Monday, June 29, 2009
Next week Mario Monday returns with a look at Mario Paint for the Super Nintendo, one of my personal favorites.
Perhaps nobody in the entertainment business was as big a fan of Michael Jackson as Weird Al Yankovic. Yankovic is a genius in his own right but he really made a name for himself with his outstanding parodies of Jackson's hit songs Beat It and
Jackson's video for Beat It is a classic. For Yankovic it was just a template. What I appreciate about Yankovic is not just ability to cleverly write new lyrics to great songs and give them a humorous twist, but he also pays homage to the original music videos as much as possible. Take one of his greatest videos from earlier in his career, Eat It.
I do not remember if I posted this video before or not, but in honor of the passing of Michael Jackson I wanted to share this special edition of the monumental Thriller music video.
This version is done entirely in LEGO form!
There are some actors in Hollywood who can make movie good just by being cast in it. It is these kind of actors who can provide a real charm to any scene at any time and if the rest of the movie is poorly put together it won't matter to most people because that one actor was terrific. Now imagine if a movie had two of those actors in the same cast, playing opposite of each other?
What you would get would be The Proposal, from Touchstone Pictures. The romantic comedy written by Pete Chiarelli (producer for the Terry Tate series of commercials for Reebok) and directed by Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses, Step Up) stars Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Both lead actors have demonstrated their own appealing characteristics in previous films and today they were as genuine as you could imagine, which translates to great on-screen chemistry.
Bullock stars as a tough-as-nails editor for a publishing company and learns that her job will soon be in jeopardy as her work visa application was denied, which would force the Canadian back home to her home land. On a whim she tries to convince her boss that she is engaged to her assistant, played by Reynolds. Under the impression that if his boss were to be deported to Canada than he would be out of a job, Reynolds plays along.
Convincing the United States immigration officer in New York was just the first test. Trying to play off the engagement as genuine to Reynolds' family on a trip to their home in Alaska would be the other, which would prove to be more difficult than it would seem.
The plot is not exactly the most unique and some of the scenes are at times foreseeable, but the story is well written and the humorous scenes are plentiful. Even guys will enjoy this date movie. The supporting cast is incredible with Craig T. Nelson playing the role of the not-so-supportive father who wants his son to come home, Mary Steenburgen playing the role of the loving mother, and Betty White playing the role of the eccentric grandmother.
The Proposal gets a seal of approval from me, so take that for what it is worth. It is a movie that most everyone will enjoy for its plot, cast, and humor.
With the passing of Michael Jackson yesterday I started to wonder; is this the biggest icon to die in my life? The answer is, without a doubt in my mind, yes.
Michael Jackson, though I did not see him in his Jackson 5 days, has always been the top music icon of my generation. Other musicians have come and gone and rarely have the top names continued to remain prominent through the years. Other than Madonna what other musician could grab headlines at will (or against their will) without so much as blinking an eye?
While his legacy may be tarnished in the recent point of view by scandalous allegations and rumors, down the road when people think about Jackson they will think of his impact on the music industry. Music videos would probably not be where they are today if not for Jackson. Fourteen number one songs in the United States. Nineteen Grammy awards. Thirteen Guinness world records. Twelve world music awards. One memorable episode of The Simpsons.
In the past year I have steadily seen my activity on Twitter quickly dismantle my need for Facebook. I find myself communicating with friends more on the micro-blogging service than I do on Facebook, although I find ways to use the social networking giant to my advantage in ways I may not be able too with Twitter.
As an avid blogger I find that Twitter is a terrific tool for not only spreading the word about my own stuff but also great for discovering new content. For example, I have found myself hooked to On the DL, a podcast that discusses Philadelphia sports but also takes a look at the way sports in general is covered in the media. Maybe it is not for everyone but I do not know if I would have come across it, or bothered to give it a listen, if not for Twitter.
So what exactly is Twitter?
With the launch of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System Mario was bound to expand on his empire and game library. After spending years stomping on Goombas and kicking Koopa shells, Mario had a desire to hit the race tracks. Taking a page from the success of F-Zero, Super Mario Kart took the racing genre to a whole new dimension.
