“Star 80, 1983”

“You won’t forget Paul Snider.”

Star 80, 1983 (Mariel Hemingway), The Ladd Company

Less a cautionary tale of the dangers of stardom than a lurid, exploitative tome of sleaze merchants ogling naive tarts, Star 80 tells the story of Playboy centerfold, Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemingway), and her relationship with “personal manager”, Paul Snider (Eric Roberts). Director Bob Fosse shuffles the narrative deck, giving us fleeting glimpses of blood-covered Eric Roberts contemplating his once-perfect princess. This is a structure now common to bio-pics with a slice of documentary-like reality (as in Fosse’s previous Lenny) to give the whole bloody affair a degree of authenticity.

Roberts’ Paul Snider is a wanna-be in a world of ne’er-do-wells. He was a pimp and a promoter. He procured models for car shows and wet t-shirt contests. Fosse’s take on Snider leaves no room for ambiguity; there’s nothing about him you could like. There are no redeeming qualities. Eric Roberts plays him like he’s been kicked in the head one too many times.

Snider spots unremarkable Dorothy Stratten in a diner and starts dating her on the sly. It’s not as though he were corrupting her. He wants to corrupt her, but Mariel Hemingway plays Stratten straight and innocent even as she takes off her clothes for Hugh Hefner (Cliff Robertson) and his arsenal of bargain basement photographers. Roberts is fascinating; playing Snider as a human-in-training, rehearsing appropriate greetings and stifling his anger when ridiculed. He reminds me of James Cagney. He shepherds Stratten’s career as she becomes Playboy’s Playmate of the Year, but as her star ascends, he descends into a vapid sea of smut, and dangerously, asserts ownership of her soul. This is exactly where we assume the story will go.

Snider manipulates photographers and wrangles finder’s fees to get Stratten’s pictures to Playboy. As much as the principal characters in the movie want you to believe Snider is the Lucifer to Stratten’s Eve, I see only an angry child who turns to murder when he doesn’t get what he wants. Snider and Stratten, oddly, come across as naive soulmates swimming in a sea of sharper, more manipulative sharks. Snider worships her as though she were a porcelain doll, which will permit no tarnish.

Bob Fosse’s direction is cynical and arrogant. Lenny and All That Jazz serve as companion pieces (though superior to Star 80) in establishing Fosse’s puzzling antipathy for an industry that made him an icon. Fosse captures the era perfectly, which is not far removed from the time the real story unfolded. In Fosse’s world, it’s easy to fall into the trap of having a good time. In mid-murder, Snider justifies his actions to his lifeless, blood-soaked corpse of a bride. If he couldn’t control her life, he could at the very least, control her death.

Sourced from the original 1984 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release. The box sports a distinctive silver/metallic gray color scheme. The movie continued to receive different format releases and is available in Beta, DVD, and Laserdisc formats, but remains unavailable on Blu Ray. “She was every man’s dream – and one man’s obsession.” The accompanying essay on the back of the box trumpets the Eric Roberts performance as, “…original, authentic, and hypnotic…” I don’t know why you would have so many redundant adjectives, but I agree. Strangely, there is a disclaimer at the bottom of the essay (as in the movie) that reads, “This motion picture is, in part, a fictionalization of certain events and people involved in the lives of Dorothy Stratten and Paul Snider.”

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.

TV Rewind – Where’s Rodney? (1990)

Episode #1 – Where’s Rodney? (1990)


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From the Phuyuck and For Your Consideration Podcast Archives we bring you repackaged and brand new episodes!!

VHS Rewind! Creators, Mark Jeacoma and Chris Hasler discuss the 1990 pilot episode of Where’s Rodney?

A 12 year old boy looks for advice and inspiration from his idol – stand-up comic Rodney Dangerfield!

“Zapped, 1982”

“Sometimes life is like an onion. When you peel it, it makes you cry.”

