gone down, anyway.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

“Hey, What’s With You and Squirrels?” (or — Drew vs. Nature)

So I was looking at your Instagram feed. You’ve been posting a lot of photos of squirrels.

This is an accurate statement. Thank you for monitoring my online activities so closely.

Oh, I was just wondering if you, like, got a pet squirrel of something.

No, I am neither cool enough nor crazy enough to get a pet squirrel. Here’s the deal: I’ve been working a lot this summer. Like, a lot a lot — whole Friday morning-to-Sunday night spans of writing. And I either work at my kitchen table or in my garage, and both of those look out onto my backyard. That is where the squirrel lives.

And he is your friend!

Well, not exactly. I would say that he has boundary issues and an unhealthy interest in my activities. That said, he does seem a lot more invested in me than the neighborhood cats are — except in one specific way that I will get to in a moment.

peeping tom aquirrel

Didn’t you name him, though?

I did. His name is Phillip Alexander Phluffytail, but that was really more for convenience’s sake than for any other reason. Name aside, he has been aggressive on a few occasions. I’d been outside without shoes on and he was almost directly underfoot no matter how I tried to get away. I had serious concerns that he would bite off my toes. I had to run inside.

But he came inside, I thought…?

He did, just the one time. He walked in through the dining room door, completely uninvited. That was alarming enough, but it was even worse that he did so walking on his hind legs.

I didn’t know squirrels did that.

Me neither. I think he was trying to pass as people.

Did his ruse work?

No, I was aware that it was just a squirrel. God bless him for trying.

So those videos you keep posting on Instagram…

People seemed to think the “squirrels with soundtracks” videos were funny, so I keep making them, but the relationship between director and the talent is, at best, strained. He is not the most reliable actor I have worked with.

A video posted by Drew (@kidicarus222) on

A video posted by Drew (@kidicarus222) on

Ah. So weird that he keeps trying to get in, right?

Yes, weird, but not exactly uncharacteristic of how this summer has gone down, honestly. There’s been this feeling I haven’t experienced since I was last in Australia, when I stayed at my aunt’s house on the edge of town, and there were no real boundaries between her property and the wilderness beyond. It was great, but always a little threatening. Kangaroos would just roam by, and on every window screen there was some alien nightmare insect trying to get inside. Whenever you opened the sliding glass doors, frogs that had been hiding in the wheel wells would fall out. Even at night, in bed, I’d just lie there and hear scores of birds singing unfamiliar songs and think about how I was somewhere far from home, hiding in a tiny bubble of civilization that nature was constantly trying to break into.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

The Greater Pop Culture Context of Xanadu

I truly love Xanadu. I don’t ironically love it. I don’t love it because I laugh at it. I don’t even love it for its camp value. I love Xanadu because there’s something earnest in it.

I also maybe love it because the first time I saw it I had taken codeine cough syrup — for medical reasons, I should point out, but thank you nonetheless, UCSB student health services! And although every subsequent viewing has been comparatively less twinkly, even the most sober viewing makes me think of that first time, in all its hazy, grape-flavored glory.

Codeine or no codeine, I’ve seen the movie many times, but it wasn’t until I had to write about it for People that I realized it’s not just a weirdo roller-disco fantasy existing out its own, as a vestige of the ’70s that somehow squeaked into the ’80s. It’s a movie that has a lot of connections to classic movie musicals, and I felt like other pop culture nerds who love Xanadu would be interested to know how it fits in.

(BTW, the majority of all this information is in the People piece as well, but I felt that it was all weird and surprising enough that I merited posting twice.)

Foremost, while it’s not a remake of the 1947 musical Down to Earth, exactly, it’s heavily inspired by it. Down to Earth has Rita Hayworth playing Terpischore, the muse of dance, who descends to the world of mortals, falls in love with a Broadway producer and helps make his new musical a success. (Xanadu, meanwhile, has Olivia Newton-John playing Terpischore, arriving on Earth to inspire the guy from The Warriors to start a roller-disco, and I guess that was the early 1980s equivalent of putting on a popular stage musical?)

Down to Earth is kinda-sorta a sequel to the 1941 film Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

Down to Earth isn’t a continuation of the story, but it does feature three characters from Here Comes Mr. Jordan, two of them being played by the same actors from the first film. Here Comes Mr. Jordan also features a plot about otherworldly beings meddling in the lives of mortals, but in this case, it’s angels.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan was based on Harry Segall’s play Heaven Can Wait, which was later remade as the 1978 film Heaven Can Wait, starring Warren Beatty.