As you may know I grew up watching Action News on WPVI in Philadelphia. For years the news team on channel six entered my life every day to give me the latest news, weather and sports. The channel six news team is my favorite group in Philadelphia and I have never found any other station to match their genuine attitude.
Today Action News lost one of my favorites, sports director Gary Papa. It seems as though it was inevitable, as I have not really seen him on the air in a while, but Papa lost his battle with prostate cancer this afternoon at the age of 54 years old.
I can not tell you how many times in my life I have watched the news until I saw Papa give me the scoop on the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, Sixers or whatever else was going on. If he was not at the desk next to Jim Gardner he was live at Veterans Stadium as the Phillies were concluding batting practice, or he was on the sideline for the Eagles.
Five years ago it was announced that Papa was diagnosed with prostate cancer and he battled it like a champion. He seemed to have gotten past it but Papa had to return to treatment on a few occasions. Today Pap just could not fight it any longer and the Philadelphia region lost one of the most spirited sports anchor around.
Philadelphia has had a rough year in the sports world. First Harry Kalas, then Danny Ozark, and now Gary Papa.
Papa is survived by his wife Kathleen and his sons Tucker and Nathanial. My heart goes out to them. Please feel free to share your memories and thoughts about Papa in the comments section.
Remembering Gary Papa (6abc.com)
Papa's first Action News report (6abc.com)
Papa Slideshow (6abc.com)
Jim Gardner breaks the news (6abc.com)
Over at NittanyWhiteOut I put together a quick video blog to thank all of the Penn State fans who helped to contribute to our campaign. If you forgot (here's a reminder), we started an initiative to get the iconic mascot inducted to the Mascot Hall of Fame.
This is my first video blog of sorts, and I may consider tweaking the process in the future for some projects. Anyway, I thought I'd share the video here as well.
When you think about the gold standard in sports, what franchises come to mind?
The New York Yankees, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely some of the names that first pop in your head. The term "gold standard" is used to define the elite organizations who have gone about their business in such success that other teams find themselves molding their plans in a similar fashion.
Jeffrey Lurie, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, once used that choice term to describe his team, stating that the way they handle their business had become the role model for the rest of the NFL. To be fair in some ways he was correct, but critics, including the frenzied Eagles fans, are quick to point out that to use the "gold standard" label your team must win at least one championship in your sport. As we all know the Eagles have won exactly zero Super Bowls.
While the Eagles have enjoyed a sustained level of success that has never before been seen in Philadelphia the frustration of not winning "the big one" leaves Eagles fans somewhat on nerve when the faces in the front office proclaim the way they run the business as the best around. Financial terms and company surveys do little to satisfy the general football fan, who traditionally judges their success by performance on the field. So what can the Eagles do to make amends and back up their "gold standard" level of achievement?
Win the Super Bowl, of course. But how exactly can they lay the framework to bring home the team's first Lombardi Trophy? Perhaps they should take a page from the boys across the street, the Philadelphia Phillies.
I am of the belief that conversations should never compare sports of different orientation. You will never find me debating whether Jimmy Rollins is better than Brian Westbrook or if Scott Rolen deserved a second chance more than Terrell Owens. However, it seems that there is something the boys in green can learn from the boys in red. Here are three key ingredients to winning the championship.
Home Grown Talent
Last season the Phillies won the World Series and the key players were mostly brought up from within the farm system. Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and World Series MVP Cole Hamels all made their strides to the big leagues coming up through Clearwater, Reading, and Scranton. If you take any one of those players out of the mix and the Phillies would take a serious hit in production.
The Eagles have had some decent success with their own players as well, drafting players like Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Shawn Andrews, and Stewart Bradley. The jury is still out on DeSean Jackson, who enters his second season in 2009 and there are reasons to be optimistic about rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin down the line.
