Mixtape Rewind – A Twisted Christmas

Episode 5 – Twisted Sister: A Twisted Christmas (2006)


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Mark Jeacoma and Geno Cuddy listen and discuss the heavy metal Christmas album from the amazing Twisted Sister!

Johnny Cash 1979 Christmas Special

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Mark and Christopher discuss the strange and sometimes confusing Johnny Cash Christmas Special from 1979. Guests were Andy Kaufman, Tom T. Hall, Anne Murray.

 

“My Favorite Year, 1982”

“I’m not an actor! I’M A MOVIE STAR!”

My Favorite Year, 1982 (Peter O’Toole), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

In 1954, amiable young nebbish Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) is a junior writer for the King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade when his childhood hero, movie matinee idol Alan Swann (Academy Award-nominated Peter O’Toole) guest stars on the show. This is a dream come true for Benjy, but it quickly turns into a nightmare when Swann proves to be an immature drunkard and an unprofessional hack who can’t rise to this most auspicious of occasions. Swann is a has-been with a genuine shot at becoming relevant again, but as we know from recent news, movie stars are unlikable douchebags. Didn’t we always know that? Benjy is heartbroken to see that his hero is a skirt-chasing alcoholic, even as he assesses him with the filters of his youth. Joseph Bologna’s Stan “King” Kaiser is no saint either. An unrepentant jack-ass in his own right, Kaiser is deluded as to his comic chops, but what he lacks in talent he makes up for in his bravery. In strict defiance to crooked Union boss, Karl Rojeck (the great Cameron Mitchell!), Bologna portrays a popular parody of him on his show every week. Rojeck retaliates with intimidation and sabotage on his set.

When Swann shows up late (and drunk) for his first call, Bologna fires him on the spot. Benjy sticks up for Swann. Bologna agrees to take him back under the proviso that Benjy keep an eye on him for the duration of rehearsals and the show, which is to be broadcast live. Swann is wheeled into a posh hotel room at the Waldorf Astoria because nobody can trust him to stand on his own. He has “breakaway” clothing that can be easily removed as he refuses to undress for his bath. His able-bodied chauffeur clues Benjy in to Swann’s lack of funds, secret stashes of booze, and an strained relationship to his estranged daughter, Tess, who lives in Connecticut. Yet, as pathetic as he appears, Swann still knows how to fill out a tuxedo. Meanwhile, Benjy awkwardly pursues production assistant K.C. (Jessica Harper), who keeps shooting him down. Swann advises the young man on how to better improve his position with her. This is a 1954 romanticized by Benjy Stone; a New York City we only see in classic films. Big beautiful cars. Men and women dressed impeccably. Automats. Through a haze of nostalgia, we see that people behave very much (as written, that is) like they do today, especially with regard to the behavior of celebrities.

We get into the day-to-day details of working on a comedy show, and remember this was way before the trappings of 30 Rock (coincidentally where the Comedy Cavalcade is shot). There are some wonderful character beats. Lainie Kazan (as Benjy’s mother) wonders why her son would hide his Jewish heritage with a pseudonym. Anti-semitism being as prevalent back then as it is today required many people to hide their ethnicity behind banal surnames. Swann masks his profound depression with booze and flamboyant theatrics. Kaiser seems to suffer selective Tourette’s and the only way to calm him is to hit him over the head with his script. Benjy’s affection for K.C. borders on harassment in turns with his jealousy and obsession, but then he arranges for a big dinner of Chinese food (boxes filled with dumplings) in the office, which is sweet, and then he charms her with his tutilege on how to properly tell a joke. They screen old Alan Swann films and he annoys her by reciting the dialogue verbatim (a tactic I use to annoy my long-suffering wife). Luckily, she shuts him up by kissing him (a tactic my wife uses to shut me up sometimes). The film moves along briskly and Swann excels at rehearsals. Benjy takes Swann home to meet his bizarre family in Brooklyn.

When pressed by Benjy’s Uncle Morty about the latest gossip surrounding him, Swann confesses, “People like me wear targets. I’m blamed for a lot of things I had absolutely nothing to do with. On the other hand, because of who I am, I get away with murder in other areas. I suppose it all balances out in the end.” As he is idolized and fawned over by Benjy’s family and residents of their apartment building, Swann becomes depressed and must drink. The morning after, Swann absconds with a police officer’s horse and takes Benjy for a galloping tour of Central Park. Benjy encourages him to repair his relationship with his daughter. Swann hilariously freaks out when he realizes the show is to be performed live rather than taped. Rojeck and his goons crash the live broadcast and Swann with Bologna fight off the bad guys in front of a thrilled audience. This is a fun, charming movie produced by Michael Gruskoff for Mel Brooks’ Brooksfilms, directed by Richard Benjamin from a script by Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo. It was a wise move to have Benjamin direct the movie rather than Brooks, as Brooks would, most assuredly, have placed more emphasis on the sight gags and comedy and less on the living drama O’Toole summons in his performance. Benjy’s sunny epilogue feels out of place. The movie is populated with character actors from Brooks’ (and colleague Carl Reiner’s) movies. This is a refreshing change of pace from last week’s dismal Misunderstood.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