The play was adapted into a movie a second time in 2001 with Chris Rock, though confusingly it used the title of the semi-sequel, Down to Earth.

Outside of that chain, it gets more complicated. Xanadu stars Gene Kelly in his final role as Danny Maguire, a former band leader who has lost his muse. In the 1944 movie Cover Girl, Kelly plays a character by the same name, who works in a nightclub — you know, like an aspiring bandleader might. Also, the film has Kelly romancing Rita Hayworth, who would go on to play the muse in Down to Earth.

It’s just a coincidence, but it’s a happy one, in that it allows both Xanadu and Cover Girl to project onto each other a little, and make the former seem like another spiritual successor to the latter. When Kelly’s character dances with Kira, you can imagine that he’s thinking of Rita Hayworth, and in a way, Kira is that character.

Furthermore, the big Xanadu scene that Kelly shares with Newton-John has them dancing together in a way that’s remarkably similar to how Kelly danced with Judy Garland in the 1942 film For Me and My Gal. Check the two sequences out, back-to-back.

Kelly himself choreographed the scene, and to me, it makes Xanadu a more of a reflection on his long show business career than I realized before. And that’s sweet, in a way, because that makes me feel less bad about Kelly’s final film being labeled a commercial flop, even if it was a flop that eventually found a cult following of codeine-addled weirdos.

And there’s one more: The dance sequence for “Don’t Walk Away” transforms into a cartoon. This animation was one of the first projects done by Don Bluth, who had only recently left Disney at the time when Xanadu came along.

From here on, Bluth went on to do The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail and The Land Before Time. You could make the argument that Xanadu therefore provided a first stepping stone for Bluth on the road to becoming a successful animator independent of Disney. You could even make a Xanadu-Arrested Development connection, since the latter’s Bluth family got its name from Don Bluth, but they wouldn’t have had Bluth not become a famous, recognized name. Xanadu helped make that happen. Thanks, roller-disco movie!

In the end, of course, Xanadu became a Broadway hit that received all the praise that Xanadu the movie didn’t get. (Below, you can watch the stage version of Xanadu in its entirety, if that’s something you feel like doing on a Saturday.)

And that’s cool, but to me not quite as cool as the fact that it’s a Broadway musical adaptation of a roller-disco classic that was a remake of a sequel to a film that had already been adapted into a movie and which had been a Broadway play in the first place.

Dem muses, I tell you.

Thursday, August 06, 2015


I could do what you’re suggesting. I could. I mean, it’s definitely a possibility.

But I’m going to suggest a sort of Plan B for what I can do, and I’m asterisking it with the note that it’s an equally appealing option to me, and that’s this: I, instead of what you’re suggesting, could also just eat poison.

So let’s think about it like this: Here in one hand is your suggestion, which could totally happen and I want you to understand that I’m acknowledging the likelihood of this particular eventuality. And over here, in the other hand, is me eating a heaping handful of poison and dying on the spot — just ingesting these kill pills like they were M&Ms and then shitting myself and dropping dead. Now do you see where my hands are? Neither option is tipping the scales here — neither your suggestion, which is totally an idea, nor mine of taking an action that will result in my immediate and painful death.

Now it’s also important to consider that there’s a third option, which I feel merits equal consideration. In lieu of the first two suggestions, I could also fill my bed with venomous snakes and then go take a nap in it — just, like, curl up with these angry vipers and let them do what they will with me and let their deadly venom course through my veins and then die in my writhing snake bed knowing that this is what I chose in lieu of what you wanted me to do.

Hey, now — wait a minute. I gave your suggestion all the consideration it deserved, and now I feel like you’re not really hearing me on my counter-proposals. But I get you. Maybe these don’t seem like the way to go to you — and believe me, I’m very clear that you have some strong ideas on how I should spent my time — so maybe I need a fourth option that’s less extreme.

So how about this? I take this lamp right here, and I break the lightbulb but don’t remove the shattered glass stub from the socket. And then I take the lamp and fuck myself with it right now. I think it’s the quickest of the possible solutions, mostly because I don’t have poison pills or snakes immediately handy. (And come on — I think that was probably your first quibble with the previous options.) But the lamp is right here, and we could just take care of this now. It’s quick. It’s immediate. You’d get to watch, of course. And afterwards someone can call janitorial services to deal with an aftermath that will surely be grisly on a nightmarish level.

So this is me, batting the ball back to you and saying, “Hey there, person who likes ideas. Which of these seems like the best to you?

Where are you going?

Fine, shut the door. Leave me to make the big decision on my own.

[pulls out phone]

Hi, is there some kind of waiting period for buying your most poisonous snakes? Yes, I can hold.