Week of Cartoons – Day 6: For Tax Reasons

March 27, 2008

FROM ANDREW’S LAZY MIND — Jason and I share a similar love of animations from For Tax Reasons studios, which consists of Ben Levin and Matt Burnet. Well, this past week they have released two new videos, and we’re almost sexually excited about it.

The first one, H.P. Papercraft, continues their series following three young geeks in their adventures and tomfoolery in the world of anime, D&D, and vidjagames. The second is a music video for a punk song by Ben Weasel. I highly suggest you check these out as they are full of roflwaffles.

Honestly, these guys are funnier than anything we’ve seen on traditional *shudder* television in years (with the exceptions of Arrested Development and Boston Legal). We agree that if this went on Cartoon Network this week, it would generate millions in ad revenue. And the creators would deserve it.

Together, they capture the geek ideal perfectly. They give us characters caught in a revolving door of intellectual superiority and cultural awkwardness, and they make us both pity and praise them. That’s because we are these dorks; we talk just like them and do the same stupid stuff with the Intarwebs.

Seriously, give Ben and Matt money. Now. Fiddlesticks — my retainer! Enjoy.

H.P. Papercraft


Ben Weasel – Got My Number








She She She She’s A Bombshell

YouTube Cinema: The Last Starfighter (1984)

November 15, 2007

Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada.



FROM JASON’S BETA UNIT — Let’s cut right to the chase: We might have to wrangle about the definition of the word “plagiarism” here.


I was vaguely aware as a child that The Last Starfighter was the Blue Light Special version of Star Wars, but never was it more transparent than when I sat down tonight to watch it on YouTube for the first time in about a decade.

At the very least, director Nick Castle was having a Lucasgasm as he made Starfighter on the heels of Return of the Jedi, which was released in 1983.

There’s been a lot of fuss about how A New Hope was just a warped retelling of Arthurian legend in 1930s serial trappings. But Starfighter takes it one step further and does the old Sword In The Stone literary formula with an extra layer of — well, let’s call it homage. It’s very much the same as American Dad copying The Family Guy copying The Simpsons.


Luke Skywalker — I mean Alex Rogan — wants to escape his simplistic trailer park life on Tatooine in the boonies and leave to make his way at the Academy college.

A natural at womp-hunting in his T-16 a video game called Starfighter — which turns out to be a training simulator for a freedom-loving alien democracy called the Rebel Alliance the Star League — Alex finds himself whisked into space by a wise old man named Obi-Wan Kenobi Centauri and drafted into service against the evil Empire Xur.

The Starfighter arcade game even has what looks remarkably like an Alliance logo on the side.

At first, Alex refuses at first to join the Rebellion the Star League, until he visits home and finds his family in danger (“these blast points are too accurate for Sand People”).

He gains renewed courage to fight when Centauri — who briefly mentions his connection to the Excalibur myth (lightsabers ahoy) — dies (like Obi-Wan). Alex boards an X-Wing a Gunstar fighter and rushes to confront the Death Star Xur command ship threatening to destroy the peaceful planet of Alderaan Rylos Yavin 4.

Don’t worry, though, because Old Ben Centauri manages to resurrect himself by the end.

What’s design got to do, got to do with it?

It’s no surprise that, scrolling through the film’s credits, I spotted Star Wars concept artist and designer Ron Cobb’s name attached to The Last Starfighter, too. Maybe that explains the mouse droid I sighted on Rylos, the Zandozian assassin who lost an arm in a shoot-out with Obi-Wan Centauri, the half-Cylon-half-stormtrooper baddies on Xur’s command ship, and the exploding-Death Star pyrotechnics when said ship crashes into a moon.

That doesn’t explain, though, the design for the Star Car — Centuari’s flying DeLorean look-alike. Remember, Starfighter was released in 1984, one year before Doc Brown and the flux capacitor came along. True, Centauri’s wheels didn’t rotate to a horizontal position on takeoff, but the coincidence is still unsettling.

There’s also some Tron-ish business going on, though Castle managed to surpass Disney with an impressive technological milestone. Starfighter was the first film to use computer generated special effects (almost) exclusively, and for the most part convincingly — at least for the time period. Shots inside the asteroid during the build-up to the final sequence were incredibly gash because of the texture-mapping’s organic nature, but straight, angular surfaces of ships and bases and such were impressive.

What about Tron? See, that movie cheated. Most of the “computer generated” effects were actually rotoscoped over life-action shots on film, rather than drawn or created with an algorhythm.

Castle and company used a Cray X-MP supercomputer, which was the fastest in the world until 1985, to render the 300 scenes containing polygon goodness in Starfighter. That kind of processing power was necessary to churn out the 250,000 polygons-per-frame required for the movie.

Star power

We’re talking Skull and Bones, here, people. Everyone connected to this film became wildly popular.

Lance Guest, who played Alex, went on to be the star of Stepsister from the Planet Weird, Hart to Hart: Hart to Hart Return, Jaws: The Revenge, and Please Don’t Hit Me, Mom, as well as some very touching ABC After School Specials.