Under Andy Reid the Eagles have always been pretty good of developing most of their young players. While there have been some exceptions to the rule (Jeremy Bloom comes to mind) the younger players have always made somewhat of an impact as they get time to grow. Just look what Donovan McNabb has done under Reid. A controversial pick at first when he was drafted, McNabb has developed in to one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Though he is no longer among the top elite in the league (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady) he is still worthy of a top five or top six ranking among NFL quarterbacks.
Westbrook surprised the NFL world with his talent. The third round draft pick out of Villanova gets overshadowed when discussing running backs but Westbrook is explosive and can hurt defenses two ways.
The Phillies have gone from a perennial NL East cellar dweller to the top of their sport. They did so by giving their top prospects time to develop. They were patient and ended up having two players who have the National League MVP (Howard and Rollins) and one player who many believe will win one some day (Utley) and have a top of the rotation pitcher in Hamels. But they also had guys like Brett Myers, Ryan Madson and JA Happ step up and contribute in key roles. The Eagles have players who can do the same.
Tight end Brent Celek may be the most important home grown player. With a comparable tight end McNabb can be very effective. Jason Avant emerged last year at the wide receiver position and could continue to receive more playing time in 2009 while Maclin gets acclimated in the offensive system.
The home grown talent on the defense though will be the most important in 2009. Quintin Demps and Quintin Mikell must step their game up after the departure of Brian Dawkins, one of the best players to ever be drafted by the Eagles himself. Akeem Jordan will look to contribute more solid defensive play at weak side linebacker, next to Bradley and Chris Gocong or Omar Gaither. Each of the top linebackers on the Eagles were draft picks.
The Right Acquisitions
When assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. worked out a deal with the Houston Astros to acquire closer Brad Lidge, the path to the World Series title was created. With the Phillies welcoming Lidge to the closer role they could put Myers back in to the starting rotation, though Myers may have been hesitant at first.
Not many off-season moves wok out as well as that one did. Myers struggled early but came back in the second half as though he was another player. Lidge, as has been well documented, had a perfect season in save situations.
Don't expect the Eagles to make a move that can work out that well, but they have made some terrific moves of their own. Gone are fan favorite Jon Runyan and perennial Pro Bowler Tra Thomas, but making a home in Philadelphia are Pro Bowler Jason Peters and Stacey Andrews (brother to Shawn) on the offensive line. Losing two long time franchise players is hard, especially on the offensive line, but the additions of Peters and the elder Andrews brother figure to give McNabb some good protection as well as open up plans for the running game.
Adding Leonard Weaver could be the final piece of the puzzle for Eagles fans having a desire for an improved running game. Weaver was a veteran free agent acquisition that may fill the hole at fullback. In a similar way the Phillies made a trade for Jamie Moyer during the season in 2006. Moyer provided the Phillies with not only a reliable player in the middle of the starting rotation, but veteran leadership for younger pitchers like Hamels. Weaver may also help players like LeSean McCoy learn the nuances of the backfield at the pro level. McCoy would be wise to listen to Weaver's lessons, as Weaver reached the Pro Bowl in 2008.
Asante Samuel was the big name free agent acquisition prior to the 2008 season, giving the Eagles a true play maker in the defensive backfield. But big name players are only half of the strategy. Players like Juqua Parker provide solid defensive play even though he is not a big star.
Trades in the NFL rarely happen for significant players, so a deal similar to the Phillies trading for Joe Blanton and Moyer are not likely to happen. But the Eagles should keep an eye for players who get cut and are available as the season progresses. You never know when a Blanton will come along.
Lock Up Core Players
The Phillies have the mainframe of their championship team locked up for a few years. Phillies fans can look forward to a few more seasons of Rollins, Utley, Howard, and Hamels for sure. The Eagles usually do a good job of locking up their players as well.
The Eagles just restructured a deal to ensure McNabb is around for two more seasons. After trading for Peters the Eagles worked out a four year deal. They also have worked on deals with Brian Westbrook and young defensive and offensive line players through the years.
The Eagles usually do a good job of locking up younger players early on, though at times it backfires. Take for instance Sheldon Brown, who had signed a contract and now wants to a new deal. This sort of issue is nothing new in pro football. The Eagles though pick and choose who they want to do battles with financially. The Phillies have sort of done the same thing though, with Ryan Howard being the prime example.