Zapped, 1982 (Scott Baio), Embassy Pictures

Scott Baio has been given a gift. He’s a brilliant young man – a scientist! All day long in high school, he wears a lab coat cand conducts experiments involving marijuana, alcohol, and white mice. I remember my Mother told me a story about how she placed second in the County Science Fair. She was feeding alcohol to fruit flies to observe effects and consequences. Even second place, the experiment was an official board selection and an article was penned for Scientific American circa 1964. I look at all that past aptitude and then look at my Mother these days and I wonder where it all went. We’re capable of so much sagacity in our early years and then the fever dies down as we watch our hopes and dreams taken away from us like garbage on a regular Monday morning. Back to the Baio! He wouldn’t be an enterprising young man without a Huckleberry, would he? Huckleberry, in this exercise, is played by stalwart Baio-buddy, Willie Aames (who would in short order join him for Charles in Charge). Aames serves as the Baio-id, perhaps the Hyde to his Jekyll; untamed libido and dissolute greed.

This is the requisite high school of movie-maker wet dreams; clean-cut kids, extremely short cheerleader skirts, and students who look at least a decade older than they should look. Right away we have our cliques, as identified by hair color: the brains are brunettes, and the blondes … well, let’s just say they have more fun.  Scatman Crothers (in a hilarious bit), looking for Baio’s stash of Jack Daniels), accidentally spills some “Super Growth Plant Food” into the “Cannabis Extract.” This must be one of them California high schools, huh? Huh? Because … pot was recently legalized in … nevermind. Scatman unwittingly creates a mutant potion when Aames (being a scamp!) pours beer into the mixture, which will shortly give Baio powers. Incredible powers! Incredible powers of telekinesis! Meanwhile Felice Schachter’s Bernadette (who we don’t know is actually a fox without her ridiculous glasses) keeps pestering Baio for an interview. Interesting that Felice beat out Demi Moore and Helen Slater for the part. They eventually hook up, but you know this is going to happen. An accident ensues and Baio is exposed to a chemical reaction.

Baio’s parents (Roger Bowen and Marya Small, who I just saw in a Kolchak episode) are, of course, ignorant to his plight. They seem like the kind of people who watch 20/20, and you have to wonder how they get along in bed. Instead of communicating with their son, they interrogate him about drug usage and check him for tracks in his veins. Remember Matthew Broderick’s parents in WarGames? Same deal here. Baio develops his powers, slowly at first, but then they blossom in the most awkward of ways. He fantasizes (during class) about Heather Thomas stripping in front of him while repeatedly calling his name, and he gets a hard-on. He is called on by his teacher and arranges for the map display to unravel all over her and school principal, Walter Coolidge (Soap’s Robert Mandan). The cast is populated with television actors. Back then, television and movies were separate islands, and actors never dared tread the waters between. This is why Zapped! feels like a television movie for most of it’s running time, until the boobies start popping out. It’s weird to me the producers felt pressured to add nudity to the movie to give it an R rating. That just doesn’t happen today.

Now we get to Baio’s special gift. This is a young man who could help people. He could be a real, literal superhero. He could do some heavy lifting, tugging a couch or piano out an apartment window for his moving buddies with his mind. Instead he uses his newfound talent to expose breasts. This is the Aames-as-Satan connection. Bizarre, in that Willie Aames (a very popular child actor) became a born-again Christian in the ’90s and was known for his character, Bibleman (a true superhero!). Bibleman’s alter-ego, Miles Peterson, would not approve of this garden variety-Buddy Lembeck’s obsession with sex and profit for fun. Felice crack’s Baio’s blue steel facade and falls in love with him, which is sweet. I’m a fan of their love. I don’t like him trying to remove her top with his mind as they make out, but otherwise Zapped! is a lot of fun. It feels like a TV movie that was recut (with added nude scenes) for the less-uptight European audience. There are parody bits throughout the movie; the funniest of them being Star Trek (with an obvious Millenium Falcon/U.S.S. Enterprise model hybrid), The Exorcist (involving a “possessed” ventriloquist’s dummy), and Carrie. Thank you, Scott Baio, for making us laugh at love … again.

And thank you to Mark Jeacoma, who suggested this entry to me a long time ago, as well as hosting these articles for going on two years now! For an entertaining podcast on the subject of Zapped!, check out Mark’s discussion of the movie with Chris Hasler.

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 Apple, 1980”

“Come do anything to me your little heart desires!”