Catherine Mary Stewart, who played Alex’s girlfriend, Maggie = haaaawt. She was the Hollywood bombshell who made critics rave over Weekend at Bernie’s, The Witches of Eastwick, and Samurai Cowboy (Bebop-ploo?).

Dan O’Herlihy, the turtle-headed iguana alien Grig, was knighted for his work in Robocop, Robocop 2, and Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

Centauri, a.k.a. Robert Preston, died of lung cancer in 1986.

Wil Wheaton‘s lines were cut, but he can be seen briefly among Alex’s trailer trash friends. Marc Alaimo, who went on to play Cardassian megalomaniac Gul Dukat on Star Trek: DS9, had a 20-second role as an alien assassin cloaked in the form of a human hitchhiker.

YouTube Cinema: Cloak & Dagger (1984)

November 14, 2007

Jack Flack always escapes.

FROM JASON’S IMAGINARY COMMANDO FRIEND — What’s better than Dabney Coleman‘s razor-blade wrist-watch, self-retracting parachute, and a collapsible blow gun?

The answer: Elliott from E.T. and an Atari 5200 cartridge laden with top-secret schematics.

Randomly clicking around YouTube last night, I started stumbling across full-length movies that wonderful, blessed people had uploaded. Just a little more mouse action later, and I knew I’d hit the big time — and had to share. Look for YouTube Cinema to be a recurring feature on Quaedam.

The 11-part title that made me stop in my tracks and hunker down for an early morning watching was Cloak & Dagger, the 1984 Richard Franklin film from Universal Pictures.

It’s more than just another 80s adventure movie: It’s a learning experience. In 101 minutes, kids can learn how to solicit rides from strangers late at night, commit grand theft auto, shoot in self-defense, steal video games, and accuse people of child abandonment in an airport concourse.

When I first saw it at age 7, I didn’t quite care about the point of the movie. Instead, I converted parts of my basement and woods behind my house into an obstacle course, and darted around behind trees carrying out my own secret missions. It was the same collateral damage wreaked on parents who let their kids watch The Goonies, Labyrinth, Home Alone, War Games, and Explorers.


Davey Osborne, a.k.a. Henry Thomas — yes, Elliott from E.T. — is obsessed with Jack Flack, U.S. spy of video game and role-playing fame. Flack takes on a life of his own as Davey’s imaginary friend, and is played by Dabney Coleman, who also plays Davey’s father.

While fetching some Twinkies (I’m not making this up) for uber-geeky video game store clerk Morris (whom Andrew likened to Pedobear), Davey witnesses a murder and the victim hands him an Atari 5200 cartridge of the titular game Cloak & Dagger. Nobody believes Davey, though, because the victim’s body mysteriously disappears.

There’s an early question of Davey’s sanity. We learn he’s recently lost his mother and his father wants him to see a psychiatrist. It’s also clear that his obsession with war and espionage is making him cuckoo-bananas.

But it turns out the cartridge — which people constantly and infuriatingly refer to as a disc — holds classified information for the “invisible bomber.” Of course, the plane is easily identified as an SR-71 Blackbird by anybody who grew up in the 80s, but the point is that spies are willing to kill Davey and his whiny gal Friday sidekick to get it back.

From there, the rest of the film is a chase through Houston, which is transformed into a maze of stone bridges, tunnels, and canals and includes plot stop-offs at Japanese gardens, a riverboat tour, and the Alamo.

Just when you think everything might be sorted, missing digits come into play.

Is Jack real?

There is a legitimate question of whether Jack Flack might have some profound metaphysical property.

In several instances, he manipulates his environment — closing a car trunk, changing gears for Davey during a car chase, dragging Davey backward out of the car, then yanking him from a phone booth just before it’s leveled by a charging van. It would be interesting to see what is really happening from an impartial observer, like the surveillance camera footage of Tyler Durden beating himself in Fight Club.

There’s also ambiguity later in the film when Davey begins to decide to grow up: “I don’t want to play anymore!” he yells at Jack.

“Why do you kids always say that? You’re father said the same thing. After all those games of cowboys and Indians, you get tired of make-believe and break your toys,” Jack says.

I’m not sure if this is supposed to hint that Jack is a ghost or spirit of some type; if it was around before Davey was born (as his father’s imaginary friend), then maybe it is an extant entity and not a figment. Or maybe it’s the spirit of childhood imagination. Later in the same scene, as he lies dying on the pavement, Jack tells Davey, “You’re the best playmate I ever had.” It almost slips into It territory.

You can’t miss:

  • The longest walkie-talkie antennas in history.
  • Also, the biggest silencer ever attached to a gun.
  • The E.T. theme subtly worked into the score at touching moments.
  • Screens from the arcade version of C&D, which was never actually released on the 5200 (which was rare enough anyway. I never saw one in the wild, though I hunted for one at the Salvation Army and yard sales for years).
  • Norman Bates’ mom from Psycho (uncredited, but linked on IMDB).

A final word of comfort

Christina Nigra, who played Kim, left the acting business shortly after C&D, sparing the world some of the worst child acting ever to hit the screen. She starred only in a few episodes of Mr. Belvedere, Top of the Heap, and Out of This World before calling it quits in 1991.