Howard won a record arbitration case prior to the 2007 season, and before Howard and the Phillies went to arbitration in 2008 the two agreed to a deal to keep both sides happy for a few years.
It seems as though the Eagles and Phillies are using essentially the same playbook when it comes to putting their team together. The truth of the matter is sometimes you have to have some things fall your way. Both teams last season took advantage of a late season collapse to get in to the playoffs. The Phillies took advantage of a second straight collapse by their rivals to the north and the Eagles were fortunate enough to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers blow a shot at the playoffs on the final day of the NFL season.
The problem seems to be in game situations. When Geoff Jenkins is kicking off a resumed game with a hard double, Donovan McNabb is throwing a ball at the ground. When Chase Utley is making a pump fake and throwing home, the Eagles are trying to recover from a critical roughing the passer and subsequent deep floating pass to Larry Fitzgerald.
The Eagles have what it takes to make it to the Super Bowl. The question is whether or not they can it. Until they do the gold standard label will have to remain in Citizens Bank Park.
After the success of Mario's debut on the Super Nintendo, the famous plumber made a return to the portable Game Boy system. The sequel to Super Mario Land, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins picks up the story line from where the original portable adventure left off.
One of my favorite shows growing up was Saved By the Bell. I am not ashamed to admit that! It was aired every day at 5pm on what is now my local CW station. Whether it was on Saturday mornings on NBC or weekdays on channel 57 in Philadelphia, it was probably a good bet that I would find time to watch it.
I despised The New Class and The College Years, but Jimmy Fallon is on a mission on Late Night to reunite the most famous cast. This week Mark-Paul Gosselaar came on the show as Zack Morris to confirm that he is in for a reunion. After grabbing the main star of the show Fallon's goal is now two cast members short.
Tiffani Thiessen and Dustin Diamond are the last two targets of Fallon. I have a feeling that Diamond will be the last to accept the invitation.
Is Raul Ibanez on steroids?
That is the question that many fans have quietly wondered to themselves, hoping that the answer would be negative. The truth is we will never know for sure unless a test is made public. Under the current drug testing policy in baseball there is no reason to suspect that everybody is clean.
I believe Ibanez to be clean and one of the hardest working players on the Phillies. I believe that Ibanez is a class act and has made himself to be a great role model for kids learning to play the game of baseball. But in all honesty I once felt the same way about Alex Rodriguez. the only reason I am discussing this, and I do not plan on expanding on this issue any further after this, is because I feel that this story has immaturely grown wings and gotten to the point where people are unjustly forming opinions that are misguided.
On Jerod Morris, pen named as Jerod, of Midwest Sports Fans posted a well thought out article examining Raul Ibanez's 2009 season compared to his previous seasons. Morris goes against the typical blogger stereotypes and provides actual research breaking down stadium comparisons and digging in to home run stats and pitchers Ibanez has faced. Morris never stated that he believe Ibanez was on steroids. Not once. What Morris does do is comment on the state of baseball and the way fans can not have total faith in the purity of the game, regardless of the player. Ibanez just happens to be the stimulus to the conversation.
On June 9th John Gonzalez of the The Philadelphia Inquirer provides his commentary on JRod's piece and seems to miss the point. Gonzalez goes on to lecture JRod about whether or not he should be discussing the issue of Ibanez and performance enhancers. What Gonzalez fails to realize though is that watching silently is how baseball got in to the mess it has become. Are we just supposed to expect that the game is pure? In this day and age when universities are giving football players free textbooks, or cars, or houses and when baseball players continue to state they have never used performance enhancers only to be found out months later, it is totally fine to address your concerns. JRod did nothing wrong. What Gonzalez did was over the top. Why a big city paper columnist would care about what a blogger from the midwest thinks is beyond me.
