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Happy 2007, all. The Media Dick here, in my first column for CRACKED. Just so we're clear, the "dick" in my name is supposed to be slang for "detective," since I wade through old movies, books, games and comics in order to find awesome stuff you might have missed the first time around. (For the record, I made the argument that putting a euphemism for genitals in my name was a bad idea.)

Alright, on with the unplucked gems...

DVD

Freaked
Let's be clear, here: Freaked, a mostly-ignored 1993 cult comedy co-written by and starring Alex Winter (of Bill and Ted fame), isn’t “good” in the sense that it has any redeeming qualities whatsoever. Rather, it’s "good" in the same way a gorilla in a tuxedo kicking a guy in the junk so hard his head explodes is "good"—you’ll probably laugh like an idiot at it, and you’ll feel a little dirty afterwards.

Freaked’s plot—which involves a mutating super-chemical, a traveling freak sideshow, a guy with a sock puppet for a head and Brooke Shields—has all the logic of a Nyquil fever dream, and I couldn’t imagine trying to explain it in any way that wouldn’t turn you off the film. Anyway, it’s irrelevant—Freaked as a movie is little more an excuse to cram in a lot of filthy sight gags, bad puns, gross-outs and stream-of-consciousness weirdness, and in this it excels. Cross Naked Gun with a John Waters movie and a six-year-old’s sense of what’s funny, mix in a few deformed mutants and you’ve got a comedy that can be enjoyed over and over again using the following criteria:
  • How high are you?
  • How many people are watching this with you in your dorm room or small apartment?
  • Again, how high are you?

Obscurity Ranking

GOOD LUCK FINDING IT

Anyone looking for conclusive proof of a godless world need search no further than Keanu Reeves. Fifteen years ago he was best known as “the dumb one” in the Bill & Ted movies (something of an achievement in and of itself). Both Reeves and co-star Alex Winter were equally famous (i.e. sort of but not very), and everything made sense. Children were happier and war was unheard of.

Flash forward to the present, where Keanu Reeves has inexplicably risen to the highest levels of fame and power on the planet, commanding millions of dollars per movie despite the fact that he has the charisma and screen presence of a frog floating on an old board in a pond. Reeves couldn’t act hungry if you locked him in a cage and starved him for a week, yet America routinely lines up around the block to spend money watching him breathe through his mouth on a giant screen.

Alex Winter, conversely, could probably be hired to wash your car over the weekend. When he stars in a movie, it tends to bypass theaters entirely and head straight for the discount bin, to be wedged under copies of something with Chris O’Donnell in it.

How did this happen? Why did we embrace Keanu Reeves and push away Alex Winter? What made us say “Please star in a surfing cop movie with Patrick Swayze” to one, and “Please just go away” to the other? It is a mystery that may never be solved; though, at a guess, it might be because Keanu Reeves never co-wrote and starred in a movie that had Mr. T in a dress.


VIDEO GAMES

Psychonauts
So here’s the math: You take Tim Schafer, the brains behind the hilarious Monkey Island games. Add in Erik Wolpaw as your head writer, the caustically funny guy who made Old Man Murray the go-to gaming comedy website from 1999-2001. Mix in a brilliantly crazy plot about psychic cops invading people’s minds to throw psi-bolts and pyrokinetic fireballs in odd, Salvadore Dali-like dreamscapes. Include a heaping portion of innovative game design, darkly smart writing and player-friendly game mechanics. Collect Game of the Year awards from almost every major video game mag and e-zine, and serve to a waiting public.

That’s how it looked on paper to Double Fine Productions, the makers of the innovative Psychonauts. So you can imagine their mild surprise when gamers decided, seemingly en masse, to ignore the title entirely. Possibly it was the game’s cutesy-looking characters (you play as a feisty, eerily bobble-headed young boy named Raz) or the high concept premise (most levels take place inside the heads of other characters, so the rules, physics and internal logic can often change confusingly from level to level).

