“Hold your breath, make a wish, count to three”: Recalling Sentimental 1980s Toys

“Hold your breath, make a wish, count to three”: Recalling Sentimental 1980s Toys

Woody: All right, that’s enough! Look, we’re all very impressed with Andy’s new toy. / Buzz: Toy?/ Woody: T-O-Y, Toy! / Buzz: Excuse me, I think the word you’re searching for is ‘Space Ranger’. / Woody: The word I’m searching for – I can’t say, because there’s preschool toys present.

– Tom Hanks (Woody) & Tim Allen (Buzz) from Toy Story (1995)

The other day, I watched a YouTube channel, and the two hosts visited the Funko shop on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA. Now, that might not sound like anything special, but it is for two reasons. One, I love those small Funko POP! figurines, and I wish I had more than the two I currently own. Two, the hosts made custom Funko POP! figures as part of the “POP! Yourself!” experience at the Hollywood location. That seemed incredible. Not only does Funko have an actual store, but people can make a toy/figure that looks like them. As a child of the 80s, I would have loved these custom creations, both then and, yes, now. At least I know one place I will be going when it’s safe to travel! Get ready, LA; I am coming.

The most cherished item in those early years of growing up was my toys. Sure, that might be odd to think of as an adult nearing forty, but as I have defined myself as a reflective person, someone who regularly ponders nostalgic thoughts, this adds up. For the last couple of months, I have found, one could say, somewhat of a groove with my weekly posts. One week I post about travel, one week movies/POP! Culture, one week half marathons, and another week nostalgia/memories. While it does not always turn out this way, nor are weeks confined to such a rigid structure, January and February proved the rule. To close out this cold and snowy New England month, I thought, why not dive into one of my oldest and purest enjoyments; toys. I no longer seek them out, except of course, for the occasional adult LEGO build of a Haunted Mansion or the Statue of Liberty, or the Nathan Drake Uncharted and John F. Kennedy Presidential Funko POP!. Still, I have the fondest memories of those days, nights, and Saturday afternoons when toys were the center of an imaginary world, of my invention.

Read more
It’s a Soundtrack Way of Life with Nostalgic Movie Songs on My Mind

It’s a Soundtrack Way of Life with Nostalgic Movie Songs on My Mind

“To me, movies and music go hand in hand. When I’m writing a script, one of the first things I do is find the music I’m going to play for the opening sequence.”

– Quentin Tarantino

A couple of months ago, I wrote about my affinity for original music scores. How the music shapes and molds the images you see is unbelievable. Still, the film score is solely one component of what makes up my favorite parts of the cinematic experience. Therefore, I thought why not venture back to the world of movie music, but this time focus on my most nostalgic movie songs. Many of my posts play around in the sandbox of nostalgia. I am a historian; after all, it’s where I feel most comfortable. But, what do I mean by movie music? Well, I am referring to those songs that immediately produce an incredible nostalgic feeling when I hear them on the radio, television, or film. When I hear the song, I grow still, the world around me becomes silent, and all I picture is where I remember it.

As a professor, one of my favorite traditions is to play “Back to School” at the start of the semester. Like those athletes you see getting off the team bus, headphones on, and walking into the stadium, I play this as I drive to class on day one. It’s smooth vocals and slow beat, quickly picking up tempo and ferocity in a fabulous 80s fashion. The song always has the power to pump me up, like a wrestler making their way to the ring with entrance music playing. Written by Richard Wolf and Mark Leonard and Jude Cole’s vocals, this anthem of the 1986 comedy film Back to School is heart-pumping fantastic. Sure, the movie, starring Rodney Dangerfield, is over the top, aged poorly at multiple points, but is in line with other 80s era films. The song always makes me laugh as I think back to watching it with my brother Jeff. I reflect on the film’s fun absurdity, and all the times I reenacted Sam Kinison’s cinematic moment when he yells “say it” and goes ballistic in the classroom. That is the power of a nostalgic film song.