Naturally the word got to Ibanez, who vehemently defended himself. From what he came out and said I am not sure that Ibanez actually read the original piece. I understand him being upset about being under scrutiny, but as long as he is clean he has nothing to worry about. When Ibanez pulls out the cliche 42-year-old man-blogging-in-his-mother's-basement though, I have to insert my response.
Bashing bloggers is easy to do. Main stream media members will point out the fact that bloggers are not legitimate media. I will not argue that, but there was also a time newspaper reporters did not have blogs. The real issue here is the state of baseball and the inability for a player to enjoy success without going under the microscope. It will happen for everybody until baseball seriously cracks down. The issue is not what a blogger thinks.
On Sunday we went to Dorney Park for Stef's company picnic. Sarah and Ed joined us for a day in the sun, riding roller coasters, and enjoying an endless supply of hot dogs, burgers, chicken, chips and drinks.
It's been a few years since I have been to Dorney Park in Allentown, PA so I forgot how good some of the roller coasters were. Ed and I were the only ones willing to ride Steel Force in the front row. I was the most extreme thrill ride seaker though as I was the only one who rode Possessed, and I did so in the front row by myself. Hydra was also one of my personal favorites. We all rode that one twice.
Below is a slide show of the photos from the day. You can view the album here.
In 1991 Nintendo introduced the much anticipated successor to the smash hit Nintendo Entertainment System with the aptly named Super Nintendo Entertainment System. As a young Nintendo player growing up I naturally learned as much about the system as I could through my subscription to Nintendo Power. I had saved up my allowance for months and was a proud owner of the Super NES soon after its August 1991 release.
As cool as I thought it was to be the first kid on the block to own a Super NES (most kids fancied a Sega Genesis at the time) I was more excited to lay my hands on the pack-in game (remember when systems came packaged with a game and two controllers as the standard?), Super Mario World.
Animation has always fascinated me. When I was a kid in elementary school I could draw with the best of them. I never fully immersed myself in to producing animation but there was always something about the latest Disney releases that would capture my eyes. While my sister would enjoy The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast for its typical Disney formula of girl meets boy, over comes differences and lives happily ever after, a theme as old as Cinderella and Snow White, I was sitting with wide open eyes marveling over the brilliant animation.
Then came the age of CGI. I was torn at first. On one hand I lamented the trend of CGI as it dismantled the glory of hand illustrated frames, but on the other I could not help but be captivated by the smooth lines and realism. Jurassic Park set the tone for the wave of CGI, but Pixar has mastered it with their own flare. Up is their recent claim to fame.
What other company could pull off a storyline regarding an elderly old man that closely resembles Joe Paterno and his house that flies with helium balloons? Naturally the story line is deeper than that.
Carl Frederickson grew up idolizing famed adventurer Charles Muntz. Muntz battled naysayers who refused to credit him for discovering a rare species so Muntz vows to never return from a strange land known as Paradise Falls until he captures the live bird creature. He is never seen again. Young Carl meets the girl of his dreams, Ellie, who also is an admirer of Muntz. The two form a special bond and live a long and happy life together, dreaming of moving to Paradise Falls to spend their lives together in peace.
Ellie though passes on before the elderly couple get a chance to move to their dream home, once again showing that Pixar has no problem illustrating sad and painful scenes for all audiences (some people will tell you that Wall-E was one of the saddest movies, not just animated, in a long time). As Carl faces a law suit that could force him to a retirement home so his house could be leveled in favor of commercial zoning, he takes flight in his house using an incredible amount of balloons. Young Russell, a local wilderness scout looking to do a kind deed for Carl so he can earn his final merit badge, unknowingly to Carl, is standing on the deck of the house as it flies away to Paradise Falls.
Imagine Dennis the Menace and Mr. Wilson flying away to a strange land and you have Carl and Russell. The boy never intends any harm and Carl wants to ignore the boy as much as possible so he can live in peace. Along the way of course they develop a unique bond as they try to save Carl's house from flying away in the wind as well as try to get it to its final destination before the balloons lose their helium.
Pixar is terrific at telling a good friendship story. Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Wall-E may be the best. Up though should be included in that same mix. Personally I would not put Up at the top of the list for Pixar movies, but I found it to be very enjoyable. Brilliant animation adds to the most unique story in movies.