The Apple, 1980 (Catherine Mary Stewart), Cannon

Wow. Just … wow. I don’t know where to go into this except to start off with complete ’80s overload; v-necks and shoulder pads goose-stepping in interesting formations. There ain’t no pleasure, there ain’t no pain. Uniformed space cadets straight from the Ace Frehley/Patti LaBelle Academy dance and wreak havoc on outsized stages, singing “Hey, hey, hey!” to cheering crowds. This is the latest thing! I have to believe it because it scored 150 heartbeats, which must be some kind of currency, but I don’t think I’ll ever be sure. I wonder if this is a structured society or simple commentary on our collective lust for trends. I might be reading too much into it. After this space orgy ends, next is a simple couple (Catherine Mary Stewart, George Gilmour) and an acoustic guitar (with orchestral backing) singing a song of love that earns jeers and boos from the crowd. They don’t like The Brady Bunch. Love is a universal melody and we belong to each other, but fuck ’em – there’s no money in love! Pay attention to the lyrics. The audience starts to like what they’re hearing and the heartbeats go up! Couple of kids from Moosejaw. Who would have though it? 151 heartbeats! The producers sabotage the simple couple from Moosejaw and their heartbeats go down. They leave the stage because they think the crowd is booing them off.

Frustrated with their lack of options, the simple couple seek out an influential sage who will guide them to success. It’s interesting to me they wear regular clothing, jeans and jackets, while everybody else is decked out in lunatic-duds. The forces of evil, a mega-conglomerate known as the “BIM,” set about corrupting the duo with pills and sexual propositions. In the middle of all of this is a musical with some actually decent songs that propel the narrative. Of course it isn’t a particularly original narrative (somewhere between The Phantom of the Paradise and Shock Treatment) but it is visually striking. This is a New Wave musical as if directed by Fellini. It’s Ziggy Stardust meets Amarcord. The music scene as visualized for the year 1994 in The Apple was off by 20 years. 1994 in music was a hodgepodge of folk, emo, grunge, and darkwave, diminutive yet theatrical with a newfound respect for the British explosion and less focused on fashion and choreography. Catherine Mary Stewart is essentially the Jessica Harper of this enterprise. Harper (in The Phantom of the Paradise and Shock Treatment) is the innocent girl thrust into the spotlight and corrupted by “creative” excess, though Catherine appears stronger than Harper.

The forces of evil (aka “BIM”), of course, offer the duo a recording contract and a trip to the west coast. They deck Stewart in a glittering dress and leave Gilmour almost naked. They offer Stewart the “apple.” An actual, really big, apple, and we can see the Biblical connotation unraveling. Is it requisite that she bites into the apple and accepts the evil? I’m guessing. I hope I’m right, because then the movie will satisfy my demand for literalism. What I don’t understand is the song that accompanies the action of biting into the apple. The lyrics, which reference vampires and demons, seem to suggest this is an extremely dangerous choice to make. Is it really that bad for Catherine and George? The Roger Daltrey/Robert Plant-like singer who seduces Catherine compels her to “take the apple and take a bite.” George is disgusted. He walks out and refuses to sign any contracts. With the “BIM” label brandished on her forehead (a glittering triangle with rounded edges), Catherine begins her recording career. They give her Vulcan eyebrows and drape her with dead animal skins. Wait a minute, Catherine! What happened to love being the universal melody and us belonging to each other? What the fuck is your problem? Only Menahem Golan can answer that question.

When she gets up on stage, singing about America (and it’s correlating dependency on drugs) in a strange perversion of Neil Diamond, she just looks like the rest of those fools. She’s lost her individuality and her love for love! She’s a tool. Meanwhile, “BIM” has acquired such power that anybody not wearing their signature label is given a ticket and fined. I don’t get it. Is this what would happen should the Music Industry gain true power? Is this supposed to be the Illuminati with their bizarre hand signs and lizard eyes? It seems everyone else is living in squallor while the elite dance with happy, programmed feet sipping champagne out of weird glasses in ivory towers. This is actually a good movie! So much of what we see has been replicated in recent movies and television shows. George struggles with his career. He misses Catherine. Well, who wouldn’t? In the torrents of her success, he tries to reach her but is beaten by BIM goons for his trouble. In a bit of Xanadu-inspired musical madness, they sing to each other from different locations: she in a luxurious penthouse, and he in the gutter, and we know by the end of the movie, these crazy kids will make it work. Menahem Golan (and his cousin Yoram Globus) had been unfairly characterized as low-budget schlockmeisters with the Cannon Group, but The Apple is quite staggering as a piece of modern art. The Apple is a fun (if bizarre) cinematic statement, and is worth it just for Grace Kennedy’s erotically-charged over-the-top show-stopper, “Coming.” Yowza!