WGC – Christmas at Plum Creek

Episode 21 – Walnut GroveCast – Christmas at Plum Creek


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Walnut GroveCast – Christmas at Plum Creek

Mark and Susan discuss the wonderful early Christmas at Plum Creek!

If you would like to hear more from Mark head over the http://www.vhsrewind.com or subscribe to his podcast by clicking here

The opening song “Albert” is written and performed by the amazing Norwegian band, Project Brundlefly and is used with permission.
Check them out at:
https://www.facebook.com/ProjectBrundlefly

“Misunderstood, 1984”

“Baby Jesus wouldn’t eat this rotten junk.”

Misunderstood, 1984 (Gene Hackman), Producers Sales Organization

An all-out laugh riot from start to finish, Misunderstood is a wacky, sexy, screwball comedy about a father and son trying to re-connect after a bizarre mishap which results in zany, madcap antics and heartwarming life lessons. Actually. I’m sorry. I have the wrong notes here. Misunderstood is a 90-minute suicide note. I think that’s what I meant to say. Like Six Weeks, this is a movie completely immersed in the melancholy. We start at a funeral for Ned Rawley’s (Gene Hackman) wife, played in flashbacks by Susan Anspach. The flashbacks occur as the body is layed to rest in dismal superimpositions; moments of joy, hugging, kissing, etc. There are happy children on swings, and really what is being played out in the past serves as an uncomfortable contrast with Hackman’s present-day mood. Emotionally unavailable and obsessed with work, he’s now saddled with the unwanted responsibility of primary care for his two sons, Andrew (Henry Thomas) and Miles (Huckleberry Fox).

As a morose authority figure, Hackman acquits himself well. I don’t think he cracks one smile in the first act, but he has to lay it on the line for Andrew, who has to shepherd the younger brother through this living hell of life without their earthy mother. While he’s man enough to express some degree of affection for the little one, he’s got a chip on his shoulder when dealing with Andrew. One of the movie’s failings is the lack of a backstory for Hackman to give us an indication of his hostility. We know that he’s some sort of a shipping magnate-cum-local politician working out of a spacious palace in Tunisia. He’s much more comfortable at his desk than he is eating dinner with this family of strangers. The housekeeper/governess is at her wit’s end negotiating with the children. Andrew is a little rough on Miles, like most older siblings, and you get the feeling is always on the verge of striking him. Much of the story comes from flashbacks. There’s a beautiful moment where Andrew sees a framed drawing of his late mother obscured by a pot of flowers.

Exploring his newfound world of loneliness, Andrew spies on neighbors, dares himself to hang from the edge of a scary tree with crooked branches and observe a ritual burial, where he bursts into tears. This is such a maudlin movie! Everyone (including strangers) go out of their way to help him cope with his loss. We begin to understand that the loss is heartbreaking for Hackman, but devastating for Andrew. Hackman has lost his lover and the mother of his children, but Andrew has, in a way, lost his life (perhaps a portion of his developing personality). Yet Hackman is suffering too. They mourn in different ways. Hackman has buddy and brother-in-law Rip Torn (dressing like Tom Wolfe) and his staff to rely on, but Henry Thomas’ Andrew is almost completely alone, so he acts out in rebellious ways. Huckleberry Fox plays a similar character to his little Teddy Horton from Terms of Endearment; just a cute little energetic boy designed to irritate Henry Thomas. I kept wondering throughout the movie why Hackman was being such an asshole to his older son while babying Huckleberry.

There’s a bit of brief suspense when Miles insists Andrew take him to the center of town where the little boy promptly vanishes causing Andrew to go ape-shit looking for him. He navigates a sea of unfriendly faces and isolates Miles’s voice. It’s a well-paced, well-directed scene and it shows that Henry Thomas can do a lot more than stare slack-jawed at a friendly botanist from another planet. This is a Jekyll-and-Hyde story about children; Miles represents the cute little ball of energy you wish was your son, and Andrew is a plaid and cords-wearing nightmare come alive. Eventually Hackman warms to him, after a race with Torn up and down the jagged cliffs on the breakers of the photogenic Tunisian beach. It’s possible Hackman’s character sees too much of himself in Andrew. Like Checkov’s gun, the tree branch ultimately turns out to be Andrew’s literal downfall. I blame Huckleberry for that one as his added weight (after he insists on trying the branch himself) proves too much. In a final bid to connect to with his son, Hackman comes to the realization he is a terrible father. Like I said, this is an all-out laugh riot!