Do yourself a favor and go see Up if you have not already. Also, if you get the chance, spend the extra couple dollars where required and watch Up in 3D! It is well worth it.
Looking over my wish list for Nintendo's press event at E3 shows that I had a thirst for a return of some key franchises. Zelda had been at the top of my list, with Excitebike being a very dark horse. No Zelda was announced but Nintendo managed to make their fans happy with word of four new Mario games and a brand new Metroid game.
You heard me; FOUR new Mario games and a new Metroid.
Nintendo must have known that they would need some big name franchises to make them seem relevant, especially with the fantastic presser that Microsoft had a day before. Painful memories of 2008's E3 presser were maligned for months and Nintendo made sure to avoid any similar mistakes, for the most part.
Demonstrating New Super Mario Brothers for the Wii was a bold first move. In the blink of an eye WiiMusic demos were quickly forgotten as four players demonstrated a level from the Wii version of New Super Mario Brothers. If you have played New Super Mario Brothers for the DS you will be familiar with the play style and game play of the Wii version. The exciting feature of the Wii version will be the four player cooperative play!
From that point though the press even was mostly lacking any real reason to be excited, with the latest information on WiiFit Plus following up the Mario news. Wii Fit Plus is looking to be very similar to the original WiiFit but will have the ability to create custom workouts as well as 15 new balance games. I was relieved when they did not mention a new and improved balance board, a rumor I had heard on the news earlier in the week.
The Wii Motion Plus was discussed but there was not much new to say about it compared to what they unveiled at last year's E3. Last year the Wii Motion Plus was demonstrated using Wii Sports Resort. Guess what. This year it was demonstrated using Wii Sports Resort. Yes, the game will be packaged with the add-on sensor, but wouldn't you rater see it demonstrated in a higher quality game? While using a basketball three point competition within WiiSports Resort Nintendo used Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime and the demonstrator on the stage to compete in a life like competition. To me the demo would have been more satisfying if Nintendo had arranged for an NBA three point shooter to participate. Something tells me Microsoft would have pulled that off with the guest stars they featured in their presser the day before (Tony Hawk, Steven Spielberg).
After a bevy of announcements about RPG titles coming to Nintendo systems, including an exclusive Kingdom Hearts for the DS as well as Golden Sun, Nintendo managed to bore the crowd with announcements of Women's Murder Club for the DS and a fashion design game targeted to their female audience.
Then things got interesting. The DSi took the stage for some titles including a download only Mario vs. Donkey Kong title and a WarioWare title.
In my wish list I had hoped for more online usability. Good news for DSi users as the wireless abilities will allow them to access the Wii Store to download games over a network right to their DSi. Also for Facebook using DSi users the ability to upload and share photos from the DSI will be coming soon. It may not be exactly what Microsoft had in mind with the XBox 360's ability to upload screen shots and achievements right to Facebook (and Twitter usability) but it is interesting and fits Nintendo.
When the President and CEO of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, walked out on stage it was expected to be big news, or lame business news. It was more of the latter, with the highlight of Iwata's speech introducing the Wii Motion Sensor, which hooks in to the Wii Remote and is placed on a finger to detect pulses. No mention on how this could be incorporated in to future games but I can see it being seldom used. It would actually be a unique feature in sports games, when your team is under pressure to make a big play or to judge adrenaline. Or perhaps it could be utilized in a game like Resident Evil to gauge how nervous the player is getting in tense moments. I am guessing thought that Nintendo will not use it to those extents though.
Finally, the biggest news of the day was when Nintendo gave E3 a glimpse at the next installation in the Super Mario Galaxy series, with Super Mario Galaxy 2! Much of the game play and environments looked to be similar to the original but now Mario will have the companionship of his favorite green dinosaur, Yoshi!
Before Nintendo had officially moved on to the next generation of gaming he left the 8-bit universe with one last golden nugget. Nintendo used Mario to put together the most successful Tetris clone known to the gaming world, Dr. Mario.