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.

 

“Starman, 1984”

“You are at your very best when things are worst.”

Starman, 1984 (Jeff Bridges), Columbia Pictures

In 1977, the Voyager space probe was launched containing examples of Earth’s excellence, not the least of which is a golden vinyl pressing of The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The disc includes examples of our DNA, maps, photographs, and message from the children of Earth. A few years later, an alien spacecraft crashes in a Wisconsin bay, near the home of the recently widowed Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen), who spends most of her nights mourning her dead husband, Scott (Jeff Bridges) by drinking herself silly and watching old home movies. An alien lifeform (what appears to be a glowing silver ball) emerges from the crash and enters the Hayden homestead. The lifeform finds a photo album and clones itself from a lock of Scott’s hair. In a terrifying bit, Jenny wakes from her drunken stupor to see a naked infant quickly grow into full manhood. She promptly passes out under the weight of what must be a hallucination.

In short order, our Military is tracking the crash of the ship. NSA director George Fox (Richard Jaeckel) and SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) scientist Mark Shermin (Charles Martin Smith) rush to recover the craft and determine the plotted trajectory of the alien ship to be the Barringer Crater near Winslow, Arizona. “Starman” essentially abducts Jenny and forces her to drive him to Winslow so he can make an important rendezvous. Their dynamic is built on her fear of this familiar-looking creature: an alien made to resemble her husband. You can see the torment in her face as she tries to reconcile the fact that this creature is a child in man’s body; a new life in a dead man’s body. She attempts to ditch him, and she tries to run. He tells her he means her no harm, and she believes him. The dynamic changes to one of mutual fugitives on the run from the law, and we get into familiar John Carpenter territory. Up until this point, other than the cinematography and synthesizer-driven score, this movie could’ve been made by Steven Spielberg or James Cameron.

John Carpenter has a specific gift for ratcheting up the tension, and he tells the story from the point of view of a confused and lonely protagonist in Jenny Hayden. Karen Allen is truly one of our most underrated actresses. Her only other big role in this time period was as Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark; a role she would reprise in 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. If there was one word I would use to describe her, it would be “real.” She is perfect in the role of the audience’s surrogate as she reacts to all of “Starman’s” antics. Her wide, expressive eyes marvel at miracles, large and small, and the movie clings to her chemistry with Bridges. As she begins to possibly remember her attraction to her husband via “Starman,” she tries to leave him again with her money and her keys in the hopes he will go undetected without her accompanying him the rest of the way. Bridges learns the meaning of self-sacrifice. “Starman” and Jenny make love in a train car and she becomes pregnant, despite her infertility. Later, with no money and no car, they arrive in Las Vegas, where Bridges tinkers with a slot machine and wins them $500,000.

Charles Martin Smith is hot on their trail and places Fox’s men around the diner where they are eating. As Fox had revealed his intention to study the alien by means of autopsy even though the aliens were technically invited to study Earth, Smith has had misgivings about his assignment. When “Starman” tells him he finds humanity to be beautiful, Smith decides to let them go. In a hilarious bit, they both kiss him and thank him for letting them go. The movie is in turns scary, tragic, and humorous. Pretty much the human condition right there. Think of Starman as a sexy version of E.T., but I would argue Starman is the better movie for offering a richer story about adults rather than children. Starman was nowhere near as successful as E.T. at the time of it’s release, but it was a popular HBO exclusive and video rental. The Jeff Bridges performance is one of innocence and curiosity. The closest analog, for me, would be Brent Spiner as Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Both characters embrace humanity and learn to mimic it, with difficulty. The only difference being that “Starman” can produce a child biologically with Jenny Hayden. Bridges received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Every day John Carpenter isn’t making a film is a loss to us all.

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.

“Reckless, 1984”

“Whatever happened to you, Rourke? You used to be normal.”