Misunderstood is an extremely difficult movie to find. It took me over a year to track down a suitable copy to watch. According to lore, there are two different endings, but the version I watched is the movie I remembered from cable television. The movie was never given a DVD or Blu Ray release. I’m not even sure if it was released on laserdisc. Misunderstood was shot in 1982, and not released until 1984. Director Jerry Schatzberg previously made Honeysuckle Rose, Scarecrow (also with Hackman), and The Panic in Needle Park. He would later direct No Small Affair with Jon Cryer and Demi Moore. The end is in sight for Vintage Cable Box. Only a handful of titles remain to explore. It’s been an incredible adventure. I really don’t want to look at any more depressing movies.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

 

“The Groove Tube, 1974”

“I’m in the driver’s seat! I’m runnin’ the show! I’M THE FUCKIN’ PRESIDENT!”

The Groove Tube, 1974 (Ken Shapiro), Levitt-Pickman

The day I write this review, Ken Shapiro has died at the age of 75. In the Gray Lady’s obituary, Shapiro is credited as a founding member of the Channel One Theater in New York, with Chevy Chase and Lane Sarasohn. This was an unusual comic environment where sketches or skits would be pre-recorded and played back on monitors for an audience, truly taking Marshall McLuhan’s operating thesis of “the medium” being the message to an extraordinarily interactive degree. This entertainment delivery device would inspire sketch comedy shows such as Saturday Night Live and SCTV. Three years later, John Landis would direct the similar The Kentucky Fried Movie from a script by Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker. Also in the obituary was a fact of which I was not aware: Shapiro was a popular child actor working for, among others, Milton Berle, under the name, Kenny Sharpe. He used his earnings to later finance The Groove Tube.

The pre-credits bit spoofs 2001; A Space Odyssey with an assemblage of ape-like creatures and Ligeti-like music gathered around a monolithic television set. Curtis Mayfield urges us to “Move on Up” in a funky credits sequence that takes us through a montage of technological advancements. Next thing we know, the apes are getting down to the groove tube! Shapiro plays a Bozo-like Koko the Clown who (with the assistance of Magic Monkey) advises parents to leave the room during “Make Believe” time so he can read erotic literature to children watching the show. The vignettes are broken up with commercials for products such as “Mouth Appeal” toothpaste and a disgusting substance known as Brown 25, a fine product from Uranus Corporation. The Kramp TV Kitchen “Heritage Loaf” sequence sends up cooking shows with overly-complicated recipes and instructions. As the host’s instructions become more and more nonsensical (“Insert the olive pits into the pitted cherries.”), the faceless cook attempting to follow his instructions, becomes more and more frustrated.

The center-piece of the film seems to be a parody of cop shows entitled The Dealers starring Shapiro and Richard Belzer as a pair of inept junkie drug dealers. As with people who get high on their own supply, their collective paranoia gets the better of them and they either flush most of the product down a toilet or eat it when they fear the fuzz is tailing them. When Shapiro assesses their impending poverty (after a striking animation sequence) and his burgeoning homosexuality, he turns and looks at the camera and the show becomes a public service announcement espousing the dangers of drug addiction. The Dealers brings the movie to a screeching halt, but the action picks up again with a commercial for Butz beer (“The President of Beers”) and a precursor to Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update with the Channel One Evening News anchored by Shapiro. Belzer plays the President of the United States in an uncanny, unsettling prognostication of our current President.

What’s surprising to me is that The Groove Tube’s material still holds up (even the penis puppet!). Perhaps the only content that appears dated (sadly) is the brazen sexuality with full female and male nudity. Originally rated X and then trimmed to get a hard R rating, the movie was an enormous hit for the time, earning $20 million at the box office on a budget of $200,000. A popular video rental that received endless play on cable television, The Groove Tube was given a limited DVD release from Hen’s Tooth Video and as of yet has not appeared on Blu Ray, where it would benefit from remastering. Chase would beat out Belzer for a coveted spot as a Not Ready for Primetime Player in the original Saturday Night Live lineup. Shapiro is the true star of his movie. A remarkably funny and physical comedian, it’s a shame he only made one more movie after this, the 1981 Chevy Chase comedy, Modern Problems for Fox co-starring Patti D’Arbanville and Dabney Coleman. Shapiro retired from filmmaking dissatisfied with the studio process.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.