Remembering Hollywood Video

Remember video rental stores? The days before Netflix and Hulu and any piece of entertainment at your fingertips. Video rentals were a visceral experience. I remember it like it was only twenty years ago….hollywoodvideoWhen I was in middle and high school, there was a Hollywood Video at the intersection of Dallas Highway and the new Barrett Parkway extension where we used to grab a movie or two on weekends. It was like this video wonderland (actually, I think Video Wonderland was down by the Kroger) with shelves upon shelves of not just new releases, but a lot of forgotten 1970s and 1980s B comedies—which might explain my sensibilities today.

“Ugh! Why would you get that? That looks weird!” my mother would protest. Fortunately, I managed to recover and repair our old VHR and a Sears CRT monitor from the trash years before, so I had the luxury of my own private setup in my closet of a bedroom. The fact that my rentals were cheaper than new releases may have further swayed the odds in my favor.

hollywoodvideo2I was a bit like Harry Potter in those years–forced to live in a cupboard after my baby sister was born–as my parents wanted her nursery to be closer to them. Our house was an ancient 2BR/1BA craftsman-style that formerly featured a sun-porch opposite the bedrooms. When it was moved to the country (Yes, it was moved from Marietta to its current location; there’s a story in that for another day), my grandparents converted the sun-porch into an extra bedroom for my cousins who lived there previously. The room is approximately 6×15, barely large enough for a twin bed and a desk. It didn’t help that my desk was a large, hand-built, office desk that was once the property of the Norfolk Southern Railway Company (we got it for cheap from a collector because it was in pretty rough shape), but I learned to respect vertical space (and craftsmanship) in that tiny room.

In the mid-1990s, Pokémon fever was ravaging the country. Anime in the US was just starting to evolve from a fringe interest to mainstream entertainment medium, thanks in no small part to Cartoon Network. I remember watching Robotech and Samurai Pizza Cats on Saturday mornings (Channel 69—when you could pick it up—was the epitome of old-school UHF as lampooned in Weird Al Yankovic’s eponymous 1989 film, showing a literal grab-bag of content that often rotated from week to week), but that appreciation became a near obsession when I discovered a copy of Macross in the animation section of Hollywood Video accompanying the same shelf as Mickey Mouse and—oddly—Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

“Oh, those damned ‘killer cartoons’ that your uncle Tracey watches! Why the hell would you want to watch those?” my father would gripe. My uncle and I are a lot alike, and we’ve both got an oddball streak a-klick-and-a-half long. Anyway, something happens to you when you watch Akira as a 12-year-old, then follow it with Kubrick’s 2001. Something, but I’m not sure what. While the other nerdy kids were trying to catch ‘em all, I was dreaming about giant, transformable mecha and the heroes who piloted them.Pictured: Killer Cartoons

In high school, I finally found more people who shared my affinity for “Japanimation” (“anime” was just now becoming the preferred nomenclature thanks to the Suncoast Motion Picture Company), and we began to coalesce into a regular group of mates. We wanted to watch more, and to enjoy with our friends, but we either didn’t have the money to buy new tapes from Suncoast and Media Play or the resources to borrow from other fans two counties over (Gwinnett County and its sizable Japanese and Korean communities was a hotbed for anime fandom). So, we did the next best thing: we raided the Hollywood Video.

It was a pleasant Saturday afternoon, the gang had all arrived at the house noonish—Gilmore, CJ, Little J, Reed, Danny, Wes, and Chris all came out for the inaugural Angst Haben Anime Party. It was an extremely informal affair, as was the case with any Angst Haben get-together: “Converge, then plan” was our M.O. I figured the best way to get started was to pile everyone into the “Shaggin’ Wagon” (a 1996 Ford Windstar that I had the privilege to drive) and hit the store. After a pit stop at the Publix for snacks and the obligatory case of Citrus Drop soda, we stormed into the Hollywood Video like a Walmart on Black Friday. Armed with caffeine, razor-sharp snark, and a bucket-o-change, we set about determining the agenda.

I’m not even sure what films we ended up renting, two or three titles—Dirty Pair, Area 88, and Macross Plus seem likely candidates—but what does stand out in my mind is a certain Playstation title with particularly appealing cover art:

“Hey, this looks kinda interesting. Maybe a fighting game between different teenage stereotypes? The girl’s kinda cute, too.”


“HOLY SHIT! THERE’S A GUY WITH A BASEBALL BAT AND SOMEONE WITH A HUGE SWORD! SOLD!”

Imagine for a moment that you’re the store clerk: three VHS tapes, a Playstation game, and a plastic pail full of change have just dropped onto the counter and now you’re starting at what might be the cast of a new Nickelodeon series about the “outsider” kids—the punk rocker, the trenchcoat, the raver, the Polo shirt, the jock, the darkly poetic kid, the awkward goof, we were all there—waiting for you to accept their hard-earned US, Grade-A, legal tender in exchange for the opportunity to rent a selection of what might have been considered questionable material (“tits and explosions” were how most people described anime at the time). What do you do?