As you can imagine the task of selecting nostalgic movie songs may sound like an impossible task. I have watched thousands of films, and most movies have several connected songs. No matter, it seemed a fun, worthwhile, and musically inclined venture. To find my most nostalgic songs, I focused on my most nostalgic movies, which I discussed in an earlier blog post, Cinematic Nostalgia: Traveling 88 mph to the 1980s. By focusing on those movies first, I could find those songs that inherently illustrate my love of cinema on a cellular level. But starting with those films does not mean it is where I will remain as I discover songs that strike the most nostalgic key. With that said, let’s dive back into cinematic music, but rather than listening to the original score, let’s put the cassette in the stereo, press play, skip over the instrumental and find the melody that brings all the memories flooding back.

Read more
“Oceans Rise, Empires Fall”: Cinematic Historical Drama & “The Good Lord Bird”

“Oceans Rise, Empires Fall”: Cinematic Historical Drama & “The Good Lord Bird”

“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known/ When I was young and dreamed of glory/ You have no control/ Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?”

– Chris Jackson (George Washington) in Hamilton

When I started this blog, I wrote that I would not attempt to make these posts a history lesson. I love history, being a historian, and talking about history. While teaching American history is my profession and passion, I want this blog to mix that with all the other topics I appreciate. Still, there are times, like today, when I use my knowledge of history, not to teach a lesson but to shine attention on my addiction to movies and television. Allow me, as I put on my historian hat, which I like to imagine resembles the one worn by Denzel Washington in Glory or Daveed Diggs in The Good Lord Bird, and discuss my emotional reaction to cinematic historical drama.

During times like these, when history seems distant, distorted, and dismissed, I often look to cinema to help remind me of what inspires me. History has always been something that interested me. The other day, I watched Hamilton for the first time and felt emotions that I had not felt since the pandemic began. Teaching using ZOOM has left me disappointed, even while recognizing this format’s necessity and how lucky I am to do what I love. But, while I understand those facts, I have felt empty. Watching the filmed performance of the epic Broadway play on Disney + helped remind me, even if slightly, of my love of history. I believe that cinema can offer a powerful emotional trigger that can bring history into the present. So, join me as I reconsider this viewing experience alongside some of the best cinematic moments, for me, that repeatedly stirs up my passion for history.

Read more
Holiday Movie Rewatch of “Anna and the Apocalypse”

Holiday Movie Rewatch of “Anna and the Apocalypse”

Anna: On Dasher, on Dancer on… the other ones? / John: Firebolt? No… that’s Harry Potter’s broom. / Anna: Oh no. We can’t hang out anymore. You’re too sad. You’ve hit like, peak sad. / John: They were a very popular series of books.”

– Ella Hunt (Anna) & Malcolm Cumming (John) in Anna and the Apocalypse

‘‘Twas” two days “before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring,” except the groans of zombies on the television. On TV is not Scrooged, Muppets Christmas Carol, or A Christmas Story, instead a holiday horror film with singing teenagers battling zombies. Is Anna and the Apocalypse a perfect Christmas movie? Hardly. Is it more a Christmas movie than Die Hard? Possibly. Is it a fun film with great music, quick comedy, and a fabulous way to stay goodbye to 2020 and hello to 2021? F*** Yes!

I think it was in the morning of late November of 2018 when I awoke in the morning, made a cup of wicked excellent coffee, and sat scrolling around in my phone. As per usual, I scroll around on IMDb and see what movie news awaits me. Then, I saw it; A zombie/ horror/ comedy in the same idea as Shaun of the Dead, but as a holiday musical. All I could muster under my breathe was, “Holy Shit! I am all in.” I did a little research and found out that the film, hailing from Scotland, was getting worldwide distribution for the holiday season.

I immediately went to the AMC Theaters website, plugged in my zip code, clicked on the title of the film, and saw “available.” All I had to do at this point was to convince my wife, Corinne, to go and see it. That would be an easy sell since she loves going to the movies, ordering movie snacks, and seeing a Christmas/Holiday film. Sure, a festive film with zombies, but also a musical. As soon as she was awake, I made her coffee and told her about the film. Her response, “as long as there are popcorn and snow caps in my future, then… Yes!” I do not often go to the movies, but this film, I felt, had all the ingredients of a one I wanted to see. Music, zombies, a badass heroine, some UK humor; how could it be bad? So, buckle up, as Corinne and I rewatch and discuss one of the best holiday/ horror/ comedy/ musical films, Anna and the Apocalypse.

Read more