Reckless, 1984 (Aidan Quinn) MGM/UA

Aidan Quinn (in a recurring bit) finishes a can of Iron City beer, places the dented can at the edge of an overlook. He kick-starts his motorcycle, runs the vehicle to the edge of the railing, swerves and boots the can off the edge. He shouts in victory. You might say he’s … reckless. Daryl Hannah likes to drive with the top down even in the early winter. This looks like a steel town on a Saturday night, and Aidan’s looking for the fight of his life. There’s a definite separation of classes here: the rich but powerful minority, and the rest which we would classify as the “working poor.” Daryl’s boyfriend Adam Baldwin (in a change of pace) is a privileged kid with a nice job waiting for him after high school, courtesy of his old man. There’s a lot of familiar faces in Reckless; Haviland Morris, Jennifer Grey, Dan Hedaya, Cliff De Young. Other than Quinn and Hannah looking way too old to inhabit the bodies of high schoolers, Reckless is an endearing and genuine movie, less Breathless and more Baby, It’s You in the category of tormented rebels. This was a popular sub-genre in ’80s teen movies.

Baldwin and the popular kids do their level best to humiliate Quinn, especially after Baldwin notices his interest in Hannah after he watches her practicing her gymnastics. After Quinn and Hannah are randomly selected as “dates” to an upcoming dance (I don’t know how that’s supposed to work), despite Baldwin trying to rig the dance, the two kids get to know each other. Quinn’s old man (a fantastic Kenneth McMillan) gives him a five for the dance. He’s not up on economics. A five won’t even get you a pack of Trojans. At the dance, Daryl’s all dolled up in a hot red number, and Quinn’s wearing his Dad’s best blazer. Quinn swaps out Larry Graham for Romeo Void, and we get a great, classic ’80s dance sequence, which plays as more of a ritual mating practice than entertainment. Baldwin, in a jealous rage, tries to break up the dance but he’s playing with the fires of passion! She hops on the back of Quinn’s motorcycle, and they’re off to the races. He takes her to his favorite spot: the overlook, where he tells her he likes being scared, which isn’t creepy at all. Quinn plays the street-punk asshole with her, which only makes her more curious about him. Why do the good girls always like the bad boys?

After a nice burst of story and tension in the first act, the movie settles in for some remarkable character examination. Baldwin is a control freak who routinely affronts his prize girlfriend. Quinn’s old man is a raging alcoholic in danger of losing his job (and his life) at the plant. His football coach (De Young) tries to bust his balls but finds himself humiliated by Quinn’s sharp wit, so he cuts him from the team. Believe me, I know how that feels. The Quinn performance works because you understand what he’s going through, unlike Richard Gere in Breathless, who comes off as unnecessarily obnoxious. He gets thrown out of his house by his Dad after he chews him out for spending his day off from work with a floozy. Meanwhile, Hannah can’t seem to cope with the lack of adventure and excitement in her life. They meet up and break into the school, dig through the confidential files, get drunk and vandalize school property while Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” plays in the background. This is the one scene I remember verbatim from this movie. It’s an exceptional moment right up there with The Breakfast Club for de-coding teen angst. Their love scenes are crazy-hot and feel real to me.

It seems Hannah and Quinn are on divergent paths. She’s on the fast track to college, credit cards, and adulthood, and he is going nowhere doomed to be trapped in the town that killed his father. They clash when he calls her out for perceived privilege and a “fake” existence. It’s been done a million times before and after, but Reckless is a superior example of this kind of culture clash. This movie knocked me on my ass. Working from Chris Columbus’ (yes, that Chris Columbus) script, James Foley’s directorial debut is remarkably confident. He knows he has lightning-in-a-bottle with Quinn and Hannah, so he keeps the focus on the two young leads while other characters dance around them. The movie was edited by Albert Magnoli, who would only a short time later direct Purple Rain. The beautiful naturalistic photography was achieved by Michael Ballhaus. Foley would go on to direct At Close Range, Glengarry Glen Ross, and later, the Fifty Shades of Grey sequels. Columbus, of course, would later direct the first two Home Alone movies, Mrs. Doubtfire, and the first two Harry Potter movies. I guess Kevin Smith was right. In Hollywood, you kind-of fail upwards.

Happy New Year from Vintage Cable Box!

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.