You reach into the bucket, pull out the two dollar bills floating on top, set the stack of media on the pickup counter by the door, laugh hysterically and mutter “Just…Just go.”

Spoils of war in hand, windows down, stereo up, and bouncing to a classic Sublime track, we set off for The Yella House.

And that, children, is how you get free video rentals.

PlayStation Classic Unboxing

With this PlayStation Classic unboxing video, we’ll be taking a little trip down memory lane, reminiscing about gaming in the mid-1990s, and exploring the pros and cons of the hotly-debated system. Later in this series, we’ll be tearing down the console before hacking it to “fix” many of the alleged problems with the aggrieved PlayStation Classic.

If you are a gamer of a certain age, I highly recommend picking up a PlayStation Classic on Amazon and subscribing as we proceed to hack it into the device it should have been! https://amzn.to/2Eyceww

PlayStation Classic Teardown

In my quest to hack the PlayStation Classic, I have to first open up the system to see what’s inside and what makes it tick. In this video, we’ll teardown the PlayStation Classic console and explore its insides, determine the state of its build quality, and see what kinds of electronics are hiding inside!

It’s a good console, you should get one on Amazon (and hack it): https://amzn.to/2BOteef

PlayStation Classic Controller Teardown

Continuing on our quest to hack the PlayStation Classic and coming off the heels of the console teardown last week, I thought it might be fun to also take a peek inside the PlayStation Classic’s USB controllers and see how they’re put together.

The PlayStation Classic is still a lot of fun. Grab one on Amazon (and hack it): https://amzn.to/2BOteef

The Zombies Are Getting Restless: Thoughts on Resident Evil 3

There honestly isn’t a lot that I can say about Resident Evil 3: Nemesis that isn’t a rehash of my own thoughts and experiences on the first Resident Evil game. I never got into the franchise when it was new as I’ve never been very interested in zombie fiction or survival horror in general, so I didn’t play any of the Resident Evil games until very recently. I’ve actually owned a copy of RE3 for many years, and–in fact–I really don’t recall how I came across it. I certainly didn’t purchase it myself, so I likely somehow picked it up during some “mergers and acquisitions” in the mid aughts. It was only when I played through the first Resident Evil on the Playstation Classic that I got a taste for what the series is all about: it’s a classic text-based puzzle and resource-management game that just happens to take place in a pre-rendered graphics zombie apocalypse.

Give us a smile, baby!
Nemesis will be played by Robert De Niro

Resident Evil 3 is somewhat less linear and certainly more action-oriented than the original. Of course, I can’t tell for certain if this is a trend or just a difference between the two games as I have not played Resident Evil 2 yet. In RE3, you take control of Jill Valentine (from the first game) in an effort to escape the zombie-infested Raccoon City before it’s liquidated by a nuclear weapon. During the course of your escape, Jill is pursued and ambushed by a gigantic mutant known as Nemesis. There’s not much of an explanation as to who or what Nemesis is, except that he just looks like a rejected costume design from the 1994 Frankenstein movie. Unfortunately, these scenes with Nemesis are probably the most interesting parts of the game as the rest consists of tedious fetch quests, occasional jump scares, and very few actual puzzles. There are some interesting timed decision sequences where the player’s choice determines how the next part of the game plays out, but these are too few and far between to make up for the overwhelming boredom in the meantime.

Unfortunately, the difficulty curve doesn’t fare much better than the rest of the gameplay. The original Resident Evil had what felt like a nicely rising difficulty curve, but Nemesis seems to have an inverted curve where the game gets infinitely easier the closer to the end. The first major challenge in the game is the initial encounter with Nemesis where Jill is equipped with only a pistol and has to duck and dodge to avoid being grabbed (impaled by Nemesis’s tentacle arm?) and immediately killed. This title introduces a new dodge mechanic that has to be practiced to get right, but there are so few encounters before Nemesis that a player has no real opportunity than to learn during the boss fight. It’s lazy and sloppy design on Capcom’s part, causing more game overs than I care to recall. After that, though, the game is smooth sailing–especially after finding the grenade launcher.

He's even got a beret!
Jill Claude Valentine Damme

In a lot of ways, Nemesis reminds me of the 1999 film Universal Soldier: The Return wherein Jean-Claude Van Damme is chased around the suburbs by the cartoonishly superhuman Bill Goldberg in much the same way Nemesis pursues Jill Valentine. Each encounter with Goldberg/Nemesis consists of a brief battle ending with JCVD/Valentine getting the better of their enemy through either superior firepower or–occasionally–a clever trap. Unfortunately for Capcom, I feel like Universal Soldier had the more entertaining sequel. Granted, there are a few novel components to the game–like when Jill gets poisoned and her new friend/ally/potential romantic interest Carlos has to locate an antidote–but the over-reliance on (occasionally branching) fetch quests instead of puzzle mechanics drags this game down to the bin of mediocrity. It’s an important piece of the overall Resident Evil mythology, but unless you’re a big fan of the franchise, I would stick with the original.