Whatever the reason, within months Gamespot, IGN, Electonic Gaming Monthly, PC Gamer and almost every other gaming magazine added another award to Psychonauts’ already creaking shelf: Best Game Nobody Played.

Obscurity Ranking

POKE THROUGH THE EB GAMES BARGAIN BIN

If you want to design a game that’s marketable to most gamers, the lesson is clear: don’t have kids as your protagonists, and if possible, allow your customers to get into as many in-game chainsaw battles, drug deals and hooker stabbings as possible. Psychonauts, with its smart plotting and innovative level design, but alarmingly small amounts of stabbable prostitutes you could then drive over in a stolen car after having stabbed, was doomed to failure from the outset.

This is good news for you, since you might be getting tired of playing the same three game ideas over and over by now and on the lookout for something fresh and fun—in which case, you can go buy a used copy of Psychonauts for a fraction of its price when it first hit shelves. You’ll be glad you did—the incredibly funny Lungfishopolis level, where you get to go on a destructive rampage through a city, Godzilla-like, while newscasts cut in occasionally to show the public hysteria, is worth playing for alone.


COMICS

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life

The brainchild of Canadian manga superfan Bryan Lee O'Malley, the Scott Pilgrim series—composed of (so far) the three volumes Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Scott Pilgrim & the Inifinite Sadness—combines the perils of the twenty-something dating scene, classic Nintendo "end boss" battles and a huge cast of endearing characters.

Scott Pilgrim loosely tells the story of the titular character defeating Ramona Flowers' seven evil ex-boyfriends so he can date her, but it's the small character moments and pop culture nods, from band practice, Super NES tournaments and late-night post-bar pizza to cramped house parties and used CD hunting that'll conjure up fond memories for readers just leaving, or still enjoying, their twenties. In turns charming, goofy, funny, retro and just plain unique, this is one of the more original and energetic comics currently being produced.

Obscurity Ranking

DEPENDS ON HOW OFTEN YOU HANG OUT IN A COMIC STORE

Among most comic book fans, Scott Pilgrim isn't actually all that obscure, though its cutesy manga-tinged artwork and teen drama backdrop might turn off the capes-'n'-cowls crowd. This is one of those painful ironies, in that Pilgrim's probably tailor-made for the non-comics fan, but because it's only sold in comic book stores, is destined to never truly find the audience it deserves. Do yourself a favor and find one of the better lit, least dank comic shops in your area. Don't forget to buy all three volumes at once, since you'll be hooked by the end of the first one, and it'll save you multiple trips back.

BOOKS

Homage to Catalonia
Pick a dangerous, possibly stupid thing to do, and George Orwell did it, then wrote about it. In Down and Out in Paris and London, he sells his apartment and lives on the streets with other homeless people, for a year, just to see what it was like (it sucked). In Road to Wigan Pier he tries his hand at the most dangerous job in the western hemisphere—coal mining—with the highest mortality rate of any occupation of the time.

Of all his non-fiction, though, you owe it to yourself to hunt up a copy of Homage to Catalonia, Orwell's first-person account of the Spanish Civil War. He didn't drive around in an ambulance away from the fighting, either, like that nancy Hemingway. He signed up as a soldier, was given a non-functioning rifle, and sent out to the front lines so the enemy could shoot bullets at his head. Forget about essays and vagina metaphors—George Orwell went out and shot people in a war he had nothing to do with, just to say he could and write a book about it. The least you could do is read it.

Obscurity Ranking

OH RIGHT, THAT ANIMAL FARM GUY

If you've ever been a high school student in America, chances are you've had to slog through George Orwell's 1984, a novel that dared to take the radical stand that fascism is, you know, bad. Or maybe you were forced to read Animal Farm, which taught you that when you give pigs power, that's bad too. Either way, it's a safe bet that after having to write a 1000-word essay about how the snowglobe in 1984 is a metaphor for... something, you most likely made a conscious decision never to read George Orwell, or possibly books, again.

Which is a damn shame, because once you set aside his heavy-handed fiction, it turns out Orwell wrote some hell of interesting non-fiction.
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